My First Sabbatical

As mentioned in the previous episode of this Exciting and Inspiring series, I was on my way to Magdeburg (that’s in Germany) for a one-month micro-sabbatical. It seems that almost everyone has a different idea of what a sabbatical actually entails. Some seem to think that it’s a different kind of vacation, others think that it’s a strange kind of very long Sunday.

In an academic’s case, a sabbatical usually refers to a period of time spent away from the usual place of work to acquire some new skill, to perform some serious thinking or to try one’s hand at coming up with and performing some “own” research, whatever that may mean.  I have come here to do mostly the latter. Secondary but important perks include getting to know the people and the work of an allied research group better, in this case the the Lehrstuhl für Visualisierung in the Institut für Simulation und Graphik of the Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg.  Tertiary perks include improving my non-existent Deutsch, but that’s not going terribly well, although I have learned how to say “Schönes Wochenende” pretty convincingly though!

So, now for a quick pictorial orientation.  I work in the Ada Lovelace building (which is kinda cool):


I have a special key RFID thingy with which I can enter the building any time of the day or night, which I do!  It sometimes takes me back to the weird working hours we enjoyed in the heyday of the DSP / Cappuccino lab at the University of Stellenbosch, from ’97 to ’99.  Hey, that’s more than 10 years ago, I’m officially turning into an old codger.

So, back to the pictures.  They gave me my own office, with name tag, and they even arranged a boxing match for me with a certain Mr Hoffman, I hope he’s nice! :


My desk started out like this:


… but soon evolved into this:


Notice the steady accrual of junk on my desk.  If I were a nerd, I’d have said something about entropy, but I’m not, so  I won’t.  I’m still struggling with the strange shape of the keys on the German keyboard.   I’ve remapped everything to Dvorak as per usual, but the enter key is far too small, and the pipe / backslash is right to its left.  ARGH.  \\

This is a very nerdy paragraph, feel free to skip! By the way, multi-monitor support on Ubuntu (that’s oo-boon-too, you silly Americans, NOT oo-bun-too, ok?!) on this laptop’s ATI X1600 still sucks.  It’s slow, plus that display rotation is flakey at best and that DRI2 is not supported yet, so I can’t have OpenGL applications and Compiz running at the same time.  So, good old XP it is.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of a Saeco espresso machine.  These people obviously have extremely good taste and are super-intelligent, perhaps even verging on cognitively hyper-advanced, not to mention extremely handsome.  As you all know, I too have a Saeco at home


I have been working hard on generating new research ideas and seem to have stumbled onto something worth-while.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll have enough of this idea implemented by the end of my time here to be able to write it all up in a nice article and send it somewhere where the reviewers are also hyper-intelligent.   It’s absolutely grand having the time to focus on one specific problem again, this is usually the exclusive privilege of Master’s and PhD students.  Even if it doesn’t work out (research has the nasty habit of not always going like you would want it to go), the time here has already been very positive in terms of exercising the relevant parts of my brain, getting to know cool people and practising my German barbecue skills.  Remember: Don’t Buy the White Pork Sausages.

Schönes Wochenende!