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Present Perfect

near death experience

Filed under: Belgium — Thomas @ 14:50


Yesterday Kristien was crossing over, with a bus stopping for her on the one side, and another car coming from the other direction. She was crossing over with her bike in her hand. While she was passing the bus, a motorcycle was racing past the bus, with no intention to stop. In a reflex, Kristien jumped forward, so the motorcycle only hit the back of her bike.

The back of her bike was completely squashed. The motorcycle slowed down a little, looked behind him, then raced away, even as other cars were trying to block him from fleeing.

The car that was stopped in the other direction originally pulled a U-turn and pursued the motorcycle. He was able to write down the cycle's license plate before the guy fled.

On the one hand I'm incredibly relieved Kristien's fine, beside a broken nail. On the other hand I want to make sure the guy that did this is taken off the streets. I have little hope of the police finding him, from what the police is saying, even if someone did give them the license plate.

If anyone knows how I can track down the owner of a Polish license plate, feel free to let me know. Irresponsible scum should be taken off the streets.

The witnesses, and the people that chased the bike to get the license plate, where all incredibly friendly and helpful. This kind of thing restores my faith in humanity. All of them where what people sometimes euphemistically call 'New Belgians'. Thank you all.

Ending the year

Filed under: Belgium,Life — Thomas @ 22:51


Well, things aren't turning out quite the way we planned this week.

For one, I was planning to spend some time in the new little holiday house my parents bought at the seaside. My mother was making sure there was going to be internet for me to be able to work from there, and she somehow... forgot. And even as a high-paid consultant for one of Flanders' two biggest providers, her waiting time for getting net installed is 7 weeks.

That also means I get to see a lot less of Kristien than planned. She's busy all day in a theme park that used to be called 'de Meli', by sheer coincidence a mere kilometer from my parents' holiday house, entertaining the young children of Flanders dropping by for Ketnet Freeze.

Meanwhile, this week I finally had my neurologist appointment. I have a strange oversensitivity in the left part of my body that isn't quite painful but not pleasant either. I've been having it for over half a year now, thinking it was related to my tooth infection. Clearly it isn't since the tooth infection was removed three months ago - along with the tooth. The oversensitivity has made it hard for me sometimes to stay seated at work, which might explain to people reading this my various creative moments in seating during meetings.

While the doctor was hammering various parts of my body, he noticed a lump in my pants pocket. 'What's that ?' 'My wallet.' 'That big ?' 'Uh, yeah ?' 'Is it always there ? All day long ? Even while working ? Do you work sitting down ?' 'Yes, yes, yes, and yes.' Yes, I always put my wallet in my pants pocket, mostly not to lose it, but also because the wallet contains a keycard which is the only way to get back into the office after I went to the toilet. 'I wouldn't recommend always having your wallet there. The nerves to the areas you are complaining about are right below where your wallet now is.'

So, first, initial diagnose - walletitis. Obviously it might be completely unrelated, so further analysis is necessary. So I got House's favourite exam - the famous MRI ! I had it on second Christmas day, at 20:00. Amazing that there's still so many people in a hospital on second Christmas day and a Friday evening.

The MRI was mildly disappointing, though the checklist I had to complete to make sure I had no metally things in my body was a bit daunting. In the end you start doubting if you really did not get any kind of surgery that might be problematic for this exam. I had to get undressed, lie on a board, and was told not to move at all. She gave me some headphones for the noise, and told me it would take 20 minutes. Then she slid me in, and I started counting. I almost fell asleep a couple of times, because there is really nothing you can do in there and I didn't want to think about anything important because I wanted to keep counting. I got slid back out as I reached 961. Possibly my idea of a second is wildly off.

The next scan is in a month, I've been threatened with injections of tracer fluid for that one, I hope it won't be necessary.

Meanwhile, I was also fighting off a cold. Pretty annoying, because it meant that I basically wasn't able to get anything done of all the things I was planning to get done in this 'long weekend'. It's just too hard to think with a head full of snot and a buzz in your head.

Yesterday was the hardest day though - I woke up at 6 with a splitting headache. Got some Dafalgan, went back to sleep, woke up again two hours later, still with a headache. Took Dafalgan all through the day, went to sleep early, woke up, still with a headache. Today was a bit better, only took three, and hopefully tomorrow I will be all rested again. Just in time for work...

Here's to making the last day of the year a lot better than these past few ones! We will have some friends coming over, and I've been putting together a 6 course menu that I will prepare for them - pretty much on my own, since Kristien has few days off and wants to do nothing at all on the last day of the year, and I very much intend to make her wish come true. And besides, we paid enough for this great new open kitchen, I want to put it to good use...

Autumn Winter

Filed under: Belgium,Life — Thomas @ 17:42


Amazingly, it's been snowing pretty much all day long. I hope I will actually be able to get a bus to the airport in an hour!

I know have my own garden full of snow. Ownership can be a wonderful thing.

Yesterday's Death Cab For Cutie's concert was mostly ruined by an invasion of American girls at the front. Either the current song was a favourite of one of them, causing them to yell incessantly about how the song was their favourite, or it wasn't a favourite of any of them, in which case they yelled incessantly about other things.

In any case, Ben Gibbard mentioned to the audience how he felt that the day before he had passed another milestone on the way to adulthood when he opened the door and thought 'Oh no. Snow.' While before he would have thought, 'Yay, snow.' And he felt a little sad.

I could only feel happy knowing that the day before my first reaction had been indeed 'Yay, snow!'

Trot out the boards please.

half week

Filed under: Belgium,Life,Music,Spain — Thomas @ 00:13


I don't often have the opportunity anymore to spend part of the weekend in Barcelona, which I miss, so when Kristien told me she was going to be busy receiving a really old Spanish guy and his boat in Antwerp on TV this Saturday, I decided I was going to spend my Friday night and Saturday in Barcelona.

A good decision! Thursday I went with Mariette and Sofie to go see Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Contrary to what I've been led to believe, the film is excellent and tells a wonderful story about love by putting caricatures of people into a situational movie. It's clear the story worked very well as a lesson in love because I got drawn to a different message that was in the movie than some of my friends were, just going to show that a good story is multifaceted and resonates with a different one for different people. I also ran into Carl at the theatre who had gone to see Bye Bye Belgium - apparently they show the mockumentary here in Spain!

Friday night was spent hanging out in one of the Usual Suspect bars after work, then going out with Carl to one of his friend's birthday drinks. Didn't go to bed before 4:30, which is how a Friday night in Barcelona should be spent.

Saturday was a lovely day, 18 degrees C and sunny all day long. I spent it walking through the city, going to La Botifarreria to get some excellent sausages for a Sunday lunch in Belgium, seeing all the apartments for sale (surely this is a sign the prices are going to go down), and strolling through Parc de la Ciutadella. On the plane in the evening, to arrive home at midnight and crash into bed, exhausted.

Sunday lunch was spent with An, Mike, and my god son Arthur. I made home-made fries and mayonaise to go with the sausages. Sausages were a mix of apple/curry, spinach/pine nuts, foie gras, fig/mushroom, roquefort, sweet, and chocolate. It took Arthur a while to warm up to the idea of 'sausages with specks', as he calls it, but the fries definitely helped.

He kept making me build Lego houses so he could knock them down. I confused his young mind by saying that from now on, he was only allowed to knock over and break apart each house only once. Not realizing that there was no difference, he got angry and proclaimed that I was the worst person to play with. He quickly got over it though after we jointly invented the shove hug (push and hug until the other falls over)

We ended the evening by going to see Sigur Ros at Vorst Nationaal. We arrived as they closed off the main floor and instructed us to go to the highest seats, which sucks. But I managed to sneak us past the barriers and onto an only half filled floor anyway. We had a great view a good 15 rows from the front.

The opening band was called 'For a minor Reflection', also from Iceland, and though the name sounds off, they were really good. I ended up getting their album and listening to it all the way back to Spain - although you'd be hard-pressed to hear the difference between this and an Explosions In The Sky album. I guess that's a downside of having no singing in your music - while I scoff at people who can't hear the difference between Interpol and Editors, or Radiohead and Coldplay based on the voice alone, I would definitely have mistaken these guys for 'is there a new EITS album ?'

Sigur Ros was good, picking from their darker works compared to the festival sets. For whatever reason I didn't enjoy it as much as the two summer gigs - the sound's never very good at Vorst Nationaal, and I was probably too tired. But the closer, song 8 off of (), was perfect.

All in all, a damn fine couple of days. I should plan to stay in Barcelona for the weekend more often.

Scrolling LED Marquee part one

Filed under: Belgium,Hacking,Twisted — Thomas @ 14:16


When we moved into the new apartment, one of the things I definitely wanted to maintain the nerd quotient in the place was a scrolling LED marquee in the kitchen pointing to the living room:


I got the idea when we bought a marquee such as this one as the perfect gift for Peter's 30th birthday some time ago. I remember racking my brain trying to come up with a good gift for us to give him, and at some point it hit me that one of these things would be awesome for him.

We didn't just give it to him either - he had a birthday party at the Charlatan, a bar in Gent, and we installed the marquee there as part of the DJ booth, putting up increasingly weird messages until he finally realized that it was a present for him. Good times!

Anyway, having that thing at home for a few days and playing with it convinced me I should get one for myself for the new apartment and use it for news updates. We installed the thing in the ceiling spanner and, apart from some tedious remote control entering of texts for some occasions, I haven't used it much since. I tried once in a while to control it from the computer but I never really got it to work.

Until last week I had some spare time and decided to figure out what the problem is with the computer control. After a lot of twiddling, I realized that the serial-to-jack cable had a 6P6C jack, instead of the usual 6P4C for RJ-11 use. I hadn't actually ever seen a cable like that, someone suggested it might have been used for ISDN connections, but I have no idea. Hooking it up directly to a computer made the software work under VMWare and Wine to control the device. After that, controlling it directly from Linux was easy.

Of course, I want to use the marquee in its place in the kitchen, not by my computer. After all, that's why I invested in the Abitana network I installed. I went to my favourite electronics store in Barcelona, where they had to custom-make the cable because apparently it's hard to get stock cable like this.

Took it back home, tried it, still didn't work. After inspecting the cable more closely it seems the guy had put one end on the wrong way. Luckily, one end is supposed to go in the 8P8C RJ-45 wall socket, so I crimped a standard connector on that end, and bingo! Finally have the LED marquee in place and controlled from Linux from my computer!

Next step, to write some Twisted-using software to implement the protocol, and write some code to get RSS feeds and display some news! I considered using LCDProc (which I've used on my Dave/Dina box), but it looks like that's mostly geared towards small LCD displays with multiple lines and characters, and some control buttons.

I need to figure out how I am going to prioritize incoming information (RSS feeds, buildbot status, nagios alerts, incoming mail, ...) and create a message queue out of those spread across the 26 pages the marquee offers. If you know any software doing this sort of thing, feel free to comment!

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