I am looking at my Twitter feed in Tweetdeck. Tweets fly by, and I try to distill something useful or interesting from the stream of information in the awfully blue client. Somehow, it doesn’t click. Without reading a single tweet, I decide to close the tab, and I start wondering what happened.

There was a time where I was obsessed with Twitter. I send dozens of tweets daily, and on a yearly basis I probably sent thousand of tweets. But now, i feel indifferent towards the medium. “Oh, you felt like you had to tweet that, person? That’s nice. I don’t care, but it’s nice.”

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what changed the sentiment towards the micro blogging platform.

Perhaps it’s that it stopped being a micro blogging platform and wanted to be many things at once. Video, images and tweets up to 280 characters saturate a feed that once used to be pretty minimalistic. You could scroll through (or read) through a bunch of short tweets without having to filter through a lot of distractions. These times are long gone, now. Nowadays, your feed looks like a gigantic billboard where everyone is trying to advertize his or her product.

Twitter wanted to make changes to become relevant, of course. In order to do so they introduced ads. Personalised ads, based on your preferences. Or that is the theory, at least. In reality they probably have the least appealing ads in place.

Their ads don’t feel very relevant. Promoted tweets are often for companies I have no interest in whatsoever, and I don’t have a clue why Twitter thinks I would be interested in the tweets of yet another bank. Is it because I follow two banks on Twitter? Great job, Twitter. You just discovered I’m a customer for banks. Don’t need a third one, though. Sorry.  People might hate on personalised ads all they want and I am not excited to know that companies know a lot about me either, but if I have to watch ads at least make sure they’re not eye rolling bad. Facebook does a fairly good job at it. Not as good as Google, though. Their ads are usually pretty on point (minus the car ads, but I understand that that’s also a result of how their ads work).

But I didn’t want to talk about advertizing. This is a nostalgic “what happened” about Twitter.

Death of the desktop

One of the biggest reasons I lost interest is because Twitter decided to kill desktop clients.

They already pushed a lot of non-official apps out of the market, with API and other restrictions, which made it impossible to compete. What remained was then bought by, and folded into Twitter. But Tweetdeck is no longer, either. The “app” you download is a wrapper for the web version of Tweetdeck. The same, blue, chaotic, “How the hell does this work” mess, just downloadable. You can’t even start the app if you don’t have an internet connection.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. They also made an awful Windows 10 app to replace their official Windows entry. And things got worse on Mac OSX where they just killed the desktop client entirely.

So now, you are stuck with their website or the iOS version. Neither of which I have open all the time. I don’t feel an “urge” to check my phone or to check that one browser tab that’s lost in a forest of tabs.

Twitter basically killed the link between my eyeballs and tweets themselves. Nowadays, when I log in, it’s usually to post something myself or check my mentions. No point in checking my feed anyway, because they now also introduced a “Best of” algorytm. Which is also awful at it’s job. It lacks all the flexibility of Facebook and it’s predictions are not on YouTube’s levels. Youtube only sucks at suggesting new accounts to follow. No, YouTube, I don’t want to watch a video because I watched a slightly related video to the one this gamer douche once made.

Bottom line, I guess, is that I don’t like the “new Twitter” a lot, and since I lost touch with the people I used to talk to the most, Twitter is no longer a platform I am paying a lot of attention to. I might be using it occasionally, just like I check my mailbox daily despite not expecting a lot of letters. But the late night “Let’s check Twitter one more time” or the constant allure of the desktop client with interesting, short tweets I could read? Those days are long gone.

I tried coming up with a nice story or a cool introduction for this post. Perhaps a story about puzzles, or the stereotype of men throwing out the manual of a new product. To be honest, however, I just want to rant for a bit about some of the “documentation” out there. To make matters worse, this rant is brought to you by niche Open Source software which could they could replace by a cloud solution which would have done a better job. But that’s beside the point.

Last week I was working on a project, trying to get an application to play nice with another application on a Linux server.

I’m not a Linux expert. Nor do I have particularly strong feelings for Linux. That will probably never change since I never bought into the “Open Source is best” ideology. But sometimes, there are things that need are done on a Linux Server. Things I need to do. In most cases, I manage just fine.

It’s when it comes to actually configuring Linux applications that things get frustrating, because half of the time, the documentation sucks.

And boy, does the documentation suck for this particular software. The official documentation was hard to read and made some pretty huge assumptions and never explained concepts properly. In order to get the solution running I needed to Google the puzzle together. Google is often my friend, but in this case it was complicated.

As is often the case with Open Source, the “solutions” for the problems I encountered were all over the place. Quite literally, too. I had to puzzle together comments from Forums, StackExchange questions and blog posts and pick the pieces I thought I needed to find a final solution for my problem.

In the end I got it to work, but not before I decided to scrap an entire “branch” of documentation that I was following. It turns out that there was a completely different way of doing the same thing, which solved my problem. While the “solution” I had started to follow from the beginning, ended up failing.

I’m not sure if there is an “idea” behind this blog post, other than to complain that some Open Source software seriously lacks in “final documentation”. In Open Source, the idea that “You need to figure it out yourself” seems to be really strong.

A Business Opportunity

There is a lot of documentation on the internet. Lots of it is in poor shape or spread out over dozens of websites. I imagine there would be a real business opportunity writing some real good documentation for the Open Source software that’s lacking. I now also understand why some people prefer to use “commercial” Open Source over the free Wild West variety.

Don’t look at me to solve the problem, though. I will happily admit that I am not the kind of person to shell out documentation for an Open Source solution. I’m not that invested in the Open Source philosophy.

However, this experience made me revisit an idea I had a while ago called DIYoomla.  I don’t want to give away too much, but I am planning to write and / or centralize some documentation for software that’s dear to me. Software of which I feel I could write some decent documentation. To fill the gaps that the official documentation left behind. But, more specifically, to help people with specific scenarios that the official documentation doesn’t cover for the simple reason that it’d be too much for the average user.

The name probably already gives away what direction I’ll be thinking of. And no, war hawks of FOSS, it’s not a trademark violation. It’s a clever play of words.

When I start writing this blog post, I sigh as I read the title. At the same time, I have got to accept that it really describes the app the most accurately. So, without further adue… allow me to explain.

About a year ago, I was standing in a store, helping my mother decide what detergent to buy. The store was throwing around with discounts and 2+1 sales. Both products were pretty much of similar quality. All she wanted to know which was really the best offer.

Because that’s the thing, right? Stores will try and trick you in different ways. Ever since that day I started paying attention, and discovered some of their schemes:

  • Bigger sizes of a product aren’t always cheaper.
  • The product on sale is still more expensive than the alternative, because of the price per content.
  • Hey, here’s a 15% discount. But you won’t know how much you saved until you pay for the product

Anyway, I decided to help my mother out by making a simple web app that would help her figure out which product was exactly the cheapest.

Since I’m not much of a developer I built the thing in HTML and Python. And all was well. It worked, she doesn’t care about the behind-the-scenes.

With that approach in mind, I started working on the app. I called it “Secret Formula”. There really aren’t any Secret Formula’s. It’s just math and common sense. But it sounds neat and to some people the math might sound like arcane spells written by an ancient wizard. But mostly it sounded good.

Ever since I “launched” the app I have been adding some new formulas. After the initial “This will help my mother” formula’s I started to think about formula’s that could help other people. I have since then added a formula to calculate gas prices, how much to tip, how much you save in a “Buy X, Get Y Free” sale… and so on.

So many plans (skip this if you just want to read about the app)

Over time I have developed some pretty wild plans for the app. That’s what usually happens when I have an idea.  One of the big ideas has always been to turn the app into a real iOS app. This is something I always keep postponing. It would mean I’d need to learn an actual programming language.

I was almost there when I tried to use Cordova to build an iOS / Android app built on HTML and Javascript. I quickly gave up on that idea because I can’t get Xcode to play nice. Yes, I’m quickly discouraged like that.

Talking about HTML and Javascript, though… I did rewrite the entire thing. Instead of using Python and CGI files and what not, it’s now a HTML/Javascript app. I’m proud to say it’s pretty damn fast and responsive. You can easily use it on your smart phone and it’ll be super fast.

For now, I have accepted that the HTML/Javascript app will be “the app” for the time being. It works! That’s what matters, right?

Get the app!

To get started with the app, simply go to https://toralkohost.com/apps/secretformula/en/ or, if you want the Dutch version, go to https://toralkohost.com/apps/secretformula/

You can start calculating things right away. Using the app is free and adfree. What I would appreciate, is if you let me know if you used and liked the app.

Neat detail: If you save the app to your iOS home screen, it’ll have it’s own icon and it’ll be searchable. So go ahead and do that, if you want.

Known problems are that there’s a grey button in an ocean of blue ones, that the “What’s new” is always in English no matter what version you are using and that you need to reload the page on the formula for splitting rent.  There’s also the problem that you need to use a dot instead of a comma as a decimal in most formula’s.

Another known “problem” is that the formula’s aren’t always self-explanatory. I am thinking of ways to make it clearer what they are for. Especially the newest formula, the one for splitting rent, might need a few words of explanation.

Other than that, the app is fairly functional and hopefully useful as well. Let me know in the comment or stalk me on social media.

Start Calculating Things

App Mirror (if the other one doesn’t load)

 

There is something about making phone calls that makes me queasy.  I just don’t like it, and when I have to make a call I roleplay the possible scenarios in my head. Only to say something completely different when actually making the call. But that’s not really the point.

This feeling gets amplified when I am on the receiving call of the end. My first thought is always a panicked “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”

As of recently, I “inherited” the cellphone number my dad used for his job. As a result I’m getting a lot of calls from “unknown” numbers. I guess not everyone got the memo that he changed numbers.

Which lead me to my pet peeve of today.

If you are calling me and I don’t know who you are there is a big chance that I won’t pick up. It’s probably not for me, anyway. And if you are a company that got my phone number through my profile, you are better off sending me a mail. I swear I can communicate like a human being using e-mail. No, seriously, please send me an e-mail.

However, after I “missed the call” I will want to know who you are. Maybe it was important, like a call from a supplier or partner our company works with.

So why can’t I find your number online?

So I start Googling and usually find out who tried to call me. In a few cases I realized they did want to speak to me personally and called them back. Social Care company, dentist, company I just bought a product from? I should probably get over my anxiety and call them.

But there are still a lot of companies that don’t think it’s important to list their number online. And a lot of them are foreign companies. I am starting to believe that they don’t want to be called by me. Of course, there is a real chance that a few of them are “marketeers”. I’m using that word lightly.

If I can’t find out what company is attached to that +31 number, guess what happens next?

Nothing. I’m not going to call you back. I’m not going to “accept the next call.”

Make sure you can be found

The point of this post (other than “Wow, you have a problem, dude”) is that I highly urge all companies to list their phone number online. It’s completely up to you how you do that. Here are some ideas. Some of them are cheaper than others, but almost all of them will make me at least consider calling you.

  • Put it on your website. Websites are good, it’ll give me an idea who you are
  • Google Business: Add it to your Google Business entry so at least I’ll get a company name and address
  • Facebook: Hey, I’m not a fan of Facebook. But it allows you to add your phone number to your company page and is indexed by the Google
  • Add yourself to a company index: Have your company listed somewhere. In the Golden Pages’ online equivalent for your region or sector.

But maybe all of that is too much work. Perhaps the only keys you can press are those of your smart phone. In which case I’ve got great news for you. There’s a voice mail option, too. When prompted, tell me why you were calling me instead of being a weirdo.

“I should have a personal blog. It would be great. Everyone important on the internet has got one.” – Me, when starting this blog.

versus

“What am I supposed to do with this blog? Everything I want to say is already published elsewhere.” – Also me, right now.

The above quotes actually define this blog. There was supposed to be a blog post here, too. About how I am perfectly capable of conjuring up blog posts out of thin air. But I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to write, kept rewriting it, got frustrated and figured that I would publish like this. Because of the irony.

Maialisa / Pixabay

Past weekend I was considering to reactivate my Fiverr gigs. If you are now scratching your head and thinking “What’s a Fiverr”, here’s a short TL;DR:

Fiverr is a “job market” where you can sell and buy ‘gigs’. The selling point slash marketing gimmick is that “each gig is sold for a “fiver” or five dollars. It’s a little more complex than that. In reality you can offer add-ons and “stack” gigs, but unless you have a stellar reputation you will be offering your services for a “fiver”. Otherwise, someone in Asia will be doing it for you and you get nothing.

I made less that minimum wage

So why didn’t I reactivate my gigs, where I offered writing services? Because there’s no money to be made. For the gigs I sold, I was paid $5 for what was about half an hour of work per gig.

For two gigs, that would mean I’d be paid $10. But wait! Out of every $5 gig, a dollar goes to the platform owners. So you end up with $4 for half an hour of work. Converting that to an hour, I ended up being paid $4.

And that’s where things become very uninteresting, real fast. $8 an hour is less than you make in a minimum wage job. Waitresses make 8.25 an hour and get tips on top of that. I, on the other hand, also had to make additional costs to even make that $4 (which is also true for waitresses, to a degree).

In order to make decent money, let’s say $2000 a month, I would have to do 500 gigs. That’s about 250 hours a month or nearly 150% of the hours I work right now.

Even if I could manage to “stack” gigs so I would be paid $20 an hour of work instead, that would mean I would have to work  a hundred hours a month. Which would still be a crazy amount of time for a side gig.

It lead to the inevitable conclusion that platforms like Fiverr just aren’t viable for your average person offering services. You can’t compete on price. You don’t want to compete on price because there is simply no money to be made.

There isn’t really a point to this rant. My “math” just reconfirmed that I will be staying away from Fiverr while I try some other ways to market my writing ‘skills’. You’ll be seeing some of those experiments in action soon!

In any modern company, there is really no place for magic. Sure, there are sales and marketing teams trying to sell snake oil, managers that expect their employers to bend the laws of time to finish projects against impossible deadlines and costumers that wish their mere looks could kill you. But none of that comes even close to magic.

The closest you’ll get to magic, is the way how people interact with their IT staff. In this short post, I’m presenting irrefutable proof that people think the IT staff are genies. I’ll be updating this list as I think of more. And as always, your suggestions are welcome.

Here’s the proof:

  1. Their wish is your command. (Even if giving those commands isn’t on their job description)
  2. They expect instant results. No matter how big the miracle they’re asking for.
  3. Oh, they also expect you to perform miracles.
  4. Performing these miracles better be free!
  5. They’ll only enter your lair if they need something from you.
  6. They will want your genie powers. If you give them these powers, terrible things will happen.

I’ll be adding to this list. Let me know your suggestions!

This morning I was listening to some music in the car. Since my Aux cable is dead (again) and my radio doesn’t have Bluetooth I had to rely on good old USB Sticky McStickface of which the music is rarely updated. Because there’s only good music on there, of course.  Okay, so it’s because I forget to update it or can’t be bothered. Whatever.

By doing so, I listened to the song “Her Name Is Alice” by Shinedown. They’re one of my favourite groups, and I remembered that I discovered them completely by accident. After the Alice in Wonderland(?) movie with Johnny Depp came out, I rather liked the soundtrack.

So I went and bought the wrong sound track. There were two albums for the movie. The soundtrack and an album with songs inspired by the movie. Of which only the not-so-great Avril Lavigne song made it to the (credits of) the movie.

The damage was done, and I decided to give the album a try. I don’t like a lot of songs on the album. There’s maybe one or two that I don’t dislike or skip. But “Her Name Is Alice” was one of them.

I figured that the band that made it had to have some other good songs. That lead me to iTunes, where I found and sampled their albums. Which I’ve listened to countless times by now.

All of this happened because I somehow got the crazy idea to buy a movie soundtrack. Only to buy the wrong one. Talk about a happy mistake!

It’s a whole lot easier now…

To discover new music. Since then I’ve got a Spotify account like everyone else, which allows me to try entire albums before buying them. In the modern age, this “purchase accident” would’ve never happened. But it makes for a mildly interesting story!

If you’re wondering, the last albums I bought since getting Spotify were bought after I stumbled upon a video on Youtube. Yup, more random chance. It’s how I like it.

As some of you might now, InfoSecurity has come and gone this week. My father was at the event doing his thing, and he brought me some stuff. I’m a pen and notebooks guy so I got some of that, but I also a new device from the people of LastPass. LastPass is a password manager, which allows you to… well, manage passwords. Most of it based around storing your encrypted passwords in the cloud and decrypting them on your device.

However, I got my hands on their latest hardware device, which can be used to store and consult passwords when you’re offline. No internet connection is required whatsoever to use this hardware device. The device is surprisingly simple and is very user-friendly. It supports all languages, has an insane battery life and is compatible with a range of other devices I used it with the PaperNote that I had in my office.

The device worked right away, and I didn’t have to go through any setups. Neither did I have to pair it through bluetooth or search the web for any drivers. The device is literally ready to go.  When you are holding the device in your hand, you are only a click away from starting to use it.

It’s so easy to use there’s really no point in reviewing it. I’ll just let the result speak for yourself. You can see the device in action in the image below.

The LastPass Offline password manager, paired with NotesPaper

 

Earlier last week, I got a reminder of how very, very old I am. This quarterlife crisis is sponsored by Xbox. Thanks a lot, Microsoft…

On a serious note, Xbox is celebrating it’s 15th anniversary. At first, I couldn’t believe I’ve been playing on the Xbox platform for so long. I’m still loving it! The only period where I really didn’t like being an Xbox user was after the launch of the One. Not only did we get screwed because it wasn’t available, they also screwed around with features and promises and the selection of launch games was… Well, it was really, really bad.

But this isn’t a post about gaming! Those tweets reminded me of something else. You guys, I’ve been “blogging” for fifteen years now!

I mean, technically maybe it wasn’t blogging. I started my online career by writing for a newsletter. That newsletter still exists, and it looks like the website was last updated about ten years ago.

It all pretty much started with the classic Xbox. I was given one to review, and that’s when I started to review my first games.

I’ve been doing that for a while, until I rebelled against the “restrictions” of the newsletter. They said my articles were too long. None of their readers was interested in articles over a thousand words!

Being the excited young kid I was, I wanted to take my articles elsewhere. That’s when I was being offered the opportunity to write about games elsewhere, for a popular blog. I wrote quite a few articles for them, until I discovered a little piece of software which intrigued me, called “Joomla”. So, I started blogging about Joomla and that pretty much became my main source of inspiration.

Fast forward to 2016 and I have been blogging about Joomla for quite a while now. I have talked about branching out, and while that never really happened the idea is always in the back of my mind. Truth be told, I haven’t been blogging enough to make more than one blog viable, but I’ve got some projects that are almost ready to go should I get that spark that tells me “Okay, now to the other thing.”

One thing I’d like to do, is to get back into reviewing video games and technology. However, that requires connections that I don’t neccessarily have at this point, and it’s hard to compete with Youtube which, if you’re asking me, is a far mor interesting platform for video games and technology to be showcased. A video says so much more than a thousand words and a picture or two.

Keeping that in mind, I’ve recently started experimenting with video. The first result(s) are online over at the Joomla & More Youtube channel. I’m still not convinced I have what it takes to use the platform (mainly I hate the sound of my voice to the point I don’t want to listen to the audio), but it’s a start.

Here’s to another fifteen years of blogging. Maybe we’ll be creating newspapers that people can read using their VR set in the next ten years. Time will tell.