Sunday, November 29, 2009
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for 29 people this Thursday. (Truth to tell, I'm a little disappointed that there weren't at least 30, but I *made* enough food for 30 people, so I still think I achieved my goals. More on that later.) It wasn't just any old Thanksgiving dinner, it was a Thanksgiving dansant. I intentionally invited only dancers. Either people from our dance school, people from our dance club, or friends who dance. It was an incredible night.
I estimate that it took 16 man hours to prepare the entire dinner. On the menu:
2 turkeys, one brined in an herbal mixture, the other in apple juice, orange juice, garlic, and ginger
Stuffing (stuffed inside the birds, damn the health consequences)
Potatoes au gratin
Sweet potatoes (are we seeing a pattern here?)
Green beans, steamed
The hardest was the two turkeys. In fact, because of the turkeys the whole show got half-an-hour late. Which was a pretty important 30 minutes, as we only had the dance hall from 6 to 10.
It was quite the feast in the end, and, miracle of miracles, Luxembourgers were in the majority. If you know anything about Luxembourg, you know that about the only time you ever find a majority of Luxembourgers in Luxembourg is when there's only one person in the room. I only charged cost, so the final price in the end was 8E/person, incl. wine. We had a wonderful time, and everyone danced and ate until they exploded.
Biggest lesson: don't let saving 1E on celery set your plans back by two hours.
Lesson two: If you peel potatoes early, and preserve them by putting them overnight in salt water, don't salt the water when you boil them the next day.
Lesson three: make sure you prepare garbage bags and soap for the cleanup.
Lesson four... there really isn't one. Everything else went so well that there's nothing to really complain about.
You might wonder why I did this. Certainly, my guests did. It has to do with Laura and my wedding. We hope to be able to organize the meal ourselves, but that's a pretty daunting task. This was my attempt to see how it would work out if it were just me cooking for 30 people (about one fourth of the number we're expecting for our wedding). The results were quite conclusive, and that was A) one person could reasonably cook for 100 (given enough time and a big enough kitchen), so our idea of having a team of 5-10 people working together (don't laugh, it's a good way to get all the guests to meet each other!) seems completely reasonable. Of course, caterers do it with less, but they're professionals, so that's kind of apples and oranges.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It's the first day of winter. Sadly, in Luxembourg that means 9 degrees and rain. I suppose I shouldn't complain about warmish weather, especially since I'll be gone to Romania in two days. Maybe with a bit of luck it will be below freezing so I'll be able to see some snow.
Thanks to the wonders of VoIP, since a week ago I have a phone number dialable from America: (253) 753-2106. Somewhere in Washington, but it dials through to my phone in Lux, no problem. If it's not used at least once every 30 days, it expires and I can't get it back, so if for no other reason than to make sure you don't have to reprogram your cell phone, take this as an excuse to call once every full-- not blue-- moon. It seems to be more reliable than my blog, in any case.
For those calling from Europe, it's +(352) 27280232. I've also got one in Romania (ain't VoIP great?), but I'll save the space and not put it here.
So, what hasn't appeared in my blog, and has been going on for the last year?
1) I went to Sicily and climbed Mt. Etna during an active eruption.
2) I flew to America, bought a tandem bike, cycled from Boulder to central Kansas, and then flew back to Luxembourg with the bike in a small suitcase. Hellofa bike, those Bike Friday tandems.
3) I taught myself how to program in C.
4) I taught myself how to program microcontrollers.
5) Laura and I got invited to join a competition dance club. We don't dance competitively (we're light-years away from even wanting to do that), but we're surrounded by people who do, which rubs off better than we thought it would. Maybe that'll let us do something more than the traditional bridal waltz. Oh, yeah, speaking of that.
6) I gave Laura the engagement ring that my grandfather bequeathed her in his dying days.
7) I got involved, and then uninvolved, in a radio project. It took too much time. Great people, and I wish them the best, but I needed to focus on my PhD.
8) I got invited to join the university's sustainability group. It takes just as much time as the radio, but I can't really turn down something like this.
Other things, certainly, but I don't remember them right now. I'm a little tired, as I had to take Laura to the airport this morning (she left first for Romania), so my thoughts are a little foggy.
All the seasons bests!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
4 weeks in America, and boy are we glad to be back. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed our trip, but we still missed home and the saner life we live here. And our cat. We missed our cat. Who apparently, judging by his effusive cuddliness when we got home, missed us just as much.
Wow did we do a lot in America. As my last blog entry indicated, my arrival in America wasn't the happiest in the world. The days in New Jersey were long and sad. No one will ever understand why my cousin did what he did, and time will only partially heal the wound: the scars will never go away. Others have said far more intelligent things about this tragedy, and so I will refrain from adding anything else.
After the stress of NJ, Laura and I went with my parents to some much needed calm in Kentucky. In Kentucky, we did just about everything there was to be done. We destroyed my parents' insulation value of the attic by removing hundreds of cardboard boxes. Boxes that had been collecting since the 70s, and had certainly been a not-unsubstantial insulator. We filled up two vans' full with all the broken down boxes. Sadly, I didn't really think things through until right the end when I realized that large, clean, good quality boxes are gold for anyone who is moving. I put an add on Craigslist and within days had 4 or 5 emails from people wanting to pick up the boxes. Well, at least the ones not reused were recycled. (China's richest woman made her fortune by sending empty boxes back to China to be recycled into new boxes.)
While in Kentucky, my parents and we wandered off to the gorge one night, where we made a fire and cooked hobos. I have lots of pictures, but I'll probably never put them online, so just trust me that it was pretty cool. We wandered off another morning with my friend Eric Payne to meet up with my dad's friend Jimmy Hayes for some more fire building, this time on an outcropping. Again, cool photos of people being crazy, but nothing that will make it online.
We also we to Cincinnati. Ho-hum. Cincinnati is like every other featureless American city. Skyscrapers and suburbs. Full to cracking in the daytime, and a ghost-town at night. Well, not *every* other one. Washington DC, Boston, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle stand out. But that's about it. No, America's charm is not her cities, America's charm is her people.
We also made a trip to Shakertown for some excellent cornbread sticks, a couple trips into the city for shopping, we got to see Eric a few times along with his darling son, Franklin, and me up with some of my old friends from high school, Scott Sherrod, Christina Boggs, Jon Winburn, Glen Murray, and their significant others.
In fact, Laura and I spent one evening with Scott and Christina at Christina's parents' house. We spent most of the night talking after Scott gave up in frustration after being beat by, well, everyone at set. It was a good conversation, both for its depth and constructiveness, as well as for the fact that Laura participated in two uniquely American moments. 1) Hearing that all the America's problems are because of the lawyers, and that someone ought to shoot them all, and 2) that all the world's problems can be solved by shooting everyone else. Of course he was kidding, but it was still funny.
Sometime before New Years' we started thinking about where we wanted to spend the 31st. We settled on DC, but had a problem: nowhere to sleep! Enter craigslist and couchsurfing.com. We posted our needs and sure enough found someone. Not right away-- in fact in the nick of time, on the morning of the 31st-- but it worked out. Now, how does one get from KY to DC in time for festivities when at 9AM no one is even packed? By air, of course! Dad lent us his plane-- an unbelievable event in itself-- and away we went. 520km from KY to DC, and it only took us 2 hours. In fact, counting ground time to get to the airport, load the plane, and refuel, we only spent 2h45m. Not bad! In fact, we got to DC with enough time left to visit the new Air & Space museum annex, the Udvar-Hazy Center.
After a two hour visit to this phenomenal museum-- in fact it's far more of an exhibition hall than museum-- where we saw the Enterprise, America's first space shuttle; the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb; the Global Flyer, the airplane that Stephen Fossett flew around the world; the Pegasus, the first and only human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel; an SR-71; a Concord; and so much more, we went back to the house where we were staying and prepared for a night out on the town. Laura and I found a New Year's dance (as in ballroom) party where we practiced our new-found dancing skills. Laura was asked by all the guys to dance. I was asked by all the gals. When Laura told the guys she was new to dancing, they said, "No problem, we'll teach you!" When I told the gals I was new, they said, "Oh."
The following morning, after a rather late start, we drove back to DC and visited all the sights. The Capitol, the museums (thee Hope Diamond!), the Mall, the memorials, etc. We also saw the White House, and Laura was quite unimpressed. "That's it???" she said. Yup. That's it. A small, unimposing white house sitting on a green lawn. You could even see inside some of the rooms through the drawn curtains. Tough to believe that that little house represents America in so many people's mind.
The next day, we flew down to Charlotte to visit Bruce Chapman, a guy we met in France. We met Bruce through Greg, my pilot friend in Dijon. I swear, they're like twins separated at birth. All they can do with there time is think up (hilarious) practical jokes to play on just about everyone. He was a hoot! We visited downtown Chicago, chatted a lot, and did another quintessential American activity: viewing nature through the window of a car. Although at this particular petting zoo, "nature" physically entered through the window and demanded to be fed. I've got some cool photos of Laura feeding a giraffe through the sunroof of Bruce's Ford Explorer.
The evening before we left Charlotte, I got a hold of another long-lost friend, Julee Baber. Off to Nashville we went! Julee is working in children's theatre and is getting married to Ross (forgot his last name). I don't know how good she is at directing (it would appear pretty damned), but she's a phenomenal interior decorator. For an engagement present, I took them flying over Nashville at night. Sure, I just about crashed the airplane on takeoff because of a poorly set trim-wheel, but I recovered from the incipient stall while the airplane was only 1m off the ground (soft-field takeoff practice, anyone?) and away we went. Nashville really is quite pretty from the air at night. All cities are. A much less stressful landing ensued and then, once again we chatted away the night.
Laura and I had a great time with them and upon leaving pronounced them the sanest Americans we met in all the trip. Which isn't saying much, I suppose, since they actually permitted me to take them flying.
A couple days after returning to Kentucky, Laura and I went with Alix to Chicago. We spent a week there, and had a great time. It's a neat city, and Laura especially like the El. We got to all sorts of museums, zoos, parks, and whatnot. Also, we bought way too much extra stuff. Fortunately, we were able to smuggle it all through customs.
When we got back, bad news. Anne-Claire, our wonderful next-floor neighbor, was moving out. Oh, no! Well, she's only moving to the other side of the city, so we'll survive.
I'm certain there were so many things more, but I've run out of time to tell them.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
My cousin Steven Montalbano killed himself yesterday. I don't know why and I don't know how. It seems that it was the aftermath of an argument with his girlfriend which ended with her saying she would never let him see the baby.
I'm not sure what would have made him do this to himself. At the risk of saying the obvious, suicide is never about just one thing, there's never just one factor. I wasn't close enough to him to know what was going on in his life that drove him to such despair.
Adieu, Steven, toi aussi.
(The world is surreal. I'm trying to change my airplane tickets and when I explain to the Indian at the call center that I would like to change my flight reservations because of Steven's death, he says, "I'm very sorry." When we end the call, he just couldn't help himself, the programming was too strong. "Have a very nice day, sir.")
Friday, November 16, 2007
I've been kicked out of the country! That's a new one for me. I just got a letter saying that my tourist visa is expired, and I need to tell them where I'm going, being understood, of course, that where I'm going isn't "Luxembourg".
Of course, I own an apartment, I have a job, and even a work permit, so I really never had a tourist visa to begin with. Plus I've been here 18 months, which is a little longer than the 3 month tourist visa anyway. We'll see how far this logic gets with the administration.
Monday, November 05, 2007
This weekend, Stockholm was taken over by the French. I don't know what subliminal messages suggest they all come to Stockholm at once, but I swear over half the country was there. You couldn't turn the street corner without hearing someone speak in French.
Laura and I walked ourselves senseless. Every day we did at least 8km, and probably closer to ten. We took a long stroll through the Skansen, the world's largest outdoor museum. Definitely worth a gander.
We also went to the Vasamuseet, a museum dedicated to the Vasa, a Swedish flagship vessel that sank minutes after being launched in 1628. Turns out she was too top-heavy because of the cannons and narrow draft that prevented enough ballast from being loaded on board. The brackish waters protected and preserved the ship for 333 years, although the sulphur that has impregnated the wood due to bacterial action in polluted waters is rapidly destroying the ship. The upshot is that in 50-100 years, the ship will no longer be viewable in unaltered state.
As it is now, it's incredible. Just walking into the museum you get an idea of what an effort they have gone to in order to preserve the ship. In the specially-designed museum building, there are five (5) doors that protect as much as is humanly possible the indoor atmosphere from outside contaminants. The museum has one feature, and one feature only. A giant 64-gun ship propped up in dry-dock. Incredible. I look forward to going back some year.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Everything's fine, but we're both a little tired after being in the emergency room until 3AM. Laura had some stomach cramps that were so bad she for all intents and purposes collapsed at the dinner table. Ick. Prognosis? Stomach cramps, with a prescription for pain killers the next time it gets that bad. Useful, that.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Good news/bad news. The good news is that we got Gonzales. That makes three down (Rumsfeld, Rove, and Gonzales), all the rest of them to go.
The bad news is that two people I met in Dijon died this weekend in a light-twin accident out in Vannes, a medium-sized town on the coast of Brittany, not far from where Benjamin Franklin landed in France as the colonies' ambassador to France. From a first look at photos and based on witness accounts, it would seem that the airplane lost power in one engine and flipped over before the pilots had time to do anything about it. They crashed in a field right next to the airport, a field that, if they had only had one more second to get their wits about them, was so long and straight and clear that they could have just bellied in. Tragic, really.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Why I love Europe: because when you wake up and find a dead pig sliced in half in your mailbox, it's not the mafia trying to send a message, but just the local butcher's sale flyer.
Monday, August 13, 2007
One of the problems with electric cars replacing gas cars is how to tax them. Without the tax revenues from the gasoline tax, there will be a major budget shortfall for maintaining roads. (Of course, the I-35 debacle makes one wonder just how much maintenance has been done with our tax dollars...) Electricity cannot be taxed in the same way as gas because it's impossible to ensure that everyone pays their fair share.
I worry that the governments' solution will be to install a tracking device in cars, such as a GPS, in order to count the number of kilometers driven in a year and base the tax on that. While it would be a very fair way to do it, I'm concerned about having a black box in my car that I cannot control, cannot remove, cannot modify, and cannot contest. This kind of invasion into our privacy is exactly what I wish to avoid. I can't see how the data would not be misused at some moment or another.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I suppose it's a function of my age, but I have less friends dead from natural and accidental causes than from suicide. I just discovered that Chip Cheng, a friend from my time at GSP and later the man who beat me out for 1st place in Science at the Kentucky State Governor's Cup, recently committed suicide. It's stunning to me to think that so many people I know have taken their own lives. But I suppose that if you're going to die before you reach 30, suicide is one of the most common ways.
Not that knowing that solves anything. It's a crying shame and my condolences go out to his family.
Friday, August 03, 2007
I have a friend who is going through a difficult time because she's being faced with single-parenthood. It gets me wondering. A woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, be that bringing a baby to term or aborting it. However, what rights does the man have here? Does a women have the right to bring a baby to term if the man disagrees?
It's an important question. If the woman doesn't require the man's participation, than it shouldn't inconvenience the man materially to have a child somewhere in the world. (Of course, legally this isn't always the case. In fact, in some countries such as France a child has the right to demand money from an unknown father, even after the age of 18.)
Material inconvenience, however, doesn't at all take into account the man's feelings about having progeny. So does the man have any rights to act on his feelings? Many instances can be found where an anger caused by someone else's actions has no legal standing. I am very angry when I see a soccer mom driving her SUV to the grocery store, but I, of course, have no legal right to do anything about it. So why should a man's choice be any different?
If a woman were to somehow harvest a man's DNA, through the use of hair or fingernail clippings perhaps, would she have the right to inseminate one of her own eggs and have a baby? If the man had no obligations whatsoever to the mother or child, would he have the moral right to protest? I don't think so.
Of course, this is pure ramblings about what could happen in the future, but I find it interesting to contemplate these now.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I've been perusing a book called "The Complete Book of Intelligece Tests: 500 Exercises to Improve, Upgrade, and Enhance Your Mind's Strength". It's one of those books of lots of mental puzzles, only this time it gives itself a big title so as to convince you that simple mental games aren't just for kids.
I keep flipping past the sections I'm not so good at to go right (in other words, don't get everything right) to those where I can get 100%. This seems to me rather silly, as I'm intentionally going past things that I might fail at in order to shoot right ahead to the the things I can already do. Isn't that defeating the point?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I'm not sure how utilities work in America, but I get the feeling that you pay per kW/hr consumed, and that's that. In Luxembourg and France, at least, that's only half of it. I just got the final bill for our time at the previous apartment, and in the 9 months we were there we were charged 54E for electricity and 74E for access to the service.
This is a terrible way to do things. It means that I have diminishing financial impetus to reduce my electricity consumption. If I went completely solar and wind, I would still have to pay a pretty hefty sum per year for... nothing. Now, since I feel quite strongly about the environment, I'm going to reduce my usage as much as possible anyway. However, others might not feel the same way, and since they won't pay as much attention to the bill they'll never notice that those great new energy efficient bulbs are saving them a bundle in kW/hr because of the huge fee for hookup and meter rental relative to the energy consumption. Instead, they'll just notice that those fluorescent bulbs cost them a lot more than the regular incandescent kind.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Laura is a like a little child, although not in a bad way. Rather she represents the curiosity and rapid learing that are the hallmarks of youth. It amazes me how much she has learned and evolved in the past year, and it amazes me even more that so much of what she has learned I have known and taken for granted for a long time. There are many examples of this, but our new cat is the perhaps the most recent. She had never played with a cat and string before, didn't know that they love yarn, didn't know how to pick one up without making it uncomfortable, and other things. (Needless to say, she knows all these things now, and the cat loves her to death.)
What's bugging me is wondering about all the things I don't know but that she does and takes for granted. Laura is a very smart lady, one of the fastest learners I've ever been around. During her 25 years of life before she met me, when I was learning about cats and cars, about computers and planes, what was she learning about? What must she know that I know so little about?
Run for the back! According to Popular Science, http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4219452.html, the back of an airplane is the safest place to be. Sort of. If you're only talking about crashes where someone actually survives. And assuming that technology hasn't changed survival odds between now and the 1970s.
Which, considering the way airplanes are built, it probably hasn't. I wonder if there is any safety engineering at all that goes into crashes? Aside from ensuring that everyone is relatively close to a door, is there even anything they could do? Even if you could make an airplane that didn't tear apart on impact, everyone would be dead as their hearts detached from their aortas due to the sudden deceleration. (That's the real reason why Gwen Stacey died, by the way. Not that neck-snapping junk they talk about in the comic book.)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
It's amazing how badly people misunderstand me and what I want. For instance, I bought an induction hob/range-top on ebay. During shipping, it somehow got crushed to pieces and completely destroyed. The package was insured, but what was insured: the price I paid for it (actual value), or the price I would have to pay to get another one of similar condition (replacement value)? In this case, the price I paid was quite a lot lower than it was worth-- around 200E lower-- due to one of these rare situations on ebay where something sells for quite a lot less than it's going price.
I think in this case, since the package was insured for up to 500E, that it is fair for the shipping company to replace the object, and not simply refund the price I had paid. This isn't so unusual. If your dear old aunt sells you her classic car she never drives anymore for a token $1000 and then someone hits you and totals the car, you would get the value of the car from the insurance company, and not the token $1000.
What I don't understand, then, is how Laura could be so crass as to accuse me of trying to take advantage of the situation and the people by wanting a replacement hob and not just my money back. With a replacement hob of like condition and age, I can cook as I wanted. With my money back, there is no guarantee that I can ever buy again what I had bought for so little money. When someone I respect so much questions my sense of propriety, I cannot help but ask myself if I am not seriously morally compromised. And yet, I know that there's nothing wrong with wanting, at the end of the day, to have paid the price and received the merchandise promised.
Friday, July 13, 2007
We're nicely settled into our new apartment, now. Everything is going well. We were lucky enough to have moved during the soldes week. Soldes week is when everything in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium goes on clearance sale at the same time. Apparently it's illegal for stores to put things on sale (in the American sense where prices are dropped) except for twice during the year, once in January and once in July. We've managed to stock the apartment with lots of little goodies, from crockery to plumbing tools to an induction plate. Fun stuff. I guess. If you like to cook and build things. Fortunately, I like both.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Two new acquisitions in as many days. First off: on Sunday, we got a cat! There's some debate about his name, but for the moment I'm calling him Quark. Just like every other cat I've ever had or house-sat. This time Quark is a largish medium-haired black cat with three splotches of white on his underbelly and chest and two little pips of white on his rear paws. I've never seen that before on a black cat. It's quite the odd effect because I keep on imagining that he's stepped in something.
He's always got the biggest eyes, I've never seen a cat stare so much in my life. It's not that the orbs of his eyes are so big, it's that he's always looking at things with his eyes wide open. Almost as if he were in a perpetual state of startlement.
He’s about 12 months old. We were worried about fitting a kitten to an apartment. There's no way for a cat to go outside, so all my experience with cats across my life doesn't really apply. A kitten would have been more fun, but this one was already trained, has a good personality, and seems to be a good fit to a smallish apartment. He already lived his first year inside, so maybe another while inside wouldn’t bother him.
We found the cat with some lady who already had two kids and just couldn't keep up with the amount of cleaning necessary. She was charming, and told us that if ever we had to leave for a long time, she would happily take the cat back into her 4th floor apartment where it has never been outside either. He's already litter trained, and the lady gave us everything she had: litter box, litter, food, papers, carrying cage, etc.
He spent it's first day hiding behind the couch. Normal for a cat that’s just been transplanted to a strange house, with strange people (buddy, have you ever got THAT one right), and strange languages. He didn’t move from behind the couch for the first day at all, not even to eat or use the litter.
It was funny because when we came home yesterday, we could push the couch forward and he would rush to our hand to be pet, but he would refuse to come out. When I picked him up from behind the couch and plopped him in his litter pan (designer litter pan, chic!), he darted back behind the couch. Whereupon he instantly came back to be pet again. Almost 24 hours to the second after arriving, he decided to walk out and start exploring.
He apparently doesn't scratch things (although he's making a beeline for my plant!) and he's not too curious. I somewhat regret the curious part, (he wouldn't push open the bathroom door, he just stared at Laura until she did it for him), but that's probably for the best in an apartment cluttered with fragile things.
And a tendency to look into the distance with the classic cat look of "Hey, what's that?!! I'm going to go investigate!" and then... turning around for another pet. I've never seen a cat ignore that look before. It's disconcerting. He should try acting more normally.
Second off: we just bought an apartment! Well, we signed the intent to buy, which isn't quite the same thing yet, but it's a good first step. We found an apartment near the train station, 30, rue du Fort Wedell, which is almost a perfect fit for us. The apartment itself isn't too big, only about 630 sqft.-- of which not all is usable because it's a mansard-- however, the building's 350 sqft. attic belongs to us, as does a 100 sqft. room in the basement that I can use as a small work roomj, and a small closet on the stair landing outside our apartment where we can keep such things as brooms, mops, kitty litter, etc. That means storage space galore, something no one ever has in Europe. That means that our 630 sqft. is 100% usable for living, since we don't have to canabalize living space for storing things.
The apartment is newly renovated, with a front door that's so bomb-proof they tell us we'll have to cut out of it's frame if ever we lose the key. It's a nice looking door, but it's obviously designed to keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold. Our kitchen is fully equipped, and is done in the "American" style, which means that the kitchen is open and simply separated from the main room by an island. It is a nice effect, and sets itself up perfectly for barstools. And there's a back shelf visible from the main room that runs the entire length of the wall. It's a perfect setup for my bottle collection. I think I'm back up to 35 some different bottle of alcohol. Not quite as high as the 55 some bottles I had in my glory days before leaving the US, but I'm certainly starting to get a good selection. I think for the housewarming party, we'll make it open bar and request that people bring a bottle of something weird and different that we would never have had.
Th renovators will repaint the apartment in the color of our chosing, and they're also going to run ethernet cabling to my specifications so that the apartment will be truly modern. We even agreed that they would install a bar on the private walkway in front of the building where we can chain up our bikes.
The neighborhood is somewhat interesting, too. One neighbor is a upscale yuppie bar, and the other neighbor is a toxicology clinic. I bet we're buying in one of the more lively quarters of Luxembourg. Not that anything that passes for "lively" here would be seen as such in any other city. It's a sleepy town.
I'll post some photos of both the cat and the apartment once I get some good ones to show.
Monday, May 07, 2007
I went to Susan's funeral this weekend in Dijon. I left not knowing what to expect, how the atmosphere would be. It's always sad when a special person is lost to the world. However, Susan had a year to prepare for the end, and she spent that time wisely. She was one of the most energetic, outgoing, and friendly people I ever met, and she wanted to be remembered as a source of hapiness and gaity. She organized her own funeral ceremony before she passed away, asking that people do nothing more than come, eat, drink, and make merry.
Of course, it's hard to be at one's best after having lost a friend, but we tried, and we managed. It was more party than funeral, and a good time was had by all, even Susan's daughter, Virginia, and husband, Greg. She chose to be cremated and have her ashes scattered on the small creek that flowed through their yard, so after a small visit to the site along the bank, we conversed and drank the night away.
She left this world in a firey ball of energy, both physically and mentally. Susan, we miss you already.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Last week was a sad week. I lost in less than 7 days my grandfather in New Jersey and a friend in France. It's always difficult to deal with death and dying. Susan Coller and my grandfather both had the luck and misfortune to know their death was coming. Susan had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor of the worst kind. Undergoing an experimental American treatment, the French doctors judged it miraculous that she lived another year. She was as full of life as anyone ever was, and gave great meaning to the idea of seizing life and sucking the marrow out of it.
My grandfather passed away in the morning of his 64th anniversary. How he managed to stay with us so long is anyone's guess. His last years with us were passed in the nightmarish prison of his crippled body. He had a degenerative spinal disease that left him more and more cut off from the world, and yet, he persevered and stayed afloat. Rarely in my life have I met a man with as incisive and clear views and conclusions as my grandfather. He will be buried at West Point Military Academy in New York, where he went to college and later lived for many years after serving in WWII.
We will miss both dearly. They contributed so much to the lives of those around, and still had more to give. Au revoir...
Monday, March 19, 2007
Laura and I are considering buying a house or apartment. I don't know why, we're probably insane to be thinking about it. Right now we have a reasonable790E/mo. rent in a good part of town that allows us to bike to work. Why we'd want to trade that for a 3,000E/mo. mortgage is a little hard to understand. Some of it must be because we're caught up in the euphoria of a possible housing bubble, but it's hard to deny that Luxembourg is growing and growing quickly. While it's true that there's plenty of space to build, I find it unlikely that the gov't will allow the space to be used to such an extent that housing prices crash. Moreover, when one sees the insane amount of construction going on in Kirchberg where we live, it's difficult to imagine that prices will do anything other than climb. Maybe not astronomically quickly, as they did these past few years, but certainly an upwards trend that won't leave us holding the bag. Or so we hope...
We found a cute "little" place in Clausen, one of the oldest quarters in the city, just down the road from the original castle that was the center of the city. Even better, it's only 1km from work! Of course, that kilometer is almost straight uphill, but that's to be expected-- it is Luxembourg after all. The down/upside of this house is that it is in an absolutely deplorable state on the inside. Everything needs to go, without question. The cool thing is that this is an older house made of stone and brick, rather than the newer concrete debacles they keep building around town. Thus, we can really make some fun stuff out of it all, especially because there are old wooden beams as thick as your body that make up the floors and ceilings. That kind of thing can't be bought today anymore at any price-- there just aren't any trees that big left.
The down/downside is the price. Even in a deplorable state, the owner still wants 380,000E. That's not small change, not by anyone's book, and it will probably encourage us to just keep looking. We sort of decided how much we could pay per month, and due to those funny laws of compounding interest, the difference between 380,000 and 320,000 is much, much more than just 60,000E. Anything below 300,000E we can pay off in ten years or less. Anything more than that and the number of years we can expect before we're done increases, well, exponentially.
On the other hand, the location is beyond belief, and the house is quite big, by European standards at least. It's about 1500 sq.ft., plus authentic valuted wine celler and attic space, so there's plenty of space for all my junk. Plus, we can probably expect some serious help from Laura's family with any renovations we might eventually do. I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again; Laura's brother Dani is a woodworking whiz. There's nothing more I'd like than to set him loose inside the house and see what he can't carve, cut, and sculpt us up.
Monday, March 05, 2007
I wrote this back in January, but never finished it. If I were to put it in the right chronological order with the other entries, no one would ever notice it, so here it is, three months after the fact.
I got back from Romania yesterday. I must say that this has been the most enjoyable trip to Romania yet. The country has made great strides since the first time I visited in summer 2004, and for the first time I could actually breath the air-- well, not quite, but more on that later.
A recap of the trip from first day to last. This isn't for you, it's for me, so that I remember things. If it seems long and boring, well, that's your fault, don't claim I didn't warn you. You're basically reading my notes to myself, so if you find nothing better than "5:05-- went to bathroom. No toilet paper", don't blame me. Now, without further ado...
Dec. 20th - Laura and I woke up at a mind numbing 5AM in order to pick up Stefan and Louisa and get us all to the Cologne-Bonn airport in time for the 9AM flight. Laura had shrugged off Stefan's offer to bring along his GPS-- there really wasn't room in the car for one thing more-- so we did it based on my memory alone.
Now, my memory is a pretty good thing when it comes to directions, but it only serves to get me to the point where I'm close enough to have signs for the rest of the way. How was I supposed to know that the signs took me on a 50km detour? What can I say? This is classic for Europe, and doubly so for Germany. European road engineers are sadistic devils who love nothing more than to assume that every person who comes into a region is from the region, and thus doesn't need signs. In other words, they make their signs for the people who don't need them. Sigh...
In any case, we made it to the airport in plenty of time, especially because the airplane was late. Speaking of the airplane, we did something weird on the flight to Bucharest. We went directly there. See, the airplane was supposed to go to Brussels first and then go on to Bucharest. It makes a sort of loop, starting at Bucharest, going to Cologne, then to Brussels, and then back to Bucharest. Except this time, we didn't go to Belgium. I didn't know they could reschedule airplanes like that in mid-air, but they did.
The landing was normal, but the taxing was weird. First off, we back-taxied down the runway. This is most definitely not something that normally happens in commercial aircraft operation. Then we were met by a Dacia Logan with a flashing light clamped onto its roof, not the normal kind of car one expects to see at the airport. Not that I'm going to complain, our "detour" when we left Cologne saved us two hours, so we had time for this kind of weird stuff.
The rest of the day was spent at Laura's friend Cristina's place in northern Bucharest. Not a particularly eventful night, we just ate and then went to a bookstore (What is it about my family that the first thing anyone in it does when they go to a new city is head straight for a bookstore? Even when they don't speak the language?). I got to park Cristina's car in the weirdest little spot I've ever squozen into, but she was happy, telling me that I'd saved her life.
Dec. 21st - After an incredibly late start-- the beginnings of a trend that was broken only once during my entire two week stay-- we moved operations to Laura's old place, somewhere in the very center of Bucharest. The new apartment had all the amenities, such as running water and electricity, but somewhere someone forgot to tell the builders that running water is most useful when three conditions are met: 1) you can turn it on AND off, not just on, 2) the drain leading from the sink should be attached to the rest of the plumbing, and 3) the sewage plumbing in the house should actually allow water to pass.
At least the electricity tasted good.
We made Tiramisu that night. It was good. So good in fact, that I wound up making it later on for Laura's parents in Craiova. We also had some pasta in a white sauce, and it was good too.
Afterward, we left. Laura and Irina went to go hang out with smokers, I went to go hang out with non-smokers. Taking the immaculately clean subway, I wound up somewhere in Cringas, a Bucharest neighborhood that made Laura and Irina cringe at the thought of setting foot within, but one that I found perfectly normal. Well, as normal as Bucharest could be. I met my friend Florin, who I had met when he studied in Dijon along with Laura, and we talked until the wee hours of the morning. His girlfriend got off work at 2AM (She's a lawyer. I didn't know they worked such late shifts.) and we chatted until 5. He showed me the film The 25th Hour which I thoroughly enjoyed, although with all the NYC references and jokes I see why many people don't get the film and subsequently don't like it.
Sometime that morning we finally turned off the light, which leads me 3 short hours later to...
Dec. 22nd - The very first thing I did that morning was go to Carrefour. I don't know why, but to me Carrefour is the symbol of everything being copescetic. It's the world's second-biggest supermarket, right behind-- you guessed it-- WalMart. Something about walking its hallowed aisles makes me feel at ease, as if I were at home in the world. Or maybe the fact that I place going to a supermarket on my list of tourist activiites shows just how neurotic I can be. You decide.
Anyway, Carrefour was impressive. It had the kind of lines that only capitalism could produce. Communism could make one line for bread stretch around the block. Capitalism takes that and adds a large screen plasma TV for good measure, and multiplies it by 40 cashiers. Through wit and cunning, I only waited 20 minutes to buy a kitty litter box, Laura's Christmas present.
Later in the afternoon, having safely returned to Irina's place from my outing, I met up with Laura where we wiled away the last hours and ate the last Tiramisu before catching a train to Craiova. It was a bit of a pain to catch because, being Friday before Christmas, there wasn't a taxi to catch for the life of us, we had to take the metro. Normally, this isn't such a bad thing, but Romanian escalators work about as well as Romanian plumbing, and we had two very large suitcases with us and three smaller ones. Strangely enough, all my luggage fit into one of the smaller bags. The rest of it was all Laura's. Why one girl returning home to her parents' place needs 3 bags more of luggage than the boy without a single article of clothing awaiting him is beyond me.
After a short 2 hour trip to Craiova in a not incredibly disgusting train, we were picked up by Laura's father in his Dacia 1310. I later found out they got the car brand new 17 years ago, and since then it's been through 2 engines, and any number of repairs. This was my first time in it, however. I can't say I was shocked to discover that there were no rear seatbelts-- the taxis in Bucharest don't have them either, but I was shocked to discover that it had a choke. A choke! I mean, sure the car is 17 years old, but that means it was made in 1990. Of all the cars I've had in my life, only one was younger than 1990, but every last one of them had not only a cold-start valve, but fuel injectors to boot.
With a vroom, the massive 1.3L engine sprung to life and we pittered down the road, making sure we drove in the potholes because the road was flatter there. Once home, we got home and socialized with her parents and brother and girlfriend and then started pulling out the Christmas presents early. Laura and I had gotten them a large number of tools, as they just inherited a house out in the countryside that they were going to renovate. We bought them a circular saw, a cordless drill, a corded percussion drill, an electric sander, and a big box of drill bits and attachments. Her father and brother were tickled pink. Now that they had all these tools, they just needed something to work on...
Dec. 23rd - They made me drive the Dacia today. I can't say it was a miserable experience, but it was definitely a chore. Between getting the fool thing started-- a choke!-- and actually putting it in gear it was nigh impossible to get going anywhere with stalling it. Still, I managed, and learned that the quirky 4-speed H shifter layout-- with backwards down and left-- was actually not aligned to the car, but was canted off at a 15-degree angle, meaning that the shift from 2nd to 1st is about the same motion you would make shifting a regular car from 2nd to 3rd. That's confusing. Worse, since the shift from 1st to 2nd requires you to go down and left, and so does reverse, it's quite easy to put the car into reverse instead of second gear as you're going forward. Don't ask me how I know that one.
The Dacia has seat-belts like in older airplanes. There's a lap and shoulder harness, but the belts don't actually retract, they're just adjusted to a close enough size. This means that the seat-belt never fits right, because you can only adjust the belt with the door open, but in order to make it tight you have to be sitting down. Worse, whenever someone else drives they change everything, as simply sliding the seat forward or back knocks everything out of whack. Not that it matters, as the laws of physics (and common sense) don't apply to Romanian drivers. Laura's father's and brother's way of wearing the seatbelt was simply throwing the buckle across their lap. And I do mean throwing. No buckling involved. Just letting the buckle dangle off to the right somewhere between the two seats.
I tried disfiguring myself that night when the car battery died. They had been having problems with the battery, and her father took it inside everyone night in order to charge it overnight. During the afternoon, Laura's brother had left the lights on and had drained the battery, setting us up for a problem once the night got cold. That night, after having met up with Laura's stageiare Adrei, we went to a large super-market, for some food. After we got back out to the car, it refused to start. I tried jumping it with someone else's car, but to no avail. The car refused to even acknowledge that there was another battery attached. All the lights were off, even the inside dome light. Because the other people were blocking the way and traffic was building up behind them, I quickly decided that it was a bad idea to keep trying. And what a good idea that was. Upon removing the jumper cables, I noticed that one of them was quite hot. I marveled at this and that's when I noticed that, on this car, the red wire went to the negative terminal, and the black to the positive! Good lord, that came close to blowing up the battery in my face. Fortunatly, it really died, or else I would have been in for a nasty shock, no pun intended. I know this was my fault, but the parking lot was dark, I didn't have a flashlight, and who in their right mind connects red to negative and black to positive???
Anyway, I went inside and bought some new battery clamps to replace the one broken off by another kind man who thought he could help us, and then we waited for Laura's dad to get there. We wound up being able to start the car by pushing it, and that got us 98% of the way home before the car died 20m from home. All's well that end's 98% well.
Dec. 24th - Laura gave some money to her dad and he got a new battery. After that, we spent the day finding a Christmas tree. They were expensive. The one we got wound up costing just under 50euro, but Laura was very happy with it as it was the first time in her life that she had had a bushy Christmas tree, and not a scraggly one. Her parents too. They said that they'd never seen such a beautiful Christmas tree in their lives. After that, I don't really remember what happened. I think this must have been the moment when I started falling very sick. It was the same old, same old reaction to smokers: me blowing my nose as if it were a ship's horn.
Dec. 25th - Christmas time. The morning started with the exchanging of gifts, just like in America. (I'll remind you that in France they open their presents on Christmas eve). We doled out the rest of our presents, got a few in return, and met with her uncle and cousins. The rest of the day was somewhat of a blur as I was still sick.
Dec. 26th - still sick, but only in the evening. This day we headed out to "the countryside". Now, for me, I've always understood the countryside to be something far removed from 99% of humanity, where you see one house every 2 miles, and everything else is farms. In Romania, when they talk about the countryside, they mean any habitation that's not a major city. So, in this case the countryside was a neighboring town 40 miles away where her grandparents live. Hightlight of the trip? Having them explain an outhouse to me. Come on guys, some parts of Romania might be backwards, but not any more than parts of Kentucky!
Dec. 27th - Today we went to Pratiker, a German home improvement store that had opened house in Romania. We bought some door latch mechanisms for Laura's parents' apartment. The old one barely worked anymore, and the door handles all drooped at odd angles that were closer to vertical than horizontal. While we were there, we picked up a new kitchen faucet for the apartment, one of those nice ones that can switch between spray or stream and where the faucet head is mounted on a long hose so you can take it out of its socket and maneuver it around.
What was eventful about this shopping trip was the way we left. In Romania, no one lets you return anything for money. At best, they'll give you store credit. Now, this isn't particularly useful to us, as we don't live in Romania so we'd never get a chance to redeem the credit, and Laura's parents would never go there on their own. So I decided that it didn't make sense to buy the 40E faucet without knowing if that was a good price and whether we could even fit it into the existing sink. I told Laura that we should go see a manager and tell them that while we respected the way they wanted to do business, we wanted to just share our opinion of how things could be better. That's what I said we should do. What happened was something different. Laura wound up in an argument with the people at the welcome desk.
You see, I was supposed to talk to them with Laura being my interpreter. The problem was that she kept adding things in Romanian, things I wasn't saying, and then responding to the employee's comments without translating them back to me. This meant that I became totally lost in the conversation and couldn't really add anything useful. That's why it's a big no-no when doing direct interpretation to add anything, anything at all, even the smallest nugget. I know it makes sense to add things that seem logical, but the people speaking back and forth through the interpreter don't know that those little nuggets were added in, and so the non-verbal communication, which becomes much more important, starts reflecting realities that the other person doesn't understand. I can't complain too much, though. Laura got her message across, and they promised to refund our merchandise in case we didn't want it. It seems that even in post-Soviet countries the customer can be king.
That night, we visited a half Romanian, half Palestinian friend of hers. How to put this...? I never get why when I'm in Romania with a group of people that all speak English well, they have a nasty habit of slipping into Romanian. I hesitate to call it "rude", after all I'm visiting their country, not the other way around. But it's terribly distressing when you're left on a couch for two hours to listen to other people chatter on in a foreign language you don't understand. The first 15 minutes it's okay, you try to listen and you learn a lot. But after this first quarter hour has gone by, the conversation moves on to other things and your brain sort of saturates on the intense energy required to listen when not understanding. So that was the evening, me staring at a kid play with his toys while three English speakers ignored me. Bleh.
Dec. 28th - I was supposed to go to the countryside, but didn't think it was a good idea considering how sick I'd been. So today I spent the whole day indoors working on the sink with her parents. They were so happy about the new faucet. The old one came with the apartment and refused to turn off without you first turning it back and forth like a combination lock. More often than not, people were lazy and simply didn't turn off the faucet at all. So her father and I set out to replace it. Laura excused herself from the apartment for the afternoon, and left her dad and myself together, to somehow make ourselves understood with a combination of pidgin English, pidgen Romanian, and clicks and screeches when nothing else worked. After many hours of false starts, the day finally culminated with me wedging my entire body underneath the kitchen sink while I tightened the final pipe fittings and nuts and bolts. Her family found that hilarious, as it was sort of like one of those tricks where the Chinese man folds himself in half to fit into an impossibly tiny box. But I don't care, it worked, and now they're the proud parents of a brand new, modern faucet.
As the day turned to night, I fell sick again and retreated to the bedroom. I guess that when the sun is up, I feel more energetic and there are more things going on, letting me fight off the sickness more easily, but once night sets in and the world slows down, I no longer have the energy to keep going. I had taught Laura's family how to play Hearts, and the evening culminated with me going delirious, as I threw down my cards and proclaimed, "They're all mine!" when nothing could have been further from the truth. I'll never live that one down, as the expression on my face, and on everyone else's as they tried to understand just what sort of drugs I was on, was classic.
Dec. 29th - Countryside again. This time I went to the countryside to visit the house recently inherited by her parents. It's to the southwest of Craiova, very close to the Bulgarian border. This trip was just her father and myself. Again, we managed to communicate as we could. I certainly had picked up a bit of Romanian, enough to understand simple concepts. We chatted a bit in the car. It's funny how we take for granted the ability for the English mind to so easily understand foreigners and their accents. In fact, it's only thanks to a lifetime of listening to these silly accents that we come to understand so easily what people want.
I wouldn't be surprised if her dad had in his life met another foreigner who tried to speak Romanian, but I would be surprised to find out that he'd met more than 5 of them. Oftentimes he didn't understand what I was saying because I mangled the word too badly, and he didn't really seem to know how to make an effort to understand. It wasn't for lack of desire, just lack of knowledge. I don't think he's ever sat down and thought about what words a foreigner is likely to use, or what a foreigner would like to learn based on mangled expressions. I tried to learn how to conjugate verbs, but neither of her two parents ever understood that when I repeated two or three conjugations for a verb and then trailed off after having started with a new pronoun that what I wanted was for them to finish the conjugation. For instance, if someone said to me in bad English "I am, okay. He is, okay. You...?" I would understand that they want me to finish the sentence for them.
The house in the countryside was nice. It was a small three room farmhouse, with outhouse out back, and a couple small shed/barns. There was a cat and a dog, too. After this short visit to their house, we drove down to his brother-in-law's bar. In an odd coincidence, both men grew up in the same small village, even though neither met till they married their respective wives. What was weird about the bar, was that it, too, had an outhouse. I can't imagine how bad that must smell.
Dec. 30th - The only day of the entire vacation we woke up before 10AM. We had to, as we were setting off for the Carpacian Mountains in central Romania. We rented a Dacia Logan off of Laura's mother's collegue's brother's taxi service. Yup, we rented a taxi. And, yes indeed, people really did try to get us to drive them around town.
Dec 31st - I have never had so much fun sliding in my life. There was a hill. And this hill had aspirations. Aspirations to be a mountain.
After all that insane real driving, they were driving those bumper cars around like old ladies. I have never, and I mean never seen a bumper car driver slow down in order to avoid a collision. What's the point if you don't hit other people? I figured that Romanians of all people would know how to crash and burn, but no, they were docile as could be. The world never ceases to surprise.
I was going to write more, but then I lost track of things. For anyone who soldiered on this far, I hope it provided some small enjoyment.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I think I will be going back to America in just a few days. My grandfather has been ill for a long time with a mysterious spinal cord degeneration that the doctors never knew how to explain. I almost can't remember seeing him walk. The years have taken their toll, and last year Christmas I was very happy to see him again. From what my mother says, he hasn't long left with us.
I can't say I'm surprised, we knew this was coming. As my mom said, he's dying from old age. I can't imagine how he must feel, and I'm very sorry for my grandmother. I don't know what she'll do without him. They spent 60 years living together, how will she continue apart? Will she continue? I don't know that I want to think about it. Sometimes the most beautiful things in the past are the most tragic in the present.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
New car! Well, new for us, at least. It's a 2003 Daewoo Nubira 1.8GPLi CDX that we're getting for a song. Something weird about Daewoo being rebadged Chevrolet (yes, Chevrolet!) during 2003 and this being one of the last cars sold with the Daewoo grill. Even though it's a 2003, it first hit the road in Dec. 2003 (which normally would have made it a 2004, but as I said the cars were being rebadged at the time) so it's only three years old. Definitely the newest car I've ever owned. Laura and I are flying down to Marseille tomorrow to get it. I'm carrying more cash in my pocket than I've ever seen in my life. All is good, because the weather here is blustery rain.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Cars are apparently as easy to break into as ever. Not counting the numerous reports of people's cars being broken into and stolen with laptops and emergency brake maneuvers, it seems that cars are still vulerable to the old coat-hanger. Fortunately, this time, the information resided with the good guys, as I was able to open my car after Laura locked both sets of keys inside. It wasn't even that hard-- just pulling the front door handle from the inside unlocks all the doors. Matt Stacey's old Datsun 210 was a hundred times harder, as there I had to loop the coat hanger around the little knob that used to serve as a door lock.
All this is lucky for me, because when Laura locked my keys inside my car today at frisbee practice my Xanita took me maybe 15 minutes, 10 of which were just figuring out the right way to approach the problem. I'm pretty sure that next time I'll have it done in 5, and if I were really motivated, could design a tool to get it done in under thirty seconds.
Good thing I don't worry about car theft or else my peace of mind would be shot now.
Friday, December 01, 2006
I got stopped today by customs agents as I was leaving a gas station. I wasn't at the border, although in Luxembourg every highway is near a border. They asked me who I was, where I was going, blah, blah, blah. Then they didn't like my answers and searched my car. This is worrisome to me. I did nothing wrong, had no reason to be suspected of anything, and yet they searched my car and my stuff nonetheless. They were very kind and curteous about things, and honestly I think I prefer to have my car searched by European policemen than to even have to talk to an American one, but it still bothers me that a customs agent can search my car once I am fully inside the border. I suppose it's better than having to stop at all Luxembourg's borders and go through customs there (intra-Europe borders are no longer controlled), but still...
Monday, November 13, 2006
Two intersting things: 1) I just got 50 neodymium super magnets. Oh, joy. This will be fun. I'm going to try to make a CVT out of them.
2) In the box for the magnets came a small sachet marked "blacksocks.com". Inside the packet, there are three small black socks of indeterminate material. They feel as if they were made out of rubber. On the back side, it's marked "Jelly Candies with Cheese-Flavour". That's right, the Germans have invented cheese-flavored gummy bears. _Why_ they did that is a question for the ages. I, for one, will sleep better at night knowing that science never stops.
No, I haven't eaten one yet. If anyone wants to try them, I'll mail them to you.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I listened to the results of the American election on Luxembourgish radio. It was impossibly hard to figure out exactly what they were saying, but I did here the two words "Democrats" and "gewinnen" a lot, and the equally beautiful "Bush" and "gelosen".
They're building a three-storey prefabricated university building right outside my window. It's rather impressive to see all the modules be lifted into place. One thing I didn't understand is why the electric sockets haven't been put in place yet-- I could see the dangling wires coming out of the wall. If the buildings are prefab, couldn't they have put in the sockets, too? The mysteries of building construction escape me.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
I was just told by one of the staff at the university that they call me "The Surfer" on account of my blond hair. I was flattered, but I explained that a more accurate nickname would have something to do with frisbee.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Since it's the uncyclopedia, it'll probably change faster than you can imagine, so read it now before it's too late. If I had been drinking milk, I would have blown it out my nose. As it is, it's one of the funniest things I've read in a long time.
Since it's the uncyclopedia, it'll probably change faster than you can imagine, so read it now before it's too late. If I had been drinking milk, I would have blown it out my nose. As it is, it's one of the funniest things I've read in a long time.
Monday, October 30, 2006
I just got off the phone with a Goodyear application engineer in Nebraska. He suggested that they return my call, to which I replied that I was in Luxembourg. "Huh," he said, "I thought I had detected a hint of an accent."
Friday, October 27, 2006
I've started a new project page: http://eissq.com/HyDoR/
It's for my hybrid motorcycle project. I hope to have something to put on it every day. I'm going to try to structure my day around research and then proper note-taking of said research. To that end, the site could be dynamic, as one day I discover something and the next day I discover it's completely false.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Ouch. Looks like Dad outdid me.
Looks as if I'll be getting current again sometime soon.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
A school south of Boston just banned tag and other sports involving running during recess. http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/18/1442218 Honestly, this disturbs me more than Iraq. I've long thought that America lacks heros because we've all been indoctrinated that there are others who fight for us (police, army, Rambo). I can't help but feel that it is exactly this sort of policy which encourages lack of understanding of what personal responsability and sacrifice mean.
In other-- more sane-- news, I finally got my car back on the road. Instead of buying an Xantia 330E fuel pump from Citroen, I got one for the Citroen Xsara (slightly more modern than my Xantia) on ebay for only 15E including S&H. Within 10 minutes of having it in my grubby, little hands, I had sawed off the piece of plastic keeping it from sliding into the original pump's place, plugged all the connectors back in, and started my car up. THe engine took off first try. Hallelujah!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
I just got done watching Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth". Quite the powerful movie, I felt, and I hope that Americans listen. It's especially graphic when Al Gore discusses what _will_ happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice packs melt. In fact, I have to say that I agree with everything he said in the movie, and that none of it is extremism, unverified, speculation, or otherwise. Watch and listen, please.
I also felt very heartened by the ending. He made the very good point that we have already overcome one global climate problem: the ozone layer. Maybe everything isn't going down the drain after all.
Something else remarkable is happening in America, too. I was reading the posts by soldiers in the war theater, http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox/, and noticed that they use the metric system to describe things. What does this portend for America and that hellish system of measurements? Surely we have only to wait one more generation before we can finally communicate intelligently with the rest of the world.
And if you haven't been there to read what the soldiers say, you should. It was Gary Trudeau's idea to give the soldiers a place to express themselves. Some of it is good, some bad, but it's all very haunting. You can forget that there is a war going on because Foley is more important than another dead 'ricain. But it's there, and for some 200,000 unfortunate Americans, and many millions of Iraqis, it's very real.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I wiled away my night playing Civ IV. I only take half the blame for that. I went out on time to the bus stop, even early in fact, but no bus. Last bus of the night, and it didn't come. Or it came so early that it had to have left early, a situation unacceptable but all too common in Luxembourg. Sigh...
Buses here are maddening. They add more routes, with less people, and more buses. It's not uncommon to see buses empty, and it's not uncommon for me to find myself the sole rider in a bus going back to Bridel. From an energy/pollution/time standpoint I and the world are actually better of not taking the bus.
I went to a colloquium yesterday on housing prices in Luxembourg. Apparently, housing has doubled since, oh, hmmm, 2003. Wow. Talk about missing the boat. What was odd was that the goverment representative said that Luxembourg-ville actually had a net decrease in inhabitants, falling by 3,000 from its 79,000 high in the 1970s. I have trouble believing that prices doubled, to in excess of 5,000E/m^2 at the same time as population actually dropped. I think they're miscounting pretty badly. Probably missing immigrants, interns, and the like.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Luxembourg's 24HCD has started. We've a relatively humble showing of only 7 people (well, humble compared to last year when we had 37 or so.), but they're hard at work, and I'm happy in the end that it took place here. I had misgivings- look on a map and calculate how far the following are from Luxembourg: Nantes, St. Lô (in Normandy), Zurich (!), Dijon, and Namur. Okay, Dijon and Namur were reasonable. The girl who took the train from Nantes to get to Rouen and then drove for 7 hours with some other participants was just crazy. No, really, she is. Crazy. But she's cool, and she draws incredible stuff, so I guess she's allowed to be. However, I think my misgivings were misfounded, as everyone here seems to be very happy to be here and drawing. I had proposed last week moving it to Lille in an effort to make it more accessible, but the general reaction was, "We don't care, we've waited too long for this year and nothing is going to stop us!"
Pictures to follow.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
My new bécame
I can't wait to get it back to Luxembourg and pull that giant, gas-guzzling, pollution spewing engine out and replace it with an electric motor. I'm not sure yet, but there might even be enough space to turn it into a hybrid. Now that would be cool.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
I spent last week in Trieste at the SISSA Institute. It was a wonderful week spent mostly doing science and lazing about the city. It was a surprising city, as the buildings make it look as if it were heavily inhabited, but apparently many of them are empty, and some haven't even been rebuilt since serving as a ghetto in WWII. Trieste demographically is the oldest city in Italy. We liked it, though.
On Wednesday, Laura went back, leaving me to finish up work at SISSA.
A few thoughts:
Expense accounts are bad things. Since I eat everything in sight, and since I love eating Italian food so much, I simply couldn't resist overindulging myself. And, heck, since it didn't cost anything, overindulgance became positively epicurean.
Italy is fun and I think it's my favorite place in the world.
Italians who speak English are about the funniest foreign speakers in the world. Funny in a good way. I love their accents.
Everyone loves legos, and they especially love legos when they're doing scientifically interesting.
On Friday, I flew back into Hahn airport-- inbetween Trier and Mainz-- where Brendan and Reija whisked me off to Erlangen for a frisbee tournament with Mother Tongue. A frisbee tournament that we actually won! The oddest thing was, though, that I didn't feel very different having won vs all the other tournaments where we didn't. It's not that I didn't feel good. Au contraire. I felt very good, but then again I always do. Maybe that was it. Just going to the tournament is such an exhilarating time that I don't really care if I win or lose. Winning and losing are dependent on the team, which isn't something I can control. What I *can* control though, is how well I play. And as long as I play to the best of my abilities, I can't think of any better way to spend the weekend.
I discovered allsimps.com. What a wonderful way to waste a day.
Monday, September 11, 2006
It's been awhile since I lasted posted. Has anything happened in my life? I suppose, as each day follows another. But it was summer, and summer in Europe is always slow. People flit in and flit out, as each heads off to vacation in his or her own la-la-land. If I had things to do and were getting things done, it would be infuriating. As it is, it's more of an excuse to not have results than any real reason for the general slowness that typifies my days at work.
Speaking of work, I'm off to Trieste on Thursday. I have been invited by the SISSA to demonstrate my table at a science day. Not perhaps the most glorious of reasons (I seem to keep telling people I'm giving a seminar. Which isn't false, but it perhaps encourages false impressions), but I'm taking it nonetheless. Why not? After all, they're paying for everything, and even urging me to stay around an extra week, just to meet the lab researchers and visit the region.
Aside from that, frisbee took off, although lately it's been a bit disappointing due to the lax turnout. I guess that's to be expected, what with half the (best) players going back to college in some other country. I shouldn't complain, though, as having 30 different people show up, with many a day in excess of 20, is not quite failure. I only need to work on retention rates now.
I think I can make a linear drive out of legos. If it works, I'll post it here.
Had a housewarming party at Laura's new apartment. Everyone liked her apartment, and everyone liked my chocolat fondu. And I made those little cinammon tortilla chips that you get at Pizza Hut. Mmmmmm-mmm, good. Oh, and some bread with lardons and olives. That was a really spectacular loaf. I'll have to make it again later. For those duly equiped with a bread maker, here's the recipe:
350 gr of water
1.5 cc of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
350 gr white flour
300 gr multi grain flour
Enough yeast to make it rise properly. It's a light loaf, like French bread.
Use a 900g French bread cycle.
You can put it in the following right away, or wait for the beep.
150 gr of green or black pitted olives
200 gr of lardons (If you can't find these, which you probably can't, just substitute with uncooked bacon. Remember that the baking cycle will cook everything, so no need to precook it. You might tear it into smaller pieces, though)
Monday, July 24, 2006
The first every Hat Tourney deLux is now officially over, and the results are positively inconclusive, except to say that my teams didn't win. All in all, it was quite fun, with a healthy roster of foreigners (6 or so made it from far away places). The local turnout was a bit disappointing, with only four newbies showing, but that's okay. They'll be there next time around.
A big hearty thanks to the Mother Tongue team, which much contributed so many players to the tournament that one could almost have believed that they had brought their own team. Kris, Philipe, Toan, Rod, Brendan, Wayne, April, and myself. Mother Tongue _was_ the disc.
So, 18 people in total, which let us play three-team, sloppy-fun 5-on-5 with one sub. After playing a total of three games, we switched teams up, and did it again. The overall results are unknown to me, but I think we kept them on a sheet somewhere. Maybe. And maybe even with team players on it. I don't remember.
Oh, well, time to go play frisbee again. 45 minutes to get there, and I need to swing by the grocery store and eat.
Friday, July 14, 2006
It turns out that my first Ultimate Frisbee team in all of Luxembourg, Les Frisbees deLux, is in fact the second team! Flying Red Rocks Kayl, www.frisbee.lu, beat us out by a whole year. No hard feelings, though, the more the merrier. I'm just as glad I didn't know they existed, or else I never would have made a team in Luxembourg city.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I should be working, but I'm playing Go instead. Don't really know what to do right now. I've got projects, but am waiting on parts. It's a lack of foresight on my part. I'm amazed when I see things like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy. He shot the last scene first. He knew at the end what he wanted. He had such a clear vision that he could order most everything years in advance, and get it right at the end. He saw it from alpha to omega.
Myself, I have trouble seeing beyond 5 o'clock.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Well, I made it 28 years without dental work, but now no more. I went this morning at 8AM to get a cavity taken care of this morning, one discovered because of my little fracas at the frisbee tournament in Belgium.
Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, the dentist opened my mouth, took his rotary drill, ground out the cavity, filled it in with glue, and shooed me on my way. The only hiccough was that the cavity was deeper than he'd anticipated, but not so deep as to touch a nerve. So without anesthetic, and without a droopy mouth and tongue, I was at work before 8:30.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I just got back from a tournament in Arendonk, Belgium, a sleepy little town with more soccer fields than inhabitants. I guess it's a dumping ground of sorts for sporting events in Antwerp, just like the Kentucky Horse Park is for Lexington games. It was quite amusing and we took fourth place. I'd promise to tell all about it, but we all know that I'd never get around to actually writing down the account. I'll probably post some video in the next few weeks, once I get it from the others.
Unfortunately, no one captured on tape the *ahem* brightest point of the tournament for me. The one where all I saw were stars and bright lights. When I got smacked across the head so hard it literally chipped a tooth. According to my teammates, who unlike me actually saw AND remembered it, the guy was a little out of control and stepped forward while throwing the frisbee, putting me in range of his quite massive backhand. Knocked me plum off my rocker. Oh, well, we won that game anyway, and thanks to the chip and the subsequent visit to the dentist, a very small cavity was discovered that had escaped undetected during my checkup in February.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
It's 10AM and it's snowing. Laura told me that at the same latitude, but in the southern hemisphere, this would be Antartica. So Luxembourg is cold. Which has been throwing a wrench in my plans to pick back up glider flying.
Last night I got in a woman's pants. And all it took was one dollar. In fact, there are two misconceptions in that sentence. First, I literally got in a woman's pants. Buttoned them up and everything. Second off, I won one euro, and not one dollar, on the bet. Nice to know I still haven't lost that girlish figure I've been working on all these years.
In other news, I've started organizing a 24 Hour Comics Day in Luxembourg. http://www.wifi-bourgogne.com/24hcd2006/. The website is great, done by one of last years participants. So, here we are again. This year, I'm throwing down the gauntlet and have got a special surprise. You'll find out about it sometime in the coming weeks.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
No real news, just a link to a website that offers a very interesting service. It's called jajah, and it lets you make a call at VoIP rates without having to actually use a computer to complete the call. Unfortunately, it still requires you to use a website to initiate the call, but that's okay. That could be done over simple dial-up, at the public library, etc.
You could use it to call me in Luxembourg, +(352)333545. (hint, hint)
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Joyous day, I just got the 24 Hour Comics Day Highlight 2005 anthology. Lison Bernet, one of my artists on 24HCD, was chosen for publication, and lo-and-behold, and she sent me one of her complimentary copies. How nice! And there, at the beginning of her comic, was a short blurb describing her comic and attributing the translation to me. Wonderful! I mean, I realize that this is completely paysan, but still, to see your name in print. And to see your words in print (I did the translation, remember?). Wow! That brought a big smile to my face. Thanks so much Lison, both for participating, and for the comic. good luck in whatever you do.
(And if you ever really want to thank me, you can name one of your now famous dishes after me. :)
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
What? Two posts in as many days? Are the first snowflakes melting as they gently waft down to the ground of Hell? No, fear not, gentle reader, this is not a pace I can keep up for long. Most of all because all the news that was fit to print in my life was printed somewhere between yesterday's and today's message.
I've been on a do-nothing spree in Luxembourg, as I had the unfortunate luck to arrive at a time when everybody is on vacation, or galavanting about the continent on scientific outings.
So the last few days have seen me inside, cooped up in front of my internetless computer. Oh, how I miss the halcyon days of 24/7 internet. Soon, I hope, I will once again have a connection worth sneezing at. As it is, I had to set up my old Acer laptop upstairs and pipe the measely 56K internet downstairs via my wifi networks. Well, at least having been a wifi professional gave me some useful knowledge.
I've been studying Java lately. If anyone ever wants to learn something about it, I heartily recommend Bruce Eckel's Thinking in Java, downloadable for free from www.mindview.net.
Oh, yeah, and my website detailing my master's thesis has had 15,000 hits since last week. People really liked it. I was pleasently surprised.
I don't know why I never get around to updating my blog. I suppose it's because I want you to have expectations of quality-- that the blog is worth reading, even if there's very little of it to read. I suppose this is why I stubbornly hold to the list format of my blog. It makes it easy to pass from one post to the next without having to click one hundred times. It does seem to be getting a little long, though. I've considered using one of these newfangled web toys, like RapidWeaver or iWeb to make blogs faster and more efficient. Yet, each time I consider it, I am loathe to part from my list ways. Perhaps if I had long, well thought-out posts that expressed an opinion on something, and had a readership, it might be different. As it is, I have no idea how many people visit my blog in a given week, but I'm certain it's less than 10.
So much stuff I plan to do, and so little of it gets done. This is certainly what leads to a what could only be described as melancholy view of life. I feel good when I write on my blog, which begs the question, why don't I do it more often, then? One can only surmise that it's my profound fear of seeming dumb.
Of course, being dumb is also being human. Hrm...
Must be a balance somewhere in there.
Monday, February 20, 2006
I just spilled a whole can of paint down my basement steps. Fortunately, I had just bought a DV camcorder to film it all after the fact. Oh, joy.
In other news, my websites got featured on www.hackaday.com.
Ball and Plate
Digitally reading analog dials
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Dad's been bugging me about this for a long time, so I'm finally getting around to updating my blog. It's been bloody forever, so here goes. Don't forget to actually read all the way to the end because I'm splitting up momentous events so that this one doesn't get too long.
Computerless: I've sold my computer. No, I'm not giving up Apple for good (although I'd love to give up their hardware. Never been so dissatisfied in my life over a hardware purchase), just getting rid of my PPC PowerBook now that the new Intel MacBooks are out. So I don't know what I'm going to do for the next long months. Go crazy?
Never! In fact, shortly afterward, I had a crisis and bought a new iMac. $1200 in America, and worth $1600 in France. So I’m hoping to sell it here for a profit once the new laptops come out.
Jaguar: the Jaguar is advancing nicely, albeit slowly. We've got the front frame completely off and are working on stripping the tub so we can decide just what to do with this sorry tub of rust.
Unfortunately, that’s all we did do before I left. Oh, well, at least the project has advanced. It’ll probably sit around another 5 years before anything gets done on it, but that’s the way of things. It was still a lot of fun.
Titanium: titanium is cool stuff. It turns out you can anodize it without any problem whatsoever, using commonly available household goods. For instance, Diet Coke and a 9V battery.
February 7th, Billy Wiseman: Funerals are good for gossip. My brother's long-time friend Billy Wiseman died from a drug overdose-- a lethal dose of barbituates. He was an odd man, insanely gifted in languages and trivia. I don't remember him well, but I do remember his massive girth at the table of academic team matches.
It was an odd visitation, marked for me more for the fact that I ran into people I hadn't even thought about in so many years. Prewitt Witherman, Byron Babs, and my old high school academic team coach (damned if I can remember her name). My academic team coach was the cream of the crop, able to fill me in on all the juicy gossip on those I haven't really seen since my college years. Take it all with a grain of salt, as it's a third-hand account. To wit:
Julee Baber: kinda cheating, I already knew about her, she's got one of those ridiculously easy names to google like, oh, say, SEBESTA. She's in Nashville, TN directing children's theatre, and apparently doing a great job. Of everyone I knew in high school, I think she's the one the most oft in the newspapers.
David Shearer: working a computer job with the Nashville prison system. Not at all what I expected for such a literary guy.
Cory Williams: living in Lexington with his wife, Amy nee Campbell. Working on a PhD at UK. I think their marriage surprised no one but themselves.
Carlye Burchett: Now married and living under the name Carlye Burchett Thacker. Pursuing a PhD in history. No surprise there.
Sasha Wagers: practicing lawyer in Lexington. Absolutely no surprise.
Amit Shah: entering his residency. No big surprise either.
Lisa Hicks: in Chicago.
Jon Kirby: in Atlanta married, in the Army, rank: sergeant. "What the hell???" is all I can really think about that one.
Anyway, that about wraps it up. I'm certain she told me other things, but I've forgotten them already. Really, this gossip serves no interest but to let an interested passer-by track down long-lost acquaintances.
Granddad: my grandfather is in a sorry state. He was admitted to the hospital shortly after Christmas. He has blood in his urine from, it turns out, seven kidney-stones in his one functional kidney. He didn't feel the pain from this because he is for all intents and purposes paraplegic. He's had a mysterious spinal cord degradation for as long as I've been alive, and it's been very sad to watch him deteriorate from walking on his own, to needing a cane, to needing a walker, to needing a wheelchair, to being confined to bed. He was a powerful man, and saw many things, and is still as alert mentally as he was when still a fresh West Point graduate in WWII. It begs the question, "Be it better to lose one's mind in a healthy body, or one's body in a healthy mind?"
Airplane flight: I had a hellacious flight to the US back in December, with them losing my baggage for eight days and me for one! Wound up in London, when I was supposed to be in Manchester. Oh, well.They’ve now lost my baggage three times in four and a half transatlantic crossings.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Many things going on in my life recently. Since the last post, in chronological order:
I went to Dijon in mid-October to demonstrate my ball and plate table at La Fete de la Science, which is the French national science festival day. The project was a rousing success, and worked without a hitch, as long as you don't consider the occasional explosion of legos in all directions a "hitch". Great fun was had by all and I managed to program lots of neat new trajectories for my ball. To date, I can make it follow circles at different speeds (the computer can go as fast as it wants. The limitation is currently the power supply which doesn't produce enough energy for the motors), go in spirals, follow the edge of the table, and perform figure-eights. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest loved it. Jean Paul Gauthier, one of the two professors who aided me in this project, thinks we were the most popular of all the demonstrations in Burgundy. Now if only I could get Lego to believe it and send me some more legos...
Here's a bit of footage made by my American friend Greg Marshall of my demonstration. It's in H.264 format, so I suggest VLC or QuickTime for viewing it. If the sound doesn't work, don't worry, it's all in French.
The next weekend, I was in Pontarlier, a small town on the French-Swiss border, for the National Indoor Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. I played with BDM (Bon DiscManche, a play on "bon dimanche"-- good Sunday), a team that only exists twice a year, once for the indoor national tournament and once for the outdoor national tournament. They're all incredible players, so the team is quite strong and has already won these tournaments. I had played with them two years ago in similar circumstances, and they've taken to calling me "Jesus" and "The Savior" because I keep on coming through for them. I'm certainly not on their level, but I play well enough to play with them.
The weekend was quite action-packed and saw us suffer a humiliating defeat, 4-12, before coming back and going tit-for-tat with a far superior team that was not only all men-- we were co-ed with 4 men and 3 women-- but had ten people to our measly seven to boot. We wound up winning a crucial game 12-11 that kept us in the upper pool for the second weekend of the tournament, which will be held in the first quarter of 2006. I truly think that we've got a chance to win the national tournament because on the second weekend we'll have the entire team, and not just seven players. Since in indoors five players play on the field at a time, it makes a big difference in energy level when you've got only seven players vs. the teams that have eight, nine, or ten.
A little film that I hacked together of the most spectacular game, BDM vs. Flying Carpets, is here..
The weekend after that was Tout Saints-- All Saint's Day, a national holiday in Catholic countries. Laura had three days of vacation, so we went to Strasbourg to see Jerome Bernard, a French frisbee friend, fff.
However, before leaving Saturday morning for France, we made a little detour by Amsterdam. It was a crazy trip, made with the 19-year-old Russian Alexey behind the wheel of his mother's Volvo, driving like a bat out of hell. I think we made it to Amsterdam in 3 hours, at an average 160kph, even in the 100kph zones. We only went for the night, passing by Antwerp on the way back home at 4AM. Ostensibly the whole purpose of the trip was to go to Antwerp to get some suit jackets for Sergeui, Alexey's older brother that I met in Dijon a couple years ago, and some Diet Coke. Why we drove across half of Europe to pick up some of the ugliest blazers this world has ever seen (checkered lime green and white straight out of the 70s) and a 24-pack of Coke, I'll never understand, but it was fun and the conversation was good.
Once back and safely in bed, we overslept and didn't leave until late the next afternoon. So much for being early risers. Nonetheless, we embarked on our short trip to Strasbourg-- only 2 hours away-- and met up with Jerome. Not, of course, without getting lost along the way, multiple times. Giving Laura a map is like giving War and Peace to a newborn: she just puts it on her lap and stares out the window.
The nice thing about Europe, though, is that it's easy to navigate in cities because they always have canals and rivers passing through them. Just find the water that's going where you want to go and follow it. Works like a charm.
Jerome and I have a nasty habit of only talking about frisbee when we're together. Sports: the time immemorial activity for men, right? At least we're talking strategy and how we can play better, instead of rehashing games seen on TV. Nonetheless, this has a habit of boring everyone else to tears, as no one in their right mind cares about frisbee, not unless they play. Laura even refers to it as a "cult activity".
Last weekend we went meandering around the country-side as we headed off in search of the small grass airport just on the other side of the border in Belgium. We chanced across a castle in Septfontaines (Sevenfountains) that was obviously the object of a forgotten restoration attempt. Manning the battering ram, we burst in through the front gate (which, admittedly, was already broken open) and penetrated into the inner court. It was quite amazing to be all alone in a castle that was falling into ruin. Usually, they're barred off and you'd have to have a grappling hook (A purchase that would have paid off handsomely in Europe. Christmas present anyone?) to get inside. Here, though, we could sneak our heads in under the ancient oak door and go wandering on the castle ramparts.
So my current goals in Luxembourg are to advance in my frisbee catching robot plans and to make the first Ultimate Frisbee team in the country. I've already found two other players, and a couple others that are interested, so maybe we're not too far from having a first game. If the weather this weekend holds out, I think I'll try to put together a game.
Oh, yeah, and work on a PhD, too. Did I not mention that one?
P.S.: This blog isn't finished. I'll fill it in today or tomorrow. When this message is gone, you'll know that I've finished adding all the material.
Friday, October 07, 2005
My Luxembourg address until Christmas:
25A, rue des Shoenfels
In unrelated news, Laura made a grammar error last night that I find particularly well-suited to our modern life. She asked if we "have internet in the house". Now, normally this is an error, as you should say "have an internet connection", or the more acceptable, but also incorrect "have the internet" (A ludicrous idea in itself. The internet is, by definition, a grouping of remote computers. If these computers were in the house, as expressed by, "I have the internet in the house", they could hardly be remote, now could they? Of course, this sort of logic requires a modicum of intelligence and learnedness, so let's not ask too much of our country bumpkin neighbors, shall we?). In any case, to ask if we "have internet in the house" is analagous to asking, "Do we have water in the house?" or, "Do we have electricity?" In other words, it's become a utility, something that is such a feature of modern living that people will talk in awe about the days before everyone, even the poorest of the poor, had internet connections, much the same as when we talk about "running water" and "electricity". And Susan Summers will cry about how the poor, starving children of Africa (or Mars, who knows?) could be given internet for only $0.01/day.
I am now safely installed in Luxembourg and have come to the conclusion that the Luxembourgois don't exist. They're all underground moles that only surface between the hours of 8 and 9, 12 and 1, and 5 and 6. Even then, you don't see them, only their hard, shiny, metal shells, bearing such emblems as BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Jaguar. They swarm out of their garages in their houses, speed across town, and quickly dive into some underground parking before the harsh light of the sun dries out their skin too much. It is only with great conjecture and sophisticated guesswork that I have gleaned a sense of how the Luxembourgois must look.
Luxembourg has a peculiar tendency to put parking meters everywhere, even in little subdivisions where no one ever goes, and no one ever parks. You'll see a parking meter in front of a row of houses that are spaced as far apart as American houses, and nary a car in sight at 11:00 in the morning. Why this is, I can only guess. It does seem to have the effect of creating lots of garages in houses and lots of underground parking structures.
It's a sleepy little town of around 75,000 people, of which around 30% are foreigners. The European Commission has apparently had a major impact on this. It's quite beautiful, nestled in the bottom of a valley. Why they chose a valley to build their fortress is beyond me, but according to certain sources, it was considered to be the best defended city in all of Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. The old city is beautifully preserved, and with all the money flowing in, they're rebuilding and restoring what isn't.
The cathedral, unfortunately, isn't so spectacular. Dijon's churches are far more magnificent. In fact, I've seen more spectacular churches in small hamlets in Italy. That being said, you might as well poke your head in for a look if you're ever around. The beauty and awe of European churches is still present, it's just not in as abundant supplies as say, Il Duomo de Firenze, Notre Dame de Paris, der Munster dem Mainz, etc...
Luxembourg also has many magnificient bridges crossing from one side of the valley to another. This is because while the old city is in the bottom, the new city is up above.
The one exception to all this is the Kirchberg Plateau. Kirchberg is the Luxembourg quarter where the European Commission is located, and it is a planned cities. In other words, it's a subdivision that looks like an IKEA floormap. "Cars check in, but they never go out." It took Laura and I 3 hours to get to Luxembourg, 15 minutes to find her building (one of only two skyscrapers in Luxembourg), and 20 minutes of driving around and getting lost in order to figure out how to cross the road in order to get there.
Planned, yeah right. Looks as if someone forgot to "plan" for pedestrians. You know sidewalks, medians, walkable distances-- stuff like that. Trying to rollerblade in that area is just nightmarish. It sort of works right now because with all the construction many car lanes are closed and I can roll there, but good luck to me and my fellow wheeled bretheren when the construction is done.
Luxembourg is quite expensive, but manageably so. For instance, a month-long bus pass from home to Kirchberg Plateau costs 41Euro, which is quite expensive for a 4 km trip. However, this bus pas is good for all trains and buses in the entire country, not just those of the city. Of course, do remember that the entire country is only about the size of Lexington, KY, at 2500km2. Still, it's quite a deal and I sure wish I could have gotten a similar price in Dijon for all of the Côte d'Or.
So, on to a couple salient details of my life here so far--
As mentioned above, Luxembourg is a traffic nightmare and this was painfully evident upon our arrival. The Luxembourgois love their cars, and this gave us a lot of grief as we were trying to navigate the city, both to drop Laura off and to go around apartment hunting. I guess this comes from having some of the lowest gas prices in all of Europe (Gas prices which are now, even here, hitting well over $6/gal, so shut up and cope, you gas guzzling Americans.). In fact, the one serious inconvenient of our housing is that we're in a bedroom community and thus have to commute to work.
Speaking of housing, let me recount our apartment search. It all started off in September when Laura first learned she'd been accepted to the EU Commission. Within minutes, she and I hit up the web, looking for a place to stay, especially a place with roommates.
We found nothing. Zilch. Nada. None. Everything was either taken or so expensive that it was going to cost more than half our combined salaries (well, her salary, as I have none). We adopted a wait-and-see attitude. In the meantime, we continued to look for lodging with others in her group, as they were very much in the same predicament as us. No luck, as we were doubly stymied by the prices and the leases.
Let me pause to explain Luxembourg leases. No, first I'll explain French leases, and then on to Luxembourg ones. French leases are incredible documents that leve little to be asked for on the renter's side of the table. A landlord is required to sign a lease for a minimum of at least three years, but this lease can be terminated at any time by the renter with a three month's notice. (This is a million times more flexible than American leases, which are generally signed for one year, no more, no less, and have stiff penalties for early departure. Which is good, because oftentimes, the French gov't requires it's civil servants to move from one side of the country to another with very little notice, e.g. 3 days.)
The Luxembourg renting system is exactly the same as the French one, with one notable addition: if you leave in your first year, you must pay three months' additional rent, if you leave in your second only two, and if you leave in the third year of the lease, a miserly one month of additional rent
We're staying three months. Paying three months in penalties for three months of board doesn't sound good. So, apartments went out the window. Which basically left us with finding a boarding room.
Now, for any of you that would like to live in Luxemourg, and have a few hundred thou lying around, just buy a decent-sized house with lots of rooms and then let them out. At $400-$600/mo, three to four boarders can easily pay the mortgage, electricity, heat, and water, all while only taking up a fourth of the house, leaving you with all the space and money.
Anyway, back to our experience. Come September 30th, Laura sent out a plea to any and all of her fellow interns that might have a place on their floor where we could crash for a night or two. The responses were less than encouraging. In fact, the only response we received was on Sunday, a copy/paste from a recent ad put online.
Well, the ad didn't look so bad, 3 different rooms to let two at 17m2 for 400Euro/mo and one at 10m2 for 350E/mo. We tried calling the lady, and after several abortive attempts with my computer (Âllo? Âllo? Vous m'entendez???) we finally got through to her on Saturday morning. She said that she had already rented one, and that she had three more visitors to go for the other two rooms. Well, the 10m2 was far too small for the price, so we were really only considering the larger rooms. Still, one gone left us hope for the other. We asked her a couple questions about it, and based on her responses and the general "feel" I got while talking to her, we sent ahead and told her that we'd take the room sight-unseen. She said that'd be okay, but she had to at least finish with the people who had already made appointments. To do otherwise, she said, would be "Unscrupulous! Thouroghly Unscrupulous!"
Laura and I crossed our fingers and waited out the day with Greg in Couternon (a little village 4km from Dijon's center). We hadn't yet left for Luxembourg (we had originally planned to get there Saturday evening) and so we spent all Sunday afternoon haranguing the poor lady every hour-- "Is the room still available? Is the frenchman sufficiently late for the appointment for you to consider it less thoroughly unscrupulous to let us snatch it out from under his feet?" Well, finally at 6 o'clock the frenchman showed up, and took it on the spot.
Nothing to be done about it, no place to live, no place to sleep, and Laura's stage started 14 hours later. We spent the night at Greg's place, drove to Lux in the wee hours of the morning, and each set out on our own seperate ways to find a place to stay. If nothing else, we could always sleep in the youth hostel for a couple days.
I found a newspaper of nothing but classified ads, called LuxbaZar [sic], and found quite a number of chambers for reasonable prices. Laura, from her side, found an updated list of people that rent to EU interns. Laura can make calls from her office, so she spent the afternoon calling anyone and everyone that might possibly maybe perhaps let us stay.
She winnowed the list down to three potentials, based on nothing more than their willingness to rent to a couple, and off we went at 5:00PM to go room hunting.
The first stop was in Beggen. Well, actually, the first stop was in the zoo they call a traffic mess at the bottom of the valley. The second stop was none too far away, precisely at the second stop light. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth stops were also traffic lights. After that, I lost count. Now, why they seem utterly incompetent at timing lights in Lux is beyond me, but I swear this was the worst thing I've ever seen. Man O' War Blvd. in Lexington, KY is better than this.
So after much stopping and going, and getting lost more than once (Laura forgets to navigate once she starts talking.), we finally got there. After taking a quick stroll through the neighborhood-- and discovering the weirdest little pine tree ever, some sort of cross between a Christmas tree and a pinapple-- we rang the door bell.
A few seconds later, a squat little troglodyte cracked open the door and peered out into the glaring evening sunlight.
"Hi, we're here about the room."
She led us to some sort of door which looked as if it should be left barred and chained at all costs lest the boogyman escape. The troglodyte then opened the door, releasing a wonderful waft of dank basement and mildew, and waddled down the steps. She showed us the white-washed barn door that was to open into our room, and clicked on the light. As the harsh light of a 10W lightbulb filled the room, and the haze of dust settled down, from what we could tell we were looking at a ricketly old bed with a bedspread stolen straight out of a 1970s clearance sale, a "cupboard" that could only be named as such because it was made out of boards and had a cup somewhere on it, and an impossibly small chair that would have better served to bind and gag some poor child than support my massive (70kg) frame.
Then she explained to us that they were building a new door-- "just as soon as the city gives us the permits"-- so that we wouldn't have to enter through the same door as the family. Oh, and that the washing machine would be moved upstairs so we couldn't use it anymore. And that all this would be done "without disturbing the renters too much".
I can't say we actually fled, but I do know that we didn't turn our back on her as we edged our way up the stairs.
The next location on the list was in Bridel; Bridel, like the cheese. The first thing I thought upon finding Bridel on the map-- we had to flip the map over because Bridel is so far from the city center-- was that there was no way on Earth we were going to live that far from everything. Still, Laura had made the appointment, and we were desperate, so off to Birdel we went.
Only geting turned around twice, we arrived in Bridel at a decent hour, found the address, and rang the doorbell. No one answered. We waited a minute and rang again. Still no one. I asked Laura if she were sure and she assured me that everything was correct. Except...
Aha! She remembered that the lady had said that the house wasn't visible from the street because of the big trees. Which was odd, because this house was only partially hidden behind some small shrubs. We looked around, and voila, a two-storey house nestled in the woods 50m off the street.
Upon approaching we perceived a brand-new silver 3-series BMW, parked on the gravel loop that served as a driveway before the house, and a blond-haired dame in her 60s working on the garden to the left of the house. She came out and introduced herself-- Marianne-- and asked our names.
Sigh... One year I'll figure out why Europeans can never get my name right.
So, she beckons us enter, and leads us to the left where there is a staircase going down. Oh, no, I really don't want to live in a basement! Still, this staircase has somewhat of an elegant feel, broad steps and well lit. We follow and wind up in a beautiful two-room apartment. We were shocked and quite pleased at our luck.
Marianne, however, balks a little at the idea of a couple living in her house. She's never done such a thing before. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather rent both rooms that she has available, one upstairs and one downstairs?" she asks. Yes, we reply, we haven't the money for that. Then she counter-offers: 500E/mo instead of 400E. We ho and we hum. 500E is half Laura's salary.
"Well, in any case," she says, "let me show you the bathroom." She leads us out of the apartment and opens the first door on the right. I round the corner, see a sink on the left, a shower on the right... and a humongous swimming pool in the center! We're talking 9m X 5m. The thing is as big as any backyard swimming pool, if not bigger, and it's in the basement of her house. Heated, and at two meters from my door.
"Oh," she says abstractedly, "that's just the swimming pool."
"Can we use it???" we cry, faces aglow.
"Sure, I don't see why not."
After that, she leaves us alone in the apartment to mull things over. We decide that 500E is too much, but we can swing 450E, especially for the swimming pool.
Upstairs, we propose our counter offer, she accepts, and we seal the deal over a cup of tea. She's such a sweat lady she even gives us some bread, pasta, butter, tomatoes, and jambon sec to make dinner with.
Marianne is a delightful German Frau who has lived in Luxembourg for 30 years. A retired lawyer, she came with her husband to work with the EU Commission and loved it so much she never left. Her children are grown up and moved out, so she rents to interns at the EU because she knows it's very difficult for them to find rooms in Luxembourg. She's charming as can be, speaks a wonderful English with a soft German accent, and has a habit of switching between German and English without noticing it. We're pleased as punch to be with her, we're 2 minutes from the bus line, she just bought me a new bed because the old one was wreaking havok on my back, she lets us use the washing machine as much as we like, and...
I've got a swimming pool in my bathroom.
So that's where I'm going to end things for now. If you've read this far, you're a brave soul and I don't think I should torment you any further with my ramblings.
Friday, September 30, 2005
I'm packing and thought I'd take a break from my work to write something. In fact, packing things puts me in a foul humor, so I try to find whatever I can to distract me from actually doing it. Sounds like a lot of things in my life.
-My email was down for 10 days because my domain registrar had the wrong credit card exp date and they didn't tell me about it *before* shutting everything down. That was fun.
-I finished my Masters. Second best grades overall, first in my class. It was all great fun and I learned a lot. Check out my Ball and Plate thesis project, made completely out of legos. It went so well, that they asked me to consider staying on for PhD. I have somewhat accepted their offer and am currently looking for money to finance my PhD project, an automatic, mobile frisbee catcher.
-I'm moving to Luxembourg tomorrow. What fun. Except I'm quite trepeditious. Dijon will miss me, as the French say. I don't know what I'll do there. I'm currently exploring apply for a PhD. offer at the University of Luxembourg. I don't know if it's my thing though, as I seem to really have a lot of trouble working hard when it's not my project. I still don't play well with others. Teamwork, schmeamwork.
So, here's a good-bye and a thanks for all the fish. Dijon, you've been great, and we might see each other again soon. At the least, I'll be back in Dijon for the Fete de la Science where I will be demonstrating my lego table.
A special, special, special hug and kiss to the twins. I miss you already. You may never know the impact you had on my life, but no matter what happens, know that meeting and knowing you was one of the best things that ever happened to me at Dijon. Merci.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Life advances. I'm almost finished with my Masters in Robotics, only a project presentation to be made and I'm done. I just finished another wireless network this week, so additional income is always nice. I could get these things done faster, I think, but it's not so important to me.
Right now I'm drop dead tired because I haven't left the university all day or all night. I hardly pulled an all-nighter, and didn't work a bit, but I've still been up. Who knows why? I just didn't feel like going home last night. I think that's going to catch up to me today.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
My dreams have a way of fermenting in my subconcious for years and years-- forgotten, alone, but never truly gone. Every now and then, one of them works it's way to the surface and jumps out, like hydrogen gas in the sun that erupts and makes a glorious sunspot. Again, just like moving to France and teaching in a foreign university and so many others, a dream has come to fruition.
I remember when I was in Gifted English in middle school, and our teacher, Mrs. Johns, had us write a short essay about an imaginary reunion of the gifted students in ten years time. We had to each write about where we lived, and what we did, and what we had done. To cut to the chase, I had poured through an encylopedia the day the assignment was due (I had played hooky that day in order to get it done. Always procrastinating, I am. Always procrastinating.) and had discovered Luxembourg. I tiny little country in the middle of Europe.
I don't know why, but something about the country spoke to me. Maybe it was its name, maybe its size, maybe just the thrill at discovering that there were so many little countries in the world, hidden between the giants. In any case, that was where I "lived" in that 10-year distant future, so many years ago.
And, now, that is where I'm going to live. In two short months' time. (It's a little more than 10 years later, more like 14, but I wasn't so far off.) Laura has been accepted into the European Union's Romanian translator program. I'll be accompanying her for her three month stay in Luxembourg.
What that gives for Dijon, who can say?
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Great. Just great. My internet connection will be down for the next three weeks.
My neighbors share their internet connection with me, an ADSL line that has a nasty habit of going down every time theirs lightning. Monday morning we had a bit of rain and lightning, and, voila, the connection went down. The only problem is, the Bontemps went on vacation Friday evening and won't be back till mid-August.
If you're looking for me online, don't. Just send me an email instead. If you're wondering why I take even longer than normal to respond to emails, it's because I can only get a connection on my computer when my professor isn't there and I can steal his.
I'll be back when I'm back, and not a minute before.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
I've been playing more frisbee than ever before in France. I'm actually up to something like 5 hours a week. Nothing close to my 20hr/wk in America, but not so shabby either. My big dream right now is to put together some sort of hat tournament for Dijon, one where we'd draw people's names out of a hat in order to choose teams. I did that once in Lexingon and had a pretty good time.
I've fallen in with Marie and Lise Le Lagadec, who will henceforth be known simply as "the twins". The twins are as sweet and adorable as buck-toothed sorceresses could ever be, with all the charm of a Mack truck and the grace of a moderate sized mountain. The twins have invited me here, Vannes off the coast of Brittany, for a week at the beginning of August. The twins have a childish obsession with tickling me. I have a childish obsession with laughing when they do.
The twins' mother berated me the other night for my eating habits. It seems that my one man crusade to convince the world that raw pasta is good is an abysmal failure.
Aside from that, I've created this really cool program that lets me turn analog dial indicators into digital ones. Basically, I point a webcam at the dial and read in the information to the computer. After that, I use some image analysis tools to extract all the contours and edges from the picture. Next, I use a Hough transform to find all the straight lines, of which I choose the two longest (as they probably, nay, certainly represent the edges of the needle). Once that's done, I find the intersection of the two lines, find the angle between the intersection and the center of the dial, and use the resulting angle to calculate where the needle must be pointing. All in all, the process works pretty well, although I need to optimize it a bit because one out of 4 points isn't properly calculated.
(If you'd like to know why this is so complicated, take a look at the Sunday, May 29th blog entry for examples of how the human eye works vs computer eyes.)
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Thursday, June 30, 2005
I've started a wiki. WikiProps. It's for scientists and engineers who absolutely must know the physical properties of an object but have no idea where to look.
I had this idea because the other day I spent hours and hours trying to find out the dimensional tolerances for a pool ball. I needed to know for my project. Sadly, no one, anywhere, has this sort of information. So I decided that a wiki would be the best way to pool it all together. So if any of you have any weird measurements, feel free to contribute.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
I just watched the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City. All in all, not too bad, and definitely the closest I have ever seen a Hollywood movie stick to the original text. In fact, there are only one or two small deviations, and they hardly change anything at all. There was one thing, however, that disturbed me. The serial killer Kevin from the movie looks almost exactly like Scott McCloud from McCloud's seminal work "Understand Comics". I wonder if this is a coincidence because McCloud specifically refers to Frank Miller as one of the visionaries who helped chang the comic book genre in the 80s from superheros to flawed heros.
Anyway, I'll let you decide for yourselves:
(Serial killer Kevin) (Comics visionary Scott McCloud)
Friday, June 10, 2005
This Sunday was my POUF. Although the day didn't exactly go as expected-- I might write more about this later if sufficiently motivated, I was really excited by the turnout. I estimate somewhere around 35-40 people came to play or watch. Here's the front page blurb and newspaper article in the Bien Public and the 10 seconds on France 3.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
In rereading my blog posts, I've noticed an overabundance of irrational enthusiasm. I henceforth will attempt to limit my use of the exclamation mark.
Oh, yeah, and scowl a lot, too.
After a month of spotty internet connection with a WRT54G operating in client mode with DDWRT, a hack of the Sveasoft Alchemy firmware hack, linking up to a Wanadoo LiveBox, I did something I should have done a long time ago: I tried WDS with a WRT54GC.
Lazy WDS is on by default in the WRT54G and WRT54GS, so I thought it might be the same case for the WRT54GC. It was a long shot, considering that they share very little in common aside from a name, but I thought that they might still use the same binaries for controlling the wifi connection.
It turns out it works like a charm. ALL I did was go into the configuration for the WRT54G and put it on the same SSID, same WEP key, and activated LAN WDS with the MAC address of the WRT54GC. That's it. Nothing more. Worked right off the bat.
My brother... BWAHAHAHAH!!!
He went to BWAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH!!!
He missed his plane because... BWAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!
He went here instead of here.
P.S. Although in all fairness, one's named Charles de Gaule (This is the aéroport) and the other Charles de Gaule d'Etoile (this is the Arc de Triomphe). This is very typical of European cities. They have one name, and use it everywhere, even in the subways. I've made a similar mistake myself trying to get to a train station in Madrid.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Sunday, May 29, 2005
I'll be hogtied and walloped, I'm going to Paris!
Well, going to Paris is hardly such a monumental thing, it's only 1h37m away in the train. It's the way I'm going. I won a Settlers of Catan tournament for which the prize was 50Euro in gift certificates and a trip to Paris to compete in the Coupe de France, where the winner will be the national champion!
While I have no hopes whatsoever of winning the nationals (The competition is too good and there's too much luck in the game to let gameplay be the sole deciding factor.), I will have a great time and will probably post pictures. Don't even know when I'm going to play yet, hope it'll be soon.
This optical illusion page is definitely one of the most interesting sites I've ever chanced across. It's fascinating to see how the human eye behaves as opposed to a computer eye. This certainly elucidates for me many of the problems we have for making computer vision as responsive as human vision.
Don't miss the flash demonstrations. Some of the best usage of flash I've ever seen in my life. The Koffka Ring is especially good. Don't forget to wait till the end of each flash animation when they explain their theories for why a particular illusion works.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
I don't think I've ever been closer to death or certain injury then I was last Saturday. Perhaps I have been, and just never noticed, but this time it was as clear as day.
What happened is as simple as it was stupid. The gravel road was washed out at a certain spot and there was a tree jutting out into the road from the other side. The tree psychologically pushes a driver to the right, and since there was no more gravel at this spot, when the right car wheel slipped over the threshold, there was no turning back. It was a mishap incredibly reminiscent of that which destroyed my father's airplane. Vehicle rolling slowly has wheel drop off onto slippery slope and the rest is QED.
In Photo 3, you can quite clearly see the marks the car made as it slide-- sideways-- down the hill. Now, you might ask yourself, "Why, if the car were sliding sideways, is it now pointed uphill?" Right after the car slid off the road to the right, the front door, mirror, and then fender smacked into the tree that's touching the car's right side. The mass of the car then pivoted around the tree, starting to slide backwards, a potentially disastrous descent that was miraculously stopped immediately by the tree that the back bumper is resting against.
All in all, there is little damage to the car. Mechanically, it still works perfectly, and cosmetically, the front door and fender are noticably, but not critically, pushed in.
Saints be praised, however, that the trees were there in exactly this configuration, because otherwise the car would have slid 100+ meters and probably would have started to tumble at some moment, as the slope is 35-40deg steep.
We wound up getting the car back onto the road the next morning with the help of an enormous 10-ton winch, one that would have had troubles fitting in a guitar case. That and a generous helping of elbow grease, since the sole locamotive power was my brother and friend Nicolas.
Friday, May 20, 2005
The website for my Ultimate Frisbee day is now online, www.wifi-bourgogne.com/pouf.html
In case any of you are wondering, pouf stands for Portes Ouvertes Ultimate Frisbee. Now, aren't you glad you asked?
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
I have a phone number.
And his name is Bob.
(360) 227-4940. Feel free to call me any time. It's to Washington, so make sure you use your cell phone so you don't pay any long-distance charges.
How did I work this wonderful magic? Asterisk!
And if you feel like starting down this path on your own, check out my HowTo for replacing SkypeOut with Asterisk and another service that is even less expensive.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
I just reinstalled my PowerBook with the new Mac O/S, Tiger. I haven't really used it much, but my first impression is that Dashboard and the Dashboard widgets are nowhere near as good as Konfabulator. The Dashboard widgets are way too big and it's too hard to close them.
Friday, May 06, 2005
24 Hour Comics Day on TV and in print. Has your French gotten any better?
As you all know, I recently bought a Mac. While I am very happy with my purchase, there is one sore point: iTunes. iTunes is terrible, it really is. I don't like the program at all.
Now, I know that there are those who would disagree. That's fine. You have the right. I don't like it, and my problem is that there's nothing better. Which is disappointing. iTunes sucks up 20-40% of my processor power, is constantly skipping (my Acer PIII 850MHz, that was outperformed by a Dell PII 400MHz, never had this problem. Yet my 2005 Powerbook, with 1.5GHz G4 processor can't play music and do anything else without skipping. Unacceptable.), and sorts my music the way Apple wants it sorted, not the way I had it presorted in my folders. Not very nice.
What I miss is the simple functionality and efficiency of winamp. Winamp was nice. It didn't insist on moving your files around. It didn't insist on playing only Apple approved music formats (no ogg, for instance). It took up very little space. When you changed ID3 tag information (little bits of information that encode song information, such as title, band, album, genre, etc.), Winamp changed them for real, not like in iTunes where after spending the better part of a day changing my ogg music files around, I discovered that all was for naught as iTunes only modified its record of the music file, not the actual ID3 tag stored inside the music file itself.
However, iTunes isn't a total waste of hard drive space. iTunes has an incredibly powerful database capability. The ability to find any song, whatsoever, by just typing letters that are in its name. They don't even need to be full words, it could just be one or two letters from each word in a song. For instance, when I type "ta he", I get all my Talking Heads songs, and just a few others. If I go all the way to "tal head", I only get Talking Heads songs, the others have all been filtered out. And since you see it develop in real time, you can continute to type, eliminating possibilities, until you see the song you want.
Now, where things get intersting is when you realize that Tiger, Apple's newest operating system, comes complete with a highly efficient database for ALL your files, not just music ones. Moreover, Apple has released tools to make use of the database, meaning that any program could tie into it and get the same info. It gets better-- Spotlight has a "smart folders" capability where you can define a list of filters and any file that passes all the filters will be listed in the folder.
I propose a replacement for iTunes, an open source program that provides a better GUI interface and ties into the Spotlight database, thus giving the one important iTunes capability. This could be done with just a command line tool that uses scripting languages to dynamically create smart playlists through the use of smart folders. After that, could build whatever interface they want to around it. I understand that Apple really makes life easy for making such interfaces.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Not even done with 24 Hour Comics Day yet, and already on to my next project. P.O.U.F. (Porte Ouverte Ultimate Frisbee). Yes, I know what poof is in English. No I really don't care. If you knew the number of words that are perfectly innocuous in one language and incredibly foul in another, you'd never dare open your mouth.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Sometimes I feel that the French are more capitalist than the Americans. One of my biggest problems and headaches in setting up Dijon 24HCD has been dealing with the associations, basically volunteer clubs, but with lots of administrative overhead.
A common attitude in the associations that I ask for help is, "What's in it for us?" I try explaining the principles of the GPL (Gnu Public License) which gave birth to the entire free software/open source movement, and they just stare at me. When I tell them that I'm getting nothing out of this, not one red cent, they look at me slant-eyed, trying to figure out just what my angle is. It's a little disappointing, because the associations want to make a buck even though I refuse to allow my business, WiFi-Bourgogne, to get anything out of it. You'd think they'd understand that if I'm not going to promote myself, why on Earth would I promote them?
More on this to come...
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
I've gone over to the dark side. My new computer is pure evil. I think they're preparing a special place in hell for people like me.
Worse than that, my sickness has obviously contaminated my roommates, Mihai who just bought his new computer and the computer Cristina wants to buy. I've even convinced this Russian girl to buy one. When will the folly stop??? My only recommendation is to stay away from me. Oh, wait, you were all doing that anyway.
I know see what those in the Linux world mean when they say that Linux should look to recreate the GU interface, not just follow MS wherever they go. That's what Macs are. Honest to good different. Things just don't work the same way. Some things are better, some things are worse, but all in all I prefer it already. There are things that really just work, although iTunes is definitely NOT one of them. iTunes is like the Model T. It comes in every color you want, so long as you want black. iTunes is an inexcusable blight on Apple. It's great so long as you only use mp3, so long as you don't already have your music organized, and so long as you have less music than free hard drive space.
Not having two buttons on the mouse is less annoying than you'd think, although there's no doubt, 3 button are superior to 1, just like three fingers are superior to 1. Not having a delete key, just a backspace key, is really annoying, and having an eject button on the keyboard in the place of the backspace key is just unfathomable. I wish I could remap it because I never, ever use it, and I need a delete key every other word.
On the other hand, there are some phenomenal advantages such as Expose, an incredible utility that sold me on Mac all by itself. Basically, it lets you zoom out from your desktop and see ALL your open windows at once. An absolutely awesome program that improves productivity beyond all possible belief.
iPhoto is really good, although it suffers from the same problems as iTunes. Fortunately, these problems aren't even minor irritants in iPhoto. In fact, I had a really weird experience with it last night when I imported all my photos into its database. It was a slide-show of my entire photo life for the past two years, bad photos and good, each photo lasting no more than 1 second. It felt very odd, as I was washed over by all the memories from 3 years in Europe. I wish I'd had more photos. I'm beginning to understand the Japanese and Chinese that take pictures everywhere they go.
It's too bad there's a price vs. performance hit when going to Apple computers, but it's really not as bad as you think. No one cares about speed anymore, my Acer laptop from 2001 is still fast enough to do the majority of what anyone throws at it. There's just no need today for anything any faster, unless you're really into games. So the 1.5GHz PowerBook runs plenty fast enough for everything I could think to throw at it. In fact, I wish I could make it run slower so that the battery would last longer. I couldn't care less if Firefox took two seconds longer to open, but I sure care about being able to use my computer 15min longer on its batteries.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Thanks to Geoff, you can now see the original articles! On the front page and the back cover. How's your French?
Monday, April 11, 2005
I have decided to return to my roots. I will no longer be known as Kenn. Call me Kenneth now. Or just 'nneth, for those who read Vasquez.
Only two more weeks until 24 Hour Comics Day! It's been a great leadup so far. I've got an interview with CheriFM, a national radio station. As soon as Geoff finishes photoshopping the newspaper article, I'll post that for your viewing pleasure, although I warn you that it's in French and I'm ugly, so it's really not worth looking at. Unless you're bored. Horribly bored. So bored that you're even prepared to watch a Polly Shore movie costarring Adam Sandler.
Don't say I didn't tell you so.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
6 weeks since my last post. Hmm... Well, keep on bugging me about them, guys, and I'll get around to them more often. It seems that people actually read this stuff. Whodathunkit?
We're only 15 days away from the 24 Hour Comics Day! I can't believe how great this project has turned out. Artists from all over Europe, and even my brother who will be making a special "guest appearance." (Actually, he's already appeared, and will be staying with me in Dijon for who knows how long. He'll be gone in three weeks or in three months, we're not sure which.) It's going to be big, although no one really knows how big. There's a good chance that we might have the record for the most number of people. Which really seems to be my only goal in the affair, since I don't draw, I read comic books occassionally when they fall in my lap, and I could hardly be considered to be a big connisseur of the arts. So, you heard it here first, my goal is to have the biggest, bestest, badest bash of them all.
In other news, I've got another two or three residence halls to do, which is really wonderful. It gives me something to do when I don't feel like doing anything. Having clients and responsibilty actually motivates me. Not sufficiently, but a little motivation is never a bad thing.
In yet further news, I went to England a little while ago and met my relatives. Really great bunch, they are, and I'm looking forward to my next chance to see them again.
I've got a user here who needs my help, so this is the end for now...
Thursday, February 17, 2005
I slept last night in my table. Physically IN the table. It's the table I had built for the computer lab I created last year. It's a mammoth table that cost around $2500 to build, made out of inch-thick pressure treated wood, 6" thick concrete, and a steel door bears more than a passing resemblance to a safe. The table is so large and heavy they worry that one day it's going to collapse through the floor into the crawl-space below.
Anyway, I was visiting at Résidence Rimbaud and I missed the last bus because my sys/admin Nicholas and I were chatting-- something we shouldn't have been doing anyway since I've got exams next week-- and it just slipped my mind. Oh, dear. So, I hinted that it was cold and I didn't want to have to walk home, but it was a no-go. I guess I didn't hint loudly enough that he should let me sleep on his spare bed. Thus banished from light and heat, I went downstairs to the main floor with the intention of catching some shut-eye on the sofas in the computer lab. I asked the night watchman to open the room for me, but when I went in it was frigid. Icicles positively dripping off the keyboards.
It dawned on me that the interior of the table was always warm, so, "hop", I opened up the thick steel door, pushed some computers inside, crawled inside, shut the door behind me, and slept on the tiled floor for about 4 hours. It was cold. So very cold. Even on the inside of the table, it was so very cold. And hard. Still, better than going home, where I have no heat because we're poor and electricy is expensive.
Upon waking, I discovered I was locked inside the computer room (I have no key). No aventures there, since I had five computers before me and study materials. But that's the second time I've been locked inside in Europe.
The first time was at night in a church. An honest-to-god stone church constructed in the middle ages. Maybe I'll tell that story later.
Monday, February 14, 2005
My new address. As always, verify before sending. I've been in France 4 years and had 6 addresses.
40, rue Jeannin
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
I know that I shouldn't take such pleasure from this, but I just got through disputing my English grade with the an English professor. Specifically, my grade of 0. A 0 because I didn't go to the tests, because my professors told me I didn't have to go to the courses. Which in my mind meant I was excused from all parts of the course, not my physical presence in the classes. However, this apparently only meant the courses and not the test itself. Whoops.
Well, I scurry off first thing to go see the English teacher. I knock on his door, introduce myself, and say, "I understand there's a small problem in English." He turns toward me, bellows, "There's a BIG problem in English!" and returns to his computer. I wait, patiently, two minutes at the door to his office. I'm in no hurry, and I know about this kind of teacher, I had some as coworkers when I was teaching Technical English on the south side of the University, so it was nothing new on the north.
The teacher finally gets up and positively tries to rip into me. I suppose that he's used to students who cower and shiver in fear. I wasn't having any of it. I think that pissed him off worse. I told him, "I don't like your attitude." Which was true. I came, arms open, to try to solve a problem that arose from a cultural misunderstanding. It's hardly as if I'm scared of taking an English test with a room full of Frenchmen who are just now learning English. Au contraire. Coming to the test would have inflated my GPA since I would get a 100 and everyone else, well, less. Not that I'm that smart, but, come on, it's my native language. On a test proctored by a Frenchman.
Well, to make a long story shorter, I cut to the chase and firmly ask him how I can solve this problem. He demands two apology letters. Whatever. We are not amused. I explain to him, calmly, that I have nothing to apologize for, that I asked my profs in advance if I had to go, and that I was simply a misunderstanding that inconveniences no one. I offer to write an explication letter. At this he storms out, and I've never seem him again.
Everyone in my Masters finds this absolutely hillarious, including my professors. We'll see where this winds up. I never did mention that I teach Technical English, and that the university pays me to be an English consultant to the scientists.
Still, I wish people would tell me these things in advance. I wish these things wouldn't go out of their way to find me. I'm trying to eliminate conflict from my life. I'm failing horribly, as my roommates don't give me a second's respite, but I'm trying. I have a dream.
Monday, January 10, 2005
I just posted this to the NY Times bulletin board. I think it pretty well sums up my opinion on the matter, although I think it's more complicate than their 4000 characters would permit.
The problem is that we're looking at this from the wrong perspective. The question isn't whether alcohol should be permitted in Frats, it's whether it should be permitted at all.
We have a serious situation where young adults have never seen alcohol, never tasted it, always feared it, and always believed those who say it's evil. This is a dichotomous situation, and it's no wonder that no one believes us when we say that "this is bad" and really mean it.
It's a signal-to-noise problem. We're so busy demonizing absolutely everything, including the most trivial peccadilloes, that when we must really be heard, such as with cocaine, PCP, and steroids, everyone just hears Peter crying wolf. How do we expect credibility when we say that alcohol is bad on the day before the 21st birthday but good the next?
In the last three years of studying abroad, I have never met a European who drinks to get drunk. I've met plenty who drink until they're drunk, but never a single one whose sole purpose is to be plastered, pissed, destroyed, or any other colorful euphemism for "inebriated". That's not to say that they don't exist, or that there's not a serious alcohol abuse problem-- there is-- but to say that the maturity with which they approach alcohol is far greater than ours.
Other nations' children have been around alcohol since childhood, and thus react normally to it when finally on their own. This is in contrast to our youth who start off in an absolute void, and thus go overboard when first introduced to alcohol, just as every one of us does when presented with a new experience. It's only human nature to push the limits when exploring new ground.
So either ban alcohol completely (anyone remember the colossal failure that was Prohibition?) or retreat from this absurd position that alcohol is bad except when it's good. That it's okay for rich sponsors to drink in the stadium skybox but not poor students in their dorm rooms. (University of Kentucky alcohol policy). That driving an hour after drinking one beer (approx .02 BAC) is a heinous crime when 20 and 264 days, but perfectly legal when 21 and 0 days.
Friday, January 07, 2005
So I'm organizing a 24 Hour Comics Day in Dijon. The reaction of the artist community is just fantastic. Without asking, there's already half a dozen people who are helping me in any way they can. This is going to be big, much bigger than I'd expected. I had initially hoped for 10 artists-- I'm four months away and I've already got ten, six of whom are coming from outside France! Once I get the last couple problems ironed out, I'll be able to go to TV stations, newspapers, and the like to get some free publicity, and then I should start getting lots of interested French artists.
Just for starters, go here, here, here, and here for those who are interested (but I warn you that some of the languages will be a little... foreign).
(And just a little plug for the google machines... "Une BD de 24 pages en 24 heures a Dijon")
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Well, I finally got my domain name back. Hallelujah. It's been long enough. Long enough that no one is probably checking anymore. Oh, well. Sigh. It was a good idea. Maybe given enough time someone, somewhere will start reading it again.
Maybe given enough time, I'll start writing it again.
P.S. Add another "PayPal sucks" to the fire. What did they do to lose me as a customer? They stole my money, pure and simple. My parents sent me some Euros, paying a fee to transfer this money from dollars to Euros, and then PayPal exchanged this money in my account back into dollars, taking another fee in the process. When called, they pretend that this option was something I chose, repeatedly telling me that they had shown me this when I had made my account. The account I made in 2000, four years before they offered this option. As if. It's not that it's such a big sum of money, around 5% total, it's the underhanded way they did it and the absolute refusal to undo the change that gets me.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
I realised last night while watching the debate that every time Kerry said, "I have a plan," I heard, "I am not Bush."
It's not that I don't believe him. It's that I don't care if he has a plan or not. Plans are easy to come by. When you're president, there are 50,000 people waiting around to create, and implement, plans. No, what's important to me is ideas. Kerry's got them, and Bush doesn't. Bush lives in his cloistered world— painfully obvious in the first debate— and Kerry lives in the world that the rest of us share.
That being said, I must confess to an abysmally unforgivable oversight: I didn't send off for my absentee ballot in time. I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and now I understand that it's too late. For all my thunder and lightning here in Europe, I now fall flat on my face and miss my first presidential election ever. How irresponsible. Utterly in keeping with the change in my character these last few years.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
French people do not know how to hold it. It's the most ridiculous thing in the world. I know this because I have to get up every time they go to the bathroom and unplug my laptop, which is running off of the 220V plug that's right over the sink. I'm in the TGV with 19 other people in the wagon, 40 minutes into the trip, and I have gotten up to unplug my laptop at least 8 times now. That means that one person in two goes to the bathroom every hour. Maybe it's all the wine they drank for dinner.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
And so it ends where it began, in a bus station nestled between the railroad station and the hill overlooking Dijon. Gazing into the bus from ontop of a concrete post, I wonder if it will be the last time that I see her. I hope that “no”, I fear that “yes”. How can my life ever lead me to one place, for all time, instead of all places for one time?
There is always hope.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Me at 2500m moving at 160km/hr. Without an engine.
The break of dawn at Chatillon-sur-Seine, in front of a church where I sang last year with Les Choeurs Roger Toulet.
Monday, August 23, 2004
I went to Budapest yesterday. Friday morning I woke up in France, Saturday, I was in Budapest, and today I'm back again in Dijon. If ever you doubted that Europe was a small place, this pretty much says it all. 54 hours round trip.
With stops in Vienna, where my night's sleep in the bushes in front of Karlskirche (Charles's Church) was interrupted by a gentle rain, Dachau, where we camped on the ground in front of the ghastly Dachau concentration camp, Budapest, where traffic signs are sold to the highest bidder, and Munich, where Nicolas and I watched the surfer dudes for 30 minutes while chatting with a recumbent bicyclist, it was a whirlwind tour of Germanic countries and civilizations.
The highlight of the trip, after picking up Laura from the Trans-Balkan express (two hours late, of course) in Budapest , was Vienna. The city— while neat and orderly as a hospital ward— is lively as only a European capital can be. Life takes on another meaning there, where the streets are shared equally by bicyclists, trolleys, cars, and pedestrians and where the even the subway toilets are set to Wagnerian opera music. A simple stroll down the pedestrian mall from Karlsplatz to the Dom (cathedral) yielded such delights as tattooed break-dancers, a musical trio playing triangular basses and ukulele, street magicians seemingly mouthing silent shows as giant church bells rang through the city, clowns making balloon animals, and, my favorite, a trio of blind singers singing songs that soothed the soul while savaging the senses.
Monday, July 26, 2004
I had an interesting idea yesterday for a movie distribution. I think that it'd be cool to have the world premiere of a movie come out only in digital format, and only for computers that would then send the video to a home stereo system.
It'd be invitation only, only for people who have real home theaters, the kind that your read about in the New York Times, ones that can seat 15 people comfortably.
I shudder to think about the bandwidth requirements, though. You'd have to have a gigabit connection in order to insure the continuity of the film.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
I've set up a new website. www.wifi-bourgogne.com. Feel free to make comments about colors, etc. It's an absolute first draft, made just to get something online so that I have the feeling of progress. It's a feeble attempt to start a wifi business in France. Dijon is definitely one of the most hopeless unconnected cities in all of France.
Wednesday, June 02, 2004
I went to a funeral today. Alain Calmeau, the father my happy little host family, was killed last Tuesday while coming home from work on his motorcycle. A car crossed the center line, smashed into him, and then fled into the night. The police have nothing but a BMW roundel as evidence.
It was an odd funeral. Nothing like those I've seen in America. The bulk of the short funeral was snippets from various French and English songs— occasionally drowned out by the thundering roar of the French Mirages passing overhead, on final for the airport— punctuated by occasional passages from family and friends that were mostly read by the mortician.
Still, once or twice the bereaved found the strength to read their words themselves, the most notable case being Thierry, a hulk of a man towering over you at 6'2”, when he shambled up to the lectern, wearing black motorcycle chaps, and read a poem he had written on the occasion of the death of his best friend. It was touching.
Dress was informal at best. Many a woman could be seen wearing sandals, and black, while prevalent, was hardly la couleur du jour. After, the family filed into a room to watch his casket be rolled into the crematorium, and then everyone left and went to his house for drinks and sprightly conversation. I myself was cornered by a kindly French woman who spent roughly fifteen minutes telling me everything that was wrong with America. I can't say I disagreed with most of her diatribe.
Alain, you will be missed.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
I've started taking glider lessons. Gliding is absolutely fantastic. It's like skiing downhill in the middle of an avalanche, only sometimes the avalanches go up instead of down. I don't know if I'll ever fly a normal airplane again.
It's thrilling to fly gliders. Oftentimes, you find yourself mere meters from another glider. Glider pilots aren't greedy about their lift. In fact, they often seek out other pilots who have already found thermals so that they know where the best thermals are. One time, I followed a heron until it led us to a 3m/s (500ft/min) thermal! On a good day, I can climb at over 1000ft/min, without a motor, at 7,000ft MSL, on a 80F (degree) day. Try doing that in a normal airplane.
Gliders are devilishly hard to fly. I'm becoming so much better as a pilot. Every phase of flight is far more difficult than anything you'll see in a normal 4-seater like a Cessna or Beech.
Takeoffs come in two different flavors: winch and tow. The winch is the cheapest: about seven bucks. The tow is about three times as expensive, which makes a big difference when the airplane goes up only to come right back down. (This has happened to me three times out of eight flights)
Any little slip of coordination costs you speed and altitude. And the slips come early and often. There's a piece of yarn taped to the middle of the windshield that shows you your relative wind. The instructor yells at you if it swings more than an 1" to either side. In case you were wondering what that translates into on a Turn and Bank indicator, 1" of movement is about halfway between perfectly neutral and the very first mark on the T&B. In case you weren't wondering, it's something akin to balancing a broomstick on your palm while running around in circles— if you look where you're going, the broomstick tips over, but as soon as you look at the broomstick, you smack into someone else.
How can you beat three and a half hours of airtime for $7? Okay, the truth is that it's a lot more expensive than that, but only because of insurance and club fees (about $20/hour) and that most of the time you have to be hoisted into the air behind another airplane; only the winch launches are that cheap.
Downside? A new gilder is about $50,000 to $90,000.
Monday, May 17, 2004
Well, that was a weekend well wasted. On Saturday, I participated in a raid, which is sort of like a triathlon, only a lot sillier. There was a mountain bike part, 23 km, and a cross-country run, 11km, but there was also water jousting (demount the opponent from a styrofoam board, using only a foam “fry”), tug-of-war, slip 'n slide (most distance slid), wheelbarrow relay (most water in cup), and “tchoukball.” It was a good time, and my team was seventh overall (out of about 25-30 teams). We won the mountain bike competition for our group, broke the records for the water jousting and wheelbarrow relay, and did well in the slip n' slide contest. Sadly, the “tchoukball”, a poor game that I'm not going to waste your time explaining it to you, and the cross-country course got the better of us. The cross-country was the hardest because it actually was a course d'orientation which requires you to use a map and a compass to find flags hidden in the woods. It took us 2'19” to run 10km! Still, seventh is an improvement from last year's eleventh, so things are getting better. Maybe next year...
Sunday was a marvelous day where I finally got to go flying in a glider again. It was quite entertaining, lasting 50 minutes, although the flight would have lasted far longer if there hadn't been three other students waiting on the ground. I got good marks for takeoffs (the instructor couldn't believe that that was the first time I had ever taken the glider off) and airplane control. I've still got some speed issues, especially when coming in for a landing, but he told me to count on another 10-15 flights before I could solo. Apparently that's quite good, but I plan to do better!
Going on at the same time was was an open house going on at the flying club next door. While I was spiraling right at the departure end of 02, a F-38 passed at 500km/hr 5 meters over the runway, 500 meters below us! Even better, an hour later Greg took me up in his “world's fastest Piper Lance” for some 400km/hr passes over the crowd. That was quite something. Crazy man even has a police siren installed in his landing gear wells.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Give a man a fire, keep him warm for a day. Set a man on fire, keep him warm for the rest of his life.
Friday, April 16, 2004
I won the contract! I now have to create a wireless network and to install a computer lab in another residence hall on campus. If all goes well, I'll be washing, rinsing, and repeating as necessary all summer long in at least 7 buildings in and around Dijon.
Friday, April 09, 2004
I don't know where this guy gets his inspiration from (Well, I have an inkling: Super Mario Brother Smash, Final Fantasy, Pokemon, Anime, etc...), but it's really awesome.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
I am so overwhelmed. It was my birthday today, and it started of with a plant. A nice, green, big plant. I believe that it's a Monstera. It's quite pretty. It's got big, broad, leaves. The Romanians got it for me. They presented it to me at midnight. And it's name fits my personality.
Which was actually not my first present, mind you. The first one was a package from Mom and Dad which, having been mailed at the end of January, took only 7 weeks (4-6 weeks delivery) which is 2-3 weeks better than the French postal service usually manages. That came in the day before. So did the card from my grandparents and the flying scarf from my grandma. I guess the French bureaucracy keeps track of everyone's birthday, just like they do all other information.
So starting with the incredible foreignness of actually receiving a package somewhere near it's promised delivery date, the day got weirder and weirder. Everywhere I went, people were wishing me "Happy Birthday." People that I knew, for sure, but not that well, and certainly no one to whom I'd mentioned my birthday. At campus, on the street, via SMSs, Instant Messages, "Happy Birthday"'s were raining down like frogs in Missouri.
So as evening approached, I didn't find it at all odd that 5 or 6 people converged on my room to play Settlers of Catan. It was a normal enough thing, after all, since we'd been playing the game non-stop for 2 or 3 weeks. The normal chatter and prattle occurred, occasionally punctuated by titters and bursts of laughter coming from the rooms next door where my neighbors Ophelie and Natasha routinely giggle and carry on until all hours of the morning.
So as 8 o'clock approached, I asked Ophelie and Natasha if they were ready to go out to the Hunky Dory, Dijon's very own karaoke bar. (They had cornered me the week before, and, seeing how it was my birthday, I couldn't say no.) They said no, and told me that I could start playing another game of Settlers of Catan. Well, since Settlers usually takes 2 hours to play, I decided that I didn't really want to play again. But Cristina steadfastly refused to take my place, so there I was, stuck in another game.
In the meantime, Cristina said she was making dinner. Well, it was my birthday after all. It's always nice to have someone else boil your pasta. However, being my usual ornery self, I said no thanks, I wasn't really hungry.
So a few minutes after 8:30, Laura comes by and says that there's a little bit of extra food left, and would I like a bit? Well, have you ever known me to turn down a free meal, especially when there's a need for some courageous soul to shovel down the leftovers?
Out the door, down the hallway, hand in hand. And into the gigantic central hall of the monastery.
Monday, March 15, 2004
Okay, here are the promised texts about my wireless network at the Cite Maret residence hall. This was published in the national newsletter.
The CNOUS article.
The entire page.
Notice how they mispelled my last name! What's really funny is that the reporter and I joked about how the French always misspell my last name and then call me "Mr. Kenneth." I can't win in America, and I can't win overseas. I'm just going to change my last name.
Monday, January 19, 2004
The slant bomb. An idea that has long existed, but never had a name. Basically, it's the bomb that makes all the tall buildings in some future post-apocolyptic Japanese metropolis slant over.
Friday, January 09, 2004
And things just get better and better...
Plush animals awaken a great evil.
Well, long time no see. I've been downright lazy, so here's an attempt to catch up a bit.
I'm sitting in Winchester, KY right now. I've been back in America for almost three weeks now. Just sort of cooling my heels while I work on my carputer project. Not coming along as well as I like, as normal. But who've I got to blame for that aside from myself, eh?
On the other hand, my Wi-Fi project is a wild success. I've installed a wireless network in my residence hall, La Cite Maret, using the preexisting Internet connection.
They've never seen anything like it. It's like bringing fire to the savages.
I've even been featured in the national publication of CROUS, Centre Regional des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires, as installing the first Wi-Fi network in a residence hall in all of France. Really cool stuff and I hope to expand it to the rest of campus.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
My brother likes to rant. You should definitely read it.
What's devilishly odd is I was saying the same thing just night, only in a less vitriolic manner.
Sunday, September 28, 2003
I've got a website. www.eissQ.com.
I'll be changing my email address shortly to reflect this. Why am I going through all this effort? Because Apple wanted $100 (!) to renew my email address. My own personal domain + website costs about 1/3 that.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
I've moved again. I just spent six weeks with some of the nicest people I've ever met. Emmaneulle and Alain, who between them have one 14-year old boy, and a 9-year-old boy and 12 year-old girl. Tristan is the coolest 9-year-old boy I've ever met. He's so much like me it's almost unbearable. He talks, he doesn't listen, he talks, he doesn't listen, and he talks. I don't think I'm forgetting any of his other personality traits.
Their 12-year-old daughter is rather quiet, but she likes chocolate and annoying her step-father, Alain. She's quite smart and picks up English at a speed that leaves me green with envy. I didn't learn English that fast.
Cat and dog, too. Tim, as in timid, is the weirdest dog I've ever seen. He's a vegetarian. He could care less about raw meat, but a piece of baguette drives him crazy. However, he's scared of anything and everything. He's a 35kg collie that runs away when you throw him a ball. If you drop a slice of bread smack-dab on his nose he doesn't even try to catch it. You think he's smart because he'll leave the house and go right to the back of the car waiting to climb into the trunk, but then you notice that it's not the right car. Or he'll walk counter-clockwise around the car to get to the trunk, unless the car is parked backwards, in which case he'll start by walking past the trunk and make a full circle around the car to come back to it. Not the brightest dog in the world.
Minette is the little angel cat that loves to eat lizards. Sometimes I'd find lizard tails lying around the house. One time I found the lizard sans tail. Once, she came toward the house with a lizard tail sticking out of her mouth. When Emmanuelle yelled at her she opened her mouth and the lizard, still living, fell to the ground and darted to the nearest shelter. She likes to follow me around when I'm at the house. If I get up and leave a room, she follows. But not immediately, of course. She waits enough time to pretend that it was her decision to leave, thus preserving her feline dignity.
I'm sad to see them go, although they haven't gone far. I'm now house sitting Emmanuelle's parents; house, right on the other side of the highway. I like it because Tristan comes here after school.
Maybe I'll post pictures if I get around to taking them.
This weekend I went to le Parc d'Auxois, which is a little amusement park/zoo not far from Dijon. They've got snakes, wallabies, bears, wolves, and chickens, yes chickens, for the zoo part. Yawn, except when the Emu chased the wallaby. Whereas the amusement park side is the coolest one I've ever seen. Mostly because they've got all the stuff you find in American amusement parks, but it's all human powered. Those giant octopuses that spin round and round? They've got that, but you push it yourself. It's a lot of fun climbing around through the latticework as its spinning. No one there to tell you, "Don't do that!" There was one of those swinging Viking ships, only you made it rock by running back and forth. We got it going so far and fast that it almost tipped over. I started to slip one time and the only thing that kept me from careening off the edge was the metal bar that I slammed into.
They've also got the single coolest contraption I've ever seen. It's sort of like a cross between a hamster wheel and a Ferris Wheel. I'll try to describe it:
You start with an outside ring about 10 meters high that's vertically mounted and spins on a horizontal bearing. Attached to this ring are two large, opposing spokes that come in 2 meters from the edge. Here you have two seats that are mounted on horizontal shafts so that they, too, can spin completely around. Around these seats, rigidly attached to the spokes, are two smaller rings/cylinders, each 2 meters in diameter and 1 meter wide.
To operate: the first person walks up and buckles into a seat. Now comes the hard part. The second, and probably third person, have to physically haul the person up to the top by pushing the ring. This is really hard as you're literally lifting a 70kg person 10 meters. Once this is done, the second person buckles into the other seat, which is now at the bottom. In order to start moving, both people begin to walk on the outer ring/cylinder which surrounds the chair. Imagine the Flintstones pushing their car while seated. This outer ring starts to rotate. Since the contraption weighs so much it keeps on spinning and the riders accelerate it or decelerate it by walking faster or slower. Imagine the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when they keep walking in circles on the central hub. It really is fantastic because you can go so fast that you really think the machine is going to fly apart. You only hope it happens when you're close to the ground and the other person is far from it.
This sort of stuff really exemplifies the difference in mentality between Americans and Europeans. Europeans seem to accept that life happens. Some people die before their time and some people after. It's always a tragedy, but it's life. However, we in America are convinced that the only reason that we're not rich and powerful is because we didn't go to a better school, or drive a nicer car, or get the nicest toys growing up. There is no such thing as random chance in America, no such thing as destiny. If a giant meteor slams into the Earth, by gum why didn't NASA stop it? These machines would be illegal in America because, horror of horrors, someone could get hurt and it's never the victim who is at fault.
Just about every time something went around I almost lost an hand, arm, head, or something else. Man, it was fun. If any of you ever come here we're certainly going.
School is starting up soon. I've already looked at my schedule and it's absolutely bonkers. I teach six hours a week at the University, but they've still somehow managed to take every time slot across the entire week. What happened to using computers to increase efficiency??? If an infinite number of monkeys over an infinite time can produce all the books of Shakespeare, it'd still take twice that many if they were French monkeys.
Okay, how's this for a new movie? Run, Chicken, Run. Imagine cutting and pasting scenes from Chicken Run. You've got everything it takes to make all the possible destinies. Chickens being made into chicken pies, being thrown into stockades, dressing up, etc. Heck, you might even be able to work the bank robbery into it if you try.
Of course, it'd be even better if you could make your own claymation chickens, but who's got the time. Geoff? Tony?
What song could we play instead of "I wish I were a hunter?"
Friday, July 25, 2003
Photos from our concert in Autun! We were in the middle of singing Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir from Mendehlssohn's ouvre Kirckenmusik. You can _almost_ see me in the back right.
Be warned, they weigh in at a hefty 1.1MB. Be patient.
Choir + Soloist
Choir + Organ
Monday, July 21, 2003
Well, just got back from a two-week sojourn in Florence and Naples. Florence, as usual, is a fantastic city about which enough can never be said. The art comes alive as you wander through it's mythical streets. The city's art carries such power that, during WWII, the Germans bombed and destroyed all the bridges crossing the river with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio, an ancient bridge that has long housed some of the best goldsmiths in the country.
While expensive by Italian terms, Florence is quite cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Three euro buys an cup of gelato, Italian ice cream, the size of your head that comes in the most fantastic flavors possible. What Jelly Belly did for the jelly bean, Florence does for ice cream. Meringue, chocolate mouse, 5 other types of chocolate, sorbets, etc.
Naples, on the other hand, is a lesson in how Italy got its reputation as a chaotic, anything goes country. From the moment that you step off the train in a foreboding station that has NO signs to the metro– even though the metro is conveniently just below– you sense the pandemonium and topsyturviness that defines the neopolitan life. Pedestrians cross the streets when and where the whim strikes– it's taken for granted that the cars will stop. Stop lights and signs, while generally seen as optional, but good, advice in the rest of the country, aren't even seen, much less obeyed, in Naples.
Hidden amongst the dirt and grime of its cacophonous streets is one of the most spectacular museums ever, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. A testament to 19th century marble construction, the museum houses some of the world's most interesting European and Egyptian sculptures. Situated mere kilometers from Pompeii and Herculaneum it has a very complete collection of artifacts that tell the story of the last horrific hours of these two cities and 3,000 or so of their inhabitants.
Word to the wise, though, good luck finding anything in particular. When entering the museum doors, the only thing that changes is the noise level. Otherwise, the museum is a perfect reflection of the outside world, rendered in a stunning accuracy. The first three rooms are devoted to modern art, making you wonder if you haven't wondered into the wrong building by accident. In the open air courtyard are numerous statues and stone carving fragments.
There is no central plan or layout, and often enough you find yourself in a room wondering what purpose it serves, only to realize that the room is closed for remolding but no one bothered to close the door. There is no transition from one sort of art to another– the oeuvres are placed where they have room. Ancient illuminated manuscripts are crammed into corridors. The jewel collection is conveniently located next to marble carvings of Greek gods. The Farese collection, one of the most complete and spectacular Egyptian relic collections in the world, is hidden in the basement.
Explanations of artwork are haphazard at best: sometimes in Italian, sometimes in English, occasionally in both, and disturbingly often, no explanation whatsoever. If you've ever wondered how someone could lose a Michelangelo or Da Vinci work, this museum explains all. In short, this museum is a shining example of everything good (and bad) about Italy.
There are many other sites to see in Naples, with the Castle on the Hill and Mount Vesuvius topping the list. Italy was an exciting experience, and it was a sad day when I left in order to go sing in a concert in Autun, France. However, this small Burgundy village was by no means disappointing.
Easily the most beautiful church I've ever sung in, Cathedral St-Lazare d'Autun's walls positively reverberated with music, guiding it away from the choir and towards the audience. We sang Mendelssohn's Kirchenmusik and Gounod's Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile.
Lastly, I've settled into my new house with my new dog, Quark, and my new cat, Quark. Quark the dog is the biggest scardeycat you've ever seen. We had a decent size thunderstorm this afternoon and he spent the entire time cowering in the bathroom. For a 50 kg dog the size of a German Shepard he sure is a whimp. Quark the cat has a wonderful personality, is fat, and loves to purr, although he doesn't like being picked up yet. Neither one of them responds to their new names yet, but neither one responds to English either.
(For those of you who don't remember, I'm spending the summer with a French family. In exchange for room and board, I speak English with them. I don't even have to give lessons, I just have to speak English.)
I'll post my address as soon as I figure out what it is.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Next update. Still been awhile since I've written, but not so long as last time. So what's up in my life?
Spent two weeks in England for the Easter vacation. (Yeah, a vacation. For Easter. Europeans are so weird.) The three of us; Graham, an English bloke; Adrien, a Frenchman; and myself, most would say alien; took my car up to Dunkerque where we caught a very, very, very expensive ferry to Dover, England. Ferries are a big rip-off because they charge $5 if you go and come back the same day, but $250 if you go and then two weeks later come back! Still, though, I don't regret it. Anyway, we stayed in Bury, England, just north of Manchester for about 10 days, meeting Graham's wonderfully teenage family, and making occasional outings to the countryside. Even watched a proper British football-- excuse me-- soccer match.
An evening in Nottingham and an afternoon in Cambridge served as an interlude before ending our trip with a three-day stay in downtown London, 10 minutes by foot north of Leicester square and 15 minutes from the Parliament House.
Driving on the left side of the road was definitely a change. I don't remember ever screaming for my life before, but when Adrien simply turned in front of an oncoming car I certainly did my best. Later that week, I got both my car mirrors knocked off by someone who crowded me too much while driving down a street full of parked cars. But in the end not too eventful, thankfully.
The weekend after my return I played in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Bruges, Belgium. My team, Top Shelf Sleaze, took 12th place and Sylvain, my friend with whom I went, went on to win the tournament with the misnamed IzNoGood. We, however, won the spirit prize, so we went home with as much beer as the tournament champions! I won't tell you what we did to win the spirit award, but I will post pictures as soon as I get them. You do the math.
I participated in a raid-- a decathlon French style--this weekend. There was a mountain-bike course where I took a nasty spill (although I was still second in my pool and 5th in the tournament), a cross-country navigation race (had to use a compass and a contour map to find waypoints), numerous little brain games, paint-ball marksmanship, fooseball (Except WE were the soccer players! They attached us to ropes such that we could only go back and forth.), and an endurance game where you had to hold your arm in locked position with a 2 kg weight dangling from your pinky.
That one hurt, especially since I had to do it twice because of an mistake in the pairings! Happy to say that I won both times. Thanks a lot for the "pain management" course, Scott.
I haven't eaten properly in three weeks. This is a combination of two factors: (1) I've been putting in 14-16 hour days in the computer lab, and (2) I haven't been paid since March. The eating and working are my fault, but the local government found it convenient to strike me from the payroll on April 1st. Real funny joke, guys. I've been laughing all the way to the bank. My car insurance company's laughing too: they canceled my insurance because I haven't been able to make any payments since March. Grrrr...
I have my first employees. Honest to god real employees that will work for me and will be (eventually) paid by me. I hired a couple of my students to help me develop a computer based project. (It's a seeeeeecret.) I made the decision to hire them tonight and we should start working together very soon. Which is great because I need some food and sleep. And I'll do my best to actually pay them within one month of when I promise to.
My presence in France during the whole month of May was a waste. May in France has a slew of four day weekends, so little work is done to begin with. Couple this with the strike that's been going on since the 1st of May and I haven't worked diddly-squat.
Oh, yeah, and my father bought a jet engine. You know, those things that they hang underneath the wings of 747s. It's a Boeing 506, for those who are interested in that sort of stuff. He went to Iowa this weekend to pick it up. Yes, the Sebestas are insane. No, you don't have to worry about airplane parts falling through your roof yet. You have at least 3 years.
Anyway, enough about me, parlez-moi de vous.
Friday, April 11, 2003
Okay, a little update because I haven't put anything there in over four months now. (If you're wondering why, it's because I get very frustrated with the blogging software. There is no correlation between when I write something and the date that is shown. Yeah, stupid reason, but it doesn't take much to discourage me from writing.)
So, of course, lots has happened in four months. We'll just hit the highlights:
1.) I bought a car. Buying a car in France is easy. Insuring it is a nightmare. If you ever leave the United States, make sure that you bring a letter with you certifying that you have been insured with your car company for x number of years and that you haven't had an accident since y. Don't ask why, just do it. (My car insurance policy specifically excludes coverage in the case of a nuclear attack. I felt cheated. Then Chirac pissed off America and it suddenly made a lot more sense. :P)
2.) Mom and Dad came and we went on a rolling tour of Italy. And I do mean rolling. In 10 days we drove 4,000 km (for the metrically impaired, too bad. Get into the 18th century.). We visited Milan, Bergamo, Monterossa, San Gimignano, Sienna, Florence, and Venice, passing through/by/around Aosta, Turin, Pisa, La Spezia, etc. Fantastic trip, (although there was the usual family friction) that I wouldn't have traded for anything in the world. A memory for a lifetime.
3.) I joined the choir. Les Coeurs Roger Toulet which means, roughly, "Roger Toulet's choir". A rather powerful statement on the conductors fame in Burgundy, apparently. As I found out from the brochures printed for our concert, he was hand-picked by the France's Minister of Culture to lead the Chorale de Bourgogne from its inception until its disbandment in 1998. And I thought all I was doing was singing with a bunch of people who didn't fit in with their church choir. The concerts were fantastic, the final one last night, and a wonderful experience. I'm so happy that I got the chance to do this and very sad that I won't be able to continue with an sensational group of performers. We'll have one last concert in July,
4.) Bought a GPS Navigation System for my car. Currently going through some hair pulling stages as I try to avoid buying a $150 navigation CD and $100 antenna. Right now all I have is an expensive CD player.
5.) Going to Britain tomorrow with a couple mates, Grahm and Adrien. We'll be staying at Grahm's house in Manchester for two weeks! Super trip, I hope. Too bad about the GPS, grrr...
6.) I'm the chef of the frisbee club at the university. No, I don't cook, it's French for "capitain, leader, head person, etc..." Not due to any fantastic frisbee skills (quite the contrary), rather the previous chef is out for the decade: he turned one way and his knee turned the other. Still it's kinda fun because even if people wanted to listen to me, they couldn't because it's all in French.
7.) Passed my 25th birthday on the 24th. Suddenly I feel too old to be hanging out constantly with college students. And I've got business cards, so it's doubly bad. Not that anyone ever seems to take my age at face value. I keep on getting kicked out of my classroom because all the teachers think I'm a student. It's worth it, though, when their faces turn another color upon discovering that, moi, c'est le professeur.
That's about it for right now. Maybe this'll finally jump start my lazy writing butt into gear. I'll do better this time, I promise!
Monday, January 20, 2003
I just got an offer to return to my university post next year!!! Yaaaaaayyyyyy!!! I'm officially an ex-patriate! Woo-hoo!
I want to film a mocumentary. Of King Arthur's Court. "So you see, my sword goes all the way to 11. You know, for those times when 10 just isn't enough to kill a dragon..."
I've been asked to make a 30-60 min speech on America and the differences between the U.S. and France. A bit daunting. Any ideas?
Thursday, January 02, 2003
I taught my first university class today. It's really scary to teach in a foreign language. I have no idea if the students are listening or not. With the elementary age children I can yell and scream. With college students I don't have that option.
I spent all afternoon trying to revising what I wanted to teach, since everything I wanted to do had one problem or another. None of the software seemed to work, and many of the computers didn't even turn on. Apparently, however, this was a network problem, so as soon as they got the network running, the computers booted up fine.
I'm supposed to teach Windows 2000, Microsoft Office, and Dreamweaver/FrontPage, but none of these programs are on the computers! (Expect Windows 2000, but the students don't have any permissions so they can't really do a lot.) Happily, though, WordPerfect Office is! Woo-hoo! Because that's the program that I really wanted to teach in the first place.
I finally settled on what I thought was about two hours of material.
As the students filed in, I tried speaking English to them, but they didn't really seem to understand. It's very difficult to gauge a student's English level when you can't talk to them for a long period of time. I began to fear that I would have to spend the whole time ranting in my broken French.
To make matters worse, everyone kept on coming in, long after the start of class. That's the French way, though. I did explain to them that I'm American, and thus won't teach class like a French person. That's good; I won't make them write down every word I say and everything I put on the chalkboard. But . . . That's bad; I demand that they come to class ON TIME.
It seemed to work, though. No one was terribly lost, and most everyone got through with what I wanted them to do.
The attack on NYC and continuing explosions in the Middle East, in addition
to the highly ritualized and popularized cult of explosions in Hollywood, do
they not all, in effect, mean the same thing? There are those who feel that
a substantial part of the earth should be exploding at any given time. The
reasons are mutable, but the explosions must go on. So a certain part of
the world needs to be blown up with bombs, on that we can agree. The
question becomes, which part? After all, blowing up a bus is a perfectly
acceptable act, to certain social paradigms (suicide bombers, stuntmen,
television viewers). Though unprovoked explosions seem to me an essentially
nihilistic act, that does not mean they are essentially negative. We can
debate the positive and negative effects of unplanned, undirected explosions
as an agent of social change, but you certainly cannot deny their influence
So the time has come to ask yourself:
Have you made anything explode today?
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
The Germans are setting off firecrackers right now to celebrate the New Year. Heathens. Don't they know that firecrackers are reserved for the 4th of July?!!
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
I'm riding on Cloud 9. I've been wandering up and down the hallways yelling "yes, Yes, YES!!!" It's too early to promise anything, but I might have just found the path leading to a permanent post at the university. That and an opportunity to be part of a choir. (a choir!)
I went to the Franco-Anglais Club's annual Christmas Carol Night, something I found out about at the last minute. Going in, I expected to lose myself amongst caroling masses, but only a handful of people had come. The first thing I knew, Emilie'd drafted me to sing with the main group, since I was the only native English speaker. Four of us sang Jingle Bells, and didn't do such a bad job of massacring it. Next thing I knew, the group was Gabby, a former professor at the university with an absolutely beautiful singing voice, and one other person? myself.
Since I couldn't bear to leave this poor woman singing by herself in front of all those French people, I forced myself to sing along. The first song was "The Twelve Days of Christmas", which I absolutely butchered. And, of course, it didn't help any that the words she was using were different from the words I was using.
Well, we struggled through it. And "God Bless You Merry Gentlemen". And "Good King Wencelas. And "We Three Kings". And "Away in a Manger". And "Silent Night"(in German at that!) And?
At the end, we got to talking, which is when I discovered that she was a former lecturer at the university. She'd honestly thought that I was also one of the lecteurs in the English Dept. After a good, long conversation where I could say no wrong, she started throwing names at me. Names of people that I "must contact and ask for a job."
Ergo, I'M ECSTATIC!!!
To boot, she's forwarding my name to a choir director to see if they have any need for a baritone. A baritone!
I can't believe how lucky I've been, from finding out about this choir at the last minute, to being the only native English speaker there, to discovering this marvelous woman. Thank god, thank allah, thank jehovah, thank Cthulu, thank yourself!
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
It snowed last night! It was absolutely beautiful, watching it swirl down from the sky. I danced underneath it until the snow was sticking more to me than it was melting. It wasn't a lot, but it was definitely a thorough dusting. I even got into a snowball fight with Edith, Sarah, and some random French people. Excellent!
Hope everyone else has snow this Christmas and that you all go out and play in it! It's not just for little kids, you know.
It's now gone, melted in the morning heat. But it was beautiful while it lasted, and I'm glad I had that small bit of luck.
Friday, December 06, 2002
So God and the Devil are sitting around playing cards one night. The agelong responsibility dilemma comes up again, you know, the one where a woman who is cheating on her husband because he ignores her drowns when a rowboat capsizes while crossing the river because the toll-man won't let her cross without money and her lover won't give her the money. Whose fault was it? The husband, who deprived his wife of love, driving her away; the wife, who did not try to solve her domestic problems and cheated; the lover, the partner-in-crime who accepted the wife and then refused to provide help; or the toll-keeper, who showed no sympathy?
God claims that obviously it's the wife because she was sinning in the eyes of the Lord. The Devil says it must be the lover since he provided the temptation to cross the bridge.
"Fine!" says God. "We'll settle this once and for all!"
They find a sleepy little town just outside of Wichita, Kansas where a wife cheats on her workaholic husband every night. God puts the toll-keeper (after all, he's just enforcing the rules?) and the Devil finds the boat (natural, of course, since it's a treacherous boat).
With everything in place, they begin the little drama. The husband comes home and retreats immediately to his study, the wife sneaks out the back door and across the bridge, and the lover is waiting with a bottle of champagne. The next morning, the wife oversleeps and rushes to the bridge, finding an unsympathetic toll-keeper. Desperate because the lover won't give her the money, she rushes down to the riverside and finds an old abandoned rowboat. The boat springs a leak halfway across, and she drowns in the icy water.
"It is done," says God. "At last we will see who's right."
Next week the lawyers are asking for $12 million in emotion damages in Husband, Lover, and Toll-Keeper vs. Consolidated Rowboat Corporation.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Quel weekend! I spent Saturday and Sunday playing Ultimate Frisbee in a tournament. It was fantastic!!! I spent most of the time playing long range catcher, at which, I'm happy to say, I did quite well. An opposing team captain called me super chiant. Basically, that's French for saying that I was super annoying because I caught every pass, stuck to my man like glue, and generally did my best to make them lose. His comments didn't bother me in the slightest. :)
We were playing indoor on a handball court (Imagine three basketball courts side-by-side.) that had a super-slick floor. Not a pass was caught without someone sliding to a halt. I myself made a dive for a touchdown, which after I caught I slid another 5 meters smack dab into the wall. The crowd thought that hilarious. So did I for that matter.
There was also one point where everyone thought I was dead because I slid into the wall so hard. I think it sounded worse than it was since I wasn't hurt in the slightest. At least this happened to everyone, and not just me. It was incredible to see someone dive for the frisbee and then just keep on going.
The French seem to have a much better sense of sportsmanship than Americans. It was really quite fantastic being cheered by the crowd every time someone made a point or pulled off a particularly good block. After every match both teams would gather in the middle in a big group hug, the two team captains would talk about the game, and then the winning team would sing the losing team's fight song.
We did NOT have a song. Whew. Because we lost a lot. A LOT. We really had a great team that was finally pulling together, but then over half our team went home Saturday night leaving only myself and two others. We had to bum people off Lyon's team in order to keep playing. In fact, the only game we won was for 9th/10th place against Lyon, but considering that we were playing with players from their team it wasn't quite a win so much as a tie. Brother versus brother.
There's going to be a tournament at Dijon March 1st, so I'm terribly excited about playing in it. Too bad that it's 3 months away.
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
I've got a room! w00t!!! I went into Residence Buffon, where all my friends are staying, and the concierge said she needed some words with me. I thought I was in trouble because I'd spent the last week sleeping on the floor of friends' rooms, but in fact it was to offer me a room. Yaay!!! I'm no longer sans-abri! My address is:
10, rue Alain Savary
Ch. 419, Pavillon Buffon
21000 DIJON CEDEX
It is an utter relief to finally have a bed. Last night was the best sleep I'd had in weeks.
Next thing on the agenda is an internet link so I can update this blog daily, rather than weekly. I'm setting up a rogue wireless network.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
In late 19th century America, Alexander Grahm Bell uttered the now famous phrase, "Watson, come here, I have need of you." In 21st century France, I have to physically walk to the other side of campus in order to see if a friend is home because there are no phones in the rooms.
Todays sports section, in a German newspaper, was adorned by a beautiful football picture. American football, not European football. Specifically, a college football game between Rhode Island and North Carolina.
In the whole wide world, there wasn't anything else worth reporting on than an irrelevant game in the United States?!!
Sunday, October 27, 2002
This storm is really frickin' cool. The third little pig seems to have built this German house, so I'm not too worried.
I wish I had been in Italy for Etna's eruption, though. Why does all the really cool stuff happen when I'm away?!!
Saturday, October 26, 2002
Okay, it's just too much. I'm going to write everything down in chronological order. Ready?
I re-applied for my assistant de langue job in May. They assured me (one of the many assurances that I would receive from France) that there would be no problem, I would be automatically accepted no-questions-asked, and the paperwork would come at the end of June. (Why it takes France 3 months to process an application is beyond me. I met a guy in France who knows only two English words: "FRENCH and BUREAUCRACY.) Great! So I settled in this summer, found myself a job, fixed my cabriolet, and awaited the paperwork.
Come the beginning of August, I haven't received anything, but that's okay, since the French postal service makes $0.37 look like the steal-of-the-century. (Mom and Dad are still waiting for postcards that they sent in May) Come the middle of August, I've received nothing, and now I'm starting to worry. But... France takes August off. France, as in the whole country. No kidding. It's absolutely empty.
I couldn't find a soul to tell me if I'd been accepted or not. The second week of September I finally got a hold of the organizer, mere hours after she got back. (Yes, I was calling that often. I was desperate.) Turns out that I wasn't in the system and they'd wondered about it, BUT NO ONE BOTHERED TO TELL ME! Sheesh...
Now it's too late to be offered the job-- I can only get it if I'm already in Dijon. "So," I asked, "how about getting me a visa for Dijon?" "Sure," they said, "you can apply for a student visa." All I needed was a letter proving I was a student at UK (University of Kentucky) and an admission letter from the University of Burgundy. It all seemed so easy at the time...
So I immediately shot off an email to Maggie Chevaillier, the woman who writes these letters, and waited for an answer. And waited. And waited. And waited. I called her in France. I had the organizer call. I had my friends call. I had everyone call that I could think of. FINALLY, in the beginning of October, she writes that she's been really busy with the beginning of the semester and that it would have been much, much easier if I'd followed proper procedure. HUH??? It took her three weeks to acknowledge my email, and it's all my fault?!!
But, hey, I'm pretty good-natured about these things. I'm still getting my letter. She's sending me two copies (good thing, since the second one has yet to arrive two weeks later), and I can go ahead and give work my two weeks notice. Whew.
I call a woman at the French consulate, and she assures me that I've got all the necessary paperwork and can now apply for my visa as soon as the letter from France is delivered. Great! Monday rolls around and....
No mail. What? Why not??? Where's the mail?!! Oh, yeah, it's Columbus Day-- federal holiday and all that. Well, okay, if it comes Tuesday I'll still have enough time. Indeed, the letter does come Tuesday, and I FedEx the package to Chicago, noting the return tracking number. I also left a note to the effect that they should call me to confirm that my application is being processed.
Friday morning rolls around and the consulate still hasn't sent my passport. I'm getting worried now, so I call the consulate. 50 googillion times. I leave messages, I talk to secretaries, I chat with underlings, but I can't find anything on my visa. No one ever bothers to call me back! it's as if I've completely disappeared. By 4:00, I call FedEx to find out what to do if the consulate eventually succeeds in mailing my package. They tell me that it will arrive in Huntington, WV at 9:00AM Saturday. It would arrive at my house before 1:30PM. Great. My plane leaves from Cincinnati at 3:00PM, which is an hour and a half drive from Winchester. Not gonna happen.
I start to make plans to drive/fly to Huntington, but this all falls through when the French consulate shuts down at 5:30, never having sent my package never having called me. I was upset to say the least. It was time for me to go home from my last day at work, only I wouldn't be leaving Saturday as planned. Probably wouldn't be leaving for at least one week! I prepare to go to Casey's and drown my sorrows in Robotech: Battlecry, flying Veritechs and blowing up Zentradi Battlepods. If nothing else, I'll be senselessly amused. But then...
At 5:40, ten minutes after I'm supposed to have left, my mother calls. A package from Chicago arrived after all! It was waiting for me at the FedEx Bldg, 2 minutes from Lexmark. Instantly, the veil of frustration lifts and I'm off to get my visa! Evidently the consulate used another envelope, even though I'd provided them with a SASE. If Mom had called 10 minutes later, or my day had gone normally, she never would have found me and I wouldn't have been able to get my letter on Saturday. What luck!
So I get everything ready and the next day I'm in the airport getting my boarding pass. However, why should anything I do be simple? I have the dubious honor of getting an "S" on my pass, "S" as in "SEARCH". I have now been identified as a candidate for a complete search at every checkpoint. And boy do I ever get searched: four times before I boarded my first airplane.
The worst was at the x-ray checkpoint, where there faces lit up like Christmas trees when they scanned my bag. These people just knew that they were going to be on television that night for making the catch of the year. It seems that my blank CDs showed up as large black things and my computer keyboard as an intricate rats nest of wires. In other words, a large bomb.
Yes, they searched my shoes. Twice.
But finally I got to the airplane. Which was subsequently delayed by a maintenance problem. So delayed, in fact, that I was rerouted on a Delta flight through NYC. While I was running like the wind to catch my new flight, they transferred my luggage to Delta. The theory.
The fact went more like this. "We guarantee that your luggage will NOT be on the airplane." Wunderbar. I haven't even left the airport and they've already lost my luggage. But every cloud's got its silver lining;: I won't have to cart 130 lbs of blank CDs and peanut butter through the Paris Metro.
Thinking my trip will be simple now, I take the metro to the train station. And get fined $20. Seems that the ticket that I'd always been using wasn't valid on that trip. To add insult to injury, the combination of delayed flight and lost baggage claim makes me miss my TGV. I'm now forced to take the regional train, which takes a stately 3:30, instead of the TGV's hyper-active 1:37.
So now I get into Dijon 5 hours late, but that's okay, there's still plenty of time to get my room. Except they have no idea who I am. The desk-woman practically goes into convulsions when I ask for a room,not knowing what to do since no one "prepared her for this." She looks for me in all the records as I desperately explain to her that a piece of paper printed on Sept. 25th could not possibly have a reservation for me, since I only had had reservations since the 9th of Oct.
She couldn't call out on the telephone. The woman who is supposed to be in charge of all 7 dormitories during the night can't call out on the telephone. What's she supposed to do if there's a fire? A crime in progrss? Wait for the fireman to call her and see which building's burning down? She didn't know, and all these "hypothetical" situations weren't important.
Daft. She was daft as a duck. Dafty Duck
I finally get the only room left on campus, but it reeks so badly of smoke that I can't stay in the room for even 5 minutes. Did I mention that this was a no-smoking dorm?
To finally top it all off, my cell phone no longer works, so I can't even call anyone for help! I'd ask you guys for care packages, but I have no address. I'd like to talk to someone comforting, but I have no phone. It'd be great to get some emails, but I have no connection.
And France calls itself civilised.
Further adventures ensue. Check back for more updates of "KENZ. IN. SPAAAAAAAAACE!!!"
Thursday, October 17, 2002
I want to film a documentary in Dijon about how removed the university and the city are. I'll call it the Lonely Planet.
I bought tickets! I'm leaving Saturday at 3:00, getting into Paris at 7:40. Then I have to take a train to Dijon, arriving at 12:11. This is a total of 15 hours of travel, so it could be worse. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone everyone in the Francais-Anglais Club.
Tuesday, October 15, 2002
What happens if you give a cat food and shelter?
It eats, sleeps, and loves you. It doesn't write poetry, doesn't build buildings, and doesn't do science.
Why do we expect anything more from humans?
Monday, October 14, 2002
DVD Burners are so cool. Cuts my movie collection from 60 to 10 discs. Although I'm a little peeved that half my movies no longer work. Something in my CD wallet has been destroying them.
Saturday night Celine, Mattieu, Casey, Bethany, Aron, and I carved pumpkins! Celine, Matt, and Bethany had never carved a pumpkin before, so we figured we'd expose them to something they'd missed in their childhood. It's good to do these little things that adults shun because they're too childish. These free flowing forms of self-expression are some of the most mature things one can do.
The coolest pumpkin, by far, was Matt's. Quite impressive considering he had never in his life carved a pumpkin. Mine came in a a distant last... No, worse than that. My pumpkins were so misshapen that they didn't even glow orange! They were just this sort of putrid, pale peach. I'll post pictures as soon as I get them from Matt.
I'm happy to say Connie was quite amused. Good, because I'm not going to be around to pick up the decaying pumpkins! :)
5 more days...
Friday, October 11, 2002
So this is my idea for a cool Science Fiction critter. Feel free to use this to your heart's content.
Remember how computer monitors flicker when recorded with a movie camera? This is because the screen constantly refreshes, redrawing itself 60-75 times a second. Your eye can't see this flickering because it's to slow.
Now imagine that there were some creature on the earth and it looked just like us. You can only tell it's not human by viewing it through a camera. Perhaps it's a shapeshifter whose body constantly oscillates between "its" form and "our" form. Or, a la Casey, aliens from another dimension who are beaming into our galaxy.
Motivation? Maybe the critter's trying to eat us like the Alien. Or a race of aliens bent on invading the earth. Or a mysterious person with otherworldly powers who helps people.
I'm organizing a protest when I get back to France. I don't know what we'll protest, but it's France so that's normal. Whatever happened to protesting-- just protesting-- because it's Saturday and there's nothing else to do?
(No, "Kenz" doesn't come from some "warez" thing. It was a misspelling of my name in France to which I took quite a fancy. Quit asking.)
Thursday, October 10, 2002
Xeno's paradox: motion is impossible because the moving object always has to cover half the distance. Since the number of halves is infinite and they become infinitely small, the moving object never really gets itself going.
Put graphically, Xeno remarked that on any line segment, there was a halfway point. No matter how you slice the distance, it can always be halved again.
Hence, Xeno was asking the question, "How long is an infinity of infitesmals?"
I, Kenneth Dale Sebesta, do hereby christen this page "Kenz Blog"
I've decided that keeping a blog is a million times easier than sending out emails to you. I always wondered if you really wanted to read my rambling emails, so now you'll have the choice.
I'm leaving for France in 9 days. Entirely too soon and entirely too late. Mixed feelings abound. I want to stay because things are so good here. I work for Lexmark, practice my French all day (admittedly not always good), I have good friends here, and my living situation is without compare. But...
I miss the food, I miss my stuff, I miss my European friends, and I miss the vacations.