How to setup a minimal Laptop as a Focused Writing Tool.

These days I had a chance to catch up with my siblings and found myself in an interesting discussion with my brother, about a simple setup for mobile authoring of documents.

And as I pondered that question during my trip back home, I came up with some ideas about how to build the type of machine we talked about. Namely something small resembling a laptop, but with a dumbed down feature set, to avoid the distractions of the Internet, Email and various other features of a modern laptop.

I thought about building a customized laptop, based around an ARM board, eventually with a custom designed mechanical keyboard, and a custom Linux based OS, with limited applications, eventually even a built in power adapter, to reduce the number of items to carry on a trip.

But as I was working from my train seat, I noticed that in some way, I already have quite a good machine for writing from on the go.

Because ideally, the device that we conceived would be simple that it could be used like a single purpose appliance. Instantly on, without the boot process of a laptop.

But as I am writing this from a MacBook, I remembered how hassle free the standby mode is, compared to all the Windows and Linux laptops, that I would use as well.

And I already do use a kind of “distraction free” writing environment customized to me needs. For me that is a VIM with the “Goyo” plugin, running inside a tmux console, in the terminal app.

Goya, provides a simple centered writing space similar to what other “distraction free” editors would provide. I use the tmux feature to hide the status bar, and I usually run the terminal in full screen. For me that is quite sufficient, as I have tmux usually always running, for opening new terminals, doing programming, connecting to servers etc. And as a Vim enthusiast and heavy user, I am quite comfortable with the cumbersome keyboard shortcuts.

Just getting the instant standby operation as smooth as on the Mac when creating a custom device and motherboard, would probably be an intense experience of yak shaving, I thought about the option to just use a Mac based laptop for the ideal basic writing machine.

It would require the discipline of only using the machine for writing and sending email, but some discipline is required for writing as well. And getting something like a used small MacBookAir, to set it all up, would probably not be even that expensive.

And even for software options for my brother, a few came to my mind. There exists an app called “Typora” for the Mac, which provides a very streamlined and distraction free option for producing “Markdown” documents, without the hassle of actually needing to write markup, as it is a WYSIWYG Markdown Editor. It has a distraction free fullscreen mode, and is as basic and minimal as it gets.

Other than that, the Machine could probably be dumbed down to the essentials, WiFi could be disabled, and with a cleaned up Dock, it could distraction free as well. Considering that Typora would be kept in Fullscreen anyways, and the Machine would wake up to the empty page or last document of the editor.

And even for the requirement of sending the occasional email without getting sidetracked by an obnoxious display of the inbox I think I saw a solution in the experimental “Plain Email” that kind of provides a distraction free Email Composer.

I am not quite sure if “Plain Email” is ready for actual use, but given the constraints I would be curious to try it, and see if we can get such a machine to work as to our intentions.

4 Easy Steps to Learning how to draw

TLDR:

  • Learn to handle your Tool of Choice
  • Seeing and Drawing Relations and Proportions
  • Learn what to Leave out
  • Compose a Scene

Currently I am practicing to draw with a pen on paper, more specifically I am working on the technique of five minute sketches to be able to draw street scenes that I observe quickly into a sketchbook, striving not necessarily for absolute realism, but for something that is recognizable and interesting.

As a tool, I am mostly using a gel pen, which is easy to handle, does not need as much pressure as a regular pen, and can mostly bring one single level of darkness and thickness to the paper.

In some way a gel pen for drawing is a very “digital” tool, it knows exactly two states: Black or not black. Unlike a pencil, it is not possible to draw shades of gray by pressing harder or gentler onto the paper.

In a way, it removes one complexity for me, as I no longer need to decide if I want to have a stroke light or dark, the decision is reduced to “stroke” or “no stroke”.

Because there are already many complexities involved.

Taking the drawing process apart, there are several different skills involved, that fortunately can be practiced individually.

The first step is simple learning to handle your tool. If you have practiced very little drawing, or come from a background where most of your drawing needs are about drawing boxes and connecting them, you will likely find it quite hard to get the pen to draw on paper what you had imagined in your head.

I used to work around that problem, usually by drawing a line, looking at it, and drawing another line, that seemed closer to what I imagined and then repeat that process, until the stroke was approaching what I had in mind. Of course this led to messy results, where I would start with a light stroke, and pressing increasingly harder, as I approached my ideal line.

First, learn to be able to place a single stroke at exactly the place you imagined it at the first place.

And for this you can do little practices. Like filling a part of the paper with something like parallel lines. In the beginning, if you do it quickly, sometimes your lines might cross each other by accident, some lines might start further left or right than the others, the distance between the lines might vary, they might be wobbly rather than straight, and so on and so forth.

That is one area to practice.

Another one that I like to do is to draw simple circles, small ones and bigger ones, and here I try to get them really into circle shapes, and especially try to match the beginning with the end of the circle, without leaving a gap or overdrawing. Ideally you would be unable to distinguish the beginning and end from any other part of the circle. A gel pen can be quite unforgiving in this area. If you press too hard while putting the pen on the paper, or when taking it away, you might leave an ugly speck.

The goal with all those exercises is to practice the handling of the tool, to train the muscle memory to observe your intentions and to be able to start a line where you intend to start it, and end it where you intend to end it, and to be able to keep the stroke going where you want it to go instead of diverting from the path. And with closing to circle to hit a spot and connect two lines where you want them to connect.

It is a basic skill upon which you can base your further study.

And fortunately it is an easy practice, that does not require to much thought or concentration. You can doodle during meetings, on the train, while eating, etc. etc.

It is a bit like being a warrior or sword fighter. You need to become familiar with your tool of choice, you need to keep it on you all the time, handle it all the time, have it lie next to you when you sleep, in case you wake up in bed and need jot down a few ideas. It needs to become a new body part for you.

If you are on a train that is wobbling and shaking see it as an additional handicap or challenge to overcame and keep your straight line.

No matter what tool you chose, if you go for the gel-pen, as I did, or if you prefer the pencil, the next skill you need to master is shading, that is getting different gray levels out your tools.

In the case of gel-pen, that does not allow greater or smaller pressure for controlling the shade, you need to resort to other tricks, like drawing lines in varying distance to make it look like different shades from the distance, or making crosses, etc.

There are many ways to practice different ways of drawing patterns and shading, I usually try to shade close to a line, without over spilling on the other side of the line.

After having honed some basic skill to be able to handle the pen and draw, the next, learn to see relations and proportions and be able to bring them to the paper. When sketching faces it is quite vital to get the proportions right, and when I started out with sketching, it might happen quite often that I started with drawing an ear and then the head, and suddenly I would have a tiny head with a giant ear on my paper.

The most basic proportion to start with, when sketching faces is usually the eye ear line that can be imagined across the head, and quite surprisingly it is about in the middle of the head.

As I sometimes find it quite hard to estimate proportions when looking at the real scene as a beginner, I found it a bit easier to start with photos which are already in the 2d space, and start practicing estimating proportions from there.

You could also take your fingers to measure a proportion with a pinch grip or a small ruler.

There is also the way to draw a grid over a photo, and transfer the image using a grip. Also a great exercise, although I would put this exercise more into the “handling the pen” category, rather than into the “estimating proportions”, because for me it feels quite unnatural to try to mentally overlay a grid over a real scene. While it comes easier to me to see proportions in the relationship between objects and features in the scene.

So one thing is to see proportions and another thing is to be able to put them ob paper. So this I guess needs practice, but I guess one starting point could be to try to draw two or more lines on a paper, one twice as long as the other and one three times as long as the other, etc. Or to place objects in a specific distance of each other.

The next exercise would be to learn what to draw, and what to leave out. Here I found it quite interesting to look at comics, or graphic novels, and try to imitate how faces and characters are often draw with few and simple strokes in a comic.

When sketching from photos or real life, in the beginning it is often quite hard to distinguish what details are defining for the overall appearance of an objects, and what details can be left out or are even distracting.

Comics help to see that, and as a practice, I like to draw over photos from magazines, like the free ones, you get on trains or in the mail.

What to leave out is especially important when drawing with a tool like a gel pen, where you cannot get very small and light strokes, and where a too small detail would look out of place.

Often, it is not even necessary to draw a thin line, it might be enough to draw the beginning and the end of an edge, and the imagination of the observer will fill in the rest.

The next step in the skill ladder is the ability to compose a scene. To decide what to draw from the higher level view. While the part before was about what to draw in terms of details, the next thing is to learn what to draw in terms of the overall scene.

And to be able to see that, I find it quite useful, to get into the habit if taking a good photograph every now and then. Apart from looking at scenic sketches and good photography of course. Taking good photographs of people and scenes comes down to two basic factors, and that is the framing and the composition of foreground and background. And for the framing it comes down to a similar thing as before, the question of what to leave out. Learning to let go, and be bold in keeping objects and details out of the frame.

When I was much younger, I often imagined photography to be about capturing everything of am interesting scene, rather than creating a good picture, independent of what the whole scene was about. So I when taking a photo of friends, I would try to capture all of said friends from head to toe, and keep everything in the frame, rather then selecting or curating the contents of the picture. Later I learned that capturing just a face and a bit of the torso of a person, while the person was engaged in something interesting would produce a much more satisfying picture.

In addition to the focus on something specific, like a face, it would also be important where to place that detail in the frame. According to the golden rule you would place the focus point not in the middle of the frame, but rather divide the frame into thirds and put the focus point into one of the dividers of the thirds.

Selecting a focus point would also mean making a decision of what should be in the foreground.

And that would make the second factor to take into account, selecting a background for your focus point. As a naive photographer, I would always be so interested in the object I was about to picture that I did not pay much attention to the surroundings of said object. So today I usually also take that into account. If I find that background of my object of interest is boring, I usually move around it in a circle, trying to find a more satisfying composition, while keeping the focus the same.

And usually I would also try to emphasize the focus, be trying to keep the sharpness of the picture there. A simple trick to do that with a zoom lens, is to zoom in as much as possible, as this will usually make the field of focus more shallow, so you would find it more easy to give a slight blur to the background.

Learning to frame a picture and select a composition is probably not of so much use to a beginner, who will be happy to get a sketch of a face, but it will make it easier when moving on to creating whole scenes, because extracting to interesting parts of a scene means less work sketching out the details and everything.

And it also shows that sometimes a detail is much more interesting than trying to cram everything into a picture. And dividing background from foreground and putting things in a blur also highlights where in a picture less detail might be necessary.

Living more comfortable by going through discomfort

Lately I made in interesting Observation on myself. And that is, I would take an action that felt uncomfortable to create a situation for me, that is actually more pleasent. Not sure if that makes sense, but I will go through my experiences.

Today I took a trip by train to visit my siblings. It was going to be quite a long journey, so I was about to stop at a supermarket to get some food that I could have for dinner which i would have on the train.

So there was a normal german Supermarket, that would have carried everything that I would usually buy for a small meal on the train. And that would probably be a sandwich and a softdrink.

That was the comfortable option, it was a big brand name supermarket, I shopped there already plenty of times, I would know what I was about to buy, and I would be on Auto-Pilot going through the motions, and buy at a big name brand.

However, around the corner, just a two minute walk away, I knew that there is also a Turkish supermarket, locally run probably, that I would usually hesitate to frequent, as the products sold there would be totally different than anything that I would expect from a supermarket. So, I would not know what to buy, and where to find it. It would be a more uncomfortable choice.

Never the less, I believe it took me a minute or two to ponder that question, I went for the uncomfortable option, and entered the Turkish supermarket.

In the end I bought some healthy salad from the salad selection, and some sweets from a to me unknown brand.

I am not sure if in this case I got something better tasting than I would have gotten at the other supermarket, but for sure what I saw was more interesting, as this supermarket had quite a large selection of salads, and even a real butchers shop inside the market, while the big brand name supermarket these days, only carries prepackaged meat.

What I did however, is that I primed myself to make the more interesting if uncomfortable choice, when faced with two options. And it took me some effort, there was a slight tingling in me to go for the easier option, that I had to overcome.

But the story did not stop there. I did buy the salad, but walking into the train station, I noticed that I did not bring any eating tool to consume said salad. I needed to get a fork or spoon, or anything. So simple walked into one of the bakeries that are at the train station, and took a plastic fork, that was provided there. And usually I would feel quite uncomfortable to get a fork from a place without buying there, but given that I was already primed to do uncomfortable things I took the fork. Would have been even more uncomfortable having to eat the salad without a fork. Basically a small transgression of my existing social code.

On I went to the train, and looking at my ticket, I noticed that I had a reserved seat on the train. I did not remember that, because I booked the ticket some time in advance. So I went to my seat, and in this type of train, there are different types of seat arrangements, it is either two seats next to each other behind another row of seats, similar like sitting in an airplane. Alternatively there are two seats that face another row of two seats and in between there is a small table. These tables are usually more spacious and comfortable, as in the seat rows, you usually only get a flimsy fold down table, like in an airplane. So I noticed I had reserved the wrong seat. But as luck comes, just the next row as a “good” row. So even though the train appeared to fill up quickly, and these “good” seats were marked “reserved”, I took my chances to sit there. Sometimes People do not show up, even though a seat is marked reserved.

To spare you the suspense, in the end, the seat I choose stayed free, and now I am sitting in the comfortable space, rather than in the cramped position I had reserved. And here is where it seems to get uncomfortable for many people. Everybody who has a reserved seat usually is quite happy to get there, especially if the train seems to become full. For me, I had all the options, a reserved seat, should I need one, but the chance for a better one, should it stay free. What I had to endure though was the possibility of two uncomfortable conversations. The first one would have been when the person on whose seat I sat would have shown up. And the second one when I would have to ask the person sitting on my reserved seat to get up. Luckily, that scenario never happened, so in the end I got the better deal, without any real risk at all.

But it does not stop there, quite often you can get a better deal, just by suggesting an alternative to the established procedure.

Recently I had to go on a company business trip, which I usually try to avoid as business trips are often quite a hassle, and feel not very comfortable to me.

However, this time I decided to make some small changes to the usual business trip arrangements, all without any consequences, but with immense increase in comfort for me.

The default magic rule for company travel seems to be the following, that is what you get when you ask the responsible person in the company to arrange for the travel. A trip by plane, a taxi from to airport to a regular business hotel in the vicinity of the customer location. Taxi trips to and from the customer and the hotel if necessary and that is it.

To me that sounds usually like a complete horror-trip. Usually customer companies are in the very far outskirts of the city center, where land is cheap, and entertainment, as well as public transport is sparse.

That means that when the work of the day is done, you get into your taxi to the hotel and that is it. If you want to do any activities after that, you either have to pay for a taxi on your own dime, or take the bus, which in that area usually means a 30 minutes walk from the hotel to next bus station. And the same way back, after a few drinks. Good luck, finding yourself in a sleepy small town, with your phone battery empty trying to navigate to your hotel, when the last bus from town dropped you off at different bus stop.

And usually these types of hotels for business travelers are the most boring places ever, all other customers come in to sleep, or watch TV, exhausted from their day at work. Everything is usually nice, clean and orderly, but the audience is usually not anything close to what you’d call a party crowd.

Having found myself in this rather unpleasant situation several times again and again, I decided to take matters into my own hands and adjust the situation in a slight manner.

I gave precise instructions to the travel agent making the arrangements, and I was curious how it would play out. Again, no risk at all on my side, the worst that could have happened is that the company denied my wishes, citing some “travel policy”.

So I choose a specific Hostel right in the city center, that accordingly to the internet reviews, photos and location looked, like an interesting place to stay. And for the most part the diametral opposite of what I would expect from a standard business hotel. I even asked them to book a single bed in the dorm. But here the company took it on them to actually book me a single room in my preferred hostel. I did not complain.

Of course the hostel was quite a trip away from the customer, so I would not have taken a taxi for the trip. Again, taking taxis is not my preferred way of taking a car, I like to drive myself, so I asked the agent to book a rental car instead. My wish was fulfilled, again, I did not expect it, but it would not hurt to ask, and see, it payed off.

I do not even own a car myself, living in the city with every imaginable type of public transport is in walkable distance. However, I am signed up to every available “car-sharing” company that is available, (basically a rental car that can be booked by the minute with a mobile app, spread around the city) And that is usually what I use instead of a taxi. As I said, I prefer to drive myself, and I do it quite often.

Conveniently enough, the hostel even offered an option to book a parking space in the city center, an option which I requested and got approved. Not getting a parking space near my hostel could have spoiled the deal, but even that I could get covered.

The next inconvenience that I usually endured was air travel. I am not a big fan of air travel, especially if it is short distances. In this case it was something like a one hour flight. That sounds quite easy, but this is only the time, the plane is in the air. Add to that one hour of getting to the airport, one hour of waiting at the airport, while enduring the hassle of security checks, one hour of flight, another hour fiddling around at the destination airport waiting for luggage, searching the taxi strip, and then another hour plus minus for the trip from the airport to whatever the final destination is. All together that is about five hours, the same time, it takes for the train.

Except that it is quick for me to get to the main station, I get in my seat, the train has power outlets and WiFi, and I can get a solid 5 hours of work done, without interruptions. Finally. No waiting, no back and forth, no security checks, no getting on the plane, off the plane, waiting for luggage, etc. etc.

So I asked to get a ticket for a specific train at a specific time, that was the most comfortable to me, and got it approved, and booked. Great success.

In the end the business trip went as well as I expected, I could even visit a friend, on my trip from the customer to my hostel, I had a nice drink with a colleague in the local pub after work, and could easily walk over to my hostel after a few drinks.

And I got all that just by making the very slight uncomfortable choice of not going with the accepted standard of plane+taxi+hotel, and instead suggested my own most preferred options. And all of those choices were not in any way more expensive, than the default. They were just adjusted to my personal preferences.

Non existing risk for me, but great win.

HOWTO run a flask app under apache

In an effort to switch my php based web sites to python, here are the steps required to make a python based web app available under an apache server, using wsgi.

under /var/www/hello:

hello <-- folder with flask app hello/venv <-- virtualenv with all dependencies installed hello.wsgi <-- file with following contents:

#!/usr/bin/python
activate_this = '/var/www/hello/hello/venv/bin/activate_this.py'
execfile(activate_this, dict(__file__=activate_this))
import sys
import logging
logging.basicConfig(stream=sys.stderr)
sys.path.insert(0,"/var/www/hello/")

from hello import app as application
application.secret_key = 'GENERATED_SECRET_CHANGE_AND_DO_NOT_SHOW_TO_ANYONE'

Howto generate a secret (from flask documentation):

python -c 'import os; print(os.urandom(16))'

And then in the apache site configuration the following will make the app active:

WSGIDaemonProcess flaskapp user=www-data group=www-data threads=5 home=/var/www/hello/hello
WSGIScriptAlias /hello /var/www/hello/hello.wsgi


WSGIProcessGroup flaskapp
WSGIApplicationGroup %{GLOBAL}
WSGIScriptReloading On
Order deny,allow
Allow from all

Alias /hello/static /var/www/hello/hello/static

Order allow,deny
Allow from all

And that should make the site available under the path /hello

Modern Software Development or Slow as Molasses

I’ve been looking at that issue for quite a while, and always tried to play nice and be quiet about this, but quite recently I’ve experienced the discrepancies that I am going to describe quite intimately, so I feel I can no longer hold back.

But lets start with a little introduction and motivation for the topic at hand. I am going to be talking about Software-Developers mostly, but some of the general ideas are probably relevant to all kinds of crafts and handiwork.

The tools we use are shaping the way we work. They also shape the results of our work, the shape how we divide our time between different tasks, they shape how we estimate the effort needed to finish a project. And they shape what kind of projects we approach, and what the size of the projects we approach is.

They shape how we think about our work, and about the world.

So I’ve been pondering the idea of getting into Android App Development for a while, and this week I put my plans into action and attended an Android Developer Meet, and got started with the first basic Android tutorials. I tried to approach this whole endeavor with an open mind, fully expecting that the first few steps might be a bit rocky, and that it can be frustrating when you are on unfamiliar ground as an experienced developer.

Never the less, with the helpful support from someone at the Meet, I managed to stumble my first few steps into the foreign fields of Android development.

Now as a bit of a back story, to say the least, I’ve been developing Software for quite a while, especially on the frontend and graphical user interface side. I started with Delphi and Pascal, moved on to C++ and I’ve used many of the different user interface libraries that are available for C++, like wxWidgets and Qt. Over the years though, I started to prefer a rather obscure and not so well known toolkit for my personal projects. It is called FLTK, or Fast and Light Tool-Kit.

Moving more into professional Development in the recent years though, I am currently working more often with the Qt toolkit.

But never the less, the next day after this Android Development Meet, I decided to give the good old FLTK another spin, just to see how it compares to what I learned about Android the other day.

I had to tinker a bit with the environment on my laptop to get started with the FLTK library again, but I managed to get it all going.

I typed up a little “Hello World” style basic program, compiled it, started it, fired up the included FLTK Form Designer “fluid” and added a few buttons and controls to my program, when I suddenly came to realize the horrors that I experienced the other day.

Compiling and starting a basic program based on FLTK on my laptop happens in an instant, compiling the project happens under 1 second, it is barely noticeable. Starting the program on my laptop, the window opens almost as soon as I press the enter key after I entered the name of the binary in the console.

The FLTK Designer is fast, it starts in an instant, you create a form, add elements, etc. at no point at all is there any waiting involved.

And slowly it dawned me, I tried to fend the thought off, but I could not help myself. I tried so hard to stay open minded about android, to not be the grumpy old man that says “In the olden days everything was better”.

I tried to come up with several excuses and defences, of course Android has way more capabilities, it has to support different devices, resolutions, layouts, it has a more complex rendering pipeline, using accelerated graphics for its display, and supporting transitions and animations, etc.

But how could I kid myself, watching the IDE spinning its wheels over some gradle script, looking at the massive boilerplate that was generated for even the most simple project, waiting for the designer to switch between the text- and the graphical view taking more than a few seconds. Waiting what felt like ages for the emulator to start and show me the results of my feeble efforts. And even if I did not need to restart the emulator for changes to become apparent, just having the updated app restarted took way longer than what I looked at in the case of my simple FLTK project.

There is just one dominant feeling inside of me, and that is, how can anyone accept these kind of tools, why is there no outrage about this massive timesink, how can there be such a large number of Android developers, and nobody dares to speak up for some sanity in the development tools.

And then I start to really think, maybe that is why so many Android Apps are the way they are, because the developers are stuck in molasses. There is no room in Android development to quickly whip up a crappy little experiment, and bring it live, there is not much room, for radical and quick experimentation, everything needs to be well thought out, planned, and then implemented.

It is a set of tools, that more or less forces the developer to adhere to a corporate style slow moving waterfall model of development, because quite simply, no other style of development is possible.

Even for my little Hello World style Android app, I started to fear the moment of having to switch to the designer view in Android Studio, which would take long enough to put me out of my flow, and anger my patience.

That is probably why paper sketching is so popular in App development, and why there is a proliferation of “Mockup” Tools, and Designer Tools, specialised towards App development, because apparently, it is not possible to “think” visually and sketch in the Android Studio Designer. It is only possible to realize a design that is already thought through.

Funny enough, I sometimes use an old and discontinued UI Designer called wxDesigner, to sketch and plan my user interfaces, before I implement them in the framework required for the job.

But it goes further than this, the tools we use change the way we think, and I think being confined to limited tools like the Android tools confine the way we think about ourselves as Programmers. And now I am no longer talking solely about the slowness, but also about the complexity of the environment, that is the number of concepts that need to be understood to implement even the most basic application.

One such source of complexity is for example the changes between the various platform versions of the android system, and the way that the platform implementers choose to expose the developers to those changes. To say the least, references to changes between android versions are all over the place in the documentation and everywhere. In my opinion this is unnecessary noise, and noise takes attention and attention is limited.

In fact I think this leads to a point where it is more or less necessary to be a full time Android developer to write Apps. It is not likely or easily possible, to be, lets say a scientist for example, and to develop a little Android App on the side to control some lab equipment, or to support a little experiment.

And I think that is bad, it is a choice that the developers of the platform are making. It is a choice that takes power away from developers, because it binds attention that could be used elsewhere. Of course you could argue that it gives developers job security, because making the system too complex to understand for outsiders, makes them hard to replace, but well, software should be used to make the world more interesting, and not necessarily more boring.

I feel that these kinds of tools give the developer the feeling of being a cog in the machine, you are suddenly “just” an implementer, implementing other peoples ideas, realizing designs that other people thought out, you can no longer think about problems to solve, but rather all your creative energy is bound in the problem of handling the platform. It becomes a purpose of its own.

And it goes the other way around too, suddenly if you have an idea or problem, you can no longer solve it by implementing an app yourself, when you are a “non” programmer. You need a programmer, because it is not possible to write a simple app yourself, while still keeping focused on your actual field of expertise.

Anyways to wrap up my little rant, I think doing simple things should be easy, and writing a simple app should be simple. And shortcomings should be complained about and should be fixed. Can’t possible be an acceptable situation that one of the most popular platforms in the world is a pain in the butt to develop for.

Great Crisis inspires Great Leadership

Have you ever participated in a great crisis? Probably the answer is no. Most of the people in control of the Western World as we know it, have never seen a great crisis. Or as Tyler Durden would say:

We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.

We and everyone else around is enjoys a comfortable sedentary lifestyle. Even if there is individual crisis and the associated trauma, it has been a long time that there has been a collective crisis. And why is this a challenge for us, and for the western civilization? Because great crisis is a good teacher, it requires and therefore develops great leadership.

Have you been to the Moon recently? No? And neither was anyone else. The last manned Moon landing was in 1972! About ten years before I was even born. At that time a publicly accessible Internet wasn’t even available yet. Still, this incredible feat of engineering was accomplished.

What was driving those people at those times, how did they get the capable leadership and vision to pull through such an unimaginable project? One of the driving forces was the cold war, the result of World War II, which inspired a sense of competition between superpowers. But World War II also allowed produced a vast population of veterans, pilots and officers. People that were very capable precisely because the had gone through such a great crisis. They had a sense of what was possible through conducted cooperation, and they learned to release their knowledge and energy for the good of humanity, and made the moon landing possible.

And now Civilization is at a crossroad again, we are slowly losing that practical knowledge, the world lacks people and understanding of the forces that drives it. Beneath the surface is a vast network of machines, structures and organizations, that are for a large part on autopilot operated be the ants and bees on its levers and buttons, but without any oversight or insight.

I like to compare this to the scene in Matrix 2, where Neo goes to see Councilor Harmann in the underbelly of the secret underground city. The look at large machinery, that keeps the city running, and the Councilor laments how he does not understand what exactly it is that they do, but that he knows they keep the system up.

So now we have this challenge, on the one hand, there is the desire to avoid such a gruesome experience like a worldwar again, but there is on the other hand a lack of human beings, that carry the experience of overcoming such a crisis. So how do you learn what can only be learned through crisis, and at the same time work to avoid such a crisis?

Well, that is a good question, but it is a question for another time, as I have to leave know.

But maybe, I will feel inspired to write a follow up, or a part 2.

-Richard

C++ Challenge: SimpleServer API

This week I’ve prepared a little challenge in C++ programming. The example is not extrodinarily complex, but not completely simple either. The purpose of this example is, to challenge myself a little to get to know boost::asio networking, and to contemplate about how simple APIs for prototyping could look.

So the challenge is to create a class, that allows prototyping simple network servers, by implementing a convenient base class. The interfaces and base classes are already layed out, including an example that send the reply “Hello” for any incoming connection.

The specification is a bit open, and is not so much concerned with corner cases. So using the simplest solution possible is probably the right thing to do.

Ok, here we go for the boilerplate: read on, I will add a few explanations below.

So, it goes like this: IConnection is the virtual interface for implementing a connection. That is, for every new connection, a new instance of an IConnection implementation is spawned, that is bound to that connection. When the connection is closed, the instance is deleted.

The IConnection receives a function pointer as argument, so that it can send replies. You can see how this is supposed to work in the example: “HelloConnection”. That example simple prints the received string on stdout, and sends “Hello” back.

SimpleServer is the class that you need to implement, here you can have all the bookkeeping, and you are probably going to need some internal connection class, that handles  each socket created, etc.

Anyways, I will probably be implementing the SimpleServer myself this week, so I might be able to post a follow up with a solution.

But anyways, this task is simple enough, that a veteran C++ programmer should be able to do it. And it is definitely intended as a practice to work one ones programming skill, so go ahead and try it.

Post your solution in the comments, or send them via email: richard.spindler@gmail.com

If you send via mail, I will add your solution to a follow-up post. 🙂

Have fun,
Cheers
-Richard