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.


Friday, March 28, 2003

Sandi is coming to visit. I am starting work on the real FFT, and I am a little concerned about how long the complex-to-real calculations will take and the performance requirements.

The two web pages for Simone's visit are ready. There is one for my visit to Paris with Simone and one for Simone's visit to Ulm.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

I tried a new café today and discovered a Hamburger, which is nothing like a hamburger. It is a wafer cookie about six centimeters in diameter topped with chocolate cream to make a cone or mountain-shape about four centimeters high and then coated with chocolate and sprinkled with a few almond slices. Yum.

I have been reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on my PocketPC while waiting for buses and such, because it came free with the PocketPC. Spoiler warning: If you have not read the novel (which contains more than the movie) and might, you might skip this paragraph. In the movie, the Wizard grants the protagonists' wishes by pointing out things they already had. In the book, there is more, including a stupid pun. To give the Scarecrow brains, the Wizard removes the Scarecrow's head, inserts pins and needles to make him sharp, inserts bran, and then tells the Scarecrow he has bran-new brains. I read all the way through the book for that?

The mail is here. One of my new DVDs arrived. I ordered a bunch of movies from to be sent to my New Hampshire apartment, where Kathy converts them from new to used (reducing their value to reduce import duties) and forwards them. First up is Navigator: A Time-Travel Adventure by the director of What Dreams May Come. When shipping things into the US for personal use, there is a generous daily exemption in duties. I could not find corresponding information for Germany, but the customs office did not charge for this DVD, so this method seems better than having send me new DVDs directly.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

After I got up this morning, my PocketPC and my PC both informed me they had changed their clocks for Daylight Savings Time. That does not begin in the US until next week, but I figured maybe the computers knew something about Germany. To be sure, I connected to the network and looked for reference information, and, yes, it seems Germany switched today. So for the next week, I am seven hours ahead of you folks.

Microsoft handles this change with its normal aplomb: My PC starts to boot, changes the time, puts up a dialog box announcing the change and asking me to verify it, and then suspends the start-up process, doing nothing else until OK is clicked. It is like Microsoft never heard of using computers as servers or automated devices that should start and do things on their own, without constant human monitoring.

Ergh, I'm working on my German homework. Here's a passage from the grammar section of one of the dictionaries I brought: "Except for the modals (see p. 360), the auxiliaries (p. 356), and wissen, to know, conversational German uses the present perfect tense to indicate the past. The simple past is used in newspapers, books, and articles." What this means is that when I mean "I saw," I have to learn to say, "I am seeing," but still write, "I saw," but I have to remember there are exceptions for "know" and the auxiliaries and the modals (whatever those are). Got that?

I suppose it is not as weird as it sounds. English does funny things with tenses too. In "She is going home tomorrow," the verb "is going" is present perfect, but the sentence is about the future. Strictly, the sentence does not say she is going now. She will go home or will be going home tomorrow. However, it is still a nuisance to learn. So I won't. As far as I am concerned, everything in Germany is going to happen in the present.

Pots rattle on the stove more in Germany than in the US, at least than on my US stove. I have mentioned before how long the stove heating elements take to heat up and cool down. They are more massive than elements I have seen in the US, so they hold more heat. They are also flat and have solid surfaces, not spirals like US electric-stove heating elements. That gives them more surface area in contact with a pot (or a pan), so they may conduct heat to the pot better. The bottoms of the pots are also flat, which means there is a close fit between the pot and the element. Any water between the pot and the element will be converted to steam when the element is heated. Since the fit is so good, it cannot escape easily. Instead, it lifts the pot, causing rattling or occasional thumps.

We are supposed to bring something to eat to class tomorrow night, so I made brownies. They turned out better than the previous two batches. The batter was more viscous, as it usually is at home. I think they are now pretty close to the results I get at home, except that I have only ordinary chocolate chips instead of raspberry chocolate chips. (Simone brought the chocolate chips with her from the US, and they are used up now.)

Monday, March 31, 2003

It is spring, and the weather is warmer now, so seating is available outside cafés more often now, and I am taking the opportunities to try new places before my evening German classes.

Tonight's class included discussions of food and drinks and ordering in restaurants. Leila, from Tunisia, did not understand what Schinken was, and the teacher tried English and asked other students for Schinken in other languages. That was amusing, seeing it go around the room in multiple languages. Schinken is ham in English, prosciutto in Italian, and jambon in French. Finally, the Iraqi said something, in Persi, I think, that Leila understood.

raspberry-chocolate-chip macadamia brownies
What the brownies look like at home.
The brownies were a hit. They visibly made me more attractive to several of the women in the class. Unfortunately, as we established when Simone visited (the night we learned the words for married and single), essentially all of the women in the class are married, younger than Jessica, or cannot locate their own country on a world map, each of which disqualifies them for me.

Maryam brought something like cotton-candy, except it looked like threads instead of fluffy cotton candy, and a salad with everything in it (eggs, tuna, tomatoes, carrots, peas, and more). Maral brought a couple of Iranian fruits I have never seen before.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Well, this is surprising. Microsoft almost did something right. When I came to Germany, I set my PC and my PocketPC to Central European Time. Microsoft Outlook responded by showing all my appointments at the same absolute time. For example, a monthly Mensa dinner that is held at 7 p.m. in New Hampshire showed up at 1 a.m., which is correct—when it is 1 a.m. here, the dinner will be starting. That is correct for calendar entries that represent events in a particular time zone. It is incorrect for calendar entries that represent things more closely associated with me as I travel, such as what time of day I would like to be notified about upcoming tasks. In typical Microsoft fashion, the software neither consulted me about how I would like to handle different events nor appears to offer any way to set it.

The interesting thing that showed up this week is that the dinner shows up at 1 a.m. this week but 2 a.m. on its next occurrence. That is also correct; it will be held in Eastern Standard Time this week but in Eastern Daylight Savings Time next time, while the time here has already changed and will not change again soon. So Outlook has specifically associated the time zone and its rules with the appointment and can dynamically figure out what time it will be here when the appointment begins. That is a nice feature—or it would be if the user had control over it, if I could type "7 p.m. Eastern Time" to set the time zone with an appointment. But, of course, the user cannot; Microsoft will do that and give you no choice.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

The source code is essentially done. Unfortunately, it turns out there is a problem in the specification. We spent months discussing the specification, including required execution times for the complex FFT. I was careful to design a model and ensure I could obtain the required times. In the last few days, EADS slipped in required times for the real FFT, and I said, okay, fine, because I was tired. The problem is, some of the times are too low. They are lower than the required times for the interleaved-data complex FFT, which the real FFT uses as a subroutine.

Martin Lang does not seem upset by this, and he realizes he might have miscalculated what they should expect, so it may be okay to change the specification. If so, I will spend a few days tuning the code and trying to get a little more performance out of it. Then there is some clean-up work to do, formalizing documents, making edits, and documenting the test procedure. EADS also wants some method to test the test program and the timing program, and I may have to do some work for that, but it should not be much. If we can get the primary documents ready before Sandi arrives next week, EADS can review them while I am on vacation, and then we might finish up in the last week of April.

Friday, April 4, 2003

EADS wants me to try to get a little more time out of the real FFT. Okay, fine. If I can squeeze out a few more cycles and make them happy, everything will be good. If not, I am in a good position anyway—all the other times were better than required, some of them by huge amounts, and in spite of the much-slower hardware they provided, so EADS should be happy overall. Worst comes to worst, the real FFT is a small part of the contract.

I am probably contemplating options needlessly, because EADS has asked me to consider more work, so they must be happy. Today Martin gave me the details on the IIR they would like optimized. Just analyzing it to estimate how long it will take will be a significant part of the work. That is because it is not well organized for optimization, so first I have to figure out how to optimize it. That is the creative part, and then the rest is engineering. Martin calculated the operations involved to estimate the time, but I have to explain to him why that does not work. (It is the same reason you cannot always fit twenty jigsaw puzzle pieces into twenty jigsaw puzzle spaces, plus the fact that not all the pieces in their IIR fit together.)

Problems like that are good news, because it is why people want to give me money. In this case, it will either be impossible to get the time Martin estimates (although something that will do them a lot of good is likely possible) or I will find a completely different method that is even better and impress them with my optimization magic.

I wanted to get another stamp for an international letter today, but the post office is closed when I pass by on my way to work and, as I have mentioned before, the machine does not have a stamp of the right value, €1.50. What it does have is .04, .05, .10, .44, .45, .55, 1.00, 1.44, 2.20, 4.10. Some of those make sense—a domestic postcard is €.45, a standard letter is .55, and larger envelopes are 1.00, 1.44, and 2.20. But there is nothing for 4.10 in the standard price list, nor for the smaller amounts, and they do not seem convenient for combining into useful sums. You need three different stamps to form €1.50 postage for international letters.

Saturday, April 5, 2003

Sauerkraut juice bottle
Sauerkraut juice.
I looked for Maple syrup for pancakes in the grocery store today. I did not find any, but I found sauerkraut juice, Sauerkrautsaft. Okay, that is too strange not to buy, so I bought some. Drinking it is another matter. Do I want to taste sauerkraut juice? Maybe I will give some to Sandi without telling her what it is and see if she turns green or something. It will serve her right for not reading my journal web pages and seeing this entry to warn her.

I added a new link near the top of each of my journal pages, under the typing computer image. The new link will change the page background to white, removing the image. I tried to make the images I used not interfere with reading, by making them all very light, but colors differ on different monitors, and I hear some people have had problems. If you have JavaScript enabled for my web pages, clicking the link should make the page appear as black text on a white background (or whatever defaults you have set).

I learned a new word today, Mittel is the noun "means," as in "ways and means." Not too interesting by itself, but it explains the word for groceries, Lebensmittel. Lebensmittel is literally "living means."

There was an article in yesterday's New York Times about another US citizen, Maher Hawash, who has been arrested by the federal government and held without being charged or brought before a judge. The New York Times asks you to register before you can see the article, but here is another article at Wired.

The government does not even claim he committed any crime. They are holding him as a "material witness," but they will not say witness to what. The difference this time is that Hawash has prominent friends, including a former Intel vice president, so the case is getting some attention. Unfortunately, I do not think anything will change. Hawash may be released after some members of Congress ask the FBI to explain, but that would just mean people with influential friends have freedom. It will not help the many other people arrested, held, tried, and and punished without public trials. perhaps even killed without public trials. Freedom has to be protected in the Constitution, not at the mercy of whatever support you can gather.

Here, at the White House web site, is an Executive Order authorizing "military" trials. Military trials can be kept secret. The Executive Order even explicitly says the death penalty may be used.

A side effect of the government's detention of people as "material witnesses" is to taint the judicial system. Holding a person in jail for months and denying them any court hearing is likely to make them think the only way to be released is to do what the governments wants, even if it means testifying to something that is not true. Therefore, a person who has been held in this way is not a reliable witness.

I need more vanilla, and I want to get a large bottle, because the tiny vials cannot be poured into a measuring spoon easily. You have to shake the vial to get the vanilla to come out, and you cannot direct the vanilla into a measuring spoon while you are shaking the vial. But Marktkauf and Real Markt only have the vials. I must have gotten the bottle at Kaufland.

Oh, foo. I took the dictionary off the shelf, and the other books fell over, and that pushed the bookend, and that knocked the lamp off the shelf, and the bulb broke, and I do not have a spare, and the stores are closed for the day, so I have to wait until Monday to get a replacement.

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Die Bahn machine, red on left, white on right
Frustrating machine.
I just got back from town. I went to the Hauptbahnhof to buy train tickets for Sandi, and for me to go pick her up at the airport. The source code for the Die Bahn machine at the right is written in C. At least, it is using the C standard library. One of the messages it displayed had "%s" in it. That is a formatting code, and it appears when a programmer displays their format string instead of the results of formatting.

The machine was particularly frustrating today. I will spare you the details of how changing the outward journey caused the machine to mess up the return journey, and trying to fix it in the obvious way did not work, so I just started over. Once I gave up trying to do fancy stuff (like schedule a brief stopover), it was not too bad. But when I inserted my card to pay, it showed a message about insufficient funds on my Pay Card, which worried me. Eventually, I figured out it meant I had not inserted any cash card, and it was, as expected, prepared to charge my bank card.

On the way home, two ticket inspectors boarded the Straßenbahn. I had seen them before, but this is the first time I was in the net, so that is one inspection for four months of daily travel. They caught one man and three kids without passes, and it seems the inspector writes you a ticket on the spot.

To keep up my professional development, I have been reading the 1999 C standard a little at a time, during breakfast and dinner. I just read an amusing passage. The standard says that calling the system function may cause the program "to behave in a non-conforming manner." The problem there is that a program that obeys the standard is conforming—so a program that obeys the standard's permission to behave in a non-conforming manner is conforming. It is like telling somebody, "Do not obey this sentence."

I saw in a recent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that Buffy Summers' birthday is October 24, 1980. Mark your calendars.

Monday, April 7, 2003

I was in a hurry to eat before class tonight, so I tried the fish and chips at Nord See. I ordered the fish and chips okay but was not prepared to be asked what kind of sauce I wanted. I heard something with Knoblauch in it, garlic, so I took that. They just pour the sauce over the fish and fries in a paper cone, so the fries get the sauce too, no ketchup.

Toy model of a German streetcar
Toy model of a Straßenbahn.
I have been looking for models of Ulm's Straßenbahn without success, but tonight I found a toy model that is somewhat close. Except for showing doors on both sides, it is very similar to Ulm's Straßenbahn in door configuration, seat configuration, color, and the flexible connector between the two cars. So that will make a nice souvenir of my stay.

Hmm, we have a serious problem. In tonight's Buffy episode, they showed one of her tombstones (she's been buried at least twice), and it showed her year of birth was 1981. Which was wrong, her school records or her tombstone?

For those keeping track, Buffy was once buried alive, once killed and not buried, once killed in an alternate reality, and once killed and buried but later returned to life.

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Uhrenmachergasse street sign
Uhrenmachergaße, Clockmaker Lane.
One of my favorite street names is at my Straßenbahn stop. It is Uhrenmachergaße, Clockmaker Lane. If you click on the street sign image, you will see the building behind the sign.

There was some fun at work today. Martin used Matlab to examine the data from my FFT routines and found the results did not match. They were in the wrong order. I asked about the sign in the exponent of the coefficient in the DFT definition. Martin investigated, and, sure enough, Matlab uses a negative sign, where the specification for my work has a positive sign. Their application uses a negative sign, too, so that is what they need in the code. It would have been nice to know that a few months ago. It was in the first specification I wrote, back in October, and running code has been available since January.

Well, I fixed it. It is not a lot of work in the source code, and, in less than two hours, I gave them new code that could do the FFT either way. It will actually be more work to change the specification, the design document, and the source code comments.

I have grown accustomed to the cold here, which can be a problem. It got warmer as spring started and then turned chilly again. I went out with a light jacket and did not find the chill particularly uncomfortable. However, within eight blocks, my ears were complaining. I have to remember to allow that it may actually be colder than my current impression.

According to this news story, the United States attacked a restaurant, or at least a residential section of the city, in an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein. The US dropped four 2,000-pound bunker-penetrating bombs to do that! Now, unfortunately, if an enemy puts a tank in a residential area or positions soldiers in a hospital, the residential area or the hospital becomes a legitimate target (supposing the war is legitimate at all). And Hussein, as commander, is part of the military. But dropping 2,000-pound bombs in a residential area to kill one person seems beyond the pale.

Here is the BBC's report on the incident. What I do not understand is why the news services report this as if it is perfectly normal. Doesn't it occur to them that readers might want to know whether using that much firepower in a residential area is allowed by the rules of war?

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

There is ivy growing on the school building, and I took a minute before class to look at it. That stuff is quite strongly attached to the wall. The main green vine is hard, not soft like you might think, and it grows tiny brown strands that grip the wall strongly.

German has two words for the number two: zwei for normal use and zwo for the phone, because zwei and drei (three) sound too much alike.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

I picked up Sandi in Munich. Events of Sandi's visit are in a separate web page.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Sandi is sleeping off her time-zone change—ten hours so far. So I have time to catch up on things.

According to another BBC report about the deliberate bombing of a restaurant by the US, "Monday's bombing left an 18 metre-deep crater, broke windows and doors up to 300 metres away. Eyewitnesses said two houses were flattened and nine Iraqis were killed." And still not a word is reported about whether this is a legitimate way to conduct a war. I know the laws of war require combatants to try not to harm civilians. You can target combatants amongst civilians, but there has to be a limit. Does not using so much firepower to kill one person violate the law?

Sandi woke up, walked around briefly, and then went back to sleep. Time to process my photographs from yesterday.

I got my credit card bill with the charge for train tickets to France. MasterCard's conversion rate amounts to $1.1316 per €1. That is a bad rate. Visa was better. So, when you visit, use Visa. I will avoid US credit cards for the rest of my stay, since I have euros to pay with.

Speaking of exchange rates, Sandi said she was given €.83/$1 in Atlanta and saw about €.89/$1 in Frankfurt. I saw €.922/$1 at the airport in Munich, so change your money in Munich.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

I found in a guide book that S-Bahn stands for SchnellBahn, fast train, not surface train. It is the train that in many cities connects the city with suburbs. I am still guessing that the U in Munich's U-Bahn is for underground.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I noticed adjacent buildings labeled with street addresses 12 and 12/1, so apparently that is what they do here instead of using fractions like 12 1/2. You can squeeze in any number of extra addresses between 12 and 14 that way, like 12/3982.

Friday, April 18, 2003

On the way back from the Hauptbahnhof this morning, I saw another sparrow. This one is only about ten meters from the Straßenbahn line—I must have passed it 100 times. However, it is tucked into a corner, so you can only see it coming from one direction, or perhaps looking back. I will photograph it soon.

The city workers here clean the sidewalks with old-fashioned brooms. They look like bundles of twigs attached to a stick.

My dentist sent me a postcard reminding me that it is time for a cleaning. I may call and ask if they have a branch office near me.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter, and both are holidays here, but today appears to be a normal Saturday, with stores open as usual. I returned merchandise for the first time here, blank video tapes for Sandi's camera that she turned out not to need. That went well, because the customer service person spoke English and the return procedure is easier than in some US stores (and about the same as in the good stores). The cashier asked me in German if I had 51 cents (to round the €19.49 refund up to €20), and I said I did not have 51 cents, but I did have 61 cents. That is a simple exchange, but it is outside the basic purchase transaction, so it is nice to be able to handle a little German on the fly.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Not much is happening today. I am working on the IIR that EADS would like optimized. It is a linear filter, meaning it consists solely of multiplying inputs and outputs by constants and adding them to make new outputs, but the mathematics involved is surprisingly complicated. They expressed the filter using an auxiliary state vector instead of the previous outputs, and a significant amount of work needs to be done to transform it into a useful representation.

Meanwhile, I was rummaging around my system and happened across this passage from "All the Way," the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired October 30, 2001. It is an entertaining example of the prose on the show.

Dawn is Buffy's younger sister. (Not really. Dawn and her history were created by mystical forces, so everybody has memories of Dawn growing up in the family even though they now know it didn't occur.) Dawn is a high school freshman, and Buffy is her guardian since their mother died. Dawn and another girl deceived Buffy and have gone parking with older high school boys. The boys turn out to be vampires and are attacking the girls. Buffy runs in with a wooden stake in her hand, expecting to find your average everynight vampire fight.
Buffy:"Dawn, are you—" (Stops, looks.)
Buffy:"... Were you parking? With a vamp?"
Dawn:"I—I didn't know he was dead."
Vampire:"Living dead."
Dawn:"Shut up."
Buffy:"How could you not know?"
Dawn, shrugging:"I just met him."
Buffy:"Oh. Oh, so you were parking in the woods with a boy you just met."
Vampire:"We've seen each other at parties."
Buffy, to vampire:"Shut up."
Buffy, to Dawn:"I don't believe you."
Dawn:"Oh, like you've never fallen for a vampire." (Refers to relationship from previous seasons.)
Buffy:"That was different."
Dawn:"It always is when it's you."
Other vampire:"Uh, excuse me. Can we fight now?"
Buffy:"Hey, didn't anyone come here to just make out?"
Teen couple in bushes raises their hands.
Buffy, to couple:"Aw, that's sweet." (Gestures to couple.) "You run." (Couple runs.)
Buffy, to vampire:"You scream."
Lots of fighting ensues.
Vampire:"Your sister's the Slayer? I totally get it. I knew there was something about you."
Dawn punches vampire in abdomen, disabling him.
Fighting continues.
Back to work tomorrow. I made some progress on the IIR. There is still a little work to do before I will feel comfortable negotiating a price.

Hmm, strange. I visited the web site of a French chocolatier that somebody recommended to me and tried to place an order. The shipping is very expensive, but I will try it once since it was highly recommended. Their web site is entirely in French. (So far, I have found French web sites are less likely to have English than Germany web sites.) Nevertheless, I figured out how to build an order and filled out the forms that were presented. Finally, it asked me to confirm the order, and I clicked, and it did something, and it never asked me how I wanted to pay. Their server did send an email message confirming the order, but I still do not see how to pay. Maybe something will show up C.O.D.? The email does not seem to include any instructions or notice that they will call or anything.

I guess I will wait and see. If nothing shows up, they will not be reviewed and listed on my chocolate web pages. I don't need their French chocolate; I'm going to Belgium.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I speeded up one of the routines used by the real FFT. It is not a big gain, but it gives EADS a little more performance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

White sparrow sculpture with simple artwork
Sparrow at Bayer Fahrschule.
Before work, I photographed the sparrow I noticed Friday. It is at a driving school near one entrance to EADS.

There is one more routine in the FFT where there might have been some significant performance gain to get, but I worked on it today without finding any improvements. We are finishing up the paperwork. Martin scheduled a review meeting for Monday. He also tested and timed my FFT routines with EADS' own programs, and everything is working as expected. So, Monday is the review, then I make any documentation changes requested, then we do the acceptance test, and I am done.

We continue discussing the IIR routine.

Friday, April 25, 2003

My science fiction books from arrived. A couple of days ago, I checked my order on their web site and found one of the books was scheduled to be published in August. I do not recall it being that far out when I ordered it, so maybe it was delayed. Anyway, I canceled that book from my order, and shipped the three others the day after. That was yesterday, and they arrived today.

So now I have reading material again. However, I am going to save the books until I travel around Europe, so I have something to read on the trains.

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© Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.