February 2008 Archives

I hate Apple so much right now.


I ordered two Time Capsules from Apple when I was in Mentor in January. In fact, I also ordered a keyboard and a world traveller kit.

And here's what happened:

Apple charged me for the keyboard and the world traveller kit and shipped them immediately.

Apple waited 38 days and then tried to charge me for the Time Capsules. And, of course, there wasn't any money in my American Bank account.

I found this incredibly frustrating. When I pay for something, I expect it to be the same as cash. I hand over money, then you hand over goods. For better or for worse, that's what's familiar.

Apple charged me for the keyboard and traveller kit. They shipped them and they showed up within a week. And after a month and put the Time Capsules at the back of my mind. I figured that Apple had higher than expected demand for them and they'd be diligently trying to get them to me. I was willing to be patient.

Sure, I knew I'd ordered them, sure I expected them to show up, but I thought they'd already been paid for. Why? Because I paid for them. I put my credit card details in the little online form and pressed the "Submit" button and paid. The other stuff got charged, so I assumed the Time Capsules had been charged.

Well, come today, they try to charge me and the card is declined; it's not a credit card, it's a debit card with a MasterCard logo. This is usually where someone sanctimonious says: "But surely you know how much money you have?" Of course I do. I check it every day. Before I bought the Time Capsules, I checked it. I had enough to buy Time Capsules. So I bought them. Then Apple didn't take the money. It's as if I paid by check and Apple didn't cash it for 38 days.

I know a couple of people who actually track when the money for online purchases comes off credit cards and out of accounts, but it really is only a few, and it's the same people who also use Microsoft Money to track their grocery expenditure and balance their checkbooks. I don't even have a checkbook.

What's more, in between the time that I ordered those Time Capsules and when Apple charged me for them, I sold my house, moved $140,000 through that account and paid off my mortgage. It's seen plenty of activity, enough to mask $800 worth of wireless hard drives.

So I call Apple. Really, I just want my stuff. I want those Time Capsules. This shouldn't be hard. I'll pay with another credit card and they'll ship it.


It wasn't really a mistake, because, as a customer, I have no other option. The only thing I can do is call.

And, as far as I can tell, there's no one at Apple who gives a rat's ass about the customers.

To start with, phoning Apple's help line gives you a machine. The "press 1 for <blah, blah, blah>" crap. Like everyone else, I hate automated response systems. They never, ever, ever have the options I want. I'm already more Internet savvy than 99.99% of Apple, I've had a homepage since '96 and a blog since '99. I signed the frickin' Cluetrain Manifesto. But when I call Apple, I'm forced to wade through a menu of options that cover the exact same material that they have on their website. The same material that I just spent an hour wading through online. It even includes little reminders: "Did you know that 90% of your product questions can be answered online?" which only serves to heighten my ire. Did I know? I knew before you did, you jackasses. It makes me furious to be lectured to about the value of the Internet by the same company that insisted that AppleTalk was networking and didn't ship an operating system with native ping, traceroute and netstat until OS X.

Anyway, I wade my way through the machine and get a real person.

Except that he was autistic. Or maybe this was a Turing test. Either way, there was no communication going on.

In the end, the only thing that he understood was when I said: "Cancel my order. Can you do that? Do you understand me?"

Then he was right on it. Moved like lightening and was clearly relieved to be off the phone.

Why? I have no idea. He couldn't fathom the idea that someone could have two addresses, one in America and one somewhere else. I could almost see inside his brain: "Why would anyone who could live in America not live in America? Aren't all these foreigners struggling to get in? This guy must be trying to pull some kind of fraud."

Either way, I hate Apple. What a piece of shit, second rate company.

Luckily, there's someone better.

Former CNN Producer Chez Pazienza was fired for writing a blog.

He's now loaded both barrels in his blog and pulled the trigger and it is laugh out loud funny.

I'm actually drying the tears in my eyes to be able to see enough to write this post. Please, go and read a few articles.

His description of the recent John McCain sex scandal is hysterical.

Papers, Please!


Amtrak has no business doing this.

You are less safe without this than you are with it, because you are less free.

Play your iTunes on your Creative Zen


John Johansen, darling of property rights activists and a brilliant coder, has a new venture, DoubleTwist.

It's nifty. The idea is that you've paid for your music on iTunes, so you should get to play it on whatever music player you'd like. I love iTunes. I buy music regularly from them - and there's a whole host of hard to find music you can find on iTunes (like MC900ft Jesus Welcome to my Dream, which happens to be available on Amazon, yeah, I know).

But one of my peeves is that, while I love iTunes, I'm actually not a huge fan of the iPod. To be honest, my favourite format for a long time has been the Sony MiniDisc. Sony absolutely got down on their knees and screwed the pooch with their marketing, DRM and terrible, terrible software, but I've still always liked it.

Well, now I can play all of my precious iTunes on my Sony Hi-MD player, and that's wonderful. Of course, this happened just as I was going to stop using the iTunes store and switch to Amazon.com's superior MP3 shop.

But for those of you who would like to use some other player besides the iPod - say, a Creative Zen - then this will let you. And I like choices like this. Too many choices can be confusing, but if you know exactly what you want - a Zen and some iTunes - this software lets you have it.

What country is this, again?


An alert reader sent in this news item: A California court has ordered that a website be shut down for revealing documents that, if true, demonstrate that the Swiss Bank Julius Baer engaged in illegal money laundering activity.

There's more on the BBC.

If you want to see these documents, by the way, you can still see them on their Belgian site, so the ruling only serves to demonstrate that

  1. The Judge doesn't understand how the Internet works.
  2. The Judge doesn't understand how wikileaks works.
  3. The American legal system is still at risk of making grievous errors in judgement.

Here's some interesting background on Judge Jeffrey White:

  • He was appointed to his current position by George W. Bush in 2002
  • He sentenced the reporters who blew open the drugs in baseball scandal to 18 months in prison for failing to reveal their sources
  • He also fined the San Francisco Chronicle $1000/day until the names were turned over to the court
  • He ordered a company that continued to call customers who asked not to be called to pay $200 per complaint to the customers and pay $100,000 in fines
  • He ordered struck down a San Francisco ruling that would have provided universal health care for the employed in San Francisco

I like the bit about enforcing Do Not Call legislation and I don't know enough about the universal health care proposal, but I think that reporters don't have to name their sources EVER. It's up to the consumers of the news to decide whether they believe unnamed sources or not. And I think it's dangerous to our civil liberties, criminal against the reporters and illegal under the Constitution to imprison reporters who refuse to give their sources.

Wikileaks Belgian site seems difficult to understand, although their mission statement is one with which I can sympathize.

Aside from the obvious censorship angle, there's also the fact that this was a court case instigated by a foreign Bank. Are they protected the same way under US law? Do they pay US taxes?

And why was it a tort, rather than a straightforward libel case? If Julius Baer didn't break the law, then why bring a tort?

Finally, why wasn't Wikileaks asked to remove only the offending material rather than have their entire site blocked?

Update: Okay, either Judge Jeffrey White is unbelievably technologically inept or his ruling was an intentional attempt to make Bank Julius Baer think he was taking down Wikileaks while in fact doing nothing. What he ordered was that their DNS entry be removed from the DNS server and not allowed to be transferred or re-registered anywhere while the problem gets sorted out. At any rate, here's the IP address for Wikileaks in California: Thank you to Mark Frauenfelder.

Update 2: Doc Ruby on Slashdot found and posted the IP Address, and that's how it spread to BoingBoing and Daily Kos. I would have never looked at this site except for this furor. Now I'm hoping that it can hang on via IP until this afternoon so I can make a copy. I'm hoping someone else has already.

Nancy Pelosi is my hero


At least for the moment. She stood up to the Bush White House and suggested that they take more time to review the provisions of the Protect America Act.

What this bill would do is prevent legal oversight of the Executive Branch, whose overzealous actions might turn out to be illegal. It grants retroactive immunity to AT&T and Verizon from lawsuits that allege that those companies violated their rights by cooperating with a request from the White House. It's worth noting that Qwest absolutely refused to cooperate and did not forward every single phone call to the NSA, although AT&T and Verizon did.

The lawsuits are for enough in damages to force the Telcos to switch hands. If this happens, it would effectively prevent any future CEOs from wholesale illegal spying on the American public; the consequences would be disgrace, loss of job, prison time, and personal loss of great huge gobs of cash. It would make it more difficult for future presidents of any party to conduct illegal searches or violate the Constitution in the same way.

In other words, it is a good thing. Let us hope that those lawsuits succeed. In order for them to succeed, though, the first step is for this vile manipulation of and utter contempt for legal process from the White House and the Senate to be stopped. Nancy Pelosi and the House are the best chance that this could happen.

The title is five words I thought I'd never, by the way. I'm not a Democrat and usually decry them as the party of group politics.

But this issue has been an inversion of the normal conservative/liberal split. On one side stand the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, myself and most of the Democratic party, which makes for strange bedfellows. On the other side are George Bush, Ted Poe, Anne Coulter and John McCain. I think that the Republican Senators - plus the 17 Democrats who voted with them - embarrassed themselves.

Yes, we want to be safe. Yes, we think that terrorists should get spied on. But they do, so the only reason for this bill is to keep Bush's friends in control of the phone company. It would be a perfect conspiracy theory, except it's being done in plain sight, completely out in the open, without even cursory attempts to hide it or dress it up.

In the interest of fairness, I must point out that Roger Pilton has completely lost his mind supports the Protect America Act. He's a chair at the Cato Institute. His own colleagues disagree with him. The best source to unravel his argument is basic common sense and the ability to spot internal inconsistency. Failing that, try his colleagues at the Cato Institute. Compare his article with these links. To his credit, he does at least acknowledge that most of his colleagues at Cato disagree with him.

The chubby blue line


Okay, okay, this is really ridiculous.

In March, New York will put armed police onto subways. With dogs. And machine guns. Because they believe that this will make us safer.

It won't. It will make you less safe, and possibly also be intimidating.

Police are stationary bandits. It's hard to trust someone who is a demonstrable instrument of the State's monopoly on the use of coercive force. It's even harder to trust one who is making the world a worse place but believes that they are making it a better one.

This won't stop terrorists from suicide bombing the subways. The chubby blue line and his explosive sniffing pooch won't stop it. A terrorist could put his explosives on a dead man trigger and walk into the crowd.

Will they find such a terrorist? Doesn't matter. Will they shoot him? Doesn't matter. Will they kill him? It doesn't matter. They can't stop the explosion, lots will die, more will be terrified and that means that the terrorist would have achieved his or her aims.

In the mean time, war is peace, we're here to help and Big Brother is watching you.

Security ensures Privacy


Once again, Bruce Schneier says something both more succinctly and more eloquently than I can.

Aside from encouraging everyone to go and read his blog - and to regularly read it - I'd like to point out that you should own your information and no one else should be able to use it without your consent.

The thing that's most chilling is that J. Michael McConnell actually feels bold enough to say "We have a saying in this business: 'Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'"

This is what he actually thinks. In order for you to be safer, you must hand over your anonymity, your privacy, your bank records, your emails, your mail, your packages, your shoes, your laptop and at various points your person. You must submit to the will of Allah the State. Your virtue is measured by how well you submit.

Have any of you ever seen Big Brother?

Staking out the moral low ground


One of my alert readers - who am I kidding? My only reader sent me an article from the Washington Post.

The Senate has passed a version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

The bit that's fascinating is that the Bush administration specifically included riders to the bill that retroactively grant immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally tapped the wires of American citizens so that the U.S. government could listen in. Without a warrant, this was breaking the law. But the Bush White House argues that by retroactively making it legal, those people weren't breaking the law anymore.

This is an astonishingly bold, brassy move, for a number of reasons. First, it's bold because the White House previously pursued a policy of strategic ambiguity (see the now completely irrelevant deposition (pdf) of the already mostly irrelevant Director of National Intelligence, J. Michael McConnell). Since confirming that MCI or AT&T helped spy on Americans "would cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security," there's no chance that anyone in power in America would do that, right?

Wrong. Dana Perino says: "The telephone companies that were alleged to have helped their country after 9/11 did so because they are patriotic and they certainly helped us and they helped us save lives."

Um. How exactly did they help? Read Dana's dodging and weaving here.

Second, it's bold and brassy because it makes no bones about the legality of the issue. This bill is a frank admission that the White House and the telephone company broke the law to spy on everyone in America. If they didn't break the law, then they wouldn't need retroactive immunity granted to them.

The immunity came about because the telephone companies were being sued. They were being sued for having broken the law by cooperating with illegal activity instigated by the government. The amounts that they were being sued for were enough to have seriously threatened the bottom line of some of the companies involved. So J. Michael McConnell called for immunity in the renewal of the FISA bill.

I think that bankruptcy is a just and proper consequence for telcos who engaged in illegal wiretapping. If someone breaks the law in such a way that they violate the Constitutional rights of 300 million people - all of America - then the consequences should be severe.

The companies won't go out of business. They'll change hands, the boards and executives will end up in prison, the shareholders will get cents on the dollar and the companies will continue under new ownership. This is about protecting a handful of very rich executives at telcos who made unethical and illegal decisions that happened to assist the Bush administration.

Which segues smoothly into my final point, which looks a lot like my previous point. Namely, if someone breaks the law in such a way that they violate the Constitutional rights of 300 million people - all of America - then the consequences should be severe.

I would suggest that it's time to begin considering what type of consequence you, as citizens, would like to see imposed on President George Bush.

Tougher checks can take longer


So I flew to Mannheim this weekend to see my cousin Jamie - a routine visit, from my perspective, just a quick jaunt across to the Continent.

Both Ingrida and I had a great time (see earlier post), but coming back in from Germany was a nightmare.

It wasn't the plane journey, for once. Security was a breeze at Frankfurt Hahn, although the requisite security theatre was in place, the lines were short and the people kind.

No, the problem occurred once I landed at Prestwick. As we were walking towards passport control, we noticed some new signs, up in blue that said "Tougher checks can take longer."

I filled out a landing card and went to talk to the passport control.

She said some fairly standard bits and I travel so often that I was on autopilot with my answers: here's my address, I work for the company to which I'm contracted, etc.

Then she said something pretty out of the ordinary: "Do you have your work permit on you?"

I said, "There's one sewn into my passport."

She said, "That's an entry clearance. I have to check on something. Please go have a seat around the corner and I'll call you." She made a phone call.

So I did. And the entire plane went through the line and I sat there, waiting. When they left, I walked around the corner again only to have her say: "Go take a seat."

Another two planes worth of people disembarked and went through passport control.

Finally, after about half an hour, during which I didn't have my passport and Ingrida was on one side of the passport control and I the other - and we weren't permitted to use our mobile phones, or even look at each other - another woman came and gave the passport controller a bit of paper. She came and got me and said: "Come on through." There were a couple more routine questions, but I was pretty shaken.

I've never needed any additional paperwork before and the entry clearance is also a work permit. I'd show a picture of it but I'm feeling paranoid now.

When I asked what I could do to avoid this kind of trouble at a border crossing in the future, she said: "I just needed to check something, but it checked out, so don't worry about it."

Right. Easier said than done. There's a set of rules that I have to follow and no one will tell me what they are. The consequences for not following them are to forfeit everything I own and be forced to return to the U.S.

I still want to make my home here, but this was seriously unpleasant.

Spiritual Revolution


Saturday evening, Ingrida and I went to see Jamie's show, Elements. Outside of Germany, it's called Spirit, but since this is German for alcohol, they decided to give the name a skip and call the show Elements until they were in France.

Watching the show was a great time; if you're in Paris next week, go catch it. We're planning on seeing it again when it gets to Bordeaux, since we can match it up with a visit to our French cousins. It has several solo numbers, three precision numbers and some mixing, where the precision number is interspersed with solo artists. There were also some "special acts," performed by couples or groups of couples that were great to watch and looked fantastic but wouldn't have been competition legal.

The show was divided into several themes. It had a strongly Chinese flavoured set of numbers, a street dancing number, a Native American number and a finale. The Chinese flavoured set - which had overtones reminiscent of Mulan - lasted for most of the first part of the show.

Holiday on Ice Chinese dragon A precison component

Jamie fell during this number Jamie is wearing a yellow skirt and a teal headband

The Finale

There was an intermission, where we discovered that if something just isn't the worst around, you can always rely on the Germans to make something extra worst.


My favourite number was the street dance, which was set to Macy Gray's Sexual Revolution, but because the song is filthy and this is a family show, they changed the title and the lyrics and then had someone re-perform the song. They called it Spiritual Revolution and replaced all of the dirty words. Despite this bit of musical emasculation, the number was well choreographed, the performers had great costumes and everyone looked like they were having fun.

All in all, it was a great show and a great weekend!

Afterwards, we stayed up with Jamie until 6(!), drinking champagne and chatting. She had to get up to skate at 0930. I have no idea how she did it; I slept until noon and still felt tired all day.

Hangin' out with Jamie in Mannheim


Ingrida and I are in Mannheim. It was a dual purpose trip: see my cousin and take Ingrida on a date.

The handy synergy comes from the fact that Jamie is in a show, Holiday on Ice, exactly the kind of thing that Ingrida loves.

So we checked into the Cruise Cafe Hotel Mannheim, a little three star hotel just a five minute walk from the central commercial district of Mannheim. The hotel has a lot going for it and a few drawbacks; the drawbacks are minimal and I highly recommend the place. It was €99 for two nights plus two nights of parking for two people, or the equivalent of €25/night per person - about £19/night per person. For those of you reading in the UK, this was a three star hotel, not a backpackers hostel. And that price comes with a free buffet breakfast every day. It goes beyond good value, actually; it was amazing.

They didn't have room service, so we ran out of wine on Saturday night and Jamie had to sneak off and blag a bottle of whiskey off a mate - and we had no mixers except peach nectar - but at this price, I'd be churlish to complain about the fact that the bar closes at one a.m.

Here's one oddity: there was a doorway that lead to nothing in our room.

Of course, our room also had a fridge, a stovetop, a pot, a colander, a spatula, one set of flatware and ample space to set up for a long stay, so it would be a great base for exploring Mannheim, just don't try to walk out onto the balcony, because it's not a balcony, it's just a three story drop.

Mannheim itself feels delightfully relaxed and was comparatively clean. The streets had a few dots of gum on them and occasionally you'd see a cigarette butt. That's it. It was the cleanest place I've seen outside of Scandinavia, coming in pretty close on the heels of Uppsala for cleanliness (nothing touches Trondheim, the world's cleanest city, where I felt bad wearing my boots outside, for fear that I was trudging dirt all over their pretty Norwegian idyll).

In a touch that I found simultaneously an example of German organization and idiosyncrasy was that the streets are all lettered and numbered instead of named. Our hotel was on C7. The main drag is D1. It is an incredibly efficient system; the letters run north to south, the numbers east to west. You not only know where you are in respect to your hotel but have a good idea how far you are. On the other hand, it is the sort of thing my cousin Caitlin might call "adorkable."

The tram system was exactly on time every time we used it and immaculate; perversely, this made me bitter about the rail system in Britain, which now seems so shabby as to be a disgrace to the third world, let alone a rich first world nation like the UK. I can't speak for all of Germany, but Mannheim has it right.

The trams run on time in Mannheim

Since trams are coming to Edinburgh, I'm interested in how they work. Certainly, they worked well in Mannheim. There are a number of key differences between Germany and Edinburgh, though, that I think will have to be addressed. In Mannheim we saw a demonstration of neo-Nazis. They were more polite and I felt safer walking past the demonstration back to my hotel than I do walking from Haymarket to my home on Queen Street after taking the late night train back from Glasgow. Neo-nazis aren't my favorite people in the world, but it was enlightening to me that they were less threatening than the neds who keep kicking in my door. Edinburgh will have to address this problem if it wants people to use the trams. Police and a couple of very public, humiliating arrests of the undesirable elements who disturb the public would go a long way towards discouraging the anti-social behavior - which would in turn encourage common folk to use the public transport.

In the center of Mannheim there's some kind of monument. I have no idea what it's for, but it was cool looking, so I took a picture. You can see it below as well, at the end of D1. Note how the trams run on the street. They actually work remarkably well. I hope that Scotland has learned from the lessons of places like Mannheim but I suspect not.

The trams criss cross the city centre

Friday night, we drove down from Frankfurt. We arrived at the hotel at 0230 Saturday morning - and stayed up talking to Jaime until 4 o'clock. Naturally, one of the first things we did Saturday morning was find a cafe. This place, down D2, had absolutely magnificent coffee. Although their English was as good as our German, we still managed to negotiate our purchases with considerable alacrity. Caffeine deprivation and their desire for our business were powerful motivators that worked to our mutual benefit.

Oh, yes, coffee!

The coffee here was fantastic; best latté I've ever had. The name of the place was either Bäckerei or Coffee to Go. This was based on the idea

The only person who wears as much pink as Jamie is Rachael. Jamie says: "I don't normally wear this much pink." Below is a picture of her and Ingrida in front of the fountain in Mannheim city square. One of the interesting things for me is that the sun managed to perfectly catch the lens coating and made a rainbow flare that crosses the entire photo. It's not what I was looking for, but it would be nearly impossible to reproduce.

Ingrida and Jamie look so cute! If only I could have taken the picture while they were sitting in a field of bunnies, with butterflies resting on their fingertips, hummingbirds and swallows flitting about singing. Jamie had to head off to her first performance of the day, so we were on our way to the tram stop.

The guy in the background is random

Ingrida and I were standing next to the fountain in the square in the middle of Mannheim. I put on my best German face, trying to look like my stern ancestors from Mecklenberg.

It's my American Gothic look

After hanging out in the city centre, having the world's best coffee and then seeing Jamie off, we went shopping. By accident, we found a German farmer's market. It was filled with brown bread, cheeses, sausages, fruit and vegetables - and since we were staying in a room with a kitchenette, we bought enough for our supper. One of the best finds was Normandy butter, salted with Fleur de Sel de Camargue. We spread this on massive chunks of sourdough rye and happily munched the afternoon away. We bought our bread from the stand below.

Fresh bread

We bought cherries, plums, oranges and Sharon fruit from the place below. The fruit was uniformly of a high quality, though the cherries were strangely bland.

The prices were very reasonable.

I spoke to Caitlin! I spoke to Caitlin!


Wow! Wow!


I'm...I'm having a hard time holding it together, actually. It feels like my emotions are pulling me, hard, in a dozen different directions.

So, Caitlin is my cousin. She's my Uncle Christophe's daughter from his first marriage.

We've never met. She's forty, I think, although she sounded like she was about twenty-four on the phone.

And I'd never spoken to her. My mother used to remind the kids about her, until I was about eight or nine or so, and we'd talk about her from time to time.

I hoped she had a new family, that her mother had remarried and that there were lots of new aunts and uncles to love her the same way that we had Aunt Barbara & Uncle Christophe, Aunt Sherry & Uncle Phillippe, Aunt Margaret & Uncle Claude, Aunt Barbara & Uncle Thom, Aunt Margie & Uncle Johnny, Aunt Suellen & Uncle Gene, and cousins: Celeste, Jesse, Jamie, Jonathan, me, Mara, Rachael, Mendon, Zayne, Rahmat,

But I wanted to meet her. She was my cousin, after all, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family.

I'll admit that, quixotically, I used to have little fantasies about finding her and saying, "Hey! We're your cousins! Want to come swimming?" And we'd go swimming and then she'd go home and say: "I spent all day playing with my cousins!" and then some kind of middle step that I never really figured out would happen and then we'd be family again.

And, of course, I'd be the little hero and we'd all be happy.

Well, real life isn't like that. Or maybe it is, all except for the hero part or the we'd all be happy part. Not that I'm not happy, but I am crying. I was so terrified of crying the whole time that I just talked non-stop, like a Thompson machine gun with a stuck trigger. (If you're reading this, Caitlin, I'm sorry!)

She's cool. She's really, really cool.

She's clever. She speaks Java and .jsp and has "machines" instead of "a PC" and is a Mac person deep down at heart - but is really into this MicroSoft powered tablet, because OneNote is just so cool. And I haven't even gotten to the parts that got me all choked up yet. Although, yeah, that did make me a little moist eyed.

So, what had me choked up?

Well, you know that dream about the class that you didn't know you had, and that you'd been accidentally skipping all year and then there's an exam and everyone is like "What? Didn't you study?"

This is like that. I have a cousin that I know deep down in my heart that I love, and she's been my cousin for 35 years but I only just met her!

And the part of me that is still five is like: "This is not fair! I want a do over!" And the part of me that's grown up is like: "Hey, it isn't lucky to know her now?"

And Mommy would have loved her. She's funny, as in snort milk through your nose funny.

So it's bittersweet.

But mostly it's sweet. I'm really happy to have another cool cousin. And I'm going to call her again. Eventually, we'll find out the not cool things about each other. But not yet.

Fruit Salad

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Ingrida keeps telling me that I need to eat more healthily.

So the other night I made myself some fruit salad - and she was right! Fruit salad is delicious!


For those of you who don't think you'd like fruit salad, here's my recipe:

4 firm apricots (best if slightly unripe)
1/4 cup of walnut halves
4 whole dates
1/4 cup Acacia honey (for the dressing)
1 banana
1/4 lb. butter
1 package of back bacon
Single cream to taste

First, slice the apricots into eighths. Sauté the apricots on high heat until they begin to brown, then turn the heat down to medium, throw on the walnuts and shake the pan.

Pit the dates, then throw them in as well. Drizzle the 1/4 cup of Acacia honey over top and leave the mixture to sizzle.

While this is sizzling away, peel and slice your banana, open up your package of bacon and separate the slices.

Remove the apricot/walnut/date/honey mixture, pour into your serving bowl and set aside.

It should look something like this:

Fruit Salad2.jpg

Now line your pan with rashers of back bacon.

Fry these on high heat until they need to be turned, maybe three or four minutes, then turn the heat down to low, flip them and arrange the banana slices on top, like so:

Fruit Salad1.jpg

Let this heat until the bacon is cooked how you like it; some like crispy, some chewy. I'm normally a crispy bacon guy, but this recipe feels like more of a soft bacon recipe.

Anyway, I made the bacon soft when I made this the first time, and it was gorgeous.

When the bacon and bananas have cooked up, stir them into the apricot/walnut mixture. It should look something like this:

Fruit Salad3.jpg

Finally, mount with cream:

Fruit Salad4.jpg

And enjoy!

Fruit Salad5.jpg

Note from Ingrida:

I'd just like to confirm that I was not present at the time of this fruitful [sic] profanity, and that I have no legal capacity (yet) to desist Nathan from pursuing this abominably gluttonous behaviour...

However, this does remind me of an evening out in Edinburgh with Mara and Mark a few summers ago. Mark and Nathan attempted to eat a deep-fried Mars bar (at your peril click here for an explanation) only to be rendered rather comatose from the sheer amount of calories. Tee hee!

The Gentle Art of Dying Well

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I've thanked a lot of people over the past few weeks - not everyone, unfortunately, not even half of everyone - but there was someone to whom we can't send a thank you card, or call her, or thank her in person: my mother.

My Dad is eating, and he's sleeping, and he even visited Mark, Mara and Liam in Columbus. He's gone back to work, repaired his car and has steam cleaned the carpets. I love him, I want him to be happy. I don't expect it to be today.

I feel at peace with my farewell. I miss my mother but I'm not sad when I think of her, at least not for her, just sad for me. The choking, incapacitating grief that I thought would leave me unable to work for weeks hasn't come, though I still feel overwhelmed every now and then.

And credit for the averted catastrophe goes largely to my mother.

I don't want to reduce the thanks that should be given to the communities that supported us and her, but she deserves some too. What were some of the things that she did to make our burden lighter?

First, she decided to die. This is a pretty big step. The more I think about it, the bigger it becomes. Most of us don't want to die and my mother was no exception. Nevertheless, it is still inevitable, I think. (Dr. Aubrey de Grey can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.) But she made a decision to not to try to live forever.

A lot follows from there. Once she decided that it's unrealistic to believe that she should live forever - or even as long as she wanted - you can begin to plan.

And so she did.

She made it clear how she wanted to die: at home, with her children and her husband. This meant that we all knew that when Maman feels bad, you come home.

We knew not to take her to a hospital.

She had frequent and recurring talks with Hospice. She started talking to Hospice about two and a half years ago and has gone on and off Hospice as it looked like she might live longer than six months or less than six months.

She made a will.

She made a plan - and that plan included dozens of details that we, her family, might have argued about had she not made a plan.

She set aside what she wanted to wear. She ordered her own coffin. She bought a silk shroud. She bought rose oil so that we could wash her with rose oil scented water after she passed. She bought a burial ring.

She made a list of everything that she wanted us to do, and went through it with each of us, gently, from time to time to revise it and update it. We all knew it by heart by the time she passed.

She organized a group of ladies from work and friends to make dinners and bring them over when we lost our motivation to cook.

She had a list of people to call when she passed who were in turn responsible for getting the word out, so that we didn't have to. This was very important to me. The morning after my mother passed away, I only wanted to be with my family.

She had already selected the funeral home, bought her burial plot, selected the mason for her headstone, collected the documents for the mortgage, the bank accounts, her mobile phone plan, the long distance and anything else she remembered.

She made gift boxes for each of us, with final parting gifts in them. She gave me a hand-carved wooden shaving bowl and Quomodo Indvidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christa natalem abrogaverit. Thank you, Maman!

She really thought about us, each one of us, and made her passing as easy for us as she could.

And I'm grateful. I just wish I knew where to send the thank you. I'd deliver it in person.

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