You may notice that you do not receive sequentially numbered annals all of
the time. The truth is that there are two mail lists: one with material
which can be freely distributed with its copyright notice and another more
private one, which is intended for the recipient only. Each annal is
clearly identified at the top whether it is distributable or not.
Ah! January rushed in, dumping scads of snow on many
people but not on me. Zurich remained relatively
snowfree, which does wonders for tourism when Switzerland
Tourism is playing "Switzerland in the Snow" on the
television. If I hadn't seen the title first, I'd have
sworn they were filming in Canada. They had people curling
and using dogsleds. And since there's no snow at all here,
I'm beginning to suspect it was filmed in Canada!
Of course, I wrote the last paragraph several months ago,
when I intended to write a new annal. Now we're heading
into spring and I'm hopeful for a beautiful summer.
So much has happened to me since January, though, I despair
of fitting it all in, but I will try.
Perhaps the biggest news of this month is that Bronxx and
I have found a new apartment. I was previously renting a
furnished room from a lady who was working on a practicum
in another town for several months. As far a rented rooms
go, it was quite nice and quite large. I would have happily
stayed there forever, especially since that would mean I
wouldn't have to move all of my books. (-:
The new two-bedroom apartment is located only three
tram stops from the University and features a real
fridge. I know most people wouldn't be excited about
that, but you have to understand that Switzerland seems
to the land of tent-trailer fridges. You know, the kind
that fit into a cupboard and have a little metal freezer
inside that might, if you're lucky, fit a litre of ice-cream?
In addition, it also comes with a huge wall-length cupboard
in the bedroom. This is advantageous because many Swiss rooms
do not have closets built-in.
Our new little nest also features a balcony overlooking
the communal yard. In the middle of the yard is this huge
tree. The balcony also allows one a view of a forested
mountain off to the left. All in all, I think it will
be grand. The only disadvantage is that, while there's
a washing machine, there is no dryer! All this comfort
for the wonderful, affordable price of 1000 Sfr (~$1100 CDN).
Finding an apartment has been an interesting experience.
Rental prices tend to be on the high side here in Zürich
and so when anything reasonably priced becomes available
there are scads of people applying for it. One place we
showed up during the open house and the place had, theoretically,
been open for 10 minutes but already 40 people had been there!
Another place that we had great hopes for was very similar.
Similar to North America, though, you can check the paper,
and the weekend papers are always best, or you can register
with an agency. Single-room apartments are extremely
expensive, starting at about 700 Sfr., and they're often
very small. Be prepared to invest a lot of time in looking
around and filling out forms futilely.
Doing laundry in Switzerland is quite an experience. If
one is lucky, the apartment building has a washer and a
dryer. If not, you're forced to schlep to the nearest
laundromat, where you can pay up to 10 Sfr. for 5 kg of
laundry. None of this 50c wash and 75c dry business for
the Swiss! This is also the only place I've heard of that
has washing machines programmable with punch cards!
Yes, it's true. They have some very old washing machines still
in use and you program your laundry choices with aluminum cards.
I've heard a rumour that the most useful program is the one card
sure to be missing from your pack of program cards.
Switzerland is also the only country in which I've had to
consult the user manual in order to do laundry. The Twins
had been taking their laundry home, and I could easily
understand why after trying to fathom how to wash the clothes.
You'd think this would be simple, right? You put your laundry
into the big hole in the washing machine, select the cycle
you want, adjust the water temperature if necessary, and press
the start button. Here, you put your laundry into the big hole,
figure out where to put soap into other holes, and then work
your way through different programs offering different water
temperatures (not just hot, medium, or cold either. It's
30 degrees, 60 degrees, 90 degrees, 40 degrees, etc), whether
you want a pre-wash, and whether you want to spin or not. One
machine had 16 different programs for washing! And the clothes
must be spotless when they come out because even the "short"
wash cycle usually takes over an hour. Needless to say, this
makes laundry an all-day experience.
After having a terrible Christmas day itself, Bronxx and I
headed off to Genoa to visit Massi for the New Year's holidays.
We spent five or six days in Genoa and a day in Milano, both
of which are in Italy. We had a great time. My primary impressions
of Genoa were: sea, dog crap, fur coats, and run-down buildings. We
were favoured with some warm days and we went walking along the
sea wall where thousands of other Genovese had the same idea. The
Genovese have a high sense of fashion and almost all of the women
were wearing fur coats, even though it was much too warm for such
apparel. Each woman with a fur coat was likely to be accompanied
by a dog or two, who was allowed to relieve himself anywhere he
chose and the owner just walked on afterwards.
A lot of the city seems to look like a slum area on the outside
but the interior of the buildings is in good shape. The reason
behind this is that the city itself owns most of the buildings and
is responsible for the exterior upkeep. The city, of course, can't
afford to keep all of the buildings in good shape, so they don't.
I think this is rather unfortunate. The city would be quite charming
if the buildings were in better shape and if there weren't so much
garbage around. On the other hand, it was kind of quaint to walk
through a street no wider than three people across and see all the
shops crammed side by side together and selling everything under
We stayed in a little hotel, which was located on one floor of
a building. We had a little room with a double bed, a chest of
drawers, a shower, a sink, and a bidet. Yes, we had a bidet, but
no toilet in the room. There were bidets everywhere in Genoa. For
people so fastidious about their personal hygiene, I can't understand
why they have such a dirty city, and such dirty toilets. I don't
recommend using public toilets if you can avoid it.
With the exception of the toilets, the hotel was reasonably clean,
but they had some strange ideas about heating. The first night we
were there, it became quite cold in the room after midnight and we
mucked around with the radiator to no avail. The next morning we
complained to the guy on the front desk who was shocked. He said
that he'd had two elderly gentleman in there previously and they
hadn't complained. He told us we needed to keep our windows closed
during the day because they turn the heat off after 11pm and then
leave it off until 7am in the morning! We tried his advice, but we
were still cold. I guess the guy didn't think much of me the
hearty Canadian after that, but we did acquire an extra blanket.
In the future, we're planning trips to Spain and to North America.
We do have pictures from Italy, and I'll get those scanned one
of these days and insert them into this narrative.
Universities and Other Establishments
You might be aware that I've been experiencing some difficulties
with the University here in Zürich about my suitability for the
Ph.D. program. To date, these problems have not been resolved,
although I've been diligently pushing people to do something. The
problem is not with the department itself, but with the very
conservative university administration. They decided, in fact, that
in order for me to be equivalent to their graduates who are able
to start Ph.D.s that I would have to take between 2.5-3 years of
law, business, and economics, none of which really have anything
to do with computing science or artificial intelligence. Personally,
I have exactly zero desire to study law, business, and economics, and,
besides, that's another entire degree! Instead, my supervisor urged me
to find other universities, especially in Europe, who would take me as
a Ph.D. candidate with the qualifications I already hold. As a result,
I embarked one morning on a 3am letter writing frenzy. I wrote to
about 20 researchers at universities all over the world and explained
that I wanted to do a Ph.D., but I was having trouble doing so in
Zürich. Within five minutes, I had received three positive
responses back. In the end, I had about 15 positive responses.
It was depressing how other people could be so enthused about me
and their universities wouldn't offer any problems to doing a Ph.D.
and how much trouble it's been here.
If I have to move, I think my first choice for universities would
be either Monash in Australia or Rochester in New York. Right now
I've submitted an application to the University of Birmingham, in
the United Kingdom, proposing a joint Ph.D. venture with the University
of Zürich which would enable me to keep my funding and
apartment here, but still be able to do a Ph.D. Keep your fingers
crossed and we shall see how that works out. It could also be that
as soon as I'm accepted somewhere else, the university here will
also have to accept me on the grounds that if I'm good enough for
another university, I should be good enough for here.
In the meantime, I continue to work on projects of my own interest.
Kenrick, Leora Lawton and I have submitted a paper to a workshop on
AI and Entertainment for the next AAAI conference. I'm continuing
to work on my previously unfinished survey paper on intelligent
agents and information filtering and I start teaching again next
week. It's enough to keep me out of trouble, if not actually
busy for the moment.
I find myself often reflecting back on the words of
Robert Runte: "I'm a little bit vague about the things
I don't know." The things I don't know are so many,
but hopefully with the things I do know, I can positively
influence the people I meet in a beneficial way. "You'll
be the odds-on favourite, so long as you think you're