Planet Birmingham

Voices from the heart of England.

August 06, 2008

Celeste H

Shall i compare thee?

Was it Shakespeare who wrote, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more temprate and more sweet."? It was some Brit. Frankly, if somebody from London or the Midlands said that about me, i'd be fairly displeased. Shall i compare you to summer in san frabcisco? You're just like Ocean Beach on a cold day in June.

I'm glad I got a couple of weeks in Berkeley, Oakland and the South Bay. Anyway, that's my quota for whining about the weather. Life is hard for expats from Camelot. "It rains after 10:00am!"

I'm nearly unpacked. Alas, my landlord's furniture has the dual disadvantages of being large but unroomy inside in addition to being already full of his stuff. There also seems to be something of a moth issue. I wonder how to discourage them without permeating my clothes  with the smell of pesticides. Clothing-type moths are new to me. My previous experience  is mostly with the sort that want to lay eggs in my rice. (Beware the segmented rice grains that move!) The anwer to that is airtight containers- but this seems inapplicable to my duvet- or would seem inapplicable if i could find a place to put it.

You may be wondering how i manage to post these vitally important missives. There's an open wifi network which reaches a nearby park. Picture me with a little PDA, standing in the rain while a highly impatient dog strains desperately against her leash towards a tree barely a meter out of reach.

Um, anyway, it's easier to post than browse or get email. I can blahblahblah ahead of going out, like putting a message in a bottle. But i don't have offline mail reading.  I don't know what's going on in my city. So I'm having a week or so of relative solitude. Like, even more than normal. I wonder if my life would be easier if i just never went home. But: This will all pay off somehow. And soon. Or else i can just go buy a Time Out or something. Heh. In the mean time, Python tutorials!

by Les ( at August 06, 2008 09:54 PM

Gig report: Edgetone Summit

This is highly overdue, alas.

So, officially, my reason for my last visit home was to play in this concert. Alas, a travel budget was illusory, so it was more like a working holiday. I spend a lot of time practicing with Polly and pulling the piece together. It's really hard to practice for something when you don't really know what's going to happen.

I arrived in California with working hardware, a vague idea of some structure, a working visualizer and one drone sound. While there, Polly and I hashed out a slightly less vague structure and got the 'working' hardware to actually function. I added another texture/drone and recorded some samples. We also talked about what we thought might happen. Polly envisioned something intense and serious.

We showed up to the venue and did a sound check, which took forever because of the wonkiness of my hardware setup. Also,, the video language that i used, plays everything in a window with a top window bar. I hadn't thought to research how to get rid of the top bar, so the 'solution' was to point the projector such that the top bar mssed the screen and went up towards the rafters. This was suboptimal. I also had to do some code changes to make the window bigger, which, fortunately, didn't cause side fx. (I wonder if i can embrace a top bar as part of my lo-fi asthetic, or if that's too lazy.)

There was a pre-concert talk, which had more attendees than i expected. It turns out that many or most of them were working at the festival, but there were as many folks present for the talk as there were for my last edgetone gig, so i was a trifle intimidated.

The theme for the evening was 'sonic light,' which meant anything with a video projection. Technically, that fit us, but my projection was just, literally, a moving graph of the data. I think our piece needs the graph or else the tie to biometric data is just way too unclear, but it's not like great art or anything. One of the other groups had a real-time changing holographic projection. The other had a really high-seeming hippie filmmaker who was so brilliant that he could barely form a coherent sentence. (Note: not snark.) I felt outclassed. Thank god we were opening.

Our video was more of an aside, an adjunct. Worse, only the third one i'd ever let into the wild. I'm a beginner. I kind of expect all my videos to be asides. We live in a really visually dominant culture, on the one hand, so if there's a video, it tends to dominate. But some folks think that laptop music has too little of a performance aspect. So the challenge is to come up with a video that functions as a perofrmance aspect. The visuals must not dominate, but just augment the piece. That's my aim, but these guys were much more visually oriented.

Polly explained, during the q&a, that she had this idea because she felt separated from the audience when she improvised and performed. There was always some artifice between her and them. She hoped that by being wired to a truth-decting device and questioned that they could really get at her inner self. Pretence and division would be stripped away.

This was really interesting. I had never thought to ask why Polly had the idea for the piece. Also, it's an interesting idea. I mean, sometimes what's interesting about a piece is the peek into the mind and heart of the creator. Certainly, as a creator, i expose myself in certain ways. As a listener, do i listen for the art - the artifice, notes, spaces, sounds? Or do i listen to what i must presume to be the heart of the creator? Or some combination? Also interesting is how one-way this exposure would be. Actually, there's quite a lot there that's intersting, but moving along .  . ..

Our audience 'ringer' was justifiably miffed by being caught in a trans-continental miscommunication (one of many, alas. Colaborating via email is challenging.) and so did not show up. I hastily recruited my girlfriend, who is shy and was displeased to be asked to be the first to speak.

We came on stage and i got everything started and began reading the pre-arranged 'control questions.' "Is your name Polly?" "Are you on a stage?" Etc. After she answered in the affirmative, i pressed the 'true' button. Then, still as control questions, "Have you ever told a lie?" Polly said no. I pressed the 'lie' button and the word 'lie' flashed on the projection. The audience burst into laughter. So much for revealing her inner soul.

Casual listeners didn't know what to ask, being somewhat limitted by the yes/no format. So most participants already knew Polly. They were all game too, which is nice because if they'd left us questionless, we would have floundered. People sort of struggled to come up with questions. Most didn't stick in my mind. One person asked Polly if she had any intention of ever returning some equipment that she'd borrowed. She said yes. I hit the lie button. Lughter ensued. A co-worker asked if she had been the one to allow a soda can to explode in the break room freezer. She said no. I hit the lie button. Matt Davignon asked if I was just hitting true or lie buttons on a whim. Towards the end, in a dramatic moment, Pamela Z asked if Polly wanted a cracker. Despite owning a pet parrot, Polly is sensitive to this taunt from her youth. Her heart rate sped up, her palm became sweaty, her temperature rose. I don't know if anybody noticed, but it was the least-faked moment of the evening.

Then, at the end, Polly rose and began asking questions of the audience. She asked them en-masse and so they shouted back their answers. "Should I quit my day job?" got mixed replies. This section made me uncomfortable. There's a sadistic streak to american humor, which has always been present, but has risen greatly in prominence since i've bewen gone as the dark and mean mood of the ruling party penetrates even san francisco. I couldn't tell how friendly things were. When Polly ad-libbed "Are you fantisizing about Les right now?" I ended the piece. Earlier than I was supposed to.

Peolpe talking about the piece later were generally positive. Ellen Fullman said it was 'weird.' Was it music? Was it theatre? (Was it comedy?) It is weird. I still really don't know what to think about. I put the musical bit kind of in the background, to enable the question and answer to flow as smoothly as possible. I haven't heard a recording yet, but i suspect that's it's not a piece friendly to that medium. Was it carried by the novelty? Would anybody ever want to see it twice? If you allowed more than yes/no questions, could it work with strangers? Would they be interested? Was it more a sort of elaborate party game?

As a final thought: lately, i've had the problem of people asking me too many questions. Alas, this is a side effect of transitioning. I've been trying to discourage folks from asking me stuff. So its weird putting my friend in a situation that i would not consent to occupy. I mean, except for PZ, nobody pushed any boundaries and she had me moderating and it was all very polite, but I wouldn't do it. How many people would?

by Les ( at August 06, 2008 09:54 PM

David and Katherine

RIP Bob 'Jangles'

This morning while on my normal morning run, Bob (who was on his elasticated lead) ran out into the road. Unfortunately a car hit him and his back legs were paralysed. Thanks to the kind builders working nearby, I was able to get him to the vets, and after an emergency call out, X-rays and so forth it was determined that his spine was broken. At around 8:30am he was put to sleep, and we took him to my mother's farm to be buried alongside Cassie.

Rest In Peace Mr Jangles, you'll be missed by us all. We had some excellent memories together.

by David Goodwin at August 06, 2008 03:58 PM

Pycon UK

Google AppEngine CodeLab

Mano Marks of Google will be giving a half-day tutorial on Google AppEngine on Friday 12th September.

August 06, 2008 12:55 AM

August 05, 2008

David and Katherine

Linux User & Developer is alive (again)

It seems Linux User and Developer will have another issue out soon; which, if things go to plan will have a column written by me on whether being free (as in beer) is a good thing or not for open source adoption. I suspect after the magazine has been published, I'll publish the article on here too.

by David Goodwin at August 05, 2008 01:30 PM

August 04, 2008

Andrew L

Time to switch to Django

Over the last week, I’ve been playing with

It scratches a very small itch for my uncles company - and is going to be quietly expanded to manage more and more things for him. However, the current state of the program means that it’ll work well enough ‘as is’ - but I really need a framework for developing the ideas further.

I’m already learning and seeing better ways of doing what I’ve already done. I guess it’s just the learning process kicking in… but there are lots of things that I’m not entirely happy with. Feel free to take a look at the code :) I guess it’s time to switch to Django.

I’ve tried a couple of times to switch to Django.. but I never really managed to get off the ground. However, I think this project required that I use a framework, and will also help me make the code scalable. With the potential for this same project to be used by at least a handful of companies around Birmingham.. it’s not something I should turn my nose up at (although it’s unlikely to make me a millionaire).

I’ve always used php before for my web-coding. It’s one of those things that just seemed nice at home to me; sitting embedded in HTML. I basically used it as variables for HTML processing.. without a loop or an array in sight! I can see now where I can actually begin to use the programming to make things simpler.. not more complicated. Ooh it’s exciting.

The other thing is that it means applications I create are more likely to be used by other people. Django applications (as far as I understand it) are a collection of lots of small apps based around a solid framework. It means there’s probably going to be less work for me, and less work for other people. The comments that I made in “Using the Long Tail” are massively relevant. The more applications there are around a common base - the more random and unique the connection between two applcations.

So soon I shall be starting my move to Django. Hopefully there’ll be a few readers that’ll follow my trials and tribulations (and also help me with any potential problems). The first thing I need to do is install it on a remote ubuntu server.. if there are any gotchas with doing that - please let me know.

by Andy at August 04, 2008 10:50 PM

Celeste H

Moby Dick Monday: Chapter 2

<p>Alas, I am in a state of shocking internetlessness, so I'm citing no sources here.  Also, god knows when and how I'll manage to get this online.  Maybe I'll wander the streets looking for an open wifi network.</p>
<h3>The Carpet-Bag</h3>
<p>Ishmael wants to go to Nantucket, but missed his boat and so needs to hang around in New Bedford for a couple of days and thus needs a hotel. So he looks for the cheapest one he can find.  On the way, he blunders into a storefront black church which he somehow thought was an inn. Also, it's very icy and cold.</p>
<p>And then, confusingly, he goes on at great lengths about Lazarus.</p>
<p>The amusing bits in this chapter are mostly where he rejects hotels for being too cheery.  Happy voices? Bright lights?  Clinking glasses?  Can't afford it!  He's seeking out ramshackle and depressing.  This is not a guy to go touristing with, although I admire his strategy. Incidentally, this is why I tend to camp when I travel. The nicest campground is cheaper than the worst hotel and generally has better showers. But poor Ishmael is stuck in an icy winter with holes in his boots, so he needs a cheap room. He heads towards the docks: to the area folks in the East Bay would call the flatlands.</p>
<p>"Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness . . . on either hand . . .." Unlit streets in the dark and cold and ice.  Perfect!  He comes to an open door and to some racism.    On his way in, he trips over an "ashbox."  Is this like an ashtray?  It holds ashes, whatever it is. "Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying particles almost choked me, are these ashes from that destroyed city Gomorrah?"  The book is as thick with Biblical allusions as Ishmael's air was with ashes.</p>
<p>Gomorrah was an Old Testament city destroyed by fire and brimstone. Lot lived there and was a good guy.  Some angels described as travelers came to see him.  The townsfolk were a xenophobic bunch and demanded that Lot bring out the strangers so they could know them.  Lot offered his two virgin daughters instead, hoping his neighbors would be content to rape his kids.  The mob refused this and got ugly. God and/or the angels intervened (no internet means no Bible, sorry) and God decided to rain down fire and brimstone on the city and destroy it after evacuating Lot.</p>
<p>Ishmael continues inside and . . .</p>
<p>It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet. A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro church; and the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there.</p></blockquote>
<p>I'm afraid the allusion of the first sentence escapes me, except that Tophet means hell (which is ruled by black people??).  The rest of it is not in alignment with modern progressive sensibilities.  The preacher is an Angel of Doom, first of all.  This ties in again with the Gomorrah allusion, and hardly inspires confidence in the preacher.  Divine but deadly.  Presumably, the "blackness of darkness" in the text refers to the pits of hell.  However, the hues chosen to represent it also unfortunately reference the skin color of the worshippers.  Hell, doom and Gomorrah are thus all tied to race.  Being black = bad, indeed, the worst. Can you get get lower than hell?  To be black is to be damned.</p>
<p>Ok, so backing up to Gomorrah, you may have noted that the sequence of events in the story makes no sense whatsoever, aside from establishing Lot as one of the worst parents of all time.  I've heard two interpretations of the meaning of that story.  The most reasonable one is about hospitality. Travel was dangerous in the ancient world and there were no such things as inns. So if somebody strange came to town, rather than treating them as a thief and marauder (which they might actually be) you were supposed to give them a place to sleep without overly interrogating them. God was pissed off because the citizens of Gomorrah wanted to know something about these guys before letting them.  Take note: God is against border patrols interrogating travelers.</p>
<p>The other, less reasonable, but, alas more common interpretation of that story is that when the townspeople want to "know" the Angels, it's in the biblical sense.  Then men of the town want to gang rape the Angels, but Lot, dad of the year, offers his daughters instead and God saves him for it. Take note: God is an illogical fucker in this version.  The illogical, fucker God has long been the most popular, so this version of things was the most common for quite a while.  Note that Gomorrah is rarely mentioned alone, but usually also with its neighboring town of Sodom. And from this story we get the word "sodomy."</p>
<p>So when Ishmael stumbles over the ashbox, his "ha ha" exclamation could be about sexual assault or it could be about danger to travelers.  Given that he is a traveller, this seems more likely than "ha ha I might get raped."  However, alas, sexual otherness and racial otherness have long been popularly tied together in America. In movies, a jazz theme in the soundtrack = easy woman, for example.  This expands in concentric circles of sexual impropriety as all alien others stand in for each other.  Insufficient whiteness, insufficient masculinity, insufficient heterosexuality are all equivalent, so black = womanly = promiscuous = queer = gay.</p>
<p>So when Melville invokes Gemorrah, he's foreshadowing on several levels. It's a Biblical reference, so it foreshadows a church scene in general. It's queer, so it foreshadows blackness.  It's about death and destruction, so it ties in with the hellfire sermon in the next paragraph.  It's about threats to travelers, so it creates an air of danger for Ishmael. And it's about doom in general, so it fits with the dreary, mood of the chapter.  Bad omens are coming on rather quickly.</p>
<p>Adding to these is the hotel he actually finds: The Spouter Inn, owned by Peter Coffin.  "Coffin? - Spouter? - Rather ominous" he thinks, in case you missed it. "It is a common name in Nantucket," he reasons, and Peter must have come from there. Thus the doom is tied not only to his present but also to his next destination.</p>
<p>And what of the inn?  "As the light looked so dim . . . and the dilapidated little wooden house itself looked as if it might have been carted here from the ruins of some burnt district, and as the swinging sign had a poverty-stricken sort of creak to it, I thought that here was the very spot for cheap lodgings . . ." The local tourist office refuses to even list it?  Perfect! But, he surmises it's the place for "the best of pea coffee." Is this good or bad? I don't know. The building is "queer" and "leaning over sadly." It's also beaten by wind, which Melville calls "Euroclydon," clearly a reference to something, but I'm without internet. He quotes a third party about this wind, who talks of frost windows and death, in yet another bright omen.</p>
<p>Melville then goes on to equate houses with bodies, "Yes, these eyes are windows and this body of mine is the house." And thus the sorry shape of the Spouter Inn bodes ill for Ishmael, as he ties it to himself and his death. As if this wasn't enough, he goes on to talk about Lazarus, another Biblical story.</p>
<p>Lazarus was Jesus' friend, who died. Jesus was unhappy to hear of this and so revived him several days later. Lazarus came out of his tomb, wrapped up in corpse-dressings.  He's an odd character in subsequent literature.  Some folks imagine that having already died once, he can't die again and he becomes some sort of curious immortal figure, doomed to wander the earth forever. And some folks go on about his experience of having been dead, as Meliville does here, imagining how cold he must have been. </p>
<p>So after a lot of ice and frozen and cold and dead going on for a few paragraphs, we rather get the point and then some.  He's starting to be ridiculous. It harkens back to the very first page of the book, in the first paragraph, "whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses . . . I account it high time to get to sea . . .." For the love if god, get on a boat, man!  Stop your pausing in front of coffin stores or coffin inns! And so, with some self awareness, the last paragraph of chapter two begins, "But no more of this blubbering now, we are going a whaling, and there is plenty of that yet to come." I love this sentence.</p>
<p>"Blubber - [noun] the fat of sea mammals, esp. whales" and "Blubber [2] - [verb] (informal) sob noisily" (both from the Oxford American Dictionary). Yay puns.  The "plenty yet to come" has play on the word "blubber."  A smart, 'stop your whining and get on a boat and get to work.' But also a foreshadowing of doom ahead.</p>

by Les ( at August 04, 2008 10:37 PM

August 03, 2008

Andrew L

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

It’s an essay which most people in the Open Source Software World have read. Yet it’s one that I’ve never got round to reading - that is, until tonight.

It’s alot easier than I expected it to be. Non-technical people should have no worries in attempting to read it (though the motivation for doing so may be reduced by at least an order of magnitude). I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone with 30 minutes free.

The best thing about it, for me, is that it’s simple. It is in effect an empirical review of Linux’s development through the eyes of the ‘fetchmail’ project.

For those of you new to ubuntu (reading this on - I’d thoroughly recommend reading it if you’re a non-technical user.  It’s a nice explanation as to why the effort you’re making in switching to Ubuntu is a step in the right direction.

by Andy at August 03, 2008 11:21 PM

Celeste H

Back in London

As i type, i'm riding the tube towards xena's kennel to retrieve her. I'm sure she will be much relieved at her release.

I don't recall what i last blogged in california and i won't have internet until friday. The big news is that i'm due to become an uncle next december! I went to visit my brother and his wife on sunday. It's kind of stupid to fly to oregon just for dinner, but, in this case, well worth it. Elizabeh is looking well, even if plagued with morning sickness to an exceptional degree.

I also saw my dad. He brings up my ttansition fairly often when we talk, which i guess is a good sign. He refers to it as 'this thing you're doing.' I'm not sure how much i want to talk about it with my family, but i was glad to learn my dad has been talking with the mother of an mtf.

I love my family, but, i dunno, i feel pretty uncomfortable around them lately. This is really unfair of me. I should give them a chance. Things didn't go so well with them when i first came out as queer, but that was 18 years ago. We've all changed a lot in the meantime. My brother and i were kids then, but not now and that's an important difference. Also, membership has changed through death and marriage (and soon via birth).

I never get to see everybody when i come home, alas. It's always too short. Therefore, i would like to encourage you all to register to vote and then cast a ballot for Obama. If McCain gets elected, all my trips back will be short stays. But don't do it for me. Do it because attacking iran is a disasterous idea.

by Les ( at August 03, 2008 01:25 PM

July 29, 2008


A look around the garden

Well, it's definitely mid-summer now and this last week has been a scorcher. At one point, I clocked 45 degrees celcius in the greenhouse. Here are a few photos of our growth so far...

by Peter Lewis at July 29, 2008 09:52 AM

July 27, 2008

Andrew L

What makes us happy? (or happiness and Digital Design)

I recently watched a presentation done by Martin Seligman, ex-president of the American Psychology Association. He’s the main man behind something called ‘positive psychology.’ It’s a fairly new branch of the discipline, and one in which there’s alot of positive interest.

Ever since the 50’s, psychology has dealt with illness. Medical solutions to psychological problems have been the ‘norm’ of psychology as a science. As such, psychologists got the reputation of being a little scary. Talking to one meant they’d analyse you to find problems. Your repressed memories and assumptions could be read from a single conversation - therefore psychologist were those to be ignored.

Well, according to Mr Seligman, this is no longer the case (at least with him). Since the mid-90s, there has been an increase in interest in psychology as it has diversified into new fields of practise. One such field is this positive psychology.

The talk I watched was done at something called TED ( - it’s a conference organised whereby experts in their field are invited to share their ideas. The best thing though, is that they’re then asked to move their ideas into a different field. To throw it out there for all the other brains at the event to understand. Sometimes these sparks can light a fire.. that’s the idea anyway.

Well, Mr Seligman’s talk was on happiness. It’s a fairly new area, and one open to massive interpretation: so here’s mine.

Seligman talks of three types of happy lives.

Pleasant Lives - Celebrity, Indulgent, Experince

Good Lives - Appreciation, Focused, Commited, Engagement

Meaningful lives - Pensive, Broad, Faith.

They’re not mutually exclusive or inclusive. It’s interesting, it’s possible to have all three.

His studies have led him to find the opposite of what he’d expected to be true. The most ‘happy’ life to lead is the Meaningful Life, then the Good Life, followed by the Pleasant Life. His reasoning is that although the pleasant life is something we all aspire to; it’s also extremely habituating. If you have air conditioning, then a fan is no replacement. The step up is great - but once you’re there you’ve got to enjoy it and appreciate it, else it becomes the habitual norm and anything less is sub-standard. Ironically the pleasant life is the most depressing, as improvements are finite - and more often than not they happen in big steps, rather than incremental changes.

The interesting thing was is that he applied this ‘happiness’ to technological development (not necessarily electric). Sure, you can put out a “pleasant” application and people will be happy with it. However, it’s got to be constantly improving. If you create an application that people can get engaged with, it moves up a step to the “Good”applications; people are happy just using it. The third stage is the ‘meaningful’ application; one that gets the user interacting meaningfully with it. A great example is facebook.

Now, the interesting thing to me is that this group of ‘three’ is very similar to another group of ‘three’ that I read about at University. There’s replacement, enabling and ubitiquous technology. The three categories seem to fit nicely as pairs.

Replacement technology - that which replaces a process we already have, but makes it easier.

Enabling technology - that which enables us to do things that were either not possible, or too time consuming to be worthwhile before the technology.

Ubitiquous technology - technology that becomes so widely used and pervasive that it becomes a part of the fabric of society, and is taken for granted.

Reading Zeth’s blog post, Zeth cites commentators that say the time is over for the Open Source World, that development is slowly stalling and the exciting ideas of the 90’s that came out of Open Source are being commercialised and exploited. I don’t think that for one second. Software has (unnecessarily, one may argue) become far more complex. Sure, improvements in programming have been made and there are better skilled people out there than before - but packages are becoming far more complicated.

I’d ask, is this needed. The ‘Pleasant Life’ of Seligman talks about how having too many pleasures can be depressing. The constant expectation rather than fulfilment is lost on people who fail to appreciate. The same can be said for software consumers.

The ideas that have made people rich are rarely complicated. It’s a simple idea, executed well that succeeds. The problem now, is not in “integrating all these fantastic packages and solutions,” but in the realisation that perhaps that’s not what is needed. Perhaps we need to look again to the simple things in life. A hammer doesn’t come with a screwdriver attachment, in the same way a phone doesn’t have to come with ‘twitter integration.’ Sure, it’s a nice feature for thos that want it… but for those than don’t it becomes a barrier to using the original ’simple’ aspect of that technology.

by Andy at July 27, 2008 10:08 PM


PyCon UK 2008 this September

Long time readers may remember that I am one of the organisers behind the conference of the United Kingdom Python community, PyCon UK, this year held over the weekend of September 12-14th. I am also giving a talk.

The abstracts of currently accepted talks, tutorials and BOFs and the timetable for the tutorials day have been published today. Not on that list are the keynotes, expected to be from Mark Shuttleworth and Ted Leung.

It is nice to see Django well represented again, with two out of the three main Django developers giving talks, (as well as a Pylons talk, proving that Django is not the only Python toolkit in town).

Also good to see some talks on PyPy, I have wanted to get into that for a while, so September might be my chance to spend some time looking at it properly.

The 'official' conference hotel is the Etap, primarily because it is one of the cheapest hotels in Birmingham (which is a cheap city for England) and because they charge per room not per person. Each room has a single and a double bed, so three students can pack in to a room, paying very little each. People often arrange room shares on the mailing list.

If you are richer, then you can have a whole room in the Etap, or you can go to the Copthorne (next to the conference venue), the Holiday Inn (where the Saturday conference dinner is planned), or the Novotel (a pretty walk of 5-10 mins away). (A longer list is on the conference site). The early bird rate is still open (but not for too much longer).

If you go, do say hello, I'm wearing a crew shirt and a badge with 'Zeth' on it!

Discuss this post - Leave a comment

July 27, 2008 03:57 PM

Pycon UK

PyCon UK 2008 Accepted Talks

We have published the list of Accepted Talks. We are still accepting last minute talk submissions, and the talks schedule will be published later. Friday 12th September is Tutorials Day, with six half-day tutorials: here is the Tutorials Schedule. There will be other shorter tutorials on Saturday and Sunday.
If you wnat to be sure of a place on the tutorials, you should Book Now.

July 27, 2008 07:40 AM

July 26, 2008

Celeste H

The Valley of Hearts Delight

The day after my gig, I went to the South Bay to meet some people, including my tax accountant.  I took the train down from Berkeley to San Jose, where it depositted me next to the Sharks Arena at Diridon Station.  I biked several miles to my friends house in Los Gatos, on the far side of Lake Vasona.

She told me to take the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a bike route that runs next to the creek, through several natural areas and some large parks.  There arent that many dedicated bike trails in the states. This one was exceptionally nice, as it rolled along next to the sleepy creek.

I passed the native and invasive plants whose names I learned at childhood summer camps, but which I no longer remember.  I played along a similar creek when I was 11, trying to catch minnows and chewing on fennel.  As I biked and looked at the lazy water, I smelled the fennel plants, baking in the sun and I was transported back then.

Ive seen lots of greenery in the world, but that smell, so specific to this one place, made me feel so happy.  And then I passed a space where a skunk had been startled within the last day and then, in the park, tanbark baking in the sunlight.

Tan bark is the shredded bark of redwood trees, used as mulch.  Its distinctive.  As for skunks, they dont smell the same here as they do in other places. The reason that some marijuana is called skunk is because it smells like the skunks that we get here.  The smell fades quickly in direct sunlight.  So if your dog tries chasin one, you get an overwhelming weed odor that goes away within a couple of days.  (In connecticut, it smells like that plus burning tires filled with boiling vomit and lasts for months.)

I met my friend - actually the girlfriend that I dated in highschool and we talked and picked fresh peaches and tomatoes from her garden.  Later in the evening, I went to another friends house and had food cooked from garden fruits and vegetables. Everyone there was old California: families from Silicon Valley when it was still known as Santa Clara Valley and from when we grew fruit on the richest farmland in the world. We talked about what was in season, what was growing well this year and splitting cots. (Cutting apricots in half and removing the seed in preparation to dry them.)

Today, I went to the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland and got fresh local zuccini, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, anaheim peppers, all this fabulous fresh produce.

I could live here.  I could live in Berkeley and plant fruit trees in the yards of friends and grow tomatoes outside my backdoor and ride the train to some technichal job and bike everywhere and take my dog to the park at the marina and have warm, sunny days 300 days a year.

When the Spanish arrived, the came to the San Francisco Bay and it was too shallow to sail their ships into, so they went down the coast to the Baja tip and did not sail all the way up.  So they thought they had found an island.  They gave this new island a name from a work of fiction. There was a popular book about an island paradise.  So they named my state for the fictional island in the book.  Where everything is beatuiful and grows and lovers can pick low haning fruit from trees and swim in the ocean and ride their bikes amidst baking fennel and semi-friendly skunks.

I could stay in this land of mythically good weather and food with the people Ive known my whole life (and some who knew my mother and grandmother) and live only a few miles from where one of my great grandfathers grew cherries and another practiced dentistry.  Or, I could go back to England, the country which the cherry-growing great grandfather fled.

I had this idea of an ancestral homeland, but it was romantic and uninformed.  I come from California, from the farming and land, from the chip fabrication plants, (alas) from the software industry, from Castro Street and the White Night Riots, from the Free Speech Movement.  All of this - the Black Panthers, the growing Trans movement in San Francisco, the constant social tumult and change spanning at least 150 years - this is home.

But Ill go back to England in a few days and stay there to finish my degree.  Maybe my home will decide to catch up with the 20th century and fix some of its political problems.  The other day, I saw a weeping woman begging for spare change and it shocked me. She so clearly needed help and there would be none forthcoming.  All the fine weather in the world is no substitute for food, shelter and healthcare.  How far are any of us here from weeping on the street?  A few paychecks?  A lost job?  A bout of depression and no help to vanquish it?  How can some place so idyllic still be so fucked up?

The things is, that political will and work from the people can fix the problems of unrestrained capitalism.  All the protest in the world cant make perfect weather or rich farmland.  So I hold out hope.  I already see positive changes in the space of the last year.  One day, Ill come home again.

by Les ( at July 26, 2008 11:27 PM


Threescore and five

65 is not normally considered a notable number, but we can celebrate it here in this post. At least here in Europe, 65 is the traditional age for retirement. Even more important is that 65 is the atomic number of terbium, a metal used in making solid-state Flash drives.

In 1965, the film Mary Poppins romped home at the Academy Awards winning five Oscars.

Normally reserved for kings, Winston Churchill's state funeral in 1965 was the largest that Britain has ever seen before or since; meanwhile in America, a different king, Martin Luther King, lead the pivotal Selma to Montgomery marches, and Mariner 4 took the first ever photos of Mars.

Most influential technology sites in the UK

These historical facts were a very tenuous build up to the rather more insignificant fact that Wikio, a blog search engine that has been bought by Yahoo, has ranked this site as the 65th in their list of top 100 most influential technology sites in the UK.

I clicked on the link How are these rankings compiled? Which gave the following information:

The position of a blog in the Wikio ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles.

Blogrolls are not taken into account and Wikio only counts links from the last 120 days. We thus hope to provide a classification more representative of trends in the blogosphere.

So from this it probably means they are sucking in everyone's RSS feeds and then parsing them for links; well that is how I would create such a site. Scraping a whole site, i.e. like Technorati does, would make it very hard to distinguish what is a 'blogroll' and what is a post.

Who is the king of the Midlands?

Now technology is a broad topic, and the UK is a wide area. If we zoom into to sites about free/open source and sites based in the UK's Midlands; then it seems this site is the 2nd most influential open source site in the Midlands, behind an acquaintance of mine, and fellow Midlands resident, Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu community manager.

So the question is readers, can we climb the 21 places to become the most influential open-source site in the Midlands? Can Birmingham triumph against the Black Country?

Only time will tell, but if you are in a position to link here and help pimp this site up the table, please do. Also, if you have linked to me and I have not linked back, either in a post or in my recommended links section then it means I do not know about your site, so leave a comment telling us about it!

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July 26, 2008 12:42 AM

July 25, 2008


Wanted: Custom Audio Solution

This is a sort of “Dear LazyWeb” post.

As I’m moving to a new place on sunday, I’m going to have some restrictions on when I can use loudspeakers (so as to not disturb other people), but at the moment, I’ve got a few places where I’m using different audio sources, for example, when I’m using my PC, I might be either playing music through my PC, listening to the DAB Radio I have in the background, watching TV at the same time, etc etc.

What I need (want) is a solution so that I can have a box on my desk which allows me to select from a range of inputs, and flick between outputting to the speakers, or to headphones.

While at the moment, every item I have seperate speakers. My Surround has 4 inputs (1 aux, 3 for surround - all 3.5mm Jacks) and my headphones have a single 3.5 mm jack.

What I’d like to do is be able to wire the following into a box, and then have a button to switch between using the speakers on the surround, and the headphones.

  • PC - 3 3.5mm Jacks for surround
  • Laptop - Single 3.5mm Jack
  • DAB Radio - single 3.5mm Jack
  • TV - single 3.5mm Jack
  • Mixer - currently going through PC, but has 2 x Mono 1/4″ jacks out (which I’ve already converted to a single 3.5mm Jack at the other end)

I’d like it if I could listen to multiple resources at the same time. However, at the moment, I think that the main issue is going to be converting the Surround into stereo for the headphones… The single 3.5 Jacks can be output to the “Aux” channel…

I don’t know if anyone knows of any solutions for this, or wants to help me build one (anyone good with creating circuit diagrams) - and I’m sure there’ll be issues with different sources.

I mean, I could probably just pipe all but the surround through the mixer… and then use the headphone override on the speakers, but I don’t really want to have the issue of plugging and unplugging the headphone jack all the time. I’d rather just hit a button.

Any thoughts?

by Mez at July 25, 2008 04:56 PM


Top Ten mailing list posts in the history of free/open source software

A few months ago, we looked at Linus Torvalds in his own words, which was surprisingly popular (for a filler ;). So following the same approach (i.e. too busy to write something original today ;), what are the top-ten best mailing list posts in the history of free/open source software?

This is pretty difficult to say of course, so here are ten coolest posts that spring to mind. If you can think of a better one, please do paste a link in the comments.

  1. Martin Bligh and Andrew Morton almost manage to ban binary kernel blobs.
  1. Discussion on the Debian bugs mailing list about RMS VS VRMS.
  1. Ingo Molner produces an estimate of What is the Linux kernel worth?
  1. After being falsely accused by stealing his own code, Linus leads the fight back with explicitly documenting patch submission, the first paragraph is classic Linus.
  1. Jeremy Allison protests Microsoft-Novell Pact. (I think this started on a mailing list originally).
  1. In 1983, Richard Stallman goes public with his radical new ideas for a New UNIX implementation.
  1. The Linux kernel, the most successful ever Unix-like kernel, ported to more processor architectures than any operating system is history, started as just a hobby.
  1. Poul-Henning Kamp introduces the bike shed into the free software world.
  1. Tim Peters' classic Zen of Python (follow up)
  1. Jeff Waugh finally reveals the answer to the biggest mystery in free software.

Okay that is my pick, what have I missed? Please post your suggestions in the comments below.

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July 25, 2008 02:29 PM

July 24, 2008


Exploring Technical Conference Demand and Supply

Apologies for the anoraking, but hopefully my regular readers are used to it by now. I have been involved in organising several different technical conferences in the UK, so this is an interesting subject for me.

Dynamic Programming Language conferences are great

I have heard of five conferences in the second half of 2008 connected to Open Source dynamic languages within reach of where I live:

There are probably more that I have not heard of. There are four with very similar prices, and one that is more expensive:

Earliest possible price

  PyCon UK Euro python TCL TK YAPC (Perl) Rails Conf
Conference Only £60 £79 £79 £96 £549
Conference + Tutorials Day £95 N/A N/A £191 £627

Latest possible price (on the door)

  PyCon UK Euro python TCL TK YAPC (Perl) Rails Conf
Conference Only £100 £159 £79 £96 £746
Conference + Tutorials Day £155 N/A N/A £191 £824

Community and corporate conferences

While the type of content is more or less comparable across these conferences, there are of course many differences with the presentation. A community-organised conference emerges through the work of volunteers, mailing lists and fair amount of gaffer tape. A conference organised by a large company has secretaries, marketing officers, paid web designers and professional printed schedules and so on.

In corporately organised conferences, there is a clear line between those on stage and delegates in the pews. The organisers are working for the company, and the speakers will get in free and possibly have their transport and hotel bills covered. This probably accounts for the RailsConf fee.

Community conferences tend to treat everyone the same, a larger proportion of delegates will be pitching in and contributing something. When 50% to 100% of the delegates are conference organisers or speakers then they of course have to cover their own costs.

Delegates are not all the same

I was thinking about these issues while at Europython. Organising a conference for several hundred people is difficult. One of the difficulties is that potential delegates fall into separate groups with different preferences. Let's split them up into four groups:

  1. People who use of the particular language/toolkit in their full-time profession.
  2. People who work in IT, but the particular language/toolkit is not directly part of their paid-work.
  3. People who do not work in IT at all. They may use or want to use the language/toolkit as a hobby, for example, people who by day work in some other job but by night are open source contributors.
  4. Students, retired, unemployed.


On the whole, for group 4, it does not really matter if the conference is in weekdays or weekends.

Group 1 see the conference as work, so prefer the conference to be in weekdays, so they can miss days at the office and carry on with their normal social activities on the weekend. They would still come at the weekend, they have to meet peers and keep up with the state of the art, but they will moan heavily about missing football or salsa class or whatever.

For group 2, these people find it hard to get their work to let them have time off in the week to attend a weekday conference. A few of these people might be willing to use some of their holiday because the knowledge and contacts gained from the conference may help them in their personal career development. That is pretty difficult for people with families. Economically speaking, holding the conference on weekdays raises the cost of attending for this group by whatever benefit they could have had from two more days of holiday.

On the whole, Group 3 just can't come on the weekdays. They can't get time off, and it does not benefit their careers.


On the whole, for group 1, price is not a problem for these people because work is covering expenses. This group is not price sensitive, or in economic terms, their demand is price-inelastic. This group is more sensitive to hassle, they are happy to pay a little more if someone else deals with all the mundane organisational matters, food, accommodation etc.

On the other hand, group 4 are not receiving a wage, so are very sensitive to price (their demand is price-elastic). If the conference is too expensive then they cannot come.

Group 2 and 3 are generally not receiving expenses but are receiving a wage. They can afford more than group 4 but will not want to pay for non-essentials because it is their own money they are spending.

Conference planning

So when planning a conference, the choices you make about when you hold your conference (weekend/weekday) and the cost of the conference determines the number of delegates you will get. All other factors (e.g. advertising/publicity) being equal, it approximates to:

number of delegates = group1 + (group2 + group3 / weekday penalty) + (group4 / cost penalty)

You get group1 no matter what, if you hold the conference in a weekday then you only get some proportion of groups 2 and 3, and likewise, the more you charge, the less of group 4 you get.

So you get the maximum number of delegates by holding your conference at a weekend and charging as little as possible. Of course, whether you want the maximum number of delegates is another matter. Charging nothing at all might mean you have the maximum number of delegates, having a rather uncomfortable experience.

If you only care about group 1, then hold the conference all week in a sunny beach resort with expensive food and entertainment, this however can become sterile over time, as professional programmers of one language/toolkit all have the same experience and ideas. Groups 2, 3, and 4 can bring in unique and off the wall ideas and application domains.


I am not here trying to argue for any particular set up, what works for one technical community may not work for another.

However, it is often the case that all the conference organisers will be from the same delegate type. So I think it is worth taking time to think about how the decisions you make enable or disable certain types of delegates from coming to your conference.

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July 24, 2008 03:46 PM

David and Katherine

Podcast on Marketing/Branding for Geeks

Here's a great (relatively short) podcast on the power of marketing and branding.

"How to Ignore Marketing and Become Irrelevant in Two Easy Steps" - Steve Yegge, Google.

by David Goodwin at July 24, 2008 12:37 PM

Celeste H


Glove of Truth (0b2)
Originally uploaded by celesteh.

Hey folks, I'm playing in San Francisco tonight in the Edgetone Summit. Show starts at 8PM at the SF Community Music Center on 544 Capp Street. X-street is 20th. I've been informed this is directly in between 16th St BART and 24th St BART, only one block of of Mission. Also, very conveniently located if you want to purchase illicit drugs or sex on the way. Save a Hamilton for the $10 admission, though.

Polly Moller and I will be doing a work for lie detector. So think up some yes or no questions to put to Polly. Has she ever cheated on her taxes? Does she still beat her dog? If terrorists were going to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge unless she fellated Dick Cheney, would she do it?

I'll be moderating, so if something is in bad taste, I will smack you down!

There are some other exciting people on the bill also. The summit goes on all week.

by Les ( at July 24, 2008 12:49 AM

July 23, 2008


Using new social networking service from the command line

Social networking is fickle

Over a year ago, I talked about how I joined Facebook and Mugshot, then as part of my ten crazy New Year predictions, I argued that social networking will eventually become a protocol. Social networking is fickle, as people move on to the next pub.

After Easter, I joined Twitter and I wrote a post about Scripting Twitter with Python, and how I tried to integrate Twitter into my GNOME desktop.

One of the problems I had with Twitter was the API was heavily rate limited, so I would get suspended from the API often when trying to experiment with spidering the social network (e.g. give me all the friends of friends who have mentioned fishing).

A new Identi

The new kid on the block is Like Twitter, on, you post your latest status update of up to 140 characters, and you can subscribe to other people's updates.

So here is my page on is brand new, so not as many people are using it yet as Twitter. As you can see, currently I only have three 'friends' on If you have a go, do become my virtual friend!

A few differences from Twitter are that's source code is published online (under the name Laconica) and you can use OpenID to login if you want. Also the API is not rate limited and does not currently have the rate problems that Twitter has (Twitter is offline with capacity problems all the time these days). plan API breakage but that:

'The documented write API below will remain available until at least September 30, 2008' . Source

I wrote my own quick tool for Identi. I was quite impressed how far I got with it in just an hour, my code output in Python is increasing nicely ;-)

It is a command line tool for getting and sending your updates to

It is less advanced than my Twitter module because the API will change. It doesn't cache anything for example.

To use my tool, you need feedparser on your system. On Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install python-feedparser

On Gentoo:

sudo emerge feedparser

If you are another platform (e.g. Mac or Windows) and you have Python's Setup tools installed you can go:

easy_install feedparser

Now you need to get my tool. You can download it from my code page, and save it as If you have made a script directory then just throw the file in and then call the program with Otherwise you can run it with the python command:


This will download the updates from all the friends that you are following. If you have a lot of updates, then you can limit it. The following command will download the latest 10 updates:

python -n 10

For complete options, run with -h:

python -h

so we have downloaded messages. Next is uploading a message, for that just write it at the command line:

python Just saw a great post at

The Bash shell does not allow unmatched quotes. My program does not care but if you have unmatched quotes then your message won't even get to my program. So if you want to use unmatched quotes then surround the whole thing with single or double quote marks, for example:

python "Just saw a great post at Zeth's blog"

Your username and password are asked for when needed. If this gets on your nerves, you can edit the top of and provide them.

If you know Python you could also use it as a Python binding:

import identi
myid = identi.IdentiCA(username = "zeth", password = "something")
messages = myid.get_messages()
new_message = 'Posting direct from my Python Shell'

That is really about all it does, if you need something more then you may be better off reading the API documentation.

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July 23, 2008 07:32 PM

Celeste H

The WSJ on Social Structures in the Loo

The Wall Street Journal waxes poetic about the ladies' loo. It starts with, "It's a good thing office lavatories aren't coed." This is more or less the crux of the article. Why is it a good thing? Well, the author never actually says, she just hints. The reason, of course, is that it's a holy temple of feminity. A safe space, for gender normative women. For others?

Not every woman, of course, wants to join an office ladies' room club. Some undoubtedly think there's more to be gained snagging lunch dates with staff several rungs above them than exchanging advice with women colleagues. Others simply don't feel comfortable sharing confidences in front of toilet stalls. They wash their hands in silence and, while they're present, conversations around them halt.

And this has nothing whatsoever to do with gender presentation. The reason that women have always fallen into icy silence when I tried to pee near them wasn't because I was too butch. It was because I was a stuck-up bitch who scorned their advice. Who knew?

Oh, but what about the mens? Well, this is the WSJ, so we can't focus on women's issues, even when they're as normative as possible. "Still some of my male colleagues, who describe their exchanges in men's rooms as monosyllabic at best, tell me they want to join the ladies' room club. To which I say, come on in -- but listen." To which I say, give me a fucking break.

Ok, it's nice that women can get a break from men and have some of their own space. It's valuable for minority communities to have such spaces. But these informal clubs cement power in conforming members and exclude non-conforming. Also, access to toilets is a biological necessity, not a luxury. Bearded ladies need access as much as those who might want to deal with "ripped panty hose."

Fuck the ladies room club. Move it someplace else.

by Les ( at July 23, 2008 07:37 AM

July 22, 2008


LugRadio Live - The Review

(c) 2008 Barbie -

(c) 2008 Barbie

So, this weekend just gone was the weekend of LugRadio Live. Here’s how it went for me. Friday morning, I got up, finished packing my stuff into my suitcase and headed off to the airport to go and pick up Myrtti. After missing a couple of buses, eventually got there, just in time to meet her as she was coming out of Arrivals.

We then headed off to Wolverhampton, with Myrtti being amazed by English houses (don’t ask me - I don’t know either) arriving in Wolverhampton 20 minutes before we could check into the hotel. So we went for food. Well, actually, I went for food, and Myrtti came with me. Moon Under Water has nice food, as do most Wetherspoons.

Anyway, from there on, Myrtti and I went and checked into the hotel, and then had a bit of a chat  (and checked on the CaveyCam) while waiting for the evening events to kick off.

The evening events… god. well… I don’t remember a lot of it. I remember coming in, sitting down, and sitting down with Daviey, ompaul, and a couple of other people (I can’t remember who!) and well - the night went on from there.

Left the Evening Events @ around midnight, and walked back with ompaul and Myrtti to the hotel. Couldn’t sleep, as there was a dry-riser next to my room, so at 4am, I gave up, and registered on flickr, uploading the photos from the night that I’d taken.

Then, at 6am, I went hunting for breakfast, had a little walk round Wolverhampton, and found that Spar had food, so bought a couple of sausage sandwiches from there (and a couple of cans of Relentless). Went back to the hotel room, answered the wake up call, and headed to the venue just before 7.

I was the second person there after Chris (Proctor) - am proud of that, and spent the morning setting up all those lovely banners that you people saw (and chasing after some that had gone missing).

Did anyone notice that the can of relentless I’d thrown in the bin had been used to help stick up the Main Stage schedule poster? No? Good… twas amusing though.

Thanks to Mrs Ron for providing the Bacon Sarnies though :)

Anyways, sat down and started to film the intro, then moved onto the first talk in the Atrium (I signed up for the morning sessions on crew - why oh why?). I had to try and keep myself from falling asleep due to no sleep in the first one, but towards the end, the caffeine kicked in, and I started to wake up.

Next up was Bruuuuunnoooooo’s talk… it was “tres amusant” … I enjoyed watching it, and am glad that the audio isn’t coming from the camera, or all you’d have heard was my laughing.

After that, It was lunch. Woo. Headed off to the Moon Under Water for what was meant to be an SBLUG gathering, but, couldn’t find them in the packed pub, so ended up sitting with Barbie and JJ and chatting to them while we had food.

Came back and scoped out the Exhibitors for a bit (and yes, played some TF2) before going to watch the gong-a-thong… mrben… raccoon pants… I won’t say anymore, or my mind will explode. Though I must say, I did love Matthew Garrett’s talk on how he hates the community.

After that, I went back and gamed for a bit, before heading to the Live and Unleashed recording. Found Myrtti again there, and gave her a bit of a shoulder rub while watching it (and laughing my ass off too!)

So. There brought an end to Day 1… except, it wasn’t over. By this time, I was feeling pretty crap… no sleep. So went and packed up, then headed back to the hotel, slept for a bit, then headed to Karaoke.

I didn’t stay long, and was on the soft drinks all night, but managed to fit in a rendition of “Summer Nights” - I do a mean Olivia Newton John. I’m kind of dissapointed that the guy I was singing it with (my Ex Boss) didn’t know the words, but I’ve had a promise from froodie that next year she’ll do the John Travolta, and I can do the Olivia Newton John. Speaking of froodie - great rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” - I was singing along in the back of the venue (and drawing funny looks by air-drumming/air-guitaring)

Sunday morning. I was still tired, but due to exhaustion - I’d actually managed to sleep. Though - I think the fact that the following comment was made in IRC means that I didn’t look as fresh-faced as I’d have like to believe I was.

<+ompaul>    Mez, on sunday you looked like someone had eaten enough of your brain not to kill you but to stop you from understanding there was sunday :)

So yeah. Once again, set up at a ridiculously early time (this time 8am though) - I managed to be one of the people on the Coffee Run to Starbucks, so that worked well for me. I didn’t have to do much.

Started off the morning upstairs in the Lightning talk room, watching Barbies talk (and getting told off for raising my hand to answer his questions). Was still a good talk the second time round. And some of the stuff I forgot the first time, I’ve now seen again. I must apologise to Barbie for laughing to myself towards the end of the talk though. When you have a crew radio on, and you can hear Jono telling everyone he’s in the toilet with a speaker, you can’t help but laugh (I so wish that the LCD display in the atrium was something we could send messages to - I would have sent “FlashHug Jono now - he’s in the loo!”)

Next was Agostino Russo’s talk about Wubi - which was quite interesting. I’ve not actually used wubi myself, but to see it working in situ, and to hear about the geekyness behind it was actually quite cool.

Lunchtime again, where I spent outside eating sandwhiches and munch provided by MrsRon again, before I came back in, scoped the exhibitors again, and generally mingled talking with people until it was time for Chris Jones’ (Ng) talk about terminator.

Next was the goodbyes… Sad to see them go - but - they WILL be back next year! (YAY!). Sad to see the podcast end, but it was a good ending to a good weekend.

Then we packed up, and found out that the bar we’d arranged to goto afterwards… was closed…. FAIL. Got it sorted out in the end, and after food, ended up at the Novotel bar, where there were quite a few people. Twas good talking to people there, a nice friendly relaxed atmosphere, and a nicely stocked bar. I must say though - I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a long time than I did with standing outside smoking with Xalior, Daviey and a few others (failhat!). Xalior is an extremely funny guy.

Anyways, from there, it was time to head home, after another night in the hotel, and taking Myrtti on a whirlwind tour of Birmingham’s Music Stores ;)

To me, it’ll be a weekend to remember. There were a lot of firsts for me, and a lot of fun.

I must say though, thumbs up to Tony Whitmore and Ron Wellsted for doing an amazing job at organising everything this year. And to all the rest of the crew who made everything run so smoothly (and Tig for the trousers! and barely leaving the sound desk!)

by Mez at July 22, 2008 11:56 PM

Celeste H

Moby Dick Monday!

It's the, um, late edition! My plan is to look at a chapter a week. Maybe two in some weeks as there are 135 chapters. None of them are especially long. This book is in the public domain, by the way and can be read at google or downloaded from many websites or purchased from a bookstore, etc.

Chapter 1 - Loomings

"Call me Ishmael." It starts with what it probably the shortest sentence in the entire book. It's an introduction, in every sense of the word. The book is really conversational. Bloggy almost, with it's wild digressions and occasional bizarrely misinformed informational treatises.

As for the first chapter, Wikipedia summarizes, "In Chapter 1, 'Loomings', Ishmael introduces himself. With a mixture of chattiness, seriousness, and humor, he speaks of his temperament, the call of the sea, and contends that every man wants at least once in his life to leave the land behind for the ocean." This summary touches on something of a theme in the book. The book is supposed to be allegorical, and employ symbolism and whatnot, which would seem to imply a universally applicable message of some kind. There's a continual striving for universality that becomes apparent from the start. It's not enough that Ishmael wants to set sail. This desire must be universal. Every man must want to set sail. That is 'man' as in masculine, not 'man' as in some sort of generic term for human. He's only willing to extend his universality so far.

He starts by saying he wants to sail and then goes on, "If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." He comes up with more and more spectacular and dubious examples of a desire for ocean voyages: people go to the beach, therefore, they yearn for the sea. Until the presence of water in landscape paintings must also mean that men want to head out on a boat.

But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within ; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle ; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine- tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him.

In other words, landscape paintings are crap without water scenes. Therefore, I want to take a boat. Melville needed a blog.

This highly suspect reasoning starts to seem like a straining for justification. It's not just a flight of fancy for me to want to do this. Everybody wants to do it. Therefore, it's reasonable that I should do it.

He carries on in his chatty tone to overly explain why he wants to go as a crew member and not a passenger - want of cash, largely. And finally just ascribes his desire to go whaling in particular as fate, "Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage," I can say why whales are cool. Which he does, and then the plot-part starts in chapter two.

So chapter one mostly functions to introduce the narrator as a highly literate schoolmaster/sailor who likes to go on at length. And it sets up the tone of the novel. Funny, poetic, sometimes silly, but seeking of universal truths. Looking, almost, a bit too hard for them.

by Les ( at July 22, 2008 11:30 PM

July 20, 2008


This week - iPhone vs a can of compressed air, and Django NewFormsAdmin

This is my (not very) regular series about what I have read on the web since last time.

Jürgen has written a post asking whether in the age of mobile phones, the need for a wrist watch is diminished?

Are smartphones a complete waste of time? Bug looks into the pros and cons. K thinks the iPhone is a big con, I have to agree. However, Garrick loves his iPhone.

Justin has a cat fight over OS X 10.5 (Leopard) playing up. For my sins, I have had to use OS X a bit in my new job, and I actually found Leopard less annoying than Tiger, mainly because in each version, OS X becomes less like NextSTEP and more like Linux.

Brock tries out XMLStarlet, the command line toolset for XML processing. Daniel looks at Logical Volume Manager (LVM) on Ubuntu and Gentoo. Paul has started to set up a backup server.

Andrew W dug up a nice graphical guide to the system crontab file. I personally am very happy at whoever invented the /etc/cron.hourly and /etc/cron.daily folders which are good enough for me most of the time.

Mez reminds us of the virtues of compressed air. Danux has started a new site called Amarus, there is not much there at the moment, but we wish him well.

Andy L talks about an issue I have been thinking about before, namely, if he current world wide web gets taken over by narrow minded corporate interests, shall we start our own World Wide Web? I have a slightly different suggestion, lets re-invade the forerunner to WWW, gopher.

Recently, at a conference that shall remain nameless, some cynical but funny person made a joke about the great BDFL. He did an impression of a Guido Van Rossum doll with a pull-string in his back, when the string was pulled, the Guido doll would talk half a dozen phrases about Python 3000 (and nothing else). Interestly, Craig Balding managed to interview Guido on a different subject, Google App Engine Security, and true to the joke, Guido says almost nothing.

Django NewFormsAdmin

If you do use Django, then you will want to know that the Django NewFormsAdmin branch has been committed to SVN. Therefore, if you are running Django from the SVN version, then don't SVN up until you have changed your code.

Basically Admin functions are now not part of the file but instead are in a separate new file called So cut and paste your admin classes from to as explained in this guide. This is the last major API change before Django becomes 1.0 in September.

This will presumably keep Christian Joergensen happy, as he recently had a moan about Django's release schedule, i.e. Django has not made packaged releases that often. I personally disagree with Joergensen. For this type of software, releases are somewhat arbitrary and over-rated marketing tools.

For open source software, the mainline trunk should always be in a releasable state. With distributed development (i.e. when branching is cheap and easy) then there is no need for an old fashioned cycle of plan-develop-freeze-test-release-plan-develop-freeze... The trunk should be constantly tested.

The author admits that web frameworks move faster than some other types of software:

"This is a very long time, when you're in the market of web frameworks."

So Django is not a GUI WYSIWYG web site creating program. You can't just casually pick it up and make a website, you have to put time into it. To get the most out of Django, you have to read a huge pile of (mostly well written) documentation. Even for a seasoned Python programmer who knows other MVC frameworks, it will take an evening or so.

After this initial investment, if you decide to make your web applications using Django, then you are already committing yourself to keep up with the developments and improvements in the framework, i.e. keeping up to date with what the Django developers are doing. Therefore, tracking SVN is not unreasonable if you already know what changes are coming. Almost everyone paying even scant attention to Django, would have known about the impending NewFormsAdmin, the documentation page about it that I linked to above was first published on the 14th January 2007.

I do accept however, that Django does seem more suited for teams maintaining the same websites over time, e.g. in-house programmers or contractors on long-term service agreements; rather than one-off, develop and leave type development. However, the former probably does produce better web sites.

Discuss this post - Leave a comment

July 20, 2008 11:11 PM

Rehash for the win

Yesterday, I got passed the June edition of Linux Magazine. Carsten Schnober writes an article commenting on an article on Roy Fielding's home page. The article is otherwise fine but it includes this statement from Schnober:

"In the past, talented programmers would collaborate on developing software in their free time, often producing results that put their commercial competitors to shame, but this age seems to be passing."

Source: Carsten Schnober, Projects on the move, "Linux Magazine", Issue 91, June 2008, Page 94

While it is true that many of the early 1990s free software/open source trail-blazers have grown old and/or rich and their software projects are becoming part of the corporate mainstream.

However, the amount of people working on Free Software/ Open Source software now is at least one order of magnitude larger than it was in the 1990s. These new people are also from far more diverse backgrounds and at least one order of magnitude smarter too. A lot the important stuff happening is not necessarily happening in America, and is not necessarily happening in the English language. More importantly, it is far more specialised.

We already have a lot of the obvious big things, we have C compilers (e.g. GCC, first release 1987), we have kernels (e.g. Linux kernel, first release 1991), we have graphical toolkits (e.g. GTK2, first release 2002), we have HTTP Servers (e.g. Apache, first released 1995), SQL databases (e.g. MySQL, first released 1995) and Virtual Learning Environments (e.g. Moodle, released 2001).

Today's free/open source community are now not just playing catch-up but are going in its own directions, places that proprietary software has not. Which of these explorations will be successful I have no idea. But recent successes of the free/open source world include famous things such as package management (the fact that you can automatically download 20,000 stable malware free software packages at the click of a mouse), modern dynamic languages and web frameworks, through to things like XBMC, which allows you to recycle your old Xbox into a fantastic media centre, and OpenStreetMap which will soon have the best non-governmental map data in the UK.

Even more important are all the tiny projects in the long tail, the application that allows your wife/girlfriend to automatically sync a shopping list into your phone, or the application that allows you to export all emails in your gmail that include certain keywords into a file, e.g. an automatically generated list of everyone who has responded to your party invitation. These small projects that provide one incremental improvement are the majority of free/open source projects. Such projects don't have marketing departments or PR managers.

Fielding's original article was about how Tech Journalism lagged behind an event by a least a week, in other cases it can be years. Journalism covers the free/open source community poorly because they are covering it from a distance.

New ideas emerge in branches in version control systems, in IRC channels, development conferences and on mailing lists. By the time a technology gets into corporate press releases and corporate conferences, it is years old and the brightest minds in the free/open source community have long moved on. Many tech publications do little in the way of investigative journalism, they just re-post, re-write and re-hash whatever comes into their RSS feeds.

Outside of the mainstream tech press, you have people who self identify as free software journalists, embedded journalists, if you will. Hopefully, they are getting paid but they are very much on the fringes of the journalistic scene,

In the last episode of Lugradio, they discussed what they called tech "pundits". By this I would understand people who make their living from writing about the broad picture, people such as John Dvorak (I hate initialising middle letters),

In a church shared lunch, there will be various offerings. Some dishes are a work of beauty and worship that some lady has slaved over. Some are perfectly fine fillers that help to bulk out the lunch, e.g. salad, potatoes or rice. Others are off-the-shelf products that were hastily bought on the to church in by a single man. The occasional dish is worth avoiding entirely and will be subtly moved behind something else in a larger container.

Reading a pundit like John Dvorak, is like surviving a church shared lunch. Some articles are a revelation, some are interesting enough as far as they go, and some are obvious howlers. The main thing is to have a good time while you are there.

Discuss this post - Leave a comment

July 20, 2008 09:02 AM

July 19, 2008

David and Katherine

Lugradio Live 2008

Today was day 1 of LugRadio Live 2008 (UK edition).

Headline news - There will be more LugRadio Live conferences, and the implication of more LugRadio episodes.

As per normal, we met all the usual suspects, and had a good time. I only attended two talks - one on Women in Open Source, and the other was about bzr. Perhaps the schedule wasn't worded too well, but it was hard to get excited by any of the descriptions given - I needed more info goddamit!.

Anyway, the more interesting result was I met Lorna Mitchell who is planning a PHP conference somewhere in the North West for November (perhaps Manchester) (see also PHPNW. It seems possible that I might end up talking there (perhaps on security).

by David Goodwin at July 19, 2008 09:09 PM

Andrew L

ex-MS Man in Charge of BBC Future Media and Technology

Huggers to head BBC technology

By Rob Minto

Published: July 19 2008 03:00

Erik Huggers has been appointed director of future media and technology at the BBC, replacing Ashley Highfield. Mr Huggers joined the BBC in May last year as group controller of future media and technology, launching the new version of the iPlayer, the on-demand internet service. Mr Huggers will be responsible for the BBC’s output on the internet, interactive TV, mobile, and other emerging platforms.

Before joining the BBC, Mr Huggers was at Microsoft, where he launched the MSN portal in the Benelux countries and was responsible for Windows Media in Europe. One of Mr Huggers’ tasks will be to resolve the row between the BBC and internet service providers, many of which feel the BBC should pay compensation for the extra demands the iPlayer demands makes on their networks.

Rob Minto

by Andy at July 19, 2008 06:33 PM


Prayer from the film “The 13th Warrior”:

Prayer from the film “The 13th Warrior”:

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother.
And my sister and my brother
Lo, there do I see the line of my people
Back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them
In the halls of Valhalla
Where the brave may live forever.

by Baza at July 19, 2008 01:10 AM

July 18, 2008


Shifting focus

In a typical X was chatting to Y situation, with X being Adam from work, and Y being myself, I began thinking. We've been working together on and off at work for the past few weeks on a Django site. This is my third site in Django and feeling quite competent in the basics I've started biting off bigger tasks and thinking beyond what the framework provides. This had lead to some pretty decent code being written as we adapt Django, in particular the admin side of things, to the needs of our company.

So as Y was gloating to X about the latest addition, some fancy javascript that allows images to inserted into a tinyMCE area from the Django admin, it occurred to me that at best maybe 5 people will ever see or use this code I'd written. Of them only 2 people, X and Y, would have any understanding of its inner workings, its beauty and its elegance. Thus, over 50% of the users will simply click a button, see their image or file appear and continue doing whatever task it was they set out to do.

I've always held technical excellence as perhaps the highest metric for good software but as I gain more experience in the commercial world of development its importance is diminishing. In fact, let me rephrase that; I've begun to discover new metrics, and their relative importance has been rising at the expense of technical excellence. I realised that the real beauty of the code I'd written was the very fact my end user will never notice it. As I said, the button will be clicked, and on they go.

I remember a few years ago watching an interview with someone from the Lord of The Rings films who had been instrumental in the creation of Golem. He remarked that the thing that really set the film apart from the average High Fantasy adventure was how little people noticed the special effects. The fact that Lord of The Rings had made industry break throughs with its computer animation advancements was ratified by no one even noticing. The character blended seamlessly in to the story without the viewer ever needing to have their attention drawn to it.

I guess this is similar to my feelings now. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts comes to mind, and its something I think has taken me a long time to really understand. Clever widgets may impress, but what really matters is their ability to blend seamlessly into one coherent whole.

So where do I stand now? Well, technical excellence should be a given. Bad code simply shouldn't be written to start with. But what I now strive towards is this new kind of beauty I have discovered, a completely functional system that does exactly what the client needs. A simple, elegant whole.

July 18, 2008 09:05 PM

Celeste H

In the KFJC Pit

This afternoon, Polly Moller and I went down to Los Altos Hills to play in the KFJC pit. KFJC is the radio station at Foothill College, a community college. I took classes there during the summer when I was in high school. And I listened to that radio station when I was a teen, but I'd never been inside of it before.

They lead us down to the "pit" which is a room full of CDs and records with enough space in the middle for a small band to play. I was looking at all of them, since I listened to this station so much when I was a kid. On one wall was tubs full of 7 inch punk records. I saw Bratmobile sort of casually stacked at the edge. These records changed my life! These actual records! Not, like, a different instance but the same pressing, but these actual physical pieces of vinyl opened up my world when I was 16 and then I was in the room with them.

They started calling up sound engineers so that somebody would come over. One finally did, so we did a sound check. There was so much hum and the right channel was out on my headphones. So the sound guy jiggled the headphone cables and I separated the audio cables from the power cables, as they were all snuggling together. Then we improved for about 25 minutes.

I played my "Simple Sample" program. I didn't know I was going to be playing this ahead of time, so I played the version I had put together for the ETC gig. It has joystick control. It also has a bug in the timing thing that I need to find and squash. Polly played flute and also toys. She read text from a spam message. The text is totally bizarre. I hope she posts it so I can link to it. It has some really disturbing images that come up in it, like with some sort of giant bug, ala Naked Lunch. I sampled her and mostly just played it back, since she wasn't into the pitch shifting. I added a garbling thing that I originally wrote to mangle Bush, (which I played at ETC along with porn samples.)

I haven't started officially live coding yet, but I'm at the point where I will confidently modify a program during a sound check. The coming lie detector piece is written to allow live code modification. Because I'm lazy and it's easier than making buttons and stuff to change states. And that piece is why we were at KFJC. We were there to promote the Edgetone Festival. So after we played, we were interviewed. Well, mostly Polly was interviewed because she is on the board of the festival and because she already knows those guys and finally because I was struck shy by being some place so cool.

Then we packed up and went for food.

The set seemed ok, but Polly was sad because yesterday would have been her 11th anniversary with Paul if he were still alive. It's the first one she's marked since he's gone. She got a tattoo on her back yesterday in honor of him. It's the Two of Cups, which is a tarot card that had special meaning for them. She spent 3.5 hours having needles pushed into her lower back. It was intense. The tat looks cool, though. It still needs some color work. Her artist is really cool. Seeing that happen really made me want to get another one. A tuba to go with my bass clef? A modular synth front panel? (yes!!) A bike gear and chain? A trans pride symbol? A peace symbol? All of those? (yes!!!)

M ex has a peace symbol around the same spot I would want to put mine. It might be a little weird, but it's hardly unique for a Berkeley radical to display a peace sign, so I think it would be ok. I'm leaning towards the trans pride symbol, but also wary, in case I want to go stealth or something. Which is stupid, because I'd have to go into hiding or something and give up my career and it would still only out me to people who know this symbol.

Um, anyway, my time is mostly scheduled with practicing for our show on the 23rd. Which you should come to.


The lyrics are now in the comments for this post.

by Les ( at July 18, 2008 07:13 PM

July 17, 2008


Introducing Amarus

Phew, at long last I've got some real time to update this site. I've been extremely busy over the last month, the main reason for that being a new site I have just this minute finished launching - Amarus! The first post on there explains my reasons for why I've started (or relaunched) Amarus so I won't repeat my self here.

Amarus uses exactly the same software as this blog, I literally just had to reskin it and it was ready for launch. But... as I started going through the code I naturally started to notice the little 'code-smells' that live in all systems built in a rush. I took a bit of time to refactor and improve the code and will be able to merge my improvements into this site in the next week or so.

July 17, 2008 09:40 PM

Andrew L







Does it really matter, as long as people use it?  People use Cars without understanding how an engine works, and without constantly referring to the efforts of their forefathers.  Let’s just get on with promotion of the product, rather than wrangling about a name :)

by Andy at July 17, 2008 11:15 AM

July 16, 2008

Andrew L

Using the Long Tail

Clay Shirky provides a fascinating insight into how a collaborative approach utilises more skills, and empowers more people than the old institutional model. Rather than coming from an Open Source background, he uses the example of Flickr to convey his point (and then takes a stab at Ballmer). It’s an interesting presentation, and shows how you can make the most of the information/data available in a field.

However, there’s an angle to his talk which isn’t covered in this short presentation; which I imagine is due to time constraints. That’s the opportunity for cross-discipline collaboration, and what that means for us.

One of the more interesting points made by Clay, is that he poses the current ‘$1 million question’ - Are Bloggers Journalists? - and then turns it on its head.

Journalists, and journalism came about to fulfil a societal need. How to communicate with the majority of the population. Gutenburgs’s printing press was a percursor to European journalism, and for the last 400 years or so, journalism has been an integral part of mass communication.

However, we now have a little something called the internet - which, as Gutenburg’s printing press did all those years ago, revolutionise access to information. The infrastructure required to become a ‘messenger to the people’ is in place for people to with it as they wish - create facebook pages, youtube videos, or wordpress blogs. Once the infrastructure becomes freely accessible, the applications of it become massively varied.

In Clay’s talk, he mentions a ratio. 80% of people do 20% of the work, and vice versa, using a lovely graph of the long tail:

An Example of the Long Tail Graph

An Example of the Long Tail Graph

Though a graph illustrating a different set of data, the concept can be re-applied to Open Source Project contribution. The Green area applies to the ‘core’ developers, who may even be employed by the project. The Orange applied to the people directly involved with the project, and perhaps some power users, and the Red section applied to everyone else.

The wonderful thing about the Red section, is that you get lots and lots of people contributing very little. However, it’s these people who can really add value to a project.  With so many projects now existing across different distributions, each system becomes pretty unique.  Where bugfixes and irrationailities can be spotted and reported on by end-users running their unique system - the value added is huge.

There’s also a question of expertise.  The guys in the Red Section are the programming experts, who are commiting code.  Those in the Orange Section are the users/implementers of the code - so will typically have a clear understanding of the direction of the project and the needs that the project needs to fulfil. Whereas in the Red Section are people who use the package, but often alongside other packages of greater interest/relevance to their line of work.  It’s this cross-discipline collaboration that is unprecedencted.

Getting average non-geeky end users to use Open Projects is a massive challenge, but one that is going to bring massive benefits to Open Source Software.  Some people talk of the digital tipping point from a technical standpoint - “Woo, when we get this critical mass we’ll overtake Microsoft within the next 5 years.”  To be honest that doesn’t bother me. Judge MS as you wish, but that’s not why I’m here.  I’m here because the potential contribution that end users can make to Global Knowledge, through Open Projects.

It’s going to be possible for a biological scientist and and engineer to be reviewing the same problem for different purposes.  It’s unlikely that these two disciplines would ever communicate were it not be for this open project, and it’s also possible that only with the combined knowledge and expertise of these two disciplines, the problem can be solved.

This is what excites me most about free software, and to think we’re only just at the beginning.

by Andy at July 16, 2008 11:49 PM


Another Stirchley is Possible

Another Stirchley

A new community group in Stirchley has been set up recently, in response to a bid from Tesco to build a large supermarket right behind my house. The area of land in the bid, a brownfield site which has been empty for a few years now, has been the subject of quite some controversy over recent weeks and months.

The community group, Another Stirchley is Possible, was formed to oppose the Tesco plan, and also to find out what the people of Stirchley really want... and to try to make those things happen. We held a public consultation day on Saturday at the Community Centre, where all sorts of more positive ideas were proposed, including a public square near the river, a swimming pool, and a new High Street away from the busy Pershore Road, where smaller shops and cafes might thrive.

The Tesco option, on the other hand, is designed with a catchment area of far wider than just Stirchley, covering Cotteridge, Bournville and Selly Park, and stretching into King's Heath too. Our basic argument is that this is likely to both kill off local businesses all across this area, whilst increasing traffic, as people shuttle into Tesco and back out again, ignoring local shops.

I won't rehearse the arguments in full here however, but take a look at the group's new blog, at, which includes a call for people to write to the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, to call the proposal in rather than rubber stamping it.

by Peter Lewis at July 16, 2008 05:04 PM

July 15, 2008

Celeste H

Moby Dick

I'm reading Moby Dick. I've been meaning to for years, of course. I had downloaded it as an e-book. And then i purchased a print copy in an airport. But i had never started reading it until poor planning and a long wait caused me to turn to the ereader on my umpc. All i had in it was Moby Dick, so i finally started it.

I'm not far in now, only like 170 pages. This book is so long, Captain Ahab hasn't even made an appearance yet (I'm assuming he's not a Gudot). The introductary chapters are amazingly funny. They're also exceedingly queer. Ishmael forms a fast and deep friendship with a bed mate. Indications strongly suggest that they're lovers.

So, despite being barely at the start, i'm considering some projects around this book. Maybe a blog feature: Moby Dick Monday. Maybe a theatrical / musical piece. The book would seem to lend itself to opera. But the humor + the queer makes me want to camp it up. I have an ensemble in mind which would  be too perfect if it could happen: The Nuclear Whales Saxaphone Orchestra.  One of my high school music teachers plays in this group. They can do camp, for sure. I have an image of them on the stage playing some of the dramatic parts as well as their saxes. Their contrabass sax would, of course, play the whale.

In adittion to the ensemble, of course, i would need a librettist.  The ideal candidate would have a campy, queer sensibility and a familiarity with musical concerns. He or she would have experience either writing librettos or, at least, genre fiction. I would attempt to enlist sophie, the genre fiction writing, queer studies, conservatory drop-out, shares my sense of humor buddy, but i think she's probably busy.

I anticipate a  few challenges for the librettist in that this can't be a cut and paste job at all. From the first chapter, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can." Ok, that's really fantastic writing. The imagry is evocative, memorable and wry. I've had days where i just hoped somebody in the street would hassle me, so i could attack them. Ishmael wants to go a step further and be the agent that starts the fight. This is a potrait of doom, but it does lend itself to camp with the Harry and Maud-esque joining of funeral processions and pausing in front of coffin stores. However, for all its poetry, it is not concise. The whole book is full of witty, wry, long winded passages. This is the sort of thing that librettists are for, though. I mean, obviously you can't set every word or you'd have a cycle that made The Ring look humble and Einstein on the Beach seem short of text.

Librettists feel free to contact me.

by Les ( at July 15, 2008 03:09 AM

July 14, 2008

David and Katherine

Using SOAP and XmlRpc with PHP5 (a newbies findings)

The following is effectively an online version of a talk I gave to phpwm in July 2008.


I'm no great expert on the inner workings of these protocols....there are probably secret manuals on SOAP/XmlRpc etc I/we failed to read somewhere

This is just a documentation of what I/we as “newbies” found ...


SOAP and XmlRpc protocols to allow for remote procedure calls. In other words, you could for example "expose" a service using XmlRpc for customers/the public to interact with. This allows them to hook into your system, and use it as they see fit.

If you are interested in this, you might also want to look at the SCA SDO module in PECL. Although aware of it, for some unknown reason, we didn't investigate using it.

  • SOAP – once stood for Simple Object Access Protocol
  • XMLRPC – XML Remote Procedure Call[s]

Both are Cross platform, language agnostic means of executing remote code.

SOAP is really now just called "SOAP", I think they've dropped the "Simple..." bit from the name as it can be anything but simple.

Examples of usage

  • Distributed applications
  • Web services (Amazon, MSN, Yahoo etc)
  • Proprietary applications
  • Integration between Python/Java/.Net/PHP etc

What is XMLRPC?

  • “Lightweight” version of SOAP
  • Does not support as rich data types
  • (Some of the SOAP-ites developed it)
  • Not standardised [by committee]
  • Zend_XmlRpc_(Server|Client)
  • PHP5 has an xmlrpc extension
  • Transparent to the end user


  • Standardised (W3C)
  • Successor to XMLRPC?
  • Headers can contain authentication details
  • WSDL File....
  • Developed by Microsoft, W3C etc

Transport layer

  • Both work over HTTP[S] (Firewalls etc)
  • Both involve/use XML (Verbose? Bulky?)
  • Both work through POST requests
  • (Internet application layer as a transport layer...)

As PHP developers, the above should be nothing new or scary - it's building upon familiar concepts we use (XML, POST, HTTP)

XMLRPC – Data types supported

  • Array
  • Struct (Assoc. Array)
  • Integer
  • Boolean
  • Double
  • String
  • Base64 (useful for binary data)
  • Date/Time

Note, there is no support for Objects - as you can probably imagine it's likely to be difficult to take an object from e.g. Java and access it from PHP - what about logic held within the object etc?

SOAP – Data types supported

As per XMLRPC + any others you wish to define in your WSDL file.... (Objects etc - at least I'm assuming it allows this)

Error Reporting

Both sort-of-support Exceptions (“Faults”)

"Imaginary" Scenario

$customer has an application (and database) which they wish to give their customers access to (although they didn't word it as such).

“We need to allow $y to be able to integrate with our system to do $x”

My immediate thought was "XMLRPC / SOAP....?"

Initial discussion on the phpwm mailing list, also raised the idea of REST.


Initial investigation of REST implied that I would need to write a 'view layer' which would probably be returning XML. On one hand it involves GET requests as well (so perhaps better caching can take place?) - but I really didn't see why anyone would use REST over e.g. XMLRPC/SOAP - considering the extra work required both when developing the API and when consuming it.


At a simplistic level, we split the structure into three layers - the backend logic (talking to DB, performing validation and business logic), the SOAP (or XMLRPC) service and finally and the client. Some example code follows.

App Logic

  • Not hard coded to a transport (could use “locally”)
  • Easier unit testing
  • Normal PHP5 “stuff”
  • Has appropriate authentication checks.

XMLRPC / SOAP Interface

Our initial implementation was XMLRPC only, as this seemed the easiest to use. Coming from a web development background, we wanted to use e.g. sessions to capture authentication details, and allow for persistence across requests. The Zend XmlRpc library does allow this (once you set a cookie jar, which takes about 4 lines of code). Unfortunately, it doesn't see that many other libraries in other languages do support cookies (easily?), so this approach has lost favour over time.

We had the same issue with HTTP authentication as with cookies - namely, asking an employee to write a Java (or Python) XMLRPC client that interacted with the service resulted in about a day of lost time.

Therefore, the only workable approach appears to be to make the first two parameters of each method call the username and password of the client. Ugly, but will always work.

  • Initially unsure of which was the best approach - So support them all?
  • How to do authentication? Cookies? user/pass parameters at the start of each method call ?
  • SOAP has some sort of header authentication support, but no one seems to have used/documented it for me to find...

From an XMLRPC point of view, we ended up having the following server URLs -

  • server_session_auth.php
  • server_manual_auth.php
  • server_http_auth.php

ARGH! Thankfully there is minimal duplication of code between the session and http auth variants, but because the manual auth approach requires two parameters to be added to all method calls, we had to write a proxy class to accommodate this. This is a slight maintenance annoyance, and if the API grows much more, we'll write something to generate this code for us.

We've now (effectively) dropped them all apart from “server_manual_auth.php”

Session and HTTP auth were VERY easy to write though; manual_auth is a pain; but adopting ONE approach makes support easier.

SOAP Interfaces

  • Php5's ext/soap doesn't support namespaces, so
  • Separate URL/PHP file per back end object
  • Stuck with “manual_auth” approach for this
  • Was able to reuse all of the XMLRPC proxy code :-)
  • Quick win - it took a handful of hours to write the server, a test client and get it working.


  • Kind of sucks
  • $server(s) are in Australia, we're in the UK.... Customers are everywhere.
  • We “batched” together the “addNewItem()” method into an explicit “addOneThousandNewItems()” method which helped.
  • Could “bulk” up; but HTTP/PHP POST size limitations?

Obviously you'll want to use deflate/gzip compression on calls/responses....

Sample Code....(xmlrpc server)

$server = new Zend_XmlRpc_Server();
$server->setClass('ModuleXProxy', '');
echo $server->handle();

Note, you can set namespaces using the Zend XmlRpc client, this is great as we have many backend models, but they can all be combined into one server URL.


PHPDoc comments VERY IMPORTANT (and annoyingly case sensitive!)

class ModuleXProxy {

    public function __construct() {
        $this->real = new ModuleX();

     * @param string $username
     * @param string $password
     * @param string $foo
     * @return boolean success indicator
    public function doSomething($username, $password, $foo) {
      if(authenticated($username, $password)) {
       return $this->real->doSomething($foo);
     throw new AuthenticationException(“....”);


$xmlrpcclient = new Zend_XmlRpc_Client(“http://somewhere/server.php”)
$proxy = $xmlrpcclient->getProxy('');
$result = $proxy->doSomething($username, $password, $whatever);

Compared to "local" usage of the server object (ModuleX) there is only one difference - the username/password parameters. Hence it's quite transparent and seamless.

4 lines of code.... seems easy enough to me! Might want Exception try/catch in the real world.

SOAP Server

$options = array('uri' => 'urn:http://dom.ain/soap/modulex',
                 'soap_version' => SOAP_1_2,
$server = new SoapServer(null, $options);

Note – we're not using a WSDL file....

SOAP Client

$client = new SoapClient(null, 
        'location' => 'http://dom.ain/soap/path/to/server.php', 
        'uri'      => 'urn:http://dom.ain/soap/modulex', 
        'soap_version' => SOAP_1_2));

$result = $client->__soapCall('doSomething', array($user, $pass, $something)));

For some reason, the __call() function in the SoapClient object is marked as deprecated in the API; I've no idea why, as it would be far nicer an API (for clients) if it could be used. Obviously as a client you could write a wrapper which makes it transparent using the __call() magic method, but this seems needless work to me.

Short summary - Less code, but shame it doesn't natively support __call() etc

Zend Framework

  • Zend_Soap is under development.... which is why we didn't use it
  • Zend_XmlRpc namespaces - a great feature/idea.

The Zend Frameworks' XmlRpc library saved us a lot of time, and it's worked really well. Hopefully it will get faster performance in the future, although we don't really notice it as having bad performance. (The initial implementation of a caching feature, as per the documentation resulted in it taking longer to respond to requests! Bug ticket created etc.)

by David Goodwin at July 14, 2008 10:31 AM

Thunder, Lightening and the disgust of ISP technical support!

A week or so ago, there was some thunder and lightening (just to make our generally wet summer a bit more interesting). In the course of this "storm" lightening struck somewhere nearby, and killed our home ADSL router. (Perhaps my religious alter-ego should blame God?).

"Her Indoors" was initially grumpy that she'd lost Mumsnet, but then realising we have a 3G USB router thing, all was well again.

I swapped out the ISP (Be*) provided modem, for a Linksys one which was gathering dust at work. Thankfully this worked, so the problem was therefore not with the phone line, but the Be* router itself. Unfortunately the replacement router doesn't have wireless... so I thought I'd see if I could get a replacement router.

After a painful phone call with their technical support, I received the following email:

Dear Mr.David Goodwin, As we disgusted on the phone I did escalate your issue to 
your hight level support . And they will proceed to send you a new modem. King 
regards, Merry, Be* Team

(Emphasis mine, spelling mistakes(?) theirs.)

by David Goodwin at July 14, 2008 10:22 AM

July 13, 2008


LugRadio Live UK 2008

Is less than a week away

So, yes, am on crew, and am also on the Speakers List as I’m organising the Keysigning Party.

If you’ve got the weekend spare - and can make it to Wolverhampton - why not come along and meet some of the wonderful people that are the LugRadio community. It’s only £5 on the door (which is entry for both days) and well - Just look at the schedule to see the kind of talks that are going on.

Plus, It’s also going to be the LAST EVER LugRadio - so it’s really your last chance to see, plus you’ll be participating in a historic moment in FLOSS history (just wish it was the start of something rather than the end!)

So obligatory LRL advertising post over - hope to see you there!

by Mez at July 13, 2008 11:44 AM

July 12, 2008

Celeste H

Live on the air

I will be playing a live gig with polly moller on kfjc. But i can't remember what date, even though she's just told me, because i am drunk on a friday night. So hopefully polly will leave a comment and you will know on what day to turn your radio to 89.7 fm or point a browser at

Oh my goodness, i listened to kfjc for hours everyday during my teen years. I remember staying up all hours of the night to listen to them play noise music. I got my first bikini kill album at their record swap. I remember listening one afternoon when i was 14 or 15 and they played "Lecture on nothing" on the radio. It was like nothing i'd ever heard before. Like being struck by lightening. I remember the first time i heard nirvana when they played "Smells like teen spirit." I remember going to see the mermen play live on the air.

This radio station defined me musically during my formative years. What i like now is from what i heard then. I can't believe i'm going to be improving live on this station. It's like unbelievable. Man, i really love you guys.

by Les ( at July 12, 2008 12:35 PM

The latest

I've finally gotten occupancy of my new flat. The landlord got out very late on tuesday evening. Moving is a drag and he left a harried unsweptness in his wake. I can't complain as I've done the same. Nicole has been cleaning and organizing everything. She will make for a radical librarian. She's been shelving my books. The travel books are all together. She has placed my guide to belgium between the guides to france and the netherlands. Next to the netherlands is germany and boredering on the german guidebooks is one to deenmark.

This flat doesn't have cable. The landlord has left a tv, but my primary concern is for internet access. I foolishly told the landlord that i wouldn't need  a landline, so now i am trying to get it reconnected. British telecome is experiencing a glitch the last few days which prevents them from enrolling new customers. I have no internet, but i can stroll around the estate and chance upon open networks and update my blog.

There is some possibility that my american homeowners insurance will cover my bike. I've been glaring suspiciously at anyone who rides by on a brompton. Mine had a weird rear bolt and a trailer hitch, but, obvoiusly, i haven't seen it. I have recently noticed, though, that while bromptons are extremely popular in london, i never see them locked up outside. People keep them in sight and bring them indoors. Nicole saw a woman place one in a shopping cart. If i get insurance money, i'm tempted by the titanium frame. The steel frame is a bit heavy to drag everywhere. If i don't get money, well, i still kind of need a folding bike to commute to brum. I have a  fabric shipping bag that nicole made for bromptons. I have two bags designed to attach to the luggage rack scheme specific to this kind of bike. I even have standard pedals for one. So it would seem logical to get the same kind of bike again. And one of those locks that comes with insurance.

In other news, i've now switched from american-style t to eurostyle. I'm on something called sustanon. The way american t works is that it's in castor oil (which does not actually come from beavers) -an impossibly thick oil. You inject it into a muscle and  it slowly leaks out. It peaks after a  couple of days and leaves your body after 10 - 14 days. By comparison, my sustanon is in peanut oil, which is much thinner. It has multiple types of t in it, all with different half lives. So as one is disappearing, another is becoming bioavailable. The standard cycle for this is 4 weeks, but i'm at 3 because i hate the gap at the end and i'm sometimes a day late with a shot. Like last time, for example.

I looked at the drug information booklet. Normally, i try not to or else i start imagining i have all the bad side effects.  But i looked this time and it said to alert your docyor if you'vee ever haad bone cancer as this could cause a problem. Well, i actually had a tumor in a bone about 12 years ago. It was benign, but the surgery was really painful. I wonder if i remembered to tell the endocrinologist? Is this specific to sustanon? I don't want to have more  tumors in my bones, but it would really suck to have my voice and chin hair frozen at 15 year old boy. Maybe i should call my old doctor? I'm sort of between  them right now.

Finally, i've just gotten conformation of  xena's kennel booking. I fly to california on monday.  They want her to have been vaccinated for kennel cough several days ago. This would have been a good thing to  tell me over the phone when i said her vaccination for that wasn't current. And they're not answering their phones.

To wrap up: all my stuff is in boxes. I have no internet. My t might give me cancer. The dog boarding i have lined up won't take my dog.

Things tend to go the same amount of badly whether i plan in advance or not.

by Les ( at July 12, 2008 12:22 AM

July 11, 2008


Home grown potatoes

One of the best things we've grown in the garden so far this year has to be the potatoes. It's so easy too - I mean you basically just put some potatoes in the ground and then come back a few weeks later and there are loads more!

Here's Marla with a handful we dug up last night. This is probably the third time we've had this many so far, and there are still loads of small ones in there growing.

by Peter Lewis at July 11, 2008 10:38 AM

July 09, 2008

Andrew L

Web 2.0 - not what you’d expect.

Look, we’re here.. the internet faces massive policing by stupid governments intent on limiting our freedom.
Should the ideas expressed in a recent blog (that software that is used on the internet be registered to a certified authority) go through.. it basically means good-bye to freedoms on the internet.

How easy would it be to create a new internet. Get back to 56K modems and telnetting between people to pass round information?  or would it simply be a massive ‘encrypted net’ - where legitimate and illegitimate activity get bundled together, hidden from prying eyes?

Edit - as grifferz pointed out.. this makes little sense; I’ll have to redress the issue in the future properly.

by Andy at July 09, 2008 07:21 PM

The Death of Quantitative Psychology - the birth of a Brave New World.

One of the first lectures in my first year entertained the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods in psychology.  We had three lovely, but definately qualitatively biased lecturers.  They spoke of the personal approach to psychology, and identifying individual differences, rather than group ‘norms’ - for they argues that norms did not exist across society, due to all the difference cultures and individual experiences.

However, our quantitative lecturers disagreed.  They liked to analyse and draw lovely graphs showing difference behavioural patterns.  Attach electrodes to heads to monitor electrical pulses in the brain, and quantify social experiments using hard statistics and probability algorithms.

Well, they’re now approaching the end of their careers in this field, as Google and the ‘database generation’ take over.

There’s so much information on the internet now, that we don’t need to know whether someone is going to do something or not - we can actually see records of what they do.  Having the browsing habits of thousands, or millions of people is almost priceless data.  It’s the stuff that quantititative psychologists can only dream of.  Any psychologist will tell you how valuable that data is to them.

Well, today Alexander Hanff - fighting for our freedom - heads to the House of Lords in order to prevent Phorm from getting their hands on our data; and to question why BT haven’t yet been charged on any count for gross invasion of privacy in regards to their trials of the Phorm software last summer.

In order to understand what we’re dealing with, I offer the following analogy to those less technically minded.

The internet is an exchange of bags, each containing a little bit of information.  Let’s say you pass one bag a second from your machine across the internet to an ‘internet server.’  It’s very easy for someone to look into any of these bags - but mainly due to volume (but also due to simple logistics) people tend not to bother looking in your bags.  It’s not to say they can’t though.

Well, phorm contains software that looks through all your bags, and analyses them for ‘key-words’, from which they can then target adverts at you.  If you’re communicating with someone, why do you want them looking through your bags - you don’t!

When you deal with your bank, you’d put a padlock on the bags, that only they and you have the key to unlock.. so your online banking details are safe..r.  If you’d rather not have someone looking through all the information you exchange across the internet, charging you for the pleasure, and then holding more information on your browsing habits than you even do yourself.. say Yes to Phorm.  else do the sensible thing and “JUST SAY NO!”

by Andy at July 09, 2008 01:44 PM