Eric's Germany Journal

This is part of a journal I wrote while living in Ulm, Germany, from December 12, 2002, to September 17, 2003.


Saturday, April 26, 2003

Chocolate shaped and decorated like an insect
Chocolate Maikäfer.
All the chocolate stores had chocolate bunnies for Easter. Easter has passed, and today I encountered this chocolate insect in a chocolate store. That makes me worried about what holiday they are preparing to celebrate next. Whatever it is, I am not eating the food. This bug is one of the medium-sized ones, ten centimeters long. They had larger and smaller ones. Perhaps the annual city pesticide spraying is coming?

[In January 2004, Ulm-born Cornelia Schwegler wrote to me and informed me this is a Maikäfer, literally a May bug but known in English as a cockchafer, and they are in stores at this time because May is coming. People did used to eat these beetles, because there were so many, and they damaged the trees, and they were a good source of protein. Supposedly they taste like hazelnuts. I will never find out.]

Coming home today, I passed one of the new white Straßenbahn that will be replacing the old yellow Straßenbahn. I thought they were coming in June. Hmm, I think today was just a preview.

Carnival ride
Grüne Hölle (Green Hell).
I went to the carnival in Neu-Ulm. The carnival has been an annual occurrence there for a century. It is somewhat more impressive than carnivals I have seen in the US. In addition to carnival games and foods and simple rides, there are some fairly major rides. The Grüne Hölle (Green Hell) to the left is the most impressive externally. Check the gorilla and the building for scale. It is pretty good for a portable carnival ride.

However, it is not that impressive on the inside. I cannot fault the length of the ride or the quantity of things inside, but none of the illusions or surprises worked. It is overpriced at €3.20.

Other rides include an enclosed and dark roller coaster, two bumper-car arenas and one mini-bumper-car-arena, a Ferris wheel, a Merry-Go-Round, and several rides that accelerate your body in various directions. That includes one that tosses two people seated in a cage into the air and bounces them elastically for a minute or so.

The games are typical carnival games, although with some more variety than I have seen in the US. There also seems to be more attention to detail and more details. A ring-toss game in the US might have little more than rings, bottles, and prizes, but the booths here have lots of decorations and whatnot.

The food is largely the same as at the Christmas market: sausages, sausages in rolls (including long sausages in short round rolls), Schupfnudeln, sugar-coated nuts, cheap chocolates, and so on. There are a few things I do not recall from the Christmas market: ice cream, huge pretzels, and Langos. I did not find out what Langos were because there was no picture and nobody was ordering them. (There were none on display, so I think they are made to order. A Lango might be fried dough with various toppings or fillings added.) In addition to the booths, there is a Biergarten for sit-down eating and drinking.

Yellow sparrow sculpture wearing nightcap and sky-blue robe with white clouds
Sleeper sparrow.
Having assessed the carnival, I did not stay long. I stopped on the way back to shoot this sparrow in Petrusplatz in Neu-Ulm. It is the first sparrow sculpture I have seen in Neu-Ulm. It is by a store that sells beds.

Painting of fools' masks
Artwork by fools' guild door.
Back in Ulm, I noticed this artwork and took a closer look and discovered it marked the door to the fools' guild. I am still not sure what that is all about, but I think the fools' guild might be a professional association of performers.

Painting of a fool getting dunked
Artwork over fools' guild door.
I watched the second-season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer today. That is the one where she has to kill her boyfriend, whom she loves, to save the world. Life is rough when you're a vampire slayer. In fact, in a later season, she has to kill herself to save the world.

Later, I watched the third-season opener, and I noticed that near the beginning, the bad guy says exactly what he is doing to people, but none of the other characters realizes it yet. It is a strange sort of foreshadowing, because the character's statements are literally correct, but they do not inform the characters or the viewers of what is going to happen because they do not have the information to understand it yet. This occurs in many Buffy episodes. In one, Xander says exactly who is going to attempt murder and how they are going to do it, but the statement goes right past the characters and the viewers, and we spend the remainder of the show wondering, following the investigation, accepting the main suspect, and then being surprised when the attempted killer is revealed (again).

I am going to have to watch at least one episode twice in a row to catch all of that foreshadowing and plot structure.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Kathy tells me the package that never arrived here has returned home. It has been four months since the package was mailed, and I never received any notice of a delivery attempt. I do not know yet if there is any indication on the package about why it was not delivered.

Today's design review went well. Some mostly minor changes to the design document were requested that I can probably get done tomorrow. One change to the implementation was requested, to remove use of a function that is not in their system. That is a deviation from the specification, which says that the function will be available, as part of the C standard library. However, I made the change in a few minutes. Martin said my work was the best he had seen in nine years. (I am guessing that is how long he has been at EADS.)

In addition to the design document changes, I have to finish the acceptance procedure document, which is mostly done. Then there is a review of the final code, possibly some changes as a result, and we do the acceptance procedure, and then I am done.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

I saw another of the new white Straßenbahnen today. I got a better look at this one, because it stopped briefly. It is white with blue and black trim and longer and wider than the old Straßenbahnen. The floor is lower to the ground, so you just walk on instead of climbing steps. The pantograph is different and looks simpler, but I did not get a good look yet. Only the driver and a trainer were on board. The Straßenbahn was marked Fahrschule, Driving School.

There is something new in my German homework. In large part, English and German have the same language rules, with different words. For example, both languages have a basic "subject verb object" structure for declarations and a "verb subject object" structure for questions. There are prepositions and conjunctions, and so on. One difference I described earlier is the use of the present perfect in German to speak of the past.

The new difference tonight is that the definite article ("the" in English, "der," "die," or "das" in German) can be used as a pronoun. If one person says "Der Sessel ist praktisch" (The chair is practical), another person can say "Der finde ich unpraktisch." That means, "I find it unpractical." English does not have anything like that, using "the" as a pronoun.

Also, I think the sentence structure is part of it. Word-for-word, "Der finde ich unpraktisch" is "The find I unpractical"—the sentence structure is "object verb subject adjective." The textbook does not say anything about whether these have to go together, but it has not shown either this structure or this article-pronoun use before, so I hypothesize you can only use the article as a pronoun with a structure like this, not just anywhere you could usually put a pronoun in a sentence. That sentence structure is also not in English.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Walking to class tonight, I remembered that some of these paths I walk regularly have been here a thousand years. Not paved as they are now, but maybe lined with stones, and in use continuously for a millennium. (Actually, a millennium ago, this town was over a century old.)

The teacher invited students to the school's Einstein café after class, and we sat and talked for a while. Tomorrow is another holiday, May Day, and the other students were surprised it is not celebrated in the US. There are a lot of holidays here. There was one just two weeks ago, and there is another at the end of May. The other students were also surprised we only get about three days off around Christmas and New Year's. That is more than a two-week holiday here. Plus, tomorrow's holiday is falling on a Thursday, so EADS is closed on Friday too, and I told the students how that does not happen with most holidays in the US—several US holidays have been moved to the nearest Monday or Friday, to combat decreased productivity when holidays fall interior to a week. I think they were a bit aghast and now have the impression that US people do nothing but work (and wage war).

Thursday, May 1, 2003

I went out to see what was happening for May Day. Around 9:15 a.m., Söflingen (my neighborhood) was very quiet, with almost nobody on the streets. The fountain had been turned off, and the decorations were in Herr Kling's van.

I went into town, and the downtown shopping district was also almost deserted. A fountain in the center of the shopping area had been turned on.

There was activity in the center of town, in Münsterplatz. Many picnic tables had been set up, there was a portable stage, and the plaza was lined with booths. In some booths, various organizations were promoting social and political causes. In some booths, food and beverages were being sold. At least one booth was both food and political. Some of the food booths were commercial, and some were fund-raisers for social organizations. There was also an inflatable play structure for kids to jump around in. And the fountain in Münsterplatz had been turned on.

Ulm flag.
Some flags and flagpoles had also been erected. There was one that was just black and white, which I think is the Ulm flag, because those are Ulm's colors. You know how all the good, short Internet domain names were taken early on? I think the same process is how Ulm got just about the simplest flag design possible—Ulm got there first, in 854. That goes for the three-letter city name, too. It was not very windy, so the flag never unfurled completely, but I think that is all there is to it.

black and white diagonal stripes
Ulm's colors.
Actually, Ulm's colors are usually shown in a 45º diagonal pattern, not horizontal as on the flag.

Around 10 a.m., a band started playing. Around 11 a.m., the mayor spoke. I caught a few words but never enough to put together a sentence and figure out what he was saying. For the most part, people were sitting, talking, and drinking, so I do not know if there is anything more to the holiday celebration than that.

Oh, another tidbit picked up from German class: "eggs" (Eier) is used to mean money, like "bucks" in the US.

One of the booths was selling Langosch, and I could see it was fried dough, so that is probably the same as the Langos I saw at the carnival. Fried dough is not interesting, but I tried some Serbian food, a Ćavapčići. In case your browser cannot display all those accent marks, the plain letters are Cavapcici. It is spicy paprika sausage with some red sauce and onions on a large but not thick oval roll. That's more meat than I need all year.

Friday, May 2, 2003

I just got back from dinner at the Pflugmerzler. It was very good. I had a set meal for €18.50. It began with a clear soup with pancake strips (dinner pancakes, not US breakfast pancakes). The main course was stuffed noodles on a plate of linsen bean stew with a few vegetables. The noodles were cooked just to the right point, but I have to say that most of the flavor was in the bean stew. Dessert was two apple fritter rings with a very, very dense cream, a sliced strawberry, and some fruit puréee. The cream may have been crème fraîche. It had a lot of flavor, somewhat tart, and had a hardness about midway between cold and room-temperature butter.

I am going to be paying for those calories for a while, and the gym was closed today. Last time I was there, there was a sign saying they would be closed on the holiday, May 1. I checked the sign carefully to see if it indicated the closure would start May 1 and got through the weekend, but it just said May 1. So I was annoyed to find it closed today.

I was reading Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet on my PocketPC during dinner, and he used a couple of phrases that remind me of German phrases. The first was "eight-and-forty," which is the German way of saying numbers, acht und vierzig. The second was "needs of life" to mean food, which is like the word for groceries, Lebensmittel, which I mentioned on April 5. How much closer was English to German in Doyle's time?

Saturday, May 3, 2003

Söflingen put up a maypole, a very tall wreathed pole with some images for family, work, garden, festival, and nature. By the way, gardening is a big hobby here. Not only do people garden around their homes, but the city has large tracts of land divided into garden plots that are rented.

I started packing a box to send home. Primarily, this is a practice run, to fill out the customs forms, check the box size, and find out how much it is going to cost. However, doing it also prepares me mentally to leave Ulm. I have a few purchases, like board games and souvenirs, that it makes sense to send now because I will not use them here. But if I send my winter coat, that is a decision not to stay into next fall.

Well, I will see what fits into the box. Maybe there will be enough of the former things that I do not have to make a decision. Oh, look, I have at least two boxes of souvenirs, games, and books I finished. Okay, I do not have to decide about the winter coat now.

Oh, geez, this week's German homework is a crossword puzzle.

Sunday, May 4, 2003

"Earshot" just came around in my Buffy episode rotation again. In the opening scene, two mouthless demons are attacking Buffy. They do not need mouths because they can read minds, although we do not learn that until later in the show. This is an integral part of the story later on, but I think the writers also wove it into the opening battle in a subtle way.

There is some staging in the fight that is either a nice bit of writing or is quite fortuitous, because it shows the demons using telepathy in their tactics. At one point, the two demons are lined up one in front of the other, both facing Buffy. So Buffy's view of the demon in back is obscured by the demon in front. The one in back uses this opportunity to throw a knife at Buffy, possibly catching her by surprise. The demon in front ducks just as the knife is thrown. This might have been deliberately choreographed—the demon in front knows when to duck because it can read its partner's mind.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Last week, Martin tried my FFT on a Sky Computer system and got the wrong answers and asked me to look into it. I diagnosed that as a problem with the cosine routine in the Metaware library that Sky uses. To work around that, Martin tried using some other trigonometry routines that EADS has. He got different errors. This time, I found a typographical error in their tangent routine. So far, my FFT code is holding up.

I mailed my first box of stuff home. It cost more to send from Germany (€59, currently around $66) than it did to send things from the US ($42.25 for the same weight). I asked if I could use the US customs form. That would have been nice, since it is in English and I understand it already, but the clerk said no, I had to use the German form. The thing is, the form is primarily for the receiving country to use, so the US form would have worked just fine.

New Hampshire license plate
New Hampshire license plate.
I did some errands in town before class and saw this license plate. A clothing store is using it for decor. By the way, I hear New Hampshire is falling apart without me. [This was written shortly after the Old Man in the Mountain, a stone formation adopted as a state symbol, fell down.]

It was too warm to wear a jacket today. I heard it reached 29º. That's 84º to most of you, excluding folks like Anne in Montreal. My apartment does not have air conditioning, so there is another reason not to stay the summer.

Sign: Tanning without limit—maximum 30 minutes
False advertising.
On the way to class, I passed a tanning salon. They are advertising Sonnen ohne Limit, sunning without limit. That footnote says "max. 30 min."

The Estonian student brought a friend to class tonight. She speaks Estonian and/or Russian and is learning German. He speaks Rumanian and English. I guess they don't talk much.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Yesterday, I asked Martin about changing something in the IIR that I thought was odd. He checked with their signal processing engineers, and it turned out the thing I asked about was a proxy for the real calculation, which they do not want to reveal. Don't try to put one over on me! I don't know that much about signal processing, but, if the math is ugly, something is wrong. Math should be pretty.

Also, it occurs to me there could be an issue with the encryption work EADS might want me to do. I was hoping that now that they have seen the quality of my work, we could arrange for me to work from the US, without needing any supervision. However, if I write high-performance encryption routines, export controls could be a problem. I write the best stuff! We might have to get export permission from the US State Department. ("The US is a free country" is only a saying.)

Kathy told me both of my credit card companies called about suspicious transactions. At first, I figured this had to do with European purchases. However, it turned out I just mistyped the expiration date for my Visa without realizing it. When that failed, I tried my Mastercard and accidentally used my Visa expiration date. I fixed that and finished the order, but it still triggered the alert. These are not directly related to being in Europe, but I suspect there is an indirect connection. My other European activities may have set the alerts to trigger more easily. Normally a single mistaken expiration date followed by a correct one would not cause an alert.

When I tried calling Visa about this, I could hear them, but they could not hear me. I tried several times and thought my phone was broken. Then I tried a different carrier and go through okay. I wonder if that is why two messages I left recently have been unanswered?

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Münster seen through a window over roofs
View from classroom.
What a day I had at the office. I went in shortly before 11 and checked my mail to see if Martin had any comments on the revised design document or the revised acceptance procedure. There was no mail. I waited a few minutes to see if Martin were around the office to ask, and then I went home.

We had a substitute teacher in class. The new teacher has a very different style, and we did some exercises for practicing letter sounds, particularly vowels. The regular teacher is good and creative and keeps the class interesting, but she put more emphasis on learning words and grammar. That might be good for most other students in the class, who have been here a while, but practicing the sounds is probably more useful for me right now, because it will help me say the words I know correctly and help me understand German speakers.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

My landlady's vines and other plants are flowering. In another week or so, I will take some pictures.

My brother Alex and I are planning a visit. We are trying to schedule a tour including Munich, Stuttgart, Ulm, Rome, Pompeii, and Venice.

I have used the treadmill in the gym on the order of forty times, and the speed selection has always been in increments of .2 kilometers per hour. One of the speeds I usually set is 10.4. Today, it used odd numbers and had 10.3 and 10.5 but not 10.4.

Friday, May 9, 2003

I was looking at my gym's hours, and I think it may have been closed last week because I arrived during the pause rather than because it was a holiday. Many businesses close from noon to 2 p.m. I haven't had to deal with that much since I have been working, but, now that I will be vacationing for a while and doing things during the day, I have to keep that in mind.

I have had enough of German food for a while, so I tried a Mexican restaurant, the Enchilada. The menu looks a lot like Mexican restaurant menus in the US: burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, and so on. However, I did not see any rice or beans on the menu. My burrito came with a Mexican salad.

Some of the restaurant types in town yet to be tried are: Thai, Balkan, Turkish, vegetarian, and American.

During dinner, I was reading Peter Pan. My PocketPC came with a bunch of classic old books in electronic format. I didn't know Tinker Bell was so mean! She tried to get Wendy killed and used bad language.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I nipped into Bavaria today, just barely across the border to see the Markt für Kunsthandwerk (arts and crafts market) in Neu-Ulm. It was not terribly interesting.

I decided to go see the Bread Museum finally, so I walked from Neu-Ulm to Ulm. As I passed through Ulm's central square, somebody was handing out leaflets, which I usually avoid. However, I noticed Museumsnacht (Museum Night) on the cover, so I figured it might be relevant to my plans. It seems there are special events at several museums in town next weekend. Saturday at the Bread Museum there is a display of the comic art (cartoon? comic book? graphic novels?) Brezman in Ulm (Pretzelman in Ulm). Sunday there is Kurzführung zu einem wichtigen Kapitel Zeit- und Geldgeschichte, which my software translates as "Short leadership to an important chapter time and money story."

Well, I do not know what to make of that, but I suppose going next week is better than going this week, so I will wait.

white Straßenbahn
Ulm's new Straßenbahn.
On the way home, I saw the new Straßenbahn again. I just managed to get a photograph.

My State Farm agent sent me a letter. They say the underwriters were about to cancel my policy because it has been suspended for over six months, which is their limit, so the agent added a miniscule coverage to keep the account active. The coverage they added would be fine, except my policy has not been suspended for six months. I haven't been here five months yet. So now I have to write back and explain to them how to count. In addition, I received under separate cover a notice of charges for all of my regular coverage, not just the tiny amount. Oh, wait, maybe I will call. A 46-minute phone call is cheaper than a letter (not including the value of my time).

My home in the spring My home from an angle in the spring
Home in the spring.
Since I had my camera out, here are pictures of my home in the spring.

I just checked the original script of "Earshot," and the writers did indeed intend the demon to duck to illustrate its telepathy.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Martin set next Monday to do the acceptance procedure, so that will probably be the day the FFT is officially finished. He said there are some more revisions for the design document and acceptance procedure, but those are probably nothing major. I have to go into the office to take a look.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The document revisions were minor. I am back home, working on the IIR specification. Damn Microsoft! The other day, I edited some of my recipes in Microsoft Word, and I made a bulleted style for ingredients, named Ingredient. This style is not in any of my document templates. It is only in one document. Today, I opened the IIR specification, selected some text, and clicked on the bullet icon. Microsoft Word made the items bulleted and gave them the Ingredient style. Yeah, I really want my technical document to have a style from my recipe collection. To be sure, Microsoft Word has some nice features, but the way it handles bullets and numbering is completely messed up.

Another Microsoft goodie: the progress bar in Internet Explorer. When opening a page, the progress bar fills from left to right. But sometimes, when the server is not sending data, the progress bar still moves. I can watch the received byte count on my modem connection stay unchanged while the progress bar continues to move. Internet Explorer is simply lying.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I just mailed a second box home. That is about all I have to send that I might not need again here, until I buy more souvenirs. Anyway, I am very much in mind to come home in July, so I hope any more work does not take longer than that.

Plans are shaping up for Alex's visit and a quick trip next week. Next week, I am going to Frankfurt just to take a look-see, then Gießen to visit the mathematics museum, and then Heidelberg for a day to see the castle, the town, and the psychiatric hospital's museum of art by their patients. When Alex is here, we're going to Italy.

I was reading more of Peter Pan, and James Barrie used the (now old) word "didst." That really stood out for me, not just because it is now archaic in English, but because German verbs take an "st" suffix in the second person singular. Did English used to share this with German?

Tonight Maral was wearing black leather pants and her usual headscarf. That is a more interesting contrast than the blue jeans. Felice was surprised that my brother and I will zip through Rome, Naples, Pompei, and Venice in four days. He might have been a little hurt, like that's all the time we're giving to his country? But time is a constraint, so we have to accept what we can. I used night trains to overlap travel and sleeping some.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

One of the neighbor cats finally let me pet it. The cats around here are very much 'fraidy cats. Usually they run away if you make the slightest approach.

I have almost finished the itinerary for Alex's trip. Getting the train tickets is requiring three trips to the train station, and that is after I did a lot of work online picking out the trains. Even Deutsche Bahn has problems dealing with all the fare options, even when you go in with a complete list of specific trains, cities, and times. Their web site is nice in that it lets you get lots of details of trains (except France's trains do not seem to be in the database, at least not completely), but it is no good at assembling multiple segments into an itinerary.

Deutsche Bahn does have a nice hotel reservation service online. It tells me I have booked a four-star hotel in Rome (10 kilometers from the center) for €55/night for two people. I'll believe it when I see it. If that bears out, I may use it when I travel in the US.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Tonight I had dinner outside, at a Spanish café by the Danube, while the sun set. Early on, a hot-air balloon passed overhead, and a couple of Ulm sparrows were nosing about the area.

Most of the building numbers here are one or two digits. The streets are short and end at tees or curve into another street or change names at intersections. Even in a large city like München, the building numbers do not usually get very large.

It surprises me how many people do not know how the Straßenbahn changes at night. Every time I ride it, I see several people trying to get on at the middle or rear door. After 8:30, you have to get on at the front and show your pass to the driver. Even more surprising, some people try to get off at the middle or rear, even though they must have come through the front door getting on. Okay, not everybody rides the Straßenbahn every night, but, if you ride it at night just once a week, you would remember. And the people who ride infrequently would be a small percentage of the riders. (Somebody who rides every night is on the Straßenbahn thirty times more often than somebody who rides once a month.) So why are so many riders unfamiliar with the night rules?

Another of the neighbor cats let me pet it. Maybe they have accepted me as a resident. That reminds me, nobody has asked me for directions since that delivery driver three months ago. I was asked once every couple of weeks and couldn't help, and then I did help that driver, and nobody has asked since.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

The pretzel exhibit at the Museum der Brotkultur is quite something. They have pretzel art, pretzel decorations, pretzel shapes in German regions (Bayerische, Schwäbische, Badische), pretzel shapes around the world, pretzel shapes through history, pretzel-selling information, pretzel costumes, pretzel-selling costumes, pretzel-decorated trees, pretzel ingredients, pretzel toppings (including an exhibit about how New Yorkers put mustard on pretzels), holiday pretzels, how pretzels are made, pretzel advertising, pretzel tools, pretzel sculptures, pretzel paintings, and pretzel chests.

The opening of the Brezman in Ulm (Pretzelman in Ulm) gallery was jam-packed, standing room only, about a hundred people, and complete with a costumed Pretzelman.

The pretzel exhibit and the Pretzelman gallery are temporary. I also visited the regular museum exhibits. There is a variety of information on the history of bread, the development of wheat and flour, baking, tools, methods, and so on. I did not see any measuring spoons.

One display shows the progression of the price of a roll in Germany in 1923. That was the year of extraordinary inflation:

January 650 marks
August 13000 marks
September 221 million marks
October 12 million marks
October 26300 million marks
November 21 billion marks
November 510 billion marks
November 1618 billion marks
The exhibit contains actual bills, all the way up to ten-billion mark notes.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

German class has been introducing article declensions for accusative and dative cases. They have not been explained well, so I searched for a web page with information about grammar. I do not like what I found.

It is bad enough that the article ("the" or "a") changes form for gender. If you want to say "the" with a masculine word, it is der. With a feminine word, it is die. With a neuter word, it is das. But those are just for the subjects of a sentence. For the direct object, der becomes the accusative den. But not always. For the indirect object, der becomes the dative dem. But not always. For the object of some prepositions, you use the accusative. For other prepositions, you use the dative. But that is not all! Some prepositions have two meanings. If you use den, the preposition means one thing, and, if you use dem, the preposition means something else. For example, in can mean "at" or "to" depending on whether you use the accusative or the dative. People are supposed to remember all this?

The grammar also has a genitive case, where the masculine "the" is des. The article I was reading said that even Germans have trouble with the genitive case, so I am not even going to try. The genitive serves some of the role of the possessive in English, which German does not have. Also, I think German does not have a reflexive case.

Monday, May 19, 2003

The acceptance test is done and signed. That means EADS has accepted my code's function and performance. The code review remains to be done, and Martin does not have a procedure for it. He has to talk to Ottmar to see what they should do. I just have to wait.

I finished my second viewing of the first three seasons of Buffy and my first viewing of the first season of Angel. I have a few movies to watch, but then it is back to Buffy for a third time. If I have a whole day available, it might be fun to watch the entire first season in one go. (It is about eight hours.)

The panels of the large revolving door at Abt are hinged and close against the hub, leaving an open-air passageway that is used in good weather.

Eis is the word for ice, and it is used to mean ice cream. My dictionary and the German language textbook say Eis has no plural. This does not mean the plural is the same as the singular—there are other words like that, like "sheep" in English. Eis has no plural. It is singular only. I do not know what that means. "Water" in English is grammatically singular, but you never say "a water." Germans do say ein Eis, for an ice cream. So if you have ein Eis and you buy another, what do you have?

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I spent several hours working with Deutsche Bahn's web server, picking out specific trains, finding a hotel in Bruxelles (Brussels) and so on. The route to Brussels involved a change in Köln (Cologne), so I made that stopover seven hours so I can visit the chocolate museum there. I have been considering different ways to do the trip for weeks, and I finally settled on a nice itinerary that covers the things I want and should allow me to relax and travel at nice times of the day and so on.

Then I took my plans to a local travel office to get tickets. The agent took my list of trains and flights and indicated she would have to work on it, so I should come back tomorrow. I was unprepared for such a request, so I agreed. But the more I think about it, the more it annoys me. Tomorrow will be just under seven days until the first train segment, so I might lose the discount fare. And what does she need to work on? I gave her a list of exactly which four trains and two flights I wanted, including train and flight numbers, dates, times, and stations and airports. Type them into the computer, give me a price, and print tickets. What is there to work on?

The scenery along my walk to the gym has changed for springtime. The waterwheel is now turning. Here are spring and winter pictures to compare. This is not the original wheel but is about the same size (four-meter diameter, one-meter blades). Waterwheel in stream, in spring Waterwheel in stream, with snow-covered banks
The wheel in spring. The wheel in winter.
Path by the Blaukanal. The power from the wheel was used to pump water. Some form of waterworks has been here for four hundred years.

To the left and right are photographs of the path and the Blau Canal.

Stream by the path.
Path to gym. Blaukanal.
Fork in stream, with lots of greenery Fork in stream, with snow-covered banks Here is where the stream forks around a tiny island.
Fork in spring. Fork in winter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

It has taken a lot more work than it should, but I now have tickets to Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Köln, Bruxelles, London, Roma, Napoli, Venezia, and München. Alex and I will visit Pompei too, but that will be by regional train from Napoli, without advance tickets. I still have to plan Genève, Lyon, and Berlin!

Here are my travel plans so far. May 22, go to Frankfurt, walk around the center for a few hours, and have lunch. Go to Gießen and visit the mathematics museum. Hope they have an interesting gift shop. Go to Heidelberg and check into my hotel. May 23, see Heidelberg. That includes the funicular, the castle, the psychiatric hospital art museum, and the town. I return home that night, perhaps in time for the Ulm party night sponsored by the local radio station.

chocolates with mathematical expressions in gold lettering May 28, go to Köln. That involves a transfer in Mannheim with only seven minutes between trains, but I hope going from platform two to platform three involves only walking about ten steps forward. In Köln I will visit the chocolate museum and pick up a souvenir shot glass for Cathleen from the Hard Rock Cafe. Then I continue to Bruxelles, where I have two and a half days to visit twelve chocolate stores. Also, I will make a side trip from Bruxelles to Aarschot to visit Kim's Chocolates and get some of the math chocolates pictured to the right.

May 31, go to London. I will ride the Eurostar, which probably goes through the Chunnel. I have no specific plans for London, except that I have to get a photograph of me in my London-Paris-Rome-Nashua t-shirt in London. I will be there for four days, so I have time to relax and see what I want as I feel like it. Also, I will get to speak English again. June 4, I return to Ulm.

June 13, Alex arrives. We will see Ulm, Stuttgart, and likely Neuschwanstein castle. On June 18, we take a night train to Roma. On June 19, we rush to the Colosseum, Vatican City, and whatever else we can manage. On June 20, we take a train to Napoli and another to the Pompeii ruins, see the ruins, and go back to Napoli. We will only have a few hours in Napoli and then return to Rome for the night. June 21, we take a train to Venezia, see the city for nine hours, and get on a night train to München. June 22, we see the model train hall in the Deutsches Museum and then see München. June 23, Alex flies home, and I return to Ulm.

Those are the travel plans, and now here is the story of the acquisition of the Bruxelles and London tickets. It has been quite an ordeal, and it is not over yet. As I wrote earlier, I spent a lot of time planning and took the details to a travel agent, who asked me to come back. I went back this morning, and she had arranged the London-München flights I asked for at a good price, €133.05. That is for a round-trip, which I asked for because it is cheaper than one way. I am actually taking trains to Köln, Bruxelles, and London, and then I will fly back to München and take a local train to Ulm. I do not need the return flight to London, although, who knows, maybe I will find a way to use it.

So, the agent had a good price for the ticket but did not have the ticket. She has to have it sent to her; they cannot print it there. She had done nothing for the train tickets. I asked yesterday if she could sell me train tickets, and she said yes. I suppose that is most likely a language problem, but still. Also, I said yesterday I wanted a hotel in London, and she had done nothing for that. She did have a catalog of hotels and travel packages for various cities, including London, but she could not recommend any particular hotel. She's going to ask her husband, who lived in London for two years, for recommendations. Am I the first customer to ask to stay in London?

After arranging to pick up the plane ticket Saturday, I went to downtown to the Deutsche Bahn ticket counter to get train tickets. There were five service windows open and three lines. One line was for one window, and the other two lines were for two windows each. That was apparently a result of ad hoc line formation by customers. At one point, when a man reached the front of his line and went to a window, a woman from another line joined him. Apparently they were a couple that split up to cover two lines.

When I got to a ticket window, I gave the agent my clear list of four trains. Should be simple, right? Tell the computer I want ICE 692, ICE 602, and THA 9456 on May 28 and EST 9145 on May 31, print the tickets, take my money, and we're done. No, that's not the way it works. She can't tell the computer what trains I want. She types in that I want to leave Ulm at a certain time and go to Bruxelles. And the computer says sure, here are some trains. None of them are what I asked for. Not even close. The computer lists quick routes to Bruxelles, but I planned a six-hour stopover in Köln, so the trains I want aren't among those the computer is showing as first choices. I point that out to her. Again, she can't tell the computer what I really want, so she schedules the Ulm-Köln trip separately and gets the trains I want for that.

Then she does Köln-Bruxelles trip. She finds the train for that but then spends a while working with the computer. Finally she tells me there is a special €29 fare that might be applicable, but the computer is not offering it on that train. She tries a later train, and it is still not the special fare. So I say to go with the regular fare, at which point she pulls out a huge book, flips through many pages, checks rules, refers to tables, and so on, finally giving me the regular fare of €35.50.

That was the easy part. Finally, we have the Bruxelles-London trip. She finds the train I asked for easily enough, but the computer will not let her make a reservation on it. Not because it is full, but because the computer says IEP0050M, reservation cannot be made. She types things, looks things up in books, and makes two phone calls, all to no avail. Finally, she offers me a train one hour earlier, and I say okay, and the computer says okay, and she prints the ticket. It is the same type of train, exactly one hour earlier, but the computer will make a reservation for it but not the later train. I wonder how many people will be on the later train if the computer will not make reservations for it.

Why was getting train tickets at the train station so difficult? Traveling is a part of German culture, so the ticket counter should be used to people going all sorts of places. Do Germans make their travel arrangements in some different way that is easier for the way the system is set up? Was my request odd? I was asking for one-way tickets instead of round-trip, but surely some other people get one-way tickets because they will fly part way or are moving or going to college or something.

After finishing at Deutsches Bahn, I went home for lunch and then to EADS for the code review. We had to hurry because I had to get to class, but it is done. We found one minor bug, a call to the C routine free had to be changed to the special routine vec_free. That bug is a result of changing the specification late in the project. My code was originally correct, but EADS requested a change (outside the contract), and uncontrolled things like that lead to problems. Martin has some paperwork to finish as a result, but my part in the FFT work should be done, except for collecting the money.

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© Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.