you can logoff, but you can never leave

Book Review: How to Win Friends

| Comments

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie teaches you how to deal with people. The book briefly explains some easy to use principles, why and how they work and then provides tons of real life examples behind those principles. This book is a must for everyone but especially parents and teachers and folks in sales, management or business leaders.

I will only highlight the key points. What follows are direct quotes from the book.

Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

‘If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive’ - PRINCIPLE 1: Don’t criticise, condemn or complain.

The Big Secret of Dealing with People - PRINCIPLE 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.

‘He Who Can Do This Has the Whole World with Him. He Who Cannot Walks a Lonely Way’ - PRINCIPLE 3: Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You

Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere - PRINCIPLE 1: Become genuinely interested in other people.

A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression - PRINCIPLE 2: Smile.

If You Don’t Do This, You Are Headed for Trouble - PRINCIPLE 3: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

An Easy Way to Become a Good Conversationalist - PRINCIPLE 4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

How to Interest People - PRINCIPLE 5: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

How to Make People Like You Instantly - PRINCIPLE 6: Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

You Can’t Win an Argument - PRINCIPLE 1: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

A Sure Way of Making Enemies – and How to Avoid It - PRINCIPLE 2: Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, ‘You’re wrong’.

If You’re Wrong, Admit It - PRINCIPLE 3: If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

A Drop of Honey - PRINCIPLE 4: Begin in a friendly way.

The Secret of Socrates - PRINCIPLE 5: Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.

The Safety Valve in Handling Complaints - PRINCIPLE 6: Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

How to Get Cooperation - PRINCIPLE 7: Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

A Formula That Will Work Wonders for You - PRINCIPLE 8: Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

What Everybody Wants - PRINCIPLE 9: Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

An Appeal That Everybody Likes - PRINCIPLE 10: Appeal to the nobler motives.

The Movies Do It. TV Does It. Why Don’t You Do It? - PRINCIPLE 11: Dramatise your ideas.

When Nothing Else Works, Try This - PRINCIPLE 12: Throw down a challenge.

Part Four: Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

If You Must Find Fault, This Is the Way to Begin - PRINCIPLE 1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

How to Criticise – and Not Be Hated for It - PRINCIPLE 2: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

Talk About Your Own Mistakes First - PRINCIPLE 3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person.

No One Likes to Take Orders - PRINCIPLE 4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

Let the Other Person Save Face - PRINCIPLE 5: Let the other person save face.

How to Spur People On to Success - PRINCIPLE 6: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise’.

Give a Dog a Good Name - PRINCIPLE 7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct - PRINCIPLE 8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

Making People Glad to Do What You Want - PRINCIPLE 9: Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

SNAKE Is No Longer Needed to Run Installation Tests in Beaker

| Comments

This is a quick status update for one of the pieces of Fedora QA infrastructure and mostly a self-note.

Previously to control the kickstart configuration used during installation in Beaker one had to either modify the job XML in Beaker or use SNAKE (bkr workflow-snake) to render a kickstart configuration from a Python template.

SNAKE presented challenges when deploying and using beaker.fedoraproject.org and is virtually unmaintained.

I present the new bkr workflow-installer-test which uses Jinja2 templates to generate a kickstart configuration when provisioning the system. This is already available in beaker-client-0.17.1.

The templates make use of all Jinja2 features (as far as I can tell) so you can create very complex ones. You can even include snippets from one template into another if required. The standard context that is passed to the template is:

  • DISTRO - if specified, the distro name
  • FAMILY - as returned by Beaker server, e.g. RedHatEnterpriseLinux6
  • OS_MAJOR and OS_MINOR - also taken from Beaker server. e.g. OS_MAJOR=6 and OS_MINOR=5 for RHEL 6.5
  • VARIANT - if specified
  • ARCH - CPU architecture like x86_64
  • any parameters passed to the test job with --taskparam. They are processed last and can override previous values.

Installation related tests at fedora-beaker-tests have been updated with a ks.cfg.tmpl templates to use with this new workflow.

This workflow also has the ability to return boot arguments for the installer if needed. If any, they should be defined in a {% block kernel_options %}{% endblock %} block inside the template. A simpler variant is to define a comment line that stars with ## kernel_options:

There are still a few issues which need to be fixed before beaker.fedoraproject.org can be used by the general public though. I will be writing another post about that so stay tuned.

Tip: Collecting Emails - Webhooks for UserVoice and WordPress.com

| Comments

In my practice I like to use webhooks and integrate auxiliary services with my internal processes or businesses. One of these is the collection of emails. In this short article I’ll show you an example of how to collect email addresses from the comments of a WordPress.com blog and the UserVoice feedback/ticketing system.

WordPress.com

For your WordPress.com blog from the Admin Dashboard navigate to Settings -> Webhooks and add a new webhook with action comment_post and fields comment_author, comment_author_email. A simple Django view that handles the input is shown below.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
@csrf_exempt
def hook_wp_comment_post(request):
    if not request.POST:
        return HttpResponse("Not a POST\n", content_type='text/plain', status=403)

    hook = request.POST.get("hook", "")

    if hook != "comment_post":
        return HttpResponse("Go away\n", content_type='text/plain', status=403)

    name = request.POST.get("comment_author", "")
    first_name = name.split(' ')[0]
    last_name = ' '.join(name.split(' ')[1:])

    details = {
        'first_name' : first_name,
        'last_name' : last_name,
        'email' : request.POST.get("comment_author_email", ""),
    }

    store_user_details(details)

    return HttpResponse("OK\n", content_type='text/plain', status=200)

UserVoice

For UserVoice navigate to Admin Dashboard -> Settings -> Integrations -> Service Hooks and add a custom web hook for the New Ticket notification. Then use a sample code like that:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
@csrf_exempt
def hook_uservoice_new_ticket(request):
    if not request.POST:
        return HttpResponse("Not a POST\n", content_type='text/plain', status=403)

    data = request.POST.get("data", "")
    event = request.POST.get("event", "")

    if event != "new_ticket":
        return HttpResponse("Go away\n", content_type='text/plain', status=403)

    data = json.loads(data)

    details = {
        'email' : data['ticket']['contact']['email'],
    }

    store_user_details(details)

    return HttpResponse("OK\n", content_type='text/plain', status=200)

store_user_details() is a function which handles the email/name received in the webhook, possibly adding them to a database or anything else.

I find webhooks extremely easy to setup and develop and used them whenever they are supported by the service provider. What other services do you use webhooks for? Please share your story in the comments.

Software Design Vol. 1

| Comments

I’m starting a new series where I will share my thoughts about software design, usability and other related topics with examples of items I like or dislike. I’ve written before about the topic so consider this post as a sequel. I’m starting with couple of examples from the mobile world. Plese use the comments to tell if there is something that you particulary like or dislike in software or hardware design (and apologies to my readers for not being able to post more frequently lately).

BlackBerry Camera Burst Feature vs. Android

BlackBerry 10 Camera’s burst mode is well made in my opinion. It is capable of taking thousands of pictures and saving the to disk without interruption. Thus I am capable of taking pictures of fast moving objects like flash lights.

Flash light

On the other hand I have access to an HTC One smartphone with Android. The burst mode feature there is particularly crappy. It shoots between 20 to 50 photos (haven’t counted how much exactly), then takes a second to flash everything to disk, then pops a question asking the user to select the best one and possibly delete the rest. If you don’t want all of this just tap the back button to return to shooting mode.

BlackBerry Hub

Hub is another well designed application which integrates all of your accounts and messaging into the core of the OS although other mobile OSes have a similar feature as well if I’m not mistaken. I just mention it because it is easy and comfortable to use.

BlackBerry Memory Management

BlackBerry 10 OS memory management is particularly crappy with respect to the end user. I’m not sure whether this is due to QNX being real-time OS or just the Java stack keeping stuff in memory.

After some usage my development Z10 will begin experiencing out of memory issues (it has 1 GB of RAM vs. 2 GB in production hardware). This will lead to apps crashing, web pages that were able to open, not being able to load and the most annoying of all - camera starts taking pictures with random color spots.

Blackberry camera fail

After restarting the device everything is back to normal :(.

BlackBerry Date and Time Synchronization

This one I also hate a lot. It appears that the software is designed to automatically synchronize over the Internet and without a reliable connection fails miserably. After reboot (or even worse battery removal) the device will start with a fixed date and time somewhere in the past. If it fails to synchronize or takes too long several things happen:

  • The Blackberry Hub application loads first (email and other accounts) which causes all sorts of warnings of invalid SSL certificates. Which in their own right are annoying because Cancel means dismiss the warning until the next connection retry; which blocks access to the main menu for manual configuration;
  • All images taken by the Camera app will be saved on disk with the wrong date which makes you think they are gone; I’ve found this by accident while scrolling way back in my history looking for something unrelated.

Multiple File Selection

I haven’t tested this explicitly on Android or other mobile devices but on BlackBerry the user needs to tap each individual object to select it. My guess is this is similar on all devices utilizing a touch screen. However such interface makes it damn hard to select a thousand files for deletion (the unusable results from the camera burst mode feature). Luckily Z10 (and possibly others) has a shell application with cp, mv and rm -f commands.

Using D-Link DAP-1320 Wireless Range Extender With MAC Filtering

| Comments

Recently I’ve purchased a wireless range extender as the one shown here. It had troubles connecting to the upstream Wi-Fi router because it used MAC filtering instead of password security. Luckily there was a forum thread which helped me figure it out.

DAP 1320 uses two MAC addresses

Everything was working just fine with MAC filtering disabled on the upstream router but failed miserably when enabled. I thought the MAC address provided on the DAP 1320 packaging was wrong.

It turned out the device had 2 addresses. The one on the packaging is 70:62:B8:07:0B:76 and it didn’t matter if that is enabled or disabled in the router settings. The second MAC is used when trying to forward connections through the router. Both addresses differ by the second symbol with a difference of 2. So I’ve enabled 72:62:B8:07:0B:76 in the router settings and everything worked like a charm.

Other findings

Unfortunately if a device is connected to the wifi extender’s network it will bypass the MAC filtering employed on the upstream wifi router. As much as I dislike using passwords for Wi-Fi I had to configure one for the extended network.

I’ve also found that when you save the configuration file from the device on your hard drive it comes in a base64-encoded-line-by-line format. Pretty awkward.

Another pleasant (but not entirely surprising) finding was that D-Link included a written acknowledgment of using open source components and an offer to provide source code upon request.

Summary of Evolve Digital

| Comments

Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs

Yesterday I’ve visited an event organized by the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria which officially marked the launch of a digital national alliance in Bulgaria. This is part of an initiative of the European Commission, called Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, which aims to address the lack of sufficient amount and quality professionals in Europe working in the field of Information and Communication technologies.

The first part was few short keynotes, including one from deputy prime minister and memorandum signing and group photo. In the keynotes (and afterwards) the stress was on the lack of relevant ICT skills and the need of an estimated 1 million digital workers by 2020 in EU alone.

The next two sessions were panel discussions. The first one presenting the local chapter of the Digital Coalition in Bulgaria.

The goals of the coalition are to:

  • help more people master more digital skills (not only as developers but also proper usage of social media, how to create content, etc)
  • enable more people to choose digital jobs
  • help local talents present themselves on the global scene

How it (is supposed to) works:

  • initiate own ideas and propose them for implementation (to the ICT industry and broad public I guess)
  • stimulate learning through doing, learning by example using real use cases
  • help (and possibly sponsor) outside projects and ideas

Then the various companies supporting the coalition pledged how they are going to help. The most interesting news from this panel was the announcement of a new HP data center in Sofia which will be used as a training lab with access available to students.

The second panel was about education and how to bridge the gap! The interesting points were:

  • Ministry of Education and Science admits they have finally realized that our educational system and programs are behind current tendencies and need concrete steps in order to boost education and science research;
  • Samsung will open their innovation lab at Sofia University to outside students as well;
  • We need to pay more attention to content and training of teachers because they also have a skills gap while young children do not;

I particularly liked what Prof. Petar Kenderov from the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics at Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said - in the outside world children are constantly sharing and communicating with each other while at school (also to some extent in universities) they are expected to not communicate, not share and keep quiet. He emphasized the value of learning through experimentation vs. learning through reading and writing, e.g. the current way things work and the old way of teaching.

Another thing that was obvious was that otherwise competing companies (e.g. Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, VMware) were working together to fix some of the problems mentioned. However I’m a bit skeptical that large multi-national companies will be flexible enough to make a positive change. I’d bet on the independent organizations like HackBulgaria and Svetlin Nakov’s Software University or initiatives by local Bulgarian companies like the already proven Telerik Academy.

Here’s the entire program of the event, for anyone interested:

“EVOLVE DIGITAL”
10th June 2014 (Tuesday)

10:00 – 10:10 Opening: Gergana Passy, Digital Champion Bulgaria

10:10 – 10:20 Daniela Bobeva, Deputy Prime-Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria
10:20 – 10:30 Constantijn van Oranje, Head of Cabinet of Vice-President of EC Neelie Kroes
10:30 – 10:40 Jonathan Murray, Director, Digital Europe
Special guest: Sandi Češko, Founder & President, Studio Moderna

10:40 – 10:50 Memorandum Signing and Group Photo
10:50 – 11:00 Pause

11:00 – 12:15 Digital Coalition Bulgaria
Moderator: Boyan Benev, Founder, Forward.li

Rennie Popcheva, CEO, Digital Coalition Bulgaria
Boyko Iaramov, Co-founder & Chief Process Officer, Telerik
Marta Poslad, Senior Policy Advisor, CEE Google
Petar Ivanov, General Manager, Microsoft Bulgaria
Iravan Hira, General Manager, Hewlett-Packard Bulgaria
Atanas Dobrev, CEO, VIVACOM
Danny Gooris, Senior Manager, Oracle Academy
Dimitar Dimitrov, Relationship Business Development, Lenovo
Stamen Kochkov, Vice-president, SAP Labs Bulgaria, Chairman of BASSCOM


12:15 – 12:30 Coffee Break

12:30 – 13:45 Education in the Digital Era
Moderator: Boyan Benev, Founder, Forward.li

Ivan Krastev, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education and Science, Republic of Bulgaria
George Stoytchev, Executive Director, Open Society Institute Sofia
Sabina Stirb, Public Affairs & Corporate Citizenship Manager, Samsung
Prof. Petar Kenderov, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics, Bulgarian
Academy of Sciences
Dr. George Sharkov, Director, European Software Institute - Center Eastern
Europe
Elena Marinova, President, Musala Soft, Chair of the Educational Commission,
Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies
Svetlin Nakov, Founder, Software University

13:45 – Lunch in Restaurant “At the Eagles”
11 Dyakon Ygnatiy str., in the building of Ministry of transport, 18th Floor

Bulgaria Web Summit Report

| Comments

Last week ended up with Bulgaria Web Summit. The event was very big this year, with 4 halls and 600 visitors. I was moderating the so called JavaScript hall and will concentrate on what happened there.

BGWS Rhodopi Hall at 10:00 This is what my hall looked like at around 10:00 and stayed pretty much the same during the entire day.

Speakers at hall Rhodopi were (in order of appearance)

  • Delian Delchev talking about the JavaScript revolution taking over the world and how this language has become the most widely used programming language in the world.
  • Haralan Dobrev with some tips about development workflows, git, continuous integration and unit testing.
  • Yoga for Geeks during the lunch break.
  • Boyan Dzhumakov with topics about home automation and Internet of things, who demonstrated his bed side lamp controlled via a light sensor and Arduino.
  • Neven Boyanov continuing on the hardware topics with comparison of ATmel, Arduino and Raspberry Pi and showing more examples of small programmable devices.
  • Angel Todorov from Infragistics with a very interesting talk about JavaScript instrumentation for performance analysis. A very cool presentation and you should definitely check out his cheetah.js framework.
  • Krasimir Tsonev with AbsurdJS - a JavaScript library with superpowers. Teaser: Krasimir is also publishing a book caled Node.js Blueprints.
  • Vasil Kolev with a talk about security and web service design and how most of the web is doing it wrong :).

Unfortunately there is no video or audio recording available. If you find some of the talks interesting and would like to get more info about it let me know. I will ask the presenters to share their slides or give more details where possible.

Don’t worry if you’ve missed the Web Summit in Sofia. There will be another one in the autumn, held at Veliko Tarnovo. For more info please subscribe to the newsletter.

DigitalK Day 2 Report

| Comments

Continuing to report on the last few events that took place in Sofia this week.

Day #2 of DigitalK started with the presentation of Piotr Jas of BlaBla Car. What I really liked about it (picture TBA) was one particular graph depicting the various types of travel (time before travel vs. cost of travel) and visualizing different industries (e.g. air travel) or competitor companies. The image clearly exhibited a blank space which is the exact market segment where BlaBla Car have positioned themselves in.

A very practical and easy to use tool for entrepreneurs in my opinion.

From the rest of the keynotes I can outline two in particular: Ivan Hernandez’ Disruptive Innovation and the future of Digital Transformation and The future of Tech and Communities by Tim Röhrich.

I liked them because both were very inspirational although not telling you something which you haven’t heard before. They were basically reinforcing the spirit of the event.

In the small hall there was a workshop called How to turn a good idea into a successful start-up led by Daniela Neumann, which didn’t turn out to be what I expected. She was talking about the early cycle of idea/customer validation and I don’t remember any particular example being shown. Frankly most of the people have heard about this before (myself included) and were quite bored. Not many of them stayed till the end.

The evening continued with the already traditional Silicon Drinkabout in Sofia which hosted many of the conference attendees. I did a quick visit only because I had to prepare myself for Bulgaria Web Summit on the next day!

Twilio Meetup and DigitalK 2014 Day 1

| Comments

The conference season (this week) is officially open! So here’s my report about it.

It started by accident last evening with a warm-up event sponsored by Twilio at betahaus Sofia. I had the pleasure to have a long chat with Lisa from Twilio over a few beers.

Today was Day #1 of DigitalK which is the leading SEE technology event. I’ve also visited the event last year and must say that this time it is bigger. The main hall was totally packed. The WiFi connectivity has been improved since last year but still sucked. I had more success using my 3G instead.

The most interesting part of Day #1 was the mini Seedcamp session which presented 10 startups. In order of appearance they are

  1. AdTapsy
  2. Bitcoini.com
  3. iKollect
  4. RocketAds
  5. ScaleWhale
  6. Smartoken
  7. Stepsss
  8. Talkie
  9. Viblast
  10. Wiziva

Viblast, Stepsss and Talkie were the 3 finalists who also presented at the main hall. Needless to say the coolest one from technology point of view is Viblast, which is a peer-to-peer video streaming platform, utilizing WebRTC. They were also strong at the presentation and look very strong at the business level as well. I wish them good luck.

Stepsss is essentially a shoe sole with sensors paired with smart-phone apps to give runners more info and feedback. I like it because they are a hardware company although there’s lots of competition in this space. I’d like to beta test their product and see what happens when I go dancing all night long :).

Talkie is an educational app for children which helps them learn new languages. I had the pleasure to see it in action before the actual presentation. The design is very cool and the app does seem usable and complete. However I don’t see much of a technological challenge here and I’m not sure how will they deal with the strong competition in the ed-tech space. We’ll have to wait and see.

From the rest ScaleWhale and Smartoken do seem interesting but I really failed to get how things will be organized on the technology side. Both ideas are run by a single person team, which is a recipe for disaster (judging from my own experience).

Tomorrow is Day #2 of DigitalK and on Saturday I’m moderating one of the rooms at Bulgaria Web Summit. Expect more reports soon.

I Want to Be a Robot - Book Review: The Singularity Is Near

| Comments

I’ve just finished reading The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology and all I have to say is “I want to be a robot”!

This is one of the books that took me the longest time to read. It’s a hard to read book because it is full of technical and scientific details, quotes a great deal of facts and research and leads your mind into fields which deserve a separate books for themselves.

The purely technical side of the book makes it a bit hard to follow as you need to have a good deal of understanding of computing technology and concepts and keep in mind what’s been said in previous chapters.

Ray Kurzweil starts with historical data about evolution and technological progress. He postulates his theory of technology evolution called “The Law of Accelerating Returns” and lists a great deal of examples to prove that evolutionary processes are indeed not linear but exponential.

The next two chapters explain how much is the computational capacity of the human brain, how to achieve that and how to reverse engineer the brain itself. Think about 3-D molecular computing, quantum computing, brain imaging and scanning :)

Increased computing capacity and understanding of the human brain (and general progress of science and technology in the mean time) will lead to the three revolutions which will make the Singularity possible: Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics (Strong AI). Ray gives a lot of examples and current research which is well under way currently or will become a reality in the next 10 to 30 years.

Following in the book is a list of impacts caused by the advancement of technology and the Singularity itself. On the human body and brain, on longevity, on warfare, on work and learning and play, on the Cosmos.

Because the Singularity is not a single event but rather many events which happen in parallel and gradually over time we will have a hard time defining what a human means. What is human, what is consciousness and where the line is are questions which need to be taken into consideration. Ultimately the human race will become (predominantly) non-biological.

How do you deal with dangers and shortcomings in technology? I myself as a QA engineer have seen software fail in spectacular ways. How about machine failures? Now how about nanobots in your blood stream or strong AI gone wild? Ray explains some of the possible threats and proposals to overcome them. His point is that benefits from advanced technology will be far greater than dangers and we will be able to first design our defense systems before anything else that may threaten our existence.

The last chapter contains examples of criticism and explanations why they are incorrect which is the first of its kind I’ve seen in a book.

Epilogue

Human Centrality. A common view is that science has consistently been correcting our overly inflated view of our
own significance. Stephen Jay Gould said, “The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only
common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about
our centrality in the cosmos.”

But it turns out that we are central, after all. Our ability to create models-virtual realities-in our brains, combined
with our modest-looking thumbs, has been sufficient to usher in another form of evolution: technology. That
development enabled the persistence of the accelerating pace that started with biological evolution. It will continue
until the entire universe is at our fingertips.

Book Review - Last 3 Months

| Comments

Hello folks, this is my book list for the past 3 months. It ranges from tech and start-up related to Japanese and kid stories. Here’s my quick review.

Lean UX

Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience is the second book I read on the subject after first reading UX for Lean Startups.

It is published before UX for Lean Startups and is much more about principles than any practical methods. Honestly I’m not sure if I took any real value out of it. Maybe if I had read these two books in reverse order it would have been better.

The Hacienda - How Not to Run a Club

The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club by Peter Hook is one of my favorites. It covers a great deal of music and clubland history, depicts crazy parties and describes the adventure of owning one of the most popular nightclubs in the world. All of that while struggling to make a buck and pouring countless pounds into a black hole.

The irony is The Hacienda became a legendary place only after it had closed down and later on being demolished.

A must read for anyone who is considering business in the entertainment industry or wants to read a piece of history. My favorite quote of the book:

Years after, Tony Wilson found himself sitting opposite Madonna at dinner.

‘I eventually plucked up the courage to look across the table to Madonna and ask,
“Are you aware that the first place you appeared outside of New York was our club in Manchester?”

‘She gave me an ice-cold stare and said, “My memory seems to have wiped that.”’

Simple Science Experiments

Simple Science Experiments by Hans Jürgen Press is a very old book listing 200 experiments which you can do at home using household materials. It is great for teaching basic science to children. The book is very popular and is available in many languages and editions - just search for it.

I used to have this as a kid and was able to purchase the 1987 Bulgarian edition at an antique bookstore in Varna two months ago.

Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter

Decided to experiment a little bit and found Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. It’s a child’s book telling the story of two kids whose fathers are rival robbers. The book is an easy read (2-3 hrs before bed time) with stories of magic woods, dwarfs and scary creatures mixed with human emotions and the good vs. bad theme.

Japanese Short Stories

I’ve managed to find a 1973 compilation of Japanese short stories translated into Bulgarian. Also one of my favorite books.

If I’m not mistaken these are classic Japanese authors, nothing modern or cutting edge. Most of the action happens during the early 1900s as far as I can tell. What impresses me most is the detailed description of nature and surrounding details in all of the stories.

The Singularity Is Near

I’ve also started The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil.

It’s a bit hard to read because the book is full of so many technical details about genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and AI.

Ray depicts a bright future where humans will transcend our biological limitations and essentially become pure intelligence. Definitely a good read and I will tell you more about it when I finish it.


What have you been reading since January ? I’d love to see your book list or connect on Goodreads.

Screen Magnifier and Smart Phone! Has Anyone Used It ?

| Comments

Do you remember I was going to replace my laptop for a smartphone. There’s the issue with a desk working environment and one solution is to buy an external display. The other one is to use a screen magnifier as shown on the picture (source eBay).

Mobile Screen Magnifier

Does anyone have experience with these? Ultimately it should be possible to use any 3x Fresnel lens magnifier and make your 5” phone display into a 15” laptop size one. The magnifiers used for reading, this one are cheap and portable but don’t look very well around the edges.

If anyone has such a device at hand I’d love to see if this works for you or not. Thanks!

Howto: Django Forms With Dynamic Fields

| Comments

Last week at HackFMI 3.0 one team had to display a form which presented multiple choice selection for filtering, where the filter keys are read from the database. They’ve solved the problem by simply building up the HTML required inside the view. I was wondering if this can be done with forms.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>>> from django import forms
>>>
>>> class MyForm(forms.Form):
...     pass
...
>>> print(MyForm())

>>> MyForm.__dict__['base_fields']['name'] = forms.CharField()
>>> MyForm.__dict__['base_fields']['age'] = forms.IntegerField()
>>> print(MyForm())
<tr><th><label for="id_name">Name:</label></th><td><input id="id_name" name="name" type="text" /></td></tr>
<tr><th><label for="id_age">Age:</label></th><td><input id="id_age" name="age" type="number" /></td></tr>
>>>
>>>
>>> POST = {'name' : 'Alex', 'age' : 0}
>>> f = MyForm(POST)
>>> print(f)
<tr><th><label for="id_name">Name:</label></th><td><input id="id_name" name="name" type="text" value="Alex" /></td></tr>
<tr><th><label for="id_age">Age:</label></th><td><input id="id_age" name="age" type="number" value="0" /></td></tr>
>>> f.is_valid()
True
>>> f.is_bound
True
>>> f.errors
{}
>>> f.cleaned_data
{'age': 0, 'name': u'Alex'}

So if we were to query all names from the database then we could build up the class by adding a BooleanField using the object primary key as the name.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>>> MyForm.__dict__['base_fields']['123'] = forms.BooleanField()
>>> print(MyForm())
<tr><th><label for="id_123">123:</label></th><td><input id="id_123" name="123" type="checkbox" /></td></tr>
>>> f = MyForm({'123' : True})
>>> f.is_valid()
True
>>> f.cleaned_data
{'123': True}

HackFMI 3.0 Post-mortem

| Comments

HackFMI

The fourth HackFMI, now traditional, hackathon was held this weekend. It is over and I still can’t wrap my head around what happened during these 3 nights. Here’s bits of code, beer, energy drinks and fun as I saw it.

A big thanks goes to Lilly and Misha who were running around like robots managing the day-to-day activities. Kudos to the rest of the team as well because they’ve established HackFMI as a tradition and people already ask when is going to be the next event.

What

This year the topic was Hack for charity and immediate goal of raising money for a sick kid. Most of the teams got to work to meet these goals. Only a few had worked on slightly different charity (broadly defined) ideas.

My favorite two apps were Blago-darenie and SMShelp although they were not developed with Django.

Blago-darenie is a simple WordPress site listing donation campaigns. Instead of directly donating money one needs to promise something (an action, an object, etc) and put a price tag on it. When the promise is claimed the two parties donate the money to that particular campaign and exchange the promised goods or services. I’ve promised to cook dinner involving tasty meatballs from horse meat and serve one of my wine bottles to whoever decides to donate 25 EUR. (disclaimer: I’m a good cook and love wine more than code).

SMShelp is an aggregator of donation campaigns via SMS which are very popular in the country but lack a central repository for all of them. A simple web site, live Android app and wonderful design secured the team the first place! BTW Team 8 was Adrian and Vihren who took part in all previous editions as well.

TODO

I’m glad both organizers and teams had listened to some of my feedback but there are still things to improve. The most obvious one was that a quick communication channel to all the teams is needed. Facebook and email just didn’t cut it.

I already have couple of quick ideas involving Django and Twilio’s cloud services. Let me take a few more days to get it clear before going any further.

/me

I found myself mentoring as much as I could helping folks with Django or just with general ideal or concepts, serving cake provided by Chaos Group and opening stacks of energy drinks, going door to door and letting teams know deployment and presentation details for the last day.

What surprised me a bit was that there were many new teams (some involving previous contestants) who were very diverse in their technological background. This presented a challenge to some of them as they had to use a technology which nobody on the team knew very well and had to make a working app with that. One team even changed from Python to PHP in the middle of day 2.

On Sunday I was pretty much helping the HackFMI team with whatever I can, checking on my favorite teams from time to time and giving access to cloud servers left and right to people who needed them.

Unfortunately I missed the Grand Finale due to unexpected hardware problems involving big iron and 150 litters of loose water :(. See you next time!

Spoiler: How to Open Source Existing Proprietary Code in 10 Steps

| Comments

We’ve heard about companies opening up their proprietary software products, this is hardly news nowadays. But have you wondered what it is like to migrate production software from closed to open source? I would like to share my own experience about going open source as seen from behind the keyboard.

Difio was recently open sourced and the steps to go through were:

  • Simplify - remove everything that can be deleted
  • Create self contained modules aka re-organize the file structure
  • Separate internal from external modules
  • Refactor the existing code
  • Select license and update copyright
  • Update 3rd party dependencies to latest versions and add requirements.txt
  • Add README and verbose settings example
  • Split difio/ into its own git repository
  • Test stand alone deployments on fresh environment
  • Announce

Do you want to know more? Use the comments and tell me what exactly! I’m writing a longer version of this article so stay tuned!

Beware of Django Default Model Field Option When Using datetime.now()

| Comments

Beware if you are using code like this:

models.DateTimeField(default=datetime.now())

i.e. passing a function return value as the default option for a model field in Django. In some cases the value will be calculated once when the application starts or the module is imported and will not be updated later. The most common scenario is DateTime fields which default to now(). The correct way is to use a callable:

models.DateTimeField(default=datetime.now)

I’ve hit this issue on a low volume application which uses cron to collect its own metrics by calling an internal URL. The app was running as WSGI app and I wondered why I got records with duplicate dates in the DB. A more detailed (correct) example follows:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
def _strftime():
    return datetime.now().strftime('%Y-%m-%d')

class Metrics(models.Model):
    key = models.IntegerField(db_index=True)
    value = models.FloatField()
    added_on = models.DateTimeField(db_index=True, default=datetime.now)
    added_on_as_text = models.CharField(max_length=16, default=_strftime)

Difio also had the same bug but didn’t exhibit the problem because all objects with default date-time values were created on the backend nodes which get updated and restarted very often.

For more info read this blog.

Positive Biological Effects of Open Source on Humans

| Comments

Recently I watched a talk by Simon Sinek about leadership. He talks about Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin and how they make us feel and act a particular way. Then I though - maybe that’s why working in the open source field always felt great and natural to me. Maybe we humans are programmed to follow the open source way!

This article scratches the surface where body chemistry and open source intersect. I hope it will help both volunteers and community managers get an insight of the driving forces in our bodies, how they relate to the open source world and promt further exploration. By seeking to better understand the positive effects and avoid the negative ones we can become better contributors and leaders which ultimately helps our communities.

Endorphins

Endorphins stand for endurance. Their job is to mask physical pain and it has been suggested to have evolutionary roots based on the theory that they helped with the survival of early humans. Athletes experience so called Runner’s high.

In the open source world one may work on a feature or task for hours and hours without feeling exhausted. The task itself keeps you going and excited. This is endorphins going through your brain.

In software one may experience an endorphin rush during public release days for example. For large projects like Fedora the release process includes many steps and may take several hours. During all that time the release engineer is usually available regardless of their native time zone.

Effects of endorphins could potentially increase the likelihood of injury or extreme exhaustion, as pain sensation could be more easily ignored. Work and rest cycles need to be properly balanced.

Dopamine

This is the feeling when we achieve our goals or found something we were looking for. Dopamine helps us get things done! This is why we’re told to write down our goals and then cross them off. It makes people more productive.

Getting dopamine through open source is very easy - all you need to do is fix a bug, then another one, and another one, and another one … After every task you complete the body gets a small dopamine fix. “Release early, release often …” and you get your fix :).

Dopamine however is highly addictive and destructive if unbalanced. It has the same negative effects as any other addiction - alcohol, drugs, etc. Be aware of that and don’t fall for the performance trap.

Endorphins and Dopamine are so called selfish chemicals. You can get them without external help. The next two are the social chemicals.

Serotonin

It is responsible for feelings of pride and status and assessing social rank. Serotonin is produced when you are recognized for achievements by the open source community or credited by somebody (e.g. Johnny Bravo mentioned a great idea on IRC today).

As a contributor one may work on items which will help you get recognition but ultimately this is not for you to decide. However practice shows that credit and recognition are relatively easy to get in the open source world provided one has contributed to make the project and the community better in some sort.

In software this is being granted commit rights to a repository, being in the top spot of some metrics, having your blog read by other members or simply people asking for help or what you think about some topic.

Serotonin is considered the leadership chemical. As one becomes a leader recognized by the community there’s a catch - the more your status goes up the more work you have to do. The more people recognize you as the leader the more they expect you to sacrifice yourself in case it all goes Pete Tong. If you are not ready to step up find a more suitable place in the community instead.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of love, trust and friendship. It makes us feel safe. It is also very good for the body because it makes us healthier, boosts our immune system, increases ability to solve problems and increases creativity.

One way to get Oxytocin is by physical touch - e.g. a hand shake. This is probably one of the reasons beer gatherings are so popular among open source developers. Working digitally we need a way to reinforce human bonds in our communities. Knowing the person on the other end of the wire ultimately makes us feel safer. If you are in open source just go for that conference or a local beer bash you wanted to go - it is good for you (but don’t get drunk).

Another way to get Oxytocin is by performing or witnessing acts of human generosity. This comes natural in open source world where people give up their free time and energy to work towards a shared goal. Just by working in an open source environment you get all that goodness for you.

The best thing about Oxytocin is that it is not addictive and slowly builds up in the body. The bad side is that it takes a while to build up. This is why you have to stay a little longer in open source before it starts feeling safe and welcoming.

Cortisol

The last chemical Simon talks about is Cortisol. It is bad, very bad. It will crash your body. Cortisol means stress. It is designed to keep humans (and animals) alive by hyper tuning our senses in case of danger. Trouble is you are not supposed to have it in your body for long periods of time because it shuts down non-essential systems to deliver that extra energy.

Luckily most open source projects are not stressful and I think can be considered a safe place to work in. In the end one can always shift to another role or move to another project if it becomes too pressing.

By committing to help another member or perform service to the community our bodies get all the good stuff and beat the negative. Service to a community is exactly what open source does! See, humans are programmed to live and work the open source way!

I Need an App to Connect With My Facebook Page Fans

| Comments

The biggest problem of Facebook is the sheer number of news items which are filtered out if users are not actively engaged with them. For a page admin/business owner this means Facebook makes a poor job at reaching to my fans and potential customers unless I keep paying them money! I need two basic features to solve this problem.

Contact All Users App aka Newsletter

I need to be able to message my fan base like a newsletter with the following requirements in mind:

  • Users have already liked the page, don’t make them sign-up or follow anything else;
  • Preferably use Facebook messages instead of email;
  • Let them unsubscribe from the newsletter without going away/blocking the page;

The first one is straight forward - I’ve already put some money in promoting my page and collecting fans. No need for more hurdles to get started. For reference out of 500 users none has actually subscribed to the page. This gives you an idea how much they will subscribe to newsletters and such. They click LIKE and forget about it.

The second one is dependent on the target audience. I have the feeling that my target audience is reading Facebook messages much more than email.

My primary use case of this will be to send new offers and validation queries to the target audience in order to tailor the content and business to them.

Weekly Digest App

Looking at my Facebook page stats it is clear that only promoted content gets a higher reach. This includes both content paid for and content posted during periods where the page itself had an active advertisement.

This is no coincidence I think. When the page is promoted to new audience they will get around the available tabs, explore and like pictures and scroll down to see some of the older content. Assuming the person becomes a page fan they will fall into the previously described trap (content filter) and not see much of the page activity.

I need an application which will aggregate the content from the last week and send it to everyone. This app needs to:

  • Be able to configure digest period/cut-off days and when to send the digest;
  • Allow users to unsubscribe or alter their digest preferences;

Primary use case is to alert users of content which they may have missed.

  • Bonus feature: exclude content which was seen by the specific person or they somehow reacted to it;

Where to next

I am actively looking for such kinds of apps but haven’t found any yet. When time allows I will be looking at the Facebook API to see if this is at all possible to implement.

Any suggestions ?