Efectos Especiales

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icon:nl3 #639 (old comments) Tolerant Dutch? (note #1)

Note that most Dutch *think* they are tolerant, and/or that the Netherlands is. Some speak about it approvingly, some disapprovingly, but they usually think their country is tolerant.

I believe there's a bias in the media to show the intolerant parts of other countries. The US and Germany, for example, are often portrayed as places where racism is rampant, or at least worse than in the NL. For the US, the focus is often on religious intolerance as well. When dealing with foreign politics, there's often talk about "intolerant" parties like the Front National in France, Vlaams Blok in Belgium, neo-nazis in Germany, and similar ones in Austria, Denmark, etc. So, it's easy to get the impression that other countries are far less tolerant.

Of course, the media bias works the other way too. The Netherlands aren't often in the news here, but if they are, it's usually about drugs. The Fortuyn assassination in 2002 made the papers too. It's easy to see that the NL don't have such a good name over here, except among potheads. [If you are Dutch and are upset about this, maybe it's time to think critically about how the Dutch media portray the US.]

Again, it's easy to believe what you see on TV and read in the newspaper... unless you've been to these countries and know them fairly well, it's your only source of information, so you tend to believe what's said, or at least part of it. Imagine my surprise that not everybody in the south of the US is a gun-toting redneck.

I've been here for three years now... I must say I haven't seen any religious intolerance. Sure, there are a lot of nuts around (religious or otherwise), but they usually don't bother you. Fortunately the distances are too great to encourage foot-in-the-door evangelists. emoticon:smile I haven't seen blatant racism either, but then again I don't go out much, and things may be different in different areas with different kinds of people.

(I could write more about this last one, but it's a sensitive topic... I don't think I want to see my blog go up in flames just now.)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-12 11:06 */

icon:nl3 #638 (old comments) Tolerant Dutch?

NOTE: Much of this post is based on my own experiences. Your mileage may vary. If you disagree, feel free to state your opinion in the comments.

In my previous post, I called the Dutch "judgmental". I know that that was bound to raise some eyebrows... after all, aren't the Dutch known as a very tolerant people?

In some ways, they are. Owning and using (small amounts of) "soft drugs" may not technically be allowed, but it's tolerated. The Netherlands also support gay marriage rights. Abortion is legal, so is prostitution. Euthanasia is legal in certain circumstances. Living together has the same status as marriage (unlike in the US). And, at least in theory, people don't care about your race, sexual preferences, political ideas, or religion.

It doesn't take much digging to reveal that this tolerance is often just a thin veil, though. Just one recent example: Only two years ago, a very intolerant and politically incorrect political party gained lots of votes and almost became the largest party. [1] (Its leader was shot, introducing the Netherlands to the first occurrence of political violence since the 17th century. It's a double-edged sword; the assassination itself can be seen as an act of intolerance, but it can also be considered resistance against intolerance.)

Recently, Dutch society as a whole appears to have become harder and less tolerant. Nobody is spared, really: intolerance toward muslims, Jews, "the left", politicians in general, Americans, you name it. This is more of a recent development, but the ideas behind them have been around for a while.

On a different level, many Dutch have an attitude that can be described as petit bourgeois. There's a whole set of unwritten rules for things that should or should not be done, often for things that are really none of anybody's business. I suspect most Dutch aren't really aware of these rules until they're somehow broken, often by foreigners or just by people who are "different". It becomes very visible though once you've lived somewhere else. It is my experience that the Dutch frown upon people who do things "their way" rather than "the generally accepted way". There's also the (in)famous wagging finger. Sociale controle (people checking if others behave in "proper" ways) is much less common in the US than in the Netherlands, where it's almost ubiquitous.

Some examples? Well, to name something: if you strike it rich, you are not allowed to show your riches... that is considered patserig. (Very different from the US where you are almost expected to show off.) Also, if you're from a different country, you are supposed to "adapt". In practice, that means that you should speak the Dutch language and mimick Dutch behavior. You can expect to be corrected if you don't. Sure, you can keep your language, religion and customs... in your own home. (Make sure to close the curtains. emoticon:wink2) (In contrast, the US doesn't expect you to adapt. [2])

The bottom line is this: Americans generally don't care what you do, or look like. In the Netherlands, many people will look at you funny (and judge you) because of what you wear, the way you walk, the way you talk, etc. This is not unique to the Netherlands, but there's really nothing tolerant about it.

Another example... What bothered me a lot when I was younger is that it's totally not acceptable for young people to stay home on a Saturday night. Everybody absolutely has to go out; people won't understand it if you don't, and will think there is something wrong with you. (Statistically there must be people who don't like it, but they are hard to find.) Here in Florida, it appears there is much less pressure for kids to go to bars or discos.

All of this may vary from region to region, of course. Especially Amsterdam, I expect, but then again, Amsterdam isn't much like the rest of the country.

Zuid-Limburg may be as densely populated as the Randstad, but maybe the people are a lot more provincial there... I'm not sure. Holland may be more tolerant. However... try talking with a Limburgs accent there... emoticon:smile

Anyway, the bottom line is that I think that the Dutch really aren't more tolerant than anybody else.

Further reading:

[1] It is to the credit of the Dutch that in other European countries, similar parties rose to popularity much earlier, like in the 80s and early 90s... in the Netherlands, it didn't happen until 2001/2002.

[2] Certainly, it's more of a "sink or swim" mentality here... you need to adapt in some ways in order to survive. In what ways, depends on the situation. You'd think speaking English is a must, but even that isn't always necessary.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-12 00:25 */

icon:florida #637 (old comments) A disgruntled Dutchman speaks

I suppose every place has its own natural disasters. Florida has hurricanes. California has earthquakes. Canada has blizzards. The Netherlands have the Dutch. emoticon:wink

In my last post, I mentioned a whole bunch of things that were better (and considered normal) in the Netherlands, and that are only for the rich in Florida. (You can add to that that it's damn hard to find a decent job in this area. All the jobs I've had so far were really in other states, through telecommuting.)

So why am I not packing my bags and moving back?

Most important of all, there's personal issues. My wife and kids are from Florida. We tried living in the Netherlands; that didn't work so well, so then we moved here. If I moved back now, nobody would go with me... not really a "solution" I'm looking forward to.

Aside from that: as long as there are no problems, living in Florida is a lot more relaxed than living in the Netherlands. The regularity of Dutch life provides people with the necessary stability, but it also makes life seem like a treadmill. Over here in Florida, you take things as they come. In my case, I have flexible working hours, don't have to leave the house for work, etc. The weather is nice (well, usually :-), and there are plenty of places where you can eat relatively cheap. People are mostly friendly and have a relaxed attitude.

All in all, it's much more preferable to live here, as long as nothing goes wrong. As long as you don't get sick or get a toothache, you can forget that you cannot afford health care here, or health insurance. As long as the power stays on, it's easy to forget that the whole structure is so brittle that it could go off the next minute and not come back for days, leaving you without many things, and in my case, without work.

4 days without power in Florida is much worse than it may sound. Consider:

All this is really unheard of in the Netherlands (and probably most other European countries). Even *if* we ever had a 4-day power outage, it still wouldn't be as bad. First of all, it probably wouldn't be boiling hot outside. Chances are it would be cold instead, and the central heating is unaffected by electricity. So is availability of water. And those with gas stoves would still be able to cook.

I may be annoyed by many things in the 'Lands... the hamster-in-the-wheel way of living, judgmental people, peeping neighbors, strangers staring at you in the street, people picking on you because you wear the wrong clothes, idiotic traffic rules, high prices for phone, high taxes, yucky weather. But I sure as hell never had to go through this. If it happens again, I am seriously considering going home. This is just something that is not acceptable for people who didn't grow up in such an environment.

More interesting posts will follow once I have my life back on track again. Well, after that hurricane Ivan.

[Update #1] Just for the record, the power outage would not be the only reason for leaving, of course... far from it, it would just be the "straw that breaks the camel's back".

/* Posted by Hans "pummel the state and win a prize" Nowak at 2004-09-10 13:33 */

icon:rant #636 (old comments) Argh

When you live in the Netherlands, you may take certain comforts for granted. Like, for example, the availability of electricity, gas and phone; monetary compensation for when you're invalid, sick or unemployed; affordable health and dental care; paid vacation and days off; knowing when you will get paid, and how much; knowing that you build up pension for when you're old; knowing that your boss cannot fire you without good reason; affordable education; decent banks; etc.

When you live in Florida, you can forget about all these things. Sure, you may be lucky and be rich, or have a good job that offers benefits. If you're one of the many who is not lucky or rich, you're in deep $#!1 when times get hard.

Recently we've been experiencing some of the drawbacks of the American system (if you can call it a system, that is). My wife had a toothache and had to miss work to get it fixed. Aside from having to pay through the nose for a simple extraction, her work more or less threatened to fire her. (Wonder what they will do after the missed days of work because of the hurricane.) They can actually fire you whenever they want, for no reason whatsoever. As a comparison, in the Netherlands an extraction is [1] dirt cheap, even if you're not insured, and your employer actually has to pay you for hours missed because you were at the dentist.

Then the hurricane struck. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we're still alive and healthy, and still have our home. Others were not so lucky. But I was dismayed and disgusted to discover that Florida is really unprepared to deal with disasters like these. For example, we had to be over 4 days without power and water. That's simply unheard of in the Netherlands. Being without electricity is a rarity, and if it happens it usually doesn't last more than a few hours, tops... and you still have water and gas. But over here, the infrastructure really sucks. Rather than having the power lines underground, and/or attached to large metal poles, they use wood poles, very often next to trees. When the trees are knocked over by storms, the obvious happens, and whole neighborhoods are without power. *Then* it takes them days to fix it, because the whole structure really isn't meant to deal with storms. And since they're not doing anything to change that, the same thing will happen next time it storms. Which might be next week, as a matter of fact. We get hurricane-strength winds in the Netherlands too, but they don't leave whole provinces without power.

I could go on a rant here about nationalized companies vs privatized ones, but let's save that for another post.

It has to be said, crisis situations like these don't bring out the best in everyone. On the plus side, the military was handing out free meals, ice bags and water. On the flip side, certain companies (*cough*) wanted to make a quick buck by raising their prices. (Yeah, yeah, a company has to make a profit too, and was affected by the storm as well, yadda yadda... it's just not a very nice thing to do.)

Well, I better get some decent food, and a cold drink... let's hope the power stays on. I lost 4 days of work, I wonder if I can sue the power company for that? <0.3 wink>

[1] Or used to be. This was before I left for the US. Things may have changed since then. I keep hearing about this "bak ellende"... :-)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-09 13:55 */

icon:hurricane #635 (old comments) After 4+ days without power, life becomes meaningless.

More later. If the power stays on, anyway...

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-09 10:58 */

icon:weird #634 (old comments) Interlude

Things that cannot be trained, despite popular opinion claiming otherwise:

Things that can be trained, despite popular opinion claiming otherwise:

/* Posted by Hans "don't ask" Nowak at 2004-09-04 19:38 */

icon:python #633 (old comments) Drowning in the stream

Almost a year ago, I discussed how to emulate Scheme's infinite streams in Python, in Swimming against the stream. How do Python 2.4's generator expressions affect this code?

First of all, let's write another generator that returns integers N and up.

def numbers(n=0):
    while 1:
        yield n
        n = n + 1

Generator expressions can be put to good use for simple filtering:

odd_numbers = (n for n in numbers() if n % 2)

for x in range(10):
    print odd_numbers.next(),
# 1, 3, 5, etc

So far, so good. That looks rather elegant. A regular list comprehension couldn't do this, of course.

We can rewrite the sieve function (see the old post) as well. First the recursive version:

def divisible(x, y):
    return (x % y == 0)

def sieve(stream):
    head = stream.next()
    yield head
    newstream = sieve((n for n in stream if not divisible(n, head)))
    for x in newstream:
        yield x

primes = sieve(numbers(2))

for i in range(20):
    print primes.next(),
# 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc

This works. But recursive algorithms like this are not really Python's cup of tea. What about an iterative version? That is where the trouble starts. You might think that you can rewrite the old sieve2 like this:

def sieve2wrong(stream):
    while 1:
        head = stream.next()
        yield head
        stream = (n for n in stream if not divisible(n, head))

primes = sieve2wrong(numbers(2))
for i in range(20):
    print primes.next(), # wrong!

...but upon running it, you'll see that it doesn't work. Neither does this version:

def sieve2wrongtoo(stream):
    while 1:
        head = stream.next()
        yield head
        p = lambda a, b=head: not divisible(a, b)
        stream = (n for n in stream if p(n))

The reason is that names like p are looked up dynamically. So every time we pass through the loop, a new p is created, overwriting the old one, affecting all the other genexps using p. (In sieve2wrong, it's head that's constantly redefined, causing a similar effect.)

Suck. At this point, I see no way to write an iterative version of sieve using genexps. (Using the same algorithm, that is.) Do you? Or am I doing something wrong?

I have a feeling that this problem is going to show up a lot in the near future, in newsgroups and such...

[Update #1] I knew this was a known problem, but nevertheless it's a bit disappointing that stuff like this doesn't work, mostly because of the lazy name lookup rule. (I realize that it's probably the best alternative, but still...)

[Update #2] An anonymous reader points out this solution:

def sieve2(stream):
    # a non-recursive version
    newstream = lambda p, stream: (n for n in stream if p(n))
    while 1:
        head = stream.next()
        yield head
        p = lambda a, b=head: not divisible(a, b)
        stream = newstream(p, stream)

Not bad! It's rather clumsy to have to work around the name lookup issue, but it's not as bad as it could have been.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-04 01:35 */

icon:programming #632 (old comments) Koel

Microsoft site mentions BeeOne. [Nederlands]

BeeOne is "sort of" my previous employer. Before I left for the US, I used to work for Info Vision and CSS. After I left, the software development section of CSS went belly up (not sure if the two events are related ;-) but most of the programmers regrouped as BeeOne. Or so I've been told. So there are quite a few people there I used to work with, both developers and managers.

It's kind of interesting to see how we have been going different ways... they mainly use .NET now, I mainly use Python. The kind of applications we write appears to be different too. I would have a hard time writing the web application mentioned in the article. On the other hand, a pure .NET solution would suck for the work I'm currently doing at Oasis Digital.

I don't get the impression that much has changed since I left, though... they're still using statically typed, compiled languages, using a GUI builder (I assume), writing client or web applications, using Microsoft tools. In contrast, very little of this description applies to my current work. (Dynamically typed, interpreted language, no GUI builder, server-side programs, and the only MS tool I use for this is MS SQL Server 2000.) Just for the record, Oasis Digital uses lots of technologies, including .NET and Java, but it just so happens that I've been working on other stuff for the past 2.5 years.

/* Posted by Hans "elk wat wils" Nowak at 2004-09-03 14:08 */

icon:hurricane #631 (old comments) My Second Hurricane

In previous years there was nothing, and now you get two in a row. And hurricane season isn't over yet. Well, let's see what this one does...

/* Posted by Hans "Florida is a great place to live... if you happen to be a roach" Nowak at 2004-09-02 14:56 */

icon:programming #630 (old comments) P = NP?

This expression is often heard but not so often understood. emoticon:smile Here's a page that explains what it means. (In a VB tutorial, of all places...)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2004-09-01 22:13 */