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?

The upper leagues

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!


Smilla's Sense of Snow

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 in the Lab

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.

It takes us 8 weeks to program this

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. WiseWoman
[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.

Daniel B.
S-Bahn Berlin GmbH
How on earth can they live for 14 years with such a system?


Can you tell me what to do?

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?


The Airport is closed, dear

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.


Your system wouldn't let me submit my exercise

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.


Wikipedia wins

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.


The Internet cannot be censured!

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.

Conference in Hamburg

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!


Great lotto numbers

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.....


Just for the Weekend

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!


Did you vote yet?

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.

Class of '75

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 1986
murder of three members of a Billings, MT family.
He never revealed his motivation for the killings.
I suppose there is one in every megaschool.

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.