Without a Traceroute

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Eindhoven Photos

August 1st, 2008 · Uncategorized

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My reading list

August 2nd, 2008 · Travel

The books I have with me

The three books in my bag

The question of what to read while traveling is an important one. Since traveling necessarily involves a lot of time spent sitting and waiting for or on trains, buses, planes; you will probably want to have books that are interesting to read. Further, since you will likely be reading these books in public, it’s important to choose books that you would like to be seen reading.

Before leaving on this trip, I had several ideas about what sorts of books I should take. Some of the reading lists I considered:

a) Topical books appropriate to my project: Wiliam Gibson, Neil Stephenson, any of the O’Reilly books. Personal interest level: high-to-moderate; public social value: low.

b) “Great works of Western Civilization” reading list: Plato’s Republic, Euclid’s Elements, Machiavelli’s The Prince, etc. (i.e. all those books you were supposed to read in school but skimmed for the exam instead). Personal interest level: low (let’s face it, these are heavy books not well-suited to start-and-stop travel reading); public social value: moderate (you look smart, but also like a pretentious smartass).

c) Travel books list: On the Road, Travels with Charlie, The Places in Between. Personal interest level: high; public social value: moderate.

In the end, as a result of my hasty packing, the books I wound up with were simply the books I happened to have in my bag already rather than part of a purposely selected list. I suppose Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence would fit well into a travel list. Actually, it fits too well. I have already met two other people reading it, and it’s obviously an incredibly cliched thing to be reading. The only consolation is that my dog-eared 1975 paperback copy suggests (falsely) that I’m paging through an old favorite rather than having rushed out to buy it for my trip. My plan is to finish ZATAOMM as soon as possible and abandon it at the hostel in exchange for one of the other books here.

I feel better about the Feynman book. It has very low but highly specific social value. Richard Feynman is about as close to an intellectual hero as I have, so anyone who recognizes the book is likely to be a super-awesome person.

The procrastination book is a self-help book, but from what I’ve read of it so far (I keep meaning to finish it, I swear!) it’s on-target and probably useful. Self-help books are the lowest of the low on the social capital scale, they basically scream “I’m pathetic and I have issues!”. On the plus side, procrastination isn’t a terrible vice, and once I’m out of countries where English is widely spoken, nobody will be able to tell what the book is anyway.

If anyone is interested in advising me on my next reading choice, the list of books in the hostel library that could be exchanged for my ‘Zen’ are:

The Brightest Flame by Sonya Birmingham (this has an open-shirted man [a pirate?] on the cover being embraced by a woman wearing opera gloves)
The Redemption of Athalus by David & Leigh Eddings
Vrouwenkliniek by Kathe Lambert (this one is in German, or maybe Dutch, so not a good choice unless for some reason being observed pretending to read it will cause women to fall in love with me and men to give me money)
Piombo Rosso by Giorgio Galli (in Italian, same provisions as above)
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
The Wild Palms by William Faulkner (a leading candidate right now)
Kryzys Psychoanalizy by Erich Fromm (psychology text in Dutch, that’s a passer)
Understanding Media Theory by Arjen Mulder (the inside cover of this book has “Enjoy your education…I didn’t <3 Aussie” written in it)
Serenade by James M. Cain
Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbé (also in Dutch)
A Mother’s Sin by Lynda Page (this looks like the sort of book that a Lifetime Movie is made out of)
Immortal Wife by Irving Stone (Pros: looks old and fancy; Cons: hardcover, heavier to carry).

So which should it be?

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Take that, Nick

August 2nd, 2008 · Travel

"Stars & Stripes" Root Beer

"Stars & Stripes" Root Beer

So before I left, my friend Nick and I had tried to compile a list of all the uniquely American things I should do before leaving the country for a year. Drinking a root beer was on the list. However, today in Utrecht I purchased the above can of root beer, and it was perfectly good, normal root beer. Now, I did buy it at the “America Today” clothing store, and clearly it’s being marketed as a really American thing. But the fact remains: it is possible to drink a root beer in Europe.

EDIT: Update! Further evidence that the Dutch do, in fact, drink root beer:

This time, in a regular store

Another root beer sighting, this time on the shelves of an ordinary grocery store, and without any over-the-top American branding. The label beneath it said “A&W root beer”, but unless A&W comes in different cans in Europe, it wasn’t. I didn’t buy any of this, so I can’t speak to its taste.

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Dutch Waterboardmuseum

August 3rd, 2008 · Travel

It turned out to be not depressing or torture-related at all. It’s “waterboard” as in, “board of water”. It has been rather cold and rainy for the past day or so here, so I haven’t gone out as much as I’d like to. I did get out to see this museum about the history of water supply in the Netherlands. The museum was staffed by an adorable old Dutch couple who didn’t speak English but were nevertheless delighted to have somebody interested in the museum. At the end of your visit, you could even drink water from a tap that drew straight from the water tower.

If this post is boring, I’ll try to do something non-municipal-services-related tomorrow.

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August 4th, 2008 · Travel

I think I should give a shoutout here to Couchsufing. Thanks to their site, I’m currently staying with a 40-year-old American software engineer who lives in a houseboat on one of the local canals. The houseboat is very much more of a house than a boat. It reminds me of the riverboat casinos which never actually sail anywhere. But it’s very nice with a little porch and great views of the water. I’ll try to post some photos later.

Also, I have a new rule for my travels: any time there is a large group of people gathered someplace, I will stop and find out what’s going on. Yesterday, I was on the bus and there was a large crowd of people gathered by one of the canals as we drove by. I thought about getting off at the next stop and going back to check it out, but I didn’t. As I discovered later, yesterday was the annual “Muzikale Botenparade” or “Musical Boat Parade” where a whole bunch of boats sail through the canals with bands on them playing music. It sounded pretty awesome and I’m sorry I missed it, hence my new rule.

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