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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Things Not To Do With Hydrochloric Acid

Last Tuesday I took the day off to plaster the walls in our bedroom. My father came over to help me in the role of Main Assistant Plaster Manufacturer. He made the plaster, I smeared it on the walls. Together, we put some 150 kilos of plaster against the walls, in a layer of half a centimetre, and after a day’s work we were only half way there.

Anyway, when I had finished some of my tools were caked with hardened plaster. I started to scrub it off with water, but that’s not much use when the stuff has already hardened. So how could I get it off?

Ah’, I thought, ‘chalk dissolves in acid!’ That is how you get limestone caves: the chalk dissolves because of the slight acidity of ground water.

So I tried common vinegar, but the effect was not dramatic. In fact, it didn’t do squat. But then I remembered we had stronger stuff in the house: hydrochloric acid. So I filled up the sink with water, plunged my tools in and added some HCl. For the record: I did put on rubber gloves – safety first!

It worked like a dream, most of the plaster dissolved right away. Only my big plastering board was still covered in loads of hardened plaster. It has small depressions in it so the plaster won’t slide right of if you tilt it, but these were filled with hardened plaster which was very difficult to remove.

So I left it to soak for a night. The next morning, I forgot about it, so it soaked a bit further. And the next night too, because I can be very absent minded sometimes. Make that always. What was I talking about? Oh yes, the plastering board.

The board was fine, and completely plaster-free! Hooray!

It was the sink that was messed up. It’s an aluminium (or possibly stainless steel) sink, and apparently the chemical reaction between the plaster and the HCl caused the metal of the sink to darken. So now we have an etched sink, with dark spots all over. Luckily it’s an old sink, scheduled to be dumped when I install the new bathroom. But still…

Posted by Bart at 7:14 PM
Edited on: Saturday, April 28, 2007 7:14 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hammock Time

Like the rest of Europe, Belgium has been basking in the sun the last couple of days. In fact, all of April has been lovely so far. People have switched from winter clothes to their lightest summer garments, some even dug up their bikinis to sunbathe in the park (well, the women did).

Sitting in my dark alcove at work, I can only stare out of the big window at the other end of the room. I have one big consolation: lying around in the hammock when I get home. There’s even no competition for our single hammock, because Mrs. Bart is barely able to get into it and totally unable to get out of it. In between the exercise would kill her back and sever the nerves in her legs.

Aaahh, lovely!

(Lying in the hammock, I mean)

Posted by Bart at 8:17 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Mother-To-Be

She is sitting in the sofa, with her hand on her belly.

She looks down, but her eyes don’t see the world outside.

Her gaze is unfocused, dreaming of the world within and the little wonder that’s taking place within her own womb.

She softly strokes her tummy, with a soft little smile around her lips.

Posted by Bart at 9:10 PM
Categories: Big Belly

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I’ve Hit The Ceiling

I’ve hit the ceiling today, literally. After months of preparation, we finally installed the new ceiling in our bedroom. I am now the proud owner of a ceiling. I can’t tell you how proud I am. I am gleaming with prowess, according to my brother who acted as Assistant Vice Managing Director for Screws today. I hired my father as senior consultant, you just can't refuse 45 years of experience in these matters, can you?

The room looks completely different after a day’s work. Did I tell you how proud I am after today’s work? Oh, never mind, just take a look at these pictures:

False ceiling - aluminium beams


False ceiling - after installation


False ceiling - halogen lights

I'm especially pleased with the halogen lights, my desk will be beneath them, between the old chimney and the back wall. There are still some finishing touches to do, but that’s for tomorrow. One disadvantage is that my neck’s gotten all cramped up after staring up for hours on end, not mentioning holding up plates weighing 2 tonnes and screwing in 5.000.000 screws with a 250 lb. electric drill.

I’m so happy I’ve got a ceiling!

Posted by Bart at 9:53 PM
Edited on: Saturday, April 21, 2007 9:59 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ardennes In Early Spring

We went to the Ardennes for the Easter weekend. It's a beautiful mountainous region in the south-east of Belgium. It's one of the few more-or-less natural reserves we have in this country, excellent for walking. And photography of course.

Forest road between the pine trees in the Ardennes  

Can you smell the resin?

Dead pine tree (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Dead wood with banks of mushrooms (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Small forest lake (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Moss in the undergrowth (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Forest stream (Belgium - Ardennes)  

The area is criss-crossed by small streams and rivulets. Sometimes there are small bridges or trees laid over them. But sometimes you have to wade through, as we had to do at this point.

Butterfly (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Branch (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Spring is in the air!


Horses in a meadow (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Daisies (Belgium - Ardennes)  

I used to eat these when I was a baby.

Cranes in flight (Belgium - Ardennes)  

We heard a strange sound and looked up. It's a flight of cranes flying to the north.

Bison (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Bison (Belgium - Ardennes)  

These ladies are not native but immigrants from North-America. My brother lives on a bison farm.

Bison in close-up (Belgium - Ardennes)  

Posted by Bart at 5:46 PM
Categories: Being Belgian, Framed

Monday, April 16, 2007

Definition Of Daddy

We had absolutely beautiful weather this weekend, with temperatures soaring to a sub-tropical 27°C. Very un-Belgian temperatures for April! So I took the opportunity to climb upon the roof and deal with the water drain. Part of our house has a flat roof, and some idiot thought it was best to make the drain the highest point on the roof. Needless to say, we have a large pool on our roof for most of the year. So we get wet walls, and some smelly and damp rooms.

While I was cutting, grinding and hammering away on the roof, our neighbours daughters were playing in the garden. The eldest is about four-and-a-half or five years old, her two little sisters are twins and are about three and a bit. They were busy playing household, until one of them spotted me on the roof.

- ‘Who is that’, she asked her elder sister.

- ‘It’s a daddy’, said her twin half

- ‘Yes, but it’s not our daddy’, specified older sis.

So there you have it, the definition of a daddy is: man climbing on rooftops for mysterious reasons and doing strange stuff.

Posted by Bart at 8:19 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Room With A Poo

One of our cats has diarrhoea, the problem is we don’t know which one. The last couple of days we found piles of vomit too. That just happens from time to time. But now it’s really getting serious.

This morning I entered the cats room and I almost stepped in an apocalyptic landscape of green, watery pools and droplets of poo around their climbing post. One of them had obviously been sleeping on the ‘upper terrace’ while he had suddenly experienced a very acute attack of the runnings. There was slimy green poo on the top level of the climbing post, another pool on the terrace below, a couple of droplets one level down and a big pool at the foot of the climbing post. There was also a spray of droplets that had flown in the direction of the coat hanger, luckily the pressure was not high enough to reach our coats and the wall underneath.

Still, it cost me the better part of half an hour to clean it all up. And then I had to make sandwiches for lunch. Very nice!

My love duck is taking the two of them to the vet’s this evening, he can sort out which one has rocket-poo and which one is innocent. If he doesn’t prescribe anything, I still got a couple of wine-corks from when we had visitors a week ago.

Posted by Bart at 9:02 PM
Categories: Animal Farm

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Are We There Yet?

Did I complain yet how much writing a manual for a computer application sucks? No?

Well, it’s like jumping into a magnetic swamp with your pockets stuffed with iron bars. You can’t get out, it’s a never-ending story and the readers are screaming for a sequel. You have to explain every little detail, even things everyone should take for granted after so many decades of computer revolution. Every potential question of the greatest moron on earth has to be answered by that text, and let me tell you: the greatest moron on earth has a lot of fantasy.

I’m at page 103 and counting. Granted, I put in a lot of pictures in a vague attempt to reach the state of foolproof-ness. And of course no-one will ever read it. Instead, they will mess up my beautiful application and then send angry e-mails to me venting their outrage because it won’t make any coffee or they can’t find the bloody ‘Any’-key.

If Darwin were right, the sub-species called Users should be long extinct.

Posted by Bart at 8:22 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 8:23 PM
Categories: ICT - Inevitable Computer Troubles

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Weekend Off (Almost)

Tonight we’re leaving for the Ardennes in the south-east of Belgium, famous for their rolling terrain, sausages and hams, rafting and kayaking, wild animals and green forests. We’re going to visit my brother, for the first time in more than a year. That’s not because I don’t like my brother, but because we’ve been so busy with the marriage and the house. Speaking of the latter, we finally got to the stage where we can install the new ceiling. Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

My father came over today to give me a hand and we put up the aluminium frame on which we will hang the plasterboard ceiling. It was the first time we used this system and the first time I installed a ceiling, but it went like a dream. Next weekend we can hang the plasterboard, but we’ll need a third pair of hands for that. Keeping a long, heavy plate over your head with one hand while trying to screw in a bunch of screws with an electric screwdriver is not very easy. Besides, my back is already aching because of the thousands of times I had to climb up and down the ladder. The aluminium profiles were a bit unwieldy too, measuring four meters long. But by some strange coincidence no-one got their eye poked out. Hooray again!

Now, off to the bathtub and then in the car for a three hour drive…

Posted by Bart at 4:47 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Friday, April 06, 2007

Digital Dark Room

I took a day off today, originally to work on the bedroom but there were some other chores waiting for me. I had to design a card for when the baby is born and my sister is starting to wonder if I’m ever going to finish the pictures of her daughters baptism before Hebe gets married.

So this young lady kept me busy all day:

Little Hebe - my sister's new baby girl

I checked 159 pictures of her baptism. To some I had to do some extensive work because the light conditions weren’t all that great and I don’t have a decent flash (apart from the teeny-weeny built-in flash that is just good enough to chase the shadows away on a bright sunny day). On the other side, who can say no to a beautiful smile like that? She’s growing fast, here’s a picture I took the day after she was born, lying in her father’s arms:

Little Hebe in the arms of her father

I really love that picture.

Posted by Bart at 6:02 PM
Categories: Framed

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours

I’ve got a new job! Since 10 o’clock this morning! I got a phone call on Friday and after some very though negotiations on salaries, bonuses and so on they eventually gave in and hired me. Before anyone accuses me of being money crazy: I’ll earn 15 € more than I do right now, the discussion was entirely about me not wanting to drop in income. So this morning, I could come and sign the contract.

It should be a fun job, I’ll be responsible for the follow up of a number of projects in Congo, but it is already foreseen that I’ll make a blitz-career within the organisation. That is the most important change for me: no more feeble young organisations that can go bankrupt any moment for this blogger. I’ve chosen for the security (and rigidity) of a larger structure. So I can have a career! I can grow within the organisation! And as an added bonus, it is far less conspicuous when you hide from work in an organisation with eighty employees than in one with three employees, you included. But of course I’m all motivated and pro-active and so on, not to mention my great communication skills, flexibility and ability to work autonomously but still as a member of the team. Fuck that, I’m in!

Posted by Bart at 7:17 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Feeding Frenzy

We had some friends over today, with their 4 months old daughter Zoe. I was in a creative culinary mood, so I drove to the foreigners’ market in Antwerp yesterday morning to stock in on veggies, seafood and meat. I hoped I could do something with fresh spring vegetables, but it’s still a bit early for that and the best I found were beautiful green beans, green asparagus (although rather pricey) and spring onions. Of course there was loads more, but most of it is imported from far away and therefore it doesn’t have the same fresh taste as new veggies. I added a touch of winter by buying some nice big oyster mushrooms.

For the entry, I wokked salmon filets, giant shrimp and coquille Saint-Jacques (scallops) which I served with the green asparagus and Hollandaise sauce. For the main course, I made tenderloin which I sprinkled with salt, pepper and spicy paprika powder. Then I coated the two pieces with mustard and a bit of ketchup (to take the sting out of the mustard). I put it in a pan for a minute or two to make it crust and then it went in the oven for twenty minutes. I served it with sweat potatoes, boiled and then roast in the oven and with a nice topping of home-made garlic and parsley butter. And when I say garlic butter I mean garlic butter. All neighbours in a 500m. radius have been evacuated by the police and the chemical disaster unit. Luckily, our guests were fond of garlic but next time I’ll reduce the number of cloves from seven to three.

So tenderloin with sweet potato with garlic butter with green beans. I used the oyster mushrooms to make a lovely cream sauce, to which I added the spring onions and some fresh parsley.

I’m happy to say that our guests gorged themselves, apart from baby Zoe who is still on a milk diet. She did try some of the sweet potato and seemed to like it. I liked it too, it was the first time I prepared it. Actually, the whole menu was a first that rolled out of my head as I passed between the different vendors on the market. I like taking a bit of risk when I receive guests. But everything turned out splendidly and I got a lot of compliments.

Desert was catered for by the wife, as I really don’t have a sweat tooth. Her cake too was splendid in all its simplicity. All in all a very nice day, with good conversation, a very nice walk in the beautiful spring weather and fine food.

Posted by Bart at 10:04 PM
Edited on: Sunday, April 01, 2007 10:14 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

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