The Blue Nowhere

WiseMan has been pestering me to read Jeffery Deaver for a while, but there are sooooooo many books around here need reading, and I just never started one of his.

Big mistake.

WiseMan gave me "The Blue Nowhere" for Christmas and made me look inside. Hmm, chapter numbers in binary. Computer glossary at the front. I started in a few pages.......

Wow. A hacker's mystery/spy story. And the computer terminology is not only explained, but also used correctly. And as the author notes in the afterword - we don't think there is a program out there like this, yet. But there is no reason why not.

The story races like a scared rabbit, jumping this way and that way, making your think it goes like this or like that and when you think you know what's happening, you get dumped on your ear and have to re-sort what's going on. Everything that happens is completely logical - within the bizarre structures that Deaver builds. The social engineering stunts are so many you need to take notes to make sure you know who is who (maybe).

Another book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just had to get it finished.


I started this book over Christmas when I wasn't feeling well enough to do anything more than sit with a cup of tea and read. Camilla Läckberg's Tyskungen (The German Child) is quite a page turner about a Swedish mother and writer, Erica, being curious about her own mother's past. She reads her diaries and wonders why her mother had some sort of German medal in her belongings.

Erica starts to inquire - and people start getting killed in quiet little Fjällbacka. The book winds stories of life in Sweden and Norway during the Second World War in between strands of today - Erica, her policeman-husband currently on papa time, the murders.

I kept reading through 3 days of high fever, and then stayed up until 2 am the first night without a fever to finish it off. I hope it gets translated to English and German soon.


You hurt my feelings!

I've been debating whether to blog the latest outbreak of Stu Dent or not. But I have to get it out of my system, so here it goes.

Last exercise session of the year I was planning on doing my work Christmas Cards. Okay, I'm out late, but it was an easy exercise and I didn't expect them to need much help.

After introducing the exercise Stu comes up for a consultation. I have office hours where this can be done in private, but they are at 8.30 in the morning and Stu is not among the early risers. S/he wanted to protest - I took off so many points on that last exercise, and s/he worked soooooo long on it.

I explained that the points are for successfully completing and documenting exercises, not a function of hours worked. Stu hands in reports that are wildly chaotic and written in incomplete, misspelled sentences. Stu often hands in the exercises late, or in the wrong area of Moodle, or in the wrong format because s/he couldn't figure out how to get a pdf produced. Stu is nominally in the fourth semester and repeating Computing 2.

Stu pouted. But this was so much work! And I always take so many points off. I fire up Moodle and pull up a student report (Moodle is a blessing - all of Stu's activity and my comments on one page). Out of 15 lecture summaries Stu has handed in exactly 0. I inquired, politely, twice as to why nothing is being handed in? This counts for 20% of the final grade! Well, Stu was sick and (long string of excuses). I state that I just do not care for excuses, but work done.

"Don't get excited!" Stu interjects. Hmm. "You really hurt my feelings with your comments, I'm human, you know". Now, I admit that I really must pull myself together when correcting Stu's work, as it is often so bizarrely wrong. But I am always polite. I asked Stu for an example exercise in which I had caused hurt feelings.

Stu suggested one, and I pulled that one up. I had written "your solution is completely and utterly wrong". Yes, I said, this is a statement of fact. "But I worked so hard on it!" Stu exclaims. It was a method to determine if a number is a prime number or not. It is a trivial exercise, to be found in all books on computing and a million times online. There were 4 errors in 5 lines of code - 2 not serious and 2 fatal. A variable was declared and not used, and the testing did not stop at the square root of n. That was just cosmetics. But the test for divisible was the wrong way around! Instead of n%i Stu had written i%n, which was never true! And even if it had been true, the Boolean guard was set exactly wrong. This code could never have been tested, as it never returns a correct answer, not even for 2.

Stu kept this up for over half an hour. The guys in the front row were trying hard to hide their mirth - no one likes Stu, who complains constantly and just doesn't get most of what class is about. No one will work with Stu - I often make loners try, but they do this exactly once. I finally got Stu to sit down and get started on the next exercise, and then went around pointedly speaking with all of the other groups. Didn't get my Christmas cards written, but had some great conversations with people.

Stu is in grave danger of failing, and wanted more points. No luck, Stu. Try effort and not excuses. Or maybe you could just switch majors to something like horticulture, although you have to be able to organize there, too.


The Tree is up

So, Christmastime - despite a horrible cold I developed the moment I started out on vacation. WiseKid is with us in Sweden - at 16 going on 17 in under a month that is not a thing to be taken for granted. When I mentioned that we were driving up on the 19th he consented to go along, with a bored teenager expression, before I could finish my sentence.

He has been extremely particular about celebrating Christmas exactly right. He reminded me to buy a tree. He reminded me to get it up. He even consented to having Mom wear her stupid Mrs. Christmas braids while doing so and listening to Christmas carols on the DVD. We comprimised on the "Rock Christmas" DVD. He has made sure that I get all the right foods, although I am so tired right now that surely someone else can figure out how to make Christmas sweeties. The stuff is all in the fridge and the cupboard.

We will be having the family traditional dinners: fish and potatoes Christmas Eve, tacos Christmas Day. We're kind of strange.

The house is in a bit of disarray, as I decided the bedroom needed painted and that would be a great job for WiseKid to do to ward off boredom. WiseMan and I got all the stuff out of the room, but WiseKid didn't get up until 1pm, despite a number of attempts on my part to raise him. Since the sun sets at about 3.30 pm, he got it painted, but not the edging done before it got dark. So it will have to wait until tomorrow.

WiseKid went with me to Lund yesterday and we got new carpets. Very useful thing to have around the house, a guy who can lug carpets to the car and from the car to the house. We'll see how good we are at laying carpet (and how good WiseWoman was at measuring the rooms) tomorrow.


The Ambler Warning

Oooh, had a real page-turner these past few days. Actually took the train yesterday so I could finish it up. Robert Ludlum, The Ambler Warning. A spy-thriller, with lots of fun scenes in which the main character (who we believe is Harrison Ambler, but he is rather having a massive identity crisis) evades "security". There is also a zero-knowledge proof involved, but only named and vaguely defined, not exactly given. But still!

The only nagging thing is that Ludlum died in 2001, the book - apparently penned by a ghostwriter hired by the heirs of Ludlum on the basis of some papers left lying around - was published in 2005. But whatever. I wasn't reading for deep meaning, I was reading for fun.

Oops, we did it again

After quite a number of German companies have discovered that important data (such as customer names and bank accounts, which is enough to obtain money using a false Lastschrift), it has happened again. The LBB, which issues all sorts of credit cards for other organizations, "lost" a copy of two files, one with credit card numbers and one with secret PINs. The files found their way, anonymously, to the offices of the "Frankfurter Rundschau" newspaper.

The LBB has been rushing around assuring everyone that nothing bad has happened with the numbers, yet. But that is not the point. What are these files doing, unencrypted, on their way from the bank to the company that does the grunt work on them? And why are there not procedures for making sure that no unauthorized copies are floating around? This is not blog data. It can be used to milk money from people's accounts.

When will the banks begin to take stuff like this seriously?


I Cook Differently

For diverse reasons, the traditional Thanksgiving-Dinner-in-Germany didn't happen this year. And good friends didn't get their St.-Martin's-Day-Goose cooked, either. Since we gave her - an English teacher - a Better Home's and Garden's Cookbook for her birthday, we decided to do a bird today.

We actually couldn't find a smallish bird, so we are "making do" with 12 pounds. Lots of leftovers coming up! We are cooking at their place, as they have two ovens, and I've been collecting up my stuff to take with me while making the pumpkin pies this morning. Collecting up turkey stuff is hard, as I only use it once a year and it gets pushed to the back of the drawers (yuck, they need cleaning).

Anyway, I normally cook with Better Home's and Garden's - it's a cookbook I was given as a wedding present, it is old, torn, spotted - i.e. well-used. I started to cook with it when I moved to Germany, and discovered that many of my Grandmother's good stuff was in here. So for many, many years cooking involved getting out the BH&G and getting started (even though I own a good many other cookbooks).

But today - as often in the past - after looking at the BH&G I went online. Googled a bit. Clicked away the stupid collections of advertising posing as recipes. And found a good idea here, a nice addition here. And I ended up making a blended recipe, sort of as if I had called 3 friends to ask them how *they* made thus-and-such, and then I put together my own synthesis out of that.

The Cranberry Relish I made a few days ago was delicious (cranberries, navel oranges, walnuts - turned out I had candied ones, so I dropped some of the sugar, raisins soaked in rum). Let's see how the pies turn out.

I suppose I now have a reason for going out to get a computer for the kitchen.


Textile Engineering is Real Engineering

I've been giving a course on giving scientific talks in English this semester, mostly to my media and computing students, but others were allowed to register. I have an industrial engineer, a textile engineer and a museologist in the course. The industrial engineer had kind of ignored the textile engineer all semester (she was a woman, and that was just clothing).

Today they had 30 minutes to prepare and give a 5 minute talk without using Powerpoint, and she chose to explain how weaving worked. She did a great job of drawing a 3D loom on the board, I helped her look up all these crazy words like warp and weave and twill and heddle and shuttle to explain the parts.

When giving feedback he was quite in awe - he actually suggested that she could change her study program to industrial engineering if she was so good at drawing a machine in 3D and explaining it like that. I just smiled, 'cause I think someone realized today that textile engineering is just as much a real engineering discipline as all the others.


We just have to

Our program moved into temporary quarters at the new campus this semester and we have been watching the construction site closely. They ripped out the lovely Japanese garden and are putting in a stone terrace...

Anyway, the only way out of our building is through the courtyard. There is another door, but it is in one of the labs. This means everyone coming in and out of the building would have to tramp through the lab. Not to speak of the dirt they truck in, but I imagine this would be like teaching at the main train stations. At least there would not be PA announcements every few minutes.

The building department had asked us if they could do this in September. We said flat out "NO!" and suggested that they organize something so that we can enter the building during the semester. Like postpone this work until February.

Yesterday I wanted to get to the building, on account of having class there. But there was a fence in my way. I just grabbed and pushed it - and got yelled at by some workman. I should go around. Sure. I went around, but could not get to the building.

So I got on the phone and started to complain. How are we to teach in the middle of the semester when we can't set foot in the building? Was anyone informed of this? Why can't we be given notice so we can plan for alternatives?

This morning the guy in charge of overseeing the construction was there. He normally works in another location. I don't comprehend how you can oversee a construction site by telepathy. He needs to be on location, every day, and talk with everyone. And think ahead, with a goal of keeping the university running.

He walked around with me and said: we have to open this emergency door. I tried to explain why it would not work, and he answered in his normal, insolent manner, just shrugging it off. There are lots of lecture rooms available.

I blew my stack. You cannot conduct a LAB that needs MACHINES in a lecture hall! And the lecture halls are booked out for certain time slots, so we have to have lectures in our tiny seminar room. He needs to help figure out how we can keep teaching during the construction. "Oh," he says. "There are lots of electrical cables here." YES. We don't have wireless electricity yet. I stormed out and went to call our administrative assistant and have him sort something out.

I collected up my students, found a warm corner with some electricity, and we worked on our laptops. Got an email from the VP secretary for me to call. I went to my office and called, thinking that he was going to help us. Noooo, he wanted to tell me to not scream at the guy responsible for construction. I managed not to scream at the VP, but told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to get something done and to tell this guy to not be so damn insolent.

We agreed to have the construction stop in front of the door, have the fence put back, and close up Friday and Monday, giving us some time to organize something. But as we worked I watched the digger dig its way towards the building. Just before noon - when folks were storming from the lectures to the labs, they dug out the last way to enter the building, cutting the cable for the security system in the process.

One colleague moved his 4 hour class to a lab that is open for the next 2 hours. One colleague did move to a lecture hall because half his students had laptops. But in 2 hours the next group would show up, and all hell would ensue.

I called the VP again, incensed. He agreed to come down and have a look. He did, and just shrugged - there is nothing we can do now, we'll have to open up the emergency exit in the lab and have everyone truck through.

So they managed to get what they wanted, thoroughly disrupting our last two weeks of intensive instruction before Christmas. And we get to make do again. How on earth will the massive move next year go, if so much chaos ensues for such a small thing. I asked the VP that, and he answered: Oh, the construction will be done by then.

He really does not understand that we have to PLAN so that things work right, not just let things happen and then react.




It has been suggested that I change my name to Cassandra. I'm always right (well, usually), but no one believes me.

Yesterday I had *two* instances of something I had said previously turning out to be true, and no one believing me.

Case 1: We were hiring a new professor and I was on the committee. We are a teaching school and had a nice guy who is a strong researcher apply. He gave a good lecture, but I was very concerned that he would not be happy here. With our teaching load, research is not easy to do. And we don't have the slaves grad students to do the grunt work. I predicted that he would be gone within 3 years to a research-oriented school. He started April 1 and announced yesterday that he had a good offer from a research-oriented school. 8 months << 3 years.

Case 2: At faculty board meeting last month we had a ruckus about money for attending industrial fairs. The school has a tiny pot of money for this, and they have said now that each faculty needs to approve the applications so that they get some of the money - the rest needs to be given by the faculty. When I heard one guy ask where his application was, I realized there was a leak in the system. We only had one application pending, but someone else had applied on time. How many more were in the pipeline? We could go broke with this scheme. I wanted the motion tabled. What happened? There were 3 additional applications, and the faculty got socked with a bill for 6000 €. Look, guys, I told you so, but everyone wanted to get home and didn't want to discuss this and now we are out a nice sum of money. Sigh.

Wonder who the Apollo was that I told to brush off?