Mobile Coverage according to Deutsche Bahn

Yesterday I was traveling by train and it struck me how poor connectivity is in Germany. Pretty much when traveling from Berlin to Hengelo (first stop across the border in NL), I typically plan to have no coverage whatsoever for what I guestimate is at least 80% plus of the trip. Apperently in places like Bad Bentheim, Rheine, and Osnabruck it is normal to have little or no coverage, even when the train stops on the damn railway station.
I found this nice tweet in my twitter feed this morning mentioning that Deutsche Bahn is providing some nice open data files. One of these files maps coverage for the different mobile providers in Germany along the rail tracks. I downloaded the file and did some very low tech analysis on the file basically taking their stability metric and finding the number of non zero values for each provider using a bit of old school command line voodoo.

# metrics with non 0 value data points (higher is better)

ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep o2_stability | grep  -E -v '0,$' | wc -l
    2851
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep t-mobile_stability | grep  -E -v '0,$' | wc -l
    6089
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep e-plus_stability | grep  -E -v '0,$' | wc -l
    2743
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep vodafone_stability | grep  -E -v '0,$' | wc -l
    4511

# metrics with 0 value data points (lower is better)
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep o2_stability | grep  -E  '0,$' | wc -l
   20876
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep t-mobile_stability | grep  -E  '0,$' | wc -l
   17638
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep e-plus_stability | grep  -E  '0,$' | wc -l
   20984
ip-10-0-1-28:~ $ cat connectivity_2015_09.geojson | grep vodafone_stability | grep  -E  '0,$' | wc -l
   19216

As I suspected, O2 is the worst and T-mobile has more than twice the coverage. However, that still amounts to pretty shit coverage since the vast majority of all metrics for all providers is 0. In fact my guestimate was quite accurate and even for t-mobile they have no connection stability for a whopping 70% of the metric points, which I assume are normally distributed along the tracks (if not, it could be worse). For O2, it is more like 85%. The total number of metrics for all providers appears to be roughly the same, which suggest that the numbers should be comparable.

Wtf Germany? Please fix your infrastructure and stop being a digital backwater.

De-globalization or why local matters

Over the weekend we built a local news app at the Mediahackday in Berlin. The purpose of this event was to find new ways to utilize the back catalogs of media companies such as the Guardian, Axel Springer, and others. This use-case is a perfect fit for the Localstream platform that I have been involved with over the past year. So, we went in and did our thing. My colleague Mark MacMahon wrote up a nice article about this on our Tumblr blog.

One of the things that struck me again while focusing on this particular use-case over the weekend is a phenomenon that has been bouncing around in my head for a while. For lack of a better word, I’d like to call it de-globalization.

As an example of this, consider this advertisement that I spotted in the subway on my way to the Mediahackday venue:

Location based advertising. Very much an offline thing still.

This is an advertisement that promotes the existence of a mobile application. Alexa is a shopping mall in Berlin (near Alexander Platz) and apparently they thought it a good investment to spend money on the development of a mobile application for the people in their mall. Then to tell these people about the existence of this application, they invested in a (presumably) expensive advertising campaign as well. This is location based advertising in the wild. Big money is spent on it and it is mostly an offline business.

In fact most of the economic activity world wide is driven by locals engaging with small and medium enterprises locally. Despite globalization and mega corporations, there is an enormous long tail of very small companies and it is growing. The EU states that:

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the main drivers of job creation, economic growth and social cohesion in Europe. They have local roots, provide local jobs but also exploit the benefits of globalisation. SMEs indeed constitute the dominant category of business organisation in all EU countries with some 23 million enterprises (99.8%); their share in total employment creation is massive (81.6%) as well as their contribution to the EU-GDP (up to 60%).

Alexa is spending what must be a sizable budget for them on bespoke mobile app development and offline advertising for the resulting app. That strikes me as a particularly expensive and ineffective way of promoting themselves. Despite ongoing globalization, massive growth in online channels, and widespread adoption of internet, Alexa is forced to go offline to address their audience: Berlin locals. And just like other locals, they are finding it difficult.

The reason for this is that existing online channels for the likes of Alexa to promote themselves in or for people to discover Alexa’s mobile application, and other content lack a local focus. Where do people living near the Alexa mall go to learn about what is happening around them? There’s no such thing.

People in the industry have been talking about location based services and associated revenue streams for ages. But one glance at the advertisement above makes it very clear that despite this, local is still very much an offline business for most of the locals. This applies to commerce but also to other things. What is happening around my house, on my street, in my neighborhood and in my city? Who is writing about my area and what are they saying about it? What events are on and what cool historical facts can I find out about my area? The online answer today involves search engines and a lot of hard work filtering through blogs, wikipedia, event sites, social media, location based services, etc. Because that is so impractical, nobody bothers and consequently Alexa has to spend big money on subway advertising just to tell people that there is an app that they are very excited about.

At Localstream we want to change this and enable locals go online to engage with each other locally to share news, knowledge, and other information about their area. Through the Localstream platform, we can filter content by location and provide a view of the available content specific to where it is about as opposed to what it is about (search engines) or whom it is about (social networks).

Localstream de-globalizes the internet. The internet is full of location relevant information ranging from venue specific applications such as the Alexa app above, local news about the area, historical facts, events, etc. However, the existing channels for this content rely on people stumbling upon this content in search engines or social media. With Localstream, you can stumble upon it by location.

At Mediahackday we specialized our concept for news and tried to turn the back catalogs of news organizations such as the Guardian and Axel Springer into a location browsable channel. While we definitely still have some challenges with respect to our ability to tag the content correctly and rank accordingly, the raw value of this was immediately obvious when we started browsing the news content about Berlin.

Living in Berlin I of course entered my street name (Bergstrasse) as a search criteria:

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 18.34.41

As you can see here, Localstream found some news content that isn’t about my street but does mention nearby streets and venues. For example, Tucholskystrasse and Ackerstrasse, which are both near my street (first hit). So, despite the fact that none of these articles were marked up with coordinates, Localstream is able to recognize the street name and deduce that articles that mention a nearby streets are relevant to my location.

Now bearing in mind that we hadn’t seen the content before and that our location graph, ranking and location tagging are very much works in progress, this is a pretty good result. We were able to ingest content we hadn’t seen before that lacked any structural location information and turn it in a location browsable news application in under 24 hours. We believe we are just scratching the surface here in terms of what is possible.

Deutsche bank

Right now I’m pretty angry with my bank. I’m currently traveling and to my great surprise I couldn’t get any cash from any ATM in Boston when I arrived there on Saturday evening. Kind of inconvenient to be without cash if you are traveling. Luckily my credit card still worked so I managed to get into my hotel and get some food (one of the nice things in the US is that you can use your credit card everywhere). Also, some colleagues were kind enough to borrow me some money.

Anyway what pissed me off was the following:

On Sunday morning/night (jet lag), I called the phone number listed on my bank card to find out what the hell is going on.

This lands you in the standard useless menu where some very tedious computer voice slowly guides you to your destination repeating every choice you make and asking whether that was really what you wanted. This one was particularly annoying because they insisted on my full account number (they had speech recognition though) and branch number of my local bank office, which is apparently very important in Germany. Naturally, the first questions I got when I finally got a human to talk to me were what my branch and account number were.

Then the misery started, nobody on the other side of the line could do anything useful for me. Lady #1 who luckily spoke English connected me to Lady #2 who didn’t and quite rudely told me to go away (in German). So, I had to go through the above mentioned menu again to talk to Guy #1. I then asked him “do you speak English” and he said yes but added “I’m not allowed to speak to customers in English”. Eh right. He clearly detected my anger/amazement and then proceeded in English anyway, for which I’m grateful, I guess. He then figured out that I probably wanted to talk to someone in my branch office. So he gave me a number for Lady #3 who of course would not be reachable until Monday. So, I was stuck for another 24 hours without cash on me and I still had no clue why my card was not working (e.g. somebody might have skimmed my card and is emptying my account).

Photos Nov 2008 -Now

I finally found some time to upload some photos.

I went to Berlin in November to apply for the job I now have. Then I spent Christmas in France. After that, I moved into a temporary flat in Berlin on February 1st. On my first visit back in Finland, I visited a friend in Espoo who lives close to the sea, which was frozen. Finally I took some nice photos of Berlin in my first few weeks here.

The nicest of which is the view I had from my temporary flat:

View from temporary apartment

I no longer live there and photos of my new place are coming soon. I probably will take a few at my upcoming house warming party: Friday 17th from 21:00, feel free to drop by if you are near.

Time for a little update

Hmm, it’s been more than two months since I last posted. Time for an update. A lot has happened since January.

So,

  • I moved out of Finland as planned.
  • I stayed in a temporary apartment for a month. Central-home is the company managing the facility where I lived (on Habersaathstrasse 24) and if you’re looking for temporary housing in Berlin, look no further.
  • I managed to find a nice apartment for long term in Berlin Mitte, in the Bergstrasse, which is more or less walking distance from tourist attractions like Alexanderplatz, Hackeschermarkt, Friedrichstrasse and of course the Brandenburger Tor.
  • I re-aquainted myself with Java, Java development, and lately also release management. Fun days of hacking but the normal Nokia routine of meetings creeping into my calendar is sadly kicking in.
  • I learned tons of new stuff
  • Unfortunately German is not yet one of those things. My linguistic skills are ever pathetic and English remains the only foreign language I ever managed to master more or less properly. On paper German should be dead easy since I can get by mumbling in my native language and people can still figure out what I want. In practice, I can understand it if spoken slowly (and clearly). Speaking back is challenging.
  • I’m working on it though, once a week, in a beginners class. Relearning stuff that 3 years of trying to stuff German grammar in my head in High-school did not accomplish.

Moving is tedious and tiresome. But the end result is some genuine improvement in life. I absolutely love Berlin and am looking forward to an early Spring. I was in a telco with some Finnish people today discussion the weather. They, so how’s Berlin. Any snow there still? Me: no about 20 degrees outside right now :-). Nice to have spring start at the normal time again. Not to mention the more sane distribution of daylight and darkness, throughout the year.

A shitload of updates is overdue. For several months already. I have a ton of photos to upload. WordPress needs upgrading. And some technical stuff might need some blogging about as well. Then there is still some unfinnished papers in the pipeline. So, I’ll be back with more. Some day.

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.

Moving to Berlin

A bit more than a month ago, I posted a little something on the reorganization in Nokia Research Center where I work and announced my availability on the job market. This was a bit of a shock of course and it has been a hectic few weeks but the end result is really nice. For me at least. Unfortunately some of my colleagues are not so lucky and are now at risk of losing their job.

In any case, a few weeks ago I visited Nokia Gate5 in Berlin for a job interview. Gate5 is a navigation software company that Nokia bought in 2006. Their software is powering what is now known as OVI Maps and whereas the whole industry is shrinking, they are growing like crazy now and rolling out one cool product after another. Today, they sent me a proposal for a contract. Barring contractual details, this means that I will be based in Berlin from February. This is something I’ve known for a few weeks but having all the necessary approvals from Nokia management and a concept contract is about as good as it gets in terms of certainty. So, since I know a few people are curious what I’ll be up to next year, I decided on this little update.

I can’t say too much about what I will do there except that it more or less matches my Java server side interests and experience perfectly. This means back to being a good old Java hacker which is just fine with me and something I’ve not had enough time to focus on lately (much to my annoyance). Just today I submitted an article and I have one or two other things to finish off in January. After that, my research will be put on hold for a while. That’s fine with me as well. After returning to a research career three years ago, I’ve done a few nice papers but to be honest, I’m not enjoying this as much as I used to.

Of course Berlin is a great place to move to. I’ve been there now twice. I remember thinking the first time in 2005 that “hmm, I wouldn’t mind living here” and when I was there three weeks ago I had the same feeling again. It’s a big city with a rich history, nice culture and lots of stuff to see and do. I also learned that this is one of the few cities in Europe where life is actually cheap. Apartment prices, food, drink and all the essentials in life are really affordable there and of excellent quality too.

Anyway, I’ll be off to France the next week visiting my parents.

Happy holidays

Vacation photos

I’ve uploaded the photos from my recent vacation in Spain. Earlier, I posted an overview of the places I’ve visited so I won’t repeat that here. I took quite a bit of photos and filled both 1GB SD cards I have.

Of course, I took lots of nice panorama photos as well. The latter have also been added to my special stitched photo album where you can admire them in slightly higher resolution. Too bad I don’t have the bandwidth + space to put them up in full resolution. For example the one below is originally 18319×2191 pixels wide and composed of no less than 11 8 megapixel photos and the jpeg is 40 MB. The level of detail is amazing. WordPress is sadly messing up the aspect ratio but if you click on it you should see it properly.

My former house

GeenStijl : ANP doet Google Earth na.

Ten years ago, I was a computer science student in Utrecht who was about to leave the Netherlands to live in Sweden. At the time, I had been living for about a year in a very spacious (50m2) attic room on a top location: Domplein, complete with nice view over the square.

A Dutch reporter took some photos from a balloon which gives a nice perspective on how nice this room was. I’ve highlighted which building was I lived in. The house, a four story monumental building was owned by a lawyer. The bottom floor was an apartment he rented out and he had converted the attic into two student apartments. The front apartment, which was the largest, was mine. The front two windows were both mine, as well as the little window on the side. Total rent was 675 guilders per month. Try find an apartment with that price in euros these days (at the moment of introduction, 1 euro was slightly overvalued at 2.2 Guilders). Anyway, at the time it seemed like a lot of money.

As you can see right next to my left there is a pretty big tower and half a cathedral. In fact this is the largest church tower in the Netherlands and you can read all about the missing half of the cathedral on wikipedia. It was noisy too, especially at night. But you stop noticing after some time.

Back from vacation

I more or less executed the plan listed in my previous post to the letter. I flew to Spain, spent a few days at Christian del Rosso’s place in Madrid and took the opportunity to benefit from the relatively mild weather (32 degrees or so) to see most of Madrid’s major touristic attractions.

After that, I went back to the airport to pick up the car from the rental agency and then drove around 3500 km in the next few weeks. Main goal of this post is to document the places I visited since I am otherwise likely to forget where I’ve been in a matter of weeks. Been there before. Secondary goal is to serve as a nice itinerary for west side of Spain if anyone plans to go there.  Which is of course highly recommended if you can handle the lack of beaches and the associated mob of beach tourism and associated bad food, service, and prices.

So, I first drove to Zamora. Zamora is a little town in Castilla y Leon and I stayed here two nights. A bit disappointing after the good things I read about it. Worth a visit but not worth staying there, which I did. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself there. I did a day trip to Valladolid. On the way there, I stopped for a drink in Tordessilas. A small unremarkable place with a nice Plaza Mayor on which a wacky event was going on involving a lot of Seat 600’s (the Spanish version of the Fiat 500). The whole square was full of them.

From Zamora, I drove to Plascencia in the Extremadura. I deliberately skipped Salamanca to save it for later and decided not to go up North to Leon, mainly due to the weather. Plascencia is nice but my usual strategy of walk into a hotel and get a room broke down, hopelessly. For some reason all of the good places were fully booked. This is the first time this has happened to me in Spain. After five hotels I gave up and drove a few more kilometers to Caceres. Here I got lucky on the second attempt. I stayed here for three nights. I did some daytrips to Badajoz (nice drive over an empty stretch of road through very beautiful and very empty Extramadura landscape). On the second day I drove around Caceres a bit and visited the Wolf Vostell museum in Malpartida de Caceres. Considering I was the only visitor, the museum was a bit overstaffed with at least five people monitoring my every move around the place. Entrance was free and the museum mildly interesting and absurdistic.

Next stop: Trujillo. I walked onto the plaza mayor, spotted the hotel that the Lonely Planet recommends on that square whilst sipping a coke and booked for three nights. The hotel was excellent and so was Trujillo. From here I visited nearby Guadelupe and Merida.

From there I drove on to Zafra, booked a room in a hotel for two days and then sat down to have lunch on the inevitable Plaza Mayor. As I was eating it occurred to me that the place looked familiar. Then it occured to me that I had been here in 2003 and after that remembered that I actually stayed in the same hotel as well and quite possibly even the same room. Talk about deja vu. Must have been the heat, normally I’m not that slow. From Zafra I went to do some sight seeing in some small villages around it: Jerez de los Caballeros which has a nice Moorish castle and Frenegal de la Sierra which has a nice bullring/church/castle combined into one multi functional building.

From Zafra I drove to next place of interest which is Cordoba, almost 180 kilometer down the road. This is a very empty country. Cordoba was nice and I booked myself a room in Hotel Boston for two days on the Plaza de las Tendillas. From Cordoba I visited a nice castle in Almodovar del Rio and the extensive ruins of some Moorish attempt to create a new city next to Cordoba.

By now it was getting time to move in the direction of Madrid to pick up Christian. So I drove back the way I came and followed the road to Badajoz where I ended up staying three nights, despit the heat (35-40 degrees). Main feature in Badajoz besides hotels with air conditioning is that it is nearby Elvas across the border in Portugal, which is quite nice. I ended up making two trips there to visit no less than three museums. Combined with the modern art museum in Badajoz, that made four museums in two days. I was the only visitor in each. But they had air conditioning. Badajoz itself is a pretty large but isolated community but worth a visit nevertheless.

From Badajoz I drove north to Avila. On the way I was tempted by the Sierra de Gredos but decided that it was a bit too much off the beaten track for me. Only small villages to stay in and not much to do at night. I did have a nice lunch in some restaurant. Avila is touristic since it is close to Madrid. The hotel had a room but only for one night. Since I was planning to visit Segovia on the second day anyway I stayed there for the night as well. Again a nice town to see. The nice thing about both places was that there is plenty of wind which makes being outside tolerable even during the hottest moments of the day.

Then I drove to Madrid to pick up Christian. We spend a night bar hopping in Salamanca. Had lunch in Avila on the way back and the endured 37 degrees of heat in Madrid by going to the pool and then having some tapas in the La Latinas neighborhood. A NSN colleague joined to show us the good places.

Then back home :-(.

I’ve pretty much seen most cities of interest in Spain now except for Valencia, Bilbao and places in the north west coastal area. The latter three due to the weather which is usually not so good there and Valencia is in the middle of nowhere with nothing of interest worth mentioning in the Lonely planet for hundreds of kilometers around it. Unless you love beach tourism (hint, I don’t). Some day probably.

I also have about 600 photos that need to be sorted through, edited and in some cases stitched together with Hugin. So that is going to take some time but they will eventually be posted.