Copenhagen 2015

I traveled to Copenhagen to deliver the opening keynote at the ICIDS conference. It was an intense experience.

The Lecture
This was easily one of the most carefully prepared lectures I have ever given. I spent a lot of time planning it, rehearsing it, and preparing the slides for it. The final slide set had 120 slides for a 50 minute presentation: about one slide every 25 seconds. Many of the slides had taken a long time to get just right. I almost certainly overdid my preparations, but I really wanted to do a good job with this lecture. 

The Reaction
Apparently I was successful, for a great many people approached me afterwards to thank me for the lecture. It was obvious to all that I had put a great deal of effort into the preparations, and I think that they appreciated it. 

Other Presentations
I did not sit in on many other presentations; few were of direct interest to me, and those few that I did sit in on were not well-prepared. Why oh why do people present slides with text on them, then read the slides to the audience? The rule is simple: language goes into the ear and images go into the eye. That’s what the brain is programmed to handle; oral language is digested more readily than visual language.

The real value of the conference for me lay in the many long discussions I had with attendees. They were illuminating, humbling, and exciting. I realized that most of what I have to offer goes over the heads of undergraduates and is only weakly grasped by graduate students, but works well with faculty members, many of whom are far better versed in related material than I am. It was as if I were talking wines with experts: they knew every aspect of fermentation, the different qualities of different wines, the role of sunlight and temperature on the grapes, and a thousand other fine points. I don’t know any of this stuff, but I have one advantage over them: I’ve actually made fermented grape juice.

I had long discussions with quite a few people. One of these was Dr. Fanfan Chen, Professor of English at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan. This lady impressed me greatly; her education spans a huge range of topics, and she spans the Two Cultures divide comfortably. I also had long talks with Henrik Schonau-Fog, one of the organizers of the conference, about some of this research work. His colleague, whose business card I failed to get, was working on a fascinating problem involving an attempt to codify stories as found on the web. I suggested that he might be interested in the Aarne-Thompson Catalog of Folktale Motifs.

Other fruitful conversations were with Byung-Chull Bae, an assistant professor the School of Games at Hongik University in South Korea. She too impressed me with the breadth of her knowledge of narrative theory, linguistics, game design, and half a dozen other field. 

Many other conversations challenged my understanding and provided new insights. Although I tried to scribble notes afterwards, there was such a flood of ideas that I could not remember all the names or suggestions. The jet lag, which hit me particularly hard this trip, made matters worse. I ended up returning to my hotel room in the afternoons, falling asleep, and not waking up until 8:00 in the evening. I am still digesting the meaning of all the ideas that poured over me at this conference. 

I have just two photos to show from this conference. I wish that I had taken photos of some of the people with whom I spoke, but I was so deeply immersed in the conversation that it never occurred to me.

The first photo is a portrait of existence in Copenhagen:


This is an accurated depiction of the world of Copenhagen: everything is blurred by the constant drizzle. It’s cold. Everybody is bundled up. Even in this atrocious weather, however, the Danes continue to use their bicycles. Mothers have ingenious bicycles that include a baby carriage in front of the driver. Baby stays dry (mother is not so lucky).

My other photograph is from the approach to the airport in Reykjavik, Iceland:


This pretty much sums up Reykjavik Airport: an empty snow-filled plain with a cluster of buildings and some runways. Desolation. I read that Icelanders are some of the happiest people on the planet. I suspect that an Icelander transported to Hawaii would die from too much happiness.