April 08, 2018 12:52 +0000  |  0

Here we are, four months into 2018 and I'm finally getting around to wrapping up 2017. I think I've been putting off for two reasons really: I've been swamping myself with side projects, which consume most of my time, and to be honest, with the exception of one Big Event, I don't really look back on 2017 as something really worth remembering. It's depressing frankly.


...but first, the good news.

We Got Married

I may have proposed back in 2015, but we finally made it happen in August of 2017. We decided that as this was our wedding, we didn't need to follow anyone else's conventions or demands. It was going to be that we wanted, and what we wanted was: cheap, low-stress, and as easy as possible.

We got married!

The real problem was all of you people. You insist on living all over the world 😛. This meant that if we were going to have a wedding and have it be cheap & low-stress, we'd have to break it up over 3 countries. This way, the events could be small & simple, and we could still see as many of you as possible.

Wedding #1 was the legal ceremony. Having it in the UK means that our license is less likely to be a problem in other countries than it would have been coming from Greece. It also meant that organising something would be easier & cheaper, since we could do it ourselves and keep things simple.

Christina got all prettied up with nice hair & make up, I got a linen suit (who the hell wants to sweat like crazy in your wedding photos), we booked a slot in the Cambridge registry office, and reserved a hotel banquet room for the evening. That was it. Those who could make the trip saw the "I dos" and then we took pictures, ate a lot of food, and called it a day.

Wedding #2 took place about a week later just outside Athens at a beautiful restaurant overlooking Lake Marathon. Christina's family covered the cost of this event and did all of the organising. All we had to do was show up. Best Gift Ev-ar. Friends that couldn't make the Cambridge event, hopped a flight to Athens for this one, and that led to some nice siteseeing around town with people we love but don't get to see very often. Honestly, that whole week was wonderufl.

Wedding #3 is still coming and will be in Vancouver this Summer. I'll try to post about it later and include some pictures too.


My travel history for 2017 was really quote disappointing. Where in the past, I've managed to travel to more than 10 different places in a single year, 2017 consisted of only 6 -- all but one were places I'm already familiar with.


As is tradition, I made the trip out to Brussels for FOSDEM in February. The conference is getting crazy-popular, like, impossibly busy, and the resources available remain finite. Most of the rooms are full of people who showed up to hold a seat for the next talk, and the lines for food are just brutal. On the one hand, it's wonderful that Free software has garnered such interest and that a Free conference like this can draw so many people, but surely, there must be a way to raise money to expand the conference facilities without tainting the ideals that started it all.


The enormous(-ly overpriced) ice cream I got during a break in the conference

In April, I made the trip out to Florence for DjangoCon. I have a special blog post devoted to the event in detail if you're interested. Florence is still beautiful, but a lot of the wonder seemed to fall away for me on this trip, and not just because all of the food I had was disappointing.

I guess that when you travel for work, you really do get a different feel for a place. I didn't feel like I was exploring so much as going somewhere new to then ignore that somewhere new in favour of doing what I do at home. Maybe I would have felt different if I'd never visited Florence, but I think the lesson here is that if I'm going to travel for work, I really should bookend the trip with some personal time.


@travellingjack checking out the Prague skyline

The only new place I visited in 2017 was Prague in April. Christina was attending a conference in Brno, and did the smart thing: she added some personal days to the trip and met me in Prague so we could do a long weekend. It was only a short trip, but still well worth the time & money. Prague is as beautiful as they say, and the food wasn't bad either. It was nice to be somewhere actually foreign again, where English translations weren't immediately available everywhere, and wandering through the old city is an excellent way to spend a Saturday.

Vancouver & Kelowna

In May, I got news that my grandmother was fading fast and that she didn't have much time left. I decided to fly home to say a proper goodbye and to try and help out where I could. As it turns out, her body refused to give up, and she recovered, though her mobility was greatly affected. Still, it was nice that the trip didn't end up being as somber as I thought it would be when I boarded that flight.

This was also the week that Kelowna flooded though. The snow on the mountains melted faster than anyone was prepared for, and the water system that drains everything into the sea was not capable of handling the changes. As a result, all of the lakes in the Okanagan began to back up, and my parent's home (and those around them) was flooded. No amount of sandbagging would do, the water was literally coming up from under them as the water table rose.

On my last day in town, I were awoken at 1am by a police officer that had come to the door to evacuate us.

Athens from the Acropolis A pretty tree on the beach Ios at sunset A healthy reminder A group shot at wedding #3

In the end, the damage for some was substantial, while others -- like my parents -- managed to avoid the worst. The water went under their home, but didn't create any structural damage. The worst of it was that their entire yard was lost and had to be rebuilt.

Other families weren't so lucky.

Athens & Ios

A few months later, my parents made the trip from Kelowna to Cambridge for Weddings 1 & 2. They were here for the ceremony (my dad was the Best Man) and then they came with us to Athens where we did some sightseeing for a week together. After that, Christina & I disappeared for a week to the island of Ios (Ιος) for our honeymoon, and my parents went on a mini-cruise through the Agean.

It was all very pretty. Pictures can be seen here.


I had a couple holidays left over as the year came to an end, so decided to take a long weekend in Amsterdam to see some friends. Mihnea was kind enough to put me up in his place for a couple nights, and when I stopped by the RIPE NCC office, they invited us both out to their annual Christmas party at Nemo!

I spent much of the night just catching up with everyone, chatting with Robert about Atlas architecture, and just plain enjoying my time there. That company really is a great place to work.

Mihnea dancing it up at the RIPE NCC party

Oh, and the food. I did miss Hotel V & Albert Heijn. Burger Bar was a terrible disappointment though.


In terms of my day job, I'm afraid things haven't been too exciting, but at least the people I work with are great.


When I started at Money Mover, everything was running on an old version of Django and Python 2.7. I made it a priority from my first day there to bring everything up to date and it was about as difficult as you'd expect.

  • The entire project had 200 unit tests, 50% of which were failing.
  • It was running Django 1.6 and Python 2.7

In my year there, I increased those tests from 100 (working) to 1100, and leveraged that coverage to migrate us first to Django 1.8 (for a while), then to Python 3, then to Django 1.11. I also added a async subsystem (RabbitMQ + Celery) for bulk jobs and other heavy tasks.

If ever I wasn't sold on tests, I sure as hell am now. Migrations like these would have been so much more painful without adequate testing.

Side Projects

The truth about my job though is that the work isn't interesting. For business, this is good: you don't want interesting code, you want predictable, stable code. Experimental codebases make for bad banking platforms. However, as an engineer, I can get bored pretty fast with stuff like that, so 2017 saw a boom in my side projects.


It's still going strong. I started it way back in 2015 and at this stage, the community does more work on it than I do. Mostly I step in once or twice a week to answer questions in the issue tracker, or accept pull requests. I've done a little original work, but for the most part, I try to stay out of it as my interests are elsewhere.

There's also been a few cases of people inventing drama around the project, claiming that I somehow "stole" the project idea (or maybe the actual code, I'm not sure) from the much-more-polished Mayan EDMS, but I've done my best to stay out of that too. I mean, the code is Free and Open. Anyone who wants to know the truth can just look at it to know that the projects are clearly an example of simultaneous invention.

There've also been a few cases of companies & individuals contacting me about the project specifically. In most cases, they want to know if they can find a way around the GPL, but some just want pointers about technology used, or want to know if I want to co-found a company with them.


My Twitter-aggregator, Albatross was the code behind my Tweetpile project years ago. Unfortunately, when Twitter changed their API rules, I realised that it wasn't a feasible business model so I shelved the project. The domain lapsed and I forgot about it.

However when I moved to Cambridge, I met a woman doing a PhD that involved analysis of social media data and so I decided to try and repackage the project as a self-hosted thing. It let me expand my understanding of async and event-driven code as well as improve on my Docker-foo, and after a month or three of tinkering, it's now in a finished state. The latest release, codenamed Cersei Baratheon, can be installed and run with just a few clicks.


It started as a frustrated blog post, but one night I got it into my head that if no one was doing it yet, that I would start. Aletheia is an idea and technical spec, while pyletheia is the implementation. The gist is that this is a way for people to guarantee the source for a media file (image, audio, or video) and guarantee that that file hasn't been altered since it was released by that author.

At the moment, only JPEG images are supported, but I'm almost done hacking MP3 support into it as well (which opens the door for all sorts of audio & video). I also have a presentation that I'm just putting the finishing touches on. I hope to give this talk at the local Python meetup.

Sudo: Immerse

It's not a side project so much as a weekend-long event, but 2017 was also host to the Sudo:immerse hackathon here in Cambridge -- an event which my team won and that didn't suck.


2017 is also the year I joined Codebar. Think of it as a monthly meetup tutorial session where people who can code teach people who want to learn -- with one exception: straight, white, males aren't allowed. The thinking is that there's enough people like me in this field, Codebar is an attempt to balance the scales a bit.

To be honest, I'm typically not a fan of exclusionary tactics, especially when your goal is inclusivity, but the reality is that all my life, programming has been straight-white-male dominated and nothing else we've done has fixed that. I'm happy to give this a shot. Besides, it's fun!. I've already helped one woman with her potato science PhD, another with basics of server access and typical dev-ops, and my current pupil is learning basic Python skills so she can do that social networking PhD I mentioned earlier.

I did have a rather ugly disagreement with the mods in their Slack channel though, so my participation is limited to the in-person meetups. I don't have enough patience to deal with people obsessed with thoughtcrime (long story).


Along with the various bits of software I've written over the year, I also joined an online community of people aspiring to be better Python developers. Most of the members are very green, but a few are like me: happy to help and wanting to share what we know. I spend most of my time in the Slack group, but there's also a Github account with monthly challenges that the membership hacks on. For the most part, it's just nerds getting together to help each other out, and it's fun to be involved.


2017 has been very tech-heavy. Sure, we got married this year, but outside of that, my life has been largely tech-focused. I'm starting to feel like I've forgotten how to be anything else and it's freaking me out a bit. I may be a bit far into 2018, but my resolution for this year is to do something else with my life as well. That is to say, I'm not going to give up my various side projects or anything, but I need to get a handle on balancing this stuff out with having a life that doesn't involve code.

January 30, 2018 17:42 +0000  |  0

My Paperless project has been running for years now, and every once in a while someone discovers it and posts a link to Reddit or Hacker News and there's a sudden uptick in people trying out the software. When interest spikes like this, every once in a while I get a lovely email like this one and it makes my day.

I'm posting it here as a reminder to myself and others that while our labours on Free software projects may sometimes feel thankless, sometimes they help.

Hey Daniel,

I'd like to reach out and thank you for writing paperless.

While I like having things stored nicely and in a way that makes it easy for me to find them again, I have to admit that I'm not really a talent in doing so. Especially when it comes to paper.

Now I'm running paperless on an Odroid XU4Q and I actually manage to archive documents within the same month I receive them instead of moving them from pile to pile for a year or two and then spend whole weekends on filing them in folders.

In case you happen to visit Zurich one day and need information or help of any kind, please let me know. I'll be more than happy to help :)

Thanks again Cheers

p.s. I have donated CHF 100.- to UNHCR as a "Thank you".

It was the last line that really did it for me. I added a call for donations to the UNHCR to the bottom of the project's file back in 2016 and pretty much forgot about it afterward. Now, more than a year later, someone helped refugees thanks in part to code I wrote.

That's fucking awesome.

November 20, 2017 23:17 +0000  |  1

Months ago, I signed up for a local hackathon and then promptly forgot about it. Then, the night before I was due to attend, I realised that it was actually a VR hack, and considered not going. I'm a web guy after all, and didn't fancy the idea of using Windows to play with Unity for two days.

Christina convinced me to to go, and I'm so glad she did.

It was a great event. We took over the RealVNC offices for 48hours to first learn about the capabilities of emerging VR hardware, and then to attempt to build something useful with it. I played with an HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololens and was introduced to a woman from Give Vision who inspired some of us to develop a project for the visually impaired.

I fell into a team of brilliant, committed people and early in the process we realised that we all more-or-less shared the same idea for the hack:

We were going to build a tool to first help diagnose people with macular degeneration, then build another tool to help those suffering from it cope with the disease.

Our team was comprised of six people, all of whom just showed up for the event looking for something to do. In fact, nearly every other person at the evnet arrived with a pre-defined team and product in mind. We were effectively the leftovers.

We broke into 3 sub-teams, with two people each:

  • Luke & George worked together to build the test front-end and coping tool respectively
  • Peter & Clare researched the industry, developed use-cases, and prepared a presentation
  • Ullash and I wrote the mapping system for the test as well as the algorithm to zero-in on a user's blind spot at higher and higher resolutions.

By 11pm Saturday night, each team had more-or-less completed their side, and by Sunday at 3pm we were ready to present.

...and we won.

The finished product is effectively two separate products focused on helping people with macular degeneration:

  • The test is a simple web app (written in Javascript) that runs on any phone. It's designed so that you can take your phone, plug it into any Google Cardboard device, and like magic you have an eye test that maps your blind spot(s) and will even email that map to your optometrist.
  • The visual aid works the same way, via Google Cardboard, but takes your blind spot map as input. It taps into your phone's camera to give you a real-time view of the world, literally bending the image around your blind spots to help you see.

The finished product(s) has all manner of benefits:

  • Reduce the costs of medical care by reducing routine visits for testing
  • Improving the mobility and independence of those suffering from the disease.
  • Increase the amount of data collected on this disease through the historical charting of the disease's progression.
  • Increase understanding, by allowing others to see what their relatives see using our app.

I'm really proud of the team. We built a product that's not only useful, but accessible. The total cost of this thing is that of a smart phone + $5 for Google Cardboard. This could be deployed around the world to help detect signs of macular degeneration literally years early allowing treatment before it progresses too far. It'll help parents stricken with the disease keep tabs on potential signs in their children (this is a genetic disorder) and all this done with a phone and the price of a Starbucks coffee.

Our prize was a Google Home, one for each of us. Honestly though, I don't think any of us much cared about the prize at the end of the day. We were exhausted and thrilled at what we were able to build in such a short amount of time.

The finished product is in a state one might expect from a hackathon: patched & working, but in no way ready for public use. The code is on Github and there's a few live samples if you wanna give it a try:

  • Moving car: Tap the screen to see what the world is like for someone with MD. The panel on the left is what they normally see. The one on the right is with our video distortion.
  • Live stream: You have to enable your camera permissions for this one, but this will demonstrate how the app works in real time. Tap the screen to switch though the few modes we setup.
  • The test: The actual test. Dots appear at random locations and at random times. Tap the screen to record the fact that you saw it. Hits & misses are logged in the app and mapped internally. PDF generation works, but it's flaky.

What happens next is still unclear. The product as-is isn't ready for the public, but no one person on the team is really capable of picking up the whole thing and running with it. Give Vision might take it over, or maybe we'll all get together in a few weeks and polish it up a bit. I don't know.

The organisers said they'd be doing another event like this in March next year though. I hope to attend that one as well.

Update: Peter Fuller, one of my team mates for the hack has written his own post

November 12, 2017 15:35 +0000  |  1

I probably should have said something back in August when it happened, but we had that was a chaotic month or so, and then we were waiting on the photographer to send us her stuff, so now, over 2months after the fact, here's the official post.

On August 25th of this year Christina & I were finally married. The ceremony was a simple civil one, and we had about 25 guests representing no fewer than 19 different nationalities. We had friends there new & old, and our immediate families both made the trip from their respective homes of Athens & Kelowna.

The Big Day was lovely, with excellent weather and zero problems from any of the various moving parts required for such an event. Christina's stylist did a wonderful job, the people running the actual ceremony had everyone in & out of there like a well-oiled machine, and our photographer was a pro through the whole thing, setting us up for shot after shot, getting lots of candid photos and just generally being awesome.

In terms of cost, everything was surprisingly reasonable with everything: the photographer, stylist, bouquet, ceremony, rings, dinner & venue coming in under £4000. For a wedding, I understand that that's pretty amazing.

I feel like this post should be a bigger deal, but it just doesn't feel like that. In retrospect, our wedding -- our marriage, feels like an inevitability, and the whole ceremony more of an excuse to have a party than anything monumental. Of course rationally, this is most definitely a Big Deal -- there's a reason LGBT activists continue to fight for marriage equality around the world, but for me the legal stuff has never really felt consequential. What matters is that I was committing to her, and I'd already done that years ago, you know?

After the Big Day, we all relaxed for a few days and then hopped on an abysmal Ryan Air flight to Athens where we were met at the airport by Christina's extended family. The swept us off to her aunt & uncle's home where we were treated to a fantastic traditional Greek feast. My parents, heads still spinning from landing in a foreign country fell in love with the food immediately. Christina's aunt is fricking genius in the kitchen and she had pulled out all the stops.

We then had a week of sightseeing in Athens, followed by Wedding #2 in an outdoor restaurant alongside Lake Marathon. Most of the guests were from Christina's side of the family, but a few of our friends from Amsterdam also made the trip down to celebrate with us. The next day, Christina & I toured Athens with the Amsterdammers before they all had to go home.

At that point, we all split up: my parents went on a cruise to a number of Greek islands, Christina and I went on our honeymoon to Ios, and Christina's parents took a week off from the craziness to relax a bit.

Ios is beautiful and much less hectic than other, more touristy islands. The food is wonderful, and the sightseeing was lovely. For my part though, all I wanted to do was relax by the pool and I managed to do lots of that :-)

After a week of that, we all returned to Athens for another week of sightseeing, and then finally returned to Cambridge where my parents celebrated their own wedding anniversary with their son & new daughter in-law.

It was just wonderful that so many of you were able to make it out to celebrate with us. Honestly, that's going to be the most memorable part of all of this for me. As an expat, you rarely have the opportunity to reconnect with all the people you love, because you're all scattered around the globe. It's one of the things that make weddings awesome.

There will be a Wedding #3 though: this one in Vancouver next year, likely in July (we're still working on exact timing). If you couldn't make it to #1 or #2, come on down to YVR for #3! We'll be doing what I'd always said I wanted for my wedding: a potlach in the park. There will (hopefully) be sunshine, and KFC, and my dear old friend Michelle has promised to sing with me for the occasion. It should be a good time. I'll post more when I know more.

For now though, check out the photos! These are the ones the pro took on the Big Day and these are the ones the rest of us took throughout the multi-week event.

July 30, 2017 19:23 +0000  |  1

I'm just writing down my thoughts here in the hopes that Someone Smarter Than Me might be able to shed some light on the idea, or perhaps even work with me to make it happen.

I'm reading more and more about how fake news stories are circulating, and how technology has developed to the point where we can literally create images, audio, and video of events that never happened but appear as though they did. The effort so far seems to be in the area of somehow detecting a fake by searching for evidence of tampering, but this to me feels wrong-headed: it's expensive, slow, and will always be a step behind the fakes.

Why instead do we not simply sign each file on a sub-channel so it can be easily proven to be legit from the source?

For example, the BBC does a story about a politician and includes with it a picture of her doing something interesting. This picture is then circulated around the web with two bits of information hidden inside the EXIF data:

  • The original source organisation (BBC)
  • The signature of the image based on the BBC's private key
  • The original URL of the image (maybe?)

The image is then re-shared onto Facebook, where they've got simple software that:

  • Reads the original file and authenticates its origin against the BBC's public key
  • Resizes the image for its own purposes
  • Appends a second signature using Facebook's private key
  • Posts the video into the user's timeline with a "Verified BBC image, resized original from Facebook" caption

If the image is re-shared onto Twitter, or Google+, or Diaspora, these services will only be able to know that the image came from Facebook, but theoretically this still means more than not knowing the origin at all.

The goal is to create a means of authenticating the original source -- or at least a source more credible than "Jim's computer", and perhaps even the chain of modifications to said source There's also no reason this couldn't be applied to all kinds of media.

Maybe this technology already exists, though a cursory search didn't turn up anything for me. Anyone have any bright ideas?

June 23, 2017 16:12 +0000  |  Django Python 0

I sunk 4 hours of my life into this problem yesterday so I thought I might post it here for future frustrated nerds like myself.

If you're using django-debreach and Django REST Framework, you're going to run into all kinds of headaches regarding CSRF. DRF will complain with CSRF Failed: CSRF token missing or incorrect. and if you're like me, you'll be pretty confused since I knew there was nothing wrong with the request. My token was being sent, but it appeared longer than it should be.

So here's what was happening and how I fixed it. Hopefully it'll be useful to others.

Django-debreach encrypts the csrf token, which is normally just fine because it does so as part of the chain of middleware layers in every request. However, DRF doesn't respect the csrf portion of that chain. Instead it sets csrf_exempt() on all of its views and then relies on SessionAuthentication to explicitly call CSRFCheck().process_view(). Normally this is ok, but with a not-yet-decrypted csrf token, this process will always fail.

So to fix it all, I had to implement my own authentication class and use that in all of my views. Basically all this does is override SessionAuthentication's enforce_csrf() to first decrypt the token:

class DebreachedSessionAuthentication(SessionAuthentication):

    def enforce_csrf(self, request):

        faux_req = {"POST": request.POST}

        CSRFCryptMiddleware().process_view(faux_req, None, (), {})
        request.POST["csrfmiddlewaretoken"] = faux_req["csrfmiddlewaretoken"]

        SessionAuthentication.enforce_csrf(self, request)

Of course, none of this is necessary if you're running Django 1.10+ and already have Breach attack protection, but if you're stuck on 1.8 (as we are for now) this is the best solution I could find.

April 14, 2017 13:07 +0000  |  Django 0

I love DjangoCon. I've been going to it almost every year since I arrived in Europe back in 2010. Sure, a considerable portion of my career has been based on Django, but it's more than that: the community is stuffed full of amazing people who genuinely want us all to succeed and that just makes the conference all the more exciting.

This year we all converged on Florence for three days of talks in a historic old theatre at the heart of the city and like every year, the talks at this single-track event were hit-and-miss -- but that's ok! When the talks were less-than-useful we could always just pop out for gelato or catch up in the hallways with other developers.

The Good


From talks covering gender bias or autism, to the re-labelling of all bathrooms to be unisex, DjangoCon has long been a shining example of how to be inclusive in a software development community and it's something I'm proud to be a part of. This year, they even raised enough money to pay for flights and accommodation for a number of people from Zimbabwe who are trying to grow a local Django community.

It feels good to be part of a group that's so welcoming, and I would argue that IT, while traditionally straight-white-male-dominated, is uniquely suited for the multicultural mantle of tolerance. Every other field has a uniform: a standard by which you're judged as "in" or "out" (just watch London's financial sector at lunch hour they all wear the same thing). In the software world however, we're all defined as being the odd ones. We are the all-singing, all-dancing nerds of the world: our differences are what make us fabulous. DjangoCon embraces that in a way I've not seen anywhere else and I love it.


Level up! Rethinking the Web API framework: Tom Christie

Tom Christie is the genius who brought us Django REST Framework and he's now working to improve the whole process by taking advantage of Python 3's type annotations to make your code self-documenting and then use that self-documentation to better build a browseable API. His code samples were beautifully simple and I'm very excited about the future of DRF. He's doing some great work there.

The Art of Interacting with an Autistic Software Developer: Sara Peeters

This was one of those talks that really felt as though it was lifting metaphorical scales from my eyes. Like many software engineers, Peeters is autistic, but unlike too many such people, she's extremely self-aware and articulate about what this means for her own human interactions.

She walked us through an average day for her: how she chooses her route home not based on the efficiency of the route, but because it limits the intensity of crowds on her commute as well as the chance that she'll encounter rain. It's the sensory overload you see, the idea of so many raindrops impacting her skin like that is a terrible feeling.

In 20min she helped paint a picture of the limitations and fascinations of dealing with autism in her day-to-day life, and outlined a few ways the rest of us might help communicate and accommodate people in her situation.

After her talk, I found myself thinking back on a few former coworkers. Perhaps if I'd been more understanding, and if they'd been self-aware enough to help me understand their needs, we might have gotten on better.

The OpenHolter Project: Roberto Rosario

This talk blew my frickin' mind.

The guy has a severe heart condition which left him bedridden for 23hours a day, and he's managed to make his life liveable with $30 worth of equipment and some Free software.

His talk walked us through the process of building your own mobile EKG machine. A device that normally costs thousands of dollars and typically only used in a hospital, Rosario built with an Arduino and parts he bought off the internet.

He then showed all of this to his doctor who asked if he could develop a diary: basically a log of his heart rate throughout the day, annotated with explanations as to what he was doing when anomalies appeared in the log.

He managed this by having his little device push daily log data onto his Django stack where it was all neatly logged and charted:

That's 100 samples per minute of biometric data generated by yourself on a desk in your house for $30 plus the cost of cables. This future we're living in is amazing.

Autopsy of a Slow Train Wreck: Russell Keith-Magee

Russell ran a start up from optimistic start to a brutal, crushing finish years later, and decided to do a talk to teach us all what went wrong.

The talk was broken down into succinct sections, with a lesson in each case. A valuable talk for anyone considering a future in a small business. When it's made available online, I'll be sending it around to a few people I know.

Fighting the Controls: Daniele Procida

Daniele wrapped up the event with a final talk about a plane crash, or maybe it was Icarus -- it's hard to explain. His message was simple though: bad things happen when you don't stop and consider what's happening.

When stuff is exploding, the server is on fire, and everything is falling apart, sometimes the best thing to do is to just sit there and breathe: consider the situation and act when you have a better handle on things.

His talks are always a delight, as he has a unique way of humanising software. Once the videos are live, I recommend this one to anyone in any sort of high-stress job.

The People

Meeting the developer of Mayan EDMS

About a year ago now, I was sitting in a London pub, hacking away at my latest project, Paperless when I stumbled onto Mayan EDMS: another open source project that did almost exactly the same thing as mine, but it was prettier and more featureful.

I was crushed. Here I was pouring literally hundreds of hours into this thing, with thousands of people using the code through GitHub, and suddenly, it all felt like it was for nothing because someone else had done it all already.

The guy who wrote that thing? I met him over lunch on the 2nd day of DjangoCon. He's also the same genius who built the mobile EKG machine mentioned above.

It was fun to meet him, talk about what worked for him and what didn't, and what sort of future he has planned for Mayan. He's a pretty smart dude, and it was nice to just sit and chat with a sort of "rival" nerd.

Talking to Paperless contributors

I also ended up talking to Philippe Wagner, one of the Paperless users who's been quite helpful in pushing the project forward. He wants to repurpose Paperless into a sort of markdown-based Evernote clone, and to do that all he needs from me are some minor changes to the project core to make it more pluggable. We'd been talking about it in the GitHub issues queue for a few weeks and he recognised me in the DjangoCon Slack channel, so he sent me a private message asking if we could chat for a bit.

I stepped out of one of the less interesting talks and we worked out a plan to make things work just outside the theatre. He's a cool guy and very driven. It's great to have him working on Paperless.

New Friends

After the first lunch, I sort of fell in with a group of fun people for the rest of the conference. We hung out after hours looking for food or just company for a walk around town. This is uncommon for me as while I'm a relatively friendly person, I generally avoid people save for superficial conversation. This was a nice change.

The Bad


The event was really squeezed for time and almost every talk didn't allow for questions. Instead, we were directed to the Slack channel (which was only good for people with working wifi and laptops for fast-typing) or "later around the conference". Personally, I've always liked the questions, as it allows the audience to get the speaker to publicly defend an assertion or elaborate on something. Without it, it felt really disconnecting, as if I just watched the talk on YouTube.


While I think that DjangoCon should be celebrated for its adoption of a code of conduct and for its inclusive attitude, I feel that it's fallen into that ugly trap of adopting a language police. In an effort to be an inclusive community, they're effectively rewriting the dictionary.

Specifically, I'm most annoyed by the policing of the word "guys" in reference to a group of people regardless of gender. I get that our community is composed of men and women, and people who defy gender labels, but I don't believe that that means that we need to strip non-aggressive language to accommodate some people.

In the same way that we don't censure people for talking about hamburgers around vegans, your comfort with my words is not my problem. Of course this isn't a defence of racial slurs, aggressive language, threats or hate speech -- that's totally inappropriate for an open and tolerant community, but I think that this business of reducing language based on the comfort of a few is a threat to the free exchange of ideas, not to mention entirely tone deaf to the fact that at least 70% of the attendees to DjangoCon were non-native English speakers who rightly use this word in reference to any group of people regardless of their position on the gender spectrum.

The worst part of all of this is that by simply discussing my distaste for this practise, especially at the conference, I risk being ejected from the community like some sort of nerd heretic. I maintain that it's dangerous and unhealthy, but I had to wait until now to say anything because I didn't want to be kicked out of the event. This can't be conducive to a Free and Open society, let alone a conference.


So to wrap up: some good, some bad, but on the whole, I'd say it's was well into the good column. I'll be back next year, and maybe I'll even try to give a talk on something.

January 08, 2017 17:19 +0000  |  1

This was a big year, bigger than I had remembered when I sat down to write this thing. Somehow, I'd forgotten about half of this stuff, and rolled the other half into 2015 in my head. But 2016 wasn't all terrible. Here are the highlights:


2016 was a big deal on the where-to-live front. I finally got my wish and we moved away from the Netherlands and into a real city: London: The Centre of the World.

It turns out however that London is a rat infested toilet drowning in social inequality in a country rife with xenophobia, nationalism, and a dangerous mix of pride and ignorance.

Yes, you can quote me on that.

Our flat was a dark, damp, rat infested hellhole with a ground-floor view of a wall (the British love walls and fences almost as much as they love classism). The Tube is a remarkable feat of marketing that has managed to brand a hobbit tunnel of loud, stinky, smoggy, dampness as "modern" and "cultured". And absolutely everywhere you go, there are homeless people, stepped over and ignored: immediately by the public, and systemically by the government. They even have a quaint British term for them so it doesn't sound so tragic: rough sleepers.

London is amazing if you're a tourist, but once you live in its decaying buildings, commute on its antiquated transport, or are forced to breathe its toxic air for more than a few days, you recognise it for what it is: a terrible place to live.

...which is why we moved to Cambridge

The air is cleaner here, the roads more bike-friendly (though it has a long way to go before achieving Amsterdam-level cycling support) and nearly everything is walkable. It's a town more-or-less built for people, as opposed to London, which is built for plebs.

Our flat here is in a lovely modern building with proper ventilation and underfloor-heating. It's cool & quiet in the summer, warm & dry in the winter, and my commute is 30 minutes by bike along the river. Christina rides her bike through town in about 12 minutes.

Come visit us in Cambridge. You'll wonder what the hell everyone is doing in London.


As with every year I've lived in Europe, I did a reasonable amount of travelling this year, and once again, it feels as though I didn't travel enough.


We may have left town, but Christina still had to return to defend her PhD in a process that's part ceremonial (you should see the Wizagamot-esque robes) and part academic (she literally had to defend her PhD against questions from academic rivals and friends). Unsurprisingly, she dominated the event, and walked out with a shiny new piece of paper attesting how brilliant she is.

Αθήνα & Μετέωρα

Right after Amsterdam, we hopped on a plane to Greece for Orthodox Easter where I once again ate far too much food and enjoyed the sunshine. This holiday included a road trip out to Μετέωρα where we did a little hiking and sightseeing around the monasteries in the area.


The bi-annual RIPE Meeting was held in Copenhagen and as they had a hackathon for monitoring software, I signed up to play -- and my team won! Our project was called HALO, a heads-up display for your network, and the source code is here if you're curious.


Christina's friend Ana got married in Sesimbra, Portugal this year and I'm so glad that I was able to attend. The wedding was lovely, and the country, beautiful. The food was good, the people friendly, and the view from our hotel room was awesome. Twitter has a few pictures.

Vancouver & Kelowna

The biggest news of the year is of course that my niece, Lucy was born! I was careful to time our trip home to coincide for her birth, but she had the indecency to be born a couple weeks premature, so when we finally showed up, we got to visit her in the hospital.

The trip home was also an opportunity to introduce Christina to Vancouver in the summer time. We also had an engagement party there so my family that can't make the trip to Greece would have an opportunity to spend some time with Christina. There's a great big blog post about it if you're curious.


I was in Brussels twice in 2016. Once for my annual trip to FOSDEM, and later for Freedom not Fear, a series of meetings & workshops around freedom, surveillance, and politics in the EU. The former was great (it always is), and the latter, combined with my experience at Mozfest this year has given me some serious insight into the nature of EU politics. I want to do a separate post about that later though.


There was another RIPE Meeting in 2016, and I showed up for that hackathon too. We didn't win though -- I think -- I had to leave before the announcements, but I don't think we did. The project was called "Pinder" or, Tinder for peering and the presentation is here, the code here, and an explanation over at

Αθήνα, Again

One last trip back to Greece this year to make up for all the time Christina lost while working on her PhD. This was primarily a Christmas trip, so it was all just meeting with family, eating far too much, and exchanging presents. I also used some of the down time to work on my own family project that I mentioned in a previous post: my grandpa's video archive. There are some photos here if you're curious.


This was a big year for me professionally. I started contracting, started working for government, and took on a lead role at another company. I also almost got a job I desperately wanted, so I'm including that here too.


The move to the UK started with my first (and likely last) government job ever. This was big money and a big title combined with everything you've heard about government work and more. I have never been more angry and frustrated on the job than I was there, but I probably would have stuck it out were it not for the fact that they were selling weapons to people what shouldn't have them.


In parallel to my work at UKTI, I started helping out a brand-new start up with occasional technical advice in what their options were for building a women's fertility web platform. I don't get paid, but I do help out where I can, vetting agency proposals and explaining complex technical topics to the company CEO. It's a fun side gig, and they're good people so I'm happy to help where I can.


I moved from UKTI to a company called Cyan/Connode who were super-convenient, as they had a London and Cambridge office and we were moving up there in a few months. I helped them out on the technical front, and helped management understand a little about why they were having retention problems, but was terribly unhappy, so I got out of there after a few months.


In my quest to get out of Cyan, I applied to Mozilla for what would have been a pretty amazing position: engineer on the incredibly popular Mozilla Developer Network. Unfortunately, while I made it to the very last round, I didn't get the job, which sucked, but it was an honour to make it that far anyway.

Money Mover

I ended up moving on to a fintech company that has an office just outside of Cambridge and wonderful staff of truly friendly and engaged people. Seriously, best work environment ever. It's a small team right now, but we'll be growing in 2017. My role is Lead Developer which is pretty fabulous, and my current Big Job is picking up the code left from an agency that did the bulk of the work for the company over the last few years and making it ours. Having worked at a few agencies in the past, I suppose I deserve this :-/


Like every year, I overextended myself on New Projects as well as building on the old.


Early in the year, I suddenly lost interest in my super-popular project, Paperless when I discovered that there was an eerily-similar project out there doing things better than I had. I didn't really do much more than field pull requests for much of the year, but toward the end, there seems to be a lot more interest all of a sudden, and I've started doing a little more work on it.

There seems to be a "market" for a project like Paperless which is much less complicated and capable of running on lighter hardware.


Working for government introduced me to the clusterfuck that is "security" in large office environments. I wrote something fun & easy to self-host and it got a reasonable amount of attention on Reddit and at the London Django meetup.

Basically, Korra lets you share files easily, without special software, and securely so that you don't have to do insane things like email people's passports or private government documents around.


When I started commuting longer distances (to Cambridge from London for while) I started back in on Spirithunter, trying out Django's new Channels support (OMG it's awesome). However, when my commute shrunk to a 30min bike ride, all of that development stopped. I might pick it up again when I'm bored one day, or if Mihnea decides he wants to hack on it with me.


I know that this is a personal blog, so it seems kind of silly to reflect on global events here, but these things affect me, so I thought it relevant.


What a disaster. After living here only a year, I'm not surprised at all that this country voted to Leave the EU, but I'm still saddened by it. It will take generations for this country to recover from this mistake, and knowing what I now know about British culture, I'm sure they'll find a way to look back on all of this as some sort of Trial they all had to go through, that they survived because Britain Prevails or some doublespeaking-fluff like that.

I'm more concerned about the rise in hate-crime here though, and the remarkable tendency people here have to blame immigrants for everything wrong with the country -- especially when it's plainly obvious that the current government's malevolent domestic policy is really what's at fault.


I called it and now it's going to happen. As an outsider, I kind of want to sit down and watch everything burn with a bowl of popcorn; this is after all what the public voted for. He, along with the Republican House and Senate are going to hollow out the US and give people everything they asked for. I can only hope that they serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.


A lot of important people died this year: Bowie, Prince, and Castro to name a few. For me though, this will always be the year Leonard Cohen died. The world is diminished without him in it.

Of course Rob Ford and Antonin Scalia died this year too. I'm really not all that bothered by that. I suppose that's one of the greatest things about the Reaper: he doesn't care who you are. When it's your time, that's it.


So that was 2016. Hopefully at this time next year I'll be posting about how in 2017 I finally got Romanian citizenship, and how Christina and I finally have a date & location for our wedding.

I'd like to do some more travelling to undiscovered (by me) places this year. At the very least, I'd like to see more of Scotland and maybe even Romania and the Czech Republic. None of that is booked yet though.

Here's hoping fewer of our heroes than villains die in 2017.

December 31, 2016 12:38 +0000  |  Family Grandpa Programming 1

I built a thing for my family this Christmas and I wanted to post about it briefly.

If you're one of the few people dedicated enough to follow this blog, you'll know that my grandfather died last year, and that he was sort of the family videographer. What you likely don't know however is that this year, on my trip home I acquired his entire collection of DVDs that he'd been accumulating over the years.

This some really old stuff:

  • Around the Christmas tree when I was 3 or 4 years old
  • My dog learning tricks for the first time
  • My parent's wedding
  • My graduation
  • My mother as a child in Romania
  • My grandparents, so much younger, with friends in Romania
  • My niece, Violet

It was an amazing collection spanning 4 generations over 39 DVDs, and I spent a few days on that trip home ripping every last one of the disks onto a portable hard drive so I could take the raw data home for a special project.

Well that project is now finished, so for those of you who don't care about the technical aspects, here's the link. I shared the URL with my family by email on Christmas day since I was on the other side of the world for the holiday festivities this year, but all in all, it seems to have gone over well.

My father has suggested that I expand on the collection with my own videos in the future -- I may just do that, though I'm more of a still photos guy. We'll see.

The Technical

This whole thing was a HUGE pain in the ass, so I want to document the process, perhaps if only for future websurfers looking to do something similar.

The Problem

The videos were in DVD format. Thankfully, it was digital, but it's certainly not web-friendly. The video data needed to be ripped from the disks and compressed into a web-friendly format that was high-quality enough to preserve the video, but in a file small enough to stream to Canada-quality internet connections.

Also, the DVDs were terribly organised and not indexed in any way. The disks often had multiple title tracks, sometimes duplicate tracks, and there were tracks that just contained garbage data.

Oh, and there was a time constraint. I only had the disks for a few days when I was in Canada. I wasn't going to take them back to the UK with me.

The Process

It was basically done in three stages:

Raw DVD > .iso file > .webm file

The .iso file step was just a clean & easy way to back up all of the DVDs without having to worry about accidentally missing something while I was hurriedly trying to get through them all in Canada. By turning 39 DVDs into 39 files on a USB drive, I could be sure that I wouldn't accidentally lose data during the ripping process.

As it turns out, this was a good plan, since it took a few weeks of tinkering with this project before I realised that some disks had multiple titles on them.

The creation of the .iso files was easy. I just put the disk in the USB DVD drive I brought with me and typed this:

$ dd if=/dev/dvd of=/path/to/usb/hard-drive/disk-00.iso

Waited about 20min, then took the disk out, and repeated this... 39 times.

The creation of the actual video file on the other hand was the big problem. There are lots of sites out there that claim to tell you how to do this, and very few of them have anything helpful. I think that this is because the end goal is rarely understood up front. Sometimes people are trying to encode DVDs into a high quality file for local playback, and the settings for that are rather different from what someone would want to do to encode for a web-friendly format.

There's also a wide variety of tools out there, most of which are buggy, unsupported, don't have a port for Gentoo, or just plain suck. The most common recommendation I found was for Handbrake, which is an impressive GUI for ripping videos but for me:

  • It didn't encode files that were high enough quality given the file size
  • It didn't make web-friendly formats. Even when you tick the box to make it web-friendly, the output file doesn't stream in Firefox. I didn't test other browsers.
  • It was terribly slow to find all the tracks, apply the settings I wanted and then wait to see if things panned out. There's no command-line interface to make things easier.

All of this lead to a lot of frustration and weeks of tinkering, finally leading me to a site that gave me the magic ffmpeg incantation to generate a web-friendly file:

$ ffmpeg \
  -i /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm && \
  ffmpeg -i \
  /path/to/input.mp4 \
  -vpre libvpx-720p \
  -pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
  -y /path/to/output.webm

Of course this assumed a .mp4 input file, and I wanted to rip straight from the .iso, so after much digging, I discovered that ffmpeg has a means of concatenating (chaining) video inputs and it can read straight from a DVD's .VOB file. With this nugget of knowledge, all I had to do was mount the .iso locally and compile a list of files conforming to this naming convention:


With that information, I wrote a quick shell script that ended up generating a great big queue file of commands that look a lot like this:

ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p -pass 1 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -an -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm && \
ffmpeg -i \
'concat:/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_1.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_2.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_3.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_4.VOB|/mnt/grandpa/18/VIDEO_TS/VTS_01_5.VOB' \
-vpre libvpx-720p \
-pass 2 -passlogfile ffmpeg-18 -acodec libvorbis -ab 100k -f webm \
-y /home/daniel/Projects/Grandpa/htdocs/vid/18.webm

Unfortunately, ffmpeg doesn't really do threading very well, and the prevailing advice out there appears to be that you should just thread the process yourself rather than ask ffmpeg to try to use all your CPUs itself. For this bit, I wrote a very simple paralleliser in Python and magically, all of the cores on my super machine could crunch Grandpa's videos, 16 at a time.

Finally, I wrapped the whole thing in a simple script that mounted all of the .isos simultaneously and then ran the paralleliser, and ran that in a tmux session so I could get on a plane and Fly to Greece while my computer did its thing for two days.

While I was in Athens, I spent a day or two fiddling with the site itself, getting video.js to work the way I wanted it to and playing with Select2 to try and get an interface that the non-technical people in my family could follow. I wish I had better skills in this area 'cause frankly, the site is kinda ugly, but at least it's functional now.

So that's it. I hope that one day, someone will find this stuff useful. The ffmpeg incantations were especially difficult to find and assemble, so I figure that'll help someone eventually.

December 15, 2016 18:56 +0000  |  Engineering Ethics 6

Something amazing is happening in my industry right now and I want to take a minute to talk about it.

Americans are freaking out. They're staring down the barrel of the very real possibility that the Trump administration will draw up lists of Muslims living the United States. This is a dangerous first step toward dictatorship and the end of rule of law, and those of us paying attention are understandably worried.

The American engineering community is slowly arriving at a state of self consciousness though: a few of them have banded together and written a pledge stating in short, that if the US government wants to build technology to destroy the country, then they're going to have to find someone else to do it:

We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.

We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out. We see how IBM collaborated to digitize and streamline the Holocaust, contributing to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others. We recall the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. We recognize that mass deportations precipitated the very atrocity the word genocide was created to describe: the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey. We acknowledge that genocides are not merely a relic of the distant past—among others, Tutsi Rwandans and Bosnian Muslims have been victims in our lifetimes.

Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.

And they didn't stop there. They've done what engineers do best, they built something: a platform to allow other people to add their names. The list currently stands at 1239 people with new pull requests (the process by which people request to be added) happening so fast that they literally have had problems keeping up.

What's more, the whole thing is being developed in the open and you can watch the process unfold. Just yesterday afternoon I was following this ticket where they were debating how to solve the onslaught of applicants and introduce some uniformity for scale. The software chosen was Free, Open, and conforming to a universal standard that's easy to follow.

What's exciting about this, for me at least, is that this could very well be the beginning of a Code of Ethics for software engineering: developed in the open by ourselves, in an effort to operate as a community for the greater good.

Ethics in engineering is nothing new of course. The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer has been a thing in Canada since 1922 in an effort to make sure that, in the interest of the Public Good, engineers who built bridges would adhere to ethics rather than employer directives.

Historically however, software engineering has been a Wild West of people doing whatever they want, with zero focus on the ethics of what we're doing. It's my hope that if anything comes out of a Trump presidency, a sense of responsibility for our actions should be it.

There's a lot of potential here. In an ideal world, I'd like to see companies and Free software projects adopting a policy of only collaborating with engineers who have signed the pledge: a simple declaration that we are thinking people with moral compasses who are responsible for our actions. In much the same way that companies, conferences, and projects have codes of conduct, I think it's time that we acknowledge that ethics should be an integral part of what we do.

This is just one project though, and a rather US-centric one at that, so I'm not sure it has the legs required to get us to where I think we need to be, but it's a start, and I'm absolutely thrilled that we're finally having this conversation.