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27 March 2010

Rack Trains and Village Internet

Enjoying the long weekend

Yesterday we went on an excursion to Kalavryta, taking the scenic rack railway up there. The railway trip is wonderful, travelling through a narrow gorge. The train moves quite slow and - at least now in spring - you can open the windows to take pictures. Kalavryta itself is nothing to write home about. It was rebuild after being destroyed in the war. I saw many nice scenes around Kalavryta and around the train track, but would have to return on foot to take pictures.

In the late afternoon we returned and stopped by the lighthouse at the northernmost tip of the Peloponnese. Finally as things weren't moving any more, I was able to take two pictures with the Arca. I was a bit disappointed though: I had bought two extra films in Athens and discovered they had given me the wrong films.

In the evening we were enjoying the old fashioned Internet in the village... a 56k modem connection. Due to a broken clip on the cable quite shaky too. We were able to look up things about the rack train though.

Posted by betabug at 11:24 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
06 April 2010

Picking up on a New Feature

Loose ends flapping around

The long easter weekend is over, today is high time to pick up work again on one of the new features I'm building for one of our Products. Being the sole member of my development team, when some bugfixes and other stuff came along, I had left off building this stuff a while ago. Now I'm here on the island, in a quiet and relaxed setup to continue from where I stopped last time.

Which would be really nice if it wasn't for the little things I've left for myself: Half-finished code not yet committed, a method that I don't really remember as being necessary, some functional tests that don't pass. Not to mention a lot of notes that document different approaches to build things, where it's not always 100% clear which one is the right one. It's not really helping too much to get a flying start, but at least with "clean up", my first task is well defined.

Posted by betabug at 15:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
23 April 2010

Flickr Shoulder Slapping Evaluator

... an idea for a funny app

If you use Flickr (or, as some people lovingly call it, "Fuckr"), you might have noticed, that it's almost impossible to get real critique or even real comments on your pictures. All most people ever seem to get is shoulder slapping in the form of "Good shot", "wonderful capture", and "well taken" etc.. This might be feeling good for an average of 3 days when you start out, but it turns sour and empty fast. Well, being a geek and all, I thought about a technical solution or, failing that, at least messing with the stuff in a fun way.

To be honest, I haven't even looked at the flickr API, so no idea if this is possible, but here is what I propose: Write a bot that trawls the comments on your photos. Analyse the comments (maybe some bayesian playtime is needed, maybe not even) to see which comments are shoulder slaps. Have the bot check out the users who posted comments, analyse the comments they get vs. the comments they make. Find some magic pagerank style number to give a real value to the comments people give you.

What you want to know is if the comment "wow, great capture" on the picture of the red plastic bathtub in your backyard comes from a user with a firehose of such shoulder slappings or if it's the one-off comment from someone who usually does careful analysis. While you're at it, discard all the "please add this picture to the worlds-greatest-red-bathtubs group" group invitations. Then assign a score to your pictures. Something that tells you "people who care really cared for this picture". Or at least it tells you "the shoulder slappers will know I see through them". And if you didn't like it you can still look at all those "amazing picture" comments.

Update: Had a short look at the flickr API, this stuff should be well inside the realm of the possible.

Update 2: Just found this flickr comment generator - wonderful work!

Posted by betabug at 10:03 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
28 May 2010

Ups, I did... C#

So, *that* was what that file ending meant

Since some time now, I'm finishing up a project for someone else (long story). There's a lot of Flash involved (aua) and some rudimentary cms in some files that run in a Micro$oft .NET environment. Today, as I was searching for a solution for a very stupid error message, it finally dawned on me that I was in fact doing C#! So, that was what that .cs file ending was all about! (If you don't know this: "C#" is not pronounced "See-Pound" or "See-Hash", but "See-Sharp", ergo .*cs*harp, duh.)

As my friend Javier put it: Now I could even write in my C.V. that I have experience in C#. In fact, I think C# is a very nondescript language. Could be almost anything, JavaScript, ActionScript, any language with c-style-braces all over, like dogsh*t in the park. (Uhm, why, yes, I'm a python programmer, why did you ask?) I didn't see anything using pointers, so I'm not so sure the reference to C is actually valid (I think I've heard that pointers are in there though). Why this language even exists? Beats me.

Posted by betabug at 20:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
04 September 2010

Playing around with jQuery

Back to Athens

The working week on Naxos was quite successful. I had put myself under pressure at the start of the week, feeling that there is lots to do and a few big open questions in the code.

My task was to feature up a part of one of my apps, where a heavy form requires lots of user interaction. Some more interactive toys would actually make things more useful. The problem was that the underlying data provider is a piece of PDF (at the lowest base). That's sometimes a weird bit of tech to deal with. It took me a while to wrangle the data I need out of it and put it into shape. Then there came the task of juicing it up. On the web, JavaScript is still the toy for this. A toy I never really liked. Nowadays we don't use "JavaScript" any more. We use libraries that use JavaScript. One of them is jQuery.

Turns out it's quite easy to use. I got a book (thanks Wu!) about it, which gave me a start. Then you just string stuff together. A good knowledge of HTML and CSS helps a lot, obviously, since most of the time you mess with these things. It's still JavaScript for one simple reason though: when you get stuck, debugging in the browser is the same pain as it always was. There were some moments, where I just wondered if my browser had stopped working and got stuck. One little semicolon left out and everything sticks its little feet in the air and plays dead.

In the end, I got something together. The nice part is that it's not only something that has moved forward somewhere deep in the code, but actually that you can see and play around with. So I'm relaxed on the way back to Athens.

Posted by betabug at 11:37 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
17 September 2010

Why Comments and Documentation Matter on 1-Person-Projects too

It's been some time...

Thought of the (still young) day: Comments and documentation matter... even if it's a 1-person project you're working one. Right now, I'm working on one of my older apps, one that I did on and off for a couple of years. I see some area on one of the pages in my browser, right in front of me. I want to "copy" (well, reuse actually) that part in another, new page. Just can't seem to find the code behind it though, been searching for 10 minutes. The code isn't that complicated or messy... I just wish I had given myself a hint somewhere.

(Addendum, just as I wrote this: There is a comment saying "pagecode u:preview" right at the top of the page... grepping the source for this string indeed gave my gray cells the needed kick. QED.)

Posted by betabug at 10:55 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
19 October 2010

Upper Case Crash

Nokia/Ovi Maps vs. Mac OSuX

Now that I've changed phone providers I unslacked enough to upgrade my phone firmware. Cue Arnie's voice (in "Last Action Hero"}... "Big Mistake." Well, my excuse is that I wanted free navigation with Nokia/Ovi Maps. Somehow ironic that it's now mainly the Maps application that is crashing.

The reason is quite simple: when I try to transfer the map files, I fail. My first try was to download the files using this link page (the download is actually still from Nokia's site}. Then I'd unpack the zip and transfer the files to the phone's memory card. But for some unknown reason (likely to make fun of me}, Mac OS X uppercased the file names. Result: Maps crashes once it tries to access the parts of the map on those files.

Next try was the official Map Loader application. Argh, what a crappy piece of software! Besides, it chokes on some files and crashes. I'll try the windows version next or maybe hooking up the memory card to an OpenBSD system.

Apart from Maps crashing, various apps and some settings disappeared. Most missed so far is the Wellness Tracker app.

Posted by betabug at 22:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
29 October 2010

Abstimmen per Internet

Frisch eingetroffen

Als Auslandschweizer darf ich ja bekanntlich bei Bundes-Abstimmungen mitstimmen. Neuerdings gibt es da einen Versuch zur Abstimmung über das Internet. Vorgestern sind bei mir die Abstimmungs-Unterlagen eingetroffen. Ich habe bis jetzt nur einen ganz kurzen Blick drauf geworfen, aber das sieht schon mal sehr interessant aus.

Da gibt es zum Beispiel einen abgedeckten Code, den man zum Abstimmen verwenden muss. Man kann weiterhin brieflich oder aber per Internet abstimmen - aber natürlich nicht beides zusammen. Das wird scheints erkannt falls es passiert und ist natürlich strafbar.

Ich muss das ganze Paket mal genauer studieren und auseinandernehmen. Die Problematik bei diesen Geschichten ist ja immer, dass es entweder nicht sicher ist (d.h. z.B. Stimmen könnten mehrfach abgegeben werden oder geändert werden) oder aber es kann nachverfolgt werden, wie jemand gestimmt hat. Digitale Abstimmungen wirklich sicher zu organisieren ist seeeehr schwer. Es wird spannend.

Posted by betabug at 09:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 November 2010

hackfest Athens

Some more old news
Some of the guys (and gals) at the 2nd hackfest in Athens

Saturday I developed the film, yesterday evening I scanned it. That's why this photo (and associated blog post) is a bit late. 10 days ago, 2010-11-21 I was for a short time at the 2nd hackfest in Athens. I didn't have my laptop with me, nor any project to hack on. But I met some cool people and funked with graffic and the well known "ruby guy" (now where do I have that link to his blog?) around with firesheep, ssh tunnels, VPN and all that.

Also had to leave early, because together with graffic we were invited over to Panos place for BBQ. I guess the next time I'll bring my laptop, reserve more time and get to hack on something myself. Either I could do some Zwiki bugfixing or just see who else has an interesting problem to solve, hacking in company is fun!

Posted by betabug at 10:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
21 February 2011

Hybrid HD update, Weekend Fun Hacking Project

It Rolls and it Rocks

This weekend I was hax0ring along on a new fun project. I'm coding up a new skin on COREBlog. I could do that fast and easy by adapting an existing skin, but this time I'm doing a skin almost from scratch using ZPT from start to end. No more DTML on this one. Much cleaner. Worked on it on Saturday and Sunday. I had lots of fun doing this. There are still bits and pieces left to do, I guess till the next weekend I can have it rolling.

The new "hybrid" hard disk in the old Macbook performs quite well. There are no more of those small moments of lag when opening applications. Could be that this is just from doing a clean install, but given that I've installed a system that does much more in the background, I'm ready to give the disk some credit.

Posted by betabug at 11:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
20 March 2011 again

Going out for coffee and code

This Sunday was another installment of the meeting. This is a loose get-together of all kinds of people who come together in a cafe somewhere to hack on whatever project they happen to work on. Or they might as well be there to socialize and have a coffee. This time I took my laptop with me and continued going through the tutorials of the pyramid framework.

Also at this hackfest there were a couple of talks given. Most important of these is probably that the guys from are trying to get a hackerspace going, which is a permanent place to hack on hardware and software and generally have a geeky time. I wasn't so hot about the talks, as I was busy chatting with Javier and Dan and going through the tutorial at the same time. But I had a good time anyway.

Posted by betabug at 18:29 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
12 April 2011

I'm a Freelancer now/soon

Python, Zope, Pyramid, whatever comes along

After 6 years at the Graphics Garage, my big projects there seems to be done. I've written three big systems there: Two of them to administrate every bit of the company, including organizing all the communication with the clients into an Extranet solution. It's time to move on... I'll start working on my own as a freelancer now.

I have on and off worked with Python and Zope since 2002. I've also worked with other web based systems of all kinds (and some not-web-based ones), so I guess I'll stay in the web based programming area for now. I've worked on big and small projects, in teams and alone. Some of my stuff is open source and can be admired from my pro page (with links to my resume too), some is proprietary client stuff and will stay hidden in their code vaults forever.

With all that Zope experience, I'm obviously there for any ol' Zope site in need of an overhaul or extension. For the "new" stuff that's not Zope, right now I've started a little fun project with Pyramid and I've got some Django and Ruby scheduled too. Whatever comes along though, if the tool does the job, it's fine for me.

For starters I continue supporting the projects of the Garage of course, putting my projects there into "maintenance mode". I also have the first project coming along from a customer in Switzerland. I've got some leads from France, so I might be having fun soon as an "international enterprise".

I don't want to hurry it in the beginning (starting too many things at once is as bad as starting nothing), but I've still got some capacity free. So, service announcement: If you need some good programming done, drop me a line!

Posted by betabug at 10:09 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
05 May 2011

60 Minutes Free Wifi at Athens Airport

Hey, that's something

So, it's been a while since the last time I traveled. One thing I found out, they give you 60 minutes of free wifi at Athens airport now. Nice! All you do is surf to any website, have your connection "captured" and redirected to the airport site (flash needed, if you don't have that, try this url: or some alteration, it's where I end up when I "get through"). Then you click around two or three times on the obvious links for "free wifi" and at some point it tells you that you are on. Not even a captcha.

They seem to block my IPsec VPN, it connects, but no traffic runs. Not in the mood to debug that, but ssh -D works.

Posted by betabug at 15:17 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
07 November 2011

Welcome to Betabug Sirius

My new Company Site

It has been quite some time that I announced that I'd be working as a freelancer. Lots of stuff had to be done in that time, but finally things are ready. I've founded my own little company and set up a small website: Welcome to Betabug Sirius!

For once this isn't a "ZWiki-As-A-CMS" site (which is what I usually do when I want a site to go up fast), but a plain, static html site, done in vi. I know it won't scale when I'll want to expand it, but I had fun coding it up in the old style.

So far I already have a few customers, working with Zope (mostly in bugfixing and maintenance of existing / legacy sites) and with Pyramid (building a brand new web application). There is also a project to build something unique and "our own" on a longer horizon, involving technology and art.

There has been and still is a lot of bureaucracy, but so far the ride has been smooth and sometimes even fun. Part of the strategy is to work together with other companies to form flexible teams for each project. That's something that has worked real well so far, giving me fun and inspiration to work with others.

Posted by betabug at 10:26 | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)
17 November 2011

Instapaper on eBook reader

Just the text, please
Finding the epub download link on my instapaper page

Yesterday I gave Instapaper another try. I hadn't previously really warmed up to it, but maybe using a different reading device would help? The most relaxed reading device I have is my crummy, cheap eBook reader (Bookeen Cybook Opus). My first try was with using calibre, as described in this post by Justin Pot, basically it's going from instapaper to calibre's "news download" feature, to the ebook reader. It's convenient because of calibre's autosyncing. But then, I don't use that.

Looking at the instapaper "overview" page, I noticed something else though: Instapaper will package your unread articles into an ePub to download. Now that was just what I needed. Now all I need to do is to click on that, then hook up the reader to the computer, and drag-n-drop the epub file over.

Later I gave that epub a test-reading. It's well done, there is an index to jump to the various articles. Almost all of the extra-stuff on the page is cut off, sometimes some links are left over, sometimes the start of the text was repeated at the end of the article (clearly separated though). All in all it worked really well.

Posted by betabug at 13:14 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
23 November 2011

Bragging on AppleScript

Looking at some stuff I did waaaay back

Yesterday while "surfing here and there" (as my friend Panos likes to put it), I came across a post that had a snippet of AppleScript, which triggered fond memories. You see, a looong time ago I did a lot of AppleScript. Those were the days when I was using Claris Emailer and writing various Emailerscripts to extend it. We are talking about 1997 here. Now AppleScript doesn't have such an affection to text wrangling like perl (which I started using a bit later). It especially lacked afast way to search and replace in strings. So one winter evening I was sitting in my home office, turning this problem around in my head.

At some point I had an idea, a flash, a serious spell of "thinking outside the box". I came up with a fast way to search and replace, by abusing a built-in feature of the language. I made some simple tests and the thing was 600 times faster than the usual way of going through the text one character at a time. Now, I come from a culture where you shouldn't brag. When I grew up in Switzerland, little children learn that it's not really OK to insist that you're better than other children or that you did something soooo great. I was constantly hitting against that, but something must have stuck. Well, I still don't really like to brag, I prefer a tone of understatement, even when I think I did something great. On the other hand, I had included a quite braggy comment in the little subroutine that I wrote. The human ego is a confusing thing.

Back then, I should have published my find right away (there was even a discussion about search+replace on the AppleScript mailing list a week or two later). It would have been cool for me and it would have helped my fellow scripters. What I did was to write some more scripts for Emailer and publish those and together with announcing some of them, I wrote about my find. Much time later I also made a page about the thing called "austauschen", together with a snippet from that mail to the Claris Emailer mailing list (dated december 24th, 1997).

The way to do this has spread around, everybody in the AppleScript world is now using it and that's fine with me. Myself I'm not using AppleScript any more really. When I need something scripted I reach for a shell script much faster these days. So yesterday when I saw that post, I remembered all that story fondly: Yeah, I did that thing.

Posted by betabug at 10:36 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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