Yackity Yack

On my train ride this past week I first spent time in the "silent" car. People are not supposed to use their phones, but there were two. One telephoned twice, one four or five times (softly). And there was an older lady carrying on at the top of her voice. Rather irritating, but I decided not to say anything.

On the way back I was in the phoning section (the choice used to be smoking or non-smoking, now it's loud or louder). My word! I think I heard 7 different, irritating ring tones. Some people were on the phone constantly, talking at the top of their voices.

They were discussing personal problems and business deals. The guy at my table was discussing a deal that I would have closed the door to my office to discuss. It was in my field, so I made a point of putting a thesis I was grading on a related topic on the table so he could see this.

It was rather funny, he began trying to make eye contact with me and nod and smile, he even said good-bye when he left. Now if I was a real bitch I could figure out who his competitors are and tell them what he is bidding on that English deal and how high he is prepared to go. But I have other things to do, I suppose.



Man, I'm getting old. Looked in the mirror yesterday morning on my way to a conference and swore it was my aunt (35 years older than me, has been dead for 12 years) looking back at me.

I decided I needed lipstick, so I opened my bag.

Ethernet cable, USB stick, bluetooth dongle, lipstick. All in one pocket of my backpack. I decided I need to make a new name: FGOF, Female geeks over Fifty.

I went to the conference and was amazed at all the grad students there. I squinted to read their badges (my eyesight is not what it was) and discovered that many of them had a Prof. Dr. in front of their name. Then I got appointed senior member to the steering committee. Another FGOF at the conference is going to do early retirement to spite her dean.

I remember the first time I met a FGOS (over 60). She walked into the room at a conference where we were preparing a newsletter and freaking out because we couldn't get the pictures from the Photoshop computer to the printer machine. She wore cordury jeans, had her hair in a pony tail, and had her keys clipped to her belt. And had a USB stick (something no one had at that time) on the key chain. She pulled the stick out, sucked the pics, moved them, smiled and then left. I remember thinking: that's exactly what I want to be like when I'm 60!


The wait

I had to get a tax form for WiseKid, who will (hopefully) soon be entering the work force. I had taken two days off to help him find an apartment and such, so I had time.

Finding a one-room apartment in Berlin is very difficult - the social services office pays rent of 266 € a month, so guess how much apartments cost (without heat). And of course, any cheaper ones are not generally publicized. We got to hear about one, we'll be looking at the apartment tomorrow, wish us luck to get the contract.

I was prepared for the Bürgeramt. They had been closed for the past three days in the hopes of clearing out their backlog. So I was expecting lots of people and had my iPod and 2 magazines with me. I got a number, 314 and glanced at the board: 230 currently being served. Indeed, there were about 100 people stuffed into the waiting room. Oh well. I scored an empty chair, turned on the iPod, and began to read.

After the first magazine the numbers had made their was into the 50s. Whee. Before I cracked the next magazine I began to wonder - all this wasted time of people sitting around, isn't there some useful work like tagging pictures for Google or some such that they could be doing? What a waste of time!

I pretty much finished the second magazine - Atlantic Monthy, lots of in-depth articles about the US - before my number came up. And then I was in and out in 5 minutes.

Wouldn't it be possible for me to apply for such a thing (Lohnsteuerkarte) by email? Have them send it to the address they have on record for me from the last time I cooled my heels for 3 hours, waiting to tell them where I had moved?

Germans are sooo burocratic, and complain bitterly about the wait and the mood of the patrons after waiting 2-3 hours for a piece of paper the government says that you need. Germany needs a dragon slayer, methinks.


I'm going to get something to read....

We were away at a two-day retreat, me and my four (male) colleagues. We worked hard this morning, and broke for lunch. As we sat around the table, one was fussing with his GPS system looking for directions for getting home, two were reading their emails on their iPhones and the last one was sending SMS on his Crackberry.

All was quiet.

I remarked, "Well, I suppose I'll go get something to read." One colleague looked up and asked "Why?" "Well," I answered, "if you are all so busy, I need something to do, too."

And they went back to their toys.

I sat back and enjoyed the winter sun until the waitress came.


A disturbing project

Today was project day - the second year students present the projects that they have worked on all semester long in groups. Many worked very, very late nights the past two weeks or so. Usually, the group that got a good night's sleep the night before the presentation ends up with the best grade because they were done and happy.

The first group so disturbed me that I really had trouble focusing on the others.

Many program games - that seems to be the current fashion, and there is an emerging science of programming games, so that's okay. I love to see their faces during the semester when they realize that modeling real-world things in games will involve lots of physics (evil grin).

This first game was to be about intercultural communication, and the group was a bit fluttery and disorganized, I took it to be the all-nighter they pulled yesterday. They chaotically introduced the game, and then introduced the first mini-game. As the backstory leading up to this, the character ends up in a pact with the devil. Okay, let's play with taboos, how juvenile.

The mini-game was a "smack-Saddam" game like there are millions out there. You get to the next level by smacking 20 Saddam heads as they come out of some holes. What fun.

There is some storyline to wade through - very long, very involved, very full of clichés. I can't really understand why they are in Australia - the opponent is speaking in an Australian accent. I grab the printed storyboard, okay, it is about Texas. I read, and find stupid scenes with people from different religions throwing epithets at each other. I ask one of the programmers why they chose this. There's no reflection, they just thought it was cool. I'm not sure what all this has to do with intercultural communication, but anyway, back to the game.

The character is now in prison somehow, and with some cute tricks it can break out of prison. Now in the yard I see that the prison is actually Guantanamo. I am very concerned about a ha-ha game about Guantanamo, especially one that is portraying cowering figures in orange jumpsuits. Of course, the bad guys capture the man character and drag him down a hallway - and drag him to a chair, strap him in and begin torturing him.

I explode. I absolutely refuse to continue to look at this stuff, and leave the room, slamming the door after me. I disappear into the bathroom to think.

What on earth has possessed them? Okay, I realize they all play games I consider tasteless and horrible, but this takes a step beyond that. The torture game, anyone? I later see that there are lots of these games available on the web - so really, everyone is doing it, apparently.

What on earth has the world come to when young people find the topic of torture something to play with? Just a big joke? Don't they realize what torture does to people?

If there had been at least a scrap of thought that had gone into their choice of material, we could at least have discussed it. But there was nothing to discuss - it was just cool, or so they thought.

I came out, took a seat outside the examining room, and waited for the committee to come out to go on to the next group, writing madly on a piece of paper I had to keep myself from storming back into the room. When we went on it took much effort to pull myself together and not take my anger out on the other groups.

In the evaluation we weighed the issue - the graphics were consistent, there was a lot of work put in, even if there were deficits all over the place. The choice of topic material was very poor and the presentation chaotic, the game had a lot of crazy corners. We decided on a B-, and the project leader had to break it to the group.

They broke out in tears. They were expecting an A for all their work, it is now my fault that they got a "bad" grade. I am speechless - this is not a bad grade, but it reflects some poor choices they made. I'm afraid that they have utterly and completely not understood why anyone would have a problem with their game.

Have we raised a generation of insensitive monsters, completely out of touch with the real world? Scary, and very, very disturbing.


Firebird and Plugins

I am pissed at both Firefox and Thunderbird today.

Not only did they interfere with teaching the other day: please, pretty please, download this pressing security update, they seem to say. My Mac goes into slow motion when updates need to be installed.

I gave in to Thunderbird a few days ago and restarted it - and OpenPGP disappeared. Not compatible with the current version. Fume.

Then Firefox updated - and my delicious posting plugin got itself disabled. Delicious is my memory extension - now I saw this site the other day..... I can't remember how, but if I tagged it on delicious, I can find it again. So anytime I say: nice page, I quickly do a right-mouse-key, select delicious, type in a tag or three and save. Painless. Extremely useful. And now disabled.

And with Adobe wanting me to download an update for one of the gazillion things in Creative Suite ever other day and iWork wanting me to shell out for a new version and iTunes really, really needing another update to disable something interesting I used to be able to do and Mac itself always needing updates that will restart the system: Darn it, leave me alone! I want to work. Leave all my applications open where they were when I got interrupted. And continue where I left off without having to update, close, store, restart, and now: where was I? I end up played a few rounds of word games in Facebook to combat the frustration, and it is midnight again......


Tooth Extraction

WiseKid got one of his front teeth knocked up a few years back and had a crown on it (he was playing Blinde Kuh in the dark and tripped over a chair). He was in a little fight and got the crown knocked at, and the tooth was fractured across the tooth, so the whole thing had to be extracted.

Even being private patients we couldn't get an appointment for extraction for a week! So we got lots of pain medication and he hung in there.

Tuesday was extraction day, and the nice doctor explained everything to us. He set the first two shots of novocaine, and then while explaining what he was doing next got his thumb in the way of the needle and managed to jab himself, drawing blood.

Panic - this is a worst-case scenario for health-care professionals. He put the needle down and began dealing with the blood running down his thumb, calling for an assistent to help get his thumb bandaged up. And his concern about this perhaps causing an infection was quite understandable. He quizzed WiseKid about any infectuous diseases, we don't know of any.

He sat down and was preparing to give WiseKid the third shot in the roof of his mouth when *I* started to protest - shouldn't he get a new needle? That needle had been in his thumb and should not be now used again.

He deliberated, finally giving in and looking for a new needle. Since this is prepared by the nurse, he didn't know where to look and had to rummage around. He finally found something, and then put it on to finish off the shot. He managed to spritz it so that the force blew the needle off of the syringe and spritzed the novocaine in his face. Luckily, he was wearing glasses, but he muttered that it was feeling like Friday the 13th.

While we waited for the novocaine to take effect he called his insurance company. They wanted to do a blood test on WiseKid right now. Fine, they were going to send someone over. We got the tooth extracted nicely, sewn up, and the bridge set in place - but no one to draw blood. We waited for about 15 minutes, then the dentist had us come down to the doctor's below, she would draw the blood and do the test.

Okay, but WiseKid is starting to feel the pain. And now the discussion starts - I am supposed to pay for this. I don't want to - he jabbed himself, I'm willing to let him do a blood test, but he needs to pay this himself! No, I ended up having to fill out all the forms for them to send me a bill. I will deduct whatever this sum is from what the dentist charges me, he wants it, not me.

We finally got the blood drawn and headed for home, where WiseKid took to bed with an ice-pack and lots more painkiller. And the TV on full blast. We hope the dentist calmed down, but I rather wish that he would have the same respect for us as for himself: a used needle may not be used on someone else. Period.


Digital Picture Frame

WiseMan had hinted that he would like a digital picture frame for his birthday, so I went down to the Megastore the day before. No sense shopping too early, as there is new stuff out every day, and WiseMan has been known on multiple occasions to purchase the exact thing I am giving to him the day before his birthday.

There was a dizzying array of frames available. There were big ones, little ones, simple ones, and combinations. The combinations were with a printer, with a TV, with a radio, with a telephone (!) and then the one I got - one with a wireless LAN connection, a Kodak W820.

What a great idea! The navigation is on the border, not on the picture itself. It takes a while to get it set up: first getting the WLAN to work, then downloading the system update, then going on line and configuring everything. They only deliver a CD for Windows, so I had to get the software from the internet for my Mac, but it is worth it.

I can have the frame show:

  • pictures stored inside it
  • pictures on a chip
  • pictures stored online at their site under my Kodakgallery account that I just happened to have because I use it to make Christmas calendars for my folks
  • pictures stored on my brother's Kodakgallery account, because he has me listed as a friend. I will even be notified on the frame when he uploads another collection of Princess photos!!
  • pictures from my Flickr account
  • pictures from Flickr tagged with interesting words
  • pictures from Facebook
  • And the kicker: any online content that has RSS-feeds.
We set up the German news, the German handball news (someone intelligent in the ARD sports editorial office offers RSS feeds customized by sport), some cartoons (but they are so small, you can't read them), the local weather, the Swedish weather, the Swedish news. And it shows them, intercut with pictures. Or we can choose just the news, just the weather, etc.

Just plain brilliant. I don't have to turn on a computer to see the weather or the news. Only two presses on the picture frame, and it starts.

I'm so enjoying playing with his new toy, I didn't even start the lecture for tomorrow. Gotta get cracking......


WiseMan is such a Casablanca fan, so we gathered the usual suspects for a long evening of films with this classic (in B&W, of course) first off. It turned out that three (3!) of the men had never actually seen the film. One admitted to having watched a few minutes while zapping, but never seen it in total. And he said that it was really fascinating to watch.

Even the kids - 1, 3, 6, 8 - were fascinated and either watched or played quietly to let the adults enjoy the film. The resident teenager, of course, thought it corny and slunk off to exchange nastilities with his buddies on his chat portal.

What a wonderful movie! The light and shadows; the framing of Ingrid Bergman; the tears; Bogie's cynicism; the corny plot; and all of these quotes that you just know by heart (although often quoted wrongly).

Reading up after the movie on IMDB I read that in the 80s someone submitted the screenplay with the original title to all the major studios. Some of the readers caught it, but many just rejected it on grounds of being too old, too boring, and not enough sex. When the film was made, it was really racy - a married woman having an affair, although to her credit she thought her husband was dead.

"You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh; the fundamental things apply, as time goes by...".