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Monday, October 31, 2005

Rolling Stones BC

Autumn on the Baraque Fraiture - Ardennes (Belgium)

Despite a severe cold, I went to the Ardennes as planned in the company of my dearest. And I must say it did me a heap of good, because I was finally able to sleep the whole night trough. This was in sharp contrast to the two previous nights which I spent mostly wide awake.

Autumn on the Baraque Fraiture - Ardennes (Belgium)

The weather was absolutely marvellous, with the sun shining brightly and creating a brilliant pallet of rich browns, reds, yellows in the woods of the Ardennes’ mountains. We saw many wild animals, very busily preparing the fast approaching winter, and then we ate quite a number of them with mushrooms and cranberries.

Autumn on the Baraque Fraiture - Ardennes (Belgium)

Autumn on the Baraque Fraiture - Ardennes (Belgium)

Wibrin (Belgian Ardennes) - menhirs

We also visited the small village of Wibrin with its famous menhirs and other Palaeolithic constructions (we didn’t eat any). It’s still unclear what their purpose is, but I reckon that the great-great-great-etc. grandfathers of the current inhabitants of Wibrin just had a weird sense of humour and wanted to play with the minds of future archaeologists. Or else they saw it coming that agriculture wouldn’t be the source of income it once was, despite EC subsidies. So they slammed some giant stones on top of each other to attract tourists. And by golly, does it work! We practically had to queue to get a glimpse of those stones.

Wibrin (Belgian Ardennes) - dolmen

Wibrin (Belgian Ardennes) - a look inside the southern dolmen

Inside the dolmen

Posted by Bart at 10:40 PM
Edited on: Thursday, March 09, 2006 7:39 PM
Categories: Being Belgian, Framed

Friday, October 28, 2005

Strike one… strike two…

Belgium has come to a standstill for the second time in a couple of weeks because of a general strike. The Christian (ACV/CSC) and the Socialist (ABVV/FGTB) trade unions organised the strike to protest against the federal government’s ‘Generation Pact’. For months, the government, the trade unions and the employers’ organisations have been negotiating this pact, and basically they agree on most of it. But the two largest trade unions are not content with a number of ‘details’ as they call it themselves. Why they have to block the whole country because of a few details is completely beyond me. Although I’m a member of one of the trade unions and although I followed the news the last week trying to find out what this was all about, I’m still in the blue of the why of this nation-wide protest.

The Generation Pact is necessary because the number of people working is too low here. Youth unemployment is high, unemployment rates within immigrant communities are soaring and people stop working too early. It’s that last point where the angle stings: when companies get in trouble, they often send their older employees and workers on early retirement. This policy is often even supported by government officials. But because more and more people have to retire – often beyond their will – at the age of 58 instead of 65, this convenient technique is costing the social security system a lot of money. On top of this, there is an important demographic factor. The Belgian population is ageing, we had a baby boom just after the second World War, but from the late 60’s on, the number of children born declined sharply. So now the baby-boomers are retiring, but there aren’t enough ‘young’ people working and paying taxes to pay for their pensions. So measures need to be taken, and that’s were the Generation Pact steps in.

My feeling is that there’s another factor here. The trade unions saw their popularity drop significantly in recent times. Belgium used to have a quite unique system, in which political parties, trade unions, insurance companies, schools, etc. of a same ‘philosophical’ background would work very closely together and form a power block, or a ‘pillar’ as we call them here. If you were born in a catholic family for instance, you would go to a catholic school, be in a catholic sports club, go to church (obviously) and as a grown up you’d join the catholic trade union or the catholic employers organisation, get insured by the catholic insurances and vote for the Catholic (now Christian Democratic) party. But now, people are much more emancipated and shop around. For the trade unions, this means that their numbers are dwindling (political parties experience the same problem). People, especially young ones, don’t feel comfortable anymore in these old and rigid structures. Most worryingly, people think that unions and parties can’t deliver anymore, and more and more they look towards extreme nationalist parties such as the infamous Vlaams Blok / Vlaams Belang.

To me, it looks as if the trade unions finally have found a subject that worries enough people to make them come in huge numbers to their rallies and manifestations. And it seems to work for now, since a lot of companies and public services don’t work today and there are more than 80.000 people manifesting in Brussels at the moment. That the goals of the general strike aren’t clear doesn’t really matter, does it? And that there was some miscommunication is a remark only high-brow commentators will make, but who listens to them?

The strike has blocked many thousands of people from going to work today. But I wonder how many are working happily at home today, like me, connected with their companies mainframes through the internet. No 19th century road block will block the 21st century internet economy. It’s a sign of the times, and the trade unions are not adapting. And to me, that’s a shame, because I think social action is very important in a real democracy. But that means that the social actors must not use the very tools that threaten democracy, such as disinformation, just because it’s in their proper interest.

Posted by Bart at 3:01 PM
Edited on: Monday, January 30, 2006 6:50 PM
Categories: Being Belgian

AAOUATCHAOUA !!!! (prwooooooop!)

On Wednesday, my boss called in sick, but yesterday she came to work because she had an important meeting. So yesterday evening, my nose suddenly started to drip. This night, a woke up several times with a clogged nose and a head-banging headache. So thank you very much, my sweet employer for giving my a hell of cold. Either that, or I am the first person in Belgium with the bird flue. Which is quite possible because we ate guinea fowl on Wednesday. Does anyone know the incubation period for guinea fowl induced bird flue?

This morning, I went out to find some books and maps of Niger for my coming trip, and I sounded like a steam-engine when I sniffed my way through the streets of Antwerp. So far, I’ve taken two aspirins (the headache is gone, thank Myself and other godlike figures), a pill to stop my nose being clogged, a pill to stop the constant dripping of my nose now that it’s not clogged anymore, and two tablets of vitamin C. I feel mildly better, but as the weekend is about to start AND because it’s a prolonged weekend of no less than four days, I have no doubt that I’ll be very ill starting tomorrow. Which also means I’ll have to skip the weekend in the Ardennes region. Oh joy to the world…

Posted by Bart at 2:53 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ThingamaBlam!

As you may have noticed, the Bartlog had a major break-down yesterday. This because of a deadly combination of an inquisitive female mind and information technology. My girlfriend wanted to read my weblog, to check if there aren’t any less truthful pieces of information about her person. Unfortunately, she did so while my weblog application, Thingamablog, was still active while I was busy as ever in the kitchen. Explorer was open too, and there she saw a folder with ‘weblog’. So she started to browse through the files on my computer and click on internet files here and there. The first one she came across was the xml file that Thingamablog needs to access its database.

I was totally unaware of the drama that had unfolded when I finished my article, posted it and closed Thingamablog and the other applications. Not much time to blog anything during the weekend (see previous message), but when I tried to start up Thingamablog yesterday, it gave a fatal error concerning its database. An attempt to manually open it also failed. Guessing that it might have something to do with a recent Java update, I threw that one out. But still I couldn’t get access. By then, sweat was pearling on my forehead and soaking my eyebrows. Check Thingamablog website for updates: none. Check Fucking Annoying Questions page: hooray! Or not? Reference was made to this particular problem, with an accurate description of the problem I encountered, but apparently this was a very rare problem and none of the developers saw a possibility to repair it. Just great, now there was even more pressure on my computer genius!

To make a long story short, there was no option but to create a new weblog, copy the templates and then enter the old articles one by one. So currently, there are a couple of them still missing but I hope I get everything fixed as soon as possible. The good news is that a) my weblog is still relatively new, so it won’t be too much work to repair it, b) I only recently started to incorporate pictures and c) not many people bothered to leave any comments because that got screwed up too of course.

Despite this setback, I’m very satisfied with Thingamablog. It’s a Java based blog application, which is useful because my provider Telenet won’t allow for any scripts – except a few measly scripts they wrote themselves but which are crap – so anything that needs PHP or SQL is out of the question. I also heard a lot of people complain about web-based blog tools such as Blogger and the like; especially the fact that you could loose everything forever without any real possibilities for a back-up frightened me. Not that I made a back-up of my blog off course. I don’t need back-ups you see, computer disasters only happen to other people, whom I like to advice to regularly make a back-up. The other alternative was to set up my own web server, but my wallet and I are not that crazy.

Thingamablog keeps a database on your own computer and fully automatically builds web pages. You just have to worry about the content, and you can add all the gimmicks you like such as counters, Haloscan and the lot. When someone hacks your site and fiddles with it, as I’ve seen happening to some bloggers, you’re back online in minutes. And you can make a back-up of your weblog, in case you’re more intelligent than I am – which should qualify anything that doesn’t depend on photosynthesis for its survival. You can use one of the many templates that come with it, or design you own templates. I adapted one of the ready-to-go templates to suit my own taste and needs. There’s a comprehensive user manual, but it’s generally very intuitive. And it’s freeware ladies and gentlemen, no strings attached. So I’m not advertising here because I hold the majority of the stocks

All in all it’s a fine application. Just don’t ever touch the user.xml file, or let anyone near your computer when Thingamablog is open.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Reaching out to my inner Italian

Well, the weekend was certainly busy. We had six friends over for diner on Saturday, so I spent a lot of time buying and preparing food, and almost got as far as washing up the dishes. It was the first time we received friends in our newly decorated living room, but we still had a lot of cleaning up to do. Luckily, my mother-in-law-to-be gave us a big hand by cleaning up the staircase, which looked like a post-war zone after I spilled plaster all over the stairs.

It also gave me the chance to try out some new recipes. As a starter, I invented a delicious ‘Autumn Soup’, with wild mushrooms. I’ll post the recipe as soon as I can translate the names of the mushrooms. Alternatively, if anyone can tell me what ‘oesterzwam’, “cantarelle’ and ‘eekhoorntjesbrood’ is in English, please let me know. I assume everyone will know what I mean by ‘champignons de Paris’.

The main course was Osso Bucco, and I’m afraid I’ll have to admit that I make the worlds best Osso Bucco, even if it was the first time I tried it. By the way, if anyone has a recipe for ‘modesty’, please send it to me a.s.a.p. please. I couldn’t really find a recipe that I liked, so I came up with the following:

For four persons (double if you’re with eight persons):

  • 1.250 kg of veal shanks: they’re not always easy to find, so you may have to order them. I didn’t do this, but luckily I have a great butcher.

Fresh from the market:

  • 4-5 carrots, cut into disks
  • Two medium onions
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • A kilo and a half of tomatoes, cut into pieces to make them turn into tomato sauce faster
  • 2-3 whites of leek, cut into disks

Also featuring:

  • A small can of tomato concentrate (double concentrated)
  • Two cubes of beef bouillon
  • Olive oil and a bit of margarine
  • ¾ litres of water
  • Mild paprika powder
  • Black pepper
  • Hot chilli powder
  • 2 tea spoons of thyme
  • 4-5 bay leaves
  • About an hour and a half of your time, including an hour of cooking time.

Peal the onions and cut them into relatively small pieces. Take a LARGE pot and put it on a small flame. Pour in the olive oil (cover the bottom) and add a small lump of margarine. When the margarine has melted, add the pieces of onions and glaze them.

Take the cooking pot off the stove and add four tea spoons of mild paprika powder. Put the slices of meat on top and then throw in the cut up tomatoes. Add ¾ litres of water, put on the lid and place the cooking pot back on the kitchen stove. Add some more heat, but not too much because it’s difficult to stir with those slabs of meat and otherwise it will all burn. After some 15 to 20 minutes, check if the tomato pieces are falling apart. Add a small can of tomato concentrate and two lumps of bouillon. Three to five cloves of garlic can join the party. Then add some black pepper, some thyme and a couple of bay leaves. Put the lid back on and let it bubble.

Add the carrots after 30 minutes of cooking time and the pieces of leek ten minutes later. Let it boil for another twenty minutes (one hour of total cooking time). Oh, and don’t forget some hot chilli powder.

I served it with white and green (spinach) Tagliatelli. It tasted absolutely fantastic. I gorged on the marrow of the veal shanks. Not everyone is fond of this greyish blubber in the middle, but I like to scoop out every little bit of it. I even stole the bones from other people’s plates (yes, I know).

The diner was an absolute success, although I was very tired from all the running about and the cooking. However, the next day an enormous stack of dirty dishes and glasses was awaiting me. I bravely entered the battle, alone because the GF was off horse riding. But I’d only done about seven glasses when one of the large wine glasses snapped in my hands and left a huge gash in my index finger. Blood was squirting everywhere (anyone still feels hungry?), but I succeeded in controlling the dam burst with a band aid and a couple of meters of cello tape. Naturally, any further dish washing was out of the question, with this gaping canyon in my hand. So I had to continue this ridiculously dangerous task yesterday, and because it was really a huge stack of dirty dishes, I didn’t get to updating the bartlog. I’m sorry, but I’m absolutely sure that when you try this recipe, you’ll feel all better.

Posted by Bart at 9:56 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

Friday, October 21, 2005

They’re out to get me, not getting me out there

Two weeks ago, there was a national strike. Most of Belgium came to a standstill, largely because virtually no public transport worked that day. Much, if not all of this chaos passed me by, because as you may recall I was ill at the time. So I was quite happy to be lying in my bed while my fellow commuters desperately tried to get to work.

But THEY noticed.

THEY know.

THEY won’t let anybody escape…

Monday morning, I got to the usual platform, still a bit woozy and snotty. Then I noticed that the train had a delay of 10 minutes. Well, it happens from time to time. When I returned from work however, the Brussels subway system was in disarray, “for reasons beyond their control”. So the subway train was late. So I missed my train in Brussels’ Central Station.

Tuesday morning: my usual tram doesn’t show up, nor the next one, nor the one that should follow it. I have to wait for fifteen minutes. Naturally, I miss my train and show up late for work again.

On Wednesday morning, the train is announced with a delay of five minutes. This is not too bad, because I left home a bit too late and now at least I have the time to buy a magazine. I forgot my book for the third day in a row after I’d packed it for our weekend at the sea, where I didn’t read a word in it. When I return from the magazine store, the delay has increased to ten minutes. Me. Late. Work.

Thursday: no delay in the morning, so I’m quite content. But when I return in the evening, the escalators in the subway station do not work. While clambering down I hear the train arrive and leave again right at the moment that I almost reach the platform. Miss connection. Have to wait for twenty minutes. Hooray.

Today, Friday, I didn’t have to fight my way through rush hour, because I have to pick up some prescribed medicines for my coming trips to Africa and the pharmacist’s only opens at 9 o’clock. The train ride to Brussels goes without any surprises. But then of course, I still had to return. The escalators at the subway station are still in repair, but this time I wasn’t surprised. I even got in Central Station well in advance. But then my luck ran out. The 17.25 didn’t show up at 17.25, instead there’s a stop train that really deserves its name, stopping at every spot where it sees more than three cows and a rabbit gathered. So I – foolishly – decide to wait. Then three other trains follow each other in rapid succession. Another stop train arrives, but since it’s already 17.39, I decide to wait for the 17.39 express that inevitably has some delay. A few moments later, the train for Antwerp arrives. It’s the 17.25, which I didn’t expect anymore at 17.45. Anyway, I get on the train, which heads for Antwerp and later the border town of Essen. Normally, this train stops at Antwerp Berchem, then Antwerp Central Station and then continues to Berchem. But because of the delay, the train will not stop at Antwerp Central Station, so the passengers going to Antwerp Central Station have to switch trains in Berchem. This is all explained by the train driver, but because these trains are all so modern, we barely realise that he is saying something. The train sets off again, leaving Berchem Station, and I quickly notice were going in the wrong direction.

We pass Antwerp East Station, but don’t stop there. Instead, our next stop is Ekeren, to the north of Antwerp. When I get out, I can see that I’m not the only one, the little station is flooded with passengers going in the wrong direction. To make things worse, we have to leave the station, walk to the bridge over the tracks, get to the other side and there get to the platform. Miraculously, the train in the other direction hasn’t left already. But it did start to rain and it’s a real downpour by the time the train does arrive.

Anyway, I did arrive, an hour and a half later than normal. And the weekend has finally started. But to prevent similar events next week, I just want to say: YOU win, I repent, please forgive me! I shall never try to escape the nuisances of a general strike again by being sick. I promise!

Posted by Bart at 10:05 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Prick

I went to the Institute for Tropical Medicine today, to get my shots for the coming trips to Niger and the Somewhat Democratic Republic of Congo (sDRC). The institute is just a stone’s throw away from our place, although the doctor didn’t seem too happy with me throwing stones at him.

Apparently, the newest technique in tropical medicine is to drill your arms full of holes. This way, the bugs get sucked out by the wind. I hope I can move my arms tomorrow. But I didn’t cry, so the doctor gave me a lollypop for being such a brave lad.

In the morning, I’ll have to go to the pharmacist to stock up on anti-malaria drugs. These can be incredibly vile, but luckily the ones that I have to take for Africa are coated and I only have to take them only once a week. I know from experience that my body doesn’t react in funny ways to these pills, because they can have quite strong side-effects. You can get pretty weird dreams from them, but last time I went to Senegal, I didn’t have stranger dreams than usual. Which doesn’t mean much of course.

Posted by Bart at 3:23 PM
Edited on: Monday, January 30, 2006 6:52 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Self mutilation for beginners

Carefully follow these instructions:

  1. Install phone at other end of apartment, at the other end of your cramped hall way.
  2. Open bathroom door a bit.
  3. Wait for girlfriend to call you up. When she does, careen through the house at excessive velocity to pick up the phone before the answering machine fires up.
  4. Ram left shoulder into opened door with all your force.
  5. Quickly end phone call before the pain will make you faint
  6. Stupidly take revenge on bathroom door, hitting it with the back of your right hand.
  7. Hurt knuckles of two fingers doing so.
  8. Sit down before the pain really makes you faint and you cause any more damage to yourself and any surrounding cats by falling on the floor.

Comment by GF, later that evening when I told her about what happened and that my cell phone was lying right next to me: ‘Why didn’t you just wait then, I would have called to your cell phone if you didn’t respond.’ This means she would have made me run TWICE through the hall, past the bathroom door. She’s already trying to kill me, and we’re not even married yet.

Posted by Bart at 3:20 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Monday, October 17, 2005

I've seen the sun sack in the sea (*)

Sunset over the Middelkerke Beach (Belgian coast)

Unbelievable, our first free weekend after three months of hard labour, two whole days spent at the sea-board, and still the weather was beautiful. What are the odds? At least, I expected general flooding, medium strength earthquakes, enough rain to make Noah consider building two arks instead of one and consecutive hurricanes with occasional tornadoes. Instead, we had fine weather from Friday evening to Sunday evening, with temperatures of up to 20°C. Twenty degrees! Normally in October, your butt freezes off while you fight your way ahead against the 10 Beaufort winds in sloshing, rain-filled shoes. Hooray for global warming! Viva el chauffamente globale! From now on, I will dedicate my life to producing greenhouse gasses: refried beans and Brussels sprouts at least twice a week. Until next summer, off course, then I’ll be complaining it’s to damn hot. Such is I: inconsequent, clueless and always following the one with the loudest opinion.

The lighthouse at the end of the Nieuwpoort pier (Belgian coast) Not everything went as foreseen: we barely left our hometown when we got a phone call of my girlfriend’s seven-year-old niece to say that she had a brand new little sister. A newborn baby, again, for the second time in a month! So the weekend wasn’t all about resting, doing nothing, being lazy, gathering passiveness, horizontal contemplation, letting the mind wander off and not moving a muscle. There were presents to be bought, greeting cards to be selected, visits to be paid, alcoholic beverages to be consumed, toasts to be made on the babies’ health and good fortune, and so on.

In between, we made romantic walks on the beach (this blog comes with its own brown paper bag, please scroll down to barf) although we were seldom alone. Half of Belgium had decided to walk on the beach because of the fine weather, so we enjoyed traffic jams the whole time, both on the beach and on the highways. And of course we ate some delicious seafood, although my fiancée doesn’t like “fish that tastes like fish”. Generally, this means “fish that isn’t too expensive”. She does have a fondness for lobster, salmon, sole, coquilles Saint-Jacques and so on. We peeled shrimp with the whole family and then enjoyed the wonderful taste of fresh shrimp on crusty buns (pistolets) with fresh butter. It’s so much better than pre-peeled ones, which are first caught in the North Sea and then sent to Morocco to be peeled and then back to Western Europe.

Gulls in the masts of fisherboats in the Ostend harbour (Belgian coast) For the first time in weeks, I had the time to practise with my brand new digital camera. I barely used it since we returned from our annual vacation in Portugal. My brother also brought his analogue Canon, so I got to experimenting with his lenses, especially the zoom lens.

On our way back home, we visited little Marie, laden with presents for her two ‘big’ sisters. Pippa was there too, giving Marie valuable information about diaper sizes and brands, milk powder and cuddly toys. The rest of the family was as usual as noisy as a flock of parrots in an echo cave, so I was glad when we were heading home. And despite all the rushing in between, this weekend did tonnes of good to me. I feel a bit more rested now, shaking of the DIY stress.

(*) Very literal translation of a children's song. "Ik heb de zon zien zakken in de zee": I saw the sun set into the sea.

A pier at the Middelkerke beach (Belgian coast)

Posted by Bart at 3:15 PM
Edited on: Thursday, March 09, 2006 7:39 PM
Categories: Framed

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Astronaut, Cosmonaut, Taikonaut

Yesterday, China launched its second manned spacecraft into orbit, where it still dangles on the time of writing. Maybe I should wait with this comment until both astronauts – sorry – taikonauts have safely returned, but it’s one way to deal with overpopulation. I just don’t see the point of building huge rockets, why didn’t they just build a human pyramid? I’m very glad that the Chinese government stated that the space program serves peaceful purposes only. They could have fooled me with those two fighter pilots saluting to the shouting four-star general while a small army of high-brass onlookers applauded in rhythmic unison, all of them standing straight and ignoring the light snow shower.

I also made the final arrangements for my coming voyage today, although it’s slightly less spectacular than being fired on top of a huge rocket containing tonnes of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. I’m going to Niger in November. If you don’t know where that is, just turn left after the rail road crossing, drive in the direction of the highway for half a mile and then ask anybody for Africa. Niger is very poor and very sandy, with more than three quarters of the total territory being part of the Sahara desert. It will be my first mission in my new job, and I’m going there to prepare a new development programme and the development of a monitoring system to evaluate capacity-building activities for local NGO’s. Sounds boring enough? Well, what do you expect, it’s a business trip! And I’m looking forward to it anyway, because I’m more than fed up with reading very boring reports and situational analysis documents as I have been doing for the past three months or so.

But I’m especially looking forward to the weekend at the Belgian coast that’s coming up. For the first time in months, my girlfriend and I will spend a weekend without paint brushes, sanding machines and plaster smearing. No DIY stress, fresh fish, long walks, fresh shrimp, staying in bed all morning, fresh mussels, playing on the beech, fresh crab, having a drink and so on. The whole family is invited to celebrate my father’s birthday. He will hit the big 6-0, or as they say in Antwerp: tram 6 is passing.

So all together: Hip Hip…

Posted by Bart at 10:21 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Time and trains are relative

Since I bought it a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been devouring Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. I discovered Card’s work through one of the sequels to Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow. As usual, the first book in the series was nowhere to be found in the whole kingdom of Belgium. That is, until I found it recently in an English bookshop in Brussels.

Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel about Ender Wiggin, a young boy that was bred in a genetic improvement scheme to become a military genius. Earth is desperately in need for such a person, after two invasions by an alien race, called the buggers. Both times, humans barely succeeded in defeating the invasion forces and subsequently, a counter attack was launched to the home system of the enemy.

Like his older brother and sister, Ender is no ordinary boy, but a genius whose mind doesn’t work like any ordinary kid. He goes to battle school, a space station where other young geniuses like himself are trained to become the future commanders of earth’s fleet. Most of their time is devoted to ‘the game’, where in total weightlessness, different armies of kids fight each other in mock battle, learning command, tactics, and so on. Ender makes a blitz career, advancing at a much faster pace than the others. But this seems to create more enemies than friends. And then there’s the growing manipulation of the school commander, who never seems to give Ender any rest.

Ender’s Game is an enormously captive read. Yesterday, I was so totally absorbed in the story while I was waiting for my 17.25 train, that I completely forgot that I had to get onto one. Suddenly, I woke out of the spell, and I noticed that it was already 17.30h. And I honestly couldn’t tell if it had already passed or not. Another train stopped, not going to Antwerp, so I waited and after a couple of minutes I discovered that I didn’t forget to get on my train. It was just fifteen minutes late. Which was a good thing, because with the extra time I could just finish the book before we arrived.

Ender’s Game is not a new book – it was first published in 1985 – but if you want an original and captivating read, this one should be in your library. Or you can just wait for the movie to come out. And if science-fiction is not your thing, I would still recommend it, because this is light years away from the 'traditional' Star Wars/Star Trek/Alien formats. It’s incredible how Orson Scott Card gets the reader into the mind of the young students of Battle School and how he builds an intricate story in a deceptively simple setting.

I’m off to buy the second book, 'Speaker for the Dead'.

Posted by Bart at 10:19 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fries! Camera! Action!

Beautiful weather today, as it was yesterday and will continue to be tomorrow. So during lunch-break, I decided to go for some walkies in the general direction of the Place Jourdan. It is mere coincidence that this nice, green, lively square has one of Brussels’ most famous fry shacks called “Maison Antoine”. Rumours have it that this is the best fry shack in Brussels, and even in the whole of Belgium. According to my friend Zoe, it’s better than the one I got so enthusiastically about a couple of weeks ago, but I beg to differ. What, begging? Hell no, I will never beg. I demand to differ! I need no ones’ permission; I differ when I want to! It’s my bloody universal right to differ!

<takes pill>

<lies down on his bed for half an hour>

Dkdpqpiudkkkruqyuea!èçyrmqkfjj;,xsx

<returns to computer, chases cat of keyboard>

Anyway, I have to admit it’s a popular venue. They have three windows to serve people, and in front of each window there was a cue of several people. It’s more of a fry factory than a fry shack; they even have ordering instructions hanging out to speed things up: first order your meat and then order your fries. So mine was a large one with mayonnaise, a fricandel and a brochette (sate). The fries weren’t bad at all and served in the traditional paper bag. The meat wasn’t great though. All in all, I do prefer the old fry shack at Place Saint-Josse. But on the other hand, the setting of ‘Maison Antoine’ makes good a lot.

So I was quietly enjoying my fries, sitting on a bench under one of the large trees and observing the people around me. Mostly kids and students, mixed with civil servants, politicians and delegates from the nearby European Parliament and other EU institutes. It’s a bit surreal to see those stiff expensive suits with their white security badges eating such a plain dish as fries out of a paper bag.

Suddenly, a car from the RTL-TVI television pulls over. A cameraman and an apparently well know presenter (RTL-TVI is a French language TV chain, in general I don’t like to watch those because they tend to drown you in endless blah blah blah) get out and start interviewing the fry-eaters. Some of them are Eurocrats that don’t master the French language, so the reporter switches to an awful kind of English. “Doo yoo like zoo eat ze frieys?”

They didn’t interview me, because I’d already finished my fries. A serious mistake, if you ask me, not interviewing me. I could have told them about my new blog, which is an infinitely more interesting subject than people eating fries on a sunny day. They could have had the scoop of the day! Journalism isn’t what it used to be, I tell you.

Posted by Bart at 10:14 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

Monday, October 10, 2005

DIY pre-marriage test

Finally, after three months of hard labour, our living room is redecorated, although “restoration” is probably a more accurate definition. It all started with the simple observation that the wall-to-wall carpet in our rented apartment was looking a bit worn out, after some three to four decades of faithful service. The half a dozen or so clean spots really messed up its general, deep rooted filthy appearance. So it had to go. And instead of laying new carpet, why not simply cleaning up the nice, vintage wooden floor hiding underneath?

Well, a good reason might have been that it is a bloody awfully difficult tediously slow weekend-absorbing job from hell, but little did we know at that time. That’s not completely true; I did have some previous experience with a similar DIY job in the hallway. But hey, it was just before summer, we both found great new jobs and optimism was soaring to dangerously high levels. A week of hard labour, my girlfriend estimated, to which I quietly added another full week plus two to three weekends.

Three months later, three months of uninterrupted hard toil, in which we spent every ‘free’ moment of every evening and every weekend, it’s finally come to an end. I must say, the result looks good. We now have a nice vintage wooden floor, walls without suspicious bulges, cables that are neatly tucked away in cable gutters and electrical installations that are less of a fire hazard than before. Three walls were coated with yellow-salmon-orange-y wall paper and one has a Bordeaux colour for contrast, which looks quite sophisticated, in contrast to the people and animals occupying the place. So far, the cats haven’t done any permanent damage to the walls or to the floor, so it still looks shiny and new.

I’m extremely proud of the job I did on the mantelpiece. It was built with yellow bricks and it must have been designed by a colour-blind sadist seeking revenge on society in general. To make things worse, previous attempts to ‘improve’ it failed miserably. One part was clad with a single coat of white paint that didn’t cover well, and for the rest the cement in between was painted with a thick black marker. So I covered it under a layer of plaster. An extremely smooth layer of plaster. In fact, it looks as if a professional with 30+ years behind him has tried to make the masterpiece of his life. Should they decide to fire me on the spot, I shall laugh in their faces, knowing that a glorious career as master-plaster lies before me. Unfortunately, the three couples that already saw my beautiful work immediately remarked that they too had an ugly object that could do well with some five-stars plastering. One of them just bought a house.

For me though, the most satisfying bit is that I now know my relationship can withstand any storm. Seriously, if you’re about to marry (like we are) nothing will give you insight into the strength of your love like three consecutive months of DIY. Either you will have the guarantee that your love will hold up to the grave and beyond, or one of you will be in the grave and the other one in jail for slaughtering his/her partner in a particularly vicious manner with a paint brush, a piece of sanding paper and a bucket of wallpaper glue.

Posted by Bart at 10:07 PM
Categories: Home Improvement

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Washing up

I just spent the last two hours (2 hours, that’s 120 minutes) washing the dishes. It’s not that we’re having that many people over for diner, it’s just the two of us who make everything dirty. But we’re not what you might call obsessed with washing dishes, or cleaning in general. I could pretend we did this out of ecological concerns, but face it, it would be a white lie of the kind you only find at total solar eclipses. We just hate it so much, we only let the water run the moment we are completely out of pots, pans, dishes, forks, knifes, etc. Or when the stacks of dirty dishes becomes so high there is acute danger of avalanches. But we really have to wash the dishes more often.

It’s just not normal that the kitchen closets are bending under the weight.

Posted by Bart at 10:05 PM
Categories: The Hunter Gatherer

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Computer Cat

At the dawn of the age of informatics, computers were huge electro-mechanical machines that filled entire buildings. Before the advent of transistors and silicon chips, one’s and zeroes where formed by mechanical switches, that opened and closed. Sometimes, things wouldn’t work, and then the computer specialists – a whole team was needed to maintain and operate one of these – had to find out where and what the problem was. Often, trouble was caused by insects, who crawled under, over and between the racks of equipment. They would get between the two contacts of a switch, and when it closed, their bodies got stuck in between, preventing the current to flow. Hence, we got the term ‘computer bugs’ or ‘bugs’, to indicate that there are problems with the hard- or software.

The previous weekend, I decided to play a computer game. Probably most of you will know Sim City, a game in which you – like a god – build a city and decide on the welfare of thousands, even millions of people. It kind of satisfies my megalomaniac tendencies without causing real damage to this part of Europe. Although it’s a rather tranquil game, without constant explosions and dazzling sound effects, it has background music and some sound. But when I started it, there was just an eerie silence.

So, what does one do in such a situation? Curse Bill Gates to start with, of course. Then check the settings, which all looked OK to me. I hadn’t installed anything recently, so it couldn’t be that. A virus perhaps? McAfee couldn’t find anything, and the computer worked perfectly for the rest. No strange delays or anything. It should work fine, by the way, since I recently installed a new motherboard, a new processor, a heap of memory and subsequently re-installed Windows and all the rest again. So what was the problem then?

It dawned on me when I saw a cable move. Which is not something you expect a cable to do all of its own. Snijeg [Snijek], our white kitten, was under my desk playing with the cables. So I checked the speaker cable, and saw that cut in half. One of our two Agents of Satan, Snijeg or his accomplice Macka [Mah-tch-kah], had bitten right through this cable, but others were damaged too. I was very close to having a cordless mouse for instance, although I doubt if it would still work. Most worryingly, my network cable to the broadband modem showed signs of attacks. This cable crosses three rooms and two walls, one of which is very, very thick. It took me a lot of effort to lay this cable and tuck it neatly away. If their gnawing permanently damages this one, I can spend two days laying a new one.

No-one ever warned me of this danger. I even doubt if the ICT business is aware of this weakness. Neither Microsoft, nor Symantec, nor McAfee give warning or have products that can detect how susceptible your computer is to these types of computer hazards. Since apparently, I have discovered this problem, I can also name it. So next to the computer bug, we now have the Computer Cat.

P.S.: for those wondering about the evolution of my health: My troth is a bit better now, not so sore anymore. Which means I can yell at the cats again. I went to the doctor and she told me to rest and swallow a container of drugs. Either they make me very woozy, or I should spend my days like the cats, sleeping.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Whining Weblog of the West

I’m ill, although most of me isn’t doing so bad. But the part that is ill has a central function in my body, in that it links my head to the rest of my body. That’s right, my troth is infected. It started yesterday, when I was happily DIY-ing in our living room, laying the TV and radio distribution cables. It started as an itchy feeling but rapidly became more annoying. By lunch time, I had a bit of trouble swallowing and by the time we were leaving for the celebration of no less than three (3) babies in my girlfriend’s family, I had serious trouble swallowing.

At the party, I kept a safe distance from the newborns, because I didn’t want to commit mass-infanticide. I just hoped the young mothers wouldn’t interpret this as a gross lack of interest in their pride and joys. But luckily I brought my camera so I could give more than enough attention to the little ones, while at the same time remaining at a safe distance. Too bad I also had to keep a safe distance from all the delicious food, because by then, I could barely get air in. As is customary in Belgium at such parties, there was enough pastry, chocolates, sandwiches and of course wines, spirits, beers, etc. to feed a G8 summit without the slightest risk of a diplomatic incident because everyone is just too stuffed. But I could only watch people enjoy the food and have conversations.

An hour and a half later, even that ended. I could barely get a peep out of my mouth, which is really annoying when you’re in the car with your girlfriend and she keeps asking you questions on the arrangements for your coming wedding and you can’t even tell her to shut up. Swallowing was an enormous torment, and you really have no idea how many times you swallow out of reflex per minute, hour and day until you’ve got a bloody infection like this.

So today, I called in sick at work and stayed home to rest and go to the doctor. What is so very annoying, is that I can’t even cough and whine to raise sympathy with my girlfriend, because (a) she’s off to work and (b) coughing and whining hurt like hell. So I suffer in silence, turning instead to the internet in the hope of getting some moral support there. Please feel free to leave messages stating how big your empathy is for my gracious suffering and how much you admire me for my silent internal strength. Maybe I should write a basic text, as a template, that you could all complete with your personal info and then send to me.

Yes, maybe I should do that.

Posted by Bart at 10:02 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous

Sunday, October 02, 2005

First International Telenet Blog Meet

The first International Telenet Blog Meet in Brussels was a huge success, given that 100% of the people who inscribed turned up. There were Belgians (of course), a serious British delegation, a number of Italians and even a Portuguese participant. We had a lot of fun and even got to discussing the more serious topics of the day, including an analysis of the Belgian and Flemish blogosphere and an interesting lecture about the dangers of blogging. Of course, a consensus couldn’t always been reached on the more controversial topics, but during votes, it generally came to a majority of at least 65% for one of the opposite views that were put forward.

Of course, the emphasis was on meeting and getting to know each other and have a good time. During lunch, two-thirds of the bloggers favoured meat dishes, while one third was satisfied with a simple pizza. But the large majority of bloggers did agree on sharing a bottle of wine, which certainly helped to raise spirits and get into more (political) discussions. After the event, the participants were asked for their opinion. The results are still incomplete, but it looks that close to 90% or even more was very satisfied with this blog meet and is looking forward to the next one. It is unlikely that the definite results will break this trend.

Yep, we had a lot of fun there, the three of us in that nice Italian restaurant with the funny Portuguese waiter. I look forward to see Zoe, Quarsan and Quickos again.

Posted by Bart at 10:40 PM
Categories: Miscellaneous


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