Talk and drive… or not

A couple of years ago there was some work done in Australia on driving while talking on a cell phone which indicated that people on the phone were four times more likely to have an accident:

“This is the first study to pin down the risk of an injury-causing crash if a driver is talking on a mobile phone,” says Russ Rader, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia, US. “The bottom line is that people should not be on any kind of a mobile phone while driving.”

Now another report again shows that talking on the phone makes you a worse driver. This is the summary of a few years of experiments in driving simulators (the article even includes a link to video from the experiments).

I have always wondered about the difference between talking to someone on the phone and talking with someone in the passenger seat as far as distracting the driver. They investigate that, too, in this new study:

“When you take a look at the data, it turns out that a driver conversing with a passenger is not as impaired a driver talking on a cellphone,” says Strayer (psychologist Lee Strayer of the University of Utah). “The passenger adds a second set of eyes, and helps the driver navigate and reminds them where to go.”
What’s more, passengers simplify or slow their conversation in response to conditions on the road. “The difference between a cell-phone conversation and passenger conversation is due to the fact that the passenger is in the vehicle and knows what the traffic conditions are like,” he says.

I completely agree — with the person in the passenger seat it’s not necessary to say, “Could you hold that thought for a moment, it seems the highway has burst into flame.”

I guess there is even more to it, though. Surely, there is some additional brain power required when you are talking on the phone rather than to the person next to you. You need to imagine a little more because you don’t have any facial cues or body language to work with.

This should be my job. I wonder how expensive a driving simulator is.

Hat tip to revere, who is also strangely fascinated by the subject.


Life is full of problems

Just got back from the coffee machine(s). The one by my mailbox produces very hot, possibly even milk-containing Schokolademilch for 50 cents per cup. But it’s right beside my mailbox which is right upstairs from the office. So there’s no thoughtful walk back from the coffee machine while my creamy hot chocolate cools. No good.

The Cafitesse Serie 700. Yeah, right… in my dreams my building has one of these.

I proceeded to what is in fact my preferred coffee machine, where a Kakaohaltiges Getrank costs a mere 35 cents (this is around 24 US dollars right now). Admittedly, there is no promise of milk in the title, literally “chocolate-containing drink,” but the location is excellent. Sufficiently far from my office that I can be about 3% closer to communion with the infinite by the time I ponderfully wander through the buildings back to my office. One downside is the proliferation of 5-cent pieces due to the odd price, but I was prepared for that this morning. I inserted a Euro coin and a 5-cent piece into the machine, which normally results in a plastic cup full of my second-tier hot chocolate and 50- and 20-cent pieces in change — no “nickels.” However, not only is the machine not producing said crappy chocolate drink this morning, it returned my money as two 50-cent pieces and my original five. So I am stuck with no hot drink and an extra coin.

This alarming sequence of events brings me to my third-choice drink dispenser (the more-expensive-milk-containing-hot-chocolate machine is the normal 2nd choice, but I overlooked this in my anger this morning). This machine is located in the canteen, which is actually closer to my office than my preferred machine but further than the mailboxes, so it’s workable. This machine functions under the same pricing and quality conditions as my #1 choice, and in fact is in Betrieb today. So I got my chocolate-containing beverage and now have arrived back in my office. I wish I could say all is well but there is a reason the canteen machine is in third place. It delivers drinks near the optimum drinking temperature, which of course is too cold by the time I return to my workplace. Also, the machine refused to take my 5-cent coin, so now I am stuck with four coins when I should only have two. I will try to pawn off the 5-cent pieces on the canteen at lunch, which should work.

As I arrived at my office, I bumped into a colleague and we had a short discussion because he needs some figures from me for a talk he has suddenly been asked to give in Tblisi this month. He told me he would confirm the security situation before he makes his trip. I hope everything will be OK, but in a world where decent hot chocolate at a reasonable price is only sometimes available at great effort, what can you really count on?

Free ice cream!

A couple of times in the last few months, lunch at the cafeteria has come with free ice cream. There has been a theme, shall we say, to the free ice cream selections. For example, twice we had vanilla and chocolate soccer balls on a plastic whistle stick. Said soccer balls never appear in the “for sale” ice cream section.  They only show up when it is free ice cream day.  That led to speculation about the source of the ice cream, in line with the cafeteria’s known predilection for serving leftovers. These speculations were confirmed this week when the following was our free dessert:

ice cream wrapper

My free ice cream cone

ice cream wrapper zoom

Logo at the bottom right

The waffle cone was a little soft. What do you mean? Of course I ate it. It’s free ice cream.

Weekend Update

So, a random weekend in Berlin: last night I went to see a late showing of There Will Be Blood at the Hackesche Höfe Filmtheater. We haven’t been to that theater before, and I had a little trouble finding it. The Hackesche Höfe are a bunch of interconnected courtyards that form a sort of shopping/dining complex in the central part of Berlin. There were several ads for movies and it was clear that there was a movie theater in the neighborhood, but it was surprisingly unclear how to get to it. A sign above one of the doorways did say Filmtheater, but when I went in I had to go up three flights of stairs and go through a (completely unmarked and, further, unremarkable) other door to get to the theater.

It was expensive… considering the Euro is up to $1.50, the movie cost about 13 bucks. The theater had room for about 100 people and a pretty small screen… did I mention it was $13? For the particular movie, though, it was really a great setting. And Daniel Day Lewis was pretty great, too.

After the movie, I hopped on the S-bahn train (the other train network, the U-bahn, is on strike, maybe I can blog more about that later) and headed back home. I had to change trains in Ostkreuz and was impressed (but not surprised) to see how crowded the station was at 1 am. To me, late night at the Ostkreuz station is East Berlin – it’s hard to put the vibe into words. I’ll try anyway… the girl standing by me on the train had pink hair pulled back with a jaguar print kerchief, Big-Bird style striped knee socks, and her Chuck Taylors on… I had on a button-down forest green shirt from the Gap and a corduroy blazer with my blue jeans… and we both fit in.  Really.

I got home in time to give a call to Super Babe in Mexico and check up on her. She’s doing well there, hanging out with her parents and her sister who was there for the weekend. I miss her and am glad I’ll be flying that way in a couple weeks.

After the late night I slept in this morning, and I just went out a few minutes ago in search of lunch. I had been meaning to try out a new place for falafels and so I walked a couple blocks in the misty rain to check it out. When I walked in I saw, instead of pressed falafels waiting to be tossed in the fryer, a big plastic vat of chick pea mixture and a cast iron skillet/bowl full of hot oil. That meant freshly made falafels, a good sign. I ordered one (and here the usual order of “a falafel” is two or three in a piece of bread with salad and sauce) and took a peek over the counter to see if I could find the sauces.

Now, I have to say that I am well versed in the Berlin corner store sauces… there are three main ones: kräuter (herbs), knoblauch (garlic), and scharf (spicy). Here, I didn’t see the standard three, and when the lady making my falafel asked for my choice of sauce, the three options were: mango, chili, and [unintelligible]. [unintelligble] was probably yogurt, but I went for the mango, which looked good. At this point, my expectations for this falafel are running pretty high: cool little place, near my house, fresh falafels, special sauces, and it’s still just 2 Euro 50. But none of that guaranteed it would be especially good.

So I got back to the apartment, put on some Ben Folds Five, and went to work. I am happy to report that I have a new favorite falafel place. It was tasty! And I like the standard version that I get in front of the train station, but this one had some spiciness, a little minty action going on, in addition to the aforementioned special mango sauce and freshly made falafels. It’s a good day.

Satire on Earth just got a tiny bit harder

I saw this somewhere online and thought, ha ha that’s pretty good. Then I saw it on Bruce Schneier’s blog, which made me pause. Sadly, to me at least, this is not a joke.

Playmobil security check-in

The Playmobil Security Check-in

Political parades

First, some background. Berlin has three airports: Tegel, Tempelhof, and Schönefeld. Schönefeld is already the biggest and the furthest out from the city, where there is more room. It is currently being expanded to become Berlin-Brandenburg International. Once that happens, the plan is to close the other two. Tempelhof is nearly unused now — we had the pleasure of flying out of Tempelhof last year to go to Belgium, and our flight was literally the only one in the airport. How often do you show up at the airport to find it empty? We just walked up to the counter and checked in, went to security (where there was no line) and went on our way. It was great, but perhaps not the most efficient use of the airport. The airstrips at Tempelhof are not long enough, as I understand, for the big jetliners, so it can only be used for some shorter flights. In that sense, the airport’s days are certainly numbered, since there is no room to expand the runways — it’s city all around.

However! Tempelhof was also the main airport used during the Berlin Airlift in 1948-9. Over two million tons of supplies were delivered during this amazing operation, most to Tempelhof. So there is a lot of sentimental support for keeping it open, and the debate about what to do with the prime real estate, if it is in fact closed, continues.

What does this have to do with parades? Well… we went to see the KarnevalsZug parade this weekend, a Berlin Mardi Gras celebration. While there, I was a little surprised to see an artistic rendition of Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, on the throne. Not the throne of Berlin.. but, you know, the ceramic goddess. Just take a look, and hopefully with the short background introduction I have given, you’ll get the message. THF is the airport code for Tempelhof.

Wowi on the can with plane

Wowi on can

I thought this was pretty funny and I also thought, “Wow somebody must be really fired up about this Tempelhof thing to build that float.” I’d like to know the backstory on the financing, as I have some suspicions, but it was pretty entertaining anyway. Not the most flattering portrait I’ve seen of good ole Wowi (that’s VOH-VEE), but funny.

Now, if we’d have gone down to Düsseldorf for the Rose Monday parade, we could have seen some awesome political floats. They even had one in honor of Super Tuesday (Reuters picture below)! More here!

Our dorkiest day

It’s 1:30 pm on a somewhat rainy Sunday afternoon here in Berlin.

I have spent the last few hours working on a computer program to take lots of imaginary electrons in random places and organize them into little not-random bins with their neighbors, so my other program can understand how to add up the potential energy between all of them due to their electric fields. Yes, it’s Sunday, and no there’s no deadline coming up next week. I just can’t stop thinking about it.

My wife is over on the couch with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where she has been all morning as if the entire world has come to end except for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I will not allow her to discuss her book with me because, dammit I am about 4,000 pages behind her and don’t want to know everything yet.

Having realized that we are close to setting a new personal worst for dorkiest day ever, I am now going to the gym. Where I will lift heavy things. Where I will make eye contact with no one, being quite sure I will not understand whatever they might say (after living here for one year).

This is my life. It’s fun. No, really!