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Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Sunday, 21 September 2008

I've been absent from this site for quite some time. Life and work just gets in the way, and submitting posts to this weblog is too cumbersome to do on-the-fly.


As web technologies have improved and matured over the last two years, I took another look at "blog services". Most important for me is the ease with which new entries can be made offline, and the automatically posted online. This way, all entries exist independently locally - the web journal is just a copy of it.


As it happens, I'm trying out the wordpress service in conjunction with Journler and MarsEdit. Thus far this combination of tools has passed usability tests, and I've been able to create new posts FAST, as well as retaining an offline original. The service is hosted by wordpress, so no maintenance for me, and more time to focus on content, work and life.


So I'll give it a try. You can find the second / new / alternate / possible replacement journal at



Our children have eyes but they are blind…
Pieter's Blog - People & Books
Friday, 11 January 2008

Through strange coincidence, I once met Sir Edmund Hillary on a flight from New Zealand to Singapore. I remember him as a towering figure, very tall, like a force of nature. He smiled at me, and went back to whatever he was doing in the front row of coach class. He and I also happen to share the same birthday.

This article is a tribute to him.


Sir Edmund Hillary

"Burra Sahib (big Sahib), our children have eyes but they are blind and can not see. Therefore, we want you to open their eyes by building a school in our village of Khumjung", was the answer from a Sherpa friend to Sir Edmund Hillary's question in 1960 how he could help Nepal's Sherpa people. He immediately went to work to raise funds and was able to build the school one year later.


"It is impossible not to see that they lack all the things that we regard as essential in life. They don't have schools and they don't have any medical care or anything of this nature. And I suddenly decided that instead of just talking about it - why didn't I try and do something about it.", he said, explaining the reasons for establishing his humanitarian project, the Himalayan Trust, to assist the impoverished in Nepal.


Since this first school, the Himalayan Trust has built a further 26 schools and provides financial support to an additional 33. The Trust expanded its work beyond education and now includes projects related to health, reforestation and cultural preservation, ensuring that all projects are planned and implemented jointly by the local community and the Trust. With international support from various Hillary and Himalaya foundations in the the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Germany, the Trust:

  • provided scholarships for Sherpa children
  • built two hospitals and more than 12 health clinics
  • initiated a reforestation program with three nurseries
  • became involved in cultural preservation through the rebuilding and renovation of local monasteries, Chortens (pagodas) and prayer wheels.
  • built Lukla airport (gateway to Everest) in 1964 to facilitate the transport of building materials, equipment, hospital and school supplies. Today, this airport has become one of the busiest domestic airports in Nepal, bringing economic prosperity for the local people.


Norgay and Hillary in 1953

Today, Sir Edmund Hillary passed on, at the age of 88. The world probably knew him best as the first person, together with Sherpa Tensing Norgay, to conquer Chomolungma (Mount Everest), the highest mountain on Earth - part of the Himalaya range between Nepal and Tibet. On May 29th, 1953 "I continued on, cutting steadily and surmounting bump after bump and cornice after cornice looking eagerly for the summit. It seemed impossible to pick it and time was running out. Finally I cut around the back of an extra large hump and then on a tight rope from Tensing I climbed up a gentle snow ridge to its top. Immediately it was obvious that we had reached our objective. It was 11.30a.m. and we were on top of Everest!", he writes in his diary Nothing Venture, Nothing Win. He describes the landscape below them and continues: "Tensing and I shook hands and then Tensing threw his arms around my shoulders. It was a great moment! I took off my oxygen and for ten minutes I photographed Tensing holding flags, the various ridges of Everest and the general view. I left a crucifix on top for John Hunt and Tensing made a little hole in the snow and put in it some food offerings - lollies, biscuits and chocolate. We ate Mint Cake and then put our oxygen back on. I was a little worried by the time factor so after 15 minutes on top we turned back at 11.45."


Many in the Sherpa community consider Sir Edmund Hillary a second father. "His work changed the life of the whole Sherpa community. Without his work, especially the schools, the Sherpas would be nowhere," the vice president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association told AFP. Today, many Nepali friends are lighting butter lamps and offer special Buddhist prayers for his reincarnation as a human being.


I offer this Bahá'í prayer:


O my God! O my God! Verily, thy servant, humble before the majesty of Thy divine supremacy, lowly at the door of Thy oneness, hath believed in Thee and in Thy verses, hath testified to Thy word, hath been enkindled with the fire of Thy love, hath been immersed in the depths of the ocean of Thy knowledge, hath been attracted by Thy breezes, hath relied upon his supplications to Thee, and hath been assured of Thy pardon and forgiveness. He hath abandoned this mortal life and hath flown to the kingdom of immortality, yearning for the favor of meeting Thee.

            O Lord, glorify his station, shelter him under the pavilion of Thy supreme mercy, cause him to enter Thy glorious paradise, and perpetuate his existence in Thine exalted rose garden, that he may plunge into the sea of light in the world of mysteries.

            Verily, Thou art the Generous, the Powerful, the Forgiver and the Bestower.



Godspeed, Edmund.


First Light 2008
Pieter's Blog - Bella & Alec
Wednesday, 09 January 2008

First Light 2008. Artwork by my son Alec. He's not as much into drawing and art as my firstborn, but he cranks out some pretty cool images when he is in the mood. And then he is done. Time to move on and learn something else... Here's the first products of 2008...


Randy Newman
Pieter's Blog - People & Books
Friday, 04 January 2008

There are days when you think all is lost - on top of people's daily misery and sheer insurmountable challenges everywhere, the American leadership adds insult to injury by its callous selfishness and continued behavior of a big bad bully.


Where is the warm-heartedness I so strongly experience among everyday people? Is anyone speaking out against the corrosive corruption and the uber-self-interest practiced by so many?


Ahh. Just found some ;-) 


I have cherished Randy Newman for some time. Besides his musical talents, he has the uncanny ability to capture the essence of particular situations. So here's a recent song of his (thanks youtube!) about the current political climate, and America's need for some friendship. Or, how a song speak can speak more clearly-quickly than any written report.

Randall Stuart "Randy" Newman (born November 28, 1943) is an Academy Award- winning American songwriter, arranger, composer, singer and pianist who is notable for his mordant (and often satirical) pop songs and for his many film scores.

Charlie Rose and Randall Robinson
Pieter's Blog - People & Books
Saturday, 29 December 2007
Merry Christmas
Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Thursday, 20 December 2007

I was just reminded of the funny performance of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" by the original members of Straight No Chaser at the Musical Arts Center, Bloomington, Indiana. December 7th, 1998. Thank you youtube...

I *do* love Christmas, in a cultural tongue in cheek kind-of-way, and although Ayyam-i-Ha is now competing very well at our homely Bahai life, I cannot refrain from wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy new (Common Era) year ;-)


Pivot Point – The Inner Eye
Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Thursday, 13 December 2007

Three (in)significant things happened today. Strangely, they propelled me into hyper drive, with my mind barely able to keep up. Unggh. Toooo many ideas. Too many film scenes. Playing through my inner eye. Too much understanding all at once. If only I could project and record my thoughts real-time. Perhaps Strange Days was onto something?


So what happened, you ask?


Tim Bray's ongoingFirst, I discovered a major development in the web community. No one will realize the significance of this, except a handful of web specialists. It was only because I subscribe and meticulously track one of them - Tim Bray - that I was alerted to this. Talk about a small technological standard evolving, which will change everything. His post concerning this is here.


imeemSecond, I was alerted to the new web-based music service imeem. This site is a clearinghouse for all major music labels and allows people to listen to any music - at full length and (mostly) CD-quality - for free. It is add-supported, so the free is free as in beer, not as in speech, but it's a major breakthrough.


Hmmm - you think. And?


Well, I thought that too, until I started to play around with the site, and I realized what it did to my head ;-) I could access music from various geographies* and moments in my life. I an hour, I had relived many different parts of my life. This is a completely new experience, in that I can travel back and forth along my lifeline, so I can see where I've been. Which then helps me see where I'm going.


Imeem has been able to create a sweet spot in usability, back catalog, ease to find things, jump around among music genres and periods. And it will need to refine and improve over time, as the voracious appetite of the public will demand more, but overall, it's a great new way to access and enjoy art.


The freedom I experienced is creatively intoxicating. Yet one more piece of evidence that art wants to be free. Needs to be free. And the artists need to be free to keep making their unusual observations. I can feel a whole new way of remuneration bubbling under the surface, can't you?


To top all this, I was wondering how accessible back-catalog TV has become. Youtube et al. do provide short clips of course, and the various online sources I mentioned before do provide some access. But think of any great TV show from the 70s or 80s, and you're out of luck. Not available on cable syndication, unless you get lucky, and not available on DVD, unless you want to buy a whole tv-season worth.


AOL Video Then I rediscovered AOL video. Not a great experience, in no way comparable to imeem, but there are at least some shows I could revisit one by one, streaming down to my desktop. A clunky and buggy interface, a painful way to search, and no way to skip forward in the stream make this not very future-proof. But perhaps the imeem model can be applied by some smart start-up?


It's only a matter of time before all art will be easily accessible. And I can see books, fine art, music, movies, tv shows all ubiquitously present in our lives. Which will lead to wholly new inner realities, more ways to mash up various art forms. It's not the technology that matters, but how it is an expression of our understanding of the world.


isabella_200bw"Are we there yet?", asks Isabella. "Almost, smarty-pants. Just do your homework and get enough sleep." As we find new expressions for our understanding of the world, we will most likely find ourselves very very interconnected, and ready to face any global challenge that may come along. Whether we like it or not ;-)










* Until imeem, I could not access European music from iTunes, being in the US myself. Or music from Australia or South America for that matter, as the iTunes store limits access to geography. This is of course based on the property rights that are divided along those lines, and has nothing to with the art itself.

Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Saturday, 24 November 2007

CC Photo by Trey Ratcliff - The Secret Passageway to the Treasure


Back into the fray, or would that be out of the fray ;-), today is turning interesting. Dhammapada XV verse 205 would sum it up, and here are two different translations for your enjoyment:

Drinking the nourishment,
the flavor,
of seclusion & calm,
one is freed from evil, devoid
of distress,
refreshed with the nourishment
of rapture in the Dhamma.

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


Having savored the taste of solitude and peace (of Nibbana),
pain-free and stainless he becomes, drinking deep the taste
of the bliss of the Truth.

Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita.

Gardening At Last
Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Monday, 12 November 2007

It took four years and lots of other more urgent home and house projects, but we finally made a real effort to clean up the yard and various sections of our "small private park" ;-)



I pruned the trees (again) and cut some back and we said goodbye to the occasional dead Rhododendrons and some vague weeds that had grown to brush size (oopsie). Our red-rock paths - overgrown in the previous two months with some weird grass-like weed that came out of nowhere - were cleaned up and replenished with new rock.


We attacked our driveway, had it leveled and refreshed with more clean blue-grey rock, and we weeded and mulched all flower beds, both in our back yard, as well as along the front side of the house, after Nishat and Isabella planted close to 300 new flower bulbs: scilla, a dozen hyacinths, some more daffodils and lots of tulips.


Here's some pictures of the flickr set


Steam Train - Fall Colors
Pieter's Blog - Bella & Alec
Monday, 12 November 2007

Fall finally came, and it almost feels like winter already. We were lucky to have some beautiful weekends with lots of sun and crispy weather, and we seized the chance to ride the Ivy Land Express, an original steam train about 30 minutes from our house, in picturesque New Hope, PA.


Particularly Alec loves trains, but Bella was enthralled as well, but this beast that seems to be alive, breathing and smoking. The fall colors and perfect autumn weather made for a great family event. Here's some pictures (via flickr)


Cooking with alcohol
Pieter's Blog - Foods & Cooks
Saturday, 08 September 2007

flambe_200 Finally a chance to cover some food and cooking - a topic that somehow escapes writing about, but that is a major component of my daily life.


When I became a Bahá'í about twenty years ago, it resulted in a change of lifestyle. One of those changes involves abstaining from alcohol. Not a big deal in the drinking sense, as I drank very little already. But, coming from a northern European country, many friends and family cooked regularly, adding wine, beer or liqueurs to the food.


Interestingly, the Bahá'í Writings clearly suggest to refrain from any kind of alcohol - unless prescribed by a physician - and not to add it to food in any way. Generally, when preparing their own meals, Bahá'ís take this seriously. The challenge arrives when visiting someone else, who does not live by this advice, and serves up a delectable meal.


What happens?


Well, practically, one would just eat the food, and not make a fuss. Perhaps I would then mention at some later time that I really don't consume any alcohol, not even in food. Most friends end up respecting it, and take it into account the next time.


There's a second scenario that is so common it is the main reason for me to write about this (at last): a discussion ensues as to whether there is any alcohol left in the food after cooking, kind of forgetting this is a religious issue, and that any underlying reason pro or contra may not really be relevant in any way. So I've tried to have that conversation a few times (right, mom?), but found it unsatisfactory and divisive, as there was never any commonly accepted scientific source to provide a way out of this argument.


By sheer chance, I just stumbled (via ChowHound) upon some updated information from the USDA - the United States Department of Agriculture, a scientific source I would think we can all (provisionally?) agree with. In their 2003 report on Nutrient  Retention Factors (2003), they provide some data on alcohol retention during food preparation. A summary is available on another website, giving the following overview:


Alcohol Burn-off Chart
 Preparation Method  Percent Retained
alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat 85%
alcohol flamed 75%
no heat, stored overnight 70%
baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture 45%
Baked/simmered dishes with alcohol stirred into mixture:
15 minutes cooking time 40%
30 minutes cooking time 35%
1 hour cooking time 25%
1.5 hours cooking time 20%
2 hours cooking time 10%
2.5 hours cooking time 5%


I think this puts all discussion, even among Bahá'ís themselves, to rest. Phew.

US Open 2007
Pieter's Blog - Stuff Happens
Thursday, 06 September 2007

Some pictures from our trip to the US Open, last Labor Day. Perfect weather and a great day of tennis made this quite unforgettable. For more details, browse the flickr set: direct link to the US Open set.


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“The aggregate of all knowledge has not yet become culture in us.
pieter_bw_104x141Rather it would seem as if, with the progres- sive scientific dissection of reality, the foundations of our thinking grow ever more precarious and unstable.”

Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), in
The Shadow of Tomorrow, ch. 6 (1936)