Monthly Archives: January 2012

(Quickly) on Dutch society

The Netherlands is a very interesting place. It appears to be quite unregulated to most outsiders; but it really isn’t. Dutch bureaucracy is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s taken me nine months (seven of those with a full-time job and a taxed salary) just to be recognised as a resident.

But I plan on staying here. I don’t think I’d be very comfortable going back to the UK—I’d certainly miss krentenbollen, the cycleways, HEMA, and the cheap and reliable railways too much. Plus, and no offence to my brethren, but I never really got the British.


Written after training at the gym

This article was written for the ‘Without the Internet’ series. I’ve been without a fixed Internet connection at home for about five weeks, but I’ve received an estimate and my Internet’s on the way.

When I moved from Amsterdam-Noord to Haarlem a month ago, I decided that it was in my best interests to join a gym (Dutch: sportschool, less commonly healthcenter). My apartment in Haarlem has no secure cycle parking and my recumbent (Dutch: ligfiets) sits unused in my flat. I knew, with all certainly, that I would gain weight and become obese if I didn’t get my fair share of exercise and I felt that the walk to and from the station every day simply wasn’t going to be enough. So I joined a gym – and it later turned out that my boss – concerned about his employees’ health, as any executive should be – is willing to pay two-thirds of the cost of my subscription. Goed zo.

But getting back to the point of this series – how I’m dealing with not having a fixed Internet connection – the treadmills (Dutch: loopbanden) at my gym have on them an Internet application, which one can use to browse the Internet. It’s not a stripped-down version of the Internet, but the browser’s part of a wider kiosk-style interface – one can watch television or listen to the radio by plugging headphones into the bottom of the screen, and information about one’s workout (not the right word when you’re only jogging) can be overlaid anf hidden as one sees fit. (Sorry.)

The browser ‘frame’ is roughly 800 x 600 pixels, which is one of a number of technical and practical limitations of the machines but, for most people, checking Facebook or browsing is all one needs and can be done with relative ease. But I’m not “most people” and I see chances for improvement in software. Here’s a little list I compiled (something I’ve been spending the last fortnight almost doing at work):

  • one cannot select text in input fields. Well, one can but you can’t then delete it – only overwrite it with more text. Say you were writing a quick email and you wanted to take a sentence out. While you can drag over the text to select it, iOS-style, you have to at least replace it with a space character.
  • the keyboard interface hasn’t been rigorously tested either. One submits text to forms, rather than writing in them directly and after the preview field above the touchscreen keyboard is constantly resizing what one’s entered as one types more; after six or seven words, given the movement of jogging, it becomes very difficult to read what has been written. This means submitting text in six- or seven-word chunks, which isn’t the best way of writing …but the longer you stay on the treadmill, the better; no?
  • again relating to the physical motion of jogging or running… even on the largest text size, which one can change with the large ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ keys provided, it’s a little difficult to read a 200-word summary of a physics paper in Google Reader (for example). Different websites have different standard ‘starting’ font sizes, and so following the article through to its source usually gets over the problem I have specific to Google Reader, but I’m there to clear my feeds and get through as many posts as I can; clicking through, reading the post and going back is a slow and irritating process.
  • as far as I know, there’s no support for Flash nor any of video elements but I’ve never watched any videos online on the machines. There is a button with a speaker symbol and the word “WEB” written immediately underneath it for (I assume) muting and unmuting web content but, again, I’ve never had a chance to play content so I wouldn’t know whether that button …well, works or not but its presence suggests that at least playing audio from the browser is possible.

But not everybody wants to do everything they can do at home (or, in my case, at work) on a computer attached to a treadmill. But I’d at least like to see how many emails from people (as opposed to automated emails) I have, or to bookmark decent texts for reading tomorrow on my Kindle on the forty-minute train journey into work… but if I can’t get the job done in however many minutes, I’ll just add extra minutes to the clock and keep running.

Just as trivia, I wrote most of this post by dictation-transcription while handwashing my clothes for the first time – handwashing for the first time that is. It takes an hour to do a dozen items (from the first plunge into soapy water to putting them on the radiator after rinsing them out in the shower) so I might as well dictate a blog post or technical document to myself while I knead away, transcribing it at a less soapy time.


It wouldn’t be Rants & Renderings without the occasional OpenStreetMap post. The next few months mark the countdown to the switch to the Open Database Licence (ODbL)—as far as I know, come April, anyone who has not yet signed the new licence will have their work effectively removed from the OSM database. In some cases, these users’ accounts are simply no longer accessible but we still need them to accept the new terms in order to keep their edits.

I came across a neat site called CLEANMAP the other day. It’s basically a Mapnik rendering but with old licencees’ work removed. The site states that it “hide[s] objects that were created by mappers that have not [yet] agreed to the [new ODbL] contributor terms”.

Trumpington Road and Long Road missing, CleanMap

Annotated screenshot of southern Cambridge, as seen on CLEANMAP. Parts of the A1134 are missing on Trumpington Road and Long Road but most of the map will be preserved come the switch to ODbL. Not too sure what the licence of this image is anymore, so I'll assume it's copyright and its contributors / CC BY-SA.

My home town of Cambridge is alright for the most part: as annotated above, some parts of Trumpington Road and Long Road have gone missing but most of the city’s doing just fine. What would be more helpful is a rendering showing the inverse: ways and POIs that will disappear. And of course CLEANMAP only shows what Mapnik renders—as I’ve discussed on previous posts, Mapnik only renders certain ways, POIs and relations. The database goes far beyond roads, woodland and bus stops for example.

If anyone reading this hasn’t already agreed to the new terms, please consider. Read this guide as to why the change is taking place.

Written after furthering my Main Document

This article was written for the ‘Without the Internet’ series. I’ve been without the Internet for almost a month now and, as a result, I’ve been spending most of my free time pruning my Mac mini inside and out – coming across interesting snippets from the last few years.

I haven’t mentioned my ‘Main Document’ in a while. That might be because I haven’t actually been keeping up with it; it’s been one of those projects that, while having a explicit end, I’ve just never had a chance to complete.

I’ll first explain what the ‘Main Document’ is and the reason behind it being at all. Towards the end of my 2009–10 course at Cambridge Regional College into art and graphic design, I wrote a detailed account of what was called the “final major project”. While I didn’t enjoy the project itself, I did very much enjoy documenting it in detail and I thought I’d carry the practice on into my next course in radio. I was also, on the art-design course, having problems with certain tutors grading my coursework factionally; I thought that I might appreciate having a precise and comprehensive text full of the coursework that wouldn’t get submitted (the ‘working out’) later on, so I could hand it into the qualifications body for reassessment.

So between September 2010 and April 2011—which was the first of three ‘courses’, each one lasting about thirty college months—this ‘Main Document’ document became the centrepiece of my coursework and a place to collate notes, scripts, pieces of copy, despatches and so forth. The document was always written in arrears but, owing to the fact that a great deal of assignments had to be written in late March and early April, I fell a little behind on writing up old notes (the most recent day’s work was always written up soon after) and transcribing old programmes (which takes ages).

In the three-week holiday between the first and second ‘courses’ of the course, I was interning at Radio Netherlands Worldwide in Hilversum, the Netherlands. My plan was that each evening after interning, I’d return to my bed-and-breakfast and write up a page or two more of the document. To cut a long story short, this wasn’t the case; perhaps the distractions of living in a new country were simply far more interesting than writing up old college work. I managed to get myself another month-long internship at RNW before finding full-time employment at Mister B. Again, the distractions of my new home were just too damn interesting (they still are).

It’s nine months to the day since I arrived in the Netherlands and the ‘Main Document’ has come forward little since that Spring day of ferry boredom and suicidal cycling across provincial Holland and Utrecht: at times, I was so damn tired, I almost fell into one of a number of rivers and canals. But being without the Internet this past month means there have been fewer distractions and interruptions, and so back to writing I’ve gone. My parents brought over two cardboard boxes worth of notes and documents a few months ago and, one by one, I’m slowly sifting through the mountain of paper; typing each one up and putting it in an appropriate place in the now nearly 700 kB LaTeX file of 52,660 words. This blog post, by comparison, is hovering at a meagre 4 kB.

Written after clearing out iPhoto

This article was written for the ‘Without the Internet’ series. Simply put, I’ve been without the Internet at home for about four weeks and, as a result, I’ve been spending most of my free time pruning my Mac mini inside and out – coming across interesting snippets from the last few years.

I’ve had more than one iPhoto library on the go for a while now. I was (and still am) a keyword whore; and when the keyword database in one iPhoto library was getting close to ‘ridiculous’, I’d hop over and begin fresh with a new one. This meant that the old library is as fit-to-bursting as the day I, effectively, abandoned it – and it’s quite a time capsule, if not only to demonstrate how utterly clueless at photography I was back in the early Brown years.

2009. A year of picking up film from Jessops and mainstream fake lomography.

iPhoto enables its users to store a significant amount of personal metadata alongside each photograph or image – or at least did enable that; I don’t know about the latest and greatest features of the most up-to-date version as I’m still using a particularly buggy version of iPhoto ’09. But these user-input keywords and descriptions aren’t transferable between libraries since they’re stored deep within the library, rather than attached to the files themselves. One must use adroitness the clipboard, a directory to temporarily store the images, and a text file containing the descriptions and tags of each file. It’s quite tedious work to move these photographs but, because of that, I’m being much less lenient about keeping the most dreadful.

You’ll probably be horrified to know that over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading a lot more to Flickr. Watch this space and feel free to offer any constructive criticism – I’ll write it all down and send it back to 16-year-old Kevin when I get ’round to founding my time-travel postal business in a few years.