Saturday, November 24, 2007

I got hooked

As I mentioned during the weekend updates before, I've been watching the first two seasons of "Gilmore girls" on DVD during the last couple of weeks.

When I started with the first episode (and realized that I'd never seen much of the first season, anyway), it felt good. I was comfortable with the story and the characters, as I'd known them before, while watching the series on TV. I could relax and just watch the episodes (or at least listen to them while writing).

The longer I watched the series, the more comfortable I grew with it again. It was nice to watch it, to just enjoy the chaotic, but nevertheless nice lives of some other people, to visit a small town that surely didn't exist (because Stars Hollow is just too good to be true - if anyone can prove it exists, go ahead and do it).

I'm not a fan of such series normally - the 'simple life of simple people in a simple environment' that comes with those series isn't my cup of coffee. But "Gilmore girls" is different somehow. Maybe it's because you have to look very hard to find the 'perfect' family. Lorelai and Rory are a great family, but they are not 'perfect' (lacking a father). Dean seems to have rather normal parents, but they never appear. Not a single family of a Chilton student (Chilton is the private school Rory goes to) seems to be intact: either parents are always gone, divorced, cheating on each other or simply not interested in their offspring. The other people living in Stars Hollow all have their little quirks and ticks, too. (And Tyler is too normal to be really normal, if you get my drift.)

And that's just what I like, I guess. Visiting Stars Hollow is like stepping into a world that's not completely real, but real enough to love it. In an article of a German news magazine the author pointed out that it's either Indian Summer or Winter during all of the episodes (which is not completely correct, but not completely wrong either - there are few episodes when it's spring or late summer, but the two seasons I've seen so far end with the end of the school year and start with the beginning of the next one). On the other hand those are great seasons to put a story in motion. People can still enjoy the sun during an Indian Summer, but the trees already have colourful leaves, which looks very nice and romantic (yes, even I do sometimes enjoy a romantic outlook). And in Winter there's lots of reasons to cuddle together or to be cut off by the snow from everyone else - giving you a lot of privacy.

Watching the two first seasons on DVD got me hooked again, just as in the past when I tried to catch every episode on TV. Currently I'm thinking about getting the third season.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Weekend update

Another weekend is coming up and here's my update.

DVD to watch: "Pirates of the Caribbean 3"

Book to read: nothing special this weekend

Game to play: still "Sim City Societies"

And maybe there even will be snow.

The faces of evil

Warning: This is going to be a very philosophical post, I think. Just so you have been warned.

But why am I thinking and writing about evil at the moment? I've read "The Mephisto Club" this weekend (and some of the week, too) and this novel deals with the concept of evil, too.

I have made my way through this area instinctively ever since my youth. 'Evil' is a concept I have studied in the past. You can't even attempt to write a crime story without thinking about it. And you can't read crime or horror stories without encountering that concept, either.

One of the concepts is the idea of 'inner' and 'outer' evil. It's a concept a lot of horror stories work with.

'Outer' evil is something that hits the hero of a tale without any committed sin. The fate of Jonathan Harker is a good example for this 'outer' evil. It's not a sin or a need or a guilt that has brought him to the castle of Count Dracula, where he almost perishes. He's simply there because his job demands it. Dracula and the three brides happen upon him, almost destroying him completely. He escapes with his life, but almost looses his sanity. Of course, that's not really fair - but then, life isn't fair either, is it? 'Outer' evil is like a meteor strike: it can hit everyone everywhere and without a warning. There's no real protection against it.

But to the moralists working with movie scripts, 'outer' evil is unsatisfactory. If someone has to die in a movie, the person should deserve it - especially if it happens to be in a horror movie. That is where the concept of 'inner' evil comes in. There is something hidden within the person to cause the evil. A good example for this is Dr. Frankenstein. He build a being out of decaying flesh, against the laws of nature and god. So, in the end, he has to die. He has to be punished for creating such a monstrosity. And in the novel "Dracula" there's also a being personifying 'inner' evil: Renfield. Renfield the madman, the man who eats animals alive, because it gives him life - or so he believes. Renfield who invites the vampire in, delivering the complete household to the Count. Renfield who dies bloodily trying to take back this invitation in the end.

'Inner' and 'outer' evil work great when it comes to horror stories, no matter whether they are on paper or on the screen. Sometimes both areas are combined. Think of "Jaws": It's nobody's fault the shark turns up, but it's the mayor's fault the beaches are not closed until the danger is removed - thus a lot more people die. And people who make such decisions almost always die as well.

But when it comes to thrillers and crime stories, the rather simple concepts of 'outer' and 'inner' evil do no longer work. Humans are too complex to be explained that easily - and unlike in a horror story, the 'monster' in a crime story or thriller is human. Not a vampire, not a being build from decaying body parts, not even a benign doctor taking a little elixir so he can party down without being recognized (the basic story of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"). This Dr. Jekyll doesn't need an elixir to become Mr. Hyde. He needs a closet ... or a phone booth ... or simply people looking away for a second.

I'm not going to discuss what makes humans Humans. That's a bit too philosophical, even for me (at least at this age, ask me again in thirty years or so). But fact is even a mass murderer or a serial killer is human. He or she (more likely he, though) may not be Human, but human in the biological and genetic way they are.

We are able to murder other humans, it's what sets us apart from most animals (only some primates, mostly chimpanzees, are also capable of willingly killing someone). A lion can kill a gazelle, of course, but it won't be murder. It's survival and both the predator and the prey know their place. And that might be where 'evil' starts, once killing isn't for survival any longer.

So, what other faces does evil have?

It can look ugly and beautiful, it can come from the highest and the lowliest places around. A serial killer might live in the slums or in a villa, it doesn't make a difference when it comes to the evil in his work - although it may make a difference to how he does it.

Cain slew Abel, the bible tells us. (And only very few people can name the third son that must have existed, as Cain is not the father of all mankind - it's Seth.) This is the first murder, the first real evil done outside paradise.

What happened to Cain afterwards? He was not killed himself, but exiled and marked. And this is where our idea about murderers being recognizable somehow comes from. Cain was marked, so that everyone could recognize him as the killer of his brother - and they were not allowed to kill him. He was to be left alive and could start his own family. (Although details are sketchy as to where he found a woman to have children with - Adam and Eve being the only other humans on earth.)

The modern killers are not marked. There is no face of evil. Quite often they look harmless. They behave harmless. It's only the moment the mask of normalcy falls, the moment the weapon is raised and the victim's life is about to end, that the monster jumps out of its closet.

But then, why do people commit evil? Why are there mass murderers out there and serial killers? Why are there rapists? Why do some people revel in destroying other people, physically or mentally?

That is the real problem in the whole discussion about evil, the real problem in writing such stories. What makes those people tick? Can you be raised to become a killer? That's what happens in "The Mephisto Club". Can a family's bloodline contain such evil and produce killers? That's what happens in "Body Double" (also by Tess Gerritsen).

In essence, the question might be: Is there a natural born killer or are killers made?

There is no answer to this question. Or rather, there are two: Killers are born and made. It depends on your idea of mankind which is true.

Evil can come from outside - most victims of the serial killers of past, present and future have not (or will not have) deserved their fate. Evil often comes from inside, one sin, one guilt growing until it destroys the being or makes it destroy others. Evil can be a seed already planted in a child, making it grow into a killer. And it can be instilled into a child, turning innocence into blood lust.

Evil has many faces - Satan, Lucifer, Seth (not the third son of Adam and Eve, but an Egyptian god of war) are just some of them. Some might count Loki among them (but the gods of the Norse mythology are neither completely good nor completely evil). Ahriman surely is one of them (and the Persian philosophy of Zarathustra is the first one centred around a good god and an evil one). And everywhere throughout mythology and religion there are many, many others, because humans always saw that the evil was among them, that murder and crime were to be found among them.

There is no such thing as the face of evil. And it has as many faces as there are humans around, because everyone of us could be evil.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

An interesting insight

The equivalent to a young man fighting his way to the top on the streets seems to be a girl becoming a popular person in the local high school. That's an interesting way of describing the differences between boys and girls.

It's this blog post at "The F-Word" that pointed me to it.

"GTA: San Andreas" (GTA is short for "Grand Theft Auto") isn't exactly a game with a high moral standard and though I haven't played it, I have played - and quite enjoyed - three of it's predecessors ("GTA 2", "GTA 3" and "GTA 3: Vice City"). "San Andreas" is the currently latest game of the series and has been in the media - especially in Germany, but also in other countries - for quite some time. Yes, it is violent. And yes, some of the content is quite questionable (as, for example, the fact that you can actually gain health by sleeping with a prostitute - in earlier versions of the game you needed a health kit or a trip to the hospital for it). But, when all is said and done, it's still a game. And it's not exactly what kids - no matter what gender they are - should play. Teenagers around sixteen, that's acceptable, adults is no problem either, but not younger kids.

Now, it seems, someone has been bold enough to come up with the equivalent for girls. The game mentioned in the blog post is, of course, not set in the criminal environment "GTA" is set in. That wouldn't be appropriate for girls - or so the creators seem to think. No, it's the immensely dangerous environment known as high school.

I haven't been in a high school, I grew up in Germany where we don't have high schools. But I've seen enough teenage TV series from the States to know what it is supposed to be like (although TV is not reality, and I know it). And I severely doubt (even after those amok runs during the last years) that the local high school is as dangerous a place as the Bronx in New York or central L.A.

In "GTA" you wreak havoc on the streets. You commit crimes, you kill people, you steal cars, just to be able to complete your missions. With a little bad luck (or good one, if you tick like me) you soon have the police, the FBI or even the army on your trail. And what is the equivalent for girls? Terrorizing a high school, if you really use all at your disposal.

I'm sorry, but I fail to see where those games are equal. Sure, if you happen to be the girl bullied by a real bitch at school, life is not very nice. It's shit in fact - I know what being bullied is like. But you know, deep in your heart, that it won't last. One day you will leave school behind you. And it might even stop sooner if - although that's not a very nice thought - someone more worthy of being bullied steps into the school. But apart from that, what else can you do (in this game)?

Do sexual experiments. Yes, I can see why that would be scary in the U.S. But anywhere else? People in Europe (well, most people in Europe) have gotten used to the fact that teenagers have sex. That's why there's sexual education in schools all over Europe.

Spread rumours. Surely not a nice thing to do, especially if you know they're false rumours. But as evil as pulling someone out of a car, jump in and drive over him once before you speed away? Hardly.

Smoke. A bad habit, but outright evil? Please.

So is this game "GTA for girls", as was claimed? Not at all. It's a game cementing the usual picture of women, in fact. Women act behind other peoples back, use their looks and their relations to gain power - not a gun or a baseball bat. And they can't rise to control their whole quarter and bring back respect to their gang - they can only hope to control high school by sleeping with the football team and spreading rumour about all the other girls doing the same.

This game is as much "GTA for girls" as a hamster is a murderous weapon of mass destruction.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Buildings and Places

... in my hometown. Today we'll walk my usual route again, but this time I'll show you some interesting places and buildings in my town.

This used to be a normal crossing, but during rush hour people didn't exactly 'rush' anywhere. With the new circular traffic, everything has changed. Cars now move on pretty fast and in addition we have a real piece of 'art' in the middle of it (or at least what the mayor of my hometown seems to understand as art - I can't stand those artworks, but then, people have different tastes).

Those two pictures show the local movie theatre. Originally it was much smaller, the left area which you can see on the first picture has been build quite recently. Before it was build, there was a parking lot besides the cinema. "Cineplex" actually is a line of cinemas everywhere in Germany - and that's one reason why I can see movies earlier than someone living in Mainz, despite the fact that my hometown is much smaller.

The parking lot in front of the building was once a park - and shall become one soon again.

Our local post office is located in an old building that's been the post office for as long as I can remember. The inside has been renovated quite some time ago (much more modern, but that doesn't make the people working there any faster), but the outer shell is still the same.

Opposite to the post office is this small park, in front of the business school. It's a nice place to be, especially during the summer when it's nice and warm and the trees give a bit of shade and the well is running (although you can't see the well in this picture).

The protestant church in my hometown (the only protestant church, as the town traditionally is Roman-Catholic) is the next step on our way. I rather like the way it looks on the outside (though I've never been inside): straight lines, grey bricks and a rather pretty clock. The bells can be heard even where I live - provided the wind blows into the right direction.

This is the place in front of the town hall (well, one of them, anyway, the local government is a bit split up). It looks much better when not photographed from the shadows, but otherwise I wouldn't have gotten a good picture - the sun was standing quite low.

This is the restaurant situated in the area known as "Old Castle" (I already mentioned it in the post about the roads). In the back you can see the roof of the only part of the old castle still standing, but we'll get a better look at it in the next picture.

This is the central tower of the old castle, the only part still standing today. It was renovated when the new buildings were constructed and also got a new roof. Today it's part of the new structure and it fits in quite well, even though you'd never guess it at the first glance.

And that's the place where I used to spent my free Saturdays when I was younger: the public library. Originally it was situated close to the cinema, but it moved to newer (and much bigger) rooms when I was still quite young. Now the library has all of the first floor of the building and half of the ground floor.

The complex forming the Old Castle also houses various halls and is the base of operation for the local theatre company.

This is where the busses in my hometown all stop, the place where they all come together (you can see one of those busses on the picture of the circular traffic above). It was rebuild when the bus lines were recreated some years ago. Before that the middle of this street was lined with trees and parking spaces - but it definitely needed to be rebuild. Nevertheless, I miss those old trees with the lights in them every Christmas...

This was a view of the buildings and places in my hometown. The last post will almost bring you home to me, as I will also show you a couple of photographs taken in the general area where I live.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Success in the long run

Last Friday, on the 16th of November, the latest "Harry Potter" movie was released in Germany on DVD. And yesterday - on Sunday - it was still shown at the local movie theatre (although only once on Saturday and on Sunday, as some sort of matinee for the kids). That's one long-running movie.

The 14th of July was the starting date for the movie in Germany. Ever since then, the movie has been running non-stop in my hometown. Admittedly the number of shows each day was getting smaller and smaller, but until quite recently - maybe two or three weeks ago - the movie was shown regularly.

First of all I want to point out that I really like that movie. I didn't buy the DVD on the release date for nothing. I went to see it on the first Saturday after it started running. (And I like the novel even better.) But nevertheless, it happens rarely to see a movie running that long non-stop - although I have to admit that the first two "Harry Potter" movies ran quite long as well (as far as I can remember). Some other blockbusters - like the "Lord of the Ring" movies and the "Star Wars" prequels - were long-running as well, but they were considered 'adult' material while "Harry Potter" is still filed under 'for children' in Germany.

In the year which has given us the final novel and the fifth of seven movies, the series seems to be even more successful than ever before.

And that is remarkable - given the fact some publishers didn't want the first novel in the beginning. "Harry Potter" still is kind of a mystery - a series of novels written (mostly) for children that's read by adults as well. There's even a variant cover for adults for all of the novels (although not in Germany - and, as the cover to the left of this paragraph shows, the German covers are not exactly pretty).

Sometimes I wonder how Mrs. Rowling feels about this herself. I'm sure she didn't expect the novels to be that successful, either. And it shows, once again, that you can't predict or 'make' a bestseller.

And I have to admit they've found a good cast for the movies, among the young actors as well as among the adult ones. The new characters featuring in the fifth movie fit in well, whether it's Tonks (Natalia Tena) or Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). And Ralph Fines as Voldemort surely is worth watching, too. (And I just love the duel between him and Dumbledore in the entrance hall of the Ministry. That's true magic, that is, far about the level of the 'ordinary' wizard or witch.) And, being the fan I am, I won't even start writing about Alan Rickman as Severus Snape...

So I hope the success will hold until all the movies are out. There's always something different in the movies, but given the length of some books (although with "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" we've reached the zenith of the longest book), that's only to be expected.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weekend update

On time for this weekend.

DVD to watch: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" on Sunday (if my parents watch the movie today) and "Gilmore girls" (still not finished)

Book to read: Tess Gerritsen "The Mephisto Club"

Game to play: "Sim City Societies" (finally!)

As the weather outside looks anything but promising, I'm quite glad for having something to do indoors.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I almost feel bad

...for some words I've written about journalists and their work in the past. Well, almost.

The reason for this is a report I've seen yesterday. It stated that quite some people who used to make good money with their work are living off very little money today. Journalists, lawyers and architects are among them.

In the past those jobs were considered a safe way to lead a good life with enough money to afford a good car, a good apartment and a regular vacation at least once a year. And, after all, people had to put in quite some work before they got all those goodies. They had to study and build up a name for themselves. Today, it seems, that is no longer enough. That almost makes me glad I'm no longer working as a freelance editor. Currently I just hope I will get a job working for some company once I'm a webmaster. Working as a freelancer will surely be my last resort.

But how did that happen? There are various reasons, at least from what the report said.

One of the most important reasons seems to be the existence of trainees. Among journalists that's the main problem, at least due to the report. A trainee is paid very poorly - sometimes even not at all - and usually has to do the same things the paid journalists (or people from other jobs) do. That makes them a lot cheaper - but it doesn't necessarily improve the quality of their articles (which is why I'm only almost sorry).

Another important reason seems to be less money than in the past. That's the main problem for architects. There aren't as many people building houses any longer (and a lot of people building their own little house use pre-constructed houses - not much to do and earn from them, if you happen to be an architect). Communities can't afford new buildings either and apart from that, there's not much to do.

The third and last important reason seems to be the large number of people in the job. That's a problem for the lawyers. There's so many of them around, none of them can get enough clients to make a good sum during the week. As Germany does not have a restriction of the number of lawyers working in any given town, that cannot be avoided. Too many people are studying to be lawyers one day - after all, it still seems as if they're making a lot of money.

Now I wonder: If such formerly well-paid jobs cannot sustain people any longer, what is going to become of us? If there really is a boom, then why do people not feel it? There have been some new jobs, but most of the unemployed who have found work lately are still financed by the government to a certain extend, because they actually make less than they would if they didn't work at all.

Is this how motivation should work? Telling people "Well, if you work, you'll actually be off worse than if you don't, but as we can't make the companies see the need of minimal wages, we'll at least give you the difference between what you earn in your job and what you would get if you didn't do it"? Or giving them the good tip to get a second (or third? or fourth?) job? If they really do, how many people won't even be able to get a first job, because someone else is doing it after his work already?

Politicians from all parties celebrate the low number of unemployed people (and in the area where I live, the rate of unemployment is at about 4.8 percent, that's quite below standard in Germany). What they don't say during their speeches about "how we did this impossible feat" is "okay, so about 30 percent still get money from us and another 40 percent make about the money they got from the state before - or even a little less". (I've made those last two numbers up, the unemployment rate I've read about in a local newspaper.)

Maybe I was too strict with journalists in Germany and should keep in mind that the journalists writing the bad-researched articles were wondering how to pay the next rent while working.


I guess you can't grow up anywhere in the western world without playing "Monopoly" at least once in your life.

My very first memory of the game is from when I was about five. I was far too young to play then, obviously, but I remember fondly sitting in my cousins' bedroom and playing with the little red and green houses (I was five, how should I have known the red ones were hotels?). Of course, sooner or later they would take them away from me and put them on the board - even though the streets I planned with them looked a lot better than that square.

When I was slightly older, they allowed me to tend the bank. I couldn't play with them then, but about seven was old enough to handle the money bills.

Later on I usually played with my father - we even tended to write up everything so we could continue a game later on.

From my point of view, "Monopoly" is ideal to be played at the computer. (And I still treasure my special edition "Star Wars Monopoly".) The computer is a perfect bank, it won't give you too much or too little money. And it keeps all the rules in mind, too. I like that. In addition, you can save such a game without having to write up in minute detail who owns which street, where houses and hotels have been build and how much money everyone has. That's great, too.

Now, "Monopoly" might teach people capitalistic values, but it's an interesting and taxing game for older children as well as for adults. And - given the fact that no two people I ever talked to about the game were playing by the same rules - there's a lot of varieties around, too. For example, we used to gather the taxes and other money spent on 'public services' because of the community and chance cards in the middle of the board so the first person landing on "Free Parking" would get the money. I still treasure the memory of getting thousands upon thousands after being the first to hit the space after we'd all been landing on the taxes and paying for our houses and hotels for ages. It was quite a sum and enabled me to make my streets far more dangerous by building loads of new houses. We also used to decide that you didn't have to own all streets of a set to build houses on them - and you could build houses irregularly and hotels without putting down the houses beforehand. Made it more interesting.

"Monopoly" can be a guaranty for a nice evening with friends or family - or for a row, if somebody's getting too much from the others.

What a wonderful view

Isn't it a wonderful view? Well, it is, for someone playing "Anno 1701".

Do you see all those houses with the green roofs? They're housing the nobility. Noblemen and -women living in a settlement pay a lot of taxes, financing not only their own needs (which are quite high, those people want everything), but also anything the player might want to add for himself (like a really huge palace with large grounds and a lot of buildings ... ahem). It's a long way to such a big settlement.

And it's a long way to this picturesque view of mills and farms, too. It takes a while until you have enough citizens in the right stage to be allowed to build it. Farms, mills and bakeries are a very efficient way to produce food, though, and so they become necessary sooner or later. After all, over 4,000 citizens have to be fed.

I'm enjoying my view tremendously, to be honest. It has taken quite some time until my little settlement with a handful of sturdy pioneers, living off fishes and only demanding food, cloth, a church and a town square, has become a bustling town full of noblemen and -women. Yes, I did a good job there.

Ice Cream!

Now, why is she thinking about ice cream right after claiming the first snow had fallen and it's gotten cold outside, you might wonder. Well, first of all, I can always think of ice cream, I just don't have to eat it while it's cold outside. But that's not the main reason.

"Cindy's Sundaes" is the main reason. And it's a good game, too. And the ice cream definitely looks very delicious as well.

It's an arcade game in which you advance through the levels by matching three or more bullets of ice cream of the same kind to earn points. In addition to advancing through the levels, though, you can also build your own sundaes with the contents you slowly gain by gaining tokens to invest. The one in the picture above is from me, by the way. It hasn't got a name, though, although it might be called "Summer Delight" or something like that.

The levels can sometimes be vexing, but then, even if you screw a level, you still get some tokens, so not making it a couple of times helps a lot to unlock new contents and build better-looking sundaes.

I've gotten through the whole game once already, but as the levels are build up new every time around, it's quite interesting to do the game again.

And the ice cream looks damn tasty, even if it's cold outside...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The first snow

Yesterday in the evening we had the first snow this winter. I can't really remember whether we had any snow in January or February this year, but I distinctly remember a very warm March, so we definitely didn't have a long, cold winter.

There wasn't too much snow around, though. I'm living in a small pocket of time and space where the weather usually is a tad bit warmer than everywhere else around. It's nice, these days, though I tended to miss not having 'White Christmas' a lot when I was younger. (To be honest, I still get a bit giddy and hopeful before the 24th of December every year.) And the snow was gone around ten this morning, too. But it's gotten awfully cold – good thing my heating is working.

Winter is coming fast, that can't be denied any longer...

Ringtone Madness

Normally I'm not really interested in what kind of ring-tones people have for their cells. Normally. But Christmas is coming and so is the WHAM "Last Christmas" ring-tone that makes me want to kill people. Slowly. Painfully. Repeatedly. (Richard from "Looking for Group" might want to assist with that.)

I don't think the song itself was created by the devil to torture me, but what I can't stand is the repeated use of it every year, starting in mid-November. By the sixth of December I'm so sick of hearing it, I start to growl whenever it is played somewhere.

In the past I could avoid the song by not listening to the radio and avoid music television of any kind (MTV and VIVA in Germany). But with the invention of ring-tones above the build-in sounds that once came with a cell, I can't avoid it any longer. The first ads for the "Last Christmas" ring-tone (full length and original sound) are out and soon a lot of people will either have bought it or remember they have it already. That's how I sometimes imagine Hell to be: being forced to listen to "Last Christmas" for eternity. Scary idea, almost makes me want to be a good girl.

But even beyond "Last Christmas", ring-tones can be a curse. I have to admit I'm not free of this madness myself, either. Currently my ring-tone happens to be "He's a Pirate" from "Pirates of the Caribbean" - and with the many TV melodies I've finally transformed into mp3, it might soon change. (I got the program for the transformation for one measly Euro, you can't get a professional program any cheaper outside the internet.)

But, as I don't get all that many calls anyway, I don't think I really torture anybody with my ring-tone (whatever it might be). But spent thirty minutes in a public transport and you will hear anything from rap to pop being played by cell phones. Most of the time the sounds are turned up rather loud, too. That's not so bad, as long as there's just one phone ringing, but usually it's three or four at the same time - and that just sounds dreadful. It wasn't half as bad in the past, when it was just the Nokia-sound and some others.

I wonder what the next stage will be? Can it get any worse?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Technical development

After I read (and watched) Elisabeth's post about Jack Bauer in 1994, I realized that the whole thing works the other way around as well. "24" would not have worked out like that in 1994 and a lot of the stories I read and watched as a child would not work out the same way today.

Information is traded much more easily today; the internet with the many sites, with email and chat-rooms and forums has changed the way we treat and gather information a lot.

As I read a lot of books about junior detectives when I was a kid myself, there was a lot of information-gathering in them. But while they had to resort to local research in newspaper archives, libraries or by talking to people, they would have a whole new host of possibilities right now. (And I don't want to imagine what Sherlock Holmes would have been able to deduce with means like those at his disposal ... although it's an interesting idea - I should file it away for now.)

Most of the stories I read (save for "Sherlock Holmes", of course) were set in the times I was living in, so the kids featuring in them were more or less living like I did (apart from having adventures, of course).

This made me think about the technical development of the last twenty or so years. That covers the time it took for the internet to become a well-used and much-frequented medium (opposite to the scientists' network it was in the beginning). That covers the time it took for cell phones to become a normal means of communication. The computer became an everyday thing, too, during that time.

I guess you could spent millennia discussing whether we need all those technical means, but then, theoretically, we could still live in cages, wear animal skin and eat our meat raw - and who wants to, seriously? They are here and they are used. It's up to us to use them sensibly.

10 years ago I didn't have a cell phone (and currently I've only got my third model, but then, I'm using a prepaid phone). 10 years ago computer games didn't look realistic enough to scare anybody. 10 years ago DVD was a new medium and only very few people actually had a DVD-player.

20 years ago nobody had heard of cell phones (at least where I live). 20 years ago computers weren't really everywhere. 20 years ago even video recorders were expensive (they are again, today, because there's not many of them around any longer).

Technical development can't and shouldn't be avoided. It's what 'civilisation' is all about.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Late Weekend Update

I only realized yesterday that I had not done a weekend update this weekend. So I'm going to give you a late update (sort of a down-date ... or is it low-date? I've got no idea).

DVD to watch: Still "Gilmore girls" (you don't really think I'd make it through 12 DVDs with four episodes each in one weekend, do you?).

Book to read: nothing special this weekend, I've been going over older books.

Game to play: I re-installed "Anno 1701" and played some.

So, that was my weekend this weekend. And I promise not to forget about the update next week.

A difficult word

"Datenvorratsspeicherung" is a difficult word - even for someone like me, whose native language happens to be German. Well, German does have other difficult words, but, apart from being difficult to remember, pronounce and speak correctly, this word's meaning also is problematic.

This long word (which I'm not going to repeat) stands for the saving of data (in this case: the emails and page-views) of all people living in Germany for a certain amount of time. Normally such a collection of data is only allowed if someone is suspected to have done something criminal, but with a new law, the government wants to have instant access to the data of all people in this country - as if we've all done something criminal, at least potentially.

Germany has very strict laws as to what kind of data the law enforcement agencies have access to and what kind of data can be saved for a certain amount of time. Most data is not saved for the government, but for either the citizens or some company. For example, my telecommunications company has to save my connections for a certain length of time, just in case I don't pay my bills because I'm sure I haven't made all those calls. Then they have to prove I have. Companies can also find out whether I've ever taken a loan I couldn't pay back and other stuff like that.

But access to such data is limited. I, for example, can not find out whether or not my neighbour has ever taken a loan and not paid it back - the landlord, on the other hand, can ask for that data and will receive it. You have to have a good reason to get that data.

Now, what about that new law and all the data stored?

First of all, as people fear, it will make internet access more expensive - because the companies have to stock up on their storage in order to keep all that data stored.

But what makes it harder on most people is the idea that every movement in the net will be watched. The government will be able to determine exactly which sites every citizen has visited, no matter whether it's the person's own blog, a porn site, a site with 'forbidden' context (like neo-Nazi propaganda) or anything else. And, in addition, every email will be saved as well, no matter whether it's the application for a job, a letter to a friend or a complaint about a TV-program (or other stuff).

The net-outcome will be rather low. It's true, modern terrorists use the net for communication and planning - but then, the easiest way to stop the state from finding out will be using the servers of other countries to go online. I can not imagine Russia, for example, going through the same strict data storage. From what I've learned from various other people, not even all servers used there are registered. And then there's such a thing as broken links. For example the link to the first blog I've ever read one day suddenly led to a porn site instead. The same could, theoretically, lead to an innocent citizen suddenly landing on the site of a Muslim terrorist group. Can it then be proven that said citizen landed there by accident? Or will he or she be persecuted for such a mistake?

Or maybe an email could contain keywords associated with terrorist groups, but mean something completely different. Nevertheless, and for no other reason, the email will be read.

And how far will they go? Will they follow everyone who has ever said something bad about the government - in that case I'm done for, I guess.

Difficult words are not to be trusted, no matter in which language, that much is for sure.

A Plant Tycoon Update

So, here it is, another update on my progress in "Plant Tycoon".

By now I have completely remodelled my nursery (even the fountain) and reached the limits of my three seed-boxes. I'm currently checking all the seeds and throwing out those plants which sell for less than 20$.

I've made quite some progress by buying Mutation Liquid, creating new plants by simply putting it on plants I already have. The down on this is that it costs 1,000$ for three uses, so I have to keep on selling expensive plants in order to finance my experiments with it. But it runs well…

I'm also still cross-pollinating plants, so I get a lot of new plants all the time - but no magical ones, I'm still stuck with just one of six.

I've made a lot of progress in the financial department, though. On the whole my business is running well and I've got most of the bugs by now as well.

Hometown Shopfronts

After I'd let you take a look at the streets of my hometown last time, I'll show you some shops this time around. Are you ready?

There's my favourite Kebab-dealer and a nice café - which, admittedly, looks better in the summer when the tables and chairs are outside. Nevertheless, it's cosy.

This is a new shop - and the last two didn't last long in there - and I even almost got into trouble for taking this photo. The owner asked me what it was for, but as I don't do anything commercial with it, it was okay for her. They sell decorations and gifts.

My manga shop. I buy all my manga in there (except for "Trinity Blood" which I buy at the train station). They also have a lot of other stuff in there, from humorous books to toys.

Another new shop, situated in the area of the "Old Castle" again. This one sells all sorts of coffee, tea and even hot chocolate (and I really have to check it out one day, I could do with specialized hot chocolate during the winter).

One more bookstore, although I buy most of my books somewhere else (but due to the lots of stuff in front of it, I couldn't get a good photo). It's a nice place, though, and I go in there just as regularly as I enter my favourite bookstore.

This was another trip through my hometown, then. Expect two more, one about the area where I live and one about special places or buildings.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

And another one...

What can I say? I still suffer from "Pirates of the Caribbean".

My pirate name is:

Mad Mary Flint

Every pirate is a little bit crazy. You, though, are more than just a little bit. Like the rock flint, you're hard and sharp. But, also like flint, you're easily chipped, and sparky. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Talk about being mad, ey?

Finally the Kilt

Copyright by Tanja Meurer

This is for Kate who has brought a real light into my life with her Mute Mondays and loads of interesting pictures of men in kilts.

Although I assume she likes the real flesh-and-bone variety better...

I've been walking

...through my hometown yesterday and - as it was a fine day and I've had a digi-cam for ages - I've also been taking pictures. So, from now on, expect a post about my hometown with some pictures in it every now and then.

I could, of course, just sent you to my father's photo-blog, but I won't. He's taking pictures of stuff he likes and I'm taking pictures of stuff I like. Nevertheless, if you want more impressions of my hometown and its surroundings, take a look there. Even though his comments are in German, the pictures don't really need description.

For today, let it be an impression of various streets:

This is the walkway of the street going parallel to the railways. Unfortunately, although the weather was great, it's already November, so only very few roses were still in bloom. During the summer it looks really glorious - and smells wonderful, too, with the loads of pink roses blooming.

This road was just redone some time ago, especially the many parking slots are new. As you can see in this picture - and various other ones -, my town doesn't have too many straight streets. I rather like that, makes the whole city look more organic.

This is the newest area of the city centre where cars officially are not allowed. The house on the right is newly build and contains a host of shops. When you walk along the road from the last picture and turn left at the first chance, you'll be standing where I was when taking that picture.

This small street was also done completely new when the new building (again on the right) was constructed. It looks lots better than before.

This is the lower end of the original city centre. If you follow the street shown on the picture before last, you'll come to this view. In the left and centre of the picture are a café (the smaller building, looking like a pavilion) and the largest shopping mall in my hometown (the grey building with the banners).

This road is in an area called "Old Castle" because it once was the site of the old castle. The only thing still standing is the central tower, though (and I also have two pictures showing it, but I'll post them another day).

So, this was the first tour through my town, only the streets for now, but we'll come back for the shops and other interesting buildings and places later on.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A few more details

... about this comment on this post and the reality in Europe:

Hello! Wake up you obviously have no understanding of the urgency of the problem. Europe is being overrun by Muslim fanatics and the rate of demise of Europeans (particularly Germans, due to low birth rates and high death rates) has been noted by historians as bad as during the The Black Plague in the 1400s. While I recognize Eva Herman's praise for the Nazi era family building is distasteful, its helping provoke an important discussion about what needs to be done to save Europe.

First of all, I can't really see the relation between Miss Herman and Muslim fundamentalists. About Muslim fundamentalists in Europe (especially those who have been caught doing or planning terrorist acts), I do have one thing to say, though: about all of them were converts. So it doesn't really matter how many children a German woman has, they might all become Muslim fundamentalists themselves once they're adults.

In addition, one European country does already have high rate of Muslims (Turkey) and one has a high rate of Muslim immigrants (France, because of all their former colonies in Northern Africa). Nevertheless, the Muslim fundamentalists are not exactly running things in Europe, nor are they holding parades or controlling the media.

There is such a thing as a difference between "Muslim" and "Muslim fundamentalist", after all.

And about those death rates: I'm living in Germany and I'm not aware of high death rates in my country - quite the opposite in fact, as politicians always go on about the populace living longer and longer. Hence the raise of the pension age...

When it comes to Miss Herman and her theories, though, things are not that easy. The simple equation "less women working = higher birth rate" does not work, at least not in Europe on the whole. The two countries with the lowest rate of working women are also the countries with the lowest birth rate: Germany and Italy. Countries with a high rate of working women on the other hand also have high birth rates: the Scandinavian countries and France, for example. The Republic of Ireland, also a country with a high rate of working women, is even considered the 'youngest' country in Europe, seen from the average age of the populace.

In modern times - although there are still a lot of marriages that hold - marriage isn't a guaranty for a secure life afterwards. So a woman with a job is more likely to have children - provided the government gives her the means to combine both, in day care for younger children and full-time education for the older ones. In past decades (like the Fifties, which are obviously the time Miss Herman wants back), work places were almost guarantied. So, if the husband had work (the divorce rate was very low, mostly due to the divorce laws at that time which asked for one of the two to be 'guilty' and didn't accept unfaithfulness of the husband as 'guilt'), the wife could stay at home and care for children and household (and, quite often, her little collection of tasty spirits). But today, when even a married man with children can loose his job at a moment's notice, having a husband isn't a guaranty for having enough money to live off.

And real wages (not in figures, but in what I can buy with the money I earn) have not really gone up either, so the money one person brings home quite often isn't enough for the family to live off. Even in the middle class, a lot of women have to work.

Now, raising children surely isn't about money alone, so the last argument might not sound like an important one to you, but society in Germany isn't exactly children-friendly, either.

I think a lot of those people who are always calling for more children to be born can't really stand them. Why? Regularly playgrounds and kindergartens are closed, because the people living around them can't stand the noise of playing children. The school system - as I've written before - is outdated and doesn't really give German children the same chances children from other European countries have. What adults quite often want is a child that's already a taxes- and pensions-paying adult after five days or so - or so it seems. Children as a such are not popular in Germany.

And neither, unfortunately, are women with more than three children of their own. It's a difficult balance. Have no child or one child and you're not doing your best to keep the German populace up. Two children would be ideal and three are still acceptable, but have four and more of them and you're considered anti-social. Everyone will think you just had that many children so you didn't have to work and got more money from the government. That's the way it is.

The government does not provide real day care, either (and neither do the companies). Four hours a day is guarantied by the law. Even most part-time jobs require a mother to be absent for at least six hours (including the trip to work and back). Kindergartens are usually open between eight o'clock a.m. and five or six o'clock p.m. - and quite often children have to be picked up around noon, because the kindergarten does not serve lunch. Kindergartens are closed during all school breaks - and no working person in Germany has that many free days. And you can't take a child to kindergarten before the age of three, meaning a woman has to stay home for at least three years per child (although admittedly that doesn't mean nine years for three children, as most women get their children in smaller intervals than three years). And school later on only lasts until one o'clock p.m., too.

In France, for example, children can be taken to a nursery when they're six months of age. The kindergartens are open to heed to the needs of the women, so bringing in your child early or picking it up late is easy to manage. Schools last until well into the afternoon. Even the GDR had a better child-care-system than Western Germany had and still has - and I'm not even talking about the Scandinavian countries.

So Miss Herman isn't just talking nonsense about the Nazi who only wanted children so they would have a lot of soldiers later on and, by the way, didn't build the Autobahn either, that was mostly done before Hitler became ruler of Germany. She also ignores the realities about working women and birth rates in Europe. She was removed from her job because of the stupidity with which she talked about the past - and because of her inability to say the right thing when almost begged to simply state she 'had not meant it like that' but a little different. And she is not taken serious by most women, because she doesn't practice what she preaches (or at least, hasn't done so before she was fired).

Eva Herman is a woman regurgitating the ideas of the past and surely not the last warning voice to keep us from being overrun by Muslim fundamentalists.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sorry for the delay

Whew, I really have to check the comments more often. Sorry for those of you who posted a critical comment and thought I wasn't caring (and curses to that advert for Russian brides - I deleted that).

A special apology to the reader who asked for the tip on Ravenhearst. I hope I remembered the right lock and I've written you an answer in the comments.

Oh, and I found out I had not posted some stuff correctly, so you might find a couple of posts you've never read before.

Sorry for the delay, once more!

British Parody

Admittedly, I've known it before: The British do extremely good dark comedies. But after watching both "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", I'm more certain than before.

Take "Shaun of the Dead". Ever since "Night of the Living Dead", created by George Romero, zombie-movies have been part of horror mainstream - at least among the splatter movies. But, as I expected after seeing another movie by the same 'dream team', the British answer to Romero's horror stories is something special.

Shaun is an ordinary guy. He lives with two pals in a little house in the suburbs, has a girlfriend and works in the local electronic market. Shaun's life is always running along the same lines: Stand up, go to buy some coke in a little shop around the corner, drive to work, come back home, go to the local pub - the "Winchester" - and then home again. His best friend Ed is unemployed - or so it seems. As the story begins, Shaun is ditched by his girlfriend because he doesn't really make an effort in their relationship. His stepfather - whom he can't stand - goes on about his behaviour towards his mother and his other pal doesn't like the idea of Ed living with them (because he doesn't seem to pay any rent and doesn't work anywhere, not even at home).

And then strange things happen. Zombies turn up, the living dead who attack and kill people, bite and eat them. Shaun, Ed, Shaun's ex-girlfriend Liz, two of her friends and Shaun's mother find themselves hunted by the zombies (although the zombies hunt very, very, very, very slow). The group gets decimated. First it's Shaun's stepfather, then his mother - who's been bitten and turns into a zombie after dying -, then it's the two friends and finally Ed. Shaun and Liz make it, though, and some zombies 'survive' in a way, doing jobs nobody wants to do anyway.

There's a lot of references to other movies, naturally. The one I found most amusing (as Shaun is working as a vendor) is the remark that the boss and his second-in-command Ash are off sick - as Ash is also the main character of the "Evil Dead" movies and games (and he works in a supermarket). Well, he's off sick, so Shaun has to do his best alone.

"Hot Fuzz" on the other hand is a parody of all the cop-movies Hollywood has produced. A lot of the are actually named by one of the main characters. Director Edgar Wright - who also directed "Shaun of the Dead" - worked with the same dream-team as before: Simon Pegg (also played Shaun) and Nick Frost (who played Ed).

Nickolas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a perfect cop. His success-rate is four hundred percent higher than that of his colleagues in London. Therefore he has to go. He's promoted and sent off to the small town of Sandford - where there hasn't been a murder for more than twenty years. After he has arrested a couple of teenagers and a drunk even before his first day of work, he has to find out the next day that the drunk is his new partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), son of the local chief of police. Danny has never as much as set a foot outside Sandford, but he has watched all the big action movies Hollywood has produced during the last couple of years.

Everything in the town seems to run smooth and perfectly. Most of the students of the local school are good kids. Everyone has work - or at least a source of income. There's a fund raise running for the local church's roof. There's nice, little shops and a supermarket that is a bit larger, but still doesn't look like the huge markets you could get somewhere else. There's an amateur drama club, of course. There's a local newspaper and so on. The town has won a price for being the perfect little town for years.

But just as Nickolas is about to give up and let go of his police instincts, it happens: an accident, two horrible amateur actors killed in a car crash - or so it seems. Both beheaded. Nickolas doesn't buy it, but everyone else does. Then the head of the local construction firm dies when his house (not exactly build in typical country style) explodes due to gas. While the other cops in town still do believe in accidents, Nick starts to investigates. The editor and chief reporter of the local newspaper wants to tell him something - and dies in front of his eyes, supposedly another accident. And on it goes. Nick meets the killer, a hooded figure with an axe. He thinks it must have been the boss of the local supermarket - but he's wrong. Most of the leading figures of the town are involved - including the head of police. And in the end it's Nick, Danny and the other cops against most of the towns 'better' citizens.

Both movies have a high gore-factor. But apart from litres of blood and a high body count, they also are extremely funny. That's partly due to the actors and partly to the stories.

While neither "Hot Fuzz" nor "Shaun of the Dead" are something for people with a weak stomach, you can have a lot of fun with those movies. And the more other movies of that type you've seen already, the better they get.