On the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, his widow Chaz Ebert has reposted the last article he ever wrote to her blog, a “leave of presence” notice posted the day before he passed away. Ms. Ebert has also written a moving account of the last year of her life without her beloved.

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Mozilla’s recently appointed CEO Brendan Eich did an interview with c/net, and it reads like someone force-fed ELIZA open-source Kool-Aid, every political speech since Watergate and the remains of the Dot-Com Mission Statement Generator which, for all I know, was coded in JavaScript (RIP you hilarious but redundant piece of Internet history). The Guardian might have solved the mystery of Brendan Eich’s political leanings, though. Evidence suggests he may in fact be a libertarian.

Highlights of Brendan Eich’s interview include: threatening a world without Mozilla, “you have to tolerate my intolerance” repeatedly inferred using a truly staggering number of words each time, and the implication that Mozilla is the only company that wants to liberate users with its own mobile OS and totally unique cloud implementation.

I’m assuming this will be completely unlike Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, Box, and Amazon Cloud Drive; or it will just have Mozilla’s statement on equality and inclusion preinstalled as the readme with every new account.

 

UPDATE: Well, that’s over, but since Mozilla has been engaging in the same kind of corporate PR and doublespeak as would befit a telecom giant since the start of this mess, we’ll never know what really happened internally. I would like to think that one or both people left on the board realised that someone who displays all the grace under pressure of a spoiled six-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar just before dinner is going to be a liability as the public face of any company.

As per Brendan Eich’s empty threats, Mozilla has probably been damaged in some way by this whole debacle; and I am considering re-watching the entire Mad Max series to figure out how to go on living in this dread post-apocalyptic wasteland. Or, maybe, the sun will come up, Google will continue doing what Google does, Facebook will continue doing what Facebook does, and I’ll just do the things I’d rather put off. Today is another day.

To the outsider German may appear as an ugly mess of overly complex rules, and indeed it is until you find someone who can break down the grammatical systems to something manageable to auslander brains. For example, German nouns have genders of male, female and neuter for no reason that will ever be adequately explained to me; and an attendant definite, indefinite and plural article. According to one magical tome on my bookshelf there actually an easy way to determine a noun’s gender based on the final syllable of said noun, plus a reasonably manageable list of exceptions to these rules. This is far easier to digest than than “just memorise all the nouns. All of them.”

At a recent lunch with the in-laws, who are downright tickled that I’m finally being forced to learn German, I mentioned the rules for determining noun genders and watched the consideration begin with long lists of nouns discussed among those who knew of such things while I spent the time studying the aged framed photograph of the Nofratete on the wall. I imagine this wasn’t unlike my initial months in Germany where I had to relearn and actually start speaking my native English instead of grunting it. By the end of the day I had the homework assignment of providing my in-laws with a way to watch the NFB’s animated short of Roch Carrier’s “The Sweater,” which they have no hope of understanding without a translation but at least the animation was done entirely by hand and the colours are nice.

I got to speed by more of Germany last week on a beautifully quiet DB inter-city train in a northwestern direction because of some supplied tickets to Hannover’s CeBIT, but the gods did not smile upon me and the Mr. enough to bump us up to the “breathe the same air as Steve Wozniak” tier. Being chiefly a trade show, CeBIT doesn’t have the anarchic unwashed masses feel of Berlin’s consumer-level electronics expo IFA (cruel irony: at IFA the hall with the washing machine displays was seriously off the hook).

In the first hall we entered at CeBIT there were a lot of brochures and nebulous slogans that promised grand and exciting things and almost seemed to hint at what the companies were actually doing, which gave me that 1998 dot-com mission statement feeling (noticeably absent: “mindshare,” which had been proven in that period of irrational exuberance to pay neither the rent nor Herman Miller); but now that we’ve figured out what we’re doing with this “Internet” thing the necessity of actually having a product to sell has been accepted and seems to be working.

This year’s dominant product model seems to be data management and networking, with some big data for the buzzword inclined. All of this grand technology on display will of course ultimately be used for the secure high speed enterprise-level encryption and transmission of cat videos. One booth was demonstrating “automated border security,” but I didn’t ask if the stock American model came with rotating gun turrets and speculum attachments.

There was a vendor’s hall which only registered buyers could enter so the Mr. and I couldn’t enjoy any new hardware smell at the Das Keyboard booth. We wandered down to the code-N hall which was obviously the exhibitors’ cheap seats at CeBIT, full of bored-looking Berlin startup employees seated behind folding tables. After a brief and surprisingly non-embarrassing homage to the Blue Man Group at the main stage we saw a talk on cryptocurrency, but afterwards the Mr. and I had no more of an understanding of what exactly cryptocurrency is supposed to do or be than before. The talk was in German, so on hearing the translated summary my understanding apparently should have been that cryptocurrency is needed even though its worth is still valued relative to the conventional markets it is supposed to exist apart from and render obsolete because it, um, transfers real fast.

For a self-aware audience captive lunch is always an adventure, but the prices weren’t as bad as they could have been. After several menu comparisons we settled on a place offering a variety of dishes billing itself as “the culinary spirit of Hannover.” After getting crabbed at by the maitre d’ for attempting to sit at a booth designated for more people (as two other ladies were doing) we waited, were ignored, watched several waitstaff come out of the kitchen to survey the dining area before disappearing back down the stairs Punxsutawney Phil-like; and then piled out of there for the Bavarian place we had passed on the way in. The culinary spirit of Hannover as far as hall fifteen was concerned probably required a two-piece suit minimum but signs were not posted.

The servers at the Bavarian place were kind, attentive and got us some mean plates of food relatively quickly considering how incredibly packed the outdoor area was. As much as I’d like to hate on Bavaria as a whole for not having the sufficient good taste to hide some sad examples of xenophobia the Löwenbräu embassy has fed me at every tech conference I’ve been to in Germany so far and done so with a smile. I think for the next one the Mr. and I have agreed to save time and headaches by going straight for the spätzle, live polka, and half-liter Pepsis.

The research hall was an oddly mixed bag. The most notable example of robotics on display was a robot developed at a Swiss institute with a comedically oversized fiberglass fronted head and a skeletal 3D-printed body with the proportions of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Case-lit fetus-thing didn’t appear to have any real specialties in motor skills or conversation, but he was personable enough and loved to have his picture taken. The Mr.’s old employer gave a talk on the benefits of 3D imaging on ID cards, so if I understood a lick of German I might know what innovations I can look forward to in foreigner control. The old-timey computer publisher IDG had a mega-space that they seemed to be subletting to just about every company that couldn’t provide a Berlin address, thus rendering them ineligible for code-N. Hugo Boss had a booth with an absurd number of IT positions taped to the inside of the windows; and of course they were the best dressed bored-looking people there.

The teardown began about two hours before the conference was scheduled to end, and there were a surprising number of opportunities to buy futuristic-looking shelving at currently on fire prices. Since I didn’t see anyone glowing or walking on water I’ll assume I entirely missed seeing the Woz, but Segway polo seems like an extremely safe sport so next year might be a possibility.

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To update: we committed matrimony successfully, if the lack of red ink on the documentation the officials handed back to us was any indication. I never saw myself walking down the aisle to The Beatles, although in this case it was more like quietly shuffling along the side of the room as the last two guests who couldn’t find the place hurried into the back row and looked as casual as possible after the officiator had already started playing “Here Comes the Sun” for the second time because Mr. Dreamer and I had already missed our first cue. Our ceremony almost inexplicably included a quote from Albert Camus, but thankfully Germans know the proper pronunciation of “Camus” so I didn’t actually need to bite my nails. The reception was as uneventful as a reception attended by two toddlers and one shockingly quiet post-toddler could get, and people seemed to like the food (apparently rice and bread constituted an acceptable substitute for potatoes and bread).

German bureaucracy is a many-headed hydra in which you will often be asked to procure and provide more to the destination agency than they would even ask for. Some official at some agency, bureau or office whose name I can’t remember said that we had to register our marriage at the embassy. The Canadian embassy is smack in the middle of Potsdamer Platz, probably the most American of the Berlin tourist areas (you can see the Dali museum from the front entrance). When the mister and I got to the embassy we impressed the guards at the metal detectors by leaving our cell phones at home. Of course, the lady on the third floor who we were referred to knew nothing about any requirement to register our marriage, but it was nice seeing Adrienne Clarkson’s name in bas relief on the building’s dedication plaque.

At the first post-matrimony visit to the ausländerbehörde my fingerprint was taken without the mess or prison romanticism of actual ink and I had to surrender a biometric photograph and eighty Euro for my subtly holographic visa (which has an impeccably understated design and my photo could have been worse), but I was given another surprising and unexpected mandate with the new sheaf of documentation.

I will be taking the German integration course provided by Berlitz and subsidized by the federal government for twenty-five hours per week of German language instruction, with a sixty hour “German culture and customs” chaser. My visa and my Canadian passport are set to expire on the same day. I did not expect to get tracked for citizenship this quickly.

I never thought of my own native English as a language opera could credibly be written and sung in as my schooling in opera mostly covered the “only before the twentieth century with the exception of Puccini because he’s just that good” period. After seeing the English National Opera’s ENO Screen production of Peter Grimes I can admit that English doesn’t sound terrible as a language for opera, even though it suffers from some unintelligibility as all languages do, especially in the chorus sections. I enjoy listening to music in languages I don’t understand because it effectively makes me oblivious to asinine lyrics (I’m a lyrics person); and opera libretti can be notoriously ham-fisted and expository, but that’s just a part of the art form.

Peter Grimes has been described as “the quintessentially British opera,” and indeed, it does share in common with The Beggar’s Opera a sense of the bleak bawdiness of working men’s and women’s lives of the era without the merest whiff of condemnation. A feature of this particular presentation was that the cameras were not only placed in front of the stage but also to the side and in the chorus, facing the audience. While this ruined the proscenium arch effect (there were several moments where I wanted to see a singer that was offscreen) it gave this member of the cheap seat crowd a good sense of the acting that makes a successful opera performance.

I won’t pretend that seeing Richard Margison perform Il Trovatore with a head cold makes me a critical authority, but Stuart Skelton as Peter Grimes acted the role beautifully. There were no arias with long held notes and soaring acrobatics to show off his vocal chops, but this was a wise decision of Britten’s in characterizing the harried and later completely unhinged fisherman. Elza van den Heever as Grimes’ prospective fiancée Ellen is quite simply a phenomenon.

After the screening my father in law, husband and I went to an Argentinian steakhouse and threw around ideas for how Grimes could have survived his ordeal, all of which would have watered down the story considerably. Eventually I said to my father in law via my husband’s expert translation “the great and wise philosopher Bugs Bunny one said ‘Well, what did you expect in an opera, a happy ending?'” A born and bred East German whom I share perhaps ten words of English with, I still do not know if my father in law knows who Bugs Bunny is.

There was a dark time in the late 1990s when Apple Computer, Inc. was going to go out of business any minute now and the tech (save, famously, WIRED) and business presses were so fixated on this fact that the company name was widely reported as Beleaguered Apple Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: BAPL). To be fair the company unquestionably had its share of problems, notably a revolving door of CEOs with leadership skills as hinky as the hardware they were overseeing (going from my PowerBook 190cs with the faulty ROM to the Performa 6320CD with the realllllly faulty ROM was an experience and a half); but there was just something so friendly and elegant about that mass of code quivering on its last legs known as System 7. It was fun. It didn’t seem to want me to hate it, or myself. I eventually jammed it full of so many UI mods that I became an expert at troubleshooting the Mac OS and hardware just to keep myself up and running for those all-nighter essays in university. The community, too, was something else. One of the great criticisms of the Mac OS was that there wasn’t much software for it, but that turned out to be a strength considering I could get everything I needed to done and when I ever had to email a developer with a problem I’d invariably get a friendly response directly from the programmer. We were the underdogs, and we shared this odd and immediate bond as we forged ahead with our beige boxes with the purple smiles as many told us to simply give up. We circled our wagons. We bled six colours as per the original Apple logo.

I felt a profound sense of relief when on December 20, 1996 it was announced that Apple had bought NeXT. I was an old time Apple ][+ user and knew even at my young age that the two Steves ran the Apple show and as an older end user I cried tears of relief into my ADB II keyboard because Steve Jobs was coming home.

Obviously, we know how Apple’s fortunes changed with the introduction of the iMac, sparking the design revolution that had us admiring the internals of most of our household appliances for a few years whether we wanted to or not; and later the introduction of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. I don’t think any of us who hung on through Apple’s worst troubles ever figured out when it would have been appropriate to say “I told you so” or who, exactly, to say it to, but it may not be that important considering how much the company has defined the nature and character of consumer electronics in the past decade.

When Steve Jobs died I feared that Apple would again lose its way, but although it isn’t the same company I loved those years ago, it hasn’t imploded, either. I’m ordering a new iMac to replace my end-of-life black plastic MacBook tomorrow.

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Five minutes. It took five minutes from the time I entered Calypso Shoes and ignored the saleswoman’s initial German “can I help you?” to walking out with a decent pair of brown patent faux crocodile dress shoes. When I initially told the saleswoman my size her face dropped but she started picking through her selection. “That’s almost impossible for vintage,” she said.
“Oh, I know. I also have a balance disorder and require a low heel.”
“Stop. Those are too many restrictions. OK — here you go.”
I stuck my feet in them, took a few steps, fished out my wallet and there I went. That too ubiquitous to be hipster thing “Marry You” didn’t even finish playing.

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I’m getting married next week, which should be a big deal but after the bureaucratic hassle that is German Matrimony with Ausländer and the bureaucratic hassle that will be Post-Matrimony Ausländer Verification and Grading this seems more like a pause for a nice lunch that I have to put on eyeshadow for.

When I moved to Germany I got rid of nearly everything, including those beautiful patent Nine Wests with the perfect sabrina heel, so I have to put together a bridal outfit essentially from scratch. The problem is that I dislike clothes shopping. I dislike clothes shopping about as much as clothes like getting stuck halfway on me in the dressing room while I attempt the worst half-moon pose ever trying to get something past my extra-wide shoulders or executing a very sloppy twist while trying to persuade any kind of movement past my upper thigh if going the over hip route. For these purposes I am told the appropriate cry is “hilfe” but since my German is not sufficient for me to offer an apology or an explanation I can’t be bothered.

Since Steilmann, a designer I previously knew to be kind to us sisters of wide currently exists in name only I decided that the vintage route would result in a minimum of popped seams and wounded pride. I spent three hours compiling a Google map of vintage shops in Berlin (this would have been a much faster process were my MacBook not dying and Firefox not eager to be the assassin); then I spent another hour researching why the Android Google client disabled the “My Maps” feature. After I had yet again reconciled Google’s shit usability with its creepy and abusive desire to be my everything (which is to say that I loaded my map up in Chrome and considered locking myself in the bathroom) I set out with a game plan that included nearby shops on or just off of Schönhauser west to Torstraße. I decided to start off with cache coeur, a shop two blocks from where I live renowned for their work in costuming for stage and film. The owner of cache coeur is amazingly friendly and within seconds of speaking to me had already started picking suitable dresses off of the rack, including a beautiful A-line 1970s number resplendent with the rich palette of East German fashion (brown, in case you were wondering).

I don’t know which particular fount I used up this karma from, but I’m going to give the next person I see begging outside of REWE some change just to be safe. On the second or third try-on, a perfect knee-length number I think I saw as an extra in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s party scene, I came out from the dressing area and the owner and I gave the “this is the one” smile and half-nod to each other. Her collection was so extensive that I tried on a few more dresses, but it was clear that this trip was a fast and sound success.

Although finding the dress so quickly brought an immediate yet anticlimactic sense of relief, I have yet to buy the shoes. I dislike shoe shopping, as I generally require flats in size gunboat.

Reenter the Rental

November 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

I don’t know exactly at what point most people enter the “I haven’t done that in X years” phase of their lives when talking about things they used to enjoy tremendously, but it’s probably and without exception too soon. Over the past two years Berlin has either become more boring or I’ve become acclimated to Europe, but Mr. Dreamer recently located the video store you would want and expect the once Babylon-on-Spree to offer, and it is Filmgalerie Berlin.

In my youth home video was emerging and although it became a double-edged sword, it was an exciting one at the time. We had unprecedented access to studios’ back catalogues that otherwise would have been broadcast on network or public television if at all, and the trips to the local video store were full of the joy of discovery that the on-demand convenience of iTunes rentals and the ethical slope of BitTorrent still can’t match. It has been about ten years since I had gotten a rental for an evening’s entertainment and the next day’s inconvenience, but the night I met Mr. Dreamer at the Filmgalerie I was interested in looking at what was on offer. On seeing the section sign I also had the bad taste to blurt out the question that marked me as much as my accent: “What exactly constitutes ‘world cinema’ in Germany?” Allegedly anything not made in Germany, which presents something of a conflict considering that most dubbed Hollywood movies screened at the Cubix Alexanderplatz are hardly considered “world cinema,” but growing up in a country where I was least likely to see a film made in my own country at the local multiplex, I guess I can accept that.

We were at the Filmgalerie more or less to rent The Court Jester, as for some reason one night during dinner I got into the “pellet with the poison” speech. Mr. Dreamer was also impressed with the studied and archival nature of the Filmgalerie and wanted to know my opinion of it, being a film graduate. My “I spent CDN$45K to be able to tell you what to rent on Saturday night” opinion of Filmgalerie is that I will happily support any establishment that puts Mel Brooks in their “deep auteurs” section and seeing the Liguid Sky DVD turned outwards on one of the shelves inspired a silent fangirl squee. There are a lot of movies I still have to watch, but at least almost all of them are neatly organized and in one place, even if I can’t properly recognize all of the translated German titles.