Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in May, 2004

Posted by Rainer Brockerhoff (away):
I’m at an Internet in Helsinki (Finland). Rates are 6 Euros/hour, but I booked for only 15 minutes, so this will be brief.

Yesterday we were in Stockholm (Sweden), a very beautiful city with lots of interesting sights. We spent a few hours inside the Vasa Museum, where a huge ship, which was to become the flagship of the Swedish Navy, sank a few hundred meters into its maiden voyage in 1628.

Today we’ve already walked around a few hours inside Helsinki, also an interesting city, although nearly all buildings are comparatively recent, having been rebuilt after a citywide fire in the 19th century.

Tomorrow and the day after that we’ll be two days in St. Petersburg, where we booked two tours. Then comes a day at sea and two days in CopenHagen (Denmark), where hopefully I’ll be able to post again.

Posted by Rainer Brockerhoff (away):
I’m at a public library in Rostock (Germany), on a shore trip. Internet access is free here, unlike at London public libraries, where it costs about 4 GBP/hour – four times the usual Internet Café rate!

So far the cruise has been marvelous. We were upgraded to an external cabin and it’s very comfortable. The Norwegian Dream’s amenities and restaurants are excellent, and we’ve been busy exploring the ship and chatting to people. Due to a problem with the ship’s motors, the stopover at Tallinn (Estonia) has been canceled and we’ve received a $100 refund for that, which we’ll put to good use by getting on a better shore excursion at St. Petersburg later on.

Shore excursions, as usual, are much more expensive than you can get ashore. An extreme example is the bus trip back to London from Dover, which costs $75 when booked at the ship, and only 10 GBP ($18 ) at the coach station! So we plan to do our own excursions, except for St. Petersburg, where visa restrictions apparently make travelling with a tour guide mandatory.

Tomorrow we’ll be at sea, Saturday at Stockholm (Sweden) and Sunday at Helsinki (Finland). More later…

Trip update

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Posted by Rainer Brockerhoff (away):
Well, here we are in London on the first leg of our Europe trip. Time pressures have precluded an update until now; I’m posting this from a 1 GBP/hour Internet Cafe’ near our hotel.

We flew in over Heathrow, a tiring but uneventful flight with a stop in Amsterdam. It was my first time on the new Boeing 777-SR200. The chairs and bathrooms are incrementally more comfortable and the big novelty is video/audio by demand on all seats. There are perhaps a hundred movies available. Since I’m unable to sleep on a plane anyway, I seized the occasion to see all 3 Matrix movies consecutively (I’d only seen the first one previously). I fast-forwarded over some slow scenes and found the special effects well-done but the rationale behind the whole thing remained completely obscure.

London is a large, confusing, and fascinating city. Today was our fourth day and we’ve managed to see lots of sights and museums but I suspect several months would be needed to really see all that’s worthwhile. As usual, we concentrated mostly on free stuff like the Science Museum and the Albert&Victoria Museum. We also managed to find the small Freud museum, where Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life, and where his daughter Anna lived for 44 years; very interesting.

London beat out Vienna in being perhaps the most expensive city we’ve ever visited. The pound (GBP) is currently valued at around R$5.40, but prices do not scale proportionally. Food is extremely expensive, and the modest Mowbray Court Hotel, where we’ve stayed the last 3 days, also charges the most we’ve ever paid for a double room with bath anywhere in the world: 60 GBP, somewhat over US$110.

Nevertheless we’re upbeat. After a cold and blustery first day, the last few days have been sunny and not too cold. The people are friendly, if often unintelligible. A favorite game has been guessing, on buses and underground trains, what language the people next to us are speaking. So far we’ve been stumped by several Asiatic families, by people speaking Slav languages such as Serbian and Croatian, and yesterday by a couple from Uzbekistan.

Early tomorrow we’re off by bus (or coach, as they call it here) to Dover, where we’ll board the Norwegian Dream cruise ship for the 12-day cruise to St. Petersburg and the Scandinavian capitals. I’ll probably be unwilling to spring for the extremely expensive on-board Internet service, so any further updates will have to wait for after June 6th (my birthday!), when we’ll be back in England. Or perhaps I’ll find a convenient place during a shore excursion, but don’t count on it.

On our first day we conveniently stumbled into a Scotland tourism bureau, where we loaded up on brochures about Scotland; they’ve been so convincing that we’ll probably go by rail straight up to Scotland, pehaps only pausing for a quick visit to Stonehenge and Salisbury, and the Yorkshire region. Our BritRail ticket doesn’t extend to the Hebride Islands but we’ll try to find if there’s some local package when we get to Skye.

On our downward trip we plan to swing by Glasgow around June 15th or a little later. Matt Gemmell the Irate Scotsman will hopefully be available for a quick meeting; we’ve iChatted quite a lot recently. It’s always nice to meet Internet friends in the flesh… Matt, e-mail me if you’re reading this 😉

Speaking of e-mail, if you feel the need to e-mail me before June 24th or so, please try to have a clear, non-spam-looking subject line; searching through all the spam over web mail is tedious and error-prone. I may not be able to reply until I get back. My apologies.

More as soon as possible…

Wow, this must be some record: an entire week without posting…

Thing is, last Wednesday I had an emergency operation for an ailment that will remain mercifully unnamed here (hint: this stuff will be a sine-qua-non component of my diet henceforth). Anyway, being sick really sucks. The doctor who operated on me strongly urged me to cancel the Europe trip, which would begin exactly a week from that day. He followed up during my hospital stay with dire warnings about extreme pain and post-op complications.

As it turned out, most of the warnings were groundless – at least in my specific case. I needed no painkillers at all except during the operation itself, of course. I managed to cut my post-op hospital stay to 36 hours instead of the recommended 72 and everything is fine, under the circumstances. So, the trip is still on, and we’re leaving on the afternoon of May 19th. In all fairness to the doc, I talked to some acquaintances who have had similar operations in the past, and they all recounted daunting tales of week-long hospital stays, month-long convalescences, morphium drips and infections… it was as well that I hadn’t heard of that before the operation! 😉

To prevent a relapse, I’ve been looking at software to interrupt my tendency of doing extremely long sessions at the keyboard. So far I’m testing Dejal Software‘s Time Out! and it works quite well… I may write something like that myself, later on, to my exact requirements.

So here’s our proposed itinerary. We arrive at London (via São Paulo and Amsterdam) sometime on the afternoon of May 20th. We plan to find a quiet little hotel somewhere and take it easy, with some short trips around London, until our cruise ship leaves on May 25th from Dover. Ports of call will be:

May 26: Kiel (Germany)

May 27: Warnemünde (Germany)

May 29: Tallinn (Estonia)

May 30-31: St. Petersburg (Russia)

June 1: Helsinki (Finland)

June 2: Stockholm (Sweden)

June 3-4: Copenhagen (Denmark)

June 6: Dover (England).

No Oslo (Norway) unfortunately… well, one can’t have everything…

There will be Internet access on the ship, but prices are outrageous: US$0.40/minute and up! Bah. On the MacMania 2001 cruise to Alaska I paid US$100 for unlimited access, and found even that a little steep. Charging US$100 for a little over 3 hours can’t possibly be technically justified.

After that, our plan is to take advantage of our BritRail passes and go all the way to the northern tip of Scotland and back. We’ll take the return flight from London early on June 22nd and will be safe at home sometime on June 24th – schedules aren’t favorable, unfortunately.

Should you, gentle reader, be interested in a meeting somewhere along the way, e-mail me with details as soon as possible; I’ll check in periodically at an Internet café. Suggestions for side trips and places to stay in Northern England and Scotland are also very welcome.

More as it develops…

Just noticed my blogroll (the list of links to your left) was somewhat out of date; now it isn’t.

These are most of the links I look at daily… now that I resolved to do this only once per day, I find I spend less time each day in the NetNewsWire time sink.


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The J-Walk Blog points (among the usual cornucopia) at one of the articles at Sentient Development, namely the one about Fundamentalism:

Imagine that you’re a psychiatrist. A new patient comes to see you and says that he regularly talks to an invisible being who never responds, that he reads excerpts from one ancient book and that he believes wholeheartedly that its contents must be accepted implicitly, if not taken literally.

The patient goes on to say that that the world is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs never existed. He brazenly rejects modern science’s observations and conclusions, and subscribes to the notion that after death he will live in eternal bliss in some alternate dimension. And throughout your meeting, he keeps handing you his book and urging you to join him, lest you end up after death in a far less desirable alternate dimension than him…

This ties in with some other things I’ve noticed recently; Italian scientists are acting against an attempt to ban teaching of evolution in schools, and believe it or not, there’s a creationist theme park in Florida

On another topic, Dave Pollard has again written some impressive stuff, if you’re not familiar with his weblog I recommend the recent Avoiding the Landmines in Entrepreneurial Business and The Stock Market as Ponzi Scheme, to cite just a couple. Highly recommended.

Preparations for the upcoming Europe/UK trip are being pursued in fits and starts. One fit happened yesterday and today when the tourist agency that is brokering our Russian visas (visae? visii?) phoned asking for my foreign resident’s registration number. While reading the number over the phone my eye strayed to the expiration date and noticed (picture a momentary pupil double-take here) that my foreigner’s ID card will expire on May 11th, 2004.

Now, I certainly have looked at that date hundreds of times over the past 9 years; the card was dated 1995; but I had somehow gotten used to it always being aeons in the future. A quick phone call to the Federal Police, who handle this sort of thing here in Brazil, was initially disquieting: it seems the Feds were (yet again) striking for better salaries and nobody would be able to take care of my problem until some vague future date.

Needlees to say, I could certainly travel out of the country with no problem using just my EU passport but getting properly readmitted later without a valid ID card – which is the only way I can demonstrate that I’m a permanent resident – would be somewhere between tricky and impossible. So, after some heated questioning of the lady who answers the Fed’s phone, we established that:

1) She was just substituting for the normal information lady, who was out on strike, so she couldn’t give us reliable information;

2) A skeleton crew of analogous substitutes would probably be on duty today, certainly in the morning and possibly also later;

3) Her boss had just said they would probably be able to give me some document certifying that it wasn’t my fault that they couldn’t give me the official document in time for my trip. Heh.

So, today early in the morning, off I went to the Federal Police building, presciently armed with a 40GB iPod, a thick paperback which I had just begun rereading (Greg Bear’s excellent Eon), several 3x4cm pictures of yours truly, and several documents which I supposed they might request.

It turned out that, despite the strike, normal activities were being supported by the substitute crews, so after an half-hour wait I had the chance to talk to an actual live substitute federal bureaucrat. My ID photos were deemed acceptable. I had merely to procure an authenticated photocopy of my expiring ID, pay a small processing fee of about US$23, fill out a form and return everything before 2 PM. The fee had to be paid at a bank some miles away, using a form that had to be purchased at a nearby store, and the photocopy had to be authenticated by a devilish Brazilian institution called “Cartório”, which I’m currently unable to describe more detailedly due to advice from my cardiologist.

Anyway, a few hours of standing in line later (that’s what I had iPod and book with me for, after all) I was back at the substitute bureaucrat’s counter. He was away at the moment but the helpful s.b. at the next counter volunteered to look at my papers. “Hah, that’s all wrong! The processing fee is a different value and we’ll need your passport, too! Who told you to do this?” When I pointed out the offending s.b’s counter, he advised me to wait for that person to return, which he did somewhat later, being immediately buttonholed by his neighbor.

After a hasty conference, my s.b. turned to me and apologized, saying that he was, after all, just a substitute bureaucrat and confessing that he had inadvertently quoted me the wrong processing fee. I was able to make a convincingly outraged face at his suggestion that I return to the bank to pay the correct amount and get restitution of the previous payment; he then helpfully offered to take care of this for me if I would give him the balance due in cash.

Although his suggestion sounded somewhat fishy, I said that I might consider if it the balance were not too large; how much would that be, anyway? He started stabbing away at a calculator and finally vanished into the inner sanctum for several minutes of consultation with his boss – an action which he would repeat a few times later. Thankfully, he returned with the information that the boss had considered the balance insignificant and no extra payment would be necessary. Hm. I forebore to repeat the neighboring s.b’s mention of a passport, as I didn’t have mine with me in any case – it was hundreds of miles away, at the Russian embassy in São Paulo, in any case – and nobody mentioned it afterward again, so there.

Next the s.b. informed me that I would have to wait until after 2PM, when the substitute fingerprinting expert would make his entrance. My weak reference to a huge sign that stated the office’s operating hours to be 9AM to 2PM was brushed aside with yet another invocation of the strike’s pervasive effects, so… at exactly 2PM I was back.

Nobody at the counter. I plugged the iPod in again and opened up my paperback – I was at page 286 by now. At last, my s.b. appeared and again took my reams of paperwork for examination. He pointed at some missing fields on the all-important form, which related to my arrival in Brazil in 1953; things such as the original passport number and other immigration details. I protested that I did not have that information anymore; after all, that was nearly 51 years ago and I had come in as family baggage, so to speak. He vanished once again and returned with a printout of my personal data from the database, where most of the missing information had been miraculously preserved, and asked me to copy it to the form. Purely for form’s sake, I presume.

Next an apprentice substitute bureaucrat (or perhaps a substitute apprentice bureaucrat?) was detailed to guide me through various corridors and elevators to be fingerprinted. Interestingly, two metal detectors were driven into a frenzy of beeping by my passage – I suppose carrying an iPod and a digital camera will do that normally – but neither of the s.b’s on duty nor my guide paid attention. I then was fingerprinted by yet another s.b. using the standard infernal sticky black ink – all ten fingers separately on one side of the form, thumbs on the other side, finger groupings below that, and finally the right thumb (again, reinked) in a separate field in the middle of the form.

I asked if they still hadn’t any better way of doing this, and the s.b. proudly pointed at a complex machine standing in the middle of the room, about the size of an ATM: “oh, now we have this modern laser-driven fingerprint scanner!” And why, then, did we just go through a classic sticky-black-ink procedure? “Ah well, this particular form hasn’t been updated for it yet, sorry.” I was then directed to the men’s room to clean off the ink. No soap or paper towels were available, although after some minutes of searching I managed to convince a passing cleaning lady to fetch some for me from the ladies’ room.

Back I went to my original s.b’s counter… more scrutiny of my papers… more consulting the boss… more copying of code numbers onto the form… and finally, after pasting my ID photos as well as several preprinted barcodes on the form, he tore off a small strip and gave it to me. “Present this and the photocopy at immigration and everything will be fine; your new ID will be sent to you as soon as possible.”

OK! What a relief… and when will it be ready, anyway? Perhaps in time for my trip, even? “Ah no! Count on at least two months!”… icon_lol.gif

CodePoetry and a bunch of others are pointing at this very long and interesting rant about developing for the Mac, by drunkenbatman.

It’s way too long to justify quoting any part of it; if you’re developing for the Mac, you must go read it (and the comments, too). I disagree with some of the conclusions – especially regarding Java and .NET – and the style is a little grating; I for one wouldn’t use slang like “prolly” outside of an informal e-mail or chat. Still, very recommended.

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