Travel guide: Amsterdam, Netherlands

This is my go-to list of fun things to do and see when family and friends visited me in Amsterdam, Netherlands! I compiled this from suggestions from friends, colleagues, and travel guides; I haven’t done everything on the list, but I made a valiant effort. It’s Amsterdam-based/focused, since that’s where I lived. Things with an asterisk are must-do’s!

Amsterdam canal houses Holland Netherlands

In Amsterdam

These are accessible within Amsterdam, and typically some can be combined in one day. Look into buying a museumkaart – many of the museums in Holland are free with one.
– * Albert Cuypmarkt or Dappermarkt (open air markets) for fresh stroopwafels
– Amsterdamse Bos (nice for a picnic in the summer! requires cycling to get there)(visit the goat farm, cherry blossom park, and Scottish Highlander cows)
– * Anne Frank house (you absolutely should buy tickets in advance to avoid the long queue; book ASAP!!; the self-guided tour is about 1 hour)
– Bloemenmarkt (the flower market – pretty quick)
– * Canal cruise (this one is pretty good — I recommend going at dusk!)
– Cheese tasting (we did this one at Reypenaer and loved it; book in advance!)
– Dam square (very quick)
– * Eat an Indonesian rijsttafel (places I’ve liked: Desa, Sampurna, and Kantjil & the Tiger)
Heineken Experience (a tour through the old Heineken brewery with demonstrations on how they make Heineken beer; book tickets in advance, since the line gets long)
Hermitage Amsterdam (art museum with a rotating exhibit, so check before going)
Hortis botanical gardens (best in the spring and summer)
Kalverstraat shopping
– Oude Kerk (oldest building in Amsterdam — founded in 1213!)
– * Parks – Vondelpark, Oosterpark, Amstelpark, Frankendael, etc. (Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuw Diep is a little cafe in Flevopark; there’s also a teahouse in Vondelpark)
– Rembrandtplein (cool statues, and lots of clubs/nightlife)
– * Rijksmuseum: classic huge art museum with lots of stuff to see! The building itself is also gorgeous. I recommend starting at the top floor (in the “hall of greats”) and working your way down.
Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses, dating back to the middle ages!)
Tropenmuseum (anthropological museum with many traces of Dutch colonialism/imperialism)
– * Walk through the Jordaan canal district and old city center. Rick Steves has a free audioguide for walking around this neighbourhood. (Navigational note: the city is laid out in polar coordinates, not Cartesian; watch your step on the cobblestones and curbs, and always check for bicycles before crossing!!)

Other places in Amsterdam for food: Winkel43 for Dutch apple pie, La Falote for classic Dutch food, Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis for Dutch-style pancakes (like crepes, but with the toppings cooked into the batter; also available at *many* other cafes), La Vallade for fancy upscale European food, Albina restaurant for Surinamese food, Le Petit Latin for French food, Ponte Arcari for Italian food, Taytu Restaurant for Ethiopian food, India Roti Room for Indian food

Other places in Amsterdam for drinks: Gollem Raamsteeg or Gollem Daniel Stalpertstraat for Dutch and Belgian beers, Brouwerij ‘t IJ for local Dutch beers, Wynand Fockink for liqueurs and jenevers (like gin), Whiskycafe L&B for whiskeys, Mulligan’s Irish Pub for Irish beers and live music

Tulip fields near Leiden in April Holland Netherlands

Nearby in/near Noord-Holland

Close enough to Amsterdam that they can be a morning or afternoon trip (generally within the province of Noord-Holland). Tip: Use 9292 to plan train and other public transit journeys in the Netherlands, and load up an ‘anonymous’ ov-chipkaart to easily tap in and tap out of public transit!
Aalsmeer flower auction
Gouda or Alkmaar cheese markets (go for the full historical thing)
– Haarlem (they have a nice Saturday morning market in the old town square)
– * Keukenhof tulip fields (best in April, when the tulips are in bloom; if you’re feeling cheap or tired and just want a glimpse, take the train between Leiden and Heemstede-Aerdenhout, and you’ll pass by some great fields; cycle through the tulip fields with my route!)
Zaanse Schans windmills & historic town
– Zandvoort aan Zee (the beach!)

Maastricht Holland Netherlands

Elsewhere in the Netherlands

These require a full day or more. I really enjoy purchasing a map in the tourism info booth for a self-guided walking tour through the town!
– * Delft (market in the old square, Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kerk)
– Den Haag (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum, Scheveningen beach (cycle along the dunes!))
– Maastricht, caves in Valkenburg aan de Geul, and the 3-country point (will probably need to rent a car once you reach Maastricht, and likely requires an overnight stay in the area)
– Rotterdam, Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, Kinderdijk windmills, boat trip around the Randstad

Amsterdam Centraal train station Holland Netherlands

What would you add to the list? Are you planning to swing through the Netherlands on your next trip?

Live-tweeting the SURFsara e-infrastructure event

I’m live-tweeting the SURFsara data and supercomputing e-infrastructure event. Follow along with the tag #einfra!

10 Coding Principles, by Greg Landweber

My undergraduate mentor in the math department, Prof. Greg Landweber, taught me his 10 coding principles in a computational methods tutorial. They’ve gotten me through my BA project, MSc thesis, and I’m still using them in my PhD. They are as follows:

  2. Compile early and often.
  3. Consult the documentation (RTFM).
  4. Use descriptive variable names.
  5. Comment liberally, including every function, its parameters, and return value.
  6. User interface should be at the top-level only. Computational functions don’t talk to the user.
  7. Use print statements to debug.
  8. No global variables.
  9. Organize your code into functions. Avoid repetition.
  10. Think about algorithms. Avoid checking every possibility by brute force.

Number 1 is my favourite. Number 10 is still something I’m working on. I forced myself to use these principles when I was learning to code, and I think they make me a better programmer than I’d be without having learned and used them. One idea I would add, which is a principle of both good coding practice and laziness:

    11. If you’re manually doing a task often, automate it. You will be rewarded handsomely for your effort up-front.

What are your coding principles?

EDIT: This post generated some great discussions! Here are some suggestions and addenda from my friends and colleagues:

    3a. Write documentation in the first place, and update it as the code grows and changes.
    11a. If you have to do it twice, automate it!
    12. Think before you code. (As it was pointed out, “think before you X” is a good rule of thumb for life.)
    13. Use assertions to debug.
    14. Use version control (e.g. Git).
    14a. Never commit broken code.
    15. Avoid archaic languages (fortran, IDL) whenever possible.
    16. If any code unit has more than ~50 lines (pick a relevant threshold), it needs to be split into separate units.
    17. Write test cases for your code.
    18. Just because you’ve found a bug doesn’t mean you’ve found all the bugs and your code works now.
    19. Don’t just be prepared for failure, expect it! There will be a problem with the code you’re writing right now, but you’ll be able to fix it eventually!

Apps I love

I spend an inordinate amount of time on my computer and smartphone. I’m the kind of person who sets an alarm on my phone so that I know when to go to bed, because otherwise I’d be adrift in the internet ’till the wee hours of the night. In my techy adventure time, I’ve discovered some apps that are so great I tell EVERYONE about them. When people 50 years ago were dreaming of what modern computers would be able to do, these apps are probably what they were dreaming of. “Streamlining my daily life” and “boosting my productivity” might not sound terribly exciting, but these apps help me do just that, and I love them for it.



I paid for this one, although a free version is available with less storage space. The program installs a folder on your computer so that any file you put into that folder gets backed up onto The Cloud (dun dun duuun) and automatically placed in the Dropbox folder of any linked devices. For example, I have Dropbox on my laptop, work desktop, and smartphone, so I can transfer files between the three. Lately I’ve been saving and running my code in Dropbox so that it effortlessly ports from desktop to laptop. Dropbox sub-folders are also an easy way to share photos after a trip or event. It’s brilliant.



I like Evernote so much and use it so much that I paid for it too (a free version is available with fewer features). I save and store EVERYTHING on this: articles I loved and want to save, recipes, lists of all flavours (I love making lists), drafts of conference abstracts, items on my shopping wishlist, links and pictures of well-designed homes, teaching rubrics, etc. Evernote makes it easy to collaborate with folks who also have the app, and you can organize and tag entries to your heart’s content. And there’s an app for your phone too!



Blogs are one of my favourite things about the internet, and I read tons of them. Feedly lets me sort and organize the RSS feeds from the blogs I read, so that the latest blog posts are all in one place. It lets me sort the blogs by category so that if I’m in a webcomic mood I can read through just those posts, or I can browse all the recent posts for all categories. I love how Feedly has a cleaner layout than Google Reader (R.I.P.); its visual format is beautiful.



I’m guilty of spending time staring at digital screens right before going to bed. This is a problem, because the bright lights are signaling for your brain not to produce melatonin, so you don’t feel sleepy and can stay up later than intended and/or take longer to fall asleep. F.lux is an app that changes the “colour temperature” of your screen (i.e., it makes a white screen look more orange than white-blue) to decrease your eyes’ sensitivity to the screen, since our eyes are less sensitive to red light than blue light. Coupled with turning the brightness of the screen as low as it can go, anecdotally I’ve found that overall I have an easier time falling asleep since I started using F.lux. It also has this neat feature where it can change the colour temperature gradually over the period of an hour, so it’s never an obvious transition, and if you tell it your latitude and longitude it will time this to coincide with local sunset. On my Android I use a similar app called SunFilter.



Often I see an article I want to read on Feedly or facebook, but it’s inconvenient for me to read the article right then. I use Pocket to save these articles and read them later (usually on my phone). Under the ‘share article’ menu on my phone there’s almost always an ‘Add to Pocket’ option, and on my laptop I have an ‘Add to Pocket’ browser toolbar button. The best part is that it downloads the articles so you can read them without a data or wifi connection! With Pocket I can get up-to-date and consume information in my own time and on my own terms, which lessens distractions throughout the day.



I love traveling, and now that I live in Europe I have an unprecedented opportunity to see parts of the world without breaking the bank. TripIt is great for planning and organizing trips. Once you have an account set up, you just forward all of your confirmation emails to TripIt and it automatically creates an itinerary for you! So easy. Be forewarned though, it’s only in English, so you have to forward English emails. Otherwise it gets confused and doesn’t know what to do and then you have to type in everything by hand which mostly negates the point of this service. Also, you should charge your phone before travelling, or the app won’t do you much good. That last point is rather obvious, but it needs to be said.

Did you notice how many times I used derivatives of the word “easy”? (Now you will. And that’s after some editing.) It’s because these apps make life a little easier. There are many other apps that I use and enjoy (like Skype and WhatsApp), but these ones have made a huge impact on my day-to-day life. Did I mention that they’re free, too?

Let me know if I missed your favourite app or software!

FGSR Kaplan Graduate Student Award

My attendance at CASCA 2013 was funded by the J. Gordin Kaplan Graduate Student Award from the U. Alberta Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR). I didn’t know that I had received the award at the time of the conference, but this is me publicly acknowledging the award for travel assistance! Thank you, FGSR!

CASCA 2013!

I’m excited to be at CASCA at UBC this week! Follow the festivities on twitter with #cascaUBC. For those interested, my talk is Wednesday in Session 10 (Compact Objects) at ~11:15am in Hennings 202.

Using X-ray Light Curves to Constrain the Neutron Star Equation of State

The equation of state for ultra-dense matter has puzzled astrophysicists for decades. This is because the conditions of ultra-dense matter, such as those found in neutron stars, are not terrestrially replicable. X-ray light curves from low-mass X-ray binary systems, with neutron star primaries, have proven to be useful tools in the study of the neutron star equation of state. Theory predicts that the X-ray light curve resulting from a Type I X-ray burst on the surface of a rapidly rotating neutron star can be used to determine the characteristics of the burst ignition spot and place constraints on the neutron star’s mass and radius. We discuss the development of spherical and oblate neutron star models that, providing parameter values, yield an X-ray light curve comparable to that which would be measured by an X-ray timing telescope like RXTE. This simulation code, used with a genetic fitting algorithm, will provide us with an opportunity to disentangle the effects of various aspects of the neutron star and hotspot on the outputted light curve, showing which parameter degeneracies will have the greatest impact on the observable.


I’m giving a talk at LogiCON on May 4, 2013. It will be an updated version of “Exo-lent Planets!”, a talk I gave at Nerd Nite Edmonton. Visit the LogiCON website for more information. Registration is free!