The Gnome

Posted on 25th July 2007

Last week I attended GUADEC. This year it was hosted in Birmingham, so it made it rather easy for me to get to. There was a lot of good talks, and it was nice to be able to put names to faces that I've heard mentioned for so long. I'm not a Gnome Developer, so this was definitely very much a user experience, but having said that, there were several applications that looked interesting enough to make me wonder about seeing whether I could add Perl bindings. I plan to get a full write-up soon, but first off here are all the photos:

File Under: conference / guadec / opensource / photography

Hold Back The Rain

Posted on 24th July 2007

I thought the rain in May was bad, but it seems the rain in July has been even worse. I'm working from home at the moment is most of the staff based around Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham. Several friends are without power and fresh drinking water and looking at the helicopter aerial view on the news the other night the flood waters have taken out most of the Gloucestershire area.

Thankfully workers managed to save a local substation and the weather has changed, so hopefully once the waters have started to subside the power problems will be restored quickly. However, that isn't likely to be until the end of the week. The water problems might take several weeks, as treatment centres have been affected and the amount of flood water has been extremely high in places (yes that's the goals at a local football pitch). You can see 5 galleries of pictures on the BBC Gloucestershire site.

I'm not sure what kind of devastation has hit Gloucester Business Park, but MessageLabs have asked none essential staff to work from home. This has mostly only affected the development and administration staff, as with our business being a global operation, our data centres are distributed all around the world. I'm lucky as we live on part of the incline from the Lickey Hills, and Birmingham hasn't been hit anywhere near as bad, but I know of at least one person whose home is out of action. I just hope everyone else is okay.

File Under: floods / gloucester / rain / weather

Who Are You

Posted on 20th July 2007

So I've been banned from Facebook.

They claim I can't use a fake name, but have failed to appreciate that they are a social networking site. In addition what is a "fake name". Barbie is my pseudonym, I've used it for over 20 years in both my careers in the music industry and the IT industry. Using a combination of 'perl', 'barbie' or 'birmingham' will bring up pages of me on Google. Most people in the companies I've worked for in the last 15 years have all referenced me as Barbie, including most CEOs, Managing Directors and board directors. Some have never been introduce to me with my birth name.

I find it a bit odd that a social site would try and impose their way of thinking onto anyone who doesn't fit their idea of who everyone should represent themselves online. I do understand that they might want to retain my birth name should they need to take any legal action for something I may write on their site, but I do not want my birth name to appear publically, just because they feel that everybody who uses their site must give up areas of their privacy.

I've emailed them to explain that Barbie is a true identity, and legally I am entitled to sign cheques and the like as Barbie. It is my professional pseudonym and for my last 3 jobs it has been stated from the outset that I am Barbie in the interview.

However, Mark has highlighted another issue with their system, that affects those that have names made up because either us westerners can't pronounce their true names or their language characters are not something westerners know how to pronounce. Are they going to be banned too?

The email I received stated that I have to provide a full first name (no initial) and a full last name. I can have a nickname providing it is derived from those one or both of those two fields. Why? I honestly fail to understand the logic of that. Many people I know have nicknames that are completely unrelated to their birth name and I find it difficult to understand why a social website wants to insist on what I call myself.

Are they a secret government site with covert reasons for knowing everybody's birth names? Somehow I don't think so. Do they have ideas far beyond what the rest of the world expects of them, quite probably. Will they reinstate me, probably not.

I hope they learn to understand their audience and not impose such silly restrictions on something that is essentially about connecting with friends and colleagues. They all know who I am, and I'm pretty sure every single one would vouch for me. Pity then that the people at Facebook have some draconian rule that they feel they need to enforce on those of us who don't fit their profile.

File Under: facebook / rant / web / website

No More Heroes

Posted on 17th July 2007

I've been waiting to use this title just for this moment. Last night was the season finale of Heroes. Probably the best TV drama that's come out of the US ever. All the ones that reached the UK in recent years have left me cold, but Heroes has entertained and enthralled me for the past 24 weeks.

The character build up and story lines have been fantastic and the comic book style appealled to the inner teenager in me. The subtle humour was just right and never over stepped the mark and the surprises of who was playing Hiro's dad, Claude and Mr Lindermann were done just right.

One thing I've been really impressed with is the extra online content that NBC have provided. I didn't know about it to begin with, but a few weeks ago a friend pointed me at the extras that on the face it are online comics (sorry graphic novels) that fill in a lot more character background, but in addition there are several easter eggs that include several behind the scene photos.

I would say the DVD release would keep me busy, but it looks like it won't be released in the UK until after Christmas. It has a ton of extras too.

I'm glad there are plans to do a second Season, and I loved the beginning that was shown at the end of Season One. There were certainly some interesting hooks between the two seasons, even withonly a short clip. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but if the story lines, acting and special effects match Season One then, Season Two will be equally unmissable.

The only downside is now I have to wait for the next season to be broadcast.

File Under: heroes / tv


Posted on 15th July 2007

I bought the Mail on Sunday today, in order to get the latest Prince album, Planet Earth.

Reading the article in the paper, Kim Bayley, director general of Entertainment Retailers Association, is quoted as saying...

'It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists who are trying to come through . . . Consumers only have so much listening time in the week and if they receive the new album from Prince then they don't need to buy new music and will spend their money on something else.'

Is it just me, or can anyone else spot the absurdity and contradiction of that statement? So if Prince gives away an album, then the fans are getting an album they would have bought at full price for just £1.40 (the price of the newspaper), thus they have all the money left over to buy another album, perhaps by a new artist. It's also possible that some, perhaps those who buy the newspaper regularly, will listen to the album and become Prince fans, thus going out and buying more music. The only real losers are the music moguls who have suddenly lost out on significant profits from the sales of this one album.

Prince doesn't need to worry about the loss of royalities as he still makes plenty from his other albums, and he still gets the royalities when the songs are played on TV or radio anyway. Prince is in a priviledged position as he has amassed his wealth and invested it wisely. His investment in other artists, such as Wendy & Lisa, Vanity 6, Sheila E, The Times among others has helped new artists to carve their own careers. While some may not feel the investment worthwhile, it is still considerably more than any major record company has done in over 20 years.

In the last 20 years the music industry has turned into a industry run by accountants and money makers. The people who were once passionate about good music have been sidelined or pushed out. These days it's exceptionally hard for a new artist to actually make a name for themselves. Hence why many have resorted to selling or giving their music away on the internet. The live music scene for unsigned bands these days is a very pale comparision to the one that existed during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Once upon a time a new artist would be able to work the pubs and club making a name for themselves. A&R men would often scour the same venues looking for potential new talent. If they found someone they thought would be worth investing in, they would often get some time in a recording studio to make a demo, which usually would expand into their first album. Record companies would invest in 4 or 5 album deals with the expectation that the promotion of the artist would build with each album, until they "made it". It wasn't unusual for artists to make 3 or 4 albums before they became a financial success.

As an aside, it might not be so well know now, but Genesis only "made it" in the UK after their 4th album. The record company, Charisma, funded the tours and the records because they believed in the band. However, they were more popular in Italy than they were in the UK. It wasn't until Foxtrot (their 3rd for Chrisma) started to climb the album charts in the rest of Europe, that their popularity started to increase in the UK. They had been growing their fan base by constant touring and word of mouth created a buzz about the band. Chrisma's belief paid off, and the band went on to bigger and better things as did Peter Gabriel, who also stayed with Charisma. In fact technically both acts are still with the label as Virgin bought it ;) In this day and age I don't believe any one of the big four would ever make a similar kind of investment.

When I started as a roadie in the early 80s the only bands I worked with were unsigned. The chance to play pubs and clubs was fantastic and we played most of them. Personally I had a great time, but it was a hard slog as I would be away from home for weeks on end. Unfortunately the network of venues has diminished and the promotion of unsigned bands in the NME and Kerrang! is nothing like what it used to be. The rise in cover bands is heart renching. It seems the fact that people are more willing to listen to something they know, even if it's not done anywhere near as good as the originals, than to take a chance with a new artist. But that's another rant ;)

Getting back to the Prince issue, when record company executives start spouting "It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists", then you know that the truth is more likely to be that the winners are the new artists and the losers are the record company execs themselves. I don't pay alot for my CDs anymore, as there are various sources, including retailers, which enable me to pay less than £10 for a brand new CD. Occasionally I will pay a bit more for limited editions, but a tenner for a regular CD is a reasonable price. I always feel that the price should be affordable for teenagers to buy with their pocket money. It's what I did, and when my pocket money always ran out, I found part time work to help pay for more.

To give Prince his due, this release is a very credible piece of marketing. He's gained many more column inches from this move than he would have got from releasing the album through the usual channels. He also shaken up the dinosaurs, who to be honest need a bit of a reality check.

As for the album itself, personally I don't think Prince has ever done a bad album, although I wasn't particularly enthused about the Batman album, but it was still a great album. Planet Earth isn't as stunning as perhaps Gold or 1999, but it is still a good album. The interesting thing I get from the album is how different each track is from another. Each track is very definitely Prince, but they all hint at the several styles he's used on various albums over the last 15 years or so. My first thought was that this is an album release similar to The Vault, which was a collection of songs that never got on an album, but I think in this case the album is simply a collection of random ideas and experiments that he has been working on. I like the album, especially the "single" Guitar, but I would have to confess it wouldn't have been an album I would normally have rushed out to buy on the day of release, but would probably have shopped around for a few months down the line.

I don't expect other artists to ever follow suit, and if they did I wouldn't expect it to have the same impact. I've a great respect for Prince, particularly during the Symbol years. He stood up to the record companies because he believes that the artists should have control over their own music. At the time he was much derided, but those of us who have worked in the music industry can understand the frustration he felt. This instance is another example of Prince ensuring the record company understands he's calling the shots. It's a shame that other artists don't have that control, but at least when they get to be in a position like Prince, they know they can stand up for themselves.

I have always believed that the artists should have control over their output. Unfortunately record companies get involved and decide that they know better. Some artists however, know their audience far better than that or are willing to take risks. Prince is one such artist who does the latter and understands the former. If only there were more like him.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Prince's first album being released. Planet Earth is his 38th album of studio recordings. It kind of puts to shame some of those bands that take 5 years or more to put together sub-standard albums and endless repackaging of tour videos to take more and more money from their fans. And if a certain San Franciscan metal band with a Danish drummer comes to mind, then we're on the same wavelength. Judging from Prince's prolific output he should be releasing his 40th album in time for the 30th anniversary celebrations. I'm looking forward to it. I just wish I was able to go and see one of the dates on the Earth Tour. The ticket price of £31.21 is certainly value for money when you consider he gives away albums to everyone who attends the gig.

File Under: music / prince / rant / roadie

Both Ends Burning

Posted on 13th July 2007

During José's talk, 'The Acme Namespace - 20 minutes, 100 modules', at YAPC::NA in Houston, he mentioned one of the Acme modules that accesses the info for a Playboy Playmate, Acme::Playmate. After he mentioned it, Liz "zrusilla" Cortell noted that she used to work for Playboy and worked on the site that was screen scrapped by the Acme module, informing us that she wrote the backend in Perl too, "so you see it was Perl at both ends". At this point the room erupted, Liz got rather red and I'm sure wished the ground would swallow her up :)

Despite the rather salacious connotation that can be drawn from that remark, it was a phrase that struck me later as being rather more descriptive of the state of Perl. I started to think about the community, business and the way Perl is perceived. Drawing a line with the individual at one end, moving into community through small businesses and onto corporations at the far end, we can see Perl is not only used at both ends, but all the way through. But people still ask isn't Perl dead?

Perl hasn't died, in fact it's probably more vibrant now than it has been for several years. The difference now though is that it isn't flavour of the month. I did a Perl BOF at LUGRadio at the weekend, and it was a subject that got brought up there. Is Perl still be used? It would seem that Perl publicity to the outside world is extremely lacking, as several non-Perl people I've spoken to over the past few months have been surprised to learn that Perl is used pretty much in every major financial institution, in email filtering or network applications, for the Human Genome project (and bioinformatics in general) and pretty much every type of industry you can think of. It isn't dead, it just isn't sticking it's head above the parapet to say "I'm still here".

Last year at YAPC::Europe, Dave Cross talked about speaking in a vacuum. Inside the Perl community we all know that perl is great and gets the job done, but what about the people who are struggling with other languages, or project managers and technical architects who are looking at what skill set they should be using to write their new applications? What about big business that is continually confronted with the marketing of Java from Sun or .Net from Microsoft?

I see Python gaining momentum simply because several in the Linux and Open Source communities started using it to see how good it was, and now with Ubuntu using it pretty much exclusively, it has gained a large foothold with the wider developer community. Ruby has been seen as great for creating flashy websites, but beyond 37 signals, I've not heard of any big name sites that have been created with it. It gets featured at every Open Source conference and developers generally seem to think its really cool, but I'm still waiting to hear of any big take up outside of the cool, hip and trendy set. Maybe that's Perl's problem. It isn't cool, hip and trendy anymore, it's part of the establishment, part of the furniture. Does the job, does it well and without any fuss.

Perl has generated such a great community, that we seem to have forgotten that there are other communities out there, and they've partly forgotten us too. YAPCs are great conferences, but they grew out of the desire to have more affordable conferences for the developers, students and self-employed. Their success has been to the cost of Perl people wanting to go to other Open Source events such as OSCON, and keep Perl presence in the wider developer communities going. As a consequence Perl is almost seen as an add-on for legacy reasons to those conferences.

Looking back at that line I drew at the beginning, although I see Perl in our community, it doesn't feature very much in the wider communities, and as such small businesses don't notice it so much and look to other languages to develop their applications. The individual or hobbyist still uses it, and the corporations would struggle to remove it now, so to the outside world Perl is very much at both ends, but only at both ends. It's lost its focus in the middle ground.

At LUGRadio this year, I kind of felt rather relieved that people who came and spoke to me, knew me for being part of the Perl community. Most of these people are hardcore Linux, C or Python developers and although several know Perl, don't often use it. I've spent a lot of time speaking at Linux User Groups this year, and plan to speak at more later in the year. I've also been invited to speak to the PHP West Midlands User Group, invited to attend PyCon and will be attending GUADEC next week, but it's hard work to try and remind these other communities that Perl is still there. Although the personal touch certainly does help, I can't help but think there needs to be another way to promote Perl. This isn't about success stories (although they do help) or about talking at conferences and user groups (although they are just as important), but about reaching to the other communities and thus small businesses to remind them that Perl is still a viable choice, and that rather than competing for market share, the different languages can work together.

Having spoken to some developers of other languages, I'm amazed that the FUD of all Perl is unreadable, obfuscated and too hard for the beginner to learn properly is still being peddled. Challenging that mentality is a bit of a battle, but I've had to state on several occasions that you can write unreadable, obfuscate and unmaintainable code in any language, and in fact most of the respected Perl community and much of CPAN strives to write readable, clear and maintable code. It seems the Perl code from over 10 years ago and the dodgy scripts of certain archives are still poisoning the well.

Part of the problem (possibly fueled by the above FUD) that we have in the UK is overcoming the fact that several new Open Source initiatives don't even feature Perl when they talk about Open Source languages. If the networks that work between the communities and small business aren't promoting us, then it's going to be a tough slog. I've already written emails to the National Open Centre and tried to get OpenAdvantage to be more inclusive, but there are other similar initiatives, both here in Europe and in the US that need reminding too. Once they're helping to promote Perl, then it might just be something that Universities and Colleges include in the curriculums again. From there small businesses will be able to see that there is a pool of Perl developers they can employ and Perl again becomes a viable choice.

I firmly believe Perl 5 will still be around in 10 years time. Whether its running on Parrot, within Perl 6 or as it is now remains to be seen. I was asked to describe Perl 6 at the weekend and responded with a generalisation of "Perl 6 is to Perl 5 as C++ is to C". C++ took C into another realm, but C is still around. I just hope that the constant confusing information given out about Perl 6 to non-Perl people, isn't the reason why some think Perl 5 is all but dead.

The theme for the 2005 YAPC::Europe in Braga was "Perl Everywhere". I don't think that's true, but I wish it was :)

(this has been cross-posted from my use.perl journal)

File Under: education / opensource / perl / rant / technology

Shout It Out Loud

Posted on 11th July 2007

This post is mostly to trigger my shiny new Technorati Profile into recognising this "blog" as mine.

For some time now I've wonder about the use of the word 'blog'. I know it comes from weblog and is in reality an online journal or diary, but the word 'blog' doesn't conjure up anything like the kind of articles, news and thoughts I plan to post here. In fact I find it quite a dismissive word.

That's not to say the people who actually create these online diaries are not important, they are. For friends it's a way for me to see what they're up to, what's bothering them and the like, and likewise those who I know through social networks. They're also valuable to those of us who are looking for solutions to a particular problem, answers to questions or looking for thought provoking posts.

The medium itself is a valuable tool for allowing the average person to be heard in amongst the often inflated egos of some journalists I've met (particularly in the music industry ... but that's another story). I like the fact I can find bits of news and information from sources I would never otherwise knew existed.

What I don't like is the term 'blog'. Bit too late to try and change it now, and I doubt a lone voice would get much airplay, but it would have been much nicer to associate myself to a term that conveys the value of the online community of storytellers. For me, blog just doesn't cut it.

File Under: rant / usability / web

Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)

Posted on 9th July 2007

The Crew

The Crew

Four Large Gents

Four Large Gents

As if I haven't mentioned it enough, this weekend I went along to LUGRadio Live in Wolverhampton. It was a fantastic event, as always, and I had a great time meeting people, seeing some interesting talks and taking lots of photos. I was a little disappointed to hear Ade has decided to leave LUGRadio as a regular presenter, but I'm sure Chris Procter will do an admirable job in his place. To read my more technical writeup of the event see my use.perl journal. To see my photos, click the links below :)

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource / technology

Lucky Star

Posted on 9th July 2007

On the radio on Saturday morning, they made a point of play a recording of Big Ben at 07:07:07 AM, on 07/07/07. It was supposed to be the luckiest moment. I didn't feel especially lucky, but I did feel full of anticipation as it the was the beginning of LugRadio Live :)

File Under: dates

Video Killed The Radio Star

Posted on 7th July 2007

Today is the first day of LUGRadio Live. Well actually it could be considered the second day, as many of the attendees were assembled in Wolverhampton last night. I had to miss the festivities last night, so I'm hoping I can make up for it tonight :)

Several local user groups will be attending, so I'm hoping to see a lot of familiar faces. I'll be taking lots of photos, and this year I hope to have them online soon after the event, not nearly a year later!

File Under: conference / linux / lugradio / opensource

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