The Italian Trauma

Poor Germany. Lost again in a soccer championship to Italy. Seems they've never won against Italy in a championship. People will be in such a bad mood tomorrow. Germany was soooo expecting to win the EM, save the Euro, and have a warm, sunny summer in July.

They should have noticed that Siebenschläfer was rainy. That means lots of rain ahead. And lost soccer games. Let's just hope they don't give up on the Euro.


My Parallel Universe

I seem to live in a parallel universe.

I was at a large picnic with friends yesterday. There was great food, good music, lots of people, many new faces, some old friends. But the discussions that I listened to or tried to join in convinced me that I live in a parallel universe that has little intersection with the one they live in.

The women spoke about bizarre alternative medicine things like "energetic" bracelets that exchange the "bad" ions to make you feel good, yoga, vacation, Waldorf schools, and their kids. The men spoke of their new toys: sailboats, cameras, grills, cars.

Oh, I spoke of cars, too, complaining of the difficulty of obtaining a new one. A Polish friend laughed at me - "You Germans, always make a project out of everything! Just buy one, and if you don't like it, sell it again!". She does have a point there.

But things like post-privacy, Leistungsschutzrecht, ACTA, the Euro, the sad state of education in Germany, etc. etc. were just not a topic. Oh, I tried a few times, but there were no takers on such a discussion. I went down to the lake for a swim, a discussion with two young boys about making grass whistles, and some reading on a topic from my universe.

Maybe I just need to get me one of those bracelet do-hickeys and get my mind off of all those serious topics.


Burning Rice

I was cooking the rice for a rice salad I'm taking to a picnic tomorrow. It's an easy recipe - cooled, cooked rice, sour cream, curry, salt, mandarin oranges, tinned mushrooms, green pepper, onion. Mix and refrigerate.

I put the rice in the pot as the soccer game was starting, and then disappeared into my office to get some work done, popping back into the living room to see the better goal attempts. Suddenly WiseMan jumps up and heads for the stove. He turns the stove off and then points out that the rice was burning. Oops -- forgot to set the timer and I don't smell anything burning. Good job someone else was here!

Luckily, just the bottom bit was burned and I could use the rest. Just had to scrape the burned rice off the bottom of the pot. Hope that teaches me to always use a timer!


Speaking vs. writing

I spoke at length with a friend about the problems I am having finding time to write. He pointed out that I am taking far too many speaking engagements. Since these tend to be in the south of Germany (because they assess tuition fees of 500 € or so a semester, so they have money for stuff like this), I end up with a good 5 hours travel there, an overnight, 5 hours travel home + the speaking engagement. That's more than I full day I could be writing,

And my theory that I can write on the train is really fiction. First train this evening had no electricity for my laptop - so I dozed, being very tired. The second one had electricity, but an annoying guy sitting next to me, so I chose to doze some more. So I kind of think he's right. Less speaking engagements. More writing — because the writing gets itself archived in libraries.



I was lecturing on accessibility yesterday and we were speaking about link name design and alternate texts. I mentioned that the current version of the Leistungsschutzrecht being rushed through the parliamentary process in Germany might have legal restrictions on what you can do here. At least the current proposal (Discussions of the problems: W. Michal - J. Moenikes - T. Kreuzer - Dossier at iRights.info; Position of the publishers: BDZV). The main idea is that the publishers are angry that Google is earning money with its content by publishing the links and some snippets from the target. This is the proper, accessible, way to do it. The publishers want to forbid a "commercial" use of "their" content. The discussion is raging in the German Blogosphere.

My students looked at me wide-eyed. Leistungsschutzrecht? Never heard of it. Like they never heard of inductive proofs or Collections. Here we have the legislative trying to set up laws so that the publishers who have completely slept through the Internet age can continue to make money the old way and this will be affecting how they work in the future, and they don't even inform themselves of what is happening? Wake up, people! Use your brains and voices and get on this topic!


I never realized that there could be more than one way of looking at time. For me it was just a constant flow forwards that seems to get faster every year that I age. I've just learned that the Greeks have a concept they call kairos, which means the opportune time for something. Letting the time pass by without acting can be problematic. Poseidippos of Pella wrote an epigram about a statue of Kairos, said to be a son of Zeus.  This is a translation from the Greek by Edward A. Storer:

From what country is the sculptor? From Sikyonia.
His name? Kairos.
And who are you? Luck, that rules everything.
Why do you stand on tiptoe? I am always running.
Why have your feet twin wings? I fly on the wind.
Why have you a razor in your right hand? That men may know me sharper than the keenest blade.
And why this hair over your forehead? That he who meets me may take hold of me.
But, by Zeus, why are you bald behind? That no-one I have passed by on my winged feet may seize me at his fancy from behind.
Why has the artist fashioned you so? For your sake, stranger, he made me and set me up as a warning in this porch.
It is about the window of opportunity, that swiftly passes - I'll take it, I think.


Bubble Tea

Berlin is awash in a new fad — Bubble Tea. There are little shops springing up all over the place. A new one just opened at Bahnhof Zoo, so I decided to give it a try on my way home this evening. There are lots of decisions to be made: milk and tea or just tea? Green tea or black tea? What syrup? Which kind of tapioca balls?

Tapioca. That was right up there with liver and onions and mashed potatoes and orange juice with pieces on my will-not-eat list as a child. Slimy balls of glue in a milk and egg custard. I'd rather not have had dessert at all, but we had to belong to the "Clean Plate Club" before we were allowed to leave the table.

But this is a scientific experiment. I chose green tea, being lactose intolerant. Mango syrup sounded good, and the guy offered to half-and-half the tapioca balls. So I took mango and lychee balls. A second guy poured cups of stuff into a cup — the tea and the syrup. He added ice and strapped it into an automatic shaker. Then he poured it out into the cup with the tapioca balls, and sealed the lid with plastic foil. I was given a thick, pointy straw, and instructed to poke it in hard. I did, worked fine, and he smiled and gave me a fortune cookie.

I took a deep breath and drank. Sweeeeeet is not strong enough to describe it. And you can get extra sugar on it, if you need to, for an additional 50 cents. No, thanks! And then the first tapioca balls bubbled up. I shuddered and held them in my mouth. I bit - and the sweetness inside the tapioca was released. Hmm, an interesting sensation.

I finished the cup, having a bit of trouble at the end as there was no more liquid left and I was wary of inhaling tapioca into my windpipe. It was definitely interesting, but will probably not be something I will become addicted to, it was too sweet.

The fortune cookie announces a new romance - maybe I will fall in love with bubble tea the next time I try it?


Nimble? Not!

We spent hours on Saturday driving out to have a look at a car we were thinking of buying. We had to change trains twice each direction, and always just missed a train, having to wait 10 minutes for the next one. That was 40 minutes of unnecessary waiting, and 90 minutes for a trip that normally takes 40 (each direction) by car.

I am not patient enough for this.

So I decided to join a car-sharing scheme so that I can quickly obtain a car for such a trip (and for replenishing the juice/water/beer supplies that are dwindling without a car). I decided on Flinkster (flink is a German word for "nimble", sounds good). Since I have a BahnCard, I don't have to pay a monthly fee. The hourly rate is a bit higher, but I don't need it much.

I registered on the web site, and the first strange thing happened. I typed in all my data, then my BahnCard number, and then it wanted me to type in everything again. Dutifully, I did so. I printed out the forms and signed them, and then noted: The telephone number I had put in was not filled in, on the other hand my Prof. Dr. (which is on the BahnCard but which I didn't fill in) was on the form. So if they have the data already, why am I being asked to type it in again?

I was to take the form to any DB Service Point, open every day and in Berlin even on Sundays until 10pm. So on the way home from church I stopped by. First off, I misinterpreted the term "Service Point". I took a number in the ticket office and waited - as the only customer in line - until the clerks finished discussing whatever it was that they needed to discuss. Well, I was wrong, but at least one of the clerks showed me the way.

The information desk was what I needed. I stated my business and was greeted with blank stares. "Flinkster?" Yes, the car-sharing thing. I later saw that there was even an ad for it posted behind them. Hmm. One of the two people starts digging in a drawer and pulls out a folder that has seen better days. They grumble. They mumble. They put something in the computer.

I hand them my papers. One types something in, frowns. Mutters. Types something in again, frowns again. Um, speak to me? It seems there is a problem in the system. I explain that I had to put everything in twice. We mumble and grumble. One of them looks up and says "we are guest workers here, we normally work somewhere else."

I call home and ask for "Tatort" to please be taped. No way I am going to be home on time.

They finally get something going, ask me a few questions, ask for my ID and driver's license. They type in a bit more information, frown a bit more at the screen and my ID. I get both the ID and the driver's license back, wait some more, and then they want the driver's license again, after they discuss something about a sticker. They take my driver's license and affix a sticker to it!

"Wait a minute, that's an official document! You are a private company! Are you allowed to put that on my driver's license?" " Yes, sure, that's how it works!" "I was supposed to get a card." "Oh now, now we put stickers on the driver's licenses."

I get it back while they stamp and sign a bunch of stuff. Sure enough. Another RFID tag. Now, with a separate card I can leave it at home unless I need it. But the driver's license I always have with me, also when driving cars that are not rented by the DB. There are getting to be quite a few RFID chips in my wallet, I don't find that very comforting.

Finally I asked if they had some information on this new sticker-on-the-driver's-license thing. They rooted around a bit, and then I just said thank you and left. The process of getting set up for the Flinkster was all but nimble. I hope the cars are easier to rent.

Got home too late for "Tatort", so I started watching the taping, and then it was a re-run. Auch das noch...


You will be grateful for that eventually

We met this morning with representative students from the program I teach in. We have each semester group elect two representatives, and then anyone interested can come. 18 students attended, a third of them women, 20 % with a "migration background", as it is euphemistically called in Berlin. That's actually pretty representative of the program.

We have complaints from students about professors, from professors about students, and from students about the stupidity of other students. It was good to hear what they had on their minds, although many of the problems are beyond our power to control. It seems they want to have a unified university experience with all the information they need delivered to them just in time. I explained that that is what they are to be learning at university - how to deal with complex and bizarre organizations and get the information that they need when they need it.

Each semester was asked about their current problems, starting with the oldest semesters and working our way down. We finally got to the first semester students, who were attending such a meeting for the first time. "Well," one of the students said, "everyone is kind of complaining about the lab reports for WiseWoman." I get lots of complaints about this.

I insist on the students not just delivering code, but describing the process by which they arrived at their results in complete sentences. With screenshots of their programs working. With a reflection on what they learned and how long they needed for the exercise. And the reports need to have their names on it, a title, page numbers, and all sorts of boring stuff. Not using a spelling checker can lead to a slightly lower grade than expected. Did I mention that it is either on time or not accepted? Moodle is my friend, refusing to accept papers beyond the deadline.

I was quite gratified by the chorus of voices from the older semesters that chimed in: "You will be grateful for that eventually." I've had former students that meet me on the street thank me for forcing them to write reports - they have needed that skill in the Real World. So I just keep on being a nasty beast and make them write in complete sentences.