Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's a zoo out there

Saturday, and the Aalborg Carnival had begun! Robert and I had noticed the preparations of some of our neighbors--which mainly involved hauling massive numbers of cases of beer up to their apartment.

When morning dawned, the streets outside looking at 9:00 am much like Franklin Street in Chapel Hill at 9:00 pm. Most were in costume, and headed out to be part of the parade. Since both of us had seen that sort of thing before, we were headed in a different direction--towards the Aalborg Zoo. As we got farther from the site of the parade, costumes became less common, but there were still a steady stream of people headed towards the center of town.

Until we got close to the Zoo, and discovered another group of people streaming in to see the animals. It was a great day to be at the zoo, sunny and the forecast had very little rain in it. This is a relatively compact zoo, but the African animals have quite a bit of room, and the feedings throughout the day give a nice way to learn more about the animals. The polar bear and her cub win the cuteness award, though, for their carefree play with a tire and ball both above and below the water.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vikings and Stilts

Well, Robert's and my last two days in Aalborg were exciting, to say the least! After finishing up the draft of the paper Friday morning, we took the bus out to a Viking cemetery, now also the home of a really good museum detailing Danish history from prehistory up to medieval times. It's called Lindholm Høje, and has an older part showcasing objects retrieved from the gravesites, while the new part has a very accessible introduction (in both Danish and English) to the history of the area.

After satisfying our yen for knowledge, we headed back toward the old center of the city, and discovered, to our delight, a parade about to start! Turns out that this is the weekend of the Karnival Aalborg, and we were witnessing the "Battle of the Bands", where carnival groups from around the world have been invited to compete for a prize. Before their competition, they have a 40 minute or so parade so that everyone can see what they've got to flaunt. The tallest were the stiltwalkers from Belgium, but my favorite were the animals--giraffes mobile enough to interact with the crowd, and a beautiful diaphanous elephant.

We finished the day at an authentic Danish Chinese Buffet. Yummy!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finishing up

So this has been a really great week for research. My talk went very well (and is now up on my website here.) Robert and Jesper and I believe that we have finished up the main details of the first paper together that all three of us were working on here in Aalborg, and the city itself is delightful. The Prinsens Hotel in Aalborg where we are staying is very close to the old city area, and (as usual in Europe) the city transportation is both fast and easy to use.

We ate at the Stygge Krumpen restaurants on Wednesday, where I had some great seafood. On Thursday Jesper had us over to his place in a small town outside the city, and we rode the train back to our hotel. Very convenient that no one was driving--as that way we could celebrate our research success properly!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I flew in to Denmark on Sunday, together with my coauthor and collaborator Robert Wolpert, into the town of Aalborg. I gave my talk at the University of Aalborg today, but on Monday and Tuesday I was in Skagen on the north coast, where my host Jesper Møller has a house.

He showed us around in the morning before we got to work, and we visited an intriguing piece of the coastline where the oceans Skagerrak and Kattegat collide. There are two sets of waves moving in different directions colliding just a few meters off the shoreline. Very cool. (That's Jesper in the background of the picture below--he had wading boots, Robert and I did not!)

Yesterday we also saw the largest sand dune in Denmark, the Råbjerg Mile, a nice climb. Today we were at the University, meeting people and each of us gave a talk. The weather's been relatively kind to us, with the occasional rain storm, but also a lot of sun. Here's hoping that continues!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine


Ok, sure, there are some nice action scenes in here, but they are wrapped around a plot that we already knew. Most of Wolverine's (movie) history comes from X-Men 2 and the taunts of Colonel Stryker. Origins fails to deliver much more in the way of background. Sure, it fills in the fine details of why Wolverine "volunteered" for the Weapon X program, but did anyone really think Wolverine entered because Stryker was such an upstanding guy?

No new characterization and no important revelations make this movie a nonstarter. Still the continuity was much better thought out then some other prequels (cough *Star Wars* cough) I could name.

In the end, the movie fails mainly because there is too much in it. There are too many mutants to give any one fight the attention it deserves, the outcome of each fight is predetermined early by the needs of the plot, and despite the fact that our hero is onscreen most of the time, we come away knowing very little more about Wolverine than when we started.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 8, 2009

To boldly go

The new Star Trek move is out, and it is glorious!

I'm one of those fanboys who was full of misgivings about the new Star Trek. J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite entertainers: Alias slowly sunk under the weight of its mythos, but Lost has thrived even as the complexity grew. And Mission Impossible III gave me hope: it is the only one of the series that seems even tangentially related to the original ethos of its show.

Fortunately, Abrams has managed to capture the essence of the original Star Trek here. While the exterior of the Enterprise and interior are quite different from the original series, the only thing that really matters--the characters, are alive and well.

This isn't simple mimicry of the original actors, although a few choice maneuvers such as Kirk's "I'm thinking in my chair" command posture and Spock's raised left eyebrow have been brought along for the ride. More, it's an acknowledgment of the the fact that the Star Trek universe is the ultimate argument for multiculturalism. Kirk's bravado, Spock's logic, even Bones' grumpiness and Scotty's enthusiasm are by themselves not up to the task of solving anything. But put them together, and a team capable of saving the universe emerges.

Star Trek has always walked a fine line tackling bold topics. One of the funniest episodes of the original series, "The Trouble with Tribbles" was a thinly disguised allegory for Superpower politics in the developing world. Wrapping humor around serious plot lines is not easy, but is accomplished with skill in this newest film.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars