March 2009 Archives

In just over two months of use so far I have been very impressed with the Sylvania g Netbook Meso. None of the issues, hardware or software, that I encountered with the original g Netbook, are seen in the somewhat newer model. The Meso has proven to be an upgrade in performance, in reliability, and most definitely in the area of software.
I wasn't there, but the XML Praguepresentations are online now. Here are my thoughts from rummaging through some of them. There was a strong emphasis on XSLT and XPath-based systems. I look at the presentations by Michael Kay, Tony Graham, Jeni Tennison and Ken Holman.
Peter Kirn of Create Digital Music posted this terrific graph yesterday, showing that the more appealing the promised product, the longer it will take to ship: The object of Peter's gear lust was the Teenage Engineering (even the company name...
When Microsoft settled a lawsuit from Sun Microsystems over changes to the Java programming language, they turned to veteran language designer Anders Hejlsberg to design a new object-oriented language backed by a powerful virtual machine. The result was C#--and a replacement for both Visual C++ and Visual Basic within the Microsoft ecosystem. Although comparisons to Java are still inevitable in syntax, implementation, and semantics, the language itself has evolved past its roots, absorbing features from functional languages such as Haskell and ML.
I saw something the other day that I was both intrigued and bothered by in equal measure. 'Mozilla and the Khronos Group Announce Initiative to Bring Accelerated 3D to the Web'. Apparently, the working group will look at exposing OpenGL capabilities within ECMAScript. The intriguing part is that, as a fan of 3D Computer Graphics and Animation this has got to be a good sign, especially if it is exposed in this way; but the bothersome bit is how people will end up using it because it has been exposed in this way. The crux of the problem for me is the question, JavaScript - what's it good for? Absolutely...
Ted writes, "Enough with the Martian space-chime echoes! I just want five good bass sounds, five good keyboard sounds, five leads, and five pads that would sound good almost anywhere. If you could only have 20 synth sounds, what would they be?"
Recently I ran into a problem where I needed to be able to send emails via two different SMTP accounts within the same Rails application. Here's a way to get around this fairly easily using YAML.
Taking a look back at a Steve Wozniak interview is a window into a time when the industry was completely and utterly dependent upon hardware innovation; before it became such a commodity at the hardware layer that the software could only be so differentiated. That is, until iPod and iPhone. The iPod accessory business itself is already a $2B market, and there has really been no such thing as "software value-add" to the hardware accessory itself. With iPhone 3.0, this changes.
I just returned from PyCon in Chicago. During the conference open spaces there was an open space discussing potential changes for WSGI. The three basic ideas were: Return a tuple with the status, headers, and response instead using the start...
I will be presenting Psychotronica: Exposure, Control, and Deceit at the Hack in the Box Conference in Dubai (20th - 23rd April 2009).
I have upgraded several Rails 1.2.x programs to 2.x. This can be quite a leap, and some of the steps are counterintuitive, so this post attempts to put everything together, like a recipe. I'd also like to hear more stories about upgrading platforms; such stories may indeed emend my suggested hacks and tweaks. Yet the point of unit tests, and TDD, is to make the smallest changes possible, and relentlessly test each change. Upgrading a major version tick is a big change, so you must force the upgrade to work incrementally, as a series of small changes.
Rails updates versions frequently. There are a few different ways to make sure your application is running the version of Rails you think it should be, and to make sure you can run it under the version it expects.
Thanks to George Reese, I learned about the bruhaha over an Open Cloud Manifesto. Let's put the debate in the context of some basic and perennial issues about openness and standards.
All of the vendors in the cloud space have paid lip service to the idea of Openness in the cloud; and most everyone believes that being "Open" is a "good thing". In an environment in which few people agree on the specifics of defining the term "cloud computing", what exactly does it mean to have an Open Cloud?
In the comments to my blog post on adding custom genre artwork to iTunes 8, one reader asks if there is a way to add a "New" tab to the grid view for Movies. I am not aware of a hidden iTunes preference to enable such a tab, but its functionality -- list all movies I haven't watched yet -- can be achieved in other ways.
The Illinois River is a slow moving, meandering waterway that originates out of Lake Michigan, flows beneath downtown Chicago, then cuts through the rich Illinois topsoil as it wends its way to Peoria (giving the area its distinctive river bluffs formation) then through the middle of the state until it finally meets the Mississippi river at Alton, Illinois, on the Missouri border. Given where it begins and ends, the Illinois sees a lot of river traffic, from barges laden with grain to shipping containers to steam-powered paddle-wheel boats that evoke the memories of Mark Twain.
WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP) meeting this week includes a session on Standards and Patents. There has long been a strong need for better international regulatory clarity on the overlap between standards and patents (or copyright): in particular to provide the necessary legal and administrative superstructure for the emergence and favouring of Open Standards. Among other reasons, to stop FUD and rorting.
Is this some new stage of XML's ubiquity, where XML is such a given it does not even need to be stated, let alone explained. As near as I can work out, FBML is designed to look like XML but not necessarily be well-formed. But I really don't know...Does any reader have any pointers to better information?
MySQL has had a long and sometimes strange journey from an independent database project to being commercialized; then brought to Sun and now possibly moving to a new home again. Brian Aker is the director of technology for MySQL with Sun Microsystems and probably is familiar as anyone with the life history and current status of the popular open-source database. He recently discussed the current status of MySQL with us, and how it might fare if IBM were to acquire Sun.
Spring is in the air and every photographer's thoughts turn to... cleaning out the accumulated gunk in your Lightroom Catalog! Seriously, though, now is a good time to go through your Lightroom Catalog(s) and see if you are carrying any excess baggage.
Have all members of the ODF TC have resigned from their day jobs?
This week's podcast features a chat with Brady Forrest, who organizes conferences for O'Reilly, about the upcoming Where conference, and what's happening with geo-aware technology in general. Brian Aker, MySQL guy for Sun, talks about the possibility of MySQL becoming part of the IBM product line. We have the answer to last week's quiz questions, and a new question that can score you an O'Reilly book.
I've long been a fan of Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace. She was not only one of Charles Babbage's biggest patrons, but she also was one of the first to suggest the use of "Jacquard Loom" type cards as a way of programming the Analytical Engine as well providing what may have been the first software programs. Lovelace, the daughter of the infamous poet Lord Byron, was also herself a "free spirit", albeit one with an astonishingly brilliant intellect behind it.
The flap over 165 million dollars in bonuses at a company taking federal bail-out money provides an opportunity to rethink how we handle crises. Start by trusting your staff to set long-term priorities accurately. Ask staff to analyze problems for root causes. Also, ask the people most affected by the problem what they need to fix it.
Sun's software side of the acquisition ledger, especially by IBM, has been rather oddly overlooked, given that it will likely have major implications for software development and cloud computing for years. Sun's software holdings cover five primary areas - Java, Solaris, mySQL, Open Office, and Sun's recently acquired QLayer cloud infrastructure. Understanding how IBM could potentially ramp up (or destroy) each of these gives some interesting insight into the real value of IBM's potential software acquisitions.
I tried to write a conventional computer manual in two days, and the experience has made me reconsider the conventions of computer manuals. The computer field is still in the kindergarten stage of exploring serious questions of how people learn, questions at the center of psychology and pedagogy for many decades. Even those disciplines don't quite get it, because they're fumbling with the instant messaging culture that gives us so many more tools today for learning together.
Many people first get involved with open source while they are students, but it's rarely as a result of their formal study. Professors, open source communities, institutions, and companies have been working on introducing open source community involvement into computer...
So what would be a game-changer? Slightly more semantic markup. In the case of legislation, this means strictly adhering to a cohesive set of styles, where the styles are based on on a common pan-jurisdiction style catalog of some kind, and where there is even the most basic QA mechanism in place to make sure that the styles are being adhered to. The trade jargon for this is rigorous markup.
The original practice and promise of open source software is unique. The software experience cannot be ported whole-hog into other areas such as sharing songs or organizing public forums. It's worth looking at what goes into creating open source software, and what unique traits of software make the open source process work well there.
Peter Sefton has had a great series of blog entries in which he has managed to blast almost everyone in the office document space:
Though the conventional wisdom on the Internet is that the economic benefits of cloud computing fail for applications with steady usage needs, the reality is that the commodity-server to cloud-server comparisons on which this wisdom is based are flawed. The reality is that the cloud often provides compelling economic benefits even when you have an application with consistent resource demands.
Update to my posting about a book-writing project this coming weekend in Cambridge, Mass. (March 21-22). RMS will write a foreword for the book.
So, another week, another OASIS ODF TC meeting. What are the numbers this week? How have my issues relating to a concentration of power (the potential to pass or to block issues) by members affiliated with particular sectors fared? Even worse than before: 1) Office suite developers: 91% 2) Commercial voters: 91% 3) Voters associated with a single code base: 63%
This week's roundup include discussion of the Sun/IBM rumors, the future of newspapers, Microsoft and Science Commons teaming up, and the weekly podcast quiz....
James Vanayos used some quadratic equations to make some serious money, $60,000 worth. James is a senior from North Andover High School and he won a renewable $15,000 scholarship to Merrimack College for civil engineering. The contest? Use a homemade...
Today's iPhone 3.0 Developer Preview was what I call a "block the kick" announcement. What's a block the kick? It is an effort to do such a good job of persuading your core constituency that any perceived momentum of the competition pales in comparison to your own that you block the competition's nascent momentum in its infancy. With 30M units sold across the iPhone + iPod touch line of multi-touch handhelds, and 800M downloads across 25K developer apps, today's event is about running up the score BEFORE the competition finds its footing with developers.
As a native Austinite and a musician, I have a the opportunity to enjoy SXSW and sleep in my own bed. It is a pretty amazing event to be a part of as it effectively takes over the entire city...
Read the rather startling comments to the article The long-running Sun-Apache dispute
On Tuesday, Apple is previewing its iPhone OS 3.0 to developers. While I have no idea what they will present, I will say this. The fact that Apple is stepping on the gas pedal and pushing 3.0, while the new kids on the block (read: Android and Palm Pre) are barely 1.0 suggests that they have learned the lessons taught them oh so painfully by Microsoft in the PC wars; namely, that he who wins the hearts and minds of developers, wins the war.
I was just looking at yet another vacuous presentation graphic, this one purporting to illustrate the SMART test for defining objectives. It looked something like this: This is of course rubbish. Infographics guru Edward Tufte would object strenuously to its...
Next weekend, March 21-22, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Free Software Foundation and FLOSS Manuals are coordinating volunteers to write a book about the command line in two days.
Apple earns enough goodwill with its usually beautiful design and usability that every now and then it gets away with murder. Case in point: the Airport Express. I recognize that many people are happy with their AE's. I've found that...
The asynchat module builds on asyncore to make it easier to implement protocols based on passing messages back and forth between server and client.
Readers who have potential features they would like to see in OpenOffice and Office (or other ODF and OOXML applications) should submit requests now to the appropriate standards committees. If we don't speak up about your requirements, they probably won't be met. Mind reading is not the optimal mechanism for standards development! In particular, this may apply to you if you have put in a request for an enhancement (or perhaps bug fix) to a product which actually relates to a provision in a standard.
Do you find yourself using those self check-out machines more these days? Do you find yourself struggling with already filled bags and no place to put more purchases? Here's a quick secret to better check-out.
Just finishing off the chapter on bit syntax and pattern matching over bit strings for our Erlang book. We wanted to put in a realistic example, and chose a TCP segment as described here.

It's amazing how expressive the notation can be ...

Here is a Schematron schema for the kinds of constraints I am suggesting would be appropriate for handling extensions with MCE.
In 2007, Google acquired the Grand Central Service, a VOIP based service that let users take advantage of a single phone number that could be used to forward to other phones, to record conversations and so forth. This service has been under the radar for some time, but today Google announced the new Google Voice, a free service based upon Grand Central that will debut in the next several weeks to new users.
What's the best way to jump start a stalling economy? Provide reasons for people to spend money by reducing costs for goods they're already paying for, freeing up capital to be invested into places they otherwise would not be invested into. Enter Amazon Web Services and the introduction of EC2 Reserved Instances.
The "status update" has become the ultimate social gesture (ala Twitter tweets). Now, imagine Status and Location as application ingredients that can be combined together to create new application compounds using social ingredients, like People, Places, Localities, Times, Topics and Events. The composite that results is what I call "Right Here Now" services, and the focus of this post.
John Wilbanks, VP of Science for Creative Commons, gave O'Reilly Media an exclusive sneak preview of a joint announcement that they will be making with Microsoft later today at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. According to John, who talked to us shortly after getting off a plane from Brazil, Microsoft will be releasing, under an open source license, Word plugins that will allow scientists to mark up their papers with scientific entities directly.
Amazon EC2 is an extraordinarily powerful infrastructure available to anyone with a stolen credit card. Even if someone is able to use the EC2 platform for a few hours with a stolen credit card, he or she will be able to initiate a vicious cycle that may become impossible to halt.
Hobby horse time again!
Anyone who has used languages such as XSLT should have a pretty fair idea about the complexities involved in treating XML as a programming language itself - it's verbose, forces thinking into a declarative model that can be at odds with the C-based languages currently used by most programmers, can be difficult to read, and as a syntax it doesn't always fit well with the requirements in establishing parameter signatures and related structures.
Arnaud Le Hors has an interesting blog item On Open Extensions, from early February 2009. It seems a useful category.
About six months ago, I put the boot into the ODF TC for not being representative enough. The laudable participation by a couple of core vendors was not being matched by participation by other kinds of stakeholders, in such a way that would make it difficult for those vendors not to get their way on any issues that came up. So now that it is six months later, I thought I would check to see what the current numbers are, this time with some charts.
Last week I engaged with 150 people in a unique and moving set of experiences at a Winter Camp. It suggested to me that the people for whom free software developers are coding need to be brought into development through something more than a mailing list or occasional conference.
This week's show features a followup with Andrew 'bunnie' Huang about factory conditions in China, the O'Reilly editors talk about jailbreaking iPhones, and this week's podquiz, your chance to win a free O'Reilly book.
I almost invariably get a comment to the effect that all Linux distros are essentially the same: running the same kernel, the same libraries, the same filesystems. Performance should be essentially the same, right? The answer is a resounding no. The performance results of different distributions, even ones running the same kernel version, the same core libraries, and the same filesystem can be very, very different.
There are math-phobes everywhere that are just shaking their heads, but bear with me. I just started tutoring a geometry student, and one of the first questions I asked him was how he did in Algebra. He said it was...
About three years ago I was really getting into Functional Programming (FP). Up until then I had been doing a lot of work with XSLT, which has many FP characteristics; Single Assignment, Lazy Evaluation, and the like, but I wanted to explore further what FP had to offer. Then, more by luck than judgement, I ran into Erlang, and we just clicked. To me, it seemed an elegant and expressive language, and a Functional one at that.
The beta release of my open source XML Schema validator is available now, from
The news out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the BLS) was grim this weak - the unemployment rate had reached 8.1%, climbing two whole percentage points in the last quarter. This rise is even more stunning given that unemployment had reportedly been stable for the past several years at around 5%, though this may also be simply a reflection that the numbers haven't been cooked quite so vigorously.
In 1997, I was at the Macromedia User's Conference to give a talk on creating "intelligent" agents within Macromedia Director. At this particular conference, Macromedia announced a new product called Dreamweaver, an HTML editing application that exercised a profound effect upon the web development community.
PekWM offers an additional solution: window grouping. It allows a variety of different applications to be grouped together in a single window. Most everyone is familiar with tabbed browsing by now. Window grouping takes this one step further. When window grouping is used in PekWM the title bar in the window manager is segmented with each section effectively acting like a tab.
NASA's just launched Kepler Mission promises to dramatically expand the catalog of known exoplanets from a few hundred to a few thousand. This post assembles some information about the mission and man this mission was named after Johannes Kepler. In the words of Sagan, "Kepler was the first person in the history of the human species to understand correctly and quantitatively how the planets move, how the solar system works."
I've been waiting for Crabgrass for years. I want to set up tasks and keep track of what my mates are doing without struggling with Gantt charts and all those tools for MBAs; looking at the grid of lines on a spreadsheet makes me think of jail. Crabgrass offers all the elements of social networking that are actually useful.
Microsoft Songsmith, designed to be a software aide for musical composition, has instead proved to be a great tool for comedy, as early adopters have exploited its bent for generating hilariously inappropriate accompaniments to famous artists' vocal tracks. This is...
This week, Apple finally announced a long-awaited upgrade to the Mac mini product line. If you're an Apple watcher, you may recall that at MacWorld earlier this year, anticipation was high that Apple would be announcing an update to...
Who is Vivek Kundra? This article assembles a few representative videos from YouTube that give you a sense of the policies and experience that Vivek Kundra brings to the newly created office of the Federal Chief Information Officer. From Google Apps to radically transparent interactions with vendors, Kundra has set a new standard for a City's IT infrastructure.

Earlier versions of Apple's iPhoto stored its library information in a regular folder structure. Around version 7 Apple changed that approach and iPhoto began hiding its folder structure inside a package file. While this makes the applications presence on the drive neater and theoretically more portable, it does hide the images in iPhoto's library from Lightroom.

If you want to migrate your iPhoto library to Lightroom I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it is relatively easy to import the files. The bad news? Your edits will not migrate easily. Unlike Lightroom, files that you edit in iPhoto are saved as a separate file. You can import these edited files but you will have both an original and the edit without any connection between them. Essentially, you wind up with two separate images. If you're still game here is how you do it.

Imagine CNN for the broadband era. A real time news network with bureaus/beats all around the world. Best of all, we're building it on the free or cheap.
Today we discussed our goals and FLOSS Manuals' unique Book sprint way of creating documentation. We're holding one in Boston on March 21-22, under the auspices of the Free Software Foundation, and we can use volunteers who would like to teach GUI users how to be effective with the Bash command line.
Microsoft Songsmith has been stuck in my mind lately like, well, a bad song (follow that link at your own risk). It's got me reflecting about the long trend towards using music technology to increase productivity, but not creativity. And...
Out of curiosity, I installed the Kindle iPhone app this morning to poke around with it, and see what a "premium" book reader for the iPhone would be like. It's no surprise that the iPhone screen is a suboptimal display...
This time around on Week in Review, the Gang of Editors discusses the shrinking IT salary landscape, we hear an excerpt of an interview about the Terry Childs cybercrime case, and there's a new chance to score a free book...
It seems that OASIS rules actually ban Technical Committee members from participating on the comments list with non-committee members. Communication is a one-way affair, an offering to silent gods.
The visionary Lucas Gonze just launched Fresh Hot, a smart new twist on Web radio. His mission is to connect mainstream listeners to Web-native music, so the site draws from band communities, musicians' own blogs, and bulletin boards where musicians go to get advice on their mixes. I like his choices.
How much does it cost to participate in one of the major boutique standards consortia? here are five cases: an academic expert, a consultant in sole practice, a person from a small business, a retired standards wonk, and an unemployed idiot.
In a seemingly bold move by Amazon, on Wednesday support for the Kindle e-book format will become available to iPhone owners via a freely downloadable application. But this shouldn't really come as any shock: Amazon is simply doing what they've always done: Looked to the bigger picture as their guiding light.
There's a debate over the boundaries between open source communities and the business that tend to develop around them. Hang on readership, we're trying out a new idea: Twitscan. Many of the conversations that matter in technology are happening in and around Twitter. Some of these stories will include twitter exchanges, others will just follow a thread of responses and point you to some interesting individuals and conversations that are happening, right now in the "Twitvironment". This post covers some of the recent chatter around Open Core Licensing.
I'm working in Amsterdam with 150 people from around the world to learn how groups can use available social and technical means to better achieve their goals.
As per the recent announcement in the AWS:EC2 forums, Amazon Web Services has beefed up their support of Windows 2k3, adding an additional availability zone in the U.S. as well as extending support via two availability zones to EC2:EU.
The asyncore module includes tools for working with I/O objects such as sockets so they can be managed asynchronously (instead of, for example, using threads).
Seth Godin recently published a rather insightful blog post on how trade groups often work to stifle innovation in order to maintain the status quo. The comments are especially timely now, as industry after industry goes to Washington hat in hand in order to beg a few billion here or there to keep their particular company or even industry afloat.

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