The square egg

That morning I found a square egg in the coop. I could see nothing remarkable about the chicken. It was the small brown one.

I took the egg. It looked perfectly square, and felt so too. I studied it from all sides, but apart from its shape it was a normal chicken egg.

Mary gave a start when I showed her the egg. “Give me that!” she yelled, and almost snatched it from my hand. I quickly pulled back my arm. “Easy,” I said, and gave her the egg. She immediately dropped it.

I was sitting on my knees, looking for the corners among the yoke, when Mary entered with some paper towels. “Move aside, you fool,” she said, “you are making a mess.” The shell fragments crackled between her fingers.

I went out to study the chicken again. Still nothing remarkable to see. Perhaps it had a square hole? When I was lying on my belly, looking at perfectly round cloacae as far as I could tell, I heard the scraping of a throat a little further on. From over the low hedge old Johnson smiled his fake teeth at me. He was holding a rake.


“Good morning.”

The next day the small brown one had laid another square egg. This time I let it lie where it was, and ran into the house to fetch my camera. Where had I left the damn thing? When I came back to the garden I saw Mary standing in the back, at the coop.

“There was a square egg here,” I shouted at her. It was gone.

“Sorry, dear,” Mary said, “I can only see round ones.” She laughed.

“Morning,” I snapped at the eternal neighbour in his eternal garden, and stormed back into the house. I was angry, though I did not know at what or whom.

That night I dreamed I was lying between the chickens. They were pecking furiously at my face. Mary and old Johnson pushed me against the ground, and laughed. Oh how they laughed!

The next morning the small brown one had laid a perfectly round egg.

Whither Denis Menchov?

The Dutch press have adopted Russian cyclist Denis Menchov as an honorary citizen. He is after all the leader of the only Dutch team participating in the Tour de France. Who else would we cheer for? So we cheer for the impassive Russian.

Menchov has won a couple of Grand Tours, which is impressive, but he has never won the one that counts the most, the Tour de France. That makes him a potential Gianni Bugno, but not a Michael Indurain. How far can Menchov go?

His demeanour during stages is not that of a true contender. Where other race leaders make their presence felt in the front of the pack, the Russian is always happy sitting somewhere in the back among the domestiques, the water carriers. Even in the last climbs of mountain stages, after the peloton has dwindled to a group of five or ten, he can often be found as the last of the first, in the spot from where it is hardest to react to attacks by others.

He does not look like a winner, even though he bikes faster than most other people on this blue marble.

The outcome of the 2010 Tour de France might as well have been scripted. The somewhat proactive Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, numbers one and two of the last edition, have been battling for the top spot, while Menchov has been plodding along in fourth. Seen from that angle the third place won by the Russian’s excellent time trial today seems a bonus, and it is greeted as such by both the national and international press, and by the man himself. Menchov even told Dutch television that he is well contented, because he is getting better each year.

But that perspective is false. The press already seem to have forgotten that the day before yesterday Menchov lost 1 minute and 40 seconds in the last climb, in which he looked more resigned and less attacking than ever. Could he have been in contention for the first spot today? Would he have looked like the Road Runner rather than Droopy if he had managed to counter the attack of the men before him? We will never know, and Menchov’s entire attitude will never provide us with a clue. The press’ conclusion that Menchov and his employers should be happy with his third place is based in expected narrative though, not in fact.


This fellow let me get as close as two metres. No idea what had drawn him there.


The new front door is so me! Look, I’ve got a peephole.

A quick review of the Samsung Star phone

Summary: could have used a little more testing

As I wrote earlier, I bought me a Samsung s5230 Star mobile phone. My needs were extremely modest:

  • A long standby time
  • A built-in camera of at least 1 megapixel

The Star’s aspirations are far from modest: it tries to emulate far more expensive phones by providing a similar but toned down feature set. So it’s got a medium sized touch screen, a photo and video camera, a media player, an organiser, FM radio, voice recorder and widgets galore.

When you have got to cut costs, you had better come up with clever solutions, and the Star has some of those. Rather than putting in a second camera so that you can see yourself when taking a picture of yourself, it’s got a tiny mirror underneath the lens of its single camera. That sort of stuff.

Unfortunately the Star has too little of that sort of stuff, and lacks polish in general. It has an untested feel. For instance, the lock (activated by pressing a handy little button on the side of the phone that doubles as a camera lock) sometimes switches off spontaneously.

Also, the screen is completely useless outdoors. When I tried to make a call when it was overcast, I could barely see what I dialed. When I tried to look at the time during sunset (nice big clock), I could see nothing at all. I would hate to think what would happen in full sunlight at noon. Presumably the entire phone will render itself invisible.

I already expressed my satisfaction with the camera in a previous post, but to spare you the trouble of clicking a link I will repeat what I said: I love it because it is such a limited camera. That means that whenever I take a good picture it is all because of my skills, baby!

Does the battery last 800 hours on a single charge, as advertised? I would not know. I have been playing the free games that came shipped with the Star a lot lately (mostly while waiting for trains), and they drain the battery like you wouldn’t believe.

Finally, an anecdote. The other day a friend who owns one of these iPhones or HTC Android shiny wonder thingies lamented that he thought his T9 (word prediction) was unusable, because switching between languages was so hard. Ha! Not only will Samsung’s T9 implementation let you switch between languages easily, but it will let you do this while you are typing your message. Just tap the language symbol and switch languages on the fly and to your hearts content.

I don’t know how common any of these features are, but they are light years ahead of what my previous phone offered.

If you make 99.5% of your calls indoors, this phone comes mostly recommended. But do check other reviews to see if it meets your needs.

My rating: 2.5 stars

Third camera and braai

It was time to get a new phone. Since I only make 40 euros worth of mobile phone calls each year (and not much more over the landline), getting a 240+ euro minimum plan made no sense. And the way mobile phones are financed (get a phone free with a plan) meant that I had to buy a phone rather than get one free.

I went for the cheapie Samsung Star S5230 which has a cheapie 3 MP on-board camera, which is just the ticket for me. If the photos fail it’s the camera’s fault, and if they succeed it’s due my craftsmanship. That is an arrangement I can get behind.

(Braai is Afrikaans for barbecue.)

On why braille is dying

Braille is not necessarily dying. But if you take the threats to print books and you sort of make a caricature of them, those are the threats to Braille books. Creating Braille books is extremely labor-intensive. They’re incredibly bulky. For instance, the Harry Potter series comes in 59 volumes, and they’re all almost a foot tall.

Rachel Aviv.

Link: David Weinberger.


I have seen the future, and it’s bloody confusing.

The photo shows a (my) traditional wallet to the right, and three additional ones I acquired in the past 12 months or so.

The top two are transport cards. I had to buy the first one because it was the only one way at the time to pay for the Rotterdam tram. It is the infamous OV Chipkaart, and it cost 10 euro (that is excluding the actual credit), even though making the card can hardly have cost more than 10 cents. You need to keep it topped up with at least four euros or else it becomes worthless, and you cannot sell it back to the issuer.

The middle card is exactly the same thing, except that it is the only card that will give me a discount on (some) train trips. It completely obviates the top card. The train company expects you to have 10 euro on it before they let you pay for a trip.

The bottom card is a regular bank card, but it also has a built in electronic wallet that provides for the only way to pay for lunch at my current customer.

The upshot is that I walk around with four wallets containing about 100 euros in total where I used to walk around with about 20 in cash. The chances of me losing money by losing a wallet has grown fourfold, and I now need to know of at least three different ways of paying for products and services, where one used to be enough.

Perhaps I am just a grumpy old luddite. My brother loves his electronic wallets, and has foregone cash completely. He keeps his cards in a little holder built for the purpose, and likes the elegance of living in the future.

(Should any non-Dutch people read this, I should point out that we also pay with cards that are not wallets. The bank card pictured at the bottom can be used for this purpose at most stores in the Netherlands; it directly transfers money from your bank account to the seller’s.)