Monday, May 16, 2011


Taking a break from teaching

Today I handed in my office keys at Webster University after proctoring the final exam on Web animation.

In 2004 I had started as adjunct professor in the computer science faculty, teaching Web scripting to a small group of business and IT students, which meant refreshing and formalizing my JavaScript knowledge (closures, anyone?) and learning the basics of VBScript, too. Following that I taught several rounds of design principles and Web animation, starting with the ancient Macromedia Flash and slowly upgrading to Adobe Flash CS3 and CS4.

Sharing what I know and learning what I didn't know has been a great experience. Not only did teaching give me reasons to explore various subjects in greater detail and develop new skills, did I gain a better understanding of the American educational system and students' expectations at a smaller private university campus, and get to attend a graduation ceremony at the Konzerthaus in formal academic regalia. Discussing with students and seeing them going from no knowledge to expert level in just a few weeks, then coming back for the next course and (sometimes) even having fun writing code or building Web animations was also highly rewarding. I am equally pleased to often find some of “my” graduates in good positions at companies and institutions around the world.

Now is a good time to take a break from teaching. Webster University no longer offers the full computer science curriculum in Vienna, resulting in fewer courses which I would like to teach, and balancing this with my other personal and professional activities has become increasingly difficult.

I would like to thank first and foremost my students, you have been a great crowd, and the faculty members and staff at Webster University in Vienna for their support, I have learned a lot from you all.

Thanks, and to my students, good luck with your remaining exams!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


One year later …

When I embarked upon studying law in September last year, little did I know what to expect. How easily would I get back into learning? Which subjects would I find interesting? How much time would I be able to devote to studying besides job, family and teaching?

One year later I have answers to most of my questions. Getting back into the learning routine wasn’t too hard. The work commute has provided an excellent opportunity for reading text books (although they look somewhat shabby after a few round trips in the backpack). Watching the video streams in the narrow period during which they are made available turned out to be the biggest challenge, with soon-to-expire lectures piling up towards weekends and more than once requiring the family’s understanding and support.

One year later I am happy to report that things have been going well. I took most of the exams offered and passed with reasonable grades, and will soon have completed the first section of the program.

This week I attend the second lecture block at the Institut für Multimediale Linzer Rechtsstudien in Linz to learn about the courses offered in the upcoming years, to pick up more books and DVDs with recorded lectures, and to meet with other students.

Will this change what I do professionally? That question I haven’t answered yet, but it’s quite possible that one day it will. After I finish my courses, that is.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010


Human rights 2.0

“Human rights 2.0: Human rights in the information society” was the topic of two lectures in the series “Am Puls” by Dr. Jan Krone, professor for media science at the Fachhochschule St. Pölten, and Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, professor for public international law and international relations at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz.

Krone focused on freedom of the media, freedom of speech and data privacy in the European Union, pointing out that the Internet itself is not a mass medium but merely a communication channel that carries, amongst other things, media products: Individuals often gather information about others purely to satisfy their curiosity, and conversely share their personal information seeking for recognition. Companies mainly satisfy their business needs and sometimes manage to create “sect-like islands on the net like Apple does”, but generally lack the sensibility and awareness for data privacy needs. States need to balance the need for security and state intervention with the freedom of the people and basic rights.

In the following discussion, Krone suggested the Internet would eventually become fragmented along cultural or ideological borders, and Europe would have to build a European firewall similar to the Great Firewall in China (which uses technology from European IT and telecom suppliers). The audience strongly objected to the notion of a digital Schengen border, which goes against the liberal tradition in many European countries and doesn’t recognize the range of believes and the diversity within Europe.

Benedek talked about Internet governance and the role of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a “forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue”. Concepts for dealing with illegal activities and what is considered acceptable and appropriate encroachment upon basic rights such as those guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) vary between countries. Even more, what is illegal in one country may be perfectly legal and even socially accepted behavior elsewhere.

Touching on net neutrality and the digital divide, he mentioned that there is a push to make Internet access a human right and some countries have indeed added rights to participate in the information society to their constitutions. At the same time the copyright industry focuses on the three strikes model in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) model as punishment for intellectual property violations.

ACTA is not the only threat to access for all though: Much content today is only available to people who understand English, and not all content is suitable for children or accessible to elderly people. How we can make the net accessible to people of all ages and qualifications, and in their native languages, remains a challenge.

Basic human rights, including the rights to education, freedom of speech and freedom of press, increasingly have a material dependency on the right to Internet access. As an audience member pointed out, “offline” studying at university is virtually impossible; long gone are the days of paper handouts and blackboard announcements.

Both speakers agreed that the right to privacy requires “educated decisions” by the people, and consequently educating people. The lectures and the following lively discussion last night served that purpose well.

Related links:

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Friday, September 25, 2009


Brain food

Over twenty years after coming to Vienna to study computer science, I felt like going back to university and enrolled in a master's degree program in legal studies offered by the Institut für Multimediale Linzer Rechtsstudien at the Johannes Kepler Universität Linz.

The program started in early September with one week of lectures at the Burg Schlaining conference center. Besides getting an introduction into the concepts of law, registering and picking up the text books and DVDs, we had sufficient time for socializing and getting to know fellow students. On the first evening, the major invited to a reception at the town hall. I appreciated the warm welcome and thoroughly enjoyed the week, learning something new in the relaxed atmosphere of scenic Stadtschlaining and meeting nice people.

Having spent a good portion of my study period with checking bulletin boards distributed throughout the campus for announcements and organizing the study—the Web had not been invented—I was positively impressed how well things were organized here. The lectures and practice sessions are available on DVDs or as video streams, and textbooks are available for all courses, eliminating the need to take illegible notes.

What's nice about the program is the flexibility where and when you study. Of course that flexibility comes with the risk of procrastination, so feel free to ask me about my progress from time to time (read: no more than once a quarter!) as a gentle reminder.

Will I become a lawyer some day? Probably not. I haven't given much thought to how a law degree might change my career plans. Either way, it will be worth it to me.

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