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Along the Pamir Highway


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Just months ago, I knew next to nothing about Central Asia. Probably like most people, I knew there was a group of countries just west of China, with names that all end in -stan. I was vaguely aware of a connection to the old Silk Routes, the former Soviet Union and a few acts of recent Muslim extremism. I had read something once on the near disappearance of the Aral Sea due to irrigation of cotton crops. That was about it.

Tweaking Ubuntu fo the Lenovo Flexpad

I don't like to get new equipment if I have old equipment that still works fine. My Asus A2500S laptop is now more than 10 years old, and although it has received a few small repairs and a memory upgrade over the years, it still works fine. Its Pentium 4 Mobile processor may be a power hog, but it's not slow. Its main bottleneck is memory. The full Ubuntu is getting a bit too heavy for the old guy, but Xubuntu still runs like a charm. On the other hand, at over 5 kg (including power-supply) the thing is HEAVY.

Replacing the volume knob on a Kenwood amplifier

For some reason, repairing broken equipment is one of these tasks that I tend to put off for months, if not years, because it feels like it's going to be a lot of hassle.

Adventures in online lectures

A few weeks ago I started teaching a mathematics-course for first-year biology students, as part of a larger three-month Systems Biology course at the University of Utrecht. A couple of years ago the university started to record a number of its lectures, which were then made available online for students and the general public. I think that this is a very good thing in general. From an educational perspective, it allows the students to choose where and when they follow lectures, and it allows them to revisit subjects that they may find difficult.

Useful tricks with spatial data

For my research on Avian Influenza in waterbirds, I recently needed data on lakes and marsh-areas in Europe. I ended up compiling a spatial dataset from a number of different sources, including the EU Corine Land Cover database (CLC2000v13), the lake depth dataset compiled by Ekaterina Kourzeneva for the FLake model and data from the Finnish national lake register.

Fun With Shapefiles

Shapefiles are a format developed by ESRI (the makers of ArcGIS) to store and share geospatial data. Many interesting datasets are freely available in shapefile format. Shapefiles can be viewed with a number of freely available applications, such as ArcGIS Explorer (which requires the .NET framework or Silverlight) or ArcReader (which is multi-platform but closed-source).

Faxing in Ubuntu

It seems hard to believe, but fax-machines have been around for over a century, and the current digital fax technology stems from the 1980s. Back in the days, for most people faxing a document was the only fast alternative to sending it by normal (as in non-electronic) mail. These days, as multi-function printers and copiers with scanning-capability are becoming more widespread, fax-machines are slowly obsoleted by the ability to easily scan documents as PDF and send them over e-mail. Nonetheless, every now and then someone asks me if I can send or receive something by fax.

PDF Tips & Tricks

Repairing a damaged PDF-file

Ghostscript can "repair" some damaged or buggy PDF-files, by regenerating them. Try something like: ps2pdf damaged.pdf fixed.pdf

Assorted Ubuntu Problems (and how to solve them)

I've been running Ubuntu as my main operating system since around 2004, and I must say I love it. However, every OS has its problems, and Ubuntu is no exception. Here's a few I ran into, and how I solved them (or not).

The Mystery of the Lost Diskspace

Use and abuse of the Facebook "Like"-code

A while ago I noticed that a lot of my Facebook friends "liked" a page called "This Man Took A Photo Of Himself Everyday For 15 Years In A Row, Look at the Results!", or something similar. Curious as to what that was about, I clicked on the link. It transferred me to a page that, in addition to embedding the (rather cool) video "Living My Life Faster" by JK Keller (don't worry, harmless link), added itself to my "liked" pages without my approval...

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