Mood swings

I’m currently taking the SSRI escitalopram for my depression. SSRIs are supposed to “even out” one’s mood but I find myself having wilder and wilder mood swings, having had my dosage recently increased.

I took citalopram back when I was studying in 2010 but my GP prescribed that mainly to alleviate the stress I was having at college. I stopped taking that when I came to the Netherlands in Spring 2012; but my current Dutch psychatrist began me on them again a few months ago. I recently (about 3–4 weeks ago) went to see him and he recommended that I double my dosage. I know that it’s going to take a little while before my body reädjusts to this new intake and I think that’s why I’m feeling even more manic/depressed than I was on the original dosage.

Yesterday was a bit of a (sorry to use the term, but) …an emotional rollercoaster; and I felt suicidal for most of the day before. Going from moderately happy to (almost) hysterical: I did’t really notice that, though my collegaues did – bless ‘em! But going from absolutely fucking super to suicidal in the space of 10–15 minutes is certainly something one feels.

What I’m most pissed off at myself about though is the fact that these changes in mood are usually triggered by the most trivial (and quite frankly, pathetic) things imaginable. And I end up having to take an hour off work just to pull myself back together! Sheesh!

But enough about me! This kind of post isn’t what I want to start getting into here (or anywhere); I just wanted to get it written down.

The life of the 300

R-NET can’t seem to decide where their buses go. Over the last six/seven months, I’ve seen the destination on a certain route’s destination boards change no less than four times, even though the line still goes to exactly the same place.

When I first moved to Haarlem, the line 300 service was advertised on the front of R-NET’s buses as heading to:

Amsterdam-Z.O. via Schiphol

“Z.O.” stands for “Zuidoost”, and Amsterdam-Zuidoost is one of the city’s stadsdelen (≈ boroughs). Once you know this, this destination wording becomes clear and unambiguous: exactly what one’s looking for on the front of a bus.

A couple of months later, however, the boards were changed to read:

Amsterdam-Z.O. via Airport

True: there is only really one airport in the region and that’s Schiphol. But I would assume that most passengers travelling to catch a flight or pick someone up from an airport would know the name of the airport their flight is due to land or take off at. But alright, “Amsterdam-Z.O. via Airport” is still clear enough.

But the destination board changed again around the beginning of June to:

Amsterdam via Airport

which is pretty much false advertising! Line 300′s terminus at Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena is 8 km south of Amsterdam Centraal. I don’t think you’d be very pleased if you went to visit central London for the day and found that your bus actually terminated in Seven Sisters. Buses to Amsterdam’s Marnixstraat bus station say “Amsterdam Marnixstraat” for this reason too, so I don’t see why R-NET should be any different.

I saw today that this has been changed once more to:

Bijlmer Arena via Airport/Plaza

We’re getting close to what we started with now but at least “Amsterdam” has been corrected. As a matter of fact, the central bus station at Schiphol airport is officially referred to as “Plaza/NS” or “Schiphol Plaza/NS” – NS being a reference to the NS station under the airport; so no doubt R-NET will be changing the front of their buses again in the near future.

Markdown vs Microsoft Word

I’ve begun using a markup language called Markdown recently for almost everything text. The pastime of choice at my workplace is to unnecessarily put text into Word documents, which (in my opinion) slows down productivity and makes text “documents” impossible to search with utilities like grep. It also makes the files much, much larger than necessary.

Something super secret

The text Something super secret is almost 15 times larger as a Word document.

Now, I say “documents” in the above paragraph. There is a time and place for Microsoft Word, as indeed there’s time and a place for Windows, Exchange and other Microsoft technologies. But plain text or text with little formatting does not belong in Word – press releases; notes to yourself; even essays and reports in college, though you should be using LaTeX for academic typesetting anyway.

I use Markdown in almost all my projects, both at home and at work. This blog post, for example, was written in Markdown in my editor of choice vim. My new website at kevinsteinhardt.net is Markdown-based as explained in the FAQ – just Ctrl-F/Cmd-F and search for “Markdown”.

Consider giving Markdown a go. It’s fast and simple to learn and best of all, you’ll be able to concentrate on content rather than trying to figure out the ribbon interface in Microsoft Office.

New site, kevinsteinhardt.net

I’m proud to announce the publication of my new website, kevinsteinhardt.net. It’s been a good few weeks in the pipeline and with the help of my great friend Stephen Radford, my “personal and professional portfolio” is here!

Screen capture of kevinsteinhardt.net

The site is entirely Markdown-based, which makes writing content a hell of a lot easier and less stressful. I’m actually quite amazed at the rate I’ve been bashing out page after page on my commute – I’ve even got time to write this post!

Since I moved to the Netherlands, I’ve wanted to ditch my old site and start from scratch. The expiration of my hosting plan with Heart Internet (who are very very good hosting providers; don’t get me wrong) gave me a chance. I would like to extend my thanks to them for their services and excellent customer support over the years.

So the new site is up; and hopefully I’ll be adding bits and pieces in the coming weeks. Here’s to 2012 and the launch of kevinsteinhardt.net!

Landslide forced cars onto railway(!)

A section of the A890 in Scotland was damaged following landslides last year. This prompted the closure of the road and, until January, a diversion of up to 230 km around the closed section. Highland Council laided on ferries across the Loch Carron, avoiding the detour via Inverness.

The Kyle of Lochalsh Line runs alongside the section of closed road; and a rubber surface was laid between and around the single track railway so that traffic could be diverted up onto the railway and flow once again. The section of railway in question couldn’t have been longer than about 100 m but it’s still rare to find this sort of coöperation between highways and rail organisations in the UK.

This is a little old but I thought it was still worth a mention. The road in question has since reöpened, but I found this video on YouTube (skip to 8 minutes in) which shows the arrangement in pretty good detail.

It’s like a sieve, I tell you

So I’d just left work earlier this evening and I suddenly thought of something. It was important; I know it was. I remember saying to myself: “oh, that’s a good point”. I remember that it was too long an idea to type out on my brick phone‘s T9 keypad, so fumbled around in my long-pocketed raincoat for something to write on – I can write a lot faster than I can type on a T9. But unfortunately while I did have an old receipt to write on, I didn’t have a pen. It was a sad day for me – an ex-journalist, having been taught that not having a pen about your person at all times is the most unprofessional act.

But my scumbag brain reassured me that it would retain such a truly noteworthy thought until I got home. All I can remember about it is that:

  • it would have been too long an idea to type out but I could have written (or perhaps have drawn) it; and
  • it was something to do with either work, or computing – most likely both.

It’s completely infuriating that I can speak two languages but I can’t even remember what I wanted to write down. And it turns out I had a pen on me all along. A damn good Stabilo Bionic pen: perfect for writing on even the glossiest of receipts.

Stress

Stress doesn’t exactly affect my personal life. I don’t tend to get stressed at home, or even on the commute to and from work. That’s why I’m glad I’m in employment and not still at college: when I was following my ND Radio course at Cambridge Regional College, every evening was the time for coursework; as was the cycle or bus journey in in the morning (not that I was typing while riding my Hurricane) and back home in the afternoon; and my lunch breaks were times to obsess over things that my colleagues weren’t too phased by. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to survive the second and third 30-week terms. But when I started my current job, I took a vow to—unless asked for by my superiors—never ‘take my job home with me’. I’ve broken this rule a couple of times, though these occasions have been little more than writing up mountains of Post-its you could render a building with. For the most part, I never take my work home with me: work stays at work and work thoughts shouldn’t be prioritised over my personal and social lives outside of the office.

Stress did affect me a lot at college and it continues to do so to a lesser extent at work; and even less so at home. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to get away from my flat every once in a while to clear my head. The season ticket I used to get to work every day entitles me to unlimited travel between Haarlem and Amsterdam and it’s not uncommon for me to use the train to get a little piece of quiet; not that my flat isn’t quiet already (except today, Koninginnedag) but it’s full of broadband distractions Arizona City on toast. If I really need to focus on a small project or if I just want to get some good old-fashioned book reading done (I linked that there because you might not have seen a real book before), it’s not uncommon for me to jump on an Intercity into town with my netbook. I don’t even have to get off the train – it goes into Amsterdam Centraal and then after about fifteen minutes, starts its return journey out towards Haarlem. Wat leuk.

Stations on the Dutch railway network do have publically-available WiFi, but coverage onboard is only available on a handful of services. This can be a little irritating if I absolutely must look something up but I can usually live without the citation or other information I need until the next station, where I can connect to the WiFi and so on and so forth.

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The Netherlands and how I ended up here

This all started just as I was completing one of my National Diplomas in radio broadcasting. As a cyclist, I’ve been fascinated by the Netherlands and its cycling culture ever since I started reading about it: the posts on the excellent A view from the cycle path are probably what pushed me to finally go. I wanted to at least experience the infrastructure and cycling ‘way of life’ in the Netherlands, so I came up with an idea of using the course to my advantage to ask for a little work experience at an English-language radio station.

I applied just after the New Year for a short internship at the international station Radio Netherlands Worldwide - which is currently having large chunks chopped off of it. The management at RNW said that an intern staying for just two weeks (actually my fortnight-long Easter holiday) probably wouldn’t have been of much assistance. This lead to me into negotiations with my tutors at Cambridge Regional College and I managed to get what would have been the first week back after the Easter holiday off.

My father drove me to the Harwich ferry terminal to catch the 09:00 sailing to Hoek van Holland on 9 April 2011. With me was my trusty Challenge Hurricane recumbent bicycle (which is sitting next to me in my flat as I type) and four cycling bags attached. I set off towards the terminal, the ferry and a three week-long internship at an international radio station.

The 130 km cycle ride that followed disembarking the Stena Hollandica was, I’ll admit, not properly thought through. But I made it to my B&B-slash-campsite later that evening albeit exhausted and disorientated. I was staying in the small village of Lage Vuursche, which would be my “home” for the next few months; and it’s worth mentioning that the woodlands that surround Lage Vuursche have possibly the sandiest soil I’ve ever encountered. During the second or maybe the third week of the internship, the chain on my Hurricane snapped. This was most certainly the work of the sandy nature of the cycleways that I rode on as part of my daily commute through the Maartensdijkse Bos. A new chain would have set me back at least a hundred euro – the chain on a recumbent is roughly three ‘normal’ chain lengths – so I thought the best thing to do would be to leave my bike with the owners of the B&B, and return to the Netherlands to pick up my Hurricane (with a new chain in my pocket bag) the following weekend. Oh, and of course take the bus to work for the rest of my internship.

I’m a little sketchy on what happened next. I’ve tried to figure it out by going back through old tweets and checking emails from way back when, but …it appears we have a memory gap. Radio Netherlands some way or another offered me a second internship; this time working with the Earth Beat team. Earth Beat is a programme all about new and clever ways of interacting with the planet – the programme’s podcast is actually how I came across RNW in the first place; I mean I could have gone to another station somewhere else in Europe, or perhaps even stayed at home and relaxed over my Easter holiday (but that’s not like me). Unlike my first internship – where I was working ad-hoc as a journalist and editor for the station’s news site - the second internship saw me tackling the task of editing programmes for rebroadcast. My outright OCD approach to editing audio, which can slowly drive others insane, actually turned out to be extremely beneficial to this project – a sister station in Bhārat had selected a few dozen segments (there are roughly four segments per episode) from different episodes of the programme, and they wanted them cut down to precisely three minutes in length. But the length of a segment varies from four minutes to, I think in one case, fifteen minutes; so cutting already edited segments down further without them losing charm or being less engaging was a real challenge, but one I enjoyed thoroughly.

While heading into Amsterdam to meet my Parisian cousin - who was in town to visit her Dutch boyfriend – I knew I’d have a little time to spare, so I popped into the Mister B (NSFW) store on the Warmoesstraat for …well, I actually popped in for supplies. One thing led to another and later that afternoon when I got back to the B&B, I emailed them my CV and left it at that. I got an interview with the chairman of the company Wim and general manager Wouter over what I could bring to the company and what experience I had in the workplace (none), or what experience I had in the fetish scene (urmm…) – I’m surprised I even got the job.

I was hired as an assistant to the marketing department, and while the arrangements at work were a little unstructured at first, I was quickly assigned the task of processing mailorders – something I’m still doing to this day. After a few months, I got asked to do more and more design work (which is after all what I’m actually qualified to do) and at the moment, I split my time between designing web and print graphics for marketing, and the processing of the mailorders operation.

Even with a salary under my belt for the first time ever, I was still living in the tent for the first fortnight of my new job. I was very lucky to find a flat on Craigslist - since housing of any kind in the Netherlands comes few and far between - in the last week or so of the second internship at RNW, but I was unable to move in straight away. In total, 42 nights were spent in that tent and I can say with great passion that I am never under any circumstances, ever again going camping.

I soon (thankfully) moved out of the tent and into the suburb of Diemen, just outside Amsterdam – so close to my work in fact that I commuted many a sunny, warm August morning on foot. I remember spending quite a lot of my time walking in the Summer: the nearest decent supermarket was no less than a twenty-minute walk away but at least this meant I got some fresh air on a regular basis. That isn’t really the case in Haarlem (where I live now), though I do walk four kilometres a day to and from the station and an extra 2 km every other day to get to the gym; but I don’t really “go for a walk” anymore.

Autumn is kind of a blur to be honest – I remember that the weather was very changeable, but that’s about it. I moved up from Diemen to a small flat in Amsterdam-Noord; which I shared for a short time with a Scot, an American, and then an architecture student from the Basque Country. The thing I loved most about living in Noord – apart from being fifteen minutes from Amsterdam Centraal with next to no tourists (which is impossible south of the river) – was cycling to work. I do kind of miss doing that; and also while it was alright for a couple of months, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the ferries across the IJ again – especially not with the new, earlier working hours I have.

I moved once more in December: this time with the intention of actually staying put for a while. I now live pretty much in the centre of the beautiful 13th-century capital of North Holland, Haarlem. The flat that I have now isn’t the biggest and didn’t come furnished in any way – other than with a sink and a small desk unit built-in to one of the alcoves – but it actually feels like home to me now, rather than feeling like just another flat. And that’s where I’ve stayed for the last four months – I’m still at Mister B and thankfully, someone else’ll be taking over my other roles by the end of the month, allowing me to focus on my design work; but my colleagues there have done impeccably well to put up with me for this long and I’d like to thank them so much for helping me learn Dutch, integrate a little into society here and of course for being outstanding colleagues to work with.

Tomorrow marks one year since I arrived in the Netherlands. I had a rather silly idea the other week that every year on 9 April, I should go back to Hoek van Holland with my recumbent and try to beat my record cycling to Lage Vuursche; but I’m glad common sense beat me to it on that one.

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Introducing Plinky

I constantly begin blog posts with the pronoun “I” and I know a blog is definitionally “a personal journal [… which usually showcases] the work of a single individual” but just shut up about yourself, Kevin, for five minutes find it hard to come up with ideas for what to write about these days. I don’t really have a problem coming up for ideas for designs—earlier today in fact, I was really proud of my first drafts for the wholesale newsletter we at Mister B send out to our clients every week. But sometimes, all we need is a prompt and we’re on our way.

Let me introduce Plinky: a site currently managed by the team behind blogging platform WordPress, Automattic. While you can write and publish content directly from the site, I would be using it to generate a rough idea which I would then start hacking away at—yeah, that sounds an awful lot like stealing to me. It’s a shame there’s no random prompt feature built-in. Luckily, the permalink format is random number generation-friendly: insert a number ($) into the URL http://www.plinky.com/prompts/$/answers/new and Bob’s your uncle. I hope to be using it to overcome my acute writer’s block over the coming weeks. Expect posts on whether or not ghosts exist (they don’t) and how I got to where I am today.

Actually, that second one might be a good one to start with.

The iPod shuffle playlist

Some people can listen to the same few songs on repeat all day long and I can have days where all I want to listen to is Fångad av en stormvind or whatever – but that’s a story for another time.

Quite a few of my belongings are still at my parents’ house in Cambridgeshire. Whenever my parents visit me or vice versa, something of mine is almost always given back to me. Sometimes a car full (September); a small something I forgot last time I stayed (November), stuff to occupy the space the Christmas presents took up on the flight there (December); and me and my mum prepared a small list this time (March) complete with a sewing repair kit she made and an extra lock for my bike which would have taken me over my baggage allowance on the flight back at Christmas time. An important item I’ve missed since I broke my HTC Desire in that completely unavoidable(!) jacket-on-floor-meets-foot accident is my age-old first generation iPod shuffle.

I keep a Smart Playlist in my iTunes library based on the last time I listened to a particular track:

Media Kind is ‘Music’
Genre is not ‘Live’
Last Played is not in the last 21 days
Size is less than 20 MB

These parameters produce a playlist of fresh songs that I literally haven’t heard in weeks. The track size threshold is owing to the capacity of my Shuffle, 512 MB: pathetic by today’s standards and expectations but for what I want it for, perfect. What’s going to happen is that I plan on syncing my iPod every evening and re-Autofilling it from the Smart Playlist above. When you listen to music on the Shuffle (or any other iPod), the play counts for the tracks in question get updated in iTunes on every sync – therefore, music I listened to (rather than skipped; which I occasionally do) won’t make its way back onto my iPod for at least three weeks and even then, the probability of it being Autofilled is roughly 1 to 125.

It’s not about forcing myself to listen to music I don’t like; music that terrible either gets deleted from my iTunes library or never makes it in in the first place. It’s always nice to listen back to a song you haven’t heard in a while and today, I came across many an old favourite. If I wanted to be really evil, the playlist would take into consideration the skip counts of tracks too.

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