A Ninja is Dead

I’ve been one of these folks who bought a Ninja Block pretty early after they appeared. This was in the time before I knew much about Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. My block turned out to be fun to play with: I could read humidity and temperature and stream my webcam. Through its nice little REST interface I had a chance to link all this into my small web universe.

Anyway, I liked it so much that I wanted to buy another one for another location, again with all the sensors you need. Turned out that everything is sold out, and the Ninja folks say that they are planning the next big thing – the Ninja Sphere. And even small things like a temp sensors continue to be sold out 🙁

I don’t know when the announcement for the Sphere started, but by now it feels like a year or two. Nothing has happened since then, at least nothing that I can see. No release dates, just a link to a weird release plan in one of their blog posts.

Too bad. I really liked to type in the ninja URL.

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.


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!

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 🙂

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.


Airborne Platforms

On Friday Christian Campo and myself visited a startup company in Kassel, Germany.

They design, program and manufacture what they call intelligent autonomous vehicles, the next generation copters. The idea is that the hexa-copters can be used for unmanned surveillance missions that needed way more expensive methods in the past: One example that Joerg Lamprecht, the CEO of the company describes involves these vehicles inspecting building status or taking high-precision arial photos.


Visiting Kassel

As with all the other manned or unmanned vehicles I’ve been dealing with lately, these machines rely heavily on the software that comes with them. While there’s a whole bunch of other issues like robustness, weight and construction, the big challenge is to provide software that doesn’t need an experienced pilot to fly around a building and take head-photos.

Logically, the company has a couple of cool software developers to provide a platform system for the copters that integrates all access to navigation, flight control, camera adjustment and such. On the other hand they are very interested in developing apps that can be used on top of the platform. These apps could be maneuvers such as loopings or turns, or it could be even more complicated tasks like ‘fly around this building in a spiral and measure it’.

Time was flying by, and just before we had to leave Joerg took us to their manufacturing hall to see a bunch of young kids building the copter platforms. After the visit I was wondering what the banks and insurance companies have to do in the future to keep their developers from running away and doing cool stuff like Aibotix is doing.

Both Christian and I look forward to the arrival of the IoT!



In the last couple of days I experienced strange visitors on our holiday apartment site. They came through a TOR network and were trying to create users on the page. Apparently they understood that it was a Drupal site, because they had the right URL and everything.

I had never heard of TOR before, so I’m quite amazed to see visitors from the dark side of the internet. On the other hand, its a pain-in-the-butt to delete the 30+ users that they create on a normal day. Does anybody out there have experience with these types of attacks?

Checking Out Plugins

Whole bunch of stuff here. Likes for pretty much every social network, auto-posting to Twitter, Facebook and Google+, spam protection and what else.

Now that I went to getting all the credentials, the tokens and the very secret tokens I’m getting sort of tired. And I’ve given 10 bucks to Aksimet for protection. They have this weird  registration site where you see a smiley looking at you sadly until you give him money. The more money you give, the happier he is looking. Actually, it’s probably not so stupid if I think about it. Don’t we all want to make somebody smile?

Anyway, in a second I will know if my post to Twitter works. Bear with me!

Fuzzing Around with Stats and Such

Spend quite some time to set up all my blogs and stuff, to post to Facebook, to collect statistics, to get away from Google Analytics and so on. Wanted to go to bed early last night, but guess what – I got really sucked into this time trap.

But I have achieved a couple of things, and I’m pretty happy with my progress:

So I had fun. But the night was over way too early.