Postcard from Tucson, AZ

„Ask not what your F-klub can do for you, but what you can do for your F-klub.“ Jeg så JFK i aftes. Jeg kan kun gætte på, hvad filmen kaldes på dansk (JFK?). Nå, der alte Redakteur Flesner bad mig skrive et lille indlæg om „…???,“ så det gør jeg hermed. Jeg skriver det på engelsk, ikke fordi jeg har glemt, hvordan man skriver dansk, men fordi det ligesom gør det hele mere autentisk.

For better or worse, here I go. In case you did not know, I am an assistant professor in your department. Right now I am on leave for the Spring, visiting, as I did last Spring, the CS Department at the University of Arizona. This is a small report on selected encounters pertinent to my stay here in the US. Be warned!

Not long ago, all I knew about Tucson was what I had learned from the lyrics of the Lennon-McCartney song „Get Back,“ and that was not much at all. Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona, for some California grass…

I had spent about two and a half years in Maryland writing my Ph.D. dissertation on the topic of time in databases before I arrived in Tucson for the first time, in early February 1991.

I had started out in the snow of the Allegheny mountains of Western Pennsylvania. The road took me and my small car, loaded with all my precious belongings, through places such as Nashville, Memphis, Sweetwater, Dallas, and El Paso. When I arrived, I had been on the road for several days, having put in about fifteen hours of driving per day. Yet, my pleasantly exotic first meeting with Tucson made me forget the travails of the journey.

Tucson is located in the Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona. To the south, Mexico is about one hour away. To the north, Phoenix may be reached after a two-hour drive. The Biosphere 2 is in the vicinity. And don't forget Old Tucson where numerous cowboys and cowboy movies have been shot. It is located 15 miles and 100 years west of Tucson. Close to Tucson, you also find Tombstone, „the town too tough to die“ with the OK Corral-where the Earp brothers fought along with Doc Holliday-Boot Hill Cemetary, and the Bird Cage Theatre. And there is the Grand Canyon (some mighty big hole in the ground).

You may now think that you know why I came to Tucson, but you are wrong. I came here because Rick Snodgrass, a (the) leader within my research area of temporal databases, works here, in the CS Department of the University of Arizona. Had Rick been located in Hamburg, naturally I would have gone there…well, he wasn't.

You may ask: „How can he be in Arizona when his job is here.“ Well for one thing, all of my Spring teaching has simply been moved to the Fall. This is possible because the database course (DAT3/S7D) is in the Fall; and it is convenient because, in the transition from the old to the new „studieordning,“ there is more teaching in the Fall than in the Spring.

Being here is great, research wise. I am part of a highly active temporal database research group, and I cooperate with many of its members. Together with Rick, I am working on „temporal relational design.“ Together with Rick and Curtis, I am working on „indeterminacy.“ Mike and I are investigating a newly invented „temporal natural-join.“ The whole group-Mike, Nick, Rick, Curtis, Suchen, and I-is implementing „a database system supporting multiple calendars.2 Etc.

„In America, everything is bigger,“ someone once said. That may be true. It certainly was true for the cockroach that stared at me from the top of my fridge last night. I'm sure that when our eyes met, it saw fear in my eyes. For a split-second (which seemed like forever), I was afraid that it would attack. Instead, it chose to retreat to the back of the fridge, where it will gain size and strength to attack another day. It's not a lie to say that it was about the size of George Foreman's thumb.

Seriously, there is no denying that the US is a big and diverse country with extreme contrasts. However, often it is the small things that are the most interesting. Take for example the humming birds that visit the feeder on my balcony where I live. Truly amazing suckers! They suddenly appear out of the blue. Then they simply hang in the air and check the surroundings before moving to the feeder to drink a little sugar water. Then they move away and do another check before they take more food. Cautious little creatures. Then, suddenly, they are gone. They can fly at speeds approaching 100 km/h.

Taking a walk on campus is yet another of the special, small things. With 35,000 students, the university is fairly large. The central area is a large lawn surrounded by palm trees. At times there are special 12 to 1 lunch activities in this area. The atmosphere is special when it is 30 degrees in the shadows (40+ degrees and no clouds is the norm during the summer) and a large crowd of students is entertained by some local rock'n'roll band.

Walk to the side of campus opposite the CS Department and visit the archives of the famous nature photographer, Ansel Adams. For free (in the US!), you can have the staff at the Center for Creative Photography put your favorite Ansel Adams prints under glass. They will even tell you about the process of creating the prints.

Check out the police patrolling on campus. This is not your normal, fat-ass, Dunkin' Donuts kind of police officer. This lean, special breed wears Oakley style shades and „drives“ a high performance Nishiki mountain bike. Of cause, he is equipped with cycling shoes, a bicycle helmet, shorts, the standard walkie talkie, and a gun. Funny looking. Even funnier than the postal service workers that look like African explorers as they go about emptying the trash can-like mail-boxes.

These are just a few of the small things, too numerous to mention or even remember. Driving home from school, watching the sun set on the Santa Catalina mountains is spectacular, and the Southwestern food deserves a chapter of its own. So do the bars of Tucson.

After reading this, it may sound strange that I am looking forward to returning to Denmark, but I am.

„Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.“

Well, before I sign off let me recommend that you read the book „The Cuckoo's Egg-Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage,“ written by Cliff Stoll and published by Pocket Books. Stoll is a programmer (with a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona, I am told) at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, working for some astronomers. It all starts when he finds a discrepancy, a few cents, between two accounting programs. One program is the standard Unix accounting program. The other was homemade. Having been written by summer students, Stoll first thought that the homemade program had a bug. But it did not! Instead, he discovered that a „hacker“ had entered the system. When he left, the hacker removed „all“ traces. He just didn't know about the homemade accounting program.

The book is about the hunt for this hacker who uses the Berkeley system as a „home base“ when he breaks into computers on the military network, milnet. The book is quite fun. If nothing else and if you didn't know already, you'll get a hint as to how you make yourself a superuser. Get it and read it this summer!

C. S. Jensen, Tucson

fnuet/uhha_gammelt_1.txt · Sidst ændret: 16-09-2011 18:48 (ekstern redigering)
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