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Notes from the Emacs Skills Exchange Session at DebConf11 //at 12:29 //by abe

from the spontaneous dept.

Thomas Koch asked at DebConf 11 for a Skills Exchange session about Emacs.

As nobody stepped up for that session for quite some time, I did. But I knew just the answers to half of his questions by mind, so I left the remainder for someone else. Luckily Kan-Ru Chen and Sebastian Tennant stepped up for most of the remainder.

We had a quite full meeting room and the notes that Kan-Ru and me prepared in Gobby (debian package) got collaboratively extended from being a braindump and guide what to talk about to a quite helpful, but compact and dense Emacs introduction.

I’ll probably use this as a base for an Emacs tutorial or workshop at some European FLOSS events, but I wouldn’t be able to have such a good and comprehensive base for that without that Skills Exchange session.

So thanks to all who contributed!

Update, 02:31: There also seem to exist an Emacs Lisp implementation of the Obby protocol called Ebby, but it doesn’t seem to support the 0.5 version of Gobby, only version 0.3.


MBC09: The Day Before //at 14:04 //by abe

from the DB-sucks dept.

Helped my parents moving the first half of the week. Left there at Thurdays around 9am. Drove 45min to Zurich. Removed everything bicycle related from my daypack. Left the TomTom at home. (Google Maps on the E51 has to sufficed and sufficed so far.) Crammed cloths for three days in.

Was at Zurich Main Station around 11:40am. My plan was to take the direct ICE train from Zurich to Hamburg Dammtor. Bought a Rivella for the journey.

First suprise at the platform: No ICE train. Instead a Swiss InterCity. The staff told us due to a defect in the ICE train, we have to go to Basel SBB with this train, then switch trains there. No carriage numbers and reservations valid here. Hrmpf. For luck, there where not that many people in the train. No power sockets though.

Next surprise at Basel SBB: No ICE train here either. We’re advised to switch to a German InterCity and then switch again a few kilometers later at Basel Badischer Bahnhof (aka “Basel, German Station”).

There then finally waited an ICE labelled as the initially expected ICE 72 from Zurich to Hamburg Altona. Even the reservations were displayed, departure was though 20min later than the original ICE 72.

The voice from the speakers told us that this is a replacement train which came empty from Zurich. WTF? The next time the voice explained the situation, it was a replacement train coming from Interlaken… Ok, DB is not as insane as I believed for about half an hour. ;-)

Worked though the git tutorial and the git glossary on the train since in future I’ll use git in some of the OSS project I’m working together with — Conkeror beyond others. Also had a conversation with some doctor from University Hospital Zurich who has chasing as hobby. (WTF?)

The train arrived about 45 minutes late at Dammtor, so I first checked in in my hotel (“Hotel am Dammtor”, very close to the MBC09 venue) and then walked to Hamburger Botschaft where the twitter reading was already running, hoping to meet someone I know and having dinner afterwards. Guided by Google Maps on my Nokia E51 it took longer than expected to walk there. And it was windy and raining.

The twitter reading venue was quite full, but I still found a place where I saw most of the screen. At least the reminder of reading was quite funny: #famouslasttweets. They closed with a tweet similar to “And then there’s also identi.ca”. :-)

I was told it wasn’t that funny at the beginning. Didn’t find anyone I really knew, just sticked to a group talking about being hungry. When we met @igorette on our way to some restaurant and he recognised me, I found out that @muhh was also in the group I’m heading though Hamburg.

We had a nice dinner at Schmitt Foxyfood, I had GrillGold (Pommes Frites) with WuchtBrumme (Currywurst) and Fritz Cola.

After dinner, @moeffju drove me and some other guy to our hotels.

So the first evening was already very interesting despite the usual lateness of Deutsche Bahn.


Google Open Source Jam and Webtuesday Hackday //at 22:45 //by abe

from the Clubbing-for-Geeks dept.

I was at two geek events in Zurich this week: At the Google Open Source Jam Zurich on Thursday evening and at the first Webtuesday Hackday on Saturday.

Somehow I expected both events to be quite similar, but they weren’t.

Google Open Source Jam

When I read “Jam” or “Jam Session” I think of Jazz musicians spontaneously playing together. So for me “Open Source Jam” sounded like a hack session where some spontaneous coding is done. But there was no spontaneous collaboration at Open Source Jam at all. It’s just (more or less spontaneous) talks about different topics and chatting. So I was quite disappointed from that event.

There were though quite a lot of people I knew from e.g. Webtuesday, Chaostreff or Debian. I even met some people I just knew from IRC until then.

Half of the talks were sole propaganda talks though, e.g. for Webtuesday Hackday, OpenExpo and Soaring as a geek sport. Not really wrongly placed talks, but not what I expected in talks at Open Source Jam.

The few rooms and floors I saw reminded me very much to IKEA Children’s Paradies, just even more motley. Though it felt all sterile and wasn’t by far as cool as I expected after what I read elsewhere of Google offices.

I also think that several of the Google employees showed some contrived friendlyness, and questions I asked e.g. why I have to give them my e-mail address and employer’s name (what do unemployed or self-employed people do?) got answered with answers I do not really believe – like “for security”. A leopard doesn’t change its spots. A data squid probably neither, even not at events labeled with OSS and said to be for the community.

I suspect that finding new employees is one of the reasons behind such events at Google. But after my first visit at one of their locations, this company still makes me feel uncomfortable. And I’m even more sure than before that I wouldn’t want to work there.

Not sure if I’ll attend the Google Open Source Jam a second time.

Webtuesday Hackday

Webtuesday Hackday also was not as I expected, but still more close to my expectations: the Webtuesday crowd gathers for hacking instead of having long talks. :-)

There were surprisingly many people from outside Zurich, from Munich and Belgium, from Lake Constance and Lausaunne – not only the usual suspects (who were there anyway ;-).

The event took place at Liip’s new office. They still look a little bit empty and steril, but all the toys (mini rugby balls, Wii, plush figures on floor lamps) and people around made them very alive. And they had very cool lamps in the form of their company logo in the office. They sure have a good interior designer. :-)

Although most participants found time to do some hacking, many found less time than they expected so we hope that we can glue the talks a little bit more together in regards of timing to cause less interruptions of the hacking.

The food was also better at Hackday, too, but mostly because we ate outside. ;-) For lunch we were at Lily’s Stomach Supply at Langstrasse (very recommendable!) and in 6he evening we were at Pizzeria Grottino 79 near Helvetiaplatz. Had a Pizza Vesuvio with Gruyère cheese there.

Hackday also had a surprise for me: The IRC channel at Hackday was but when I entered the channel there were someone in I didn’t expect there: tklauser aka Tobias Klauser aka tuxedo. Even more surprising, he read about my project idea for Hackday – a semantic feed cache proxy – and liked it, so he decided to come over to Zurich and join the project.

We didn’t came that far until Tobias had to leave again, but the progamming language and partially also libraries had been nailed: Ruby and it’s WEBrick framework. After the Hackday I worked on it a few more hours and it now already saves feeds to a cache. The Mercurial repository is at http://noone.org/hg/sfc-proxy.

There were several reasons which spoke for using Ruby instead of Perl (my favourite progamming language and the one I’m most experienced in): Ruby brings HTTP and RSS support already in it’s standard classes and Tobias is more experienced in Ruby than Perl. I started to learn Ruby a few years ago to look beyond my own nose and to get my hands dirty on some object-oriented and nice programming language, but I hadn’t found an appropriate project until now, so this was one more reason to not do it in Perl.

I also worked on my Debian package of Conkeror during Hackday. It’s already usable and I now use Conkeror as primary web browser on my EeePC, but e.g. the man page is still missing. As soon as I have the minimum in necessary documentation ready I’ll let it upload to Debian Experimental (since its dependency XULRunner 1.9 is also only in Debian Experimental yet). The Mercurial repository for the Debian packaging of Conkeror is at http://noone.org/hg/conkeror/debian

Those who were still at Hackday in the evening decided that the Webtuesday Hackday should become a regular institution and should take place approximately every two months, but stay a one day event (for now). I already look forward to the next Webtuesday Hackday.

No more NDA for events hosted at Google Zurich? //at 19:14 //by abe

from the big-monopolistic-american-company dept.

I first heard about the Open Source Jam Zurich somewhere at BlogCampSwitzerland 2.0 (which was more a TechCrunch7 than a BlogCamp — why did the organisators call it BlogCamp?) and subscribed to its Google Group.

At Linuxday.at, hansmi (who seems to be assimilated bywork for Google) gave me a flyer about Open Source Jam Zurich. And while reading it, I noticed that it will be held at Google’s Zurich office. Remembering the need for early registration for one of the recent Webtuesdays because of signing an NDA being necessary to get into Google’s office, I asked him, if I need to sign an NDA if I want to take part at Open Source Jam Zurich. He acknowledge it and so I returned the flyer and forgot about the Open Source Jam Zurich.

Today Gürkan told me, he was at Open Source Jam Zurich at Google and he didn’t need to sign any NDA. He also told me that he knows other people which didn’t take part either because of the expected the need to sign an NDA. I was puzzled.

Did Google really started to realize that “Open Source” and “Free Software” doesn’t fit together with “Non-Disclosure Agreements”?

I hope so, because this would make it possible to come to all future Webtuesdays — my favourite local geek event — and not only to those not taking place at Google.


BarCamp Zurich — Resumé //at 02:02 //by abe

from the Geeks-are-not-equal-Geeks dept.

The BarCamp Zurich 2006 is over. On the way there I thought about what I would do during time slots with no interesting talks. But when I tried to make up my personal schedule, I noticed that I rather would have the opposite problem: Too many interesting talks at the same time… Well, to many interesting talks at all, although I only went to tech talks and left out the biz talks.

I first went to the Podcasting & Co. talk by Timo Hetzel, since I never heard or made a podcast, but was curious about podcasts in general. Besides statistics and rankings he spoke about where people listen to podcast (most listeners seem to do that during commuting), what people like in podcasts, why companies podcast, etc. And that a very big share of all podcast listeners use iTunes as podcast client and except juice (never heard of it before) all other podcast clients seem to be irrelevant.

My conclusion: I haven’t missed anything not having listened to or made podcasts neither do I need to listen or make podcasts in the future. They’re irrelevant. To me. :-)

Then I had to choose between the talks AJAX@localhost (PDF) by Harry Fuecks and Realtime Collaborative Text Editing and SubEthaEdit by the Coding Monkeys. I heard about realtime collaborative editing once know that it’s a challenging task for the developer. I also know what AJAX is (and that I would only use or recommend it for bells and whistles, but not for content in general), but “AJAX@localhost” sounded like writing normal applications using AJAX. It sounded interesting and evil at the same time. I had to go there! ;-) Others had similar expectations after reading the talk’s title, so I was quite surprised that it was about something completely different, namely about debugging AJAX on the localhost but under conditions usually only appearing if you’re running AJAX application not from localhost but from somewhere on the net: You may have different lags with every request, so some requests may reach the server before others, which may screw up the whole AJAX application, if the developers didn’t think about it and only tested it on localhost. (Hence the talk’s title…)

My conlusion: I will use and recommend AJAX even more seldom, since there seem to be even more design misconceptions than I thought before. But I’ll once have a look at the Webtuesday meeting, he mentioned.

For the third time-slot, I didn’t need long to decide where to go: I already knew a little bit about Microformats and I wanted to know more. Tag Trade also sounded interesting, but the second part of the talk’s title, Paid Learning sounded like business and so I had no scruples to cold-shoulder that talk. I probably didn’t learn anything really new in the microformats talk, but my knowledge about microformats is now more concrete, and after talking with Cédric Hüsler later during a break, I would even trust myself to start and define a new microformat.

Then I went to the HG Caféteria together with Gürkan and two German guys. While waiting in the queue, we were talking about our jobs and our favourite Linux distributions. I got some rhubarb pie and a rum truffles, assuming that the Caféteria uses no alcohol in their products like all other SV restaurant I know. But this one seemed to have quite a lot of alcohol, since it felt like my breath was burning… Well, this resulted in my second SV feedback form submission…

Next I went to Alex Schröder’s talk about multilingual websites, Oddmuse and the Emacs Wiki, although also the talk A-Life about simulating evolution sounded promising. Alex asked the listeners about their experiences with multilingual websites and showed what Oddmuse offers as partial solution to the general multilingualism problems. But regarding the comments from the auditorium, there probably won’t be a perfect solution until computers can translate perfectly…

The next talk I visited was Gabor’s talk about his master thesis Organizing E-Mail which resulted in a soon to be released Mozilla Thunderbird extension called BuzzTrack. From the other concepts he showed, I found Microsoft’s SNARF (Social Network and Relationship Finder) and IBM’s Thread Arcs most interesting as well as the fact that there is no e-mail client seems to have a majority at all.

Directly after Gabor I had my own talk about Understanding Shell Quoting, so I also couldn’t go to Adrian Heydecker’s talk about Learning with Hypertext and Search Engines. I had only about three and a half listeners of whom several to my surprise where here because they didn’t know what “shell quoting” is.

I really didn’t expect that.

But that seems to be one of the differences between a BarCamp and a Linux Conferences: People come here to see something new, something they haven’t heard about before. On Linux events most people come, because they already heard about some special topic and want to know more or learn something about it. On Linux event my shell talks usually were attracting many visitors while at a BarCamp, talks presenting an idea, a concept or a tool seem to much more interesting for the attendees. So for the next BarCamp I perhaps exhume my Website Meta Language talk which never seemed to hit the nerve of Linux event attendees, since it tried to “sell” a different concept of generating website than most were used to.

At least one listener excepted the talk to be named “shell escaping”, but IMHO escaping is only one quoting technic and it’s not only used for quoting. But perhaps I should take the word “escaping” in the title though for the next time.

Happily most of the listeners seem to have learned something new from the talk and Silvan Gebhardt was really happy about his new knowledge about ssh ~ escapes, although I mainly talked about how to quote them than how to use them. :-)

During the last slot I visited the session about the upcoming BarCamp Alsace 2 and the yet to be planned BarCamp Rhine, a BarCamp to be held on a ship traveling from Basel in Switzerland down the Rhine, stopping in Strasbourg, Karlsruhe, Rhein-Main-Area and perhaps even Cologne and Amsterdam.

Contrary to my initial thoughts, the day was over very fast and I had no single boring minute during the BarCamp. Wow!

After we’ve been kicked out of the building by ETH janitors, we joined again at the Bar N-68. On the way there I met Urban Müller who attended BarCamp Zurich, too. We talked quite a lot and it was very interesting to see behind the scenes of e.g. map.search.ch. Later I joined the French speaking table, talking with Gregoire Japiot from WineCamp France and Alex Schröder.

Around 9pm I left the N-68 as one of the last BarCampers, tired but with new knowledge, new ideas, new acquaintances and a new hobby: BarCamping. What a luck that BarCamps aren’t that often, otherwise I couldn’t afford this new hobby. ;-)

As a relaxing end I met with Alex Schröder and Christophe Ducamp on Sunday morning for brunch in the restaurant Gloria in the Industriequartier. When we were leaving the Gloria I noticed their book board with a lots of BookCrossing books and I took “The Da Vinci Code” with me, since I saw the movie and people were telling me that the book is much better. I’ll see…


Next Shell Quoting Talks //at 12:33 //by abe

from the Wikipedia-meets-Flash-Mob dept.

There are a several events coming up where I plan to hold my Shell Quoting Talk: First, there will be the BarCamp Zurich on October, the 28th at ETH Zürich HG and then there will be the 8th Linuxday.at on November, the 18th at the HTL at Dornbirn (Vorarlberg, Austria) organised by the LUG Vorarlberg. It’s also possible that, in addition to the Shell Quoting talk, I’ll also give a talk for beginners about Commandline Helpers. (Probably all the talks will be held in German.)

BarCamp Zürich I’m quite curious on both events, for very different reasons. On the one hand, a BarCamp is something completely new for me and it sounds like a very interesting mixture of a real life Wikipedia meeting and a flash mob to me.

On the other hand, this year’s Linuxday.at will have several new facettes for me: First there were several changes in the organising team, so I wonder if and in that case how much this will change the face of the event. Then it’s the first Linxuday.at since I live in Zurich, which means it’s the first Linuxday without 1000km travelling during that weekend, so I also have some time to meet friends in the area in advance to or after the event. Yeah!


Software Freedom Day 2006 //at 02:07 //by abe

from the Looking-for-Freedom dept.

Today, well, yesterday was Software Freedom Day and the Chaostreff Zürich organised an information booth with support of the Linux User Group Switzerland at the Orell-Füssli Bookstore at Zurich and giving out Ubuntu CDs — and only Ubuntu. (Ok, and also Kubuntu CDs, but that doesn’t make a big difference.)

After writing a Symlink article about the Software Freedom Day, I went to Orell-Füssl, of course equipped with my 10 years old Pentium-I-ThinkPad bijou which is though running Debian Sarge and the latest Linux kernels, namely and, both only about one week old.

Onsite, I tried to get access to the WLAN, but it didn’t work. Asking the network responsible guy from the Chaostreff, the reason was found quickly: The WLAN was WPA secured and older WLAN cards don’t work with that. No problem that far, but what I found very inappropriate was that this guy then told to put away that old computer since we only want to demonstrate on recent hardware.

First I still can’t understand why such intolerance happens even on a day having the word “Freedom” in its name and secondly I think that especially the ability to give old computers a second (or third) life is notable feature of Free and Open Source Software, Windows can’t offer at all.

So I did not feel like explaining someone the advantages of Free Software or Linux, since I’m not allowed to show some of it nicest features. I started folding some flyers which just had been printed. I accidently also started reading them and I found two grave errors in the content, especially in the context of a day about “Software Freedom” and not about “Open Source” or “Linux”:

  1. Free Software and Open Source Software were declared as being the same thing.
  2. Only the Open Source concept was explained.

So I used the rest of the event to chat with some of the SheGeeks I knew and a few people like Fabrizio who I just knew from mails and never met in real life before. I also had no guilty conscience to leave the event earlier since I didn’t like it — even if it probably was a huge success and I met there many people I like.

The late afternoon I helped a friend of mine moving. Well, actually I helped him transporting all the new furnitures he bought at IKEA to his new home with my CX Break.

And after returning home, I had to read on Symlink, that Rob Levin aka lilo from Freenode died yesterday after being hit by car while riding on his bike on Tuesday. May he rest in peace.

So somehow the Software Freedom Day 2006 was quite a sad day to me. :-(

Now playing (from compact cassette :-): David Hasselhoff — Looking For Freedom

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert


This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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