Hello Professor!

I was shopping at the open-air market on Saturday when a voice called out to me - Hello Professor WiseWoman! I turned, but could not place the face. But when he said his name, I remembered him.

He was one of my first students, one who had complemented me on my German, but pointed out that I was always making grammar mistakes by using female endings on nouns such as "programmer", "customer", "author", "manager" etc. When I said "Yes, I do that on purpose," he had replied "But I feel so left out." My response was just "Yes, indeed. But I do have two male terms I use: secretary and doctor's receptionist". He had been flabbergasted at the time.

He had his young son on his arm, I asked where he was working. Still the same place he started after getting his degree. And then he began to thank me - for the very visual way that I teach programming. He remembered some of the props I use to this day, and he said it helps him visualize what is going on in the computer. I normally get the "This isn't the way to teach programming!" complaint from the young code warriors, so this was wonderful to hear.

And he thanked me for making them write reports. Ones in complete sentences, explaining what they were doing. This is so important. He also complained about math class - there they were, learning about matrices and not understanding what they were good for, when there are *so* many cool applications of matrices around.

We are currently discussing how we can get our math teachers to use good examples from applications when they teach, but normally, they are not aware of these, and so blissfully teach pure mathematics. Any ideas how we can teach our math teachers?


WiseMan was cooking this evening. I came home from church, opened the door to the dining room and - smelled garlic!

Now this may seem a strange thing to blog about, it happens all the time. But I lost my sense of smell about 3 years ago. I think it was a handball that hit me hard smack at the base of my nose. I was wearing protective glasses, luckily, so there were no glass shards to pick out of my eyeballs. But I soon began to only smell bad smells that lingered on and on. Then it smelled like something was burning - all day, every day. And then: nothing.

I didn't realize it for a while. Thought my clothes didn't smell offish and could be worn another day. Thought food began to taste drab. Wondered why people didn't like my sauces any more. Wondered why the labs didn't smell so bad any more (> 20 computing students * 90 minutes of sweating over exercises = Phew!).

I eventually consulted a doctor. There's nothing they can do. It may come back - in 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years. Or never. Not much research done in this area. So I learned to live with it. I learned to have WiseMan sniff at things taken from the fridge to see if they are still edible. Checked the fire alarms regularly, as I can't smell smoke. Volunteered cheerfully for smelly jobs. And was sad that food just didn't taste good. Put on some pounds because I had to eat more to have some sort of sensation - uff, full.

Recently I have been having individual smells suddenly explode in my nose. Tangerines at Christmas - I could sit smelling the peels for hours; Freshly ground coffee on a Saturday; Perfume - far, far away, but there.

Then, last week, I walked into the building at school: uff, fresh paint and pong mixed in together. I opened up the lab door, and a wall of, um, unwashed student hit me. And suddenly I realized: this is a SMELL! A wonderful smell, even if it is horrible.

I'm not back to smelling everything, it is more like one thing a day. I used a softener on a scarf this morning, WiseMan complained of the smell - indeed, faintly I whiffed lilacs. And now this evening, glorious garlic. It was a great dish: cod on a bed of tomatos/garlic/onion/olive oil and chopped basil, topped with sheep's cheese and olives. And I have been smelling it all evening. I even cup my hand over my mouth and breath out, so I can inhale the still-faint whiff of garlic. It must stink like crazy here, but I am so happy to be smelling again!


How long is 120 days?

The German media reported widely on Obama's stopping the Guantánamo processes for 120 days. But they reported widely varying numbers, and were confused about when it was done. Some reports were that this was what he signed first on that first day. Others had it being what he did on his first full day.

On the way to an appointment I heard the 4 months being reported on the radio. On the way from there to work this had dropped rapidly to 4 days. On the way home it was 3 months. On the evening news it was 120 days.

I have a suggestion: reporters should report on exactly what is being done or written, and not try and do fancy calculations themselves, innumerate lot that they are. And maybe they can start a course on Mathematics for Journalists in the schools of journalism.

Hot topics would be

  • Conversion factors and units of measure
  • The difference between a million and a billion
  • The meaning and magic of decimal points
  • How to lie with statistics


A New Beginning for America

When someone asked me yesterday if I was going to watch "it" on TV I was puzzled - oh, the inauguration? Nah, they'll have pictures on the evening news.

But all day it kept bugging me, so I checked the TV guide and got myself home in time. I turned on CNN (what else do you watch on a day like today) and thought I would work while it ran in the background. I ended up watching up most of it, closely. Just time for a quick blog entry before I get my lecture finished for tomorrow.

Some random thoughts:

  • So many people crying, so many people moved by this moment. Just the fact of an African American being sworn in as POTUS is giving people hope for the future. Of course, after 8 years of George W., it can't get much worse.
  • I was so happy how people cheered when Hillary was introduced. I do which, though, that she was the one taking the oath.
  • Imagine the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court flubbing the oath!
  • Cool that they let out the Lincoln bible for the swearing in.
  • Aren't those girls just adorable? I hope they are able to enjoy live in the White House. People are almost as excited as they were about Caroline and John John. I do hope they appoint Caroline to replace Hillary.
  • CNN ran ads for hair and skin products for people of color. How fitting!
  • The Obama family coming out of the White House to get to the stand was just so neat - Daddy, Mommy and the girls heading for some fun and just enjoying themselves.
  • The marching band from Obama's high school in Hawaii was neat - they were all so *scared* and so *awed* at the honor of playing for the president. And he so enjoyed the show. But what was the thing with his thumb and little finger? He and his girls both did it.
  • The drummers and acrobats from Chicago were great!
  • There was so much military marching music - and the formations of soldiers rather reminded me of East German parades. But the folks in the box are laughing and joking. And it is an inclusive joking, not jokes made at the cost of someone.
  • Neat, all the places Pres or Veep or family went to school gets to send a marching band. What if they don't have one? Okay, right, it's the States.
  • What shall I do with the talking Bush doll in my office? Retire it? When can I get an Obama doll?
  • I got tons of email congratulating me on Obama. Actually, I didn't have anything to do with it. I'm German, and I was for Hillary. Some people write: they wish they were American so they could be proud of having elected this guy. Americans are proud of this moment and of being an American. I think it is great, but I am (still) relieved not to be official American any more. Although, when Aretha Franklin sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" or the national anthem was played, I did feel moved. Must be all that indoctrination I had in school. I can enjoy this even without being an American, thanks to CNN.
  • Dr. Jill Biden is a college teacher with a doctorate in Education and now Second Lady. I hope she continues to teach! And the President, the Vice President, and the First Lady have doctorates in law - finally, people who understand something about education in power!
  • My spelling checker doesn't know Obama yet. Gotta fix that.
  • I hope he enjoys today - there's a lot of work his predecessor left on the desk for him. Good luck in getting America restarted. But after looking and listening today, I think he's going to have a lot of people willing to help him.
  • Oooh, I got an edit in on one of the Obama pages (the one on the parade) on the Wikipedia. Does that make me famous?


Sully on Facebook

Someone set up a Facebook page for Sully, the captain who landed the Airbus on the Hudson River. Over 357,000 fans. Over 16,000 wall entries. I guess people need a place to publicly let out their feelings. Keeps their minds off George Bush's pathetic last days.


Das HB Männchen

At the birthday party of a friend (a special one - for a computer scientist, the 49th, which is 7x7) WiseMan noticed a DVD on the TV set: Das HB-Männchen in seinen besten Spots.

Now the HB-Männchen is a comic figure that most people our age know. He was used to advertise for HB cigarettes. In an everyday situation awful things would happen, and he would explode and jump up high. A voice from the off would say "Now, no need to get all worked up (literally, to go in the air), have a HB cigarette". And he would smoke. In some later ones there was a short sequence showing him solving the situation, after having a smoke.

The DVD is 99 minutes - and they have cut the smoking out of every single short! There are something like 190 shorts on the DVD, including some that were never broadcast.

It is interesting to analyse the spots - Bruno always had modern furniature, he doesn't seem to be married, he has great vacations and lives in different homes all the time. The only spots with him in the kitchen are in black and white - the older ones. This would be an interesting research topic - the picture of Germany reflected in the HB-Männchen comics.


Shopping for the Rich

I had to go downtown (West) this morning to do the 2008 bookkeeping check with the company that manages our apartment complex. We started at 8, and were done in just over an hour - after years of doing this, most of it is just routine.

Since I had paid for 2 hours of parking, I decided to stroll down the Uhlandstr. across the Kurfürstendamm to the Kantstr. and back and do some window shopping. In the lower Uhlandstr. there were lots of shops for rent, and a spanking new gambling hall, as well as a strip joint.

But then the shops started getting fancy - nice stuff, and *very* expensive. Furniature that takes up enormous amounts of space, looks great, but is probably uncomfortable; expensive do-dads; clothes that start at 3 figures; jewels and watches; very fancy shoes (who wears heels that high??); a BMW shop.

The shops were all closed, save the odd bakery squeezed in between. Sleepy-looking women in mink coats and lipstick were getting their rolls - amazing they don't have people to do that for them. But the shops don't open until 10 or even 11, so it was really just window shopping for me. Not that I could afford any of that stuff, but are there really that many rich people to keep these shops going? Apparently.


Never saw it, so it doesn't happen

Uff. Faculty board meeting. We had a radical notion presented to the board, one cohort of students to study a program that is just to be for women. The university president is excited, we have all sorts of money lined up, but we have to get the program approved.

And there was a lot of wind came our way today.

  1. "It's like remedial courses for women." No, actually, once you get the still-teenage guys out of the women's hair, they can really excel. We will not be the first with a program like this.
  2. "You will take away the few women we have in our mixed program." Okay, I understand your pain. You just realized that our program is more interesting than yours. But not all women are willing to study in an all-women program, so not to worry.
  3. This is the drop-dead argument: "I've been a teacher for 30 years and never seen a woman be discriminated against, so all this female didactics is just crap". Um, right. Looks like we have a lot of work to do. This is like arguing: I have never seen a fox in Berlin, so they don't exist. And it is just soooooo classic - compting is so highly gendered, and the men are so intensely convinced that it is not gendered.
We beat a retreat and have to have some more talks with people over the next few weeks. This is going to be a tough one to get approved. Wish me luck!


OMG - My Teacher!

We decided to spend New Year's Eve at some friends of friends with a place in Brandenburg along the Havel looking over to Potsdam. It was really quite nice seeing the fireworks a good kilometer away and not having them blast around your ears.

When we got there there were introductions all around as the hosts had also invited a few couples. With the kids there were 16 or 18 people floating around - and a bunny rabbit which got my allergies going, luckily I had medicine, but it made me very sleepy.

The eldest girl in the family came down to say hi to everyone, did a double take and drew our friend aside - what were the names of his friends? He answered, and she got red in the face. OMG, that's my teacher at university!

Yes, WiseMan teaches the introduction course for froshers. But since there are usually 100 warm bodies even for this rather esoteric program, he doesn't know names or faces.

We managed to get her to come back in and talk, but she was now so shy and didn't want to say much. WiseMan surmised that he had probably already corrected her first paper and it probably wasn't one of the better ones. We checked this morning: yup. At least it was handed in 2 days before the deadline.

Anyway, that got the discussion off to a good start on the small world theory and people discussing their chance encounters with people they knew. I headed off to the bathroom for a good sneeze and heard the daughter (who had escaped the elders) sitting on the stairs phoning a friend about the shock of having her teacher arrive at her door this evening. Imagine that - teachers are people, too! It shouldn't surprise her, though - her Dad is a professor. But that's different, that's only Dad.