Hunebedden & Goat Horns

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It’s funny how easy it is to slip into being “one of the kids” in a big family. After church and lunch with DB’s folks, we all crammed into her Dad’s big van and went on the traditional after-church hike. They drove us out to Megalithic era burial mounds called ‘dolmens,’ or, in Dutch, hunebedden (they’re literally translated as “giant beds,” as the old Dutch word for ‘giant’ is ‘huyne’). These artifacts at Hunebedcentrum are a lot like a shorter Stonehenge, and were dug up/placed between 3400-2850 BC, making them older than the pyramids in Egypt. Probably because no one went haring off to The Netherlands to dig up antiquities (and basically enslave the people), they’ve been largely left alone (there are something like fifty-four of them in the whole country), except by the Germans during WWII – they wanted an airfield, so they dug them up and moved them, displacing the sand and artifacts inside of them…

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Aaaand, shortly afterward, the Dutch moved them back.

Anyway. The sign said that archaeologists call the people who built them the Funnel Beaker culture, because they left funnel-shaped beakers and pitchers in the grave below, but obviously you don’t get to see all of that.

It was an interesting trek to the dolmen – through a rather dry type of woods and kind of dune-land outside of a farmland (there were roaming bands of sheep, dogs, and an actual shepherd). Netherlands 2018 980 We noticed that the ground underfoot was wet, because it had rained, but it wasn’t horribly sticky, because it was…sandy. And yet again we were reminded that The Netherlands has an awful lot of low-lying land that is near or below sea level. There was a lot of interesting wildlife to see on the trail – aside from the 900 varieties of birds and the gigantinormous mosquitoes and dragonflies, there were a lot of beetles that at first appeared black, but turned out to be a sort of iridescent blue. Netherlands 2018 975 There were numerous tangles of blackberry brambles along the trail, bushes full of what our hosts called “red berries” (red currants) and honeysuckle vines. The trees and bushes were totally different from the types of vegetation we’d gotten used to just a couple of hours away in Delft. And yes, this concludes the Pathfinder/Scout badge portion of this trip… if you end up hiking in another country, you’ll get excited about the flowers/trees/bugs too. (Have we mentioned that this country has storks? Giant, long-legged storks in huge nests up on poles in the middle of the towns… and really long-eared bunnies…? Okay, okay, fine. Enough with the wildlife.)

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It’s hard to know what to say about Giethoorn. It was settled by a bunch of peat farmers and fisherman. A 10th century flood revealed a great many goat horns (gietehorens) in the area, thus its goat-y name. It’s basically an old settlement in the middle of peat islands, and the only solid land is where the houses are… the rest is all floating reeds, bridges (about 170 of them in a tiny village with less than three thousand people) and …water. So much water.

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It’s beautiful and quaint, and still. That peat is protected land now and the reeds used to thatch the roofs is also grown in the area, and there’s a certain kind of boat called a Giethoorn punter that is made specifically for that area (punters are poled through the canals by a person standing up and in the back, someone has another pole going in circles as the rudder. Local kids are able to do the whole thing BY THEMSELVES; you can tell the tourists because it takes three people to make the boat move). It’s a cozy and gorgeous place… if you get there early enough. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of tour boats with loudspeakers, hordes of visiting families who are quite sure they can drive an electric boat (only residents are allowed access to the speed provided by gas engines), badly paddled canoes, hordes of cyclists, people shoving cameras into every open doorway, and residents just trying to get on with their daily lives. Oh, and also, a lot of ducks.

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It’s a tiny place, but also huge, in a way. There are something like ninety kilometers – or about fifty-five miles – worth of roads in this small village, and they’re all water roads… so there’s plenty of place to take a boat… and run it into the shore, or up onto the reeds, or tip it over… yeah, you get the idea. It must be such a lovely place to live outside of tourist season… but much of time time, “tourist season” only stops for rain and snow. Fortunately, it rains a lot… we couldn’t imagine living with that level of scrutiny. It was like Disneyland, only the homes of the people were what everyone gawked at constantly. We were lucky, because DB has both worked for a boat tour company and her brother attended primary school in the village, so they know tons of people there, and could skillfully slide us through behind the scenes. Netherlands 2018 1022 We visited a mineral museum called De Oude Aarth (The Old Earth) and were surprised to find they had small crocodiles (!) and a ton of really great rocks – huge pieces of amethyst and petrified wood sourced from all over the world. There was a museum shop which had many pieces used as furniture – how’d you like a twenty-three thousand Euro table made of a gorgeous slab of petrified wood? Or an end table made up entirely of amethyst? (Someone wanted it; it was marked as sold.) For all the misery of having so many tourists dropping by, clogging up the waterway every weekend, at least businesses seem to be doing well!

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But the most fun thing for us was traveling back to DB’s house, up the quiet canal and pulling up to the back of her house again. Her little brother explained to us that kids in the Netherlands get boat licenses at the age of 12, and are expected to not exceed certain speeds until they’re eighteen and have a full license to move through the waterways. The level of freedom and responsibility is really different – we observed families with a high level of communication between old and young and a lot of respect and compromise on both sides. It was really interesting to compare and contrast it to American families.

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We have a lot of preconceptions about how things are “supposed” to go, how people are “supposed” to act. As Americans, it’s important to remember that we come from a judgmental Puritan past, and that it is where we get a lot of the ideas about society. We have a lot of “shoulds” we tend to put on other people, and it’s not good. This trip has been a reminder about not judging other culture and people, and instead observing and keeping our mouths closed. The quality of life in Europe is one of the most highly regarded in the world… and the people we’ve seen seem happy and content, even though they’re not the richest or the most successful in some ways. We’ve closely observed two host families and done a lot of thinking… and there’s something to be said sometimes for doing things NOT the American way. It’s something to think about.

-D & T


Waterloopbos 1

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Thoreau

Thoreau was, of course, a Mama’s boy who “went to the woods” about as long as Christopher Robin did, with plenty of time to get back for tea, and sleeping each night beneath his parents’ roof. Still, it’s not his fault that a modern misunderstanding of 19th century English gentlemen and the weight of literary tradition made him out to be some über-naturalist; he went out into the wilds about as long as most of us would care to. There’s STUFF in the woods. Mainly stuff that bites; we saw a tick at the edge of the grass, and Himself had a gumball-sized knot on his side from what we think might have been a horsefly-ish kind of thing? Our personal collection of welts and weals from midges and mosquitoes weigh lightly against the liquid trill of starlings and thrushes, the soughing of the wind in the leaves, and the susurrus of water over rocks and reeds. Our weekend was filled to the brim with people – enough so that T’s introvert soul shuddered – but the myriad long walks were really restorative. (Click through this picture; it’s a video, but WordPress doesn’t play those in-browser anymore, so…)

Gemert – pronounce the ‘g’ as ‘h,’ s’il vous plait – is in an area of lovely, big trees, and about an hundred shades of green. The Netherlands don’t have a lot of hills, as it’s a lot of land reclaimed from the sea, but the forests are quite something, even though they’re mostly planted by hand, though the hundreds of years We really liked the Southeast of Holland, and since the rain and cooler weather returned, we liked it even better. Eindhoven, a tech-rich city which got a lot of German attention during the war, is fairly utilitarian (READ: ugly), but tidy brick villas of Gemert make for the quintessential storybook European village look. Lots to photograph, but the most fun was to step off of a bus and walk around a corner to see a friend opening her front door and waving wildly. We spent a lovely day with S. and her boys and will return Wednesday to have dinner with them (and to allow Mr. S to make another pitch to D about moving to Europe and working at his company ☺).

One of the other drawbacks of days with people is that we’ve fallen behind in our storytelling and in uploading photographs, but we’re taking today to just catch up and rest up. More to come!

Another day, een nieuw plezier


Guest one has decamped, guest two is incoming. It is 29C/84F, and right now it is still, but periodically there is a cool breeze, which grows into a wind toward the evening. The forecast has threatened thunderstorms nightly, but other than the odd grumble, and the occasional quick shower, nothing happens to make people do more than take brief shelter with their ice cream. It is truly hilarious how unfussed Europeans, at least, are about getting wet. (The people screeching with umbrellas nearly putting out people’s eyes are …um, some of y’all. We take no responsibility for them.)

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We’ve come to that point where we’re losing track of days. Time is kind of a warm blur, punctuated by finding a particularly good coffee (if you’re D) or something close to iced mint tea (cold water, mint leaves, a slice of lemon. Close enough). The joy of being with friends is a lot of random conversations, and books, and occasionally doing things.

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We met the most delightful group of 50-60something Nederlanders on our boat tour the other day. They had grown up in Delft, and all nine siblings (minus the two who were meeting them later) were returning with spouses in tow to honor their parents, both of whom had passed away years ago – on the same day, a year apart. They translated the guide’s words to us, before the guide had a chance to swap languages. They raised a rousing cheer as they passed their old house. They ooh’d and ahh’d that they had a nephew in Cali who was coming to visit next month. They showed us where they’d fallen into the canal, and warned us not to drink the water, ever, despite the fact that it technically is drinkable (Ugh, no thank you; anything accommodating both swans and lily pads seems a bit too natural pour moi). We felt like a long missing part of the family.

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It’s been lovely to people-watch here (the image to the left is a link to a video – do click through to experience the square, here in Delft); we spend at least a couple of hours every afternoon or evening just sitting at an outdoor restaurant bar or coffee shop, slowly sipping something cool – or, rather, coolish, as people here don’t really do ice cubes much and iced tea or coffee is just something in a rapidly warming bottle – and just watching the world go by. Netherlands 2018 268 Occasionally one must needs move upwind of a smoker, but people strive to be courteous, because the third space here – the social space that is neither work nor home – is part of what makes The Netherlands work. It is apparently THE most densely populated country in Europe, but it doesn’t feel like it (outside of horrifyingly busy Amsterdam). Even the locals are content to simply BE.

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One of the other things we noticed is that there are all kinds of bodies here, and people aren’t trying to hide them. Americans, by virtue of their Puritan fore-bearers, have such a vastly different relationship with their bodies that is kind of calming to see people just… using their bodies and getting on with basic indifference instead of …shame emotions or even much interest. Everyone is out – old, young, middle aged. Beautiful and wrinkled, sagging, slack arms and legs, heron-thin and angular, solidly fat, with rolls and bellies, children pudgy and leggy, clumsy and graceful, people walking, talking, cycling, chasing babies, attempting bad cartwheels and handstands in the square and enjoying. People seem to be simply inhabiting the moment and their bodies and DOING things, and it is …not our American experience, in many ways.

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We met a sixteen-year old Dutch girl two years ago in California as an exchange student. She was a sweet kid, but we lost touch. T made an attempt to track her down, and let her know we were here, visiting her country. We offered to meet her somewhere, but she has instead arranged for us to meet her parents, attend church with her, and go out in her father’s boat. It’s a three-hour train ride, so we’re going to spend the night, and that’s our plans for the weekend. Netherlands 2018 286 Until then, we have Thing 1 visiting until Thursday, and plans are afoot for a bike ride (if it’s not some ghastly temperature), paddle boats, record shopping, and visiting the best vegetarian restaurant we’ve found, Hummus. (Yes. It has hummus. ALL KINDS. It’s so good.) Until then, we’ve got laundry and shopping to do (but not as much cleaning, as the apartment comes with a cleaner! Vacation perks). Until next time…



So, Delft has a Fringe Festival

This weekend’s vacation achievement unlocked: we learned hot to use the shower-sauna! Electric showers, with all the fancy buttons and symbols are interesting but the ones in this flat didn’t seem very useful at first. However, after a bit of study yesterday, we are happy to report that we figured out how to make the water hot, something one might expect to be somewhat self-explanatory (sadly, no) and how to make the jets of steam rising from the floor act like more than intermittent volcanic exhalations. We are rather proud of ourselves. Of course, we’re mainly showering with cold simply because it’s so incredibly warm here.

It’s been unbelievably balmy, and today it was nearly 80 degrees. It’s a little different to experience that kind of warmth in humidity, but the sea breezes kept coming, and there’s plenty of trees in this green and pleasant land, so we were mostly fine. After the slightly terrifying day we had in Amsterdam – with several trains and miles of walking and seeing so much artwork and architecture and riding in a cyclecab through insane traffic, littered with bikes and cars and buses at rush hour on a Friday – today we kept it simple and tooled around Delft. We visited Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kerk, and people-watched, enjoying the vibrant outdoor weekend life of this busy little town.

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Delft’s “Marktplaats” is in the center of its medieval downtown, loosely bracketed by the oldest church in the town, on one end the “new” church, and opposite that their city hall. The market square hosts two weekly markets, the first on Thursday, with a huge flower market, the second on Saturday, with a vast antique/flea market. At both, fruit, veg, candy, clothes, household goods and sundries can be purchased. After a leisurely breakfast we began our day with Nieuwe Kerk.

Nieuwe Kerk has two viewing galleries open to the public (there are a few other doors which are locked, on the long climb up to the top). So, of course, despite the rather warm day and the D. had to climb them. This resulted in some fabulous photos … but, as D. said when T. texted him to ask how it was going, “Terrifying. Coming down now.” The ledge is about 2 feet wide and the railing comes up to about 10 inches below D’s waist. Fiddling with multiple cameras (yes, multiple: a Canon 80D, a Canon M3, 4 lenses, plus the cell phone because it does panoramas so well), in the breeze, at the top of one of the tallest churches in The Netherlands is a bit fraught, particularly when there are other visitors who want to get past. Was it worth it, to get a picture of the flat we’re staying in? Perhaps. We’re staying in the pair of windows with the sheer curtains drawn, right in the middle of the photo below.

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There are apparently 377 stairs to get to the very top, with about half of those being as nice and spacious as those pictured below. The rest are narrower. Passing your fellow tourists going in either direction is also not anything to want to go through again.

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The view is, of course, wonderful. Here’s the town hall, just across the town square from Nieuwe Kerk.

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And, after visiting Nieuwe Kerk, we went to visit Oude Kerk. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be a publicly accessible gallery, so D. had to be content with photographing other things.

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Tomorrow may involve riding a canal boat, going to several museums, and hopefully a return to the fabulous Stadsbakkerij de Diamanten Ring for more tasty treats (and, perhaps, to contemplate the mural telling us that William of Orange’s assassin slept here the night before he shot William.). We shall see.

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Our friend L leaves the day after tomorrow and our friend Thing-1 shows up that evening. We shall endeavor to take plenty of photos, of course (we’re up to 449 photos and a half dozen or so videos, since arriving late Wednesday night … so, 3 days of being tourists). After Thing-1 leaves we’ll make a point to spend time away from Delft (Gemert, with friend S and Wannepeerven & Gierthoorn with D & fam) because the Delft Fringe Festival begins, and it’s already lively enough, being so close to the pedestrian center in the marktplaats!

-D & T

Market Day Is Wild, in Delft!

No lengthy post today, as we’ve been wandering and enjoying the (rainy) day, only making it back to the flat after 11 p.m. We must say, though: Delft market has ALL of the things! D. picked up 1kg of licorice – half of it salty, half sweet, all of it black. We picked up cheese. Oh, the cheese. We also had to visit the guy with the portable, gas-powered, player organ.

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-D & T

The Joys of Arriving

In case you didn’t know, we’re off to The Netherlands for a vacation and to visit friends (some of whom live here, some of whom are visiting from Scotland). We are staying just off the main square in Delft, so we get to enjoy the tolling of the bell of Nieuw Kirk at all hours of the evening (it’s just after 2 a.m. here and we’ve just heard it toll a single bong… and we heard it toll 12 bongs at 1:00 a.m…. so we’re not sure what’s up with it).

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We shall see how much we get up to tomorrow. It could be that we visit a few local museums and stay pretty close to the flat, as we’re sure we’ll need naps. All in all, though, travel this time wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We actually managed to get a few hours of napping in, and schlepping our luggage from plane to train to cobblestone streets wasn’t as awful as it could have been. It’s sunny (we don’t have enough hot-weather clothes, but there are stores) and humid.

We will be painting pottery at the Delft factory store, though. It may not be in the morning, but it’ll happen in the next couple of days, for certain.

-D & T

Little Bobby Tables

Every now and again I explain to people what “SQL Injection” is. I generally do this by writing a bit of an SQL string for them, using a string which can be manipulated (one which is vulnerable to this particular exploit, down at the database level of the application). And I then show them this XKCD comic:

So, for example, I’d define the following as an example of a vulnerable stored procedure:

create procedure SaveStudent
	@StudentName	nvarchar(256)

declare @sql nvarchar(max)

set @sql = 'insert into Students ( StudentName ) select '
set @sql = @sql + '''' + @StudentName + ''''


I would then put in the example name from the XKCD comic above to demonstrate just what ends up happening. Let’s say you were to call that stored procedure, passing in Little Bobby Tables’ name as the variable:

exec SaveStudent 'Robert''); DROP TABLE Students;--'

The stored procedure would then execute the following commands:

insert into Students ( StudentName ) select 'Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;--'

So … why is this a problem? One salient point is that the apostrophe character is used to enclose strings in quotation marks. The way Bobby’s name is constructed allows for a malicious command to be sent to the database (the Students table is erased by the command DROP TABLE Students;), and no error being necessarily returned, because Bobby’s name fits in perfectly with how SQL works – he’s got a proper semicolon, terminating the command that comes before, so he was added to the table … but then the table was dropped, using a valid command, and everything after that is commented out (the double-dash is a comment marker), so there wouldn’t necessarily be any errors at all coming out of this – it’s perfectly valid, it’s running in a privileged context (it has been “blessed” by being turned into a stored procedure, so it’s trusted to run).

All of this is the lead up to the punchline, which is this company, apparently registered in the UK (or, something used for testing, I suspect, as this is the beta for UK Government’s Companies House): ; DROP TABLE “COMPANIES”;– LTD. This, passed into the above sample procedure, will yield the following SQL string:

insert into Students ( StudentName ) select '; DROP TABLE "COMPANIES";-- LTD'

Now, this one’s going to throw an error, because it’s actually improper syntax no matter which database you pass it to (well – any of those I have used, anyway, which is … way too many). However, if this is indeed used for debugging or as a demonstration, it will 1) throw an error if you feed it to anything that’s vulnerable to this exploit, 2) hopefully not throw an error anywhere, because the UI is supposed to be sanitizing these inputs, so it should be properly formatted (“escaped”) so as not to cause this problem. I can see this value being used both to test the UI (put it in & see if some database code which is intentionally vulnerable to this exploit throws an error) and also to test the database code, for scenarios which do not use a user interface such as loading in data from another application or a programmatic interface.

This technique is not just dangerous because it allows things to be broken; this technique is routinely used to exfiltrate data such as usernames and passwords, credit cards, or whatever other juicy details are in the database. If an adversary can figure out just which poor programming technique was used, and can figure out how errors are presented to the webpage, then they can intentionally cause errors which return data which should remain secret, or they can simply replace the query that’s supposed to do something legitimate (pull back a list of toasters, for example) with a query that returns that sensitive data right onto the webpage.

In any event, once you understand this humor as a programmer, your programming fundamentally changes, as there are only a handful of bad programming techniques which allow for this kind of vulnerability – so, you quickly eradicate those techniques from your practice (and hopefully go back and clean things up in older code). The fact that a huge number of websites are vulnerable to this tells you something (bad) about the competency of people who write and test code. I will not rant here about the many programmers who think about databases as being simply dumping grounds for data, rather than fully-functional programming environments.


A little National Poetry Month

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.

Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.

They stand before you hiding you like names.
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.

And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems from the Book of Hours

Some Jobs are Better than Others

Every now and again I remember a horrible job I’m happy to have left. It’s far rarer that I reflect upon a job I’m happy to have turned down. Let’s do so now.

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The picture above was taken from a parking lot on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. I was there to basically have a tour of the site, finish up the paperwork, and meet the programming team I was to lead. Some of the contract terms didn’t line up as promised, so I backed out. As news about Hanford has trickled out over the past year or so I’ve found myself very happy it fell through. This is particularly true reading this article about plutonium contamination drifting over the region.

“…site was ringed by 8-foot-tall piles of radioactive debris with little to prevent dust from blowing off.”