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!