Dear Friend…

Yesterday, the 29th of October, which may also be referred to as Frankenstorm Sandy Welcome Day/Earthquakes in Arkansas Day, marked my 11th handwritten letter to the United States. What started this old-fashioned way of communication? Before leaving for the Netherlands back in August, a friend of mine decided that we should stay in communication via letters, just like how things used to be up until recently. I thought this would be a great practice to undertake, so I dove into writing once I had the particulars of the Dutch mail system down (where to buy stamps, how to write addresses, what was my address, things of that nature).

clippy

Thankfully, with handwritten letters, there’s none of this crap. (Image from 4.bp.blogspot.com)

More recently – Wednesday of last week to be precise – I realized that I had an abundant supply of stamps that I had bought, with them going unused for a month. I thought it would be time to see if anyone back home desired a simple letter, allowing me to use up my supply of stamps without worrying of having leftovers. I wrote a mere, slight comment about it in a status update on Facebook, expecting maybe just 1 or 2 interested parties…

… Instead, I got about 9 requests from others back home. This excited me to no end, but upon finishing my first letter (after nearly 3 hours of writing, thank you silly script hand for being a slowpoke), I realized this was going to be a far more daunting task then realized.

slowpoke

A visual representation of my hand. (Image from media.photobucket.com)

I did have to make a trip to purchase more stamps, which I was actually totally cool with, and continued my journey to write. I cranked out roughly 2 per day, juggling between the letters and classwork. In the end, after more than a dozen pages written (on various sizes of paper, no less), I accomplished my task!

first time internet kid

(Image from knowyourmeme.com)

So, what be the point of this post? Sure, email is great. Facebook is fantastic. SMS is a godsend. But that old school method of pen and paper is about the best technology has to offer. It’s by far more connective of the writer to the reader than any form of communication, aside from that which is conducted in person. Script writing itself is an art form, and practicing any form of art is good on the person (aside from a sore wrist of incessantly writing for 3 hours).

I Dislike Cursive

Let me just take a moment to say that I feel like I wasted way too many elementary school hours – nay, days! – on practicing cursive. I’ve never used it once in my life. (Image from farm5.static.flickr.com)

Just as much as I would encourage to take up biking to get around town, I encourage all to take up hand writing when making casual communication with a fellow friend or family member. It’s a greater, more communicative interaction – sure, you may not be able to send those lovely animated gifs or auto-tuned news stories, but don’t you get a little of those after a while?

I know that I will be taking up letter writing more often when communicating with friends and others.

Aachen, Germany

October 17 marked an important occasion for me: my first excursion into Germany! It was a short trip, and not a terribly far distance from Maastricht, but it was yet quite a lovely day to visit a wonderful city with some wonderful ladies (all friends of course, mind you). This trip would also mark my second time visiting a new country outside of the United States (not counting the United Kingdom because, seriously, I was only at Heathrow for barely an hour).

So here’s the part where I am going to post a bunch of pictures with brief explanations and y’all can gawk and enjoy!

 

Charlemagne's casket

This particular photo above I wanted to pull out of the gallery specifically because of its historical significance with the giant gold thing in the background. It appears to be a gold cathedral-looking thing, but in reality it’s a casket made in 1215 by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Within the casket houses the remains of (WHAT FOR IT) Charlemagne, King of the Franks, first emperor of the Carolingian Empire. Chances are you may have slept through this awesome part of history class, which is unfortunate because this man had a vast influence on the Middle Ages (or the Dark Ages for you backward hillbillies who insist nothing happened between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance).

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 420 AD – by that point in history, the Roman Empire had split into Eastern and Western divisions, with the Eastern Roman Empire taking on the name of the Byzantine Empire and existing for another millennia until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD – there was little in the way of kingdoms for a few hundred years. The shining beacon during the Early Middle Ages was the rise of the Frankish Kingdom (thusly, the name of France deriving from the Franks). The Frankish Kingdom was not a particularly large kingdom, but eventually a man by the name of Charles I came into ruling. Within time, Charles would eventually take on the name of Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, and founding the Carolingian Empire, which would come to rule a vast part of western Europe for nearly a century.

So I got to see the gold and silver casket of a long-dead European emperor. Definitely the highlight of the Aachen trip.

A Little Thing Called Classes

So I’ve been in classes now for over a month, but I haven’t devoted so much as a word as to what I’m actually doing at Hogeschool Zuyd. If you got a moment to spare from your busy, busy lives, I’ll give a little insight as to what exactly I’m learning.

staring

But you don’t have to necessarily stop and stare. (Image from thumbs.dreamstime.com)

Currently, I’m in three courses at this time – The Narrative, User-Centered Project Management, and Multimedia Management – with a fourth course starting up in late November (Semantic Web). The three that I am currently taking are all full day classes, which means I go to the university three times a week and am in class from 9:30am to 4:30pm. While it can be a little exhausting spending much of that time learning and such, I’ve become acclimated to it the schedule and found the full day classes to be nearly more rewarding then having each course split up throughout the week.

Chocolate Baby

But not nearly as rewarding as chocolate. (Image from australiaentertains.com.au)

Now to move on to what these classes entail:

The Narrative

This class deals, in part, with film analysis, but is mainly geared towards developing a logical narrative and executing said narrative into a visual presentation. The presentation itself of the narrative is up to the group of persons on execution; animation, film, or a comic book are just some of means that could be utilized, if desired.

Schumacher Effect

Just try to avoid emulating Joel Schumacher’s coolness, it’s just not ice. (Image from www.zecatalist.com)

At this time, I’m no longer meeting in a classroom setting for The Narrative, as we have now moved into the narrative project phase, i.e. the main bulk of the class. I suspect that my group will stick with a standard film presentation of our narrative, once that narrative itself has been developed into an executable story.

User-Centered Project Management

This is probably one of the funnest courses that I have taken thus far in my college career. The concept behind this class is to work with a client on solving a particular internal problem that they are having. Skills involved inquire assessment, formulating a solution, and executing that solution in a manageable and logical way. What has made it fun is that of the 13 of us in the class, we’ve split into groups where we act as the clients and solution providers. On one hand, we tell the solution provider (another group) of the problems we are having without explicitly telling them our exact problem that needs fixing; and on the other hand, we act as the solution providers for another group, where we must analyze their problems and come to a solution to their problem via a software application.

poker

To be honest, it’s a lot like poker. (Image from graphics8.nytimes.com)

Working with my team of two other guys has proven to be exceptionally rewarding. Many of the discussions we have concerning our solution to our client are done via Skype, since one of my team members lives within another region of the Netherlands, making physical meetings impossible save for during class. Aside from heavily utilizing Skype to accomplish course work, we have wholly embraced technology for our use, namely by way of utilizing Google Drive and its collaboration and editing features. Documents are typically written by all three of us, sometimes at the same time with nary a problem in instant communication.

At this time, we are on our way from creating a mock-up of our tablet app that we’ve been developing to actually developing a working prototype, though not one that will necessarily run on a tablet.

Multimedia Management

This class has turned out to be an interesting, yet challenging, course that has put more than just my management skills to the test. The main challenge in the course is developing a game for the head of the European Union (not actually, I should say), to which it was wanted that this game will help bring about a European unity regarding identity. As I had pointed out before in a previous post, there is a widespread issue of crisis of identity among Europeans, which the game that I and my team are developing is meant to alleviate that crisis.

crisis

But a bigger crisis is ever-looming giant clocks that plague people’s lives day-in and day-out. (Image from economiccrisis.us)

To create the game, the class of about 45 students that I am in was split into groups, but that process itself was not a simple one. It began with 9 team leaders, myself included among that original 9, who volunteered to be in the position of team leader. Once the 9 of us had volunteered, the rest of the class divided into groups of people based upon their specialities: Design, Videography, Programming, and Marketing/Communication. It was then the responsibility of the team leaders to go around and find a member from each sub-group that would become a part of the team leader’s team. In the end, my team consisted of a diverse team of talents, ranging from 2 Designs (a Spaniard and a Frenchman), a Videographer (from Belgium), and a Marketing/Communication specialist (from Poland). All that can be said is that having a diverse group of persons is hugely beneficial for the scope of the project!

magic school bus

As diverse as the Magic School Bus, perhaps. God, I miss that show… (Image from sharetv.org)

At this time, we’re currently in the works of finishing the final designs of our game, which is a hybrid of an augmented-reality tablet app with real-world location-based missions. While we aren’t building a literal working augmented-reality app, the implications of our design and process are meant to convince the head of the European Union (the professor) that our concept is solid and is worthy of financial pursuit.

 

So that’s all I’ve got happening in my classes at this time. Three courses may seem rather light, but that are anything than that. At times, course work can drag out to 7 hour continuous stretches wrapped in one, long Skype meeting. Sitting around has never been more exhausting…

sitting around

Exactly. (Image from images.businessweek.com)

American Imperialism

Quick! What images come to mind when you think about America? If you thought of fast food, hicks, and television, then you’re not too far off from the mindset of a European.

TV

‘Merica. (Image from healthhabits.files.wordpress.com)

Despite the fact that I am nearly 4,600 miles from home (or 7,400 kilometers for the others), I still find bits of America here and there in this far off city of Maastricht, Netherlands. For example, the first place I ate at while in this city was at a McDonald’s (as you may recall). Add KFC, Subway, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza to the list of fast food joints here in Maastricht and you got a pretty good cover of American fast food joints.

fast food

I can almost feel the cholesterol coursing through my arteries. (Image from s3.amazonaws.com)

There’s even three McDonald’s located in Maastricht, which is surprising since the city itself is not remarkably big; to give an idea of size, Maastricht is roughly half the size (by area) of St. Joseph, Missouri,  but with a population density that is more than three times greater than St. Joseph.

The idea of what an American is varies from European to European, but let me hone you in with a few keywords: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, hicks. Yes, shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have created a lasting impact of the view of Americans abroad, even though those shows themselves are satires of American caricatures. And some Europeans may view Americans as being largely of the cowboy rural type, though only half of that being the truth (many Americans are largely from the rural areas of the United States). As I had pointed out before, some aspects of American pop culture have probably established this (somewhat) true perspective of Americans to an audience abroad.

Peter-Griffin

An accurate view of many Americans, maybe. (Image from www.milehighcinema.com)

Now for the big question to ask: Is all of this a bad thing? You probably won’t get a straight answer from anyone, but to answer honestly, I don’t see it as being terrible. The fast food joints are visited by anyone in Maastricht, my international friends included (though we prefer to keep to cooking for ourselves at most times) and they all enjoy the food when wanted. Television shows, such as the ones listed before, are quite popular among everyone; add Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the list of popular American TV shows that Europeans enjoy to that list as well.

firefly-poster

Sadly, not as well-known among my friends. (Image from askthedm.files.wordpress.com)

Hollywood films are also big business in Europe, with many of my international friends here being very familiar with all of the big titles over the years. While I can’t say movie theaters are nearly as common here as in the US, they are around and people do attend the movies (though pirating seems to be the most popular way to watch movies among everyone). The only downside with American films getting a release in Europe is that they tend to be delayed from anywhere to a couple of days to several months. Some films, such as Ted, don’t get a release until months after the US release, which can only be a shot in the foot for distributors since Europeans can easily find pirated copies of the film online before they’re ever released in a cinema in Europe.

the-pirate-bay-logo

Sorry copyright holders, but these guys are going to keep winning until the system is fixed. (Image from cdn.slashgear.com)

One film I particularly apt at wanting to see is Looper, but I’m going to have to wait until December if I want to see it at a theater, despite the fact that it has already been out in the States for nearly two weeks.

And where do I fit into this imperialistic-apparent juxtaposition? Well, for one thing, I know I’m here to get a viewpoint that is outside of the States, though I keep finding myself coming back to it from time to time, and not by my own doing. Sometimes I probably put on the look of an American a little too well, at my dismay at times. I am easily larger than your standard European, both in height and bulk. I speak loudly and talk about my love of barbecue a little too much. I even tend to wear a sleeveless shirt that reads “USA” in big bold letters, which often leads to laughs among my friends (and I’m totally cool with this as well, it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway).

america

Not this much tongue-in-cheek, however. (Image from totalfratmove.com)

With a little over two months left in my tenure in Maastricht, it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the looming presidential election in the United States. I’m commonly asked about my views of the candidates by other Europeans, who do take a very keen interest in the proceedings of an election that they have no sway in. Even the long arm of American politics has found its way into the minds of others abroad…

Candle in the Wind

So, if you haven’t noticed, there has been a distinct lack of output in the writing on this here blog. Pull a chair up and have a seat, for I will tell you a tale that should last no more than a few paragraphs.

big book

Not this many paragraphs, thankfully. (Image from ad009cdnb.archdaily.net)

Lets start at the beginning, shall we? My Northwest laptop – an HP Probook 6455b, if you care to know – decided to be on the fritz in the past few weeks, since my arrival into Maastricht in late August. It was hanging in there, surviving by way of just barely working; freezing up was a common trait. So I put up with it, hoping that it will make it all of the way through my semester of studies.

hp_probook_6455b

Here it is, doing its best to look smug. (Image form www.productwiki.com)

But then came a fateful date, a Sunday night in the second floor dining room of Avant Garde. After an awesome second biking adventure into the countryside of Netherlands, I was dutifully surfing the interwebs, looking at Google Maps to see how far my biking trek was made (not to Germany, sadly). But in a moment that goes by incredibly fast (but not nearly as fast as me changing the channel if Jersey Shore happens to be on), a glass of water fell upon the table, spewing that watery stuff right under my laptop.

jersey-shore-cast

Your IQ just dropped upon seeing this image. (Image from cdn.blogs.sheknows.com)

In a flash, my laptop was already pulled up and away from the table, courtesy of my friend Manon, but damage had apparently already been done. The underside was wet, but not enough to alarm me at the time. I sat the machine off away from the table and spent the 5 minutes or so cleaning up the mess.

I returned to my computer and found it shut off, oddly. I made an attempt to turn it back on, but all that greeted me was the blackness of the screen. I made several more attempts to get the blasted machine to turn on, but there was no luck: it was dead. My computer had its candle burn out long before its legend ever did.

So now my (dead) laptop is working out as en expensive paper weight, or working as a gentle reminder that gravity is still working. Luckily for me, I had my backup laptop ready at hand – a Google Chromebook, model Cr-48, running Ubuntu Linux 12.04 (nerdiness FTW).

cr-48

So full of nerdy sultriness. (Image from i.i.com.com)

The WiFi card was normally been on an idiot in this particular machine, always connecting and disconnecting. This past Sunday, I figured out via research on the Internet that taking apart the computer and disconnecting and reconnecting the WiFi card should get it working again. Sure enough, it does!

Now I await the arrival of a new laptop from the USA, courtesy of my parents. My dead laptop shall stay by my side until I have the opportunity to return it to Northwest in January, so I should definitely have a fine paper weight/gravity reminder for the time being.

the paper weight

My paper weight, serving its purpose well.