The last walk

We buried my father-in-law's ashes today.

It was a short ceremony - too short, in my eyes, not much more than a Bible verse in the nave of the church, a prayer and the Lord's Prayer at the grave.

It was rather a shock to enter the nave - the steel urn was on a table with no flowers, very different from the funeral we had a month ago. The flowers we had ordered were not delivered. My mother-in-law was sad, my sister-in-law furious, as she had called a few days ago to remind them of the date.

After the Bible verse the - what do you call him, urn carrier? Pall bearer seems not fitting - with his funny hat stood in front of the urn in a posture of prayer. I wondered if he does, indeed pray, or if he just waits to give the impression of prayer. He then picked up the urn, and we all sort of fell in behind him for that last walk together, in no particular order other than my mother-in-law behind the urn with the pastor.

At the grave they didn't even wait until everyone was there, apparently there was another funeral or something coming up soon. The urn carrier tugged at two little knobs on either side of the urn that released strings so that he could lower the urn into the grave.

The pastor gave his prayer and after the Lord's Prayer he spoke the "ashes-to-ashes" formula. In Germany then everyone lines up and throws three scoops of earth into the grave, as well as flowers. I cut some flowers from the garden this morning and took an apple branch from his beloved apple trees. They admonished us not to put anything non-organic into the the grave, but WiseMan palmed his union badge and a coin from his Euro collection and dropped it in quietly during his turn. I found that very fitting.

We were all standing there then, trying to settle ourselves, when we realized that the rest of the company had disappeared - the funeral director, the urn carrier, the pastor were all gone. We had questions, and no one was available.

So there was nothing else to do but drive home and have some great plumcake and almond cake baked by an aunt. After cake a bottle of homebrew quince liquor was brought out - I had to drive back to Berlin, so none for me.

When I went to collect my son I figured he would be climbing trees with his cousin (both in their suits). But no, both boys (the cousin will turn teenager next week) were sitting in the sun in chairs, talking! Looks like they are growing up.

The flower people hemmed and hawed (they just plain forgot to deliver the flowers) and drove the flowers out after the ceremony, lot of good that does us now. I stopped on the way back to Berlin to at least get a picture of it.


I'd rather starve

We decided about 6.45 pm to splurge and eat out tonight. There's a nice Schwabian restaurant down the street that is packed on a Friday night. So we quickly put on shoes and and got down there - and got the last table that was not reserved outside.

There were 6 chairs, we only used two and had some nice Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser. Many people came after us, cruised the joint, sighed, and went on to the next restaurant. No one asked if they could have joined us (and we would have said yes!).

But the moment we paid and got up to leave at least four people (two couples) were bearing down on the table - the first group "won".

Why are the Germans so shy about sharing tables? You might meet nice people that way!


Small is beautiful

Of course! Why didn't I think of that? It is completely obvious!

A friend pointed me to an oldish blog entry: "Using simple online tools to 'make' a repository". No need to use fat, bloated, difficult tools and complicated mark-up languages to store one's "Learning objects".

Just log into del.icio.us and set up some tags for what you do - tag links to your work including good comments: Instant Repository. I decided to just try out a few to see how it works - what a shock! Many people have already tagged my work, and even commented on it. Wow, that's a good feeling!

So I downloaded a tagging tool for del.icio.us so that I can quickly tag good stuff - my own and other's. All this work to get the Wikiversity started, and here there's been a simple solution just lying around. No more fighting over categories. Everyone just tags what they think the categories should be. Everyone wins.


Election time again

I thought I had been blogging for about a year now, but I see that it has been two - time flies when you are having fun!

I participated in my second election in Germany today (First election rant) as a precinct worker. I was especially looking forward to observing important details about the paper-based election, as I just read the blog entry by Avi Rubin about his harrowing experiences in Maryland this past week.

I have decided indeed that moving to anything electronic would just completely overwhelm many of the voters. So many have difficulty understanding that they have 4 sheets and need to make 4 crosses and then identify themselves and then drop in their votes, folded in the election booth so that we can't see it. There were so many things that could go wrong just with paper, when I start to imagine all the things that can go wrong electronically, I get the chills.

The big problem was the referendum about the referendum. The government had sent every voter a copy of a page explaining why the referendum change had been agreed on by all of the parties and included the old and new text on the back. Not that anyone reads anything the government sends you.... many waiting in line asked what the referendum was about - I noted that they were actually holding the description in their hands. Oh. Then people popped back out of the cabin to ask if crossing yes meant they were for or against making referendums easier.... Some just gave up, ripped up that page and pitched it. We had a lot of invalid ones on this question, and the choices were just yes / no / make the ballot invalid.

We had an amazing number of people who wanted to take their kids into the voting booth with them. We had let the first few do it, but the kids got curious and wandered behind the other booth, or tried to get at the toys (the polling place was in a public kindergarten) and then the parents had to go behind the other booth to drag their kids out. This is not real cool when you are trying to conduct a secret election.

So we voted that children that can move of their own locomotion cannot enter into the voting room, but can stand just outside and watch Mommy and/or Daddy. Amazingly, so many people got angry at this and hollered at us. Two couples - who purportedly wanted to demonstrate how to be a good democratic citizen to their kids - got so mad that they returned their ballots and left the polling place without voting. I wonder what exactly this lesson for their kids was supposed to be: How to have a temper tantrum in public as an adult? If I don't get to play by my rules I take my marbles and go home? Democracy is really important unless it makes me do something I don't want to?

Absolutely childish.

I was really impressed by the handicapped people who didn't go for voting by mail, but made the supreme effort to come down and vote in person. Hurrah for them!

We ended up counting all of the 4 elections umpteen times, we were always off by one. And no, I don't want a computer to do this for me and be off by 1000, just by chance. We made it. We survived.

Berlin has a neck to neck race for the Social Democrats to have the Leftist Party or the Greens as their partners. In Sweden the Social Democrats seem to have lost power completely (they have been head honchos for something like 48 of the past 50 years....). What scares the stuffing out of me is over 7% of the vote in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern went to the NPD. That is so scary. Wehret den Anfängen!


Expensive Water

I had already driven about 10 km on my way to the harbor for the trip back to Germany, when I realized I left my water bottle in the kitchen. No problem, it isn't opened and will keep. I'll just get another one.

I thought about getting water and a newspaper on my way to check in, but I was a bit late (I thought) and I hadn't made a reservation. Not to worry, there were maybe 10 cars and just a handful of trucks - no problem getting through.

So when I got on the boat and dumped stuff in my cabin (I always take a cabin for a day trip so I have a desk and an electrical outlet to help me pass the hours and so that I can keep my stuff locked up. I had lugged plenty to eat with me, I just needed some water.

I went to the cafeteria and they even had the 1,5 liter bottles I like - at first I thought the price was in Swedish crowns, then perhaps that there had been a mistake. The water that they had was Aldi water - none of the fancy brand names, just "Bad Whatever" in a plastic bottle. Costs 19 cents plus 25 cents deposit at Aldi.

They wanted 3,40 Euros (!!!) for one of the bottles. I wondered if it had gold or something dissoved in it.... I checked out the rest of the liquid refreshments - the prices were comparable, 1,90 Euros for half a liter of anything, except alcoholic refreshments, which were even steeper. I tried to decide if I could trust just drinking from the faucet in the bathroom, but with this being a closed water system I decided against that.

I purchased the bottle, but started thinking how much Scandlines makes on this bottle. Even given that someone has to purchase it and keep it in a warehouse (Aldi has to do that, too) and load it on the boat and pay the extra gas for the boat to drag the weight of the bottles back and forth, this is still highway robbery.

Okay, so Scandlines isn't doing too well selling boat tickets. It is silly, anyway, TTLines and Scandlines both leave the same harbor for the same harbor three times a day both at the same time and chase each other over the Baltic Sea. But is scalping the people who actually purchased tickets for your boat the way to make money? I would think it would be better to get more people on the boat, to tell the truth.

So I'll drink this bottle to the last drop, no throwing away that last bit because the carbonation has gone out.

So I


The Empty Church

I went to church today in Fulltofta in Sweden. The Lutheran church in the vicinity has gone to only having services every other week, so one often has to drive to other churches. I love the little church in Fulltofta, though, the ceiling paintings have been nicely restored. I really like the little devil painted above the chancel - they say that he is there so that he can hear the sermon best of all.

Anyway, usually there are not many people at the services. Today I was the only one not connected somehow to the service. There were: the preacher (an older woman who has just been ordained), the woman playing the piano and singing, the caretaker of the church and her husband, the woman collecting the offering, the district preacher and his wife, and the widow of a church member who died this past week and was blessed during the service.

In the announcements we heard that there had been 3 (three!) baptisms and 2 (two!) weddings in this church in the past week. But not one of the baptismal families nor the wedded couples were in church today. I get the impression they just like the church as some fascinating scenery for their own happenings. I wonder if they pay a good fee for using the premises.

Anyway, there was passable coffee and great pepparkaka after church, even if it took a long time for anyone to speak to me, they all had lots to tell each other, it seemed. One would think that with the church this empty, they would be all over the one guest, although I have been there numerous times before, and they did remember me when they got around to speaking with me.



On my way to Sweden I took the boat from Rostock. As I came around the curve down to the terminal I did a double-take - here was the MS Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a very nice ship indeed, all decked out with this silly "stamp" on the side: "dank Informatik" (thanks to computing).

This year, the one following the "Einstein Year" in Germany, is the Year of Computing. You find this silly thing everywhere, I find it rather embarrassing, as there are so many thing that are going wrong in Germany, thanks to computers ... There was even one suggestion made that you put a sticker with "dank Informatik" on all of the broken machines that litter town.

I was concerned that someone had paid lots of money for the advertising, but it appears that Scandlines is a sponsor for the iniative, so they get a break for the tax write-off the painting has entailed, but nothing more. Strange, though, that they are not listed on the sponsor list of the Year of Computing. Oh well, who would put a thing like this on his boat just for the fun of it?

Nerd Score

Took this test this morning (found it on another blog I like). Wonder which question I got wrong..... But some of the questions were hard to answer, like what kind of a woman am I? I had to decide between Unix, SunOS, Windows and Mac. I just bought a new Mac, installed Windows on Parallels, and use Unix to get real work done (like ssh-ing into some stubborn computer in order to make it do my bidding).

Oh, I bet I know - it's the cracked software question. No, I actually use licensed software or open source stuff and want my students to be the same. Yes, I'm a pill.

I am nerdier than 99% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


New Mac Toys

I was at the TU yesterday so I stopped by Gravis, the Mac shop in Berlin. What a fun store! They have all the Macintoys set up for playing, and a loudspeaker room so you can test all of the iPod loudspeakers. You have to go through a gate, but then you can wander around, picking up stuff, and then head for the cashiers. The Info guys are insufferably arrogant - what does a woman know about computers anyway - but at the checkout the clerk at the next cashier nods to me, seems familiar, must be a student. I'm getting old, can't remember all my students any more....

Anyway, I parted with a lot of cash for some cute, tiny toys. A little USB hub in silver - the mains adapter is bigger than it is! A cute little Bluetooth mouse, a tiny 21-card-reader and a screen wiper. Of course, I grabbed wrong size, although I distinctly remember determining the M was the correct size. Oh well, it will clean, if not protect.

The mouse wouldn't work this morning after charging. Buttons work fine - and I can use it in presentation to click "next" from across the room, that increases its coolness factor - , scroll bar is great, but the mouse pointer does not move. Since there is no light and this is an optical mouse, something is amiss. I call macally's service center, somewhere in the Netherlands.

A guy answers on the first (!) ring. No voice mail hell to manoever. He only speaks a kind of English, but what the heck. He takes my problems, connects me to another guy. He listens, asks some questions (trying to figure out if I charged the batteries and paired the BT). Then he says: okay, take the batteries out. Now press the connect button for 5 seconds. Now press both mouse keys for 20 seconds. Now put the batteries back in. Should work. And it did! I asked him what these magic motions were about, he said that that is the initialization sequence and is published in the FAQ, where ever that is hidden.

I just conducted a test. The mouse is findable on their home page. There is a FAQ. There is nothing about this initialization in there, but a shocking statement to be found: "On the back of the package, in the feaures, we wrongly state that the mouse has 3 fully programmable buttons. We are sorry for the inconvenience this can cause you.". Okay, spelling isn't their strong point, and this is grounds for complaints - truth in advertising, anyone? - but their customer service guys get a gold star.


Comic Life is habit-forming

My new MacBook Pro has some free software with it. One particularly habit-forming tool is "Comic Life" - it is so easy to make comics with it! Maybe I'll start a comic blog....


Zugvögel - ... einmal nach Inari

We picked up this film from a big basket of "Bargain Films" at a drugstore. Just the thing for an evening where you decide too late that you want to go to the movies. Zugvögel - ... einmal nach Inari is a sweet film by Peter Lichtefeld about a beer truck driver who is passionate about reading train timetables.

Okay, since we now have online databases for train connections this hobby has probably died out, but I must admit that as a student I actually purchased a German train table (must have been about 4 or 5 inches thick, printed on onion paper) and enjoyed reading it. One summer we even got student monthly passes for the German train system and rode the rails from Flensburg to Baden-Baden, from Garmish-Patenkirchen to Sylt. The question of how to get from A to B optimally (according to some parameter) fascinates me. Must be something about my Dad being a railroad engineer...

Anyway, Hannes was promised time off without pay to visit a competition for finding optimal train routes to take place in Inari, Finland, but a new boss gave him the choice of quitting or not taking off. He took off after punching the new boss in the nose. Unaware that the boss was subsequently killed by another disgruntled employee, he manages to stay one step ahead of the law in a series of comical situations reminiscent of that master filmmaker, Aki Kaurismäki.

My favorite is when he forgets that Finland is not in the same time zone as the rest of Europe and misses a date with the nice lady he keeps meeting, managing to be the very last person off the boat. The Finnish border patrol have a copy of his picture and are looking for him, but when they think every one is off the boat the one police man crumples up the picture and tosses it, saying "Who would escape from the police by going to Finland? You would have to be insane". The other guy says "Even insane people would not come to Finland" and then they drop the blinds, seconds before Hannes races past.

There are some wonderful camera scenes taken on trains along the route, making this a great film for train buffs. The woman, Sirpa Salonen, who gets mad at her computer husband for forgetting to water her roses and in revenge waters his keyboard before going after Hannes, writes him a note at one point: "It is a long distance from glances to affection" and seals it with a big lipstick kiss - how romantic! It has a happy end, of course, but not as syrupy as so many other romantic comedies.

Along with the German original the film seems to be available as "Junalinnut" in Finnish and as "Train Birds" or "Trains'n'Roses" in English.

'Puter Stuff

Luise Pusch suggests calling a computer a "'Puter" in Germany (which means "turkey"). Sometimes this fits very nicely.

General Computer stuff

The Mac tales

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