On learning how to program a snake

I’m not particularly keen on snakes.

I don’t have anything in particular against them, but I have less for them. I have no desire to be bitten and/or poisoned and possibly even less desire to be squeezed to death.

This isn’t about that kind of snake.

***

Recently I started learning Python. That’s a programming language. One of many.

Luckily for me, my brother is a multilingual programmer.

He’s teaching me how to write python.

Or trying to.

He’s very knowledgeable and mostly incredibly patient.

I am not knowledgeable. At all. And I’m not patient enough when it comes to listening, testing and understanding. I feel like I’m not progressing fast enough but simultaneously not going slowly enough for it to really sink in.

He keeps trying to tell me I’m not totally rubbish, but my head keeps telling me otherwise.

There are so many opportunities to get completely and utterly lost. There are so many commands and functions and strings and lists and dictionaries and tuples and maps and syntax and arguments and types and loops and iterators and keys and indexes and classes and sets and definitions and numbers and ranges and braces and brackets and immutable things and sums and and….

… I don’t even know some of the words in ordinary daily use (and have forgotten them already) and have to have them explained before I stand a chance of understanding their role in the program.

The guy sitting across from us on a train home heard us talking, and watched us tapping away on my laptop. When he got to his station he stood up, gathered his things together, took a step towards the doors, paused, turned back and told me it’s fun when you get the hang of it. That makes sense. Most things get better as you get better.

I don’t give up easily, and I know it’s ridiculous to want to learn a language in a few days, but it’s frustrating floundering about in the simplest instructions.

We’ll see how I get on between now and next year/decade/century/millennium…

Wish me luck!

On soldering on

Once upon a time, I soldered something together in school. At some point between then and now I made some stained glass windows and some small Tiffany style pieces. That kind of involves soldering, but with a huge soldering iron and a reel of lead/tin you could probably knock someone out with.
Since then, my life has been almost entirely solder-free, with any necessary soldering being done by other people.

Turns out becoming the owner of a raspberry pi involves not only learning how to speak ‘programming’ (;)), but also how to melt tiny things together.

***

My colleague offered to lend me a soldering iron which was very kind of him, but I decided, on reflection, that maybe soldering =/= soldering. Plumbing and pi-ing seem to be on different ends of a scale, or at least far enough apart to need to step back a bit to see both at the same time.

I went to look at new ones in DIY shops, but even the ones marked ‘suitable for electronics’ seemed huge compared to the pins I needed to connect.

In the end, my brother bought me one online.

This one is a bit longer and fatter than a biro, is fairly lightweight and has a set of changeable tips, almost, but not quite, as tiny as the pins that need soldering!
***

A couple of days’ mental build up, and a couple of hours later, I am proud (ish) to present (dum-dum-dah!) the results of my first electronic soldering:

It’s not a work of art, and it won’t win any prizes, but the pins are all attached to the board, and are recognisably separate from each other and not all melted together. I consider that a success..

Having let it all cool down, I inspected my labours… It seems I melted the plastic casing enough to push a few of the pins through towards the other side :(.

Here’s hoping it won’t matter! πŸ™‚

On missing my Ks

I use various instant messaging apps on my phone. Just now, I opened one, and all the Ks were missing, from all the words.

​

Just imagine a world with no Ks.
Edit: my brother says that it was very k-less of me to lose them…

On rainbows and double ended candle burning

I’m trying to finish my ‘book’* before Saturday evening. Or at the very very latest by Sunday morning. That would mean I can send it off to be printed before I go on holiday. ‘Holiday’ is used in the loosest form here – it’s more a chance to revise ALL the things than a chance to relax.

But anyway.

Book.

It’s taking me considerably longer than I expected and I have been distracted considerably more than I’d hoped.

Most, but not all, of it self inflicted distraction [obviously]. Things like vacuuming the house or hanging out washing or putting up Christmas lights. Things like new fish and new filters and borrowed dogs and fish illnesses. Things like friends and Committee Meetings, and Forum-riots, and birthday travellings. Things like life.

I have written hideously long emails and forum entries instead of reading my course books, and spent time on the phone instead of on the computer.

I have started sorting my unruly collection of photos, instead of taking the ones I need and ignoring the rest.

I have even watched useless programmes on TV instead of revising or proof reading.

On the other hand, after several years of dossing**, my computer objects violently to having to work so hard, and crashes my writing programme every so often – just to make me appreciate its hard hard life. My brother helped pacify it, but it’s still not totally happy.

Rewriting or reformatting the same thing multiple times can make one mutter things like, “well isn’t that irritating”….

***

I have to work during the day and I have school every other evening during the week and at weekends, so when it comes to doing things I want to do, I’m left with lots of scraps of time squished between all the other things. Lots of those scraps are either too small to use, or occur when I’m nowhere near my computer.

Neither schools nor work is prepared to go away and let me write, so the answer is [obviously] to write at night when I would normally be asleep.

That’s not necessarily a problem – ​I work well, probably even my best, at night.

The problem is, I don’t work well at work if I’ve worked well at night.

I don’t even work well at getting up when I’ve worked well at night.

Not that getting up was ever easy. I’m not a morning person at the best of times, and when I’ve slept an average of 5 hours a night for a week or two, I am decidedly less so.

I can’t function at work without sleep and I can’t function at writing without work (to keep me in chocolate and heating). I can’t function at sleeping when I know I won’t finish writing in time.

Vicious circle?

Maybe. Maybe I’m just stretching the bow a little too far (German expression).

Maybe, hopefully, if I stretch it just right, it can be like a rainbow, and I’ll find there’s a pot of something sparkly at the end of it..

In the meantime, I’ll look more closely at all the colours emerging from the grey fog in my head.

Luckily DB is prepared to cook for me.

Luckily my colleagues understand  (a bit) when I’m unfocused.

Luckily I’m almost (!) finished with the book.

Luckily it’s almost Sunday.

Luckily I have ten days of recovery (and revision)*** in a warm country to look forward to.

Luckily I have the luxury of choice, even if things seem unchangeable.

* book = a project I’m working on for my grandparents

** nothing to do with MSDOS

*** R&R ??? πŸ˜‰

On learning to use libraries – part 1

One of the guys at school on Tuesday said they’d never been in a library before. (!!) Ever. Not as a little kid. Not in school. Not during his apprenticeship or Meister training. Not accompanying someone else. Never.

I can’t imagine a life without libraries, but I know DB doesn’t see the the benefit of them and I hadn’t been to a library for a couple of years (= until recently) either – since moving here. On a potentially related note, I haven’t been aware of as many bad spellers or semi-illiterate/dyslexic people en masse anywhere else I’ve lived.

Having said all that, I have to admit a lot of ignorance about libraries in Berlin…

The rest of this post was mostly written on the train while I was supposed to be reading reliable sources to use in my essay. I added to it gradually over the following weeks, and then pushed it to the back of my mind for a while. I’m dragging it out again because I need NaBloPoMo content and don’t have much time to write completely new posts.

***

I am (back in September) trying to write an essay. According to the lecturer, it is expected that these essays are not only of highest quality but are substantially grounded in facts, figures and quotes from clever people. We are expected(/=required) to use libraries and ‘proper’ sources, instead of relying on ‘people-on-the-internet’ to tell us the basics in easy to read articles.

A couple of weeks (= now months) ago, I would have sworn I knew how to use a library.

Now, I’m not so sure…

***

It started when I could barely find my way into the first library I tried to use since moving to Berlin. (I still can’t believe it took me almost 3 years). I’m not at all used to libraries being upstairs, above residential flats. After browsing the sale-table and waiting for the librarian to finish talking to the people before me in the queue, it turned out I couldn’t get a library card without not only proof of identity (which I had on me), but also proof of registering to live where you live (which I didn’t).

I went home with an application form and a couple of books I bought in the sale.

***

The second, steeper, learning curve presented itself in the second library – one on the way home from one of the places I work, in a building that would be better suited, from the outside, to a museum. This time I was better armed with all the paperwork I could think of.

I wasn’t armed with the knowledge that libraries sometimes have unattended back doors. I stood at the desk for the best part of 10 minutes before deciding to investigate. Three people-empty rooms later, I found a couple of incredibly helpful library-ladies.

I was issued a library card and a password and a card number and henceforth expected to scan my books in and out by myself. I don’t remember ever having to do that before. They do have a very cool machine to do it with though. It looks like the kind of scales you sometimes get in supermarkets – the kind with a stainless steel plate and a touch screen – but it must have some kind of scanning device hidden away somewhere because it knows what the books are as soon as they land on the plate (and displays their titles, authors and publishers on the screen). Also, the label it spits out when you poke the right buttons isn’t sticky… but having a list of the books is a very sensible idea!).

The library is part of a Berlin-wide collection* of libraries, but is very small, in a residential area, so books about obscure academic subjects don’t take up much room on the shelves. As the librarian said, “They’d be out of date before they’d been read twice”. She did find me a book about laws and a couple of ‘personal experiences’ books though.

***

The third curve was hideously steep, and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t reached the top yet. Probably not even half way.

There are at least 3 universities in Berlin. Each has a number of libraries. One company I work for has some kind of agreement that I can use them too. I say ‘can’, I probably mean ‘am allowed to’** – there was very little ability involved.

For starters, I had no idea the uni had so many individual libraries until I’d followed signs to one and been told I was in the wrong place for the kind of books I was trying to find. The second one I came to was appararently also wrong, and the third one was only approximately right because it was “cental” and had a bit of everything in.

I wandered round the foyer of a deserted-looking university building for a while, looking for the library. I would probably still be there if the man in the sentry box hadn’t taken pity on me and pointed me in the direction of an even more deserted-looking staircase, mostly hidden behind a dividing wall.

Luckily the sign on the door said Library, because the first thing that struck me when I finally arrived, was the severe lack of books. There were tables and fancy reading lights and sofa-chairs and computers and a help-desk, but no books. I decided to act even more helpless than I felt and plead innocence to the librarian-students behind the desk.

Trying to get a library card was a joke, although not nearly as funny as trying to take books out turned out to be. There are boxes to tick if you are a student or a professor or probably a travelling monkey, but not if you are me. I was stumped and the librarian was stumped and after a lot of discussion and a phonecall, it was agreed that I would be considered a student because that was easiest way to convince the computer to give me a library card number that wouldn’t give me the rights to all the forbidden books.

In the middle of all this, I phoned DB to tell him I might be some time and to eat without me. That was good, because I have never spent so long achieving so little in a library***.

I grew up with the Dewey system. For anyone who didn’t, it’s a system for arranging books by subject. Each subject is allocated a number from 0-9, with each specialisation (i.e. nature -> animals -> mammals -> dogs -> dog training) getting an additional digit. It is usefull and used, in varying degrees of complexity, by practically every library I’ve ever used, EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE! This one has decided, for whatever reason, to sort its books by date-of-purchase.

The only way to find (=look for) anything is to use the search function on the library computers. Once you find something, or in my case approximately 3000 somethings, you have to go through the list, clicking on individual entries to open the drop-down info box, trying to figure out which you want to borrow. This decision can be based on the title, occasionally a brief description or a chapter list and the author, although since I don’t know anyone famous for writing about unemployment the author was unimportant. Once you’ve decided it might possibly be interesting enough to look at, you have to click through to get the 12-digit-number and write it out on one of the many stacks of precut scraps of paper littering the tables.

Armed with a list of long numbers, you can ask the librarian for permission to go into the book, get sent back to the locker room to lock your bag away, go back to the desk and be shown to a corridor leading to a long, narrow room jam-packed with bookshelves – far closer together than in any ‘normal’ library. So close that two people couldn’t stand back to back and look at the books. Anyway. The shelves are arranged by year. Helpfully, the years are written in HUUGE lettering on the floor. The last couple of decades (from 2000, with space for the next few years ;)) were crammed into the top floor, all previous years were on lower floors.

The 12-digit-numbers are each stuck on the spine of the books, the way Dewey numbers often are, so at least that much was familiar. What wasn’t, was the way they started on the top shelf of the first bookcase and continued along the top of the next 4 bookcases before snaking back along the second shelf.

A long time later I emerged, fully phased, with a grand total of 3 books.

Sometimes, it seems, you shouldn’t judge a book by its contents page either.

 

To be continued…

* collective term for libraries, anyone?

** or ‘may’. However, despite the best efforts of multiple wanna-be-hilarious teachers, I have so far successfully refused to establish ‘may’ into my active vocabulary (except as a month), and I don’t plan on doing so any time soon…

*** not quite true πŸ˜‰ I spent/d a lot of unproductive time in a lot of libraries. It just wasn’t as frustrating as in this one.

On firsts

Today was a day of firsts.

Not only did I drive the best part of 600km across Germany, I also ate at a restaurant by myself :).

In addition, there were a whole heap of smaller and/or tiny firsts, including mending/editing the directory of the work’s computer to get it to recognise the user profile, diluting antifreeze for my windscreen wiper water, buying my first own iced coffees in a supermarket (I’ve only ever drunk/stolen DBs’ up to now), poking the button on a car park machine to provide me with a ticket and make the barrier go up (had to back up and try again to be anywhere near close enough to reach it! ;)), unwrapping and eating toffees while driving, changing the radio station while driving, driving on a motorway in the rain, overtaking 3 lorries at once (admittedly not in the rain), driving at 160-170kph (for more than a few seconds), driving through an 8km tunnel, navigating the million traffic cones in a roadworks-labyrinth in the dark, driving in a pedestrian precinct (by mistake), not finishing a meal in a restaurant..

The pedestrian precinct by day. This is where I found the way out πŸ™‚

I am now incredibly proud of myself, and even more incredibly sleepy.

πŸ™‚

πŸ™‚

πŸ™‚

Good night all.

πŸ™‚ zzzzzzzzz

On things I really need to stop getting angry about

  • Holes punched on the wrong side of the page and therefore filed upside down (standing on my head is bound to be good for my circulation and flexibility)
  • Papers filed in chronological order, except when they aren’t (looking for the 9th between the 6th and 7th will be second nature soon, and everyone needs more games of hide-and-seek in their lives).
  • Brand new rolls of bubble wrap, unpacked and stood upright to collect dirt on and in both ends (cleaning your packing materials before wrapping things is therapeutic – almost meditative).
  • Files saved under false names and dates (see hide-and-seek above).
  • Papers joined together with paperclips although they should be separate, or not joined when they should be (it’s like a huge free-for-all game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, with multiple donkeys).
  • Finding spelling mistakes in posters, AFTER they’ve been sent off to be hung up (we could offer a prize to anyone who finds them all)

***

Can you tell I’m working in the office today??

On some of the dangers involved in being a baby Trauermantelsalmler

We have babies!

Fish babies! πŸ˜‰

(Can you tell I’m excited yet?)

At least 3 of them! (From approximately 500 eggs, according to the fish website I consulted)

Totally unexpected too…

***

On Tuesday I came back from England. I was there for a week and had been travelling in Germany for a few days before that.

It’s amazing what changes in a couple of weeks. My baby catfish are almost double the size they were when I left (:)) and the discus we quarantined died just before I got back (:(). The plants are threatening to turn into triffids (:/) and the duckweed layer was thick enough to block out most of the light.

This evening I finally got my act in gear and skimmed the duckweed off the top of the water in the big aquarium. I was planning to change the water and suck up all the algae from the bottom of the aquarium too, until DB said he’d prefer it if I cropped some pictures ready for printing on a T-shirt for a friend of his. I was almost finished with the duckweed anyway, so I stopped and decided to carry on with the algae tomorrow – one day more or less is no big deal… This algae grows faster than I can get it out, and collects in dust-bunny-like clumps. I don’t even know what kind of algae it is, but it’s how I imagine underwater tumbleweed..

Before I headed upstairs to the computer, I sat back to admire the light reaching all the way down to the pebbles for the first time in ages – and something tiny moved… We don’t have anything tiny living in there so I looked more closely – and there swam a very (VERY) small, VERY cute, perfectly formed, baby Trauermantelsalmler fish :). Not much longer than 4mm and a whole lot thinner. Then it was gone, hidden in a mess of long wavey ‘grass’ and tumbleweed. Then there was another one, smaller than the first, but still identifiable as a TMS, followed by a third. What a good thing I didn’t change the water!

I don’t know how long they’ll last since ALL the other fish (including the parents) are hungry savages when it comes to tiny baby fish (cuteness doesn’t get them anywhere; they’re better off swimming fast and hiding well) but I’m pretty sure there’s at least 3 which have made it this far (something like 8 days judging by the size) so we’ll see. Wish them luck πŸ™‚

***

WHOOO!!!

On sight-snoring

I am on the road again. Or more rather on the tracks. Since I’m travelling almost entirely by train.

Whatever.

It’s a 7 1/2 hour journey from where I live to where I have to be at 7pm.

Instead of leaving at midday and making a usual late appearance, I chose an early train so that I arrived at about half past 2 and had time to admire the town. I’ve been here before but didn’t get to see much of the 16th century architecture and pokey cobbled alleyways.

There’s also quite a lot of a castle left – although it’s not quite IN the town itself, it’s still not too far to walk.

That was my plan.

It was raining lightly when I got off the train. Grey and damp is always the best way to see a town…. *sigh*.

After wobbling along the line between what I wanted to eat and what I’d given up for lent at the ‘proper’ bakery next to the station, I wandered towards the hotel via a church closed for repairs and a graveyard with a mixture of war memorials and more recent memories, my pink umbrella standing out from all the grey like the red-jumpered man in a Constance painting.

When I got there the hotel foyer was deserted, except for a landline phone (with a curly cable :)) next to a small sign with a phone number on. Once I’d convinced myself that there really wasn’t anyone around, I phoned the number and let it ring a couple of times before hanging up.

The hotel man, who appeared a couple of seconds later, seemed a bit miffed that I’d hung up on him, but he still handed me the key for my room, which was all I wanted anyway πŸ™‚

I dumped my bag, went to the loo, sat on the bed and promptly decided to take off my coat, shoes and glasses. Big beds can only mean one thing – sleep!

Fast forward a good couple of hours (can almost 3 still be a couple??) DB phoned to get my help setting up a new computer. (That’s a bit like me phoning him up and expecting him to talk me through changing the oil in a new car, one neither of us has ever seen before…).

And now it’s time to go to the restaurant for an evening-before-the-real-meeting meeting.

Ho-hum.

Next time I’ll have to plan to get here a day in advance!

On SatNags and Maps

I wrote this ages ago, but somehow never got round to posting it…

***

Last summer, DB and I went on a road trip along the south coast of England in a weird and wonderful VW van. The van is truly wonderful in all sorts of ways, but its weirder habits are a little bit annoying. One of its favourites involves playing with CDs (as opposed to just playing them like normal cars). The game starts the same way playing CDs does, you poke them into a slot in the dashboard one at a time. Then the fun starts. They spin round ever so fast, making strange noises and come out etched with sparkly spirograph patterns. The game can be played repeatedly, but after a while the patterns aren’t as pretty and look more of a mess. The van especially likes playing this game with expensive CDs. It’s very most favouritest are the ones with maps on them. The special VW ones which cost a small fortune every couple of years.

After playing the CD game with the van a couple of times we bought a map. It was a Good Map, the sort where the page order makes sense and doesn’t have Southhampton next to York on a double page spread (Our German one has the equivalent. Don’t ask). Also, the sides of the pages have arrows with a page number in each directions so you can find the next part of the map.

When we got back to Berlin, DB’s Dad bought a SatNag. It was cheaper than getting a new CD for the van.

Technology is a wonderous thing.

People are too.

Some people have incredibly good ideas and other people are incredibly good at making them work. Later, other people take the ideas a step further and make them even better.

For example, maps are a Good Thing. Someone started drawing directions, the next person coloured them in and the next bundled them into books. Someone decided to use satalites to make them more accurate and the next person took the printing stage out of the equation and let us use the satelites almost directly.*

Satalite Navagation is another Good Thing.

Having someone tell you where you have to turn left or where you can find the next petrol station is really useful if you’re on your own. Fitting a stack of road maps into a device the size of a phone is a genius idea, even more so when you consider how easy searching for miniture villages or specific motorway junctions becomes.

However.

Sometimes it isn’t the idea that counts.

Also, sometimes, good ideas don’t need improving.

We discovered this when we borrowed DB’s Dad’s new SatNag for the Christmas journey from Berlin to my parents house in picturesque (and very rural) south England. He bought a new one after the old one mysteriously went missing in about March. He said we’d lost it, we denied all knowledge and said he must have lost it*. He said he hadn’t seen it since we used it when I moved house. We agreed that we’d used it for that journey, but said we’d given it back when we arrived. He refused to listen to us and said…

Except it doesn’t matter what he said, the argument didn’t get us any closer to actually finding it so he replaced it. Simple as that.

Since then, he’d turned it on a couple of times, mostly to see whether the nice lady approved of how he drove to work, but none of us had driven anywhere ‘foreign’, or even more than 200km away.

As sensible organised people (count me out of this one, I can’t take any responsibility here), we decided to test the thing before setting out. We wanted to know where we would be driving and how long it was going to take. I was satisfied with the version Google Maps had thrown at me, but apparently it’s better to look at things the way it’s going to be in real life.

After about an hour faffing about with the new-fangled interface and typing in all kinds of things, DB was incredibly miffed (and a little bit outraged) to find that the car would fall off the edge of the known world just outside Dunkirk.

It appears some genius decided to bring out SatNags with “Europe” on them, but not bother to including Britain. Croatia’s on there, Greece is on there, even most of Russia is on there, but no England. The marketing department must have thought they could make a fortune out of selling the 4 (or 5) updates separately**. The old SatNag had England on it, and set the whole “you lost it” – “no, YOU lost it” debate off again.

It took 4 of with 2 computers and a laptop the best part of 6 hours to decide there really, REALLY was no England on the stupid thing, and that there was no chance of getting an update for less than the price of a new SatNag.

Hmm.

We set off regardless and hoped for the best.

About 350km from The Edge Of The World, we found the road map. Complete with handwritten recommendations for good campsites ;).

***

It rained half the way across Germany, all the way across Belgium and through the tiny part of France which leads to The Edge of the world. It was still raining when we fell off the edge, and also most of the way to Dover. When we got there, it cleared up just long enough for the sun to come out, and for me to say, “SEE! It DOESN’T rain ALL the time!”, before it started to get dark. Apparently the rain not only appears to have a deal with The Continent, it also has a deal with the dark and the wind. Whatever. It kept us company all the way home.

The map was just as good as it was last year.

I distinctly remember more fish and chip shops on the coast front though. It took us the best part of an hour of driving round in circles in the rain before we finally found someone willing to sell us something to eat. Admittedly it was far too early for dinner, but we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were hungry.

The rest of the journey was incredibly straight forward. I looked at the map, looked at the signposts, pointed out which lane we should be in, informed DB well in advance where we should turn off, what road number to look out for. All that kind of thing. And I was the water monitor ;). (Opening bottles while driving has got to be at least as dangerous as pressing the loudspeaker button on a mobile…)

We got home (to my folks) a little bit later than planned, but we didn’t get lost, or miss a junction. (Except the one we avoided on purpose because of traffic jams).

That’s a lot more than I can say about the journey back.

***

We found the original SatNag in the pop up table in the back of the van. (The table wasn’t in there as I moved house – the van was full of my stuff.. Whatever.)

Obviously we were chuffed to bits to have found it and duly plugged it in to charge. It took a bit of getting used to after the new one, but we eventually got the SatNag set up to take us to the tunnel on the way back to Berlin.

Right from the beginning she had odd ideas of where to go. I got the map out 20 minutes down the road because I couldn’t remember EVER going the way she was directing us. Despite me trying to look at the map as well, we got lost, took wrong junctions, changed lanes at the last minute and generally had a lot small heart attack moments. The nice lady didn’t recognise some of the roads, said helpful things like “exit the motorway NOW” while we were in the fast lane. She didn’t say anything when we headed into instead of round London and I ignored her when she told us to use the minor roads which ran parallel to the motorway.

I vote we stick to map reading in future.

* Or something like that. (twice ;))

** Or they were banking on Britain leaving Europe…………….