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!

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