Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Quick, quick life update

September 12th, 2010 by Reinder

We're mostly done with our move - Aggie is here with the boys, dog and cat. "Here" is not Middle Tennessee as the plan was a year ago, but Hoogezand, ten miles out of Groningen in a row house I bought there. Stuff that we still have to deal with:

1. Getting the paperwork in order so we can get married at last;
2. Getting the paperwork in order so that everybody can get residency permits;
3. Getting the paperwork in order so that we can get Aggie's household goods delivered to us without it costing us an arm and a leg (what with the cost of the residency papers, we would have no limbs left).

The Dutch authorities' love of official paperwork gets thrown into stronger relief when you attempt an international move. When you simply live here, it comes in drips and drabs; when you move a family over, you'll quickly find yourself outputting a stack of paper the size of your forearm. The length, I mean, not the width. Dealing with it all is like a second full time job, but one that eats up the money you make in your first job. Me going to the US would have been much easier in that respect.

There's also a lot of work that needs to be done on the house itself, but we've got the basics covered and the rest of it is not urgent.

In the mean time, I have some ideas relating to what I want to do with the comics. I hope to get started on drawing again next weekend, but what I draw may not be primarily Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. I am going to have to find a way to recover some of the cost of the move, and this may be easier to do with new comics/art concepts than with a comic that has been going on for nearly 20 years.

I am also thinking about what to do with the blog. I have some series planned that I want to get started on: I want to review every album I've bought in the past year or so; I want to do a series on Dutch art and culture for the benefit of Aggie and other expats who are interested in it (or need an education urgently, but let's not talk about the Expatica forums right now); I also want to do a series defending people, organisations, art forms and ideas that I believe are unfairly maligned. Aggie has a blog about her own experiences in the Netherlands that she uses to inform her friends and former co-workers and students back in the US, and I think the Dutch art and culture series will complement that nicely. But more on that later. Today, there's more work to do on my old apartment before I hand in the keys on the fifteenth.

Running Windows on a Mac still to be considered harmful

October 27th, 2009 by Reinder

Reader Kitchenbutterfly asks:

Why have you burst my bubble? I've been living in paradise, claiming the MAC and all things APPLE to be the next best thing to sliced bread, or at least windows! And I know about buying computers in a hurry.

Well here's the thing: I loved my first iBook. I never had any serious problems with it. But it was getting old, it was a G4 and there were certain things it couldn't do that would come in handy for my long-distance work. Like run Windows in some form or another. So for Christmas, Aggie, who is sweet and loving and obviously completely crazy, gave me a new MacBook. I immediately started messing around with both Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop to figure out which setup would work best for me (there is a third option, VMWare Fusion, which I haven't tried and right now don't have the heart to). It is now turning out to be the answer that neither work well enough for real work, and both are harmful to the safety of my Mac hardware and my data.

The Boot Camp arrangement did not survive the first five weeks of long-distance work over the summer. The final week was spent doing whatever I could to get work done on one of Aggie's computers. Since one of them did not want to work with the Logoport online translation client, and the other did not want to let me install SDLX*), this took a lot of moving back and forth between computers. Then I took my bricked Macbook home to Groningen to see what I could do about it.

Meanwhile, some changes in our company's VPN software allowed that to work with a Parallels virtual machine, which it hadn't done before. Wonderful! I could run Windows in the VM, keep all my data safe on my Mac folders, and access my Mac software while working in Windows.

Well, I could, right until I upgraded to OS 10.6 Snow Leopard. Parallels 4 is supposed to work with it and the company even has a nifty new upgrade to make it work even better. It was while checking my Parallels VM while preparing to upgrade to that nifty new upgrade the day before leaving for the US that my MacBook became seriously bricked again.

I took the bricked MacBook with me to Tennessee to see what I could do. Three thirty-mile drives to Murfreesboro later, we had a diagnose of OS corruption, which the repair guy said actually happened quite often. They offered to wipe and reinstall for a mere $130, I said no, we'll do it ourselves, thanks, and we took the bricked box home, wiped it, reinstalled it, and restored it to its state of October 13, 2009 using the magic of Time Machine. Time Machine is excellent, but I'm finding myself using it a little too often.

I went to work using the Virtual machine and all was right with the world. I spent the Sunday before I was due to get back to work installing my software on the VM, and it was good. On Monday, I went to work, and all was good. What I didn't realise was that the reason all was good was that Parallels was unable to download its nifty new update over our slow internet connection (see previous post). But at the end of the first working day, it had somehow snagged all 110 or so MB of it and prompted me to install it. Foolishly, I did. The installation ended with an error (something about a required file missing - even though this was an automated download that should have got everything) and my VM no longer worked well. Using Time Machine, I tried to restore the software to its last version, which worked, but restoring the actual VM file (an 8 GB monstrosity) turned out to be harder. This is probably because the VM had been running whenever the Time Machine back-ups were made, so what ended up in the back-up was not a workable file to boot the VM from. After repeated attempts, running Parallels caused the Mac to hang again.
So now I'm restoring it again to the state it was in on October 13, 2009. After that, I will turn off all update functionality in Parallels, reinstall the software I need and hope for the best until the new PC arrives here (working on Aggie's machines has become problematic for other reasons that I don't want to go into as this post is already quite long and nerdy).

And that is the tale of my MacBook woes. Some of my woes are clearly the result of human error (upgrading anything that works is risky and with the Parallels upgrade, there was already a known risk factor), but I'm beginning to think that the main human error here is wanting to run Windows on a Mac in the first place. I get a lot of joy from using that machine (and I do mean actual pleasure in using it as opposed to merely finding that work goes smoothly and the computer isn't an active obstacle) whenever I use Mac software on it, whether commercial and actively developed for the Mac, or open source and ported to the Mac. I get nothing but grief and a great deal of learned helplessness from working with Windows on the same Mac. So the lesson here is that Macs should be used to run Mac software; score one for the Cult of Mac, I guess.

I'm stuck with Parallels for a few more days. When the new PC arrives, it will be gone, and good riddance.

*) Incidentally, if you love well designed software, translation software will open your life to forms of horror beyond the imagining of mortal men. If translation software can be said to be designed at all, it is designed based on the interests of anyone but translators. SDLX Suite, at least until its most recent version released this year, was not designed at all - it was a Frankensteinian patchwork of previously unrelated programs that the SDL company had bought over the years, that had no single interface vision and which only worked together through filters and a gigantic super-interface for project management and bundling. I have heard that the new release is better integrated, but its backward compatibility is nonexistent. This is relevant here because the installer alone is half a gigabyte and requires several steps of pre-installation taking several minutes before it even begins to try to install any of the component programs.

How I crave real Internets

October 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Reader Branko asks: "Reinder, how is life in the new fatherland? Have they internets there?"
Well I don't know about the rest of the USA (it'll be a while before it's really my new fatherland as I won't even be getting my fiancé visa until early next year) but here in rural middle Tennessee, life is pretty good except that the answer to the question about the internets is "yeah, kinda sorta". We're way out in the boonies and that means that what internets we get come with conditions that the civilised world has long since forgotten about*): data limits, bandwidth throttling, overage charges and dropped connections when the weather is bad or the moon is in the house of Jupiter. To be able to do my long-distance work at all, I need to switch between two internet connections, both of which we pay through the nose for. We've got Aggie's satellite dish connection that throttles you to slow modem speeds once you've reached the daily data limit of about 500 MB - an SDLX translation memory file for one of our larger clients will get you halfway there. The satellite service also limits the number of separate connections that can be made and if I'm sharing it with one of Aggie's sons playing World of Warcraft, it gets pretty slow.
The other connection is the cellular internet connection that I pay more for than I do for high-speed bandwidth and cable combined back in Groningen. It too has a data limit, which is even more draconian at 5 GB a month, but at least I have it all to myself and it never actually artificially lowers the speed. Out here, the reception is pretty poor though and rare is the day that it shows more than two bars out of four. The closest thing to a credible competitor that Verizon has here, AT&T, is not reachable at all and the only time I can read messages on my AT&T cell phone is when we drive out to Manchester or Tullahoma.

This is the biggest obstacle I am facing to working long-distance: the connectivity simply isn't good enough to push around the files I am working with. There is some prospect for improvement as there are still a lot of houses being built in the neighborhood and the demand for broadband will eventualy be there. Still, it's a pity that all the Federal stimulus money seems to have gone to repaving the roads that were already there instead of building new infrastructure such as broadband cables.

Anyway, I hope that this explains why posting here may be even slower than usual: on working days, I am being throttled and on weekends and vacations, there's things to do in meatspace that after a week of dealing with this sort of thing, I'd much rather be doing.

*) Belgians take note: you are not living in the civilised world, and unlike the people out here in the boonies who simply don't have the infrastructure, you have yourself to blame for tolerating the limitations your ISP's impose. A few well-aimed bricks through the right windows will help you shed your data shackles.

Just for once in my life, I’d like to not have to buy a new computer in a hurry

October 16th, 2009 by Reinder

With 36 hours to go before my next flight to Tennessee, the Macbook dies. That means that
a) I get to buy a new hard drive for my Macbook just to have access to my files (music including my vinyl album rips, scans - the paper originals for many of which I have recently thrown out) minus the ones added since I last ran Time Machine;

b) I get to take all my installation materials to Amsterdam and install them at the address where I am sleeping over so I can catch my plane in the morning. If that doesn't work, I get to take a bricked laptop to Tennessee and try again while I'm there;

c) because Apple can't be relied upon to make hardware that survives even a short period of intensive use, instead of doing it all through Parallels Fusion on the Macbook, we get to buy a Dell box in a hurry for the long-distance work I will be doing. We do not get time to think about what precisely we want - we get to order quickly and hope it's up and running before my . Just like with the current desktop at home in Groningen, and the studio machine before that, and the studio machine before that. Other people sometimes get to ponder their aging systems and say "Gee honey, maybe we should save up a bit of cash so we can replace this old box." I have not been in a position to do that for five or so years. I get to replace dead machines in a mad rush to meet the next deadline;

d) I get to stay up late to complete the preparations for my trip that I was working on at the time the laptop gave up. Obviously I don't get to do the ones that involve installing software on the laptop, but I did lose 90 minutes just trying to diagnose the problem (see: opaque operating systems and why they're a bad idea even if they're pretty);

e) I get to lose all the money I saved through 5 weeks of stepping up the frugality. Isn't it wonderful to be me?

Well at least I'll be seeing Aggie again in two days. So it's not all misery.

Groceries for October 10: pre-travel week

October 11th, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries bill: €5.66. I only bought half a loaf of bread, a litre of milk, some bananas and a kilogram of tangerines.
It's gonna be an unusual sort of week though. I'm leaving for the United States (staying in Amsterdam overnight) on Friday, and the odds are I'll be doing stuff in preparation leaving little time to cook. At the same time, I do want to empty out the pantry some more, and that played a big part in my decision to buy very little. By Thursday, I'll probably be eating lentils for breakfast and canned food for dinner (keeps stuff to clean that last day to a minimum) and then on Friday and Saturday I'll eat mostly on the go, spending more on food and drink on those two days than I have in a month.

After that, ultra-frugal eating will go out of the window as I'm not going to inflict it on Aggie and her boys... but for me doing this the past few weeks has not felt like deprivation at all. I haven't missed more expensive food and have in fact enjoyed getting creative with what I had in the pantry and with the smaller amounts of food I bought at the € 15 limit. And with those tax bills coming in, and the cost of travel, plus the urgent need to save up for a wedding, emigration and a chance to get off the salaryman treadmill at an early age, it's very much a good thing that I can live for a month and a half of that little money (even though I did fall off the wagon a bit last week - but even then I merely went from being ultra-frugal to being frugal).

The one thing I didn't get rid of was the occasional craving for salty snacks. Apart from that, I adjusted well to snacking a lot less and not eating meat unless someone else paid for it. I think I ate a whole lot healthier as a result of simply being more mindful of what I bought and brought into the house. Like I mentioned last week, I lost quite a bit of weight as well, in combination with my increased running schedule. In fact, I lost so much that I began to worry about it and am now making myself eat a little more.

I'd do it again. Maybe I should have done it from the moment I came back from the US and saved a little more money that way.

Groceries and tenthousandaire status

October 5th, 2009 by Reinder

Before I forget: Grocery expenses on Saturday totaled €23 - more than in the past month but I decided to relax the standards a little. Which is just as well because I found out on Sunday that I'd lost 4 pounds in a week. The good news there is that I'm now back at the weight at which I ran the 4 Mijl van Groningen last year in time for this year's event. The bad news is that 4 pounds in 7 days, without any fresh changes to my diet (and indeed with less training than last week in order to recover from my latest running/walking adventure, is a scary amount of weight for me to lose in one week and may have had something to do with why I hadn't been feeling that great last week.

I didn't know that on Saturday but I let myself spend a bit more because on Friday, I had looked at my bank account and realised that I'd become a tenthousandaire for the first time in my life. my assets (cash only - nothing else I own is worth much of anything) exceeded ten thousand Euro. And me at only 38! Clearly I have a bright future ahead of me. Of course, on Saturday afternoon came a notice from the rebates division of the tax authority informing me that yes, now that I'd mentioned it, they do really want those rental subsidies paid out over the year 2009 back, and they want them within the month. That's a thousand Euro, putting my assets back into the four-figure category and making my membership of the upper crust very short-lived indeed. But at least, thanks in part to a month of enforced frugality, that repayment will be relatively painless.

Groceries, 26-9-2009, plus turntable woes.

September 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Today's grocery bill: about € 13.50 - I managed to lose the receipt. The lowest figure so far and most of that was made up from coffee. Without the need to feed my coffee addiction and my preference for Fair Trade coffee which the supermarket now only sells in duopacks, the bill would have been about € 10. I do think this proves it is possible to live very cheaply indeed if you manage your pantry well; I'll be shopping the pantry all week because I want it to be empty come October 17 when I go back to the US.

Other expenses: € 7.50 for a new belt for my turntable. It was starting to get whiney from wow/flutter even though I hadn't had the old belt for very long. The turntable store gave me a noticeably shorter belt this time, suggesting that I'd try it and return it if it was too short. It fits well, plays well and has reduced the whine. I think they gave me the wrong size the last time around, because the belt I showed them then was more stretched out than we realised, and the recent use has pulled the belt I got then over the threshold where it was unable to keep the turntable going at the correct speed. I may need to redo some of my ripping projects starting with the most recent ones and going back until I'm sure everything sounds OK.

I have already decided that a large portion of my vinyl will be getting shipped to the US. It's something I don't want to sell; indeed I feel like adding to the collection now.

Groceries, September 19, 2009

September 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Total groceries bill this week: € 15.60. A little over the self-imposed limit, but that's not too bad as I'd just sold € 50 worth of comics an hour before. None of my food and other grocery expenses this month and until I go to the US again in October will come out of my bank account. This is just as well as I paid nearly € 600 in bills this week, including the first of the tax rebates (healthcare subsidies over 2008) that I have to pay back. I'm expecting another bill for 2008's rent subsidies, and while I'd be happy if that could wait another month, I would like to have it in by early October so I can settle it before I leave. The way things are going, I should be able to tackle it without hitting the emergency fund.

Good habits (i.e. shopping the pantry, looking for cheaper options, keeping a mental running tally of expenses and quitting when it reaches 15) are keeping up. The self-imposed limit is temporary but the good habits should last a long time.

Art from 1999: Display design, self-portraits and… Ezra Pound?

September 12th, 2009 by Reinder

The images below are all from a single sketchbook from 1999, and are all that remains of that sketchbook.
First, two self-portraits for a solo magazine called IK (me) that I put out in the late 1990s. It consisted mostly of autobiographical stories, some of which made it online.

Penciled self-portraits of me, myself and I. Yes, I too have done the pencil-biting self-portrait schtick.

Penciled self-portraits of me, myself and I. Yes, I too have done the pencil-biting self-portrait schtick.


Display art for a convention. I was winding down as the editor of another fanzine, <i>Impuls</i>, and one of the last issues was a special dedicated to the Devil. We got some good devil-related comics in including a very nice page by Erik Wielaart, and I wanted to make some displays for a convention. Then I crashed and burned on conventions, hard, and didn't go to any for years. Needless to say, this display never got made.

Display art for a convention. I was winding down as the editor of another fanzine, Impuls, and one of the last issues I worked on was a special dedicated to the Devil. We got some good devil-related comics in including a very nice page by Erik Wielaart, and I wanted to make some displays for a convention. Then I crashed and burned on conventions, hard, and didn't go to any for years. Needless to say, this display never got made.

That year, I was also considering creating a graphic novel about the life of the poet Ezra Pound, of whom I'd been reading a biography for some reason. I'd got fascinated by the complexity of his life and his obsessive, larger than life and ultimately very unpleasant personality. In my head, it morphed into an online graphic novel that would fully use the formal advantages that Internet as a medium has to offer, and so we can all agree that we dodged a bullet when I decided to abandon the project. Aaaanyway... while working on it, I tried a number of approaches to drawing the main character:

Semi-abstract or manga-influenced

Semi-abstract or manga-influenced


Realistic

Realistic


White House in Orbit-esque

White House in Orbit-esque


Something more like my default style of the time, so it'd be easier for me to draw

Something more like my default style of the time, so it'd be easier for me to draw


Before scanning these images, they go through a second round of selection. Sometimes there are images that I think are interesting the first time around (at least in the context of when they were drawn and why) but that don't look so interesting on a day's reflection. In this batch, there was an image that I felt I'd be really better off without: yet another attempt at redrawing the cover art for The Green Knight's Belt from 1992. Every few years, I get a wild hair to redraw that cover (the current version is from 2005)... I'll do it again sometime, but the last thing I need when I do that is a lackluster version from ten years ago to refer back to. So that one is gone, and good riddance.

Groceries, week of September 12.

September 12th, 2009 by Reinder

Total grocery bill at the supermarket: € 14.70.

Changes in behaviour: the third week into my scheme to keep the groceries budget ultra-low, I found myself keeping a running tally of the prices of the items I picked out in my head. Cool; I've never been able to do that. I also gave myself some extra exercise by getting down on my knees and picking the super-cheap items from the bottom shelves.
And I am betting better at making choices: I needed cheese, so I couldn't have chips or nuts. Snacking will consist entirely of fruit this week. I managed to make this choice even though I went to the supermarket slightly peckish. I also forewent organic veggies this week as I couldn't afford the premium on the ones I wanted. Still kinda miffed about the supermarket not stocking any kale yet - I'd have had to go to the farmer's market for that. I got andyves instead. Yum.

The budget experiment only applies to groceries, just like in 30 bucks a week. It does not apply to eating or drinking out, which I'll do a lot of this week. There's Sunday's contribute-two-Euros-and-eat-with-me group dinner at Sidsel's, a restaurant dinner at Mechoui on Tuesday (pricey for me but worth every penny) and today I'll be going for a 10 K run out of town as part of a relay team, which means I'll probably eat fast food and drink beer afterwards, sitting downwind of the other eaters. That together should wipe out the rest of the money I made selling my drawing board this week.

Speaking of which, I love having the extra space in my bedroom, and I love having the extra € 100 in my pocket, but I do kinda regret selling it. I hadn't used it in years (there was another drawing board in the last studio I was in, which I had already given away) but I did have a sentimental attachment to it. But sentimental attachments don't pay the bills and there was no way I was going to ship such a large unwieldy thing to the US, so it had to go, and at least it's going to a good home.