Sunday, November 24, 2013

Professor for one year (week 29): Devices galore -- am I a geek?

How many electronic devices do you use regularly?  When you go to a conference or attend a meeting, the first thing participants ask for is Internet access -- and then coffee.  So organizers estimate the number of participants, add some tolerance and then order a certain number of WiFi accounts.  When you look around, almost everybody uses a laptop.  But people have a laptop and a tablet.  So you should double the number of accounts.  And then almost everybody uses their smart phone, too.  Which triples the original estimate.  I don't have a smart phone, but I too travel with laptop and tablet (mostly because I always have to prepare some longer texts for which I prefer a real keyboard and Emacs -- while you can use an external keyboard with an iPad, Emacs is not available for iPad).

When I survey my home office, I discover a high number of computers per square meter:  A black MacBook from 2004 named Heinz, a MacBook Air from 2008 (the rounded-edge model) named Marlene, a MacBook Air from 2013 (the sharp-edge model) named Fred.  Then there is my partner's late-2008 model MacBook (named Themis) and a Celeron PC running NetBSD (named Eurus) we use for scanning -- so we do have a scanner, too (no name for this one!).  All in 10 square meters.  We have a cable modem, which is connected to an AirPort Express wireless router named Horst and a printer named Gaia also connected to the wireless network via a second AirPort Express named Gunther.  And then there are Fräulein Meier, the iPad, Laurin, the iPad Mini, Tippse, my Apple Wireless Keyboard, and Berta, my Nokia phone, floating about the entire apartment.  That's a lot and everybody is talking to everybody via WiFi or Bluetooth!  And in a corner, there is still Herbert, my old Toshiba Satellite notebook from 2001.

I use Heinz for iTunes mainly, I haven't quite finished the migration from Marlene to Fred yet -- Marlene was kind of a lemon, she got a new SSD, but this didn't fix the unexpected crashes and her refusal to install updates.  At my previous jobs, I always had a computer, too.  As I sometimes had several employments at the same times, this almost doubled the number of computers I used regularly: A Sun and later an iMac (with alternating names because of network changes) at the University of Zurich, a Dell laptop at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland named Waltraud, and after that an iMac at the University of Basel also named Waltraud.

Switching computers requires data management, like deciding where and how to access e-mail messages, and where to store documents -- I used the versioning system CVS with the repository stored on the network at UZH, so I could check out and commit drafts from anywhere.  In Konstanz, I decided to use only Fred and not another computer -- I'm also running out of names, but more on this next week -- and asked for a big screen only.

Professor for one year (week 28): Another German compound process: Reisekostenrückerstattung (travel reimbursement)

Last week, I wrote about my conference tour this fall.  As this tour had no private aspects, it was a "Dienstreise" (business trip) and in that case, you can get a reimbursement for your traveling costs -- train or plane, hotel, conference fees, etc.  In German, that's "Reisekostenrückerstattung" and it's not only a compound, it's also complex.

In Konstanz, you have to fill this two-page form: 
It first asks for your address and some personal data and your bank account in the left part of the first page -- this part is easy.  Then you find seven points of instruction how to fill out the reverse side.  Generally, if you need complex instructions for a form, it's a badly designed form.  So this is a first hint that the whole process might not be an easy one.

You have to state when and where you started your travel, when and where it ended and when the "Dienstgeschäft" -- the reason for your travel -- started and ended.  If you remember last week's post, I started my tour in Paris (not my usual "Dienststelle" (place of employment) nor my "Wohnort" (residence) and neither in one of the corresponding countries) and it ended in Zurich (my residence, but a different country than my "Dienstort").  I went from Paris to Berlin to Zurich (for a short stop-over and exchange of cloths) to Florence -- so from France to Germany to Switzerland to Italy.  I crossed three borders and I would have to state the exact time when I crossed which border -- I never heard the captain of a plane announcing that just now we would be crossing a border, so I invented a time.  For the hotel where you stayed you have to justify why you stayed in exactly this hotel.  Of course for Florence and Berlin it's "Nähe zum Dienstgeschäft, Einsparung von Fahrtkosten" -- it wouldn't have been possible to commute.  But these boxes look like check boxes, not radio buttons, so should I also tick other possibilities?  But it was different for Berlin and for Florence.  But then, these boxes are identical to the ones you have to choose for the end point and starting point of your travels and here it's impossible to start from two or more places at the same time, so maybe they are both radio buttons.  I treat them this way.

Interestingly, if you don't travel by train, bus, or plane but by "Kfz" (motor vehicle), you have to state the "Hubraum" (engine displacement) -- up to 600ccm or more.  There are probably different reimbursement rules depending on whether you go by Harley or by VW van.

You have to input the amount of money you spent, but no currency is given.  So do I have to convert expense in CHF and US$ to € or just state them?  I chose the latter and wait what will happen.

For comparison, this is the form the Institute of Informatics at the University of Zurich uses:


Yes, apart from stating address and bank account, it's a simple table where you insert the kind of expense you asking reimbursement for.  And it's even assumed that you might have had expenses in different currencies.  It's a simple single-page form.  You might invent other layouts for this form, but the important part is that you don't spend hours with filling the form.  The German Department at the University of Basel had a similar simple document.  For reimbursements by the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences there isn't even a form, you submit receipts for all your expenses, state your bank account and address and that's it.

And don't forget to add your "Dienstreisegenehmigung" (business trip approval).  For this I had to fill an even worse designed two-page document beforehand asking all kind of things -- but not about estimated costs.  It has even more explanations and the parts to be filled out by you are scattered to the two pages.



You even have to fill this document for trips you won't ask for reimbursement.  I guess the main reason for those approvals are insurance issues: You have insurance at your place of employment, but for all other places you need a private insurance.  So if something happens outside your office, the employers insurance is responsible only if he approved that it was necessary that you had to be outside your office.  It's different in Switzerland: As soon as you work more than 8 hours a week, you're insured via the employer for accidents inside and outside your office ("Berufsunfall- und Nichtberufsunfallversicherung").  So there is no need to get official approval to meet with colleagues or clients for a meeting outside your office -- you only need to get approval in case you ask for reimbursement of travel costs as different grants or accounts might be used to cover your expenses.

I guess the more badly-designed documents you have to fill, the more you get accustomed to fill them without thinking.  But this is no good excuse to design poor documents!  And I even haven't mentioned the language used in those forms -- it is far from plain language.  There is much room for improvement from a document design point of view.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Professor for one year (week 27): Conference season

In the first half of September, I had my conference tour: From a private visit in Paris, I flew to Berlin for two workshops, than back home to Zurich for one day, and than to Florence for a conference.  As I had had no time for writing something to submit to ACL, NAACL, and RANLP, I did not attend conferences in August and unfortunately did not meet with some colleagues.

However, I was invited as speaker at the workshop Corpus-based historical linguistics (CBHL) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.  I talked about challenges and solutions for retrieval and annotation of German phrasemes in heterogeneous diachronic TEI corpora, i.e., what I implemented for the OLdPhras project to help phraseologists search phrasemes in Early New High German texts when no linguistic annotation is available.

The next day, together with Michael Piotrowski, I organized the Third International Workshop on Systems and Frameworks for Computational Morphology (SFCM 2013) which also took place at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.  We had seven interesting talks and an additional invited talk (also with a publication in the proceedings).

Although both events are labeled "workshop", there is a huge difference: The first one was a linguistics workshop and the latter one a computational linguistics workshop.

  • For CBHL, all speakers had been invited by the organizer who set the topic and attracted the audience.  Each speaker gave a longer talk of about 50 minutes and then there was some time for discussion.  So a "workshop" is more something like a place for getting to know various research, it's not a place to actually work on something together as it might be the case in rhetoric and composition.  There will be no publication, so this is only for the "Talks" section in your publication list. Sometimes, somebody arranges for a special issue in a journal or an edited volume in a book series and asks participants to contribute to this publication.  So maybe you write an article about the things you presented and some years after the workshop, your contribution is published.
    The work we presented at the Conference on New Methods in Historical Corpora in Manchester in April 2011, finally has been published some weeks ago in a volume of the series Korpuslinguistik und interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf Sprache (CLIP). Meanwhile, the project for which we announced how to proceed, is finished.
  • SFCM 2013, and workshops in NLP in general, are more small-scale conferences: There had been a call for papers (full papers of 10 to 20 pages according to LNCS style, not 300-words abstracts!) to be reviewed in a double-blind fashion by the members of the program committee.  We accepted seven of 15 papers to be published in the proceedings of the workshop and to be presented at the workshop (acceptance rate for workshops is usually higher than for high-end conferences, where you have a 20 to 25% acceptance rate).  All authors got elaborate feedback from at least three reviewers; for accepted papers, authors had to revise their papers considering reviewer comments to submit a final version compliant with given style guidelines 10 weeks before the workshop.  We (the organizers) then edited the proceedings: writing a preface, creating author indexes and table of contents, fixing style violations, rearranging tables and figures -- i.e., creating a camera-ready version of the proceedings.  Everything was then shipped to the publisher who sent galley proofs to all authors and the editors two weeks later.  And one week before the workshop, we received the printed volumes.  So as organizers, there is no work left after the workshop and participants and everybody else can read about the work presented.  It's a very fast process and it helps to make recent research available almost immediately.
    So here, "workshop" is also a bit misleading in general.  However, for SFCM we incorporate a bit of the literal meaning by having a two-hour demo session where participants (no matter if they gave a talk or are listening only) share recent developments, can get help with implementation issues (in 2011, the invited speaker Lauri Karttunen helped fixing some bugs in XFST scripts) and maybe prepare collaborations.
After SFCM, I went to the 13th ACM Symposium on Document Engineering (DocEng) in Florence.  Although ACM is the professional association for computer science, conferences follow the same schema as in computational linguistics.  At DocEng 2013, I organized and chaired the first doctoral consortium (ProDoc@DocEng).  The symposium took place in a former church, which was an impressive room, but resulted in challenging acoustics.  However, ProDoc@DocEng was a success, the students got a lot of encouraging and challenging feedback, and I will organize the consortium again at DocEng 2014.  There where a lot of interesting talks and activities at DocEng, I met old friends and we made plans for future activities within DocEng.

When I came back after these two exciting weeks, I actually was a bit exhausted and needed some days to sort ideas, links, papers and papers, and catch up with e-mail messages and other deadlines.  However, this is how conference season ends, it's part of the game.

Professor for one year (week 26): Half-time

In week 26, the first half of my year as acting professor was over.  Actually, this was six weeks ago -- I'm a bit behind with blog posts.  However, I will try to review this first half:

When I started teaching in Konstanz, I had sort of a cold start as I had almost no time for preparing lectures.  In summer term 2013, I taught three courses: Grammar Engineering (basically writing LFG-grammars with XLE), Perl for Linguists, and a seminar on NLP for Writing Technology.  I had taught the latter two before, so there was plenty of material available including assignments and sample solutions, but I had to adapt it.  I had no experience with XLE, so I had to learn it while preparing lectures, but I had a teaching assistant to help with assessing assignments and with tutorials.  In the end, I prepared lectures week to week.  For the first half of Summer term, I also had a teaching appointment at the University of Basel, finishing my seminar in Spring term (for musings on different term dates see this post). And I also finished the implementation of the annotation application for the OLdPhras project in Basel.

There was no time left for research of for writing publications.

Additionally, I participated in the PostDoc Program at the University of Zurich and in the Global Perspectives Programme at the University of Basel. So I had a really busy summer!  I still have to write my final report for GPP ...

Usually, NLP conferences take place in fall and submission season is spring or summer.  So with no time for writing articles, I don't have publications for 2013?  No, I do have, because in 2011 and 2012 together with colleagues I submitted several papers to some linguistics publication channels.  And in the humanities, publication takes time -- so these papers did appear 2013, and I'm still waiting for another one that is still "in press".

After the end of summer term in Konstanz, I had two weeks of vacations, and then I started my fall conference tour.  Although I didn't submit something for the major NLP conferences, I was busy in fall, see the next post.  When I returned, I would have to prepare teaching for winter term, and I planned to do this well in advance, to also have enough time for doing some research, applying for grants, and for blogging -- well, you can guess from this "behind schedule" post, that I didn't manage to balance everything.

All in all, I did enjoy these six months: I got to know another university with lots of specifics (as it is also one of the "Reformuniversitäten" in Germany), I enjoyed to be in a more linguistic environment and from talks and colloquia I got a lot of input and new ideas I could adapt for further research.  I never taught so many courses, this was indeed a very new and very challenging experience, but in the end it turned out OK and in winter term I also teach four courses (but all four at the University of Konstanz).  The students attending my classes were an even more heterogeneous audience than at the University of Zurich.  But I had the impression (and the result from the evaluation surveys support this), that we created a challenging but supportive learning atmosphere where they could benefit from one another.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Professor for one year (week 25): Dress properly

When you look for advice on how to dress professionally, you always hear: "Dress appropriately," and "You should feel comfortable with what you wear."  OK, the second part is easy: It depends on the season how many pieces you wear, and maybe after Christmas-New-Year-holidays you'll have to adjust your clothes a bit.  But "appropriately"?

When you have a job interview, this is a critical question.  For people in medicine or law it's easy, you wear a suit as a man and a pantsuit or deux-pièces (skirt suit) as a woman.  You want to look like "one of them," you want to look like the other professors.  So what do professors in Computational Linguistics look like?

The old men wearing three-piece suits are retiring these days.

When do you see professors wearing formal clothes?  Maybe on conferences.  Only a few men wear suits regularly, most wear pants and coats, some even wear jeans and pullovers or fleece jackets.  Women wear pants and coats, some even wear jeans and fleece jackets (oh, no gender difference?  OK, some women also wear skirts or dresses, but I'm not into skirts.)  So maybe for very official occasions, I get a bit more formal with pants and a blazer.

But what do you wear on a day-to-day basis?  You won't look overdressed and feel comfortable at the same time, so jeans and fleece jacket would be OK?  But then you make experiences like I did on my first days in Konstanz, people treat you like another student.

How could I show that I'm a bit more mature than my students?  Maybe getting grey hair would help.  But that's not the best option, you simply feel old -- not mature or professional -- discovering the first grey hair in the mirror.  As a man, I could grow a full beard.  But wait, I already had bachelor students with full beard -- so no significant difference again.

I guess I'll have to live with being mistaken for a student from time to time, a deux-pièces simply doesn't go with my EDC -- Kitchensink and Motörizers.