The End of Christmas

Today marks the end of our Christmas break. The visitors have all gone home, the spare bed has been folded up for another few months and now all that remains is to clear up a bit and start getting ready for school and work tomorrow.

The tree is still standing, of course, but it will be disassembled and put into storage before too long.

But first, I shall start scrolling through the long list of articles and blog posts that I haven’t gotten around to over the past couple of weeks and start catching up.

How’s your 2020 going so far?

That was the year that was

This is not a resolutions post, because I don’t do resolutions. That said, now is as good a time as any to take stock of where I am right now.

Looking back at where I was this time last year, I am quite pleased to be able to say that I do now have my weight under control. When I was younger, and cycling to work every day, I used to be able to eat and drink whatever I wanted with no need to worry. I’m older now, and commuting by car and by train, and back in 2018 I finally had to admit that it wasn’t my shirts that were shrinking.

I needed to lose a few kilos and, importantly, I wanted to do this in a manner that would be sustainable. I know what I’m like and I know full well that gym memberships and calorie counting are not things that I will continue with for any length of time. Instead, I have attempted to make some changes to my lifestyle and behaviour (more walking, less snacking) and it seems to have worked. My weight has fallen from 92 kilos to a near-optimum 81.3 kilos. I am not planning to make any further changes to my behaviour and, if I stick with my current habits, I should be able to stay reasonably healthy for the foreseeable future.

I also wanted to catch up on my unwatched DVDs. Finding time for this is still a bit of a struggle, although as my eldest son gets older, the range of films that can be added to our Saturday night film is slowly growing. I have stopped buying DVDs though and am no longer mentioning films when people ask about Christmas and birthday presents.

I am pretty much caught up on my unread books list and did reach my target of reading 30 books in 2019. That said, some of the books were very short — some of them not even long enough to be called a novella — so this feels like a bit of a cheat. I will give myself the same target in 2020, but this time with the aim of reading two and a half actual novels a month.

I’m still rubbish at Go. Improving, slowly, but I still lose way more than I win. I am not really trying to improve my game either at the moment, just playing for the fun of playing and seeing how things go (pun intended).

And that’s it really. I am going into 2020 much the same as 2019, but more so. There are other things I would like to fit into my life, but the challenge is always working out where to find the time, so I’m not mentioning any of these until I have some idea of the how.

All that’s left, therefore, is for me to wish everyone a very Happy New Year.

See you in 2020

Merry Christmas

I have learned, through repeated readings of The Christmasaurus, that when we leave treats out on Christmas Eve, the carrot is for Santa and the milk is for the reindeer.

I almost feel guilty about the fact that, every year, I always insist on leaving out a glass of whisky. I thought it was for Santa. Honest.

I’m still convinced that Rudolf would prefer a mince pie, or even some cheese and biscuits, rather than the same carrot he gets at every house he visits. But this is an argument I lose every year.

But the snacks are out and all that is left is for me to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone.

Wherever you are, and regardless of how (or if) you celebrate the Mid-Winter festival, have a great day.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

And I have very little knowledge.

At the start of this year, I laid my hands on a new PC and ended up installing openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. As Linux distributions go, it’s a pleasure to use although I haven’t had much time to tinker with it. Until yesterday.

One, incredibly trivial, issue I have had with openSUSE is that the boot menu is really bland — just a list of available operating systems on a plain black background. So I started playing around with GRUB themes, because who doesn’t want a nice picture for the couple of seconds it takes me to hit Enter.

There is a reason why I usually avoid tinkering with stuff like this on weekdays and, inevitably enough, I broke my boot partition. This, in plain English, means that my PC is now unable to start and I have what amounts to a large brick sitting on my desk.

All is not lost, though, as I happened to have been looking at Manjaro over the weekend and, therefore, had a bootable USB stick. With this I was able get into the PC and take a backup of my Home folder. So all of my data is safe. Unless the cat gets at it, of course.

So tonight I shall be mainly trying to get Boot Repair to clean up my mess for me. And if all else fails, I will install Manjaro.

I am tempted to switch to Manjaro anyway. Doing so would let me get at the Arch AUR, which I do find myself missing on occasion. Additionally, Manjaro is really pretty.

Failing at public transport

Today started well. I was running a little late this morning and arrived at the station just in time to see the train arrive. So I made a rare dash and leapt aboard.

You know that feeling when, just as the doors close, you realise you’re on the wrong train?

I do.

I should have been heading south-west towards Brussels. Instead, I was on the train going nort-west to Antwerp. This was not good and, in a state of mild panic, I pulled out my phone and fired up the train timetables app in order to figure out where I was and how to get back on the right track.

And then the conductor appeared.

I admitted my mistake as I handed over my ticket and he kindly informed me that to jump off at the next station and change trains twice was insane (my words, not his) and would likely leave me stranded by a missed connection on some tiny train stop in the middle of nowhere.

Far better, he said, would be to accept my fate and go all the way to Antwerpen Berchem, from which I could take the intercity directly to Brussels.

I did, of course, follow his advice and comfortably made the connection, finally arring at work an hour later than usual. And me being me, I was on edge for the entire journey which isn’t helped by the fact that it’s so dark in the morning that I can’t look out of the window to see where I am.

But the worst part of this was: No breakfast!

I hope everyone else is having a better Wednesday than me.

English people speaking Dutch

This is what I asked for.

This is what the nice young man behind the bar handed to me.

I’m not sure how I managed to mispronounce Chimay Blauw quite that badly but, given that I did, I should probably stick to coffee for the rest of today.

For the record, I don’t normally drink bottled water. In fact, I never drink bottled water because the very idea of putting water into bottles and then charging people for the inconvenience strikes me as being fundamentally stupid. But it’s popular in Belgium.

And sparkling bottled water tastes disgusting.

Guilty

We don’t let the boys use their tablets on school nights which can lead to me feeling a bit bad if one of them wanders into the office and catches me looking at Board Game Arena. So today’s Wumo strikes a little close to home.

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That said, I do stay away from the phone while the kids are around and I try to ensure that any online activity on my part is limited to stuff that actually needs to be done.

Dead tree blogging

Often when I sit down to write a blog post, I will immediately start distracting myself. Something needs to be looked up or some fact needs to be checked and suddenly I have vanished down an internet-shaped rabbit hole. The post remains unwritten and now I have to do something else.

So as an experiment in distraction-free blogging, this post, like the last one, was drafted using a pen and paper while sitting on the train.

It’s an interesting process and I do find that the draft post comes a lot faster and a lot more easily when I have nothing to do but write. Of course, drafting on paper means that I can’t easily shift text around, but this is probably a good thing (for me, at least) as it means that tidying up and formatting the post is something that has to wait until after the initial draft is written.

I don’t know that I will always use this approach, and I can see some cases where it won’t work, but as a means of unblocking words, it is proving quite effective so far.

Emergency Entertainment, or: What’s in the games bag

Last week I mentioned that we have a bag or portable games for emergency entertainment and I thought it might be interesting to delve into this, so to speak.

A bit of context first. Eve and I both enjoy eating out and it didn’t really occur to us that we should stop doing this just because we had kids. Of course, no-one wants to be That Really Annoying Family With The Screaming Kids, so we tried to make sure that we would be able to keep the kids entertained while we waited for the food to arrive. Initially, this meant looking for restaurants with outdoor play areas (there used to be two locally, now only one — but it’s really good) and, later, ensuring we had paper and crayons to hand.

As the boys grew older, we have continued to bring our own entertainment when we go out for food, but this entertainment has veered towards multi-player card games. Our restaurant routine has now become one in which we sit down, decide what to play, order drinks, deal, order food and play until said food arrives.

It’s an approach that works for us and, I think, if we are all sitting around a decent sized table it’s a lot nicer to do something together rather than all lock ourselves into phones and tablets (actual quote from an actual waiter).

The bag itself has gone through several iterations. At one point, we had a lot of two-player travel games in it which was fine when the twins were too young to join in. But as they have grown older, these games have been replaced with multi-player games and the multiplayer games have all turned out to be card games, primarily because these are easy to transport and don’t take up too much space when played.

So, what’s currently in the bag?

First up, we have three puzzle games — one for each of the boys. These are designed to be played individually so if, for any reason, one or more of the boys doesn’t want to join in, they don’t have to. This is important because, to me at least, playing games should be something fun that we choose to do, no a chore to keep the kids quiet.

Next up is Uno. Uno is a great game and one that works really well when we are out and about. It’s compact, simple and can be played by any number of people.

Then we have The Monkey Poo game. Because a family that throws poo together is a family that stays together.

The most recent addition to the bag is Exploding Kittens. We played this on Sunday and it’s still going down a storm.

There are also a couple of trivia games (Harry Potter trivia and Dinosaur trivia, if you must know). These may not stay in the bag for much longer though as the twins tend to switch off quite quickly when they come out. We shall see.

And finally, we have a deck of bog standard playing cards. Four suits and thirteen cards per suit. And with one of these, you can play anything.

I keep thinking that we should also add Sushi Go to the bag. This is another multi-player party game that, on the face of it, should work well when we are out and about. The only problem is that once a round is played, everyone has to tot up their scores. This adds an extra layer of organisation that I have so far managed to avoid.

So over to you. If you’re a parent, how do you keep your kids entertained when you’re out and about?

Strike!

As you may or may not be aware, the Belgian public service unions went on a 24 hour strike yesterday, impacting most of the country’s transport infrastructure. Most notably, Belgian airspace was closed for the day meaning that all flights in and out of the country were cancelled. Most of the trams and buses were out of action and only half of the trains are running.

For me, these strikes are great as they make my train journey to and from the office so much more pleasant.

The thing is that, while only half the trains are running, the rail company (NMBS) is working to an alternative schedule that prioritises rush hour traffic. So disruption is kept to a minimum and crucially (for me) the intercity trains that I usually catch are running as normal.

It get’s better than this though because most people who can make alternative arrangements (such as driving to work or working from home) do make alternative arrangements. I can usually find a seat on the train, but today I was able to find a block of four seats, sit back, stretch out and read in comfort. It’s almost a shame that the seats don’t recline.

And so to the office.

As mentioned earlier, everyone who can work from home is working from home. In this case, that’s everyone with whom I normally share an office. And if you have ever worked in an open-plan environment I am sure you will appreciate just how pleasant it can be to occasionally enjoy a distraction free environment.

Since I was both shockingly punctual and amazingly productive in the morning, I figured I could justify taking my full lunch break and go for a bit of a walk.

Going home was even better. For the first time this year the train was actually on time, and the carriage was even emptier than it had been this morning. The only problem is that, being on time, I was home with the pizzas before the boys had returned from karate.

There have been several strikes over the past year or so and, while I am aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, I can’t help but hope we have a few more.