Awasu » 2004 » December
Monday 27th December 2004 8:21 AM [General]

I was getting all excited about flying out to Koh Samui today since I'm performing at the Koh Samui International Blues and World Music Festival.

Except of course a bloody great big earthquake has hit SE Asia. I wonder if any of the venues I'm supposed to be playing at are still standing? I'm taking my laptop down so I s'pose I'll be able to work on updating the help for 2.1 🙄 Samui is on the other side of the mainland from the epicentre so it's protected from the tsunamis but can anyone spell "aftershock"...?

Sigh... 🙁

BTW, the Red Cross are taking donations here.

Thursday 23rd December 2004 5:10 PM [General]

Thinking outside the square. I hate the phrase but love the idea it represents.

I recently had a conversation with someone about my work history which has been unconventional, to say the least. While I trained as a computer programmer and have spent most of my time working in IT, I have also taken big chunks of time off to do other things: travel, play music, teach kids Maths and English. The whole process of going to school, graduating, working in jobs we hate to make money to buy the things we need crave has become so ingrained into our social structure that there are plenty of people who are amazed when someone suggests that there could be any other way. A while back, Dare Obasanjo also mentioned this kind of blindness brought on by a society that has become used to thinking about things in a certain way.

I read an intriguing article today about Antanas Mockus, mayor of Bogota, and some of the unconventional methods he has been using to help fix his city's problems.

Another innovative idea was to use mimes to improve both traffic and citizens' behavior. Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes.

"It was a pacifist counterweight," Mockus said. "With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations."

And in his own words:

"The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task," Mockus said. "Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change."

...

"There is a tendency to be dependent on individual leaders," he said. "To me, it is important to develop collective leadership. I don't like to get credit for all that we achieved. Millions of people contributed to the results that we achieved ... I like more egalitarian relationships. I especially like to orient people to learn."

I think it's no coincidence that he used to be a teacher. When I was talking to the same person about how to improve the performance of the people she was responsible for, I was trying to persuade her of the importance of any change coming from them, not simply being imposed from above. As one person commented on a talk given by Mockus:

He focused on changing hearts and minds - not through preaching but through artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval. He also spoke openly, with a lovely partial self-mockery, of his own failings, not suggesting that he was more moral than anyone else. His presentation made it clear that the most effective campaigns combine material incentives with normative change and participatory stakeholding.

And how can you possibly not like a guy who does this:

... when faced with a rowdy auditorium of the school of arts' students, he dropped his pants and mooned them to gain quiet. The gesture, he said at the time, should be understood "as a part of the resources which an artist can use."

Now you know.

Tuesday 14th December 2004 9:31 PM [Awasu News]

Awasu 2.0.5 is out. This is pretty much a maintenance release with bug fixes and minor enhancements. The main new features are, as promised, two wizards to help create channel filters and reports.

This is pretty much the first release candidate for 2.1 so only show-stopper bug fixes from here on.

/taka glumly eyes the mounds and mounds of testing and documentation to be done next... 🙁

Tuesday 14th December 2004 9:03 PM [General]

I've really been getting into IT Conversations recently, downloadable interviews with people in a wide range of fields, not just technology. For example, Ben Saunders talks about his solo unsupported trip to the North Pole, Ethan Zuckerman on technology in developing countries and Spencer Wells on his work in mapping the movements of man 60,000 years ago via DNA analysis. Check if out if you haven't already.

The one I'm listening to right now is with Kent Beck (of Extreme Programming fame) with some really great ideas on what he calls "software health". This particular bit had me on the floor in stitches:

My goal is not quality software, my goal is healthy software.

...

I remember hearing a description of the release process at Microsoft and someone likened it to Jello. You got this software and it's like Jello and people are making changes and it's shaking and it's shaking and you think you're getting close but the software's still shaking and then it stops shaking just for a second and that's when you ship it.

That's why I'm not interested in quality, I'm interested in health. Healthy software is not like Jello. It doesn't have that sense of "Oh boy, is today going to be the day in which there aren't any bugs in my software?"

Lord knows, I've worked at enough places that didn't even bother waiting for the Jello to stop shaking. And while I've never been a big fan of Extreme Programming, there's plenty of food for thought in this interview if you're at all interested in writing software that works.

OK, so I just wanted to be Google's first result for the phrase "Jello bugs" 🙄

Sunday 12th December 2004 9:35 PM [General]

Tim Bray got a bit upset (and rightly so) about someone incorrectly associating his name with a piece of writing. He links to one of the Slashdot comments about it which is not a bad read. But I would disagree that software is about the tech and abstractions. Software, or any other innovation or device or technology, is about what you can do with it and the value it provides you. And if you look at the Great Moments the commenter listed, you'll see that they are about providing extra services and value to the user.

I love Awasu not because it uses XML or RSS or the abstractions it brings. Awasu and RSS is great because it brings me huge piles of things to think about. News, new ideas, new viewpoints, even if I wildly disagree with them since to disagree with them, I have to think about why they're wrong and provide a valid argument against them. And that's cool.

On a slightly related note, here's an intriguing look at the state of computing today and how we got there. Amazingly long but not your usual Microsoft vs. Apple analysis. It starts off with Batmobiles, moves on to the Magic Kingdom, visits the Morlocks and Eloi before looking at a command line utility to generate universes. A must-read, if you have a spare hour or five.

And just in case you think I'm goofing off, surfing the net, I'm busy putting together the 2.0.5 release. It takes a while to build and test releases these days 🙁