Published on: 01 February 2019
Written by: Jorrit Geels
After some delay due to the exams, we finally managed to find a time to sit down together. What was about to follow was a very unexpected and amazing, yet small peak into the life of Stefan Riegl, our AI* of January.
Please introduce yourself! Who are you, where do you come from?
I am Stefan Riegl, but I guess the Dutchies say Riechel. I come from Inchenhofen. It’s a farm-village somewhere in the South of Germany, near Munich. It’s like the countryside of the countryside, so there are more living beings on four legs, than on two. Furthermore, I am a first year Master student here at AI.
What did you do before you came to study here?
I first did a Bachelor of Cognitive Science in Osnabrück. Before that I finished a professional training at a company. And somewhere in between all that I went abroad multiple times: once to Japan, once to Australia and once to Ireland.
Here we expressed our love for the Irish culture for a bit...
When that training at the company ended, I wanted to do something more related to cognition and the brain, as I am really fascinated by it. Cognitive Science was great and I decided to follow AI here in Nijmegen specifically, as the main focus lies on cognition. Additionally, I just really like learning something, and I feel like you should do that as long as you have less commitments, like kids or having a house.
Which Master track are you doing currently?
Oh, my track selection is a mess. I am officially following the Interactive Agents track, however when I signed up the old system was still in charge with three different tracks, so I actually signed up for Robot Cognition. However, Interactive Agents is structured differently than I expected, so I am aiming now for the other track, Neural Computing.
Is there anything you want to do after this?
I am thinking about doing a PhD. I would like to get a foot into psychology and do some interdisciplinary research there. At the moment I am interviewing a lot of people from Donders and the BSI to see what’s possible and what research is going on there at the moment.
Wow! Ambitious for sure. Did you also want to do that when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an inventor. I always looked up to Daniël Dusentrieb (that’s Willie Wortel in Dutch or Gyro Gearloose in English), as I thought he always made great inventions.
That’s such a specific yet so broad thing to become.. especially when you’re young.
True, most people thought that actually when I told them I wanted to become an inventor. So another dream profession was “Egypt researcher”, because I thought it was pretty awesome how they built Pyramids. I insisted on calling it “Egypt researcher”, because I thought “Egyptologist” is not a word.
That’s great! What do you do next to your studies at the moment?
I really enjoy being creative, but basically every time I have to move to another city, my habits change. I am doing some origami at the moment, but I for instance also made a 3D model of the ACAIS 2019 logo. I made my own board or card games which I test with friends. At the moment, I’m in the campus choir and I’m taking running classes at the Sports Center.
I am also in a theatre group here called the WOW-Effect (http://woweffecttheater.eu/). They did a play named The Lost Boy in 2018, some people might have heard of it. It is an international theatre group.
And what are you performing this year?
We are currently doing a play called The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a story set in the late 19th century about science, romance, friendship, forbidden desires and what happens if a scientist pushes his limits too far (which actually relates to some debates concerning AI nowadays). The story came out at the time when Dracula and Frankenstein were popular. I will be playing Gabriel J. Utterson, one of the best friends of the protagonist Dr. Jekyll, who’s getting really worked up by the tragic fates of his friends and trying to solve that “strange case” referred to in the title.
We proceeded to look up the website of the theatre group and scroll around for a bit.
We’re practising hard, including for example vocal coaching and a combat workshop. I love the people and the diversity in the group and the weekly rehearsals are a lot of fun. The performance will be on 15th and 16th of June and it’s going to be great! Please come all!
Me, noticing the picture that Stefan submitted as his AI* picture, so THAT’s where it came from!
Yeah haha. It went approximately like this: "Wear something blue!", "Ok.", "Now make a different face!", "Ok.", "Look at that!", "Wait whagnnn", click photo.
Well.. the rest is history. That is certainly quite the picture! Moving on to some CognAC-related questions: how did you become active? Which committees are you currently in?
I did the orientation week organized by the MaC in the beginning of the year, and I really liked the atmosphere. I decided to join the MaC afterwards, as well as the SC and SymCo. I highly enjoy the idea of assisting others with their studies, which is why I joined the SC in particular. The same kind of holds for the SymCo, but I mainly joined the SymCo as I thought it was really interesting that the event is so big and I find event management cool and challenging.
Are there still any committees on your to-do list?
The WebC is actually one of the most advanced and structured committees we have, and as you said they’re really productive. However, I did not appoint this interview to discuss the WebC, but because you’re the AI* of the Month. Could you explain to the readers at home why you think you became AI*?
Well… I could try.. I was actually very surprised and overwhelmed when I heard I was the AI*, but I will try to summarize what you said on the CognAC evening. You mentioned that I am already quite a familiar face in the association even though I have not been around for long, which is unusual especially for a master student. Next to that I joined some committees and trying to do my fair share in them.
You summarized it quite well! We thought you were a very hard worked and support the people around you, which you implied in your motivation for the SC and SymCo as well. We wanted to reward you for your very hard work that you did up until now, and we hope that you continue to be just as great in the future.
Thanks a lot! I am flattered.
You should be ;) Last CognAC-related question: what do you think CognAC really needs?
Pff that’s a hard one. Inflatable jumping castles. Right here, in the middle of the Spinoza building where all the greenery is. I think that would be awesome.
But seriously, I wouldn’t know what to add at the moment. The only thing that comes to my mind is to have more master students in CognAC activities. I think CognAC tries its best to reach out to the masters and although not all activities might be interesting to non-bachelor students, international students or students from outside Nijmegen, there still might be some of interest.
Moving on to some more general and off-topic questions, to get to know the real you a bit better. What’s your biggest achievement?
Ugh, you’ve got some big questions here. Thinks for a bit…
Being still alive, I guess? I don’t want to count things like “I finished my bachelor”. I don’t know with what I could brag right now. I celebrate my small steps. But given how naive I’m at times I’m surprised and glad I didn’t fall into a pit and died by accident yet.
Suuuuuuuuureee.. doing well buddy. Do you also have a really bad-ass story?
I think I have. This one time when I was abroad in Australia, I got a job selling local paintings (yes that’s a thing) to earn a little extra money. That’s door to door sales, which sucks almost always. The paintings were mass produced in China and when I learned that I sucked even more at sales and quit the other day. The blessings of a conscience.
However, this one time I went to this big, grey, discrete building with only a grey, discrete reception in the entrance hall. I asked whether they were interested in buying some locally produced paintings, but they she told me her boss wasn’t present, and he’s doing the decisions. I said that’s fine and that I’ll come back later. So I did, and this happened three times.
Finally, the boss was there then. Reception lady called him from a side room. He briefly flipped through the paintings without much interest and told me they’re neat, but they don’t need anything. However, while he looked at the paintings, a lady comes in from upstairs, in very high heels, very short red dress and a very large décolleté. She asked what was happening, I eagerly did my sales pitch and she became interested. She bent over to look to look at the paintings, allowing for unexpected in-sights. As I wondered if that was intentionally, it finally dawned on me where I was back then.
She was very interested. She actually bought two items. Finally I thanked the crowd, wished them all the best for their business and left the brothel.
Hahahaha, I really liked the story-time so far: do you perhaps have a weirdest story?
Well… this was also when I was in Australia. I got another job but my boss there always postponed paying me for the most obscure and unreasonable reasons, so I was pretty much broke then. While still working for him, I went to Tasmania, because I had that flight booked a while before.
I ended up staying at a family with two kids, at a small farm in the middle of a beautiful, green nowhere. I worked there in exchange for meals and accommodation. It was great. I genuinely had about 56 cents left in my bank account and about $4 and some cents in my wallet. That was fine then, as I literally didn’t need money. But well, it didn’t feel great.
So one day, I had to take care of the kids. Oscar was about six years old, I think, and wanted to play with money. I pulled out my $4 and he ran away with one $2 coin. If you’re stressed out about money anyways and somebody runs off with half of what you had, what do you do? I actually ran after the kid like my life depended on it. After a while I managed to get my money back.
So essentially you doubled your fortune after stealing money from a kid?
Well… that’s one way to put it. He stole from me first!
Sure.. sure… Seeing you managed to double your entire fortune in such a short period of time, do you have any more life hacks to enlighten the readers?
I do, actually! Usually people open a bag of chips on top and fold it into this basket-like shape to make it more shareable. However, there is a much easier way to achieve a much more shareable bag and the chips don’t get stuck in the corners. I will send you a video afterwards where it’s perfectly explained.
Stefan sent me a video afterwards where it’s demonstrated in a neat way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPrEjcZ9GqU.
That’s amazing!! I never heard of someone doing it like that, it’s kind of like a tissue box then right?
Yeah! And it’s really really easy to do.
Do you have a favourite movie?
I actually couldn’t say there is just this one movie. There are so many good ones. I look movies with some good storytelling and movies about which you can talk afterwards or make you think. I don’t like those movies that end in “Poof, it was all just a dream!”. I feel something like cheated somehow, when watching that.
Yeah right. It’s just a movie anyway, but still you put in so much effort in watching and getting the movie.
Exactly! But I confess I can’t get myself to watch all those big mainstream movie-series like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or all those Marvel superhero movies. There surely all great, but it somehow doesn’t work out for me.
Yes I understand, I have the same. But how you you like something like Inception or Interstellar then? That’s some deep stuff, making you think, but it’s mainstream and in the end you’re not sure if it is real.
I think those were pretty cool, true. So I guess there are exceptions. But I really like certain directors, for example Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson or David Lynch. Christopher Nolan does great stuff. Oh and Tim Burton is cool of course. Oh and Terry Gilliam movies are sick, too. So many!
Do you have a favourite music genre then?
I really like Japanese Instrumental Trip Hop.
Wow. Just wow. That is the most specific genre I have ever heard. Could you give me an example?
I think DJ Okawari has some neat songs, for instance Flower Dance.
We proceed to listen to this obscure genre and it actually is really good and inspirational. Have a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AULG4MoYxQk.
Haha, I just think it is funny to mention that genre as it always surprises people. But in general I listen to many things, that have some nice melody or are genuinely danceable. Electroswing, 80s and Latin-American beats are great for that. Last year I got more into Superorganism. I rarely go to concerts (should change that), but in November I ended up being at a concert of them in the Doornroosje. It was sick, check them out! I guess I’m a fanboy now.
The first song and breakthrough of Superorganism can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPS-Cq4uMFs
Do you have a favourite recipe to cook?
I usually freestyle while I am cooking, but I want to change that up this year and cook more according to recipes. However, I once got this recipe of a fruit cake from a friend of mine and it’s absolutely amazing and always works great. Both my mom and grandma loved it, while they are very critical usually. I will have to look up the recipe again, but I will send it to you.
Editor’s note: he did! And here it is:
- 150g butter
- 150g sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 pack of vanilla sugar
- some aroma
- 250g flour
- 3 tea spoons of baking soda
Make the cake dough and put into tray. Apply some butter on the tray before, to better remove the cake after bake.
Then put peaches, sour cherries, currants (or anything else fruity!) onto the cake dough.
- 100g flour
- 75g sugar
- 1 pack of vainlla sugar
- some cinnamon (if you’d like to)
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Melt 100g butter and let it cool for a bit, and then mix it with the other crumble ingredients using a fork so the crumble arises.
Spread it over the cake and bake it 25 minutes on 200 degrees. Cut into roughly 12-16 pieces.
It is really easy, and it is delicious. The only problem is that it’s not vegan. I’m not yet that good at replacing non-vegan ingredients, but when I have worked that out, I’ll try that cake immediately.
Later on in the week I met Stefan at a party and he told me he will make it for me once, the cuteness never ends.
Lastly, do you have any shout-outs, people you’d like to thank that helped you come so far in your life?
Of course my parents for putting me into existence and enduring me for so long, supportive friends at thuisthuis , my cats I had at home and you guys (the board) for in the end picking me as AI*. Apart from that I want to thank Lisa Goerke and Kai Standvoss. Before deciding for the AI program at Radboud, and then before moving here, I nagged them with so many questions to make up my mind. They were always very fast, helpful and patient and that was a great help at that time. Thanks a bunch both of you!
And as shout-outs: People, keep coming to CognAC activities, great stuff will happen there, and go watch theatre plays, hint, hint. Thanks for the interview!