Greetings from EMNLP-CoNLL

The past few days I’ve been extremely busy with a) giving a talk, b) listening to some more talks, c) some serious meetings and d) socialising. I’m still in a session but after 6.5 days of being in a conference (or rather a couple of co-located conferences) I’ve kind of had enough. Anyway, my talk went pretty well on Thursday, I’m very happy with the result, so that’s done. In the evening I went out to town to have dinner with some people from Amsterdam and St. Andrews and University and Toronto, which was great fun (as you may have seen on flickr already). On Friday I had an important lunch meeting with Antal and Dr. Ed Hovy, from ISI. The idea that I was going to do part of my research at/with help from ISI was already there, but now we sort of made it more concrete. Well, rather concrete as I’m going there this autumn for about 6 months. (!)

I’m still a bit upside down.

Yesterday evening I had a talk with Antal about general work stuff and the internship thing and dinner with Antal, Erwin, Herman and Sander at the hotel. We were all pretty tired so we didn’t go into town. The dinner was excellent, the waiter very authoritative and ambience clean to say the least (the hotel has about 5 different restaurants, all in different styles, this was the “no frills/vreetschuur”-style restaurant). After we had completed our business with the crazy waiter we had some drinks at the sports bar/casino and I was in bed before midnight.

Today I managed to get up early, had breakfast with Erik and then went for a quick swim to wake up properly. I attended a few sessions, but my brains are so fried that I’m not really storing much information anymore. I am capable of processing enough to decide whether the paper is worth reading or not :). I’m still having a great time, but I’ll be happy that it’s over at the end of today. I’m also still meeting new people, or re-meeting people: just now in the corridor I bumped into someone I met at my very first student conference in Tubingen in 2003!

Now I need to pay some more attention, only 3 more hours to go…

merpel’s first massage

So after another long day of conferencing I decided to have a relaxing massage the day before my presentation. It was good. A few things they could have communicated better though, or perhaps that is the Czech way of letting you know you should really speak Czech :). Yesterday I had already booked the massage and asked what the story was, whether I needed to bring anything (like a dressing gown or something???), but the lady at the counter first looked at me in sheer amazement because clearly that was a very unusual question and secondly she said just showing up would do the trick, so I did. At the desk I paid and the lady gave me a towel and told me to change. As the towel was rather small I asked, change into what, and she said “the towel”, so I did (towel + knickers, it really was a small towel!). The petite Thai massage lady asked whether I was going for swim after the massage, and when I said no she giggled and gave me a pair of loose-fitting trousers. But she didn’t laugh out too loudly. I actually just looked up Thai massage on Wikipedia to see if I could be blamed, and the Wikipedia entry on Thai massages is actually quite disturbing:

Note: The traditional therapeutic practice of Thai massage should not be confused with the sexual service of the same name that is available in some hotels and brothels.

Anyway, it wasn’t anything like that. My shoulders, head and arms got an excellent and decent rub and I feel very relaxed now. Actually my shoulders were stiffer than I had thought they would be (as I found out because of a thumb that was applied to them quite firmly in a gentle way), but it was nice. Massages are definitely my thing. Though perhaps I should find out better ways to obtain information on what the customs are at massage salons…

Greetings from ACL’07

ACL hasn’t been bad so far. Most of the day it’s business as usual: listening to people presenting work, gossiping during lunch and coffee breaks (also known as networking). I met some great new people, and there are also people here that I already knew from other conferences (and that still knew silly things about me, for instance that I presented in a skirt and barefooted at ESSLLI last year). The quality of the talks varies greatly, some people have done more interesting work than others, and some are also more comfortable presenting than others, but all in all it’s not a big punishment to be here. Some of the rooms are too small, thus if you arrive a bit late, which happens if you have to come from a different part of the building because you attended an interesting talk in another session you have to sit in the ground or stand, but there’s nothing to do about that. Especially Diarmuid’s talk (on compounds) was very popular, but luckily I had arrived early. Naturally the best talk on Monday was the invited talk by Tom Mitchell. Apart from being a machine learning guru he has a very relaxed presentation style and the topic of his talk was very interesting too. Sander and I had wanted to bring a banner and ask for a signature afterwards but Tom was busy answering questions, so we didn’t 😉

On Monday evening I still had a sore throat so I decided to not join the people that were going to find food in downtown Prague, but instead I stayed at the hotel to so some work on my slides and skype. I also wasn’t very hungry because the student lunch had been pretty good and as that was a buffet I of course had  been stuffing my face :). In the lounge I met a guy from Amsterdam and after I’d sent my slides to a couple of people for a final check we had drinks in the downstairs bar at the hotel (where drinks are half the price of what there are at the upstairs bar). The downstairs bar also has big screen that shows sports (Wimbledon at the moment) and it also serves as a casino, mostly slot machines, and one roulette table and a blackjack table with a lonely croupier in the corner. After a couple of bitter lemons and a Jameson for my throat it was time for bed at 22:15

Tuesday I had trouble getting up so no morning swim like I did on Sunday, Monday and today, but I did make it in time for the sessions. During the lunch break and the business meeting I went to the shopping centre with Sander where we had a very relaxed lunch in huge comfy chairs at Coffee Heaven. Of course I don’t drink coffee, but their strawberry juice was excellent too. After the sessions I went for a quick swim with Andreas, who isn’t staying in this hotel but he got into the pool anyway on my card, and then it was time for the banquet.

Banquets can be good. The venue of this banquet was for instance excellent (the old municipal hall in Prague) and there was a buffet, which is always good so you won’t have to eat big heaps of stuff you don’t like (such as in Trento). But the buffet presented us with a logistical problem in that about 1000 people wanted to eat at the same time (after the ACL president’s pre-dinner talk it was already 20:45) and there were only three rooms with food and two narrow access points. And if you’ve already paid 60 or 80 dollars for the dinner (depending on your student or regular status) then you also don’t want to pay separately for the drinks. But the company was nice, and the food was tasty, so it wasn’t too bad. Every now and then we had to shout as the band playing traditional Czech was a bit loud, but that’s all part of the fun. At least the ACL tradition in which people are invited to dance or play with the band or to make fools of themselves at karaoke events had been let go :). After the banquet we went out looking for some cheaper drinks and ended up in a jazzclub where a salsa band was playing. The band was excellent, the club less so. Upon ordering drinks they told us we had to pay an entrance fee (but we were already inside!) and the staff wasn’t extremely friendly, but the music was good so we stayed anyway. Around midnight part of our group caught the last metro towards the hotel, and at the last metro stop we also managed to get onto the last bus, so well pleased with our route-planning abilities we called it a day around 00:45.

Sunday at the TOP Hotel

Since I had gone to bed early last night I could get up bright and early this morning to start my first day of the conference, which consisted of attending two 3-hour tutorials. To be even brighter and fresher I first went for a swim in the small but nice swimming pool at the conference hotel (btw, at the reception I just heard that Thai massages and access to the sauna is included in my stay at the hotel :D). The first tutorial was a bit of a waste of time, because I had heard most of it already at other conferences etc., but you never know these things in advance. Anyway, after almost three hours (minus the lovely coffee break with no fatty snacks like the ones in Urbana but lots of fruit) I caught the bus to the Chodov shopping centre to find some food and something to remedy my sore throat. I turned out to be a huge and modern shopping centre with lots of cheap (Zara, H&M, Bershka etc..) and less cheap shops (Quiksilver, Billabong) but I didn’ t buy anything. I might though :P. Oh, I did manage to get stamps for my postcards from a lady who only spoke Czech, although when I started deciphering the postbox (after I had thrown my cards in of course) I think I got stamps that are only valid for mail within the Czech Republic so I’m not sure if my postcards will arrive, but at least I tried :). So I only bought some food at the supermarket, food I know, so very safe, but it was a nice lunch nonetheless, and some Strepsils for my throat which is really achy at the moment. Probably due to lack of sleep and airconditioning & no water on the plane (they should reverse those ridiculous EU regulations!!!). Anyway, at the bus stop I bumped into Tim who I thought I’d met before at Benelearn last year, but it turned out I knew him from ESSLLI. It’s actually quite a small world because I’ve already bumped into lots of people I know, which is pretty cool (I’m incrowd, yay!!!).

The second tutorial (Bayesian Nonparametric Structured Models) was very good, difficult matter, but the speakers explained it very well. It was only a shame that it was so hot in the room, which made it very hard to stay concentrated, especially after lunch. Around 17:30 the tutorial ended, and then the socialising before the reception began. In the lobby I met Antal who had arrived earlier today as well as Harry. At the reception I also found Roser, so most of the Tilburg team is already here (together with Herman who arrived yesterday evening and attended the tutorials with me today). The reception was great, only two drinks though, but lots and lots of fruit and snacks. As the weather was still fantastic the reception was held in the Japanese garden of the hotel. Well, it’s not really Japanese, but it’s called the Japanese garden. And now I’m going to upload the pictures I took today and then I’m off to my room and to bed, because I’ll probably wake up early again because the curtains are very, very thin…

Sightseeing in Prague

Even though I was pretty tired yesterday I’m very happy I went sightseeing. Prague is a gorgeous town. It has the grandeur of Paris with its fabulous palaces and other old buildings (although the style of the architecture is more like Innsbruck) but the facilities are all very modern. The public transport is great, and dead cheap, so I took the tube to a stop called Muzeum, which I figured was more or less in the city centre, also because it’s one of the three stations where you can change to another line. It turned out to be the stop near the National Museum, where I didn’t go because of time constraints, and the weather was lovely so I wanted to be outside. So from the National Museum there’s a big promenade towards the old town square. On the promenade there was some sort of art installation, which involved paintballing people and someone covered in balloons. The shops here are pretty much the same as in the Netherlands & UK, albeit a lot cheaper and you can pay with your debit card. There are a lot of Dutch tourists in the shops, especially in the clothes shops to score cheap jeans (but they were even cheaper in Chicago :P) and Dutch guys in the streets with tiny eyes that are probably here to get pissed cheaply.

Off the main shopping street I stumbled upon a lovely little market, a bit like the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam, but then also selling hand carved chess pieces and animal skins (the type of animal was still recognisable). I then went to the old town square where I found an exhibition on Mucha and Dali. Not together, but the regular exposition is with works by Mucha, and the temporary exhibition was Dali. So of course I had to get in 🙂 The building itself was a gorgeous old building, and the Mucha stuff is just plain cool. I then wanted to go to the Jewish cemetary, but I hadn’t realised it would be closed because it was Saturday, but I think I’ll go that way again because next to the cemetary I had dinner at a lovely restaurant called Marco Polo. I hate dining alone, especially dining out, but this was no punishment. The walls of the place were covered in mosaics made out of pebbles, and the food was delicious! My desert (grilled strawberries) was almost as expensive as the main dish (grilled salmon), and the tea came in a cute teapot (3 cups) with a tea-timer (I want one!). Still the bill was only 20 Euros or something…
After dinner I wanted to walk back to a tube station via the Charles bridge. Once I got there I heard some live music coming from a park on a little island in the river, so I decided to make a little detour via that park, and it turned out to be an outdoor music festival called United Islands of Prague, and it rocked! Well,  I was absolutely knackered so I only saw the end of some rock bands and the start of a Jiddisch hiphop-act (caleld: Socalled orchestra). It was pretty cool to relax in the grass with the compulsory smell of marihuana while looking out over the river. During changes on the stage I listened to live music coming from boats on the river. Prague really ain’t bad.

Aroun 21:35 I got back at my hotel, and I intended to update my blog and upload my pics, but instead I decided to treat myself to a shower and went to bed. Now I’m going to pay attention to the tutorial, I think there’s an interesting bit now because everyone seems to wake up here, or it’s time for the coffee break soon 😛

Greetings from Praha!

I’m sitting in the business lounge of the Praha TOP Hotel (very, very fancy place) where I just registered for ACL’07. It just started to pour outside so I’m postponing the sightseeing a bit until the thunder and the torrential rains have stopped. But it was very sunny when I arrived not too long ago and the forecast had indeed predicted showers. The conference goodies include a can of beer and at least two pens, the student gift will arrive on Tuesday. The bag is also not waterproof. Not so spectacular, but free access to the conference hotel’s spa makes up for that :D.

What I’ve seen so far of Prague (public transport) I like. The tube is particularly clean, and the airport is a very serene place. So unlike Schiphol this morning!

Oh, it stopped raining, I’ m going to get my raincoat and head into town.


My brother, the actor :)

This morning I got up really, really early to catch a train to Etten-Leur to see my youngest brother perform the musical his class is doing to celebrate their leaving primary school. I hate getting up early in general, in particular when it’s before six, but it was well worth it. My brother rocked! (as did the other kids by the way, I can’t remember my or my other siblings’ musicals being so much fun). He didn’t really seem nervous beforehand, although he also didn’t really tell much about it, apart from the fact that he was very happy he got the part he auditioned for. He for instance didn’t tell me he also had to sing, which he did fabulously, and he seemed to be very comfortable on stage in general. My brother is a star 🙂

Jammin’ in the garden

Yesterday evening Steve and Judith came over for dinner and some music in the garden. I’m the least used to playing together, but it’s very educational, but more importantly: a lot of fun! So it was mainly searching for songs more than one person knew how to sing, some solo performances (Judith also sang a song she’d written herself, while I was wondering why I didn’t know the song). We should do this more often, and I promise I won’t make you strike crazy poses for pictures.


Party time!

Again the gap between blogposts is a bit larger. But I have good reasons for that: partying and surfing (mainly). On Saturday I had to leave early to go visit my dear (and young!) aunt and uncle in Olland to receive the “swimming pool instruction” for my house-sitting stay there in July, so at 08:00 in the morning I wasn’t exactly partying, but the stay in Olland will be a big party, I’m sure. I stayed in Olland longer than I had expected to, because I had a look around in Annemiek’s workshop where she creates lovely ceramics (hopefully it will survive the gigantic party I’m going to throw while I’m there :P). I also just couldn’t resist Annemiek’s offer to accompany her to a huge grocery store. Food shopping just rocks (and of course I needed to see where to find food in that corner of Brabant). When I returned to Leiden I had some time to relax, tidy up, cook and then it was already time for Sander’s big birthday/house party. It’s only of late that we’re really hanging out with each other in my house, but it’s extremely cool (& better late than never) so the party was excellent. Luckily it stayed dry for most of the night, so we could hang out in our big garden (which is very suitable for parties), but some of the partying was also taking place indoors. Around 02:00 a large part of the party animals still wanted to go to a pub, but the pub was quite crowded already, so there we split up, some went in and some went home (so did I because I’d seen the swell forecast for Sunday ;)). Sunday was a beautiful clear day so I spent most of it on the beach & at my surfclub where I managed to make contact with some fellow surfmates. I went into the water for a bit, but the waves weren’t terribly good (they were becoming better at the end of the afternoon, but I had to go back to Leiden to not be late for my salsa class, but perhaps I can still catch a few later this week). So after a shower (with some great scrub cream) and some good food (and I didn’t even have to cook myself) I rushed to my salsa class. It was a shame there weren’t many people at my salsa class because we did some very nice relaxing danzon, but I’m sure everyone had a good reason to not show up 😛

Monday was a quiet day at Naturalis because Steve was working from home, so I got to do some reading and of course get soaked on the way to the train station to visit my family for father’s day and today I worked in Tilburg, where we had a nice coffee break on the roof with birthday cake provided by Herman. I’m also starting up a new sub-project in my research with a fellow PhD student to improve automatic segmentation and labelling of texts from fieldbooks which I’m really excited about as it will bring an actual useful application (provided it works out) closer.