Friday, December 31, 2010

A Frigorific New Year!

For the first time in about a month, there is not a cold wind blowing through Rostock. The temperature started going up late last night, as announced by the sound our chunks of ice and snow falling 24 stories off the of our building onto the street below.

The temperature of course can't get much above freezing with all this ice all over everything. Looks like a frigorific new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Passed round one

They said they would get back to me in December, but I was starting to doubt, as today is effectively the last working day of the year for those few Germans who aren't already on vacation. But I got the email this morning.

I've been invited to give a short talk on my research to the committee deciding which applicants will be invited to form Research Groups. The interview will be mid-February in Berlin, and I should know very shortly after that if my application was successful.

This means I have a month and a half to write a talk, make impressive figures and graphs, and so forth. The hardest part for me in writing the talk is figuring out who my audience is. The committee that wants to interview me is from the Human Sciences Section. This includes institutes focusing on anthropology, economics, art-history, law, religious and ethnic studies, linguistics, sociology, the history of science and the study of cognition. It also includes demography, evolutionary anthropology and a fair bit of other natural sciences. I can't simply give the same talk to a group of biologists and demographers that I would give to a committee of lawyers and ethnographers. I don't yet know if the committee as a whole will be judging my talk, in which case I have to assume a great diversity of background, or if they will have a smaller group of specialists assigned to each talk. I can give a good talk either way, but not both simultaneously. I've got some thinking to do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Party of Science

I was Santa Clause at the Institute’s X-mas party this year. I asked everyone if they had been good, and handed out presents and chocolate. I made small children cry. I got chocolate in my long white beard. It was great. I think it speaks to how far Germany has come that no one thought it odd to have a Jewish Santa.

My favorite part of the party was the Powerpoint Karaoke. This is a game which could be popular only with academics. Each player gets up to give a talk with power-point slides, which sounds boring, until you consider that he has never seen these slides before, and they are on a topic he likely knows nothing about. There were three contestants, including Santa, and each of us prepared a set of slides another one of us had to speak on. We were not kind to each other. My friend Jon spoke first, on a set of slides I had made, on sesquipedalianisms. I had the longest and most complicated words in several languages under the bright red heading “SAY THESE WITH ME!!.” He made a valiant attempt. Next I got up, in costume, and my slides were entirely in Greek. I recognized the alphabet, but had no idea what any of the words said, and there were no pictures. Lucky for me, most of my audience also didn’t read Greek, so I pretended that I knew exactly what the slides said, and that they were designed to correct common misconceptions about Santa (e.g., Santa does not in fact employ any reindeer, as their odor offends his sensitive nose.) The talk went quite well, and only afterwards did I find out that it was a presentation in Greek on numerical modeling. Finally, my friend Mikko got up and gave a talk on obscure economic phenomena he knew nothing about. He did a creditable job of pretending he knew what he was saying, or rather of being so precise in his vagaries that it was a believable if entirely uninformative talk. It was the first time I’d played this game, but I think it will not be the last.

Frohe Weinachten! Ho Ho ho!!!