#QuizOfThoth

Last year there has been a fascinating new tendency in choosing sexual partners: being sapiosexual, meaning that you are absolutely attracted by intelligence. Knowledge is sexy!

Guess what: I’d say sharing knowledge is even sexier!

So, after playing many many games of the famous German quiz app “Quizduell” I stumbled upon Twitter’s polling functionality, where you are able to attach up to four answers in a poll and people can choose one of those answers. My first thought: why not abuse this for a little quiz?

I have studied Egyptology for such a long time – more than 5 years. I have been a huge fan of Ancient Egyptian history for more than 23 years now. I have worked for excavation projects, I am currently working for an interdisciplinary archaeological project. I have worked as a guide for the Egyptian museum in Munich for five years. There MUST be some interesting facts I can share with my Twitter community, right?

The concept: every day at roughly the same time (= in the evening, German time) I share a question, introducing several aspects of the Egyptian culture. Architecture, religion, their writing system, history, geography, all that stuff. Trying to figure out questions which are interesting for a lay audience.

Once the poll has ended, I uncover the right solution(s) – adding a lot of additional facts. Like, when asking about the final consequence of the famous Battle of Qadesch, there is a lot to say about how the Egyptians “wrote history”, what the historic situation for the opponents was. Or maybe giving some interesting literature hints if somebody would want to dive into a scientific discussion.

My evaluation after almost two weeks: I get a lot of positive feedback, and people seem to like the idea! In most cases the “swarm intelligence” is right, so maybe I need to introduce even harder questions… 😉 But doing a quiz is only fun if you have some chance to get the right answer, and at least sometimes know what the question itself is about.

My private insight: doing a quiz right is not that easy. I try to make connections between my questions – and the Egyptian culture helps a lot in this case, because so many things are intertwined. The most difficult thing, though: Twitter and the whole concept does not allow endless chapters about scientific questions. However, many things in Egyptology cannot really be answered within 280 characters. And quite often, there are general answers – but there is always an exception from the general rule. Doing that quiz tries me. I have to look up even the simplest things to make sure I’m not saying something wrong. Which might happen anyway – I am just a human being, much more involved with machine learning and artificial intelligence these days. But I take it as my responsibility to do as much research as I can – or at least making transparent when I failed somewhere. An important aspect for science, I believe.

Doing this quiz helps me to reflect my knowledge and get a new coverage of my most favourite subject – an ancient culture so rich and colorful, so incredible that it touched my heart 23 years ago and never let go. Doing this quiz also shows me that studying Egyptology is not useless. Throughout the years I have met so many people being absolutely fascinated by this culture, so distant and so well-known, having been constant for such an enormous time.

Last, but definitely not least: thanks to any single person participating in this journey. Bringing joy and knowledge is the best thing in life. 🙂

Master Thesis #1

Second try, second chance! Five years ago, I have written my first master thesis. An Egyptological study about how the Ancient Egyptians used graphical tools and layout to structure their papyri. And for some reason I wonder why I have never published any of my results on my webpage. I definitely should have done that! But that’s for a second project.

This time, I have changed the university and the basic subject, as this master thesis will be done in computer science. I am studying CS with the minor “machine intelligence” – there are actually three chairs in Basel dealing with this topic, leaning towards artificial intelligence, biomedical data analysis, and computer graphics and vision.

Now, the first and obvious choice for me would have been the last one – I have studied media informatics in Munich and I do work a lot with 3D models in my day job. And it is a very fascinating field of study! I had some courses there and they were magnificent. The same with the biomedical data analysis, I had a full course on bioinformatics and really loved the algorithms and how they were used to solve problems which otherwise might take ages to calculate. Buzzword “sequence alignment”.

For some reason, though, artificial intelligence kind of made it into my head. For several reasons, to be honest. First, planning and the optimization of plans is something which has been stuck in my head for almost 30 years. As a child I went along and tried to be as structured and reasonable as possible: where am I? Where do I want to go? Which obstacles are in my way? Which options do I have? Now go find a route through this maze. A way of thinking of problems which can be adapted to anything in life. Trying to find the best or cheapest path from my current state to a goal state, that’s just how my brain worked.

Second, I love how this field has been very formal, very focused on maths during my studies. Don’t get me wrong, all informatics are about maths. You cannot do advanced informatics without knowing your maths. But in this particular field I learned a lot about how to define things formally and properly, how to write those things down and how to prove all that. It is – I have to admit it – quite a challenge. But it is well structured and very logical. Quite a contrast to my first master thesis, done in humanities, and quite a contrast to my bachelor thesis where I had to program, but not really to do anything mathematical.

Which leads to my third aspect – the challenge. Yes, it is a challenge, and yes, I am full aware of that. I could make my life much easier here. I don’t want to. I kind of need this challenge to get a deeper understanding of my own abilities. I want to convince myself that I can do that – and not just fulfill the task, but do it in an excellent way. This may sound arrogant, yes. In fact, it is not. To the contrary. I abuse this work to make myself more comfortable with my skills. And increase them. As I usually say: reach for the utmost to extend your possibilities. You won’t grow in life if you stick to what you already know.

This week I had my first meeting with my potential supervisors, and they spent some time on me and presented me with two topics I could choose from. Both topics sound very interesting, but challenging – I guess you will understand I don’t write them down here without having read the first papers. Better not write something down which is complete and utter nonsense. 😉 But they don’t sound like completely undoable jobs. Which is an important first trait.

One good thing about doing a master at my new university: the master thesis is kind of split into two parts. First, you have to do a preparation phase for your master. You choose a topic and start reading on it, gather all the relevant literature, figure out the current problems and the basic history of the work in this field. After one month, you report on your findings and either pass or fail. If you pass (and have finished the rest of your studies in a good enough way), you can finally start your real master thesis, a work to be done in six months.

The advantage, compared to my first master thesis: a lot of work is done before the actual work starts. Not having to get a first grip on the topic, already being familiar with the fundamental literature, having had some first thoughts about the problem and potential solutions, that’s really a big help when starting into a project. And it doesn’t take additional time. Besides, if you figure out after this one month that the topic does not really fit, you can still change. Better now than when writing your thesis, right?

Anyway. I am really motivated to do this in a good, motivated, organised and concise style. I have learned a lot about complicated project works over the last couple years, and I have improved my own discipline and tactics as well. Let’s see if it works out. And it might be a nice thing to leave some notes here on my website from time to time – not as a general “blog” of my master thesis, but to let you and myself know the current state and my thoughts about the work.

So, I’d say – let’s get started! 🙂

Machine Learning and Politics

Believe it or not: machine learning, a computational discipline to make our beloved little computers more “intelligent”, actually teaches me some lessons about politics. These are no super new insights, but I sincerely love how I was able to transport my knowledge about machines to my experience of daily politics – and thus wanted to share my thoughts with you.

When machines try to learn, they always need to figure out some model of their respective environment. A robot, for instance, may have to derive a model how to get from one point A to another point B without using too much energy. Which movements are costly? Which ones are not? Where to go to reach the goal at all?

Another robot may stand in front of a box with a lot of sandwiches, handing them to fascinated students. Its task: predict the next sandwich flavour. Will it be turkey? Or cheese? Or just pure cucumber?

Well, you may find better examples of what robots can do, it doesn’t matter at all. In all those cases, the basic principle is the same: we have a bunch of hypotheses about our environment and want to figure out the most probable one. To do so, we use two major ingredients: prior (expert) knowledge about our hypotheses and observations, which may update our knowledge.

Actually, politics are just the same. The more you deal with or read about our daily politics, the more you learn. You gain some expert knowledge, which allows you to predict whether some events are more likely to happen or not. At the same time, you watch our politicians, given our global environment, and observe how they react, what ideas they produce, which strategies they apply to convince people. The political stage is the environment, the politicians are the actors, and their actions are observations.

In a grown-up political system, there is little which might surprise us. Think of ongoing elections: is it surprising that politicians of all parties claim themselves to have the only possible solution while all the others are horrible losers? Are we shocked that politicians transform the biggest loss into a magnificent victory after an election night? Are we surprised that politicians constantly repeat the very same sentences, as if they would become reality afterwards? Not really. This matches perfectly with our expectations.

There are some elements, though, which don’t fit. Think of the American President Donald Trump, for example. Nobody, me included, believed in his victory. My prior knowledge said: the Americans cannot vote such a man. They proved me wrong. Another example: Brexit. I was sure the British people could not be so stupid to leave the European Union. They were. Surprise, surprise.

These events, these results happened, because we all – including our politicians – were so sure about what might happen. Our prior knowledge has been confirmed and confirmed multiple times, and thus our prediction was super clear. However, reality sometimes doesn’t fit the model. We got surprised. Wow.

The result: the certainty of our prior knowledge went down drastically. Think of the elections in the Netherlands. People were quite sure that Geert Wilders might lead his party towards victory. Polls were ignored, said to be wrong all the time. In the end, they were right, and Wilders lost – a little healing confirmation to our wounded prior knowledge.

Next stop: France. The closer we are, the more worried we become. Our prior knowledge tells us that Marine Le Pen has no chance at all – but does reality know that? Will the French people actually vote against the European Union, the European friendship? We don’t know yet. Dozens of articles are written, some of them saying “Why Marine Le Pen will never win!”, others “Why Marine Le Pen could actually win!”. Yeah. Whatever.

We see: our observations of reality have drastically changed our prediction of the future. The once so clear posterior probabilities were reduced, new hypotheses joined the game. Suddenly, there is movement, there is a change in data.

And at the same time, people start to become political again. They see that things are moving around, and they either want to throw it over – or they want to rescue the system. They were inactive as long as the machine was running smoothly. Now it doesn’t. Now they interfere.

Politics are the environment, and we are the machines. The agents. We constantly update our knowledge based on what we observe – the daily news, political statements, our own experience in the streets of the cities. There is a little twist, though: we are part of the environment. We interfere with it. Our data is not independent. Which makes things super complicated.

 

Back From Egypt

Hi guys!

Yes, this week’s article is late – very late – and short. But for a good reason: I’ve been to Egypt last week, for working purpose. I accompanied my working team for one week to lay my eyes on the beautiful tombs we’re going to publish. And I can tell you – being back to “Al Misr” was a wonderful experience. Not only that my Arabic has been back just in time after five years of no usage at all. I absolutely missed this country’s dualisms. The desert and the lively fertile lands. The hot sun and the ice cold nights. Those super kind people who can be so hot tempered from time to time.

Egypt is a wonderful country. Not only due to is outstanding historic remains. But also to is contemporary culture. If you ever find your way to the country of the Nile, give yourself some time, don’t just stick with your cruise liner, but also try to get in touch with the locals. Try to learn some basics in Arabic. It is a beautiful language. Stand on some desert hill, feel the Egyptian sun in your neck, look at the Nile Valley and think what all that must have looked like thousands of years ago.

Due to its dualisms, life in Egypt is not always easy. It has never been. Anyway, humans managed to create on of the first high cultures of our history next to river Nile. Their remains are well-known and beloved all over the globe. The Egyptian culture has been mother and inspiration for all European cultures. I am more than happy that I had the chance to visit that magnificent country again. Hopefully, my next break won’t be that long!

Have you already been to Egypt? If so – what have you seen? Were you there to dive? Or have you seen some fabulous temples and tombs from ancient times? Did you buy some souvenirs?

Blogparade „Mein Kulturtrip für dich im Sommer“ #KultTrip

Abstract: This article is an entry for the blogparade initiated by Tanja Praske. I’ve already written some German contribution to a very basic blogparade asking her readers: To me culture is…? This time the topic is about travelling: Where to go to grab some culture? Why? What shall we see there? What is a perfect culture trip? I have no plan what to write, so let’s just dive into it!

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2nd Swiss Open Cultural Data Hackathon

Abstract: The last two days I participated in a public event called “hackathon“. First of all, I will prevent a brief summary of what a hackathon is, for all of you who have never attended one. And second I will sum up our work of the last two days and stress out the fantastic results. Hope you enjoy the read!

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#BAjA2015 – contacts and conflicts in-between cultures

Abstract: From 13th November to 15th November 2015 there was held the Berliner Arbeitskreis junge Ägyptologie (BAjA) conference in Berlin, at the Humbold-University. Young academics presented their current research in Egyptology and discussed about methodological and theoretical problems or points of view. This article will present my personal thoughts about this fantastic gathering of dedicated minds.

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Bachelor-Thesis T-101. About Prototyping

Abstract: In this short article I will discuss the basic principle and advantages of prototyping for the general design process. And maybe – just maybe – I will provide some insight into my current state of work. 😉

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Mark-Improvement-Insanity

Abstract: Of course German pupils try to get the best marks possible – but sometimes it is more about the state they live in than their respective mental potential. As we do not have a central A-Levels for all German states, marks might differ by regions. Now some journalist proposed a quite simple solution. But is it that simple and good at all? Have fun with my commentary on it!

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