From Slovenia With Love

This week, M. had to go to Slovenia for work, and I joined her. We went there by train, which takes longer than a plane flight, but saves zou the time & trouble of going to Schiphol, checking in, waiting, being searched & checked, more waiting… For European flights, all of this usually takes more time than the flight itself. So, the train. We left at 9.30 pm in a sleeping wagon. We had a small sleeping coupĂ© all for ourselves: two beds, two chairs and a table, and a tiny bathroom with shower. A purser welcomed us with a complementary bottle of prosecco, and in the morning he brought us breakfast. We changed trains at 7.30 the following morning, then arrived in Ljubljana at 2 pm. I always thought it couldn’t get more romantic than that: a train ride right across Europe; well, it was romantic allright, even though the coupĂ© was a lot smaller than the one in From Russia With Love, and we were too tired to have long, meaningful conversations like they did in Before Sunrise. It was definitely worth a 16 hour ride though, as we arrived here very relaxed.

Location of Slovenia, our route in red
Location of Slovenia, our route in red

We’ve had some time to visit the city’s highlights, like the castle overlooking the city from the top of a hill. Then there was the city museum, which has recently been renovated but is not quite finished yet. A lot of empty rooms, though you get a good impression of what the place will eventually be like when they’re done. It does look promising: their key message is “Single people make historic events.” Or: what’s really interesting about history isn’t wars and politics and learning in what year Leiden was freed from the Spaniards; it’s much more intriguing to find out how ordinary people lived their day-to-day life, doing the things we do, thinking the things we think, but, say, two thousand years ago, or even fifty years ago. The Ljubljana city museum focuses around this theme. I’ll sure want to come back to see it finished.

2005-11-14. No responses.

Playing the numbers game

Thanks to an entry in Simon Ritter’s blog, I now find myself completely addicted to a game which is as simple as it is catching: Sudoku. Its objective is to fill in a matrix with numbers, so that each row, column and submatrix contains only unique numbers (1 through 9). This is an example of a game in progress (from WikiPedia):

Sudoku example

As you can see, the bottom left quadrant has already been filled with unique numbers. Trough logic and sheer cunning the player must complete the rest of the grid. Of course there are numerous computerized versions of the game available, and even some for my phone, which is great for playing on the train.

I have always liked simple games the most; when everyone else was playing Doom and Quake, I stuck obsessively to Tetris and Solitaire. In more recent times, I spent quite some time on games like Bejewelled and Zuma. And on my phone, I’m still not bored with One For All FreeCell. So I guess Sudoku is just the logical next step…

(I met Simon last August, when he came to Holland to do a workshop for our company’s “Java Summer Camp”, on Java 5. People are still talking about it. Fortunately they seem to have forgotten the mix-up that got Simon on the wrong train to our location. Our office manager Rietje and I had to race through the Dutch countryside to pick him up at the next train station. But all was well in the end, Simon delivered a truly inspiring presentation.)

2005-11-09. No responses.

Coffee from Canada

It’s surprisingly hard to find a decent cup of coffee here in Holland. The Dutch have always been a nation of filtrated coffee drinkers, but in recent years they have largely fallen for the Senseo-disease. The Senseo Crema, as it’s called, is a coffee pad system, exclusively marketed by Philips and Douwe Egberts (Holland’s biggest coffee brand). The problem is that the coffee made with these pads really tastes like… filtrated coffee. I suspect it’s a clever way of selling people something they already had, but giving them the idea that this must be better because it’s pads. Drink coffee like they do in Italy–but without the too strong taste of Italian coffee. All this at a higher price than filtrated coffee, of course. Maybe that’s what’s really wrong here: Dutch people in general don’t like their coffee too strong.

If you find a place where they serve espresso or capuccino, they usually know how to mess it up properly. The coffee is piping hot, and the foam on a capuccino is just that: a lot of air, with a layer of sweetened cocao powder dusted over it. Espresso is all about how full they can poor the smaller espresso cups, making the coffee as watery as possible. I’ve given up hope that I’ll ever drink an Italian caffè outside of Italy: at most half a centimeter of utter caffein bliss, thick, creamy, with intense flavour.

Not that I have a fancy espresso machine at home, I must admit. The time will come when I’ve saved enough money to buy the Wega Mininovaand have the time to use it. In the meantime I’m using a Nespresso machine, which gives me a nice range of flavours and a reasonable time-per-shot. It may not be a God shot, but for me it’s a Go(o)d-enough-shot. It also saves me from the eternal search for the best beans, including expeditions to obscure Italian coffee breweries like the one I accompanied my friends Chris and Vincent on, last year[1].

You’ll understand I was pleased to find a coffee house here where the coffee is actually quite good. There’s not a lot Dutch about it though; it was set up by two Canadian guys[2] near the Amersfoort train station, where I arrive for work every morning. They know how to make a cup of coffee: it’s not too hot and the milk foam is thick and creamy. Then there’s the un-Dutch service (these guys wishing you a nice day while you’re walking out holding a large beaker of latte really is a great way to start your day), as well as the relaxed ambiance they’ve created with comfy leather chairs and soothing music. I hope they’ll make it; but already they have opened new shops in Utrecht and Rotterdam. Their business name is Social Ground.
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2005-11-05. 3 responses.

Extending BEA netui tags

The BEA WebLogic Portal netui framework offers a useful method of creating and handling web forms. I’ve come to like how easy they are to use, specially with the Workshop wizards, one of the few advantages of using Workshop. I also like how you can put almost anything in a form class, like an XML bean generated class, and make their fields available on the form using the X-script notation (but why not EL!?). However, in the project I did in 2005 for a client, the time came when we were saying “I wish netui:textBox could do this, and netui:anchor could do that…” And although there’s not much to extend within the realm of JSP’s, tags are a noteworthy exception.

So we started to extend quite a few netui tags. Unfortunately, there was virtually no documentation to be found on this subject on BEA’s site or elsewhere on the Internet. The tag classes do not come with any apidocs either. Therefore, the first step was to decompile the tags we wished to extend, in order to uncover their internal workings. Having done this, I believe there’s no way you’re going to extend these tags without decompiling them. There’s just too much going on inside. Once you’ve figured this out though, it’s fairly easy to add your own stuff.
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2005-11-02. 20 responses.

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