Sunday, 8 February 2009

dear postman

Another week's gone past, and most of the time I didn't even leave the house.

Saturday I went to Danny's birthday party at Mulligans; walking towards town I saw the lights on the 'skinny bridge' were on.

magere brug

Monday and Tuesday at work I was still busy with the Annual Report. One of the authors who was commissioned to write a review chapter has decided he'd rather go skiing in the Jura and told us not to expect his article. We now miss four pages of our first chapter, and they're four of the most significant pages, too! The whole editorial team was running around in circles trying not to panic.

Coming home on Tuesday I walked along the Ringvaart where the ice was melting. This bird looked like it was walking on water.

jesus bird

On Wednesday I just had a short walk along the Amstel; I wasn't feeling too well.

boats on the amstel

Thursday and Friday I was home with an throat infection. I went out only once to get some groceries. At Hartog's they were offering 'recession bread baking lessons'.

recession bread baking lessons

Saturday I was feeling much better. I needed to do some more shopping and thought I'd walk to the AH on Wibautstraat. Here I saw a new graffiti, probably made by somebody who likes cheese.

typical cheesy dutch graffiti

I walked along the Amstel towards the AH when I got the idea that I needed to buy new jeans. The ones I was wearing were getting dirty and the other ones I had at home were all too large!

clouds over the amstel

So I set out for my now favourite shop on top of Nieuwendijk. I crossed the Amstel and walked along Stadhouderskade to Weteringschans.

stadhouderskade is being resurfaced

By the time I got to Reguliersgracht the sun was out in full force.


One aspect of winter time I like is that you can now actually see the houses on the canals; in summer time they're mostly hidden behind the trees.

the house with the stork

I walked through Kalverstraat, which is still a madhouse on Saturdays. The constant start/stop you have to make to avoid bumping into people is not very good for my feet. I prefer a constant speed so I took a left turn into one of the alleys leading to the Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwal. The Magna Plaza shopping mall (the old Main Post Office) looked great.

magna plaza

At the moment the Palace on the Dam is being worked on. I don't know what it is exactly they're doing, but the back of the building is fenced in. I saw this note on the back door. I can now imagine the Queen coming to the door in housecoat and slippers, curlers in her hair, to pick up the morning paper from the doormat.

"Please deposit the mail and the Telegraaf newspaper in the Palace's mailbox at nr. 147."

The name of this street intrigued me, "Oude Braak". It translates literally to "Old Vomit", but I think it could also mean an old break in the dike, as 'braak' can also mean 'broken'. The houses in the little street were nice looking.

oude braak

Around the corner of Old Vomit is the jeans shop. I told the sales guy I was wearing a 38. He handed me a 36 and told me to try it on. It fitted. That's another inch gone. If I keep this up much longer I'll be wearing children's sizes. If I can do it fast enough I'll be giving CERN a run for their money to see who is the first to produce a black hole.

I escaped the shop with a 36 in the bag, crossed the Rokin and along the back of the Beurs, the old Stock Market building. Having looked at a lot of steampunk websites lately I was fantasizing a new use for this building. It looked like it would be suitable for Her Majesty's Ministry for Time Travel…

Her Majesty's Ministry for Time Travel (beurs van Berlage)

I walked along Warmoesstraat, through the Nes and to the Oudmanhuispoort.


Then along Kloveniersburgwal, across the Amstel and into Mulligans for a cup of coffee.

mulligans on the amstel

Two coffees later my feet were rested enough to start the walk home again. I walked down Nieuwe Herengracht, along the Weesperstraat and Wibautstraat. I stopped off at Hartog's for a loaf of bread, walked down the Oosterparkstraat and then home. I bought my groceries at the AH downstairs. All together this was a 9.4 km walk instead of the quick 'go to AH' trip I set out to do.

nieuwe herengracht / amstel

Today, Sunday, the weather was sun, rain, sun, snow, overcast, rain … I stayed home.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

the pope defeated

According to Nicole, her mother was getting distressed because I didn't update my blog on a regular basis. Since I don't want to be responsible for Vicky running around with a hatchet in Adelaide killing people here's an update on the happenings of last week. I dedicate this one to Vicky.

At work the foundation for our new engine room is progressing; the concrete floor has been poured and they're now working on setting up the walls.

pouring concrete

Work this week has been mostly on the Annual Report (what's new…) and the cosmology booklet. The AR is almost finished now; I only waiting for two articles and the introduction. The director promised me to have the introduction ready on Monday. He also said not to beat him up if it wasn't ready since Monday is his birthday. I promised to hit him only softly as a compromise.

On a few occasions I walked home when my feet weren't hurting that much. Most of the time I took the bus, though. Tuesday I went past Frankendael just when the sun was setting, which threw a golden light over the pond.

frankendael sunset

At the Ringvaart a woman was feeding the birds. Seagulls and ducks were flocking around her trying to get at the food. The animal care organisations have asked to give birds a bit extra this year since it has been colder than average.

bird feeding

Thursday evening I was meeting Collins for a Chinese meal in Restaurant Tong Ah near Leidseplein. I left work early and decided to walk most of the route, walking a bit in circles around Amsterdam. My feet were feeling great, so I first set off to the Oostenburgergracht where I saw a bridge going nowhere.

bridge to nowhere

At the end of Oostenburgergracht I took the bus to Central Station. I got off at the Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower), so named because this is the spot where according to tradition sailor's wives would wave their husbands good bye. Again according to tradition this involved a whole lot of weeping.


The North-South Line Metro diggers have broken up their installations on the Damrak so once again we can see the water and the houses which are built straight on the water with no quay in front of them.


Dinner at Tong Ah was very good. Collins is a regular there but for me it was the first time. He usually gets the Gong Bao Chicken but wished that he could get something more spicy. I like spicy food too, so we discussed ideas with the owner who came up with "beef and chicken in a very hot sauce, just leave it to the chef". What came out of the kitchen later was beef and chicken in a very hot sauce, prepared with Mme Jeanette chillies. Very hot, indeed. Yum.

After dinner we went to Dan Murphy's on Leidseplein for a drink and talked about Collins' upcoming projects. We bounced a couple of ideas back and forth, but I don't think that night had one of my 'once a year great ideas', as Collins puts it.

After two drinks we split up and I started to walk home. I only made it two tram stops from Leidseplein before I caught the tram. The longish walk earlier had done its damage and my feet now seriously hurt. Taking the tram was the best option.


Friday I attended a conference for physics teachers which was organised at work. Several people were giving talks on what was happening in 'big science' with it's 'extreme machines'. Very interesting as they didn't throw too much mathematics and Greek around so I could follow it easily. One of my colleagues, a physicist with a PhD confessed that even he learned from the talk about entanglement in quantum mechanics. This reminded me of a Richard Feynman quote: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

Today, Saturday I slept late. After my morning coffee I went to do the weekend shopping. The community centre in Joubertstraat is nearing completion. The building has two very large windows in the façade. I looked inside to see what they were building. It turned out to be a mosque. I like the idea of a Dutch-style mosque; one of the things that tourists always notice is the large open windows in Dutch houses where you can see the family sitting in their living room. It looks like the designers of this mosque took that idea and implemented it here.


The tunnel under the railroad has been painted with graffiti since I don't know when. Years ago the council told the local graffiti painters to do their best and supplied them with the paint. Miraculously, it has not been overpainted with other graffiti much. Most of the original is still there. What is new, is the 'Escher' swans on the sign. It used to have words on it (which I have forgotten). I like the re-use of graffiti in this way. It gives it a feeling of continuation and renewal. Graffiti is one of the non-static arts. It keeps evolving. You can see it here.

transvaal graffiti

Those who don't like graffiti are warned by a sticker I saw on the old 'Volkskrant' building.


I got my exotic coffee blends for the Senseo at the AH on Wibautstraat and bought a small jar of Dun Peas which I ate tonight with onions, pickles and a meatball. For tomorrow I got a Mozarella salad.

loading up at AH

When I got home I saw on on of the FaceBook games I play, Mafia Wars, that Miss Jo and I had defeated the Pope. I didn't make any money from it.

the Pope defeated

Monday, 26 January 2009

that was the week that was

Another week's gone past and the light is slowly returning in the sky. I worked basically non-stop on the annual report and a cosmology booklet, typesetting equations. I was happy the weekend came since that meant it was time for the Viking Winter Banquet. Most years we go to Oerlinghausen in Germany for the banquet but this year it was a home match: the Archeon in Alphen aan de Rijn.

archeon: old houses, young girl.

The banquet was organised by Martin and Rona and was a great success. The food was excellent and so was the company. I went there with Marion and Danny in Janneke's car. Janneke couldn't make it to the banquet as she had other commitments that weekend.


The weather (which had been lousy the last week: rain, rain and more rain) had picked up considerably. The sun was shining all weekend and the temperature was well above freezing. The old houses of mediaeval 's-Gravendam looked fresh in the sunshine.


More hours of daylight also mean that I now leave the house in the dark, but slowly walk towards the sunrise in the morning. By the time I get to Muiderpoort the streetlights are switched off and by the time I walk into the gate at work the sun is up.

morning light at Muiderpoort station

Two years ago the HiSPARC cosmology experiment wanted to change their website from the one I had made to one driven by a content management system (CMS). They would do all the work themselves. Now, two years later, the CMS still doesn't work properly; they can't integrate the data acquisition and analysis into the CMS and the database interfaces don't work. Today they asked me to 'please take over again and make it work.' I told them I'd think about it and would discuss it with management since I don't know what other work they've got lined up for me. I do like to work on HiSPARC, though.

When I made my escape at 16:00 the sun was still shining. I walked along the Amstel to Hartog's bakery where I hadn't been in a few weeks due to the weather. I did some more food shopping on the way home and decided that dinner would be tiny today. I had eaten too much at the banquet, so today I only had a Soato soup (spicy chicken and bean sprouts) with a little rice from the Surinamese take-away down the road. With two mandarins and a pear it made enough for a healthy dinner.

afternoon light at the amstel

My weight has been steady over the last three weeks. I'm bouncing between 95 and 97 kilos. According to my dietician this is normal and could last up to two months. I think it is caused by not enough exercise in winter time and eating more than normal to keep my body stoked in the cold. I have to do more cycling on the exercise bike, I think.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

no rioting, please!

Ok, stop, I submit. I will update the blog. Whether you like the contents or not I don't know…

Here's the batch of photos I made in the last week. I made a few more, but they were not fit for publication due to unsharpness, movement or general uninterestingness. As you can see from the photos, I walk to work in the dark. The last week the sun has started to rise a bit earlier again, so now I usually see sunrise somewhere along the route. One morning the sky had lovely shades of red and pink when I was coming through Frankendael. I experimented a bit with the settings on the camera and here's the result.

sunrise in frankendael

When I got near the stand of trees the clouds were looking very streaked against the rising sun.

more sunrise frankendael

I tried to catch the same colours at the villa, but by that time Aurora had left the building…

villa frankendael just after sunrise

When I got to work I saw a tanker truck delivering more clouds to our sister-institute AMOLF. They ware getting a load of liquid nitrogen which always makes for nice little clouds.

delivering clouds

I didn't go out in the evenings this week; I stayed in, chatting and playing Dragon Wars on FaceBook. Work was mostly editing the Annual Report. This will last for another two to three weeks by which time it should be on its way to the printer. The most boring part has yet to start: the publication list. This is a long list of articles which have appeared in peer-reviewed journals. The titles typically look like "Measurement of cos2β in B0→ D(*)h0 Decays with a Time-Dependent Dalitz Plot Analysis of D→ Ks0π+π", which is hell to type set. I'll be doing that job at home so I won't be distracted by colleagues walking into my room.

Friday afternoon I went to Enschede, near the German border. One of our graduate students, Jeroen, had to do his PhD defence at the Univerity of Twente. I drove up with Frank, who was on the promotion committee. Jeroen and I had worked in the past on the data acquisition and data storage for the HiSparc astrophysics project and we also have spent quite some time drinking pints of Guinness in Mulligans. I also designed the cover for his thesis and gave advice on some of the figures in the thesis. All in all a good reason to go to his defence.

He passed with flying colours and is leaving for Geneva one of these days to do a post-doc at CERN where he's been made a CERN fellow. That is a signal honour since there are very limited places for CERN fellows and typically there are more than 20 applicants for each place. To get selected means you know what you're doing.

Frank dropped me off at the train station in Almere on the way back where I caught the train to Amsterdam CS. By this time it was already 19:30 and I was getting really hungry. I got myself a falafel at Maoz on Mint square and then went to Mulligans for a drink.

Jeroen was giving a party later that evening in Café van Zuylen on the Singel. I walked there around 21:00 and came past this brightly lit house opposite the University Library.

singel at night

When I got to van Zuylen there was nobody there whom I recognised; it was crowded like hell and the music wasn't to my liking. I went home. I had already had my 'bitterballen' in Enschede, so I didn't feel too guilty.

Saturday night I went to Mulligans to hear Daithi Rua and Ed Veltrop play; a good gig. I had two whiskeys with Danny and then walked home.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

follow me to facebook

The darkness of the Dutch winter prevents me from taking photos. Also, my feet are hurting too much for long walks when there is light, so that is the reason for the prolonged silence in the blog. If you're really keen on finding out what I'm doing, join facebook and let me know what you're doing, too.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

on yer bike...

The last couple of days I didn't make any photos because my feet were hurting so much that I took the bus to and from work. This morning at 08:30 the doorbell rang and the delivery guy from the mail order company brought my exercise bike up the stairs.

I had ordered the thing way before Christmas, so I was happy to finally see it arrive. I started unboxing it immediately.

the box

The body was the biggest part to come out of the box. It has an 11 kg fly wheel.

the body

I placed all bits and pieces on the floor to see what was what. The big black box is not part of the bike, but will be my 'new' linux server. It's an old Dell 8300 which I bought from work.

the parts

The whole bike is put together with only two tools, a combined allan wrench / philips screwdriver and a little spanner.

almost finished

When I got to the last part, the ergometer computer, I couldn't find the bolts to fit it to the column. I went down the stairs to the hardware shop around the corner and got 4 M5x10 bolts for the princely sum of €0.75.

When I tried to find the bolt holes to put the bolts in it dawned on me that there were already bolts in the holes… All other bolts had been wrapped separately and were chromed. These were screwed on and black on a black background. €0.75 waisted…

ready for entertainment…

After setting the computer's time and reading (part of) the manual I dressed down to shorts, t-shirt and sneakers and gave the bike a whirl. Forty minutes later I was sweating like a pig and gasping for air as if it was my last breath.

I read the rest of the manual. It turned out I had selected a program for 20-year old athletes in top condition. I should have started with a 5 to 10 minute easy program and build up over time. Oops. Luckily I didn't die on the spot of a heart attack.

One thing I have noticed: it is a lot easier on my feet than walking. And, with either a documentary on the laptop or my own music on the stereo it is also a lot more comfortable than in the gym.

Friday, 9 January 2009

the wake

This morning it was still dark when I got to work. I didn't sleep too well, but a cup of Abdul's asphalt coffee cured that quickly.

I worked on a few articles for the annual report. Monday morning is our next review meeting and I wanted to have as much ready as possible.

When I left work I took the bus to Amstel Station and walked home from there along the Ringvaart, which is now completely frozen. There were people on the ice teaching their kids to skate in the traditional way: by holding on to a chair.

traditional lessons

After dinner I went out again; I had to go to the wake of a colleague of mine, Jef Colle, who had died last Sunday. Jef was a physics teacher at the Amsterdams Lyceum and worked part-time at Nikhef on the HiSPARC experiment. When that experiment was starting up I worked with Jef on putting the web site together. Jef was a very enthusiastic teacher and well loved by his pupils. Quite a few of those are now studying physics or working at Nikhef, due to his influence.

The wake was in the auditorium of the Amsterdams Lyceum. I guess there were about 200 people there, both pupils and colleagues. I met a few people I hadn't seen in a long time. Jef was a man with a love for living well, so his wish was for a wake where people would gather for a drink and some finger food. As a result it was more like a party than a sad occasion; a good way to say good bye.