Archive | April, 2007

PySIG Notes, 26 April 2007

Thirteen attendees made it to the April meeting of the Python Special Interest Group, held as usual at the Amoskeag Business Incubator, Commercial Street, Manchester, NH on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 PM.

Bill Sconce lead off the meeting with a printed agenda and a round of introductions. Several new people were welcomed to the group; a range of levels of experience with computers and specifically Python made for a good mixed crowd.

Martin LeDoux showed off homemade bookbinding of the Python tutorial. Using an HP laser and Adobe Acrobat, Martin printed duplex 2-up folded, cut, glued and bound a pretty handy homemade book. Very cool.

Shawn K. O’Shea showed off the tarfile module which allows creation, querying, extraction and manipulation of tar files (with gz or bz2 compression) from within Python. This can be a real handy way to create cross-platform installable packages that would run on OS X, Linux or Windows.

Shawn also mentioned that there was a Google API for the Google Calendar with examples in Python scripting. Someone asked what that might be used for, and I offered the LUG coordinator Nag-O-Matic as a great example of using automation with calendars.

Bill attempted an introduction to Python datatypes by creating a hierarchy from primitive to complex objects. Kent had an objection to the terminology, and countered with chapter 3 of the _library_ reference (not chapter 3 of the Python reference which Bill was using) and a vigorous discussion ensued. That’s the point of the meeting, after all. And it’s far less likely to erupt into a flamewar in person. All sides had some good points, examples and counterexamples, and most of us learned more about Python internals. Good stuff.

Kent started Kent’s Korner 4: Iterators and Generators at 9 PM, when the milk and cookies were starting to kick in, The crowd was a bit more subdued, having spent their energy harassing Bill (and heckling Ben, in abstentia). Iterators went quite quickly. Generators woke the crowd up. Bill Sconce came up with a great example of greenbar color code generator, where the boss decides there should be two reds, three greens, alternating and repeating, though he may change his mind once he sees it. Off-script, Kent took off with this example, and followed it with a discussion of parameter passing to a generator.

Kent really has a gift for shedding light on these sometimes obuse topics; his examples really helped make the functionality clear, and working through the real-world example proposed at the meeting gave us all some idea of what was involved.

Kent also mentioned that he’s using IPython (note the capitalization; guess it’s not an Apple product!) an improved interactive shell.

Meeting called at 9:44. Wow. Long meeting, but a very productive one. One of the attendees wrote to me this morning that he went home and altered some of his scripts based on what he learned at the meeting. No greater praise could we ask for.

Thanks to Bill Sconce for running the meeting, the Amoskeag Business Incubator for the facilities, Alex Hewitt for wrestling with the network, to Martin, Shawn and Kent for presenting, and to all for attending and participating.

Next meeting May 24th, topic TBA.

Postscript: Like the previous meetings, we saw examples running in Python on OS X, Windows (VMWare on the Mac, I think) and Linux. It Just Works.

A List Apart: Articles: The Long Hallway

A List Apart: Articles: The Long Hallway

You’ve heard of the long tail and the long walk home. Now, for all those micro design firms looking to grow to the next level, there’s the long hallway—the distance between the physical working spaces of the individuals that comprise virtual companies—which may be as short as a few miles across town or as long as thousands of miles across continents and oceans.
… This is not a new trend.

Hugh MacLeod and the Open Source Billionaires

Hugh MacLeod writes a fascinating blog and illustrates it with killer drawings over at I think he’s got a wicked wit and is a sharp observer of some of the hypocricy surrounding us. More than once I’ve been tempted to order sets of his business cards, even though they might be too edgy to share with all but a few. I note he’s recently taken on a gig working for Microsoft. Good luck with that.

A recent post really caught me by surprise: in “how well does open source currently meet the needs of shareholders and ceo’s?,” Hugh points out Open Source can’t be as good as proprietary software; otherwise “… there’d be a lot more famous Open Source billionaires out there, being written up in Forbes Magazine …” Wow! What a strange question. I think Hugh’s fallen into the common mistake of mistaking business models and software development models as related. I fumed over his proposition for some time, composing and discarding a couple responses on his site. I knew this was a “have you stopped beating your wife?” question, but I couldn’t get a handle on the right way to respond. Giles Bowkett nails it with this post. Read the whole thing, but here’s a pull quote: “Asking where the open source billionaries are is like pointing to the French Revolution and saying, “If democracy is such a good idea, how come France doesn’t have any more kings?” Because the kings were the problem.” Ouch. But read the rest of the post, too.

The BFC Computing Weblog : FCC Comissioner Michael Copps – My Hero

Blogging at the newly-renamed BFC Computing Weblog, Bill McGonigle writes: FCC Comissioner Michael Copps – My Hero: “Quoting FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, from an e-Week article:

“Can we finally agree that something drastic needs to be done? We can start by facing up to our problem and doing our level best to diagnose its causes. We need to know why so many Americans do not have broadband, and why those who do, or think they do, are paying twice as much for connections one-twentieth as fast those enjoyed by customers in some other countries…”

Wow! An FCC Commisioner with a clue! Is that allowed? The US is backsliding into being a third-world country by so many measures. Enriching “The Telephone Company” and “The Cable Company” should not be one them. Broadband should be the dialtone of the 21st century. Rural Electrification was a boon to the country. Rural Broadbandification should be, too.

Notes from MerriLUG: Christoph Doerbeck: Xen on RHEL5

Thirty people attended the April meeting of the Merrimack Valley Linux
User Group, held as usual on the third Thursday of the month at Martha’s
Exchange in Nashua.

Heather did a fine job of welcoming the large crowd, listing some
upcoming events (remember, you can always find them on, and requesting feedback on next month’s topic: a
professional graphics designer has offered to discuss what’s available
in Linux for graphics, but wants feedback on what to focus on: removing
red eye from photographs, structured drawings, etc. Let Heather know
what you’re looking to do with graphics in Linux.

Christoph was the main presenter. He is a Sales Engineer with Red Hat
and has quite a history with Linux/UNIX. He arrived with three laptops
and his own gigabit network to demonstrate several configurations of
virtualization. One laptop lacked the new hardware support and was
relegated to running VMWare. The other two machines (an HP with an AMD
chip with the magick SVx bits, and a “StinkPad” – his term, not mine! –
with the Intel VTx/VTi capabilities) were capable of using Xen with full
or para-virtualization. Christoph demonstrated both, and used the three
machines to show how a virtual machine could be transferred from one
machine to the other. Suspending and moving the VM was not successful
(it’s a demo, these things never work), but the harder one, moving a
running session was successful, demonstrated vividly with a running
video on his controlling machine streamed from a server that started on
one machine and finished on the other. Bravo!

There was also a discussion of the other alternative for virtualization,
single-kernel-image virtualization, where multiple sessions are running
in multiple zones, somewhat like a “chroot jail.” Examples of this kind
of VM include Solaris Zones, Virtuozzo and Open VZ. Members of the
audience contributed insights to some of the other projects going on,
such as the KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) project favored by some of the
kernel developers, UML (User Mode Linux) and others.

Christoph wrapped up with a long and thorough question-and-answer
session. He then offered a completely different topic: he mastered a DVD
with menus, music, video overlays completely in Linux and had some clips
to show off. A general consensus was that he was welcome to come back at
his convenience to talk about that, too!

Thanks to Christoph for the great demo, to Heather and Jim for
organizing the meeting, to the folks at Martha’s Exchange for providing
the facilities, and to all for attending and participating.

Thunderbird 2.0 email client goes gold relays the news that the Thunderbird 2.0 email client goes gold. ‘Way cool. Looking forward to trying this out. I’ve been using T-bird 1.x for quite some time now, and it’s moved to becoming my primary email client, edging out Safari on the Mac and Evolution on the Linux platform. Mozillazine points out more information, including release notes and feature lists. Now, this is a Two-Point-Oh release, and my advice to the conservatives would be to hold off for the Two-Point-Oh-One version, or at least until a patch or two comes out, if you’re not comfortable installing and uninstalling mail clients. Make a backup, of course. Note that Linux clients have a funky problem with spaces in the path, so avoid spaces.

Red Hat Magazine: “Risk report: Two years of RHEL4”

Mark Cox writes in Red Hat Magazine, Risk report: Two years of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4
“Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 4 was released on February 15th, 2005. This report takes a look at the state of security for the first two years from release. We look at key metrics, specific vulnerabilities, and the most common ways users were affected by security issues. We will show some best practices that could have been used to minimise the impact of the issues, and also take a look at how the included security innovations helped.” The article not only provides some interesting information on Linux security; it also gives some insights to how the folks inside Red Hat view the security issues.

Seat Belts

New Hampshire’s legislature is considering a mandatory seat belt law as New Hampshire is Last in the Nation on this requirement. In this morning’s Concord Monitor, Eric Moskowitz points out that “Belts may save more than lives: Insurance costs could drop.” Yeah. maybe, but there are better reasons. Garrett Fitzgerald links to a post by Jim Macdonald:

“Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying “This really sucks,” and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.”

Don’t be found lying about. Wear your seat belt. Whether required by law or not.

Garrett Fitzgerald: Mas FoxPro

Garrett Fitzgerald blogs Mas FoxPro: “In view of Microsoft’s decision to abandon future development of Visual FoxPro, there is a movement afoot to ask MS to open-source the product, so the community can take it forward. If you’d like to see this happen, one thing you can do is sign the petition that PortalFox is running.”

It’s an admirable notion, but just because Microsoft doesn’t want to continue development, doesn’t mean they are willing to turn their tools over to a potential competitor. That would be altruistic.

There’s no doubt the software contains all sorts of embarrassing comments, perhaps undocumented calls to APIs Microsoft doesn’t want others to know about or use and probably some ugly work-arounds. It would be very educational to read the source and understand some of the obscure behaviors of FoxPro: where the phantom record really hides, how “Workarea Zero” works and why Error 14 reports Error while reporting Error 14, but I’m afraid the final journey of Visual FoxPro code will resemble the final scene in Indiana Jones, with the crate of source code wheeled back into the misty distances…

UPDATE… ComputerWorld covers the petition with an article that covers the history of FoxPro better than any other I’ve ever read in the trade press. This is the best press FoxPro has gotten since PC Magazine gave it the Editor’s Choice award, and that was some time ago.

MerriLUG, 19-April: Christoph Doerbeck, Xen on RHEL5

A not to be missed presentation: the Merrimack Valley Linux User Group will host Christoph Doerbeck of RedHat presenting “Virtualization on Linux,” a live demo of the Xen technology running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. Details here. Reservations are strongly encouraged for dinner: we’ve had a couple of huge showings at MerriLUG lately, and the staff at Martha’s have been very accomodating at getting everyone fed and on time for the meeting. I suspect this one could be SRO also.

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