Nearly leaving Helsinki

I realize, I haven’t posted to my blog for quite a while. Part of the reason is that I have been busy organizing my move to Berlin. Another part is that the hosting solution I use for this blog has some scalability problem that I seem to run into whenever I try to do anything. I’ve given up several times on posting. No time to resolve it right now, but I will after my move to Berlin (i.e. adios suckers: I’m going to find more competent hosting). For the same reason, I have been neglecting photos.jillesvangurp.com. There’s some Berlin photos waiting to be uploaded (from my job interview in December) and of course Christmas photos from my parents place in France (again).

Speaking of Berlin, I’m moving there next Sunday already. My plan is to move into a nice furnished apartment on the Habersaathstrasse courtesy of a company specialized in this sort of thing: central-home.de. They were one of a few places recommended by a new colleague (thanks!) who also moved to Berlin recently. The place seems nice enough and the killer feature is that it is 200 meter from work, which should help cut down on those commute times. I’ll use this as a base to find a nice new apartment to move my stuff in. I’ll have to fly back to Helsinki a couple of times in February for work and to get my things moved at the end of the month.

Aside from that, it seems my stay in Helsinki is coming to an end. I had imagined my last week to be a little more fun but as it is, I’m in bed with a pretty bad flu. I’ve been flu free for nearly a year but last Friday it came back with a vengeance. Fever, sore throat, total absence of desire for anything resembling food, tired, etc. In short, flu sucks. In any case, by Friday I should have recovered enough for a little get together with some colleagues in the one pint pub in Ruoholahti (16:00). Feel welcome to drop by if I somehow managed to not invite you.

The Way We Live Next

I stumbled upon somebody writing about Nokia’s 2007 Way We Live Next event in Oulu. This event was intended to give the outside world a view on what is going on in Nokia Research Center.

Nice quote

Lots of interesting stuff was shown off during the course of the two days and the most interesting I came across was the indoor positioning concept. Using WiFi and specially created maps, the devices we were issued with were running the software which enabled you to move through the NRC building and pinpoint exactly where you were. So, if the next presentation was in room 101, the device would simply, and quickly show you the way. It instantly made me think of the frustration of trying to get where I want in huge shopping centres – and I figured this had to be the perfect solution.

Next week, the 2008 edition of the WWLN is going to be in Espoo and I will be giving a demo there of our indoor location based service platform, customized for a real shopping mall. We’ve demoed last years version of our software platform at the Internet of Things Conference last April. At the time our new platform was already under development for a several months and we are getting ready to start trialing it now. The WWLN event next week will be when we first show this in public and hopefully we’ll get some nice attention from the press on this.

PS. I like (good) beer …

Totaled my Porsche

As you might recall I bought a pair of Lacie Porsche 500GB disks some time ago. Well, a few weeks ago the power supply of one of them began making funny noises and it was getting harder to start up the Porsche. The disk worked fine with the power supply that came with the other drive so the problem was that the power supply was broken.

This happened just outside the warranty of the disk. So the fix was to order a new power supply from Lacie. I looked up how to do that on the website and discovered that these things cost around 35€ which is quite a lot to invest in a disk that now sells under 100€. Besides, I’m kind of annoyed with all those bricks below my desk anyway.

So I went for option number two: pry open the casing and put the disk in the PC. Thanks to this post, I figured out how to do this. Unfortunately, I did end up making a few scratches on the plastic. It is indeed quite tricky to do this properly. But I’m not going to use it anyway.

A quick look in the windows disk properties confirmed that my disk indeed was a sata disk (a samsung). So I took apart my PC, plugged the disk in and put everything together (after a short trip to the store for a second SATA cable). For some reason the first drive was plugged into the second SATA port so after boot, it couldn’t find the OS. A quick trip to the bios allowed me to swap which drive is treated as the first disk and I was back in business.

Let me know if you have a use for a empty Lacie Porsche case with some minor scratches and without a power supply (you can take the broken one of course). You should be able to put in any SATA disk. For 5€ or a (nice) beer it is yours.

Photos Zurich and Dagstuhl

I’m traveling a lot lately. Two weeks ago I was in Zurich at the first Internet of Things Conference. I uploaded some pictures already last week and some more today.

Last week I also attended a Dagstuhl seminar on Combining the advantages of product lines and open source to present the position paper I posted some time ago. Naturally, I also took some pictures there.

Interestingly, one of the participants was Daniel German who does a lot of interesting things including publishing good articles on software evolution and working on a source forge project called panotools that happens to power most of what makes Hugin cool. Hugin is of course the tool I have been using for some time now to stitch together photos into very nice panoramas. I felt envious and lucky at the same time watching him take photos. Envious of his nice Canon 40D with very cool fish eye lens and lucky because his photo bag was huge and probably quite heavy considering the fact that he had two more lenses in there.

Attendees of the Dagstuhl Seminar

The whole gang together. Daniel is the guy in the orange shirt.

One of the best features of Dagstuhl: 1 beer = €1. Not quite free beer but close enough. And afterall, OSS is about free speech and cheap beer definitely loosens the tongues.

Modular windows

There is a nice article on Ars discussing Microsoft’s business practices regarding windows and how they appear to be not quite working lately. It used to be that your PC came with windows whereas nowadays you have to select from a around five different versions and Microsoft is rumored to go to an even more modular and subscription based model. The general idea is to be able to squeeze out as much revenue out of the market as possible. On paper it sounds good (for MS that is).

Rather than buying an overpriced OS with everything and the kitchen sink you buy what you need. There’s a huge differences between what businesses and some individuals are willing to spend and the typical home user that just wants a browser + skype + the sims. Typically the latter group ends up buying the cheapo version and the former group ends up buying the everything and the kitchen sink version. The problem is that there is unmonetized value in the latter in the sense that some owners of the  cheapo versions might be interested in getting access to some of those features in the expensive version but not in all of them.

Now to the obvious problem with the discussed solution. By selling cheapo versions with most of the value removed and factored out into separate chunks you have to pay for, you dilute the overall value of the OS. So instead of buying an OS that can do X, Y, and Z out of the box you are buying an OS that can’t do X, Y, and Z out of the box. Marketing an OS that can’t do stuff is a lot harder than trying to sell stuff that can do things.  Worse they are opening the market to third parties that might do something similar to X, Y, and Z for a better price, or in some cases for free (beer & speech). Or even worse to companies selling an alternative OS with X, Y, and Z.

That in a nutshell is what is discussed in the Ars article and why Apple Mac OS X marketshare is approaching double digit percentages. I’ve been giving it some serious thought lately and I’m also noticing the spike in Safari users in my web site statistics.

Anyway, the reason for this write up is that the article overlooks an important argument here that I believe is relevant for more markets than just operating systems. In general, the tie between OS and features such as photo galleries, online backups, or TV UIs is artificial. Microsoft only adds features like this to make the overall OS more valuable. That is, they are looking to improve the value of the OS, not the photo gallery. However, ongoing and inevitable commoditization of software actually shifts value to new features. Especially when bundled with online subscriptions, things like online photo galleries can be quite good business. For example, Flickr has many paying subscribers.

Naturally MS is interested in markets like this (which is why they are interested in Yahoo). However, the tie-in to the OS constrains the market. Why would you not want to sell these services to Apple users? Why would you not want to sell this service to Sony Playstation owners? Why would you want to want to artificially limit who can access your service just to boost sales of your OS? As long as you were trying to artificially (and apparently for MS illegally) boost value of your core OS, bundling was a valid strategy. However, as soon as your value shifts, that becomes a brake on market growth. The OS market has commoditized to the point where you can get things like Ubuntu for free, which for the low end market is about as good as what you get with the cheapo version of Vista (see my various reviews of Ubuntu for why I’m not ready to claim better yet).

So the difference between MS and Google who is eating their lunch in the services arena is that the latter is not handicapped by 20 years of Windows legacy and can freely innovate and grow marketshare without having to worry about maintaining a revenue stream from legacy software. Google doesn’t have to sell OS licenses and so they give away software on all platforms to draw more users to their services which is where they make their money.

Naturally, Google has a lot of software engineers that are working round the clock to create more value for them. Where possible Google actively collaborates with the open source community because they know that while they won’t make any money from commodities like browsers, file systems and other important software components, they do depend on those things working as good as possible and keep evolving in the right direction. Few people appreciate this but this and not ads is why Google sponsors Firefox. It’s a brilliant strategy and it is forcing their main competitor to keep investing in internet explorer rather than being able to shift resources to directly competing with Google. 50 million $ is pocket money if it is making your main competitor crap their pants and waste resources on keeping up with you in a market where you are not even trying to make money.

You might have noticed that I have carefully avoided discussing Google and Microsoft’s mobile service strategies and also noticed that yours truly is working for Nokia. Well, my readers ought to be smart enough to figure out what I’m trying to say here aren’t you :-)?

Dutch beer

While doing my shopping today I encountered a whole pile of six packs of “Royal Dutch“. On closer inspection of this beer that I never heard of, I learned that it is actually brewed in license of Posthorn, a brewery based in my home town (if there is such a thing), of Breda. WTF! I have never heard of this brewery and I was born in the damn place. Googling for Posthorn, or post hoorn as it would no doubt be spelled in dutch I was not able to bring up much more than this. A pretty sad party center on the Haagweg. Note the rather generic, mirrored logo on the can here.

Knowing something of Breda beer history, this is probably what is left of the Oranjeboom beer that until a few years ago was brewed in Breda. Basically interbev liquidated (pun intended) the whole brand and closed down the brewery in Breda. I have no idea what the Royal qualification in Royal Dutch refers to. I don’t imagine our water managing crown prince Willem-Alexander of Orange (aka. prince beer) had anything to do with this.

Of course Post Horn duely added water to meet the Finnish super market beer upper limit for alcohol of 4.7%. I must say, it tastes better than the average finnish beer. Similar to Becks if I’d have to pick something similar. I’ve tried several different Finnish brands in the nearly two years I’ve spent here and basically have decided that any non Finnish beer is probably better than any Finnish beer. I’ve sampled some pretty obscure foreign brands, even from my own home country, and they all taste better than boring Olvi, Karhu, Lapin Kulta or Koff. Especially the supermarket varieties of those are filthy stuff.

This Royal Dutch, is the second brand of fictional dutch beers I’ve encountered in the supermarkets here. The other one is labeled “Amsterdam”, which is apparently not worthy of the Grolsch brand of the beer company that produces it. Grolsch actually is pretty nice and I’ve even encountered a Finnish 4.7% export version of it in some supermarkets. Complete with the obligatory “beugel” bottle. Amsterdam is a pale shadow of this and indeed not worthy of the brand.

Italian roads

OK, I’m back again. I spent the last three weeks driving around in France and Italy with a rental car. The first week was nice and relaxing. I stayed at my parents’ new summer home in Saint Quentin la Poterie, about 50 km from Avignon in the Gard departement in the south of France. Nice place to visit my parents and there’s a pool too! During the mornings I visited such nice places as Arles, Avignon and Nimes and I spent the afternoons swimming, reading and drinking beer.
The two weeks after that I drove off to see more of the Provence east of the Rohne (i.e. Aix en Provence; Marseille, Toulon and Cannes). Then I drove into Italy where I spent a few days in Cremona (near Milan) where I also visited Parma. Then I moved south to Pistoia (close to Florence) and visited Florence, Pisa and Lucca. Then I moved back north Asti and visited Turin. Yesterday I drove back to Aix en Provence and stopped for coffee and a piss at the casino in Monte Carlo. I flew back to Helsinki today.
Up until entering Italy, driving had been straightforward. France is a civilized country with slightly better roads than Spain and Portugal where I’ve spent my previous holidays. Italy is more challenging. A few factors contribute to the fact that driving in Italy is considerably more dangerous than in the rest of southern europe:

  • The roads are bad. There’s holes, missing markings, etc. Evidently, the EU has not financed road maintenance in Italy to the extent that it has in Portugal and Spain where the highways and main roads are generally excellent.
  • The roads are narrow and winding. At least on the coastal road along the Italian riviera and the many country roads I drove on.
  • The roads are weird. The must be some psychotic people in charge at the Italian trafic ministry. First of all the signing is verbose, misleading and sometimes incorrect. Secondly, there are large amount of weird crossings, roundabouts, exits etc. Roads just split into two without much warning. You will likely end up on the wrong one the first time.
  • Italian drivers transform into suicidal & homicidal maniacs when put behind the wheel of a car.

So here’s some of my observed unofficial trafic rules in Italy:

  1. Your driving speed is the maximum allowed speed on the given road type + 30 + X. Where X is essentially constrained by your manlyness.
  2. An exception to the above rule is when turns, road maintenance etc leads to signs stating reduced maximum speeds. Ignore such signs under all circumstances. 60 really means 140+ on a two lane 110 km/h road.
  3. Use the brake to adjust speed. When not braking apply full throttle.
  4. Always drive on the left most lane (if more than two).
  5. When driving on the left most lane keep your left indicator light blinking so trafic in front of you know they must move to the right to make room for you.
  6. When they don’t do that promptly flash your lights, honk and wave your fist at the sissy in the other car.
  7. If they still don’t move over, rapidly move to approximately 20cm from the bumper of the guy in front of you whilst adjusting your speed with the break at the last possible moment. Stay there until the guy moves over.
  8. On two lane roads drive with one wheel in the lane with oncoming trafic and move right at the last possible moment if the other guy does not move right first.
  9. Ignore the uninterrupted line on two lane roads, you must overtake any trafic in front of you. Especially in case of queues resulting from slow trafic you must move to the front of the queue by overtaking the cars in the queueu one at the time and squezing back in when on coming trafic forces you to do so.
  10. Ignore stop signs. If the trafic has room enough to stop in time: go ahead and move onto the road.
  11. If you drive a truck, it is ok to overtake trucks in front of you. There is no need to check mirrors or use indicator light as you are likely much bigger than the traffic coming from behind.

Sadly the above is not a joke. Italians really drive this way. Adjusting to this style of driving is quite easy but requires some discipline. Doing the same as they is definately dangerous but so is sticking to the official rules. Adjusting speed upwards in combination with keeping distance and not occupying the left lane too long seems to be a good strategy. Pay attention when overtaking trucks because they may move left for no reason whatsoever.

Anyway, Italy is a great country otherwise. Great food and nice cities. I have about 400 photos to edit which will be due in a couple of weeks probably.

Supermarket beers in Finland

One of the things that take some getting used to when moving to Finland is the beer. Quality and price are, well, different. I don’t really care about the price but quality is something different. You have to lower you expectations and standards in this country when drinking beer.

A big problem here is the notion of supermarket beer. Similar to Sweden, Finland has an alcohol percentage limit on what is legally allowed to be sold in the supermarket. For the real stuff you need to go to the pub or to the state owned liquor stores. Both of which will charge you steep prices. Somewhat to my delight the alcohol percentage limit is at least higher than the limit in Sweden where it is an unworkable 3.5%. At 3.5% most beers taste like shit, and that includes the full range of Swedish brands I can think of (Spendrups, Pripps). Swedish beers taste like shit even with the legally required bit of water removed anyway.

Finland on the other hand maintains an almost workable 4.7%. 4.7% is quite close to the percentage of most Dutch lagers which hover around 5 -5.5%. Real beer of course wants to be 5% (or above). You have to do some dirty tricks to get normal beer below 5%. And that is exactly what the Finns do, dirty tricks. Not only do they do it with the local beers, but they also do it to the imports :-(. You can actually buy a 4.7% Heineken in this country (Heineken can of course be expected to add as much water as is legally required, they have no shame). Of course Heineken is watery to begin with. Adding water does not improve it, I can assure you. Other brands that shamelessly add water to their beer products include Stella, Becks and an odd beer called Hollandia which i’ve never heard off. Probably even the Dutch homeless would frown upon this particular lager.

Some Finnish ‘specialties’ I’ve sampled over the last few months include Olvi, Koff, Lapin Kulta, Karhu and some others not worth remembering. I’ve listed them in the order I like them best. Olvi and Koff are quite tolerable though both a bit lacking in taste. Lapin Kulta and Karhu are definately worse. Both come with a strong taste, but quite unlike beer. Lapin means rabbit in French and I suppose kulta could very well mean piss in the beautiful but difficult finnish language. Nevertheless it seems to be quite popular here. All of these ‘beers’ exist in ‘normal’ variations as well. Koff in the pub is quite allright, actually. However, drinking any of the Finnish beers in large quantities is not recommended. At 4.7% they will have almost the same effect as normal beers. However, the taste (or lack theroff) makes the whole experience not quite as enjoyable as it would normally be.

Luckily there is another option for the thirsty supermarket shopper: British & Irish stouts and ales. These are very popular in the supermarkets here. And for very good reason. With an alcohol percentage typically below 4.7% no dirty tricks need to be performed on these fine beers to make it legal to sell them. Currently I am enjoying a nice can of Boddingtons (an ale from Manchester), conveniently containing only 4.7% of alcohol. Other beers I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks are Guinness, Caffrey’s and Murphy’s. There’s quite a few more brands I can try. I’ve even sampled a few tschechian beers which are quite enjoyable as well.

Beercan crusher

BeercanCrusher. This is a demo application for Aspectj I created for my own pleasure. It is absolutley completely useless. The demo requires AspectJ 0.6 and won’t work on later versions. Porting is also not easy to do because some features were removed from the language that I rely on in this demo.