Monthly Archives: September 2010

The second(ish) Dublin GTUG meet

We had the second Dublin GTUG last night (<pedantry>although there seems to be a little bit of confusion regarding whether it is the second or the third – I’m going with the former, on the basis that the very first meet was before we agreed to proceed with a GTUG and hence was somehow a pre-GTUG meet</pedantry>).

We had a full agenda and a full house – I didn’t count, but I think there were about 30 people in attendance, which is very good by the standards of developer meetups in Dublin.

First up was Brian Brazil, an SRE at Google, who gave us some insight into the life of an SRE. He talked about some of the challenges faced by SREs in scaling up applications, understanding where bottlenecks lie and optimizing system performance. Achieving acceptable latency for service delivery is an important part of this job and requires understanding where delays arise throughout both the network external to Google and inside Google’s architecture – such is their dedication to delivering low latency services over wide geographies that sometimes even the speed of light becomes a problem! Brian did a particularly good job, as he was called in at 15 minutes notice due to a last minute change of plans as Nick Johnson unfortunately could not make it – respect!

Next up was Kevin Godden of Ridge Solutions talking about integration of Paypal and GAE. Kevin described how he had worked on a project in which it was required to use Paypal as a payment processor for a GAE hosted app. Kevin noted that GAE does not support HTTPS connections if you’re not using the appspot.com domain, ie if you’re running your GAE app from your-domain.com. This has implications for payments, naturally, and the only really workable solution for Paypal integration at present is to redirect the user to Paypal to take the payment (rather than taking the payment via the GAE app itself). Kevin talked about how Paypal’s redirect works and gave example Python code for integrating it with a GAE app. Link to Kevin’s slides.

After Kevin, there was a short, but impressive demo of an app built on GAE given by Ken Macleod of Aladdin Schools. Ken built Aladdin schools in a few months and the feature set that he put together was very impressive indeed. Everyone who had attended an Irish primary school got flashbacks when he showed the roll call functions on his app!

Finally, Jim O’Leary from Rococo Software talked about their experience in working with Bluetooth on mobile devices in general and Android in particular. Jim explained that BT on Android provides a limited set of the full range of BT functions, but this set has been well chosen and provides good coverage for most of the Bluetooth use cases. Working with BT on Android has not given rise to many problems in his experience, although he has one issue relating to making the device discoverable – Android imposes limitations on how long a device can be discoverable for.

The session in Google was rounded off with a Eoin giving out a couple of books for people to review and some swag for anyone who had earned it.

We then retired to the Schoolhouse for an engaging chat about all things G.

Overall, I was very satisfied with how it went – there was good engagement from everyone in the room, with lots of questions being thrown at the speakers and I know that I learnt a lot. Let’s hope we can keep this standard up as we go forward.

Thanks to everyone who stood up to to talk – great job by all – and thanks to Jean Joswig for being the Google contact who sorts out the room, pizzas and just generally making sure everything runs smoothly.

Looking forward to next month’s GTUG…

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Open Governance – relation to Sapolsky

(This is the first in a short series of posts on the topic of Open Governance – see here for background).

The assignment for this week was to listen to a radio show and read some of the work of Robert Sapolsky. Sapolsky is very highly regarded scientist who has made very significant contributions to our understanding of stress and its impact on the brain; much of his work has been done in the context of primates – baboons in particular, as they are known to be aggressive in general and (somehow) stressed.

In a (very crude) nutshell, the main point highlighted in the above work is that primates can change behaviour and the age-old question of nature/nurture is too simplistic and requires more nuance – I guess this is not a very new observation. In the radio show, this was discussed in the context of whether humans are genetically predisposed to war and whether there will ever be a future without war. The experience with baboons showed that even though they are predisposed to living in aggressive societies, in some particular circumstances it is possible that they can live together much more harmoniously. The presenters of the show tried to link this to humanity by asking whether we can take the observations from baboons and the fact that humans have weaker inclinations to violence and extrapolate that humans will eventually live without war.

I found it quite a difficult to relate this to governance of Open Communities; I guess the notion that it is possible to change people’s behaviours is not so new – the advertising industry has known this for a long time. However, I guess the more interesting link to Open Governance centres on people’s motivation – are people generally motivated by selfish needs or by the need to be part of a community. While this is an interesting question in and of itself, I thought perhaps linking it to genetics and the behaviour of baboons was a bit of a stretch.

Assuming, then, that the main topic for discussion this week centres on the motivation of participants in Open Communities, I think it is too simplistic to think of this group as being entirely homogeneous, formed of actors who all have the same motivations simply because they have the same genetic make-up.

If we consider the specific case of OSS communities, there are at least three types of actors in such communities:

  • students – their aim is generally to progress some project they are active in and often to build some visibility for themselves;
  • believers/fanatics – these are volunteers who think that a particular project is interesting and/or valuable and are working on it with no specific expectations of future returns;
  • employees of companies who have an interest in the software – these are people who may not specifically have an interest in an open source initiative, but their company does and they are responsible for acting within the aforemention open source community in accordance with the company’s strategy.

There may be other types of participants with other motivations and there are many people who may straddle two (or even all three) of the above categories, eg someone could be a fanatic in the first instance, but be offered a job by a software company in which they could be paid to continue working on the project in a way that fits with the company’s objectives. Matt Mullenweg of WordPress is an interesting example: he developed WordPress as it was a passion of his – the hosting business only came later and was not part of the initial plan.

There is the very interesting talk by Dan Pink on motivation which links strongly to open source communities – this looks like a much more natural fit than the work of Sapolsky for some context on the motivation of actors in open source communities. It makes reference to a quite extensive body of work which indicates that people are somehow inherently well disposed to engaging in open source communities as it gives them an opportunity to make a contribution and be valued by the community.

While considering how to compose this post, it became apparent that I had more questions than answers and hence this post is only an initial, rather inconclusive, foray into issues around this topic.

There are some basic questions which I need to answer for myself, which mainly centre on the definitions I will use throughout this short course, eg will I focus on open source software communities or consider some kind of wider definition of open communities which are not specifically focused on open source software development. That should be the topic of another post.

Other questions which arose, to which I did not get time to find any answers: how many participants in open source communities are there? what types of people are they? what is their motivation, etc. This looks like it is a really interesting subject and it is likely that it has been the subject of some research, so I will spend some time over the coming days trying to find some basic information on this.


P2PU & a course on Open Governance

I am very interested in alternative models of education – I recently read the book DIY U which provides quite a comprehensive overview of the problems of third level education in the US and makes a convincing case for alternative models of education.

One such (still experimental) model is P2PU – peer-to-peer university. I’m not entirely sure how it works, so I signed up to a course to find out. At some high-level, the P2PU model seems to put much more emphasis on students learning from each other than the more traditional teacher/student relationship. However, I don’t really know how well this can work in practice.

The range of courses on offer was somewhat limited, but I did manage to find a course which seems quite fascinating – it’s a course entitled Open Governance. The course is about alternative ways of supporting decision-making within groups of people; new ways which are made possible by the Internet in particular.

The idea fits nicely with notions of crowd-sourcing, which have been receiving much attention lately. It’s also interesting from the point of view of Jolitics, a site to which I signed up to, but did not really engage strongly with – I’ll probably need to dig into that a bit more for this course.

Of course, there are lots of issues and problems with Open Goverance in general, eg:

  • there is already an established way of doing things – new models like this would probably require very fundamental changes, changes to the way countries are constituted in many cases – obviously, this would not sit well with the establishment;
  • almost all systems can be gamed and naive open systems are definitely open to gaming by interested parties – how to prevent this and how much it needs to be prevented probably needs to be considered;
  • here in Ireland, when we vote on referenda relating to fundamental ways in which our society works, it seems to me that people often cast a vote based on much misinformation and often ignorance – it seems that more devolved structures which give more and more people a voice on more and more issues could suffer more from this (although perhaps this issue only really arises because the issues that go to referendum are fundamental and hence typically are complex with many ramifications).

What’s the point of this post, other than to tell the world what I’m up to? Part of the modus operandi of the course is to put content on blogs. Hence, I’ll be putting content up here which relates to Open Governance; it may seem out of place with the rest of the content here, so this post is my attempt to explain why I’m making these postings.


My highlights of Electric Picnic 2010

I’m just back from EP 2010 and I decided to record my highlights for posterity. I’m not a veteran EPer, so I didn’t do my homework to ensure that I really saw all the best stuff on offer – what I saw was some quite random mix of the fayre.

My five favorite moments were:

  • The National on Sunday evening were absolutely fantastic – the band seemed very much on form and the fact that the rain was beginning to fall quite a bit at this stage didn’t dampen the spirits of the (large) crowd;
  • Fight Like Apes were also amazing – I’d never seen them before and only heard some of their tracks on the radio, but they were absolutely compelling on stage. When watching MayKay do her stuff, I was thinking Debbie Harry – some kind of possessed she-demon on stage – after doing a bit of digging, I found that I wasn’t the first to see these similarities. Definitely going to catch one of their gigs around town soon;
  • The debate in Mindfield with Howard Marks, BP Fallon, Simon Napier-Bell and Peter Hook (chaired by Olaf Tyaransen) was great fun indeed. The best moment (as noted elsewhere) was when a guy took the microphone to ask a question, proceeded to ramble somewhat incoherently about how Joy Division and New Order were the most influential bands in his life, at which point Peter Hook jumped up to give him a hug, partially in an effort to shut the guy up. The guy insisted, however, that he had a question and after some further witterings – which were forgiveable in the context of a fan meeting one of his heroes – eventually asked Hook (genuinely) what he thought of David Hasselhoff when he’d met him many years ago. Surreal and hilarious – almost Pythonesque;
  • I just caught the tail end of Bourgeouis & Maurice in the ThisIsPopBaby tent – they’re a completely camp outfit who are not for the faint hearted – they’re fantastically, brilliantly, hilarious. Tracks like ‘If you don’t know what to do with your life (just die)’ and ‘What would you do (for sex)?’ are pretty much the tip of the iceberg. I caught ‘I’m gonna out outfit you’ and their alternative rendition of Des’ree’s ‘Life’, which had a lot of emphasis on death – super fun;
  • having a beer in glorious September sunshine on Friday afternoon while going through the festival line up figuring out who I wanted to see – I’d just cycled the 75 odd kilometres from Dublin to Stradbally and was tired and thirsty; a pint of Paulaner while sitting in the sun felt almost sexual.

Other notable mentions: I just caught the tail end of Foals who seemed to really rock the house. I thought Crystal Castles were pretty damned good also. On a different note, Eamon Ryan delivered a very professional performance in a Leviathan debate amidst a somewhat belligerent but not altogether reasoned crowd – hats off to him for arguing his case and taking it on the chin as necessary. I had some food from Rathmullan house, which was yum indeed! I really liked the History Ireland hedge schools – the TCD Profs were obvious heavyweights in both of the discussions. I missed The Villagers, who were talked about as one of the unmissables, but I did see Conor O’Brien play in Body & Soul early on Saturday and he was fantastic. The Comedy Improv gang were in top form – Steve Frost, Phil Jupitus, Joe Rooney, Steve Small and another guy who’s name I missed.

There weren’t many downers, apart from the old reliables – toilets and weather and even the toilets weren’t too bad in my opinion. The weather was particularly bad on Sunday evening which wreaked havoc with the campsite – all credit to Campus, mine managed to weather the storm.

All in all, another great festival – rock on 2011!


A short note on the first(ish) Dublin Google Technology User’s Group

The first official (?) Dublin GTUG meeting took place last night in Google in Barrow St. For a first meeting, we were very happy with how it went. (There was a meeting in July, but this was somehow not an official GTUG meeting as the group had not been formed and it was just kickstarting the process).

The meeting opened with the obligatory pizzas, kindly provided by Google. Following the discussion of the vagaries of the Irish weather, the proceedings proper commenced. It started with everyone – there were about 28 people there – saying who they are and why they are interested in Google technology. This varied from stories of lots of experience with lots of different Google technologies to just here for the pizza ;-).

Brian Farrell then set the scene with an overview of what GTUGs are, where they meet, what they do, how many people engage with them, etc. This was intended to start people thinking about what the Dublin GTUG could do. It was interesting to note that even though this was just the first meeting, the numbers of people engaging are very encouraging. For example, London has 216 GTUG members and a typical turnout of about 30 for events; we have 61 members of the group and 28 attendees at the first meeting. Brian’s presentation here.

I then gave a talk which was some kind of whistle-stop tour of a very wide range of Google technologies – the point of this talk was twofold: (i) to show people how many different technologies Google works on and (ii) to provide some context for a discussion on the technologies that are of most interest to the folks in the group.  Robert Kielty – funny guy that he is – described my talk as simultaneously interesting and boring; it provides a long list of Google technologies, which I went through, most of which were boring, but there were some he was not aware of which were interesting. My presentation here.

Following the two talks, Vishal Vatsa gave a very cool walkthrough of the Scripting Layer for Android (previously known as Android Scripting Environment). Vishal showed how this can be used to access the Android functionality via your scripting language of choice – essentially, it’s a set of Java based RPC handlers which tie into the interfaces provided by the platform – these RPC handlers can be invoked via RPC calls from your favourite scripting language. It did have some limitations :

  • the UI components are limited for now;
  • to package an app written using SLA for distribution, you would need to include the interpreter for your scripting language;
  • the tools for test and debug look a little clunky

However, all of these are sure to improve over the coming months. There were a couple of further interesting points relating to this which are probably worth a mention:

  • it does not require a rooted phone;
  • it can tie in to the intents mechanism of Android, so it is possible to have an Android app which is part SLA, part Java

Vishal used it to write a nice SMS forwarding app – he needed to forward SMS’s from a work phone to a personal phone and wrote a simple app to do this in a couple of hours. Very cool indeed!

In true coder fashion, Vishal did not bother with any slideware, so I can’t link to any here.

After the talks, we adjourned to the SchoolHouse for some convivial chat.

All in all, I found it very enjoyable – I hope next month’s meet can be just as much fun!