Idea: LL and RR glasses on a 3D screen – Double Vision

(I had this idea in June 2011 and wrote this post in Oct 2011, but I decided to wait with publishing until my lovely colleague Sylvia could get the scoop and use it for a marketing action).

3D display lets you experience 3D images by letting your left eye see something different than your right eye (‘stereoscopy’). Most technologies for this (certainly the ones used in cinema) use special glasses. Active/passive, based on colours, polarisation, timing… It’s fascinating, but that’s not what I want to address here. What intrigues me, are less common usages: what if instead showing something different to eye1 (left) and eye2 (right), you show something different to person1 and person2?

https://unsplash.com/@mariocalvo

Continue reading Idea: LL and RR glasses on a 3D screen – Double Vision

Cleaning up an infected PHP server (Mal/Badsrc-M – Troj/PHPShll-B)

I recently discovered that a number of sites of mine were considered unsafe by Google, Firefox, Yandex … The reason was they had detected malware being served to visitors of the site. I checked a bit further and I discovered it was the Mal/Badsrc-M – Troj/PHPShll-B trojan. In each of my (WordPress and other) PHP files, the first line had been changed to

<?php /* */ eval(base64_decode("...(bad stuff)"));?><?php ...
The file is easy to clean up: you remove the eval statement and that’s it. Only, on this server several hundreds of PHP files (WordPress, MediaWiki, …) were affected. So I made a script to go through all of them and clean up. It uses the fact that

  • the whole injected statement is on 1 line
  • no ‘decent’, trustworthy program uses eval(base64_decode(" ... ")) in its PHP code
  • it moves the second <?php to the second line and then removes the whole first line

So if you have the same problem, use a bash script like this and run it in the root of all your websites:

iOS6 losing its 3G cellular data settings – fix for Belgium

I upgraded my iPhone 4S to the new iOS6 the day it came out. As I expected, I had to reconfigure the cellular data settings (‘APN’). For some reason they always get lost during major OS updates. However, I have noticed the last weeks that, every now and then, my 3G connection stops working, and when I check the APN settings, they have disappeared. My colleagues, with iPhones and iPads on different cellular operators also have this problem. So for them, for me, and for anyone else who has this problem: here are the settings for the Belgian operators.

PROXIMUS/BELGACOM
APN: internet.proximus.be
Username: (empty)
Password: (empty)
MOBISTAR
APN: APN: iphone.mobistar
Username: (empty)
Password: (empty)
BASE
APN: gprs.base.be
Username: base
Password: base
MobileVikings
APN: web.be
Username: web
Password: web
Telenet
APN: telenetwap.be
Username: (empty)
Password: (empty)
Scarlet
APN: internet.bmbpartner.be
Username: (empty)
Password: (empty)

These are the most common ones.

The procedure is: goto General/Cellular/Cellular Data Network, verify they are all empty, fill in the correct values, leave the Cellular menu, switch your phone to “Airplane Mode” for 10 seconds, and then switch that back off. You should see the 3G logo appear again.

Idea: Emoticon for innuendo: &-)

Do you often find yourself in a situation where you are using some kind of word play in a written (chat or text message) conversation, but feel that you need to make this second level of comprehension clear? This is why emoticons exist: pictorial representations of a facial expression using punctuation marks and letters, written to express a person’s mood. Emoticons were already used in the 18th century and adopted with mucho gusto in electronic communication since 1982. These days, if you don’t know that a “:-)” means that the writer is happy, you’re missing a lot of the meaning of SMS or emails.

It doesn’t stop there, there is also the :-p tongue-sticking-out, the %-) I’m-so-drunk and even *<|:-) Santa Claus. But there is one often-used ironical level that I find is not well covered by the ;-) I’m-only-joking emoticon, and that is the dangerous stylistical weapon called innuendoan indirect remark about somebody or something, usually suggesting something bad, mean or rude. We need an emoticon that says if-you-know-what-I-mean-wink-wink-nudge-nudge in 3 characters. I hereby propose the …

&-)   = if-you-know-what-I-mean

Continue reading Idea: Emoticon for innuendo: &-)

Company cars in Belgium: your new taxes

January 2012 marks the beginning of a new calculation of the ‘Benefit in kind’ – the value an employee is calculated to get from a company car. It has a big effect on your taxes. Do you pay taxes in Belgium? Do you have a company car? Read on!

The actual formula can be found here: Arval: Benefit in kind (FR: Avantage de toute nature / NL: Voordeel van alle aard). I simulated this for my own car (Saab 9.3 Cabrio from 2005). It’s clear I need to sell it ASAP. Then I started calculating some other ‘common’ company cars to see what car to buy next. A hybrid? Diesel? Start-stop? So here are some numbers for the ‘cheap’ cars:

 

VVA: goedkope autos

And because you’re right to worry about your company Range Rover:

VVA: dure autos

Conclusions

  • There is a minimum benefit: 1200€/year. Some cars would have been able to go lower than that, like some electric/hybrid ones, the Volvo V40, the Audi A3, the Smart, but no, you are still going to be taxed for those 1200. 1200, so the state considers you to make 100€/month more.
    Concretely: for an electric car, you are going to be taxed as if it costed 30.000€. For the most economic petrol/diesel car: as if it costs 21.818€. If your company has 22K to spend on a car, use it. You can’t save on your tax filing anyway.
  • Accessories and options: they are also taken into account for the price of your car. The leather seats, the GPS pack, the xenon lights… They all count.
  • CO2 coefficient is important, but don’t overdo it. The treshold for petrol (benzine) cars is 115 g/km, and for diesel it’s 95 g/km. You pay more if it’s worse, but you don’t pay less if it’s better.
    For diesel cars: stay under 115 g/km. For petrol cars, stay under 130.
  • Electric cars: you would be surprised. Apart from the Renault Twizzy, which is more of a toy, there are not that many options, and you’re not even sure of the minimum benefit. If the car costs more than 30K, you’re screwed. Hybrid cars: if they cost more than 22K, you will feel it.
  • SUVs: if you have a big SUV (BMW X5, Mercedes M, Porsche Cayenne) or a big jeep (Landcruiser, Pajero), you’re gonna feel the pain. Nissan Qashqai, Toyota RAV4, not so much.
  • Second hand: there is a discount for the age of your car: 6% per year, with 5 years max. So if your car is 6 to 25 years old (after which it becomes an old-timer), the state will take into account 70% of the price it was bought for the first time. But if you bought it second hand? You might buy a 2 year old car for 50% of the price, but it will still be counting for 88% of the price-for-a-new-one. Concretely: if you buy a second hand Maserati, don’t buy it in the company.
  • Super cars“. I know you love to watch Top Gear and dream about that Lamborghini, but I’m guessing that has become something even more of the happy few. If you buy/lease it as a company car, you will bleed in your personal taxes. 20K for that Porsche Carrera (so you will pay +- 50% of that in taxes). 10K for that Range Rover.

As far as I understand it, this is for new ànd second-hand cars, bought or leased by a company for a manager or employee. Let’s wait until some accountants come up with new schemes for expensive cars.

In the mean time: what individual wants to buy a Saab Cabrio?

Bose Soundlink: ideal travel companion

SoundLink

Thanks to the nice people at Bose Belgium, I have been using the Bose Soundlink for a couple of weeks, and when I left for a trip to Buenos Aires last month, I thought: why not take it along? After all, it’s only 1.3kg and it could give me some better sound in the hotel. I did not regret it.

First of all it’s fully wireless: the Soundlink works on long-lasting batteries and gets its music over Bluetooth easily up to 10 meters away. It’s really light, so you really carry it with you without thinking too much. Any time I get back to my room, I just press the icon on the speaker and it reconnects to my iPhone. I take it to the kitchen, the terrace on the rooftop, and it just keeps playing, even when I leave the iPhone in my room.

Most importantly: the sound is impressive. Everyone who heard my Soundlink was really impressed and started asking me for technical -and financial- details. Now, at 300€, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s worth all that.

For all the ‘gadgets’ I use, I ask myself: does it make my life more enjoyable (for a reasonable price)? For the Bose Soundlink, that’s a definite ‘Yes’.

Capdase camera bag for Canon

I just got a new bag for my ‘small’ Canon: a Capdase MKeeper 180A. My previous bag was too soft and I wanted to try something more solid. I looked through the Canon 500D bags and rather liked the rectangular MKeeper series. The 180 is just big enough for the 350/400/450/500/550 body and an extra lens. I could actually fit the camera body in with the extra battery grip, but that’s stretching the case a bit. If you take the camera without a battery pack, you can choose to store body and lens attached or separate. A really nice feature of the bag is the ‘raincoat’: in the back zipper pocket there is a rain protection cover that envelopes the whole case. Clever touch!

 

Capdase mKeeper

There is a big selection of camera bags at LoveCases for Canon and other SLR Camera Cases!

Is Backify (512GB backup for free) also for real?

UPDATE 16 Nov 2011:
Message from Backify:

Dear Peter Forret,
First of all, we would like to thank you for using Backify. We hope you really liked our service and enjoyed using it. We regret to inform you that we can not provide free backup services anymore. All free Backify accounts will be closed on November 22, 2011. In order to prevent your account from deletion, please login into your account and update your Billing Details.

Message from LiveDrive:

We would also like to advise you that we have received a number of complaints about BACKIFY.COM from their customers and from industry organizations. We would like to advise you not to provide any credit card information to BACKIFY.COM. If you have provided credit card information to BACKIFY.COM then we would suggest contacting your card provider and informing them that your card may be used fraudulently. If BACKIFY.COM have charged your card for services not provided you should contact your card provider and ask them to initiate a chargeback procedure.

——————-

I just read the announcement today of a very strong data backup offer: backify.com lets you use 512GB of backup space for free. If you compare that to the competition: Dropbox and Mozy give you 2GB for free, OpenDrive, SugarSync and Box.net have a 5GB free account, although the latter has upped this to 50GB recently, when Apple also announced its 5GB free iCloud offering. Microsoft Live SkyDrive used to be the biggest free offer: 25GB (but no way to upgrade). So how can one company offer more than 20 times that space, and still not charge?

There are a couple of things that made me doubtful.

  • Too good to be true: a previously unknown company (Google will try to correct a search on their name to Backupify, because the first mentioning of the company was yesterday) comes and offers you something HUGE for FREE. Hmmm. Where’s the catch?
  • Business model doesn’t make sense: if you offer any John Doe 512 GB, you can count on a lot of data coming in. There will always be some guys that will try to use all of it. You need thousands of terabytes, and those don’t come for free. You could use Amazon S3 or Microsoft Azure, but they will charge you $0.10 to $0.15 per month/GB. There is a freemium model for storage, but the sweet spot seems to be: anything above 5 – 25 GB should be paid for.
  • No believable team: maybe this company has developed a new, revolutionary technology to make storage 10 times cheaper, but then they would show off their exceptional team. There would be a CTO or Chief Scientist with 30+ experience in data storage and some exotic patents in ‘redundant sub-particle holographic storage‘ or so. Here: nothing.
  • Look and feel: their page looks like it was made with a standard template and cheap stock photography. Like they couldn’t afford a decent web agency.
  • Empty company blog: that was a big red flag: they point to an empty blogspot as their ‘company blog’. This definitely smells like a scam.

Continue reading Is Backify (512GB backup for free) also for real?

Google Docs’ infamous “Moved Temporarily” error – fixed!


I store quite a lot of info in Google Spreadsheets, for the obvious reasons:

  • anyone can edit from any place, even at the same time
  • the servers are more reliable than a server at the office
  • I can use the info (with CSV/Excel export) in other programs through a web link

But there is a problem popping up at random moments with that last export or ‘publish’ functionality. Sometimes when you download the published link of a CSV export (through curl), you get an error ‘Moved Temporarily – The document has moved‘ with a redirect to a www.google.com address. And if you don’t follow HTTP 302 redirects, you can’t get to the actual content. In the past I’ve always worked around it or waited until the error went away, but today I searched a bit further. So for those who have the same question: read and learn!

The redirect is actually for authentication. Although I publish without requiring signing in, so one would expect no authentication process, there actually is one. See what it does (I used wget in verbose mode to get the HTTP headers):

>>>:~$ wget -v “https://spreadsheets.google.com/(…)&output=csv”
-- https://spreadsheets.google.com/(...)&output=csv

(...)

Location: https://www.google.com/... (first redirect)

-- https://www.google.com/(...)/ServiceLogin?=...

(…)

Location: https://spreadsheets.google.com/... (second redirect)

-- https://spreadsheets.google.com/(...)&output=csv&ndplr=1

(...)

Saving to: ...

So what is the solution: just add “&ndplr=1” to your URL and you will skip the authentication redirect. I’m not sure what the NDPLR parameter name stands for, let’s just call it: “Never Do Published Link Redirection“.

Repairing Amazon S3 downloads for IE

I use Amazon S3 for cloud storage of big digital-cinema files (up to 3GB) for distribution. It works fine most of the time, but I kept getting the odd complaint: “I can’t download on my PC, I get an error”. Everytime I asked what browser they were using, it was Internet Explorer. I am a Google Chrome man, and I almost never do anything with IE, but still, customer is king, let’s see what could be wrong. So I tested it myself with IE and yes, most files can be downloaded, but some couldn’t. Sometimes one would get an empty page, sometimes the following: “XML 5619: Incorrect document syntax

So I fire up  Fiddler2 – an invaluable tool to see what’s going on under the hood of the communication between your web browser and the web server. I look at the client and server HTTP headers and see something interesting:

1) Download via Chrome

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.0) AppleWebKit/534.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/12.0.742.122 Safari/534.30
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate,sdch

SERVER:

Content-Type: binary/octet-stream
Content-Length: 26176425
Server: AmazonS3

2) Download via IE for a file that can be downloaded:

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.0; Trident/5.0)
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate

SERVER:

Content-Type: binary/octet-stream
Content-Length: 26176425
Server: AmazonS3

3) Download via IE for a file that can NOT be downloaded:

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.0; Trident/5.0)
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate

SERVER:

Content-Type: application/x-zip-compressed
Content-Length: 687411306
Server: AmazonS3

It was a consistent pattern: every time the Content-Type of a file was x-zip-compressed, I couldn’t download . It might have something to do with MS KB 841120: the server that recompresses .zip files with gzip, and the browser mis-interpreting.

Anyway, I used CloudBerry S3 Explorer to go and explicitly change  every file’s HTTP headers and now I can download all files with IE. If I ever forget about this IE quirk, now I’ve written down the solution!