Archive for the 'Life' Category

 

Eroica 2015

Apr 23, 2015 in Cycling, Life

Eroica is the name of a vintage bike event that started in Italy and now also has a California edition, a few weeks ago in Paso Robles!

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Rrrrrr-Tack!

Ah that sound an analog dérailleur makes, no index shifting, just move the handle until it falls into the next gear. The bike I rode made that noise, all bikes around me made that noise except for a few single speeds and a few with a Simplex 3-speed. And one of them rode up the steep unpaved hill in the lowest of his three gears where the majority of us had to walk our bikes, on a heavy steel bike, and he didn’t even appear out of breath. Toeclips. Clipless pedals were not allowed. Luckily my bike had toeclips with straps and Jon also lent me his brother’s cycling shoes. Getting into the toeclips never was a problem during the ride. My feet still remembered how to do this. I didn’t manage to get the cleat to catch on the pedal’s ridge and so I had to learn not to pull on the pedals but just push. This made the steeper climbs a bit tricky especially with the high gearing on the bike: 44×26 was the lowest I think (have you seen my thighs? Not Tony Martin material I tell you).

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The bike.

A forty-something year old Mondia Special, Reynolds steel frame, Campy Record. Borrowed to me by Jon on behalf of his brother. The lesson: it’s okay to have short friends as long as their siblings are tall! A great bike. It got a lot of looks and I heard many a “oh a Mondia!” as I rode along. It handled very well on the unpaved roads and descended really nicely.

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The shirts.

I rode in replica jersey and shorts of the Peugeot team of the 80-ies. There were many Molteni jerseys of course and Bianchi. I also saw several Atala’s, Raleigh and some Look jerseys. A few went further back for their outfits and wore woolen jerseys from the 20-ies and 30-ies; some with the spare tube wrapped around their shoulders.

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The scenery, the route.

Gorgeous. Hey, we’re in California, so duh. The route out Paso Robles was via a bike path, followed by the first unpaved road and climb, and then we were out in the country. The rest stops were at wineries (hips. pardon.) and the route meandered over their property, over their unpaved service roads. The pace of the ride was unhurried. You’re here to see and be seen, to chat, to admire, to encourage. The miles just flew by.

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The verdict.

You have to participate in one. These so-called Eroica rides are becoming more popular. There’s the original one in Italy of course but there’s also one in Spain, in Japan and here in Paso Robles! It’s fun, it’s a trip back in time, it’s nostalgic, it’s delightful.

Kids, guns, whatever.

Feb 01, 2015 in Life

While sipping my latte and searching the web for about 20 minutes already I composed a too long list of kids involved in gun shootings in the last year – either getting hurt or killed themselves, hurting or killing others.

In almost all of these cases no charges were filed; no parents or police officers were deemed accountable for what happened, nor laws changed to make these cases less likely to happen in the future.

Toddler shoots parents: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/01/toddler-shoots-father-pregnant-mother

Toddler shoots parent: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/12/31/woman-accidentally-shot-and-killed-by-2-year-old-in-walmart/

Toddler shoots sister: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/04/_11_year_old_west_philly_girl_killed_by_gun_fired_by_2_year_old_brother.html

Toddler shoots self: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/breaking/Delaware-Child-Shot-277595301.html

Police shoots child: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/31/detroit-aiyana-stanley-jones-police-officer-cleared

Police shoots child: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/26/tamir-rice-video-shows-boy-shot-police-cleveland

Nine year old shoots instructor: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/uzi-shooting-death-in-arizona-raises-questions-about-children-and-guns/

Toddler shoots brother: http://www.azfamily.com/video/featured-videos/Payson-mom-speaks-after-child-killed-in-gun-accident-288779651.html

Dad shoots baby son: http://fox59.com/2014/10/24/baby-dies-after-being-shot-in-head-during-gun-cleaning-accident-in-kokomo/

Four year old shoots self: http://www.wpr.org/accident-involving-4-year-old-boy-brings-child-gun-safety-issues-fore

Friend shoots pregnant mom and unborn child: http://www.wetpaint.com/teen-mom/articles/2014-07-29-pregnant-woman-unborn-child-die-gun-accident
Two year old shoots self: https://www.hillsborofreepress.com/news/2-year-old-marion-boy-injured-in-gun-accident

Three year old shoots mom: http://www.tulsaworld.com/newshomepage1/police-identify-woman-fatally-shot-by–year-old-son/article_e3cd6f52-c6a7-5d6f-9601-1dc8aec19f37.html

Macintosh turns 30

Jan 22, 2014 in Life

This week it is 30 years ago that Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. First, by means of the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial and then the unveiling itself at Flint Center in Cupertino. While I was unaware of those events when they happened, they did nonetheless greatly influenced me a few years later and are the key events that led to where I am now.

In 1987 I was working as a PC software engineer for KMG in Amsterdam, one of the big accountancy firms in Europe. That year the company merged with Peat Marwick becoming KPMG Peat Marwick. KMG had standardized on MS-DOS, Peat Marwick was a Macintosh environment. As part of the merger a calculation was made of what was more efficient/effective: port the company’s Mac apps to MS-DOS, or porting the MS-DOS apps to Mac. The outcome? Port to Mac. And thus, late that year, I wrote my first app for the Mac Plus.

It was thrilling and new: writing windows, drawing dialog boxes, tracking mouse clicks, implementing copy & paste, menus, buttons. I became interested in the Apple culture. I read John Sculley’s book Odyssey and learned about Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Capps, and Steve and Steve. In 1989 I attended my first Apple WWDC in San Jose. That was it, I was hooked and I had to become part of Silicon Valley. One way or another this had to happen. I had to find a way.

The next year KPMG started a project to rewrite all its Macintosh auditing software. There were going to be two development centers, one in Amsterdam and the other in Montvale, NJ. Montvale was where KPMG’s headquarters were so it was clear that the gravity center of the project would be over there. And, while not exactly California, that was much closer to Silicon Valley than Amsterdam was. So, with some skillful elbowing, I inserted myself in the project as the lead engineer and KPMG agreed to relocate me to Montvale.

In order to make that come true I needed something called a work visa. Not something I had given any thought and not something I thought would really be a big deal. It’s just a piece of paper. With great enthusiasm I threw myself into the project. Spent a couple of multi-week trips in Montvale to help get the team off the ground, start drafts of the design, look for apartments. In The Netherlands the movers were coming by putting my furniture into storage and I gave one cat to my parents and the other to Marja in eager anticipation of my imminent move. Slowly it started to dawn that this work visa thing was a tad tricky. KPMG knew how to move accountants from country to country but not software engineers. The US Immigration Services asked KPMG to explain why it is not a franchise of national companies (like McDonald’s for example) but rather a single integrated multinational firm. And there was the little detail of me not having a college degree which made qualification for visa that much harder. After nine months, and six of those with my stuff in storage, I gave up, had the movers return my furniture to my apartment in Amsterdam, informed the partner in charge of the project of my change of mind. With pain in my heart I canceled the option I had on a 12th floor apartment in Fort Lee with a view over the Hudson onto Manhattan.

The next two years I picked up life again in Amsterdam and moved on from this failed attempt. We did a crazy project for Cargill involving smart cards, digital signatures and Secure PS/2 workstations that greatly helped in distracting me from how to get to Silicon Valley.

Then, in March 1993 my ex-colleague Jeroen, who was now at Apple, whispered via an email that they were looking for an evangelist on their team in London. A few phone calls later both parties were interested in taking this further. The team organized a developer event in London which gave me the excuse to attend and visit with the team. At the end of the week I accepted the offer. London, much closer to Silicon Valley than Amsterdam, and I’d be working for Apple! At least half of the dream was being realized!

In June of 1993 I relocated across The Channel and moved into my funky apartment in Ealing, West London.

While I missed the Macintosh launch itself, wasn’t really aware of it, I was there for another one. In 1994/5 Apple was switching from the Motorola 68000 chip family to the PowerPC architecture. Leading up to the launch of the new machines and for some time after, a period of about a year and a half, I travelled the UK and much of Europe with the so-called pizza box (what would become the Mac PowerPC 6100) under my arm doing insanely great demos and helping developers port their apps to this new architecture. It was exhausting but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun professionally.

In early 1996 I started to interact with the Copland (one of the code names for Apple’s next operating system) and OpenDoc developer evangelism teams in the US. I learned of an opening on the Copland team and got myself invited to a series of interviews. This was going quite well with the manager of the group and I reaching agreement on my role on the team and the relocation to Cupertino. Then, a week later I got a phone call. He told me that there was a rather large re-org over there and the position disappeared. Darn. So close.

I was now in the education team in Apple UK. In November we organized another series of Apple Days for universities. We brought over Marc, a group manager in the Mac OS product marketing team, to do some of the presentations. Kate, my manager, whispered to Marc of my desires of moving to Cupertino. A month later he offered me an OpenDoc product marketing position in Cupertino. I accepted.

On January 3 1997 I landed at San Francisco airport. January 6th was my first day in the office at Infinite Loop. A few weeks later, very briefly I met Steve Jobs.

I can now confirm the existence of the Area 50 page

Aug 17, 2013 in Life

Such important news this week! The CIA declassified documents that confirm that Area 51 does exist! It does!

Seeing this example of transparency I feel I must act in kind and confirm that, yes, Onno.Com does have a web page called Area 50. We, the editors of Onno.Com, that is me, apologize for any anxiety and discomfort this necessary act of deception may have caused.

In August 2000 I was for a business trip in Las Vegas. I took a day off to go find Area 51. Below is the story of that road trip that I posted on onno.com afterwards. Enjoy!

———

Area 50

Announcement, please read!

It has been rumored that Onno.Com has a page called Area 50. We want it be known that such a page does not exist. Anyone found browsing that page will be summoned to leave Onno.Com immediately!

Rachel, Nevada

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In mid-August I attended a developer conference in Las Vegas. Before official business started there was some time to look around. Being an X-Files fan, I drove up north to a tiny village called Rachel, Nevada. Village is perhaps overstating it, it is really a handful of trailers and the Little Ale-inn. Rachel lies east of a huge Air Force base, called Area 51. According to the conspiracy theories here is where the aliens found at Roswell are kept and where the Air Force tests planes based on UFO technology. Part of the fuel to all this is that the Air Force (still?) denies that Area 51 exists. Little Aleinn is both a diner and a souvenir shop with pictures of alleged UFO sightings covering the walls. One of my favorite t-shirts reads “Area 51 is real, the Air Force does not exist!”. Another conspiracy theory is that because of all this attention, caused in part by the X-Files, the Air Force has moved any kind of secret stuff that took place here to somewhere in Utah. Which may well be true and by keeping doing suspicious about this place they keep attention away from that site in Utah. The truth is out there?

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In the souvenir shop you can buy, for a mere 33 cents, a guide of how to get to Area 51. Click on the image to see an enlargement of the text and the map. With the guide in hand and the map on the back I drove the 19 miles back to the mailbox and turned onto to the dirt road. Following the instructions I came indeed upon those orange posts and the signs with very stern language at either side of the road. The rather amusing part of all this is that there is NOTHING to see. You’re in the midst of Nevada desert and hills. The only thing you see are the signs and indeed a white jeep appearing on the hill before you a few hundred yards away. I stopped the car and wandered around a bit. By that time I trust the two guards in the jeep used the internet to their benefit and retrieved that the license plate on the car was for a rental car and currently being rented by a Dutchman living in California on a H1B visa…

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So somewhere behind those hills on the horizon is Area 51.

“Are you sure you want to turn onto that dirt road?”
“Why? It is perfectly fine!”
“Well, it is not a four-wheel drive that we’re renting…”
“Oh, as if I ever got stuck. I know what I am doing!”

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Driving from Las Vegas to Rachel this is mostly what that’s like for most of the 2 1/2 hours it takes. A long empty road through very dry, very hot terrain. So it is no problem to stop the car in the middle of the road, climb in the back and fiddle with the headrest and the mirror to take this picture.

It has its own beauty though.

Finally cut the cable

Dec 01, 2012 in Life

wpid-cablecut-2012-12-1-14-10.jpgToday I finally brought the two cable set-top boxes back to TimeWarnerCable. My bill is now lower by about hundred dollar to around $60/month. I’ve been playing to do this since the summer so my laziness donated some $400 extra to Twc. Oh well, but now it is done.

The first steps were taken almost a year ago by first canceling the phone. I was hardly using the home phone anymore. Previously it was useful because phone calls to The Netherlands were a lot cheaper than via my iPhone. When AT&T greatly improved its pricing, that advantage went away and I was basically paying $75/month for no particular reason.

I already had an AppleTV connected to the living room and bedroom televisions. Via iTunes and Netflix I watch tv-series and movies. I added a Roku in each room which gave me BBC World News, CNN International, NOS Journaal and Politiek24 to provide for a selection of news. These four stations come courtesy of the NowhereTV private channel. Streamfree.tv is an excellent source for Roku private channels.

Between iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.com I have plenty of choice in tv-series and movies. Netflix and Amazon may not have the most recent season yet of say Breaking Bad but that doesn’t matter much. The Roku box does a good job in covering the need for news. What remains then is sports.

Cable TV (and satellite) currently still beats the internet in availability of live sports. While much is streamed on-line too, in most cases you need a cable-tv subscription in order to watch the stream: NBC and the winter/summer Olympics to name one example. However, most of the sports on American television doesn’t interest me: baseball, football. I have a passing interest in basketball and hockey but not enough that I stay home to watch. The sports that do interest me – cycling, Dutch soccer, speed skating – I am either not able to see it anyways due to international copyright issues or there are on-line options. Steephill.tv has pointers to live streaming of most/all of the cycling spring classics. The Tour de France is provided through an excellent iPad app. And on my iPad I can see the NOS’s live stream of the speed skating events. I can see this stream on my iPad but not on my MacBook. This is a big secret, you must promise not to tell anyone.

Via Airplay I can then stream this from my iPad or my MacBook to an AppleTV and watch it full-screen on the tv.

The main casualty of ending the cable subscription then is the ability to watch Dutch soccer. ESPN’s iPad app, ESPNWatch, streams a few of the Eredivisie games each weekend. This requires a cable-tv subscription (you log in to the app via your service provider account) so that will go away. But then, seeing how Ajax is playing this season…

I did get an HD-antenna (AntennaDirect CMS1 from BetsBuy) so I have access to over-the-air tv-stations. What with a north-facing apartment and Lake Ontario straight ahead I am pleased with what I receive. Eight stations which include the local affiliates of ABC, CBS and CW, and a couple of PBS stations. And all of them in HD.

An article in the New York Times a little while back introduced the terms “lean back tv” and “lean forward tv”. The first referring to cable-tv, the second to on-line watching. These are very accurate characterizations. Watching cable-tv you just zap around the channels pushing the button on your remote or by scrolling through the guide. After cutting the cable, you can still get much of the same content but their sources are separate (different web sites etc) and are accessed through separate devices (AppleTV, Roku, computer) and so requires more activity.

My dad, Gerard Kluijt, 1923 – 2012

Aug 06, 2012 in Life

wpid-P8300013-2012-08-6-16-22.jpgFriday night my dad passed away due to heart failure and other complications. He was, in his own words, almost 89 years old. He was a difficult man, I didn’t have a close relationship with him, often I didn’t really know how to relate to him and I think it was the same for him. But still, he was my dad and I will miss him nonetheless.

I like to share some of my memories of him with you. I don’t think I have often talked about any of these.

My dad was not one to show his affections easily. Not that I do so either – hey, we’re Kluyts. But he did in different ways show his solidarity. When I was 10 or so my football team was playing Ookmeer. I was the goalkeeper. The whole match I did not get a single ball; we won easily. The whole match it poured rain. I was soaked. The whole match my dad stood next to my goal. He didn’t have a raincoat nor umbrella. He was as drenched as I was.

Around that time, it might have been a year earlier, my dad and I learned to play chess. I joined the school’s chess club for a bit. During vacations he would buy a Dutch newspaper, often De Telegraaf if we were abroad. The sports section would report on recent matches between grandmasters.

wpid-195727-1-2012-08-6-16-22.jpgAt the camping table we would replay to those matches and try to play on from where one of the players offered a draw or defeat. We would talk through the moves then switch the board around and try again only to discover 15 moves later that the masters were right about how it would end. I enjoyed those moments. No, I never told him this.

After I moved abroad, one time my dad came to pick me up from Amsterdam Airport. He drove, I sat next to him. I looked over and noticed how he sat behind the steering wheel, how he held it, the back of his hands. I realized that I sit so too, I hold the wheel that way, the back of my hands look like his.

 

wpid-1962VacantieTexel-2012-08-6-16-22.jpgWhen we were young my dad would take books with him on summer vacations about the Club of Rome and other rather serious books on economic policy. My dad left school when he was twelve. My sisters and I would joke about this behind his back wondering, doubting if he understood what he was reading. One of my great pastimes is to read nonfiction books; a short list of books I read recently include a Robert Oppenheimer biography, a book on quantum mechanics, Six Easy Pieces by Feynman, Plato’s Republic and some of Karen Armstrong’s books.

There was one thing that for many years I wanted to do together, and that took too many years to finally fulfill: have a beer with my dad in a pub, just he and I, just talk and hang out. Or as in Jeffrey Gaines’ song: “Did all the things that good friends do, Worked together and talked about girls, Talked of dreams and traveling the world.”

I only managed to achieve this just a few years ago. I visited our mom in the nursing home. A while later Ger, my dad, arrived too. When we left we walked back together to my parents’ home. Halfway is the Buikslotermeerplein shopping center and a cafe with a terrasse and it is nice weather. I stopped and said: “Let’s have a beer.” He looked at me, nodded. After we were seated and had our beers in front of us, I told him that this was something I wanted for a long time. He smiled.

wpid-1989DDuinen01-2012-08-6-16-22.jpgThe last time I saw my dad was when I was back home last year September for his birthday. As usual he took the family for dinner to the Chinese restaurant he goes every week. I sat across from him, not everybody had arrived yet, he and I chatted a bit. I told him that one of things that surprised me about life as I got older is that when I was, say, in my twenties I expected people in their forties, okay fifties, to feel that age and to, well, feel old. “I still feel 24,” I said. He was looking at me, nodded a bit. “What age do you feel you are on the inside?” I asked. He thought a bit and said: “35 or so?”

Where I am from

Jun 07, 2012 in Life

I had my DNA tested for ancestry analysis. I must admit that I forgot what exactly triggered the decision to have it done other than that I have been interested in it ever since scientists began to use genetic analysis to work out the human tree.

My dad and others in the family have traced our family ancestry in the more traditional way by researching birth records. This traces us (the paternal line at least) back to the Dutch province of Zeeland back to roughly the mid-17th century. When Yvonne was on vacation in Utah she got the family tree from the Mormons which claims us going back to Germany in Roman times. The latter is interesting but as it is unclear where their information comes from (the practice of birth records is not that old unless you’re of blue blood which we aren’t. My dad’s tales of having coffee with the queen notwithstanding) it is hard to draw any firm conclusions from.

In most cases the genetic research uses mitochondrial DNA which is passed down via the X-chromosome. As a private person that analysis is expensive to get done; I am not that curious. After some internet searching I found DNA Tribes (http://dnatribes.com). DNA Tribes uses a different method. They use 15, 21 or 27 (you get to choose how accurate you want to get and how much you want to spend) genetic markers to build a DNA profile. The profile is built up from both the X- and the Y-chromosome. This profile is then compared to populations around the world in two ways to establish how the profile compares to population groups that have stayed mostly in the same geographical region for centuries, and then to the population groups but also including those that have migrated. The first result gives what DNA Tribes calls the Native Population Match, the second is the Global Population Match. DNA Tribes’ descriptions are a bit dense for laymen (I’m going to need my nephew Martijn to explain some of the terminology to me). The way I am interpreting the two sets of results is that the first shows how my profile compares to groups that have been in a region for a long time, the second how it compares to those now living in a region. Together it allows me to draw some conclusions how my ancestors migrated over the course of thousands of years.

Alright, let’s get to the results then. I had two tests done. In addition to the above I also asked DNA Tribes to drill down on Europe. Looking at the results I may have them drill down on the South Asian region but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

wpid-dna-map-2012-06-7-10-55.jpgWhat you see here is that my DNA profile most commonly matches what is now eastern Russia and the Caucasus and then further back the region that is now Pakistan. There is a relatively high match with Venezuela which may mean that a few common ancestors migrated there a long time ago or it can just be coincidence. What is intriguing is the low percentage match with Northern and Western Europe.


wpid-world-chart-2012-06-7-10-55.jpgThis chart shows the numbers behind the map. It shows that the highest match is with the Hazara region in today’s Pakistan. You see two numbers in the chart. The score to the right of the bars is called ‘Match Likelihood Index’. This number locates the ethnic groups and regions where the DNA profile is most common. The other number (in parentheses) is the TribeScore which compares the DNA profile’s MLI score to members of each ethnic group and region. As I said it is a little cryptic.

A conclusion that can be made from this data is that my ancestors appear to have originated in the India and Pakistan region many thousands of years ago and from there over time migrated to The Netherlands where we have been last few centuries via nowadays Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Poland or in other words in a mostly western direction. Curiously enough that could match the Mormon’s record of the Kluyt family in Germany in Roman times.

The Europa test I had done is less interesting other than that it confirms this route. I’m emailing DNA Tribes some questions to confirm my interpretation. Depending on that I may have them test against the Central and South Asia region if there is a likelihood of that turning up further interesting things.

Onno.Com is 15 years old!

Mar 15, 2012 in Life

wpid-welcome-onno-com-2012-03-15-16-25.pngWe’re well in our teenager years!

I claimed the domain on March 3, 1997. The first web pages went up a few days later.

In the beginning I had a specific need for the web site. Locating it at onno.com was pleasing to the ego. But back to the purpose. In early January of ’97 I relocated to the US from England to work for Apple in Cupertino, CA. My new role was Product Marketing Manager for OpenDoc – a technology for developer to build their application from smaller pieces that could be mixed and matched depending on the user’s needs. Just around that time Apple had acquired Next (or as the inside joke went, Next acquired Apple). Quite soon after getting off the plane and inhabiting my new office on the 4th floor with a lovely view of the Mount Hamilton range two things were obvious:

–        a substantial re-org and layoff was just weeks away, and

–        OpenDoc was not going to survive.

A team member and I, forgot the guy’s name, decided to use the time between now and when D-Day would be to prepare for the next step in the career: we walked down to the Computer Bookstore on the ground floor, bought ourselves copies of Java In A Nutshell and Symantec’s Visual Cafe for Java. To learn Java I wrote a Checkers game as an applet. Once that was working well I wanted a place, a web site, to host that applet so that my intended new colleagues of Sun Microsystems could play with it and admire my knowledge of the Java technology. And thus: onno.com.

Later it became a personal web site and blog to host my photographic exploits and my stories about travel, cycling and whatever else I choose to write about. The first number of years this was all handcrafted html. Over time I replaced pieces with off the shelf tools: the photo gallery moved to MobileME and very recently to onno.smugmug.com, and the main content is now managed by wordpress running on onno.com. The hosting moved from pacbell.net to yahoo to lunarpages.

A few times a year I get inquiries to buy the domain. A t-shirt company in Colorado tried a few times; it was never clear why “onno.com” was meaningful to them. Various fellow Onno’s asked including Onno Tijdgat who was known as a hacker during the 80-ies and the Chaos Computer Club days. The most recent request was a few months ago from a Polish company building a portal at onno.pl. I somewhat regret not having grabbed the .nl and .org domains at the time and so now other Onno’s occupy those.

The site hosted Rachel’s photography business for awhile before we moved it off to its own home at rachelgracie.com. It hosted my consulting business for the year it was active. Last year onno.com was hacked and I spent some long nights going through every file to check if it was compromised. And I once got a death threat – a comment on a story about gun control.

Sadly I don’t have a backup from the very early days of the site. The image you see above shows what the main page looked like in April 2002. Web crawlers visited the domain a few times and so there are some fun nuggets in the wayback machine. Such as my December 2000 roadtrip: http://web.archive.org/web/20010216193812/http://www.onno.com/travel/newyearseve.html and the 2000 Thanksgiving weekend Amtrak journey: http://web.archive.org/web/20010422061814/http://www.onno.com/travel/allaboard.html. I may lift a few of those and re-post them; I have quite fond memories of a some of those trips.

Happy Christmas!

Dec 23, 2011 in Life

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May all your Christmas wishes come true!

My Christmas wish is that you join an organization like Kiva.org and help someone in need.

Zwarte Piet, wie kent hem niet?

Dec 18, 2011 in Life

This is a line form one of the traditional St Nicolas songs that children in The Netherlands will sing leading up to the holiday on December 5. Part of the tradition is the character of Zwarte Piet, Black Pete. He helps St Nicolas, or Sinterklaas, with bringing all the gifts to the children, keeping track of who has been good and bad during the year and so on. In the past he was often characterized as clumsy, very friendly but not very smart, speaking with a Surinam accent. In recent years his role has been elevated somewhat to a capable assistant of the Good Holy Man.

Yesterday I read a very interesting opinion on the festival of St Nicolas and in particular Zwarte Piet by Slate.com. It is interesting because it gives an outside view. A few weeks before I read a newspaper article reporting on the Dutch society in Ottawa canceling a St Nicolas parade in response to racism and discrimination protests over the character of Zwarte Piet.

Initially my reaction to both was a wary one: “ohh, just let it be, it’s just an innocent children’s festival.” Not unlike what Jessica Olien writes she encounters when trying to discus the topic with Dutch people. That made me take a step back and consider this issue more objectively.

I don’t know about the context in which the tradition came about regarding the intent behind the designed role and appearance of Zwarte Piet. But likely it built upon the prevailing opinion that black (or probably any non-white) people were children of a lesser god; not as intelligent, smart, enterprising, noble – insert your favorite – as the white. If I look back upon my childhood in the 60-ies and early 70-ies some of that was still present and visible. Since then, as the Slate article as notes, it has been equalized a bit but certainly the visual image is still there: the good saint is white and the wise leader, the assistant is black and in a subordinate role.

I believe it is time for the tradition to take the next step and let go. It will be hard to rename and rebrand the character. On the other hand if we just retire “Zwarte” from his name and insert something different then all the song lines still rhyme. Rhyme is an important aspect of the experience. How about “Goede” (good), “Sterke” (strong), “Grote” (great)? Well, you get the idea. And the black face paint has to go. There is no way it be can argued that one should not read any racist intent or characterization. It doesn’t matter what the intent is, this is about how it is received.

Let’s put Zwarte Piet to rest and move forward.

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