The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Tue, 02 Aug 2005 On Firefly

I love Firefly. I've watched all the episodes at least twice, and I'm looking forward to the release of the Firefly movie this fall.

Lately, though, I've been contemplating the show's structure, and its strengths and weaknesses as storytelling and science fiction. I'm not going to dissect the whole thing now, but one thing that has stuck in my mind is that in the world of Firefly, no accomodation is made at all to the reality of vast interstellar distances. The ship Serenity can travel between planets in a matter of a few days; I think the longest journey time they mention is a month. But there is never any mention of faster-than-light travel. It's as if Einstein was just wrong in that world. Actually, the ship never even seems to accelerate very hard -- the crew and passengers don't have acceleration couches -- so apparently they don't believe in Newton, either!

Now, I have to say, I love Kaylee and her approach to spaceship drive repair -- "that part doesn't do much anyway; you can just rip it out." I love the beautiful Firefly effect. I love the narrow escape from the Reavers in the pilot, where they ignite the engine in the atmosphere and create a huge reaction. I love that explosions in space are silent. I love the fact that most aspects of life in the Firefly world are very low-tech. Firefly is "about the strawberry" -- the Preacher's bribe to Kaylee. It is a human story of loss and longing on a harsh frontier where the amenities of old Earth are rare and valuable, and life is cheap.

I don't want Firefly to be Star Trek -- an unrealistic world where there is no dirt, universal socialism and abundance seems to be the order of the day (people don't even seem to use money), and there are apparently no "have-nots." Human nature seems to have irrevocably changed in the world of Star Trek -- is anyone convinced by this future? But I think it frustrates the viewer not to at least have some ready excuses available for all the various laws of physics that get left by the wayside.

On Serenity, the crew seems to have instantaneous radio communication available between planets, or while they are nearing a planet. They've got some equivalent of interstellar wi-fi. When approaching a ship or planet they can hold conversations with other people with pretty-much instantaneous response times; they don't have to wait a few minutes for the reply to come. Even the round trip from the earth to the sun would be something like 14 minutes. They don't even invoke some kind of alternate technology like "subspace."

It is as if they just compressed the universe by a factor of billions; different planets seem to be closer together than the planets of our solar system. It is 240,000 miles to the moon and takes several days to get there with Apollo technology, and even assuming drive technology we haven't invented yet, it would take a year or more to get to Mars: the distance to Mars varies from about 35 million to 260 million miles. And think of how long it has taken Pioneer just to get out to the edge of the solar system.

Maybe the magical Firefly drive can do all this: accelerate the ship far beyond lightspeed, cancel gravity and inertia, and generate cool special effects as well. That seems a little much, though.

The Serenity also has a strange habit of coming upon other ships, as they wander about in "empty space" on routes designed to avoid being detected by the Alliance. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Serenity can also apparently be taken into "atmo" and landed on a planet, apparently without worrying about burning up on re-entry. But yet the ship looks like it is made of materials that are available today: steel plating, prone to rust and all that. The situation with the space shuttle now shows how tricky that kind of thing is in real life. There is one funny moment (I think it is in "Shindig") where the pilot, Wash, has to struggle to correct his entry trajectory, but when I watch this I keep thinking about how the physics don't make a lot of sense. At that speed, if he made such a dramatic error in the ship's angle of approach, they would burn up or break up before anyone had time to react. (Think space shuttle Columbia.)

That said, I still enjoy the show, and hope it can be resurrected in some form. It is ultimately about human relationships, but ignoring both Einstein and Newton without even bothering to offer a hand-waving sidestep to the laws of physics just grates on me a little; it seems insulting to the viewer. There is an especially funny line in "Objects in Space" when Zoe is speaking to Wash about River:

Wash: "Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction."

Zoe: "We live in a spaceship, dear."

Yep, they live in a spaceship, but some things are just silly!

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Wed, 06 Jul 2005 A Squeak in the Wilderness

Blah blah apologies blah blah long time since I've written blah. Blah busy.

I guess I'm not much of a blogger. I was especially chagrined when my brother told me he hadn't seen anything new in a long time. I didn't even realize he was reading! Hi, Brian!

There is lots of news with baby Veronica. She is eight months old. She weighs twenty-something pounds, has one tooth, can stand briefly, "cruises" (walks with support), climbs stairs unaided, blows rasberries as a form of conversation, wrestles, giggles, sings, and dances to the theme music from "Red Dwarf." Although her main food is breast milk, she loves to eat bits of asparagus, bananas, and little bits of any kind of bread or pasta. She does not say clearly recognizable words yet (although she sort of says "hi"), but she tries to imitate words we say. We have to do much more baby-proofing than we expected. Apparently Isaac did not require very much baby proofing, but Vera moves fast, and likes to pull things off shelves. She especially loves to tear up books and eat the pages.

My time at home is considerably shorter than it was before, since I'm spending upwards of two hours commuting each weekday. When I do get home, I am spending more time chasing the baby and trying to run interference for Grace. Getting a little uninterrupted time to sit in the office to write or program has become a luxury. Grace has taken the kids camping with her sister-in-law, so I have a few free evenings.

Much more has happened; Grace's brother Ben Benjamin died without warning, and we are still in shock about that. He had undiagnosed hypertension (high blood pressure). He leaves a wife and four children, one teen-aged, two toddlers, and one small baby who was born with a dangerous heart condition and who is, happily, recovering from surgery. It makes me think hard about what Grace would do with Veronica and Isaac if something similar should happen to me. We've seen a lawyer to get complete wills drafted and I just had my physical for a new life insurance policy.

I've been working for Visteon in Dearborn, doing software testing for a satellite radio product. I'm technically a contractor on a limited- time project; hence the commute. If it turns into a permanent position we might move to Dearborn.

Meanwhile, I've not been able to do much free-time coding. I have put together a little tool in Ruby to do some assorted processing on SREC files. The SREC format is used in embedded software to hold downloadable code segments. The original file format seems to be attributable to Motorola, although there seem to be a lot of variants floating around. It started out as a tool to scratch a personal itch: the need to merge multiple SREC files. If you have a particular problem you need to solve with SREC files, get in touch (paul@thepottshouse.org). I'll talk a bit more about this program in another entry.

I had planned to do some work in Common Lisp and/or Scheme while Grace and the children were away, but it turns out that I procrastinated too long, since she cut her trip a week short to return to Ann Arbor for her brother's funeral. She is taking another trip in early July, though, so if I can avoid procrastination, perhaps I will have something to show. It might be interesting to compare Common Lisp and Ruby implementations of my SREC tool; how concise, yet expressive, can I be in each language? This also might serve to shed some light on whether Common Lisp has fallen behind as far as libraries for typical file-handling and scripting-type tasks.

I haven't written about the war in Iraq or other political issues in some time. It doesn't seem that very much has changed except the daily details.

By any fact-based measure, America is not succeeding. Even rational Republicans are wavering. But Bush did not offer any changes in strategy. Bush's prime-time address last night boiled down, basically, to more of the same: "there was some connection between 9/11 and Iraq," "we're winning," and "we're not leaving before we've won." Oh, and "we can continue to win this war on the cheap, without increasing troop strength, and without sacrificing the tax cuts." Also, that there is no viable plan to get more assistance from the U.N. or from other nations, and apparently no movement on the situation with detainees, hundreds of whom appear destined to remain imprisoned for perhaps years into the forseeable future without even the pretense of a trial.

It would be nice to hear some acknowledgement that this failure was predictable. But I don't want to gloat; I want to see lives saved, both Iraqui and American. This just can't be achieved by inflicting futher terrorism on a country that didn't, and wasn't capable of, attacking us.

My son is about to turn 11 years old; he'll be old enough to serve in the military in 7 years. My daughter, in just over 17 years. Will we still have troops in Iraq then? Will we have an economy in shape to provide them with any other prospects for employment? Will they be drafted?

Without leaders who are willing to acknowledge mistakes and change course, it doesn't look promising.

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Handling SREC files with Ruby

Ruby is definitely one of my favorite languages, and I am far more comfortable with it than I am with Perl. It seems very expressive; very frequently, once I find the right library method, the code pretty much writes itself.

However, just like with Perl, there is more than one way to do it, so I often find myself looking for more appropriate idioms for the task at hand. There is also some question of efficiency; I'm not trying to optimize prematurely, but the program I'm working on runs slower than I'd like, and I think Ruby can do better.

To start, I'll just share one quick annoyance. The first is that there is some deficiency in handling of typing such that statements like

puts "Checksum: " + chksm

will not work; you get a run-time error (can't convert Fixnum into String)." This seems wrong; it is not very "DWIM" (do what I mean) when considered in light of Ruby's philosophy of weak "duck typing" -- if it quacks, for all practical purposes your program can treat it as a duck, or in this case a string. I bring this up because I keep getting this error -- I have a habit of forgetting to add .to_s to the variable. I'm thinking in terms of C++ iostreams, where the type is taken care of using the stream << operator.

But on to a meatier question. I want to be able to treat a string containing ASCII hex digits as an array of bytes or as a Fixnum (where I can specify the byte ordering). For example, I want to be able to turn

"DEADBEEF" into an array of unsigned integers [0xDE, 0xAD, 0xBE, 0xEF] (for purposes of generating a bytwise checksum), or into the unsigned integers 0xDEAD, 0xDEADBE, or 0xDEADBEEF (depending on the record type I'm working on).

These are the ASCII character values (exprssed in hex); 'D' is decimal 68, hex 44. Not very useful; I get 2 strings of ASCII hex out. These aren't very useful for translation, since I'd have to turn them into integers, translate them to numeric values (not just a simple offset, because the hex characters are not contiguous) and then assemble the high and low nybbles into byte values using (high << 4) + low, or some such.

There must be a better way to do this. Here's my first try:

def make_checksum (str)
  checksum = 0
  0.step(str.length - 1, 2) { |idx|
    checksum += (str[idx].chr.hex * 16) + (str[idx + 1].chr.hex)
  }
  return (~checksum) & 0xFF
end

Ugh. Look at the way I have to access the characters: str[idx] returns numeric types, not character types, which don't have a hex() method, so I have to convert them from the original characters in the string to integers, to characters, and then apply hex() to that.

Another way is to make substrings, I suppose, but it doesn't perform better, probably because it is generating a lot of extra string objects:

def make_srec_checksum (str)
  puts "make_srec_checksum; str is: " + str
  checksum = 0
  0.step(str.length - 1, 2) { |idx|
    checksum += str[idx..(idx + 1)].hex
  }
  return (~checksum) & 0xFF
end

Another is that the String.unpack() method seemed from reading the documentation that it had exactly what I needed; it appeared that the "h" and "H" characters in the control string for the unpack method would be capable of unpacking ASCII hex data like DEADBEEF into byte values. That seems to be what unpack is all about. Instead, it generates ASCII hex bytes.

$ ruby -e 'puts "0123456789ABCDEF".unpack("H2" * 16)'

30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
41
42
43
44
45
46

Not what I wanted. Most likely, there is a much better way!

It might be interesting to compare Common Lisp and Ruby implementations of my SREC tool; how concise, yet expressive, can I be in each language? This also might serve to shed some light on whether Common Lisp has fallen behind as far as libraries for typical file-handling and scripting-type tasks. More on that later.

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Fri, 18 Mar 2005 The Thrice-Cursed Airport Express

The thrice-cursed Airport Express has crashed again. First, printer sharing failed, and then a few days later the shared internet connection failed. Running the Airport Admin utility revealed that the device couldn't even be found on the network. A power cycle fixed it.

I checked Apple's site and there is an update to the firmware, which will take the device from 6.1 to 6.1.1; we'll see if that offers any improvement. The AirPort 4.1 software package offered for download on the same page is apparently the same version I already have. Meanwhile, until I determine if this update helps the reliability, I can't recommend the AirPort Express to anyone.

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Sat, 12 Mar 2005 Dobson and Wonka

Baby Veronica is almost ten months old, and walking everywhere. She's getting ahead of our child-proofing again; she can now crawl over the barriers (pillows) we pile up to keep her from going up the stairs. This leaves us terrified that she is going to climb them, and fall down a whole flight of stairs; she is coordinated to get to the top, but not to get back down yet. Maybe the pile of pillows at the bottom would keep her from breaking her neck, but I don't think we can count on that. The arrangement of wall and railing in our apartment will not accommodate any baby gate we've been able to find, so we will have to come up with something else. Our ancient and badly-maintained apartment is hard to baby proof in other ways; for example, the downstairs bathroom door won't close all the way, so she can just push the door open to get in. We've been keeping the trash can in there, to keep it out of her reach, since she considers all manner of dirt and trash to make excellent toys. Also, she likes to visit people while they are sitting on the toilet!

I have a backlog of baby photos to put on the web site, and another roll of film will be ready to pick up as prints and a CD from Walgreen's tonight. Taking lots of photos guarantees that at least a few of them will be passable. So: more baby photos, as soon as I get a chance. I need a little quiet time on the computer, when baby Veronica is not trying to demolish and eat everything in the office. I've got some other things that have to get done first: some consulting work to finish, and some work to do in Quicken, to confirm just how fast our money is vanishing.

Grace completed her insurance class last week, and seems on track to take her exam this week. She is trying to review every day until the exam, so it stays fresh. It's a lot of obscure information to hold on to and regurgitate on cue, so we'll try and get her into the exam as soon as possible.

One complication is the van. It needed a new fuel pump, and we had it replace. We got one estimate, from a local shop we go to often, but it seemed ridiculously high, so we took it to a cut-rate place in Ypsilanti. Now the van is dripping gas and smells like gasoline. I think we should not even be driving it; I want them to tow it to their shop and fix it for free. I think they screwed up, big-time. This begs the question of whether we want a shop that screwed up so badly, creating a possible death-trap out of our van, should be entrusted to get it right a second time. I have to assume they will try to wriggle out of responsibility. And we can't keep throwing money at different shops; we already had to eat the cost of diagnosis at the first shop. Urgh.

I've found an interesting piece here:

http://www.family.org/docstudy/newsletters/a0021043.cfm

It is a newsletter from Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), a conservative think tank. I bring it up because it is being quoted in the leftish media out of context; this is an interesting example of the left engaging in practices they disparage the right for so much: taking quotes out of context. It was published in the Nation, and is now being cited elsewhere, such as on Alternet:

http://alternet.org/story/24359/

Now, I may have my doubts about the overall thesis of the piece in question, which is that homosexuality can (or should) be "prevented" by early intervention in the lives of young boys or girls who show cross-dressing, or even artistic, tendencies. There's certainly a lot to unpack and seriously question in a thesis like that. A lot of Christians would disagree with Dobson's premises; even some of the crazier recognize that he is channeling some of Freud's more discredited ideas (Google for "dobson penis freud" if you're interested). I'm not going to take the whole thing on now. But the overall method Dobson describes is about how fathers need to be strong role models and engaged with their sons. This one somewhat bizarre is being quoted out of context -- and there is a lot of context -- is the following:

"He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger."

Um, indeed. But out of context, that does not seem like a good recipe for preventing young boys from indulging in narcissistic masturbatory fantasies. Or something. Actually, in my case, with Isaac, the first time he saw me naked in a pool shower, he was horrified, because he was never circumcised, and I had to tell him about how I was surgically mutilated as a baby, without benefit of anaesthetic... and how many other boys still are.

But be that as it may, the Nation's use of that line out of context reminds me of the reasons I stopped reading the magazine: basically, because of the tendencies of its authors to wallow in their own narcissistic masturbatory fantasies of what the right's ideas were all about, without actually unpacking and engaging their arguments, or even understanding them. It's kind of like believing that women go veiled in some Islamic societies because men hate them. There's a certain aspect of truth to that, but it doesn't begin to explain the history and cultural meaning of the veil. Lame.

Last night we went to see the new Willy Wonka movie at the IMAX theater at the Henry Ford Museum. It was better than I expected; some tepid reviews had left me with lowered expectations. That is probably a good thing. The IMAX format was a lot of fun for this film, especially during Oompa Loompa musical numbers. It isn't just a bigger picture, but filmed on much larger format film, so there is a very detailed grain to it that works especially well in this movie to reveal artificial-looking eyes (with contact lenses, in most cases, or digitally enhanced), and makeup (usually ghoulish). The wrinkled faces of Charlie Bucket's elderly grandparents are wonderfully expressive in this huge format. It's pretty much the ultimate Tim Burton film; he's gotten very, very good at what he does, and if you like Tim Burton films, you'll like this one. It is in some ways closer to the original text than the older movie, but gives Willy Wonka a back story and rationale. It isn't so true to the book, but I think it makes a better movie.

It's also made me give a little more thought to the Willy Wonka story. I find it interesting that the setting is a factory: a place which is inherently unsafe, because manufacturing requires energies and materials to come togther in large quantities, in which adult rules for safety must obtain, and in which the strategies of the various children (gluttony, begging and demanding, artificially inflated self-confidence, excessive smarts) and the parents that made the children that way can't protect them, probably for the first time in their lives, and so it is time for some hard life lessons.

It's really a Grimm's fairy tale, although everyone survives in the end, unlike the way things work in the original Brothers Grimm stories. Burton makes it even more complicated when he asks us to consider Willy Wonka's own family story and Wonka's own strategies are for confronting life's hardships. (Johnny Depp's Wonka comes off reminiscent of Michael Jackson). The film actually goes a little deeper in that respect. Charlie's character, however, and that of his grandfather are not explored deeply at all; in the book and original movie, Charlie's grandfather tempts him into his own naughty behavior (stealing "fizzy lifting drinks" and nearly getting themselves killed, and nearly losing the grand prize). In this film Charlie is flawlessly boring in his desire to give everything to his family; he even offers to sell his golden ticket to provide money for his parents. Fortunately, one of the grandparents tells him, in one of the film's best lines, that there are only ever going to be five golden tickets, but there will always be more money because "they print more every day." Sage advice to take a once-in-a-lifetime chance!

Sadly, upon questioning after the movie, Isaac was not able to come up with a single way in which this IMAX film was different than the usual films we go to. (The last film we went to was perhaps seven to nine months ago, when we went to see The Incredibles). The fact that the screen was eighty feet high and a hundred and twenty feet wide, the seating angled steeply down, the aspect ratio different, the picture incredibly sharp and detailed, and the sound piped through a 12,000 watt surround sound system didn't seem to register at all. Sometimes we worry about that boy. I guess we won't be spending the extra travel time and money to go IMAX showings again, although Grace and I enjoyed it. I expected Veronica to be nervous and frightened, but she actually just seemed quite fascinated and content to watch, even when the sound got very loud, and fell asleep for the second half. I wonder what that means about her.

In other news, I will be interviewing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsbugh. I had a previous phone interview with a group in the Robotics Lab. This position would involve taking over maintenance and enhancement for a large Common Lisp application. It is also DARPA-funded and done as a kind of subcontract to Northrop Grummann. There are some ethical issues, since it is a scheduling program that is used to schedule Air Force planes, apparently for supply, refueling, medical evacuation, and for bombing, too. I really, really want the opportunity to work on a project in Common Lisp, and we would all really like to get out of Ann Arbor. I'll have to think hard about it. There is another embedded programming possibility in Ann Arbor, and the possibility of continuing at Visteon. It will all come to a crisis point soon, but at least there are some possibilities opening up; that wasn't happening for me a year ago.

In the little bits of free time I've been able to scrounge, I am reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun novels. I have long been a fan of the Book of the New Sun; I've read it several times, and have the distinct feeling that there is a lot that I failed to understand. This feeling was only intensified by picking up Robert Borski's book Solary Labyrinth, which features some highly speculative interpretation on the family connections and meanings present in the book. Some I agree with, and some I think are long shots, based on only the most tenuous textual evidence. Borski's book made me feel that despite having read the books at least three times, I may as well have been reading a different book altgether. Better and more readable than Borski's book is Attending Daedelus, which features some more understandable interpretation, and a very useful chapter that summarizes the plot of the New Sun books. These somewhat obscure books are available on Amazon; there is a new book of Wolfe criticism coming out, which I have pre-ordered.

I tried to read the Long Sun books when they came out, but after getting halfway through Nightside the Long Sun, I decided not to bother. In comparison with the New Sun books, the Long Sun books are written in a much different style. They are a third-person narrative, and the story is extremely time-compressed; the whole 4-volume series takes place in about three calendar weeks. While the New Sun books give the immediate impression of complexity and depth and a great deal of back-story, the Long Sun books appear deceptively simple: less of the New Sun's space opera style and more like a simple fable or coming-of-age story. However, I now see that it was this radical change in style that turned me off, and gave me the mistaken impression that the Long Sun books lacked depth and characterization. In fact, they are incredibly evocative. Wolfe has just evolved as a writer, and he is able to pack much more into seemingly simple events. There is a great deal of foreshadowing, both in "reality" and in carefully portrayed hallucinations and dream states, and careful use of particularly evocative words. Together these hint at the underlying story. The main character, Patera Silk, is a much more sympathetic character than Severain the Torturer and Autarch of Urth, but there is a lot more to him than first appears. Gene Wolfe is particularly fond of unreliable narrators, and since Silk doesn't fully understand all the things happening around him, at least not at first, it is up to us to find the "true" story. In Silk's world, magic is indistinguishable from technology, to paraphrase Clarke's Law. His world is truly not as it seems. In fact, these books are so complex beneath the surface that after finishing the second, I had to debate with myself about whether I should continue to the third or immediately re-read the second, just to try to understand more of what I had just finished reading!

I have also purchased the Short Sun trilogy, in preparation. I don't get much time to read these days, and even when I do, I am often distracted, so it may be a while, but I want to get to the end!

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Baby Drinks

So, we had eaten dinner, and were having some hot chocolate: Isaac, Grace, and I were drinking it out of mugs.

Baby Vera started yelling (not crying or screaming, just kind of... yelling, and waving her arms to get our attention, basically saying "Hey! Hey! I want some too!")

She would not calm down until we gave her something to drink (a small amount of water) in a cup with a handle like ours. She neede a little assistance with the fine adjustments, but had the basic movements right, and managed to drink some water out of a real cup, holding it (mostly) herself, and then she appeared to be satisfied and stopped yelling.

She was born October 29th. That puts her age at... hmm... exactly 9 weeks from her date of birth to the last day of December 2004, plus 10 weeks to the day to reach 11 March 2005, for 19 weeks, or if you measure by irregular calendar months, a couple of days shy of 4 1/2 months.

She is nearly crawling, too. We've got to start getting the house baby-proofed!

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Wed, 09 Mar 2005 In the Bunker

I recently heard an interview in which an administration insider described a political leader as follows:

That's an area where Hitler did a huge amount of harm: he actually tried to manipulate the consciences of the German people. He convinced them they had a task to do, they had to exterminate the Jews, because the Jews caused all our problems. It wasn't Hitler's own idea... it had been put forward much earlier... that they had to make a sacrifice.

And I can remember a writer... she interviewed a soldier who had been stationed in a concentration camp. He was a guard, and she asked him: Didn't you feel any pity at all... for the people you treated so badly there?

And he replied "yes, I did feel pity, but I had to overcome it. That was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater cause." And that's what happend to conscience.

After all, Hitler used to always say "You don't have to worry, any of you... you just have to do whatever I say, and I'll take responsibility." As if anyone can take charge of another person's conscience. I do think you can make someone's conscience more sensitive, or desensitize it, or manipulate it.

The longer I live, the older I get, the more I feel this burden, this feeling of guilt, because I worked for a man, and I actually like him, but he caused such terrible suffering... and the feeling that I was so unaware and so thoughtless... that I didn't notice or pay attention. That feeling has oppressed me more and more.

It seems to me that I should be angry with the child I was, that juvenile young girl, or that I can't forgive her for failing to recognize in time what horrors that monster caused. The fact that I didn't see what I was getting involved in, and above all that I just said "yes" without thinking at all... I find it hard to forgive myself for everything.

He was a crimintal -- it's just that I didn't realize it. At some point afterwards, I began to wonder if I should have seen that... and after all, apart from me there were millions who didn't see that. I mean, it's not as though everyone apart from me realized what a criminal he was. And I try to take heart from those thoughts.

And Hitler did somehow embody something monumental. At first, when I was a child, the first time I met him he probably had a kind of paternal protective attitude towards me... and that's something I had longed for. I used to envy children who could say things like "My father says so and so," or "My father thinks..." I used to think having a father must be very important. Then I started working for Hitler, and suddenly I had that sense of security, too. There really was a sense of security in that community, which cut itself off so much from the outside... I think I had a very subservient attitude toward him as a father figure.

You know, I never had the feeling that he was conscious of pursuing criminal aims. For him they were ideals. For him they were great goals. And human life meant nothing to him in comparison. But that only became so apparent to me afterwards. You see, in the inner circle surrounding him, in his private sphere, I was shielded from the megalomaniacal projects and the barbaric measures. That was the awful thing, and that's what gave me such a shock later, when I realized what had been happening. When I started working there, I thought I was at the source of information and in fact, I was in a blind spot. It's like in an explosion, there's one place where calmness reigns. And that was the great illusion, the great, not disappointment, but lie that I had made myself believe.

The word Jew was virtually never used in everyday speech. The fact that Hitler would, at times, say something in his speeches about "international Judaism" or "the Jews," that was virtually ignored. Nobody ever raised the subject. At least, not in our presence. Actually, the only time I can remember the subject really being an issue was one evening at the Berghof when Frau von Schirach was a guest. I wasn't there at the time, I only heard about it. I was out of the room when it happened. She was on fairly cordial terms with Hitler, and she suddenly raised the subject. She told the Fuhrer directly that it was quite terrible, the way the Jews were treated in Amsterdam. They were packed into trains, she said, and it was an inhuman way to behave. It must have made him very angry, and he said to her: "Don't interfere in things you don't understand. This mawkishness and sentimentality." He really was very annoyed. He walked right out of the room and didn't return. And Frau Schirach was never invited to the Berghof again.

You couldn't discuss anything with him that was somehow sensitive or difficult. It was one aspect of him. And that was really the only time a conflict situation developed.

He didn't think in human dimensions. Humanity was never of any importance to him. It was always the concept of the superman, the nation, always this abstract image of a vast German Reich, powerful and strong. But the individual never mattered to him.

As for myself, deep in my heart, I did have some doubts, and I wondered: "Is all this absolutely right?" But then to question the situation, actually to initiate a discussion, would have taken more courage. And I think it's also the case that if you value and respect someone, you don't really want to destroy the image of that person -- you don't want to know, in fact, if disaster lies behind the facade.

I don't think he considered war a light-hearted matter. He regarded it as a terrible thing, although he never said so. For instance, whenever there were reports of air raids and people described the situation, or if I said something like: "My Fuhrer, you can't imagine how miserable it is for all those homeless people whose houses have been bombed -- it's just so terrible." He'd stop me right away and say: "I know exactly how it is, but we shall strike back. We shall take revenge, and with our new weapons everything will change. Vengeance will be ours!" He would always say that, and in particular he'd say that we would rebuild everything after the war and make it better than ever.

I think there was a general policy of denial. He never did see a city that had been badly bombed. We traveled through Germany in the special train with the blinds down, and when he reached Anhalter Station in Berlin at night the chauffeur would take the streets that weren't so badly damaged.

In the early days after the war, the past wasn't an issue, strangely enough. It wasn't a subject to be discussed in public either. And there weren't any books about it. In politics there wasn't yet the process of coming to terms with the past. Not even the Nuremberg trials started that process, the way it happened later, in the '60s. I don't know exactly why, but suddenly there were so many books. And lots of voices were raised. We heard about the SS state and then the diary of Anne Frank and there were people who had survived the whole thing. People who had resisted also spoke out. The thing that made a very strong impression on me was that after the war, the world wasn't at all the way Hitler had portrayed it and predicted it would be. Suddenly there was a spirit of freedom and especially the Americans -- I didn't get home until a year after the occuption, but especially the Americans -- turned out to be very good democrats and very helpful people. The care parcels started coming. I suddenly realized that none of it was true.

So in the early years it didn't really occur to me to come to terms with my past. Naturally all the horrors that emerged in the Nuremberg trials about the six million Jews and people of other faiths and beliefs who lost their lives -- all that struck me as very shocking. But I wasn't able at first to see the connection with my own past. I still felt somehow content that I had no personal guilt and had known nothing about it. I had no idea of the extent of what happened. But then one day I was walking past the memorial in Franz Josef Street to Sophie Scholl, a young girl who opposed Hitler, and I realized that she was the same age as me and that she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. At that moment I really sensed that it is no excuse to be young, and that it might have been possible to find out what was going on.

The film is "Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary." The directors include a commentary that describes Traudl Junge's later life, including the fact that she took an early retirement due to severe depression, and spent years volunteering as a reader for the blind. Shortly before the film opened, she told one of the directors "I think I'm starting to forgive myself." She died of cancer on the day of the film's premiere.

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