Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Stuff happening on the "get wikis to talk to each other" front.

ThoughtStorms: WikiExportFormats
According to my site logs the RSS feed is the most requested page on ThoughtStorms.
The most depressing news today : a J2EE-based wiki.

Spaces Organise Knowledge

Each Confluence site is divided into discrete spaces. Within each space, users can create, edit and link pages using an easy-to-learn notation. Administrators decide who is able to view and modify pages, or comments, on each space separately


Lose Nothing, Find Everything

Meanwhile, powerful editing features such as intelligent page renaming and page hierarchies make it simple to maintain and organise the content.

Atlassian - Confluence - Thought sharing for your team.

I feel miserable already.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

After reading this I started thinking.

Q : Why does FreeSoftware have such lousy UI?

A : Because they can't afford UI testing.

But this is a strange claim. free-software is being tested all the time. This massively parallel debugging effort is one of the things that allegedly makes free-software work. So why doesn't massively parallel UI testing happen?

Maybe the real point is that it does happen. But whereas most free projects have bug-trackers where you can report the bugs, they don't have UI-problem trackers where people can report war-stories of confusions that they had with a particular piece of software.

Maybe the real key is that there should be a place to report UI problems and stories on project sites. Perhaps at SourceForge?

ThoughtStorms: FreeSoftwareInterfaceStories
ongoing · OpenOffice
Joel says : Since a huge percentage of code requires access to databases, the glue (a.k.a. the connecticazoint) between the RDBMS layer and the application code is very important, yet virtually every modern programming language assumes that RDBMS access is something that can be left to libraries. In other words, language designers never bother to put database integration features into their languages. ...

I think this is a fatal flaw in language design, akin to the bad decision by the designers of C++ that it was not necessary to support a native string type.

Languages should support relational databases

Hear, hear!

ThoughtStorms: LanguagesShouldSupportRelationalDatabases
ThoughtStorms: SocialCapital
ThoughtStorms: PoliticalMapping
Chomsky blogs ...

Turning the Tide

via DryerLint. (Also, now in my blogroll. )
I'm not in the UK so I missed the recursively titled WTF's The Future? conference.

Damn! A lot of people I'd like to meet IRL one day.

Seb Paquet : Thought-provoking thesis and counter-argument on the amazing ThoughtStorms Wiki,

Seb's Open Research

Blush! :-)

He's commenting on ThoughtStorms:TheHilariousTragedy, which is suddenly getting a bit of attention. (Probably thanks to Seb.)

Oli who asks what's hilarious about it. Of course, the answer is not much, really. It's still the poor who are going to lose out in this divide. Because they don't have the time or cultural access to engage with free communities.

Gregor Rothfuss has a good comment on the point that we haven't seen so much free entertainment :

why is there no free entertainment when there is an abundance of free knowledge? i think knowledge accrues, while entertainment does not. entertainment atoms do not build upon each other in the same way that knowledge atoms do.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The great Manageability is now added to my blogroll.

I can only read between the lines here, but the mention of 'no configuration files' is most interesting. I am presently working on a Struts, Tiles, JSP, JSTL and Hibernate application and I'm constantly bogged down by the mass of configuration files and configuration-like files that you need to navigate. I seriously doubt I could achieved this midly-complex app in two months.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Still musing on Netscape at the moment. The question is ... what could Netscape have done? (In the browser wars) If they knew then what they know now.

ThoughtStorms: OnNetscape

Saturday, March 20, 2004

True confession : I have a Python story which I'm a little bit shocked by.

Ask Joel - Your thoughts on Python (Scroll down)
At time of writing, these (first 6) are some good comments on the Spanish election.

JRobb comments
William Lind : Spain is not the only country whose government is playing the game of cabinet war. Britain’s involvement in Iraq is a cabinet war. So for that matter is America’s; Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam was not working with America’s real, Fourth Generation enemies and the United States had no vital national interests at stake.

Successful Strategic Bombing by William S. Lind

via John Robb
I've been working on database-backed websites for the last five years. I've been thinking about the problems of conventional wisdom in this area for at least the last three of those years. And I've been obsessing about hypertext, things not being tree-shaped, and module boundaries for several months.

But only today, I actually had what is possibly the only really profound and interesting thought I've ever had about designing such systems. And of course it's so blindingly obvious, given the context, that I must be incredibly stupid not to have noticed it before :

Decomposition by language is probably a ModularityMistake.

ThoughtStorms: SpaceAndModularizingWebPages
Paul Ford is creating a content management system designed to explore literature.

Tufte vs. Bloom 2 (Ftrain.com)
Good BBC intro to Haiti

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Poverty and pride in Port-au-Prince
Oli : I've just read DaveWiner's article, and I think it's disgraceful ...

ThoughtStorms: RSS/DebateWithOli

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Laid-off workers looking to land a job rebuilding their shattered country were mostly out of luck: The reconstruction of Iraq is a vast job-creation program for Americans, with Halliburton et al. importing US workers not only as engineers but also as cooks, truck drivers and hairdressers. Second-tier jobs go to migrants from Asia, and Iraqis pick up the trash.

Naomi Klein on offshoring vs. terrorism

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Friday, March 12, 2004

Thursday, March 11, 2004

OK, so Dave Winer is gloating. But when you're as right as he is on this one I think he's justified.

Basically anyone who thinks they can over-take RSS now has to think like Microsoft : embrace and extend. ATOM would need to accept that a well-formed, legal RSS2.0 is also a well formed, legal ATOM document.
D-squared Digest - Relaunched

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Last Thursday, the local paper carried a dramatic crime story. A German tourist had been stabbed to death in Taguatinga.

The German tourist, who had in fact married a Brazilian woman in Germany last year, had been in Taguatinga for only 3 days, to meet her family. The couple went out during the evening to a churrasco (a kind of grill restaurant) and bowling, and were walking in a crowded street at 9PM when they were attacked by two robbers; one of whom stabbed the German nine times before escaping with his mobile and wallet. The German died on the street. In the paper, the tearful wife explained that they'd been planning to travel to Rio, and she'd been worried about the violence there, but couldn't believe her home city had changed this much.

Now this is a very disturbing story. Taguatinga is the largest adjacent "satellite" town to Brasilia. Brasilia itself is a little bit of a bubble of middle-class fantasy in Brazil, as it's populated almost exclusively by wealthy civil servants. (Not that there's no crime, but by Brazilian standards it's pretty safe.) Taguatinga, as a satelite town, is where Brasilia keeps a lot of the work and dirt and poverty it depends on, at arms length. When you go there from the "Plano Piloto" (central Brasilia) you notice a difference.

But at the same time, it's not so different from travelling from a wealthier suburb of Croydon into "Sarf" London. We were there the day before the murder, to get something from our stuff in storage. And storage places, warehouses, garages and car-workshops etc. seem to sum it up. What Taguatinga isn't, is a ''favela''. You don't expect the kind of high-level crime and violence associated with, say, Rio or Sao Paulo or even one of the more distant, newer satelite shanty towns.

Nine stab wounds in a casual street robbery is still a fairly extreme occurance.


On Saturday, the papers came with a new story. The police had recieved an anonymous phone tip-off. In January, a woman had been looking around Brasiliense internet discussion-forums for someone to murder her husband. When the police interrogated the wife, she quickly broke down and confessed she had, indeed, payed someone to kill him. In fact she fingered the assasin, not a professional killer, just a guy from the local tattoo parlour. She'd offered him 3000 reais (that's about 850 pounds). Her motive was apparently to collect on the husband's life insurance. She'd started thinking about this after she'd lost her job in a pharmacy in Germany and couldn't send money back to her family in Brazlandia. (A poorer satelite where she originally came from.)

What isn't clear is whether she originally travelled to Germany looking for someone to marry and murder; whether she married for love, but the marriage went horribly sour; or whether she really went a bit crazy when she lost her job. As the story unfolds, it turns out the husband was, himself, a petty criminal, with police record in Germany for small crimes and violence. Perhaps he also indulged in domestic violence, although the wife hasn't offered this as an excuse.

Of course, this new set of revelations, perversely makes me feel safer in Brasilia : there aren't criminals going round randomly killing people on the streets for their wallets. On the other hand, my own Brazilian wife has recently taken out insurance on our lives, so ... ;-)

Anyway, that's what everyone was talking about this week. I guess next I should try to explain the corruption scandal which may bring down the Lula government. But that's something I'm still trying to get to grips with ...

Comment I posted here : Artima - To type or not to type

But let's get back to the original assertion which could be phrased : "People argue about types because different people need different things. And they're tacitly talking about the kind of people they are and the kind of projects they work on."

Now, this is obviously true. In a sense these arguments are a kind of politics. Compare : "some people like government to tax economic activity and spend the money on welfare and protecting worker's rights, and some people don't".

When people argue about politics, they are often asserting the kind of person they are, and the kind of project they are working on (ie. the economic "class" they belong to.)

But the real reason people argue this, *isn't* because they like talking about themsleves. The reason is that if they DON'T argue, then there's an increased danger that the other world-view will seize control of the state and impose their preferences it.

In the same way, we argue about types because people are always trying to foist projects and the use of languages which accord to the opposite world view on us. If we don't try to defend our view, these people will sell languages based on the opposite principles to our employers, and our educators and our customers, and we will be forced to live with them.
Tried to comment on Boxes and Arrows: We Are All Connected: The Path from Architecture to Information Architecture but the comment server seems down. So here's the rant.

The biggest problem with the article is that *nothing* in his discussion of building web-sites actually follows from his initial assertion that Information Architecture is like Architecture.

I'm increasingly attracted to the analogies between architecture and information system design (both at the programming level and at the user interaction level) so I was really hoping for something interesting here.

But as far as I can see, the only message we're meant to take from the analogy is that we need a separation between "grand designers" and the builders and engineers who do the work. And that we need a lot of contracts and specifications.

Is this the lesson from architecture? One of my favourite books is "How Buildings Learn" which is partly an extended rant against this kind of thinking, and a celebration of bottom-up design that emerges from users and builders making continuous small modifications. Although the author of this essay namechecks the book and uses the "e" word, it doesn't seem that he allows it to disturb his off-the-shelf preconceptions about web-development in the slightest.

Another theme of HBL is the danger of "Magzine Architecture" and a complaint that architects don't think through or evaluate long-term usability of buildings. Yet this author puts "test before putting it together for real" in his check-list of things IA can learn from A.

So, what testing is it that architects do? (Note : I'm sure the *engineers* do a lot of testing.) And in what sense is this something which IA - which got it's testing obsession via UI and human factors people (like Nielsen), and maybe ultimately from *industrial* design - can learn from architecture? Possibly IA is ahead of A here.

Once we get to the real life example, this is all standard web-design stuff. The architecture comparison isn't even mentioned. There don't seem to be any innovations inspired by architecture. Or even attempts to show parallels.

Seems like the author knows a lot of interesting ideas : Alexander, Brand, Nielsen, emergence etc; believes in connectedness; but doesn't seem to understand *how* these things are connected : the logical implications between them, and the structural constraints that they place on each other.

Monday, March 01, 2004

ThoughtStorms: SoftwareStuffAndHardwareStuff
Amazing story of political censorship in the US : Treasury Department Is Warning Publishers of the Perils of Criminal Editing of the Enemy

via Crooked Timber
Interesting discussion on Crooked Timber on using Hayek against free markets.

Scott’s argument suggests that Hayek on tacit knowledge contradicts Hayek on free markets.1 If you want to have non-local exchange (i.e. properly competitive impersonal markets), you have to do so on the basis of universal standards. But these standards fail to live up to the Hayekian ideal. Ergo, you can construct a Hayekian case against the creation of competitive impersonal markets, insofar as these markets involve the destruction of the kinds of tacit knowledge that are embedded in informal local standards.