Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merge problems with maven and mercurial

Ever since we switched from SVN/Ant to Mercurial/Maven I have been experiencing a lot of merge problems between release branches. The following scenario is typical:
  • We have a release branch, named something like stable-3-7-x, where we publish a new release with the maven release plugin.
  • Then we merge the changes into a different branch (or the trunk, depending on the circumstances).
Invariably this leads to lots of merge conflicts on the Maven pom files, because every single line that specifies the version of the branch in question (at least one per pom, usually many more) has conflicting version edits in each branch. This is a major pain. Until now I had no effective way of dealing with this, but recently I found some procedure that seems to work:
  • I merge the usual way, leading lots of pom conflicts.
  • I mark the poms as resolved without further ado and commit with conflicting edits still in place.
  • Then I revert all pom.xml files to the last revision before the commit step above.
  • Finally, I commit the reverted pom files.
This seems to work fine: we revert the pom files in the target branch to the state just before the merge (i.e., before the 'wrong' and conflicting versions of a different release branch were pulled in). This is usually OK.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Towards a new democratic model for Europe: lessons learned from Belgian politics

This blog post is to encourage a new model for politics and democracy. I am writing this down during lunch break so these are some quick thoughts that need more work to refine, but I think the idea is clear enough...

Some recent history that lead me to writing this: 3 years ago, Belgium sold its Fortis bank to France, for less than the intrinsic value (i.e., for less than the bank had money in its accounts). Today, in an attempt to save Dexia (a Belgian/French bank) our government has agreed to cover most of the risk for a bad bank construction. This is way less than France could/should have done, so once again our politicians have been ripped off by the French.

Because of this, we are now amongst the worst positioned countries in Europe should it ever come to a Greek bankruptcy. I am personally (as a citizen) supposed to warrant 5000 euro for this bad bank construction, along with every other Belgian. This is unacceptable to me: as an entrepreneur, my bank always used to ask hard guarantees and payback plans whenever my company asked for a loan. It turns out those same banks neglected to do so for others, or there would never have been those bad bank constructions in the first place. And our government is making it _our_ problem now.

This and many similar mistakes could have been avoided IMHO - if only we had a better democracy. The current system of elected politicians (mostly without any real life experience at all) is outdated. New media like Twitter and the Internet make information and interaction possible across a distance, instantly. Just look at the Twitter hashtag #dexia for the voice of the people in this. Among those people are many renowned economists, who had warned us for the mistakes that would be made.

So what would be a better democracy? One that takes those people's insights into account. Instead of politicians getting ripped off in their ivory tower, they could have formed an expert committee with knowledgeable people from industry who have dedicated their lives to their specialties. These people are easy to reach, just try Twitter for instance. I am sure they would all be willing to contribute, since they already do (without being heard it seems).

Perhaps the best way to explain is by referring to House, MD (the TV show). House is in charge, but he is continuously challenged by his team of experts. Together, they come to find solutions where others have failed. Our politicians should assume the role of House, taking responsibility for the final decisions. Unlike now, they should consult several domain experts to reach that decision. Now that would be an improvement... Remember: we are smarter than me!

So on to the House democracy, I hope.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lessons learned being an amateur investor

I am not particularly wealthy - not at all. I just have a bit of savings (rather modest, pension money and so on) that I try to safeguard for later. I started doing this about 12 years ago in 1999 - when stock markets were still euphoric. Needless to say, I 'invested' in stock and stock funds at my bank. Did I know... Today, I still have most of that stock, only it is worth a fraction of what I paid for it a decade ago.

That was when I learned a very important lesson: when investing, don't buy what everybody has been buying (and what therefore has been going up in price) because you are paying too much. Without exception, all my 'investments' today are still worth less than they used to be.

It does not end there: in the big crash early 2000s (bursting of the 'bubble') everybody with money pulled out in time (I didn't). Instead of stock, people started investing in real estate - at least where I live. Consequence: with everybody buying, prices of houses went up sky-high. You know, way too much demand. Today, houses are over-priced in Belgium (according to the IMF, and also according to my personal impression;-). My conclusion: now is a bad time to buy a house - at least in Belgium.

Then comes the current geopolitical situation. The dollar being unstable, the euro also. Inflation around the corner. Investors massively buying gold (and gold skyrocketing in price), smarter ones buying railway corporations (Warner Buffett).

Following my rule of thumb, what is left to put my savings into? Real estate? Don't think so - overpriced. Gold? Nope. Railways? Don't have those on the stock exchange here - and Belgian railways aren't really the smartest ones in their spending anyways;-)

So what is left? My careful conclusion is: the stock market again. Everybody is running away from it, so it could be time to move in. I spent most of the day researching undervalued stock on the Brussels exchange. Fingers crossed...

[Update: forgot to mention that obligations are not an option these days in Europe, and keeping money in the bank doesn't seem a good idea either with inflation lurking around the corner...]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ondernemen is...

Gezien de huidige politieke impasse in België, en de daarbij horende nefaste plannen om de nodige budgetten te vinden via extra belastingen voel ik me geroepen deze post de doen. De politici aan de macht zijn namelijk duidelijk niet op de hoogte van wat ondernemen is. Hierbij mijn ervaring van 10 jaar op een rijtje:

  • Ondernemen is een 60+ uren werkweek aan een laag loon (je wil de zaak draaiend houden dus beperk je de kosten - dat is verantwoordelijkheid).

  • Ondernemen in een kenniseconomie betekent: hooggeschoolde specialisten aantrekken die dus ook een degelijk loon verwachten. Totale maandkost voor een goede programmeur die 2500 euro netto verwacht (en waard is): 8000 euro! 2500 is voor de werknemer, de rest voor de staat (ok, sociale zekerheid zit erbij maar is niet de hoofdbrok). Om hier winst op te boeken moet je die ontwikkelaar al voor 12000 euro per maand kunnen 'verkopen' aan klanten, of het is niet rendabel. De werknemer zelf houdt er ook niet veel aan over (amper 1/3 van wat de onderneming betaalt), en vooral: als hij 2x meer uren doet dan krijgt hij daarom niet 2x meer uitbetaald. Dat is pas ambitie tegengaan! En voor de ondernemer is het ook niet makkelijk om een meerwaarde van factor 5 te realiseren.

  • Ondernemen is: risico's durven nemen en verantwoordelijkheid durven nemen, wetend dat de staat zo goed als niets doet om te helpen de nodige klanten en inkomsten te zoeken. Je staat er zelf voor (en terecht, dat op zich is geen probleem voor mij).

Je zou terecht kunnen vragen: waarom doet iemand dit? Hoe kan iemand zo dom zijn? Het antwoord: omdat er wel degelijk mensen zijn met ambitie. Er zijn mensen die denken dat ze de wereld kunnen verbeteren. Er zijn mensen die initiatief durven nemen. Er zijn mensen die risico durven nemen - op eigen kosten. De beloning? Mogelijk niets, of in het slechtste geval zelfs een faillissement. Je hebt het dan tenminste geprobeerd. Maar mogelijk ook: het verwezenlijken van de droom van succes en verloning op termijn, verloning waar je jarenlang alle hoop op een normaal leven en pensioen voor opgeeft. Verloning waar je alle risico's voor wil dragen, waar je alleen voor staat.

En wat wil de staat nu doen? De voornaamste verloning die een ondernemer kan nastreven, namelijk een overname, belasten.

Bovenop al de belastingen die de staat reeds oplegt (en die reeds schaamteloos hoog zijn in België), wil men nu ook nog eens de enige hoop die men kan koesteren om een beetje risico te nemen (en zelf te dragen, zonder tussenkomst of hulp van de staat!!!) in de kiem smoren. Niks Europese droom - afstaan zult gij! Risico nemen en initiatief nemen moet worden belast! Dit grenst aan het ongelooflijke. Walgelijk vind ik dit zelf. Ik word er zowaar misselijk van...

Mijn boodschap aan de Belgische staat: langs de kassa passeren is gemakkelijk, vooral als je er niets moet voor doen. Dit kan echt niet meer. Dit is onaanvaardbaar. Dit is onethisch. En dat terwijl er (uit eigen ervaring weet ik dit) met geld gesmeten wordt bij diverse overheidsbedrijven - op een wijze die totaal onverantwoord is! Met andere woorden: winst en initiatief belasten is makkelijk - en zelf laat de staat na te realiseren wat ze van haar ondernemers verwacht: meerwaarde, winst die kan "belast" worden. Die factor 5 realiseren om winst te maken. Als er 22 miljard gevonden moet worden: gelieve eerst de eigen budgetten en overheidsbedrijven door te lichten.

Mijn boodschap aan kandidaat ondernemers: ga weg uit dit land. Richt uw bedrijf elders op. Ik heb het hier gedaan omdat ik naïef was en dacht dat er zoiets bestond als rechtvaardigheid en loon naar werken. Ik vrees nu meer en meer dat dit niet zo is. Hopelijk heb ik ongelijk...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

New revenue without income tax

This post applies to all of Europe, and to Belgium in particular. With the recent turmoil regarding state expenses and how to gather the required money for the future (retirement funds, investments in the future etc) there is a big debate on whether it is best to cut government expenses or rather introduce new taxes.

I would like to seize the opportunity to defend an idea of mine (actually it is not mine, but I like it):

  • we take the very brave step of abandoning income tax altogether (read on!)

  • we collect all tax money via VAT

Now I know what you will think: raising the VAT would require a VAT rate that is unrealistically high. I think this is not true because this is in essence a redistribution of the tax burden to where the money is:

  • People who are in the black economy (drugs, illegal construction work, anybody else cheating) will contribute in this system.

  • Also, foreign visitors that consume in Belgium will contribute in this system.

  • Also, very rich people who consume more will contribute more in this system (now they don't - there is no tax on capital (good!)).

  • Everybody else that I might have forgotten will also contribute.

In summary: because more people contribute, there will be more income from VAT than there is now from income tax without a significant increase in VAT. To optimize, luxury goods could receive a higher tax rate than now. At the very least, this should be considered as a serious alternative by our Belgian politicians. Given the current polictical situation they surely have time to investigate this :-)

Edited: another reason why this is fair: heavy consumers pay more tax - this is also better for the environment. And one more: if you don't consume, you don't pay taxes. You can keep the money you make.

Hopefully, this kind of regime will also attract the foreign workforce talent we so much need here in Europe!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My top iPad apps

I have been using the iPad for a while now (got the first model) both for business and for fun. My main goal was to eliminate most of the paper (reference guides) and personal notebooks I carried around all the time. In combination with my iPhone, here is how I managed to do that:

  • I use Evernote as the universal online storage (notebooks) for all my notes. The Evernote iPad app makes it easy to browse.

  • During meetings, I take pictures of the whiteboard (if any) and send them to Evernote so they become available on the iPad too.

  • My personal notes go the same way, either text created with the built-in Notes app or drawings with Jot! (another iPad app). All are emailed into Evernote.

  • The combination of Dropbox (for online file sharing) with Pages, Numbers and Keynote means I can access all my project files on the go, on the iPad.

  • Reading and annotating PDFs is easy with GoodReader and the Dropbox accessibility.

  • With iBooks, I carry all my reference books around on the iPad, with no extra weight or space requirements.

  • I use Omnifocus (synchronized with my laptop) to keep track of my daily tasks according to the Getting Things Done methodology.

That is the essence of my power stack for the iPad. Of course I also enjoy the email client and the browser, but those are not why I bought my iPad.

The only thing I am (just a bit) disappointed in is that handwritten notes are not well supported. I mean: it is hard to write (even with a stylus) on the iPad. You have to type instead, and typing is way faster on my laptop keyboard than on my iPad. So while I can manage for meetings, I can't really see how to make the system work for, say, following a training course and taking real-time class notes like I did in college. If anybody has any suggestions, feel free to post them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No, I am not a politician

In case you're in Belgium and wondering if I am into politics: this is not me (halfway down the page, more or less):

Note: I am interested (very much) in politics, but not in the mess that the Belgian politicians have made of it (BTW: thanks, Yves L. and the rest of the bunch - time to move on and make progress now!)

Me, myself and I