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Web Excursion for March, 22nd

A la Brett Terpstra, a short list of links I’ve bookmarked this week

  • Neovim: vim’s rebirth for the 21st century. An ambitious project by Thiago de Arruda to bring vim to the 21st century.
  • Get started with rvm: this was a better introduction to RVM and gemsets any documentation I’ve ever read on the RVM website. Highly recommended!
  • Tabula: If you’ve ever tried to do anything with data provided to you in PDFs, you know how painful this is — you can’t easily copy-and-paste rows of data out of PDF files. Tabula allows you to extract that data in CSV format, through a simple interface, running, if desired, locally.
  • Two factor auth list: List of websites and whether or not they support 2FA. I’ve activated two factor authentication on Gandi.
  • OneNote: the premium note taking application from Microsoft has gone free and multiplatform. I’ve tried the Mac version, and I have to confess that, for being a 1.0, I’m impressed!

Github Pull Request Triage

Here’s an interesting project by Peter Bengtsson of Mozilla to get an overview of the pull requests for a given github repository. I’ve immediately gave it a try at one of our clients and I have to say that it works like a charm. Installation instructions can be found here.

Bootstrappified

I’ve finally bit it and started using Twitter bootstrap for my website and the blog. It was a bit of work (partially done while flying to and from Venice), but I took the occasion to do some spring cleaning.

A handful of GoDataDriven posts

In the past few weeks I’ve written a couple of blog posts at the GoDataDriven blog:

App.net Comments Widget

The other day I set up the App.net Comments widget on this blog. Comments require an App.net or Facebook account, as the Venn diagrams of the two have one of the smallest intersection in the tech world :)

This is my professional advise (!)

This is my professional advise, and if you need more proof, here is a Detective giving the same advice on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1t3vtr0kxk

You would think nobody would ever never say something like that, but x0054 disagrees. He offers advice, (professional advice), on how not to get arrested. In case you don’t believe him, he links to some guy (a Detective) on youtube. This is 2014 folks!

Long time, no signs

It has been almost two years since my last blog post. My new year resolution is to not let that happen again.

I have some good reason for that though. Without any particular order:

  • I became father for the third time. Little Elena, as charming as she is, still keeps me awake more than needed (02);
  • I became a doctor in Theoretical Physics (02);
  • I finished my contract with FOM after four years of research (30);
  • I worked for a year at KPMG NL, as a consultant (01 – 30/09/2013); I spontaneously left to become a
  • Data Whisperer at GoDataDriven (01 – today). GoDataDriven is an amazing company, with a stellar team of colleagues.

You may notice a pattern up there: end of September, begin October is always busy.

Export to BibTeX from Papers (2)

If you always wanted to automate the tedious process of exporting your collection of papers in Papers to BibTeX here’s an Applescript that does that:

{% gist 8471281 save_bib.scpt %}

To use it, you should invoke it when the focus on Papers is on the collection (or selection of papers) that you want to export. The various variables presented in the script, pretty self-explanatory, should allows for enough customization.

Dutch Doctors

This is a true story about Dutch doctors. It seems scary, and frankly it scares the shit out of me, since I live in the Netherlands.

In december, playing football, my knee “cracked”. It didn’t break, but I felt a crack, and fell in an excruciating pain. I had pay the doctor a visit, which is never a pleasant thing here. Believe me, this story will convince you.

Barely standing I made into the doctor’s office. He briefly examined my knee and concluded that nothing was broken. He told me to take two paracetamol every 6 hours, even though I was perfectly fine bearing the pain. No thanks. I wanted to know what was going on, but, apparently, nothing. Just crutches for a couple of days, no sport for 4 weeks, and in two months I should be like new.

After six months I’m still in pain. Not always, but my knee hurts often. I decided to try the doctor again. He said that I should get an MRI to check whether the meniscus is broken.

“Fine — I said — let’s do that.”

“Who-ho, not so fast. Too expensive.”

Too expensive for who? For him?

If you now read through the lines, you already get the main message: I’m not going to treat you, even if you need it, because it’s expensive. You’re a doctor, and you don’t want to cure people with their own money? Which kind of doctor are you again?

A little background here. For what I heard, here in the Netherlands the less clinical analysis a doctor prescribes, the more he gets at the end of the year. That’s right, he get richer if he doesn’t cure you!! How sick is that?

I had to fight a week with him to get my MRI. Do you think he’s just greedy?

When getting some medication for my psoriasis, he saw my file and asked about my heart illness, ARVD. I said that I had to be under control, but without taking pills, like my brother and my mother do.

“Why? — he inquired — I see here in your file that it has no consequences.”

I don’t want to play the part of the asshole here, but if you look in Wikipedia you see that death is a, rightfully, very feared consequence of ARVD. And which kind of illnesses do not have any consequences? Oh, right, the one that needs only painkillers.

So I told him, and he gave me that strange look, like I’d know better.

Maybe a novice, you may think. He works at the VU, the Free University of Amsterdam.

Let’s try another one. It goes back when I first went to the doctor here in the Netherlands. I told him about ARVD, saying that in Italy I was checked every year to see whether the status of my heart had changed.

“Who-ho, slow down you handsome, here in the Netherlands we don’t treat illnesses like in Italy — because here they prefer to let you die if that yields little money for their wallet — so we’ll do the following: we test for it this year and then, if you feel some disturbs, we’ll see what we can do.”

Let me help you out with this: when your hearth is not feeling fine with ARVD, that means you’re dead. How nice from him to take action after my funeral! I told him and, as the other doctor, he gave that look as I’d know better.

Do you think the fun is over?

My wife is not feeling well lately. She’s very tired, her head itches. So what should we do? Go to the doctor. Yay!

The doctor is sure she’s allergic to something. But it will be so difficult to find out what that you’d better take this pills and shut up. It will go away.

Three weeks later, you guessed right, it’s not gone. How can it go? They take a blood sample. I don’t want to question the timing, but they could have done that weeks before.

Anyway, ten (10) days later we get the results. The doctor’s assistant said she’s allergic to 5 different things, including cats and dogs. The next day she return to the doctor to hear the “strategy”. With a wee of sadness she says

“I know that I’m allergic to this and that, and I’ll not be able to eat these and those. What should I do?”

That strange look again. The doctor says that she’s not allergic to anything. Some blood values are out of range, and a new blood sample is needed (OK, here it’s the assistent’s fault).

New blood sample, another 10 days. It turns out that she’s low on iron. I check with an Italian doctor (you never know), who said that low iron can give you some itch.

In the meantime my wife goes to the doctor again, to see what he can do. He’s a nice guy, so he begins with “Now you’ll tell me that all your symptoms are gone, right? Just eat better and you’ll be fine”.

My wife is italian, like me. If you happen to know some folks down in there, you know we have temperament. A lot. But it was the doctor’s lucky day, so she didn’t explode. Instead she asked whether iron enriched pills would help with the itch.

Blank look. He checked the PC, but it was not working, so he resorted to Google, on his iPhone (!!!). Lo and behold, Google confirmed what my wife said.

Needless to say we went to Italy to have ourselves cured. If you’re curious, my knee is doing pretty bad, and my wife is waiting for the results of new blood samples.

Did I mentioned that, besides having good doctors, in Italy the weather is gorgeous and the food is great?

Stop reading HN, start reading HN newsletter

You have to admit that, even though most of the news point and can be found elsewhere, Hacker News (HN from now on) is a pretty amazing place. It has a thriving and highly-educated community of hackers reading, writing and posting every day. Heck, there’s even a book with the best comment of one of them, edw519.

However, if you get distracted easily, you end up downloading 33GB of academic papers and maybe reading some of them. Or you get caught in a HTML5 version of Mario and there goes your day.

Many people took the wrong approach to that, and created HN for your workspace, which may get you out of troubles with your boss or with your wife, not solving the real problem.

One HN reader, duck, once said

there are times when I can’t get on for a week or when I know if I open HN I will end up on there for an hour or more.

Well, it turns out that duck is a real hacker, and he puts his money where is mouth is. He’s name is Kale Davis and he builds web apps and created the weekly Hacker Newsletter, as his website says. Yeah, you read it right, he made what he needed, and made it available for everyone.

Not only that, but Kale has also agreed to reveal what lies behind the scene of the newsletter.

Giovanni Kale, thanks for your time. When you told HN you were going to build a newsletter, you said it would contain the top items on Hacker News, an editorial side, the best “Ask HN” posts, job threads, and a look back at some past articles that would still be useful. I’d say that so far it is really working out great.

But with all the weekly posts, how do you handpick the best? Do you ever feel you let something out?

Kale Thanks Giovanni for asking me to do an interview! Yeah, it has gone very well. I didn’t imagine that one year later I would have 4000+ subscribers, so I’m very happy with how it has gone. As far as picking posts for each issue, I scrape HN every 30 minutes and then use a custom Ruby/Sinatra web app to build out the newsletter. I use a lot of regex statements and look at other metrics like votes, number of comments, and who commented on it. I also use what I up-voted during the week as a gauge too.

I definitely miss some every week, there is just too many to include. I struggle with keeping the links down to a manageable amount for each section too, so sometimes I might include one and then have to remove it before I publish the newsletter. I often tweet or use Google Plus to share links that I missed or didn’t make the final cut.

G. So you really are an hacker! In your about page you wrote that you come from the world of Microsoft. What do you mean by that? And how do you became a “hacker” who enjoy Ruby hacking the most?

K. Haha, yeah, one of these days I’ll actually finish that about page. When I say that, I don’t mean that I have worked for Microsoft, but rather for the last 13 years I’ve been doing nothing but either operations or development work with Microsoft products, mainly within the corporate IT space. Not the most exciting jobs, but nevertheless they have been good and I’ve learned a lot.

I got into Ruby right around when Ruby on Rails came out, I think late 2005. I’ve always been into scripting languages like Perl and PHP to create simple sites for myself or friends, and actually used Perl a lot within the Windows environment to do sysadm tasks. Basically, if a task was repeatable, I would write a Perl script to do it. The moment I saw Ruby in action though I knew it was a huge leap from what I had been doing, so I jumped on it and been using it ever since and rewrote everything I still used that was in Perl. Currently, I do some freelance work on the side using it and at some point I would like to get into a position doing Ruby or Rails programming full-time.

G. Ok, back to the newsletter then. Using again your words:

I want to do some original content as well and have some different ideas that I am working on, but one will be highlighting projects that HN members have release (both small and large).

Right now you highlight HN members’ project in the Code section in the newsletter. What other ideas you had at the time? Should we expect something new in the near future?

K. From the beginning I wanted to make HNL more than just a newsletter and wanted it to have that community feel just like HN has. I’ve done some interviews in past and things like getting everyone to share what they are reading. In an upcoming issue look for my next idea which involves a spin on the great The Setup blog and I have a few founder interviews lined up too.

G. What kind of feedback do you receive in general for these ideas and the newsletter? What’s the funniest email you got? Did someone ever offered you a job because you run the thing?

K. I get a lot of great feedback. With every issue I get anywhere from a couple to a dozen replies back with feedback. Most of the time it is just subscribers thanking me, but other times it is someone offering feedback on how to make the newsletter better or other ideas. The funniest one I have received was from a passionate guy that couldn’t understand why I didn’t link to one of patio11’s great articles. He was quite animated and sad that I had missed it! The funniest part was I couldn’t believe I missed it either (turned out to be a bug in my scraper). Regarding jobs, I have been offered a job (which I turned down), but even better than that is I have made lots of great contacts.

G. We all know that great feedback is essential to keep things going, because money ain’t everything. However I guess that money is what you need to keep the newsletter going. That is probably the reason that made you insert sponsors in the newsletter. Nowadays more and more businesses are using this form of advertisement, unobtrusive and respectful for the reader. How do you pick your sponsor and is this model of revenue, as opposed to wild CPM ads, working out for you?

Kale Since I started Hacker Newsletter as a side project, making money was never really something I thought about. However, as the list grew, my costs went up and so did the time commitment. Around the same time people started asking about sponsoring the newsletter, so I knew I could start doing some advertising and in the end I think it is a win win for both myself and the subscribers. I’m glad I waited until about a year into it though just so I didn’t let that distract from the original goal and I think letting it happen organically made the transition really easy. I do handpick them and recently hooked up with LaunchBit to help with the process. It is working out great!

G. I recently made the switch from Emacs to Macvim, because of the better Cocoa compatibility and because I was a bit tired of the Escape Meta Alt Control Shift madness. I miss some features, but I appreciate many things. I heard you use Vim as well. Can you tell us why the newsletter would have not be possible were you using Emacs?

Kale Haha, I do use Vim and glad to hear you made the switch. It would probably be pretty funny watching me try to use Emacs, but since I use my custom app to build out each issue, I hardly ever have to open up a text editor in the creation process so it wouldn’t be too big of a deal now. However, I’m constantly working on my code and adding new features, so I guess that would come to a stop until I picked up Emacs. :)

Thank you Kale!