Weeks 93 through 97

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View of the castle in Malcesine.

The last month has been a whirlwind of work! I somehow managed to submit nearly everything that was due. I never quite wrote the outline for the thesis for my UniTN adviser. Instead, I sort of started rolling all the reports I had written into a preliminary thesis outline, and then worked on fleshing parts out while my models were running. It’s still not entirely clear to me how much detail I should go into on certain aspects of the thesis, so I am just writing what I can in the meanwhile, and hopefully, I’ll manage to flesh it out better once my results are in.

Unfortunately, I’ve hit some snags in my code (i.e. nothing runs!), so I haven’t been able to get the type of results I’m looking for (i.e. any results!). I still have results from the internship portion of my work at FBK, but they aren’t well organized or complete. I think because of how long it takes to train models on our hardware, I’m going to have to sacrifice having an interesting and novel work to present, since I have to finish running all the baselines and the different data combinations. Basically, I won’t have any time to play around with two thirds of the things I would have liked to play around with, and that’s just sad. I guess I could theoretically extend my thesis until December, but I really would prefer to graduate in October.

I don’t want to drag this out, partly because I am looking forward to moving elsewhere. It has been a good learning experience to live here, but in the end, there are certain aspects of life here that I find incredibly exhausting. Bureaucracy is, of course, the main thing. It’s possible that I would become accustomed to it over time, and there are certainly aspects of life here that are wonderful, so I’m not totally against staying, but in any case, I would want to move out of Rovereto, which is simply too difficult to travel to/from.

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Light show on a building in Nancy.

The LCT meeting happened last month in Nancy, and just like last year, it was an absolute blast to meet so many awesome people. Nancy was practically impossible to get to from Rovereto, so I actually traveled back to Saarbrücken for the week. I met with my University of Saarland adviser there, to present to him the proposal for my master’s thesis. I had a lot of slides prepared on the math and the models and such, but, of course, he is an expert in my field, and so for those, he just said “skip it.” I was happy to hear that, because I didn’t want to talk about it anyway! Overall, I think the meeting went pretty well, because I was able to anticipate most of the questions that came up, and he did have some good advice for me as well. Apart from that, I got to see a bunch of folks from last year, which was of course the best part.

After that, I headed to Nancy for the LCT meeting. Although Nancy was nice, it didn’t compare to last year’s destination of Malta, of course. Also, unfortunately, we couldn’t all have a nice dinner together either, due to some organizational issues. But we still managed to hang out a lot. The city had a nice vibe, with plenty of buildings decorated in the art nouveau fashion. There was a river that we hung out at one of the evenings. They also had this awesome light show at around 11pm on the buildings in the main square. Actually, it was probably the coolest light show of this type that I’ve seen.

In any case, this year, the meeting was shorter. As a second year, I had to present a poster on my internship/thesis work. It wasn’t that great, because I don’t really have good results or conclusions to make from my thesis work, but it was still a good experience. I had to present the same poster at a mini-conference at work the next week, so I was happy to have the whole thing down pat by then. There was one pretty good invited speaker, and the others, I don’t know, because this time around, I had the good sense to sleep instead. However, I still got pretty sick at the end of the week. I guess travel, and late nights will do that for you. The worst part was that one of the days I was walking home, late at night, like around 2am, and suddenly, from a window above me, someone threw water, and it hit me. I got splashed with dirty who-knows-what water, out of a French window– just like in the movies, but in a bad way! Anyways, I spent the next week coughing and sneezing, but luckily got better in time to enjoy the next few weeks of summer.

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View of the Dolomites from Kolbenstein, a small town above Bolzano.

So then, apart from work, I’ve had a nice summer, full of aerial silks performances, and friends visiting. More friends are scheduled to visit soon, and I’m very much looking forward to that. The only trouble is that I haven’t had much time to travel to the places I would like to travel to, since every time friends visit, we go to the same big touristy places that they haven’t seen yet. Maybe it will be possible for me and my husband to plan something over a couple of weekends in the next month, but time is wearing thin to make plans; the rest of Italy is going on vacation in July and August, and things are basically getting booked out. In any case, I will be very busy with work, besides. So I’m not really optimistic about getting to see much more of Italy this summer, I’m afraid.

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Ducklings in Lago di Garda, at Malcesine.

Nevertheless, I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with friends! Last weekend, we went to Malcesine on Lago di Garda. The weather was lovely, so we walked around the town, and then rented some stand-up paddle boards. I managed to get on my feet on the thing a couple of times, but I found that controlling it, and especially, having any power to move against the wind and the waves, was pretty difficult while standing. I was able to move easily while standing on my knees though, and it still felt great to just be on the water. It reminded me of the times I used to go to the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon. If I have a free day again this summer, I just might come back here.

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Little birds (swallows?) were swooping all around the castle in Malcesine.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €55 – internet
  • €85 – phone (for 2 months)
  • €320 – travel (including some tickets and food)
  • €260 – clothes (including new sandals)
  • €60 – medical expenses, including routine blood check for hypothyroidism levels
  • €8 – video games
  • Total: €1,013
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Officialization 10: Leaving Germany

My first year in the LCT master is over, and I am moving from Germany to Italy to do my second year. But damn German bureaucracy… even leaving Germany isn’t easy. Having to talk to all of these offices is like knocking on a door that will never open. Their hours of operation are haphazard, and even when you get through, you just end up asking the same things over and over, hoping someone will know the answer.

Of course, the first thing I had to leave Saarland is to write a physical letter to my landlords announcing my intent to leave well ahead of time (a friend helped me with the correct wording for this). I was lucky and had to do it just one month in advance since many leases ask for up to three months notice. I ended up owing my landlords €140 for electricity over the included amount and a cleaning fee. My lease agreement covered that so it wasn’t a big surprise, but still a bit much.

Next, I needed to go back to the Bürgeramt at most one week before I was to move in order to announce to them that I’m moving and to get a leaving certificate. They needed to see my passport for this. I guess I could have done it via email, but I ended up having time in person. Anyway, it took like half an hour, so just another small annoyance.

The worst part though, is dealing with the health insurance. So, remember when I signed up for national health insurance when I first got here? Yea, it turns out, that was probably a mistake, after all.

Here’s a thing. As a student under 30 in a German university, you are required, by law, to be covered by insurance. You can waive this requirement when you enroll. Although I had a private travel insurance through my program, I chose to actually sign up for the national system anyway, thinking that that would ensure proper coverage through some of the issues that I have. The cost was around €90 a month, and as an American (our insurance system is famously fucked up), this seemed to be quite affordable.

But now that I am moving to Italy, I would like to sign up for the Italian one to make sure I am correctly covered there. My German one is supposed to work in Italy, but I’m told the local one will still probably make more sense to doctors. More to the point though, the Italian one is much much cheaper. It costs less than €200 per year. So that means if I cancel my German insurance and pick up the Italian one, I save something like €900.

But cancelling is harder than it sounds. As I said, there’s a law that requires you to have insurance as a student under 30. Because I signed up for AOK (the national health insurance) when I enrolled, and did not sign a waiver to cancel it, I cannot legally drop it until I am no longer enrolled, and I can’t just change to a private insurance either. Also, I can’t easily un-enroll, because my program automatically re-enrolls me and waives the enrollment fee, since I have to be enrolled in order to submit my master’s thesis work next year.

It sounds like the way for me to drop AOK would be to:

  1. Officially un-enroll in Saarland
  2. Provide proof from the Bürgeramt that I have moved away, and proof of un-enrollment to AOK to cancel my insurance
  3. Get a new acceptance certificate from my department for the second year
  4. Re-enroll with my same matriculation number in Saarland,
  5. Provide proof of a German health insurance again, or a waiver for the insurance

The good news is that since I literally just turned 30, I don’t actually have to do that very last step anymore, since that law only applies to people under 30.

The annoying thing is that after living here for a year, and seeing how things went, I actually think it would have been fine for me to just stick with the private insurance that LCT provided us, and soak whatever costs from the doctors visits would have been. I think it would have been more affordable and easier in the end.

I don’t have time anymore to deal with all of this in person because I am moving to Italy today, so I’ll have to keep following up online.

UPDATE:

Actually, it turns out that since I turned 30, AOK is actually supposed to automatically cancel my insurance by September 30th. Normally, this would be a bad thing, since I think would have to re-sign up with them as a non-student or else get private insurance, which would both be more expensive.

In this case though, it seems like this is a good thing, since all I will have to do now is get the Italian insurance and send it to AOK to confirm that I have something, as I believe is legally required.

All packed and ready to go!

Weeks 34 & 35

“there was a hole (there was a hole)
in the middle of the ground (in the middle of the ground)
the prettiest hole (the prettiest hole)
that you ever did see (that you ever did see)
and the green grass grows all around all around
and the green grass grows all around
and in this hole (and in this hole)…”

…there was a giant burst pipe (a giant burst pipe)…
…so they had to close off the road, the busses couldn’t run to the Uni from this side of town so we all had to walk, and they had to work for weeks on end to get it fixed.

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Quite late in the hole saga, when they had already started filling it.

The very first day of of the new semester, we all realized the busses weren’t going to the Uni, and we had to walk (I was half an hour late to class as a result, but so was everyone else). I was already kicking myself for not getting my bike fixed earlier.

On the way, we passed the hole. They had said that it would be fixed by the end of the week. To that, I said: lol.

They had dug up nearly the entire road for this thing. As the days progressed, and I kept walking to and from school, the hole actually got bigger. At one point, they began digging a second, smaller hole, near the larger one, and eventually it joined together. It’s been two weeks now, and this weekend is a 3-day weekend. I’m not sure if they work over the weekends or not, but somehow, I still don’t expect it to be done by Tuesday.

There are few busses that go to the Uni now, and those that do have to go all the way around via a different road, quite a ways away. From where I live, I would have to walk back the other direction into town to catch one of those busses, so it makes a lot more sense to just walk the 40 minutes to school (30 minutes if I go fast).

Speaking of walking, I twisted my ankle at a climbing/bouldering class yesterday. It’s not horrible, but if the road isn’t fixed by Tuesday, it’s going to be very difficult for me to get to school. I actually did just get my bike back though (sure wish I’d had it these last 2 weeks while the road has been closed). I could probably ride it… it seems like it would be less stress for the ankle to ride the bike than to walk all that way.

Before this accident, a bunch of us went hiking to the Saarschleife. I have been there once before, at the start of the year, but this time we hiked all the way up and back (around 16km total). It was really awesome to just hang out with friends, and chat about whatever. On the way, we saw a really cool WWII bunker (I guess that’s another type of man-made ground-hole). I’ve never seen one of these before. The only way to get in it was through a little hole in the front that you had to climb through. There wasn’t a normal door into it, although there was what looked like a hatch on the inside. It also had all of these signs on the inside about what to do with the lights and what to watch out for with the air intakes and such, and it was large enough for probably like 10 people.

Anyway, the new semester has started, so I’m back to hard work and stress, and I’ve spent a bunch of money buying some of the things I lost when my stuff got stolen, and overspending on food due to laziness. I guess I’ve sort of thrown frugality out the window, as I have tried to replace some of my discomfort with material possessions and carbs– neither a healthy nor effective strategy. =\ I need to try harder in this regard.

I already have a lot of studying to do, including learning Italian, since I am moving to Italy in September (or sooner).  Just like last semester, there are cool computer science classes that I can’t realistically take because I don’t have enough background in math to pass them, even though I would learn a lot, so I haven’t quite decided on what I will take.

It looks like software engineering, and semantics are pretty firmly on the docket. Statistical natural language processing, a seminar on semantic parsing (programming project), a seminar on TensorFlow (programming project), and information theory are all strong contenders. Other classes still in the running are a seminar on minimalism (syntax), a course on language technology, which covers various topics including machine translation, and what I would call a remedial math course (but hey, there’s no shame in not knowing things and needing help to learn them).

My original goal was to take it easy and to do just the bare minimum that I had to this semester, but so many of the classes are interesting. So once again, I have to carefully consider what I realistically have time for. I might end up just sitting in on some classes, but not actually taking the finals in them.

Costs:

  • climbing classes: €45
  • snacks: €20
  • groceries (including for a dinner with friends where I cooked): €135
  • dining out: €30
  • clothes: €65
  • pens: €8
  • Total: €303