veteran at last

Today my Jaguar XJS finally gained veteran status. That means it is now officially recognized by the Swiss authorities as an oldtimer car. This in turn means lower taxes and insurance, but comes with the requirement to not drive more than 3’000km per year. Also the rate of technical examinations changes from 2 to 6 years. To gain that status, a car has to be at least 30 years old, and in very good condition. All parts need to be original, and the vehicle is not allowed to have modifications. At the first attempt after I woke it from the winter sleep, the regular technical check was no problem. But it didn’t get the veteran state, as the examiner found some barely visible traces of rust  in the lower fold of the driver door. So I had this fixed by a plumber. And this time it got the veteran status.

Jaguar hast two main model lines, the saloons and the sports cars. Initially, I only knew about the saloons that mostly older executives drove. I always liked these cars, and imagined I would someday drive one myself, when I’m old and rich. Now, I still don’t consider myself neither old nor rich. But at the end of 2001 I ran into a very beautiful XJ6 series 2 with vinyl roof, that was for sale, and even affordable. Too bad, the rust already won on that car, such that it was not worthwile to restore. But that was enough to infect me with the Jaguar bug. Now that I knew that older Jag’s were affordable, I wanted to have one, and the search began. That’s how I found my 1984 XJS HE V12. I bought it in the summer of 2002 when it had 75’000 km. Because there was a strange noise coming from the gear box during the test drive, I got it a bit cheaper. Later we found out that a missing  rubber holder on the propeller shaft was responsible for the noise. This was easy to fix. In fact, I cannot confirm at all the bad reputation that the Germans like to impose on British cars. The biggest repair I had in the 12 years was refurbishing the power steering, because it leaked oil. And the funniest problem was a fizzly sound from the engine, when I had the car only for a few weeks. I thought some pipe of the exhaust gas recirculation was broken. My brother then found out that one spark plug was loose. There was no noticeable reduction in performance. Well with 11/12 of 294 = 270 hp there was still plenty of power. In contrast, when two spark plugs of our camper failed in south America, 2/4 of 95 = 48 hp, the lack of power was more noticeable.

The guy in the tyre shop told me long ago, that XJS were used for racing. But only after owning the car for almost ten years, I found out that they were actually very successful. While reading the book “TWR and Jaguar’s XJS“, I learned, that some of the XJS’s greatest victories were the 1979 canonball race, the 1984 european touring car championship, the Spa 24 hours race, as well as the 1985 Bathurst 1’000 mile race.

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key signing

I have been using gnupg for a couple of years for digitally signing emails and debian packages and occasionally for encrypting files as well for ssh authentication. I wanted to participate in the web of trust for a while. But so far, all key-signing-parties in my region were on dates, that I couldn’t attend. Then I met the organizer of the last key signing party that I could not attend, on the last BitCoin meetup in Zug. Hence, we exchanged Id’s and key signatures, to sign the keys later. He briefly explained the procedure to me. Back at home, I wanted to sign his key, but was presented with an error message indicating that parts of my private key were missing. A quick search revealed that it was because of my setup, where I have the private sub keys on an OpenPGP smartcard, and the private primary key on an air-gapped machine in a secret place, guarded by orcs. Everything else can be signed using the signing subkey on the card, but other keys have to be signed using the primary key. Now, I began to think about moving all keys that I want to sign to that air-gapped machine and back using qr-codes. I didn’t like that Idea, and found a better solution: store the private primary key on a second smart card. Once it’s done, it works very well, I just insert the second smartcard when I want to sign someone’s key. But the procedure to get there is cumbersome to say the least. Luckily there was a concise description of what steps to perform.

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Generating flight vouchers with LaTex

Learning LaTex was on my todo list for many years. Like most people of my generation, I learned wysiwyg text programs in school, and used them for a long time for most stuff that ended up on paper. Actually, to be exact, the first text processing program I learned in school didn’t fall into the wysiwyg category, but was DOS based. I think it’s name was “Farsight”, but I can’t find any information about it on the internet. Since I am no friend of proprietary lock-in systems, I switched from MS Word to OpenOffice a long time ago, and more recently to LibreOffice. But even though their file format is open, it’s still binary. I know, I know, Word and ODF offer textual formats. I think they are mostly XML based. But the last time, I looked at one of them, I could not believe how overloaded with useless trash they were. The most annoying limitation of binary formats, is when you want to store the documents in a version control system, and compare different revisions. I used html for a while for documentation purposes. Although it is very good for these textual diffs between revisions, I’m not artistic enough to make it good looking. Hence, I thought for a long time that LaTex would be worth learning.

Also, for a long time I wanted to automate the vouchers for our tandem flights at paraeasy.ch. Even-though I knew that this was a perfect match, I had too many other things to do. As I’m currently reading a book about LaTex, I have my perfect hands on exercise. Hence, I prepared a template tex file for the vouchers and one for the invoices. Then I wrapped a python script around, that handles the rest.

The traditional way to keep track of which vouchers are active, and which ones were redeemed, is to keep a list. But after reading all the buzz about smart property, I figured that BitCoin is actually a perfect solution in itself. I generate a unique BitCoin address for each voucher, and load it with some coins. That way I can easily check, if the voucher is still valid. In fact, even other pilots that fly for us, can easily verify the validity of our vouchers. Now the perfect solution would be to load it with the full value, but since the BitCoin price is still quite volatile, the risk would be too high. After all, I need to be able to pay other pilots in case of a BitCoin crash. So I decided to load the voucher addresses with half the value. That way I can better tackle the risk.

As an opensource believer, I pushed my scripts to github, hoping they might be useful for somebody. I didn’t go to full lengths, in making it a configurable drop in solution. So, if you want to use it, leave me a message, and I will help you set it all up, and make it more configurable along the way.

Now, what happens if somebody orders a flight voucher on paraeasy.ch?  After the customer fills in all the required fields, and presses submit, I receive an email with a html table containing all the information. I then save the mail with evolution to a folder as an mbox file. Next, I start the python script which performs the following:

  • Generates a new unique number for the voucher.
  • Parses the information from the mbox email file.
  • Generates a BitCoin address that contains the initials of the passenger.
  • Replaces the placeholders in the tex files with the actual information.
  • Generates a qr code with the relevant information, and a gpg signature thereof.
  • Generate pdf files for the voucher and invoice.
  • Add the new entry to the list of active vouchers.
  • Add the pdf files, the updated list as well as the encrypted private key for the BitCoin address to my private git repository.

The system is not finished yet, but it already looks like a big relief. In the future, it might also generate the email to send the pdf file back to the customer.

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sweet dreams

For my last army service, I was ordered to Eschenbach SG near Rapperswil to help in an arsenal. It’s actually a long story, how it came to that. Compared to a regular service, it was very much relaxed. I could go home every night, which is quite nice, especially if you have a young family. So, every morning when I walked from the train station to the arsenal, I passed a carpenter which had a gorgeous beam bed on display. The beams had crack, and looked really old, but perfectly restored. It didn’t have a price tag, so I assumed it was expensive. And I was not in need of a new bed anyway, so I just remembered it, for when I would need one. That was three and a half years ago.

Our bed recently broke. No, it’s not because I grew so fat. People say, that the mattress and the slatted frame should be replaced after ten years. So it was almost in time. And now I remembered the bed frame from Eschenbach. They did not respond to my eMail, so I had a look around other stores and websites. I found out that these beam beds with cracks are trendy, and that they are mostly made of swamp oak. Finally I found what I was looking for at Möbel Riesen in Brunnen.

They didn’t accept BitCoin directly, so I had to convert the funds first. At the time, the excange rate on MtGox was a steady ten percent higher than with other exchanges. This was quite tempting, even though most people suspected liquidity problems behind the long delays since last summer. So I split the risk, and traded half through BitStamp, and the other half through mtgox. BitStamp was quick and reliable as always, while I still wait for the money from MtGox. Meanwhile MtGox filed for bankruptcy, and I might have to write that money off.

The bed frame arrived earlier than expected, while we had some trouble getting the mattresses and slatted frames in time. So we had to sleep in a funny arrangement for a few days. But now finally, everything is in place. The beams are actually quite heavy, adding up to about 250kg.

As I work in the development of the PointLine CAD, naturally, I was interested in a CAD drawing for the bed frame. The guy from Sprenger Möbel was very friendly, and sent me a jpg, telling me there are no CAD files, as he draws everything by hand.

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celebrating 2’000 flights

Last week, I didn’t even realize that I completed my two thousand’th flight. Only when I updated my flight log book, I found out. I knew that I’m close, but that day I did lots of short speed flights, and one of them was the one.
For the first one thousand flights I needed only four years. I celebrated the event with a couple of friends and a big bottle of Champaign. It was in March 2006 from the Zugerberg, and I top-landed after twenty minutes.
Since I don’t fly as much as back then, the second thousand flights took eight years. I held up the tradition with the Champaign, though. Not on the 2000th flight, which I missed. Instead, we celebrated the 2005th flight today, after I did three tandem flights for Peter from the Rigi.
So here is a small statistic:

Gliders 61
tandem flights 265
speed flights 145
flights with competition gliders 540
countries 20
flying areas 164
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Lauchernalp Speedflying

During our family ski holiday last week, I went one day to my favourite speedflying location: the Lauchernalp in the Lötschental.

Enjoy the footage:

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My grandfather

Yesterday, my grandfather passed away, roughly 40 days before his 95th birthday. After he suffered a first light stroke ten years ago, his condition slowly worsened. In the end he was not able to walk or eat on his own, and didn’t recognize anyone. But up to age 85, there was no sign of slowing. I sometimes went with him to his friends to assist, when he installed satellite tv receiver or video recorders, and explained them to his retired friends. He was a big fan of technology, as such he used photo and video cameras long before the people of the next generation started to do so. We recently watched a small documentary video he filmed in 1973. But what impressed me the most, was the self built radio that he demonstrated to me when I was a kid. He must have wound those coils in the first half of the last century, when radio waves were more like magic to most people.
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Smart Radios

For a couple of years I have been running mpd (music player daemon) on an Alix, connected to a stereo in the office. The Alix runs headless, but I have a variety of options to control it: gmpc on the notebook, Droid MPD client on the phone and fookebox in the browser. Over the years I read a multitude of articles about home built jukeboxes based on something like a RaspberryPi, a simple display and some buttons. I thought, that’s cool, but I didn’t have the requirement for this in the office.

Some time last year, I thought it would be cool, if my wife could access our full music collection from the kitchen. As her old radio started to disintegrate, I had an idea for christmas. So the first idea was to build something myself. But the kitchen is not the ideal place for something thrown together with loose wires, and I couldn’t expect her to reboot it in case something locks up. So I was looking for something pre-made and a bit more consumer friendly. I didn’t want to loose freedom though, so the ideal would be if it was also based on mpd. I didn’t find the device I was looking for, but the device that came up most in my searches was the UE Smart Radio from Logitech. It seemed to cost a lot more than a RaspberryPi with some additional components, so I looked further and went to several shops. The selection in this area is very sparse, which surprised me a lot. All the other devices in the shops, except the insanely expensive ones, sounded like through a long cardboard tunnel. But the UE (Ultimate Ears) one, although mono, sounded really good. Another feature that made it stand appart from much of the competition is, that in addition to the WIFI, it also offered connectivity through an ethernet port. This one was a must, since my Wife is very concerned about electro smog.

So I went for the UE Smart Radio from Logitech. It was received well by my wife. At first we only used it to listen to live streams of radio stations around the world. It worked perfectly for that. But connecting it to our music library didn’t work out so well. I assumed, It could just access the files over a network share. So I set up a samba share on the server that contained all the music files. After all, that’s how the media players fetch the movies as well. I just couldn’t figure out how to find the music from the radio. All it said was to install some proprietary software on the computer and the phone. I don’t particularly like such proprietary stuff, and always try to find ways around, but this time I had to bite the bullet. The android app gave some additional configuration and remote control options, but insisted on installing also something on a computer to be able to stream the private music collection. So I had a look at http://www.uesmartradio.com. It offers the download only for Windows and Mac. Now this is where I started to question the purchase. I agree that some clueless managers might be familiar with only these two options on the desktop. But do they really insist on everybody having their desktop computer running just to listen to their music in another room? No way!!! I think by now at least a NAS system if not a small server is in most households that care to have their music available electronically for devices like this radio. And what operating system do they usually run? Windows? MacOS? They must be joking!

At first, I wanted to dissect the Windows package in the hopes to being able to reverse engineer it to get something workable. But all information I found about that package on the internet, indicated that it is an unholy mess consisting of a multitude of dlls and executables. So I checked on the MacOs package. The information I found indicated something perl based and much cleaner than the Windows version, but I had no tools readily available to decompress it. Luckily I found a forum thread where other people already complained about the very same issue. One pointed out that there are unofficial nightly builds for a range of other targets, one of them being a debian package. That solved the problem for the moment. Installation was smooth, and so was setup and operation. The only soar point that remains was also confirmed by the Logitech support: The packages for the more useful platforms are not officially supported and they don’t know if they will continue to build them at all.

K810 Bluetooth Keyboard

With a keyboard also from Logitech I had a similar issue. I have always preferred standards such as Bluetooth over proprietary protocols such as Logitech’s Unifying. So I was delighted when I spotted a slim, nice looking bluetooth keyboard in a store some years ago. It was meant for the iPad, but I thought, if it’s bluetooth, it should work with my computer and phone too. Pairing was no problem, as was operation under Android. The problem arose when I wanted to use it with the Computer. The keys that were there, worked perfectly, but the problem was the missing function keys (F1 – F12).  Without them it’s very hard to operate just about any debugger in an IDE that I know of.

So, I was even more delighted, when I discovered the K810 in a store last year. It can pair with three devices, and easily switch between them. So I could for example use it with the workstation, the notebook and the phone without having to re-pair each time. The first one I bought was for the office. And I became a huge fan of this keyboard. So I bought also one for at home. I noticed in the office, that the default mapping of the function keys is awkward to say the least. By default, the alternative functions like the brightness of the key back light or the multimedia controls are activated, and to use the regular function keys, you have to press the FN key. It’s hard to guess what they smoked when they decided to make this the default. Imagine your mother wants to refresh the page in her browser by hitting F5 and instead the keys get brighter. Or imagine she wants to rename a file by hitting F2, and instead the keyboard disconnects from the computer and sends subsequent key-presses to the phone. Let alone operating a debugger. Luckily this setting is easy to change with the Logitech SetPoint software….. unless …. there is no SetPoint software for everything but Windows and MacOS.

Luckily somebody already reverse engineered the relevant information, and compiled a small utility program, that corrects this setting. Thanks Mario for sharing. Your utility saved my day.

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Mountain Wagas

Every season has its virtues. What I like to do during the winter season is Wagas games, and the Fronalpstock is perfectly suited for that. Wagas are usually performed by flying close to sand dunes in the constant sea breeze, but powder snow is just as soft as sand. Instead of the constant sea breeze for soaring, we have some altitude difference in the mountains. Well, to be honest, the snow didn’t look particularly soft last Sunday, hence my Wagas games ended up being even more cautious.

Here are some pictures:


And a video:

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vim meets VisualStudio

There are two camps of neckbeards: Those who use emacs, and those who use vi or vim. I can’t tell which is better, and most of the arguments seem to be rhetoric. Until about three years ago, I perceived both as insufferable. I was however curious to learn either of them. The question was which one to pick. During my uncertainty, vim was praised more on hacker news. So I gave it a try. At first, it was awkward to work with, but after a while I managed to get along. People often tell how blazingly fast you are editing with vim. But for a long time, I was not nearly as efficient as with other editors. At the moment I’m reading the book “Practical vim” which has a ton of good tips. It seems the flood of shortcuts is never ending. In a way memorizing more commands and shortcuts is like having more keys. That kind of reminds me of an article, I once read. It compared working with a GUI vs on the console to listening radio vs playing piano. I can’t find the article right now, but it had similar reasoning as this one.

So I’m constantly improving my vim skills. In the meantime I’m about on par with how efficient I am at using the style of editors, that I have been using for two decades. To improve further, I thought I would need to practice more. So the natural progression was to use it on the job. For work we use VisualStudio, and unless I could easily compile and debug out of vim, switching back and forth would be counter effective. So I was thrilled to find out that there is a plugin to bring vim style editing to VisualStudio. I only just started using it, but it certainly looks promising.

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