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Blog on the move...

I've not been very good at keeping this up to date.  In fact, I've been awful at it.  So I'm moving my blog over to www.filesandrecords.com - this is my own site, it needs content adding to it and the blog is going to be the first step.

Hope to see you there...

The usual speedy updates.

Right.  Now July, and the last update was May.  Boy, I'm good at keeping on top of these things.

So, since the last update, what's happened?  The usual not a damn lot.  I ran the Simmer Dim half-marathon in a time of 2 hours 8 minutes and some seconds, faster than last year by 3 minutes.  Considering the day was superb this year, we weren't running uphill into the wind and rain, a 3 minute improvement is pretty shoddy.  I've got a rack of excuses, but the bottom line is that I probably didn't train enough.  Hey ho.  Got the Round Spiggie 10k at the beginning of August, so let's see if I can improve my time on that one...

Joined Twitter - easier to keep a microblog up-to-date than a proper blog, but not by much.  There's only one dogbombs on there.  Via Twitter, found Neil Gaiman and through him heard about the Royal Mail's last issue of stamps - Mythical Creatures, by Dave McKean.  Date of issue was perfect and my daughter got a First Day Cover for her birthday (along with some Powerisers - those kangaroo boots from the old Zurich advert.  Very jealous about them indeed!).

The novel is now running at just over 30,000 words and rising despite pen-drive failures that set me back 3000 words and, just tonight, a corrupt master file.  Successful recovery followed by not a lot of actual writing.  I blame Facebook, the MindJolt games, Biotronic and finally the My Zoo app which takes up a surprising amount of time despite not actually having a lot to do.

Anyway.  Bed beckons.  Will write more in, well, a couple of months at the rate I go!

May update. It's been a while

The Simmer Dim half-marathon approaches again. And yet again I'm training hard. This time I'm training by spending a weekend visiting my parents in North Yorkshire and buying beer from one of the best brew shops I know of, on the market square in Ripon. I'm sure that's not what you're supposed to do for these things. In fact, I know for sure that I'm supposed to be doing an 11-mile run next Sunday - it says so in the "Marathon Matters" column of this week's Shetland Times. All being well, I'll get the 10-miler done this Sunday but it's a pretty hectic weekend:-

  • Saturday we're taking part in a Gulberwick Activities weekend - going quad-biking with the kids. Apparently there's also a birthday party for one of the boys to go to, though I'm not certain I've seen an invite yet. And all day Saturday is the Silent Auction for St Magnus' Church rennovation funds (St Magnus Website). I've got a few computing-related lots in there that I'm hoping will do well. Just have to wait and see...

  • Sunday is more Gulberwick Activities - mountain biking and fencing then, weather permitting, a braai in the afternoon. Should be a laugh! I'm guessing I'm not as light on my feet as I think I am! And between all of this, hopefully a good chunk of a run.

  • Work continues much as always - pricing up mobile, satellite-based, internet access for a new research vessel. Did not know it was so expensive! Well, unless you want to be stuck at 9.6kbps. Anyway, all I can do is find the prices and pass on the info. Spent the last couple of afternoons putting together a quick and simple equipment booking program - using it as an excuse to learn Ajax and brush up on my javascript. It's about 80% done but the last 20% is going to be a doozy - required field validation, input validation, stuff like that. It's doing a lot of data gathering with Ajax, wonder if I can get it to do the form submits through Ajax as well... There's probably a SourceForge project out there doing it already (if not several) but I never remember to find these things!

    Novel #1 now sitting at 25,000 words and counting! And thanks to a few minor brainwaves, I've got the main plot sorted as well. So far so good.

    Now I'm not a naturally outdoors-type person. Give me a beautiful, sunny day and I'll be looking for (a) a shady spot to read, (b) somewhere to put the laptop so the sun doesn't give me too much screen glare and (c) air conditioning. I'm not a natural gardener, either - even if I get to use man-toys like the petrol-driven lawnmower. Thinking about this last night whilst mowing the lawn in about 98% relative humidity, with my allergic-to-grass mower (anything longer than a couple of inches and the mower coughs and cuts out if you don't move it on). Dyson realised that the vacuum-cleaner, with fixed wheels on each corner, was only any good at straight lines. My mower has a fixed wheel on each corner. And, as such, it is only any good at mowing in straight lines. Why hasn't Dyson turned his considerable skills and resources to coming up with a new mower? And why, in the age of keys and buttons, do I have to wrench my shoulder from it's socket to start the mower? The strimmer's worse!

    And another thing. We've spent ages reducing the amount of actual grass area in the garden - a raised bed here, a flowerbed there, a standing stone or 9... So now that we've cut the area of grass by more than half does it take me more than twice as long to mow the bloody thing?

    I'm thinking concrete might not be that bad an idea. Or that bouncy tarmac they have in playparks - I'm sure it could be dyed green.

PHP versus Python

Ah, go on then. I'll throw my hat into this debate.

Long story short. Couple of weekends ago, my brother-in-law-in-law (I think that's the right term for the husband of one of my wife's sisters. But if that's wrong then substitute that with 'a friend of mine') mentioned Django in the same breath as lamenting the state of the php on a website he maintains. Fair enough, it's PHP4 so it's a good way out of date, can't do a lot of cool stuff and is a bit clunky. I didn't ask what version of MySQL it was talking to but if it's 4 then he's in for another raft of surprises! I'd heard of Django, not just as a musician but also in web development terms. I try and keep my ears open for interesting tech. He praised the simplicity of getting something up and running quickly, easily and, of course, "as I already know Python, it's a piece of cake to work with."

Hmm. Python. Good language for writing little scripts with, working with stuff at the command line. Very useful. And he made Django sound appealing, so I looked it up, got it installed on my Ubuntu laptop. And I've been poking around with it for a couple of weeks now. I have to agree with him. It's fun, it's interesting, and it's certainly different to the PHP(5) I'm used to developing web apps in. For a start, the structure of the language is different. In PHP you get this:

$variable = "value"

You're creating somewhere to store information, your $variable, then giving it the value "value". Pretty simple stuff. Python does it thusly:

variable = "value"

Spot the difference? Nope? It's in the name of the variable. Look at a page of PHP, anything starting with $ is a variable. You can pick them out of the code at a quick glance. And you know you've got something wrong when you try and work with one without the $. Instant recognition. Python, anything that isn't a key word can be a variable and it's not as quick to pick them out of your script. OK, IMHO, score 1 for PHP

Another difference. Grouping code together. In PHP, you hold the contents of loops inside a pair of curly braces {...}. Simple and, again, easy to spot errors - miss out a brace and you'll get much weirdness if you're lucky, a white page if you're not. But at least you know where to look. You're not forced to indent code to make it easier to read, you just do that to keep yourself sane. It's like hitting return after a <:/p> when you're writing a webpage. You could write it all on one line but you don't because you might want to read the code again. I was about to say "because you're a normal human being" but I keep being reminded that the ability to write webpages is not normal, nor is anything to do with computers. And it's not a proper job, either. Apparently I'm a glorified janitor. My wife, ladies and gents!

while ($i < 10){
     echo $i . "<br>";

Python. Hmm. Python code is certainly more readable - instead of the {...} you use indentation to contain the contents of the loop. Now this may be bad code but it shows what it should look like:

while (i < 10):
     print i

And there you have it. So far, those are the 2 major differences I've seen between PHP and Python. I'm going to keep on learning Python - I have a book from the Library and everything - as I can see it being useful not just for developing websites but from the command line as well. So much cool stuff can be done with Python that can't with PHP. But so far, when knocking up a quick webapp to do something, I'll be using PHP for the time being. So far...

So that's it.  Nearly 36.  Almost halfway there.  Scary thought.  So, some random facts about the last few years.

  • I've visited almost as many countries as I have years in my age.  Pretty happy with that one.
  • I've spent more years with my wife than I have without her
  • The combined age of my kids is still younger than me.  Now that one hurts!
  • Counting this years, I'll have run one half-marathon for each decade of my life to date.
  • I'll be 40 if I listen to every song, podcast and audiobook on my iPod for 8 hours a day.  And that's assuming I don't add any more stuff to it!

Anyway, it's been a while since I wrote anything here and it's time that changed.  My 36th year is hereby declared the year of blogging.  Aye, right.  That'll last.  Just like the new year's diet.

Hal Spacejock

The Hal Spacejock Series

Simon Haynes is both a scholar and a gentleman. Not only has he written a fantastic series of books, the first one of them is available free. Yep, completely free. As free as his software - which is excellent!

So. Hal Spacejock. As the man's website says, think "Red Dwarf", think "Hitch-Hiker's Guide", think "Hyperdrive" (Well, the radio series, anyway. Steer clear of the TV show, that was awful. Can't believe it got a second series. I'm drifting...). The world doesn't have enough science fiction comedy. Hal Spacejock and Simon Haynes are to science fiction what Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher are to urban fantasy, what the Discworld and Terry Pratchett are to fantasy. What Jack Parlabane and Christopher Brookmyre are to crime. Basically, what I'm saying, is that this book is really, really good. And it's free. So what are you waiting for? Get to that url, download the first book and order the rest.

Simon's taking a brave gamble here. He's spreading the word with giving the first one away. Then he's selling the others as eBooks for A$5 each. Now, according to the Numberwang machine over at xe.com, that's £2.37 today. And that's Numberwang. So you can get the whole series to date for about a tenner. Dump them on your laptop, your PDA, your iPhone, and you've got your next week's reading all sorted. 2 if you read as fast as me! I paid more than that for the last 2 Dresden Files books!

But wait! That's not all. No, the good Mr Haynes is also a programmer of some merit. Follow the link under "Home" to Spacejock Software (www.spacejock.com) and you'll find a whole suite of goodies designed with the author in mind. And the general computer user. Personally, I'm using yWriter to handle a novel I'm writing at the moment. I'm using yEdit to handle flash fiction when the urge takes me and yLaunch as an uber-tool at work (I love the simplicity of clicking one button and launching my entire development suite in one go. Why click on nineteen icons when you can press a single button! Brilliant). And I haven't even scratched the surface of the utilities on this site.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Simon Haynes is a scholar and a gentleman. He deserves the cash. He deserves this eBook experiment to work (mostly because I'd like to be able to do it once I'm ready to publish). So go! Visit! Download! Share and Enjoy!

Now.  Off to work to prod servers and try to get Citrix working on 64-bt Ubuntu...  Wish me luck!

One month inside the browser

So.  The second "one month with" is going to be spent doing whatever is possible from within the browser, venturing out into external applications only where necessary.
Email is already set up through Firefox's Simple Mail extension.  Development work will be done using Codetch, EditCSS and FireFTP.  Blogging to be done through DeepestSender or ScribeFire.  Hopefully, GoogleDocs can handle most of my spreadsheet and word processing requirements.  I'm already using the Google calendar, so that won't be a problem (shame we're stuck in the dark ages of Groupwise 7 and can't integrate the 2 calendars easily).
To make matters more interesting, I'll be using Portable Firefox (from www.portableapps.com) and if I have to venture outside Firefox, I want to stay within the PortableApps stable and run everything from the flash drive.
Should be fun...

And I'd forgotten that Fish had left Marillion ages ago.  The stack of his solo albums over there should have been a reminder.  I now remember why I liked Marillion:  It was Fish's lyrics and delivery.  Won't be rushing to snap up Marillion's back-catalog in their post-Fish days.  Not a great album.

One month with...

Was going to be "One month with eyeOS" (www.eyeos.org) but there isn't an IMAP mail client that I can find, so that takes Groupwise integration out of the frame.

Might see what I can do from within Firefox... "One month inside the browser" has a nice ring to it. Or I might go for KDE4Windows, see how good that is these days. Ulteo is promising, Linux apps within Windows...

Hopefully I'll make up my mind over lunch.

One month with Spicebird. The conclusion

So, that's the month done. Using Spicebird for emailing, caledars and, I'd hoped, blogging. Overall, for a pre-version-1.0 piece of software, it's very good.

Mail-wise, didn't have a problem. IMAP access to gmail and my works Groupwise mail worked very well for me - it usually notified me of mail before my Google desktop gadget had a chance. I don't have Groupwise notifications switched on as they come in the form of an irritating pop-up window that hogs the focus and distracts you, so it was good to have an unobtrusive notification for the works email.

Once it had the details of the LDAP server, it was able to access my works address book more reliably and stably than the Groupwise address book. The only downside to addressing was that it didn't do this automatically through the fields where addresses are input. But that's a minor irritation as all addresses here have the same format.

So mail-wise it's a winner. Simple interface, nice notifications. Good.

Calendars... 2-way access to my Google calendar. Excellent. No-way access to my Groupwise calendar. Not a shock. Groupwise is pretty bloody insular about everything. Read-only access to the works iCal calendar. This is probably down to how I've got the calendar set up (as an iCal feed from a Drupal website) but it's perfect for making sure everyone has access to the events. Groupwise 7 can't do this without taking the calendar feed, saving it as a file and then opening that file from within Groupwise. This is a feature due to be introduced in Groupwise 8 (which won't talk to our PostOffice yet). Turning emails into appointments was good and the email part of the program made a good stab at picking up on meetings mentioned in emails and suggesting you turned them into appointments. Very slick. Groupwise can do this but it's not as slick.

Calendar-wise, then, it's better than Groupwise in some ways. It won't work in our set-up as we all need to be on the same calendar system otherwise things like the busy search don't work.

Blogging. I was hoping to be able to blog from within Spicebird but that feature doesn't work yet. I suspect there's a way to convert Deepest Sender (the Firefox LiveJournal extension I'm writing this from) to work within Spicebird. That's the beauty of working off a common code base. And working with Open Source Software! I couldn't imagine being able to blog from within Groupwise.

All told then, I'd definitely go back to Spicebird. I'll be watching for future releases and trying each of them as they hit the mirrors. It's one of those pieces of software that's almost there. Kinda like Windows, really. Linux is already there.

Goodbye to England.

From The Queen's Royal Lancers Website:

Goodbye to my England, So long my old friend

Your days are numbered, being brought to an end

To be Scottish, Irish or Welsh that's fine

But don't say you're English, that's way out of line.

The French and the Germans may call themselves such

So may Norwegians, the Swedes and the Dutch

You can say you are Russian or maybe a Dane

But don't say you're English ever again.

At Broadcasting House the word is taboo

In Brussels it's scrapped, in Parliament too

Even schools are affected, staff do as they're told

They must not teach children about England of old.

Writers like Shakespeare, Milton and Shaw

The pupils don't learn about them anymore

How about Agincourt, Hastings , Arnhem or Mons?

When England lost hosts of her very brave sons.

We are not Europeans, how can we be?

Europe is miles away over the sea

We're the English from England, let's all be proud

Stand up and be counted - Shout it out loud!

Let's tell our Government and Brussels too

We're proud of our heritage and the Red, White and Blue

Fly the flag of Saint George or the Union Jack

Let the world know - WE WANT OUR ENGLAND BACK !!!!

One month with... Spicebird

I admit it. I'm a sucker for new toys. That's why I use Linux - always new stuff coming out, new ways to do old things. And this month's new toy is Spicebird (www.spicebird.com). It's a combined mail reader, news reader, calendar app, task list, etc. etc. etc. And I'm going to spend the next month using it for all of those purposes.

Installation (to windows, unfortunately) went through easily. A couple of minutes after downloading, it was reading my Gmail for me and hooked in to my Google Calendar. So far so good. Next step, the works email account...

Ah, the miracle of IMAP. Seconds and I'm in. Have to modify the account settings to use the works relay for sending mail out, not Gmail, but that's a simple change in the account settings. Nice. However, sending emails from this account is proving tricky - smtp timeouts. So something's not happy... One to work on later. Let's get some other stuff up and running. This blog account, for instance.

Done, once I'd worked out what the correct url for the RSS feed from a livejournal account is (http://www.livejournal.com/users/[username]/data/rss if you're interested). So now I can read what I've written here in Deepest Sender from my Spicebird... Hmm. Doesn't seem quite so useful but hey, it's just a test.

So anyway. This is the test for 2009. One month with... a given piece of software. Spicebird for now, eyeOS in February... Watch this space.