Finally, the keys

Last week I finally got the keys to my new house.

After all the hassle of getting a mortgage time was running out before my skiing holiday. Having planned the key exchange just before going on vacation perhaps wasn’t the best piece of planning, but things would have worked out had the mortgage company looked at all the paperwork in one go. Instead they opted to look at one document and have me deal with some issues, only to start looking at the next unrelated document when the previous one got resolved. I’m not surprised anymore that banks and financial institutions often have trouble to bring their cost down.

Even with these additional delays it would have been possible to get the key before going on vacation, had it not been for the notary I selected: Notariskantoor van Brummelen in Voorburg. I ‘choose’ them as part of a package deal with one of the mortgage advisors I talked to, and I’ve not been happy with the decision. If things are too busy to get my work fast-tracked, then please tell me so right away instead of telling me that it will be hard and then not be able to handle it at the last moment. After this incident I agreed that my father would get the keys while I was on vacation, and the date was set for that Wednesday. However, they had no problem rescheduling it to Friday without consulting anyone, and even then they managed not to have the money, claiming that the money lender could not transfer the money that quickly. An obviously bogus argument, as mortgage money always gets transferred in one day with a priority transfer. In the end I had to get the keys this Monday from the notary’s office. You’ll probably want to pick a different office if you have a choice.

But let’s not dwell on these minor setbacks. I now have the keys, so it’s time to fix up some things and then move in! Yesterday I already had a productive day clearing out some unwanted stuff with my brother. Next step is to get the painters in.

Published on 01/04/2007 at 10h37 by Hans de Graaff, tags , ,

Asciify

Today I had to map free text to plausible filenames, with the caveat that the text could contain UTF-8 characters with accents. Even though it is possible to have filenames with these characters, I wanted to end up with ASCII-only filenames for easier handling. Also, the filenames will be exposed via URLs, and just having ASCII there takes away a log of headaches. But how to convert this?

I quickly found the apparently wonderful Text::Unidecode for Perl which seemed to do anything I wanted, but since we build our web services with Ruby on Rails I needed a Ruby solution. I hoped that someone would already have created a ruby version of Text::Unidecode, but that’s not the case (or I could not find it). I did find the Asciify gem, though. Although simpler in design and reach than Text::Unidecode, it does enough for my purposes and custom mappings can be created for it.

Asciify’s documentation is pretty much non-existing, but some reading of the source code revealed that this was how I could convert my text:

Asciify.new(Asciify::Mapping.new(:default, ‘_’)).convert(‘some text’)

The default replacement character for Asciify is a question mark, which makes sense in general, but not in URLs, so I opted to use the underscore character instead for lack of a better candidate. Since I’ve included the gem as a plugin in the Rails project I’ve just changed the default mapping to include some characters rather than using my own mapping.

Published on 27/02/2007 at 16h59 by Hans de Graaff, tags

No more xemacs overlay

With all of the XEmacs packages up-to-date again in Gentoo CVS, I found less and less need to keep my original SVN overlay online. It used to located at moving-innovations.com/svn/xemacs, but no more. I took it offline today after cleaning out the remainder of the overlay and discovering that there wasn’t anything of interest there anymore. So, if you’ve been using it:it’s gone. Everything that was there is now in Gentoo CVS, except for the patches to move all XEmacs support and lisp files from /usr/lib to /usr/share. I hope to revisit that move some time in the future.

The only other thing that I planned for the repository is to create an ebuild for the XEmacs 21.5.x beta versions. However, that alone really doesn’t warrant an overlay, so I guess we’ll just package.mask that until it is fully ready.

Finally, this may be the right time to point to some documentation on XEmacs on Gentoo. It’s still a work-in-progress, but I hope to document both the development process and tools, and peculiarities relevant to XEmacs users on Gentoo. Please let me know if you have questions or would like to see something particular documented.

Published on 24/02/2007 at 14h31 by Hans de Graaff, tags

Stuffed squid

This weekend while getting groceries at the market I couldn't help but wander over to the fish stalls and just buy something and cook a nice dinner during the weekend. My eyes quickly came to rest on the squid which turned out to be fairly cheap as well as nice-looking. It wasn't before long that a nice portion found its way into my backpack.

That still left the question as to what to do with them. The wonderful Moro cookbook came to the rescue with a recipe for stuffed squid, Carlos style. I was a bit miffed to find no parsley the house on Sunday, but even without the parsley this proved to be a very nice dish. Certainly someting to be repeated, but with parsley this time!

Published on 11/02/2007 at 21h10 by Hans de Graaff, tags ,

A new house

Although not strictly a new year resolution, I decided at the end of last year that I should really go and buy a house. Either that, or do some serious redecorating in my current house, and getting a new house just sounded like a lot of fun. The whole house-search thing got triggered by an offer to buy from the housing corporation that I'm currently renting from. It's not that I don't like my current house, but it has gotten a bit too small (read: I've collected to much stuff) and I can raise a few other points I don't like about it anymore.

After starting the house hunt in earnest in January I very quickly found a nice house for a good price. Today I signed the contract. Now all that is left to do is to get a mortage and hopefully I'll be able to move in in a couple of weeks. Weeeh!

Talking about mortgages: what a fun topic. I would seem to be simple: you lend money to buy the house, you pay it back, and in the mean time you pay rent. Not in The Netherlands, where there is a whole bunch of legislation to make things more complicated, especially fiscally. So now I'm lending the money to buy the house, but I won't pay back the loan, because it should be easy to make more money by saving and investing that the interest on the loan minus the government tax discount will be. Weird.

Published on 02/02/2007 at 22h59 by Hans de Graaff, tags

A grey winter's day

Yesterday was a grey and drab cold winter day, but with not much wind and not much precipitation it actually was not that bad. Besides, what better remedy for the Christmas festivities than a nice brisk walk outside in near-freezing conditions. Given that we did not have to rely on public transport we took the opportunity to explore the aera in between the main rivers in the Netherlands, the Land van Maas en Waal. Due to the cold and the flat light there were not that many photo opportunities, the picture belongs really sums it up quite well.

Published on 28/12/2006 at 15h13 by Hans de Graaff, tags

New XEmacs packages available

Finally I’ve pushed almost all pending patches and fixes for XEmacs into portage. XEmacs 21.4.20-r1 fixes a recently uncovered crash when playing wavs using linux native audio on 64-bit systems by trying to cast an int into a size_t. Even though this stops xemacs from crashing after trying to play a sound, something still isn’t quite right as the sounds sound very funny. Therefore I have also added the esd USE flag so that esound can be used to play the sounds.

In addition to these XEmacs changes a whole set of packages have also been released. Most of these have been in pre-release for several months, so it’s good to see them finally released. All of these have been added as well. Most of the packages only have minor bug fixes, except for app-xemacs/calendar which got a lot of new functionality added.

Published on 22/12/2006 at 11h07 by Hans de Graaff, tags

The list of packages is growing

I suspected that this would happen in the end: getting sucked further into Gentoo and not being able to just tend to the XEmacs packages. But not to have it happen so soon, even before committing all the XEmacs bug fixes that I have pending. Not something I expected, but there you have it: gtk-gnutella 0.96.3 is now in portage. To keep my sanity I tell myself that this is only because I’ve been involved with upstream for this package for a long time.

That argument goes out the window, though, because I also took net-misc/drivel under my wing, committing version 2.0.3. I’m using it right now to write this blog post. And for good measure I also version bumped dev-ruby/rmagick because all the versions currently in portage got broken by the most recent ImageMagick upgrades. RMagick 1.14.1 is now in portage to remedy this, which is a good thing because we use RMagick quite a bit at work to create icons automatically.

Fortunately I also got to do some work on XEmacs. Version 21.4.19-r1 now installs a desktop icon and offers a few more USE flags to enable specific functionality,

Published on 04/12/2006 at 08h25 by Hans de Graaff, tags

XEmacs packages up-to-date

This weekend I’ve added the last few missing XEmacs packages to Gentoo, so that Gentoo now carries the complete set of lisp packages as they are supported upstream. Actually, there are still a few packages that need sorting out. app-xemacs/ess does not seem to be packaged anymore upstream, even though the package source is still in CVS so that warrants some investigation.

The app-xemacs/liece package will be removed and is currently in package.mask, because it is no longer developed and no longer carried upstream. The liece author suggests to use app-xemacs/riece instead. liece will be removed at the end of the year.

The sumo package (xemacs-packages-sumo) has not been updated yet. This package basically contains all of the other packages in a single archive, and for Gentoo it makes more sense to turn this into a meta-package. This still allows all lisp packages to be installed from a single Gentoo package, but it avoids carrying all lisp packages twice, and the inclusion of a whole set of blockers on all these packages (because the sumo package and the individual packages install the same files). Work is currently underway to create such a package,

Next stop: cleaning up the XEmacs editor ebuild and adding fixes for its many open bugs.

Published on 26/11/2006 at 10h04 by Hans de Graaff, tags

Accounting software rant

One of the major annoyances in being the financial guy in our office is the accounting software we use. I would normally use something like GnuCash if it was just about keeping the books, and in fact I do for my personal finances, but with a company things are more complicated and it makes sense to use the same software as our accountant so that files can be swapped easily. This works fairly well in general, but the accounting software is really the laughing stock of usability in our office.

Let’s put the blame where it belongs: we are using Unit 4 Multiverse Lite. They kindly offered us a year-long free license, so perhaps I should not look a gift horse in the mouth, but really… In a way it is a shame I don’t teach usability classes anymore, this software alone would have made wonders for course material. Normally I would just rant and bother my co-workers, but since I’m working at home I’ll do it here. We just got a new version of the software which does some things a bit differently, and some a bit better, but let me tell you about two things I ran into today.

First of all I had to import an electronic bank statement and process it. It was the usual mix of bills we paid, bills other people paid to us, and some transactions from our debit card. After handling all this I clicked on the save icon, and nothing happened. I tried to close the window, but no, there are unsaved edits, and would I like to save? Yes. Nothing happens. Would I like to save. YES! … Anyway, with some careful debugging, walking step-by-step through the procedure and saving each step, I finally found that in one of the sub-windows I did not enter an amount, which it provided by itself in the previous version. It let me happily close that window, and it did not tell me that anything was wrong during saving, let alone tell me what. I wonder how normal people, i.e. without an IT background, solve these problems.

So than the next thing on my list was to pay some more bills. Not a fun thing to have to do in the first place, but at least this time it got interesting. Paying bills is a two step process. First you enter them and then in a separate step you can actually pay them. So I entered a bill, went to the second step, and clicked the bill to pay it. Happily the application informed me that this was going to be a foreign payment, and how would I like to handle this. Except it wasn’t a foreign payment. Again some careful debugging and manual reading let me to the solution. The way bank account details are entered got changed a bit, and I entered all the data I assumed the application expected, including the country code. “Aha!”, the application though, “This bank account has a country code, so it must be foreign.” Well, no, because I’m in the same country, dummy. After removing the country code things worked fine again.

Don’t worry, there are plenty more stories like this, but I’ll keep the other good usability horror stories about Unit 4 Multiverse LIte for another time.

Published on 22/11/2006 at 18h35 by Hans de Graaff, tags

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