Welcome to My About-page

I would like to give you some historical and technical details on how I contributed to the 11th international IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages 1995 in Darmstadt. Of course, in 1996 there is a Conference on Visual Languages again. This time it will be held in Boulder, Colorado.

The Beginning of the Story

Months ago in May, 1995 my advisor Volker Haarslev stepped in our KOGS-Laboratory and asked one of his young and aspiring students (me) wether he were in the mood of writing a technical paper on his diploma thesis.
The eager and diligent student nodded and said:"Well, Volker, I feel like writing a technical paper but I must confess I don't have much time to write 8 pages full of elaborate English text. I want to finish my written thesis as fast as possible and I have just begun to write the very first pages. So I don't think that I can accomplish your task."
Volker looked a bit disgruntled and remarked:"What about sleeping over my suggestion ?" I agreed and we met a couple of days later in the laboratory. Volker asked again:"Well, what do you think about participating on a renowned conference ?" I retort:"Volker, you know my opinion. I have hardly any spare time for such `glorious ventures' and if you don't mind I would like to refuse to write the paper." Volker was not very amused, no, no. By now he knew pretty well that he must turn some heavier guns on me. So he said to me:"Ok, Dietrich, notice the following: What about writing a smaller paper, let's say a poster. Just two pages to write. This is really not to much for an ambitious graduate. And you ought to know that this poster will enhance greatly your reputation in the scientific society ... and, I have almost forgotten it, this poster might have quite a positive effect on the grade your diploma thesis will receive ..." Oops, that really was a bit too thick for me and I gave in and replied:"Mmmmh, I think you have persuaded me. I will write a two pages poster for you and the conference and we will see what will happen after the experts have examined my poster."
This was the initial incident with which the whole story began.

The Weeks Before the `Deadline'

When I started to write the first English sentences for my poster I noticed that my written English was not as good as I have always thought. Vocabulary could not hardly be recalled. Even English grammar was a mystery to me. I wrote two or three sentences and after I had read them I could not make out any reasonable connection between them. So I deleted these three sentences and wrote three new ones. But as you can imagine the whole game started over and over again. These were very frustratin days I can tell you ! Nevertheless one gets practice in writing English. So finally the very first page filled itself as if it was written by some ghost with remarkable English-sounding sentences.
One thing should be mentioned right here: At that time I had not finished my diploma thesis. I had just started to write my second chapter which revolves around the topic `Visualization'. I had not the faintest idea what I was going to write in my implementation-chapter. This means there was nothing I could easily excerpt from. Everything must be done from scratch.
Finally, I managed to complete my poster. Two pages have been written simultaneously with my diploma thesis. The phase which followed next was the correction phase. The first one who glanced over the document was Volker. He made several comments on the form of my poster and pointed out a handful mistakes to me. After I had rearranged my small chapters and corrected the numerous mistakes the second correction phase begun. In this phase one of our most vigilant and most meticulous assistant researchers was given the opportunity to have a look at my poster. His name is Ralf Möller. Boy, this man is a thorough reader. It took him half a day, I think, to read these two pages and when he was ready I was cited into his office to receive some feedback.
I went into his office and he offered a seat to me. This was quite an indispensable gesture because the following act was in fact a bit vehement. Imagine two sheets of paper which were plunged in a tub of red paint. Not a single sentence was left uncommented. Red writings wherever my eyes were looking. "Okay," I said to myself "let's get through it." After 3 or 4 hours, I think, I left his office with a dull head filled with good advices. In other words: I was all washed out.
It took again two or three days to delete and reformulate sentences and to add more precise information to less words. Finally, the last correction phase started. My advisor again was the first to see the new enhanced poster. Only minor amendments were made by him, so I was quite happy that another big bang would not happen. Last but not least, I mentioned the fact earlier, I am german and my written English is not as perfect as an experienced or even a native speaker could write it. So I decided to ask a good friend of mine who is an anglicist to make some comments about my orthography and puntuation. A couple of days later I got back my poster with a lot of annotations, most of them were merely suggestions. I think this was due to the fact that he was not familiar with the technical terms computer scientists use in their everyday language. Of course some of his comments were quite helpful and they influenced my poster in a positive way.
At that time, my poster was ready to be submitted. So, after uploading it to the conference, it was distributed among three experts. Weeks later, I received an e-mail containing the ratings for my poster. One expert wrote: everything is fine, no comments, just publish your poster. That means: Accepted. The second expert wrote: some mistakes in the text, the meaning of the figures are obscure to me, nevertheless, poster is worth publishing. Again: Accepted. Finally, the third expert wrote the following: some mistakes in the text, can't see any connection between the figures and the text, where is the source code of the algorithms ? wasn't this topic published earlier ? and so on. Well, this fe/male-expert obviously gave me a: Marginal. "Ok", I said "this is half as bad because two experts vote for the poster."
I corrected the mistakes and revised my poster. Because of the apt critique of the third expert, I decided to show some different examples in my poster. In the examined version, I presented two Quicksort algorithms. One picture showed the call tree of a quicksort of 100 random numbers and another showed the call tree of a quicksort of 100 numbers sorted in reverse direction, so that the runtime of this execution should be O(n2). Of course, if the experts had been more familiar with this kind of visualization they most likely would have seen the different runtimes.
Nevertheless, I had to admit that the example was too complicated for a small poster, so I devised another one with even more dramatic effects and more evident visual facts. As you all can see I presented two fibonacci algorithms which were tiny enough to be included in the poster. They showed much better the exponential explosion of processes in the recursive case.
Anyway, my poster was finally finished with these new examples included and I resubmitted it to IEEE.

Only Trips into the Grave Might be Taken Without Money

In the time between the acceptance and the actual conference I made some slides to show on those very days. Presumably, three or four weeks before our trip to Darmstadt I entered the office of my advisor to ask him wether we could drive together to Darmstadt because I knew that he did have a car and somehow or other he must travel to that city. He said:"No, I won't drive with my car. I take the train.""Oh", I replied, "have you bought your ticket, yet ?""No", he said, "our University has an area season ticket. I travel by this ticket." Oops, I feared the worst which will happen consequently as Murphy's law tells us. There was no funding for students. No entrance fee, no night-lodging allowance, no fare allowance, nothing. As you can imaging I am a poor student (students never are wealthy, anyway ! This fact follows strictly from the definition of student.) and I did not feel like paying the whole trip on my own expense.
What could be done in such a situation ? There are three possibilities: First of all, find a treasure chest. Pretty unlikely. Second, find someone who pays for you. Such a person is difficult to find because nobody has spare money to spend for someone else. The third and last idea is to ask institutions if they like to sponsor you. Unfortunately, our University is nearly bankrupt. No money whatsoever. Imagine my long face: No trip to Darmstadt, no meeting of interesting people. What a pity ! But when distress is greatest a small window opens and the light and smile returns to your face. This very rescuer was our secretary Ursula. She said our Cognitive Systems Group has some "small buckets" (say, petty cash) which she might open for me. I was very relieved. My trip could take place after all. My entrance fee was paid as quickly as possible because the closing date draws near perilously. Ursula said to me that I have to pay my night-logding in advance and when I would return to Hamburg she would refund my imbursements. By the way, I got a free train ticket, too. How I was delighted ! The day of our departure approached with mighty steps and Volker and I prepared for the trip. We met at half past seven in the morning in one of our main stations. Surprisingly, another participant of the conference was waiting for the train at the same spot, too ! It was Bernd Meyer. During the time in the train he told some stories about his stay in Australia where he worked as a research assistant. I hardly noticed that three hours have passed by when the train entered the main station of Darmstadt.

Concluding Remarks

For my person, the 11th Conference on Visual Languages was quite interesting. I had never been to a conference before, so the things that were happening during the days in Darmstadt were new and exciting to me. In that period I have spoken more English than in any holidays in England or Ireland. Also, it was an interesting experience to enter the conference with a confident feeling that one's English is sufficent for reading and understanding almost any book written in English and that one is able to speak to anybody about nearly everything. On the second day my estimation about my proficiency in the English language started to crumble because I noticed many vocabulary drop outs and lots of grammar mistakes. Unfortunately, things got even worse on the third day. I wanted to construct correct sentences. But when I was speaking to someone I was thinking a lot and thus speaking got slower and harder.
Now, back in Hamburg I sat down and learnd some vocabulary and grammar. For me, there is no need to be perfect but sometime I want to speak English as fluently as possible.
I hope you all had a good and instructive time in Darmstadt and I hope that the 11th Conference on Visual Languages was of value to everybody.
See you sometime in the future !

Yours, Dietrich