Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

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Like my brownhouse:
   boarding the Vasco da Gama
Monday, July 22 2019

location: Room 116, Hotel Rabe, Kiel, Germany

This morning the four of us had a reasonable breakfast in the dining area of Hotel Rabe. The bread was amazing, and I actually had a fairly good sandwich whose only "meat" was a slice of tomato and strips of green pepper. The man running the breakfast was older and didn't seem to know much English. It's easy to think of Germany as being just another English-speaking nation, but evidently it's not completely true.

Greenery growing on a carport roof behind our hotel room in Kiel.

We had to check out at 11:00am, but our next destination: a massive cruise ship, would not be boarding until the afternoon. To kill time, we walked through the light rain to a nearby shopping mall, where conditions were pleasantly warm for the first time since leaving the stifling east coast of North America. The shopping mall was much like the kind familiar from America in the 1990s, that is, it was crowded with shoppers and all the available spaces had operating stores (kind of like the mall depicted with knowing nostalgia in the first episode of the third season of Stranger Things). We actually had some business to attend to there: both Gretchen and I had under-packed for the unexpectedly cold conditions of the Baltic summer, so we needed (at the minimum) socks. Gretchen's father also had to sort out a SIMM card situation at the T-Mobile shop. I think we killed nearly two hours in that mall.
We took a cab to the deep-water dock where our massive cruise boat, the Vasco Da Gama, waited for us. It stood twelve stories tall and (when I later checked) sat 15 feet deep in the water. It had to be the size to safely negotiate the conditions of the Baltic Sea. Somehow Vegan Cruises had filled the whole thing with vegans. Gretchen's parents had an expensive room on the boat and had been scheduled to board at 1:15pm. With our cheaper room, Gretchen and I had been told to board at 3:30pm. But we decided to all board together, with the prepared excuse (should it be necessary) that Gretchen and I were boarding early to help her decrepit parents get to their room. But that all proved unnecessary. We checked in, waited in line to walk through the metal detector (and sent our bags through the xray machine) and eventually made up the long gangway into the ship to our room. It (and the boat itself) were a bit shabbier than had been the case with the river boats we'd taken up and down the Rhone and Danube. It also seemed a bit dated, with only one obvious 220 volt outlet in the entire thing. I later found another in the bathroom and one behind the small flatscreen television. But this compared poorly to the boat on the Rhone, which had had a multipurpose large-format Macintosh flatscreen computer in every room back in 2016. Worse still was the internet, which I will get to eventually.
We met back up with Gretchen's parents at the buffet restaurant at the back of the boat on its 11th deck. Unlike in the buffets on smaller river boats, we were not given any access to the food itself; it was all mediated through members of the crew, who had to be instructed in detail how much to dole out. This was probably all for the best; with 1000 or so vegans available to paw through everything, it wouldn't be long before everyone had whatever terrible results from contamination with human feces. It wasn't a great buffet, partly because of the imperfection of communication with the staffers doling out the food. But there was probably also a bit of a problem with freshness; the food tended to linger indefinitely before being happily served.
On the last river cruise (on the Danube), we'd successfully skipped the mandatory lifejacket drill. But on this boat, it was clear things were going to be more serious when our cabin steward knocked on our door and then, when we left, put an orange indicator on on it indicating our cabin had been evacuated. We joined a group of others on the 7th deck under lifeboat #11, our designated means of evacuation. Evidently the lessons of the Titanic had been fully absorbed by cruise ship culture. The main thing that happened next was that roll was called. I don't know what would've happened had we not been present, but as an indication of the kind of clusterfuck this particular cruise was shaping out to be, there were still people streaming onto the boat when this exercise was being conducted. As soon as it was over, Gretchen and I made the fastest possible break for reception, where we wanted to be at the front of the line that we expected would form. We wanted to fill out the necessary paperwork to sign up for the ship's internet, which we already knew would be overpriced and not very good. Fortunately, we were the first in what was, within seconds, a very long queue. Once we learned that only one login could be used at a time, we knew we would have to play for two plans (since we expected to need internet in order to communicate across such a large vessel). There were three plans with three different amounts of data that could be downloaded in aggregate. Gretchen figured her needs would be light, so she opted for the 200 MB package, whereas, being an internet professional who would be doing some work on this trip, I went for the 1000 MB package. Neither constitutes much data given the realities of today's web, where advertisements frequently include auto-playing video and many web pages continually ping distant servers. Then there is the fact that many operating systems silently update themselves. I've managed to finally disable this behavior on my workplace laptop, which runs Windows 10 Home, but it wasn't easy. (Microsoft has tried to make this impossible, which it would be for the vast majority of users.) But then, once we'd signed up, it proved impossible to log in. Eventually the boat's IT guy (he seemed like he might be from India) came out and tried to connect us, but he couldn't get any of our three devices working. He eventually decided that there was some sort of ship-wide problem and told us to try again in an hour. We headed back to our room without having ever signed the credit card transaction, and if things kept being shitty, we probably wouldn't get around to doing that.
At around that time, we ran into Kelly, Brian, and their teenage daughter Nancy, the pan-United-Kingdom couple from Edinburgh whom we'd met on the Danube cruise. They were at reception because Nancy's bed was broken, but they were taking things a lot better than other people in line, many of whom seemed irate. True, some of them were irate for absurd reasons. For example, an American woman demanded to know why her cabin access card said she was from the United Kingdom. Gretchen and I had seen this on our cards and figured it was just to tell the staff what language to use.
Kelly and Brian had us come up to the topmost deck on the boat, the open-air 12th, where they intended to wave as some people they happened to know who would be at a landmark on the German shore as we sailed past. The landmark was far enough away that it would be impossible to identify anyone on either side of the distance, but that didn't matter. We soon learned something about British culture that struck us as strange: Brits like to wave. They even gather in the windows of their houses to wave at departing guests. Gretchen and I were pretty sure such waving never happens in America, though it's possible it varies from family to family. In our household, for example, we don't always tell each other when we're heading off to work.
For dinner, Gretchen and I went with her parents to the Mediterranean Restaurant, one of at least four restaurants in the boat. The Mediterranean is one of the smaller, lesser restaurants where the menu is always the same. I suddenly remembered the hot peppers from the garden I'd smuggled into Germany, and wanted to go back to the room for one of those. Gretchen thought we should also investigate the various "drink packages," one of which might be worth getting (for me) if they weere cheap enough. We calculated "cheap enough" as being about 60 euros. But when we inquired at a nearby bar to find out what the "all you can drink rail drink" package cost, we learned it was something like 29 euros per day, which would be 290 euros for the whole cruise. For that to be worthwhile, I'd have to be planning to drink four drinks per day. Clearly, this plan was designed only with real drinkers in mind.
I used my peppers to spice up a falafel sandwich. It was no Aba's Falafel (partly because its ingredients were not at a mix of different temperatures) but it was okay. None of us ordered alcoholic beverages.
At some point the internet started working on my phone, but I had no luck whatsoever getting it working on my work-issued laptop. Though I had a strong WiFi signal, DHCP kept failing to assign me an IP address. And I needed one of those to get to a router-served webpage allowing me to enter my credentials to take advantage of my overpriced internet plan. Because my Android-based phone had somehow successfully made and maintained a connection, I thought there was some tiny configuration problem that was somehow keeping the Windows-10-based laptop from connecting. Using my phone, I did some Google searches in hopes of finding a solution. Mostly all I found were the typical Windows 10 support websites that suggest running a virus scan and, should that fail, reinstalling Windows. But somewhere I found out about how to tweak very specific WiFi settings, including the transmit power, what radio frequencies to use, and a number I did not understand. Sadly, none of the changes I made to any of these settings did any good. Worse still, I was concerned that now my laptop now would have trouble connecting to non-sucky (non-TransOcean) WiFi. Eventually I was able to cobble together WiFi for my laptop, but this involved using my phone as either a tethered or BlueTooth access point (I'd never tried these features before, and both worked great). [Later I would realize that the problem obtaining an assigned IP address in our room was systemic; it applied to all our devices. Once obtained, though, a connection could be carried back to the room. Once lost, however, I would have to go out to some place closer to the middle of the ship to re-establish it.]
After that harrowing experience (thanks, TransOcean!), I went in search of something to use as a mixer for some of the booze I'd smuggled onto the boat. It's a big boat, but I quickly ran into Kelly again on the 8th Deck, and moments later I found Gretchen in little side-nook (on the way to the casino) chatting with Suzanne, the girlfriend of G, the founder of the biggest farm animal sanctuary in the United States. They'd been bonding over their mutual love of absurdist comedy (such as Dr. Steven Brule). Eventually I ordered a glass of red wine from a nearby bar.

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