Reading Assignment

I have this little column on my syllabus called "Reading Assignment". I have this horribly old-fashioned expectation that people read the chapter before coming to class.

They actually did this the first week, but I have noticed a definite lack of pre-reading, which is noticeable in the mad scribbling down of the exact words of slides that contain definitions taken from the text.

Since they won't admit to not reading, I have a nasty surprise for the lecture today. First block we zipped through the statements in Java, second block we were to do a cute programming exercise together. The reading assignment said: Print out this link to the exercise and bring it to class with you. That's all.

Maybe 1 in 5 actually had it printed out. Some others had computers and were easily able to look up the file. But it was kind of hard to be doing group work on an exercise when no one in the entire row had a copy of the exercise :)

I let them stew for 10 minutes, then I walked them through the solution. Let's hope the shame of having to beg others to let you look on their sheets encourages the one or the other to actually start reading before class!

But I was sick last week!

Stu Dent (another one, this is just a wonderful pseudonym) approaches me at 7.45 as I make my way through the weeds from the parking lot to the computer center. Class starts as 8.00.

Stu Dent wants to talk to me. S/he was just admitted to my class. But s/he was sick last week so would like to discuss an extension with me.

Now, I am not the most cheerful, flexible type at this time of the morning. I have to open up the lab, get all my equipment wired up and ready to go, and office hours were last Thursday. Also, there is E-Mail.

Stu Dent repeats from the top: I was sick last week! WiseWoman repeats with a bit of a growl: Look, I'm getting the equipment set up, email me or come to office hours. Stu Dent repeats: I was sick last week and next Thursday is a holiday so you don't have office hours for another 10 days.

WiseWoman barks at Stu Dent, asking which bit of "Leave me alone to get the technology set up" s/he did not understand. When it does get set up, I went to the ladies' room to cool off. Don't want to be angry with the rest, it is not their fault.

I call roll, explain the exercise, get the lab rolling - and Stu Dent starts in again. See, Stu has now missed 4 (count'em) weeks of class. That is 8 lecture summary reports and two labs to be turned in. Also, Stu is not new, but a repeater, having failed the Introduction to Programming last term. And Stu was sick last week, did I get that?

I try to explain that being sick is no excuse, the exercises are on line, the text is online, the place to put the lecture summaries is online, if you don't come to class you could read the chapter and just write five sentences. Stu: But I was sick!

I gave up in exasperation. This is not getting off to a good start, Stu. Just get to work, okay?



She stands in the evening sun, silent and majestic, open arms stretched out to all, inviting them in to wander through her high, cathedral-like hall. We took some Swedish friends who are visiting to look around the Templehof Airport, and we were not alone. There were more tourists, I think, than passengers, because the airport is supposed to be closing soon. Closing now to "make way" for a large airport outside of the city that won't be finished maybe until 2011.

Tempelhof is in the middle of town, you can take a subway there, an S-train stops not too far away, you drive right by it on your many paths through the city. Only the small airlines are left here, you can travel from Berlin to Brussels, Mannheim, Växjö. They are waiting, and hoping for a miracle - a miracle that would keep the airport alive.

A rather motley alliance put forth a general referendum and collected enough signatures to force a vote: The citizens of Berlin kindly request that their government get off their duffs and quit acting like f-ing idiots and quit all this nonsense talk about closing the airport.

The closing was decided 20 years ago. They still don't have any idea what they would do with the area. Maybe a park? Maybe some apartments (although Berlin has tons empty)? Maybe a clinic? Helicopters could still land here.

Berliners tend to have very fond memories of Templehof. The Air Bridge that American pilots ran here, starting and landing every 3 minutes round the clock brought food and fuel into the city during the blockade. It kept the citizens alive. The stars arrived here. The first air vacations were started here. It was jobs. Sure, it was loud, but in a way it was a comfy old friend.

Most Berliners were rather indifferent to the election until about a week ago when the Lord Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, did a typical political foot-in-mouth stunt. He announced to the media that he didn't give a flying farkle what the result of the referendum was. He was going to close the airport, full stop.

Well, if there's one thing Berliners don't like, that is people telling them what they have to think. They didn't go through the Cold War and the Blockade and the German Democratic Republic and the fall of the wall to have some party guy telling them off. They are enraged, and the media is having a feeding frenzy.

I just got back from voting - a steady stream of voters, I had to stand in line. Of course, they redrew the districts so that there would be less polling places and thus more voters per polling place. A vote like this is easy to count: make two piles, yes and no, and count them. End of story. No re-sorting for first and second vote. Don't need a computer for this. For some reason they are not expecting the results until 3 hours after the polls close.

We shall see if the Lord Mayor will be served a dish of crow this evening. But which ever way it goes, his chances of ever getting out of Berlin and being maybe Chancellor of Germany went down drastically in the past week. Stay tuned.

Update: No such luck. 60% of the voters wanted to keep the airport, but with a turnout of only 35% the needed quorum (25% of the voters must vote yes, they just missed this) was narrowly missed. So she gets closed down. Maybe they'll put in a parking lot.....


My beginners

Just wrote "Reports need to have a header with your name, the course name, the assignment number, your matriculation number and the date. " for the 30th time. It is "correct the first assignment day".

Were they allowed to hand in reports with no names in school? The file names, for the most part, are either "Ex1.pdf" or "Some-real-long-name.pdf" but no part of the name identifies the author.

And of course, when they write me emails from their account "jim-balooka@hotmail.com" they don't bother telling me what class they are in or which assignment they are complaining about. One sent me an email stating that my assessment of his work (what class? I am assuming the beginners course. Which assessment? There were three graded) "hurt" him. Goodness.

At least I don't have to teach them how to tie their shoelaces.....

Ubuntu / DLL error

What a shame my brain was not in gear this morning.

I got on the subway for the last bit into school and glanced up at the advertising board. There was an advertisement for an Ubuntu release party at the C-Base, a local hackers club I like to visit. Part of the advertising was blocked by a Windows error box: DLL something-or-other cannot be found at place-I-was-looking.

It took a few seconds for the irony of this situation to register, then I started patting for my camera, which is usually in my right pocket. But it was in my bag this morning for historical reasons. By the time I had it dug out, the ad had moved on.

I sat, ready to shoot, in the hopes that the loop would start over again before we hit school. No such luck. Drat.


To Tell the Truth

Yes, I admit it. That will be me, on this TV game show in Germany that is known in the States as "To Tell the Truth".

The people organizing the show approached my school and asked if I would not be a truth-sayer. As I really love these logic puzzles with truth-sayers and liars, I said yes. Also, they paid for my way to Baden-Baden and I got to spend all day in the studio, watching them film a show.

I taught for 8 hours, drove home, picked up my suitcase and was driven to the airport. 20 minutes from home to check-in gate, despite a little traffic jam. This is Berlin! I'm not allowed to say so, because WiseMan would be angry, but I would like for the Templehof airport to remain in service, too. I love the idea of taking a subway to the airport.

Anyway, Air Berlin has a new terminal at Tegel - corrugated steel, the charm of an industrial production hall, but you get checked-in, through security, and into the waiting area very fast. They even have internet inside, although you have to pay for it. You walk across the tarmac to the airplane, and then we flew an hour to Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden. Right, they have an airport now. It was the old Canadian airbase, and is now a bustling little airport.

How wonderful to be picked up by a driver - I've never been on a trip where I didn't have to worry about the time scale or how to get where I was going. I get picked up and driven. I noticed that one of the panelists just came in via Hamburg, so I hid myself in my raincoat hat. But I am a woman, who sees me?

We had a meeting in the evening with all of the liars and truth-tellers. Everyone introduced themselves - and there were some very, very strange people there - and I got to meet my liars, a judge and a dentist. Lovely, people who have been to university. We were allowed to have a wine on the house (a grey burgundy, from the area, it tasted so good I had a second glass on my own money). We spoke about what I do and who I am - really, very nice women. We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Well, it was a fun day. I had breakfast with one of my "liars" and then we were driven to the studio. First off was the costume choice. I schlepped a ton of clothes with me, they chose my favorite one. Then we were down to practice on the set. They have soooo many nice cameras and lights and other toys on the set. Back up for coffee and some chatting, then we met with the moderator to speak about how it was going to run. He was very professional, and a very funny guy, too.

Then it was time for lunch, we had a room reserved for us. It was interesting speaking with some of the other people. One guy won 6 Grammy awards! After lunch things started happening. We got dressed - our clothes had magically gotten themselves pressed and steamed in the meantime. Then off to the make-up department, they spent a lot of time fussing over the ladies and getting our hair to be just right. My two liars thought the makeup looked very good on me. But I am not willing to get up even earlier in the morning to put on makeup, and by now it is just itching me all over. Using my mobile phone I got makeup all over the screen, I'm just not used to this.

We had to hurry from makeup backstage, where we waited with a monitor showing us some of what was happening outside. First up were the men - a flea circus director and his two liars, all dolled up in tuxes with glittering lapels and top hats. Then it was our turn. The quiz team gave us the X-ray eyes, and then began the questioning. They only asked me a few questions, the other two got all the questions, I thought. And the judge did a great job - but they guessed it was me, 3 out of 4. Oh well.

Then there was another round with just the liars, and then they filmed another series with other contestants. We were then whisked off to the airport, and flown back to Berlin. Most of the time was spent waiting, but I made a good dent on my current mystery novel yesterday and today!


Stehen bleiben! Polizei!

I was in Aachen over the weekend and had found an interesting little art gallery, Article 5 (Article 5 is the chapter in the German constitution that guarantees freedom of speech), near the main train station. It was around midnight Friday night, and the owner was just now leaving although it closes at 8pm. She noted the opening hours on Saturday, and I decided to drop in. There was an artist there and some other folks and we had a very good discussion about government surveillance and about how Orwell's 1984 has a lot of meaning today, if people would only read it. We discussed the police state that is growing in Germany, looked at some of the art work, discussed it, and then I was off in search of a nice place for breakfast (very hard to find in Aachen, but I was successful).

As I step out the door of the gallery a loud voice shouts "Stehen bleiben! Polizei!" (Stop where you are, police) and three large male cops come thundering down the street. I freeze. Didn't realize the gallery was bugged..... but they were not after me, they shouted again as they passed, a policewoman running behind them. I scanned the street below me for Terrorists (tm) or other criminal elements. I didn't immediately see anything that registered high on the scale, although there was an elderly couple with a dog. Maybe they forgot to pick up the dog poop.

Across the street a young man, perhaps 20, German-looking with clean cut hair and neatly dressed, had frozen and taken out his wallet. The two girls who had been looking into the store window took a few steps back. The young man now had red spots flush his face as the police patted him down and cuffed him with a cable binder. One of the cops had a dozen or so cable binders under his epaulet.

The woman stepped out and motioned to a waiting police car that came driving up the street from the other direction. This had been a large hunt to capture this young man. But what might he have done? Stolen something? Taken some fingerprints maybe? Was he planning on overthrowing the government? Did he not pay his tuition fees? What on earth could he have done to demand this amount of police interest? I scanned the online Aachen newspapers in the evening, but there was no mention of any arrests.

A day later I am still unsettled by this. I tried to find something in the police blotter, there was just a reference to them capturing a 31-year-old druggie who had tried to stab a child at a subway station and slashed some tires. That would explain the police mannerisms, but the guy didn't look 31 or drugged.

Tuition fees

I have the privilege of teaching in Berlin, one of the few German states who currently does not assess tuition fees from their students. Elsewhere, such as in NRW where I spent the weekend, the students pay 500 Euros a semester in tuition fees. This is by American standards a great deal, but the question is, what are they paying for? The money is supposed to improve the quality of the education.

Last year at a seminar on conflict management that I attended I had heard from colleagues in such states that the money was piling up, but no one had any real idea what to do with it. They couldn't hire professors or researchers for the money, just temporary teachers, so it was just gathering interest, waiting for good ideas.

One person told me that their school is using some of that money to purchase plagiarism detection software. I fail to see how this increases the quality of the education, as the reason they want to have such a system is that they have between 100 and 250 persons attending a class! I feel that the money should perhaps be put to better use to increase the services offered to the students or to make the classes smaller. But as someone else remarked, many students in technical fields feel they don't need to have a library, they just get their information from the Internet.

Another person who has been a professor for 18 years in NRW said that since the students have had to pay for their studies, they start showing up on time and attend more lectures.

I still think that tuition is not the answer. I could not have studied in the States for longer than a Bachelor's degree, my Dad was out of work and I could only afford a public school. Education should not be restricted to those rich enough to purchase it, but should be available to all. The state needs well-trained workers, and thus the state should pay for a basic education for all, in my opinion. But who ever listens to me?


I'm not very organized

Had a student (let's call him or her Stu Dent) in my office today for a consultation. Stu had been in my first semester class last summer, but hadn't been around since then. But s/he wanted to come back and register for my class. The class is currently extremely overbooked (or does someone have a cool idea how I distribute 51 people over two times 20 computers? Luckily they have notebooks, but I have to grade it all). I took in all the stragglers who had registered in time, i.e. by the middle of March. We currently have the middle of April.

After some probing I determined that Stu has managed to pass one class (there are 6 a semester) and has almost terminal failing grades in 3 others. You have to pass a course within 2 semesters after the first failure, or you are out on your ear. I had tried to inquire which classes it was that were endangered, Stu only knew the names of the teachers, not of the classes. But one had a long name. Very helpful.

I explained what a Studienordnung is and noted the one that is valid for Stu. I suggested that Stu write this down. Stu did not have any paper along. I gave Stu a piece of paper. Stu just said: "I'm not very organized".

I noted that studying computing demanded a certain degree of organization. Everyone can learn, if the want to, but they have to make a first step. Stu wanted into my class, I said no, but offered a way in which the class could be taken next semester. Stu has to take a vacation semester, can't pass anything, and can take the semester to maybe learn some organization. Stu complained that s/he didn't want to spend forever working for a degree. I surpressed the comment that I don't acutally see any work being demonstrated up until now. All I see is one pass and five failures, three of these almost terminal. That's not much to show for one year's worth of work.

Stu finally left my office, leaving the piece of paper on the table. Blank.

Froggy on Stage

Froggy is on stage today - unfortunately, I can't be there, because I am off on a business trip. But some students are taking extra special care of him during the grand opening ceremony and research fair the school is offering today. They had Froggy all last week and managed to convince the computer center people to get Froggy to speak with the school wireless LAN.

Since our school's color is green, Froggy fits right in :) I dropped by in the early afternoon to see what was up. The students were very enthusiastic about all the stuff that Froggy had installed. They had even found the Doom :D but found it to be strange to play Doom on such a machine. Anyway, they had see the Sony "My First Computer" that you could not do anything with, and really liked what they saw here. They were just missing Flash, they said, so I explained how hungry Flash is for electricity, and that is not something an XO has a lot of. And of course they asked were the crank was - really, guys, you have to get a crank going! Everyone wants to see how much electricity they can crank!

There will be a live feed from the fair and there will be an online documentation - link to be here soon, if I ever get back to civilization = a usable Internet. Link (in German): http://edufuture.de/2008/04/17/mobile-user-generated-evideo/

Remembrance Train

I was early out today, schlepping my suitcase in the pouring rain as I am taking the train directly from work this afternoon. I had gotten on a ring train, then remembered that I forgot to buy a ticket, so I hopped out and got on the next one, which was going to Schöneweide.

As I alighted in the pouring rain I saw and exciting sight on the next track over - a steam train! Suitcase be darned, I dragged it down and back up in order to get a good picture of the train. And then I saw that this was the Remembrance Train that is currently running through Germany. It is a museum on rails, pulled by a real steam engine, that has an exhibition about the killing of Jewish children and young people during the Holocaust. The line was not bad and I had 30 minutes, so I hopped on.

There was a mixture of older people and school classes shoving through the cars. There were boards with pictures, names, stories of some children and youth, stories of their lives and brief stories of their deaths. There were copies of documents such as the receipt for a certain number of Jewish children "delivered" from Norway. There were a few pictures of those responsible for the carnage - people who, if at all, only received light sentences after 45.

Some of the older people had tears in their eyes. The paper reports one woman saying "but they were my age! Why did they have to die?" There are many flowers deposited around and in the train, and one older gentleman was taking a picture of one of the boards with a tripod, apparently it was of someone he had known.

The school groups were quite varied. There was the bored, I'd-rather-be-chilling-listening-to-music crowd; the can-we-push-our-way-out-the-wrong-way group of young boys; a few girls asking questions of the guides. One group was well prepared, each pupil had a sheet of paper with a name and they had to find this person, write down the details, and supposedly report on it back in class.

There was a poster of a class project that had worked out the names, birth and death dates of some of the children. A very good exercise both in research and in remembrance.

Because Germany does not remember what happened. Many older people like to pretend it was a bad dream, and Hitler wasn't all bad because he built the autobahns. Middle aged people don't want to be guilty for the sins of their parents and grandparents, and often won't concern themselves with this question. A growing number of youth, out of work and out of luck, would like to do the same thing to the immigrants in Germany now that happened to the Jewish people then. Exhibitions like this are very important for getting people to remember - or to learn about what happened for the first time. All school kids should see it.

But there are, of course, problems. The train costs a lot to run. The German national train company charges rent by the hour to use the tracks, and they flatly refused to let them spend a day in the main train station. Must not disturb the important business people, who have to get on trains and use their notebooks and mobile phones to work while travelling.

Another Year of Top League Handball!

It wasn't a pretty game, the young referees were rather indecisive and made a lot of bad calls, but they were equally divided between the teams this evening. There were lots of fouls on both sides, but the Füchse came out on top of Ballingen and now have 21 points - enough for another season in the top German Handball league.

I will definitely purchase the same seats again for next season!! Still a few more games to go, THW will be in town in two weeks, no chance for the little foxes against the giant zebras, but whatever. The team was so happy that they made it through tonight, and they thanked their fans profusely. I suppose it does rather help, having thousands roaring for you - and booing the bad calls of the refs.


Sommer vorm Balkon

I volunteered last night to take a (what do we collectively call them? A gaggle? A school? A herd? A giggle?) couple of teenagers (15, 16, and 17) to the video store to rent a film for family viewing, i.e. for the teenagers and their aging parents. I gave the parents of T15 and T17 a key to the apartment so they could get food set up, because I was sure it would take a while.

WiseKid wanted something with action or horror. T15 wanted a love story. T17 wanted something serious or educational. I suggested humor, all three turned up their noses, no kid stuff, please. We walked around and around, found a few more or less passable ones, but they were already all rented.

WiseKid suggested Schulmädchenreport, T15 ran through the foreign language stuff, T17 was bored and I was amused at all the people answering their mobile phones "Hi, I'm at the video store right now!".

We finally agreed on the German film Sommer vorm Balkon (2005), (Summer in Berlin) because WiseKid had auditioned for the part of Rico, which had been exciting, but he didn't get the part, obviously.

Turned out to be a good choice, even though the parents of T15 and T17 had already seen it, they said it was hilarious and would love to see it again. There are two friends, Katrin and Nike. Katrin is the alcoholic, out-of-work, single mother of a young teenager and Nike, who lives in the same house, works as a home helper for the elderly. Nike cleans, makes beds, changes diapers, makes people take their medicine, and then takes time to speak with them or read to them - and gets into trouble at work for this, as she is not paid to read aloud to them.

Both Katrin and Nike are looking for a man. Nike settles on an outrageously horrible truck driver who is quite the male chauvinist pig. They go through a number of episodes during the summer, some extremely funny, some quite sobering. They survive in Berlin, but just barely

Niko only has a bit part and does not say more than WiseKid had to learn for the audition. We all agreed that the kid they chose didn't do a good job, which pleased WiseKid.

For dessert we watched Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. What a riot! Genius kid brings his dead dog back to life with lots of commentary on American surburban life. The short film is hidden deep within the bonus material for the Nightmare before Christmas.

History Lesson

I was playing TaxiMom for WiseKid this afternoon and drove out to pick up his girlfriend, also 16. We got into a discussion of her schoolwork (groans from the back seat) and I asked here what she was doing in History right now.

"The Vietnam War," she said.

The Vietnam War???? How can that be history already? I mean, I did a big, long term paper on the Vietnam War in high school and it was for Current Events in Social Studies, how can that be considered history already?

The Politics of LMS

There are lots of Learning Management Systems (LMS) around, none that are exactly suited to everyone's needs, but many that can be made to make do. Our school evaluated four systems, let's call them A, B, C and D, in 2002. At that time, they chose C, which was the best of the lot.

Turned out to be a bitch to use, though. It was specialized for business training programs, where there is a right answer and stuff to indoctrinate people about. There is a rigid selection of "content" and "learning logic" and a large repository of material for people to re-use (should they by chance find something re-usable). And you have to follow the rules. If your course is labeled "German" then all the material used must be in German. You are not allowed to upload something that is in another language, like English, for the course. You have to upload the document (written in English) and label it as being German, so you can include it in your German course. Of course, that makes sense, doesn't it?

Anyway, a company sells C, so it is "real" software.

There is also an open source LMS I will call X. Friends know what X it, it is irrelevant to what is to come. I like X. I've been using it for quite some time now, because it is flexible, has lots of didactical stuff, and lets people communicate and collaboarate. But it is Not The Official LMS of the School. Not to worry, I'm a computer scientist. I scrounge a server, set it up, and off I go.

I've got about 50 courses running around in the LMS for me and some other people who quickly saw that X is very useful and easy to learn. It is kind of a bitch to do admin support work after midnight, but I really want to use X.

There has been a fight brewing for quite some time over C vs. X. The computer center only wants one system to support. Heck, they don't want us to have any systems, it would make their lives *so* much easier if we would quit using esoteric systems and would just stick to a word processor and a spreadsheet.

The proponents of C are a couple of profs who championed C and have invested a lot of (taxpayer's) money and effort getting something to work in C. They are proud of what they did, and point to themselves as successful E-Learning adopters. I am sure that it was a lot of work - C is an absolute horror to get set up. There is no way they want to do all the work again, and since C can't export to any standard format, once you are in, you are in.

They ran a covert operation a couple of months ago, trying to get the administration to pay for three new employees and to purchase yearly licenses for C. They sprung the question on a committee and were planning on just steamrolling along. Unfortunately, I got wind of it and am a member of just this committee, so I called them on it. I asked why we weren't using X, which is better, in my opinion, and currently many people are switching to X. And it's cheaper to run.

I made some enemies that day (just for asking if we shouldn't consider all our options). A new employee was strong-armed into doing a comparison between C and X. Poor woman, she did her thesis with me, so she was suspect all along, but was working for one of the C supporters.

Today was the day she was to present her results. I showed up in the room - and it was full of people, full of the C fan club. The woman came next to last (vice president was last) and would not look at me. I had a veeeeery queasy feeling right then and there.

She did a smashing job of comparing C with X. She really worked out the features *and* the usability *and* the cost, I thought it was a nice job. Then Mr. VP asks if both parties agree with what was presented. And the Fans of C dug in. They turned every word written over twice, looking for something to bitch about. The accusatory tone and the choice of words just shocked me. Luckily, they went first so I got a chance to make some notes about what I wanted to say.

I said my piece, but I understood that it is a done deal. The decision has already been made. I am alone in this fight. Unfortunately, I have another appointment (i.e. I want to be home when WiseKid gets there, but Wise People announce family appointments just as appointments) and want to leave. No problem, the decision has already been made. Mr. VP announces that C will get funding AND a new person AND can buy updates AND can advertise as *the* LMS of the school. And I can keep playing with my toy. And in 2 years we will evaluate the results.

I am livid. I manage to control my anger - how can you compare a system that has a head start, financing (they have been throwing government money at this thing to get it to work for many years now) and a support staff to a project that is done on idealism alone? I request a student to at least help me with administration support, note that I have to leave as announced, and pack my bags.

Out of the building I storm over to my office, unfortunately meeting people along the way who want to know how I'm doing. I can't actually speak, I am so mad. I slam a door or two, and everyone scuttles away. They know better than to speak to me when I am angry. I gather up my stuff and get back to the car. On the way home I compose an email - quiet, calm, disappointed. I thought we were being scientific about this. But what happened is that a few guys have spent so much government money on C, that they are afraid to lose face if they have to switch. So they will continue to use C and to invest government money to try and teach people how to use C. And people will try C once, and say: Euuuu, this E-Learning stuff stinks. I want no part of it.

At least I am so convinced that X is such a great system, that it will still be running strong in 2 years. Despite all of this. But why do grown men, who are supposed to be scientists, get so emotional about this? Why do they attack the woman who was trying her best to present scientific findings? Why do they play games about getting their empires and floor space and funding and people who have to work for them instead of concentrating on the job we have to do - to teach young people to think for themselves? And why did we all waste an afternoon when the decision had already been made?

The strangest thing about this fight is the déjà vu all over again. I had pretty much the exact same fight many years ago at my old school. I wanted to play with a new toy called the World Wide Web. The computer center thought I was nuts and suggested I go back to the US if I had all these fancy ideas that would cause them extra work. I commandeered a server, installed gopher on it, and soon after a web server. Eventually the computer center took over the computer, because everyone wanted to be in on the WWW.

I fervently hope that X will go the same way, as most of the E-Learning stuff out there is just awful.


Pink lights?

When my Dad drove though a crossing for which the light had already turned yellow, he used to always say: "That was a pink one!", i. e. not quite dark red.

I spent a lot of time driving in town this week for various reasons and I had a lot of chances to observe people driving through on "pink" lights:

  • Numerous drivers who, upon seeing yellow, floored it instead of stopping;
  • A van driver who just kept tooling along, but of course, he was yakking in his mobile phone (forbidden in Germany, btw) making it kind of difficult to react to everything;
  • A two-trailer truck coming from the left at a Y-junction, barreling down with at least 50-60 kmh just as I was accelerating (scared the living daylights out of me);
  • A taxi driver (with a passenger!) who was turning left and did not enter the crossing until after the light turned red - he could have lost his taxt license (rightly so!) if a cop had seen this stunt.
This is not to mention the honks I got for doing 30 in a new 30 zone (a bridge which is in danger of falling down!) or not passing a truck fast enough. That last lady was on my tailgate, flashing her lights, although we were in town and I was doing 50 trying to get past this horrible last truck. Okay, I was then being childish myself, I knew there was a 2-lanes-going-to-1 coming up, so I got over and managed to overtake her on the right, she had to let me in just in front of her.

Don't get me started on the bicyclists or the kids running across the street against a red light to catch a bus or the folks double- or triple-parking. I am truely amazed that there are not more accidents in town with all this "the law is only valid for everyone else, not for me, I'm in a hurry."

For sure, I now follow the old pedestrian sage "Look both ways before crossing the street" when driving my car, even if I have a green light.


Older Women

Got a survey form in my email today from the German Wikipedia.

"Dear WiseWoman, you are an active Wikipedia person who is older than 50"
Thanks, I *really* needed that today.

"We want to reach out to older people and encourage them to be active in the WP. Please fill out this form to help us!"

And then they wanted to know stuff like how well I can cope with the help pages and whether I think older people would like a video explaining how to edit.

To be honest, I think age is not important at all in the WP. Last Stammtisch I sat with JCornelius and put together pages about Tibet in German. He still goes to school - but who cares, it's our words, not our combined or difference of ages that count.

I suggested the Admins quitting acting like power hungry hogs and the trolls growing up and moving to China, but fat chance of that happening.

Better check the mirror tonight and count my wrinkles. But honestly, is a woman with a home office full of technical odds and ends representative of the "Generation 50+ Gals"? Gawd, how I hate that term....


Could you please do free work for us?

Beyond the normal 100 emails a day this past week I am being deluged with letters along the lines of "we want to sell stuff to your students/colleagues so can you please give us their addresses or send this marketing broschure - 2 MB - on to them?".

I was doing delete+ignore on most of them, the ones that were vaguely useful (i.e. "we want to hire an excellent student for a pittance") I passed on, chuckling to myself that they can't even get excellent students for good money, because they *all* *have* *jobs* right now. Really.

Others are more along the lines of "We have this great information site on X that you will surely want to look at". I answered one of them, addressed to me with my name misspelled and and saying they respected my research in area Y (I am actually in field F, very, very far away from Y) and thought I would like to look over their new materials at this site and to tell them what I think.

I answered that I had thought this was a respectable company and was shocked that they were resorting to marketing methods that smell like spam. But if they wanted to, I would do an analysis of their site for them for 800 € and they should just check back with me to set up a contract and a date.

They did answer and declined. I apparently was in their data base by mistake. Drat. That would have been easily earned money.