The Algorithm

The Algorithm

--- algorithm (noun) ---
A well-defined procedure consisting of a finite number of consecutive steps. Often confused with its realization (implementation).


--- The Algorithm (proper noun) ---
A musical project that blends electronic music with progressive metal. Often confused with random noises.


--- algorithm (example) ---
def is_alive()
    return flip_coin()

def life()
    while(is_alive())
        go_outside();
        take_pictures();
        persist();
    decay();

Aren’t algorithms fascinating? Well-defined procedures that solve well-defined problems – often with the goal to find the most efficient solution. It’s the single most important thing that amazes me in computer science.

My most favorite problem in algorithmics is one of the most simple ones. Suppose you have a short word, let’s call it T. Additionally, a long text S is given. The task is to determine whether the word T is contained within the text S. Thus, we want an algorithm for a simple search! Suppose the word T contains n distinct characters; for example T = “alive” has a length of n = 5. Similarly, the text S has a length of m, for example, S = “The tree is alive.” has a length of m = 18 (including the spaces and the period).

The most simplest algorithm aligns T at the first position of S and compares all n characters of T to the first n characters of S, which requires n comparisons (in other words, for our above example we answer the question whether “alive” and the first five characters of S are identical. Hint: they are not). Afterwards, the word is shifted to the next position of S and the comparison is repeated. This happens for all m starting characters of S. The problem? This will take a total of m times n comparisons which already amounts to 90 comparisons for our little toy example.

But what other solution could there be? There are many. None of them are easy to understand (at least for me), but all are fascinating. The first one I learned was the KMP algorithm, which performs mind-boggling reuses of previously obtained information about differing characters. The fascinating part: It only needs (roughly) m + n comparisons! A speed-up that determines whether we are able to browse the internet or not, whether we can perform research on molecular data or not, and whether we can advance as a technological species or not. Algorithmic design makes or brakes today’s society (at least for now, until climate change kicks in – always end on a positive note, right?).

Changing Seasons

Changing Seasons

One season passes, the next approaches. One life phase transitions into another one. Snow covers clutter of the past, a fresh canvas onto which new ideas may be painted. Which shall remain unchanged? What must be adjusted? The past is frozen in place, but now and again color persists and defies the whiteout. Lonely figures reach high, rooted deep, yet fragile and delicate. Preparations for a period of hibernation begin, with the aspiration of a fresh awakening.

Harztouren

Harztouren

Irregularities give rise to normality. I’ll be back to English in the next post.

Im Juni 2020 ging es für uns in den Urlaub. Damals frisch verliebt, stimmte ich gerne der angestrebten Urlaubsplanung zu: Also, ab ins Gebirge. Das Richtige. Also zumindest das Richtigste was wir einfach so erreichen können, die Alpen. Quasi am Alpenrand geboren, war ich das erste Viertel meines Lebens (wobei diese Rechnung nur ohne einen voreiligen Tod aufgeht) eigentlich nie so richtig dort. Ein großer Fehler, denn auch die Berge haben anscheinend ein Plätzchen in meinem Herzen reserviert. Sobald wir dort waren, zwischen den erhabenen Gipfeln und tiefen Tälern, fühlte ich eine große Zufriedenheit. Und die Gipfel ziehen mich an. Ich sehe einen Gipfel und plötzlich will ich nur noch hinauf. Steiler Anstieg? – Egal. Wetter? – Egal. Hauptsache hoch, und zwar so hoch es geht.

Falls man mal nicht in den Alpen ist, gestaltet sich das Ganze etwas anders: Hier im flachen Norden ist das höchste der Gefühle schon bei 1141 Metern über Null erreicht und man steht mit 84 prozentiger Wahrscheinlichkeit in den Wolken. Aber wen interessiert schon Statistik – gefühlt sind es mindestens 93 Prozent. An den anderen Tagen bietet der Brocken dagegen wunderbare Ausblicke und ein echtes ‘Oben-Gefühl’, das meinen Gipfeldrang kurzfristig bändigt. Ebenfalls seit 2020 sind wir daher auch eifrig am Stempel sammeln, zumindest mit periodischer Eifrigkeit: Der Herbst und Winter hat es uns besonders zugesagt im Harz; wenn Nebel die Seen umschließt und Laubwälder der tieferen Lagen Farbspektakel bieten.

Dennoch, ich freue mich auch schon wieder auf den nächsten Urlaub in dem wieder zwei- und dreitausend Meter bewältigt werden können. Der Kopf so frei, wie die Alpendohle im Auftrieb und das Herz so voll, wie der Bauch in der Adventszeit.

Fading Vibrance

Fading Vibrance

Haze deprives the vibrance,
as days are getting short,
snow does glaze the rooftops,
wood ovens blaze in homes.
A lonely great white egret
delays his voyage south,
stays in the fading colors,
sun rays are lost in clouds.

Woodlands

Woodlands

Frigid air blows through the woods,
blows rigid thoughts away;
and gray clouds pervade the vale,
play with remaining leaves.
Draining anger and despair,
the trees take always care.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

I promise, there will also be other topics in future posts; but not today…

Glue on streets and food on art, 
repeats each day, matter of heart? 
"Not really," says the scientists 
who gets the gist and is quite pissed 
by egoists that do insist that a cold week 
refutes the claim of climate change:
"To blame are others anyway." 
The charts are clear, the problem sheer unsolvable; 
each year is worse, each choice adverse,
the globe does not reverse its course – quite yet.
They marched on Fridays for a while, 
but didn't reach the other isle:
Of people who don't care and stare 
on their small screens where it just seems 
as if the world is fine right now;
of people who don't share the bare
reality of what's to come;
of people who are still concerned 
about their hard-earned treasuries
and do revel in memories about the past
as if they last apocalypse.
And now they found what upsets most: 
A simple frowned upon protest
– where streets are used as seats –
defeats the calmness of the crowd 
that clings to cars and is in rage
about the new found stage.
In galleries they do reside
throw calories with pride to guide
social debate where it belongs:
What are the values we esteem?
Why does it have to be extreme?
Why do we tolerate the wrongs?
And try to acclimate as if 
the floods would stop? As if the crop
grows magically? While livestock drops
quite tragically dead onto barren desert floors –
necessity starts frightful wars.
Who really are the radicals?
Who really are the extremists?
Those who request a fair world
and are obsessed with equity?
Or those who halt the change,
assault the poor, default to strange
conventions from the past and cast
a future for us all that will, at last,
result in unsurpassed distress?
What is allowed, what justified? 
This climate activism does
indeed evoke more buzz
than any boring chart. Apart:
It has a heart, and does still act in peace.

Unfortunately, no matter how many climate change conferences are arranged, the large-scale subsidization and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure continues to take place with each passing month. However, the immediate halt of any further investments into these sources of energy are one of the key factors to mitigate the climate emergency, according to the latest IPCC report. To the best of our knowledge, we steadily continue our path to more than 3 degrees of global warming, if we are lucky and tipping points don’t start to blow up all around us (and the likely do). If the choice is between some paintings and many many lives, I am gladly taking the latter.

Slovenia: Black & White

Slovenia: Black & White

Merging vacation and photography can be a little bit of a hassle. Should we enjoy the evening or hurry up the hill to catch the sunset? Get up before sunrise or finally sleep in as long as we want to? Enjoy the moment or reduce it to digital pixels? Pack another lens or another bottle of water?

‘Forgotten Ones’

Unfortunately, the photographer’s fear of missing out doesn’t stop when vacation is over. Every weekend, body and mind fight over the right time to get out of bed. And the rare days where we can sleep in happen to be ones where the long-desired fog appears. And thus, again, we get up earlier than we do during the week.

Group of trees in the vast karst landscape.

But the early mornings outside are also wonderful. A silence and calmness that we rarely experience elsewhere or at different times.

Rapids of the river Kolpa.

Luckily, the early autumn time is a blessing for this dilemma: not only does the landscape transform beautifully and all colors pop, but also the sun rises late and getting up at 7 a.m. is still sufficient to catch the twilight. But sometimes, I guess, I have to learn from my better half how to honor the lazy mornings without self-imposed obligations.

Hiking Razor, Slovenia

Hiking Razor, Slovenia

What does it take to get large blisters? Not very much, besides mesmerizing mountains, some determination, and lots of naivety.

South-east view from Razor towards Triglav.

It’s 0:30 a.m. when I faintly recognize my alarm clock. It takes a moment until I realize what’s going on. I get up, briefly change into the uncomfortably cold clothes, put on my hiking boots, shoulder my 10kg bag, and step in the vast valley below the starlit sky. It’s chilly at this time of day and I put on gloves and a scarf, although I know this will change only a few hours from now. Where am I headed? Toward a nearby mountain, which is yet so distant.

5.48 a.m. – waiting for the sun to rise.

At the heart of the Julian alps there is Razor, a distinct peak barely reaching the 2600 meter threshold. Several routes are possible; I am taking the shortest and steepest one, from Soča Valley 1400m uphill towards Pogačnikov dom, and then another 600m altitude to reach the summit.

Why do I start so early? Because I want to be in time for the rising sun. Because I want to re-experience what I witnessed last year (twice): feeling on top of the world, as the world itself still seems asleep.

South-west view from Razor into the Soča valley.

The beginning goes smoothly; as always, nature is mysterious and the eerie sounds and schemes of the forest drive away the last tiredness. I look into the dark and pairs of glowing eyes look back, attached to invisible bodies. Although I am confident in my stamina, the long winding ascent becomes more and more strenuous. I swiftly reach the hut after 3 hours but I feel that my legs are getting heavy. In hindsight, being so fast on the first part was maybe one of my mistakes to begin with. After the hut, the path first winds along grassy slopes before leading through large screes as it gets steeper and steeper. Some sections are secured with fixed ropes to clip into. After reaching Ganja pass, a last steep ascent awaits. Then, I have defeated the 2000m vertical elevation; in roughly five hours, and an hour before sunrise.

The mighty mountain itself: Triglav in the heart of the Triglav national park.

Due to the height difference, this route is often considered to be a two day trip with a sleepover in the hut, potentially also linking other summits. And while the ascent on its own feels fine for now, the way back down will teach me otherwise.

Now, at 5:30 a.m. the morning light just settles in; the hills in the distance are plunged in a deep and profound glow with a color palette ranging from pitch black to lavender to saffron yellow. Colors I have never seen anywhere else besides when being on a mountain top at this time of day. An astounding show the sun and atmosphere prepare every day, and that far too few people ever witness. The elegance of nature has the power to amend the human heart.

Distant views towards Austria, shortly before sunrise.
Hazy valleys deep below.

I relish the brief moments, well aware how quickly they pass by; the sun appears and transforms the landscape. It rises in the distance and brings the long awaited warmth. It also brings a new palette of colors, contrasting the ones from the hour before: pastels all around.

And already, I head back again. Normally, I am rather quick going downhill, but this time is different. The path feels like it never ends and the daylight reveals what I could only suspect a few hours before: it’s steep, it’s long, and there are endless hairpin bends. My legs hurt, and a particularly unpleasant blister gets worse and worse.

Getting back down takes me longer than getting to the top, but it was worth every second.

I would do it again, right away.

Birding

Birding

Sometimes, it feels like I am already experiencing symptoms of an aging body and mind: I am getting more conservative, my back often hurts, recovery from sports takes longer, and suddenly I appreciate trees. And flowers. And birds.

In my younger days, I was convinced that birdwatching is boring; but it has grown on me. Birds are adorable. From the smallest goldcrest to the great bustard (hopefully I’ll see one someday), every type of bird is so unique and fascinating and there is so much to learn: about their behaviour, calls, appearance, and migration patterns. Depending on the employed definition, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 bird species on earth. In Scotland we saw at least 63, many of which I have never seen before. I was a real treat to experience the puffins, razorbills, and guillemots at the coast. On our last day alone we spotted a spoonbill, a barnowl, sedge warblers, and a gannet, none of which I had ever seen before.

But again, the climate is changing everything: The spoonbill populations are slowly shifting north due to the increasing temperature. We got told that it was only the second time that an individual was spotted at the small lake where we parked over night. It is estimated that 15% of all species might go extinct soon (in evolutionary timescales) because they cannot cope with the rapid changes of the climate. Around our hometown some bird populations even increase, but the majority declines. Especially endangered are those that breed on farming grounds because of the streamlined agriculture occupying large amounts of space, often with monocultures. On the bright side: At least around here there are also increasing amounts of ‘Blühstreifen’, strips of wild herbs and flowers that are incorporated into the conventional agriculture and run along all the fields of wheat and corn. And if it doesn’t work out for the birds, my personal contingency plan is to just see all 10,000 species soon enough.

Photo Post: Pause

Photo Post: Pause

A small selection of pictures taken on our way to and on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Dramatic weather made for some interesting skies during the middle of the day, but (near) constant rain spoiled the hiking and photography fun. Skye is beautiful; but so is the mainland. However, unlike the mainland Skye is flooded with tourists. So we agreed that this single visit is enough for us for now.