Archive for the 'Life' Category

News of the World

M. and I were just talking about how much the web has changed our lives. She can now find, read and print scientific articles for her work via large databases on the web; articles from bonafide, peer-reviewed magazines, that sometimes are not even published on paper anymore. In my own work, the web is indispensable as well: JavaDocs can be downloaded but are just as easily accessed online; and for most programming problems or weird error messages there’s an answer to be found via Google. We are all connected to an immense network of information and experience; connected to the world, it feels like. Next thing, I open up Bloglines, start reading the first post and wind up on this website (made in Holland I am proud to say) where the world map literally cries out its news flashes as they happen. Yesterday Campfire, today this; what will I find tomorrow? I love the web.

Screenshot from What’s Up. I guess, for Dallas, this is world news…

2006-02-18. No responses.

Ceci n’est pas un sherry

Sherry has never been my favorite drink. Not only does it have unpleasant connotations: of England, the 1950s, Agatha Christie, brown, dull, mouldy; or worse, in Holland: where in the 1970s desperate housewives got drunk on cheap supermarket sherry — but also I just never liked the taste of it very much.

The last time M. and I bought a bottle of sherry was to cook Delia Smith’s recipe of chicken in sherry (a chopped up chicken braised for 45 minutes in half a liter of sherry and sherry vinegar, with lots of whole shallots and garlics and tarragon). Per Delia’s instructions we asked the shopkeeper for amontillado sherry. The shopkeeper looked at us in awe; it seemed we had instantly become connoisseurs to him. With great care he unlocked a special cabinet behind him and took a dusty bottle out of it which he put on the counter. I was expecting an equally special price, so I was surprised when it only cost about 15 guilders (8 dollars), which only confirmed our prejudice that sherry is nothing but a cheap way to get drunk. We didn’t dare to break the spell and tell him we were going to use it for cooking. Of course we did taste it before pouring it into the pan, but fortunately it tasted a lot better after 45 minutes of cooking with the tarragon.

So I wasn’t too eager when my dad, the last time we visited him, suggested we drink a glass of sherry with the Coulommiers cheese and goat’s Brie we were about to eat. “No, no, this is special, you’ll like this,” he said; and I know by now I should trust him in these matters. He’s been cooking most of his life, professionally for part of it, and is currently working as a culinary consultant. He taught me long ago to always taste everything, before deciding if I like it or not. And so I trusted him and agreed to try a glass. With great care he brought a dusty bottle out of his wine cellar and put it on the table, just slightly hesitating before opening it, showing that it really was a special bottle. I tasted. He watched me closely. This was not sherry! It had all the sweet and subtle taste of sherry, but without any of the sharp vileness of alcohol that I was afraid to find. It was served cold and fresh, and tasted more of an aromatic dessert wine; a wonderful combination with the salty cheeses. He told me the sherry is made by constantly mixing in older sherry through an elaborative system, the details of which I cannot remember very clearly for some reason. The end result is that every bottle of this sherry contains a tiny amount of very, very old sherry (up to 60 years, the average age is 25 years).

After he saw I really liked it, my dad brought up another bottle as a parting gift (we were leaving the next morning). That bottle is now safely tucked away in our own little wine rack (they don’t build cellars anymore), waiting to be opened, for a special occasion, or just because we feel like tasting that exquisite flavor again. We won’t be cooking chicken in it for sure; we’ll buy a bottle of real sherry for that.

2006-01-29. 3 responses.

The Project is Dead, Long Live the Project

I’m not so good at saying goodbyes, so the end of a long term project always brings me mixed feelings: I’m eager to take on something new, start afresh, meet new people, tackle new problems — but I hate saying goodbye to the team of people I’ve been working with so closely, people I’ve seen every working day of the week for so long. And as it happens, the project I’ve been on for the past twelve months is coming to a close ten days from now.

At one of the larger Dutch health insurance companies, we built, from scratch, a combined web/mainframe application for the new Dutch national health system (“basisverzekering” or basic insurance) that was introduced on January 1st. People were skeptic about our chances, but the project manager kept the faith and we pulled it off in time. Right now, when I walk past some call center employees (they’ve been cramped everywhere in the building, there’s so many calls coming in about the basisverzekering), it’s very satisfying to see them on the phone with actual clients, using the very application I helped build. So even though I’m happy to leave, I’m really not. I’m saying goodbyes.

Goodbye to the 8th floor where we sat, a huge empty office floor housing 80 people, all working on this project.
Goodbye to Chris, I really hope to see him back. He was our senior team member, who came from the UK to live in Holland some 25 years ago; still eager to do and learn new things at the age of 57. He was sadly diagnosed with cancer last September and had to leave the project early to be hospitalized. I wish him all the best, but he could probably use a miracle right now.
Goodbye to the girl with the blue sports car that she parked next to my car every morning at the train station; we never spoke because I was always running to catch my train, but I liked her car.
Goodbye to the mainframe and to Tuxedo and OptimalJ, all technical stuff to help the application store its data in a database; all those extra layers make it a lot more complex and more error-prone while developing, but it was also an extra challenge, it gave an edge to the project. I’ll be happy to use ‘just’ Oracle again in my next project.
Goodbye to the guys (and Kate) at Social Ground at the Amersfoort train station, where I bought a grande latte every morning; still the best coffee I can find. I hope they’ll open up another shop at my side of the country (East).
Goodbye to Remco, another member of the team, aka the friendly Ruby guru; he pointed me at Ruby among so much other things:, Bloglines, dEUS to name just a few. I’m on my own now, preaching Ruby to the Java people in my own office. I’ve already begun by bombarding my account manager with useful info about Ruby, like Obie Fernandez’ post on Productivity Arbitrage. He’s listening.
Goodbye to all the other members on the team. I learned a lot from you; that’s why I like doing projects like these.

I’m ready for the next project. Bring it on!

02-02-2007 UPDATE: Last night, I was finally able to say goodbye to Chris. I dreamed that the project was still running, everyone was there (not Remco of course, who’d left early to become a Rails programmer). We all had to work late to finish the release. Except Chris, who had already finished his part. It happened to be his last day on the project, so we all said goodbye to him. Someone convinced him to give a demo of what he had built. So he proudly showed us an oversized pocket calculator with a matrix printer built in, which could be used as a portable device to print invoices for clients on-site. It looked impressive. He pushed a few buttons and an invoice slip slowly rolled out. As he was walking to the door, a big grin on his face, I discovered that an entire group of line items was missing from the printed invoice. I wanted to call him back, but at that moment I woke up.

He must have reached his final destination by now.
Bye Chris!

2006-01-18. One response.

The Answers to All Your Questions

Beginning bloggers can often be recognized by their fixation on web server statistics. I don’t mind admitting that I’m no exception. It’s just as satisfying to see that people read my ramblings, as it is to see people use a computer program that I wrote. Besides, the stats can show you some very interesting information, like which posts are popular, and what other sites refer people to this blog. But what’s most intriguing, is the search words some people used that lead them here. With some search words I really wonder how they could have led here, and if the posts here ever gave people the answers they were looking for. (Then again, I guess that’s the beauty of the web: you usually find what you’re looking for, but more often you find ten other things you weren’t after but are still interesting enough to look into.)

For example, how about the person that asked his search engine of choice, literally, “did sauerkraut come from switzerland?” Why did they want to know? Was the answer ever found? Does it really matter where it comes from? Personally, I would say straight away: sauerkraut comes from the Alsace region in France. The best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted, anyway. But sauerkraut is eaten in many places, and many varieties. In Holland it’s usually mashed with potatoes, baked lardons mixed in, and served with smoked sausage. We had braised cabbage in Slovenia, which looked a lot like sauerkraut but wasn’t sour at all. According to Wikipedia, sauerkraut originated in China. Strange, it’s never on the menu at the Chinese takeaway’s…

Sauerkraut-like cabbage on the Ljubljana market

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2006-01-07. 2 responses.

Vacation! But first, JavaPolis

The best moment in any vacation is when you shut the office door behind you, the night before the vacation begins. You feel a free man, even if it’s only for a few days or weeks. Today I had that moment, and I’m still enjoying it now.
This year, my Christmas vacation starts off with a visit to the JavaPolis conference in Antwerp, Belgium. Technically, it’s still work; but it’s a lot more fun than solving issues and debugging code, which I’ve been doing since our first major release back in October.

The other night, a colleague told me he doesn’t like going to conferences because you get so little out of the — usually short — presentations. But for me, a conference like this is all about hearing and seeing new things, being inspired, getting new ideas, thinking up new plans, new projects… As well as meeting people: people I’ve worked with in previous projects, or people that you only knew on-line, or people who helped build the stuff we’re using everyday: Java, Google, Spring etcetera. Not that meeting them would change the way you work with their tools, but I think that people who’ve created something noteworthy, are often inspiring to meet and talk to. A conference can be so much more than just the presentations you attend. I hope JavaPolis will be like that.

I’m going to try to blog whenever I can, but that will probably only be at night, in my hotel. WiFi seems to be the one thing missing from JavaPolis, unfortunately.

2005-12-13. No responses.

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