November 9, 2004

Is it me, or is it Zope?

Some software installations can make you feel really stupid, just by not providing specific instructions.

I was pleased to see that Zope 3 had been published, so I downloaded a copy of the Windows installer and went through the (very simple) installation. Fine. Then I began to wonder just how the heck I'm supposed to run this amazing new piece of software I've just downloaded.
netstat -a
doesn't appear to tell me anything, so I assume that Zope isn't running.

Funny, nothing on the Start menu, which is where you'd logically expect the new items to appear. Nothing new has appeared in the C:\Program Files directory (hardly surprising, since I wasn't asked where the stuff was supposed to be installed). So, over to C:\Python23\Lib\site-packages\zope, and lo! - there is everything that's been installed.

Only there isn't, as far as I can see, anything to run. There is a server directory, but nothing obvious to run. There are a few README files, none of which contain instructions for how to start the software. Clearly this is just me being incompetent, right?

Well, Google is your friend, so I run a search for "How to start Zope". This gives me a huge amount of stuff related to Zope 2.everything. Most of it obviously doesn't apply, and much of it contains dead links that are clearly not being spidered on a regular basis.

I've noticed in the past that Zope documentation tends to be less than complete. Should we say "confusing"? It's surprising that an industry can be spawned on the basis of something that is so far from intuitively obvious. How steep can a learning curve be?

Here's an example from Zope 2.7, which Zope enthusiasts have told me to stick with for a while. So I'm noodling around and I decide to try to create a bunch of pages whose content comes from a database. Seems like what I need is a "Zope SQL method". So I select "Zope SQL Method" in the management drop down and click the "Create" button, to be presented with the message "There are no SQL database connections. You need to add a Zope SQL database connection before you can create a Zope SQL Method."

Now, can anyone guess where to find the information about how to create a Zope SQL database connection? Can I find it in the Zope web site? Can I find it using Google? Does the Z SQL Methods FAQ tell me how to create a Zope SQL database connection? What gives with this software? Do I have to be psychic?

We are talking about one of the flagship products of the Python world, and while I may not be Superman I do have quite enough experience to be able to run a program. Come on, people, let's have a few simple instructions that will give me the basic satisfaction of seeing a Zope web page served from my machine. As I write this I am feeling disillusioned with Zope, even though I know that there's some superb stuff in there. If only I could unlock the magic. Instead I'm left feeling slightly stupid, not a good place for a new uiser to be.

November 3, 2004

Bush Steals it Again

For someone who claimed to want to unite the country, Bush has been an incredibly divisive president, as the election result predictions today clearly show. The most interesting demographic to date is that had the women been in charge we'd now be talking about President Kerry's first term, but the men preferred Bush by a significant majority.

As I write it looks like Bush will squeak in unless there are major surprises in the absentee and uncounted ballots. I just hope that all the poor male Bush voters hoping to get rich will remember the next four years. There is little doubt in my mind that Bush's second term will, to misquote former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, "squeeze the poor until the pips squeak". The American dream is about to become the American nightmare, since clearly Bush feels no necessity to act moderately despite the slimness of his majority.

This is feeling like a bad day for America and a bad day for the world. I just can't believe that anything but voter self-interest has given the Prez the support he needs to get re-elected, nor how people can delude themselves into thinking that Bush cares the hell about them. The best description I've heard from anyone was Ralph Nader's "He's a corporation disguised as a man". The next four years will be good for corporate profits and exceptionally bad for anyone without a high net worth.The American right, ably assisted by a media completely dominated by big business has long ago persuaded much of the world that "socialism" is a dirty world, and "liberal" is also teetering on the brink. It seems that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists still has plenty to teach the world.

November 1, 2004

Why Do You Have to Know This Stuff?

Well, things are certainly changing in Blogdom, or whatever this strange "place" we all "inhabit" is called. I really like the way that blogging has taken off - it's almost becoming a new "killer app" layered on top of the web. For a while blogging was just something that a few random geeks did, but now we have journalists blogging, and bloggers journalising, and the boundaries between profession and spare-time occupation are rapidly blurring. This is indeed the way the information age was predicted, but it's interesting to see it become a reality.

Time was when the doctors would be bothered by people at parties: "I've got this pain in my knee, can you tell me what it is?" Nowadays computer knowledge, once safely obscure, has become a magnet for the general public, and I get people asking me questions about their computers that five years ago would have been impossibly abstruse. Many of them still should be outside the bounds of lay knowledge even today if computers would only work properly, but of course Microsoft's operating systems have historically been of such poor quality that every user has been forced to absorb the basics of computing simply to retain a little sanity.

This in itself is an interesting phenomenon from the point of view of someone like me, who's been fascinated by computers since 1967. Many times I have observed that I am incredibly lucky to be able to earn my living doing something I find so enjoyable. My early employment, in a television factory and as a bus conductor among other things, was enough to teach me that very few get this opportunity. Yet I am forced to the conclusion that many casual computer users must also find this technology fascinating, or they would simply refuse to use the bloody things. I can't for the life of me understand how the average computer user is prepared to learn as much as they do just to get a bit of wrod processing done. People will laugh in fifty years about the dicsussions we are currently having on "ease of use".

There have been several jokes along the lines of "if Microsoft built cars", but I really can't see the average car user being prepared to learn what went on under the hood simply to be able to have the pleasure of driving around. I imagine, however, that this would indeed have been the case in the 1920s, when the "early adopters" were able to fix their own breakdowns. Perhaps the 21st century has brought us to the Model T stage of computing, and in fact many of the people who drove around in early Fords hated their cars but couldn't face a return to the inconvenience of riding around on a horse.

Anyway, I thought that this blog might be a good place to start recording random notes and jottings once more. is a more organized place, but seems to me better suited to essays and completed thoughts than my own little blog on a site that's pretty much under my control. So here it will be.