January 27, 2007

So You Want To Help the World?

When I was an academic, one of the problems I struggled with was relating information technology to the basic needs of populations in less-developed areas. In my M.Sc. classes I tried to explain the irrelevance of high-tech information systems to someone who was struggling to find clean drinking water and sufficient food. These explanations were somewhat academic (no pun intended) in nature because I haven't visited such areas or even been in particularly close contact with them.

If you would like to help others less fortunate than yourself PyCon gives you a great opportunity. I have been corresponding with Oouc, who says:
Thank you greatly for your interest. People in the disaster area, especially Nias, have had their old way of life destroyed. Many are now beggars because their type of employment before the tsunami and earthquake 3 months and 2 days later is gone. The March earthquake destroyed 80% of the buildings and killed many of the business leaders because they could afford to live in large heavy concrete houses.

Their primary need is jobs. But before the tsunami/earthquake the great majority were poorly educated tribal language only gatherers in the cocanut and rubber tree plantations. They need practical education in the national or international language if they are going to have a real life after all the results of their old way of life has been destroyed.

The Internet has a wealth of Public Domain materials which could help accomplish this education but it is not accessible to these people. I have an expenses only, no salary, grant to grab these Public Domain materials, put them on a local server and LiveCD's and make them available to Nias and Aceh residents in the original language and in translations to their national and tribal language. Decades ago, I was called "the impossible man" by a translations society because they were repeatedly told by computer scientists that something was impossible but I never failed to do what they wanted. Now most of my time is spent helping others and I cannot even do what I want to do. The sprinting or distant programming help of any Python programmer who can develop almost anything for education would be helpful.

I joined a sprint on a dial-up connection half way around the world last year and was able to benefit much more than my small contribution.

People who want to help should look at http://us.pycon.org/TX2007/EducationalSprint and the two links on that page. If they will give me their name or handle, abilities and interests; then eMail to me or leave their contact info on the wiki then I will plan to use their abilities and turn the sprint more towards their interests.
The tsunamis have left large communities without visible means of support: lines of communication have been cut, buildings have been destroyed, coastlines have changed (sometimes by over 50m/160 ft) and livings have disappeared. If you would like to help people who have been thrown into turmoil through no fault of their own then consider signing up for the sprint, or getting in touch with Oouc at the conference (as I intend to) and offering your help.

January 23, 2007

Lots of PyCon Good News

The PyCon blog announced today that pre-registered attendance has now reached 400. After a pause in growth last year (due to the change of venue?) I am happy to see that Python's continued increase in popularity is being reflected in PyCon's attendance figures. It is, after all, the primary US conference for anyone with an interest in the Python language.

Sponsorship is also on the increase, and I am delighted to have exceeded the target that the co-chairs set me when they put the budget together. This is the first year we have attracted five Platinum-level sponsors. Thanks to everyone who is supporting the conference in this most practical of ways. I hope all my readers will take the time to follow their links at the right-hand side of the PyCon web pages. It's also not too late to sign up as a sponsor - where else could you get your organisation's name on the web next to both Google and Microsoft?! The details are here.

On a personal note the database API tutorial is going ahead. The lower numbers this year should allow time for questions and personal tuition. I'll have to get working on the slides and examples now!

January 18, 2007

Things You Don't Expect

It's strange. I use the web an awful lot (the company is called Holden Web, after all) and so I am used to seeing server error messages appear in my browser. So I had to stop and wonder just why I found this one so fascinating:

The answer finally came to me after a minute's puzzling: it's the very first Google server error I have ever seen. Given the amount I use Google and the scale of the service they now provide I think that says a huge amount about the quality of their engineering.

Python Everywhere ...

In other news, a Swiss company that sells remote sensing systems for liquid petroleum gas tanks is buying Python-based sensing equipment from a US-based company. This is probably nothing new, as the Python in question is 1.5.2, but it reminds me just how pervasive Python is becoming.

The device in question is 1.62" x 1.24" x 0.14" (41.4 x 31.4 x 3.6 mm if you must) and it runs Python!

The news about Autodek's adoption of Python for Maya now also seems to be getting around - three more news pieces listed in my Google alerts today.

Python 3.0 Alarmism: Pay No Attention

I don't follow the python-dev list religiously, but I do like to keep my eye on (what seem to me) the more important threads. Recently there's been a "Proposed 3.0 compatibilty module" thread in which various luminaries have discussed how migration to the new version might be made easier for current users. The general conclusion, now the dust has settled, seems to be that no compromise is to be made on the 3.0 design, that it will clearly break compatibility with 2.5 (no surprise there), and that 2.6 should contain enough 3.0 features that onward migration with the help of an automated translation tool should not be a problem.

In an earlier thread on the proposed bytes type, I expressed to Guido my feeling that it's important the development of 3.0 doesn't fragment the community in the way suggested by theand asked him whether there were plans to discuss 3.0 with implementation teams from the versions other than CPython.

Yesterday there were some rather alarmist comments by Calvin Spealman, suggesting it's at least possible that the sky is falling and that forks are coming. One quote from Spealman's blog is revealing: "What few ideas I do have towards avoiding the problems are not well thought out, probably are missing vital information, or are simply stupid." You said it, Calvin, and I'm not convinced that your approach was the most helpful one you could have taken. Fortunately our technical blogs don't usually make the front pages of the Washington Times - I have been known to suffer from foot-in-mouth myself.

Now I see that Chas Whitacre has also read Spealman's blog and is looking for advice in whether to adopt IronPython. He says "So what would really help me would be posts demonstrating the respective market shares of the various Python implementations, and resources detailing the differences between them". This is a reasonable request, but I have a nasty feeling that these two blog posts between them will spark alarm, that those with an axe to grind will jump in gleefully, and that a shitstorm will result.

Guido replied off-list, so all I can say is that he has confirmed that the upcoming PyCon represents a great opportunity to address these issues. In fact, though, the situation today is already somewhat fragmented. Jython support appears to lag at least a release-and-a-half behind and IronPython and PyPy are currently (as far as I know) still targeting 2.4. Just the same they are all implementing Python, and that's the important fact to keep in mind.

I believe it's necessary to try to ensure that all implementations are encouraged to stay in step with the reference implementation (which at the moment remains CPython). Even if this proves difficult and they don't all make it to the promised land of 3.0 their users will still be better off running 2.3, or 2.4, or 2.5 than using other, less useful, languages. Microsoft managed to break compatibility on Visual Basic without the world coming to an end, and the user community involved there was enormous, so let's not pretend that this is any more than a storm in a teacup.

Of course the information that Chad Whitacre asked for would be both interesting and useful, so if anyone has information to share (preferably facts rather than opinions, but I suspect few can be discovered) I would love to see it posted, here or elsewhere. One fact I can give you is that Python's popularity continues to grow. As Python is now integrated into most popular Linux/*nix distributions (and indeed scripts many of their installation routines) a much larger percentage of the downloads are for Windows than was the case a year or two ago. H-P now installs Python on their Windows PCs to help script their installs, so the movement towards world domination continues. You can even run Python on the Nokia 700 web tablet. This is a fundamentally healthy situation.

January 15, 2007

Is Python becoming a standard for animation application scripting interfaces? Autodesk, originally well-known for their AutoCAD drafting software have diversified into animation with a product called Maya, which has just been upgraded to version 8.5. One of the new features trumpeted in a report of the announcement is Python scripting, which turns out to be very popular with the film industry.

Anders Langlands, R&D lead at The Moving Picture Co. (MPC) and Maya 8.5 beta tester, commented: "Having Python support available in Autodesk Maya means we can leverage many of our existing tools directly within Maya, rather than having to write glue code to bind Maya to our pipeline. This allows us to develop new node and command plug-ins in a fraction of the time it would normally take using other solutions."

I already knew that Python was popular with companies like ILM and Pixar, but it seems as though its value in animation is now an open secret.

January 14, 2007

No Database Tutorial?

Well, from the reports so far it looks as though I won't be giving my Using a Database in Python tutorial. It looks like the PyCon market for introductory database tutorials was saturated last year and there may be too few signups for this year. Unless there's a late surge it looks like it will be cancelled.

So, if you were planning to sign up later you should swell the numbers by doing it now. That would be a good idea anyway, as Early Bird registration is still in force for a few more hours - until the end of Monday! In fact, forget the tutorial -- if you want to go to PyCon then register now! It has to be the most cost-effective Python conference on the calendar -- and I'm not just saying that because of my own affiliations with the conference.

January 4, 2007

PyCon Sprints: Hotel Misinformation

Just in case you have been told, as a couple of people have already reported, that there are no rooms available at the conference hotel for the sprint days, please don't give up! This appears to be a glitch in the hotel's reservation system.

To the best of my knowledge the agreement with the hotel is that rooms will be bookable at the conference rate even after the PyCon guaranteed allocation is used up, and indeed as long as rooms continue to be available. So persist, and if necessary call 1-800-228-9290 to demand the room rates that PyCon delegates are entitled to.

Thanks to David Goodger for the appropriate extract from the contract. I wonder if Marriott need some help with their information systems? I bet they aren't written in Python!

January 3, 2007

Questions for Python Developers

Those who aren't heavily involved with the Python world may have missed the fact that PyCon 2007 will be held towards the end of February. There are already signs that the hotel is starting to fill up and early bird registration ends in less than two weeks, so if you are planning to attend now would be a good time to register.

Besides the database tutorial I am presenting on the Thursday before the conference proper, I am also acting as moderator for a panel where Python developers will answer questions, some of which will come from the audience. Is there anything you'd like to know about how Python is developed, what the general philosophy is, or what it takes to become a committer? The broader the scope of the discussions, the more interesting this session is likely to be. If you would like to add your own question you can do so on the PyCon web site, and I will be happy to include it.

If you are so technophobic that you aren't comfortable editing a wiki page then you can add a comment on this blog, but since that would involve clerical work on my part I can't guarantee that channel will operate as effectively.

It's interesting to see what an organised conference PyCon has become under Andrew Kuchling and Jeff Rush, this year's joint chairs. I still remember wondering whether the first one would cover its costs after I had casually predicted that the community could run a better conference than the commercial organisers who had run the IPC series before it. So far each PyCon has made positive contributions to the Python Software Foundation's coffers, thanks largely to the generous sponsorships we have attracted.

Since I am responsible for administering the sponsorships, and since there are a number of people whom I need to correspond with quite urgently I had beter get back to that task. If your organisation would like to help by sponsoring the conference, please visit this page or drop me a line.

January 1, 2007

The SuperVillain Test

Happy 2007, everyone!
Oh, no, what a way to start a new year. I am Lex Luthor

Lex Luthor 62%
Dr. Doom 57%
Kingpin 55%
Green Goblin 52%
Mr. Freeze 46%
The Joker 39%
Apocalypse 34%
Riddler 33%
Poison Ivy 30%
Catwoman 29%
Mystique 28%
Magneto 27%
Venom 21%
Dark Phoenix 12%
Juggernaut 12%
Two-Face 12%

A brilliant businessman on a quest for world domination and the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of our time!

Click here to take the "Which Super Villain are you?" quiz...

Then again, looking at the other options maybe Lex Luthor isn't so bad ... at least the guy has some charisma. Overall I suspect I'm just not really supervillain material.