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Archive for May, 2013

Just go read the article “Carnivorous plant has deleted most of its junk DNA” to learn about genetics and to contemplate the word ‘bladderwort‘. If I still ran a weekly post for “word of the week”, ‘bladderwort‘ would have been a winner!

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Ubuntu 13.04 Is Not Perfect

I’m very happy with Ubuntu on my netbook, but I did find a nasty problem: the “Shutdown or Restart” dialog is completely unreadable! All I see is a more or less transparent milky white rectangle with a grey border… Random clicking does give results, but I haven’t yet memorized the position of the choices offered – and I don’t feel I should memorize them!

Am I the only one to notice this? I don’t often shut down or restart my machine, but this is too annoying not to complain about it.

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While cleaning up yet another small part of my office, I found these brochures between other papers. Do you remember those computers?

Brochures for TI TM990/189, Commodore PET, Rockwell AIM 65, Synertek VIM-1 and ITT 2020 Micro Computer

Remember those computers? These were the brochures for TI TM990/189, Commodore PET, Rockwell AIM 65, Synertek VIM-1 and ITT 2020 Micro Computer, from the very early 1980’s.

The brochures must date from the years 1980 or 1981, I think – I bought a Sinclair ZX-81 in 1982, and these brochures must have been part of my selection process. I even noted the approximate prices for several of them:

Synertek VIM 1 14.000 BEF
TI TM 990/189 16.000 BEF
Rockwell AIM 65 17.000 BEF
ITT 2020 54.000 BEF

According to the EconStats site, a Belgian franc in 1980 would have been worth two and a half times a franc of today. For those of you unfamiliar with the pre-euro currency rates: thousand BEF (Belgian francs) correspond to approximately 25€. So in current money, those old and admittedly limited computers would cost:

Synertek VIM 1 875 €
TI TM 990/189 1.000 €
Rockwell AIM 65 1.062 €
ITT 2020 3.375 €

No wonder I hesitated to buy any of them, even though I really wanted to get my hands on one of them. Micro-computers were so new then that there wasn’t much to read about them, you really needed to touch and use them in order to grok them. And no, there was no Internet in those days, remember?

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It’s been here for a couple of weeks, and it installs fine through the OTA installer if you have previous versions of CM10 on your Samsung Galaxy S Plus: CM10 Release 2.5 by ivendor. Contrary to some reports on the XDA forum I have no problems with the camera ;-)

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We have returned from our trip more than a week ago, yet I can’t help but think about it every day… In summary: my wife and I spent 4 days on a trip to and in the French region of the Vosges Mountains – on a motorcycle, of course, and in the company of a few good friends.

In just four days we chalked up 1395 kilometers; we drove about half of those on the small and twisty rural roads of north-eastern France – just what we wanted! We also drove a part of the ‘Route des vins d’Alsace’ under a sunny sky.

Touring the Alsace vineyards (Beblenheim, FR)

Touring the Alsace vineyards (Beblenheim, FR)

The BMW R1100S turns out to be great for this kind of use. The bike handles the curvy roads beautifully, and it is very comfortable: it never made me feel tired. My wife enjoyed the tour as well, even though the last time she rode along was more than 15 years ago. In fact, the riding was so much fun that I mostly failed to stop and take pictures. What more can you want? More of the same, of course!

We found the remnants of snow in the Markstein ski resort (FR)

We found the remnants of snow in the Markstein ski resort (FR)

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If you’re like me and you don’t like the fact that by default a search in the Dash also returns products you can buy online, don’t worry. Just start up a command shell and execute a simple command:

sudo apt-get remove unity-shell-shopping

Then log out and log in again, and what annoyed you will be gone ;-)

For a few more tips on tweaking the Raring Ringtail, check out “7 Things To Do After Installing Ubuntu 13.04 (Raring Ringtail)“.

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I have always been fond of typography, but this is a special font: Font Awesome only contains icons. They may be simple icons, but they do look good. No suprises there: these icons were developed for the Bootstrap framework used by Twitter.

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Science On TV? Yes They Can

Thank you, Scientific American, for allowing Kyle Hill to express his fandom of the Mythbusters as much as I do. Europe needs this as much as the US: “We need a generation of kids who think an experiment is more important than a preconceived notion or an argument from authority“. If the Mythbusters show can help, then let us please have lots of it. Yes, it would be better if there was even more “science” and less explosions – but that’s American TV, no?

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From Reclaim Social: “Depending on your personal level of addiction, everyday you create, curate and share things on the internet. Great. You use about 384 social networks, that just don’t belong to you. Still great. Sort of, who wants to own facebook anyway. But if you search anything you shared or liked a year ago, you’re lost. If your account is suspended, your data may be lost completely. Reclaim Social is a wordpress based concept, consisting of some plugins and scripts. It allows you to mirror and store your content and activities around the web on your own blog“.

The Reclaim software is far from finished, so if you know anything about WordPress plugin development you can lend a hand to this open source project started by Sascha Lobo and Felix Schwenzel.

I like the concept, even though I don’t need it for myself: I have almost all of what I ‘produced’ right here on my blog (except for afew hundred not so interesting tweets from more than a year ago). But being able to keep a copy of what you publish is a good idea, in my view. Dave Winer proposes to author your stuff in a single tool under your control, then publish wherever you fancy. Reclaim proposes the inverse way: publish where you want, then copy it all into your blog. Conceptually, Dave’s approach has the advantage; in practice, many people may well find a tool like Reclaim Social simpler to use. And WordPress is a good platform for such a tool, if the reclaimed content can be a part of the normal backup/restore tool in WP.

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Until a few days ago, the netbook was running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. But upgrading to 13.04 was not difficult, just time-consuming. First I had to upgrade to 12.10, which already brought a more responsive Unity interface. And today 13.04 had to prove its worth. So far, so good: being able to drag windows from one workspace to another was something I missed in 12.04 (or did I forget to turn a switch somewhere?), and that’s back now. And everything else – actually, that’s Chrome mostly – seems to run like before. What more can you want from an upgrade?

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A few days ago, Daniel Greenfeld wrote a blog post on the “Tools we used to write Two Scoops of Django“. Mentioning the words “tools” and “Django” in a single phrase is sure to get my attention, and the post did not disappoint. What fascinated me most, however, was not the “tools” part nor the “Django” part. The story is a good example to explain which difficulties show up in the process of creating and managing good content – even when it is “just” the writing of a book and its publication in multiple formats.

If you read the story, you will notice that

  • the authors started using familiar tools, like Python’s reStructuredText and Google Documents;
  • they then noticed that those tools did not measure up to their requirements, and had to switch again and again – until they ended up with LaTeX, allowing them to clearly structure the content and only then apply the formatting and layout for a paper version;
  • e-book formats are a world on their own, and it’s a complex world with many pitfalls;
  • technical content is never finished, so it requires forethought and planning to keep up with reality during the lifetime of your document.

All this about a relatively simple thing as a book, and by that I mean no disrespect to the authors. But assembling and maintaining say a website with hundreds of pages will be even harder, since such an endeavour add factors such as user management, target audiences, multiple authors, possibly multiple languages, categorization of pages, an editorial policy, and more – and that’s not mentioning a series of technical aspects. Enterprise content management ups the ante again, sometimes by several factors. So, yes, Content Management can be hard, very hard, to do right.

* * *

And what about the book, you ask? Well, if I’m ever going to do anything serious with Django I’ll need a copy of “Two Scoops of Django“. The sample chapter was a bit over my head, since I’m an absolute Django beginner, but the patterns and tips seemed logical and well explained. The writing is clear and sensible. The only thing I did not like is the fact that code samples are sometimes being split over two pages. That should not happen except when the code is longer than what fits on a single page, and even then I would prefer the code to be rewritten and packaged in smaller blocks. But all in all, this looks like a worthwhile book.

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I concur with this quote, although I’m not really versed in Lisp: “Computer programmers are perpetually in search of beauty, and more often than not, this beauty presents itself in the form of simplicity. Seven functions and two special forms. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that…” (from “The Clojure Philosophy” on Dr.Dobbs).

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