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Intern Report #1 (All the small things)

posted in Internships on January 30th, 2008

When I moved to the Netherlands a couple of years ago, my parents decided to choose the beautiful town of Oss as our hometown.

While there is nothing wrong with Oss in itself, after all, this is the city where the world’s most famous anti conceptive, the anti-baby pill, originated, Oss’ location is anything but close to the place xolo.tv is located in, Amsterdam.

What this basically means is that I get to enjoy the Dutch Public transport on a (close to) daily basis and as such, have made some interesting discoveries:

I have been commuting by train from Oss to Breda for more than two years now and have not had a single month withouth any delays, but never had more than two days with delays directly after each other … until now.

My first day at xolo.tv started with me nearly being late, not the kind of first impression you wanna make, not even if it is out of your own control and since the Dutch Railway operators love consistency, I was graced with delays of ten to fifteen minutes every day of my first week.

On my normal route, from Oss to Breda, ten minutes do not matter, because the same train I enter in Oss, is the same one that takes me straight to Breda but the situation is quite different when you are going to Amsterdam. There is at least two trains, at worst three, which means less consistency for the traveller.

And consistency is something I start(ed) to depend on: interning in Amsterdam is great, travelling close to four hours every day - not so much, because when you have to change trains all the time, your sleeping pattern gets all mixed up and my body, for one reason or another, is very unappreciative of that.

On a more interesting note, however: since I am interning in Amsterdam, I am actually getting more sleep than I did before, due to the fact that I simply cannot stay up too late anymore and also thanks to the downtime I have in trains, downtime that is used to sleep and just let my mind relax.

Back on topic, however, public transport. When you travel a lot, you get to meet a number of interesting or funny people and you experience a whole range of peculiar situations.

Commuting during rush-hour means that trains are crowded and everyone is longing for a place to sit; me on the other hand, I do not mind standing for one part of the journey, after all - sitting is what I do at the office (when we are not playing with the frisbees that is).

So the other day, while I was standing near one of the exits, I noticed another male who was fascinated by the amount of people that had to use the John (his words). He had been traveling with the same train for about half an hour at that point and completed another part of his journey (an additional 45 minutes) with me.

The guy literally made a listing of people using the toilet and his total count, after an hour and fifteen minutes, came down to 26 people. His conclusion was that some chef somewhere the day before had probably screwed up royally and that, in turn, prompted that much bowel movement.

I know that, sometimes, we should just stop to admire the little things in life, the things money cannot buy, I am just wondering if the things this guy was fascinated with are those small things (no pun intended)…

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Intern Report #0 (Precursor)

posted in Internships on January 26th, 2008

In the past years, I have worked for a great number of companies; they all served a different purpose – while one was purely about content generation, another was producing software and yet another focused on the building of websites for corporate communication.

I have long been fascinated by what is called the “social web” and it is with great pleasure that I can finally announce what a handful of people have known for about a month now: I am the latest intern to join Dutch-American start-up xolo.tv.

I was in the fortunate position of being able to choose from a handful of different companies for my first internship, but in the end, the products that xolo.tv are developing are the ones that appeal to me the most.

xolo.tv’s platform was first introduced to me back during PICNIC’07, when Marc van Woudenberg gave an impromptu presentation to a number of people during an early dinner, after the conclusion of the European Bloggers Conference.

I seeded quite a bit at PICNIC with my custom-made moo.com LinkedIn cards and Marc was one of the lucky recipients but since I did not have enough time to actually get a good talk going, I figured that nothing much would come of it.

For one reason or another however, Marc got back to me and after studying my profile on LinkedIn and approached me to set up a meeting for November 2007. Hah, take that all you nay-sayers who think that LinkedIn cannot be used to get a job!

To be honest, I had no real clue as to what to expect from the talks up-front. Marc seemed to think highly enough of me to devote some of his valuable time to a meeting. I was impressed, plain and simple, but at the same time puzzled, so puzzled that I did not know how to prepare for the meeting and did all I could: learn about all past clients of xolo.tv, create a presentation (yes, just in case) on how they could expand their customer-base and

I had never had a formal interview, mostly because I always gained “access” to a job by sweet-talking my way in, not that there is anything wrong with it, but it is a totally different thing than what happened at xolo.tv.

What impressed, yet at the same time, scared me the most was the warm welcome I received. I burst in during lunch (which just so happened to be a tradition their other intern started) and was invited to join them and grab a bite to eat.

Soon thereafter, the talks started where I got a chance to showcase cuizine.tv and was then cross-examined by a number of xolo.tv employees and finally, after receiving a number of interesting and not that easy to answer questions, I was left with mixed feelings.

I knew one thing and that was that I wanted to work there. I also knew that the people working their all are specialists in one way or another and I somehow had to find a reason to convince them, because, frankly, I just had to do this, if not only for the reason that one of the clients was Bløf (yes, it’s true and yes, this was not my main motivation).

During the course of the meeting, Marc expressed his interest in setting up a follow-up meeting for December 2007 and it is safe to say that I was starting to get a good feeling about the whole deal.

The second meeting was much easier-going, basically all we did was sign a few papers and grab some drinks to celebrate, all the while discussing the secrets and intricacies of the female mind - go figure.

Intern Reports!

posted in Internships on January 25th, 2008

As part of my Bachelor’s Degree, I am currently doing an internship at xolo.tv, a company that focuses on a number of things that revolve around social media, video production and media sharing.

While the biggest part of my internship consists of actually interning and learning new things, a small part of the whole experience (and a rather big part of the grade) is related to keeping a journal that is accessible to anyone who is interested.

Considering that I am very proud of being able to intern at xolo.tv and at the same time too lazy to set up a new blog, just for the purpose of writing weekly reports, I figured that I might as well post my reports here.

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Team dynamics and the lack thereof

posted in College on January 16th, 2008

Yesterday marked the conclusion of our most recent project, the current batch of juniors at CMD Breda have now officially concluded the bigger part of their study and can now move on to internships, minors and other awesome stuff.

Yesterday marked the conclusion of nine weeks of hard work and lots of annoyances for just about everyone even remotely involved with our group.

As always, our group consisted of students representing the four different majors our faculty offers and that is where the problems began: traditionally speaking, a faculty like ours always attracts more media designers than technologists, there are generally more interface designers than marketeers / project planners and with projects that rely heavily on the technical side of things and good branding, this, eventually leads to problems.

It is said that the first few meetings of any group are essential. Think of two dogs that meet for the first time - they will sniff each other out, try to gain as much information about the other as they can and then move on. During the next meeting, they will have some sort of idea of what to expect and based on that will either take a friendly or hostile stance towards the other.

This is the very spot where it went wrong for our group. Our first meeting ended in a situation where no one was willing to be the team leader and I can understand that; after all, leading a group of five is no easy job, let alone a group of 32 other students, but in the end, if your major includes the very classes needed to lead a team, namely project management, team building and all, you should at least be capable of taking the helming and steering the group towards a mediocre final product.

Now, do not get me wrong, I am not bitter or harbor any hard feelings, not in the least, but I feel that there is a great number of things that could have, that should have been done better.

The biggest issue I have with this project is that we worked in teams of 33 people where everyone seemed to have the same voting rights. Democracy is fine and all that, but as long as everyone can veto many things, the outcome of a project will be uncertain.

I believe that, if the project were to have internal representatives that would be allowed to vote (and represent a group of say five or six people) and that those votes were to be considered final, that we would have gotten through the planning / brainstorming stage a lot faster.

Another pet peeve of mine is that our group had little to no regard for application development protocols. I do, of course, realize that with things like this, last-minute changes are part of the whole deal and I would not mind those changes if they were only to fix a bug or two, but if those changes include building new features, days after a feature-freeze has been issued, I get annoyed.

I get even more annoyed when the building of those features results in bugs that kill other, more essential functionality of the main application due to a lack of testing (which was my fault however).

I am a technologist at heart, I suck at designing and I know that, but I try to make up for that lack by knowing just about everything there is to know about the project at hand and I dislike it when people tell me to do things differently when I know that that my solution is going to be used in the end.

One such situation occurred with the building of one of our sub-sites; back in November, I suggested that we include a member registration system, because it would not make sense for everyone to be able to upload data to the site, but I was veto’ed against. A couple of weeks later, all of a sudden, the request for a member system came in and I had to realize it, long story short: I believe that I understood the way the whole thing would have to be set-up a lot better than those that actually envisioned it.

After weeks of work, much of it being redundant, as in: building features, removing them and rebuilding them, we finally entered the home stretch and with only a couple of days to go, I was confident that we would be able to pull it off (we did!), yet, for one reason or another, it had to be a lot more difficult than it should have been:

Everyone who has ever worked with a live audio / video feed knows that a script is an absolute must, not because I have a hard time remembering things (I do), but because it is essential for everyone involved to know when something is going to happen and how long it is going to last.

It is safe to say that the team involved with the live feed begged for a script, yet we did not receive one. Due to the shuffling of the various clips, we could not make our own, yet the team lead had the audacity to complain about the clips not being played out perfectly in the dry-run.

These things simply annoy me to no end and I am happy, very happy that we are finally done with it. I have learned a lot in the past nine weeks: a bit about streaming with the Flash Media Server and the Darwin Server and a whole lot about team dynamics and how the lack thereof can make everything exponentially worse.

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You take picture?

posted in Media on October 16th, 2007

It is no secret that I love NRC.next, a newspaper that is aimed at people aged 25 to 35 with little to no sparetime. NRC.next is my main source of up-to-date information and provides me with the latest happenings in the world that I did not pick up through CNN.

One of the great things about NRC.next is that ever so often, there is some way to participate in the creation of the newspaper in one way or another; this time around, students from sister-college St. Joost Breda were offered a shot at getting their work published on the front page.

The guidelines were rather simple: students were tasked to come up with two pictures, one for the front page and one for the actual article.

The students had a mere week to find a solution and in the end, Sophie Verstappen, sophomore student of St. Joost, came through with an interesting picture that fit the overall theme of the article very well.

In more personal news: I have never been a photographer nor do I see myself ever becoming one, apart from the occasional snap I take just about everywhere I go, yet two of my pictures of this year’s Edu-Fair in Utrecht were used for a short article that gave a short account of the event.

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