Hobbit: Part 2

We went to see Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in Lund this evening with a friend. We had seen each of the Lord of the Rings films together as they came out over Christmas/New Year's, but had not seen the first Hobbit film together for some reason. Watching it in 3D we had decided that the 3D wasn't worth it and that we weren't going to go see part 2, it was far too boring.

But the critics said it was better, so we decided to give it a try. We managed to get 3 of the last 4 seats for the non-3d version left among scores of sugar-high kids excited to go see all the kiddie films and headed inside. The advertising was great - some interesting films, and then the University of Uppsala advertising for students with a really great short film.

The film was, indeed, better than part 1, although it could have easily been 20 minutes shorter. There was some beautiful landscape stuff, a great female character Tauriel (who was not in the book, and of course got involved in a love story, but was still an interesting character), and some weird stuff such as Beorn who turned out to be the Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt! I swore that one of the actors looked like Johnny Depp and another like John Cleese, but I was mistaken.

If you are an arachnophobe, I would suggest giving this film a miss. There are lot of fighting scenes, and the usual continuity errors with weapons coming and going and the dwarfs suddenly having having their hair washed and braided and such. There were some scenes that were clearly only there for the 3D crowd: butterflies coming out of nowhere, large bees buzzing around, lots of spider and dragon in-your-face stuff. I suppose the forests and villages and castles looked good, but is that worth having to buy extra glasses? Of course, it stops in the middle, so we have to go see part 3, I guess.

From the Department of Oops

WiseMan picked up a flyer at the Coop today. This is so bizarre, I have to translate it:

Important information for those of you who have the Coop 2014 calendar. Because of a printing error that crept in for the month of May we have put together an updated page that you can easily use to replace the month of May with. On the inside of this flyer you can find the month of May as it should be, just open it up and hang it up over the wrong one so that you have a calendar with the correct weekend days. Please note that the Monday after Pentecost, the 9th of June is NOT a holiday, please note this in your calendar. Midsummer day, Saturday the 21st of June, is a holiday, so please note this in your calendar as well. We are sorry for the problem and wish you all the best in 2014!
Ahem. Pentecost Monday has not been a holiday in Sweden for what, 5 years now? And they missed having the most holiest of the Swedish drinking holidays, Midsummer, marked as a holiday? On their Facebook page they note that the first of May was set on a Wednesday instead of Thursday, meaning they repeated May 2013. What did they do, outsource the printing to some cheap third world country where no one noticed anything? The motto of the year is: sustainability.


WiseGrandkids First Christmas

We celebrated our first Christmas with WiseGrandkid today. She was here with her parents and with WiseKid's birth brother (he was adopted by another couple, we kept contact with each other from early on). They wanted Maccaroni and Cheese for Christmas Dinner, so I made that with a salad.

WiseGrandkid was a darling princess. She can turn over now, and has two little toys she likes to play with. When her dad put her on his shoulders to carry her around, she hung on tight - grabbing his ears tightly!

We gave WiseGrandkid a songbook, a real book with pictures and music in it. When her mother looked through it she exclaimed at one picture: Oh, that's the song that came with the Pampers App! How fast the times are a-changin'

It was a peaceful evening, no in-depth discussions, no fighting, and far too much to eat.

I hope your Christmas Season is peaceful and joyous - all the best for 2014!


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!

This has got to be the smallest Christmas tree I ever had, but boy, it was the fastest I ever got a tree decorated.

So little time to blog, that will have to be a New Year's resolution: Blog more!

Hope all are able to enjoy some peace and companionship during the holiday season and gather their strength for 2014!


Swedish Moss

I was up in Sweden for the first weekend in Advent. We visited with friends, and I quite admired all of the Advent decorations she had: Glass containers with moss, twigs, candles, and such. She explained that they were out in the woods last week collecting stuff, and she had spent the week putting them together.

The next morning I went out in our woods and collected a whole basket of different sorts of moss, lichens, interesting twigs, red berries and such. I was flying back in the evening without checked luggage, so I was interested to see if I could get it all in. I had it packed in many different plastic bags that I could stuff into my backpack if necessary, and put them all in a paper bag.

The first job was getting to Copenhagen - trivial with the train. Second step - would they let me through security? Amazingly, my backpack was looked at twice, but the bag of moss went through without a blink of an eye. Third trial - checking in. No word at all, I just sailed through.

On the plane I put my backpack up in the overhead rack and the moss under the seat in front of me, and thus got my sack of moss home in one piece. I now have two nice Advent decorations, put moss on the floor of the creche, and still have a lot left over! Just put up a picture of the nicest one on the blog.



I went to an in-school training session on examination law (on account of being the chair of our program's examination board) on Friday. It was at the other school campus, the one I used to have my office at. I was quite pleased to meet some colleagues I haven't seen for a while, in particular one of the few other women in the computing departments.

After greetings and handball chat (she likes handball, too) we got down to business: She's a new grandmother, you see, first grandchild last month. Oh, I said, I'm a grandma now too, since July. She looked at me, shocked. "How old is your son?" "21".

And it turned out, we are both the same age, she had her first son at 21, and he is a dad now at 35. WiseKid was born when I was 35 and is a dad at 21. So I've caught up with her!

Both of us flunked the first Grandma Test: neither of us had a picture of our grandkids in our wallets. I guess I'd better get some pics sent to my phone.



Surveillance is one of the key words in Europe at the moment. Yes, some people have always suspected that we were being watched. But what has come to light in the last few months would not have been believable if it was part of the plot of some spy thriller.

In a way, it changes the way we communicate. Are we now forced to weigh every word we write? Do we assume that everything is being transcribed somewhere, stored to be held against us at an opportune moment? We can't even organize surprise birthday parties or purchase presents anymore without some pesky social media system tattling. "Your friend X just bought a Y, don't you want to buy one, too?"

I use a different email address for each of the blogs I write. I have recently started getting emails from my "friends" at Google, asking one of my addresses if it doesn't perhaps know one of the other ones. Of course, I access the blogs with the same IP address. But I don't want to give proof positive that these accounts are both mine. Should I be forced to use one email and one email only online?

I think not. In a way, I am a number of persons. When I correspond for work, I use a work email. When I write as a private person, I use a different address. And since I perhaps don't want my comments on a cooking page to be tied together with comments I made about a hotel or with comments on a political page, I find it vital to have dissimilar email addresses. When is it really important to know who exactly I am? Perhaps only if I don't pay my bills?

We need to think hard and fast about what kind of a digital world we want to live in, and what kind we have set up for ourselves. I think the two don't match at the moment.


Zwei Leben

Since the Oscar-nominated German-Norwegian film Zwei Leben (Two Lives) was only running until tomorrow, we decided to watch it this evening. WiseMan had already seen it in Norwegian/German, and as he noted later, it is a film that you can't watch twice because then the suspense is gone.

But during the film you don't know what to think. A normal, boring life is punctuated by flashbacks that include scraps of some nasty German history: Lebensborn, a project that took the offspring of Norwegian women and Nazi occupiers to German orphanages in order to increase the so-called Aryan race; and the Stasi, the East German secret service that had their fingers in everything. Seeing what the Stasi was up to then and discovering what the NSA is up to now is scary.

The story draws you in, as more and more strands of the two lives come unraveled and tangle themselves. At one point the question is raised: Is it always necessary to tell the truth? People were so much happier when they didn't know the deep, dark secrets.

A thought-provoking film, but probably not for a general, global audience.


Der Hexer

We were at the home of one of the usual suspects this evening. After some great wine and cheese (and apple butter with old Gouda on top is really, really good) and a few shorts from La Linea, we watched Albert Vohler's version of Der Hexer [WP-DE](The Mysterious Magician), adapted from a crime story by Edgar Wallace. All sorts of famous German actors and actresses are in the film.

Oh my. The women.

I suppose this was the norm for the early Sixties, but it really hurts today to see the women playing the stupid little blonde or the scheming lady. The secretaries are wagging their little rumps and have deep decolletés. 

The scenography is sweet, today we all understand how many of the scenes were made. And it is indeed amazing to see how suspense is built. We are all confused until the very end as to the identity of the Hexer.

The best bit was the code that the Hexer used to communicate with his wife – he sent her flowers, and she would count the flowers, and then she knew which telephone number to call.


Jesus Christ, Superstar

What an evening! We had heard about the Dalby choir, Mixtum, earlier this year when we stumbled on them practicing in the Dalby church. We stayed for the concert and were fascinated by this young, vibrant choir. At the end of their Gospel concert they announced that they were repeating their performance of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" in August. We found the date and arranged to stay in order to hear the musical.

The place was given as "Dalby Quarry". We had never been there, but the newspaper said a) bring your own food, b) come early, and c) don't expect toilets or wheel-chair accessibility. So we arranged with friends to be there between 3 and 4 pm, the concert was not to begin until 6pm. They came by bike, we passed them in the car and waved. And then discovered: we were late.

The parking place was filled to overflowing, cars were already parking along the roadside. We drove on and managed to find a little parking place a good bit down next to a ladder for climbing the fence. Sooooo, we parked and lugged the picnic up the ladder and down again, up the next ladder and down again, and then were were at the quarry. It is breathtakingly beautiful! It is said to be 11 meters deep, the water looked cold and blue, and the quarry was very wide, so there were lots of places to sit. We lugged the stuff on towards the stage, and discovered we could have just walked along the highway instead of through the fields. You live and learn.

We found a nice place in the back - all the picnic places towards the stage were already taken. It turned out to be great - since there were only brambles behind us, we could stand up and had a great view of the stage.

The dress rehearsal was in full swing, and I began singing along. When I was a teenager back in the 70s our church choir put on the musical. Although I have not sung it since, I discovered that I still knew the words! We had a picnic and were then able to talk for a while until the concert started. People kept streaming in, filling every last nook and cranny, there must have been 2000 people there.

The acoustics were fabulous - one could hear all around the quarry. And the professional singers in the main roles, as well as the choir, sang so well that the audience was enchanted. I'm not sure much of the audience knew the story (despite Sweden being very Lutheran). Our friends kept asking me where in the program we were, I had to bite my tongue not to say: Isn't it obvious? That's the Last Supper ....

When they got to part where Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus' feet with expensive nard, I suddenly realized that I had completely missed this in my sermon a few weeks ago! There we have Judas, bitching at Mary for "wasting" the nard, it could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. Jesus tells Judas off, noting that there will always be poor people. Judas' words come back to haunt him, as when he is agonizing over the blood money he was given for betraying Jesus, the choir sings softly: You could give the money to the poor.

Somehow I was also really experiencing the music, seeing structures in the songs, picking up melodies from previous songs, making them fit the next scene, and then it all coming together for the finale: Jesus Christ, Superstar. The choir was clapping, and then the entire audience joined in, exuberantly clapping in time to the music.

The local newspaper has reported online with a few pictures, have a look at this wonderful setting. And now, I must see if I can still get a recording of JCS. I need to hear it all again!


Wild Raspberry Jam

The very, very best jam in the world is made from wild raspberries and jam sugar, nothing else. Most years I will go berrying and get a liter of blueberries and a few tiny wild raspberries. If it's just a few I'll eat them myself, but since the neighbors who water our plants when we are gone really like the jam too, I tend to make that extra special effort to find enough for a smidgeon of jam.

This year, everything is different. There are almost no blueberries - I have enough for decorating fruit salad, nothing more. But raspberries, oh my! The bushes we planted years ago against the fence ducked under and are now loaded with big, thick, sweet berries. But the sides of the roads and the woods are filled with wild raspberries, some as big as cultured berries are most years. And they are soooooooo sweet! I got half a liter in just one hour, so I cleaned them, put them in the fridge and went out the next day for another half a liter. With a liter of berries I can make four little jars of jam. That's one for the neighbors and three for me ;)

A friend just tried making jam herself for the first time this week. When she was done, she
twittered: Why do people *buy* jam? It's so easy to make and so much more delicious! Indeed, you have complete control over the contents (save a bug or two). So what are you waiting for? Make your own jam today, it only takes a liter of berries, 500g of 2:1 jam sugar and some sterilized jars, you are done in half an hour.


Welcome WiseGrandkid!

A very warm welcome to the world is extended to WiseGrandkid, who was born this past week to WiseKid and his girlfriend! WiseGrandkid showed up two weeks early, so I dashed back from vacation to spend some time getting to know this sweet young thing. Okay, up until now it has been sleeping and crying that I've seen. But such a sweet young thing, with a face full of lanugo - so soft to touch!

I went along for the First Walk with the new baby buggy this afternoon, and noticed something interesting. It used to be that walking with WiseKid would cause people coming towards us to frown at us, let us pass, or even walk on the other side of the street. WiseKid likes to look mean, and scares people.

But with him pushing a baby carriage or holding the little one in his arms, the elderly folk walking towards us positively beam - and sneak a peek into the buggy.

WiseKid seems to have paid attention to some of my rants after all - he has requested No Pictures Posted To Facebook Or Other Social Media Places. I suppose he remembers still the episode in the fifth grade in which some girls googled a picture of him as a baby. We needed a lot of effort to get that one removed from Google's databases (but it did work!).

I look forward to be getting to know WiseGrandkid in the near future, and will do my best to ignore the "It-must-be-pink-or-Hello-Kitty" requests from her Dad. Wait - that makes me a grandmother. I'm not old enough for that yet!


Bruce Springsteen in Leipzig

For complicated reasons we didn't make it to see Bruce Springsteen last year when he was in Berlin with the Wrecking Ball Tour. We had seen him in the Waldbühne maybe 20 years ago, I remember finding it strange, all these Germans singing "Born in the USA" with such inbrunst! So when the concert was announced in Leipzig, we figured that was just down the road and got tickets.

We took a train down this morning (yes, 7 minutes late), visited the Museum of Modern History, drank a Hugo, had lunch-dinner and then walked to the stadium. Oh my - it was the old stadium they had the youth sports festivals at in the DDR, far too large for modern Leipzig, so they ripped out the decrepit seats and put a new, smaller stadium inside. Meaning you walk 80 steps up, 60 steps down, 60 steps back up and 15 or 20 back down. I was exhausted!

Bruce Springsteen kept us waiting 45 minutes without explanation, people were getting kind of impatient. Then, finally, he stepped before the crowd of 45.000 people and began singing.

After a few songs he went down to the front row and collected signs, singing a few of them. Perhaps he just picks the signs for the songs he will be singing anyway, but one did not please his band, it took a while before they were able to play it. He sang many uncommon songs, and then in an encore series many old favorites. He didn't give a damn about German curfew laws and sang 45 minutes past the quiet time, so we did get 3 hours of solid rock - no breaks!

He had some typical show bits like getting the cameras to focus on a hefty woman in pink just shakin' it, dancing with another woman, and pulling 2 kids up on the stage. One was great, she actually sang in English, couldn't have been more than 10! The other one was scared, just looked at Bruce in awe instead of playing guitar.

I found myself - post PRISM - uncomfortable with the American flag and some of the songs. I like the music, but "We take care of our own" sounded very arrogant tonight.
Bruce played on and on - he loves to sing and his voice was just as strong after 3 hours as it was in the beginning. We were glad we booked a room (another Bed and Breakfast without Breakfast for an atrocious price), although the Leipziger are extremely efficient carting people downtown with trams, we would have just made the last train back to Berlin. So more sightseeing here tomorrow, and Bruce on the iPod for the trip back!

(Updated to fix spelling problems from typing on tablet and links added. And no iPod on the trip back because the train was packed to the gills and we didn't have reservations. We sat on the floor.)
Update 2: Here's the set list from Bruce Springsteen's home page and some notes!


Bed and Breakfast without Breakfast

Oh dear, I seem to have quit regular blogging...

Just got back from Würzburg where I spent a week researching in the library there. They have some great stuff in the estates of two professors, someone should really get paid to publish some of this as a book.

Anyway, I booked a Bed & Breakfast for the week, as it was cheaper than the cheapest hotel, and centrally located, so I decided to try it out.

The lady noted that there was no sink in the kitchen, but I could wash the dishes in the bathroom sink. Okaaaaay. Oh, and it was without breakfast (!), but it was above a café, so you could easily get breakfast in the morning.

They did have good coffee and butter croissants, and it was nice having a little kitchen so that I didn't have to eat in a restaurant every evening.

But oh my - there was a discotheque across the street. Not enough that the street car zipped through regularly, but the youth just loved this place. Starting at about 10 pm they just noisily showed up at the joint, talking loudly, coming out for a smoke and jokes, and having a grand time until 3 am or so.

But other than that: Unfriendly lady who gave me the key and took my money, great bed, lots of hot water, and a bitch washing dishes in the bathroom sink. But I spent four nights in Würzburg for the same price one night in Munich would have cost me, so I'll probably do it again.


Better than Eurovision

We were driving around Skania, looking at churches and castles and stuff and hit Dalby just after 3 pm. There were lots of young people rushing into the church, we thought there might be a wedding or something. But it was a choir, rehearsing for an evening recital.

About 25 young people, men and women, were practicing a gospel-sounding song that I had never heard before. They were so enthusiastic and the director, a very young man, was so energetically pulling sound from them and weaving an amazing song that we sat, fascinated. After a short deliberation over coffee we decided to skip attending the church service in Lund and instead go listen to this choir.

We got there early, but there was already a line. We managed to get seats rather far in the front, I was actually able to see the score, as I was just behind the elbow of the conductor. The choir, called Mixtum, presented a very varied program: Entire choir, women's choir, men's choir, solos, duetts, quartet, accompanied at various times by organ, piano, flute, guitar, djemba, tambourine - or just a capella.

They started with some standard Bach and a bit of Mozart and Purcell, then they sang a song that one of the conductors, Henrik Dahlgren, had composed. He arranged much of the gospel songs they sang later on in the program. My absolute favorite was the one we had heard during their practice: Days of Elijah, by Robin Mark. They were singing without a score, focused completely on Dahlgren, who was playing them like an instrument: louder, softer, repeat, modulate up, modulate back down. He had the whole church clapping along to the very catchy rhythm.

They closed with Ernst Toch's Geographical Fuge which was just hilarious! Time had just flown by, they had presented for over an hour and a half - and as the other conductor said: Hey, we could sing for 2 more hours if you would sit still for it. I believe her, they were so enjoying singing.

Much better than the songs of the Eurovision, and I'm so glad to see young people making music instead of just pushing buttons on a machine.


The Deep

The small movie theater across from the Cathedral in Lund had decided to extend the Icelandic film Djúpið (The Deep) for another week, so we were able to see it in original with Swedish subtitles. It is a film by Baltasar Kormákur, the Icelandic filmmaker who made the cult film 101 Reykjavik, among others.

It is a simple story - and a true one, apparently. Kormákur uses the first 3.5 minutes to check off all of the things that an Icelandic film must have: drunks; vomiting; pissing; gorgeous landscape of the Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands); fighting over a girl. With that out of the way we see the hungover crew of a fishing boat take to the seas. They catch some fish, and have one bout of the nets getting caught on a jagged stone. They manage to free it, but soon the nets again get caught and the boat is threatening to sink. One of the sailors insists on cutting the net - the captain won't hear of it, as it is a brand-new net.

And so, the ship sinks.

Three of the crew die right away, two soon after. One guy, Gulli, solidly portrayed by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, decides to swim to shore - a distance of about three sea miles or 6 kilometers. He starts swimming, and a sea gull decides to accompany him. He keeps swimming, and eventually reaches a rocky shore. But the cliffs are so steep - there is nothing else to do but to go back into the water and swim around the tip of the island to a place where he can draw himself up.

He walks over sharp lava in the freezing air back to town and collapses at the door of the first house. He is treated in the hospital, and then subjected to tests - how could anyone have survived this? It remains a mystery. He returns to his island, takes care of the things he had promised God he would attend to if he lived as he was swimming, and he returns to fishing.

A deeply moving movie, exposing many aspects of a people who live - and die - by the sea.


P!nk in Berlin

Ooooh, I had tickets to Alicia Beth Moore's concert in Berlin last Friday. That is the artist known as P!nk. It was in the large sports arena on the other side of town, I was not sure that it would be that cosy, as 14.000 people fit into the arena.

We went early to get some dinner, but the choice was extremely limited, so it ended up being fish & chips. We had good seats in the upper deck, on the aisle, except that people kept getting up to go get more food and drink. The band Churchill led off at the dot of eight. Kind of ho-hum, but it was something to listen to. They played for 30 minutes, and then they started getting everything ready for P!nk. We could see the technicians clearly, and they had a big problem: two computer screens were pitch black. The technicians were flipping switches, checking cords, restarting computers, all to no avail. There were no chickens sacrificed, but they fussed around for 45 minutes while the crowd grew a tad restless. We wanted music!

But oh, the wait was worth it! It was like a three-ring circus, you didn't know were to look next. And P!nk is quite the acrobat, pulling all sorts of fantastic stunts AND singing attached to some guy wires. In the finale she flies out over the crowd standing in the inner field, and came quite close to us even.

She sang the songs from "The Truth About Love", and played one round of drums and one song at the piano. She was skimpily dressed - as were many of the dancers - and there were lots of snide remarks of a scatological sort. But the music was great and the show fascinating. I'm glad we went!


Robbed again

Sigh. You just can't win. I suppose that I am now an old lady who makes a good mark. I spent the night in Zürich on my way to St. Gallen. I stayed in a lovely hotel in Glattbrugg that picked me up at the airport and really offered a lovely stay (Airport Best Western), much cheaper than the hotel directly at the airport. It is only a seven minute bus trip back to the airport, so I thought I would just do that instead of calling a cab. I waited at the bus stop, only to have the driver tell me that I needed to have bought a ticket on the other side of the street (no mention of this at the stop!), so I got back out, went over, and began to study the system. Soon an older woman, round and about my size came up and stood beside me, crowding me. I should have told her to get back, but instead I decided to quickly end my search for the cheapest fare and just pushed the button for the airport.

My bellypack was under my buttoned cape (it was raining). I had checked it - as I do about every 2 minutes while traveling - and thought it was well protected, because it was hidden, I felt. I dug out my change purse and put four coins into the machine, one after the other, lifting up my arm each time to do so.

Strangely, did woman didn't start to buy a ticket, but I didn't think anything of it. I went back across the street and did my luggage check routing - and my wallet was gone. I went back to the hotel to see if I had by mistake left it on the counter. No. I called the police (117 in Switzerland), they said: go to the police in Zürich Airport and inform them. Yeah, that helps.

I went back to the bus stop, and realized that the local cops were in a building near the bus stop, so I went in. They were very nice, gave me water and let me call Germany to stop my cards (the piece of paper with the telephone numbers is in my wallet. Need to re-think that). The cop didn't really want to take down anything, but I decided it was better - at least get it into the statistics. While working, he noted that just yesterday a lady had her wallet stolen and there was 3000 Franks taken out of her account before she could call up. Okay, she had her number written on the card.

The amount of personal information you have to give is immense. Name, birth name (Ledigenname, a wonderful non-sexist word, used to be Mädchenname), birthdate, birthplace, address, name of father and mother, profession.

I described what was in the wallet and was thankful that I had taken out all of the library cards. I also cursed my lazyness, should have put the Euros in a box in my bag instead of keeping them handy. And then I realized it was that lady who stole my wallet. I described her to the police as well as I could, but I didn't look at her face. So we filled out pages and pages of information, and I went on my way.

I find this quite disturbing to have been robbed twice within a year. I don't like to have to plan exactly what cards I am going to need in a day, I like to be spontaneous. And I really have been trying to pay cash for stuff. I suppose I need to more widely distribute my cash (I still have 30 € in various pockets, and my ID and one credit card were in an additional wallet in another pocket). And my next wallet will have a chain on it.

I wish my thief the worst of indigestion and various aches and pains, particularly in the place where her heart should be.


The Hunt

Berlin is a wonderful town for film-lovers! I mean, where can you go see a foreign film in the original language the same week it opens in German in the normal theaters? In the Hackische Höfe there is a theater (up about 4 flights of stairs and no elevator) that was showing Jagten, The Hunt, in Danish with subtitles. So when the decision was between Kon-Tiki and The Hunt, we chose the Hunt, on the theory that Kon-Tiki will still be playing in a few weeks.

We are probably right. Even though the film is on a very serious subject - a male kindergarten teacher is suspected of "doing something" to one of the children, and the whole thing escalates to the entire village being violent against the teacher (who loses his job), even though he didn't do anything. It shows the very fine line that one walks as a male who enjoys playing with children in this hyperreactive world.

The twisted ending after the village quickly forgives him when the girl makes it clear that she was just making everything up is not believable. It rather has the feel of having been cobbled together to get the film over with somehow. It is unsettling to see how whispers and believing the worst of someone can quickly serve to do them grave injustice.

And in a way, as one review has put it, quite an anti-feminism film, as it is the women who are all behaving so irrationally, blaming the man. This is far too black&white, although there are certainly women who would behave exactly as some of the women in the movie.

Not a movie for a fun evening, and not enough food for thought on this quite grave subject. Nice Danish, though, although much of the scenery seems to be more Swedish than Danish.


Python rules!

My students chose to have a lecture on Python as the last lecture of the semester this winter, so I had to spend a few days on the language. I'd never programmed in Python before, but since I've programmed in heaven knows how many languages* I was able to grasp the basic idea of the language and run some simple stuff I found on the web. It seemed interesting, although it uses whitespace as a block delimiter. Ah, that was one of my traumas, writing the paper "When Whitespace Conveys Meaning" that got itself rejected from a number of conferences. Horrible languages that use this.

Anyway, one of my takeaways was that this is a great language for throwaway programming, even better than awk. A friend finally convinced me that I really needed a large file of random garbage interspersed with plagiarized sentences for testing the software systems. So I decided to give it a try this afternoon.

Together with my student researcher (who is studying computing but had also never programmed with Python before) we sat down at 11.50 am and started googling. I fired up the environment, and we started to play. We had spoken through the algorithm at lunch yesterday. At about 12.25 my other student researcher showed up (a doctoral student in philosophy) and tried to understand what we were doing. At 12.35 we had a working Python program to generate a paragraph of garbage from the on-board dictionary.

After lunch we spent about 15 minutes getting the rest to work, but made an error way back in one method. I had exam proctoring, so I started the exam and then spent an hour rewriting the program (including comments, like I bitch at my students to do), using good variable names, and finding the error. The end result is highly parametrized (far too high for a throwaway program), easy to read program. In about 3 person hours. Done and delivered, and we can carry on. And: it was fun, even with the stupid indentations.

So yeah, I now understand all the excitement with Python. It rules! But still, I rather don't want it used in safety critical or vital systems ...

* Basic, Fortran IV, COBOL, APL, awk, Perl, Pascal (various dialects), Occam, Ada, Java plus smatterings of report languages and database languages and compiler-compiler syntax and .....

Chocolates from the Deutsche Bahn?

There was a big package came in the mail today. From the Deutsche Bahn. Inside was a tin of hand-made chocolates and a letter apologizing for the train delay I experienced the middle of February when the trains were stopped/rerouted because of a supposed bomb threat.

Now, I already filled out the forms and got my 5,75 € refund. I asked for the refund as a certificate to be used on my next trip, except that it wouldn't accept the certificate for payment on my next trip. I cursed the DB, why can't they get it right like that bookseller from the States that I used to use? But I didn't write a bitching letter (or I have started writing them in my sleep). So do they have my laptop bugged, or did my Prof. Dr. dazzle them?

Whatever. Good chocolates.


Hannah Arendt

The Swedish church in Lund organizes movie nights in the movie theater across the street in order to attract young people to the church. Yesterday they watched "Hannah Arendt", and I managed to get free tickets to tag along, even though I don't really pass for 25 any more.

I was planning on seeing this film by Margarethe von Trotta anyway, so it was perfect - and shown in German, English, and Hebrew with Swedish subtitles in a very comfy, oldish theater. Ooooh, I didn't realize that Axel Milberg, my second-favorite Tatort-Kommissar (Jan Leifers is, of course, in first place) would be playing such a major role!

Hannah Arendt is a German philosopher who escaped Europe and is teaching in New York when the Eichmann Trials begin in Israel. Eichmann was kidnapped in South America and brought to Israel to be put on trial. Arendt is sent by the New Yorker to report on the trial. The film uses real footage of Eichmann and of people testifying. Eichmann is not a monster, but just a guy doing his job. A terrible job it is, getting rid of the Jews, but for him it's just a job to be done.

Arendt, who had studied with (and loved) Heidegger, spends a lot of time thinking about thinking - and about what it means to be evil. Her report for the New Yorker is not what they expected, as she portrays him as he is, just a cog in the system. And she points out that there were Jewish leaders who collaborated with the Nazis - they, too, are to blame. An uproar ensues with people who did not actually read her article threatening her and sending hate mail, calling her anti-Jewish and a whore, the precursor to today's shitstorms.

She defends herself in a brilliant lecture, losing her Jewish friend Hans Jonas, who is not able to accept her position as he is 100 % pro Zionist.

The characters of Arendt and her partner Heinrich Blücher are wonderfully played. I feel so comfortable looking at their apartment and can really feel the depth of their characters. Irritating was the constant smoking, although that may actually have been the case at that time that professors smoked in the lecture. Must have been hard on the smokers in the audience, seeing everyone up on the screen being allowed to smoke. Although they could smoke on the way over to the church for coffee and cookies and talking after the film.

I ordered two books of Arendts today, I really think I need to know more about her and her work. And the film was great - go see it, if you have a chance.


The Patdown

I took public transit all the way back to Germany - it actually worked! Metro-North train down to Grand Central Station, out on 42nd Street and up across from Starbucks was the NY airport shuttle service. The busses looked very old, but $16 was better than $45 + tolls for a taxi. I only waited 10 minutes before a rickety bus drew up with a very cheerful driver. He loaded our suitcases in the back, and we got on. Despite the looks of the bus, every seat had an electrical outlet (!) and there was free Wi-Fi on the bus.

Okay, they saved on shock absorbers, and our driver drove at breakneck speed, but we were at JFK in just over 30 minutes. It was early and there was no line, so I got my suitcase checked in in no time and headed off to security.

I removed all my stuff - coat, vest, things in pocket, money belt, laptop, etc. and headed for the metal detector. Except they had just determined that I was one of the lucky ones to go into the full body scanner (called "naked scanner" in German). I didn't realize this until they asked me to clasp my hands above my head. I asked if this was a full body scanner. The lady said "yes". I stated that I did not want to be irradiated. "It won't do you nothing," she said, "it's harmless."

Well, the problem is, there is NO research about whether or not this actually is harmless or not. Prominent scientists in the US have warned against using this technology, stating that the calculations of the irradiation are not calculated correctly. Whatever, I don't want pictures of the outline of my body floating around, as has happened in the US. So I insisted on an alternative.

With a mildly threatening "Well, Ma'am, you're going to have to have a pat-down" I was told to step aside. My things were now through the scanning system, and I did not feel very comfortable with my money belt on top of the pile of stuff, out of my reach.

I asked if I could go through the normal metal detector. No, I had to have a full putdown. "Of EVERYTHING," they noted. They really didn't want to have to do this. I preferred this to irradiation, however, although they kept telling me that the machine is "harmless". Finally one of the women who had been standing around pulled out some gloves and had me come with her.

I had to point out my stuff and someone else carted that off to the side. Did I want a private putdown? No, let's have the indignity in public. She launched into a long tirade, learned by heart and spoken in rapid-fire NYC accent. In particular, she wanted to know if I had "sensitive parts" that would react strongly to pressure. I said "We'll see, won't we?"

She put some stuff on her gloves (and it's all over my shirt, left a stain) and started in. She started on my head, looking under the hair. Then she traced down my back - not a very good massage, really - and grabbed into the waistband of my pants. She bitched at me for having a piece of paper (!) in my pocket, that had to be take out and she felt the pants again.

She then went down the front, and around my breasts - that was really quite violating, I felt. She then felt down my inner thighs and inside the front of my pants. She checked my socks (I hope they smelled) and told me to take my "items" and get going. So I slowly got dressed again and as I was doing so, I realized one bizarre thing: She didn't find the USB-stick necklace I was wearing. It was *between* my breasts, not underneath. I wonder if that would have made me a terrorist, if she had found it?

I think the US is freaking bizarre out of their minds with all of this security theater. It just costs money - isn't a simple metal detector good enough?


Blue Bottles

My Mom had a favorite painting of blue bottles that she picked up somewhere decades ago. It was the last of her personal belongings that she had with her in the hospice. My brother shipped it up to his place, and I set it on to Germany today - at a very dear price.

I started out at FedEx - they wanted $575 to ship it. I carried it on to the USPS post office and waited in line, listening to the surly postman behind the counter deal with all the people in line before me. He ran through his litany "do-you-need-stamps-stationary-or-a-passport-renawal-form-sir-will-that-be-all"? so fast, I didn't understand it until the third time.

No, the box was too big. He measured it twice. I pointed out that it had been mailed TO my brother, so it should be possible to mail it on. No, 108 inches was the MAXIMUM. I needed to go to UPS.

I went outside and sat on a bench, having no idea if there was a UPS in the area and no mobile phone with internet connection to find out. The lady after me came out, saw me sitting and offered to drive me to UPS. They were very nice there, but it was going to be $580. For $5 I was not going back to FedEx to send it.

When I got home, I googled. And yes, there is an oversize rate for packages. Mine was 125 inches, 130 was the max for this kind of parcel. So I wrote an email to USPS - they need to train their people in the rates they offer and in being friendly.

At that price, I could have reserved an additional seat on the plane for the picture...

Update: The USPS answered within 24 hours - for international packages, the postman was correct, 108 inches is the max. So he was just surly.

And now for something completely different...

I was speaking with a brother about a funny Monty Python sketch and we dug around on the fancy TV with an Internet connection and found it on YouTube. We played it, dissolved in laughter, and the princesses laughed with us. At the end they asked for more. We showed them more. They asked for even more, and their dad purchased a whole season worth of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

They spent all weekend watching. It was gorgeous weather outside, I finally managed to convince 2 out of the 3 to take a walk with me. And how did they walk? Silly walks, just like Monty Python, repeating bits and pieces of the sketches.

I'm afraid we got them infected. I suppose my brother will have to buy the other three seasons as well. There are worse things on the tube.


The Memorial Service

I first thought I had landed in the wrong place. After a very agreeable transatlantic flight with Air Berlin (including good-tasting meals!) we landed early at JFK, despite leaving about half an hour late. JFK - oh my, I have traumatic memories of long waits here and surly inspectors. We were greeted by smiling (!), courteous people showing us which line to get in. The inspectors were also welcoming, friendly, and efficient, actually joking with people in line before me. When my inspector tried a joke with me and I noted I was here for a funeral, he immediately became solemn and offered his condolences. I proceeded to Customs and again there was just a short line and an efficient inspector.

I was outside the door at the time that was scheduled for landing.

Wow! My brother was waiting and we sat in the snarled New York rush hour while chatting about work, on our way to pick up our other sibling. Expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs, limos, and functioning junk heaps, all honking and cutting lanes along a decrepit highway, accompanied us. But luck was with us, and we made it back home in time for the first concert of a niece who is learning to play the viola.

This morning we had a memorial service at my brother's church. We were sitting around the gas fire relaxing when the rector came in, sat down and asked: When are the ashes to be coming? It was 20 minutes before the service was to begin, and since we had already had one service without ashes we didn't really want to have another one. My brother sat up in his chair with a start. "I telephoned with the funeral home on Monday and they asked if I wanted the ashes delivered to the church right away and I said yes!".

Okay, at least the ashes are in town and not in the clutches of the US Postal Office. The rector tells us to be calm and goes to call. He returns, saying that he's glad it's not his fault, and that the ashes will be here promptly. And indeed, we were able to start the memorial service only a few minutes after the appointed time.

We had traditional readings, and then we began the family remembrances. We read a letter from her sister and then I spoke about her life. She had a master's in mathematics and taught math, computer science, and physical education. She was fascinated with tesselations. She was born in Canada, living in many states as she followed my engineer father around. She loved to sew, to make things, to shop, to do jigsaw puzzles, and to swim. Alzheimer's started eating at her brain in 2000, she had to be admitted to a memory care unit in 2007.

My middle brother played one of Bach's Goldberg Variations and then improvised. It was fascinating following him down the emotional strands he was weaving. It was somehow quite fitting, and very special to hear this music played only once, for this special occasion.  My younger brother then spoke, as did two of his children, before we continued will all three of the girls participating in the prayers.

After the ceremony the ashes were stored in a special niche under the altar. My younger brother will drive them out to Pennsylvania this summer to bury them next to our father's ashes.

It was good to have come together as a family to celebrate our mother's life, no matter what issues we might still have had with her. It is time to move on.


Travel to the US

Geez. What a lot of work! I booked my flight last night to the US, and spent hours doing so. I first looked around for cheap flights -- despite the rules on them presenting the final costs I was constantly getting great deals that then quickly rose in price. I also wanted to have a fork, as I am giving a talk in a city near a hub the day before I leave, so I thought I could save some travel time.

Air Berlin won't let you book a fork on their home page, and booking each part individually makes it much more expensive. opodo had a good deal on a fork, so I emailed the data to the States to see if I could be met at the airport. A few hours later that was okay, except that now the price had increased by 100 €.

I flushed the cookies. Tried another browser. I probably should have used the VPN to get a new IP address, but I was tired and wanted to get done. So I just booked the flight to and from the hub with Air Berlin (for the same price) and will have to take a train back home. Will only be a little longer, as I would have had to cool my heels for 3 hours in the hub, anyway. And the train is cheaper than 100 €.

At the end of all this (and having to pay a stiff fee for paying by credit card) I was then reminded to deal with the Visa Waiver program. And it turns out, my last application has now expired. Great.

They want all sorts of information I don't normally give out online. And then I have to pay $14 entrance fee, just like I was going to the zoo. Or to enter the DDR ("Zwangsumtausch"). Oh, they inform me that many other countries charge entrance fees as well. I don't care. It doesn't make me want to visit a country that makes it clear that it doesn't really want me and will only let me in if I pay with data and cash.


Say Hi to Daddy, Mom

Mom has suffered from Alzheimer's for many, many years. I last visited with her three years ago when I was helping Daddy move into smaller quarters. He died last December, having still visited her daily until he was confined to bed. She didn't know him even, but had enjoyed his company. She seemed to miss him, and was constantly on the move, looking for him perhaps.

She had been doing poorly, had infections and fell a few times. About a week ago she came down with pneumonia, it was clear that it was only a matter of time until she passed away as well.

This afternoon, just before class, I saw a slew of emails in my inbox - with condolences for my middle brother. He had just posted her death on Facebook, I seem to get all comments every now and then for things he posts (he had mentioned me in the post). Even though her death was immanent, it was quite a shock to read it there. I took a deep breath, went into the classroom, and started to teach. My phone rang, and I did something I seldom do - I left the classroom to take the call. It was my other brother with the news.

What a strange feeling, even though one has been expecting it.

My mother was a mathematician, taught algebra and geometry and computer science and sports in high school. She tutored students on the side for extra money. She loved to sew, making many frilly dresses for me that I did not want to wear, as I wanted pants. We didn't see eye to eye on many issues, but all that is past now.

She was born in Canada to immigrant parents who moved on to the States. She went to the University of Pittsburgh and met Daddy while he was tutoring her in math. She passed, he failed and had to repeat the course ;) She followed him across the country, moving every few years for a new transportation job for him and starting over as a teacher.

I moved to Europe at 19, and she came over with Daddy a few times to visit. What a strange place Europe was: they didn't take credit cards, stores were closed on Sundays, they had strange food and some places like the GDR were threatening. But she was brave, even taking off one day and getting on a train to Poland, just to say she had been there. And oh, my, the BARGAINS they had at the market just across the boarder!

She loved a bargain - getting something for less than someone else had paid was one of the things that made her happiest. So I hope they have some good shopping in heaven, Mom, may you find a bargain a day! And say Hi to Daddy, he'll be happy you're back with him.


Office Hours

We are obliged to hold office hours so that we are available for our students to meet us for questions and information. So every Tuesday I hold office hours from 9.30 to 10.30. This covers part of a break (9.30-9.45), so people who need signatures are sure to be able to drop by. I publish the times on my door and my web site.

I try to arrive by 9.15. I hang up my coat, make a cup of tea, water the plants. I dust my desk, collect up all the pens that got themselves strewn in the course of the week. I file papers, sort through administrivia, sign certificates. In general, no students come. Sometimes I get a telephone call, and today I even had a Master's student drop by to chat about her research topic. I generally hang out until lunch time, as there is a lot of administrative things to be seen to.

The moment I have my coat on and lock the door, people dash up. "Could I have your signature quick?" On the way over to lunch "Do you have time for a question?" After class I have six emails requesting information, two want me to print out something for them, sign it, put it in an envelope and walk down to the mail dropoff on the second floor. No, I don't have a secretary.

Office hours are times when I promise to be there for the students, but it doesn't fit their work schedules, it seems. So why do we keep up the pretense? Okay, my desk gets sorted out once a week. That's good.