Sunday, March 29, 2020

In-door Fun: Brick Factory

In-door Fun: Brick Factory

It is a challenge to entertain kids at home when social-distancing during this COVID19 event. How do you keep them occupied for a good stretch of time? This made me think about my favorite hobby projects when I was a kid. And one of them was manufacturing your own bricks, and then build with them.

Your home-made bricks are more fun than LEGO, and bring out the little industrialist inside of you. You get to plan your production runs through-out the day, and have all the anticipation about what you will do when you have enough bricks. It's a week of playful work, and cheap to do.

All you need is some Gypsum (plaster powder) and a silicone mould. I used this mould which is targeted to bakers as a tool to make desserts. I recommend using a mould that creates blocks where the dimensions have a ratio of 1:2:4 for easy construction. I used this particular plaster.


Mix the plaster with water. Start with water and keep adding gypsum powder, spoon by spoon, while stirring. Once you get a thick yogurt-like viscosity, it is time to pour it in the mould.


Let it harden in 2 or 3 hours or so.


Start designing and stacking. I recommend gluing them, and if you use thick cardboard between the layers, you get a simulation of a cement layer.

The one regret I have, is that I had not stained the mix with a red ink. I think red-brownish bricks would have looked better than white ones. If I redo this project, I would add the ink.

With the structures built, the kids now look forward to adding furniture to their designs. So in short, good fun, for young and old. Why not give it a try? And if you do, drop a a few lines in the comments!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Visit to Strathcona

Today we paid a visit to Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood, Strathcona. It features an ice cream shop with 238 flavours, which is always busy. The little convenience store on Vernon Drive caught my eye. It is a little shack that time itself forgot. I think it was still open, not too long ago, but seems closed down now. Also, store plus house are currently for sale, listed at $2.6M dollars, no less. Ouch!

It also has the Admiral Seymour school, which is quite striking. Here is what it looked like when it was freshly finished:

And this is what it looked like today, in april 2019. I must say that the school board kept it in remarkable good condition, considering its age.

Quickly after building, it must have gotten too small, as the brick annex was erected:

Friday, November 9, 2018

Fav Jokes.

My favorite jokes. (The Internet calls them dad-jokes. Meh.)

What is brown and sticky?
A stick.

What did the wall say to the other wall?
I'll meet you at the corner.

How do you cut an ocean in half?
With a see-saw.

Why do you never see elephants hiding in a tree?
Because they are so good at it.

How many apples grow on a tree?
All of them.

What is worse than finding a worm in your apple?
Finding half a worm in your apple.

What’s the advantage of living in Switzerland?
Well, the flag is a big plus.

Why did the spider go to college?
She wanted to be a web designer.

What did the 0 say to the 8?
Nice belt.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Seedling has survived.

So, two and a half years ago, I planted a Cherry tree seedling of just a few centimeters high. Now, I can happily report that it has survived its transplant into my garden. It is now approximately 2 feet tall!

It's survival was hanging by a thread, at some point. This was because I hadn't been paying attention, and the tree got infected by aphids. These aphids live in a strange relation ship with ants, because they were being farmed by carpenter ants.

Killing the aphids with dish soap made the ants go away, fortunately. But not before the tree was severely damaged by the aphids. As bad as that was, I think it survived and is still growing.

I estimate it will take a couple of decades before we'll see a sizable tree. I'll keep tracking its growth.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


Last year's big hole in the ground is now a six story apartment building. Not quite finished, but the main structure is there.

What surprised me is that they started building in concrete, for the parking garage and main floor, and then proceeded to put chip-wood apartments on top of that. It's almost as if the builder constructs a $40M garage with a million dollar worth of apartments on top. People told me this probably has to do with earthquake hazards. I guess a wooden structure is safer in this respect. I doubt it will last very long though. Only the bottom floor and the elevator shaft seem to have been built as solid structures, and cheap wood for the rest of it.

This is what it looks like today, photographed with my Fujifilm X100 and perspective corrected in Gimp.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


My daughter wants an easel, so I decided to build one with her. What do you think? It's a table model. Not shown: hinge, chain.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The day I found a glitch in "The Matrix" and questioned Reality.

I am a level-headed guy, with immediate distrust of anything spiritual. This is a tale about the most spiritual thing that ever happened to me, and briefly caused me to rethink my existence.

It must have been roughly 15 years ago. I lived in Holland, alone, in a house. And I was doing work on a curtain rail in my bedroom.

The curtain rail looked very similar to the one shown above. Including the little plastic end-cap. After securely attaching the little end-cap onto the rail (it was fastened rock solid) I stepped down from a stool to switch out a tool. Two seconds later as I turned to the curtain rail again, that little end-cap was gone.

POOF... just like that.

Something that was there, two seconds ago, had disappeared into thin air! I knew for a fact it had not fallen, it was attached very tightly, and if it had, I would have heard it, or see it on the ground.

I tried to wrap my head around it. I was alone in the bedroom, alone in the house. Doors and windows locked. An object disappeared in the two seconds I turned my back on it. I had felt the objects with my own hands, seconds ago.

My mind raced for an explanation.

  • I knew for a fact it had not fallen off.
  • I had 100% faith in my mental state.
  • I have never used drugs. I hadn't consumed alcohol in a long time.
  • I was well rested.
  • I was 100% certain that I was not dreaming. I imagine I would have pinched myself.
  • My eyesight was perfect.
  • No pets nor people in the house, and even then: it was just 2 seconds that my back was turned.

At this freak moment, reality had behaved differently from what I had observed in a life-time. And after discounting all the plausible and implausible causes for this disappearance, my mind was left with only one explanation for this.

I concluded that Reality may not be what it seems. Did I just see a glitch in "The Matrix?" Did the simulated universe run into a bug?

Then my mind continued on its path. Ok, let's for a moment assume I observed a glitch, now what? And that thought scared me just as much as the freak-disappearance itself did. Would "the Matrix" care? Is there some pan-dimensional operator somewhere, sounding an alarm "SIMULANT BREACHED PROTOCOL! EMERGENCY INTERVENTION!" and press a red button?

Dazed, I looked up again to the ceiling and everything became clear again. There...... were...... two...... curtain-rails.

One curtain rail was mounted directly onto the concrete ceiling. There was a second curtain rail in the small window bay, 30 centimetres below it. One had a plastic cap, the other did not.

For all that racing that my mind did, it never for a moment considered the possibilities of having two rails. I had created a mental model of the room, with in it: me, my step stool, some tools and one mounted curtain rail. A completely wrong assumption, as there was one for a lace window in the window bay, and one for a heavier curtain on the ceiling.

Reality Restored! And that was quite a relief. Moral of the story? Freak occurrences? It's not supernatural. It's never supernatural. It's good old Reality, and it is reliable.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Speaking of urban developments, I came across this visualization tool for city planning. It can visualize many aspects of the city, including the age of the buildings. By selecting the buildings built between 1901 and 1908, I could determine the oldest still standing house in my neighbourhood. And here it is, in all its glory:

I must say that 112 46th Avenue East is quite a beauty. It was built in 1908. And I think it qualifies as a Vancouver Craftsman home.

At first glance, it seems to be in decent shape. Will it stand for another century? Hard to say with this wet climate, and wooden construction. At least according to the database, it is a heritage site. So it will not see an excavator tear it down any time soon, fortunately.

Apparently, in 1912, Murdock McIntyre raised the house and added a basement.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Urban Renewal

There is some overdue renewal going on in Punjabi Market, Vancouver. For many years now, a substantial number of store fronts have been empty. I take it because low density neighbourhoods with single-family homes can't sustain too much commerce. So it's good that they replaced the stores with a complex of apartments and stores.

They dug up a cool looking boulder, and lying on top of it, what seems to be a tree trunk. I wonder what age would come up if they were to date it by its tree rings. I've heard that there used to be a river flowing through this area, so maybe that's how the tree got down deep in the ground. Peculiar that it is only one.

Just across the street from here (across 49th ave) there is a lot that has been empty for a decade or more. It used to be a gas station, but contaminated soil caused it to be unsuited for development.

It just occurred to me what a fantastic lawn ornament that boulder would be. Maybe I should offer to take it, surely it's cheapest for the developer to move that boulder just a 100 meters or so, as opposed to some off-site dump. But I shudder at the thought of dealing with the city if the bureaucrats ever deem the boulder to be illegal. What happened to my land, my rules? Oh wait, it's not my land, Queen Elizabeth owns it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Real Estate pricing is inherently unstable.

Real Estate in Canada has been defying common sense for quite a while now. Especially in Vancouver and Toronto the prices have gone ballistic. I think this is because Real Estate plays more and more the role of investment as opposed to the utilitarian role of shelter.

Most consumption in our economy has nicely predictable pricing, as it follows supply and demand. Higher prices will lower demand, causing lower prices. This means, it is self-regulating.

When it comes to investments, however, lower prices often repel investors, instead of attracting them. Most investors will want to ride a trend. And if the trend is down, they will jump ship. If the trend is up, they are tempted to invest more of their money in it.

When viewed as an investment, or even a simple nest-egg for retirement, Real Estate pricing is doomed to a vicious cycle. So that means that the housing market is likely to be in a boom or in a bust. And it will be relatively hard to stay in a steady-state equilibrium. Because as soon as the price swings one way, investor behaviour is going to reinforce the trend.

How can these cycles be broken? Well, for that to happen, Canadian home owners need to take a serious look at the intrinsic value of their home, instead of the speculative value. Most people do not have a good feel for intrinsic value. But it can easily be calculated based on market rents.

For a stock portfolio it is not unreasonable to expect a 6.25% yield on your investment per year. If a house is viewed as an investment, we could compare its yield to this. Ignoring property tax and maintenance for a moment: if the price is 16 times the yearly rent, it would yield the same 6.25%. So to determine the intrinsic value of your home, just multiply the market's monthly rent by 12x16 (192.) If you can rent out the apartment for $1000 per month, intrinsically, the apartment is worth $192,000. Depending on the city, or even neighbourhood, the actual market price of the apartment may be much different from this. In the United States, the extremes are San Francisco and Detroit.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Children of Orc

I have just introduced my new game to the world. It is called Children of Orc.

Children of Orc is a real-time third-person strategy game that is set on a procedurally generated hex-planet. Check out the trailer video:

To get published on Steam, it can use a little help with green light votes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Generating animated GIFs.

For future reference. This is how I record an animated GIF that can subsequently be tweeted. First I record video to an .ogg file using:

$ simplescreenrecorder
Then, I convert the .ogg file to a .gif file using ffmpeg. In this example, I skip the first 4 seconds of the input, and write as 30fps output:
$ ffmpeg -ss 4 -i in.ogg -r 30 -pix_fmt rgb24 out.gif
The resulting video will look something like this:

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Beginnings.

I was at Schiphol yesterday, and took this picture. The billboard and the airliner reminded me of June 2007 when I packed up some essentials (mainly clothing and a PS3), and was on a plane to Vancouver to start a new job with Slant Six games. I knew nobody in Vancouver, so it was quite a big step. It turned out I loved it, and since dec'13, I am a Canadian, father of two little Dutch Canadian kids. This new beginning worked out well for me.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The best day.

The best day to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The second best day is today.

(Chinese Proverb)

It's my favourite proverb. And I love trees. Especially the slow growing oak is so majestic. You don't see many oaks in Vancouver. Cherry Blossom trees are very popular though.

Unfortunately, on the avenue where I live, the old trees that line it are pretty ugly ones. So we look with envy to the cherry blossom lined streets that are so abundant everywhere in Vancouver.

On our way to school last week, I spotted a tiny little tree in the grass. Right above it was a large cherry blossom tree, in bright pink. I compared the leafs, and they were identical, so the baby tree was the same species. Vancouver has a special week going on at the moment where citizens can get trees from the city for $10,- only. Checking out the site, it seems like many are already sold out, and I did not see a cherry blossom tree listed. So instead me and my little girl scooped out the little tree from the grass and put it in our garden. The baby tree was doomed anyway by the next grass mowing that would have killed it.

So here is the mother tree standing above the baby tree:

Here is the little fella, transplanted to our front yard. Fed with fresh ground from the garden store.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Does BC Assessment use a random number generator? (not really)

A hot topic here in Vancouver are the real estate prices. Going from crazy to insane to stark raving mad. The bursting of the bubble has been prophesied many times over, yet this never materialized.

Every year, an independent organization assesses the value of each property in BC. And those assessment reports are open public information, so it makes it easy to compare the assessments of neighbours. They assess the land and its buildings separately.

When it comes to the buildings part (harder to compare than land values, of course), I am at times baffled at what the assessors come up with. They are at times so bewildering, that I would swear that they are using a random-number generator for this.

Let me introduce to you: exhibit A and B. In a very fine part of town, on the west side of Vancouver, close to a park, we find these two neighbouring houses on Yukon street: number 7830 and number 7880. One of these buildings was assessed at $43,800 and the other was assessed at a $10,000 value.

And the $10,000 one is not the one you expect! The small one on the left from 1928 has the $44K value, and the large one from 1989 has the $10K value. Say what? No one in their right mind would value the 1 storey old timer more than the 2 storey newer house. Do the assessors think that the large one is radioactive or something? It gets even more puzzling if you consider that pre-1940 houses are not eligible for demolition in Vancouver, without recycling it.

I should clarify that for both lots, the land value is assessed at millions of dollars of course, so I guess that the building-part does not really play a role. Still, there are some strange forces at play in the Vancouver housing market.


So the user Jim on a real estate blog solved this mystery. It has to do with the RM-9 zoning. Those lots have been rezoned for RM-9, meaning that it can be used for low rise apartments. So now the land is worth a lot more, making the current mansion on it basically worthless, or $10K as BC Assessment calls it.

The owner of the old neighbouring house has opted for a special treatment according to Section 19(8) of the Assessment Act. The neighbour's land value remains being assessed according to the old zoning, which does not permit apartments. So the land value is less, but the building value is not set to the nominal $10K at which the mansion is now assessed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dumb Luck

So yeah, investing in stocks does have quite a bit of 'luck' factor to it. There is some science (fundamental analysis, I don't believe in technical analysis, btw) to it, but still: a big chance-factor.

One nice characteristic of the stock markets is that you will always pay fair value. At any moment, it is priced according to what the market thinks of it, as a whole. This means that the process of buying a stock is very different from buying a used car. When buying a used car, the dealer can totally rip you off with a price that is too high by objective standards. When buying a stock, you will pay the price that the market says is fair.

So a funny thing happened in december 2012. I decided I should balance my portfolio with a more defensive holding, something safer than tech stocks. And since I wanted a big global evergreen company, I decided to go with Coca Cola.

Now, coca cola is traded as the 'KO' ticker on NYSE. However, I was too hasty in my research, and blindly bought the ticker 'COKE'. This is a ticker from Nasdaq, and is not 'The Coca-Cola Co' but instead, it is 'Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated.' The latter is a $1.4B company, and not the $4.4B company I intended to buy: I had bought the wrong stock!

I quickly found out that I had the bought the wrong one. But the stingy me decided not to waste two more transaction fees, and stick with it instead. Now, two years, 8 months later, I noticed something interesting:

The capital gains on the bottling company have sky-rocketed. It went up by a factor 2.3x no less! And when checking the real coca cola stock I had intended to buy: completely flat in all that time! Sure, there is a dividend discrepancy between the two, but still: no dividend is going to make up for those big capital gains.

So what to do next? Sell COKE, and buy KO? It would lock in my gains. Or keep going steady as before and do nothing? Interesting choices. I was first leaning towards doing nothing, but then noticed the huge difference in P/E. Currently, COKE is valued at a ratio that is double that of KO. So yeah.... maybe a switch is in order?