The first sign of trouble

Had a wonderful day at the office with my Mac. It recognized all the printers, I downloaded stuff and installed stuff like the Parallels Windows (it really works!) and was just happy as could be. Came home and wanted to finish that little paper that is due today, but reserved a hotel first for my trip next week.

I went to print out the confirmation, and the thing would not print. It doesn't know the cheap Aldi / Lexmark X6170 taking up space in my home office. Nada. And no one on the net has any idea, although there are people asking. It is just being stupid.

Well, I'll just finish up the paper, dash upstair to my secondary printer and use that.

Except I started the paper with OpenOffice. Oh well, just another 150 MB or so to download (I already have half the disk full with stuff by now!). Get that done, try and start: no X11. Okay, an old friend, but were is it? Takes forever to discover that it is hiding on my DVD. Got that installed, let's get to the paper. Except I am very tired by now. Oh well, I don't think I can attend the conference time-wise anyway. Bedtime. Let's print out what we have - oops, Linux does not see the printers installed for the Mac. It seems there is a bit more work to do here before this ends up being my work machine....

Sunflower is here!

I did it. I jumped the fence. I'm a turncoat. My new laptop is a Mac, a MacBook Pro, to be specific. I'm planning on ordering Parallels in order to run a few Windows-only programs, but other than that, I can work just fine with a Mac.

Okay, getting used to closing a window on the wrong side is difficult. And finding the @ and the ~on the keyboard is hard on my otherwise 10-finger typing. I also put a real mouse on the USB, one with two keys and a scroll wheel. Mac OS X works just fine with it, and it makes me feel more like home.

The installation started out real smooth, till we hit configuring the WLAN. Paranoid as I am I have both MAC addresses and WEP 128-bit enabled. That won't keep a determined hacker out, but a war driver can't be bothered.

Except I didn't have the MAC address and the Mac wouldn't tell me what it was. So I ran upstairs, disabled the MAC addressing, ran back down, still wouldn't work. It kept saying the WEP password was wrong, so I figured it was expecting a 64-bit code. Darn. Finally it seemed to sense my exasperation and asked me if I just wanted to skip this. YES! After finishing up I dug around in the WLAN configurations stuff, read (gasp!) help files, and indeed, I found the secret, hidden button for selecting 128-bit encryption. And I found the MAC address.

So whizz-bang, and we were in business, Safari worked!

Then I downloaded the essentials: Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird, in that order. Skype was trivial, what a shame the Mac beta doesn't do video, 'cause this box has a nice little camera built in. Then Firefox - no problem. Thunderbird needed some sweettalking, but it eventually behaved - I didn't realize that when I close all the windows that TB is still alive somewhere. I have to slap it down by quitting the main menu. After that, everything worked, and I had all my old unread letters, 650 new unread letters ('cause the webmail interface transferred the letters but not the information on which ones I have read and which ones I have answered) and my address book. I called it a night.

Today I was proctoring an exam and playing around. I managed to send my addressbook information via bluetooth, with a bit of trouble. A few friend's entries were just refused, and then all of the ones coming after them. If I moved the offenders off to another category, at least I could import the rest, I had to put in three by hand.

Then I started playing with "Comic Life". What a wonderful creative tool - I'm sold, hook, line and sinker, on a Mac.

Oops, battery is about to die, oh well. It's after midnight, anyway :)


Life goes on

It is amazing, the amount of work that needs done when someone dies. It is also amazing that it is possible to get it all done despite being sad. There is an enormous industry out there, ready to help, and it is indeed a help to have someone else sort out and organize all of the bits and pieces.

And still there is so much to decide. You always have this nagging feeling you are doing something wrong or are forgetting something very important. But taking care of some of the tasks are actually very helpful in coming to terms with the death. Speaking with the pastor for over an hour about the life and times of the deceased helps remember the good times and not these past few years of pain.

The day of the funeral was overcast and rainy - perfect weather, if you will. We got to the church a bit too early - luckily, as we got one of the last parking places. The church was packed! We stayed in the car until just before the begin so that we could be ushered in last. There was the casket we had picked out, you imagined father-in-law's body in there wearing the clothes we sent for him. I put down a basket of apples I had picked in his garden that morning. There were so many floral arrangements - in a way a shame to have had people spend so much money for flowers for just an hour, but they looked very good indeed.

The grandsons looked so grown up in their suits as they stood amongst us. My son decided at 9am (the funeral was at 11) that he would prefer to have a suit and not jeans for the funeral. We dashed to the clothing store the next village over - and wouldn't you know his luck, they had one suit in 46, a bit too big for him, but it looked very smart just the same.

We took our seats and the pastor commenced the ceremonies. There was organ music, a singer, we sang 2 songs, there was a long eulogy (very well done and just a few minor details wrong) and a prayer before the blessing. The hard part was saying goodbye, standing before the casket. We finally followed the preacher down the aisle, and then everyone streamed out to offer their condolences. It took a very long time because there were so many people, and it was really good to see all of these people taking the time to come. He was really a good friend, relative, neighbor, and had touched many lives.

They had us go down to the plot so that they could remove the casket, the pallbearers wearing two-cornered felt hats. They had laid out the flowers in the rain at the grave site, so that we could have another look. We lingered, not wanting to leave, but our guests were waiting in the village pub where we invited any who wanted to come to have sandwiches and cake and coffee with us.

More than 70 people came, luckily the owner of the pub had no problems getting more sandwiches made at the drop of a hat. After eating everyone got a schnapps (we even let the grandsons have a "Baileys", which is very sweet, even though they are not of drinking age). My mother-in-law managed to propose a short toast, and we all drank to the memory of my father-in-law.

Soon after the guests began to leave. Soon just the closest family were left. We didn't really want to go back to the house where my father-in-law had died, but the servers had cleaned up everything but where we were sitting, so we picked up the leftovers and trudged up the road in the rain.

But somehow, now that the funeral was over, we found that we really could carry on. We sat at the table planning the internment of the urn and reading all of the letters people wrote. If you hear of some one dying, please, by all means, send the bereaved a letter. It was such a comfort to read all these cards, some with really great messages, some just signed. My mother-in-law has read and reread them many times already.

Life goes on - back in Berlin we discover we forgot to cancel all sorts of planned activities, oh well, this is survivable too. Back to work!


Requiescat in pace

My father-in-law passed away peacefully this afternoon.

The nurse wasn't able to dress him this morning, he just stayed in bed. Couldn't eat, couldn't drink, couldn't take his medicine. He died holding my mother-in-law's hands.

Even though we knew he was dying, even though he is now free of his pain, it is still unbelievably sad to have him pass on. Not only because we become aware of now becoming the "oldest generation", but because we will miss him, terribly.

One couldn't ask for a better father-in-law. He welcomed me openly and honestly the very first time I came to visit as the new girlfriend. He would do anything for you, and was always interested in what I was doing. He was proud of all that I accomplished. I managed to get a copy of the German magazine "Focus" last Sunday for him. He couldn't really read it, but I read it to him. It was actually just a crappy advertisment-masquarading-as-article for some software with a quote from me that was not exactly what I said (it never is) and didn't really fit. But they published a nice, three-year-old picture of me with students, and he liked that.

He meant a lot to me, and I loved his presents of things from his garden. He liked to work in the garden, puttering around and doing stuff. In the summer and fall I always left with bags of apples and potatoes, berries and tomatoes, whatever was just ripe in the garden.

He was a worry-wort, always concerned about things that might go wrong. He worked as a tool-and-die maker, worked hard all his life. He was very creative, was often making things at work in the shop, little tools that were very effective for particular jobs. He probably should have applied for patents on much of this stuff, but he didn't feel they were very high-tech. Just something to get the job done. Nothing to write home about, he felt.

He spoke Low German with his wife and siblings, but was always particular to be speaking High German with us. He would sometimes translate something my mother-in-law was saying, as she usually spoke with a lot of Low German words. In a way that was a shame - I would have liked to learn to speak Low German, although I can understand a good bit of it by now.

He loved sports, any kind of sports. I think the World Cup in soccer and the European Championships in track and field kept him going. He could at least still listen to the results on the TV. He used to turn the radio off if they were giving soccer results before the Sportschau, as that would ruin his excitement when watching it. He liked St. Pauli and VfB Lübeck soccer teams. The two played together in Lübeck the week before he died, with VfB Lübeck winning. His sister went to the game and called to tell him about it.

We'll miss you, Opa. I hope you get a good seat in heaven with lots of good soccer to watch.


Confusing Movies with Reality

Just found a wonderful article about the question if it is feasable to use stable, liquid precursors to produce a bomb inside an aircraft. Read this to get an idea of how DIFFICULT it would be, and then tell me why the British have gone so crazy on this.

The answer: they are confusing movies (where stuff like this happens, heck, pretty much anything can be done on celluoid/digital any more) with real life.

And how can we really be sure that this is not just the Pakistani government getting rid of a bunch of uncomfortable critics? Just call them terrorists, and bang, they get put in prison for a while (years?) until someone figures out what the threat actually was.



She's going crazy, waiting for him to pass.

The high points of the day are when the nurse comes in the morning and in the evening. In between she tries to get him to eat, to drink, to take his medicine. She can't leave him for long, because he gets upset, wonders where she is.

So she turns on the TV for company. Just whatever happens to be on. I am shocked at the garbage that is being sent over the airwaves. No wonder people have a false sense of reality if this is their reality, their friends. "Real courtroom" soap operas; "Let us renovate your room"; "Tell your darkest secrets on camera". I was happy when we could watch sports, except the German sportscasters seem to have sawdust for brains and mix up the nationalities of the players, mispronounce their names, misname them, say completely wrong things.

I took her to visit a relative while my husband kept his father company. It is amazing how similar the living rooms are furnished. Big TV; 1-2-3 sofa elements; coffee table; multiple, non-matching carpets; a Schrankwand, a German monstrosity to be found in most living rooms with doors and drawers for hiding stuff and glass vitrines for displaying never-to-be-used knick-knacks. The relative has 6 books on display (a cookbook, a crossword puzzle dictionary, the Bible, and three children's books), my in-laws have an entire bookcase.

We drink coffee, gossip. At least things happen to others that can be talked about (pregnant again, X not speaking to Y, got thrown out of school, going to college, out of work, in the hospital - having a big family does have its advantages).

She looks at her watch, is startled and insists on leaving right away. Must get back - to what? To the mindless waiting, wondering how life will go on after he is gone.

He doesn't want company, doesn't want people to see him in this state. A former student who died of cancer celebrated her waiting by inviting one person a day to come and say goodbye to her. I was very priviledged to be on her list. The hardest part was leaving - what do you say? "Auf Wiedersehen" means "until we meet again", which won't happen in this life. "See you" is kind of crude, as we won't be together again until the funeral.

My student let me say a benediction - somehow the church rituals are really useful in times like these. I gave my father-in-law a hug and admonished him to keep drinking. My mother-in-law burst into tears at all of the things left unsaid.

For him, a silent benediction: "May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)


Dying of cancer

The clock ticks. Time moves slowly. Nothing happens, he waits. Waits for the end to come.

It has been coming for five or six years. Then he only had one cancer. He had medicine, had to go to the hospital every now and then, but he could still live normally. Drive. Visit his grandchildren.

At Christmas he sat down in a comfortable chair and couldn't get up. A slipped disc caused too much pain. No problem, said the doctors, we'll just fuse it to a neighboring disc. Except the neighboring discs were like sponges. Eaten away by cancer.

His emaciated body is now racked with pain. He gets morpium, to ease the pain, but that causes him to hallucinate. The dose is now three times what it was to start with, and he still hurts.

He gets up to eat at the coffee table, a hospital bed has replaced the dining room table. But he doesn't eat, doesn't drink. He gets weaker every day. He listens to TV, but it doesn't really make sense. Maybe it doesn't anyway. He can't read anything except the large headlines in the tabloid newspaper. He waits for the nurse to come, once in the morning, once in the evening.

The phone rings, his sister calls. No, he's not dead yet. He's waiting. The clock ticks. Time moves slowly.


Gutter patrol

After a wonderful day in Lund enjoying the last sunny day of summer, it rained today. Really rained. It rained all night, and stopped a bit this morning, just enough to have breakfast on the terrace (wearing a sweater).

In the afternoon a thunderstorm came across, dumping buckets of water on us. And the gutters, which had just been

cleaned out of all the crap, overflowed, crashing all that water on the terrace. The gutters needed to be cleaned again, and pronto.

So I got my bathing suit on and went out to get the ladder. At a clap of thunder I reconsidered the sanity of climbing a metal ladder during an electrical storm. So I stood under the overhang, a curtain of a waterfall gushing in front of me, and waited until the storm drew on.

Lucky I learned as a kid to figure out how far away a storm is: Lightning - 1001 - 1002 - 1003 - .... - Thunderclap. Counting the seconds between lightening and thunder gives you the distance away in miles, as sound travels slower than light.

The storm was a good 5 miles out but it was still raining buckets when I ventured out, getting wet to the bone within seconds. And sure thing, the gutter drains were all filled with leaves and birch tree seed, horrible stuff. I swear birch trees produce a million of these things every hour or so during the summer. You can't eat outside without getting them on your food.

Since I was wet anyway I cleaned out the other gutters while I was at it. It sure felt good to come back in and dry off in front of the fireplace. Yes, a fire in August, what do you expect when the weather is miserable like this?


Buying Stamps in Sweden

The Swedish post office has gone through quite a change these past few years. First they dropped Saturday deliveries, so you only get mail Mo-Fr. Then they closed all the post offices. If you get a package or need a stamp you do down to your friendly Konsum and take care of it there. Or rather, you wait in line for someone to figure out what to do.

We hit Konsum at rush hour, just before the bus back to the old folks home was to leave. Long lines everywhere, and no one manning the post office line. Finally a young girl shows up, looking maybe 15. She takes the notice from the guy in front of us in line, looks at it, looks around, finds nothing, calls for help. A guy shows up, makes a big show of knowing what he is doing, looks around, doesn't find it. An older woman comes, shows them where the packages are, explains what to do, and leaves. The two try and figure out how to print a reciept. Another woman shows up, shows them how to do this. Then they have to take money, have no change, have to get change from the next cashier, and finally, they give the guy his change and his package, and it's our turn.

In Germany a letter to Sweden is local mail, but Sweden still resists the EU and insists that Germany is a foreign country. Local mail goes for 5,50 SEK (no, they don't have the Euro, they insist on using their lovely krona) and foreign for 10 SEK. I think this is a conspiricy to take money from tourists. I have 2 letters and want 12 stamps in 3 blocks of 4 with special stamps. This is not understood, so we do the letters first. Then I ask for blocks of stamps. She looks at all of the blocks, the young guy looks at all of the blocks, the second lady comes back and looks at all of the blocks, and finally finds one - with angels on it. Oh well, I could use some angelic hope, so I request 3 blocks.

The girl wants to give me some special stamps with PRIORITARE on it (this means: take 10 days to deliver to foreign country by sending first to Stockholm by way of Kiruna, then to Copenhagen, from there to Frankfurt/Main and then to Berlin, possibly by carrier pigeon). I tell her that this is not necessary. She insists, you need these on foreign letters. I reach over the counter, grab one of the blocks not yet paid for and open it up - yup, just as always, there are stickers for this already in the blocks..... She finally figures out what I owe, gives me my change and the stamps, and the next person in a now very long line is up for a shot.

We will soon be having this in Germany, I'm afraid, what with saving money and 1-Euro-jobs. Sigh. Time for a private postal service - oh wait, we already have that in Germany!


The Swarm of Yellow Jackets

I decided to go swimming in the lake and being a good ecological citizen and trying to get a bit more exercise than I normally do, I took the bike down. It is not far, but there are hills.... going down is fun, but riding up the hills is hard work.

The lake was too warm and too full of algae, so I decided just to sunbathe and read. A family with a bunch of kids came to swim, and then another family with 3 kids, all decked out in fishing gear. They headed out through the woods to the fishing bridge single file, first Papa, then the three children with Mama heading up the rear. They looked like the duck family that was crossing the street in Malmö yesterday.

I returned to my book. Just a few minutes later the family came running and screaming out of the woods, helter-skelter, with the mom swinging her towel and hitting at the kids. I looked up rather puzzledly, and the father hollered "Getingar!", yellow jackets. Now I saw it too, every member of the family had yellow jackets swarming around them, and they had been bitten many places. The mother was trying to scare off or kill all she could.

I dug into my backpack for my Fenestil, there are lots of yellow jackets around and I am allergic, so I always carry some with me. I offered it to them. The father wavered for an instant, then gratefully took the tube. They needed half the tube, as all of the family had been bitten more than 10 times each, some were already swelling up. Luckily, no one had gotten bitten in the mouth or neck.

The father explained - the got out to the bridge and there was a (something), he was speaking Skaanska, a dialect with lots of strange terms for things. The youngest kid had kicked it while the others were settling in to fish. Turned out there was a big yellow jacket nest underneath, and they were not amused, so they attacked the family.

They hovered around for a while, undecided what to do. There were still yellow jackets all over, and they were now investigating me. They decided to leave and I did too - since they left their little yellow friends for me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on my lawn - no water, but fewer yellow jackets 'cause I built a nasty yellow jacket trap out of a used honey-jar with a thin neck, at least a dozen have drowned since this morning.