Latest Posts
Book Reviews
Petit guide de survie en belgique fédérale
The Metamorphosis
La démocratie des crédules
La crise: des subprimes au séisme financier planétaire
L'implosion: la finance contre l'économie, ce que révèle et annonce la
Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future
You Have to Fucking Eat
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
The Playground
Une nation nommée narcisse
Krishnamurti et l'individualisme
Croyances et imaginaires contemporains
Feet of Clay
Contribution à la critique de la philosophie du droit de Hegel
Les Fatwas de Charb, tome II: Petit traité d'intolérance
Vers une laïcité dynamique
Follow me on…

Cargo Cult Science

Richard Feynman talks about pseudo-science, honesty, scientific integrity, and how Millikan set a bad precedent for measuring the charge of an electron.

I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to do when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

You should read it.


Swedish Lapland – What's in the bag?

Today is packing day for my next trip: a weeklong walk along Kungsleden in Swedish Lapland with my friend Rolando. We're both out there to take serious pictures, and of course we need to carry clothes, shelter and food, for ten days away from electricity and cell towers. Getting enough gear for serious pictures to fit inside a backpack along with all the things one needs in the wild just to stay dry, warm and fed is always a challenge. Here's what we'll end up carrying.

Rolando's photo gear:

  • Canon EOS7D
  • 2 Batteries
  • 40GB of CF cards
  • Tamron 11-18
  • Sigma 30/1.4
  • Canon SD860IS pocket camera

My photo gear:
  • 5DMk2 w/ RRS L-Plate
  • 4 Batteries
  • 44GB of CF cards
  • 24/1.4 (stand-in for my 16-35 which is getting repaired)
  • 50/1.4
  • 70-300 DO
  • Gitzo 1530 (center column removed)
  • Canon SD3500IS pocket camera

While we're both self-sufficient as far as photo gear is concerned, it's nice that we're both using Canon gear and can thus exchange batteries, memory cards and lenses if the need arises.


  • Tent
  • Stove, pot, two gas canisters
  • First aid kit
  • Sleeping bag, liner, sleeping pad
  • Water bottles (cheap plastic disposable ones — they're lighter than Nalgene)
  • Three-season hiking clothes (sun, rain and cold all expected)
  • Towel, knife, spork, headlamp, compass, cell-phone, iPod

This comes to a 13kg pack before food and water. Certainly not lightweight hiking territory, but we've carried much worse. We'll see how it goes.


Göteborg by night

No matter how many times you've heard that Scandinavia is an expensive place, there is no dampening the shock that comes while ordering lunch at Copenhagen airport, when a smiling Bjorn Borg-lookalike asks you for 27 euros and 45 cents in return for white wine in a plastic glass and a very small cardboard box of Thai red curry.

Then you fly on to Göteborg, gather your luggage, take a bus to the city, then a tram to your hostel. The cool evening air would be a warm and soft caress on your skin if it wasn't eclipsed by punishingly cold rain. By the time you reach your hostel you're drenched to the bone and seriously questioning your lifestyle. The door is locked, so you need to call the owner, but the only thing on your mind is shelter from the rain. Beyond the window you see a warm corridor, a dark and empty front desk, and a lobby with two guests sitting in front of shiny computers. You rap quietly on the window. Nothing happens. You rap a little louder. Nothing continues to happen. The rain continues pouring. You knock as hard as you can. One of the guests, a fat guy in a sports jersey, shuffles in his chair, seems to consider turning away from facebook for a second, then obviously decides against it. You knock again, hard enough to bruise your knuckles. He shuffles once more. The girl next to him is obviously deaf. You're now shaking the entire door, mildly hoping that the hinges will snap free even if it gets you in jail. It doesn't rain in jail. The guy finally turns around and looks at you with a vague "What?" on his face. You gesture for him to get off his fat ass and walk three meters and open the fucking door. He holds your gaze for two seconds, his face a picture of immense stupidity. Then he swivels his chair back to his facebook profile. You question his morals, values and membership in the human species, curse him to the seventh generation and call on god to strike him with a severe coronary leading to slow and painful death, then whip out your cell phone to call the owner under the pouring rain. He'll be there in twenty minutes. You select a nice puddle to sit in while you wait.

At no point during any of this does it escape you that the amount of money you're spending on this memorable experience would, almost anywhere else in the world, buy you a night in a full-service hotel with a 24h reception that promises to move you from rain-drenched street to sweet linen and fluffy pillows in as little as four minutes, five tops on a busy day. But as much as you'd wish to be, you're not anywhere else: you're in Göteborg, watching continuous strings of water falling from the heavens and onto your head, meters from a warm room that is technically yours if only you can get to it.

When he eventually arrives, the owner isn't sure you really are the same two Belgian guys who booked a room at his hostel tonight. You manage to convince him. When you reach your room, the door is closed. This makes him surprisingly angry. He needs to fetch the key at his girlfriend's place or something, which should take him about thirty minutes, so he shows you to "the pool room", a combination kitchen and basement construction site with a slanted scratched broken-down excuse for a pool table. Scattered around the room lie twelve balls and two halves of a broken cue. An hour later the owner comes back and finally opens the door. He's not a bad guy really, but slow enough to be startled by continental drift. When he leaves with your travel companion to settle the bill, you take the luggage inside, unpack, remove your contacts, do a bit of reading, then, vaguely worried, go out to join them. Payment has just been delivered and he's just beginning to suggest places where you could enjoy a beer if only he'd stop talking. You've been thirsty since landing at Landvetter airport in the early evening, so you go there and get a drink. It's one in the morning.


Olympic – What worked, what didn't.

Sometimes I start writing something, and then lose interest. Luckily, I never throw anything out, so if for any reason I ever regain interest I just finish it and publish it. That's what just happened for the followup to my article about packing for Olympic National Park, which I give to you now.

As you can probably guess, I ended up making it out of the woods ok, and onto Vancouver where my talk went over very well, at least partly because I gave it in a brand new shirt after taking a couple of extended showers. All the camping and photo gear worked out fine, so there's not that much to say about that, but I did learn a few things along the way.

First, before the actual trip to Olympic, I ended up buying a couple more things in Seattle:

  • Lowepro CF card holders. I don't really need those for protection, but they help a lot with keeping cards in sequence and I got really tired of shuffling through all the cards in my pocket looking for the right one. Heartily recommended if you carry more than four cards.

  • Canon EF 100/2.8 Macro. I bought this after seeing all the wild flowers in Mount Rainier National Park. It proved really useful for the rest of the trip, but three (big) lenses is definitely my upper limit for backpacking. I'm not sure which of these I'd leave at home if I had to do the same trip again but I doubt I'd be carrying all three.

  • Bear can. This is mandatory for wilderness camping in bear country. It adds a little weight and makes packing a bit harder, but all in all it's not too much trouble. Lashed on the bottom of the backpack while hiking it's actually a very convenient place to hold all your food.

  • A third water bottle. Always useful.

While I didn't discuss food in the previous article, it has now become obvious that I'm terrible at estimating quantities for backpacking trips. I ended up buying way too much and carrying several totally unnecessary pounds on my back for four days. Definitely something to watch for in the future.

It didn't rain at all, which was pleasantly surprising. So obviously my rain jacket, rain pants, and tarp went entirely unused. If I was to do it again, I'd take only the rain jacket, so if it (unexpectedly) started raining I might be uncomfortable, but not in any danger.

I completely forgot to pack a fire starter (I usually carry a magnesium bar) so I felt very stupid when I pitched my tent right next to a perfect fire circle, surrounded by an ample supply of firewood, with no way to make any kind of flame. I briefly tried setting a few tufts of dry moss on fire by catching the sun with the 100/2.8, and, you know, it might even have worked if I had spent a lot more time at it, or if I hadn't tried it near dusk in the middle of a rather dense forest. Oh well.

Instead of packing DEET, I trusted a rather ambitious sunscreen-cum-bug-repellent thing because it came in a very convenient small tube. This is easily the biggest traveling mistake I ever made… The thing turned out ridiculously useless: I sprayed it right on mosquitoes and they didn't even flinch. I ended the trip with more than a hundred mosquito bites, making the skin over my whole body look like an obstacle course on Mars.

Regarding photography, in four days I took about 26GB of pictures, so my 30GB of CF cards proved just enough. The limiting factor was actually battery life: I ended up with barely 20% remaining in the second battery despite trying really hard to preserve power on the last day. While live view is the best way of ensuring sharp photos, it really eats up batteries like there's no tomorrow. On longer trips I'll obviously have to live without it.

Last but not least: Olympic is beautiful. Go there. Go there now. You'll love it.


The Google Approach to Internationalization

I live in Brussels, Belgium, and thus every time I access any webpage, the server has a hard time guessing what language I want that page to be in. If you were the server, here are a couple of sane ways you could make up your mind:

  • Trust the HTTP Accept-Language request header and serve the page in English.
  • Notice that the request was originally sent to and serve the page in English.
  • Notice that the originating IP address is from Brussels, where 85% of residents are French-speakers, and serve the page in French.
  • If request is made during working hours, acknowledge that the user isn't especially likely to live in Brussels proper, and pick at random between Dutch, English or French.

Alternatively, you could ignore the fact that good solutions even exist, rest on the fact that 59% of Belgians speak Dutch, and use this as an opportunity to plug your browser's translation service.

Page 1 ... 6 7 8 9 10 ... 18 Next 5 Entries »