WiseMan felt that I have a cultural deficit since I never managed to finish reading the German classic "Buddenbrooks" by Thomas Mann. So since the movie was being shown in the little second-run cinema around the corner, we went this evening.

I had had a rough day - the semester is starting, I had meetings all day. I arrived just in time at the cinema, and settled in for a looooooong movie - 2 1/2 hours.

Armin Müller-Stahl ist just soooo perfect for the part of the patriarch of this borgeouis family. The story is about their downfall (Note: no happy end).

Apparently, last summer the film company rather closed down downtown Lübeck for the filming, carefully calculating each angle so as not to catch a glimpse of a modern building in the lens. And one shot is apparently cut together vertically from two positions, because it wasn't doable otherwise.

The costumes are wonderful, the rooms are nice, the shots of Brügge-as-Amsterdam are quaint. The sfx making the dark clouds and hail are kind of corny - they were filmed on a blue-sky day, apparently, and then the clouds were filled in, but the buildings shine in the sun which isn't there.

The movie is well worth it, but I still don't think I'll read the book through.


Where did the break go?

Uff. The semester starts again next week and I am not ready. At all. Just finished a small prep for my Master's Seminar. I really, really want to curl up and read all of these papers in detail. But when?

Now I have to get the first semester course set up, by default, since I am out of time, I will be reusing the same old material. Pfui.

So what did I accomplish during the break?

  • Gave a whiz-bang talk at a university
  • Spent two days with my colleagues talking about our program
  • Attended a conference
  • Got the books for 2008 done for church, and spoke with the treasurer of a similar church in Sweden
  • Got my hair cut, new glasses, and visited my dentist and a collection of doctors
  • Got an apartment organized for WiseKid and got him moved in (that took the lion's share of the time)
  • Attended mother-in-law's 80th birthday out of town (including car breakdown and repair)
  • Got 1 1/2 papers written
  • Read some theses and the odd magazine or two.
  • Watched some Tatort, saw just a few films, and only read one or two books.
It's good to see a list of what I accomplished when I look at the pile of bills needing filed and my desk full of paper....


Minestrone and Corn Bread

Tomorrow is the Wikimedia yearly business meeting, so we had our Stammtisch tonight so the guests could have a party. And I volunteered for kitchen duty. We had some 35 people on the registration list, and expected a good many more, so we were looking at some major food-making.

We met at 3 pm and went shopping at a nearby Turkish market - they have great fresh produce. Then we wanted canned tomatoes - minestrone was on the menu. There were six different brands that had tomato pictures on them, and all were tomato paste, none canned tomatoes. We asked around (on account of not being really fluent in Turkish) and after some effort we found a can - the industrial sized can with 1.5 kilos of tomatoes in it. Whatever.

I was also planning on making cornbread and needed milk, but there was none to be found. There was lots of Ayran, though, a salted youghurt drink. So I figured I would just leave off the salt and use this.

Then we started chopping. We chopped an ENORMOUS amout of veggies for 40-50 portions of soup. We also had 3 kilos of ground meat that I rolled into about 200 little meatballs for the soup. The kitchen was small, but we managed to get it pretty much done in time, despite the slow stove. My corn bread needed an hour and 15 minutes, the soup needed hours to boil.

We took some soup out before the meat went in as our veggie special, and also had some Turkish mixed pickles, some cucumber and some bread to go along with it. One member went around and assessed 5 Euros per eater, calling it a flat-rate party: eat as much soup as you want.

And indeed, it was enough for everyone, and they just so *raved* about the corn bread, that I have to give the recipe here, adapted from my good old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

Per batch (I made a triple batch for 40 people) you take 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of polenta, 1/2 cup of sugar, and an envelope of baking powder (4 teaspoons) and mix well. In another bowl you beat 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of oil, and 1 cup of ayran (if you are using normal milk, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients). Grease a casserole, mix the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until just moist enough, pour into the casserole and bake for 25 minutes at 210° C, or more, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. This is really good with fresh butter.

I am now exhausted, my back hurts and I'm off to bed.


Today is not tomorrow is not yesterday

WiseKid has moved out, so WiseWoman has been dealing with helping him find an apartment and get moved these past, I dunno, 4 years it feels like. Actually, only since about the middle of November.

So we got an apartment, signed a contract yesterday, ponied up our deposit, got the keys, and today we moved the first bit of his stuff in. We also had a bit of luck on some furniture - as we walked back to the car after signing the contract we passed this little cafe that had gone out of business and was selling off everything to get some cash.

They had two lovely steel kitchen work tables that easily cost 300 € a piece, a full-length mirror at 15 € and two cheesy shelving thingies with glass doors at 40 € a piece. Since his kitchen is bare, I offered to get one of the steel tables (if I had had room in my kitchen I would have taken the other one, too!). He pleaded the necessity for the mirror, remarking that we can't get mirror tile for that price and would have to put it on the wall, so we save time. I gave in on that.

Then the haggling began, I suppose it helped that I wanted to leave it at that. Anyway, he wore her down to 15 € a piece for the shelving thingies, so we took them both. Luckily, the car was empty.... He also wanted the bar (at 200 € it was indeed a steal, but I put my foot down on that).

Anyway, tonight I set about getting him legal - paying rent, setting up electricity and gas, etc. I went to the Nuon site, they offer a 50 € rebate, so I signed him up. Except he is not 18 yet, so I had to sign me up. Okay. Then they wanted to know when I moved in. The choice was: more than 4 weeks ago, less than 4 weeks ago, new customer. I chose "new customer".

They wanted to know when I moved in. I answered truthfully with today. "That date is not in the future", it told me in English, and refused to go on. I went back, chose "less than 4 weeks ago", and put in today. "That date is not in the past", it told me in German. Sigh. Right. It is today. I want to sign a contract TODAY.

So I changed it to yesterday, this will probably cost me 29 cents in basic fee for the day, but at least the system finally accepted my input.


Slumdog Millionaire

That's what a vacation is for, you get to go to the movies three times in a week!

Last night we say Slumdog Millionaire with some friends. Nice story, pokes fun at "Who wants to be a millionaire" and Bollywood, kind of funny in places, great kids acting. I kind of found it ho-hum, but WiseMan gave this 9 stars, the best of the week. I mean, it was entertaining and all, but it was kind of depressing seeing the slums. It really is amazing how anyone survives there.

The scene where the child Jamal has to escape the outhouse by diving into it kind of reminds what it feels like when I dive into administrative work.... IMDB says that they used a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate for that. Imagine the props guys going down to Sam's and buying 200 gallons of peanut butter....

I'm glad they got all the Oscars, must be really great for India. The music was kind of nice, but my vote for the week goes to Milk.



We went to see "Milk" this evening, in English, thank goodness, as I hear that MaHa found the German synchronization horrible.

We went with friends, joking about helping her do her homework. She is studying sexology at Malmö Högskola (no joke, this is a Master's program) and a current topic is how homosexual and transgender people were treated and how they perceived themselves in earlier periods.

Since Sean Penn (rightly so) got himself an Oscar for this, we thought there would be a few more people in the theater, but maybe 10 people had bought tickets. Okay, it was a Thursday night.

I was transported back, back, back to my teenage years and leaving the US for Germany. The clothes! The hair! That horrible Anita Bryant, leading to one of many boycotts I participated in without really understanding the ramifacations of what a boycott was good for.

I visited a friend in Castro in the 80s, long after Milk's assassination hat jump started the Rainbow Revolution. The guy I asked directions from assured me that I did not want to go there. And indeed, it was strange, being more or less the only different-sex couple out walking that evening. But an amazing, almost tangible energy was in that place.

The editing of the film was just marvelous, entwining historic footage with made-up historic-like stuff. The telephone tree was very well done. I guess the story was a little slow, as it tried to stay true to real events. I liked it a lot, WiseMan's rating went down from 8.5 to 7 on a scale of ten after a long discussion in the car home, fighting our way through a tremendous snow storm.


Barbary Liskov is the 2008 A.M. Turing Award Recipient

Way to go, Barb!

Your publications on ADTs were so important to forming my thinking as a computer scientist.

Thanks! And blow the money on some fun toys!

Update: Just three weeks ago I was at a software engineering conference at which the speaker showed a slide of the group photo pioneers of software engineering who had been invited to a conference in Bonn in 2002. Where are the women, I asked - not a single one.

The speaker said: but there were women there, and someone sniggered "Yeah, the wives". The speaker racked his brain - Fran Allen had taken sick, Adele Goldberg was unable to travel. "And the others?" I challenged back. But I was relegated to the evening discussion. So I asked where the others were. I named a few such as Mary Shaw and Barb Liskov, and then this discussion broke out as to whether it wasn't Guttag who was the guy who invented all this and Barb's name was just on the publications 'cause she typed up the papers or some such nonsense.

She got the Turing prize. Alone. So does that settle that argument, gentlemen?

The Royal Wedding

There's a big discussion going on in Sweden about the royal wedding scheduled for next year. Although everyone is happy about Victoria finally forcing her Dad to accept the commoner she is in love with, they don't like her father asking parliament for an extra hand-out to pay for the festivities.

The general feeling seems to be: I'll pay for your wedding, if you'll pay for mine.

Today I heard the suggestion that if her little brother would just quit crashing Porsches, they'd at least have enough money for the champagne. Sounds reasonable.


The International

We decided to go see a movie in Lund this evening, and chose the movie by the time :) We normally go see movies about 8 pm, but there was nothing on, the "late shows" start at 9pm. Since "The International" was the earliest of the late shows, we took this.

Tom Tykwer leads us through many international settings (Berlin, Lyon, New York, Milan, Istanbul, someplace deep in Italy) with some lovely aerial footage of the places. It is a sort of detective-spy story about the Big Bad International Banks who do money laundering, gun selling, and all sorts of unappetizing stuff. And if you get in their way, you die.

Apparently, the film was to release in August 2008, but bombed on pre-release, so they decided to make an action film out of it, putting in a gawd-awful shoot-em-up session at the Guggenheim museum. The architecture makes you dizzy, but this scene just *so* doesn't fit the rest of the picture - turns out that this is the scene they re-shot and then released the film in February 2009, in the middle of the financial crisis.

It was not a bad film, but not a very good one, but we still enjoyed the evening. WiseMan says that it was 3 out of 5 horses (the local rag rates films by horses, not stars, because their symbol is a horse). And we enjoyed that they had Swedish subtitles for the few sentences of Danish spoken by the head of the Luxemburg bank.

A New Stove

We did our part for the Swedish economy yesterday and purchased a new electric stove for the kitchen. The one that was in the house when we bought it 13 year ago was already a bit strange when we took it over. The dial to determine how hot the oven is just twists - no idea what temperature it sets itself to, I suppose we could just get a thermometer, but it varies the temperature as well and the hot plates are rusting badly.

WiseMan did the cooking while I laid carpet and complained about the stove all evening, although his lasagna was really great. Okay, the recipe started life as cannelloni and ended up as lasagna, but it still tasted good.

So we drove down to the little white goods and electrical stuff store and made their day, just walking in off the street and purchasing a big-ticket item. We like to support local merchants so they don't go out of business. We decided on the Ceran, so we have more flat space to work with in the kitchen, and we booked their all-around-service package: delivery, hookup, and disposal of the old one. I don't think they will clean up the crud of x years that will have collected between the old stove and the cabinet, however.

Telling the story at dinner with some friends later in the evening, she jokingly nudged me - yup, she said, that's how you get your broken household appliances replaced. Make the men use them :)

Happy Women's Day!


Laying Carpet

I decided to start the vacation off right and finish up the carpet laying we started at Christmas. I had managed to get the carpet purchased before falling sick, WiseKid got the carpet down in 2 rooms before he fell sick, so there was one left to do. The living room has nice hardwood, that doesn't need carpet, thank goodness.

It was WiseKid's room left, and he's not along, has to go to school while Mom and Dad enjoy semester break. I carried all the crap out of his room, finding interesting things like a bottle of our best champagne stashed, or the handles of four teaspoons (what happened to the bowls?). I seriously considered trashing all the crap, but then there may be something special there that he really, really needs, and WiseMan got mad when his dad threw out his prized sticker collection (or something), so I refrained.

The bed was too large - right, we had assembled it in the room. Maybe if I take off the ladder? Nope, still a few cm too wide. So we had to break it down to carry it out. The wall now showed places where the wallpaper had been picked away, stains, and mould. Yuck. I was beginning to worry that I would have to tear the house down....

I got out the Clorox, mixed up a toxic batch, and attacked the mould. The wallpaper is textured, so there were still bits of mould in there. I got an old toothbrush and did some more, after a second bucked of Clorox it was grey. And the yellow stains (maybe I don't want to know what they are) won't go away.

Well, there's still paint from Christmas. So I changed clothes, got out the paint bucket, and gave the walls behind the bed a fresh coat. Now I have to wait for it to dry before I can start trying to lay carpet. So WiseMan put on the fireplace. Good thing I started early and not on the last day of vacation!

Update: Okay, got it painted. The floor washed. Everything dried. Wrestled the carpet into place (cutting is difficult, I messed up one piece). Let the carpet lay while I enjoyed the great dinner that WiseMan cooked.

He helped put the bed back together - but it wouldn't fit in the corner where it was. We finally ended up having to remove the lights and with our bad backs heave the bed up and over the heater in order to get it back into it's corner. We washed the containers and dumped everything back into the room - looks very nice.

But remind me *never* again to do renovation work with safari pants on (the ones with the zipper so you have shorts and long pants in one). The zipper is right under the kneecap. Kills your knees.


The Schufa

I had to deal with the Schufa in the past few days. This is a private organization that collects data on how well people in Germany pay their bills. Companies tell them when you don't pay your bill (or they *think* you didn't pay), when they give you credit, and they can ask how credit-worthy you are.

We are renting a room for WiseKid, and of course we have to pay, so we have to be assessed on our credit worthiness. And we have to pay for the piece of paper that says "yes, we would expect this person to pay her bills 97,24% of the time".

Now, I *hate* bogus numbers like this. I had a discussion with the lady this morning as to why WiseMan and I have different credit ratings - we have paid all our bills, and had joint accounts forever. "Oh," she said, "that's because our scoring takes all sorts of things such as age into account. No two people have the same score."

I called her on that - baloney! There are exactly 10,000 numbers between 0.00 and 99.99. There are a few more people living in Germany (although many are emigrating, I hear). So there *must* be people who have the same scoring. "Um, well, but it is highly unlikely." Okay, droid. Math is not one of your finer points.

Then we went on the the question of umlauts. WiseMan has an umlaut in his real name and in his place of birth. Both were mangled on the information sheet that he had - he signed up for the fancy-schmanzy online thing that has been an enormous amount of work and not really helped yet. He had to go to the post office to prove that he was himself, before they sent him a cute card with a matrix on it, each box has 2 letters or digits in it. They ask you for box F1, and you input that. Really cool, must be Cryptography and Really Really Secure.

But for all the high-tech security theater, they can't do umlauts. Not in 2009. "The computer can't". Again - the computers can, the programmers are too lazy to do anything about it and management doesn't have the spine to make them.

I let it ride, paid my 7.80 € and got a piece of paper that said that I am a good person and pay my bills on time. Wow.

I don't really like the idea of your credit history hanging on a magic number a private company won't tell you how they calculated by a program written by a bunch of clowns who can't get German umlauts to print properly. But what can I do? No Schufa, no room. Sigh.


German High Court Declares Election Machines Unconstitutional

Wow, hats off to the German Constitutional High Court - they declared today that the use of the election machines used in the previous parliamentary election was unconstitutional.

They found that it was impossible for average citizens to detect errors or manipulations in the machines that were used in the 2005 elections. This violated the condition for elections to be transparent. They also found that a speedy reporting of the results - one of the main reasons for using the expensive and complicated machines - was not demanded by the constitution.

Looks like all the NEDAP voting machines that Germany purchased cheap from Holland when they banned the machines were kind of a bad investment. Of course, notes the Chaos Computer Club, they can perhaps be sold as chess computers. A Dutch programmer had reprogrammed them to play chess, demonstrating them to be universal computers, not specialized voting systems.