June 27, 2009

Another United Web Screw-Up

So, wanting to answer a question about my flight times for EuroPython I clicked on an email link to "My Itineraries". Thanks, United, this couldn't be clearer.

June 23, 2009

My God, I Have Fans

I've been putting out links on delicious.com for a while now (when I started it was del.icio.us, which I personally still prefer as a domain name, though probably it was too esoteric for the non-geeks). It's a great system, and I have a program that searches my feed for the last seven items I tagged with "python" and makes those the front-page news item on holdenweb.com.

Most of my interactions with delicious go through the Firefox add-on, so I was a little surprised today to discover that my delicious network page shows that my feed has 44 fans. This means I now have a bunch of feeds to start looking at. I am going to have to stop sleeping ...

Looking at the network page I was also quite interested to see the top 10 tags list of the things I have tagged most frequently.

python 194
web 96
programming 80
design 71
development 58
tools< 49
politics 46
webdesign 44
marketing 40
open< 40

That gives you a fair idea of my interests. Don't tell Guido about the marketing ...

June 19, 2009

June 18, 2009

Technology for Keeping People Honest?

Simon Willison and his team at the Guardian in the UK have brought a dream a step nearer to becoming true for me with his new Investigate Your MP's Expenses site. After looking at government profligacy in the USA I decided the only thing to do was to open up public accounts to public scrutiny.

Simon's site (quite independently conceived) is a practical demonstration of the idea's feasibility on a large scale. All we need now is a sponsor with deep pockets and an interface to Mechanical Turk. The next election is going to be interesting.

June 17, 2009

Seth Godin Says A Mouthful

You will probably be aware if you are a regular reader that while I'm not wild about marketing generally, I do see value in some things some marketers do and say. Seth Godin had a blog post recently called You Matter that describes quite well the kind of spirit I want to foster in the Python community.

As tummy.com said on their PyCon sticker this year: "Python will save the world! I don't know how, but it will." Isn't it up to us all to help Python do that?

June 11, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 Wireless on Dell Precision M6300

The best laid plans of mice and men have yet again gone agley. For a couple of years now I have been running Vista on my Precision workstation. In order to move to the Linux platform I bought a 320 GB 2.5" disk (amazing value at $90) and planned to install Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on it then migrate the Vista disk to a VirtualBox virtual machine accessing a raw patition which contained a Ghost copy of the original Windows partition.

Alas I couldn't get the virtual to boot, and anyway the Vista load is starting to show signs of instability (hardly surprising in a Windows installation that's been poked and prodded as heavily as mine has), so I have bitten the bullet and am reinstalling Vista from scratch with a virtual filesystem. The partition that was going to host Vista is now an ext4 filsystem which can host whatever I want or need to put on it. I have installed VirtualBox, and Vista loaded up like a champ.

The only (current) fly in the ointment is that for the life of me I can't get wireless networking to work. Unfortunately Command Line Idiot appears to be right when he or she writes:
There are roughly 19 billion tutorials for how to do anything you would ever want to do with Ubuntu. Unfortunately, they are all written by a 12 year old who knows even less than you.
Some of the advice I have seen is so cryptic as to be incomprehensible, some refer to drivers I don't have and don't seem to be able to download, the majority of it its either apparently irrelevant or clearly wrong.

So, crazy fundamentalist or not, I'll be happy to hear from you if you can tell me how to get the wireless networking going.

June 10, 2009

Not My Day with Microsoft

Well, I guess I won't be downloading SharePoint Designer just yet, then ... even the best-run and largest organizations have problems.

You know, I really wish the free software/open source world would come up with something as easy and effective as SharePoint. Maybe it will soon. SharePoint has become as popular as it is (and it's making Microsoft over $1 billion a year now) because, like Office, it's broad enough to meet the majority of most people's needs.

It's complex, but not really complicated, and I know it's not beyond the skills of the free software/open source community. Support, of course, would be something else. Now that would be a company I'd like to start ...

June 5, 2009

Google Wave: A Reason to Learn Java?

I've just (finally!) finished viewing the developer preview video of Google's Wave project from the recent Google I/O gathering. If I had time I would be brushing up my Java right now. I understand that the Java world was somewhat upset that Google App Engine supported only Python as a programming language for so long. Well, Wave is based on the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), a fascinating development platform that allows you to program in Java and deliver AJAX applications automatically translated (on the client side) into JavaScript. So now it's time for us Python guys to stand in line.

Wave is an amazing demonstration of where the web is going, and our lives are going to be richer for it. It's an entirely new approach to personal communication, and clearly demonstrates that open architectures are (pun intended) the wave of the future. Google are actively looking for people to get involved with the project already.

More later. For now I am too blown away to do much more than sit here thinking about the potential. I am also excited that this represents a bundle of opportunities for the open source world to demonstrate technical leadership. Unless other vendors have come up with some competing web-based technology I'm not aware of, and I'd be happy to learn about that too.

Information about the Wave platform (and, of course, the open source code) is on Google Code. The open Wave protocol details are on a separate site. Look for Wave's public arrival later in the year. Nice job, Google.

June 3, 2009

Something Smells

If you were at PyCon you probably noticed that netbooks are becoming more popular. PyCon delegates being geeks, I don't remember seeing a single one that wasn't running some form of Linux, though Microsoft do support the little machines with Windows XP. This in itself is an admission that Vista, their current operating system, is a resource hog. As a Vista user all I am prepared to say is "get me out of here", though the day-to-day experience is made bearable [short pause while all applications lock up for 90 seconds and the disk hammers away madly at I know not what] by the (open source) Cygwin command shell and the (open source) VirtualBox virtual machine that lets me operate virtual Linux hosts.

I don't have a netbook yet (though I have already bought one for my wife), but it's only a matter of time. I currently lug 6.6 pounds of laptop around with me for the large 17" screen that I find useful for development and the 4GB of memory, which was a lot for a laptop a couple of years ago. I may extend the life of the machine by upsizing the drive to 500GB, but I definitely want my next portable machine to be lighter, and lighter means smaller (though nowadays not necessarily much less powerful). In other words, it's the coming trend.

The manufacturers (who are all in the far East, naturally) have detected this trend, and are pushing out new hardware faster than a sow can push piglets. All of this new hardware can run at least three different operating systems: Linux, Windows and Android. Users have been expressing their discontent with the higher price of Windows systems in the desktop market, but didn't have a lot of alternative. However, Microsoft realized that if they charged their usual premium for Windows XP on the netbooks people would just laugh and buy a system with one of the alternatives loaded.

So the bottom line is that Microsoft are almost giving XP away (and why wouldn't they, the money it's already made them) just as a damage-control measure. It's vital to Microsoft that Linux and Android aren't seen as viable alternatives to Windows, particularly since the beta program of Windows 7 is making it seem like an operating system whose principal selling-point is the ability to switch its features off.

Enter the Taiwanese Computex trade show that opened yesterday. Qualcomm were showing a new Asus netbook running the Android operating system, but on the Asus stand there was no sign at all of this startling new development. In fact Asustek's vice chairman John Tsang said, shortly after sharing the stage with Intel and Microsoft representatives, that the Android notebook was not a priority. Android still has a way to go to be totally user-friendly on a netbook, but if Qualcomm could show it, why couldn't Asus? Were they, perhaps, being polite to a major business partner?

The UK PCWorld chain also said it is stopping selling anything but Windows through itsbricks-and-mortar stores, though mail-order buyers still have the Linux option. When I see press releases like that I am always intrigued about whether they are induced purely by market forces or whether some backroom maneuvering isn't involved.

One thing's certain. No matter what they have done for Mac sales, Apple's long-running TV adverts have positioned Windows (synonymous in the public mind with "PC") as an unstable, unreliable, bug-ridden inconvenient platform. Now it's beginning to look as though the hardware industry is becoming more independent of Microsoft for the software necessary to run its devices, which I see as a good thing.

Microsoft stockholders may, of course, disagree. I wouldn't necessarily sell your Microsoft stock right now. Just don't buy too much more.