This week we talked about scripting with Smalltalk - what works now, what doesn't, and what needs to be done. Like all of our podcasts, we roamed around a bit, including a few minutes on our Civ IV obsessions :) We mostly talked about scripting, and what kinds of things could/should be done to make that easier with Smalltalk.
Mark Bernstein does a great job of explaining how some of the "old guard" in literary criticism just aren't keeping up. This is nothing new, either - I recall the old guard in the 80's criticizing the word processor as an abomination, saying that the typewriter forced the writer to carefully consider his words. I'm sure that the great grandfathers of those folks deplored the typewriter, as it made the creation of words too easy (compared to longhand). Going back hundreds of years, I know that Gutenberg horrified as many people as he enthralled.
The more things change...
Here's another case of a blogger being sued over something - and this time, it's not even something on his own blog. Instead of learning from the bad experiences of other companies that have tried this trick, are the lawyers actually devolving into stupider versions of themselves?
Hot tip number one: don't send your lawyers out into the world of PR. No good will come of it...
Scoble touched on something today that's a little worrisome - not in and of itself, but in terms of trends:
When I interviewed the Twitter team yesterday I talked about its use during disasters. Well, looks like the Los Angeles Fire Department is using Twitter to tell people about what its department is doing.
For non-emergency notifications, that's fine. In a real disaster though, your net connection is probably going to go out early. Not because the net itself is unstable, but because your connection depends on power.
My wife brought this up with respect to VOIP phone service last night. A Comcast ad rolled by, and she paused it to look at the fine print - which mentioned something on the order of 5 hours of battery backup. That's great - unless the power drops while you're asleep. In the morning, you'll simply have no phone service.
With the huge numbers of people on cable/satellite TV, we have the same problem for emergency notifications - especially once the analog "over the air" broadcasts end (supposedly in 2009). Right now, you could hook a small TV up to backup power and see something. After that flip? Not at all. What about Cell phones? The service near my parent's place in Florida still isn't back to pre-2005 levels yet. With the wrong kind of disaster, the towers just go offline - and your phone's battery won't last that long anyway.
Radio is still there, of course, and battery powered radios are common - and a good thing too, because in a real emergency, radio is probably the only reliable way to get access to information. It's an interesting change from 20-30 years ago. We have lots and lots of additional communications channels, but in a real emergency, most of the new ones are very fragile at the edge, where people access them.
You have to love Comcast. We had a thunderstorm roll through, and our internet service and cable tv went down. Not a huge shocker; the thunder made the house shake. I called Comcast to report the outage - and that's when the fun started. I get their "technician" on the line, and he tells me:
"Our systems are being updated - could you call back after 6 AM?"
At which point I asked if they ran a 24x7 helpdesk, and he said they did. I told him no, they couldn't be 24x7 if they wanted to blow me off for 6 hours. At that point, I was put on hold, and when the guy came back, there was no talk of system updates - he took my account number, looked up my node, and told me that sure enough, the storm had taken us offline.
Why was that so hard? What I have to assume is that the helpdesk is being compensated based on how fast they "handle" calls. Blowing me off counts as "handling", so - if that tactic worked - I would have been off the line quickly, and by the time I got up in the morning, everything would probably be back up anyway.
However, that's not how I took it - and this post will be one more little straw in the growing pile of negative support stories floating around for Comcast.
This is morbidly fascinating - Jason Calacanis has decided that Facebook (and social media in general) take too much time and effort to keep up with. Which is fine; last time I looked, these systems were all voluntary. Which makes Scoble's comments interesting - he's trying to convince people (Jason in particular) that Facebook is worth the time.
Here's the thing - it probably is, for those of us who aren't celebrities. We can keep our friends list to a reasonable size, and join (and create) groups that make sense for us. For celebrities? Either they're like Scoble, and they can revel in that level of attention, or they're like Calacanis, and it just gets overwhelming. For me, it works, so far. I don't spend much time on it, and I haven't gone nuts with the Facebook apps. I'm not actively going for a huge web of people - I'm more interested in connecting up with Smalltalkers who happen to be on Facebook.
It's back to the logs: BottomFeeder downloads went at a rate of 149/day, which is about normal. The details:
Which takes me to the HTML page accesses by tool:
|Tool||Percentage of Accesses|
The Mozilla dominance on the HTML side continues - let's see about the syndication tools:
|Tool||Percentage of Accesses|
|Net News Wire||6.9%|
|Google Feed Fetcher||6.1%|
Looks like my distribution has fallen back to the Mozilla dominated audience.
Martin Fowler's take on the state of play in software development tells me that a number of things we're ooking at in Cincom Smalltalk are dead on right now:
- Make it possible to ship Smalltalk as a DLL
- Make it possible to do "scripting" in Smalltalk
Take those capabilities, and ponder them with respect to this:
So are we returning to the language cacophony of the late 80's and early 90's? I think we will see multiple languages blathering away, but there will be an important difference. In the late 80's it was hard to get languages to inter-operate closely. These days there's a lot of attention to making environments that allow different language to co-exist closely. Scripting languages have traditionally had an intimate relationship with C. There's much effort to inter-operation on the JVM and CLR platforms. Too much has been invested in libraries for a language to ignore them.
So my sense is that we will see multiple languages used in projects with people choosing a language for what it can do in the same way that people choose frameworks now. I agree with Neal that we are entering a period of Polyglot Programming.
Interestingly enough, we talked about some of that stuff on today's podcast (which I'm still editing).
This is just too amusing. I'm sure there's an intern or low level staffer just rolling on the floor :)
It took me longer than I wanted, but I've created an archive of all the current Smalltalk Daily screencasts (which is why I didn't get one out today - this ate my afternoon). We are hoping to get these into the install, but it's pretty big: compressed, it's over 500 MB. If you want all the stuff to date on your own system, grab the file here - there's an index.html file all set to go to navigate.
Mathew Ingram puts his finger on the problem newspapers are having - the new ad model won't prop up the same stuff as the old model:
My friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 -- and others such as Lost Remote -- have already put their fingers on the crucial point that the newspaper industry is struggling with: namely, when your entire business model is predicated on scarcity (i.e., the scarcity of pages for advertising), how do you deal with the sudden abundance that the Internet has created? Supply and demand gets thrown out the window and other dynamics take hold.
What newspapers are facing is a large scale business model shift. The old model featured much higher ad revenues (which in turn allowed them to do more things). The new model doesn't have that, and this kind of change is hard - ask anyone who bought a house and then had their income drop, for instance.
This kind of thing is hardly new, of course - lost of companies have had products that "brought home the bacon" for years, but couldn't manage to find anything that completely replaced those products as they declined. No one enjoys a shrinking business, even if it's possible to run it profitably after the shrinkage - and it's often very hard to let go of "the god old days", when (insert old, expensive habits here) was possible.
Dwight Shih notes that China has a branding problem:
Recently, Sam Stevens sampled and savored a new canned cat food. I was ready to add it to his regular food rotation when I saw the words Made in China. And I paused.
There have been too many stories recently involving Chinese goods with problems - they could ask GM what that kind of inattention to detail does to a brand's image.
Travis talks about some of the tool improvements, already in progress:
I just published a package called "Diggy" to the OpenRepository. Diggy is meant to be a short lived package. It's code that changes the VW debugger to use the Trippy Inspectors, rather than the old inspectors. Once it's stable, the package will be flattened back out into the original packages and removed.
Dvorak has a Mac, and it seems that he likes it. I was a long time critic of the Mac as well, but I came around for much the same reason that he did:
I can see why the Mac is gaining market share, because the rationale for using one is simple. Do you want to deal with the agony of antivirus, firewall, antispyware, and other touchy software subsystems, many of which do not work well? Or do you want to boot Microsoft Word and write a document and be done with it?
That's certainly been my experience with the Mac, and it's been my wife's experience as well. To a very large extent, using a Mac is like using Smalltalk: do you want to follow the herd, or do you want to actually get something done?
Via Dave Winer, I see that Sun is moving towards greater transparency:
He says: "On Monday, we will release our financial information first to the public via our website, RSS feeds and 8-K filing. Then, about 10 minutes later, we will release the information to the traditional private agencies and their paid subscribers."
IMHO, this kind of thing is more valuable than any regulations the feds have tossed at the industry, well, pretty much ever.
The Toronto Smalltalk User's Group is meeting this July 31:
The next meeting of the Toronto Smalltalk User Group is Tuesday, July 31 at 6:30.
Angela Wilson will be presenting a 45 minute talk at ESUG in August and would like to run through the presentation in advance.
Please join us for a sneak preview of:
Working Smarter, Not Harder: Development Tools, Processes and Automation
At Northwater we use GemStone/S with VA Smalltalk to deliver a rich application supporting our internal business clients. In this session she will share some of the approaches we've taken at Northwater, what's worked, and what's changed over the years.
We've created numerous specialized development utilities and we're continually refining our processes. The ability to extend the development environment has been instrumental in leveraging the productivity of our small group and improving the quality of the software we deploy. Angela will present some of the many tools used at Northwater, our development processes that depend on some of these tools, and the various forms of automation that pull it all together.
Technorati Tags: smalltalk
Well this is weird. I set up a Facebook group for the podcast yesterday, and there was a steady stream of people joining it. I get up this morning, take a look, and the group has been disappeared. What's up with that? Is it an error, or was it deleted? If it was deleted, why didn't I get notified? Fortunately, I had invested very little time in that group - but it's not a good sign when stuff can just disappear with no notice.
Update: The group is back. I'd guess some kind of database issue was the problem.
Update 2, 1:30 PM: And it's broken again...
Update 3, 4:30 PM: And it's back
Update 4, 5:17 pm: Not only is it now having problems again, Facebook says it has no members and no admin. Sigh.
Travis has some cool Cairo eye candy to show off - hat tip to our VM guys for making it possible.
There was an amusing part of this for me - installing QuickTime for Windows in Parallels on my Mac for Firefox in the Windows VM. Say that five times fast :)
I find it interesting that two people who write on such different topics have converged on their opinion of the iPhone. Dave Winer:
The other functions of the iPhone, the camera, YouTube, the photo browser, even the iPod functionality, are nice to have, but none of them work very well, and without a functioning web and email interface, they don't add much to the appeal of the iPhone. When all is said and done, it's a beautifully designed, colorful, very stylish, cell phone.
The heavy email user wants a keyboard and a decent sized screen; the heavy phone user wants a much smaller device with a numerical keypad; the music user wants an ultra-small device, the internet/video user wants a large screen. And they all want ultra-long battery life. Even God can’t produce that.
There's something of a parallel to this in office software. Going back, there were individual apps for Word processing, spreadsheets, etc. Then there was a brief flurry of excitement around "all in one" packages. After awhile though, Microsoft Office ended up the winner - with three products that had the ability to interoperate, but were in fact individually focused on a specific task.
So let's relate that to things like the iPhone. Lots of people say things like "I'd like to carry one device, not three". However - look at actual usage. If I'm driving, do I want to disconnect my iPod from the stereo to answer a call? If I'm jogging/biking, do I want something as huge as the iPhone? If I'm trying to compose an email, do I want a pseudo-keyboard?
The phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" comes to mind. Looking at how I actually use gadgets, I'm willing to put up with a second rate camera in my phone (but my daughter, who is actually into photography isn't). I'm not willing to mix my phone and my iPod, because I want different things out of both. At the end of the day, I think Laura Ries is right about converged devices - people like them in the abstract, but they don't like them when they have to deal with specifics.
Andreas Hiltner has announced (on our development mailing list) that ObjectStudio 8 has reached RC1 status:
I'm happy to announce, that RC1 of ObjectStudio8 is finally available. You can download the install file from
If you have read the blog, you know, that we had some difficulties with our hardware. Those problems seem to be resolved now.
We're confident, that we can deliver the final release in the very near future.
Stay tuned - the official release will be soon.
They are continuing to move to a wider demographic than just college students, which should have been obvious to anyone who is following their moves over the past year. I told them that I have already seen that, most of my 3856 friends aren’t in college anymore. They are also taking over quite a few buildings in downtown Palo Alto near the Stanford University Campus (more than three buildings already, with more needed).
Maybe they could update the initial personal questions and the "how do you know this person" questions so that it doesn't look like your primary interest is grabbing a beer at the Rat and watching the girls/guys go by?
Mark Bernstein notes that the NBA (and by extension, all sports) are going to take a bath over the referee fixing scandal. I hadn't followed this at all, but it harkens back to the Black Sox scandal. That's where the office of the commissioner of baseball came from, and it's why baseball is still very unforgiving (organizationally) of even a whiff of gambling:
For years, I've wanted to meet a veteran sports reporter socially, just to ask whether they thought the games were on the level. Now we pretty much know what has long been suspected: some of the games are rigged. (For example, someone made a list of the games that Donaghy worked last year, where the over/under spread moved more than 1.5 points. That's ten games: the over covered in all ten. Ouch.)
My point is: whatever happens, the story gets bigger. If Donaghy fingers other refs or players, it gets bigger. If he doesn't, people will analyze every minute of every game and they'll find every discrepancy -- and every hint of cooperation with other refs. And that makes the story bigger. If Donaghy is convicted, the story gets bigger. If he isn’t, there will always be a suspicion that the fix was in, that a wealthy league and wealthy owners secured an acquittal.
In many ways, this is worse than a player throwing a game. The refs are supposed to be objective - if you can't trust them, who can you trust?
It's been said before that kids don't really use email - and based on my daughter's use of the net, it seems to be true. IM, various websites that have discussion forums, yes. Email though? That's for talking with adults.
I was talking about this with someone the other day, and he made a point that should have been obvious to me, but wasn't: email died when spam overwhelmed it. Think about it - to read email from a friend, you have to wade through dozens of pieces of unwanted crap. IM them though, and it's direct with no interference. Heck, with newer clients, you can queue up messages, too.
Another reinforcing item: I have friends who work in secure parts of the US government, and they have closed email systems. And you know what? Email works for them. Spammers really did force people to find a way out, and IM has been one of the primary answers. Systems like Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce? They serve the same purpose. I suspect that a better email system that didn't suffer from spam overload would have obviated the need for a lot of those.
I have a question for the Cincom Smalltalk (and actually, for the wider Smalltalk) community about version control. "Back in the day", Envy was seen as the gold standard in Smalltalk version control. It's only available for VA now, and it doesn't support distributed development at all well (something which is becoming more prevalent over time). Store supports distributed version control better, but it requires a database (more infrastructure), and only supports Cincom Smalltalk.
There are newer things out there that live in the distributed realm: Monticello for Squeak, git for the Linux community of developers. I have less than no experience with either one, but I do keep my ear to the ground, and I hear good things about them. So the question: what do you think we should do? Should Store move forward? Should we look at things like Monticello and git? Should we do something else entirely?
This isn't a signal that a change is imminent (or event planned), by the way. I think it's useful to step back and look around every so often, and that's what I'm doing here. Feedback can either go in comments here, or in email to me. Thanks!
Inspired by Jon Udell's post, I grabbed the mean temperature data he mentioned. That's when the fun began :)
The problem with the data is the same problem you get with any dataset - it's never completely clean, and you always have to do something to sponge it off. So it was here. There were a number of small issues I ran across as I created some Smalltalk scripts to make sense of the data:
- The usage of -9999 to indicate bad/no data for a given month. That wasn't really a data problem, so much as an undocumented convention
- It took me a bit to find a weather station near me that had a large data set - I eventually settled on the DCA (near Washington National Airport) one
- The data was normally separated by whitespace (within a record), and CR between. However, some of the uses of -9999 didn't have surrounding whitespace.
- Some data seemed to be duplicated (duplicated years for the same station), but with slightly different values for some months. What did that mean? Not a clue :)
None of those were insurmountable, but they did make a "quick" look at the data harder. First came the scrubbing, then the "quick" look.
The thing is, that's not really a problem for someone with some software skills, but it will throw anyone without them. Even an Excel import would have foundered on the data that didn't have whitespace, for instance. So the sad thing is, it's even harder to deal with this stuff than Jon let on :/
Oh, and what did I discover? My wife's memory was right: summer's were slightly hotter back in the 80's (at least around here. YMMV)
Update: One man's broken data is another man's misunderstood format. Turns out that the records are fixed width, not white space delimited. Shows what I know :)
Technorati Tags: public data
Jon Udell continues to do great work showing how hard it can be to get (seemingly simple) data - an awful lot of it is locked in a trunk or simply not available online. Take temperature data:
Given all that’s been said and written about climate change, it turns out to be surprisingly hard to get hold of historical climate data. I had to look around quite a while before I found this FTP site where NOAA has parked files full of raw temperature and precipitation data.
He's also blogged recently about crime statistics, which are apparently even harder to get (I noticed this morning that there's a dispute in Baltimore about crime data). It sure would be nice to simply have raw access, so we could draw our own conclusions.
Rob Fahrni had a problem at Borders with his pre-order:
My mom spoke to a kid at Target that had the exact same problem I did with my Border pre-order. He called to confirm his order, they didn't have a copy set aside for him. So, how many people didn't get their copies on Friday night because Borders, and Amazon, didn't come through?
Which sounds weird. Does Borders policy differ by region? At the local one here, pre-orders got color coded wrist bands based on when they showed up to the line (we got there about 11 PM, so my daughter ended up in the 3rd group in). I didn't pre-order, but they told me two things:
- People like me got red
- We all would get books (they had tons), we just had to wait longer
That second bit is why we got home around 3 AM - because I didn't think to pre-order 2 (and yes, my daughter did tell me I should have :) )
This week, we sat down to compare Smalltalk and Ruby - and, as usual, we wandered all over the map - including excursions into general syntax issues, Lisp, and XML. Other than a lost comment stolen from Michael by Skype, it went pretty well.
Rogers Cadenhead explains the nature of RSS reality to Robert Scoble, and demonstrates along the way why it matters.
Things have been quiet this morning, because I'm working on the podcast - we recorded last night. It was a fun one, so stay tuned :)
Scoble gets taken in by Winer vis-a-vis the RSS Advisory Board:
But, what really is cooking here is that RSS has been given (and if you listen to Dave Winer, stolen) to big companies to control. How so? Well, the RSS Advisory board, which includes members from Cisco, Yahoo, Netscape, FeedBurner (er, Google), Microsoft, and Bloglines and this new unofficial board +is+ changing the RSS spec all the time (they are now up to version 2.0.9). Dave Winer, who founded that spec says that’s in direct contradiction with the original charter of the RSS Advisory Board that he founded when he moved RSS from UserLand over to Harvard University.
Maybe Winer is too close to the problem. The advisory board isn't making many changes; I've been following the process. What they have been doing is setting up a set of "best practices" for using RSS 2.0 - things like "the spec isn't clear about X, but here's what seems to be standard practice".
For instance: Can a feed have more than one enclosure? The original 2.0 spec is completely unclear on that. Some aggregators (BottomFeeder, for instance) are agnostic, and will allow multiple enclosures. Others will allow for only one. Most of what the advisory board is doing is finding agreement on what to expect in the unclear areas.
Why do big companies care? This thing called interop, which Scoble does care about. Watch him not connect the dots on this.
I have to hand some kudos to CompUSA - my Warlords (Civ IV) CD for Mac cracked in half - big bummer there. I still had the receipt, and they took it back, no questions asked. Sadly, they didn't have it in stock, but they did give me store credit. Very cool, and it resulted in the sale of some Mac software my daughter wanted.
Hmm. Clicking around a few sitemeters, it appears that yesterday was the slowest Saturday in a long time for the blogosphere. Coincidence? Or all those people reading Harry Potter?
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a fine thing that a noticeable proportion of the whole world is going to stop what they’re doing this weekend and read a book instead.
That's certainly what happened here. My daughter and I stayed up way too late Friday, and my wife did the same last night...
If you want to know why journalists tend to rank lower in surveys than just about any other profession, then look no further than this tripe from Penelope Trunk (at Huffington Post).
As a journalist I hear all the time from people in business that they are misquoted. And you know what? People need to get over that, and I'm going to tell you why.
You can mostly omit the rest of the rationalization as to why we need to "get over" being misquoted. If you can't get quotes right, how much do you care about the rest of your job? If it's all about "the narrative", then it most certainly isn't about the facts. Here's Penelope's weak justification:
Here's my advice: If you do an interview with a journalist, don't expect the journalist to be there to tell your story. The journalist gets paid to tell her own stories which you might or might not be a part of. And journalists, don't be so arrogant to think you are not "one of those" who misquotes everyone. Because that is to say that your story is the right story. But it's not. We each have a story. And whether or not someone actually said what you said they said, they will probably still feel misquoted.
I expect this when friends and I sit down to relive high school or college. I don't expect this if a reporter sits down with a notepad, a recorder, or a camera. There's simply no excuse for changing the order, the words, or anything else, in order to "fit the story". If you want to tell a story, become a novelist. If you want to be a journalist, grow some ethics and have a few standards.
When I first read Dave Winer and Jason Calacanis saying that they were wary of (or even opposed to) doing traditional interviews, I thought it sounded mildly paranoid. I now realize why they feel this way: both are in the public eye, and both have ethics free people like Trunk traipsing after them in search of an angle to tell a story from. I'm sure there are honest reporters out there, but they seem to be few and far between. Far simpler to say "read my blog" than to let someone like Trunk use you as scaffolding for her next "narrative".