Archive for July, 2014

Trello is now a company with a product, not just a product. Read the announcement on the Trello blog for more details.


But there’s something else about this story that I wanted to mention more prominently: the importance of people as the core of a (software) business. In the words of Joel Spolsky:

That architecture is all the stuff I spent ten years ranting on this blog about, but y’all don’t listen, so I’m just going to have to build company after company that runs my own wacky operating system, and eventually you’ll catch on. It’s OK to put people first. You don’t have to be a psychopath or work people to death or create heaps of messy code or work in noisy open offices.

Thus he builds company that attracks big investors like sh*t attracks flies. So there’s your proof: treating your workers well isn’t bad for business! Can you hear me, CEO ?


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As mentioned by the Digital Photography Review website in “MIT photography course materials freely available online“:

Via the institute’s Open Course Ware (OCW) program, selected reference materials, syllabus structure and lesson plan guidance is published and free to download so that motivated individuals can teach themselves.

Currently materials from twelve courses are available to the public, including ‘Photography and Truth’, ‘Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: Still Images of a World in Motion’, ‘Sensing Place: Photography as Inquiry and Introduction to Photography’.


For those of you who do not care about photography courses: there are MIT OCW courses on many other subjects available as well. How about a course on network and computer security by Prof. Ronald Rivest of RSA fame?

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The Tested website pointed  the way, and so I went… to the Bamboo website, to download Wacom’s Bamboo Paper app. If you ever wanted to know what makes a Galaxy Note different from a Galaxy Tab tablet, you’ll soon find out when trying this app on a Tab. It will work, yes, but it won’t be as smooth as on a screen with a digitizer that’s made for pen input. Here’s proof that it works, even on an older Samsung Galaxy Tab2: I played with the app for a few minutes, using virtually non-existing drawing skills and an Adonit Jot Pro pen ;-)

Don't ask me what this represents!

Don’t ask me what this represents!

Don’t wait with the app download – at this moment it’s free. That never hurts, does it?

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Just a quick notice (there’s a lot to read and study): now that Apple has opened up its public beta program for the upcoming new version of OS X, Ars Technica published “A closer look at OS X Yosemite“.

Close-up look at some of the Dock icons

Close-up look at some of the Dock icons in OSX Yosemite

I will reserve judgement on the UI until I have actually used it for some time (and that won’t be tomorrow – yet), but Ars concludes that “most things still work like they did before“… Isn’t that good news? But there’s more to Yosemite than just the UI, of course, and only hands-on experience will tell the good parts from the not-so-good. Happy testing, and remember: “beta” means you’re testing – there will be bumps on the road. You do take backups, do you?

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Welcome Back, ElementaryOS

As announced, I have reinstalled ElementaryOS (Luna) on the PC, as a replacement for Linux Mint. Not out of disdain for Mint, let that be clear. Mint is probably an excellent choice for hardcore Linux buffs, who know the tricks of the trade and don’t mind installing what they really need – and nothing more. ElementaryOS looks a bit more like the Mac OS X I’m used to, and it seems to come by default with a few tools that will please the newcomer.

I do have a complaint, though. Getting Luna to accept a Bluetooth keyboard wasn’t exactly simple. I have been using the Logitech K810 Bluetooth keyboard with several machines until now, and setting up the keyboard always went smoothly, be it on a Mac, a PC, or an Android tablet or smartphone (yes, it does work on a Samsung Galaxy S3 as well). But for ElementaryOS I had to consult my helpdesk aka. the Internet, so to help myself remember how to do it let me point you to a blog post from Christian M. Schmid titled “Logitech K810 + Ubuntu“. Since ElementaryOS is based on Ubuntu, Christian’s instructions work like a charm. I had to execute them twice to get everything in order, but that’s probably because I tried the first installation while the system was still running a couple of hundred megabytes worth of system updates ;-)


Except for one thing: I now have two Bluetooth icons in the statusbar, and at times they seem to disagree on the Bluetooth status! I’ll try to find a way to disable the default Bluetooth control panel, but that’s not part of my high-priority todo list!

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Usually, I just glance sideways at the posts on the Android Central website – there’s a lot of rehashing of PR announcements and a lot of fandom trivia on it, like on many other so-called “news sites”. But from time to time it is worth paying attention. Take for example this post, on “Removing some of the mystery of the superuser“:

… having superuser access (root) on any Linux-based machine can allow you to do things that make your device better. It can also allow you to do things that make a device run worse, or even break everything…

Aaah, the power to shoot yourself in the foot! (Photo from the Business Insider website)

Aaah, the power to shoot yourself in the foot!
(Photo from the Business Insider website)

Read the whole post; it’s a good explanation, for Android users as well as Linux newbies.

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For more than twenty-five years, we always and regularly visited the same pizza restaurant. Not because it was a fancy place – far from it. But they had the best pizza in the Antwerp region, much, much better than the stuff some of the global pseudo-pizza concerns sell: a thin, crispy crust with surprising variations of fresh ingredients, prepared and baked by the owner himself, and served by the lady of the house and (much later) their children. As we found out a few days ago, the restaurant now has new owners and a new layer of paint, but the menu is no longer what it used to be until a few months ago…


So farewell, Pizz’Amore family: we miss you already, just like we miss your love for the real pizza!

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Fact number one: “Ukrainians turn to crowdfunding for border surveillance drone“.

If you think I mention this news item because it is about drones (we’re not talking quadcopters here, but octocopters), then you are wrong – it’s about… politics. Technology is not about toys, even if many websites (perhaps even this blog) may give you that impression. But technology – and its use in society – has always, will always play a role in politics, whatever form politics take. Think “arms race” or “space race“, or just plain “war“…

The proposed border patrol octocopter...

The proposed border patrol octocopter…

In Ukraine we’re seeing “crowdfunding meets national defense“; on the website the project refers to “the first national UAV”.

Here’s fact number two to illustrate how a seemingly innocent part of what we Internauts take for granted can be pernicious: “The dark side of .io: How the U.K. is making web domain profits from a shady Cold War land deal“. Just for the record: the ‘.io‘ top-level domain (TLD) does not refer to the words “input/output”,  but to the British Indian Ocean Territory… If anything, this story shows how technology is intermingled with global politics – but you already knew that, no?

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How To Make A Better BBQ Fire

With all the fine weather announced here in Belgium the coming days, this tip may come in handy: “Using a drone for better BBQ“. Just check out the movie ;-)

"Come on, baby, light my fire!"

“Come on, baby, light my fire!”

The DIYPhotography website calls it humour; some may call it a controversial uses of technology; I call it practical, as long as you don’t fry the camera (nor the quadcopter, for that matter, even if it did not cost you almost 900 USD).

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The Wall Street Journal writes “For This Author, 10,000 Wikipedia Articles Is a Good Day’s Work“. The “author” is, as some of you might have guessed, a “bot”, i.e. a program that searches for information on the Internet and compiles it into a Wikipedia entry.

For some, the problem with such an approach to encyclopaedic knowledge is that the entries are usually very short and very similar in style and structure. I suppose we all understand that a program isn’t going to produce 10,000 literary works of art every day – at least not today ;-)

Once it was monkeys doing the typing, now it's robots. Photograph: Getty Images (Click the image to go to the site of The Guardian, for an article  titled "Could robots be the journalists of the future?"

Once it was monkeys doing the typing, now it’s robots. Photograph: Getty Images(Click the image to go to the site of The Guardian,
for an article titled “Could robots be the journalists of the future?

On the other hand, if an encyclopaedia wants to be truly all-encompassing, then it needs more than just entries about popular themes. Let me quote the WSJ for an example:

On Swedish Wikipedia, for instance, he says, there are more than 150 articles on characters from “The Lord of the Rings,” and fewer than 10 about people from the Vietnam War. “I have nothing against Tolkien and I am also more familiar with the battle against Sauron than the Tet Offensive, but is this really a well-balanced encyclopedia?”

So after all is said and done (written) by a bot, it’s still up to humans to add more substance. But who knows what the future will bring? Machines have already transformed our society in the past; who knows what smart software machines will bring?

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A month ago, some people complained that the weather was too good for the time of the year. Now we’re reliving the months of autumn (and winter), with lots of rain and wind (my garden looks like October, with blown off leaves and twigs all around). But the yellow from a month ago (those trees!) isn’t the only yellow you can find around a BMW R1100S ;-)

'oalvarez's bike was for sale in April

‘oalvarez’s R1100S was for sale in April

Yellow and grey: a great combination on the Beemer – and in the picture. I would have left out the Valentino helmet… but it’s not my photo!

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Ars Technica says “Mint 17 is the perfect place for Linux-ers to wait out Ubuntu uncertainty“. The article enumerates a series of good arguments in favour of Mint. However…

(Click the image to go to the Mint website)

(Click the image to go to the Mint website)

I installed and tried Mint (Cinnamon). It crashed on me within the hour, while installing Google Chrome and a bit of clicking about. It is well possible that my hardware was not up to the demands of the Cinnamon desktop, but no, I’m not impressed by that… But although I do like to experiment (perhaps I should try the MATE version, which uses a bit less memory and CPU?), for now I’m going back to elementary OS, which is also based on Ubuntu, like Mint, but has served me well the last few months (see my announcement of elementary OS in January).

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In general, you should not use folders in SharePoint document libraries. But there are always exceptional situations, and when those pop up you may have to write a bit of JavaScript to handle one of them in a specific way. So how do you find out if a given folder exists? That was the question I had to answer in SharePoint 2010. There is no predefined function to help me, so I resorted to jQuery and the SharePoint Client Object Model.

My first trials tried to look for a ‘ListItem‘ with a given ‘Name‘, but strangely enough that never resulted in the answer I expected: the existing folder was never found. Replace ‘Name‘ with ‘Title‘ – same result: no folder found, just frustration…

It took me a while to figure this out, but after a lot of searching Sohel’s “SharePoint 2010: Manage (Create/Delete/Rename) list folders with Client Object Model (OM)” brought the info I needed. In summary:

  • In the search parameters, you have to combine the value “1” in a field called ‘FSObjType‘…
  • … with the name of the folder you’re looking for in a field called ‘FileLeafRef‘…
  • … while applying the ‘GetListItems‘ call.

Then you have to check ‘ItemCount‘ attribute of the ‘rs:data‘ element in the XML response of the call; you know you have found your folder if the ‘ItemCount‘ equals 1.

Here’s a JavaScript example:

var folderName = "....";

// Create the CAML query
var camlText = "<Query><Where><And>"
camlText = camlText + "<Eq><FieldRef Name='FSObjType'/><Value Type='Integer'>1</Value></Eq>";
camlText = camlText + "<Eq><FieldRef Name='FileLeafRef'/><Value Type='Text'>";
camlText = camlText + folderName;
camlText = camlText + "</Value></Eq>";
camlText = camlText + "</And></Where></Query>";

// Now search for that folder and do Something()...
    operation: "GetListItems",
    async: false,
    listName: "Archives",
    CAMLQuery: camlText,
    completefunc: function( xData, Status ) {
      var itemcount = $( xData.responseXML ).find( '[nodeName=rs:data]' ).attr( 'ItemCount' );
      Something( .... );

In the end, I came to the conclusion that the solution to my problem is simple – but I took me more than half a day to get there!


PS. If you can’t see all of the code, just make the display font of the browser a bit smaller – all the code is really there for you to copy ;-)

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I cannot remember how I found this website, but I remember taking my time reading “How Challenger Exploded, and Other Lessons in the Catastrophes We Make” on the Motherboard site. I wanted to know why the NASA Shuttle ‘Challenger’ exploded: the explosion in 1986 was big news, but a good, more or less detailed explanation of the cause of that accident never made the headlines, at least not here in Belgium. In summary: the rubber rings used as seals on the rocket boosters were not meant to be used at the (unusual) below-zero temperature measured at the launch site. The risk had been brought to the attention of NASA by some of the engineers, but was discounted when deciding to go for launch.

Why was the risk discounted by an organisation that had (and has) a reputation for high-quality engineering and a prudent approach on deciding whether to launch a vehicle into space? The particular reasons for the failure to correctly evaluate this specific risk isn’t exactly clear, but it’s clear that the potential impact of the risk wasn’t sufficiently clear.

The author of the article makes clear that NASA isn’t the only organisation that does not succeed in correctly evaluating the consequences of specific risks. The automotive industry is also discussed, as is the financial crisis of 2008, which showed that “insurance” isn’t going to provide an answer to all potential problems!

What every organisation needs, is a culture where risks can be discussed more or less openly:

Despite its shortcomings, NASA’s Space Shuttle left a positive legacy for spaceflight and for everyone. Part of that was the lesson that not making mistakes requires the brute force of computers, torrents of data, and an understanding of laws, both the physics and the government kind. It demands focus. But it also needs human doubt and dissent.

A mechanism for “human doubt and dissent” should be ‘built’ into enterprises – but I haven’t seen many examples in my admittedly limited experience. But don’t forget: such a mechanism probably needs to be ‘cultural’ rather than ‘formal’, and ‘culture’ is hard to engineer…

(Photo courtesy DAVID BOYD)

(Photo courtesy DAVID BOYD)

There is a fine example of what is needed, just at the end of a one and a half hour documentary on Youtube (part 1 and part 2) about the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. I do hope Prineville Hotshot Tom Shepard is speaking for all firefighter crews working today and in the future:

If [any member of the crew sees] something they don’t understand or see something that they think is out of whack, they’re encouraged, today, to speak up, ask about it. [pause] Ya know, it takes twenty people to run a hotshot crew. Not just one; it takes twenty, and every voice is important. There just could be something that someone misses along the way that the newest recruit notices and brings to the supervisor’s attention and ends up saving some lives.

Every voice is important“. Every voice in an organisation should count, and that means everyone has to listen as well.

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If you still think that the patent system (be it in the US or in Europe) is benefitting society (or at least the economy), think again after reading this hard proof:

Turns out there is a very real, and very negative, correlation between patent troll lawsuits and the venture capital funding that startups rely on. A just-released study [PDF] by Catherine Tucker, a professor of marketing at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, finds that over the last five years, VC investment “would have likely been $21.772 billion higher… but for litigation brought by frequent litigators.”


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