BOTD: Raganwald by Reg Braithwaite

2007/10/17

Many good posts about programming, coding, business, aesthetics, with nice touch of wisdom, If you are into programming languages, do not miss this one, this and this. If you are more into process and management, try this and this or this. There also deeper and lighter stuff 🙂
As Reg says about popular bloposts

One model for popular writing is that it panders to the reader’s prejudices. Plain and simple. People like writing that validates them and especially their ideas.

He certainly does validate mine, which is the reason why I made it blog of the day :-). Find for yourself.


Reading source code considered harmful ?

2007/10/17

Every software developer will tell you how frustrating it is to trace problem in your application up to the point of third party library call (jar file or .dll / .so – make your choice) – and then have to resort to trial and error exploration, because you have no source code for that particular library module. For this very reason, most developers always prefer working with libraries or toolkits that comes with source code attached – if they have a choice. As a side benefit, these libraries are often free as a beer as well – but being able to understand the module is much more important as whether you have to pay license fee …

Couple of days ago there was an announcement about Microsoft publishing the source code for parts of the .NET framework 3.5. Few years ago such announcement would be a big deal. Now it was received mostly as “yet another me-too move on MS behalf” yawn – when many other really big companies are opensourcing many products, what options does Microsoft really have ? Robert Scoble calls it a “defensive move” and notes that as many times in last few years, Microsoft follows, rather then leads industry:

… this isn’t open sourcing .NET, just releasing the source. That’s even lamer cause the other two have actually open sourced and are accepting submissions from the community. Cool, but when you’re last to do something does it really matter anymore?

Indeed, what was done was not really opensourcing, only publishing the source – because license under which the code is available is none of accepted open source licenses (you are e.g. not allowed to modify the source). But regardless of the legalese details about the license, it is a good thing that developers are able to read the code and use it while debugging, right ? This was my first thought after reading the news. But as several people pointed out, you should be really careful before you look at the code. Steve Vaughan -Nichols even considers this to be an deliberate, malicious attempt to trap open source development – especially the Mono project.

At first it sounds crazy – why would Microsoft want to stop the Mono that exports the .NET technology to other platforms and this way helps to remove one of its main disadvantages against Java ? The one possible explanation – sounding a bit like conspiracy theory offers Kevin Hoffman (btw, it is really readworthy blog) in this post:

Microsoft is going to shut up a lot of whining Open Source people who claim that MS is just a big closed system. At First. If you ask me, the real reason for them releasing this source code is to make it more difficult for the mono project to create replicas of WPF, WinForms, and ASP.NET. With the source code available for all to see, it is far easier for Microsoft lawyers who might potentially engage in law suits in the future to claim that the people working on the Mono project stole their WPF code or their WinForms or ASP.NET code from the public BCL instead of building it on their own.

and also

What if, let’s just say, Mono suddenly became as feature-complete as the regular .NET Framework. You think Microsoft wants to start losing server business (where it makes all of its real money…) because a bunch of .NET developers decided to run Linux .NET instead of Windows .NET?

This may sound pretty wild speculation, but unfortunately just few days after release the source code, a patent infringement lawsuit was filed against RedHat and Novel. Not directly by Microsoft, but one cannot help to suspect some involvement from Redmond, considering the remark of Steve Ballmer that

People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us ..

Now is this really a plot to derail open source project(s) – or just a symptoms that Microsoft became so large that two groups do not coordinate their steps and while one group (“techies”) trying to evolve their platform and push .NET adoption release the source, other group (“lawyers”) at the same time goes after money and very real threat of open source competition. Is it a malice or just an exceptionally bad timing ? Should we trust that it is actually OK to look at the source code ? Should we really trust a company that claims that open source software violates 235 their patents ?

Make your own conclusions – but note that Mono development team contribution policy explicitly disallows even looking at the .NET source code.

If you have looked at Microsoft’s implementation of .NET or their shared source code, you will not be able to contribute to Mono.

That may indicate something. Even if you never plan to contribute an open source project, consider what impact would have a potential legal dispute regarding intellectual property for your company, your product or your project – should it happen – and should you or your team have been using the source code in question, even if for debugging. IP lawsuits and very hard and very expensive and guess who is better prepared for a long legal fight :-).

As for myself, I will stay away from the hot source potato and use just the .NET documentation, however bad it is.
There is, after all so much great elegant and free source code to read (even in C#) …


Book recomendations: Google Story, The Tipping Point

2007/10/16

Thanks to sudden memory jump in my iPod (from 4GB Nano 2gen to 8 GB iPod touch) I have enough space to load some books in addition to podcasts. I normally do not like abridged versions, but the weather is getting worse so I do not get enough walking time for full versions. These two were both 3-4 disc long audio books.

The Google Story is interesting if you are into history of computing – because it describes the probably the largest transition in computing history – the evolution of World Wide Web to a platform and the evolution of the company that made the Web actually useful. I still remember how much time did it take in 1997/1998 to find anything relevant when the best way how to do this were directories (in early Yahoo! style) or AltaVista and hours and hours of paging through the irrelevant results. Then in early 1998 my friend Rajeeva (I was working in New Jersey at Merrill Lynch) made me aware of that company with funny empty looking page and strange name Google :). And now, 9 years later the shareprice of GOOG is well over $600 – just unbelievable.

The other book – The tipping point – is one of the “must reads”, often quoted on the Web. After listening to it I fully agree – it is an important book. So important that I am going to get a treeware copy of it and re-read it in full and to find out how much damage did the abridgment do. The recording was not as great as the Google story – it was read by the author, which is seldom the best option. True, an author is the person with most complete understanding of the message – but it takes different skills, a professional actor to make the message sound as good as it can. Despite of that, I am glad I listened to it and hope you will as well.


The craziest requirement I’ve ever heard about

2007/10/15

Can you imagine a database table with 25000 (twenty five thousands) columns ? No, not rows, COLUMNS ! Now if you can do that, can you imagine displaying these columns in a datagrid (spreadsheet) on a screen ?

This is exactly what this guy is describing to be his requirements. I hope he did misunderstood or misread the requirements, because displaying 25000 columns on a screen is not only impossible – it is absolutely useless. How would the user interaction look like ? As one of the guys in the discussion pointed out, the table would be few hundred meters wide (assuming 1 cm cell and 19 inch monitor) ….

Monsters like this happens when the person responsible for WHAT needs to be done goes step further and defines his/her idea about HOW it should be done. I have seen it many times when otherwise very good functional analyst gets overexcited in the process and goes beyond domain model – makes the actual data model part of the spec – despite lack of data modeling or database skills. This is ususally a guaranteed way how to end with bad data model and lot of unnecessary complexity later on.

In this case, showing peak information about customer the key is slicing the time interval (to show just some subset of information), proper using of graphs and aggregation of the values with drill-down functionality to show the details.


iPod touch – finally !

2007/10/12

So, I have finally got it. Only the 8 GB version as the 16 GB were sold out, but I just could not wait for another week :-). After playing with it for about 1.5 hour, I like it even more. The readability of Safari Web sites is excellent – I started to put together some links. Did not try too many sites yet, but the Dzone reads OK :-). Also the PDF book reading is very good – but that is no news. I guess I will have to put up some internal Apache access to my PDF eBooks from my bed :-).

Wireless gets connected right away and works very good with WPA. Comapared to Macbook, the signal strength indicator shows less bars (about same as my Windows notebooks) – but is still reliable enough. The only partially weird thing with wireless is when you change networks, after return the Safari insisted for some time to keep the Bridghead WiFi address. Speaking of which – Bridgehead got major black point today, as their WiFi does not support Safari. I never noticed it with Macbook – as I used mostly Firefox, but now I have no choice ! I am going to test Zavida – another coffeeshop with free WiFi soon.

After I loaded podcasts, I went for a short 2 hour walk to test drive the iPod part of the gadget. Sound quality is hard to judge on spoken word. Leo sounded good as always and John C. Dvorak was as irresistibly cranky and funny as usual. Compared to my second gen Nano, the only disadvantage I have found so far is that you have actually look at the display when you need to stop play (in order to talk to somebody) or skip through the advertisement – whereas with clickwheel it can be done just by hand in your pocket.


iPod touch – first impressions

2007/10/11

No, I have not bought it yet, to big disappointment of Gabo and Shane – sorry guys. I wanted to buy it but all FutureShop stores in Ottawa are hopelessly sold out and on-line delivery is 7-10 business days – which I hope I will beat if these guys get new shipment (maybe tomorrow ?).

I played with two demo pieces though for about 30 minutes, and here are the first impressions:

The screen is VERY nice. It reads well, and the touch interface is plain fantastic. No issues there. I tried the YouTube videos via wireless – worked OK, I also tried the web interface and was surprised that on such small screen the combination of touch interface and the way Safari renders pages gives you actually very usable browsing experience. Typing on the keyboard works better than I expected – almost no typos.

I tried to open up a PDF file from Web and read it. It was best PDF reading experience so far (on the really small screen – I was comparing to PocketPCs). What works much better is that resizing of the PDF actually works – using the two fingers you can stretch the page and get the character size to what your eyes can handle. I guess it is even possible to read really small fonts this way – you can always increase them so that the page is bigger that the screen and move it around with your thumb while holding it in single hand (although you may get quite muscular thumb after a while :-))

The biggest issue right now is how to read offline. There is no built-in way how to save something from the Web on the device – neither HTML nor PDF – and iTunes will synchronize only music and videos (plus address, pictures and web bookmarks). So you cannot simple load few books and go ahead. This makes it unusable outside of home or other WiFi accessible content. There may be some solution soon as first hacks are appearing – and even officially sanctioned applications for iPhone and iTouch are multiplying nicely and some of them point to right direction. So either Apple will provide these options – or the hacks will bring them, it is only matter of time. The temptation is too large … Another possibility is the direction of Google Gears which could pretty soon bring an offline mode for Web application. This most likely will need some cooperation between Google and Apple -but judging by the keynotes, Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt are good buddies 😉 – let’s keep our finger’s crossed.

I did not test the actual music playing – I had no headphones and the demo pieces had no music (this says something about the professional skills of the sales force in FS).


Free eBook and audiobook on media business and distribution control

2007/10/09

Gerd Leonhard, co-author of the Future of Music book is making an experiment with his new book – The End of Control. He is publishing the chapters of the book as they appear in PDF format as well as MP3’s on his website. First two chapters – “Attention is the new currency” and “Copyright in the Age of Uncontrolled distribution” are currently available for download / reading / listening.

The books tries to address very important questions on how will the new media business function in environment with little control over the distribution channel. Attempts to enforce control with technical tools were not very successful – just recall the Sony rootkit fiasco’s, hacking the HD-DVD and others. Currently, there is strong movement away from DRM and towards non-crippledrestricted content.

The other line how the content owners try to enforce compliance is using legal muscles. The heavily publicized trial by jury to pay over $200’200 in damages for offering 24 songs on P2P network was presented in media mostly as big victory for the RIAA, but – as The Register points out – it may be easily Pyrrhic victory and may in the end backfire against the RIAA.

Many people see labels and RIAA as a cross of dinosaur who forgot to die out and a leech sucking the money from the channel between the content creators and consumers. What are the new ways of distribution assuring the incentives for the authors without causing too much annoyance for the consumers, what are the business and legal implications of the new model are the themes into which the book will (hopefully) provide some insights. So far, looks very promissing.

Recommended.