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At the site of ICASSP 2014 to register yesterday evening, this is what I saw:

At first I thought she was on stilts, which would have been amazing, but she's standing on a column-like structure. It's still striking.

So far this trip, I've learned two other things worth passing on.

First, changing planes at Frankfurt airport can be kind of like a Nouvelle Vague movie about the endless sterility of modern life.  After we landed, the plane taxied for a half an hour to some remote district of the airport, where we boarded buses for a 20-minute drive to Terminal 2. Then to get to a connecting flight in Terminal 1, I followed the signs through half a dozen long bleak corridors set off from one another at random angles, through passport control, through another batch of long bleak corridors at random angles, through an enormous airport mall, down to a baggage claim area, up to another set of long bleak corridors at random angles, through a security screening, through another enormous airport mall, along another half a dozen long bleak corridors, … 45 minutes of vigorous walking in total. Then we got on a bus and drove for 20 minutes out to another remote district of parked planes.

Since I had 75 minutes between planes, this was perfect from the point of view of time; and after sitting for seven hours across the Atlantic, the exercise was good, though it would have been nice to have had some better views along the way. But the experience was unsettling, since after the first 20 minutes of walking, I wondered whether I might be following the signs around in circles. And I suspect that the first airplane parking lot was just a stone's throw from the last one…

I don't remember previous transfers in Frankfurt being nearly this complex. And everything was on time. Still, I think I might try for other transfer points in the future.

The second thing I learned was that the semantics of English noun-noun compounds is even more elastic than I thought. In a compound [X Y], X can be in almost any semantic relationship to Y, as a few minutes reflection will illustrate. But it had not previously occurred to me that negation might be involved — and in fact it usually isn't. So [X oil] can be oil made from X (safflower oil), or oil used on X (hair oil), but it would be unexpected for [X oil] to mean "oil that doesn't contain any X", or "oil that can't be used on X". So when I chose a hotel in Florence on the basis of proximity to the conference center and also the prominence of the word internet in its advertising, it didn't occur to me that "internet hotel" might mean "hotel where the internet doesn't work"…

The theme is repeated throughout the establishment:

I guess that I should have been wary, as always when someone boasts about a feature that should go without saying. A hotel that tells you proudly that it supplies sheets and running water is communicating something worth paying attention to. (Though working internet access is not yet in the "running water" category in many places…)

Update — for those people who experienced difficulty in seeing the image using Firefox, I believe that this is yet another consequence of the uniformly poor internet access I experienced in Florence. (OK, not "uniformly poor" — it varied between "completely nonfunctional" and "fair", but the median experience was "poor"…)  I attempted to send the picture from the ICASSP conference center. As usual, it took me three or four tries to actually get connected. Then the attempt to transfer the picture timed out twice, without actually sending anything, requiring me to disconnect and reconnect to the local ISP each time. Finally it sort of worked, I thought, but apparently it didn't quite finish the transfer, resulting in odd results for some people. I'm now in London, and have re-sent the picture — I hope it will display in all browsers now.

 

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35 Comments »

  1. @Quillpower1 said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 2:33 am

    Nicely subtle!
    Such a long and puzzling airport walk would be much more disturbing if one had less time between flights. Quite a few airports could make it easier on transit passengers by marking more often along the corridors which gates they lead to.
    You brought up an interesting point with the oil examples. If safflower oil is made of safflower, what is hair oil, massage oil and cooking oil made of?

  2. Jonathan O'Connor said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 3:50 am

    Frankfurt is one of the places I truly hate, especially if you want to top up your battery. I had the pleasure of staying there for 5 hours, and of course, my laptop ran out of power. I traipsed through terminal 2 in vain looking for a socket that actually had electricity. Apparently, in an effort to save electricity, the airport management only turns on a socket, when it is required by airport staff.

    German airports aren't all bad. Tegel is great in Berlin, and Munichhas a great restaurant, with its own micro-brewery.

  3. champacs said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 4:24 am

    In the same vein I've always loved the ambiguity of "wifi free" which I've often seen signs for in cafés in Asia when "wifi that you don't have to pay for" is what is meant.

  4. Adrian Morgan said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 4:41 am

    What is wrong? The first image is blank: every pixel is 100% transparent.

  5. Adrian Morgan said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 5:21 am

    (Update to previous comment: image is displaying correctly now.)

  6. Anthea Fleming said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 6:27 am

    Re Safflower oil, hair oil etc:
    If tin whistles are made of tin, what are foghorns made of? (Juvenilia)

  7. Nik Berry said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 6:35 am

    Completely blank here.

  8. Milan said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 8:41 am

    The closest thing to negation you can actually get in compounds probably is "Y is used against X", as in 'dandruff shampoo' or 'nausea medication'

  9. Paolo said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 8:46 am

    [Italian L1, English L2] In an Italian context, it would not occur to me to interpret Internet hotel as "hotel with Internet access" – the only meaning that comes to mind is "hotel that can be booked online". It would be interesting to find out what non-Italian L2 speakers would make of it.

  10. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    The philosopher J.L. Austin introduced the term 'trouser word', defined as a word which does not wear the trousers, i.e. which depends for its sense on the words it accompanies. (The expression, confusing enough to start with, is now even more confusing because the metaphorical use of 'wear the trousers' has largely disappeared.)

  11. Robert Coren said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 9:41 am

    Curiously, the first photo displayed properly when I first reloaded the LL page, but now it's blank.

  12. Milan said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    For me, it's almost as for Robert Coren, but it's just black now, not blank

  13. Nik Berry said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    For me, doesn't work in Firefox, borks IE, and is just fine in Chrome.

  14. Bloix said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    A starfish is not a fish, a sawhorse is not a horse, hair cream is not cream, nickel silver is not silver, etc.

  15. spherical said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    Transfer at Frankfurt is a somewhat kafkaesque experience. That maze of corridors always makes me feel like I'm about to get arrested for stumbling into the wrong person's office.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    I've been through the Frankfurt airport about two dozen times, and my impressions are much the same as Mark's, with increasing intensity each year I pass through.

    A crowning indignity is when, after I've gone through all those corridors, stairs, and gates, I come to the US Air gate area, and have to descend to a seemingly semi-subterranean part of the airport, am forced to go through another security check, am subjected to a host of degrading questions, and then funneled into a cattle holding pen where there are no refreshments, and sometimes not even any toilet facilities.

    Two compensations:

    1. On my long treks through the airport, I unexpectedly meet someone I know about one quarter of the times. That is always a great surprise, and it's nice to sit down over tea and chat for awhile, after which they go their way and I go mine. I have met the same friend, Fred Hiebert, in the Frankfurt airport three times! Fred is an archeologist who works for National Geographic. He is usually on his way to or from Afghanistan or one of the other stans. It's always good to catch up with him on what he's up to.

    2. Listening to the sounds of all the many languages that fill the air!

  17. Victor Mair said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    The Chinese have an ancient and very famous paradox: báimǎ fēi mǎ 白馬非馬 ("A white horse is not a horse").

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_a_white_horse_is_not_a_horse

  18. EricF said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    Surely you have not all forgotten the most precious of oils: baby oil.

  19. David L said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    Since someone mentioned Frankfurt airport being Kafkaesque

  20. Roger Lustig said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

    Is any airport really good for changing planes? I love Tegel for arrival and departure–stumble at baggage claim and you fall into your taxi–but a change there would probably involve that other terminal/shed they've tacked on. (Stateside I recall Tampa-St. Pete being very good for simple I/O.)

    Frankfurt is special, though. Worse than Houston, etc.

    ob.Linguistics: "It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'As pretty as an airport.'"–Douglas Adams

  21. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    @V Mair: subjected to a host of degrading questions, and then funneled into a cattle holding pen where there are no refreshments, and sometimes not even any toilet facilities

    Oh, that's exactly like arriving in the US! I feel your pain!

  22. Narmitaj said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

    ob.Dictionary (of sorts – The Meaning of Liff): AIRD OF SLEAT (n. archaic): Ancient Scottish curse placed from afar on the stretch of land now occupied by Heathrow Airport.

    Presumably similar historic curses apply in other lands. My complex airport transit was Tunis via Paris to Budapest in 2008, changing at Charles de Gaulle. I arrived at Terminal 2F and had to depart from Terminal 2B. Some corridors led to a bus which went via several terminal stops to 2B, where after more walking I went through security to the gate and then onto another bus and was driven back to where my next plane was actually parked, back at Terminal 2F.

    (My simplest was at Kuwait as a 15-yo in January 1973, where I got off one 707 from Bombay and walked across the tarmac to the alongside 707 heading for London without troubling to go into the terminal at all. The paperwork had been sorted out, though, helped by the fact my father had been the captain on the Bombay flight.)

  23. Rubrick said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

    David L beat me to the link, but I'd like to heartily recommend the Onion video he references.

  24. Sili said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

    The closest thing to negation you can actually get in compounds probably is "Y is used against X", as in 'dandruff shampoo' or 'nausea medication'

    Mosquito net, bug spray?

  25. Vertebrat said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    The “internet hotel” is where you go for an “internet holiday”: a holiday from internet. :)

  26. David Morris said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

    suntan cream = cream to allow suntanning but to prevent sunburn
    sunburn cream = cream to alleviate sunburn

  27. Douglas Bagnall said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

    The firefox bug is here: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1006939

    I blame Mark's phone.

    [(myl) As explained above, I believe that this is yet another consequence of the uniformly poor internet access I experienced in Florence. (OK, not "uniformly poor" -- it varied between "completely nonfunctional" and "fair", but the median experience was "poor"...) I attempted to send the picture from the ICASSP conference center. As usual, it took me three or four tries to actually get connected. Then the attempt to transfer the picture timed out twice, without actually sending anything, requiring me to disconnect and reconnect to the local ISP each time. Finally it sort of worked, I thought, but apparently it didn't quite finish the transfer, resulting in odd results for some people. I'm now in London, and have re-sent the picture -- I hope it will display in all browsers now.]

  28. dw said,

    May 7, 2014 @ 3:20 am

    Perhaps "internet hotel" means "hotel with a website" :)

    FWIW, the reviews of the hotel on Booking.com (which I've learned to rely on for Europe) are generally positive about the WiFi, so perhaps it will be fixed soon.

  29. Yann said,

    May 7, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    I think one would need to have really good memory to remember all the steps and scenes of flight transfer described in the beginning paragraphs. I would probably forget most of them.

    As for the Internet hotel, did you try to look into its network topology? Maybe what they mean is not inter-connected network, but INTERior-NETwork :-)

  30. Robert Coren said,

    May 7, 2014 @ 9:58 am

    I haven't flown through Frankfurt in many years (if I ever have); I recently took a trip to Italy which involved changes in Munich in both directions, and it did seem that I walked through a lot of endless spaces (most of them too wide to be called "corridors"), and that the bus trip between the terminal the smallish planes used for the Germany-Italy leg was considerable (although nowhere near 20 minutes).

    I agree that no airport is actually a pleasant place. I don't think I've ever been in one drearier than Nairobi, but there are plenty of places I haven't been.

  31. is said,

    May 7, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

    The story of the "internet hotel" makes me think of this:

    I am the only one in my family who is gluten-intolerant. As such, I have a certain shelf of the pantry where I set aside any specialty gluten-free foods that I buy. My grandmother quickly dubbed this shelf the "gluten shelf". I found that to be rather charming and still think of it as my gluten shelf sometimes. After all, gluten is the one thing all of these products have in common in that they all have the relatively unusual property of not containing it.

  32. Martha said,

    May 8, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    is, that reminds me of a lactose-intolerant friend who describes himself as being "lactose." ("I can't eat that; I'm lactose.") Does your grandmother describe you as being "gluten"?

    I tentatively plan to visit a friend in Germany eventually, and now I don't want to fly into Frankfurt for fear I will get lost. The idea of getting lost in an airport makes me very anxious.

    Not that I've been to a lot of airports, but the worst in my experience has been O'Hare, where even the employees don't know where things are.

  33. Chris Waters said,

    May 8, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

    I couldn't see the image, so I downloaded a copy and looked at it with the display program from the venerable open-source ImageMagick suite. This allowed me to see it, but reported:

    display: Corrupt JPEG data: premature end of data segment (TallViolinist.jpg).

    [(myl) I believe that this is yet another consequence of the uniformly poor internet access I experienced in Florence. (OK, not "uniformly poor" -- it varied between "completely nonfunctional" and "fair", but the median experience was "poor"...) I attempted to send the picture from the ICASSP conference center. As usual, it took me three or four tries to actually get connected. Then the attempt to transfer the picture timed out twice, without actually sending anything, requiring me to disconnect and reconnect to the local ISP each time. Finally it sort of worked, I thought, but apparently it didn't quite finish the transfer, resulting in the result that you describe. I'm now in London, and have re-sent the picture -- I hope it will display in all browsers now.]

  34. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    Once I saw a whole crowd of African refugees, over a hundred of them, camped out in one of those broad corridors at the Frankfurt airport. I asked them how long they would be there. They said they didn't know, but that they would move to another location when it was determined which country would take them in.

  35. David Morris said,

    May 12, 2014 @ 7:08 am

    In the 'silly things overheard on trains' column of Sydney's free commuter newspaper –
    Boy "Mama, did you know. Mountain Dew actually has dew from mountains in it?"

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