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.

Christmas Photos

Before leaving for San Francisco a few weeks ago, I also spent Christmas with my parents in France. Of course I took lots of pictures and I was a bit more lucky with the weather there than in California. Since I’m visiting my parents tomorrow (flying home for my sisters wedding), I figured I should finally do a little editing and polishing of these photos. Results are here.

traveling

I’m traveling the next few weeks (France, San Francisco, Las Vegas). I’ll probably update a few times from abroad.

Cheers & happy new year!

Travel from A to B

I’m going to pollute quite a bit of this planet since I will be traveling quite a lot next few months. The past few days I’ve been trying to book tickets and dealing with incompetent travel agencies and air lines. They really need to sort this booking tickets thing out.

The deal is perfectly simple: I’m in Helsinki and I want to go to St Quentin La Poterie, France (Le Gard district) to visit my parents in the south of France. The nearest airfields are Nimes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Paris (more or less in that order; there are more airfields BTW and technically Barcelona is closer than Paris). I will have to rent a car regardless of where I fly. How hard can this be?

In short, there is no airline website capable of figuring this one out. I happen to know that my options are blue1, Finnair, SAS, KLM, and Air france. Blue1 and SAS are partners; so are KLM and Air France. Well that may be true on paper but their back end systems are not integrated, at all. Air France managed to provide me with the “best” offer, so I filled in my details (including credit card details) and then was redirected to a stupid pop up, in Finnish. WTF! So fuck you very much. No Air France this year for me. So I go to klm.com and they can offer me the same flight for 600 euro extra. WTF! No way. Fuck you very much as well! So I end up on good old Blue1.com, the overpriced but still cheaper variety of SAS with a direct flight from Helsinki to Nice. At 430 euro, this does not come cheaply but that is what you get for booking late in November. I spent about an hour figuring out what the alternatives were before finally selecting this one and I still have the feeling I’m being ripped off.

Originally I had planned to do something much more complicated. I asked the travel agency at work to book me a flight via France, San Francisco and Las Vegas spanning three weeks. The best proposal they could come up with was 4000+ euro. In my view this explains 100% why travel agencies are going out of business world wide. This is not what I wanted to hear. I ended up booking the flight to France myself and returning to Helsinki for a flight along this path Hki-Amsterdam-SF-Vegas-SF-Amsterdam-Hki combined with the hki-marseille-hki path that is quite a bit of flights that are somehow half the best the travel agency could offer me. Beats me. Arguably there’s some redundant air miles in this trip. Apparently it is impossible to make a sensible itinerary that has me travel to France before christmas, after christmas from there to San Francisco to Vegas and finally to Helsinki. I’m flexible on pretty much all the dates and I’m sure it can be done in less than 8 separate flights. My estimate is that I will be wasting enormous amounts of fuel on behalf of travel agency incompetence.

Anyway, enough bitching. I’m going to France, San Francisco, Las Vegas in the next few weeks. I’m very much looking forward to all of this! After that I’m also planning to go to Granada in late January for the Sensei project kick off.

New photos added

A few weeks ago I was on vacation in Barcelona & Catalunya (and also France for a few days). I took lots of photos and have finally found the time to properly edit them. The result is available on my photo site, as usual.

I’ve learned quite a bit about photography from a number of web sites with excellent, in depth information on a wide range of photoshop and photography related subjects that I’ve tried to apply in practice. Quite many of my photos make use of contrast masks as well as overlay blended layers with white and black spots to brighten and darken bits of the photos. I fixed some difficult light conditions and also some crappy photos where I messed up aperture or shutter settings on the camera. Some of the photos I’m still not happy with but quite many turned out quite nice.

As ever the panorama’s were produced with hugin. This great tool is much easier to use, though still not for the faint of heart.

Here’s an overview of some sites related to photography that I have found extremely useful and informative:

Back from vacation

I just got back from vacation. The past two weeks I’ve been visiting Barcelona, my parents in France, Girona, Figueres, Lleida and Zaragoza. Despite having a car for only eight days, I still managed to drive 1650km. I updated my placemarks in Google Earth and regenerated my places website where you can find a complete overview of this trip.

I’ll add some photos later on. I filled a 1GB memory card so, processing them properly is going to take some time.

Website maintenance

I did some maintenance on my website this morning. I fixed a few broken urls to websites of friends. Also I added a workshop paper to my publications that I co-authored with Ronald Bos nearly two years ago. Then I discovered that several of the papers there had incomplete references, so I fixed that too.

Finally, I updated my photo site and added pictures I took last Christmas in France and last week when my father, uncle, nephew, and niece’s boyfriend visited Helsinki.

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.

sightseeing over paris

I’ve written quite a bit on x-plane lately. That was before I discovered a few good quality scenery packages. One of these packages is a 400 MB version of Paris, the capital of France. Wow. You can download it here, for free!
Here’s some screenshots (all running beautifully smooth). This is by far the most realistic and detailed scenery I’ve seen for any area in any flightsimulator. X-plane shows off it’s exceptional capabilities. Notice the detail in the background? All part of the scenery. This is typically where you’d see a mess of blinking pixels in ms flight simulator. It simply can’t handle that amount of detail. In x-plane all the screens below were with my default x-plane settings: render on graphics card, everything set to high except for roads and objects (default, see my earlier discussions), 4x anti aliasing. Framerate was excellent most of the time. I hit some bottlenecks while panning the view, otherwise everything stayed smooth and responsive.

Btw. this is a x-plane v7 scenery, not a v8 scenery. This means it is lacking some of the new features. Outside paris everything is the nice and default v8 scenery coming with x-plane.
arc de triomf.jpgEiffel tower and the SeineLe Louvre