Zoetermeer railway station

A law should be passed that prohibits people from entering Dutch cities through their main railway stations, because more often than not your first impression will be of a barren wasteland where horrid things go to die. (Which, by the way, really fantastic! if you are into that sort of thing.)

This, for instance, is Zoetermeer, a name that translates to Sweeter Lake.

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(“Kantoor te huur” means “office for rent.”)

DSLR photography workshop

NIDF Canon EOS 1000D workshop

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When I bought my Canon EOS 1000D camera earlier this year I got a coupon that allowed me to participate in a photography workshop (EOS is their range of so-called Single Lens Reflexes, the D stands for digital, and the large number signifies the entry level model).

For 25 euro, a man told us everything about using this camera model during about 5 hours. As the workshop started at 10 am, and there were several breaks including one for lunch, the workshop almost spanned an entire working day.

Since it’s been awhile, I’ll just list what I thought was good and what was not so good.

The Good:

– Information filled: I actually learned quite a bit.

– The price? I would probably not have signed up if the workshop had cost four times more.

– There were a number of sessions where we got to put the things we had just learned into practice.

– The institute provided drinks and a simple lunch, which made the whole affair seem just that much more thought out. During the breaks, the instructor was available for questions.

The Not-so-good:

– Read the manual out loud: the bulk of the workshop consisted of going over almost the complete feature set of the camera. This turned out to be necessary: some of the students hadn’t bothered reading the manual. But since I myself had bothered to read the manual, I could have done with more of ‘how to use these features to make great photos.’

– The teacher sometimes reverted to sarcasm; it sounded like he needed a vacation. If you cannot treat your customers with civility, why bother showing up? (Then again, this was at the end of the day, perhaps he was getting tired.)

– Large chunks of the presentation were accompanied by bog standard Powerpoint presentation, i.e. reams of text on an overhead projector. Good presentations involve powerful imagery to make an emotional connection with what the presenter is trying to stay. It strikes me that if anything is suited for good Powerpoint, it would be a photography workshop. I want to be able to see what I can achieve by using the camera in a certain way.

– The price? Especially at the end of the day the crowd started getting noisy and restless, making it difficult to follow what the instructor was saying. I figured people would have been more attentive if they had had to pay more. But perhaps it wasn’t the price of the exercise, but the duration and nature that caused a restless audience.

If I could have changed one thing about the underlying idea of this course, it would have been to offer two workshops, one for people who already had read the manual, and one for people who had not.

Summing up, the workshop was worth the money, but it could have been much more vibrant. Whether it’s worth it for you depends largely on the amount of time you can spare; the price is hardly an object.

My rating: 3.0 stars
***

Naarden – Muiden

A 20 kilometre hike today from Naarden, a town known better for the way it looks from the air than from the ground, to Muiden, where count Floris V had a castle built, only to see it used as a prison for himself by his enemies. The finish line was in Weesp, an unassuming town known to historians for the quality of its drinking water, and to me for having a railway station.

In case you are wondering, I did take photos of the fortifications of Naarden but, as I said, from the ground… And I also took pictures of Floris V’s castle, but those just did not make the cut. Here are the ones that did:

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What you see in the last picture is the entrance to the harbour of Muiden.

Nice refresher course in biology

Life Ascending, The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

What little I remember about the organization of life from my few high school biology classes in the early 1980s is that the realm of the living was divided into animals and plants.

The world of biology has not, it seems from this book, stood still in the intervening years. Animals and plants are still there, but they make up an ever dwindling part of the taxonomic tree of life, hidden somewhere on a branch behind amoebæ together with fungi.

The ten great inventions of evolution are, according to Lane:

  • The origin of life
  • DNA
  • Photosynthesis
  • The complex cell
  • Sex
  • Movement
  • Sight
  • Hot blood
  • Consciousness
  • Death

Of each of these things he discusses where they came from and how they got where they are now, mostly by looking at the genetic record.

I had two problems with Life Ascending. The first was Lane’s insistence on talking about religion. I have attended a Catholic elementary school, grammar school and university for more than 24 years combined, and the only time ever teachers talked about religion was during the bible readings at the start of the school days, and during the weekly religious lessons. Biology classes were blissfully spared from any religious intrusions, and the reason is obvious. When talking about science, you should not be going to give any attention, not even a little bit, to the rantings of kooks.

Religion simply doesn’t live on the same plane as science, so why even discuss it in a book that purports to be about science? Lane weakly argues that religion tries to come up with answers to questions about where life came from, but so do all kinds of crazy people who are not inspired by faith, and Lane doesn’t take a single of their theories seriously.

What is more, Lane doesn’t seem to like religion very much, which makes him come across like those hordes of American priests who publicly condemn homosexuality in the strongest of words, but then get found out as both lovers and connoisseurs of smoking the meat cigar.

Spending three, now four paragraphs to talk about Lane’s love of discussing religion’s crazy antics makes it seem the book is full of such talk, and there I can gladly put your mind at ease. For the full length of the book, the author takes about as much space talking about religion as the reviewer takes here berating him for it. The reason I mention it at all is the same as the reason you might mention catching a short glimpse of the waiter scratching his balls in your review of an excellent meal at the world’s finest restaurant—it still grates.

My other qualm with Life Ascending is that Lane often declares certain evolutionary paths to have been inevitable (the evolution of eyes and the cell wall), and others to have been sheer coincidence, without giving more of an explanation than “the DNA done it.”

Let me explain this for a second. If you see evolution as a tree where some features have come into existence repeatedly, and other features have only come into existence once, this would suggest that some things are evolutionary inevitable, and others are the opposite.

Take eyes. There are some 13 different branches of eyes that have all evolved separately. You can discover these things by comparing DNA of living and dead creatures and determining if they are similar or distinct. If the DNA for a single feature, no matter how far it has further developed, is strikingly similar across species, you may assume that all these species had at one point a single ancestor, the thin part of the hour glass they crawled through.

But Lane only mentions the “one or many ancestors” bit, and then blithely ignores the exploration of the much and much harder issue of why a certain feature would be likely to happen or not.

I only mention this because I am completely incompetent in judging a book about biology on its biological merits, and therefore have to judge it on its methodological merits, and a scientist who shows not much curiousity is just a tell-tale sign for all kinds of trouble.

But then again, as a result I spent a lot of time simply checking Lane’s facts, and I guess that is a positive thing. Although, once you have found out there are plants with eyes, you will contemplate giving up all food for a while, before becoming more omnivorous than ever.

Lane’s own prime concern with his work appears to be that his selection of the ten great inventions of evolution are perhaps not the best he could have made, and I tend to agree with that. But that is probably the wrong way to view this book. Life Ascending is instead a solid, accessible refresher course for people like me (the arts ‘n’ humanities crowd), people who got a few sprinklings of biology classes a couple of lifetimes ago and weren’t really aware that the world of biology has decidedly moved on since then. It is an excellent spring board for further exploration, and I really recommend you buy it just to get your facts about Life (and that interesting feature, Death) re-aligned.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

Buildings in Buitenveldert

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Buitenveldert is a neighbourhood in the South of Amsterdam, and it is there where I photographed these buildings, except for the last one which is across from the RAI, right next to where the last two buildings in this set used to stand.

Kantjil To Go

Restaurant: Kantjil & de Tijger

The Dutch have a love-love relationship with Indonesian cuisine stretching back to colonial days. The Rijsttafel, literally meaning rice table, is a colonial invention, putting together all the specialities of the Indian archipelago into a single menu.

The darker side of this tale is the ‘Chin. Ind.’ restaurant, the fusion of Chinese entrepreneurship and kitchen with Indonesian food and Dutch boorish taste. The result is a type of take-away restaurant where lacklustre personnel serve you sweet and fat food in a setting that must have stopped looking stylish in China 50 years ago, but that persists here because it is what the owners think the Dutch working class perceive as authentically Chinese.

If you want to enjoy the genuine Indonesian kitchen—disregarding for a moment that that is an imperialistic product that only truly exists in the imperialist fantasies of those Javanese who think they own the country—you should therefore steer away from the Chin. Ind. nightmare, the Dutch equivalent of the ‘Paki,’ and look for restaurants that bill themselves as Indonesian only.

Kantjil & de Tijger is such a restaurant. Whenever you walk past it on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, it looks warm and cosy and filled with people having a good time, and their take-away has a hip name, Kantjil To Go, and uses an abstract red and white styling to kill any lingering fears about the ‘classic’ Chin. Ind. take-aways. It’s the sort of place you expect the account managers, advertising execs and stock brokers of the city to pop by when too busy to cook for themselves.

Unfortunately when I tried it, the rice was fried dry, and the rendang meat was chewy. Considering that Kantjil To Go only serve 8 or 9 relatively simple dishes, they simply should not even manage to mess these up. Kantjil To Go is therefore an experience I am not going to repeat.

So where do you eat good Indonesian food in Amsterdam? I am afraid I still do not know. I associate good Indonesian food with the meals the mothers of the ‘Indo’ girl-friends of my brothers used to cook, but unfortunately my brothers have long since started dating outside the Emerald Chain.

My rating: 2.0 stars
**