I need a clue stick!

In one of the blogs I occasionally read there was a joking discussion about needing "clue sticks" to beat some sense into some colleagues who still don't "get it" when it comes to professional women.

I want one. Now. But there are none on eBay...

During a staff meeting this week we were instituting a new search committee. Nasty woman that I am, I requested that the guy in charge of the search committee make an active effort to recruit women (they currenty have no women out of about 16) and to make a special effort to see the achievements of the few women who do apply. I was actually rather nice about it, the colleague is relatively new and has not made any kind of nasty, public comments since he joined us.

His colleague from the same sub-field sure made up for that by sniggering "Oh, I have no trouble seeing women, I really like looking for them! Har har har." At least none of the other guys dared laugh. I looked daggers at the colleague, but he does not understand this (and he always calls me by the wrong last name because it is "too difficult" to remember my full last name, which is a double one. He always just calls me "Wise", and I always reply that Ms. Wise is another colleague, I am Dr. WiseWoman. Boring.).

Is there no way to get these Neanderthals into the 21st century? To just lay off the harharhar jokes?


You only get service until you pay

I do a project with a group of students every semester in which we pretend to be a company and produce a product, with all the problems associated. This tends to be a great learning experience, as Real Life (tm) rears its ugly head on more than one occasion.

The most difficult part of getting 5-6 people to work together is, of course, communication. (I like the book "Herding Cats" on the topic of getting programmers to communicate). So I experiment with different collaborations software every semester.

The student group suggested we be "Web 2.0" (since we are trying to develop a Web 2.0 product) and use basecamp for collaboration. The first steps were encouraging with the free product, and since we have a tiny bit of money we can spend for the projects, we decided to go for the first pay-for-function level.

First problem: Payment only works by credit card, and that has to be in the name of the person owning the project. No problem, the student who set it up could reassign me to be the owner.

Second problem: The company wants a monthly fee of 12$. We would like to have 3 months = 36$. I have to fill out a purchase order AND a reimbursement of funds form for each individual bill (and someone in the finance department has to organize the payment each time to reimburse me), so I wanted to purchase 3 months in advance. You wouldn't think they would make it difficult for you to part with your money, would you?

Well, we could find nothing, so we wrote an email to the company. Kudos - they answered inside of 2 hours, pointing us to the FAQ. There it said: click on the menu and then you get a lump sum button. Well, we looked all over, but no lump sum button. So we purchased 12$ for one month (with a reminder to cancel the subscription!!), and lo and behold, the lump sum button appeared!

The wording was kind of strange, but it sounded like: your fees are taken from this sum instead of your account. Unfortunately, there are only increments of 50 to be purchased (how silly, the credit card company does not care what the numbers it deducts are).

We were sure it would go wrong, but we are in the business of testing systems like this as well, makes for great learning experiences. We pressed the button, this time it reminded us that nothing is refundable. And bang: now we hat 12$ AND 50$ in our account :(

We wrote again, saying that we felt this was unfair, we wanted to have 3 months and pay 36$, we have ended up having to pay 62$ just because their application does not conform to what was promised. We got an answer right away: fees are not refundable.

We wrote again that there was no way for us to get what was promised in the FAQ. And now, no more answers. No entry on our account information. Deafening silence.

Okay, we'll use it. But we won't repeat the experience. And we'll tell all our friends about the bad experience we had with pay-per-function systems. I'll stick with completely open source in the future, I think.


The Tragedy at Virginia Tech

I was shocked and saddened last night to hear of yet another shooting spree in the gun-crazy USA. This time, again, it hit a school, killing over 30 people who were in the process of getting themselves an indication.

As we speculate about the motives of the killer, the blogs and discussion boards are alive with discussion about gun control - senseless, idiotic discussions. For example, a group at another Virginia school are trying to get the gun ban at their school lifted - because they want to be armed to "protect" themselves against the crazies.

There is arguing for the second amendment to the US constitution that gives US citizens the right to bear arms from all points on the political continuum - different arguments, same story: Get a gun so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Occasionally a voice of reason: sure, if one of the students yesterday had had a gun, then maybe only 15 instead of over 30 would have died. But how many would then die in drunken fraternity club incidents? Michael Moore has shown that in Canada, just across from Detroit, banning guns has dramatically dropped the death rate and the crime rate.

So why isn't this a no-brainer and guns get banned? I suppose having a Texan in the White House is no help, Texans seem to believe that even children should be armed. Get a life, America, ban guns. Now. Collect 'em all up, crush them, and make cars out of them or whatever.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the murdered students and teachers.


Final Four 2007: The Game

Oooh, this is going to have to be in installments. I went to the Final Four without my laptop and feel I have material for at least 5 blog posts, we'll see if I get past one....

Good news to start off with: THW Kiel is the Final Four Pokal Champion 2007 - for the fourth time since this competition first started! And my nerves have calmed down and my voice is slowly returning to its normal pitch. After three nerve-wracking and exciting games, I am as tired as if I had played a game myself. (No, I was not let into the showers to photograph the guys, this is a link to the picture on the THW home page!)

Saturday was the semi-finals day. SG Kronau-Östringen (soon to be know as the much more pronouncable Rhein-Neckar Löwen) gave the hosts HSV a good run for their money - and ended up winning the game. They squeaked by HSV, the reigning champions, 29:28, and just shocked the crowd in the arena - how could this middle-of-the-league upstart beat the HSV machine?? Well, they did, by sheer will-power and determination and some really, really good handball.

THW and SG Flensburg-Handewitt then had a go at each other - one of about 3 or 4 they will have in the next few weeks. THW started off just wiping the floor with Flensburg, and went into half-time 7 goals ahead. The Flensburg trainer instilled a fire in the breasts of his team, and they fought their way up to undecided. THW was finally shocked into action - Karabatic threw goals left and right, and they there was some problem with the timekeeping system, so they had to revert to the analog backup system! Flensburg was unhappy with one goal given that had crossed the line of the goal, knocking the goalie on his back, he retaliated by hitting the ball out of the cage with his head - but it being across the line counts, it doesn't have to hit the ground. When the timekeepers said the game was over, it was 34:33 for THW - and I had practically lost my voice....

So it was the Lions against the Zebras today, and the Lions started off with a roar - they got off 5 (five!) goals before THW finally scored there first one, and at one point were leading by 6 (six!) goals. But the THW machine finally came to life in the second half. They were down 4 at half time, and by 15 minutes left into the game had managed to tie up the game. The THW fans just went screaming wild mad (and I, of course, joined in), and they pressed ahead, now one goal ahead, now two.

There were 7-meter penalties and 2-minute penalties galore, but THW even got in a goal with two men out on penalties, it was really glorious to watch! As the last two minutes started with THW up two goals you could see the steam disappear from the Lions. They were exhausted, and there was no way they could get any more goals, and THW took it home 33:31. Karabatic (who was voted most valuable player) had something like 12 goals in this game and 13 in Saturdays game - the moment that man get within 9 meters of the goal with a ball in his hands, he shoots - and usually gets it in.

For some of the players like Zeitz and Klein, it was the second title this year: first world champion, now DHB Pokal-Champion, and there are two more titles to win: the Champions League Cup and the major league (1. Bundesliga). THW is poised to bring home the last two as well and to have a triple crown - I wish them luck! Karabatic (Nr. 22 in the picture from Handballwoche above), who plays for France and was so bitterly disappointed during the world cup, was so happy to have won this title, his victory scream is really something!


The Sugarland Express

Saw an old DVD with the usual suspects last night, The Sugarland Express from 1974. It was the first "theatrical feature film" by Stephen Spielberg (begging the question as to whether he made some non-theatrical feature films or some theatrical non-feature films or some theatrical feature non-films before).

The main character is Goldie Hawn, whom I best remember as a regular on the Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. She plays a very childlike, very loud, selfish, talkative, blonde American woman who gets her husband out of a mimimum-security jail so that he can help her kidnap their child back, who was taken from her by the welfare system.

The movie is based on a true story, as they kidnapped a police man and involved more than 100 police car units chasing them across the state on the way to Sugar Land, where their son is with foster parents. The husband pays for this with his life, getting killed by Texan sharp-shooters as punishment for his crimes, without benefit of judge or jury.

The movie does not seem dated at all, except perhaps for the police radio system and the absence of mobile phones and computers. It brings back memories like collecting Green Stamps like my Mom used to do, pouring over that Green Stamp catalogue and dreaming of the stuff we could get if we only had 5 more books filled with the stamps (think "HappyDigits" or "PayBack" or such today, only unified, as many companies participated).

And in the context of the current "War on Terrorism" it is very thought provoking. For the police these two are criminals who are committing a felony. For the people who greet them along the way they are heros, fighting for their kid, taken from them by a mean-old state system. The kidnapped cop understands that these are just children in grown-up bodies, that they are really only trying to get their son back. He tries to explain this to his boss, who does seem to understand, but is under pressure to "do something", which in Texas apparently means calling in sharpshooters from the Texas Rangers. Kill first, ask questions later.

I was glad that we had turned on the subtitles in German for the DVD - although I spent many painful, teenage years growing up in Georgia, the Southern Drawl and the vocabulary in Texas are quite something, and I could often only understand what had been said by reading the German and translating back. I had to then explain to the rest of the gang things like why they kept saying "doggone".


You must speak so that I can hear you

I have ranted about Germany's problem with service-oriented thinking before. Had another experience of the strange kind this weekend.

The teenager wanted to eat out at McDonald's. I can think of better places to eat, but it's Easter, let him choose. The place was loud - a birthday gaggle of children and all sorts of machinery producing hamburgers and fries. We all stood around trying to place our complicated order.

The youth behind the cash register remarked pointedly at one point: "You must speak so that I can hear you, otherwise I cannot complete your order!" I was taken aback, but we quite obediently raised our voices, leaning towards him in case he was perhaps deaf.

What happened to "Excuse me, I didn't catch that last order?"


Welt am Draht, the 13th Floor and Second Life

Saw a triple-header last night with some friends - both parts of Welt am Draht, a 1973 made-for-TV science fiction film by the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder based on the novel Simulacron Three by Daniel F. Galouye and the remake in 1999 of the same novel produced by Roland Emmerich and directed by Josef Rusnak, called The Thirteenth Floor.

Since I was just reading a review of the state of things in Second Life in the c't, (Goldesel Second Life?, 07/07, p. 94ff) and had just re-installed Second Life in order to check things out, I was struck by the parallels. Galouye tells the story of what Linden Labs would like Second Life to be - a parallel universe in which we can manipulate "units" who do not know that they are units in a higher level.

I don't think we will ever get to that position - or are we currently ourselves units in some higher level, unaware that we are not making our decisions ourselves, but are being directed from above? But the questions raised by Galouye and illustrated by Fassbinder and Rusnak are valid - what is reality? Why are we researching into virtual realities? A quote from Welt am Draht: There will always be questions, so there will always be research.

The Fassbinder version is extremely long, slow, painful - but the music lets us know exactly when something strange happens. The camera work, playing with mirrors, is superb. And the memories of the interior decorations, the clothes, and the horrible hairstyles men wore during the 70s makes this a wonderful film.

The Thirteenth Floor goes into a lot more detail on déjà vu and was so disconcerting for me because I always knew exactly what was coming next. I don't remember ever seeing this movie - maybe I saw it on an airplane to the States? I cannot recall, but it is so vividly etched in my mind, perhaps I was acting in it on a higher level and it got streamed down into my reality?

Second Life, btw, is still as boring as the first times I went in. Jerky graphics. Unresponsive system. Ads everywhere. Stupid idiots soliciting you. And without money, nothing fun to do. Luckily, there are plenty of other games around.