Caffeine Peter Colijn

July 02, 2006 (link)
Canada Day

Admittedly a little late, but happy Canada Day everyone! Writing this on the KLM flight from Amsterdam to New York, which isn't particularly Canadian at all, but hey, at least I'm wearing a Canada t-shirt.


Spent Canada Day in Barcelona with slatepelican. We had a super swanky brand new hotel, expertly chosen by none other than slatepelican herself, conveneniently located about 5 minutes walk from the central station. Barcelona is actually really beautiful and we left wishing we had more time there. Will definitely have to go back.

Barcelona by night

The only bad mark on Barcelona was that when we were leaving, the stupid train ticket machine took a few of our Euro coins, and then refused to take any of the others, so we ended up missing the train to the airport and had to take a cab. I was pretty annoyed with the stupid machine but we made the flight anyway so it's not a big deal.

As an aside, I was generally very impressed with the trains in Spain. EUR 2,40 buys you a ticket from Barcelona to Vilanova i la Geltru, which is a good 30-40 minute journey. And the trains are clean, comfortable, air-conditioned and more or less on time.

New York

Having recently moved there, I had a few initial impressions that I wanted to get down. I haven't done all that much exploring yet, of course, having only really been there one week, but I thought it would be worth getting down some first impressions. At the very least it might be fun to look back on my initial impressions in a year or two.

The main thing to strike me so far is the sheer ghettoness of everything. The subway is ghetto (though widespread and effective), the streets are kinda ghetto (rats and cockroaches much?) and don't even get me started on the hospitals, though that really wasn't a surprise.

Normally, I wouldn't find any of this particularly surprising for an American (or even North American) city, but New York had been described to me as the "centre of the modern world." Given that reputation I was expecting something a little flashier, a little more "we're number 1!" But I guess if you're really confident that you're number 1, there's no need to make a point of it.

My main annoyances so far have to do with the subway. To be sure, it is almost certainly the best public transit system in the states. It is widespread and runs 24 hours. But but but.. it could be so much better!

They have these metrocards that only work if you run them through the machine in precisely the right orientation at precisely the right speed. After a few times you get used to it, but if you're designing a subway gate I would think the primary concern would be volume: how many people can get through per minute? Making the cards super annoying to use does not help with this. Pretty much every subway drheld and I used in Asia had a better (more tolerant) card system. In particular, Hong Kong MTR's Octopus cards, which don't even need to be removed from your wallet, were really good.

Then there are the "mystery" trains. In NY trains are labelled either by letter or by number. Fine. But some "foo" trains are different from some others. For example there are multiple A trains that go different places. This is stupid. If trains go different places they should be called different things.

The stations are also run down, and the trains old, noisy and bumpy. Normally I'd just attribute that to classic underfunding of a public transit system in America, but drheld tells me that the NY transit system makes money. Maybe they should look into re-investing some of their profits.

July 04, 2006 (link)




I was actually slightly annoyed; I asked the guy to cut it down to about an inch (curse these stupid imperial units!) everywhere and it's significantly shorter. Now because my passport, driver's license and Google badge photos all look like the "before" picture, I get to have lots of fun at borders and at work for the next few months...

July 4th

The national holiday here in the EWWWWW S A. Having a delightful day with slatepelican. We had "breakfast" at a cool fusion Korean place; I had a tofu burrito and slatepelican had a nice veggie bi bim bap. We're heading out to see An Inconvenient Truth shortly and will see the fireworks tonight.

July 05, 2006 (link)

Yay Us

On the 4 train the other day slatepelican and I were happy to see that the cars were made by Bombardier. Yay us! (And by "us", in case you're confused, I mean those funny-looking people sometimes referred to as Canadians :) Incidentally, the 4/5/6 line seems to have the least ghetto cars in the MTA, though they're still not nearly as nice as the Hong Kong MTR train cars.

July 06, 2006 (link)

Credit Cards Suck

I officially hate credit cards. Why? They never work when you actually need them. When you're at home and you can easily get large amounts of cash they work fine, sure. But when you're travelling and you need to pay for something and getting cash is (for whatever reason) either inconvenient or expensive, they don't work.

In Spain, I tried my American Express and Visa to pay the hotel bill for our hotel in Vilanova. Neither worked. So I went to a bank machine (while the hotel staff and slatepelican no doubt waited nervously) and got a giant wad of cash and paid them. Now, upon returning, I discovered that my Visa had in fact been charged and the hotel was lying (or confused, if we wish to cut them some slack). The American Express just didn't work at all.

In Thailand I also tried to use my Visa and it didn't work. In all these cases, when I call them up later, they claim nothing's wrong. Oh no, your account is fine. There's no reason we would decline anything. I even call the stupid idiots to tell them when I'm going places and where. And yet they do decline things. All the time. Why?

Oh well. At least slatepelican got to make fun of me for being a broke-ass bastard.

July 08, 2006 (link)

Dear LazyWeb

Problem: Firefox for Mac does not seem to allow keyboard selection of buttons, like its Windows and Linux counterparts do. This becomes particularly annoying if you use Gmail; on Windows or Linux, when you are done typing a message, you just hit <tab> <enter> to send it. <tab> selects the "Send" button and <enter> activates it.

This fails to work on the Mac. Is there any solution?

July 12, 2006 (link)

Ranty Ranty

This entry will be a rant. You've been warned :)

I finally got my new bank card from WAMU (that's Washington Mutual for those lucky enough not to know). This has been a long saga.

Step 1: learn from drheld that WAMU was replacing their VISA debit cards with MasterCard debit cards (which in itself sucks, since MasterCard is accepted in fewer places than VISA).

Step 2: have WAMU cancel the VISA part of my old card before I had received or activated the new card. Incidentally, this happened while slatepelican and I were in Spain. Not the best time.

Step 3: have WAMU assure me, very convincingly, that my card would continue to work in ATMs until I got the new one and activated it. Indeed it did work in an ATM. One more time. And then it stopped working entirely.

Step 4: receive my new card, finally, because Tony was nice enough to bring my mail from California when he was visiting drheld and Don in Vancouver.

Step 5: activate the new card! Yay, money! Order stuff online from Amazon and PalmOne.

Step 6: orders from Amazon and PalmOne not working. Call WAMU. I thought I activated my card? No, we cancelled it. Ah, so when I said "activate" you thought I meant "cancel." I see. Well can I get a new one? Sure, it only takes two weeks.

Step 7: get new card finally today.

Step 8: activate new card. We'll see if they actually did it this time.

The thing that infuriates me the most about this is that to get a new card with WAMU they have to send it in the mail. Pretty much any Canadian bank that I know of will give you a new card on the spot if you go into a branch. WAMU claims they can't do that because all the cards have to come from some central MasterCard place. They should at least be able to give you a new ATM card on the spot. Not being able to get money, especially in a city like New York, really sucks hard.

Update: No! They didn't activate it again. After trying the new card at Amazon I got more spam today telling me my order could not be shipped, etc. I called WAMU and sure enough, they didn't activate the card yesterday, they only "opened" it. Whatever that means (I'm imagining "File -> Open -> [choose file with my credit card number] -> Yep, it's a credit card -> File -> Close"). Total number of calls to WAMU to get a card activated: 5. The stupid thing is that they have a web thingy you can use to activate the card, but it doesn't work (at least not for me). I enter all my information, triple-check that it's correct, and it still complains that "some of my information is incorrect."

July 18, 2006 (link)

Reducing Suckiness

If you use Mac OS X try:

export CLICOLOR=true

In your .bashrc. Why this isn't on by default is a pretty huge mystery to me.


There's still lots of suckiness left. People often ask me why I don't like Mac OS X. I have some good reasons, but they're hard to articulate. I'm going to try anyway. Also note that I don't mind OS X for stuff like browsing the web, listening to music or managing photos. Since those kinds of things are where OS X is mostly targetted, I'm not claiming OS X sucks in general. I'm claiming it sucks for me.

  1. Not really a feature of OS X itself, but Mac keyboards and mice are annoying, especially if you use UNIX apps. ctrl and fn are reversed, so I hit fn all the time (ctrl is also the way more useful key, so it should be easier to hit). And one button mice.. yeah, lots of fun when you want to use an X11 app. On a non-laptop you can of course just plug in whatever keyboard and mouse suit your fancy, but you're stuck on a laptop.
  2. Window management. In short, it sucks. When you have 4 or 5 terminals, plus a few Vim windows, plus a few browsers, it's really hard to get around. command-tab helps a bit but its semantics for apps that have multiple windows (like terminals and web browsers) are never quite what I expect. Exposé was supposed to remedy this, but when I'm working away I don't want to make my machine swap to disk just so I can see all my windows. Plus, on my MacBook Pro it doesn't work for some reason. I setup the hotkeys I want and they just show some weird symbol I don't understand when I push them.
  3. The dock. Most confusing interface EVER. You can put files, folders and applications there. Some applications disappear from there when you quit them, some don't (yes, I know the rule governing this behaviour, but it's not intuitive). And if an application isn't in there it's a lot of effort to go and find it and run it. Some apps, if they're running and you click the icon in the dock, they will raise their windows. Some won't. So you can't depend on that behaviour from the dock (it does at least appear to be consistent with command-tab).
  4. Speed. This has gotten much better over the years as Apple's hardware has gotten faster and Mac OS X has gotten more efficient, but it still can be an issue. For example, Firefox takes 11 "hops" in the dock before displaying a window on my MacBook Pro after I boot. I have a gig of RAM.
  5. Notifications. When an app wants to tell you it's done something, it bounces incredibly annoyingly in the dock for a while, completely distracting you from whatever you were doing. This often happens for seemingly unimportant things, like "we finished installing your software update." You know what? I don't care. I'll reboot when I feel like it, thank you very much.

July 25, 2006 (link)


Sometimes I feel like everyone in this country is this guy.

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