The last day of classes! Sure, I have grading and paperwork to do, and I have to find my desks under the piles of paper. But school's out!

Many programs now have a showtime on the last day of classes in which students demonstrate what they have done all semester. We have our semester projects presented and graded.

This is grueling for us and for them. They have 30 minutes to make it clear to us, what they spent all semester doing. Paper reports can be very useful for this purpose, but not all groups see the necessity of this. They prefer snazzy booths with video presentations and slide shows. As one colleague remarked - one group's slide show was miles better than the nervous guys trying to get something resembling a coherent description of what they did presented. We have to concentrate on all of these groups and ask nasty questions in order to be able to judge how hard their project was, how far they got, and how well they presented it. I take copious notes, because my brain gets addled after about the second group.

After I got the grades sorted out for our group I went around to look at the results from some of the other programs.

The games design people were doing character studies this semester. They had wonderful scrapbooks and sketchbooks they had made on Jeanne d'Arc and Queequeg. I enjoyed looking through them. The teacher showed me the part where she made them draw women's breasts - real ones, not the fantasy ones that the few women that show up in computer games come with that are worse than Barbie's. Very good!

Over at the clothing design department I missed the main fashion show, but the first semester students were out in full force with the clothes they designed and sewed themselves out of sackcloth (which is cheap). They were bizarre, lots of layers and boxes and straps and, um, things hanging off them. Looked like fun to make and a bitch to wear.

The communications designers hat some delightful thesis work, not all of which I understood. There was a large board with little blocks cut out with shells glued on like knobs. I pulled one, and they did indeed come off with some terrifying eyes and things in pictures behind. I especially liked the furnishing designs that had nicely color coordinated info-graphics used to make plates, cushions, lamp shades, curtains, and such. Honestly, I would have pulled out my wallet if the pillows had been for sale!

There was also a fun laptop bag that you weave yourself by choosing three different colored bits of stuff - very clever. And some theses on communication in a big city and children's book illustrations and posters on restoring pictures and - my feet hurt so bad, that I headed off for the train.

Lovely to see what a creative, insightful bunch of students we train here!


Crawling with Tourists

I had a meeting downtown today and was there early, so I did a bit of window shopping.

Who buys this stuff? Fancy-named clothing and bags and cosmetics and do-dads. Do the tourists? I mean, the place was crawling with tourists. I heard English, Dutch, French, Italian, and a number I couldn't identify on the short walk. I understand them buying the Berlin souvenirs and eating in the Bavarian (!) Restaurant Unter den Linden. But all these extremely expensive stuff - who has the money to buy stuff so they have the money to pay the rent?


Playing with Ubuntu

Our labs purchase new high-end computers every 3-5 years, depending on the system. I don't know that we will continue to do so - it seems all the students have laptops these days, anyway. But when we do purchase new ones, we have to dispose of the old ones. After the school has asked around if anyone needs a computer (and we did, we had two new staff members who really only needed typewriters, they are fine on these boxes) the rest are sold off to anyone interested. I bought 2, one for WiseKid and one for WiseMan.


New Dean on the Block

I know blogging's been light. I've just been elected dean. That means I'm part of the administration, the one to get bitched at for everything that goes wrong. But I see it as a challenge, to see if I can "win", to get everything to run a little bit smoother.

My goal is to start documenting how we do things, and fix any process that takes more than a page to describe. Wish me luck!


The Deutsche Bahn can apologize

I am dumbstruck. I didn't think they could do it.

I got a call during dinner this evening, a Friday. It is usually telemarketers, so I had my prickly voice on.

It was the Deutsche Bahn (DB). They were calling about my complaint. Was I satisfied now?

Let me gather my wits. Where's the file on this little spat? Must be about an inch thick. Let's see if I can put together a digest for my readers:

  1. I am going to spend a week in Sweden on an Erasmus exchange. For complicated reasons I am taking the train. I order my tickets by telephone and they arrive in good time. This is how I want things to work.
  2. It snows. As in really snows. As in it snows so much in Sweden that they have curtailed service for the train I am planning on using. And they can't tell me if my train will run because they aren't God and are busy shoveling out from under all this surprising snow.
  3. I panic and make other arrangements, i.e. long drive up by car. On Feb. 24 I send the tickets back, before the first day of validity for a full refund. I purchased fully-refundable tickets. I spent 30 minutes in a hotline to ask how to do this properly. I paid 14 cents a minute for the advice I got. Paranoid, I made copies of the tickets before I sent them back.
  4. The drive up is wonderful, I have a nice time in Sweden. When I come back I see that the DB hasn't moved. Oh well, there's work to do.
  5. After about a month I notice that there still is no refund. So I try and call the DB. They play telephone ping-pong with me, sending me from Erstattungsanträge to Entschädigungsanträge. And dropping the line occasionally, so I get to call again. I dig out an email address and send a stern email.
  6. The bot answers that they will deal with my case shortly.
  7. Two weeks later I request a definition of "shortly" from the email address, including the number I was given by the bot.
  8. The bot is silent.
  9. I week later I call the telephone number. "This number is not in service, please check your listing." Duh.
  10. I write another email, sterner than the first.
  11. The bot answers that they will deal with my case shortly.
  12. Three days later I call again, and play ping-pong. Unsuccessfully.
  13. The next day (April 19 by now) I have a message on my answering maching. The DB is so sorry for this mess and will refund my money shortly.
  14. I write an email and set a deadline: If I don't see the money by then and then, I will consider legal options.
  15. The bot answers that they will deal with my case shortly.
  16. I get an email that has a person's name on it, but it is just a bunch of canned text. The same email comes twice.
  17. I write back that if the money isn't here by the end of May, I will get a court-mandated payment order.
  18. The bot answers that they will deal with my case shortly.
  19. I get another email from another person sending me back from Erstattungsanträge to Entschädigungsanträge. We are now playing email ping-pong.
  20. I call again, and when they interrupt my sentence to send me to the other department I get very loud and nasty. [Ask my students - I am generally nice, but when I get nasty, look for cover.]
  21. I write a real letter, describing the mess, and set a final deadline for the refund.
  22. I get a real letter saying that they will deal with my case shortly.
  23. I give them two weeks past the deadline, then I get mad. There's an online form for putting together a court-mandated payment order. It costs 23 Euros and an hour to put together and 1,45 € for the stamp to send it off. In a fit of rage I walk it to the post office.
  24. The court is exceedingly fast. They find an error in my form and request a correction just a few days later.
  25. I suddenly get a letter from the DB saying that they are so sorry this has taken so long, and the money is being refunded to my credit card and here's a 25 € gift certificate for my next trip. Okay, that about pays the telephone calls.
  26. I withdraw the court-mandated order, but have to pay anyway. Drat. The moment I would have had that court order I was planning on marching down to the Grundbuchamt and putting a lien on some nice DB property and then insisting that that property be auctioned off to satisfy my debt. I wouldn't see a penny (I've done this twice before, the debtors are served in order and usually there are lots of them in line before me) but would have been immensely satisfying to irritate the hell out of them.
  27. I chalk up the 23 Euros to letting off steam.
  28. And now, on July 9, over 4 months later, a guy calls and apologizes and asks if everything is okay now. I say that I still had to pay 23 Euros. He professes to know nothing about the court-mandated payment order I applied for, but quickly offers to send me 23 Euros right away. Who am I to say no to this?
And so, the snow saga concludes. The question remains: how much money does the DB keep from people who are not stubborn enough to keep bugging them?

Update:  Yes, the 23 Euros arrived promply. And for Falko and others: Online-Mahnantrag is what I used.


An Advantage of the Cloud

Putting files and data online is all the rage today. Often, people speak of having stuff "in the cloud".

Well, I was very happy to have many important things in the cloud today. WiseKid's apartment door needed to be fixed (for reasons best left to personal discussions). A guy came by Friday, measured, sent an offer by fax, I accepted, and he said: fine, I'll be there on Monday at 8. But I need you to pay me in cash 'cause I have to purchase the door.

Okay, I don't have to be at work until this afternoon, so getting up early to be at WiseKid's place at 8am is not high on my list of fun things to do. But what we don't do for our kids.

I show up just before 8 and see a guy carrying a door across the courtyard. "Hi!" I said, "will you come back up so we can settle the bill?". "I'll be back in about 3 hours, he says, I gotta get this adjusted in my workshop." And he was gone.

I came upstairs to find WiseKid and his girlfriend in a state of shock. The guy had taken their apartment door - and they both had appointments. WiseKid at the job center, the girlfriend is getting her school-leaving certificate at school today (I think she's the wise one, but that's another blog).

At least her laptop was connected to the Internet, so I offered to stay the three hours. They blew off with sighs of relief, and we agreed that when the door was back in I would take the new key and put it in their mailbox.

So what can I do when I am unexpectedly not in my home office for working?

  • My business calendar is on Google so that my secretary can see my business appointments. Me, too, today.
  • The exercises I needed to grade are all on the learning management system at the school. It takes 3 tries, but I remember the password.
  • We have a web-based interface to email. I don't have a IMAP, so I don't have access to my files, but I can see incoming email and respond.
  • It takes 4 tries (2 different emails, 2 different password possibilities) to get into Facebook. Nice.
  • I remember the password for my RSS feed reader, so I can at least catch up on all the reading I missed by being off the grid for a day.
  • I remember the password for this blog, so I can blog about what I am doing.
I can actually get some work done moderately well, Not having a mouse and having to deal with Vista is causing some grief (took me ages to figure out how to make the screen lighter, and it wanted to reboot in order to offer me some larger type).

I called the guy after 3 hours. "I just got the new doorknob, I didn't know the doorknob was missing!". I thought that was the point of someone coming by last Friday to assess the damage. So here I sit, in the heat, with a sheet nailed up over the doorway so that I am at least spared the curious glances of the neighbors. And wondering what I will do if there is still no door at 2, the absolute latest I have in order to get home, get my computer, and race to work.

Well, what do I tell my students? Don't panic!


Mean Programming Teacher

Ooooh, I am just a mean old programing teacher! I had my first-year students design a simple text-based game last week and implement the basic floor plan. This week I made them exchange games and the specification for items to put into the rooms with a neighbor and continue programming the *other person's* code.




Exactly. Those who handed in something suboptimal should feel a bit naked. Those who handed in something chaotic will have to deal with the abuse from a fellow student. Those who didn't follow directions and forgot to put the code in their report have to call home and have their girlfriends upload the code from their machine.

They grumble and cuss for about half an hour. Then they get to work - and imagine this: they discover they can read the code. Critique it. And are busy speaking with each other about the code.

This is a great way for them to learn, even though they are disappointed about having to hand their "babies" off to another student for continuing.