Typical man - typical woman

My son was watching a show on one of the private channels called "Typisch Mann - Typisch Frau". I found a lot of the stuff silly: the women not knowing what a soldering iron is, the men having no idea what a diaphragm is, etc. But then they had an interesting experiment: They showed 10 men pictures of beautiful women, 10 women pictures of handsome men, 10 men pictures of not-really-beautiful women and 10 women pictures of not-really-handsome men.

Then they were asked if they wanted to be paid 150 Euros in cash or 180 in 3 months by funds transfer. The women all wanted to wait, saying that was more money. It didn't matter what kind of guy they were looking at. The men who had just looked at the not-so-beautiful women were the same, all rational. The guys who had just looked at pictures of beautiful women proved that when guys get aroused, their brains disengage - they were all willing to settle for the 150 cash.

Then a scientist showed a series of brain scans done on guys and gals looking at pictures. Seems the men react on a rather, shall we say, animal level when shown pictures of beautiful women? Another test applied alcohol to both sexes and showed them pictures. As the men got drunker, they found all women more attractive. As the women got drunker, they found the men less and less pleasing. This was kind of funny, especially when one of the contestants noted, that the women still go home with him when they are drunk....

So anyway, women are rational and men are sex-driven. So what else is new?


A Fox in the City

Anna and I were standing outside the restaurant at about 11pm speaking about the wonderful food we had just had, we were about to go our separate ways. There was a rustling in the bushes in front of us.

Anna pointed - "Look, a fox!" I have never seen a live fox outside of a zoo, despite many hours spend in woods that are filled with them (as can be seen by identifying the footprints in the winter time). I had heard that there was a vixen and some cubs in the wooded area around the primary school, but I had never seen them.

The fox paused at the telephone booth and looked cautiously around. Why don't I have a camera with me when I need it?? She then stepped up to the curb, seeming to have done this before. She waited until a car had passed and then sprang over to the middle, pausing a moment before continuing on across.

We were just beneath a bridge over the autobahn and some train tracks, the fox disappeared down the side of the bridge. Of course, there is underbrush there, there must be a lot of mice and rabbits and other things to eat there, as well as all of the garbage people throw out.

I wonder what the fox makes of life in the city.


Two faces of German culture

I have to sit down. Take a deep breath.

Germany, one would think a cultured country, is hotly debating important topics such as a 100 question test [tagesspiegel.de] to be administered to foreigners daring to want to become German citizens. I haven't actually met a German who could answer all of the questions, but that is beside the point. This test is supposed to give you a good idea of what German culture is.

Then we have "Wo bist Du mein Sonnenlicht". Pomi posts links like this [spreeblick.com] to strange videos he finds on the net. He must spend all day surfing. Stuff like this does not swim on the top if the Internet. I hope. Anyway, Spreeblick was just commenting on a blog entry "The next big thing" [ntropie.de] which has a homemade music video by three young German-Turks. Their singing skills could be improved. The video could, with a lot of work, pass for Dogma. The choreography looks like it was designed by testersterone-choked teenagers (apparently, it was).

The video would be a great joke, if the German popular media industry had not descended like a plague of locusts. The boys suddenly are on TV. Bunte (a German bored-housewife rag) is writing about them. Record labels and handy ring tone companies are hunting them down. No self-respecting blog can do without a link to this (this blog included). This is popular culture in Germany today.

If they aren't already German citizens, I vote they be given honorary citizenship. Without having to take the test.


Kennedy's Brain

Just finished "Kennedys Hjärna" (soon to be published in German, maybe someday in English, too) by Henning Mankell. Goodness, he was a bit heavy-handed on the political side. The bad, bad medical companies doing experiments on humans. The bad, bad white people treating the black people in Africa like an inferior race.

The scary thing is, that just as I am finishing up the book, the news reports on six men in England taken ill in drug trials....

There are some irritating things: No clear ending, no explaination for Henrik's riches or why he passed off his girlfriend as his sister; No clear reason for the death of Steve Holloway; No explaination of how Louise can pay for all of this flying and hotels (that are said to be too expensive for her), despite the "large sum" found in Aron's suitcase.

Parallel to the story, Louise is having her mid-life crisis. Well, she's older than me (just a bit, anyhow). And I have this nice Roy Lichtenstein postcard "Oh my God, I forgot to have a midlife crisis!". Mankell must have talked to a lot of women, because he is very believable in writing a woman narrator.

The book in Swedish is a page-turner, you don't want to put it down, even if you are not really satisfied in the end.


3D Learning Environments

I was attending a conference about eLearning (okay, I even got to give an invited talk and stayed for the rest of the day, listening to some good talks, and then this). The last talk was about a 3D learning environment.

Okay, I had a diploma student do one of those once. It was a stupid idea of mine. Even if a 3D structure in program libraries is given, "flying" through the space is just not a viable concept, although the student did a good job implementing the thing.

So I thought I would see an interesting application. I admit that I was surfing a bit reading about Elonka Dunkin during the first slide so I thought I had misheard - they were doing a 3D learning environment for a course on "Media and the Law"?? I can see Hypertext in such a course, but 3D? Where is the 3rd dimension?

The guy went on and on about them modelling a Berlin courthouse (what on EARTH does a courthouse have to do with Media and the Law? The students are to learn about copyright and licenses and maybe how to set up a contract!). He went into a lot of detail about the Latin sayings that were on the wall and how they got the tables and chairs set up. I was lost, totally lost.

Then he opened up the thing to give us a demo, and while zooming through the halls he showed us there were paintings of famous laywers, you could click on them and get some supplemental material. The main material was hidden in the different courtrooms, "tacked" to the walls!

So they expect people to navigate, digging around for the material to read, never able to find it again before Windows crashes again on them. I leaned over to my neighbor to ask if I had missed some important aspect, they couldn't be serious about this, could they? They were. Since I had just ripped the previous speaker to shreds for his silly male countdown timers and point-scoring in an otherwise very nice explorative environment for learning Python, I asked my neighbor to ask my dreaded "value-added" question: What is the value added to the learning experience by using this multimedia technology?

He asked, very sweetly, and was told that this was for "motivation". The speaker did not seem to understand the criticism. A guy down front got out a big stick, figuratively, and tried bashing the speaker with this. He still did not understand that we all found this an extraordinary waste of taxpayer money. It seems, they wanted to do 3D and the only learning material they had at hand was a course on Media and the Law. So they used it.

If my only tool is a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail to me......


The Swedish Train Ticket

I am visiting one of the Swedish partner universities of my school on Wednesday. A great excuse to spend a few days in our cabin in the south of Sweden, take a train up and back, and have a few more days at the cabin. I do my best writing when I am alone at the cabin with no meals to cook for hungry family and/or guests or exciting adventures to be organized.

Sweden is such an advanced eBusiness society, so when I visited the SJ pages to check the train times, I was invited to order my tickets online and have them sent to my house. Now that's an offer!

I slogged my way through the JavaScript navigation, having to select this and that and whatever. They have this stupid system of every train costing a different price, so there is no easy way to determine the cost of the trip. Great, I have to fill out a travel request form from my school stating what the cost will be. Anyway, I get through to the "bekräftelse", the confirmation of my order, and they offer take the money directly from my Internet banking account in Sweden. I am sure that this will not work, as my personnr is no longer marked as "living in Sweden", but what the heck, let's try.

I have to register with some sort of PayPal organisation, this is beginning to sound a bit fishy. But they really do open my bank account in an extra window using my Personnr (which is, of course, the magic account number key, as it is the primary key for all Swedish data bases). I am asked to get out my little doodad and generate a one-time TAN for the transaction. I do so, and am thanked profusely. I double check my account, and sure enough, the money has been deducted properly.

Well, that was painless enough. Good job.

I arrive at the cabin Saturday night - lots of snow here, good thing I will only be driving the 8 km to the station and not the whole way up to the partner university, which is a good 2 hours drive. I open the mailbox - empty. Oh well, we have nice neighbors with a key, they will have taken in the mail. Indeed, there is a pile of mail on the kitchen table (after I shovel my way in), but no train tickets. I go visit the neighbors the next day, to see if they might have some mail that they didn't want to wade through the snow to bring to me, but no, there is no mail there.

I wait for Monday - maybe SJ only sends the tickets 2 days in advance. But that would mean that they would have to be organized, and this is Sweden, so that is improbable, and there are indeed no tickets in the box. So I call the number given on the SJ home page.

I decide to "press 5 for english" because I am unsure if my Swedish will be good enough to explain the situation. "Press 1 for domestic travel" - I press 1. And am greeted with the Swedish recording telling me that the Stockholm station will be closed over Easter. Do I care? And would I understand this as an English-speaking person? Then I am informed that the wait will be 10 minutes. That is one technological advance in Sweden - they let you know how long the torture will be.

I do not want to wait 10 minutes, and anyway, I want to go to town today, so I can surely buy a ticket in some travel agency or other or some ticket machine.

But there are only ticket machines for Skåne, none for further afield. I walk around the station, have an old drunkard try and make friends with me (I suddenly can't speak Swedish any more), but there is nothing. Nada. The tourist office is across the street and open, so I drop by. She explains that I just call the number and book the ticket.

"And how do I get the ticket on time?" "Oh, you just go to a gambling place with your booking number and get the ticket."

A gambling place? These seedy dumps where the Swedes drop the little cash they have left over after the tax bite and food prices have taken their tribute, betting on horse races and playing Lotto and all sorts of other games? I would never set foot in one of them of my own free will. "You can also go to Pressbyrån", the newspaper shop. Well, at least they have a civilized front shop, the horse-betting is carried on in a separate room in the back.

Can I order the tickets from the betting place? That would make sense. But no, this is not possible. Just call the number. I debate sitting out in the cold, on hold for 10 minutes and then trying to write down the booking number with frozen hands. So I drive back home and call from there.

The number costs 1,70 SEK for every five minutes. I go right to Swedish this time, and sit through the announcement about Stockholm again. Waiting time is only 4 minutes now, well, that is a relief. The iron lady keeps suggesting that I book my tickets on the Internet.... After about 3:30 a woman comes on and I explain my predicament. I want to know why I don't have tickets. She checks her database and has no record of my purchase. "That happens a lot, there are a lot of errors that happen. If you don't get a booking number then it didn't work." "But I checked my account and the money was debited!" "Yes, but when it doesn't work, we return the money." "You are losing a lot of business this way!". But SJ is pretty much a monopoly....

So I book the tickets with her, at least I get the same train going up. The train going back is unfortunately already booked, so I shall have to spend another hour in the town. The price, interestingly enough, is now 27 SEK cheaper! Seems the closer to train time you book, the cheaper it gets.

Now I have a number, but I don't feel like driving back to get my ticket from the horse racing people. I already spent 15 minutes on the phone and this will be another 16 km to drive. Tomorrow is another day.


A Bit of Snow

There was just a little bit of snow along the highway from Berlin to Rostock. I was on my way to Sweden and could not decide to take the faster way (but with more driving) or the slower way. I asked the tourist information lady at the rest area just before Rostock - no problem, the streets are dry in Denmark.

So I decided for the faster way, this would get me 2 more hours of fireplace time this evening.

Just off the ferry in Gedser there were some flurries in the air, but it was no big deal. But after about 30 km it started being a big deal - the highway was full of slush. I thought the autobahn would be cleared, but it, too, was full of slush. But no problem, you could drive 80 kmh through the slush.

It started getting worse, but I felt good because I was behind a snow plow. Except, as I discovered, it was neither plowing nor distributing some of the goodies it had piled high on the flatbed. It was just driving around, enjoying the weather. I pulled out to pass it, and it sprang to life, with a yellow light flashing and started to dump salt. I debated pulling over at the next parking place to wait for it to pass me again, but the snow wasn't that bad.

It got extremely bad about 10 meters after the Tappernoje rest area. I regretted not stopping, but decided to grit my teeth and pull through, as it would surely only get worse. But actually, it got better, at times there was no snow at all!

The bridge was fine, but shortly after in Sweden a powdery snow was coming down thick and fast with no snow plows in sight. I had to slow down quite a bit, as I could not even see the dividing line on the autobahn. I stopped in Lund for some food at the 24h place - never know if this is going to be a snow-in kind of storm.

Getting to my cabin I discovered that it was going to be a snow-out kind of storm. John-Erik had plowed the snow nicely from the dirt road, dumping it in a hip-high wall of snow along the way. There was no way to drive into our parking place. No problem, the central parking place is free, I'll just unload the car and drive back.

Behind the wall of snow, however, was knee-deep powdered snow. And I remembered that we had broken the snow shovel, trying to get the car out to go home after Christmas. Luckily, I still have the spade in my car that we then used to get the car dug out.

Ever tried to shovel snow with a spade? The shaft is not long enough, so you have to bend over. It also just has a small surface area, so it only gets a bit of snow with every swing. Swinging back and forth helps in the powdered snow, but I managed to knock out one of the lights which was buried in the snow that way. I briefly debated clearing the shortest path to a door, but the snow had drifted there and that was hip-deep, all the way down. So I shoveled down and around, only to see the little cellar that I had to get to in order to turn on the water. It was under at least 20 cm of snow. I would have to clean that off.

It took me 45 minutes to shovel all the snow, then another 25 minutes to carry all the stuff down, get the snow off the cellar (it had frozen to a nice, 20cm thick ice-clump, so I was glad I had the spade), get the water on, and then mop up all the melted snow from the entrance way.

I went to put on a fire - and discovered the lazy people here at Christmas time had not replenished the wood pile indoors. Not to worry, I have some kindling drying on the veranda. You have to throw 2-3 sticks on every 10 minutes, but it still is warm and much better than digging out down to the wood shed.

On the agenda for tomorrow: buy a snow shovel!


VOIP security

For unclear reasons our school has rushed to install a Voice-over-IP (VOIP) system for telephoning. The fancy new phones come with lots of difficult-to-use menus and have more bells and whistles than a Brazilian Carneval costume. But as a true computer grrl I bravely went through all the menus after the phone was installed and was shocked to see the information available directly on my phone: all the data I would need to impersonate a phone (IP-Address, MAC Address, DNS Server, TFTP Server, Subnet mask etc. etc). As an idle joke I typed the IP number of my phone into the nearest browser - I almost fell out of my chair. Up came a web site with all of this information, nicely printable.

Now, the IP addresses are in the 172.16. x.x subnet that Cisco uses, and since they are not password protected, I can guess valid IP numbers - they map nicely to telephone numbers, which are included on the information summary. So all I have to do is find the president's extension, and I can flip through looking for the IP number of his phone.

So what?

Well, there is a menu item on the page called "logs". I am a sucker for stuff like this - but this will be password protected, won't it? Well, no. The log contains a date stamp every hour, so I know the day:

07:00:00.001338 NTP: Thu Mar 2 07:00:00 2006

And then we have:

07:42:48.049300 MT: ====== A phone call starts ....

Hmm. I wasn't in my office until 8.30 this morning. Maybe we have a time drift here. But it is clear that I now have a phone call on the log. And a bit on down we have:

07:53:29.805367 Flushed: cip.midp.rms.n@4c5fb07:43:29.806803
07:53:53.610771 on hook

So I quit gabbing. There are some fun numbers around that look suspiciously like call IDs (not the telephone numbers themselves, in this file). There are a half a dozen other files available, but I have had enough. The next student who walks in the door begging for a thesis topic is given "Security in VOIP Systems". [And he takes it, too!]

I informed the worker's representative group leader (Personalrat) and she was concerned, as she was being pressured to sign off on an agreement stating that the workers at our school are happy with the security of the VOIP system.

It took a few months for this to boil up, and today we had a meeting that included the computer center chief. At the start he admitted that the voice packets go over the line unencrypted. He actually has a USB-Stick with the encryption algorithm and key. But the usability of the administrative package is rather low - he has to sit at an application and mouse through a set of menus to set up a phone with encryption for each of the 900 or so telephones in the school. There are no batch files possible. So this had not yet been done.

As I demonstrate what I found out on my first playing around, that I can grep the logfiles to see how many calls a number made during the day, and with a few lines of Perl calculate how long each call was, I see his face getting whiter and whiter. The worker's group representative asks if these menus can be disabled. Sure - one telephone at a time for 900 telephones.... Smart man - he tackles this head on and offers to spend the night fixing the telephones.

There are some questions here: Why is Cisco delivering a phone in a default state like this? Sure, it makes finding errors easier, but it opens up another can of security worms. Why is it so difficult to enable encryption? Why does Cisco have some fancy security certificates for this phone system that they copied for our administration? Why do people hope that there will be no problems with things they cannot see and do not understand?

I'm not going to be using this phone for anything I wouldn't want published in a blog anytime in the near future.