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
Of course, in 1996 there is a
Conference on Visual Languages again.
This time it will be held in
The Beginning of the Story
Months ago in May, 1995 my advisor
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
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.
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 !