It’s been a hectic few months, mostly building Awasu-based systems for clients, but the next release of our favorite feed reader is here!
Continuing on from the first alpha release, there’s been a lot of optimization work done and Awasu really flies. And there’s more to come in the next alpha!
Other major changes include a replacement of the email engine, which works much better now (in particular, you can send emails through GMail, Hotmail and other third-party services) and a better crash handler that can automatically send crash reports.
Almost 8 years ago to the day, I wrote about watching Japan play Australia in a World Cup group match, where they held a one goal lead for most of the match, only to concede 3 goals in the last 8 minutes.
Yesterday, Japan played their first group match again the Ivory Coast and while I wasn’t able to watch the first half, I caught most of the second, and things seemed to be going well, with Japan having scored early in the game.
I was stuck at a bus station and was literally getting onto the bus when the Ivory Coast scored an equalizer. Nevertheless, I went to sleep on the bus assuring myself that it would end in a 1-1 draw, so I was somewhat miffed to find out this morning that we had, yet again, given away flurry of goals and thrown away the match
Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.
In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldn’t even take the call.
He then goes on to explain how he sent Bill an email:
[I] thanked him for all his great work and the influence he’d had on me. And never expected to get a reply.
And what do you know, he wrote back.
Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?
But he was. And he had a great sense of humor about the strip I had done, and was very funny, and oh yeah…
…He had a comic strip idea he wanted to run by me.
Turns out, the idea was to guest-draw a few panels in Pearls Before Swine, that ran earlier this month:
The comments people posted for each strip are kinda funny, now that we know what’s really going on And check out the full story on Stephan’s blog. Meeting your heroes can sometimes be a disappointing experience, but it sounds like this one definitely wasn’t.
I’ve written before about how much I like C&H (seriously, who doesn’t?), so the thought that Bill has surfaced and is wielding a pen again is pretty awesome news!
Set my hair on fire, I surely would! Not that there’s much left, I’d hardly miss it…
So, I’m finally back in the land of the connected and quite happy to be here. People will tell you that Cuba is amazing, enthralling, insanely frustrating, all at the same time, and they’d be absolutely right. It was an intriguing trip, and one well worth making, if you ever have the chance.
Harris Kupperman recently posted a bunch of articles about his recent trip there, and his experiences were pretty similar to mine.
Having lived in Miami for the past decade, I have met plenty of Cubans and heard the disheartening tales of Cuba and the Castro brothers. I expected to find the world’s largest tropical gulag. Instead, I found a cheerful country, full of warm friendly people, some of whom seem to genuinely admire the government—despite its arcane rules and habitual dysfunction.
I expected to find an island mired in misery with chronic scarcity of basic goods. Instead, I found a place that was remarkably devoid of extreme poverty—a true anomaly in Latin America. Given the inevitable failings of a purely socialist state, I expected much worse. If you remove the top few percent of wealthy Argentines, the average Cuban is roughly on par with the average Argentine in terms of standard of living and Cuba’s infrastructure is a good deal ahead of Argentina’s—something I certainly did not expect to find.
Having grown up in Australia, I didn’t know much about Cuba other than Fidel and Che, cigars and the music, so it was interesting to read his take on things – Americans seem to have a (ahem) interesting view on socialist countries, and Cuba in particular But like him, I saw hardly any poverty at all, and even then only in Havana, and while people didn’t have a whole lot of money, they seemed to be well-fed, healthy and generally happy.
Internet access is woeful, and the only place I can think of that could possibly be more locked down would be North Korea Virtually the only place you can get online is at an office of the national telecommunications company, and there would usually only be one in each town, which maybe offered internet access. Most of the time, you have to queue up to get in, maybe 15 or 20 minutes in the scorching heat, and once inside, you have to queue up again to buy an access card, which is logged against your passport. “Queue” is a general term here; there’s no numbering system, so people would be milling around all over the office and you have to figure out who’s last. Then, of course, you have to queue again for a terminal. Once online, it wasn’t too bad, but it was definitely a chore getting there.
So, apologies to all those people who were getting slow email replies from me during this time, but there was a reason for that. Sigh…
Anyway, enough moaning from me, on to the good stuff. The first alpha for 3.0.2 has been released and it’s a good one 3.0.2 will be a bugfix-and-enhancements release, but don’t let the relatively short change-list fool you, there’s been a huge amount of work done for this release.
Awasu has always been a bit slow opening channels, but I accepted it since it’s doing an enormous amount of work generating the HTML page, especially if there’s a lot of content. However, this release includes a bunch of optimizations for this process and opening channels is now, I believe the technical term is, stupid fast Awasu is now a whole lot more fun to use
Due to my recent circumstances, there has also been a pile of work done on the offline parts of Awasu :), including the search engine, which works much better now. And while only having access to really old archived content because you haven’t updated your channels for a month is not a particularly common use-case :roll:, it did turn up a few bugs, which have now been fixed.
Finally, this is a bit of a silly thing to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. I still play a bit of Counter Strike, albeit pretty badly, and while I never really liked the Havana map much, it is kinda cool playing it when you’re actually in Havana It really does look like that! Still waiting to get to Rapture, though…
Anyway, take the new release for a spin and see what ya think! And BTW, the upgrade policy has now been changed permanently – if you have a paid version of Awasu, you are now entitled to free upgrades for 2 years (instead of 1).
 Although the 3000 or so emails waiting for me wasn’t so cool  Because that’s what Cubans do, they have to queue for everything.  In particular, processing the templates and stripping unsafe content.  Not like that’s ever stopped me before
Yup, it’s official. Just in case there was any, you know, doubt
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I like to travel. The first time I hit the road was in ’93 and while I didn’t really know where I wanted to go, I just had a hankering to go somewhere. I eventually decided on Montreal in Canada – the whole French/English thing sounded intriguing, it’s got a great music scene, the food’s good, what’s not to like? I got a ticket from Oz to Vancouver, with the plan of travelling across Canada by train until I got to Montreal.
It was winter in North America at the time, and my guide book told me that temperatures could drop to -20°C or lower, and me, being fairly young and stupid, thought “oh, that won’t be a problem, I’ll just pack an extra sweater and she’ll be right”
Once in Vancouver, a Canadian guy who had worked in central Canada during the winter explained to me the realities of extremely cold weather, so I decided to head south and travel through America instead. It was a great trip, but I never made it to Montreal and it’s been a source of amusement to me that, for all the travel I’ve done in the intervening 20 years, I still haven’t been there.
As part of my quest to visit places before they radically change :), I’m going to Cuba next month. I was supposed to play at a blues festival in Thailand next week, but that got cancelled, and I messed up the flight times for my transit through Toronto, so I ended up having to change my ticket and if I had to do that, I figured I might as well spend a few days in Montreal. Woo hoo!
I checked what the weather was going to be like, and it’s spring, so it’ll be max’ing out at about 5°C, maybe -10°C at night, and of course, I said to myself “oh, that won’t be a problem, I’ll just pack an extra sweater and she’ll be right”
And after rebooking my flights and hotels, I found out that the east coast of Canada is being mauled by the worst storm in a decade, sinking ships and closing airports. It’s far enough east to apparently not be affecting Montreal, but you never know – I’m this close to making it to City of Saints, so I’m sure the gods will be conspiring to make sure I don’t actually get there
Anyway, -10°C isn’t that bad, and I’ve got myself a nice warm sweater :), so hopefully it’ll all be good. We’ll see…
Update: it’s gratifying to see that you can still go up against the gods, and win First, Air Canada told me that flights that day from Toronto to Montreal were maybe being cancelled, due to weather in Montreal. Then, they didn’t want to honor my ticket, although in all fairness, I used an Australian credit card, in Thailand, to purchase a flight in Canada, so it’s understandable they were a bit iffy abut it. However, they made me stand in line for 2 hours to repurchase the same ticket, using the same credit card There were only 3 people in the queue but – and I swear on little green onions, I’m not making this up – they were taking 45-60 minutes to process each person Then the flight almost didn’t take off because of mechanical problems.
Note to self: never fly Air Canada again. I’ve been on flights where there were goats on board that were better organized than these guys
Finally made it, though. I had to laugh when I got to Montreal airport – my backpack came out on the conveyor belt with ice on it, and walking out onto the street, I realized how long it had been since I had seen snow. And -10°C is not that bad; cold has never really bothered me, although I’m very glad I brought my new sweater…
Well, the first problem with talking about Burma is what do you call it? It was renamed as the Union of Myanmar in ’89, but some people refuse to use that name since it would confer some legitimacy to the military government. On the other hand, some people are unhappy using the name Burma, since that’s what the colonial British called it. You can’t win, so I’ll call it Burma, since I’m old school 
Anyhow, I was in Burma the other month, and very excited to finally make it. I had planned to go in 2008, but Cyclone Nargis hit, which put a kibosh on that trip. It affected only a small part of the country, but IIRC, the government was so intent on controlling the message that was getting out, and stopping journalists from running around and reporting on stuff, that they made it very difficult to get in.
Nowadays, it’s a completely different story. The government has opened things up for tourism, and while there are still parts of the country foreigners are not allowed to go, it’s much easier to get in and travel around, and tourist numbers have been nearly doubling annually for the past few years.
Of course, there’s a lot of debate about whether or not people should visit the country, since a lot of your tourist dollars end up in the hands of the government, but many feel (as I do), that small-scale tourism can be very beneficial to people on the street, not only financially but also in terms of bringing in outside knowledge and experiences and influences.
Mrauk-U and Sittwe
Mrauk-U is the old capital of the Arakanese kingdom, with many temples scattered around the town. It’s definitely not on the main tourist trail and the area was recently closed off to foreigners due to fighting. Everyone was telling me that road travel was forbidden and you had to fly, but I’d heard word of some people that had made it through by bus, so I decided to give it a shot. Like many things in Burma, there are rules upon rules, but no-one really cares about enforcing them, and I managed to make it all the way by bus. It was a brutal 36-hour trip :bigshock:, including several checkpoints where I slid down in my seat and pulled my cap down over my eyes. Being Asian surely helped a bit there
I was surprised at how developed Sittwe was, with paved roads, small supermarkets and internet cafes. If you squinted just right, it could just be another small town in country Thailand. No buffalo wandering the main road here. There is some tension between the various ethnic groups, and Buddhists and Muslims, and unlike most of the other places I visited, it was clearly visible, with parts of the town blocked off as Muslim-only areas, armed guards blocking entry.
But while checking out temples is fine, I always much prefer just walking around and getting out of town. People were lovely all over Burma, and noticeably honest. There weren’t the blatant rip-offs and scams that infest Thailand, and I was happy ordering meals without checking the price first, and letting people pick their change out of my wallet.
And the kids were delightful…
I also love visiting markets. They’re noisy and crowded and chaotic and Sittwe’s Central Market was all of that, and then some. Sittwe is on the western side of Burma, near India and Bangladesh, and there were an amazing number of different ethnic groups there. I haven’t seen a market like this since the souks in the Middle East! Check out those fish!
Yangon was, until recently, the capital of Burma, when the government decided to pick everything up and move it all to Naypyidaw, although it’s still the largest and busiest city in Burma.
The extraordinary rate at which things are changing is most apparent here. Most people have mobile phones, and smartphones at that; I saw only a handful of Nokia’s during the entire trip. The roads are clogged with modern cars (motorbikes are banned  :shock:), and Western-style hotels and cafes and malls are going up all over the place.
I stayed in the downtown area, which is completely overrun with street markets. Cool!
The name Mandalay conjures up so many images but in reality, it’s a dusty, polluted, crowded city
However, there was a huge market near where I was staying and I was there in the late afternoon, when the nuns were making their rounds.
Outside the city, on the other hand, is beautiful. U-Bein bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world and while the guidebook painted a picture of monks daintly crossing it at the break of dawn, the reality was that it was mostly joggers and other people doing aerobics and tai-chi, so the bridge was constantly bouncing up and down. Still very pretty, though…
Bagan is one of the tourist hotspots, with hundreds of temples dotted around the countryside. Many of them are still in active use and easily accessible on the small electric bikes that foreigners are allowed to ride. It’s just as impressive as Angkor Wat, but there are hardly any people there!
As luck would have it, on my last night I saw a post from Ethan Zuckerman about a talk he had recently given in Yangon. Bugger, if I’d’ve known, I would’ve gone down. I’ve been following his work for quite a few years, and his blog is one of those that I recommend to new users of Awasu after they install it.
It was a great post, but I did find one thing that he wrote a bit odd:
… but I am most interested in the question of how the internet may change what it means to be a citizen. There have been great hopes for the internet and democracy, the idea that governments can listen to people’s wants and needs more directly, that citizens might vote directly on legislation or help draft new laws, that we might have robust debates in a digital pubic sphere where it’s possible for everyone to express their opinions.
I would’ve thought the more interesting question would be how the internet allows individuals to effect change. One can only assume that during the Arab Spring and other similar events, people weren’t using the internet to discuss ideas or vote on new legislation It’s about people connecting with each other, spreading news and information and new ideas, without middlemen, with their agendas and spin, and this is one of the big reasons why I favor small-scale tourism in places like this. The government is slowly opening access to the internet and allowing foreigners in, but I suspect they’ll find that once they let the genie out of the bottle, it will be difficult to keep it on a leash
 Yes, I also can’t get my head around Ho Chi Min City and still call it Saigon.  The rumor is that a general’s son was killed by a motorbike.
It looks like, with the introduction of Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft have changed a few things in the way programs access the internet and in the process, broken Awasu
Symptoms of this problem are:
Awasu gets stuck updating channels. You can tell this when the updating channels count stays the same (see screenshot), yet Awasu doesn’t seem to be doing anything. Eventually, Awasu won’t update any channels at all and you have to restart it.
Awasu won’t exit properly. The main window will close, but the process continues to run (you can see this in Task Manager), and if you try to run Awasu again, nothing happens.
I’ve produced a special version of Awasu that contains a fix for this problem and while it’s a fairly straight-forward change, I’d like to send it out as a limited release for testing.
If you’re seeing this problem and would like to give the new version a spin, send me an email and let me know:
What version of Windows you are running.
What version of Internet Explorer you are running.
What version of Awasu you are running.
Again, you should only be seeing this if you are on IE11, but let me know if you’re interested in helping out, even if you’re not using IE11 – I want to make sure nothing gets broken, even for older releases.
And to the developers at Microsoft, that we all love most dearly, you’re sending me important status information that I need to know about after you’ve told me that the connection is closed? Really? Seriously?! Guys?!?!
 This happens because the new copy of Awasu sees that there’s an old copy running, so it just switches over to that one, but since it’s in the process of ending, nothing seems to happen.  Famous last words. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there’s no such thing as a simple change
This release has been a long, hard slog, with a lot of work being done to get Awasu Server up and running, but it’s been worth it since it runs like a dream and is in production at several client sites.
The API has also been beefed up, and you can expect some really cool applications in coming releases that let you control your Awasu.
The update policy for this release is the same as before: since it’s been a while since the last release, if you had an active subscription on February 8th 2011 (the date of the last release), you are eligible for this one.
This is the last alpha before the final 3.0.1 release, so there’re only a few smaller changes.
One thing that’s been on my must-fix-because-it’s-so-totally-embarrassing list for a very long time is how Awasu imports large OPML files. I have clients with massive OPML files (several tens of thousands of channels :blink:) and Awasu’s UI tended to hang a bit while it was loading it up. Since importing channels is often the first thing a new user does, it wasn’t a particularly good first experience, even if it is a bit of an edge case
There are also a few more Awasu API entry points, which is looking pretty comprehensive now There is an experimental web-based administration console floating around that uses it, which lets you manage your Awasu from a browser – very cool
I’m not one for link dumps but these are too good not to share.
One of the downsides of having been doing IT for as long as I have  is that you’ve heard all the jokes many times before, but here’s a list of some new ones.
Using if(constant == variable) instead of if(variable == constant), like if (4 == foo). Because it’s like saying “if blue is the sky” or “if tall is the man”.
The best one is hidden way down in the comments:
Yoda Exception Handling: Do, or do not; there is no try.
Next up is an amazingly interesting list of useful hidden features in Python. I tend to use Python as a better scripting language (since writing anything longer than a few lines in shell script or Windows batch files Truly Sucks®) but things like this remind me how really cool it is.
I’m hoping to have a bit of free time over the next few weeks (yeah, right :roll:) and one of the things I want to do is to spend a bit of time looking into the new features of Python. If you’re into Python, JetBrains recently released a free version of their PyCharm IDE, and after a quick play with it, it looks pretty good. These are the same guys who make the IntelliJ IDE, which I have used , and is probably the only piece of Java software I’ve used that I have any time for
As an aside, I’m in Cebu in the Philippines right now , which is not far from where the big earthquake happened and I was woken up yesterday morning by the whole room shaking and big cracks appearing in the walls 24 hours later, we’re still getting tremors and I’ve been getting slightly seasick as I work in my room. I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination but I’m sure the floor is gently rolling from side to side Tomorrow I sail to Dumaguete, which was also affected, and then in a couple of weeks, I’m off to Taiwan, which is rather close to Fukushima and an incoming typhoon.
Awasu 3.0.1 will be coming soon (hopefully), possibly slightly hot…
 I won’t say it, since I’m sure all the kids are sick to death of hearing me say how I started out on punch cards  Yes, I have worked professionally using Java. Just shoot me now My favorite sign is still there, albeit slightly faded.
Awasu and the stylized Japanese character in the orange box are trademarks of Awasu Pty. Ltd. Other brands and product names are trademarks of their respective owners. Awasu Pty. Ltd. believes the information in this publication is accurate as of its publication date. Such information is subject to change without notice. Awasu Pty. Ltd. is not responsible for inadvertent errors.