Oct 28, 2009

Meat market and other memories

Wednesday's photo was taken from a bus stop at one of Bergen's main intersections, between our historic, Hanseatic wharf "Bryggen" and our open-air fish market. In the comments, Alice asked me what the building in the middle was, and this was my reply:

The building in the middle with the stepped gable used to be our meat market. We shopped there when I was a kid, ropes of sausages and whole sides of beef or mutton hanging all over, and a contrasting black and white tiled floor (which is still there).

The tiles are large, and on a diagonal. Today, the meat market houses a café and a few delicatessens. What used to be the city's main delicatessen (with jerkied reindeer meat and innumerable types of cheese) in the basement, is now part of the restaurant chain "Egon" (oddly, the traffic isn't that disturbing when you sit in the outdoor part). But when I was a kid, and going to the city was a project, with lists of which stores to hit where, and therefore also planning where to park the car, the meat market contained meat. And butchers.

Back then, there were stalls on one side of the building where they'd chop and carve meat and on the other long side were the sausage machines, and down the full length of the building between was that graphic floor, creating quite the contrast. We didn't wander much in the bulding; it was a work place. Customers waiting inside the entrance by a counter. From there, I could see into a few of the nearest stalls. All over, ropes of sausages and whole sides of beef, pork or mutton hung from hooks or wires. Sometimes, one of the butchers would see the little girl waiting with her folks, and offer a piece of sausage. I usually turned the offer down. It wasn't the sight of a man in a bloodied, white butcher's gown that made me not want to eat anything; it was the smell. Raw meat just doesn't smell as good as cooked, you see.

BTW, Wednesday's photos shows several preserved buildings, as declared by the directorate for cultural heritage. What looks like a quaint tourist attraction is actually where I live and do all the modern things of life, including visiting a therapist. The one I saw had an office in the red and yellow building on the right of the photo. I discussed what was bothering me under slanted ceilings and on crooked floors. The owners of the building want to redo the insides, but it turns out that they can't without destroying the outside: It is a fake stucco facade. The building is actually all wood. Many buildings in Bergen are; the stucco fronts are meant to be firewalls. Sometimes preservation renders a building useless, and there are only so many museum pieces a city can handle, in my opinion.

Speaking of museums: On the other side of the meat market stands a crooked red building. It isn't just my camera lens distorting it; it really does lean. It is the Hanseatic museum, and inside it still smells of dried cod. Some of these buildings are suffering from the traffic that passes them; neither the dust kicked up nor the vibrations through the ground do aging buildings any good. Our medieval St. Mary's church is now closed for repairs after being hammered by modern life a little too long. I last walked by her Saturday, on my way to get my hair cut (that's why I was at the bus stop; I was on my home). The church was covered in blue tarp.

Behind St. Mary's (Mariakirken, in Norwegian) runs what used to be the main road into town from the north, and Bergen's oldest street: Øvregaten, a two-laned cobblestoned street. Its original name was Stretet (from Latin's "strata" - you know, street), later changed to Upper Street (Øvregaten) when the wharf was expanded out into the bay, making room for a road along the waterfront. Øvregaten is where my hairdresser currently has his salon, in the row of typical Bergen wooden houses on the street's upper side, facing the lower side with its park-like area (actually, a fire-break) along the rear of the famous row of wooden wharf buildings that have made UNESCO's world heritage list. I walk on antique cobblestones and pay with plastic. You know, that sums up life in Bergen pretty darned good.

Øvregaten has an older memory for me: Because it used to be one of the main roads into downtown Bergen from the north, we often drove it on our carefully planned Saturday forays into town. When I was a kid, we lived 21 km (13 miles) north of Bergen. We had a two-lane "highway" into town except for the last stretch past our house, which was a one-lane country road where drivers would on many occasions find themselves tailgating the neighbor's flock of sheep. Since Norwegians don't dock the tails on their sheep, I have images of dancing tails in front of a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament as one of my childhood memories. Anyway, those 13 miles (sheep notwithstanding) took us almost an hour to drive. The two-lane road had too many twists and turns to make it a smooth, speedy drive. This was one reason why we planned our city trips: Getting there took time and concentration. We knew when we had arrived, though. The car would get noisy and shake a bit: We were driving on cobblestones.

Thanks for wandering around with me, in both space and time.

Wordless Wednesday - Reds

Wordless Wednesday

Oct 22, 2009

Miscellaneous catching up

So somebody missed me (hi, Protege!). If it weren't for Wordless Wednesdays, they wouldn't know I was still alive. Well, I am, and here's a run-down of what's been grabbing my attention this month:

Autumn got busy, as it usually does. I've been trying to focus on my astrology in order to forecast the weather and am rather behind on that. But maybe I'll catch up today because I'm home from work. Which brings me to the other distraction of the month:

Inner health

I bought a book about adult children of abusive parents, trying to sort some things out from childhood because my shoulder problem (it is doing better, thanks) is related to my stomach problems (I've had IBS since I was a kid), and stomach problems have their root in emotional upsets.

Whenever I do a number on my stomach, it usually takes a week for it right itself again. After a party last Friday, I've been queasy ever since Saturday (which I spent throwing up - not good), and finally gave up and stayed home from work yesterday and today, nursing myself mainly with liquids, like a big pot of peppermint tea or ginger and lemon tea. Delicious!

I feel well enough to sit at the computer, and also to roast and soak some barley. I'll be eating that along with the rice this weekend, to give my stomach enough of a break. The really dumb thing about all this is that after a 5-month renovation, our employee cafeteria is now a restaurant with some of the best food ever! But it isn't necessarily IBS friendly - not all of it. I hope they still have bread and jam. Haven't checked since I was busy diving into exotic salads, rillettes of cod, and what have you.

Nobel Not-Dubya Prize

In other news this month, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since the Nobel Peace Prize committee sits in Oslo and is made up of five Norwegians, our newspapers have had some stories about this award. For the first time in history, committee members have gone to the media and discussed how the nomination took place. Only 2 of the 5 wanted Obama, but the other three have later admitted to letting themselves be persuaded. Of the 2 who wanted him, one is a former prime minister, known for his verbal gaffs, and now the source of the new verb "thorbjorning".

I still deeply disagree with awarding Obama with the peace prize at this time. Nothing I have read as arguments for his selection have made me change my mind. It is too soon. I'm also a bit angry with the committee. Are they not aware of the challenges Obama faces at home? Do they not know that the US is dealing with increasing unemployment, that although Norway managed to ride the wave of financial crisis without falling off, the US hasn't? The committee has been amazingly inconsiderate and short-sighted, in my opinion: If Obama doesn't fix the problems at home, it won't matter what he does abroad because he'll be another Jimmy Carter: A president only the foreigners liked. And Carter didn't get reelected.

There is one nice thing about the Nobel Peace Prize: It made me aware of some other fascinating candidates, like Greg Mortenson and his efforts to build schools for girls in Afghanistan. Studies show that countries where one ensures that women and girls get an education and are allowed to work outside the home, both peace and prosperity come to the country. And the birthrate goes down.

Baffling Bush

Speaking of Republicans, I'm enjoying "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor". I got the audiobook version and at first was sorry I didn't get the abridged version. But now that I'm into the part about speechwriter Matt Latimer's White House years, a question I have had for years has finally been answered:

I have always been baffled at how George W. Bush could stay in office and not get any of the crap he and his mates were responsible for attached to him. (Talk about being a teflon president!) But as Latimer describes Bush's mood swings, Karl Rove's mania, and the way the White House speech writers organize (and I use that term very loosely) their work, I see why there were such conflicting pictures of Bush. To put it simply: He gave lousy speeches because that's what people around him wanted him to do. I have no idea if Bush was frustrated with that, but his speech writers certainly were. At any rate, it is clear to me now that what the man said didn't reflect the man. I still have several chapters to go, so maybe I'll learn more secrets.

Swine flu

Onwards to swine flu - H1N1: Norway is struggling to get enough people vaccinated in order to protect the population at large. If enough people are immune, the flu won't spread. After thinking about it, and hearing that some healthy people are now getting seriously ill from this flu strain, I have decided to get vaccinated. Just waiting for the city to tell me when. I already know where; I can walk to it: It's the abandoned nursing home my grandma stayed in.

A Norwegian Facebook group has been started for people who don't want the vaccine because it is just Big Pharma trying to sell us crap. My aforementioned grandma survived the swine flu outbreak in 1918. She, her sister and her father were all out sick for two weeks, while my great-grandmother stayed well through the whole epidemic. Grandma told me about all the empty seats in the classroom when she returned to school.

There were two outbreaks in 1918 and the second one, which started in August, was the deadliest because the virus had mutated. That, coupled with people's behavior because there was a world war going on, spread the deadly strain far faster than it would have gone in peace time. And now that reports are coming in here in Norway about people not of the usual risk group getting seriously ill and we're having instances now where the flu in a human can infect pigs, I've decided I'm not waiting for any mutation. I want to help stop this now.

Your moment of zen

OK, I stole that title is from Jon Stewart's daily show. :-) But via another source of some of my news from America, comes this wonderful gem from the Muppet Show. Choose High Quality for good listening Enjoy!

Oct 15, 2009

Deliveries (a complaint)

Well-meaning people in the US ship me stuff via UPS, FedEx, TNT and the like (hereinafter referred to as Other Delivery Company, or ODC). The latest to do this was Amazon.com.

You know what? They all suck. You know why? Because in Norway, you get the best service from our post office. Seriously. Some mail order firms in Norway will use some alternative delivery system and deliver to a store near you. For an extra NOK 95, I can get my local post office to deliver the same package to my own front door, in the evening when I'm home, if I want. Or, I can walk in the opposite direction of the aforementioned store to my local post office and pick it up myself if I want to save some money. Since I pass by the post office every day to and from work, it's actually convenient for me to use them.

The alternative package delivery firms that companies seem to be so fond of are not for regular working people. They are best suited for company-to-company deliveries that take place during working hours. I got my books today from Amazon. Speedy delivery, yes, but only during office hours and the address Amazon has for me is my home address (and I didn't see any notice that I should offer a daytime address; I've learned to do that with Apple). I missed the ODC guy yesterday because of course I'm at work during the day. He did call on my landline phone at home, so I called back and gave him my cell phone number. Today, I walked past my post office again. Because the ODC guy said he'd meet me outside the shopping mall it is in some time after 12:30 pm to give me my package. He couldn't be bothered actually driving to my street, apparently, and I couldn't be bothered asking him why the h*** not. I just didn't want to miss him again, and I did have an errand at our local shopping mall.

But now that I think about it, I find I'm a bit annoyed at the service. I paid extra for speedy delivery. It was speedy all right (4 days from Las Vegas to Fyllingsdalen) but I wonder how much I was supposed to pay for actual delivery?

Oct 4, 2009

Am I… old???

I first saw a computer in the 1970's and my first job out of high school was for a manufacturer of so-called mini-machines: The size of a washing machine, with storage and memory measured in kilobytes, not megabytes, and running BASIC.

Barely 10 years later, I was an expert with WordPerfect on an IBM PC, after several years of using a Wang (look it up), and what I learned about Lotus 1-2-3 back then has helped me use Excel ever since.

Then came e-mail. What fun!

Then came the internet, and I got hooked up at home in 1997. More fun! I even learned HTML and designed my own webpages. I became an eager user of Usenet. I even figured out IRC and took an entire course via ICQ. Web 1.0 was good to me.

Web 2.0 came along with interactive applications embedded in the web browser. Some were cooler (and more useful) than others. I like del.icio.us and still use it, and Twitter and Facebook are also in use. And blogs and Blogger, of course! I found a good use for Google Docs the day I was attending a course that offered no handouts but did have internet on our course PCs. So I opened up a doc in Google and typed notes there (and later e-mailed to fellow classmates). Very nice! Very convenient! On the downside, Web 2.0 introduced web forums and is steadily killing Usenet. I have not yet been able to befriend web forums; I am alienated by their look, their interface. Not enough text and order, too many icons, no decent quoting, and gray on gray or blue on blue decor (who finds that user friendly?).

So, what's next? What's Web 3.0? Google Wave, that's what. Based on this short (well-made) video, it seems rather cool. So I read more about the Wave, and came across this blog entry about it. I read the whole thing, did enlarge the pictures - and my heart sank.

I find chat annoying, simply because it is intrusive and in real-time, like answering a phone, not knowing how long the conversation will take. Unlike a phone, if you happen to be online on Facebook, someone can open a chat window and your "phone" answers itself, i.e. you look "in" and available. And it's rude and can even hurt feelings not to answer, I've found. I and many others. People expect, with chat and IM (instant messaging) and the like, to get instant replies, and that requires your undivided attention and time. Which is why chatting isn't always convenient. From now on, I am listed as offline on Facebook for that reason (sorry, friends) unless I really do have the time for a chat.

Google Wave is one huge chat-e-mail mash-up - with icons, threading, attachments, copy to's, forwards - and if you arrive late, you can replay everything that has happened so far.

I took one look at the screenshots, the clutter they show, the sheer amount of volume - of one-liners. My eyes usually balk at most graphical interfaces. I prefer clean text, maybe with colors for each quote-level, but that's it. I look at Google Wave's offering and feel not a wave, but a tsunami. It's too much.

So I ask myself: Will I not be able to join Web 3.0? I'm a destined to stick with Twitter as the pinnacle of my internet expertise, the last app where I could keep up with the young folks? Am I - old?

Or am I just right? Is Google Wave a good idea with poor implementation? Will it lead to "information" overload and loss of productivity? I predict there will be a lot of filtering offered in time.

I also see that the wave takes what is essentially a bad habit in e-mail (illustrated well in the short video above) and implements it as a feature: Just forwarding the whole kit and caboodle to someone new without telling them what it's about or why, just assuming they'll slog through the whole thing to find that one document stuck to the very bottom. No, we who receive such nonsense don't. We don't scroll down past a screen or two - not if you don't tell us why we should! Google Wave takes this bit of e-mail rudeness and turns it into a movie, where you can watch in real time how each reply and attachment and forward came about. Yeah, we have the time for that. Yes, we'll know which parts are pertinent without any help from the sender.

Dammit, Google, where are your manners? Don't you have anyone over 40 working for you?