On writing…

Ever had trouble writing human-readable text while in the middle of a programming project? Sometimes when I am coding even writing a small amount of English text, such as writing a slightly longer e-mail, becomes a chore. It is as if my brain does not want to re-use some circuitry that is currently in use.

But then as soon as the entire structure is written down, even if large parts of the functionality of the program are still missing, that part of the brain is freed, and I can write texts again.

I can do many other (and even very complex) tasks in the middle of this phase of coding, just not writing.

(So no: I  haven’t forgotten my blog…)

First we’ll give you the warez, then we’ll bust you.

Countries suck. But on this particular day, the federal republic of Germany has scored some points with me. The police has searched the premises of the “Gesellschaft zur Verfolgung von Urheberrechtsverletzungen (GVU)”, the local private copyright enforcement zealots. Apparently they have been paying money for the upkeep of a large distribution warez server so they could get a better picture of who was doing what.


Anvil firing

There’s apparently a subculture of people that likes to explode gunpowder to make iron anvils fly high up into the sky. All just for the fun of it, ofcourse. And given how close they park their cars, they must feel pretty certain the thing will fly straight up.


The Technology Underground Blog: Extreme Tinkering and Radical Self Expression Through Technology. This blog covers events where things that go whoosh, boom, or splat are featured. On-Topic examples include events that have rockets, pulse jets, tesla coils, magnaformers, homemade subs, pyrotechnics, railguns, catapults, etc . . .

Made a poster …

blind_map_small.gifThe teacher of one of my kids wanted a blind map of the world so she could point to countries to see if the kids knew which was which. I made a poster that shows the world, Europe and The Netherlands, and printed it in A0 format. As far as I know there are no rights attached to any of the materials I used to make the poster. So if anyone wants to use this map in their school or anywhere else, feel free.

Click the image for a larger preview, or get the Adobe Illustrator file.

Present-day XS4ALL

Last night I was at the official goodbye party for Doke Pelleboer, who was general manager of XS4ALL for the past 6 years. I normally hate official goodbye-events: shallow speeches filled with some idiot’s perception of humor, the obligatory giggling coworkers taking way too long to present some homemade gift and maybe a made-for-the-occasion song or two, sung by people who invariably cannot sing. But this one was different: the songs actually sounded good (No wonder: longtime-XS4ALLer Annemarie, who sung them, has a nighttime existence as a jazz-singer) and the speeches touched on some important issues that XS4ALL has been facing lately, mostly the difficult relationship with mother company KPN and with the Dutch wiretapping nazis authorities. Some amazing things were said by former XS4ALL spokesperson Sjoera Nas (who’s now with Bits of Freedom) and by Doke himself. And although he was sweet and soft-spoken, it was obvious that this ex-KPN manager had a minor chip or two on his shoulder. Even though some insiders had given me a glimpse of what was happening over the past years, the ferocity and the high stakes of some of these fights can still impress me. I can only wish upon Marion Koopman (the new manager) the strength to deal with the undoubtably difficult issues that lie ahead.

But what struck me more than anything else last night were my impressions when speaking to the people there. When I talk to people that still work at XS4ALL they invariably moan and bitch about how burocratic it has all become over the years, and how most of the new people just aren’t like the old people. So I was bracing for the worst when I walked around and talked to some people that work at today’s XS4ALL, many of whom I had never met before. I was amazed to find that XS4ALL still manages to hire some very sharp, crazy, witty and excentric folks. And how even some people that just came in seemed to feel connected with the ideals that XS4ALL stands for. I’m sure there’s plenty of exceptions, but I sure as hell didn’t meet many yesterday. It’s a strange and proud feeling to notice that large pockets of the not-so-corporate culture that I had the privilige to help create manage to stay alive in a company of 300 employees.

“Engineered for success”

A friend sent me a wonderful recruitment CD/ROM for the US Navy ‘Nuclear Propulsion Officer Program’. Unsurprisingly, it contains many short little feel-good movie clips. (The one about travel goes to great lengths to not mention some of the most favourite U.S. military travel destinations of late). This is some text from the accompanying booklet:

Get a glimpse into the world of engineering’s elite. See why the Nuclear Propulsion Officer program is the number-one program for training the world’s most accomplished engineers. Due to the fact that nuclear power systems takes [sic] a knowledge of all the other engineering disciplines, Navy nuclear engineers are considered the best of the best.

Navy Nuclear Officers receive world-class advanced training in:

  • chemistry
  • mathematics
  • physics
  • thermodynamics
  • electrical engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • shielding and radiological fundamentals
  • reactor plant systems
  • materials

The program prepares you to maintain and operate the sophisticated nuclear propulsion plants, modern weapons and sensor systems on board nuclear powered ships – to supervise and lead highly trained junior officers and elisted sailors to operate them – all in about 18 months. Many Nuclear Officers find themselves in charge of a 90,000-ton, $2 billion platform while they’re still in their early 20’s, much more responability than they would find in the private sector. […]

If you’re gonna blow stuff up, why take flying classes? Just 18 months of ‘world-class advanced training’, and they’ll let you drive something with a reactor.

Gee, I wonder what this button does…


I had heard it before, but never quite this loud. I knew I had ignored it on many previous occasions, but suddenly I realized what it was. It was the sound of the blogosphere, and before long the force was strong enough for me to have to lean to one side to stay on my feet. This suction couldn’t get much stronger now, or could it? Just as I wondered what would happen to me if it were to suck me in, I suddenly lost contact with the floor…