Archive for the 'Life' Category


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 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.

Passport Renewal

Dec 13, 2011 in Life


My passport will be expiring in a number of weeks so time to trek to New York City and the Dutch Consulate to renew it. At first I thought to fly in early Monday morning, visit the consulate and then fly back in the evening. But, on second thought, spending the weekend in Manhattan and then do the passport stuff on Monday seemed much more fun. Plus, a little road trip with the new Dr Frits was also due.

This created a delicious photo taking opportunity and so the tripod came along to take night shots on Saturday and the lens baby to play with street scenes and architecture. Grand Central station was on the list to visit. First, it’s a marvelous piece of architecture and Apple just opened a store on Friday.

On Sunday I basically walked down from 48th Street where I was staying to Battery Park with the obligatory stops for coffee along the way to let the feet rest. In Grand Central station there was a Christmas market, lots of stands with products from local designers and artists. In a park along the way south, Washington Park perhaps, another little market to walk around to find a few presents. At one such stand while I was paying for my purchase, the lady looked at my name on my credit card exclaiming in Dutch: “You’re Dutch!”. And so we chatted for a while in the funny language.

Monday morning it was time for the official business. First, I needed passport photos. These days the requirements are very specific (no smiling, mouth must be closed, ears must be showing, look straight at the camera, etc etc). Near Rockefeller Center, where the consulate is, is a photo store that specializes in these photos. You tell them which country and they know the exact requirements. Then up to the 11th floor at 1 Rockefeller Plaza. There are two desks and each was helping someone. So I was basically next in line. Now, consulates are a bit like post offices the world over. Everything goes at a certain, not particularly hurried, pace. Just like post offices they don’t have competition. You can’t go to someone else to get your passport. Anyways, eventually it is my turn, actually it all goes swimmingly and just a few minutes later it is all done: Fedex should be delivering the new passport in a week or so.

 Lunch, and then picking up the luggage from the hotel, retrieving the car from the parking garage across the street. Time to drive back to Webster, NY. Somewhere in New Jersey before the Delaware Water Gap I’m in the left lane overtaking some traffic going about 75 mph. A large white SUV is catching up behind me. I move to the inner lane after passing and slow down a bit. The SUV comes up next to me and stays next to me. I glance over and see that’s the New Jersey State Police. He’s looking over. I slow down a bit further, he does too. After we get to 60 mph he moves on. Ahead is an open pickup truck. He does the same thing: driving up next to him. They both slow down and so I slow down too. The speed goes down to 40 mph; there is some gesture exchange between the trooper and the pickup driver. Just ahead is the exit for a rest area. The pickup truck indicates right and moves onto the exit, the trooper follows.

A few miles before Binghamton I stop to refuel Dr Frits and me. For Dr Frits a good helping of Exxon, for me a Quarter Pounder with a vanilla milkshake! Thusly refreshed and with the iPhone connected to the car stereo on the Singer/Songwriter genius list we swing back to Webster.

The photographic proceedings can be admired in the gallery.

Boston – Cambridge

Oct 08, 2011 in Life, Technology


Photo gallery

Last weekend I was in Boston: an Azure bootcamp event at Microsoft’s R&D center in Cambridge. It took two attempts to get there: our flight Thursday afternoon got canceled and so instead we flew over early Friday morning.

I had been playing with Azure (Microsoft’s cloud computing platform) for a few weeks and this event was a good opportunity to boost that learning effort, hear from other developers what they’re doing with it. The trip proved itself worthwhile within the first half hour with Bill Wilder simplifying the distinction between web roles and worker roles down to one sentence: “a web role is a worker role with IIS enabled”. That’s it. Many of the Azure books manage to fill many a confusing chapter trying to explain the purpose of each.

Some areas of Azure are very impressive: the behind the scenes replication of data for example. Some areas need improvement. Diagnostics for one. The pricing model especially is way too complex. It’s very hard to understand what your real costs are going to be. Some areas are intriguing. The pricing and limitations of SQL Azure versus Azure Table Services: Microsoft seems to want you to use table services where and when you can, and SQL Azure only when you really have to. I suspect their reasoning is somewhat similar to Google with GAE and BigTable: the ability to do optimizations behind the curtain.

Friday evening Mark and I had dinner at Villa Francesca, a very nice Italian seafood restaurant in North End. Together with the dinner with Rich the next evening at Blue Room in Cambridge it made me think whether it is time to move back to a real city. I like living in Rochester (or Webster to be precise) but the culinary scene is not the same…

Originally Rich and I planned to have dinner on Thursday. Saturday evening I had hoped to meet up with several of my fellow Sun alumni but that didn’t come together. I sent out an email invite a few days before. I do this as well during visits back to Amsterdam and California: proposing an evening and checking who’s available. This always works out in those two locations but here it failed miserably. Not one positive response, just two declines. I am quite disappointed about that. However, in the end still had a great evening. As I didn’t make it to Boston until Friday morning, Rich and I moved our dinner to the Saturday evening.

My flight Sunday wasn’t until 5pm so I had much of the day to be a tourist. From the hotel I first walked over to MIT’s campus near Cambridge Center. Lovely new architecture. From there back to Charles river, across Longfellow Bridge zigzagging through the little streets until I came to Boston Common. From there down State Street down to the wharf admiring the old stores converted into beautiful apartments. Then zigzagging through North End back past the Museum of Science to Cambridge and the hotel. With stops at Starbucks and Boston Beerworks as needed. The photographic proceeds of the hike are in the gallery.

At the airport I learned that the flight back to Rochester was delayed. I checked the FlightTrack app on my iPhone: this flight gets canceled 17% of the time. That’s high. Hmmm. US Airways pushes back the departure time at 20 minute intervals. I hate that. It locks you down at the gate. In the end we boarded two hours late. I much prefer that they tell me straightaway that the delay will be that. Then I can go do something: have a drink, have dinner, or just leisurely wander about. Back in Rochester it was much colder than in Boston, making searching for sweater and rain jacket the first order of business.

Steve, thank you

Oct 05, 2011 in Life

I had planned a different post, the trip to Boston last weekend, but that will have to wait.

I didn’t really know much about Apple, or had heard of Steve Jobs, until 1987 when my employer at the time, KMG, merged with Peat Marwick. We were an MS-DOS firm, they were an Apple shop. A calculation was made and it was decided it was cheaper to rewrite our DOS programs for Macintosh. The next couple of years we had a blast learning about and developing Mac apps. And getting drawn into the Apple culture.

I attended my first Apple developer conference in 1989 in San Jose. My first trip to the US. The registration lines for the conference were long, stretched out way outside the convention center. People were grumpy, I was grumpy. Finally we got inside and into the main hall. We were delighting in complaining to each other about how Apple got this wrong, the long way we traveled to get here, the …. The lights dim, the music swells and on the two enormous screens the 1984 commercial starts playing: “and you will know why 1984 won’t be like 1984!”

Oh we knew.

Gone were the complaints about the long line, the long wait outside. We were going to change the world one person at the time!

Since that event I believed. I knew two things. I wanted to live in Silicon Valley and I wanted to work for Apple. It took some years to fulfill this dream but it came true. With the help of Jeroen in 1993 I landed a job with Apple in the UK. With the help of my manager Kate I secured a transition to Cupertino in January 1997.

Before all that happened I read John Scully’s Odyssey, his story about his journey as CEO of Apple. Which is how I got to learn about Steve and the characters that built the first Macintosh: Bill Atkinson, Andy Herzfeld, Chris Espinosa and many others.

It changed my life. I wanted to strive for the best, be uncompromising, to impact, inspire and change lives of those within my reach, build the most beautiful things I can. Care about how I view me and not how others view me.

My move to Cupertino in January was just after Apple acquired NeXT, or as the inside joke went, NeXT acquired Apple. I was the product manager for OpenDoc. I knew quickly this wasn’t to last long and indeed in March Apple laid me off. A little before I met Steve. He asked me what I was working on. I stuttered and stumbled. I didn’t make an impression but he did.

I moved on to work for Sun and then on relocating to Rochester eventually returning back to the profession of software engineer and joining Odyssey Software.

I wish to be able to call Steve Jobs a friend but I can’t. That’s okay. I am content knowing that I knew him and that he impacted my life.

Think differently. Be insanely great.

Of chip cards, family and friends

Sep 07, 2011 in Life

wpid-handlebars-2011-09-7-16-46.jpgI was back in The Netherlands for the first time in two years. Chance to see family and friends again, and to meander through my favorite city.

The meandering included use of the public transport and that required getting used to and obtaining an OV-chipcard (public transport chip card). Trains, trams, buses now all use the same payment system: a chip card you load with funds and then wave in front of a reader as you enter (check in) and leave (check out) the vehicle. Yvonne sent me an email with instructions beforehand and I also browsed the Dutch Public Transport web site. It seemed reasonably straightforward with the most tricky part being to remember to check out when leaving the train, bus or tram.

I flew into Schiphol (aka Amsterdam Airport) which has a train station: the place to obtain the card. There are several machines where you can buy and load a card. As at least one improvement over earlier visits these machines now accept credit cards in addition to a Dutch bank pass. Using the touch screen I indicated I wanted to buy an anonymous OV-chipcard (a named one can be automatically reloaded via your bank account but for that you need to live in the country), inserted my credit card and out came my very own OV-chipcard! Except, it didn’t yet have any funds on it. Why this is a separate transaction, I don’t know. A card without a balance is pretty much useless. Anyways, added 20 euros to the card which should be sufficient for the travel planned for the week. Proudly holding my card high in the air I descended upon the track where the train to Amsterdam Centraal will be departing from. Found the pole with the card reader to check in, waved the card in front and I got a red light and a short message that check in failed. Hmmm…. No further explanation…

Luckily, several train conductors stood around doing nothing (with this automated system what role/job do they still have?) and asked why my new card wouldn’t work. The lady said I needed to assign to first or second class for train travel. Why didn’t the machine ask this when I bought the card? She shrugged her shoulders. How do I do this, I asked? I have to go to the ticket desk. The machines do not provide this function. Alright, back on the escalator and standing in line for the next agent at the ticket counter. He held my card in front of a reader, tapped on his keyboard and I was all set. Back to the track to wait for the next train.

Friday afternoon I hiked up and down the Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Bloemenmarkt, surrounding streets and canals to collect presents. During the running around I thought of a little photo assignment: taking pictures of what Amsterdammers to do to and with their bicycles. They make phone calls, send and check text messages, haul groceries and small children around, walk the dog and much more. Check the photo gallery for yourself of how to use your bicycle in Amsterdam like an Amsterdammer. This also represented an opportunity to try out the photography workflow using my iPad instead of the MacBook.

Saturday was birthday day for my dad and Wouter, the oldest son of my oldest sister, Marja. Yvonne and I first brunched at the Koffieketel before taking the tram to the Muntplein to obtain the last needed present. It was a hot and humid day. We took a break at Cafe De Jaren to cool off. We were tempted to text the family to come and celebrate here rather than us having to get back out in the hot weather… At the parental home in Amsterdam-Noord my 6 year old nephew politely accepted his present and put it down next to him. After a little while, his grandma asked him: “Aren’t you going to open your present?”
“No,“ he answers, “I’ll do it later. It’s too hot.”

It’s more or less tradition that we go to my dad’s favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner. Since a few months he has a Canta, basically a narrow two-seater with a moped engine for disabled and elderly people. These are allowed to ride on bike paths and park on the pavement. I asked my dad if he was going to drive. He was and I went with him. My first time in a Canta! I recorded the experience. Can you enjoy my Amsterdam accent!

One of the nice things about the restaurant is that they know our dad very well and keep an eye on him. The seating arrangement didn’t work out as intended and I used the excuse of a toilet break to effectuate a little reshuffling of the chairs. We generally had good fun and amusing dinner conversation. Wouter and Marina leave a little earlier because Lennart was getting tired. But for a 9 month old baby he did extremely well! After dinner we said goodbye to my dad and I promised to come by Monday afternoon.

Also tradition is that Yvonne and I end up at Cafe Kale after a parental visit. It was finally cooling down making it even more relaxing to sit on Cafe Kale’s terrace and watch the Amsterdam nightlife flow by.

wpid-wouter-eric-2011-09-7-16-46.jpgMonday evening I met with my friends. I hadn’t seen Wouter in about five years and Leon perhaps even longer. Wouter sat already at the bar when I walked in. He recognized me before I recognized him. He’s all gray! And a tad, just a tad, heavier. Eric still looked like the schoolboy of many years ago, Gero and Leon hadn’t changed much either. Cafe Kale delighted me by having mussels on the menu. We chatted about cycling, technology, life, the universe and everything.

Please sponsor me!

Jun 02, 2011 in Life

wpid-tdc-2011-06-2-18-412.jpgOn Sunday June 12 I will be participating in the Tour de Cure here in Rochester. This is a charity ride in support of finding a cure for diabetes.

Every one of us has a relative or a friend who suffers from this disease or has succumbed to it. In my family both my mother and her mother suffered. And perhaps on a smaller level, my cat Squeak has diabetes too.

I ask that you sponsor my ride with a donation. Every dollar counts and every dollar helps. I will be riding the century distance at the event. If you have a bicycle and you live in the greater Rochester area then you should really consider joining in the event and ride with us!

You can make your contribution on my personal donation page.

I rode Tour de Cure last year as well. If you like to get an impression of the event first before making your gift then you can read my experiences here.

Please made a donation.

Thank you.

Waiting for Superman

Dec 17, 2010 in Life

wpid-school-2010-12-17-10-43.jpgThis is the title of a new documentary on high school education in the US. I haven’t seen it yet but I watched Larry King on CNN a while ago now paying a lot of attention to it. It got me thinking about my teachers. Here is a rundown of the good and not so good.

Mr Claus was my physics teacher in 3rd and 4th grade (age 14 and 15). He seemed more into guns than into teaching us physics. Gun ownership and fascination is very unusual in The Netherlands but he was often talking about his gun club and the weapons he had licenses for. There were many rumored stories about him. The school building was a concatenation of wooden buildings (a source of many other anecdotes for a future blog entry) and so one rumor was that one of the holes in the wall of his classroom was a bullet hole. And that once he shot the headlight off a student’s bicycle. The rumors conflicted in whether he ‘merely’ pointed the gun or actually fired it. Needless to say by the end of 4th grade we were seriously behind on the physics teaching program. But Lady Fortune smiled upon us and our next physics teacher was:

Together with Sanders (see further down) the best teacher I have had. He inherited our group at the start of 5th grade and quickly realized he had a big problem getting us ready for the exams at the end of 6th grade. He basically had 1 1/2 years to make up the slack of the previous two years. But he pulled it off! He was energetic, motivating, fun, a great storyteller and just a very good explainer. He managed to motivate this bunch of teenagers to give up free afternoons and weekends for extra class hours.

Bödicker is also the source for my love of photography. The school had a darkroom and a little photo club. I joined and had a great time learning to take photographs, develop the film and make prints. During winter time he would organize ice skating trips. He is in the picture above, standing at the left.

Lübeck and Ecstady (sp?)
My two chemistry teachers. One year we would have Mr Lübeck, the next Mrs Ecstady (not sure that’s her name exactly…). Both were quite good. My main struggle was that I understood inorganic chemistry but not organic chemistry. For some reason our textbook alternated these chapters so one test I would do great, the next…

Wilbert (Wilgerts?)
My teacher for German class one year. He was not very good. An elderly man and just not all that good in interacting with children. His teaching skills were a bit limited too. He would explain everything with one and the same sentence about Kartoffeln (potatoes). Yvonne had him too one year, maybe she remembers the sentence?

Speaking of one sentence teachers, Mrs Struick was my English teacher in 2nd grade. She would explain everything with either “I have lived here for five years”, or “Yesterday I bought a book.” Beyond that I don’t remember much about her.

My English teacher from 4th to 6th grade. Very strict and difficult to approach but an excellent teacher. He tried very hard to get me interested in Dickens and Shakespeare. For our exams we had to read at least one book from before 1850. I chose a play by Shakespeare. During the oral exam he asked about it. I said that I read it all to the end but didn’t much understand it. Hofwegen then spent most of the oral exam explaining the story to me.

I’m pretty sure Mr Hofwegen knew that I helped my best friend Joan during tests (we had an elaborate foot tapping system). During the written exams he put us in opposite corners of the class room.

Years later, living in England, my friend Susan and I tried to work out which play it was. We eventually concluded it must have been The Merchant of Venice.

My German teacher in 2nd grade. Our 2nd grade group was unruly and not very pleasant. Boschma was very young and this was her first or second year teaching. We harangued her so much that a few times she would run out the class room crying. It seemed funny at the time but I am embarrassed about it since. I’ve not yet had an opportunity to apologize to her. Needless to say we didn’t learn much German that year and I failed the grade miserably.

Ahh Mr Westerbeek. Bit of a mixed bag. He was Yvonne’s math teacher before me. Yvonne and math were not friends. Also my oldest sister, Marja, didn’t enjoy the subject very much. And so Westerbeek was convinced that the third child wouldn’t be good at it either. Which was true till the second trimester of 3rd grade. In the third trimester the coin dropped for me and suddenly I understood how it all stuck together. Eventually he and I got along just fine even while he once declared in class: “If you don’t understand it then I don’t know know how to explain it to you.”

My French teacher for two years. Here being the youngest played out much better. Yvonne was (is?) excellent at French and so mr Roth believed I was too giving me minimally a B by default. I never saw a good reason to disagree with him and inform him otherwise.

He taught Dutch and was also the deputy head of the department, a bit fierce. The year before I always got excellent grades for essays, different teacher, but he rated my writing differently. Took me a while to work out what he liked and then was back at A’s again. During the final exam he asked me why I put Het Dwaallicht by Elsschot on my list. I explained that Yvonne had read it too, liked it much and recommended the book to me. “And, “ mr Nobel observed, “it keeps the excerpt in the family.” Yes, that too :-).

My linear algebra teacher. As mentioned above excellent at it. I loved how he talked about algebra, the exercises he gave us, and how he prepared us for our exams. The day of the first test during our final exams was an off-day for me and I scored not very good. He was perhaps more disappointed and surprised than I was and motivated me to pull up my average overt the next two tests.

And lastly, Politiek
History teacher who was rumored to have an affair with another history teacher (forgot her name). Ahh, the high school intrigues!
Over the years I changed my opinion of mr Politiek. At school and for some year after I thought he was great. But since then I came to realize that his teachings were rather colored by his political views. Ironic no, seeing his last name?

How to travel internationally without a passport

Jul 06, 2010 in Life

Over the coming weeks I’ll be re-posting my favorite entries from an old blog. This is the first one, first published on March 14, 2007.

The weekend of Feb 24-25 was the FOSDEM conference in Brussels. Just a train ride away from Amsterdam, so I flew over a day earlier to first swing by the family and then continue on to the conference.

I flew into Zaveltem and took the train to Amsterdam. When the train approached the Schiphol station it was announced that it wasn’t going any further, so we had to get off and switch to a train that was continuing on to the Centraal station. When back on train, I settled in my seat and nodded off. About 15-20 minutes later the train arrived at the Centraal station. I reached over to the seat next to me, picked up my coat and …. and …, no backpack..!? When I got on the train I put my suitcase on the floor before the seat, my backpack on the seat next to me and my coat over it. Coat’s there, suitcase’s there, no backpack. In the fifteen minutes between the two stations that I nodded off someone managed to run off with the backpack. With in it my laptop, my cell phone, my Sun badge, and my passport.

Walked over to the police station at the train station. When the desk officer heard that my passport was stolen, he sent me back to the Schiphol airport to report the theft to the Marchaussee (Dutch military/border police). Kindly he phoned ahead. So back to the airport. Filed the police report and then to the so-called “Afdeling Nooddokumenten” (Department for Emergency Documentation). When the lady there heard me say that I was Dutch but lived in the US and that I needed an emergency passport before Monday (this is Thursday) when I would be flying back to the US, she got a little difficult look on her face. “What documents do you have?” she asked. Well, I still had my wallet and in there were my green card and my NY state driver’s license. “Maybe you’re able to travel with those,” she said. She phoned an Homeland Security official and the person confirmed that with those two pieces I should be able to get back in the country. I thought “worth a try, we’ll see what happens.”

Now back on the train on to Amersfoort, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Sun’s Dutch office is there. There is a so-called drop-in office in Amsterdam, but that is unmanned (ie, no receptionist) and so unlikely to get into without the badge. Have to report the laptop’s absence to Sun security, order a new badge, change passwords, and then re-create as much as possible the material for the JCP EC meeting on Feb 27-28 and other meetings later in the week. All of a sudden I find myself warped back to the 80-ies: need to be in a real office in order to do any work. That’s where the computer is, where the telephone is. And it needs to happen during normal business hours: without the badge I can’t go in or out outside those hours.

On Monday morning after the FOSDEM conference to the airport. I’m flying United. Before you get to the check-in desk there is the security check. The guy asks for my passport. I say I don’t have one and hand him the police report. Luckily they can read Dutch in Belgium. I give him my green card and driver’s license. He reads through the police report and then asks me all the usual questions: where did you stay, is this your luggage, who packed it, where, etc etc. He then shows the paperwork to his supervisor, the supervisor nods and we’re done. On to the desk to check in. From there to passport control and to the gate. The guy at passport control asks: “You don’t have a passport? They’re letting you on the plane?” “Yeah,” I say showing him the boarding card, and I am through. At the gate for the flight they again check IDs. When it is my turn, I give the United lady my boarding card, tell her about the passport. She looks a bit puzzled, looks over her shoulder for her supervisor. He’s standing about 15 feet away with his back to us. I can almost hear her think: “Oh what the heck.” She shrugs, gives me back my boarding card and I am on the plane. Across the ocean we land at Washington Dulles. On to the next hurdle. I have my customs form filled out and with the green card, driver’s license in hand I approach the immigration officer. “Passport?” he asks. “Don’t have one, stolen” I respond. He seems largely uninterested, stamps the customs form and when he hands it all back remarks: “Hope nobody makes fraudulent use of your passport.” Me too. I walk on and I am back in the US. First order of business: find a pay phone to tell Rachel that the husband made it back.

This Monday I went to the Dutch Consulate in New York City to file for a new passport. When asked for my current passport I replied that I don’t have one, explained what happened and handed over the police report. The guy looks at me quite stunned: “But how did you get back in without a passport!?” “Well, it was quite easy, actually.” He calls over his manager. She declares: “Nobody travels to the US without a passport these days.” But I am here, am I not? She makes me tell the story again. They are still confused. The application is filed. The new passport should be ready in three weeks or so. I brought a copy of my birth certificate with me. I still had that from the green card application. I offered it to the Consulate guy: “Not necessary,” he says, “I believe you’re Dutch.”

Turns out that it was easy traveling without the passport. It was amazingly easy. I had prepared myself for all kinds of arguments with officials, extra security checks and so on. I arrived at the Brussels airport three hours ahead of the flight to allow for all that. But none of it, it went almost quicker than normal.

Real Musicians Don’t Need Electricity

May 09, 2010 in Life

HeadSpace.jpg …or maybe just a little of it…

Last night my friend Mark returned to the live performance circuit with his brother-in-law, Jeff. Their acoustic duo is called Head Space. The performance was at the Cottage Hotel in Mendon, according to Mark’s email “a cool, roadhouse kind of joint. Good food, good drinks, ace sound system, and room for dancing.”

Well, that may be so but that was hard to determine at first. I had programmed the address into the GPS. When I got to the 64 & 251 junction it told I was there, I had arrived. However, nothing was to be seen. All was dark. I examined the four corners of the junction, seeing all the cars parked along the right hand corner and trusting that the GPS was right, it had to be the building on that corner. I parked, found the front door, walked in. Plenty of people inside a dark room: the storm had taken out the power in this area. Candles were out, the beer taps were still working: the party is on!

This evening four bands would be playing starting with Head Space. There was some discussion among the musicians: who needed electricity and how much? Someone found a generator, parked it outside the side door. It had just enough wattage to power the sound board, one lamp (so the sound guy could see what dials he was twisting), a few microphones and two loud speakers (one for the musicians so they could hear what they were doing, and one for the audience so we could hear what they were playing).

Mark and Jeff tuned their guitars and started playing. I believe Mark told me they hadn’t performed in years. Must have been a little unsettling to make the come-back under these circumstances. With just the one speaker I don’t think the musicians could hear themselves very well. But they did great playing songs by the Dead and others for about 20-25 minutes. At the end two little girls walked up to Mark seemingly to request a song. “Not sure we can do anything, we played all the songs we know,” Mark mumbled while bending over to hear them out. It turned to be a Happy Birthday song for a family member.

What was a bit sad for Mark and Jeff, but good for the evening, was that the lights came back on just a few minutes after their performance.

You can find the pictures I took in the gallery. I took some by natural light to give you an idea how dark it was while Head Space was playing.

Knees Against Bopple

Mar 31, 2010 in Life

This is a call to action for all knees! Join in protest before it is too late!

We have just become aware of this year’s Highlander Tour. Were previous editions already cause for concern, this time the course is truly offensive and entirely disrespectful of us knees. Not only does it contain Bopple but also hideous contraptions like Gannett, Stid Hill, and Sliter. Sliter… we mean, who names a hill that!?

As we all know us knees are under-appreciated, blamed for all kinds of things that aren’t our fault and at the same time the most hard-working joints in the body. If that brain above thinks something is funny then we’re jerked. If it is smitten then one of us takes the fall. If it looses courage then somehow we’re the ones who are weak.

But we digress. Bopple. The Highlander organizers misleadingly claim its incline is 23%. While we, the knees, would already protest to anything over the rate of inflation, its incline is more, much more. Usually well-informed knees who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation have shared this picture with us that shows Bopple’s true incline. But there is more that upsets us, for example the placement of the cemetery near the top of this thing. Who thought that was funny!?

bopple.jpgWe must take action now before it is too late. Too many a knee succumbed on this climb, snapped, cracked, splintered, fell to the elements, blocked and bonked that we must shout loudly: “Just say knee!” To get our campaign under way we propose a march from the top of the hill to the cemetery. There we will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Knee.

But this is not just about us, knees. We must recognize that our suffering is shared by all joints. Let us call out to ankles, hips, lower backs, elbows, saddle joints (but not that pivot joint; that thing is a freak show). And let us stand shoulder to shoulder to the organizers of this event! Demand that Highlander be flattened!

Email us at to show your support.


Onno’s Knees
(on behalf of the Knees Against Bopple Action Committee)

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