CTO

I’m the CTO of Bluesquare now, since February.

If you had told me at 20 that I would become the CTO of a company specialized in software for public health, I would have been totally satisfied with the idea.

On top of that, the team is great, and the projects are numerous.

So, I consider myself a lucky guy.

The clipboard history feature is the best thing since sliced bread

For those who do not know, having a clipboard history is the best thing since sliced bread.

It is that little feature that allows you, after you made a few copy actions (ctrl+c on Windows or command-c on Mac), to choose any of the copied texts to paste it.

It looks like this when I use Alfred, a productivity tool on Mac, by pression option-command-c (the three buttons at once).

Just click on the text you want, and it will be copied wherever your cursor happened to be.

You can even search in your clipboard history for something you copied a few days before, as in this screenshot.

This feature is a huge time saver. There is a lot of alternative apps providing this feature and apparently, it’s now a standard part of Windows 10 too.

Remember all these times where you have to copy a few distinct cells from an Excel file to insert them in a report, and how you switch constantly between the documents? With this feature, you can just copy one by one all the cells that you want, switch to your report (only once!), and paste one by one the values you needed.

Or, are you looking for that email address you sent yesterday? Just open your clipboard history, type a few letters of the name of the person, and there you go, it’s here. You don’t have to open your emails, perform a search, it is just right there, and it very often allows you to stay focused on your current task.

So, you get it, I love it. You should use it. I know I sound like a cheesy salesman here, but that is how convinced I am.

I got a talk accepted at FOSDEM about Iaso, our software for Geo-aware Data Collection, Curation and Analysis.

I am very happy to have a talk accepted at FOSDEM in the geospatial track. My first ever complex program was drawing a map of belgium in Logo, and FOSDEM is one of the biggest conference for open source software, so this kinda feel like the achievement of a very long process :-)

I’ll update this post with a link to the FOSDEM site when it is updated, but in the mean time, here is the abstract of what will be a 45 minutes recorded video presentation followed by a Q&A:

Iaso is a platform created to support geo-rich data collection efforts, mainly in public health in emerging countries. The key feature that it supports is that any survey is linked to an organizational unit that is part of a canonical hierarchy. Each one of these org units can have a location and a territory. The mobile data collection tool can be used to enrich this hierarchy with additional GPS coordinates, names corrections, etc. which can then be validated by officials of the organizations in question through the web dashboard. This leads to continuous improvements of the geographic references available through the routines activities already planned (e.g. locating and registering health facilities while investigating malaria cases).

The tool has been used in multiple data collection efforts, notably in the domain of Performance Based Financing of health services in D.R. Congo, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria and is more and more used to compare multiple version of official organizational hierarchies when a canonical one needs to be rebuilt. We are for example working on such efforts to rebuild a school map for DRC with the NGO Cordaid. To help for this type of project, we provide location selection interfaces, multiple levels of audits and an API open to data scientists for analysis and mass edits.

This presentation will demo the main features of the platform, and give some context about its creation.

Spotting of our Tsetse flies Vector Control App in the Wild

I wrote that app last year. It comes with a web dashboard to follow activities of evaluation of the Tsetse flies population in regions in D.R.C. where sleeping sickness is endemic.

The screen that you see in the picture is a simple compass showing you where is a fly trap that you placed on the river a few days before. It’s a bit “Tsetse Flies Go”. People often do not have any network connection during this type of work, so, we went for something that works offline, without maps.

Focus VS Meetings

Sometimes, humour makes you think. Emily Kager is making Tiktoks mocking some of the absurdity seen in software engineering. She recently made this one about software engineers asked to focus on multiple things at once, which is obviously the opposite of focus.

Software engineers are often seen complaining about interruptions (say, being multitasked too much), how they break their flow and destroys their productivity. But, as also noted snarkily by Emily, this is nothing special about software, it applies to way more domains, and probably any creative tasks. Nevertheless, programmers widely profess how special they are and how their precious time should not be interrupted by pesky meetings(*).

This, in my mind, comes from this idea that the only important measure of productivity is how much features, tickets, or lines of codes you are treating per day. Once you stated that, it becomes obvious that this is not the only valuable productivity measure. Software is only valuable if it serves a purpose, and this purpose comes from people that you have to meet and discuss with.

Interrupting your work for meetings and quick chats is how you do that. And no, not all interactions can be done in writing. Some users just do not write so well for example, or need to show you their problem.

And yes, obviously, there can be too much meetings. I just think the tolerance to meetings of many engineers is way too low, and that they are consequently creating less value than they could.

(*)I do that too

P.S.: since writing this, Emily Kager did a second Tiktok on the subject, and it’s quite funny too:

I am working on this school map in D.R. Congo

“Together with the Congolese government, Cordaid is building an open-source database of more than 60.000 schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Building for the long run

The older I get, the clearer it seems that building for the long run is my path to happiness.

What does that includes?

  • taking care of my health. Sport is good.
  • investing in my couple. Maintaining relationships requires somme conscient effort too.
  • teaching the kids. Seeing them become good people is a great joy.
  • learning skills that do not deprecate. Professionnally, that means algorithms and db skills, for example. Personnally, it’s learning guitar, diy, cooking and so on, instead of maxing out my video games skills, for example, even though I never thought that my super Mario skills would still impress some people 30 years on.
  • continuously improving products that have already proven their usefulness. In my case, it’s populationpyramid.net and zofa.biz even though they might not seem like the fanciest things around. And I have good hopes for Iaso the product that we are building at work, also because it is going to be open sourced, which, I think, should largely increase the chances for it to still exist in ten years.

Skate achievement

For the record, I did my first skateboard ollie while moving today.

If that’s a midlife crisis, I’m actually enjoying that part which includes picking up guitar again, and starting a martial art (Taekwondo).

Infinite loop

I am yet again in this situation where I should program tools for others to do a task, but doing the task myself is quicker, and we are in a hurry. But even if it is faster to do it myself, it still takes time and delays the programming of the tools.

And when finally I will have programmed the tools, I will not be needed as much and will tackle a new task for which there is no tool yet …

It is an endless balancing act.

An infinite loop.

CV for Family Tech Support

Experience for more than 12 family members over 20 years:

  • Master in finding the cable that was not plugged.
  • PhD in being the only one able to navigate menus using the arrow buttons of the remote. (That there exists no other solution doesn’t mean they won’t try.)
  • Trustee of the recovery address of a legion of emails.
  • Knows what a file is.
  • Wizard-like competence to circumvent user experience failures. (“Yes, yes, you really need to slide your finger from the top of the screen to see a search bar!”)
  • Ability to suffer through 10+ configuration steps over the phone. Including the endless repetition of “No, no, this won’t delete anything”, “You don’t need that”, and the crowd pleasing “No, you don’t want to read the privacy policy”.
  • Uncanny power to spot what is actually a computer and needs to be rebooted, like TV sets and smart watches.
  • Knows what a backup is.
  • Privacy aware: can remove malware from your computer without snarky comments about the shady sites that you visit and more generally, can see things I shouldn’t while debugging your devices and keep it to myself.
  • Understands that charging your computer with your phone charger doesn’t work.
  • Doesn’t hate you, yet.

Book Review: The Elements of Style By Strunk and White

I just found out that the first edition of the Elements of Style, an excellent 50 pages book about good writing in English, is available for free online. It first covers efficiently the most common mistakes in English and then proceeds to the real nuggets: the elementary principles of composition

The book is available here: www.gutenberg.org/files/371…

I cannot recommend it enough. It improved my writing immensely (although it can still be improved a lot).

If you do not have much time, just read these two principles:

I read the 4th edition, not this first one from 1918 and I have the feeling that it was better formatted, on top of using a more modern language, but on the other hand, you cannot beat free.

Being a positive voice

On social networks, especially Twitter, negativity is the most common mode. Mockery, bashing, critics, indignation. And I get it, the times are inducing this.

But I like to counterbalance negativity by just sending positive comments when I feel them. Just a few words to thank authors for sharing insightful information, or some marks of admiration.

I also do this very actively in various threads (on Twitter, in blog comments, on Reddit, Hacker News, Youtube and such …) where hateful comments are dominating and I do not agree (it happens a lot for example, on articles about immigration or biking in my local newspapers…). I do not want to leave the space to hate only. I want readers passing by and being discouraged to be able to find some comfort in knowing that not everybody is actually hating on this video, article or tweet.

This does not always come very naturally to me, we are usually more inclined to react when invaded by negativity, but I have often found that expressing a positive view of something reveals, through additional comments, that there exists a bunch of readers that were just waiting on a positive opinion so that they can just approve. It can completely change the vibe of a conversation, and that is a good reason to do it.

But I also do it because I do like to receive positive feedback and so, I can only imagine that sending some heartfelt one can only brighten someone else’s day.

P.S. : Maybe file this article under #platitudes?

Just a proof that I managed to stand on a surf board :-)

Yearly reminder that python -m SimpleHTTPServer will launch an HTTP server in your current directory and there is probably no faster way to do your little html/js/css tests (if they don’t fit directly into the console).

Book Review: High Output Management by Andy Grove

I have seen this book recommended for years by Silicon Valley moguls. Andy Grove wrote this book as he was the CEO of Intel at the most successful time of the company.

The book is holding a lot of substance, even if I disliked some of the lack of humanism.

Especially two points:

  • that you should motivate your workforce by making them compete amongst each other (there is such an example where they give a score to cleaning teams, so that they start trying to beat each others’ score). This feels manipulative.
  • some point about the fact that being nice is not the goal, that efficiency is the only goal. I am inclined not to believe that and feel that a company having such values is doomed to be a sad place (and ultimately, not very efficient). I hope that I am not wearing too rosy glasses.

Other than that, I found many other points interesting:

  • that there is this idea that you promote incompetent people up to the first level where they are incompetent, and that it is a bad practice. Andy Grove makes the point that there is no way out of this. If you are promoting incompetent people instead, you are just sending a bad message to the organisation.
  • There is an interesting section about interviewing. It says that it should be relatively free form, but also that there is no magic trick. It is a hard process and mistakes happen there. The conversation should not be adversarial, but open. This part is hard to summarise because there are too much good ideas, actually. Read it.
  • Manager should be the teachers of their organisation: they have two levers for managing, motivating people and teaching them. The second lever is insufficiently used.
  • Meetings are not evil, they are one of the tools to transfer information. Obviously, that does not mean that too much meetings are not bad or that meetings should not be well organised.
  • That dual reporting is the normal way in larger organisations: there should be at least a layer of the organisation that reports both to mission oriented people (the salesforce, for example) and to tech oriented people (to share information and resources amongst pairs). Anything that does only one of these reporting will be either inefficient (think a sales team hiring its tech team alone) or too detached from reality (think a tech team barely speaking to a sales team. This is often called working in silos).

All in all, a good, interesting read. I felt sometimes that it could have been shorter, but the information ratio is still quite good in my opinion.

There is such thing as too much knowledge.

When you already know four js frontend frameworks (and two are still somewhat up to date).
When you know Django but not Ruby on Rails.
When you know Java but not .net.
Basically, when you know one way that works well but not yet the other one.

There is not much point in learning the other way.

You should rather try to learn something else, that will help you achieve more, not achieve the same things in a different fashion.

IT Life

School Mistrust

School parent online groups that I have seen can be filled with a lot of aggressivity towards teachers. I find it sad, and makes a point of asking questions like: “Did you talk with the teacher?” It is often not the case.

What I find sad is the tone of defiance often seen there. Lots of parents are distrustful of the school they put their kids in, while I doubt that you can choose education as a career out of anything but good intentions. It can not be for the money, that is for sure in Belgium.

Sure there exists bad teachers, but my opinion is that there also exist a lot of badly managed relationships from parents to teachers. That pushes me to try to be as encourageing as possible to teachers, so that they do not hear only about the complaints.

Finally, as a more general point, I also noted that if you voice a positive opinion in an online group, you usually open the door to other people who were not daring to go against the bad mood. There is often a silent satisfied group, and showing that it exists is important.

Google Speed Test

Ookla’s speedtest.net has been the go-to tool to test your network speed for years. They make money by showing you ads next to your speed test.

Google just completely copied their (admittedly simple) product, and put their tool on top of the the search results when you search for speedtest , which makes it appear just above Ookla.

I can not get over the feeling that this is wrong. Google being both a search engine and a tool/content provider leads to this kind of situation where they can cripple existing businesses, and prevent newcomers to compete.

Video game music = work music

Video game music is the best music to work for me. It’s usually just made to accompany the action, which is exactly what I need. Indie games also have the best electro tunes.

So, favorite soundtracks:

  • Celeste
  • Katana Zero
  • Dead Cells
  • Hotline Miami
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Furi
  • Journey
  • Risk of Rain
  • Duet (That one)

All these games are pretty cool to play too :-) Here is a sample playlist: open.spotify.com/playlist/…

My New Ride: an Ahooga Modular Electric Bike

Took some time to arrive, but I definitely love it, especially because I can carry any of my kids (including my 12 years old daughters) on the back rack. This avoids a lot of use of our car, for example for trips to the various activities: swimming pool, circus lesson, Taekwondo, …

see it here

Swedish fjord

Maluku - DRC

I as there for a mission for Bluesquare in the context of the project about Sleeping Sickness that we are doing. More information in this Guardian article

The Frozen Crow’s Lake

Near La Bresse, Les Voges, France. Love that place.

Climate Strike 2018

No, but seriously. #claimtheclimate #climatechange #bruxelles #brussels #brussel

Follow @madewulf.