Salut de Iași!

I’m back in Iași this week for something like my 7th (is that right? that number seems pretty low) trip to Romania since the initial one in November 2006. I’ve not been back here for a visit since March 2009 — it’s really unusual for me to not visit for a whole year, but then again, my team has come to visit me in Germany in whole and in part, so although I haven’t been here as much as I like, I think the contact to my group is still good — I hope they agree.

I’m making a little bit more* of an effort with the language this time, thanks to a nifty Berlitz phrasebook from my parents. I think it has helped a lot with my pronunciation, too: I learned that I have been saying some things incorrectly since the beginning. Oops. And this is despite the fact that modernization has been tricking me. How? Well, view this post in Windows (XP or earlier) and take a look at the character between the a and i in the title. Does it look like an ‘s’ with a little comma below it? Or just a box? Odds are, it’s just a box (unless you’ve already installed the European Union Expansion Font Update). Boxes instead of proper characters are ugly, so while the rest of the Latin (more or less) alphabet world was getting their personal computing and desktop publishing and graphical design on with all the characters they needed for their languages, Romanian has not been patiently waiting for the s-comma and t-comma characters to become part of Unicode 3.0 standard, and for the biggest share of the computer-user market to support it. Instead, they by-and-largely just pressed on ahead, substituting ‘s’ and ‘t’ for ș and ț. Perhaps locals had to compromise — they wanted to use computers and had to settle for incorrect characters (or sometimes using t/s-cedilla substitutions, which are a little better, but still not correct).

papanașiWhat’s the big deal? Maybe nothing at all for native speakers who know what the words sound like, or kids who started learning to spell in the post-XP / Unicode 3 world. But I sound like a schmuck ordering “mamaliguta” instead of “mamaliguța” and “papanasi” instead of “papanași.” But after living in Bavaria for six years, I know a șnițel when I see one — no matter how it’s spelled.

*Zero plus 10% still isn’t very much.

VLC + Handbrake + DVDs = iPod/iPhone video joy

I’m leaving tomorrow on a business trip to Iași. It will be my first trip there in over a year, and a bit longer than my normal trips (a full work week; something I don’t normally do).

Now that I’ve got this iPod touch thing though, and it has injected itself into many aspects of my life, I decided to try to take advantage of its 32GB storage capacity. I have several DVDs sitting around waiting to be watched. Why not watch them on the plane on my iPod tomorrow? But how can I rip the DVDs (something I’ve never done before) to a format my iPod touch can handle?

I downloaded a few trial versions of payware DVD rippers, and they didn’t work so hot (wrinkly distortions in the final product, plus the watermarked logo until you cough up for the software registration). My favorite geek reference site — ISCABBS, a place so geeky you have to use telnet to get in there — came to the rescue with a recommendation to use Handbrake together with VLC. At least on Mac OS X and Linux, having these together on your computer will allow you to rip right from a DVD into an iPod/iPhone compatible format — for free. Handbrake also nicely converts other video formats — apparently pretty much all of them — into a few of the more modern ones, like MP4 via the H.264 codec. I ripped the DVDs (and converted a few other video files I had lying around) in Handbrake and then dragged the converted files from the Finder windown onto my iPod in iTunes.

Works like a champ — love that.

WEBMU 2010 — Hamburg, but when?

The polls are open for the next couple of weeks to pick a date for our expatriate blogger meetup in Hamburg. You have about two more weeks to register (if you haven’t already) and indicate which of the proposed weekends works best for you.

If you’re not an expatriate blogger in Germany, but a registered member you know will vouch for you, register anyways and have that member drop me an email.

WEBMU 2010: Hamburg!

The polls have closed: we’re meeting up in Hamburg this year. Next up: deciding when to meet up and getting the details nailed down (like accomodation recommendations and where to eat, and stuff like that).

One place I wouldn’t necessarily recommend: Hotel Stern on the Reeperbahn. You can’t beat the location, if you’re into that sort of thing, but the room itself wasn’t so great. Except for two things:

  1. the price (at least back in December 2005 it was dirt cheap)
  2. the industrial strength shower — amazing water pressure

If you’re an expatriate blogger in Germany, and would like to know more, sign up for our expatriate blogger discussion board. Don’t forget to give us the URL of your own blog in Germany and at least a rough idea of your location in Germany (like the Bundesland or city where you live).

Lufthansa Deal until 16:00 Today!!

As a Mother’s Day promotion, Lufthansa is offering up to 40% off selected destinations. I tried out a sample itinerary (MUC-BOS, 24 Nov-28 Nov) and it returned a great schedule and price, under 650€ for both of us, R/T.

You must book today by 4pm, depart between 15.10.2010 and 15.12.2010, return between 17.10.2010 and 15.03.2011 (!) and stay for a minimum of 6 days (as opposed to the more common 2). The default departure city is Frankfurt, but I changed it to Munich for my search and the base price came back lower than advertised.

Happy travels!

Nerdin’ out with Kubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala”

My venerable old vprMatrix (I think it was a Best Buy house brand) computer has gone through a power supply and video card and I’ve beefed up the hard drives on it a couple times. Now I think it might be time for its second video card. I upgraded it from Kubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) with the intention of going straight to Kubuntu 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” LTS, but alas, the 8.04 “Hardy Heron” release of Kubuntu was not deemed an “LTS” release, so I have to hop, skip and jump my way around here a bit to fully modernize the OS on that box. If I even get all the way there.

The upgrade seemed to go OK to 9.10, but once I rebooted into Kubuntu 9.10, I noticed one thing immediately: the snazzy new (to me) KDE4 environment was not drawing the windows properly – parts of most (but not all windows) were displaying ostensibly correctly, but the title bar of every window was garbled with a repeating pattern of lines — some vertical, some horizontal. So much so, that I couldn’t read the titles of any of the windows I clicked on. I had to rely on my old friends, the keyboard shortcuts, to call up a console session and turn the machine off via command line. I googled around a bit and found this: Window corruption with older ATI graphics cards

The tips there fixed my window display problems, but I wonder if I should just upgrade the video card anyway. Scrolling seems clunky; 32MB of RAM on the graphics card just might not cut it anymore. We’ll see how it looks when I get to 10.04 (another 1500 files have to be downloaded and configured and installed and …).

Raising the Maypole

Today we took the bus out to Harting to witness something we’ve been hearing about for a few years now, but never had the chance to witness: raising the maypole in Harting. Our pals who live in this village to the South and East of Regensburg were already there, reserving a table. I observed the whole process, from the band parading into the village, the representatives of the village’s volunteer fire department and sporting clubs bringing the pole into town with their bare hands, to the hour-long process of aligning the base and gradually propping the pole into vertical position, all while staying well-supplied with Maßen of Bischofshof.

You don’t get this kind of cuteness in downtown Regensburg, or on the island where we live. I dug it.