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No Food for Thought

Food is something you should provide to your brain long before coming to this blog. You will find no food recipes here, only raw, serious, non-fake news for mature minds.

A Week at Club Med Cancun - Technically not so Greatly Organized

admin Sunday October 14, 2018

I took a week of vacation and on a friend's suggestion, decided to spend it at Club Med's village in Cancun, Mexico. I had never tried Club Med, but I needed to relax and thought that by paying for quality, I would take a break from bugs, as well as from problems in general.

Bugs

Short version

I saw surprisingly few biological bugs in the village. A lot less than I expected. Unfortunately, I stayed in familiar ground as for computer bugs. At least 2 major bugs before my stay, at least 2 issues during my stay, and 1 bug after. I wish I was looking for an IT Manager job.

Long version

Even before I confirmed my choice, I hit a major bug in Club Med's website - the booking calendar was showing me the wrong prices (I believe it ignored my departure city). I still found the booking procedure impressive and tried to create an account. I hit another major bug right there, unable to create an account for days! I had to call an agent to book.

WiFi

Before you book, Club Med advertises the following:

clubmed.ca wrote:
What's included in your stay
Children Clubs for ages 4-17 + All-day gourmet dining & open bar + Unlimited water & land sports + Day & Night Entertainment + Wi-Fi & Gratuities = all inclusive


After you booked though, the formula gets more complicated:

Final voucher wrote:
As of November 1, 2016 basic WIFI access is included in your Club Med package. Premium WIFI is also available at an additional cost and can be purchased on site. Subject to change.

Of course, there is no useful description of each access type. So since I wasn't travelling for business, I didn't purchase premium WiFi.

The reception staff told me to install the Club Med Villages app on my cellphone. Over 24 hours after my arrival, and despite multiple attempts, I still hadn't managed to download the ~ 70 MB application on my cellphone. Plus, network was really bad on my laptop. So I went back to the reception, asked if that was normal, and since I couldn't get a useful answer, I gave in despite the feeling of deception and paid for the damn Premium WiFi access. I then tried to setup the Premium access on the cellphone - and was greeted by a DNS error. 2 young employees at the reception failed to help. After rebooting and multiple attempts, I gave up.

Over 2 days after my arrival, after I had given up, I noticed the installation had finally ended. I then tried to access my village, but that turned out even harder. A scrollbar stayed stuck at 100%. I gave up on that too a day later. Only after I came back home did I realize that the application was finally usable.

Salvaging the Unsalvageable?

Nevertheless, I liked many aspects of Club Med and felt compelled to help them improve. I was disappointed that no one asked me how my stay went when I left (probably because I left early). So when I saw an email asking for feedback, I decided to set aside my reluctance to waste time with surveys and took at least 20 minutes to fill it. Here's what I wrote at the last step:

Quote:
Unexpected technical difficulties; 2 important issues booking (wrong prices, prolonged failure to create account), big issues with standard wifi even without trying to view any video, inability to use premium wifi on cellphone. Unable to use Club Med app on fresh cellphone during whole stay. Lost at least 4 hours due to technical issues overall. Made me wonder if I chose the right brand for a worry-free vacation, and would hesitate to recommend consequently

Exceptional welcome videos; poor TV

Sunday cocktail is a great idea

Great resort location, great architecture, great choice of activities

Great buffet

Was expecting to have bicycles for rent. Disappointed that reception staff couldn't even tell me where to go to rent one


I was 98% into the survey then. I hit Next... and all I got was an image. No confirmation that my feedback was submitted. I tried to go back, but the document had expired.
Gah - apparently half an hour more wasted. All of that on my main desktop, with Mozilla Firefox 60 (ESR).

Other types of bugs, other life forms and Beyond

Other than technical issues, there is wildlife at Club Med, as my photos show.

This was my first time at Club Med, but I learned that it was bought by a Chinese company. Does Club Med still offer the best all inclusive resorts in the concept it created, or is there now a better option for those looking for real quality? I don't mind paying some more (my whole week was around 1800 CAD, direct flight from Quebec City included).

EasyPHP review - not so easy to choose over XAMPP

admin Monday October 8, 2018

In recent years, I ranted about 2 of the main options for installing a development AMP (Apache, PHP) stack (including Xdebug) on Windows, namely XAMPP and WampServer. I was hoping that I could be kinder towards EasyPHP, but after trying EasyPHP Devserver on Windows 8 for several months, I'm not very satisfied.

Before anything, I should note that my first attempt to install Devserver 17.0 failed. Oddly enough, it worked after I installed the same version on the same Windows install several months later.

Cost/limitations

The first thing to say is that unlike the others, EasyPHP is semi-commercial. It offers modules from a "warehouse". It costs 10 USD per year to access that warehouse.

I don't have a problem with asking to pay for special packages, but I feel that EasyPHP developers are trying to get users to pay for the basics. The warehouse offers an Xdebug Manager module, which must be great. But when you don't have that, Xdebug isn't even enabled, and there is no easy way to enable it. I think it's just a matter of having the correct zend_extension line in php.ini, and it may just be a matter of uncommenting (removing a semi-colon from) a disabled line, but I feel that in order to make their module interesting, EasyPHP developers have intentionally made default EasyPHP worse.

The other area where I smell this practice is PHP itself. The current version of EasyPHP ships with PHP 7.1.3, which is 1½-year-old. Much newer versions are available in the warehouse, but 7.1.3 feels like an old version to ship as default. There may be good reasons to wait before going to PHP 7.2, since existing applications need changes to adapt to PHP's backwards-incompatible changes, but when PHP 7.1 has reached 7.1.22, shipping 7.1.3 seems quite negligent.

Issues

The other thing is that while EasyPHP does have an issue tracker, it has in fact 2, 1 for Devserver and another entirely different one for Webserver, which presumably causes lots of duplication or difficulty finding already reported issues.

I hit several important issues with EasyPHP:

  1. The dashboard being inaccessible
  2. Opening dashboard sometimes restarts Apache httpd on a different port
  3. EasyPHP needs to be started every time I open a session. Plus, the dashboard needs to be opened for servers to start.


None of the first 2 had already been reported. And several months later, they remain unsolved.

Conclusion

After trying the 3 main options, I'm sorry to say I don't see a clear winner. WampServer is definitely the worst, but between EasyPHP and XAMPP, there is no clear winner. If you're willing to pay, EasyPHP might be a little better. If not, XAMPP probably wins narrowly in general, but I recommend to choose according to your needs and the precise packages and versions offered by each option at the time you choose.

Selected Select2? Better go with option #2

admin Sunday October 7, 2018

I haven't contributed much to Select2, a JavaScript library to replace native HTML select fields. And considering what happened to my latest contribution, just one of numerous issues managed unacceptably, I'm afraid that won't change.

As nothing was done to address concerns 20 days after the problem was brought to light, that will remain my last contribution to Select2, and I will not choose Select2 for any project. Which should not be a problem, as despite what the homepage still says, there are other options for advanced select fields, including Chosen.

Kryptonite Kryptolok Series 2 Standard Bicycle U-Lock Review

admin Thursday August 30, 2018

I bought this U-lock last year to upgrade from a flexible cable lock. I expected the lock would be heavier, but I didn't expect so many disadvantages.

First, the mount bracket is really poor. I mounted it on the vertical bar, and it's at least the second time I need to reinstall it, since it's hard to tighten enough. The provided hex key is crap, even though Kryptonite claims it will do fine. The short segment is so short that it won't be possible to use the long segment as handle. One needs a real 3 mm key to install this properly. I even attached a rubber band to the frame to increase friction. This time, I tightened very hard and am hoping that will hold at last. And Kryptonite warns you shouldn't tighten too much, because some frames are too fragile! Think you're lucky enough since you frame is not carbon? Still, tightening too much will cause the bracket to become distorted and the spline to get ten times harder to insert or remove. They advise to check tightness daily or weekly. Who has the time for that? Moreover, the spline provides flexibility, but it increases the space which needs to be reserved for the lock. In the end, with my bike (standard size for an adult male), I can't install this lock in the inside of the frame without losing the possibility of installing a bottle mount.

Then there's the lock's keys. The keys work fine, but they have a thick plastic "handle". This is not a problem if you have keys already, but if you have no other keys, the key means you have one more thing to carry in your pockets. It's hard to leave your house forgetting the door key, but if you just have a lock key, it's very easy to forget it, and obviously often quite a problem when it happens. It would be really simple to avoid that by keeping the key in your wallet, except since the key's maximal thickness is about 5 mm, that probably won't be an option. I believe Kryptonite should ship 1 thick key and the other key should be thin.

Finally, there's the cable. I chose this model because the cable reassured me that I wouldn't lose the flexibility of cable locks. The cable adds much flexibility, but its usability is bad. In real life, you won't use that cable often. But when you're rolling, where do you put it? Kryptonite has no answer to that. If you put it on the lock, it will slow you each time you need to lock your bike. But if you don't, good luck finding another place. What I ended up doing is tying it around the handlebar, but tying it there properly requires about 1 minute each time. It's not easy to avoid a conflict with reflectors and other stuff on the handlebar. So when you don't carry it tied to the U, most of the time you end up with an unlocked cable on a locked bike. I was lucky enough that no one stole it. Yet...

Ah, and that is probably not specific to this lock, but manipulating this is dirty. I wash the lock at least monthly, and I still check my hands after every time I lock it.

The only reason I don't recommend another lock is I've never bought any other U-lock. And unfortunately, I remember spending several hours, reading several reviews, before determining which model I should buy, so... good luck!

Green or Grey: Subsidies for Cryptocurrencies?

admin Monday August 27, 2018

For as long as I have been adult, I have been part of a kind which was not common, at least at the time: an ecologist opposed to subsidies for green technologies. I have always believed in the polluter pays principle, which says we must discourage polluting activities (and not encourage less polluting activities). On specific cases, such as grey cars (more commonly called "green cars"), I disagreed with people I esteem. My stance has always been that we should not subsidize by 1 Euro to encourage use of cars that pollute "less", but rather tax usage of cars which pollute - including grey cars, such as hybrid cars.

On a topic which used to be completely different, since Bitcoin was created, I have been explaining to people why "cryptocurrencies" are worthless. For me, the crypto hype's intensity has always been a sad sign of how widespread the lack of economical education is.

Today, I read a news story which proved how bad the crypto hype has become: "Cryptocurrency" mining now accounts for almost 1% of the World's energy consumption. On the face of it, this is bad news for the environment.

But seeing what some are trying to minimize this issue proves more interesting. Capitalism is based on agents doing everything economically viable to maximize their gains (or at least - particularly in this case - the gains they expect). Mining is a race; if we make mining "more efficient", miners will simply mine even more; there is no end to the appetite for "coins" when companies buy into the frenzy and people start trying to make a living from mining. In this case, it becomes obvious that our simplistic inciting measures are useless at best.

The only way to end this madness, besides economic education, will be to internalize the cost of pollution. That may mean resisting pressure from lobbyists, but the good news is that will finance States, rather than using State means to finance those who degrade the environment.

No Green Light for Plenom (and other Busylight manufacturers) yet

admin Friday August 3, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I was disturbed by a colleague while debugging an amateur 15-year old document parser, equipped with a badly buggy debugger. I was very displeased, but I realized I couldn't blame my colleague; I rather realized that now that I work in an open office, I need a way to indicate to colleagues when they shouldn't disturb me.

So I searched for devices which would allow me to turn on some red light when I need extreme focus. I quickly found Plenom's kuando Busylights. The hardware seemed great, and the price was right. I was about to buy when I realized the lights had a single year of warranty. Which made me question durability. I can afford shopping and setting up a device once, but I can't do that every third year.

I saw that Plenom offers a manual color control application for Microsoft Windows and "Mac / OSX". But I realized there was nothing for GNU/Linux. In addition, the source for the application wasn't provided. At the bottom of the download page was a reference to an interface specification:

Quote:
If you need to program the Busylight on USB level, please request the USB API description.

At that point, I was disappointed to see that Plenom didn't offer any code nor support for GNU/Linux, but thought that with its SDK and interface specification, Plenom was close to an acceptable level, and figured that if Plenom was OK with it, I could patch this small flaw by publishing the specification on this website. So I sent the following message to Plenom:

Quote:
Hi,
I am interested in obtaining an availability device such as Busylight, but will not buy a product for which documentation is confidential. If you commit to offering a Manual changer for GNU/Linux or if you licence the USB API documentation as freely redistributable, please let me know.

Plenom courteously sent the following reply:

Quote:
Hi Phillipe.

Thanks for your interest in Busylight.

I have attached the USB API documentation, as well as our SDK License Agreement.

While it isn't mentioned in the agreement, we consider the same terms and conditions to apply for the API documentation. That is, you're welcome to redistribute software made with the SDK or API as long as it's for use with the Kuando Busylight units.

If you ask for the API and I send it to you, you are welcome to share it with a friend. The reason we want people to write in first, is so that we can be kept up to date on which Busylight developments are taking place. This way, we can market our products to users of applications we haven't developed for, but third parties have developed for themselves.

Feel free to contact us.
Best regards.
Rasmus Sørensen, The Busylight Team

(The mail included documentation, but I cannot provide it here.)

I was disappointed that Plenom didn't offer redistributing, but found Plenom's concern justifiable, and its reply very courteous, so I tried finding a compromise with the following reply:

Quote:
Thank you Rasmus,
I understand your concern.

My concern is to invest in a product, to have Plenom go bankrupt or otherwise abandoning Busylight, and to eventually end up with no controlling application supporting the system I will be using, and being unable to provide the necessary documentation to developers who would be willing to invest in the development of a new application, forcing me to write a new application myself.

Would you agree to making the API documentation freely redistributable, but with a usage requirement to inform Plenom of the development project before using the documentation, so that both of our concerns are addressed?


To my surprise, the next thing I heard from Plenom was a message in my voice mailbox (even though I hadn't provided my phone number), from Mitch Friend, president of Plenom Americas, who said he wanted to talk about my development project. Duh

I called back anyway and started by basically repeating my last message to M. Friend, explaining that I didn't work in a call center and would be paying from my own pocket. The funny part came when M. Friend reassured me that his company was in great health, so there was no reason to fear bankruptcy. He claimed I was the only one who had asked about this so far, visibly trying to convince me I was at the faulty end of the conversation. Then came the worst part. M. Friend asked if I would do the same with Microsoft and ask them to change their policies. I was caught off-guards and failed to point out that I wasn't asking Plenom to change its policies, or that most of Microsoft's hardware implements the HID protocol, or even that Microsoft had interest in keeping the cross-platform support of devices as low as possible.

The conversation certainly didn't help convincing me to get a kuando Busylight, but it had a bit of constructiveness when M. Friend mentioned there was some Busylight-related code available on GitHub.

Ultimately I didn't get any permission to redistribute the documentation, nor any further explanation of Plenom's apparent unwillingness to help itself. I even realized after that Plenom requests personal information just to let you download their end-user software. At that point, it seems safe to conclude that Plenom won't offer either redistributable source code or interface specification for kuando Busylight anytime soon.


After giving up on kuando Busylight, I searched a little for alternatives. I found a couple:

  1. Jabra Busylight
  2. Embrava's Blynclight

The first is not USB and apparently in a very different category, specific to phones, so not an option for me. As for Blynclight, it seems worse than kuando Busylight. There is visibly no support for GNU/Linux, no source for any controlling application offered, nor even any specification :-(

So, if you're aware of a well-working and reliable availability display device, please let me know. (Meanwhile, if you see me stepping through a stack tens of levels deep, feel free to find someone else to discuss your backyard.)

L'Actualité décoré

admin Sunday July 22, 2018

L'Actualité est le magazine que j'ai le plus lu. En partie parce que mes parents me l'ont mis à portée de main, mais bien sur surtout pour son contenu. C'est mon magazine préféré. Je suis heureux de voir qu'il a mérité le Prix 2018 du meilleur magazine d’intérêt général de la Fondation des Prix pour les médias canadiens, et un total de 7 médailles. Je félicite d'ailleurs la décision récente de diminuer à 12 publications par an, permettant une plus grande profondeur.

Je suis tout aussi heureux de voir que sa journaliste Noémi Mercier a remporté la médaille d'or dans la catégorie Chroniques, pour sa chronique « Des gars, des filles », déjà mentionnée 2 fois sur ce blogue. Des chroniques de féminisme scientifique courtes (1 page de texte), mais qui méritent amplement cette distinction par leur qualité hors paire - Non multa sed multum.

The European Union's Interference Equation: Inaction + competition = over-reaction

admin Saturday July 21, 2018

In 1996, yearly worldwide PC sales went beyond 70 million units. It was obvious that personal computers would become ubiquitous and that the World would crucially need operating systems and commodity software.

The network effect on computers was already known in the early 1980s. In fact, in 1996, software vendor lock-in was already very much a reality.


In 1996, it was obvious what would happen if the world didn't make such software and let private companies and individuals tackle the problem. In fact, in 1996, private companies had already started creating operating systems and software with intentional vendor lock-in, and individuals had already started creating badly underfunded free software. Efforts were duplicated and allocation was highly inefficient. In 1996, the main PC operating system was Microsoft Windows 95; the software world was already plenty messy.

And yet, in 1996, neither the United States nor the European Union, nor any other union decided to offer its citizens a "universal operating system". A few years later, the situation had unsurprisingly worsened, and Microsoft's dominance was even greater.

At that point, the World could have learned from its errors and decided to avoid doing the same errors with the next big innovations. But rather than offering a public Web search engine or starting an operating system for mobile devices, the United States dug up old legislation and recycled it to pretend it was doing something about the problem. In 2001, the United States government sued the largest software enterprise which its inaction had forced to fill in the gap, claiming the Evil Microsoft had broken antitrust legislation. A settlement stopped the government short of dealing a grave blow to entrepreneurship and the free market.

The European Union, having done nothing more than the USA, was plagued by the same problems. In 2004-2007, it used the same pretext found by the USA to suck a €497 million fine from the dangerous Microsoft, which was evil enough to include a media player in its operating system. The EU too would have done something about the problems.

Smaller computers, bigger interference

With all that energy spent blaming the Bad private sector, the World had no energy left to prevent repeating its errors, with the advent of the Internet and handheld computers. The World let the private sector provision web search engines and operating systems for handheld devices. We let Google build a web search engine, and when it created an operating system for handheld devices, surprise surprise - the Evil Google made Android's default search engine Google Search.

Will these new failures be enough for us to learn and tackle the next problems before it's too late? At least in Europe, the answer seems to be no. The EU has chosen instead to stick to its pattern and slap a €5 billion fine on Google, that Evil innovator which provides the world with the open source Android operating system. As for the USA, its current political situation sweeps away any chance of seeing the Federal government anticipating any future problem in the next years.

Intervention in moderation

If further state intervention is to be expected, is our world doomed to have neither the public nor the private sector provisioning solutions to coming challenges? Or can these interventions be turned into something positive?

I believe governments can indeed intervene without undue interference. There is no better way to illustrate how than to use a real-life example, so let's take the first Google practice the EU blames Google for:
Google has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store);

If such a practice is deemed problematic, here are 2 alternative interventions I suggest:

  1. Forbid sale of the relevant devices to minors without agreement from their tutors
  2. Inform customers buying the relevant devices about the practice and require them to confirm their understanding of that practice in order to complete the purchase.


By using such moderate interventions instead, we would let transactions without negative externalities occur, but we would also make citizens aware of problematic practices, and - perhaps - make consumers wonder why such practices have come into existence.

AV1: A Victory for Open Video

admin Saturday July 14, 2018

Rejoice. One major component of modernity - video - can now be compressed using a stable, specified and fully open royalty-free video codec, with AV1, which is also most efficient.
I did not play any role in this achievement, so I have to thank all contributors, notably Google, Cisco, Mozilla, VideoLAN, IBM, Intel, AMD, ARM, Microsoft, Netflix and NVIDIA, BBC, Amazon and Realtek.

Impatiently waiting for an AV1-ready environment

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