Archive for October, 2006

armed plastic

October 10th, 2006

Why are plastic containers so hard to open? It's almost as if they are meant to be a pain. You know the kind of packaging that potato chips come in? The bag is a rectangle with both ends sealed off. It is a sheet of plastic wrapped around with the edge glued shut. Those bags are pretty thin, but the same packaging style is used to package many other products in thicker plastic. Plastic that is really hard to open by hand. One day I was opening a bag of pasta in one of those and eventually the plastic ripped open and half the pasta poured out on the kitchen counter. Another tough one is the kind of goods that come in plastic shaped after the product. That plastic is 2-3mm thick and without a pair of solid scissors, you can only dream of opening it.

Convenient for the manufacturer apparently, quite a pain for the consumer.

Sunday night joyride

October 9th, 2006

I used to joyride more often, now I rarely do it. Back in Trondheim I basically stopped cause after 12 years I felt I just about knew every street in the whole of town and there was nothing new to see. And outside town there is just nothing to see, so that's pointless. Then I moved to Utrecht and I bought this crappy used bike that turned out to be a piece of junk. But now I have my trusted bike back and although it's not in tip top shape, it's a big improvement. Tonight I felt like taking a ride to explore some new parts of town up north, where I haven't been much. It ended up a pretty long trip, just over two hours. I thought I would map it out so I knew exactly what area I covered. I also marked down some highlights on the map with dots (click map for full size).


As always with these things, when I start out I have nothing specific in mind, I don't know where I'm going or how far I'm going. I was just out there to clear my head a bit, but I thought I would head north as I've seen most of south Utrecht already. I took the familiar road heading up to my old house, which is a ride I don't really enjoy all that much normally, but tonight it was very nice out. It was 8 degrees, with a nice cool coming over me as I walked out the door. Very familiar Norwegian kind of weather, cool and quiet, I would take this weather every time over a windy day, which there are a lot of here. A light jacket and thin gloves, the perfect outfit. As I passed by my old house, I noticed there was a light on in the basement (which is a freak thing cause the basement was sealed off and looked like a bomb had gone off down there last time I looked). It's not been torn down (as it was said so many times). I wonder if there are people living there now. I headed up north, the narrow little streets where I once took a shot at jogging (I did in all about 3-4 times before I realized it really doesn't suit me).

1) I was just cycling down a narrow little street that I hadn't seen before when I see a car about to enter from the right. It is one of those streets where the lanes are separated, so I knew the car was turning right, the same direction I was going. Since I was a little ahead, I wasn't stopping and I was going to just pass the car with a little arc out to the left, to give myself some space for safety. Just as I come up to the intersection, I see it's a police car. Well, I passed it anyway, and that wasn't the smartest decision ever, but by the time I saw it was the cops it was too late to pretend I wasn't going to do that anyway, so I just kept going. So they catch up with me, roll down the window and pull me over. This is pretty much what I've been trying to avoid for the last 6 months, being pulled over by the cops on some biking infringement. So they tell me that I should have lights on and that I shouldn't be on the road in the first place, I should be on the bike pad (frankly I didn't realize this street even had one, it's dark and not all streets have them). They said they didn't see me and they were about to hit me. Well I take that with a pinch of salt honestly, I've been biking for 2 decades and I have a pretty good idea of how traffic works, I didn't feel I was in danger, they never came up that close to me. But you don't argue with the cops, so I took their comments with great humility. They were pretty nice about it, didn't say anything else and so I took off. The cops were out in force tonight, I saw a bunch more cars the next few blocks.

2) Now I'm effectively in an area I haven't explored before, and I don't really know where I am. So I'm just heading north more or less, trying to make out street signs without really knowing where those locations are relative to my position. I cross the railway line and not long after that I'm on a bridge across a canal. Funny thing, on the bank of the canal there's a little street with a lot of traffic. Cars going very slowly, looks like something's happening down there. As I get to the other side, I see there's a line of little booths along this street, booths with red lights in them. :D Suddenly the activity becomes clear as day. I've just found the largest red light district in this town (I know of two others that pale in comparison). I don't know why, but seeing that sort of thing always makes me laugh.

3) A few streets down I'm starting to get a little uneasy. The large, wide streets are no more and I'm entering into an area that is entirely residential. Since I don't know where I am exactly, I can't say how far I am from the edge of town, if this is the residential district that marks the north-most part of Utrecht or if there's more to come. I pass by a hospital, but otherwise there are only apartment buildings around me. Bus stops are useful to find your way, they often have maps. I ride up to the nearest bus stop and begin to orient myself. I'm in Noord Overvecht now and it's not a terribly interesting area, so I might as well head some other direction. There's really nowhere to go north or west, the map shows no urban settlements there, so I might as well head east. I find my way a bit further north, turn left, cross the Vecht river and arrive at an intersection.

4) So, where to go next. I've come pretty far already, but I decide it's so nice out tonight that I'll keep on going for a bit. On the map, there's a little town called Maarssen further north, so I turn right and hit the pedals. I've now just left Utrecht behind, so there's no more apartment buildings, just the odd house beside the road, and I'm riding just next to a canal. I see a sign "Maarssen 2km". Well that's not far. But very soon my fun comes to an abrupt end, the bike pad turns right, while the road is turning into a motorway and I can't be on there. I recall from the last map reading that there are two roads leading up to Maarssen. I was planning on taking this one and the other one on the way back, to not take the same road both ways, but now I have no choice. I take a left, by some big sports complex with lots of football pitches, and then a right again. I now come up to a map that shows all of Maarssen (and none of Utrecht), so I'm thinking I'll keep going north until the second intersection, where I'll cross the big canal. This area is pretty void of interest, there is some industry, a Blokker, a MacDonalds, but no real urban areas.

5) By now I'm thinking this is as far as I go, here I turn back and start heading for home. I was going to cross the canal and head back on the other side, but I come up to a sign by the bike pad that shows "Utrecht 2km" to the left. I'm in an area I've never been before, and I now have the railway on my left, which I think is going right into Central Station. (Looking at the map in hindsight, I was right about that.) But since I'm not sure and the sign points left, I turn left. So I cross the canal again a bit further down, right alongside the motorway. Right after the crossing, I'm looking for a right, to head back into Utrecht, but the motorway keeps going straight and the bike pad does too. :lala: Eventually I come to an intersection, and there's Utrecht on a sign again. It seems I'm stuck on this bike pad alongside the motorway, there are no other roads in this area, but at least now I'm heading into Utrecht. Once the motorway ends, I find myself right back on the same road I took north, so now I know where I am again. I have to keep checking the map at the bus stops a couple more times to figure out exactly which street to take, but eventually I end up on Amsterdamsestraatweg, which is a really long street that leads right into the center of town, and I'm pretty familiar with this one.

Two things that help me orient myself in Utrecht are a) the motorways and b) the railway. The only problem is that both those two make several turns and go in all kinds of directions, so I never really know where exactly I'm crossing it. All in all a very nice trip. I like riding at night, it's so different. In a sense more interesting, the landscape is less visible, only lit houses and buildings are visible, and it's more of a surprise of what is going to pop up next. In the light of day it's more like you can see what is ahead of you from a long distance, and it's a long ride to get there. There's also more traffic, more people, more life. Night time is very peaceful and quiet. And often less windy too.

I don't have one of those meters on my bike that shows how far I've gone, but going by the map, I'd estimate tonight was around 20km or so. One of these days I'll probably head out east to Bunnik, I've heard it's a nice town. But I'll have to go by a map, so it won't be at night. I've also thought about checking out some of the other towns nearby, and there are a few - Nieuwegein, Houten, Zeist, De Bilt... But I think my bike needs a little maintenance first. :D

EDIT: Thanks to arbscht's comment, I used gmaps pedometer to map out my route and it turns out the total distance I traveled was 23.8km, so my estimate was not too far off. There's also a caloriemeter on the site, and while I hardly pay attention to these things, since it's already integrated, it tells me I burnt about 2000 calories. I don't even know if that's a lot or very little. The calorie estimate is for runners, not bikers.

[un]wanted attention

October 6th, 2006

A lot of people seem to think there is some kind of balance in the universe at all times. Balance between.. I don't really know what. But most people don't think in terms of mass and energy at least. One kind of balance is the attention parents have for their children. Infants get lots of attention. When you're an infant, parents watch your every move. Just as you're about to stick a fork into the power outlet, parents intervene and you're like "whatever, dude". It's hard to get a moment to yourself, and you're too young to say "do you mind?".

Then you grow up a little, you're no longer an infant (in fact you probably have a new infant in your house) and suddenly you're not so hot anymore. You're 4 and your parents aren't interested in what you do. You try to get their attention all the time, you climb up a tall tree and you want them to come out and watch and they're like "whatever, dude".

It is the way of the world.

source code indexed

October 5th, 2006

Google have a billion different projects, many of which never see much success. But the latest thing is indexing source code and making it searchable. So say you want a sorting function in... Ada, and you don't want to write it yourself, you can just search for it. It also has info for licenses, so you can look for code under a license that you can safely use.

On a far more trivial note, you can search for names. My name turns up what is probably the most trivial software "release" I've ever done, the two files in this blog entry. There is more code out there that has my name on it, like galleryforge, but that hasn't been indexed. Other names, like Linus Torvalds turn up more matches (in his case only 50), whereas others still, like Bill Gates, only mentions the person in the source, but not as an author of the code. (Which is not that shocking, since Bill isn't eminent for his open source activities.)

In any case, Google Code Search is a pretty cool resource!


October 2nd, 2006

The other day I had the idea to write an opinion of the Yahoo Mail Beta webmail service, which I found particularly disappointing, in a consumer oriented review style, which I thought would have wider interest than the average blog entry I write. I posted the story on digg and reddit, and noone was interested in it. Then I posted it on slashdot (they have an open submission policy, every submission gets reviewed by their editors to be either published or discarded) and it was accepted, so yesterday it appeared on the frontpage of slashdot.

Slashdot is the biggest technology news site, and one of the oldest geek establishments, so my review was destined for a lot of traffic. So much so that I used three times more bandwidth in a day than I did the previous month. I got lots of comments on the blog, and many many more on slashdot. So that was pretty interesting to see how people responded to something I wrote, which wasn't the most controversial of viewpoints.

What strikes me is how many people are unable or unwilling to accept an article on the merits that it's written. My review was from the point of view of a user who has been using Yahoo Mail for a long time, tried the new service and was not impressed with it. And that's honestly my standpoint. I never pretended to take into account the concerns of other users, I just focused on my needs all the way. It wasn't a news article by the criteria of a news site, Yahoo Mail Beta has been around for months. It is still news to many users, however, who have been using Yahoo Mail for years. So as a user, this beta software is news to me. And as it was just my opinion, I didn't try to make it out to be some kind of complete review either, I didn't research the service thoroughly, I just used it for a bit, as most users would before forming an opinion.

I would actually love to respond to every comment I got and clear up many misunderstandings, but I realize that people who make a comment don't come back, so it would be pointless. There were two points that came up again and again and I should probably mention those. One is about opening messages in tabs. Well, I did know there were tabs, and that folders open in tabs, I didn't know that messages also open in tabs. I suppose I should have tried to double click on the message header, but then again I'm not used to double clicking on anything in a browser window, and Yahoo never gave me a hint to try that either. So silly me for missing that point. The other thing was that apparently I thought "Yahoo Mail Beta" was the name of the service. Well, strictly speaking, that is what they're calling it right now. Of course, I realize that beta means the software is still in development (or testing, more likely), but I find it somewhat confusing that you would slap the word beta on a product that already exists (the old Yahoo Mail). It would be like Microsoft calling their next operating system "Windows XP Beta" instead of "Windows Vista beta". Which is why I assumed Yahoo called it Yahoo Mail Beta, because Google called their service Gmail Beta (and again, Beta isn't part of the name, but Google seem to have started a fad as they slap the beta tag on just about every service their launch).

Then there are some people who point out one factual error (or sometimes just what they perceive to be a factual error), write "get your facts straight" and then leave.

But, on the whole I'd say the response was largely positive. As I read comments on slashdot, there is rarely a story that doesn't get heavily criticized, so it would be downright disturbing if that didn't happen here. But what is a bit out of the ordinary is quite a few people saying "I agree completely with the review, I'm also very disappointed with the new webmail service". Then there were those who say they really like the service, to whom I'd say "go tell Yahoo about it" (which I did about my opinion), because that's important feedback.

So that was an interesting experience..