The Professorin Lemma

Ooooh, what a great Berlin Stammtisch we had this evening for the Wikipedia! After all the hullabaloo about my lemma "Professorin" that had been deleted some years back, never to be found again, it was a major topic this evening.

I had asked for it to be recovered from the dregs of the Wikipedia memory, and the admin I had asked said it had disappeared. This evening a very wise admin logged on and clickety-clicked his way through the jungles. We looked hither and thither, and there it was: the last version of the lemma before it was killed and the state of the discussion page just before it died.

And the killer and the person accusing the article of irrelevance sat at the table.

We had a lively discussion about relevance (not that we have solved the problem, by any means) and the deletion of knowledge. And I have my files back, now SAVED on MY disk. So I can now finish writing the article (which I started in 2005!) in peace and quiet before publishing. Of course, I had envisioned me starting and then others continuing, all happily contributing to the wealth of knowledge of the world.

Silly me, to have missed that it was only the knowledge of MANkind that was to be collected and ordered. On with the show!



annalist, a German-language blog that discusses so-called "security", among other things, links to a disturbing film that was shown on arte: Paranoland. If you understand French or read German, have a look. The passion for "security" has led to 89 taxis being blown up by police for security reasons in 2008. There have been questions on the source for this number, I'd love to see the source, too.


A long ride

So, back in Germany after a whirlwind trip back to the States. I don't know how many blog entries I wrote in my head, but somehow didn't get published. But the episode on March 14 at Newark Airport needs writing down.

Yes, there was a storm the night before. A few hundred trees were blown over, and that kind of put a crimp in people's style, as overland electricity lines and falling trees don't go together well.

But the Internet said that everything was hunky-dory down at Newark, so off we drove. There were some delays for trees being cut down and lanes closed for flooding, but we got to Newark just as the 1 1/2 hour suggested time to be at the airport arrived. I jumped out of the car, waved, and went to get in line.

I entered the building to a mass of humanity. The line stretched way past the winding waiting area in front of the check-in desks. I went to get in link, but was informed that I was cutting in - this gentleman had just gone to get a drink of water and no one touched his suitcase. So there was a gap. The line started *way back there*. I got into line, hoping for a fast moving line. They use online check-in and seat assign. I just hadn't gotten mine on account of you only being able to do this 24 hours in advance and I didn't pack a printer.

We crept. I was uneasy. At this speed I didn't see me making my flight. There were a few self-check-in machines, but they were very seldom used, and then by people coming from the line. I didn't know how to use them, and being alone I didn't want to leave my bag to check them out. So I waited.

About 45 minutes before flight time, I still had not reached the windy queue even. A gentleman about 10 people in front of me took his bag, looked around, got out of line and into the FastExpress lane (which was empty). From there he went to a self-service, and was off. He must have made it, because he was on my flight back.

I began to be close enough to observe what was going on. The four clerks were embroiled in all sorts of discussions with angry people. They were rebooking passengers as they came up, each needing 5-10 minutes. Many flights where apparently overbooked because it was the end of Spring Break.

But instead of sorting out 2 lines, one for people they could hopefully still get on their flights, and one for the rebookings, they just handled one at a time. Of course, some very pushy people just shoved through, using the self-service terminals, or even just shouting at the agents - and getting answers. As we got closer, the guy behind me got nervous - he had come 2 1/2 hours early, and was in danger of missing his flight. The woman in front had been there early in the morning, only to have her flight canceled and be rebooked on a flight in the late afternoon - 3 hours after my flight. She was even getting nervous, as she was a teacher and had to be in school Monday.

We let the guy behind jump in front of us, he made his flight (and his check-in only took a minute). My flight was long-gone (or so I thought), turned out that it had been delayed. If I had gotten pushy half an hour ago, I might have made it..... So they rebooked me on the night flight.

As I walked to security, I saw that the line was still as long as it had been. More rebookings in store! I turned the corner and found the next mass of humanity, wanting through security. Well, I had plenty of time now, so I got a candy and a tea. But there is no place to sit this side of security, except on the floor. Luckily, I have my towel in my backpack....

"Security" was a joke compared to Berlin. First my passport checked by a frowning guard and given a scribble. No computer check involved. Then I do the security undress show and dance, and go through the machine. The guy is making jokes for everyone, but somehow I can't laugh. No pat-down. They didn't care about all my electrical equipment. I even had my keys in my pocket and my lipstick (gel!) in my backpack by mistake. Ho-hum, they liked their uniforms, but weren't really doing much.

I had some overpriced food and then staked out a chair at the gate. The flight was already showing a delay of 45 minutes. Darn. Then an hour's delay, and I got nervous. The rental car place was only open until 12.30 am. I called, they assured me they would be there. The delay got to be an hour and 15 minutes, and I called my brother. He had some ideas for hotels not too far from JAX, should the rental cars not be available.

We finally boarded at the posted take off time, then spent half an hour waiting for take-off.

So we didn't get to JAX until 1 am. I raced for the rental counter, fearing the worst - and there they were. All waiting for us. Thank you, Alamo, that was the best news of the day! I got my bag and my car and headed out.

The car was a crazy-looking Nissan Cube. But it drove, and I found my way where I was going. Except when I got there, there was no room reserved for me. So in desperation and utterly tired, I parked, slid the back seats way back, lowered the passenger seat, put on my coat, got out that towel and folded it for a pillow, put on my sleep blindfold, locked the car, and actually slept about 5 hours.

Getting up I headed out for the nearest Starbucks for a freshen-up, a soy latte, some breakfast and a real newspaper (the New York Times, what else). I do believe this is one of the longest trips I've taken to get somewhere that is only 2 flying hours away...


USA: The Good and the Bad

Just bullet points of things I am reminded are good and bad in the US:

Things that irritate me
  • The so-called "news" on all channels and not just Fox
  • The flags everywhere
  • The rhetorical statements and untrue stuff (like giving fingerprints is for my own safety)
  • Having to give all 10 fingerprints in order to enter the country.
  • Needing to cart bunches of dollar bills around that make my wallet look big even though they aren't worth that much
  • Not being able to play Scrabble in Facebook with my friends (Update: fixed that with a proxy)
  • The SUVs that are littering the highways and the parking spaces
  • The "nice to meet you"s
  • The bookstore playing religious songs as Muzak
  • The cult of veteran idolation
  • The amount of garbage produced per person per day
  • The drab, depressing stretches of highway/strip malls/mega stores/chain restaurants
  • Drive-ins

Things I like
  • My family
  • The deli around the corner
  • The refrigerator that dispenses ice without having to open the door
  • Toasted sourdough bread with sliced provolone
  • The New York Times for breakfast
  • The water fountains everywhere

There will certainly be more to come!

The Indecency of Air Travel

Haven't been to the US for a number of years, and was really dreading the flight. I understand that some security is necessary, but that most of what happens is security theater, designed to appear to be doing Something about the Terrorists.

Even though the liquid sillyness has been proven ineffectual, it is still on. Going through security I had to dump all my stuff in big boxes - no separate box for pockets. I didn't have my liquids in plastic bottles in a zip-lock bag because I didn't have any liquids - I thought. Turns out my metal asthma sprayer has liquid on the inside... And my allergy cream is a gel, ooooh.

Then my backpack - not only a laptop (and I'm not dressed as a business person because I am traveling for personal reasons, but still need my brain extention). But *all* these cables and stuff, hidden away in different pouches. Yes, I don't need my lock cable or my Ethernet cable everyday, so it's in the special hidden pouch where the rain cape would go. The electrical cord, however, I need a lot, so it is handy.

Not to mention all the whiteboard markers I forgot to empty from the top pocket.

The body visitation I found incredibly intruding for being held in a very public place. I mean, she felt up under my breasts and ran her hands around the waistband of my pants, praising me for not wearing a belt. Duh, it's in one of the boxes going through.

Apparently, they can now read thoughts, because I was darkly debating just dropping my pants to offer them an easy anal search. I was asked off for a special search.

Good job I got to the airport early.

We had to leave the gate, go back out through the passport people (who had made a nasty remark about sure, they believed I was German with that birthplace), and down a few doors. I was rather upset as one of the items from my pocket had disappeared and everyone was telling me that it can't disappear. Well, yes, but I would really, really like to have it.

All of my electrical stuff (and the lock cable) were swabbed and put into some imposing looking machine. All came out negative. So we had a minute search of my bags. When the searcher found my missing item he was really proud - he finds everything.

Glad to have the item back I was allowed to repack: and then go through the *entire* procedure again, including the body search. I kept my mind blank this time...

... and went to get a cold drink. The same machines that dispense drinks for 1,20 € at school and 2 € outside the door want 3,50 € (!!!) for some water that has been blessed by the security people. This really makes me sure that the drinks lobby is behind keeping the no fluids rule just to make more money.

And the thought of these naked scanners they are using more and more of even though there is no proof that they do anything other than embarrass people just makes me want to stick with train travel (although the train service from Europe to the US is rather limited). 


Fixing Y2K+10

I went down to the bank to sort out the Y2K+10 mess today.  I said my piece to the lady at the counter, and she inquired if I was able to get cash through other means? I replied yes, but it will cost me money. No problem, they will refund this. They always suggest having two pieces of money-obtaining plastic on you, and with their New! Improved! 6-Euros-a-month-Account they would have delivered me the cash I needed at any Forex. I tried to explain that we don't have those out in the woods, and they are closed weekends, but she wasn't listening.

I then asked why they didn't inform me. She danced around that one, and then said that it had been in the papers that the "newish" cards were the ones hit, so they had expected that we would recognize ourselves and come sort it out. Right. I noted that I would have expected a customer-oriented bank to inform me. She said that she would pass that on (translation: pipe to /dev/null). A tie-wearer in the background identified me as a troublemaker and took over.

So how do I get my card fixed? Oh, that's easy! You just get money out of our ATM and it gets fixed. Hmm, I have to get out money? Well, I could pay it right back in if I wanted to. So you mean your machines write to the chip? "What do you mean, write?" There's a chip there, and if you are fixing the problem on the card, you are not just reading it, but writing to it. "I'm sorry," he says, "I don't understand how it works, it just does when you put your card in.

So we have bank workers who do not understand how the chips work or what the security is based on. And there is a sector of the chip memory that is writable - writable from an ATM. I think there is some hack potential here, and I don't like it.

I first tried the bank statement machine - no dice, my card has a problem with it. Then the ATM.



I picked up a copy of a newish Swedish magazine "Språktidningen" (Language Magazine) the other day. They had an article about some newfangled words in Swedish. Words from the English such as "staycation", a stay-at-home-vacation. And then the word "nanosemester". Semester is the Swedish word for vacation, and nano is a prefix used to denote the millionth part of something.

The magazine defines this as a "very short vacation". Hmm. I smell innumeracy here. Lets have a look. 365 days in a year, so let's be generous and say that a microyear is one-third of a day. One thousandth of a microyear would be a nanoyear. One third of a day is 8 hours, with 60 minutes and 60 seconds for 28800 seconds. Again, being generous, a thousandth of a microyear would be 30 seconds.

So a "vacation" of 30 seconds? Don't blink, or you will miss it.

Another interesting new phrase in Swedish: wikipedifierad sanning (Wikipediafied truth, that is, a truth that is only true in the Wikipedia), printed in Goteborgsposten in February 2010, according to the web site.


Are the banks all crazy?

My online bank, the Postbank, has just excitedly informed me of the New! Improved! Secure! way for me to do my online banking: using so-called "mobile TANs".

The idea is that I enter in the data (a job the banks used to do, but now I have to do so and I transpose two digits on occasion, causing grief) and then push a button and a new transaction number (TAN) is generated and sent to my mobile phone and includes the account data, so I can check again that I have the correct account number before entering in the TAN.


I spend enough time as it is doing my online banking. All of the security theater they use costs a lot of time. Now, for all "large" transactions (this will soon be all transactions, mark my words) I have to waaaaaaait until the SMS arrives (and if I am in a foreign country, pay extra to have the SMS delivered) in order to proceed.

Don't believe for a minute that the Postbank will spend even a microsecond thinking how to make life easier for me. They have, for example, templates for common transactions. I have a lot that I need just once a year, but at 40 the end has come. I have written and complained, but no, 40 is the limit 'cause the programmers say so.

Oh, no problem, I read the fine print. I can declare that I have no mobile phone and can then continue to use their iTANs. I just download it from the Download center.

Hmm, the Download center is a link to javascript.void(0); Duh. I wanted to write them a letter. Where did they put the "Contact" link now? I always have to fish for it. Double Duh. javascript.void(0);

I think it is getting to be time to seriously consider switching banks.



I had a good laugh at the Y2K+10 problems, seeing as how I had been warning about all the problems expected at Y2K. The whole thing seemed to be over, after all, we were up to end of February 2010.

I was up in Sweden for a week teaching, and my cash reserves were unusually low. No problem - I have my giro account with SEB. I can get money from any SEB money machine in Sweden without paying any fee, as often as I want. That's why my account is there.

I stamp through the swirling snow and slush to the nearest SEB machine. I put in my card, put in the PIN, request money and a receipt, and wait. And wait. And the machine says:

Din kort är felaktig! (You card has an error)

I suspected Y2K+10 right away, but who can I call at midnight? Oh well, I've got a credit card.

I'm on my merry way the next day, the snow and ice getting thicker and thicker, but I make it to my destination. It's a town I've never been in, but there should be an SEB around. Sure enough, a big one, with two ATMs. I start at the first one, same routine, same result. Just to make sure, I try the next ATM - again, my card is considered to be at fault.

The hotel has Internet, so I fire off a nastygram to the bank. I finally got an answer yesterday. "Yes," the lady writes cheerfully, "your card is affected by the general card problems from the turn of the year. Just drop by our offices, or if you are in Sweden, let us know the town you are in and we will send you a new card. And you can now get our superduperwhizzy new Visa card that lets you get cash without charge all over Europe!" Right. You forgot to read me the fine print - the Visa card has a minimum usage of 4000 Euros/year, or you pay a yearly fee. And even though I read the letter twice, there is no statement "We're sorry for the inconvenience we have caused."

This means that my bank has known for over 8 weeks that my card won't work in a foreign country, and they just wait until I am in the foreign country and can't get money and complain to then tell me that I need to drop by to get the problem fixed? In what way does this constitute "service"?

Oh, and the Visa has a really cool feature that all credit cards now have so that you can use them online. You have to make up ANOTHER password with a super secure question like "What was your first dog's name?" in case you forget the password so that you can use it online. I fail to see the security in this, but that is another rant.

So now I have to spend a good hour going to the bank, during their opening hours (not mine). Fume. I've threatened that I want them to reimburse me for the fees my credit card charges for using it in a foreign country. We'll see if they go along with that.


Luftslottet som sprängdes

The last movie of the Millenium trilogy, clocking in at about 2 1/4 hours for the Swedish version, is called "The Girl who kicked the Hornet's Nest" in English. Since we didn't have time to go to the movies, we dug down and purchased a DVD. It was still cheaper than 2 movie tickets....

The first one was okay, the second one was quite a boring let-down, so we were just watching this one to finish out the trilogy.

And wow - it packs a punch! They've stripped the book of a lot of the parallel stories, focusing on Lisbeth Salander and the charges against her. Sure, they couldn't resist a little bang-bang action (which is in the book), but the movie is very well done, suspenseful (even if you have read the book) and there is even a spot of good acting here and there, although no Academy Awards expected.

Of course, you pretty much have to sit through the second one so you can follow the third one, that's life.

And just like with the books - it can't be over! I want another one RIGHT NOW!

Time Warp

Have I really not been blogging for 2 weeks? I've composed all sorts of posts in my head and was certain that I had put one or the other to paper pixels. I suppose it was that mad dash at the end of the semester, then the conference, then some traveling. So what do I remember?

  • Swedes can deal with snow. They have piles of it, but the streets are in great shape. The trains aren't running (must be the German train system syndrome) very regularly, but the streets are swept clean. Even bike paths are operable, and bicyclists out in droves.
  • I was on TV Sunday, it really is bizarre the people that catch my seconds-only interview (that took 2 hours to make) while zapping.
  • The German government got it's backside kicked again by the constitutional court. Those keeping count note that this is the 14th time the court has found the government passing laws which are not in keeping with the constitution in the past 5 years. The telephone and IT operators get to delete terabytes of data they were forced to log on who was calling whom when from where.
  • I much prefer little Swedish roadside eateries that serve up freshly smoked fish they smoked themselves to the McDonaldized Mega-Reststops.
  • I also much prefer the little Swedish hotels over the chains. I'm getting in after closing time? No problem, the passnumber for the door is XXXX. You are in room Y, it's unlocked and the key is on the desk. Oh, and there's a pot of coffee and some cookies in the commons room. Now that's hospitality. And they run much cheaper than the fancy ones.
  • Instead of running open WLANs these little hotels have taken to setting up Ethernet sockets. Lucky me, I always pack a cable.
  • The customer points card for ICA now has a new twist - they send you coupons for the "things you buy a lot". Except it's a coupon for the house brand of taco shells and not the Santa Maria ones we always buy. All the coupons they sent were spot on things we always buy.
  • The city I was in is crawling with Oddfellows and Knights of the Whatever and Masons and such. A friend who has lived and worked there for over 10 years said that he got invited to join one, but declined. So he is out of the loop, as along with all the secret stuff they do, they also discuss who gets what position and how they can help each others. Need I mention that these tend to be men-only deals with a ladies' auxiliary?
  • The Mongolian restaurant rocked.
  • I'm tickled pink that my book, published late last year, got a nice review in the German equivalent of the New York Times Literary Supplement, the FAZ. I got letters from *so* many people about that!
Alright, back to work. Have I noticed that the new semester is just around the corner and I have to teach that course that really, really needs a lot of prepping?