Advised viewing: Jonah Lehrer: How We Decide

I really enjoyed watching this lecture by Jonah Lehrer - he is a gifted speaker with a very interesting subject. It will give you some insights into how our human brain works and help you in to getting to know yourself a little better.

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The true picture of the US Bailout

This video from MSNBC (Dylan Ratigan Show) sums up the true extent of the US Bailout very well. For those who believe that Obama is speaking the entire truth when he says: "We want our money back", this video should open your eyes. Oh, Politics! What a deceitful game they are playing on us (the ignorant public).

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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16 January 2010 • Economy, Finance, News, PoliticsComments (0)Permalink

Cleansing my digital life - minimalistic resolutions (Give it up for Lent)

Overdose at Christmas
And give it up for lent
My friends are all so cynical
Refuse to keep the faith
We all enjoy the madness cause we know we're gonna fade away
Robbie Williams - Millenium

Early January is the time of New Year resolutions. Yet for some years, I have tried to steer clear of those. Any time is a good time for resolutions, one might say. What me and my fiancée like to every year though, is try and find something that we can give up for Lent - which will start on February 17th this year.

Every year we try to be creative with what we "give up" for a period of 44 days. We do have an unwritten rule that whatever we give up, should not inconvenience our professional life too much and should not deliberately interfere with our day-to-day functioning and general health. We did give up 'alcohol' one year, which some might say would definitely interfere with their "day-to-day" functioning. Giving up meat was quite a challenge as well, but enriched our food experiences by searching for fish alternatives.

This year I am quite early with the 'giving up for Lent' business. The most likely reason for that is that I feel I need to purge my life of some activities that take up too much time. Lent would be a good way of starting that 'purge'.

I am an avid Google Reader user and over the past year my Feed subscriptions have grown in numbers. Keeping track of all these feeds has been taking an increasingly amount of time of my day. Though I like to keep up-to-date with news and technology - having to spent a few hours every day to sort through hundreds of posts has become a little wearisome. So my resolution for Lent (what I am planning to give up) is to clean out most of my Google Reader subscriptions.

As I follow some of these feeds for work, I doubt I will decide to give them all up (and then having to reside to visiting different websites/blogs on a regular basis). But I will promise to give up the most time-consuming ones that I can easily live without for 44 days (and maybe for much longer).

In trying to be more minimalistic about my Google Reader usage (online reading) I am going to have to unsubscribe to the "minimalism" blogs I follow as well. No more "minimalism" blogs in order to pursue minimalism...

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12 January 2010 • Minimalist, PersonalComments (0)Permalink

Lessons we should have learned in 2009

At the end of 2009, I found this a good read. The article sums up the lessons that we should have learned from the past year very well. Unfortunately, I share the doubts that the author has about whether these lessons have come through with most people. In 2010 we might have to retake these harsh classes again.

Harsh lessons we may need to learn again - By Joseph E. Stiglitz (China Daily)

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31 December 2009 • Economy, Finance, NewsComments (0)Permalink

Visualizing the past decade: 2000-2009

Picturing the Past 10 Years: 2000-2009

From the NY Times: OP-CHART Phillip Niemeyer | Picturing the Past 10 Years

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31 December 2009 • NewsComments (0)Permalink

Minimalistic tendencies

Recently I have become somewhat of a minimalist convert. After my partner successfully made me do the "switch" (to Mac) a couple of years ago and after she taught me that "holding on to stuff" not only clutters the apartment but also literally clutters our mind and soul, I have started to appreciate a leaner and cleaner lifestyle.

Less clutter, less things that I keep, less things to keep clean. Less things to move or carry around. Less baggage for the soul. A clear and free mind.

I am trying to follow the same approach in my work and digital life now. A cleaner Mac OS (emptier dock, clean desktop - almost there). A organized mailbox (work, still working on my private mailboxes). These are all little steps that help me focus.

Our lives (and our software and the Internet) are way too cluttered.

These blogs might help you follow a minimalist approach as well:

I wrote this post with Writeroom - a Mac application that is designed to help you focus on writing. Amazing. It kind of reminds me of Dougie Howser and the archaic computer he used for writing his journal.

Writeroom - Distraction free writing software for your Mac

 
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06 November 2009 • Geek stuff, Minimalist, PersonalComments (0)Permalink

Installing PIL in Snow Leopard (_jpeg_resync_to_restart error)

In earlier posts I talked about my troubles with getting my Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) system fully equipped for work purposes:

In the latest (and hopefully last) part of that saga, I tried to tackle a misbehaving Python Imaging Library (PIL) today. Earlier, I had already spent some hours trying to fix this problem but today I finally managed to overcome this problem. There are plenty of articles/blog posts already covering this problem and going over the installation steps. However, no matter how I followed these steps, it would not work.

I discovered the problem when trying to upload a picture through the Django Admin pages and received a standard Django error template stating that "The _imaging C module is not installed". Digging into this problem a little deeper I found that import the imaging library lists an error. Try this in your terminal:

 

brambraakman$ python
Python 2.6.1 (r261:67515, Jul 7 2009, 23:51:51)
[GCC 4.2.1 (Apple Inc. build 5646)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import _imaging

This lead to an error that goes something like this:

>>> import _imaging

File "", line 1, in
ImportError: dlopen(/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/site-packages/PIL/_imaging.so, 2): Symbol not found: _jpeg_resync_to_restart
Referenced from: /Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/site-packages/PIL/_imaging.so
Expected in: dynamic lookup

Obviously there was something wrong with the jpeg support (libjpeg) in the imaging library. This _jpeg_resync_to_restart error has been encountered by many others as well:

However, whatever way I tried installing libjpeg (download) and PIL, nothing was working. I also had a libjpeg version installed through Fink but the PIL installation never referenced that.

Running:

otool -L /Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/site-packages/PIL/_imaging.so

will give you an overview of the dependencies of _imaging.so. It should return a reference to the libjpeg library.

Solution

I will not repeat the installation instructions for libjpeg and PIL again (you can find them in the links above). In the end I ended up using the new jpeg-7 library and using these instructions for installation.

What was wrong with my installation?

It turned out that the changes I made to install MySQLdb succesfully on my system had caused this problem. I had added:

export CC="gcc-4.0"
export CXX="g++-4.0"

to my .bash_profile which forces the system (at least that is how I understand it) to use an older version of the gcc compiler. Somehow this caused libjpeg (or PIL) to install incorrectly. Removing those lines from my .bash_profile and reinstalling libjpeg and PIL (for the nth time) finally resolved the problem.

Disclaimer
I am relatively new to Mac OS X (and UNIX based programs and libraries) and might sometimes make mistakes that I am unaware of. The above fixed the problem for me and could very well be affecting your system as well. That does not mean that you should take my advice as expert advice or that what I think are related steps and solutions are always correct. You are welcome to correct (and educate) me by leaving a comment.

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17 October 2009 • Apple, Django, Geek stuffComments (7)Permalink

Django Internationalization, gettext and Mac OS X

The Django Internationalization translation machinery uses the standard gettext module that comes with Python (supposedly). When I tried to update the message file for our translation with the following command:

python manage.py makemessages -l nl

I received the following error:

Error: errors happened while running xgettext on __init__.py
/bin/sh: xgettext: command not found

Uh oh...it seemed that my Mac OS X (Snow Leopard) was missing gettext, a set of tools that provides a framework to help other GNU packages produce multi-lingual messages. Even though I have Xcode installed on my system, I was still missing the gettext program.

How to solve this problem?

First, I did a Spotlight search for gettext and found that there was a gettext program in /sw/bin/ that seemed to be part of Fink (an open source software collection and package manager I played with for a little while when I tried fixing other installation problems). That gettext did not seem to be working correctly however, so I continued my search online.

There was not a lot of information to be found on this problem through Google but one hint was to install a program called Poedit and add a reference to it to the PATH variable (add this line to your .bash_profile or .profile - depending on which one you use - PATH=$PATH:/Applications/Poedit.app/Contents/MacOS/ ).

Now, however I got another error message when trying to update the message file:

Error: errors happened while running msguniq
/bin/sh: msguniq: command not found os x

I was unable to find any useful information on that error message online so I decided to try and start over again. Because I did not trust the Poedit.app solution to gettext completely, I decided to take a look at the /sw/bin/ version of gettext. That lead me to take another look into Fink - a distribution of Unix Open Source software for Mac OS X and Darwin and a package manager. It brings a wide range of free command-line and graphical software developed for Linux and similar operating systems to your Mac.

After having updated my Fink configuration (sudo fink configure) and repaired it (my Fink installation somehow got damaged), I searched through the package list (fink list) and installed gettext and gettext-tools (sudo fink install gettext-tools).

After adding the path to the gettext directory /sw/bin/ to my PATH variable (add PATH=$PATH:/sw/bin/ to your .bash_profile or .profile) and trying to update the message file again: it worked!

I am going to try out using Fink more often for installing certain open source software and libraries.

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What happened to all that toxic talk about the Banks

Lately, I have been wondering why the US banks suddenly seemed "healed" from all there problems. You hear a lot of noise in the market that the banks have simply "written off" all their bad debt and are now able to look at a future with record profits on the horizon (for eternity). As I believe the economy in the US (and the rest of the world) is still deteriorating. Housing, commercial real-estate, business and private loans, and most other forms of lending have not stabilized yet (though in some areas things might be "bottoming" out slowly). So how is that these banks are suddenly turning record profits, paying out million dollar bonuses again, and are acting like the "sky is the limit" - continuing the same game that actually lead us (the whole world) into this mess. All that with a little bit of TARP money. Not to say that 700 billion is not a lot of money but it seems hardly enough to deal with all the toxic stuff that banks have on their balance sheets. Especially since those assets are still decreasing in value.

I know that the US government put some other things in place to support the financial system (mostly the Big banks). I also know that they conveniently decided to change the accounting rules last spring - something that somewhat coincided with the start of the stock market rally. Banks do have have to "mark-to-market" their assets anymore. They can now "mark-to-preference" their assets. Personally, I would call that lying and cheating. If someone asked you how much your house or car is worth, are you also prone to add about 40-60 percent to the actual value?

This week I finally found an article that explains more about the "total bail out" the banks received from the US taxpayers. A large chunk of it is in the form of "guarantees" and it will take years to figure out what the actual cost of these guarantees will be and for how much "risk" the taxpayers have been put on the line - without any compensation I must add. But still, the sum of this bail out is staggering. Yet it is all for the "greater good" is it not? Does it not benefit everyone if you make a bunch of rich people a lot richer on the accounts of the underprivileged, underpaid and under-insured? If I did not know better, I would think I am starting to sound like a socialist.

I advise everyone to read Meet the Hazzards.

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Installing MySQL, Python, MySQLdb on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) for Django

After spending an considerable amount of time installing MySQLdb on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, I had to repeat a similar exercise today. I am no expert at this kind of thing whatsoever. Still, I thought it might be useful to share my experiences with you. Snow Leopard Mac OS X 10.6

I let Snow Leopard (NY Times review) in into my house last friday (August 28th, 2009) and the upgrade process (from Leopard) went really smoothly. Apart from a few programs not working anymore, most notably Cyberduck (which needed updating to a newer version), I did not notice any problems. The only worries I had about this update was my Django developer setup: Python, MySQL and some Python modules/libraries.

MySQL needs to be 64 bit

When I tested one of my Django projects, the first thing I noticed was that MySQL was not working properly anymore. I could not get MySQL to start from the PrefPane setting (under System Preferences). I turned out that Snow Leopard requires a 64 bit version of MySQL.
Solution: Download the 64 bit version of MySQL (there are Mac OS X packages (get the one for 10.5 - x86_64) on MySQL's website).

For more information see: Upgrading to Snow Leopard (Ruby on Rails) and Compiling MySQL on Snow Leopard - Hivelogic (if you like to go Pro).

MySQLdb installation

The next "bump" in the road was MySQLdb. This Python DB API is needed to let Python (and Django) interact with MySQL properly. Since I installed (compiled) MySQLdb for the 32 bit version of MySQL, I had a hunch this one was not going to work anymore either. The first thing I tried was simple reinstalling MySQLdb (see Installing MySQLdb for more information). The installer was not too happy however and kept throwing error messages at me.
Solution: First, make sure you have the GCC compiler installed. You can install Xcode (Apple's developer software) for this. You can download this from Apple, but I remember spotting it on the Snow Leopard DVD (Optional Installs). However, it turned out that GCC has been updated by Apple and somehow my MySQLdb installer did not seem appreciate that. Eventually I got this working, but I am not even sure how. One possible solution might have been adding to my .bash_profile:

export CC="gcc-4.0"
export CXX="g++-4.0"

Adding the Mac OS X 10.4 option from the Xcode installer (from the DVD) was also a necessary step.
Now I finally got the MySQLdb install to complete. Unfortunately that did not change anything for me. From the message that MySQLdb reported when imported in the Python shell, I understood that it was still running the 32 bit version (seeing the i386 in the site-packages name of MySQLdb during the install, also alerted me to this).

Python installation

I upgraded my Python installation on Leopard to Python 2.6.1 because I did not want to work with the older Python version that shipped with Leopard. Hopefully, I had assumed that Snow Leopard updated this Python installation (which was not the "System" installation) but it turned out that it did not. My Leopard installed Python was a 32 bit version and I suspected that this was the reason for me being still "stuck" with a broken setup.
Solution: I removed the $PATH settings from my .bash_profile so that the "Python" command would not point to the 32 bit Python anymore. After restarting the Terminal, Python referred to the "system" version of Python again (the one that shipped with Snow Leopard) and that was the 2.6.1 64 bit Python. With this Python I reinstalled MySQLdb, which now compiled to the 64 bit version. And it all worked!

I was not completely out of the woods yet because the Python installation I was now using did not have any of my other modules installed: Django, PIL, Django pagination, etc. Reinstalling those was not too hard though (download, unpack, "sudo python setup.py install").

Yes, there is a price to pay if you always want to run the newest and shiniest software. Especially if you do not always know exactly what you are doing (like me). Next year, with Mac OS X 10.7, we will see what happens again.

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