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January 08, 2017 17:19 +0000  |  Employment Family Greece Holy Places Homelessness Moving Programming Racism Spain The United States Travel United Kingdom 0

This was a big year, bigger than I had remembered when I sat down to write this thing. Somehow, I'd forgotten about half of this stuff, and rolled the other half into 2015 in my head. But 2016 wasn't all terrible. Here are the highlights:

Personal

2016 was a big deal on the where-to-live front. I finally got my wish and we moved away from the Netherlands and into a real city: London: The Centre of the World.

It turns out however that London is a rat infested toilet drowning in social inequality in a country rife with xenophobia, nationalism, and a dangerous mix of pride and ignorance.

Yes, you can quote me on that.

Our flat was a dark, damp, rat infested hellhole with a ground-floor view of a wall (the British love walls and fences almost as much as they love classism). The Tube is a remarkable feat of marketing that has managed to brand a hobbit tunnel of loud, stinky, smoggy, dampness as "modern" and "cultured". And absolutely everywhere you go, there are homeless people, stepped over and ignored: immediately by the public, and systemically by the government. They even have a quaint British term for them so it doesn't sound so tragic: rough sleepers.

London is amazing if you're a tourist, but once you live in its decaying buildings, commute on its antiquated transport, or are forced to breathe its toxic air for more than a few days, you recognise it for what it is: a terrible place to live.

...which is why we moved to Cambridge

The air is cleaner here, the roads more bike-friendly (though it has a long way to go before achieving Amsterdam-level cycling support) and nearly everything is walkable. It's a town more-or-less built for people, as opposed to London, which is built for plebs.

Our flat here is in a lovely modern building with proper ventilation and underfloor-heating. It's cool & quiet in the summer, warm & dry in the winter, and my commute is 30 minutes by bike along the river. Christina rides her bike through town in about 12 minutes.

Come visit us in Cambridge. You'll wonder what the hell everyone is doing in London.

Travel

As with every year I've lived in Europe, I did a reasonable amount of travelling this year, and once again, it feels as though I didn't travel enough.

Amsterdam

We may have left town, but Christina still had to return to defend her PhD in a process that's part ceremonial (you should see the Wizagamot-esque robes) and part academic (she literally had to defend her PhD against questions from academic rivals and friends). Unsurprisingly, she dominated the event, and walked out with a shiny new piece of paper attesting how brilliant she is.

Αθήνα & Μετέωρα

Right after Amsterdam, we hopped on a plane to Greece for Orthodox Easter where I once again ate far too much food and enjoyed the sunshine. This holiday included a road trip out to Μετέωρα where we did a little hiking and sightseeing around the monasteries in the area.

Copenhagen

The bi-annual RIPE Meeting was held in Copenhagen and as they had a hackathon for monitoring software, I signed up to play -- and my team won! Our project was called HALO, a heads-up display for your network, and the source code is here if you're curious.

Sesimbra

Christina's friend Ana got married in Sesimbra, Portugal this year and I'm so glad that I was able to attend. The wedding was lovely, and the country, beautiful. The food was good, the people friendly, and the view from our hotel room was awesome. Twitter has a few pictures.

Vancouver & Kelowna

The biggest news of the year is of course that my niece, Lucy was born! I was careful to time our trip home to coincide for her birth, but she had the indecency to be born a couple weeks premature, so when we finally showed up, we got to visit her in the hospital.

The trip home was also an opportunity to introduce Christina to Vancouver in the summer time. We also had an engagement party there so my family that can't make the trip to Greece would have an opportunity to spend some time with Christina. There's a great big blog post about it if you're curious.

Brussels

I was in Brussels twice in 2016. Once for my annual trip to FOSDEM, and later for Freedom not Fear, a series of meetings & workshops around freedom, surveillance, and politics in the EU. The former was great (it always is), and the latter, combined with my experience at Mozfest this year has given me some serious insight into the nature of EU politics. I want to do a separate post about that later though.

Madrid

There was another RIPE Meeting in 2016, and I showed up for that hackathon too. We didn't win though -- I think -- I had to leave before the announcements, but I don't think we did. The project was called "Pinder" or, Tinder for peering and the presentation is here, the code here, and an explanation over at peer.sexy.

Αθήνα, Again

One last trip back to Greece this year to make up for all the time Christina lost while working on her PhD. This was primarily a Christmas trip, so it was all just meeting with family, eating far too much, and exchanging presents. I also used some of the down time to work on my own family project that I mentioned in a previous post: my grandpa's video archive. There are some photos here if you're curious.

Professional

This was a big year for me professionally. I started contracting, started working for government, and took on a lead role at another company. I also almost got a job I desperately wanted, so I'm including that here too.

UKTI

The move to the UK started with my first (and likely last) government job ever. This was big money and a big title combined with everything you've heard about government work and more. I have never been more angry and frustrated on the job than I was there, but I probably would have stuck it out were it not for the fact that they were selling weapons to people what shouldn't have them.

Gynii-Me

In parallel to my work at UKTI, I started helping out a brand-new start up with occasional technical advice in what their options were for building a women's fertility web platform. I don't get paid, but I do help out where I can, vetting agency proposals and explaining complex technical topics to the company CEO. It's a fun side gig, and they're good people so I'm happy to help where I can.

Cyan

I moved from UKTI to a company called Cyan/Connode who were super-convenient, as they had a London and Cambridge office and we were moving up there in a few months. I helped them out on the technical front, and helped management understand a little about why they were having retention problems, but was terribly unhappy, so I got out of there after a few months.

Mozilla

In my quest to get out of Cyan, I applied to Mozilla for what would have been a pretty amazing position: engineer on the incredibly popular Mozilla Developer Network. Unfortunately, while I made it to the very last round, I didn't get the job, which sucked, but it was an honour to make it that far anyway.

Money Mover

I ended up moving on to a fintech company that has an office just outside of Cambridge and wonderful staff of truly friendly and engaged people. Seriously, best work environment ever. It's a small team right now, but we'll be growing in 2017. My role is Lead Developer which is pretty fabulous, and my current Big Job is picking up the code left from an agency that did the bulk of the work for the company over the last few years and making it ours. Having worked at a few agencies in the past, I suppose I deserve this :-/

Projects

Like every year, I overextended myself on New Projects as well as building on the old.

Paperless

Early in the year, I suddenly lost interest in my super-popular project, Paperless when I discovered that there was an eerily-similar project out there doing things better than I had. I didn't really do much more than field pull requests for much of the year, but toward the end, there seems to be a lot more interest all of a sudden, and I've started doing a little more work on it.

There seems to be a "market" for a project like Paperless which is much less complicated and capable of running on lighter hardware.

Korra

Working for government introduced me to the clusterfuck that is "security" in large office environments. I wrote something fun & easy to self-host and it got a reasonable amount of attention on Reddit and at the London Django meetup.

Basically, Korra lets you share files easily, without special software, and securely so that you don't have to do insane things like email people's passports or private government documents around.

Spirithunter

When I started commuting longer distances (to Cambridge from London for while) I started back in on Spirithunter, trying out Django's new Channels support (OMG it's awesome). However, when my commute shrunk to a 30min bike ride, all of that development stopped. I might pick it up again when I'm bored one day, or if Mihnea decides he wants to hack on it with me.

Global

I know that this is a personal blog, so it seems kind of silly to reflect on global events here, but these things affect me, so I thought it relevant.

#Brexit

What a disaster. After living here only a year, I'm not surprised at all that this country voted to Leave the EU, but I'm still saddened by it. It will take generations for this country to recover from this mistake, and knowing what I now know about British culture, I'm sure they'll find a way to look back on all of this as some sort of Trial they all had to go through, that they survived because Britain Prevails or some doublespeaking-fluff like that.

I'm more concerned about the rise in hate-crime here though, and the remarkable tendency people here have to blame immigrants for everything wrong with the country -- especially when it's plainly obvious that the current government's malevolent domestic policy is really what's at fault.

Trump

I called it and now it's going to happen. As an outsider, I kind of want to sit down and watch everything burn with a bowl of popcorn; this is after all what the public voted for. He, along with the Republican House and Senate are going to hollow out the US and give people everything they asked for. I can only hope that they serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

Deaths

A lot of important people died this year: Bowie, Prince, and Castro to name a few. For me though, this will always be the year Leonard Cohen died. The world is diminished without him in it.

Of course Rob Ford and Antonin Scalia died this year too. I'm really not all that bothered by that. I suppose that's one of the greatest things about the Reaper: he doesn't care who you are. When it's your time, that's it.

Conclusion

So that was 2016. Hopefully at this time next year I'll be posting about how in 2017 I finally got Romanian citizenship, and how Christina and I finally have a date & location for our wedding.

I'd like to do some more travelling to undiscovered (by me) places this year. At the very least, I'd like to see more of Scotland and maybe even Romania and the Czech Republic. None of that is booked yet though.

Here's hoping fewer of our heroes than villains die in 2017.

December 31, 2016 12:38 +0000  |  Family Grandpa Programming 1

I built a thing for my family this Christmas and I wanted to post about it briefly.

If you're one of the few people dedicated enough to follow this blog, you'll know that my grandfather died last year, and that he was sort of the family videographer. What you likely don't know however is that this year, on my trip home I acquired his entire collection of DVDs that he'd been accumulating over the years.

This some really old stuff:

  • Around the Christmas tree when I was 3 or 4 years old
  • My dog learning tricks for the first time
  • My parent's wedding
  • My graduation
  • My mother as a child in Romania
  • My grandparents, so much younger, with friends in Romania
  • My niece, Violet

It was an amazing collection spanning 4 generations over 39 DVDs, and I spent a few days on that trip home ripping every last one of the disks onto a portable hard drive so I could take the raw data home for a special project.

Well that project is now finished, so for those of you who don't care about the technical aspects, here's the link. I shared the URL with my family by email on Christmas day since I was on the other side of the world for the holiday festivities this year, but all in all, it seems to have gone over well.

My father has suggested that I expand on the collection with my own videos in the future -- I may just do that, though I'm more of a still photos guy. We'll see.

The Technical

This whole thing was a HUGE pain in the ass, so I want to document the process, perhaps if only for future websurfers looking to do something similar.

The Problem

The videos were in DVD format. Thankfully, it was digital, but it's certainly not web-friendly. The video data needed to be ripped from the disks and compressed into a web-friendly format that was high-quality enough to preserve the video, but in a file small enough to stream to Canada-quality internet connections.

Also, the DVDs were terribly organised and not indexed in any way. The disks often had multiple title tracks, sometimes duplicate tracks, and there were tracks that just contained garbage data.

Oh, and there was a time constraint. I only had the disks for a few days when I was in Canada. I wasn't going to take them back to the UK with me.

The Process

It was basically done in three stages:

Raw DVD > .iso file > .webm file

The .iso file step was just a clean & easy way to back up all of the DVDs without having to worry about accidentally missing something while I was hurriedly trying to get through them all in Canada. By turning 39 DVDs into 39 files on a USB drive, I could be sure that I wouldn't accidentally lose data during the ripping process.

As it turns out, this was a good plan, since it took a few weeks of tinkering with this project before I realised that some disks had multiple titles on them.

The creation of the .iso files was easy. I just put the disk in the USB DVD drive I brought with me and typed this:

$ dd if=/dev/dvd of=/path/to/usb/hard-drive/disk-00.iso

Waited about 20min, then took the disk out, and repeated this... 39 times.

The creation of the actual video file on the other hand was the big problem. There are lots of sites out there that claim to tell you how to do this, and very few of them have anything helpful. I think that this is because the end goal is rarely understood up front. Sometimes people are trying to encode DVDs into a high quality file for local playback, and the settings for that are rather different from what someone would want to do to encode for a web-friendly format.

There's also a wide variety of tools out there, most of which are buggy, unsupported, don't have a port for Gentoo, or just plain suck. The most common recommendation I found was for Handbrake, which is an impressive GUI for ripping videos but for me:

  • It didn't encode files that were high enough quality given the file size
  • It didn't make web-friendly formats. Even when you tick the box to make it web-friendly, the output file doesn't stream in Firefox. I didn't test other browsers.
  • It was terribly slow to find all the tracks, apply the settings I wanted and then wait to see if things panned out. There's no command-line interface to make things easier.

All of this lead to a lot of frustration and weeks of tinkering, finally leading me to a site that gave me the magic ffmpeg incantation to generate a web-friendly file:

$ ffmpeg \
  -i /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm && \
  ffmpeg -i \
  /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm

Of course this assumed a .mp4 input file, and I wanted to rip straight from the .iso, so after much digging, I discovered that ffmpeg has a means of concatenating (chaining) video inputs and it can read straight from a DVD's .VOB file. With this nugget of knowledge, all I had to do was mount the .iso locally and compile a list of files conforming to this naming convention:

VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_#.VOB

With that information, I wrote a quick shell script that ended up generating a great big queue file of commands that look a lot like this:

ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm && \
ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p \
-pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm

Unfortunately, ffmpeg doesn't really do threading very well, and the prevailing advice out there appears to be that you should just thread the process yourself rather than ask ffmpeg to try to use all your CPUs itself. For this bit, I wrote a very simple paralleliser in Python and magically, all of the cores on my super machine could crunch Grandpa's videos, 16 at a time.

Finally, I wrapped the whole thing in a simple script that mounted all of the .isos simultaneously and then ran the paralleliser, and ran that in a tmux session so I could get on a plane and Fly to Greece while my computer did its thing for two days.

While I was in Athens, I spent a day or two fiddling with the site itself, getting video.js to work the way I wanted it to and playing with Select2 to try and get an interface that the non-technical people in my family could follow. I wish I had better skills in this area 'cause frankly, the site is kinda ugly, but at least it's functional now.

So that's it. I hope that one day, someone will find this stuff useful. The ffmpeg incantations were especially difficult to find and assemble, so I figure that'll help someone eventually.

July 11, 2016 17:46 +0000  |  Family Friends Lucy Vancouver Violet 8

christina-me christina-michael dad-lucy-mom grandma-jack grandma-lucy lucyfoot lucy me-sarah-shawna mom-violet-dad shawna shawna-sarah shawna-violet-matt violet-jack

Noreen keeps asking, and as it's quite possible that she's the only regular reader of this blog, I really should do what I can for her :-)

On June 17th, my contract with the British Government ended, and the very next day Christina and I got on a plane to Vancouver to spend some well-deserved relaxation time. I hadn't seen my family in about a year at that point, and Christina hadn't been in Canada since 2013 so there was much to see and do -- so much that I thought I might see about extending my stay by a few weeks (now that I didn't have a job to go back to right away). That all went sideways after the 23rd, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Squamish

I wanted to go hiking. I figured: this is the first time Christina has been to BC in the summer, let's show her how beautiful it is! The plan was to the Grouse Grind, or hike the Chief, or some other gorgeous and brutal experience, but jetlag is a harsh mistress and neither of us were even remotely interested in anything that difficult in our first few days. Instead, my dear friend Shawna, now living in Vancouver, back from Korea (yay!) drove us up to Squamish with her husband Michael and her friend Sarah for a leisurly ride up the Sea to Sky Gondola. There, for the ridiculous-but-acceptable-when-accounting-for-jetlag price of $40 each, we had a nice ride up the side of the mountain to a plateau at the top with little "hiking" trails (more like a stroll really) and magnificent views in all directions.

I didn't take a lot of pictures on this trip, so instead I'm just going to fill this post with lots Michael's shots from this hike. He's a pro photographer and he made us all look amazing. My new profile pic is one he took actually ;-)

A Quick Visit with Friends & Family

There wasn't much time for anything else in Vancouver this year. We had one day to (try to) recover from the jetlag, one to go Squamish, and one to visit with friends & fam. For this last case, we booked some time to meet with Ruth (Jeanie's mom) over lunch at Boston Pizza where we were treated to messy, sticky (but quiet!) children and good company. Ruth bought me chocolate (yay!) and gave us bubbles to play with, and we got to catch up on what was going on in our lives. Later that evening we did it all again, but with a larger group and in a noisier setting: Quinn, Jeanie, and Michelle met us for dinner at Milestones where we watched basketball and talked about what's going on in our lives. Chris and Trish were supposed to meet us there too, but their twins had the audacity to be born just a day or so beforehand so they had their hands full.

The next day Christina, my grandmother and I hopped on a bus up to Kelowna.

A Note About Greyhound

Holy crap is this the way to travel now. They've instituted express busses, shortening the YVR/YLW trip to just over 4 hours. During the trip you get:

  • Large, comfortable seats
  • A beautiful view
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • AC Power

Why would you ever want to fly?

  • 40 minutes to the airport
  • 20 minutes to check in
  • 20 minutes through security
  • 1 hour waiting for your flight
  • 40 minutes in the air
    • Turn off your laptop "for safety"
    • Tablets are ok, but not keyboards, they're dangerous!
    • Yes, I'm bitter
  • 20 minutes to deboard and collect your bags

=~ 3.5 hours and about 3 times the price. Screw that.

Kelowna

After having our schedule feel very pressed for the first few days, I tried to slow things down a bit in Kelowna. We had lots of slow nights doing family dinners, some lounging in the sun on my parent's patio, and a few shopping trips here and there.

The Engagement Party

Things got a little crazier around the 25th, as we were doing a joint birthday party / engagement party for Christina and me. It was only family at this shindig, but it was an opportunity for the fam to get to know Christina and see us together. We're still not sure how we're going to work out you know, actually getting married yet, so there were a lot of questions as to how the actual ceremony will happen. Would we do a Greek wedding? In Athens or on an Island? What about doing one in Kelowna and another in Greece? I think I'm starting to understand why people just don't bother getting married: the stress is insane.

Still, it was nice to be able to spend time with both of my grandparents in the same room again. We even had my grand-aunt June fly in from Ottawa this time around! It's been a really long time since all three have been together. I also got to see Violet & Ried for the first time which was fun, and despite Shawna being fresh out of the hospital with my brand-new niece, she was there and looking fabulous.

Lucy

My new neice, Lucy Jane Quinn was born, 6lbs & 2oz, just a few days before we arrived. She was nearly a month early and so she had to be kept in the hospital for almost a week while she got used to being in the world. Mother and baby came out of it ok though, so all is good. Christina and I had an opportunity to visit her in hospital where tiny Lucy was bundled up in a box with tubes up her nose and down her throat. Shawna was there with a bundle of books and a laptop on hand: she was the food source so she basically had to set up shop there until the doctors let her take Lucy home.

She was released a few days after we arrived in Kelowna though, so the second time we saw her, she was at home with Mom, Dad, sis, and the dogs getting her immune system revved up.

Brexit

When I booked the flight, I joked that I might leave one country and come back to a completely different one. Like most Britons I didn't actually think that that would happen. As the votes rolled in, my family huddled around the TV, dumbfounded by the sheer idiocy of the British public on this issue. Our jaws gaped at the fall of the pound, of the considerable sum of money I had personally lost in just a few minutes. Christina was in rough shape for much of the rest of the trip, and I cancelled any plans I might have had to extend my stay in Canada.

Idiots doing idiot things because they're idiots.

Melanie

The only friend I have up in Kelowna is Melanie, who was up there finishing her contract with UBC. We went for some ice cream and then met her for lunch where I got her to take a picture with @travellingjack! Then my mom picked us up like we were still in high school to take us home. It was a nice day.

My Solar Desalinator

One project I've been toying with in my head for years now got to see the light of day for some time while I was in Kelowna. I've been working on a way to use solar power to desalinate water cheaply and pollution-free modeled after this power station in Andalucia.
Most of the progress on this front was talking to my father and brother about it, changing the model in my head, scratching bits out on napkins, and fiddling with a parabolic mirror in the backyard and almost setting the house on fire. Good times.

I've started fiddling with a proper 3d model in Blender, and now that I'm back in the UK, I've started poking around to find spaces that might be able to offer me the technical expertise I lack in this area. Something may never come of it, but you never know. For now, it's fun to think about.

Remainder

The rest of the trip was largely a series of car trips: out to Peachland and Penticton to see my aunt and then brother's family, running through sprinklers with my neice and eating fabulous homemade ice cream. Other nights we drove out to Vernon to have dinner with my grandmother and grand-aunt, and still other nights we just stayed in, ate Dairy Queen Blizzards and bemoaned the future of the UK.

Canada Day

Canada Day in Holiday Park is a big deal -- by Holiday Park standards anyway. It's a villiage of a lot of old people with a lot of golf carts, small decorating budgets, and a lot of time on their hands. Given this equation, a golf cart parade seemed fitting for Canada's birthday. It was our last day in Canada, so we got up in time to see the show, after which I drove down to the Greyhound station to send my grandmother home. For the rest of the day we relaxed in the sun (or in my case, the house) and enjoyed the peace, quiet, and family.


I'm back in the UK now, and the Brexit mess is still in full swing. I decided to come home on time because I felt like I needed to be here in case shit, but that feeling of helplessness is as thick here as it was in Kelowna. I think in retrospect I wish I'd stayed a little longer -- I really miss my family, especially now that I've got two nieces who are just starting to grow.

Being an expat is hard.

September 20, 2015 23:01 +0000  |  Family Grandpa 0

I want to take a minute to rewrite my eulogy for my grandfather. There was something bugging me about that first draft, the one that was eventually read at his funeral that didn't sit well with me, and a few days later Jane finally helped me figure it out: I wasn't writing it for me.

Instead, I wrote it in an attempt to reflect how we all interacted with him, and for such a polarising person, I simply don't have the talent to express something that even-handed as well as talk about what he meant to me. So that eulogy feels empty to me. This one is better.

I loved my grandpa. He was a difficult man to love sometimes, but I loved him anyway. He was, to me at least, the Caretaker of the family. The one who looked after me and helped me on my path -- whatever it was -- but he always required convincing.

Taking on a new career? I had to prove to him why this path was good for me. Moving to a new city? A new country? He wanted to know what kind of work I would find there, and when I was going to meet a nice girl and get married.

"Women want to see three keys" he used to say. "One for the house, one for the car, and one for the safety deposit box". My grandfather was very old-fashioned, and sexist, often dismissive, and almost always self-important and a little bit delusional about how the world worked, but he loved me, I'm 100% sure of it. How? because the man slipped me 100 bucks whenever he could.

This is how Grandpa showed you how he felt: he helped you in whatever way he could. He didn't have a lot of money, but he knew that when I was getting started in life, I had a lot less than he did. He would give me a hug whenever I'd come to visit, then offer to shake my hand -- a brown bill squeezed between his fingers. It didn't happen every time, just once in a while, when he could afford it, and no amount of objections would be accepted. He wanted to help his grandson and that was the end of it.

He spent much of his life compiling video footage of the family. I've seen video clips of my mother as a child, a teenager, an adult, and a mother. There's a video of my brother showing off his basketball skills, of a big Easter dinner celebration, of my brother and me opening presents on Christmas Day. My grandfather would watch these videos on his own time, whenever the mood struck him, first on high-8, then on VHS, finally on DVD, he migrated all of it by hand. He would insist on sharing them with girlfriends I brought over. It was his way of preserving the family, of remembering the life he'd led.

I'm going to miss my grandpa. He was crochety and pointlessly argumentative, and in his old age, even abusive, but even with all of that, I'm going to miss him because he was a good person who loved me and only wanted to help.

September 10, 2015 22:38 +0000  |  Family Grandpa

Grandpa was an impossible man -- both in that he was difficult to be around at times and in the amazing life he led.

Here was a man who was not only 100% confident that he had the answers to everything, but he was going to do you the immense favour of pointing out everything you're doing wrong -- you know, for your benefit.

I remember a particular Christmas gathering at which he persisted in his argument with his two atheist grandchildren that "God" created everything: "Who made this?" he would ask, "and who made this?", repeatedly pointing to random objects in the room. There was no winning an argument with him, you could only hug him and say "I love you Grandpa".

This would usually buy you a few minutes.

One of my earliest memories as a child is that of my father's disapproval of my grandfather's spending money on my brother and me. His refrain "Money is for spending!" will forever be a part of me. I think that deep down, Grandpa was a bit of a hedonist, but it was the simple things in life that did it for him. He loved his car, his boat, that obnoxious talking fish, and of course, he loved his family.

It's easy to forget in this era of smart phones, but we all owe a great debt to him for the hours and hours of home videos he took of all of us as we grew up. There are videos of my mother as a child, my parents getting married, the many barbecues and Easter gatherings -- all painstakingly preserved, transferred between formats over the years. This was a labour of love for him: the preservation of memory for three generations. How sad it is that he should leave us all such a gift when he himself appears so seldom in the frame.

Take a moment to consider what he accomplished in his lifetime:

  • He escaped Communism with his family to start a new life in a country where he didn't even speak the language.
  • He then proceeded to found multiple businesses across Canada employing dozens of people.
  • He supported every member of the family, either financially, with skills training, or simply with a place to sleep when one of us needed it.

He was undoubtedly an egoist and a pain in the ass, but he was also unabashedly generous and unconditionally loving.

Grandpa was an unyielding force in this world, and we are all so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of his life. He will forever be an inspiration to me.

True to form, Grandpa died on his schedule and no one else's. The world may be a lot quieter without him in it, but there's no doubt in my mind that it is also greatly diminished.

He'll wait for us right here.

My grandfather died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday night. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, three grandsons, and one great-granddaughter. He was 91.

December 06, 2014 13:30 +0000  |  Family Food Grandma Lidia 1

This is my second attempt at documenting my Grandmother's so-called "sour-soup" or "chorba" as is apparently the appropriate word for it. I've been trying to replicate it for years, but recently, she and I sat down and worked everything out (while i video recorded everything) and I've finally managed to reproduce this amazing dish. I present it now for you in the hopes that it will brighten your day too:

Note: my grandmother isn't big on measuring, so I'm afraid I don't have much to offer in the standardised quantities department. Instead, I'll be listing the ingredients in the very same way she provided them to me: in practical use cases.

Ingredients

  • Some meat.
    • Turkey is good for this, but you can get away with chicken or even beef (big chunks, not ground). Ask yourself how much you want in your soup, and that's how much you'll need.
  • 4 Parsnips
  • 4 Carrots
  • 1 Bunch of celery
  • 1 White onion
  • 1 Red pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • A handful or two of some kind of pasta or rice.
    • I typically go for orzo or white rice, but you can also use angel hair pasta.
  • A handful of Lovage
  • A handful of parsley
  • Some sour cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper (fresh ground black pepper, none of that powdered stuff)
  • A big spoonful of vinegar (for the garnish step, below)

Directions

This is a two-part system, and it's probably best if you do things one at a time. Pros like my grandmother who have been doing this for 50 years can do things in parallel, but if this is your first or second time trying this out, pace yourself and do one pot at a time.

Preparation

In this two-part system we have vegetables we're going to eat, and vegetables we're using for flavour only, so we're going to break up our veggies into two groups:

A Warning

Throughout this whole process, it's important to note that the pot should always be covered, or you'll lose too much water and you'll end up with a more stew-like soup than you probably want.

Group 1: Flavour Only

In this group you have:

  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 White onion

You chop these into big pieces, no less than 7cm long. For the onion, you just cut it in half. Leave these bits on the cutter board 'cause you'll need them soon.

Group 2: For Eating

In this group you have:

  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery (if you're into eating celery in your soup)
  • ½ Red pepper
    • I usually just throw out the other half, but you can use the whole thing if you really like red peppers.

These are all chopped into bit-sized chunks. Put the chopped bits into a great big bowl for now.

Cook That Meat

You need to quickly cook the meat to seal in the good stuff, and you also want to clean the ugly bits out of your soup before you actually start making broth so...

  • Put your big chunks of meat into a proper soup pot. You probably want something capable of about 6L or more of water. Don't worry about the size of the meat pieces yet, we'll make them mouth-friendly later.
  • Fill up said pot with water until the water just covers the meat.
  • Add some salt and pepper.
    • Don't be stingy with the salt. If you skimp out on salt early, you'll have very exciting-looking water masquerading as soup.
  • Cover the pot and crank the heat up to 10, stirring occasionally so the meat doesn't cook all on one side. When the water boils, drop the heat down to 5. If any gunk floats to the surface (this is excess fat and other undesirable bits) scoop it off with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Completing the Stock

  • Now that you've got the beginnings of your stock, add your "flavour only" vegetables. Let them hang out in the water there with the meat for a bit. Drop the heat down to 3 or 4 and let things slow-boil.

Vegetables for Eating

Now with the stock pot simmering on the side, we're going to work on the veggies we intend to eat.

  • Dump all of your for-eating veggies into a deep pan or pot. Make sure that there's room to stir stuff around because you're going to be doing a lot of that.
  • Add some olive oil. How much? Enough to sauté the veggies. Typically I start out with a little bit and add until I feel that all of the veggies are getting enough love.
  • Run the heat up to 5 or 6 and stir frequently to make sure that all of your veggies get cooked properly.

Bite-Sized Meat

Going back to your stock pot, it should have been simmering there for a good 10-20 minutes. It's time to remove everything that doesn't belong.

  • Open the pot and remove all of the vegetables. You might want to keep them around to eat separately, but they don't belong in your soup anymore.
  • Now remove the meat and place it on a cutting board.
  • Put the lid back on if you haven't already.
  • Chop up that meat (careful, it's hot) into edible bits. Go ahead and sample some if you like, but my experience has been that the meat by itself at this point isn't very tasty. All the good stuff is back in the soup. At this stage, the meat is mostly for texture.
  • Dump your chopped meat back into the stock pot
  • Dump all of your newly sautéed vegetables (along with any remaining olive oil) into the stock pot

You're almost done.

Starch

At this point, you've got a pretty functional soup, but it needs something starchy, like pasta or rice, so let's do that.

If you're going the route of orzo or rice, I highly recommend that you rinse it first to get off all the excess starch. Otherwise you risk clouding your soup. It won't taste bad, but it'll be less pretty.

If you're going the noodle route, you'll want to break it into tiny pieces so it's easier to eat.

Either way, dump your chosen carb into your soup, cover it, and let it boil at a low temperature until the pasta/rice is ready.

Garnish

At this point, the soup is edible, but not yet exciting. You need to add all of the lovage and parsley at this stage:

  • Finely chop or rip the lovage and parsley into the soup
  • Stir it a bit and let it settle for another 5-10 minutes on a very low heat.
  • Stir in the vinegar as well

Serving

Finally we're ready to eat. Portion out the soup into bowls, and just before you serve, stir in a spoonful of sour cream. I can't tell you how much better this makes things.

That's it! The portions listed above should serve about 4 bowls, but I usually double things so we have enough soup for a few days.

November 26, 2012 22:14 +0000  |  Family 2

Last night (well, "night" for me at least), my niece, Violet Aurora Quinn was born. I don't have any pictures yet, but you can bet that there will be some soon. I just wanted to post about it here, and congratulate my brother and sister-in-law publicly.

As I understand it, this is the easy part kids. Now comes the sleep depravation, the screaming, the chewing, the oozing... I wish you luck, and I know you're up for it.

And to Violet, if this post survives to a day where you might be able to read it. Know that while I haven't met you yet, and wasn't there when you were born (I did try, but you were impatient), I already love you.

April 06, 2012 22:16 +0000  |  Family Travel 1

So this post is a little late, but I did promise Noreen that I'd write something before the week is out. My parents came to visit last week, all the way from Kelowna, BC. It was wonderful to see them walk off that plane, and exciting to be able to show them the life I'm carving out for myself here. I lived in Ottawa and Toronto for about six years and with the exception of a brief visit from my father (and surrogate uncle) in my final year, I never really had the opportunity to share what my life outside of BC was like with my parents. This time however, the experience will be a little more thorough.

For the most part, their first experiences with the Netherlands was rather similar to my own: The instinctive aversion to the sound of Dutch, getting screwed by the NS (transit authority) payment system, and surprise at the low cost of food -- though my father did note that the Dutch appear to wrap every damn thing in plastic.

For tourist destinations, they mostly relied on me to point out the interesting sights in the city. Obviously, they wanted to visit the Red Light district (where my mom noted the absence of male prostitutes: "All I'm asking for is a little equality damnit"). At my suggestion, they checked out the Erotic Museum and giggled at some of the exhibits, and they also made a point of visiting somewhere-not-amsterdam. Since I live in Bussum, they decided to visit Utrecht, where they spent the day wandering through the old city and apparently marvelling at the soup in a cafe there.

They had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with Christina as well, which was prety neat. They all got along, and my parents were pretty impressed with her. I have a few nice pictures of Christina trying to explain my smartphone to my dad.

I suppose the other highlight for their trip was the Keukenhoff, a sort of Dutch Playland for flowers. Imagine walking for hours through gardens of sculpted flower beds: colours, and perfume pretty much everywhere. It's kind of a big deal here. Personally, it didn't do much for me, but my mom was pretty tickled :-)

Unfortunately, that week was mostly about them exploring the Netherlands on their own, since I had to do the day job thing. I wanted to ration my vacation across the year this time, so I only took one week off for their being here: this week. You see, after they left my apartment in Bussum on Monday, they went to Barcelona, and at this very moment I'm on a highspeed train to Paris where I'll be meeting them for some touristy goodness. We'll check out all the Paris stuff, take some pictures, and then head onto London, and eventually to Dublin. It'll be nice to get away from the day-to-day stuff and really do the vacation thing with my parents again. After all, the last time we did that... I think I was in high school.

Anyway, the entire visit is being catalogued online in pictures. If you're into that sort of thing, you can head on over to my G+ gallery.

January 07, 2012 03:07 +0000  |  Family Friends Netherlands Self Reflection Travel 4

I suppose blogging in general took a big hit in 2011 eh? I mean, everywhere you look now, people are using tumblr, Facebook, or even Google+ for blogging these days, and the old-fashioned site-as-blog has more or less evaporated. But I've always been part futurist and part luddite, so I've no intention on following suit. This blog may have become sparse over this past year, but it's still the one place where I can post anything I want, on any topic I want, and still retain control over my content. I'll likely keep this up and running right until Diaspora becomes more portable/accessible, or some other similar project comes along and does a better job.

But this post, I couldn't skip out on this one. It's the annual recap post. It's like the Christmas Card I never sent to anyone that recaps what's happened in my life this past year. Like all of its predecessors, it's a long one, so you might want to grab a beverage ;-)

An Unhappy Start

2011 started out pretty down for me. I'd been laid off from my less-than-enjoyable gig at Work [at] Play and had, on the advice of my good friend Chris Rhodes, decided to take the opportunity to look for work in Europe. I had moved out of my $1300/mo apartment in Vancouver's West End, and into my grandparent's basement in Delta, and was actively looking for work overseas: France, Germany, and the Netherlands were all candidates, and Japan & Korea were both pie-in-the-sky hopeful locations. I got three interviews in Europe, two in Munich and one in Amsterdam, and from them, two offers. Unfortunately, I didn't much like the prospect of those offers, and the 3rd company wasn't interested (I wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic about Perl). I was unemployed, in debt, and living in my grandparent's basement. I was 31.

But then Shit Got Real

Things started to look up though after I had an interview with a Dutch company who offered me a gig literally 15minutes after the phone interview. They offered to handle my visa and arrangements for my initial lodging, and wrapped this in a six month contract for a rate that seemed reasonable. I was set. I was moving to Europe.

I said my goodbyes to my friends, and then to my family, packed all of my worldly belongings into three bags, and got on a plane. It wasn't scary, rather I had gone into that "autopilot" mode I have, where the future is committed, there's no sense in worrying about it. In retrospect though, I'm still surprised that I managed it with so little stress.

Money!

Just when I thought that money was going to get super-tight, I stumbled into two $5k cheques: one from the Canadian government, a tax refund for the six years I'd been putting off doing my taxes, and the other for my involvement with TheChange. Together, these two helped pay off my growing credit card balance and finance my move into a new, unfurnished place here in Bussum. Kids, never let it be said that money is the problem. It's not. If you line up everything else, it always seems to work out.

Five Weddings in Five Cities

Then there were the weddings. Jesus Christ people, did you all have to get married all in the same year??? I'd missed Annie & Desmond's nuptials back in 2007 and will regret it forever, I wasn't going to let that happen again with some of the closest people in my life. Shawna & Michael had their ceremony in Yeosu, Stephen & Irena had theirs in Toronto, Chrystal & TJ had a reception in Vancouver, while my brother & Shawna got married in Kelowna, and Noreen & Craig rounded out the year with their wedding in Honolulu. If you're curious, that works out to roughly 35,653kilometres (about 1/10th of the distance to the Moon), about $5507CAD (before carbon credits, Mother Earth hates me) and 26 days off work (105% of my vacation)... and I'd do it again. Each wedding was an exciting experience and a milestone in the lives of people I love. I can think of no better way to have spent my time and resources this past year.

Politics and Missed Opportunities

Somewhere in there, Canada got a new King government, a new NDP Official Opposition (yay!), and the Green Party saw it's first MP elected (more yay!). Politically, it was a HUGE year in Canada and I really felt left out of it all. There are days, on this side of the Atlantic, that I feel like I gave up on a life I could/should have had when I left Toronto, or Vancouver, and I wonder if it was the Right thing to do. What would it have been like to work with Adriane Carr on her campaign? Could I have helped enough to see her take a second seat? If I'd stayed in Toronto, could I have helped keep Ford out, or even just helped another candidate take a council seat? Would I be running for a council seat in the next election? I suppose that the biggest lesson learnt from this year so far has been that each decision commits you to walking through one door to the exclusion of others, and that commitment requires a certain acceptance of this fact.

Rounding it all Out

I ended the year with a trip home for Christmas with the family, paying off my student loans, and closing my account at CIBC. I entered 2012 100% debt-Free and unsupportive of big banks. I even managed to ditch Facebook.

The bulk of the rest of the year was filled with weekend trips to different cities and towns around the Netherlands, a pair of trips to London and Paris, a short romantic relationship with a lovely girl that turned into a wonderful friendship, and a few more friends on top of that -- all of this wrapped in a cloud of shell shock, excitement, and frustration that comes with living in a new city, new country, new continent, and new culture. It's been good for me I think, and I'm glad I've made the decisions that brought me to this time and place in my life.

August 30, 2011 02:45 +0000  |  Family Photography 4

Matt & Shawna rockin'

Matt & Shawna got married this weekend, and I got to be the Best Man. It was a beautiful ceremony and the reception was a lot of fun. For those of you who might be interested, the photos are up on Google Plus, since my own image gallery is... well it sucks. I need to make a bunch of changes to it and frankly I've got more fun things to work on right now. But yes, the photos are up there and they're public, so you don't need an account to see them.

I wanted to post my speech for the couple here though, if only for my own records, since this is the one body of data I tend to keep tabs on. A file called "speech.txt" tends to get lost :-) Big props to Melanie who helped me with it, and to the happy couple who inspired it.

Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name's Daniel Quinn and I'm Matt's brother and Best Man tonight.

When contemplating what to put into this speech, I initially thought I might pepper it with fun stories about what a bad kid Matt was, but I'm not going to do that. Don't get me wrong, Matt was a Very Bad Kid growing up, but all of those stories are just stories that outline a singular truth about who he is:

Matt does what he wants, however he wants to do it.

He will not be dictated to, and he will not be advised. He doesn't follow rules that he hasn't tested by breaking them at least once, and instead charges headlong into the world with a map drawn only by his *own* past experience. Often he'll run clear into walls, fall down, get up, and run at that wall again and again and until it comes down. Matt was the kid that mashed puzzle pieces together to make them fit. He does things his way, or not at all and I've spent my life wishing I could be as bold as he is.

...it's probably better that it didn't turn out that way though, Dad's hair can only go white once.

Now that he's found Shawna, he's still the same headstrong smartass he's always been, but in her he's found a partner. Someone who puts up with his attitude, but doesn't give him a free pass, and has shown time and time again that she'll be right there with him barrelling through life, shoulder to shoulder with Matt, knocking down whatever stands in their way. Alone, Matt's a force to be reckoned with, but together these two are unstoppable.

Shawna is exactly the kind of person I always wanted to see with my brother. She is patient and smart, enthusiastic and wilful, and genuinely gets Matt on a level that few others do. And so I'm thrilled to welcome Shawna to our family.

Congratulations to both of you.