Last beautiful day of the year

Today it’s 24 degrees outside, but from what I understand the cloud cover that should be familiar by now to anyone’s who’s stayed in the city this summer will return tomorrow. The next time the sun will be back it will be autumn.

Sourceforge download page gone from bad to worse

If you’re not a geek you probably don’t know SourceForge. It is a very useful website for computer programmers (or developers, as we like to call ourselves), because it provides an aggregation point for people, code and knowledge, and it does so for free. It unfortunately was built by a certain sub-type of geek that thinks they automatically understand the internet, simply because internet uses technology, and technology is something they understand.

A result of this is that for a long time SourceForge used link texts that looked like or program.exe that promised to lead you to a downloadable file. The only correct expectation that a visitor could have is that if you right-clicked the link and selected Save As in your web browser, the browser would store the promised file on your hard disk. Instead, you would get a web page with links to the actual files on your hard disk. You see, the .zip-link would not actually lead to the file itself, but instead to a collection of links that in turn would lead to (several instances of) the file.

Now SourceForge has changed this method. By the time I finally learned not to “Save As” the linked document, they’ve made it so that a download will start automatically. Of course, they won’t tell you this. Instead, you get a page with several links to downloadable files, just like before, except this time the files aren’t the ones you requested, but completely different ones that are part of advertisements. Might even be virusses, who knows? Since the web isn’t immediate, I didn’t realise I just needed to wait until the download started, and instead clicked the most likely looking link. Which was the moment I realised I was wrong, because the file that started downloading was several hundreds of megabytes large, whereas the file I had requested was supposed to be only several kilobytes in size.

Once again, FOSS geeks, sterling work! Please don’t ever learn, you might have to admit to having been wrong in doing so!

(follow link for enlargement of screenshot)

Also blogging elsewhere

Although my posting frequency here never has been a thing to brag about much, lately it has dropped below the “once a week” that I unconsciously saw as a minimum. This is not because of the dreaded blogging fatigue, but because I’ve joined a couple of other blogs—which I must have written about once or twice before, so let this be just a gentle reminder.

Most of my time goes to 24 Oranges, weird and wonderful news about the Netherlands (English). (Or: just my postings.)

I used to post about twice a week at the Teleread blog, but since 2007 my Teleread posting frequency has also suffered. At first that was because of lots of paid work, but when I had more time later it went to 24 Oranges. (Or: just my postings.)

Finally, the past few weeks I have had four guest blogs up at the Iusmentis blog, which is Arnoud Engelfriet’s blog about the meeting of technology and law. Writing mainly about copyright and Project Gutenberg, I have posted the following items there (in Dutch):

I will try and translate, and then post these four entries either here or at Teleread, when I have the time. I put a lot of research into these postings, so it would be a pity to limit them to speakers of Dutch. Also, the readers of the Iusmentis blog have added some valuable comments that could use a larger audience.

Story tropes

This is too important to just leave to my browser’s bookmarks. I just found this absolutely marvelous online dictionary of narrative mechanisms called Television Tropes & Idioms. Despite the name it is not just about TV, but about story telling in all mediums, including games. And every definition I’ve encountered so far is absolutely spot on. And in discussing devices and twists it makes mincemeat of the opinions of producers (“the punters only like happy endings“) and viewers (“they can’t bring back Joe, his brains are scattered over three continents and a small asteroid called Katie”) alike.

There’s a reason it’s called “great”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cricket as big as the one that landed on my window sill today.

Wikimedia Commons identifies it as a Great Green Bush Cricket. Didn’t know they were this common. The Dutch name translates to Great Green Sabre Cricket, undoubtedly in reference to its distinctive tail.

Search: weigh or eliminate?

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book by web usability experts 37 Signals called Defensive Design for the Web in which they gave side by side examples of how to do web shops right and how to do them wrong.

One of the examples had two sports stores go head to head. Both let you search for basketball shoes, but one (the bad one) showed you all hundred or so results at once, while the other (the good one) let you use filters to help you further narrow down your search. For instance you could say: only show me the sneakers with black laces, or the ones that cost less than 100 USD.

Both methods though, the one that showed all the results at once and the one that let you use filters, had an underlying assumption that all search criteria are equally important. Perhaps this is a side-effect from the success of Google. Search has become so relevant—and therefore successful—that we apply the same assumptions about search everywhere. This is what search should be like, we say.

VU researcher Frans Feldberg begs to differ though (Dutch). He claims that online stores would be better off using a mixture of regular and weighted filters. His 2006 research into automated decision support systems seems to indicate as much. Unfortunately all the weighted support systems cannot help you if your search yields no results—I couldn’t find out what his paper is called, or I would have linked to it.

Jong Nieuws’ formation for EURO2008

The European Football Championships have entered their final phase, and people across the globe worry about playing systems, injuries, formations, fate, and what have you. Here’s the Jong Nieuws blog’s preferred formation for EURO2008. I probably should have translated “vrouw” as “wife,” but I feared that the caveman mentality present in this cartoon would perhaps not be appreciated for what it is and only noticed by those of more refined sensibilities (you, that is).

Link (Dutch).

Sushi World: instant karma gonna get you

Sushi World

Don’t walk away, run

Last month around this time I was having a heavy cold that wouldn’t go away, with a fever and a headache and a general under-the-weatherness that made me fall asleep every four hours or so. The past few days I had stayed home and done my own cooking, but by the third day I had run out of ingredients and I either had go to the store, which I did not feel up to, or order out. The latter it was. When I am sick I tend to try and eat healthy, which is hard to do if you order out, so I settled on sushi.

Using an online ordering service, I settled on a menu from Sushi World on the Stadionweg in Amsterdam, which is a two minute walk from my house. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the order had gone through, so I decided to call the restaurant to make sure. An ominous tape message told me that this number had been disconnected, but why not try this mobile number instead. Which I duly did. The person on the other side of the phone confirmed my order, and when I asked him how long it would take, he said fifty minutes.

Fifty minutes! Add that to the ten I had already been waiting and I would have to wait 60 minutes for some bloke to take a couple of makis and nigiris from the cooler, put them in a bag with some soy sauce, wasabe and ginger, and walk all the way up to my house, the whole 300 meter.

I don’t know whether it was the absurdity of this idea or me being high from the fever, but I couldn’t get angry about the long delivery time. All I could do was giggle.

So, 65 minutes after I had ordered my food somebody rings at my door. I answer the house phone, ask who’s there, and when the guy says “delivery” I press the button to open the door. While I am still pressing the button I hear him say “it’s broken.” I press again, and the guy repeats his claim. I have since tested the door opener several times, and it worked every time. So I walked the three floors down, as calmly as possible, and collected my food from a bored teenager.

Of course my adventures with Sushi World wouldn’t be complete if I had actually gotten what I had ordered. Actually, of the four items I had asked for they only got one wrong: instead of a spinach salad I got some kind of bean salad. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I had ordered either. For this delight I paid a little under 18 euro. Just enough to nourish a sick man.

The Dutch word for service is “service.” That’s no coincidence: we just don’t have our own word, because we barely understand the concept, and Amsterdam is particularly bad in this respect. Nevertheless, Sushi World’s service, rather lack thereof, ranks amongst the worst I’ve witnessed in the 9 years I’ve lived here.

I am giving this 1 star instead of 0 or 0.5, simply because the food itself was OK.

So, if this took place a month ago, what’s with the instant karma? Well, a little after I finished the meal I got an e-mail from the online ordering service asking me if I would like to review the restaurant for their website. Oh boy, did I!

My rating: 1.0 stars

Why Van Basten might be better than Advocaat (just)

Four years ago I blogged rather harshly about Dick Advocaat, then manager of the “Oranje,” the Dutch national football team. That was because he deserved it. People may remember the EC in Portugal as the one where Advocaat incurred the wrath of the Dutch for pulling his best man off the field (Arjen Robben) when we were leading 2-0. After Advocaat’s substitution we lost 2-3. (Still one of the finest matches I’ve ever seen.) When Robben had been on the pitch he had kept an entire wing of Czechs busy who because of him did not dare venture far from their own penalty box. When we substituted an attacker for a defender though, the Czechs could push forward, and they did so with gusto. Such are the delicious ironies of football.

After that match Advocaat’s own assistant, Willem van Hanegem, told the press he’d punch his boss in the mouth if he’d pull a stunt like that again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Be your own Oranje coach

I did it before, but last time it only worked in Firefox, and barely at that. This time you can play coach of the Dutch national football team at the EC 2008 in any browser, as long as it’s not IE 6 (or indeed any other browser that fails to support even the smallest basics of the DOM).

The quick and the dirty for those who won’t click: move the players around on a pitch until you have the “Oranje” formation you would field. There’s not much more to it, but it’s super-handy for all these in-house (or in-bar) tactical talks you’re going to have before the upcoming matches.

I’ve added some extra features, such as the ability to store your formation, or to mail it to a friend (basically they’re the same thing: all you get is a web address, and what you do with it is up to you).