Ja! Ein klein Wienerschnitzel Entscheidungsproblem

I arrived yesterday in Innsbruck, Austria — a lovely medieval town set in a valley in the Tyrolean Alps. Here the Pontiff and I are sharing an office at the Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation, and will have to work out a comedy routine to be performed Friday morning, when we’re supposed to open the QIPC meeting at Ike Newton’s old stomping grounds, the Royal Society in London.

Since I’m too jetlagged to write a coherent entry, I hope you’ll be satisfied with some lists:

The three secrets of air travel (distilled from a decade of experience flying to four continents, and offered free of charge to you, my readers):

  1. Bring a book. Don’t even try to work on the plane; just read read read read read. If you get stuck in the airport for hours, all the more time to read!
  2. If you must work, do it with pen and paper, not a laptop.
  3. Put your laptop case in the overhead bin, not under your seat. This will give you more room to stretch your legs.

The only three German words you’ll ever need to know:

  1. Danke (thank you). To be said after any interaction with anyone.
  2. Ein (one). As in: I will have one of those (pointing).
  3. Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem). The problem of deciding whether a first-order sentence is true in every interpretation, proven to be undecidable by Church and Turing.

The two things I saw yesterday that I wish I’d taken a photo of but didn’t:

  1. A jewelry store display case, proudly displaying “SCHMUCK” brand designer watches. (Important Correction: Ignorant schmuck that I am, I hadn’t realized that “schmuck” is not a brand name, but just the German word for jewelry. Apparently the meaning in Yiddish migrated from “jewels” to “family jewels” to “person being compared to the family jewels,” which is a bit ironic. “Oh my turtledove, the apple of my eye, my priceless schmuck…”)
  2. A campaign poster for one of Austria’s far-right politicians, which graffiti artists had decorated with a Hitler mustache, a forehead swastika, and salutations of “Heil!” (Just what point were the graffiti artists trying to make? I wish I understood.)

16 Responses to “Ja! Ein klein Wienerschnitzel Entscheidungsproblem”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    A campaign poster for one of Austria’s far-right politicians, which graffiti artists had decorated with a Hitler mustache, a forehead swastika, and salutations of “Heil!” (Just what point were the graffiti artists trying to make? I wish I understood.)

    They were mocking him for being too much of a pinko leftie, judging by the way the European political climate is heading these days…

  2. talljay Says:

    It’s not the same place but here’s a picture of a SCHMUCK store here.

  3. Anonymous Says:


  4. Anonymous Says:

    Ein kleines Wienerschnitzelentscheidungsproblem.


    Ein kleines Wienerschnitzel betreffendes Entscheidungsproblem

  5. Steve Says:

    Might I add,

    bitte (please, you’re welcome). It’s always good to be polite, and you get two for the price of one with “bitte”.

    Bier (beer). Useful if pointing doesn’t work.

    Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment). Self-explanatory to any physicist.

  6. edwardahirsch Says:

    I am more radical.

    1. …just sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

    2. If I ever must work there, I usually must do that with a pen and transparencies, not paper 🙂

    3. Leave your laptop at home.

  7. Jud Says:

    So the next time the local paper’s web site carries the annual stories about the Moravian Christmas Putz being bigger and better than ever this year, with quotes from admiring women (and men), I assume you’d like the URL?

  8. Scott Says:

    Thanks, Steve! Those are three excellent words.

  9. Tez Says:

    I think there are a bunch of german words which received a somewhat altered meaning by way of Yiddish. For instance, I think Schmuck was used as “Penis” in Yiddish, (since one’s penis is apparently a “decorative ornament”, which is close to its german meaning). Calling someone a shmuck is obviously a natural next step…

  10. Scott Says:

    tez: Yeah, I figured that must’ve been the etymology.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    In German, “Schmuck” means jewelry. So the store that was selling the watches was probably selling jewelry, a category watches fall into. I do not believe there is a brand called “Schmuck”.

  12. Prendergast, Braithwaite Says:

    Will you meet Michael Atiyah in London?

  13. Scott Says:

    Anonymous: Thanks!

  14. Scott Says:

    Braithwaite: Probably not! Nor was I planning to meet Queen Elizabeth.

  15. mirka Says:

    uhm, do all the people in Tirol speak english so well? or are you not interested in talking with them? otherwise I believe you, understanding German wouldn’t help you too much to understand the common conversation in Tirol. I learned German for some time. Then I spent a semester in Linz as an exchange student, meeting Tiroleans from time to time … I had no clue what they are talking about (unless they tried to speak hochdeutsch with me). Maybe it’s not easier than the swiss “duetsch”.

  16. snehit Says:

    A 5 hour flight delay had me stuck at the airport last week with nothing but a graph theory text. A surprisingly productive 5 hours it was. And to top it off the airline offers me a free open ticket and an apology! I was left wondering if i could volunteer to be booked on their delayed flights in future.
    Ein delayed flight bitte