Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dutch sailing skills


I was watching the women's sailing competition today from the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center, located on the Yellow Sea about 500 km SE of Beijing. The Sailing Center is built on an old shipyard of the port, close to the business center of the city, and the events take place in Fushan Bay against the backdrop of the skyscrapers.

Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center

The women race in 3-person teams in a standardized Yngling keelboat, just over 6 meters long and weighing 645 kg fully crewed.the spinnakers have national flags which makes it easy to spot the teams and mark everyone's progress.

When I tuned in, the 2nd heat racers were crowded around the second mark: it was hard to tell who was ahead as everyone jostled for position and wind.

Usually, sailboat races feel predictable: one-class boats are evenly matched, the wind is pretty consistent across competitors, and, with evenly matched crews, the boat order doesn't change much over the course of a race unless there is an equipment failure or an error. So the team that is ahead usually seems to stay ahead. No sign of the Dutch team, though.

But, as the boats came out of the last mark, the coverage suddenly shifted to show the Dutch women's team sailing lightly across the finish line. The final statistics show that they were over a minute ahead of all three of the next finishers, who were bunched within 25 seconds of one another. This included the favored British and American teams.

The detailed statistics were even more remarkable. On the 'windward-leeward' course (the race was limited to going back and forth between the first and fourth of the four course markers), the Dutch women were ahead by 16 seconds at the first mark, a minute at the fourth, and over a minute and a half back at the first, among a field of 15 boats. The wind was light, only 6 knots, so it doesn't seem like a matter of catching the lucky puff of air at the right time (although, this evening, competitors are saying that is exactly what is going on).

The sailing press has been talking about the impact of technology on the races. There had been rumors that the US and Dutch teams were experimenting with alternative sail designs in the days leading up to the events, when it was apparent that winds could be light. It became controversial within the Tornado class boats. had a good detail about the specific sail modifications that the team was attempting, and the risks that they were taking if the winds freshened. It all leads me to wonder if sail tuning might also be a factor, along with excellent training and tactics.

It will be interesting to see how it holds up in tomorrow's 3rd and 4th rounds, but it was nice to see the Netherlands team off to a strong start.

Photo credits Beijing-2008 and sailing news aggregator

Live Olympic coverage in Europe

olympic site

While event schedules and scores are always available at the official Chinese Olympic site (above), I was looking for live streaming coverage of the various events from the Internet. Unfortunately, NBC's streams will not play in Europe, BBC's won't play in the Netherlands, and, while EuroSport is streaming their cable channels, 1, 2, and News for a 4.50 euro/mo. fee, it's only selections and summaries of events.

Fortunately, the European Broadcast Union is streaming live coverage of a wide selection of events on a dozen channels at no charge: open camera, competitor annotations, no commentary. It seems to require IE to run: it gave an error in Firefox. You do have to refresh the connection every 20 minutes, but the quality is excellent.

olympic stream

Friday, August 8, 2008

Opening ceremonies

NL Team I settled in to watch the opening ceremonies for the Olympics on EuroSport this evening. The first half was sprawling and colorful: thousands of synchronized performers and very high-tech ground visuals. It culminated in Sarah Brightman singing atop a huge video globe.

The Boston Globe has a wonderful photo collection that really captures the event. And the final segment, where the suspended runner made a symbolic circuit of the statium, was amazing.

Still, for me, the best part is watching all of the teams come in.

It has the most human moments to it: people who have worked hard their whole lives to be there and the thrill is on every face. The small countries with a half dozen participants: how different their arc through life has been from mine.

I like all of the distinctive national outfits and the diversity in how they do their procession. Some are rigidly formal, others dance and jump on one another. Even the waving, smiling national leaders look more spontaneous, proud in an almost parental way.

Drat, the Netherlands team got by me. Was the queen there?

DutchNews says that there are 242 "sportsmen and women" in the national team ( a slightly effete phrase in US english... ).

Oddly, the Telegraaf is reporting that a mystery man got through security to run alongside the Dutch team, waving, as they entered the stadium. 'never a dull moment...

In the end, for me, it's all about the athletes, and their stories and efforts transcend the spectacle. Their contagious enthusiasm puts the right spirit onto the Opening Ceremonies.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pepper Potts, Mark (54), and a world map of peace

Iron Man [Pepper greets Tony when he comes home from Afghanistan]
Tony Stark: Hmmm. Your eyes are red. Tears for your long lost boss?
Pepper Potts: Tears of joy. I hate job hunting.
Tony Stark: Yeah, well, vacation's over.

Job hunting is such fun. There's always a mixture of anticipation (the whole future is awash with possibility) and dread (loss of familiarity and security).

But, the prospects are looking decidedly better this week, so I'm feeling in a fairly 'up' mood that things are starting to move. I had good talks with several senior people who could give sound advice. Several short-term possibilities emerged with my current company, along with some solid interest from groups outside and some intriguing calls from the recruiters. It looks like I can stay in Europe through spring (I wouldn't want to miss another winter in the Netherlands), bridging me out across some important deadlines.

More details later, but I'm headed back to the US for interviews next week.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it, the Iron Man movie is great! I really enjoy Robert Downy Jr. in almost anything, but he shines here.


image I was reading the Daily Independent "Traveller" section on Saturday, an article about three friends who went on a hike together in the Pays Basque, when I came across this passage:

On his world tour, Mark, 54, has lived with bushmen and swum with sharks. He is 6ft 6in tall, absurdly handsome, and a former ER doctor from Maryland (Indiana Jones meets Dr Kildare). He now – successfully – invests in and nurtures small companies with promising medical ideas. After six years in France (apart from the world tour), he is now the most urbanely European of Americans, and the most directly American of Europeans.

This is the sort of role model that throws me into a existential funk. Are there really people like this? How on earth did they become who they are? Did they come by success easily? And where along life's journey did they take the turns that I missed?

Actually, to answer the first question, I have known physicians who branched out as their careers matured. One, in particular, was a technically inclined clinical entrepreneur who took vacations searching for downed WW II planes in Borneo and worked with NASA testing heart monitors in the Arctic. He was always generous with time and advice: wonderful to spend time with, but impossible to emulate.


And, finally, this statistical map from Intelligent Life. The world's peaceful areas are in the light blue, while you can still be tagged throughout the darker blue areas. The fine print reveals that this is the world map of Blackberry coverage: true vacation peace lies far from the reach of the networks...


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Sonsbeek sculpture garden

Sonsbeek 2008

One of the nice things about living in Arnhem is the Sonsbeek Park, a wonderful area of woods, meadows, and waterworks adjacent to the city center.  My apartment is located a few steps away from the park, which fills with people, fountains, concerts, and exhibitions each summer.

The park is sponsoring a sculpture show with works by about 30 artists scattered throughout the park.  There's a guidebook and a long trail that leads around the whole exhibition, and I took some time exploring it last week.  Some bits are pretty mundane: disks on the ground, masks, paper statues.  But a number are really clever and intriguing: here is a small gallery.  The show continues through the month and is free.

DSC09162 s.spider

IMG_4166 DSC09148

 DSC09100 IMG_4179IMG_4152  DSC09103

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Guilty pleasures

HousewivesI'm starting to wonder about the Dutch taste in popular culture.

It started in the video store.  I usually browse the new releases, "DagFilm", expecting that I'll find recent big-screen blockbusters with a sprinkling of European art-house fare.  Instead, I find a few thrillers, a low shelf of cartoons, and a large rack of horror films.  I would estimate that fully half of the current fare are standard teen-slasher films (Tourista is a current favorite, just in time for vacation season).  It's a major genre of the racks in the back as well.  The "Comedy" selection skews heavily towards the "American Pie" genre, while the Action and Science Fiction sections crowd out Dramas and Local Films.

I've been trying to find a wider variety of current releases, or of older classic films, but no success. So far, I've had to rent a few and rip them to my hard drive while I'm in the US.

Similar strangeness dominates the local cable programming on UPC.  English-language programs include old and new bits of pop-America: Vegas, Magnum PI, CSI, Law and Order, but few other shows.  Dr. Phil and Oprah pop up from time to time, along with Jay Leno or Conan.  I'll skip past the Fashion Channel and the weekly reruns of "How the West Was Won" on TCM.  But it's an odd sampling of distant video culture.

Then there's the movie channels.  While Film 1 will occasionally show a fresh release or a classic, more often... not.  Tonight features Premonition (Depressed housewife learns her husband was killed in a car accident the day previously, awakens the next morning to find him alive and well at home, and then awakens the next day after to a  world in which he is still dead), Death of a President (Years after the assassination of President George W. Bush in Chicago, an investigative documentary examines that as-yet-unsolved crime), Timboektoe (A Dutch coming-of-age drama), and The Hills Have Eyes II (A group of National Guard trainees find themselves battling against a vicious group of mutants on their last day of training in the desert.)

It's started to make E! look appealing (Living Lohan, E! News, Red Carpet Retro, and Girls of the Mansion).

The On Demand movies include lots of films I would classify as 'Guilty Pleasures": Tom Cruise in Cocktail (When he pours, he reigns), Patrick Swayze's Road House (The dancing's over. Now it gets dirty), Stallone's Rambo (Heroes never die.... They just reload), then Bronson's Death Wish, Star Trek 5 and 6 (The worst of the series), Jurassic Park 3 (ditto), Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Saturday Night Fever (thank goodness not the sequel Staying Alive) goes on and on...

I began to suspect a trend.

Suspicion was confirmed when I discovered the On-Demand TV programs last week.  The first two full seasons of Desperate Housewives, lots of Criminal Intent, and much of Grey's Anatomy.  Little else.

One might argue that the US media companies are sending their bottom-shelf titles to the Netherlands. Or, one might suspect that Dutch taste tends towards...well...a steady diet of guilty pleasures?

And that's all right, with popcorn, on a Friday night, late.  But not all day, every day...

'and the worst part is, now I've gotten sucked into Desperate Housewives (The guilty pleasure returns...)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Around the Ardennes

image'back from a weekend visit to the Ardennes, a wonderful area of hills and forests located in eastern Belgium, about an hour south of Maastricht. It's easy to access for a short escape, and has a variety of activity for everyone's tastes. a - Hautes Fagnes Reserve 01aTo the north, there is a national nature reserve, the Hautes Fagnes, reminiscent to the moorlands of Wales or Yorkshire. It's covered with walking and biking trails and sprinkled with interpretive centers, easy to get away from everyone and to enjoy the sun, the quiet, and the wildlife (but base in Robertville or Malmedy to enjoy the easy Belgian ambience and varied local foods).

e - Monschau 87Heading further south, the town of Monschau, across the German border, is a wonderful medieval village with excellent gingerbread shops and restaurants. The jumble of architecture crowding the riverbanks is fun to see, and there is a sculpture garden at the town entrance that holds a few pieces that I'll want if we ever get the little house and yard.

g - Bastogne 3Bastogne, back across the Belgian border, commemorates the Battle of the Bulge with a memorial and museum (strange to see the US State names in that location: they updated it to include Alaska and Hawaii, even though they didn't join the union until 8 years after the memorial was built).

g - Semois Kayaking 70And, to the south, Bouillon offered leisurely kayaking on the Semois river, lots of waterbirds and scenery (and the occasional riffle over rocks to keep things interesting: the water level was low despite the recent rains).

This is an area that is easy to overlook because it's close and, perhaps, not well publicized. But it's a fun and relaxing place to go, and offers lots of (hilly) contrasts to everyday life back in the Netherlands. (Okay, lots and lots of bikers in Belgium too, but otherwise, a nice contrast to the Netherlands...more pix on Flickr.)

Map credit Walking Holidays in the Ardennes