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November 30, 2005

Synaesthesia – hearing colors and seeing sounds

Filed under: General,Software — stephane @ 11:01 pm

I was listening to an interview of the classical pianist Hélène Grimaud who just released her new album. This beautiful and talented woman who has been living in the US since 1991 (she now speaks french with a slight american accent) is besides her talent known for her unusual capacity known as synaesthesia.

She is able to see sounds as colors. Thus, music projects her into a particular color-world.
Sinaesthetes like her also see numbers and letters associated to some colors.

People like this must really live in a world of their own. Their perception of the world must be demultiplied when they are a child and the flow of information that no one from the outside can interpret and relate must be quite disturbing.

Hélène Grimaud as a child was gifted, but also what we would call today hyperactive. Her parents tried to canalize her energy into different activities: sports, dance etc… but her energy was mostly mental and emotional and she got grabbed by music.

GoF member John Vlissides passed away

Filed under: Software — stephane @ 1:24 pm

I just noticed that John Vlissides, one of the author of Design Patterns and of GoF fame passed away on November 24, 2005. His Wiki page is dedicated to his memory.

Between 1998 to 2000, I bought 3 of the books he authored or co-authored:

Those have been really helpful to me and my approach to software design. The articles he published in C++ Report were also worth reading. Take a look at his publications.

Ruby On Rails thoughts

Filed under: OpenSource,Software — stephane @ 2:24 am

It is interesting to note the buzz around Ruby on Rails (RoR) in the last few months. Basically RoR advocates are selling you a 10x productivity and so much things that we wonder if it will not cure the world from paludism, hunger, poverty and CO2 emission in its 2.0 release :mrgreen:.

I have been looking at Ruby very passively in 2001, played a bit with it, did some sample scripts to process data as an exercise, but nothing serious. No one was using it anyway, and asking to install it on server was like asking to install Microsoft Word on a production server.

When RoR started to make some buzz with the video, like everybody I took a look at the framework and this looked a bit wizardesque to me. Very cool, very slick, but this was ringing a bell…like what happens if your application and your database does not really match the RoR way of doing things. Are you spending like 10 days trying to figure how to do it ? Ok, you’ve got a great mailing list but…

Following Pareto rules, you obviouslly spend normally 80-90% of your time in 20-10% of your application. I think that any developper has his own experience spending several days trying to fix a one-line bug in any language and can recognize what happens when you come across unmaintainable code. You’re literally spending ages looking at things because it is unreadable and logic is spreaded everywhere. Does the language helps you dealing with this ? Bad PHP code is to me more vicious than bad Java code. As for bad Ruby code, well, I honestly don’t know, but the syntax flexibility is not necessarily a good thing and can be a productivity killer in the long run if things can be made in so many ways.

There are more and more feedbacks from people having a look at RoR and noticing that some things are really annoying. It’s a good thing because it goes beyond the hype that says that Ruby is cool because it is the language of choice of Andrew Hunt and David Thomas (from which I have utter respect because I have been reading Pragmatic Programmer back in 2000 and really loved the book) , or Ruby is cool because children love it. And children are having so much fun with it that it must be a killer language.

Well, I remember programming some BASIC at home and at school back between 1984 and 1989 with a Commodore VIC 20, an Amstrad CPC-464, a Sinclair ZX-81 and some Bull Micral PC Clone with MS-DOS and I don’t think that BASIC is seen today as the language of choice by famous people but rather the result of a easily accessible language that we know is productive (Visual BASIC) but a sure example of unmaintainable code in the long run…assuming there is a need to maintain it. A quick badly developped and non-usable app. can easily last a dozen years as can be seen in most cashier computers, still today. I have also seen the application (Delphi) used by most real estate agencies in France, and it really is not a prime example of a professional application. Usability is terrible and staff use 5% of the features because it is just so bad.

Ruby might be a nice language but I think the buzz around is mostly related to the need of doing something else. Most of us in software development like new challenges and are very curious and do like new shiny toys. Also, if you are a well-known consultant and wrote some books about…say Java, EJBs, J2EE and co, it could make sense to throw the baby out with the bath water and publish articles and books about Ruby…on Rails or not. You stand out from the crowd immediately when writing such book, you’re focusing attention. Everybody’s wondering mmmm there must be something. You won’t have that if you’re writing another book on say…EJB3 and Java EE, it will mostly be a rehash on what has been written in the last years, and, there are so many available on the Java topic. Writing about Ruby is a good marketing strategy to me.

There’s also a lock-in strategy in some way. While for customers, they mostly care about having the job done, some put a particular condition of the technical limits. For instance I have seen some customers explicitely requesting J2EE development without EJBs. Some people do care about what they would be able to do with it and the skills required to maintain the delivered application. As of today, deciding to go the Ruby way, is mostly a guarantee to have exclusive rights for maintenance and support. Your customer will simply have a very hard time looking somewhere else if you’re hit by a bus. From a consultant perspective, it’s a very good thing, from the customer, not really.

That said, yesterday, I had the idea of developping a small in-house application which could be a nice way to use Ruby on Rails without killing anyone in the process. It won’t be maintained by anyone but me and not used by anyone but me. It’s not wasted time anyway, you always learn something from trying new things and how things are done somewhere else. That’s cross-fertilization of ideas… that’s also the essence of opensource.

update: Fixed the first name of Andrew Hunt, I was a bit too focused on David

November 29, 2005

France public debt rising to 2000 billion euros

Filed under: France,General — stephane @ 9:16 pm

Thierry Breton, Ministry of Economy and Finances, revealed today that France public debt is worse than the already huge 1167 billions euros that everyone had in mind and published according to the Maastrich Treaty. Indeed, the report from the Direction Générale de la Comptabilité Publique was apparently not doing his best to make it visible at the initial report but conveniently wrote 100 pages later all the accounting related to the retirement of civil servants (which is only to be accounted as of January 1, 2006; they say in the initial pages there was not any agreement about it to have it included, even though they say that it does not make any sense from an accounting point of view to not include it). If you want to take a look, it is mentioned p. 119 of the 168-page report of the 2004 report (French – PDF). So we have to add a rough estimate of 900 billions for retirement. So that means that each citizen’s share of this debt is about 34,500 euros.

As a comparison, the US public debt is a bit more than 8 trillions dollars, which means about 27,200 dollars per citizen.

It is interesting to read report 413(98-99) (French) that has been published by the Senat about the evolution of the French public debt between 1980 and 1997 and a comparison with other European countries.

As an indication, the 2004 revenue taxes from the 34-million French taxpayers only manage to pay the public debt interests.

For an understanding of the French Civil Service , please refer to the Wikipedia article.

SSI within WordPress

Filed under: Round-The-World-2003,Software — stephane @ 2:41 pm

In my previous blog, I was relying on SSI (Server Side Includes) to load a thumbnail gallery dynamically. This small HTML snippet was generated offline by a very limited template language within my image browsing software on my laptop and then uploaded via scp along with thumbnails and tagged images. So to generate a table to layout thumbnails, some JavaScript were used to dynamically write the table rows where appropriate.

All this proved to be a bit of a problem within WordPress. Of course, since it’s PHP. I did not feel like going through the 400+ entries manually, so I was thinking of emulating SSI via a WordPress plugin. Nice. Except that WordPress does its own HTML processing, adding br tags for every carriage return and is playing with quotes and double quotes…

My HTML snippet had carriage return between element attributes, so it was messing up everything. I then thought it a work around would be to filter the content from carriage return. This did not work either because the JavaScript was missing end of line commas. So I added another workaround to fix the commas. This also did not work because WordPress was encoding quotes in a way I did not really understand ( I honestly did not spend much time with it and did not feel like going through the source code)…

I just changed the WordPress plugin to use a regex to match all img tags in my HTML snippet and the table is built dynamically within the plugin. That has nothing more to do with SSI, but hey..this works for me right now and provide a reasonable interface to a legacy system… Until I have time to waste and see if it makes sense to do full SSI within posts and bypass the quoting mechanism.

Pictures galleries are now integrated to be similar to what was available in my old blog, so enjoy the you can see it is mostly diving related with some marine creatures, with some exception as the one below from a 4-month lion cub in Zimbabwe, which is one of my favorite:

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