February 2009 Archives

The Internet, ironically, has been abuzz this week with dire news about how the Social Media and the Internet itself is stunting our mental growth, is turning us into idiot savants, Aspergers and reverting our brains to a more primitive state. The first such statement came from Lady Greenfield, an Oxford University neurologist, baroness, and director of the Royal Institution in England, who warned that sites such as Facebook and Twitter were contributing to the decline of critical skills in children who used them heavily, claiming that repeated exposure could effectively rewire the brain.
You need two different techniques for optimizing the performance of an algorithm. Sometimes you improve upon the algorithm; sometimes you improve the way the algorithm is implemented. Both techniques are essential to applying algorithms properly. In this column we explain how to improve on the algorithm from last month. This task is quite common, really, in both algorithm design and in programming. We will describe our attempt to improve the performance of the Java-based Staged Deepening algorithm introduced last month for solving FreeCell. We also explain why certain optimizations were made when we implemented Prim's Algorithm for computing the Minimum Spanning Tree for a graph.
Interesting point raised on the ODF TC (related to my MODUS blog of a couple of days ago): can Schematron validate the ODF OpenFormula RAND() function?
Want to pad your Apple Store purchase to get over that magic $50 free shipping threshold? Here's how.
Our artist at O'Reilly was spell-checking the text in a drawing and got a strange recommendation. Perhaps Adobe is little behind the times, not recognizing Linux as a word, but where did the recommendation for Windows come from?
How can you turn the U.S. SEC eXtensible Business Reporting Language XBRL mandate's requirements into an opportunity when making process improvements to comply? Implement an XBRL-enhanced document management strategy as part of your internal corporate filing workflow which will both boost compliance and save money.
During the State of the Union speech, President Obama made formal an assumption that had been emerging since his candidacy - his support for a carbon market as a vehicle for capping carbon emissions. In such a system greenhouse gas pollution emitters purchase a certain number of carbon credits. However, the supply of such credits is strictly limited, and other concerns, including environmental groups, municipalities, and even independent traders, may also purchase such shares.
If you are a network engineer, you might want to pay attention to the continuing case of Terry Childs in San Francisco. In this 15-minute interview, Paul Venezia discusses the inconsistencies in the case, and why every technologist should be paying attention to the outcome of the Childs case.
Compliance is the most significant issue confronting organizations looking at a move into the cloud. Here are a number of recommended architectures that should provide PCI compliance for pure-cloud infrastructures.
Some thoughts on the Open Standards material in this week's UK government Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use: Government Action Plan.
It seems to me that there is a piece missing. It applies to ODF, OOXML and other standard formats. Here is my first stab at a solution: MODUS. I think we need something like MODUS because we need to support the maximum richness and adoptability of the standard formats without sacrificing openness and interoperability.
One of the big selling points of descriptive markup is that it is safe. If you use a binary format (or a macro-enabled file) you can have a security problems. I think ODF needs to take a leaf out of OOXML's book here, and at least adopt the convention where the normal extensions must be opened by conforming applications with macro- and script- and event- disabled. Security is so important, that it should be part of ODF 1.2 rather than a next-generation ODF issue.
The Kindle 2 is the first e-reader I've wanted to buy for numerous reasons, chief of which are an undying love for Amazon and the necessity of support for Mac OS X, my preferred OS. While I've demo'd the Sony Readers at my local Borders, they never pushed me over the edge of purchasing, especially with the tacit agreement that I'd be unsupported. When the Kindle 2 was announced, a number of questions I had the first time around resurfaced. This is the first of a number of entries planned regarding Amazon's new Kindle 2 and, as such, will serve both as an introduction to the series and as the requisite dump of unboxing and first-use photos.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about social translation using the Worldwide Lexicon as well as a review of Google's App Engine platform. This week we quietly turned on a general purpose tool for translating any website or...
The author Roy Blount, Jr., just took to the pages of the New York Times, arguing that the audio capabilities of the Kindle violates his intellectual property rights. My resonse.... Dear Mr. Blount, I've been a long-time fan of yours,...
The entertainment industry doesn't realize that there are two very different pirate profiles.
This week, the O'Reilly editors discuss how the new stimulus package may effect the alternative energy industry, we hear an excerpt of an interview with virologist Dr. Nathan Wolfe, and get a new patent-related podquiz question to puzzle over....
Citrix XenServer is now free. They were never winning over VMWare users on quality, so now they're shifting focus to price. That may not be a bad idea in this economy, but my suspicion is that Xen was more worried...
Carl Malamud, an advocate for goverment transparency, is starting a grassroots campaign to become the Public Printer of the United States, a position responsible for the Government Printing Office (GPO). As Public Printer of the United States, Malamud would be responsible for publishing information about the federal government. In this interview, Malamud discusses his seven point platform and his 20 years of experience fighting for government transparency.
I've recently been following a superb series by Michelle McLellan on the Ideas that get in the way of saving journalism. In this series of blogs, she does a superb job of raising some very uncomfortable questions for newspapers, most importantly, whether they are in fact so wedded to the idea of the newspaper that they've lost sight of the journalism.
The Gartner press release makes extraordinary claims on how much phishing costs businesses: $3.2 billion is not an estimate that should be taken lightly by anyone. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (quoting Carl Sagan). As I read through the Gartner press release, I felt that the claims were unsupported because, besides the fact that a survey was conducted, it does not reveal the methodology used to arrive at the specific claims.
The growth of XRX web application architectures is driving the need for a new generation of web applications standards beyond the scope of the current XQuery specification. These standards promise to allow non-programmers to quickly assemble new web sites from libraries of pre-built XRX applications.
Yes, I'm talking about Sputnik the first satellite, and the Stimulus package that was just passed by Congress. If these two things can work out the same way, good things may be coming for math and science education. Sputnik was...
The political process has long been a realm associated as much with back rooms and cigars as it has with helping the people within a country. Otto Bismark, the first chancellor of a unified Germany in the 19th century, famously remarked "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.", and this cynicism about the process by which laws are created has arguably become endemic within most governments today.
I enjoyed this quote in Charles Babcock's 'Why Windows must go Open Source'
New OpenSource Entity Extraction programs are becoming easier than ever for non-programmers to use. Apache UIMA is one example of a revolutionary technology that will make it easier then ever for non-programmers to tap the power of the Semantic Web.
The tarfile module provides read and write access to UNIX tar archives, including compressed files. In addition to the POSIX standards, several GNU tar extensions are supported.
This evening's SCALE blog covers Bradley Kuhn's keynote on Software as a Service, Jono Bacon on security, Red Hat's counsel on patents, and much more (with ample indulgence for my own opinions).
VL-Hot is an automounter which provides an alternative to the HAL daemon that provides some but not all of the functionality of HAL without continuously polling hardware.
Application support for proxies is inconsistent. Nathaniel McCallum and his colleagues have done a pretty exhaustive study of application support for proxies. This is a classic problem crying out for standardization, and libproxy tries to fill that gap. Existing applications would have to be rewritten, but for an interface that provides only three calls, how much trouble can that be?
Here is a test: when you hear the terms "layering" and "pipelines" are they abstract gibberish which bear no hard relation to the way that you develop? This post looks at how Schematron and parts of DSDL can be implemented in a pipeline. In order to explain the design of the latest release of Schematron, I thought it would be useful to show how the Schematron design has changed over the last decade to involve mulitple stages.
I thought I would write a little blog item about running Schematron in batch environments. Here are examples for command-lines, Ant and XProc.
The latest and greatest release of my (our) open source ISO Schematron validator is out now, available at Schematron.com. Schematron is a validation language for making assertions about the presence or absence of XPath patterns in XML documents; it is the most powerful of any standard schema language for validation. And don't miss Running Schematron: bat/shell, Ant, XProc, also by Rick.
A friend of mine, NASA systems analyst Joshua McKenty, dropped a note recently in my twitter feed about WebHooks, and why they're superior to syndication as a mechanism for building cross-server applications. While I have run into webhooks periodically in the last couple of years and been intrigued by them, Josh's comments made me go back and really think about them again. While I think that there are still a number of issues to be resolved, overall, I'm beginning to think that he may be right.
Peer to Patent project is examining a patent application that tries to get a monopoly on a trivial tagging mechanism similar to what millions of people use on blogs, social networks, and media sharing sites.
While perception is reality, and the emotional response suggests that Facebook needs to do a better job of being consultative with its community versus delivering material edicts from on high, the truth is that the hullabaloo about Facebook's change in Terms of Service is much ado about nothing.
GM's putting an end to its Saturn line shines a light on the challenge of building "a different kind of company" inside the "usual kind of company", at a time when a lot of web companies are aiming to be different.
Within minutes of Obama signing into law the economic stimulus bill (formally, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)), the web gnomes at the White House flipped the switch on a new website - Recovery.gov. If there is any question that Obama understands the medium of the Internet, its one that he (and his team) is rapidly dispelling: there has been more new web efforts debuted in the last three weeks than there was during the last eight years of the Bush administration.


By Kurt Cagle
February 17, 2009 | Comments: 1

The paradox of contemporary life is upon us. I paid $2,000 for the laptop upon which I type these words, in addition to a hundred dollars a month paying for online access, yet the editor I'm using is a web page within a free web browser, connected to a server that is running either Linux or Open Solaris, which was downloaded for free from a distribution disk that no doubt someone paid for, albeit at a cost of pennies. Yet the time and energy to creating these operating systems were non-negligible, representing thousands of man years in total dedicated to writing this free system.
ODF editor Patrick Durusau has announced the availability of the first committee draft of ODF 1.2 Part 1. I think it is really good to have the two conformance levels. However, they won't do what some people may want them to do.
This week's podcast includes a roundtable discussion by the editors of Microsoft's new retail initiative, excerpts of an interview with Andrew "bunnie" Huang about product design in China, as well as the weekly podquiz, your chance to score a free O'Reilly Book.

As we've seen, there are many preferences that can be adjusted in Lightroom to make it work the way you like. But that's not all! Each catalog has its own settings to allow you to further customize your Lightroom experience! Let's take a look at Catalog Settings.

Author Jono Bacon, community manager for Ubuntu, is writing a book about community building for free software projects and others. He has set up a site for news and comments.
The new Kindle 2.0 is a cool enough-looking gadget - its hyper-svelt profile (just over a third of an inch) is thinner than most of the books it holds, at ten ounces it's also lighter, and the silvery/white casing (among others) manages to take scuffs and dirt better than its predecessor. The e-ink paper, sporting sixteen shades of gray, is also a compelling testament to what looks like the next major display technology - e-ink retains its state after it's configured, which means that you only have to refresh the page when you move beyond the buffered page content ... which in turn means that you can run the Kindle for days without recharging.
For most people, ISBNs are random noise on the backs of books, helpful mostly for barcode scanning at the register. For publishing folk, ISBNs can actually be memorable, magic keys for jumping from one system to the next. Of course, there are now two different flavors of ISBN, the obsolete (I prefer 'classic') variety with 10 digits, and the new version with 13 digits. Working with two sets of magic keys can be complicating.
On Valentine's Day, I found myself 500 miles away from my two daughters (10 and 7). I'd already decided to get them a gift certificate from Amazon, with an e-greeting. Amazon has so much stuff, both kids could easily get...
All blogs correlate their posts with tags. This blog post shows how to use these tags to display a mind map, hooking the current post into a tree of related posts.

PyMOTW: grp

By Doug Hellmann
February 15, 2009 | Comments: 0

The grp module can be used to read information about Unix groups from the group database (usually /etc/group).
There's been a lot of talk about the role of technology in education recently. In part, because the economic stimulus plan has various provisions ($650 Million for Enhancing Education through Technology) that deal with it, and in part because it has been a fairly constant issue in education since the technology was created. So first, define technology. From the perspective of the classroom, technology can mean calculators, iPods, cell phones, Active Boards, computers, the internet, and on and on.
Why can't education across the Internet become closer to the rich educational possibilities enjoyed by people who occupy the same office or classroom? Recent enhancements to IBM's Rational Team Concert and Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System suggest a path forward not only for collaboration by for learning.
Youthful indiscretions, trysts, dalliances? Programmer and writer Thomas Scoville has had them with every OS from VMS, MVS, and CP/M. He even admits to a short-lived infatuation with Windows. But he's always returned to his one true love, UNIX.
I would have rated the hardware in this unit highly if it hadn't failed on me on two consecutive systems. I understand that two units is hardly a scientific sample and that I may just have had really bad luck. Unfortunately the software proved to be a disaster as well.
The way I learned computers back in the 1980s doesn't seem that different a path from the way teens are learning now - but both seem very different from the way that adults traditionally learn. Is there a way to improve adult learning by encouraging teen practices?
Today I received the following from Tom Christiansen, author of several of our bestselling Perl books, frequent speaker at OSCON, and Perl consultant extraordinaire. He asked that we publish this special news on his behalf. If you're at all interested...
The particular issue that MCE address is this: what is an application supposed to do when it finds some markup it wasn't programmed to accept? This could be extension elements in some foreign namespace, but it could also be some elements from a known namespace: the case when a document was made against a newer version of the standard than the application.
The ODF and OOXML standards should move to a strictly timed release cycle. So ODF 2009, ODF 2010, ODF 2011, OOXML 2009, OOXML 2010, and so on. And a proposal to add true() and false() to RELAX NG (Compact Syntax).
This week's podcast features a round table discussion by some of the O'Reilly editors of how the Obama administration is making use of the Internet, an excerpt of an interview with LCD display maven Mary Lou Jepsen, and the weekly...
iMovie 08 confused me after moving to it from 06. Windows Live Movie Maker beta just seemed useless compared to the older Movie Maker 2.7. Apparently, my evaluation of this beta is not a singular one. Microsoft's on On10.net points to Movie Maker 2.7 for use with Windows 7 beta. And, check out the comments to the On10 blog entry. Very interesting stuff.
I refer without comment to the alert Say No to Copyright Filtering in Broadband Stimulus, put out by the public-interest group Public Knowledge.
After a long hibernation, O'Reilly Labs has returned, with a mix of software and code that should excite casual ebook readers as well as dedicated publishing technologists.
For me, what's wrong with Songsmith is not that it's so uncool. It's what's wrong (though maybe not so egregiously) with a lot of music technology: the underlying premise that productivity is an absolute good.

In Part 1 we took a look at the options available on the first three tabs of the Preferences dialog. In Part 2 we'll tackle the remaining three tabs. So let's get started!

Let's just be honest here - Head First Algebra is a whole new direction - it's a long way from Java and Software Development, right? The truth is, Algebra is one of those subjects that just confuses people. You may...
My consulting firm, Zaffra, has the pleasure of working alongside of a really interesting startup based out of Berkeley called Life360. One of their bylines is "taking care of your family's what-ifs" but instead of just developing yet another web...
Language is one of the few remaining barriers on the Internet. The web has rendered time and distance largely irrelevant, but much of it remains fragmented by language. The Worldwide Lexicon, an open source project I have worked on for...
This is a follow up article to a piece I wrote in 2007, "Why I Stopped Coding and Why I'd Start Again". I took a several year hiatus from writing code, mostly because I found that I was spending more...
The announcement came quietly, a briefly worded memo from the SEC in December that as of the the third fiscal quarter of 2009 (starting in June), companies over $5 billion in assets would be required to start reporting their earnings using the Extensible Business Markup Language, or XBRL. Other companies would be required to follow suit according to whether they use GAAP (which have a one year grace period) or IFRP (starting 2011).
The pwd module can be used to read user information from the Unix password database (usually /etc/passwd).
Shortly after the initial release of the HP Oracle Database Machine and the Exadata Storage Server, this blog described the new products. As organizations tested the hardware / software solution and more details have emerged on how it is delivered,...
Google Earth 5 hit the Internet earlier this week (visions of some cataclysmic asteroid impact come to mind with that statement), debuting everything from a historical mode that lets you see the evolution of terrain over time to a dramatically expanded oceanographic mode that lets you see a whole new world 'under da sea' to the rather stunning release of Google Mars, in which the orbiter maps from the exploratory missions of the last decade are now laid out in stunning detail (and hopelly waking up a whole new level of appreciation for the Red Planet).

Setting preferences in Lightroom.

Graphing snapshot usage on a Netapp volume.
Recently, I had some trouble synchronizing images shot from with three different digital cameras when I imported them into Lightroom. As it turned out one of my cameras was not set to the correct time or time zone and this...
It seems that both ODF and OOXML have reached the stage where the killer bee of conformance is buzzwording itself around the ears of the various committees. ... So what do I mean by a stakeholder usage cluster? From the vendor/developer side, you have needs for different levels of development effort. From the user side, you have needs for reliable interchange at different levels of complexity
This week's podcast features tip on using Mercurial, an update from Matthew Russell on his Building Community book, the answer to last week's quiz and a fresh new FSF-related quiz question....
I've always loved the MoinMoin wiki, and lately I've been using it for more and more, at work and at home. I've pined for a REST wrapper for a while, and I finally bit the bullet and wrote one, as part of the open-source Akara project, which among other things provides RESTful access to the XML processing capabilities of Amara 2.x.
Not-so-technical update about the LPI Linux in a Nutshell book I'm looking to write.
At present time, nothing, which is exactly what Scott Bellware has recently described as a significant and gaping hole in our industry: We have a gaping human resource hole in our software product development organizations through which incredible value continues...
I've been working on the Python Module of the Week series since March of 2007. During the course of the project, my article style and tool chain have both evolved. I now have a fairly smooth production process in place,...

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