Nick Brosnahan

Beer, Chocolate, Lace, and Frites

Belfry and Canal

Brugge, Belgium is by any measure very picturesque. What’s marvelous about it is that you can just walk down any street and you’ll have a world of things you could photograph. The problem is that there are also a huge number of tourists. Duh. It wasn’t as bad as Venice, but it was pretty thick.

Brugge was enthusiastically recommended by Jamie and Kathy Osborne (and their kids) and it has been on our list for quite a while now, so Anne and I packed up our kids and took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord up to Brugge. It’s a straight shot and a very quick ride. We stayed in the penthouse room at a very pretty little B&B near the city center run by a nice lady named Livia. Apart from the occasional head bonk (low ceilings), we loved it and hit the sack pretty much right away so we could get an early start the next morning.

The first thing we did, and perhaps the most important to do, was to take the canal tour. If you get there early enough, the tourists haven’t reached critical mass and it’s really quite pleasant. We were watching the boats later and by the time noon rolled around, it looked uncomfortable. There is also a horse-carriage tour, which looked really popular, but we didn’t end up doing it, probably because it didn’t seem very appealing to stand in line for a long time and then buzz by all the sights downwind of a sweaty horse.

We had a very nice lunch at the Duc de Bourgogne, which is right near where one of the boat tours sets off. I had a beer called Bruges Zot, which was excellent. We then tried to go climb the belfry, but by mid-afternoon, it was packed and the line was not moving at all. We ended up walking out to the lace-making demonstration, which is a small room filled with a bunch of little old ladies all making lace at lightning speed. I suppose it’s the one of the original RSI-inducing activities.

After that, we ended up wandering to the eastern side of Brugge over in the park with the windmills. These are really a lot of fun to see, especially when the grass is green and the sun is shining. We also got ice cream just so we could super-size the experience.

We had the world’s worst tourist dinner right on the Markt square at the Hotel Central. I don’t recommend it at all. The only thing that was good was the 50cl of beer I had in a long flute. The service was horrible, the food was terrible, and they wouldn’t let us sit inside to avoid the smokers when we asked to move. We should have just left.

Anne and I deposited the children at the B&B and went out again to take some pictures at night. The available subjects are plentiful, and I think I got some good ones, but I still feel like I could do with a night-photography training session. It’s too hit-and-miss for my taste. We ended up getting waffles as dessert from a restaurant and then calling it a night.

The second day, we got up later because of daylight savings time and went down for breakfast. It turns out that another two sets of couples had checked in and were joining for breakfast. Kellen and Kyra ate their way through several helpings of everything that was offered, and I had to keep them from hoovering up everything before the other people got some. It’s going to become a problem keeping the house stocked with food soon. I envision a day when I come home and one of them will be calmly eating a stick of butter.

We ended up going right after breakfast to climb the belfry and it was a much better experience. The view is spectacular and the carillon plays every quarter of an hour. At 11:00 am, there is a special concert done by a real person. It’s really pretty loud if you’re in the belfry when the bells are ringing, but it’s an awesome experience.

We tried to get to the chocolate museum, but ended up settling for going to something like four different chocolate shops to buy samples. We also stopped in to a lot of different shops selling lace.

On the art front, we did manage to see a Michelangelo sculpture at one of the churches, but the highlight of the museum circuit for me was the Frites Museum, where you get to see the history of the potato arriving in Europe and its subsequent rise to glory with the perfection of the Belgian frite.

Note that these should never have been called French fries. That was the mistake of some American GIs in the second world war, who mistook some French-speaking Belgians for French. We, of course, had to sample these frites in the special restaurant in the basement of the museum. They were delicious.

At the end of the day, we packed up and took the Thalys train back to Paris and let Kellen navigate us from Gare du Nord back to Metro Rome, which is not easy. It was a wonderful week-end getaway.

February Trips

Family Pic

We recently got back from our February vacation. This is, of course, another of the kid’s school vacations. The French school system is 7 weeks on and 2 weeks off, so we have a lot of vacations to fill. The French usually just stay at home I guess, but we’re not that sort of lazy. The kids are rightly upset at us that we drag them off to exotic locations and they complain loudly (sometimes). We pay absolutely no heed and inject them with culture regularly.

So, our recent trips have included:

As much as they grumble, I feel that they are beginning to really get a lot out of these little side trips. They are both getting very good at adapting to changing circumstances and their navigational skills in strange cities are both developing nicely.

Even though they would like to eat pasta and hotdogs for every meal, they are starting to be more curious and accepting of other foods that are available to them. I love that Kellen is always trying to understand and speak French and even a little Spanish when we were in Barcelona.

Kyra is always excited to light a candle when we visit churches, and they both love walking on walls and standing on little pillars that they find.

Learning French (and Other Languages)

So, I have a test today. It’s a French expression écrite, which is basically an essay. I’m taking an adult education course for Français langue étrangère (FLE) that’s offered by the mairie.

I’m planning on continuing next semester, but it’s an interesting point at which to evaluate my experience. I have found that learning a foreign language is a very rewarding activity and I want to continue to learn French and retain it for the rest of my life. I also want to learn other languages, like Chinese, German, and Spanish because they represent important parts of who I am and where I live.

The interesting thing about learning French is that it has taught me so much about English. The various words that the languages share make our cultures seem so much closer than they did before. I’ve been told that learning languages is a good way to keep from the mind sharp and stave off dementia. Anyway, I find it worth the effort and recommend it to all.

Learning Photoshop

I’ve been ramping up on my photography a bit more this year and while it’s going to take a lifetime of continuous practice to improve the initial capture, there is an area of photography that I’ve been wanting to start learning: Photoshop. I figure that it’s a useful skill to develop, not just for photo retouching. I can definitely recommend the Tuts+ Photoshop Essentials course. It’s pretty short and helped me get going.

I’ve also been laughing at You suck at photoshop. Pretty old, but the schtick is hilarious.

Moving to Paris

Since Anne and I have come out of stealth-mode and started telling people that we’re packing up the family and moving to Paris, most people’s general reaction follows this approximate timeline:

  1. Shock or surprise that we’re moving out of the country
  2. Initial curiosity about how that is going to work
  3. More shock or surprise that we’re not going to be working in Paris
  4. For co-workers, a jarring realization that we won’t be around to do work for Apple
  5. Further curiosity about what we plan to spend our time on.
  6. Another realization that they had always wanted to do something like this.
  7. A general happiness for us and that we are very brave to be doing this.
  8. A kind of pensive look as we part company.

I hope that everyone I work with and everyone I’m friends with in the Bay Area understand that this has been coming for a long time. Way longer than the nine months that it took to plan this trip. I think the first time Anne and I discussed living in some other country was like a decade ago.

How well or poorly work was going had minimal influence on us. This is a big, life-changing experience that we both wanted our kids to have in middle school.

I also want people to know that we do indeed intend to return to the US, to our house in Sunnyvale, and that the current plan is to be back in August of 2014. Now, life has a tendency to change, so I can’t promise anything.

Until then, I’m hoping to be able to update folks here and elsewhere on the Internets as our adventure proceeds.

Au revoir.

Trending Vegan

A while back, on a trip to Washington, DC we were gathered around in my Mom and Dad’s apartment to meet my sister and her kids. It came out that my sister had been prepping my niece Lizzie about the various members of the family she was going to be seeing and one of the things she was taught was what Uncle Nick likes to eat. It went something like this:

My Sister: “Lizzie, what does Uncle Nick like to eat?”

Lizzie points at me.

Lizzie: “Nick”

My Sister: “Yes, that’s Uncle Nick. What does he like to eat?”

A huge smile would spread across Lizzie’s face.

Lizzie: “Bacon”

Well, I do love bacon, and steak, and pork ribs, and BBQ chicken, and all manner of other tasty meats, but I’m realizing more and more that the combined efforts of the food industry and the weakness of our congress has created a cloud of confusion around food and its healthfulness.

We’re told:

  • “Eat a lot of protein, less fat”.
  • “Keep your calories from fat to less than 1/3 of your total caloric intake.”
  • “Drink lots of milk for strong bones and teeth.”
  • “Omega-3 fatty acids are key for health.”
  • “Eggs are very healthy.”
  • “Limit your carbohydrates.”
  • “Moderate exercise three times a week is good.”

Sadly, Americans are fatter and fatter, and sicker and sicker every year. It’s because all this USDA/FDA tiptoeing advice is polished bullshit that’s been filtered through the “profit impact filters” of every corporation and middleman who might be affected by any significant change in the American diet status quo.

Being healthy means ignoring everything that the government or the food industry tells you because they’re both trying to make you sick. And they’re doing a great job of it and it’s profitable.

Bill Maher has an awesome rant about this:

I recently watched two movies and read two books that all point in the same direction.

First, the movies:

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead Forks Over Knives

Both of these movies are scary yet both present people who watch them with a hard-to-ignore call to action: “Stop eating meat, dairy, and sugar and just eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You’ll be thinner, healthier, and feel whole a lot better.”

Next, the books:

Eating Animals The China Study

Both of these books could be categorized as “advocating vegetarianism”. The first concentrates on the cultural reasons for eating meat, the production of that meat, and the associated cruelty with eating meat, but in the end, it leaves the reader with no real call to action, instead letting the information settle and people might do the right thing.

The second book is a shocker. I mean “Holy Shit” sort of shocker. And it’s all backed up by referenced scientific, peer-reviewed studies that all shout the same thing:

“Meat, dairy, and sugar are all slowly poisoning America”

It’s that simple, and no one in the food industry or the government wants to change that, because there’s no profit in selling bell peppers.

So, over time, I’ve been ramping down on my meat consumption and increasing my physical activity and I’m now at the point where I’m trying to go vegan. I don’t think I’ll be perfect, but I’m not even really trying for that. What I’m trying for is that on a day-to-day basis, I don’t want to even consider meats or dairy part of my diet. I strongly suggest that everyone watch these movies and read these books, especially The China Study.

Playing With HDR

I just downloaded Photomatix to try out doing some HDR processing.

Here’s my first. I tried not to go overboard.

Bridalveil Fall

The Photomatix tool is pretty easy to use and there’s a nice tutorial on the StuckInCustoms site. There’s even a discount code for Photomatix if you like.

Christmas Decapitated

I enjoy Christmas, mostly. However, some years it feels like it’s a beast that is born, must be fed then house broken, then finally grows old and stale, and must be mortally defeated in early January.

Here’s our little Sith Lord giving the Christmas tree what it rightfully deserves. Christmas Decapitated

Happy New Year!

Last night we had a great party with our traditional New Year’s Eve Fondue Feast.

Fondue

As this is the time of year to make resolutions, I have to make a comment on resolutions, namely, that most people make them, but can’t stick to them, so they’ve become something of a joke.

That being said, I still feel like January 1st is a day of considering what’s happened so far and what still needs work, so in the style of a status-report, here are my top few:

  1. Happiness — I’ve been trying to be happier. Mostly, I want to be happy with what I have, not unhappy about what I don’t have. When you’re scrabbling around at the top of Maslo’s Pyramid of Needs, it’s really easy to forget how good a life you already have.
  2. Fitness — I’ve been trying to be more fit. I’ve recently taken up running, and it’s been going pretty well so far. I’m going to try to keep that up. Additionally, Anne and I have recently decided to eat less crap food. We don’t generally eat fast food, but we do get take-out and eat out at restaurants a lot. We’ve started planning family meals together and we hope that we can dial back both the expense and poor quality of our food (I can already hear the whining).
  3. Creativity — I’d like to be more creative, so I’m going to be spending more time writing (this blog is a good example), and more time doing photography (so that I have a better excuse to get a Canon 5D Mark III when they come out).
  4. Time Wasting — I’d like to spend less time consuming and more time producing (see #3 above). This means I’m going to be dialing back on TV, video games, etc. It also means I’m going to be spending less time reading what’s going on Reddit and Digg. This is also a way to avoid becoming incredibly depressed (see #1 above) about how quickly the United States is sliding into FAIL (see NDAA and The Economy).

New Blog

I’ve decided to get my blog up and running again, and I’ve selected Octopress on the recommendation of Matt Gemmell. It’s a statically-generated website from a set of templates that are run through a bunch of rake tasks using Jekyll. Ruby almost always makes me happy.

I’ve also decided to host this blog on namecheap.com after the whole anti-SOPA fervor that surrounded godaddy.com. I think both companies are struggling under the load that this movement has created. GoDaddy is doing everything they can to avoid bleeding-out and Namecheap is struggling to keep up with all the GoDaddy refugees banging down their door.

We’ll just have to see how things go on MoveYourDomainDay. I have feeling it’ll be a little like the scenes from Braveheart with massive numbers of bodies lying on the field of battle and wounded survivors wandering through the fog in a daze.