Bye-bye Blackboard Patent 6,988,138

The utility or futility of patenting software aside, a major breakthrough has been achieved. The E-Learning Management System Blackboard had obtained Patent Number 6,988,138 on what was obvious prior art to anyone but the patent office.

Desire2Learn had sued over the patent and lost, which got the open-source projects Sakai, Moodle and Atutor to start their own actions against Blackboard using the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). They argued that Blackboard was just implementing the IMS standard. And so the ruling handed down a few days ago by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected all of the Blackboard patents. Blackboard lied by not revealing well-known prior art.

The ruling can still be appealed, but it is wonderful to see the Patent office beginning to see that it was silly to have believed that Blackboard invented E-Learning Management Systems!

Blackboard is preparing for it's yearly conference by getting its toe wet in the Web 2.0 and has opened up a Facebook group for pre-conference communication. I just posted the link to the ruling there at . Wonder how long the link will remain posted :)

Update 1.4. (no April Fool's Joke): No longer than 16 hours. Jan Day writes:

Subject: Your post about the patent

Hi WiseWoman,

I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know I saw your post about the recent USPTO ruling on the Blackboard Patent. While it is timely information, I removed the post because it isn't related to BbWorld'08. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this I'm happy to set up some time to chat.

Thanks for being part of the BbWorld'08 Facebook group. I hope to see you in Las Vegas this July.


Nope. Won't be there.

Fingerprint Lifting 101

The Chaos Computer Club has - I hope - done it again. Waaaaaay back in the 80s they demonstrated with a wonderful hack how easy it was to subvert the pay-by-BTX schemes that were cropping up.

Now they set their sights on biometrics, specifically fingerprinting. They managed to get the Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, to take a drink of water from a glass with a nice, clean surface (I have heard many entertaining stories about this, let's just say that the drinking receptacles at CCC are not normally this squeaky clean). From the glass they managed to lift his fingerprints - it is actually very easy to do, they published a step-by-step instruction (or for the visually inclined, a video).

They are publishing the copies of Schäuble's fingerprint in the current version of their newsletter.

A team of reporters from the ARD was so intrigued by this, that they wanted to see if a pay-by-fingerprint system that the chain Edeka uses can be fooled by this rather simple method. One reporter registered to pay by fingerprint, and goes shopping on camera. No problem, he can pay. Then they have one of his fingerprints lifted and a replica of his fingertip produced with materials that can be purchased at any hardware store.

Another reporter then went shopping for one item, and used the replica to successfully purchase piece of chocolate on camera. Even shown the video footage of this, both the supermarket owner and the head of the company which makes the technology insisted that the method was secure and could not be compromised. Apparently they subscribe to the self-delusional school of thought that "if I want it to be thus and such hard enough, it will be so".

I showed the video to a friend, who quickly understood that fingerprints are not as secure as he had thought. And his computer at work is secured by a fingerprint reader....

Now we just have to find some way to force-feed the ARD footage to politicians who believe anything technical must be magically secure.

Handball Final Four 2008

Ahhh, another wonderful handball festival, although I had the impression that the stadium in Hamburg (called "Colina" by the locals, as they hate the official "Color Line Arena" in which the "Lufthansa Final Four" was held for the "Toyota Handball Bundesliga". What will they sell next, air?) was much fuller this year.

We had usual seats behind a goal, but real bleachers this year, not the folding chairs they set up to get more people packed in. It really is quite something when all 12.800 or so people are cheering!

The official propaganda (regurgitated by the media) was that all the seats had been sold out in 7 minutes. Hogwash. The system broke down after 7 minutes :) It took us 45 minutes to score our seats - and there was barely anything left, so we of course ended up with rather expensive seats. But a friend managed to get tickets on eBay with a 12,5% markup, and the shills were selling tickets as we got off the bus.

Saturday my favored THW Kiel (extra points for those who know what THW stands for, no fair peeking in the Wikipedia) met up with the Rhein-Neckar Lions, who had an axe to grind. They have been snapping up "aging" stars and had some of the great world champions (Henning Fritz, Christoph Schwarzer, Oliver Roggish) on the floor. You couldn't be mad when Fritz managed to fend off a goal or Blackie did one if his flying goal stunts from the circle. But the THW Zebras stomped all over the Lions.

Then Nordhorn met up with HSV, the local team in Hamburg. Both were determined to win, and neither gave up. Holger Glandorf for Nordhorn (another world champion) was just a whirling dervish of a goal getter - he made 13 goals all by himself! It wasn't enough, though, the stars from HSV were better.

So the final was the "local derby" between the rivals Kiel and Hamburg. We were in a restaurant for dinner out in the sticks (but handball is really big in the north) when some drunken HSV folks came in for a smoke or two and food. Yes, a smoke. The largest room in the restaurant is the smoking room, there are a few tables up front for the non-smokers. Since we were so many people, we had to sit in back. We toasted to THW, they answered with more comments and an occasional tröt of their blaring horn.

Got to the stadium early, I scored a new training set for only 20 € and in the color I wanted, WiseMan managed to get a T-Shirt he had been looking for for a long time (He collects them. Don't ask how many he has.....). WiseKid liked the food and decided to cheer for Hamburg, since the oldies were for THW.

It was a close game, with HSV in the lead at half-time. But the THW coach must have said some magic words, because they came back fighting in the second half. It was - literally - quite a fight. The referees had their work cut out for them getting people to settle down and not be so aggressive. There were two serious injuries, both on the HSV side, including Bertrang Gille, what I pity, I love to watch him play. The new guy, the flying Dane, did a few of his magic goals for HSV, but it was not enough, and they gave up 2 seconds before the end as they were 2 goals down.

It was such fun to see the faces of the Kiel team, even though they have won so many titles, they are just as excited about each new one as if it was the first one! One down, two more to go for the Triple Crown again for Kiel!



Had some local friends over for dinner last night. It is wonderful to have some time with people who can perhaps explain the strange things that have happened since our last visit. For example, they switched sides in the divided garbage can for compost and burnables. Even they don't know why, but someone had to come through their entire neighborhood and switch the middle partition, as the burnables are to be 2/3 of the garbage can. No one changed ours, though, so we need to make more compost.

Anyway, WiseKid asked them about paintball possibilities in the area. They immediately knew a guy down in the village who organizes stuff like this, and then they pointed out the CombatDome in the next town.

I had taken WiseKid there once when he was far too young, and he was thrown out, so he didn't actually have the place on his radar. They remarked that you can now go shoot soft-air guns from the age of 12 if your parents go along.

So he begged to go. I pointed to the big pile of wood that has been waiting to be chopped since he took three trees down the first day. Only when this pile disappears will I consider driving to the CombatDome.

He chopped half the wood before breakfast this morning, had a quick one, and then chopped the other half and piled it nicely behind the shed. So I had no choice but to drive him there.

Twelve Euros (120 SEK) buys you an hour's worth of "fun" with equipment. The place was swarming with little guys 12-14 (actually only 6 of them, but as excited as all get out) and one mother. We made contact immediately, and spent a lovely hour chatting together while the guys went around shooting at each other.

She is a nurse from Hässleholm, she offered to take her boys and some neighborhood guys down on the train - the CombatDome is right across from the station in Höör. She hates guns, I hate guns; she doesn't understand why the guys enjoy shooting at each other and getting hurt, I don't either; we both made fun of the guys when they limped in, shot, and trying to be man enough not to cry.

At one point one of her boys took a bad shot, she had to go blow on it. Being a nurse, her breath has magical qualities.

WiseKid was sooooo happy to have guys to play with, he didn't mind them being younger. Also, they were crack shots, apparently practicing in the woods with illicit soft-air guns. First game he limped back first, they got him right away. But he learned quickly, and even managed to take them all out on one round.

I was glad of the company, although I had a ton of stuff to read. But there will be another day for reading, and WiseKid has been in a great mood the rest of the day.


SnowWomen and Igloos

It snowed and snowed again, wonderful, glorious let's-make-something snow. WiseKid and WiseNephew (both teenagers) abandoned their Gawd-I'm-a-teenager-and-bored attitudes and went for a major romp in the snow, coming in soaking wet. They used all the clothes they had along, and then borrowed stuff from us.

First job was to make a snowman. When I protested the sexist nature of this, they giggled, went out, and made a snow woman. Anatomically correct, as they say. She had *big* boobs, with tea lights decorating the, um, local maxima. They insisted I could feel up between her legs, I declined.

They used pretty much all the matches for hair (on her head and pubic regions) and gave her some nice gloves. We had a nice laugh and went back to making food. The guys disappeared for a bit, and then had us come out. In the meantime there seems to have been a snow man who came by, they had made about 20 snow children all over the sidewalk!

Then they started in on an igloo. This took hours, as they first carted all the snow they could get with wheelbarrows and made an enormous mound of packed snow, about as high as they are. They completely disregarded my explanations of how to make an igloo with blocks of ice.

After dinner they set up lights and started digging a door and then carving out the igloo from the inside. They worked until 11pm, at which time we made them go to bed. The igloo was nice, you could even lie down in it! But WiseNephew has to go back to Germany today, so they had to get some sleep. They slept like logs, WiseKid got up to say goodbye, then he started a fire in the fireplace and is sacked out on the couch.

Me? I'm out to explore this wonderful winter wonderland just outside my door, the sun is shining, so I think I'll walk to get the paper. Will take just as long as digging out the car....


A Really White Easter

Boy, did it ever snow last night! 10-20 cm of fresh, powdered snow fell yesterday and it continued snowing throughout the day.

I got out the shovel and shoveled my way up to the car, only to discover that the snow plow had not been through yet. I decided I was not slithering down to the village in this deep snow just for rolls, so we had some of the sickly sweet Swedish bread I bought yesterday for breakfast.

There was an article in the paper about the sugar in the bread - seems in the first World War the Swedish sugar beet producers needed a market, so they passed a law that there had to be sugar in bread! During the second World War they upped the sugar quota in bread so people would get enough calories. Sweden didn't have much, but sugar they had. So the Swedes are addicted to sweetened bread, although some pesky immigrants have been baking non-sweetened bread for some time now. It just doesn't make its way to the little country store here.

WiseKid was bugging us to go to the large discount shop so he could check out the paintball guns (although I remind him regularly that he has to be 18 for that pasttime). We piled into the car, I packed a shovel which rather scared my mother-in-law, so she decided to stay home. We crawled to the store, not even the type of road two grades up from what we have by the house had been cleared. We formulated the theory that they had already packed in the tractors and all the drivers were on Easter vacation on the Canary Islands.

We made it without incident, and discovered that the discount store had changed hands. It is now open 9-20 even on weekends, but has much less hardware, fishing and gardening stuff. And no guns (yeah!). Their food selection, however, was stupendous. They even had a large shelf with American foods. I slipped a box of MacCheese, some root beer and a diet Mountain Dew into the cart.

Back home, the streets had still not been cleared. We had lunch, WiseKid copped the box of MacCheese and I was only able to beg a small plate of the stuff. Just love the chemistry of this, don't know what they put in it, but this is the Real Thing! I got a paper started that is due very soon, and since the streets had STILL not been cleared, I got my boots on and went out to clear the parking lot for my sister-in-law. Our "other parking space" currently has 30 cm or so of snow on it, and it would block the snow plow, if it ever shows up. But there is guest parking down the street, so I did my good deed for the day and cleared two spaces.

The guy in charge of the homeowner's association came by walking his dog, and I complained that the plow - which we pay for, because this is a private road - had not been past yet. "Oh, he'll be by as soon as it stops snowing." I pointed out that it stopped snowing an hour ago. "Well, I bet he'll be by right away". And sure enough, I was just finishing up a path to the garbage can (drifted VERY DEEP in snow) when the tractor showed up. So I waited for him to plow, and then cleared off the wall of snow he so nicely shoved behind the car.

Now the sun is shining, the snow is glistening white - it is just beautiful, if not exactly what one expects for Easter.


A Pound of Feathers

Had an interesting discussion with WiseKid about gravity this evening. Seems they are doing something called physics in school, although he detests the teacher who just makes them learn formulas.

Anyway, we were discussing how fast a one kilo bar of lead would be moving when it hits the ground after being dropped from 150 meters height. I then asked him how fast a kilo bag of feathers would be going if dropped from the same height, and which one would get there first if dropped at the same time.

A bizarre discussion ensued, as he was completely and utterly sure that the bag of feathers would reach the ground first. His reasoning was: there would be less drag on the bag of feathers so it would reach the ground first. We tried to get him to imagine just how big a kilo bag of feathers would be. No avail. We tried a vacuum - yes, he remembered us dragging him as a kid to some science museum where he had experimented with a vacuum. And yes, he was clear on the fact that in the vacuum the feathers and the lead would reach the ground together. But we could not convince him that because of the resistance (all that surface area on the feathers!) the lead would hit the ground just before the feathers.

And we've even been to Pisa with him and discussed the experiment there. But what do we know, old fuddy-duddies that we are? 16-year-olds know everything, his face said as he gave up in exasperation and went for a smoke.


Mulholland Dr.

Talk about non-sequiteurs. I packed this DVD because I had wanted to see it for some reason, and watched it last night, with WiseMan who had already seen it and made unintelligible comments during the entire film. Comments like "Oh, this is a key scene!" and there are 38 things in the scene and I don't know what the f*$§ the entire movie is about. Mother-in-law was watching, too, and she just did not even understand a thing, although it was in German. WiseKid was off in his very own cabin watching "Italian Job" on the other computer. We drag computers with us so we can watch DVDs and read the news on the Internet.

When it was over, I asked myself why I had just spent all this time watching all these strange scenes. Was it all a dream?

The IMDB entry did not exactly bring enlightenment. The Wikipedia at least let me know that there are different interpretation, and listed the "clues", none of which made the least sense to me. This fan site lists 27 different theories on what the film was actually about. Puhleeze, could the director just quit screwing with our minds and make a film that makes a bit of sense? Ok, the Möbius-strip theory is cute.

Finally, Salon, the successor to the Well, one of the very first social networks on the Internet, gives it to me in the clear: They go over the movie in excrutiating detail, then they answer questions, the first being my exact first question when the movie was over. They even have questions, such as what was the box about, that they answer "we just don't know". Okay.

Now that I've read this analysis, I suppose I have to see it again. I'll have to find me a victim who has never seen it before, and I will make nasty comments like "Oh, that is what that is!" or "This is a key scene!" the entire time. Maybe that was the purpose of the film. Whatever. I want more Re-Genesis, NOW!


White Easter

Up in Sweden with the family for the Easter holidays - looks like we will be having a White Easter, there's a thin bit of snow on the ground and quite a snowstorm today. Even had a snowball fight with WiseKid.

WiseKid asked to use my earphones on the way up, because I told him Grandmother would not stand for his music. I just gave him my iPod - and the first thing he did was check the music I listen to. "EeeeeU, Mom, what is this garbage you listen to?" Um, that's exactly my thoughts on yours, bud. Then he started checking my pictures. Did a quick check if there was anything, um, unfit for youthful eyes on there, I thought I was fine. Nope, he found the one where I had only had a second alone with the letter from one of his rather unsavory buddies, and I had snapped a picture of the return address, as I didn't have pen and paper handy. Never used the address, never thought of the picture again. Of course he finds it!

We got here with some daylight left, and he was itching to go - I had requested that he help me take down three trees, in part to pay back the debt he has with me, and in part for him to earn some cash for getting minutes on his phone (he has a new girlfriend, so he needs lots of minutes!).

I tried to explain that a) the sun would go down soon and b) it was snowing outside, but no avail. So we got our work clothes on, got out the chain saw, and attacked the easiest of the trees. He wanted to do it himself, so I decided to bite my tongue and let him. And he did a good job! The tree was threating to fall backwards towards the road, but he listened when I hollered, looked up, turned the saw off and gave a push in the right direction. Man, was he pleased with the *thump* it made as it fell.

He stomped and cut the branches off, then cut the bottom bit into nice, bite-sized pieces for the fireplace, we'll do the chopping tomorrow. It was dark by the time we were done, but he was very happy - and me too! Nice to have a lumberjack in the house. But the chainsaw oil is almost done, so I'll have to made a hardware store run tomorrow :) I *love* hardware stores, always glad of an excuse to go!


Contergan Woman

I stood behind a woman in line while shopping today who appears to be one of the Contergan babies. She was about my age, and at that time many pregnant women were given Contergan to combat morning sickness.

Turned out that this caused the babies to suffer from phocomelia, which entails the hands (often missing fingers) attached directly to the shoulders. Soon after German doctors determined that 50% of the mothers of the deformed babies had taken Contergan, it was removed from the German market.

She was shorter than I am, her shoulders were at the level of the little payment shelf they have at the cash registers for you to sign your credit card chits on. She had had one item in each hand, and had to lean her body over the counter a shoulder at a time to put the items down.

She worked a wallet out of her coat which was hung on a cord around her neck. The problem is, the hands don't quite meet in the middle. She hunched her shoulders in and used her mouth and chin to get the coins out and get the change back. She was given the bag and tucked it under her chin as she put the coat sleeve (which had, of course, been shortened for her) back on.

I reflected on what a horrible situation the Contergan children are in. Their mothers used a drug which had not undergone proper scientific investigation. I suppose this was one of the reasons we have such stringent rules on developing medicines today, and I rather think that is a good idea.

For the rest of the day I observed what I do and tried to figure out if I could perhaps do it with just one hand, or two that don't meet. I suppose I could clean windows, and read (page turning would be a bitch, though). But cooking - I need both hands to prepare ingredients. Riding a bike, writing at my computer, driving a car - I suppose there are special additions one can get to make these possible.

But still - I am very, very glad that medical testing is rigorous. And wondered what the woman prefers - for people to ignore her, or for them to comment on her situation. I just tried not to stare and not be impatient, but still felt uncomfortable.


Eyesland - Icelandic Films

The Icelandic Embassy in Berlin is hosting an Icelandic film festival called Eyesland hier in Berlin - for free! They have all of the films ever produced in Iceland - all the way back to that epic 1918 film "Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru" (The outlaw and his wife) which was filmed in Iceland, - on display in an exhibition, and are showing the most famous ones pretty much non-stop from Friday to Friday. A poor guard at the Embassy has to work long hours, but there are about twenty people here, and a local bookseller has everything ever printed in Germany from an Icelander on sale. They also have some soft drinks and candy. And films, real ones, 35mm and DVD.

Since I was a good girl and got the first version of my paper written, I decided to go see 101 Reykjavik. I've seen it before, in Sweden, but this one can be seen again, it is so funny. And having been in Reykjavik this past summer, I see many additional jokes as I can identify certain places and things.

This is a guy, Hlynur, around 30, who still lives with his mother. She has a wonderful girlfriend stay with them - Lola. Lola asks Hlynur what he does. "Nothing." "What kind of nothing?" "Nothing kind of nothing." His idea of progress is going from child support to unemployment money to retirement money.

He gets up late, has a bath in the tub that makes into a couch, waits for the porn to finally get on the TV, goes to parties. Occasionally he sleeps with a girl, but mostly he makes fun of the sexual games of the others. Anyway, New Year's Eve he's alone with Lola, they get drunk, what happens, happens, and then: Lola and his mother announce that they are lesbian and are now officially living together.

Hlynur is stunned - and angry with Lola. He is angrier when he finds out that he was being used as a sperm donor - Lola is having his child/brother together with his mom. Hlynur tries to commit suicide during the child's baptism by climbing up a glacier and lying in the snow. "You are dead before you are born and dead when you die. Life is a break from death." But he doesn't succeed, and appears to adjust to life with baby, as we see the two of them bathing together in the end.

I stayed on for Börn (Children), despite the bad seats. Luckily it was in black and white, so the blood wasn't so bad. A bizarre story, in a part of town I've never seen, about parents and their children. There are all sorts of threads to the story that are intertwined somehow, just like in a little village. The actors are apparently a local theater group that wrote the script themselves.

Let's see, what did we have? Older gay men; widow with a son still living as home who seems slightly retarded and a new, secret boyfriend; single mother with 4 kids from 2 fathers trying to make ends meet; one of the fathers fighting to take their 3 daughters from her; an old lady dying of cancer; a boy finally meeting his biological father; a violent bully; I'm sure there were more.

The same director and many of the same actors show up then in Foreldrar (Parents) that is kind of like more of the same. Again, black and white, and more stories. A dentist with step-kids who ignore him; he thinks he is trying to have a baby with his wife, but she had her tubes tied and didn't tell him; a business guy so glued to his mobile phone that he doesn't see either wife or child; the bully is back, but this time breaking the nose - his speciality - of the nasty villan (played by Swedish actor Reine Brynolfsson); woman who left her son with her mother eight years ago to go live with nasty villan in Sweden; son appears to be son of the dentist, concieved at a drunken party. Again, I surely missed some.

The stories rather grow on you.

One gets the impression that all Icelanders are more or less bizarre, and that they have the strangest relations with their parents. They drink a lot, use their mobile phones a lot, have a lot of sex and a lot of children (I think there is some sort of relationship between the two....).

I don't really understand why the embassy didn't do advertising and charge admission!


Oral Exams

It's that time of season again, the oral exams. We try and block them, it is much more effective to blow off 5 or 6 a day, because the day is wasted anyway, than have individual exams on individual days.

We had it nicely planned, then it turned out that some smart alecks thought they could get themselves some breathing room by not registering for all the exams for the first sitting, they thought they would do it on the second sitting. But you can't have your orals until all the exams are finished and passed. So they will have to wait until next semester. Never get smart with German examination rules. They are inflexible.

It was an interesting comparasion, as we had orals for Diploma students (4-year program with is running out, we can ask them anything we want to) and for Bachelor's students (3-year program, we can only ask them questions about their thesis). Three had the exact same pre-qualifying grade, one Diploma and two Bachelor candidates. But the Diploma thesis and the Diploma orals count for more, so the Diploma woman managed to make her grade up to a top level, the Bachelor's could have stood on their heads and sung the national anthem, the thesis and the orals just do not count for much. Which begs the question as to why we are there.

Anyway, turns out you can still pretty much ask the Bachelor's anything, you just have to be canny. As my colleague said: just let them talk a bit at the beginning, and then pounce on any terminology they used. If they introduce it into the discussion of their thesis, then it can be probed.

We caught one person out (again!) fishing for an exact explanation of how the Internet works. We vowed years ago to retire the question when it was completely and satisfactorily answered by three people in a row. Still going strong... Another one was using the word "stack" to mean the data structure "queue". And since he kept talking about hashes, mean old me wanted a definition. And another dropped the word "compile", so we wanted to know the difference between a compiler and an interpreter. So we felt good that we were able to get in some "real" questions.

My feeling is, that if a computer person uses some fancy terminology, they should be able to define it properly. And if they are programming for the Web, for crying out loud, they really, really, really need to UNDERSTAND how the Internet works. It's not magic.

Everyone passed, so lots of parties tonight! More exams (and more parties) tomorrow.

It's Different If I Say So

Spent the last two weeks more or less in the dean's office. As vice-dean one of my duties is to be there when he is on vacation.

Summary: (German) professors can be really childish.

If you give them a deadline, many ignore it. If one of the women in the office reminds them of the deadline, she risks getting yelled at. If *I* send an email signed "Vice-Dean" they finally get cracking and send in what it was we needed, in this case, the grades for last semester which are needed so the students know if they have to prepare for the re-sit.

They have 8 weeks - far too long, in my opinion - to read and grade final theses. The exams have to be done by Tuesday, or the students will not be able to apply for Master's programs. Guess how many grades are already in! But we are supposed to invite the students anyway. Good for the student, that means they can't fail, otherwise we would not have invited them. But some professors even have not bothered to discuss the time of the exam with the other professors involved or with the student, and want us to invite a student for tomorrow. We don't even know if the other professor can come!

The clerk objected. Called the professor - how about next Tuesday? That is still within the legal limits. No, professor can't come, yadda yadda yadda, end of story. The clerk came to me, I felt that Tuesday was reasonable. That's why we have 3 days advance notice on oral exams. I checked the professor's announcement of when s/he would be out of town. Nope, in town all next week. So now I called. Turned out that s/he would have to come to school extra for the exam. Well, let's have a pity party. And guess what - if I ask, s/he will come.

I think this is horrible - the students have a right to be able to plan their lives just as much as we do. I would almost want to set the date for the oral exams as soon as they are admitted to the thesis. Then we don't have the "I need a 2-month extention on a 3-month project" cries from some students, and there is no discussion with the professors. The dates would be given.

But what I really find strange, is that professors are so egoistical, only seeing their own point of view, not that of the administration or the students. They berate the administration for sloppy work - but the reason for the sloppy work is usually that the professor didn't bother to have his or her planning paperwork submitted by the deadline. Everyone wants their schedule as soon as possible, but we can't plan if we don't have data!

And why do they listen when I say something, or do the right thing, and not when a "lowly clerk" says the same thing? The content is the same. So I must assume that this is a hierarchical thing - won't take no nonsense from underlings. The worst is the way they act towards the women. Just in these two weeks I had two instances of the clerks in tears because a professor (who had him/herself been responsible for what went wrong) hollering at them and accusing them of incompetence.

Maybe we need to hire a kindergarten teacher and teach the professors how to plan their work so it is done on time, how to share, and how to be nice to each other. Really!


God's Time

I did the usual family call to the US Sunday evening and spoke to my brother before I called my father. He had just called Dad, and said that he was raging against Daylight Savings Time, the US had just turned the clocks back an hours, we have a few more weeks in Europe.

I normally call Dad at around midnight, and Sunday was no exception. I said "Hi!" when he answered, and he immediately started in. "So are you still on God's Time?" I answered "No", because I was always under the impression that I was on Middle European Standard Time.

He began a diatribe against the senselessness of changing the time, made sense for those city folk maybe years ago although it was a pain on the farm because the cows had to be milked every 12 hours and they didn't care about DST so as a kid he had to get up an hour earlier to milk the cows.

My brother had noted that there was a study just published that going to DST does not save any money any more. That used to be the case, when electricity was only used for lighting, and coal for heating, like when DST was adopted. But now that people have air-conditioners, they have them on when they are awake, so no savings there.

I began pondering the concept of "God's Time". I suppose this means the way things were when my Dad was a kid, but actually, that is not God's Time. There used to be lots of local time-keeping schemes, using solar time to figure out if it was early morning or late in the afternoon. It was only after transcontinental railroads had to publish timetables that the whole idea of a standard time zone was codified. This is man-made, not something God created :)

Oh dear, the discussion of "God's Time" seems to be a hot one in the US, according to the number of search machine results. I used "God's Time" daylight savings time and got 850 hits. Reminds me again why I am much happier in Europe than in the US......


International Women's Day – by bike

I had an invitation to the international women's day brunch at the Nordic Embassies this morning, but the normal way of getting there is by subway and then by bus.

But the local transport is on strike (or, as the boss insisted in the paper this morning, they are not on strike, they are being striked). The S-trains are still running (but threatening to strike from Monday), but there is no station even near the embassies. And since there are lots of companies in the area, I felt that there would not be a parking place anywhere near.

It's only about 5 km, and I do have a bike in the cellar. I went down last evening for an inspection. Don't know when I last rode it, but I had to blow off a good bit of dust and both wheels were flat as pancakes. Okay, we have pumps. The first one broke off the tip the moment I started pumping. Gently now, don't want to break everything. Well, theypumped up, and I found all the keys for the locks.

So it will be a nice and healthy day tomorrow, lots of exercise.

WiseMan offers to guide me through the maze of little streets, as Berlin drivers are not the most courteous drivers in the world. He normally needs 20 minutes for the trip, I wanted a bit more time because I am a tad slower than his normal almost-speed-of-light tempo and because I wanted to freshen up.

Got up early, had breakfast „just in case“ (and it was a very good idea, turned out), and wrestled my bike up the cellar stairs. It was, of course, drizzling. WiseMan bikes in any weather, so I wasn't to complain, I just threw my little bag with a fresh shirt, my EeePC in case I stop for coffee on the way back, and a shopping bag into the basket, and off we went!

The first bit is gradually downhill. Good. Lots of bikes out, and lots of drivers who are having trouble coping with all the bikes. after a bit we hit a so-called bike path. It is a different color than the pavement, but the roots of the trees next to the path have shoved their roots up under the stones, so it is more of a roller coaster ride than anything else. Other bits are just paint on the road, drivers of certain luxury cars mistake this paint (in conjunction with a „no stopping here anytime“ sign as a parking space red carpet, just for them. You have to watch them closely, they tend to open the car doors without looking back.

In front of us a man is walking his dog, properly on a leash. The dog decides to go inspect the calling cards left by other dogs near the tree on the other side of the bike path. WiseMan calls out – Watch out! These guys are extremely dangerous! Of course they don't see the bikers, so you have to use your bell to call attention to yourself. It is a good idea to always have your finger on the bell when biking in Berlin.

Made it to the embassy in good time - and of course, there was plenty of parking, it being just past 8 am. Ah well. I get inside and make a dash for the ladies room. I thought to bring a fresh shirt, but as I discover upon looking in the mirror, a comb, hairspray, a curling iron and maybe lipstick would help, but I have none of that along. So I make do and head on out looking for coffee.

You can tell the Scandinavian women - they show up dressed to the teeth. Did they all take taxis? Walk from Zoo in those high heels? Gorgeous clothes, nice jewelery, not a hair out of place. Oh well, the buffet looks good.

The Danish ambassador started speaking, but they had lots of problems with feedback in the mikes. Sigh. Then he introduced the former Finnish defense minister, Elizabeth Rehn. She worked after her term of office with the UN to help the Balkan region find peace. She spoke about finding peace in the world being the most important goal.

Then Kristín Hulda Sverrisdóttir was introduced, the director of administration at the Reykjavik University and a member of a group that is finding ways to get more women on the company boards in Iceland. She spoke of the women's strike in Iceland in 1975. Working women and mothers went on strike, demanding equal wages - and almost 25.000 women (10% of the populace!) gathered in the capital for a famous picture. It got attention, but over 30 years later, women still make less than men doing the same job.

She gave some numbers: 80% of the women are in the workforce now in Iceland, but only 10% of the positions on company boards are held by women. Her group began asking about 6 years ago: why? Oh, we don't know any women, they would answer. Hodge-podge, all Icelanders know each other, it seems. Well, we ask, but they are scared, they always say no.

So the group collected money and put big ads in all the papers with a screaming headline: Yes, we will! and signed by 100 women. That sure got them talked about! They aren't all in board positions now, but many companies have managed to increase the number of women they have on their boards, not like the Norwegian companies who are now risking having their AG status revoked because they still don't have any women, after years of coaxing, on their boards. We still have a long way to go.

So finally, the speeches were over, we could dash for the food. I got a nice plate load, then walked around and spoke to a few people. While talking to Kristín the ambassador for Afghanistan came up, the sociologist Prof. Dr. Maliha Zulfacar (from CalPoly in the USA). She is such a vibrant, intelligent woman. She was looking for help conducting a study on the plight of women in Afghanistan. I had suggested a colleague at the TU Berlin, she sniffed at that - oh, I know him, she said. He won't return my calls because I am a woman. Oh man, guys, we still have a loooooooong way to go.

The way home went much faster - must have been because it stopped raining. But I am wondering - do we just get roses tomorrow (okay, it is now after midnight, so today)? Or does that old song still have meaning: "Bread and Roses", just slightly twisted? "Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too." - Now we are still fighting for equal bread, although we get roses on International Women's Day.


We are the Hostages of TV

Tuesday evening was a wonderful handball game, Füchse against Minden, and the Foxes won nicely. Tuesday?!? The game was supposed to have been on Sunday, as usual, at 5 pm.

But one of the two major TV sports channels, DSF, purchased the rights to this "cellar fight" (Minden is in last place and fighting to stay in the league). We were informed just the game before that it had been moved up, all the other games are Sundays and a few Wednesdays, and the Wednesday ones start at 8pm sharp.

As a group of students pointed out with a big poster that they unfurled (in the dark, unfortunately, so not exactly visible for the cameras) - if they like handball and come to the game, they will get home late-late-late and fall asleep in school tomorrow.

And so it was - the game didn't start until 8.15, because they wanted to make sure that people who watch the 8 o'clock news religiously could see the game from the first throw. And the break drew on forever, the refs only gave the starting whistle to the second half after a nod from the TV production boss on the ground. Of course, have to get all the ads in. So the game was not over until almost 10 pm, at which time the subways and buses begin to thin out. We just missed both the train near the stadium and the bus connection, adding an extra 20 minutes to travel time. We didn't get home until 11pm.

But who is to complain about being held hostage here? The teams made money on it (I hope), Konny Wilczynski - the league top scorer - hammed up some really, really great goals, and the folks at home got to see something other than THW-HSV-Flensburg.

And at least the trains were still running. From 3am Wednesday Berlin is without subways and busses and trams, Monday the S-train goes on strike as well. This is about as close as we get in Germany to a general strike. More on that, stay tuned.


OLPC Continued

Yesterday I let different people play around with the OLPC:

  • The local 16-year-old was finally allowed to touch it. He managed to open it without hints, and figured out the navigation without having to ask. He spent a good 20 minutes trying out all the buttons. He liked being able to surf, but was disappointed by the games - no ego-shooters. "This would not be for me," he said, "but I am sure that Third World kids would find it really cool, especially as they don't have other computers." Then he wanted me to switch the OLPC to "their language" to see what it looked like. As WiseWoman groaned and began to explain that there are lots of different people who speak many different languages who live in developing countries, he detected teaching mode and fled the home office to go turn his stereo up to full blast. He would, however borrow the EeePC in a flash, he noted at lunch.

  • Two of my graduates in computing had a look as well. One wanted to test the water-repellent properties as a joke, I didn't want to do this test just yet. The other looked for the crank - I think he is the fifth or sixth person to ask for that. That seems to be the property that people remembered.

    They had some trouble getting it opened, but did finally manage, even figuring out that the screen could swivel. I had to show them the twist-to-playstation-mode. As a playstation gamer the one was comfortable with that mode of operation right away, but the games installed were, well, trivial. They didn't really like Sugar, getting irritated when it would not do what they wanted it to.

    The one working as a consultant for a big-shot company found it to be too much of a toy, the knowledge of using this thing won't transfer to the Real World (tm). I forget the official rejoinder that they can, of course, use Google Docs and Spreadsheets if they have an Internet connection. But that IF is a big IF - even here in lovely Friedrichshain, the handfull of access points we found were all locked. There needs to be free WLAN everwhere for this to work. (Same problem with the EeePC - with no Internet connection it is just a fancy notepad.)

    They also agree that high scores are a must. I wonder if this is a Western culture thing, that we want/need high scores?
Must continue the games test soon, but there is some real work screaming to get done here.....


OLPC Games

I tried to connect the OLPC to another university network that "only" hat WEP Passwords enabled (5 letter), but this did not work. It appeared to be a problem of the university, however, as the EeePC couldn't get an IP Address, either.
The OLPC Wiki has a list of programs you can install on the OLPC, I downloaded some games so I could test the OLPC in Playstation Modus (completely on the basis of scientific endeavor, you understand).

First up was BlockParty, a Tetris-like game. Strange, you click on it, it is supposed to install, I don't get any message. But looking through the "dock" I do see a new thing, and wow, it starts! Hmm, click Enter to start. No enter key when I have the screen turned out. Okay, trial and error, the arrow keys on the left work: left, right, down is drop, up is rotate. But the stupid power source is right next to the arrows! Bad enough that it is for the left thumb, with the power cord in the way it is almost unplayable.

But wait, you can swap the screen! So I flip it 180 degrees, the screen flips nicely, now I can grab for the arrow keys okay, but they do *not* switch. I now press left to get the block to move right. Suboptimal. An interesting exercise, but I cannot swap my brain left-to-right. I keep hitting down to drop, but down is up and rotates, okay. Opening up the keyboard, the left and right arrows work, but down does not. Okay, thumb on one control, fingers on the arrows, I make it to level 8 and then it forgets my score. Forget this. I want a high score list!!!!

Next up is Maze. Okay, cute little maze-thingy. Gets harder as you go along. Seems to be a collaborative thing, as I keep being announced a winner (I suppose). It is hard to communicate without words! I think it is giving me the time to solve the exercise. For that last one, it counted the time I took to write the last sentence.....

Now for Implode, a logic game. Hmm, what do I do? Ah, click. Okay, groups go away. I clear the board, and get a red smiley. Yeah. Next one I clear on 5 clicks and get a green smiley face. I suppose that means I am better! Got one where a single color was left - couldn't go on. I suppose that means I lose. Can't get rid of 2er blocks, either. Ahh, I can make the blocks smaller, more on a page. Not bad. Took a bit, now I can clear medium. Oh oh, where did the time go? I still have real work to do! Still trying to get less than 5 tiles left with hard. Good game, and habit forming :) But it needs a score and a high score list!

Still to test: 3DPong, Jump, Mimic, SimCity.