Networking Remote Relationships

Start­ing a busi­ness in the Coro­na year is brave, I was told. Dar­ing even, or sim­ply unwise, they said. Ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, I want to reflect on this and, in doing so, tell you about my start­up ven­ture, the foun­da­tion of which has not yet been ful­ly com­plet­ed, but the pre­req­ui­sites for which were cre­at­ed in 2020.

At the end of 2019, I had con­tact­ed an inter­est­ed and sym­pa­thet­ic pro­fes­sor of auto­mo­tive engi­neer­ing at the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Cologne. That was still before Coro­na, i.e. cor­re­spond­ing reports from a dis­tant Chi­nese province were not yet tak­en seri­ous­ly by politi­cians at that time. Basi­cal­ly, pro­fes­sors are busy and most in demand peo­ple, so I called myself lucky.

In Feb­ru­ary, it was still pos­si­ble to meet in per­son in Cologne, to shake hands, to sit oppo­site each oth­er in an unbi­ased man­ner in a meet­ing room and to exam­ine, com­pre­hend and vis­it the exhibits, show­cas­es and the exper­i­men­tal field of the institute.

The joint appoint­ment dur­ing one of the first lec­tures of the semes­ter was first planned, then ques­tioned and final­ly can­celled. At that time, peo­ple were still think­ing of a rapid­ly pass­ing wave of infec­tion, as they were inex­pe­ri­enced with pan­demics. As a sub­sti­tute for a lec­ture pre­sen­ta­tion, I became famil­iar with the meth­ods of cre­at­ing an anno­ta­tion or sound­track of a pre­sen­ta­tion slide set, i.e. of mak­ing a kind of lec­ture movie. While famil­iar­iz­ing myself with the pre­sen­ta­tion pro­gram of the mar­ket leader, I learned that there are dif­fer­ent soft­ware licens­es and that the stan­dard ver­sion has a dif­fer­ent range of func­tion­al­i­ty than the pre­mi­um ver­sion, with­out this being appar­ent or doc­u­ment­ed any­where. Also the instal­la­tions are dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the oper­at­ing sys­tem, where­by con­fu­sion and arbi­trari­ness of the menus and sub­menus are sim­i­lar­ly annoy­ing in each case. Wel­come to the famous pro­ce­dure of “tri­al and error” — as if you wouldn’t know how to spend your time.

In the first lec­ture, the pro­fes­sor relat­ed about our joint project to devel­op the motor scoot­er of the future and dis­trib­uted the address to the YouTube video. Some stu­dents were gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in my patent and had the time to look into it, which is not always pos­si­ble for every­one in work­ing life.

Any­way, a group of stu­dents around Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bet­zler met or rather did not meet, but we arranged to have a video con­fer­ence. Video con­fer­ences are of course not new tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions. They had been around for years, were avail­able, but were used rather reluc­tant­ly. Too many tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties were asso­ci­at­ed with them. In the spring of 2020, they were with­out alter­na­tive, to use a com­mon expres­sion from pol­i­tics. Now they had to be embraced, as most work­ers, school­child­ren, stu­dents and oth­ers were uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly sent home and to work from domes­tic premis­es. Now the broad­band capa­bil­i­ties of the Inter­net provider and wire­less net­work had to be test­ed and ver­i­fied. A vari­ety of pro­grams for video con­fer­enc­ing, such as Skype, Webex, Zoom, GotoMeet­ing, Microsoft Teams and oth­ers, had to be installed and test­ed on var­i­ous occasions.

Via video image we sud­den­ly and abrupt­ly get an inti­mate excerpt from the liv­ing world of the oth­er per­son. We see nar­row attic rooms with slop­ing ceil­ings and dorm­ers and sky­lights, dim­ly lit rooms with low ceil­ings in the base­ment and liv­ing room cup­boards from the era of pine fur­ni­ture, as well as yel­lowed oil paint­ings from the Wil­helmin­ian era. We also see amus­ing relics from the child­hood and youth of the now bare­ly matured stu­dents, for exam­ple the Lego ver­sion of the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con of Han Solo, alias Har­ri­son Ford, or impos­ing license plates from America’s “Gold­en State.”

For my part, I had to get used to this sit­u­a­tion, not only because of the dis­tract­ing cir­cum­stances, but because it does­n’t con­form to the occa­sion of the inter­ac­tion, which is sup­posed to be of a busi­ness and sober nature after all. One feels a bit like a voyeur, regard­less of the fact that the video part­ner has a cer­tain amount of con­trol over what nar­row insight into his pri­vate life he is will­ing to give. Right from the start, Prof. Bet­zler took advan­tage of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fade in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive inte­ri­or shot with a kind of “blue screen” video in his back­ground. I would almost have believed that one of those leg­endary Ford GTs was actu­al­ly stand­ing on the test stand in the chas­sis tech­nol­o­gy lab­o­ra­to­ry of the Insti­tute of Auto­mo­tive Engi­neer­ing, which is looked at from his office, if occa­sion­al arti­facts such as float­ing head­phones had not revealed the dig­i­tal illusion.

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