Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dear Blog,

Half past five is not a nice hour to wake up. Really. I was barely asleep and I already had to get up again. I stumbled out the door, down the stairs around 6, at 6.30 I was in the railway station and by 7 I was on the train towards London. Nearly half an hour (or something like that) we were speeding through France, short stop in Lille to allow a nice girl to come and sit with me and off we went again. The girl, turns out, is American, studies in Lille for a year and was now on her way to Denmark to visit some friends. Interesting conversation about language issues and life in Europe. 8.26, arriving in London (yes this is local time so it would have been 9.26 CET). Together with the rest of the commuters cramped in the metro. Waterloo station, Oxford Circus, Kings Cross. Look for ticket dispenser, enter code, get tickets, wait for train. 9.36... train! Saw platform 9 3/4 and somebody had stuck the back of a luggage cart to that wall (read Harry Potter for the reference). 9.57 Hatfield, only a few minutes later... the bus. Driver with arms that are so full of tattoos that you can hardly see the color of his skin (looking at his face I'd say he's caucasian). Arrived at Hertfordshire 10.15; enter registration, get bag, book, pen and a bunch of publishers pamflets and 'out and about in Hertfordshire' . hurry to the opening session of METAS... missed the first plenary talk but screw that; after all this I am finally at my destination and that without missing a train at all or taking a wrong bus or having to look for directions on campus (admitted, I had to glance at the subway map in London to find out what line to take to Kings Cross).

The opening talk was ok, the wone after that convinced me that I would not, by far, be the worst speaker of the day. i use his presentation to make some last minute changes to my presentation.

Lunch. Nerves coming up quickly. heart pounding in my throat - oh grapes, yummy - more bread... more water. Ritalin, my second of the day. Who needs coffee if you have amfetamins prescribed by a doctor? Mmmm mandarin.... yuck this is not eggsalad on this toast... mmm tuna... ah, egg saladd... convenient glass holder which slides over my plate - border. Walking Lunch. Talk to some people whose name is familiar. Glance at some books, get some journal issues. Pace.
Not 2 o'clock yet.
Pace some more.
Go to the bathroom
More water...
Back to the bathroom...
still not 2 o'clock.
Nervous. setting up my computer and presentation.
sit down, stand up, pace. talk to linguistics professor who works with agents to tackle altruistic problems. wonder how she fitst that in to linguistics. get told by one of the organizers that we need to stop talking as I need to start. Get an introduction that I can't remember at all.

People wait. Can't come up with anything decent to say so I just start with thanking the organizers of an AI convention for inviting a scientist who doesn't even know how to make an agent say 'hello world'.

First slide, second slide and third slide pass by in less than 2 minutes. I babble rattle and seem to talk faster than my tongue wants to move. Suddenly it dawns at me that everybody is still listening and I don't see anyone with an expression that says 'what the hell is he talking about' or 'what a shitload of rubbish'. Slowing down. nerves are gone; so is all trace of water and humidity in my mouth. Take a sip. I'm a good public speaker. I know my stuff... Klaas, you're the man!

Watch the time, adjust speed of speech and extra tidbits of info accordingly... I'm a hero with a slideshow presentation and an audience. 2 more slides to go. One of the organizers gives me a discreet sign that my time is about up. I signal back to him... no problem. 2 more slides... done. Applaus. for me... 't has been years since that last happened (I think). Hold on to this feeling, store it for later use.

Questions are asked and I know how to answer them. Agreed, they were not very hard questions but still another 'moment de gloire' for a bankersson with glasses (cf. Tom Lanoye). Need to go and make room for next person. Feet are glued to the floor, I shake, tremble and have the feeling all my emotions are suddenly releasing their full power through the soles of my shoes. Put away my computer quietly. Go sit down, live in a realm of exitement for a while.

(while I'm typing this someone next to me realizes why my mac outdoes his pc - haaaaaahaaaaaa; he's been typing merrily away since London and his outcries of 'Putain' and the hammering on his keyboard make me think something is hanging/crashing and generally malfunctioning. I'm trying hard not to smile too much.)

Lecturers after me have funny accents. At least something I'm at ease about... I do not sound abnormal when I speak English. No dancing intonation pattern, no accent that sounds like I'm a stereotypical mad German scientist. The person in front of me (Bruce Edmonds) is working on a slideshow for a lecture he's giving tomorrow and the day after. It's more interesting looking over his shoulder than actually paying attention to the speaker who seems to have had fun making up statistical and computational formulas.

4 o'clock. Time for me to leave. Missing the round-the-table discussion... with regret. Would have liked to stay but there's no budget for overnight stay at the congres. Read the first paragraph bottom-up and you'll get an idea of the traject that I take back to London.

Arriving early... what was the problem with British Rail? Haven't noticed any up till now. Arrive in Waterloo station around 5.45, earlier than planned but well in time for my train at seven. I get a great idea. Walk up to the counter... can i exchange my ticket for a train earlier? Yes? great! 6.11 leaving London and heading back to Brussels... an hour earlier than planned but everything better than just sitting there and waiting.

And now I'm on my way home. It's about an hour since we left London and it's about time (I think) that we take the deep dive under the English Channel. I think I'm going to see if I can have a whisky in the bar to bridge the time under water. After that it's only an hour or so to home... close to the cats, my wife and ... my bed.

Current mood: Training with happy feeling flashbacks.