Nick’s Blog

Archive for November, 2009

Zwarte Piet (beloved characature or symbol of racism)

by Nick on Nov.18, 2009, under Blogging

Much of what I’m writing here is based on the article in Wikipedia (

In the mid 1990′s my wife and I moved to the Netherlands. It was late in the year and it was not long before we encountered Sinterklaas and his helpers Zwarte Piet. For those not familiar with the story here is a very short summary. In mid November Sinterklaas arrives on a steam boat from Spain bringing toys and helpers. Over the coming weeks these toys are distributed to the children by the helpers as the children leave shoes, carrots (for Sinterklaas’ horse), and drawings.

The arrival of Sinterklaas is televised and much is made of his presence in the land over the following weeks until finally on the 5th of December big presents are shared during a family evening. Over the weeks there are often parades and Piet can be seen handing out sweets to the children and often being a little mischievous. (continue reading…)

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Modelio (Free Edition UML Editor)

by Nick on Nov.17, 2009, under Development

Note: Please read all the review because since writing the review I’ve been contacted by Modelio and found a workaround for the problems encountered.

This is not going to be a very in depth review. It is simply a quick summary. The first thing I want to say about Modelio is actually about me. I am not an experienced UML user. I’ve given it several goes but recently I joined a new organisation and they tend to use Visio. My problem is that Vision does not know it is creating UML and does not therefore give you the assistance that a dedicated package gives. Modelio seems to cover most of the different UML diagrams quite nicely and is easy to use. It comes in various flavours including a free edition and it was this free edition that I was using.

I managed to create quite a nice state diagram and it even supported nested state diagrams so that I was able to create sub states. I’ve now moved on to sequence diagrams and found it seems to be able to deal with them nicely and has the intelligence to be able to link to class diagrams too.

However it was around this time that I discovered the big fly in the ointment. Modelio Free does not support everything that the commercial versions support and I would not have expected it to but perhaps the biggest pain in the backside and the reason I could never recommend this software to anyone came when it was time to upgrade to a newer version. I downloaded the software, installed it, luckily selecting to leave version 1.0.1 in place, and then tried to open my model in version 1.1. It detected that I needed to migrate the model to the newer version and then declared that my license did not allow it. In other words Modelio Free is purely a trial. No serious user is going to accept that, having found a bug in the current version that is fixed in the next, they are going to have to pay for the commercial version.

So sadly I have to conclude that Modelio Free is not for the serious user, it is purely a show case/limited trial version. If you like it you will have to buy it. Don’t get me wrong, it does a nice job but this is not free like Linux or Open Source. This is trial ware and they should make that completely clear on the package.


Since writing the above we first discovered that the features included the ability to upgrade and so contacted Modelio. They have been kind enough to offer me a workaround and tell me that the restriction has been dropped for future versions. This certainly changes my opinion of the software. I have no reservations about calling this free software rather than trial software because it means that as long as there are updates I will be able to move along with them. I’ll add my own findings about the software once I’ve used it a little longer and after I’ve had a chance to use the latest version because any finding that I include now may be wrong for the next release.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

A little while ago I was driving along towards a roundabout. I was going at a fair but actually legal pace. There was a car on the roundabout and it was my plan to drop in behind him as he went past. However I noticed that there was a van on the roundabout behind him so realised I’d have to stop and began to slow. The car driver saw me and clearly panicked believing that I was about to try to enter the roundabout ahead of him. He slammed on the breaks and brought his car to a complete halt on the roundabout right in front of me. He could not have aligned his has better for a side on collision even if he had tried. By this time my car was no longer moving and the van driver managed to avoid slamming into the back of him too.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

On the A4 north there is a stretch of road that is 5 lanes wide but at the weekend and off peak times the 5th lane is closed. I have no idea why, perhaps they hope it will not wear out as quickly or more likely they feel that bunching people into 4 lanes will keep them moving more slowly. So I was driving along slightly above the speed limit possibly (I think 125 km/h instead of 120 km/h) in the 4th lane and gradually overtaking someone in the 3rd lane. My progress past this person was not quick but as I was already at (or possibly above) the speed limit I was happy to tootle along. Then suddenly I noticed some guy behind me clearly in a hurry, flashing hit lights at me.

So to recap. To my right was another car, to my left was a perfectly empty lane with a few red X’s above saying it was closed. And behind was some idiot who had decided that ignoring the speed limit was perfectly OK with him but ignoring a couple of red X’s was simply out of the question. So behind me he remained until I was able to pull into the third lane. To complete the manoeuvre he put his foot to the floor and blasted his horn at me.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

Just recently I was driving along a stretch of road near home. It’s one of those pieces of road that the local bureaucrats cannot quite decide the appropriate speed limit for. It has been set at 50 km/h even though it is really out of town and could easily be set at 80km/h. It has no cycle track or pavement and there are no buildings along it. But, having seen that it is a favourite haunt of police officers looking to up there end of year tariff (I used to work for the Police), I tend to keep to around 50-60 km/h.

In the middle of this particular stretch of road there is a roundabout. The roundabout has two lanes divided by raised ridges but the right hand lane is really meant for turning right and the left hand lane for straight on.  It is possible to use the right hand lane to get past slow moving traffic and I’ve done this myself. However once you have passed the traffic you are overtaking (or rather undertaking) you have to merge in and it is that traffic you have overtaken that has priority. So it is possible that you might not be able to get in if you are not far enough ahead.

Well a few days ago I was driving behind a slowish column of traffic but using the left had lane of the roundabout. I noticed that someone behind us had lost patience and tried his luck with the alternate route. He arrive at the merge point at the same time as me and I was not in particularly generous mood and he could not be bothered to indicate so I did not let him in. However the side of his Mercedes (OK there might have been some envy involved) was clearly getting quite close to my little Swift but I made it through much to his disgust. He let me know his feelings using the power of his horn.

Clearly he believed that having overtaken a column of traffic, all stuck behind the same vehicle that he had some right to simply claim a place nearer the front of the queue. To me that is the ultimate arrogance. Sure, if your car is powerful enough and you can overtake then go ahead but don’t expect that roads to open up for you (in some biblical way) just because you hope it will. Those of us at the front of the queue also have places to go so if you cannot complete the manoeuvre then I’d suggest not starting it.

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On the road

by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

This section is dedicated to those little things that happen on the road that irritate or amuse me. Let me start with my opinion on speed cameras. Because of my in built need for equality and justice on the road I am actually quite eager to see safe limits being enforced. That does not mean that I agree that the speed limit as set on each stretch of road is always actually the safest limit. I would have thought that the people who set the limit have tried to choose a compromise that reduces the risk of injury while still allowing people to get where they are going. But that compromise means that there are times when the posted limit is wrong, a stretch of road that is safe on a clear summers day at 80 km/h may not be safe at the same speed during a heavy downpour or in icy conditions. Equally there will be roads that are safe if you drive 100 km/h during rush hour but could still be safe doing 140 km/h in the middle of the night. So a dumb speed camera that does not take these things into account is too blunt an instrument to be effective.

So why not do something about dynamic speed limits. To some extent the French have had this for years. Anyone who has driven in France will know that some roads have different speed limits posted for wet and dry conditions. Major roads around the Netherlands have signs above them warning us of upcoming traffic problems and will slow us down so that we do not suddenly come across stationary traffic, and yet these same systems are not used to raise the limit when that might be safe.

So assuming we can make the speed limit appropriate for the conditions I am actually all in favour of speed cameras. I am certainly in favour of cameras around towns and especially in the regions around schools. When the schools are open I’d be all in favour of reducing the speed limit to 30km/h and enforcing that with a camera.

Only yesterday I was talking to friends who said that apparently the reason speed cameras are now visible is because someone took someone else to court (presumably a pissed off driver took the police or local authority to court) because they could not see the cameras. Well presumably they could read the signs saying what the speed limit was so where is the problem? In the Netherlands they have to mark stretches of roads that are covered by average speed sensors. Why? Surely if you are obeying the speed limit you should feel safe in the knowledge that you will not get a ticket. If you do exceed the limit then receiving a bill in the post a few days later is entirely your own fault.

I am at the moment waiting for a bill myself. They put a sneaky camera built into a van on a stretch of road where 80 is allowed and for the first time in ages I decided to push it a little that day. But I don’t blame the police or even the guy that overtook me and made me feel like going a little faster. No the only person responsible for my exceeding the speed limit was me. And if I get a fine because of it well then that’s my own problem. That said I will say it is a long straight country lane with no houses directly off it so perhaps this is an example of a place where the limit could be raised, but it wasn’t.

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Wave again everybody

by Nick on Nov.04, 2009, under Blogging

A while ago I wrote about how Google was going to save the world with a new thing called Wave.  At that time it was not possible for me to have a go with Wave as it was restricted in numbers. But then suddenly a few days ago I got an invite and promptly created an account. I had to create an account because you cannot use a non Google mail address with Wave.

I then uploaded a massive list of mail contacts and eventually Google reported that three of them had accounts. Probably (actually definitely) more people have accounts but because people wanting to give it a go must use Google mail they have created addresses that are not in my list. (continue reading…)

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