Resolutions for 2008?

Nah, let's not call them resolutions. Let's call them goals. I'll come back to this today and see what I can come up with.

  1. Clean up my desk at home and office during the semester break.
  2. Sell or throw out at least 2 of the 3 printers in my pile of junk.
  3. Learn to use Subversion.
  4. Write at least 2 scholarly papers.
  5. Publish both books I am working on
  6. Get the taxes done before the deadline day.
  7. Exercise more.
  8. Read at least one non-computer book a month.
  9. Start using encryption for my email.
  10. Cook for friends more often.
Okay, we don't want to overdo it. That's a start.

24C3 - Part 2

I only managed one more day at the 24C3, there is only so much my brain can process...

We had a tools meeting in the morning for the German Wikipedia group. I met some nice people there who are developing all sorts of tools for use with Mediawiki and for the Wikipedia. There is a tool server for Foundation-approved projects, but since this is not necessarily always a given, we debated some sort of own server. Subversion seems to be the revision control system of choice, so I really need to figure this out. Tried to get it sorted out for my project last summer, but I didn't have the time to concentrate on it. I need to start my New Year's resolutions for 2008 :)

Then I went to the Hamburg Election Pen discussion. A group of CCC people took apart the Logitech pen that the Swedish company Anoto sets up to "record" elections. Just a little Photoshopping suffices to produce paper that will count as a vote for candidate X, no matter what is actually voted. And no one understands exactly what the Bluetooth or the reset button do exactly....

Anyway, Hamburg did the right thing and pulled the plug on this project, they are voting on paper. Extra points to Hamburg for that!

None of the next talks really interested me, so I wandered around looking for SJ from OLPC. I'd been looking for him for 2 days. I saw all the XOs (green with envy) but he was always just left when I showed up. I started into letting a guy demonstrate the XO to me, when I finally spotted SJ out of the corner of my eye. I dashed over, and he made time for me. We sat in the middle of a maelstrom of noise as I explained the Wikidossier to him that one of my students made.

I had heard that he was looking for something like this and indeed he was. We started spinning some wild ideas, so he got out his notebook to take some notes. Annie joined in, and she had a nice idea that I decided to put on my thesis list. Maybe I'll find a student soon for this. Anyway, he let me play with an XO while he ran off to talk with someone else, that was fun.

I headed off to the Füchse handball game (a wonderful win with 9000 people in the hall, really great) and came back to look for Annie. She was in the Tor talk, people said, and I had heard a lot about Tor, so I squeezed into the room.

Turns out Tor is the project of this Roger guy I enjoyed talking with 2 summers ago at c-base, and his talk was really interesting. It is about anonymity of location on the Internet, a burning question. Couldn't find Annie, but I did run into some other guys to talk with, and suddenly it was evening and I had promised to show up for dinner with friends, so I bid farewell.

I tried to follow the Arctic talk the next morning by video stream, but neither the video nor the audio streams were working. Oh well.

Now, I have to get all my exercises corrected. Don't want to be taking them into 2008 with me.


24C3 - Part 1

Ooooh, my head hurts. Two days at the 24C3 and I'm dizzy. I've attended talks on the Bundestrojaner, on electronic election devices, on surveillance, on the enormous amount of data the US insists be stored forever about airplane passengers, on linguistic analysis, on reactions to violent games....

Some have been very interesting, others so-so, some not listed above I left shortly after they started boring me.

It looked like quite a change this year in the number of women - I spoke with one in line to get my ticket, and counted 7 in my immediate neighborhood. But inside they were quickly diluted to the "normal" homeopathic dosages.

I went to the Haecksen breakfast this morning, that was nice to meet all these women, but most insisted that they did not hack. Many were here to observe women and technology. I hope they had their microscopes packed.

I had two unpleasant experiences today:

  1. I had offered a lightening talk, but noted that I could only hold it today. There was another guy in the same position. I went up front at the beginning to try and let the Very Important Busy People know. A guy did the same. His number was way far down the list. Guess what: he got to talk, I didn't. I am invisible.
  2. The chaos has gotten to the point that they were not able to distribute receipts for the tickets yesterday. The signs were still up saying that they were busy programming this. I went to the front desk and asked if they had the receipts sorted out and forgot to take down the signs. No, not yet for yesterday. "Can I help program, then? It's not exactly rocket science to program receipts!!" "What?" the guy said, "you can program?" Duh. Of course not. I'm a girl. A girl at at hacker's congress. A girl who has been hacking before he was born. "Sure," I said, "I'm a professor for computer science." "And you can program?" he asked incredulously. "But it is really difficult to get this done."

    They were printing receipts for today, and people who did not need
    them were leaving them. I found one for 80 Euros and am happy.
    The receipt consists of the header, the price, the tax, the date, a unique number, and a footer. Give me 30 minutes to read the handbook for the little slip printer, and I'll have you a program that takes a receipt number and an amount and prints out the receipt for you. Of course, it won't be programmed in brainfuck but it will solve the problem.
More to come, if I can stand another day.


Merry Christmas!

Ahhhhh! The turkey was fabulous. On account of it being larger than expected I had to begin preparations earlier, so I spent pretty much all day in the kitchen, with an occasional run through the blogs (not much there) or another round of Online Scrabble with my brother.

I baste the turkey every 20 minutes or so - a horrible job, but the results are just divine. We had tons of stuffing, Aunt-Jean-mashed-potatoes, candied sweets (with marshmallows on one side for me and the going-on-16-young son), succotash, cranberry-orange-walnut relish, Grandma's cloverleaf rolls, pumpkin pie and mincemeat pies. I had a salad, too, but there was not much interest in that.....

About 11 hours of work (if you include standing in line to get the turkey), but so totally worth it for that plate full of goodies. And you can't make this for yourself, you need people to help eat it up. Luckily, there was a lot of that around. And no one needed to feel guilty about taking a nice piece of white meat, as there was tons, so there wasn't actually that much left. 2-3 more people would certainly have had their fill. So it will be turkey sandwiches and turkey noodle soup for the next few days...

My lovely Christmas present was a Samui Moon binary watch (blue). The manufacturer's home page is corny (and misspelled in places), so I am linking to one of the tons of ad pages. I'm having a grand time turning the watch on and trying to add up the time real fast. I've discovered that my normal "cornerstone" times of 00 - 15 - 30 - 45 actually look kind of nice in binary as well: 000000 - 001111 - 011110 - 101101. Lots of nice symmetry here!

Now I still have lots of leftovers and a ton of chocolates (everyone else gave me chocolate for Christmas) and everyone has left. I hope it keeps until New Year's Eve.


The Missing Turkeys

Am having the in-laws over for Christmas, so since I didn't do Thanksgiving this year I am doing a turkey with all the fixings. I invited some neighbors and a friend over so that we would be 10 people and be able to do justice to a 5 kilo bird. And as instructed by the organic meat shop on the corner, I ordered 2 weeks in advance, with a down payment.

I had intended to be in line at 8 am, but for some strange reason I actually slept for 9 hours last night, it was almost 10 when I eyed the alarm clock. Oops, this sounds like getting the bird before breakfast.

So I got a quick shower and headed off to wait in line. It was out the door and two shops down, would have done justice to the former East Germany. Helga was there this year as well, we mostly seem to meet in the meat shop line. We had a good chat for about half an hour as we inched our way forward.

I had just entered the shop when they called for people picking up poultry to come over to the sliced meat counter. So I did, and was daydreaming about that nice cup of coffee waiting for me at home when I realized that the woman in line in front of me was very upset and shouting.

She had ordered that bird, and it had better be there. The shop woman was very apologetic, but there were no 4-5 kilo birds left. They had one 7 kilo and one 7.3 kilo bird, would she take one of those? I spoke up that since I was having one person more than planned, I would take the 7 kilo one and she could have mine.

Uh, she said, did you order a 4 kilo bird, too? I dig out my receipt: 4-5 kilos, downpayment made. Yup. Okay, your's isn't here, either. My mind begins to race. It is 11.15 am on Christmas Eve. The stores will all close at 13.00. I have everything organized for turkey. No way I am finding alternate fresh one this fast.

The lady in front of me is really upset (rightly so, but she doesn't need to scream). They even took our telephone numbers when we ordered, so why didn't they call this morning to let us know what happened? I'm assuming that the young woman helping out sold all the 4-5 kilo birds, unordered, to the masses who were parked outside the door at 7.30 (as I was later told), hoping to get their mitts on something for Christmas.

They called the boss, boss offered us the big birds for the price of the little ones. Since I know my oven will hold a large one, I jumped at the chance, and lugged home the larger one, leaving the "smaller" one to the other lady who was mulling where to scare up 6 more people for dinner.

The lines were now 3 stores down as I left. I wonder how many of the rest were left without any turkey at all. Or if at the end of the day, out the back, they find a big box of turkeys. Whatever, we have one. Looks like turkey sandwiches and turkey noodle soup for the rest of the week....


Den brysomme mannen

Forgot to blog the Norwegian movie I saw last week, Den brysomme mannen (2006, The Bothersome Man). Trond Fausa Aurvåg, whom I enjoyed in "Tatt af kvinnan" at the Nordic Film Festival this year, plays a man to whom things happen which he cannot explain.

He gets off the bus in the wilderness, but is expected. He is given an apartment, and a "job", which requires putting lots of numbers into a machine. Everyone works in nice offices and has nice homes with designer furniture. They have parties, and he ends up with a girlfriend who does
interior design.

He is always slightly puzzled and bumbling along, until he overhears a guy in the men's room talking about chocolate. He follows the guy home, eventually entering his apartment and discovering that he has a crack in the wall from which nice music and good smells are coming.

The film is full of bizarre scenes (many filmed in Iceland) and a harsh criticism of the Scandinavian social state that takes care of everything, and even if you cut off your finger or throw yourself in front of a train, the men in white suits show up, whisk you away, and in no time you are good as new.

Not much chance this one will make the normal film circuit, but definitely worth seeing.


Christmas Spa

Now that's the way to take the Christmas rush!

I don't have classes on Friday, so I spent yesterday doing a ton of shopping and getting the tree bought. I was exhausted, but today was well worth it - I spent the day at a local spa, floating by myself in the jacuzzi, enjoying empty saunas, having a good lunch. All while everyone else was rushing around, shopping and getting trees.

About 4pm lots of people arrived. I tried to continue sleeping, and then have another round of sauna, but the new arrivals were loud, speaking in languages I don't understand, and hogging the jacuzzi. Whatever I had a nice day!

Still got to get the presents bought on Friday wrapped, though....


Christmas Cards

I got some nice Christmas Cards from colleagues at other universities yesterday (and one from a Finnish University I swear I don't know anyone at, with an illegible signature). I went to display them on my bric-a-brac table, which currently holds such treasures as some Baltic shells, the stupid cloth flower I got in the Christmas gift exchange with handball last year, and the talking-stupid-Bush-doll I got from my brother a few years ago. I felt it needed a special place, so I have this table in front of a bulletin board where I pin funny postcards people send me.

I realized that the table was already full of Christmas cards. From last year. I never got around to ditching them.

I blew off a layer of dust (seems the cleaning people are scared of touching the button that makes George mouth off), removed the Xmas 2006 cards and put up the first Xmas 2007 ones.

Then I remembered that I had an envelope full of our school Christmas Cards that I had ordered on my desk. Unaddressed. I quickly made a list and got started. It turned out to be a major production. The ink on my inkpad for the return address stamp had dried out. I didn't have addresses handy. Many universities have horrible web sites, you need three clicks to find the address: on Prof. X's home page, it states that she is in building XYZ. The contact information for the department reveals the street address of the building, but no postal code. If I get lucky, I can find a link on the main home page of the school with that postal code.

I gave up yesterday and continued today. There were still a few cards left, so I started writing silly ones - one to a friend with a lame computer joke on it, one each to my two former students who are writing dissertations. Make their boss envious that they are getting Christmas cards already.

At home I don't even have a Christmas letter written, much less cards or envelopes. I did buy stamps at the post office, the other day, just in case. Maybe I'll send Easter cards this year....


Service of Lessons and Carols

We had a nice crowd at the Festival of Lessons and Carols this evening, about 100 people, counting the choir. As in the past few years, the Embassy Singers sang every other carol, and they seemed even better than last year. The pipe organ has also been repaired, so they had fitting musical accompaniment.

We have made a bilingual affair out of the service, which based on an Order of Service put together by Edward W. Benson, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, for Christmas Eve 1880 in Truro. Adaptations are used throughout the world, but it is especially liked in the UK.

We read the 9 lessons alternatively in German and English, and the carols are sung alternatively by the choir and the congregation. We include a German favorite carol, "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" and sing "Silent Night" alternating between German and English verses. We print all the texts, translating the iffy bits from older English texts into German, and including in the bulletin translations of all the lessons read.

Since this year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, the great Methodist founder, poet and hymn-writer, we sang both "O for a 1000 tongues to sing" (just 6 of the 18 verses, though) and his carol "Hark, the Hearald Angels Sing".

The lessons are:

  • Lesson 1: Genesis 3, vv 8-15, 17-19
  • Lesson 2: Genesis 22, vv 15-18
  • Lesson 3: Isaiah 9, vv 2, 6, 7
  • Lesson 4: Isaiah 11, vv 1-3a, 4a, 6-9
  • Lesson 5: Luke 1, vv 26-35, 38
  • Lesson 6: Luke 2, vv 1, 3-7
  • Lesson 7: Luke 2, vv 8-16
  • Lesson 8: Matthew 2, vv 1-12
  • Lesson 9: John 1, vv 1-14
It was such fun to sing all these carols in a large group, one is beginning to get into the Christmas spirit - now just have to get the shopping done....

The Wise Women

Ooooh, WiseBrother is putting on an opera called "The Wise Women" by Conrad Susa. This opera tells the story of Christ's nativity from the perspective of the wives of the Three Wise Men. They must, of course, also be wise women if they married such wise men :)

Sunday, January 6, 2008
7:00pm - 9:00pm
St. Philip Presbyterian Church
4807 San Felipe
Houston, TX

(On Wikipedia I find a reference to Thomas Woolston saying that if they [the Magi] had brought sugar, soap, and candles they would have acted like wise men. Indeed. Still, I'll take the one with the gold.)


None of your topics interest me

It's that time of year again, next-to-last semester students suddenly realize that the deadline for applying for their bachelor's thesis (a stupid thing invented in Germany as a "little" Diploma-Thesis which makes life difficult for everyone) is approaching fast.

I only advise a few people, as I want to advise them properly. And as a crotchety old professor I long ago decided to only advise students writing on topics that interest me.

Some people who did not attend my elective course on sub-field X suddenly discover that there is a lot of money to be made in X and really want to write their thesis there. I do not want to have to explain the details of tying their shoelaces in subfield X, however, so I usually refuse this request. I sometime relent, and then regret it immensely, as they just don't get far enough with their work when they don't understand the basics of the subfield.

I often have people write to me saying: "I want to do my thesis with you, but I do not like your topics. Please give me one that interests me." I get extremely irritated at this ego-centric view. Here they are, not even paying for the privilege of studying, and then making all sorts of demands on me.

I am rather a bitch to write for - I insist on weekly meetings and bringing something along to show me and to discuss. This usually means an all-nighter the night before the meeting, but it does seem to get results. I also rip what I see to shreds, being especially caustic about misspellings. We do have spelling checkers, you know.

I wish we could get rid of these theses. They don't get far in only 8 weeks worth of work, it is a job to read all the theses all handed in at the same time, and really difficult to then schedule the oral exams to accompany them. They should just get a Bachelor's degree for credits earned, and then we can concentrate on real work - Master's theses.

Happy Birthday Creative Commons!

I attended the Creative Commons 5th birthday party in Berlin this evening. One of our new students had distributed leaflets in the lab, and since I have been interested in free software and now open documents, I decided to drop by.

The student was rather shocked that I did actually attend - and knew some others attending. He tried saying that he thought it was great that one of his professors was interested in such modern stuff - I just smiled instead of telling him that I've been interested in this since before he was born.

I was surprised, however, at how very many projects there were, and that there are now 42 countries participating. Many countries are pouring real money in the project, paying people salaries to sort out the legal aspects and then making it popular.

Even the NDR, a German local TV station, has made some experimental films available under CC license (Press release, Download page).

There were lots of presents thrown out to the attendees, I didn't get one of the cool T-Shirts, but I did nab a CD with open music put out by the student union in Marburg. The cake was horribly sweet (or maybe it just didn't go well with the Club Mate I was drinking).

I left when the music started. It's not really my favorite kind of music, you can't speak with others for the noise, and old people have to get to bed at proper times.....


Women's Handball World Cup 2007

Insanely busy these past few weeks, but there is another handball World Cup on, this time the Women's.

Germany has made it's way to the semifinals, to be fought Saturday afternoon against Norway. That will be a tough game, and the way the German team is looking (losing balls, hitting the post, giving away stupid stuff) they don't have much of a chance.

But what the heck - Eurosport TV is even reporting over 800.000 viewers for the games, so with € signs lighting up their eyes I really hope that they start showing more handball on TV, period!

The view count for my blog has shot up these past few days, I finally got around to checking the log. Handball, everyone is reading my handball stuff, the men's World Cup at the beginning of the year. I have tons of hits from Romania - so to all the Romanian, and perhaps Norwegian fans: welcome!

Applying for a Professorship - Part 1

I am a member of so many search committees right now on account of being a woman and each committee needing at least 2 at our school. This means that I get to read lots and lots of applications for professorships for a German FH (University of Applied Sciences). And there are lots of, shall we say, iffy applications floating around.

I am going to start a series on this, maybe this will make my life easier.

Part 1: The application letter

A great idea is to check out the rules for the state in which the school is located. For example, we insist on 5 years work experience with 3 outside of university, experience in teaching, a degree (you would be surprised at the number of people without degrees applying for professorships!), and a proven research and publication record.

Don't make us hunt - list each of these on a separate page, perhaps making an overview. Do include information on your foreign experience and any curriculum building or gender-related projects you have done. Don't include the contents of every course you ever took in your life. It's all right to list a few hobbies, but don't go into detail on your piano teaching (unless you are applying for a professorship in piano teaching!).

Make sure your information is correct. I have seen everything from mistyped email addresses to people thinking they had a doctorate when all they had was a dottore from Italy (a bachelor's degree). Make sure the dates in your application match the ones on your letters of reference.

The address that you give us should be valid for the next few months. If you move, file a forwarding address with the post office and with us. Some not-so-amusing stories:

We gathered for a talk by a prospective candidate earlier this week. The committee was there, and about 10 students (although it was already evening). The candidate had been invited by regular mail 3 weeks earlier. He didn't show. We called around and discovered that he had been expecting us to invite him by email. So he didn't bother telling us that he had moved - he didn't receive the invitation. And now he is out of a chance at a professorship, there will be no second chance in this case.

A colleague told the story of a search committee in the same situation at the FH in X. All were assembled, but no candidate. They got a call that he was having trouble finding the school.
- Where are you? they asked.
- I'm at the train station.
- Well, hop on any tram you see going from left to right, we are just 4 stations down.
- There is no tram here.
- What station are you at exactly?
Turned out he was in Neu-X, a town with a similar name, but about 200 km away. Advice: check on a map where the school is located that you are applying to.
Spell-check your application. It gets tiring to see that people are not willing to re-read what they submit.

Do not send boxes and boxes of printed material unless we ask you to.

On the other hand, don't just send us a link to your web page and leave it at that. We don't have Internet in the room where we read the applications, and the applications are not allowed out of the room.

Since in Germany it is usual to include a picture, do have a serious one made. Vacation pictures are discouraged. Yes, it is interesting to know what a prospective colleague looks like in a bathing suit. But this will not get you on the short list, even if you are very good looking.

Avoid coffee stains on your materials.

Don't put all of your pages in separate plastic sleeves in it's own big folder. This does not fit in our filing system, and should you make the list, it is a pain in the backend to have to dig each of the pages out for filing in final paperwork.

Coming topics: How to survive the talk - What not to do when meeting with the committee - Why does it take so long for them to let me know what is happening. I will include additional topics on request - somehow I have 200 readers a day currently, but no one writes comments!



Just had a nice Lucia celebration at the Swedish Embassy this evening. The Swedish ambassador is such a great party-giver. She invited a Stockholm choir to Berlin, 20 singers and a director, to give some Lucia concerts. They sang lots of traditional Swedish Christmas songs, dressed in the Lucia garb with one of the sopranos crowned with burning candles (see the nice Carl Larsson picture on the Wikipedia).

Of course, we were in Germany, and burning candles + crowds could mean disaster so there were ambulances parked outside, police, guards, first aid guys, and buckets of water and fire blankets. Gotta be sure nothing goes wrong.

Nothing went wrong. They sang a capella and the acoustics in the Felleshus were quite amazing.

There was Swedish Christmas food - herring, smoked salmon, caviar, cheese, Swedish meatballs, ham, no smoked moose heart though. Had that once, don't need it again. And of course, there was glögg.

Her Excellency (who doesn't really go by that name, she is just Ruth) worked her way around the room, greeting everyone, making sure they had enough to eat and drink. Yes, thanks, all that was missing was some snow!


What time is it?

I lost my watch last week. I took it off when changing for handball and instead of putting it in my pocket, I think I put it over the little knob where you hang your clothes.

Anyway, I was talking away after training and then made some remarks about all the stuff the school kids leave at school, went off for a drink, went home - and couldn't find the watch.

No time the next day to find anything, so I spun through a hectic day using my mobile phone as a timepiece. The problem is, checking the time cannot be done surreptitiously that way.

I had to race across town to a trade show, and discovered that the eastern part of Berlin has almost no public clocks, the western part at least has the occasional "Normal time" clocks on street corners. At the trade show I could check the time on everyone's computers as they explained their stuff to me. But it was so irritating not to have one's own time.

I went to the school on Friday and looked through their lost and founds. They had loads of watches, but most of them were Mickey Mouse watches. Not exactly my style.

I've made it through a week now, although not a week with a major lecture, just with my Master's seminar. I am constantly checking out rooms for where the clock are, or the people in the rooms if they have watches I can read. I've asked Santa Claus to bring me a watch, but maybe if I make it until then I won't need one any more :)

Update: Found it - it was hiding in my glove in the inner jacket of my two-part coat. I have too many pockets.....


Blóðbönd - Thicker than Water

Ahhh, this is Berlin, where you can even see films in exotic foreign languages! There is a Nordic Film Club that shows a film every other week or so, and every now and then there is an Icelandic film on.

Tonight was Blóðbönd, (literally "blood bands", but the official English title is "Thicker than Water"), a film from 2006 by Árni Ásgeirsson that for some reason won some Norwegian film award and was nominated for a bunch of others.

What where the good things about the film?

  1. It was short.
  2. It was in Icelandic with subtitles, so after I bit I was back into understanding Icelandic, what little was actually said.
  3. They had a nice house.
The film is about an eye doctor, he and his wife are shortly to be parents for the second time, when he discovers that their first son cannot be his son. Drama ensues, which involves a lot of silent, morose stairs, lots of drinking, some vague notion of sex (he "gets even" with his receptionist) and a bit of hash. A pathetic guy having his mid-life crisis while his wife awaits the birth of her second child.

My impression was a failed attempt to recreate Bergman's Cries and Whispers, giving it an Icelandic touch. Not even the usual elements of Icelandic films (beautiful landscape; pissing, preferably in the snow; elves and magic) are here, just depressing, rainy Reykjavik. I also found the lighting very confusing, it not being clear what season this was and how many days passed. It seemed to go from fall to summer back to fall.

But anyway, it was in Icelandic after all!


No Second Chance, Second Life!

Was at a talk at the Swedish embassy here in Berlin last night in which the developers presented the "Second House of Sweden", the Swedish Embassy in Second Life. The presentation was nice and slick. They have a blog about building the place, of course.

The teachers of Scandinavian Studies who were sitting around me were groaning - guess we have to go look at this, more work. But we first enjoyed the good wine and the nice finger food and the conversation with all the people currently working in E-Learning in Sweden and Norway who were attending the pricy Online-Educa.

Today I fired up Second Life for a demonstration. It crashed my machine before I could log in. Okay, maybe I had too many things running in parallel, like Parallels, on my Mac. I restarted the machine and then Second Life. I started to get my avatar to move, but the place she was in had so many new things that need rendered, it was just soooo slow. I tried to use the search button, and my machine froze.....

Okay, third time's the charm. Restarted the machine, restarted SecondLife, this time the search button works. Now, what was it called? Typed in "Second House of Sweden" and got all sorts of entries having to with, um, Sweden, I suppose, on a long shot. These are not the places I want popping up when demonstrating this in class.

We scrolled down to Sweden and Swedish, all sorts of places, but not what we were looking for. But finally we say it and "teleported" ourselves out.

The Linné gardens are lovely, but we wanted some action and decided to head for the building. Now the gardens are nicely laid out with curving sidewalks. Ever try and walk a curve in Second Life? You can only go forward, back, left, right, and turn. Walking a curve is a bitch. We just walked through trees and stones - and eventually a glass wall as well, and we were finally there.

Two guys were speaking Swedish with an official guide. We headed off towards the pictures. We were at an awkward angle for seeing, however, and had a hard time manovering around to see the picture head on. We clicked on a picture and got a nice card explaining in English and Swedish what the picture was about and who made it (Anders Zorn). But there was only a teeny tiny picture to see, no details available, no large version. I would expect a link into the Wikipedia or the national gallery with a larger photo or some such.

Tried another picture, turned out to be advertising for a nice blog. The guy at the desk was free, so we walked up and asked him, if there was some way to get a larger picture. He didn't understand what pictures we were talking about. So we tried to explain, but mid-sentence Second Life crashed AGAIN, taking the machine down again.

We had wanted to ask the way to the Raoul Wallenberg room, but one's patience does not hold up forever. No Second Chance for the Second House of Sweden in Second Life. It does not seem to be ready for prime time yet.


The Sweater

I was visiting at a home for juvenile delinquents outside of Berlin this past weekend. The boys were giving short talks on what they planned on improving on in themselves for the next year. One boy noted that he wanted to complete schoon in order to go on to university and study political science.

As I was making my way to go speak with him I realized that he was wearing a sweater with the name "Thor Steinar" down one arm. I asked another youth if this was the right-wing guy in the group, and they said yes. This is a clothing label that used to use the runes Tiwaz and Sowilo joined together as their logo. They were taken to court, and first forbidden to use this logo because it is very similar to Third Reich symbols.

The company has since changed the logo and is now not forbidden, but it is still a favorite with the right-wing youth. And I was darned if I was going to give him advice on how to succeed in school.

I spoke with the headmistress and asked why they tolerated this? The area around Berlin, you must know, is quite right-wing. Oh well, she said, it's not forbidden is it? I suppose she avoids conflicts where she can.

I debated asking the guy point blank why he wears that, but of course I wouldn't get a proper answer. But should one just ignore provacations like this?

I am really unsure how to react to these people - but I suppose I have to sort this out, as there are getting to be more and more. A Jewish friend I had dinner with that evening said that she avoids travelling in the area around Berlin (Brandenburg), as she has often been called after in the streets that people like her used to be gassed...

Wehret den Anfängen, fight against the first steps, we are told. But I just do not know how to fight this.


Give One Get One

Now this is a great idea for collecting donations from geeks! Our inner children has been hankering to get our mitts on one of those XO-1 computers. They came up with the "Get One, Give One" campaign, a pure stroke of genius. If you donate 200$ to them so they can give an XO-1 computer to a child in need, you are allowed to purchase one for yourself at 199$. Plus tax, but what the heck, this is cheaper than an XBox, you do a good deed, and you are the only one on your block with this new toy.

I had gotten to play with one when SJ brought one with him to the CCC yearly conference. Everybody came to the Wikipedia stand, not to talk about the Wikipedia, but to play with the box.

Ordering was, um, strange. I had checked yesterday that it was fine to buy it from a foreign country if you had a shipping address in the US. My geek brother was more than willing :)

The call-center lady today seemed to be on her first day on the job. She had trouble reading the scripts. Her "Thank-you-for-calling" was not enthusiastic, but read slowly and haltingly in a non-inflected voice. Even though I said that I wanted to buy one, she slowly read to me the paragraphs on what the XO-1 is and what this special offer is. Yes, yes, yes, get on with it!

She took my shipping address sloooooowly, having problems understanding the words I was saying. "Newmarket" is "new" and "market", I had to spell it for her 3 times before she got it. As I was giving my credit card number she gave no feedback whatsoever as I paused between groups, normally they assent "yes" or "unha" to let you know that they are still there.

Spelling my e-mail address (even though it is identical to my name and then a German provider) was tricky. I wonder if I will get an email. Anyway, I got a confirmation number. It will take 2-4 weeks to deliver in the US and another 6 weeks or so to ship it to Europe. I am so impatient, but I will be the coolest kid on the block with my cool green XO-1!


The Killing Children

The other day the media in Germany ran large headlines on how the police in Cologne had - by means of all their fancy new Internet detection stuff and what not - avoided a Colombine-like massacre at a local school. It was noted that the purported killer committed suicide after being confronted by the police after they searched his room and found soft-air guns and a cross-bow.

It turned out, though, that while he had indeed been planning such a deed, it had been called off four weeks ago. But he hadn't pulled the YouTube announcement that he had made.

Fellow students had informed the principal, who had called him in for a talk. When this talk was "unsuccessful", the police were called. They investigated, searched his room, hauled him in for a talk. They forgot to inform his parents - he was only 17, and by law his parents need to be informed and have a right to attend such a hearing. He asked to go to the bathroom during the talk, crawled out the window, and threw himself under a streetcar.

The police first said that he had left calmly, that they didn't see him as being suicidal.

How should they have handled this? If they did nothing and he had caused a massacre, the press would have screamed at them. As it is, the police were apparently trying to use this as a nice example of why the police need access to all of our data to "protect" us. Protection like this we don't need.

We need to start listening to the children and youth who feel that life is treating them so bad that they have to die and take others with them. There is a song popular with young people (I will repeat neither band name nor title here) about just this - the song is so violent, I shuddered as I read it. There are many other, very violent songs that many young people like to listen to. It makes them feel powerful, at least for the length of the song.

After all, what is their lot? Crowded schools with oldish teachers who are tired; youth centers closed; churches not offering anything for them; parents either at work, trying to make ends meet, or drunk in the living room. Their lives consist of TV and Internet, a very tainted reality. They want fun, they want money for all the cool things and clothes they see advertised. There are no jobs for them, there is nothing to do. They are just bored, as I have noted before.

What scares me is the ease with which many obtain weapons and drugs. How can we put a stop to this? How can we get them to see that killing is not a game, how can we give them a future?

One thing is for sure - even more surveillance of Internet "sources" is not the answer.


Dogs in Restaurants

This is the second time in a week that I have been confronted with dogs in a restaurant. Germans prefer dogs to kids, and they take them everywhere (often forgetting bags for those little presents the dogs leave on the sidewalks...).

I'm allergic to dogs, if I'm stressed out I get an asthma attack which is not fun. Thursday I was seated at a dog-free restaurant when a family with dog sat down next to us. The dog wanted to be friendly. I didn't. Above my personal problems I find it just plain unhygienic to have dogs in places where they serve food.

Today I was in my favorite lunch place which has been dog-free everytime I have been there since it opened. They encourage moms and dads with kids by having a playroom in the back with tables there, so parents can eat out and keep their kids out of everyone's hair. And the food is "bio", tastes good.

In the middle of my soup a large fellow came in with a great big black dog. I noted that I found that inconsiderate to bring a dog into a restaurant. "It's not against the law!" the guy exclaimed. I answered that I am allergic to dogs, and he began to make fun of me. I put my iPod back on, ate up quickly, and managed to get paid and be outside just as the coughing started. Although, maybe I should have just went and coughed in his salad.

Germany has laws against so many things, why are dogs allowed in restaurants?


MediaMarkt: Ich bin doch nicht blöd!

I finally got around to buying a printer today. I had been to the Apple Store a few weeks ago when they had a Printer Guy there to help you decide on what kind of a printer you need, so I had a company and a number sorted out (HP Laser Jet 3055 All-In-One - B/W, Ethernet, AIO, talks with Macs, relatively cheap price per page, ...).

We have lots of stores around selling technical equipment, so I started at the one closest to home.

The first one would order it for me and quoted me a price in writing. An irritating young man tried to tell me that I needed the printer they had on sale that day, I tried to be polite in my "Buzz off!", although he was playing the Little-Woman-probably-doesn't-know-what-a-printer-does game, making me want to swat him.

The second one wouldn't even order it.

The third one, Media Markt, had one in stock and on the floor.

I immediately went into guard position, as there were other guys walking around, interested in printers. This baby was mine, although there was no price posted. Took a while for me to flag down a salesguy, Media Markt is packed like a can of sardines on a Saturday. He quoted me the same price as store one orally, so I said: Yup, that's great, I'll take it.

It is a big box, but sales guy help me lug it to the elevator. On the ground floor, however, teeming with bargain-hunting humanity, I had quite a time getting it maneuvered to the cash register, fishing some DVD jewel cases from a bin on the way there. I stood in line with the box, glad to finally be rid of the load for a while.

As the cashier rang it up, I handed her my credit card and was planning my get-away by taxi. I remember vaguely thinking - strange, that's not the price, but I was exhausted and wanted to get home. I punched in my code and lugged the box outside. I wrestled it across the street, flagged down a taxi, squeezed it into the back seat, and made it home.

I sacked out on the sofa for a bit to recuperate, then I got out the receipt to put it in my tax stuff. I stared at the bill - they had charged me 140 Euros MORE than the price that was quoted to me! My exclamation was the advertising slogan of the company: Ich bin doch nicht blöd, I'm not stupid!

I called the store and was put on hold for a while. It was Saturday. The lady checked the database, yes, that was the price. But I could bring the printer back. No, I do not want to lug it back. I want to pay the price quoted to me. Well, I could come down and speak to a manager.

I hopped on a bus and made my way back to the store. Now, what did that guy look like exactly? I went around a bit before I actually found him. Turned out, he's a "free-lance salesman" (euphemism for "slave labor without benefits"). And he was shaking in his boots, he's supposed to check the prices if he's not sure. He asked me if I had a quote from another company, that would help a lot. Luckily, I have the written quote from the first store to prove that this is the real price, just 20 Euros under the list price from HP themselves.

He is unsure of the procedure, and needs to locate some special kind of person for me. They have different kinds of vests and name tags on, it is some sort of secret code. But he does manage to locate the floor manager - without name tag or vest - for me. We wait until he is finished sorting out other problems, and then salesguy explains my problems.

It took quite some paperwork, but they did refund me the 140 Euros. And hope that I don't feel bad about the store. We'll see. I'll get my next spindle of blank DVDs from the store that wrote me that offer - if I can avoid Junior. And make a mental note to always check the prices at the cash register.


Reunited Germany comes of age

It was 18 years ago, in the night from Nov. 9 to Nov. 10, 1989, that the Berlin Wall was opened. I remember hearing this Friday morning on my car radio that the Wall had come down. I remember shaking my head, not wanting to believe that this had actually happened.

Home from work in the late afternoon I turned on the TV while bouncing a screaming infant around. The pictures were so tremendous, that WiseMan and WiseWoman put our ancient baby carriage in our very old car and headed off the Lübeck, just an hour's drive and on the border between East and West Germany.

We walked through downtown Lübeck during the evening, the atmosphere was amazing. These strange East German cars were driving around, people were giving them chocolate and bananas and flowers. Everyone was smiling at strangers - something Germans seldom do - and in quite an euphoric state.

When we were given a banana I realized that in our ancient baby carriage we probably looked like East Germans. Whatever. It was such a great feeling to be part of all of this.

The feeling didn't last. The troubles of the reunification were soon on us, not the least of which is the special tax we pay in addition to our normal taxes for the "Aufbau-Ost", reconstruction of the East. I think that now that Germany has come of age, this tax should be rescinded.

Can you still tell the difference between East and West? I can. I live in the West and work in the East. There are still many subtle differences in mentality in the older generations. With my students - most of whom were not yet of school age when the wall came down - I usually cannot tell anymore if they were born in the East or West. Most live in the trendier parts of Berlin, which are in the former Eastern part of Berlin.

Germany is reunified. The voices that called for the reconstruction of the Wall - 10 meters higher - have dimmed. We are one nation now, for better or for worse. Germany has grown up.


Nordic Film Festival 2007

Köld Slóð (Cold Trail)

Luckily, my headache from the day before had disappeared and was not the flu, so I drove 4 hours to Lübeck to the Nordic Film Festival and came just in time to see this Icelandic thriller. There are very few actual murders in Iceland, so the current crop of writers and filmmakers are making ones up to suit them.

The film starts in Reykjavik with your typical reporter, getting up out of the bed of some woman, and then heading off to his horrible job of wrecking people's lives by writing garbage about them for one of the daily rags. He has a pretty young colleague who needles him a lot.

There's been a death at a hydroelectric power station, but it's an accident. Just the same, it makes the front page, and his mother sees it, breaking down and telling him that this guy was his father. So off he goes to the station, having somehow obtained the job replacing his father. The station is located somewhere remote, cold and snowy where you can only get around with a snow scooter.

There are lots of sinister people there, some illegal stuff, some attempts on his life, and he - of course - falls in love with the only woman approximately his age there. The filmography is great - many scenes that cause you to hold your breath because you think something bad is about to happen. Then the director, Björn Br. Björnsson, takes a mad twist with us and we head off, careening in another direction.

Gorgeous scenery, quite thrilling, ghosts, and the first Icelandic film in ages that has not had the obligatory pissing-in-the-snow scene. Looks like Icelandic film-making is growing up.

Tatt av kvinnen (Gone With the Woman)

The director of the "Elling" films, Petter Næss, has produced another amusing film about a guy who just does not quite fit into the real world - but he attracts beautiful and interesting women just the same. He ends up following Marianne around, falling in love with another woman in Paris, but not daring to really do something about it until Marianne has figuratively walked all over him in her Army boots.

I've seen worse films, and there are amusing scenes. The painting (which was painted for the film) of a thin person trying to catch a large ball with a small net gives a motto that is very serious. But on the whole, Elling was better.

Den man älskar (To Love Someone)

Åke Sandgren has made a very gripping film on the topic of violence against women. He portrays the problem without being able to offer any answers to questions such as why men hit women, why women let themselves be hit, and why they return to men who have beaten them to within an inch of their lives. Intertwined is the story of a man approaching 50 who thought he loved the woman he rescued from an abusive relationship, only to find himself beginning to be violent, but in a different way.

Direktøren for det hele (Boss of it all)

I don't like Lars von Trier, the director of this film and enfant terrible of Danish film-making. But Fridrik Thor Fridriksson was playing a nasty Icelandic company president, and I had heard that there was Icelandic mixed into the film, so I got in line for this one. The tickets for the accredited guests were gone just a few people in front of me, although I thought I was there on time. I decided to wait - usually a few people get in. The couple in front of me decided to see something else, so it was clear to me: I will squeeze in if there is one seat left. I got in, and it was worth it!

This time, von Trier has done away with the camera people. He sets up multiple, stationary cameras, and lets a computer randomly choose the scenes. Of course, he does a lot of work in the editing, but mostly the scenes are focused and properly lit, they just don't pan.

Oh right, the story. Well, this guy, Ravn (the name means "fox" in Danish), who likes to be liked, but is actually a shark with contracts, owns a company. Except he plays just another worker, and blames all of the nasty decisions on the "Boss of it All". He wants to sell to an Icelander, but he insists on meeting this "Boss of it All", so Ravn hires an actor to play the role.

It's a comedy, so there are lots of funny complications and twists and turns. The actor, Kristoffer, does a great job playing at being an actor playing a director. He is at times so stupid, at times so wise, it is fun to watch him. Fridrik Thor should stick to directing films, he can't act his way out of a paper bag. He just sat there, trying to look angry, and cussed up a storm. His translator to Danish did a fantastic job, reacting to Kristoffer's craziness with raised eyebrows or opened eyes, as necessary. He softened up the cussing on the way to Danish, and the English subtitles restricted themselves to just "sh*t" and "f*ck", which is a shame, as Icelandic is so rich in swear words.

This is definitely a must-see film, but it probably won't make it to Germany, as dubbing it in German would ruin it.

Den nya Människan (The new "man", mistranslation for "human")

Sweden is considered to be a nice, good, egalitarian welfare state. it was neutral during the Second World War, meaning that it did not openly choose sides. But as the writer of the film, Kjell Sundstedt, noted after the film, the Nazis came to Sweden to see how they were solving their poverty problem by sterilizing young girls from underprivileged homes. The sterilization program continued into the 50s, the government has now been forced to offer the over 50.000 women thus sterilized compensation which many never picked up because what had happened to them was so horrible, they did not want to open up the old wounds. Sundstedt, who is blind, is currently writing a book about the sterilization program. A number of his own aunts were castrated in this way.

This is the story of Gertrud (the actress, Julia Högberg, is somehow not credited in IMDB). Her father, a poor widower with 7 kids, agrees to let the state take his oldest girl to a home where she will be cared for and have regular meals. She does not want to go, but is taken. It is a horrible institution, demanding obedience of the girls and making them work from morning to night. She tries to escape, but is caught and returned.

Pregnant by the groundskeeper (who denies being the father), she devises a way to escape - and exact a little revenge on the horrible Dr. Berg, who is running the institution. The director, Klaus Härö, notes that he looked for an actor that looks like himself, as he wanted to understand how Dr. Berg could be convinced that this was a good thing he was doing. The actor, Tobias Aspelin, portrays a "Herrenmensch" who would be at home in any Nazi movie.

The film was not well received in Sweden - what a surprise, as it puts scratches on the shiny clean image that Sweden likes to project of itself. Sundstedt noted that in Södertalje they are talking about sterilizing young immigrant women, who seem to have lots of children that drain the Swedish welfare system. All the more reason to try and get this dark chapter of Swedish history out into the open and into the limelight of discussion.

Miehen työ (A Man's Work)

Since I had already seen the films I thought were interesting, it was a toss-up what to see Saturday evening. I was actually on my way to see the Danish film "Homesick" when I saw that there were tickets still available to a Finnish film. Okay, Finnish films are not high on my list of favorite films, but this one had looked mildly interesting.

So in I went, I had another nice wide seat in the back, and we settled in. Finnish people in films don't use facial expressiveness much, they are very stony-faced, and don't say much. I know a Finnish woman who lives in Sweden, she is bright and cheerful and bubbly and her face is full of expression. Maybe that's why she left.

Anyway. Juha lost his job in the factory and can't bring himself to tell his wife. So he still gets up at 5am and pretends to go to work. Actually, he just kills time all day. He drinks a lot of coffee with his taxi-driver pal, Olli. We learn that Olli is also the birthfather of Juha's son. But they are good pals. Juha finally puts up signs that he will do handyman's work.

His first job is in the home of a woman who wants him for completely different services. He performs as asked, and gets paid a lot - tax-free. He debates with Olli, and then turns into a professional call-boy. But since he is still trying to keep this secret from his wife, he has to make up lots of stories.

Many of his customers just want to talk, they want to be seen by a man, have a man take time for them, to massage them. Even though he hears from these women what they want, he is unable to do this with his wife, who just irritates him. The director and writer, Aleksi Salmenperä, brings it to a rather improbable close.

Some folks walked out during the film, I waited until the credits started. It was better than watching TV, and the story was a good idea, but somehow the spark did not ignite.

Pornostjerne? (Porn Star?)

This is a documentary about the young Norwegian porn king I will not name here to keep him from added advertising. The director, John Sullivan, followed him around for quite a long time, documenting his tactics of filming drunken high school graduates and selling the films, as well as organizing wet-T-Shirt contests and other stuff.

Oh, the girls all do it because they want to be stars, we here. But we also hear his girlfriend, who now sees that this is not the way to fame. This is just the way for the guy to have lots of girls around and to have lots of sex while he makes money off them while cheating everyone else around him.

The documentary is very disturbing - why do young people fall for this sleaze? Why do they do all these things drunken in front of the camera? In the discussion - which was very intensive and very long - we explored this being the rebellion of young people against their liberal parents. Porn as a "normal" drug like alcohol and cigarettes.

I found it very sad that the young women felt they needed to act like this, that the guys goaded them on, and that there does not seem to be a way to stop this guy. He's a poster child for the anti-alcohol lobby in Norway for sure. A scary documentation that needs to be shown to all Norwegian students in the last year of school so they understand what this guy is up to when he show up at their school-leaving parties.


Arnaldur Indriðason

It's the Berlin Mystery Story Week, and the guest country this year is Iceland. They are having Icelandic authors reading in the back rooms of bars all over Berlin.

I had my calendar marked in red for this evening, as Arnaldur Indriðason, the author of the book I am currently reading (in Icelandic!) was to be reading, with bad-guy actor Claude-Oliver Rudolph reading the German.

The place was packed - all sold out half an hour before starting time, so they started early, something very uncommon for anything Icelandic who tend to be very nonchalant about things like times. I was there in time to get a seat in the front row (lucky me, Germans are shy) with a friend who also is a fan whom I met coming in the door.

Arnaldur began by reading a few pages in Icelandic as fast as his tongue could carry him. I was only able to pick out a few words here and there, but the melody of Icelandic was there.

Then Rudolph began reading the German. Rudolph is a guy pushing a big, wide, sunglasses-wearing-in-the-dark ego in front of him. He seems to love this bad-boy demeanor. But oh boy, does he ever have a good voice! It is a pleasure to listen to him, except that he mispronounces the Icelandic names - constantly! All Icelandic words are stressed on the first syllable, not the second. We can forgive him not being able to hack the nd and ð and ll and what-not. But he could have at least practiced the stress.

It was an interesting story, I need to read more (which is, of course, the point of these things, get folks to buy the books).

During question time it was much easier to understand his Icelandic. The woman from the embassy unfortunately did not know his works and had to struggle with the translations. But we did get a nice feeling for his character - he seems to be a very funny guy, a bit crazy perhaps, but you have to be to write all these murder mysteries about a city that doesn't actually have murders.

I queued up with the rest of them to get my book signed afterwards. I don't normally do this, but I am slaving away at deciphering the Icelandic, so I decided to get this stamp of approval on it. It's only the paperback edition (and pretty dog-eared by now), but since I asked in Icelandic I got it addressed to me "with best greetings".

Got two pages read through without using a dictionary this evening!!


Bought a Barbie Princess

One of my princesses had her fifth birthday today! We had a nice video conference by Skype with her and the the other two princesses bouncing around on the bed while Princess Papa tried to hold the camera on the laptop stable. They're going to have a party with pizza and movies and were all excited.

Since WiseWoman is not all that wise about remembering birthdays (I need a calendar application that bongs me on the head a week in advance!), there was no present from me there. I asked the Birthday Princess what she would like to have. She screamed into the microphone: A Barbie!!

A Barbie. That paragon of bad body image for girls. The horrible gender stereotypes this figure perpetuates. I would prefer to get her a drill and a hard-hat or a train set. But it's her birthday after all. And I had a lot of Barbies I loved to play with and look at me, I turned out all right, didn't I?
(Ahhh, that red satin ball gown with the fur trim I got one Christmas, that was just incredible!).

So I surfed over to Amazon to get a Barbie. Shudder. There are princess Barbies. Prince Kens. Barbie can even have a job now: Art teacher, baby photographer or pet sitter. Wow. I slogged through pages and pages of expensive clothes. There was a nice western garb for Ken, but I remember they don't fit Barbie very well.

There were sets: Barbie in the bedroom, Barbie in the kitchen, Barbie's hot tub, Barbie's convertible. At least the first two had an "African-American" Barbie option. She has black hair (don't find her very dark).

I gave up on trying to find a Barbie-as-archeologist or Barbie-as-chemist set (although there was a vintage, 1984 Barbie-graduates-from-vet-school with a dog for about 65$). I got a princess. A battery-operated one that sings an annoying song and has peacock-feathers on a cape that open and shut and fall out. Her dress is nice, though.

And then I got a nice book about animal tails to go along with it.


They are just bored

We read daily in the papers about all the horrible things teenagers do every day: smoke and drink themselves to death, take drugs, beat up people, steal, deface buildings and subway trains, and other amusements. The older ones kill themselves in their cars by driving too fast while under the influence.

Why is this? Sure, every generation bitches about the youth of today. That old Greek Hesiod is supposed to have said "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint."

Okay. But I have recently spent time observing what young people have to amuse themselves other than the above listed things. Note: school does not count.

Nothing. There is just nothing to do. They are bored.

There are no fields in town that need harvested. No tractors they can prove themselves by driving around without other vehicles in the area. No real work to do, no adults taking them seriously. Nothing interesting to look at, to experience, to enjoy, to talk with your pals about - unless you have lots of money to rent a go-cart for the afternoon. Even the swimming pools - should they still be opened and not closed because of disrepair - are very expensive to attend. Even with money, we walked around a part of town Sunday with a teenager, looking for something to do. We ended up eating in a restaurant, that was all we could find.

Sure, there are a few, a very few, youth centers in town. But there are no empty lots around. I spent many hours as a child in the woods or on an empty lot playing all sorts of games. I borrowed books from the library, was lucky that my family could afford music lessons, attended clubs at school and activities at my church. There was always a choice of things to do, I was never bored (okay, that's probably why I am a hyperactive person always doing 7 things at once, but that's another story).

They can't even learn to cook - who cooks anymore? We just zap in the microwave.

So they watch TV, listen to garbage on the radio, hang out, drink, and do stupid stuff with their buddies. I think we need to come up with some things to do with and for teenagers very soon. They will be running the country in a very few years.....


Random bitching at students

Recent notes from the Time-To-Grow-Up department:

  • Today was the fourth lecture of the term. Student A had already generously let me know that he would be unable to attend my lectures as he was working as a tourist guide. Today he came up to me to announce that he did not have a lab partner and could I assign him someone. I bitched: That's your problem to solve.
  • My tutor reported that attendance at the tutorials (offered so that people with questions on the material can prepare together) has been extremely low, i.e. one showed up last week. Student B came up during the break (as I was having some lunch) to ask me questions about the upcoming lab. "That's what the tutorial is for, " I said. "Oh, but there is no more tutorial before the lab," he replied. "You should have started preparing early and been there last week."
  • Student C comes to me before the lecture as I am madly connecting cables and pressing buttons and trying to sort out the mess of electronic equipment I sometimes use in class. He needs my signature. Well, my office hours are Thursday. Oh, but he has to work Thursday. I reply that I have to work right now. He doesn't get it. "I just need your signature." "No." "But I need your signature!!" [Louder, into the microphone] "Not now. Come to office hours." He storms out.
There will be more to come.


Back to the 50's

There's a lot of this going around - 50th birthday parties. I suppose it happens a lot when you yourself turn 50. Anyway, a friend was celebrating out in the countryside with a 50's party for lots of friends, family and neighbors.

We were asked to bring 50's food - I chose a horrible-sounding meatloaf with a mustard merangue coating that actually tasted delicious. And a quick look through my closet showed the wisdom of my extensive second-hand shop purchases - there was a lovely blouse and jacked combination in zebra, which paired with my favorite black skirt, my grandmother's hat, my mother's watch and some assorted rhinestone jewelery fit beautifully. Don't know if I am brave enough to post a pic, though.

We enjoyed the food and the typical German fruit punches and danced to lots of 50s music. I sat with two computer scientist friends, each of us in a fancy dress, and discovered we all had nail polish on. Normally, we run around in jeans and without makeup - who has time for that? I dared the other two (who had chosen red, I had purple on, matching my sash) to wear their nail polish to work tomorrow. One said "No way!", the other was considering it. Me? I'm to lazy to scratch it off. Wonder what the response will be :)


The Solution: Grubby T-Shirts

I hit upon a great solution to the being-assumed-a-secretary problem by chance today. And no, it does not involve wearing Gucci suits. It is much cheaper.

I wear strange, rather grubby, T-Shirts.

See, the new dean is most comfortable in a white T-Shirt. And I have lab on Wednesdays. The lab is freezing cold, so wearing a skirt would involve risking a bladder infection. And since I usually end up crawling under tables to sort out electrical troubles, both panty hose and a skirt would pose problems. So for lab I usually have a T-Shirt, my vest-with-a-thousand-pockets, and a sweater to keep me warm. And since I was meeting with the dean after lab, I figured a T-Shirt would be spot on.

Today was a handball day (the Füchse did look like they grew an inch over the past weeks, but they still only scored 5 goals in the first half. Heck, my team can usually manage 5 goals a half....). So I decided to wear a really strange, spooky handball T-Shirt that you have to think about for a second before you get what it says. A colleague (female) noted at lunch that she would not be caught dead in such gear...

But I spent all afternoon in the dean's office and no one thought I was a secretary. Students rather took a step back in my presence and were deferential. So I guess if you are an oldish person in an outrageous T-Shirt, you are so weird that you must be important. And not a secretary.

Lucky me, I have a big pile of strange T-Shirts in my closet. And now an excuse to buy more :)


Pickled in Brine

Ahhhh, lovely. Spent the day at the Spreewald Therme near Cottbus. Their ads use lots of grey-haired people, but there were a fair amount of younger ones there.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, about 15 degrees C outside, and there is a salt-water pool outside there. The place has lots of different pickling solutions, each pool is marked with temperature and brine content. They had some cute stuff like two pickle barrels (the area is famous for pickles), one with a steam bath of brine and one with a brine fog - both just lovely for the airpipes.

The sauna area had heated tiles in a very comfortable, reclining position in the caldarium, I actually dozed off. The vitamin bar had an open fireplace crackling (a real one, not a gas flame) that made for a very cozy atmosphere.

Two friends gave me the day together for my birthday. We had a grand time, although I am sure people were rather disconcerted to hear these "old ladies" talking about agile programming and other computer stuff. We had a great discussion on the way home about the "Bundestrojaner", the intention of the government to secretly search private PCs to find "terrorists". Although we did not agree on whether it was okay for the government to do this or not, we did agree that we did not think it was technically possible at this time - I mean, come on, we don't even have browsers that work well on all possible platforms, how are they going to get a virus to do that?

Anyway, I am now quite pickled (and I do not mean drunk!) from all that salt. I shall sleep well tonight!


Excuse me!

Today I was officially named vice dean, even if I've been filling in the position unofficially for some weeks and officially since last Monday. Today was the official reception after we all got our fine pieces of paper telling us who we are.

So I wore a skirt today instead of the scruffy pants and striped shirt with a vest I normally like to wear. I did have the vest on, though, as it puts an additional 5 pockets at my disposal.

The strange guy who is always making weird comments noted that I looked geared for battle, he thought my fanny pack looked like an ammunition belt and my vest like part of battle dress. I guess it is green, but I didn't have any (visible) knives or guns on me....

Was then in the dean's office pouring over some nasty paperwork, and when that was done I left the office in some disgust over lazy colleagues who make extra work for everyone. I just closed the door behind me when a broad-shouldered guy and a gal approached me. He said: "Here's someone who can help" and launched into a complicated story about the girl. It took some minutes for me to realize that he thought I was a secretary and wanted me to change exercise sections for the girl. I put on my raised-eyebrow face and suggested they contact the secretary in charge of sorting out messes (who is a man!) who just happened to be coming out the door. Puzzled looks all around.

At lunch I told the story to a colleague, noting that I even had a skirt on and a fancy necklace. The colleague suggested I get a Gucci or Armani suit. It that what it takes for people to assume that (older) women they meet are professors and not secretaries? At least more than half of the new professors, who were also at the reception, are women - three cheers for this!


The Baby Foxes

What a painful handball game. It looked like the A-youth playing the national team, the game between the Berlin Foxes and the Rhein-Neckar Lions this evening in Berlin.

The Lions bought up lots of national players who are considered "old". Didn't see much of that tonight, Andrej Klimovets weighs in at 105 kilograms, but flies through the air, grabbing balls and depositing them in some far corner of the net. Christian Schwarzer may be the elder statesman of the troupe, but is always just where he needs to be. And Oliver Roggisch, with a good 90 kilos on his almost 2 meter tall frame, just towers above the little Fox players. They can't throw over him, around him, or underneath him. He is impermeable.

The game finished somewhere around 17-31, the "baby" Foxes only managed 4 (four) goals during the first half. That must be a record of some sort, a sad one.

They let the hero of the World Cup, Henning Fritz, take a few 7m throws. The crowd cheered him when he took the floor. The first time the Foxes Konny Wilczynsiki met him he was very flustered and missed (something he rarely does, he is in the top 10 of the league for goals). Fritz went up to him and rubbed his hair, just like you would do to a 15-year-old who just missed this chance. Konny did get even, though, getting the rest of his 7m past Fritz and Szmal.

Oh well, still a lot of games to play, can't give up hope yet!



What a wonderful launch party this evening! Directmedia has started a new company, zeno.org, that is in the process of putting lots of full-text, digitized texts online. They have been publishing books on CD-ROM/DVD for years - they take old books which are now in the public domain, scan them in, correct the text, wave their magic index wand over the mass, and make them searchable.

Now they are dumping everything online, and including a German-language copy of the Wikipedia in the search. This needs a little tuning - the search only gives a maximum of 400 hits, and for many terms, there are more than that on the Wikipedia. They need to have a button for "exclude Wikipedia". But there are some fun links in a "see also" box, in which a program tries to decide what could interest someone looking at the current keyword.

They are hoping to make money on the advertising - I wish them luck, it is really great to have all of these old texts online, things like old dictionaries and encyclopedias, works of literature and philosophy, some historical stuff and a lot of pictures. Interesting stuff here for sure.

The party included lots of Wikipedians, so it was just like our monthly pub night, but with good Kreuzberger food: Curry Wurst from Curry 36, Döner, vegetarian stuff, and some really, really good champagne. They were planning on having a garden party, but it has been pouring all day AND it is marathon in Berlin, so the caterer could not get through on time and we had to wait for the food. But it was really, really worth the wait.

I wish them luck - if this succeds everyone wins - more free content available, and they earn enough to pay for the servers and the scanning. If you want to sponsor a book that you feel is missing, they are willing to do it for you for a fee.

Web-based Research

Just finished up a small research program that I spent the last half of a year on with the help of a student research assistant. We published our results on the web in a manner that is what I was thinking I wanted to have done over at the Wikiversity, before it got taken over by a hoard of people determine to completely mirror the (broken) university system on the Internet.

I wanted to have a place for scholarship. A place where persons come together to think - write - create - discuss, or as I sometimes put it, for teaching - learning - discusing - creating - thinking. What has happened is that some zealous person or group of persons has gone around and "created" schools and departments for every conceivable area - except that most are stubs with nothing in them. The "original research" page leads in with a "quote" attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Except that this is one of those typical "A said B" things, but no one knows the exact source. I find this also listed as a Chinese saying, and I am unaware of Ben Franklin having been Chinese...

The whole point of the Internet is that we don't have to be in departments, which is what you do when you group things and can only group one thing in one place. On the Internet you can do research that transcends departmentalization. You can link to it from many places. You can publish your data and let others derive alternative conclusions from it, and these can be published there as well.

And this is exactly what we did. We had started out using a Wiki as the basis for our work, on account of me and my assistant normally not occupying the same space-time area. We used the school's wikifarm, which is unfortunately Atlassian Confluence. This is a system which lets me happily write for an hour and then, upon attempting to store the page, announces that it does not feel well and just drops the page (and no, the back button does not work, as they initialize all fields on entry to the page). No, it is not on my list of favorite tools. It would also store pages with umlauts in the name, but refuse to retrieve them. The syntax was primitive and its tendency to really screw up tables just exasperated us to the point that we quit using it.

Since there were only two of us, we just Skyped, sending files back and forth, and set up a WordPress server, which we also used for publishing the findings. WordPress has it's own quirks and needs some interface icing to be really good for this, but in principle it is a great system and did not interfere too much with our work (except for creating tables, which is an exercise in frustration, we ended up making them in Dreamweaver and doing copy & paste on the code).

The research itself ended up being recorded on paper. We had this schema we set up and printed out, but we ended up using the backs of the pages as we discovered that what we wanted to record wouldn't work, but there was lots of other interesting stuff around. We just produced a big pile of paper, and then transcribed the lot. Luckily, my assistant did most of the writing, his handwriting is 10 times better than mine is.

Having it on paper was really good, because we could sort and resort the mess on the floor, until it made sense.

We put together a report, wrote a page on our test methodology and our analysis criteria, linked up all the tests in a big table (including links to the test cases and anything else around), and then we informed the companies we had been analyzing where their report was, and we offered to include a rejoinder, if they cared to write one.

Four actually did, with one going to the trouble of re-analyzing our data for their product (not with the others, though) in order to show that they would come in second. Of course, they would need to have looked at the others and probably given them extra points, too. Whatever - they wrote a four-page rejoinder, which I published and linked from my page.

Of course, understanding the data is not trivial. This is a very complex area. But I have a good feeling that we have our findings, our data, and room for alternate findings, all in the same place. It's not a wiki - so there are no trolls around defacing it. They send me emails with the usual complaints of me "wasting" taxpayer's money on this research. If I'm in a good mood I point them to the constitution of Germany, which ensures freedom of research and of teaching. Of course, if I don't have money I can't do much research. But this was relatively cheap research. And now we can sit down and start to write traditional papers about what we do, linking to the online research collection, which can be updated as I get more data in, I can even include more tests if I so desire!

So I am kind of lukewarm on the topic of Wiki-based research. I would have liked to have had a system that would let us record our results smoothly and reorder them as necessary until we had our findings. And then I need an archive. We piled all the bits of paper on top of each other, printed out the online stuff (I am paranoid) and made a lot of CD backups. A lot of this stuff should not be online, we took a ton of screenshots, only using a few. I like to keep them, but that would just be clutter if I posted them all, and part of research is about inducing order into chaos.

Just some thoughts, maybe this will turn into a paper sometime. Now, gotta get some papers graded.....


Jo Nesbø

The Norwegian author and musician Jo Nesbø is in town, he is on a book tour because a new translation has just appeared in German. There was a good crowd that showed up in Babylon to hear him read and speak, and to hear Jochen Krol, who is apparently a famous German actor.

Or at least he was introduced as such: "Jochen Krol needs no introduction!". Oops, yes he does. I have no idea who he is or what he has played. Just looked him up on the Wikipedia. There is a guy there called Joachim Król who looks a lot like the guy who was on the stage, so I guess its him. Ah, okay, he's the detective in the Donna Leon films.

Anyway, he has a great voice. It was so great to close you eyes and listen to them read. Jo read a few pages in Norwegian. I realized that I read Norwegian with a Swedish accent, I picked out some words here and there, but not the sentences. Joachim did three longish pieces, and then left us hanging on a cliff, meaning people had to go out and buy the book. I have so much to read, I figure I'll wait for paperback.

Nesbø is a great storyteller. Let's see if I can recall a few:

  • The dog - in this book there is a made-up race of dog that is described in detail. People keep hounding a Norwegian dog expert for more information on this race of dog and to find out where they can be purchases. So the expert calls, and Nesbø tells him that it is just a made -up race. The expert is angry at him.
  • His Russian translator calls:
    - Jo, I will be in Norway, can I come to visit you? (They are speaking English).
    - Sure, why are you coming to Norway?
    - Well, I am taking a Norwegian course.
    - Um, aren't you my translator into Russian?
    - Yes, I translate with a dictionary. But it is from 1957 and actually a Swedish dictionary. So I want to learn some modern Norwegian!
  • One of his past books involves a plot to kidnap the Crown Prince. Someone in the audience asks if the court ever responded to the book. No, Nesbø says, but he met the Prime Minister when they were waiting to go on a talk show together. The Prime Minister said that he really liked that book, even though it got him into a bit of a spot. He was in an audience with the king and was making small talk. The king asked him what he was currently reading, and he answered that he was reading this great crime story. "What's it about?" asks the king. The prime minister realizes that he is about to put his foot in his mouth and hurriedly changes the subject, he is, after all, a seasoned politician.


Jörn Donner on Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work

The Swedish Embassy was showing Jörn Donner's Om liv och arbete (On Life and Work) that was made in 1998 for the German/French TV station ARTE - with Donner himself in attendance to answer questions afterwards.

I love having the guys there to ask them questions about the production. The film has Donner asking Bergman questions and Bergman explaining and telling stories and being mischievous and being sad and thoughtful and mostly not being his normal ego-centric, overbearing self. Bergman comes across as a charming old gentleman and Donner as a much younger intellectual asking tough questions of the old guy. The film gives the illusion of this being an afternoon's chat.

Actually it was filmed over a 3-day period in the studio in Stockholm, said the shockingly old and thin man who did, actually, bear a resemblance to Donner. The IMDB shows him to be 74, just 15 years younger than Bergman. The cultural attaché for Sweden asked some questions, then the mike was opened - and of course, no one dared to ask, so I (as always) asked the question that had been building in my mind: what exactly was their relationship? Donner danced around this a bit, but settled on "good friend", they knew each other for 50 years. But he was closer to Michaelango Antonioni, who died the same day as Bergman.

And that was the questions, so we went to get some nice wine served upstairs. Donner did come up, so I went over to listen in some more and maybe get in another question or too. He spoke about producing "Fanny & Alexander" and about his book "Report from Berlin" which was published in 1958 and is apparently to be reprint next year, 50 years later, with a new chapter from him. And about some guys sitting on film material he wants to use and this and that and that other stuff and all about him and I thought: Who is he to be calling Bergman egocentric? He is just as much himself. The sparks must have flown when they had a disagreement!

An enjoyable evening, perhaps only marred by the embassy people forgetting to turn on the subtitles and in the ensuing commotion (I had no problem with the Swedish, but apparently many others did) they had to turn off the film, find the menu for the subtitles, and restart the film. Why don't people do a rehearsal for things like this?


Rush Hour III

I wouldn't normally go to movies like Rush Hour III, but this was the birthday wish for a young woman who enjoyed it tremendously. I found it marginally better than Die Hard 4.0, and actually rather like the Gísli Saga with one of our heros taking out 2-4 others at a time. And since these are modern times, there ware women with guns and kung fu capabilities, not to mention that they swing a mean set of knives.

There is no plot to speak of, other than "find X" and "kill as many Y as possible", and apparently no need for a continuity editor. It jumps around, things just happen, the crowd roars (apparently some jokes they remember from I and II), and Jackie Chan seems to be getting old. Happens to the best of us.

In between gunfight (at least the bullets go out for some of them), car chases, car crashes, knife-throwing contests, lots of kung fu (apparently Jackie Chan, who does his own stunts, hurt himself performing one of them) there are actually a few funny lines. Oh yeah, and a happy end. Who would have thought that?


Are phishers really this stupid? I usually just delete them, but now that I have a PayPal account (had to set it up in order to reload my pre-paid mobile phone while travelling), I was curious. At least it was in German, or some semblance thereof (phishing mail in blue):

First, a copy of the image, inlined directly from PayPal to make it right - and if you click on the image, you actually land at paypal.com:


Then we merrily mix languages:

Unauthorized Zugang zu deinem PayPal Konto!

We beachtete vor kurzem mehr Versuche, zu deinem PayPal account anzumelden von einem fremden IP address.

If, das du dein Konto beim Reisen, die ungewöhnlichen LOGON-Versuche zugänglich machtest, kann von dir eingeleitet worden sein. Wenn du der rightfull Inhaber des Kontos bist, Paypal jedoch bitte so bald wie möglich besuchen, um deine Identität zu überprüfen:

The HTML code is hilarious, as this seems to have been an automated translation, and some of the HTML code has been translated as well:

Schriftkegelfamilie: verdana, arial, Helvetica, GROTESK;
class= " punktiertes "
align=" Mitte "
align=" verließ "

Took me a while to think what that last one was - align=left :)

Now we have the kicker (including a copy&paste error):

zu überprüfen
Hier klicken, um dein account

Really tricky - in the anchor tag we have:

title=" https://paypal.com/us/secure_verify?ID=pp468 ">
And the fun continues (there were links embedded in this which I have removed, all going to the Bulgarian address):

We fragen, daß du erlaubst, daß mindestens 72 Stunden, damit der Fall nachgeforscht werden kann und wir uns stark empfehlen, dein Konto in dieser Zeit zu überprüfen.

Thank du für das Verwenden von PayPal!

The PayPal Team

Please antworten nicht auf dieses email. Dieser Briefkasten wird nicht überwacht und du empfängst nicht eine Antwort. Für Unterstützung, logon zu deinem PayPal Konto und wählen die Hilfe Verbindung, die in der Rechteecke jedes möglichen PayPal page.

To gelegen ist, empfangen email Mitteilungen im normalen Text anstelle von HTML, aktualisieren deine Präferenzen here.
PayPal email Identifikation PP468

Who takes stuff like this seriously? Of course, our spam detector passed this on as a relatively small chance of being spam, despite the links with URLs embedden in the title. Scary.

Back in Berlin

It was so wonderful being away from Berlin for 6 weeks! I even forgot my telephone number and bank account number, not having used either for that length of time.

It is such a culture shock being back in this enormous, loud, dirty, and very complex city. Now, how did I normally get from A to B? There are new constructions sites and train work schedules that are of course not posted as that was reported in the papers when they started work. Lots of surprises every day.

Riding the subway / elevated trains was especially jarring. People are so loud and use their mobile phones constantly to discuss banalities. Or they conduct their real-life, face-to-face relationship dramas out in public, including screaming matches and sobbing.

On the other hand, there is a lot going on here. Your choices out in the country are severely limited, so reading is indeed a great option. I've been easing in, just took in a handball game on Wednesday. For this weekend the options just floored me that I took a cop out and invited a young friend who turned 20 yesterday out - she should pick what she wants to do and I'll just accompany her and foot the bill. Let's just hope it is not a hip-hop concert....


Við sáumst, Ísland!

The course is over, back to "civilization" from the wonderful seclusion of the wild north. The locals had been telling us gruesome tales of planes not being able to land because of wind/cloud/hail/snow. A short overview showed that missing the flight Saturday evening would entail missing the flight to Copenhagen, so I was a bit anxious.

But all was fine, they said, not "much" wind, not "much" clouds. And let's go pick some blueberries in the berjamó. In the pouring rain? Oh no, next fjord over the weather is fine.

It actually was. We turned off the "main road" (euphemism for "at least it has tar on it") and tooled down a pot-holed mud track (known as a secondary road, that's why they all drive 4-wheel drives). We stopped at a deserted farm house.

We walked up the path alongside of a river that actually had a name, Small Weather River. Why it is called that, no idea. The red bits at the top are the blueberry bushes, perfectly ripe for the picking. And the sheep are too stupid to like blueberries.

We climbed and we climbed (I was quite out of breath), and suddenly we were in a landscape of krækiber and bláber. Big, fat, sweet blueberries. We picked and picked in the drizzle, was actually not that bad, as it washed the berries as you picked. I eventually lucked on to a patch where you could just grab into the bushes and come up with a handful of berries. Stuffing these all in your mouth is just wonderful - one bite and the cool sweetness fills your tongue.

When the baskets were filled we went to feast on blueberries. Just blueberries, brown sugar, and cream. I think I had four bowls.... I took a box of them with me on the plane for a friend in Reykjavik who was born up here.

I started getting nervous about the flight - it is at 6.20 pm, and it was already 5.30. No problem, they say. We'll leave around 5.45. And indeed - since the airport was just around the corner from the tunnel and you have the right of way that way through the tunnel, were did get there about 5.55.

Now imagine showing up that late for a flight anywhere else. You probably don't fly. But not here. You check in by giving your first name, dump your bags, and get a little slip with a bar code on it. The suitcases get put on a conveyor belt that slips them outside - and you can watch them get loaded up. No one asked to see my passport. Seems if you made it up here, you must be all right, so you can leave again.

We leave right on time, punch through the clouds, and 35 minutes later we land in Reykjavik. What a large place it has become! And so flat, no mountains! And so noisy - I got used to sleeping with the window open (so as not to suffocate, the heat can be turned up but not down, so your regulate by opening a window. There is so much noise here through the open window of the bedroom.

Gotta get up at 3.30 to catch the 4.30 bus to Keflavik. Ugh. Even though it goes late, we still get to the airport in time. The lines are long, but proceed efficiently. Iceland Express does a great job. And no one complains about that extra 5 kg of luggage, the plane is only half full.

You get one last chance to spend your Icelandic funny money, I got some "Black Death" at the Duty-Free Shop and some breakfast. Last chance for skýr! This plane, too, leaves right on time, but there are 3 hours of sitting behind some Icelanders who are partying on their way to Copenhagen...

I got into my book, I am reading Dáuða Rósir by Arnaldur Indridason ("Dead Roses"), a mystery story. It is hard going, but it is actually a good story, and I am making some headway guessing what words mean. My little dictionary does not have translations for words and phrases like óforbetranlegur eiturlyfjafíkill, nauðgun, samfarir, marbletti víða um líkamann, vændiskonur (no male ending??), þjófnaði and melludólgurinn. Better not translate them, or this blog will be labelled NSFW.

Landing in Copenhagen went fine, suddenly everyone speaks with potatoes in their mouths. Danish sounds really horrible! Suitcases take forever to come (one gets spoiled in Iceland), then the train to Sweden is late and crowded. The Swedish conductor on the train speaks a slow, broad Skanska, uff. After the machine gun speed of Icelandic I feel like she is going to fall asleep in mid sentence!

A friend gives a lift to the cabin, I try to converse with her, but now the words keep popping out in Icelandic! Speaking German, English, Icelandic, Danish and Swedish during one day is very tiring. How nice it is to start a fire in the fireplace and contemplate the rain.... I want to go back to the West Fjords, they were just awesome. What a shame I have to go back to work!