Travel to the US

Geez. What a lot of work! I booked my flight last night to the US, and spent hours doing so. I first looked around for cheap flights -- despite the rules on them presenting the final costs I was constantly getting great deals that then quickly rose in price. I also wanted to have a fork, as I am giving a talk in a city near a hub the day before I leave, so I thought I could save some travel time.

Air Berlin won't let you book a fork on their home page, and booking each part individually makes it much more expensive. opodo had a good deal on a fork, so I emailed the data to the States to see if I could be met at the airport. A few hours later that was okay, except that now the price had increased by 100 €.

I flushed the cookies. Tried another browser. I probably should have used the VPN to get a new IP address, but I was tired and wanted to get done. So I just booked the flight to and from the hub with Air Berlin (for the same price) and will have to take a train back home. Will only be a little longer, as I would have had to cool my heels for 3 hours in the hub, anyway. And the train is cheaper than 100 €.

At the end of all this (and having to pay a stiff fee for paying by credit card) I was then reminded to deal with the Visa Waiver program. And it turns out, my last application has now expired. Great.

They want all sorts of information I don't normally give out online. And then I have to pay $14 entrance fee, just like I was going to the zoo. Or to enter the DDR ("Zwangsumtausch"). Oh, they inform me that many other countries charge entrance fees as well. I don't care. It doesn't make me want to visit a country that makes it clear that it doesn't really want me and will only let me in if I pay with data and cash.


Say Hi to Daddy, Mom

Mom has suffered from Alzheimer's for many, many years. I last visited with her three years ago when I was helping Daddy move into smaller quarters. He died last December, having still visited her daily until he was confined to bed. She didn't know him even, but had enjoyed his company. She seemed to miss him, and was constantly on the move, looking for him perhaps.

She had been doing poorly, had infections and fell a few times. About a week ago she came down with pneumonia, it was clear that it was only a matter of time until she passed away as well.

This afternoon, just before class, I saw a slew of emails in my inbox - with condolences for my middle brother. He had just posted her death on Facebook, I seem to get all comments every now and then for things he posts (he had mentioned me in the post). Even though her death was immanent, it was quite a shock to read it there. I took a deep breath, went into the classroom, and started to teach. My phone rang, and I did something I seldom do - I left the classroom to take the call. It was my other brother with the news.

What a strange feeling, even though one has been expecting it.

My mother was a mathematician, taught algebra and geometry and computer science and sports in high school. She tutored students on the side for extra money. She loved to sew, making many frilly dresses for me that I did not want to wear, as I wanted pants. We didn't see eye to eye on many issues, but all that is past now.

She was born in Canada to immigrant parents who moved on to the States. She went to the University of Pittsburgh and met Daddy while he was tutoring her in math. She passed, he failed and had to repeat the course ;) She followed him across the country, moving every few years for a new transportation job for him and starting over as a teacher.

I moved to Europe at 19, and she came over with Daddy a few times to visit. What a strange place Europe was: they didn't take credit cards, stores were closed on Sundays, they had strange food and some places like the GDR were threatening. But she was brave, even taking off one day and getting on a train to Poland, just to say she had been there. And oh, my, the BARGAINS they had at the market just across the boarder!

She loved a bargain - getting something for less than someone else had paid was one of the things that made her happiest. So I hope they have some good shopping in heaven, Mom, may you find a bargain a day! And say Hi to Daddy, he'll be happy you're back with him.


Office Hours

We are obliged to hold office hours so that we are available for our students to meet us for questions and information. So every Tuesday I hold office hours from 9.30 to 10.30. This covers part of a break (9.30-9.45), so people who need signatures are sure to be able to drop by. I publish the times on my door and my web site.

I try to arrive by 9.15. I hang up my coat, make a cup of tea, water the plants. I dust my desk, collect up all the pens that got themselves strewn in the course of the week. I file papers, sort through administrivia, sign certificates. In general, no students come. Sometimes I get a telephone call, and today I even had a Master's student drop by to chat about her research topic. I generally hang out until lunch time, as there is a lot of administrative things to be seen to.

The moment I have my coat on and lock the door, people dash up. "Could I have your signature quick?" On the way over to lunch "Do you have time for a question?" After class I have six emails requesting information, two want me to print out something for them, sign it, put it in an envelope and walk down to the mail dropoff on the second floor. No, I don't have a secretary.

Office hours are times when I promise to be there for the students, but it doesn't fit their work schedules, it seems. So why do we keep up the pretense? Okay, my desk gets sorted out once a week. That's good.