Stuff is here!

I’m taking a ten minute break to take our laundry out to the clothes dryers, as we don’t have one in our house.  My parents are visiting tomorrow, and we’ve shuffled beds around, now that ours is here. (European and North American bed sheets are not interchangeable. FYI)

Anyhow, the delivery was quick, and our stuff seems to have arrived unbroken, although the packing seems pretty haphazard.  I don’t understand why.some things were packed together, but that’s now a 2 month old mystery.

The other surprise is.some of the things that did get packed – clearly things we forgot to recycle before leaving.  A plastic yogurt jar lid, a stack of aluminum pie tin I used for BBQing.  Fascinating artifacts from our live in Vancouver.

Anyhow, with the weather being so cold, the sun has at least come our, making Denmark quite pretty…  Not a bad day all in all – and its only noon!


DIY weather forcasting in Denmark

After two months, I pretty much have this figured out.  When you look out the window in the morning, you can work out what the weather will be with a few simple metrics:

If the sky is clear, you can expect strong winds from the west, and that star gazing will be pretty good.  You can’t really expect clear skies during the day.  Once the sun come up, the clouds will come back.

If the clouds are moving rapidly from the West, expect mild temperatures and rain.  Probably strong winds (45km/h) will accompany it.

If the clouds are moving rapidly from the East, expect cold and dry weather, probably snow and freezing temps, along with strong winds.  Definitely winter-like weather.

If the clouds aren’t moving rapidly in any direction, you’re probably not in Denmark.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my stuff is here from Canada!

Visiting Germany

I was fortunate to have been able to tag along with some good friends from work yesterday to do some shopping in Germany.  We spent the day in Flensburg, a reasonably small border town, where all of the goods are about 1/2 the price they’d be in Denmark.  Not a bad way to spend a day – and, equally important, we were able to find a lot of simple stuff that you just can’t find in Denmark (e.g. corn meal, cheap condiments, salad dressings, etc.)

Anyhow, I thought I’d share some pictures, ’cause Flensburg is pretty cute.


The main pedestrian shopping area.


A cute store, selling liquors, spirits, oils and other liquids in “bulk”.


A hurdy-gurdy player (they still exist!) who cranked out a version of Mac the Knife.


The docks, with a bit of snow.


And yes, I even had my hair cut while we were there, which was an experience in itself. They started by asking if I’d like a wash, whether I’d like them to use scissors or a trimmer and which blades I’d like them to use on the trimmer.  I believe the translation my friend gave was “He doesn’t know – just be creative!”.

In the end, my haircut didn’t turn out too badly.

Compiz on KDE4.8 – a few details

Just to follow up on my last post, apparently compiz on KDE 4.8 runs as long as you don’t use the KDE/QT Event Loop plugin, but do select the text plugin (CCSM, under image loading).

I don’t know the source of the instability, but if the KDE/QT plugin is selected, the following error is presented:

glibmm-ERROR **: 
unhandled exception (type std::exception) in signal handler:
what: call to empty boost::function

Trace/breakpoint trap (core dumped)

Also worth noting, I had trouble using the default window manager. But, if you place:

/usr/bin/kde4-window-decorator --replace

as the window manager (Compiz Settings Manager -> Window Decoration Plugin -> General Tab -> Command), it seems to work.

I’ll have to explore more, but it does seem to be working, for now.

Compiz works with KDE 4.8!

After waiting what felt like forever, compiz now works again for me with KDE 4.8. (That is to say, it works on Kubuntu 12.04 pangolin current build.)  At least, one of the major bugs (this is the one I filed, after complaining about it here) is fixed, which makes the compiz/KDE combination usable again.  I haven’t tested if some of the panels still do bizarre things like become permanent overlays on the screen, but I’ll get to those later.

In any case, I’m happy enough to be able to use KDE and compiz together again.  You know, I think I’m starting to like Pangolin… and it’s still on the first alpha!

Danish Health Care Adventures.

So, I think my family and colleagues already know about events this weekend, so I’ll post a bit of a summary.  If you didn’t know, then you can find out below, although the purpose of this blog is really to give a summary of my interaction with the Danish Health Care System so far, for those who may be considering moving here.  Thus, I’m writing it to cover our interactions over the past two months – not just this weekend.  But you can skip on below, if you’re just interested in that part of the tale.

First, for those who don’t know, my wife and I are expecting a child in May – and so we’ve already had a few opportunities to learn how health care works here.  It’s not better or worse than what we’ve left behind in Canada – it’s just different.  Americans will probably freak out when they hear about it, but for Canadians, there are a lot of similarities and a lot of very subtle differences.

My wife has had the pleasure of meeting health care professionals already in several capacities, and her appointment with the ultrasound clinic stands out vividly for me.  The first ultrasound at about 8 weeks was done in Vancouver, done in a private health clinic.  The Canadian health care system paid for the visit, but the clinic was still private – and was plastered with adds for having a 3D ultrasound done in order to get a better picture of your child.  The appointments were fast, the technician highly competent and the results were given quickly.  If you ignored the brochures, you wouldn’t have known you were in a private clinic.

In contrast, the 20th week ultrasound was done in Denmark, at a hospital near our house.  Oddly enough, we were given two separate appointments – one on a Friday, and one the following Monday.  Unable to determine why we we had two appointments, but repeatedly told both were necessary, we simply went to the hospital when we were told to be there.

We walked over (as we walk just about everywhere), and got lost in the sprawling but nearly empty hospital.  Once we found our way to the ultra sound clinic, we swiped a card to notify them that we were there and then sat in the waiting room till the appointed time, when the technician showed up in the doorway and called my wife’s name.  They asked if we spoke Danish (we didn’t) and then were relieved to discover that we spoke English.  (The alternatives would have been difficult, I’m sure.  My French is highly rusty, and I doubt they know any Mandarin.)

Once in the room, we were told that a pre-natal heart specialist would join us, if he could – and, slightly more than halfway into the hour, he joined us and worked with the technologist to do a very throughout investigation to rule out any possible heart defects.  Apparently, having taken my wife’s history, they had flagged the need for a specialist and made the second appointment for the following week – but then had discovered that the heart specialist would be available at the time of the first appointment and amalgamated the two appointments.

In Canada, it’s unlikely that the specialist would have been involved, or that all of the components of the health care system would have been synchronized appropriately to blend, reschedule and coordinate specialists and technicians for our convenience.

To say the very least, we were very impressed with the efficiency of the Danish health care system in this respect.  (And, also to have been reassured that the baby is looking healthy from all angles!) Appointments continue to be scheduled for my wife with great efficiency via letters that frequently appear in the post.  Alas, they’re all in Danish, but we’re becoming more adept at reading them with the help of google translate. (Google translate employees, if you’re reading, we owe you big time, not the least of which for helping us learn Danish quickly!)

With that in mind, the events this weekend were a challenge to the health care system from a completely different direction.

Last Tuesday, I started to get sick – my voice dropped down into the range of David Attenborough’s, and the tissues/kleenex began to sprout in big piles.  Unfortunately, I started a business trip on Wednesday last week to Holland.  I won’t cover that in any detail except to say that by Friday, I was coughing quite a bit.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to say much during the meetings, but I’m sure I seemed unusually quiet and reserved.  (or sniffly, depending on the meeting.)

By Friday evening, I was at home and my cough worsened – probably due to the flying and cold air on the way home.  By Saturday, my cold had gotten a lot worse, and with the rainy weather, my wife and I canceled our plans for walking around downtown.  Saturday evening, the pain set it.

I’m no stranger to chest pain – I’m a tall and thin male, prone to spontaneous pneumothoraxes.  That’s when little weak spots develop on the lung, which can spontaneously burst, letting air fill the space between the lung and the chest wall.  Normally, that space is empty, which causes the lung to inflate as the chest wall swells, and to deflate as it contracts again. Hence, inhaling and exhaling as your chest moves.  With air in that space, the lungs are constricted, and it can be hard to breath in and out.  Normal causes in people who aren’t tall, thin males include gunshot wounds, being stabbed with a knife and broken ribs puncturing the chest wall.

Fortunately, I haven’t had any of the latter, but with a history of collapsed lungs, I have had a staple installed to hold up  my right lung so that it doesn’t collapse on me.  I don’t notice it anymore, and if my lung does anything stupid, it usually fixes itself quickly.  When a sharp pain started in my chest – in response to a LOT of coughing – I just assumed that’s what it was.  Another collapsed lung that would just pass in a bit.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

It hurt to lie down, but like a collapsed lung, hurt when breathing in and out and changing positions was like having a knife shoved into my back.  It hurt a lot – but nothing I couldn’t handle, I though.

Sunday morning was a disaster, though.

I sat up slowly from bed and the pain was immense.  My wife asked if we should go to the hospital, and I said no, I’d be fine if she give me a minute.

Then I started to feel faint – and I changed my mind.  We should go to the hospital, I said… and then I blacked out.

Coming out of the blackout was strange.  I couldn’t feel anything – I couldn’t tell if I was breathing (I thought I wasn’t)… and it took a while before I could open my eyes… and even longer before I could hear again, and then another few seconds before I could control my limbs.  Apparently, I was thrashing around for a while, while trying to regain feeling.  I must have looked like I was a goner.

The scary part was that she didn’t yet know the emergency phone number (112 in Denmark) and couldn’t reach any of our friends.  She had to wait helplessly for me to regain consciousness before I could remember the emergency number from the welcome to Denmark package we were given. (Thank goodness for that package!) and was able to contact a nurse.  Here, you’ll see the differences between the Canadian and Danish systems.

First they asked if I was still awake and to see if I was likely to fall unconscious again, and when they determined I wasn’t about to die, we were asked if we could get to the hospital ourselves (No, we don’t have a car), then told that a doctor would be sent within the next 2 hours.  In about 10 minutes, the doctor arrived.  She quickly checked to see what the problem was and to ensure I’d live.  Once my life was clearly determined not to be in danger, she placed a call for an ambulance to pick me up.  Again, we were told the ambulance would be there in the next two hours. The only question I was asked that wasn’t directly medical was when they asked for my CPR number (Danish identification number) on the phone – equally likely to find my medical history as for billing, however.

15 minutes later, an ambulance crew arrived at the door with a gurney.

I was able to walk to the ambulance and felt comfortable sitting in one of the jump seats in the back.  The guy in the back with me kept me talking (in English) all the way, clearly making sure I didn’t fall unconscious again, and even gave me oxygen.  Unfortunately, the guy in the front of the Ambulance, where my wife was riding, didn’t speak English, so the front was a lot quieter than the back.  I have to say, though, that the driver was fantastic – I could feel every bump with a sharp chest pain – and it was one of the smoothest car rides I’ve ever taken.

Within a few minutes, we arrived at the hospital downtown from which we were redirected to another hospital downtown.  (All this, despite the fact we live a 3 minute ride from yet another hospital.) In any case, after a second ambulance ride, we arrived at the correct destination, where we said thanks to the ambulance crew and were ushered into a room with two beds.  For most of the day, the second bed stayed empty, giving us an almost private room. (When it was occupied, it was by a smoker, who kept going outside for nicotine fixes… which didn’t really help, but nothing I could do about that.)

With a few minutes, I was taken for a chest X-ray, and shortly after that, the nurse came to see us and let us know (in rather halting, but understandable English) that the doctor would check out the x-ray and blood would be taken shortly.  At this point, I was feeling better, but in a lot of pain – that is, I was clearly in stable condition and in good hands.

The biggest visual difference between the Danish heath care system and the Canadian health care system is the uniforms.  At the risk of offending people, lets just say that the doctors uniforms are vaguely reminiscent of an outfit that would fit well in a Village People’s video.  Tight fitting shirts and pants in white, with a fitted lab coat.  It is the anti-thesis of scrubs.  In contrast, the hospital itself was quite spacious, plenty of room and well maintained.  It didn’t have the same underfunded/understaffed feel of typical urban Canadian hospitals.

In any case, we had a great doctor who spoke quite decent English. He explained that the condition was not my lung at all (a giant shock to me.) and that it was probably an inflammation of the membrane around the heart.  The symptoms all fit, and the chest x-ray showed absolutely nothing going on in the lungs at all, as confirmed by a radiologist.  At this point, I must have dropped way down the priority list, as long waiting periods crept in.

We were offered some food (meats and sauces on open faced sandwiches – a typical Danish meal), and then a colleague from work came by to check on us.  She cheered us up, helped ask some questions for us and made the day go by much more quickly.  Later on, she even helped by walking our dog!  Apparently, she also told everyone we knew as well – which wasn’t a problem, but a surprise.  It led to a lot of offers of help from a lot of people, some of whom I barely know.  A fantastic show of support from my Danish (and non-Danish) colleagues for which I’m very thankful!  (I won’t drag any of them into the blog, though, without their permission.)

Although the time between contacts then slowed down, throughout the afternoon, I was given an EKG, which found some slight disturbances in the force…  (electromagenitic force, that is.)  My heart then became the key suspect.

Further blood tests would be done on the blood taken earlier in the day and an ultrasound of my heart was scheduled, which brought in a second doctor, who’s name was Tor.  (He said it like Thor, tho…  and who hasn’t wanted to be treated by a doctor named Thor?  Seriously, I doubt there’s a single doctor in the entire Canadian system named after a Norse god.)

The ultrasound was unfortunately inconclusive and we were told we’d have to wait about an hour for the blood test.  One hour turned into two, and the blood work itself was inconclusive as well.  However, the doctor was relatively certain of the diagnosis of paracaditis, for which the treatment is anti-inflamatory medication and painkillers:  aka, ibuprofin. I was let go with a day’s worth of medication, orders to fill a prescription at the pharmacy and with a strong suggestion that I get some rest.

So, here I am, two days later, feeling a lot better, but still on some mandatory down time.  The cough is going away, helped by some over the counter throat lozenges, and the pain is masked and relieved by ibuprofin.

The only interesting addenda to this adventure is that I was told that anything a doctor prescribes in this country is free – anything you chose to do on your own is self-paid. That’s not quite true – I don’t know the full cost of the pills I was prescribed, but I did pay about $6 (31 dkk) for them.  If that was a dispensing fee, it wasn’t explained to me.

Finally, the drug stores here are also interesting: the doctor won’t give you a prescription to take there – instead it’s entered into the computer system, which the pharmacist can then verify when you provide your CPR number.

Slightly stranger, the pharmacy to which I went wasn’t actually a pharmacy – it’s an outpost of a pharmacy.  When you go in, they place the order at the other store, and have someone bring it over a couple of times a day.  So, the first trip over is just to tell them you’ll be using them to get the drugs and the second visit is to pick up the drugs and pay for them.

As it happens, the woman at the pharmacy was very interested in learning English and Spanish and made me practice my danish pronunciation when picking up the pills – as well as advice that I should learn spanish and go on vacation there… (-:

That said, it’s been a couple of hectic days.  I’ve come to respect the Danish health care system and it’s staff – and I’m glad I took the time to ask a lot of questions over the past week.  Without some of the basic information, the whole process would have been a lot more scary than it was.  And, word to the wise, learn the emergency code in every country you travel! You never know when you might need it.

Finally, in case anyone is worried, I really am doing better, and I don’t think anything in this whole misadventure was life threatening.  The treatment was swift and efficient and I’m sure I’ll be back at work shortly.  I have lots to do, and I’m very eager to get back to it.


Hotel 70’s

Some shots from my room tonight.  Last night was an ultra modern hotel, and tonight’s is retro.  A classic study in contrasts. I’ll have to remember to post the pics from the other hotel later.  Anyhow…image



No shag run, but the wood panels and green plastic chairs have me wondering where they found the time capsul.

Btw… It’s Holland.  And, playing in to every stereotype I know about Holland, my room looks out over a giant field of bicycles and the front door of the train station.

Pictures of January in Aarhus

Life isn’t all doom and gloom in Denmark, although you might have thought so with some of my earlier posts.  That said, there are still things that are challenges to overcome.  Fortunately, it’s great to have a few friends around who have helped out quited a bit – and I’ve received some support lately that’s helping out quite a bit.

I thought I’d share a few pictures I’ve taken this past week.  Yes, they were taken with my phone, so they’re not great, and I even find composition difficult compared to my usual camera.  Fortunately, I expect our stuff will be arriving in a week or so.  I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!

First picture:  We had a gloriously sunny day on Saturday, so we took some time to go downtown and find the market.  Admittedly, produce available in Denmark in January is limited, but there were a few things out.


Next, My cat has found the empty rooms in our house endlessly fascinating.  Here he is checking out the back yard.  Normally the doors to the extra 3 rooms are shut, but occasionally I let him in for the entertainment factor.


Then there are sunsets.  Although they happen around 4:30, they can be pretty when the clouds don’t obscure it all.


And one more.  Looking across the back yard.


There you have it – a quick glimpse of Denmark.   Hopefully the quality of the photography will improve drastically once my camera arrives!


It’s late, and I don’t want to stay up to write a long post. I have stuff planned, but I’ve been busy lately.  I just wanted to share the news that my thesis passed my committee’s review, and after several hours of LaTeX work, it has now passed the university’s checks as well.

In theory, I should just be able to drop off a copy in person, but I have a feeling that its going to be a bit more challenging than that from Denmark.

Progress is progress.  I’m celebrating with a late night bowl of musli.   (:

Violating the Danish pastry rules?

Danish people are very particular about what they eat, in what order and with what accompanying condiments.  Apparently, it’s a mortal sin to eat shrimp on rye bread (white bread only!), or to use remoulade with it instead of mayonaise.  I suspect careers have been destroyed by this.

Thus, every time I post about food, I’ll be wondering what Danish rules I’m violating – and who I might offend with each post.

In any case, our trip to the bakery yesterday yielded a fantastic treasure – some unknown new years treat that looked like an L-shaped cake or pastry, and the trip to the Føtex the other day found us bringing home a new years marzipan cake/stick.



Unfortunately, we had no idea how much of each a serving size was – and our first serving of the stick was to split the package into 4, and each take a chunk along with a mug of tea.  It was a decadent snack, to say the least… and the marzipan stick is exquisite!  However, we’ve since learned that we each ate 4 servings – a stick is supposed to be enough to feed 6-8 people! Undoubtedly overindulgence on this scale violates at least one Danish law – and, if not, most likely requires paying a tax on the amount of calories eaten.

However, to compound the sin of over eating, this morning, we divvied up the cake, cutting it in to 4 and each taking a piece for breakfast (leaving 2 for later).  I’m relatively sure that that cake should be enough to feed an entire office, and that this was likely the most gluttonous pastry eating act that the country has ever seen.  What laws or rules were broken, I have no idea.

But to mitigate this crime against the Danish pastry sensibilities, we have spent the day cleaning the house and will be taking a long walk this afternoon to burn off the calories – dragging the poor dog with us.  The dog, to her great regret, has not overindulged on this scale.

Danish pastries beware – the Canadians are here and express no remorse when eating excessive quantities of unbelievably good treats!