17 Aug

Geopolitical Tectonic Movements: Watch the Mediterranean & Beyond

Note: this entry was originally published in February 2015, with ongoing updates and edits since then. Though the daily ebbs and flows of the news cycle may make it seem like some of these issues – like the Greek debt crisis – have been resolved, in reality these are deep-seated problems that continue to simmer under the surface.

Italians have become very concerned [Corriere della Sera] about ISIS’ recent inroads into Libya, adding a new twist to a humanitarian crisis that has been going on for years [The Migrants Files]. Deutche Welle summarizes the situation in Lampedusa:

“The residents of the island are waiting and hoping that no war breaks out right at their doorstep. There are frightening new rumors that have found their way across the Mediterranean. Read More

13 Aug

Integrating Judo and BJJ for Effective, Holistic Grappling [2016 Olympics Update]


When I was learning judo as a kid while growing up in France in the early 80s, ground work (aka newaza) was a significant component of the art, especially as it was taught to children. We didn’t call it Kosen Judo, but it was pretty close to it in spirit and purpose. (For the semantically inclined, Kosen Judo is pretty much a varsity ruleset, not some special handshake secret form of judo, and it’s now called Nanatei Judo.)

Fast forward 30 years, and when I wanted to practice again, I found that judo had to some extent devolved into a standing-focused sport because of how official competition rules changed over the past decades. I heard about brazilian jiu jitsu and instantly fell in love with its intricate ground game and focus on submissions (as opposed to pins). But again it turns out sports competition took its toll to undermine the essence of the underlying martial art. Read More

24 Jul

Ideas to Improve Software Documentation, Raise Productivity of Mere Mortals

July 2016 update: I’m resurfacing this entry, first posted in March 2014, in light of StackOverflow’s launch of their Documentation hub. They’re one of the best-positioned companies to tackle at scale the challenges I explain below. One of their key areas of focus is code examples, which is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The explosion in the quantity and quality of both commercial APIs and open source projects is a huge enabler for digital start-ups and small businesses. Instead of painfully rolling your own version of, say, sending email newsletters or displaying a media gallery, in many cases “there’s an app for that.” However, behind the numbers, the very uneven quality of the documentation made available with said APIs, plugins, and packages, is a serious impediment to fully realizing the productivity gains promised by these vibrant ecosystems. (Wow this sounds way too much like an enterprise software whitepaper!)

Typically documentation takes shortcuts by implying bits of knowledge that the reader may not have, skipping necessary steps, leaving out important nuances, or providing incomplete and obtuse examples. These issues are compounded because of today’s development by integration more than pure coding. I’ve been thinking about how this could be alleviated. Read More

28 Jun

Smartphones: Time to Go Direct

The likes of Dell and Gateway exploded on the PC scene in the late 80s/early 90s by streamlining their supply chain, thinking of themselves as OEM assemblers rather than manufacturers, and selling direct to customers, at the time mostly by phone (we’re talking pre-web era here!). This became known as the Wintel model, where you don’t buy an IBM computer as much as you buy an OS/CPU combo at the best value, the PC brand being a commodity.

25 years later, some players are taking a somewhat similar approach in the smartphone world. And it’s high time this happened. Read More

22 Jun

Saas Integration Trends & Players

Note: entry originally published in November 2014, maintained regularly since then.

By definition Software as a Service is easier to roll out than on-premises software because you don’t have to install it on your own servers, let alone desktops or mobile devices. This favors a best-of-breed approach rather than picking monolithic suites from the same vendor. That alone is a big market shift from the steamrolling that Microsoft was able to inflict in the 90s on the desktop with Office, and to a lesser extent on servers with what was then known as BackOffice. Over the past decades, IBM became DEC, Microsoft became IBM, Google became Microsoft, and a thousand SaaS players are now blooming – though none of them has quite become the next Google yet. Facebook and Apple, consumer companies at heart, are shunning this market for the most part .

As of the mid 2010s there’s SaaS not just for broad enterprise functions such marketing, sales, or HR, but it’s also getting very granular within these functions. The “tech marketing” space has been booming for years with ever more targeted applications (split tests for freemium mobile games anyone?) mushrooming every day, while other functions such as HR have been receiving increased attention as of late.

Which means team, departments and whole organizations increasingly need to integrate this plethora of applications, especially if they’re trying to, say, build a common view of their customers.Like most things SaaS, Salesforce has led the charge years ago to the point of turning into a platform. Beyond granddaddy SFDC, the marketplace has responded with the emergence of SaaS middleware, as well as an increased number of bilateral integration efforts among vendors.  This is what this entry is about. Read More

21 Jun

Turbo-Made in China

I first posted here in 2007 about Andrew Shane Huang’s great coverage of manufacturing and technology in China, especially the street availability of electronics components. I hadn’t kept close tabs on him, and I see that he’s kept going strong for the past decade. He’s recently crowdfunded the printing of a sourcing book, as well as appearead in well-made videos by Wired UK. Well worth checking him out. Read More

21 Jun

Out-of-Left-Field Idea of the Day: Google Broadband

Over the past decade, the headline of this entry, first published in October 2004, seemed less and less outlandish. By March 2014, Larry Page had made that a very explicit goal, echoing Bill Gates’ earlier promise of a computer on every desk and in every home. Here is how the idea that Google would get into the internet access business – as a fundamental enabler to bigger things, not in a Comcast incumbentish (hereby a word) way – turned into reality over the years: Read More

20 Jun

Why You Want to Develop in Production-Like Conditions, and How to Do it with Vagrant

Note: entry originally published in March 2014, with numerous edits and additions since then.

Like many people developing with WordPress, I used to use XAMPP to run a Linux/Apache/MySQL stack under Windows. This beats developing directly off a remote server by a long stretch (in case anybody still does that), but it turns out to be quite a hassle as you wrestle with / vs \ in paths and other discrepancies between the Unix and Windows worlds. Developing in an environment as close to production as possible ends up being a much better choice. Popular free tools to do so are:

  • VirtualBox to run other operating systems within your own
  • Vagrant to manage development environments within VirtualBox
  • Puphpet, a wizard-like interface to help set up Vagrant through Puppet automation scripts. Phansible does the same but using Ansible.

Yes, these work somewhat like Russian dolls, as modern web development has a severe case of tools to set up tools to set up tools. It can get a little crazy at times, so you want to find the sweet spot where you gain efficiency without becoming a slave to your toolset (which is supposed to save you time in the first place). Getting this up and running is a big enabler for continuous integration, and why you would want to think and develop that way is the topic of a separate entry.

In this post I’ll share some practical details to contribute a little back to the open source community and not just consume its benefits passively.  The end result is a fully functional Unix environment serving a WordPress website locally on a Windows PC, across a whole local network.

This entry is written from the perspective of “Unix as a foreign language” from a Windows native. It does assume that you have read the basics about VirtualBox and Vagrant, and focuses on common roadblocks that I’ve encountered along the way. As always, the key to learning a whole new way of doing things is to break it down in small digestible chunks. Read More