Talisians - Talis People Past and Present

January 25, 2009

Karen Reece


Seeing as the Toon won't be troubling any statisticians on the pitch this weekend, I've been giving the latest NUFC accounts some thought. Some of the 'highlights' include

Total wage bill: £62.3 m - up from £52.1m in 2007
Monies owed to Allardyce: £4.6m
Amount Ashley paid for club: £134.4m
Extra cash Ashley has poured into club: £110m
Total loss for year ending June 2008: £20m

One of the most concerning things for Ashley must be the size of the wage bill. The turnover is about £100m and the wage bill is at about 65% of that. Apparently the accepted safe limit in terms of percentage is around 50%. Therefore, the natural assumption is (as the Times Online says)

"This may explain why the club have been eager to cut the salaries of senior professionals such as Michael Owen, Nicky Butt and Steve Harper, all of whom are out of contract this summer, provoking disaffection in the dressing-room. "

I had to read the sentence several times, to understand what Caulkin is saying - not that EMO, Butt and Harper are causing the unrest but that the unrest is caused because of the need to cut salaries. I guess this makes sense in the face of declining revenue - when was the last time SJP sold out? There are still tickets on sale for the mackem game, which has to be a first. Financially there is a conundrum, is it more important to shift EMO off the wage bill or hope his goals keep the Toon in the Premiership? It's a tough call, but ultimately it boils down to either a long or short term strategy. I'd guess it will be the latter as Ashley isn't showing signs of moving on, but its going to require a large amount of holding of nerve, which we haven't seen thus far from the current management team. Also these figures sound a large claxon-like Family Fortunes electronic farting noise to the prospect of any new signings in the January transfer window.

As for the pay-off for Allardyce, yes, its obscene amount of money for the seven months of purgatory that he inflicted on the club, but the pay off will (I'd assume) been dictated by the contract that was negotiated prior to the Ashley regime. What will be interesting to see is how much the Keegan pay off will be? No doubt we'll have to wait another 12 months before we can find out, but it will be interesting to see if its a similar amount. I wonder which enhancements could have been made to the playing staff for that amount of money? Allardyce's pay-off alone would have bought either Bullard or Heskey... Now there's a thought.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Allardyce should have stayed, nor even that I feel any sympathy for the current incumbent of the SJP boardroom. I just feel that its been so much waste and instability that shows no signs of stopping. Stability is what this club is crying out for, on the pitch, in the dug-out and finally in the directors box. But that's not how the roller-coaster ride plays out, is it?

Anyway, hopefully the players will have been making good use of the free time this weekend, especially Barton/Enrique and Carroll/N'Zogbia. It would be great to see a team performing at Man City on Wednesday - but, seeing as I'm going and the scars of the Blackburn game haven't faded from my memory as yet; I'd be surprised.

by Karen Toon at 2009-01-25T14:41:06Z

Karen Reece

Ten thousand holes

Blackburn 3 Toon 0

By god this was a grim game.

I think the most telling comment from the whole day was an overheard one.

If you can picture the scene... It's now dark, the wind is driving rain into our faces so hard that it stings, we are trudging up a hill with an incline of about 1 in 4 (in old money). We've just seen an abject display by a group of individuals in black and white shirts (note: not a team); a journeyman striker (pictured on the front of the programme) has put two goals past us and the other was from a dodgy penalty. We know we are plummeting down the table and we will be in serious trouble soon. One of our senior players (well, in age anyway) has been sent off, and then blasted the ball at the referee (he missed, of course) and then our returning 'star' and Stevie G wannabee (when not being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure) then decides to start a fight with our Spanish left-back - again they can't even muster the enthusiasm for anything more than a bit of finger wagging and a push.

So, the conversation by the two guys in the black and white shirts in front of me went something like this (I've removed the expletives for those of a gentle disposition.)

Man One - *sigh* "That was poor"
Man Two - "Aye, but the football was just a bonus part of the day. At least we've got out of the house"
Man One - "Aye, true"

I've decided that this exchange is a healthy perspective. Sanguine was an understatement. I can't take this seriously anymore (well not until the derby game anyway). Bastardising Mark Twain's quote

- Newcastle United, a good Saturday afternoon spoiled -

I've warned the Favourite Nephew that if he doesn't behave - I'll take him to some more away games.... That should keep him on the straight and narrow. So that game is behind us now. Lets just forget it ever happened.

One small prediction. If Kaka signs for Manchester City this week (I'm still cringing at the obscenity of the numbers on this transfer) his home debut is quite likely to be a midweek game against the Toon. I wonder what odds will be on Mr Barton welcoming him to the Premiership with a tackle that does him some serious damage? Written in the stars that one...

by Karen Toon at 2009-01-25T08:24:47Z

January 24, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Fixing things

After a long hard week fixing things, it's nice to spend the day at home - er, fixing things. Today I managed to fix the loo seat and, more importantly, my hatstand.

Why is the hatstand so important? Well, it's like this. It was a birthday present almost twenty years ago. I can't imagine it was that expensive, but I've had it for a long time. It's survived any number of house moves, relationships, and jobs. It's graced most of the places I've lived at one time or another. I remember someone asking me why I had a hatstand in my bedroom - well, it was this hatstand.

So you can imagine how gutted I was to find that my hatstand was missing a leg. So I spent a while today repairing it. I'm happy that my hatstand lives to support coats another day.

The obvious question of the day is "why hatstand?" Well, it's after the well-known Viz character Roger Irrelevant. As I remember, some drinking may have occurred, when I made an unusually irrelevant remark. This remark led to me promptly being labelled "completely hatstand". And so, for my birthday, I got my hatstand.

People who know me now can relax, safe in the knowledge that I'm not getting worse, I've been like this for many years.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-24T20:54:00Z

Rhys Wilkins


I would blog, but I can't pry my laptop away from Pink Goddess. More when I find my Apple-themed (aluminium and expensive) wrecking bar. Sorry, all.

Posted with LifeCast

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-24T20:14:00Z

January 23, 2009

Rhys Wilkins


Today was a day and a half!

Well, where do you go from being the sole author of one of the least-read blogs on the Internet? Well, only name-checked by Paul "Cloud of Data" Miller! Woo!

Then, I get a twitter message from Jim Prince, who used to work at Talis... apparently I found something he remembers leaving behind.

Oh, and we looked up the meaning of "Go to the foot of our stairs". Apparently, it's to do with having had such a surprise that you need to... er, clean up in the lavatory. I've not heard it used in quite that way, but it seems to fit.

And finally, I worked on fixing our internal systems so that we can tick another box on a tender document.

In there somewhere, I did some sysadmin, fixed some backups, collected the car, thought some more about some major systems work that I want to do, and fixed some - oh wait, I said that already.

Anyway, it's been wild. Roll on next week!

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-23T21:18:00Z

January 22, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Car's At The Menders

Our car's gone to the menders. I have a Mark I Citroen C5, which I really like. But it's had to go in for a service. After pleading with them I seem to have borrowed the Service Manager's car. It's the new Citroen C5. I didn't think I'd like it. This is the one they advertise as being German, but I really like the quirky Frenchness of my car.

First impressions are that it is a very different look. And it's big. I mean, I'm used to having a bigger car, but this thing is big. The boot is huge. When I got in, the first thing I saw is that whoever did the interior has gone to the German school of car interiors. It's like a luxuriously appointed coal mine in there. When you look around, it's Germany. I mean, good looking and functional. OK, not so bad.

However, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. For a start, it has the C4-style boss in the middle of the steering wheel that doesn't turn. This is oddly weird to start with, but then you get used to it. There's lots of controls, but they're sorted and easy to use. Out on the open road, the ride isn't as good as in my C5, but that's because the Hydrolastic suspension isn't standard on the new C5s. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as this car actually handles really well, plus has great ride quality. It reminds me of the 406 I had before, which actually handled well, plus rode well too.

This one is apparently the 1.6 HDi. For me, that was plenty, and the performance is more than acceptable. Mine is the 2.2 HDi automatic, but this one has a good manual gearbox and a nice clutch. I never stalled it, and got used to it quite quickly. The engine has the usual loads of torque, but is quieter and more useful around town.

So... overall. I'd buy one. And, of course, it's passed the crucial Pink Goddess test.

Time to start saving, I think.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-22T21:42:00Z

Rob Styles

BlueBlog: How and Why Glue is Using Amazon SimpleDB instead of a Relational Database

Alex blogs over at Adaptive Blue about their use of Amazon’s SimpleDB to power their browser add-on Glue.

The post is interesting, and the comments useful. What I noticed, though, is that they’re using natural keys…

The solution that Glue uses relies on data duplication. Each Person and each Thing in our system has a unique key. In the case of a Person, the key is the username. In the case of a Thing, the key is a combination of the type, its name and an attribute, like author for a book or director for a movie, which provides a way to disambiguate among the objects that have the same type and the same name.

via BlueBlog: How and Why Glue is Using Amazon SimpleDB instead of a Relational Database.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-22T08:59:05Z

Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine | Technology | The Guardian

Wendy Grossman, in The Guardian, covers the difficulties of libraries publishing their catalogue data online.

Despite the internet’s origins as an academic network, when it comes to finding a book, e-commerce rules. Put any book title into your favourite search engine, and the hits will be dominated by commercial sites run by retailers, publishers, even authors. But even with your postcode, you won’t find the nearest library where you can borrow that book. (The exception is Google Books, and even that is limited.)

via Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine | Technology | The Guardian.

I get a namecheck and a quote at the end:

Rob Styles, a programme manager for Talis’s data services, says: “The main reason I think libraries need freedom to innovate is because we don’t know what they’re going to look like”.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-22T07:42:27Z

January 21, 2009

Nadeem Shabir

Why PHP Won

An excellent article by Eric Reis over on his blog in which he talks about “why PHP won” in his web application development over other (web scripting) languages:

As a language, it’s inelegant. Its object-orientation support is “much improved” - which is another way of saying it’s been horrendous for a long time. Writing unit tests or mock objects in PHP is an exercise in constant frustration. And yet I keep returning to PHP as a development platform, as have most of my fellow startup CTOs. This post is about why.

Its an interesting piece in which Eric chooses to describe PHP’s success in terms of what a new language might have to do better in order to challenge PHP’s popularity/success, in short he suggests the following:

  • Speed of iteration (a good write/test/debug cycle)
  • Better mapping of outputs to inputs
  • A similar standard library
  • A better OOP implementation

I have to confess I found myself agreeing with Eric. His piece is well worth reading!


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-21T22:38:22Z

Nadeem Shabir

Obama’s Inauguration Speech

I’m always wary of politicians, and political speeches, and yet Obama’s inauguration speech left me feeling hopeful … I guess only time will tell though.


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-21T22:03:49Z

Wolverines Archers, first shoot of 2009

Last weekend waf fairly tumultuous it began with me discovering that my kitchen had been completely flooded, and ended with me winning my first ever archery medal. I’ll be honest I was pretty upset when I discovered my kitchen was under four inches of water, fortunately my younger brother was on hand to help sort it out, as was the rest of my family, even Richard rushed over to help out when he heard what had happened. Thankfully the damage wasn’t too bad after a week or so of drying out and removing the flooring it looks like all that needs doing is to re-floor the kitchen and it should be right as rain ;-)

The following morning Richard picked me up pretty earlier for out first official archery shoot of 2009. It was a special invitation only shoot hosted by our friends at Wolverines Archers near Stoke. Im guessing there were at least a hundred or so archers there, all the pegs were pretty much full. I ended up shooting in a group comprising of three compound archers and me with my HT recurve and wooden arrows. I don’t have anything against compound archers, in fact I quite enjoy shooting with them it tends to make me more competitive and consequently I concentrate more. An archer shooting with a recurve and wooden arrows is never going to keep up with a compound with carbon arrows, but the fun is actually in trying to keep up with them. Richard always says the same, that trying to keep up with them makes you focus more.

That certainly worked for me, at the end of the day I came third in my category and was awarded a bronze medal! I know a lot of the other archers in my category, you get to know everyone since its often the same crowd of people at the same events. Many of them are far more experienced than I am, so I was pretty proud - still am ;-) Everyone in the team cheered me on which was a great feeling!

Looks my next shoot is on the 8th of Feb, lets hope I do as well. As always pictures from the day are on my flickr account here.


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-21T21:55:22Z

Rhys Wilkins

Focus, Part Two

Today was the first day of "no distractions". Since I have the attention span of a... ooh, kittehs.

Er, where was I? Oh yeah, focus. Well, it's 9 PM, and I've only just put my work laptop away. From that, it'd be easy to think that things have got worse, not better. But I think that actually, things have got better. I think I've got a lot done, and I think I've made some progress against the heap of things out there.

I think that I still have some way to go, but this is working. More news as we succeed.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-21T21:21:00Z

January 20, 2009

Rhys Wilkins


This is about focus.

I've made some changes today. I've thought about GTD, Inbox Zero, and a bunch of other stuff. It didn't work. I'm just more of a Inbox 733 kind of person. But I still had to change something. So I decluttered my desk. I've moved four inches of waste paper (and recycled it). I've removed the second computer that I was playing with, as it was just a waste. And I've removed two of the four browsers I had installed. I even removed Safari, which had my RSS feeds in it. (I'll admit I exported them to my keydrive, but I'm deleting them from there once I've copied them onto my home computer). I've uninstalled six or seven other bits of software I was playing with, including Python. It's all gone. I was thinking about blatting the Linux partition I created too, but it turns out that putting the original master boot record back is not actually all that tricky:
I'm not planning to boot into it for the time being, so I've set Windows XP as the default.

I've left the productivity software I use, like Office 2007 (even though I despise the new UX). I've left my Twitter client installed, and of course I'll still be on IRC, although I'll be mostly lurking. Ping me if you need me.

Oh, and I've just remembered I have another laptop in a drawer. I'll be giving that back too.

I'd like to get more done in less time, and this is my way of starting that.

This is because I need a little time for another comment. Typically for me, I've been stung into drastic action by a typo. I really need there to be less of me (like about 4st less) and that's going to take some work. So here we go. I'm hoping that you'll be seeing somewhat less of me soon (but still quite a lot, obviously).

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-20T21:48:00Z

Rhys Wilkins

Big Chef Takes On Little Chef

We're watching Big Chef... and it's amazing. I'm actually excited about going there. I haven't been there for years, but for our next road trip, who knows?

The most interesting part is that Heston actually understands what Little Chef is about better than the Chief Executive. I hope this works, honest.

Posted with LifeCast

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-20T21:26:00Z

January 19, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Just had to share this...

This is far too good not to share: REST for toddlers. I've been noisily laughing at it, earning one of those "oh, you're doing something geeky again" looks from Pink Goddess.

The rest of that site is worth exploring too.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-19T19:50:00Z

Rhys Wilkins

Nuremburg Defence

mmmmmrob asked me to post a link for him, so here it is: "Sleep Time Bunny Clock".

Of course, the last line of mmmmmrob's post raises an interesting point:
And that’s exactly what someone should do. Please someone.
Go on then.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-19T19:35:00Z

Rob Styles

When Patents Go Wrong…

Warning, Patent Rant follows.
91019234.pdf (page 15 of 19)
Sure, everyone knows about high profile patents like Amazon One-Click, but what about the effect of less prominent cases?

A patent is a monopoly over an invention - in order to encourage innovation, patents are granted to inventors so they are assured of an income from the invention. Inventions usually make money either through the sale or licensing of the patent or through production of a product that makes use of the invention. The patent prevents others from simply copying the idea. Unlike Copyright, however, patents cover the idea even if the second person came up with the idea completely independently.

But why am I writing about this now? Well, I’ve come to the end of the line with a child’s clock. Yep, you read that right.

Back in 1991 Julian Renton designed a clock for children. The intention was simple, provide children who were too young to tell the time a visual indication of whether or not they should be awake. This is a great idea and one that, as a father of three, I whole-heartedly support.

He patented the clock.

All would be fine and dandy if he, or a licensed manufacturer, had gone on to produce a product based on the patent that both worked in practice and was sound value-for-money. Unfortunately that’s not what happened. Without the patent the idea would have been open for several manufacturers to pick up the idea and produce competing versions. This would have had the usual market benefits of encouraging the development of better products as well as driving cost down. The patent prevents this.

So, we’re left with just Sleep Time Bunny.

Now, as far as Julian’s concerned, the patent system has worked very well. He has a nice little business selling Sleep Time Bunny directly over the internet and through some shops. The usual street price for Sleep Time Bunny is a little under £20. Bear in mind that, other than patent-protected bunny face, this is the same complexity as a standard alarm clock. It’s also been manufactured with cost very much in mind - you can tell. I would suspect the manufacturing cost doesn’t exceed £2 per clock - and it is possible to buy unbranded alarm clocks that appear to be the same quality for around £4. Julian should be making a healthy profit on the sale of each clock.

But as a consumer, the patent protection has delivered me poor value-for-money and resulted in no consumer choice. The problem for me, as a consumer, is that the idea has been allowed to run as a monopoly, thus requiring no innovation or development to make the product better or cheaper. Take one of the most obvious problems for a children’s alarm clock:

A 2½ year old, the stated lower end of the age range for the clock, will often go to bed around 7pm and be expected to stay in bed until 7am the following morning. This is obviously something that people ask a lot as makes it onto Bunny Clock’s FAQ:

Bunny Clock Q. I tried to set Bunny Clock to sleep at 7.00pm to wake at 7.00am but the Bunny won’t stay asleep. Why is this?

Bunny Clock A. The waking time selection is set with the normal alarm set hand. However, the alarm mechanism, as with all alarm clocks, works on a 12 hour cycle and so you are effectively trying to set Bunny Clock to sleep when it wants to wake. If you want Bunny to sleep for 12 or more hours you will need to adjust the wake setting at a later time – possibly just before you go to bed.

Right, so for a very common case the clock simply doesn’t work. Notice the aside there, “as with all alarm clocks”. Not all alarm clocks are marketed for young children, not all alarm clocks are patented. How much product development has gone into solving that problem in the past 17 years? Zero. Because there is no need to solve it. The product has no immediate competitors.

What the patent doesn’t prevent is someone designing a product that solves the exact same problem and competes in the exact same space, as long as it doesn’t infringe on any of the claims made for Sleep Time Bunny. And that’s exactly what someone should do. Please someone.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-19T17:34:55Z

TechCrunch Tablet Update: Prototype B

It’s like a big iPhone, but not a phone, so more like a big ‘i’ then…

TechCrunch Tablet Update: Prototype B.

I don’t know if I’d buy this one, but I would buy something like this - if it were good enough, and cheap enough…

courtesy of iand

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-19T16:55:54Z

David Whitehouse

Bike Insurance

Bike is now insured via Footman James. Policy was a about £10 more than the cheapest quote I had but offered Comprehensive cover with lots of benefits. Also found them very helpful and personable to deal with.

by dave at 2009-01-19T13:19:14Z

Nadeem Shabir

Great design is serious ( not solemn )

Paula Scher looks back at a life in design (she’s done album covers, books, the Citibank logo …) and pinpoints the moment when she started really having fun. Look for gorgeous designs and images from her legendary career. It’s a wonderful talk, inspiring in many ways


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-19T09:52:19Z

Rhys Wilkins

'Scuse Me!

I had a few extra minutes this morning, because the cat woke me up early. Annoyingly, he's mastered the trick of waking me up, but leaving Pink Goddess to sleep. Anyway, he woke me up just after 5:30 this morning, so I'm up, showered, and dressed. Oh, and I've fed the cat, too. And opened the window so he can get out. He's now climbing all over me as I'm typing, and mousing. He seems to like putting his head next to my hand on the mouse and giving it a good shove, just as I'm about to click something.

At the moment, he's sat on the file boxes, on the shelf right next to me, looking all cute.

Oh, wait, he's given up, and he's now lying on the bed looking a little miffed, as I'm not really playing with him, I'm typing.

In a moment, I'll be off to start the day the best way I know how. I will gently kiss Pink Goddess as she sleeps, and feel her stir. She'll wrap me up in her arms, heavy with sleep, and kiss me gently back. Then, and only then, my day starts.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-19T06:20:00Z

January 18, 2009

Rhys Wilkins


Can it get worse than Johnny Rotten advertising butter? Apparently yes-Iggy Pop advertising car insurance. What next? Alive Cooper selling home insurance-oh wait, he's working for Aviva.

Posted with LifeCast

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-18T20:16:00Z

Rhys Wilkins

Overdoing it

I've just noticed that I had two Twitter clients open on my computer at the same time. Plus I have both phones, and they have Twitter clients on them too. Hmm.

But it's Twitter's fault really, the service is too addictive. So I blame them. And cellity Tweeter. And NatsuLion (OS X and iPhone (OSS)). And TwitterFox. All of them.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-18T18:56:00Z

David Whitehouse

Kwak is Home

Got the bike home yesterday, Dad and I trekked up to Derbyshire with the bike trailer. Seller was nice bloke and clearly loved the bike; I felt a bit bad about taking it of him ! I have no insurance and vapours in the tank so I’ve not been for a ride on it yet. [...]

by dave at 2009-01-18T17:41:01Z

Photos on Flickr


shymy posted a photo:

by shymy at 2009-01-18T10:59:18Z


shymy posted a photo:

by shymy at 2009-01-18T10:59:15Z


shymy posted a photo:

by shymy at 2009-01-18T10:59:14Z


shymy posted a photo:

by shymy at 2009-01-18T10:59:13Z


shymy posted a photo:

by shymy at 2009-01-18T10:59:12Z

Karen Reece

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

I'm such a creature of habit. For instance, have you noticed how often I blog on a Saturday morning? Its becoming part of my weekend ritual (and far more pleasurable than many other mundanitites - is that a word? if not it should be - of my Saturday mornings, like doing the washing, cleaning etc.) I seem to need the framework of routine in order to get things done.

One of my 'habits' is to give up booze for the month of January. There are some sound reasons for this :-

1. The need to dry out after the excess of the festive season
2. To prove that I can
3. To save cash as a result of number 1
4. To break the habit of looking at the football scores and immediately reaching for the Merlot/Lager/Southern Comfort/Bleach (delete as appropriate according to the atrociousness of the result)

Normally this isn't too much of a problem - however I never quite make it to the end of the month, as some party or event crops up where you are expected to toast the happy couple/new offspring/divorcee (again, delete as appropriate).

The downside of this is that I always have to 'cope' with the demise of another year of Newcastle United's hopes of winning something stone cold sober. I had to suffer the game against Hull via t'inteweb Radio Newcastle - and even the partisan commentators couldn't put anything much positive on the game. There seemed to be such an air of inevitability about the game, it was only ever going to get settled by one goal - and it was unlikely that Newcastle would score it. Hull are a poor team - but they were better than Newcastle on Wednesday. Depressingly true and I can't even seek solace in the bottom of a pint pot at the moment.

Oh well, another day, another game. Blackburn this afternoon, a chance to put one over Allardyce. As ever travelling more in hope than anticipation. Just had the phone call confirming that their are tickets for me and the Favourite Nephew - looking forward to catching up with everyone. Meeting in Blackburn at 2.00pm.... in the pub. Doh!

Howay the lads

by Karen Toon at 2009-01-18T09:10:20Z

January 17, 2009

Ross Singer

I’m only here for the closures

I am not a programmer.

Since I first began writing code, my approach to learning a new language has been to take something that does the sort of thing I am looking for and start fiddling, seeing the results of the fiddling (most likely through some sort of error message) and refiddle until I start seeing the outcome I was looking for.  In mechanical terms, I open the hood, get out my biggest wrench and start whacking at things until the noises stop.  Or, in this case, start.

The arc of languages I primarily worked in at any given time is a pretty good reflection of this approach:  Perl, TCL, PHP, then Ruby with a small foray into Python.  All dynamic, all extremely whackable.  Where whacking doesn’t work, Google (or, previously, Yahoo or, previously, Alta Vista) generally does.  Cut, paste and resume whacking.

The same philosophy applies when it comes to developing new projects.  I know, basically, what I want on the other side, but I have absolutely no idea what it will take to get there.  Generally this means I’ll pick up the nearest tool on hand (usually a red colored wrench) and start whacking until I see what I want.  That the red wrench isn’t the right tool for the job isn’t the point, since I’m only looking for the destination, not the best route there (since I have no idea how to get there in the first place).  The more comfortable I get with a tool, the more likely I am to nest with it, since the detour of finding (and learning how to use) another tool slows me down from reaching the goal.

The perfect example of this was WAG the Dog.  PHP was a ridiculous language to try to use for it, but ping, ping, ping, ping, it worked!

So it stands to reason that I’ve never really taken to Java.  Java is not whacking.  Java is slowly, verbosely and deliberately constructing the specific parts you need to accomplish your goal.  Java is a toolbox full of parts and pieces I do not know the names of, what they do or how they would even do anything, much less the job I’m trying to accomplish.  Java is to my career what a Masters in Mechanical Engineering is to a wrench.  I don’t use Java because I don’t even know the questions to ask to get started in the right direction.

The irony is that when I was hired by Talis, I was ‘assigned’ (that’s a stronger term than really applies) to an entirely Java-based project, Keystone.  To this day, some 15 months later, I have contributed exactly 0.0 lines of code towards Keystone.

I am not a programmer.

However, I am a tinkerer.

In an effort to eat our own dogfood, I had begun to write a Jangle connector for our library management system, Alto.  Alto is built on Sybase and we already had a RESTful SOA interface, the aforementioned Keystone.  It would have been logical for me, were I a real programmer, to take Keystone, add some new models and routes and call it a connector.

But that’s not how I roll.

Initially, I took to using the JangleR Ruby framework to build the Alto connector, since all it would require is to query the appropriate tables and ping, ping, ping, ping things until JRuby and Warbler could give me a .war file.

Sybase, however, does not take well to whacking.  Especially from Ruby.  ActiveRecord-JDBC didn’t work.  Not sure if it was our particular schema or JDBC setup or just ActiveRecord, but no dice.  I couldn’t get Ribs to work at all, which is just as well, probably.  Finally, I had success just using java.sql objects directly in JRuby, but, since I really didn’t know what I was doing, I started worrying about connection pooling and leaving connections open and whatnot.  No need to show off that I have no idea by gobbling up all the resources on some customer’s Alto server.

At one point, on a lark, I decided to try out Grails, Groovy’s web framework inspired by Rails, to see if I could have more luck interacting with Sybase.  My rationale was, “Keystone uses Hibernate, GORM (Grails’ ORM) uses Hibernate, maybe it will work for me!”.  And, it did.

So here I am, one week into using Groovy.  Just like I used Rails as an introduction to Ruby, Grails serves that purpose with Groovy pretty well.  I can’t say I love the language, but that’s purely my bias; anything that isn’t Ruby, well, isn’t Ruby.  I am certainly doing some thing inefficiently since I am learning the language as I go along.  The fact that there just isn’t much documentation (and the existing documentation isn’t all that great) doesn’t help.

For example, none of my GORM associations work.  I have no idea why.  It could very well be the legacy Sybase schema, or I might be doing something wrong in my Domain Model class.  I don’t have any idea and I don’t have any idea where to look either for an appropriate error or for a fix.  It’s not a huge issue, though, and so far I’ve just worked around it by writing methods that do roughly what I would have needed the associations to do.  Ping, ping, ping.

I also cannot make Services work the way they show in the documentation.  My controllers can’t find them when I do it like the docs, my domain models can’t find them when I do it like the doc…  But it’s no big deal.  I set my methods to be static, call the class directly, and everything works fine.  I’m not doing anything remotely sophisticated with them, so I can keep my hacks for now.

Being able to dynamically load Java classes, iterate over things with a call like foo.each { bar = it.baz } is pretty nice.  I am really amazed at what Groovy offers when it comes to working with Java classes, it’s like being able to audit those M.E. Master’s classes.  I am learning a considerable amount about Java by being able to whack away at objects and classes within the Groovy shell.

I’m not sure that Groovy was really intended for people like me, however.  All of the documentation and even some of the syntax seem to have the expectation that you are a Java developer looking for something dynamic.  It reminds me of a Perl developer going to PHP.  They are syntactically and functionally similar.  In many ways, a Perl developer will find PHP an easier language to use to get a simple, running web application.  And they always have the fallback of Perl, if they need it.  A Python developer that has to use PHP will probably curse a lot.  Groovy seems to have the same sort of relationship to Java.  A Java developer would probably immediately feel comfortable and find it amazingly easy to get up and running.  A Ruby developer (well, this Ruby developer) finds it a little more alien.

Groovy doesn’t have a tremendous amount of native language support for specific tasks, relying instead on the vast amount Java libraries out there to do, basically, anything.  This makes perfect sense and I don’t fault Groovy in the slightest for this choice, but relying on Java for functionality means factories and stream buffers and all the other things Java consists of.  Java developers would feel home.  I find it needs some getting used to.

Also needing to declare your variables.

And I’m sure I’m not really using closures to their fullest potential.

Overall, it’s nice to have this new addition to my toolbox.  Groovy is definitely whackable and development for the Jangle connector has been remarkably fast.  I expect the Aspire (née List) and Prism teams to have something to try out by the end of the month.  And for basically being Java, that ain’t bad.

When and if I rewrite the Alto connector, I’ll probably opt for GroovyRestlet over Grails, but I definitely couldn’t have gotten where I have at this point without the convention and community of Grails.  It’s a really good starting point.

Of course, none of this would have been necessary if it wasn’t for Sybase.  Consider this day one of my campaign to eventually migrate Talis Alto from Sybase to PostgreSQLPing, ping, ping.

by Ross at 2009-01-17T20:58:18Z

Rhys Wilkins

Always the contrarian

I've seen lots of people talking about Apple launching an App Store for the Mac, alongside the one for the iPhone (for example, here). I don't think this will happen. I'm willing to admit that I'm no techno-pundit, but here's what I think.

My main reason is that the problem that the AppStore solves, which is micro-payments, does not apply to Mac software. The AppStore is really good at charging me 79p for applications, which I'm happy to pay. But there are no applications for my Mac that are in that price range. The last application I bought for my Mac was Photoshop Elements, which cost somewhere in the region of £60. That's not a micro-payment, and doesn't need a micropayment architecture. The only other application I might buy is Microsoft Office 2008, but that is £99. Again, not a problem with me going to the shop and buying it. If I can wait, I can get Amazon to send it to me.

Next, the Mac and OS X is not a new and revolutionary platform. As above, going to a shop and buying a DVD works well for computer software, and has done for many years. There's no problem to be solved there.

And there's a bunch of other reasons, but these are less important. For instance, Apple already has a section of their website that helps you find Mac software. The AppStore is integrated into iTunes. How could you unify those? I don't think it's easy to do at all. And finally, iTunes is already big enough, I don't want it installing software for me.

All in all, I don't see it myself. But I'm always happy to admit that I was wrong. Apple usually surprises me, after all.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-17T20:27:00Z

Sarah Foster


I received a letter in the post this week. Not unusual you might think, everyday the ritual of paper moving across the country, inserted through boxes at the beginning and at the end of the journey. Once the paper diaspora hits the home, its opened  ( or not!) filed ( or not!) and thrown away. A lot of the stuff is just picked up and taken straight to the bin. 

Most of the stuff that comes through the letter box is official in some way,  a statement or a manipulative request to buy something or support a cause. Christmas time is a big exception when cards plop on to the hall floor, but generally though they may be personalised they are not really personal.

I don't write letters much, there have been times in the past where I have been a regular correspondent as I maintained contact with people away from  me for a time, but from preference and habit I prefer phone, email or actually seeing people. And I enjoyed that process, developing  an accurate  eye for episodes and events and an ear for thoughts to convey later to the person not present.

I remember once my Mother and Grandmother being less than impressed when a relative in America wrote a letter and they typed it. He had signed the bottom, but that didn't satisfy, for them at the time the rules were simple, personal written, impersonal typed.  
The content didn't matter the form did and they were hurt by this.   Form does still matter in lots of things, in the sense that it always has an impact of some kind and people choose how they communicate. Even if its a habitual way and the choice is no longer immediate, its become habit for a reason. Somewhere it suits.  

Some people think that the written word is about the visual. I don't think it is really. I think the written word has more similarities to the radio than the television for instance, provided you are literate. The written word is a direct communication channel straight into the mind, and the mind does the rest, including creating the images and the feelings. 

The last proper letters I wrote ( up until this Christmas),  personal ones, that werent long notes in Birthday, Christmas or Condolence cards, was whilst in hospital. I'd been incarcerated and incapacitated there for what felt like forever. People came  (those I let see me that way) cards and notes-  in fact I got lots of mail whilst in hospital and in messages delivered in the old fashioned way, by word of mouth but the essences of the people in all the messages. I had learned to sit up again that week, without help, finally technique and strength combined and I could do it maybe 3 or 4 times a day.   I worked hard at eating and keeping some of the food down that day, so that eventually I felt strong enough to write them. They took me hours, most of the work was in my head thinking what I needed to say, because I knew that the writing of them was going to do me in  for a few days. It would be a task of physical endurance, so the thinking needed to have happened. Eventually after lights out I could face the attempt. Even whilst ill my nocturnal rhythms meant I'd have a bit of an energy burst to get the words down on the paper. I didn't recognise my writing really, small, feeble - if I was ever going to have faith in graphology that would have been the moment, my writing I felt reflected my physical well being,  at that time still a long way behind par. I handed them in, like homework to the nurse on night duty early in the morning and slept uninterrupted ( for a change!!) for several hours.

I've been using email for a very very long time working in universities early on and in IT meant I had access to it and lots of the people I knew did too. I loved it. I still do. I still love the magic that someone perhaps in another country has a thought and sends it and its immediacy. I am not a user of twitter, not sure if I will take that up, maybe I will, but those I communicate with in various other forms, usually get a small flavour of a bit of whats going on in me by viewing what I am saying.

This weeks letter was in response to one I sent at Christmas.  Last year at yet another funeral we commented again to those we have long held, deep affection connections with,  that we are sick of meeting at funerals. I was reminded that I am poor when it comes to Christmas cards and letters. So I broke the pattern and at Christmas I wrote two specific Christmas cards and one proper   letter to an old family friend of my Mum and Dad,  and this week I received a reply.

Obviously the contents are not for here, but I remembered just how much I enjoy receiving PROPER letters, that there is a qualitative difference between  a letter and any other form of communication. My piano teacher occasionally used me as a postgirl. She was  of my Grandmother's generation, indeed they had been at school together. She corresponded regularly with a friend of hers, that lived on a road  I could walk past on the way home from the lesson. Mostly the letters went in the post but if I was to carry out the task, she would in front of me write on the top of the letter "by the kind hand of Sarah"  . Strangely even though I had no idea what was in the letter and the person concerned knew nothing about me -  we never met- I knew that that was all part of the ritual of writing, sending and receiving of letters; the  choice of mechanism. 

This is a tradition I have taken, if I ask someone to deliver in the same way for me, I will in front of them write the same message on the letter, inserting their name. Very occasionally at work I have received personally delivered letters from someone of an older generation and seen the same words there, "by hand" sometimes with the name sometimes not. It adds a charm to the process.

The letter itself was long and typed, with a paragraph apologising for its typed nature explaining that his writing was no longer the best and I thought back to my Mother and Grandmother's response and knew he too had the same values - hence his felt need to explain. 

This tradition I have not taken. The thought that someone had spent time to compose and carefully without error type such a letter and then post it, meant more to me than how it had been written.

by Sarah at 2009-01-17T16:37:24Z

January 16, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Inspiration is...

Sadly lacking at the moment. I've been sat here for a while, keeping my lap warm with my laptop. Unfortunately, staring at the white box in the middle of the web page isn't actually bringing anything to mind at all.

So, it's all going to be over quite quickly. Bother.

Anyway, I asked a little while ago if anyone was interested in me talking about typography, and someone actually said yes. But I haven't actually managed to get around to it yet, so sorry about that.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-16T21:33:00Z

Zach Beauvais

Industrial Sabotage

Brown cup of coffee
Image via Wikipedia

I have yet to learn my lesson. As I do every morning, I begin with some coffee with Radio 4. This morning, however, my newfound responsibility meant that I made myself my coffee a bit earlier than normal. (In the end, the pup was sleepier than I, and not best pleased to be placed out in the cold in order to “eliminate”!) So I was awake enough to hear bits of the Today Programme through which I’m usually performing ablutions, driving, or too stupified to notice. This brought great mirth, but unfortunately it also brought about another exasperation.

What I heard was that the government is considering bailing out some more companies, specifically within the automotive industry. The problem is that car companies make cars, and rely—like every other private company—on demand for their supply. Simply put, too few people are buying new cars to fulfill the planned supply, so there are now huge stockpiles of unsold, new cars around the country, especially at Southampton. The spill-over effect affects supply chain companies within the industry, too, such as component manufacturers. This means that the companies are turning out products which are not being sold: cars, parts, and presumably new-car sales and related services.

As you can imagine, many people work in this and related industries. Although most cars made in the UK are manufactured by non-British companies, they still hire and pay large numbers of Brisish workers. This means that many people are calling for government subsidies and plans to keep people employed through public spending. In this particular clip, Jon Moulton—described as a “buy-out specialist”—talks about which companies should or feasibly could be bailed out. The problem, as he and many people I’ve heard see it, is that in order to save British Jobs, non-British companies should not be helped, whereas British ones should. Honda, for example, is said to “have the money to look after their own…” elsewhere.

There, for me, lies the crux of the matter. Honda may indeed have more money elsewhere than the UK—though, the fact that this is a global recession doesn’t seem to change the way some people see it! However, supporting companies that aren’t Honda, specifically because you think they have the money, is artifically bolstering the market. If Honda, for example, finds itself in a non-profitable situation in the UK, with most of its cars not being sold and its competition not changing their own strategy thanks to public funds; then “elsewhere” is exactly where they’ll keep their money.

And take their jobs.

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by Zach at 2009-01-16T19:01:49Z

Rob Styles

Panlibus » Blog Archive » OCLC is listening.

Further to my previous posts on OCLC’s record use policy:

OCLC, Record Usage, Copyright, Contracts and the Law

More OCLC Policy…

Schroedinger’s WorldCat

I’m just posted this over on panlibus:

Panlibus » Blog Archive » OCLC is listening.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-16T13:39:14Z

Resource Lists, Semantic Web, RDFa and Editing Stuff

Some of the work I’ve been doing over the past few months has been on a resource lists product that helps lecturers and students make best use of the educational material for their courses.

One of the problems we hoped to address really well was the editing of lists. Historically products that do this have been deemed cumbersome and difficult by academic staff who will often produce lists as simple documents in Word or the like.

We wanted to make an editing interface that really worked for the academic community so they could keep the lists as accurate and current as they wanted.

Chris Clarke, our Programme Manager, and Fiona Grieg, one of our pilot customers, describe the work in a W3C case study. Ivan Hermann then picks up on one of the way we decided to implement editing using RDFa within the HTML DOM. In the case study Chris describes it like this:

The interface to build or edit lists uses a WYSIWYG metaphor implemented in Javascript operating over RDFa markup, allowing the user to drag and drop resources and edit data quickly, without the need to round trip back to the server on completion of each operation. The user’s actions of moving, adding, grouping or editing resources directly manipulate the RDFa model within the page. When the user has finished editing, they hit a save button which serialises the RDFa model in the page into an RDF/XML model which is submitted back to the server. The server then performs a delta on the incoming model with that in the persistent store. Any changes identified are applied to the store, and the next view of the list will reflect the user’s updates.

This approach has several advantages. First, as Andrew says

One thing I hadn’t used until recently was RDFa. We’ve used it on one of the main admin pages in our new product and it’s made what was initially quite a complex problem much simpler to implement.

The problem that’s made simpler is this - WYSIWYG editing of the page was best done using DOM manipulation techniques, and most easily using existing libraries such as prototype. But what was being edited isn’t really the visual document, it is the underlying RDF model. Trying to keep a version of the model in a JS array or something in synch with the changes happening in the DOM seemed to be a difficult (and potentially bug-ridden) option.

By using RDFa we can distribute the model through the DOM and have the model updated by virtue of having updated the DOM itself. Andrew describes this process nicely:

Currently using Jeni Tennison’s RDFQuery library to parse an RDF model out of an XHTML+RDFa page we can mix this with our own code and end up with something that allows complex WYSIWYG editing on a reading list. We use RDFQuery to parse an initial model out of the page with JavaScript and then the user can start modifying the page in a WYSIWYG style. They can drag new sections onto the list, drag items from their library of bookmarked resources onto the list and re-order sections and items on the list. All this is done in the browser with just a few AJAX calls behind the scenes to pull in data for newly added items where required. At the end of the process, when the Save button is pressed, we can submit the ‘before’ and ‘after’ models to our back-end logic which builds a Changeset from before and after models and persists this to a data store on the Talis Platform.

Building a Changeset from the two RDF models makes quite a complex problem relatively straightforward. The complexity now just being in the WYSIWYG interface and the dynamic updating of the RDFa in the page as new items are added or re-arranged.

As Andrew describes, the editing starts by extracting a copy of the model. This allows the browser to maintain before and after models. This is useful as when the before and after get posted to the server the before can be used to spot if there have been editing conflicts with someone else doing a concurrent edit - this is an improvement to how Chris described it in the case study.

There are some gotchas in this approach though. Firstly, some of the nodes have two-way links:

<http://example.com/lists/foo> <http://purl.org/vocab/resourcelist/schema#contains> <http://example.com/items/bar>
<http://example.com/items/bar> <http://purl.org/vocab/resourcelist/schema#list> <http://example.com/lists/foo>

So that the relationship from the list to the item gets removed when the item is deleted from the DOM we use the @rev attribute. This allows us to put the relationship from the list to the item with the item, rather than with the list.

The second issue is that we use rdf:Seq to maintain the ordering of the lists, so when the order changes in the DOM we have to do a quick traversal of the DOM changing the sequence predicates (_1, _2 etc) to match the new visual order.

Neither of these were difficult problems to solve :-)

My thanks go out to Jeni Tennison who helped me get the initial prototype of this approach working while we were at Swig back in Novemeber.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-16T09:39:46Z

January 15, 2009

Elliot Smith

West Midlands SME completes its migration to open source

Mercian Labels is a 40-year pedigree West Midlands SME, specialising in label printing. In early 2007 (when I was still working at OpenAdvantage), some Mercian Labels staff attended our courses on PHP and Asterisk held at OpenAdvantage (I may well have taught on the PHP one). Afterwards, assisted by Paul and Jono, my old colleagues, they began migrating as much of the business to open source as possible. They did this with considerable consultancy help from Senokian, a company I got to know well while at OpenAdvantage.

I've been following the Mercian Labels blog with great interest since the start of the process. Adrian Steele, the Managing Director, has painstakingly, honestly and openly described the whole transition, explaining the business costs and benefits, snags, setbacks, victories etc.: an invaluable resource for any other business doing a similar migration.

So I was pleased to read today that the migration is finally complete. Impressively, they've replaced Windows throughout their organisation, except for a few machines to run legacy software.

Excellent news. Well done to Adrian, Mercian Labels, and Senokian. I feel proud to have been a tiny part of it.

by elliot at 2009-01-15T22:37:29Z

Zach Beauvais

New pup

LucasI just picked up an 8-week old pup. He’s a black lab/plummer terrier cross. I’m thinking of calling him Lucas. Both of his parents are steady and bidable workers: the sire being used for picking up, the dam for ratting.
He’s met the kitteh, and didn’t move too much when she tapped him on the nose, so I’m hoping he’ll be steady!
I’ll find the camera in a bit and put up some flickr links here at some point. We ordered a crate big enough for a full-grown lab, and I’m thinking that may have been a mistake… He’s tiny!
Right, I’m desperate for a cuppa…

by Zach at 2009-01-15T22:33:26Z

Rhys Wilkins


Pink Goddess has cold hands. That is all.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-15T21:56:00Z

Leigh Dodds

Interesting Papers from CIDR 2009

CIDR 2009 looks like it was an interesting conference, there were a lot of very interesting papers covering a whole range of data management and retrieval issues. The full list of papers can be browsed online, or downloaded as a zip file. There's plenty of good stuff in there ranging from the energy costs of data management, forms of query analysis and computation on "big data", and discussions on managing inconsistency in distributed systems.

Below I've pulled out a few of the papers that particularly caught my eye. You can find some other picks and summary on the Data Beta blog: part 1, and part 2.

Requirements for Science Databases and SciDB from Michael Stonebraker et al, presents the results of a requirement analysis covering the data management needs of scientific researchers in a number of different fields. Interestingly it seems that for none of the fields covered, which includes astronomy, oceanography, biologic, genomics and chemistry, is a relational structure a good fit for the underlying data models used in the data capture or analysis. In most cases an array based system is most suitable, while for biology, chemistry and genomics in particular a graph database would be best; semantic web folk take note. The paper goes on to discuss the design of SciDB which will be an open source array-based database suitable for use in a range of disciplines.

The Case for RodentStore, an Adaptive, Declarative Storage System, Cudre-Mauroux et al, introduces RodentStore an adaptive storage system that can be used at the heart of a number of different data management solutions. The system provides a declarative storage algebra that allows a logical schema to be mapped to a specific physical disk layout. This is interesting as it allows greater experimentation within the storage engine, allowing exploration of how different layouts may be used to optimise performance for specific applications and datasets. The system supports a range of different structures, including multi-dimensional data, and the authors note that the system can be used to manage RDF data.

Principles for Inconsistency, proposes some approaches for cleanly managing inconsistency in distributed applications, providing some useful additional context and implementation experience for those wrapping their heads around the notion of eventual consistency. I'm not sure that'd I'd follow all of these principles, mainly due to the implementation and/or storage overheads, but there's a lot of good common sense here.

Harnessing the Deep Web: Present and Future, Madhavan et al, describes some recent work at Google to explore how to begin surfacing "Deep Web" information and data into search indexes. The Deep Web is defined by them as pages that are currently hidden behind search forms and that are not currently accessible to crawlers through other means. The work essentially involved discovering web forms, analysing existing pages from the same site in order to find candidate values to fill in fields in those forms, then automatically submitting the forms and indexing the results. The authors describe how this approach can be used to help answer factual queries, and is already in production on Google. This probably explains the factual answers that are appearing on search results pages. The approach is clearly in-line with Google's mission to do as much as possible with statistical analysis of document corpora as possible, there's very little synergy with other efforts going on elsewhere, e.g. linked data. There is reference to how understanding the semantics of forms, in particular the valid range of values for a field (e.g. a zip code) and co-dependencies between fields, could improve the results, but the authors also note that they've achieved a high level of accuracy in automated approaches to identifying common fields such as zip code, etc. A proposed further avenue for research is exploration of whether the contents of an underlying relational database can be reconsistuted through automated form submission and scraping of structured data from the resulting pages. Personally I think there are easier ways to achieve greater data publishing on the web! The authors reference some work on a search engine specifically for data surfaced in this way, called Web Tables which I've not looked at yet.

DBMSs Should Talk Back Too, Yannis Ioannidis and Alkis Simitsis, describes some work to explore how database query results and queries themselves can be turned into human-readable text (i.e. the reverse of a typical natural-language query system), arguing that this provides a good foundation for building more accessible data access mechanisms, as well as allowing easier summarisation of what a query is going to do, in order to validate it against the users expectations. The conversion of queries to text was less interesting to me than the exploration of how to walk a logical datamodel to generate text. I've very briefly explored summarising data in FOAF files, in order to generate an audible report using a text-to-speech engine, and so it was interesting to me to see that the authors were using a graph based representation of the data model to drive their engine. Class and relation labelling, with textual templates, are a key part of the system, and it seems much of this would work well against RDF datasets.

SocialScope: Enabling Information Discovery on Social Content Sites, Amer-Yahia et al, is a broad paper that introduces SocialScope a logical architecture for managing, analysing and presentation information derived from social content graphs. The paper introduces a logical algebra for describing operations on the social graph, e.g. producing recommendations based on analysis of a users social network; introduces a categorisation for types of content present in the social graph and means for managing it; and also discusses some ways to present results of searches against the content graph (e.g. for travel recommendations) using different facets and explanations of how recommendations are derived.

by ldodds at 2009-01-15T11:52:27Z

Danny Ayers

links for 2009-01-14

by danja at 2009-01-15T00:05:50Z

January 14, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

XKCD again

My favourite webcomic at the moment is the utterly marvellous XKCD. It's like distilled geekdom. Today's comic was great, as usual.

I have a confession to make... I've done something similar. A few years ago, I headed down to St. Evenage for drinks with a friend. However, we had a problem - he had no mobile phone, and wasn't sure if he'd be at home or at work when I got there. And so I headed on down there. When I got there, I banged on the door, but he wasn't home. So I booted my laptop and logged on to his wireless network. Once online, I signed in to Messenger, and sent him an IM. He replied that he was at work, but would be back soon.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrived. Laughing. Apparently, he'd explained this to his workmates, who'd proclaimed that this was the single geekiest thing they'd ever seen. My mother must be so proud.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-14T20:51:00Z

Rhys Wilkins

The Agony and the Assembly

OK, there has been some dissing of my furniture-assembling ability on Twitter. I'd point out that it only took that long because we had to empty half the room completely before starting, then put things together one at a time, and then put it all back together. Anyway, it was all worth it, as the new space is excellent. I'm actually really impressed with what we've achieved. Feel free to tell me what you think.
From left to right, we have the bookshelf, then the boiler cupboard, then my desk, then Pink Goddess's (pink) computer desk. Originally, my desk was where the bookcase is, and Pink Goddess's desk was where mine was. That meant that we could only have one computer in use at a time, because we'd be bumping into each other. Now, we can compute together in style.

It's all from IKEA, and was astonishing good value for money. So I'm quite relaxed about the fact that we only went for a chair...

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-14T20:39:00Z

Elliot Smith

Dealing with self-signed SSL certificates when running Selenium server with Firefox

Selenium is a decent tool for testing web UIs, with good integration with a variety of languages. We use it on Talis Prism for testing the UI, running a Selenium server instance then firing Ruby rspec tests and an older HTML suite at it. Here's the part of the Ant build script which runs the HTML suite using Selenium :

<target name="prism-selenium-tests" description="Run the old Prism Selenium tests">
  <echo message="Running old Selenium tests against Prism" />
  <java jar="test/dependencies/Selenium/selenium-server.jar" fork="true" maxmemory="1024m">
    <arg line="-debug -timeout 500 -htmlSuite '*chrome ${firefox.bin}' http://${prism.host} \
       test/selenium/testSuite.html doc/seleniumResults.html" />

where the variables we interpose are:

${firefox.bin} = path to the Firefox binary to use
${prism.host} = HTTP host to run the tests against

This works without a hitch if you're not using HTTPS; but as soon as your tests redirect to an HTTPS URL on the same host (we serve parts of Prism over SSL), where your SSL certificate is self-signed, things go wrong. As Selenium effectively runs Firefox with a new profile every time, you potentially lose any certificate exceptions you might accept.

One technique we were using was to create a custom profile; run Firefox using that profile; browse to the HTTPS URL and accept the exception into that profile; then close the profile.

This kind of worked, but we still got odd popups from Firefox about new extensions being installed. Just annoying.

I think I've now worked out the solution, which was largely based on http://kapanka.com/2008/12/selenium-rc-firefox-and-the-self-signed-ssl-c.... It's a bit of a pain in the arse, but it does seem to work. Here goes.

  1. Close down any running Firefox instances.
  2. Start Firefox (the one you're going to run your tests with) with the profile manager: firefox -ProfileManager
  3. Create a new profile. You'll be prompted to choose a directory for the profile. Put it somewhere inside the project where you're writing the tests.
  4. Select the profile and run Firefox using it.
  5. Browse to the HTTPS URL (with self-signed certificate) you're going to be testing against.
  6. Accept the self-signed certificate when prompted. This creates an exception for it in the profile.
  7. Close the browser.
  8. Go to the Firefox profile directory.
  9. Delete everything in the directory except for the cert_override.txt and cert8.db files.
  10. When you run your Selenium server (like in my Ant example above), pass a -firefoxProfileTemplate /path/to/profile/dir argument to it. This tells Selenium to use your partial profile (with certificate exceptions) as a basis for minting its new profile. So you get the certificate exceptions, but without any of the other clutter you would get if you used a whole profile.

The Ant task above, with this option, looks like this:

<target name="prism-selenium-tests" description="Run the old Prism Selenium tests">
  <echo message="Running old Selenium tests against Prism" />
  <java jar="test/dependencies/Selenium/selenium-server.jar" fork="true" maxmemory="1024m">
    <arg line="-debug -timeout 500 -firefoxProfileTemplate test/firefoxProfile \
       -htmlSuite '*chrome ${firefox.bin}' http://${prism.host} test/selenium/testSuite.html doc/seleniumResults.html" />

Outside of Ant, the command might look something like:

java -jar test/dependencies/Selenium/selenium-server.jar -firefoxProfileTemplate /path/to/profile \
-htmlSuite '*chrome firefox-bin' http://host.com testSuite.html seleniumResults.html

Works for me.

by elliot at 2009-01-14T18:58:34Z

January 13, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

New Exercise Regime

I've been trying to do some more exercise with Pink Goddess (no, not that kind). However, I didn't plan on a four-hour IKEA furniture-building marathon!

I've never been happy with the layout of where our computers are, as they were in a staggered L-shape, but with us trying to sit in the middle of the - I'm not explaining this well, but anyway, it didn't work. So tonight we popped to IKEA and bought two new computer chairs and a replacement desk. Oh, and a bookshelf. We also got some file boxes and a mousemat.

So, time to put all that together. Luckily the mousemat didn't need putting together. However, everything else did. Pink Goddess concentrated on the file boxes, which would have driven me bonkers, while I put the everything else together. And it's all fit! Woo! We can now hold hands as we compute! We can surf the net side by side. And our desks match. Well, OK, hers is pink. What, you didn't see that coming?

It all looks great, and it's much more comfortable. Yaay for Pink Goddess and her leet h0u5e-0rganizing skillz!

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-13T23:30:00Z

Zach Beauvais

First ever iPhone post

Ok, so I thought I’d try something. I thought I’d try writing an entire post on an iPhone. I’ve downloaded an app… Think it’s ingeniously called something like “blog writer”. I can tell that my typically long-winded style and use of punctuation will be a killer here!

Surprisingly, however, this feels easy. Whether that’s the second pint talking, however, would require further experimentation.

I should say: it’s easy enough to TYPE. Thinking at the same time, I feel, will take some time. So, my devoted reader, you’re in for a treat of mindlessness…

Still, it’s as well getting used to using mobile interfaces, I think. With it being this painless to finally BE online through such a small portal leads me to think it’ll be a limited time before this is the default for simply connecting.

Now, this isn’t THAT easy… It is so very much faster to type. But, this is fine, and it’ll only get better. However, there are some things which are necessary for this to be my default:

*I need the use of all my fingers. This screen is fantastically good-and I find it very much better as an interface even than my beloved trackball. But the keyboard… It’s too slow.

*Faster app switching. This will surely improve with time, but it’s a bit of a train-of-thought killer.

*Copy/paste. I mean: Come On!

*Finally, the way to navigate among text is to hold one’s finger somewhere near the text, and drop the resulting cursor somewhere near the letter. Arrows alongside this would be very useful.

So, there you have it: my first iPhone post. Not sure I’ll rush out to to it again. But it’s possible. I need more practice with the interface, but I’m not sure if I will.

One last thought: there’s limited to no file handling. This is a mistake, I think. I would very much hate to lose this much thumb-written text now…

by Zach at 2009-01-13T23:17:01Z

Rob Styles

dev8D - Developer Happiness Days

dev8D - Developer Happiness Days. 9-13 February 2009, London

JISC is running a Developer Happiness Days meet, sort of like a 4 day hackfest, come code4lib type thing.

Over four intensive days we’re bringing together the cream of the crop of educational software developers along with coders from other sectors, users, and technological tinkerers in an exciting new forum.

Share your skills and knowledge with the coding community in a stimulating and fun environment and come away with new skills, fresh contacts – and you might even win a prize.

Sounds like it will be a great few days.

by Rob Styles at 2009-01-13T17:13:19Z

Nadeem Shabir

Changing China one loan at a time

As financial institutions melt down, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about credit–who gets it, from whom, and what it means for the global economy. There are very few bright spots in today’s economic environment, but the good news is that in many parts of the world, loans of just a few hundred dollars still have the capacity to change people’s lives. Join Casey Wilson, nonprofit startup entrepreneur, to talk about her work with Wokai, the first foreign-funded microfinance organization in China. Casey will share her experiences building an organization that gives the poorest of China’s poor the financing to build businesses that lift them from poverty.


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-13T09:49:40Z

David Whitehouse

Seduced by an old Kwak

It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I’d write an update. Largely because in a moment of weakness I put what I thought was a stupidly low bid on a bike on eBay this week never really expecting to win it. After the initial shock of the reserve being met, I [...]

by dave at 2009-01-13T09:37:12Z

Nadeem Shabir

Moller’s SkyCar

This is an old TED talk but always an inspiring one. Paul Moller talks about the future of personal air travel — the marriage of autos and flight that will give us true freedom to travel off-road. He shows two things he’s working on: the Moller Skycar (a jet + car) and a passenger-friendly hovering disc.


by nadeem.shabir at 2009-01-13T09:35:06Z

January 12, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Typograpy 101

OK, I promised to blog about typography, but I haven't actually had a chance to think about it much. So, here's what we have so far: Comic Sans must die.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-12T21:36:00Z

Zach Beauvais

Windows 7: Vista-II

Reviews of new Windows releases always seem to say the same thing, depending on what kind of person writes them. Mac enthusiasts say it’s yet again stolen more MacOS features. Microsofties defend the new-found stability and the speed compared to last editions. Non-techies say how pretty this one is in comparison with the last, et cetera.

Well, I’ve got a preview build of Windows 7, and I’d like to give you a three-way look at it.

The Good

Windows 7 already feels stronger and faster than Vista. It installed easily using Bootcamp, and is happily running on my MacbookPro. When I got all the drivers working (to be expected running on an Apple, I suppose) it’s robust and more or less respectable. This particular build/driver combination is particularly nice, because it’s got some special Apple drivers which let it play nice with my keyboard and F-button settings (volume, keyboard and screen brightness, eject).

Windows found my external display fairly quickly, though it would not use it’s full resolution at first. Then, randomly, it let me do so (though nothing had been downloaded or tweaked—it couldn’t; I had yet to connect to my network!). This was a nice surprise, but I kind of wish it would let me choose what’s going on instead of hiding its preferences and features in the background (more on this later).

A slight improvement over Vista is the ease by which Windows 7 seemed to handle getting online. It’s a breeze to select a wireless network and get connected. I also like some of the more subtle things they’ve done with 7, which make it a bit more pleasant to use such as the way they’ve layed-out the control panel settings, and the better file-layout in the navigation panels of explorer windows.

By far, so far, the best thing has been the speed. Windows 7, at this stage, is fast enough to work nicely. I don’t know how it will do after months of updates, registry bloat, and anti-malware software; but it MUST be better than Vista in this regard. Finally, however, is a small thing that I like: Windows Live Writer. It’s great! It’s available for Vista, however, so it’s not new. However, the Live Essentials on this version seem a bit easier to get going and running. Windows Live Writer is the only application that I wish I had on the Mac, and it’s still the best blogging tool out there.

The Bad

Firstly, why is networking with Windows so hard? It found my router, got onto the internet, and updated itself fine. It talks with the Windows Mothership on the cloud easily enough. Would it, however, find my Mac on the same network? My iPhone? Yes… through Bluetooth! When will Windows start to recognise they need to make networking easy for users?

Secondly, this is basically Vista done not-so-badly. It’s, so far, what Vista should have been. Light (ish), easy, stable. But, to me, these are table-stakes. It’s not that impressive to say: “Our operating system doesn’t hang when you use default features! It’s stable, It’s easy!” It should be, why are you so proud of this?

imageThe final reason why this isn’t going to be the best OS out there, however, is that it’s still Windows. Now, before you label me a fanboy or anti-establishmentarian; let me say why this is a problem. There are countless menus and features and settings and objects on this system. There are too many, unconnected settings. Windows Control Panel has 63 icons! OSX, in comparison, makes do with 26. The user also doesn’t often see an immediate effect from a settings change. After several sets of “OK” are pressed, I find out my network adapter’s been disabled, and have to go though a completely different route to get it back. The language used to describe the setup options has always been difficult to follow. Consider the Networking setup: Some based on actions, so you can “set up a new connection or network;” “connect to a network;” “fix network problem” etc. Others are categorical ‘HomeGroup,” “Internet Options,” “Wireless Network Connection” etc… I’ve had to go through every single one of them, and many subsequent menus besides in order to setup my home network. The “wizard” does imagenothing. It’s always been this way with Windows…you are expected to know exactly where the settings are hidden within some obscure menu, but you’re teased with easy options along the way. My favourite screen so far has been one which says: “Troubleshooting could not identify the problem.” Thanks for the help…

This problem stems from always being the Least Common Denominator. What results is that every set of functions is a compromise of some kind.

The Not-Ugly but unfortunately Not-Original

It’s not a new thing to say that this version of Windows is copying Mac. I grew up being told that Windows has stolen every good idea it’s ever had from someone else. While this may have been true with many things, I can’t believe they have never had an original thought. Despite its many shortcomings, Microsoft’s software is the market dominator, and has been for as long as anyone can remember. Sure, they’ve bought companies and talent along the way (so has Google… so has Apple!), but the Live stuff is pretty different, and works decently (except for its annoying insistence that all the services you use should be MS—a characteristic it shares with Apple services like MobileMe.)

Having a look at the promotional video for VistaII—I mean, Windows 7—and I’m struck by how little there is to say about it.

Firstly: “Windows Gurus”? Tell me that’s not a play on “Apple Geniuses”. You can imagine the board meeting that chose that name: “Right, we need something of an authority on the matter that sounds brainy and starts with G, but isn’t ‘Genius.’ Wilkinson?” “Uh, er, guardian…guarantor…general… guru?”

imageThey seem terribly proud about how the windows all have previews and there’s a brilliant new thing called a Task Bar! Windows has had a taskbar for years, this one just works a bit more like the Dock in OSX. That’s it, move along.

They’ve renamed the “Workgroup” the “Homegroup”, and it does the same thing. It’s tweaked, supposedly, but it’s just a network. I find myself wondering if this a reaction to the “I’m a Mac” ads? “This isn’t work, it’s home. We’ve renamed it, HOME, cause it’s not at work. Get it?”

IE has had a few features added, called “accelerators” which essentially allow for interaction with the web through the browser. It could be a great step, except that there are Firefox folks doing it so much better. Bit.Ly plugin allows for a huge range of interaction with data on the screen through Firefox.  Ubiquity on Firefox is a genuinely new way of blurring the web, our human interactions, and our machines. “Accelerators” just seem like a glorified right-click or contextual menu. There’s also “InPrivate Browsing” which turns off cookies and history. Guess what Safari has called this? “Private Browsing”. Go figure…

I know this is a preview release, but my overall impression is that Windows 7 should have been launched in 2006. This is great, for a Windows release, it works and pretty well so far. Aside from the basic problem that it is Windows, and works by being everything to everyone, it’s OK. But it’s not exciting, it’s not THAT new, and it feels a bit like we should be seeing a real breakthrough by now.

by Zach at 2009-01-12T17:34:31Z

January 11, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Windows 7

So you can now download the beta of Windows 7. Apparently it's feature complete, which interestingly people seem to have missed the significance of. "Feature Complete" is a very specific term to Microsoft. It's in fact a major development filestone. It means that we don't need to speculate about what will be in Windows 7 when it ships - the final features are in, and there won't be any major changes to the featureset. It's only bug fixes from here on in, unless something major happens.

The other interesting thing is that not only is Vista effectively dead, but the whole concept of silly names for Windows is dead. The latest Microsoft adverts promise 'life without walls', which seems odd given the security impact of not having walls in your house. Who remembers that Windows XP was about the "Windows eXPerience?" Or that NT 5 abruptly became "Windows 2000" to follow on from "Windows 98".

So it's Windows 7 from here on in. From a personal basis, I'll be trying to track down a copy of the beta, and I'll probably create a VM to run it on. I can't see myself putting it on anything natively just yet. It might be feature complete, but that's a way away from the shipping product (which is known as Gold, after the colour of CD masters back in the day). I'm curious to see what is in there, especially the rumoured backup to remote USB disk... Time Machine, anyone?

But will it do enough to save Windows? I don't know. But I do know that when my non-technical family and friends tell me that they don't want Vista, then I know there's a major image problem for it.

And of course, Linux on the desktop will take over the world in 200420052006200720082009.

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-11T13:52:00Z

Rhys Wilkins

Testing LifeCast

I've blown away LifeCast's settings, and redone them. I wonder if it'll work now. (Of course, I still have no life).

Posted with LifeCast

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-11T13:15:00Z

January 10, 2009

Rhys Wilkins

Autosport Show 2009

We went to the Autosport show today. It was awesome. Highlights for me included the live show, where they had indoor racing; seeing Murray "What's the gap" Walker live; and of course getting to look at loads and loads of cars. I have taken some photos, and I'll post them when I get around to it, probably tomorrow.

Oh, and I've spent more time drinking than usual... so this will make less sense than usual. Normal service will be restored soon. Thanks for your patience

by mauvedeity at 2009-01-10T23:04:00Z

Tom Heath

Displacement Activities, Displaced

MyOpera's enlightened choice to produce FOAF output of people's friends was one of the factors that encouraged me to sign up and use it as my blogging platform. Unfortunately the pace of innovation just hasn't been maintained, and I've been feeling restricted by the shortcomings of MyOpera (in particular the requirement that people signup to comment - so 2003). As of now this blog has moved to http://tomheath.com/blog/, which is a WordPress install that should give me more flexibility. I've moved the 20 most recent posts across to the new blog, but as the rest (including my personal favourites Jesus Loves Spammers and Microformat Authoring Not Necessarily Easy) were not available as RSS they'll just have to stay here for posterity. Hope to see you at the new Displacement Activities.

by Tom Heath at 2009-01-10T19:11:45Z

Karen Reece

Money Talks

As I've mentioned before, I travel a lot with my work. I love The frustration that comes with flitting around the UK is the inevitable delays. However, in the "every cloud and sliver lining" category it means I listen to a lot of either radio or podcasts. Nothing quite helps relieve the tedium of the M6 than a radio show that either a) makes me laugh or b) gets me so involved that I end up, ahem, 'discussing the content with the presenter [translation - I shout at the radio in a manic way alarming anyone else stuck in the traffic jam that can see me]

This week I found myself so engrossed in a discussion on Radio5Live that I arrived home and ended up spending 15 minutes parked outside my house, in the car listening to the end of a panel discussion. Despite enhancing my reputation with my neighbours' as the street eccentric, I was intrigued by a programme "Finance in Football". This was an state-of-the-nation look at the Premiership business models and what was expected to happen as the recession bites. The panel consisted of Robert Preston (BBC correspondent who is bringing a new meaning to 'ubiquitous'), John Madejski (Chairman of Reading) and Keith Harris (an investment banker).

The reason that it was so interesting was that Harris isn't just a grey-suited money man; he's had a long involvement in football. From what I can gather he was instrumental in the early days of seeing ways of making vast sums of money from football as he was involved in the ITV Digital TV contracts that started the split of money between the Premiership and the rest of the football league, right the way through to him brokering the deal for Man City to be sold to Shinawatra. There were several really interesting things discussed; Liverpool being the most 'at risk' club from a financial background because of the way that their debt was structured, West Ham being quite likely to go under by the end of the season as well as Harris' involvement in selling clubs.

However, the bit that had me stuck in the drivers seat was Harris' assessment of saleable clubs at the moment. He has been tasked with selling West Ham, Everton and Newcastle. He thinks that Newcastle is one of the best placed to be sold - large loyal fanbase, one-club city, huge stadium and large robust merchandising sales. Needless to say he was then pushed to say why Ashley hadn't managed to shift the club when it had been touted around the super-rich as the next new shiny toy. Harris' explanation was that the club had come very close to being sold to an American investor, but this deal had collapsed due to the investor loosing 'millions' to Madoff's Ponzi scheme

It was just as well I'd parked by this time... because you really couldn't make it up. Newcastle United - after suffering decades of mis-management off the pitch are bought by Mike Ashley, a multi-millionaire who has so little understanding of the business that he neglects to do the due diligence to uncover that transfer fees are paid in installments, and then the club is almost sold to someone who has been conned out of millions. If it wasn't the club I supported then I'd be laughing.... as it is I'm just increasingly bewildered. The worst of it was that Harris thought this was perfectly reasonable.

I have a feeling that Ashley is now in it for the long haul - he'll need to protect his investment (keep the club in the Premiership) whilst imposing tight financial controls (no new players of note, 17th place will do). The only consolation is that at least Newcastle aren't in as much of a mess off the pitch as West Ham. Today's game will be a good clue as to which club is in a worse state on the pitch... Apparently they've got some bloke called Dyer playing for them.

Finally, welcome to the newest member of the Toonarmy - Erin Baird, born last weekend to a couple of fellow Toon sufferers . Erin, I intend to take my duties as your "Fairy Toon-mother" very seriously indeed and look forward to indoctrinating you, as I have done with the Favourite Nephew. Remember the old adage "nothing in red and white is any good - whatsoever"

BTW - it wasn't the same Keith Harris as the one in the picture... In case you wondered....

by Karen Toon at 2009-01-10T12:28:28Z

Elliot Smith


by elliot at 2009-01-10T00:32:18Z

Danny Ayers

links for 2009-01-09

by danja at 2009-01-10T00:07:59Z