MavEtJu's Distorted View of the World - 2008-11

Christmas in the summer
Open letter to CityRail / RailCorp
Training in San Francisco (part 4)
Training in San Francisco (part 3)
Cycling: San Francisco to Sausalito (and back)
Project Vegetable Patch - It grows!
Training in San Francisco (part 2)

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Christmas in the summer

Posted on 2008-11-27 18:00:00
Tags: Xmas, Lost memories, Happiness

This year it will for me be the eight time the Christmas celibrations will fall in the middle of summer. And still I am not used to it.

For me, Christmas is the celibration of light in the darkness. In the Netherlands, it's twilight around 09:00 and 16:00 during these periods of time. Having a tree with lights in the room and candles in the house, it gives you the feeling that the worst part of the winter is over and from now on it will only get lighter. In reality it won't be the case, because "Als de dagen lengen dan gaat de winter strengen" (When the days are getting longer, the winter will be stronger), so the worst part is still ahead of it, but at least the horrible darkness is over.

When cycling back home from work, or walking outside in the evening, and you look inside all the houses you pass and see the christmas trees with their white lights and the candles on the window ceils and tables, it gives you a feeling of hapiness inside your heart. Having to watch the the multi-colour flashing monstrosities on houses and in gardens, which only purpose is to compete for attention with the neighbouring area, that just makes me sad: Christmas is a time for looking inside yourself, pondering what you did last year and how you did it last year, not a time of showing off.

For me, Christmas is being together with the family. Now that I have a family of my own, the absence of my parents, brother and sister will hopefully be less of an issue (hopefully), but I would love to celibrate just one more Christmas lunch with them.

This year Christmas eve will be celibrated at Naomis aunt place in Heathcote. Heathcote has the advantage of being outside from Sydney, so on the way back there will be a couple of kilometers of road where it will be dark. And when we are on the highest point of the road, in the distance you can see the twinkling lights of the houses in the greater Sydney area. And hopefully it will give me that happy feeling inside again.

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Open letter to CityRail / RailCorp

Posted on 2008-11-26 18:00:00
Tags: CityRail, Rant

Customer Relations Unit RailCorp
PO Box K349
Haymarket NSW 1238

Edwin Groothuis
159 Caringbah road
Caringbah NSW 2229

26 November 2008

Dear CityRail representative,

My name is Edwin Groothuis and since I've moved to Sydney in early 2002, I have always used the train as matter of transport for my travel to work. Over the years I must have spend some sixteen thousand dollars on weekly passes alone between Cronulla, Woolloware or Cronulla and the city or North Sydney, plus hundreds of dollars for travels in the weekends with the family.

I am an advocate of the train, I have defended the system against unfair attacks of colleagues or people on stations when a train has been delayed, I have signed petitions for the duplication of the Cronulla track, for the improvement of Woolloware station, against the closure of the CountryLink office at Cronulla station and for the planned cyclist-track between Sutherland station and Cronulla station. And for my daughter I got a CityRail bib (they were for free, but that didn't make it less special for me).

You won't hear me complain in the public about the quality and cleanliness of the trains (which is pretty good), about the time-table (which is pretty good too) or about the lack of space for people in the rush hours after Sutherland station (I just have started my day an hour earlier and escaped the rush). All with all I am pretty happy about this.

Yesterday in the train on my way home to Cronulla, just before Central station, I got a call from my wife panicing about an accident with her car and about my daughter of 14 months who had fallen over at the Strathfield bus exchange. Not really knowing what the real damage was, but knowing that letting her drive home would alone could be a very dangerous thing, I decided to change my destination to Strathfield to see what needing to be done.

Having only a weekly ticket between Cronulla and Leonards Point (for some reason there are no weekly tickets for between Caringbah and North Sydney), I decided to do what I normally do: Go to the gate, talk to the CityRail man or lady in blue about the unexpected detour I had to make and buy a single ticket for the distance which needed to be covered. I don't make a fuzz about the fact that the ticket I had could have, monetary-wise, gotten me all the way from the other side of Parramatta to my work, I normally just buy the ticket and be over with it. After all, I like the system and want to be fair with regarding to the services offered. And in the last seven years this was never a problem: "You are willing to pay? There is the counter!".

Yesterday however, I found a brown shirted transit officer on my path. After seeing me having talked to the CityRail lady at the gate and on my way to the counter, he asked me for my ticket. I showed him my weekly ticket, explained to him about the unexpected detour, that I talked to the CityRail lady and that the counter was my next stop. He didn't believe me, or didn't want to believe me, didn't want to talk to the CityRail lady and insisted that I should have left the station at Redfern, should have bought a new ticket and should have entered the station again. He wouldn't change his mind and didn't want to talk to the CityRail lady.

I could have lied to the CityRail lady that I just wanted to cross the station or I could have just pushed the gate open and let myself go through. These things happen in Strathfield station, and I hope that the people who do that get what they deserve. But I choose to be open and honest about what has happened and the CityRail representative at the gate had understanding about it, but the brown shirted transit officer clearly didn't. And so I ended up with a 200 dollar fine for being honest and for wanting to do the right thing.

I wasn't the drunk on the train who was aggressive towards other travelers, I wasn't the cigarette smoking girl, I wasn't in the loud group of teens drinking, I didn't damage the chairs, I didn't paint on the walls, I didn't have my feet on the seats and I didn't throw rubbish on the floor... I was on my way to pay for the ticket.

A false positive. A failure to make the railroad system safer. A bad stain on the shirt of the CityRail men and women. A miss out on the real issues the CityRail system has to deal with. And, worst of all, a slap in the face of one of your customers.

Two hundred dollars, that is five weekly tickets from my home to my work. That is sixty tickets to the beach for my daughter and me. That is sixteen trips to the city for my family. That is two hundred dollars of money I am not going to spend on CityRail services.

And that is why this behaviour of the brown shirted transit officer is so sad: It is CityRail which is going to miss out on it, it is the CityRail image damaged here. And for somebody who advocates the train system, that is a very sad thing. The fine is not going to change my behaviour towards being a better train-citizen, because I already have been doing that for the last seven years.

I hope that the brown shirted transit officers go back to the job they are supposed to do: Overseeing the train, helping the travelers, taking care of the people. Their current roles of standing at the gates of stations where they harass travelers who want to do the right thing is not what the CityRail needs.


Edwin Groothuis
Fine number 3014794045

Update: On the 15th of December I got a letter from CityRail / RailCorp saying that:

after a full review of all the circumstances of this matter, RailCorp has decided to withdraw the penalty notice and issue a caution on this occasion.
Yay! I take Hanorah and Dirkie to the beach this weekend. By train!

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Training in San Francisco (part 4)

Posted on 2008-11-20 19:00:00
Tags: Travelling, Sunnyvale, Riverbed, Trains, Project VP

Part two of the training (hands on, dirty details, procedures) was done in the Sunnyvale offices of Riverbed. Were the offices in San Francisco in the middle of the city (well, mostly), these ones were in the middle of Sunnyvale. Going there would be simple, grab the BART train, grab the Caltrain train and grab a taxi for the last two kilometers. I mentioned the issues with BART earlier, now its CALTrains turn.

Caltrain was GREAT! It started with the buying of the ticket where I didn't get 14 dollars back in quarters, I got 14 dollars back in dollar coins. I knew about the existence of silver dollar coins (collector items), but that was the first time I have seen normal dollar coins. Later in the week I found out that it costs the US government about 500 million dollars per year to replace all the worn-out dollar bills while it would only cost a fraction of that if they moved to dollar coins which would last about 30-40 years before they need to get replaced.

The second great thing was the bell on the front of the train, which gets sounded when it arrived at a station or a railway crossing. The third great thing were the railway crossings, something which I haven't seen for a long time but remember from an earlier life: One in eastern Eindhoven and one in Geldrop. Bing-bing-bing-bing they go when the train drives by. The fourth great thing was the presence of a train conductor which was there for questions and support. I am not sure if they are on the CountryLink trains in Australia, but they surely are not in the Sydney CityRail trains.

The design of the interior of the train is euhm... interesting. (Fifth great thing!). To get in the train you have to climb from the platform (which is at a certain height) up three steps into the train (which is thus higher). That is the ground level of chairs, in two rows with each two chairs on your both and left hand side. Then the upper level of the train, which is accessible via a step of stairs leading you to about one-and-a-half meter above the ground level. That distance is not high enough to make it possible for the people on the ground floor to stand up, so they have upstairs only one chair per row, both on the left and right hand side of the train, and a huge gaping hole in the middle of the upper level. Like I said, interesting design but not worlds smartest I think.

Two zones later, from Millbrae to Sunnyvale and I was at the place I would call home for the next week: A Best Western hotel. The week before I was in a hotel in inner San Francisco, now a Best Western hotel. Let me describe the differences:
San Francisco Sunnyvale
Queen-size bed King-size bed
Shower and bath Shower and spa
Internet (wired and wireless) Internet (wired and wireless)
42 channels on TV At least 99 channels on TV
Movie on Demand ($$$$) Video library (Free!)
Breakfast ($$$$) Breakfast (Free!)
Dinner / Bar Pizza / Starbucks near the supermarket
Soda vending machine Soda + Snack vending machine
10 minutes walk to work 10 minutes walk to work
San Francisco Sunnyvale
US$ 279 per night US$ 119 per night

On average, Sunnyvale was better for the money, but San Francisco had the location. And less crap on TV :-)

Because the availability of the video library, I took the opportunity to watch some old movies: Timeline by Michael Crighton (for medieval castle lovers), Snatch (very funny movie) and Rat Race (always good for a laugh). There was a fourth one but I can't remember anything about it.

Just as I met up David Thiel and Anton Holleman in San Francisco, I met up with people here too: Jos Backus, former colleague of Origin and FreeBSD enthusiast, Xen Li and Marcel Moolenaar, both FreeBSD developers. Thanks for the hospitality guys!

The time in Sunnyvale flew by and before I knew it was time to go back to Australia. This time I was lucky on the plane: The two people next to me didn't show up and I moved from an aisle seat to a window seat (I did offer it first to a mother with her child but she refused for some silly reason) and I slept for about ten hours on the plane. Business class comfort for an economy class price!

At home, Project Vegetable Patch needed moral support and some pruning, but it has survived my absence. Little Dirk had his hair cut, Hanorah has learned to walk and Naomi was very glad to have me back and take care of the kids for the rest of the weekend :-)

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Training in San Francisco (part 3)

Posted on 2008-11-08 19:00:00
Tags: Travelling, San Francisco, Riverbed, Steelhead

This course about the Riverbed Steelhead appliance has given me some very interesting details of the design of the Steelhead appliance and the capabilities. The speed improvements on network traffic, either due to initial compression, or later when it detects patterns it has sent out earlier or because it optimises protocols like CIFS, NFS or HTTP(S), their are very impressive. As they say, it makes your data on the servers on the data-center feel like it is sitting under your desk. Plus the integration in your network makes it close to zero-administration, all you need to start is two Steelhead appliances, two ethernet cables, two IP addresses and their default gateways and it's up and running. Talk to me if you want a demo :-)

What happened the rest of this week? The USA got a new president, I met up with David Thiel for dinner on Sunday, I met up with Anton Holleman for dinner on Wednesday and Saturday, I met a lot of collaegues at the San Francisco Riverbed offices, I walked in San Francisco through Chinatown, the Financial District, to the Tram museum, around the piers at the east coast because I couldn't walk over the Bay Bridge (Whoever decided to make a bridge without a pedestrian lane?).

Television is here euhm... less than interesting. Except for PBS there aren't much channels I did recognize or would recommend. Discovery Channel has "in-taxi" gameshows, there are seventy channels with people competing for something and then giving or getting feedback on how they were doing and half of the TV series are an insult to my brains. The presenters of the Weather channel seem to be the most enthousiastic ones in their profession. At least in Australia there is 40% of the channels worth watching, it's about 2.5% here. Not to mention the quality of the surfaces with the "same" colour on NTSC... (enough for now, it just makes me open the window and shout "I am sick of this and want everybody to know")

The best pub I've been in was Eddie Rickerbacker's on 133 2nd street. It has old motorbikes hanging on the ceilings, miniature trains in the vitrines and a miniature railroad around the wall. And a fat cat walking around... A very nice place to be.

So what is left for the rest of the week? Tomorrow I will go to Sunnyvale, first with the BART train service and then with the CalTrain service (Yes, I love trains!). Over the week I will have my share of cases at the Riverbed TAC in Sunnyvale.

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Cycling: San Francisco to Sausalito (and back)

Posted on 2008-11-02 19:00:01
Tags: San Francisco, Cycling, Cycling in San Francisco

If you are on holiday in San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate bridge is a must. You can drive over it with a car (well, you didn't need to come to SF for that, you can drive with a car whereever you want to) or walk over it (always exciting, but what are you going to do on the other side of that bridge?). Third option: You can cycle over it! Being a dutchman, I of course chose for that option.

Hiring bicycles in San Francisco is very easy when you're in the tourist area (i.e. near Fishermans Warf). From US$ 7 per hour for a simple bike to US$ 15 per hour for one with 3 / 8 gears plus air-suspension. Throw in two more dollars and they will pick you up when you have a flat tire. As long as you are back before the shop closes you can have it!

So, now for the trip: It is a trip between Fishermans Warf (North San Francisco) to Sausalito: Past the beaches, over the bridge, through the National Park (optional) and then to Sausalito for lunch and some drinks. And then everything back, but the National Park is optional again. See the Google Map for details, it is nearly complete except the places you go up and off the Redwood Highway: You have to go under it to get to the bicycle path on the other side. Just keep following the beaches and the signs for bicycles and the bridge.

What are the highlights?

  • While still cycling past the beaches, you see the Palace of Fine Arts. That Rotunda is beautiful, even just to look at while cycling past.
  • The bridge - the size, the height, the water under it, the beach. If you have a rest at the second bridge stand and there are some waves, you can see a horizontal blowhole.
  • The National Park. It is steep the first part, but the rest is nice. If you are lucky and it is foggy you will be alone on the world for a while. I didn't do this part on the way back.
  • The tunnel in Bunkerroad - About 500 meters, one car and a bicycle wide.
  • On the way back - The houses on the hill when you are just leaving Sausalito.
Despite a couple of attempts, the average US car driver doesn't seem to be willing to grab the concept of driving on the left hand side of the road. Therefor, think twice and be careful before you do a turn on the road coming from a one direction lane!

Total length: About 30 kilometers because you have to cycle back.

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Project Vegetable Patch - It grows!

Posted on 2008-11-02 08:00:00
Tags: Project VP

Before I left for San Francisco, I spent every evening quickly glancing over my vegetable patch, watering it and making sure that everything was in order: The four places with pumpkin seeds have grown nice and the three rows have these carrot-specific kind of leaves coming out of the ground. The only issue is that the grass roots which were not removed properly began sprouting up again, but I will take care of that when I will be back in Sydney!

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Training in San Francisco (part 2)

Posted on 2008-11-02 07:00:00
Tags: Travelling, San Francisco, Free Internet, Cycling, Trains

The first part of my trip to San Francisco went easy and successfull: Customs in Australian didn't search my bag, the plane left on time (I watched (Video On Demand with Qantas is great) the movie "Where is Osama Bin Laden" by the same guy who did "Supersize Me" I think and the Australian movie "Cosi", both movies worth mentioning) and except for some nasty bumps over a couple of minutes it was all smooth, customs in the USA didn't ask too many questions (I guess I am just a statistic for them), my luggage was there on the caroussel when I was ready and the hotel was not too far away from the Montgomery station and the weather was nice (read on for more on that one...). With regarding to forgotten luggage: razor blades and socks: I only brought one pair of socks!

To go from the airport to the hotel I decided to go by train with BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit for long. For U$ 5.35 (otherwise US$ 30.- for a taxi) you can't complain too much. The trains are clean and not too slow, but they make an awful noise when going around bends, so much that it started to hurt my ears. Note for people who need to keep receipts to bill back to work: Make sure you put 5 dollar-cents more on your ticket so you get it back when going through the final gates. I am not yet sure how to go from here to Sunnyvale, since the BART railroad doesn't go so far south.

The Courtyard Marriott hotel has free internet, but it requires a daily recharge, which comes by going to the frontpage and clicking on "1 Day Free Internet". The good news is that there is wireless network support too and that is used for the Riverbed provided laptop. If you are overseas and the people you try to call don't have Skype or internet access available, use the Skype dialout service! For three cents per minute I could talk to my wife and children yesterday (I know, this sounds like a bad ad)

The weather... It was wet, very wet. So I didn't do much walking outside yesterday due to ENOUMBRELLA. But I did walk through it to get some tea bags (the hotel does have free coffee but no free tea and the waterboiler, due to its use in the previous years, is now smelling like coffee even if there is no water in it) which ended up in an hour walk through the suburbs and I acually enjoyed having gotten my hair wet like this, it has been ages ago since that happened. Today (Sunday 07:00, DST stopped here today so I have one hour more today) it is dry so far but still a 40% chance of rain.

So what is on the menu for today? First I want to have breakfast because I'm hungry like a wolf, then I'm going to find a place which will rent me a bicycle so I can cycle over the Golden Gate bridge, buying some more socks and then I will meet up with some people of the FreeBSD project.

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