Mirror, Mirror on the wall

There are many things which are underestimated when team leads think about their team and possible actions to drive progress.

One of those things is that a team needs information to maintain and gain velocity. You cannot expect everyone to know just out of the blue what is important and in which direction everything is moving. To let everyone know and to develop that direction it’s important to share information as much as possible. It’s important to give everyone access to the information necessary to make a better job.

That’s why we had a build monitor at sones. We had a tool that displayed the current status of our build servers to all developers. Everytime someone committed a change, those build servers got this commit, built it and tested it with automated tests. The status of that could be seen by all developers as things happened.

So within seconds everyone could see if his commit did break something. Even better: Everyone could see. Everyone cared that the build needed to be working, that tests needed to pass. It was everyones job to do the housekeeping. When we switched from Team Foundation Server to GIT and Jenkins this status display needed to be replaced – you could immediately tell that things went from good to not-so-good in terms of build stability and automated testing.

Today I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Thomann logistics center. Standing in the support department I had this in front of me:

There were like 6 big status screens displaying incoming call status of the day, sales figures and other statistics important to those who work there. It’s a very important and integrated way to keep information flowing.

Since I am with Rakuten I thought about having a new status board set-up for my team. Something that might be inspired by the awesome status board which panic has built:

Since in addition to sones there are a lot of more things to track and handle (code, deployment, operations, overall numbers) I think such a status board will be of invaluable worth for the team.

Source 1: http://www.panic.com/blog/2010/03/the-panic-status-board/

Adventures in e-Commerce and technology

Oh dear. I just thought about the fact that I never really announced or talked about the fact that I changed my employee and moved to a (old) new place.

Yes that’s right, I am not with sones anymore. I am since January 1st the CTO of Rakuten Germany. When I signed the contract the company was called Tradoria – one of the first big projects I had the opportunity to work on was the so called brandchange.

A humongeous japanese based company called Rakuten bought Tradoria in the middle of 2011 and after half a year it was time to switch the brand.

As you can imagine these were busy weeks since January 1st. I had to digest a lot of existing technology and products. I met and got to know a lot of interesting people – first and foremost a great team of developers that went through almost all imagineable pains and parties to come up with a marketplace and shop system that is a perfect base for take-off.

A short word on the business-model of Rakuten – If you’re a merchant you gotta love it: Think of Rakuten as a full service provider for a merchant and customer. You as a Rakuten merchant get all the frontend and backend bliss to present and manage your products and orders. Rakuten takes care of all the nasty bits and pieces like hosting, development, telephone orders, invoicing, payment. The only thing that you as a Rakuten merchant need to do is to put in great products, gather orders and send out packages. Since Rakuten isn’t selling products on it’s own it won’t be competing with the merchants like other marketplace providers do these days.

On top of that Rakuten cares for the merchant and the customer. Just a week after that successful brandchange I attended (and spoke) at the Tradoria Live! 2012. That’s basically the merchant get-together. This year over 500 people attended this one-day conference. Think of it as a hands-on conference with features, plans, summaries of the last year and the upcoming one – every merchant is invited to come and talk to the people in person that work hard everyday to make the marketplace and shop system better.

click on it to see it big

Just 24 hours later standing on that stage I found myself here:

東京

Yep. That’s Tokyo (東京). After a very long flight we had the chance to attend a all-embracing tokyo tour before the meetings and talks would start for our team. It was an awesome and exhausting week – just about 120 hours later I was back in Germany – I must have slept for two days :-)

Back in germany I had a lot of stuff to learn and work through. We had already moved to a wonderful house near Bamberg – it was pretty much big luck to find it. It’s actually ridiculously huge for a couple and two cats but we love it. Imagine the contrast: moving from an apartment next to a four-lane city street to the countryside just a 15 minute drive away from work with philosophical quietness all around.

Now after about half a year I am well into the process. I met a lot of high profile techies and things seem to take up speed in regards of teamplay in germany and with all the other countries. It’s a bliss to work for a group of companies that actually go through a lot of transitions while transforming from start-ups to an enterprise.

Ready for a family picture? Ready. Steady. Go!

That’s all Rakuten – that’s all on one mission: Shopping is entertainment! Empower the merchants!

Beside all that I even started to learn japanese. ただいま  :-)

first conference for about a year: Berlin Buzzwords 2012

It’s been a while since I attended a technology conference. But it’s going to change. This week I attended the Berlin Buzzword 2012 conference in Berlin.

Search.Store.Scale is the headline under which this awesome conference takes place and after a very slow start there were a lot of great talks about current technologies regarding databases, data processing and storage. From great overviews to some very in-depth talks… like the one called “Searching Japanese with Lucene and Solr”. Since I am currently in the process of getting to know the japanese language better this talk in particular had interesting insights into how to handle the japanese language. Very impressive and a bit frightening how complicated language processing can be.

And out gets something like this:

automation to the people: download YouTube videos automatically

You know that: You have just stumbled upon a great and informative YouTube channel. It’s full of videos you would like to watch but to do that you need to have internet access in any case. And of course that internet access needs to be as fast as possible to cope with the video quality you would like to watch.

If only it would be possible to download a video from YouTube, store it locally and watch it whenever you got the time. Maybe you want to take that video with you on that great, internetless self-awareness trip…

Now there are a lot of tools that allow you to download YouTube clips manually. I used BYTubeD for that purpose. It is a nice and easy to use Firefox Add-On which can be started whenever a YouTube video appears in any page.

After you’ve started into BYTubeD you can select which of the videos on the page you would like to download and what quality you would like to get.

All this works very well if you only want to download something once every while. Problems come up if you want to download regular postings…

I’ve subscribed to several – to me – very interesting YouTube channels. These get updated almost every day. The only option for me to keep track with them is to take the time, surf YouTube and use BYTubeD to download manually if there is anything new. Now this was a waste of time for me so I automated it.

I wrote a small tool I call “YouTubeFeast” – because it allows you to feast on YouTube… yeah I know. Now this tool is designed to run on a linux or windows machine in the background and scan in configurable intervals for new videos. If it finds new videos it downloads them in the quality you pre-configured to a folder you configured. It couldn’t be easier.

It’s open-source (GPLv2) and I’ve made it publicly available on GitHub. You can even find a pre-compiled binary version there which is ready-to-run.

The configuration file “YouTubeFeast.configuration” is a plain and simple text file. Use your favourite text editor and obey some simple rules:

  • any line beginning with # is a comment
  • any line not beginning with a # is a download-job
  • any download job consists of the following, tabulator separated parameters:
    • the URL of the video page / channel homepage / overview
    • the desired quality (360p, 720p, 1080p)
    • the path to store the videos
    • the interval (in hours) to check for new stuff
  • don’t forget: tabulator separates parameters (take a look into the example configuration file…)

After configuring the only thing you need to do is to start YouTubeFeast. It will then go through all the jobs and download video files – as soon as it comes across an already downloaded file it stops that specific job.

That’s all about it. If you got any comment or suggestions for improvement please let me know.

Source 1: https://github.com/bietiekay/YouTubeFeast
Source 2: Download YouTubeFeast-March2013

downloading the whole Jamendo catalog

Yesterday @simcup wrote on twitter about that he is currently downloading the whole Jamendo catalog of Creative Commons music. Capture

Although I already knew Jamendo it never occurred to be to download their whole catalog. Since I am a fan of choice I immediately thought about how I could download the catalog too. Since the only clue was a cryptic uri-like text how to achieve that it suddenly sounded like a great idea to write a universal tool and release it as open-source. This tool should allow users to download the whole catalog and keep their local jamendo mirror in sync with the server. So anytime new artists, albums or tracks are added the user does not need to download them all again.

So the only thing I had as a starting point was that cryptic uri pointing me to something I’ve never heard of called Rythmbox. Turns out that this is a GNOME music player application which has Jamendo integration. After some clueless poking around I decided to take a look at the source of Rythmbox, especially the Jamendo module.

This module is written in python and quite clean to read. And just by looking at the first lines I came across the interesting fact that there is a almost daily updated XML dump of the Jamendo catalog available from Jamendo. Hurray! Since Jamendo wants developers to interact with the platform they decided to put a documentation online which allows anyone to write tools and stream and download tracks. After all the clues I found I finally ended up on this page.

So there are the catalog download, track stream and torrent uris necessary to download the catalog. Now the only thing that is needed is a tool which parses the XML and creates a nice folder structure for us.

folderstructure

Parsing XML in C# (my prefered programming language) is easy. Basically you can use a tool called XSD.exe and let it generate first the XSD from the XML and then ready-to-use C# classes from that XSD.

generating_xsd_and_csharp

After doing all that actually reading the whole catalog into a useable form breaks down to just three lines of code:

parsingxml

Isn’t it great how modern frameworks take away the complexity of such tasks. At this point I’ve already parsed the whole catalog into my tool and only wrote three lines of code. The rest was generated automatically for me. The best of all – this also works on non-windows operating systems when you use mono.

When the XML data is parsed and available in a nice data structure it’s easy to iterate through all artists, all albums and all tracks and then download the actual mp3 or ogg. And that’s basically what my tool does. It takes the XML, parses it, and downloads. It will check before downloading if the track already exists and will only download those added since the last run.

Additionally since I am deeply involved into the development of the GraphDB graph database at sones I want to make use of the Jamendo data and the graph structure it poses. Since the directory structure my tool is generating is only one aspect how you could possibly look at the data it’s quite interesting to demonstrate the capabilities of GraphDB based on that data.

The idea behind the graph representation of the data is that you could start from almost any starting point imaginable. No matter if you you start from a single track and drill up into genre and artists, or if you start at a location and drill down to tracks.

So what the Downloader does in matters of GraphDB integration is that it outputs a GraphQL script which can be imported into an instance of GraphDB.

The sourcecode of my tool is available on github and released unter the BSD license – feel free to play with it and to contribute.

Source 1: http://www.jamendo.com
Source 2: https://github.com/bietiekay/JAMENDOwnloader

Boogie Board

Two weeks ago I had read an article about a “replacement for papernotes” product called “Boogie Board”. The company behind the product claims to replace paper with the bold slogan of “say goodby to paper”.

Well what is it? Basically it’s a liquid crystal display without the logic to adress specific pixels. So think of it like taking the liquid crystal part and leaving out all the transistors and logic to actually display something. Then add a pen or even your finger nail and you can “write” on that display – what’s happening is that obviously the crystals get pushed aside and the background of the “display” shines through – this background is white so when you write on the boogie board everything is white on black…

_MG_9156

_MG_9160

_MG_9162

The only button on the tablet is named “erase” – and that’s what the button does: the whole display flashes two times, one white, and then black and everything is back to where we started. You cannot save. You just press erase and start over. It’s truly a replacement for post-it-notes…

Of course there’s a battery inside, and it’s said to hold for tens of thousands of erases. You cannot change the battery when it’s empty, but on the other hand this gadget is less than 30 Euros and it does look like you can break it up and try your best to exchange the battery yourself. Since the battery isn’t needed to display anything I don’t think I will run out of juice just yet.

Source: http://www.improvelectronics.com

der letzte Flug des Space Shuttle Endeavour

Am kommenden Freitag soll das Space Shuttle Endeavour zum letzen Mal und ein Space Shuttle zum vorletzten Mal abheben. Da will man dabei sein :-)

Ich habe glücklicherweise gerade die Herren (und Damen?) von SpaceLiveCast entdeckt. Offenbar machen die schon eine ganze Weile Livestreams zu den verschiedenen Raumfahrt-Events.

P.S.: Wenn ich einen Wunsch frei hätte, wäre das, dass die Seite einen Video Podcast Feed anbietet….(wird Hilfe benötigt?)

Source 1: http://spacelivecast.de/
Source 2: http://www.raumfahrer.net
Source 3: http://spacelivecast.de/2011/04/29-04-ab-1900-uhr-sts-134-letzter-endeavour-flug/

configuring the nano editor to my needs…

Configuring your favourite Editor on OSX (or Linux, or anywhere else) is important – since nano is my editor of choice I wanted to use it’s syntax highlighting capabilities. Easy as pie as it turned out:

I started with a .nanorc file from this guy and modified it to recognize some of my frequent file-types (like .cs files).

You can download my nanorc.tar – just extract it and put it into your user home directory.

Source 1: http://talk.maemo.org/showthread.php?t=68421
Source 2: http://www.nano-editor.org/dist/v2.2/nano.html#Nanorc-Files
Source 3: nanorc.tar

type to win

In the dusk of Flash it’s nice to see that HTML 5 and JavaScript are here to bring small and fun games to our browsers.

“Z-Type was specifically created for Mozilla’s Game On. I immediately wanted to participate in the competition when I first heard of it, but the deadline seemed so far away that I didn’t bother to begin working on a game back then. Fast forward to this tweet announcing that the deadline was only one week away – it took me by surprise. I still hadn’t even began working on anything. The thought of just submitting my earlier game Biolab Disaster crossed my mind but was immediately dismissed again.”

Great sound, great graphics and in the higher levels quite difficult.

Source 1: http://www.phoboslab.org/ztype/