Category Archives: Those-wonder-years

A Carrier

Way earlier Karel Doorman (a couple of weeks perhaps) I was reminded of the fact that the Dutch navy at one time had a carrier (actually two but that’s a different story) which served a small amount of time in and around New Guinea to convince the Indonesians not to claim that last bastion of Dutch colonialism.

I mention this because my dad, who in his travels and search for a new life after surviving the Second World War and the violent Indonesian independence fight eventuallly ended up in New Guinea (or, rather ‘Netherlands New Guinea’), in the city of Hollandia, (now Jayapura), regularly recalled this particular stunt the Dutch navy pulled in Australia:

When the Doorman arrived at Fremantle, Australia, the local seamen’s union struck to show sympathy with Indonesia, refused to man tugs or docking lines. The Doorman cranked up her aircraft and maneuvered to her berth by using the propeller blasts to nudge alongside the dock. At Hollandia, New Guinea, the Doorman unloaded twelve obsolescent Hawker Hunter turbojets to bolster the small Dutch defense forces. Crying “Horrid imperialists,” Indonesia’s President Sukarno broke off diplomatic relations with The Netherlands.

I don’t think Dad was still in Hollandia at that time of that incident: although New Guinea was like heaven on earth for him, after witnessing a botched Indonesian landing in or around 1961 (“I saw the paratroopers hanging in the trees”), he decided that enough was enough and finally made it to the land of his forefathers, The Netherlands.

Hollandia was eventually let go by the Dutch authorities and after a controversial election or plebiscite, New Guinea was eventually annexed by Indonesia in 1963.

Shoelaces

Earlier this week, while fastening new shoelaces I was reminded of the fact that, during my life at my parental home, we (seemingly) never used to run out of shoelaces. I think one of my parents was smart enough to consider that kids always seem to break shoelaces at any time of the day any year. There used to be a plastic container full of spare shoelaces in one of the cabinets in the kitchen.

Shoelaces also reminds me of a short story (by longtime Internet friend Alan Corre) properly titled ‘Shoelaces’.

Last week, the BBC sported an article by Bill Gates (nonetheless!), who gave his views about which skills you need to succeed. I generally agree with his remarks, especially the following sections:

Beyond that, however, I don’t think you can overemphasise the importance of having a good background in maths and science.
[…]
Having that kind of curiosity about the world helps anyone succeed, no matter what kind of work they decide to pursue.

Curiosity and critical thinking go hand in hand: I was fortunate that my dad (who was both firmly set in religion and science) was willing to give us space to explore and discover things on our own and question everything that was around us that didn’t make sense. In many of these cases, the local library offered solutions. If you’re a kid, there’s only one advice I’d give: Read a lot of books, from novels to scientific books.

That’s not my bike

A couple of Bike, Train, Friesdays ago, there was a great Metafilter thread on Amsterdam’s (or Dutch) bicycle culture (direct link to photos). Generally speaking, what was possible to do in The Netherlands you’d be arrested for over here. Some annotations that are applicable to the discussion:

  • You need huge chains and locks if you don’t want your brand-new or dirt-old bike to be stolen.
  • You’re allowed to carry kids whenever you turn 16.
  • Every kid is being taught traffic rules at and around age 7 or 8.
  • From the twins, I was the first one to be able to drive a bike and that was at age of 5, I believe.
  • The biggest achievement as a kid was the very first time I drove on a bike to the nearest library (earlier).
  • Before I came over, I left my bike at the Deventer railway station, locked, naturally. On my return 4 years after, I expected the bike to be still there. Afterwards, I thought that that was one of the most ridiculous thoughts.
  • When I was a teenager, I reported a stolen bike at a police station. Later on, I found out that that was pretty naive: In the Netherlands hundreds of bikes are stolen everyday.
  • At one time I bought a bike with a locked chain tied to its frame. I was lucky to have a friend with the right tools. I remember the poor excuse too and it’s so bad that’s not worth mentioning here.
  • We used to have a set of race bikes and (this suprises everybody) used to tour (‘race’) around with it, together with my brother. My favourite climb was the ‘Holterberg’, which is the only ‘mountain’ with a 10% elevation.
  • I had an accident on that same mountain: While going downhill at 50 km/h, I was hit by a car with a trailer. I was (miraculously) not hurt and my bike had only suffered light damage.
  • At one time, I was touring with a friend of mine and he had a hard-time keeping up with me: we figured out that my weight was to blame for my speedy climbs.
  • At one night, I (together with Alfons) accompanied a female friend accross one of the Deventer bridges because her boyfriend was too lazy to bike her around in the dark. It was one of the weirdest and funniest drives.
  • At one time I had to drive back home in a Fall storm: I remember ‘sailing’ home, literally.
  • Thanks to my dad, I’m fairly good at taking apart bicycles and doing repairs on them. There goes nothing above the smell of a newly-greased bike chain.

This also reminds me that the last time I officially drove a bicycle was during my stay in The Netherlands in 2004. We (Alfons and I) drove out to pick up “flemish” fries and some other typical Dutch junk food. So once in a while, my wife asks ‘what was in that stuff we bought when we were overthere and you guys drove the bike and it was a kind of uh, gross’ (general answer: ‘horsemeat’). Anyway, after that bike drive, I became aware that I was totally out of shape. I remember having that same feeling during my second return in 2006: this time however, we mostly walked.

Multi-meh

Meh: Earlier I found out OWL is a web ontology language and that it has nothing to do with the OWL that was wrapped in a box of Borland compilers (Wikipedia on Object Windows Library). Alfons should know more about OWL, unless he hand-coded all his Pascal and C++ code the WinAPI way. I can’t remember. What I do remember was the shock in the developer world when Borland decided to drop OWL in favour of VCL. The rest is history. Of course (with all things legacy), OWL has been picked up by enthusiasts. Slightly related: why do I still use the T-prefix in every other program language I program in? Where did that come from? I presume it was always part of OOP world.

I saw a picture of a person I went to school with and I exclaimed something like ‘Hey, that’s that guy that had all the girls in class swoon’. Afterwards, I thought that wasn’t appropriate, but then, maybe this is what happens after many years. Think of all these thoughts people have when they remember me (‘Oh god, those were the guys with the straight 9s or 10′). It wasn’t my fault. Having Alfons as a formidable competitor was just way too tempting. This also reminds me of the first years of secondary school [which is more or less comparable to the first years of highschool]: for straight A’s students we were actually loosely managed by our parents. The secret of studying is to take things seriously when you’re twelve years old. The other secret is that you obviously need parents who are not too overly involved and give kids the freedom to experiment.

Amsterdam

TalkingAjax Amsterdam! about the Manji documentary: there was some typical footage of Amsterdam from bars, cafes where you allowed to smoke pot and yes, its famous Red Light district. And of course the canals with the boats and the pretty houses. It briefly brought me back to the very first interesting computing book store (I guess the store is still there) that we frequently visited because the city we lived in had no real good book stores with a computing section. Not even a single issue of the Dr. Dobbs Journal.

I’m also pretty certain that our first venture to that ‘sinful city’ was around age 14 or 15 and I’m not sure what the parents thought of that. Obviously they must have thought that we could take care of ourselves. I mean, what could happen to a pair of teenage twins venturing about through Amsterdam?

And then that reminds me that the Dutch have the most amazing dairy products: If you’re a foreigner and make it to Amsterdam, skip the Red Light district, run to the nearest supermarket and buy yourself a carton of vla, yoghurt with oranges (really) or lemon ‘kwark’.

TenSpeed

I learnt Ten Speed and Brown Shoethat Jeff Goldblum is starring in a new TV show, ‘Raines’. I think the show is on NBC, every Friday night. I read the show is about, wait, let me pull a quote from the site mentioned earlier:

Eccentric LAPD Detective Michael Raines (Goldblum) uses his unique imagination to focus on every murder case in such a way that the murder victims actually begin to take shape in front of him. At first, he thinks he’s losing his mind, but he then uses the constantly evolving hallucinations — which are figments of his imagination and not ghosts — to help him discover the victims’ killers.

For some kind of reason, that sounds like the kind of role Goldblum has been playing for ages, like for example, in the show ‘Ten Speed and Brown Shoe’ (1980). I bet a lot of people don’t remember that show, but, when I hear Goldblum’s name mentioned, it’s that show that I always associate him with (and of course the movie ‘The Fly’). If I’m not wrong, this show also showcased Goldblum’s character’s amazing bookreading skills.

A camera strikes

Back in my teenage years, I apparently was able to buy not one but two SLR cameras. My very first one, was an East-German made ‘Praktica’. I bought extra lenses for that one, and as a matter of fact, became the ‘official’ family photographer. That was until I found out that making photos of clouds was more interesting than asking people to pose (or not to pose). Around that time, I decided to treat myself on a new camera, which was a Pentax, I believe.

I mention this while I browse the images shot by Alfons: his FlickR set shows he has an excellent eye for subject and arrangement1, things I thought I mastered when I was a teenager. Additionally, I can’t remember if Alfons ever touched either of my older analog SLRs. Why was that? Maybe I was playing the ‘evil twin’ role back in those days.

That said, I have been asked if I’d pick up photography anytime soon. No, not really: what is more boring than two people who look, talk and laugh alike, take up the same hobby? And that said, I think my twin does an excellent job already.

1 I’m not saying this because he’s my twin brother. Twins hate each other. Really: it’s all about competition, rah, rah, rah.

Libraries

I don’t specifically remember the first day we (Alfons and I) set foot in a library, but I’m almost certain it was at or around age 8 or 9. The rest is history: there used to be a joke going around that claimed that we (the twins) were practically living in the neighbourhood’s library (which happened to be less than a quarter of an hour bicycle drive from our house).

We both apparently read that much that at a certain age we decided that it was time to start reading books that were meant for older members (age 12 and higher). Talking about being caught red-handed. This was actually an innocent incident: we were after all after readingthick books. Preferably the ones with over 400 pages. I mean, that is supposed to be good. If only librarians thought the same those days. With all respect, mr. and mrs. Librarian: if you see a kid with a 400+ page book, you should obviously let the kid read the book.

Naturally, things got more exciting when we set foot in the Central library of the city: 4 floors full of books and plenty of staircases, nooks and corners with chairs, tables and above all, books. That said, I always thought that the science books were well-placed: it was literally above the center part of the library, which meant that you could hang around and watch people come in and walk by. Naturally, around that section was also were we picked up our first computer books.

FAL or not?

This morning, A FAL rifle while ordering coffee at a local Tim Hortons’, I was watching one of the slideshows about the Hortons Kids camps, which somehow reminded me of the first weeks of my military service. I mentioned this before. Smiling kids, camps and military service: quite the combination.

I’ll spare you the details of the first weeks (which was all about conditioning rookies into flawless operating cannon fodder and me starring on the obstacle course). The only thing I thought was surreal was the initial introduction to our personal weapon (which was a Belgium made FN FAL rifle), which I remember like it was yesterday. We were given weapon numbers and were reminded that anyone who refused to carry a weapon had to come forward. As far as I remember nobody did, one by one we went by the weapons room, memorized the weapon number and picked up the FAL. The next days we learned everything about taking it apart, cleaning and making it combat ready (as illustrated here).

Returning to the parental house in between weekends was surreal and I’m not sure if I ever discussed service with family members. Not that it mattered a lot: It felt weird and I had a harder time adjusting to civil life than to military life particularly during weekend returns. Now I know that that was the point of it all: it was all about creating a bond between your fellow roommates (who formed the crew of one artillery piece) and the sergeants. I was skeptic, questioned seemingly ordinary combat routines and generally not particularly impressed with everything. I had my run-ins with higher ranked officers, but was generally liked by the smarter drill-sergeants and the captain. When leaving military service, I remember saying goodbye to the captain and the sergeants and ‘wishing them all the best in the next nuclear war’.

Which perfectly illustrates how I felt about the whole thing.

All things 70s and 80s

Talking about the Eighties, this item at Slashdot had me look up the Rubik’s Cube at Wikipedia. I was particularly curious when the cube hit the market, and apparently it hit the Western European toy markets in May of 1980. I bet every household had one of those cubes, whether genuine or ‘cheap imitation’. At that time, computers didn’t even exist in schools. Maybe universities, but not lowly public funded elementary/primary schools.

One of the most annoying things during those early school days, were the obligatory ‘class pictures’. It always appeared to take weeks before negatives were turned into prints and parents were asked to put money in envelopes to be delivered to the teacher. Weeks. Digital photography has changed that: for example, Alfons apparently stumbled into a protest march, made pictures of it and was able to publish them in minutes. Imagine other people making pictures of the same demonstration. With luck you may find Alfons in these pictures (1,2, 3). Links not safe if your political alignment is extreme-right). Or at Flickr (1). Point is, that technology and science are frequently changing and shaping our cultural habits, ideas, ideals and words and it’s (generally) not the other way around. Unless, you’re in control of a nation (Slightly NSFW, Check accompanying metafilter discussion); then your political views apparently trump common scientific facts.

In the mid Seventies to the Eighties, there were a couple of major (terrorist) attacks on Dutch soil, but if you skim throught the list, did these really affect your life? Did these events stop you from going to school and playing with your friends or having birthday parties? While some of them may have had lasting memories (particularly for the ones directly involved), most of these events have been made into historical footnotes, despite what the media may have told you those days.

That doesn’t mean that you should blame the media: what I’m saying is that while it’s the media’s job to report extraordinary events in extremely detail, it’s society’s duty to put things in more nuanced perspective.

May 4th

So if it’s your birthday on May 4th, that means you share that day with nobody else than Pia Zadora! Yay!

Or that means that you celebrate your birthday on a day like Remembrance Day, in The Netherlands that is. Which brings up other memories like the minute silence nationwide, the silent march to a city’s war monument or the pictures of the wake at the National cemetry. Compare that with the racist comments (which is a selection of comments at this paper)at a column written by (Dutch) author Leon de Winter (Dutch language alert).

Update: Today it was National Prayer Day in the US!

The Cement Factory

Earlier Game And Watch handheldthis morning, I was trying to find references to an older LCD game from Nintendo. While I was not aware of its actual name, I was sure that it was from Nintendo, it was an LCD game and it featured the Mario Brothers. My search key included ‘1983’ (which was the year I [we] bought it in). To make a long story short, via Wikipedia’s ‘Nintendo’ history, I ended up at ‘Gameboy’ and eventually, ‘Game & Watch’. That rang a bell and here it is: Mario’s Cement Factory. Note that the image at Wikipedia shows the ‘table top version’ (which I recognize too: those were the ones that were sold in toy stores, while the LCD versions were generally sold in jewelry/clock stores).

But yes, it must have been 1983 or 1984, when I (we) decided to buy it and that was the very first Nintendo I’ve actually seen: I was familiar with ‘Donkey Kong’ (The Game & Watch handheld came with a neat 2 screen version), but most likely that one was out of the price range. It’s also the first time I got familiar with the ‘Mario phenomenon’, which returned to TV and silver screen in the mid 90s, much to my surprise. If I had told the little kids that I had a ‘Mario’ game in the Eighties, it would have been a shocking revelation. (Interesting to see that Mario’s ‘gaming career started with the ‘Donkey Kong’ game, which was 1983 too).

There are countless of memories to this thing, but looking back it does not make sense I ever played this thing. I beat the highscore so many times, it eventually got boring. I think, after that, it served as an alarm clock (who knows if it still works).

1. Note that I frequently mix ‘I’ and ‘we’, because of the fact that computer accesories were normally acquired together with Alfons.
2. The handheld itself was actually pretty nice and sturdy, particularly because of its shiny burgundy wine aluminium front/cover.

You are the remote control

Growing Remote Control!up in the Seventies, I remember our family going through three specific TVs. The very first one was a black and white in a wooden-like box with a giant knob to ‘switch channels’. With the popularity of colour broadcasts, my dad eventually bought a genuine ITT colour television with revolutionary ‘tip’ buttons but no remote control, yet. This was in the late Seventies.

How did we survive those remote control-less days? That was actually easy: the person closest to the TV was the person who was in charge of switching channels. That also meant that the person closest to the television was actually in charge of what was going to be watched, that is, unless my dad (or mom) ordered otherwise. I remember experiencing these parental vetos firsthand. The situation dramatically changed with the introduction of a television with remote control (early Eighties), our third one, where the power to All The Channels (10 at most) was unlocked by the ‘One Who Managed To Grab The Remote Control First’ or ‘The One With The Authority To Have And Control The Remote Because Age Says So’.

I’m not sure what was worse, those days: being a ‘remote control’, trying to fight for a remote control or being younger of age.