MovableType changes are a good thing

May 25th, 2004 § Comments Off on MovableType changes are a good thing § permalink

I returned to the blogosphere just in time to witness the last throes of the controversy around MovableType’s licensing changes. At the time, I decided not to comment on the issue because I was sure SixApart would listen to the market and make some changes to their licensing agreement — as they did.

Although I use MovableType, I’m not bothered by the changes it’s going through. Since it was never open source, I never presumed it would remain free. Of course, I’m thankful for SixApart’s generosity in allowing me to use MovableType for so long. Although I’m not planning to upgrade to 3.0, they’re still generous enough to allow me to use 2.661 for as long as I need it. Every time I downloaded MovableType, I checked the “I accept this agreement”; SixApart honored its part, and I will honor mine.

That said, I think the licensing changes that SixApart is introducing are a good thing. While MovableType is a good product, it has stagnated in the past months. The last releases didn’t introduce new features nor addressed problems with the tool. Version 3.0 has just a few new features — not enough to prompt me to upgrade even to the free version, for which I qualify.

So the fact that people are unsatisfied with MovableType means more development will occur in the area of weblog tools. Because MovableType was free enough, to use Mark Pilgrim’s phrasing, there was little incentive to develop a competitor.

When MovableType started to languish, however, competitors appeared. WordPress, the strongest of those is a really good tool. It’s quite ahead of MovableType in many areas, and judging from the pace of development, it poses a real threat to SixApart. Interesting tools and services are starting to appear from the shadows, and I’m sure others will surface shortly.

Anything that shakes the market and forces people to see things in a different light is good for users. SixApart may have just provided developers with the motivation they needed to advance the market again. And that’s good for SixApart, too. A strong market means they will have to work more to keep up with market demands, which in turn will benefit their users, which in turn… You get the idea.

In short, I liked SixApart move. And I will like it even more if the market answers properly.

Book series

May 24th, 2004 § 12 comments § permalink

Regular visitors probably know I’m an avid reader. I read everything and anything I can get my hands on. I never can have enough of books. If you are thinking of sending me a gift, please send me a book.

When I was younger, I used to read two books each day. The librarians at the school’s library didn’t believe I could read so fast — even if the books were not that big — and sometimes wouldn’t let me borrow more books after I had returned the ones I was reading at the time. My love for books is one of the few constant things in my live. I have to avoid going into bookstores lest I spend excessively in books.

Of course, I have my favorite genres — namely, science fiction and fantasy. I grew up dreaming of becoming a scientist, and daydreaming about faraway places in distant pasts, remote futures, and imaginary worlds. Life eventually decreed I would follow a different path, which I’m still trying to see clearly.

Anyway, this is a rant from a book lover. Few free to ignore it. I had been intending to write it for a long time, and now I’m glad it’s off my chest.

I’m going to talk about book series. » Read the rest of this entry «

Are code snippets evil?

May 24th, 2004 § Comments Off on Are code snippets evil? § permalink

Scoble echoes Tim Anderson’s question: “Are code snippets evil?”

The next version of Visual Studio will feature a tool that will let developers drag code snippets from an IDE pane directly into their code. This feature has been present in many development environments — especially those relating to content, like HTML editors — for a long time already. And even when their development environments don’t support such a thing, people have been using snippets libraries stored in their own files for years. Just because Visual Studio is adding it, people start talking about it.

Although it’s certain such a feature can be abused, I don’t see it as inherently bad. Rather, as Scoble points out, it’s just more geared to beginning users. If supposedly advanced users are relying on it to create large portions of their code, I would doubt they are really advanced developers. And even advanced users can benefit from code snippets — as an extended kind of code completion, for example.

Anyway, code snippets in the IDE will hardly make a difference in coding practices. After all, finding sample code for a given task is just a matter of googling it. Google is the mother of all code snippets. You can find anything there, in any language you care about. And it’s not like Visual Studio will come with every possible code snippet in the world. 😛

People will always have to research solutions, and they will grow with it. Having handly examples available will probably help them since they will have to customize the snippets to fit their needs. Call me a cynic, but people who just want to drag code around and have it automatically work for them will never be good developers. So, why bother?

Keeping up with RSS feeds

May 22nd, 2004 § 4 comments § permalink

Currently, I’m subscribed to 92 RSS feeds. When I started reading sites via RSS, over two years ago, my list of subscriptions jumped from ten sites to dozens in a couple months. Reading the content in an aggregator saved me so much time that I just kept adding the interesting blogs I found without worrying about how many posts they would introduce in my reading list every day. I was so enthusiastic about the technology, and found so many interesting things that I just wanted more.

A few months laters, I was trying to keep up with over 200 subscriptions. It was so much content that downloading the new posts made in the previous day took about five minutes in the broadband connection I used. I soon found out that I was not able to keep up with so much information. I spent a lot of time just scanning the posts to decide what I would read and what I wouldn’t, but even so the list of unread posts grew every day. Every week or so, I would just clear the list and start it again, ignoring all unread posts from the previous week.

I soon had to start to delete some subscriptions — not because their content was not good, but because I was not able to keep with them. I finally reduced the list to less than 50 feeds. I was able again to give my daily intake of information the attention it deserved. The fact is that I don’t like to skim posts. Unless I find out soon that I don’t need to read a post in its entirety to understand what it wants to convey, or if it’s simple a post talking about cats, small incidents, and things like that, I prefer to read every word on it. So 50 feeds was content enough for the time I devote daily to read.

Over the following year, however, my list started to slowly grow again. Every now and them I found somebody whose writings were consistently interesting and meaningful. I reasoned that I would be able to keep with those feeds with just a few minutes more every day. That was 40 new feeds ago.

Today, with 92 subscriptions, I’m falling behind again. Of course, it’s not that I’m obliged to read those feeds. It’s just that I’d like to read them but I don’t have the time.

A couple months ago, Scoble said he follows 1400+ feeds. I wonder if he ever sleeps. A mere 10 seconds spent in each feed already amounts to almost four hours after so many subscriptions. Jonas Galvez, a friend of mine and fellow blogger, wrote recently that he follows 400 different feeds. I know he doesn’t sleeps, but even so it’s just so much content that I doubt I would even be able to filter it in the time I have to read every day.

So, how do you guys keep up with so many feeds? What techniques do you use to avoid a deluge of information?

RSS is a great technology, and it has done wonders for my career since I’m able to stay informed about what’s happening in the market in near real-time, but it can easily get out of control. It would be interesting to learn how people cope with the flood of content that RSS can generate. I look forward to hearing opinions about the topic.

Layout

May 19th, 2004 § 2 comments § permalink

For some strange reason I don’t understand, the layout of this blog is not working properly under IE. A horizontal scrollbar has appeared out of thin air, and the links in the menu move when the mouse hovers over them. As the layout has not changes and didnt’t behave like that before, I’m at loss about what may be causing it. Please accept my apologies while I work to fix the issues.

Update: I changed the blog’s main stylesheet as a reader suggested and that did the trick. Thanks, Phu Ly.

A Debian install: it rocks, but…

May 18th, 2004 § 3 comments § permalink

I have been using Debian in this server for a few weeks, and it really rocks. I have used Linux for a few years already, both as a server and as a desktop system in various settings, but I was always reluctant to install Debian in any of them. Debian’s reputation for reliability was equaled by its fame as a hard-to-install Linux distribution. After using Mandrake Linux for over ten months as my primary desktop, I was loath to install a system where I would have to forget the handy configuration tools and edit countless text files instead.

Anyway, a few weeks before I started configuring the server, a co-worker installed a Debian server at work. Curious to check whether Debian’s reputation was true or not, I decide to help him — or rather, to see how he would do it. After following the install procedure, I’m convinced that installing Debian is a bare machine is not a task for the faint of heart. Despite Debian’s installer, if anything goes wrong an intimate knowledge of Linux is required to handle the problems that may arise from the install process. After using the installer that comes with Mandrake Linux a couple times in the past years, I was hardly impressed.

Things changed when I saw apt-get in action. As I said in a previous entry, apt-get was so useful that I was instantly hooked. Also, after using the server for a couple weeks, I noticed that the packages provided with Debian went far ahead the packages provided in other distributions in terms of easy of configuration. Dependencies and conflicts were smoothly solved, and everything worked just fine. » Read the rest of this entry «

Applications and settings

May 17th, 2004 § Comments Off on Applications and settings § permalink

One of the things that always bothers me in applications — both in those that I use and in those that I develop — is where their settings are stored. If done improperly, this can become a problem for users and developers. For users, because its becomes harder to backup those configurations, since they will need to account for more paths when creating copies of the information they need secured. For developers, because it can create development issues. » Read the rest of this entry «

Have you mooed today?

May 15th, 2004 § Comments Off on Have you mooed today? § permalink

I have. No, it’s not what you’re thinking about: I have not gone insane while I was away from the blogosphere. But if you think I’m crazy because I mooed, you’re probably think I’m beyond all help when I tell you that I’m using a tool that has super cow powers.

It’s really true. For the past fews weeks I’ve been using Debian’s apt-get package tool, and it really rocks. Apt-get is powered by a super cow and it’s the answer to all of your Debian problems. If you don’t believe me, run apt-get moo in a Debian box you have access to. I’m not mad.

Anyway, I’m been using Debian in this server and I’m loving it, thanks in part to apt-get. When I was kicked out of my former hosting provider, I decided I would get a server with root access. I was planning to get a dedicated server with some friends, but that didn’t work and I had to find something else. Then I found about Bytemark, which provides user-mode Linux hosting, and I quickly signed up with them. I now have access to a full Linux installation with root privileges to run as I see fit.

Bytemark provides four flavors of Linux, two of which I had previous experience with. I’ve used Red Hat for a time in my home machine, and I run Gentoo in a machine at work for some time as well. I could have used them, but I decided to go with Debian instead. Debian has a reputation for stability and reliability. As I never had administered a Linux box all by myself — and never had touched a Debian box — I was quite anxious about the whole thing.

To make the story short, Debian proved to be a extremely easy distro to manage — thanks to its package system, of which apt-get is the gatekeeper. Apt-get is quite an incredible piece of work. After two years using RPMs to upgrade my Linux distro (Mandrake), apt-get is a breath of fresh air. I’m truly impressed with the way it handles conflicts and dependencies — and all automatically. Updating the whole system is just a matter of typing a single command at the root prompt.

A example of how apt-get makes an administrator’s life easy can be seen in my decision to use a mail server different from the one provided in the default Bytemark Debian installation. Bytemark prepackages Debian with exim, but I wanted to use postfix instead. Exim is tied to apache and other packages that I didn’t want to remove. I was wondering what to do when I decided to simply ask apt-get to install postfix. To my surprise, it correctly identified that exim should be removed and proceeded to delete it from the system, cleaning all related files in the process. I don’t think package installation can’t get more easy than that.

I switched to Linux as a primary desktop about ten months ago. When I moved away from Windows, I never locked back. I still use it for a couple applications and games, but its usage represents less than one percent of the time I spend in front of a computer. Debian’s apt-get is one of the things that proved the move was worth taking. There are some things in Linux for which there nothing comparable in Windows land. Of course, open source has its problems. But it’s able to produce some things that not even a multi-billion cash reserve can. That’s more than worth the occasional trouble I run into.

Backups

May 14th, 2004 § Comments Off on Backups § permalink

Regular readers of this blog know that I had no recent backups of the sites I hosted when they went offline. I know, I’m an idiot. The fact is that I managed to recover some backups after a while because a secondary server in my former hosting provider had a copy of my files at the time. They lacked the last two weeks of the content, but were far better than the ones I had at home. I also managed to find copies of the MovableType databases used in the sites, containing pretty much the same information but in a much more useful format. As soon as a new hosting provider was found it would be just a matter of upload the database, wouldn’t it? Wrong. As I found yesterday, Murphy decided to intervene in the affairs: the backup containing my two blogs are corrupted. I don’t know how I didn’t discover before. You are allowed to call me an idiot again. Ironically, all others backups are perfect.

The database backup is almost completely garbled. I recovered the category and comments data but pretty much everything else is useless. Luckly, the site backup was not as corrupted, and, as far as I know, has all the files generated by MovableType from the corresponding database. Some files are corrupted, but not in the weblog directories.

Now I will need to create a program to read those files, extract the information in them, correlate it, and rebuild the database. It’s not a complicate thing to do, but it’s boring and tiresome. Also, some information will be lost as not all that was in the database is in the files — like the exact date a entry was posted, for example. Anyway, until I write that program, the previous entries in this blog won’t be available. I apologize for the incovenience. To those who request things I wrote, I will e-mail them directly to you.

Moral of the story: don’t trust backups, especially those generated by automated tools. Never forget to test and replicated them in multiple locations. Some bytes go missing or get garbled in a zipped file and you’re toast. That’s one more lesson learned. I think.

I’m baaaaaaack!

May 12th, 2004 § 6 comments § permalink

Three months, two servers, a lot of sleepless nights figuring out configuration problems, and some lost backups later, I’m finally back to the blogosphere. It’s nice to be back. I’m still struggling with some configuration and DNS issues, but things are becoming better by the minute.

Where am I?

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