I wouldn't expect this from anyone else

I received an email that I have to answer as dean. It was sent in CC to the president, the chancellor and the vice president for studies. As if triplicate helps, they all just forward this to me for answering.

This guy thinks our women's program is against the law because it "discriminates". And it's idiotic, just like women's parking spaces and women's quotas.

Listen up, Junior. Because women are often bodily threatened, there are women's parking places in lighted areas near doors. Because women never seem to get hired, especially for top jobs, there is a quota in place to make sure that hiring authorities see them. And the anti-discrimination law explicitly states that positive measures that aim at reducing a discriminatory situation are allowed.

Out of curiosity I googled him, because his name wasn't Müller. Cute. He's an IT system administrator, 28 years old, has a number of email accounts that are easily linkable due to his name. And he has signed up with a rather data-promiscuous dating site that lets me know that he is single and would like to drink a "Sex on the Beach" with me. The picture is of him in his Navy uniform.

Junior, I understand that at 28 you are getting desperate for a woman. But berating women's programs and anti-discrimination measures is not going to endear you to many of the women I know. I understand you want a different sort of woman, but I don't think there are many of them left in Germany.


Fire Alarm

It was just before the fifth block Thursday afternoon, I was in the dean's office speaking with a colleague when a horn sounded. Now, they've been putting in new alarms all the time and there are alarms sounding off every now and then. But it was coming out of a thingy on the wall that I had heard spoken of as the fire alarm.

I checked the door, opened it, and the alarm was louder outside and still on. So I quickly called to my secretary: fire alarm! and made the colleague leave with me. Teachers were standing outside their doors scratching their heads, I called out that everyone was to leave, fire alarm.

I did go back for my coat on account of it snowing, and shooed people out to the stairwell, down and out. Students spilled outside - and we wondered where to go? The inner quad or next to the fence? I marched off to the guard's room, to ask what was up. A colleague was there, pushing buttons on the fire alarm central thingy. I asked the guard if it was a false alarm, she said she didn't know, she couldn't reach the head janitor and she didn't know what to do with all the buttons.

The colleague said: all okay, you can go back in now. I asked if there was going to be an all clear signal. He said no, you can just go back in now. I walked back, meeting the head janitor on the way, he, too said: you can go back in.

The teachers were standing outside with their groups of students (most of whom seemed to be smoking). What if I told them to go back in and there really was a fire? We always had an all-clear signal in the US!

I did tell everyone to go back in, and then I wrote a letter to the chancellor requesting that we have some more guidance on what to do in case of fire, more training of the guards, and an all-clear signal.

The response, in my inbox this morning: We have a fire regulation and you are responsible for making everyone in your area aware of it. Typical German. We have a regulation for that. Find it.

So I googled it (our search system on our web page sucks) and found one from 2006 with the old name of the school. It defines the fire alarm to be 30 seconds of alarm followed by 30 seconds off followed by 30 seconds on. 30 seconds? That's forever! And that's not the continuous signal we heard! That is defined to be the stolen-beamer-sound. And indeed there is no all-clear signal. It also demands of us to gather at the posted gathering areas. No idea where that is.

I've suggested that we update the fire regulation to include the new name of the school, fix the alarms, make students and teachers aware of it EVERY SEMESTER and have fire drills once a year. That is, let's take fire safety seriously and not just cover our backsides by having a policy 99% of the people at school are unaware that we have.

What a novel idea....


Blood Libel

I've always thought that Sarah Palin represented the right-wing loony fraction (that is getting frightfully large in the US). And I was so irritated about her poster with the gun sights next to 20 representatives including Gabrielle Giffords, I felt that she could not get any lower.

She did.

Mark Chu-Carroll from the blog Good Math, Bad Math alerted me to the exact words of her statement:

Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
Excuse me?? Blood libel? The crazy story that Jews eat Christian children? In what parallel world do these people reside?

The comments are many and spurned me to read up a bit more on this. Matthew 27:25 - one verse in the Bible - has through the ages be construed that the Jews are somehow responsible for the death of their fellow Jew, Jesus. And this somehow gives people the right to kill Jews down through the ages.

I can't believe that democratic, educated people can believe that, much less use these words in any statement, much less for one in which she is trying to wiggle out from any responsibility for stirring up the climate of hatred that currently exists in the USofA.

It is sickening, seeing a once great country sliding into such a mess, I don't know how the country is going to get itself out of its current state and back into "one nation, undivided, with liberty and justice [and health care] for all."


Happy Birthday Wikipedia!

It's been 10 years since the Wikipedia was started, although according the the folklore I know it was not on the 15th but on the 16th of January in 2001 that the first article was put up on the Internet:

This is not a real article, and the color suggests that the article on the United States is already there, but it is fun in that it shows some of the problems we have overcome in the Wikipedia. Articles used to have to be in CamlCase, that is, have at least 2 capital letters in them with at least one small one in between.

This is the official first surviving entry because the first software didn't do a great job of keeping revisions around. But since Wikipedia says that this is the first article, we'll leave it at that.

My first article? Well, we have to take a good step back to a summer I spent in the late 70s with my folks near Washington, D.C. The 'burb they lived in was boooooring, so I would get up early, ride with my Dad into town, cruise around and be back at his office at closing time. Hanging out at DuPont Circle I was in this bookstore that had a copy of Ted Nelson's dual-book Dream Machines/Computer Lib. (I just googled and saw that my first edition copy is worth upwards of 300$, great investment!)

Hypertext. Chunks of text with references to other texts. Machines mapping our minds. It blew my mind, as did Nelson's "Literary Machines" that I got a few years later. These ideas were crazy - I was programming on large time-sharing machines we could glimpse through the glass windows. But I loved the ideas. I had started messing with the Internet at college in 1975, when a pal and I sat at a teletype one night and managed to get a computer in Stanford to request us to log in. We couldn't guess the login, but the idea that we were sitting in San Diego and the machine in Stanford was wild.

I was messing with computer networks (X.25 and all that) when I joined a global company in the early 80s, and when I went back to university for a doctorate we had a communal email address for the research group.

Fast forward to the early 2000s, I've been playing with hypertext on all sorts of platforms: Gopher, Mosaic and the WWW, web-based instruction. And I get a pot of money to develop an online course on hypermedia. One of the chapters is about possible uses for hypermedia, and one of them is quaintly about the possibility of doing online dictionaries and encyclopedia. One of my researchers found a link for the Wikipedia in 2003, we linked it in as an example.

In February 2004 I was in the States and had time to seriously surf around snarfing the unsecured WiFi a neighbor of my brother had around. I started a one sentence article on the mathematician Toralf Skolem, because I had been working with skolemizations during my dissertation. I found a list of needed articles, picked off a German (Klaus Reiner Röhl) and translated a bit I found on the web about him. The next day Angela (I am so honored!) wikified it.

I grew bolder, and decided to register. But what should I call myself? I'm a respectable professor in my day job, so it would be a good idea to not use my real name until I see if this thing is a respectable thing to be associated with. As a student I had used the pseudonym "Devious Wisewoman", so I CamlCased it to WiseWoman and began my career as a registered Wikipedian.

I got really brave and wrote an article about the Swedish money exchange company Forex. I edited the article on the Queen of Denmark, researched and started an article on the Danish author Thit Jensen, and added some information about the Olympic history of handball. I was sooo proud of my contribution to the world of knowledge.

When I got back to Germany I proudly showed my colleagues what I had done - and was enraged. Someone had edited my Forex article! They had messed around with it! Rewritten all sorts of stuff and added stuff. And I had to admit - it was better than mine was.

I started an article on my birthplace, Renfrew, which I translated into German in 2008 with the help of JCornelius at a Wikipedia Stammtisch meeting. I don' actually remember the first Stammtisch meeting I went to, but I remember the place: the c-base. This hacker's den felt so comfortable with all the strange furniture and historic computing equipment. Meeting other Wikipedians, people who did all sorts of things in Real Life, was fascinating.

I went to the meeting in 2005 for founding the Wikimedia Verein at the TU Berlin. I was interested in what they were doing, but was trying to be anonymous. I sat in the back and had some fascinating conversations with my neighbors, but avoided saying who I was. That didn't help much - the first coffee break I was warmly welcomed by Eric Müller, a former student of mine. So I gave up the attempt at being anonymous, signed the register in my real name, and spoke with that Wales guy. I wanted to get him to come spend a semester at my school as a guest professor. But German Rules got in the way, there was no way we could get it sorted out, more's the pity.

So am I an "author" for the Wikipedia, as journalists kept asking me at the birthday party bash last night in Berlin? Sure. But I'm not just responsible for one particular area. I do what interests me. I explained that I'm more often than not just a Sichter these days, checking anonymous edits for vandalism. I got accused of being a censor by a student who was there with his buddy, hoping there would be free food (there wasn't much, a glass of bubbly and a piece of birthday cake and some pretzels was the size of it, but Henriette warned us not to expect food, so that was all right).

What do I do, really? I bitch at things. I fix typos. I get mad when I see that ANOTHER woman is only listed in the English Wikipedia and not in the German one and in a fit of energy translate the article about Auguste Holmés.  I read the mailing list and occasionally write, usually about something that really irritates me.

But on the whole, I'm really glad that the Wikipedia is there, and that it has "arrived", as Kurt Janson put it last night. We are now mainstream, but we are also Wikipedians, a bunch of people of all ages from all walks of life that for some reason enjoy doing what they do for the Wikipedia. It was fun seeing so many last night I hadn't seen in a long time. I stayed up far too late, shocking the resident teenagers that Mom would be dragging home from a club at 2 am.

Happy Birthday, Wikipedia! And may the German Wikipedia learn to find articles on women, children, and aspects of rural life to be noteworthy enough to have their own articles and not be deleted or subsumed under the male lemma.


From the Department of Advanced Sillyness

We have new rules at school. Everything that cost more than 50 € has to have an inventory sticker put on it. A big sticker, printed with ink that rubs off quickly. The one on my laptop has long since worn off.

I got three today. Two are for camera pens I bought. There's not enough surface area on the pens to stick the suckers, and that would rather hamper using the little buttons to turn them on and off.

The third is the kicker. It is for the E-Learning-Unit-license that we purchased. We've learned to order a CD for all software so that we have someplace for the sticker. But an E-Learning unit is just bits.

I complained on Twitter, a friend had just the solution: A QR-code. So I typed the text into the window, generated an image, and put that on the page that links to the E-Learning-Unit (for which we promised to make no copies for ourself).

I now look forward to someone wanting to see the code. I've been here 10 years and have never had to show anything on an inventory list to anyone.


Back to Public Transit

Happy New Year!

I made myself take public transit again today. The light rail has not been running regularly in Berlin for weeks (Stop the presses! It snows in Europe in winter!), so I've had a grand excuse to take the car to work. But I do have a yearly pass, and I need to get some use out of it.

The way to work wasn't bad, I read in a thesis and had a lovely chat with some women computing students on the second train. We continued on the tram, discussing man-in-the-middle attacks, I love talks like this.

The way back was vile. I did have a nice chat with another student in the tram, but the little train was packed solid heading back into town and I had to change trains once. Then I decided to take the bus in order to get a present for a friend's birthday tomorrow.

Nothing came. No bus. I could have walked it in the time I waited. And since it had been so long, the bus was packed. And the door wouldn't close. The weary bus driver hollers at people to get off the middle door thing. These modern busses won't close the doors if they think someone is standing in the way, but they are far too sensitive.

There's a yellow warning area painted, and a larger box around. I helped a tourist step out of the box, but the door wouldn't close. The bus driver gives another shout, and then a smart aleck tells me to move my butt. I am *not* standing in the box. I am not standing in the yellow area. I am standing in a crowded bus. A sharp discussion ensues. I finally shove back into the woman behind me, and the door closes.

What gives? Why can't they paint the area that you are not supposed to stand on? Or fix the buses to let the drivers close them? Instead everyone gets angry at everyone else. The smart aleck keeps on at me about how stupid I am not to move. I point out that I was not near the painted area and am glad that I only have to endure 3 stops of this.

Next time I walk.