Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Thursday, 30 December 2004

All your Bayes …

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 03:01

This is really, really bad. The person in front is Vladimir Vapnik, by the way (of Support Vector Machine and statistical learning theory fame.)

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

To-do list

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 15:15

My current to-do list as regards my studies:

  • Finish a report about a practical I made last year, topic: Kernel methods in drug screening. Deadline: Sometime mid-january.
  • Write a paper and slides for a seminar talk, topic: Kernel methods for information extraction. Deadline: 5th of february.
  • Write a proposal for my diploma thesis, preliminary topic: Community approaches for social networks. Deadline: 1st of March.

January is going to be a busy month.

Jim Jarmusch

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:59

Vormerken: Di., 4.1., 22:25 Uhr auf 3Sat: Mystery Train, Mi., 5.1., 20:15 auf ARD: Ghost Dog.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

How about a War on Tsunamis?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:31

Just a thought: What if all the money spent on the so-called “war on terrorism” was spent on a tsunami early warning system? The current death count of the recent tsunami in the indian ocean is 24.000, with 35.000-45.000 expected; more if diseases break out. Compare this with a death toll of 3000 for 9/11.

There already is such a warning system for the pacific basin (the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center PTWC); it was founded in 1948 after a tsunami hit Hawaii and killed 159 people. The Alaskan tsunami warning center was established after a tsunami in 1964 killed 131 people.

Why do we allow a tsunami in the Indian Ocean to take 24.000 deaths, many of which could have been prevented with an early warning system?

Monday, 27 December 2004

Happy little bushes, happy little trees

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 02:45

I occasionally watch Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting", which airs late at night (1am or 2am) on German educational TV station BR-alpha. It is a TV show that demonstrates how to paint in Ross’ special “wet-on-wet” technique; in half an hour, he paints a wildlife scene, or a mountain, or a seaside idyll. You can order special Bob Ross painting kits and “create” paintings just as kitschy as Ross’ own.

I am not especially interested in learning how to create fictional landscapes in oils. I just watch it because Ross patters on for the whole half hour in this very low and hypnotic voice – about “happy little bushes” and “happy little trees", about how “it doesn’t matter where you put it", “it’s your painting, you decide where too put it", referring to trees and bushes as “little rascals". It is so soothing, it is a piece of an ideal world on canvas.

My brother watches home shopping to relax and go to sleep, I watch Bob Ross.

“Happy painting, and God bless my friend.”

Sunday, 26 December 2004

Two Brothers; or: DVDs are snake oil after all

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:54

Why do I find the best christmas presents only right after christmas? The movie Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud would have been perfect, but I did not read about it (consciously, at least) until this morning’s issue of Die Zeit.

On the other hand, it is not available yet in Germany anyway. And because of DVD region coding, I cannot even buy the American DVD via Amazon and play it in my DVD player.

I guess I need to be reminded every once in a while that DVDs are evil.

Normally, I am quite supportive of buying DVDs. I think it is a good format for content delivery, the price is OK (DVDs usually retail for less in Germany than audio CDs), the quality is excellent, and there is usually lots of bonus material. I like buying DVD. I’m a consumer, one of the best kind: I’m not a penny-pincher, I like to spend money for a little convenience. The media companies should humour me. When I am confronted with an artificial limitation of my favourite medium, I tend to get annoyed.

I think that with everyone clamoring for globalization and global commerce, artificial barriers between markets like region coding are simply laughable. The DVD is out. It is on Amazon, I can simply tap in my credit card number and order it. And you are telling me that I cannot watch it? It is just a fricking movie on DVD. I paid for it, why should I not be able to watch it?

I know that there are hacks which will render my DVD player region-free. But in the end, that is not a solution – the next DRM system will be more inconvenient to disable, and there is already legislation in place in the US (the DMCA) and Europe (similar, name escapes me at the moment) that makes disabling DRM systems illegal.

Saturday, 25 December 2004

Schmidteinander auf DVD

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 14:52

Pünktlich zum Comeback von Harald Schmidt auf ARD (nach einem Jahr Pause vom Fernsehen) gibt es jetzt auch Ausschnitte aus seiner früheren Show “Schmidteinander” auf DVD. Der Preis schreckt mich noch ab – 51EUR, dafür gibt es aber 342 Minuten Spielzeit.

Ich erinnere mich an Schmidteinander als eine der Kult-Shows meiner Jugend – schräg, witzig, schamlos und einfach gut. Dagegen wirkte das, was Schmidt in seiner Late-Night-Show veranstaltet hat, viel zu oft einfach nur peinlich. Zwischen Feuerstein-Humor (der nicht umsonst 20 Jahre Chefredakteur des deutschen MAD-Magazin war) und dem Humor eines anonymen Sat.1-Redaktionsteams liegen einfach Welten.

Happy Christmas!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:06

I celebrated with my family yesterday, on Christmas Eve, with the traditional exchange of gifts, a four-course meal, and some fine champagne. No singing of christmas carols; we stopped doing that when I was twelve, despite my mother’s insistence.

For supper, we had

  • a clear vegetable soup
  • salad with parmesan and pistachios
  • monkfish in lemon-grass sauce, with green asparagus and oyster mushrooms
  • chocolate-almond soufflé with a tangerine sauce

As regards presents, they were wonderfully utilitarian this time. My parents are going to pay for the hotel during my christmas holiday as a present, plus they gave me a blanket. I got a new wallet (very stylish) from my brother and a Tommy Hilfiger sweater from my aunt, and that was it.

Thursday, 23 December 2004


Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:09

“Statistisch gesehen passieren die meisten Unfälle im Haushalt, die meisten Herzinfarkte kurz nach der Pensionierung, und die meisten Selbstmorde an Weihnachten.
Wenn Du jetzt zum Beispiel am 20. Dezember in Rente gehst, und Du sagst Dir zum Beispiel am zweiten Weihnachtsfeiertag, och, könnt eigentlich mal wieder die Wohnung durchsaugen – Vorsicht! Statistisch gesehen bist Du quasi tot!”

(Vince Ebert)

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 11:00

I didn’t know that the Google Calculator is so powerful: It can calculate the answer to life the universe and everything in a fraction of a second, whereas it took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to do that. Funny, I’ve only used it for converting pounds into kilograms and inches into centimeters.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Writing English

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:07

For the German language, there exists a classic book for journalists that teaches a clear and understandable style: Deutsch für Profis by Wolf Schneider, the former head of the Hamburg journalists’ school. It is required reading for a number of magazines, for example c’t magazine.

I was looking for a similar book for English style and found the following works:

The last three are probably of more interest to newspaper journalists, but I will check out the first two to see whether they are comparable to the German style guide mentioned before.

Math software

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 09:05

On the subject of open source math software – this one isn’t exactly open source, but it’s free as in beer, nonetheless: The original Graphing Calculator from Mac OS 9 is available for free as a beta version for Mac OS X. Looks neat.

Monday, 20 December 2004

American Psycho

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 20:53

I got “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis from the public bookcase on Poppelsdorfer Allee today – without label. (More people need to use! Hey, have a look at!) Supposedly, it’s much better than the movie, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

American’s guide to speaking British

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:44

British English is a wonderful language, with loads of brilliantly lurid and descriptive words. A compendium can be found at The Best of British. Being a fan of Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry, the joy of reading this dictionary is akin to the german dialect tests I discovered recently. Local dialects provide a richness and texture for our language that is otherwise in danger of being lost in the wake of global media and communications.

Sunday, 19 December 2004

Lost another day …

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:00

This morning, I woke up completely convinced that it was monday, and that I had to leave for university soon. Then I noticed that the sunday editions of all the webcomics I read were online, looked at the calendar and realized that it’s sunday. So did I lose a day, gain a day, or is it a net result of zero?

Saturday, 18 December 2004

Alle mal malen, Part II

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 03:56

War heute abend im Billabonn mit Christian, Lars, David, Nils und Volker. Christian musste noch fahren, trank deshalb nur Cola. Trotzdem meinte der Barkeeper irgendwann (als er uns den x-ten Pitcher brachte und Christian die x-te Cola) zu Christian: “Tust Du da irgendwie Schnaps reinkippen oder so?” … “Warum?” … “Na, weil Du so redest!” D’oh.

“Alle mal malen” war auch da, aber wir haben es erfolgreich vermieden, uns von ihm anquatschen zu lassen. Wieder ein potentielles Bild weniger für die Galerie …

Danach noch kurz im Netzladen, u.A. auf eine Nudelsuppe.

Damit geht eine Woche zu Ende, in der ich jeden Abend irgendwo weg war. Montag MacHackers, Dienstag mit Tüte essen, Mittwoch Köln, Donnerstag LUUSA, heute im Billabonn, und morgen früh noch Frühstück mit Saskia, und danach Lampen aufhängen. Es gibt Wochen, in denen ich jeden Abend zu Hause sitze; dafür bin ich in anderen Wochen nur unterwegs. Ein weiteres Indiz, dass Clustering und Aggregation der natürliche Zustand der Welt ist …

Friday, 17 December 2004

Alle mal malen?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:18

Everyone who has been out in Bonn probably knows him: An old man with a satchel who arrives on his bicycle, enters the bar and walks up to all the guests, having a short conversation with them. When he comes to your table, he will begin his spiel as well: “Want me to draw you? Soll ich euch alle mal malen? I’m an artist. It’s cheap, just 10EUR for all of you. That’s just 5EUR per person. In Paris, you’d be paying thrice as much.” and so on …

If you are staunch, he will leave you and go to the next table; if you let him persuade you, you will end up with a picture like the ones showcased in this gallery.

The artistic merit of the works is dubitable at best, but it has been said that you are not part of the nightlife of Bonn unless you have been drawn by him.

I also have a picture by him, from an evening with Joe Sandor from Kansas some years ago in the Pille on Breite Strasse. (Which has since closed and was replaced by a more trendy place called “Lichtblick".) I will try to find again and send it in for the gallery.

Unfortunately, I lost track of Joe afterwards, and as far as I know, he has since gone back to the US of A. On the off-chance that he or someone he knows reads this, I would very much like to hear from him again.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Clustering with Spectral Methods

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 20:54

I found a diploma thesis from Konstanz about graph clustering with spectral methods. So much to read, so little time …

Probabilistic/fuzzy clustering

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:51

I just heard a lecture on fuzzy clustering (fuzzy k-means, autoclass, LSA, PLSA), and I’m wondering whether these techniques can also be applied to graph clustering – finding clusters of a graph and calculating the probability that a given node belongs to the different clusters. This will need some more thinking and research.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Open Source Math Software For Education?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 02:07

A Slashdot thread on Open Source Math Software; I’m looking forward to seeing the comments roll in, as this is a question I’d love having an answer to.

For my (limited) needs, I’ve used a number of math packages, namely bc, octave and numerical python for calculations, Yacas for symbolic computations, Gnuplot, Metapost and recently visual python for graphs, and GMM++ for matrix and vector calculations in C++. None of these tools is entirely satisfactory, but combined, they usually got the job done. It’s just annoying that each and every one of them uses its own language which you have to learn before you can use it. (Not counting the python and C++ libraries, of course.)

Other people use R, the swiss army chainsaw of mathematics, for everything. So far, it has been too intimidating for me to learn.

One suggestion from the Slashdot thread that I will have to check out is Maxima: It’s a symbolic computation package derived from an MIT project from the 70s called Macsyma. I don’t know whether it will be of much use, since apparently it hasn’t been under active development (just maintenance) since 1982.

Monday, 13 December 2004


Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 17:11

Man konnte früher unter Föhren
und Kiefern Hirsche röhren hören.
Doch Röhrentechnik ging verloren,
längst haben Hirsche Transistoren.
(Robert Gernhardt)

Risotto Milanese

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:32

Ein wunderschönes Rezept fuer Risotto Milanese, zu dem ich noch ein paar Anmerkungen habe – die ich mir auch nicht verkneifen kann:

  1. Was ist “Rindermarkt"? Wenn Du damit Rindermark meinst, dann kann ich mir das in der Tat sehr lecker vorstellen. Muss ich meinen Metzger mal fragen.
  2. Den Safran mache ich immer erst ganz am Schluss rein, weil er sehr schnell an Aroma verliert. Tip, um ihn gut zu verteilen und wirklich das letzte bisschen ins Risotto zu bringen: In einer Tasse mit ein bisschen heissem Wasser verrühren, ins Risotto, dann einen Löffel Risotto in die Tasse, um die Reste aufzunehmen, und wieder zurück in den Topf.
  3. Den Zitronensaft kannte ich noch nicht, muss ich mal ausprobieren.
  4. Pfifferlinge. Ich sterbe für Pfifferlinge. Risotto mit Pfifferlingen ist nochmal so lecker. Leider ist die Saison schon wieder vorbei …

Ja. Das wär’s eigentlich. Ich krieg Hunger.

Sunday, 12 December 2004


Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:52

Der Spiegel hat momentan ein Mundartquiz, aufgeteilt in die Regionen Nord (Münster, Hamburg und Ostfriesland), Mitte (Hessen, Sachsen, Köln) und Süd (Pfalz, Schwaben, Bayern). Zu jedem Dialekt gibt es sechs Mundartbegriffe mit Hörbeispielen, deren Bedeutung man angeben soll, also jeweils 18 Fragen pro Region.

Ich komme ursprünglich aus dem Pfälzer Wald, habe aber trotzdem bei den Sparten “Mitte” und “Süd” nur 12 von 18 Punkten erreicht. Das könnte damit zusammenhängen, dass ich selbst keinen Dialekt sprechen kann … aber was bitte ist ein “Labbeduddel"? Den Begriff habe ich in der Pfalz noch nie gehört. (Dafür haben wir noch andere wunderschöne Wörter wie “Schabellsche", “Trottwa” oder “Hawe".)

Leider gibt es keine Auflösung, um rauszukriegen, welches Wort denn jetzt was bedeutet. So kann man den Test nur so lange wiederholen, bis man alle Antworten richtig hat …

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Caring for your introvert

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 23:50

An online guide to the care and feeding of introverts. I guess I can’t deny being one myself.

Back to vinyl

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:10

Two days ago, I got completely fed up with the contents of my iTunes playlist.

It had been playing on shuffle for a couple of days. I guess 1000 songs don’t last that long in the end – yes, I have that many CDs. At the last count, I have about 170 original CDs, not counting the ones that I (legally, fair use, Privatkopie) copied from friends. I haven’t ripped them all yet.

Since then, I’ve been playing my vinyl records exclusively.

I don’t do that very often, since iTunes or CDs are more convenient: longer playtime (practically infinite with iTunes), no need to clean them, no need to turn the record over, and you can operate a CD player or iTunes with one hand if you’re busy.

I rediscovered so many treasures in my vinyl collection, so many records that I don’t have on CD, or that never came out on CD. I started with a virtual sweep through the collection:

  • Pavlov’s Dog: Pampered Menial
    An experimental rock group from the 70s, formed around the frontman David Surkamp. It’s best known for the frontman’s strange voice that sounds “like a choirboy on speed". They split up after only four albums.
  • Sonny Rollins: Nucleus
    The first track, “Lucille", is one perfect piece of music. I could listen to Rollins’ sax play on this track over and over again.
  • U2: Under a Blood Red Sky
    An album that makes me want to see U2 live. The band members seem to have enormous fun playing before a live audience.
  • Thelonious Monk: Monk Alone in San Francisco
    I’m not a big fan of Monk, but this solo album is one I can enjoy.
  • Jamiroquai: Synkronized
    One of two Jamiroquai albums I have on vinyl. For me, JK rates as one of the best male voices in pop music.
  • Frank Zappa: Sheik Yerbouti
    I like Zappa’s cynicism-laden lyrics, like “Flakes", “Broken Hearts are for Assholes", “Jewish Princess", and the eternal “Bobby Brown". In this instance however it proved to hectic for me; I changed the record after the first of four sides.
  • Pink Floyd: Relics
    A compilation of the oldest Pink Floyd recordings, dating back to the time of their first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn".
  • Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound of Thunder
    A live recording, made just after Roger Waters left the band.
  • Lou Reed: Berlin
    A wonderfully laconic record, less “glitzy” than the classic “Transformer". Lou Reed later became the frontman of Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground.
  • Kula Shaker: Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts
    Second Album by the band of 1996s surprise hit “Tattva". Inspired by 70s rock and Indian instruments, they were heralded as the successors to the Beatles, but with ironic touches – one track is called “Jerry was there/Grateful when you’re dead", for instance. They split up after the second album.

It’s a cleansing experience, ridding your system of the accumulated debris and artefacts of digital music and going back to the comforting hiss and crackle of analog recordings ;)

I also went through an online Pink Floyd discography on this occasion, in order to match up with my own collection. I have 9 of the thirteen Pink Floyd releases on vinyl. (Not counting compilations, and the ones after Roger Waters left don’t count either, in my opinion. Pink Floyd was not Pink Floyd afterwards.)

It was an interesting journey through the history of the band, from the slightly anarchist rock group of the late 60s to the giants of psychodelic rock that we know them as. I learned a lot of trivia about the band (for example, the first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was recorded at Abbey Road Studios at the same time as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", and Paul, George and Ringo used to drop by Pink Floyd.)

My reading also broadened my understanding for the evolution of the band. I’d always been intrigued by the b-sides on “Meddle” and “Atom Heart Mother” – whereas the a-side of each record was an elaborately crafted rock “symphony", the b-sides always contained shorter, more conventional songs. It turns out that Pink Floyd were never happy with the b-sides either, but couldn’t finish anything more elaborate between tours.

Another interesting study is a comparison between the very first Pink Floyd tracks ("Astronomy Domine", “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", “A Saucerful of Secrets", etc.) as they are performed on the first albums, and on “Ummagumma", after the departure of Syd Barrett.

I don’t know how long my abstinence from digital music will last; at the moment, I’m quite happy to explore my vinyl collection. But I guess that Jobim, Nascimento, Suba and UFO will lure me back sooner or later.

Copyright © 1999--2004 Sebastian Marius Kirsch , all rights reserved.