Category Archives: Internet

Westminster Skeptics: The Revolution Will Be Digitized

After being in London for nearly a year I’ve finally managed to make it to a Westminster Skeptics in the Pub meeting. I was rewarded with an entertaining and thought-provoking talk by crusading journalist Heather Brooke. Based on her new book it focused on journalism in the digital age with examples from the MPs expenses scandal and the on-going saga of WikiLeaks. The spirited Q&A that followed brought up a whole load of issues.

The key things that jumped out at me (in no particular order):

If we believe as a society that journalism is important for holding the powers that be to account, how are we going to pay for it? I have to say that I occasionally feel guilty about not subscribing to a daily newspaper, but then I remember that I really don’t want to pay for sports reporters and alternative health correspondents. What’s worse is that I’m an absolute news junky, so how does a news organisation turn someone like me into a customer? I have no answers here.

Something that came up a few times was the idea of journalists as filterers and synthesisers of information. The way way this was being described made me think of Librarians. This isn’t an insult, as a former denizen of academia I have had occasional dealings with real librarians; like Dragons they are of fearsome aspect, capable of deep magic and to be treated with the utmost respect. My gut feeling is that the real difference between a Librarian/Curator and a Journalist is narrative.

The issue of releasing redacted vs complete source material was circled around a few times. The whole business of redacted material bothers me quite a lot. Back when I had peripheral involvement in some medical data projects the topic of anonymisation of patient data was discussed quite a lot. If you anonymise clinical data properly you are allowed to store it for research purposes on networks that don’t meet the same security standards as the clinical network. The reason I mention this is that some research has been done on how much anonymous data you need before you can start identifying individuals. As I recall it needs rather less data that most people suppose. This makes makes the appropriate redaction of source material a difficult process. I’ll have to see if I can track down the papers I dimly remember on this subjects.

Which sadly brings us to the final question of the evening. Reading a book in an hour standing up in Waterstones and not buying it is not an indication of your intellectual prowess it’s an indication that you are an arse. Also, if you are going to insult the speaker please try to articulate an actual question. Accusations of hypocrisy, and mentioning that Julian Assange tried to kiss the speaker do not a cogent argument make.

Right, it’s a school night. I must be off. Looking forward very much to the next Westminster Skeptics.

This post brought to you by beer.

#edited for spelling and links

Red Hat in Bad Mouthing Fedora Shock

Read this unhappy tale.

If that really was a Red Hat sales person they need to be found a nd sacked. Also it would seem prudent to tone down the wording of this page about Fedora.

So the chap on the Fedora Forums has valiantly managed to get a Fedora-based project off the ground in what sounds like a fairly windows-centric enverionment only to have the wheels come off because one of his customers has read the Red Hat page about Fedora being “impractical for use in commercial environments…” And the n some “Red Hat Sales Rep” gives him a list of the usual canards about open-source software being unsafe because anyone can contribute.

News for Red Hat: This isn’t a win for RHEL it’s a loss for Linux.

And to think I was already in a bad mood. Heres hoping the sales rep turns out not to work for Red Hat.

Grid Computing Talk For Gllug and LRL2006

Coincidentally I’m attending an “Improve Your Presentations” course on Wednesday so I though I’d better put together a first attempt at my Grid Computing talk.

It’s fairly hand-wavy at the moment but contains the basic outline of my “Grid Computing as seen from the Stratosphere” talk. If you don’t mind it not being a surprise when I present at Gllug later in the year then you can read it here.

A Day With Catalyst

You may remember that after the Web Frameworks Evening I rashly proposed that I would develop a simple application with each of the frameworks mentioned. Earlier in the week, as good as my word, I took Catalyst out for a spin.

Out of the three frameworks Catalyst was the one I was most intrigued by. I’ve heard too many people in orange sunglasses rave about Rails for me to get really excited about it. Django is written in my favourite language so it’s going to have to be especially horrid for me not to like it. The idea of a web framework that pulls in all the best tools of the Perl universe peaked my interest sufficiently that Catalyst was the first framework I decided to try.

Now full diclosure time. I’m a bit of a Python bigot, but I thought, how many people learn ruby until they get wowed by Rails? If Catalyst is really good it could bring lots of new people into the Perl community. As a relative Perl newbie I make a good test of that idea. Would I find Catalyst sufficiently awesome that I would consider doing web development in something other than my native language?

perl -MCPAN -e 'install Bundle::Catalyst'

Three hours later after a series of cpan force installs I finally had Catalyst installed and not throwing empty Base Class errors. I know my way around CPAN I suspect the vast majority of people new to Perl don’t. You’ve just lost them.

OK onto the tutorial. It’s pretty good. Writing views is really nice. Dispatching URLs to different functions is dead easy. The debugging output of the test server is massively helpful. Right, onto templates. Hmmm…. OK you can call them explicitly by stashing the template name or it does a clever lookup on the name of the view or the function. Nice. I can see how you don’t need a lot of code to get real functionality out of this. It looks like a simple matter to knock up a function that passes an ID through and uses it for a database lookup. So I really need to move on in the tutorial and work out how to connect to my WordPress db and start grabbing some articles.

Well the tutorial only mentions SQLite while I, and probably 99.9% of the world, am runnnig MySQL. Bit of googling should sort it. OK, no your Base Class is empty? Oh. More google. Aha I can connect now. The test server shows me a class has been created on the fly for each of my tables. The table names match what is in the database so I’m confident it’s actually talking to the DB. Right one line of code is all it should take to get data out. I can pass in a valid ID on the URL and use that to grab a record just like they show in the tutorial. But all I get back out is the ID. More google.

Turns out you don’t get magic relationship mapping out of the box with MySQL and Catalyst::Model::CDBI. There probably is a way to do it but I can’t find any documentation on giving it a relationship map by hand. I’ve now spent nine hours trying to coax this whole thing into life so It’s time to cut my losses and move on.

In short if you are not already a Perl hacker who knows his way aroung Class::DBI or Class::DBIx you may not find Catalyst to your taste. Which is a shame because it has moments of greatnes.

Next time: Django

Web Frameworks Evening

Hearing about different web-frameworks turned out to be suprisingly fun. Even if there wasn’t enough room in the pub. It’s probably better for my Liver if I don’t drink.

Most examples you see of how to use Your Favourite Framework involve building some sort of applications from scratch. But it seems to me that it’s much more likely that you would inherit some pre-existing data source and have to build an app against it. So for the purposes of research I’m going to write a simple application in each of the frameworks discussed against a database that already exists; namely this here wordpress blog.

It’ll give me something to do at the weekend anyway.

It’s possible I’m loseing my sanity.

Firefox Extensions

How I have managed to survive the long without availing myself of
firefox extensions is clearly a problem that will tax historians in the
years to come. In this vein I present a quick list of the extensions
that I find most useful.

Flashblock

Simple extension that replaces flash animations with a small icon.
Click on the icon to play the animation. Its primary use is to reduce
the impact of all those annoying jamster ads that are constantly
clamouring for my attention.

BugMeNot

I'm assuming that everyone is familiar with bugmenot.com
a volunteer-collated database of logins for registration only sites.
The bugmenot extension lets you paste a log-in from the bugmenot
database in a couple of mouseclicks. This sure beats my old way of
pasting urls into bugmenot and then passting the log-in ans password
back out. A massive time-saver.

WebMailCompose

Lets you open mailto links in a webmail service. Defaults to GMail but supports many others.

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