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Practical Hacking

In the spring of 2019, I was still living existing in Hamburg, crammed into university with all the other nerds.

Then, while I was busy doing nothing, a relative of mine spontaneously gifted me with two tickets to a Richard Stallman talk. In Copenhagen! I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to get some entertainment and explore Denmark, and so I called Lars and invited him to come with me. Being a free software fetishist, he approved.

In typical German fashion, our train had been cancelled while we were waiting at the platform. We went to customer service and asked about any alternatives to consider. They told us the the next train was going to depart in three hours. Cool.

Eventually, we traveled on the now defunct Vogelfluglinie, first via train and – starting from Lolland – via bus.

Having passed a sleazy money exchange office at Copenhagen main station, we hopped on a long and nauseating bus ride. After an hour that felt like a full afternoon, we got off the bus in Tingbjerg, which is an utterly depressing and large social housing project from ancient times. It consists of lots and lots of houses in rows and rows and rows. Before seeing this, I couldn't imagine a neighbourhood more uncomfortable than the one depicted in Clockwork Orange, yet here we were. I could virtually feel all the joy in life getting squeezed out of my soul.

The view outside our window. (more impressions)

Luckily, our host didn't live right there. But it wasn't far away either: she lived just across the river, and there it was just as bad. Same Truman Show surrealness, but this time disguised as high-rise buildings.

There was a Herbalife sticker on our host's door. Cool, I thought, and we entered the apartment. The corridor was just as bland as the environment, but our host turned out to be a friendly middle-aged woman. She left us her living room as a refuge, and I started to examine our temporary home.

It was bright, a little tacky, and there was a small balcony. Inside, there were a television set, a rather old stereo and these strange 80s-Pop-and-Rock CDs that float around your grandmother's house, even though you never witnessed her listening to them. The sparse shelves were filled with lots of random books. I could spot a Bible, a Quran, books about sushi, an L. Ron Hubbard book, and an English dictionary.

Wait, what?

I took a closer look. Split up over multiple shelves, there were titles such as What is Scientology? (one copy in English, two copies in Danish), Speaking from Experience, Based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard, Handbog i Scientologi, and what I assume is an art book, also attributed to L. Ron Hubbard. Thinking that our host might be a scientologist crept me out, but Lars didn't seem too concerned. He even straight up asked her about it, and she took a great pride in coming out to us as a Scientologist. Eventually, we found more and more cult garbage floating around her apartment.

“Well, at least she will be out of the apartment soon”, Lars said.

“You better tell the truth”, I joked. “Imagine if you overlooked something in the ad and she's going to stay here with us all the time.”

— “OK, I'm going to look at it again. Just in case.”

His eyes wandered to the screen and rested there for a couple of seconds. Then, he looked at me again.


We decided to go outside and get some food. There was not a single supermarket in our neighbourhood, so we had to walk for about twenty minutes to a dark, depressing, and expensive Fakta discount store. Later on, we would eventually learn that this seems to be a standard for Copenhagen. Just about everything is dark, depressing and expensive.

We took an expensive bus (that looked like a vehicle from LazyTown) downtown. The sun had already set, and the streets were surprisingly empty for a city this big. An icy blast was blowing through the vast and weirdly oversized spaces between the various monumental buildings. I did not feel well, and since hunger settled in for both of us, we started looking for a restaurant.

Difficult. First, we randomly turned left and right and found ourselves in the middle of a shopping mile. Not a single store had been open. There were no restaurants nearby either which seemed very odd. After twenty minutes, we eventually found one in a dark and grimy corner of the center. It was — surprise! — expensive, but the food was ok.

Ever have one of those dreams where you are in need of a basic thing (some water, your phone, etc.) that you just can't seem to get ahold of? This is exactly how finding a restaurant in Copenhagen felt like.

With the scientologist lurking around in the room to my left and the view on overly pragmatic social housing to my right, I could barely fall asleep. This anxious insomnia slowly faded though, as we tried to maximize the time spent downtown and minimize the hours we would stay in the apartment.

Richard Stallman's talk took place at Lundbeckfond Auditorium. The entrance was a little spartanic: there were tiny pieces of printed paper to guide the audience members and there was a table with free (as in: beer) stickers. Lars and I took some.

The talk itself was not overly newsworthy. Richard Stallman discussed his favourite topics, accompanied by cute grapics: freedom in software, user's rights, et cetera. Interestingly enough, I felt extremely missionary at the end of the talk and was offended by the gaping injustices in the software ecosystem, so I guess he got his point across pretty well. Him talking about smart vibrators running proprietary software could have also been the cause. Or the fact that he lotioned and massaged his bare foot while talking.

I had my Emacs manual signed and tried to forget about the lotion incident by eating a large slice of great pizza at Gastronomia Italiana 5. Lars ordered a calzone which was also done very well.

Back at the Airbnb. It's the last evening in Copenhagen, and I am glad about that. In a relaxed mood, I go to the ██████ in order to take a ████. But when flushing, I noticed the horror: the ██████ was jammed! I started to panic: there were no tools in reach to make that shit go away, and I did not want to wake the Scientologist under all circumstances.

I exit the bathroom and consult Lars, but he does not have any idea either, except for "what if we just leave it that way and get away as soon as possible?"

In desparation, I empty my suitcase, looking for something waterproof like a stick, and eventually find the plastic bag that I originally wanted to use for laundry. I could wrap this around my hand and stick it down the ███! Perfect!

Then, I noticed a fairly large hole inside of the bag. "Well, we could put lots of duct tape on it", Lars suggested; but we couldn't find any in the apartment. Proceeding to empty my belongings, I get ahold of my backpack, and the Emacs stickers drop out.

We both exchange a couple of intrigued and disgusted glances and then apply an oddly-fitting Emacs sticker onto the plastic bag. During the application process, all I can think about is how to justify this so I can keep on living. “This is what Richard Stallman would have wanted”, I reckon, “this is hacking!”, I reason.

I am so sorry, Richard.

I don't want to go into detail explaning what happened next. Suffice it to say that:

  1. The sticker did not prevent any water from leaking into the plastic bag.
  2. I make a mental note to never again go to Denmark.