Finally got hit by a car

It had to happen after years and years of cycling: I finally got hit by a car. I went out for a cycle today to escape the scorching desert that is my room, which just can’t get enough ventilation no matter what I do. During the hottest hours I go out to cycle, and so it was today. I headed north to Watford, cycled through town a bit and then got to the other side of Watford, where there’s a couple of roundabouts where two fairly big roads meet.

I tend to take roundabouts quite fast because I don’t want to spend a long time in places where cars are likely to hit you, but today I was cycling for escapism so I wasn’t going too fast. There were hardly any cars on the road, and I saw the silver MPV approaching from miles away. Well, figuratively speaking.

The car was already slowing down so I kept going at a reasonable pace (I was doing about 20kph according to Garmin). Things would have worked out fine if the car had kept slowing down, but the driver must have been sleeping behind the wheel because she only noticed me a second before she hit me. No offense, but that’s fucking shit driving. I already saw it coming and tried to evade, but couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. I was prepared to fall down on to the asphalt after a hard bump from her car, but I somehow managed to skid-step off the bike as it got cobbled up under her front bumper. I magically escaped without a scratch, thanks to the driver waking up in the last second and actually starting to brake.

My first impulse after realizing that I was somehow still standing in the middle of a roundabout was to make sure that this asshole driver didn’t try to escape, so I made sure to block her path as I guided her to the side of the road. That’s where I realized that she was just this poor Indian woman who totally had no clue what she was doing and was visibly quite shaken.

2014-07-24 19.21.45

I tried rolling the bike to the side but that didn’t work at all, and you can see why in the above photo. I definitely need a new rear wheel. At first I was worried that the frame was bent and the front wheel was damaged, but it looks like it’s just the rear wheel that took the hit.

As we got to the side of the road, I noticed that my legs were actually shaking a little, and I couldn’t figure out if it was because of the sudden shock of nearly getting hit by a car, of perhaps a muscle spasm or twitch from the awkward way that I dismounted my bicycle. I’ve never thought of myself as a shock-susceptible person, and the speed at which I was hit was quite low, but I can’t completely rule it out I guess.

A witness showed up who was driving behind the Indian woman, but he turned out to be an acquaintance of hers so I’m not sure that’ll do me any good if they decide to make trouble. I don’t think they will though, they were nice people. And I’m far more likely to make trouble for them if I claim injuries or psychological trauma. There’ll be CCTV footage as well if I need it. But we settled on her paying for the bike repairs and that’ll be all.

What a strange day. I nearly committed to renting a new apartment yesterday, but ended up calling it off in the morning after having a second look at the place. Then I go cycling and get hit by a car, yet somehow remain unharmed. Two big things could have turned out a lot worse for me today, but I managed to get through it alright. I guess that makes this a good day.


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Finding an apartment around London

Ever since I started my ‘break’ period after my cycling trip I’ve spent 1 to 2 hours almost every day on Rightmove and Gumtree, looking for apartments. Rightmove has a much better offer and more decent-looking apartments, but Gumtree shows private offerings of landlords who want to circumvent agencies, which results in zero fees and a much more casual way of dealing with things. Depending on the landlord this can either be a good thing or a bad thing. In my experience in London, I’ve been bitten once by a bad estate agent, and been incredibly surprised at the niceness of my current landlord whom I found via Gumtree. Businesses or people, either one can screw you over if you pick a bad one, I guess.

I’m quite systematic about my search. I’ve got about 4-5 areas that I’d like to live in, and a tight maximum budget. This means my search always ends up pointing me towards apartments that have something wrong with them. Either they’re ridiculously tiny, right next to a railway line, too far away from a railway line or in a shitty neighborhood. The Deprivation Map Explorer is an absolute must-have. I keep a spreadsheet of travel times and costs for the stations around which I center my search. Another good criteria that mustn’t be left out is how long the walk to the nearest station is.

Recently, since I’ve been seeing a lot of apartments online, I’ve gotten a good grasp of what a decent apartment ‘should’ cost in each area, so I’ve noted that down in my spreadsheet as well. Whenever an apartment pops up that’s way cheaper than the average, I usually know to check for what’s wrong. But occasionally, just very occasionally, a jewel pops up: an apartment that’s 100 pounds per month or more underpriced. I’ve seen two of them so far, and in both cases I was too late.

I’ve been thinking about writing a script that spiders Gumtree every x hours, in certain categories, looking for certain keywords. In fact, I’m very tempted to do this already, but I suspect it’ll take a lot of fine-tuning to get usable results out of it. The things that can be wrong with an apartment can’t always be easily spotted by a script. Hooking it up to the deprivation map explorer would be a must, and it would have to make heavy use of the Google Maps api to find the nearest station(s) and walking distance to each station. Most of the important criteria can already be filtered out in the url (area, max price, only ads with pictures, no agencies) so the core bit would be the scraping. Notifications can be sent out by email either immediately after the scrape, or consolidated every x hours or days.

I might give this a go if I’m still unsuccessful in finding an apartment next week. After all, there’s always that golden rule of scripting: if you have to do it once, do it manually. If you have to do it twice, do it manually. But the third time, write a script.

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Reinventing the wheel for fun but no profit

Everyone in programming knows about not reinventing the wheel. Everyone I’ve ever worked with professionally knows to check if there are decent libraries or applications available that do what you want before deciding to build it yourself. Some things are so commonplace that you’d never think of reinventing it yourself.

Blogs, databases, wikis. Tons of implementations exist, and you’d have to spend some serious amount of time on it in order to make something better than what’s already out there. Sure, you can pick one particular trait and improve on that, which will give you a good reason to release your work out in the wild as a viable alternative, but outside of that scenario, there’s just very little reason to build something that’s already been invented.

But that’s ok! Nobody ever said that you’re not allowed to have fun, and if your idea of fun is reinventing the wheel, then you should absolutely go for it. I for one have been having tons of fun writing my own wiki lately. It’s fun because it forces me to think about how common problems with wikis can be solved. I usually think of a solution randomly, and then while coding it I notice that my solution ends up being slightly different from existing wikis. And then I realize that that’s for a reason, and my design wouldn’t have worked. Of course at other times I end up implementing the ‘right’ solution on the first try, and I get to put on my smug face.

There’s another advantage of homegrown never-to-be-released designs, although I’d never flaunt this bit of wisdom professionally. You get to integrate your ‘wiki’ in incredibly nasty ways with whatever else you’re building. After all, if you’re building for fun, why bother making it a generic package. Releasing yet another wiki would be a crime against humanity anyway, so don’t even think about it. Instead, just keep building and have fun. While you’re having fun, you might stumble upon that one brilliant idea that no other wiki has yet, and you can start a new project which implements that idea cleanly. But the mind needs a playground, a free area where it can do what it wants. Reinventing the wheel is a great way to learn.

(Fun, like chocolate, should be used in moderation.)

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A car

I don’t feel like wasting words today, so I’ll get straight to the point: life is exceedingly limited if you don’t have a car.

These are excuses I’ve used in the past to justify my not having a car:

  • Public transport is convenient enough
  • I don’t need big grocery shopping if there’s small shops nearby that have what I need (this excuse kind of ceased to work after I moved to the UK)
  • I don’t want to deal with foreign language paperwork needed for a car purchase (whilst I was in Japan)
  • Money
  • Lifestyle

The last is perhaps not exactly an excuse, but more of a consequence. People with cars go to different places than people without cars. There’s some overlap between places, but in the end you’re severely limiting your options if you don’t have a car.

Here’s what you can’t do (or can only do less comfortably) without a car:

  • Going to a superstore outside of town for big grocery shopping.
  • Buying large things for your home at a DIY (online ordering just isn’t a very good alternative if you’re not at home to receive the delivery).
  • Picking people up from the airport or leave your car at the airport for a weekend trip.
  • Doing day trips to faraway places or places that don’t have good public transport connections.
  • Not getting annoyed at people on public transport.

It is possible to live without a car. But you’ll limit the places available to you. You can still go anywhere, and even if you pay for public transport and/or taxis, you ‘ll probably end up being cheaper off than by owning a car. Money is not the issue, time spent in/outside of your comfort zone is. This is why a car, still, even in car-unfriendly countries, is freedom.

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Freedom of choice

It’s been two weeks since I’m back from the cycling trip, and I’ve decided to take some time off work. The project I was on is running fine and I left it in good condition, or so it would appear given that I didn’t get any emergency calls or tech questions in my mailbox while I was away. Rather than jumping immediately back into it again I’m going to take a few weeks to reorganize my life a bit.

My life tends to be quite single-threaded. Or rather, there’s always a main, most-important thread, and any brain time left over is assigned to stuff that’s of secondary importance. I’m not really good at concentrating on two important tasks at the same time. For example, focusing on my job while also occasionally going cycling or doing a half-assed programming project at home is quite common for me, but I find it impossible to focus on, say, finding the perfect apartment while also focusing on my job. When I do that, the quality of either task suffers, and I don’t want to do that to my employer (or myself).

So yeah, one of the things I’m committed to this summer is to become a ‘citizen’ of London. Which, to me, means finding a proper apartment even further away from London and buying a car. Quality of life is either impossible or unaffordable when close to the center, and I’m committed to being close to the countryside already by my very nature, so the choice is logical. I’ve been holding off on this decision for a long time, always stalling, always waiting, because there’s always some reasonable reason to delay. Either I’m too busy with work, got a big holiday coming up, gonna eventually move in with girlfriend, etc. etc. There’s always some excuse. I’ve eliminated all possible excuses now, so it’s time to inject some quality into my living situation.

At the same time I’m trying not to overdo it too much. Work can at worst be stressful but even at best there’s still this constant pressure and feeling of not being able to let your guard down, so I’m relishing the feeling of not being responsible for a massive project for a while. A sudden complete lack of responsibility is kind of hard to cope with when you suddenly find yourself in the middle of it. I keep on wanting to compulsively check my work email but have to tell myself that it’s not necessary. Another side effect of being able to do anything I want at any time I want, is that I am doing anything I want at any time I want. But only for a few minutes, and then I get bored of it. So I end up switching from playing a game to reading a book to watching a TV show to playing another game without ever really committing to any one thing.

That’s what happens when I let myself run on freeflow, and I can’t say it’s terribly brilliant. It’s not so much the lack of motivation, it’s the lack of determination that prevents me from accomplishing things. Things like writing blog posts . Exercise helps a lot. When I hop on my bicycle I get a chance of scenery and a good workout, waking up my body and my mind, which helps me focus greatly. Variety in life is really important to stay determined.

I will try to blog more. This summer is a great summer!

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Deteriorating hard disks

An odd thing has been happening to my hard drives lately: they keep swapping IDs. My 2TB disk used to always be \Device\Harddisk1 but now it sometimes appears as \Device\Harddisk2 and another disk takes the place of Harddisk1. I always assumed that the number was determined by which port on the motherboards was being used, but it doesn’t appear so.

My guess is that the disk has to be spun up before it can report itself to the BIOS. Assuming that spin-up time naturally increases in a disk’s lifetime, both disks must now have a similar spin-up time, which makes it a race to see which disk can report itself to the BIOS first. Since nothing else changed in my setup, the only other theory I have is heat. My room has been very hot lately, and perhaps one brand of hard drive doesn’t tolerate heat as easily as the other brand. Maybe. Perhaps.

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The Alpha Male

I have never been an alpha male kind of character. I never really spoke up myself until recently, mostly because I never had a need to speak up for myself before. In the past, just the occasional assertion of personality would suffice and let me return to leading the introverted life that I prefer. That much hasn’t changed. When given the option, I will avoid conflict and try to stay in the background.

There’s always a point where you can’t avoid standing up for yourself; a moment when, if you don’t stand up for yourself, negative things could or would happen to you. Sometimes you can avoid conflict at a minor penalty to your personal comfort by staying passive, versus a major penalty to your comfort and possible failure by trying to assert yourself. Depending on the situation and your personality you may choose the passive strategy at times and the active strategy at others. This kind of philosophy can apply to dealing with estate agents, house mates, colleagues, and so on. I find myself choosing the active strategy more often as I grow older.

Let’s apply this to problem solving. One of the (apparently recurring) problems I had/have in my life is dealing with people (estate agent, housemate, colleague) you’ve got a conflict with that is just unresolvable. Assuming a conflict already occurred and were unable to prevent it, you can deal with it in any degree between passive and active. The passive way tends to be to move out of the way yourself, and leave others the way they are. This is absolutely a beta course of action, but sometimes it’s the only way out, such as when your housemate’s lifestyle is just too annoying (yet not illegal) but he won’t change it no matter what.

Legality is too easy of a boundary to switch from passive to active, though, as most benefits of the active path are found well before that. Asserting yourself by asking your housemate to lower the volume on his TV will yield a far easier payoff than by moving out. The same goes for estate agents and colleagues: a simple (yet authoritative) chat will usually resolve the immediate issue. Sometimes that’s not enough, though.

Which leads to the question of what to do in the aftermath. If you’re a reasonable person then you’ll probably take steps to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future. If your past housemate was noisy then the next time you check out a new apartment you’ll be sure to ask about the housemates before deciding. If your colleague proved incompetent, you’ll try not to be assigned to the same team the next time.

This train of thought makes me wonder about punishment. If your estate agent tried to rip you off but you managed to terminate the contract, do you actively take steps (by suing) to prevent the estate agent from ever doing that again to anyone else? When your colleague proves incompetent, do you actively try to get him fired so he doesn’t mess up more stuff? Or, put more generally: after your personal conflict has been resolved and you gain nothing new by pursuing the matter further, do you still try to punish those that ‘wronged’ you?

It’s a pretty aggressive way of thinking. Ender’s Game has a great example of this (spoilers!): instead of lightly beating a bully once, Ender beats the living shit out of him so he will never bully anyone again. It’s a risky strategy though, and has to be carried out with extreme confidence. You can’t just go around suing all your estate agents, calling the police on all your housemates and getting all your colleagues fired for incompetence. It won’t often be that the path of aggression-after-the-fact is a sensible one. On a personal level it’s never sensible, since you’ll never use the same estate agent, or live with the same housemate, or work with the same colleague. But you’d be saving others from their terrors, which some people might say makes it worth pursuing.

Myself, I’m not decided yet whether aggression after the fact is ever worth it. I’ve let my past conflicts slide into oblivion and don’t worry about them anymore. Leading a crusade against my ‘enemies’ is absolutely not my thing. The only time I ever doubted that was the horrifying experience I had with my previous estate agent, for whom I had prepared evidence of her wrongdoings and was ready to take her to court if she hadn’t given back my deposit (which still took many passive-aggressive phone calls), but she did, so I dropped it. Since then I’ve approached any potential conflicts with the same attitude: be in the right, document, and be prepared to escalate, but only if necessary. Does that make me an alpha male? Probably not. But I’m getting closer.

Alpha among Betas. Beta among Alphas.

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