Screen Scraping

After my last post I was actually contacted by 2 people asking for more current information on the website that I had built. In particular, they were interested in the conditions of the winter sports facilities that we have in the region (ski-lifts, cross-country trails).

I looked around, and the only information available was on the web sites of the facility operators. No central place where all the data was collected and made available. Since I had never done screen scraping before, I wasn’t really sure what to do.

Reading up on Stackoverflow and other resources I learned that I had to read an HTML site, turn it into a DOM object and find the right places with the right information for the facilities (closed, open, good conditions, red.gif, green.gif). Looking around I found a nice helper library that served me very well with my first version: For every webpage to get data from I wrote a little PHP script to capture the data.

This worked well for the first facility, where the website was quite responsive. The second one was making more trouble with regard to response times. Now I had a 6 sec wait before my page was displaying. That wasn’t really acceptable, because I have still 2 more places to scrape.

gersfeld-ski

So I took the Saturday afternoon to make it work asynchronously. It turned out to be quite easy: I continued to use my PHP scripts, but converted them into functions that could be called with AJAX calls, returning JSON data. From there it took only a couple more minutes, and I was finished. Displaying the site itself is really fast again, and since the scraped information doesn’t show up in the visible part of the browser things can take a little longer. But even scrolling down right away is fun: I enjoy watching the data show up!

Webcams

For quite some time I was toying with the idea to create a little information page for the town of Gersfeld. The home page of the town is pretty bad, and I was thinking it should be easy to provide a more interesting design, good information and some cool content.

After having moved my Ninja Block gear up to Gersfeld, having gathered some experience in location data and map display through the development of the new Eclipse events page and some experimentation with the Bootstrap framework I had most of the pieces together.  I just had to add the webcam stream that we use in our holiday apartment website, and off I went.

The site http://gersfeld-webcam.de/ is now online since a couple of weeks, and I’m trying to add more and more information about local businesses and points of interest to the site. The number of visitors (other than myself) is still below 10 per day, but there are actually a few now that come and have a look every day.

Now I wonder what else I can do with the site. Any ideas?

Living A Good Life

I’m just relaxing from a couple of rough days at work. We were in Toulouse for the first ever EclipseCon France, and after these days of constant ‘on’ I felt it was about time to sit down and relax.

So we rented a B&B between Toulouse and Carcassone, expecting a few nice and warm days in southern France, eating good food and drinking good red wine. And guess what: Everything except the warm days works out fine. It’s just raining cats and dogs …

Which turns out to be to my advantage. I was able to find the time to start a book I wanted to read for quite a while: How Much is enough by father and son Skidelsky.

Now that question I have been asking myself for some time now, and I have started to experiment with it. Strongly believing that I have too much stuff, I was looking into my belongings and am trying to get rid of things. While throwing out some  old T-Shirts and books was not such a big deal, selling my car was actually a big change in lifestyle (that I do not regret at all).

And really: Why would you need a fancy holiday resort if you can rent a nice room in a B&B with a great view of the Pyrenees (if weather would permit)?

But the rain has a good side as well: It forces me to do nothing but hang around here. And that’s when I ran into another interesting read: Mr. Money Mustache’s exciting blog. So here I sit now and think about the good life, as they both call it. And wonder if I should start reading up on Stoicism again. Or go and get rid of even more crap that is lying around in my house. Or cancel our Sky TV subscriptions.

I think it will end up being many of all these ideas.

The Arrival of the Ninja Blocks

Want to see the temperature on my balkony: Here we go – powered by Ninja blocks:

A Day in Bob’s Life

Have you ever read the book The 4-hour week by Timothy Ferriss? I read it a couple of years ago, and it made me think very hard about the way I do my job. Is there anything that I should not do? Are there tasks that I could outsource? I ended up asking my employee to hire an assistent for me, which he did. It has helped me to do my job better and in less time.

With friends, I have often discusses if there’s more that could be outsourced, even if I had to pay for the service myself. While we liked the idea in principle, none of us , at least to my knowledge, has followed up on that idea.

Now today I read this blog (for the German readers: You can find an article in Zeit Online as well). A guy named Bob really took the 4-Hour-Week lessons to the extreme and outsourced his entire activities as a developer to an Chinese company. And not only this: It looks like he took on a couple of other jobs in addition!

So while he was still spending the day in the office, surfing and watching cat videos, somebody in China was developing away for a small percentage of Bob’s salary. The Chinese logged in to the company VPN and delivered code that led to Bob being elected as the best developer of the company for years!

Hell, I have to read the book again and rethink this approach! And I have to investigate outsourcing to India in more detail!

One problem might be that I really don’t like cat videos :-)

The little things

It’s rainy, and it has been rainy for a couple of days. And it’s too warm. We should have snow! But oh well, we’re heading out to Austria for some skiing. Or swimming – that’s actually more likely.

So I went to my favorite Turkish store to buy some stuff. And then I was in the kitchen for a couple of hours, preparing all these delicious appetizers that I will take with me tomorrow!

The imam fainted

The source of the inspiration is – and has been for a while now – a German website run by a few people that just seem to love Turkish cooking. And from the first time I ended up there I visit again and agin.

Just recently they have published a great cook book. Too bad for all you guys that it’s in German.But if you happen to read German, go get it. It not only helps us over the rainy days, it also gives us Turkish delight!

And off I go, to make a couple more Meze, if you don’t mind. If you are with me in Austria in the next couple of days, you can taste them :-)

Saving Money and Having Fun

Are you tired of hotel breakfast? And paying for WiFi? WiFi that might not even exist in your room, because it’s only available in the lobby? Well, I am.

Think about a standard hotel like the Holiday Inn at Gare de’l Est in Paris. You pay 15 € for the breakfast (scrambled eggs from powder, bread that would need some more baking, sweet stuff all over …) and you pay 10 € per day for the WiFi access. WiFi really works only in the lobby and bar area, in your room you have to buy cable access, which adds extra cost. And if you own an nice computer like I do, it won’t even feature an ethernet plug anymore …

The alternative is really simple:

In the morning, step out of the hotel, go around the corner. Here you find bars and brasseries with excellent breakfast offers (2 * coffe, omelette with ham and cheese) for 9 €. And the WiFi is free and fast.

Same is true for the evenings. Rather than staying in your hotel room, hang out in the bars and restaurants. Work and eat for less, and sometimes it even happens that people start talking to you. In any case, while doing your email you can take a break and watch the crowd.

Enjoy.

Staying at the Bazaar

So here we are in Istanbul again. First time no biz trip, just pleasure and a couple of hours of work every day (Link: The 4 hour week). We chose a hotel in the middle of the bazaar district. Kind of funny place. They really tried hard to get the 5 stars or so by building with as electronics into the place. But they pretty much screwed up: Their door opening system  doesn’t allow for programming more cars, so you get only one.

But that’s just a minor inconvenience. Walking to the Grand Bazaar, the Sultan Ahmed mosque is possible. And we can get to the good food around the Topkapi palace, with a nice view of the Bosperus.

So it is kind of cool. I get most of my work done – if not all. I enjoy the Turkish food, and I get pretty inspired (admittedly). Is this the new way? Does it matter where I work? Is location still important? Or has the WWW enabled us to chose location and community we want to be in / live with?

One of the  major revolutions in terms of communication took place when Gutenberg invented the printing press. People were able to share information without close proximity. They wrote / read printed materials. Information started to be available. Time still was an issue.

The WWW has empowered us even more. Location is not issue anymore. Time is not an issue anymore. Information is accessible from everywhere and can be made available within a split second.

I love it.

 

Senior Club Championship

Was played last weekend in our club. As always, 2 rounds had to be played, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. And there’s a cut after Saturday’s round.

The weather was murderous. We really chose the 2 hottest days of the year. On Saturday the temperature went up to 26°C, on Sunday it got even hotter and we ended up playing at 38°C.

I closed the first day with a reasonable 83. Within my handicap buffer, this got me to the shared first place with 3 other guys after the first round. My game was ok, but not good: I made quite a few putting mistakes and lost 3-4 stroked.

Next day we started in the heat as the last flight. How wonderful had it been on Saturday, when we were out as the first flight and could go with a good pace. Now we were trolling after the slow players, and the heat got obnoxious! I got really luck on the first couple of holes, where my erratic drives were close to OB a few times. But it stabilized after a while and I was playing the first 9 in bogey, and the second nine started with a few bogey as well. Not good, not bad, but not too bad.

Meanwhile one of the guys in my flight had established a 3 stroke lead, and the other competitor in our flight and myself though we can pack and go. But then on 15 he made his first mistake, while he ket it together on 16. On the par 3 17 my tee shot landed really close to the pin, and the leader gut really nervous: He changed clubs, tried to play it save and ended up to pull his shot into the bush where we didn’t find it anymore. So he and I ended up sharing the lead after 17, the 3rd guy one behind. Had I played birdie on that hole, I might have sealed a victory already.

Last hole I had the honors and played a wonderful tee shot down the fairway. Actually, it was the best tee shot I ever had on this hole. The former leader whacked his ball way right and ended up behing some high trees, and the 3rd guy had a reasonable tee shot as well, but quite a few meters short of my ball.

Tree shot ended in a bunker close to the green, 3rd guy was short of the green, and then it was my turn: I pulled a 6-iron a little to the left and ended up pin-high in the rough, about 15 meters to the left.

And then it happend. My concentration went to hell and I played a most stupid little pitch, getting the ball forward just a few meters! The other guys finished with 5 and 6 (I ended up with a 6 as well after my putt lipped out), and off we went to a sudden-death play-off.

I had lost my focus, and ended up on 3rd place. Happy to get out of the heat, but sad that I had let this opportunity slip away. Hope it will be a lesson for my next championship event.

Interview at Bitkom Open Source Forum, June 2012

Interview at Bitkom Open Source event in Berlin, June 2012. I’m talking with Wolfgang Dorst about platforms, eco systems and open innovation.