Jul 122012

I recently changed my job and so I have now new duties and responsibilities. Mainly understanding devops processes as they are currently and then scoping out improvements, introducing new tools, processes etc. I’m a master on drafting everything on whiteboards, however there are 2 drawbacks:

  • nobody except me seems to be able to read my handwriting, so sending out photos of whiteboards only causes WTF’s
  • it’s kinda hard to annotate, rearrange or optimize what has been written down and photographed

So I had a look how to easily translate my drawings into something readable. I don’t own a visio license, I checked a few commercial tools but didn’t find the one that was made for me in terms of simplicity, usability and flexibility. 

My first find was yEd, a nice editor to easily draw diagrams. I did do a couple of server/network layouts with it, documented processes and it worked out quite well. But then there was a graph i couldn’t draw – basically a version control branching strategy for a set of enterprise products. I picked up one of my co-workers presentations and followed up with drawing in powerpoint which was better than expected but not quite satisfying. 

Today I had to draw just another graph and neither yEd nor Powerpoint fitted the requirements:

  • I wanted to easily extend/modify the objects
  • I did not want to arrange object manually
  • I didn’t want to get distracted by moving pixels but i wanted to focus on content. 

I decided to use dot language as it is plain text, generates graphs and takes care about the alignment of objects itself. I used dot indirectly a few days ago when I used vizant to generate a documentation over a set of ant files and jaranalyzer to outline dependencies between jar files. The dot documentation looked a bit to brief for me so I did use the sample gallery and just picked a graph that contained something I needed and 2h later I ended up with my complete whiteboard in a nice and presentable way. All change request I implemented within minutes and the output always was a nice looking, technical graph. I used graphviz for visualization and export to image files. Graphviz is quite sweet, it loads file changes straight away, so I had my text editor and graphviz side by side to get an instant preview.It seems there is a reasonable community using it as all my questions were asked before and got answered at stackoverflow.com.

Here a little example for a graph:

digraph “G” {

  // general config

node [style=filled, color=grey97, fontname=Helvetica, fontsize = 12];

edge [color=grey50]

// ranking

{rank = same; start1, “start2″}

{rank = same; aDone, bDone}

// boxes

    subgraph cluster_a {

    [ label="a box", color=lightsteelblue1, style=filled;fontcolor=dodgerblue3];

subgraph cluster_aa {

    [ label="a box in a box", color=lightsteelblue2, style=filled;fontcolor=dodgerblue3];

    organge ; normal;





   subgraph cluster_b {

   [ label="another box", color=gray90, style=filled; fontcolor=dodgerblue3];


      -> bDone;



    subgraph cluster_c {

   [ label="invisible box", color=white, fontcolor=dodgerblue3];




    start1 -> taskA;


    “start2″ -> {normal organge } -> join -> taskA -> aDone  -> taskC -> done;

    “start2″ ->  longLabel -> anotherLabel -> join ;


    join -> taskB [label="edge label", fontcolor=grey];

    // node aliases and configuration

    node aDone [label="a",color=green2]

    node bDone [label="b",color=green4]

    node longLabel [label="a long label\nwith line break"]

    node join [label="join and fork"]

    node anotherLabel [label="another label"]

    node organge [label="organge",color=bisque2]

node done [color=grey80]


Below is the generated image:
  • it contains layout configurations for nodes and edges (colors, fonts)
  • boxes of type cluster
  • color highlightings
  • edge lables
  • ranks to aling elements

this is a subset of what I have done today. Considering that I looked into it today for the first time and that i got everything the way I wanted I’m quite happy. I admit a graph like this can be easily done in any other visualization tool. However, the power of dot is in how simple it is to do modifications. Anohter sub graph or another order of elements won’t require major reconstruction work. simply change the order and that’s it. 

graph output

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Feb 272012

Husband and I recently went house hunting, after 2 months of search we found the perfect house and are now in the stage between sale is agreed and the house is ours. The post will talk about how to buy as a first-time-buyer, if you are looking for an investment property you might it less helpful. For husband and me is to find something that will be our home for the next 20 years.

Before you start looking for a place make sure that you know what you want, what your budget is and what you don’t want. Jim and I were looking initially at an area we both didn’t know. Later it turned out it was one of the more dodgy areas where we wouldn’t want to live at all. However, it helped us to get started and do all the necessary steps such as mortgage pre-approval, finding a solicitor etc.

Also, as we were looking for our future home, we weren’t willing to take any compromise. If the house it is too small, it’s too small, it won’t grow over time. If the backyard is overseen, it won’t change. If there is a busy road, it won’t go away. If you don’t like it don’t go for the house. If you step into a house and you instantly like it, consider it to be the one. But be careful, nice decoration and a freshly upgraded house might blind you regarding what you want and need. All houses we liked we saw 3 or 4 times at different times during the day.

There were a couple of useful web pages that I used for hunting:

  • myhome.ie is the property website with the most for sale properties. Pretty good search and subscription facilities.
  • daft.ie is the most famous site for rentals, but also good for sales searches. It’s a pity that the API is not available for private users otherwise searching and filtering would have been much easier to me.
  • adverts.ie I subscribed the RSS feeds. Search options aren’t as good, agents usually don’t answer.
  • property.ie Seems to be a clone of daft.ie, I have never seen any house that was only advertised there. 
  • Also, it makes sense to work directly with property agents. Just check any of the house search engines for agents that come up frequently in the search results and contact them directly. Not all houses are put into the portals.

To verify location and maybe gather initial information about the house I had a look at

  • irishpropertywatch.ie gives a good indication how long the house is on the market and what history it had. If you see a house that is available for half a year already and went through 3 price drops you will be in a different position when negotiating than you were if the house is fresh on the market.
  • As I didn’t grow up in Dublin, I didn’t know all the stereotypes for Dublin areas, what good and what bad areas are. I find it very helpful to just walk around during the day, evening and weekend through the desired area. If you like what you see, go for it. If you doubt the social status of the people around, or if you get another bad impression, don’t go for it. If you do your hunt like me – most of the time remotely, then go for thepropertyin.ie, there you’ll find comments on most of the houses and areas. Of course – at the end it doesn’t matter as much, each area has good and bad spots, good and bad people, and the most important people – the direct neighbors – are never reviewed. So be careful not to be too shallow. Husband and I usually had a mutual understand of like/don’t like as soon as we were in a particular area.

Budget for house purchase

  • Know your limits. Don’t go over them. Never. We happened to be in 2 bidding wars where we dropped out once we reached our budget, it wasn’t easy but sensible to do. At the end we got one of the houses anyway because the other bidder pulled back. 
  • If you consider a mortgage, go to your bank and ask what the maximum amount is that you would get. Smile gently, then divide this number by 2 and take this as absolute maximum. Our bank would give us based on our current salaries maximum term mortgage maxing out our incomes as payback. That doesn’t make sense, it’s not realistic. Go for half of it, at most. You don’t want to pay off your mortgage only – all your life.
  • Be aware that the house price isn’t all you are going to pay, you will pay stamp duty (2%), solicitor fees (ca. 0.6%), valuation and survey (ca 500 Euro), modernization cost, maybe extensions and furniture/interior. If you are not sure what to expect, consult an architect/builder/forum/furniture shops/friend who recently upgraded his house. This will give you a feeling for the numbers to think of.
  • We set our total budget based on max house price + max upgrade price. That means at the end we bid on 3 houses in different states, one that had no modernization required, our bid was higher than for the other ones that required lots of work. Furniture is a separate budget.
  • Don’t believe any property agent. Their task is to sell. Don’t let them push you to commitments you are not willing to take. Be honest and accept when your and the owner’s expectations are different. If the agent lied, he’ll be back.

Budget for monthly expenses.

  • List 1: Current expenses: How much can you afford to spend in addition (mortgage payback) and to save?
  • List 2: Overlapping expenses: Our house will require 2-4 months of upgrade work, during that time we will pay rent, mortgage and need to save up for builders. Be aware that your mortgage comes with additional requirements such as
    home insurance and life insurance to cover your mortgage. Plan this into
    your budgets too.
  • List 3: Once our rent contract stopped we won’t have double expenses anymore, also builders won’t be required to be paid off. However, we need to save some money for house maintenance, some for postponed upgrades and some to do lump sum payments against the mortgage.

Costs of a mortgage:

  • Use a mortgage calculator to compare options. I found a helpful one on Google spreadsheet templates. I find it’s better to play with than digging through 15 print outs of the bank that are solely designed for the purpose to confuse you.
  • We decided finally what kind of interest rate we wanted to go for, how much of the mortgage we wanted to finance and what term we’d use. We decided to go for maximum term to give us flexibility and reduce the amount of monthly payment. This will in the first place cause a higher interest; however, we plan on paying in lump sums to reduce the mortgage and the paid interest significantly within the first 5 years. And if anything bad happens… we will still be able to pay off the rates.
  • If you need to do modernization/upgrade work on your house: Compare. Ask multiple architects, builders, solicitors, surveyors etc for fees. Go for the good ones, but check their rates.


  • I am very pragmatic when it comes to insurances. I don’t like them, I think insurance sales persons are send from hell to threaten and scare people with risks that are rather unlikely. I got ask to get an insurance for payment protection and income protection to ensure that even if we are sick or without income that we can afford the mortgage. That sounds great in the first place, however, it will add up to additional 100 Euro or more per month that are paid for – at the end – most likely nothing.
  • I think careful budgeting and a reasonable monthly rate is far more recommendable than going for additional insurances. Setting a low mortgage rate to pay back over a long term is more sensible. To reduce it, pay lump sums whenever you can afford it.
  • Don’t compare price only. If you get a home insurance make sure it
    covers the entire property back to front, and not only the house itself.
    You don’t want to find yourself in the situation that your shed and
    garage got broken in and your insurance doesn’t cover for them.
  • Invest separately into other necessary precaution for yourself. Think about pension and how future you would like to spend the rest of your life.

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Jan 212010

oder auch 5525 Photos spaeter… das wird eine Lebensaufgabe, diese Bilder zu sortieren, kategoriesieren, taggen, hochzuladen und zu pflegen. Es gab so viele verschiedene Eindruecke und fuer mich aussergewoehnliche Erlebnisse, sehr viel privates, zu persoenlich, um das oeffentlich zu sharen und so weiter. Ich glaube, das wird noch Ewigkeiten dauern, bis ich da halbwegs durch bin.

Auch die Bilder von Singapore wollte ich noch zu Flickr hochladen, auf Picassa ist nicht genug Platz. Auch da sind es letztendlich weit ueber 2000 Bilder.

iPhoto stoesst da klar an die Grenzen. Ueber Picasa bin ich mir auch nicht ganz im Klaren ob ich es mag, oder nicht. Ich werde es ausprobieren zusammen mit dem Picasa2flickr Uploadr. Dieser Workflow klingt ganz brauchbar.

Der erste Upload war erfolgreich, mal sehen, wie es weiter geht ;)

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Nov 122009

This article is about how Frau Klein deals with a dying hard drive in her new macbook pro having time pressure of finishing up a project. the ongoing head -> wall, swearing and screaming isn’t documented here ;)

Symptoms: The mac used to freeze for a few seconds every now and again. Since I am back home it increased dramatically: every half an hour it froze for half a minute and in between every so often.

What happened? I was looking in to the system.log using the  Console and found for each freeze a Disk I/O error. Panicing around I used Disk Utility to check the HDD, the tool lied and said everything is ok. I also executed it from the install CD with the same result. A hardware check was successful too.

Backing up the system: As the duration and count of freezes increased I used one of my external HDD to backup everything via time machine which worked out fine. As I haven’t used it before I don’t know what gets backed up and which applications or configurations I might loose, so I also used Carbon Copy Cloner to backup everything to another drive. CCC complained about unreadable files – and proofed so my concern that the HDD is dying. I hope I can create a bootable external disc to be able to finish my project before I fix the mac. For that I formatted an external 320 GB device as bootable disc using disk utility:

  • In Disk Utility click on the external drive (the manufacturer’s info line but not a specific partition) and click on the Partition tab.
  • choose the Options button and select GUID partition table (needed for booting on an Intel Mac) and click OK
  • Click on the Volume Scheme, and choose 1 partition from the drop-down list
  • Click the Format drop-down, and choose Mac OS Extended (journaled)
  • Name your drive and click the Partition button.

Then I started CCC, choosed the source drive (deselected some folders) and the target drive and clicked on clone. It takes about 2 h to clone 100 GB.

Finishing work: Once, the cloning is done I restart the mac using the USB drive by opening System preferences, choosing Start up device and then selecting my backup device.

Now I try to finish my work before I care about fixing the machine.

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Oct 252009

Heute las ich bei lifehacker.com ueber doit.im, ein weiteres GTD tool, was ich installierte. Bisher probierte ich Things und Journler, beide kostenpflichtig und zu umfangreich fuer meine Beduerfnisse. Things gab ich vor einer Weile auf, Journler fing ich gar nicht richtig an, eigentlich hauptsaechlichda ich nicht manuals und Videos ansehen mag, um eine einfache Software benutzen zu lernen. Kuerzlich stolperte ich auch ueber org-mode, hier ein paar Details dazu, es wird irgendwann mal spaeter evaluiert – im wesentlichen, wenn Jimmy als Handbuch herhalten kann ;)

Was mir an doit.im gefaellt, ist die einfache, uebersichtliche Oberflaeche, es ist einfach, Tasks anzulegen und zu kategorisieren. Fuer diese Woche werde ich es mal ausprobieren.

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