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Virtual Tourists in the Swiss Alps 96

Roland Piquepaille writes "Farmers in Switzerland receive money from their government for letting their cows eat young trees in the Alps. But why? Because this is improving the mountain views for tourists who might return year after year and spend their cash in the country. As the Swiss government wants to wisely spend its money, it is using a computer model of the mountains populated by virtual tourists -- or software agents -- which tirelessly take the same roads again and again and give their appreciation about the best spots. The Economist reports about these virtual tourists in this very cleverly-titled article, "Computer browsers." What will be the next logical step? Pay more the farmers with the strongest potential to improve the views for real tourists? Wrong. Instead, real hikers will be invited to explore the virtual Alps to give their feedback. Their observations will be then integrated into the software managing the virtual travelers. Read more for pictures and references."
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Virtual Tourists in the Swiss Alps

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  • Rediculous (Score:4, Funny)

    by L3on ( 610722 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @08:45PM (#10416928) Journal
    This is pretty rediculous, I mean, as far as the tourism industry is concerned that money could be spent in better ways such as advertisments. Plus, it's not like the cows are seeing any of the money. And I don't know if trees are more tasty to cows than grass? Anyone?
    • Is it just me?

      Or am I not the only one spooked by the words software agents?
      • I hate this place.
        This zoo.
        This prison.
        This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can't stand it any longer.
        It's the smell, if there is such a thing.
        I feel saturated by it.
        I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it.

    • Actually, cattle grazing saplings is a big problem, and can be single-handedly responsible from forrests growing back. i think it is a good reason for stopping the cows from grazing them. once they go out of reach (for the cows), its not a problem any more.
    • Suggestion - eat more chocolate - that's how the Swiss get to be the way they are.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 02, 2004 @08:45PM (#10416932)
    Would someone at Slashdot like to address the relationship between Roland and this site?

    It seems he is able to get an article posted on the front page at least once a week, maybe more.

    This is just spam to get to his little site.

    Maybe the editors are just incompetent and getting trolled, or this is some synergy (paid referrals) going on. So whats the deal?

    • I agree. Let's all start a movement to have him banned from posting stories, or at least have the editors slice out the links to his site.

      /me adds Roland to foes list.
      • a few points on Rolands submissions.

        1) He (normally) goes out and finds Interesting things.

        2) You can just remove his blog from DNS and still read the article.

        3) Get off your ass and find interesting stories for us all to read.

        He gets his articles pushed to the front page because they are generally decent submissions, I would hate to block the stories just because they came from one person. I look around slash, and see serial posters and submitters, its just the way it is.

        Having said that, allowing a
    • Would someone at Slashdot like to address the relationship between Roland and this site?

      He consistantly submits interesting articles about interesting technology, and the slashdot editors think his submissions are more front-page worthy than most other submissions.

      This is just spam to get to his little site.

      So what? His articles are interesting.

      Maybe the editors are just incompetent and getting trolled, or this is some synergy (paid referrals) going on. So whats the deal?

      Maybe Roland is
      • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:33PM (#10417164) Homepage Journal
        ** So what? His articles are interesting.

        his articles suck.

        basically what the guy does is he follows some other sites that have the real news on them, then he takes them(sometimes pretty much copypastes) them to his blog and after that he submits them to slashdot.

        his publication(his blog) is pretty much a standard ripoff of the real sites and their news. but i guess they don't another publication copying their stories verbatim without hesitation.. I wonder if they would mind if started a newspaper that just copied the articles from other papers..

        if he just wanted us to know about it he could submit the stories instead of copypasting together 'stories' of his own. yeah, i got karma to burn. i wish the excess karma could be used to vote on _changes_ to the system(among other things filtering the doesn't seem to work, i've ticked both 'politics' topics in the exclude topics tab.. and for the reference there aren't _any_ sections to tick in the sections tab).

        and to really 'stick it up': here's actually a meaningful link about the story at hand: []. It's to the actual project..

        • I'm going to have to agree with the general sentiments here, these "Piqy" articles are crap, and
          Michael more often than not posts crap for submissions.

          Surely there are more worthy articles being submitted than the drivel we've been forced to endure of late.

          What, is no one submitting any more?
    • by toxic666 ( 529648 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:27PM (#10417146)
      93 stories on /. linked to this guy's blipvert blog this year: que&author=&sort=1&op=stories []

      /. is getting to be less about interesting technology and more about Politic(ly correct in the editor's eyes)s and linking to this guy's blog-vert. It is not even timely anymore, either.

      I'm beginning to lose interest because the signal to noise ratio is getting low.

    • Please, Sir, it is well known that payola occures here. Why bother to ask?
    • by Judg3 ( 88435 ) <jeremy.pavleck@com> on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:39PM (#10417188) Homepage Journal
      Indeed. Slashdot should just make him an editor, at least then I'd have the option to ignore stories from him.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So obviously he get's some special preferential treatment for these "stories". The fact that they appear with amazing regularity is a sign of some arrangement. The first guess is that one of the editors is either a friend, gets a benefit, or even owns the site. In other words, an abuse of the editing position.

      Then again, maybe this is an order from higher up. It would be interesting to know if it is one editor that keeps approving Roland's submissions, or they get spread out. If it's one editor, it's a pos
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Feel free to add him to your foe list.

      Roland Piquepaille []
      • Feel free to add him to your foe list.

        Done. But does that hide his stories? He's not an editor, so I can't disable seeing his entries on the front page.
        • No, there's no way to hide stories based on the submitter, only the editor and topic (not that hiding based on topic works at the moment anyway).

          Maybe someone'll write a Firefox extension or something; shouldn't be too hard...
      • I found two entries with similar names that both seem to be trolls:

        Notice the spelling difference.

        And this one he submits stories with:
    • My best guess would be that this Roland guy simply pays Slashdot. I'm mean, Slashdot has pretty much gone to the commercial hell (C) in the proverbial handbasket (TM). Look at the people the affiliate themselves with:

      • Sourceforge ... Nothing wrong with the site itself, but Sourceforge's (the product itself) main implementation is to ease, improve and enhance outsourcing []. Lost your job to some poor underpaid and undereduquated Indian fellow? Thank Slashdot for being part of the process that makes Outsourc
    • You know, maybe the /. editor was just trying not to link directly to the school's project page [] from the article summary and slashdot it to hell. Anyway, who cares? You can easily tell from the summary whether it's worth a click, and if you're bitching about the 20 seconds it took to read the summary...

      Well you must be really mad you read this!

    • by Anonymous Coward
      There are about 210 RP submissions, the first being posted by michael dating back to November 20, 2002.

      I went through 119 of the postings, here's the editor submission tally:

      simoniker... ..19
      Cowboy Neal...5

      Whether this brings to light any pattern, who knows. It will be interesting to find out the true story behind this.
      • the total article submission frequency distribution.

        Well, I think Timothy recently posts more than Mike, but that's historical data so trends are hidden.

        Which makes me doubt it's some kind of conspiracy... I don't blame the editors, Roland always servers up a juicy morsel compared to the other dredge I'm sure fills their submission queues.

        But I think if it gets to be the point where every one of these articles is consistently full of off-topic replies complaining about the article submitter, maybe
    • I agree. (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Ayanami Rei ( 621112 ) *
      Please, moderate this up.

      But I, a subscriber, will NOT be posting anonymously as I say this loudly and often...


      Also, I hope Roland gets SARS and dies.

    • This story was already on Slashdot a few weeks back. Now we have it again, from Roland the Plogger.
    • I'll address it - I think he writes interesting stuff. I think he writes thoughtful articles. I think he has had the occassion to look at the Swiss closely. Keep up the good work, Roland
  • Currently technology is not enough to provide "real" experience, or maybe no company really put into effort, the limitation is more on software side. But I believe it will come out in a few years.
  • by FLAGGR ( 800770 )
    I swear, every step forward new technologies bring us, some crazy foreigners us it to take us a step back.

    ...Just kidding
  • by MrFreshly ( 650369 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @08:52PM (#10416971)
    Was I the only one who read it that way?

    Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they arn't out to get me!

  • Cows can eat trees?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MagicDude ( 727944 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:01PM (#10417013)
    Can cows eat wood? The trees I'm familiar with in the northeast are such that by the time they're a half a meter tall, their trunks are already wooden. I wasn't aware that a cow could eat wood. The other possibility is that they're eating the trees at such an early age that the plant tissue is still soft, which would mean that the trees are still very small, and would barely be disginguishable from tall grass, in which case it makes you wonder why go through this strange process of needing cows to deal with the problem rather than just hiring a guy with a lawnmower to just clear the area out in one day. Also, how big of a problem is rampant tree growth? They don't exactly grow like weeds that need to be trimmed every week.
    • The cows make for a more attractive scene.

      Its not a matter of clearing the grass/trees.
    • **deal with the problem rather than just hiring a guy with a lawnmower to just clear the area out in one day.**

      wouldn't be quite productive, could very well be much more expensive than letting cows walk around and eat the stuff... and "one day" would be quite stretching it(not to mention that you wouldn't exactly be able to drive around with a lawnmower). the areas aren't exactly that small.

      cows eat a lot, also the idyllic scenerey is created by just that.. cows.. if you take them away the scenery changes
    • by Coocha ( 114826 ) <coocha.vt@edu> on Saturday October 02, 2004 @10:35PM (#10417397) Homepage
      I'm too lazy to sift through the thread and see if someone's already answered this, but cows, sheep, goats, etc. will all eat trees. Specifically, this article is referring to natural regeneration; not trees in the large-and-I-can-make-furniture-out-of-them sense, but trees in the in-120-years-I-can-make-furniture-out-of-them-sens e. Nothing more than a branch sticking out the ground, so to speak. IAAPF (I am a Professional Forester) so I can say that some species are actually quite tasty too! (Sassafras tastes like root beer, and black birch tastes like wintergreen for example)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, cows can eat trees (as can deer and other ungulates). They don't necessarily need to eat the woody stems to kill the trees - without foliage the tree is doomed anyways. Animal browsing can dramatically affect the composition of a forest by preventing shade tolerant and later successional species from establishing in the forest understory, or in this case, preventing forest from establishing at all.

      Imagine all that pine scented methane!
  • Contrast (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trailwalker ( 648636 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:03PM (#10417020)
    As an experienced backpacker, I suspect that the miles walked through canopied forest make the scenic views more outstanding because of the contrast.

    Constant anything becomes boring. Long miles above treeline make the shady coolness of the forest canopy interesting.

    I do not know the duration of hikes in the Swiss Alps, perhaps their shortness makes constant panoramic scenery desirable. Most of my hikes were of many months duration, and I learned to appreciate all of the wonders, large and small, that I came across.

  • Virtual townies? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pyrrhonist ( 701154 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:03PM (#10417022)
    Will the virtual tourists have to deal with virtual townies?

    Having to deal with townies in real life always makes me want to NOT visit a place again.

    On the other hand, I wish all these "leaf peepers" would get the hell out of my town.

  • I spent many years in Germany, and in my high school years either biked or hitchiked around Europe, including Bavaria and Switzerland.

    No virtual reality program can ever replace hiking the trails of Switzerland, camping out under the stars and breathing the cold mountain air.

    I may be tempted to change my mind about virtual reality if it came with a very real stein of beer, wurst and a hard roll.
    • and breathing the cold mountain air

      I, for one, do not welcome our new cold-mountain-air-overlord.

      PS: Yes, I am from Switzerland.

      • Yeah, they can just have all that cold mountain air stuff :-p

        One of the things I loved best about living in SE Asia was that lowest temperature I ever experienced there was probably about 23 degrees Celsius. Even at the coolest time of the year (late January/early February) you can ride a motorbike at night in a shortsleeved shirt without discomfort.

        Cold mountain air, bah! Humbug! :-)
    • umm.. how about RTFA, or RTFB?

      it's about using virtualised models to simulate what would look good /satisfying in reality and make you come back..
    • Someone mod this guy down, apparently people are taking to only reading the headlines on Slashdot now and not even the write-up itself. This isn't about replacing real travel with computers, it's about using simulation and statistics to better the experience for real tourists. Come on.
      • I did read the full article. Why not have reports from real people that have traveled the areas, and arrange them as to GPS coordinates, rather than rely on computer simulations.

        One site I found recently did this with Sleeping in airports [] Its not the same thing, but could be done in a similar fashion. My point is that its always more fun being there.
  • by wviperw ( 706068 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:33PM (#10417169) Homepage Journal
    Did anybody else instantly think of Roller Coaster Tycoon when reading about this? I know I did. Sounds exactly like an expansion pack--RCT: Swiss Alps Edition. The "autonomous agents" would be similar as well I would think, since RCT park guests have a aesthetics variable wherein they evaluate an area's value based on the surroundings.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Saturday October 02, 2004 @09:57PM (#10417250) Homepage Journal
    (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    The entire scheme has a few problems associated with it. First, if the mountainsides suffer too much soil erosion, you can be damn sure the tourists won't be hanging around. Nor will the farmers, for that matter. It's awfully hard to farm rock.

    The second problem is that this assumes that the tourists are interested in seeing the mountains from any viewpoint low enough to support trees. More than a few tourists are interested in climbing the mountains, which would generally put them above the tree line.

    Also, many tourists are quite content to see quaint villages, junky tourist-trap shops, and the usual round of Alpine monastaries with their infamous breweries.

    There's also some environmental damage. The Pennines in Britain suffered badly from deforestation, from Neolithic times right the way through to the late Middle Ages. The ground, which supported Giant Redwoods at one point, is now largely peat bogs. It's unclear if the damage is reversible at all. The Alps are infinitely harsher. As such, it would logically take considerably less to render the ground unusable.

    Last, but by no means least, the tourists with the most money are the Americans. Americans were never very cosmopoliton to start with, but this whole "War on Terror" carp has produced considerable phobia of travel. As such, investing the money on countering the damage done by Messrs. Bush and Rumsfeld to the travel industry would probably produce far higher returns on the investment.

    • The scene: a tough interview in an Alpine meadow...

      So, Mrs. Cow, have you stopped destroying Swiss tourist industry through soil erosion?

      (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    • Good point. I'm sure there's no tourists causing all these problems in the first place.
    • This article gave me the (non-virtual) creeps. It's obvious that the world is getting more complex -- possibly more complex than a large segment of the population can handle.

      A good part of the experience of touring is the conceit of believing that you are experiencing this view or this campsite or this stream in a unique way, that no one else has seen it the way you are seeing it. Moreover, the second conceit is that you are observing nature (or Nature, for those that like to objectify) unfiltered by human
  • Did they model the tourists on kangaroos []?
  • I don't know about other people, but great views don't compensate for great cultural experiences. When living in Europe last year, I saw many amazing landscapes, but my fondest memories are of my interactions with interesting people. For example, sledding with a group of Czech kids in a small village near the Austrian border. Or walking around the streets of Bergen late one night with a Norwegian stoner (a "dark-side" tour of Norway). Not exactly activities advertised in a brochure, but fun and insightful.
    • For example, sledding with a group of Czech kids in a small village near the Austrian border. Or walking around the streets of Bergen late one night with a Norwegian stoner (a "dark-side" tour of Norway). Not exactly activities advertised in a brochure, but fun and insightful. I saw many groups of other tourists taking countless pictures, and I always wondered why people go to another country only to see it through a viewfinder.

      Yes FINALLY someone gets it!

      Whenever anyone visits the USA from another count

      • Yes FINALLY someone gets it!

        A friend gave me a stack of 200 + photo's to look through from their last trip abroad. Mebbe 6 "tourist" photos out of the whole stack and mebbe 6 photos of the family. the rest were taken form the car and on foot in and around City streets, cafes, countryside. No "postcard" type shots anywhere, just ordinary people and places

        best trip photos ever. Really made me feel like I knew a tiny little bit about the place after looking at them...

        I am sure simulation software w
  • by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @10:41PM (#10417419) Homepage
    Note. Most of this is pretty boring except for the last bit.

    I was lucky enough to visit Swizterland [] this summer. Spent most of my time around Geneva. [] Saw the CERN [] visitor center, and saw the very first web server, a NeXT cube. Waited too late to get reservations in time to get the full tour. Anyway, this whole business of the cows eating trees to clear the mountain views sounds a bit odd. I really doubt the Swiss are that stupid. We went and saw the Matterhorn [] and the only thing that obscured the view was clouds. It finally cleared up enough so we could see 90% of the mountain. Zermatt [] was like a big Disney attraction with lots of Japanese tourists.

    I visited Gruyere [] and saw the castle and the H.R. Giger Museum. []. He's one sick puppy. Had a beer at his Giger Bar. [] That was cool. Gruyere is of course famous for it's cheese. We took the took the tour of the cheese factory [] at the base of the mountain. We had an electronic device that we could punch in a number and hear the narration for each station. Our narrator was Cherry the Cow. She informed us when drinking her milk you could taste EVERYTHING she's ever eaten.

    Thank God we don't drink dog's milk or we'd be able taste everything they've ever eaten or excreted and eaten or vomited and eaten or drank out of the toilet.
  • Cow power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drillus ( 818582 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @10:44PM (#10417427)
    When I lived for a few years in Switzerland, I knew the Alps were beautiful. When you hike along mountain meadows, covered in flowers, under blue skies and the sun making the snow covered mountain tops glitter, it is breathtaking.

    But I only realized how much I loved the open space in the Alps when I came to New England in the US. It is nice, but in the last few hundred years, it has grown over with forrest. I like forrests, but I also appreciate some open space.

    Appart from the White Mountains, the views are rather limited in New England.

    I've stopped complaining about farmers getting payed by the government - not only do they produce food - they help to maintain an open landscapes.

    Cows and farmers, keep up the good work :)
    • Re:Cow power (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Trailwalker ( 648636 )

      in the last few hundred years, it has grown over with forrest

      The forest is regrowing to somewhere near its original boundries. Early lumbering practices did not take forest renewal or any other conservation strategy into account.

      In the south, there are mountains with unforested tops. The local name for them is "Balds". They tend to reforest when grazing is no longer done. As a result, many scenic balds have disappeared. Local hiker maintaining clubs have resorted to hand cutting of brush and newly e

    • Living in Switzerland I am quite annoyed by the farmers and all their priviledges here. Food is about twice as expensive here (Zurich) as 30km north in Germany, all because of protective measures to keep the farmers in business. Also they get paid to destroy the natural state of the mountains just because some tourists like open landscapes. If they want open landscapes they should go over 2000 meters (above which no trees grow anymore).
  • This is old news. Its covered here [] two weeks ago on 9/17.
  • Doesn't anybody see that this is an urban legend? Because eliminating trees and shrubbery from the mountains'/Alps' slopes also eliminates their extensive root systems. Which are fundamental to keeping the dirt together and on top of the bedrock. Dirt that has an extremely important 'sponge' function: it collects and holds water (rain and melted snow) and - under 'normal' circumstances - releases that water gradually over time into the valleys and river systems. Without trees and shrubbery on the mountains
  • I am Swiss and this story sounds like cow manure to me.

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.