29 October 2007

Pain can be useful

So, I've spent a few hours improving my little J2ME project. It's pretty much done, what I need now is a little bit of polishing and, more importantly, the server-side app, which I just started to "conjure up" in django.

I didn't remember how painful Java development can be. Fixed-size arrays, .put() and .get() every five seconds, loads of redundant declarations (if a method can only return a String, why should I also declare that a reference to the result is of type String? what else could it be?), not having an interactive environment to quickly test out ideas. Eclipse goes a long way to reduce the pain, but it's still so much more painful than doing the same thing in Python. And when everything is done... NullPointerException.

The good side is that fear of pain forces you to really think things through before you write them down. In Python, I end up re-writing things over and over again, because there's no (perceived) penalty in doing it, and I more or less "code my thoughts"; of course, I eventually end up spending lots of time on this sort of messing.
With Java, I'm forced to think about the proper structure up-front, because I dread having to write it down more than once; but this means that it's then a matter of monkey-coding a clear structure, and once it's done, it's done, and I can get on with other things.

Python North-West meeting

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 6:30 PM at MDDA (Lower Ground Floor, 117-119 Portland Street, Manchester, England M1 6ED)

New meeting of the Python North-West community!
Michael Sparks will talk on "Greylisting using Kamaelia", how to reduce spam using the Kamaelia framework. See this post from Michael's blog for some details.

After the talks, people will be able to showcase their cool python stuff, get tips from others, or just have a chat with fellow-minded python geeks.
Free wifi and refreshments will be provided! Feel free to bring your gear to showcase cool python hacks.
If you want to give a talk at this meeting (or the next one...), just post the idea on the mailing list or drop me a message.

Empowering programs

I remember being impressed, more than three years ago, by this post by Joel Spolsky on Microsoft's "Empowering" partner program. It looked like Microsoft was (for once) doing the right thing to help the little guy.

Now that I'm starting to explore the possibilities of setting up shop by myself, I'm looking around for similar programs; I don't plan to use MS stuff, so Empower is simply not for me. I intend to use mainly free open source tools at the moment, but chances are that sooner or later I'll have to pay my tribute to some Big Company, so it might be good to get some info on ways to save a few bucks or get good tech tips.

My biz plan involves J2ME apps, Python (for django, so web stuff) and the inevitable database; it might (or might not) include some very small (and collateral) piece of desktop software sometime in the future.  A proper custom-built server will probably enter the equation very soon, and sooner or later I'll need new hardware anyway. So, what's out there that might interest me?

First I checked the Sun Partner Advantage program. It seems to consist mainly in hardware discounts (fair enough, they are first of all a hardware company... aren't they?); the Mobile initiative is limited to big players, not everyday members (bad, bad move). Not sure is worth the hassle, as their gear is really uber-priced and I couldn't ever make them my preferred hardware supplier. I might be wrong though; the Sun website is a perfect reflection of the company: huge, disparate, often byzantine, full of hidden gems here and there as well as boatloads of useless marketing spiels... I might have missed the great bits, who knows.

I've also looked into the Trolltech partner program, for the (inevitable) little desktop bits. As much as I love the technology, anything technically significant comes with the $1500/yr option; overall, it feels more like a commercial relationship than technical partnership. Probably too pricey for what I need.

Uhm, what else? Where's the killer partner for new mobile/web startups?

25 October 2007

GMail can now be accessed via IMAP

Yay, it works! I'm currently downloading my 250Mb of mail archive... This means I can now use KMail again (which has the best implementation ever of GPG integration).

P.S., if you don't see the option under Settings ("Forwarding and POP" is now "Forwarding and POP/IMAP"), try changing your language settings to en-us and then logging off and back on.

22 October 2007

New office, old (stale) job


It's so depressing to compare my little home project (codename "BeanCounter"), all the excitement of building apps for mobile phones, and web services, and learning and learning and learning... with the day job, which (even in the new "big red O" building with fancy chairs) is just strolling through customers' complaints for bad software, and a constant flow of regressions, with zero help from developers (or anybody else).

For once, I'd want to do something that makes sense, build something new... and be paid for it.

20 October 2007

Crazy thoughts (pazza idea)

While going through the periodic find-new-job-which-sucks-slightly-less-than-previous routine, I keep having crazy thoughts about starting my own business.

I don't want to do yet another webdev shop, competing with 18-year-olds undercutting you from their bedrooms. I have a few ideas that I think are marketable; some of them are completely original, some aren't but their market is potentially so big that it doesn't matter.

One falling in the latter category involves mobile phones, and how to use them in companies to streamline certain processes. To do this kind of things, you don't need much on the phone UI; random sync with some sort of networked server is easy to do.

I've looked into Python for S60, but unfortunately, while potentially fantastic, is not really there yet in terms of adoption and ease of deployment. The only realistic choice is J2ME; to my surprise, it looks easy enough to build what I want with it, and pretty much all recent handsets support it well enough for my needs.

So I installed EclipseME and the Sun Java Wireless Toolkit, and I'm already 40% towards having a working protoype. I just need to wire it to a simple django app at the other end, and then I could really sell it, or at least do a round of funding (there are some fantastic government schemes for small new businesses here in England).

What scares me at the moment is setting the right price for it; it's not the kind of thing that will save massive amounts of money to a company, but it will speed up some operations. I need to quantify these improvements in order to have a strong sales pitch to set the right price, and to be able to build a proper business plan which will take into account development time, expenses, etc. I also need to catch up fast with the main player in the market already (a small Portland-based operation) which has a head-start but, I think, not yet the amount of money required to break it big in the European space. As I said, the market itself looks big enough for more than one player, and after you establish relationships with customers you can go and build new things for them.

In the meantime, I'm using friends as focus groups ;) and the feedback is good. A colleague even offered himself as part-time head for development, which is something I'd really want before doing the jump.

In all this, the folks at GeekUp are being really supportive. I wish I'd found that list 3 years ago.


If you have a linux box, and still don't know about IEs4Linux, you positively must go and download it. 5 minutes and you'll have a complete IE6 (and 5.5, and 5.0 if you really want) installed in its own directory, no root privileges required, no messing with wine configuration. So now you can test your websites, or access all those boneheaded IE-only services, straight from your linux box, no nede for vmwares and double-boot setups. Nice!

11 October 2007

Moving on

I'm officially looking for a new job. Feedback has been good so far, even though all replies are really for java/asp/php roles; I'd rather move straight to Python if possible.

If anyone knows about interesting python roles in the North of England (London doesn't really appeal to me, but I guess I wouldn't say no to boatloads of money), please drop me a line at g dot lacava at gmail dot com.

03 October 2007


I published my django presentation slides on the Files section of the list page (in ODP and PDF).

My notes on the meeting are in the relevant post at Happenings in Python Usergroups.

I certainly enjoyed it, and I hope the other guys did too. The presentation was ok (even though I slightly fudged the demo, and didn't really go too deep into details); I think people enjoyed the overview, and I tried to communicate what django was all about, more than showing clever tricks or how to satisfy obscure requirements.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll actually make a living out of this stuff...