Happy new year to every one of my readers out there -- have a good one!

For those who were wondering if there changed anything more than a digit (oh, how often will I write 2006 instead of -07 in the next few weeks!), here's a little rundown on what changed law-wise, in Germany and the U.S., my two countries of residence :)

In Germany, for example, starting today, young parents can get government money to replace the income reduction the get due to taking care of their baby. Some newspapers today published stories about mothers who tried to make the birth as slow as possible last night, so the child was born after midnight -- had it been born at 23:59 on New Year's Eve, they wouldn't qualify for the new government benefits...

Another thing that makes it almost sad going back home this year is the increased sales tax: Since today, Germans have to pay 19% on almost all their sales, instead of 16% before.

Another interesting one is that from now on, buying cigarettes at German cigarette vending machines is only possible with debit cards that carry the age information of the holder, so underage smokers can't easily buy cigarettes anymore.

In the U.S., some things changed as well: Apparently here in California it is now legal for beer vendors to give free samples in restaurants and bars -- which before only wine and liquor vendors were allowed to do. (-- did the former restriction make any sense? At all? I don't think so. In Germany this would, by the way, have been unconstitutional, quite likely.)

Also in the U.S. landlords now have to disclose if the place you are about to rent was ever used as a meth lab before. Not for you to start a new one ;) -- but apparently the cleanup is pretty costly because of the chemicals. Apparently that's nothing you want to move into...

Do you know anything else that has changed (in these two countries or whatever one else...) and is noteworthy? Feel free to leave a comment!

(Sources: German, U.S.A.)

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Ajax 13, a very young startup from San Diego, has developed an impressive collection of very, very sweet AJAX Office applications:

the Ajax 13 office tools applications

There are a write app as well as a spreadsheet tool which, if they want it to be successful, will surely have to try hard competing with Google's recently "hyped" Docs & Spreadsheets.

However in addition to that they also have a presentation tool (ajaxPresents) that -- judging from my first impression -- looks and feels pretty much like the big standalone applications, Powerpoint and OpenOffice. It can also export and import these two file formats, which makes it a brilliant tool to edit presentation slides on a computer where you happen not to have an office suite installed.

But there are even two more on the list: A drawing tool called ajaxSketch (conveniently exportable to SVG) and an online MP3 player called ajaxTunes (if I see it right, it's Flash, not AJAX, but ah well).

Writely logoAll in all this seems to be a very interesting company to keep an eye on; and I would not be surprised if they made it on the list of Google acquisitions some time soon -- just like Upstartle, the company which produced the tool Writely, now part of the aforementioned Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

Link (via Glazblog)

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The new options on google code

Yesterday the Google Code project hosting was updated for the first time (as far as I can tell) after its release in July 2006. Two of the major "flaws" in Google's simplistic approach to Open Source project hosting have been fixed:

  • We were unable to provide downloads of binary releases and similar
  • Projects could not have a documentation webpage or similar

These two issues made Google Code hosting -- while being a nice, new thing -- overall inferior to the well-established services of sourceforge. And while Google made clear they didn't "want to hurt SourceForge", an important decision a young Open Source project faces when it starts is where to put the code and what is best for the project.

Not having any website or possibility to download a precompiled package is not one of the best things for projects, for sure.

With the new features, Google Code has become a real alternative to SourceForge and I imagine in the time to come, Google's code hosting will steadily grow and get more projects that did not go there before for lack of these features.

A nice thing to mention about the Google Code hosting Wiki is that it apparently keeps its version history in SVN. So going back in time when checking out the source tree will also give you the Wiki status at that point in time. Very neat, if you ask me.

Adding downloads, however, sounds to me like a no-brainer and I am confused why they didn't have this feature from the beginning. Allegedly, project owners helped themselves by just uploading the release files to the SVN source tree and pointing their download links directly to the HTTP interface of the SVN server. Not too surprising -- and that can put quite some load on a repository server. This "feature" is therefore not so much a new invention as it is closing a hole that shouldn't have been there in the first place.

In any case I am eager to see how the open source community (and sourceforge) react.

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Yesterday I read about an "involuntary web service" by google that lets you create rounded corners on the fly, such as this one:

Google-generated rounded corner

A very neat and nice way to create rounded corners without spending too much time with the Gimp or so. (That's probably why Google did it in the first place).

Another neat web service came to my mind later that day. It does not exist yet but I would love to find that somewhere:

Apple iTunes mirror effect

A mirror effect like this one used by Apple in iTunes (underneath the actual photo). As far as I know for Mac OSX programmers there is an API that does that and therefore this effect is extensively used in some OSX applications.

That would indeed come in quite handy at times and I imagine it would look quite nice in people's blogs. Another idea would be the auto-generation of drop shadows for images.

Does anyone volunteer to write a script? :)

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At last month's Firefox Summit, everybody got a nice name tag on a lanyard to carry around their neck. That was extremely useful, especially since people frequently put their real name as well as their IRC nick on there.

This is how it looked like (involuntary model: Mike Shaver):

Mike Shaver at the Firefox Summit

After the summit, though, the name tags and lanyards went into everybody's bottom drawer. Well, everybody's but mine :)

I removed the name tag from the lanyard and connected a key ring to it, turning it into the coolest keychain ever:

Mozilla Lanyard

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Yesterday I had to debug a Mac OSX program and therefore I had to learn about how Mac Universal Binaries work.

Universal Binaries contain (most of the time) PowerPC code and Intel x86 code as well. While they could easily also feature code for other architectures, like your toaster or microwave, it usually looks somewhat like this: [Header|PowerPC|Intel]. The operating system decides which code it needs and executes the part of the file suitable for its architecture.

Now in order to see what kind of binary information is "sandwiched" in the file, there is a header, very nicely described in the Mac OS X ABI Mach-O File Format Reference.

It starts off with a "magical number", that funnily reads 0xCAFEBABE in hexadecimal. -- Cafe babe? Yup.


Looks like the programmers had some fun coming up with a readable magic number. :)

For a more in-depth explanation of how universal binaries look like, I recommend this blog post.

(thanks to the t-shirt model ;) )

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Zooomr, a "web 2.0" website for photos, is in my opinion the most promising flickr competitor around. It shares a lot of features with its well-known big brother that was bought by yahoo a while ago.

As I found out today, since a few months, Zooomr is still handing out "pro" accounts for bloggers that are free for one year. So today I upgraded my free zooomr account, uploading my first high-resolution picture to the service and blogging it in my German blog:

Christmas in November

My first impression of Zooomr is that it works very flawlessly and is by all means worth a thought when you decide where to host your photos. While I have set up an instance of Gallery 2 for my own photos, I always had the problem that I needed to scale them down to, say, 800x600 pixels. Otherwise every single photo would eat up around 2 megabytes-or-so of my personal web space, eventually filling up space needed for the actual websites etc.

Also, modern photo sharing sites come with a lot of nice features like RSS feeds, tags etc.; through their photo sharing capabilities, they are much easier to integrate into blogs or other web applications than classic photo tools.

Therefore I will give zooomr a shot for a while now, and eventually I will decide if I want to put all my photos on there or not. A big part of my decision will obviously be how much they want to charge me after the free year. Flickr takes 25 Dollars per year which, while it is not a lot, has kept me from signing up there so far, because I was unsure if I would use it enough to justify the (long-term) investment.

Come on, zooomr, convince me! ;)

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A week ago, the Firefox crop circle (finally) made it into Google Earth. This is a screenshot of how it looks like:

The Firefox Crop Circle on Google Earth

Now, as Asa found out, today the photos also made it into Google Maps:

The Firefox Crop Circle on Google Maps

Very nice! And well done, dear friends from the OSU Linux User Group!

(thanks to bagawk on #osu-lug for the Google Earth screenshot; thanks to Asa for the link to the Google Maps location!)

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Today, I am mo-blogging from Oregon State University, while I am here for work and "turkey week" reasons.

I came across this neat poster for the Open Source Education Lab featuring the Firefox Crop Circle. (The OSU LUG, in case you didn't know, were the people who made that famous crop circle last summer, realizing an idea by the two former Mozilla interns Matt Shichtman and John Cary!)


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Yesterday I had an interesting conversation about the meaning(lessness) of several software project names, such as the well-known PHP, Wine and others, but also smaller projects like OSUOSL's RAIV.

As it turns out, every fancy project name is also an acronym. That's something that got really popular among Open Source projects, and even though some people argue it is kind of lame, it is nice to see how many more or less meaningful project names and acronyms have come up over time.

A very nice one I learned about yesterday is: The TWAIN Scanner API, heavily used on Mac and Windows systems to connect image scanning devices to the operating system, is, when unraveled, simply:

Technology without an interesting name


But there are also projects that are missing a "useful" solution for their "acronymic" name: I recently learned about the project called Oink. Oink is a collection of C++ static analysis tools and comes with a pretty awesome, still not-yet-"acronymed" name.

Anyone want to give it a shot?

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