Sunday, October 27, 2019

Where can I get to in 12 hours from Konstanz without flying?

The Scientists4Future at the HU Berlin have launched a project to eschew short-haul flights, provided that the journey can instead be completed within 12 hours by rail. This blog post gives an overview of some of the places you can get to this way. (Hopefully, a few of them will SHOCK you!)

The Deutsche Bahn website was used to calculate all the below journey options, with 28th Oct 2019 as the (fairly arbitrarily chosen) notional day of travel.

So, what are your options...?

1. Anywhere in Germany

Okay, this is a slight exaggeration. The shortest time I can see to get to Westerland, on the island of Sylt, is 12:25. And Ostseebad Binz, on the island of Rügen, takes at least 12:59, with the quickest route to Stralsund coming in at 12:06. Hopefully you won't begrudge me the extra few minutes, though, especially since none of these are particularly common destinations for academic business trips.

Hamburg, on the other hand, can be done in 8:13 with only one change. Berlin can be done in 8:36, and Köln in a mere 5:01. This may not be particularly surprising to anyone, though, so let's move on.

2. Anywhere in Austria, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, or Switzerland

Austria is not as long as it looks. Graz can be got to in just over 10 hours, Klagenfurt in just over 9, Vienna in less than 9. The longest trip I've been able to find is to Jennersdorf, on the border with Hungary, and apparently a fairly unremarkable place. Still doable in under 12 hours.

As for Belgium, a trip to De Panne, on the North Sea coast near the French border, will be over in the blink of an eye (9:59). The pretty little town of Couvin, at the end of a branch line in Wallonia near Namur, will take you 10:26. More usefully, you can reach Brussels within seven hours.

Liechtenstein is obvious, as is Luxembourg (just over 6 hours). Almost everywhere in Switzerland is accessible within 5 hours; if you want to train it to Brusio with its spiral viaduct, high in the Alps on the Bernina railway, you'd better leave 6:20.

The Brusio spiral viaduct (CC-BY 3.0, by Kabelleger)

3. Most places in Czechia or the Netherlands

Ostrava, the Czech town that's the furthest from Konstanz (near the border with Poland), will push you over the limit at 12:20, as will Olomouc at 12:09 (just). But Prague can be reliably got to in a piffling 9:32, and Brno in 10:38. Meanwhile, Amsterdam is a comfortable 8:35, and Groningen or Rotterdam can be reached in under 10. If you want to go right to the North Sea coast on a branch line, brace yourself for a longer journey, though.

4. Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

Bratislava is only 10:13, and Ljubljana a mere 10:24! As for Denmark, Hungary and Poland, admittedly, you probably won't get to anywhere useful within these countries in 12 hours. But Budapest, for instance, is only 12:09, Poznan is only 12:16, and places like Aarhus, Copenhagen, Warsaw and Wroclaw are doable as part of a longer day. Zagreb, in Croatia, is only just out of reach at 12:44, and there's also a sleeper that goes there from Zurich.

5. Northern and Central Italy, and almost all of France

At 5:41, Milan is embarrassingly easy to reach. From there you can travel onwards to lots of other major cities within the 12-hour limit: Florence at 7:37, Rimini 8:29, Venice 8:31, Rome 9:14, Trieste 10:30, Naples 10:47. Only the far south and Sicily take longer.

France is astonishingly accessible. With Paris less than five and a half hours away, you can be there in time for a leisurely lunch. Connections via Paris, Dijon and Strasbourg will also get you to places like Lille (7:17), Marseille (7:42), Bordeaux (8:16), Nantes (9:07), Toulouse (11:05), Bayonne (11:07), and even Brest at the very tip of Brittany (an incredible 10:08, if you can leg it across Paris fast enough). You'll only struggle with getting somewhere in France within 12 hours if it's at the far end of a tiny branch line.

If you are a fan of micro-states, Vatican City (via Rome), San Marino (via Rimini) and Monaco (10:15) are all within your grasp. And Barcelona is SO DAMN CLOSE to being under the limit (12:21), putting you not that far from Andorra (okay that's a stretch but work with me here). Another Spanish destination that's easily doable within a day is Irun, in the Basque country, at a fairly comfortable 12:36. And if you stay on that last train you'll end up in Lisbon in the morning.

6. The UK

London is reachable in 8:59 by Eurostar via Paris, if the patron saint of connections extends his blessing to you. More usually it'll be about 10 (you need to hang around a bit in Paris). The Eurostar will also allow you to travel on to Cambridge (10:23), Oxford (11:04), Birmingham (11:17), York (11:29), Sheffield (11:55), and even Manchester (11:56), just. Within a slightly longer day you can also get to the capitals of Wales (Cardiff, 12:36) and Scotland (Edinburgh, 14:22), as well as Leeds (12:07), Newcastle (12:44) or Lancaster (12:46).

So that's not a bad range of places for half the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis. Here's a map giving an overview:

With options like this, why would you fly short-haul to any of these places?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Ritter Sport Winter 2019

The three new winter varieties Bunte Vielfalt varieties are here! Novelty value is low, however; two are repeats not only from 2018 but also from 2017. Spekulatius is a well-deserved 9/10 and Gebrannte Mandel is a worthy but not hugely inspiring 6.5/10. There's also:

Dunkle Minz Crisp: 9/10
Mmm, a dark chocolate variety with just enough crunchy minty sugary bits to taste like a gigantic After Eight – but without the annoying squidginess. I would dearly like to see this one again in future.

Monday, August 05, 2019

6 weird German things

Ever since I moved to Germany in March 2017 I have been an astute observer of local customs. These six quintessentially German weird things have made their way onto my Facebook wall, and here they are compiled for your reading pleasure. Most of them turn out to be related to buses.

1. Bus seating rituals

When someone sits down next to an occupied seat on a bus, the person on the inside will often immediately start a conversation about when they are planning to get off. If it then turns out that the person on the inside is getting off first, the two people will often permute. This whole process seems less efficient than the person on the inside simply saying "Excuse me, I want to get out" when it's time for them to do so.

2. Opening times for the bottle bank

Bitte beachten Sie die Einwurfzeiten!
Using the bottle bank on a Saturday? VERBOTEN. Using it at 2pm? VERBOTEN. Using it at 8pm? VERBOTEN. Using it at 7 in the ****ing morning? Yeah, sure, go right ahead.

3. Oh deer

"der Rentier" vs. "das Rentier". When the WWF started sending me emails about "Rentier under threat", I was a bit confused about why they wanted to protect pensioners/people living off their capital. Turns out that morphology, pronunciation, and gender are important. Who knew?

4. The vanishing bus

Fährt vom Pfingstsonntag bis zum letzten Tag in den Sommerferien.
A bus that only exists between Pentecost and the last day of the Baden-Württemberg summer holidays. Guess I’ll take the next one, then.

5. The Gutenberg gap

Your IP Address in Germany is Blocked
No access to Project Gutenberg in Germany. :'(

6. Stop the Germany, I Want to Get Off

By and large, Germans are awful at letting people get off the bus before they try to get on. They just stand in front of the door in a confused mass until someone asks them to move. I can only assume this is related to either a) the congenital inability of anyone without Great British DNA to queue properly, b) an apparently widespread German paranoia that minor things in daily life will go TERRIBLY WRONG, or c) both.

Then again, Konstanz bus drivers are psychopaths. They will quite happily lower the bus to ground level so that someone in a zimmer frame can trundle on comfortably, then close the door and stamp on the accelerator while that person is still looking for a seat.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

What's on George's bookshelf?

Having previously had fun with Mensa menus, I used the same methodology on the list of book titles to be found in my office. My research profile gives some indication of what to expect, and textgenrnn did not disappoint. Here are some of its plausible offerings:

Historical language change
The prose of the English phrase
A dictionary of complementation
Usage and context and syntax in dialect
English texts in English syntax
A dictionary of German linguistics
Syntax and the second language
The book of morphosyntactic finites
The beginning of English
Word order and comparative clauses in the English language
French accent in the Netherlands 1999
Germanische Grammatik
Old English phonologicalization

Of course it didn't get everything right:

Langenschrosy: a modision of complemanish
Historical languages verolant, II: Simpler Saga
Negation and the history of der Verbman of English language
Prose and a compronigonal comparative linguistics
The seastion of the Sprachwisch Strong Edenisher, I: Canbity 2001
Deutsche Sprachgeschichte III: Slaut-Proto-Germanic und a historical linguistic variation
Deutsches Sprachwisspecticalization
The and language productivity: a comparative linguistic comparation
The Bitcher of English attornal and what are theory case of index of syntax
Zis Grammatistics
Dialectologynical linguistics
Pissictional linguistics: a dictionary of the English language clause of the English
Cancelled to Prose Germanic Fellectoon
Historicle and the builds of proon on the history of English

And in some instances I would totally buy the book. Or maybe even write it.

Berk's Simpler English language
The strut of linguistic change
Fruits and the laws of the English structure in Middle English language
Word order and the history of the Endlands of English syntax
Syntax is the best century in the English vocabulary, I: a history of the English language clauses
A history of the English vocabulary, I: Old Old English
A dill of linguistics
The east of linguistic sociolinguistics
Der Saga des Urgermanische Sociolings
syntax on the syntax: a syntax of the English language
The grammar of linguistic cocainers: a comparative place in order and the history of English
Handwood: a syntax of linguistics

Once again, hat tip to, whose idea I've basically stolen here.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Dominic Raab: "I deeply regret taking skooma"

Following yesterday’s explosive revelations, Conservative leadership hopeful Dominic Raab has expressed deep regret at his occasional skooma use earlier in life.

Raab, 45, admitted to taking the drug repeatedly when studying abroad at Winterhold College in the 90s. In his defence he claimed that his then-role as Dragonborn, destined to prevent the return of Alduin, was putting him under “immense pressure” leading him to make some “questionable decisions”, and that he had fallen into bad company.

“Some on the left will try to tell you that the skooma problem doesn't exist – that it's a fiction,” Raab added. “But I can assure you that the threat posed by skooma is very real.”

A former Brexit Secretary, Raab is known for his tough stance on Khajiit caravans and his unstinting support of leaving the EU, and has outlined plans for new trade deals with Elsweyr and Black Marsh in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Ritter Sport Summer 2019

Interestingly, these are now called “Bunte Vielfalt” (colourful diversity) rather than “Sommergenuss”. Moving away from the seasonal pattern...?

This summer we witness the return of Zitronen-Waffel, which previously received a respectable 7.5/10, and on justifiable grounds. The caveat that holds for regular Waffel also holds here: it tends to fall to bits.

The other two are new, as far as I can tell.

Himbeer Joghurt: 8/10. Deliciously tart, with crunchy bits. The only reason this one doesn’t get rated higher is because I miss Brombeer Joghurt (which I’ve rated twice before, once with 8 and once with 9), and this one is a smidgeon less good.

Erdbeer-Mousse: 5/10. I’m not a huge fan of the mousse varieties (with their 3x3 rather than 4x4 layout) in general, and this one isn’t great even by those standards. Strawberry really needs to be complemented with something very creamy, but this mousse is, I’m afraid, rather too dry and fluffy while at the same time sweet and sticky - almost candyfloss-like. Not my thing.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

What's for lunch at the University of Konstanz?

A fun post for my 34th birthday. Inspired by, I trained a text-generating neural network, textgenrnn, on a dataset of meals served at the Mensa (cafeteria) of the University of Konstanz. Some of their offerings are on the creative side anyway: Banane-Lauchsauce, for instance. So I thought the university might be able to save a bit of money by firing the people who design the menus and replacing them with a bot. Long live full automation!

It's a pretty small dataset, so the network struggles to learn what a German word is supposed to look like:

Gemuserauce "Joghurt" Joghurt (olikenkartocild) mit Vollgessauce
Brackarkuschsteet Ketchup | Kase-Artiatiraten | Paprika-Sauce
Kedablacher | Bokentomanela
Frollogghw | Blatter-Fractese | Blattsalat | Blattsalat-Balassauce | Blattsalat

Very often it settles on things that look at least like actual words, but which don't refer to anything (as far as I know):

Frucken | Kaperniger Wurst | Bratkartoffeln | Bratensauce
Gorgarbonn | Kartoffeln | Bratensauce | Romanescogressing | Asia-Quard | Pomulasus | Spatzle
Blattsalat-Balsamicodressing | Kot | Kartoffeln | Salat-Cordmendrondrick
Rindfleischstreinten | Paprika | Petersilienestreifen in Banane
Spatzle Burger | Put-Honig-Senf-Honig-Secktafartoffeln
Cannische Ripslauch | Kartoffeln, Zitronenecke | Brot
Frikaaghurt mit Rahmspinat | Salat-Balsamicodressing | Brot

It also doesn't have much concept of what combinations of flavours work best:

Kartoffel-Gemusesauce | Pudding mit Hahnchenfleisch | Brot
Milchreis | Kartoffeln | Karotten | Bohnen
Pasta | Gemuse | Karotten | Orangen | Bratensauce | Blattsalat-Balsa-Kase-Sauce
Hahnchengeschnetzeltes mit Kirschen

But there are also several dishes that are more than conceivable:

Kartoffelpfanne "Asia" | Brot
Currywurst | Paprika-Dressing | Kartoffelpuree | Brot
Hahnchenbrustschnitzel | Kartoffeln | Bananenjoghurt
Pasta | Schinkenberge | Basmatireis
Schweineschnitzel | Zuckerschoten | Basmatireis

And more that are not outside the realms of possibility at our Mensa:

Orientalische Frischkasesauce
Pasta | Apfelmus
Chili con Banane-Tomatensauce | Basmatireis
Kartoffelpfanne "Chili mit Kartoffel"
Fruchtige Bratwurst | Pommes frites | Ketchup | Krauterbutter | Brokkolisch | Batailin | Brot
Chili con Carne | Kabeljoghurt mit geriebener Bratwurst | Basmatireis
Lasagne "Cock" | Hahnchenbruststreifen in Bauernwurst | Blattsalat-Balsamicodressing | Salat-Balsamicodressing

One thing's for sure, though: this bot is Swabian born and bre(a)d.

Spatzle | Spatzle | Spatzle | Brot