Monday, June 08, 2009

I've Moved

Due to recent events, as well as an effort to have more control over the blog, I've moved to

Thank you, Blogger, for all your help. And this little archive will stay right here for the time being.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Look Who's Back

After two weeks of not having access to this blog, I got an email this morning explaining what had happened and giving me a solution. This is a completely different situation than following all the links provided behind that toxic looking red page that was here for two weeks or looking on the Blogger Discussion boards and Forums. That was sort of a waste of time. It was just a bunch of dead ends and circular questions.

Here's what happened in a nutshell.

About a year ago, I installed a counter - a "goodcounter" counter. Apparently, it contained some "malware" or "badware." Possibly, it wasn't goodcounter, but godcounter, which is a bad site. Two weeks ago, a computer did a sweep of my blog and found something suspicious. My blog was immediately "trashed" and the red page went up. (Sorry if you missed the red page. It was alarming. Be glad you missed it.) I had no access to the template, all of my posts, etc. It was just gone.

As the "owner of this site," I was instructed - via links - to put a little code (they provided the code) in the template of my blog. That would prove to them that it was my site and we could proceed from there. Unfortunately, since I had no access to the template of my blog, I could not prove that it was my blog and I could not go any further.

As I said, I tried forums, I tried other online groups, there were no answers. And I have to say that I was given the same suggestions several times. It was terribly frustrating. It was apparently a road that no one had gone down before - although in my belief system that really doesn't happen. So I was forced to write a letter on paper and use a stamp. Yes, Virginia, they still make paper, envelopes and stamps. You just have to look.

I wrote a letter to Bradley Horowitz. He's one of three Vice Presidents in charge of Production Management. The address of the corporate office is: 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043. I told him what had happened with my blog and that their system for resolving this situation didn't work. I also CCed that letter to the two other Vice Presidents in charge of Production Management, a Senior Vice President, the two Co-founders, and the Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Google. I sent seven letters off - at €1.90 a pop - and waited.

€13.30? Are you serious? Worth. Every. Penny.

This morning I got a very nice, apologetic email from a guy named Rick, a Business Product Manager for Blogger, who was given the assignment of dealing with me. He "untrashed" my blog so that I had access to it. I inserted the code to verify that it was my blog, I looked around for the bad code (didn't find it) and I asked for a reconsideration and the blog was back up in minutes.

So Blogger came through. Thank you Blogger. Their current system for resolving problems like mine is totally f-ed up, but apparently they know it now and are trying to do something about it.

That said, after not having a blog for a few days, I decided to take my domain name and go to another site. It's self-hosting and there are other reasons for the move. I'll keep this here, but my new stuff will be there. Come visit me at my new home.

And if you have a Blogger blog, it's fine. Don't worry about it. It's run by Google and they're a completely competent company. If there's a problem, keep pressing them about it. Write a letter. They're good people. They'll help.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Spring in the Netherlands is a whole string of national holidays for months. Lots of odd days off that I'm not used to. For instance, today is Hemelvaart [pronounced: Hay-mul-fahrt] - Ascension Day. Hemelvaart and the rest of these religious holidays are a holdover from when the Netherlands was a religious country. Now it's mostly a free day when some stores are closed and some are not. In the center, a lot of the stores were open. It's the rare person who actually observes Hemelvaart in a religious way.

We had planned to make a long bike ride today. The weather was supposed to be sunny and clear. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it was a little overcast until the afternoon. So Fred didn't get moving for a while. It was me who finally said, "Okay. We have to do something. Let's at least go to the Center and walk around a bit."

The Center was sort of busy. It wasn't crazy, but people were out. Lots of boats in the canals. people in shops, etc. Fred's off tomorrow too. It's that Friday after Thanksgiving thing. Might as well make it a long weekend.

We did a lot of nothing today. I knit a lot on a something I'll write about later. I also watched Weeds on the computer after a friend told me that it was really good. It is. I like it. I'm hooked. Fred looked stuff up on the computer and took naps intermittently. After we'd walked around the Center for a while, we came back and we were right where we'd started the day - on the couch with our computers in our laps. I made one of our favorite pasta dishes and then we watched a couple of episodes of The Wire. (We're in the middle of Season 3 and we own the box set.)

When I took the picture at the top today, I said, "How many pictures like this have I taken?" Bridge, canal, boats. Done, done, done. Still, I feel compelled to take another picture every time we're out and about.

We have to do something tomorrow. I've got tests to grade, but if I just sit here again the whole day I'll be disappointed at the end of the day.

I have a friend who used to laugh and laugh at the mention of Hemelvaart - for obvious reasons. Fred just said to me, "It's not Hemel-fart. It's Hemel-faaht."

It means, literally, Heaven-journey, by the way. The only bad thing about all of these holidays is that they come to an abrupt end in a couple of weeks. Then there's nothing until the Autumn. Enjoy it while it's here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Over-priced Coffee and Coincidence

When Fred and I were in Warsaw, we went to Starbucks a few times. They'd just opened the store and it was packed all the time. But when you need an over-priced coffee drink, you need an over-priced coffee drink. Plus, they were so nice.

And just because I am the way I am, when we returned home, I went to the Starbucks website and wrote a note:
We were in Starbucks when it was crazy busy. There was a constant flow of people. The people behind the counter couldn't have been more friendly and helpful. They were smiling and ready to do whatever they needed to do to make us happy. Their English was also really good - one young woman in particular (but I didn't get her name). I wish the Starbucks crew at Schiphol were as nice as those Polish kids. It made me really happy because I've enjoyed Starbucks for a long time and I miss it living in Amsterdam.
I think it's important to not just write complaint letters, but to write good letters. I started that years ago when I first got a word processor. I wrote letters all the time. "Thank you for putting such and such on television," etc. It was a hobby. I didn't have knitting back then.

Yesterday, I got an email. It said:
Dear Mr. Baker,

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on our new store in Warsaw. The team there has worked long and hard to bring Starbucks to Poland, and they very much appreciated your positive feedback!

By the way, your wait for Starbucks in Amsterdam will not be long. I live in Amsterdam as well, and share your feelings! We are planning to open a store in Station Centraal. The opening has been delayed due to construction, but keep watching!

Warm Regards,
Andrew Smock
I said, "Hey, Fred! I got an email from Starbucks!" It's a little thing, but it was rewarding for me. But that's not the end of the story. Monday night and tonight we had rehearsals for a one-off men's chorus that will be singing this coming Sunday. I'm a first tenor, and the other first tenor and I were expecting a little support from a third first tenor named Andrew. He showed up tonight. Nice guy, good singer.

After rehearsal, we were walking out and I said, "So why are you here? Work?"

He said, "Yes. I'm regional manager for Starbucks."

I said, "You just wrote me an email. About the Polish Warsaw?"

Small world. And as a side note, there's going to be another Starbucks in Amsterdam! Over-priced coffee comes to the Netherlands! Double tall cappuccino, please!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Day I Became Dutch

This afternoon, while were were walking up to the door of the hall where the nationality ceremony was to be held, I turned to Fred and said, "I forgot my camera." It's a pity, but then during the ceremony, I kept looking around saying to myself, "There's really not that much to take a picture of." I found it soothing - don't spoil it for me.

Similarly, Fred and I were about to lift on on our helicopter ride around the Grand Canyon a few years ago and he looked up and told me that the batteries in the camera were dead. I mouthed, "Where are the spare batteries?" He mouthed, "Spare batteries?" I felt my stomach hitting the floor (of the canyon), but I decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Does the world really need another set of Grand Canyon pictures? That's how one sooths himself in situations like that.

So this is the picture you get. It's the gift all us new Nederlanders got. The title is just The Canon of Amsterdam: For New Amsterdamers. It's a history of Amsterdam since we are not just Dutch citizens now, but citizens of Amsterdam as well. The blue and white pot and the drop is from Ada and Bart. It's from a store called Blond. I've been in there, but it's one of those stores that looks like it's geared towards young pre-teen girls. The pot was a good find.

The nationality ceremony was held in a small hall in the Muziektheater - the Boekmanzaal. There was a piano playing when we arrived and everyone had to sign in at the table. Lots of red chairs in rows. You could bring some friends. I brought Fred; his sister, Ada; and Ada's husband, Bart. We had a cup of coffee and sat and waited for it to start. It was scheduled to start at 3:15 in the afternoon. The invitation said that the doors will open at 3:00 and close promptly at 3:15. They were still open at 3:20, which I found slightly disappointing.

The crowd was very...ethnically diverse. In fact, at the end of the ceremony, the MC read a list of countries represented. Lots of Africa, Asia, as well as the usual suspects: Turkey and Morocco, and even Canada, and the US. There were probably some folks from South America as well. If you do the math, it's sort of logical. Anybody from an EU country gets a pass on the whole citizenship thing, so it's gonna be everybody else. It was quite a mix. A huge list of countries and probably over fifty people getting their citizenship in Amsterdam today. The whole thing lasted an hour and then Bob's-your-uncle: it was over. (Apprapo of nothing, I keep saying Bob's-your-uncle lately.)

The speaker was Godfried Lambriex. He's a politician, an alderman, a city council person from the Baarsjes. He gave a speech sort of bent over the microphone. He just read it really fast. It was one of those pat speeches that anyone could give, the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear at a citizenship ceremony. "People come to the Netherlands for all sorts of're one of us now...rights and responsibilities...yada yada" Even Ada said that he talked too fast. He was also completely uninspiring. Well, he did mention that everyone's little idiosyncrasies and differences are okay in the Netherlands. I'll take that to the bank.

After Mr. Lambriex's speech, a blond woman stood up there and read everyone's name - one at a time. Upon hearing his or her name, the person stood up and walked to the front so that Mr. Lambriex could give you the official paper and the gift. I have to say that I think the woman reading the names did a phenomenal job. Some of the names were just crazy. Names from many different countries and she just zipped right through them. "Deheer Baker" was one of the easier names, obviously. There were lots of women, as one might suspect. A fair number of men. A handful of children. Those African girls were cheering and taking pictures like crazy.

And then, as they say, Bob's your uncle. There were drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Most of the folks beat a path out of there. We stood and had a glass of wine and then went for coffee. (You have to keep those stimulants and depressants in balance.)

I was sort of numb. I don't get nervous before things like that: speeches, singing, etc. It's after that I feel it. The whole ceremony and being the center of attention (even of the three I was with) just sort of took it out of me. I had choir rehearsal in the evening and I had to come home and take a nap. I used to go grocery shopping and feel like that. My brain was so full.

So now I have dual nationality. And I'm married. When I was was a very big year..It was a very big year legal weddings and stuff. I have three more weeks of 43. Let's see what I can do with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nationality Eve

Did I mention that I'm getting Dutch nationality tomorrow? No, I don't think I did. I applied about two months ago and the ceremony is tomorrow. It was an amazingly quick two month wait - and I didn't blog about it once. Part of me was nervous.

I went down to the office - alone. I had to go to a couple of places because I got some bad information. It was just a matter of finding all my paperwork. There's a lot that I didn't need. They know everything about me. They know when I got here, when I applied for a staying permit, when it expires, when I got married. Handy, but a little bit ouder broer if I were to think about it too much. Then I got a letter saying that they were missing something, could I send it in. Then one saying that my application was being processed. Very normal, what you'd expect.

In the next letter I got, the immigration and naturalization service gave themselves eight months to get back to me with a yes or no. My application for citizenship had gone through the first stage and that the queen had approved of me. However, they informed me that I was not to contact their office for eight months. It said twice do not contact us by phone or email for eight months. So I figured I'd be getting a letter around Christmas. Then out of nowhere, the letter arrived inviting me to go to the ceremony. You have to go to the ceremony. No phoning it in. No attendance no nationality.

From what I understand, getting a Dutch passport used to be really easy. I think people just showed up and asked for one and they got it. Then it gradually got more difficult. Nowadays, you have to fit a couple of criteria before they invite you to the ceremony. (This is my experience, by the way. Things change all the time. No promises.)

First of all, you have to pass a Dutch language course to a certain level: NTT Niveau 2. The language course was fairly standard and at the end of it, I spoke fairly good Dutch. It's one of those courses where you get out of it what you put in. At that point, I used my Dutch much more, so I was much more comfortable that I am at this moment.

Secondly, you have to pass a test about how Dutch society works: The Verklarring Nieuwkomers. I didn't really understand that this was a separate piece, but when I was getting my paperwork together, I realized that it is. The test is over things like where to you put your garbage and who to call when something happens, like a water main or a stoplight. I'd heard stories about being in a class where they introduce the concept of crossing the street or washing dishes in a sink. It wasn't like that. It was useful information - generally. You have to get at least an 80%. Full disclosure, I got an 80%. A lot of Dutch people don't even have that high a score. (Of course their command of the language is better, so it evens out.)

Thirdly, you have to have lived here for five years. I'm here five. I think that if you're here for five years and you've got the other two pieces and you want to become Dutch, you can, but you have to give up your other (in my case US) citizenship. That's the rule: you have to give up your citizenship. But there's an exception to the rule.

If you're married or are in a registered partnership, you can keep your other citizenship and you just have to be here for three years. Those are exceptions (as I understood them). So I'm keeping my US passport. The letter also said that five days after the ceremony, I can apply for a passport. In fact, when I went in to apply for citizenship, I accidentally (I was nervous) said that I was applying for a passport. My person said, "Nationaliteit." Oops.

I haven't really thought a lot about this in writing. I've mostly talked to people who are in favor getting a Dutch passport. No one has said there's a downside to it. I wonder if there could be an objective argument made about not getting Dutch nationality. And, to my great relief, no one questioned my right to get Dutch nationality. The whole time I kept thinking, How could they not want me? I'm not objectionable, right?

Oddly, I don't get the sense that getting Dutch nationality makes you feel Dutch the way getting American nationality makes you feel American. I saw a movie years ago with an old Greek man after a US nationality ceremony crying and saying, "I am American." Somehow I can't see that happening here. Of course I could be wrong. It's not Dutch people we're talking about here. It's a room full of non-natives. None of us will have integrated that Calvinistic soberness that some of the Dutch have. (Wonder who'll be there. Who shares my nationality day?)

I'm sure there's a bond with nationality. It's got to be like married. Maybe living here without a passport is like living with someone without any paperwork or contract. Maybe having Dutch nationality will be like being married. I do feel more connected to Fred than I did before the wedding. There's that commitment thing that sort of "gets me right here." I hope I don't cry tomorrow. I cried at the wedding. I could barely say my vows.

I'll report back tomorrow and write about how it went.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What I'm Currenlty Knitting

Last week or so, I wrote about experimenting with entrelac. I thought it might be good for a baby hat. I think it is. I think it'll work. This was my first experiment. When I finished it off, it began looking like something. It's a very cute hat. This particular color combo is a bit distressing to me, but I was using what I had left over. I didn't have enough of that green (which, for some reason, is bothersome to me here) to go all the way around, so I used a bit of that tan. That blue and green would be nice for some earth/globe idea, if you just wanted to knit a silly baby hat.

Entrelac is really not difficult at all. I thought it would be, but it's not. I picked it right up by reading about it in Son of Stitch 'n Bitch - a book that has been oddly useful since I bought it. I read it all the time. Part of what makes the hat work, I think, is the stitch pattern, which is just a K1 P1 on one round and a knit on the other; it's fairly loose. Someone looked at it on Monday and said, "It looks really loose." Being loose is different than looking loose. I think I would prefer plain stockinette. My next experiment will be stockinette and I have a couple of ideas about what to do with the color, as seeing it like this makes me thing of something that I won't say right here. It could be sort of funny. I'm going to try it. I'll keep you posted - if I haven't lost everyone at this point. (I like the star thing that's going on. )

I'm also working on an Elizabeth Zimmmerman Pi Shawl. I linked there to Brooklyn Tweed's blog. He made a beautiful and beautifully-photographed shawl/blanket with the the pattern I'm using. I would link to a shawl with the pattern that is more my speed, but those all happen to be the other pattern. Anyway, it's good, straight-forward plain old knitting with some yarn overs. I'm going great guns on it because I can feel that I'm making progress and I want desperately to get to the color change in the yarn. I'm using the yarn below. It's really beautiful and sort of oily. I like knitting with it. It feels strong, sort of masculine (for lace knitting). I asked Fred how he liked it. He said, "So you're finally turning into a real old lady."

Mine "shawl fetus" (it's all pre-formed and curled up like a baby in a womb in the middle of that circular) currently looks like a ball of crumpled up yarn, which I know all lace projects are until they're blocked. But mine feels especially ugly right now. I think it's going to be reasonably big. I hope so.

This yarn, by the way, was a mess to make into a ball. My ball winder (I'm currently typing with my ball winders) got all messed up. It took me literally three and a half hours. But I got to know the yarn intimately and I really like how it feels. It's Eveilla Artyarn 8/2. It's a purchase I made in the Fall that I am really happy about now.

You know, sometimes a guy just needs to write about his knitting. Thanks if you got his far.