Don't spit!

I'm taking public transport in Berlin again, and it seems the S-Bahn still doesn't have it's problems sorted out. It's only been about 3-4 years....

I had to change trains at Südkreuz and as I stepped out of the train I saw a group of grade school kids (third grade perhaps) on the platform. A group of guys (natch) were standing around the reeling, looking down. One guy dared to spit down, and the rest of the group giggled.

There were two teachers along, deep in conversation with each other. Somehow I have this romantic notion of education in which teachers speak with their pupils ... Anyway, I eyed the teachers, and they gabbed on, so I went up to the spitter and asked him if he would like to have someone spit on his head.

"There was no one there!" he exclaimed.

I said, "whatever, what if you stepped under by mistake and the spit landed on your head? Would you like that?"

He turned sheepish, and the rest of the guys were all focussing on me. "Okay, well don't do that again." "I won't," he promised.

I turned to the teachers, gabbing on, gave them the evil eye and walked on. I wonder if they even realized what went on. Probably not.



It's the first day of Fall. It's cloudy and windy outside, and a little spray of rain falls here and there. The chestnut trees are dropping their fruit in the gusts of wind. I bend down and pick some up - three for each pocket. I love to roll them around in my hand as I walk. I throw out the old, dried up chestnuts from last year as I walk and enjoy the fresh, clean, smooth new ones.

I do wish summer could have stayed - it was so long in coming, until I could finally sit out in the sun, enjoy the soft moss. And in a blink of an eye it was past. The semester is fast approaching, Monday the exams start again. I'm already looking forward to next summer!


CS people in ties?

As noted above, I'm currently at the yearly conference for computer scientists in Germany. If you think of CS types you think of geeks, or at least I do, being a geek myself. Geeks don't tend to give much attention to how they look, I used to think. And the GI conferences have been legendary. Okay, Manfred Broy's tie collection is legendary, but he used to be pretty much the only one sporting a tie every day of the conference and they were outrageous ones. But I remember Leslie Lamport at the conference in Hamburg many years ago, dressed in a geek T-Shirt and ratty tennis shoes and nailing the suit-wearing speaker on incorrect mathematics, or Christiane Floyd madly knitting in the front row of the Kaiserslautern conference on the military uses of computing.

It's day 2 of the conference here, and the place is full of suits and ties. Even women are running around in pinstriped skirt-suits. Pretty much only the students have T-Shirts, and that is because it is the helper's uniform.

Oh, wait - there's a geek with unruly hair, a bit of a tummy and a T-Shirt! Cool, he's a local professor! But I'm worried about computing people dressing up like this - we should be focussed on how to develop systems, how to solve problems, and how to think about how our technology will affect the world and whether we really want a world like that.

The Future of Computing

I'm currently attending the yearly conference of the German computing society, GI. It looked like a great day with lots of keynotes about the future of computing. The first keynote was, indeed, wonderful Barbara Liskov, at 72, one of the pioneers in computing who noted that people had complained about her receiving the Turing Award in 2009: But what she wrote is trivial, that't the way we do things today! Right, her work was instrumental in getting us away from gotos and global variables and into good programming practices!

Then things started to turn down. Lots of wonderful things we are expecting to soon see in medicine and automotive engineering (Braunschweig is near Wolfsburg = Volkswagen). Lots of things that scare the stuffing out of me because of the things that can go wrong if we blithely implement these technologies without thinking. Medical data freely available. Sensors in our living spaces to see if we are doing alright. Transportation bizarrness.

But wait, we can't even get the present to work properly. There are exactly two electrical outlets for the entire Audiorium maximum of a TECHNICAL university. I'm hogging one right now, in order to write this and fill up on electricity for the afternoon session ;)


The Generic Masculine in German

Ok. I've had enough.

There is quite a backlash in Germany at the moment with guys moaning about how difficult it is to write "genderized" German. German inflects all sorts of words (although not as much as Icelandic does) depending on the gender male/female/neuter. For many years the generic masculine was found to be proper -- the gals were, of course, also meant, even if the speaker was only using the masculine terms. Studies have shown that language determines how people think, so often people would not consider women for a job or as a competent person, or what ever. Only men actually did stuff.

Many years ago a push was started for an inclusive German, much like in English today people don't say "mailman" but "mail carrier". There are other, inclusive or generic terms that can be used that are not so blatantly male.

But now, just because men have made a hash of the whole mess and write sentences that are unreadable because they are too lazy to think about how to write inclusively, many are resorting to that ominous footnote on the first gendered word: "Even though this thesis uses male terminology, in the interest of making the thesis more readable, females are of course included in the terms." They laugh and think: that shows them up.

Wrong, gentlemen.

First: There has been a wonderful brochure around for ages, Mehr Frauen in die Sprache, by Friederike Braun (Disclaimer: I lived in a Wohngemeinschaft for some time with her and enjoyed every minute of our discussions). Get it, read it, use it.

Second: Duden has been suggesting losing the generic masculine since 1999. That has been 13 years, people.

Third: If you are writing a thesis and I am reading it, it is generally not a good idea to piss me off too early while reading the thesis. I tend to go into Extreme Bitch Mode when irritated. I mark grammar errors. I find non sequiturs. I find missing or wrong footnotes. Is this a threat? Yes it is. Learn to write inclusively. Learn to see woman as human beings, on equal footing. Work for equality -- it's everyone's job, not just the women, to see that people are treated equally.


The long backup

A new Mac needs a new Time Capsule - the old one is very full. I ordered a 2 TB (Terabyte! That's 1012 byte or byte. My first hard disk, called a Winchester disk, was for my diploma thesis and hat 5 MB. And I couldn't imagine how on earth I would fill it. Today my camera drops that much on the miniSD for a good picture.

Anyway, it's an Apple product. Unwrap, unplug, click, done. Well, almost. You see, I now have 171 GB of stuff on my laptop. I'm sure half of it is no longer needed, but whatever. Since I'm home for two days I got is started right away. 30 hours later the little window says: "5 seconds left". It had said that for quite some time, however. I went to bed, and this morning it proudly announces that the first backup has been taken. 36 1/2 hours. Puh!

But I feel better now. My machine had been bitching at me every 4 hours that I really, really needed to dump a backup. Now I can smugly ask my students when their last backup was, safe in the knowledge that mine was taken automatically last night.


I blinked

Gee, looks like I blinked and missed summer....

Here it is, September. The nights are getting dark sooner. The sun comes up later in the mornings. There's a chill in the night air, and the noonday sun doesn't quite warm you up like it should.

I've had a fire in the fireplace now two nights running. What did I accomplish over the summer? Well, the book is coming along, hit 100 pages last night but there is still much road to cover. And a semester to get started...

A few more days to enjoy before I get back, and hope to get back to blogging.