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The Center of the Universe

The discovery of the center of the universe led to a series of unexpected consequences. It killed some, it enlightened others, but most people just were left utterly confused in the end.

When the results from the Total Radiating Universal Tessellation Hyperfield satellites measurements came in, it became depressingly clear that the universe was indeed contracting. Very slowly, but without any reasonable doubt — or, as the physicists said, they were five sigma sure about it. As the data from the measurements became available, physicists, cosmologists, topologists, even a few mathematically inclined philosophers, and a huge number of volunteers started to investigate it. And after a short period of time, they came to a whole set of staggering conclusions.

First, the Universe had a rather simple four-dimensional form. The only unfortunate blemishes in this theory were the black holes, but most of the volunteers, philosophers, and topologists decided to ignore these as accidental.

Second, the form was bounded. There was a beginning and an end in time, and there were boundaries in space, and those who understood that these were the same were enlightened about the form of the universe.

Third, since the form of the universe was bounded and simple, it had a center. Whereas this was slightly surprising it was a necessary consequence of the previous findings. What first seemed exciting, but soon will turn out not to be only the heart of this report, but the heart of all humanity, was that the data collected by the satellites allowed to calculate the position of the center of the universe.

Before that, let me recapture what we traditionally knew about how the universe is built. Our sun is a star, around which a few planets travel, one of them being our Earth. Our sun is one of a few tens of billions of stars that form a long curved thread which ties around a supermassive black hole. A small number of such threads are tangled together, forming the spiral arms of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Our galaxy consists of half a trillion stars like our sun.

Galaxies, like everything else in the universe, like to stick together and form groups. A few hundred thousand galaxies make up a supercluster. A few of these superclusters together build enormous walls of stars, filaments traversing the universe. The galaxies of such a wall are all in a single plane, more or less, and sometimes even in a single line.

Between these walls, walls made of superclusters and galaxies and stars and planets, there is, basically, nothing. The walls of stars are like gigantic honeycombs, and between them, are enormous empty spaces, hundred million of light years wide. When you look at a honeycomb, you will see that the empty spaces between the walls are much, much larger than the walls themselves. Such is the universe. You might think that the distance from here to the next grocery store is quite far, or that the ocean is quite big. But the distance from the earth to the sun is so much bigger, and the distance from the sun to the next star again so much more. And from our galaxy to the next, there is a huge empty space. Nevertheless, our galaxy is so close to the next group of galaxies that they together form a building block of a huge wall, separating two unimaginable large empty spaces from each other.

So when we figured out that we can calculate the center of the universe, it was widely expected that the center would be somewhere in one of those vast spaces of nothing. The chances that it would be in one of the filaments were tiny.

It turned out that this was not a question of chance.

The center of the universe was not only inside of a filament, but the first quick calculations (quick, though, has to be understood as taking three and a half years) suggested that the center is actually within our filament. And not only within our filament — but our galaxy. Within a one light year radius of our sun.

The team that made these calculations was working at a small research institute in rural Japan. They did not believe the results, and double and triple checked them. The head of the institute had graduated from Princeton, and called his former advisor there. Although it was deep in the night in Japan, they talked for many hours. In the end he learned that Princeton has made the same calculations, and received their own results about eight months ago. They didn’t dare to publish them. There must have been a mistake. These results had to be wrong.

Science has humiliated the whole of humanity again and again. And it was quite successful in doing so. A scientist would much easier accept that the center of the universe is some mathematical construct pointing to nothing than what the infallible mathematics indicated. But the data was out. And the number of people making the above mentioned realizations and calculations continued growing. It was only a matter of time. And when the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro finally published the results — in a carefully written paper, without any accompanying press release, and formulated so cautiously and defensively — all the scientists who already knew the results held their breath.

The storm was unimaginable. Everyone demanded an explanation, but no one would listen to anyone offering one. The religions rejoiced, claiming they knew it all along, and many flocked to the mosques and churches and temples, as a proof of God was finally found. The irony of science leading humans to the embrace of religion was profoundly lost at that time, but later recognized as one of the largest jokes in history. Science has dealt its ultimate humiliation, not to humanity, but perversely to its most devout followers, the scientists. The scientists, who, while trashing the superiority of humans over the world, were secretly inflating their own, and were now reminded that they were merely slaves to a most cruel mistress. Their bitter resistance to the results did not stop them from emerging.

The mathematics and calculations were soon made public. The mathematics were deceptively simple, once the required factorizations were done, and easy to check. High school courses went through the proofs, and desperate parents peeked over the shoulders of their daughters and sons who, sometimes for the first time, talked of integrals and imaginary numbers. Television and streaming platforms were explaining discriminants and complex numbers and roots of higher degrees. Websites offering math courses bent under the load and moral weight.

There is one weird thing about roots. The root of a number is the number that, multiplied with itself, gives you the original number. The weird thing is that there is usually not a single, unique result to that question. For example, the root of the number four is not just two, but also minus two, as minus two times minus two results in four, too. There are two roots of the second degree (which we usually call the square root). There are three roots of the third degree (sometimes called the cube root). There are four roots of the fourth degree. And so on. All of them are correct. Sometimes you can discard one or the other because the result has to fit certain constraints (say, you are looking only for the positive root of four), but sometimes, you can not.

As the calculations went public, the methods became more and more refined. The results became increasingly precise, and as the data from the satellites poured in, one of the last steps involved a root of the seventh degree. First, this was regarded as a minor curiosity, especially because these seven results led to basically the same point. Cosmologically speaking.

Earth is moving. Earth is moving around the sun, with a speed of a sixty seven thousand miles per hour, or eighteen miles each second. Also the sun is moving, and the earth is moving with the sun, and our galaxy is moving, and with our galaxy the sun moves along, and with the sun our earth. We are racing with a speed of a thousand miles each second in some direction away from the center of the universe.

And it was realized, maybe we just passed the center of the universe. Maybe it was just an accident, maybe all the planets and stars pass the center of the universe at some point. That we are so close to the center of the universe might be just a funny coincidence.

And maybe they are right. Maybe every star will at some point cross the center of the universe within the distance of a light year.

At some point though it was realized that, since the universe was bounded in all four dimensions, there was not only a center in space, but also a center in time, a midpoint between the beginning of the universe and its future end.

All human history is encompassed in the last hundred thousand years. From the mitochondrial Eve and the Y-Chromosomal Adam who lived in Africa, the mother of our mother of our mother, and so on, that we all share, and the father of our father of our father, and so on, that we all share, their descendants, our ancestors, who crossed the then fertile jungle of the Sahara and who afterwards settled the whole planet, painted on the walls of caves and filled the air with music by blowing over grass blades and into hollow bones, wandered over the land bridge connecting Asia with the Americas and traveled over the vast Pacific to discover tiny islands, until the recent invention of the alphabet, all of this happened in the last hundred thousand years. The universe has an age of hundred thousand times a hundred thousand years, roughly. And the fabled midpoint turned out to be within the last few thousand years.

The hopes that our earth was just accidentally next to the center of the universe was shattered. As the precision of the calculations increased, it became clearer and clearer that earth was not merely close to the center of the universe, but back at the midpoint of history, earth was right there in the center. In every single of the seven possible results, Earth was right at the center of the universe. [1]

As the calculations continued over the years, a new class of mystic mathematicians emerged, and many walls between religion and science were shattered. On both sides the unshakeable ones remained: the scientists who would not admit that these results mean anything, that it all is merely a mathematical abstraction; and the priests who say that these results mean nothing, that they don’t tell us about how to live a good life. That these parallels intersect, is the only trace of infinity left.

[1] As the results refined, it seemed that the seven mathematical solutions for the center of time and space turned out to be some very well known dates. So far the precisions calculated was ten years here or there. The well known dates were: 3760 BC, 541 BC, 30 AD, and 610 AD. The other dates turned out to be quite less well known: 10909 BC, 3114 BC, and 1989 AD. The interpretation of the dates led to a well-known series of events all over the world, which we will not discuss here.

(This story was first published on Medium on February 2, 2014 under CC-BY 4.0).

CodeNet problem descriptions on the Web

Project CodeNet is a large corpus of code published by IBM. It has close to one and a half million programs around a bit more than 4,000 problems.

I took the problem descriptions, created a simple index file to those, and uploaded them to the Web to make them easily browseable.


Wikidata or scraping Wikipedia

Yesterday I was pointed to a blog post describing how to answer an interesting project: how many generations from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth II? Alfred the Great was a king in England at the end of the 9th century, and Elizabeth II is the current Queen of England (and a bit more).

The author of the blog post, Bill P. Godfrey, describes in detail how he wrote a crawler that started downloading the English Wikipedia article of Queen Elizabeth II, and then followed the links in the infobox to download all her ancestors, one after the other. He used a scraper to get the information from the Wikipedia infoboxes from the HTML page. He invested quite a bit of work in cleaning the data, particularly doing entity reconciliation. This was then turned into a graph and the data analyzed, resulting in a number of paths from Elizabeth II to Alfred, the shortest being 31 generations.

I honestly love these kinds of projects, and I found Bill’s write-up interesting and read it with pleasure. It is totally something I would love to do myself. Congrats to Bill for doing it. Bill provided the dataset for further analysis on his Website. Thanks for that!

Everything I say in this post is not meant, in any way, as a criticism of Bill. As said, I think he did a fun project with interesting results, and he wrote a good write-up and published his data. All of this is great. I left a comment on the blog post sketching out how Wikidata could be used for similar results.

He submitted his blog post to Hacker News, where a, to me, extremely surprising discussion ensued. He was pointed rather naturally and swiftly to Wikidata and DBpedia. DBpedia is a project that started and invested heavily in scraping the infoboxes from Wikipedia. Wikidata is a sibling project of Wikipedia where data can be directly maintained by contributors and accessed in a number of machine-readable ways. Asked why he didn’t use Wikidata, he said he didn’t know about it. All fair and good.

But some of the discussions and comments on Hacker News surprised me entirely.

Expressing my consternation, I started discussions on Twitter and on Facebook. And there were some very interesting stories about the pain of using Wikidata, and I very much expect us to learn from them and hopefully make things easier. The number of API queries one has to make in order to get data (although, these numbers would be much smaller than with the scraping approach), the learning curve about SPARQL and RDF (although, you can ignore both, unless you want to use them explicitly - you can just use JSON and the Wikidata API), the opaqueness of the identifiers (wdt:P25 wd:Q9682 instead of “mother” and “Queen Elizabeth II”) were just a few. The documentation seems hard to find, there seem to be a lack of libraries and APIs that are easy to use. And yet, comments like "if you've actually tried getting data from wikidata/wikipedia you very quickly learn the HTML is much easier to parse than the results wikidata gives you" surprised me a lot.

Others asked about the data quality of Wikidata, and complained about the huge amount of bad data, duplicates, and the bad ontology in Wikidata (as if Wikipedia wouldn’t have these problems. I mean how do you figure out what a Wikipedia article is about? How do you get a list of all bridges or events from Wikipedia?)

I am not here to fight. I am here to listen and to learn, in order to help figuring out what needs to be made better. I did dive into the question of data quality. Thankfully, Bill provides his dataset on the Website, and downloading the query result for the following query - select * { wd:Q9682 (wdt:P25|wdt:P22)* ?p . ?p wdt:P25|wdt:P22 ?q } - is just one click away. The result of this query is equivalent to what Bill was trying to achieve - a list of all ancestors of Elizabeth II. (The actual query is a little bit more complex, because we also fetch the names of the ancestors, and their Wikipedia articles, in order to help match the data to Bill’s data).

I would claim that I invested far less work than Bill in creating my graph data. No data cleansing, no scraping, no crawling, no entity reconciliation, no manual checking. How about the quality of the two datasets?

Update: Note, this post is not a tutorial to SPARQL or Wikidata. You can find an explanation of the query in the discussion on Hacker News about this post. I really wanted to see how the quality of the data using the two approaches compares. Yes, it is an unfamiliar language for many, but I used to teach SPARQL and the basics of the languages seem not that hard to learn. Try out this tutorial for example. Update over

So, let’s look at the datasets. I will refer to the two datasets as the scrape (that’s Bill’s dataset) and Wikidata (that’s the query result from Wikidata, as of the morning of August 20 - in particular, none of the errors in Wikidata mentioned below have been fixed).

In the scrape, we find 2,584 ancestors of Elizabeth II (including herself). They are connected with 3,528 parenthood relationships.

In Wikidata, we find 20,068 ancestors of Elizabeth II (including herself). They are connected with 25,414 parenthood relationships.

So the scrape only found a bit less than 13% of the people that Wikidata knows about, and close to 14% of the relationships. If you ask me, that’s quite a bad recall - almost seven out of eight ancestors are missing.

Did the scrape find things that are missing in Wikidata? Yes. 43 ancestors are in the scrape which are missing in Wikidata, and 61 parenthood relationships are in the scrape which are missing from Wikidata. That’s about 1.8% of the data in the scrape, or 0.24% compared to the overall parent relationship data of Elizabeth II in Wikidata.

I evaluated the complete list of those relationships from the scrape missing from Wikidata. They fall into five categories:

  • Category 1: Errors that come from the scraper. 40 of the 61 relationships are errors introduced by the scrapers. We have cities or countries being parents - which isn’t too terrible, as Bill says in the blog post because they won’t have parents themselves and won’t participate in the original question of findinging the lineage from Alfred to Elizabeth, so no problem. More problematic is when grandparents or great-grandparents are identified as the parent, because this directly messes up the counting of generations: Ügyek is thought to be a son, not a grandson of Prince Csaba, Anna Dalassene is skipping two generations to Theophylact Dalassenos, etc. This means we have an error rate of at least 1.1% in the scraper dataset, besides having the low recall rate mentioned above.
  • Category 2: Wikipedia has an error. Those are rare, it happened twice. Adelaide of Metz had the wrong father and Sophie of Mecklenburg linked to the wrong mother in the infobox (although the text was linking to the right one). The first one has been fixed since Bill ran his scraper (unlucky timing!), and I fixed the second one. Note I am linking to the historic version of the article with the error.
  • Category 3: Wikidata was missing data. Jeanne de Fougères, Countess of La Marche and of Angoulême and Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan were missing one or both of their parents, and Bill’s scraping found them. So of the more than 3,500 scraped relationships, only 2 were missing! I added both.
  • In addition, correct data was marked deprecated once. I fixed that, too.
  • Category 4: Wikidata has duplicates, and that breaks the chain. That happened five times, I think the following pairs are duplicates: Q28739301/Q106688884, Q105274433/Q40115489, Q56285134/Q354855, Q61578108/Q546165 and Q15730031/Q59578032. Duplicates were mentioned explicitly in one of the comments as a problem, and here we can see that they happen with quite a bit of frequency, particularly for non-central items. I merged all of these.
  • Category 5: the situation is complicated, and different Wikipedia versions disagree, because the sources seem to disagree. Sometimes Wikidata models that disagreement quite well - but often not. After all, we are talking about people who sometimes lived more than a millennium ago. Here are these cases: Albert II, Margrave of Brandenburg to Ada of Holland; Prince Álmos to Sophia to Emmo of Loon (complicated by a duplicate as well); Oldřich, Duke of Bohemia to Adiva; William III to Raymond III, both Counts of Toulouse; Thored to Oslac of York; Bermudo II of León to Ordoño III of León (Galician says IV); and Robert Fitzhamon to Hamo Dapifer. In total, eight cases. I didn't edit those as these require quite a bit of thought.

Note that there was not a single case of “Wikidata got it wrong”, which surprised me a lot - I totally expected errors to happen. Unless you count the cases in Category 5. I mean, even English Wikipedia had errors! This was a pleasant surprise. Also, the genuine complicated cases are roughly as frequent as missing data, duplicates, and errors together. To be honest, that sounds like a pretty good result to me.

Also, the scraped data? Recall might be low, but the precision is pretty good: more than 98% of it is corroborated by Wikidata. Not all scraping jobs have such a high correctness.

In general, these results are comparable to a comparison of Wikidata with DBpedia and Freebase I did two years ago.

Oh, and what about Bill’s original question?

Turns out that Wikidata knows of a path between Alfred and Elizabeth II that is even shorter than the shortest 31 generations Bill found, as it takes only 30 generations.

This is Bill’s path:

  • Alfred the Great
  • Ælfthryth, Countess of Flanders
  • Arnulf I, Count of Flanders
  • Baldwin III, Count of Flanders
  • Arnulf II, Count of Flanders
  • Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders
  • Judith of Flanders
  • Henry IX, Duke of Bavaria
  • Henry X, Duke of Bavaria
  • Henry the Lion
  • Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine
  • Agnes of the Palatinate
  • Louis II, Duke of Bavaria
  • Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor
  • Albert I, Duke of Bavaria
  • Joanna Sophia of Bavaria
  • Albert II o _Germany
  • Elizabeth of Austria
  • Barbara Jagiellon
  • Christine of Saxony
  • Christine of Hesse
  • Sophia of Holstein-Gottorp
  • Adolphus Frederick I, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
  • Adolphus Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg
  • Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
  • Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge
  • Mary of Teck
  • George VI
  • Elizabeth II

And this is the path that I found using the Wikidata data:

  • Alfred the Great
  • Edward the Elder (surprisingly, it deviates right at the beginning)
  • Eadgifu of Wessex
  • Louis IV of France
  • Matilda of France
  • Gerberga of Burgundy
  • Matilda of Swabia (this is a weak link in the chain, though, as there might possibly be two Matildas having been merged together. Ask your resident historian)
  • Adalbert II, Count of Ballenstedt
  • Otto, Count of Ballenstedt
  • Albert the Bear
  • Bernhard, Count of Anhalt
  • Albert I, Duke of Saxony
  • Albert II, Duke of Saxony
  • Rudolf I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg
  • Wenceslaus I, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg
  • Rudolf III, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg
  • Barbara of Saxe-Wittenberg (Barbara has no article in the English Wikipedia, but in German, Bulgarian, and Italian. Since the scraper only looks at English, they would have never found this path)
  • Dorothea of Brandenburg
  • Frederick I of Denmark
  • Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (husband to Christine of Hesse in Bill’s path)
  • Sophia of Holstein-Gottorp (and here the two lineages merge again)
  • Adolphus Frederick I, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
  • Adolphus Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg
  • Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
  • Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge
  • Mary of Teck
  • George VI
  • Elizabeth II

I hope that this is an interesting result for Bill coming out of this exercise.

I am super thankful to Bill for doing this work and describing it. It led to very interesting discussions and triggered insights into some shortcomings of Wikidata. I hope the above write-up is also helpful, particularly in providing some data regarding the quality of Wikidata, and I hope that it will lead to work in making Wikidata more and easier accessible to explorers like Bill.

Update: there has been a discussion of this post on Hacker News.


Double copy in gravity

15 May 2021

When I was younger, I understood these theories much better. Today I read them like a fascinated, but a bit distant bystander.

But it is terribly interesting. What does turning physics into math mean? When we find a mathematical shortcut that works but we don't understand - is this real? What is the relation between mathematical formulas and reality? And will we finally understand gravity some day?

It was an interesting article, but I am not sure I understood it all. I guess, I'm getting old. Or just too specialized.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

13 May 2021

During my PhD, on the topic of ontology evaluation - figuring out what a good ontology is and what is not - I was running circles up and down trying to define what "good" means for an ontology (Benjamin Good, another researcher on that topic, had it easier, as he could call his metric "Good metric" and be done with it).

So while I was struggling with the definition in one of my academic essays, a kind anonymous reviewer (I think it was Aldo Gangemi) suggested I should read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

When I read the title of the suggested book, I first thought the reviewer was being mean or silly and suggesting a made-up book because I was so incoherent. It took me two days to actually check whether that book existed, as I wouldn't believe it.

It existed. And it really helped me, by allowing me to set boundaries of how far I can go in my own work, and that it is OK to have limitations, and that trying to solve EVERYTHING leads to madness.

(Thanks to Brandon Harris for triggering this memory)


Keynote at Web Conference 2021

Today, I have the honor to give a keynote at the WWW Confe... sorry, the Web Conference 2021 in Ljubljana (and in the whole world). It's the 30th Web Conference!

Join Jure Leskovec, Evelyne Viegas, Marko Grobelnik, Stan Matwin and myself!

I am going to talk about how Abstract Wikipedia and Wikifunctions aims to contribute to Knowledge Equity. Register here for free:

Update: the talk can now be watched on VideoLectures:


Building a Multilingual Wikipedia

Communications of the ACM published my paper on "Building a Multilingual Wikipedia", a short description of the Wikifunctions and Abstract Wikipedia project that we are currently working on at the Wikimedia Foundation.


Jochen Witte

Jochen Witte war ein Freund meiner Schulzeit. Ich habe viel von ihm gelernt, er konnte all diese praktischen Sachen zu denen ich nie einen Zugang hatte und von denen ich oft wünschte, ich könnte sie. Von ihm lernte ich, was eine gute Soundanlage braucht und warum Subwoofer groß sein müssen und was Subwoofer überhaupt sind. Zusammen schleppten wir schwere Boxen, um Unterstufendiscos und Abischerze und Vorträge zu ermöglichen. Von ihm lernte ich die Vorzüge des Gaffertapes kennen, und dass es nicht nur silbernes Klebeband ist. Er war der erste, der mir Mangas und Anime ein wenig näherbrachte, insbesondere hatte er eine Leidenschaft für Akira. Er ließ mich das erste Mal die elektronische Musik von Chris Hülsbeck und Jean-Michel Jarre hören. Er las ASM, ich las Power Play. Wir spielten eine zeitlang DSA miteinander. Er war der erste den ich kannte mit einem Pager. Er wirkte stets so als konnte er alles reparieren, und es war gut so jemanden zu kennen.

Gleichzeitig waren einige meiner Freunde und ich ihm gegenüber nicht immer freundlich, oh nein, im Gegenteil, manchmal war ich geradewegs grausam. Ich mache mich über seine Brille lustig oder sein Gewicht, und konnte Punkte damit sammeln, über ihn Witze zu machen. Ich wusste es war falsch. Wir waren ja schon die Außenseiter in der Klasse, und ich versuchte ihn zum Außenseiter der Außenseiter zu machen. Meine einzige Entschuldigung ist, dass wir Kinder waren, und ich noch nicht die Stärke hatte, besser zu sein. Ich lernte viel daraus, und wollte nie wieder so sein. Mit der Zeit verstand ich mich besser. Wo diese Grausamkeit herkam. Und das es nicht an Jochen lag, sondern in mir. Ich schäme mich für vieles was ich tat. Ich weiß nicht, ob ich mich jemals bei ihm entschuldigt habe.

Und dennoch glaube ich waren wir Freunde.

Nach der Schulzeit verloren wir uns aus den Augen. Er studierte Chemie in Esslingen, wir trafen uns hin und wieder im Movie Dick zur Sneak Preview. Er zog nach Staig im Alb-Donau-Kreis und fand sich als Goth wieder. Aber über die Jahre hinweg, gerieten wir hin und wieder in Kontakt.

Eine unserer gemeinsamen Erinnerungen war, wie wir zusammen zu einem Vortrag von Erich von Däniken fuhren. Es war mein Auto. Wir hatten einen Platten, und während er es zum Laufen brachte - wie gesagt, er konnte alles reparieren - fragte er mich, wann ich denn das letzte Mal nach dem Öl geschaut habe. Ich muss so belämmert reingeschaut haben, dass er nur noch lachen konnte. Die Antwort war "Nie", und er sah es in meinem Gesicht. Jedesmal wenn wir uns trafen, sprach er mich auf diesen Abend an.

Jochen half mir beim Umzug nach Karlsruhe. Das Gästebett passte nicht richtig zusammen. Er sagte er könnte es festziehen, aber ich würde es nie wieder auseinander bekommen. Es wird schwierig, damit umzuziehen. Ich sagte, das ist OK, ist ja nur ein billiges IKEA Gästebett Couch Dings. Ich habe nicht vor, damit umzuziehen, versicherte ich ihm.

Ich zog damit von Karlsruhe nach Berlin. Von Berlin nach Alameda. Innerhalb von Alameda. Von Alameda nach Berkeley. Es hat den Umzugshelfern jedesmal Kopfzerbrechen bereitet, genau wie Jochen versprochen hatte. Letzte Woche brach ein Stück ab. Ich sitze jetzt darauf und schreibe das hier. Nach fast einem Jahrzehnt sollte ich es wohl endlich austauschen.

Das letzte mal trafen wir uns ganz zufällig 2017 am Stuttgarter Bahnhof. Ich war überhaupt nur ein Mal im letzen halben Jahrzehnt wieder in Deutschland. Und da, am Bahnhof, traf ich ihn. Es war schön, Jochen wiederzusehen, und wir redeten als ob wir uns immer noch täglich sehen würden, wie zwanzig Jahre zuvor. Als ob das Abitur erst gestern war.

Diese Woche erfuhr ich von Michael, dass Jochen verstorben ist. Er starb nur wenige Monate nach unserem zufälligen Treffen, im April 2018. Er wurde nur vierzig Jahre alt.

Es tut mir leid.

Und noch viel mehr: Danke.

Ruhe in Frieden, Jochen Witte.


Der Name Zdenko

Heute sah ich dass der Artikel Zdenko - mein eigentlicher Name - auf der Englischen Wikipedia verändert wurde. Jemand hatte die Bedeutung des Namens von dem, was ich für richtig hielt (slawische Form von Sidonius) zu etwas was ich nie zuvor gehört habe (Koseform von Zdeslav) verändert, aber nicht die Quelle angepasst. Ich dachte, das wird eine schnelle Korrektur, habe aber dennoch in die Quelle geschaut - und, schau an, die Quelle sagte weder das eine noch das andere, sondern behauptete der Name stammt von dem slawischen Wort zidati, bauen, errichten.

Das führte mich zu einer zweitstündigen Odyssee durch verschiedene Quellen des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, wo ich Belege für alle drei Bedeutungen finden konnte - außerdem Quellen, die behaupteten, dass der Name von dem Slawischen Wort zdenac, Brunnen, abgeleitet ist, dass auch der Name Sidney von Sidonius stamme, und eine Hessische Quelle die vehement darüber schimpfte, dass doch Zdenko und Sidonius nichts miteinander zu tun haben (auch die Slowenische Wikipedia sagt, dass die Namen Zdenko und Sidonius zwar einen gemeinsamen Namenstag haben, aber nicht der gleiche Name sind). Dafür aber führt die gleiche Quelle aus, dass der im Osthessischen gebrauchte Name Denje wohl von Zdenka kommt (so nah an Denny!)

Denje gefällt mir als Name.

Kurzgesagt: wenn Du denkst, Etymologie sei kompliziert, sei gewarnt: Anthroponomastik ist deutlich schlimmer!


The name Zdenko

Today I saw that the Wikipedia article on Zdenko - my actual name - was edited, and the meaning of the name was changed from something I considered correct (slavic form of Sidonius) to something that I never heard of before (diminutive of Zdeslav), but the reference stayed intact, so I thought that'll be an easy revert. Just to do due process, I checked the given source - and funnily enough, it didn't say neither one nor the other, but gave an etymology from the slavic word zidati, to build, to create.

That lead me down a two hour rabbit hole through different sources crossing the 19th to 20th century, finding sources that claim the name is derived from the Slavic word zdenac, a well, or that Zdenko is cognate to Sidney, a Hessian source explaining that it is considered the root for the name Denje (so close to Denny!) (and saying it has nothing to do with Sidonius), and much more.

In short, if you think that etymology is messy, I tell you, anthroponymy is far worse!


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