WiseMan has been pestering me to read Jeffery Deaver for a while, but there are sooooooo many books around here need reading, and I just never started one of his.
WiseMan gave me "The Blue Nowhere" for Christmas and made me look inside. Hmm, chapter numbers in binary. Computer glossary at the front. I started in a few pages.......
Wow. A hacker's mystery/spy story. And the computer terminology is not only explained, but also used correctly. And as the author notes in the afterword - we don't think there is a program out there like this, yet. But there is no reason why not.
The story races like a scared rabbit, jumping this way and that way, making your think it goes like this or like that and when you think you know what's happening, you get dumped on your ear and have to re-sort what's going on. Everything that happens is completely logical - within the bizarre structures that Deaver builds. The social engineering stunts are so many you need to take notes to make sure you know who is who (maybe).
Another book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just had to get it finished.
WiseMan has been pestering me to read Jeffery Deaver for a while, but there are sooooooo many books around here need reading, and I just never started one of his.
I started this book over Christmas when I wasn't feeling well enough to do anything more than sit with a cup of tea and read. Camilla Läckberg's Tyskungen (The German Child) is quite a page turner about a Swedish mother and writer, Erica, being curious about her own mother's past. She reads her diaries and wonders why her mother had some sort of German medal in her belongings.
Erica starts to inquire - and people start getting killed in quiet little Fjällbacka. The book winds stories of life in Sweden and Norway during the Second World War in between strands of today - Erica, her policeman-husband currently on papa time, the murders.
I kept reading through 3 days of high fever, and then stayed up until 2 am the first night without a fever to finish it off. I hope it gets translated to English and German soon.
I've been debating whether to blog the latest outbreak of Stu Dent or not. But I have to get it out of my system, so here it goes.
Last exercise session of the year I was planning on doing my work Christmas Cards. Okay, I'm out late, but it was an easy exercise and I didn't expect them to need much help.
After introducing the exercise Stu comes up for a consultation. I have office hours where this can be done in private, but they are at 8.30 in the morning and Stu is not among the early risers. S/he wanted to protest - I took off so many points on that last exercise, and s/he worked soooooo long on it.
I explained that the points are for successfully completing and documenting exercises, not a function of hours worked. Stu hands in reports that are wildly chaotic and written in incomplete, misspelled sentences. Stu often hands in the exercises late, or in the wrong area of Moodle, or in the wrong format because s/he couldn't figure out how to get a pdf produced. Stu is nominally in the fourth semester and repeating Computing 2.
Stu pouted. But this was so much work! And I always take so many points off. I fire up Moodle and pull up a student report (Moodle is a blessing - all of Stu's activity and my comments on one page). Out of 15 lecture summaries Stu has handed in exactly 0. I inquired, politely, twice as to why nothing is being handed in? This counts for 20% of the final grade! Well, Stu was sick and (long string of excuses). I state that I just do not care for excuses, but work done.
"Don't get excited!" Stu interjects. Hmm. "You really hurt my feelings with your comments, I'm human, you know". Now, I admit that I really must pull myself together when correcting Stu's work, as it is often so bizarrely wrong. But I am always polite. I asked Stu for an example exercise in which I had caused hurt feelings.
Stu suggested one, and I pulled that one up. I had written "your solution is completely and utterly wrong". Yes, I said, this is a statement of fact. "But I worked so hard on it!" Stu exclaims. It was a method to determine if a number is a prime number or not. It is a trivial exercise, to be found in all books on computing and a million times online. There were 4 errors in 5 lines of code - 2 not serious and 2 fatal. A variable was declared and not used, and the testing did not stop at the square root of n. That was just cosmetics. But the test for divisible was the wrong way around! Instead of n%i Stu had written i%n, which was never true! And even if it had been true, the Boolean guard was set exactly wrong. This code could never have been tested, as it never returns a correct answer, not even for 2.
Stu kept this up for over half an hour. The guys in the front row were trying hard to hide their mirth - no one likes Stu, who complains constantly and just doesn't get most of what class is about. No one will work with Stu - I often make loners try, but they do this exactly once. I finally got Stu to sit down and get started on the next exercise, and then went around pointedly speaking with all of the other groups. Didn't get my Christmas cards written, but had some great conversations with people.
Stu is in grave danger of failing, and wanted more points. No luck, Stu. Try effort and not excuses. Or maybe you could just switch majors to something like horticulture, although you have to be able to organize there, too.
So, Christmastime - despite a horrible cold I developed the moment I started out on vacation. WiseKid is with us in Sweden - at 16 going on 17 in under a month that is not a thing to be taken for granted. When I mentioned that we were driving up on the 19th he consented to go along, with a bored teenager expression, before I could finish my sentence.
He has been extremely particular about celebrating Christmas exactly right. He reminded me to buy a tree. He reminded me to get it up. He even consented to having Mom wear her stupid Mrs. Christmas braids while doing so and listening to Christmas carols on the DVD. We comprimised on the "Rock Christmas" DVD. He has made sure that I get all the right foods, although I am so tired right now that surely someone else can figure out how to make Christmas sweeties. The stuff is all in the fridge and the cupboard.
We will be having the family traditional dinners: fish and potatoes Christmas Eve, tacos Christmas Day. We're kind of strange.
The house is in a bit of disarray, as I decided the bedroom needed painted and that would be a great job for WiseKid to do to ward off boredom. WiseMan and I got all the stuff out of the room, but WiseKid didn't get up until 1pm, despite a number of attempts on my part to raise him. Since the sun sets at about 3.30 pm, he got it painted, but not the edging done before it got dark. So it will have to wait until tomorrow.
WiseKid went with me to Lund yesterday and we got new carpets. Very useful thing to have around the house, a guy who can lug carpets to the car and from the car to the house. We'll see how good we are at laying carpet (and how good WiseWoman was at measuring the rooms) tomorrow.
Oooh, had a real page-turner these past few days. Actually took the train yesterday so I could finish it up. Robert Ludlum, The Ambler Warning. A spy-thriller, with lots of fun scenes in which the main character (who we believe is Harrison Ambler, but he is rather having a massive identity crisis) evades "security". There is also a zero-knowledge proof involved, but only named and vaguely defined, not exactly given. But still!
The only nagging thing is that Ludlum died in 2001, the book - apparently penned by a ghostwriter hired by the heirs of Ludlum on the basis of some papers left lying around - was published in 2005. But whatever. I wasn't reading for deep meaning, I was reading for fun.
After quite a number of German companies have discovered that important data (such as customer names and bank accounts, which is enough to obtain money using a false Lastschrift), it has happened again. The LBB, which issues all sorts of credit cards for other organizations, "lost" a copy of two files, one with credit card numbers and one with secret PINs. The files found their way, anonymously, to the offices of the "Frankfurter Rundschau" newspaper.
The LBB has been rushing around assuring everyone that nothing bad has happened with the numbers, yet. But that is not the point. What are these files doing, unencrypted, on their way from the bank to the company that does the grunt work on them? And why are there not procedures for making sure that no unauthorized copies are floating around? This is not blog data. It can be used to milk money from people's accounts.
When will the banks begin to take stuff like this seriously?
For diverse reasons, the traditional Thanksgiving-Dinner-in-Germany didn't happen this year. And good friends didn't get their St.-Martin's-Day-Goose cooked, either. Since we gave her - an English teacher - a Better Home's and Garden's Cookbook for her birthday, we decided to do a bird today.
We actually couldn't find a smallish bird, so we are "making do" with 12 pounds. Lots of leftovers coming up! We are cooking at their place, as they have two ovens, and I've been collecting up my stuff to take with me while making the pumpkin pies this morning. Collecting up turkey stuff is hard, as I only use it once a year and it gets pushed to the back of the drawers (yuck, they need cleaning).
Anyway, I normally cook with Better Home's and Garden's - it's a cookbook I was given as a wedding present, it is old, torn, spotted - i.e. well-used. I started to cook with it when I moved to Germany, and discovered that many of my Grandmother's good stuff was in here. So for many, many years cooking involved getting out the BH&G and getting started (even though I own a good many other cookbooks).
But today - as often in the past - after looking at the BH&G I went online. Googled a bit. Clicked away the stupid collections of advertising posing as recipes. And found a good idea here, a nice addition here. And I ended up making a blended recipe, sort of as if I had called 3 friends to ask them how *they* made thus-and-such, and then I put together my own synthesis out of that.
The Cranberry Relish I made a few days ago was delicious (cranberries, navel oranges, walnuts - turned out I had candied ones, so I dropped some of the sugar, raisins soaked in rum). Let's see how the pies turn out.
I suppose I now have a reason for going out to get a computer for the kitchen.
I've been giving a course on giving scientific talks in English this semester, mostly to my media and computing students, but others were allowed to register. I have an industrial engineer, a textile engineer and a museologist in the course. The industrial engineer had kind of ignored the textile engineer all semester (she was a woman, and that was just clothing).
Today they had 30 minutes to prepare and give a 5 minute talk without using Powerpoint, and she chose to explain how weaving worked. She did a great job of drawing a 3D loom on the board, I helped her look up all these crazy words like warp and weave and twill and heddle and shuttle to explain the parts.
When giving feedback he was quite in awe - he actually suggested that she could change her study program to industrial engineering if she was so good at drawing a machine in 3D and explaining it like that. I just smiled, 'cause I think someone realized today that textile engineering is just as much a real engineering discipline as all the others.
Our program moved into temporary quarters at the new campus this semester and we have been watching the construction site closely. They ripped out the lovely Japanese garden and are putting in a stone terrace...
Anyway, the only way out of our building is through the courtyard. There is another door, but it is in one of the labs. This means everyone coming in and out of the building would have to tramp through the lab. Not to speak of the dirt they truck in, but I imagine this would be like teaching at the main train stations. At least there would not be PA announcements every few minutes.
The building department had asked us if they could do this in September. We said flat out "NO!" and suggested that they organize something so that we can enter the building during the semester. Like postpone this work until February.
Yesterday I wanted to get to the building, on account of having class there. But there was a fence in my way. I just grabbed and pushed it - and got yelled at by some workman. I should go around. Sure. I went around, but could not get to the building.
So I got on the phone and started to complain. How are we to teach in the middle of the semester when we can't set foot in the building? Was anyone informed of this? Why can't we be given notice so we can plan for alternatives?
This morning the guy in charge of overseeing the construction was there. He normally works in another location. I don't comprehend how you can oversee a construction site by telepathy. He needs to be on location, every day, and talk with everyone. And think ahead, with a goal of keeping the university running.
He walked around with me and said: we have to open this emergency door. I tried to explain why it would not work, and he answered in his normal, insolent manner, just shrugging it off. There are lots of lecture rooms available.
I blew my stack. You cannot conduct a LAB that needs MACHINES in a lecture hall! And the lecture halls are booked out for certain time slots, so we have to have lectures in our tiny seminar room. He needs to help figure out how we can keep teaching during the construction. "Oh," he says. "There are lots of electrical cables here." YES. We don't have wireless electricity yet. I stormed out and went to call our administrative assistant and have him sort something out.
I collected up my students, found a warm corner with some electricity, and we worked on our laptops. Got an email from the VP secretary for me to call. I went to my office and called, thinking that he was going to help us. Noooo, he wanted to tell me to not scream at the guy responsible for construction. I managed not to scream at the VP, but told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to get something done and to tell this guy to not be so damn insolent.
We agreed to have the construction stop in front of the door, have the fence put back, and close up Friday and Monday, giving us some time to organize something. But as we worked I watched the digger dig its way towards the building. Just before noon - when folks were storming from the lectures to the labs, they dug out the last way to enter the building, cutting the cable for the security system in the process.
One colleague moved his 4 hour class to a lab that is open for the next 2 hours. One colleague did move to a lecture hall because half his students had laptops. But in 2 hours the next group would show up, and all hell would ensue.
I called the VP again, incensed. He agreed to come down and have a look. He did, and just shrugged - there is nothing we can do now, we'll have to open up the emergency exit in the lab and have everyone truck through.
So they managed to get what they wanted, thoroughly disrupting our last two weeks of intensive instruction before Christmas. And we get to make do again. How on earth will the massive move next year go, if so much chaos ensues for such a small thing. I asked the VP that, and he answered: Oh, the construction will be done by then.
He really does not understand that we have to PLAN so that things work right, not just let things happen and then react.
It has been suggested that I change my name to Cassandra. I'm always right (well, usually), but no one believes me.
Yesterday I had *two* instances of something I had said previously turning out to be true, and no one believing me.
Case 1: We were hiring a new professor and I was on the committee. We are a teaching school and had a nice guy who is a strong researcher apply. He gave a good lecture, but I was very concerned that he would not be happy here. With our teaching load, research is not easy to do. And we don't have the
slaves grad students to do the grunt work. I predicted that he would be gone within 3 years to a research-oriented school. He started April 1 and announced yesterday that he had a good offer from a research-oriented school. 8 months << 3 years.
Case 2: At faculty board meeting last month we had a ruckus about money for attending industrial fairs. The school has a tiny pot of money for this, and they have said now that each faculty needs to approve the applications so that they get some of the money - the rest needs to be given by the faculty. When I heard one guy ask where his application was, I realized there was a leak in the system. We only had one application pending, but someone else had applied on time. How many more were in the pipeline? We could go broke with this scheme. I wanted the motion tabled. What happened? There were 3 additional applications, and the faculty got socked with a bill for 6000 €. Look, guys, I told you so, but everyone wanted to get home and didn't want to discuss this and now we are out a nice sum of money. Sigh.
Wonder who the Apollo was that I told to brush off?
The memories of Germany in the 70s are currently being refreshed at a very rapid rate. The Baader-Meinhof film was released, the terrorist Christian Klar is being released from prison in January after serving 26 years of 9 "life-long" sentences, and the TV-movie Mogadischu premiered on TV this evening, followed by a talk show including the co-pilot of the "Landshut" plane, one of the hostages, one of the GSG-9 men who freed the hostages and killed the hijackers, a politician and a journalist from the time.
The hijackers had kidnapped a Lufthansa plane, attempting to free the RAF prisoners in Stammheim. After 5 grueling days - and the murder of the pilot - the GSG-9 managed to enter the plane and free the hostages.
The film was very well done, very suspensful, even though you already know that there will be a more or less happy end. You began to realize how difficult the political manuverings were, and how hard this all was for the chancellor, Helmut Schmidt.
The co-pilot of the plane has sent the medal he received from the German government back in protest of the release of Christian Klar. And he made it very clear that he is a proponent of the death penalty.
A difficult situation all around. And one that moves me, as I came to Germany just as this whole thing was in full swing. I didn't not understand much of what went on at the time, so it is indeed interesting to learn more about that time, looking back through a 30-year filter.
The terrorists are different now, but also strangely the same in some aspects. Will there ever be a solution?
I went to a refresher course in being a handball judge in October, WiseMan took the beginner's course. Our club has quite a number of successful teams that are playing in the upper leagues, and only licensed judges are allowed to keep time and score.
We still don't have our certificates back, but Saturday the handball captain of the club called to ask if we could not pleeeeeease work the game today? On account of it being the first Sunday in Advent, they couldn't get anyone else. We asked for there to be someone else with experience there - it would be a debut in the upper leagues for both of us. Luckily, another judge could be found.
We were judging the current boy's A-team, who are playing in the Northeastern Handball League. This is a league that spans 4 states - the players have a long way to drive for their games. The opponent was from Stralsund, a good 4-hour drive away.
We had wanted to get licensed in order to judge for this team - WiseKid used to play with them, WiseMan even was a trainer way back when. And I helped chaperone an excursion to a tournament in Sweden. They were such little boys back then - they are all grown up now, and I'm not sure that I would know who they were if I saw them on the street. Heck, one large guy came up to me, all smiles, knew my name, shook my hand, and I didn't have the foggiest idea who he was until he sat down with his parents. They have a few more grey hairs here and there, but still look the same.
The team from Stralsund got in late, we were thinking they might not show, seeing as how they are in last place and our team is in fourth place. All the formalities got organized, the whistle blew, and off they were. There were so many goals, I really had a hard time keeping track! I was glad that WiseMan had an extra pair of eyes for seeing which number got what.
At half-time then the secretary had to go into the umpire's locker room for the "inquisition". In the lower leagues we just sort of eyeball the list, but this had to be done formally. I had to reel off my list of guys with yellow cards, guys with 2-minute penalties, time-outs and goals. When the umpires agreed with what I had written down, I could leave the locker room. I wonder what would have happened if my numbers did not agree....
Anyway, I think we missed a goal - they were flying so thick and heavy in between the penalties at the start of the second half, I think we missed one. But the game ended something like 46-23, so at least it was not a crucial goal if we did skip one. The team is now in third place - way to go!
Okay, okay. Smilla's Sense of Snow is a Danish film by Bille August from 1997. I did read the book by Peter Høeg when it was published, though!
It was on TV last night, we taped it and watched it this evening. Smilla, a woman living in Copenhagen who is half Greenlander is unhappy. When a neighbor boy dies in a strange accident, she does not believe that it was an accident, but murder. Many of the problems of the Greenlanders are portrayed in various details around the main story.
And of course, it is a conspiracy that takes her on a ship to Greenland, land of majestic mountains of ice, where she finally discovers the truth.
No, this is not a major suspense-packed thriller, although there are lots of deaths littering the way. It is subtle, light, like a dusting of snow. And even though it is clear to me that the explosion at the end did not start all the icebergs breaking off, the footage is so dramatic and worth watching.
Much better than the soccer game on afterwards, but with the current state of German soccer that is not saying much.
Stu Dent actually came to lab this afternoon - and he was on time. However, he spent the entire 90 minutes trying to get the exercise from last week running, because we are building on that for the current exercise.
He says it worked perfectly at home, but it doesn't work in the lab. He doesn't really understand the code he is using, of course. He complains when I don't know what to do to help him get started. I realize that he does not even understand the most trivial thing about programming. I wonder how he passed programming 1. I have no patience to be explaining this stuff to him in programming 2. Sigh.
Wow, got an answer to my bitch about the S-Bahn announcing the closed airport of Templehof! The short version is: it takes 8 weeks to reprogram our 14-year-old system to drop this announcement. Great programming job, S-Bahn! Okay, and it was clear 8 weeks before closing that it was coming, but that would have meant that one needed to plan.
The German is so wonderful, I am including it here for those who can read it:
Sehr geehrter Herr Prof. Dr. WiseWomanHow on earth can they live for 14 years with such a system?
[right, Professors have to be men, by default]
vielen Dank für Ihre Nachricht vom 24. November 2008, die wir unter der Vorgangsnummer 123456 registriert haben.
Zu Ihrer Kritik betreffend der Standart-[Misspelling, this should be Standard, a "Standarte" is a flagpole ] Ansagen in unseren Zügen möchten wir Ihnen mitteilen, dass die sich zurzeit im Betrieb befindlichen Bordcomputer in den Jahren 1994-1996 in Betrieb genommen wurden. Diese Einheiten lassen nur die automatische Innenbeschallung eines Betriebszustandes zu. Selbstverständlich lassen sich Umsteighinweise im Nachtverkehr bei baubedingten oder operativen Abweichungen gesondert programmieren. Auch die Innenanzeige zeigt die (ggf. nicht verkehrenden) Anschlusslinien an. Bei einer Abschaltung der Innenansage / -anzeige würden auch keine Bahnhofsnamen angesagt / -gezeigt werden. Die Beschallung müsste in diesem Falle durch den Triebfahrzeugführer selbst erfolgen.
Die Anpassung der Züge an einen veränderten Betriebszustand würde circa acht Wochen Vorlauf in Anspruch nehmen. Nur einzelne Züge mit einer separaten Softwarelösung auszustatten, scheint im Hinblick auf den flexiblen, netzweiten Einsatz problematisch.
Zukünftig werden alle Baureihen mit einem neuen Bordcomputer (KDI) ausgerüstet, diese lassen auch die gleichzeitige Programmierung unterschiedlicher Betriebszustände zu (Nachtverkehr, unterschiedliche Betriebszustände, etc.).
Natürlich ist die momentane Situation unbefriedigend. Aus diesem Grund sind unsere Triebfahrzeugführer sowie das Aufsichtspersonal durch Schulungen dazu angehalten, die Kundeninformation ergänzend zum automatisierten Betrieb anzusagen. Diese Kombination aus Automatisierung und Manueller Kundeninformation stellt für uns die beste Lösung für eine effiziente und zufriedenstellende Kundeninformation dar.
Es tut uns leid, Ihnen zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt keinen anderen Bescheid geben zu können. Wir hoffen jedoch, mit unseren Erläuterungen zu einem besseren Verständnis beigetragen zu haben und verbleiben.
mit freundlichen Grüßen.
S-Bahn Berlin GmbH
Stu Dent actually came to class this morning! He didn't show up for 8 am class until 9 am, but still, he was physically present!
He had a question about the exercise this week. He wasn't at lab last week because he "had to work". He didn't read the class discussion on the problem, he just fired off an email to me along the lines of "X doesn't work, can you tell me what to do?". I replied that he should perhaps have a look in the learning management system and read through the discussion. But my email bounced - his provider for his fancy-schmancy name announced that his disk space is exhausted.
He wanted to know why I don't answer his emails. I replied that he needs to sort out his provider, and maybe switch to the school email server, so he has unlimited space.
In the afternoon I was giving a seminar for the first semester students on good study habits and avoiding plagiarism. Only about 20 of the 40 registered people showed up, but we had a good session. As they were working on an exercise, Stu showed up. Did I have a moment? No, I didn't. I observe the students working when it just looks like me inspecting my fingernails. Office hours are tomorrow. So he left. Later I checked the list - Stu is in the 4th semester, but has not passed this basic course yet. He should have been in class, listening.
What on earth does Stu expect to get out of his university experience?
Taking the train to work yesterday I realized in my early morning haze that the announcement system tells people (in German and in English!) to change to the subway next stop for the Templehof Airport.
Except they closed the airport a few weeks ago, so there aren't really a lot of people headed that way, I suppose.
I dropped a line to the good folks at the S-Bahn, wonder if I will get an answer on this. And I wonder if they will still be giving directions to the defunct airport next year.
Stu Dent, a student repeating one of my classes, is having a hard time. First off, he missed the first three weeks of classes. He tried to explain it to me, but I am a bit of a bitch about not listening to the sob stories.
Stu then did an exercise (there are 14 weekly exercises due), and sent it to me by email instead of filing it with the learning management system as requested on the syllabus. Turned out, Stu could not get into the LMS because there was a password. One that was listed on the syllabus.
The next week, Stu got confused and submitted the fifth exercise in the place for the sixth one - although plainly labeled with name, number and due date. This week, I got another email from Stu - s/he tried to upload the exercise, but the system wouldn't take it. So it is now uploaded into exercise seven.
The system timestamps everything - sure enough, the deadline was 11.55 pm, and Stu was uploading at 12.25 am.
Oh, you mean the deadlines are hard ones?
Stu - get a clue.
The German Wikipedia has admirably demonstrated that the Internet just routes around attempts to censor it. The German parliamentarian who tried to shut down the German Wikipedia (which is just a page that then links to the servers in the US and elsewhere) has apologized and said that he didn't think far enough ahead what this action of his would have as consequences.
Duh. Many pundits have pointed out that this rather summarizes German politicians in a nutshell. They just do, and worry about the consequences later. At least he did apologize and not just go into hiding.
The German Wikipedia is extremely happy to note that we managed to collect half the money we need for new servers (to be kept as mirrors in Germany in case any US courts try the same trick) just over the weekend. Many in the Verein have suggested that we take a tithe - 10% - of this money and earmark it for figuring out how to sort out the entries on living people, which seem to be the ones that get us into the most trouble. A very fine suggestion, in my opinion.
At the Stammtisch in Berlin we were joking about taking bets on how many people will try and get the politician kicked out of his party this week. Petra Pau, a member of the party ruling committee, came out sharply against the actions of the parliamentarian without actually mentioning his name. She speaks of Maschinenstürmerei (Luddites), quite a funny name for someone who toys with the Internet.
A member of the German parliament from the party Die Linke (aka PDS, neé SED, the ruling party of the former German Democratic republic) has managed in one fell swoop to discredit his party even more than they normally do on an average working day. And he has helped the Wikipedia Germany tremendously.
We are currently running a financing campaign, as we are in need of new servers and people to run them, the project is growing by leaps and bounds. This member of parliament found something on his entry that he did not like - seems he used to work for the Stasi, according to some media. This was stated in the article with a reference to the source.
Since he apparently does not understand how the Internet works, he went to court and received an injunction against the owner of the domain wikipedia.de to shut it down. Okay, this is run in German, so it had to be capped. What he apparently does not realize is that this does not stop the servers. They are physically located in places like Holland, the US, South Korea. A German judge cannot shut down a server in the US. Okay, the URL is different: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauptseite, but it is still reachable! That is what forwarding is - it just rewrites the URL.
What has happend, however, is that the mainstream German media (including the Tagesschau) has picked it up. And the most amazing thing is happening - the money is pouring in! People are donating small amounts - 5, 10 Euros. Some are donating larger amounts. Many are doing it anonymously, others are making a statement: that the party Die Linke needs to examine why it has this particular politican in its ranks. Surely there are "cleaner" people to be found for the job of parliamentarian.
I suppose it is the Obama Effect - get everyone mad, and they will all donate what they can. Together it is sufficient to change the world. I am just so moved by all the entries, and the people saying: "Thank you, Wikipedia!" That really makes all the hours spent writing and editing and arguing and talking about the Wikipedia all the more worth it!
Okay, it is a crying shame to have to waste this money on court and lawyer's fees, but if that is what we have to do to keep the Wikipedia online and accessable, then we will do it. The Internet has changed the world - it is high time the politicians realized that!
I am available - for a price - to teach them.
I was in Hamburg from Friday to Saturday to be giving a talk at a conference for teachers. They asked me to please come a day early to meet with some people for dinner the night before. I probably should have said no, but I didn't, so I got on a train in the early afternoon and headed for Hamburg.
For some reason they had reserved a room in a hotel run by the German telecommunications former monopoly, Telekom. It was a good 20 minutes + a brisk walk from the main train station, and since the school the conference was held at was also near the main train station, I would have preferred a tiny downtown pension close by than this place.
It is a conference hotel that they use for organizing company conferences, and the idea is good - conference rooms on every floor, so that one conference group can pretty much stay by itself. The odd rooms are then rented out to other people.
It was hard to find, despite the directions on the home page - I don't generally choose a foot path through woods at night time when walking in a strange city. But I made it after a wrong turn through the Aldi parking lot and headed in the door - and suddenly felt like a giant. It seems there was a conference of midgets going on (now what is the PC therm, height challenged?) They were having a wonderful time and living it up in the lobby.
I managed to get a key and went up to dump my stuff before they came to get us for dinner. The room was tiny, and typically Telekom disorganized. Two electrical outlets way above the bed (okay, they could have been under the bed) and a bookshelf above the bed just so that if you sit up in bed at night you whack your head on it. If you open the door to the tiny bathroom you can't find the light switch - it is behind the opened door. You can't have the closet and the bathroom door open at the same time. You have to stand right in the mirror, because of the way it is put up, you can't get a step back to see how your outfit looks.
And then all the technology! A combined Internet/TV/Radio! I grabbed it, turned it on, worked my way through an extremely complicated set of instructions, and managed to get Google up on the screen. I was able to enter in a search term (I couldn't get to the URL field, although the green button was supposed to take me there, but maybe I was holding my tongue wrong. Navigation was done with the tab button. N24 has so many links on its front page, tab button navigation sucks real time. Anyway, I soon bored of this, and I couldn't get the TV to work. But under the table was a cable labelled: Internet - an Ethernet cable! I stuck it in and it worked like a charm, so who cares about the dodgy hardware with the Telekom brand, I can use my own laptop and send off all that email! So they get extra points for this.
Setting the alarm, although I followed the instructions exactly, did not seem to go well. And since my PDA's battery had died, I set the mobile phone alarm and hoped for the best. Lucky thing it worked, as the telephone alarm didn't. I got ready and had an acceptable breakfast, and then headed for the school.
It is fall. Leaves come down and mix themselves up with the dog shit. Then it rains. The sidewalks were a slippery mess, I'm glad I only slipped a bit, didn't fall. But my nicely polished shoes took quite a beating.
My talk was not until 2pm, so I look through the exhibits and listened to the other main talk. I also was able to attend a workshop on visual cryptography, that was a lot of fun.
The best exhibit was by a group of pupils from the computer club at the Wichern school in Hamburg. They were in the room next to the fancy-schmancy whiteboard company. The pupils had set up a whiteboard of their own that someone in the US had programmed for a Mac. All you needed was a beamer, the Mac, two microphone holders, 2 Wii Infrared handsets (!!) and some homemade pens. One was done in plastic tubing, the other in a dried up whiteboard pen. They needed about 5 Euros to make a pen - an infrared broadcast tip and a little button to turn the sending on and off, and a battery. The Wii handsets cost about 40 Euros a piece. They set up one station where you could project things onto the wall and then move them around and resize them. On another wall you could write (slowly) and the board would be captured.
It is not ready for prime-time yet, but it was a great idea to use cheap, mass-produced items together with a bit of homemade items to simulate a major electrical toy!
The lotto numbers are quite the computer scientist's dream this week:
4, 9, 16, 25, 33, 42
If the 5th one had been 36, I would have thought someone was fixing the numbers. Unfortunately, I play other numbers, but then again, I might have had to share with lots of others like my Dad did when he got all 6 right - he played his birthday, so he had to share, "only" got half a million dollars - 25 years ago, payed out in yearly installments. My Mom used to call playing the lottery a "tax on stupidity" until he won.....
WiseMan says that I am crazy, maybe I am. I just drove up to the cabin in Sweden for the weekend.
I actually love to drive, and especially alone. I have complete control over the radio. I can run through gazillion crazy ideas and even speak loud about them without anyone asking questions. I can swear at the other idiots on the road - as a Mommy I try to curb the swearing when WiseKid is in the car with me. And were there idiots on the road!
But the ferry was not crowded, I even got one of the seats near the electrical outlet. Got some work done, then set off through Denmark. Stopped in the first bit of civilization as I had seen the newspaper getting off the boat - buy a (yellow press) newspaper, buy a DVD with two new Örnen series for just a few Kronor. I am nuts about Örnen (an Icelandic cop in Copenhagen), and you can't get the DVDs in Germany, can't even ORDER them in Denmark and have them sent to you. You have to physically go to Denmark to purchase them. Got one at the gas station.
The bridge to Sweden was a difficult drive, there was this warning sign on the Danish side that I didn't understand. But since I could barely see the road for the fog, I assumed it meant "fog". Sure thing, just across the border in the middle of the water the sign changed to dimma - a special kind of pea-soup fog particular to Skane.
Had a break just across the bridge for some nice blueberry soup, packaged in a plastic bottle. Got to the cabin, was unloaded in 10 minutes, in 20 I had the fireplace roaring and my feet up on the coffee table with a glass of Merlot. This is the life!
The weather was gorgeous today. 12 degrees Celsius and sun poking through the clouds. I raked leaves, turned the compost (man, was it steaming!), cleaned the gutters, did two loads of wash, scrubbed the algae off one side of the guest house, visited with two neighbors and did some shopping.
Alas, the lady with the store in the village is sick, so the sign says that she is closing the store at Christmas. Drat. I love falling out of bed, taking the car or bike down for rolls and the newspaper in the mornings, and spending a good two hours on breakfast. Don't think I will drive the 8 km into town, so it will be bake-em-yourself rolls and no paper this Christmas vacation.
I'm now caught up on the gossip: Elin, the elderly lady whose father owned the land that our houses are now on, passed away last week; lots of wind this past week, an elm came down across the path through the woods; one neighbor has sold his house to a young couple, another is selling this week, a third has announced his intentions of selling. And still no break-ins, knock on wood. Must be all the dogs - the yippy bunch in the first house, and the son of a neighbor who drives up in his police car with his K9 and a buddy. They train in our woods, and then have coffee at Mom & Dad's.
Another fire this evening, I'll have to go get more firewood tomorrow morning before I leave. But I feel so good, and the coughing has gone down quite a lot. Must be all that exercise in the fresh air! Another 8 hour drive back, just in time for a horrific week, meetings from dawn til dusk. I'm glad I came, even if it was just for the weekend!
I met an old friend on the street this morning and stopped for a chat. Jovially, he asked me if I had voted yet. I raised an eyebrow - Voted? How? I'm German, I can't vote for the American president anymore. That was rather the point of obtaining German citizenship, so I am not responsible for whoever gets elected to the throne.
The Tagesspiegel was just full of comments and quotes from people. One point I found really good - why on EARTH is the German press reporting on every fart from the US election campagin? Imagine a discussion about something a German politician said on the front page of the New York Times - every day!
Actually, I think they are just trying to get us to forget all the financial shenanigans.
Whew. I was just fussing around with a rather bizarre application called Turn Your Name Into A Face. I really didn't like mine, either for my formal name or my nickname. I was trying to figure how they did it, and I guessed they did a Google picture search on my name and then pixelated it.
So I went to Google, typed in my name - and up came my senior year yearbook. The title: missing persons. Okay, there are more than a handful of missing persons here. I nosed around the site, memories of this horrible time at this horrible school with these horrible people coming back. The only places I felt accepted - weird girl that I was, interested in Math and Physics and English and German - were computer class (right, we punched cards, sent them away, and got them back 2 days later) and German club. I took calculus and political science at a local college to get college credit and avoid the jerks in my senior year.
I mean, you could choose surfing as a course - this was San Diego, after all. The school was 1/3 Chicana, 1/3 black, 1/3 white, and 99% football. I got into a fight with my mom (and lost). I wanted to take physics, she insisted I learn to type. ASDF JKL; ASDF JKL; for an hour a day, 5 days a week, for half a year. That killed some brain cells, but I can type pretty much as fast as I can think, so I suppose it is of some use.
Gym - arrrrrrgh! Except for one unit on folk dancing, I hated every single hour spent there. I couldn't get into the clubs, as I moved in during the junior year - from Georgia. So I read instead. Devoured the city library. And discovered the German American Society. Dancing, music, beer if you worked it right (order an apple juice, and get a guy who is 21 to order a pitcher of beer. If you dance with him, you get some beer).
I refused to go to the prom - certain that no one would ask me to go. One guy did - the math whiz and chess champion. I was honored, but he was not the guy of my dreams. And I had already booked a flight to Germany for the summer. I missed the prom, I missed graduation, the whole works. They sent me my cap and diploma in the mail. I never regretted it.
I looked down the list of names - I don't remember any of these except the guy from computer science. We spent the first year in college together, discovering this wierd thing called Arpanet. Late at night, in the cellar, you could use the teletype to log onto a computer in Stanford. If you could guess the password. We tried, but didn't succeed. But the "PASSWORD INCORRECT" was coming from Stanford, that was cool
What the heck. I'll get over it. I'll send in my current address. I made it. But ooh, some of the others: under obituaries (really scary, all these people my age already dead) is a real zinger:
David was put to death by lethal injection for the 1986I suppose there is one in every megaschool.
murder of three members of a Billings, MT family.
He never revealed his motivation for the killings.
Even though it is late late late I get down the yearbook (extra points for finding it in under 10 minutes). I leaf through - oh my. Those were such painful years. I only have one person who signed my yearbook - a quick Google search turns someone up who looks a lot like she did. I'll send her an email, might be her.
I would just as soon forget these two years completely. But still, they are a part of me, and so I send off the email: "Hi, I'm on your missing persons list". Who knows why.
I spent the weekend (without Internet, telephone, radio or TV!) in Wuppertal taking a lay speaker basic course at the Bethesda Guest House. This is a seminar house run by a group of Methodist nuns. Yes, you read that right. They are called deaconesses, not nuns, because they do not take a vow. But they dedicate their lives to Christ, live communally and work in areas such as nursing, geriatric homes, with children, and such.
There used to be 600 members of their order, they are now down to only about 80, most of them officially retired and living in the Mother Home, but of course still going strong. They wear a habit that consists of plain, practical clothes, a starched collar, a cross, and a wimple that resembles the kind of hat that married women wore at the time their order was founded. They are considered to be married to Christ and his works.
The weekend course is jam-packed: 6 introductory courses, a ton of reading material (I am up to 9 books now, I think) that we are to read over the coming year. And a practice sermonette that prepared in groups of three for the Sunday worship. Our group had this really difficult passage (I thought), because I didn't understand a word of it. After a lot of discussion we wrung some meaning from it and took it to the pastor teaching the course. No, she said, you are reading this too literally. (Of course! I'm a computer science, I compile everything literally!). We have to "feel" what is being said, and then she launches in to what she read in the passage. I don't think I would ever have come up with that. I think I have a lot of reading and discussing to do in the future!
The group is quite interesting - 6 people from international churches in Germany and 6 people from the Ghana Methodist congregations that we have in Germany. There are 4 larger congregations and one smallish group. Boy, do they ever have different problems and discussions than we do! For them, speaking in tongues and interpreting dreams is a vital part of their worship. They have lots of discussions about what is right, and a lot of conflict over questions such as drinking and smoking and homosexuality. And their services are much different than ours are.
It has been very interesting, getting to know them. And really fascinating to be discussing theological questions with these very intelligent men who speak four or five languages (their tribal dialect, Ewe, English, German, and sometimes French) and ask themselves very deep questions - and who work as truck drivers and warehousemen and bakers. Five out of the six have jobs - I don't think you can find many groups of refugee men who have this high a quota of people in work.
After a last morning session of instruction (and some burning theological questions such as the validity of the Apocrypha) we had our "examination" in the form of a church service that we had prepared and conducted. It was a bit heavy on the preaching side - four sermons, because we had four groups. And because we can now assist at communion upon the instruction of a preacher, we gave each other the bread and wine.
We now all have our little lapel pins showing that we are lay speakers. Our certificates will be sent to the superintendents of our respective charge conferences, so that they know where to find us when they need a lay speaker. It will be interesting to see how often we are called. This first year we are only certified to speak in our own local church. But after our advanced training next year (after we have read and understood all of the books we got) we will be certified to speak in the conference.
Wuppertal itself is a drab, dirty, town that looks like it was frozen in time somewhere in the 60s. It is also, for a large part, for rent. The attraction is the Schwebebahn, a train that runs along the river Wupper on stilts. I admit that I didn't get to see more of the town than than the train station and the bus ride up to the guest house. But the shabby, dirty train station is not inviting, and all the frowning people give one pause to think that maybe this is not the play you want to visit unless you have to.
I was waiting for my (late) colleagues to assemble for a meeting today when a student saw me sitting in the room. He approached and asked if he could speak with me because I won't have office hours this week.
I sighed and he started in. He should be attending my programming 2 course, but "the system threw him off". Okay, let's see - I'm associate dean, I have a password to look into the system. No trace of him here, disappeared without a trace. Well, he'll have to register for starters.
Then - he has already failed the course twice. We only allow students three tries, so this semester is rather important. Since I only remember seeing him once all semester (we are in the fourth week of twice weekly classes), I suggest him coming to class.
Oh, he understands the material, and my class is in conflict with other classes he is taking. He was just sick, that's why he failed. So he doesn't have to come to classes. But does he have to do the exercises? Well, yes. If you check the syllabus, that makes up about half the points for the course.
I note that as an adult he has a choice of how to set his priorities. I would certainly put a high priority on a class I have to pass to continue in the program, but that is his decision. He whines on that he really needs to pass but has other things to do this semester. What on earth do these guys think? That I will break down and give them a good grade just because they complain enough?
Luckily, the colleagues showed up and we could get on with the meeting.
I don't know whether it was the lovely Indian Summer or the start of school fall vacation (German kids only have about 6 weeks or so of school before their teachers need a break). But driving was very trying today.
There were lots of construction sites. My "favorite" was the one cheerfully announced on the radio as "new today" two minutes after I turned off onto that road. The construction people had thoughtfully blocked off all alternative escape route, so you just had to be patient.
But every crossing, it seemed, was filled with cars that drove into the crossing and then could not clear before the lights went red. And then the next group drove up, honking and cursing at each other. Some accidents occurred. And you just generally needed lots of extra time to get from A to B.
So I might as well take the train.....
As I was walking across campus this morning after my early class, a woman came towards me and was greeted by a guy coming up behind me with "Good morning, beautiful woman!" (Guten Morgen, hübsche Frau to get the nastiness in German).
I was irritated, and since the guy was waiting for an elevator I inquired of him: were you the person greeting that woman as "beautiful woman"? Yes he was, what business was it of mine?
Well, I was wondering why he chose this particular salutation that focused on her sex and not on her as a person or an engineer or a mathematician or whatever.
"She's a friend of mine and I can call her anything I want!" No, people who call me particular names will no longer be considered friends. "And it is sort of ironic." Oh, so you were being ironic? "No, not that, but it's just a joke."
Well, many woman don't really like being seen just as sexual objects. "Well, she likes it and what business is it of yours?" Oh, this was just scientific interest in the question of why a man would say something so stupid. He harumpfed, we got to his floor, and he stormed out.
He probably thinks that feminists are the most stupid busy-bodies in the universe, but what is wrong with saying "Hello Sally!" when you meet a friend?
The Odeon (a movie theater in Berlin that shows first-run films in English and serves proper, salted, popcorn) was showing "Burn after Reading" this week. They had George Clooney and Brad Pitt on the marquee, so we collected up the usual suspects + visiting family members aged 12 or above and went Friday night.
One should note that the film is rated R in the US, not PG-13, and I do think that the
Germans Americans are correct in their rating. Too much swearing, too many sex scenes (the dildo-chair is rather confusing even for 16-year-olds), too much gratuitous violence.
To summarize the movie in a word: fuck. I was asked by one of our group what the exact translation for that would be in German, because Germans don't use the literal translation as every third word in normal conversation. Brad Pitt's character also used "shit" two or three times per sentence.
Have Americans so lost their vocabulary that they can only speak with these expletives?
There was no message, nothing to think about, but it was a way to spend 2 hours. And it made me *so* glad that I don't live in the States anymore with these terrible people!
I don't normally walk out on films, but when they had a break in this 150 minute film, I got on my coat and left. It is the story of the Baader-Meinhof group and the Red Army Faction, stories that began 40 years ago.
The film is very complex and stuffed full of details - and not all of them are true, as it is docu-fiction. I don't care for this: either I want documentary, or fiction. The things that I know were false so irritated me, that I was continually asking: well, is this true or not?
The portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof is brilliant. She was an extremely intelligent woman and an excellent writer. But what exactly made her choose the revolution over her family? There are glimpses here and there in her interactions with Gudrun Ensslin. But the film takes on so many perspectives and tries to cram so much in, that I just gave up.
The portrayal of Andreas Baader is disgusting. Yes, he was a horrible person, in the RAF just to be the boss and to enjoy the violence. But his portrayal in the film is very attractive to young people, who will get a kick out of him "showing the system" that he has no respect for the rules. I felt so violently ill at this that I just could not continue to watch the film.
I must say that even though 30-40 years have passed, we still don't know what really happened. All sides played with (mis-)information. Perhaps it is still too early to put this in a film properly.
There is an interesting discussion about the film online in the Guardian.
We've just moved our program - a computer science program - to a new campus. The only part of the school that was at this new part of the university before was the design school. The design school consists of about 75% women amongst the students (the other way around with the teachers, of course), and since one if the programs is clothing design, there are quite a number of fashionistas running around.
Our program is about 75% guys. And the guys wear T-Shirts and jeans. Usually scruffy ones.
Today was the first full day of classes in the new location, and we were having lunch in the tiny cafeteria. I sat with a crowd of the guys and was very amused to watch what was going on.
The fashionistas strutted into the room, looking for a coffee and an apple, maybe, for breakfast. They did a double-take when they saw all these men (although I am not sure if it was the T-Shirts or the fact that they were men). They kept looking out of the corner of their eyes at the table, not sure what to make of this sight.
The guys were moaning about the quantity and the quality of the food. ("Bah. The noodles are so overcooked, I need a straw to eat them.") And their eyes were popping out, getting an eyeful of the women. And having a second look. And a third. And then punching each other in the shoulder.
I think they will all be eating in the cafeteria this semester, despite the quality :)
I was just stopping by the office to pick something up when one of the secretaries approached me. She had just had a call that had shaken her up. Our young colleague, Prof. Q., was found dead this morning.
I thought I had not heard right - Q just turned 40, was quite the shooting star. He was a prolific researcher, a crack in his field, loved by the students. He was active as a member of the faculty board, even if he was the quiet type. He didn't run around making politics, but quietly made very good suggestions after studying all sides of the matter. He was athletic, jogged a lot, was going to run the marathon last Sunday. How could he be dead?
We don't know what happened. All we know is that he died sometime between Friday and today, he lived alone. He had not taught his class Monday night, which was unusual for him, but we didn't hear about that until this morning.
The day took a sudden, lurching turn. There were all sorts of things to be organized and people to be informed. People were shocked and sad - how do we react to this, how can we give people a chance to mourn at work?
We decided to have a candle and a flower at his chair at the next faculty board, and of course will have a notice in the paper. We had to quickly organize teachers - the semester started yesterday. Where to find new teachers for 4 courses at the drop of a hat? Everyone pulled together and amazingly, it looks like we have people willing to jump in and take over his classes.
We will still have to deal with things like his email and web page. We can put a death notice on the web page, but what do you do with the email? Send out a bounce "Sorry, I won't be able to answer because I'm dead."? Will someone have to answer his emails? What about his thesis students?
His death reminds us all that our life on earth is finite. The end can come at any time. The Bible reminds us of this:
"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" [James 4:14].We need to learn to quit worrying about tomorrow - that may never come. We need to deal with today and enjoy the blessings of each day, even the smallest things.
One of my Doppelkopf friends sent around an email the other day: "Have any of you made it to the Babylon exhibition? Didn't think so! [Geez, she didn't wait for an answer, but she is, of course, dead right.] So let's go together. I've set up a doodle with the times I can go. I'll order tickets for whenever the most of us can go."
Well, we actually managed to find a time when five of us could meet, so we were in the museum last night. They sell entrance tickets in advance by time so you don't have to wait in line.
We donned our little speaker guides (that were actually quite well done) and set off through the "Truth" part. This was the history of Babylon - what they have excavated and decoded. Man, they had cuneiform writing on everything! I quipped to one of our group that they must have invented graffiti.
The Ishtar Gate reconstruction, which is part of the permanent exhibition at the Pergamon museum, is really quite magnificent. And there were all sorts of exhibits about the deities, the Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, and a nice collection of science books. They had astronomical charts, used the Pythagorean theorem (pre-Pythagorus), etc. etc.
We were already full of impressions, but there was still the Myth section to go.
The sign said: not suitable for children under 18. This will be interesting. It was a collection of modern exhibits, Old Master's paintings of Babylonian motives, video installations, audio installations - wow. I really need to go back and spend a day here, but it is only open until October 5.
Having been raised a Christian, many of the terms were indeed familiar to me: the stories of Daniel, of Nebuchadnezzar, of the writing on the wall, of Psalm 137, of the Antichrist, of the Whore of Babylon, of the Tower of Babel.
And I am aware of many fundemental Christians in the US seeing Iraq as a modern-day Babylon, with Saddam Hussein the king to be crushed. ("The Bible told us to march into Iraq. Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything about leaving again..."). One of the exhibitions pieces that apparently many find distasteful consists of 20 front pages from the sensationalist press about the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein. Each has semen spritzed on it which has had glitter spread over it. I found it very fitting to the mood in the US after the capture of Saddam Hussein - in a hole in the ground, as an animal.
There was an audio exhibition that released sounds when people moved in the room, and a large room filled with renditions of the Tower of Babel. Best of all was a piece from 1968/1974 by Timm Ulrichs entitled "Übersetzung/Translation/Traduction". It is a sort of telephone game, in which the definition of the word "Translation" in German is given to a translator, and that translator to the next one - and so on through 26 languages. Greek, Turk, Chinese, Arabic - all sorts of difficult languages are included, and the last step is back to German. The text is still more or less the same, but quite different. (The first and last pages are available online.)
I've spoken with a number of friends who all thought the "Myth" part of the exhibition to be really bad. I wonder if it because these are religious motives that have no meaning for people today?
Anyway, I liked the exhibition and wish I had time to go back and spend more time with some of the exhibits.
The Berliners are moved by the sudden death of Knut's foster father, Thomas Dörflein. (Of course there is a Wikipedia entry on him, with pictures even!). Knut - a polar bear born in the Berlin Zoo - was born in late 2006, and since his mother abandonded him, one of the bearkeepers decided to raise him.
Germany ignited with a love for Knut, streamed to the zoo to see him and buy all the merchandise that was springing up. But that's another story.
There was a movie made, and people quite liked the quiet man who raised Knut. He was found dead at his home of a heart attack at age 44, and the Berliners are in sorrow. They bring flowers, forced the zoo to set up a condolece book, and stream to the zoo to see how the bear is taking it. Of course, no one speaks bear, so they have to try and interpret his expressions.
It is sad that Dörflein has passed away, but many people are sorrowing as if an old friend has passed away. I suppose this is a result of the media blitz that surronded Knut. I suppose it keeps our minds off that spot of money trouble in the States...
The youngest princess is having a birthday soon, so Aunt WiseWoman set out to get a present. Praise be mail-order - I can sit in Europe and order mail-order from America.
I asked the Princess Father what kinds of things she is interested in. Thomas the Train (nope, gave that last year); princess dresses (no); painting (weeeell, maybe); and Webkinz. Webkinz?
"Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!"You "adopt" your pet online. No. I don't like using the term adoption in referring to stuffed animals. And this gets the kids hooked up early to web pages with secret codes and lots of promotions for them to buy more and more and more toys. And you can buy books explaining how to use the web site. Can sheets and towels with Webkinz on them be far behind?
Found some nice Color-your-own-modern-art coloring books. And a book on painting rocks.
Puh, what a day of excitement!
First my handball team's game in the morning. Since we lost all games last year, sometimes by very bad margins, we swore that we would try to achieve 2 goals: no opponent gets more than 40 points, and we get at least 10. We didn't quite make it today, we made 9 goals. But the other team - a new one - only got 8, so WE WON! How wonderful! We were all in such bad shape, I even got to play for 15 minutes because everyone else was pooped.
Just home for some lunch, then off the Foxes game. One of the two upcoming teams was in town, Dormagen, and these young whippersnappers had already *tied* THW Kiel (the grand reigning emperor of handball) and *won* against Hamburg (the Crown Prince).
They sure gave the Foxes a run for their money. There was never more than 3 goals between the teams, it went back and forth, the last 15 minutes either tied or one team one goal up. They also won by one goal (although they had some really, really bad plays). I was exhausted after all the shouting - and then I still had church and Wikipedia (both with rather long distances to walk). I hope I can still move tomorrow!
I think I've mentioned before that I think that kids are bored these days. Just had an interesting experience with the leader of WiseKids gang/clique/peer group.
WiseKid tends to disparage my computer knowledge - What do you know about computers? But when LeaderOfTheGang found out that I teach computing, he wanted to know if he could bring his broken computer over. I don't really like fixing broken Windoof boxes, but I said yes.
We finally gave up on Windoof (and no, I wouldn't give him the licensed CD I have in the closed) and I gave him Knoppix (a free Unix version) to install. Wow - was he ever impressed with all the stuff available on the default install.
Instead of hanging out at the playground they are playing around with Knoppix. And apparently having a ball. Let's hope it lasts!
I still didn't have Internet when I came home Tuesday, so I called Hotline-Hell to see what was up. I spent over an hour there, and was transferred here and there.
One person told me that my line had been open from last week. Of course, no one told me, and I tried at least once a day. The last lady noted that I was sending the wrong password (?!). My router changed the password itself? I got out my faded password sheet and typed it in. Three times. And then it worked. I don't mistype that badly, and anyway, the *router* should not change the password by itself, should it?
Someone along the way said that they are not charging me for resetting the line. That would at least pay for some of the hotline charges. I wouldn't mind paying for the time I'm actually speaking to someone, but 24 cents a minute for 8 minutes of muzak really, really irritates me.
Ah well. Back online, although I do miss the speed my neighbor's had... I am creeping along here, and my account (I really do only have one contract, my account says) is listed as "6000 kbit pending".
I really don't like the 2-year contracts, they make it so difficult to switch providers (which is, of course, the point). Okay, ton of work to do!
The saga continues.... where did I leave off?
Before I left for the conference I sent 1&1 a letter telling they had better have my Internet restored by (last) Thursday, or I would do dire things. They responded with - "Gee, guess what, your Interent will be back next Tuesday." Sigh. So I decided to wait, I was away at a conference, anyway.
Thursday I got an E-Mail "Welcome as a new customer for 1&1 complete!". This is what I tried to order after the Telekom cut off my telephone, but which the support people said was killed by my DSL being turned off. It was gone, they said, numerous times. I checked again just the other day: yes, your contract is without telephone and ends on March 31, 2009.
Now I have a new "complete" package. Wanna bet that from Tuesday I have *two* contracts running with 1&1?
Anyway, the neighbors are on holiday, so I'm watering plants in exchange for sucking their flat rate. Yeah. Except I want my TV and fridge over here, too.
I decided to attend the Vielmehr conference in Lübeck this year instead of the GMW. The main reason is the co-location of a number of different conferences, an e-learning conference, a human-computer interface conference, a usability interface and a cognitive design conference. Over 500 people are milling around the University of Lübeck, attending the lecture.
The main result up front: No one used the word "learning object" in my hearing during the entire conference! There are new buzz-words, however. These are the talks I attended:
- Rolf Schulmeister spoke about the Myth of the Net Generation (in German). He listed many studies and statistics that show that there actually is not such a thing as the "Net Generation", no matter how often the media try and tell us that they are there. There is actually quite a number of subgroups that are very diverse. And most youth watch TV and listen to music, sometimes using a computer to do so, instead of participating the Web 2.0. When they do participate, they are interested in the communities, i.e. communicationg with their peers.
- Martin Gieseking (University of Osnabrück) demonstrated an interesteing system, media2mult, that offers a wiki-based authoring system for cross-media (web and print) publishing. It sounds like just what I need for my current book project, so I will be trying it.
- Angela Carell and Isabel Schaller from the University of Bochum used a mix of Netvibes, WordPress, Google Docs and Bibsonomy for sorting out learning processes. Bibsonomy is a tagged literature database that I will be looking at more closely. They report that the students didn't use Google Docs, but didn't investigate the reasons.
- Sarah Voß from the University of Frankfurt reported on a class she conducted in Second Life. But she did not evaluate anything or measure anything, but the students were happy although there were a lot of technical problems. Why, she doesn't know. And it was so difficult to record what people did, so she is now working on connecting up a wiki and SL. Why she just doesn't dump SL is a mystery, she got a lot of flak in the discussion about her paper, which was more of a "My nicest memories from work" essay.
- M. Dahm, FH Düsseldorf discussed the problems that occur when usability and security meet - they seem to be mutually exclusive.
- Roland Hartwig, User Interface Design, preached to the converted, talking about in-house usability testing and doing some advertising for his company. He also demonstrated that self-moderation doesn't work.
- N. Oberg from the company phaydon had some nice slides with a lot of things we already know before she started talking about using ethnographic methods for doing usability testing. These were interesting, but she breezed through overloaded slides. She didn't manage to have a paper for the conference proceedings, but one can send her an email. Or maybe you can find it on the company homepage.
- Harald Amelung discussed his Master's Thesis from the FH Erfurt in which he looked at usability methods for mobile devices. Many techniques of traditional usability evaluation are not usable or adaptable to the mobile applications. There is a nice picture of the context of mobile use to be found in Savio and Braiterman.
- Then a group of computer students presented their semester work (this seems to be a trend at this conference, completely unreflected work without empirical evidence is presented, mostly in the form of: gee, look at me, I can program a web site / PDA application / server. There are horrible slides and mumbled technical explanations. When questioned on how on earth this can work, they have no answers. In this case they developed, among other things, a chat application that children are to use on a PDA via WLAN outdoors. That there is no cheap, readily-available WLAN outdoors was just a technical problem. Sigh.
- Ekatrina Kurdyukova wins my personal prize for research dedication for her Evaluation and Design of Auditory Feedback for a Mobile Outdoor Training Assistant. She was evaluating whether voice or signal was better for a jogging training assistant. She had her 20 test subjects think aloud while using the systems, and she jogged along, taking notes.
- Gilbert Cockton gave the invited lecture on Tuesday, and decided to use a military metaphor of usability for his presentation. He began equating usability to shooting: Load, aim, fire. One "wins", when the target is hit. That hitting targets with guns or cannon involves killing people seemed to have escaped him, he joked on, and then introduced a bunch of diagrams and forms that have a column for recording "emotions". I wonder how he defines emotion. I went up to him in the coffee break and told him about my displeasure with his analogy, he defended himself with the origins of usability being in the military. Well, gosh, the entire computer industry is rooted in industry, but that doesn't mean that we can't be using it for peaceful purposes. Thinking about one's metaphors might be helpful. At least he was the only one to footnote his decorative pictures, a habit I have gotten into lately myself.
- Jürgen Steimle demonstrated a paper-centric interaction concept for collaborative learning, that is, writing using the Amoto method after doing ethnographic studies (these seem moern at the moment).
- Another student project was presented (at least nicely presented) by a student from Linz. The group set up a MirrorBoard that takes pictures of passersby and integrates them into the picture, i.e. a vacation goal or a piece of clothing. Violent objections from the audience were put off by the session chair, who was the advisor of the student group. Eventually, one guy read off the data privacy law paragraph for German, which quite clearly states that this is not permitted.
- Anja Hashagen from the University of Bremen spoke of a nice application, "Der Schwarm" (the swarm), that is projected onto the floor and which interacts with people (here kids in the 3rd and 4th grade) to show them how a swarm of things reacts. However, they chose beetles, which as far as I know don't actually swarm. But it was a fun-looking application.
- The last three talks I attended was on the topics of data privacy in E-Learning. One young whippersnapper ripped into an old version of Moodle, explaining how bad it is. Well, it is open source, propose a fix! Actually, the HU Berlin has fixed it, although the young man had a slide stating that it was unfixable. A nice lawyer explained data privacy for universities and E-Learning in very understandable terms. I used one of the statements he used at a meeting on Wednesday and appeared to be very wise. The third one was a woman going on and on and on an on about some system made with an enormous amount of taxpayer money that is not actually in use yet, but they are publishing papers on it by the minute.
Meeting folks was fun and useful, but the quality of many of the talks was lacking, one wondered what the program committee was actually thinking when they accepted these papers.
Sorry for the silence, but I have been without Internet at home for over a week. The Deutsche Telekom screwed up royally.
Instead of adding a service to my account, they terminated it and made a new one. The droid probably got points for getting a new account. This caused my Internet provider, 1&1, to drop me. Of course, I still have to pay the monthly fee... Telekom needed 3 days (when I didn't have phone service) to fix telephone again, then 1&1 wanted 14 days (!) and 50 Euros to restore Internet service. Telekom will at least refund me the 50 Euros, if not the cost for time and fees for waiting for the 1&1 hotline. The hotline of 1&1 is so irritating, I am seriously considering *not* switching to them.
Anyway, just to make matters worse, WiseKid wanted to help and signed a contract with Vodafone for DSL. Seems they let you sign a form that moves the service without checking ID. There's a box that says: If I am not the owner of this line, the owner knows and is happy about me organizing the switch. They promised WiseKid a good chance at a free mobile phone, which he thinks he needs, so he signed.
When he didn't win, at least he confessed and I dashed off a nasty letter to Vodafone telling them that they cannot do business with minors. Luckily for us, their droids are too stupid to read long telephone numbers, they got a switcheroo on two digits, so unfortunately, Vodafone can't switch us. Lucky us, and good thing that phone number is not assigned, or someone else would be without telephone and Internet....
The current situation is that the Telekom says no one has applied for our DSL line, and 1&1 says that the Telekom hasn't processed our order....
Carrier pigeon anyone?
Since my school doesn't do interlibrary loans anymore, I went to the national library this morning to order a book not available in Berlin.
The counter was empty, the lady smiled and handed me the self-same two-part pink form I used to use a few decades ago when I was studying. I grabbed the pen to start writing, but she stopped me.
"You have to use a typewriter."
Typewriter, right. Wrote my thesis during the Summer Olympics 1984. The games were in LA, so I typed all day and watched the events while playing Skat (woo, got sidetracked there and had to rewrite the Wikipedia article on bidding completely) with my roommates all night. I may have slept occasionally. We gave the electric typewriter away at some point. I keep the mechanical one (and an extra ribbon!) at the cabin for writing letters when the electricity is out.
There were two IBM Daisy Wheel typewriters set into a little alcove. They had typed labels all over the place: put paper in here; pull in paper; next line; previous line; rub out. All the cultural information we have lost in 20 years - who knows how to use a typewriter anymore?
I made a complete and utter mess of the first one - mistyping (I correct very fast as I type), the shift key was in the wrong position (for me), bad spacing and running out of room at the bottom. I crept back to the desk, admitted my ignorance, and was granted another form to fill out.
It will be interesting to see if I can actually get a copy of this book in my hands, it is only available, according the the national catalogue, at this one library.
Today was "Staatsbesuch", an open house extravaganza in the ministries in Berlin. This is becoming a regular favorite in the Berlin calendar, as the ministries set up dog-and-pony shows for the taxpayers to show them what it is that they do all day. They print up entire forests worth of brochures for the purpose, but it is really a good way for them to get close to interested citizens and to hear what they have to say.
They may not like what they have to say. But at least they are listening.
I chose 4 ministries today, the health ministry was a special target because they are introducing a national "health card" (WP-DE, official ministry page) which is a plastic card with a chip on it that is supposed to, well, actually no one knows, but surely will save tons of money and work for someone. Maybe. Sometime in the future. It is a future technology. It is modern. It uses cryptography.
It is also costing the taxpayers, or rather the insured taxpayers, a pretty penny (4.5 billion Euros). The doctors are mad about it, because they have to buy new equipment and spend extra time on it and are not getting paid extra for it.
It was supposed to be introduced on April 1 of this year (no joke). But this didn't happen. The Chaos Computer Club has a good bit of information on this (1, 2, 3). Seems they were running a little test in Flensburg that bombed completely. People could not cope with the system.
I went to their stand to have a good look. I joined in one discussion, but got myself brushed off by asking about the strength of the cryptography. They did get a guy over who could talk computing, but he didn't really know. He wanted to explain how the cryptographic protocol worked, I wanted to know the strength of the system. It is to get tested every year by the BSI, the German governmental organization for security of information technology,
I had him run me through the entire procedure, they had stations for the insurance company, information kiosks, primary care physician, specialist, and the pharmacy set up.
- At the insurance company I could change my address. Wow. Saves them having to send me a new card, just because I move. I can't enter in Berlin addresses that have weird stuff like HH 2 li (back house, second floor, links) in them, but there is a field for extra stuff, so I guess it can get itself recorded.
- At the kiosk I first wanted to know where these are supposed to be. Oh, at insurance offices and chemist's. Who is going to pay for that? Oh, this is just a prototype. Then they had a language choice: German and Simplified German. I kept pushing "Simplified German" and they kept correcting that, until I said I wanted to see what that was. Oh, this is just a prototype. The first screen just said "Eingabe" instead of "PIN-Eingabe". The rest was the same. Duh.
Then I was demonstrated the function for "checking" your PIN. Seems so many people forgot their PIN (that they had to make up the first time they used the card) in the trials, and the card is invalidated if you enter the PIN 3 times, you can then use one of these kiosks to try out different combinations until you get it right. Double-Duh and extra points for spotting the security implications of this.
- At the primary care physician there were a gazillion fields that could be filled out. The screen layout has lots of room for improvement. It does not seem to be fitted to the workflow, but as usual, fits the data containers on the chip. The doctor can spend time with you entering your emergency information and your allergies and such. These can be read without a password in an emergency if the emergency response team happens to have a mobile reader with them. It was a cute thing with a screen and a little keyboard, but the chances of the battery on the thing being low is probably pretty high. I asked if the doctors get paid to put this information on the card. No. So why would any doctor do this?
Then we had some medicine prescribed. I was asked for my favorite medicine. I just said "pick one". The list presented was not the ordering normally used by doctors - they have their "Bible", the Red List, that is ordered systematically. This list was offered alphabetically - a long way to scroll down to Zolim .... I commented on this, the reply was: this is just a prototype.
Turns out, all of the archaic software systems currently running in doctor's offices will all have to be upgraded to interact with this system. At least they have a connector module that uses and offers web services. So there was at least one architect on the project that understood how to work with legacy systems.
So we ordered two medicines on this card, and proceeded to the next station.
- At the specialist's it was just another doctor with just another system for entering in the cards and the PINs. Here I requested to see how the doctor's letter works. My demonstrator was choosing to write to the primary care physician at the previous station. I thought it would be nice to have a letter written to a different physician so that I could see how the cryptography works. There was a list of (silly) doctor's names, so we chose one. I immediately thought this would be a lovely application for a public key infrastructure, with the specialist signing with his private key and encrypting with the addressing doctor's public key. Oh yeah, that's how it works, the guy said. We wrote some gibberish into the letter, and "signed it". After 20 seconds it crashed. Oh, he forgot the PIN. We wrote the letter again, signed it, put in the PIN, waaaaaaaited, and then it was done - the letter should now be out there on the Healthnet, ready for the doctor it was addressed to to download and read it.
Nasty me wanted him to show me the results. He assuredly went back to the other station, inserted the card for a doctor that the letter was not addressed to, and downloaded the letter.
It was perfectly readable, i.e. not encrypted. Um, this is just a prototype, the doctor's letter is a new module. Triple-Duh (no, not Triple-DES).
- So we landed at the Pharmacy. We put the card into the pharmacist's machine, typed in my PIN and the pharmacist's - and there was no medicine prescribed for me on the card. Darn. The doctor forgot to sign the prescription. I remarked that the patients might not like this, as they get to the pharmacy and discover that the doctor got distracted and did not complete the transaction and now they have to go back to the doctor's office. Oh, but that could happen today, too, the guy said. Not hardly likely - if I don't have a prescription in my hot little hand, I notice! And, I can theoretically read the prescription. I can't read the plastic thing.
So he gets another card that has a prescription on it for me, and fills it, and then sells me aspirin, which will have an adverse reaction with one of the things prescribed. Indeed, an error window opens with a completely unintelligible message on it, that can possibly be interpreted to be a cross reaction warning. Whoopie.
It would seem to me that the government is pouring tons of money into a project just because someone thinks this is somehow futuristic. They let a bunch of programmers determine what to do, instead of studying workflows and studying the users. Even after the system bombed in Flensburg, they have the nerve to demonstrate a half-baked piece of software. They could at least have faked it a bit more convincingly. But I really do not see how they can sell this to all of the stakeholders in the health care system - the only one to profit is the insurance companies, who get nice digitized data already nicely linked to the user number for their data mining applications. I think this is is a big waste of taxpayer money.
Not that anyone listens to me.
Ok. I'm a sucker too.
What have you eaten?
1. Venison - yes, don't like
2. Nettle tea - no
3. Huevos rancheros - si
4. Steak tartare - every Saturday if I'm home
5. Crocodile (well, alligator) - At the Alligator Farm in Jacksonville, FL. Tastes like chicken
6. Black pudding - no, never will
7. Cheese fondue - yummy, love it
8. Carp - it is edible
9. Borscht - eaten, don't link
10. Baba ghanoush - hwat?
11. Calamari - yes, fattening and good
12. Pho - what?
13. PB&J sandwich - of course, and PB&honey is best
14. Aloo gobi - ??
15. Hot dog from a street cart - yes, in New York
16. Epoisses - say what?
17. Black truffle - yes, but don't know what the fuss about is
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - many, many different kinds
19. Steamed pork buns - don't eat pork
20. Pistachio ice cream - yeah
21. Heirloom tomatoes - Does this mean "old scool"? Yes!
22. Fresh wild berries - Picked myself this summer
23. Foie gras - yes, hat it
24. Rice and beans - often
25. Brawn, or head cheese - no no no no
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - no
27. Dulce de leche - yes, too sweet
28. Oysters - yes, don't like
29. Baklava - yes, too sweet
30. Bagna cauda - what?
31. Wasabi peas - Love 'em! Where is that bag?
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - At the Red Snapper, I guess
33. Salted lassi - yum!
34. Sauerkraut - yes
35. Root beer float - ohhhh, I want one right now, love these, but no root beer in Germany
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - After we made that big sale, yes.
37. Clotted cream tea - yup
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - interesting idea
39. Gumbo - yes
40. Oxtail - oxtail soup
41. Curried goat - no
42. Whole insects - no, and am not planning to
43. Phaal (fire!!) - ??
44. Goat's milk - Goat's milk cheese
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - no
46. Fugu - no
47. Chicken tikka masala -yes
48. Eel - yes, too fatty
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - Oh yes!
50. Sea urchin - no
51. Prickly pear -yes
52. Umeboshi - ??
53. Abalone - no
54. Paneer - no
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal - no!
56. Spaetzle - Yes
57. Dirty gin martini - no
58. Beer above 8% ABV - yes, don't like it
59. Poutine - ??
60. Carob chips - yes
61. S'mores - especially around the campfire
62. Sweetbreads - no
63. Kaolin - isn't that clay?
64. Currywurst - yes
65. Durian - ??
66. Frogs' legs - yes
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - si
68. Haggis - no no no no
69. Fried plantain - no
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - no
71. Gazpacho - yes, make it often
72. Caviar and blini - yes
73. Louche absinthe - yes, tried it
74. Gjetost, or brunost - sure, been to Norway
75. Roadkill - Are you kidding? Never!
76. Baijiu - ??
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Oh, I miss these!
78. Snail - Oui
79. Lapsang souchong - yes
80. Bellini - ??
81. Tom yum - ??
82. Eggs Benedict - No
83. Pocky -??
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant - no
85. Kobe beef - no
86. Hare - yes, Mother-in-law used to make this often
87. Goulash - yes
88. Flowers - yes, in a salad
89. Horse - I think I did once
90. Criollo chocolate - no
91. Spam - yes, don't like it
92. Soft shell crab - yes, lovely
93. Rose harissa - yes, in Tunesia
94. Catfish - got a great recipe
95. Mole poblano - yes
96. Bagel and lox - sure
97. Lobster Thermidor - yes
98. Polenta - of course
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - not that I am aware of
100. Snake - no never, never will
Uff. Today was the second day I spent in Malmö walking around through the Malmö Festival. This is a yearly spectacle in which all sorts of stages are set up for different kinds of music, there are carousels trying to get money from families of small children, all sorts of food specialties are offered, and all sorts of small sellers flog their wares. Not to forget the gypsy fortune-teller.
Why two days? Well, the first day, Teeny and Twenny wanted to go. It is boring as hell here in the woods, they wanted some action. Since we had to drive WiseMan to the station anyway (he has jury duty and has to go home), we then took off through town.
I really don't care for this kind of entertainment, and was expecting to have to shell out a lot for stupid amusements. But Twenny, in Sweden for the first time, was enthralled by the shops open on Sundays! They were the same shops as in Germany! And the clothes were cheaper! I tried to explain that it would make more sense to look through the shops that only exist in Malmö, but I could just as well have been talking to the wall.
I did get her to enter one boutique - and then it was a snooty one where a thin rag was marked down to "Only" 1000 SEK, and they only seemed to have size 38 or smaller. I should note that Twenny wears clothes a size or two larger than mine, and I am *not* a 38. This just proved that it was useless to shop in boutiques.
She loved the tourist-trap place with the Swedish-colors-on-all-sorts-of-crap, and she bought some pencil cases and erasers and stuff for the cousins back home. This was useful crap, you see.
For lunch the first day I decided to try the vegetarian sweet-potato wrap at Astrid and the Ape's stand. They also had a completely vegetarian Chorizo-flavored sausage, but I decided to skip the sausage-that-was-not-a-sausage. Then I tried to convince Teeny and Twenny to try something. Teeny was just hungry, made a beeline for his favorite Chinese food, end of story.
Twenny walked around the entire large square with all the food booths. There was Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Dutch, Danish, Mexican, Yugoslavian, Syrian, African, German, Texan, and vegetarian. They had all sorts of special stuff, including alligator and gawd knows what. Then there were the Swedish specialties: Moose-Kebab (I kid you not!). Fried Herring. Herring in cream sauce. Moose-and-Reindeer-Kebab. I tried to get her to try some, but she would have none of it - what if she bought it and didn't like it? No, after all the considerations, we just got some more Chinese chicken.
Today, Twenny wanted to go back to some of the shops. Unfortunately, the Sunday sales were over. We visited more shops today, and even Teeny got irritated by all this looking at clothes you aren't planning on buying. I tried to interest Teeny for the street basketball or the Hip-Hop music tent, but he was not interested in being interested in anything.
For lunch we went to Subway. Ah well, good American chocolate-chip cookies.
I find the Malmö Festival, now in its 20-something year, more of a Rummel than a fun festival. They used to have dragon boat races and more cultural stuff. But maybe it was just because I didn't find anything to buy for myself.