Flateyjargáta - Flatey Mystery

Just finished an Icelandic mystery novel by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Flateyjargáta (Flatey Mystery). It interweaves a blood-thirsty Icelandic saga, the Flateyjarbók with a modern day rash of murders on the island of Flatey in the Breiðafjörður, the largest fjord on the west coast of Iceland.

The novel depicts life on an island that only has the post boat calling once a week. The inhabitants live off the fish, seals, birds, and eider feathers they can collect from nature. Nothing exciting happens here - and then first one dead man is found, then another.

The deaths are linked to a puzzle surrounding the saga that has an interesting solution, as well as a surprising ending to the whole story. This is not for the weak-kneed, I quit reading the puzzle bits after about 13 (there are 39 in all) and I most certainly do not want to see the movie on this one.

But it was quite a page-turner, I read it on the plane to England and back and then stayed up until 2am last night to finally finish it off. I look forward to his other books!

The A-ha Effect

In my course on software engineering this semester I have had a running example throughout all of the exercises. My students are modeling an election system using UML. The election system must adhere to the German election principles such as secret, verifiable, etc.

Last week we had school elections and I was drafted as a poll worker the same day as my SE class. I started the exercise session and then went over to the poll, telling my students to be sure to vote. Many did, and while standing in line one student looks at all the pieces of paper in her hand and says: Multiple elections at the same time! Oh oh, we didn't think about that possibility for our system.

This is a wonderful a-ha effect, to see that real life has to be studied well in order to model it in software, don't just assume you know everything about the system. I've told this story many times now, and it only happened a few days ago.

The New Refrigerator

We have been in the market for a new refrigerator for well over a year now. Actually, longer. The shelving broke free of the plastic holding thingies and was held together by duct tape; the door locking mechanism had broken and was held together with a piece of paper, a rubber band, and more duct tape; then the insulation began shrinking and the door wouldn't close properly. Not wanting to have to close the door with more duct tape, we started shopping.

Now, what do you want in a refrigerator? How wide? How tall? Bio-zone (near-freezing drawers to keep veggies fresh)? No-frost? White or steel or blue or orange? How many compartment do-dads? Freezer on top or below? Extra door (sort of like a cat door) to let you get at the milk and cola without opening the big door and dumping all that cool air into the kitchen?

We would make occasional forays into the stores, but come out as undecided as before. Last week we had made a scientific, all-day survey of the current offerings of the local stores. We gave up, exhausted, and had an ice-cream. I liked the look of the steel, but it was so expensive. The bio-zone was a nice idea, as we pitch too much fruit and veggies, it would probably pay for itself within a year. But how to decide? I was off for a conference anyway, so we adjourned the question.

I get online at the conference and find an email from WiseMan - a local megastore is offering a 25% discount on anything that is in stock if it is purchased right that day, the day before the soccer quarter finals (no, we don't expect the half-finals to have a half-off on white wares). I write back: go for it!

So today they delivered a steel-plated, bio-zone, no-frost, 2m tall box and took the trash box with them. At this price there is no help in things like switching the side of the door, but the lady in the store had said that it was just a 10-20 minute job.

We spent 2 hours on the project. It seemed you needed a Torx screwdriver, a power screwdriver, a drill, and other assorted tools. The instructions covered 54 positions over 4 pages, not including switching the door pull, which I could have figured out without a drawing.

WiseMan had taken the power set to work with him a few weeks ago, and there it rest. The assorted bits and pieces we had at home didn't quite fit, and I only have a Torx at work. But believe it or not, my Swiss Army Knife fit perfectly, even if it was not the most comfortable thing to turn with.

We got it dismantled and re-assembled, and then shoved into the space. It was wider than the old one, so we were concerned, but it went in smoothly. Then we opened the door - and realized that the phone to open the door buzzer keeps the door (which is rounded out in the middle, not flat like the last one) from opening all the way, which keeps the boxes from sliding out.

WiseMan devised a way to put the fridge in a bit kitty-cornered, and I decided to tape shut the lever on the phone and just let it dangle down, then everything is fine.

We'll see if the bio-zone was really worth it!


The Indignity of Travel

It started off innocently enough. The good people of Newcastle suggested that I leave for the airport two hours before departure instead of one and a half. The airport, mind you, is a leisurely 15 minutes away from the university. I entered the airport and noticed the people around the "self check-in" machines, but I didn't have an eTicket, so I walked up to the counter.

I disturbed the two ladies having a nice chat with each other. They pointed to the sign telling me I had to check in at the machines and then drop my bags off here. Okay, if this is necessary. I approached a machine and was able to choose the airline and a language. I was then requested to either put my passport in the machine, or to enter my frequent flier card, or to punch in the eTicket number. Now, in Germany only the police are allowed to machine-read passports, and I am skittish enough after spending two days on the island of video surveillance, so I tried the eTicket anyway. I did have a booking code.

But the booking code had letters, and this machine only wanted numbers. Okay, resigned to have to give myself up to this indignity, I put my passport into the machine. It couldn't be read. Okay, the ink had rubbed off my Meldebescheinigung and had deposited itself on the passport. I scratched it off, and tried again. No luck. I am beginning to see what I need the extra time for. I go back to the ladies behind the counter and tell them (like the machine told me to) that the machine cannot read my document.

She points, boredly, to a gentleman who is assisting all the people at the self-service terminals. That it is necessary to have a human there is rather defeating the point, I though, but I submitted to waiting in a disorderly line to get his attention. He asked for my booking, took it, looked at it, frowned. Then he asked for my passport and took off. "Just a moment," I said, "where are you going with my travel documents?" "Just have to look something up". I wait. He goes to the counter, interrupts the ladies, and they punch my name into the computer. He comes back, proudly, with a document with my name and itinerary on it, and a magic number. Wow.

He then operates the terminal for me, and says "Shall we take German?" I retort, "No, we seem to have been speaking English up until now". I am really angry now. The machine suggests a seating assignment, he notes excitedly that I can change them if I want to. I do not want to. Then the machine asks me stupid "security questions" like did I pack my bag and did anyone have access to it since I packed it. Sure, the cloak room people, the taxi driver - but I don't want to start anything. I want to get this done with. He prints out the boarding cards, now I can go to the bored ladies.

They are in a foul mood, so many people disturbing their chat. I heave my bag up and ask that it gets checked through, please. She begins asking me the SAME QUESTIONS again. I get irritated - why are you asking me again? What is the point of the machine? This does not save any time. "These are KLM regulations," she retorts, and slams my boarding cards down. "They are not my machines, so don't take your bad mood out on me." Well, she is representing this nonsense, I would like to have an explanation.

I gather my papers and stamp off to drink off my bottle of sparkling before it gets confiscated. After doing so I get out the boarding cards and there is no luggage tag on them. Panic. What if the bags get lost? What if this sullen lady put a tag to Singapore on it to spite me? I return, wait in line, the guy comes out. I tell him I didn't get a receipt. He checks the boarding cards - nothing. He asks for the extra piece of paper. Nothing. He asks for my passport. WTF?? This belongs to the German government, not you. But there is the sticker, glued to the back with heavy-duty glue. Sigh.

Back through the "security" that makes us partially disrobe, dump our pockets, mess through our bags looking for our contraband water and knives and hairpins. I find it so embarrassing that people have to take off their belts and shoes and jackets and put their little baggies in the thing so we can see if they are AXE men or Adidas or El Cheapo.

Lots of time to kill in Newcastle, I get some food (won't land in Berlin until late) and something to drink. I asked if I can take it on the continuing flight. Sure, they say, just have your receipt handy. They won't even tell you your gate, you have to hang around the shopping area until half an hour before take off. Seems to maximize discomfort, you can't even get any work done, just 30 minutes here and 20 there and move along and have your boarding cards handy.

The flight to Amsterdam is uneventful, but we can't get off the plane. Even though the stairs are there, there is no bus. On the way in, the bus had deposited us in Amsterdam in front of a locked door. Now there was no bus, nothing, nada. The pilot suggests everyone sit down. You feel very, very cooped up in a plane full of impatient people who cannot disembark. When the bus finally comes we storm out, I get a seat on the bus, but it is so packed, I have the rear end of a guy in my face the entire long trip. I wish I had chosen to stand....

We shuffle down a hallway, and could go shopping, but we have to hurry to the gate, they tell us. We stand in line forever to have our passports checked (I thought both Holland and England were in the EU, but apparently the UK doesn't participate in Schengen). And then we had to go through the X-Ray machine again and undress again! Why?? We just got off a plane and have not been outside!! And guess what - no, I can't take my bottle of water with me. I want to go ballistic, request that they let me drink the bottle on the spot and get really, really bad gas pains as a result. This is so horrible!

I manage to get some cheese bought at inflated prices hurrying on. Luckily I had already eaten my food, as I would have lost that, too. I considered getting something else to eat, but 4,50 € for a bagel? 6 € for a soggy sandwich? 1,75 € for a tiny piece of cheese? Forget it!

I walk the couple of kilometers to the gate, which ends up being a two-stage deal. You sit down, the room gets crowded, many have no place to sit. Then you are requested to have boarding cards and passports out and go through to ANOTHER waiting room. Those who stood now get to sit, those who had seats in the old room wait as long as possible before crossing. Finally we can board the plane, but there is a long line and we are stuck in the feeder tube, waiting while all the business types stow their luggage in the overhead bins so they can stretch their legs. By the time I get there there is no more room anywhere near me, so I just stuff it under the seat. I do have short legs.

When my luggage finally arrives, one of the side pockets on my bag is wide open. The kleenexes are gone, no big deal. But what else did I have in that pocket? Normally I have my knife in there, but lucky me, I had that in a different pocket this time.

Disgusted with the entire procedure of traveling by plane I hailed a cab and was whisked off home through empty streets just in time to see the 2-1 for Germany, then the 2-2 for Turkey, then the 3-2 for Germany. At least on the plane they had given the 0-1 for Turkey and the 1-1 for Germany over the PA system.


Monday, June 23, 2008 - Around 28,000 pupils in the 10th grade in Berlin schools will have to take a new math exam. There is a central examination in German, mathematics and the foreign language (English or French) that has to be taken in order to obtain the school-leaving certificate MSA (Mittlere Schulabschluss).

The reason: the questions to the test were being sold on the Internet and in subway stations near high schools all over Berlin. At least 87 schools have reported irregularities.

One pupil had alarmed the teacher proctoring the exam that she had been offered the questions in the subway just before the exam. The teacher alarmed the principle, and more and more reports rolled in while the pupils were sweating out the answers.

The Berlin Senat responsible for schools decided then in the afternoon to invalidate the test and have all the students re-take the test, although they still, today, have not been able to determine how the questions leaked out. The questions are printed centrally and distributed by courier to each school in sealed envelopes, to be kept in the school safe. But apparently, not all schools have safes and not all examined the seals on their envelopes.

There has been quite a protest rolling through Berlin, as the honest pupils do not want to have to retake the test. They feel the schools should go after the cheaters and not make everyone retake the test. One pupil took the government to court, but the ruling yesterday was that since so many schools have reported irregularities - including a pupil asking the teacher to please go over a question that was indeed on the exam or groups of students meeting in the library and working through the problems in advance - the test must be retaken by everyone. If you don't appear, you fail 10th grade.

In the name of justice and equality, the honest are being punished and the dishonest get a second chance without further punishment. A rather strange message to be sending.


Better Sight

I have lots of strange bumps on my face that I have regularly checked. But I had forgotten the one on my eyelid last checkup which has been growing and growing at an alarming pace. I couldn't really open my eye completely any more, so I was sort of half-squinting, Jolly Roger-like, all the time.

But I put off going to the doctor's, figuring that if I went to the skin doctor they would send me to the eye doctor, and vice versa. But since WiseMan was headed to the skin doctor today (Saturday! She now has office hours on Saturday!), I tagged along to see if I could slip in. As a private patient in Germany these days, one is always welcome in any doctor's office, as they can bill your for the complete costs, not just get a small sum like with the insurance schemes. I, of course, have to pay the bills first, and then fight the insurance company (4 weeks delay until recompensation) and the public servant's Beihilfe (currently as *6* months) to recover most of the money.

I got in rather fast, and yes indeed it was a soft fibroma (there is a picture on Wikipedia that could be me) and she would take it out right now. Right now? Oh, and we can't use anesthetics, but she will just pluck it up and give it a little snip. Gulp. I *hate* anyone near my eyes, my eye doctor despairs of getting the pressure measured on my eyeballs every year.

So I lay down, she was chattering away trying to calm me, took the scissors and needed two painful snips. Blotting away the blood she saw another little piece, so we had to have a third snip. It took a bit for the bleeding to stop, can't put a band-aid on, so I sat in the waiting room listening to the telephone calls people were conducting in public until it quit bleeding. It hurt like hell.

But upon getting outside I noticed two things: It was much lighter out (as I wasn't squinting) and everything was sharply in focus. So why didn't I get this done months ago? The eyelid is now turning a nice shade of purple, I'll put on lipstick to match this evening, hope it heals by Tuesday, when I'm giving a talk in England.


EM 2008: On to the Semifinals

I had just gotten home from a long day of teaching and meetings and was planning to make a big bowl of popcorn and do a couch-potato evening and watch Germany get beaten by Portugal on the TV.

The phone rang, and it was my friend Ann. She teaches German at a high school in the mid-western US, and she occasionally accompanies a bunch of high school kids on a tour of Germany. We usually manage to see each other for a couple of hours. She is now no longer organizing the tours herself because of liability questions, but the students purchase the trip from a company and the company pays for Ann's travel in exchange for her babysitting the bunch.

She had to hand around the lobby of the hotel because the kids come by with problems (Which bus do I take? How do I find an Internet cafe? Why are all these crazy people wrapped in flags, wearing black-red-gold wigs, and carrying six-packs shoving through the streets?). But we could have a coffee together in the lobby. I grabbed a sandwich and headed out.

We sat before the game with some of the students, they had lots of questions I couldn't answer: Were all the trees natural or were they planted? Who built the castle? Who lived there? I was telling them that they should try and be at the Ku-Damm at 10.30 pm to watch either the Portugese or the Germans parade up and down when some older couples streamed in to watch the game on the TV in the hotel bar. They offered the kids their transferable day passes for mass transit, and off they went!

Ann and I got cozy on some bar stools easily visible to passing students, the older couples settled in for the game, and we had a lovely chat. Suddenly, there was a roar. And someone shot off fireworks. It was as if Germany had sighed and enormous sigh of relief. Schweini, Bastian Schweinsteiger, released them from their fears of losing. The atmosphere in the bar changed from taut concentration to enjoyment of the game.

We continued discussing, but were again interrupted by a goal. Well, 2 goals should be enough, although it ain't over until the fat lady sings. We say that in the States about sports, I looked up the meaning the other day. Is from the Niebelungen, a loooooooooooong German opera. In the end, Brunhilde, a corpulent dame, sings. So it ain't over until the fat lady sings.

Second half, we had progressed to discussions of her children, one is studying "Evolutionary Biology". She waited, smiling, for my "WTF?" to kick in. When I went to school, it was called "Biology". Seems that in the Midwest, if not all over the States, you can choose to study "Evolutionary Biology" or "Intelligent Design Biology". Yuck. Her son, being intelligent, chose the former.

The chatter stops in the bar - oops, Portugal got a goal. We continue with US politics, deciding that the best would be for Obama to do the representative stuff and Hillary the policy work. Glad we got that settled, but no idea if anyone will listen to us. On to the problems of the educational systems. We have similar views on this, and notice that Germany is copying all the bad ideas from the Americans. The upshot is that neither group is getting a real education.

Another sigh of relief - Michael Ballack gets the third goal. Now the Germans are happy again. They don't even mind the second goal of the Portuguese. The old saw "soccer is a game with 11 on a side in which Germany always wins" remains true.

And when the game is over, the streets erupt. Fireworks, screaming, honking horns. We send the kids milling around outside to have a look.

It was a wonderful chat we had, what a shame they are so seldom. And I suppose it was a nice game.


Long Science Night 2008

The Berliners have a thing for "Long Nights of ....". I don't know who was first, but the Long Science Nights have been around for a good may years. Most of the universities and colleges and science institutions get some experiments set up to show the taxpayers what they are funding, the bus company organizes shuttle busses, there's food all over the place, and from 5 pm until 1 am Average Joes (and university folk not showing experiments) mill around looking at stuff.

I started off at the TU, as I will be teaching Cryptography next semester and there was to be a crypto-lab there. The lecture was boooooring, and the young man who then tried to explain to me how to send an encrypted email couldn't actually speak in coherent sentences. I couldn't even follow, although I knew what I was supposed to be doing. And then their email broke down and then all sorts of stuff was broken, and then at least I could generate a key pair, but he admonished me to "choose a small passphrase so it gets made quicker." Duh. People need to be trained to use long passphrases. I made myself known, but he just was not hearing what I was saying.

Disgusted, I hopped on a shuttle and made my way down to the Federal Printing Office. This is where the money is printed (they have a big tube of shredded notes on display) and the new biometric passports are made. I slided up to the guy explaining the wonders of the new passport and started asking questions. It soon turned out that we were two computing women and one computing guy who acutally knew a bit about crypto. The poor guy got rather into a bad spot, as he could not really tell us much.

Apparently, with the data read from the machine-readable portion of your passport they encode your picture. I strongly suspect that with the special structure a picture file has and the situation that much of the key is fundamental law of cryptography is that the strength of a method lies only in the keys, not in any secret algorithms.

Anyway, the fingerprints are then encoded with another secret key that is available at all passport issuing places. Duh again.

Moving on to the 3D facial scanner, one begins to feel uneasy. A little beamer projects a mesh to a face, two cameras take one picture each, the software calculates a little bit, and presto - 3D image of the head, suitable for storage and identification.

Upstairs is a great coppersmith showing how he made stamps in the years gone by.

I took the bus on to the State Criminal Investigations Agency (Landeskriminalamt). They were participating for the first time. They set up a murder scene outside of the building, including a second scene with the getaway car. Inside they had people from all the departments explaining what they did in this case. And there were documents prepared for the case, just as they would be for a real murder.

It was highly informative and highly entertaining. I spoke with a fingerprint specialist about how she became a dactylologist. She said she was just a normal police investigator, but good at fingerprints, so she got in deeper and deeper and now that is her job, which she likes a lot.

I also heard 2 lectures, one explaining DNA-sequencing and identification of people with DNA that was very clear and one by the head of the murder commission explaining how they work.

Got both my admission fee's worth and some value for the taxes I pay. The LKA did a smashing job of explaining what they do to us.

Bedtime now.


Gayle Tufts Rockt

I had been wanting to see Gayle Tufts, the American entertainer who has brought Dinglisch to a higher art form, for a couple of years. But as usual in Berlin, shows are on for weeks, so instead of dashing out to get a ticket I think: there will be another day. And then they are over.

Then WiseMan got a coupon for the show at half price on certain dates. Unfortunately, those dates corresponded to soccer games. We compromised. I went early to get a good seat, he came by bike after the Germany game just in time for the show and would not see the Austria-Poland game, just to accompany me. I appreciate the sacrifice.

It started out a little lame. The band was nice, but the first song didn't really knock me off my socks. But luckily, she was not just singing, there was lots of cabaret mixed in, and I finally realized that this was a big joke about the Madonna/Shakira/Célines of the world. If you observe carefully, her poster (with her hand up in the air) is indeed a persiflage of Céline Dion's poster, for her show on the same night in Berlin.

The jokes got better and the music, too (or it was something in the Chardonnay?). The strange thing was, that when they started playing Peter Maffay or old rock favorites, people started dancing in their seats, eventually getting up to dance when Gayle asked them to.

There was a nice song about the first time she walked along where the Wall was, and a very, very funny medley of songs about air (including a sequence of Marianne Rosenbergs "Er gehört zu mir"). Introducing this she quipped: America doesn't have the four elements air, water, wind and fire anymore. The new elements are television, Dunkin' Donuts, Botox and crack. ROTFL!

She made some very good points about Germans, especially German grandmothers, airing out the place as a solution to many problems, and the wonderful use of the word "So!", which I used at least 12 times today.

At one point she asked if there were any Americans in the place. WiseMan looked at me, and then I raised my hand, apparently I was the only one. After all the trouble I went to to become a German (1 - 2 - 3), I didn't think I would ever be able to say that I was an American again. But I did, and it was kind of fun, as I have been in Berlin as long as Gayle has. She joked that now she recognized me, we must have come over on the same plane. Except I spent the previous 15 years or so in Kiel.

Then she got into bi-national relationships and asked for a show of hands. Apparently, we were the only ones, so we got it again, this time with lights pointed at us, WiseMan trying to fade into the woodwork. And she launched into some really, really funny jokes about German-American relationships, I don't know that anyone else understood them, but we were both ROTFL. I mean, is she listening to us when we fight, or what??

She swarmed a bit for Obama, I don't know about him. I really don't trust him. And am very sad that Hillary did not manage to get through. She didn't mind the Silicon Valley guys, The Atlantic says, so they spent all their money on Obama. But then she went on to dig into the possibility of Americans actually electing McCain, the old man, and that was very funny again.

I want to know where she gets those clothes! I imagined wearing any of them to work, the guys would have heart attacks. We seem to be about the same size, but somehow, I don't think I could keep people's attention on programming wearing stuff like that, although it would be a gas to try it out on froshers some year.

So I had a lovely evening, I really enjoyed myself. The Chardonnay could have been a tad cooler, but the cheese was nice for nibbling. And the next show she has I have to make sure that I get tickets rounded up right away.


It's almost Game Time!

I had an appointment at the local Rathaus this afternoon and was looking forward to a leisurely stroll over the open air market that is on the place in front of it. I thought it strange as I arrived for my appointment, but I thought nothing of it.

Coming out at quarter to five I found the sellers madly packing their wares - although the market is officially open until six and you can often still buy stuff until six-thirty.

Then it dawned on me: Germany's next game is at six. As I was buying some fruit - desperately marked down for dumping purposes so they could get to the game, the guy said "Yes, five-thirty I'm out of here!". I had a good laugh with him - he's Turkish, and I joked that Turkey-Germany would be a great final game.

As I walked home a car drove by decked out in Croating flag ears and a big flag hanging out the window, held by some screaming twenty-somethings. As they passed, a little girl on a little bicycle with training wheels answered back: Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschland! Her mom was a bit embarrassed, so of course she kept it up. I just smiled and said: They have to start young.

Someone from our house just came in, madly pedaling his bike. Must be game time, from the haste with which he ditched his bike.


Dragon Boat Outing

We had our Betriebsausflug with the workers in the Dean's office and the lab engineers. This is a German tradition whereby everyone in the office has a nice day together - during working hours. It is great for morale and gets people to know each other better so they work better together.

We met at 10 at a remote lake for some dragon boat paddling. The eager biked out, meeting at 8 at a train station. I opted for 10, giving me an hour to grade papers in the morning.

People were a bit shy at first - who would do the drums, who would be the strokers. The chief secretary decided to do the drums, and since there was only one volunteer for the two stroker positions, I stepped up.

Uff - this means, the strokers set the tempo, which is picked up by the drummer and transported by drumbeat to the rest of the boat - we were 18 people, with a local steersman who know how to drive the thing.

It was warm and sunny, and the thing actually moved. We crossed the lake and headed up a river. Since we were in good time, we passed a lock, paddled a bit more, and then headed to the riverside restaurant we had booked tables at.

As we were docking someone spotted a river snake (shudder), but it already had its mouth full - with a goldfish apparently stoled from someone's pond, as there are no goldfish in this river! Someone got a picture, I was glad that as stroker I was first one out.

After lunch we headed back, everyone sitting on the other side so we have sore muscles on both sides. And there was wind, lots of wind. It was a hard paddle, people were tired. The drummer was really into her thing, hollering at people who were slacking (even once - gently - admonishing the vice dean to keep stroking). We practiced grunt chants (klonk, hai, hoch) to keep ourselves going, but it was really rough weather.

But the trip was great - we saw nice flowers, a heron and a kingfischer, lots of dragonflies and tons of mosquitos. And by the end people were having a good time with each other.

We then went for some archery, but that was a bad idea - after 3 hours of paddling, no one could keep their arms up. We shot a few rounds of arrows, packed up and went home.


The Trains are Packed

I often buy a yearly ticket for the Berlin train system. The system is pretty good, and the ticket is transferable (and you can take a guest evenings and weekends). Also, when the ticket is already bought, I can get over my inner Schweinehund and take the train instead of a car. Normally, I can get work done on the trains. [To the left we see the information band on a hot day - "Next station: Selftest", it kept flashing.]

But since the price of gas has topped 1,50 € / liter (that's over 8$ a gallon, you Americans!) the trains are packed. For a few weeks it was me not having a space to have my bag on the seat next to me. Now it has gotten to the place of me being happy to get a seat, somehow, and more often than not, standing.

You would think that this would mean that the streets would be free for cars, but no luck there. They coordinate the construction work to maximize the inconvenience. For example, there are two ways from home to school by car. Both are now under construction. Might as well just take the train.


EU 2008 - First night

My hopes of watching "Henry VIII" on TV were dashed when WiseKid announced that we had to go visit Auntie in Wedding (one of the two Berlin districts with a high percentage of people of Turkish descent) *right now*. Seems he had some buddies who wanted him to be out and about the town doing silly things. I have always told him that he can say: My Mom is sooooo stupid, she won't let me. And we had to leave Right Now, so the "friends" would go away, too.

So off we drove to the wilds of Wedding. Did I mention that there were flags up in Berlin? The flag industry is having a great year, I suppose. Not only did guys have their flag ears on, they had buddies hanging out the window with monster flags, screaming that they were going to crush the Portugese. There were flags taped to lampposts; guys wearing flags and T-Shirts and what all.

I had a nice visit with Auntie while the game was on. We sat up on the balcony on the fourth floor with coffee and water, enjoying the unbelievable quiet of the place. Wedding is normally loud, but everyone was indoors, watching TV. And nothing much was happening on the pitch.

Suddenly, a sigh, a groan. A goal for Portugal. And quiet again. Just before the end, a small bit of cheering, probably the Germans cheering the second goal for Portugal. The Turks lost, 2:0. I collected up WiseKid and we went down to the car, Auntie came with us.

It was very, very quiet outside. The sidewalks are normally teeming with kids and dogs and people and cars. It was quieter than a suburb. Two men leaned against a BMW flagged for Turkey, speaking quietly. Other than that - nothing. We drove through almost empty streets (a bunch of buses and cars at the Ku-Damm, nothing major) home.

We'll see what tonight brings - Germany vs. Poland, there are still a lot of old scores needing settled, it seems.


Europe goes into Suspended Animation

Yup, it's that time again. A major soccer festival - this time the European Soccer Championship, fought out in Austria and Switzerland - will suspend operations throughout much of Europe for the next three weeks. No one will get any work done, as they will be nursing hangovers from the games the night before and talking about the games to come.

The stores have been selling flags and black-red-gold (German) or red-white (Turkish) anything (shirts, skirts, wigs, noisemakers, makeup, underwear, cups, ice cube trays, ... you name it) for weeks. Flags are hanging all over the place, and the horrible American tradition of putting flags out the car windows has been heartily embraced in Berlin. One, two, three German flags; a German and a Turkish flag to show double allegiance; flags for all the games being played today - you name it, it's chugging down the autobahn.

The newspapers have been beating the drums, and making up news if needs be, for some time now. The Springer newspaper in Poland printed a terrible picture of the Polish national soccer trainer holding up the chopped off heads of two of the favorite German players; the Springer newspapers in Germany were shocked and demanded that Something Be Done. Appears to sell newspapers.

Other newspapers print blather they either forgot to check their facts on or that no one really cares about. Germany and Austria's scandalous game was played 1:0 and not 1:1, notes one of my resident soccer experts, as the Berliner Zeitung registers this morning. And we read about all sorts of personal stories about the stars and would-be stars.

ProSieben is showing a new version of Henry VIII with a handsome, well-trained actor playing the part of the young Henry VIII opposite the game this evening. While my men are off in some public viewing area (which is German for watching sports together with strangers outdoors while getting drunk, not viewing the dead in a funeral home - although from the looks of the German team, there is not much difference I suppose), guess what I will be doing this evening!


Better than chocolate

I have a freezer in the living room (for historical purposes, the cellar was being renovated and it ended up with a bunch of stuff piled on top - it is a front door one - and cute artsy-fartsy magnets on the door) that has a special tray for freezing fruit. The year I bought it, I froze a gajillion fruits, bagged them, and forgot them.

On one forage for sweet food I discovered the bag of frozen strawberries. I soon began snacking on them - put 10 or so in a bowl, sit in front of the computer reading blogs and chew on them one at a time. Sweet and cold, I love it.

The bags are empty. So I went out this morning and got a kilogram of fresh, ripe strawberries, washed them, dried them, cut off the tops and arranged them on the freezing tray.

I have had 10 berries already this evening, the kilogram won't last long. Hope the strawberry season holds until Saturday, the next day I can go shopping. This stuff is better than chocolate!