2012-12-25

Julotta

The Swedes have this quaint custom of having a Christmas service in the wee hours of Christmas morning, called Julotta. It was scheduled in the village church this year for a rather civil 9 am, so since I was actually awake at 7.30, I decided to get a quick cup of coffee, get my boots on, and trudge down through the Christmas Slush.



Actually, the slush was gone from the streets, except for the odd, treacherous bit of ice. It was just beginning to get light out, not even the birds were awake. I did meet a couple picking up Maj-Britt, a former missionary to Africa who is the village genealogist, as I passed her place. "God fortsättning!", a good continuing of the Christmas season, they wished me.

The church was ablaze with candlelight! The custodian, Eva, had probably been there for the last hour or so, lighting over 120 candles inside.


I've often been in the church where only 4-5 people were attending, but this morning there was a good crowd. We sang some old Christmas carols, and a young woman sang and played the flute. The preacher was hoarse, in addition to speaking the local dialect, so I didn't understand much of what he was saying. Maj-Britt gave me a hug and the best of wishes for the coming year, I wished her continued good health. All the others just kind of eye the stranger, if you haven't lived here for most of your life, you are a stranger.

Heading home, the sun had come up, although the sky was still very grey. The birds were making quite a noise, almost as if it was spring!


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2012-12-23

Geisterfjord

Ooooh, a thriller that takes place in Ísafjörður, Iceland! Had to buy that one, as I loved being in Isafjördur a few years ago. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's Geisterfjord (Ég man þig, literally "I remember you") seems to be two completely different stories for a while. One concerns a group of three people with the crazy idea of renovating a house on Hornstrandir, an abandoned area across the Ísafjarðardjúp from Ísafjörður. The other is a newly-divorced psychiatrist with a dark secret working in Ísafjörður.



It took me a while to get into the book, I considered pitching it about a third of the way in. But it got better and better, and the last few chapters I read all at once until the wee hours of the morning. And then I couldn't sleep, I was hearing ghosts all over the place.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is not Stieg Larsson, like the back cover states, but the book is a good read. I'll try some of the other ones she has written!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

At Christmas we like to go see some epic movie in English. Three years running we saw the Lord of the Rings, so it was fitting to go see "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" this afternoon. We sprang for the 3D version.

Yawn.

I repeatedly looked at my watch, to determine how much longer I would have to suffer.

I had wondered how such a thin book as "The Hobbit" could be extended to a three-film sequence. Well, every half-page skirmish is drawn out into a looooong battle. And there is nothing new here, lots of ugly trolls and some dirty-looking dwarfs and some beautiful elves. Oh, and nasty Orgs and their toothy tigers or whatever it is that they ride.

The film is riddled with continuity errors. The list on IMDB is long, but doesn't contain half of the ones I saw. Bilbo has his rucksack on, then off, then on again. It gets dirty, is miraculously cleaned up, and is dirty again. Bilbo's clothes suddenly end up clean and pressed as well. Only the buttons popped off remain off, it seems. And we never see the feet of Bilbo much, so they could have just saved all the fuss with the foot makeup.

In LotR it was magic to see how Gollum moved. Motion-capture is old hat now, as is computer animation. So many of the scenes were obviously SFX. Lots of little figures that were probably dolls, so many computer-generated fighting scenes.

Oh, right, we paid for 3D. What was the point of that? There was depth to the scenes, but I felt that when there were multiple people in the scenes that they seemed flat, somehow. In perspective, but without being embodied. Oh, there was the odd bird and butterfly that seemed to be introduced into the story just so there would be something 3D-ish to ooh and ah about. But Avatar already had that, so what is new? Okay, the 48 fps maybe made things smoother, I didn't get motion sick.

The credits mention rotoscopers -- how quaint! And scores of TDs, are they all "technical directors"? Then there are "scale doubles" - are these midgets that look like the main characters? And how are they different from "body doubles"?

The only interesting bits were the attempts at character development and dialogue, but that was only about 30 minutes, max. 

Anyway. I was glad to be released from an uncomfortable chair and to get out into the wonderful winter wonderland outside. It's supposed to all melt by tomorrow, but it was much more exciting to walk through the snow, catching real snowflakes on my tongue, than to watch this movie.

2012-12-22

We're still here!

Well, we made it to December 22, 2012, without a mishap, it seems! Of course, the question arises: where did December go? I have this blur of classes, meetings, talks, examinations, and the odd Christmas Party in my mind.

Good thing I have a few days in Sweden to clear my mind. There's a good bit of snow on the ground (the neighbor says they had half a meter earlier this month), so everything looks lovely, bathed in white.

We went food shopping this afternoon, you could swear people were getting ready for long days and nights holed up somewhere from the looks of what they were buying. And the store had everything in Jumbo-size-only, it seemed. I managed to get a 2 kg package of ground meat repackaged to give me just the pound I wanted. But cheeses all started at 1 kg, it seemed, and bread or cakes or sausages came in a size suitable for a soccer team. I suppose everyone has family over, and the eat to avoid speaking with each other.

The mega-supermarket now has "self-service" - you take a scanner as you go in, bag your fruits and veggies yourself and scan everything in, then pay at the self-service stations. I suppose since Swedes are generally honest that this works, but why would people want to do all the work themselves. Just so they don't have to wait in line?

So what's on the menu for the Christmas season? Hamburgers, Salmon, Zucchini Lasagne, and Reindeer with Mushrooms. I'm going to try some easy appetizers like this or a pomegranate and apple salad. Yum!

2012-11-27

Mac Xcode Fail

I have a brand spanking new MacBook Pro Retina since this summer. I was next in line for a new computer and they were just out, so I decided to get one.

It was beautiful -- wonderful graphics, sleek design. I reported on some of the setup hiccups back in August, haven't been blogging much since. I didn't start putting stickers on it, because since I began to use it, I began having headaches. I soon realized that the non-Mac programs were not using the Retina display properly. I debated whether to sell the Retina off to a colleague and get a non-Retina for myself, but finally decided to keep it. I've started off just with a WikiData, a CC, and a FSFE sticker.

But problems keep arising. I have to order an Thunderbolt-2-Ethernet adapter when I am suddenly in a place that doesn't believe in WLAN. I want to plug in a microphone and I discover there is no jack anymore for my super fancy room microphone. I want to leave my laptop in the library and go for coffee, so I whip out my Kensington lock - and find that there is no place to attach it to! My choices are no coffee or no Mac. I settled for the former.

Then suddenly, Keynote is crashing regularly. Or PowerPoint. Or both. Or picd crashes and wants to tell me about it many times. Urgently. Or the TimeMachine interrupts a presentation to tell me that it can't find the TimeMachine. Duh, I'm not home, dude.

I finally narrowed it down to Keynote / PowerPoint crashing when I plugged in the HDMI beamer. It also crashed with the VGA adapter. I tried plugging in and then turning on the beamer, turning on the beamer and then plugging it in, with all variations. Crash, crash, crash. Today, it didn't crash. No idea why, maybe because I installed Xcode last night?

I had avoided installing Xcode over the summer. It didn't get transferred, and is a 4 GB (GIGAbyte) package to download. Since I only have 5 GB a month on my plan, I delayed this until the fall when I could use the line at school. Last night a friend challenged me to a simple task. Should be a 20 minute job, just need to compile a tool in C.

Except that there was no Xcode installed. Okay, let's start downloading ....... Got it, now install. It now expands to 9 GB (!!!!!) somewhere on the disk. My new, larger disk is rapidly evaporating. It gets installed, I now have gcc, go to set up the code for the challenge.

BZZZT. Error.

LLVM ERROR: Cannot yet select: 0x1009eda10: f32 = fp_round 0x100a53310, 0x1009ed810 [ORD=1412] [ID=40]
  0x100a53310: f64 = fdiv 0x100a56910, 0x100a52e10 [ORD=1411] [ID=38]
    0x100a56910: f64 = sint_to_fp 0x100a56a10 [ID=36]
      0x100a56a10: i64,ch = load 0x100543bc8, 0x100a52710, 0x1009ed910 [ID=32]
        0x100543bc8: ch = EntryToken [ORD=1397] [ID=0]
        0x100a52710: i64 = add 0x100a56b10, 0x100a06c10 [ORD=1405] [ID=26]
          0x100a56b10: i64,ch = CopyFromReg 0x100543bc8, 0x1009eee10 [ORD=1405] [ID=18]
            0x100543bc8: ch = EntryToken [ORD=1397] [ID=0]
            0x1009eee10: i64 = Register %reg16385 [ORD=1405] [ID=6]
          0x100a06c10: i64 = Constant<24> [ORD=1397] [ID=2]
        0x1009ed910: i64 = undef [ORD=1398] [ID=4]
    0x100a52e10: f64 = sint_to_fp 0x100a56d10 [ID=35]
      0x100a56d10: i64,ch = load 0x100543bc8, 0x100a56510, 0x1009ed910 [ID=31]
        0x100543bc8: ch = EntryToken [ORD=1397] [ID=0]
        0x100a56510: i64 = add 0x100a56b10, 0x1009ee610 [ORD=1407] [ID=25]
          0x100a56b10: i64,ch = CopyFromReg 0x100543bc8, 0x1009eee10 [ORD=1405] [ID=18]
            0x100543bc8: ch = EntryToken [ORD=1397] [ID=0]
            0x1009eee10: i64 = Register %reg16385 [ORD=1405] [ID=6]
          0x1009ee610: i64 = Constant< [ORD=1399] [ID=5]
        0x1009ed910: i64 = undef [ORD=1398] [ID=4]
  0x1009ed810: i64 = Constant<0> [ORD=1404] [ID=3]
collect2: ld returned 1 exit status
make: *** [sim_c] Error 1 
 
  
Right.WTF is LLVM. I googled. It's a linker. I haven't tussled with a linker for 25 years! I scoured the forums. Lots of people have an LLVM error, and there are various incantations that may or may not work. I clicked through Xcode, looking for something to set. Nothing looked useful. At 2 am I gave up and went to bed.

This morning I showed the mess to one of our engineers. He had a bright idea, he had run into this trying to install Github on our iMacs. "Open up the preferences in Xcode", he said. "Go to Downloads and Components. Look, you don't have the command line tools installed!" It turns out, when you install 9 GB worth of Xcode in order to have a make around, it doesn't bother installing 150 MB worth of command line tools. So we downloaded them, installed them, and by magic, I was now able to create the tool for the challenge.

Look, Apple. It's not just the creative types that like to use your systems. There's Linux under the hood, so that it is possible to program without all the window-y stuff and 97 million checkmarks or buttons to set up for an Xcode project. That might be fine if I'm preparing an app for an iPhone, but when I want a trivial little thing built to fire off a simple task, I don't want to first have to install 9 GB of stuff just to get the compiler put somewhere where I can find it.


2012-11-18

Skyfall

Sorry about all those posts I've written in my head and forgotten to post ;)

The usual gang of suspects managed to get their calendars in order to meet up for James Bond and Skyfall in English. It was an enjoyable evening, even though there is far too much in the way of gunfighting and fires and stunts. The motorcycle chase along the roof of the Turkish bazaar was voted best scene.

To put it in a nutshell, an older Bond and a very grey M are caught in between a fight of old school spying vs. fancy new electronic spying. There are lots of computers around, and many cryptography buzz words are thrown in, if not always correctly used. Cute that one of the Bond girls is named Eve and the new boss Mallory, these are usually the two "bad guys" in cryptography protocols. They didn't get elliptic curves thrown in, however, more's the pity.

It was nice to see some strong women -- M, the minister -- not decked out in sexy clothes. And Ola Rapace is just sooooo good-looking, don't know why Noomi divorced him.

Even if the film was long (and there were 35 minutes of ads and trailers to bear before the film started) it was worth seeing.

2012-09-26

Don't spit!

I'm taking public transport in Berlin again, and it seems the S-Bahn still doesn't have it's problems sorted out. It's only been about 3-4 years....

I had to change trains at Südkreuz and as I stepped out of the train I saw a group of grade school kids (third grade perhaps) on the platform. A group of guys (natch) were standing around the reeling, looking down. One guy dared to spit down, and the rest of the group giggled.

There were two teachers along, deep in conversation with each other. Somehow I have this romantic notion of education in which teachers speak with their pupils ... Anyway, I eyed the teachers, and they gabbed on, so I went up to the spitter and asked him if he would like to have someone spit on his head.

"There was no one there!" he exclaimed.

I said, "whatever, what if you stepped under by mistake and the spit landed on your head? Would you like that?"

He turned sheepish, and the rest of the guys were all focussing on me. "Okay, well don't do that again." "I won't," he promised.

I turned to the teachers, gabbing on, gave them the evil eye and walked on. I wonder if they even realized what went on. Probably not.

2012-09-22

Chestnuts

It's the first day of Fall. It's cloudy and windy outside, and a little spray of rain falls here and there. The chestnut trees are dropping their fruit in the gusts of wind. I bend down and pick some up - three for each pocket. I love to roll them around in my hand as I walk. I throw out the old, dried up chestnuts from last year as I walk and enjoy the fresh, clean, smooth new ones.

I do wish summer could have stayed - it was so long in coming, until I could finally sit out in the sun, enjoy the soft moss. And in a blink of an eye it was past. The semester is fast approaching, Monday the exams start again. I'm already looking forward to next summer!

2012-09-18

CS people in ties?

As noted above, I'm currently at the yearly conference for computer scientists in Germany. If you think of CS types you think of geeks, or at least I do, being a geek myself. Geeks don't tend to give much attention to how they look, I used to think. And the GI conferences have been legendary. Okay, Manfred Broy's tie collection is legendary, but he used to be pretty much the only one sporting a tie every day of the conference and they were outrageous ones. But I remember Leslie Lamport at the conference in Hamburg many years ago, dressed in a geek T-Shirt and ratty tennis shoes and nailing the suit-wearing speaker on incorrect mathematics, or Christiane Floyd madly knitting in the front row of the Kaiserslautern conference on the military uses of computing.

It's day 2 of the conference here, and the place is full of suits and ties. Even women are running around in pinstriped skirt-suits. Pretty much only the students have T-Shirts, and that is because it is the helper's uniform.

Oh, wait - there's a geek with unruly hair, a bit of a tummy and a T-Shirt! Cool, he's a local professor! But I'm worried about computing people dressing up like this - we should be focussed on how to develop systems, how to solve problems, and how to think about how our technology will affect the world and whether we really want a world like that.

The Future of Computing

I'm currently attending the yearly conference of the German computing society, GI. It looked like a great day with lots of keynotes about the future of computing. The first keynote was, indeed, wonderful Barbara Liskov, at 72, one of the pioneers in computing who noted that people had complained about her receiving the Turing Award in 2009: But what she wrote is trivial, that't the way we do things today! Right, her work was instrumental in getting us away from gotos and global variables and into good programming practices!

Then things started to turn down. Lots of wonderful things we are expecting to soon see in medicine and automotive engineering (Braunschweig is near Wolfsburg = Volkswagen). Lots of things that scare the stuffing out of me because of the things that can go wrong if we blithely implement these technologies without thinking. Medical data freely available. Sensors in our living spaces to see if we are doing alright. Transportation bizarrness.

But wait, we can't even get the present to work properly. There are exactly two electrical outlets for the entire Audiorium maximum of a TECHNICAL university. I'm hogging one right now, in order to write this and fill up on electricity for the afternoon session ;)

2012-09-13

The Generic Masculine in German

Ok. I've had enough.

There is quite a backlash in Germany at the moment with guys moaning about how difficult it is to write "genderized" German. German inflects all sorts of words (although not as much as Icelandic does) depending on the gender male/female/neuter. For many years the generic masculine was found to be proper -- the gals were, of course, also meant, even if the speaker was only using the masculine terms. Studies have shown that language determines how people think, so often people would not consider women for a job or as a competent person, or what ever. Only men actually did stuff.

Many years ago a push was started for an inclusive German, much like in English today people don't say "mailman" but "mail carrier". There are other, inclusive or generic terms that can be used that are not so blatantly male.

But now, just because men have made a hash of the whole mess and write sentences that are unreadable because they are too lazy to think about how to write inclusively, many are resorting to that ominous footnote on the first gendered word: "Even though this thesis uses male terminology, in the interest of making the thesis more readable, females are of course included in the terms." They laugh and think: that shows them up.

Wrong, gentlemen.

First: There has been a wonderful brochure around for ages, Mehr Frauen in die Sprache, by Friederike Braun (Disclaimer: I lived in a Wohngemeinschaft for some time with her and enjoyed every minute of our discussions). Get it, read it, use it.

Second: Duden has been suggesting losing the generic masculine since 1999. That has been 13 years, people.

Third: If you are writing a thesis and I am reading it, it is generally not a good idea to piss me off too early while reading the thesis. I tend to go into Extreme Bitch Mode when irritated. I mark grammar errors. I find non sequiturs. I find missing or wrong footnotes. Is this a threat? Yes it is. Learn to write inclusively. Learn to see woman as human beings, on equal footing. Work for equality -- it's everyone's job, not just the women, to see that people are treated equally.

2012-09-12

The long backup

A new Mac needs a new Time Capsule - the old one is very full. I ordered a 2 TB (Terabyte! That's 1012 byte or  1.000.000.000.000 byte. My first hard disk, called a Winchester disk, was for my diploma thesis and hat 5 MB. And I couldn't imagine how on earth I would fill it. Today my camera drops that much on the miniSD for a good picture.

Anyway, it's an Apple product. Unwrap, unplug, click, done. Well, almost. You see, I now have 171 GB of stuff on my laptop. I'm sure half of it is no longer needed, but whatever. Since I'm home for two days I got is started right away. 30 hours later the little window says: "5 seconds left". It had said that for quite some time, however. I went to bed, and this morning it proudly announces that the first backup has been taken. 36 1/2 hours. Puh!

But I feel better now. My machine had been bitching at me every 4 hours that I really, really needed to dump a backup. Now I can smugly ask my students when their last backup was, safe in the knowledge that mine was taken automatically last night.

2012-09-04

I blinked

Gee, looks like I blinked and missed summer....

Here it is, September. The nights are getting dark sooner. The sun comes up later in the mornings. There's a chill in the night air, and the noonday sun doesn't quite warm you up like it should.

I've had a fire in the fireplace now two nights running. What did I accomplish over the summer? Well, the book is coming along, hit 100 pages last night but there is still much road to cover. And a semester to get started...

A few more days to enjoy before I get back, and hope to get back to blogging.

2012-08-16

The Trough

There's a handicrafts fair once a year in our little village in Sweden. People from the area sell the stuff they make during the long winter evenings. Most of it is kind of kitschy, but I usually buy honey and jam. It's really the best honey in the world. A few years ago I bought a round cement trough from a little girl who apparently made cement things with her dad. She had some nice blue tiles on it, so I thought I would put it on my little terrace garden.

I did, and it looks nice when I clean it up and fill it with clean water, but just a day or so later it is filled with leaves, so I've just been ignoring it. It is kind of grown over anyway.

The past few days have been marvelous summer weather here, so I've been eating breakfast outside. But since I am alone, I am rather quiet. And I have been getting company. There is a squirrel (actually, I saw two of them together today) that apparently owns the place. I watch them climbing up the trees and across the telephone pole wires and across the lawn.

One is suddenly on my terrace, looking around for danger. I don't move, but he senses me. So instead of going straight for the water, he sneaks around a large bush in the corner. He checks that I haven't moved, then runs to the trough and takes a long drink. He checks again that the coast is clear, and then makes a mad dash to the closest tree, looking back to see if I am following.

So I'm glad I bought the trough, I've seen a frog enjoying it, too. And I now have my camera at the table. Maybe I'll get a chance to take a closeup.

Update: Here he is!

Good thing he left the berry for me!

2012-08-13

Death by Proxy

I spoke with an American guy after church who is now working in Sweden. He used to be in the Navy as a career officer, and was deployed to Iraq. He left the military, he said, because he began to realize that he was so far removed from what was actually happening. He was not commanding his group, but the targets had been programmed in advance. The crew was just pushing a few buttons. They were not out in combat, but were safely in their offices on deck and were, it seemed, playing computer games. Except when they pressed a button, a missile was actually fired. It hit actual targets. It killed real people, but they didn't see their missiles impact. They had to wait until the next day until intelligence translated the newspapers to see what they did hit.

And he began to have qualms about the targets they were hitting - military buildings, but at night when there was probably only the cleaning crew there, not some military higher-ups; markets filled with civilians; even hospitals. And it was not his decision to bomb this target or that, it was a decision made at a desk far removed from what was happening. He didn't like it, and got out.

This is something that I find very troubling - the military moving towards death by proxy, using things such as drones to attack and kill people from afar, controlled by a kid who grew up playing computer games. Except there, when you restart the game, everyone is "alive" again. These games are lethal. I wouldn't mind them just battling each other with games, as long as they aren't killing real people. But I'm afraid this won't be feasible.

Why aren't we protesting louder about this kind of war?

2012-08-08

And now - Retina

I've just finished migrating to a MacBook Pro with a retina screen. I had ordered it over 4 weeks before heading out on vacation, but it didn't arrive. I was beginning to think Apple was starting to sell vaporware...

A friend coming up to visit brought it up, and I let it sit a few days before taking a deep breath and starting the migration. The first day I had to give up - all applications have to be closed in order to use the migration assistant. So I waited until getting ready for bed, and then started in.

Of course, I had made the usual mistake and set the new one up with my normal account name. I did that by mistake with the last one, and had to re-install the operating system from the disk in order to set up an admin account in a crazy name, and then set up my regular name for me. This computer doesn't have a disk, though, so I suppose I'll have to live with it and rename all the paths in configuration files... groan.

It announced that it would need 5 hours to transfer the 250 GB clogging my old machine (and yes, it ended up taking 5 GB of temp crap with it). After brushing my teeth it was 5.5 hours, after reading a mystery novel for 2 hours it was down to 3:58. Anyway, it was done in the morning.

I got to work after breakfast, and we had some more gotchas:

  • TrueCrypt would not work. Panic. I ended up having to install beta version 1.7a before I could decrypt my data.
  • Fugu hollered at me that this Mac would not execute PowerPC stuff, full stop. Had to download the pre-release candidate 1.2.1pre1 in order to access the off-machine stuff not on Dropbox.
  • Lion felt a pressing need to deal with some updates. It wanted to update all sorts of stuff I never really use, so I unchecked all that. Didn't have the Internet set up yet, just using the old box as a router. Oops: 
    This will take all week...
    No way I'm going to wait that long! I figured it was the stupid modem, so I restarted to old box. Sure enough, now we only needed about an hour for it all to download. Installed it, restarted the system, check. 
  • Then we had a classic Catch-22: I tried to access the Huawei-Internet modem directly and not through the old box. No dice - I needed a Java Runtime Environment. WTF? I had one on my old system! Why is this not a standard part of the OS? And to download the runtime environment I need what? Right! Internet! So I put the stick back on the old box and fiddled around until I found something that offered to install Java for me. Took another half an hour to get it downloaded and installed.
  • Surprise! All of the network definition information was not transferred!. I only have like 25 or 30 different networks I work in that all have bizarre problems that I sort out with my network definitions. Luckily, the old computer was still working (although it is making strange noises). 
  • We have Internet! And Adium works, as does YoruFukurou. 
  • How about Thunderbird? That tends to be a bitch. And indeed, I am greeted by pristine email boxes, not the 2000+ emails that should be there. And a missing archive. Okay, this will be a path problem, as I couldn't us my normal name. I'll just have to set that up again for each email account. Except that there is no /User/me/Library/... directory anymore. Gulp! Luckily, we have internet, so I mouse around and find the super secret magic trick: cmd + shift + G and blindly enter in the directory you want to visit, and it will be shown to you. And it works, and there was my email. WTF? Is Apple trying to save me from fussing with the OS or what? I looked for the box to tick to show me "hidden" files, nothing to be found. But I did find Tinker Tool while digging around and that had lots of cool boxes to tick to make the Mac work again. Thanks for saving my day!
  • I do not like the way the touchpad/mouse scrolls, so I switched the direction on that.
  • I started reading my emails, and opened up an attachment. Or rather, tried to start Word. Please enter my product activation key! Excuse me? I figure it out from the old machine, except that that one is a 20 digit number and now it wants 25 digits. Panic email to the engineer as school asking if he has any idea. Nope, we have a school license for as many copies on school computers as we need. I click on the 30 day free trial, enter my email address, and it now defaults back to my normal view and the 20 digit number. Okay, either it now works, or I panic in 30 days. Or start using Open Office in earnest.
Okay, my editing tool works, no more excuses. The calendar and the address book now have a fancy cutesy skin that I can't seem to find a way to shut off. And screenshots keep getting dumped back on the desktop instead of the directory I managed to get the old machine to use instead. Why couldn't it take all of my settings over? I'll probably have to set up the gazillion printers I know and love - yup, they didn't make it over, either. Yuck. 

The screen is very crisp - but I have an eyeache right now. I hope it is just staying up late reading last night. So it cost me a day. Not very user friendly. Oh, and I set up the Save As... to do Export...... I wonder if this is going to be my last Mac? It is getting far too Windows like....

Update: Wanted to fix my web page and called up Dreamweaver CS3. I know, CS6 is the current version, but why pay Adobe all that money for stuff I don't need? Photoshop works. Indesign works. But all I get is this:

Um, right. OK. 
No idea what's up. I did find a thread at Adobe though, and the solution is to copy the configuration directory (mine was 95 MB large?!) from the old machine to the new one. I renamed the directory on the new machine to crap, just in case I needed it again. I didn't. Works like a charm


The Vanished Man

I love Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series, as I may have mentioned before (here - and here - and here - and here). I picked up "The Vanished Man" at the second hand shop for 5 SEK (about 60 Euro cents), and dug in. "The expert magician seeks to deceive the mind, rather than the eye." And oh my, what a lot of magic and deception and just a general good story. Was up until 3 am in order to finish it off, and it is full of surprises, up to the very end!

Now if I could just sort out how to be a quick-change artist, I could shave lots of time off my getting ready for work in the morning! This guy can change AND put on makeup in 10 seconds? Boah. And I don't even need make up.

2012-08-06

Christiania

Mural at one entrance
I've visited Copenhagen many times over the past 35+ years, it is one of my favorite cities. But I have never visited the Freetown of Christiania, which is actually quite close to downtown Copenhagen. Although I have spent most of my adult life in close contact with all sorts of alternative projects, I should really have been to see it. But it rather intimidated me with its size and the jumble of streets and, I admit, a bit of fear of Pusher Street.

But we have gotten to know a woman who lived there for 16 years and is now working in the administration there while living outside. She offered to give us a tour the next time we were in Copenhagen, and so this past weekend was finally time to have a look around. We met at the metro station at Christianshavn and walked across the island to one of the entrances, which has this lovely mural on a house wall beside it.

The Freetown, sitting on a former military area, was occupied in the early Seventies, and they have had a very liberal drug policy with drugs being sold openly on the street until about 2004. What I didn't realize, was that in 1979 the inhabitants got mad at the pushers of hard drugs and evicted them from the area. The only drugs tolerated in the freetown are alcohol, tobacco, coffee and hashish.

This poster plastered all over the entrance areas makes it clear: You are welcome in Christiania, but not with hard drugs, weapons, violence, or threatening people.

Hash seems to still be available, just not in specific stands, because I saw a number of people smoking it. There are many large signs insisting that Pusher Street is a no-picture-taking-area. And our friend said: they mean it. People get nasty when pictures are taken in this area.

Christiania is also a car-free city, although they do have people trying to drive up to go shopping, and some of the residents have cars that they then have to park outside of the freetown. There are many, many bikes, of course, and the special kind of three-wheel bicycle that was developed here (but is now manufactured on Bornholm) for transporting children and/or goods is all over the place. Most of the bikes are driving at a leisurely pace, even the teenagers are quite polite as they ride past.

There are about 620 adults and around 200 children living permanently in the freetown. They make decisions by consensus, which means that there are many, many meetings needed to decide something. The freetown is organized into 14 areas that are rather self-governing, sending representatives to central meetings. Or not, if they don't feel like it.

They currently pay rent by the number of adults living there, this will soon be changing to the number of adults AND the square meters of the housing area. This can be anything from an old construction site wagon to fascinating houses that sometimes seem to defy gravity. They are sometimes called "architecture without architects"
On a tiny base
This is a house built with a pentagon outline to the main house with bits and pieces tacked on here and there
A piece here, a wall there, a bit sticking out the top. 
We walked and walked and walked, and I felt so strangely at home with these self-made living areas, the people just enjoying life in the streets, talking or singing together while someone plays the guitar, working on something or just hanging out. Of course, there were a good handful of drunks around, but they were not belligerent. They were just there, sort of belonged to the community.

A thistle
The community organizes their own trash sorting (and has to pay the city for garbage removal, gas, electricity, water, and such), has a building materials supply house, shops and a bakery, theaters and parks, a children's area, a movie theater, restaurants, a large communal bath house with a wood-fired sauna, and flowers all over the place. Some of the gardens are just a riot of color! The only thing missing seems to be a school. But there are so many good schools around, our friend said, that it is not necessary for them to have their own school.

There is lots of waterfront property, as the military area included a moat. Much of the waterfront is publicly accessible, people sit and talk, have a grill going, throw a stick for their dog to catch (there are lots of dogs here).

The freetown is currently buying the land from the city of Copenhagen in order to keep its independence. They need a lot of money for this, money that many of the inhabitants don't have. They have come up with the idea of selling "stock" in the town. You purchase shares, but don't own any property. But you get invited to a party once a year in the freetown! They need 76 million Danish crowns to buy off the property, and each inhabitant is paying a bit of this every month, as well as selling the stock in 100 DKK pieces. They have already collected 9 million DKK. There are some nice videos on the page - do have a look!

We finished off the evening at Spiseloppen, one of the popular restaurants in the freetown. You walk up the stairs in a hallway that is completely filled with graffiti. Even the graffitis have graffiti on them. You open the door - and are in a charming long hall filled with candles and two kinds of tables. There are communal tables for people who live there. They can get the evening's meal for a fixed price. Then there are tables set for guests, who can chose from a menu (at higher prices, of course). We had fantastic food, I had the vegetarian collection (the Danes put bacon on EVERYTHING, so I have to eat as a vegetarian in Denmark in order to avoid pork). There was a cabbage leaf filled with rice, peas, and mushrooms; cucumbers marinated in tsaziki in a phyllo nest; puff pastry filled with cheese; a vegetable patty; a great sauce and a piece of pineapple, accompanied by a bean salad with coriander. It was delicious!

I was exhausted from walking, but I really liked Christiania - I'll be back!

2012-07-28

The Subbotnik

When we came up to the cabin last week, there was a sign on the information board: "Clean-up Day. Saturday, July 28. 10.00. Decided on at yearly meeting. Everyone shows up. The board."

Well, I've seen more polite invitations for me to donate free work coming from students. They couldn't have sent an email around, informing people? Asking what day would be best? Maybe saying "please?"

The night before was the Olympics opening gala, and so I didn't get to bed until 2 am. I crawled out of bed and made some coffee at 9, and heard that they were already at work. I ignored them until the dot of 10, got out my work gloves and ambled over.

There were a good dozen people here, some with trimmers clearing out the bush, and the rest raking everything together. Two guys were using a chain saw to saw through some of the larger bits of wood. I greeted the folks I knew, and dove in.

Ten minutes later it was break time, since they had already started well before. At least the board had organized cold beer and water. It was nice to chat with some of the neighbors, ones from the other end of the colony that we haven't seen in years. The German spoke shyly to me - "I think I saw you on TV last year." Yup. And the new neighbors asked if they had heard me in Swedish radio just the day after I had introduced myself to them. Yes again, I had been up to give a talk and a bunch of interviews, had sort of a blitz of Swedish media, radio, TV, and newspaper. My!

After about half an hour the bossy, nosy wife of the board speaker (she is the vice speaker, keeps it all in the family) came around to check on who all showed up. She came up to me to ask me who I was - I've only had this house for about 16 years and she bitched *bitterly* about the shenanigans of our son for years. Guess I'm not as famous as I thought :) I told her, and she excused herself for not working, she just had an operation. I think she should have stayed home and rested.

Anyway, had a nice chat with the neighbors on both sides, and got a big bear hug from the Italian guy who was happy to see me, as I always stop to chat with him when I see him in his garden. On the dot of 11 I excused myself, said that I had an appointment, and hurried home to change. As I drove out, they were all standing around, talking. Must be good for getting to know your neighbors, although I know a number of people who didn't go because they hated the rude tone of the sign.

My appointment? Running through the "loppis", the flea markets, looking for a new office chair. Got a great one with armrests for 100 SEK, that's about 12 €, with the euro being so low against the krona. But still a great bargain.

The title of this article, Subbotnik? Go look it up in the Wikipedia.

2012-07-26

The Swarm

WiseMan was cleaning out the guest house and pulled the pile of cushions out of the corner. We haven't had many guests for a while, so we've not had the whole pile out for some time. He pulled out the last cushion, and found something unappetizing - the floorboards were sagging, and there was an ant colony living there.

He got me to come and look, and we soon realized that we didn't need to shoo them, they were breaking camp. There was a large pile of eggs in one corner, and in a flash every ant had picked up an egg and transported it out of our sight. Teamwork!

Still, we don't relish them coming back, so we got some ant spray at the store. I'm debating whether to take up the flooring or not. I probably should, but that will be a few days worth of work to fix it. Anyway, the sun was shining today, I painted the deck and finished power washing the house. Now: time to write!

2012-07-22

Never forget Utøya

A year ago today a lone gunman first created a diversion in downtown Oslo to occupy the police, and then went out to the island of Utøya, where the social-democratic youth were holding a political summer camp. There he shot dead 69 people.

Norway has not let itself become a police state. They value their freedoms so much, that they have just carried on, and put the murderer on the stand as they would any other murderer. They did not ramp up "security" (okay, they already have cameras all over the place), they did not do what the murderer wanted, to force the "foreign elements" out of Norway. They remained unshaken.

Today, many cities in Scandinavia are holding memorial services. The Oslo service was broadcast on Swedish TV, I listened to the premier, Jens Stoltenberg, give an excellent speech. July, normaly one of the lightest and happiest months in Norway, will retain a black spot, July 22. "We are aware of those who are in mourning, who are hard put to deal with day-to-day life. We are there, and we will reach out, and speak with you."

In Lund a small group of young people gathered in front of city hall on the large square around a red flag: "We will never forget Utøya. We will not let ourselves be conquered". They had storm candles and red roses, and just stood in silence. Passersby stopped, and joined in for a few minutes, before carrying on.



2012-07-20

My, how time flies!

Someone was asking if anyone had a "Duden Informatik" around. I piped up "sure" and got it down from the shelves.

Oh my. Time flies!

I purchased this when I got my first professorship in 1993. There have been a few changes, it seems, since then. Internet is not an entry, but electronic post is there. There are flip-flops and NAND gates and programming languages like Pascal and Elan.

I guess I haven't really used it much, especially not recently. I do think this is a candidate for the paper bin. But not tonight.

2012-07-13

This would be great weather - for April

They are forecasting 19 degrees C and rain for tomorrow. It's the middle of July, and we have mostly had rain and cold all summer. Oh, there's been a bright spot here and there. I'm sure I've had breakfast outside twice now. And gone to school without a coat at least one day already.

On the other hand, I've gotten soaked a few times.

I just hoping that summer has been saving up all the warm goodness for when I'm off school. Last day of classes tomorrow!

2012-07-07

Rest in Peace, Part II

We buried Daddy the day after his funeral when the ashes finally turned up. We had chosen a spot on the land that still belonged to him - or rather, that we thought belonged to him. We had even checked at the courthouse that the current owner was him.

A week later we got an unsettling letter. The property had been sold at a tax sale in September. For payment of the $200 outstanding and 10% of the market value of the property, sold to the greedy neighbor that my father did NOT want to have the property. There had been a notice in the paper (which we don't read) and there had been a sign tacked up on a telephone pole on the property. That counts as proper notice in those parts.

I dug through records, found the bill, we had it in the list of paid bills, but in the digital world, only the last 6 months were online. We had to pay to have the back statements printed, and mysteriously all other payments on our records were done, but this one was not. Shit. We consulted a lawyer, it would be costly to sue, not sure to win, and then we would have to sell the property to pay for Mom's care. So we decided to be practical and just move Dad.

My brothers did the deed yesterday. We had been planning on planting a dogwood - his favorite tree - on the spot. Instead, they dug him up (luckily, we had marked the spot with some stones), drove to the cemetery where his father had purchased 9 lots because they were on a special deal, and buried him next to his parents and his sister. The view is not so nice from here, we can't plant anything, and it is in the county seat and not in the village he was born and grew up in.

But we do have high hopes that he can now, indeed, rest in peace.

2012-07-01

New car!

We purchased a new car today! Well, new for us. It's 3 years old, but has only run about 8000 km. It must have just been used to go shopping on Saturdays or something. It is a nice color of blue, has A/C and seat heating, the back seat folds partially or completely, with enough room for taking stuff along to Sweden. It's pretty basic otherwise, place to park my gum and my parking card and a cup of coffee. It's job is to take me from A to B and not need *too* much gas.

It will be such a relief not to be totally dependent on the dysfunctional public transport here in Berlin. I still want to use my bike in the summer, I've kind of gotten to like the ride to work from the train station on bike: through quiet streets, over the water on a pedestrian bridge, then down a wide bike path. I get to school in a good mood, and I think the students appreciate that.

WiseYoungMan will *not* be driving this car, however...

2012-06-29

The Italian Trauma

Poor Germany. Lost again in a soccer championship to Italy. Seems they've never won against Italy in a championship. People will be in such a bad mood tomorrow. Germany was soooo expecting to win the EM, save the Euro, and have a warm, sunny summer in July.

They should have noticed that Siebenschläfer was rainy. That means lots of rain ahead. And lost soccer games. Let's just hope they don't give up on the Euro.

2012-06-24

My Parallel Universe

I seem to live in a parallel universe.

I was at a large picnic with friends yesterday. There was great food, good music, lots of people, many new faces, some old friends. But the discussions that I listened to or tried to join in convinced me that I live in a parallel universe that has little intersection with the one they live in.

The women spoke about bizarre alternative medicine things like "energetic" bracelets that exchange the "bad" ions to make you feel good, yoga, vacation, Waldorf schools, and their kids. The men spoke of their new toys: sailboats, cameras, grills, cars.

Oh, I spoke of cars, too, complaining of the difficulty of obtaining a new one. A Polish friend laughed at me - "You Germans, always make a project out of everything! Just buy one, and if you don't like it, sell it again!". She does have a point there.

But things like post-privacy, Leistungsschutzrecht, ACTA, the Euro, the sad state of education in Germany, etc. etc. were just not a topic. Oh, I tried a few times, but there were no takers on such a discussion. I went down to the lake for a swim, a discussion with two young boys about making grass whistles, and some reading on a topic from my universe.

Maybe I just need to get me one of those bracelet do-hickeys and get my mind off of all those serious topics.

2012-06-23

Burning Rice

I was cooking the rice for a rice salad I'm taking to a picnic tomorrow. It's an easy recipe - cooled, cooked rice, sour cream, curry, salt, mandarin oranges, tinned mushrooms, green pepper, onion. Mix and refrigerate.

I put the rice in the pot as the soccer game was starting, and then disappeared into my office to get some work done, popping back into the living room to see the better goal attempts. Suddenly WiseMan jumps up and heads for the stove. He turns the stove off and then points out that the rice was burning. Oops -- forgot to set the timer and I don't smell anything burning. Good job someone else was here!

Luckily, just the bottom bit was burned and I could use the rest. Just had to scrape the burned rice off the bottom of the pot. Hope that teaches me to always use a timer!

2012-06-20

Speaking vs. writing

I spoke at length with a friend about the problems I am having finding time to write. He pointed out that I am taking far too many speaking engagements. Since these tend to be in the south of Germany (because they assess tuition fees of 500 € or so a semester, so they have money for stuff like this), I end up with a good 5 hours travel there, an overnight, 5 hours travel home + the speaking engagement. That's more than I full day I could be writing,

And my theory that I can write on the train is really fiction. First train this evening had no electricity for my laptop - so I dozed, being very tired. The second one had electricity, but an annoying guy sitting next to me, so I chose to doze some more. So I kind of think he's right. Less speaking engagements. More writing — because the writing gets itself archived in libraries.

2012-06-19

Leistungsschutzrecht

I was lecturing on accessibility yesterday and we were speaking about link name design and alternate texts. I mentioned that the current version of the Leistungsschutzrecht being rushed through the parliamentary process in Germany might have legal restrictions on what you can do here. At least the current proposal (Discussions of the problems: W. Michal - J. Moenikes - T. Kreuzer - Dossier at iRights.info; Position of the publishers: BDZV). The main idea is that the publishers are angry that Google is earning money with its content by publishing the links and some snippets from the target. This is the proper, accessible, way to do it. The publishers want to forbid a "commercial" use of "their" content. The discussion is raging in the German Blogosphere.


My students looked at me wide-eyed. Leistungsschutzrecht? Never heard of it. Like they never heard of inductive proofs or Collections. Here we have the legislative trying to set up laws so that the publishers who have completely slept through the Internet age can continue to make money the old way and this will be affecting how they work in the future, and they don't even inform themselves of what is happening? Wake up, people! Use your brains and voices and get on this topic!

Kairos

I never realized that there could be more than one way of looking at time. For me it was just a constant flow forwards that seems to get faster every year that I age. I've just learned that the Greeks have a concept they call kairos, which means the opportune time for something. Letting the time pass by without acting can be problematic. Poseidippos of Pella wrote an epigram about a statue of Kairos, said to be a son of Zeus.  This is a translation from the Greek by Edward A. Storer:

From what country is the sculptor? From Sikyonia.
His name? Kairos.
And who are you? Luck, that rules everything.
Why do you stand on tiptoe? I am always running.
Why have your feet twin wings? I fly on the wind.
Why have you a razor in your right hand? That men may know me sharper than the keenest blade.
And why this hair over your forehead? That he who meets me may take hold of me.
But, by Zeus, why are you bald behind? That no-one I have passed by on my winged feet may seize me at his fancy from behind.
Why has the artist fashioned you so? For your sake, stranger, he made me and set me up as a warning in this porch.
It is about the window of opportunity, that swiftly passes - I'll take it, I think.

2012-06-15

Bubble Tea

Berlin is awash in a new fad — Bubble Tea. There are little shops springing up all over the place. A new one just opened at Bahnhof Zoo, so I decided to give it a try on my way home this evening. There are lots of decisions to be made: milk and tea or just tea? Green tea or black tea? What syrup? Which kind of tapioca balls?

Tapioca. That was right up there with liver and onions and mashed potatoes and orange juice with pieces on my will-not-eat list as a child. Slimy balls of glue in a milk and egg custard. I'd rather not have had dessert at all, but we had to belong to the "Clean Plate Club" before we were allowed to leave the table.

But this is a scientific experiment. I chose green tea, being lactose intolerant. Mango syrup sounded good, and the guy offered to half-and-half the tapioca balls. So I took mango and lychee balls. A second guy poured cups of stuff into a cup — the tea and the syrup. He added ice and strapped it into an automatic shaker. Then he poured it out into the cup with the tapioca balls, and sealed the lid with plastic foil. I was given a thick, pointy straw, and instructed to poke it in hard. I did, worked fine, and he smiled and gave me a fortune cookie.

I took a deep breath and drank. Sweeeeeet is not strong enough to describe it. And you can get extra sugar on it, if you need to, for an additional 50 cents. No, thanks! And then the first tapioca balls bubbled up. I shuddered and held them in my mouth. I bit - and the sweetness inside the tapioca was released. Hmm, an interesting sensation.

I finished the cup, having a bit of trouble at the end as there was no more liquid left and I was wary of inhaling tapioca into my windpipe. It was definitely interesting, but will probably not be something I will become addicted to, it was too sweet.

The fortune cookie announces a new romance - maybe I will fall in love with bubble tea the next time I try it?

2012-06-10

Nimble? Not!

We spent hours on Saturday driving out to have a look at a car we were thinking of buying. We had to change trains twice each direction, and always just missed a train, having to wait 10 minutes for the next one. That was 40 minutes of unnecessary waiting, and 90 minutes for a trip that normally takes 40 (each direction) by car.

I am not patient enough for this.

So I decided to join a car-sharing scheme so that I can quickly obtain a car for such a trip (and for replenishing the juice/water/beer supplies that are dwindling without a car). I decided on Flinkster (flink is a German word for "nimble", sounds good). Since I have a BahnCard, I don't have to pay a monthly fee. The hourly rate is a bit higher, but I don't need it much.

I registered on the web site, and the first strange thing happened. I typed in all my data, then my BahnCard number, and then it wanted me to type in everything again. Dutifully, I did so. I printed out the forms and signed them, and then noted: The telephone number I had put in was not filled in, on the other hand my Prof. Dr. (which is on the BahnCard but which I didn't fill in) was on the form. So if they have the data already, why am I being asked to type it in again?

I was to take the form to any DB Service Point, open every day and in Berlin even on Sundays until 10pm. So on the way home from church I stopped by. First off, I misinterpreted the term "Service Point". I took a number in the ticket office and waited - as the only customer in line - until the clerks finished discussing whatever it was that they needed to discuss. Well, I was wrong, but at least one of the clerks showed me the way.

The information desk was what I needed. I stated my business and was greeted with blank stares. "Flinkster?" Yes, the car-sharing thing. I later saw that there was even an ad for it posted behind them. Hmm. One of the two people starts digging in a drawer and pulls out a folder that has seen better days. They grumble. They mumble. They put something in the computer.

I hand them my papers. One types something in, frowns. Mutters. Types something in again, frowns again. Um, speak to me? It seems there is a problem in the system. I explain that I had to put everything in twice. We mumble and grumble. One of them looks up and says "we are guest workers here, we normally work somewhere else."

I call home and ask for "Tatort" to please be taped. No way I am going to be home on time.

They finally get something going, ask me a few questions, ask for my ID and driver's license. They type in a bit more information, frown a bit more at the screen and my ID. I get both the ID and the driver's license back, wait some more, and then they want the driver's license again, after they discuss something about a sticker. They take my driver's license and affix a sticker to it!

"Wait a minute, that's an official document! You are a private company! Are you allowed to put that on my driver's license?" " Yes, sure, that's how it works!" "I was supposed to get a card." "Oh now, now we put stickers on the driver's licenses."

I get it back while they stamp and sign a bunch of stuff. Sure enough. Another RFID tag. Now, with a separate card I can leave it at home unless I need it. But the driver's license I always have with me, also when driving cars that are not rented by the DB. There are getting to be quite a few RFID chips in my wallet, I don't find that very comforting.

Finally I asked if they had some information on this new sticker-on-the-driver's-license thing. They rooted around a bit, and then I just said thank you and left. The process of getting set up for the Flinkster was all but nimble. I hope the cars are easier to rent.

Got home too late for "Tatort", so I started watching the taping, and then it was a re-run. Auch das noch...


2012-06-09

You will be grateful for that eventually

We met this morning with representative students from the program I teach in. We have each semester group elect two representatives, and then anyone interested can come. 18 students attended, a third of them women, 20 % with a "migration background", as it is euphemistically called in Berlin. That's actually pretty representative of the program.

We have complaints from students about professors, from professors about students, and from students about the stupidity of other students. It was good to hear what they had on their minds, although many of the problems are beyond our power to control. It seems they want to have a unified university experience with all the information they need delivered to them just in time. I explained that that is what they are to be learning at university - how to deal with complex and bizarre organizations and get the information that they need when they need it.

Each semester was asked about their current problems, starting with the oldest semesters and working our way down. We finally got to the first semester students, who were attending such a meeting for the first time. "Well," one of the students said, "everyone is kind of complaining about the lab reports for WiseWoman." I get lots of complaints about this.

I insist on the students not just delivering code, but describing the process by which they arrived at their results in complete sentences. With screenshots of their programs working. With a reflection on what they learned and how long they needed for the exercise. And the reports need to have their names on it, a title, page numbers, and all sorts of boring stuff. Not using a spelling checker can lead to a slightly lower grade than expected. Did I mention that it is either on time or not accepted? Moodle is my friend, refusing to accept papers beyond the deadline.

I was quite gratified by the chorus of voices from the older semesters that chimed in: "You will be grateful for that eventually." I've had former students that meet me on the street thank me for forcing them to write reports - they have needed that skill in the Real World. So I just keep on being a nasty beast and make them write in complete sentences.


2012-05-26

Surfers in the Back Row

Ooops, got caught on camera getting some work done during a talk at a conference ... looks like I wasn't the only one, though ;) And here I am tweeting on my pad after the battery on my laptop ran out.

In the woods without a car

I've tried it before, heading up to the cabin for just a night or two with the train and having the neighbors pick me up from the train station 8 km away. It works, because I can get enough food for 2 days in one bag.

But this time I'm up for 4 days, so it was the question whether it is doable for longer. The result: with good neighbors, it works!

I took a suitcase up with me - clothes, books, some food just in case, stuff that needs lugged up, and that was my downfall. It took forever to get the suitcase back from EasyJet, and I missed the last through train by a minute. Normally the DSB is always late ....

So I waited for the next one along in 20 minutes, and got off in Lund to wait 30 minutes for the next small train to take me one town down where I could wait another 20 minutes for the next train to take me on, getting me there just before midnight. Then I got lucky - I spied the express bus - leaving in 10 minutes for the other county seat that is just as far away from the cabin as the one that has the train station. Even being a bus, it was 25 minutes earlier at this regional town that the train would have been at the other one. I gave my neighbor a half liter of brandy I had picked up at the airport, making him very glad to drive me anytime I need a lift!

The neighbors lent me their car in the afternoon so I could get supplies. And then I didn't need to go anywhere - I'm working and writing this weekend! This is my very favorite place hackspace for writing:

Yes, the lilacs are still in bloom here.
And these are from my garden!

Tomorrow I'll be heading for church - they actually organize a pick-up service inside the county. So I chose one of the services, an open air service on the beach, and called the telephone number. Someone will be picking me up a half an hour before the service, I am really looking forward to seeing how this works!

Now, time to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.....

2012-05-21

Lost and Found

Friday was one of those losing-things-days. As we got off the boat to the museum island, one of the girls asked why there was a picture of their mother on the boat. She checked, and the id photo extra she carried with her was gone. It was stuck inside a picture frame, the girl said. Oh well, some one had found it. It was not valuable, just strange to think of that picture traveling back and forth between the mainland and the island.

Up at the Fram I decided to sit out in the sun and read. I went to check my watch to see how much time we had - and my watch was gone! It was not an expensive watch, but it had large numbers (good for teaching!) and a light so that I can check the time in a movie theater.

Being without a watch is downright weird. Seems I check my watch a lot. There are alternative ways of obtaining the current time - but digging out one's mobile phone is not the same as sneaking a peek at a wristwatch.

Later in the day, one of the girls left her favorite, cool Irish hat at one of the museums. So at breakfast Saturday we decided to go on a treasure hunt and retrace our steps.

On the boat we found the picture right away. It was right there, stuck in the picture frame. We debated getting off the boat at the first stop, but decided to deal with the easy stuff first. She was sure it was lost in the museum. We got off on the next stop and headed for the KonTiki museum. Sure enough - the cap was in the lost and found! We took the bus to the place where I noticed my watch missing, and started tracing back through my steps. Amazing, how much you can make yourself remember. Just can't remember what happened to the watch.

We took the boat back into town - so we got a nice cruise - and checked at the boat kiosk lost and found. No luck. Oh well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad. And now I have an excuse to get a new watch :-)

The Holocaust Museum in Oslo

What? A Holocaust museum in Norway? What did they have to do with the Third Reich? Enough, it tuns out, that there is a need for a museum and a research organization to keep this memory alive.

A good friend, Einhart, retired professor for European history at the University of Oslo, was a member of the steering committee that founded this museum. We were privileged to have him give us a private guide through the exhibition. The house in the Bigdøy area of Oslo is the house that Vidkun Quisling  lived in. That was the Norwegian turncoat who was minister oresident during the occupation of Norway by the Nazis during the Third Reich. A day after taking office he had questionaires printed with a few "harmless" questions that all Jews in Norway were to answer. He rounded up and deported 771 Norwegian Jews to Germany, most of them died in Auschwitz.

I was wondering there was such a museum in Norway. It seems that the Norwegians long denied having had a "Jewish problem". It was during the course of restitution - the government had conveniently confiscated property from the deported Jews - that a foundation was set up so that not only the Jewish community would have something, but that future generations be educated about what happened.

The entrance to the building has a large sculpture with a Hollerith card on it and blinking lights showing 'just some innocent data". This is an installation by Alfred Dreyblatt. There are lights showing the innocent data coded on the card. Both our mathematician friend and I thought it was very good, since we both programmed with such cards back in the Middle Ages. We had a hard time explaining it to the girls, though, even though one is in her first semester of studying computing. How weird, punching holes in cards.

We entered the museum with Einhart and started pestering him with questions at the film exhibit with the few photos made of rounding up the Norwegian Jews and deporting them to Nazi Germany. These were Norwegian citizens making other Norwegian citizens pack a suitcase, leave their homes, and board a ship, the S/S Donau, headed for a German concentration camp. As soon as they were gone, they divided up the economic spoils amongst each other.

There were a few other odd happenings - two gypsy families that happened to be outside of Norway were denied entrance back into the country that they were citizens of. The Norwegians wholeheartedly embraced the Nazi ideology, participating in racial classification, and publishing antisemitic cartoons, articles and pamphlets. And no wonder - they were being lauded as the ideal race, the Nordic person. It was kind of flattering. And with the Jews safely deported, Norwegian soldiers joined in with the Germans in their unholy fight.

Oh, there was still stuff to do - they had to decide what to do with th quarter and eighth Jews. What race were they? They developed the idea of the "Jewish way of looking." This was an easy-to-administer test. If the examiner thought you looked at him in a Jewish manner, you were Jewish. Full stop. Einhart told of a talk he gave on the Jewish situation in Norway that was simultaneously translated into sign language. The term for Jew is signed as a big, hooked nose. Religion became race became destiny.

There was a story of one girl who dawdled packing her suitcase and missed the boat. A few pictures of people, children, a few stories, and some video interviews with the few who survived the camps. 34 did so, only one remains alive today.

The final rooms tell a story of a country in denial. When the survivors returned, they were largely ignored. Other people were living in their houses, had taken their furniture, had taken their crops and fields. It was trying to sort out questions of inheritance - the Norwegians were quite Prussian in their insistence on proper papers such as death certificates. The Germans at the concentration camps didn't bother with such niceties. It apparently took an act of Congress to get them declared dead, the day that people arrived at Auschwitz.

The final room contains the names, birth and death dates of thoe killed. Unfortunately, there are a few listed named Israel or Sarah, these were second names given to the Jews by the Germans to mark their Jewishness. It is a small exhibit - and a big job to teach the current generations about the past, so that it is never repeated.






2012-05-19

A Nation Proud - and Drunk

It was Grunnlovsdagen in Norway, May 17, the day they commemorate freedom from Denmark in 1814. This is a major holiday, both in terms of the traditions that are followed and the amount of alcohol consumed. In addition, this was the first celebration after the terrible attacks of July 22 of last year, in which an apparent lone right-wing assassin killed 8 people with a bomb detonated outside of a government buildings and then drove to the island of Utoya and there shot 69 people, mostly young people, at a Labour Party camp before being captured.

This terrorist deed in a peaceful, open, and free country could have easily turned it into a police state, much like the hysterical USA. But Norway decided that they did not want to give up their lifestyle, and have been determined to not cave in.

The entire day, nothing was said about Utoya. No political speeches. No king declaring something or other. Oh, the heros of the disaster were invited to be VIPs at the Barnetoget, the children's parade at the castle. And every pore of every body was oozing: We are Norwegians and a free people and we like it that way.

We started the day early (although we enjoyed some wine we had along the night before) at 8.15 and managed to get to the castle by 9.25. That was just in time, we actually got places right along the police railing where we cound see the palace balcony. We waited for the festivities to begin and watched the people streaming in.

They were dressed to the teeth, most of the women in traditional regional
costumes (which cost upwards of 4000 € and weigh over 8 kilos) and many of the men as well. The rest of the men had suits and ties on, and everyone was wearing red.white.blue bunting or carrying a flag or two or both. Many of the kids had helium balloons purchased from the many men standing around selling a bunch of them.

Finally, the festivities got underway. A covered wagon with a group of fiddlers drove up, followed by some folk dancers. The king and the crown prince and princess and various other members of the royal family stepped out on the balcony. A choir showed up and some musicians and a flag or two, and they sang "God save the Queen" (except they sang in Norwegian about their king). This was followed by the national anthem. And then the children's parade began. Endless groups of children singing, playing instruments, waving flags. Many "multikultural" children were also carrying flags. The daughter of the Crown Prince apparently one of the 27.000+ participants. In between adult marching bands from all over the country performed. And each dipped thier flags as they passed by the King.

I finally talked the rest into leaving after an hour, it was just more and more of the same. We had coffee in a very fancy (=expensive) restaurant and then headed off to see the resnt of town.  We hiked up to the Vigeland Museum, a garden of delightful nude statues. I wonder if this is even mentioned in American guidebooks? Back in town we purchased a day ticket for public transportation and used it to take a boat trip - the sun was shining, it was delightful on the water!

The town was still crawling with people. The marching bands, being all dressed up and awake, marched and played through various streets. Groups of Norwegians strolled aimlessly through the streets. The seniors in high school were wearing overalls of red or blue (one is for those specializing in humanities, the other for sciences) that were decorated with their name and various oddities. Each overall has a pocket with clear pastic - their id cards are in that pocket, presumably so that the police know where to deliver them when they are picked up in the streets, drunk.

We tried to find someplace for dinner - but all the restaurants were filled with rowdy and drunk Norwegians. We finally managed to get a beer at one place before they closed the kitchen, so we ended up with bread and cheese meant for breakfast. We hope the stores will be open again tomorrow....

2012-05-16

Oooof to Ooooslo

We are heading up to Oslo for the Norwegian national holiday weekend. WiseYoungMan is minding the shop - at least he can't wreck the car this weekend again...

I haven't been to Oslo for many years. I used to work for Norsk Data, we flew up (or took the overnight boat) quite often. I'm not expecting my favorite haunts to still be there, but we'll see. And a visit to the Holocaust center and the museum of modern art are already booked, as well as a table in the sports pub to watch the Champions League game. Maybe they have WLAN there and I can surf a bit like I do at home :-)

We'll see if my Norwegian is still usable!

Double Nickels

I spent all of last week at conferences and dealing with the car that I forgot the blog posting I was planning about reaching double nickels. 55. I could apply for all sorts of senior citizen discounts in the US. I'm now a "silver surfer". A 55+, as the digital natives love to refer to their elders.

Where did all these years go?

I've been in Berlin for 21 years. 15 before that in Kiel. 19 in the US. Yup - adds up.

I guess it's time to start making lists of things I want to do before I retire.

  • Get that book written!
  • Visit Australia & Japan
  • Decide I hate making lists
I'm just going to ignore that age thing.

2012-05-15

Bye-Bye Car

Uff. We invested a good bit of money into the car at the beginning of the year (new tires, rebuilding the motor) so that it would run until the inspection ran out the end of August. We were planning on getting a new car then, and have been lazily visiting the showrooms.

I had WiseYoungMan drive me to the airport on Tuesday. I was nagging him from the get-go: no starts like that young man, watch where you are going, DON'T TEXT IN TRAFFIC! He dropped me off and I left instructions as to when he was to pick me up the next day when I got back.

I was picked up by WiseMan - for a bus ride. WiseYoungMan totaled the car Tuesday evening. He's okay (glad for that), but he insists he's not at fault. The car just broke out to the left, luckily no cars were coming the other way, and he smashed the car into a wall. Luckily he wasn't going fast, he somehow managed to get the car driven home. So we had the junk man come and look at it, I got a few hundred Euros for it (making me suspect that I could have gotten more if I had shopped around). WiseYoungMan got all my stuff out of the car, and it was hauled off.

I was so sad to see the car go - after all, it's been a member of the family for about 8 years! Driven all over the place, it's kind of my mobile office. Sure, it's usually dirty (although I just sprung for a deluxe car wash on Monday!), but it was my mobility tool. Lots of adventures we had with the car, I was really sad to see it get towed from the parking place.

Today, I had to bike to work. And then biked out to an auto showroom - they don't tend to be easily reachable by public transport and/or bikes. I'm not sure what I want. And I'm not sure how I'm going to sort out getting to Sweden for Pentecost. Maybe I don't need a car?

2012-05-06

Former students

I love meeting up with former students! Yesterday I joined four of my first Master's students (there were only 7 in the group, it was - and still is - a tight-knit bunch) for coffee in Friedrichshain. It was wonderful hearing about both the personal stuff - weddings, kids, new cities - and the work issues. It was fascinating to hear them describe how things are done in the Real World. And gratifying, once again, to hear "you were right, you know."

I know. But I like to hear it over and over again.

Three of the four were also in the first Bachelor's group that we had - I see them in my mind's eye on those first days of university. Unsure of themselves in this strange place. Determined to be the best. Wondering what that small, oldish woman up front would be able to teach them. These are the fruits of teaching - to see that you have contributed at least a small part of making them what they are today.

They noted that they felt grown-up now - and didn't need to mess around with programming and hardware any more to prove to themselves that they could do it. They know that they can, and have moved on to other things: product manager, team leader, chief programmer, doctoral student.

Having a day like this really lifts my spirits! Thanks for telling me where you were meeting, guys!

2012-04-30

Füchse: Handball Champions

Boah, what a game that was! I only watched it on TV afterwards, as I had promised months ago to preach yesterday. So I gave my ticket to the handball Champions League game away. I mean, it was hopeless! The Füchse had lost in Leon with 11 goals, there was no way they were going to win.

But in the full house in Berlin they started playing tricky - taking out the goalie so they had 7 guys throwing goals. This so irritated the Spaniards, that they lost their footing. And the Füchse gained ground goal by goal. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7 goals ahead. The crowd was whipping them to a frenzy, Silvio Heinevetter seemed to know exactly where each ball was coming and had a foot or a hand or a rather sensitive part of his anatomy in the way. 8. 9. 10. The crowd was boiling! 11 goals ahead - the hall exploded, and the Spanish coach took his time out. The Füchse made one more goal, and then slipped back to 9 goals ahead. But the crowd wouldn't let up. Two minutes before the end they were leading by 11 goals and Torsten Laen got thrown out for a 2 minute penalty. One goal in 2 minutes with one man more on the playing field and a championship waiting - that is normally a simple exercise. But luck was with the Füchse, Heinevetter managed to deflect the ball, and the Füchse just played down the last 10 seconds.

WiseMan came home unable to speak and exhausted. Seems he screamed a lot ;)

So this means the Füchse, who have only been in the premier league for 5 years, are heading to the Final Four, the international championships. What a great team! So even if they don't win, they are champions for making it to the final round.

Better get my season tickets sorted out for next year. They are certainly in line for German championships. And much better than the Berlin soccer team, who is looking at playing in the second league again....

2012-04-28

Greenland Eyes

The Greenland Eyes film festival is running in Berlin at the moment. I think this is the first festival in Germany with only films that are somehow related to Greenland. We have Henrik Fleischer and his wife staying with us, he grew up on Greenland although he currently lives in Denmark. They had an eventful trip down here.

Hendrik normally works as an editor, but was roped in to do the subtitles on the first film we saw this evening. The translator quit after three weeks, he managed to find a stewardess who did a translation in-flight for him, he spent the last three days non-stop fitting the subtitles in and rendering. The film itself is an adventure, as the young filmmaker who made this first Greenland feature film had deleted it from his hard drive in order to make room for his next project. Luckily, someone had ripped the film at some point, so there was a digital copy to work on. But the film wouldn't render properly and wasn't done when it was time to go, so Hendrik just picked up his iMac (the computer in a big screen), stuffed it in a bag and got on a train. There was an accident along the way, so they just showed up in time for a cup of coffee before heading out to see if they could get the film rendered and projected. They made it.

"Tikeq, qiterleq, mikileraq eqeqqqq" (Forefinger, Middle finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger) by Ujarneq Fleischer (2008) is a story about four teenage boys who want to be the coolest kids around. They are goofy and aggressive and full of testosterone when they suddenly meet a stranger who starts them on a hunt for the ultimate coolness, being a Master of Power. This involves looking for breadboxes in the mountains, swimming in the icy cold Atlantic, and speaking to a girl.

The sweetest line in this no-budget production: Love is harder than mathematics! When all the challanges have been met, they discover the reality ob being an adult - you don't have to be cool any more. Life as an adult is about love, faith, and respect for other people.

The second film of the evening was a German silent production from 1918, Das Eskimobaby, (The Eskimo Baby,  Heinz Schall) with the divine Asta Nielsen playing Ivigtut, a Greenlandic woman brought home by Knud Prätorius, a  Danish Greenland researcher. This is a story about stereotypes - and crossing boundaries. Ivigtut, the uncivilized woman who wears pants, is brought home to Berlin (filmed in Templehofin 1916). She doesn't know how to shake hands, how to eat properly, how to sleep in a bed - and since she can't speak anything but Greenlandic, she can only communicate with Knud in words. And they kiss by rubbing noses, something that Western culture has interpreted into a non-erotic Inuit greeting.

She is presented at the university, looked at, prodded - and prods back, grabbing the esteemed honored professors by the beard or ruffling their balding hair just as they are touching her beads and strange hairdo (I found one picture on Flickr, but it is all rights reserved). Her adventures into a department store and attempts to dress as a lady are pure slapstick.

The evening was so special because after an introduction by Prof. Dr. Stephan M. Schröder of the University of Cologne, Eunice Martins accompanied the entire film with marvelous music on a grand piano. She had no score, but just played, facing the screen, and it fit perfectly.

Nanoq Beer of Greenland passed out free beer at the festival, Mammut pale ale, clocking in at 7.6% alcohol. I didn't know they had breweries on Greenland, I thought everything came from Denmark, but this beer appears to be brewed with "pristine clear Greenland water" since 2011. Of course, there were never any mammoths in Greenland, but they go nicely with the cut out of the polar bear on the label. I liked it, but then, I'm not really a beer drinker because I also like Swedish lättöl...

2012-04-19

A Digital Death

A digital friend died yesterday. Someone I've known for quite some time (in Internet years) and with whom I spent many hours discussing philosophy and religion and power politics and writing and a thousand other topics signed off yesterday at 18:04 on 18.04 - that is surely intentional on his part. He had announced his impending suicide since at least December of last year, and as I came to realize that this was not just a typical cynical joke on his part, I spent more and more time trying to persuade him to get help. Or maybe it was indeed all an elaborate joke on me, who knows.

Because for someone that I only know digitally, I can't tell the difference between a digital death and a physical one. Someone who only uses a "nick" online and is very careful - as my friend was - to not disclose identifying details, essentially dies online when the nick is no longer used.

I have made many digital friends over the years - my first contact with the Usenet was in 1991. Some people I never met. Some people I did meet. For many, the contact drifted off as we wrote each other more and more seldom. One friend calls occasionally, out of the blue, and we speak for a while. He sometimes writes comments on this blog (Hi Tex!). We even met once IRL, "in real life", as it is called. Some people I have not only met IRL but we are good friends to this day.

So what's the difference with yesterday? We could have just had a blistering fight and my friend stormed out of the chat room, never to return. He's done that before, and returned. Well, I tried contacting his email account this morning - and got an immediate delivery failure. Okay, stuff like that happens. But the seriousness of his discussions these past weeks, and his descriptions of what exactly he was planning, worked out to the last detail give me cause to worry.

I have a strange sense that this is not a joke, but indeed a death both digital and physical. Rest in peace, my friend. I miss you.