Meet the new look, same as the old look

I’ve changed the look of this blog, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see any difference.

Most of the changes are ‘under the hood’ so to speak and only produce a different visual in certain browsing environments.

In the old theme (the part of the blog that determines the look) all dimensions were fixed. The new theme uses a so-called responsive design where the look of the site is determined by the width of the device you’re using to browse.

You will notice the changes the most on phones and in certain ancient web browsers, where the site will display as a single column. This has the advantage that on thin screens (phones) the browser won’t try to cram everything in, but will instead stack everything vertically.

Two other responsive features that you will see on mobile devices:

  1. Images will now take up the width of the screen regardless of the size in which I’ve uploaded them. (This only goes for recent images.)
  2. Some of the menus are rendered as big buttons so that you can tap them more easily with your finger.

Other changes:

  • The blog now uses HTML5 and CSS3.
  • The new theme is made from the ground up and no longer based on WordPress’ former default theme Kubrick.
  • Some of the background colours are gone.
  • I am using a new font for the headings, namely Permian by Ilya Ruderman (this used to be MS Trebuchet).
  • Kubrick used quote marks as bullets for list items, I’ve returned to a more classic disc.
  • I have cut a lot of code.

The latter combined with the fact that I’ve released this redesign before it was ready means you’re probably going to bump into things that aren’t quite right. Please let me know when that happens.

Read the rest of this entry »

What the top 3 content management systems call themselves

In 2004 I predicted that the free content-management systems of the day would be supplanted by the blogging systems and ‘nukes’ that were emerging back then.

In 2010 my prediction had come true. Part of the supplantation process, as I noted back then, was that these systems would rebrand themselves as CMSes. Branding is a process that is never finished. Let’s take a look at what the three most popular free and open source (FOSS) CMSes of 2010 called themselves back then and now in 2014:

Name Started as a 2010 2014
WordPress Blog Semantic personal publishing platform Web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog
Drupal Blog Open source content management system Open source content management platform
Joomla Nuke Dynamic portal engine and content management system Content management system

Note that to this day, the three systems shown here are still the most popular FOSS CMSes. According to W3Techs today, WordPress has a market share of 60%, Drupal 8%, Joomla 5% and the market share of the most popular commercial off-the-shelf CMS, Bitrix, is so small it might as well be a statistical error.

See also:

Who owns this photo?

slaters-stolen-monkey-photo

Every time Englishman David Slater threatens to sue people over this photo, the press jump on it like rats on a granary.

I will tell the story therefore in just a few words, because you’ve probably already heard it. Slater goes on a photography trip to Indonesia, a macaque starts to play with one of his hugely expensive cameras and starts taking selfies. Zoom forward a couple of years and Slater seems to have changed his career from taking pictures to threatening people with lawsuits over using this photo.

(I expect he didn’t actually do the latter, but the only times I ever hear about him is when his legal team are ready to pounce.)

A couple of observations following the current brouhaha involving Wikimedia. Note that I am mostly responding to what internet commenters say underneath the articles—pretending anything an internet commenter (not you, of course!) has to say has intellectual merit, is a risky affair.

1) It pains me to see the way people take for granted how anything that is created, is owned by someone. The public domain, that area of human culture that is owned by all of us, used to thrive, and used to be a natural thing that existed as a peer alongside the area of things that were owned by individuals. These days the public domain seems to be a memory distant enough that people no longer realize the possibility of there being things that are owned by all of us.

That makes this a great era for copyright lawyers and no-one else.

2) Among all the arguments on whether this photo belongs to the world, to Slater, or even, as some would have it (cheekily?), the macaque, the thing that has been missing is a mention of the legal doctrine of sweat of the brow. People seem to argue that the picture should belong to Slater because he did all the hard work. Regardless of how questionable the assertion is that Slater did any work at all, for an argument like that to hold up in court (and Slater is indeed threatening to take this to court), it needs to have legal underpinnings.

The sweat of the brow doctrine states that if you put in a lot of work, you get a copyright. It partly adds to and partly opposes the much more common doctrine that holds that work needs to have some sort originality embedded into it in order to generate a copyright.

The Wikipedia article tries to list the jurisdictions in which the sweat of the brow doctrine applies but doesn’t get far. In the Netherlands and the USA for instance, the doctrine has been soundly rejected in the jurisprudence. In the Netherlands it is said (figuratively) a work requires “the stamp of the maker”, in other words it needs to be clear that the work is the result of choices its author made. (Generally these choices need to transcend the merely technical; setting an aperture on your camera or cropping a photo on your computer generally is not enough to cause a copyright to come into being.)

The one jurisdiction that seems to be the exception is … the UK, Slater’s home land. This is where things start to get interesting, because if Slater is going to sue anywhere, it’s likely to be the UK. Some commenters seem to think that since the Wikimedia Foundation is an American entity, it can only be sued in the USA. I’ll leave it is as an exercise for the reader why that is utter nonsense.

P.S. The rotten thing about writing these things is that you read so many sources that eventually you stumble upon the one that makes your points for you. Here that source is TechDirt, the site that knows about this case because it is the site that initially got attacked by Slater’s representatives—or maybe they’re just smart people.

(If you follow one link, follow that last one.)

The photo detective

Wat jij niet ziet

In this book former photographer Hans Aarsman tries to deduce the story behind a photograph from the photograph itself.

Hans Aarsman used to be a photographer until he realised that the essence of his job was to mimic old-fashioned paintings. He sold his cameras, gave away his photos to a museum and became somebody who writes about photography instead.

In the national newspaper of record De Volkskrant he got a weekly spread in which he got to play a photo detective. He would study the photos that came off the news wire and select one or a small series to study.

Wat Jij Niet Ziet (With My Little Eye, literally What You Don’t See) is a collection of 50 of these columns and the second book in the series. Each column consists of a spread containing the photo followed by a page that has a crop of an interesting detail, followed by a page describing Aarsman’s findings.

wat-jij-niet-ziet-1

Shown here is a sample of Aarsman’s detective work. On 20 November 2012 Palestinian photo journalist Adel Hana took this picture of an egg salesman just outside Gaza City. AP put it on the wire and accompanied the photo by a description that said something along the lines of ‘man selling eggs by the side of the road’.

wat-jij-niet-ziet-2

Aarsman had his doubts. The low, open bed of the vehicle forms an ideal platform both for displaying eggs and for selling them from, so why would a salesperson put most of his wares in the street like that? He pulled out his magnifying glass and noticed a tire standing against the truck. So that’s why the man had to unload the truck! He wanted to reach the spare. This salesman isn’t vending, he’s waiting. Why is he waiting when he’s got a spare tire? Well, a couple of crushed egg cartons suggest he had been kneeling on top of them—presumably he tried to remove the tire but had to give up in the end.

Not all the photos required closer inspection. Sometimes it is immediately clear what is going on, but Aarsman still ekes out a few details that lead to a greater understanding. He also included photos that are interesting without requiring detective work, such as the photo taken by politician Reynaldo Dagsa a fraction of a second after a deadly bullet entered his body. Dagsa had been focusing on his wife and daughter who were posing for him in the street, and failed to see or respond to the gunman appearing next to them.

Being a bit of an aspiring amateur photographer I find this approach very refreshing. It helps me understand what makes a scene, how subject and background work together to tell a story.

Rating by brankl: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Procrastination is my posse

Seventeen years ago I flunked university by working up a good speed for six years and then sliding out right at the other end. My funds had dried up and I decided it was time to go and do something else.

As it turned out my invisible diploma had a negative value on the job market. Even though there were plenty of jobs around, employers either thought I was over-qualified for having been to university or under-qualified for not having the piece of paper to prove it.

But I was lucky, because my experience working for the local student magazine was good enough to get me a job as a magazine editor and when I had had enough of that (for reasons that had little to do with this story and everything with the company I worked for) I slid out again, straight into a freelance career as a web developer.

And I discovered I was good at it.

Which was odd because I had never studied web development. To the contrary, putzing around on the web was something I did in my student years as a form of procrastination.

This brings me around to a great insight I gained after well over forty years, which is that I don’t learn well through rote learning, but the better through osmosis. Not that great an insight perhaps, but useful.

Another insight is that if it takes you forty years to realize you learn better through osmosis than through rote learning, maybe osmosis isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

When Windows refuses to let you rename folders

The past few months I’ve had it happen more and more that Microsoft Windows refused to eject a thumb drive or refused to let me rename folders.

Windows will helpfully tell you that this is likely because another program is still working with the file/folder/drive, but doesn’t tell you the name of the offending program.

Since this sort of thing generally happens two minutes before I pack up and leave for home, I’ve thus far simply ignored the problem. Today, however, Windows once again refused to let me rename a folder and I had the time to play the detective.

Today I found out that the program that has been hijacking my OS was a program called TGitCache.exe, which is a helper tool for Tortoise Git, which in turn is a version control package. A lot of my customers have started using version control recently and it makes sense therefore that I’ve only started to experience this in the last six months or so.

The Tortoise folks have said in response to a bug report about this issue that they’ve released a new version of the program in which they changed so much, they’re now closing the bug report.

Note that in your case it’s probably a different program. It’s probably a program you can see in your task bar. I singled out TGitCache.exe in this post because it runs in the background. This post is mostly useful for people who have noticed similar behaviour since they started working with Tortoise Git.

Luis Suarez and the right to work

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was punished by FIFA for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup. FIFA has banned the player from participating in any football related activities for four months, including going to practice and watching games at the stadium.

Team mate Diego Lugano called the ban barbaric and a violation of Suarez’ human rights.

Now there’s something to consider. The right to work as enshrined in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Surely this was written with people in mind who would otherwise be condemned to poverty, starvation and a life of no hope? With an estimated nett worth of 34 million USD, only two things have been taken away from Suarez, namely the possibility to indulge in his life’s passion for a while and the possibility to get even richer—the Uruguayan striker was hoping for a transfer from his current employer Liverpool FC to FC Barcelona.

We need to make sure we safe guard the human rights of the people whose clinging to these right is tenuous, but that hardly stops the privileged from having human rights at all. It is not FIFA’s task to tell Suarez what jobs he must and must not take—especially considering the association’s human rights record regarding the under-privileged, which is dismal.

FIFA are in a tough spot, though. Giorgio Chiellini also has the right to “just and favourable conditions of work” and surely that includes the right not to be bitten by his opponents. Chiellini has the rightful expectation of some protection against such practices.

How much protection? That’s hard to say. FIFA will give a player a four month ban for causing a small bite mark on a shoulder, but closes its eyes to career ending tackles. In fact they have a history of handing out bans for offenses that them makes them look bad. In 2006 Zinadine Zidane was banned three matches for a light headbutt in the shoulder of Italian defender Marco Materazzi that did not influence play and that did not injure Materazzi (although you get to see some lovely acting from the Italian player if you look up the incident on YouTube).

Here’s my conclusion. I think FIFA should be able to show some respect for the human rights of Chiellini and his colleagues by offering him a reasonably safe working environment. Using a ban as a negative stimulus would be a reasonable choice to help ensure this right even if it directly infringes upon the same human right of the player that causes the workplace to be unsafe. The association should weigh both rights fairly though and come up with a punishment that does not infringe upon both rights more than it has to.

In that respect I think a four month ban is way over the top, especially considering that FIFA had other options. My choice would have been to ask Suarez to come with a comprehensive plan to stop his undeniable passion and drive from spilling over into uncontrolled aggression. He should then defend this plan in person.

In which the author toys with his conscience (but not really)

dilbert-future

The Dilbert Future

Here’s the obligatory blurb that can be misquoted by publisher and author alike: The Dilbert Future is worth every penny I paid for it.

As far as I remember, I did not pay any pennies for this third instalment of Scott Adam’s comic ‘business books’ because I paid in Euro cents and not even that many. I bought the book second hand at a flea market and I probably did not pay more than 50 cents for it.

Can an author be separated from his work? No really, could somebody separate this author from his work? That is like the second lame joke I made in this review and yet I stay ahead of the work under review. Unfortunately my opinion is informed by what I’ve learned by the author.

In 1996 Adams published the rather brilliant The Dilbert Principle, a satirical work about the workplace in which he presented a twist on the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle humorously states that good workers will be promoted into roles they cannot handle until they reach their ‘level of incompetence’. The Dilbert Principle states that bad workers will be promoted to get them out of the way.

Only one year later Adams published The Dilbert Future, but I did not read it until the past weeks. In the meantime I had learned that he is a bit of a tosser and a moron and a misogynist—the red pill brigade call him “one of us”.

So here’s my take on if, why and how to appreciate a work even if you dislike the person behind that work. Usually these questions are discussed from a moral perspective—we don’t like to be in the closet about the works we admire even if their authors are personae non gratae. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is possible to will yourself to not like a work just because of its author.

Complicating matters is that good and better works often work because the author shows real and continuous insight. Go ahead, hate Wagner because he was a Nazi, but that doesn’t make his music less intrinsically good.

But there is a third issue and that is that insight is often based on context. A joke works because it makes use of a lot of shorthand; the concepts that underlie the joke are shared by the person telling the joke and their audience.

This is where The Dilbert Future comes crashing down.

The very first lines of the book are: “There are two types of people in the world: the bright and attractive people like yourself who read Dilbert books, and the 6 billion idiots who get in our way. [...] A devious reader suggested calling them In-duh-viduals.” See? That’s funny. It’s a classic joke that works on the understanding that both Adams and his readers don’t really believe in a world divided into a small elite of brilliant people and a large mass of complete idiots. After all, each of us knows quite a few people who may not have read Dilbert but are still definitely not idiots. There is a contrast between reality and what Adams jokingly says reality is and that is what makes us laugh.

Unfortunately the corner that Adams has painted himself into, in blog posts, books and by writing sock-puppet reviews of his own works, is that he believes exactly that. Adams belongs to a group of people who believe there are wolves and sheep, and they are the wolves, that there are hunters and prey, and they are the hunters. As far as I can tell, Scott Adams believes his own nonsense. And that makes it quite a struggle to get through The Dilbert Future. Every time you see Adams joke about these In-duh-viduals you know he doesn’t mean it as a joke. Which is a bit of a problem for a book that is meant to be funny.

I’ll skip discussing the bit at the end where Adams gets all serious and starts professing his belief in NLP-like mumbo jumbo.

All this just to say that you may not be able to force yourself to dislike the things you like, but an author is also unable to divorce their work from what the reader knows about the author.

I skipped the rating on this book because even though I didn’t like the book, I don’t think I could recommend you either to read it or to leave it. If you’re a sad-sack red-piller, you might even consider it a work of literature (or worse, a manual).

It rains, you need to go out, what do you do?

The question of whether you should either walk or run in the rain if your goal is to stay as dry as possible, has fascinated people ever since they realized they had more time to spend on the internet than cat videos could provide.

That is a rather convoluted sentence but if you try and attack it a couple of times, you should be able to decipher its meaning. If not, just read ‘has fascinated people a lot recently’.

In 1992 The Straight Dope claimed that running through the rain keeps you considerably drier than walking through it. Sounds plausible. There are variants out there that I am not going to link to that talk about the wind coming from the front (run) or behind (walk) and about the type of rain (big drops v. small).

My problems are different though and as I stare out the window, knowing I should leave the house any minute now, more than four decades of Dutch experience with rain tell me what to do.

Last Friday I was at the worst conference I ever attended. The conference was held in a quaint and utterly charming village just outside Utrecht, 25 kilometres from my home as the crow flies, and it was organized on the same principle as all other conferences before it, i.e. people that matter own a car. I don’t own a car because living in a largish city I don’t typically need one. Long story short, it took me 3 hours and 10 minutes to get there by public transport. There were public-transport-using people that came in after me.

(Just as a public service announcement, the conference was held in an otherwise perfectly charming small convention center called Inn Style in Maarssen. Do not ever go there!)

The first Dutch lesson for avoiding the rain is therefore to neither walk nor run, but take a car.

Since I spend most of my kilometres on a bicycle and since today’s destination is only two kilometres away, today’s dilemma is whether I should walk or ride a bicycle. An added variable is that I will be using an umbrella. Experience tells me that walking with an umbrella will keep me drier than bicycling.

The problem is slightly enhanced by the fact that it rains relatively hard and that it is relatively cold outside. If it would be a little warmer or if it wouldn’t rain so hard, I might as well cycle through the rain without an umbrella because the water would evaporate as fast as it would hit me.

These things you won’t read on your strange blogs from foreign lands where rain is more of a concept than a reality. On the other hand, some people claim it almost never rains in the Netherlands.

Notes on dumpster diving

Last Saturday was the first time ever King’s Day was celebrated in the Netherlands, but nobody had to teach us anything because the feast was built atop a string of a hundred Queen’s Days in as many years.

(And yes, people were heard in the streets saying Queen’s Day, and other people were heard to correct the first people, and then everybody laughed.)

The part of the celebrations that I tend to go for is the country-wide flea market and every year, or almost every year, I tend to post a photo of my loot here. This year will not be an exception.

queens-day-loot-2014-purchases

If you compare my acquisitions to those of 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2008, the harvest seems rather paltry. If you take into consideration that three of those books were the token purchase a retail addict makes in order to get started on a bender, the result seems even measlier.

But that is because this year I took separate photos of the things I bought (above) and the things I did not pay for (below). Here are the results of this year’s dumpster dive:

queens-day-loot-2014-divings

It’s this dumpster diving schtick I want to talk about for a moment.

Despite coming from relative poverty when I was young (or perhaps because of!) I have to overcome a distinct distaste every year for rummaging through the garbage. A few things ease my mind. First of all I am a bit of a pack rat and seeing good things go to waste offends my sensibilities. There is also the idea of getting a good deal, strengthened by the fact that in the earlier hours of King’s Day I payed good money for items of similar value. By the time the vendors start packing up I have developed a fairly keen sense of what everything would have gone for that day. And finally there is also the realization that the treatment of books I find by the side of the road or in actual dumpsters hadn’t been treated much better during the day—many of them were displayed on the ground or on raggedy blankets while passers by dropped hot sauce from sausage buns on them.

Still, when I get home from dumpster diving I feel an itch everywhere (imagined, I presume) and immediately go to work with soap and water to wipe off the books I found.

The friend who accompanies me on these hunts remarked that I probably wouldn’t have bought the books I took home from the dumpster dive and in most cases that seems to be true. There is a classic Dutch dictionary in there, the Dikke van Dale, that I would have presumed to cost more than I would have been willing to pay for. I probably would have bought the Lisa Tetzner because The Black Brothers is one of the few books in a global canon of children’s literature—I’d like to re-read it. I might have left the Adrian Mole unbought for the simple reason that I couldn’t be 100% sure I did not already own it—on the other hand I bought a Raymond Chandler (the only find not pictured in the photos above) figuring I might already own it and it turned out that indeed I did.

But all the books I found while dumpster diving will get read or used eventually, I am pretty sure of that. The older books are the most obvious example of this truth; they are out of copyright and I acquired them so that I could scan them and put them on Project Gutenberg or on the Internet Archive.

I noticed that during the part of the day where I was still willing to pay money for books, I spent most of my time looking for ‘certs’, for books that I knew I would enjoy and for books that have been on my to-buy-if-I-run-across-them list. This year for the first time I have also been looking for photography books—without finding any. The dumpster diving objects are slightly more of a gamble, although my experience the past four years with dumpster diving is that most of these will be read or used otherwise.