Without a Traceroute http://www.withoutatraceroute.com Time to live. Sun, 02 Aug 2009 11:55:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Obligatory ‘Starting a Blog’ Post http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/obligatory-starting-a-blog-post/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/obligatory-starting-a-blog-post/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2008 19:21:59 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=28 So my name is Brendan McCollam, I just graduted from Pomona College in Claremont, CA where I was a neuroscience major.

I received a Watson Fellowship, which provides a $25,000 grant to travel and complete an independent project. My project involves traveling to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico investigating the free software movement and hacktivism. If you’re interested, you can read the personal statement and project proposal I submitted to the Watson Foundation which awards the grants.

This blog will be a record of my travels, with photos and stories and such; I also intend to write about timely issues in software/technology/politics. I imagine the majority of readers will be my friends, family, and perhaps people connected with the Watson foundation, but anyone else is welcome as well.

I’m leaving in a few hours, and I still have a bunch of packing to do. It’s a strange and oddly liberating feeling to have only the vaguest notion of where I’m sleeping tonight.

Thanks for reading.

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/obligatory-starting-a-blog-post/feed/ 0
Arrived in the Netherlands http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/arrived-in-the-netherlands/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/arrived-in-the-netherlands/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2008 17:16:49 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=35 I am currently in Eindhoven, a city in the South-Netherlands. So far it seems alright. Phillips was founded and headquartered here, so there’s an enormous amount of lightbulb-related tourist attractions. They have some sort of art museum focused on artificial light (read: glowy art things), so I’ll probably check that out tomorrow before catching a train to Utrecht.

My stopover in Dublin was nice. I took the bus into the city and ate lunch at the oldest pub in Ireland, which dates from 1198. It was sort of a tourist trap, but the food and Guiness was good. However, the bus back to the airport was kind of slow and I nearly missed my flight to Eindhoven. On the plus side, because I was so late, the Ryanair woman checking me in didn’t bother charging me the 20 euro they usually want for checking a bag.

I’m pretty tired since I lost a big chunk of last night to time zones, but I think I’ll go out at least for a little while and see what Eindhoven is like.

BrazenHead1 BrazenHead2 ]]>
http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/07/arrived-in-the-netherlands/feed/ 1
Linux-powered in-flight entertainment http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/linux-powered-in-flight-entertainment/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/linux-powered-in-flight-entertainment/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2008 01:06:30 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=45 My Aer Lingus flight from Chicago to Dublin was on an Airbus a330. I somehow got stuck with the up-against-the-dividing-wall-next-to-the-bathroom seat, but on the plus side, the row was so lame, that I had it all to myself and I could put up the armrests and sleep laid out across the entire center row. I also stacked up those tiny airline pillows to make a real pillow (for the curious: you need 3 of them).

Every seatback came equipped with a small touchscreen entertainment console that included a wide variety of mediocre on-demand media (Meet the Spartans, Be Kind Rewind, Ugly Betty) and games. These systems usually run an embedded version of Red Hat Linux, combined with a custom frontend. The consoles were a prime example of a great idea spoiled by lousy implementation. Many of the games had on-plane networked capability, but the connectivity features were limited to high-score lists and competing against other players in quiz games. There was a Prohibition-era Chicago-themed casino game which seemed like a ideal opportunity for networked competitive card games, but sadly, it had no network capability. The games were all either sloppily-coded games by DTI Software, or clumsy ports of Atari arcade classics (Centipede in particular suffered from slowdown and awkward d-pad controls–the original version featured a trackball). The browsing interface was clunky, too, especially when using the handheld control rather than the touch-screen. Strangely, there were about 2 minutes of ads tacked onto the front of all the video content, but the fast-forward functionality wasn’t disabled, so you could just skip through them.

It’s really too bad the offerings were so weak, because seat-back entertainment is a fantastic place for embedded Linux systems running on low-end hardware. Linux is ideal for applications where a low-end client is pulling content from a more powerful server.  Now, if they could only find a way to populate it with decent content. With video game companies like Nintendo dipping into their back catalog for downloadable content, I wonder how difficult it would be to license, for example, SNES titles for in-flight entertainment. Networked SNES Mario Kart competing against other passengers would be truly awesome. Alternatively, there are tons of really fun, casual flash games out there that could be adapted for airplane play. Tower defense would be another great way to pass the time on a plane.

I suspect the problem is that the software is provided as a package deal by the same company that sells the hardware, as part of a “complete in-flight entertainment solution,” which probably leaves that company phoning it on the games, rather than paying to license better content.

In the long run, this is probably irrelevant because the future of in-flight entertainment is obviously internet access. Some international carriers like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines had already deployed Boeing’s in-flight wifi internet access system, but unfortunately US carriers were unwilling to shell out the money need to equip their planes, and without the US market Boeing could never make its system profitable. Eventually the costs will likely drop to the point where carriers start widely deploying onboard internet connections, and when that happens, you’ll never have to be bored on a plane again.

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/linux-powered-in-flight-entertainment/feed/ 0
Eindhoven: Day 1 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-1/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-1/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2008 04:47:44 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=82 After spending about 24 hours in Eindhoven, I’m ready to render a totally premature verdict.

Eindhoven is the Des Moines of the Netherlands: big enough to be a real city, with some interesting museums and music venues, but not big enough to have much worthwhile happening on a Wednesday night. I spent several hours (even got a small blister) wandering around looking for a busy club or bar. I was told that summer is especially dead because so many people are away on holiday.

I eventually wound up at a sparsely populated bar on the Stratumseind (a street which had a fair number of people, but divided between about 40 different bars). I met two Dutch architecture students, Antoine and Alex, who were playing chess. Alex beat Antoine twice, before I offered to play Antoine. He checkmated me in about a half-dozen moves in the first game. I acquitted myself much better in a rematch and the game was close. At the end, he swapped a rook for a bishop in a trade I was not expecting, and which left me without a piece to stop him from getting a pawn promoted. I lost the game.

During our second game (which went on for some time), an aggressive, apparently drunk, shirtless man repeatedly challenged me to play him for a 100 euro wager. I declined, and he sat next to me giving me terrible advice, (“You should take his rook. Take it now, I guarantee you will win.”). Unless he was hustling me, he was drunk enough that I could’ve beaten him, but there was no guarantee he would pay up, or not start a fight.

I also met an Egyptian businessman who kept asking me the prices of commercial real estate in the United States (as though I would know), “A shop like this, how much to buy in New York or Florida?”

We also had the following exchange:
“You know woman writer in America?”
“Yeah, sure, there are lots of American women writers. Living or dead?”
“She lives in Texas.”
“Um, what kind of writing does she do?”
“I give her my number, but she never call me. Do you know her?”
“No, I’m pretty sure I don’t.”
“Good, she was too old for you anyway.”

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-1/feed/ 0
Eindhoven: Day 2 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-2/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-2/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2008 05:20:36 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=89 I left Eindhoven for Utrecht yesterday, the train ride took about an hour. Before leaving, I stopped in and saw the Van Abbe Museum (which I continually read as ‘wannabe museum’) and also the Centrum Kunstlicht in de Kunst (Artificial Light in Art Center).

The Van Abbe Museum was really cool, the building was clean and modern, overlooking the river. Some of my favorite pieces were “Aktiengesellschaft” by Maria Eichhorn, in which she created a public corporation as a work of art; “Repetition” by Artur Žmijewski, a recreation of the famous Standford Prison Experiment using unemployed Polish men–who are apparently a good analog for Stanford grad students–as subjects; and Work No. 317 by Martin Creed, which is a rising or falling chromatic scale played by the elevator as it ascends or descends. I wish all elevators sang.

The Artificial Light Museum also had a lot of neat pieces. Unfortunately I didn’t get the names of many of them, and photography wasn’t allowed. My favorite featured two large, eccentric rotating discs (one within the other), with a spotlight and rotating mirrors and colored filters mounted to the disc. The filters produced different colors based on the angle at which the light struck them, and there were light-sensitive resistors at the base that determined the direction of rotation of the discs and the position of the filters, providing a feedback mechanism where the machine determined its own orientation.

EDIT: Update-I emailed the museum and the artist is a Finn named Esa Laurema, the work is an untitled piece from 1994.

In the same building as the light building (which was once the first Phillips lightbulb factory) was an exhibition on the historical methods of manufacturing lightbulbs. They offered a guided tour at 2 pm. I got there somewhat later, but the cashier told me that they had not done a tour in any case, because nobody who was interested had come. The tour guide, a friendly gentleman of about 60, was still there. Even though he didn’t speak any English, he was very eager to tell me about the history of lightbulb manufacture. With the cashier translating as much as he could, the guide talked rapidly and excitely about carbon fillaments, glass blowing, and vaccum pumps. I always find it sad when somebody is excited to talk about something and nobody else cares, so I tried to pay attention and show as much interest as possible.

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-day-2/feed/ 3
Eindhoven Photos http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-photos/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-photos/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2008 19:01:54 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?page_id=99 Just outside the train station. View of the city Beware of false cognates Big shopping center T-shirt that was part of an exhibit by students from the Eindhoven Design Institute T-shirt from design contest. T-shirt from design competition The view from my hotel. ]]> http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/eindhoven-photos/feed/ 0 My reading list http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/my-reading-list/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/my-reading-list/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2008 09:43:47 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=114 The books I have with me

The three books in my bag

The question of what to read while traveling is an important one. Since traveling necessarily involves a lot of time spent sitting and waiting for or on trains, buses, planes; you will probably want to have books that are interesting to read. Further, since you will likely be reading these books in public, it’s important to choose books that you would like to be seen reading.

Before leaving on this trip, I had several ideas about what sorts of books I should take. Some of the reading lists I considered:

a) Topical books appropriate to my project: Wiliam Gibson, Neil Stephenson, any of the O’Reilly books. Personal interest level: high-to-moderate; public social value: low.

b) “Great works of Western Civilization” reading list: Plato’s Republic, Euclid’s Elements, Machiavelli’s The Prince, etc. (i.e. all those books you were supposed to read in school but skimmed for the exam instead). Personal interest level: low (let’s face it, these are heavy books not well-suited to start-and-stop travel reading); public social value: moderate (you look smart, but also like a pretentious smartass).

c) Travel books list: On the Road, Travels with Charlie, The Places in Between. Personal interest level: high; public social value: moderate.

In the end, as a result of my hasty packing, the books I wound up with were simply the books I happened to have in my bag already rather than part of a purposely selected list. I suppose Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence would fit well into a travel list. Actually, it fits too well. I have already met two other people reading it, and it’s obviously an incredibly cliched thing to be reading. The only consolation is that my dog-eared 1975 paperback copy suggests (falsely) that I’m paging through an old favorite rather than having rushed out to buy it for my trip. My plan is to finish ZATAOMM as soon as possible and abandon it at the hostel in exchange for one of the other books here.

I feel better about the Feynman book. It has very low but highly specific social value. Richard Feynman is about as close to an intellectual hero as I have, so anyone who recognizes the book is likely to be a super-awesome person.

The procrastination book is a self-help book, but from what I’ve read of it so far (I keep meaning to finish it, I swear!) it’s on-target and probably useful. Self-help books are the lowest of the low on the social capital scale, they basically scream “I’m pathetic and I have issues!”. On the plus side, procrastination isn’t a terrible vice, and once I’m out of countries where English is widely spoken, nobody will be able to tell what the book is anyway.

If anyone is interested in advising me on my next reading choice, the list of books in the hostel library that could be exchanged for my ‘Zen’ are:

The Brightest Flame by Sonya Birmingham (this has an open-shirted man [a pirate?] on the cover being embraced by a woman wearing opera gloves)
The Redemption of Athalus by David & Leigh Eddings
Vrouwenkliniek by Kathe Lambert (this one is in German, or maybe Dutch, so not a good choice unless for some reason being observed pretending to read it will cause women to fall in love with me and men to give me money)
Piombo Rosso by Giorgio Galli (in Italian, same provisions as above)
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
The Wild Palms by William Faulkner (a leading candidate right now)
Kryzys Psychoanalizy by Erich Fromm (psychology text in Dutch, that’s a passer)
Understanding Media Theory by Arjen Mulder (the inside cover of this book has “Enjoy your education…I didn’t <3 Aussie” written in it)
Serenade by James M. Cain
Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbé (also in Dutch)
A Mother’s Sin by Lynda Page (this looks like the sort of book that a Lifetime Movie is made out of)
Immortal Wife by Irving Stone (Pros: looks old and fancy; Cons: hardcover, heavier to carry).

So which should it be?

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/my-reading-list/feed/ 5
Take that, Nick http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/take-that-nick/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/take-that-nick/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2008 12:40:35 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=132 "Stars & Stripes" Root Beer

"Stars & Stripes" Root Beer

So before I left, my friend Nick and I had tried to compile a list of all the uniquely American things I should do before leaving the country for a year. Drinking a root beer was on the list. However, today in Utrecht I purchased the above can of root beer, and it was perfectly good, normal root beer. Now, I did buy it at the “America Today” clothing store, and clearly it’s being marketed as a really American thing. But the fact remains: it is possible to drink a root beer in Europe.

EDIT: Update! Further evidence that the Dutch do, in fact, drink root beer:

This time, in a regular store

Another root beer sighting, this time on the shelves of an ordinary grocery store, and without any over-the-top American branding. The label beneath it said “A&W root beer”, but unless A&W comes in different cans in Europe, it wasn’t. I didn’t buy any of this, so I can’t speak to its taste.

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/take-that-nick/feed/ 1
Dutch Waterboardmuseum http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/dutch-waterboardmuseum/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/dutch-waterboardmuseum/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2008 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=138 It turned out to be not depressing or torture-related at all. It’s “waterboard” as in, “board of water”. It has been rather cold and rainy for the past day or so here, so I haven’t gone out as much as I’d like to. I did get out to see this museum about the history of water supply in the Netherlands. The museum was staffed by an adorable old Dutch couple who didn’t speak English but were nevertheless delighted to have somebody interested in the museum. At the end of your visit, you could even drink water from a tap that drew straight from the water tower.

If this post is boring, I’ll try to do something non-municipal-services-related tomorrow.

Any building that looks like a turret is alright by me The tower looms I'm a sucker for informational placards Still in use Maybe it's catchier in Dutch Wooden pipe Even back then they had two flushes! Right under the tank The tank View from the top Another shot from the tower Pump on the street ]]>
http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/dutch-waterboardmuseum/feed/ 0
Couchsurfing http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/couchsurfing/ http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/couchsurfing/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2008 11:50:20 +0000 http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/?p=160 I think I should give a shoutout here to Couchsufing. Thanks to their site, I’m currently staying with a 40-year-old American software engineer who lives in a houseboat on one of the local canals. The houseboat is very much more of a house than a boat. It reminds me of the riverboat casinos which never actually sail anywhere. But it’s very nice with a little porch and great views of the water. I’ll try to post some photos later.

Also, I have a new rule for my travels: any time there is a large group of people gathered someplace, I will stop and find out what’s going on. Yesterday, I was on the bus and there was a large crowd of people gathered by one of the canals as we drove by. I thought about getting off at the next stop and going back to check it out, but I didn’t. As I discovered later, yesterday was the annual “Muzikale Botenparade” or “Musical Boat Parade” where a whole bunch of boats sail through the canals with bands on them playing music. It sounded pretty awesome and I’m sorry I missed it, hence my new rule.

http://www.withoutatraceroute.com/2008/08/couchsurfing/feed/ 1