elliot's blog

Christian Web Hosting - eh?

Now I've seen everything: Webs4Christ provides web hosting specifically for Christian sites. They offer "Fast, Reliable Christian Web Hosting and Affordable Christian Website Design" with more features and better reliability than "secular web hosting". To quote from their site:

To us this means that Christian web hosting providers MUST take a personal interest in their clients and provide a level of customer service that we would be proud to offer up to God Himself.

Presumably customers are also protected from downtime by the mighty right hand of God.

Lenya CMS

I looked at Lenya (Java content management system) a few weeks ago. While I was impressed (I've always been a fan of Cocoon, on which Lenya is based), I didn't think I could recommend it as an out-of-the-box CMS. But they've recently made a new maintenance release, and now might be the time to revisit it. As it's an Apache project, it will definitely be worth watching long term.

The mighty XAMPP

I came across XAMPP a few weeks ago, through Slashdot probably. At the time I was doing LAMP development using Fedora. My Fedora setup involved installing the latest and greatest MySQL (Fedora 2 shipped with MySQL 3.23, but I wanted version 4). Of course, this didn't work with the PHP shipped in Fedora 2, so I rebuilt PHP from a source RPM, blah blah blah. This really got on my nerves.

What I really wanted was a simple, packaged development environment with all the latest and greatest versions of Apache, MySQL, and PHP, but without having to build from source. XAMPP is exactly that. It comes as a single tarball which you unpack into /opt as root (I should also mention there are version for Windows, Solaris and Mac OS X as well). There's also a script that starts, stops and reloads everything. Once you run the script, you have a full AMP environment up and running. All the configuration files, database files, binaries, libraries, example scripts are in one directory. Everything is turned on by default, so it's not a production environment out of the box; but it is fantastic for development work.

Another bonus: I am due to give a LAMP training course with Jono next week, and have been working on demo code and databases. Jono started work on his parts of the course this week. I was able to tar my XAMPP installation and send it to him; he just unpacked it onto his machine to get a full duplicate development area, complete with all of the databases and PHP files I had created. The next step would be to put whole "sites" into Subversion, then write some scripts to synch them with a XAMPP installation when we run future training courses :)

One other thing that's invaluable for the training course: the script supplied lets you switch between PHP4 and PHP5 like this:

/opt/lampp/lampp php5

and back again. This means you can test applications in both versions of PHP painlessly. Useful to demonstrate the differences in how classes are implemented in the two versions.

First steps

Madeleine (my daughter, 15 months old) has just started walking today! She's been threatening to do it for a while, and took a few steps at the weekend. But today she went for it, and was tottering around, laughing with joy and falling into my lap and Nicola's. It's incredible how she's gone from 3 steps two days ago to 15 or so today, though she has been walking around the furniture for a few months now.

MySQL Cluster

MySQL have updated their MySQL Cluster documentation. This was much needed, as it did my head in when I tried to understand it a couple of weeks ago. It now includes a proper how-to as well.

Being open source

Did my talk on "Being Open Source" at Open Advantage yesterday. A small crowd, maybe partly put off by the weather, but still worthwhile. Feedback was good.

One of the central points I was trying to get across was my own fear when thinking about getting involved in open source projects. Mostly, I think my fear came from misunderstanding open source developers and what makes them tick. Also because I was coming at it from the wrong direction: I was trying to find a niche, some place where I could stake a claim, rather than just trying to solve problems which were important to me (scratching my own itches). Itches, not niches, are the important things. It was good to get feedback from the people there, who told me they shared my fear about getting involved. Hopefully my talk encouraged them to go ahead and participate.

The presentation should be available online soon under a Creative Commons license, along with another presentation on open source database servers I and some colleagues delivered last week.

Google Maps

Google Maps, if you haven't come across it, is absolutely incredible. Only works for the US at the moment, though.

Fortunately for me, I am going to San Francisco for the Open Source Business Conference 2005 in April. So I've been busy finding out about hotels near the venue, what's in the area, and so on. Google Maps is phenomenally useful for this.

When I first started using it, I thought "where are all the buttons?" and "how do I do anything with it?". But all the functionality is in the map itself, and it reacts like a desktop application: you can double click to centre the map on a location, drag it around with the mouse, etc., all stuff it never even occurred to me to use with a web application (I am old skool, after all: my first browser was Lynx). Then you can drill-down into a section of the map, and search for hotels, restaurants, cinemas and so on in the local vicinity; their locations then pop up as flags on the map you can click on. (Looks like lots of Italian places near where I'm staying :) Extraordinary.

If you're interested in the so-called Ajax technology this is based on, one of the best articles is at http://jgwebber.blogspot.com/2005/02/mapping-google.html. (Unfortunately, Ajax is also the name of a household cleaner, which takes the edge off the excitement for me.)

Everything is miscellaneous

Listened to a very interesting talk by Dave Weinberger this morning, which he presented at the Library of Congress. The basic theme was around how knowledge has shifted from "objective" authoritative sources (e.g. printed encyclopedias) to a plurality of subjective sources (he gives the example of buying electrical goods, where these days people commonly rely on the web for personal opinions, rather than the manufacturers' sites). Apart from anything else, he does a good job of potting the history of Western epistemology.

One of the central points (and the reason for the title of this entry) is that traditional models of knowledge are based around trees: this is an inflexible and imperfect model, as lots of things don't fit into a single node of a tree and end up being treated as "miscellaneous". Electronic media are more fluid and can be reorganised on the fly more easily (unlike books on shelves, for instance). We don't need one classification system, like Dewey Decimal; we need many, and the potential to add more as they are needed. It is impossible to guess the uses to which data will be put in the future.

Very thought provoking, and made me think that maybe we're seeing the Death of the Author playing out in politics, the media and advertising, as well as literature.

UML sequence diagrams tool

I found SEQUENCE a while ago, and it's very useful and straightforward if you want to draw UML sequence diagrams. It took me a fair while to find it today, so I thought if I blogged it, I hopefully wouldn't lose it again. It's written in Java, and you can get it from itymbi ...: SEQUENCE Archives.

Beige Records

Last night, through Resonance FM, I stumbled across the fascinating Beige Records record label. They have a range of MP3s available for download to give you a taster. Their focus is on experimental electronica, and I was particularly taken by the work of The 8-Bit Construction Set. To quote from the website:

The 8-Bit Construction Set record is also the first ever use of the vinyl recording medium for software distribution - the inside tracks are audio data which can be dubbed to cassette tape and booted in your respective atari or commodore 8-bit computers (guinness world record for first-ever vinyl-to-software programming is currently pending). and, as if you still had doubts about these artists' chops, you should know that this record was entirely programmed in 6502 assembly language. beat that.

You've just got to love it, haven't you? There are a couple of their tracks available for download, which sound like insane computer game music.

Later: posted this story to Slashdot, where it appeared a few hours later.

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