Brother, Can You Spare A Florin?

January 18, 2002

While most of us were celebrating the changeover from 2001 to 2002, a few people in ten different European countries were chewing their fingernails in preparation for the biggest currency exchange to take place since people gave up bartering. The Euro coins and bills first went into circulation in all the European countries except Sweden, Norway, and Britain.

People could pay for something with the old national money and get Euros in exchange – and either carry a laptop with currency exchange rates or just assume they weren’t getting screwed. In places like Italy, where a soft drink used to cost 3000 lire, people were excited about being able for the first time in years to carry spare change in their pockets rather than in a wheelbarrow. In France, people liked the new money until they realized that it meant that, technically, German coins would be legitimate currency in Paris for the first time since 1944.

I have no idea why Sweden and Norway don’t like the Euro, but in Britain a few people still remember the change to a decimal currency system. (The best breakdown of the old British currency I’ve ever found is in Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s book "Good Omens". Here it is: "Two Farthings=One Ha’penny. Two Ha’pennies=One Penny. Three Pennies=A Thrupenny bit. Two Thrupences=A Sixpence. Two Sixpences=One Shilling, Or Bob. Two Bob=A Florin. One Florin and One Sixpence=Half A Crown. Four Half Crowns=Ten Bob Note. Two Ten Bob Notes=One Pound, or 240 Pence. The British resisted decimalized currency for a long time because they though it was too complicated.")

As an amateur numismatist who likes foreign coins, I have mixed feelings about the Euro. On the one hand, each country has its own designs for the Euromoney which means lots of new coins to collect. On the other hand "Eurodollar" sounds too much like what you’d pay to get into a bad American theme park clone. And while the new money may be more convenient, allowing tourists to get ripped off in one currency rather than several, I think travellers are going to miss the exotic flavor of calling their money francs, pesetas, lire, groschen, guilders, escudos, and…Bob.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


50 Fun Things for Professors to Do on the First Day of Class

(Something for those of you who are still in school to wish for, and something to make the rest of us glad we’re not still in school.–CW)

1.Wear a hood with one eyehole. Periodically make strange gurgling noises. 

2.After confirming everyone’s names on the roll, thank the class for attending "Advanced Astrodynamics 690" and mention that yesterday was the last day to drop.

3.After turning on the overhead projector, clutch your chest and scream "MY PACEMAKER!"

4.Wear a pointed Kaiser helmet and a monocle and carry a riding crop.

5.Gradually speak softer and softer and then suddenly point to a student and scream "YOU! WHAT DID I JUST SAY?"

6.Deliver your lecture through a hand puppet. If a student asks you a question directly, say in a high-pitched voice, "The Professor can’t hear you, you’ll have to ask *me*, Winky Willy".

7.If someone asks a question, walk silently over to their seat, hand them your piece of chalk, and ask, "Would YOU like to give the lecture, Mr.Smartypants?"

8.Pick out random students, ask them questions, and time their responses with a stop watch. Record their times in your grade book while muttering "tsk, tsk".

9.Ask students to call you "Tinkerbell" or "Surfin’ Bird".

10.Stop in mid-lecture, frown for a moment, and then ask the class whether your butt looks fat.

11.Play "Kumbaya" on the banjo.

12.Show a video on medieval torture implements to your calculus class. Giggle throughout it. (Especially effective if you’re an Economics professor.)

13.Announce "you’ll need this", and write the suicide prevention hotline number on the board.

14.Wear mirrored sunglasses and speak only in Turkish. Ignore all questions.

15.Start the lecture by dancing and lip-syncing to James Brown’s "Sex Machine."

16.Ask occassional questions, but mutter "as if you gibbering simps would know" and move on before anyone can answer.

17.Ask the class to read Jenkins through Johnson of the local phone book by the next lecture. Vaguely imply that there will be a quiz.

18.Have one of your graduate students sprinkle flower petals ahead of you as you pace back and forth.

19.Address students as "worm".

20.Announce to students that their entire grades will be based on a single-question oral final exam. Imply that this could happen at any moment.

21.Turn off the lights, play a tape of crickets chirping, and begin singing spirituals.

22.Ask for a volunteer for a demonstration. Ask them to fill out a waiver as you put on a lead apron and light a blowtorch.

23.Point the overhead projector at the class. Demand each student’s name, rank, and serial number.

24.Begin class by smashing the neck off a bottle of vodka, and announce that the lecture’s over when the bottle’s done. (I actually had a professor who did this. Needless to say, 20th Century Russian Literature was a class I always looked forward to.–CW)

25.Have a band waiting in the corner of the room. When anyone asks a question, have the band start playing and sing an Elvis song.

26.Every so often, freeze in mid sentence and stare off into space for several minutes. After a long, awkward silence, resume your sentence and proceed normally.

27.Wear a "virtual reality" helmet and strange gloves. When someone asks a question, turn in their direction and make throttling motions with your hands.

28.Mention in passing that you’re wearing rubber underwear.

29.Growl constantly and address students as "matey".

30.Devote your math lecture to free verse about your favorite numbers and ask students to "sit back and groove".

31.Announce that last year’s students have almost finished their class projects.

32.Inform your English class that they need to know Fortran and code all their essays. Deliver a lecture on output format statements.

33.Bring a small dog to class. Tell the class he’s named "Boogers McGee" and is your "mascot". Whenever someone asks a question, walk over to the dog and ask it, "What’ll be, McGee?"

34.Wear a feather boa and ask students to call you "Snuggles".

35.Tell your math students that they must do all their work in a base 11 number system. Use a complicated symbol you’ve named after yourself in place of the number 10 and threaten to fail students who don’t use it.

36.Claim to be a chicken. Squat, cluck, and produce eggs at irregular intervals.

37.Bring a CPR dummy to class and announce that it will be the teaching assistant for the semester. Assign it an office and office hours. (Better yet, hire some guy who writes a weekly column that he distributes via the internet to pretend to be a CPR dummy.)

38.Have a grad student in a black beret pluck at a bass while you lecture.

39.Sprint from the room in a panic if you hear sirens outside.

40.Give an opening monologue. Take two minute "commercial breaks" very ten minutes.

41.Tell students that you’ll fail them if they cheat on exams or "fake the funk". 42.Announce that you need to deliver two lectures that day, and deliver them in rapid-fire auctioneer style.

43.Pass out dental floss to students and devote the lecture to oral hygiene.

44.Announce that the entire 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica will be required reading for your class. Assign a report on Volume 1, Aardvark through Armenia, for next class.

45.Ask students to list their favorite showtunes on a signup sheet. Criticize their choices and make notes in your grade book.

46.Sneeze on students in the front row and wipe your nose on your tie.

47.Warn students that they should bring a sack lunch to exams.

48.Refer frequently to students who died while taking your class.

49.Show up to lecture in a ventilated clean suit. Advise students to keep their distance for their own safety and mutter something about "that bug I picked up in the field".

50.Jog into class, rip the textbook in half, and scream, "Are you pumped? ARE YOU PUMPED? I CAN’T HEEEEEEAR YOU!"

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