I took a day trip to Frankfurt/Main to attend the Wikimedia e.V. yearly meeting. 7.15 from home, 0.45 back, not bad. I was at the main train station and had already obtained directions for getting to the meeting place from the tourist office. I had printed out all the stuff for the meeting last night - agenda, candidates, description how to get to the place, etc. Except the home page for the Haus der Jugend was programmed with frames and Firefox decided to just print out the top frame, which was the navigation. I didn't check the printouts until I was almost in the station... have I mentioned that frames are EVIL?

I decided to pass on the wrapped sandwiches on the train and get something from the station. Across from the tourist office was a Starbucks coffee. Now, this did not get popular in the States until long after I was in Germany, but whatever, I've heard they have good coffee. Although, what I *really* want is a Chai like the one we have at school from a machine for 90 cents.

They do have Chai at Starbucks, so I looked over the sandwich assortment. Not really exciting. An old-looking bagel with cream cheese. A ciabatta with olive oil. A seeded roll with turkey. Boring, but I'll add a Cinnamon Roll for dessert. I take the seeded roll with turkey, order the cinnamon roll and a mid-size chai. "That will be 9 Euros." NINE Euros? For that price I can have a warm meal! Oh well, the chai will be warm. I pay, collect my stuff and leave.

On my way to the bus I take a sip of the cup that has an extra thing for holding a hot cup. The liquid inside is not hot. It is luke-warm. Yuck. But I have to get to the bus, which will be leaving in a few minutes. I don't open the food yet, as the bus driver gives it a hard stare and the bus is actually so clean that you could sit on the floor (that never is the case in Berlin). My stomach growls at me, but it is only 20 minutes. I drink the chai, which has almost reached Iced Chai status.

After getting off the bus I hungrigly grab the turkey roll - yuck. The bread is old, and soggy in places. The turkey is all right, but dressed with just some mayo. I hate mayo, I wasn't looking. No tomato, no lettuce, no nothing. It was hard going, but I am hungry and finish it off, standing looking over the Main, a wide and dirty river running through Frankfurt. I get out the cinnamon roll, remembering the soft, gooey, cinnamony rolls of my childhood. This one might have been soft once, but it's not now. I wouldn't call it crunchy, it is just hard - it is at least a day old. Since this is the only food I'll be having before heading back around 8pm, I make myself eat it. Luckily, I still have some water from the train to wash it down. Brrrr.

So Starbucks sells luke-warm liquid, soggy rolls and stale desserts at horrendous prices. They must manage to make do with no repeat customers, because I sure am not planning on spending any more of my hard-earned cash there anytime in the near future.

BTW - on the way back I had half an hour and cased the station - there were lots of different sandwich things to be had, and also a Gosch stand that would serve a warm meal, sitting down, outside in the cold. Interesting concept, I ordered the Prawn and fried noodles with something to drink - was only 6.90 Euros. The noodles came out very hot, very steamy, stayed warm until I was finished, were nice and spicy - very enjoyable. This price was right! Of course, I would have preferred for it to be 20 degrees Celsius outside......


Wikipedia for Teachers

I spent the day at the Humboldt University at a one day conference for teachers of computing. I was running the Wikipedia stand, Henriette and I had scraped together a stand with just 2 days time. We even had books and T-Shirts to sell, we were very proud.

But I had just discovered that we had a portal for using Wikipedia in schools (in German, but there is also an English-language version). So I had just set this up when the senator for schools (status of a minister for education in Berlin) walked by. I'm not shy, so I smiled and invited him for a look. He said that his people use the Wikipedia when they need to look something up. I showed him the portal, and he was impressed - everything for free (Berlin is chronically broke).

So that was a success right away! Then all sorts of people stopped by - I am rather well known as a plagiarism researcher and speaker, they didn't quite know what to make of me being with the Wikipedia. But a lot of people dropped by to talk.

And I realized the big problems about to hit Berlin - the people that are now computing teachers were computing teachers already 15 years ago - they are getting older, and there are no young ones coming after them. Many are very tired, they have so much work to do at school, so many pupils who hate to learn, even in computing.

So they were grateful to hear that they could use the materials in the Wikipedia, many had never really thought about it. I see that our virtual world is changing so fast, that we are leaving the teachers behind! So everyone who understands something about using the Web should grab a teacher and show them what the Web has to offer. They need it - and we need to have them on board, as they can insert some quality assurance into the article writing process.

We also spoke with many people about the Wikipress books. Yes, it is totally crazy to make bound books out of an online hypertext. But they can be put on shelves. And DVDs run on computers that do not have an Internet connection. One guy got all upset, because he understood the Free Documentation License to mean we had to give the stuff away for free. We explained it to him and he calmed down, but was still sceptical. It is difficult to understand, but a great concept, really. You can use it if you put in the source, the authors, and your derivative work is also under the same license.

Henriette and I wrote an article for Login during the sessions about the school portal, we were quite the productive people today!

Look Ma, I'm in the movies!

Well, that's a lie. It's just a trailer that will be shown in two movie theaters in Berlin during March:

We are running a third eVideo course on using video in instructional settings. A former student produced the trailer to try and encourage more people to enroll in the course.

We spent an entire Saturday filming me teaching my "Didactical Aspects of Web-Based Learning". We started off with a test series on "Do I really need to think about what I am wearing when I teach by video?" that we have on the open web as examples. Check out the stripes test - and get seasick, it is really bad!

There's also a wonderful series of video comments that are, unfortunately, not online but "goodies" for people taking the course. There are 21 nice snippets of me sounding off on all sorts of topics from the use of blogs in teaching over information hiding to holding examinations via videoconference.

The course is kind of neat, a number of other colleages did bits and pieces of it - all you ever wanted to know about video. It's just a shame that all of the materials are closed right now. I do so want there to be open content for everything!


My Four Things

Ross Mayfield describes the Four Things meme - hey, this is fun!

Four Jobs I've Had:

  • Waitress
  • Programmer in the Coroner's office
  • English teacher
  • Professor for Media and Computing

Four Movies I can Watch Over and Over

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch

  • Tagesschau
  • Tatort
  • Mythbusters
  • I don't watch enough TV to have four!

Four Places I've Been on Vacation

  • Tunesia
  • Iceland
  • Mexico
  • Gran Canaria

Four Favorite Dishes

  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Prawn Chop Suey
  • Chicken & Dumplings
  • Cheese Fondue

Four Places I'd Rather Be

  • My cabin in the South of Sweden
  • Anywhere in Kiel, Germany
  • The beach in Puttgarden, Germany in Summer
  • Outside in the garden in the SUN

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging

  • Hmm. Don't know many bloggers. This strand of the meme dies here


Shapes of Things to Come

I attended a conference organized by Wolfgang Coy these past few days called the "Shapes of Things to Come". It was an interdisciplinary conference, I had the distinct impression of being forced to learn philosophy, history, business, law and some far out compting fields such as ubiquitous computing in just 3 days.

My mind is spinning.

I could probably write a blog entry on each of these concepts, but here are just some reminders for myself:

  • Roman coins can be seen as a communication medium
  • I've finally understood Metcalfe's law
  • The Finance Minstry in Germany is planning on introducing a tax number for German citizens sometime very soon
  • The concept of free speech, Parrhesia, needs translating into German
  • Infosphere is a new buzzword
  • There are lots of cool computing stuff that is wearable: wearcam.org, Twiddler, FrogPad, QBIC
  • I want to have a Logitech Anoto Pen. Now please.
  • Kristóf Nyíri introduced me to Dunbar numbers and the philosophy of Skype.
  • Herbert Hrachovec applies Hegel to the Wikipedia, getting some wonderful stuff out: Wikipedia is a "minimal gesteuerte dialogisch-dynamische Textproduktion mit offenem Ausgang" (a minimally guided dialog-oriented, open-ended, dynamic production method for text) and a "Seitensprung des Weltgeistes" (love affair of the universal spirit)
  • Geert Lovink surfed a bit for us, showing us some Web 2.0 stuff: Listible, Netvibes, 43places, Writely and so on. RememberTheMilk appears to be for the guys. The audience expects a critical theorie of blogging from him, any day now.
  • Software Patents are bad (I knew that already)
  • Sony and its rootkit DRM are evil (ditto)
I need some sleep to try and assimilate all this. Or to quote the Hegel talk: "(M)eine Gedanken entwickeln sich systematisch durch Ablehnung, Transposition und Konservierung anderer Gedanken".


Das Parfüm

I was chatting with my Mediendidaktik course students about the meaning of multimedia and had gotten to the topic of the sense of smell. Is it possible or even useful to incorporate smell into a learning situation? I'm sure there are lab courses in chemistry or biology that teach students the difference between the smell of one thing or the other, but we can't faithfully reproduce that. Can we even define smells in some sort of Cartesian space such as the RGB space for defining some colors? Chat was over, everyone disappeared, and I still wanted to talk about smell.

One of my faithful Skype correspondants was online and perfectly willing to talk with me about transmitting smell over the Internet. We looked at various silly and crazy suggestions that have been made before and companies that actually tried to produce something and went broke. You can send smell in the mail with Scratch 'n Sniff, but over the Internet? What would be the R and the B and the G of smell? I was postulating roses, lemon and old, used sports socks (or skunk, which is pretty much the same thing).

He noted that there was a book about this, "Das Parfüm" by Patrick Süsskind. Oh yeah, I remember, we bought that a few years ago. Must bring this to the top of my reading list, I go and get it. My husband is extremely pedantic and writes the date he reads a book on the flyleaf. It says "Nov. 1987", the year we bought the dishwasher. "Few" = 19 ......

So I was shamed into reading right away, and fascinated by the book. Such a strange story, this description of a person who can discern smells. And discouraging - with all of the different essences he describes in just the perfumes that are made in the book, I realize that making a smell apparatus will not be trivial at all. The book plods along nicely, describing Paris of the 1700's so clearly that I begin to actually smell it (so he does manage to induce a smell transfer!). A sudden jolt happens when the first girl is murdered. The book returns to the story and nothing really happens about the murder. Grenouille, the murderer, spends years enjoying his memory of the girl's fragrance, but irritatingly enough, there is no punishment, no remorse.

Grenouille snaps out of his 7-year-hermitage and continues on to Grasse, where we learn how different essences are produced. Yuck - it does make sense and appears to work, but when I spray on my perfume in the morning I don't like the thought of the molecules having been worked through fat, I have this fantasy of them being somehow cleanly collected from the morning dew on fragrant petals.... another illusion dashed. And suddenly, he kills a dog. And now I know what is coming, but I can't stop reading. You now know what will happen, and it does happen, but it is strange all the same. I can't quite see how he gets to the perfume that so bedazzles his punishers - he was in prison from the time he was captured, wasn't he? Did someone bring him the bottle? Did I miss something, as I was reading so fast to get it over with?

The final scene back in Paris is horrible, I just brush it, it gives me shivers down the spine. I close the book, well past midnight, and try to get to sleep, awakening during the night at every sound.

A great book, really!

Book and Movie Reviews

I'm going to pretend I am a famous book and movie critic and keep track of all my book reviews here.



Other topical lists:
Home Girl - Didaktics - Plagiarism - Wiki - Observations - 'Puter Stuff


You are not a valued customer!

The dishwasher died. It was a very old dishwasher - I even still have the bill: 1987. Good old Bosch, it just works. But it had gotten very choosy about how dirty the dishes were that it was willing to clean. And then it just got so old and tired, and would quit halfway through. I could pump out the water, but there was soap on all the dishes, so they all had to be done by hand. And a teenager produces a *lot* of dirty dishes during the day, despite drinking directly from the bottles...

It being the end of the semester I had no time to trudge through the shops, and I do not have time to install it myself. I want to pay someone who knows what they are doing to throw out the old one and install the new. Quelle offers this service, and since we have been customers at Quelle for the past 30 years or so, we checked the catalogue. There was a nice one, so we went on-line. Of course, that one wasn't available, but there was a great deal: all the important bits (I don't need the gadgets, but Aquastop and A/A/A and a timer are vital) and on sale for only 550 Euros. Online they said that it was available.

But I don't trust computers, so I called to place the order. Yes, it is available. It will take about 10 days for the company who will install it to come, but I was not willing to spend 100 Euros extra just for express delivery. So we ordered, and I went back to the end-of-semester work.

Four days later the teenager remarks that someone from Quelle had called. No, he had not written down any names or numbers, if it is important they will surely call back. I don't believe that, so I call the Quelle number. The operator can just see that the order is in the process of being filled, and it will take about 10 days until it is delivered because they don't actually have one in the warehouse but they will be delivered soon. But she connects me to the service center, maybe they can tell me why someone called.

The guy at the "service" number speaks with a broad northern German accent. I ask why I was called and when I can expect delivery, as I had understood that the dishwasher was deliverable and not on back order. The guy turns surly and says that errors can happen, that's only human. I remark that I expect a computer-based on-line ordering system to be able to know if there are any items actually in the warehouse or not. At least the person taking my order should have up-to-date information.

He starts in on me, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he thinks that I have no reason to complain. I think that I do, and note that I have been a customer for many, many years. He hollers that Quelle does not need customers like me. I think I might have misheard him and ask him to repeat that. Last I heard Quelle was struggling financially..... Yes, Quelle does not need customers like me that complain. I thank him with as much sarcasm as I can muster and slam down the phone. Not only is "service" a foreign notion in Germany, it seems like there is an anti-service movement going on. We should be so happy as customers that companies are willing to do business with us.

An hour later a guy from Quelle calls. He says he knows nothing about my call, but wanted to let me know that they can't actually deliver and he offers me an alternative. Seems that they have a collection of warehouses, and there is actually one of the dishwashers in Stuttgart. But they don't ship items between warehouses, and he does not have one in Oranienburg and will not be getting any more in. So the computer was right - there is one available, just not for me. I note that I was logged in, the computer knows my address and should probably be able to guess that Berlin is not covered by the Stuttgart delivery center. He apologizes for the silly call-center guy and is very nice about everything.

But I am mad, and there is no other dishwasher with these characteristics in that price range. I can pay 200 Euros more and get what I want.... But I am too principled to do that. So we went to Karstadt down the street and bought one - paid 50 Euros more, and Karstadt belongs to the same global company as Quelle, but it's the principle of the thing. Attitudes like the ones at the Quelle service center need to be punished. And Karstadt offered to deliver and install it in two days, but I had no time to be at home. How about Saturday? No problem.

And here we are - it is Saturday, two pleasant guys are standing outside our door at 9am with a new dishwasher. They get to work and are done in 45 minutes. It gleams. It shines. It washes. It better hold out for another 19 years. I don't relish having to deal with purchasing another one before then.