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.

Parts

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Well, I tried the region-two DVD, and my player plays it, but I can't switch the player back to region one by changing the Registry. Even a full restore of the hard drive didn't reset it. The drive allows a limited number of region changes, now three left, so I can watch the region-two DVD and switch back to region one, but then I can only do that once more. That stinks. I paid fair prices for the system and the DVDs, and there should not be any restrictions on my use of them.

I could buy a bunch of DVDs, switch to region two again, watch them all, and switch back to region one, but that leaves me with no switches left. There is a chance that fully reinstalling the system from the manufacturer's CDs might reset the hardware region-change count, but I can't be sure, and that is an immense amount of trouble to go to.

The easiest solution might be to buy a second DVD player and set it to region two. Then I can swap players whenever I want to change regions. That's assuming the count is in the player and not in the system motherboard.

This settles my position—I am against manufacturers controlling products after their sale and against any laws, software, or devices that help them do it. The DVD region restriction isn't an anti-"piracy" technique; it is a market restriction designed to increase publishers' incomes by giving them control over which markets get which movies when. There is no reason they should have such control, and, when it interferes with the legitimate use of paid-for products, it goes too far. Manufacturers colluded to limit consumer use, so consumers should have the right to make, use, and publish pro-consumer tools and information to fix those limitations. In this case, the region restriction is preventing the publishers from getting money, since I would like to buy DVDs but will not if I cannot play them.

The region-two DVD is packed with language options. The voice tracks are English, German, Spanish, and commentary. The subtitles are English, German, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Greek, Czech, Turkish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Croation, French, and Italian. US consumers get a rotten deal by comparison; DVDs sold in the US typically have only one or two subtitle choices.

I am making brownies for the second time here. This time, I used hazelnuts instead of macadamias, and I omitted the chocolate chips. The batter seemed a little thicker, but I didn't change anything that should affect that much. Well, we'll see tomorrow.

Passing through Yahoo, I caught something about a new X-Men movie coming out sometime. That reminds me, would any of you reading this please let me know what good movies are playing nowadays? Especially science fiction movies. I should make a list and get the good ones on DVD when I get back.

I found a firmware patch for my DVD drive that is supposed to make it region-free. That's a bit risky. I don't have the original firmware, and I don't want to lose the ability to play DVDs completely. I'm going to look for the manufacturer's firmware so I can restore it if the patch doesn't work, and I think I may buy a second drive and make sure it works before I fool around with the firmware. Of course, once I have two drives, I can just set one to region one and one to region two. I am sure many people who want to play DVDs from multiple regions do that, which shows the pointlessness of the region restriction.

I used my newly arrived printer to print this entire journal for my grandmother. In the process, I reviewed it and found some typos that nobody told me about. Hey, folks, if you see a grammatical error or something like that, let me know. I also printed some letters that have been waiting and a sign for my mailbox.

Bitte keine Werbung...
(Prospekte) einwerfe!

No-advertising sign for mailbox.
I saw it on a neighbor's mailbox and think it means "Leaving your catalogs here won't do any good because I can't read!" Well, the first phrase says, "Please no advertising..." I copied the sign exactly, but I am not sure about the second part. Why is Prospekte (brochures) in parentheses? And what does einwerfe mean? My dictionary says it means "throw in," but that doesn't seem quite right.

Monday, February 17, 2003

No package today. The first attempted delivery of the first package was on February 5, so the packages have become pretty spread apart for five packages mailed all at the same time from the same place to the same place.

Amazon.de has English-language books, and there I found and ordered two science fiction books I have been waiting for. Amazon.de has excellent web pages. Without using a dictionary, I was easily able to search, pick out books, add them to my shopping cart, log in to my account (which they already had from Amazon.com), set the delivery address, check out, and enter my German bank account information. Just from the layout, experience with Amazon.com, and a word here or there, I was able to find my way around their site pretty well. Unlike so many web sites, their web site is well designed, with things laid out mostly where you expect them to be and without flashy or fancy features that break on some browsers or make it harder to interpret information.

So, I now have two English science fiction books on their way to me. The price is a bit high, but not as high as paying for shipment and taxes to import them from the US. It looks like a few more books on my to-buy list are due out soon, so I will use Amazon.de or local bookstores for reading material instead of shipping my books from the US.

The brownies should definitely be made with macadamias rather than hazelnuts. But they'll do.

Oh, Amazon.de has Buffy seasons four and five imported from the UK! But the price is €123 each. Given that and the DVD region problems, I think I will pass. I think. For now.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The 1024-element FFT squeaks in just under the target time! That means I have technically completed four out of the seven milestones. I am going to make it a bit faster before I declare the milestone done, though. There should be a little more margin, and making the core FFT faster will help with some of the later work.

Tonight's Buffy episode involved Germany again: Hansel and Gretel and a German-language spell to reveal a demon's true appearance.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Oh, another mailing from the EBU. This one has a statement that seems to say they credited me with the €98 payment that I made. I expect I will receive yet another letter announcing a partial refund. This mailing also comes with a new letter. The letter seems to have instructions about returning a Müllmarke if you do not want it for this year and about informing the EBU of a garbage-partnership and naming the partnership's designated fee payer. Well, gee, couldn't they have sent that letter with the first mailing, when I needed it?

I am back from the first German class. I can just about follow most of it, but not all. At least I understood the homework assignment. I mean, I understood what exercises are assigned. I don't know yet if I understand the exercises. I am the newest resident in the class, at a little over two months. The second newest is three months, but most are around six months to a year. Two Turkish guys, possibly father and son, have been here three years. The nationalities of the students are: four Iranian, one Romanian, one Thai, one Afghan, one Polish, one Italian, two Turkish, one Iraqi, a couple I don't remember, and, of course, one American. (I know American is not a nationality. We ought to have a contest to create an adjective for US citizens.) I am also the tallest student and maybe the second-oldest, after the Turkish father. Is Beatrice a Romanian name? I wouldn't have thought so. On the other hand, I'd believe any country you said Malgorzata came from. Several of the students speak English, but I do not know yet if it is a few or most.

One of the dialog samples in the course book used "Check In" in a phrase meaning "come to the Check In." The teacher said that was English, and there wasn't a good German equivalent. When your native language language textbook uses English, that's a pretty strong sign of the pervasiveness of English! Also, I noticed several of the students, for none of whom English is their native language, seemed to fall back to English pronunciation for things like place names. The textbook has an alphabet with pronunciations, so I will be able to learn to spell vocally. The name of Y is Ypsilon! Still, the table is incomplete, because its spelling of the sounds assumes German pronunciations of the letters. For example, it shows W is pronounced We, which does you little good unless you already know the W has the sound of the English V.

Another thing I learned tonight is that countries have gender and number (or something). The phrases "from Turkey," "from Iraq," and "from the USA" are aus der Turkeï, aus dem Iran, and aus den USA. You have to know the gender of each country! It is one thing to learn the genders of many different types of objects, like desks and pots, but it is another thing to learn the gender of each object. There are hundreds of countries, folks. Who decides which country is masculine and which country is feminine? And what about cities, do they all have individual genders too?

I wonder if the genders are the same in all or most languages. For example, are the genders of desks, pots, dogs, computers, and pencils the same in French as they are in German? Or do Germans learning French go nuts trying to remember all the genders?

Okay, enough of class. I got home in time to watch Buffy. In tonight's episode, she was subjected to a test in which her slayer powers were suppressed and she had to fight a vampire as a normal person. For those of you who don't know, the slayer's superpowers include:

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Andreas tells me the word genders are different in different languages.

I got the 1024-element FFT time comfortably under the target, and the other even-power in-cache lengths are good too. I am going to optimize the radix-8 routine, and then the entire in-cache forward FFT will be good. This puts me at milestone four out of seven after eight weeks of work. That would be six more weeks at the current pace, but I have not had to deal with cache and memory bus operations yet. Those may take longer.

Most Germans don't file income tax returns. The money is taken directly from their wages, and there aren't as many deductions and other adjustments in the US, so the amount taken is the required amount for most people.

Obligatory rant: I got tired of remembering or picking out which files in my web staging area I had changed and needed to upload, so I wrote a very nice script to remember the last upload date, find the files to be sent, run FTP, send FTP commands to upload the files, and monitor the responses to see if everything is going well. I spent hours on the script, got it working with a replacement for FTP that did not actually use the network, and finally tried it with the real FTP. Then I got a surprise from Microsoft. The FTP program has an option to suppress display of the remote server responses and, when you start FTP with its input and output redirected to pipes to another program (instead of the user console), it turns that option on, and there appears to be no way to turn it off.

Not only is that stupid, but the FTP RFC carefully prescribes specific forms for server responses that are designed for easy reading by programs. The time you especially want server responses is when FTP is being used by a program rather than a person, and that is precisely when Microsoft suppresses them, so it is incredibly stupid.

Aha! There is a way around it. The FTP command has a -v switch that it says "Suppresses display of remote server responses." But it actually changes the display. Using -v changes the display from off to on or on to off. So FTP will turn display off because it sees it is interacting with a pipe instead of the console, but I can turn display back on with -v. Two Microsoft wrongs make a right.

Amazon.de sent me email about my order. I think it says they have shipped everything. I uploaded it so you can see the sort of translation I have to do all the time.

Friday, February 21, 2003

I got in to work early and finished the radix-8 routine, so I left early to visit the Ulmer Museum. They have new art there, and old art, and older art, and really old art, and some pre-art. The pre-art is scratchings on archeological artifacts, and it does not look like anything. The really old art is line drawings. The older art looks like people with no perspective. The old art looks like people. The modern art does not look like anything.

There are also some parts of dead people on display. Actually, the building itself is one of the most interesting exhibits. Several buildings have been grafted together. From the outside, it was easy to walk completely around the building in a couple of minutes, but the inside is quite convoluted.

After the museum, I visited a bookstore that had been recommended as one of the larger ones in town. They had some science fiction books and some English books but no intersection. They did have German-language guide books for New England. Looking in a guide book for mention of home has a strange feel. Nashua doesn't rate a section, just a passing mention.

I got home to find a new kind of notice from Deutsche Post, blue instead of orange, telling me a package had been left with a neighbor. I hoped it was the last of the boxes I had sent from home, but it was my Amazon.de order. That's good timing, because I just finished Analog yesterday and had no more English fiction to read until the next issue arrives.

Oh, I am planning a bus trip to an adjoining town, and I just remembered something about my trip back from the Zollamt. I brought my very thorough transit schedule with me (864 pages) and used it to figure out where the #8 bus goes. The schedule shows a list of stops including Ulm Haßlerstraße and Ulm Haßlerstraße. According to the schedule, sometimes the bus stops at Ulm Haßlerstraße, but sometimes it goes right by Ulm Haßlerstraße and stops at Ulm Haßlerstraße instead. I thought it might be trying to distinguish between two stops on Haßlerstraße, but, after further analysis and comparison to other days and the reverse direction, I think it is just a data error in the computer records. Somehow the same stop was entered twice, and the computer was told sometimes the bus stopped at one of the entries and sometimes at the other, and the computer duly printed a schedule showing that. One problem with dealing with a new culture and languages is that you have to figure out a lot before you can figure out something is an error—usually you use the assumption that things make sense as a tool to help find that sense. If the assumption breaks, the task gets harder.

Hey, right by the university, the map is marked "Mensa." Wouldn't that be nice, its own spot on the map? However, Mensa is just German for refectory (cafeteria).

Saturday, February 22, 2003

I only went out for grocery shopping today. It is the first Saturday I haven't needed to run some errand around town. I decided not to make the trip to Lehr and the university, since I really didn't have any plans to do or see anything there. Instead, I get to relax, read, and write software. I finally (mostly) finished the JavaScript program to FTP my files to my ISP. It is massive overkill, with derived classes, saved settings in the Registry, fancy argument parsing, and, of course, executing the FTP program and interpreting its output. But I'll never again have to remember to update my files or manually pick out the changed ones across multiple directories or accidentally send a binary file in text mode.

My landlady delivered a letter explaining what's going on with the EBU. I had told her that printed text was easier to read than cursive, so she typed the letter—on a typewriter! Those are still around? She says everything is arranged with the EBU, and they are going to charge her and send me a refund, and I should let her know when they do. Maybe that will be the last I hear of the EBU.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

I tried Angela's German language training software. Thank you, Angela. It includes audio, which is much more useful for figuring out sounds than printed pronuniciation guides, especially the bad guides in the dictionaries.

It also clarified my confusion about the E and I sounds. I could not determine the difference from the dictionaries, so I was confused. The audio makes it apparent they are very similar sounds, so now I am no longer confused about whether they are different. I am clear that they are similar. They both have long "ee" sounds. I can barely hear the difference. The I sound sounds like a deeper "ee" sound, and the E sound sounds like it is "ee" with a little "ay" in it.

I corrected errors in the pronuniciation table I had above and put the new table here. The J is not "jot" but "yot." The "ee" in P is like the "ee" in E, but the other "ee" in other letters sound to me more like the I "ee". Actually, the pronunciation here in southern Germany is supposedly quite different from other regions, so there may be additional differences to discover.

Aah Bbee Ctsee Ddee E60% ee, 40% ay
Fef Gghee Hha Iee Jyot
Kka Lel Mem Nen Ooh
Ppuh Qcoo Rairr Ses Ttee
Uoo Vvau Wvee Xix Yoopsilon
Zzet
Eagle
Hedgehog.
I also learned from the software that "eagle" means hedgehog. It is spelled Igel.

The software also has features for listening to you speak into a microphone and grading your pronunciation. I am not sure how useful that is, but, in playing with the mixer settings, I discovered my mixer can be set to record from the mixer output. DVDs are played through the mixer, so I can easily record sound from DVDs without any external equipment. If I notice any good lines of dialogue, I have to remember to record them.

My final box still has not arrived. If it is lost, I will have to remain 20% mad at Tom and Evelyn forever. That's a negative thing, so I will balance it by liking Angela an extra 20% for sending me the language CDs. Plus she likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I checked my inventory, and I think the missing box is the one I least mind losing. As far as I know, it contains nothing unique or special or of personal attachment. All the other boxes contained some things that are no longer made or that I personally picked out or liked or that went with something else or whatever. So, I can live with the loss of this box if it does not turn up.

For years I used backup software that estimated the time remaining based on some fictitious transfer speed, so the estimate was always wrong and annoying. The software neither adapted its estimate during the current session nor saved measurements for the future. You still see that in other software here and there, and I am always dismayed that people release commercial software with such annoying flaws that are simple to fix.

So, when I was writing my FTP program, I planned to have it do good estimates. I wrote that yesterday afternoon and inserted it into the program today, and it wasn't even hard. I don't know why more companies don't do it right. The code finds a least-squares fit to allow for FTP session overhead, file transfer overhead, and transmission speed. It accumulates data to improve its estimates, decays old data to adapt to changing circumstances, and updates predictions in the current session based on current conditions. The code for that isn't very complicated. It does involve some linear algebra, but you can look it up. Before I thought about it, I thought there might be some trick or complications to doing the adaption right, but, no, it's easy. So my opinion of software that doesn't do it right will be lowered appropriately.

Monday, February 24, 2003

I think I saw some ticket inspectors on the Straßenbahn today. It was hard to tell because I got there after the action. They were not inspecting tickets when I got on, but they were handling two passengers' tickets, and they had notepads that looked like they might be citation forms. They weren't wearing uniforms, which seems odd unless they need to be not noticed. Maybe they need to be unnoticed at first, because passengers can get on the streetcar or bus and pay the driver or put their Ding card in a machine to be debited. If the inspectors were in uniform, people would know to pay. I had sort of figured they would just get on unannounced and check everybody's ticket, but they could be in uniforms for that. Well, maybe someday I will see. After two months of daily riding, this is the first time I have seen inspectors.

Speaking of the transit system, the protocol changes after 8:30 p.m. Almost all of my rides have been to and from work or shopping, but now I come back from class regularly after 8:30. In the day, you can get on at the front, middle, or back doors. (This is another advantage of the trust system. Since not everybody has to get on by the driver to pay or show their ticket, it takes less time to get everybody on.) At night, you get on by the driver and show your ticket.

One of the ads on the Straßenbahn announced a Bruce Springsteen concert here in June.

Some new students showed up, and I caught a couple more of the nationalities, and we discussed occupations tonight, so I can tell you more about the make-up of the class. We have an auto mechanic from Afghanistan, a cook from Iran, a glassworker from Turkey, a former actress from Tunisia, a software engineer from Iraq, and a doctor from Finland. There is also a former flight attendant, several students, and a few whose occupations I did not catch, and the unmatched nationalities include Romanian, Thai, Polish, Italian, and Chinese. One of the new students is an au pair from a country I can't figure out. It may be a northern European country. Many of the women are former somethings that became Hausfrauen when their husbands got jobs in Germany. There is a young woman from Iran who was wearing blue jeans, a dark blue suit jacket over something lacy, and a headscarf—an odd assortment, but she makes it elegant. She's studying microbiology. The Iraqi is working in Java on mobile phone software.

We did a few partial verb conjugations in class, but I do not see the point in learning how to say "What is your name?" using the informal you. There are very few situations where you ask the name of somebody you are on close terms with. Er, maybe that's useful at "the establishment," but I don't think that's what class is preparing us for. Also, there were more English words in the textbook's examples, like Airport. Why would a German-language textbook use Airport when there's a fine German word for it, Flughafen? The teacher says even the name of the book, Tangram, isn't German.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Andreas says the E sound is like the E in English. I suppose the I sound is like the vowel sound in "reed". He and Martin will be in Philadelphia next week. Speaking of Philadelphia, Bruce Springsteen isn't the only American thing in Germany. I bought a Philadelphia cake at the bakery. It's about 1/2" high and 2" square, cut from a large sheet. It is like a dense cheese danish, with more cheese and less danish. It reminds me of the middle of a good Jewish bakery's cheese danish, not the wimpy things caterers fob off on you that are just light pastry with a dollop of faux cheese in the center.

I saw another sparrow to photograph. It is in plain view from my daily streetcar ride, about 50 meters away on a main street. I've even walked past it before without noticing. I may photograph it Saturday.

Uh, oh, I was typing some German into my computer to be translated, and I accidentally typed the wrong suffix—a German suffix. That is, I didn't slip and type some English or just hit the wrong keys, I slipped and typed some German word fragment. That means it has worked its way into some subconscious part of my brain!

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I bought train tickets to visit München on March 7. The Deutsche Bahn fare structure is complex. There are discounts for buying a day early, three days early, seven days early, in a group, with a penalty for changes, for a specific train, and traveling over a weekend. There are discounts for young people, old people, people in Europe, and people from outside Europe. You can pay more for first class and then pay extra to actually get a seat.

The machine instructed me to insert my bank card with the chip up and the magnetic stripe down and to the right. That is when I realized the small gold pattern on the front is not just decorative; it is the contacts to connect to a chip in the card.

I learned in class tonight that der Foto is a camera and das Foto is a photograph. Also, the name Malgorzata might be related to Margarita. I think Agnesé might be from Lettland, Latvia. Class involves a variety of exercises. One of them was a German word search. Uh, yeah, I think that looks like a word—I'll circle that.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Today was a warm, sunny day, just like yesterday. It was warm enough to melt the snow a little, and people were out walking around, enjoying the weather.

I have a problem at work. They gave me real hardware to work on. It has L2 cache at the speed specified in the contract, but they had to change their plans due to temperature requirements, so the eventual hardware will have L2 cache running 39% slower than specification. Also, the memory is running slower than they expect, for unknown reasons. It is 68% too slow. We can deal with that, because I am only required to do what the contract calls for. The problem is that my FFT runs 20% to 30% faster than the target time in most cases. I left some slack in my timing model, but not that much. With hardware slower than specification, the FFT should not be running that fast.

That large a discrepancy suggests there might be an error in the timing program. I looked it over briefly, and it seems okay, so I have to check the timing models and see if there really is that much slack in them. I made some worst-case assumptions to be safe when negotiating the contract, so maybe that is paying off now. If everything is okay, my job on the split-data FFT is essentially done. I just have to add some code for the reverse transform, wrap it up in a nice package, polish the documentation, and milestone five is done.

I kept expecting hard parts to show up in this job, but everything is going great. I could finish extremely early and have lots and lots of free time in Europe.

There are parking signs that indicate you can park for limited times, like 1.5 Stunden (hours). I have also noticed cardboard or plastic clock dials on some vehicle dashboards, and there is an image on the signs that looks like the dials. I suspect that when you park, you are supposed to set your dial to the time you park (or maybe the designated end time), and the parking enforcers use that to check. If your car is there past the end time, they give you a ticket. And you can't cheat by setting the dial ahead; the enforcers are just as likely to come before the start time you indicate as they are to come after the end time!

That seems like a good system for free parking. There are other places where you park, walk to a nearby vending machine, pay for parking, and put the printed receipt on your dashboard.

Friday, February 28, 2003

I updated my timing model to account for the changed L2 and memory bus times, and it seems my FFT performance is right on the mark. The L2 cases are within 5% of the model, and the well-behaved part of the memory cases is too. (There's a not-well-behaved part that is hard to model.) I will just have to live with the fact that there was a lot of slack in the requirements, and my code is pretty good. Martin is happy that I achieved all the performance goals even with the slower hardware.

When EADS gave me the hardware, I ran a bus-timing program I had written to measure the hardware performance. This showed me that consecutive multiple-page reads performed better than sequential single-page reads. That suggests the hardware designers did not interleave something they could have. I mentioned it to Martin, and it happened today was the last day for the designers to send schematics to some other development group, so they were scrambling to change the design based on my observation. It's going to make their memory bus performance 25% better in many cases. EADS likes me now.

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Sculpture of a sparrow wearing a plaid shirt, bib overalls, and a construction helmet
Construction Sparrow at Gummi-Welz.
To the left is the sparrow I mentioned Tuesday. It is at Gummi-Welz, which makes rubber products, like rubber doormats or mats for the gym. Gummi means rubber.

At the Ulm tourist office, I bought a CD with still and moving images of Ulm and Neu-Ulm. It has a few things of interest, but is generally disappointing.

Sculpture of a purple sparrow with financial symbols and currency on it
Finance Sparrow.
I did find one new sparrow in it. There are some symbols on it that seem to be mathematical, but the euro symbol makes me think it is financial, and the other items on it look like currency.

The CD has clips of a steam train ride and a boat ride through a cave. Since it is an Ulm and Neu-Ulm CD, those ought to be in the area and might be fun things to do. There is also a clip of the Christmas Market, but it does not capture the experience. There are essentially no images or clips that show the streets and architecture of the city, which is a shame.

Ad for Kasperle in Wunderland showing a giant jester around a circus tent
Ad for Kasperle im Wunderland.
There are new ads posted in the area that I initially thought were for a carnival, but the text says, "A fantastic trip into the fairy tale world in the theater." They seem to have printed their URL prematurely. All that is there is a placeholder.

I found bagels in Ulm, and right on the main shopping street. There is a store called Broox Coffee Spot which bills itself as an American Bakery. It is tiny and in the corner of a clothing store called Oviesse. I do not know if I just never noticed it before or it is new. I may have seen it but paid no attention. Today I looked at the menu because I had finished in the farmer's market before 9 a.m., and the other stores were not open yet, so I was ambling around waiting.

They have things like Rocky Mountain Apple Pie, Oreo Dream Bar, Snickers Creem (sic) Bar, and Toffee Cream Cheese Chews. For bagels, they have bagel sandwiches—no plain bagels or toasted bagels with cream cheese, just fancy sandwiches with lettuce and tomatoes and/or other stuff and with fancy names like California Dream. I tried one, and it was okay, but the bagel was a bit soft. Still, I may ask if they will sell the bagels separately.

Every now and then, I see a person walking around Ulm in a jester's outfit, complete with bells. In December, I credited that to some Christmas celebration. In January, there were still holiday things happening. Now, I do not know what to make of it. I will have to follow one of them sometime and see what it is about. I think they may come in bursts, like the beginning of the month, but I am not sure. The costumes are not all alike, so it is not some organization uniform, and they do not seem to be advertising anything.

I have chocolate-chip cookies in the oven. I made the chocolate chips myself, since the manufactured chocolate drops are expensive and not very good. I made only half my usual quantity since the oven is so tiny. At home, I can use one egg for either the single- or double-batch with good results either way, but I am not sure about here, since the eggs are different. The brown sugar is also different. At home, I use granulated brown sugar, since it pours and is easier to work with than the brown sugar sold in bags, which clumps and dries. The brown sugar here is granulated too, but the granules are larger. The crystal structure all melts when baked, but not when making the batter, and that can affect the recipe. In The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Berenbaum says that, when making the batter, one function of the butter is to coat the sharp sugar molecules.

I used one of the vials of almond extract I bought a while ago. The vial was barely half a teaspoon, and, in another sign that Germans rarely bake in quantity, it was difficult to get all of the almond extract out. The opening is constricted, so only small droplets come out, and you have to shake it a lot to empty the vial. The cookies are taking much, much longer to bake. That may be because the cookie sheet I am using is thicker and/or conducts heat less, so it takes longer to heat up.

Okay, done. The cookies took almost twice as long to bake as at home. The almond extract may be more concentrated than in the US, so I will use less next time. The chocolate I used for the chips is too bitter. Even allowing for those, I think the cookies are too bitter, so maybe I will increase the sugar. Also, I need a cooking spray or something else to keep the cookies from sticking to the pan. After cooling for just two minutes, they were cemented to the pan.

Every now and then I try a different restaurant. Tonight, I went to a nearby pizzeria and got to speak German to Italians. Quattroformaggi is vierkäse. I tried ordering take-out for the first time, and that went okay. Business appeared to be slow, and it has appeared to be slow in almost every restaurant I have been in. I was the only customer there while I waited, and I was the only customer in Broox this morning, and I was one of only two customers in a restaurant two weeks ago. I am not sure if the economy is that bad or my observations are because I go at typical US hours. Perhaps the restaurants have more business at other times.

Take-out pizza is not sliced by the restaurant.

Sunday, March 2, 2003

Figuring out my taxes is going to be a nuisance. An IRS publication clearly says that when you do business in a foreign currency, you are supposed to figure each transaction that affects your taxes by converting the currency to dollars at a prevailing rate at the time of the transaction. The part of that you think might be hard—converting every single transaction—is not hard. The part you think might be simple—using the prevailing rate—is not simple, and there is another hidden part that is a problem too.

Converting all the transactions is not hard because I record all significant transactions in Quicken. I have been recording euro transactions in a separate file, and today I wrote a script to convert each transaction to dollars using the exchange rate for that day. There is a web site where I can download historical daily exchange rates, so I do not have to keep track of them myself. So, now I run the script, and, poof, I am done. That is the simple part.

(Actually, setting it up was not completely straightforward. Quicken cannot handle multiple currencies properly. At least Quicken 98 can't. Intuit's documentation says to record foreign currencies in an investment account and treat them like securities that go up and down in value. But Quicken's investment accounts have no provision for recording purchases. For example, Quicken will not let you pay your rent with shares of stock! That is why I used a separate file. That is fine for daily use, balancing accounts, and so on, and I will only have a few dollar-euro transfers when all is said and done. I only have to combine the files when I want to do taxes or see overall budgeting.)

One hard part is what is the prevailing exchange rate? There is an interbank rate, there is a rate you can get in credit-card transactions, and there is a rate you can get for cash transactions, among others. Which one is prevailing? Actually, each of those has two rates, one for dollars to euros and another for euros to dollars. They are both a little on either side of an "ideal" rate, and the margin is the banks' profit. Which of the two should you use? I called the IRS before I left and asked, and they couldn't tell me.

The other hard part is that as the exchange rate changes, the change in the value of my euros is just like stock fluctuations and, when I "sell" euros (exchange them for dollars or food or rent), I experience a capital gain or loss. If the IRS did not insist you convert each individual transaction to dollars, you could just figure out the total gain or loss at the end of the year. But I may have to figure out the capital gain or loss on each individual transaction.

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© Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.