"Fun and Names with Uta Szymanek"

by Shane Wickson

You ever notice that the hardest part is in the beginning? I always agonize over starting these articles, wondering what to say. [Authors note: I say 'always', but I've done this twice now!] So, I'm just gonna dive right in.

Last time I interviewed Bryce Harrington, the left-brain organizer type who keeps this project running like a well oiled machine. Well, maybe its like a '72 Gremlin that back-fires every now and then, but its running. But I digress.

This time I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Uta Szymanek, who might be more accurately characterized as more of a right-brain contributor to the WorldForge project. Uta has contributed tons of 2D artwork to our little project here. Uta's art output has been so prodigious that I had a pet theory that she was not just one person, but instead an entire team of artists working under one moniker. The plot thickens when I found out that Uta's full name is Uta Maria Rita Francoise Szymanek. I mean, that's a lot of names for one person. :)

Anyway, I had a fascinating time interviewing Uta. The conversation was rich with humor and lasted for around two hours (not counting the hour break while we waited for the net to un-fsck itself), and I strongly recommend you read the full text of it.

I'll have to admit that I expected to hear a lot more about Uta's art, or to find out she was like my brother, the brooding artist archetype. However, she's very much the same OpenSource loving Linux fanatic that you'd expect to find pounding out code on STAGE. She's active, studies a harder subject than I did in school, and works for a multinational company. Pretty intense, huh?

OK, enough of the generalities. Let's talk about cool family history, shall we? Uta's full name, Uta Maria Rita Francoise Szymanek consists of her name, her mother's name, her grandmother's name, and her godmother's name. Her last name is of Polish origin, her grandfather was a Czech and her grandmother came from France. Although her family doesn't herald any aristocratic background, her mother's grandfather was a king's servant in Germany. That's enough history to impress a working-class familied American such as myself.

Uta lives and attends school in Kaiserslautern, where she is studying Food Chemistry, a much harder subject than I'd like to think about. She works for a small multinational company called Tecmath that is developing animated 3D human computer models for the automobile and other industries. Her task at hand is to redesign their website. She will be taking a year off of her studies in order to earn some money.

Uta is single and lives alone, "by choice, not by destiny". Before all you single WorldForge guys start getting fresh and hitting on her, I'll point out that she has studied JuJutsu (Ju-Jitsu in its Americanized spelling) and is currently studying Shotokan Karate. She enjoyed JuJutsu more than Shotokan, which should strike terror into the hearts of anyone who'd want to cross her. For those of you without any martial arts experience, most forms of Karate (Shotokan included, IIRC) employ a lot of the standard fare of punching and kicking. JuJutsu goes beyond that and delves into wristlocks and jointlocks, the kinds of things that will make you drop to your knees and whimper "Mommy!".

In reality, Uta does not live alone. She has a roommate known as Tom, who is a wise old tom cat who's picture will appear in the website version of this newsletter. He is described best in Uta's own words, so I'll leave it for you to read more about him.

Vices? Bad habits? Skeletons in the closet? Not really, although I did get Uta to admit (under constant badgering) that she's an occasional social smoker and drinker. Who's says I can't be an investigative journalist? :)

Interesting to note that despite my fierce investigative instincts and my grueling interview style (which at one point was compared to an inquisition), I did not learn Uta's age. I'll include this excerpt from a follow up email she sent me:

"I did not mention my age, because I do not like classifications based on the age. People should be judged by what they do and what they say, and I don't like prejudices from older to younger or vice versa."

Who can argue with that?

Conversing with Uta has really made me start to rethink my ideas on art and science. Often I find myself slipping into the conventional wisdom that art and science are two disjoint and separate fields that seldom overlap each other. We as 'computer geeks' will often fall into the trap of thinking that we are fundamentally different than those who consider themselves 'artists'. Talking with someone as creative as Uta and seeing how she's applied that in both the artistic and scientific endeavors, and noting how much creativity abounds in what 'computer geeks' do has got me thinking. How many of us play a musical instrument, write poems or stories, or draw in our spare time? I am once again reminded that what we do as 'geeks' may be a lot closer to 'art' than even we realize.

In all, I had a lot of fun getting to know Uta. If you don't learn anything about code, games, art, or anything else from these ramblings of mine, I hope you learn that we're here to have fun, and that getting to know one another will make this project more fun for all of us.

Special Photo Section!

Uta was kind enough to supply me with four pictures to include in the writeup. I wrestled for a bit to determine which to include here, and I decided just to do all four. So, for your viewing pleasure, we have:

My dad was a photographer for several years, and I love black and white photography. This is a very elegant looking picture taken by someone with far more photographic talent than I.

This is Tom, Uta's cat. Tom looks like he knows exactly who he is and exactly what he wants out of life. If we could all be so lucky.

What say "fun-loving" more than a picture taken in mid-snowball fight?

Once again, black and white photography at its finest. Why was this camera angle chosen? To illustrate how we all look up to Uta? To cast Uta in a larger than life form? Or did the photographer just fall down?