Saturday, March 30, 2013

Google Drops the Bomb in Slow Leaks


Today, in one of my LinkedIn groups there was a message relating to a story about Google cutting Frommer’s loose from the world of print media. I first read the title of this on my smartphone, so I was anxious to get home to read the full story in LinkedIn. Unfortunately, I could not remember my LinkedIn password; otherwise I could have continued to read it while riding on the bus. However, reading bad news at home has its benefits; you are in cozy and familiar surroundings, which not only softens the blow a bit, it makes it a short walk for refrigerator-raiding for comfort food. This news was like anticipating a punch in the face when it is in slow motion; you can see it coming, yet you never fully anticipate the pain until that final moment of contact.

The first LinkedIn note sent me to a story in CNN Money, which you can find here. While reading this article, I discovered that they were tipped off by an article in Skift. Skift, I asked myself? I have read just about every travel publication in the English language dating back to the days when the only thing that was available was a hand typeset magazine produced only by monks who lived Swiss monasteries in the Alps. Even those had to be first translated from Latin to English before hitting the newsstands. Yes, I have a long and varied history with all forms of travel news. How did Skift fall from my radar?

A better question yet is how do all of these sites survive? There cannot be that much adverting money out there, especially when their own article about the demise of tour books addresses the downturn in tourism overall. All of that aside, if you want to go to the original Skift article, click here.

What seems to me as very unprofessional in business dealings today is the lack of courtesy. Skift reports “Starting with Frommer’s New York City With Kids, which can still be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in other bookstore inventories and was supposed to publish on February 19, the entire future list of Frommer’s titles will not see the light of day. Many of the authors attached to these 29 titles told Skift that they were informed by editors now working at Google that the books would not publish.”

That being the case, I have to count my blessings that the last book I contributed to was released in November, Frommer’s Europe 12th edition, just at the wire of Google shutting down Frommer’s. Payment was received as well as my ten complimentary copies. Thanks to the god of publishing, Arthur Frommer, who wrote the first guidebook to Mount Olympus.

Although, I can certainly share with you that the many other Frommer’s authors I have been in contact with were never told a thing about their future with Frommer’s or Google. All of us have only had speculation bestowed upon us. Google has even removed the shopping portion on the site. Miserable! Those were the days my friend, we thought they would never end.

Meanwhile the travel forums are abuzz with reports of iPads and smartphones being snatched from the hands of tourists trying to read a map while staring at a street sign. Little and large buggers zip by on motor bikes or fast scooters and do the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ routine. Maybe just enough people will long for the days of nostalgia and demand tour books be printed again.

The first 2 books below are the ones I wrote; for all the other titles here, I wrote the Hungary chapter. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Say NO to Gay Marriage


As most US Americans should know, the US Supreme Court is hearing or has heard arguments on gay marriages and DOMA. For the unknowing DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Act. I think it was on Tuesday or Wednesday that they heard arguments on two different cases, but since we are 6 hours ahead of Washington, DC and light years behind Spain, our news trickles in, so I am not really sure.

Regardless, I want to show you reasons below why Americans should oppose gay marriage. Write right now to the Supreme Court Justice for your state and tell them exactly how opposed you are to gay marriage and be certain to quote one of the reasons below. This will make them certain to take you seriously. Also, remind them that there is another election coming up so if they want your vote, they had better pay attention to your knowing what you are talking about. Every divorce attorney in the nation will stand proudly behind you with a business card ready for anyone with a wedding ring.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Internet Minute


This explains why I am so tired and never get off of the computer. Actually, I spent all day of the first day of my spring 'break' on the computer from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm with only bathroom breaks. As of now, I am up-to-date, but there are some slug students who still owe me papers. 

During one of my 5 minute mini-vacations, I came across this in my mailbox. 

It is explained by Krystal Temple at this site (click here) in greater depth.

"Do you know what happens in one minute on the Internet? In just one minute, more than 204 million emails are sent. Amazon rings up about $83,000 in sales. Around 20 million photos are viewed and 3,000 uploaded on Flickr. At least 6 million Facebook pages are viewed around the world. And more than 61,000 hours of music are played on Pandora while more than 1.3 million video clips are watched on YouTube." 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

US Citizens: Be Suspicious of Socialized Medicine


Today, I briefly read an article about potential cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. This prompted me to issue this warning for all voting citizens in the US. You should avoid socialized medicine at all expense. This is what I experienced recently in Hungary, where socialized medicine is the norm.

If you work, generally you have health insurance through your job. Ron is officially retired, but we purchase his health insurance through our business. It costs us an outrageous $30 a month. Those with health insurance are assigned a ‘house doctor’. Our house doctor is one block from our apartment. He has office hours half days Monday to Thursday, but they rotate between mornings and afternoons for those who work. Because there are multiple doctors, we are assigned to the doctor who has our particular street within his list of patients. He is young and speaks English, partly due to the medical school here is taught in English only. If we are too ill to make it to the office, a doctor will make a house call, as is customary of house doctors.

Our particular doctor wanted me to get baseline tests after being diagnosed with type II diabetes. He arranged for me to have specialized ophthalmic and cardiac exams in addition to a kidney test. Not certain about these specialists, I took our adopted ‘nephew’ Balázs with me to interpret.

The ophthalmologist only sees diabetic patients on Monday and Thursday mornings from 8 to 10 am, so I actually had to wait a few days before getting in. There were no appointments given out, so I had to wait in line with everyone else. Darn if it didn’t take me twenty minutes to get in to start the exam.  A nurse ran four different tests before putting in the drops to dilate my eyes and then sending me out to wait for my eyes to dilate and also for the doctor.

Once again, I had to wait, this time a full half hour before being called in to see the doctor. After three more tests, he gave me a clean bill of eye health and said in English, he would see me next year. My total waiting time was forty minutes, but the time I spent being examined was close to an hour. I never in my life had to waste that much time with medical staff when I went to the ophthalmologist or any other doctor for that matter, in the US. Generally, I spent over an hour in the waiting room after my appointed time came and went, giving me plenty of time to catch up on my reading.  Balázs barely had time to share what has been happening with him, before they interrupted us to come in.

Getting an appointment with the cardiologist was a bit trickier, because I was only available certain days of the week, making it difficult for the doctor to fit in my schedule. I had to wait two weeks for my appointment. Once the day came, Balázs and I sat around for a good ten minutes before getting in to have the nurse do an EKG. As luck would have it, we had to wait another ten minutes before the cardiologist could see me to read the results. She then performed a cardiac ultrasound herself, not designating it to a tech. This was really strange for me to have a doctor doing this, so I was suspicious as to why. She was happy with the results, but just to make sure she wanted me to have a fitness test in addition. It made me wonder if being healthy was worth all this aggravation. In my mind, I could see a cash register cha-chinging with massive numbers appearing.

With the fitness test two weeks into the future, again to my being difficult with my scheduling issues, the day arrived.  Wired for everything but sound, enough electrodes to make me look like an alien, the tech started the machine. Easy walking, no sweat. That thought came too soon, the elevation increased as did the speed. Tougher pace, but I could keep up. Wrong thought again, minutes later another double dose increase: speed and elevation. Still I was not sweating, but I was panting like a dog in a Turkish sauna. Although the tech kept telling me to let her know if I wanted to stop at any time, I was too stubborn to cave in. I would rather have caved in. Hell, if I had a heart attack on this machine, I was in the right place for it. Finally, it was over. She has difficulty removing the electrodes, because I had doubled over with attempts at catching my breath or anyone else’s. At that point, I would take anyone’s breath before or after breath mints.  They could have photographed me for a pictorial phrase dictionary to put under ‘gasping for air’.

Once I became ambulatory and dressed again, it was time to move down the hall. There we waited for the cardiologist to interpret the results, which in turn Balázs would have to interpret for me. This doctor was old school, having gone to medical school before they switched to an English curriculum, yet she was able to use some words and sentences. What I recognized and Balázs confirmed was that she said my heart was in perfect condition and I should continue with whatever I have been doing. Then she added, she “would be pleased to see me again next year.” I was thinking, “Doc, I will be pleased if I DON’T need to see you before next year.

After all of this run-around getting prodded, poked, stretched, yanked, and cranked, the only thing that would have made this perfect is waiting for the grand total bill for all of these tests and exams. Wait a minute, we have socialized medicine here. There is no bill. All of this was covered 100% with my medical card.  What are we missing out on here? I guess it would be the potential need to have to take a second mortgage on the house to pay for medical bills. Nope, don’t miss it at all.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sit, Stay, Look Cute


I was walking down the street last week and as I passed a bank, I spotted this dog sitting outside the door. He or she was so cute; I had to snap a picture. 

Like most dogs here, I was totally ignored as if I were invisible. If I had a steak in my hand, it would not have mattered. This was a dog, like most here have the same reason for living. Their sole purpose is to single-mindedly wait for their owner to return. 

Hopefully, the owner would return with enough money to reward this faithful pooch.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

WAMP's Up Now?


I am certain you have heard me mention WAMP in the past. It is one of my secret pleasures to investigate their new offerings once or twice a month.

WAMP is an umbrella organization created by young Hungarian designers to play an active role in international design showcases, thus exposing the talents of many Hungarian designers to the world. It used to be that you needed to wait for the event to be held if you missed one of the twice monthly events. Since February and until May at least, this is no longer the case. WAMP is holding weekly events at Váci utca 1, right near the Hard Rock Café.

Ron and I were out for our walk yesterday, though it was beyond chilly. When we discovered that WAMP was open, it was a well-received opportunity to exercise with a purpose, while regaining the feeling in our feet and hands. The building is fabulous. There is so much more room for artists to display their goods, people to mill around, and lots of room for the less enthused shopper to relax while the militant shopper storms through. 

On another note, if you are here on Sundays starting April 7, the Gozsdu Udvar Market will start operating for the summer. Generally, there are more booths at the beginning of the season with a number of vendors falling off the grid as summer progresses.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

With All Good Intentions


Just about every day I have good intentions of sharing some piece of my ex-pat life, yet most times I get blindsided by something unexpected or planned, but repressed. At this time of year, there are over a dozen reasons keeping me from fulfilling my personal desires, holding them at arm’s length. This is encapsulated in two words – thesis advisees. Not only is April 15th, the day every American dreads, but it is also this year’s date that all ELTE University thesis composers dread also. It is their deadline.

Quite often, I get a rampage of students who plead “Be my adviser! Pleaseeeeeee”. Suddenly, the word ‘please’ is turned into a multi-syllable word with multi-dimensions too. Thanks to a ruling by my department head, we can no longer cross train. Another words, our department will not take on any of the English Department students and the English Department instructors will flick off our students like a pesky mosquito. Generally, their charms sway me into saying “Sure, I will advise you” to about a dozen students a semester. Because history has taught me that less than half of these who are eager beavers in October or March when the thesis forms need signing, turn into three-toed sloths come writing time. There are a few on my rolls that signed up in 2004, but I have not seen or heard from them since. It is like the Bermuda Triangle of university students. If we ever find it, I will bet there is one hell of a party going on.

This semester like many in the past I have offered a thesis writing course. Generally, I want my own students to attend, but as my luck runs, there are more strangers than familiar faces. In the past, students start the semester charged with writing energy, wanting guidance, and have sugar coated dreams of completing this lingering burden that hangs over their heads. About three classes into any given semester most students have fallen by the wayside while others send me ‘reasons’ why they cannot attend that week’s class. Suddenly, I am provided with a 1 ½ hour free period to either grade papers or do a coffee run.

Are The Gods Are Not To Blame that this semester, the wheel of fortune shifted one click too many? I have 11 students in my thesis writing class, all champions who have serious intentions to complete their hurdles this semester. Nine of these young scholars are not part of my herd; therefore, my workload has increased significantly. Generally, I have to teach 9, yes NINE classes a semester. Each semester has some class that is heavy on the writing component. This semester it happens to be this thesis writing class in addition to creative writing. In addition, I have four classes where I require the students to blog on a weekly basis. This is one heck of a lot of reading/editing/offering suggestions for improvement. My one lucky break is that we have a Fulbrighter teaching one of my classes. Woo-Hoo! I only have 8 classes this semester. Aren’t I the lucky one!

When there is some light piercing through my tunnel of things to do, I take advantage of it to check something off of my Wish List. Currently that happens to be working on a writer’s website that I first started in 2010. I won’t even mention the URL; it is embarrassing how far it has not progressed. Initially, I started it with WordPress, but then found it too cumbersome to learn or to get it to do what I wanted it to do, not what it wanted, like an untrainable puppy. There it sat for years, because I had other things to accomplish that found their way higher on the chain of demands.

Having now co-created a website in Joomla with my never-have-met-friend Nigel, I decided it was time to branch out on my own and create a site from scratch. Throw the bird out of the nest and see if he flies. Obstacle one, WordPress refused to leave the administration area of the site. It basically was rusted into place. I had to reach out to Tom at TRK Hosting for assistance. He not only vacuumed out all remnants of WordPress, but installed Joomla 2.5 for me. My other site is still Joomla 1.5, so this was still going to be a new learning curve to master.

With YouTube at the ready, I had a tutorial all set. Play, pause, and apply the knowledge. Play, pause, and apply the knowledge. This is my SOP (standard operating procedure). I was 32 minutes and 27 seconds into the video when it instructed to install the new template. Here is where the hurdles started. It turned out that the template that really softly and elegantly, although authoritatively sends the whispering tune of ‘professional writer’s website’- is only available in WordPress format. UGH!! After spending hours searching and posting on forums, I raised the white flag of defeat. The only solutions were to install a template temporarily and then try to change the components or switch back to WordPress. Solution one will take numerous hours in setting it up, but once it is, I already am familiar with the basics of Joomla and only need to negotiate the changes from 1.5 to 2.5. Solution two will take numerous hours not only in setting it up, but then numerous hours trying to figure out WordPress thereafter.

After finding three templates for Joomla 2.5 that I could live with, if by chance I would not be able to modify it to my heart’s desire, I tried installing them. Not one would install. Two just gave up before even starting. I take that FAILURE message very personally. The third showed that it had installed 100%, but then there was nothing there. At first I thought it may have been Firefox playing games, so I tried Chrome and Internet Explorer. No dice! I changed computers, but still no prize. Finally, I sent a note off to Tom for help, but have not heard back yet. We will see what happens with this, but I am stubbornly clinging to the template I love. If it cannot be salvaged, it just may be time to learn WordPress.

One thing is for sure, with all of this mental engagement, I am warding off dementia.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Friday, March 22, 2013

ELTE in the Spotlight Again


Just to do a brief follow-up to the last post, here it goes. After hundreds of additional e-mails from various faculty members, it was finally decided that a social justice type event will be held this coming Tuesday. However, the Department of Philosophy has pulled out of the planning for some unknown reason. If it was explained, it may have been in one of those pesky Hungarian messages that cram their umlauts and diacritical marks into my Inbox creating more housekeeping duties to my already full list of things to do. The speaker everyone wanted is out of the country, he is most likely avoiding this entire hullabaloo. This of course made speaker choices number 2 and 3 feel like yesterday’s leftovers, thus giving them excuses to bow out too. Additionally, they cannot get the demonstrators to cooperate by leaving room 047 where this newly formed Anti-Semitic committee of one or two persons wants to hold the presentation.

Once this is over, I must go check out room 047. Apparently, those doing the sit-in have become so attached, they are never leaving, even if by small chance their demands will be met. Their demand is a further change to the new constitution that now requires them to stay in Hungary to work for two years for every year of university education they receive. Fat chances there! This room 047 must have the appeal of Versailles when an entire university clamors to use it while ignoring the fact that thousands of rooms on multiple campuses are at their disposal. Keeping all of your eggs in one basket is insanity, even if Easter is so close.

Of the e-mails above, now about half of those who were once cheerleaders for action are now having a change of attitude, wondering aloud in their electronic transmissions if the time has passed to take action of all should let bygones be bygones. If we didn’t have a dance performance to attend on Tuesday evening, I would go just to see the turnout in spite of the Hungarian speeches. There is a certainty that the outcome will too evoke an e-mail discussion at length either with praise over the events or hate mail at the lack of something perceived as necessary. Joy to the world. You cannot please all the people all the time.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Anti-Semitic Problems at ELTE


For the uninitiated, ELTE (Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem) is the university where I have been teaching for the last 11 years. It is 350 years old and is the largest university is Central Europe. However, we now have a serious problem that has not happened before in anyone’s memory of the current staff.

Backtracking: Suddenly at the end of this last week, my home e-mail box was flooded with e-mails from the Department of English and American Studies faculty list-serve. Generally, it is my habit to delete, delete, and delete some more as I am frustrated with a faculty of English instructors who write in Hungarian. There seems to be a total disregard for the dozen or so non-Hungarian speaking faculty as unnecessary appendages. I often feel like Oliver Twist, “please sir, can I have some more?” English that is.

Finally, due to the excessive number of e-mails, I was curious enough to use Google translator to weather the storm of dialogue. It was a futile attempt as even Google has yet to master Hungarian beyond the 1st grade level. Frustration prompted me to write a department colleague after she joined the Hungarian discussion. She sent me this picture stating this was the reason for the original outcry and flurry of e-mails. The translation is "Jews! The university is ours, not yours! Best regards, Hungarian students..."

After a couple dozen or more emails, one of the instructors from the English department requested that the conversation be switched to English for all concerned. I for one was pleased as I think the rest of us who are not Hungarian speakers were also; this is based on our involvement with the comments that followed thereafter.

In synopsis, the general feeling which may not be fully conveyed here since this is a general overview is that this issue should be broadcast far and wide. It was believed by all faculty and staff that everyone should be aware of what we are facing in 'higher education’. This is also a generalized reflection of the atmosphere outside of the ivory towers as well.

Those that rose to the charge decided that it would take too long to get the university’s rektor to do something university-wide, so this department put an anti-discrimination statement on the department's website. It can be read in English and Hungarian here.

Two hundred and seventy-nine e-mails later (no joke, they were counted) the staff wanted to have a formal stand on this issue. The suggested ways to show solidarity ranged from having menorahs in the rooms to wearing Stars of David, to having signs on our doors that are advocated by the Council of Europe, which can be seen if you click here. They state "All different, All equal".

Not everyone could agree on what to do, so the resolution was for everyone to do what they are most comfortable with. Personally, I would do it all. I stand strong on this issue. Over the years, I have had a number of students confide in me that they were Jewish, but would never share it with their classmates. I went to school with so many Jews from Kindergarten through college that I am Jewish by proxy. What hurts one group of people hurts all people. 

Then there was the discussion about how to raise the issue in our classes. Though everyone felt strongly that all students should be made aware of this and discuss it, some were concerned about overkill if students faced the issue repeatedly in one week via 9-10 classes.

Other faculty members have overheard students claiming to belong to the far right political group and as such were making derogatory remarks about different groups of people. The question that has not been answered yet, in English anyway, is what is an instructor’s recourse if the rules are broken in a classroom? Or on campus?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Missing You Too!


Ron and I were walking to the tram yesterday and passed by this car. There was enough snow on it for someone to leave a note. It was impressive that it was in English.

Had there not been any snow, it would probably have said "Wash me".

Pin It Now!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

If There Were Still Debtors' Prisons


I have a former student who married an American and moved to the US. Although she has graduated from Eötvös Loránd University with an M.A. degree in both American Studies and English, she had found job hunting as unsatisfying there as she did here. She wrote to me complaining about the low-level jobs she was qualified for and her increasing disillusionment with the American Dream. In her mind, her only alternative was to return to school for another M.A. from an American university, but in a different field. When in doubt stockpile degrees, it does not make it better, but it does delay the agony.

When she sent me the list of her university choices the only thing I could see were $$$. Europeans in general, but Hungarians in particular continually seem to believe I am lying about the cost of education in America. They also believe that all they need to do is apply for scholarships and they will then have a free ride to the end of the chosen degree program. More than a few have had their hopes dashed, tromped on, or pummeled after going to the counseling center at the Fulbright office seeking advice on admission procedures with financial aid thrown in. I feared for this former student. She was one of the brightest in her group and did write an exceptional thesis. Still, reality is a hard pill to swallow when it is not placed on your native tongue.

It was during this time that many CAUSE campaign petitions started circulating focused on reducing student debt by preventing lenders from overcharging fees, penalties, and interest. It was also about this time when a friend wrote asking for everyone to sign her personal petition. She found herself owing over $100,000 in student loan debt, not of her own, but her ex-husband. Back when the marriage was solid, they had combined their student loans to save on interest with the added benefit of income taxes. They were both gainfully employed at the time. When things went sour, eventually ending in divorce, she did not realize that she was still responsible for his debt because it was not stipulated in the divorce papers. She has always worked, he has not and isn’t now. Her salary is being garnished; she is raising their two daughters without child support.

Meanwhile, I have fought off debt collectors for my student debt for years now. It seems that I am one of the few in my doctoral program who did not qualify for special scholarships, grants, alimony, entitlement programs, or any other source for funding my education. At the time I took out the loans I fully anticipated being solidly employed with a satisfactory income if not extravagant, as a university instructor in Somewhere, USA. It did not turn out that way, so after pushing back the due date for the loans as much as was possible with deferments, it came time to start paying the piper.

The piper is really a nasty SOB, nothing like you see in children’s tales where he is represented as sweet and kind. This piper wanted monthly payments of $525 even when I pointed out that my monthly salary was equal to $641.27. Even that was only when the exchange rate was doing well, like it is at the time of this writing. At other times, it really takes a nosedive like stock in Apple. They wanted me to prove that I was basically indigent by US standards, but to do this I had to send in my last 3 years of tax returns. I had not filed US tax returns falling under the income level for needing to. Plus due to an agreement with the US, Hungary does not take out taxes for the first two years of employment in government funded schools, but they insisted on having them regardless. Letter after letter went unnoticed by their computers, which in turn spewed out more vile letters demanding my soul and cash.

Finally, they acquiesced to receiving 3 years’ worth of my monthly Hungarian salary reports. They wrote back complaining that these were not sufficient since they could not read them. No one thought of this when they asked? Is it my fault they don’t have a Hungarian on staff? We have gone round and round, but I send them a regular check each month via online banking. If I had to write a check and mail it, the temptation to write nasty notes in the memo section would be too appealing. If the federal government is not going to recognize my relationship with Ron, they don’t deserve any money pulled from his income. They get what I send them and to hell with them.

A couple of days ago, I received a letter from the agency; it showed they had added over $20,000 in penalties and over $3,000 in interest to the base feel of somewhere around $60,000 for a grand total of $87,000 plus. Will I ever move back to the US? No way, José. If I should happen to work there, they would garnish my wages taking the full monthly amount that they are now demanding: $750 a month.

Yet, I am not alone. According to there are now 37 million Americans in student loan debt, more than the population of Canada. If they can bail out corrupt banks, they can forgive substantial amounts of student debt.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!