Archive for October, 2011

Learning German through Social Media

October 25 2011

Today, the Groupon deal for Livemocha caught my attention.  A few weeks ago, I stopped my German tutoring sessions because they were getting too expensive, and I was finding it difficult to schedule the time.  If it works, the price of Livemocha is very appealing ($100 for one-year, or only $39 with the Groupon!).

Of course, the first thing I did was a quick Google on the subject.  I found a helpful YouTube video that demonstrated the functions of Livemocha.  It is an online language learning course.  It also has a built-in social network, so native speakers can review your writing and speaking.  It is also possible find a tutor or a language partner on this site.

TopTen reviews named Livemocha number 2 in the learn German online review.  It was second to TOTALe German by Rosetta stone.  Livemocha seemed to be the more cost-efficient option. On, the major complaint was that the audio is not as advanced as other ones out there.

I talked to Dave about buying the Groupon.  He said that I am probably beyond what Livemocha can teach me, and that I need to talk to people more.  I feel that my German is “sehr schleckt” so I disagreed that it wouldn’t help me learn.

Tonight (after being frustrated by making negative progress with research), I decided to test out Livemocha for myself.  It turns out that there is a free trial of the system.  You can do most things for free actually.  You start with 200 free tokens.  Each course is broken up into units, which are further broken into Lessons.  Each piece of a lesson costs some number of tokens.  You can earn more tokens by providing feedback on other user’s speech and writing exercises, which seemed fair to me.

In one respect, I think that Dave was right.  I tried a few different types of exercise to see how it worked.   I even submitted a writing sample to be reviewed (still waiting for some review to come back though).  Then, I reviewed a few people’s English exercises to learn a bit more about what the site was about.  I did the exercises in the German Level 3 course. I found them to be quite simple, so I assume that I am in Level 4.  Unfortunately, there are only 4 German courses, so this is the most advanced course.  However, my knowledge is not perfect.  By working on these exercises, I learned a few words (such as Ergbnis means result/outcome) and was reminded of a few things that I have forgotten (such as to lookup/inform oneself is the reflexive verb sich informieren. I always forget the reflexive part of that verb).

So, I think I will buy the Groupon.  I want to explore the social networking aspect of this site a little more, and perhaps talk online with someone in German.


Jazz in Austria?

October 24 2011

Dave used his jazz magic to find Porgy & Bess, a jazz venue in Vienna.  Last week, Lisa, Diana, and I went to see the Monty Alaxender Quartet perform there.  We were actually joined by three people from IST Austria.  The venue was a small jazz club.  At the last minute, we switched our standing room tickets for (the last three) seated tickets.  We were, of course, in a corner of the club.  The minor annoyance was the two young lovers who decided to stand in front of Lisa and start making out.  We got rid of them at intermission though (maybe they found a room).

The concert was great, it was really neat to see how the musicians connected while playing.  I’ll be going there again.  Thanks for the good find, David!

Before the concert, we went to Magazin for dinner.  The food was traditional Austrian food, but it was done very well.  They had a large wine selection (they are also a wine shop), so I asked the waiter for a red suggestion from Austria.  He brought out a Blaufränkisch from Burgenland (By asking for a suggestion, he heard “bring me anything”).  It turned out to be quite nice, and not too expensive (18 Euros for the bottle).

Cryptic Message

October 14 2011

Diana is currently gallivanting around Europe (literally), and will be arriving in Vienna soon.  The other day (when I was sick), I spoke with Diana on Skype.  I forget most of the conversation, other than she was on her way to Budapest and will arrive in Vienna in a few days.  We talked about going to the winery on Saturday, and thought maybe she will meet up with me in Krems.  The end of the conversation was we would talk later in the week (at least this is what I think happened.  My recollection of this conversation is really quite poor.)  Yesterday, I sent her several options for how we can meet up to go to the winery.  Today around 18:00, I received this email from Diana:

After receiving, this message I was confused.  Was she to arrive today or tomorrow?  9:40 am or pm?  I sent an email back, but she did not respond.  So, I started to discuss the email with Jersey Frank.  We decided that since she said “got a bit delayed” and there is a  bus from Budapest that was scheduled to arrive at the airport at 9:40 p.m., that she was on her way.  In addition, the email was sent at approximately the time the bus would depart Budapest. To play it on the safe side (and to take an opportunity to get out of Maria Gugging), I took my work into Vienna to wait to see if she arrived.

By 10:15 p.m., I realized our guess was mistaken.  So, I enjoyed a glass of Sturm at Cafe Drechsler (where I had been working for the past hour).   I was actually quite productive during my time traveling to/from Vienna, and during the time I was at the cafe.  And, I bought some Bagels for breakfast tomorrow! Oddly enough, I even saw someone I knew at the cafe.

Diana has since responded to my email to let me know that she will arrive on Sunday morning.  She must be enjoying those thermal baths too much.  So, all is well now.  I don’t feel like I lost a friend somewhere between Budapest and Vienna anymore.

And, I can’t wait for Diana and Lisa to arrive on Sunday!!!  It will be an extra special week for me, with both of them visiting!

Sick in a Foreign Land

October 14 2011

Diana and Lisa will be visiting me next week, so I’ve been working alot lately on my paper (which is shaping up quite nicely now!)  In addition to that, I got sick … so, that is why I haven’t posted in a while.

I woke up on Tuesday feeling awful.  It was hard to get out of bed, I was hot and cold at the same time.  In general, all movements were painful and I had a horrible headache on top of it all.  After an extremely slow and forced process of getting ready in the morning, I made it out of my bedroom presentable.  And, I managed to go to lunch (where I just had soup) and teach my topology seminar.  Later in the afternoon, the headache reappeared, so I had to retreat to my bedroom for a mid-afternoon nap.  I woke up not feeling so well, so I just tried to rest for the remainder of the evening.

Then, on Wednesday, the headache came back with a vengeance.  It also brought along it’s comrades, sore throat and runny nose.  Luckily (or maybe unluckily), the occupational physician happened to be at IST that morning.  She comes only twice a month, so it seemed to be too convenient with my timing of falling ill.  I walked over to her “office,” which happened to be the hotel room almost next-door to mine.  She told me to take Aspirin-C.  I looked it up online and it is, as you would guess, Aspirin plus vitamin-C.

I did not have the energy to go to the pharmacy, so I rooted through the drugs in my stash.  I have 3 types of eyedrops thanks to Dave’s father.  One type of medicine that would probably have been good, but was expired.  I had Tylenol PM, allergy medicine, and plenty of Benadryl.  Needless to say, I usually don’t take medicine.  I took one of the allergy pills thinking it might help, and went to take a nap.

I woke up from the nap (although I never really fell asleep), with the realization that I probably needed a better medicine and maybe the doctor was right.  So, I sent a text message to Michaela to see if she was free to go to the Pharmacy for me.  Luckily, she was. The Aspirin-C came in dissolvable tablets.  I dropped one in a glass of water (without reading the directions) and drank my medicine.  After resting for another 20 minutes, I was able to go back down to my office.  There, Olga and I parsed through the directions of the Aspirin-C to find out that I could have taken 2 tablets at once, and my next dose was to be in 3 hours.

Olga and I then went to grab a cup of tea on the Bridge.  Turns out, we had to refill the water tank of the hot water dispenser and wait for it to heat up again.  Upon returning, my face felt tingly.  I stop in the bathroom to find that I am breaking out in hives.

So, back to my room I go.  I brought 2 Benadryl with me, but wanted to confirm with my doctor first that it was ok to take.  (I usually don’t take any medicine, so multiple medicines in one day was a bit scary to me).  I attempt to call Duke Student health.  As luck wasn’t on my side that day, they were having phone issues.  I search around and found another phone number to try.  This one rang for a while, then eventually forwarded to UNC’s answering service.  When someone was finally on the other side of the line, they asked me why I called them and not Duke.  After explaining how I reached them, they had to first investigate why Duke did not answer.  (As I am impatiently waiting on the phone, worrying that they would tell me to go to the hospital).  Finally, they discover that they can’t get through to Duke student health and put me on the line with one of the UNC nurses.

The nurse confirmed my suspicion that I was having an allergic reaction to the Aspirin.  (Good thing I didn’t take both tablets like the directions said!)  She gave me explicit direction to never take Aspirin again.  She allowed me to take the Benadryl, but warned if the hives did not go away that I had to go to the hospital.

After I took the Benadryl, I ate some dinner (clear soup, bread, and home-made chips).  The hives were disappearing, but not entirely gone.  Just in case, I researched nearby hospitals (maybe here?).  Then, I took a nap & then a shower.  My inability to do work for most of the day made me go back to my office to work on my paper for a little while.  Luckily, by the time I went to bed, there was no longer any sign of having hives.

Today, I woke up without the headache but still with a sore throat and runny nose.  But, overall I am much better 🙂  Hopefully tomorrow will be better yet.

New Goal: Get Freshly Pressed

October 4 2011

On the WordPress homepage one day, I happened to click on a freshly pressed article for the first time.  I usually don’t even notice them, but the photo had Liz (the girl who wrote the article) used a whiteboard to plea for a spot on Freshly Pressed.

Previous to looking at this I hadn’t thought about it much about the Freshly Pressed page.  I honestly thought that it was randomly generated.  I suppose that it might be too difficult to actually do that though (I’m sure there are a lot of inappropriate things in blogs).  Anyway, I did some research about how to get freshly pressed, and found these five tips:

  1. Write unique content that’s free of bad stuff.
  2. Include images or other visuals.
  3. Add tags.
  4. Aim for typo-free content.
  5. Cap off your posts with a compelling headline.

I found these tips to be helpful, but also a little bit of common sense.  It probably takes a little more to get noticed.  There are over half a million posts each day (or, at least today according to the WordPress website).  So, I scoured the internet some more.  I found a suggestion to email the editor at to ask them to look over my blog and to offer me some suggestions.  Well, I did just that the other day.  Currently, I have not heard a response.

Now, let’s revisit the five suggestions to see where my weakness in blogging lies:

  1. I’d say my blog is very unique.  I talk about life as a graduate student, living in Austria, being engaged, and whatever happens to be on my mind.  And, of course, no bad stuff.
  2. I try to include images when I can.  If I can’t, I try to at least make the text interesting enough (or short enough) on its own merit.
  3. I’ve actually recently started using tags (ever since my postaweek2011 goal … which hasn’t been exactly a post a week).
  4. I at least read through my posts once before clicking Publish.  Perhaps there are some typos, but I don’t think there are too many.
  5. Maybe this is my weakness.  The hardest part about posting is coming up with a title.  It is easy to write about my experiences, but to sum it up in 5 words or less?
So, now, I have an idea.  Maybe I have been doing this the wrong way.  I write about something, then I make a title.  So, I will try it the other way.  And, perhaps you will want to contribute to my effort by suggesting some awesome, compelling titles.  The challenge then would be for me to think of some content that will match the title.


And, to comply with item #2 about how to get freshly pressed, I will end this with a photo of Novi.  Now that I have a fancy new camera, I have put it to good use.  He asked me to take photos of him in order to get a passport.  It was actually difficult to get him not to smile (passport photos are supposed to be serious, not full of joy for some reason).  Even in this picture, his lips are in the “frowning” position, but it still looks like he is smiling:

Do YOU remember …

October 3 2011

… the last time you saw me?

Since I am living in Austria, I don’t get to see my friends too often.  Something about an ocean between us makes that difficult … they claim.  Anyway,  Darrell Shady was trying to remember the last time he saw me.  He couldn’t quite remember, then he claimed:

Hm.  Oh, it was that night when I brought the breathalyzer to your house.
We went to a Durham place for a while before that.
It had benches.  Dave and I were late for some reason. It was a huge crowd.
I thought that night was the last time I saw you.  It was right before you left for Europe.  And I remember saying goodbye and whatnot.
And I didn’t see you over the summer.
Remember we showed up late and sat on the corner until our food came and people let us squeeze in?  Robby was there.  Mostly Dukies, though.
At the end, you were going to cash out at the bar, and a guy heard you tell me something like “You know I would never do it without you” or something, and he made a face.
But a bunch of people came to your apt. after that.
And we made fun of their breathalyzer scores.
There was also a blonde from Duke that I’d only met once before.
The first time was when we went to Bub’s and then Underground, and we were going to play strip pool, so we put on extra clothes.
She gave me a leather wristband.
I think at that second night Diana was there too.  She was the highest on the breathalyzer.
And your other Philly friend…
And there was a guy pretending to be a doctor, but you probably didn’t hear that.

After talking to Dave!, we realize that this happened in January or February, and I definitely saw Darrell at Dave!’s 30th birthday party in April.  Still, he insists:

I’m pretty confident that was the last time I saw you, but I have no idea when month it was.  But there was definitely Diana and the other girl who’s in Pharmacy.

Well, given the description, I am not too surprised that he forgot when this occurred.  I’m actually surprised that he remembers who I am.

Long Night of Museums in Vienna

October 2 2011

Tonight was the “Lange Nacht der Museen” (long night of museums).  And yes, I had a long night.  Morten and I were in Vienna, and (almost last-minute) decided to check out a few museums.  We started our museum tour around 10:00 p.m.  We purchased our 11 Euro tickets (gives us free admission to almost any museum in Vienna from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.).  I suppose we started a little late, but we were determined to make the most of it anyway.

We started at the Albertina.  The first thing that we noticed was that there were streams of people moving into and out of the museum.  Luckily, despite the plethora of museum-goes, we were able to have our own space to view the paintings and pictures that we wanted to see.  We first saw a photograph exhibit, which displayed photographs as far back as the 1800s.  It was pretty incredible to see.  We also saw a photo of the first real photo exhibit in Vienna.  It was in a private palace, with photos crowding the walls floor to ceiling.  The information written on the wall next to it said that even the floor was covered in photos and chemicals for developing photos.  Really crazy.

woman under the sun

Do you see "pi and a circle" or "a woman under the sun"?

Then, we saw the “Monet bis Picasso” (Monet to Picasso) exhibit.  I liked this one, although I thought that it should have ended with Picasso.  The modern art that followed this exhibit was rather boring in my opinion, and with titles like “Untitled Number 7”, I think it must have bored the artist too.  Morten had a particular grievance with the photo entitled something like “woman and the sun”.  Instead, he thinks that it should have more appropriately been called “pi and a circle”.  (Sorry, the photo of the painting is sideways and I couldn’t figure out how to reorient the image in wordpress’s editing environment.  Instead, just turn your head a bit).

the Key to the Opera House

By the time we left the Albertina, it was already after 11:00, so we did not have much time left.  (The last bus leaves Heilengenstadt at 12:47, and I was getting tired, so I was hoping to make the 12:05 bus).  So, we made a quick stop in the Staatsopermuseum before leaving.  This museum is quite small, and has a lot of text to read.  We didn’t really have the time to read through about the lives of all of the opera singers and composers.  So, we looked at the few (but neat) items they had in the museum.  The first thing that caught our attention was key to the opera house.  (If you look at the photo to the left, you’ll see Morten’s green shoes and my silver necklace in the reflection).  It is just a neat looking key, so I took a quick picture of it.  The next thing we noticed were the elaborate costumes on display.  Some were very elegant looking, some were quite comical, and none were simple.  Then, we walked into a little cove to see a mosaic (I think depicting one of the opera singers).  And finally, we concluded our visit in the Ballet section, where we attempted to put our feet in the five ballet positions (it didn’t quite work).  Feet were drawn on the floor to help you figure out how to stand in the positions, but I think we are helpless as ballerinas.  Good thing we are PhD students instead.

on the Roof of Karl Marx-Hof

on the Roof of Karl Marx-Hof

Alas, by the time we got to Heilengenstadt, it was ten after 12.  (Maybe we spent a bit too much time in the Ballet section of the staatsopermuseum.  Luckily, there was another museum nearby, Das Rote Wien im Waschsalon (the red Vienna in the washroom).  First, I will explain why it it is in the washroom.  The Karl Marx-Hof is an enormous housing complex across from Heilengenstadt.  It was built in the 1920s and is to this day the longest residential building in the world.  It is a testimony to the socialistic ideals that characterized the politics in Vienna in the early 20th century.  The waschsalon is where the baths/showers were found.  Each apartment had a kitchen and a bedroom (and a large closet), but the showers were located centrally (I think the toilets also).  It is in this part of the building that the museum is located.  Since the writing was in German with no translation and we only had 15 minutes in the museum before we had to leave for the bus, we probably did not get the full experience of the museum.  It gives the history of red Vienna.  It was neat to see old uniforms and socialist propaganda.  The floor was marked with the life-size layout of a typical apartment in the Karl Marx-Hof.  This is how I realized that they have large closets.   The door to the roof/fire escape was open, so I of course took the opportunity to step out on the roof.  This came with great joy since I had tried to get on the roof another day, and failed to even get in the building (I guess you don’t technically need to get in the building to get on the roof though).

So, that was my long night of museums in Vienna.  I saw three museums that I have not been to before, and now I also have this handy booklet that tells me all about the >100 museums in Vienna.