Archive for February, 2006

Ronan Keating was right

February 28th, 2006

Odd title, isn't it? Somehow I never thought I would write those exact words. Heard that song on the radio today and it's the first time I thought the lyrics were any good. "Life is a roller coaster", says Ronan. I'm not the type to have mood swings, I'm pretty centered and stable. Or so I thought. But the last month (it sure feels longer than any other month, I can tell you that) I've had them a lot. I think my average state of mind is still mostly what it was back home, but I oscillate a lot more these days. Content one day, sad the next morning, feel better by midday, unhappy the next morning, happy in the evening. What's funny is that sometimes it seems to happen for no reason at all. Waking up on Monday I had slept well and I felt really happy. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm happy, "look this is what you wanted, you spent years thinking about going to college abroad". And when I hear that voice, I go from neutral to happy. Yeah, I'm here, this is it. It's pretty strange how that works. One thing that is still with me from a book I read about the teachings of the Dalai Lama, is that happiness is pretty much a product of doing things that make us happy. So if you ask yourself what will make me happy and you do just that, you *will* be happy. Studying is good, it gives a feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel responsible. Slacking is bad, contributes to the negative feelings (guilt, lack of purpose) which counter happiness.

But it still oscillates. One day I'm meeting lots of people, having a good time. The next sometimes I feel like I don't want to see anyone (Sundays are like that a lot), almost make an effort to avoid people.

fun is doing what you're not supposed to

February 27th, 2006

This time I'm going to forgo the whole production of introducing the subject and asking questions and just launch right into the thesis, then you can tell me if you agree or not.

I've read some literature on hacking the last few years and one of the things that comes up quite often is that the spirit of hacking is influenced by the notion of doing something naughty, something unorthodox, in other words something you're not supposed to do. Hackers sometimes like to point out people in other fields whom they consider to be "hackers", for instance Einstein. He was a great hacker, he was brilliant and he definitely did what he wasn't supposed to. Why do I bring up hacking here? Because the essence of hacking is having fun. So that's one fairly powerful group behind my theory. (btw if you think hacking means breaking into computers, you need to get your story straight..)

Why is it fun to do what you're not supposed to? Why isn't it fun to do what you're supposed to? Because, when someone gives you a task to do, they decide why. And that rationale is something you need to establish for yourself, without outside influence. It's fun to do things on your own, because you decide what to do, what to accomplish, how, when and why. Most importantly: why. You see, it's about creativity and spontaneity. Being spontaneous is great pleasure at times, it makes you feel empowered. "I just had this idea last week, I decided to work on it and now I have a working home made toaster." It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's your idea to begin with. And that's the essence of it, you are master of your domain.

I built juventuz.com in 2000, because I was into building web sites and I was into Juventus. I wasn't the first person to have that idea, nor was I the only one at the time. But it was my project, I decided everything myself. And I did it when I wasn't supposed to, I worked on the site instead of doing homework. It was fun, really fun, the most fun I had in years. After a few years, when the fun ran out, I decided to give it up. For years I played with linux on my own, because it was fun. I wanted to try a lot of different things, some things worked, some didn't. It was all about exploring technology. I wasn't supposed to do it, but it was fun. This one you can relate to.. blogging is fun, isn't it? But we're not really supposed to do it, we're supposed to do more important things. Wouldn't it be great if people paid us to blog? No, it wouldn't. Then it would be a job, something you're supposed to do, it would suck the fun right out of it.

This is an illusion I used to have for many years in school. It was always a problem with motivation that I didn't like certain subjects. But in high school, you can choose what to take and so I thought the problem would go away. "I can choose what I want, this is great." It doesn't change anything. Because it's not really about what subject or field you pursue, it's about doing it on your own terms. As I look back, I'm surprised that some courses in college, which looked fun on the surface, became a real chore. I didn't see that coming, I thought "this would finally be a fun course".

Why is this, what's behind it? Doing things on your own means not having to live up to anyone's expectations. It means not having to take anyone's reasoning about what you should do and why for granted. Doing what you're not supposed to adds a spice to that mix, it adds excitement, a voice that says "I'm gonna show them that I can do this and come out on top". It's rebellious and people like rebellion, they like questioning authority because they like freedom of thought. It seems like a paradox sometimes. Doing something on your own terms means not having a deadline, being able to do it later or dropping it altogether. And yet that's when you work at it the hardest, isn't it? Back when I worked on juventuz I had a stronger determination and a greater attention to detail than I've had on any other project.

good beer and bad beer

February 26th, 2006

Whenever two people get into a discussion over which beer is good and which isn't, I always roll my eyes at them. And you would think that by now I would stop, because it happens so often. It's a case of "what am I not getting here?". I have those quite often, whenever there is a heavily contested subject or people spend a lot of time and energy on something that seems fairly pointless, I want to be a little humble and approach the subject with some humility. So instead of saying "that's a total waste of time", I try to understand what's so special about it. Well, without fail, after taking an interest in the subject, I conclude that it *is* a total waste of time. It seems that when I don't "get it" from a distance, no amount of scrutiny will change that, and while I waste my time on it, at least I can say that I didn't dismiss these people's great passion without trying to grasp it.

But back to beer again. People arguing over which beer is the best is one thing, a point in time where I can say with complete conviction that "this topic is not for me". But when they ask my opinion about beer, that's when I get dragged into it. "How do you like the beer?" "Well, it's beer.." Yup, that's my answer. I just don't see the big difference. Heineken is more bitter, Amstel is a bit sweeter. I've had about two of each since I've been in Utrecht. But it's not like there's a big difference. One beer that does stand out is Corona, very light color and very delicate taste. That's one I could probably pick out of a line-up. The rest is mostly various brands with subtle differences. Or maybe I just don't drink enough beer to appreciate what sets them apart. I've been drinking tea all my life and I could tell you which brand of tea has what taste and how they differ. I'm not religious about it, though, unlike beer fans.

But more than distinguishing between brands it is about classifying beer into "good" and "bad". You will hear statements like "in the Czech Rep they have great beer". So apparently any brand over there is great. I've no idea what makes beer good or bad, either way a summer cyclist [or a fruit smoothie] wipes the floor with it.

koffie

February 25th, 2006

Have you seen those people always drinking coffee, on the train, on the subway, in the computer lab, at lectures, in the cafeteria, on the street, in coffee shops, at home, everywhere? I have become one of those people. Well, not exactly, because my consumer instincts do not quite match with the culture of buying food and drink everywhere, I think more along the lines of "if I get it at the supermarket, it'll be cheaper". But that's really all that's holding me back from drinking coffee all the time. At school the coffee machines are cheap, so I do get it. They charge €.35-.5 for a small plastic cup. At home then, I'm tempted to drink a lot of coffee. The trouble is that coffee messes with the biological clock and that's not good when you're trying to maintain a constant rhythm of going to bed at a certain time and getting up early, while getting enough sleep. Back home (home-home), I got into the habit of drinking coffee at 11pm, and that would keep me up until about 2am. So I try not to do that here. Coffee in the afternoon is fine, cause I'm up anyway. But coffee in the morning and coffee at night is bad, cause it keeps me alert superficially. So since I'm prone to having coffee anyway, I started drinking decaf. It tastes the same, and it doesn't (or shouldn't) affect the state of alertness.

The funny thing about coffee is that I don't know where it came from. I remember vividly disliking coffee. The smell was nice, the taste was awful. Coffee with milk and sugar would pretty much kill the natural taste of coffee, it made a big improvement, but it still wasn't good. Somehow I just started drinking coffee a few years ago, not really knowing why. It wasn't really good, it didn't give me a boost, I don't know why I did have it. Then it started growing on me and now I like it. And it's not because it's a drug either, I don't feel a strong effect from coffee. If I'm drowsy and I have it, it gets me a bit more alert, otherwise it doesn't do anything. But when I'm drowsy, I'd rather go to bed anyway, and often I will have coffee (thinking it will keep me up), but then I fall asleep right after that.

So yeah, I totally bought into the coffee culture, and it seems to be spreading everywhere now. It's big in Norway, it's being introduced in Poland with places like Coffee Heaven and in Holland it's always been like this.

discretion is the guiding principle

February 24th, 2006

For a nation that prides itself in (I'm going to use this generalization a few more times so deal with it) openness and tolerance, the Dutch sure don't flaunt their life styles. For some reason (usually it's boredom) I've kept count of how many gay and lesbian couples I've seen since I arrived. Being the determined journalist that I'm not, I didn't actually stalk [or interview] anyone to find out whether they really are gay, but if hand holding in public is an acceptable approximation, may that be the qualifier this data is based on. The head count so far is 1 gay (male) couple, 6 lesbian (female) couples. I haven't kept track of how many straight couples I've seen, nevertheless the number of gay (unisex) couples appears to be quite low. So for anyone out there really nervous about coming to Holland because on every street people are "being gay" and doing drugs (I could do a similar work up on that issue), let me reassure you right now. Instead, what will get your blood boiling is putting up with all kinds of rules and regulations these friendly people impose on themselves (and on you).