Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Des samma mia...

What has a dance metal band like Rammstein to do with traditional Bavarian oom-pah music? I was shown this video a couple of days ago, one of the best dubbing works I've ever seen. Even the audience sing-along goes with the song!

I like it also because the song is sung in Bavarian dialect, which is quite close to Austrian dialect. I love the Austrian dialect, especially since I am able to understand it a little bit. Austrian German (and Bavarian German, too) has a much sweeter melody than Standard German, as well as a great number of own words.

I have a challenge for all those who can speak or are learning German. The first (non-native) who transcribes the singer's dialogue with the audience wins a box of Mozart balls. Good luck! :)

Thinking blogger?

The Spanish twin of this blog, Und komisch spricht das Murmeltier... has been awarded with the Thinking Blogger Award, thanks to the most generous Gebirg. Many thanks, Gebirg, you're the best, and I love winning prizes!

Gebirg says that, even though I might not know it, I made her realize how important small details are. Well, I do care much about details, but I didn't know that this feature was so transfered to my posts. Curious...

According to the rules, I have now to give the prize to 5 bloggers that make me think. Well, I'm not very good with lists and nominations, so here are my 4 winners. The 5th spot is left freely open for anyone of my anonymous readers...

El sastre de Ulm, from El diario del sastre de Ulm (spanish), because his posts and comments not only make me think, but also make me miss my mathematical undergraduate ages.

Alexandra, from Building Bridges, because she is always really fast leaving me comments (time difference may be sometimes fun) and because we learned of each other through a glimpse to The Order.

Silencio, from Ruido (spanish), because he broke his silence and let me put a name to the mysterious red little point near Chicago.

Di, from Impossible not to, because I love her perspective, because thanks to her I am discovering a lot of little things (not only squirrels) that I wouldn't even notice. Di has been so kind to award this blog, Die Murmeltierjahre im Land des Frühschoppens, with the Thinking Blogger Award!!! :) As my two blogs are really twins, I consider myself as awarded, but I won't be tagging anymore, since I already did it from Und komisch spricht das Murmeltier... Thanks a lot Di! :)

Many thanks again to Gebirg for thinking of me, many thanks to Di for bouncing back this award to Die Murmeltierjahre, but especially thanks to all of you, readers in the shadow, readers in the light, for allowing me having some minutes of your lives and for sharing them with me.

Saturday, 20 October 2007


My office colleagues use to make fun of my compulsion to classify the dishes in the dishwasher following a very precise pattern (smaller plates up, bigger plates down, small cups on the right, bigger cups in the middle, glasses to the left, ... it's not that difficult, isn't it? ;)). When someone does not follow The Rule when putting a cup into the dishwasher, I kind of feel disturbed, as if some kind of equilibrium was about to be broken. I do not force anyone to follow The Rule, but I have the irresistible urge to put those damned cups to their right places before switching on the dishwasher! Like we would say in Catalonia, "qui no té un all té una ceba" (lit. "he who does not have a garlic, has an onion", meaning that everyone has some oddity).

I've always believed there is an underlying Order to things, to events and to the Universe in general. My thing with the dishwasher is just an example of my general need for visual perfection, for symmetry, for completeness. I know that my urge flows against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is quite a phenomenal Law to pick a fight with, but I also know I'm nothing but a little pawn in Universe's big chess board, and I know I'm not alone.

We as humans cannot look at the whole picture, because our brains are too small to comprehend the grandiosity of The Order, but we can get glimpses of it, we have been blessed with flashes, quick shutters that let us guess there is something out there. One of those flashes struck me recently, and I want to share it with you.

As I worked in Barcelona, J was one of my colleagues. After we came to Salzburg, J married his girlfriend J, whose wedding we attended. Some months after I started writing this blog, we learned from a Catalan girl living in Salzburg, G, and we met her for a cup of coffee. It turned out that G and J came from the same town in Catalonia, and she and J's younger sister went to school together. The world is small, one might think. But I'm not done yet.

A couple of months ago my new colleague G started working in our office. Mar and I met him and his girlfriend E one day, and it turned out that E's childhood friend K works with Mar.

A couple of weeks ago we met again G, the Catalan girl who went to school with J's wife's sister, and this time we met her boyfriend M, too. As it turned out, M comes from the same town in Upper Austria as G, my new colleague, whose girlfriend's childhood friend works with Mar.

So, we established an acquaintance loop going through 10 different people. What are the chances for something like that to happen? Yeah, I heard about that interesting six degrees of separation stuff, and maybe it's true that we are really bad at estimating the actual probability of such coincidences, but... isn't it much more beautiful to think of that as a glimpse to The Order?

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Autumn light

Sometimes I think about which is my favourite season: summer has some well accepted advantages, I love to hear my own footsteps on the snow in winter, and spring has the beauty of new born life. But if I had to choose, I would take autumn.

I tend to be a little melancholic from time to time, and when Nature shows its most grey face, I've always got a strange inner satisfaction about feeling that way, because it's easier to feel melancholy in cold rainy November than in bright sunny May. That would be a personal, attitude-related reason why I would choose autumn.

But there is another reason, in fact two. First, trees dress the most amazing colours in autumn. I could literally spend hours looking at the forest visual symphony being played every year. Second, this incredible colours have the most beautiful spotlight ever: a still bright sunlight falling down in a low angle. And its combination, dear readers, is a dream for the hobby photographer.

It is said that the best times of day for photography are sunrise and sunset. And there is a reason: When the Sun is very high in the sky, the sunlight traverses just a thin layer of atmosphere before reaching us, and it is too intense, it makes ugly hard shadows and effectively burns up our subjects. On the other side, when the Sun is lower, sunlight has to traverse a longer chunk of our atmosphere, and acquires a wonderful warm red tone along this journey. That happens after sunrise and before sunset.

The problem with sunrise and sunset is that the sunlight is also weaker than at noon, and you really have to catch the right moment. Autumn sunlight is like a 10-hour after-sunrise light, because it falls in a low angle, but it is still strong enough to give everything a wonderfully warm tone that is a joy to shoot at. I would even say that the colour of the sky is different in autumn. Like it was more blue, more intense than ever.

I love autumn light...

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Amazing web powers

I have always been amazed by how rapidly an exponential growth can surpass our common sense intuitions. Let's imagine that a certain bacterium is able to reproduce once per hour, and that we start with a single bacterium in a laboratory flask. Say after one day, we observe that the bacteria fill up half of the flask. Our common sense would say that it will last another day for the bacteria to fill up the flask. But indeed we would have to wait only one hour. Or, most amazingly, how you just need to fold a piece of paper over itself 50 times to get to the Moon.

One of the properties of a network structure is the beautiful way in which it takes advantage of this fact. Each time we add a new node to a network, the absolute number of connections grows exponentially. If we take that as a measure of the value of a network, we may say that this value grows exponentially as we add nodes to it. If the value of my own connection depends on the value of the network, I just need to connect to it and wait for others to do the same. If I would have the only telephone in the world, it would be pretty much useless. But how useful is a telephone nowadays? The networked connection makes the huge difference here.

The internet might be the biggest human-made interconnected network in our world. As I started writing this blog, I wondered how would I get any reader because, how would anyone be able to find it in the first place? But it happened. At first I looked at those little red points on the world map trying to guess who was behind, and how did they learn about Die Murmeltierjahre. Then I started posting comments here and there, and then someone came over, and others followed, and someone liked me and put me on their link list, and so it began. The exponential growth started to unfold in its wonderful way.

Most important here is the human factor. Because it is people who sit behind the screens, it is you people who bring the whole system into life. When you read blogs, you get the opportunity to peek through little windows that very generous people decide to open into their lives.

I have been lucky enough to meet a couple of "buddy" bloggers, and it is kind of an experience. Because you've already read so much about those persons' lives that you know them already. Through the words they wrote, you've got a feeling about them. And when you get to meet them in person, you might still feel like you're meeting a stranger, because you didn't know the colour of her eyes or because you are surprised by the sound of his voice, but the way this person makes you feel is exactly the same feeling you get as you read. If you enjoy reading someone, you will enjoy a conversation as well. It is amazing to realize how much of ourselves we put in our blogs. And how much our blogs say about us.

I like the Net. Because it continues to allow me to meet, virtually or in person, with some extraordinary people, who make me laugh, who make me think, who let me see through their eyes even those things that are already so usual I wouldn't notice them anymore.

I like the Net because I feel as if it were a living organism. I like the Net because it puts the amazing power of exponential growth in our hands.

Monday, 1 October 2007


I've always liked words. Language is one of the greatest inventions, one of those breakthroughs after which there is no way back. We, as humans, were probably meant to be intelligent, but it was just when we started to talk, as we started being able to communicate with each other, that we finally woke up from our long sleep, holding a torch in our hands, bringing the light of knowledge to a million year long and dark night.

I love words. But I like some better than others. For most of them I am not able to tell why. Just because they sound great or beautiful. Or maybe because they remember me of something happy. Or just because they remember me of something. Sometimes it's because they are, somehow, round. And sometimes, I don't know, they are just perfect.

I've decided to add a new label to my blog, favourite words, where I am going to present, from time to time, words and expressions that I love. I am not promising any regularity here, because they come and go, but I promise as soon as I find anything I will share it with you.

Today I've got an expression, a German one, which goes: Mühsam ernährt sich das Eichhörnchen.

Which means, literally, "The squirrel feeds laboriously", and it's a German Redewendung (figure of speech) meaning something like "slowly but surely". I love the word Eichhörnchen (squirrel) because it is a diminutive and it remembers me of Einhorn (unicorn), although it has nothing to do with it. And I love the word mühsam, when used as in "laborious, strenuous", but not when used as in "cumbersome".

I love the visual power of this expression, because mühsam is exactly the way a squirrel eats a couple of nuts that you feed to it in a park, say in Schönbrunn, in Vienna.