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I liked these WiFi enabled, motion-sensing night lights so far, I only wish they had 3 more features.

I spent some time during the last weeks playing with the Open Data published by the City of Milan. I did not have a clear goal in mind, except for building some interesting visualization of the Public Transport coverage of the city grounds.

A quick exploration of the dataset seemed to be encouraging: while most of the data was relatively useless, some datasets were indeed promising and worth spending some time. While at the end of the week I was able to get the result I had in mind (the heatmap below), I was left with that lingering feeling of dissatisfaction that accompanies me when I see good initiatives that can be dramatically improved by changing a few specific features.

One of the things I was not expecting when I moved to Amsterdam was its active and vibrant tech community. Appsterdam, a non-profit organization focused around aggregating people with a passion for technology, is probably one of the central forces in this movement.

In my year in Amsterdam I had been to a few meetups organized by people from Appsterdam and always came back home having learned something new. This is why when my colleague Matt (who himself is quite an active Appsterdam member) talked me into presenting a guru session on Google App Engine, I saw that as an opportunity to return the favor.

A few weeks ago I attended The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam and joined a bunch of fellow programmers for another edition of the Kings of Code Hack Battle, the same kind of event as the one where Bring Your Own Music was born.

Following the usual schedule, after a brief presentation from the API partners (Spotify, SendGrid, Braintree, Deezer, Pearson, Nokia, Rebtel, Bol.com, Smart TV Alliance and LinkedIn), all the attendees started evaluating ideas about what to build.

Hacking @ The Next Web #TNW

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I teamed up with Alexander, a friend of mine I already had the chance to work with back in the days when I when I was consulting.

Having LinkedIn among the sponsors seemed to encourage us to build serious applications for serious professionals, but after discarding a few alternatives that would have been better projects for a Startup Weekend than a hackathon, we decided to take the opposite direction: building the silliest possible thing with the APIs we had access to.

I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam recently and, to my surprise, I left the exposition having learned something that matters beyond art.

Formatted source code

Posting source code on WordPress.com is quite simple: the platform already provides an extremely easy to use shortcode called sourcecode, based on a fairly flexible syntax highlighter plugin. By looking at the examples in the documentation page, however, it is evident that the default styling used to render sources is quite old-fashioned and does not fit most modern themes.

While the shortcode offers options to allow users to control many options of the rendering, it does not allow us to configure colors, fonts and size (the default size is so tiny that it is barely readable on high-resolution screens).

When I was writing the previous technical post, I did some investigations to figure out what options are available to post more readable sources if your blog is hosted on WordPress.com and I found out there are basically two alternatives.

Google App Engine for Python ships with the capability to manage user accounts without the need of any additional library. This functionality is, however, insufficiently documented. This post is a step-by-step tutorial addressing user registration, login, password reset and a few other details.

In the age of touch devices, some days it seems like a day will come when we will not have to use a keyboard to interact with computers. A significant part of our relationship with technology passes through interfaces that were not common a decade ago: touch screens, accelerometers, cameras and microphones.

Keyboards, however, are still the most efficient way to interact with a computer, and not only for typing email. From code editors like Emacs to advanced image manipulation tools like Photoshop, it is no wonder that most advanced programs can be controlled more efficiently by means of keyboard shortcuts.

The learning curve for shortcuts is generally quite steep: while some of them are standard across programs and can be easily guessed, most shortcuts are complex abstract key combinations (as ⌘-Control-Shift-3 on Mac, that takes a screenshot to the clipboard) and therefore not easy to remember.

Some applications, however, are introducing smarter ways to control our computers using a keyboard.

This post is a summary of the weekend we spent at the Kings of Code 2012 Hack Battle in Amsterdam. What started as an occasion to get to know smart people doing cool things in Amsterdam (something I look for since I moved here) turned out to be one of the funniest experiences I had in a while.

After a brief presentation of the services offered by the hackathon partners (Apigee, Esri, Spotify and Sendgrid) Diderik, Mattia, Mike and I teamed up to build the hack featured here. We started with the most obvious concept we could come up with: putting songs on a map and having people visualize them. We tried to elaborate the concept to include as many of the partners’ APIs as we could, but then we decided for something simpler, something we could build over the weekend.

Bring Your Own Music card reader

It took us a couple of iterations to get to the final idea we developed: Bring Your Own Music, a toy application that allows users to control music playback through NFC-enabled objects by using an Arduino-powered NFC reader driving a Spotify app.

A practical guide covering everything I had to figure out when I relovated to the Netherlands, covering topics such as the 30% ruling for Highly Skilled Migrants, finding where to live, registering as a resident, getting your accounts and getting around.