Archive for Anecdotes

Kiwis These Days

Wil Wheaton is always posting conversations he’s had with his wife, so why shouldn’t I?


“You want kiwi?” I asked.

“There is cold?” Mel replied. She doesn’t like fruit that hasn’t been refrigerated, which I take into account unless I happen to forget about it.

“Yes! There’s alway cold kiwi. It’s like a disease. They just jump in the fridge these days. I was walking through the fridge this afternoon—”

“You were walking through the fridge eh?”

“BY!!! By the fridge! And this kiwi suddenly jumped up against me, and I was like, ‘dude wtf are you doing.’ The kiwi was really rude. It said: ‘fuck off, you ass, you’re blocking the road to the fridge.’ So I said ‘chill, kiwi.’ It replied, ‘yeah, that’s what I want to do, Einstein, but you’re keeping me from it.’ I wasn’t going to put up with that, so I said, ‘first apologize for your rudeness or I’ll just let you rot.’ Then it just kind of rolled over like it were one big, giant eye, shrugged — honestly, it did that! — and said, ‘sorry that I bumped into you but I really need to get into the fridge now.’ I opened up the fridge and said ‘alright, but no more shenanigans or I’ll drag you out of there if it’s the last thing I do.’ It jumped right in and let out a big sigh: ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh.’ Then it pulled the fridge closed while muttering something about privacy. So yeah, that’s how kiwis are these days. No respect.”

She didn’t reply verbally, but she pulled… the face.

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Pancake Visions

Some of you may be aware that I often imagine things in random shapes that other people have trouble envisioning, sometimes even after I draw them out. On June 3rd my wife and I baked tiny pancakes, and here’s what I saw in two of them.

An evil cat in a pancake.
The first pancake that managed to attract my attention was an evil cat.
A face in a pancake.
This pancake also happened to be on the plate while taking a picture of the evil cat one, so I figured I’d demonstrate that I do indeed see something in just about anything.

Note, these are animated SVG images. At the time of writing they only render correctly in Opera and Webkit browsers, whereas Gecko displays a static image. Internet Explorer is served with fallback PNGs.

The SVGs now also render correctly in Firefox 4.

Replaced OBJECT elements with PICTURE elements.

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What Do Dinosaurs Eat for Breakfast?

It was a nice day in spring, almost 20 years ago. There was a dinosaur exhibition traveling around the world and for a couple of months it was closer to home, somewhere in the Netherlands. I don’t remember the name, the location or all that much about the exhibition at all. I do have some distinct memories of the fossilized bones of an apatosaurus (which my spell checker wishes to “correct” to brontosaurus), but I’m not quite sure if that was at the same exhibition. To cut the reminiscing about which bones belong to which exhibition short, however, let me continue with the story.

We got out of the car and walked to the entrance of the location hosting the dinosaur exhibition. The large banners showing pictures of artist’s impressions of dinosaurs and pictures of dinosaur skeletons already excited me, so I probably jumped around and said something like “Mom! Dad! Look, pictures of dinosaurs!” The ticket office was as boring as ticket offices patently are, but this didn’t dim my enthusiasm. As I struggled not to embarrass my parents by screaming loudly and enthusiastically about the dinosaur treasures awaiting us, my father finished buying our tickets. I probably still gained free entrance to most museums, exhibitions and the like in those days.

As we entered the exhibition, we didn’t immediately hit on all the bony goodness of fossils. It was merely a fairly boring main hall from which you could go in several directions to actually enjoy skeletal delight. However, there was a fake life-like tyrannosaurus rex at the other end of the hall. Although we’d come there to enjoy vertebrate fossils, I was quite willing to give reconstructions a chance, and besides it was the most real thing we’d seen so far. I asked my mother if I could enjoy the anonymous’ artist’s work, got permission, and sprinted toward the t-rex to gaze at the marvels of reconstruction in what was supposed to be some kind of natural (plastic) environment.

The first thing I noticed, while still running toward it, was that the skin looked surprisingly much like real lizards. I had expected it to look more plasticly, perhaps more similar to my own toy dinosaurs. I slowed down somewhat because the t-rex was starting to tower over me. I doubt it was any more than 1/5th the size of a real t-rex, but I was quite small myself. But before I had slowed down enough to stop the t-rex turned its head toward me. I froze. I thought a thousand things at once in the following less than half a second. Weren’t dinosaurs extinct? But this one looked awful realistic; that would explain a lot. The WNF was always talking about animals that could go extinct, is this – as it lowered its upper body toward me my mind entered a blank. Fight or flight kicked in. You want to fight? I’m here to save your ass from extinction, pal, so you better beha- the t-rex opened its mouth and roared. I doubt I ever ran as fast as I did right then and there. As I sought cover behind my parents the t-rex stopped roaring. “Mommy, daddy, that t-rex-” I said while I pointed at it with a shaking finger. My parents laughed, and both took one of my hands. My mother pointed out that the t-rex hadn’t come after me, and it had stopped moving or making any noise.

I wasn’t as eager to visit the exhibition anymore. That creepy dinosaur was guarding the entrance hall. However, my curiosity got the best of me, so it didn’t take my parents long to convince me to look at the mechanical dinosaur some more. After I carefully positioned myself behind my parents, we walked toward the theropod. When we were close enough, the t-rex repeated his earlier shenanigans in the exact same manner, a clear sign of a machine; unless by some fluke this were an autistic carnivore. After realizing that it was motion-triggered and only had a limited range of motion, I silently gawked at the awesomeness of the creators of the realistic t-rex.

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Hewlett Packard Breaks Wheaton’s Law

The title of this post probably isn’t a shocker, assuming you know that Wheaton’s Law is “don’t be a dick.”

What is shocking to me, however, is the fact that HP region encodes their printers and ink cartridges. That’s right, just like the annoying mechanisms that apply to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, video games and whatever else might be region-encoded, ink cartridges are region encoded as well.

We discovered this issue a couple of weeks ago when my wife’s printer ran out of ink. She’s got an HP PSC 2355 All-in-One Printer, which, while not super expensive, she certainly wasn’t going to leave in the US. At Saturn (where ink is slightly cheaper than at Mediamarkt even though they’re owned by the same corporation) she selected some ink cartridges and we thought that would be the end of the ink shortage. The ink cartridges had the exact printer model in the list of compatible printers on the package, but after inserting the cartridges in the printer it displayed the joyful message that an “Incorrect Print Cartridge” had been inserted.

It’s especially lovely how all of the official HP support pages claim that something has probably inexplicably gone awry with the cartridge itself and, summarized, that it really couldn’t have anything to do with the printer. While keeping the possibility in mind, we didn’t consider this scenario very likely, however.

Alternative search results seemed to point to some obscure error and upon running the patch for this error, the patching software said there was nothing to patch. That was a waste of time and effort.

Somehow that wasted effort did make me realize that perhaps I should try a broader Internet search while including things like “US to Europe” in the search string. This quickly yielded plenty of results. One commenter said that “after 3 phone calls and 4 emails” he “learned that all HP printers sold after 2004 are regionalised.”

So my wife went on the HP support chat and after 45 minutes to 1 hour of exchanging all kinds of codes and diving into hidden configuration screens (something rather silly that reminds more of an easter egg than of a serious feature) the region of the printer was changed. It’s now working properly in Europe. Beware, however, if you’re a business person staying in various continents who wants to take their printer along. Aside from the considerable effort involved, there are only 2 region changes left now.

Whenever my current Epson printer or my wife’s HP printer is ready for replacement I will most certainly try to buy one that doesn’t have such ridiculous anti-features. Therefore I was trying to find out if other printer manufacturers also region-encode their ink cartridges; I couldn’t find anything (though I didn’t search for very long), but I did run into this gem, as a reply to someone asking whether their American Epson printer would work in Japan.

I’ve never heard of region coding for ink cartridges.

Such sweet, blissful innocence.

While HP was already on my avoid list due to their abhorrent tech support regarding the lousy computer they sold to my parents. It turned out that the SATA controller to which the HDD was connected had somehow become defective. Figuring this out took me about 5 minutes; they took several weeks and they still couldn’t find anything wrong with it. But the story behind that is worthy of a separate blog post. Suffice it to say that I will not be buying any computers, printers, scanners or anything else from HP anymore. Lousy support is one thing, but if I wanted to have acts of coitus performed on me if I happen to move outside of some so-called region I’d rather pay money to a hooker.

P.S. By the way, Microsoft, this is why I use Ubuntu now instead of software that does all kinds of ridiculous things that I don’t want it to do. This has already been extensively covered by other people, so I certainly won’t waste my time doing any such thing.

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Fun With American Airlines and British Airways

Unlike my last post about airlines, this one’s about luggage.

I was going back from the US to Amsterdam, transferring at Heathrow. Customs & security in England took so long that by the time I got anywhere near the A-gates they’d already started boarding, so I hurried to the gate and got on board of the plane as one of the last people. Only later did I discover that Heathrow is the absolute craziest airport in the world that should take a very, very good look at how they do things in a proper airport like O’Hare or Schiphol. They don’t even seem to know anything about their gates until 30 minutes or so before it’s scheduled to leave! Anyway, pretty much as soon as I was in the plane the pilot said something like “it looks like everyone’s on board already, so we’re taking off 30 minutes early, woo!” I remember thinking something like “good thing my luggage didn’t have to go through 1 hour of customs & security.”

We landed in Amsterdam, I got off the plane and I waited at the luggage belt, but my baggage never showed up. As I was looking around to figure out where to go to fix this problem, this guy working there came up to me in his cart and was like “can I help you?” So I said, “I just got here with British Airways flight BA217 [or something along those lines anyway]” and he said “that’s the one from London?” and I said “yeah, does it make a difference?” He said “no, actually it doesn’t. Anyway, you have to go to that office right there” while pointing at this place with a huge line in front of it.

I went to that office and waited for 30 freaking minutes until it was finally my turn. Then it turned out that this was the KLM & partners lost luggage claim thing, and the BA lost luggage office was on the other side! I wasn’t the only one misled by the bloke driving around on his cart and like 5 people who had been waiting behind me followed me to the other office where of course all the time no one had been to at all. Turned out my suitcase was still in London and it was scheduled to come toward Amsterdam in about 30 minutes on the next flight. Gee, thanks.

I scheduled a delivery for the next day between 9 and 12. That was all very decent, except for the fact that they actually came at 14. When I called them at 12:30 they said “oh, it’s normal that they might run a little late.” Sigh.

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Fries Red White

I’ve been reading a lot of notalwaysright.com over the past few days. It reminded me of the following experience I had while working at a fast food restaurant when I was 17 years old. The conversation took place in German.


Me
How can I serve you?
Customer
I’ll have fries red white.
Me
Do you mean mayonnaise and ketchup, madam?
Customer
No, I mean those red and white condiments that people always have with fries. This looks sarcastic on paper, but trust me: it wasn’t.
Me
I’m sorry, we don’t have any white condiments other than mayonnaise. Could I get you mayonnaise and curry sauce, perhaps?
Customer
No, not mayonnaise and whatever else you said! Fries red white!

I figured I’d just take a gamble and I gave her fries with mayonnaise and ketchup.

Customer
There, was that so hard?

For the record, no other German customer has ever ordered their fries red, white or in any other color; all other Germans ordered fries with a condiment, such as mayonnaise or ketchup.

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Fun With American Customs & Airlines: Special Thanks to KLM.com

A few years ago I booked a flight to America and I got a confirmation e-mail listing the details of the flight. Because it was my first time with an e-ticket, I assumed that was all that I needed. I don’t mean the type of e-ticket you print yourself but the airlines call it e-tickets anyway. Turns out I was supposed to have received another e-mail and that the reservation number I got wasn’t an actual e-ticket number. It was apparently a problem with KLM’s system. Even though I paid with iDeal, it hadn’t properly registered it. The woman working for KLM at the check-in desk quickly made a few calls, found out the problem was known, and within 5 minutes she’d gotten me a boarding pass to Detroit. She told me that they were working on getting my connecting flight in order.

At the other side of the ocean, about 8 to 10 hours later, things were less nice. Customs was making a fuss about my lack of a connecting flight ticket. Gee, if you want people to have all their tickets fixed up at customs, how about you stick those airline desks before you have to pass through customs, or otherwise shut your stupid pie-hole about it. I was in luck: I could see the airline desks from customs, so I could point at the NWA desk and be like “well, if you want all ticket issues to be resolved you should put those desks before this checkpoint. I need to go to the NWA one over there.” He grudgingly admitted that my logic was flawless, added a stamp to my passport and stapled this green immigration paper in a way that made it stick out annoyingly. That crooked stapling became a recurring theme during all of my subsequent visits to the US except one.

So then I went to the NWA desk. I told the woman that KLM had messed something up with my reservation and that they should’ve fixed it by now. KLM told me they’d probably fix it in about 1-2 hours, so that presumably would’ve been before the plane even left Amsterdam. She then asked if she could see the boarding pass I’d gotten in Amsterdam and said “you were late, weren’t you?” I said something like “um no, I just told you, KLM messed something up with my reservation because something went wrong with this payment system where my money was transferred but the system didn’t register this correctly.” She replied, “so you were late.” I tried one or two times to explain the situation again, but I met a blank stare and a repetition of the notion that I must’ve been late. I ended up saying something like “sure… could you get me my ticket for the connecting flight please?”

Her NWA computer didn’t have me in it with my KLM e-ticket number (that the KLM woman gave me), so she had to phone a colleague who did have access to KLM’s booking system. Consequently she could type in some code on the NWA computer which finally resulted in my ticket. I still don’t know why she couldn’t have just typed my name, but oh well.

Perhaps to compensate for all of the trouble, the connecting flight to Chicago was executed in the most comfortable plane I’ve ever been in. The seats were wide, there was plenty of leg space. I can tell you that I would’ve preferred the preceding 8 hour flight in that plane.

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Life as an Expat

My experience here in Antwerp has been very positive, but there were (and perhaps still are) some amusing language barriers here and there. I’ll mention a few.

I call a fuse a stop. Here it is called a zekering, which I almost exclusively associate with playing around with designing electronic circuitry yourself. So while I completely understand the Flemish usage from that perspective, the first time it came up I had no idea how to communicate what I was talking about. I had to use an explanation about washing machines being broken and leaking electricity before the Flemish person was able to tell me they call that a zekering.

I say, Hoe duur is dat? (How expensive is that?) to inquire about the price of something. One Flemish store owner told me I should stop using that because they consider the implication that something has to be expensive rather offensive. In English it sounds similar to me, but in Dutch as it is spoken in the Netherlands it doesn’t imply anything about something being expensive. Instead they exclusively say Hoeveel kost dat? or Hoeveel is dat? (How much does that cost? or How much is that?). Or at least, so that store owner says.

To me, morgen (morning) is roughly from 6 AM to 12 PM (in English morning has different implications), and middag (afternoon) is roughly from 12 PM to 6 PM. When someone was making an appointment for the voormiddag (fore-afternoon) I assumed they meant something like 12 PM – 3 PM. Instead they meant something like 9 AM -12 PM. Middag (midday) equals noon, i.e. 12 PM, and namiddag means afternoon, exactly the same as in English. It makes a lot of sense, but it’s quite different. In my Dutch Dutch the word namiddag does exist, and means something starting around 3 or 4 PM (or possibly around 2 PM in winter), until the end of the afternoon (i.e. 6 PMish, maybe more like 5 PM in winter, although like I said, our definitions are a little more rigid than in other languages). By logical extrapolation voormiddag would mean the period prior to the namiddag, which would be from 12 PM to 3 PM. According to the dictionary it’s even used like that somewhere frequently enough to be mentioned, though where I’m from we’d talk about early in the afternoon. In conclusion, Dutch and Flemish have distinctly different connotations for the words voormiddag, middag, and namiddag. When I think about the actual meaning of the words (fore midday, midday, and after midday), the Flemish meaning makes more sense, but in its own context the Dutch meaning is equally sensible. There’s a reason the concept is called false friends (like German See and Dutch zee).

Speaking of false friends, there is one thing that never confused me, but that does sound funny to me. Over here tas means cup, akin to German Tasse, but to me it sounds like someone wants to drink a bag of coffee (or some such) if the term is used.

Lastly, I still think it’s somewhat amusing each and every time I see things on sale on €x (aan €x) instead of for €x (voor €x).

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Of a Small Cut by a Knife Not Made for Stabbing

Yesterday, I was cutting slices of salami while eating lunch. In a move that wasn’t quite as smart as it seemed at the time, I lifted the salami and started cutting it in mid-air. Because the cutting wasn’t proceeding as swiftly as planned, I increased pressure on the sausage from both sides and somehow my thumb must have ended up in the cutting trajectory. A small drop of blood rears its head out of the cut, and that’s the end of it. That night, while listening to one of Wil Wheaton’s amusing podcasts, I felt my thumb throbbing a little and I decide to show it to her.

Me
Hon, I cut myself with a bread knife—um, I mean a butter knife.
My wife
Leave it to you to cut yourself with a butter knife.
Me
What are you talking about, they have sharp teeth and everything!
My wife
It’s got a rounded corner and is not actually sharp. Just because they are slightly serrated doesn’t mean that they’re meant for cutting, or that anybody but you could manage to cut themselves with it.
Me
But–but–but, you could cut steaks with it too!
My wife
That’s what steak knives are for. Sharp knives have sharp points. Why do you think that knives made for stabbing people aren’t serrated?
Me
So you’re saying that all of our kitchen knives are for stabbing people?
My wife
*softly slaps my chest* You’re such a dork!

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String cheese

I thought this conversation about an American product called string cheese was quite amusing. As you can see I’m also experimenting a bit with a better way to display conversations, but my results are fairly unsatisfactory so far.

Frenzie: string_cheese.jpg
They’ve got some weird shit in the US.

Axonn: … heh.
Axonn: You know why it’s like that?
Axonn: I can explain.

Frenzie: It’s like that cuz they pushed it through some shape? 😛

Axonn: You see… the cow… or sheep… or wheverthefuck creature they milk… well… it sees the yank farmer… and has an immediate cheesing of the milk inside it (that is caused by fear of armed retaliation by the Bush government if not cooperating with the Food Obtaining Services For Fat Yanks). So the milk is transformed into cheese internally because the poor animal’s temperature grows. Even so, the terrified creature starts running around the farm with 2 up to 5 Yankers trying to get it. During the process, the creature (now guided by adrenaline and fear) reaches speeds up to 300 KM/h. In this moment, due to friction, it’s shape alters a bit, and liquid/semi-liquid stuff tends to be thrown out by the centrifuge force. In that moment, the creature shits the cheese into the said forms.
Axonn: It is still a mistery how the cheese (former milk) gets from the belly to the ass.

Frenzie: ROFLMAO

Axonn: Perhaps due to the great speed and fear, it can either tear holes through the creature’s belly, or simply travel through the available holes.

Frenzie: Dude, can I post this to my weblog or something, it’s hilarious XD

Axonn: At least that’s my theory to the thing.
Axonn: I might be wrong tho’………..
Axonn: But it’s pretty logical right?

Frenzie: Yeah, indeed it is! =D

Axonn: I mean, sure looks like shitted cheese.
Axonn: Oh, another explanation might be that the creatures refuse to cooperate with fake-capitalist would-be-nazi pigs and they end up in a fight where the Yank shuves his hand up the creature’s ass or mouth and pulls that shit out… hence, the form… like it’s obtained after 2 people fought over it. Or maybe they’re so greedy for that shit they *do* fight over it.
Axonn: Donno…
Axonn: ::- )

Frenzie: rofl

Axonn: Anyway, you have my blessing to post wherever… ::- )

Frenzie: rijpen-kaas.jpg
You mean it looked like this, but then they fought over it resulting in one big… string-thing.
Frenzie: That’s some Dutch cheese btw 😛

Axonn: Bingooooooo.
Axonn: Yes, Romanian cheese looks like that too.
Axonn: You see, we Europeans .. respect food… in a way.
Axonn: They LOVE food.
Axonn: And you know, love can get preeeeeeeeeeeeeeetty passional.
Axonn: We eat and digest our food.
Axonn: They DEVOUR.
Axonn: :;- D

Frenzie: Wait… you mean the shape is also related to other holes than the ass of the cow?

Axonn: Could be, could be.

Frenzie: Perhaps that’s why they’re so afraid of gays
Frenzie: they’re afraid the cheese ass-fuck monopoly will be broken!

Axonn: No no. The problem is that gays don’t give milk. Well, I did hear of a few US semen-cheese specialties *laugh*…
Axonn: That was sick.
Axonn: ::- D

Frenzie: >_>
Frenzie: <_<
Frenzie: >_>

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