Learn math

Just found out about the Khan Academy. One man sets out to teach maths from the most basic to the most advanced, in clear and pleasant bite-sized chunks, and gives 1500+ video lectures away by placing them on YouTube. Here’s a story about it.

There’s a brief comment on his FAQ page which jumped out at me: “[...] I also try to watch very little television”. Bingo. Life’s too short to watch television. This guy shows just how much people can accomplish when they put their mind to it.


When asked about his religion, Salman Khan replied with this...

If you believe in trying to make the best of the finite number of years we have on this planet (while not making it any worse for anyone else), think that pride and self-righteousness are the cause of most conflict and negativity, and are humbled by the vastness and mystery of the Universe, then I'm the same religion as you.

Wow again.

Quid, no pro

As always, Seth is in a league of his own - 349 words. Brilliant.

Another dominant player

The dominant player I’m referring to is Adobe. I never liked Flash - it has “lock-in” written all over it. Always had. John Gruber (again) points to the proper comment about this little storm.

I kind of liked TUAW’s graphic - enough to add a reduced copy right here:


The blogosphere can be pretty boring at times. This is such a time. All the same stories, endlessly reverberating.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to tinkering in Jee Labs - so much more fun!


Apple is in the news a lot these days. Daring Fireball points to a weblog post about Apple’s position - and John Gruber says it all in his opening sentence: Brilliant, must-read piece by Stanislav Datskovskiy. Exactly.

Cognitive surplus

Triggered by a weblog entry by the always-interesting Seth Godin, I stumbled on this fascinating 17-minute presentation by Clay Shirky, with his always-skillful way to present deep insights and analyses.

I no longer go watch TV. That trend started many years ago. Oh sure, I do watch movies, documentaries, and interviews (not news - all the Dutch news channels seem to be aimed at infants). But it’s been ages since I sat down to do nothing, waiting to be distracted or entertained. I’m grateful that Shirky finally explains how “the media” - as they are today - are essentially an aberration.

It also explains why open source communities have a virtually unlimited amount of time, energy, and talent at their disposal.

Reality sinks in...

Offensive wars are an offense against humanity.
When natural disaster strikes, we act, immediately.
When man-made ones are being created... we don’t?

One day, I will look back on my life and feel infinite shame and guilt.
To know and to ignore. To postpone compassion - indefinitely.
Burying myself in helplessness - can’t change things anyway, right?

Right. Yet so wrong.

Getting things done

No, not David Allen’s stuff...

Great interview (audio) + fantastic presentation (video) about why finishing is so hard.

I don't tweet

Captain Picard, eh... I mean Sir Patrick Stewart.

Not doing what everyone else does matters. In times of war, and in times of luxury.

Debilitating complexity

At last, someone who points out that computers are far too complex still (and how the iPad might change that). I’ve been waiting for decades for someone to spell it out. Non-nerds have suffered nerd lock-in way too long. Not a day goes by without someone asking me something about computers, because they can’t solve it or fix it, or understand it.

Goodbye Google

Ok, cancelled my account. I’m Google-mail/-groups/-docs less again!

Is that a new whiff of fresh air I sense? Oh, no, wait... it started snowing here :)


It’s just crazy how often I catch myself trying to draw attention. My blogs, my achievements, my ideas, my ego.

But things seem to have changed this year. I’m starting to get better at giving attention. To people (mostly face to face), but also to my work (by making choices).

Attention, competence, respect - my keywords for 2010.

Goodbye Twitter

A few months back, I set up an account on Twitter. And on Facebook. And a few more.

It was a good way to find out what they are all about. And now I know. It’s about nothing. Noise. Distractions. Following. Being “friends”. On a scale not fit for normal human beings, IMO. And depressingly uninteresting. I’d rather watch TED, listen to Radio Lab, or sit back with an episode of Life, thank you.

So goodbye Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest of these social networking sites. I’m outta there. Life’s too short.

The other thing I want to drop out of is Google. Still got some groups and code there, so that will take more work. Dear Google, please stay around forever to help me find stuff. You’re providing an incredible public service. But for everything else, stay away from me. I don’t want your cookies, no matter how sweet you try to make ‘em.

Where are you?

How come we can’t see on our cell phone where the calling party is? Privacy? I doubt it - it would be easy to add a convention that pressing a certain button passes on your current location. GPS needed? Not at all - by just using relative signal strengths and simple triangulation, any phone can easily “know” where it is.

Could it be that phone companies don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they are collecting obscene amounts of (SIM-ID, location, time) data? How come that topic never makes it to the headlines, other than when an alpinist gets saved because their cell phone was sending out its beacon signal? Does Google know when there is a flu outbreak? You bet. Does the phone company know when there is a traffic jam? You bet. Are there services we could be having cheaply or for free which aren’t being offered because there are other interests than the customer’s at stake? You bet. Are there things going on with all this data which we would object to if only we knew about them? You bet.

I’ll stop here. I’ll spare you a rant on the amounts of information obtained from all those satellites around our little planet :)

High school with a modem

Following what gets attention - or looking for attention - is what we did in high school. There are better motivators than just chasing external rewards. Success ≠ a hit.


My background is mathematics. A master’s degree to be precise. I love maths. It’s art.

It’s good to think back about maths once in a while, even though the field of computing has hijacked my mind and ambitions for many decades now. The paper introduced in this article about maths is a stunning reminder of what mathematics is really about. Beauty. The power of ideas. A fantastic introduction for anyone interested in finding out what real mathematics is.

I recommend reading the first 10 pages of that 25-page document. Much of the rest is about maths education. The author is clearly on a rant - but all the way to the end his arguments expose the infinite beauty of mathematics in all its simplicity.

Update - there are very strange alleys in that labyrinth called “mathematics”. Such as this example from a recent discussion:

   All elements of the empty set are floats.
   All elements of the empty set are ints.
   Ints are not floats.
   Therefore all elements of the empty set are not floats.

It leads to areas such as meta-mathematics and my all time favorite: Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Fascinating, but mind-bending. At times painfully so. If you’re more interested in (near-tangible) beauty, stick to Lockhart’s article above.

Two types of work

Seth Godin, again, hits the nail on the head in his weblog - describing the two ways in which companies can hire free-lancers.

I’m squarely a type one person by now.

One of my last clients called me / us “cowboys”. We completed the project on time, on budget, and on spec even though it was clearly a panic-mode project by the time we got involved, but I turned down a follow-up proposal. Because they were clearly in the type two camp. From a business standpoint, they were probably right, but I sure would have loved to tackle that challenge with a clean sheet of paper.



... to Seth Godin, for his insightful one-man show - day in, day out.


The surprise isn’t that Barack Obama was elected as next US president, shattering a couple of glass ceilings along the way. No. The surprise was that someone as intellectually and emotionally incompetent as his predecessor ever managed to get into that job. That, dear reader, was the real anomaly.


Just finished reading “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama - a deeply moving personal story, by a person with an incredible combination of intellect and empathy. Forget politics, US partisanship, and simplistic rhetoric - this man truly has the potential to become a phenomenal world leader.

Kofi Annan and Barack Obama - I am extremely impressed by what Africa has to offer.


Merlin Mann, the GTD guy who created the website (31 daily + 12 monthly folders) has discovered that the act of identifying productivity traps is cool, but in the end ... just another productivity trap. Heh, heh - welcome to the world of, ehm, meta-recursion.

It’ll be
very interesting to see how the 43f website evolves, given this new insight.

Life ≠ prices

As Seth Godin puts it best: “It's not about charging less. It's about delight.”.

Just spent a few days in Berlin. Lots of glitz, history, art, and architecture, of course. I was deeply shaken by the
memorial - not in the least because IMO it could all happen again, to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s encouraging to experience such a well-balanced statement, specifically in the re-united Berlin and in this day and age.

The reason I mention Berlin is that a few days of wandering around made me realize that life as a tourist would be a lot more fun if not every single sip, bite, and step were tagged with a price, i.e. lots of stupid distractions.

Speaking of which ... next week we’ll be strolling in Paris, my home town when I was 7 and 8.
It’ll be all about delight.

Green consumerism

With oil prices up, it’s become a fashion to “go green”. Unfortunately, I see quite a few misguided attempts (such as this one) - whereby the conclusion seems to be: let’s throw out non-green X and replace it with green Y.

What I don’t see, is information about the level of energy / raw material waste required for the production of goods. It’ a bit like adding insult to injury: first we become responsible for a hugely wasteful production and transportation process by buying some flashy new X, and then we become doubly wasteful by discarding the product well before it has ceased being useful.

I just don’t get it. We drive a Volkswagen Golf which is definitely not the best in terms of gasoline economy, but I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it after 7 years of fantastic, enjoyable service. It’s fast, it’s gorgeous, it’s luxurious. Yet I think we qualify as having a respectably low “carbon footprint” - to use that phrase-du-jour. How? By driving less. How about technology in the house, then? That too: we turn stuff off. Genius, eh?

There used to be such great solutions ages ago. Such as power-cords which can be unplugged, and switches embedded in the power cord, before the power bricks. Remotes to control stuff are wonderful. But to turn stuff on and off? C’mon, get a life. Or better yet - get up and, ehm ... walk?

I can’t stop recommending this 11-minute TED presentation by Chris Jordan.

And to get back to computers: if you’re looking for an always-on server, have a look at Bubba. It’s a full Linux setup, with all the extensibility of Debian built in, right out of the box (the manual includes info on how to get SSH access, it’s not some hidden-on-reflash feature). I’m using a similar, but less streamlined, setup based on an NSLU2, and it does SVN, iTunes music, even handles Time Machine backups. On roughly a kilowatt per week.

Oh, and remind me to also rant about noise levels, one day :)


Bruce Schneier elaborates on a real-world “man-in-the-middle” attack and why it’s an important issue on the internet. It’s clearly neither just theory nor hypothetical.

Group buy

Here’s an interesting idea: a “group buy” - people sign up to purchase a product for a limited time. The more people sign up, the higher the discount for everyone. Meanwhile, the company can push to reach a certain amount of revenue.

Good movie

Saw an impressive movie recently, called “Brothers” - by Susanne Bier. It’s been out for a couple of years. This is about what war can do to a soldier when returning home. As with another excellent movie called “After the Wedding”, Susanne Bier excels at exposing the complexity of life and cultural differences in a non-judgmental way. We need way more directors like her. In fact, we need way more women directors, seeing how men just end up creating “terminators”, “die hards”, and “apocalypses”.

I have a boundless respect for movies which address major issues without pointing the finger or talking in primitive “us vs. them” terms, as epitomized by the “you’re either with us or against us” phrase. On the human level, every attempt to define “us” and “them” ends up being shallow - there is only me and you. Life is not about labeling opponents, adversaries, enemies, or terrorists, but about building bridges and crossing them - one person at a time, if need be. Brothers (the movie) is an illustration of that.

Ok, now you can go back to doing whatever nerdy stuff you were doing ;)

TED at its very best

In a stunningly powerful way, photographer Chris Jordan turns abstract numbers into emotionally comprehensible images in a recent TED presentation. It will take 11 minutes of your time. You must watch it.


After seeing yet another fascinating video on TED, this time by Yves Behar - called "Creating objects that tell stories", I'm realizing that "design" is the one word which best describes my passion and drive.

Design is what has made me tick for the past decades, and will do so for decades more to come, I hope. Design has no age limits. Design is about the why, the who, and the how - asking "why" things work the way they do, "who" figured it out, and "how" they did it. Design is about beauty, of course. But design is also about social structures, when trying to understand what floats to the top of a group, a community, or a society. And design is about power and politics, when you think about which designs succeed in changing the world we live in.

Design is a lot about creativity, obviously. Design is where mind meets substance. Design is where emotions and rationality dance with each other. Like quantum physics, design is about entanglement. You can't just sit and dream, waiting for the right design to come to you. Nor slave your way through to a good design. Design is about tension, and about balance. And design doesn't fit a 9-to-5 schedule (me neither, so now I have an excuse!).

But above all, design is about the future. Those of us involved in design, are those who want to shape that future - literally of course, but also figuratively. Designers look forward. Designers want to make this world a better world. Not by forcefully changing directions of what is happening now, but by looking beyond today's horizons and describing the places we could be in tomorrow. Design is not a methodology of "push", but one of "pull".

People (and things) are the way they are today, often for overwhelmingly valid and explicable reasons. Bodies (in both senses) in motion have a way of continuing on their previously chosen paths. Design is not about today's path, but about tomorrow's choices.

FYI, I'm writing this as a reminder to myself that I should be less concerned with what is happening today and more focused on what can be tomorrow. And because it gives me the opportunity to mention that I'm immensely proud of our daughter Myra, who wants to be... a designer. I can't think of many things more fulfilling, both for her and for us, than to want to actively be part of our respective futures - and to contribute to shaping it.


I am going to break the golden rule that I should keep my personal views to myself at all times. I suppose this rule evolved because knowing where someone stands on certain matters might offend people with different opinions, and blogs like these should be about work and work-related views.

Well, I don't care. The professional world we live in is so detached from the human condition by now, that I need to draw a line. Not a day goes by where I don't think about world events and the personal tragedy associated with them. The buck stops here. I no longer want to blog about "fun stuff" without exposing that other side of me.

The article that led to all this is an interview with Robert Fisk. Which made me realize that today, wars are waged by proxy - the actors are a bunch of young kids we don't know, and the witnesses tell stories we hear little about. Soldiers and reporters (oh, and some collateral damage). With our televisions and computers as the ultimate proxy.

I try to imagine the reality on the ground in a conflict zone such as the middle-east, from any perspective. And I can't really. Imagine growing up or growing old in such a context. Day to day, for years on end. The mind boggles. When I merely broke my leg a few months back, an immense safety net of family, friends, medical care, compassion, personal attention, and empathy unfolded itself. Then, in accurate lock-step with my recovery, that same safety net retreated, going on standby again just as automatically. Life is darn good here, not according to some metric, but because of the knowledge that no matter what happens, life will still eventually work out ok. It's hard to imagine two situations further apart than life over here and life over there. The horror being that much of this is due to armed, man-made, conflict. Why, with all our culture and technology, are we as a whole still living in medieval times?

The injustice on this planet is obscene.


In his "How to Disagree" article, Paul Graham presents some insightful thoughts about discussion on the web. He proposes a 6-level "disagreement hierarchy" to identify and classify the different types of arguments made, from DH1 = "name calling" to DH6 = "refuting the central point". It reminds me a bit of the work of Karl Popper.

Imagine taking this one step further and turning it into a mechanism to improve blog / wiki / forum discussions: people can tag/vote on each comment to qualify it as one of the DH1..DH6 categories. A rule could be that each person gets associated with say the average voting result, and that a person cannot tag any other comment above his/her own "level" (or perhaps a single step above). The reasoning being that only people considered able to argue on a high level would be allowed to tag other comments as being on a similar level.

With such a system, one could then cut-off low-class entries when going through a lengthy discussion thread. Quoting one of the last paragraphs in the article:

But the greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier. If you study conversations, you find there is a lot more meanness down in DH1 than up in DH6. You don't have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don't want to. If you have something real to say, being mean just gets in the way

I think it would make discussions far more interesting, particularly controversial ones...

How we make decisions

Seth Godin asks: How do I persuade you? Food for thought. And he makes an excellent point, IMO. See the TED site for an interesting talk by him from 2003.

Site changes

The website has undergone some surgery. New layout. More consistent. Simpler for me to maintain. Should also be easier to find things and less stale info, I hope. Same style and implementation as the new site. There are still a bunch of old-style pages remaining to be converted from the FreeWay WYZIWYG site builder to the new scripted approach. I'll be tweaking things further, let me know when you come across links that don't work or content inaccuracies, please.

Personal details

Any modern laptop can easily store extensive details about every citizen of an entire country. But that's a pretty dangerous path, as these "leaks" illustrate (and perhaps many more don't). What is the best way forward, as a citizen? Avoid getting into such databases? How? No credit cards? No cell phones? Sending out all emails encrypted? Using the TOR network? It makes no sense.

Trouble is - all that data just keeps on getting collected. The big problem is that it's not just about what people do with that data today, but what someone might decide to do with it in the future. Where is all that data going? How come it's getting into all those laptops and CDs in the first place?

There is no need to delete anything, now that storage is so cheap (except perhaps in the White House, or while circumventing it?).

We're setting ourselves up to pay dearly one day...

Stay hungry

From a weblog post (via Anarchaia) comes a fascinating story:

“Do you guys know Fermat’s Last Theorem?”

[...]“Everyone here knows that is it is Prof. Andrew Wiles who spent about 10 years to prove it. The final proof from him came in publication in 1994”

“It is correct. However, do you guys know how Prof. Andrew Wiles found these 10 years to dedicate himself to the Great Fermat theorem?”, he signed, “Prof. Andrew Wiles told me by himself, in order to focus on the proof of the Fermat’s Last Theorem, there was one year in which he worked extremely hard to write 20 papers and locked them up in his desk drawer. Then he would pick up two to publish each year. In this way, he gained precious ten years to allow himself to do nothing else except Fermat’s Last Theorem”

Unfortunately for me, this does not imply the inverse: spending 10 years on something does not guarantee that anything even remotely useful comes out ... but still, if this is true it's quite an amazing example of focus and perseverance!


Every morning, I turn one page in a calendar/book and revel in the power of images.

Last year, it was an incredible journey through India by Danielle & Olivier Föllmi (ISBN 9782732431079).  This year it is the sequel to "La Terre vu du Ciel" by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (ISBN 9782732436661). The publisher's site prevents deep-linking, unfortunately.

For images and prints from these and several other photographers see this site.

For me, it is a truly incredible way to start each day...

year = year + 1

Allow me to wish everyone a joyful, authentic, and open-minded 2008.
Here is my personal list of favorite films, in case you're interested.


Liesbeth took this picture of our neighbourhood today:


The whole place looks like a beautiful sugar-coated village out of a fairy tale!


This just popped up on my screen:
Pasted Graphic 1

Is that the modern rendering of the phrase "when hell freezes over"?

Good to know

From El Reg ...


Junk filter

For some time, I've been using the Akismet filtering service to prevent junk from reaching an area on my website where people can submit issues. It has been working well, as the image shows (scaled and rotated for brevity):


The purple entries were automatically marked as spam and hence ignored. It's both encouraging and depressing - depending on how one looks at this...

Next gadget

Wired has a short article on e-waste. Every time I buy tech stuff, I feel the s(h)ame and conclude that I need to mend my ways. A few years later, for each type of gadget, the story then repeats itself. Tally for 2007: new notebook + camera + scanner + hard disk. Sure, many gadgets tend to get smaller so the molecular count drops, but that's just an excuse to stash the old stuff in a drawer instead of in the garage (which is full of things I simply can't face taking to the dump).

On the plus side, energy consumption of the tech stuff that's always on here is now under 25 watts per hour (adsl/wlan box, nslu2 server with 2.5" hd, mac mini in sleep mode). Plus the fridge, of course.

Do the two balance out? Not by a long shot. Maybe I can do better in 2008.

Our world

There are many ways to look at this world. Here are just two. The first link takes 20 seconds to go through, the second 20 minutes. Highly recommended.


Broken leg: invalid full-leg plaster cast: 1 week lower-leg light-cast: 2 weeks back on my own two feet: yeay!


Triggered by an item on, I went through the first few presentations of TED - a yearly get-together of thinkers. Each presentation lasts around 20 minutes, so it takes some serious time to go through a bunch of these. The topics are extremely varied - I found each of the first three absolutely fascinating and can hardly wait to see the rest. The third presentation by Hans Rosling tickled me to no end, there's another presentation at the OECD World Forum from last June.

I can only conclude that this all happening and anyone with broadband access being able to find out about it illustrates how the internet is enabling a new renaissance. What an extraordinary times we live in. And what an opportunities for improving our world!

(Having broken a leg last weekend - silly me - I'm being forced to work at a slower pace the coming weeks. Then again, probably wouldn't have gone through the above presentations otherwise - so there seems to be a silver lining to everything, as they say...)

UPDATE: Dan Gilbert's presentation (#6) is really incredible, IMO.


It's October 1st, 2007. I've been looking forward to this date for quite some time, nearly two months in fact. That's how long I've been involved in a delightful commercial project for the Mac. A colleague / friend and me, doing all the native-Mac aspects of a larger project, i.e. Objective-C, Cocoa, Frameworks, the whole kaboodle. Really impressive technology to build on, and it sure underscores how local GUI apps are still miles ahead of anything web-ish these days, in terms of end-user experience, responsiveness, richness of information presentation, and eye candy.

Anyway, today was the deadline for a very tight schedule, and we made it with a result I'm really proud of. On time, on specs, and on budget. So now I'm celebrating... cheers!

Real content

Stumbled across Jacob Nielsen's website. Great articles, well thought-out, well-written, and refreshingly insightful. Found that site when reading his Write Articles, Not Blog Postings article, via a pointer on Christian Neukirchen's Anarchaia weblog.


FYI, from July 14th through August 12th, I'll be away camping in France with the family. We'll have three "computers" with us: Myra's iPod, Liesbeth's cellphone, and our camera. No other bits in sight. It'll be great fun, it always is.


Here's what Google keeps in my public profile:


That's instant access to almost a decade of tracking what and where I posted on Usenet and Google groups. Not to mention every search over the past 18..24 months,and my ISP being required by law to remember every IP address I've contacted in the past 6 months. It's a small step to permanent storage.

Imagine another Joseph McCarthy: have you or your parents or relatives ever...?

This isn't about "big brother" today. This is about creating the preconditions for a big brother scenario any time in the future.

New repository

The CVS repository is gone, but a new public SVN repository is now finally ready for use. E.g. to download the latest source code of Metakit, use:

    svn co svn:// metakit

Use "svn list" to get the full list of projects, or any directories / branches in them.

New FFF area

The Failure Feedback Forum is a single point of entry for all problems and suggestions you want to record and report about the various software projects I've been involved with over the years. This new version is still a bit rough and has limited functionality. All known issues have been converted & imported.

Server up

Ok,,, and are back on the newborn server. I'll be keeping a close watch on things. Several quirks remain, but the basic access and download paths should all be back.

All* accesses are redirected to* - and revision history access has been switched off, since is now a fully static site.

Server down

Dizzie, the server for and is about to undergo major surgery - replacing an ancient SuSE 8.2 setup with a new Debian 4.0 (Etch) configuration. There are no SuSE 8.2 security updates since it's no longer supported and I can't find a cdrom image from which to configure a gcc for it, so I can't set up a subversion repository.

Combined with the fact that I need to repartition the disk with no console access (just a remote reboot / rescue system) and the next few days might be quite, ehm... interesting. Luckily, the people at IPX know their stuff and can bail me out if I mess up.

Starting tomorrow, Thursday morning (Europe time), the and domains will be unavailable and return a "503 - Service Not Available" message until the upgrade is over. Emails to jcw @ are ok and will reach me, since they do not go through this server.

Collective minds

Preventing spam and helping to digitize books at the same time - brilliant!

Peter Denning

There is a treasure trove of original thinking on the CACM site with articles by Peter Denning. Thanks to Mark Roseman for taking me there via his weblog.

Magic Ink

A very thought-provoking and powerful article by Bret Victor about why presentation of information matters (and how software hasn't come out of the stone age yet). This is where the coin drops on what computing should be about. It's a long read. But also one of the most refreshing immersions into original thinking I've come across since a long time.

Equi4 CVS will move to SVN

The CVS repository has been offline for a few weeks now. There are a couple of different reasons for this - but the main one is that SVN serves me better these days and I've transferred everything to a private local copy.

This is part of a range of changes on the site. The domain "" no longer works at all, for example - it has to be "", i.e. with the www prefix.

The plan is to update the server in a few weeks, at which point I can add svn to it and maintain a r/o replica of my main repository for public access. I'll post here when that step is complete.

RSS Feeds

The RSS feeds of activities I'm involved in are now as follows:
• This weblog -
• The Metakit mailing list, via Google or Gmane
• The Starkit mailing list, via Google or Gmane
• The Vlerq mailing list, via Google
The Google & Gmane pages also list other access/notifications options.


Welcome, glad you made it back to this weblog again...

Spring cleaning

There have been some big changes recently, from website updates to complete redesigns, and from migrating files to other servers to taking CVS offline.

The main points to note are:

• The main website is changing but remains in place.
• I can be reached by email if anything bad happened or got lost.
• This blog will be replaced by a new one, using the same URL.

As a result of switching to a different software package, the RSS feed for this weblog will change in the next few days, from


I'll provide more details once the dust settles... in my new blog!


This article caught my attention, especially because of this summary:

If you want to be rich: Don't build what you want, build what they want.
If you want to be a happy geek: Build what you want but don't try to sell it.
If you want to be rich, stop doing research and start schmoozing with the rich.
If you want to be happy, stop caring about the rich and start doing research.

Free as in beer

James Bach blogs about people who contact him to get free advice. It seems to be happening more and more.

I can only quote a good friend on this: You get what you pay for.

For me, this does not mean that I won't answer questions or support others - on the contrary - but that it is my choice to do so, not any sort of obligation.

A trend?

occurred to me that just about everything I've done in terms of software over the past years can be summarized as a simple progression:

    A somewhat disturbing trend is that each next step is taking longer to complete... oh, well.


    Copyright ownership is a murky issue, as El Reg explains.

    Papers, archived

    It looks like a new trend is to start offering all back issues on some CD-ROM, DVD, or even hard disk at relatively low prices. Publications like Dr. Dobbs, National Geographic, and now the New Yorker are all available in electronic form. Great (I have the first two of these, and a few others).
    Wouldn't it be nice is some
    standard browser emerged, so that we don't end up with a huge mix of supplier-specific reader software? The current situation is a bit like having a different reader application for every web site...


    ... and their personal preferences. Interesting variety.

    Features and bugs

    The developer perspective. Recommended reading for both sides of the fence.


    Hilarious! ... be sure to watch the video.


    A quote I couldn't resist copying here:

    The last good thing written in C was Franz Schubert's Symphony Number 9. --Erwin Dieterich



    Great read.

    Lightweight is extinct


    An easy way of checking whether your browser is standards compliant is to check whether the installation files for your browser were smaller than 50MB, or the run-time memory usage is less than 300MB. If this is the case, you should download a more recent browser to get the full Web 2.1 experience.

    Pinch me, please (yes, I know it was meant as a joke).

    Joel Spolsky

    He's right ... and I need to think (not necessarily to change my situation, but perhaps my goals).

    The big one

    It had to happen. I knew from the start that it would be almost inevitable, at some point.

    And today it did. I ran the marathon in Rotterdam! All 42 kilometers! In 5:15 - phew! Now I'm tired but very pleased with this moment, and seeing the preparations since July 2005 pay off.

    Onwards, back to coding!!

    Books, yummy

    As what is starting to become a tradition, I've been collecting book ideas and recommendations for the past year or so. If the topic and reviews stick long enough, I then order all of them at once to extend my library and have material for all those times when reading seems like the best thing to do. I find it particularly effective to overcome setbacks and productivity dips.

    So here's the list that just arrived, in random order:

    • Operating Systems (3rd ed: "The MINIX book"), by Tanenbaum & Woodhull
    • Ajax in Action, by Crane & Pascarello
    • Rapid Development, by Steve McConnell
    • Data Crunching, by Greg Wilson
    • The Seasoned Schemer, by Friedman & Felleisen
    • Micro-ISV, by Bob Walsh
    • The Mythical Man-month, by Frederick Brooks
    • Practical Common Lisp, by Peter Seibel
    • Joel on Software, by Joel Spolsky
    • Code Complete, by Steve McConnell

    Plenty to catch up on!

    Keep it simple

    From NYT:

    "Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges and it causes end-user and administrator frustration." - Ray Ozzie, CTO, Microsoft

    Yup. KISS.


    In it's own inimitable way, El Reg has a crazy story about what can happen when the real world meets the world of geeks. Or when people start seeing ghosts/hackers/terrorists on every corner, eh... web page.

    The fascinating issue here is how a welcome greeting turns out to have so few hints that non-geeks (that's the
    other 99.999% on this planet, remember?) may conclude it's some sort of threat...

    Long runs

    Having run for over 30 km a few times recently, I think I now understand the term "in the long run" better. It's about setting goals, staying on course, and persevering. It's also about patience - and enjoying both the process and the outcome!

    Product design

    A delightful intro about software product design. Here's part of it:


    I'm the schmuck on the bottom left, btw...


    I've been updating my website with "rsync -a --delete (from) (to)" for years. Very happily so, I might add. Only this time, the original happened to be on a local NFS mount, and that mount point happened to be inaccessible when I did the update.

    So rsync then deleted hundreds of MB's from my webserver before I could hit CTRL/C ...
    (Many hours later: all the data has been pushed back out through the ADSL uplink. Phew!)

    Email soup

    The bad news: it took exactly 15 days to accumulate 1000 junk emails in my Gmail account (and 55 meaningful ones). And that's after dizzie's basic spamassassin and amavis rules were applied... (stopping another 500 virus emails!).

    The good news: Gmail automatically dropped some 98% of the spam. Plus another 75 daily auto-generated emails I always ignore, via a couple of filters.
    I now re-route all jcw@... emails to google and then pick them up via POP. It looks like Gmail spam filtering is particularly effective - perhaps because they can detect the same email content arriving for many people and all coming from the same source, and then "undeliver" them as soon as a few people start tagging them as spam, which is very quick to do on their web UI.
    Great, just a few emails a day. No distractions!

    GTD + FMP = ActionTracker

    GTD (Getting Things Done) is a very interesting way of getting organized. FMP (FileMaker Pro) is a powerful end-user database. And ActionTracker looks like an excellent way to brings them together.

    The other tool I found was
    kGTD, which uses AppleScript to make OmniOutliner Pro perform the necessary steps. But this approach is doomed IMO: using a free-style outliner to move copies of information around is bound to stay brittle forever, whereas a database such as FMP can manage data in a perfectly relational structure and present numerous views on the same data using joins, selections, and ordering.

    FMP is an incredibly well thought-out and mature system BTW, I'm surprised how little it seems to be appreciated and used.


    This is the time of year where I often wonder what I'm about and where I'm headed. Instead of a boring monologue, here's the list of books piled up next to me, waiting to be read, finished, or re-read, as the case may be:

    • Machiavelli, a man misunderstood - by Michael White
    • Getting Things DONE - by David Allen
    • The Mathematical Century - by Piergiorgio Odifreddi
    • Database System Implementation - by Garcia-Molina, Ullman, and Widom
    • Lisp in Small Pieces - by Christian Queinnec

    Ordered as a neat stack, smallest book on top.
    Somehow, I think this list forms a good overview...


    My weekly "long run" has taken me to the 17 km milestone today. Took two hours, roughly half the pace of world-class marathon athletes. So I guess that makes me half an athlete :) - and proudly so!

    Independent programmer

    Gus Mueller's down to earth story of how he made the jump to living off the wonderful software he created. I admit to having bought both VoodooPad and FlySketch and being really happy with both of 'em.


    My favorite composer. Ten days non-stop. I've set things up to record it all, and am looking forward to listening to this in my own pace. Thank you, BBC!


    How to come up with Breakthrough Ideas. Thinking outside the box, sort of.

    How to be creative

    Great list. My favorite has got to be #11.


    Priceless... (more)


    This idea is at least a decade old. A simple tool to jot down brief notes, which I can use from multiple computers. The key feature is incremental search, i.e. entering a couple of characters and seeing the list of hits trim down as I type. No categories, no hierarchies, no keywords. A time-stamp would be nice.

    I've got tons of uses for this: storing ideas, remembering URLs, tracking To-do's, and (with proper protection) saving passwords and account info. I'd like to dump my entire chaotic brain in it (for personal use only).

    On the Mac, there are several applications which can sort of do this. NoteTaker, MacJournal, OmniOutliner, and VoodooPad come to mind. On the web, there are wiki's and and bookmarks. The Backpack website has a Mac OS X Dashboard widget, a great combo. Will Duquette's
    Notebook also comes close: incr search and portable. There are lots of ways to do this - it's not rocket science.

    But all of the above are single-machine!

    On a PDA it would be moot, since those are so easy to carry everywhere, but there's no quick way to enter even limited amounts of text in them.
    Is it too much to ask to have a solution which talks to some server, is portable, and can work in disconnected mode as well? All it takes is Tcl/Tk and perhaps Tequila + Metakit. I'm even willing to forego Tk and use the command line, as long as a rendered version in HTML is easy to automatically maintain (for that N770 thing...).
    Let's call it
    SyncPad. Simple idea, simple project, I wish someone would do it.


    It's good to see articles like this once in while.


    Dick Hardt (first ActiveState, now Sxip) presents his "Identity 2.0" story in a truly delightful way, on video. This was the Keynote Address at OSCON 2005. Not sure how I found this, but it offered great insight into the essence of digital identity. Fasten your seat-belt!

    The SAX

    The Shareware Author indeX was a service by yours truly which was started nearly a decade ago to help producers and consumers of shareware find each other... a bit like a marketplace. In a small way, I'd like to think that it made a difference. But given that my interest in shareware is completely gone by now, I've decided to close it down. Stop while you're ahead, or something like that.


    Is that Chuck/Charles Moore - the inventor of FORTH - who is being mentioned in an article titled Next-Gen Processor: Supercomputer on a Chip? At AMD? Interesting.

    Update: The answer is: no, there are more people with that name.


    My lifetime job, of course, is to develop new software and make it run. I've extended that for a while now to also make myself run - an old habit which I neglected for over two decades. So the news is that I'm back into running and enjoying every second of it. Currently at 5 km, five times a week ... it feels really good.

    Back. Geek.

    Just back from a refreshing camping trip, it was delightful to read Erik Sink's blog entry about developers and marketing. This one is worth reading and re-reading...

    Summer break

    Yours truly is about to enter an extended summer recess. Unlike hibernation, this marks a period of sensory delight and social / travel activity, alternated with brisk work periods in which I will however not be very responsive to email. Anything (or nothing) may happen until September...

    Go for it

    Follow your dream. Wil Shipley's student talk at Apple's WWDC 2005 says it all. He's right.


    Lawrence Lessig writes a superb article about the World Social Forum. Puts everything I always wanted to know about copyright, DRM, and the GPL into a historical perspective. Ends with a fascinating story about Gilberto Gil.

    Hi Steve

    Ah, so you did read my previous blog entry, eh? And next year we're going to have Mac OS X on Intel hardware? Well, good luck with the switch, get it over with quickly please. C'ya.

    The Universal Binary Programming Guidelines covers the technical details.

    Smart ideas

    An insightful story by Scott Berkun about smart, yet not necessarily right. I'd summarize it as: creative ideas need reality checks more than anything else. Or perhaps even more concisely: clever and wise are not the same thing. Reading this, I just can't stop thinking about (design and choice of) programming languages, software practices, database approaches, and development tools.

    Let's move away from the clever stuff.
    Let's focus on wisdom.

    Another gem

    Again by Scott Berkun: Why you must lead or follow. Spot on. Life's too short to dwell in any other modus vivendi.

    EU patents

    Tedious but progress in the right direction for once... The Register reports that:

    Under the terms of [Michel] Rocard's draft, software would only be patentable if it controlled a physical process, or a controllable force of nature. Patents would not be allowed for software that handles "the treatment, the manipulation, the representation and the presentation of information".

    Yes, please!

    Cringely's gaze

    Robert Cringely looks into his crystal ball and describes the future trends he sees looming - the players are Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Apple. Fascinating thinking.

    Dual photography

    In the category "wow, amazing science"...

    Imagine a light source coming from one end and a camera picking up the image reflected by some scene. With a mathematical transformation, it is possible to reconstruct the "dual" image, i.e. the view of the scene as if the roles of the camera and the light source were reversed (note that this requires a scanning light beam, not a floodlight).

    Amazingly, this allows you to see things which are not visible from the original camera viewpoint. See the video at the bottom of
    this page.

    Commodities and cost

    Joel Spolsky writes: Smart companies try to commoditize their products' complements.. There are an awful number of insightful comments about open source and marketing in his 2002 strategy letter, as usual.

    What makes top research special

    Richard Hamming (yes, the Hamming code guy) describes the difference between world-class scientists and the rest in this talk (of 1986). It's a wonderful glimpse into that world.