Bridge Update, Sep…um…October 2016

On the Move

We’ve been busy, like everyone, of course. We’ve been concentrating on the resolution of a small real estate drama, and trying to squeeze progress in that area around not one, not two, but three vacations planned out in advance. But that’s all coming to an end REALLY SOON.

When the bridge renovation project was announced, shortly after we moved onto this island in 2009, I thought for sure we’d still be living here when the project was completed. Bad assumption on two counts: it’s taken longer than expected, and we’re just plain done with this apartment. For several legitimate reasons, really, but none of them individually was the kick-in-the-pants we needed to get up and move.

"Bruckmandl 2006 08" by Karsten Dörre (grizurgbg) - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Bruckmandl 2006 08” by Karsten Dörre (grizurgbg) – Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Consider the pants collectively kicked. Which means we won’t be living on this island to witness the grand finale of the bridge renovation project and the return of the Bruckmandl to his ouchy-looking post. 1

We’re staying in Regensburg, but moving back into the postal code we had back in 2004, when we first moved here. It’s just on the edge of the Altstadt, close to the train station (good for my business trips to Nuremberg and Sarah’s rehearsals and concert planning stuff in Munich) and shortening my daily bike commute by about half. Our living space will remain about the same size, but with the added benefits of:

  • more natural light
  • more convenient parking
  • a more modern set of kitchen appliances
  • an extra half-bath
  • windows in both baths
  • a balcony
  • a small patio
  • a tiny yard
  • no chance for water damage from an apartment above us

Bridge Stuff

Perhaps this is the final stage of the renovation of this bridge!

This is the last unfinished section of the bridge, snapped before it was closed off to pedestrians and we could walk the entire length:
Bridge 20160923 Facing South

Scaffolding is up on the West side of the middle section now:
Bridge 20160923 Facing North

This guy has been hanging around on the bridge a lot lately, airing out his feet and drinking a beer after a bike ride. They’re putting the final touches on the newly-opened section of auxiliary bridge allowing pedestrians to bypass the work zone:
Bridge 20160923 Facing North

They’ve started dismantling the pylons supporting the auxiliary bridge at the South end:
Bridge 20160923 Facing South

Random Shots

Stadtamhof Nightlife

Sunset from Steinerne Brücke

  1. No joke, really — there’s a medieval torture device called the Spanish Donkey (spanischer Esel) that looks a lot like his perch. We saw it in the Fragstatt, the torture chamber attached to the Altes Rathaus. I do not recommend googling this device. []

Signal instant messenger app — now on all my platforms!

This is my White Whale: a messaging application I can use securely on any device I own, mobile or desktop, and any device my recipients are likely to own.

Recently, Open Whisper Systems released the iOS version of their Signal application that allows users to synchronize contacts and messages to a desktop application running as a Google Chrome app. Finally! I can send a message typed in through a full-sized keyboard and it will arrive on Sarah’s iPhone, or my parents’ Android phones, or any of their computers. It will arrive securely and without anyone or anything scanning it for marketing or surveillance purposes.

I have been waiting and hoping for this for quite some time. I think it is very close to replacing PGP-/GPG-encrypted email as the method of secured communication between individuals and among groups.

Comparison to email with PGP/GPG

Have you ever tried to send email secured via PGP or any of its derivatives? It’s daunting. I like daunting technical stuff when I can learn something useful from it, but I also like not annoying my wife and having my messages actually read much more. Some conceptual understanding seems to be required in order to use GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or GPG) effectively on the command line, and perhaps even as a plugin for an email client like GPGMail for Apple Mail or Engimail for Thunderbird. Compared to GPG, the use of Signal is a breeze. But that’s what they were going for, and it mostly works.

For the paranoid, similar to Threema and GPG, Signal allows you to double-check that your chat buddy is the same person you thought it was via a fingerprint. Threema does this via a QR code your phone’s camera scans in and compares. GPG lets you do this by comparing a string of hexadecimal characters yourself. Something like:

ED1B B3DB F817 F0AC 6549  3403 9774 CE21 01A3 2838

Signal does both: you can scan a QR code or look at the text.

Where does it not work, in comparison to GPG? As near as I can tell, file attachments are limited to images. So if you have an incriminating video or a stack of top-secret pages in PDF form, or even something as mundane as a bank statement or insurance claim you need to transmit, this service won’t cut it. 1

Comparison to Threema

I’ve been using Threema ever since a buddy recommended it to me over WhatsApp back when it was bought by Facebook. It cost a little bit, but I figured “Why not? Since I’m paying for it, there’s a good chance I’m not the product here.”

Threema covers most of my needs in a secure messaging application on a mobile device, and throws in some other neat features to boot:

  • It’s easy to embed stuff into the messages:
    • locations (opening in Apple Maps on iOS)
    • audio clips (great for when you don’t have time to type out a message, but you can speak one)
  • Threema does not require you to divulge your mobile phone number, whereas Signal does
  • Polls in a group chat are possible
  • You can send simple thumbs up/down answers to questions with just two taps on the screen

Sounds great, right? It also offers desktop messaging, but there is a huge caveat here: that is only possible when you write your own application to be used with the Threema API, at an exorbitant price per message sent. That’s probably okay for a company with an IT budget — not great for individual consumers trying to plan a vacation together or decide where to go for dinner tonight.

Comparison to WhatsApp

WhatsApp has been around a lot longer and therefore has a much more devoted fan-base — particularly among countries that used to (or still!?) charge for an individual text message. It’s got a lot of similar features to Threema. It even recently got a security overhaul, implementing the same encryption algorithm that Open Whisper Systems developed for their own Signal App. So what’s not to like? Briefly:

Open Questions and Criticism

I’m hopeful these things will iron themselves out. After all, this is a very young app (at least as it pertains to iOS; users of the Android mobile version have had longer to test out the Desktop app).

  • Synchronizing contacts and groups failed the first couple times immediately after installing the desktop…but maybe the failure was me being impatient.
  • I’m not sure how to start a new group on the Desktop version. Perhaps that has to happen on the mobile version for now.
  • Can you use it as an app on non-phone mobile devices, like iPads or Android tablets? Example: let’s say I have an iPhone and an Android tablet. I can get my iPhone to sync up my contacts for use with the Desktop version, but then where does that leave me on my Android tablet?
  • Google Chrome Apps may take some getting used to, and UI/UX purists will protest the unorthodox placement of the settings, lack of menu bar, etc.2

Why isn’t everyone using it?

Well, it’s pretty new. The blog post about support on the Desktop for iOS appeared near the end of September 2016, and the update to the iOS app just appeared on my phone last week. Plus, the masses may have just finally gotten used to WhatsApp as an alternative to texting, and they’re probably not interested in shifting to yet another piece of software for sending instant messages. Or maybe those who jumped away from WhatsApp to Threema are not interested in the ability to use a full-sized keyboard via a desktop app, and combined with the improved end-to-end security implemented in WhatsApp3 and low userbase, maybe Signal is not (yet) attractive enough to lure away WhatsApp users.

Other neat stuff

While waiting for Signal for Desktop to come out for use with iOS, I played around with a couple other Desktop apps.


Got a non-image file you want to send securely? Consider miniLock, which also runs on the desktop as a Chrome app. It’s conceptually the same thing as GPG: a public key your recipients have to know and a private key only you should know and crypto algorithms keep files secure. The difference here is that it’s compact enough to eliminate one piece of the puzzle: the public key (a.k.a. the miniLock ID) is small enough to fit in a Twitter post. Here’s my miniLock ID:


By comparison, here is one of my GPG public keys rendered as plain text:

Version: GnuPG v1


The miniLock key is certainly easier to store somewhere as plain text — like in your password manager program of choice (I like Password Safe, but use anything you like). You need another program just to keep track of keys for GPG-style public key cryptography, and then you have to painstakingly program interfaces to make easy use of it outside of the command line.


Cryptocat is another secure instant messaging program I’ve been playing around with. It’s got a bit of a checkered past, but it’s better now, even though it lost its support for mobile platforms. The UI is kind of clunky on Linux (hey…what isn’t?) and Mac OS X, but strives to offset that by being cute. I guess it works okay, but now that Signal for mobile platforms and Desktop is here, I think there is little need for it anymore on my machines.

Cryptocat and miniLock are both by Nadim Kobeissi.


Slack is a really fun-to-use collaboration platform. It was made by software developers for software development, but Sarah and I use it for planning trips with our pals in other towns or even other time zones. We also use it for collecting recipe ideas, strategizing our moving plans, or collecting links to funny web pages we know the other person will enjoy later.

You can store files with it, chat with it (on- and off-line), and link it into other online applications your organization probably uses for daily business (think CRM, travel, HR or time/resource management software). It’s usable on the desktop or mobile platforms. It all seems pretty secure, so what’s not to love?

It’s free to use in the hope that you upgrade to a paid plan, but the free plan is limited to a certain amount of messages and file storage before the older content starts to become unavailable. Your messages have to be organized into channels and your contact partners have to be invited to participate in your chats. For focussed, project-based on- and off-line communication including file-sharing, Slack is awesome. For general spontaneous “How ya doin’?” chatting, it’s way overblown.


Signal, with its mobile and desktop versions, seems to be the best thing going now if you need to reach

  • people on different OSen
  • with different hardware preferences (type with 10 fingers or two thumbs?)
  • who don’t want to drive the marketing machines

These benefits are all in addition to Signal’s potential as a tool for political purposes: journalists protecting their sources, victims of persecution evading their tormentors, etc.

It’s a bonus that the system is free (as in beer as well as in speech). If you’re already using WhatsApp (but feel dirty about feeding Big Data your bits) or Threema (but sometimes wish you could enter your messages with all ten digits), you might give Signal a try. You can donate to the Freedom of the Press Foundation to keep development going.

  1. But miniLock may be perfect for you in that case — read on! []
  2. Hat tip to my buddy @hackonteur []
  3. for messaging content — message metadata is still marketable or surveillable, right? []

Apartment Therapy

The verb ‘wohnen’ in German means to live, as in to inhabit. Thus the noun ‘Wohnung’ means apartment, as in place in which you live.

But what do you call an apartment that has become distinctly unliveable?

Our apartment is kinda weird, but it’s served our needs for 7 years now. It’s broken into two different apartments, covering the whole ground floor of our building. The front unit is the normal apartment, with kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room, and it’s where we spend most of our time. The back is two rooms w/a sink, officially designated as storage in light of the fact that there’s no heat back there. It’s perfectly comfortable 9 months of the year, and for the other 3, there’s a space heater. We have the guest bed back there and Cliff’s home office setup, but for the most part we use as a storage/laundry space. Due to the unusual arrangement, our rent is very reasonable, probably some of the cheapest per square meter in the Altstadt.

There are some small issues with the place – crappy kitchen arrangement, no window in the bathroom, etc. – but due to how inexpensive it is, we’ve been willing to cope. We may have reached our limit though with the recent, ongoing drama.

We got back from Italy and about a week later found a water stain on the ceiling of the kitchen. It happened before a few years ago and there was about 6 weeks of seeking out the leak (from the bathroom pipes of our upstairs neighbor), repairing it, replacing the water damaged materials and running an industrial dehumidifier. It sucked, but we got on with it and eventually our lives went back to normal.

This time around, though, nothing has gone right from the jump. After informing the landlady about the reappearance of the water stain, she came over with a plumber from the company that repaired it last time. They looked at it, touched it and said ‘yep, it’s wet.’ They wanted to include another company that specializes in water and fire damage, so that company came two weeks later to look at the water stain, touch it and say ‘yep, it’s wet.’ Those guys decided to bring in the insurance agency (to give a coverage quote for the repair) and an inspector, who came to visit two weeks later, look at it, touch it and say ‘yep it’s wet.’

Do you see a pattern emerging? We certainly did, as the leak persisted, the stain changed and grew mold and eventually began to actively drip through the ceiling into the kitchen.

No actual WORK took place until 6 weeks later. It was a two-front attack, tearing out the damaged portion of our kitchen ceiling and our neighbor’s shower in search of the leak itself. And it was an unqualified disaster.

1) The guys who tore out our ceiling were contradicted by the insurance agent, who said they were supposed to remove the WHOLE ceiling, not just the damage.
2) A different company was working on the shower tear-out and leak hunt – the same one that failed to find the leak years earlier.
3) They found a TON more damage than they expected, including rotten building materials and a penicillin farm’s worth of mold.

They brought in an industrial dehumidifier and ran it for a week, during which we had no use of the kitchen and our neighbor had no shower. A guy came to tell us to stop running the dehumidifier (but left it in our defunct kitchen). The damage was considered so severe that they needed the insurance company to reassess the situation and come up with a new quote of what they would cover for repairs. Then the companies involved had to come up with a plan for how to perform the repairs within the budget. And the whole time, we had no kitchen, our neighbor had no shower and the whole apartment reeked of mold and rot.

We started to get really worried. Are these apartments even safe? Did we need to stay at a hotel while the repairs are ongoing? Is this a full tear-down situation? Do we need to MOVE? Then the most amazing thing yet happened.


Nothing for 2 more weeks.

Worry morphed into anger. If you’re reading this, you know how much we LOVE to cook. I sent a plea out to Twitter for decent slow-cooker recipes, because the stove and oven were off limits. Eating out everyday sounds glamorous until you actually have to do it, then it’s just another chore, an expensive chore. Our storage rooms in the back were now holding the bulk of our kitchen and it’s cramped and we can’t find anything. And none of the parties are speaking to us or each other AND NO ONE IS RESPONSIBLE.

Finally, we had a date for the next stage. On Monday, they came to tear out the whole ceiling and the rotten wood supports and masonry and expose the giant beams that separate the floors. And the beams are soaked through. As an added bonus, they didn’t adequately seal the kitchen off and there is a revolting, choking layer of dust all over the living room and everything in it, since nothing was moved out or covered.

Given the extent of the damage, it’s possible that the entire first floor might need to come out and be rebuilt, if not the whole building.

So now we are looking furiously for a new apartment, preparing to move under duress. On the bright side, the kitchen is already half packed.

Some Notes on a Long Weekend in Rheinland-Pfalz and a Bridge Update

Rheinland-Pfalz Rund- und Mariä Himmelfahrt

Bavarians celebrated Jesus’ Mom’s Sky Trip on a Monday this year, so we did a road trip of our own. We got an invitation from pals in two different corners of Germany to meet up in a third corner to explore and enjoy. We’d been to a few wine festivals before (with thanks to the Heidelbergerin/Brummagemerin for introducing us to Neustadt an der Weinstraße and Freinsheim, which we loved so much we went back again a few years later).

We stayed in a cute little Ferienwohnung in Venningen, booked by our buddy in Flensburg through AirBnB. There was nothing happening in Venningen directly that weekend, but we drove around to a bunch of little towns and took the train to the biggest Weinfest in the area (thereby obviating the DD and allowing all of us to sample the wares).

Our AirBnB host, Fritz, gave us a little booklet with a listing of all the stuff going on in the area that weekend. We set courses for many of them. A few were wild-goose chases:

  • Roads leading to the villages were closed for construction
  • We got there looking for lunch, but the festival didn’t start until after dinner

But in the end, this trip was more about shooting the breeze with our buds, so it didn’t matter too much. Some highlights:

  • We attended our very first German tractor pull.
  • We were charmed by the half-timbered architecture of the smaller and medium-sized towns.
  • The Weinkerwe in Deidesheim was a particular treat. The town’s claim to fame is that Helmut Kohl introduced visiting dignitaries to Saumagen1 there.
  • We visited the Hambacher Schloß, a castle in the area used as a sneaky rallying point for German unity and democratization and especially liberalization the face of reactionary Bavarian hegemony in the post-Napoleonic Wars period. Whew.
  • The Weinessiggut Doktorenhof directly in Venningen was a weird, stinky little spot around the corner from Fritz’s Ferienwohnung specializing in hand-crafted vinegar-based consumables.

Bridge Update

Big news! We are definitely very close to closing one chapter and starting another.

Wake up Tuesday and discover what the bridge fairies have left for you.
Wake up Tuesday and discover what the bridge fairies have left for you.

Not too many more days like these left for this year!

View from Alte Linde
View from Alte Linde

  1. Think German haggis, but more muscular and less organ-y. Wikipedia has more info. []

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part V: the Drive Back

Catch up on the previous episodes here:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Early on the morning of our departure from Naples, Rachel took a taxi to the airport and flew to Sicily to continue her adventures there. We started a long drive back from Naples to Regensburg, stopping overnight twice along the way. Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part V: the Drive Back

Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part IV: Naples and Pompeii

It’s been a little hectic around here since we got back.

Our story thus far:

  • Sarah flew down to Venice to meet up with our pal Rachel
  • Cliff drove down to Piombino Dese to pick them up at the train station and eat and sleep at Ca’ de Memi
  • The three of us drove to Siena and explored for a few days
  • Then we made our way to Rome, where we walked A LOT and ate a lot
  • After five days in Rome, planned a route through Gaeta, tried some tielle there, and braced ourselves for Neapolitan traffic

It. Was. Bad. Continue reading Italy Road Trip May 2016, Part IV: Naples and Pompeii

Bonus Bridge Update!

Yesterday we were excited to see that the scaffolding and tarps obscuring the south end of the bridge are coming down!

Bayerischer Rundfunk is reporting that the third phase of the project (arches #3-5) is nearing completion. Arches #6-9 are up next, and the auxiliary pedestrian bridge that’s been standing around with no way for anyone to use it will be connected to the main bridge to divert Fußgänger and Fahrradfahrer traffic again soon.

South End of the Bridge
South End of the Bridge