An Entire Menu with Free, Wild Food Stuff (found in Germany)

What if we ate and utilized what’s around us?


Sparrow egg quiche with Rat filet, Goat’s Beard (a common forest plant that can be eaten like asparagus) and wild Chanterelles.

Sparrow Eggs (c)

Rat (and mice) (c)

Goat’s Beard

Chanterelles (c)


Pigeon Pie with a Dandelion salad (dandelion is a weed here).

Pigeon Pie (c)

Dandelion Salad (c)


Wild Rhubarb and Lingon-Berry crumble.

Rhubarb-Lingon berry crumble (c)


Wild Peppermint and Nettle tea.


Sea Buckthorn juice.

Sea Buckthorn juice (c)


Lemon Balm schnapps.

Ethical qualms not considered.

“How to MOOC” – A Simple Guide

I like Massive Open Online Courses. So much so that the standard surveys accompanying the starts or ends of MOOCs usually don’t cover my number of courses taken anymore. MOOCs are, simply put, online educational courses on an undergraduate level that have no entry-requirements and no or low prerequisites. They do not award credit but either a general certificate on an honour basis (sometimes with the option of “distinction”) or a mildly more controlled certificate for pay (the latter of which I find useless, but that is another post entirely.)

MOOCs are not “online education courses” in the sense of continuing education programs or hybrid/full online courses from brick-and-mortar universities. They do not award credit, they have no entry requirements and they have no or very little student/professor interaction and supervision. MOOCs are for the motivated and the curious only. (Which does mean they can be used to show just that, motivation and curiosity – depending on the intended use and discipline, this can be helpful for professionals and future non-traditional students.)

As I mentioned, I always take the surveys that come with the courses and I have participated in studies about the topic as well and in doing so, I have come to a few conclusions:

i) Researchers, no matter how well decorated, have no idea what MOOCs are and why someone might take one.

I had recently participated in a study in which the entire premise (having a pre-conceived conclusion is highly unscientific by the way and make me not trust any social study at all) was so clearly demonstrated, it was painful. The idea (and that seems to be a running theme in normal educational customer surveys too) was that MOOClers take courses to “connect” with others. There were also plenty of questions that made zero sense in a MOOC environment – questions about lecturer-student interaction (“did you feel the lecturer gave you adequate feedback?”) or student-student interaction (“did you feel engaged with any particular student in the course?”).

The assumption that social interactions are either possible or relevant to the student stem obviously from a misunderstanding about what MOOCs are. MOOCs have an average of 20.000 students enrolled (, how exactly is a lecturer to engage with all of them? The answer is, s/he isn’t and that’s ok. If a student is interested in real engagement, s/he’ll enroll in continuing education centres or a traditional tertiary facility. MOOClers are interested in a topic, not a person or brand.

Nobody likes peer-assessment either. Forum discussions for points are unpopular. Group-projects are always disastrous. These are sweeping generalizations, I’m aware, but this article is anecdotal.

People do not care what other people think, they care what better-qualified people think.

A MOOCler is rarely an inexperienced and unsure 18 year old. Getting a “neat!” from a fellow student is not going to cut it. A good percentage in a quiz or final is (MOOClers are after self-improvement and new challenges) or positive feedback from a TA (which are the people who usually run the show and who are considered “better-qualified”.)

Let’s just cut the social crap and accept that 20.000 people will not ever be friends. We are here to study, if we want to make buddies, we go to the pub (since we are overwhelmingly legal adults.)

So how to improve MOOCs? Here’s a handy list:

1. Focus on improving the experience.

Static courses are hard to watch. Few courses are filmed in-class (exceptions exist, e.g. the best MOOC on the market: Justice, HarvardX), the vast majority is of lecturers either sitting somewhere or standing somewhere, stoically reading from a script.

There are better ways. I already mentioned the rare in-class session (in which it is important that the microphones are also picking up in-class student conversations or show the white/black board!.)

Especially useful for wordy disciplines, there’s the changing scenery approach. Few have employed this scheme, since it requires better equipment, but it is highly engaging! Most well done award here goes clearly to the University of Copenhagen’s Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity on coursera.

Better suited for scientific and technological courses are the use of art, animation or games. The advantages lie in a clearer delivery of concepts and keeping people from tuning out from math-y content. Excellent examples here are:
Art Astronomy: Discovering the Universe from Curtin University on open2study (Open University Australia)
Animation The Science of the Solar System by Caltech on coursera
Games Epidemics – the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases from PennState on coursera.

2. Be sure that your tech equipment, skills and personnel is up to par.

I took a few courses in which the sound was off (too silent, too loud, too inconsistent), the video quality was inadequate, the results of quizzes & co did not show up, comments magically disappeared or tech support deleted entire diary entries.

 3. Allow your TAs to kick out students.

Yes, MOOCs are “open” but while everyone gets a cookie at the start, the jar must be emptied if a participant simply doesn’t follow the rules. If a course involves peer-assessment or graded forum posts (it shouldn’t really), and a student does not comply to the language requirement or is aggressive to other student or admits publicly to cheating or is obviously plagiarizing, the student should get the boot.

 4. Always offer a free certificate, no matter what.

Simply put: if you don’t, you aren’t an MOOC anymore.
Monetization of MOOCs is not a crime, omitting the first “O” however, is simply unethical.

What school didn’t teach me.

I just heard a great poem concerning what the poet didn’t learn in school.

This got me thinking, what didn’t I learn? Let’s see.
In the land of “thinkers and poets” – I learned nothing about philosophers (German or otherwise).

One of my high schools was named after indispensable biologist Ernst Haeckel – I never learned anything about him in class.

I did not learn about the moon landing. Or any space exploration or astronomy for that matter.

My sex ed class did not include even a hint of a description of female orgasms, LGBT-anything or rape.

I did not learn about the Herero and Namaqua genocide in German South-West Africa (today: Namibia). In fact, I didn’t learn anything about the German colonial empire.

I got a rudimentary education on the history of the US (Columbus, white people and natives are not friends, “get freshly imported slaves here!”, separate fountains, free market), the UK ( Magna Carta Libertatum! A king! A Queen! Exploration! Child labour! (England, really, no mention of the Irish Famine etc.)), France (French Revolution, Napoleon) and (curiously?!) Australia (James Cook, white people and natives are not friends).

— What I didn’t learn about is Asia and Africa. I learned today, age 29, that the very first Emperor of China was Qin Shi Huang, the guy build the Great Wall and united the Chinese writing system, kinda worth a mention, no? What is going ON in India?! Why didn’t I learn about the Apartheid?

I did not learn about dinosaurs.

While I can tell you a shocking amount about rose windows in Gothic architecture, I’d be stumped if I had to explain how bridges or airplanes work.

A badminton net has to have a height (on the sides) of 1.55 m [I DID have to learn that in school!] – but how do I prevent myself from dying of a heart attack or stroke?

… I think I could go on. How comprehensive should education be? What do other people learn? Do Spanish people learn about the Spanish Inquisition? Do the Japanese learn about Nanking? What do Israeli children learn? Are we all scientifically illiterate because we don’t care or simply lacking introduction to science?

My problem with consequential moral reasoning in two sentences.


We can only make assumptions about the consequences¹ of an act, we can’t confidently predict them.

Thus, to agree with a consequentialist answer is to make assumptions about an act without knowledge of the actual consequences, so consequential moral reasoning is
not possible.

¹DefinitionConsequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind. ©

Types of Farms

Here is a list of farms. There is a debate and no clear demarcation of the smaller farm types, thus this list contains definitions I find plausible personally only.

Intensive Farming (IF) – the commercial farming operations that make the vast majority of our food, mono-culture

Organic/Bio Farming (OF) – same as IF but with environmental considerations and almost exclusively mixed farming

Homesteading (H) – people living ‘off the grid’, personal production of everything plant-to-animal, usually additional income generated from produce-sales

Hobby Farming (HF) – farming produces some plant-to-animal produce but isn’t exhaustive, may or may not generate some income from farm

Lifestyle Farming (LF) – farming done purely as a recreational and aesthetic pursuit, no income generated from farm produce

Annual Rainfall in Berlin and Adelaide – and their related Agricultural Use.

I decided to try answering the questions: “What is the annual rainfall in your location?” and “Do the types of farms in your area match the rainfall?”

Chosen were two cities: Berlin, Germany (my hometown) and Adelaide, Australia (my future hometown).


Neither Adelaide City nor Berlin have much farming of their own but the state that surrounds them (Berlin is its own state but is encircled by Brandenburg and agriculturally co-operates with it) have the following data:

Adelaide shows huge variations in rainfall throughout the year. February is the driest month, June the wettest. 54% of South Australia is covered in farmland of which the main commodity is sheep (11 million).

Fine wool and hair sheep perform well in areas scarce in nutritional grass and thus fit quite nicely to the area.

Berlin has a more consistent amount of rain. The driest and wettest months are the same as Adelaide’s but the differences are much less severe. Brandenburg, its surrounding state, is mostly composed of farms growing winter wheat.

Like all types of wheat, winter wheat is a cereal that needs consistent rain. Again, the agricultural use fits nicely to the area.

(all information comes from statistical agencies in both countries)

Astronomy & its Siblings – a MOOC Guide to the Universe

I’ve been taking a lot of Massive Open Online Courses since their installation and lately one of my very favourite fields has seriously taken off: here is a list of current and upcoming MOOC’s in astronomy and its related fields:

Relativity and Astrophysics [edX]

Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe [edX]

Exoplanets [edX]

Galaxies and Cosmology [coursera]

粒子世界探秘 Exploring Particle World [coursera] – this course is taught in Chinese

Analyzing the Universe [coursera]

Imagining Other Earths  [coursera]

Confronting The Big Questions: Highlights of Modern Astronomy [coursera]

The Diversity of Exoplanets [coursera]

AstroTech: The Science and Technology behind Astronomical Discovery [coursera]

Philosophy and the Sciences [coursera]

Introduction to Astronomy [coursera]

Origins – Formation of the Universe, Solar System, Earth and Life [coursera]

Emergence of Life [coursera]

From the Big Bang to Dark Energy [coursera]

Astronomy: Discovering the Universe [open2study]

Planetary Science &  Astrophysics [MIT OpenCourseWare]

Physics 20B: Cosmology [UCIrvine OpenCourseWare]

A very brief reflection on the definition of philosophical subfields.

Mathematical Philosophy = using math to solve philosophy issues.

Philosophy of Mathematics = using philosophy to analysis mathematics.

If a philosophical field is called “Philosophy of …“, it will be concerning the nature of that field. For example, the Philosophy of Science deals with the nature of science:

Is the scientific method the best and most justified tool to do science? What makes a scientific theory valid? What phases does a theory go through from the point of conception by the scientist until its declaration as science? What is pseudo-science?

If a philosopher would employ science to solve a philosophical problem however, he would be doing Scientific Philosophy.

Gravitational Lensing – background check

My astrobiology course is currently talking about methods to detect exoplanets. My new favourite thing to think about is gravitational lensing – the  concept that stars will distort light coming from stars or galaxies behind it. It’s the whole space time curvature story Einstein has eloquently described in his theory on general relativity.


Because I like to get background information on ideas, I quickly researched and dug up this really interesting paper:

It essentially tells the story of Rudi Mandl, an amateur scientist with a great idea who, in 1936, was lucky enough to be directed to Einstein. Mandl wondered:

“If there’s a star, and there’s a star behind it, aligned with the Earth, doesn’t it bend light just as an optical lens?”

Einstein dismissed the idea. Mandl however was not easily defeated, he reworked his idea (one of which Einstein corrected when he dismissed him earlier) and appealed to the one thing no self-respecting scientist can resist: the fight against pseudo-science.

Why this man is so interesting, is that his speculations went far beyond hypotheses of how to astrophysically prove general relativity. He had ideas about his lensing hypothesis affecting the forming of life on Earth (by influencing early mutations). Einstein called Mandl’s ideas “fantastic” and he meant it in the original sense.

Mandl never quite got the recognition he deserved. He was a Jew (this was 1936, Germany everyone) and he was a nobody. Like today, if you aren’t someone in the scientific community, you are unlikely to be ever taken seriously.

Still, Mandl was better off than some, because Einstein did eventually and reluctantly, publish the astrophyiscal ideas in Science, stressing to its publisher how he was pestered so much by Mandl, that he just caved in and that he was sure it was of little value and he wants to barely be associated with it.

The rest is history.

Contemplating Inspiration

Who or what inspires? What is inspiration anyway? Is it finding a role model? Is it sudden creative realisation? Is it someone or something that words or does things better than one?

I came up with three concepts that inspire me:

1. Feminism – In a political sense, feminism must be based in the theory of justice (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1971 & Justice as Fairness, 2001), thus must be entitled to equal rights and equal standing. In a moral sense, feminism must strive to eradicate all forms of oppression, since if one form of oppression persists, the eradication of another will not be fully possible. With this, it is one of the most universal and fundamental theories and quite inspiring indeed.

2. Humanism/Existentialism/Atheism  “Every man is the architect of his own fortune”. All three concepts presented have the underlying assumption that humans are able and meant to decide about their own lives as they see fit. Humanism is concerned with what makes a human human and tends to use the methodology of treating humans with dignity and tolerance. Existentialism is the idea that between reason and morality lies another entity and only if this entity is explored can an actual picture of what a human is be drawn. Essentially, what I do on my own and not what I do because one does it, is existentialist.
Atheism is the denial of the existence of a deity. Faith or belief predetermines what is right and wrong, before a person can evaluate  a scenario by himself. Since this disables a person to think independently, theism has to be denied and atheism pursued.

3. Wishful-absolute pacifism – Pacifism is the decision to oppose violence and war. Absolute pacifism is the confirmation that no violence of any kind, even when faced with self-sacrifice, is permissible. Absolutism is a null hypothesis and thus difficult, if not impossible to obtain; if I step on a bug by accident, I am violent. If I kill to eat, I am violent. If I self-defend against crime, I am violent. Thus, a wishful-absolute pacifist is a person who tries to be absolute only in the realm of his ability. In reality, that would be described as a contingent pacifist, a pacifist only on some [most] conditions but with unavoidable exceptions. The ideal however, is the inspiring concept.