Table tennis in China

When I came back from China a few friends asked me: did you play table tennis? How it was?

Well, I think that this was the biggest failure of my trip. I didn’t play! I didn’t see them playing! And I tried, quite hard!

As mentioned, I have a friend in Dalian (north-East China) and she doesn’t play table tennis. This is not a big problem: she has a colleague who plays (I suspect that only socially, not as a sport or in competitive level). I thought that joining the friend’s colleague I would go to some recreation center, sport club, etc. in Dalian where I could play with the friend’s colleague and then maybe with some other people as well, since I thought that the Chinese would be excited to show how to play to a foreigner. But she had a last minute health problem and couldn’t make it… and she had a backup plan but the backup person couldn’t make it either.

Two weeks before I went to China I posted a message to the CouchSurfing Beijing group. Three people answered:
a) A Canadian guy who plays but we couldn’t meet
b) A German lady who also likes playing (and we couldn’t meet either) (at that time I was thinking… why only non-Chinese!?)
c) A Chinese girl who… DOESN’T PLAY!

I expected more Chinese answering the message. Maybe CouchSurfing is not that popular in China but was a bit of disappointment.

In Beijing I had some more free time and I thought that I’ll search on my own. I had a few options:
a) Sports street. I found on the Internet that there is a street full of table tennis shops near Heaven’s temple. I went there, saw the shops but didn’t see where to play.
b) “Some vague references” from the Internet. Apparently there is a shopping mall in Wangfujing Dajie and very nearby a table tennis club. I walked the street twice but I didn’t find the mentioned shopping mall (for which I even had the name) and then I run out of time. I wanted to see the shopping mall and ask where to play.
c) Parks. Internet suggests that many parks have table tennis tables and Chinese people plays there. Actually the weather was good enough for this. I did walk many parks, tourist and non-tourist parks. Even one of them Internet said that people play table tennis. I swear that I didn’t find any table tennis table! I did find people playing cards, Chinese chess, dancing, Tai-Chi, singing opera, etc. but not table tennis.

I was expecting more table tennis tables, perhaps not everywhere but in many places. I understand that I didn’t search for the clubs and recreation places properly, I didn’t because I thought that would be easier to play in the parks.

I plan to go to China again – next time I’ll go better prepared, at least with GPS coordinates with tables where to play!

Top 10 things to avoid in Beijing… or not?

Recently I came back from China. I stayed there 2 weeks, about one week in Dalian (because of a friend) and another in Beijing. It has been an eye-opening experience: I had many misconceptions of China for different reasons -I’ll explain on another blog post.

I bought a Beijing’s guide and I really recommend it. It’s “Top 10 Beijing” from “Eyewitness Travel”. It has Top 10 lists: Top 10 to see, Top 10 per zones, Top 10 restaurants, Top 10 museums, etc. and the guide is easy to navigate (it has some mistakes but nothing big).

The guide has “Top 10 things to avoid”: I liked it and I thought that it’s quite clever and funny, but after being there I would take with a pinch of salt. Let’s review what the book says and what was my experience (you mileage might vary, indeed).

1.- Students of English
The guide says that so-called “language students” on the street are just scam and they try to invite you to have a tea… and they have a deal with the tea-shop owner so they over-charge you (to hundreds of £ or €).

No English student approached me, but talking with some Chinese friends they know some foreigners that had this problem. So seems a good advice!

2.- Queuing
The book says that Chinese don’t do queues well.

My experience: they are not perfect queues… but in all days only once (to enter into Tiananmen square) I had to really push back while queuing. The queues are much more compact than English queues (no “personal space”). But, come to my zone in London and observe the “queue” to board the bus: it’s a disorganized group of people blocking all pavement, they don’t usually move when other pedestrians want to just walk through. As a fun note: the queue is perfect on the same bus route but the other end, near Waterloo station.

3.- Taking Offense at Spitting
The guide book seems to indicate that everyone spits all the time. Yes, they do spit, but not as much as I thought. I didn’t need to jump to avoid any spits. And, again, I’ve seen people in London spitting or even peeing on the streets.

4.- Rush Hour
The book says that Beijing’s traffic is bad and rush hour should be avoided. It’s bad, but it didn’t affect me much: I could still get on the underground trains easily. In the morning I used the underground a bit after the rush hour. But yes, the traffic looked very bad.

5.- Art Students
The book says that art students might guide tourist to buy over-prized “art objects”. It didn’t happen to me: no art student approached me. Probably they approach people dressing better than me. If I were an art student scammer I wouldn’t approach myself!

6.- Guides
The book says that some tourist guides are very bad (that they don’t give much information, etc.). I have no experience here… someone approached me but I said my polite “No, thank you” and I they didn’t insist much.

7.- Visiting Sights on National Holidays
I avoided Chinese New Year to avoid the problems mentioned in the book. I was told that the Great Wall and other places are overcrowded.

8.- Sweet and Sour Chicken
I didn’t see any “Sweet and Sour Chicken”, probably it’s in some tourist restaurants that I didn’t go. It’s common in Chinese restaurants in my hometown near Barcelona and I think that also in Camden Town in London.

9.- Public toilets
The book says that they smell bad. They smell like… public toilets! (would you expect them to smell like flowers? No, right? no surprise then). And they are free. And almost everywhere! (even in underground stations). In London one needs to pay and quite often they still smell bad and they are hard to find.

10.- Taking a taxi without the Right Change
The book says that “Beijing taxi drivers hardly ever seem to carry any change”. I asked some Chinese friends and they said that they do have change. The book is written by a foreigner so my guess is that maybe some taxi driver tried to not give change back to him?

Something that it usually happens to me: when I read some lists like the “Top 10 things to avoid” or similar: I tend to imagine that the situation is worse than it is. If it says “they spit” I think that they spit all the time everyone to my feet. And yes, they do spit but not that much!

Ubuntu shampoo

Ubuntu is a well known GNU/Linux distribution. As I mentioned here it’s also a softdrink: Ubuntu cola.

Just recently I was told that there is Ubuntu shampoo! I bought it and here it is:

Chronojump, here I go!

Here there is the first commit that I’ve done into the chronojump repository. Not a big commit… but the first one. It includes a mistake in the commit message as well.

Also, there is also a tiny (at the moment, but we have plans!) chronojump-server git repository. The API is not doing much yet (no API does much in the beginning, we needed to experiment a bit with the technologies) but I just need time to type what I have in my brain.

At the beginning of 2015 I mentioned here that a few of the things that I had had “pending to do” for a while had started moving, and one of them is collaborating with the Chronojump project. It’s not the first time that I’ve done something with Xavi (an author here in Pintant). From 2009 to 2013 I hosted the chronojump server (specially for the forums and the homepage). Since then I helped to move it to another well connected server of a friend of mine and then lastly to Chronojump’s own server (a VPS machine in Gandi).

Now there are a few plans and ideas for the new API. If you want to know more probably the best idea is to keep looking at new code in chronojump’s Git!

Mendeley CSL Locales

I don’t talk often of my day job at Mendeley here… but this time I can’t stop myself.

Finally, Mendeley Desktop supports CSL Locales! In Mendeley we use the Citation Style Language and citeproc-js to render the citations and the bibliographies. A year ago I talked here about the CSL project (what is the CSL project? and how Mendeley helps the CSL project).

Now, in Mendeley Desktop version 1.13.4, the user can choose easily (View -> Citation Styles -> More Styles… bottom of that dialog) which language should be used to render the citations and the bibliography. I opened the internal Mendeley Desktop ticket in 2010 but we always had something more urgent to implement. We even decided to implement journal abbreviations before CSL Locales.

But I added gettext support to Pydance (in 2008 or 2009) and I implemented gettext support in Grub (back in 2009 and 2010). I talk about Mendeley with non-English users (especially when I travel back to Barcelona…) and I really wanted to implement the CSL Locales properly (we had a work around, not user friendly at all, for people who contacted support).

Anyway, I’m very happy that I got the time to implement it and finally release it! Even though this is just a step towards a better multilingual support: we’ve found a few problems with the Chinese locale and some styles might need a bit of improvement for some languages, etc. We need to collect feedback for a while. But here I am, happier than without CSL Locales.

My tenth Fosdem: 2015

A few weekends ago I went to Fosdem… again! It was my tenth Fosdem, I’ve been every year since 2006! I’ve mentioned it here on the blog almost every year.

And, like always: full of interesting talks, some devrooms were full which affected me for the automation and testing room and almost for the Mozilla room. But with about 25 talks at the same time it’s easy to find something else interesting and not full.

Also, I could meet or greet many friends from Catalonia and also other friends from the UK (Mendeley ex-colleagues, London Python Code Dojo guys… not to mention a few work colleagues).

One interesting moment of Fosdem 2015 was to see Larry Wall, the creator of Perl. I used Perl for a few years, more than 10 years ago. Nowadays I prefer Python but even though nowadays I prefer Python my first scripting language was Perl. And finally there will be Perl 6 before Christmas 2015! (Larry Wall said).

A very entertaining talk was the closing keynote about Mars One – a project where they want to send 4 people, in 2015, to live on Mars. It’s one-way ticket and they plan to keep sending 4 people every year to have a stable population on Mars. I find it unbelievable!

Then I also attended many talks in the LibreOffice room, Mozilla room, desktop, etc.

And because I’ve been to Fosdem before I usually know which speakers I like the most, and which ones I don’t like much (some of then repeat). One of them that I try to go regardless of the topic is Michal Meeks: his talks about LibreOffice (usually opimization, technical debt, etc.) are always interesting.

And now is the countdown for the next Fosdem!

Raspberry Pi: from none to two

I know that 2015 is a bit late to have the first Raspberry Pi “in production”… but until now I didn’t really need one and I try to not have things that I don’t need. Note that the meaning of the word “need” here is very flexible, as I actually don’t really need the Raspberry Pi that I have to survive or anything critical.

Anyway, I had two Raspberry Pi computers in the drawer (I got both of them for free, one 6 months ago and the other one a few years ago). I did play with Raspberry Pi on a Mendeley hackday and even at home for fun but that was just a day project instead of something more permanent like I have now.

Raspberry Pi to support a CCTV camera

One Raspberry Pi is supporting a Foscam CCTV camera. It’s the FI9851P and it’s a quite cool camera, nice looking, WiFi, movement detection, night vision, it has a video streaming so one can see live what’s happening with a phone app, a browser (it seems that only on Windows because it needs a specific plugin) or even using VLC!

When the camera detects movement (one can setup which zone of the image, and “how much change” should happen) the camera can do 3 things:

  • Send emails with the photos
  • Upload videos to an FTP server
  • Upload photos to an FTP server

I could have used my VPS FTP server, but the space there is a bit limited and I thought that something closer to the camera would make more sense (so it doesn’t depend on the Internet connection).

So at the moment I have the camera uploading photos and videos to the Raspberry Pi. Finally one of the Raspberry Pi is used! And because the power consumption of the Raspberry Pi is very low it’s quite convenient for this case: it doesn’t need to do many things but should not use much power.

So the photos and videos are uploaded by FTP. Then I can access them using Samba (from the local network -if using Android then one can set up ES File Explorer). From outside the local network I didn’t want to open the Samba port to the Internet (Android doesn’t allow to connect to Samba using a non-standard port) nor setup a VPN for this small case. So at the end I set up, first time too, WebDAV, on the Raspberry Pi using Apache, on Android using ES File Explorer. Now I can browse the files easily from outside the LAN or see the live stream.

Raspberry Pi for NAS

The other Raspberry Pi is being used to convert a hard disk into a NAS (standalone Network-Attached Storage). Basically I bought a USB hub, a hard disk case for the USB case and I put all together inside a small box. The outputs of the box are just the power connector and a network connection: I can connect form my machine to the hard disk of my old laptop in a very convenient way! Now I’m thinking of connecting my very simple USB printer into this Raspberry Pi to convert my USB printer into a network printer (so I didn’t need to plug the USB cable when I want to print).

Find Mendeley users

I haven’t written anything here for 3 weeks and a bit… but not because I didn’t do anything – quite the opposite, I finished or almost finished some projects.

First small project: a simple Web page so Mendeley users can add themselves on a map: find Mendeley users (we haven’t publicized it from Mendeley so there are almost no users, but if you have a Mendeley account it’s easy to add yourself: sign in and move the marker).

I started it “just for fun” at home, then See Wah and I kept working on it during a hackday at Mendeley. See Wah then kept working on it on another hackday for the UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience) (I’m not good designing UI and UX). And on the last hackday and a few more changes after that the map is live!

This is the first time that I’ve released something that uses MongoDB (it fits the data model that I needed really well). And for hosting I use Heroku… I really liked to used Heroku for the first time, and it was really easy to implement.

So: find Mendeley users

Happy 2015!

I hope everyone have a good 2015!

And for the IT colleagues, and as I said when I started my holidays: I wish a bug free and feature rich year! :-)

Recent change in the blog theme

A few weeks ago I changed this blog’s theme. Since 2006 it had had the same theme, which was getting a bit old, it had fixed width, and it wasn’t using the latest WordPress improvements like it didn’t have support for widgets.

I had a few requirements for the new theme: I wanted a 2 or 3 columns (I think that I need a sidebar for some links and information), I wanted to be able to have the header image since it has a long story behind it (it’s a painting of one of the original authors of the blog), I didn’t want to waste too much space with the heading, I wanted the same colour scheme, I wanted to be responsive. I also wanted a clear typography.

I’m surprised about how good WordPress themes work: there are many to choose from, they all work in all versions of WordPress. I found a few that look “almost like I wanted” but they had some problem, usually they had only one column or the header wasn’t as I wanted (I wanted to re-use the heading that I had, and responsive themes like to have the heading and then the text underneath instead of on it).

Anyway, I finally decided to use Atahualpa. It’s very customizable. I made the heading smaller and instead of the way that used to be I moved the text next to the image… it was the only way that I could make it all fit. It seems that Atahualpa even if it’s a modern theme I changed a bit to a retro looking, in the good way of retro. After a few weeks I can say that I like it, even though it was hard to decide the theme.

For historical purposes find a screenshot of the old theme:
Pintant - old - theme