Thursday, March 29, 2007

... so apparently I'm pretty good at pictures

Dutch food is not a barren wasteland!

There is good Dutch food! It just all happens to be mush or dough. And mush is tasty, but you can only take so much; dough is tasty, but it will kill you. For example:

Erwtensoep (thick pea soup, usually with sausage)
Stamppot (potatoes, onions, kale/other greens, whatever vegetables you want, mashed up in a pot, with sausage. Also my favorite Dutch word.)
Hutspot (potatoes, onions, carrots, mashed up in a pot, with sausage)
Hachee (a thick stew that includes beef... I've never actually made this correctly or eaten it, so I'm not sure, but it sounds mushy)
Vla (yummy pudding)

Pannenkoeken (pancakes, very big and floury)
Oliebollen (I've already raved about these donutty guys)
Wafels (okay, they're Belgian, but especially here in Limburg (south Netherlands) they're popular)
Stroopwafels (these are Dutch, I think. Thin little waffles. Still waffles.)
Poffertjes (apparently they're like little pancakes)
Vlaai (not to be confused with Vla. Vlaai is a simple pie.)

Okay, so herrings are not mush or dough.

The point is, how did the Dutch survive all these years?! How are they not all bored of food and fat? And why don't they, you know, get a little creative? (the same applies to the Germans, but I think their food is a little more varied. To be fair, they do have a lot more land to work with.) Also, I need a few eaters who don't like to cook. I can only eat so much food myself. (I'll really try though!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hey, Janet, Mike, and Zach again...

I guess I'm not going to see this band after all.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Attitude adjustment

I think I've been seeing people's flaws too much. Maybe I should open up more. I tend to get this way when the ol' social order has been established, though. Like before I know anyone, I play this game of who's cool and who's not, and whom I should hang out with, and whom I should make eye contact with when I'm talking, and so on. A lot of it's unconscious. (Unfortunately, a lot of it is conscious too.)

But then, once I get to know people and people get to know me, and there's some respect flowing back and forth, and I start feeling socially comfortable again, I start to think "hey, everyone's my friend, no worries" etc. The people that I don't like have sort of filtered themselves out of my company, while the people I do like have filtered themselves in. So I relax this whole social climbing nonsense and act like myself.

For example, two months ago, I would pick out every flaw of the American students here. (Maybe that's because I subconsciously indoctrinated myself not to like them because I didn't want to hang out with Americans all the time.) Now, for the most part, they're friends that I would very much enjoy traveling with. It could be the mere exposure effect (where I like them more just because I've seen them more). Or, it could just be that I'm relaxing my mind's little rules.

And who knows, maybe this is all working out for the best. Maybe if I was so open to everyone at the beginning, I'd make friends with the wrong people and then get all fed up in a couple months when I couldn't stand my "friends."

Probably not, though. I think it's just a social quirk of mine, and I should mostly drop it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

This is pretty funny

And I think everyone else has probably seen it already:
RIYL: Yacht Rock
Also, in my book, Justin Timberlake has completed his transition from crappy boy-band has-been to pop hero, if only because of this video.

I had all my non-American friends over for dinner last night, meaning 4 small groups of acquaintances, and it all worked out pretty well! It then morphed into a huge party being held by the Italians across the hall. Today I saw the Netherlands American War Cemetery, had a great lunch, and walked through confusing tunnels under Maastricht for a long time, all c/o the CES. Hey, if you like economics, law, psychology, or other things, you could do a lot worse than going to Maastricht. The folks at the CES are really great. By "the folks" I mostly mean Nathalie, who's in charge of coordinating a lot of stuff.

I'm feeling good.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Another Dutchism

"Sneeuwwitje stikte in de appel." - "Snow White choked on the apple."

Apparently, in the Dutch version, when the evil witch gave Snow White an apple, she didn't just fall into a deep deep sleep until her true love came around and gave her a kiss; she just choked. I'm hoping this is a shining example of Dutch humor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sorry, korfball

I appreciate the effort. You were kind of fun, at least in principle. Plus, all the korfballers (and the coach/trainer guy) were really helpful and welcoming. But you just weren't fun in practice.

Plus, you're absurd. So you're like basketball, except there's no backboard, you can't dribble or run with the ball, there are 4 offenders and 4 defenders per team (of which 4 are male and 4 female), and there field goes behind the basket too. That's cool. So the practices are across the river, and you use a soccerball when you clearly should use a basketball... that's fine too. The tricky part is that the practices always consisted of lots of crazy drills that I never understood (partially because they were always yelled out in Dutch, partially because they were too complicated for my simple mind). You go here, you go there, throw the ball to him, he throws it back, then you shoot at the basket, then she gets the rebound, then you become the new rebounder and then go to the end of the line. Aaagh! I'd be confused for about four minutes before I understood, and then a minute later, they'd start a new drill.

I think the breaking point was when the coach called out something that sounded like "fifteen dollarball!"* and everyone started practicing underhand layups. Ask me to show you some korfball techniques sometime, it'll make for a good laugh.

* I later found out it was "vijftien doorloopball", or "practice fifteen times the walk-through-ball", and really, calling it a "walk-through-ball" makes just as much sense as calling it a "lay-up."

All that said, though, I do like the sport in theory. It's like team handball or basketball without the whole macho charging-into-the-lane thing that frightens pansies like me. Or like Ultimate Frisbee, except you don't need to know how to throw or catch a frisbee.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hey, uh, Janet, Mike Yin, Zach Harris?, and all the other hipsters who might read this blog and care about this:

I'm going to see this band in Cologne on April 1.

I'm excited!

Not worryin' about it

My initial plan for this weekend was to use up a couple of Railpass days making a voyage through France. Hit up a town that everyone's heard of but nobody actually goes to, like Dijon or Lyon or Strasbourg. Taste some French food and French wine. And then be confused about what I was going to do, because I don't know what people do in these cities. Nobody wanted to go to France, though, so I talked to one of my friends here and we decided to go back to Amsterdam. But then we realized that, for a "short weekend trip", that was pretty expensive. (plus my friend's on the no-budget plan) So we went to Belgium instead, because traveling through Belgium is real cheap. ($4.50 from any Belgian city to any other) We picked Antwerp, pretty arbitrarily.

So I was a little disappointed. But that didn't make any sense; I'm going to a new Belgian city! That's cool! So I decided not to be disappointed, and to just take it really easy, and just not worry about anything. Not plan anything, not read about it in my guidebook, not think "oh no, I'm missing all this cool stuff"... just exist, walk around, do whatever sounds like a good idea.

We got there at 3 pm or something, spent a couple hours looking for a hostel, with no luck. We found a double hotel room for $50, but like I said, my friend was not about to spend any more than he absolutely had to, so we decided to head back that night. We wandered for 4 hours, probably missed every Antwerp landmark, saw a couple of cool pubs and other neat things, almost had The World's Most Exclusive Beer, and so on.

So what's the end result of this trip-and-travel-style-experiment? I don't know. Was it enlightening? A little bit. Disappointing? A little bit of that too. I wish I'd planned a room in advance anyway. Once we had a map, things made more sense. I still can't decide if I want to travel like my dad- planning things out at every step along the way- or like a carefree person who just stumbles along and happens to run into cool things. I think I like planning things. But again, not too much! If you spend all your time planning, you see all the tourist sites, you never get a feel for a city at all.

I guess the best thing to do is to find a balance. Surprise!

Oh yeah, also, I went to the TEFAF. Check my photos!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I get pretty manic depressive about coding

When a project is working, and I'm making progress, I'm on fire. I get totally wired. Almost jittery. I could do it for hours and hours, nigh-nonstop. That's probably a sign that this is actually a good career path for me.

However, when it's not working, and especially if it's not working because of some stupid issues, like a method in an external library isn't doing what it's supposed to, or I don't have the right documentation to find what I want it to do, or I just don't understand someone else's code, it's the worst. It sucks a lot. That's probably a sign that I will have a lot of difficult times in this career path.

However, I'll have some GREAT times too, especially if I have some equally enthusiastic co-workers (as I do on this Intelligent Systems robot maze project), so I guess it turns out well in the end. I'll let you know how this project goes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

This train is going 251 km/hr. That's faster than I've ever gone on land, including the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point.

If we're comparing European cities that I've seen to American cities I may or may not have seen, and I'm not saying we are, but if we were, and if we said maybe Paris is San Francisco, Amsterdam is Vegas (which is unfair to Amsterdam, but remember, we're not comparing these cities anyway), Rotterdam is Pittsburgh (in 20 years...), and Brussels is DC, Berlin is definitely New York. Besides Paris (which I saw under crummier circumstances), it's the only city that, to use a trite iceberg metaphor and an awkward sentence structure, I didn't see beyond the tip of. I didn't even see the whole tip. If Berlin is a dartboard, I only saw the 50-point bullseye, the 9, and maybe the double-17. If Berlin is one of those donuts from Dunkin' Donuts (which abounded here, by the way...) with a little extra nub so you can hold it while you dunk it in your coffee, I just ate the nub and called it a day. If Berlin is creme brulee, I ate the crispy top.

That said, it was a tasty crispy top ("mmm... lekker!" as the Dutch would say. or "heerlijk!"). I'm not going to say Berlin exceeded all my expectations, but it exceeded the meager expectations I had before I read about how great it was. It wasn't all communist grit (although it had some of that), Holocaust apologialia (although it had plenty of that too), and wursts with sauerkraut (surprisingly little of that).

First, I had a great time there culinarily. I had a nice lunch today of artichokes and feta fried with mushroom sauce, with noodles and awesome bread-with-tomatoes at a vegetarian cafe called "Cafe V". (you know, like that movie, V for Vegetariendetta.) Yesterday, I awkwardly sat at the tables that I think are meant for people waiting for take-out, while everyone else ate in the nice restaurant upstairs, and ate some nice Indian food ("rogan josh"- now I know what that is) for dinner. (oh well, at least they didn't turn me away like the first place I tried to go to. Come on, restaurant, you clearly weren't full, and I clearly could have eaten at the bar. Plus, it's not like you were trendy and exclusive. If you don't like my tourist jacket, haircut that might have been rebellious in the 60's, or, well, lack of dining companions, say so!) I had some yummy yummy spaetzle Friday night for dinner, in a quiet but German cafe whose name I don't remember. But the best was yesterday for lunch: a hip medium-sized vietnamese place called Monsieur Vuong. It was packed at 2:30pm. But I found a seat, chose from their something-like-4 choices of food, and received a curry dish that rocked my tastebuds. You know how they say Southeast Asian food is about balancing sweet, sour, salty, and spicy? Yeah, this did. I can't even explain the flavor, except to say it sure did have coconut milk, lemongrass, and (I think) lime leaves (among other things).

None of my awesome meals cost above EU$10, including a drink. Plus, my hostel cost EU$20 for two nights! Berlin sure is affordable. Hey, also, thanks for letting me slip the word "apologialia" past you two paragraphs go.

Second, they have neighborhoods, and that's a thing about cool cities: neighborhoods. I'm not sure if distinct neighborhoods cause a city to be cool, or coolness causes neighborhoods, but cool cities tend to have them. I got to see about three of the neighborhoods, but I can tell you this: West and East are glitzy and gritty respectively. But not overly so! West Berlin (Charlottenburg, for example), is like New York's Midtown. Not quite so upscale, but equally commercial. They have all the big names, from H&M to Gucci, and so I mostly stayed out of this area.

Meanwhile, Kreuzberg (in the East*) is like New York's Lower East Side. It's the kind of place that actually appreciates a super-cloudy day or a sunset, because the low light airbrushes over the graffiti and bits of trash in the street. It doesn't do so well in the harsh light. Like the Lower East Side, though, it seems like you'll find the best record shops and cheap food options there. It's got a "counter-cultural" reputation. That's where the Cafe V was, and also the Jewish museum. (which was cool! see photos)

Prenzlauerberg, in the northeast, would have to be Greenwich Village then, but it's not quite as cool. Okay, I'll confess, I went there because there's a Beirut song named after it. (well, that's as good a reason as any; if it's that memorable, there must be something good about it) It was nice- it had its fair share of cool restaurants. Also, there were a lot of police cars relaxing after (apparently) a day of arresting protesters, and a spontaneous art installation (but more about that in the photos).

*okay, it was in West Berlin. But it's geographically in the East, and it feels sort of Eastern.

Third, it have good public transportation. Now there's a cause of coolness. It's not The Best: a couple stations had work being done, and it's not like Paris, where you see a metro everywhere you look. Also, some of the trains are called S-bahns and they go above ground, as opposed to U-bahns, which go underground. Sometimes U-bahns go above ground too, particularly in the East, and an above-ground U-bahn is ugly and badly-named. Minor gripes aside, it's great public transport, and a day pass costs EU$6, which is not bad.

For the record, I forgot to mention, but Rotterdam also has great public transportation, including a two-line subway and lots of trams. Good for them! Pittsburgh, Cleveland, every city who wants to be something, are you listening?

Finally, it had street performers (a few) AND markets, two more defining characteristics of cool cities. 4 for 4, Berlin.

In the end, Berlin hits #2 on the "cities I didn't see and I want to see again" list (after Paris), although time will tell if I actually am going to see either of those cities again. I mean, I can get to Morocco for EU$100, and my railpass has only one more trip on it... (after somewhere-in-France and the Black Forest)

On another note, if you've ever talked to me for any length of time, when I'm in a great mood, I'm sure I've gotten all starry-eyed and told you about how my life is like a movie. I used to be pretty sure it was the Truman Show. Now, I think it's an episode of Mr. Bean. I mean, on Saturday I found myself wearing shoes that hurt my big toes because I hadn't broken them in yet and my toenails were too long. (meanwhile, I left my nail clipper at home, despite repeatedly reminding myself to bring it, just in case) So I search all over, passing apothecaries and restaurants, but finding nowhere that would have a nail clipper. Then I found one, but I had to search for a restroom where I could clip my nails. I didn't find one until the Pergamon Museum. So here I am, in a museum bathroom stall, clipping my toenails.

The good thing is, Mr. Bean's life is pretty awkward, but it's also eventful, and I've always idolized That Guy (or girl, to be fair) who manages to have amazing things happen to him, wherever he is. You know, like he'll be in a restaurant on the way to a concert, strike up a conversation with some guy who happens to be the webmaster for the band, and he'll hang out with the band afterwards. Or he'll be hiking in the woods and wander over a ridge and just happen to see a caber tossing competition. Or whatever. And the more I do, the more I realize that that kind of stuff just happens, and all you have to do is be there, and be ready for it. The more outgoing you are, and the more languages you know, the more this will happen, and I'm pretty poor in both those categories, but that can only improve with time, eh?

Just a thought.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Goin' to Berlin, right now

Not right now, but in like 8 hours. Eurailpasses let you travel at the drop of a hat. Or at the drop of a "why not travel this weekend?" Further on the list of "being comfortable traveling by myself", I offer you this: despite none of my friends here going, if the Eurailpass lets you travel for free, and two nights hostel costs me EU$20 (total!), why not go?

Signed, flying by the seat of my pants and loving it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Well, sort of.

Yeah, so 7up got slammed a little bit for their "100% natural" nonsense. But now Coke and Pepsi are making diet sodas with a few vitamins, and marketing them as "healthy."

Arrgggh! That's not how it works! Here's why:
1. Just because something has zero calories, that doesn't make it healthy. I mean, a rock has zero calories, because you can't digest it. (right?) Windex has zero calories. Battery acid has zero calories.
2. If a drink has a few vitamins, that doesn't make it healthy. If it's like 7up plus and Propel, the current "healthy soda" leaders, it'll have like 10% RDA of a couple different B vitamins. Hoo-ee.
3. Even if the drink had a lot of vitamins, say, 100% RDA of 20 different vitamins and minerals, that doesn't make it healthy either. I could crush a Flintstones multivitamin and sprinkle it on ice cream, but that doesn't make it healthy.
4. Caffeine is still not healthy.
5. Whatever acids and chemicals they're putting in there are still not healthy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rotterdam? More like Betterdam!

This weekend gave a big boost to the ol' "trust your muse" school of thought. (You should trust your Muse, too, because they will make absurdly grandiose rock spectacles with lots of lasers, and you can count on that) I sort of hatched the idea of seeing some other Dutch city last week. You know, somewhere besides Amsterdam, the tourism-and-joints capital of the world, and Maastricht. But by the time Saturday rolled around, I got up at noon, nobody else wanted to go, I was feeling a little bit sick, it was raining like a big rainy thing, and I had no hostel reservation.

So of course I went. I decided to go to the train station, see if it's cheaper and easier to get to Rotterdam or Utrecht, and go there. It was about the same (read: EU$40 and an annoying train-bus-train connection because of rail line work), but I had heard about these windmills in Kinderdijk, near Rotterdam, and I thought that that sounded cool, and also I don't think I would be allowed out of the country in June if I didn't see any windmills. Rotterdam ho!

How'd it turn out? In two words, very well! I got in at about 5:30pm, after all the museums and stuff closed, and I thought I'd have nothing to do all day. Surprise, it's Museum Night! All the museums and art galleries (about 40 in all) were open from 8pm to 2am, having special exhibits, DJ's, parties, drinks, etc. Next time I complain about my rotten luck, remind me of that time I went to Rotterdam and it was Museum Night.

So I saw a bunch of museums with cool art, some neat galleries, some over-the-top pretentious modern-art galleries, a church with organ music, people out on the streets, and architectural wankery. The next day I went to see some windmills, which was not quite so good.

Classes are still pretty easy (although I have no idea if this project we're working on is ever going to come together... urrghhh projects), I got into a Dutch language class (I got into level A2, instead of A1, because of all that reading I did on my own, proving that it wasn't a waste of time after all), I'm still in the acting class and it's not bad, and I'm looking for a trip this weekend. I'm thinking Berlin, but I'm not sure.

I feel like an old man. I walk around a city and some windmills for 24 hours, and my legs were sore the next couple days. Also, I always look like I'm dying, mostly due to the big dark bags under my eyes. ("You look like a, um, dead thing, um, what is the word... a zombie" commented one of my fellow actors yesterday) More importantly, I often feel very tired, no matter if I sleep a lot or a little, exercise or not, eat well or not, drink coffee or not, take Claritin or not. Huh. Nothing new, really. Still, it'd be nice if a doctor or someone could tell me what I'm doing wrong.

But other than that, life is smiley and nice. Well, that's not true either. Life's not "pleasant"... it's certainly turbulent. But in a good way; in an "I'm meeting a lot of new people and trying new things and going to a new city every weekend" sort of way. I like it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

This makes me wish I was back in America

I mean, not really. But it would be a cool thing to do if I were in America.
Dismemberment Plan Reunites
These guys played the best concert I have ever seen. (Although Tally Hall comes in a close second.) If you're in Pittsburgh, it's only 4 hours away. Look, I took a 4 hour trip this weekend, and that was just little old me traveling on train-bus-train and staying in a hostel, going to a city not much bigger than Cleveland because I thought maybe I should see some windmills. (More on this trip later.) You don't have much of an excuse not to go to this show.

Plus you could go to Plaza Garibaldi.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Crash and burn.

My phone interview with Google, my big chance to talk to an actual person at Google (which is rare enough!) just ended. One design question, one estimation question, zero actual answers from me, a lot of me being all over the place, and a big pile of ugh. I'm not cut out to be a project manager at all. At least, not yet. I don't actually have any PM skills.

Please, please, Google interviewers, if you're reading this because you Googled me (ironic, and maybe you did) to dig up some dirt on whether or not you should talk to me again; don't disregard me for an engineering position just because I'm kind of a ditz when it comes to designing anything! Give me an algorithm, I'll tell you its runtime, big-oh, big-omega, whatever you want! I'll make a chess computer that beats Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov at the same time, blindfolded! I'll prove P=NP! I'll solve the halting problem! I mean, I've been instructed by Klaus Sutner himself, and that has to count for something.