Sad news

I got my first death notice by email. On the one hand, I am glad to be informed, and this is surely the best way to reach his correspondents. On the other it was rather a bit of a shock to open.

Gordon was my 4th cousin. My grandfather's grandmother and his grandmother's grandfather were brother and sister. At his prodding I drove down to Hesse and spent some days in the archives, actually finding the birth and confirmation records of the brother and sister's father, Daniel Stamm, from Hofgeismar, who left for the States with his brother, Christian, and his father Johan Conrad, in 1802.

Rest in peace, Gordon! I enjoyed corresponding with you.
Gordon Allan MacInnis, of Blacksburg, died December 18, 2006 at the age of 84. One of the original faculty members at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine where he taught large animal medicine, he began his more than 20-year affiliation with Virginia Tech as an Extension Veterinarian in 1962. In that capacity, he assisted farmers throughout the state, helped organize and judge the dog show program of the State Fair of Virginia, and served in Virginia Tech's anaerobe laboratory. He considered one of his most important contributions to Virginia Tech to be his role in the founding of the university's chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho, a national agriculture fraternity. He retired from Virginia Tech in 1983. During his active retirement, he was recognized as an accomplished woodworker, and was deeply involved in genealogical research. Prior to his work in Blacksburg, he was a practicing veterinarian in Wooster, Ohio, and Millersburg, Ohio, and was on the faculty of Washington State University and the University of Idaho. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine from Ohio State University in 1950. A combat veteran of World War II, he served in the European Theatre of Operations with the 389th Field Artillery, 97th Infantry Division. As a youth he earned an Eagle Scout badge. Dr. MacInnis was born March 8, 1922, in Salem, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his parents, Angus and Inez MacInnis, and his sisters Judith MacInnis and Nancy Naccarato. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Eleanor, and his children, Ronalee MacInnis of Provo, Utah; Mary Masciovecchio and her husband, Lou, of Anderson, S.C.; Bruce MacInnis of Blacksburg, Va.; Stewart MacInnis and his wife, Valorie, and their children, Ellen and Michael, of Buena Vista, Va.; and Brian MacInnis and his wife, Kim, and their children, Ian and Neil, of Christiansburg, Va. He is also survived by his sister, Eunice Mitchell of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a number of cousins, and numerous nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Alpha Gamma Rho Alumni Corporation of Virginia (MacInnis Memorial), PO Box 11055, Blacksburg, VA 24062. At his request, no services will be held.


Our movie-going friends who moved to Antwerp this summer are in town for a few days, so we had to hit a serious film (the silly ones we rented from VideoWorld for a long film night tonight :). We chose Babel, which was showing with subtitles. It is in English, Mexican Spanish, probably Berber or Arabic, and Japanese.

This is not an amusing film. The director says it is about family. It seems to be about miscommunication and about everything being intertwined. Seemingly non-related families (each with their own private tragedy) are very tightly intertwined (the Japanese father gave a gun to a guy in Morroco who sold it to the father of the child who shot the American tourist).

Didn't figure out until the credits that the good-looking, manly hunk was *the* Brad Pitt. Well.

I found the portrayal of the Japanese teenage deaf girl to be quite interesting - it showed her using a videophone to communicate, something I had heard about and found hard to believe that you can see gestures without too much wiping on that small screen with that small bandwidth. The Japanese fascination for toys and bright lights was nicely portrayed, and also the loneliness one can feel in the city of millions.

The essence is rather like the Billy Joel song: The Russians (Mexicans/Americans/Japanese/Moroccans) love their children, too.

Flushed Away

Promised to take some favorite kids to a movie between Christmas and New Year's. Flushed Away didn't seem too bad for an animated film, so we caught the early showing. It really was entertaining, the kids laughed and laughed (ages 8, 8, and 12) and there were plenty of movie quotes to keep the adults entertained. Of course, the 8-year-old boy had already seen it at a friends house, apparently the friend had a pirated version since this has just hit the theaters in Germany.

A nice story, and Rita is a geek girl's geek girl - she is handy with making something useful out of garbage and has her head on straight. Roddy is quite the bumbler, not used to real life, but a sweet guy none the less.

Kid's favorite quote: Fly at 12 o'clock (and all the frog's tongue's snap out to try and catch the fly, instead getting hopelessly tangled in each other.



Since I had attended one day of the 22rd Chaos Communication Congress last year and was in Berlin between Christmas and New Year's this year, I decided to do a day of the the 23rd Chaos Communication Congress. The topic was "Who can you trust?" and there were some great-sounding talks planned.

I chose the first day because there were so many interesting talks:

  • Keynote by John Perry Barlow which was interesting, even though he seemed either stoned or jetlagged (or both). He tried to light a fire under people's backsides to get them to police ethical actions on the Internet and fight spam and viruses. He gets 30.000 emails a month, 98% of which are spam....
  • Joshua Ellis rambling on and cursing in his "The Grim Meathook Future - How The Tech Culture Can Maintain Relevance In The 21st Century" which seemed more of a self-presentation than a good talk, but I had a seat at a table, and electrical outlet and WLAN, so I let him ramble.
  • A trio from Bremen talking about "Privacy, Identity, and Anonymity in Web 2.0" which was interesting, but the slides went by too fast for me to follow and I type fairly fast.
  • Ulrich Wiesner on "Hacking the Electoral Law", explaining why he thinks e-Voting and e-Counting is illegal in Germany. He lost a petition to the German parliament just this month to have e-voting with Nedap machines thrown out, he is continuing on to the constitutional court. If you are a German citizen, consider joining his case.
  • Rop Gonggrijp from the Dutch group wijvertrouwenstemcomputersniet (We don't trust voting computers) telling "The story of the dutch campaign against black-box voting to date". He had a Nedap machine with him and told some amazing stories about the system. It is based on an M68000 chip, heck, I learned to program Assembler on that! The company does have problems obtaining chips, as many are no longer produced. He used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents showing, for example, that the "extensive testing" the system was subjected to consisted of making sure it could survive a glass of water being spilled on it, the buttons being the proper size, and people not getting an electrical shock when they touch the screen. There are NO specs for "keeps vote changers out". Germany wants to use this system in the next election (see previous bullet point).
  • I wanted to hear another Identity talk, but the speaker was a no-show, so I went to the Wikipedia session on the quotability of Wikipedia articles. MaHa and a young computing professor from my former school thought this was a good idea, I begged to differe in the discussion. I want students to use the WP for a first step, but to go beyond this, reading web sites, getting books (gasp!) and magazine articles (what's that?) to read, analyse and comment on. WP should not be quoted, in my humble opinion, except for perhaps in a glossary. There was a good discussion on this.
  • Annalee Newitz on "Revenge of the Female Nerds" (see previous blog entry).
During her talk a young man wearing a Norsk Data T-Shirt walked across the front of the room. Now, I spent four years of my life working for Norsk Data, and they went broke 15 years ago, there is no way this kid had ever worked for Norsk Data on account of child protection laws. So after chatting with Annalee I went for a prowl throughout the congress center. I don't need RFIDs, I found him in a dark room full of loud music. He came out to talk with me - seems there is this group of Norwegian hackers who are into retro-computers.

They have running versions of DECs and such, and of course, being Norwegian, Nord-10s, ND-100 and ND-500s. This guy has some in his bedroom, he showed me a picture! We had a nice chat, he was very knowledgeable about the history of the company. Heck, he could program in PLANC and use the SINTRAN operating machine! Tore Sinding Bekkedal is his name, and he has a home page with many relevant Norsk Data links. What a hobby! I'll have to dig around, see if I still have some ND stuff around. No, I will not part with my ND cup or bottle opener or rock watch (made of real Norwegian granite).

Coming home took quite some time - waited in the freezing cold at Bahnhof Zoo for 26 minutes because the night bus left just 2 minutes before the train from Alexanderplatz got there :( I don't often take night buses....

It was a great day, I spent some time at the Wikipedia Lounge, sold some T-Shirts and books, shot the breeze with the usual suspects, finally met SJ in person (He is working on making the "One Laptop per Child" machine and had one with him that we could play with, that was fun). I bought a nice clip-on RFID tag with a Blinkenlight and an RFID detector bracelet and a Haeksen button.

Unfortunately, I really must get all of my exercises corrected, so I can't attend any of the other days. But my head is spinning after one day, how do people survive 4 - and that on very little sleep?

She's Such a Geek!

I don't just go to movies, I also still manage to read the occasional book :)

Found this referenced in a blog somewhere, purchased it via Amazon and had it delivered pronto. Twice. Apparently I clicked on the "purchase" button twice. Oh well, got a Christmas present for a nice geek girl I know.

It is a collection of biographies of geek women: why did they become geek, how do they survive, what is it that they love about their work. I toted it everywhere with me, reading it in a bar in Sweden, on the train to work, etc. I suggested it to my students in my "Gender & Computing" course, and had it on my table waiting to be blogged.

Then I went to 23c3 for a day and planned on staying until the bitter end for a talk called "Revenge of the Female Nerds" by someone called Annalee Newitz. Turned out she is one of the editors of the book! It was a great talk, and there were so many men present (wanting to see what was meant by revenge, maybe, or hoping for some dismemberment of some poor hacker). They even participated in the discussion, if somewhat cluelessly at times ("I know of 2 situations where women slept their way to the position they are in so women always do this". Sigh. Analee made it clear that there is a difference between the sexual, private life, and the public life. And gee, guess what, guys do it too. Yawn, next question.

She runs two blogs, techsploitation and shessuchageek. I had a nice chat with her afterwards with some interested parties (male, female, transgender), was very interesting to talk with the person responsible for the book I just read :)


The Holiday

Was spending the night in Schwedt/Oder, a little town of about 40.000 people on the German border to Poland. There ought to be some sort of cultural life here, wouldn't you think? Well, they have a go-kart place. And some closed restaurants. And a 5-cinema "multiplex" theater out between the hardware store and the clothing outlets. Okay, let's see what's on. Not really my cup of tea, but there is "The Holiday" (Liebe braucht keine Ferien), with Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black.

Could be fun. Isn't. I will spare you the "plot" of girls-meet-boys. Winslet at least plays a believable character, Diaz comes off as an air-head, no way this is a famous trailer producer. The continuity errors in this film make it worth while as an exercise for students, otherwise, just forget it.

I mean, come on: after a hot bed scene (not shown) Law and Diaz are lying in bed, gasping for breath, and she has her bra on???? Just for the censors so the film gets a PG-13 rating? And then she switches sides of the bed (and positions of the bra straps) from cut to cut?

One less film you need to watch.


The Postbank and I

I have a bad relationship with the Postbank, my German bank. Even though I do most of the work, they keep trying to charge me extra and have really bad customer service. I should just switch banks, but they are all like this, so what are we to do, go back to just paying cash?

Anyway, I paid bills 10 days ago with my ancient (2003) WISO MeinGeld program purchased on a special deal through the Postbank to make "paying my bills easier". It is kinda cute, you can store the normal recipients and make nice charts showing where your money goes. They wanted me to upgrade (i.e. pay 50 Euros for a new copy) last year so I could use the "iTAN" method of authentification, supposedly much safer (for the bank) than the old TAN method.

If you can read German, the iTAN method is just as insecure as anything else out there. But I managed to scream enough last year and they let us continue using our old systems.

Today the stack of bills fell over (lot of Christmas stuff) so I sat down at 11 pm and typed in all of the data. The cool thing about the program is that you put in all the TANs at once, don't have to wait until one is verified before you enter in the next bill to pay. I merrily entered in all the TANs and got a window: your TANs are now blocked, you have tried to use an illegal TAN method.

Great, gotta go talk to those lovely people at the Postbank call center. I dig for my "Telephone identification number" (you get lots of numbers with weird names to remember), punch it in to a canned voice, am to be forwarded to a human for help after I scream at the voice mail system three times ("press 1 for funds transfer..:"), and the system hangs up on me. They get paid by the minute that I call them, so this seems to be done on purpose. I dial in again (now fuming) and am put on hold. "You will be forwarded to the next available service person" (when we have enough of your money).

I finally get a woman and I complain: why is this changed without notice.
She: It was not changed without notice. It was on the home page.
Me: You mean you expect me to read your home page regularly?
She: Yes, if you bank with us you should read our home page regularly [and get bombarded by all their ads, I suppose]
Me: This is crazy, I want this sent to me.
She: We did, but most customers thought it was advertising and threw it away [Let's get this straight: our communications department is incapable of making an official letter that people see as such, so it is our fault if we don't read it?]
Me: This is crazy.
She: We now use iTANs, they are *much* safer.
Me: (blowing my stack) Hogwash, they are *not* safer!!
She: Don't interrupt me, I'm explaining it to you! We had so many people who sent their TANs to people just because of emails [phishing mails] so now we use iTANs, that makes the TANs they get this way useless.
Me: Look, I am a professor of computing, I know that this is just not safer, it is so silly, I want to be informed.
She: I am not the bank [sorry, sweetheart, if you answer the Postbank phone you are the Postbank to me], don't shout at me, speak in a civilized voice.

Okay, they have the wacko bit set for me and jump on me when I get upset.

Me: Just reset my TAN list and tell me how I can use your silly iTAN system.
She: We have a homepage explaining this [people call any page on the Internet a homepage]. And don't bother wanting to change banks, luckily, they all use iTANs now.

She wants to continue talking politics, but not on my nickel. I hang up.

The home page tells me to update my software in a manner that I already have. But I do it again, and after downloading and installing stuff it says: The system needs to be restarted. I figure the financial system, so I say "yes". Bang goes Skype and everything else, Windows restarts.....

Okay, I'm back up, fill in all the little blanks, try again, this time with just one bill. "Your program is not up to date, would you like to update it?" If I have to. Download another 8 MB, install, try again: "Your program is not up to date, would you like to update it?" F-off!
I say no and give it a whirl. ERROR: Your program cannot do iTANs correctly. Please purchase a newer version.

At midnight, a few days before Christmas? I really have to purchase new software in order to pay my bills with my money??? Well, I can do it by hand: CTRL+C, CTRL+V, field for field, for each of the 10 bills into the online web-based bank portal. Waaaaaaaait until the super safe iTAN is checked. Do the next one.... One of the iTANs asked for is one I have already used. But it works fine. I guess this is really super safe...........

It tool me 1 1/2 hours to pay 10 bills. And another 25 minutes to blow off steam here. Yes. I want to go back to cash.

PFFFFFFT. Just checked online to make sure the bills were paid. They charged me 6 Euros for resetting the TAN list. This is highway robbery!


Little Miss Sunshine

[I know. Two films in one week is obscene. I am trying to dig out from some major burnout and movies seems to be the right thing to do.]

Since WiseMan came with me to see Niceland, I went to see Little Miss Sunshine with him this evening. The trailers had been kind of funny, and we wanted some laughs. Turns out, though, the trailers are pretty much the film in a nutshell, the rest is pretty boring.

Olive lives in a typical American (i.e. dysfunctional) family. Pretty much one of everything here except gun-toting patriot. She want to take part in the Little Miss Sunshine Pagent and makes it to the finals. The family ends up driving many miles to get there, experiencing many comic (and boring) scenes on the way. Grandpa is a dirty old man, brother Dwanye likes Nietzsche, Uncle Frank is a failed gay academic who tried to commit suicide and failed, Dad is a failed success-salesman and Mom tries to keep the family together.

Some nice scenes of landscape. Some really horrible scenes of little girls dolled up like Miss America contestents singing sexy songs (this is so true to life to be painful). A touching rendition of "America, the Beautiful". A lot of cussing (mostly by Grandpa).

The funniest thing is the ratings: in Germany, free for children from the age of 6. In the USA it is rated "R" - under 18 only when accompanied by parents. The American kids in the row in front of us enjoyed the show much more in retrospect when they realized they had just seen an "R"-rated film. But there was nothing to "see", just a lot of sexually explicit swearing.

Strange country, the US of A.

Film rating: not worth seeing.

Christmas Trolls

I was trolling for something on the Wikipedia when I landed on the page about the Icelandic Christmas Trolls (unfortunately, only in Icelandic with incorrect Interwiki links to Santa Claus). There is a link at the bottom of the page to the Icelandic Knowledge Web giving the exact history, descriptions, and pictures of the trolls, including links to scientific discussions of how and why they are part of Icelandic tradition.

These guys start coming in December 12 and play all sorts of mischief in the household. Today is Þvörusleikir (who stirrs the pot, licking the spoon) and tomorrow is Pottasleikir (who licks out the pot when no one is looking). Presents may be brought to you by the Christmas Cat. Definately a strange country, Iceland.


I didn't make it to the Nordic Film Festival to see Niceland - Population 1,000,002 when it came out. Friðrik Þór Friðriksson is one of my favorite movie directors, I even got to interview him once in 1992 before he got famous and I was hoping to maybe be a famous film critic one day. After the interview I tagged along to the bar with him and his cronies, telling him about a translation I just did of Einar Kárason (another one of the Bad Boys of Iceland, they are all about my age and describe the pain of growing up when we did, except only from their perspective. There is always a pissing-in-the-snow/river/garden scene in all of their works, it seems). They just kind of mocked me, and I realized I really didn't know much of anything about movies. So I spent a lot of time learning.

I wrote a biography of Friðrik Þór as an exercise for my E-Learning unit on plagiarism (and put it on the Wikipedia as a nasty surprise for the teachers taking the course, thinking they have caught a plagiarist when it is the author herself, overeagerly posting her paper to the WP). During the course last week one of the participants noted that he had just read something about Friðrik Þór and mailed me the article the next day: Niceland has been released to Germany. So my next order of business was to go see it.

It was only running at Blow-Up, a theater in PrenzelBerg that shows wacky movies and doesn't have many patrons on a Wednesday night. WiseMan came along, even though he had a) already seen it and b) didn't really like it, but he wanted to keep me company during this at times very depressing film. There were maybe 5 others in the theater.

Niceland is the story of a mildly retarded couple, Jed and Chloe, who work in a factory with other, similarly retarded young adults. One of their friends is played by Timmy Lang, an actor with Down's Syndrome who is just utterly brilliant and funny.

Chloe thinks taking care of her cat is her purpose in life, so when Jed gooses the cat just after asking Chloe to marry him (and getting a yes), the cat tries to dash across traffic in a city that is a strange mixture of little Reykjavik + Glasgow + Frankfurt/Main, getting itself killed.

Chloe falls into a deep depression, so Jed decides to figure out the purpose of life for her. He hears a crackpot on TV who lives in a junkyard talk about knowing the purpose of life but not telling, so he packs a bag and moves into the junkyard.

Jed's father works selling TVs, and there are many wonderful scenes with many, many TVs in them, showing identical pictures, as well as shots of many bored couples vegged out on the sofa watching the tube. The film even starts with Chloe and Jed vegged out on a sofa seeming to watch TV - they are in a furniture store, pretending it is their apartment, before they get chased away.

Jed and Max, the guy in the junkyard, have a very dark, very depressing, very strange relationship peppered with many attempts by Max to kill himself. But in the end, Max reveals the purpose of life to Jed, namely, that everyone has to figure this out for themselves.

Chloe miraculously recovers and marries Jed at the junkyard, in a gorgeous white bride's dress with Max officiating. A very bizarre, Friðrik Þór-like ending. I don't think this will be a box-office hit. But nice when you have made so much money that you can afford to make a film like this. Hmm, maybe he's growing up - I don't recall a pissing scene in this one.

Oh, and I found a description of how to find your purpose in life in 20 minutes or so.


E-Learning at company X

Yawn. Luckily, I got a seat at the back of the auditorium near an electrical outlet. And the WLAN is working.

I am sitting through a talk by Mr. Z from Extremely Large Company X, who is explaining how the company uses E-Learning. He has at least one slide with every buzzword on it, and lots of diagrams showing money savings and more hours spent on E-Learning. Most of his slides are illegible from the back row.

It seems they have new tools that are better than PowerPoint. I hope so, his slides are really chaotic and unreadable, he has little font accidents all over the place, not to speak of color problems.

But what are they really doing? I would have loved to see some examples of what they are really doing, not just this management stuff. Yes, he quotes Kerres saying that E-Learning has to bring added value to learning. But where is it?

A disappointment and a waste of time, this talk.



I was giving a talk today, so I was trying to dress the part of "lady professor" by wearing a dress and stockings and a nice flowing scarf. But looking at myself in the mirror I decided that I looked very pale. Since it wasn't the bad lighting, it was probably lack of sleep.

Now I don't wear makeup normally except when making a video (lipstick and eyeliner do wonders for a crisp presence when you are on video, as I demonstrated on some test videos a while back). But I do have a case for this purpose, so I got it out.

There was lipstick in just the plum color of my scarf, so I put it on. Now my face looked unbalanced, so I ended up putting on eyeshadow and eyeliner. I had this saying in my mind that is attributed to Andy Rooney, but is actually from Frank Kaiser: "A woman over 40 looks good wearing bright red lipstick."

It was time to dash for the bus, so no time for second thoughts. It was kind of fun at the conference, going up to people I knew and smiling. They tended to cock their heads a bit and look puzzled - they couldn't decide what was different with me. I kidded one colleague (who never wears a tie) about his mini string tie, he tried to kid back about my appearance, but couldn't name it. Not even WiseMan said anything when he came by to join me for the conference dinner.

Am I different when I am dressed up like this? Well, it is difficult to crawl along the floor searching for electrical outlets in a dress. And I have to be constantly on my guard not to rub my eyes or mouth, or else I will look like a grubby schoolgirl who got into Mom's lipstick.

I was very glad, however, to scrub it all off and get out of the costume.


Thanksgiving Dinner

(Damn Blogger! I was almost done with a wonderful, long post, and was adding the pictures, when it ERASED the entire text with the second picture. And would not offer me an undo. Grrrrrrrrrrr.)

Yes, it is that time of year again. Thanksgiving. Okay, I'm a week late - we don't get the day off in Germany, so it has to be on a weekend. And I was gone the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we just did it a week later. The main thing is the food, not the exact date.

I started in Friday evening: Apple pie, Cranberry relish (with oranges, raisins soaked in rum and walnuts added, yum yum yum), stuffing. Saturday morning I got the pre-ordered bird from the open-air market place, almost 8 kilograms (17 pounds for you non-metric types). I did the cornbread and pre-cooked the yams before the bird went in, to attract my undivided attention for 6 hours or so. Basting every 20-30 minutes (no, no self-basting turkeys to be had here), in between working on mashed potatos, succotash, raw veggies, Grandms'a cloverleaf rolls, pickles, what have you.

My friend from the wrong end of the state brought the pumpkin pie and the creamed carrots. Pumpkin is always a pain. The recipes start "Take a can of pumpkin". We have to start with "Take a pumpkin" and cook it down in order to have the puree to start the pie. Another Stateside friend brought the coleslaw.

The only worry was: how many people were there be? Okay, the teenager is not reliable, but I rather wanted a general ballpark figure. I had tried inviting all sorts of people, but they already had prior engagements for this first weekend of Advent. I had 14 definites and 7 maybes on my list, a bit too wide a margin, especially seeing as I have 17 chairs and could only beg 2 from a neighbor. I called one guy, oh yes, he forgot to tell me he couldn't come. Okay, great, we are down to the number of chairs.

I set the table with Grandma's table cloths and the bits of silver I salvaged when selling off my parent's stuff, there were 4 tables in various sizes to fit everyone, and it looked nice.

Eventually, only 13 showed up, 2 of them late (the one had said so in advance, she was on-duty up until just before dinner, and then she parked on the wrong end of our 3km street....). One couple got into a fight in the afternoon and he refused to come. Hey guy, I have lots of chairs, you don't have to sit next to your Significant Other. You can come sit next to me and entertain me! And enjoy the food I made for you!!

But the folks who were there did a marvelous job - no one was shy about having seconds, so they pretty well polished off the bird (I heard reports today that no one ate much Sunday....). There was enough left over for a microwaved plate Sunday evening and Turkey Noodle Soup this evening. And I will sneak the last of the cranberry relish before going to bed, it is like dessert.

But why do people treat an invitation to a sit-down dinner as a "drop in if you feel like it" thing? I am sure that I could have found others to come, if they would have let me know in time, even if many people already had other engagements.

So one thing is sure: I'm not doing a sit-down dinner for my 50th. That would be much too horrible to have food and people not come. I'm currently thinking pot luck......