31 December 2008

2009 "Year of the Aquarius"

Planet Jupiter moves to the Aquarius sector in 2009, and this is supposed to be a good thing for people born (like me) between 21th January and 19th February. Or so my mother says, in her crazy Italian way where "everybody knows" these things are b*llocks but they still believe them "just in case" (exactly like they do with Catholicism and Hell, by the way).

It certainly won't be an easy year for me, with the new "cryware/nappieware" scheduled for release around July. Things will get pretty hectic, I guess.

On a less personal note, lots of people said 2008 was "The Year of Obama", "The Year of the Crisis" or even "The Year of YouTube". They are Wrong. Sorry Barack, 2008 was "The Year of ABBA".

See you in 2009, perverts.

29 December 2008

Guido van Rossum on speed and the array module

Giulio (through his feed on Delicious.com) pointed me to a nice post from "benevolent Python-dictator" Guido van Rossum. The essay describes a few general rules for improving performance of Python programs, and it also reminds us of "an odd corner of Python", the array module. Go and read it, it's worth it.

It also made me discover "an odd corner" of the Python website: the collection of Guido's essays. As demonstrated by the original post, this page is much more interesting than Guido's own blog, and so it's very disappointing that it doesn't have a feed to monitor. Mmhh... Edit: well, stuff there looks a bit stale, I guess Guido doesn't use it very much anymore. Still, it's the sort of thing that should have a feed. Maybe python.org should move to django? ;)

19 December 2008

La mia Italia

Libertà e giustizia sociale, che sono poi le mete del socialismo, costituiscono un binomio inscindibile. Se a me socialista offrissero la riforma più radicale sul piano sociale, ma privandomi della libertà, io la rifiuterei. [...] Ma la libertà senza giustiza sociale può anche essere una conquista vana. Lei può considerare veramente libero un uomo che ha fame, che è nella miseria, che non ha lavoro, che è umiliato perché non sa come mantenere i suoi figli e educarli? Questo non è un uomo libero; sarà libero di bestemmiare e di imprecare, ma questa non è la libertà che intendo io. -- Alessandro Pertini

12 December 2008

On the Manchester Congestion Charge Referendum

Residents of Greater Manchester were recently called to vote on a proposal, which would have seen the introduction of a London-style "congestion charge" in exchange for improvements in public transport.

The results were announced today, and the plans were rejected by 79% of the voters. Turnout was about 53%, which is closer to recent General Elections turnout (about 60%) than Local Elections (about 35%).

I'd say this was a clear result. Consider this: the plans were strongly supported by all Labour-dominated councils, and opposed only by the few LiberalDemocrats- and Conservative-controlled councils (Trafford and Stockport). It's only because of LibDem and Tory opposition that the referendum was called, and even them were more or less persuaded to support the proposal (after obtaining the referendum).

When 80% of your own electorate votes against your proposals, it's clear that something doesn't work. The Greater Manchester area is a solid Labour stronghold, and it's been for generations. If the totality of local Labour councillors support a scheme which their own electorate so overwhelmingly despises, then there's something broken in the relationship between public opinion and elected representatives.

I used to live in a city with a similar situation; it used to be called "The Red Bologna", a city where communists and socialists dominated the political debate for more than 50 years. And then, "all of a sudden", a conservative mayor was voted in, to the shock of political elites only. They were now separated, arrogant, completely unable to understand their own voters and persuaded that they knew better than anyone else. It clearly was a long process, in a city so ideologically rooted in socialist ideology, but they didn't see it coming until too late.

I hope the local Labour councillors will get the message. Their progressive electorate will not tolerate new, wide-ranging regressive taxes which would only benefit a few private bus companies.

Please don't force us to vote you out; we'd rather not do it, if only you listened to us a bit more.

11 December 2008

Yes, I'm schizo

The last two posts show complete opposite attitudes. The one on Python shows my better self: rational, positive, calm. The one on Amarok shows my "bad" self: melodramatic, irrational, sarcastic.

Maybe I seriously need medication...?

On Amarok 2, Or: How You Can Always Find A Way Of Shooting Yourself In The Foot

At the beginning, it was WinAmp. And Linux people saw it was good, and lo, XMMS was born. But then XMMS grew old, as it was built with obscure graphic libraries for X-server that no-one knew anymore, and its interface was kludged by too many broken skins. So the desktop-people spawned dozens of their own players, all broken in one way or the other, and the Linux people grew sad.

One day, from the sky a new player fell, and it had excellent playlist and collection management, and it would read your mind and find music you didn't even know you had anymore. They called it Amarok, and started spreading the good news to the unfaithful, and lo, even the barbarian "windowsers" started being converted by the power of the Loved Wolf.

But in their hearts, people knew that the good times would end sooner or later. Because it was written that decent programs, when condemned to upgrade cycles, will inevitably be subject to feature creep and unneeded refactoring. And so it was, once again: Amarok 2 was unleashed onto the world, and people could see its brokenness. The program had been corrupted (like many before) by the temptation of integrating "with the web", renouncing playlists and smart features in order to pander to brainless chavs -- people more interested in seeing an album sleeve or reading about the sex life of boybands than listening to the actual music. And the Linux masses were left stranded, once again, without a decent media player, condemned to wander forever in the land of sadness and broken players.

(All this to say that Amarok 2 sucks -- they've taken away good features in exchange for eye-candy which reminds me of the terrible Windows Media Player. I'm staying on Amarok 1.x forever.)

Update: a year later...

06 December 2008

If only we could re-use stop-energy...

I confess: I'm a whiner, a moaner, a reactionary bitch. I like to pundit and joke about new things, it's actually much easier than making new things, isn't it... You can just wait there and shoot from the hip, it'll make you feel all righteous and smart, and it's free!

Italians are champions at moaning.
Fat lot of good it does to our GDP.

You probably already know that Python 3.0 was released a couple of days ago. After the first 24 hours of joy, the inevitable wave of stop-energy hit the crap-blogo-sphere, mostly in the form of classic concern-trolling or uninformed criticism. Now, this is inevitable; for every big action (and releasing Py3k was a huge step) produces a reaction.

The transition to Python 3 was announced eight years ago, discussed in detail for ages and eventually implemented in the last two years. Dedicated tools helping the porting effort have been developed and work pretty well, certainly better than most VB6-to-.NET wizards released by Microsoft around 2001. The old codeline will be maintained and updated for well over a year from now, with at least another major release planned, so there's no hurry to upgrade, no pressure whatsoever. Documentation of the changes is pretty exhaustive. Major third-party apps and libs have been ported already or are in the process of being ported.

So, what's left to moan about? Breaking backward compatibility. The very first thing that was announced 8 years ago, and since discussed in the most excruciating details, to the point where the "major changes" seem almost banal.

"Yeah, we got great Unicode support and the with statement, but so what? print is now a function! That's it, I'm switching to Ruby!"
"Wait, did you ever actually use Python? Do you know how much painful it was to work with Unicode? Or all that crap about new-style and old-style classes?"
"Well, I don't really know the language much..."

Stop-energy is for losers and trolls. Ignore the bitching, Python 3 will rock.

(now, if only I can manage to compile the flipping thing...)