Swedish Diary

I have decided to begin keeping a diary about my work here in Sweden.
I don't officially begin until Sept. 1, but I thought I would spend some time trying to get some things organized, seeing as how I needed a number of months in Berlin to get my very own desk and a little over 4 years until I finally had a computer on my desk and didn't have to sit in the open lab and try and concentrate.

At the end of the day I have an office all to myself with a desk, a computer table, a visitor's table, two chairs, a computer that is connected to the Internet and is running the newest Microslop programs, a telephone I can use to call anywhere in the world (in Berlin I have to register toll calls with the telephone desk and wait for them to complete the call. For foreign calls I have to have "permission" from the president), a card for the copier and one that will get me into the building any time of the day or night (I tried it, it works! In Berlin I can't work nights or weekends because the building is closed. Period.) and a key that works in all the important doors, for example the office suppies room. In Berlin we can get office supplies Wednesdays between 12 and 14, and special orders for luxuries like transparencies or pens for transparencies are not done. Here I could pick up a block of slides and a bunch of pens. Joy!

First day of school. There is a meeting the first day of all the students in a program and all the teachers they will be having this semester. All the important information is given, and we do a little introduction game. Then a digital picture is taken of all the students, and they fill out a nosy questionaire that the publicity department wants us to hand out. Mainly they want to know which advertising venue worked. With over 300 applications for the 32 places, I would think that they could save their breath. Many Swedes do not get a place to study at all or have to wait many years for a position.

Tonight is the big opening gala festival - this is the first semester for the new school. The minister president is coming, as well as the minister president from Denmark, which is just a short ferry ride away. When we celebrated our 25th anniversary at the TFH Berlin, we couldn't get either Diepgen (the mayor) or Radunski (the senator responsible for the school) to show up, they sent Thies, the Staatssekretär.

Wow, that was some day! We had orientation for the students in the morning, a nice bunch they are. And the ones that came in late excused themselves, my German students never excuse themselves for coming in late and disturbing my lecture... A very diverse group, from school-leavers to older students that have worked in other fields and have kids (one is just 2 years younger than I am!). When they introduced themselves and gave their hobbies we had the usual music and computers, but also quite a lot of sports and even a hunter - this is Sweden, after all! Only 5 women out of 32, but that's better than we've had the past five years in Berlin.

In the evening we had the grand opening of the college. Lots of probably magnificient singers sang too much opera, there was a tremendous orchestra and a brass group playing the newly composed school song (not exactly something to whistle along with, this newer music), a bunch of more or less boring talks by the magnificient men (a nice Introduction by Klaus Rifberg, a rather well-know Danish writer) and a rather cute talk by the student union leader who invited the rector for a dance at the opening of the new student union house in a few weeks ("en chans till en dans med Pelle Glantz", it rhymes!) and then gave him a warm Monica-Lewinsky-hug. Finally we got down to the important part of the evening, the food. 1500 people were standing around with a most awesome spread of fancy fish food, artfully draped on these plates that had little wine glass holder thingys because there were no tables. One hoped one didn't need to sneeze, as one had no hands available... The folks around the lunch table today guessed that it must have cost about 1000 SEK a head (about 250 DM). Could hire 3 people for a year on that and have some left over...

Got my email straightened out today, there were already 28 letters waiting for me, all needing printing out to keep, as Swedish society is an open society, anyone can come in at anytime and ask to see my official correspondence. Gotta get a hole puncher organized fast, before I drown in paper.

I was over at the "Nygäddan" this morning for a talk by the head of a large Swedish company (300 is large over here). What a dreadful place to teach at the moment! It is still under construction and the workers are drilling and hammering so loud one can barely hear the teacher from the back with the door closed. And the architects apparently have never taught in their lives, because none of the classrooms have electrical outlets in them! And they were not designed to have Internet connections, either. The room that is to be a lab at least has a siding (just along one wall, unfortunately) and Ethernet cable, but the classrooms do not. So there we were, Multimedia to the teeth with portable computers and a display, and no outlets to get juice from. We've organized a 40 meter extension cord (its good to have friends in the construction engineering department) for tomorrow, there has to be an outlet somewhere for all those drills, we will hoist the electricity for teaching!

Got me a hole punch organized, I now have 3 pretty folders up on my otherwise pretty bare shelves. I spent the rest of the day chasing after a Swedish Personalnummer, seems you have to have this number, sort of like the Social Security number in the States, to be considered a real person and allowed to have a private telephone or a bank account...

So, my first week of classes is over, I only had to teach one class, but I attended 4 others, 3 were invited speakers and one was the kick-off. The class I taught went very well, they answered in english even! We did a little team building exercise afterwards, they built a house out of paper in groups of four using only one pair of scissors, one pen and one ruler - no tape! They presented their work in Swedish, but I am getting much better at understanding Swedish.

After lunch we had a guest from ABB. 15 minutes into his talk the fire bell went off... so we shooed everybody outside and waited. The bell rang and rang, no fire truck. We were sure it was a false alarm, but would *you* take the responsibility and tell them to go back in? You couldn't hear yourself talk anyway over the bell. So we walked across the bridge to the park around the state courthouse and had the talk there, using a white piece of paper in the middle as the overhead projector - worked quite well, despite the noise from the cars. The interesting observation was how long it took to get the decision made to cross the street - no one, not even the teacher responsible for the course, jumped at my suggestion. We stood outside for another 8 minutes, before we crossed the street. Of course, about 200 meters away, the bell went off, but we continued to the park. At least that will be a lesson they will remember!

The Swedes have a term for it, slarvig. Have to keep this up so that I know what I have done with my time!

I've been reworking the courseware for Lynn Andrea Stein's Java course. It is quite a task, as it is too informal for my taste. And, I have to understand the examples, so I don't look too stupid in front of the class. I've installed a Java environment and am struggling with it. I really prefer seat-of-the-pants programming in JDK using emacs, thank you.

Spent 3 days in a workshop for the Virtuelle Fachhochschule last week. It was very intense and I come away with a feeling of having quite a lot more to do for the project than I had envisioned. I'll have to spend part of today fixing the financial side. The first version included stuff like how many student-hours and workers per month. Then that had to be changed to DM values. Now someone wants the DM broken down into student-hours per month and workers per month... Rule 1 of burocratic combat: Never throw anything away. Rule 2: always have the paper in your drawer that they are going to need next.

Had a nice experiment with my Internet-Redaktion in Berlin this morning. They suggested we use the chat-function from Netmeeting to have a proper conversation. It really wasn't as much trouble as I had thought: Just got some IP-numbers together, and we had a Chat going! Of course, true to the Chat philosophy, we really didn't have anything to say to one another, but we practiced. So now, when we have an emergency, we can communicate this way. I'll use this in my Diplomandenseminar coming semester!

Spent the day fussing with NetMeeting (doesn't work well with previous versions, spent hours communicating through the whiteboard...) and restricting access to web pages. I am program committee chair for the SEUH'99, I want to do everything on line. It is important to have a public area for the Call for papers (I inadvertantly hid this while experimenting with the access restrictions) and a private area for the papers, so no one can get in and read our comments. This has taken *hours* of work to get right, but at least I have a pattern to go on now.
Maritta Heisel, now at Magdeburg University, came over yesterday for an election party at our place, then we drove up to Sweden together. The trip takes about 10 hours, and we talked non-stop, as we seldom find time to visit or write email anymore. I lost my voice from the exertion of talking over the motor noise. We stopped off at Malmö högskola, she was very impressed by the nice locale here. She is off to Lund tomorrow for a conference.
I, too, was headed for Lund today, as I wanted to meet some of the people at the Lund University. I met with the other 2 people from Malmö, we wanted to present our curriculum to them and see if they were willing to work with MAH. Talk about a frosty reception! I almost froze my nose! I have never had a group of people who say they are computer scientists be so completely disinterested in me or what I or the others are doing! The only thing they wanted to know was, how much money we had more than they did.
The library is cute, all sorts of ancient publications. "The use of punched cards", and a full set of the Information Processing Letters from the 60s. I was looking for some old article in the Information Processing Letters during my dissertation, never did find a copy.
Tried to get a VISA card again. Failed again. Wrote a scathing essay on life in Sweden without a Personnummer, called the Holy Personnummer. Will appear in Nordeuropaforum, the first magazine I sent it to who immediately accepted it. (Helps to know the editor in chief, though ;-)
Taught my first programming class in English. It was interesting, they were very quite and concentrated, and enough participated - in English! - to keep a discussion going.
Held a virtual Program commitee conference with Netmeeting. It was quite a lot of work, but I did get it going. Unfortunately only 2 others could participate, another wanted to, but his college doesn't allow such security risks as chats to take place.
Ooh, haven't written for a while, what have I been doing? Been teaching a different sort of programming course. It was developed by Lynn Andrea Stein at MIT and teaches OO thinking and problem solving instead of Syntax. Really wierd - an enormous amount of work (yeah, just take a course from the net and teach it, bullshit, it's at least as much work as a traditional course!) - and the students who had never programmed before are positively blossoming! They prepare (!) for lab, get work done, and write beautiful reports. They report on feeling that they have learned a lot. The 10 or so that have programmed before are lost. They are longing for a "Hello world" program that I am not giving them. They are mad at me because I am not teaching all the little programs in "Java in 21 days". They come to lab unprepared, and don't get anything done, and complain, loudly.

I don't think that Java is a good language for beginners, too much syntactical detail that takes away from the cold concepts. I'm beginning to like Eiffel (and I already like Ada) even more for instructional purposes. Reading in integers from the Keyboard is a bitch - like 5 lines of code? Okay, so you write it once and package it away, but golly, do we have to have it like this?

And I've been fighting the authorities on the personnr front. It's getting worse, now my son needs a number for kindergarten. Malmö högskola had to write a letter about how very much they want me to stay on for 3 months and would the authorities please give my son a number so the kommun will shut up and pay for his kindergarten place. I've threatened to pack up and leave, I do have sabbatical, so I can be anywhere and do anything I want to, I don't have to put up with this.

It's amazing the amount of technology transfer a person can do in such a short time. I've been preaching chat and video conferencing for quite some time, one of the techies looked over my shoulder the other day and asked what I was doing. When I explained - I now have diplom seminars by chat down to an art, I can actually get real work done by chat! - his chin dropped, and 30 minutes later he had the software installed and was showing others how it worked.

I thoroughly enjoy the discussions with people on the state of the Swedish university system, on curricula, and of course on the position of women in Sweden. What a shock to find that the discrimination against women is rampant here, just more beneath the surface!

So why am I writing so much this evening? I was supposed to pick up my husband at 8pm, he will be coming in at 11pm. Seems SAS was surprised by some snow today. Gee, really, you mean it snows in Copenhagen? In December? Come on... Compared to Germans, Swedes and Danes can't organize their way out of a box, but at least they are very polite and friendly when they explain that something has gone wrong or that something can't be done, as opposed to Berlin, where the bakery people snap at you if you don't place your order right...

How the time flew! I finally got my personnummer - the day before I left Sweden... Great organization, that one! It has been a very interesting experience, I'm glad that I came. Looking back one sees the nice things (the peace and quiet) and the bad things (lots of things don't get done because everyone is busy being quiet) are all more relative. I will continue doing some work with MAH, so it can't have been all bad! Maybe this diary will grow, maybe not, who knows?!
I am back in Sweden regularly, but never seem to find time to write. But today is an exception, I simply must catch this scene. I am sitting in Lund on a park bank at the University. The spring sun is shining brightly as it prepares to set in about an hour. The large water fountain in front of me is gently spraying water, the trees are green and a wonderful lilac bush is to my left, behind mie wonderful light purple flowers adorn the facade of an old building. An orchestra is practicing classical music on the first floor, they have the windows open, so I am able to enjoy the music.And my WLAN sniffer says: lots of WLANs around. I try the one with the strongest signal, as when I was in Stockholm 3 weeks ago I was also able to use a company's WLAN from my hotel room. This company had all their files - purchasing price list, selling price list, company meeting protocols, etc etc - all on a shared directory, so it was easy for me to find the company's address and warn them of their open link. No answer. Yes, here in Lund I am lucky again - no authentication, no MAC addresses, no shared secrets, just step right up and surf. Thank you, I have a bunch of emails written and a bunch to read, and I shall spend the rest of the hour until my family gets out of some stupid war movie or other and will enjoy the sun and the surf.


We went to "Lekbakken", near Perstorp, this afternoon. What a wonderful place! We first played "soccer golf", an absolutely murderous game that the kids (my son and his friend) enjoyed tremendously. It is like miniature golf, only it is played with a soccer ball on a large field. The greens are built like miniature golf courses with hazards and doo-dads, except you don't have to holler at the kids to stop banging the golf clubs around and to keep off the greens, etc. It is just mowed gras - if your ball gets into the unmowed stuff, you are out and have to take a penalty hit. It started of fine, I even got some 3's on some holes. Then it started to get awful - treacherous, long, windy, only do-able if you can actually kick the ball into the air.... so Mom got a lot of 10's and lost. We spent 1 1/2 hours playing 18 holes and getting our exercise!
Then the guys started to play with the other stuff there - labyrinths, balancing games, silly bicycles, wooden flipper games, trampolines, wooden music instruments, fantastic climbing towers, and lots of water to get wet in (yes, of course. Rade always gets wet). While the kids played, Mom enjoyed a nice coffee with the owner of the place in a lovely garden. He is retired, used to be a school principle. He feels that kids need stuff to encourage their fantasy and to get them to move - too many couch potatoes any more. He really has done a fantastic job with this place, and with the nice quiet garden for the parents to have coffee and rejuvenate after the soccer golf - this was a very enjoyable day, and for just 60 SEK a person it was not that expensive, either.

Debora Weber-Wulff <weberwu@fhtw-berlin.de>