No Second Chance, Second Life!

Was at a talk at the Swedish embassy here in Berlin last night in which the developers presented the "Second House of Sweden", the Swedish Embassy in Second Life. The presentation was nice and slick. They have a blog about building the place, of course.

The teachers of Scandinavian Studies who were sitting around me were groaning - guess we have to go look at this, more work. But we first enjoyed the good wine and the nice finger food and the conversation with all the people currently working in E-Learning in Sweden and Norway who were attending the pricy Online-Educa.

Today I fired up Second Life for a demonstration. It crashed my machine before I could log in. Okay, maybe I had too many things running in parallel, like Parallels, on my Mac. I restarted the machine and then Second Life. I started to get my avatar to move, but the place she was in had so many new things that need rendered, it was just soooo slow. I tried to use the search button, and my machine froze.....

Okay, third time's the charm. Restarted the machine, restarted SecondLife, this time the search button works. Now, what was it called? Typed in "Second House of Sweden" and got all sorts of entries having to with, um, Sweden, I suppose, on a long shot. These are not the places I want popping up when demonstrating this in class.

We scrolled down to Sweden and Swedish, all sorts of places, but not what we were looking for. But finally we say it and "teleported" ourselves out.

The Linné gardens are lovely, but we wanted some action and decided to head for the building. Now the gardens are nicely laid out with curving sidewalks. Ever try and walk a curve in Second Life? You can only go forward, back, left, right, and turn. Walking a curve is a bitch. We just walked through trees and stones - and eventually a glass wall as well, and we were finally there.

Two guys were speaking Swedish with an official guide. We headed off towards the pictures. We were at an awkward angle for seeing, however, and had a hard time manovering around to see the picture head on. We clicked on a picture and got a nice card explaining in English and Swedish what the picture was about and who made it (Anders Zorn). But there was only a teeny tiny picture to see, no details available, no large version. I would expect a link into the Wikipedia or the national gallery with a larger photo or some such.

Tried another picture, turned out to be advertising for a nice blog. The guy at the desk was free, so we walked up and asked him, if there was some way to get a larger picture. He didn't understand what pictures we were talking about. So we tried to explain, but mid-sentence Second Life crashed AGAIN, taking the machine down again.

We had wanted to ask the way to the Raoul Wallenberg room, but one's patience does not hold up forever. No Second Chance for the Second House of Sweden in Second Life. It does not seem to be ready for prime time yet.


The Sweater

I was visiting at a home for juvenile delinquents outside of Berlin this past weekend. The boys were giving short talks on what they planned on improving on in themselves for the next year. One boy noted that he wanted to complete schoon in order to go on to university and study political science.

As I was making my way to go speak with him I realized that he was wearing a sweater with the name "Thor Steinar" down one arm. I asked another youth if this was the right-wing guy in the group, and they said yes. This is a clothing label that used to use the runes Tiwaz and Sowilo joined together as their logo. They were taken to court, and first forbidden to use this logo because it is very similar to Third Reich symbols.

The company has since changed the logo and is now not forbidden, but it is still a favorite with the right-wing youth. And I was darned if I was going to give him advice on how to succeed in school.

I spoke with the headmistress and asked why they tolerated this? The area around Berlin, you must know, is quite right-wing. Oh well, she said, it's not forbidden is it? I suppose she avoids conflicts where she can.

I debated asking the guy point blank why he wears that, but of course I wouldn't get a proper answer. But should one just ignore provacations like this?

I am really unsure how to react to these people - but I suppose I have to sort this out, as there are getting to be more and more. A Jewish friend I had dinner with that evening said that she avoids travelling in the area around Berlin (Brandenburg), as she has often been called after in the streets that people like her used to be gassed...

Wehret den Anfängen, fight against the first steps, we are told. But I just do not know how to fight this.


Give One Get One

Now this is a great idea for collecting donations from geeks! Our inner children has been hankering to get our mitts on one of those XO-1 computers. They came up with the "Get One, Give One" campaign, a pure stroke of genius. If you donate 200$ to them so they can give an XO-1 computer to a child in need, you are allowed to purchase one for yourself at 199$. Plus tax, but what the heck, this is cheaper than an XBox, you do a good deed, and you are the only one on your block with this new toy.

I had gotten to play with one when SJ brought one with him to the CCC yearly conference. Everybody came to the Wikipedia stand, not to talk about the Wikipedia, but to play with the box.

Ordering was, um, strange. I had checked yesterday that it was fine to buy it from a foreign country if you had a shipping address in the US. My geek brother was more than willing :)

The call-center lady today seemed to be on her first day on the job. She had trouble reading the scripts. Her "Thank-you-for-calling" was not enthusiastic, but read slowly and haltingly in a non-inflected voice. Even though I said that I wanted to buy one, she slowly read to me the paragraphs on what the XO-1 is and what this special offer is. Yes, yes, yes, get on with it!

She took my shipping address sloooooowly, having problems understanding the words I was saying. "Newmarket" is "new" and "market", I had to spell it for her 3 times before she got it. As I was giving my credit card number she gave no feedback whatsoever as I paused between groups, normally they assent "yes" or "unha" to let you know that they are still there.

Spelling my e-mail address (even though it is identical to my name and then a German provider) was tricky. I wonder if I will get an email. Anyway, I got a confirmation number. It will take 2-4 weeks to deliver in the US and another 6 weeks or so to ship it to Europe. I am so impatient, but I will be the coolest kid on the block with my cool green XO-1!


The Killing Children

The other day the media in Germany ran large headlines on how the police in Cologne had - by means of all their fancy new Internet detection stuff and what not - avoided a Colombine-like massacre at a local school. It was noted that the purported killer committed suicide after being confronted by the police after they searched his room and found soft-air guns and a cross-bow.

It turned out, though, that while he had indeed been planning such a deed, it had been called off four weeks ago. But he hadn't pulled the YouTube announcement that he had made.

Fellow students had informed the principal, who had called him in for a talk. When this talk was "unsuccessful", the police were called. They investigated, searched his room, hauled him in for a talk. They forgot to inform his parents - he was only 17, and by law his parents need to be informed and have a right to attend such a hearing. He asked to go to the bathroom during the talk, crawled out the window, and threw himself under a streetcar.

The police first said that he had left calmly, that they didn't see him as being suicidal.

How should they have handled this? If they did nothing and he had caused a massacre, the press would have screamed at them. As it is, the police were apparently trying to use this as a nice example of why the police need access to all of our data to "protect" us. Protection like this we don't need.

We need to start listening to the children and youth who feel that life is treating them so bad that they have to die and take others with them. There is a song popular with young people (I will repeat neither band name nor title here) about just this - the song is so violent, I shuddered as I read it. There are many other, very violent songs that many young people like to listen to. It makes them feel powerful, at least for the length of the song.

After all, what is their lot? Crowded schools with oldish teachers who are tired; youth centers closed; churches not offering anything for them; parents either at work, trying to make ends meet, or drunk in the living room. Their lives consist of TV and Internet, a very tainted reality. They want fun, they want money for all the cool things and clothes they see advertised. There are no jobs for them, there is nothing to do. They are just bored, as I have noted before.

What scares me is the ease with which many obtain weapons and drugs. How can we put a stop to this? How can we get them to see that killing is not a game, how can we give them a future?

One thing is for sure - even more surveillance of Internet "sources" is not the answer.


Dogs in Restaurants

This is the second time in a week that I have been confronted with dogs in a restaurant. Germans prefer dogs to kids, and they take them everywhere (often forgetting bags for those little presents the dogs leave on the sidewalks...).

I'm allergic to dogs, if I'm stressed out I get an asthma attack which is not fun. Thursday I was seated at a dog-free restaurant when a family with dog sat down next to us. The dog wanted to be friendly. I didn't. Above my personal problems I find it just plain unhygienic to have dogs in places where they serve food.

Today I was in my favorite lunch place which has been dog-free everytime I have been there since it opened. They encourage moms and dads with kids by having a playroom in the back with tables there, so parents can eat out and keep their kids out of everyone's hair. And the food is "bio", tastes good.

In the middle of my soup a large fellow came in with a great big black dog. I noted that I found that inconsiderate to bring a dog into a restaurant. "It's not against the law!" the guy exclaimed. I answered that I am allergic to dogs, and he began to make fun of me. I put my iPod back on, ate up quickly, and managed to get paid and be outside just as the coughing started. Although, maybe I should have just went and coughed in his salad.

Germany has laws against so many things, why are dogs allowed in restaurants?


MediaMarkt: Ich bin doch nicht blöd!

I finally got around to buying a printer today. I had been to the Apple Store a few weeks ago when they had a Printer Guy there to help you decide on what kind of a printer you need, so I had a company and a number sorted out (HP Laser Jet 3055 All-In-One - B/W, Ethernet, AIO, talks with Macs, relatively cheap price per page, ...).

We have lots of stores around selling technical equipment, so I started at the one closest to home.

The first one would order it for me and quoted me a price in writing. An irritating young man tried to tell me that I needed the printer they had on sale that day, I tried to be polite in my "Buzz off!", although he was playing the Little-Woman-probably-doesn't-know-what-a-printer-does game, making me want to swat him.

The second one wouldn't even order it.

The third one, Media Markt, had one in stock and on the floor.

I immediately went into guard position, as there were other guys walking around, interested in printers. This baby was mine, although there was no price posted. Took a while for me to flag down a salesguy, Media Markt is packed like a can of sardines on a Saturday. He quoted me the same price as store one orally, so I said: Yup, that's great, I'll take it.

It is a big box, but sales guy help me lug it to the elevator. On the ground floor, however, teeming with bargain-hunting humanity, I had quite a time getting it maneuvered to the cash register, fishing some DVD jewel cases from a bin on the way there. I stood in line with the box, glad to finally be rid of the load for a while.

As the cashier rang it up, I handed her my credit card and was planning my get-away by taxi. I remember vaguely thinking - strange, that's not the price, but I was exhausted and wanted to get home. I punched in my code and lugged the box outside. I wrestled it across the street, flagged down a taxi, squeezed it into the back seat, and made it home.

I sacked out on the sofa for a bit to recuperate, then I got out the receipt to put it in my tax stuff. I stared at the bill - they had charged me 140 Euros MORE than the price that was quoted to me! My exclamation was the advertising slogan of the company: Ich bin doch nicht blöd, I'm not stupid!

I called the store and was put on hold for a while. It was Saturday. The lady checked the database, yes, that was the price. But I could bring the printer back. No, I do not want to lug it back. I want to pay the price quoted to me. Well, I could come down and speak to a manager.

I hopped on a bus and made my way back to the store. Now, what did that guy look like exactly? I went around a bit before I actually found him. Turned out, he's a "free-lance salesman" (euphemism for "slave labor without benefits"). And he was shaking in his boots, he's supposed to check the prices if he's not sure. He asked me if I had a quote from another company, that would help a lot. Luckily, I have the written quote from the first store to prove that this is the real price, just 20 Euros under the list price from HP themselves.

He is unsure of the procedure, and needs to locate some special kind of person for me. They have different kinds of vests and name tags on, it is some sort of secret code. But he does manage to locate the floor manager - without name tag or vest - for me. We wait until he is finished sorting out other problems, and then salesguy explains my problems.

It took quite some paperwork, but they did refund me the 140 Euros. And hope that I don't feel bad about the store. We'll see. I'll get my next spindle of blank DVDs from the store that wrote me that offer - if I can avoid Junior. And make a mental note to always check the prices at the cash register.


Reunited Germany comes of age

It was 18 years ago, in the night from Nov. 9 to Nov. 10, 1989, that the Berlin Wall was opened. I remember hearing this Friday morning on my car radio that the Wall had come down. I remember shaking my head, not wanting to believe that this had actually happened.

Home from work in the late afternoon I turned on the TV while bouncing a screaming infant around. The pictures were so tremendous, that WiseMan and WiseWoman put our ancient baby carriage in our very old car and headed off the Lübeck, just an hour's drive and on the border between East and West Germany.

We walked through downtown Lübeck during the evening, the atmosphere was amazing. These strange East German cars were driving around, people were giving them chocolate and bananas and flowers. Everyone was smiling at strangers - something Germans seldom do - and in quite an euphoric state.

When we were given a banana I realized that in our ancient baby carriage we probably looked like East Germans. Whatever. It was such a great feeling to be part of all of this.

The feeling didn't last. The troubles of the reunification were soon on us, not the least of which is the special tax we pay in addition to our normal taxes for the "Aufbau-Ost", reconstruction of the East. I think that now that Germany has come of age, this tax should be rescinded.

Can you still tell the difference between East and West? I can. I live in the West and work in the East. There are still many subtle differences in mentality in the older generations. With my students - most of whom were not yet of school age when the wall came down - I usually cannot tell anymore if they were born in the East or West. Most live in the trendier parts of Berlin, which are in the former Eastern part of Berlin.

Germany is reunified. The voices that called for the reconstruction of the Wall - 10 meters higher - have dimmed. We are one nation now, for better or for worse. Germany has grown up.


Nordic Film Festival 2007

Köld Slóð (Cold Trail)

Luckily, my headache from the day before had disappeared and was not the flu, so I drove 4 hours to Lübeck to the Nordic Film Festival and came just in time to see this Icelandic thriller. There are very few actual murders in Iceland, so the current crop of writers and filmmakers are making ones up to suit them.

The film starts in Reykjavik with your typical reporter, getting up out of the bed of some woman, and then heading off to his horrible job of wrecking people's lives by writing garbage about them for one of the daily rags. He has a pretty young colleague who needles him a lot.

There's been a death at a hydroelectric power station, but it's an accident. Just the same, it makes the front page, and his mother sees it, breaking down and telling him that this guy was his father. So off he goes to the station, having somehow obtained the job replacing his father. The station is located somewhere remote, cold and snowy where you can only get around with a snow scooter.

There are lots of sinister people there, some illegal stuff, some attempts on his life, and he - of course - falls in love with the only woman approximately his age there. The filmography is great - many scenes that cause you to hold your breath because you think something bad is about to happen. Then the director, Björn Br. Björnsson, takes a mad twist with us and we head off, careening in another direction.

Gorgeous scenery, quite thrilling, ghosts, and the first Icelandic film in ages that has not had the obligatory pissing-in-the-snow scene. Looks like Icelandic film-making is growing up.

Tatt av kvinnen (Gone With the Woman)

The director of the "Elling" films, Petter Næss, has produced another amusing film about a guy who just does not quite fit into the real world - but he attracts beautiful and interesting women just the same. He ends up following Marianne around, falling in love with another woman in Paris, but not daring to really do something about it until Marianne has figuratively walked all over him in her Army boots.

I've seen worse films, and there are amusing scenes. The painting (which was painted for the film) of a thin person trying to catch a large ball with a small net gives a motto that is very serious. But on the whole, Elling was better.

Den man älskar (To Love Someone)

Åke Sandgren has made a very gripping film on the topic of violence against women. He portrays the problem without being able to offer any answers to questions such as why men hit women, why women let themselves be hit, and why they return to men who have beaten them to within an inch of their lives. Intertwined is the story of a man approaching 50 who thought he loved the woman he rescued from an abusive relationship, only to find himself beginning to be violent, but in a different way.

Direktøren for det hele (Boss of it all)

I don't like Lars von Trier, the director of this film and enfant terrible of Danish film-making. But Fridrik Thor Fridriksson was playing a nasty Icelandic company president, and I had heard that there was Icelandic mixed into the film, so I got in line for this one. The tickets for the accredited guests were gone just a few people in front of me, although I thought I was there on time. I decided to wait - usually a few people get in. The couple in front of me decided to see something else, so it was clear to me: I will squeeze in if there is one seat left. I got in, and it was worth it!

This time, von Trier has done away with the camera people. He sets up multiple, stationary cameras, and lets a computer randomly choose the scenes. Of course, he does a lot of work in the editing, but mostly the scenes are focused and properly lit, they just don't pan.

Oh right, the story. Well, this guy, Ravn (the name means "fox" in Danish), who likes to be liked, but is actually a shark with contracts, owns a company. Except he plays just another worker, and blames all of the nasty decisions on the "Boss of it All". He wants to sell to an Icelander, but he insists on meeting this "Boss of it All", so Ravn hires an actor to play the role.

It's a comedy, so there are lots of funny complications and twists and turns. The actor, Kristoffer, does a great job playing at being an actor playing a director. He is at times so stupid, at times so wise, it is fun to watch him. Fridrik Thor should stick to directing films, he can't act his way out of a paper bag. He just sat there, trying to look angry, and cussed up a storm. His translator to Danish did a fantastic job, reacting to Kristoffer's craziness with raised eyebrows or opened eyes, as necessary. He softened up the cussing on the way to Danish, and the English subtitles restricted themselves to just "sh*t" and "f*ck", which is a shame, as Icelandic is so rich in swear words.

This is definitely a must-see film, but it probably won't make it to Germany, as dubbing it in German would ruin it.

Den nya Människan (The new "man", mistranslation for "human")

Sweden is considered to be a nice, good, egalitarian welfare state. it was neutral during the Second World War, meaning that it did not openly choose sides. But as the writer of the film, Kjell Sundstedt, noted after the film, the Nazis came to Sweden to see how they were solving their poverty problem by sterilizing young girls from underprivileged homes. The sterilization program continued into the 50s, the government has now been forced to offer the over 50.000 women thus sterilized compensation which many never picked up because what had happened to them was so horrible, they did not want to open up the old wounds. Sundstedt, who is blind, is currently writing a book about the sterilization program. A number of his own aunts were castrated in this way.

This is the story of Gertrud (the actress, Julia Högberg, is somehow not credited in IMDB). Her father, a poor widower with 7 kids, agrees to let the state take his oldest girl to a home where she will be cared for and have regular meals. She does not want to go, but is taken. It is a horrible institution, demanding obedience of the girls and making them work from morning to night. She tries to escape, but is caught and returned.

Pregnant by the groundskeeper (who denies being the father), she devises a way to escape - and exact a little revenge on the horrible Dr. Berg, who is running the institution. The director, Klaus Härö, notes that he looked for an actor that looks like himself, as he wanted to understand how Dr. Berg could be convinced that this was a good thing he was doing. The actor, Tobias Aspelin, portrays a "Herrenmensch" who would be at home in any Nazi movie.

The film was not well received in Sweden - what a surprise, as it puts scratches on the shiny clean image that Sweden likes to project of itself. Sundstedt noted that in Södertalje they are talking about sterilizing young immigrant women, who seem to have lots of children that drain the Swedish welfare system. All the more reason to try and get this dark chapter of Swedish history out into the open and into the limelight of discussion.

Miehen työ (A Man's Work)

Since I had already seen the films I thought were interesting, it was a toss-up what to see Saturday evening. I was actually on my way to see the Danish film "Homesick" when I saw that there were tickets still available to a Finnish film. Okay, Finnish films are not high on my list of favorite films, but this one had looked mildly interesting.

So in I went, I had another nice wide seat in the back, and we settled in. Finnish people in films don't use facial expressiveness much, they are very stony-faced, and don't say much. I know a Finnish woman who lives in Sweden, she is bright and cheerful and bubbly and her face is full of expression. Maybe that's why she left.

Anyway. Juha lost his job in the factory and can't bring himself to tell his wife. So he still gets up at 5am and pretends to go to work. Actually, he just kills time all day. He drinks a lot of coffee with his taxi-driver pal, Olli. We learn that Olli is also the birthfather of Juha's son. But they are good pals. Juha finally puts up signs that he will do handyman's work.

His first job is in the home of a woman who wants him for completely different services. He performs as asked, and gets paid a lot - tax-free. He debates with Olli, and then turns into a professional call-boy. But since he is still trying to keep this secret from his wife, he has to make up lots of stories.

Many of his customers just want to talk, they want to be seen by a man, have a man take time for them, to massage them. Even though he hears from these women what they want, he is unable to do this with his wife, who just irritates him. The director and writer, Aleksi Salmenperä, brings it to a rather improbable close.

Some folks walked out during the film, I waited until the credits started. It was better than watching TV, and the story was a good idea, but somehow the spark did not ignite.

Pornostjerne? (Porn Star?)

This is a documentary about the young Norwegian porn king I will not name here to keep him from added advertising. The director, John Sullivan, followed him around for quite a long time, documenting his tactics of filming drunken high school graduates and selling the films, as well as organizing wet-T-Shirt contests and other stuff.

Oh, the girls all do it because they want to be stars, we here. But we also hear his girlfriend, who now sees that this is not the way to fame. This is just the way for the guy to have lots of girls around and to have lots of sex while he makes money off them while cheating everyone else around him.

The documentary is very disturbing - why do young people fall for this sleaze? Why do they do all these things drunken in front of the camera? In the discussion - which was very intensive and very long - we explored this being the rebellion of young people against their liberal parents. Porn as a "normal" drug like alcohol and cigarettes.

I found it very sad that the young women felt they needed to act like this, that the guys goaded them on, and that there does not seem to be a way to stop this guy. He's a poster child for the anti-alcohol lobby in Norway for sure. A scary documentation that needs to be shown to all Norwegian students in the last year of school so they understand what this guy is up to when he show up at their school-leaving parties.