Build it and they will come


sarflondondunc-battery-brick

Somehow I have spent way too much of my time over the last year on efforts to replace the build tools on projects that already have working builds.

Photo © Duncan Rimmer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Granted the builds had/have problems, as most do, but for some reason the ‘solution’ always seems to be to move to the new shinny build technology of the week, without really focusing on what that’s meant to improve even at a technical level, yet alone from an end user/business perspective. You may as well be arguing about tabs vs 2/4 spaces.

The latest fun build technology adventure has been to switch from Grunt to Gulp. (If you’re fortunate enough not to have heard of either, you may think I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent but no, Grunt and Gulp are both real tools to help automate build tasks.)

If it was up to me, I would probably avoid using Grunt or Gulp completely:

It’s not up to me though, so here are a few early observations about Gulp:

  • It seems to have a few issues with error handling, although gulp-plumber has helped
  • More worryingly, Gulp appears to have a tendency to hang, which doesn’t seem ideal from an integration point of view
  • A lot of the examples I found did things ‘the wrong way’
    (There’s a plugin blacklist and I’ve found a few strongish views on how not to do things in Gulp, just less concrete examples on what the right way is so far)
  • There are some useful recipes to get you started
  • It’s not really any better or worse than Grunt, just different
    (Not that I’ve spent that much time with Grunt)

Given there’s almost no chance of making everyone happy with the choice of build tools, I would just leave the decision to whoever creates a new project, hopefully taking in to account ease of development and continuous delivery, and then leave it alone.

If you really think you want to change from Grunt to Gulp, or between any other build technologies, don’t do it. No, really, it’s a waste of time. You’re thinking about trying Broccoli now aren’t you? Or Brunch? (Really, I’m not making these names up!) Why don’t you switch off your computer and go out and do something less pointless instead? If you really can’t stop yourself, at least buy everyone on the team lunch first.

And now for something completely different


After almost 10 years in Master Data Management, most of which with the rather lovely view below, I’ve moved on to Watson.

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I can’t quite believe I stayed in the same department that long but there were plenty of fresh challenges along the way, and no shortage of people inside and outside IBM to keep it interesting.

I’ve been particularly lucky to have had so much support building up the MDM Developers community, which should be in safe hands to continue growing in the future. (If you’re interested in MDM and haven’t attended one of the live tech talk sessions, I would definitely recommend trying one. There are recordings of all the previous events on YouTube and check out Dany’s OSGi talk for a great example.)

If my first day in Watson is anything to go by, the next challenge is going to be far from dull!

Real Ale Train


After a recommendation after my last trip on the Watercress Line way back in 2009 I finally made it on to the RAT! (And it was another birthday present… in fact it was a coordinated effort from the in-laws which included the ticket, beer, @mrsjtonline sitting and a lift back from Alton! Thank you!)

I suspect that there may have been a few regulars on the train who knew what they were doing and arrived earlier than we did. Fortunately there was still space right at the back/front of the train (it spends the evening going to Alresford and back):

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It was a fantastic evening with a superb mix of beer, company, food, weather, views and the steam train of course. Best evening out for a long time and well worth the wait.

There was plenty of time to get off the train as well, with a chance to peek inside a signal box:

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Or just spend time outside on the platform:

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Definitely should have done this sooner! Maybe I’ll get a chance to try the dining train in another six years or so…

Decisions, decisions


I was caught unprepared by an actual parliamentary candidate knocking on the door this evening! Unfortunately I was about to bath the kraken so I didn’t have time to come up with any sensible questions. Still, it’s about time I took an interest in the election…

It’s not long since I last got to vote for an MP and, like last time, I’m undecided. Unfortunately there aren’t as many candidates to choose from this time, with the final list being:

  • Declan Clune (TUSC)
  • Patricia Culligan (UKIP)
  • Mims Davis (Conservative)
  • Ray Hall, Beer (Baccy and Scratchings)
  • Mark Latham (Labour)
  • Ron Meldrum (Green)
  • Mike Thornton (Lib Dem)

There’s more information about all the Eastleigh candidates on YourNextMP, which was handy for finding most of them on twitter. At some point I hope to get round to contacting all the candidates with a few questions and, if I do, I’ll post any responses in case it helps anyone else. The first source of inspiration I’ve spotted is the Open Rights Group general election party manifesto wiki.

Early impressions are:

Hopefully I’ll have more to go on by 7th May! If anyone has any thoughts, including any of the candidates, please leave a comment.

Open Data Camp Day 1


If I don’t post a few notes from today’s Open Data Camp now, I never will, so here are a few things I scribbled down- it could be worse, I could have posted a PDF containing photos of the the actual scribbles!

So out of this choice

odcamp-sessions

…I picked, Open Data for Elections, Open Addresses, Data Literacy, Designing Laws using Open Data, and Augmented Reality for Walkers.

Open Data for Elections

I’ve been following @floppy‘s crazy plan to get elected for a while, so this was the easiest decision of the day: what drives someone to embrace the gory inner workings of democracy like this?

Falling turnout it would seem, and concern for a functioning democracy.

The first step of his journey was the Open Politics Manifesto, which I’ve so far failed to edit- must try harder.

Perhaps more interesting was how this, and use of open data, fits into a political platform as a service. It would be nice to have the opportunity to see a few additions to the usual suspects at the ballot box, and Eastleigh got a rare chance to see what that could be like with a by election. Perhaps open data services for candidates could tip he balance enough to encourage more people to stand.

Things that sounded interesting:

  • Democracy Club
  • OpenCorporates
  • Data Packages
  • Open data certificates (food hygiene certificates for data?)
  • Candidates get one free leaflet delivery by Royal Mail- I wonder how big they expect those leaflets to be!

Open Addresses

@floppy and @giacecco introduced the (huge) problems they need to overcome to rebuild a large data set without polluting that data with any sources with intellectual property restrictions. Open Addresses still have a long way to go and there were comments about how long Open Street Map has been around, and it still has gaps.

They have some fun ideas about crowd sourcing address data (high vis jacket required) and there are some interesting philosophical questions around consent for addresses to be added.

It will be interesting to see whether Open Addresses can get enough data to provide real value, and what services they build.

Data Literacy

Mark and Laura led a discussion around data literacy founded in the observation that competent people, with all the skills you could reasonably expect them to have, still struggle with handling data sets.

Who needs to be data literate? Data scientists? Data professionals? Everyone?

Data plumbers? There were some analogies with actual plumbers! You might not be a plumber but it’s useful to know something about it.

If we live in a data driven society, we should know how to ask the right questions. Need domain expertise and technical expertise.

Things that sounded interesting:

Designing Laws using Open Data

@johnlsheridan pointed out that the least interesting thing to do with legislation is to publish it and went on to share some fascinating insights into the building blocks of statute law. It sounds like the slippery language used in legislation boils down to a small number of design patterns built with simple building blocks, such as a duty along with a claim right, and so on.

Knowing these building blocks makes it easier to get the gist of what laws are trying to achieve, helps navigate statutes, and could give policy makers a more reliable way to effect a goal.

For example, it’s easier to make sense of the legislation covering supply of gas, and it’s possible to identify where there may be problems. The gas regulator has a duty to protect the interests of consumers by promoting competition, but that’s a weak duty without a clear claim right to enforce it.

John also demonstrated a tool – http://ngrams.elasticbeanstalk.com – exploring how the language used in legislation has changed over time, for example how the use of “shall” has declined and been replaced by “is to be”.

Augmented Reality for Walkers

My choice of Android tablet was largely based on what might work reasonably well for maps and augmented reality, so I seized this opportunity!

Nick Whitelegg described the Hikar Android app he’s been working on, which is intended to help hikers follow paths by overlaying map data on a live camera feed.

The data is a combination of Open Street Map mapping data, with Ordnance Survey height data, which is downloaded and cached as tiles around your current location. Open GL is used to overlay a 3D view of the map data on the live camera feed, using the Android sensor APIs to detect the device’s rotation.

I’ve just downloaded and installed Hikar and, while my tablet is a tad slow, it works really well. I live somewhere flat and boring but the height data made a noticeable difference when Nick demonstrated the app in hilly Winchester.

Still to come: Day 2!

Why doesn’t Eclipse/Installation Manager work on Linux?


For the next time I’m grumbling about yet more incompatibilities causing problems with Eclipse on Linux, adding the following properties to the bottom of the launcher configuration file seems to help:

-Dorg.eclipse.swt.internal.gtk.useCairo=false
-Dorg.eclipse.swt.internal.gtk.cairoGraphics=false

For example, edit the install.ini file for Installation Manager, which is where I first encountered problems after updating Red Hat Enterprise Linux last year. The problem appears to be due to incompatible GTK and Cairo versions, and there’s a related IBM technote for Installation Manager on RHEL 6.6.

Unfortunately, while that was enough to get Installation Manager working, the Eclipse IDE still seems somewhat unstable. I been exporting the following environment variable for a while but, based on the SDK Known Issues wiki page, maybe that doesn’t make any difference with recent versions:

export GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=true

Another suggestion I’ve seen recently, related to tooltips, is to export another environment variable, although so far I haven’t tried it:

export GRE_HOME=/dev/null

Need to experiment a bit more with those last two, and see if I can narrow down whether there are any other real problems.