Category Archives: General

Three Years!

It’s been another year! I just wanted to note that. It surprised us too.

The Loss of Necessary Conversational Filters

The rule at the climbing gym is that I must always speak German. It’s a fairly easy rule to follow, because everyone is speaking German, and the language level can be pretty basic. The same topics and words appear over and over. It’s easy to dip my toes into a conversation, especially if the topic is about how to climb a particular route. Also, the conversation patterns in the gym are easy-going and inter-spaced with silence. Perfect for a slow, clumsy foreigner to interject fascinating tidbits of stimulating conversation.

However, when I speak English, I pass my thoughts through a series of filters which includes: Could this be interesting? Is this important? Is there any way this thought could make me look like a moron? When I speak German, the series of filters begins and ends with: Am I capable of expressing this in the German language?

Potential Friend: Hey, we have the same shoes!

Me: Yes! They are popular. I see many people with these shoes.

Potential Friend: I guess they are popular because they are so comfortable, and not so expensive.

Me: Yes, that’s true! Also, they are green!

Potential Friend: Yes, they look nice.

Me: I like green. I had a pair of shoes once that were green, and I liked them.

Potential Friend: Cool.

Me: I don’t know why they don’t make more green shoes. You don’t see many green shoes out in the world.

Potential Friend: Uh huh.

Me: But these shoes can hurt my big toe sometimes, so I think I should get new shoes.

Potential Friend: Oh.

Me: Maybe I can find new shoes that are also green.

My new friends will be the most awesome and patient people ever.

My Delightful, Darling Little Bird

I am writing an email to Alissa this morning. “Hi -,” I start. Then I pause. What is an acceptable nickname for your wife? Pine Tree? Fruitcake? I like fruitcake, but the meaning can be lost in the email medium. A small bird flew past the window. Perfect.

I decide to translate the word to German. “Vogel” means “bird”. We’re off to a good start. Let’s add the Swabian (southern Germany) diminutive ending, “le”, so “Vogelle”. But it somehow looks weird with two L’s in there, so maybe just “Vogele”. That looks right. Just to make sure we aren’t way off, let’s plug it into the Internet and see if this is actually a used word. Huh. Looks like I need an umlaut on the “o”, so let’s change that to “Vögele”. Excellent. “Hi Vögele!”

Turns out, “Vögeln” means “a fuck, or a screw”.

My darling, delightful fuck.

Luckily, she didn’t know the word, just assumed it meant “little bird”, and told me “it sounds cute!” I helpfully suggested that she wait until she’s at home before googling it.

I am a charmer.

Sacrificing Safety for Our Environment

After we moved to Germany, we quickly recognized that Germans value environmental stewardship. Pervasive recycling programs and dual-flush buttons on the toilet were the proof.

One day, we found ourselves coming back to the apartment well after dark. We opened the front door and walked into the stairwell. To say it was insufficiently lit would be to imply there existed any photons in there at all. I couldn’t see my feet.

“Man,” we said. “The Germans are a little crazy with the energy efficiency thing.” But we were in awe, and perfectly willing to play along. In the US, they would probably put floodlights on every floor! “Ha ha”, we laughed with each other. “Isn’t it nice to be in a country that values our natural resources?”

We turned on our cell phones, and held them a few inches from the stairs, feeling our way up.

“This feels unsafe,” Alissa said.

“Yeah, but I dunno. Maybe the lights really take up a lot of energy? How often do people walk up stairs at night?” We reached our apartment and immediately flipped on all the lights.

Later that week, we got up the courage to poke some of the strange toggle switches that were liberally sprinkled all over the building. Would they sound an alarm? Ring a doorbell? Let’s press one! Be ready to run!

Light flooded the hallway. We laughed a lot and promised not to tell anyone what we did.

That was well over two years ago. Yesterday, I entered the bathroom at work, and walked to the back where the urinals are mounted. “Gah.” I thought. “Stupid bathroom lights are broken again.” I peed in the dark. When I went to wash my hands, I mis-judged the distance to the soap bottle and knocked it on the floor. Since the area under the sink was particularly dark, I had to feel around for it. I washed my hands again. Just as I finished up and went to open the door, someone else pushed it open and we almost crashed into each other.

“Woah!” he said, “I didn’t even know anyone was in here, because the lights were out!” He reached over and turned on the light. I played it cool. Yeah, I like to turn the lights out right before I open the door. Saves just that little extra bit of energy.

Now we have to ask some tough questions.

  1. What if someone is pooping in the back, but you don’t know it? What kind of hell will you accidently impose on them by turning out the light as you leave?
  2. What if a germaphobe doesn’t want to touch the light switch? Do they wait until someone else goes in first?
  3. Does turning the light on and off all day really save much energy? How often are people not using the bathroom?

The worst part is, I never learn. I just can’t adjust to public restrooms that don’t have the lights on all the time. I have, however, adjusted to turning the lights on in public hallways. In fact, I feel a little guilty when I do it. Do we really have to light the entire stairwell for a single person standing at the top? Couldn’t this switch just turn the lights on for this floor, and I can continue to press switches as I descend? There’s just no reason to have the lights on at the bottom of the stairs right now. Nobody’s using that light at all. We could save that energy, and use it in our bathrooms.

Two Years!

In celebration of our two-years-in-Germany day, we’re gonna take the train here:

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle was the intended home of a king who was allegedly murdered because he spent too much money building castles. It’s not very old; construction started around 1869.

It’s probably going to be awesome. The problem is that we haven’t actually planned the transportation part of this trip yet, we’re leaving tomorrow, and it’s already 10 pm. This is mostly due to our Scrabble game.

I’m notoriously bad at word games. The Internet recommends a point handicap, but it’s not clear how large my handicap needs to be when Alissa responds to my “hat” (double word score on the A!) with bingos like “Xenophobia” (two triple word scores). A thousand?

So after a few losses in which we’ve adjusted the rules, I’ve started playing her with the following rules:

  • I get 4 extra tiles, for 11 total.
  • If at any point during the game, I take the lead for more than two turns, I instantly win.
  • If she doubles my score at any point in the game, she wins, and I don’t have to play anymore.

Also, I’m trying to play her only when she’s really tired at night.

This post isn’t very focused because I’m trying to write and play at the same time.

Okay, I gotta focus. Here’s to another great year!

One Year!

One year ago this morning, we landed in Germany! It’s been a whole year! So many sausages eaten. So much maultaschen and beer consumed. So many train trips to random towns. We’re still having adventures, but more fun life things (and having a real job) are pushing the blog into a lower priority. Sorry guys.

Anyway, here’s to another!

Fancy Kaffee

We have two coffee machines at work. The first is a normal industrial drip machine, which sits downstairs in the lunchroom and makes coffee that causes my throat to tighten up. Some coffee does that to me, so it’s not unexpected. The second machine is a small home espresso “serious coffee maker”, which sits 10 paces from my desk chair. It grinds the beans right before making your order. This machine exists because the Italians and fancy-pants Germans prefer it. An Italian guy brings beans back from Italy, and everybody pools their money (weighted based on the number of check marks next to your name, indicating the number of cups you’ve made). We have apparently been using not-the-best-but-still-good-but-next-week-I-will-bring-the-best-beans-from-Italy coffee beans, which are not as good as the beans from the previous week, but still pretty high quality and certainly better than the coffee downstairs, ha ha ha! Besides not having my throat close up, I can’t tell much of a difference.

But the machine refuses to fill my cup to the proper level.

“Machine,” I say. “Fill this cup with coffee, the way God intended.” And I press the button with the single cup icon.

It purrs for 10 seconds, grinding the beans and packing them into the do-hinkey that holds the grounds. Then it super-heats the water and pushes it through the grounds, making various grunting sounds as if the whole endeavor is difficult, but not too difficult for a machine that probably cost over a thousand dollars.

Then it squirts exactly 15 ml of liquid into the bottom of the cup, and turns itself off.

“No, machine, that’s not what I asked,” I reply. “That is approximately 1/8th of a cup of coffee, and won’t last the trip back to my desk.” I point to my chair. “And I only sit just there. Please try again.”

The machine loads more beans and whirs loudly, interrupting the thoughts of my coworkers for a second time.

Then it squirts another 15 ml of liquid into the cup, and goes to sleep. This time, the bottom of the mug didn’t change from white to brown, so I have no way of telling if the volume of coffee increased.

I’d blame the machine, but in fact, the same behavior exists with the machines in the local bakery. “I’ll have one coffee please” is understood as “I’ll have a half-cup of coffee, using the smallest cup you have”. And for the record, this “espresso” is more like normal programmer-strength American drip coffee, but with none of the nice acidic bite. The first week I was there, I tried putting a double-shot in the mug, and filling the rest with hot water from the kettle normally reserved for tea drinkers. But it turned out far weaker than a Starbucks Americano.

So the next time a European complains about American coffee, grunt a lot, while you pour 15 ml of coffee into his cup. Add a sugar cube and a tiny spoon. He’ll be delighted.


New Year War Zone

On December 31st, we took the train to a friend’s place for dinner. The day before, we went to buy a pack of fireworks to share between the two of us. They’re legal for three days leading up to New Years. We had no idea how many to buy, so we texted the host.

Q: “How many fireworks do we need?”
A: “Just get enough for you.”

That didn’t answer our question at all! We don’t know how much enjoyment one firework brings! Would three fireworks be enough to make the evening delightful? What if we needed 100 fireworks to truly enjoy ourselves?! Alissa thought sharing the Big Pack was plenty. I was pretty sure I could set them all off myself, but I relented.

As we walked through the train station on the way to the party, I started to notice that nobody else was carrying a big pack of fireworks. In fact, I didn’t see a single firework until I spotted an Asian couple with a similar combo pack. Were the Germans keeping their fireworks in their backpacks? Maybe they had them pre-ordered in bulk, and delivered to their final destination. No sense in carrying that many fireworks on the train, am I right??

When we arrived at the party, not a single other person brought a single firework. Apparently, people our age have grown kinda bored with fireworks. Apparently, people our age think it’s a bit dangerous and loud. Apparently, people our age have lost their ability to know fun when they see it. Everyone there agreed that they stopped lighting fireworks around age 13.

“Fine,” we said, “then we get 12 more years.”

If you ever get a chance to go to a city that allows normal people to shoot off fireworks wherever they want, you should go find the tallest point in the city to watch. We launched our fireworks on a hill overlooking Stuttgart, and we didn’t really even need to bring our own. It was like a war zone of color and noise. The entire panorama was filled with things blowing up, and all visible parts of the city were participating. It lasted from about 30 minutes before midnight, to 30 minutes after midnight, and as we walked back home, the streets were littered with firework casings and burned-out rockets.

It was glorious.




Toilet Brush Instructions for Use, from left to right: all wrong, wrong, nearly right, correct

Ah ha ha ha ha ha!

Adventure: Phase Two Point Five!

Right before Christmas vacation, I found a new job. There are many reasons for the move, but probably the biggest reason for my discontent was the long, annoying commute.

So I start my new (closer) job tomorrow. This time, I’ll be working in C++ and Java to build a communications and navigation network. The company split off a larger one a couple years ago, so it has an ambitious, young feeling to it. There are about 45 employees, but a very large number of them are engineers. As I walked around their office building during the interview, it reminded me a bit of the buildings at Johnson Space Center. There were lots of neat toys lying around, radio setups, and simulations running on banks of computers in the testing room.

I’m excited to start!