Over 50

All right, I'll admit it. The reason the Princesses were here was to help Aunt WiseWoman celebrate her 50th birthday. Not that I feel a day over 25, but my passport says that 50 years have passed since I was born.

It was a great party, and I could answer to everyone that I didn't feel different than the night before (although I was kinda feeling crazy that night and really happy that a friend congratulated me on Skype at 0:01).

But since then - wow. Must be that I am attuned to picking up on stuff now or something. Just in the past week I have had the following encounters:

  • Last evening in Sweden we went out to dinner with the Princesses. My brother is much younger than I am, I used to delight in pretending that he was my child, which really irritated my mother. He also looks much younger than his years, and we look very similar. His girls are also obviously his girls, and the middle one could pass for me, about 46 years ago. We were settling down in the restaurant when the waitress beamed at me: are these your grandchildren? Arrrrgh! No! My nieces! I'm not that old! But of course, it would be possible for me to have a 6-year-old grandchild at 50. Irritated me just the same.
  • I teach beginning programming, and had fired up a program to demonstrate the use of exceptions that I wrote 3 years ago. Just a silly little program that throws an exception when the input integer value, which represents an age, is greater or equal to a constant called OVER_THE_HILL. I had set this value to 50 for some reason.... I quickly changed it to 60, muttering something incomprehensible to my freshmen.....
  • A colleague came into my office, beaming, that his project had been chosen by a funding authority for further consideration. He was going to be doing research on doing X for senior citizens. He called his project X-50+ ....... Heck, I'm 50 and I love to do X!
  • My sister-in-law picked up a trial package of some anti-wrinkle cream, not that she needs yet. It was called WiseWoman.....
Then I played beach handball last Wednesday, couldn't climb stairs all day Thursday. I guess I need a how-to manual on growing old gracefully. I am beginning to understand Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night".


The Princess Papers, Part 5

As promised, the princess toothbrushes!

The trip home was a long one, the princesses are good travellers, however, really putting up with all sorts of stuff.

It rained the day we packed up - cats and dogs, as the saying goes. The garden sure needed it, but it was the pits carrying stuff to the cars.

We drove to Ystad, home of the Henning Mankell mystery stories, and wanted to see the museum in the cloister there. The cafe published in the ads was just that: a pot of coffee and some cookies. PrincessDaddy and I dashed to the nearest grocery store, loaded up on bread, cheese slices, meat slices and apples, and we just sat down, ignoring the signs about not eating your own food. We at least all had a coffee and a soda pop.

The museum was, well, as PrincessDaddy put it: The Swedes have a knack for throwing a bunch of old garbage together and calling it a museum. Couldn't have said it better myself! The church itself was closed for a wedding, so we ventured outside. It had stopped raining, so we tried to do a shopping tour of Ystad. But since they were in the process of rolling up the sidewalks, we could only window shop.

So we took off for Ales Stenar, a Stonehege-like place not far away. The princesses did a great job climbing up the hill, but were mystified at what the stones were for. They found it more fun to bug PrincessMommy by pretending to fall down the cliff and to be calling to the cows. But when the cows decided to come see what all that calling was about, P3 literally crawled up on PrincessDaddy's head, she was so scared.

We drove along the coast to Trelleborg, now with gorgeous weather, to decamp at a sweet little bed-and-breakfast, because people didn't think they could sleep on a boat. So we walked through Trelleborg and went to eat at a Sushi restaurant. The owner was so delighted at having kids, and asked me eagerly if these were my grandchildren. GRRRRRRR! Did I get old that fast? Yes, we do look a lot like each other. But he's my BROTHER, not my son, although I did rather like to pretend he was my baby when I was 12.

We went for ice cream at a wonderful place that had unbelievable ice cream flavors: licorice, violets (I got this, it was WONDERFUL), pomegranate, banana and red beet (!), I can't remember them all. I shall have to go back!

The rooms were nice, the kids slept great, but the matresses were horrible and the adults didn't sleep much. So the adults were rather cranky in the morning. We had hired a cabin on the boat for the kids to take naps in, but it pretty much ended up being the adults who were taking the naps!

The boat has one playroom for kids, a slide with balls in a pen, like at IKEA. 10 minutes, max, said PrincessDaddy. He was wrong. They spent the ENTIRE trip of 6 hours, sliding up (!) and down that slide, swimming in the balls, throwing the balls, getting hurt and crying, and then carrying on. There was spaghetti for lunch, while we were waiting P2 looked over at the truck drivers at the next table and remarked: oh look, they are playing crazy eights. Nooooo, Princess, that was a Bavarian set of cards, I bet they were playing Schafkopf....

They went to bed when we got home, were up early for the flight home with not a whimper. The place is so quiet now that they are gone, I'm going to miss them!


The Princess Papers, Part 4

The Princesses had a great time in Copenhagen. They saw the Little Mermaid, went on 10.000 rides (approx.) at Tivoli, saw the changing of the guard at the castle, and had a boat ride.

We caught up with them in Sweden, they were at our cabin one night before we arrived. PrincessPapa reports on them looking out the window in the morning and discovering the horses who live next door and screaming in delight before running out to see them and quickly discovering that the fence is an electric one.

They took in Malmö (including the musuem, which had a special section on torture and another one on the bubonic plague, neither of which the princesses enjoyed) and then came home for dinner. PrincessPapa wanted to reward them with a DVD for being so good. Princess #1 replied indignantly: I want to stay out and enjoy nature, Daddy!

We went to Lund with them to visit the Kulturen open-air musuem. The first thing we saw on the way in was a big poster for the special exhibit on "Lust, Dreams and Fantasies" with a guy in, um, belts. PrincessPapa remarked that Europeans have a strange sense of what is appropriate for museums which allow little kids to visit. But the museum gets extra points for the hands-on kid's exhibits. They were allowed to dress up in aprons and head scarves and pretend to live in a wooden house with wooden shoes and plates and spoons and toys. They pretended to cook and churn butter and spin wool and clean up the place - no way we could get them out of there except by threats and promises.

We whipped by the Lund Cathedral for a look around and took the princesses down to the crypt. Princess #2 got very thoughtful and asked WiseMan if he would still be her uncle if he was dead. Very philosophical.

Today we hit "Dinoland", by popular request. I had picked up a broschure at a tourist information office. It was an "amusement park" that looked like they were going broke any minute now, only about 4 people - including a sad clown - were working there. The "dinosaurs" were, as my sister-in-law put it, rather like fifth-grade paper-maché projects. The "amusements" were either broken, in the process of breaking, or making strange and threatening noises.

The Princesses had a ball.

They jumped on the trampoline and one of the working corny blown-up slides; they rode the decrepit carousell that probably violated at least 15 Swedish safety rules; they loved the creaking train through the "enchanted forest" (more fifth-grade paper-maché, this time of fairy tale figures) while PrincessPapa and I discussed how difficult it would be to fix the train, should it derail; they had hot dogs and popcorn and ice cream for lunch. As the advertising said: paradise for kids. Guess kids and adults have a marked difference in what they consider to be fun and amusing.

They decided to have Nutella for dessert tonight. I was joking that they now needed another bath, as especially Princess #3 had used Nutella rather like cold cream on her face.... we had a melt-down over my comment, must teach them to enjoy ironic comments. Or learn to keep my trap shut until they get into bed.


The Princess Papers, Part 3

Americans don't have much vacation (2-3 weeks a year, max), so every day must have some sort of action in it. Today the Princesses took off for Copenhagen by way of Lübeck. I know, that is not the direct way, but there are more interesting things to be seen this way.

The Princesses were now accustomed to the time change and were up at the crack of dawn playing with all the nice board games in the living room. Since there was no adult to impose silly rules like OneGameAtATime, there were about 3 games going at once, not necessarily according to the real rules. But the gemstones from "The Magic Forest" fit nicely underneath the pyramids of "Pharaoh", and they were using the Monopoly money for some purpose. I didn't quite catch on.

All the adults were rather groggy, must have been that Aquavit we had to celebrate after the Eurovision contest. PrincessDaddy made some real strong coffee so that we could be awake for going to get their rental car. He thought the numbers were the number of scoops of coffee to put in, so it ended up being Real Strong Coffee....

Luckily, the autobahn was deserted at this time Sunday morning, so I dropped him off at the airport quick and could head back for more playing with the Princesses. It was time for them to get dressed. PrincessMommy has this process quite optimized, they were dressed in a flash. Then it was hair-combing time.

The princesses all have the same hair I have - blonde, thin, stringy, easily tangled. The first order of business was to comb out the knots. PrincessMommy packed some Magic Water that you spray on the hair to make it easy to comb. They didn't have stuff like that when I was a kid, you just got your hair pulled out on combing.

I wanted to put gumbands in their hair, but no, they wanted "Jessie braids". No idea what that is, and there is no entry in the Wikipedia on that. I asked them to explain it to me. "Well, you take some hair here and some hair there, and you just do a Jessie braid with it, silly!" I tried a braid, but couldn't see how to get more than one twist into the hair.

They stomped off in disgust to get PrincessMommy, who waved her magic wand and turned their hair all into braids that I thought looked like Legolas in LotR. Seems "Jessie" is a neighbor girl who wears her hair this way.

And then they were off, all buckled in to their car seats, flown over from the States, and primed for a DVD that gets shown to keep them quiet in the back seat.

It was eerily quiet when they had driven off - nice, but something missing. Good thing we are chasing after them after school on Wednesday, we'll meet up in Sweden for another few installments of the Princess Papers. Stay tuned!


The Princess Papers, Part 2

Oooh, no time for blogging here :)

We had a lot of excitement here the past few days. On the morning of my birthday I had two chipper princesses and one really tired looking one. She said she felt funny. P2 crawled onto my lap, and we hugged and cuddled. Then she threw up all over me. Good morning! She threw up many more times over the course of the day, so all activities had to be rescheduled around having PrincessMommy or PrincessDaddy be there.

P1 and P3 really enjoyed the big birthday party. Luckily, there were lots of kids there, so they ran around chasing each other, giggling and laughing and talking to each other in languages neither of the others could understand. They seemed to get food, and loved all the attention they were getting.

P3 got tired and laid down to sleep - right in the middle of the dance floor, where we were doing a line dance. I had some live musik and a dancing instructor teaching the Germans about how much fun line dancing and square dancing is. PrincessDaddy reacted swiftly, scooping up P3, insisting that P1 must be VERY TIRED and scooting them off to bed.

P2 felt better the next morning, so they took off for some sightseeing after the party cleanup. In the evening we watched the European equivalent of Super Bowl Sunday: Eurovision Song Contest Saturday. 500 million (!!!) Europeans were watching with us.

The princesses were all bathed and cuddly and packed off to bed while the TV was blaring. P2 went out like a light, P1 and P3 kept doing silly things, even though Aunt WiseWoman kept coming by with stern warnings or even just the Stony Face, which would cause them to dive under the covers and pretend to sleep - until I walked out of the door.

PrincessMommy and PrincessDaddy went off for a beer, not understanding what was happening on the TV. We Europeans kept enjoying some of that leftover Merlot and laughing ourselves silly. The Ukrainian group around Verka Serduchka was such a crack-up, I tried to call and vote for them, but only got "technical error". It will probably still show up on my bill.....

The Swedish group, "The Ark", had this gorgeous lead singer with the palindromic pseudonym Ola Salo wearing a mini sequin jacket and a silver bib. He had the body to wear it, too, what a shame they didn't get more points. The Germans, as usual, were down in the cellar with a silly song and strange singer. The winner was Marija Šerifović from Serbia with "Prayer". I had actually heard her on the semi-finals (only listened to two before turning off) and had liked it.

I lost the prediction contest, again, as I tend to write down what I really like in the order I like it. A friend has this perverse knack of knowing what the 500 million others will be liking, he wins every year. But we all get to drink to the winner, so it was a fun evening :)


The Princess Papers, Part 1

I have 3 princesses, 6 1/2, 4 1/2 and 2 1/2 spending a few days with Aunt WiseWoman who is having one of *those* birthday celebrations. The apartment is now full of princess gear - pictures to follow, like the three princess toothbrushes. I bought some cereal for them for breakfast, and not knowing what they like, I just bought the package with 3 princesses on it. Can't go wrong on that!

Princess #2 had an earnest conversation with me this afternoon. P2: Daddy is so silly, he thinks the couch is a bed. WW: Well, in Europe our houses are not as big as in the States, so we have furniture we can use for more than one thing, and both our couches can be made into beds. P2: In our world we have just beds for sleeping.

Princess #3 is a darling. She loves cars and trains and stuff. Must be related to her Daddy and her Aunt. Her Mom said that she will sit for hours in her full princess costume, including tiara, and play with her cars. Atta girl, P3!

Princess #1 is the bossy big sister (just like I was, but surely I wasn't that bad, was I? Chorus of brothers: yes, you were worse!). She'll be going to school in the fall, so she has to use every precious moment to show her sisters that she knows everything. It is really hard to keep a straight face at times!

More adventures in the coming days!

Stay slim by doing sports - not!

What a juxtaposition of news! Today the German goverment decided that Germans, especially kids, are overweight. Okay, this is visible, even if they are not as bad as Americans. Yet.

So now we are to eat healthy stuff and get plenty of exercise to save our insurance companies lots of €. Okay, I've been playing handball for over a year now, run myself ragged for 90 minutes, trying to catch and throw a ball. I even made a few goals in training this evening, and during the game really threw myself at a ball - falling didn't hurt as much as I expected it to, must be that tad bit of extra "cushioning".... Got compliments from the team for really going for the ball.

Coach informed us, however, that the City of Berlin, in its infinite wisdom, has set up new contracts with the school custodians in order to save the city money. They used to pay the custodians extra money to stay home during the week and lock up the gyms after the last group left. See, we train in the school gyms. Dual use, all that stuff.

Now the city is saving lots of money (maybe 100.000 € a year?) by refusing to pay the custodians for any work done after 5 pm. So guess how many school gyms will be open until 10pm? Right. So where, now, is it that we go to to get rid of our extra pounds?

We debated how much whiskey it will take to bribe our custodian, a wonderful Scottish man, into letting us use the hall once a week and whether we can afford this, in addition to our club fees.

I think I need a clue stick for the Berlin government as well...


The Wandering Eyes

It was pouring rain yesterday, and as I entered the subway station near the school I saw Important Engineering Dean sitting on a bench. I had been to the administrative board earlier in the afternoon, fighting against some petty thievery going on in the administration - I applied for money from an external source in 2003, I got the money, it gets paid into the university, big chunks of it disappear. And the bit of money we have can't be spent, because we have no rooms to put the toys important computer equipment in, yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway. IED is, of course, a member of the board. So I sat down with him, and we got on the subway together. I was lobbying for support in this matter - I need all the voices possible to say that this is unfair.

In the subway we sat across from each other. IED is well-known for being unable to look women in the eyes (or rather, he is one of those guys who think that women have their eyes between their chins and navels). Here we are, discussing university politics, I am sitting in my lumpy, wet raincoat, and he is ogling me. I mean, come on, if I at least was showing some cleavage - but in this situation?

IED had been doing this during a gender sensitivity class required of all deans and program leaders, I had joined the engineers for fun (much to the relief of my computing colleagues). I had hoped that the leader, a former equal opportunity officer at a major university, would call him on this behavior, but she was so timid in the room full of IEDs, she didn't squeak. At that time I had resolved that the next time I met him alone I would speak to him about it. And then I successfully avoided him for about 3 years.

And now there I was, and because I wanted his help, I found myself unable to speak to him about his wandering eyes. And I am not known for being a shrinking violet. So how do I get this put to him? Stop dead in mid-sentence and look down to see if I have spilled coffee on my shirt? Wait for the biological solution (retirement should happen in another 5 years or so)? I am open to suggestions!


Stranger than Fiction

The second-run theater around the corner (tickets just 2,99 € per person) was showing Stranger than Fiction this past week. I had heard something vague about the film, and at this price, if I don't like it I can leave.

The place was packed.

And good reason, too, it was a great film! A tax auditor for the IRS is hearing voices - describing him, and what he does. He counts a lot, for example. He calculates minimal paths from point A to point B. He can do math fast in his head. (Oooh, I know the feeling, the first two I also do, constantly).

He falls madly in love with the young lady running a bakery that he is supposed to be auditing. And he hears these voices, finally realizing that he is a character in the novel of a writer with writer's block. She wants to kill him off and finish the book, but can't see how to do it.

She eventually hits on something, he finds out, gets contact with her with the help of Dustin Hoffman as a literature-professor-and-life-guard, pleads for a different ending with a happier end, and so it goes.

The fx (often depicting the calculations he is doing in his head) are just marvelous. The love story is sweet (they eventually get each other), and the story ending kind of corny, but in all it was very amusing and well worth the price.


A bad number?

I've heard tell that the number 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 (in hexadecimal notation) is considered to be a bad number. I thought all numbers were created equal.....


The Search Committees

Uff. I think I read about 60 applications for a professorship today. Around here we don't really "search", we put an ad in the paper and wait for people to respond. Since the school is currently filling 10 positions (!) most of us are on 2 or 3 search committees, as there have to be 5 professors on each.

Sifting through the applications I wonder what goes through people's heads when they prepare an application. One guy writes that he will build up an exciting PhD program. Except we are not a PhD-graning institution....

Two other guys applied to 5 or 6 of the 10 positions currently open. Nothing like just taking all the chances you can, but the chances of one genius being able to teach programming, databases, mobile applications and business applications is quite slim. At least one guy submitted as many copies of his CV as applications. The other guy felt, that if we really wanted to know more about him, we could print out his CV files, which are stuffed in a big .zip file. Well, we can't be bothered, luckily, we can do this voting by email.

People put together the craziest applications in strange structures, forcing you to dig for important information. Spelling checkers sometimes seem to be a high-priced option seldom used. One guy stapled 3-4 pages for each topic together and put it in a file in Postscript format, whaich I couldn't read. We got this sorted out, but it is a pain.

Luckily, we have enough people so that we can decide who we want to invite in just a few weeks. Hope the applicants don't already have lots of job offers, the market seems to be booming.


Swedish Taxes

I just did my taxes for Sweden - okay, this is easy, as I just have a summer house and have to pay property taxes. But it took me all of 21 minutes. Including cleaning off the kitchen table to find space to spread out the paper and read the directions.

See, the Swedish government knows EVERYTHING about you, and then have it all online. They know where you live, even if you are in a foreign country. They just send you a tax form already filled out. They know what you earned, how many dependents you have, all other details. They even figure out if you are entitled to a refund or have to pay.

Swedish tax is easy: add up all you earned, multiply by the tax rate where your house is located, pay that amount. Almost no deductions or anything. There is, I suppose, a box for entering in black-market earnings, but surely no one remembers to fill that out.

On the one hand, it scares me that all my personal details are known to the state. On the other hand, paying taxes is really simple. Luckily, I don't have to fill out US tax forms any more - the advantage of now being German. German taxes? I gave up years ago and dump a box of stuff at my tax preparers office. They at least understand the language of the tax law, which I don't.