Big Plant

Nathalie's company was throwing away a lot of huge office plants. She thought this was a terrible waste, and also not so nice for the poor plants. So she organized a rescue operation: got a van to carry them to her bike shed, found homes for them, and arranged for people to come and take them to their new lives.

One tricky part of this was how to get one of these huge plants (which are something like 2 meters tall) from Nathalie's bike shed to its permanent home on my terrace. They won't fit in a car, so a taxi was not an option. I don't live on a tram line, but even if I did it would be quite a task getting this plant on and off.

It turns out that the plant does fit in the crate on the front of my bicycle. It's not exactly stable, but if one is careful it actually works.

Nathalie's boyfriend Wietse lent a hand, and we dropped one plant off at Wietse's brother's apartment. Then took another one here. The photo you see here is of the new plant enjoying this morning on my terrace.

I discovered a weird thing during the transportation: people love big plants on bicycles. Everybody smiles when they see a green houseplant bigger than they are cycling through the city. They wave. They point it out to their friends. They let you know how nice your plant is, "mooie plant, hoor!"

I say without any irony that it is nice to be able to bring a little joy into the world, even if you need a embarrassingly large plant to do it.


Sometimes when you're around an old friend, you just run out of things to talk about. And some of those times you just talk about whatever pops into your head.

Once with Nathalie, I talked about Pringles.

Yes, Pringles.

The good thing about that conversation is that there's no way a conversation could be less interesting. The only place to go is up!

Or so I thought.

But then... lo and behold... at a dinner party the topic of potato chips came up. Probably because of the potato chips we were eating. But anyway, the entire group dove right into the topic. I was shocked! How could I be so wrong? Pringles are exciting!

The very next day, Paul came over and as we were finishing a can of Pringles, and he and Nathalie had a lengthy conversation about the availability of various flavors. Lengthy! Conversation! PRINGLES!!!

If there is a moral to all of this, I don't know what it is. I really don't know.

I do like Pringles though.

How long are you?

I gave a quick English lesson yesterday on the dance floor.

In Dutch, you ask someone what their height is by saying, "Hoe lang ben je?".

I explained to the nice young lady that when she asked me, "How long are you?" in English, it probably meant something slightly different than she intended.

Then again, the Dutch do have a reputation for directness....

Talking to Strangers II

Nathalie and I had just finished shopping when a woman asked Nathalie if she could borrow her phone. The woman didn't have her phone or any money.

Her story was that she and her husband were visiting from South Africa. They had a bit of a disagreement about directions, and ended up going their separate ways. After a while, she decided to go back to the corner where they split up, because she figured he would come look for her there. Not that this was something they agreed on, just a kind of vague hope.

So Nathalie ended up sending an SMS to the woman's phone and her husband's phone. After a few minutes of hanging around without any answer, we had a cup of coffee. After a cup of coffee we still hadn't heard back.

Fortunately, the woman knew how to get back to her hotel in Haarlem. We left her with €10 and directions on how to use the tram to get to Centraal Station. Nathalie got a text saying that the woman and her husband were reunited shortly after.

So what have we learned today?
  • People seem to attract others from their own country when they're abroad. (Or maybe there's just a lot of South Africans visiting Amsterdam.)

  • You don't need to plan, or really to think things through at all. Depend on the kindness of strangers. ;)
Technically this probably doesn't count as talking to strangers, because the woman approached us, and in fact it was Nathalie who started the conversation. But since I've been failing miserably on my resolution, I'll take it.
  • Current Music, my "melancholy" channel

Sea Diamond Ship Sinks off Santorini

I was in Berlin for the Easter weekend last weekend. It was a real last-minute thing. It also meant I was away from my e-mail for more than a day or two for the first time in months. (Fab trip by the way.)

When I got back, there was an e-mail from my dad, explaining that the cruise ship they were on in Greece sank. I had to read the e-mail 3 times before it really clicked.

The ship my parents were on sank!!!

Apparently they're okay. Still, scary stuff.

There are plenty of articles about this on the Internet. Here are a couple you might find interesting:
That "ex-professor" is my dad, BTW. :)

They're finishing the vacation, undaunted.
  • Current Music
    The Help! album by the Beatles

Running into Acquaintances

When I lived in Northern Virginia, I would never meet someone I knew when I was out and about. I think it might have happened once in the 6 years I lived there.

In Amsterdam, it happens all the time. In fact, I'm sometimes surprised when I'm out and don't run into someone I know.

I suppose it's a sign of living in a small city. People walk or bike everywhere, which makes it much more likely to come across actual human beings. And while there are a lot of cool places, people with similar tastes (like my friends and I) end up wandering around the same areas at the same times.

The upside should be obvious. You get to run into people you like, and it's a pleasant surprise. Plus it turns every trip out into a potential source of gossip; which is always good. And if you're like me, you answer the "we should do something sometime" with "okay, what are you doing on Thursday", and end up with something fun to do.

I suspect this is not unique to Amsterdam. I was visiting a friend in DC, and we ran into someone I know while going out to a movie. Odd because I don't live in DC, but perhaps merely yet another sign of how cities are way better than the countryside or suburbs.

A quick note about the word "acquaintances". To be more accurate I guess one should probably say "friendly acquaintances". The Dutch have a word which I think actually fits better, "kennisen", which basically means "acquaintances" but the connotation is slightly different.
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Around the Town in Prague

It was an eventful day in Prague today, as I was wandering about.

Right when I got to town, the lead runner in the Prague half-marathon was just going by. It was the first time I'd seen a run in person, and it was pretty cool.
Some observations:

  • Some people were having way too much fun. (I'm jealous because I never get any of those alleged endorphins when I run.)
  • Runners carry stuff. A drink makes some sense, but people wear jewelry, backpacks, and cameras. One person was actually talking on a cell phone.
  • Not all runners are skinny athletes. I was surprised to see a large number of people with cellulite.
  • There were a lot of Dutch runners. They all wore bright orange shirts. Hup, Holland, hup!!!
  • Other oddities included a person running with their child in a stroller, people with painted faces, one man wearing an Italian flag, a guy running in a suit, a Sikh, and some dude with a crazy hippy beard.

It made me want to strap on my running shoes (safely hidden in my suitcase) and join them.

There was some sort of protest that wandered through the streets. One of the signs said something vaguely like "tolerance", and there were lots of balloons and people with children, so I'm hoping it was a Good Thing, and not people calling for public executions of visiting Americans.

A few hours later, there were some soccer fans, marching and chanting and waving their beers around. It was only a little scary... until the riot police showed up a minute or two later. Then it was a lot scary. I didn't stick around to witness the carnage, I confess. (Germany versus Czech Republic game to decide who gets the top spot in the 2008 Euro Cup... I guess they didn't get all the hooligans.) :(
  • Current Mood
    sick sick
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Bad Influence I

I confess, I'm a bad influence. I'm not sure why that is... I'm not really a troublemaker. Yet, people who hang out with me end up doing things they wouldn't otherwise...

I had a great walking tour of Prague yesterday. The tour guide told us the local drinks, like slivovice, becherovka, and of course absinthe. It turns out she had never actually had absinthe.


So we went to Cafe Slavia, and ordered a couple of absinthes. This nice picture here was on the wall, letting us know of the hazards of our experiment.

In the end, we both decided we've had better drinks. Still it could have ended badly. Viva la vie Boheme!

On Happiness (or, Hacking DHCPv6 for Fun and Profit)

I spent the last 3 days participating in a DHCPv6 workshop. The goals were to improve our understanding of the protocol and find recommendations on how to improve it, find and fix bugs in the various implementations, and to see how usable the state of the art is.

For the most part, it was a lot of fun (except of course the half day spent adding missing functionality that was stupid to have left out of my code).

Just helping out this kind of effort does help one feel better. So, arranging switches and setting up computers and plugging in cables was oddly rewarding. Building stuff, even a temporary lab, is cool.

Once the testing began in earnest, it was quite exciting seeing the systems actually do what they were supposed to. Many of these programs had never been tested with software written by other vendors.

I learned quite a lot. Plus we found some ambiguity with the specification... sometimes we all agreed on a recommended clarification, other times there were differences of opinion. Still, everyone understood the pluses and minuses of the various approaches, and that was quite nice. Heck, just the conversations that fleshed out the problems were enjoyable.

Spending time chatting with other people about the nitty-gritty details of the protocol, writing software, and so on was great. Since I work from home I don't get to talk shop much. Of course, conversation drifting to and from other unrelated topics, especially during (limited) after-hours socializing.

I guess you could say this workshop brought me joy.

What struck me today is the fact that happiness isn't necessarily a simple thing. All of these different aspects of the workshop were emotional pieces, tiny or small. There are different kinds of happinesses; some related, some not. Some types of reward take more effort to arrive at... certainly these geeky things aren't for everyone!

I guess at the end, all I'm really trying to say is that life is good, in ways both obvious and subtle. Enjoy them all!
  • Current Mood
    quixotic quixotic