12/24/2013

Santa's Mantel

I've always made my own Christmas cards, partly because I prefer my own jokes over store-bought ones. But mostly because I'm a cheap bastard.

Here's one of my first card covers, from way back in 1989.

12/21/2013

The Great Poets: Dylan Thomas

In this first installment of a series of Great Poets reading some of their classic works, we see Dylan Thomas reading his holiday classic, A Child's Christmas in Wales.


12/20/2013

'Twas the Night Before Donut

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a donut was stirring, nor a crumb on a blouse.
The donuts were stacked by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas would see them all there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of donuts danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I with my donut,
Had just settled our brains for a big winter’s donut.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I instantly ate a big donut from the platter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Then back to the donuts (no need to be rash).

A dozen fresh donuts on a gleaming white plate
Were more interesting than anything else on that date.
But what then happened to surprise all our souls,
A dozen fresh donuts, and eight donut holes.

With a donut old donut, so donut and quick.
I donut in donut, it donut St. Nick.
More donut than donuts his donuts they came
And he donut and donut, and donut by donut.

Donut, donut, donut donut.
Donut, donut, donut donut.
Donut donut, do-o-o-nut,
Donut, donut, donut, donut.

Donut donut donut donut
Donut donut donut donut
Donut donut donut donut
Donut donut donut donut.

Donutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonutdonut.
Donut.

The Reason for the Season

People often talk about the “reason for the season” at this time of year. It's so easy to lose sight of what it's all about, what with all of the shopping, and the fuss, and the arguments leading to restraining orders, breakups, and [totally unwarranted] manslaughter charges. So I thought a small history lesson would provide some important context.

Did you know that Santa Claus was based on a real person? Did you also know that this person was named “Jacob Torvoldtsen”? The change to Santa Claus makes more sense when pronouncing Jacob’s name in the original Finnish language; that language is actually just a simple code where letters represent completely different letters in other languages. This approach to their language also explains why people with Finnish accents often sound like Stephen Hawking’s voice, because their brain is too busy processing the code algorithm to spend much time on subtle human nuances of pronunciation.

Mr. Torvoldtsen (hereafter referred to as Jacob, because I have the darnedest time spelling his last name) was famous in his community as someone who gave stuff away. Specifically, he was the local drug pusher, standing out on the corner of Blakemont and Fünfnoggle at all hours, selling temporary happiness to junkies of all ages. He was well known for giving the first one away for free, knowing that his highly addictive products would have customers come back clamoring for more at any price. He sold mainly two products, which he called “Merry” and “Happy,” in a desperate attempt to use marketing spin to cover the fact that they were both basically nothing but fermented reindeer dung. Even in the dead of winter, Jacob would be seen standing there, in drifts of snow 15 feet deep. Actually, only the snow was seen, but passers-by could hear him deep inside the snow peddling his wares, with a muffled “Have a merry! And a happy!”

The drug business wasn’t easy in those days, especially since he depended heavily on foot traffic in an area where it was too cold for people to leave their houses ten months out of the year. So, keen businessman that he was, Jacob entered the flesh trade, becoming a pimp for the local street walkers, whom he referred to as his “pack of elves.” Soon it was common for the community to hear his hawking cries at all hours of the night, crying “Ho! Ho! Ho!” as he tried vainly to interest sailors, businessmen, and young school boys in women so deeply embedded in parkas that potential clients had no idea what they looked like or whether they were actually women. Jacob tried, of course, to have his employees dress in slightly less clothing, but this ended up costing him as those women usually died of frostbite or ended up in the hospital.

It was really only when he took his tawdry business on the road that things picked up for Jacob. One night, more to elude the local constabulary than for any other reason, he sleigh-jacked a young lumberjack on his way back from the forest, tossing the man into a local snow drift and racing off with his vehicle and the pack of reindeer pulling it.

From that point on, Jacob’s fortunes were looking up. He was able to dash quickly into new towns, push his drugs and elves onto unsuspecting people, and race out of town before the police caught up to him. His reputation grew and it wasn’t long before townspeople, knowing that he was on the move, would exclaim, “You’d better watch out! Santa Claus is coming to town!” Unfortunate children who were insufficiently hidden in nearby snow drifts would catch his attention, and he’d ask, “And what would you like for Christmas?,” often throwing them some drug-laced, highly addictive candy canes (which were actually meant to be straight sticks of candy, but which melted into a cane shape, due to the ferocity of the drugs).

Over the years, his wild rides ceased and his adventures faded into legend, attracting, as most legends do, an air of nostalgia and level of falsehood usually reserved for politicians. What were once warnings to the townspeople became friendly greetings, and the man who once was regarded as the “Scourge of Jyväskylä” became the basis for the story of the jolliest man to ever invite small children onto his lap.

So if you happen to see any Santas about this weekend, greet them in the traditional way: say “Hello, Mr. Torvoldtsen!” and then call the cops on them.

12/18/2013

Patterns, Shmatterns

I enjoy programming. I enjoy giving presentations. I enjoy comedy. And I really enjoy giving comedy presentations about programming.

My satire talk from the Devoxx conference is now available on parleys.com. It was meant to be a "quickie", although blowing through my 15 minutes' worth of slides in 4 minutes wasn't quite was I expected. Nevertheless, the Q&A session was fun. And totally educational. Totally.


12/13/2013

Tastes Great, Less Filling

My heart was filled with joy this morn
Because it's donut day.
But biting into my first choice
Didst fill me with dismay.

My solid donut was not filled
With custard or with cream
Or lemon curd or jelly; it's
A nightmare, not a dream.

When I get a donut with no
Hole upon its middle,
But having only dough inside it
Causes quite a riddle.

The pastry contract clearly states
That donuts must have holes,
Or filling otherwise or they're
Not donuts, but just rolls.

Like coffee with no caffeine or
A goal without a goalie,
A donut with no center and
No filling's just unholy.

12/06/2013

The Day the Donuts Broke

My Krispy Kreme was cold today;
It wasn't fresh and hot.
They sometimes come right off the line,
But these, today, did not.

I don't know why it happened thus;
Or if it was a joke
Upon this day of infamy:
The Day The Donuts Broke.

I tried one donut, then another,
Then a couple more.
None of them were warm and wet.
It made me sad and sore.

But then I found it didn't matter:
Despite the freshness date.
Boiled in fat and covered with sugar,
Each donut's worth the weight.

12/01/2013

Black Friday




I got some great deals on Black Friday!
It wasn’t easy, I have to say;
I had to beat others out of my way,
But the stuff I got was just groovy.

I got gadgets and games and DVDs,
And Walmart had great sales on massive TVs
I got one so big I could hardly squeeze
The thing into my big SUV.

My wife took a hit early on, in the mall,
But that trooper cried out, as she started to fall,
“Don’t worry about me! Go on - buy it all!”
And then she was lost in the mob.

My toddler was next on the injury list
As she fell due to somebody’s angry fist
(They were swinging at me, but I ducked and they missed);
She went down and started to sob.

I bent down and helped her (Hey! I’m her Dad!).
Her head wound fortunately wasn’t that bad
And the bleeding was slowing to just a small tad,
So I strapped her back in her stroller.

That’s when things began to go wrong;
I lost those two minutes; the sale items were gone!
Each second delayed is a second too long
In this high-stakes sales coaster roller.

My teen was next to go down for the count;
She was fighting for mittens (with half-off discount!)
And winning (by some eyewitness account),
Until she was shoved off the shelf.

The stories conflict at this point of the tale,
Did she actually bite someone at that sale?
That’s what the cops thought as they took her to jail.
(Luckily, I got the mittens myself.)

The rest of the day was a smooth operation,
There was only one other slight altercation
(Some old lady making a wild accusation
As I pushed her out of my way).

Then I drove the stuff home and packed it all in
The boxes and bags come right up to my chin!
All in all, it felt like a pretty big win.
Now I can’t wait for Cyber Monday!

11/29/2013

Thanksgiving: An Ode to Overeating

Now we sit to eat some bird
I have second helpings, then a third,
For forty-five minutes not a word is heard
As we all eat as much as we can.

There’s relish quivering on a plate
And tons of meat to masticate
And gravy for the mashed potat-
oes (man oh man oh man).

There’s spinach casserole in a dish
Next to the dressing (that’s just delish)
And then mashed potatoes, as much as you’d wish
For, the spread goes on and on.

There’s beans and there’s stuffing (both cornbread and herb)
And some pasta thing that’s simply superb,
The tables of food extend way out to the curb,
From the kitchen right out to the lawn.

Nuts in a bowl go mostly uneaten;
The candies beside have them easily beaten,
Healthy consumption always feels like cheatin’
At the annual Thanksgiving meal.

The turkey was cooked all wrapped with bacon
(If you think our meal’s kosher, you’re quite mistaken)
Anyone’s diet was quite forsaken,
Eating badly is, frankly, the deal.

I’m eating and eating and getting quite stuffed
But of dressing and gravy, I can’t get enough!
So I swallow some more, which is very tough,
But that’s what Thanksgiving’s for!

When I can’t fit more in, I loosen my jeans;
I have to find room, no matter the means,
I must have more meat! more gravy! more greens!
I’ll eat till I can’t any more!

Standing up frees some space for one more bite,
But forcing another takes all of my might,
Continuing eating just doesn’t seem right,
So I just stuff the rest in my mouth.

Mm-mm-rrf sn-ggrrr-fn, r-r-n g-ckn,
Fr gn-gn s shn-gr fn gr n-m-n,
Ck-sn dn-mn frr-gn, d-srn dn-drn-dn,
P frgn dr srn grndy brouf.

Travel Diaries: Antwerp VI



"Oh, to see the cranes of Antwerp on last time ere I die," as the famous poet said.

It's hard to choose a single feature of this city from the many beautiful and prominent ones that it offers, but if there's one thing that stands above the rest, it has to be the cranes.

Decades ago, the cranes stood a functional purpose, helping to erect the beautiful buildings that established Antwerp as one of the architectural marvels of the world. The cranes helped the city accomplish this very quickly, allowing them to take advantage of the beauty that 1960s architectural standards enabled, which is why there are so many of these concrete icons occupying every square foot in the city.

But in creating the skyline of these adored gray hulks, the city planners realized that they had something even more marvelous on their hands: the cranes. Slowly, they began adding cranes to every crack in the skyline, filling in the gaps left by insufficient amounts of concrete with these towers of rusting, swinging metal.

These cranes no longer do anything, as there is no space left unoccupied by the dark gray concrete blocks, but they stand on their own, as art pieces of engineering and architectural beauty. They serve as a reminder of both how the city was built and what is possible in human endeavor.



One thing that has always impressed me about Europeans is their health-consciousness. Whereas other cultures might think, "Give me as much of that thing as I want," the European attitude is "Give me just a tiny bit because it might not be good for me."

In these pictures, we can see this approach in the serving size of coffee. Whether it came in a cup the size of a thimble or whether they used a reasonable size cup but poured in just enough to cover the bottom of it, they were always thinking of me and my health needs. Sure, I wanted enough coffee to actually form a complete mouthful. But did I really need it? Probably not. Besides, I could always go back and get more, which is what I did, sixteen times.



Although I traveled to Antwerp for a software development conference, it was not apparent to me until I saw this sign how intrinsic software technology is to this great city.

You can see here on what I mistook as a simple "Walk" signal that the implementors didn't just stop at a simple button/sign approach. Instead, they invented a whole low-level language to express the intention and functionality desired, as seen by the two op operands.

roep is Dutch for "call", so obviously the first statement establishes a call to a function. The second operation, genomen, is clearly a more general-purpose function about human genome processing. Apparently, simply turning on the 'Walk' signal is just a side effect of this far more involved algorithm. I suspect that the button was extracting DNA data from fingers that pressed it and then sending it through the genomen function to do some data tracking and analysis, possibly to serve up targeted ads in the ensuing Walk/Run signage. Opviously.



I've written elsewhere about the plentiful and beautiful waterways that wind their way lazily through this city. Here's a shot that I took at night that shows some of the channels working their romantic charm. In the distance, you can make out one of the prevalent cranes, adding its own romantic nuance to the scene.

Travel Diaries: Antwerp V

The most prominent feature of Antwerp is, without doubt, the textured streets. I don't mean merely cobblestone streets, as seen in this picture, because the textures are not limited to just that specific incarnation. I also saw concrete blocks, cement, bricks, and broken pavement variations. What all of these materials have in common is, obviously, safety.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Middle Ages was personal safety. Governments were disorganized and corrupt, police forces did not exist, and gangs of bandits were more common than Starbucks cafés today. To top it all off, it was always dark (which is how that time period became known as the Dark Ages).

People were hard pressed to stay safe even when taking a casual stroll to a local flogging.

The Belgians came up with a novel and powerful solution to the problem: They made the streets, sidewalks, and all other horizontal surfaces so uneven and haphazard that silent progress simply was not possible. Pedestrians could hear people trying to sneak up on them and bandits found themselves constantly tripping on the rubble in ways that made easy muggings impossible.

Gradually, street crime diminished to acceptable levels and people were once again able to tread safely in the city (apart from stumbling on the cobbles in the perpetual dark).





It's always interesting to see foreign variations on American cultural icons. While walking around the historic city center of Antwerp, I ran across this knock-off of the venerable Hooters chain.




















The Belgians are well known for having a great sense of humor, and the citizens of Antwerp even more so. Often were the times when I would make a joke in one of my presentations and would see at least one person in the audience nearly smile.

Their sense of playfulness is seen here in these street scene where the shop owner went to trouble of setting up a large stand dedicated entirely to sunglasses, which no one in the city would ever want or need, since the weather thankfully provides the city with built-in sun protection at all times.





One thing about Antwerp that I haven't seen discussed anywhere is the art (Dutch: kunst) scene. The artistic community there is vibrant and provocative, taking the city by the lapels and shaking it until its monocle dangles.

One of the symptoms of this situation is that the city is simply running out of space. It's like when you walk in your grandmother's house and there's no space on the walls anymore because they're all covered with photographs of you and your cousins in your most embarrassing childhood haircuts. There is simply no more room for art in Antwerp.

The artists have, of course, not let that stop them, and they are busy creating walls to put more art on. Here we see one of these impromptu walls erected on the harbor to display this beautiful portrait of what appears to be an elfin MMOG character. Stunning.

Side language note: the Dutch word for walls is muren, which is obviously a variation of the word mural, which is wall-based art. The Dutch history of covering walls with art goes wayyyy back.

TravelDiaries: Antwerp IV

Antwerp is many things to many people: diamond markets, a place to buy excellent chocolate, a tropical seaside port. But the thing that it is best known for worldwide is its architecturally stunning bridges.

It is clear why this happened. With its location on the water and the various channels running beside, in, and through the city, Antwerp has long been known worldwide as the "Venice of North-Central Belgium." With all of these beautiful waterways, the city had no choice but to build beautiful bridges to complement the natural wonder of the water.

Here we see just one small sample of these bridge delights. This is actually a functioning draw bridge, which may not be obvious as the architects hid what could be cumbersome mechanisms behind a piece of art that is stunning to behold.



One of the many things that Belgium is known for is its health care services. More particularly, Belgians are known for the desire to take care of others.

This trait extends beyond traditional doctors and hospitals into all areas of life. Here, we see how they carefully tended to a wound on the bathroom door of my hotel room, applying a bandage so perfectly that I nearly didn't see it at all.

I don't really want to be wounded anywhere, but if it has to happen, I hope it happens in Belgium.



The Belgians, especially the Antwerpians, are a devout people, practicing religion not only in their minds and in their homes, but also in their plentiful churches.

"The body is a temple," as the saying goes. But in Antwerp, so is everything else. Here we see what, at first, looked like a simple cargo transport ship. But on closer inspection, I noticed that it is clearly labeled KERKSCHIP, or, literally, Church Ship. It was then obvious, after the fact, from the ship's unwordly design that this was a place of worship.

I walked silently on to let the masses worship in peace.



One of the things I enjoyed about Antwerp was the pristine man-made vistas. The thing that struck me most about these scenes was not the beauty itself (though it was always a wonder to behold, with such collections of large, rusting containers set before stunning 60s industrial architecture), but rather that the scenes were always completely undisturbed by any human occupation.

Whenever I walked by these places (morning, afternoon, drunken evening), there would be the functional-yet-gorgeous oxidized hulks, but no people in sight. It was as if the artists had come in, installed their work of living art, and then went on holiday for decades.

It's one thing to declare your connection to such industrial equipment in such a penetrating and visceral way. It's quite another to simply abandon it to the weather for all time and go to the pub, allowing the pieces to stand alone in their magnificence, free from any visible human participation or effort.



Belgians are all about a fair and equal society. Nowhere is that more obvious than in their castles, like the one seen here.

My taxi driver told me that this building, which looked to my untrained eye like any other small castle of some minor lord, was the place where citizens would be imprisoned and tortured for failure to pay their taxes.

Beyond the obvious benefit of encouraging everyone to play fair with public revenues, the use of buildings like this was also helpful in a larger sense. In less fair societies, people might aspire to own buildings like this, or envy those who did. But by using these beautiful buildings as jails and places of punishment, the officials established the idea in the minds of the people that they really wanted nothing to do with places like this, and that they were quite happy in their dim, leaking hovels.

11/23/2013

Travel Diaries: Antwerp III

Here is my final set of entries from balmy Antwerp, Belgium. I hope that you have learned as much from these as I learned from my travels. My goal was to make it feel as if you were there with me!


One thing that I love about visiting Antwerp celebrating their love for the bicycle. The road engineers go out of their way to create nice, smooth paths for the bicycles, usually at the expense of pedestrian walkways. It is common to see the pedestrian path come to an abrupt end, such as we see in these pictures, while the bike path continues unabated. This policy ensures that more people will be encouraged to bicycle and those who don't will simply die.
Often have we come across citizens standing at the end of a pedestrian path, waiting in vain for the obstruction to clear. Some see it as an opportunity to settle down at these stopping places in the path. Others see it as a sign that they should take up bicycling. The rest simply fade away as time and bicycles pass them by.


There is a natural inclination, often practiced by ignorant tourists, of actually walking in the bike path, but this is quickly met with angry rings of bicycle bells as bikers warn pedestrians to get off of their path and back onto the pedestrian walkway (whether it exists or not).






I've written about the green parts of the city, but it's impossible to write about Antwerp without acknowledging the overwhelming allure of the waterfront.

Many cities have built up on the water to take advantage of the natural beauty that that affords, but nowhere have I seen a place capitalize on the waterfront quite like Antwerp.

Pictures don't do it justice, but I took this panorama shot to give a better sense of the majesty that the waterways bring to the city. The photo also shows a glimpse of the nice weather that I usually enjoy there at this time of year.





It's an unstated fact (until now), but the Belgians are probably the foremost society in the world for marrying both clever engineering and ecological awareness.

This photo shows a simple example of this, from my hotel room. This single door acts as both a door to the bathroom, and, when pushed all the way in, between the toilet and the main part of this bathroom. I have never before seen such a careful awareness of the shortage of doors in the world, and such a smart solution to the problem. I only wish other countries would adopt this attitude before we simply run out. And when we're out of doors, where will we be then? Outside, that's where.








I've written about Belgian engineering before, but nowhere is their inventiveness more apparent than in the area of building insulation.

Insulating old buildings can be quite difficult and costly, since rebuilding would be prohibitively expensive and breaking through the think stone walls would be otherwise impossible.

Enter the Belgians, with their clever and unobtrusive solution. If you look closely in this picture, you can just barely see that the entire right wing of this historical building (which I believe is the Bureau for the Processing of Forms Associated with Other Bureaus Doing Things that Also Process Forms) is fully and attractively insulated. Rather than remodeling on the inside, or suffering the cold every year, they simply attach a layer to the building just as one would wear a coat on a blustery day.

There is also a building hat (Dutch: hoed) which tops these buildings on particularly cold days, but this was a relatively warm day in Antwerp, so that article is not shown.


Here's another picture of some of the beautiful green (Dutch: groen) areas of Antwerp.

These plots are several parks in a row, aesthetically and thoughtfully squeezed between otherwise gray and depressing buildings. These numerous parks really bring the area to life, encouraging the residents and working people in the buildings to bring lounge chairs and barbecues and sun themselves in the balmy Antwerp weather.

You can see the care that the city took in creating such a natural area - it's as if the parks sprung from the living ground itself, overwhelming the concrete an bring the land back to its natural, green state. It was all I could do to work while I was in Antwerp; all I really wanted to do was to enjoy these beautiful natural areas.

Travel Diaries: Antwerp II

Here are more of my thoughts from my recent trip to tropical Antwerp, Belgium.



I had heard so much about the large "Belgian waffles" that I was somewhat surprised and saddened when the waitress delivered this to my table. (This is the complete thing in its original form; I hadn't yet taken a bite from it.)

I'm not sure where the legend of Belgian waffles came from, but I suspect that either the story grew in proportions over the years or that the people that started it were quite small, or not very hungry.





Antwerp, Belgium, has long been known for its natural beauty. In fact, that's why I travel there so often, to experience the lush green that is encouraged by the pleasant year-long weather.

More importantly, the city encourages nature well into the interior of the city itself, where other cities have simply given up the fight to endless buildings and pavement. Here, you can see one of the many parks in the city, meandering between the walkway and the surrounding buildings in a way that is a pleasure to experience.










Here we see a typical waterfront property of Antwerp. Observe the open-air design, with the screened-in front porch that takes advantage of the natural beauty and warmth that this North Sea climate provides.

I've remarked previously on the natural beauty of the city with the many parks that it provides; you can see in this organic architecture how the inhabitants take advantage of their surroundings to get close to nature.











One of the great advancements in society is being made in Belgium, where it is common to see restrooms like this where you have the opportunity to pay to pee.

On the surface, it's an effective way of ensuring a clean restroom environment, since there is usually an attendant who will not only collect your fee, but will also tidy up the restroom (leading to those fun awkward moments where they're cleaning up while you're Standing. Right. There.)

But there's a larger societal impact here that's quite amazing. This system of pay-as-you-go has encouraged an entire cottage (or outhouse) industry of people that can simply hold it for long periods of time. These individuals are raking in huge profits, as they are saving .35 Euros every time they don't have to use the restroom. At the end of the day, that amounts to pure profit of 3, 4, even 5+ Euros (depending on how much coffee and beer they've had). This money can then be put toward useful items, such as diapers and kidney exams.

Travel Diaries: Antwerp


The diaries I have posted so far have focused on Paris and, well, Paris which, while beautiful, is a relatively unheard-of and untraveled city, so readers may not have been able to connect to the experiences as well as they would for more well-known tourist destinations. So it is with great pleasure that I now bring you some of my travel notes from the famous and luxurious travel destination of Antwerp, Belgium.




This statue, in beautiful downtown Antwerp, depicts another important piece of the history of this colorful city.

At the time, there were no Olympic Games, and even if there were, it would have been very difficult for citizens to travel there, since the trains did not yet exist and the nearest airport was in Brussels. So the populace devised their own Games completely by hand. That is, they came up with hand-sports, which consisted of first getting hands (usually from somewhat unwilling participants) and then throwing them as far as they could.

This hand-made sport was a precursor to the sport of "shot put", but was more easily played by the mostly peasant population because hands were easy to come by, whereas shot required metallurgy, natural resources, and picking up really heavy things. Experienced athletes could throw the projectiles quite far with a simple flick of the wrist.

Antwerp sadly closed the door on this sport in the 1800s with the Geneva convention on "Rules of Sports Played with Severed Body Parts" and contented themselves with eating waffles in the shape of hands, for old times sake.



Here is a picture of this classic statue from Antwerp, depicting the giant Antigoon peeing upon the children of the village.

The giant was revered for this act because it was felt that even warm piss was better than the cold seasonal rain. In fact, the phrase "pissing down rain" came from this story and originally had the positive connotation of "at least it's warm." Time and cross-culture usage has distorted the meaning to a more negative one, but it began in a happier time and place, when indoor plumbing and varied forms of entertainment were less common.

Note the natural beauty of the Antwerp skies which offer a stark reminder of the original legend.






The Belgian navy used to be a maritime power of monolithic proportions. With a coastline on the North Sea and the ability to withstand miserable wet and cold weather indefinitely, they had natural skills for the job.

But apparently the navy misjudged the location of the docks on several occasions, resulting in a distinct disadvantage in ship- and fire-power, and were eventually overtaken by other naval powers such as England, France, and Luxembourg.

You can see here a couple of the ships in the Antwerp harbor that were unfortunately placed, still in their "docked" positions. One thing's for sure; no other ships will be taking this bit of land anytime soon.




The Belgian tradition of community is incredible, and extends from social aspects into all walks of life.

Here you can see this poster encouraging citizens to help assemble, or fit, local fences, literally a meter at a time. With clever engineering, the pieces of fencing can be attached easily and simply pushed (or "fit") into place, as seen clearly in the picture.

11/22/2013

There Was No Donut There

When I got to work today,
There was no donut there.
This saddened me beyond belief and
Seemed a tad unfair.

I worked quite hard this week, I did,
But didn't mind the pain.
Because I knew when Friday came
I would a donut gain.

But now that there is no such treat
My joy in life is dead.
I thought I'd get a pastry but
I got just air instead.

My life was once quite filled with hope
Like donuts filled with cream,
But now there is just sadness and
A failed, pathetic dream.

I don't know how to carry on;
My life ahead is bleak.
I feel my soul is dying at the
Ending of this week.

But wait; what is it that I smell,
Wafting through the air?
Its lardy, sugary scent betides
That donuts now are there!

Hooray, Huzzah, and yay for me!
This week before Thanksgiving.
I have, at least today, a dozen
Reasons to keep living.

11/17/2013

Travel Diaries: Paris II

Here are some more entries from my Paris travel diaries.


Sinking Feeling

The French have long been known for their ability to provide beautiful, convenient, and functional plumbing fixtures. What the Romans did for highway traffic, the French have done for bodily functions.

Here you can see the second sink in my hotel bathroom (Fr: salle de bain, or room of bath, a more proper way of saying it than the coarse English version). At first, I was confused not only that there was a second sink, since I typically only use one at a time, but also that it was positioned so low, making it impractical for washing my face or hands or anything else I tried the first few times.

Then I realized that it was a convenience for allowing inhabitants to use the sink that is the most appropriate for their situation. In particular, I found this sink, positioned right next to the toilet (Fr: toilette), to be extremely convenient for brushing my teeth while I was engaged in the use of that neighboring toilet. Sure, the other sink worked well enough and a second one was not strictly necessary, but it was truly a luxury experience to always have a sink nearby whenever I needed one.

By the way, "convenience" is so inherent to the French approach to bathroom fixtures that it is obvious from the language itself: the word convenience in French is commodité, which is derived from the word commode, from which we also get the English synonym for toilet. Voilà.






Keeping the Paix


The street of my hotel (or hôtel, en français) is Rue de la Paix (translation: rue of the paix) is so affluent that people commonly leave money lying about, like the 10 Euro (translation: Euro) note seen here. (Note: As of the time this was written, the exchange rate for 10 Euros is roughly equal to ten Euros).

To some extent, this occurrence happens because it is simply too costly for these wealthy people to bend down and pick it up; the massage and chiropractic fees incurred alone would make that money irrelevant. But more importantly, dropping money is just another step in a long journey of charity that the French people have practiced since the early Gaulois (translation: the Gauls) first allowed Caesar to enter their country and partake of their resources and people 2100+ years ago.

Later developments reinforced this attitude, as the French nobility, in 1789, kindly stepped down from the government and out of their large country estates, in order to disburse their wealth to people that were more needy, more numerous, and much better armed.

In fact, the neighborhood in which I ran across this demonstration of social welfare is named for this attribute. Paix of course means peace, but is in fact a complex and subtle play on words, connoting also the many "pieces" of money that needy citizens will find there on any given day, and of course the English word pay.

I was so overcome by the generosity of the wealthy pedestrian that left this gift that I had to pause, take this picture, and then take the money to go buy half a croissant at a local café.


Cross Purposes

Interesting fact: "Walk" signal buttons at intersections in Paris are intended only for disabled people, or people with long white sticks, as seen in this photo from a Paris intersection. This dynamic initially caused me some surprise (Fr: surprise), because with the level of traffic and pedestrians in that city, it seems quite dangerous to discourage others from using these buttons and instead make them cross the streets at their own risk.

But then it dawned on me (Fr: moi); the traffic engineers are simply optimizing for the most common case. That is, rather than making signs and signals for everyone, and potentially confusing everyone in the attempt, they have targeted them at the audience that they know needs them the most. More importantly, they know that everyone else will eventually become disabled, probably soon if they continue trying to cross Parisian (Fr: Parisien) streets without a Walk signal.

Those French engineers think of everything!




Clean Slate

One things that's always impressed me about the French is their fastidiousness. They simply cannot tolerate mess of any kind, and will go out of their way to ensure that things (Fr: choses) are as clean (Fr: propre) as possible at all times.

This is evident from the attached picture, taken of the bath/shower in my hotel room in Paris. If you look closely, you can see that the shower curtain barely meets the edge of the bath. At first, I thought this was a design flaw, because I'm used to more primitive cultures where the shower curtain far surpasses the edge of the shower. Often, there is even a complete door (Fr: porte), sometimes with a rubber gasket which completely prevents the water from leaking out of the shower basin.

But I finally understood the cleverness of this French design (Fr: conception) when stepping out of my shower one morning into a standing puddle of water in the bathroom: it's about cleanliness.

How many times have you watched the dust balls roll around on the bathroom floor, or wished you still had the flexibility of your youth to bend down and pick up that hair ball the size of a small dog? This frustrating situation didn't happen to me once in my entire time in Paris (Fr: Paris), because of this sophisticated shower curtain system. The daily flooding of the bathroom floor meant that dust, dirt, and dry clothing stood no chance against the cleansing power of fresh, slightly soapy water cascading from the shower into the rest of the room.

In fact, this somewhat obvious (now that I finally understand it) fact can be seen in the French language itself. The translation of "bathroom", salle de bain, starts with the word salle, which is a variation of the word sale, meaning "dirty." Thus the French phrase for "bathroom" means, literally, "dirty room," and the most important feature of any such place would obviously be a way to keep that room clean. It is, after all, fitting and propre.

11/10/2013

Travel Diaries: Paris

I've been traveling recently and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the wondrous things I've seen.


Healthy Habits


Fun fact: The reputation that the French have for good health (or bon health , as they would say here) comes not from regular consumption of red wine, but rather semantics. There is an intentional effort of the society on the naming of things to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

You can see that approach here in the sign of this restaurant, Crêperie Degustation , which translates roughly to "Disgusting Pancake House." It's an interesting take on societal well-being, providing both the means to unhealthy living and good anti-marketing slogans to dissuade people from making bad choices.








Circular Reasoning

The French nobility was plagued by a common genetic disorder that rendered the right leg slightly shorter than the left, leading to a proliferation of circular staircases throughout the fancier buildings in the city, as well as other circular spaces such as the traffic nightmare known as the Arc de Triomphe (or "Arch of the Triumph," a tribute to the classic English Triumph Spitfire sports car).

The staircase seen in this photo was optimized for going down quickly, by far the most common direction for safety reasons. The upward journey was more tedious for the nobles, as they would generally walk backwards due to their genetic condition.

The disparity of leg lengths also led to the word gauche (French for left ) being synonymous with tacky , as their longer left leg was felt to be the limb at fault.

Interestingly, the largest impact of the French Revolution, which got rid of the nobility, was the abandonment of circular staircases altogether, introducing straight stairs for the masses. In fact, the violence of the revolution, described at the time as an escalation , led to the French word for staircase, escalier , and became a lasting symbol of the revolution and the French people. This is obvious from the famous slogan, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Escalier (later unfortunately abbreviated to remove the final word).




Streetwalkers


One of the reasons that tourists flock to Paris, even at this otherwise miserable time of year, is for the joy of walking along its streets. In particular, it is the sidewalks that are so exciting to these street walkers.

In the rest of the Western world, sidewalks offer nothing more than slabs of boring pavement that separate the asphalt of the street from the concrete of the surrounding buildings. This tedious pattern was established long ago by the Romans, as part of their "All roads lead to Rome, and so do the sidewalks" campaign that they forced onto all of their colonies.

But in France, there was always a quiet rebellion, starting from the small village of Asterix the Gaul and extending, over time, to the rest of this great nation. "Sidewalks," they said, "should not just be for walking to the side." In fact, there is a subtle dig at the very concept of standard sidewalks in the French word for sidewalk, trottoir , denoting both the pavement itself as well as pig feet (like the Saxon, now English, word trotter ).

Instead, the French have maintained a proud tradition of installing partial sidewalks next to vast trenches of dirt, or mud , allowing pedestrians to enjoy strolling on Nature's original Earth, instead of simply these man-made fabrications forced on us by the Roman overlords. Coupled with ample leavings from numerous Parisian dogs, these organic paths call to mind a back-to-nature feeling not experienced in large urban areas since Las Vegas constructed the beautiful and environmentally pure canals in the lovely Venetian hotel.

Often will you hear both tourists and locals alike exclaim their happiness at the Paris pedestrian experience by saying, "I feel so dirty!"



Illumination

The French have taken the idea of portable gadgets to a whole new level. Obviously, the shower head is in my bathroom here is portable, because holding it below shoulder level is the only way to keep down the flood level in the bathroom. (For some reason, none of the French bathrooms I've ever encountered have successfully mastered the technology of shower curtains, resulting in cracks roughly the size of Montana sitting directly in front of the shower head, guaranteeing that the only thing to not get completely soaked in the near vicinity is me, as I try desperately to shut the thing off to prevent dousing the lower floors of the hotel). But hand-held showers are old gadgets indeed, dating from the Napoleonic wars when Napoléon himself, so the story goes, inspired the invention by demanding that someone lower the shower head for him.

When I arrived back at my hotel room last night, I was lucky to see the next wave in portable technology, as my door slammed into the electrical cable which draped from the ceiling to the light that was now sitting on my floor. Some might have suspected that the light fixture simply fell out of the ceiling while I was gone, perhaps because it was some cheap piece of crap that wasn't installed or maintained correctly, resulting in an electrical danger zone and fire hazard. But I could tell that this was much more than that; this was progress (or, as the French would say in their more obscure and delightful language, progrès ).

Ever since Thomas Edison first exclaimed "File that patent!," humanity has been leashed to the nearest light socket like a dog to a light pole outside a Starbucks. We've been captive to wherever the contractor saw fit to install the light bulbs simply because of our incessant need to see (Fr: voir ), even if it's only more cat pictures.

But now, the French are finally showing us the light toward a brighter future, a future in which we can do anything, go anywhere, and see anything, simply because they've given us this illuminating technology. Through mechanisms like I glimpsed in my hotel room, we'll finally be able to wander inches, even feet, from the nearest light socket. Why, I could almost peer into the very bedroom itself from the entry (Fr: entrée) _without turning on any other light , if not for the fear of certain electrocution from the dangling 220 volt cables.

Thank goodness the French are lighting the way.




The Happy Homeless

"Oh, to be homeless in Paris," as the saying goes.

Paris has long been considered the top destination of the alcoholic destitute population. With the beautiful streets, curbs, and alleyways of Paris, how can you blame them?

Paris also has a strong history of social welfare, as evidenced by Marie Antoinette's famous quote, "Let them eat cake," which was actual an excerpt from a longer conversation with a poor peasant that she met in one of her frequent strolls among the rabble. The more complete translation of the conversation goes something like this: "I'm so sorry your children didn't eat their vegetables or their meat course; I should have had the chef check with you on an agreeable menu. I'll tell you what, I'll have my driver bring back some soup that I'm sure they'll enjoy, and I'll do my famous roasted broccoli for them. I'll pack that along with some lovely veal that we were saving for our holiday meal, and have it dropped at the curb here for you. In the meantime, let them eat this cake."

Ms. Antoinette was well known for her charity work, but this was by no means unusual at the time. In fact, the French Revolution started out as a simple food fight with the bountiful meal that the King had delivered to one of the well-appointed soup kitchens, which unfortunately escalated slightly out of control.

Meanwhile, the drunken homeless are revered by the French, as they practice the kind of carefree, happy-go-lucky lifestyle that we would all love to have if not for our jobs and pointless addiction to stability, roofs, and healthy livers. This is clear from the French word for drunk, "ivre," which is an abbreviation of the phrase "joie de vivre," or "joy of life." Ah, those lucky, lucky souls.

In the picture, you can see the remains of a pleasant evening's repast of one of these happy homeless citizens. Champagne is not an uncommon beverage, although the more common sight is a bottle of cognac , which is an appropriate way to finish off a meal typically consisting of a baguette and foie gras , in addition to some local fromage , of course.

11/02/2013

When I am Kindle: Sale! Sale! Sale!

Have you already bought the print version of When I am King... or When I am King... II? (What?! Why not?) Or have you been eyeing the Kindle editions of the first or second book, but thinking that $3 - $3.50 was way beyond your budget?

Wouldn't it be nice if you could own both the print and the electronic versions, so that you can always have them available, wherever you are, ready to refer to for morsels of wisdom, or citations for constructive arguments, or yet another way to waste the tedious time between waking up and going to sleep?

Amazon thought so, too. They've introduced the new kindle matchbook program to enable discounted Kindle editions of print books. I've opted into the program and am now offering (for a Limited! Time! Only! (maybe)) the Kindle version of both of my comedy books at the low-low price of $.99 each under this program (the normal prices are $2.99 and $3.49 for the first and second books, respectively).

This means that if you buy the print version of either book on Amazon ($5.36 (discounted from $5.95) for When I am King... or $6.26 (discounted from $6.95) for When I am King... II), or if you have ever bought that print version from Amazon, then you can now buy the Kindle edition of that book for just $.99.

Let me repeat that: If you buy the hardcopy, you can get the electronic version for $.99. A dollar minus a penny. 99 gumballs. Nine dimes and nine pennies. Three quarters, two dimes, and four pennies. $6,000 minus $5,999.01. Any way you figure it, it's just 99 cents.


Matchbook:
It's what dreams are made of, and then discounted when
someone buys the original printed edition of the dream.TM


Donut: A Sonnet


Donut! Thou shouldst be living in my gut.
Eaten for my breakfast (with cup of joe)
Filled with custard, or plain, iced dough,
Yet still abide you on store shelf, but
I am Hungry! Not just somewhat,
But famished, starving, full of woe,
Blood sugar level critically low,
So weak I cannot get off my butt.

So I will hatch a devious plan,
For I must have you, many of you.
And I will get you if I e’er can;
I know exactly what I must do.
“Children,” spake I, “Help your old man.
Go get some donuts, for me and you, too.”

10/27/2013

Concert Review, I Guess

I generally try to stick to comedy here and post the more serious stuff on my technical blog. But occasionally I'll write something that's neither work nor comedy, and I have to put it somewhere (in addition to my Super Secret Diary And Psychotic Serial Killer Diatribes Notebook). So here's this.

------------

I enjoyed the hell out of the Joe Satriani concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night. It's the first concert I've been to in years, if not decades; I generally think concerts are too overpriced and overcrowded to be worth the hassle. I learned some interesting tidbits at the show (beside the obvious bit about Satriani being pretty damn magical, but that wasn't anything new):

- Living Colour rocks: There was a warmup band that I didn't think much about before they started playing; then I realized that I knew this band. Living Colour rose to fame in the last 80s with a couple of hits and an interesting blend of musical styles, including straightforward metal rock. Blending this with amazing vocals and great instrumentals makes for good songs. I lost touch with them in the early 90s, and they disbanded sometime in there. Apparently they reunited some time ago and, also apparently, still have it. Their lead singer covers a broad spectrum from metal-friendly screaming to funk to gospel-like riffs (sometimes all in one song). The guitarist was a monster, totally in keeping with the speed-metal theme for the night and the bassist and drummer held their own as well, with the bass player playing an entire song on his own in the upper registers, reminding me of some of the Bend Folds Five use of bass-as-guitar songs.
And the best part: They were all dressed totally low key. I don't know that I've ever gone to a rock concert where the lead singer was wearing a tweed beret, jeans, and a sweater vest.
They're my new [old] favorite rock band to go research. And totally appropriate for my habit of not getting into a band until decades after everyone else gave up on them (I'm a bit slow on the uptake, sorry. I'm still heavily into Floyd and Gabriel-era-Genesis...).

- Satriani: 'nuff said.

- Satriani, like any musician of his caliber, hires amazing musicians for his tour. Better yet, he features them in a way that someone like him needn't. You'd think with the eponymously -named band that it would be all about him, but every member of the band has his part to play. For example:

- Mike Keneally: The second guitarist and keyboardist for Satriani was amazing on both instruments. For the most part, his guitar parts were rhythm, but he'd come forward and take the lead occasionally, including trading fours and eights with Satriani in a couple of tunes. Amazing to play that well on one instrument, jaw-dropping to see him also play the keyboard as well as he did.

- Macro Minnemann: The drummer was simply amazing. I've played with some very good drummers and have always thought that a master of that instrument was more fun to watch than any other musician because drumming is a full-body contact sport. When someone's playing a large kit with all four appendages rapid-firing every which way in perfect time, it's a joy to behold. And he had it in spades. At one point, the band took a break (as bands do), except them left him there to play a 10 minute solo. I've heard a lot of drum solos over the years, and generally you're ready for them to be over quickly. But a good drummer can make a song out of anything, and he did.

Anyway, that's probably enough gushing for now. I have to go - I have some new music to stream.

10/25/2013

Dear Candy Crush

Dear Candy Crush,

It's been a good three months. What am I saying? It's been a *wonderful* three months. Every day meant another day I'd get to spend with you: new levels, new types of candy, and the old, familiar animated interactions. Seeing you during my days was always a joy, and of course I always looked forward to playing with you at bedtime.

I didn't even mind that you let other people play with you. Or that you asked me for money every time, like a prostitute with a taxi meter. As long as we could enjoy each others' company, I was happy just to be near you.

But lately, I feel like the joy has gone out of our relationship. At first, I just took you for granted, because you were always there, on every device I own. Recently, I've been more likely to curse you than appreciate you. Simply seeing your happy animations was apt to make me shudder with frustration and anger.

So it's with deep sadness that I'm sending you this note to tell you: It's over.

No more levels. No more games. No more lives.
No more candy. No more of that damn chocolate polluting my world.
No more dying-five-times-in-a-row and having to wait for more lives.
No more orders to fulfill while bombs exploded in impossible-to-get locations.
No more playing-levels-until-lucky-combinations-got-me-past-unwinnable-setups.
No more swearing at my tablet.

I'm moving on. I've uninstalled you from all of my devices; you're out of my life.

At first, I thought I could get by with just not playing you as often, but I just kept finding myself going back to your life-sucking trough, dying and dying over and over and over again. I couldn't simply play less if you were still around; I was too addicted to your torture. I've had to get rid of you completely just to get quit of you.

Don't think you can win me back, either - the saved game data is gone gone gone, like my initial crush the first time you killed me five times in a row within a minute and made me wait to try and get killed again.

And don't think this is about someone else - there is no game that can replace you. There is only a hole in my life where my time used to drain. A gaping, bleeding, frustrated hole.

Dear Candy Crush: I loved you once, with your sparkly cartoon animations and you're slightly disturbing 2D characters.
Now get the hell away from me, you addictive whore.

Sincerely,
Chet.

Round and Holy


Round and holy, super gooey,
Light and fluffy, extra chewy:
Donuts are my favorite kind of food.

Have one on a Friday morn,
The day you die, the day you're born,
Eat them when you're ever in the mood.

They're perfect for a little snack;
I always keep some in my pack.
They're the food I really most adore.

There's nothing wrong with eating one,
Or two, or eating till they're done,
And then returning to the store for more.

So have some now, don't be shy,
There's really no good reason why
You can't just eat the whole entire box.

Have them with your morning joe
Eat them fast, eat them slow.
Fill yourself from hat down to your socks.

10/11/2013

Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

Procrastination is the thief of time, video gaming the serial killer.

Practice what you preach; nobody likes an unrehearsed sermon.

Rome wasn't built in a day.
It's been two thousand years and the Colosseum still looks completely unfinished.

Always put your best foot forward.
It makes walking tricky, but shuffling works.

Donut donut donut donut

Two poems today, one for each donut I ate this morning. So far.


Donut donut donut donut

Donut donut donut donut
Donut donut yummy.
Donut donut donut donut
Donut donut tummy.



Donuts Are

Donuts are what we become;
Glazed and fat and round.
Each donut that's in front of me's
The best that I have found.

10/04/2013

Two's Company

Two is company,
Three's a crowd.
Four's a committee,
And five's not allowed.

Six is a gathering,
Seven’s a throng,
Eight is a horde, and
Nine is just wrong.

Ten is a multitude,
Eleven’s a mass.
Twelve is a rabble,
Thirteen’s a morass.

Fourteen’s a mob
And fifteen’s a joke.
Sixteen’s entirely
Too many folk.

For some things, having
More people is great.
But two is a good number
For a first date.

9/23/2013

Song: Questions

Often, I'll think of a joke and realize it'd be better in a poem.
Sometimes, I'll write that poem and realize it'd be better as a song.
Rarely, I'll come up with the music and the rest of the lyrics for that song.
Almost never, I'll actually complete all of these steps and manage to record the result.



Questions

Do recruiters have a hire calling?
If you drop a thermometer, is the temperature falling?
Is the covering over a tomb a-palling?
What is it all about?

I wonder:
Why trees never come but always leave?
If magicians always have arms up their sleeve?
If a knight without armor cannot greave?
Why do I have so much doubt?

Questions:
Questions on my mind.
With answers
That I cannot find.

And so I keep on asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking…
Them.

If it goes without saying, is the point then mute?
If a mountain is pretty, does that make it a butte?
If an angle is tiny, does that make it a cute
One? How will I ever know?

I wonder:
Do lonely books keep to them shelves?
Does Santa help those who help thems elves?
Should we hold our watches to hour selves?
These are my lines to tow.

Questions:
Questions like these.
With answers:
Help find them please.

And so I keep on asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking…
Them.

Key change
Ooooooooooooooooo
Key change
Ooooooooooooooooo
Key change;
Must be the bridge.

If a question is stupid, is any answer wrong?
If I write down a poem, should I make it a song?
If I sing for three minutes, is that two too long?
I guess I should end this thing now.

Questions:
Questions like those
With answers:
That nobody knows

And so I keep on asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them and asking them...