Bill Sconce, R.I.P.

I was sad to hear of the recent passing of my friend Bill Sconce. Bill was an active member of the Greater New Hampshire Linux User Group, the founder of its Python Special Interest Group, and an active advocate for the Free and Open Source Software movements. Bill and Ted had many excellent adventures, hosting Software Freedom Day events in Concord and Nashua, running a LUG booth at LinuxWorld Boston, teaching a LAMP course, along with Bruce Dawson and Dave Berube, at the NHTI’s former Business Center, road trips to the Dartmouth LUG and hanging out together. Bill was a Vietnam-era veteran and a former DEC employee. In addition to his many Linux activities, Bill was an active ham radio operator (N1BFK), an airplane pilot and flying instructor, and a volunteer ballot re-counter for New Hampshire. I will miss Bill. Thoughts are with his wife Janet and their extended family. Rest in Peace.


Bill (William Joseph) Sconce, age 72, Lyndeborough, NH, died on January 5,
2016 at Lahey Hospital in Burlington, MA. The cause was a cerebral
hemorrhage. He was a good man.

Bill was born April 19, 1943 in Indianapolis, IN, and came home to the
House on the Hill in Edinburgh, IN. Bill grew up there with his brother
David, who predeceased him. His parents were Eva Mae and Joseph Byce
Sconce. Bill soon became a proficient Spelunker and surveyor in the caves
of Indiana and Kentucky, and a motorcycle enthusiast. Graduating from
Culver Military Academy, where he earned his Amateur Radio License, he
received a Fulbright scholarship and rode his Norton motorcycle to CalTech
in San Francisco, CA where he studied Physics and worked in a
crystalography laboratory. He was drafted during the Vietnam war protests
at that school and served in Taigu Korea, where he studied IBM Cobol and
the Korean language, and rode a Honda 90 motorcycle in the mountains. He
returned to Louisville, KY and began a long career in computer science and
founded his company Industrial Specialities. He met the love of his life
in Louisville, Janet Levy, and with her encouragement he completed his
dream of becoming a pilot, holding a Commercial, Instrument, and Instructor
license. He continued studies at University of Louisville in linguistics
and computer science. Bill & Janet moved to NH in 1979 for Bill to graduate
from being Symposium Coordinator for DECUS to assume the position of
Product Manager for the RSTS Group at Digital Equipment Corporation. Bill
worked for and was layed off from DEC, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard, at
which point he revived his corporation, named it In Spec, Inc. and divided
his time between software engineering and flight instruction. Bill was a
devoted supporter of GPL and “free” Linux software and the Python
programming language. Bill was a member of the Vintage BMW Motorcycle
Owners, Ltd., the BMW MOVer Motorcycle Club of Vermont, the Contoocook
Valley Radio Club, a life member of the National Speological Society and
the American Radio Relay League. He supported the EAA and was a Regional
Judge for aerobatic competitions for IAC for many years. He loved aviation,
including hot air ballooning and skydiving. He participated in Young
Eagles at Boire Airport in Nashua, NH and enjoyed teaching young people to
fly. He taught spins in his Cessna Aerobat. And he was a Quiet Birdman. He
was a member of the Rex Stout Wolfepack Book Club and The Wodehouse
Society. Bill loved theatre, classical and rock music, and especially
lately, attending Dr. David Landman’s Poetry Nights of medieval poetry in
Lexington, MA.

He loved fixing things and if there were no parts available for a project
he promptly made them himself on his metal lathe, or just used his
ingenuity to create something needed.

He loved cigars, scotch, butter, reading, airplanes, old test equipment,
Paris, BMWs, his red convertible Cabriolet with red earmuffs, and his big
black 4 cylinder 4WD truck, bird watching (outwitting squirrels), camping,
hiking on Pitcher Mountain, William Blake, and he suffered not fools. One
of his favorite lead-ins: “As an engineer…”

Bill is survived by his wife, Janet Levy Sconce, his sister-in-law, June
Levy and her family, and many dear friends. Bill was a kind and loving
“daddy” to Virgil Fox and RDB, the cats of his home. Thanks to “The
Committee” and especially Donna Shea, Chris Levin, Ken Hamel, Donna
Giovannini, Tom Steger, Michelle Donovan, Simon Hutchings, John & Cathy
Gubernat and the surgeons, doctors, and nurses at Lahey Hospital. The
family is grateful to all of his many friends who offered support and love.

There will be a memorial for Bill on February 13, 11:00-2:00 at Nashua Jet
Aviation located on Boire Field in Nashua, NH. Call Air Direct Airways,
(603) 882-5606 for more information.

Your call is important to us.

A quick recovery of the blog was functional by noon, and had its appearance restored 99% before the end of the day. I was extremely cautious on this one, as there were some abnormal log entries that indicated the remote possibility that a bad update or malicious software might have corrupted the site. So, rather than patching a potentially corrupted site, I put the site in deep freeze, and built it again from reliable sources. All seems well, so far, and I look forward to digging in and determining the root cause.

Please stay on the line, as calls are answered in the order in which they are received

Astute fans may have noticed the site seems to be having a little trouble. Yup. The site became non-responsive the morning of 20-Nov-2014, and the usual actions had little effect. There were few clues in the logs nor diagnostics easily pulled from the software. To get up and running quickly, I did the famous “WordPress 5 minute Install” and restored the essential configuration. I’ll be restoring the usual theme, fonts, plugins and assets (pictures, links, videos, etc.) from backups as time allows.

Thank you for your understanding.

Notes from Seacoast Web Dev 23-April-2014: Byron Matto Famo.us and Charles Denault HHVM and Hack

The April meeting of the Seacoast Web Dev group took place on April 23rd at the AlphaLoft coworking space. Proprietor Josh Cyr had his usual welcoming speech: thanks to Flatbread Pizza for the pizza, the corporate and community supporters for the free beer, and to the speakers for volunteering. There were two excellent presentations last night:

Byron Matto showed off the Famo.us JavaScript library. Famo.us is coming out of the gaming space, with a lot of emphasis on animations via transitions and matrix math, and less heavy DOM structures like jQuery and the other libraries depend on. Elements tend to be rendered via absolute positioning on a flat canvas and animated through transitions that are hardware-accelerated, rather than being built in a a heavy DOM div-within-div-within-div container and wrapper structure, giving a lighter weight and better performance especially on CPU-constrained mobile devices. Famo.us does not yet have a clear roadmap and it is unclear exactly which platforms/runtimes it will be running on (discussion includes Backbone, OpenGL, and even XBox!) but Byron encouraged anyone interested to sign up for the beta (there’s a waiting list as they ramp up) to get in as soon as possible.

Charles Denault of SimpleCharters spoke on Hack, the Facebook fork of the PHP language, designed to work with static data typing and run on the Hip Hop Virtual Machine. Both HHVM and Hack are Open Sourced, licensed under the PHP and BSD license, respectively. Facebook started the Hack project as a way to improve performance and they report a 5x to 10x gain in speed using Hack on HHVM. Charles cautioned that while moving existing PHP on HHVM is fairly painless, if the choice is made to move your PHP code onto Hack, reversing that decision is more difficult, as the changes will occur in much of the code (a good source code control mechanism and branches ought to handle this, methinks). There was a lot of interest in the performance specs, and questions from the audience on HHVM compatibility with major frameworks, and performance benchmarks between PHP 5.6 and HHVM. (PHP 5.5+ have the newly-open-sourced Zend OpCode cache, see article here). Clearly, there is a lot of interest in the subjects of PHP and web site performance improvements!

Thanks to Charles and Byron for excellent presentations, to Josh and AlphaLoft for organizing and hosting the meeting.

Ancient Fox Manuscripts Unearthed

Ancient Scrool

Ancient Fox Documents Unearthed

The Boston Computer News Network was an email newsletter sent out by the Xbase Special Interest Group of the Boston Computer Society. Les Pinter, the organizer of that group, commissioned a group of local volunteers to come out with a FoxPro-specific version of the newsletters. The timing was great; MS had just bought Fox, VFP 3 was coming, DevCons were awesome. Here are the first few newsletters, recovered from an old dusty cave in the frozen northeast, scraped off an old 3½″ floppy.

http://www.tedroche.com/papers.php#1994

Some classic stuff out there for old geezers: Arnold Bilansky facing down Bill Gates, the first demo of VFP3 beta in Boston, Arnold and Ted’s excellent adventures in San Diego, and more. Contributors include Brad Shulz, Whil Hentzen, Dale Gilstrap Leopold, Ken Levy, Harold Chattaway, Stephen Sawyer, and more!

Notes from Feb 25th Web Dev Meeting: Brian Cardarella on Ember.js

The Portsmouth Web Dev meetup is hosted at Alpha Loft in Portsmouth. This month there were two meetings: Ember on the 25th and Lightning talks on the 26th. On the 25th was the first, with Brian Cardarella of dockyard.com giving the main presentation on Ember.js.

Brian started with a bit of a history lesson. Ember spun off of SproutCore from Strobe. SproutCore 1.0 suffered from the slow (at the time) JavaScript runtimes and overly-complex UI widgets, resulting in a poor user experience. The 2.0 branch was started and Yehuda Katz (core contributor, Rails, jQuery and more) and Carl ??? and pushed off UI elements to focus on the core and on speed.

The run loop is the core event loop engine of Ember, and code in Ember can enqueue new items onto the loop, which continues to loop as long as there are items to be processed. There is great documentation in the Ember Guides, and a good video overview. Brian suggests that the Ember Starter Kit is just that, a good way to get started, but likely not appropriately robust for a professional application.

Enough background, we jumped into http://ember.jsbin.com/ and Brian commenced live coding in Ember to demonstrate how the Ember application essentially hooks into the body tag of the DOM and can read and write elements from there. He showed how actions could be triggered by observed changes, that setters and getters were required for property manipulation.

Ember has its own form of MVC (doesn’t everything?) where Models are business rules containers, and Controllers are contexts in which your interactions with models occurs, essentially acting as proxies. Views are nearly becoming deprecated as their functionality is being replaced with HTML5 Web Components (there’s currently a polyfill for these called polymer.) Routes are similar to Rails with nesting. URLs can be considered a state manager for an Ember app, so two users see the same thing at the same URL, unlike some other JS frameworks. There is an Ember Inspector for Chrome and FireFox that allows you to dive deep into the View Tree, Routes and Data for debugging. Excellent peer support is available on IRC at emberjs and emberjs-dev.

Brian and Dockyard have built Ember-AppKit-Rails as a gem to create a shared directory for an Ember app and its Rails backend. Note this is Very Beta, Somewhat Experimental and may be abandoned. You have been warned. Brian explained there are not yet any Best Practices worked out, so different attempts have been tried. Side-by-side projects where the two are separate may turn out to be a better design; Brian is looking at Ember AppKit [Update: Deprecated, but URL updated for reference]. Ember is designed to deal with different backends, depending on their API syntax. The one he was using was ActiveModelAdaptor, build to work with Rails.

An excellent question on “Where do you do validation?” And the answer: pretty much everywhere. Brian is the author of ClientSideValidations and has some experience with this. He tried something similar with Ember but points out that the context of the front end and backends can be so different that the validations aren’t necessarily the same.

Brian then proceeded to do a demonstration of an under-development project by Dockyard and even in its early stages, it appeared pretty promising.

Brian recommended downloading Ember, reading through the Guides, and taking some time to learn the components. Promises are a key element to the Ember framework and are worth reviewing; ECMAScript 6 will have promises built in. Handlebars, the templating language, is expected to be replaced by HTMLBars in the next major revision. Best practices and calling conventions (especially error/exception/validation handling) are still up in the air; check out JSONAPI.org for some work on this front.

So, we had an action-packed, fact-filled, acronym-filled session with a lot of good material and an excellent overview of the state of Ember and its promising future. Thanks for Brian for speaking and for Josh Cyr, Alpha Loft proprietor, for hosting!

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Happy Birthday, iMac

photo of iMac

iMac G4

My iMac is celebrating its 10th birthday today. Laura and I purchased the machine on 2/3/4 and were immediately enchanted. Here’s the launch video with Jonny Ives, Phil Schiller, Annie Leibovitz, Seal, Francis Ford Coppola and a great soundtrack:

That was great, and I loved the commercials, too:

While the iMac is no longer safe to keep attached to the internet (its Power PC CPU limits it to OS X 10.4), the machine still serves in a place of honor in the workout room, powering videos and music for our workouts and serving as a backup DVD burner.

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Notes from Web Dev Meetup, 22-Jan-2014

There was a packed house, as usual, for the January meetup of the Web Dev group, held at the AlphaLoft coworking space. After the usual announcements by organizer and AlphaLoft proprietor Josh Cyr, there were three lightning presentations:

  1. Open Source Software: an excellent overview of the concerns developers should have about Open Source Software and the processes they should be doing. Introduced by Matt Jacobs of Acentage Law, PLLC, the main presentation was by Matthew Jacobs, General Counsel of Black Duck Software, Inc. Mr. Jacobs included a copy of his white paper, “The Talk: What a General Counsel Needs To Know About Open Source Software” also available on the Black Duck Software web site.
  2. Blogging with the Ghost blogging platform. Sean Baker blogs at http://www.seanvbaker.com web site using Ghost software. Sean was very intrigued with the new business model adopted by Ghost founder John O’Nolan and the non-profit business model he set up for Ghost. Ghost appears to be a minimal product (in the good, lean sense) focused on blogging alone, and avoiding the complexities of morphing into a Content-Management-System-To-Rule-Them-All.
  3. Elastic Search, presented by Nick Plante. Elastic Search is technology based on Lucene. Nick moved from Solr to Elastic. [Side note: the right time to use MongoDB: never.]  Elastic Search is used by some of the big guns: Etsy, GitHub, Path, Foursquare, since 2010. It’s all JSON, all the time, so you avoid the bottlenecks of interfaces and impedance mismatches of query languages, object models, etc. It supports excellent horizontal scaling: hand it hosts, and it creates shards across them. It has excellent tokenizers  built-in, since it is based on Lucene. Nick suggests avoiding NIH syndrome by searching for tokenizers before taking the DIY route: it’s probably already out there: tokenizers are available for strings, numerics, arrays, stemming, synonyms and more.

Thanks to Josh for organizing and all the speakers for putting together coherent and informative presentations.

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