The Annals of Michadom, Part VI


In which:
Michelle finds a sister (or a sister finds her), acquires some new friends, visits Prague, reveals some information about universities and publications, and introduces a new segment on living in Switzerland.

August 09, 1996

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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, it's time for a long overdue update on my activities in Switzerland. I must say, as an editorial aside, that I have been rather disappointed with summer so far in Switzerland. Somehow I expected the weather to be nice, but it has been rainy with a few nice days periodically. On the other hand, things appear to be looking up for me and I'm happily sproinging along, enjoying my many adventures. This issue marks the start of a new segment on Swiss life. I'm kicking it off with a discussion of the Swiss version of Independence Day and the right to recycle. Enjoy!

Swiss Life: Fire, Fines, and Fireworks

August first is the Swiss equivalent of Canada Day or the Fourth of July. What do patriotic Swiss do on this day? It didn't seem like they do all that much. In the evening, though, hundreds of thousands of people congregated in the areas of the city surrounding Lake Zürich and set off fireworks. Fireworks, unlike in most (all?) of Canada, are freely available to the public. After having experienced August 1st here, however, I can certainly appreciate the rational behind fireworks restrictions in Canada. We saw people setting fireworks off into the maple trees, even towards other people. What really bothered me was seeing children under the age of 10 setting off fireworks. The Swiss claim that the people doing these things are not Swiss. I don't really know since I didn't stop and ask them. I did see an especially neat firework that spat out 50 or 60 paper parachutes that floated gently down to the ground, and I could see the fireworks from a few metres away.

Although there were all these people playing with fireworks, I don't think we had any fires, which is a good thing. The prospect of a fire in Switzerland scares me a little. Most of the buildings are made of stone and are not required by law to have smoke detectors or fire extinguishing equipment on every floor of an apartment building. On top of that, many apartment buildings lock their main doors from the inside, as well as the outside, after 9 or 10pm. Without a key, you cannot exit the building! (Trying to put things on the walls or ceilings of a building made out of stone is no picnic either, I might add!)

There are lots of places for picnicking in Switzerland. Many of the public parks feature grills and firepits. It's even possible to walk into the middle of a Swiss forest and find a camp kitchen and several grills. With such a beautiful country, the Swiss are justifiably proud of their forests, mountains, and meadows. They are so enamoured of their meadows, in fact, that they treat their lawns like minature meadows. They let all manner of wild flowers and weeds grow in their grass. The grass outside my apartment is often filled with yellow and purple flowers. It's beautiful to gaze upon a sea of wildflowers in the emerald green grass.

I mentioned in an earlier Annal that the Swiss love to recycle, but you only have the "right" to recycle in the city of which you are a resident. If the recycle/garbage police catch you depositing recyclable materials in a different canton, you can be fined 150 Swiss Francs (about 160 $CDN). Where does that leave tourists then? I guess tourists aren't expected to recycle!

New Friends

Robert and I, determined to turn our apartment into a zoo, have acquired two little kittens. Our male kitty, named Listy after Lister in Red Dwarf, likes to run around the house jumping on things and creating a mess -- more or less like a typical male. (-: Our female kitty, Layla, is a lot more sedate and a lot smaller. She seems to have worms that defy deworming medication. Her favourite trick at this point is to pee on the bed when you least expect it. Ick! Hopefully that will clear up in time. Despite the problems, we find ourselves vastly amused and entertained by their antics.

My family recently welcomed a new face into their ranks. As some of you may know, I had an elder sister who was adopted out. This sister, Sherrie, has recently tracked down my parents and has been spending time getting to know them and my other relatives. Obviously I haven't met her yet, but I imagine that I will when I visit Canada in a few week's time. This is kind of exciting, I think, and not just for my parents. I've never had a sister before or an older sibling. I'm looking forward to meeting her for the first time.

Robert and I are anticipating meeting several people on our trip that we have only talked to through the Internet previously, in addition to my old friends. For example, in Seattle we'll be meeting up with Sheattle, a comedienne. We'll be staying a week in Tulsa, OK, with Fiamma and TheTick, who are both also ADD. While we're in Tulsa several other people will be meeting us there, including JazzMan and (hopefully) Don. DaPainter will greet us in Vancouver. It's too bad we didn't have time go other places. Nevertheless, we're expecting to have a great time!

We Don't Do It Alone

It's very seldom in life that you meet a person who is solely responsible for their own accomplishments. I myself have been very fortunate to have had the support and help of many people along the way since I left home. In this Annals, I'd like to thank Siufai Tam.

Siufai was the first person to completely accept me as I am and believe that I could finish high school, that I could go to university. He didn't demand that I somehow change myself to conform to the expectations of the world around me; I was the way and I was, and that was OK. That gave me a sense of self-worth. He reinforced (or maybe even provided) a tendency towards generosity; he was always willing to help people or to share his time, experience, and resources with them. Finally, he gave me a home, a place where I felt I belonged.


I have good news, bad news, and no news. I'm still trying to convince the University of Z&u-uml;rich to allow me to do a Ph.D. there. In the interim, however, I applied at some other universities in Europe. The first university I applied to was the University of Birmingham in the UK. After an extended period of silence, they regretfully informed me that they were not willing to take on any more external students after having been burned in the past. The very next day after receiving this disheartening news, I received a letter in the mail from the University of Sussex at Brighton, also in the UK, informing me that the department had recommended that I be given an offer to do a part-time Ph.D. with the Cognitive and Computing Science department. Hurrah!

A few weeks later, an official offer from the postgraduate affairs office appeared in my mailbox, complete with financial information about the costs of doing a Ph.D. at Sussex. Since I am not an EC or UK student or a residence of either the EC or the UK, I have to register as an overseas student. A fulltime Ph.D. position for an overseas student in computer science costs 8100 British Pounds a year, roughly $15 000 (CDN)! EC/UK students only pay about 2500 British Pounds a year. Luckily, I'm a part-time student, not a fulltime. Oddly enough, though, they don't have a category for part-time overseas students. You're not supposed to apply for a part-time Ph.D. if you live outside the UK/EC. I didn't know that when I applied and I was accepted. It turns out they can only charge me the same as EC/UK students which is 1250 Pounds a year, or $2500 (CDN). What a bargain, as the lady from the postgraduate affairs office would say. (-:

I'm not actually sure if I'm going to go to Sussex. When I applied I told them that I wanted to be able to spend most of my time in Zürich, where my funding is, and only the odd semester or so there. With an unconditional acceptance at Sussex, however, it could be that either the University of Zurich or the Swiss Polytechnic University might accept me as I am. After all the trouble they've given me, though, I'm not sure I want to be a Ph.D. student at the University. A decision must be made soon, as I only have six weeks to respond to the offer from Sussex.

The professor of the AI group at the University of Zürich is bringing my case back up in front of one of various committees or other, and the professor from the Swiss Polytechnic University, for whom I've been working during the summer on information retrieval things, is investigating the possibility of doing a Ph.D. at the ETH. I've also applied for a position at the University of Saarbruecken, with funding from DFKI.

A-ha! Further news! (I'm just so slow at writing this edition of the Annals.) Professor Schäuble did talk to the people at the ETH and they claim that I can start a Ph.D. there if I do a maximum of three additional courses and then exams only in those subjects. Unfortunately, there's a catch: he cannot fund me during that time and it will take two semesters because the courses are not all offered in the same semester. Also, that would mean I would have to change the direction of my Ph.D. work from intelligent agents to applying cryptographic methods to information retrieval systems. The head of the software engineering group here tells me to go for Sussex and that I can keep my funding in Zürich without a problem! Hurrah!

Speaking of Professor Schäuble, I finally realized that it was this Swiss man that Michael Wong was warning me about. Michael was telling me how bad all the men in Switzerland were before I went and how I shouldn't go to Switzerland because of this. Personally, I think Michael was thinking of Peter Schäuble and how cute and young he is. (-:

Finally, Kenrick, Leora, and I had our paper on Rob/ReneeBot accepted for publication at a AAAI workshop on, what else, entertainment and AI. Another research assistant and I here at the University wrote a paper for Autonomous Agents '97 on personal assistants, and I'm writing a third paper, this time with me as the primary author, on testing methodologies for information retrieval systems, which was my work over the summer at the Swiss Technical University.

Coming Home and Other Trips

Just before my birthday in June, Robert and I took a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, we were only there for 5 days or so. The city is huge and there are so many things to see and do. We didn't even scratch the surface, although we sure did a lot of walking around.

I would have to nominate Prague for the city with the most churches. They have an incredible number of churches and religious-related materials. For example, there's a simply huge museum of Jewish art and literature from around the Czech Republic.

I'm coming back to North America! It's true! I've been promising for months that I'd return home for a bit and now the tickets are finally booked. I should be arriving in Edmonton around the 5th of September (yes, this year!). I'll be bringing the RegenbogenRobertfnoolfisch with me. I promised him I'd take him to Canada if he passed his exams in the spring, which he did. We'll be returning to Zurich around the 28th of October. That gives us 6 weeks to get into trouble and create chaos in Canada and the United States. I've included a rough itinerary below of our expected travels. We're very excited. We get to meet a lot of people in person that we only know from the Internet, plus I get to eat at the Double Greeting Wonton Noodle House in Edmonton; my life will be temporarily complete (while I'm temporarily replete!).

From To Location People There
5 Sept 6 Sept Edmonton Parents, Stephen, Davids, Shren, U of A
6 Sept 8 Sept Jasper Stephen & Us
10 Sept 13 Sept Regina Nick, Hardwood, Chris, and U of R
15 Sept 21 Sept Minneapolis Hue, WittLess, Zaphod, GalaxyNet guy, Zrock
21 Sept 26 Sept Vancouver Dan, Jamie, SFU, Siufai, Dr. Au
27 Sept 30 Sept Seattle Sheattle, Q*, U. of Washington
30 Sept 4 Oct Tulsa Fiamma & TheTick, Jazzman, and Donn!
4 Oct 6 Oct Dallas Joel, Bets
6 Oct 9 Oct Tulsa Fiamma & TheTick, JazzMan
9 Oct 10 Oct Seattle/Vancouver Dan, Jamie, SFU, Siufai, Dr. Au, Sheattle, Q*
10 Oct 28 Oct Edmonton Parents, Stephen, Davids.

This schedule is subject to change with little or no notice. (-: (And it probably will, too.)

Closing Words

Bah! It took me almost a month to write all this. I need to write faster or get less distracted, or maybe both. To those of you I'll see on my trip, "See you soon!" To others that I'll miss this time, "Take Care!"
I remain,

Michelle A. Hoyle
The Annals of Michadom, Part VI. Created August 9th, 1996.