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software development and life.


Archive for the ‘Personal Life’ Category

Kick-off event NIRICT

Last thursday, I visited the kick-off conference of the new Netherlands Institute for Research on ICT (NIRICT). This new research institute is founded by the three technical universities in the Netherlands: Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology and University of Twente. The aim of the new organisation is to merge research efforts of the three universities. Compared to international research organizations, the Dutch universities are rather small. For example, the Eindhoven University only has approximately 7500 studens. Together, the NIRICT has 1200 full time researches and a budget of 75 million euro.

During the kick-off conference, the various research goals were presented and the Centre of Dependable ICT was officially founded. This Centre of Excellence will research technologies which improve the relability of software. There were several lectures at the conference, one of them by Dave Parnas from the University of Limerick (Ireland). He claimed that documentation on software is a neglected topic in ICT research.

I wrote a report of the conference in Dutch for

PS. This is the first weblog entry I wrote using Gnome-blog. It seems to work!

Fixed images

Today, I fixed the images on my weblog of past articles. Because I moved my weblog to another subdomain, all links to pictures were invalid, resulting in no pictures at all on my weblog. Now, I simple created a symlink from the old location of my pictures to the new one, and that seems to work. While doing this, I also discouvered that it was possible to brows the directories on my webserver, which is a small security issue. Obviously, I fixed that as well.

Last Saturday, I had to go to Amersfoort. Because I was a little earlier than planned, I took the opportunity to take some pictures (it was very nice weather). Below is a picture of the railway station, where one of the electronic notice boards can be seen. The NS is experimenting with these boards in order to replace the old-fashioned signs that are currently used on most railway stations. I think it is an improvement on readability.
Railway station Amersfoort

WordPress source compromised

It seems that the source code package of WordPress 2.1.1 was compromised by a hacker. Some files, mainly related to RSS-feed generation, was injected with code which opens a backdoor. Obviously, this caused a large number of weblogs vulnerable. The cracker got user-level access to the download server of WordPress, and changes the download of version 2.1.1. The subversion repository wasn’t compromised, and also older versions weren’t. So if you’re using version 2.1.1, you should upgrade to version 2.1.2. Not all downloads of 2.1.1 are vulnerable, but the developers are not sure when the crach has happened.

This made me wonder why they don’t provide md5 sums for the download package. That way, it could be detected much earlier that the download was compromised. In the discussion on the mailing list, nobody came up with this idea.

Power supply
As I may have mentioned earlier on my weblog, the power supply of my server died a few weeks ago. The part was only four months old, so it was covered under warranty. I sent it to the shop where I bought the thing (Alternate) and got a replacement power supply in about two weeks. Unfortunately, they required to include all the accessories with the power supply. Because I bought the PSU along with a casing for my server, I wasn’t sure which accessories belong to the PSU, and which were part of the casing. So, I included a 24-pins-to-20-pins converter for connecting the PSU to older mainboards. That turned out to be a mistake, because that part didn’t belong to the PSU and the new PSU I received didn’t include such a converter. That was a bit of a problem, because I needed such a thing. Shops generally account 5 to 10 euro for such a small thing (it is only a few wires with two connectors…). I decided to sent a e-mail explaining the situation, and two days later I got a new converter in the mail, for free. That’s good service if you ask me.

Ordening stuff

Last weeks I cleaned up a lot of stuff, both virtual and real life. Almost all build-in cupboards are reordered, including the creation of new shelves. Working in an ordered environment makes your head cleaner is my experience. I also cleaned up most harddisks in my computers and servers. In order to not lose anything, I decided it would be nice to have automatically backups. So I fetched my Learning Perl book and wrote a nice backupscript which create tar.gz files of the most important directories (/etc, ~, www) and my database. A lot of drives should crash simultaneously in order to actual lose data. I also fixed my self-signed certificates for my e-mail. A nice tutorial on how to create self-signed certificates can be found here


Last few days, I was very productive (compared to normal). I managed to squash a number of bugs on the website of the my badmintonclub. There were some issues with Internet Explorer (surprisingly). I recently added a feature to keep track of the competition teams of our club and the matches they played. For this part I created some tables which were styled using some CSS-rules. This worked perfectly in Firefox, but in IE the fonts in the tables were too large and not the same as in Firefox. The font problem was fixed easily, by adding a font-size definition to the table element. The other problem was pretty hard to fix. I’m using border-collapse: seperate; and border-spacing: 0px; in order to create no space between the cells, but displaying a border for every table cell. However, it seems that Internet Explorer doesn’t support the border-spacing property, and there is no easy fix in CSS for this problem. So in the end, I had to add cellspacing: 0 to every table. Even worse: Internet Explorer 7, according to Microsoft better at supporting web standards, seems to ignore the border-spacing as well. Oh well, it was already known that Internet Explorer sucks…

I did also some cleaning of the code, because various parts were using different dabase classes for example. Some parts of the code are still really bad, but that will be cleaned up eventually.

For my personal site, I did some investigation on a photogallery script. I have a pretty big number of photos, and I’m planning to share them with the world for quite some time. In the past I used a custom script for this, but due to a server crash, I lost most of that script (and it wasn’t very stable as well). Because I don’t have the time (and I don’t want to) to write a new script, I decided to use an existing script. While there are many packages for webgalleries, it seems most of them are broken in some way. I looked at Gallery, which is too bloated (and not easily to customize I think), PhpWebGallery is also too bloated (and hard to customize). PhotoStack looks nice, but is a little to simplistic (upload features are limited, and no comments), Plogger also looks nice, But I decided to take a more indepth look at Zenphoto. This package seems to provide exactly the features I’m looking for in a nice way. The default themes are also nice and clean (which is not the case with Plogger).

VNU Business Media Europe has a new owner

Today, VNU announced that Business Media Europe has been sold to a British company called 3i. Since my employer,, is part of VNU Business Publications Benelux, which on its turn is part of VNU Business Media, this means that is also sold. Interesting. (more…)



Today I fixed a power supply of a LaCie USB-harddisk. The connector from the adapter to the harddisk was broken. On the photo is a so-called ‘third hand’ visible. The power supply is now working again, total costs: 3 euro. (I ruined one connector when soldering). A new power supply costs > 30 euro.

Broken laptop

It is defintive now: NEC laptops are the worst in the world. Yesterday, my laptop, a NEC Versa P520, broke down again. This is the second time within a month, and about the fifth time in three years. The f*cking thing doesn’t do anything at all. When I try to start is using the powerbutton (a rather normal way to start a computer) nothing happens. The powersupply seems to be fine and when the accu is removed, the laptop also doesn’t work.
About three weeks ago, my laptop was also in repair, becaus the screen was broken. The guy from the Notebook Service Center told me that this problem occured quite often which even confirmed my opinion that NEC-laptops suck. They replaced some cable which connects the screen with the rest of the system which solved the problem for now. However, I think it will always be a weak spot and will break again eventually.
About a year ago, my laptop was also in repair for about two months. That time, my laptop sometimes suddenly stops working at all and won’t start again. Shaking or turning it upside down made it work again, but it wasn’t a very comfortable situation. They first thought it was a problem with my memory modules (the went loose or something… a bit strange when memory modules just fall out of their sockets I think, but ok..). That solved the problem for a day. About four repair sessions later, they decided that my motherboard was broken, and replaced it, which solves the problem.
When I got the laptop, about three years ago, the hardisk broke down after two days. Also the modem was broken (I didn’t notice that, but they discovered it while reparing my monitor) and there are dark spots on the monitor, which is appearently caused by the mousepad which isn’t entirely flat. According to the Notebook Service Center, this problem is caused by transporting your laptop in the provided backpack and putting additional stuff in the same backpack. When I bought the laptop, they advertised with the robousness of it, which was exensively tested… oh, and the thing was hardly supported by Linux three years ago.. while for some students it was required to work with Linux… (now, almost all components are supported, exept for the modem.. but who needs a modem anyway).

Newer students got a IBM Thinkpad T42. At least, that is a laptop which can survive the handling of a normal student… but probably they had not enough work at the Notebook Service Center, so they decided to give students again a NEC the year after the IBM… that thing had the same problems. Last year, they decided again to provide new students with a Lenovo (former IBM) Thinkpad. There are two possibilities: the persons who selected NEC laptops are just stupid, or NEC paid a large amount of money to get selected (I wonder why, because it is certainly no ‘free advertisement’).

Het werkt weer!

Ok, we zitten nu half september en eindelijk werkt m’n server weer. Ergens begin augustus ging hij stuk wat werd veroorzaakt door een niet meer werkende voeding. Inmiddels is de hele server zo ongeveer vervangen, waarover ik binnenkort uitgebreid zal schrijven.
Ook op ‘persoonlijk’ vlak is alles weer in orde. Helaas ben ik nog steeds bezig met m’n afstuderen (vorig jaar november had ik nog de hoop dat ik op dit moment toch wel klaar zou zijn) maar ik ben nu weer volop bezig om alsnog de ingenieurstitel binnen te hengelen.

Inmiddels is het nieuwe collegejaar begonnen, met allerlei veranderingen voor de student. De diverse voorzitters van college van bestuur en de rector magnifici van de Nederlandse Universiteiten hebben allemaal afgesproken waar ze het over gingen hebben tijdens de opening van het academisch jaar, zo lijkt het, want het toverwoord van dit jaar is ‘excelleren’ en ‘stimuleren van vrouwelijke wetenschappers’. Net als de politiek, willen ook de leiders van de universiteiten af van matig presterende studenten. Daarvoor zijn er (o.a. op de TU/e) Honours programmas gestart voor zeer goede studenten. Nieuwe eerstejaars studenten krijgen te maken met een ‘dringend studieadvies’, waarbij ze bij slechte prestaties (nog) niet worden gedwongen om te stoppen met hun opleiding, maar dat ze ook niet hoeven te rekenen op extra hulp vanuit de universiteit.

Books I’ve read recently

Last months I started reading more books, because I like it 🙂
While I didn’t read that much books recently, I managed to finish some books, but mainly non-fiction.
The Pragmatic ProgrammerThe Pragmatic Programmer – Andrew Hunt. A very interesting book, which provides a very large number of pratical tips and tricks in order to become a better software developer, but also better in other tasks. Essentially, this book should be a ‘must read’ for every person working as a developer in the IT industry. It would probably result in less badly written software and improve the general quality of the IT industry. I can recommend this book to everyone.
The book gives tips and advice on how to become more productive while keeping the quality of your products on a constant level. For example, it provides a large number of hints on how to avoid repeating yourself (DRY – Don’t Repeat Yourself) like using code generation, reducing the efforts for creating documentation, etc. It also provides a large number of tips and references on tools which a decent programmer should use on a daily basis, like a decent texteditor (VIM, Emacs or something different), source code management (CVS, Subversion) and things like that.

Learning Perl Learning Perl – Randal L. Schwartz. I decided to read this book, because I didn’t have any knowledge about this scripting language, while it is used very much – especially in the Unix-world. I don’t think I will the program language use now for everything, but now I know a little bit about the language, I think I will use it when appropriate. The book is easy to read and doesn’t cover everything of the language, but provides basic knowledge sufficient for using Perl on a regular basis.

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