It’s Oh So Quiet

It’s been slow here, but mostly because it hasn’t been slow elsewhere.

I’ve been writing a lot on that other blog of mine, the one I started in January. It’s been a fun ride so far, which is why it’s been so quiet here. Unfortunately for some of you, my other blog is in German only. But I usually post lots of pictures, so if you’re interested in seeing photos of my little adventures, you can head over there and take a look.

I’ve also been busy filling my other blog with foodie content. Unfortunately, it’s German yet again. I’m sorry.

So that’s that. Apart from that we’re currently working on some music stuff which hopefully will be presentable to the public some time soon and of course between work, writing blog posts and singing into the microphone there’s this thing called life.

But the good news is: This blog right here isn’t dead. (Yay!) It’s just currently on a little vacation. I have posts in my mind that I would like to write, I just haven’t found the time to do it yet. But I will.

In other news, there’s a little surprise coming up. I’m excited about it, and will post the news as soon as I can.

So, please be patient. Thank you.

Why It’s So Awfully Quiet Around Here

Yes, I know. I’ve been awfully quiet on this blog, but I promise I have a reason. Several reasons actually, and here are some of them:

1. Pre-Christmas obligations: We’ve managed to keep it simple this year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t your minimum amount of Christmassy obligations. We’ve had my parents-in-law over last weekend, I have some kind of pre-Christmas goose dinner with my family tonight, tomorrow is the Christmas party at work and then, only two days before our flight to Scotland (yes, you heard right, we’re spending Christmas and the New Year in Scotland), I’m having lunch with my best friend who’s going to live in the US starting next year. So, while this is not a lot, it certainly eats away some of my time.

2. Assembling a kitchen: So, yeah, I assembled a kitchen last night. I finally got around to ordering the small IKEA pantry kitchen and it was delivered yesterday, so I spent last evening actually assembling a whole kitchen. If you are following me on Twitter you might already know that. I am pretty proud now, though my knees hurt from kneeling and crouching for nearly five hours straight and my right hand is torn from all the freaking screws I had to screw in with what is probably the tiniest screw driver in the whole world. But, hey, I assembled a freaking kitchen. Now that I have crossed this of my list, I will happily not do this ever again.

Also, I am aware, that this only explains one evening of no blog activity, but I really wanted to mention THAT I ASSEMBLED A KITCHEN. ALL BY MYSELF!

But the real reason it’s been awfully quiet is this:

3. NaNoWriMo: I somehow missed this year’s NaNoWriMo, although I was pretty motivated to do it. I don’t know exactly why, but I just didn’t get around to writing anything the first few days and then – I guess – there was stuff in my life. Whatever it was, after one week of writing less than 1,000 words, I knew that this wasn’t going to happen.

I then read Chris Baty’s „No Plot, No Problem“ and decided that I could just as well have my personal NaNoWriMo in December, so that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m at 20,000 words, and no, I won’t tell you what it is about and from what I have produced so far, chances are very, very slim you will get to read it. It’s not horrible, it’s just in no shape to be shown to anyone. So there. With the vacation coming up, I guess that I need to push it a bit these coming days, but it’s been going really great so far and I’m hopeful that I will make it and have a 50,000 word novel by New Year’s Eve.

And yes, you are totally encouraged to root for me or annoy me with „So, are you still going to make it?“ questions. However, as I said, you will probably not get to read the result of this adventure, so don’t push it.


And that’s basically it. Also, there’s work, the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watcing (basically, the usual). We also got a new camera, which means that the old Nikon D70s is now officially mine, and mine alone and I’ve been trying to get a bit more serious about taking pictures with it and understanding what I’m doing or should be doing.

There will be updates in the future, maybe even this year. But if it doesn’t happen, this is what else is going on in my life and it will all be over in the new year and then I will hopefully have more time to take care of this blog.

Until then, have a very merry Christmas and an awesome New Year!

Three New Things (More Applicable Wisdom from George R.R. Martin)

2011-07-30_16-15-39_415„Learn three new things before you come back to us,“ the kindly man had commanded Cat, when he sent her forth into the city. She always did. Sometimes it was no more than three new words of the Bravoosi tongue. Sometimes she brought backsailor’s tales, of strange and wondrous happenings from the wide wet world beyond the isles of Braavos, wars and rains of toads and dragons hatching. Sometimes she learned three new japes or three new riddles, or tricks of the trade or the other. And every so often, she would learn some secret.

On Saturday I learned that there’s something called the Lorenzian Waterwheel which due to how it’s constructed will change its direction in a completely chaotic and therefore unpredictable manner. I learned that microfiche has a durability of about 500 years (compared to the meagre 30 years CDs are expected to last). And I learned that the reconstruction of a finial of the Cologne Cathedral that serves as an example of how big the finials actually are has info panels in a lot of different languages including the Cologne dialect.


This Saturday we went to a children’s science museum in Cologne called Odysseum. Without any children, naturally. People who know me might already be aware of the fact that I love going to the zoo, or better even, the aquarium. I also love any science museum with hands-on experiments – and the only reason why I wasn’t disappointed not to go to the Exploratorium in San Franciscos was because we went to see Where the Wild Things Are instead. So, yeah. I’m only an adult by appearance. And by the fact that I earn my own money and pay taxes, I guess.
But leaving behind the whole thing about how I think there should be way more museums where you can touch stuff and push buttons and turn handles and make things move or change or whatnot, and going back to the original quote from A Feast of Crows by George R.R. Martin.
The girl in this quote is asked to go out each day and come back with three new things that she knows now that she didn’t know yesterday. It’s such a simple rule that I think we all need to add this little rule to our lives. Each evening I should ask myself what I learned today. And make sure that I don’t cheat.
Just like in the book, there should be two simple rules.
1. It’s gotta be something new, something I didn’t know when I woke up that morning.
2. Only facts count. No guesses or something somebody told somebody else without having confirmation.
The second rule is kind of interesting, because the nature of facts are tackled in the book as well and the rule can be bent a bit to accomodate for a grey area of not-quite-facts.
„Tormo Fregar will be the new sealord.“
„Is that what they are saying at the Inn of the Green Eel?“
[…] He swallowed and said, „Some men say there is wisdom in wine. Such men are fools. At other inns other names are being bruited about, never doubt.“ He took another bite of egg, chewed, swallowed. „What three things do you know, that you did not know before?“
„I know that some men are saying that Tormo Fregar will surely be the new sealord,“ she answered. „Some drunken men.“
Learning three new things each day might not sound like a real challenge, but making it a daily ritual might help being a bit more attentive in your daily life and paying attention to what you stumble upon in terms of little bits of facts and new knowledge and actually remembering what you learned at the end of the day.
In fact when writing this article I actually had problems coming up with three things that I really didn’t know before that seemed worthy enough to count. So, maybe it is a challenge after all.
So, if you read this at the end of the day, what three things did you learn today, that you didn’t know before?

Technology Knowledge Discrepancy and Frustration All Around

Picture-1191I decided to write this article when a small dispute started over a humorous tech support note I shared on Google+ in which a customer asked how it could be that when she added a shortcut to a movie to her USB-stick the movie would only play on her computer, but not on anyone else’s.

The reply used an analogy with fur coats saying that while the coat itself won’t fit in your purse, a note saying that the coat is in the wardrobe would fit. But then again, the note would only be helpful in your own home, but not for anybody else’s home or wardrobe.
Now, I mostly thought the question and reply was funny, and didn’t think too much about it. The dispute that started revolved around the question whether the joke was mysogynistic, how it’s probably the same people complaining about the lack of women in some tech circles while at the same time being condescending and patronizing when it comes to a perceived tech-unsaviness as well as how the question asked really isn’t a dumb question and whether we can assume that knowing how a shortcut works is actually something we can consider basic knowledge.
In my experience the main problem we have here is the discrepancy between the technically savvy and those that are not – and this is a problem I see all the time.
As a software developer you are automatically the computer wizard of your family, circle of friends and probably the workplace (depending on where you work).
The simple truth is that about 80% or more of the problems people ask me to fix are stuff that I have only a vague idea about. I just google it. There’s no wizardry involved, nor do I use some secret knowledge I learned in my training or work experience.
The main problem is that I’m so used to computers and the way they work, that it seems all so natural and unquestionable to me that I simple can’t imagine how you would *not* know it. I just used shortcuts so often that I can’t even imagine that you don’t know what they are and how they work. And this is true for a lot of problems that other people are having.
And since the knowledge difference is so great at times it’s hard to find the common language denominator of asking and explaining that both parties can work with. When supporting someone on the phone sometimes it takes me a long time to find out what the actual problem is because the other person and me use a completely different language to describe what’s happening. The difference between „Is the computer running?“, „Has Windows booted?“ and „Did the application start?“ is clear to me, but it sometimes is not to someone who just uses a computer when they have to.
This is frustrating at times. I’m not blaming the other person, I’m just saying. It is frustrating, because I want to help, but it can be hard getting there.
Sometimes it’s really frustrating though and that’s when people start coming to me for more or less *all* the questions that are somehow computer related just because they know what I do for a living. This ranges from converting CDs to MP3s, questions about setting up their wireless network, formatting in Excel and Word and what computer they should buy.
I guess this is where some of the passive-aggressive humor is coming from. I’m glad to help anybody who has a problem, but I’d also like you to listen to what I explain to you and remember it. I can’t remember how often I tried to explain to someone at an old job what the difference between the internet and the intranet was, just to be cut off short each time with something along the lines of „This is too technical for me.“ This person was in no way stupid, she just didn’t want to know. She’d rather call me once in a month or so to say that „you need to reboot the internet“. And no attempt to try to explain to her that while I appreciated the confidence she put in me to have the power to reboot the internet, that was nothing I could really do.
We’re living in a split society where one half is so used to technology and how it works that they simply can’t imagine that the other half doesn’t know how to do the things that we do. And that leads to misunderstanding, miscommunication and frustration on both sides. When my mother or my mother-in-law look at a computer they see something completely different from what I see. They see the internet when I see Firefox. One time we had to explain to my father-in-law that the password he used for his mail account was not the same as the password for his wireless network and that when he told us his wireless password we really wouldn’t have any access to his mail. While this was so completely clear to us, it wasn’t to him. For him it was just passwords.
In the end this is not a technology problem. It’s a general problem that you notice when you’re so used to something and move smoothly within a system without any problems that you lose sight of the many small things that are not immediately clear to someone who doesn’t live in the system the way that we do.
What I always try to do is to explain to someone that computers are in no way magical. I didn’t learn what I know by learning it, but by using it. The truth is that unless you go into your system settings and screw around with them chances are unlikely that you can break something. The first thing to teach to people is to not be scared to break something and encourage them to play around hoping that this will make them more confident to try to solve problems themselves first and only come to ask for help if that didn’t work out.
And that is all.

A Very Very White Christmas

This might be the first white Christmas I have ever had. We got an unusual amount of snow for the last two or three weeks this year. Especially unusual for this area. I can’t help but enjoy it.

The last three months have been busy and eventful, which is one of the reasons (but a particularly good one) why a) it has been pretty quiet on this blog and b) our Christmas plans pretty much boil down to NOT GETTING OFF THE COUCH UNTIL ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY (like… I don’t know… get food or something).

There wouldn’t anything much to do anyway since nobody should even think about leaving the house these days.

So this is what we’ll do for the next three days and then we’ll slowly crawl out and see what else is out there. I hope you all have an awesome Christmas and a legen… wait for it… dary New Year.

And in the meantime you can enjoy the snowy view from our window.


I Miss My Commute

I recently read a short blog post at 37signals about the glory of not having to commute. While reading this post and the comments made, I was reminded once more of a feeling I have quite regularly:

I miss my commute.

Seriously, what I wouldn’t give for a solid 30 minute train ride to work and back. The problem that I have is that my commute is too short and I feel like it’s such a waste of time, because I get nothing done except maybe a bit of listening to podcasts.

Now, I have been an avid commuter for the last eight years or so. I had to travel from Bonn to Cologne for about one and a half years, before we moved to Leverkusen, which made my commute to work a bit shorter, but still long enough to spend reading. Even when I worked in Leverkusen for two years, I preferred the longer bus ride to taking the train,  because it gave me a bit of time to read or listen to music.

Sure, we moved here because of my job and in theory the idea of only being one train stop away from work sounded great, but I sometimes end up taking the streetcar which takes more than five times as long, but apart from stopping a bit closer to where we live also allows me to sit and relax for 15 minutes. 

Now, I know that commuting can suck. I know about having to wait for late trains, missing connections, sprinting up and down stairs to the platform just to get there in time, freezing in winter or being rained upon in autumn. I have never really commuted by car though, so I can’t really share any stories about that. On the other hand, I also don’t get why people would commute by car when there is decent public transportation.

Fact is that I think I never read as much as I did the nine months that I took the train from Leverkusen to Düsseldorf each day. This was a one hour train ride each way – which is also what I consider the longest a commute should be – and I got so much reading done during that time, it was simply amazing. The key to a good commute is not having to change trains more than once (or maybe twice) and spending the majority of the time in one train, so you can just sit down, relax, and do what you want to do.

I seriously feel deprived of this sacred alone time. Alas, if you don’t like to read, listen to music, podcasts, watching videos or playing with your notebook, then a commute might not be the thing for you. For us people who do like these things, 30 minutes on a train can be the time of the day where we can for once relax a bit, because it is the only time where you might not be distracted by this and that and just able to concentrate on these things we like to do.

Oh man. I miss my commute.

What Went Wrong With Delta

I recently tweeted about my frustration of our flight back from San Francisco with Delta Airlines. I have since then scanned a few other reviews and Delta rants and though I admit that we were comparably lucky I still would try to avoid flying with Delta in the future. Here’s why:

1. The organization at SFO was a mess. A tiny man kept pointing people in rows and though this is just an impression seemed completely overwhelmed by the task. Please note that though there was quite a queue it seemed like a totally manageable queue. Yet we were told to wait in line there then told to go to the line where we originally came from. Then they kept letting people cut the line for no apparent reason. I overheard that their flight was taking off at 6am, which was exactly the same time our flight was going and yet they seemed in no hurry to let us check in.

2. We had a little extra bag because we bought a couple of things and couldn’t fit everything in the suitcases we came with. Please beware: additional bags on Delta Airline international flights cost 50$. Now, I could have checked that on the internet, but I didn’t. So while this could be said to me my fault, it still made the mood worse. The bag was small enough to take as hand luggage, but of course we had smartly distributed liquids in all the bags and didn’t want to repack everything, so we sucked up and paid.

3. Nearly everything on the flight from San Francisco to Atlanta cost extra. Only soft drinks, coffee, peanuts and pretzels were free. Now, that I had read on the flight confirmation, so we were prepared and brought sandwiches on the place, but still. You even get stuff free on two hour flights to Poland and this was a four hour flight. They also had in-seat screens, but that didn’t really help, since all movies had to be paid extra. I didn’t check music and TV shows. Now I admit, I hardly watch movies on the plane, but it was just another thing to add to the dissatisfaction building up.

4. On the flight from Atlanta to Düsseldorf, the pillows were close to non-existent. Now, I have yet to see a comfortable airplane pillow, but this was definitely the worst I’ve had so far. No in-seat screens (which I can deal with) as well.

5. They ran out of chicken about halfway through the plane. Fine with me since I wanted pasta anyway, not so fine with my husband and even less fine with the girl behind me who had a dairy allergy and couldn’t eat cheese, which was apparently stated on her ticket but no-one seemed to care. She didn’t miss much (which I told her), since the food was pretty bad. I don’t expect much from airplane food, but I have had some pretty decent stuff on my last flights. This was nowhere near decent. Anyway, at this moment I would have expected some flight attendant to come up with a solution. Like, „upgrade“ to some business class meal or whatever, but that didn’t happen.

On the plus side, the staff on the plane was generally friendly, flights were on time. The ride was a bit bumpy, but I’m pretty sure that was the weather’s fault, not Delta’s.

I think the problem here is that I have had very good experiences with Air France so far, both on my trip to Vietnam and on the flight to San Francisco. Very professional and efficient, good service on board, manageably comfortable and actually pretty good food and drinks.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people had positive experiences with Delta and others had negative ones with Air France, but it’s still my very own experiences that I base my (flight booking) decisions on. Nothing went seriously wrong with Delta, but it went wrong enough to have me try another airline next time before I book a flight with Delta again.

By the way, the in-flight security video from Delta Airlines is Awesome (yes, capital A). I watched it with fascination on both flights and then again on YouTube, because it’s so much not what I’m used to:

San Francisco, Here I Come

The evening before the big flight and my desk is heaped with cables and electronic devices. Makes you think about how much has changed in the past few years.

Now, preparing for a vacation doesn’t just include making sure that all the trash has been taken outside and no perishable fruit is left on the counter. It’s not just checking that you have all your papers and enough clothes to wear.

No, instead I spent most of the evening looking for cables, adapters for American plugs (finally found the right ones in the one drawer after being temporarily confused by Hong Kong adapters… and why the hell do I have two adapters for my iPod charging cable???), packing my Nintendo DS game into the little pouch that came for my headphones and currently also holds the tiny iPod microphone.

Right now I’m transferring all pictures from our Nikon D70 to the MacBook, so we have a completely free disk when we start taking pictures. I should do the same for the Panasonic Lumix in hopes that then we won’t run out of disk space. After a brief discussion over dinner it was decided that the MacBook stays home (hard to believe, right?) and that we’d just buy new memory cards in case the ones we have don’t suffice.

I also need to remember to charge all electronic devices I need for the flight (i.e. camera(s), Nintendo DS, iPod and iPhone) so that they’re fully loaded in the morning. Then of course I hope to get the chance to charge them all again when transferring at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, just to make sure that once on the plane both the Nintendo and the iPod are charged to their fullest and get me through a ten hour flight.

(I have also refrained from playing Scribblenauts and the new Professor Layton to make sure that I don’t run our of riddles before I’m back home.)

Did I forget anything? I also took good care in syncing my iPod with all new TV show material and podcasts. So yes, I think I’m set.

I know in the good old days you brought a book for the flight and one single camera for the trip. Alas, those days are gone. Now half of my hand baggage is cables and geekie tech stuff. And adapters.

(I also have books though. We have three novels, one half-read non-fiction, two travel guides and I wouldn’t completely rule out the chance of stocking up on magazines in Paris.)