30 August, 2006

Mating Dragonflies

My colleague and I have taken to going out for a longish walk around the university hospital grounds, which borders on a large expanse of woods and fields. Even though we are not talking wilderness here, we are nevertheless often faced with situations that my colleague, a Big City Gal, finds difficult to face with nonchalance. She just doesn’t like things like big dogs wandering around loose, slippery muddy pathways, creepy crawly things that fall down from trees, etc.

We were walking today when, all of a sudden, my colleague points to something in the distance, which was suspended in the air, and looked a bit like a miniature spaceship trying desperately to manoeuvre forward with a broken rudder. She was understandably disconcerted to establish whether this was animal, plant, or mineral in origin.

I established that the flying apparition was a pair of mating dragonflies. So, we watched with fascination as the dragonflies danced/flew slowly towards us. I modestly looked aside as they continued their mating ritual when they came in our vicinity. A silly thing to do, for just as they were passing us, their throws of passion made it almost impossible for them to continue their flight and they began dropping altitude: dangerously in the direction of our heads. The two of us ended up swaying back and forth out of the way of the dragonflies. I yelled, “Concentrate, mon!” at the copulating pair and rushed around to get out of their way.

29 August, 2006

Mind Scramble, Provoking Thought or Paradigm Shift

A friend and colleague of mine pointed me to this most incredible project called “dropping knowledge”. The project site introduction explains the project’s visit as:

“Dropping knowledge is a global initiative to support the free and open sharing of knowledge among the people of the world. Born out of the unprecedented democratising power of the Internet, dropping knowledge employs advanced web-technology to empower the global public to ask the questions that matter to them and seek new solutions through community dialog.”

This organization has invited 112 persons on September 9th, 2006 to answer some of the questions people like you and me have submitted.

The moment I clicked on the short video on the homepage I become instantly intrigued with the enormity of scope and the freefall of its concept. Then I spent an hour mesmerised by the films, commercials, and ads. They have gathering all sorts of questions from the famous and not so famous and have presented their questions in videos and graphics.

Here is a sample of one of those commercials. It presents the question of Shanta Chatterji of Mumbai. The short fim is of such excellent quality: not only the content, which is thought provoking, but aesthetically as well. Even the ads are wonderful to look at (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

What scrambled my brain was Shanta Chatterji’s comment that:

“The time of competition has gone now. The time of cooperation has come.”

She said it with such faith and assertion that it brought tears to my eyes. I imagined how acts of sharing and cooperation might leave behind footprints along our journey to make our lives meaningful. Each act in itself is perhaps does not leave any remarkable trace, but in summation they do point us in a direction.

We are all encouraged to “copy, use, modify, publish, broadcast or otherwise redistribute any portion” the graphics and videos. They are protected not under international copyright law, but CopyLeft Creative Commons License. The only conditions of use are that we are not to use them for commercial purposes or in discriminatory way, and you have to reference its author. In this blog entry everything comes from dropping knowledge A very intriguing concept don’t you think?

The project wants people interested in the project to donate questions of their own and to rate questions submitted by others. I haven’t donated any question yet, but I have spent some time rating other people’s questions. It is really interesting to do this. Give it a try!

Initially, I thought a question is a question, just get in there and participate. Then I find out, quite early on, that a question is not a question, but much more… who is writing it, how is it worded, what do they mean, do they actually want an answer or are they just trying to present themselves, is there an implicit subtext, etc. Don’t shake your head; I am not trying to make the process complicated. I do rate the questions quickly, but there is a certain amount of background dialog going on in my brain.

I can’t wait to see the results of this round table discussion. They will presented on the site starting the day after the event.

27 August, 2006

Starting Their School Years

Yesterday, Sara and I celebrated my friends’ son grade school start. This is a Very Big Production in Germany. It begins weeks back. The kindergartens put on special farewell parties and then the children go off on their outdoor sleep over. Today celebration took six hours: three hours of celebration starting at the Luebecker Cathedral with a special mass, then celebrations in the school auditorium with a performance by a grade two class welcoming all the grade ones into their school, a party on the school playgrounds with homemade cakes and warm beverages and juices, and then a lovely, long, luxurious and tasty lunch back at my friends’ home.

To think that wasn’t all! I missed the special breakfast before the mass. I also didn’t see Frederick open up the slew of presents he was given, since I was in the kitchen delightfully cutting up all sorts of stuff for the buffet.

All in all it was a very fine day.

My favourite part was looking at the performance of The Rainbow Fish musical by the grade two children. They sang, danced, and recited wonderfully. Three fine adult musicians also accompanied the children on piano, flute, and cello.

The teacher who directed the performance was the grade school teacher for both my children. They have a system where the children have the same teacher for the four years of grade school, and since Julien is four years older than Sara, they both had the same teacher. So, knowing the teacher for eight years, I was suave to a few of her directorial tricks.

The moment the children started singing their first song, one girl dressed up as a fish, whipped out a small container of soap bubbles and walked from one side of the stage to another blowing soap bubble from behind the singing students. I broke out laughing and turned to my friend and said, voila there is a child that can’t hold a tune if her life depended on it. Then came a group of non-descript-costumed boys (coral reef), who had to crouch down in front of the stage. They were the class ruffians who couldn’t be trusted not to stick out their legs and trip the others during their dance routine.

Brilliant. That woman should be given a medal for ingenuity and diplomacy.

24 August, 2006

Portuguese Invasion

Some laws must have changed in the last months concerning the sale of alcohol in stores in Germany.

Generally, it has always been possible to buy alcohol in various places besides the normal wine dealers, delicatessens, and grocery stores. Places, where it is uncommon to buy alcohol in other countries: cigarette shops, gas stations, corner shops, etc. Yet, I’ve noticed in the last months that various shops are selling wine, predominately Portuguese wines, in places I’ve never seen before: a chocolate shop, paper and pen shop, pharmacy, are amongst those that instantly come to mind.

But, today I saw a large assortment of wine being sold, first, at my video and dvd rental store, and then, even more bizarrely, at the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom shop: “Yes, I’d like three dishtowels and this marvellous bottle of red”. What is happening? Did someone thieve a shipment of wine?

The only explanation is that a whole band of hansome wandering Portuguese wine dealers wined and dined the female shopkeepers in order to get them to place their produce by the cash register. These aforementioned shopkeepers, usually accustomed to browsing through boring catalogues or brochures, were quiet taken (inebriated) by the wine dealers’ charm (produce) and so they agreed to sell the wares between the bed sheets (literally), Belgian chocolates, and latest blockbuster film.

23 August, 2006

Sensory Wonderland

Yesterday, after work, I took the long and scenic route home through a nature reserve. The blackberries and raspberries were ripe and so I became quite distracted along the way. It was so wonderful, after sitting in front of a computer monitor all day, to awaken the senses a bit: my eyes with the fantastic scenery, my ears with bird song and the sound of the wind through the trees, and my taste buds with juicy ripe berries.

Towards the end of the trip it started to rain. I thought this was lovely; a chance to feel the drops of water on my face. I was in sensory overload. (And it was a good thing no one was around to see the silly grin on my face).

Then the skies opened up and there was such a down pore that my glasses fogged up, my hands started slipping on the rubber holders on the handlebars, and my clothes started weighing me down as if I had just jumped into the waters of a dark cold Canadian lake. Gosh, was it uncomfortable! Enough of sensory wonderland, let me get home and undressed and in the comfort of my living room.

Being a stickler for punishment, I am up this morning and dressed in some running clothes, a change of clothes in a plastic bag, and as hopeful as yesterday to go off on my adventure.

20 August, 2006

Luxuriating In A New Form A Vacationing

Since we are all back at home and school only starts tomorrow, we have had a truly luxurious weekend of Doing Nothing. And when I say nothing, I really mean nothing. The only thing I did that was a little productive was to go off with a friend for a lovely walk along the lake area north of here.

Think this has been the first two-week vacation ever in my adult life, where I did not rush, from the first minute to the last, travelling & visiting; only to arrive at the office the first morning after the vacation jetlagged and suffering from some sort of culture shock. You are talking about someone who managed, for over twenty years, to stretch the already generous yearly six-week vacation allotment into over nine to ten weeks of travel: six weeks vacation, ten days of bank or religious holidays, and ten days over-time re-compensation. Sometimes I felt as though I was vacationing (travelling) more intensely than I was working. (Not really, but it sounded good).

So this, let’s-see-what-comes attitude of these last two weeks is nothing less than radical. And, to be perfectly honest, like most radical ideas that stem from sane contemplation rather than wilful escapism, I can only wonder why I didn’t do this before! To take a vacation from your daily routine without making alternative plans or travelling far distances, is an absolute joy.

Yes, I went with Sara to Erlangen to visit friends. But, we are talking about those types of friends who are Family, if not of blood than definitely of heart. So, it was like going around the corner to your cousin’s place for a cup of tea and a good chat. No fuss, maximum fun, and no preparation.

This new form of vacation is not to be confused with staying home because you don’t have any money (actually we don’t have any at the moment), or in order to finish up with home renovations or other equally busy chores (our list in long but is endlessly ignored), but just to sit in a shaded area in your favourite café with a good book and a hot pot of tea, or spontaneously go off on a bicycle trip in the countryside, or on a day trip if the mood strikes. The whole magic is to feel a sense of timelessness; giving in to a vague yearning to do something even though you are shackled in a pleasant inertia.

18 August, 2006

Nomad Son Returns

Yuppee! We are all back safe and sound in our home nest… I thank the gods for their gentle mercies.

16 August, 2006

An Unusual Observation

While travelling recently on the brilliant ICE (speedy) train of the Deutsch Bundesbahn, I made an observation… given the choice of sharing a train compartment/department (sorry don’t know which word is correct) with a group of gothic punks or a screaming baby, surprisingly a good number of train passengers choose the former.

Sara and I were in a nearly empty compartment, and a group of gothic youths came and sat next to us. In the next compartment, a crying/screaming baby made his or her presence know.

Just about every new passenger who entered the department after that point in time, took a look at the punks, glanced forward to the next department, saw the baby’s carriage in the corridor and (presumedly) heard the screaming baby, and they chose to sit down in our department.

Now, these youths were not only a bit unusual in their attire (e.g. black make-up, lots of chains, pierced body parts both visible and easily-imagined, a T-shirt with “Cannibal Corpse” logo and respective drawing on it, and a hat with some slogan about primal nuking, just to give you an indication), they were all, for the most part, listening to very loud music through their mp3 players’ headphones. Now, I am not just talking a bit of light Vivaldi here, but reallyreally heavy metal it’s-all-in-the-base music. The type of music we call head-banging music because not only are the drums and electric guitar perpetually trying to outdo each other, the acoustic singer doesn’t sing but screams.

Not that the gothic guys were not charming people to share a train journey with, but I just wondered what it all meant. Are most German travellers perfectly comfortable with youths who main purpose in life is to present a form of fashion and behaviour, which is provocative in the least, and confrontational at it’s worse? Or is the dread of encountering that four-letter alien* (baby) so monumental that most people chose to share the company of “a known devil rather than an unknown angel”, as the Arab saying goes?

*For those of you that don’t know, Germany has the lowest birth rate either in Europe or the world, I can’t remember which.

15 August, 2006

Sad To Leave

Just riding out of Wurzberg. The vineyards cloaking the hills on the right have been there for centuries. This is also where the tunnels begin. Sara is counting them; I remember there are somewhere around twenty-three tunnels, she remembers there are sixty-three. I’ll give you the count later (later... 63 tunnels total).

We had such a wonderful time in Erlangen. Our visits are usually just over a long weekend and are therefore crowded with brunches, lunches, dinners, and other things in between. This is the first time, since leaving the city eighteen years ago, that I’ve just been able to luxuriate in the day-to-day going ons of my friends’ lives. What a delight.

Neither Sara nor I wanted to leave Erlangen this morning. Isn’t the best measure of a trip is being torn away from it all?

We went to Bamberg yesterday. A city built on seven hilltops, like Rome. Undoubtedly the city is muchmuch smaller than Rome. I wonder whether the seven hilltops are higher or lower than in Rome.

I’ve figured out the difference between people from Schlieswig-Holstein (northern Germany, traditionally sailors, flat landscape) and those from Frankenland (part of Bavaria, mountain climbers and hikers). The folks from Frankenland look at a hill or mountain and seem to experience a reverse pull of gravity: upwards. It is like they don’t even have to have a reason to climb, they instinctively know if they stand on the peak they will feel complete.

Now, those of us from the north, when looking at a mountain only approach it if there is something reallyreally important to be done on the other side. And before we set out, we first do a quick calculation as to whether or not it is possible to circumvent the mountain rather than climb up or down. We believe that the only good mountain is a flat mountain, which, yes, others refer to as hills, but there you go.

10 August, 2006

Making A Wish

Such a nice concept to be gifted a day in the year where it is possible to make as many wishes as possible. While blowing out the candles on a cake, when a lady bug lands on my book, whenever, where ever I so desire… for it is my birthday: a day of wish making.

For me and my loved ones… I won’t tell, for otherwise my wishes won’t come true.

09 August, 2006

My Mighty Amazon

Sara called last night from the pony camp feeling very Tender: stomach-ache, wobbly voice, and I-don’t-think-I-can-make-it reservations. Fortunately, she said she would see what happened overnight. This morning, she’d worked out a strategy about foregoing one of the riding classes to keep-quiet. I talked to her just a while ago, and she is once again my mighty Amazon. Oh, she does us proud!

Do all parents go through such agonies? Do all children know the exact timber of voice needed to send their mother’s into a panic?

07 August, 2006

Fantastically Lackadaisical

My friend Maria and I went and delivered our daughters to their pony camp yesterday. The woman who runs the place reallyreally needs a lesson in PR and anxious parents.

We arrived at the farm, which is beautifully situated on the side of a valley. The barns and stables and main farmhouse are lovely. Every thing looks like a painting in a picture book. That is until the owner, Mrs. Wolf, appears.

She gives us a handshake, tells us we can come down and pay for the week’s camp in her office (a corner of the dinning room), reluctantly takes down our phone numbers in case of emergency, gives us a nod and says good-bye. She is definitely not one to nandy-pandy the parents, but still! A little assurance that the girls will be fine, would have been nice. The fact that Lisi went their last year and said it was just wonderful, is the only lifeline I could hold onto as we drove out of the place.

(Sara, called last night and confirmed that everything was just fantastic. There are four girls in her group and each girl has their own helper for the next few days. And the dogs are fantastic. And the pony are fantastic… she didn’t mention Mrs. Wolf, but I here she is back in the kitchen cooking up fantastic food.)

French Mistress

Germans folk are a funny sort of people sometimes. Not, haha funny, but I-can’t-grasp-this sort of funny. For instance, I heard the most wonderful story today about a fickle German stork husband that cause a great outcry by taking on a French mistress (a female stork from Alsace) and how the whole human population followed its development… (more)

04 August, 2006

Travels South

My daughter and I are, at this very moment, sitting on a speedy German train (ICE) making our way down south to Erlangen to visit friends. I used to live and work at a large corporation (think seeman spelt German) in this lovely city. Well, actually, the city isn’t lovely, but the people are; and they made my years there a joy.

I don’t want to talk about the city or people there. What I would like to do is recount an experience I had travelling on a train one time from Wuerzburg (between Frankfurt and Nuremberg) to Erlangen (just outside of Nuremberg). This is one of the many experiences that I' ve had with the Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB, national railway), which made me a great fan of this company... (more)

02 August, 2006

How Many Children Does He Have?

Boy, isn’t Mad Max getting a lot of attention these days? And boy, I liked him so much better when he was young and playing Mad Max, or even (or particularly) the Lethal Weapons series. Definitely I liked him until I found out that he took the bible literally about only having sex if his intention was to impregnate his wife. How many children does he have? And most importantly, does that mean that he has only had sex twelve times in the last twenty years?

Why is the media acting as if they are surprised at his horrible and ugly statements? Over the last few days nearly every online newpaper (e.g. NYT editorial), blog (e.g. my hero Arianna H.) or even You Tube parody is mentioning the incident. It is not as if this guy has been hiding his true sentiments about anyone of any minority, except for the narrow-minded-but-higly-influencial-and-big-mouthed-and-
even-bigger-bollocked-arsch-baring-idot minority he belongs to. Sorry, don’t mean to sound mean and vindictive; just know that I am trying to be light and ironic; not something I do well.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he went on a prolonged cure and then disappeared into obscurity?

01 August, 2006

Emperical Indicators

At work we are entering into our last six months of our three-year research project: the use of digital media in body-based, action-based projects in grade schools and high schools. What I am hoping concentrate on in the next three months is putting together the results of the evaluation questionnaires in a decipherable form. It is interesting, so far just at first glance, how consistently gender issues occur (e.g. boys like to hog the media, girls are farfar too complacent at letting them do this) and also how different the teachers’ perspective is about the benefits of such projects in comparison to the students’ perspectives.

I sometimes wonder whether these issues also have a strong cultural component. Unfortunately, there has been far too little empirically tested research done in this area (grade schools and high schools).

Though to be honest, I don’t know if I really need empirical results, it would suffice if I could sit down with some teachers from different countries and talk to them about their impressions and experiences.