Saturday, June 25, 2011

Party with Julia

Sorry for taking so long, the only thing in my defense are the pictures I posted--though it's not really an excuse for two weeks without an entry.

On a Sunday after my first week, I went to the Flea Market with Bernard and his family.  It's really much less than it sounds--it was just down the street, really.  I left my coat at home, thinking it was plenty warm (a mistake).  I got there early, and wandered around a bit by myself.  The Flea Market was a somewhat special occasion (as in it doesn't happen every Sunday) and I found it most notable for what I did recognize rather than what I didn't.  I saw quite a bit of 80s and 90s nostalgia, some VHS, a few Lego sets and other oddments--besides the German dishware, decorations, and clothes.  
I met up with Bernard, had a coffee, and got rained out--people started packing up as things turned cold and started drizzling.

On a nearby Monday, I went to Osnabruck to see Julia.  It certainly wasn't difficult to get in contact with Julia, or to find her, but I don't have any particularly strong memories of her from last year.  Which is interesting, because I found her to be such an agreeable person this year.  She the kind of person who will ask you about yourself, but will also swap stories with you about living in Scotland with a German accent.  I found myself able to laugh freely around her, which is something rare among people I don't know well.  

We, and two girls I didn't know, went grocery shopping together and had entirely too much fun buying dinner.  I got a Deconstructed Donor Kebab from across the street (a big tray of meat shavings swimming in red sauce, with a side salad and bread strips).  We ate at one of their apartments, where there were five girls and I was the only guy--but I felt remarkably welcomed.  It was mostly talk and a few smokes, before I had to try and leave on the last train out of Osnabruck.  

I'm sorry to say I caused some trouble for them--this was only the second time I'd gone to Quakenbruck by train.  The trains are labeled by destination, Oldenburg and Bremen (Bremen going off in the wrong direction) and I knew that one of them was wrong.  I also saw the train pull up, and it appeared to be going the wrong direction--but it turns out Osnabruck is an End Station (didn't know that) and the trains turn around here (before, I didn't see the train pull up and I was just pointed at it and told it was correct--so I was missing that crucial piece of information).  The arrival and departure times were different, so I thought this train would leave and my train would come after.  But I asked people nearby anyway, who didn't understand my question--I even called Julia and co. but by the time they understood my question the train had pulled away.  I had to impose on Julia to drive me home (thank goodness I could direct them through Quakenbruck, I'm not totally useless), and she was very nice about it.

Julia went back to Scotland, and I'm not sure she'll be in Osnabruck again while I'm here--but she's a good friend to have.

Eat your heart out.

The Netto Has Everything

A common conversation between Oliver and myself would go something like this,
"Hey, Oliver, where do you find X?"
"At the Netto."
"But I was just there, and they didn't have it."
"Try again.  It's there.  The Netto has everything."

or maybe

"Hey Oliver, where do I buy Y?"
"At the Netto."
"Oliver, buddy, I swear to you I looked those isles up and down and I didn't see anything like Y, just Z--lot's of Z."
"Try harder, it's there.  The Netto has everything."

This is not a problem you have when visiting other states in the US.  In America, there are national brands, and certain algebraic constants of 'style' 'color' and 'formula' that you are trained to that helps you find things.  Even though the 'placement logic' of milk-nextto-butter-nextto-yogurt-nextto-cheese-nextto-meat stays constant, I've found it incredibly difficult to see things.  This is not me going blind.  I'm reminded of a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor rigged it so he and his friends had the same kind of protection field as the TARDIS--making them invisible not by distorting light, but by making them unimportant to the human mind.

I would literally walk by the milk, ignoring it, reach the meat and think I've walked too far, walk back the other way--past the milk again--to the bread and think I've walked too far again, but I know it has to be between here and there!  The problem is that the shapes, colors, and names of all the products are completely different.  Scanning the shelves doesn't work--period.

I can't imagine why this wasn't a bigger problem last year, but I think it may have to do with how I didn't have to buy many groceries last year (I ate in the cafeteria)--but now I have to buy and prepare everything I intend to eat.

So I developed a technique to combat the illusion--just keep staring.  When I've found the place between the bread and meat where I know the milk has to be, I just keep staring at the shelves until I can sort out the barrage of strange shapes and colors.  I found the milk, not in plastic bottles like at Publix, but in cartons in crates on the bottom shelves.

I have found butter in the oddest of shapes.

Chocolate is its own timezone.

Ume Pflaume is still the best thing ever made.

There is no mayonnaise in Germany, only Miracle Whip, no matter what they claim.

But, in spite of that, I've come to find The Netto Has Everything.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

First Week

I did my 'first day' blog recently, and I was just thinking how I don't have much more to say about my first week at work--and then it started coming back.

Somewhere around Tuesday or Wednesday, I asked about a once-promised bike.  Johanna gave me her's (one of her's ?), a rundown, slightly rusted bike with a pink deflated balloon and some dead leaves in the carrier basket.  Also, the brakes didn't work.  At least, not the brakes I'm familiar with.

See, the only bikes I've ridden in the last ten years are mountain bikes where the left and right hand levers control the front and back wheel brakes.  So, when neither of those worked [there was a 'dead' kind of feeling in them, and a kind of 'exhausted' sound coming from the wheels when I tried], I just decided that I would ride really slow.  It worked, coming home the first time (I got it at work)--I would slow-ride up to an intersection, or any place someone could possibly be coming from where I wouldn't be able to avoid them, and stop.  Then I'd look around, see nothing, and continue forward.

I got home faster than by walking (and no injuries)--so it was a 'win' for me.  As for where to put the thing, remember the exceptionally large hallway for our flat?  Well, that's not what happened--but I thought of that too, so good guess.

Actually, I've seen an appalling lack of bike-related-security in Quakenbruck (having come from Gainesville, the bike-stealing capital of the world).  I imagine that, around here, the lack of chains, locks, or indoor housing is a result of a) No bike thieves; and b) No bikes worth stealing.

So I get home, pick up the bike, and carry it up the stairs to the front door.  Then I carry it upstairs to my flat and hit Oliver.  He sees the bike and tells me there's a storage space under the staircase I can use (right next to his bike), so I carry it back downstairs and put it under the staircase.

Thus begins my twice daily bike ballet routine.  Every morning I go to work: I go downstairs, open the door-behind-the-front-door-under-the-staircase, knock up the kick-stand, pick up the bike by the seat and handlebars, bring it back from besides Oliver's bike, maneuver it sideways over the staircase without falling down (there's a staircase under the staircase inside the storage space [I've never fallen down]), choose not to deal with the finicky latched second door (the fewer doors you open the less enemies you have to battle), turn the handle bars so the front wheel goes through the doorway (using the tire to fight the door trying to close on me), wheel it out into the hallway beside the staircase and the front door and the pediatrician's door (sometimes I'll have to fight the sick German children to get out the front door [they'll cut ya down if'n yer not car'fl]), open the front door (which is big, heavy, and tries to close on you before you can get out) while trying to keep the bike upright, wheel it out onto the landing, carry it down the stairs, and finally wait for traffic to die down so I can cross the street.

Oliver taught me how to peddle in reverse to activate a rear-wheel brake, and it worked well.

All that being said, most of my first week at work was spent studying the Waveform Generator, the Oscilloscope, and the German version of Windows (I think some commands are moved around so you can't go completely from memory, also I'm pretty sure you can't get an English Microsoft Office without buying another OS) [thank God the internet is still in English].  I ended up not using either of the Waveform Generators because the setup of interlocking all the cables was overly complicated and the analog knobs were too-easily skewed by a wayward hand (making a uniform testing setup impossible).

The Oscilloscope had its own generator, this seemed to do the best job of separating the outgoing from the incoming pulses.  I ended up going to the tech-place a dozen times over the first week, continually asking for more and longer cables ("We need to separate the signal more!"), getting wires cut and new connectors attached, soldering things, it was all really very fascinating to watch.  In retrospect it wasn't that much time, but  living through it was a very long time before I ever got around to sticking a probe into anything.

I finally got the Oscilloscope's generator working consistently, manage to do some simple analysis techniques with German Excel, and got a constant setup of cords and software settings working.

At least, I think that all happened in the first week...

Next time, "The Netto Has Everything!"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Commenting Comments

I've heard that most people are having difficulty commenting on Blogger, the first free blogging website I could find the day before I left--and sure enough, I started having problems commenting on my own blog today.  

For our benefit, I looked up the *Help* instructions for commenting on Blogger.  
It's as easy as 1, 2, 3, ...10-11-12
But seriously, one or two of the following solutions should be enough.  Also, you may want to make a Blogger account (for which you need a gmail account, which works great with youtube by the by) so you don't have to remain anonymous.  

Are You Having Trouble Posting Comments On Blogger Blogs?
I have been hearing about issues form so many people over the last week. People can't comment on blog, and we even had some that couldn't comment here. If any of you experienced those problems here, I apologize. It is completely out of our control. BUT, I do have a solution, thanks to our dear Farrah! She searched around and came up with an answer for you all.

DarkUFO has posted an answer to the question "Please help. When I try to comment on blog posts I get kicked out over and over again- sent back to the Blogger login":

Known Issue
Here are some things that worked for a couple of people.

1) Before attempting to Login in Make sure the "Remember Me" Checkbox is UNTICKED
2) Make sure you are running the latest version of your browser, if not, upgraded it.
3) Make sure you REALLY have cleared both your COOKIES and CACHE
4) Once Cleared shut down the browser
5) Then Open it again and CHeck that the Cookies and Cache are indeed Empty. This is very important. The problem seems to be with corrupt cookies and cache files
6) If that is OK try going to . Don't login yet, press CTRL-F5 and then try logging in again
7) If that still does not work try logging into Gmail first and then go
 and try again
8) If that does not work try going to this address
9) If that does not work try going to
10) If you use IE8 or IE9 try pressing the compatibility button (at the end of the address bar) when you're on your blog page.
11) If all those fail, try installing another browser to see if that works eg Firefox, Chrome, Opera etc
12) If you comments box on your blog is not appearing, change from Embed Comments to Popup or Full-Screen until the issue is fixed. Also try. Or you can try , but backup your blog template first, is to try resetting all your defaults. see screenshot. You do this from the Design, Edit HTML screen. ( This fixes about 99% of issues with the missing comments box.

Friday, June 3, 2011

First Day at Work

I'm sorry to say I've probably waited too long to do my 'First Day,' but I will attempt to recreate it in my mind as best as possible.

I remember being uncomfortable, because I dressed up in my best clothes all day.  Everyone else was in the 'bluejeans' level of casual, and I felt overdressed.  I also walked to work, whereas I've been riding my bike recently.

I remember being introduced to dozens of people and not being able to remember most of their names.  I work with Stefan and Bernard on a daily basis, this guy named Valdemar introduced himself as, "Voldemort without the 't'" (how can you forget that?), Marcus doesn't speak English well--but I end up asking him for a lot of things anyway, and there was one other person I talk to who I don't know his name (but I thought it really was 'Bio" for a while before I realized that was just his department [Bernard would say, "Go talk to Bio."]).

I remember being afraid.  Bernard (my boss) took me upstairs, introduced me to Stefan, briefly explained the project outline, showed me the oscilloscope, and told me figure out what it was by tomorrow (pleasant dreams, I'll most likely kill you in the morning).  I spent three hours reading about electricity, oscilloscopes, waveforms, and pulse generators.  I had lunch, where someone took me to the end of the street to order a hotdog from a vendor (I haven't forgotten a sandwich since).  Then I spent five hours reading more about electricity, oscilloscopes, waveforms, and pulse generators.  I almost knew what was going on by the time I went home.

I remember being relieved the first day was over.


Germany is a land of alcohol, meat, cheese, and chocolate.  If I wanted to gain weight I wouldn't do it in America (no matter how efficient and cost-effective it would be), I would move to Germany buy out the cheese and chocolate sections.

In a typical Publix, I can imagine the candy isle.  It has sugary treats of all sorts: lemon drops, caramel, hard candies, fruity chewies like starburst and skittles, a dozen different candy bars, and a couple dozen other brands of flavored sugar.  Most of this isn't worth your time more than once.  Some people have a favorite (like snickers) they'll go for, but this is not what you reach for when you think of quality chocolate.  And yes, Publix will probably have a small secluded section for the high-quality imports of chocolate (Godiva).

In even the smallest German grocer, you see an immense relative reduction in the flavored-sugar candies and a lot more chocolate.  In their candy section, there are a dozen different brands, each with a dozen different flavors--there is full spectrum of German chocolate.  Milka (good), Aero (good), Sarotti (great), Ritter Sport (good) and others all have a wide range of chocolate measured by %Cocoa (going from what we would call White to Bitter Dark) each combined with either different kinds of nuts (hazelnut, peanut), or fruit (raisins, strawberry filling), caramel, corn flakes, coffee, marzipan (a personal favorite), nougat, praline, and flavors of yogurt.
Germans seem to be less strict about alcohol in chocolates, I've seen some incredible liqueur filled chocolates on the cheap.
I think, if you showed a German a Hershey's Bar, they would just stare at you and ask, "Why did you put cocoa powder in this wax?"
Actually, they do sell American candy bars--for two and three times the price of the (better) German chocolates.
I've also seen strange things, like the German Twinkie--a [get this] individual cheesecake snack (which tastes about as awesome as you'd imagine).

The cheese has been equally spectacular in its own way.  I'm enjoying Castello with some honey right now.  As Andrew no doubt remembers, it's actually cheaper to buy rounds of Brie (and other unpronounceable creamy cheeses) and cut squares of them onto your sandwich than to buy sliced cheeses.  The President camembert and the veritable chaumes has been especially good sandwich material, and I've got some slices of I-don't-know-what from the K&K down the street.

As for alcohol, Dr. Figura treated me to some Quakebruck Pils when I first arrived, but I've been concentrating on wine since.  I mostly get things in the 1.99E range.  The Dronfelder Rheinhessen was ok, I was disappointed in the Lambrusco (I must have gotten the specifics wrong, but I remember it from last year),  the Portugieser Weissherbst was all right and so was the Gerwurztraminer Tramini.  But the Stand UP and Shout 'Awesome' has been the Ume-Pflaume
which was an incredible experience in and of itself.  

My German Trainer

Ever since I started going to the University of Florida, I've been working out with fair regularity.  It was mostly just dieting before that but, with a free gym in walking distance, suddenly the effort it took to start was significantly reduced.  At first it was once a week, for about a semester, and then I began to increase sessions to several times a week (just last semester I was going to the gym two times a week and going to the martial arts club three times a week a night).

Over winter and summer breaks, I would work out at the Church gym with Andrew, who was more experienced than I was and all too happy to show me a few tricks I could fit into my routine.  A year ago, he actually convinced me to start running in Germany.  That didn't end up sticking, but I made it around Lake Hollingsworth once and--more importantly--I proved to myself that I could run if I wanted to.

So I don't want to lose all my progress going three months without working out, so I started looking for a gym as soon as I got to Quakenbruck.  My good fortune is that DIL has a gym-->in my building-->below where I work, so I can start  immediately after I'm done for the day.  Unfortunately, it's not free.  But it's cheap, which is nearly as good (something like 10 a month).

I walk in one day, after I'm established at my workplace, and talk to the person in charge.  He fills out the paperwork, makes me a plan, and gets me started.  Turns out, my trainer is (one of) the Artland Dragon's trainer.  His English is excellent (better than most at DIL) because he trains so many American athletes, and he is often willing to give me his exclusive attention.  He has me on the low-and-slow method of doing things slowly and with perfect form on low weights, and it's a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.

I've been working out by myself mostly for the last two years.  I've worked out with Andrew before and, though he is good, he's not a professional trainer.  I've also worked with a friend (Vernon) at UF a couple times, but it's the same kind of situation.  I realize I've never actually worked with a professional trainer before, and my first is a German Athletic coach--how cool is that?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lebara Mobile, The Empire Strikes Back

Yeah!  It's Feast of the Ascension day in Germany, and also Father's Day!
Which means no work Thursday or Friday, "If you show up, no one will be here."
But it's a stay at home with your family holiday--I asked several people if there was anything going on in town today, but they just said everybody's going to be at home or with their family someplace and everything will be closed.
Everything is closed.  Nobody is anywhere.

No one can hear you scream.

SO, Jessica sends me a text and invites me to lunch.  I text her back.  "Text undeliverable" ???  I try calling.  "The number you are calling is not listed."  I send her an email, but she's not checking her inbox.

Finally, it hits me.  I've run out of minutes.  Ha ha ah, silly me, running out of minutes.  I'll just go to and top-up.  Yes, here's the English website, no problems here.  And here's the Top Up button to refill my account.  "Register Now" to Top Up?  Ok, I see no problems here.  Filling out information, and done!

"We're sorry, we're not up to standard and are having technical problems."

What?  Ok, I'll try again in case it was my fault.

Try to register second time...Same error message.

Gaah, fine, I'll try one more time.

"Thank you for registering."  Oh, so it works now...fine.  *activates account via email*
"Please Select a way to Top Up"  I choose 10Euro, and they want a "promotional voucher" number.
What's that?  *tries every number on the SIM card information there is, including phone number and pin number*

Nothing Works!  What's a voucher number?  Ok, I'll call help, it says the first fifteen minutes are free.
*dials number*  "The number you are calling is not listed."  WHAT? THAT'S THE HELP NUMBER!
*Tries FOUR more times*
"Welcome, to Lebara Mobile, you have 0,2 cents, press 1 to Top Up"  *press1*
"Enter your 16 digit Voucher Code"  What do I have that's sixteen digits?  Credit card number?
"The number you have entered is not valid."  How about a person, can I call the help desk?
"You do not have enough credit to make this call, arrange a Top Up."  GAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

All right, I'll just run a search for 'lebara voucher code.'  See, they just want me to buy a voucher from someone else, fine, take my money, I just want my phone back.
Here's my credit card number and my email, now send me the voucher code.

"Hello Edward Carley,
Mobile Top-up Online just sent you a full refund of £12.50 GBP for your purchase."

NOnononononononononoNnnO!  DON'T send me a REFUND, keep the money!  I just want a voucher code!  Take my money, take my money, Why Won't You Take My Money!?!

My phone is broken so there's no one I can call.  It's a stay-at-home holiday so there's no one I can talk to.  None of this would bother me, I would just shrug the whole thing off on any other day, but I just missed lunch with a friend because of this.  Any other time this would be nothing more than a minor inconvenience to me, I still have internet so I can still be in contact with my family and friends so it's not even a big deal, BUT it had to be on the day when I was going somewhere and didn't know when or where to go and couldn't ask anyone.

So I ended up communicating with my parents through gmail, and they haven't figured it out yet--they might yet, but not in time for Lunch with Jessica (it's 12:35pm and it takes 40 minutes to get to Osnabruck) so my story is fairly much concluded.  If all else fails, I'll walk to the store in town tomorrow and they be able to help me for sure because I got it from them.  It's not a very satisfactory end to the story, I know, so I'll end it on a good (but unrelated) note.

I've been wanting to go to this cute little Chinese place in town, but I didn't know when they were open, and I just got a menu in the mail with their hours on it!  This totally brightens my otherwise gloomy morning.

It's like a Sympathy Card from God.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Second Explanation

My first explanation here was a load of techno-babble ment for my official report.

Allow me to explain the waveform thing better, perhaps more clearly. The outgoing pulse from the generator is a simple wave (one vertical peak). The outgoing pulse passes by the oscilloscope (EKGs use a modified kind of these, they display the heartbeat on an amplitude-versus-time graph), and gets read as it passes. The outgoing pulse travels through a wire, reflects off air or water or meat, and the reflected pulse returns to the oscilloscope (the trip separates the reflection from the outgoing pulse). The reflected pulse is a complex wave (with wierd shaps and little molehills around it), because it contains information about what it reflected off of. 
The oscilloscope does 100X10^6 samples per second, but it's just barley enough to read this wave. The result is that the data I work with is about 200 samples long, and about 8 of those data points will describe most of a wave. Because there are so few points on any given reflected wave, there's way too much opportunity for variation on one temperature/concentration setup.
So I've told the program to do an averaging of 1000 waves--so in my final data set each 8 points of interest are an average of a 1000.
Because my 'waveform' is really the scientific equivalent of some kid's Connect-the-Dots drawing (or maybe a Cubist trying to paint a tree), it's going to be practically impossible to regress linearly, with polynomials, or even non-linearly because any equation acurately describing the shape as a whole would be too bulky to work with.
My idea to deal with this is to take those 200 samples for one wave, and compare each point individually with another wave at a different concentration. So I take 10 waves for ten concentrations, and I take 1 position (out of 200 positions) and regress how it changes over the 10 concentrations. What I get is a much more simple relationship between amplitude and concentration.
It is this simple relationship I want to regress--to find an equation describing one point on the wave. With a spreadsheet program I can do this 200 times, and be able to describe the waveform as a whole using 200 equations.