A small rant about dependencies (and a promise)

Every now and then I run into some awesome open source project on GitHub, that is written in some cool programming language, and it assumes that the development tools for that language are already installed. My assumption is that they have a specific target audience in mind: an already existing developer community around that specific language. People who already have those tools installed.

The annoying thing is when someone like me, who doesn’t really need to know if a thing is written in Python or Ruby or JavaScript or whatever, tries to follow instructions like these:

$ pip install foo
Command 'pip' not found
$ gem install bar
Command 'gem' not found
$ yarn install baz
Command 'yarn' not found
$ ./configure && make && sudo make install
Command 'make' not found

By now, I already know that I first need to do sudo apt install python3-pip (or the equivalent installation commands for RubyGems, Yarn, build-essential,…). I also understand that, within the context of a specific developer community, this is so obvious that it is often assumed. That being said, I am making a promise:

For every open source project that I will henceforth publish online (on Github or any other code sharing platforms), I promise to do the following things:
(1) Test the installation on at least one clean installed operating system – which will be documented.
(2) Include full installation steps in the documentation, including all frameworks, development tools, etc. that would otherwise be assumed.
(3) Where possible and useful, provide an installation script.

The operating system I’m currently targeting, is Ubuntu, which means I’ll include apt commands. I’m counting on Continuous Integration to help me test on other operating systems that I don’t personally use.

What are my preferred roles?

Definitely a halfling barbarian. Alignment: chaotic neutral.

Oh, you didn’t mean tabletop role playing but job roles? Riiiight…

I don’t think that this blog post will ever be complete, and it will always be evolving. But at this point, some of the things that I see myself doing:


Anything related to Continuous Delivery in software. From my perspective, that may include:

  • Test Automation – I’ve done this a lot, I liked it and wouldn’t mind doing more of it.
  • DevOps – I’m still not sure if DevOps must be a separate role, or if other roles can work better if they apply DevOps principles. That being said, I have done some devops-ish things, I liked it, and I would sure like to do more of it.
  • Software Development – There, I’ve put it in writing. I haven’t done this yet in a work context, but I like doing it and learning about it. And really – isn’t test automation also writing software?

Maybe you noticed that in none of these things I mention a specific technology. There may be tech&tools that I already have experience with, and you can read about that in my CV or on LinkedIn, but that is not what this blog post is about. I believe that technologies can (and should) always be learned, and it’s more of an attitude to work quality-driven.


Technical Storytelling or Technical Community Management
Storytelling can help simplify the complexities of new technologies. It’s a combination of technical skills, communication skills and empathy. It’s about supporting a community by creating helpful content, from sample code to tutorials, blog posts(*) and videos; speaking at conferences; and helping improve a product or technology by collecting feedback from the community. I recently read a blog post on this, and I can totally recognize myself there.

(*) Yes, the blog posts that I’m writing now, are also written with that kind of role in mind.


Also have a look at the roles that I am not interested in (but do get a lot of emails about).

What is my preferred region?

When recruiters contact me, I invariably get asked in what region I am willing to work. Well. It depends.
(scroll down for a map if you don’t want to read).

The thing is, I actually enjoy going from point A to point B. At the same time, if it is in much less than ideal situations (lots of traffic, or crowded public transportation), then I may get overstimulated, which leads to fatigue and lack of concentration. The least enjoyable commute was only 20km, by car, but it typically took me more than one hour. This was when a new bridge was constructed over the Scheldt in Temse.

The most pleasant work experiences I had, involved these commute patterns:

  • A 3km bicycle ride (about 10 minutes).
  • 30 km by car, with the first 15 minutes on almost empty rural roads, and then 25 minutes on a highway in the direction that had the least amount of traffic.
  • 5km, which I did on foot in 50 minutes (I was training for the Dodentocht at the time).
  • 40km, which I did with 5 minutes bicycle, 35 minutes train, 5 minutes walking. Ideal for listening to one or two episodes of a podcast. Doing the same distance by car would taken me about the same amount of time, in ideal conditions. And I can’t focus on traffic and listen to a podcast at the same time.
  • 6km, which was 20 minutes on a bicycle or 12 minutes by car. I preferred cycling, because I had separate bike lanes for about 80% of the way. 20 minutes was also an ideal amount of time to listen to one epidode of a podcast.

That looks like a lot of cycling, even though I don’t really consider myself to be an athletic type. It’s also eco-friendly, even though I don’t really consider myself to be an eco-warrior.

I’m not a petrol head, I don’t know anything about cars. 4 wheels and steering wheel, that’s about the limit of my knowledge. Currently I don’t even have a car, I make use of car sharing services like Cambio on the rare occasions that I actually need a car. At the same time, I do enjoy the experience of driving, especially long, smooth stretches. For example each year I go to a music course somewhere in the middle of Germany. That’s a 5 hour drive, not including stops. I absolutely love the change of scenery along the way. But but me in city traffic for an hour and I get too much input.

I have found a website where you can draw a map of the places you can reach within a certain time: TravelTime (the also have an API! ❤️).

This is a map I made with the following data:

  • Yellow: reachable by cycling in 30 minutes or less. That’s about all of the city center of Ghent.
  • Red: reachable by public transport in 1 hour or less. That doesn’t get me to Antwerp, Mechelen or Kortrijk, but Brussels and Bruges are just about reachable.
  • Blue: reachable by car in 45 minutes or less. That barely touches Antwerp. Brussels: the north, west and south edges. Kortrijk and Bruges are also within reach. Why the cutoff at 45 minutes? Well, I would need really, really good other motivations to consider Brussels. Some time ago I thought that 30 minutes would be my maximum, but it isn’t. I’d rather call it an optimum than a maximum.
TravelTime

Even with this map, I still have a personal bias. Most of my social life occurs somewhere in the triangle Ghent-Antwerp-Brussels. It becomes harder to do something after work when working in West-Flanders. It’s not a hard pass, just a preference.

I have more to tell on this topic, so I might update this blog post later.

Installing Ubuntu 20.04 LTS on 2011 MacBook Air

My laptop is a 2011 MacBook Air. I’m not a huge Apple fan, it’s just that at the time it had the most interesting hardware features compared to similar laptops. And it’s quite sturdy, so that’s nice.

Over the years I have experimented with installing Linux in parallel to the OS X operating system, but in the end I settled on installing my favorite Linux tools inside OS X using Homebrew, because having two different operating systems on one laptop was Too Much Effort. In recent times Apple has decided, in it’s infinite wisdom (no sarcasm at all *cough*), that it will no longer provide operating system upgrades for older hardware. Okay, then. Lately the laptop had become slow as molasses anyway, so I decided to replace OS X entirely with Ubuntu. No more half measures! I chose 20.04 LTS for the laptop because reasons. 🙂

The laptop was really slow…

According to the Ubuntu Community Help Wiki, all hardware should be supported, except Thunderbolt. I don’t use anything Thunderbolt, so that’s OK for me. The installation was pretty straightforward: I just created a bootable USB stick and powered on the Mac with the Option/Alt (⌥) key pressed. Choose EFI Boot in the Startup Manager, and from there on it’s all a typical Ubuntu installation.

screenshot
Startup Manager

I did not bother with any of the customizations described on the Ubuntu Wiki, because everything worked straight out of the box, and besides, the wiki is terribly outdated anyway.

The end result? I now have a laptop that feels snappy again, and that still gets updates for the operating system and the installed applications. And it’s my familiar Linux. What’s next? I’m thinking about using Ansible to configure the laptop.

To finish, I want to show you my sticker collection on the laptop. There’s still room for a lot more!

sticker collection on my laptop. Photo copyright: me.

Working abroad?

Occasionally (about 4% of people contacting me) I get a job offer for somewhere in another country.

This is a list of places outside of Belgium where people are apparently interested in having me. 😀

  • India (Hyderabad)
  • Germany (Stuttgart, Wiesbaden)
  • United Kindom (London)
  • France (Paris)
  • Italy (Turin)
  • Spain (Madrid)
  • Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven, Almere, Arnhem, Deventer, Delft)
  • Sweden (Stockholm)
  • Austria (Graz)
  • Switzerland (Zurich)
  • Norway (Stavanger)
  • Luxembourg (Luxembourg City)

I have never considered moving permanently to another country for work, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable to move to a country where I don’t speak the language. Even if the company language is English, I would still need to communicate with people in everyday life, for example going to the shop. So from the list above, only France and the Netherlands would remain.

Besides the language, there is still the matter of being cut off from the people who matter to me. Yes there is the internet, and during the pandemic there was virtually no other way to stay in touch, but still… it’s not the same. I already have some friends in the Netherlands, so (hypothetically) I would feel less alone there. But there are still plenty of interesting local companies to work for, so no thanks for now.

Have you ever been invited to work abroad? If yes, what was your motivation for doing so? What were your experiences? Feel free to share in the comments!

Thanks, but no thanks

After reading a few hundred emails from recruiters, I see a couple of trends popping up. I’m being contacted for job offers that really aren’t relevant or interesting for me. Some of them may be attributed to automatic keyword scanning. But still. If possible, I would kindly ask everyone not to contact me for any of the following:

  • Freelance: I have never done freelance before. Working freelance means that I would first have to start all the paperwork to become self-employed, and at this moment I’m not interested in doing all that. Maybe that could change in the faraway future, but at this point in my life I prefer permanent positions.
  • C/C++ embedded development: At one of my previous jobs, I did testing on the embedded software of a smart printer. Testing. Not development. I have never written a single line of C or C++ in my life. I would probably be able to read and understand other people’s code, but I’m sure that there are plenty of people who are really fluent in C/C++.
  • Drupal development: A long, long time ago, I made and maintained a few small Drupal sites. I have also been to one or two Drupal Dev Days in the early 2000s. I think I still have a T-shirt somewhere. But in all that time, I only did Drupal admin, I never went into the itty-gritty PHP to write custom Drupal code. And I’m pretty sure that my Drupal skills are quite rusty now.
  • Node.js development: Oh dear. I did a few tiny Node.js projects: some “glue code”, some rapid prototyping. Nothing fancy, nothing production quality, never more than 100 lines of code. Let’s not do that.
    EDIT 2021-10-25: I may have changed my opinion on this one! More about this in an upcoming blogpost.
    EDIT 2021-10-29: it’s online: What are my preferred roles.
  • SharePoint development: With the eternal words of William Shakespeare:

Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii

  • Quality Control Operator: This is typically a case of blindly searching for keywords and not verifying the results. I have worked as a Software Quality Engineer, so if you search only for “quality”, you’ll end up with jobs where you do actual physical inspection of physical products. Rule of thumb: if I can’t test it with an Assert-statement in some kind of programming language, then it’s probably not the kind of “quality” that I’m looking for.
  • Production / “blue collar jobs”: Yeah well let’s not do that at all, shall we? With all due respect for the people who do this type of work, and some of it is really essential work, but I don’t think that this would ever make me happy.
  • First line tech support: Been there, done that, got the battle scars. Never again, thank you very much.

Benefits for not contacting me for any of these: you don’t waste time chasing a dead-end lead, and I can spend more time on reading and reacting to job offers that actually are relevant, interesting and even exciting. Everybody happy! 🙂

So, how is the jobhunt going?

It’s been a long time since I last looked for a job myself. At job[-1] (7 years) and job[-2] (2 years), the employers contacted me while I was already working somewhere else, and at job[-3] I worked for 5 years, so all added up, that makes more than 14 years since I last did anything like this.

Job sites

I started with creating or updating a profile on a couple of job sites:

There are a couple more job sites that I know of but haven’t done anything with. Please leave a comment if you think any of them offer benefits over those listed above.

  • Viadeo (mostly French, so probably less useful)
  • Xing (I think they are mostly German-based)
  • StepStone
  • Facebook Job Search (I can’t imagine that any employer on Facebook Job Search wouldn’t also be on LinkedIn, but maybe I’ll try it to see if the search works better there)

I have also updated my CV and I’ve put it online: https://amedee.be/cv.

A torrent of messages

But then — I think — I made a mistake. The weather was nice, I wanted to be outdoors, trying to unwind a bit from the unusual times of the past months, and I disconnected.

Meanwhile the messages started pouring in, via email, LinkedIn (messages and connection requests), and occasionally a phone call from an unknown number. First just a few, then dozens, and just a few weeks later, already a couple of hundred. Oops.

The thing is, while I was technically available, I wasn’t yet mentally available. I still had to disconnect from the previous job, where I worked for more than 7 years, and I needed to think about what I really want to do next. Should I do something similar as before, because I already have the experience? Or should I try to find something that truly sparks joy? More on that later.

Strategies

Anyway, I had to come up with some strategies to deal with these high volumes of communication. First of all, not to get completely crazy, I defined a schedule, because otherwise I’d be responding to messages 24/7. There are other important activities too, like actively browsing through the job listings on various sites, or keeping up to date with current technology, or reaching out to my network, or having a social media presence (like this blog), or, you know, being social, having hobbies, and life in general.

One thing I noticed right away in many messages, is that people ask me for a CV — even though my LinkedIn profile is current. But I get it. And a separate document doesn’t confine me to the format of one specific website, and it helps me to emphasize what I think is important. So I made sure that my CV is available on an easy to reach URL: https://amedee.be/cv.

Then I made two short template messages, one in Dutch and one in English, to thank people for contacting me, where they can find my CV, and — for the LinkedIn people — what my email address is. That’s because I find it easier to track conversations in my mailbox. I can also give labels and flags to conversations, to help me in identifying the interesting ones.

LinkedIn

On LinkedIn, it went like this:

  • Read message.
  • Copy contact details to a spreadsheet.
  • Copy/paste the Dutch or English template message, so that they have my CV and email address.
  • If their message was really interesting(*), add an additional message that I’ll get back to them, and close the conversation. That’ll move it to the top of the message queue.
  • If their message wasn’t interesting or unclear, archive the conversation. If they come back after reading my CV, they’ll either end up in my mailbox, or if they use LinkedIn again, they’ll pop back up at the top of the message queue. But I don’t want to worry about the kind of recruiters that are just “fishing”.

This way I reduced my LinkedIn messages from about 150 to about 20. That’s 20 job offers that I want to give a second, more detailed look. Wow. And that’s just LinkedIn.

(*) What makes a message interesting?

  • It’s relevant.
  • The job isn’t too far to commute.
  • They clearly read my LinkedIn profile.
  • There is a detailed job description.
  • My gut feeling.

Email

Email is another huge source of messages. Fortunately Gmail gives me some tools there to help me. One of the first things I had to do, was to clean out my mailbox. Seriously. It was a dumpster fire. My Inbox had thousands (!) of unread emails. I used rules, filters, deleted emails (I think I deleted more than 100 000 emails), archived emails, and unsubscribed from many, many newsletters that had accumulated over the years. I am now at the point where there are currently 3 emails in my Primary Inbox, all 3 of them actionable items that I expect to finish in the next two weeks, and then those emails will be archived too.

Then, for any recent(ish) email about job offers, I labeled them as “jobhunt” and moved them to the Updates Inbox. That’s the Inbox that Gmail already used automatically for most of these emails, so that was convenient. (For those who don’t know: Gmail has 5 inboxes: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums.) At this moment, there are 326 emails labeled “jobhunt”. I’m sure that there will be some overlap with LinkedIn, but still. That’s a lot.

I’ll be using Gmail’s stars, “Important” flag, and archive, to classify emails. Again, just like with LinkedIn, if an email isn’t really interesting at first glance, it’ll go to the archive after I’ve send them a short default message.

Phone

I get it. Really, I do. For some of you, talking on the phone comes naturally, you do it all the time, and it’s your preferred way of communication. For you it’s the fastest way to do your job.

But for me it’s a tough one. I wouldn’t say that I have outright phone phobia, but phone really is my least favorite communication channel. I need some time to charge myself up for a planned phone call, and afterwards I need some time to process it. Even if it is just writing down some notes about what was discussed and looking up some stuff.

It also has to do with how I process information. Speech is in one direction, always forward, and always at the same speed. You can’t rewind speech. But that’s not how my brain works. I want to read something again and again, or skip a paragraph, or first jump to a conclusion and then jump back to see how we got to that conclusion. Sometimes my thoughts go faster than how I express them, and putting it in writing helps me to see the gaps.

Calls out of the blue? I prefer to avoid those. Really. Especially the ones where people just want to get to know me. In the time it takes for me to do one such phone call (and I do take them seriously), I’m able to process several emails. So I very much prefer to focus first on contacts who have something concrete and actionable.

As mentioned above, I record contact information in a spreadsheet. I then import that information into Google Contacts, so that when someone calls me, I see their name on the screen of my phone, and not just a number. That also helps me to decide to pick up the phone or let it go to voicemail. I will get back to those that go to voicemail, but it’ll just be at my own pace.

Social media presence

I’m starting to put myself a bit more out there, by engaging in conversations on LinkedIn. I have also picked up blogging again, and I’m sharing links to my posts on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Besides my Facebook profile, I also have a Facebook page, but I’m not using that fanatically, because for myself at this point I don’t see Facebook as a professional tool.

On Twitter I have two accounts: @amedee and @AmedeeVanGasse. The former is mostly for personal stuff, and is mostly in Dutch. The latter is one that I created to tweet at tech conferences, but we all know how many tech conferences there were in the last 1.5 years… 🙂 Most tweets there will be in English.

Epilogue

I feel like this has become a very long blog post. Maybe too long, I don’t know. Maybe I should have split it up in several parts? But for me it felt like one story I had to tell.

If any of you social media gurus out there have some opinions to share, that’s what the comment box below is for. 🙂

Wanneer een vulkaan geen vulkaan is

In mei 2020 was er het nieuws dat er in Nederland per toeval een 150 miljoen jaar oude vulkaan ontdekt was in de Noordzee: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2020/05/09/nederland-ontdekt-vulkaan-van-150-miljoen-jaar-oud-in-de-noordze/. Daarbij werd er gezegd dat er in België geen vulkanen zijn. Onjuist, volgens 2 eminente geologen, en op 11 mei 2020 werd het verhaal wat uitgediept: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2020/05/11/er-zijn-wel-vulkanen-in-belgie-kijk-maar-naar-parijs-roubaix/. Lees daar even verder als je interesse hebt in geologie, want het is best wel boeiend.

Een alinea in het artikel trok vooral mijn aandacht:

Van west naar oost slingert er een brede grillige vulkanische gordel onder ons land, van Diksmuide en Oostende over de taalgrens via Halle naar Hoei, Gembloux en Visé en andere Ardense plekken en Duitsland. Als ons land 4 kilometer groter was, dan hadden we warempel een nog bovengronds zichtbare vulkaan: die van Ormont, 4 kilometer over de Belgisch – Duitse grens. Dat is echt een “groentje” want daterend uit de laatste ijstijd. 

Daaronder stond deze foto:

Bron: Wikipedia

Met als bijschrift:

De nog zichtbare vulkaanvorm van Ormont

Zuiderhuis

Oh, cool, zo’n herkenbare vorm, dat moet zeker te zien zijn op Google Maps! Ik ga eens zien of ik die vulkaan kan vinden. Volg met mij mee: ga naar https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ormont,+Germany en zet de terreinlaag aan, zodat je de topografie ziet.

Google Maps

In het noordoosten van Ormont lijken de hoogtelijnen iets te vormen dat met een beetje verbeelding heel misschien een vulkaan zou kunnen zijn. Helaas is er in Duitsland geen Google Street View, dus op die manier kan ik het niet bevestigen.

Maar die hoogtelijnen… ik voel dat er iets niet klopt… dat is een zacht glooiend landschap, en er is geen echt duidelijk afgetekende “berg” zoals op de foto op de VRT-site.

Misschien vind ik op de Duitse Wikipedia (https://www.wikiwand.com/de/Ormont) iets over het plaatsje Ormont? Daar staat deze foto:

Bron: Wikipedia

Euhm, nee, dat landschap komt totaal niet overeen met de foto op de VRT-site.

Ik zoek verder op Google naar Ormont en ik vind iets op mindat.org, een internationale database van mineralen en mijnbouw: https://www.mindat.org/loc-214158.html. Op het kaartje daar staat een mijn genaamd “Goldberg” aangeduid:

Bron: mindat.org

En inderdaad, die mijn is ook goed te zien op Google Maps:

Bron: Google Maps

Er is trouwens geen goud te vinden in de Goldberg mijn, maar wel augiet, biotiet, diopsied, forsteriet, magnetiet, nefelien en sanidien. Voor de kenners: dat zijn allemaal mineralen die in magma te vinden zijn, dus die mijn ligt inderdaad op een vulkaan.

Maar waar komt de foto van de VRT dan wel vandaan? Bij het zoeken op Google naar “Ormont” had ik die foto ook al zien passeren. Ik heb dan Google Reverse Image Search gebruikt, en ik vond direct de bron op Wikipedia, namelijk het was inderdaad Ormont… in de Vogezen in Frankrijk: https://www.wikiwand.com/fr/Ormont_(montagne)!

Dit staat in de metadata van de Franse foto:

  • Genomen op 1 februari 2008 met een Nikon Coolpix S500
  • Op 17 februari 2008 geëxporteerd naar JPEG in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0
  • Op 29 februari 2008 toegevoegd aan Wikipedia door user Ji-Elle als eigen werk, en in public domain domain geplaatst
  • Beschrijving: “Robache (Saint-Dié des Vosges, France) au pied du massif de l’Ormont”

Ik kon de exacte locatie van de foto niet vinden, maar als ik op Google Maps 48.3068505N, 6.9732091E neem (Route Forestiere du Paradis, Robache), overschakel naar Street View, en dan pal oostwaarts kijk, dan herken ik de berg, inclusief de antenne op de top. Dat heeft me wel wat meer tijd op Google Maps gekost dan het duurde om deze blogpost te schrijven… 😅

Bron: Google Maps

Op Wikipedia zeggen ze nog het volgende over de Ormont in Robache:

Formée au cœur d’un bassin permien, la partie élevée de la montagne est supportée par des alternances de couches de grès et d’argiles.

Dat wil zeggen, afwisselende lagen van zandsteen en klei. Dus zeker geen vulkaan!

De website van tourisme Lorraine bevestigt ook dat het zandsteen is:
https://www.tourisme-lorraine.fr/a-voir-a-faire/visites/sites-naturels/940001913-massif-de-lormont-saint-die-des-vosges

Le massif de l’Ormont est fait de roche gréseuse et culmine jusqu’à 899 m d’altitude.

Oef zeg, mysterie opgelost! Ik heb een mailtje met mijn bevindingen gestuurd naar de VRT nieuwsombudsman, en enkele dagen later kreeg ik antwoord:

Beste heer Vangasse,

Bedankt voor uw mail aan de nieuwsombudsman. U had een opmerking over een foto in onderstaand artikel: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2020/05/11/er-zijn-wel-vulkanen-in-belgie-kijk-maar-naar-parijs-roubaix/

Ik bracht de redactie daarvan op de hoogte, en de foto werd inmiddels aangepast.

De nieuwsombudsman wil u ook danken voor uw kritische opmerking.
Verder wensen wij u de komende dagen veel warmte, solidariteit en een goede gezondheid.

Met vriendelijke groeten,
Ine Verhulst, medewerker van Tim Pauwels
VRT Nieuwsombudsman


Eind goed, al goed! 😀

Living without email for a month

Remember when my webserver was acting up? Well, I was so fed up with it, that I took a preconfigured Bitnami WordPress image and ran that on AWS. I don’t care how Bitnami configured it, as long as it works.

As a minor detail, postfix/procmail/dovecot were of course not installed or configured. Meh. This annoyed the Mrs. a bit because she didn’t get her newsletters. But I was so fed up with all the technical problems, that I waited a month to do anything about it.

Doing sudo apt-get -y install postfix procmail dovecot-pop3d and copying over the configs from the old server solved that.

Did I miss email during that month? Not at all. People were able to contact met through Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and all the other social networks. And I had an entire month without spam. Wonderful!