My favourite two jokes, and a little fable.   Nov 97
Some quotes: a personal selection.   Sep 00
A motley of ideas and views.   Aug 98
Things I am pleased to have in my home.   May 04
Essay: "The Myth of Cultural Globalisation"   Aug 99
Essay: "A Day on Which the World Changed?"   Sep 01 - Apr 02
Notes: "Globalisation: how the myth misleads"   Oct 00
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The first 30 years:

[ The flags, by the way, are here for purely decorative purposes, representing the countries where I have spent more than two years of my life ... In fact I dislike flags, for the way they are used, (and can be abused.) ]

Germany. 2kB I was born in Hannover in (West-)Germany, and grew up in Hamburg and in Munich, (although I have always found myself out of sympathy with Bavarians and their way of thinking.) When I was 17 years old, after my father had died, I was able to move to the UK, to finish secondary school at Atlantic College in South Wales. And for most of my life since then I have not spent much time in Germany, although I had – and still have – some close German friends; once, but after my mother had died, there even was a gap of more than two years between two visits. My sister, too, has spent most of her life outside Germany, mostly in France.

Britain. 3kB After the two years at AC, I spent 11 very academic, very enjoyable years at universities in the UK, first studying Mathematics for five years, where my special area was Relativity, and then Philosophy for six, especially Philosophy of Mind (psychoanalysis) and of Language (Chomskian linguistics,) although I was able to develop and pursue a wide range of other interests.

USA. 2kB During those years I went to the United States for a few months every summer to work at a 4H-camp on Long Island, not far from New York, which provided a good contrast to my academic life the rest of the year. I have continued to go to the US regularly, mostly to NY and the East Coast, where many of my friends have ended up.

"... and know the place for the first time"

Although I had never planned to become a teacher, when a friend mentioned that he had seen an advertisement for a position as 'assistant master' at Atlantic College, I decided to go for it – and I have never regretted it. So there I was in South Wales again, teaching Mathematics and beginners' Japanese; and for a number of years also Theory of Knowledge.

Many people in their daily jobs have to spend much of their time doing things to which their personal ideas are quite irrelevant, or even to take decisions contrary to their personal values. One of the exciting benefits of teaching at Atlantic College, for most of the time I was there, was that one's own outlook, and to some extent even one's personal relationships, did not have to be separate from one's work – which made the work both more demanding and more rewarding.

Another benefit of teaching at AC were the holidays: only two a year, but therefore quite long. I like to spend holidays travelling, mostly to visit friends, some of whom live far away. So each year I spent about a month in Europe (= continental Europe) and another in the US, and sometimes a week down under; but the parts of the world I have found most intriguing and have kept returning to are Japan and Africa (= sub-Saharan Africa,) and for a while also South America.

Like everyone else at Atlantic College I was involved in a variety of other activities. In my case, the main ones were for many years the Coastguard Service, which has become CAVRA and which I used to enjoy a lot, even though I am personally not very keen on climbing and hiking and such things; First Aid, which I regularly taught; webpage design and maintenance (w3S) and programming, which eventually became part of 'Media and Communication Service', but made some money for the College on the way; and the Choir, in which I always sang and with which I went on tour every year in March. It used to work extremely well for me!

And now:

Rwanda. 3kB Having spent half my life, quite precisely, at Atlantic College, as a student and as a teacher, I decided to 'retire' to Berlin – one of only two cities in Germany I was considering: and it has not felt like 'returning' somewhere at all! – and at the same time to Kigali, (in Rwanda, not in the Rhonda ...) where I have been very happy and have made – and continue to make – close friends.

After five years of teaching at a school there, (Mathematics, Theory of Knowledge and sometimes German) I found I wanted to spend more time in Berlin and travelling, and so I retired again; but for two more years I was still involved in various construction projects at the school, and the next year I was called twice to cover classes – five weeks of German in grades 5 to 8, and two months of Psychology and English Language and Literature in grades 10 to 12.

But since mid-2017 I am retired again, spending about 6 months every year in Rwanda, 4 months in Europe, mostly in Berlin and mostly in the summer, and almost 2 months in the US – it suits me very well to have 'three lives' like this. (My friends know where they can read about the Rwanda-part of my life.)

Well, still not completely retired: when a German friend of mine, who is a Maths professor in Edinburgh, came to Kigali in 2017 to teach an intensive three-week course at AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences), where students from different countries in Africa come to take a Master's degree in Maths, he told me that they were in need of an English teacher, and asked me if I would be willing to do this. For one year I shared the teaching with a Kenyan former colleague, but since he moved to an IB school in Egypt, I have been teaching all the classes, including some to students in the AMMI (African Masters in Machine Intelligence) programme, a total of up to 14 hours a week – almost like a job, no? It is nice that I can use my Maths and my programming, (LaTeX and Python) and that I don't have to set or mark exams or homework – a bit of a commute, but all very enjoyable.

An important point, I have found, in teaching mathematics is to explain to students that (and why) certain identities do not hold, or certain forms of arguments are not valid. Examples:
  • (a + b)2  is not the same as  a2 + b2, (except in special cases.) Thinking that they are identical is an instance of what I have heard being called 'Mickey Mouse mistakes'.
  • If I know of a family that they have two children, and that at least one of them is a boy, (assuming the birth of a boy and a girl to be equally likely,) the probability of both the children being boys is not 1/2.
  • It is not a valid proof of a proposition, such as a trigonometric identity, to start with that proposition and derive from it something that is obviously true, such as an identity of the form  a = a.
  • Even though it is correct that
       1/x dx = ln x + c ,
    it is not therefore also correct that
       1/x2 dx = ln x2 + c .

This is a general point: part of the purpose, it seems to me, of the Theory of Knowledge course too is to make people more critical of things that they might otherwise just assume, even simple things like that "science proves things," or that "whether or not something is a work of art is just a question of liking it or not liking it."

This critical thinking can then apply (if one is that kind of person ...) to a wide range of issues, some quite mundane, such as rumours: their very nature not only means that they are usually false or exaggerated, but also that they will spread more easily than any evidence against them.

(Note that moral issues are never far away ...)

Different people have different ways of learning. In my case, what have become my 'specialities' all started as personal interests, rather than through academic studies. My Japanese, for instance, (whatever little I know ...) is nearly all self-taught.

Konnichi wa. 2kB This is how to write Hello. (Konnichi wa.) in what was at some time called "the devil's language."

As are my web-design and programming skills (again: whatever little I know ...) – self-taught, that is.

That is a bit of Swaziland in the background (– at WK: thanks, Donovan and Ramila.)

After my fairly regular weekend swim in Kigali. In all the time there I have never needed to wear more than a shirt or a T-shirt.

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three of the flags from: Peter De Smedt.