Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dev Days London

Dev Days London was on today at Kensington town hall (a short walk from my house).

I thought I'd give a quick rundown of what I saw and thought of the event:

First up was Joel Spolsky, cofounder of www.stackoverflow.com which I must admit I had never heard of before (does that mean it is not very Java centric or just has bad SEO?). Apparently they are now more popular than expert sex change though that site has been useless for years so that is no surprise. Joel talked about how people and users wanted to create 'simple' software but how you needed to add lots of features to make money. Not sure I got the point of his presentation actually...

Next up was Michael Sparks from BBC research giving an impressive demo of a spellchecker in python. Really showed the power of using a scripting language with good support for data structure (especially string) manipulation, though the presentation wasn't the most exciting.

After a short break Joel was back (with a change in schedule) to plug the new version of Fogbugz, his company's (Fogcreek) issue tracker. I had heard of FogBugz but never seen it in action being a longtime Atlassian (Jira) fanboy. It looked quite good but a lot of Joel's presentation seemed to rely on external plugins rather than core functionality. He also showed off Kiln, a new plugin from Fogcreek that gives repository integration (using a hosted Mercurial instance) including source code view, and code review. This looked to be better integrated than Jira/Crucible/Fisheye though it only supports the hosted Hg repo. There are free licenses for startups and individuals (this may be just for Fogbugz...) but no mention of opensource.
Jason has clarified in the comments that there are free licenses available for Kiln as well so long as your team is only one or two people.

Reto Meier, Google's Euro Android evangelist followed Joel with a rather boring presentation of android development. The best bit was the instant availability of new apps once you upload them to the market place (unlike the Apple app store).

Remy Sharp gave a rather excellent intro/overview to jQuery with a very professional presentation and compelling reasons for using jQuery as your default javascript framework. He also demonstrated writing a jQuery plugin during the talk and gave a lot of insight into the thinking behind the way jQuery works (which was very enlightening). He also showed off his website for live colllaborative js debugging, Jsbin.

During lunch I got a chance to talk to Benjamin Pollack from the Fogbugz Kiln team who is a Mercurial contributor. I have been trying to work out why/if distributed version control makes sense in an enterprise environment for a while now and so it was great to chat to Ben. He explained that the feature of most benefit to the enterprise is Mercurial's great support for merging branches back to the main source repo (local copies of the repos can act very much like branches in svn). This is something that has been problematic in svn so anything that helps this (and can encourage the use of branches/multiple repos) sounds great. I am still concerned by the idea of having a lot of code on a developers local machine (in case of hardware failure/illness) and there is still the problem of doing continuous integration against a non-trunk code branch but better merges would definitely be welcome.

Pekka Kosonen from Nokia seemed to be out to convince everyone NOT to use Qt to develop their mobile apps. Incomplete libraries, lack of good mobile services APIs and the fact that you have to be a company in order to put apps on the store (wtf?) were enough to make Android look interesting again.

Until Phil Nash showed how to create an iPhone app complete with cool image transition in a dozen lines of code and 20 minutes. I really must try some iPhone dev. Phil's explanation of Objective-C was great too. It really does seem less scary now.

Jeff Atwood, stackoverflow cofounder, talked about why he was passionate about software and the importance for developers to be able to communicate ideas using non technical language. (I wonder if that is why I am writing this...)

Jon Skeet from Google gave a great talk titled 'Humanity: Epic Fail' showing how humans, with their different languages, units, expectations and above all timezones are conspiring to make it very difficult to develop software that 'just works'. He showed that it is important to really understand the problem that you are working on and not to expect that things will always/ever? follow the happy path. Oh, and he had a sock puppet - Tony the (one trick) Pony.

Paul Biggar a PhD candidate from Dublin gave a remarkably engaging presentation about compilers and interpreters and why current interpreted languages can never be as fast as compiled ones.

Christian Heilmann from Yahoo talked about Yui, which browsers to support, and why developers should try and use exisitng, tested plugins rather than try and reinvent the wheel. He also gave a great demo of YQL where he used Greasemonkey and the Yahoo Term Extraction API to automatically populate the tags field in fogbugz stackoverflow (like the tags field in flickr or delicious when you add something). Very cool. Thanks to Dominic Rodger who points out that it was in fact stackoverflow not fogbugz.

So overall it was an odd mix of presentations. It would be very unlikely if they were all relevant to your everyday jobs, unless you are writing an android, compiler optimiser with rich web interface. The quality of the talks (and demos) varied immensely but there were some that were very interesting especially the iPhone, Yui and jQuery ones.

The presenters seemed to be plagued with audio problems and the screen was very blurry making it difficult to read (especially bad when the conference has a big emphasis on code). FOWA attendees will be pleased to know that the wifi was fine though (not that my iPhone could last the whole day of course). Lowlights were the food vouchers which were valid for awful coffee (after a half hour lineup) and food that ran out. Seriously, if you are going to give people vouchers for food at the venue, at least make sure the venue can support the number of attendees.

The lack of an organised meetup afterwards seemed strange. I guess pubs are difficult to come by in London. And Joel mispronouncing Qt (it's cute btw). I guess he fell asleep during that presentation too. Oh, and no Java! (unless you count Android).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Top 20(ish) Albums

Inspired by Paul and Paul's recent posts I now have my own top 20 list. Of course I had to annotate it though. Remember these are album's not bands or songs but the best 20(ish) albums (in my humble opinion).

In no particular order..

2 Many DJs: As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2
The ultimate mix album. Featuring 45 artists. Who would have thought that you could mix Destiny's Child and Dolly Parton so well.
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
Bloc Party's debut. Some say it feels too earnest, like the band is trying to hard but I think it came as a beath of fresh air.
Chemical Brothers: Surrender
Doesn't hit like the big beats of Dig Your Own Hole but a more cohesive fully formed album.
Dandy Warhols: Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
Courtney Taylor-Taylor's slacker rock/pop masterpiece. Every track glides along in it's own time but still manges to keep up the tempo.
Decemberists: Picaresque
Lyrically one of the most amazing albums I've ever heard. Repeated listens keep revealing more and more depth. And nothing beats The Mariner's Revenge song.
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
The sound of a new band confident herralding their own arrival onto a crowded new millenium music scene..
Hybrid: Wide Angle
Fusing breaks, airy vocals and symphonic orchestration hybrid redefined what could be done with electronic music, even if you couldn't dance to it.
Knife: Silent Shout
Dark, dark noise pop from illusive Swedish siblings. Don't play it too late.
Massive Attack: Mezzanine
If the knife is dark then as one reviewer said Mezzanine absorbs light. Has an album ever opened with a stronger than Angel, Risingson, Teardrop and Inertia Creeps?
Pearl Jam: VS
Yes, it all started with Ten, Nervermind and Core (remember STP?) but Vs was the sound of a band both angry and assured. With great tracks as contrasting as Elderly Woman behind the counter in a small town and Rearviewmirror Pearl Jam were not going to be some one hit wonder.
Pink Floyd: Dark Side Of the Moon
I don't think I can really add anything to this one that hasn't already been said. In many ways modern music begins here.
Proppellerhead: Deckanddrumsandrockandroll
The album that made me listen to electronica (as it was back then) and stop raising my nose at anything that wasn't alternarock.
REM: New Adventures in Hi-Fi
On Monster, REM proved they knew how to plug their effects pedals in but new Adventures solidifies the sound to create the best road album ever.
Radiohead: OK Computer
Just (from The Bends) may have been powerful and evocative but Exit Music just leaves it for dead. Combine that with having the guts to release a 6 and a half minute leading single and you have what has been called the album of the century.
Secret Machines: Now Here is Nowhere
Prog rock taken to it's ultimate conclusion.
Sigur Rós: Ágætis Byrjun
They're from Iceland??? They don't sing in English?? (Or even Icelandic half the time). They create the most amazingly beautiful, brutal, layered music ever heard? Sign me up.
Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The sprawling grandiose realisation of the genius of Billy Corgan. (all hail Billy) I once listened to nothing but this album for an entire week in high school.
Soundgarden: Superunknown
Soundgarden prove they are more than a speed punk band on this album which basically defines 'alternative' at a time when the genre needed a leader.
Tool: Lateralus
Just another metal band right? Wrong. Tool create dense, complicated, (even mathematical) sonic textures for Maynard Keenan's thoughts on psychology, modern consumerism, and spirituality.
U2: Achtung Baby
Noone has ever managed to reinvent their band's sound and maintain their audience the way U2 did with Achtung Baby.

Aussie Top 6

Love Outside Andromeda: Love Outside Andromeda
Debut album from female fronted Love Outside Andromeda combines the best bits of Magic Dirt (another aussie band) and PJ Harvey
Grinspoon: Guide To Better Living
Winners of a radio competition, now a national phenomenon, their debut still towers over everything else for it's energy and originality.
Rocket Science: Eternal Holiday
Drums? Check. Guitar? Check. Harpsichord? Check. Theremin? Check. Jimmy Hendrix back catalogue? Check. Ok we're good to go.
Powderfinger: Vulture Street
The biggest band in OZ keeps getting bigger with a rockin' back to basics set of tunes.
Nick Cave: Let Love In
The dark man of aussie rock deliver a knock out set of songs with his trademark dark overtones and the huge 'Red Right Hand'.
Machine Gun Fellatio: Bring it On
100 Fresh disciples, Motherfuck on a Motorcycle and Romance cemented this album's place in Australian music but it's the gentle beauty of Unsent Letter that raises it above the rest.

Live Album

Underworld: Everything, Everything
Live Electronica??? Does that really count? One listen to Everything, Everything is enough to dispel any doubts.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shanghai MagLev

On a recent trip to Shanghai I had the opportunity to ride the amazing MagLev train. Reaching speeds of over 430 km/h on its 8 minute, 30 km journey this was an amazing insight into what the future of travel could be.

This article really puts it into perspective with the possibility of a 1 hour transatlantic crossing using evacuated tunnels suspended below the ocean. The lack of air removes the last restriction on the maglev trains: air resistance. I can't wait!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not always...

You can't blend everything:
Link updated

Hilarious though!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Well, will it?

Will It blend? asks the questions that no-one else dares. What can you put in an industrial blender? Well, an iPod for one thing.

They have two types of videos, Don't Try This At Home and the less exciting Try This At Home. I'll let you figure out which category has the best videos.