Saturday, June 05, 2004

Sorry for the Rain, De Peberelskende Sømænd, etc. 

Sorry about today's rain in Copenhagen. It's entirely my fault. I've been planning a barbecue. I should have realized in the midst of Thursday's balmy temperatures and cloudless sky that confirming this barbecue would virtually guarantee torrential downpours, but I persuaded myself that I was being superstitious.


On the political front, I thought this was interesting: here's a snippet from an interview with actor Tom Selleck on NRO:

One of the things I wonder about, though, is whether the D-Day invasion could happen today in a 24-hour news cycle. The media would be asking all time about the exit strategy. Remember, 1944 was an election year. There would probably be a December 7 commission running around. Reporters would be saying that Patton doesn't have an army up north and you've been lying to us for two years, and that you can't put our boys in those firetrap Sherman tanks. We're living in a different world now.

I was watching an interview with Donald Rumsfled on EuroCNN yesterday when he was asked, naturally enough, to reflect on the significance of our invasion of prime French waterfront real estate sixty-years ago this weekend. (The question, and the Defense Secretary's response, do not appear in the interview recap linked to above.)

With his usual eloquence, he more or less said exactly what Selleck had said a week or so earlier. He didn't mention anything about a December 7 commission, but elaborated even further on what the "24-hour media" would have been saying: "What if the weather goes wrong? Won't thousands of men die on the beaches?" He observed that either the media would have gone bananas on the administration for keeping the whole thing secret, or they would have "leaked" information about the invasion, giving Germany a valuable heads-up. He also imagined what first-hand accounts of the early phases of Overlord might have sounded like—he wondered how the public would have reacted to news of gliders and paratroopers landing in the wrong places, and so on.

It's a hell of a point, and kudos to Selleck for putting it out there in an industry that doesn't tolerate a whole lot of deviation from the "industry line."

Also in NRO, Denis Boyles examines the European left's aborted attempt to "redefine" the invasion of Normandy as a victory of sorts for Germany. Seriously. (Note to Americans: the European left is not the American left. The European left is more like the outermost edge of the lunatic fringe of the extremist wing of the American left. Most American democrats, even proud liberals, would be considered conservatives in Europe.)

Lastly, and on a totally unrelated note, I wrote an essay in Danish extolling the historical marvels of capitalism, read it aloud to my Studieskolen class, and wasn't mocked or sent to a re-education center!! Maybe I've just been too shy about my—er—different politics. But now that I mention it, here it is (I've edited it to include the nine corrections my teacher made):

De peberelskende sømænd, der gjorde verden billigere

Tirsdag d. 1 juni var en dejlig dag, så klassen gik til Christianshavn. Christianhavs historie er, som København selv, en historie om handel. Vi blev bedt om at tænke på handel mens vi gik rundt i området.

På vejen til Christianshavn så vi mange kanaler. Kanalerne var fuld af skibe og både (og gamle plastikposer). Faktisk var næsten alle disse skibe og både ikke til handel. De var til nydelse.

Det var interresant at tænke på det skift. Der var en tid, da både kun var til handel. Her står vi nu i en verden hvor de fleste både er til nydelse. Hvorfor skiftet? Hvad betyder det? Selvfølgelig har vi tog og flyvemaskiner til handel, og biler og lastbiler, men det er ikke nok til at forklare hvor mange nydelsesbåde vi ser i kanalerne. Bådene er ikke så billige! Hvordan kan så mange mennesker have så mange dyre både? Er de virkelig billigere end de var for 200 år siden?

Ja, det er de.

Handel gør handel billigere, og billig handel skaber billigere produkter. Nu er vi alle rigere end mennesker fra 1600. Der var konger og dronninger, der ikke kunne drømme om at eje maskiner til at koge mad på minutter, eller til at køre 130 kph. De havde ikke brusebade, briller, Panodil, køleskabe, osv—og når solen gik ned, blev deres verden mørk.

Vi er meget heldige at have disse ting. Vi har dem fordi mænd sejlede rundt om verden fra havne som Christianshavn—mænd, der ville finde krydderier til at sælge. Nu har vi så mange fede ting, og så meget fritid, fordi mænd ville have mere peber. Utroligt!

Bagefter kanalerne gik vi gennem Christiania. Det var ironisk, for mig, at en lille ø, der ikke kunne være noget uden handel, skulle finde sig selv som hjem for mennesker, der ikke kan fordrage kapitalisme.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Jeg Sjusker... 

The extended weekend bloggish-Almanac is up, and has been for about twelve hours now. Platonic encounters, nature's little freak show, the history of the freemasons, the life of Sancho Villa, and heaps of other twaddle.

Notable: successful implementation of X-Box Live.

As long as I'm in here, I might as well publicly declare that from today forward I will consider all Danish pedestrians as bowling pins. Three incidents this week have pushed me over the age. If it's war the pedestrian population wants, it's war they'll get.

I award myself 10 points for having stormed through the couple that tried to block my way out of the metro this morning, and a further five for not even looking back to see where they landed. (I award myself another five points for knocking an old woman's absurdly parked shopping cart out of the way with exceptional style, but have to assess myself a five-point fine for begging her pardon.)

Oh, and one more thing for you Anglophones: the Danes have a verb that means to do sloppy or careless work: sjuske. How cool is that? Du sjusker! "You're being sloppy in your work! You're making a mess of that! You've screwed that all up!"

Just when I go and declare war on Danish pedestrians, something from their magnificent culture rises up and wins me back to them...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Full Sovereignty 

If I hear the phrase one more time I'm going to put my foot through the television.

There is no such thing as—but wait! Now they've just used the phrases "partial sovereignty" and "increasing sovereignty."

I'm plucking glass shards out of my foot now.

A sovereign government is, by definition, a sovereign fucking government. There are many, many words and phrases to describe governments that are not sovereign, but "partially sovereign" is not one of them. The minute you are less than sovereign, you are non-sovereign. It's a digital concept, not analog.

Sovereign, not-sovereign. There is no in-between. If you mean "more independent," "increasingly self-governing," or "partially in charge," then say so. It does no good to take your own confusion out on the English language.

The Iraqi government will be sovereign on June 30. Until then, it will not be sovereign. As we near June 30, Iraq will draw closer and closer to national sovereignty... but it will not be getting "increasingly sovereign."

Got that in Atlanta?


Monday, May 31, 2004

The Future of Gaming 

Despite the enchantment suggested by the preceding entry, life with the new X-Box has not been without its aggravations.

One of the reasons I chose an X-Box over a Playstation 2 or GameCube was that my brother-in-law and I wanted to be able to play Madden NFL football over the Internet. He already had an X-Box, so I'd need to get the same platform. 3500 miles and six time zones apart, we could nonetheless go head-to-head on the virtual gridiron in real time.

The online part of the X-Box is called "X-Box Live." It's basically Internet service for your gaming console. You plug your X-Box into your Internet connection (directly or through a router), "log on" to the central X-Box website, open an account, and are immediately able to play any "X-Box Live Enabled" game with thousands of people around the world.

Saturday was the big day: I was going to connect my X-Box to the Internet, activate my free, two-month trial membership, and spend the evening playing games against my brother-in-law, who had an afternoon reprieve from his parenting duties back in Massachusetts.

Having spent my own afternoon on the X-Box with the kind of friend that actually sits beside you in the living room and occupies physical space, at about 8pm I was ready to make the transition to X-Box Live. I ran a cable from the X-Box into our router, rebooted the X-Box, and tingled with excitement when a message appeared on my screen inviting me to configure my console for Internet gaming. I accepted the invitation.

"X-Box Live!" the screen trumpeted, "The future of gaming!"

The first part of the configuration process was establishing a connection to the Internet. No problem: the cable was connected, the router was on and working.

"Cables detected," the X-Box informed me.

"Network detected," it added a moment later.

Then, inexplicably, I was told there was something wrong with my DNS settings. Or my specified host. Or something like that. Bottom line: my X-Box couldn't connect.

"Must be a bad port on my router," I thought. So I switched the line into another port, rebooted the X-Box, and tried again.

Failure. The X-Box recommended that I reboot my modem, then reboot the X-Box, then see if I couldn't connect. I followed their advice, twice, to no avail.

About forty-five minutes had passed. I didn't know it at the time, but my struggles had only just begun. I'll spare you the agonizing details of the various configuration schemes I tried before finally establishing a connection nearly two hours later. (But owners of Netgear RT314 routers please note: the RT314 is one of a very, very few routers that Microsoft has determined not to be compatible with the X-Box... a tiny detail that their "plug and play" exhortations neglect to mention.)

At last I was connected! Now I only had to create a new account and begin my online gaming. My brother-in-law continued to stand by patiently in Massachusetts.

I came up with an account name, accepted the terms of the license agreement, and was prompted for the 25-digit Subscriber Code I had received with my X-Box... something like:


The code had been on a scratch card and was supposed to be good for a free, two-month trial, as I've mentioned.

I clicked "submit" and awaited my approval.

Instead, I was informed that the Subscriber Code I had entered was "invalid." I double-checked it. Hell, I quadruple-checked it. I even deleted it altogether and resubmitted it. Still I got the same response. The X-Box referred me to online support available on the Web—which meant I had to take the X-Box offline to get my computer online.

I did this, navigated to the support site, and began the hunt for an answer.

There was absolutely no advice at all to be had for my situation. There was, however, "Chat Support" for "pre-purchase" customers. The only other options were email or telephone. I didn't want to make a costly call to the number in the states, and I didn't have the patience to await an email response, so I reasoned that as someone who intended to pay for X-Box Live eventually, I could justifiably consider myself a "pre-purchase" customer. I launched the chat window and applauded myself for reading the disclaimer (the gist of which was that I'd probably have to wait until the next ice age before a support person could be troubled to attend to my questions) without suffering cardiac arrest or cerebral aneurysm.

Eventually someone got online with me. We spent twenty minutes just establishing the fact that my Subscription Code was being called "invalid" even though I'd just purchased the X-Box two days earlier and had only scratched the card to reveal the code a few hours previously.

"It sounds as though your Subscription Code is invalid," the technician helpfully instructed me.

"Yes," I said. I asked how I might get a valid one. I was told I should call support in the states.

"I'm in Denmark," I pointed out.

A link to Danish support suddenly appeared in our chat window. I clicked on it. It took some time to navigate the site, since it was entirely in Danish , but eventually I found the Danish support telephone number. I dialed it and received an English-language recording informing me that the office was closed. It would open again at 9am Sunday. I tabbed back to the chat window to ask the support technician what else I might try.

"Due to your inactivity I have terminated this chat session," read the last message in the dialog box.

Still no heart attack or aneurysm, but I could feel they weren't far off. I called it a night.

Sunday morning I finally got through to the Danish support center. I spoke to a man with a British accent. He confirmed that my Subscription Code was, in fact, invalid.

"It expired on March 31," he said.

"I just bought the X-Box on Thursday," I said. "That was May 27."

"Yes," he said, as though it were standard company policy to issue trial memberships that expire two months before they're even sold. "You can go to any store and purchase an X-Box Live starter kit for about 39 pounds."

"But I got the free—wait a minute, what do you mean pounds? I'm in Denmark."

"Are you familiar with the pound?"

"I've heard of it."

"So I don't know what that would be in crowns, but—"

"This is Danish support. How can you not know the local currency value? But never mind that. How do I get my free, two-month trial membership?"

"If you'll just give me some information I can have another Subscription Code sent to you."

So that's what we did. And although he promised it would come over the phone or through email, I have yet to receive a call or an email from anyone at Microsoft.

The truly terrible thing about the whole ordeal is that I actually believe Microsoft's boast about X-Box Live. I believe that this is, indeed, the future of gaming.


On Shopping for a Pram in a Foreign Country Two Days After Buying an X-Box 

The DMG was kind enough to allow me nearly 24 full hours to recover from Friday's outpatient surgery before hauling me, along with her mother, to shop for a pram Saturday afternoon. I'd spent most of my recovery time just as I'd spent most of my preparation time: playing with the X-Box I'd purchased Thursday.

We drove to a baby-stuff store a little north of the city. They had all the sorts of things I've become accustomed to seeing at the homes of my child-rearing friends but had never before stumbled across on my own. Pretty little dangly things. Big fluffy things. Sleek expensive things. Tacky things. Appalling things. Adorable things.

We weren't there for the things. We wanted to see the prams. At least, the DMG wanted to see the prams. I just wanted to nod sagely, earn points for participation, and get back to my X-Box.

The DMG had been badgering me relentlessly about the importance of getting a state-of-the-art European pram. Apparently we haven't mastered the technology in the states. When we finally reached the second-floor showroom, I realized what she'd been talking about. The prams were wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. They were bigger, better, and cooler than any baby carriages I'd seen in America. The variety was astonishing—it was like the bewildering array of vehicles available in Midtown Madness 3. I found myself wondering about the relative speed, mass, handling, accelleration, and durability of each pram.

The DMG and her mother summoned a Helpful Person to explain the differences. Their conversation took place entirely in Danish. I longed for my X-Box as we moved from one pram to another and the Helpful Person flicked switches, kicked foot pedals, and opened and closed retractable hoods, babbling her impenetrable Danish all the while.

I wasn't entirely aloof. There were some pretty slick-looking prams. Clean lines. Exciting features. One in particular caught my eye.

I nudged the DMG. "Ask if it comes with a detachable turret."

The DMG stared back at me, blinked, and asked the Helpful Person something. I didn't hear the word "turret" (in English or Danish) in either the question or answer. Neither woman looked at me.

"It doesn't matter," I said to their indifference. "It's not a deal-breaker. But feel this." I seized the handle and shook the pram. "It's too light. Imagine hitting a curve at 130 miles an hour—you'd fly right off the road."

I continued to be ignored.

"Look," I explained patiently, "I'm willing to surrender a little mobility in exchange for increased firepower, but how are you gonna get a repeating plasma cannon mounted onto something this light?"

The Helpful Person finally smiled at me uncertainly and opened a flap in the front of the carriage hood, revealing what looked like half a square foot of mosquito netting.

"That's your defense system?" I asked incredulously.

She closed the flap and snapped it with a flourish.

"Mosquito netting and nylon? Are you insane? That won't even slow a bullet, let alone the concussive force of a plasma grenade. Have you no idea what kind of firepower the nefarious Covenenant forces wield? Don't any of these prams come with quantum shields? And where's the nitro-injection system for the turbo drive?"

The DMG suggested I go and have another look at the cute fluffy things on the first floor. Twenty minutes later we were on our way back home.

"Thanks for the help," she said a little tersely.

"I'm only thinking of our daughter's future," I said.

"Mm," she said. It doesn't sound like much in English, but experience has taught me that it's Danish for, "We can continue this conversation if you really want to, but you're only digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole and it would probably be best for the sake of our marriage if you were to cease all communication for the time being and allow me to come to terms with the staggering scope of your stupidity."

My wife wants to push our baby around in an unshielded, unarmed pram, and I'm the stupid one.

Go figure.

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