First day

Well, actually the first day was yesterday, with the E.V. meeting. Gosh, those meetings are long — I got up at 3AM to get my taxi to Schiphol, only to have my plane being late, which meant I missed my connection in Paris, which meant I was late for the meeting, which meant I missed the first half. But no problem: I got enough EV meeting to last me a year… Nice dinner, by the way, nice conference center, nice accommodation: those Andalusians do their students well!

We were all enjoined by Kalle to be at the conference center today at 9:00 sharp, because the Andalusian bigwigs were going to welcome us. Turnout was good, and the speeches were nice and short. Actually, these government under-secretary types appear to be knowing something about what we’re doing and about what they were going to be talking about.

A quick break to get my pink slip… And then back to listening.

The first talk was by someone whose name I missed about the Novell Linux Desktop. Well, it certainly seems a professional desktop, but, well, on the other hand, it goes completely against the grain of Matthias Ettrich’s original vision: have something unified with everything working the same. You don’t get that when you run OpenOffice, Evolution, Kopete, Firefox on top of either Gnome or KDE — and this guys appears to be very much a Gnome user. You still got a couple of toolkits — OO’s own thing, Gtk, Qt and XUL. Integration is improving, and they’re doing usability work… But you don’t get the integration you’d get with a whole KDE desktop.

He actually says that Kontact doesn’t work and Evolution does… Let’s hear the next presentation, which should actually have started about ten minutes ago.. It’s about Kolab, and I bet they’re going to tell us Kontact does work, does integrate with those MS mail server thingy and with Groupwise. Right now, I could do with more coffee. The little cup at breakfast wasn’t quite enough!

Right, Aaron is now going to introduce the Kolab talk. And he’s promising us this talk is going to prove the previous speaker wrong. Till Adam.

MS Office is replaced by OO, IE by Firefox, but nothing to replace Exchange or Lotus Notes. Both Evo and Kontact support as many backends as possible, but we’re never going to be as good as Outlook is at being outlook; playing catch up takes so much time we cannot innovate — it’s really hard to be an exchange client. We need to provide the full stack: client and server — and to offer painless migration paths. But there much perfect interoperability with Outlook clients.

Kolab gives us: enterprise mail server, scheduling, free-busy management, assigning, managing to-dos, shared mail folders, calendaras, addressbooks, notes, journal, management, multi-localtion and what not.

And Kolab works with apache, cyrus, openLDAP, Postfix, Amavis and Horde (for php apparently, don’t know about that…) That means it’s a complete Exchange replacement, and unless a company has let itself being ensnared by “special offers, just for you, it’s cutting our own throat…” by Microsoft for Exchange, you should move to Kolab. It’s not as if you really need to stop using your virus-vector, er, Outlook client on the client if you move to Kolab. There is solid evidence that Kolab works; there are many real-world installations with tens of thousands of seats.

(Ah, I’ve found the camera. Apparently there are webcasts!)

Kolab is so easy to install nowadays and so complete, you don’t need no expensive consultants anymore — should give that a try. We could use a shared calendar in our family. And in the Krita team. Memo to self: ask speaker to set the Krita developers up as Kolab group on the KDE kolab server. adam@kde.org, if I don’t get to the hands-on demo session. We need to share our todo’s in a more dynamic way than a wiki page. And I need Kolab at home, if just for the disconnected imap.

Kontact is great! (Even if marking all messages read is ctrl-r in Akregator, alt-r-r in KNode and alt-o-r in KMail components.) It doesn’t matter whether you use the kontact shell (I do) ar the companents apart — they still communicate with dcop. That reminds me — I need a dcop guru to help me.

Eeek…

The taxi driver just rang to confirm that I really, really intend to take a taxi at 4 AM to Schiphol to catch my plane to Malaga. My suitcase is packed, my laptop snugly in its bag (I hope there are power points in Paris to recharge it — it should just about survive on a single battery from Amsterdam to Paris), the 16 bit cmyk, grayscale and XYZ colorspaces are committed to svn, as are some UI improvements, and I’m nervous as hell.

A I said before, I hate traveling. Flying terrifies me, but the constant worry that my tickets won’t be in order, my passport vamoosed and all the rest — and I don’t know the language! — keeps me even more tense, as tense as a bow string.

So, I decided not to take another look at KPresenter (my presentation is fine, but KPresenter refuses to show the text I typed in the font I choose, and keeps bunching glyphs up like they’re really friendly and want to make little glyphs when running the presentation, it’s unreadable), but watch Errol Flynn as Robin Hood again. The tense-as-a-bowstring motif, get it? (Got it? Good! — time for the Court Jester with Danny Kaye!) Goodness me, what a glorious movie that is, and what an excellent idea to put an entire Warner’s night at the movies on the dvd — trailer, news, muscial performance, cartoon, feature film.

So… Did I mention I’ve got a horrible cold, too? I can’t believe I don’t need to pack cardigans, jumpers, sweaters, coats, long-sleeved woolen underwear, macintoshes and duffels. Rain, sleazy rain and snuffles.

Akademy

So I’ve booked for Akademy… Even entered a proposal for a talk about Krita on the users conference. Now I’m a bad traveler — I get nervous about forgetting about arrangements, I hate flying, I hate
having to take more luggage than my laptop bag, I don’t like going to a country I don’t speak the language, and I don’t have time to learn Spanish (or should I learn Catalan — must consult map) before Akademy, not with all the cool things I need to hack into Krita to make my presentation
worthwhile. Ah, yes, presentations. I’m bad at presentations. Since I know what I’m going to say already, and what I know is no longer interesting, I cannot imagine people will be interested either, which makes me even more nervous.

Ew… And the first mishap already happened. In order to be in time, I need to take the 6:50 plane from Amsterdam, meaning a taxi from Deventer. And I was sure I had selected an 20:00 plane from Malaga back, but somehow the stupid website disregarded that and booked me on the 7:00 plane… No hacking for me, the second day of the hackathon. And another taxi, probably.

On the plus side, we’re going to have our own little Krita hackathon in Deventer — not sure who will come, Casper has booked already and Michael has promised he’ll come. Rob Buis (of Karbon and ksvg2) has said he might come the Saturday to discuss re-use of gui between Karbon and Krita. I’m looking forward to that a lot.

German Beer

Despite the best efforts of the Romans — and creditable efforts, that have produced creditable results, notable a good Dornsfelder ’02 and a Spätburgunder, Germany is a beer country. Not that the 30.000 breweries produce a lot of variety. It’s pilsener, weisse or schwartzbier, and that’s it. (Or maybe they do produce a lot of variety, but in that case they collectively fail to a) get it into the supermarkets or the Getränkehallen, and b) advertise it. I’ve seen six different telly ads for beer, and it was all for lager-type stuff.

Not that the pilsners aren’t bloody good stuff, and so are the hefe weisse (either light or dark), and the schwarzbier. The ubiquitous Czech doppelbock was good, too.

In fact, I’ve have had only two bad beer experiences in Germany — maybe three if you count the drunk
three-some in the train from Göttingen to Gotha — one was with a certain gold-leaf coated pilsener called Braugold (gold is always a warning sign on any bottle). A nasty, sweetish, cloying brew.

The other was in Gaststätte Reichshof in Steinbach-Hallenberg. We had just walked about fifteen kilometers, around the Arnsberg, down to the Dörmbachstal, to the Grosse Hermansberg and the Knüllfeld. There we should have encountered a cafe, but it was closed (as usual, someone we met later told us). Then we continued over the Kieferle to the Erbstal, and down into Steinbach-Hallenberg. Gaststätte Unter Dem Linden was closed too. Urlaub. So we continued, and arrived at Reichshof.

Despite not looking all that open for business, it was, and we went in… A family of five was waiting for lunch. A few old Steinbach-Hallenbergers were chatting over a glass of mineral water.

Having walked that far in a reasonably hot sun, we were thirsty. The kind of thirst that makes anything wet taste great. Right?

We ordered beer and cola. After a quarter of an hour we received luke-warm cola with half an ice-cube per glass, and two lukewarm beers. The beer was poured in glasses still containing a generous
quality of the dirty water that had been used to nominally clean them. The beer was, furthermore, flat. I guess it was tapped from a keg that had been open for too long. I suspect — but too much had
happened to it to be sure — that it wasn’t that good a brew to start with. Not Werner’s, as advertised on the image above, I guess, but perhaps something else. The place contained a strange plethora of brewery give-aways, although the majority tended towards something to do with dragons from a brewery with “Schloss” in its name. It’s not that I don’t want to name the guilty party, I’m just not sure that it was the brewery’s fault… The food the other party got presented looked quite horrible, too. Even worse than the food we had in Hotel Wagner.

But on the whole, I miss the German beer. Even Grolsch is a bit bland — fortunately, our off-license now carries Pilsner Urquell, even though that isn’t as bitter I remember it used to be. Brands I particularly liked were: Leikeim and Hasseröder. Warsteiner is a bit watery. Tucher Bajuvator is a nice Czech doppelbock; Eisenacher Export and Schwarze Drache are really nice, too. Padeborner is nice and fresh, Bitburger is a bit weak. And I think I’ve forgotten about ten brands that were nice and hoppy, with a clean taste and an appealing fragrance…

Arnstadt

We went to Göttingen one Saturday to see my father off, who was to stay only one week with us. Unfortunately, Max Maulwurf threw a shovel into the works, so we had to cope with a detour by bus, in addition to four trains. However, fortunately, that bus went through Arnstadt, and past the palace. This palace is in the process of being restored, and the contrast immediately grabbed my attention:

This contrast is typical for the whole of Arnstadt: the most meticulously restored buildings next to ruins that need a lot of loving care and hard work. However, that work is being done all over the place. We started from the railway station, and went on to the palace garden, where we encountered our first little museum: the gardener’s shed next to the ruin of Schloss Neideck. This contained a maquette of the town as it was in the seventeenth century and a very enthusiastic woman who pronounced “kirche” as “kürshe”, which meant that following her as she pointed out the various bits of interest in the maquette was a bit hard.

There were workmen doing something good for the Neideck ruin, and they too were enthusiastic and told us all about their work. Proud, too, of their town, or at least that was what I inferred when I told one man that I rather liked Arnstadt: ‘Es gibst ja schlechter’. Or something like that. The bell tower of Schloss Neideck had been restored from a very bad condition: the stair had already fallen down in the eighteenth century. The Arnstadt solution was a bit like the one chosen for the castle in Kolding, in Denmark. Add a separate structure that is clearly in style and material different from the main ruin, which is preserved. In this case, a metal stairway and a wooden roof: the result here was quite good, as it was in Kolding, though I generally don’t hold with mixing new and old, as was done in the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam.

Pity, though, that much of the work is done on the cheap: white plastic window casements in renaissance fachwerk houses. But I guess that there isn’t a whole lot of money available for the town that advertises itself as Middle Germany’s Oldest Town. It was actually celebrating its thirteen-hundredth birthday:

There was no time for the Bach haus, for the railway museum, for the municipal museum, or for the palace museum. We did pass Karl Liebknecht’s birthplace, which was decorated with two plaques: one
from DDR times, celebrating Karl Liebknecht’s being born in the what the second plaque pronounced to be an old inn/apothecary:

The Liebfraukirche and the Bachkirche are really worth a visit. The Bachkirche has been restored, and is light and airy and presents an aura of joy. The Liebfraukirche needs a lot of work — a lot is being done, but more is necessary. It possesses two impressive sixteenth century altar pieces with sculpture, painting and historical graffiti. I didn’t feel like mixing snapshotting with being in a house of God, so I haven’t got pictures — but it’s as good or better as the big altar piece in the museum of Göttingen.

In the end, Arnstadt is currently two things: a heaven for the kind of artist who wants to sketch and paint dilapidated buildings after Anton Pieck, and a town that gives me a feeling of hope and energy: here people are working to preserve the heritage they are proud of. In a few years, Arnstadt will be clean, without rotten houses like this one, and that’s good, too. But I was great to see the work being done. Arnstadt: a place to visit and revisit.

(Oh, and the ice cream parlor has a delicious mint ice cream.)

Im Urlaub

When writing these blog entries — I should be coding on Krita, but I forgot to put an up-to-date copy of CVS and the Qt docs on the Pismo Powerbook I take on holidays to offload the holiday snaps on, so I can’t continue much — I am in the little town of Steinbach-Hallenberg, in Thuringia, former DDR, about and around the place where 1632 is situated. No venomous spiders spotted yet, but a couple of cool snakes. Of course, not having Internet access in the little holiday home we are renting, you’re reading this only because I’ve returned home safely (take note, gentlemen burglars), and because I turn out to still have Internet access, which wasn’t the case last year, when we went to Greece.

Right, first the piccy of the snake. I had never before seen a snake in the wild.

Quite often during these holidays some perfectly formed remark or a poignant observation made its way into my consciousness (apparently blogging is a habit-forming habit): of course, I wasn’t quick enough off the mark to jot them down, even though I did intend to do some Fading Memories notes on going here as soon as I recognized that this was not going to be a relaxing holiday but very much a culture-shock, learning and mind-opening kind of holiday.

A pity then, that you’ll have to make to do with what regurgitations I can wizard up in the train from Neudietendorf to Deventer… I think I have enough material, though, to work into several entries over the next few days. For now, some quick impressions about drink, food and the rest.

Not just the variety in sausages and pilsener beer (other styles are conspicuous by their absence, except for the nice Bock (Tucher Bajuvator) I am sipping right now), but also the enormous variety of soft drinks. The nearby mineral water factory in Schmalkalden also produces all kinds of flavored mineral waters, with herbs, and other soft drinks, like the DDR favorite Vita Cola (Nicht so süss, mit dem Citrus-kick) and Limette. Both are really delicious thirst-quenchers, and there are others. And others, and others. Lots of pork in jelly, too, but almost no beef.

Supermarkets are a disaster area. Even the best look like the Aldi we’ve got in the Netherlands, too. Box-shovelers. Price-fighters with a horribly limited range of merchandise. There’s still a marked difference between the old West and the old East. East Germany, especially towns like Gotha and Zella-Mehlis are drab and dreary, even when the sun is shining. We went to Göttingen one Saturday, and Göttingen is West, while Steinbach-Hallenberg and all of Thuringia is East.

The difference is unbelievable. Göttingen is awash with life. The people are healthier, the town is cleaner, the shops are better, even now, years after the Wende.

There’s a good museum in Göttingen; a thorough history of the town, including the Second World War, which was very emotional even for me, who is Too Young To Have Experienced it. Blame my emotions on a thorough anti-German upbringing and education. (My father has always refused, with one or two exceptions) to go to Germany on holidays.)

On the bus back (we went by train, but a new bridge was being built near Arnstadt, so we had a Schienenersatzverkehr from Arnstadt to Plaue), a friendly old lady from Aachen with black lacquered hair and a speech impairment from a stroke told me she was visiting East Germany because it was possible nowadays. When we passed Arnstadt’s Schloss, which has a completely restored wing, and a completely dilapidated wing, she told me how much East Germany reminded her of her own youth in ruined West Germany after the war.

In general, people were extremely friendly here in Steinbach-Hallenberg: from the kindly rentner, who took pity on us tramping through the rain from the Bahnhof to our holiday home, and first ferried Irina and the kids to the Käpfstrasse, and then my father and me, to the waitress in restaurant Das Wirtshaus (or Töpferhof — the name is not clear) and my father’s landlady in Hotel Zum Adler, our own family König, and many others. One feels really welcome here.

On the other hand, there are many, many drunk louts about. A lady in the train to Gotha who had obviously drunk a few beers too much (beer shouldn’t come in half-litre bottles, that’s too much for decency) was shouting at her companions that they shouldn’t put on airs since she hadn’t been ‘ficked’ by them, before collapsing in front of the train’s toilet, which was out of order on account of overflowing with urine. I have a feeling that uninhibited indulgence in alcoholic stimulants is a problem in these parts.

In this part of Germany, and perhaps in other parts, too, but I don’t know about them, when you order a Weinbrand or a liquor, you get a double measure without asking for it. Which also means you pay double the price, and if you don’t know about the custom this can give rise to unfortunate unpleasantnesses over the bill. It would provoke drunkenness, were it not that the single measures are very small, as opposed to the ordinary measure for beer: i.e., half a litre.

By the way: The restaurant I mentioned before, Das Wirtshaus (or Töpferhof), is actually truly excellent. We once made the mistake of having dinner at Hotel Wagner, and the food there was
execrable (of course, it’s the destiny of any food to be execrated, but that’s not material). Because all shops are closed in Germany from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning (with some exceptions, but
not exceptional enough for someone arriving at four-thirty Saturday afternoon) we went to Das Wirtshaus twice, once Saturday night, and once again next Sunday.

We had veal with pfifferlingen first, and the next day roast duck with steinpilzen. Both days an excellent German red wine. The children also sampled a mixed-meat stew and pancakes with bacon. And Thuringer klösse — large dumplings made of meal with bacon (bauchfleisch) — nowhere do they do a better Thüringer klösse than here. The food was not too salty, which is exceptional in its own right, and really quite perfect in every other respect.

Agent 327

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Agent327 comics by Martin Lodewijk are among the best, or even the best Dutch comics; and they shine even among Belgian or French comics. There are currently 18 volumes, with two more expected, and I count myself very fortunate to possess all 18. True, in various states of dilapidation, because these are comics to read, re-read and re-read again.

There are three series — the short stories rendered with wavy lines, first drawn for the Dutch comic weekly Pep, longer stories rendered with clear lines and gorgeous backgrounds for Pep’s successor weekly Eppo, and the new series drawn with fairly fat black lines and not as much precision (but a lot of graphical inventiveness, e.g. in De wet van alles) for the Rotterdam newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. Martin Lodewijk is being remarkably productive nowdays; this last series counts 8 albums published in four years.

There’s also one so-called mini-album, the smallest comic in the world —  Dossier Minimum Bug, in which Olga Lawina (a reference to Dutch yodel singer Olga Lowina), manages to enlarge her already impressive breasts even more; a change that doesn’t particularly appeal to me.

And recently it happened that I found myself re-reading all of them, and I was struck with how accurately and surprisingly these comics document the world as it was when they were drawn. Agent 327 is quintessentially Dutch, even though it started as a spoof of James Bond; and much of the scenery, many details and even plot points center around what’s considered typically Dutch, even though the stories branch out around the world.

If you re-read the first few albums, filled mostly with short stories, some things immediately are apparent: how empty Holland was, how ubiquitous smoking was (although Hendrik IJzerbroot, Agent 327 has never smoked). The stories are filled with little details that deserve, analogous with the Annotated Pratchett File, an Annotated Agent 327 File. For instance, while I do get the references to Victor Baarn (the alias HRH Prince Bernhard, the husband of Queen Juliana, used to cash his cheques from Lockheed), I am very hazy on modern popular culture, so I must be missing a lot in the second series of albums. For instance, who’s that particular young man Olga Lawina guards so closely? He must be a “Bekende Nederlander”…

Early next year a book titled “The Making of Agent 327” will apparently be published; perhaps it will fill this lacuna.