Friday, November 21, 2014

Email Response Time

Ever since I started a full time job, where I spend nearly all day answering work emails, it seems I am less and less interested in responding (or even reading) personal emails. At some point I realized Iwas being slow to respond, but I wanted to know, just exactly how slow.

So, I graphed it (numbers in days):

This data  comes from a Google App Script I wrote. Here's the source. Google App Script is great, it lets you write Javascript that has access to your Google Apps, like email, docs, etc. You can do stuff like send emails as a result of changes in your Docs, or in my case, run a script every day that reads your email and writes to a spreadsheet.

Here's how the script works, although there's definitely room for improvement. Every day it runs, it looks at my last 30 days of email, and for every email where I responded to someone else it adds up the delay between their email and my response. Additionally (and here's the kind of weird part that I think is creating the spikes in the above graph) I wanted to keep track of my outstanding responses and how long they were taking. My normal email workflow is that I keep things that I need to respond to in my inbox, so I decided to include for any email in my inbox, the time between the last email (as long as it wasn't from me) and the current date.

One final caveat was that, after 60 days I put a hard cutoff, since those are typically emails I just never respond to, and finally archive in shame.

So how does it look? For most (median) of my emails I respond in a few hours. But for the 99th%ile email, it is much worse, around 25 days, and even worse if you go back a month or so.

I definitely recommend Google Apps Script. It's easy, but super powerful because all of the useful data (i.e., yours) that the scripts have access to. I could even see it being a pretty good way to learn programming/JavaScript, since from day 1 you can do some pretty interesting things. 

Tech video worth watching: SIM Cards

Lately I've been getting much more into video as a means of self-education. Traditionally when someone shares a link on twitter/facebook that's all video no text I would get pretty annoyed. "I can't watch this thing on the bus, you know." But more recently (and due in no small part to YouTube's Playback Speed setting) I have rediscovered the pleasure that can come from a well-given talk.

The hardest thing now is finding them.

This one is "The Secret Life of SIM Cards." It's a talk from Deccon 21, via Adam Goode. The two speakers set up their own GSM network, and discovered some of the weirdness of on-SIM applications.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kojima Jeans Street

After reading this great blog post on the Jeans Street in Kojim, Japan, my wife and I decided to make a day trip there. Now, bear in mind that I am no great jean or raw denim enthusiast, but I am definitely easily swayed by fashion trends that involve technical minutiae. That and I have a couple of friends who are in to denim so I figured it would be worth visiting.

The above blog post really does a great job of covering the Jeans Street, and if you are at all interested you should go there first. But, I did find a few bits of information that were left out of that post, so I thought I'd be helpful and post some of them here.

For a short bit of background, there's some famous Denim brands in Japan, particular famous to those who like 'raw denim.' The city of Okayama, which is otherwise none too notable, is the home more or less of Japanese Denim. But in the small city of Kojima, 20 minutes away by train, a number of these famous Japanese brands have set up a shopping street dedicated to nothing but denim. Like I said, the above blog post does the whole thing much more justice.

Anyway, here are a few things you might want to be aware of if you're heading there:

  • Getting To Kojima: Despite what I gathered from the above article, the Jeans Street is not in Okayama, it's in Kojima which is a separate town about 20 or so minutes away by train. To get there, first you need to get to Okayama, which has a Bullet Train (Shinkansen) station. Then from Okayama station, take the Seto Ohashi Line south towards Kojima. It goes about every 20 minutes and was very easy for us to find. Get off at Kojima Station.
  • Getting From Kojima Station to the Jeans Street: Once you are arrive at Kojima Station, you can get to the Jeans Street by Taxi or by Bus.
    • Location: The Jeans Street is HERE on Google Maps.
    • Taxi: A taxi to the Jeans Street costs about 700 yen, and the drivers will know where to go. Note that it will be very difficult to find a taxi back to the station unless you can call one.
    • Bus: Here is a map and bus schedule that I scanned. The bus costs about 140 yen, and will take you from the station to the place on Google Maps I linked above. When it finished its loop it will take you back from the same spot. 
  • Shops and Descriptions:
    • Map of Shops: This PDF has a map of all the shops and their names.
    • Description of Shops: This PDF has English descriptions of the stores in the above map. This Google Doc contains the same information, but also with Google's Optical Character recognition enabled, to act as better bait for Google's search engine.
  • Food/Drink: There are plenty of restaurants and cafes, so see the above map of shops for more information. 
Hope this helps! If you have any other questions I'm happy to try to answer them in the comments. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Dissatisfactory Doily, Revisited

This one dumb post of mine, "The Dissatisfactory Doily" about my 2010 SIGBOVIK paper of the same name gets way more traffic than most of my other posts combined. Here's a graph of the pageviews over the past month:
It comes out way ahead, even compared to how-to articles ("Buy a SIM card in Dublin," "Reading Google Spreadsheets from an Android App") that you think would naturally have Google juice.

And somehow the spammers have figured out as well. This post regularly (1/week?) receives spam posts of the "Dude I love this post, please check out my link" variety. Blogger is smart enough to label these posts as spam and not post them, but I still get an email every time. Thanks Blogger.

I can understand why you would want to leave your spam on the most popular article, but why is this article popular in the first place? Maybe the mention of the Terrible Towel? And I have this unproven suspicion that the traffic itself is fake.

I don't know... what do you think?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flanders' Fields to Westvleteren

Today a friend and I planned a biking trip to visit the cemeteries and memorials of WWI around Ypres, Belgium, more or less the home of the legendary "Flanders' Fields." It was a great idea! The perfect, flat biking paths of Flanders. It's the 100th anniversary of WWI. I had the day off of work because of a Belgian holiday (Ascension, if you're curious). They even have a nice, 35k biking route planned out by the office of tourism in Ypres.

But somewhere along the way we realized that Ypres is only 16k from the Westvleteren Abbey/Brewery. Westvleteren is one of the 6 Belgian Trappist breweries, and it is famous for Westvleteren 12, occasionally referred to as The Best Beer in the World. Notoriously hard to buy, etc. etc. I had had this legendary beer once before, but still, it sounded like a great idea to me, since I had not yet visited a single Belgian brewery.

So our historical tour became a beer tour. It was definitely great, and I would do again. Here's the route we took:

It was nice and easy. Here's some advice if you're thinking about taking the trip yourself:

  • We drove to Ypres, but you could take the train there as well.
  • We rented bikes from this place. (10 Euros each for the whole day.)
  • We got a map from the Ypres tourist office, which is right in the center city. The map was the "Westhoek Zuid" cycling map, pictured below. The paths are really well marked in Flandres, and you just match up the numbers on the road with the numbers on the map. (Seriously, they are super well marked.)
A few pictures:

Sadly our trip was not without incident. About 1k from the brewery my friend's back tire blew out. We walked the rest of the way to the brewery, where we had a great meal and some great beer, but then we had to walk 5k to the town of Poperinge to take the train back to Ypres. Could have been worse, but could have been better too. 

All in all I rate it 4 beers out of 5.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Announcing "Number 'N Date"

Hi folks!

Today I'm releasing the first version of Number 'N Date on Google Play. Number 'N Date is both a proof of concept and a useful Android application. It is a very simple way of adding a number and the current date to a Google Docs Spreadsheet. Take a look at the interface, it's pretty simple:

The basic idea is, you add a number and it, plus the current date, will show up as a row in the Google Docs Spreadsheet that you have chosen in the properties menu. I find it useful for keeping track of daily numbers like my weight, money I've spent, miles I've run, etc. But with the added benefit that the information is all in my own Google Docs Spreadsheets. So I've free to do whatever kind of processing I want to do on the data (plus not have to trust one more company with my information).

Number 'N Date is also open source! Which may be useful! You might not trust me, some Internet weirdo, not to squirrel away a copy of your data somewhere.

Actually the whole open source thing brings me to the second important feature; Number 'N Date is a proof of concept. Specifically, it's an end-to-end application that does something useful, gets authorization from accounts on an Android device, and reads and writes to Google Docs spreadsheets. Information on doing those latter two things together has been pretty hard to come by on the internet. I've written about reading Google Spreadsheets from an Android App before, but in a sort of limited way. This is a follow-on, an end-to-end example that shows everything together. 

I hope you find it useful, either as an app or as a code example. Please, send me feature requests, report bugs, ask me questions, etc. 

Known issues:
  • Spreadsheet must have 'number' and 'date' columns in the first row, or must be completely empty (so the app can add them). 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Art Nouveau in our Neighborhood (Brussels, Ixelles/Flagey)

One of the things I love about living in Brussels is the large number of buildings and homes in the Art Nouveau style. I'm working on a map of just the ones in the two or three blocks around our house, which is already a pretty impressive collection (including one by Horta!). Google Maps Engine makes embedding pretty ugly, so feel free to click through.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why do nerds love Subaru?

Something to think about...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Getting the Internet in Brussels: Home & Mobile

I've now lived in Brussels long enough, and had enough experience with different Internet providers (both home and mobile) that I thought I should share my recommendations.

Cell Phone Plans/Mobile Internet
Recommendation: Buy Proximus "Generation Connect"
You can buy generation connect here.
Summary: A 20€ a month pre-paid SIM card. With it, you get 2GB of data a month, unlimited texting and "20€ of call credit," which is basically 80 minutes of call time.

As a kind of young person, mobile data is my highest priority. Most of the mobile plans from the big three cell phone services in Belgium (Proximus, Base and Mobistar) focus on texting and call time. They'll usually come with some piddling amount of data, like 100MB. Upon moving to Belgium, I was really interested in getting a lot of data, and also interested in getting a pre-paid plan. (Pre-paid plans are relatively rare and crappy in the US, so I was excited about this opportunity.)

When I first got here, I went with Mobile Vikings. For 10-50€ a month you get a ton of data, texting and some call time. Even better, they are a great company. They truly get mobile. They know we want tons of data for mobile. They have nice, helpful employees, and they respond really quickly and helpfully on Twitter/Email etc. The problem? They have terrible coverage in Brussels. Like, really bad. To the point where it was basically useless. So as much as I would have loved to stay with them, I couldn't do it.

Proximus, on the other hand, has great mobile service (reception/data speed/etc.). They are the mobile arm of the national telephony monopoly here in Belgium. Their pre-paid plans are mostly bad! However, so serious was the perceived threat from Mobile Vikings (and similar, data-first mobile providers) that they had to come us with a competitive offer. In their case, that was the "Generation Connect" plan. It's a good plan. You get plenty of data. You get good service, life it good.

Home Internet
Recommendation: Numericable "Duo TV + Internet", if it's available in your area.
You can sign up for this plan here.
Summary: For 40€ a month, you get very fast Internet, without all the peak problems of Belgacom.

When I first moved here, I had Belgacom Internet and TV. Belgacom is the, again, the national telephony monopoly. Our internet service (DSL) was fast enough when it was working, but we had tons of problems with our router. If you had more than a certain number of devices (in our case, 4) they would constantly be dropping off of the WiFi, and losing service, forcing you to disconnect & reconnect. I talked to a bunch of people at work, they all had Belgacom internet, and they all had the same problems. Even worse, at peak Internet times (Sunday evening!) Internet service was really bad. Streaming video basically didn't work, and this was even with our "premium" service (50mbps, or something like that).

When we moved to a new apartment, we went with Numericable. They are a cable provider (as opposed to a telephone/ADSL provider). So far we've had none of the same problems that we did with Belgacom. Unfortunately, every Commune in Belgium has the right to choose their own cable providers (beyond Belgacom, which is everywhere) so you may not have Numericable in your area. Still, I have heard good reports of the other cable providers, e.g., Voo. Can't be any worse than Belgacom, I say!

Good luck! If you've had any good/bad experiences, please post them below so that others can learn.