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If you’ve ever taken a language course you will have surely had to writeyour name on small piece of paper. So far no problem. But then you aresupposed to make this piece of paper stand more or less upright, so that it is clearly visible from the front of the room. Now this is not so easy.

Most people try with a single fold, which only works if your paper is really quite stiff.
Other go one step further and try to flatten the “feet” so that the paper has a larger surface to rest on. This gives a small improvement.
A fairly robust solution involves simply “filling” the tent-like structure with, e.g., a pencil case. Of course, this has disadvantages if you later actually need to access any item from that pencil case.

In cases where it is possible to use a large sheet of paper, e.g., A4, I’ve always preferred the solution where you go for a proper
triangle-shaped cross section rather than just a V-shaped one. A “drawing” would look this this. (Ignore the ‘.’ s)

…./……… \
../…………. \\

In most cases, this solution works very well, but it did not work for my current French course where we were only given rather small pieces of
paper and so wasting about 30% of the total length just for the bottom was not an option.
Fortunately, I had a clever seat-neighbor. She used a single fold, which would not have worked on its own, but then added dog ears to each of the upper corners. This added a lot of stability to the whole construction.

Finally, I can go to sleep with one problem less to worry about..

Don’t cross the border from Luxembourg to Belgium if you have a suitcase of money in your car. That’s the kind of advice a few well-off Germans would have appreciated a few months earlier.

A gang of criminals, pretending to be policemen, made at least €500k during the last years by stopping business class cars with German number plates and somewhat elderly drivers, returning from Luxembourg via Belgium to Germany.

The cars were then searched for unusual amounts of money with the apparent claim that the policemen had to verify whether the money was not forged. Apparently, it is not that “unusual” for people to go to Luxembourg, to withdraw around €10-20k in cash and then to come back to Germany.

The police believes that not all the poor victims filed charges later on, as some might be afraid of being sued for tax fraud. After all: why would you go to Luxembourg to withdraw considerable amounts of money in cash?

I have to admit that I kind of admire the style of these criminals. Nobody got hurt or was even threatened.  Anyways, you can read the full story (in German) here.

Why is there no seminar on the most important thought experiments? If there is (ideally, at EPFL) then please tell me.

I had to live 29.5 years to first encounter the “Chinese room” (while reading The Emperor’s New Mind). It is by far the most inspiring thought experiment concerning the issue of mind, machines and consciousness that I’ve ever heard of.

If (i) you don’t know what it is and (ii) like to think about questions such as how consciousness arises from mindless cells and if machines will ever be “intelligent” in the sense of a human, then I very strongly advise you to read at least the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article.

It’s a shoe.

It’s always refreshing to see established rules and mindsets being shaken by new developments. In particular when this concerns fundamental things such as the definition of clothes.

Recently the distinction between a shoe and a mini computer were blurred by Adidas and their Adidas_1 and this has now become the case for lawyers in Germany. Why? Well, because shoes are clothes and clothes you can simply dispose off by throwing them out with other garbage (or even better: give them to red cross if they are still in an acceptable state). But computers, monitors and other devices fall under the law for recycling electronic waste. In particular, the manufacturer would have to offer to take them back.

The judges ruled that shoes, even if equipped with microprocessors and sensors, were still shoes and that the laws concerning e-waste did not apply to them.

I wish there were more of such cases, questioning established frames of thought. What if I print a book using edible paper and letter-shaped noodles. Do copyright restrictions also apply to food? What if I sell a book with an integrated microprocessor, can I still benefit from the lower VAT for printed material? I’m sure that there are special regulations applying to musical instruments. What if I use my vacuum cleaner exclusively to make “music”? Does the e-waste legislation apply to digital pianos? What if there are eventually biodegradable micro-processors in the food itself. [Ok, they are biodegradable, but still: how do you classify it?]

I always find it fascinating how arbitrary any rules become once you start pushing them to the extreme.

So far, I’ve never been to Australia, but when I go I’ll certainly visit the Hutt River Principality.

Although this tiny nation is so far not internationally recognized (but I will immediately recognize it, once I formerly declare my office to be an independent state), it does have its own currency, its own stamps and its sovereign does not pay any tax to Australia or to any other foreign nation.

It even has a diplomatic representation in Berlin.

Check out its homepage here (the webmaster was recently knighted by the king) or watch a short documentary (in Germany) about the nation.

Today I went to CopyQuick (which Sarunas kindly told me about) to ask them to print “Le petit prince” on a t-shirt. Apparently, judging from the confused look on the clerk’s face, this is not a standard thing to do.

He couldn’t tell me any exact price but suggested that (i) I prepare the copies in advance (by grouping pages etc.) and that (ii) I select a subset of the about 90 A6 pages. (i) would be no problem (… except that I’ll have to go back to the shop for the color copies of the drawings) but (ii) ….well, selecting a subset would be difficult. After all, it’s really about having the book, and not just a few nice illustrations from it. I estimated that by shrinking the size quite a bit and by using the sleeves etc. (which I wanted to do anyways) I could fit about 40-50 pages on a single shirt.

A clever friend of mine, whose space-time coordinates coincidentally agreed with mine this afternoon, then had the original idea of also printing something on the inside of the shirt. Then I could wear it inside-out to read the second half. I thought about this for a while, but currently I favor her second proposal: just print it on two shirts. Then I could wear “part 1” on Monday and “part 2” on Tuesday (… yes, of the same week, in case you’re wondering about the hygiene of a computer scientist).

Now I just have to play a bit with how to actually arrange the pages.

I also think that I’m actually not infringing any copyright laws, as Antoine de Saint Exupéry died more than 50 years ago. So, if I remembered the “critical threshold” correctly, the Disney characters will also become part of the public domain in 8 years, as it will then be 50 years that their inventor Walt Disney went to see his maker.

If this was an email, it would be look something like this:

Subject: Fwd: Fwd: WG: Fwd: Transparent Computer Screens

Message: Dude/Dudess, check out this amazing slideshow on Flickr!


I don’t like sending mass emails with fun stuff (though I don’t mind receiving), but I have to admit the link above would be worth it.

I recently came across this collaborative poetry project. It is a simple website where the whole world can share one magnetic poetry kit. I really like this mix: 20% collaboration, 30% nerdness, and 50% creative poetry.

Now creating short “poems”, as beautiful and worthwhile as it may be, is unlikely to solve any of the world’s problems. But could a similar approach be harvest to do something useful?

When it comes to sharing computer resources, there are projects such as SETI@home, which combine the computational powers of people worldwide to create a supercomputer to work on a common goal. The basic idea is: your computer downloads small data chunks. Runs some analysis on the data, and sends the results back to the server (after a few hours/days) to get some more data to work on.

Can you think of any intellectual problems, which

(i) could not be easily solved by a computer

(ii) require human “creativity” or at least human thinking

(iii) could be broken up into small chunks, which can be solved by an intelligent person in anything between a few minutes and a few hours/days

(iv) where the “solution” to each chunk is somehow easily verifiable (ideally by a machine).

Then one could create  such as joint project for “real” problems:

Each evening, before you go home, you could “download” a small sub-problem to work on over the next few hours or whenever you have time. Once finished you then upload a “solution” and download the next problem. [These could, e.g., be a simple but non-trivial Lemma as part of a big proof.]
Wikipedia (… this is the first time I looked at the Wikipedia article about Wikipedia. Is there a Brockhaus entry in the Brockhaus?) is probably the best example for what a joint intellectual project can do. But this project would be different in nature. Ideally, you would not need to be online to think about your small chunk and the final output would be the solution to a real problem.

Just as SETI@home (and similar projects) helps to avoid that any CPU cycles “go to waste”, this project would in a sense help to avoid that brain capacities “go to waste”.

I used to love Lego. I really enjoy improvisational theater. It seems so obvious … why not combine the two?

If I was a South Park episode, I’d be shouting “The Simpsons already did it!“, but it was not the Simpsons, but the Pool d’Impro du Poly.


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