Sunday, October 11, 2009

How I missed the Web2.0 in 2002

You'd think that Facebook is a simple idea, right? Write a web site for connecting friends together, and get billionaire. So simple!
I've got one glimpse at the difficulty of getting the right concept while writing such an app.
In 2001, at the university, a classmate and I had to do a project for a student counsellor. He wanted a Microsoft Access database application (yes, that was 2001!) for managing his student contacts. Basically he needed *lots* of information in his database - more than we could write in our first year of CS studies. So we wanted to save summaries of discussions with student, their school curriculum, their hobbies etc.
Well that was almost too much, we delivered a prototype with a pretty complex database model (as complex is when you're in the 1st year of CS). An implementation of core functionalities was done, but nothing that got really used.

For some reason I felt unfinished with this project and wanted to get it running so that it could be useful to someone. Also the idea of structuring lots of information about people really interested me, because these are usually very unstructured data.

So I wanted to continue that but I hated Access. In the meantime, I learned the existence of PHP and MySQL, and really liked the concept and the slickness compared to Access. I reused the over-complex model we had. A person could have many addresses, including parents, work, student dormitory etc. You could save the whole study & work curriculum of this person. All this was taking around 30 tables if I remember well.

So I spent one month in the summer learning about PHP & MySQL. It was a very good learning time, as I hadn't much else to do at that time, except learning German - I was planning somehow getting to make an internship or studying in Germany. So I built a few panels around the persons, there adresses and CV... And quickly realized the relations between the persons would be interesting to model and include into that DB. So I began to do that, included 10 test persons in the database, just to realize that... well, that is wasn't really valuable. It's nice but I could as well have taken a piece of paper and drawn the relations between these.

This is around this point that my other plans with Germany and summer job took me much more time - I just let that programming project before I even saw the value. Why wasn't I seeing it? I think one of the reasons was a "geek bias". I was more interested in scientific data (how many person are related to how many in average,...) that on providing my friends a fun tool. And most of all I was also not really seeing the value outside of my home computer, where I wrote this stuff. Had I thought to a public website... Well I didn't, end of the story.

When I heard of Facebook for the first time, I immediately thought of this website I wrote once. That gave me a good lesson about ideas and (not seeing) opportunities.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dojo tip for debugging partly "undefined" widgets

Yesterday I stumbled upon a common Dojo problem: Dojo is refusing to create twice a widget ending with undefined (result looked like widgettype0undefined). I ended up searching a long time what code I could have forgotten, what variable could have been missing in inherited classes,... I asked colleagues and the few ones who knew Dojo had no standard explanation for that problem. "Hard to find", "Search the call stack". All that brought nothing. The Dojo "call stack" just stays on the dojo.js file... very helpful.

Well, it turns out this "call stack" thing was the base for the solution. Thinking about templates and static programming, I began searching by making a dijit.byId(xxxx0undefined) in the Firebug console. From there, the solution was to walk up the nodes in the DOM model, and the parents a few levels up showed me what was missing. Some elements didn't have a name - because I selected the wrong NLS file. Bummer.

Well, Dojo experts probably know that already, but I think many developers are in need of such tricks. Hope it helps...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It's been a while since my last post... Anyway...
Today was an unusual day because it should have been boring. But on the way home, one train came late. I was very hot and uncomfortable in this train, and as it was late I lost the next connection. Time to read a few tweets, fine - but people were stacking in big numbers on the platform. I went to ask what was going on, and people told me the preceding trains were not driving. How well, then time for a break. No way I'd stack in an overheated train today.
I decided to go to the town center of Herrenberg and have a drink on a very nice place outside, under the trees and without cars. I used to occasion to continue "The Kings of New York", a splendid book that I'm enjoying so much, and that was it - 100% relaxed.
Well, it took me three hours to come home, but that was worth. Good evening!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My information system

So it's been a while that some friends asked me how I aggregate my information. So here I'm trying to explain how my system works. How do I keep everything in sync between work & personal information, and how do I keep up with tweets and all the information going around about new technologies? It's still a work in construction actually, but it sort of have to be so-news keep changing, and so do the channels where they're sent.

My system is built mostly around Netvibes. Netvibes is a tool that I didn't really understood well at the beginning. First time I saw it I was like "Huh - limited information in each widget, and not a fast to read as a linearised feed reader" (you know, these feed readers that look like Outlook - and yes, Google Reader is one of them too). Here is how Netvibes looks like when you begin using it:

Turns out the human brain is pretty good at parsing such boxes. And the visual position of the box in the layout helps to know immediately the category of the information.

So now it is how my Netvibes pages looks now:

I have LOTS of feeds in it. So it's separated though tabs, each one has a topic, except the one you're viewing that's my main screen. It's the one I'm 90% of the time in Netvibes.
  • Let's begin with number 1. It's a Yahoo Pipe stream. It concentrates many feeds: News from CNN,, as well as my Twitter Rssfriends feed. It has many tech feeds integrated in it too (Mashable, TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb). It allows me to follow numerous news sources in a single feed that is sorted per publication time. I've been using it for around two month, and so far I'm really satisfied. Soon I should do a review of the feeds in it, maybe add a few ones too.
  • Number 2: My Twitter widget. Let me see updates, replies, direct messages and post content. At work I've performance problems with the input field, but this is the widget I use the most anyway. Thus the central position. Twitter is getting always more important to me because I have keep getting more critical contacts in it. Good friends, my career mentor @martinpacker... It's an invaluable source of information. Twitter is a strange tool. People almost always have a strong opinion about it. Most see they didn't get it till they tried it. Correct me if I'm wrong. I use Twitter for inspiration. It brings me new ideas, new contacts. And it works very good that way.
  • Number 3: I've found recently Hacker News - it is a real good tech source. I has all kind of posts that appeal to tech guys like me. It's a little Paul Graham/YC biased, but not too much. Hacker News is something like Digg but it seems the great majority of people that post & vote there are smart people. Hence the value and the placement in my Netvibes frontpage.
  • Number 4: My TODO list. To not forget that I have some work to do, too :) For a while I used the "Webnotes" widget at the central top as a todo list. For now I'm happy with this lightweight todo widget - the colour function is very nice.
  • Number 5 is my Gmail main box. Nothing special to say, it is reliable!
  • Number 6: I monitor the IBM Main newsgroup thought the feed available with Google Groups. But I close it when not working.
There are many things that I've not included in the screenshot. At the bottom of my main tab, I've the current Dilbert & XKCD too. A must!
The tab "Information" contains general news in three columns with newspaper feeds: a column for France news, one for US news & one for Germany.
In the "Tech" tab, I have, TechCrunch and other. Most are in my Yahoo pipes, but sometimes it's better looking at the single feeds. Well, let's just put a screenshot, it's worth 1000 words:

I use the tab "Bloc Notes" for writing diverse stuff I need to memorize. It's composed of a few Webnotes widgets that I arrange with my needs. Pretty dynamic & changing content.

Netvibes is really a cool tool - at the state of the art of the Web design. Usability is high, it looks good and the functionality is really useful. I can only advise you to give it a try!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Saving energy, is it that hard?

This evening, I finally got the courage to rethink my electric installation. I don't have that much, but TV and computer are stuck in the electricity outlet all the time.
A while ago, a friend told me about these Watt-meter to measure one's electrical consumption. I bought one of these devices a few month after - that was around three years ago (sick). All the time I sort of knew that I could do better, but didn't knew that would be that much.

So how did I decide to do that? This week-end, I received a paper from the mayor telling about a green event in the city hall. Each visitor would get a free outlet with switch, allowing to "save 40$ a year". Well, I already had some switch outlets at home that were plugged but never switched off, maybe I could combine them better I thought & save a bit that way.
After having to unplug all the electronics in the living room, I tested each single device, and that was quite impressing: DSL modem: 18 watts. Wifi router: 23 watts. Computer off: 33 watts. TV in Standby: 14 watts. That makes 88 watts! All this energy was burned useless. If I'm using this electronics 4 hours a day, then it's 1.7 kWh / day that just gets lost for nothing. Reported to the year, that makes 640 kWh! I was really surprised by this number, because this is not a negligible part of my energy consumption.
At 20 Euro cents per kWh, that would make a saving of 130 Euro over the year (170 $ at the current change rate). Of course, I'm at home the week-ends, and I have holidays,... so I don't expect the full saving, but 100 Euro should be possible per year. Let's see in 12 months ;)

The good thing with this saving? Well, I'm still having the same contract with monthly payments. That means that in one year, I should get a beautiful back-payment with the savings I made that way. If that is no motivation :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Today I heard for the first time about Wolfram Alpha, a search machine based on Mathematica. It looks really promising - with many interesting datasets, like code or financial data. So I requested an early login, let's see if they'll give me one. If they do, I'll blog about my first impressions with this tool. Anyway it'll be out in May, so that's not such a long time to wait.

Monday, April 06, 2009

French are creative!

I just saw a very interesting TV report about companies that still do well in France despite the economic crisis. One good example: video games and 3D animation films.
The reason for that? France has a old tradition of top drawing schools, and the population is very creative and receptive to such media (arts like painting, but now comics & video games too). So France is a good place for creation because it has talent and a big market (or rather, fan base). I pretty agree with that - and 3D is surely not going to disappear soon, even though it will probably evolve a lot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Beautiful movie

On this blog where I've come to through Twitter, I've found yesterday a very touching short movie about loneliness and meeting people. I really liked it, and just wanted to share it:

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Sehr interessante Information aus dem Focus Money vom 21. Januar (Ja, ich liege etwas hinter in meine Lektuere).

Da wird es im Leitartikel geschrieben, dass die Praemie vor allem auslaendische Ersteller profitieren laesst (in der Reihenfolge Dacia, Dahaitsu und Hyundai; Smart kommt auf der vierte Platz), denn Leute, die ihre 10 Jahre alte Auto verschrotten lassen, bestimmt nicht hauefig ein neues Mercedes kaufen. Also, wir tun was fuer die globale Weltwirtschaft!

Positiv gesehen, es wird ueberall vom 'Protektionismus' gewarnt - mit diese Hilfe gibt es hier kein Gefahr.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Goodbye Gentoo, hello Kubuntu

Warning, this is another tech post ;)

End of February, I decided for some stupid reason that I needed to upgrade my Gentoo to KDE4. I installed this Gentoo in August 2005 and never formatted the disk since. Oh well, I had to make several repairs, rebuild all the system, but never reinstall it. It was not few maintenance needed, but the system was robust, and exactly configured to my needs.

Well, it came out this was a bad idea. I just tried to follow the documentation, but I came to a state where packages needed two versions of the same software at the same time - or so to say, my package tree was broken. After getting no help on the Gentoo forum, I decided that after 5 days of trying upgrading and repairing, that was time to give up and try some software that is told to be modern and usable.

So I downloaded a Kubuntu image (around 20 minutes), and burned it (20 minutes too). After that, I transfered all important data (~/.*, ...) to a separate data partition that I would not format.

The install went fast - just a few panels to complete: partitioning, first user, language, and then the packages were being installed. I was really curious to see if KDE4 will work right on. That was the case! At the first start, everything was running. Even Internet worked, without me having to configure anything. Nice nice.

Further using Kubuntu, I was really surprised by the usability, simplicity and beauty of the whole. A discrete popup bubble was telling me that updates were available, one click installed them. Miles away from the Gentoo cinema :) And without hour-long compile, of course!

The discovery of the new environment was full of new surprises - for example, as I had to open an editor, I just wrote 'emacs' in the command line, and then I got a message telling that emacs cannot be found on this system, but it's available in these packages that are not installed yet, and I just have to type 'sudo apt-get install packagename' to install it. Woah.

The Widgets in KDE give a new life to this desktop - there are lots of great widgets, you can find lots of them under Other than that, the transparency and 3D effects makes KDE a modern desktop.

Most of my configuration from KDE 3.5 worked, but I had to repair some programs. I still have to restore my Amarok configuration, as well as some other minor settings, but most of it is still running. I put a lot of information on the cloud lately to be able to use my information from my iPhone.

Problems? Sure! KDE4 is still not completely stable. Mostly yes, but for some reason Firefox has stability issues, and crash regurlarly (up to 3 times a day). The latest version 3.0.7 seem to be more stable.

So, in short, I like it - I have a system that is now usable, have modern software on it, and that takes less time to manage. I can only advice curious people to have a try at Kubuntu.

3270 on the iPhone: experience report

Last week I finally decided to get an iPhone - and now I can already write I'm not disappointed of the investment! As I use Linux as my main OS, it was not completely easy to sync it with the iPhone, another post is following soon on that topic.

So I discovered that many colleagues were amazed or surprised by what I showed them today: a z/OS mainframe terminal on the iPhone, that's the perfect combination of legacy & newest technology. But was that going to work for me?

First, I was actually searching for UNIX terminals that would help me to manage my iPhone files. It exists, but you have to jailbreak your iPhone. But as the search in the Apple Store was showing me lots of SSH & Telnet UNIX terms, I found per chance a 3270 terminal. It's free, so let's try it! It's a 3270 terminal from MochaSoft. So I installed it quickly, but couldn't test it right away...

The actual problem was not getting the terminal to run, but to actually get connectivity with the host. How do I come to the host through WLAN? I manage to do that because the iPhone supports all our security settings - you have to try it yourself (& check if IT allow that of course) in your company. Once you can get a connection from the iPhone, the terminal app should access the host too. You have to enter a connection as usual. There are few possibilities to configure, but enough for me. It's easy to configure even for newcomers.

After I get my connection, first login try. There are five dark icons on the screen, the most important of them are the keyboard icons, which allow you to type in the input fields, the enter icon to submit the input, and the settings icon. The terminal screen looks similar to the one you get on your desktop, except you can scroll and zoom it like a map or, for the one that tried Safari on the iPhone, like a web site. Not bad after all. The PF keys are small buttons on the ISPF panels.

The whole is really funny, and impressing first. It cannot be used as a productive environment of course. For example my attempts to open 3.4 ended with an error message, telling me the size of the panel is not adequate. I should look deeper in that problem, maybe some configuration can solve it.
Another difficulty is to navigate between the input fields - often you have to zoom on the field first.
And before showing it to my colleagues, I locked the iPhone, which stopped my session, but kept me logged in for a while. That prevented me of course to login again, but if you're reading this part of the post, you already know that ;)

To summarize, a good, simple and funny 3270 application, that is still lacking some usability but proves that the mainframe is still modern :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sysplex = Cloud?

Hi everyone,
Back for a shorter article this time. It's just an idea that I wanted to throw away here. Maybe start a discussion too.
The more I learn about the cloud topic, the more I think at the IBM Parallel Sysplex. The cloud have to be a redundant system that is administrated with low costs and and high automation level. A cloud has to be transparent so that it can be administrated as a single system would-another Sysplex property.

The mainframe has the software stack for running Web software and Web Services. CICS and IMS support Web Services, but it's not the only possibility you have. Websphere Application Server runs on System z, and even PHP has an interpreter for z/OS. I admit, z is probably not adapted to every use case, but it fits pretty good some of them.

So well, sure it still miss some software for easying the administration, life-cycle management, etc. But in the infrastructure, the Sysplex is what lots of cloud infrastructure products try to be. Because IBM have developed the mainframe for years with the same ground ideas that are now making the cloud-and this because mainframe customers have had very complex environments for a long time, this is an old mainframe requirement to be handy at virtualisation, automation, availability, backup,...

I'm aware this post can sound a little kind of a sales pitch, but really it's more from a need to present that idea, that what the IT world is thinking of with "cloud", is the direction the mainframe has always be developed in. But, as far as the mainframe is, it's probably still not free of improvements. So come in & comment!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Twitter on fire

Well, everything is in the title. Here an excerpt of what just happened on Twitter:

My opinion is, lots of people don't get the value of Twitter. They sure think it's fun, but it's no good tool for serious things, let's take work. Which I don't believe it's true. I twitted about that and got in a cool discussion from my English followers. How did we got here? I was brought to think about what's the value and the cost of Twitter after a colleague that I respect much looked at Twitter and said to me "Are you aware of what you're giving of you on the Web?". Well I am, at least I think. But I'm not sure he is aware of the benefits. What are these benefits in a concrete case? For me, they are two benefits that are raw facts.
- First benefit, while I made a one-month trip in New York, I met real New-Yorkers through & only through Twitter. They showed me an insight of the City that I would have never got else. I first tried Internations as a way to meet New-Yorkers, but from my experience, Twitter was much better for that purpose.
- Second benefit, I met one of my career mentor on Twitter. @martinpacker (his Twitter user name) has become my technical mentor because I got to know him on Twitter. Well, first, but only once, we met in real life. After, we got to know each other through Twitter. So Twitter really helps you building human connection with people you've never met in real life.

Twitter helped me a lot. One of the things it brought to me is first to think before saying something? And then express it in a concise way. It's one of the "cold" skills that Twitter help you build. But far from the most important.

On a more social level: What most people just don't get with Twitter, is that it makes you build real human connection. It's not just about posts and number of friends, it's compassion, bad news, support. You're here with the people you follow, and the people that follow you are here with you. More than you believe as a Twitter "outsider". You get in a context with these peoples. Outsiders are just not getting this context.
So this was a kind of big post for my blog. How did I wrote that on Twitter? That were 3 tweets:
1. A Twitter 'outsider' may even have an account.It's someone that look at Twitter w/out participating,and don't get the value for this reason
Twitter is more than a forum, because here you can combine the set of knowledge you want, and not be constrained by a forum theme.
Twitter is more than chat, because third people that may be interested in the discussion can bring good arguments.
Twitter is more than a simple social network site, because it's not for colleagues, friends or dating. So you can meet anyone you want.

Thanks to @dougielawson, @martinpacker and @wfavero for participating in the discussion! Anyone: feel free to comment on this blog too. And last things of all, I'm crazy to blog on Saturday eve. I've got to go out :)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Good advertising

Economy sucks?
I saw this in New York, and laughed so much I had to photograph it:

But it seems like I wasn't the only one. The photo of (apparently - say if I'm wrong) the same place is also today on the Website "International Spiegel". So now you know, we European like such advertising!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Infrastructure renewal: what could it bring?

Originally, I just wanted to put a comment on a post of the blog A Smarter Planet.
Well, it didn't accept my comment. I got a pop up window with something like "We cannot accept your data". OK, then I'll blog about that :)

The post argues that it'll be a great opportunity to upgrade some of the US infrastructure. Not the roads, but rather "smart grids, healthcare and broadband" - because they are predicted to generate growth, and will help keep up against the international competition.
I think this is not wrong, except for one thing. This article is forgetting that the crisis is not only in the US. And so are governments stimulus. Germany, France, lots of countries in Europe are planning such actions too. So soon, it'll be just a question of keeping up with the Joneses. I'll concentrate on the broadband here.
What does that means? It means that if the US invest in broadband, some other countries will slip in the broadband ranking, and will have to invest heavily in it too. The winner? Surely the IT industry. The ones who will build the cable, but the ones that will build the software and hardware that will make use of these cables too.

I don't know what it could lead to - just thinking of media streaming now- but I think this is an interesting trend that could lead to big changes again in the Internet landscape. And you, what do you think?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Back in Tuebingen

So I'm back from New York. It's sometimes hard to accept :)
I was one month there and it was an awesome experience. I met a lot of different, interesting and nice people (Aneel, Liz, Jesse, Suki, Chaz, Maria, Donna...), and saw a lot of places I'd wanted to see for so long: New York, Boston and the US East coast.

Want pictures? You can have a look at some of them on flickr. (shortened url)

Most of all, I've tried to avoid the tourist in New York cliche, by trying to meet New Yorkers (much more easy to do than most people think) and seeing a little behind the tourist books. Well, I just said I tried :) Beside this, it was nice to meet people from all the world (inclusive French, yes!) in the hostels too.

New York impressed me very much because of its dynamic and all the ambitious and interesting people there. Other things surprised me too. For example I would have believed the dominant colors were grey and blue, but it's more of blue and brown. And beside all this light and superficial stuff, I got a grasp of the finance crisis too; people in Europe are not taking seriously yet (is that good? or bad?).

During my long walkings, I saw lots of things on the street. A man proposing, another lying on the ground who had just been hit by a car.
My highlights in a few words, maybe? NYC Ballet, Blizzard, Christmas Eve... Although these are just a few samples.

I've tweeted during the travel, so I'm not doing a big post here, but this travel has been really inspiring for me. Not only it was an occasion to get some rest (I'm not kidding! Alone having no computer there helped a lot for that) and walk a lot through the city, I got to think about my career and what I could do next year. So now the year already began, and it's time to go on!

See you soon!