The day my hand came back

Yippee, the day before yesterday I got the cast from my lower arm removed in the St. José hospital in Lisboa, after an X-ray picture indicating that things are healing well. Which cast? Six weeks ago in Germany I broke two metacarpal bones of my right hand [X-ray picture] when I fell with a bike cycling down a hill near a lake close to Schwerin. Yes, again and yes, I will be more careful with bikes in the future. 🙂 But why did this kind of stuff not happen before? I was never even in hospital until this March. Are my reflexes becoming slower as I am going towards 30? Am I starting to overestimate my own capabilities? Do I take more risks than I used to do? Just co-incidences? I am not quite sure.

Over the last six weeks I learned to do basic left-handed writing and to brush my teeth with the left hand, and how to use my teeth when opening stupid plastic wrapping and when closing bags. I also found out that it is possible to put up a tent (with some patience) and to cycle a bike with one hand. Hm, the latter one actually contradicts with my promise above. But hey, lets look at it from the the perspective of a rider falling off a horse? Real challenges though are slicing hard bread and cheese. 😉

Now the skin of my hand is cleaned again and the nails are cut, but all the joints still need to wakey wakey again after their long sleep, which causes slight pain in some situations. Typing is fine, but using a bike break or opening a car door does not work yet. To avoid surprises I still give people my left hand.

Thanks to Rita and the Slovenian girl (sorry, forgot the name) for giving me a lift from Colos village to Lisbon. Thanks to Sylvia and Johann for hosting me and thanks for picking me up, people on the road back to Colos yesterday and today. I went to the 1st option recommended by Hitchwiki for going south from Lisbon, was sent back a bit by some cops, was sent back further back by a friendly road patrol worker and got a lift after an hour with a fast car by a calm guy with prison-style tattooed forearms. He dropped me at the next petrol station across the big bridge where I started asking people if they were going south (2nd option on the Hitchwiki page, my first choice next time, hehe). A guy with tattoo studio-style tattooed forearms recommended to “pick up a bus”. A few minutes later a young well-dressed lady in a rental car approached me again after telling me she won’t be going my direction, inquiring where in the south I want to go. 🙂 In the car we had a warm chat and after finding out the right exit at another petrol station she dropped me near the dual carriageway south. Thanks for passing on your positive energy and for being so helpful! I only had a small and light cloth bag with me, so hiked long stretches along the roads and small towns — feeling like a real tramp. I liked Alcácer do Sal so I stayed there for a few hours. The two construction workers that gave me a lift to town waved down from a small balcony while I was having my lunch on a park bench under some old trees, with a welcome cool breeze coming from the river. I was about 100 km from my destination when the sun set. A confusing business man owning a few companies producing house electronic systems stopped despite the dark (“I am not afraid of people.”) and brought me to Ourique, another pretty town, about 30 km from Colos. I tried getting lifts for one more hour, but then there were just no more cars anymore. So I rested on a bench in a small peaceful church garden on the hill, with some cardboard protecting me the night’s cold. The hill was mine for a night. 🙂 This morning I got a lift with a smiling Ukrainian truck driver to Colos. I really have to work on my Russian!

On the road to Ecotopia

I will be offline now for at least 10 days while travelling from Milano to Southern Portugal and participating in the Ecotopia camp. Anything urgent needs to wait until afterwards. Server-related things can be addressed to support at ecobytes dot net. See ya!

The return of the map

Regular visitors to my site surely will have noticed that the map on the right side disappeared for a while. (No, the other right, theeere => — sometimes it surprises me how many adults still can’t tell left from right! I mean, how does this work out for them in life?). I hoped to write a tool for point-and-click updating my Google map, but this never happened. Yesterday I did some research on a possible OpenLayers solution, because Google is evil, but while OpenLayers being good stuff for free mapping it would have been way over the top for my little Where-in-Space-is-Meinhard-Sandiego locator. So I decided to resurrect the old school static map and its update tool. In the end it became a complete rewrite from ImageMagick shell calls to PHP’s on-board GD functions. Same same, but different. Let me know if you would like to see the source code (expect no rocket science). I might release it under a Shared source license at a later point, hehe.

So, no more “Oh, I didn’t know you were in town, because the map on your website wasn’t working” allowed, sorry. 🙂

Taking off again

After almost two months of silence a sign from me. People were already emailing me, asking if I am alright.. Thanks for caring my dear friends and readers — yes, all is good. 🙂 Well, in another bicycle accident last week I broke my right hand (don’t ask), but that’s healing now. Also I was busy with fulfilling my travel plan, some Ecobytes related work using my new tiny laptop (IBM X31, Ubuntu setup via kernel on USB stick and boot from the internet, hehe). Generally I did not feeling much like self-reflection. Head -> sand? But a start for some travel writing is done, so more should follow soon.

In about one hour — eeek, need to sort my stuff, have a shower and pack — I will get a lift to Switzerland from where I will travel via Milano to Ecotopia in Portugal. See you out there!

A greener Apple?

Bravo! Greenpeace’s Green my Apple campaign that I was writing about a few months ago actually moved Apple founder Steve Jobs to make environmental soundness of their products a top priority. This has been announced a few days ago in a letter from Steve Jobs (prominently linked from the Apple website’s front page) and was of course celebrated by the campaigners.

Well done, everybody that participated–Web 2.0 rocked the real world. But this can only be the beginning, in order to not poison us and our planet with toxic e-waste the whole industry must follow and go beyond. Focus needs to shift from North America and Europe to a more global picture. Poor working conditions of labourers in production and dismantling (especially in low-income countries like China, where most of the computers are produced nowadays) must also be reviewed critically and improved in order to achieve sustainability. I am very much willing to pay a little extra for a sustainable computer. How about you?

How I lost an organ

Sunday afternoon, twelve days ago, I cycled through the estates on the island a bit. Up and down hills and down a small path next to a longer stretch with steps. I slid a little, a little more and onto the steps. In my confusion I must have pulled the front break a little too hard so I did the classic salto mortale over the handlebar. A landed relatively soft next to the steps on some green, jumped up again, picked up the bike and carried it down the rest of the stairs and tried to cycle on. Strange, the only emotion of this moment that I can recall was embarrassment. The chain was off the gears, while fixing this I noticed that I had a bigger scratch on my forehead and I felt a little weird around my stomach, as if someone gave me a bad punch. When falling I must have gotten my own elbow into my stomach. A group of cyclists came by and the young doctor that was amongst them gave me first aid for my forehead using the complete kit that he had with him. I pushed the bike home and laid down for a rest. After a while I started having cramps starting from my upper body and spreading to the stomach area. I got a little scared, so I went and did some Internet research about what could cause these cramps. Some of the first websites I found were describing the pain of activists beaten up by cops — solidarity to you my friends!

After an hour or two the cramps became stronger and more frequent, so I woke up Murat, my house-mate that takes care of the organic garden, and asked him to call the ambulance. I grabbed my jacket and we went down to the front of the house to wait for the ambulance. I would not return back as soon as I thought.. The emergency doctor of the small hospital on the island did a quick check on my heart, which was OK, and then transferred me to a bigger hospital on the mainland. A small cargo or fisher boat brought Murat and me to the mainland. I could hardly enter the taxi, because bending through the door gave me enormous cramps. I got rolled into the modern-looking hospital on a funky sick peoples chair. Good product design, nice that someone invented a new type of wheelchair, I thought. It was around 11pm now.

The emergency room was crowded and a single doctor took care of queue of new arrivals. I noticed a weeping woman somewhere. I was quickly examined and questioned. After telling the doctor that apart from scratches and the strong cramps nothing was wrong with me he looked at me a little patronising, ripped off the plaster from my forehead, dropped it with two fingers, then carelessly stretched the skin around the wound and sent me off to X-ray my head and chest. At this time Lamia arrived to the hospital. She looked very worried, so did Murat and I. As nothing unusual showed up in the X-ray pictures I was sent to the tomography room. In order to be moved into the huge machine I had to lie down on my back. Unfortunately in this position I always got strong cramps. As long as I would sit bent forward with my hands resting on my knees I was fine for at least half an hour. After a while of deep breathing and several tries aborted in strong pain I was finally scanned by whatever waves this monster emits. My head was fine, too.

What followed must have been one of the most painful nights I have ever had. The emergency doctor put us into a waiting room with two rows of sickbeds, where we should wait until the ultra-sonic lab opens the next morning. People moaning in pain all around. I could not sleep or even lie down, so I stayed with my hands on my knees, bent forward, for about 5 or 6 hours. Every 20 to 30 minutes I had cramps that I thought will tear me apart. Imagine something like a cramp in your foot, but all over the upper part of your body, for about 20 seconds. During the cramps I could hardly breathe or move. The infusion of pain killers that I got after about 4 hours did not show any effect. Lamia and Murat were with me all the time (thank you so much) and tried to sleep next to me on the bed. A friendly older male staff person made several tries to convince me to lie down, which was simply impossible. Somehow the drip infusion that I now got weakened the cramps. It slowly got bright outside and I saw sunshine coming in.

Murat pushed me on a wheelchair to the ultrasonic lab. After a few minutes in the queue we entered the lab and I was asked to lie down — on my back. No way, José. I stayed seated. A little annoyed Ultrasonic Woman pushed the cold metal against my stomach. In the grainy black and white pictures on the screen she quickly spotted something that deeply concerned her. She uttered a quick “Allah allah” (Oh my god) and told Murat that I have a lot of blood in my abdomen and that I need surgery right now. Now I got really worried, asking Murat for details and what would happen. We went back up to the waiting room and somehow it became clear that I would not have my surgery in this hospital. A head physician that only looked at me from a distance — I had the impression he was almost hiding — could not understand all the rush and recommended either the German Hospital or the American Hospital (both are private businesses and have little to do with the country whose name they carry).

A private ambulance was called and with siren I was driven across town, crossing the bridge to Europe, to the Amerikan Hastanesi. In an instant I was sitting in a room with a few people taking care of me and I felt in safe hands. Blood tests were taken and I was properly examined. Another time I had to go through a tomography — this time most of my body was scanned. Five people were standing around me and tried everything possible to make me lie down. A few moments later the big Star Gate like machine made by Siemens was moving up and down on me, telling me in German when to stop and start breathing. I realised later that those machines from the future don’t grow on trees when I saw that these few minutes represented one of the bigger chunks of the total costs of my treatment.

Back in the emergency room my surgeon talked to me the first time. He told me that I had a rupture of an organ which caused an inner bleeding. Why did I not like the sound of that? He gave me the name of the organ in English, but I had never heard it before. Preparations for the surgery started and I got infusions, a drip and various other things. Every time someone came into the room they had prepared another scary thing for me. I did not question anything and let them do their thing. A person handed me a small squared paper with “Die Milz” (the spleen) written on it. The person was already gone when I looked up again and I wished I would have been more attentive during human biology classes back in school. They would look inside me to see how bad the rupture is and then decide if they could fix it or if they would remove the spleen. I got a blood infusion. It said “Deniz” and some last name that I can’t recall on the label of the blood bottle. Thank you for the juice, blood brother Deniz, teşekkür ederim.

Now, we were still dealing with a private company here. So without a deposit or a written confirmation of my health insurance there was not going to be a surgery, according to the hospital’s administration lady in charge of my case. My friends Alexandra, Ludwig and Nazim had arrived to support Lamia, Murat and his friend Ayda. They tried everything they could to speed up the procedure. I was told later that at this point I had lost about a third of my blood into my abdomen. Alexandra was constantly on the phone to my health insurance, my mum, the German consulate and others. When finally the German consul recommended to move me to another hospital and the administration lady got to hear of it, she snapped her finger and I was instantly moved to the anaesthesia room to be put to sleep for the surgery. The anaesthesiologist was a jolly person and Lamia and me had a relaxed chat with him. Some injections, some more talking..

I woke up in a room with many sickbeds but no people and no windows. And there he was again. Now he was wearing a funny flat hat and I think even a mask. What, who, where, why, when? In these situations you are supposed to ask the people around you “Are you an angel?” — so I did and started laughing a little. Ouch, cuts in my abdomen, right. So, was it taken out or what? I asked him to excuse my confusion, because I had never taken any drugs before. He was a bit “yeah, yeah, whatever, need to do my job here”, which I think annoyed me a little so I called him to give some attention to the burning questions I had about losing one’s reality and time shifting around us. I’m not sure if he gave me another shot to make me shut up or if I just don’t remember how I got rolled and lifted into my new home for the next days.

My friends were waiting for me in my sickroom and took care of me. Lamia, Murat and Ayda even stayed with me for the first night. I found out that the spleen was badly ruptured and had to be taken out. Also it had a benign tumour (non-spreading) attached to it, which was removed in the process. This makes you think if some things happen for a reason.

Over the next days I recovered quickly, walked around the hallways the day after the surgery already, slowly started eating again, was regularly examined and medicated and could leave the hospital only four days after the surgery. Thank you for visiting me Heike, Lukas, Alexandra, Zahide, Lena, Mesut and thanks for the support over the phone from my mum and dad, Bengü and others.

I could stay at Serhat’s place for a few days with Lamia and Alexandra. Ludwig took care of me during the days at the Tunel Art Café. I arrived back to the Büyükada island two days ago and I am taking things very easy. I still need to recover from the surgery and the loss of blood. The pain is almost entirely gone now and I only need to regain full strength again. Soon I will cycle around the estates again, or better not? 🙂

Update: The removal of the spleen is common and it has no long-term effects that can not be treated with a vaccination. Also see Asplenia.

An island off Istanbul

Since 5 weeks I am living on the Büyükada island about 1.5 hours by ferry from the European centre of Istanbul. The first thing you notice about the island is its quietness and calm. This is mainly due to the ban of combustion engine driven individual transport – in other words, everybody walks, cycles or uses one of the horse-drawn carriages. The posh crowd hovers around on silent electro scooters or has a tiny electric engine strapped to their bikes. A few delivery vans, construction trucks or police cars cause noise and dust, but that’s it. Even the dogs sleep in the middle of the street. Thousands of cats fight with each other over territory or with sea gulls or stray dogs over food.

I came here through Ludwig from Tunel Art Café in Istanbul. He is part of Naya Retreats, a meditation and wellness centre on the island. In exchange for a little good tech karma for his various projects I can stay at Naya and do my work over the Internet. The house (some photos) is mainly empty at the moment apart from Murat the organic gardener, his friend Ayda and me. Because the island is a popular destination for Istanbulians especially on sunny days there are always some visitors around the house. On Fridays I usually go to town to do city things and stay over at my German friends place (hello Cox, Sahide, Lena, Heike, Eike, Lukas!). After a day or two I get dizzy from the urban madness and I go back to the island of the exiled (various Ottoman royalties and Leon Trotsky lived here).

So I did last weekend. When I came back to the island on Saturday afternoon, together with my Lebanese-Canadian friend Lamia, the bike that I left at the ferry terminal was gone. Long fingers there and long faces here. Not the loss of the bike, but the idea of the island not being so peaceful after all made me sad.

This morning I was at the ferry terminal again and had another look at the place where I last saw the bike. There were two police men discussing something, pointing around. I walked up to one of them and said, hey my bike got stolen – right here. He looked me up and down, mused for a moment, and then waved me towards the nearby balustrade to the sea and pointed down. I looked, and there was a red bike in the water. I shook my head, thought ‘ha, that would have been funny’, but nay, this is not the bike I am missing, mine is silver. He gesticulated, have another look, there are two bikes. And, heureka – there it was! I started laughing from happiness, still high from the wonderfully sunny and happy weekend, and about the irony of it all (the last two days I anxiously looked after every silverish bike passing by, ready to jump at the thief). I think the young police people were a little puzzled by me being so happy about someone throwing my bike into the sea. After a short wait help in the form of a boat hook arrived. We pulled the bikes out together, me climbing around the balustrade, 5 police people happy about the action pulling the hook. A person walking by said some disturbed person or some kid does this from time to time. At this spot, and over there at the other ferry. Another passer-by offered me translation.

The bikes were brought to the police station, dripping water from the seaweed caught in spokes and gear-wheels. A report was filled out and under supervision of a police guard with a big-ass machine gun a lower rank cop and me removed all plants from the bikes. The young guy with the gun seemed to have forgotten the purpose of that thing in his hand from holding it all day long. When I asked him not to point it at me, because it scares the hell out of me, he first did not understand but then smiled, ‘Oh, this? Right, sure!’. After a few moments the gun barrel was up at stomach height again, because he had already forgotten my fear and because it obviously is most comfortable to hold it like this. After half an hour I got my ID card and the bike back and there I was, the happiest boy in Istanbul, slowly cycling home, stopping at a bench in the sun, over-viewing the misty sea, eating a simit as sweet as kisses.. 🙂 Trust in the people on this island, humanity as a whole and my reality – restored. He he.

Internet censorship in Turkey

Because some teenagers of Greek and Turkish nationality insulted each other on YouTube the site has now been banned for most of Turkey for insulting national Turkish pride. That is just ridiculous. Why don’t they just forbid TV? Not that I would mind.. Anyway, for those of you in Turkey that really can’t live without YouTube, check out an open proxy near you or use Tor. A good example of how the Internet can protect freedom of expression and freedom of information through its various channels.

Update: The block had been lifted a few days later – mainly because Google/YouTube quickly censored the prank videos themselves. This is not the first time “Don’t be evil” Google chooses the way of least resistance in governmental censorship issues, especially Google’s self-censorship in China remains controversial. 2.0

Oops, did I go to the wrong page, I hear you say. After more than four years I gave my website a new design and made it a proper blog with comments, feeds, a nice archive and — that’s good news for myself — a powerful back-end. Some parts are still pointing to the old page, but I’m working on that one. What do you think so far? Comments please!

Happy New Year (Meinhardian calendar)

I just came back from a small trip to Kavalla in north-eastern Greece and Ayvalik, a small fisher town built by Greek people on the Turkish Aegean coast. It was good to be on the road again for a while, eat some dust, camp out and get the kick of the car slowing down for you.

Along the way I was picked up by several old men in trucks or vans (only speaking Turkish/Greek), a burek baker delivering his stuff to the border station at night, a car trailer van (an interesting breed of drivers), a German couple driving a huge caravan with a tiny dog inside (caravans never stop usually, but this one I overtook a few times in faster cars, and the third time they thought that is quite amusing and picked me up), a young accountant paying the ferry for me (thanks again!), two times a police man off duty (one going to attend the heart transplantation of his four year old child, the other driving to the funeral of his sister), two bus wind shield technicians speeding down the roads carrying four wind shields 1000 EUR a piece and a gas truck driver (“When this blows up there is nothing you can do, but to drive away very fast. Several square kilometres will be wasteland.”).

The border crossing into Greece was somewhat special (I had to leave and re-enter the country to renew my tourist visa after 3 months). It was dark already when I walked the last few kilometres towards the border and an enormous wind made it almost impossible to walk. There I was, flying around the empty straight road, slowly advancing forward, mummed up in my clothes, trying to hitch-hike while being pushed off the street. It must have been a frightening sight for the — very few — cars passing by. I had my fun and played with the storm until the baker man stopped and gave me a lift. The structures at the border station were shaking in the wind, toll bars breaking, things were flying around. Everyone had expressions of “yey, there is not going to be school tomorrow” in their faces and waved me through without hassle.

The night on my way to Ayvalik I was stuck at some petrol station in the middle of nowhere. There were about 150 km to go, so I camped on a field behind a little hill. The next morning, I walked down to the street, literally the first car stopped and brought me all the way to Ayvalik. Insert some cosmic energy here please. 🙂

Hitch-hiking worked very well during the trip, as soon as I was standing at the right spot I never waited longer than half an hour. But to get to the right spot sometimes took a few kilometres of walking. After Bengue joined me on the way back from Ayvalik to Istanbul today actually waiting times dramatically reduced to minutes and usually one of the first 5 cars stopped.

Oh, about the headline: It’s my birthday today and on Friday I will have a little party at the Tuenel art cafe in Taksim, Istanbul. Come along if you read this!