Guus Bosman

software engineering director

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Cisco VPN client fix

Today is Independence Day, so a day off. In the evening we'll go and see fireworks, but during the day I did some Ruby programming. I really enjoy this language!

To connect to our corporate network I use a Cisco VPN client and I ran into a small but annoying issue. The window of the VPN client wouldn't "Restore" anymore, I could only have it open Maximized or Minimized.

I did a scan on the registry but ultimately I found the settings that I needed in vpnclient.ini. The offending items:


BlackBerry Pearl

BlackBerry Pearl.Jean-Paul was right. I bought a new phone, and it's a indeed smartphone, the BlackBerry Pearl.

I looked at perhaps switching over to AT&T, but their plans were more expensive than Verizon, and Verizon gave me a sizable credit towards a new handset -- after the mail-in rebate the phone is free.

I thought data plans were around $70, but prices have come down quite a bit and I bought a $30 data plan that provides virtually unlimited data usage (5 GB monthly). The phone has full internet access, and I've connected my hotmail account to it. I installed Google maps as well, which is really quite useful on a handset.


Seminar by Edward Tufte

Books.Today I attended a seminar by Edward Tufte: Presenting Data and Information. Mr. Tufte is a professor at Yale and is an expert in the field of data visualization. I read about him in last year's Christmas edition of The Economist and I've used his website in the past.

Mr. Tufte is in the Triangle today and tomorrow, and the course was in a small conference center near the airport. We received a package with four of his books and the course was build around sections of the books. The course touched on a large variety of topics and we saw many example graphs and videos. I especially liked his idea of sparklines, embedded high-resolution graphs embedded in regular text. For example, the US deficit from 1980 to 2003 looked like (not very good, in other words).

Mr. Tufte brought an original first edition of a book by Galileo, more than 400 years old, and a while later he did a review of the iPhone. An important point of view that I learned today is: adding detail to add clarity. "Simplifying" information by leaving things out or abbreviating them, does no justice to the smartness of human audiences. If a diagram or a picture is cluttered, you're first action should not be to start leaving out data, but to reevaluate your design of the diagram or picture.

It was a very inspirational day and I'm looking forward to read the books.


Raleigh.rb March meeting

Tonight I was at the March meeting of the Raleigh-area Ruby brigade. It was the first time I went and found it quite interesting. There were 'lightning talks': everybody was invited to give a short presentation on technical subjects. Most of them were only a few minutes, and a broad variety of topics was presented, very cool.

- Larry presented, a small library that makes embedding MP3 sounds on a website really easy and pretty
- Quick example of combining Ruby and Silverlight. Silverlight is "Microsoft's Flash" and is based on an ActiveX object. According to the presenter a runtime environment for the Mac and Linux is available also.
- Probably my favorite talk of the evening: A concise overview of where these three languages are different in how they deal with instance variables. Insightful and funny.
- Fixture Freedom. How to get rid of fixtures in test cases (and why that's useful).
- CTAGS and RTAGS. I had heard of CTAGS before but never really dug into it. It's a way to make an index of important symbols in your source code. Maybe I'm naive here, but if you want code insight wouldn't it be time to move to an IDE like Eclipse instead of using VIM? (/ducks...)
- Data tables for Ruby -- similar in purpose to Matt Raible's display tag library for Java
- A 'public service announcement' -- a plead to not use MySQL
- A comparison of Subversion with git. Git allows you to have the version history locally on your development machine. It also allows you to make local commits, and works together with Subversion nicely. This looks like a really interesting tool.

The order in which the topics were presented was based on their duration: the shorter the talk, the earlier you were scheduled. A fun and useful evening.


The Mythical Man-Month

Lighthouse on the beach.One of the most famous books in my profession is The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks. I've read chapters from it during my study and loved those, but I never read the entire book.

I bought a soft cover version of the book on Amazon this week. It turns out Mr. Brooks is a professor at the university in Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina.

The first chapter starts with an image of a prehistorical tar pit, as well as a Dutch proverb: "Een schip op het strand is een baken in zee.", translated to: "A ship on the beach is a lighthouse to the sea."

As if through some sort of mysterious father-son connection, Jaap did a blog post about a slight variation on this Dutch proverb today.


Google street view Durham

Since a few days Google has enabled "street view" for the Durham/Raleigh area.

In the summer of 2007 this feature of Google Maps started with 360 degree photographs of New York and other cities, and now our region has been added. It's nice to see pictures of our neighborhood on-line.

(Thanks to Bull City Rising).


Electronic voting

A great article in the New York Times about electronic voting machines.

A very true statement:

"One might expect computer scientists to be fans of computer-based vote-counting devices, but it turns out that the more you know about computers, the more likely you are to be terrified that they’re running elections."


Birthday block CiviCRM

This year I transitioned my hand made address book to CiviCRM, an open source CRM system.

Today I added a block with upcoming birthdays (only visible for registered users), based on examples I found on the Code Snippets page of CiviCRM. I contributed my code back to their Wiki.

This birthday block is based on CiviCRM 1.8.

Update August 2009: See this page for a version of the block that works with CiviCRM 2.x.


Hema.J. sent me a link to a website of Hema, a Dutch department store:


Digitally Imported Radio

Digitally Imported.For years I have been listening to web radio. When I worked in the Netherlands I found, a collection with free MP3 streams with a wide variety of music styles. Most of the streams I listen to are broadcasted by or, its partner company.

Instead of going through, I found myself listening to pretty much all the time. The music selection is excellent and their servers are so reliable that it's as good as listening to an MP3 collection on your hard disk.

A few months ago I upgraded to the premium service. Partly to get rid of the advertisements, and partly because I want to support the company in the hope they'll stay alive in the wake of the new royalty fee scheme for internet broadcasting. I don't know who's wrong or right in that conflict between the RIAA and internet broadcasters, but I do know that I would really miss web radio if they have to take their service down.


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