In Our Time

In Our Time is an excellent weekly radio program from the BBC. The really cool aspect is that the beeb is making it available as a podcast (here's the RSS feed).

The host invites well known scientists, philosophers, historians, etc. to debate and discuss a central question or theme. Recently we've had topics such as prime numbers, Geoffrey Chaucer, human evolution, and Catherine the Great. Fascinating stuff.

Warning: only the latest podcast is available, and then only for seven days. So make sure you run your podcast client regularly!

SQL Server Adapter Fixed (sort of)

Many thanks to Ryan Tomayko for fixing the MS SQL adapter bug I posted a little while back.

Things aren't all roses, as Ryan states:

Quick Note: the SQL parsing regexp stuff in this adapter is bound to fail in many edge cases. This patch improves the accuracy of the regexen in many places but the basic parsing logic is flawed and could probably use a complete overhaul that accounted for things like habtm and eager loading issues from the beginning.

But it's still cool to see the process working and bugs getting fixed Cheers Ryan!

Money on ice

I heard about the ice trade a while back and always meant to look into it.

In the Victorian era, though the fridge had not yet been invented, there was still a great demand for ice. It was used to preserve goods, cool drinks, and yes, make ice cream.

So entrepreneurs sprang into action. These companies would harvest ice from frozen lakes, glaciers, etc. and ship it to large metropolitan cities where it would stored and sold.

It's amazing to think that something as efemeral as an ice cube was worth enough to warrant cutting it from a lake, loading it onto a ship, and transporting it hundreds if not thousands of miles (e.g. across the Atlantic).

Here's a description of the Norway/London ice trade (with pictures!). I've also put The Frozen Water Trade on my reading list.

Google Kids

So I was googling for Mt Diablo tarantulas with my son Thomas (6) and as soon as the search results appeared, he said "Google!".

I turned 'round, pointed to the logo, and asked him if he was actually reading the word "Google"?
"I've been reading that for a long time" he answered.

Off we went to I pointed to the logo: "What does this say?"
"Mee... Mee... Crow... Saft... Soft... Crowsoft?!"

Hmmm... Not quite as successful.

Let's try I point to the big "Yahoo" logo at the top of the page. "How about this one, what does it say?"
Thomas looked at it for a long time then exclaimed "Yipee!"

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Clearly Google is winning six year olds' mindshare.

China rules

I was on Alexa today and looked at their top sites, i.e. the most traffic'ed sites on the net. In the top 10, four sites were Chinese and one Japanese. Very impressive. Obviously internet growth mirrors economic growth.

When I was in China a year ago I was impressed by the amount of construction going on. Huge cranes congregate in large numbers in cities. Four to eight lane roads run through the countryside with comparitively little traffic, awaiting the future onrush of cars (parking lots are for some reason still way too small though). We were even overtaken by a Lamborghini one day!

I expect most websites will have a "Made in China" logo in their footers before long :-)

ActiveRecord and SQL Server 2005 not ready for primetime

We use a lot of Microsoft technologies at work, so I was curious to see how well ActiveRecord would work with SQL Server 2005 (I tested against the CTP edition).

Why not stick with MySQL? Well, though I use MySQL personally for some applications, SQL Server 2005 is significantly more sophisticated. If it works well with AR, then I get the best of both worlds...

The feedback is mixed. On the plus side, getting up and running was painless. You won't be able to do windows integrated auth but SQL Server auth works fine and once the user is created, you're up and running.

On the downside, the SQL Server adapter is broken. I logged a bug in the Rails tracker (see link for more details). In some cases, the adapter can confuse data in the query for its instructions, and end up running the mangling the query. We either need a much more sophisticated set of regexs or (preferrably) a way for an adapter to get the information it needs without resorting to parsing the query.

Interestingly the MySQL adapter doesn't need to resort to regexps at all, nor do most (all?) of the other adapters. For the moment, I'm sticking with Rails on MySQL!

Sam Ruby on Rails

Amusing quote by Sam Ruby speaking to a group of Java developers:

  • Rails is the 80/20 rule applied twice
  • 64% of the function for 4% of the complexity
  • What about the "other" 36%?
  • If anybody here doesn't believe that J2EE has 36% fat, I'm talking to the wrong audience.

Reasons to Love Ruby

Bruce Tate's article on alternatives to Java mentions many of the aspects of ruby that I'm growing to love.

It wouldn't make sense to repeat them all here, others have stated ruby's strengths far better than I.

However, I would recommend giving ruby a shot. I gave this language a cursory look a couple years ago, after seeing a /. posting. At the time I thought "Hmmm... it just looks like a slightly better scripting language".

In some ways I feel I was right, ruby offers evolutionary improvements over other languages. But in many ways I was wrong, because the sum of all its improvements make ruby stand out compared to its peers.

What I like the most about ruby is its intuitiveness. Whenever I learn a new programming language, I always feel that I'm stumbling around at first, stringing together keywords thinking "I bet this won't work" because I haven't internalized the language's ideosyncrasies yet.

Well, in ruby I'm finding to my surprise that my bets are wrong, things do work the way I think they should. A language that intuitively makes sense is worth cherishing.

Here are some resources to get people started:

Tour the Earth

I played with the Keyhole client a long time ago: it allowed users to roam the earth viewing satellite images, zooming over my house, checking out where I worked, tilting the view so I could the images rendered on the contour of landscape (very impressive). It was all going so well... And then my 30 day free trial expired.

Though I enjoyed it, it didn't seem worth the $30/year subscription. I mean, it was just a toy right?

Fortunately for everyone, a few months ago Google (having acquired Keyhole) decided to improve and make the entry level client free to all. However altruistic Google is, I suspect they also believed that the free version of (the now-rebranded) Google Earth was the best advertisement for the commercial version.

So is it worth trying Google Earth?

Most definitely yes! And not just for the pleasure of flying over your neighborhood. Playing the virtual tourist is a ton of fun, esp. when all you do is type "Paris, France" in the search box and you're wisked off to Europe (in my case zooming out from North America, flying over the Atlantic, and zooming down on Paris). And once you're there, why not check out the Eiffel tower?

The software's real strength, as you'd expect from Google, is in the way it leverages the internet community. The Google Earth bulletin boards are filled with lots of destinations (double-click on them in the browser and they'll direct your Google Earth program to that spot, usually with notes describing what you're seeing) and overlays (imagine being able to see hurricane Katrina's before and after impact on New Orleans, or viewing storm forecast models).

My favorite is the National Geographic coverage of Africa and the data they've set-up for Google Earth. There are over 4,000 high resolution pictures that you can zoom in on, each represented by a little plane icon. Click on the icon once and you get a callout with a low-res picture and description of what there is to see. Double-click on the icon and you zoom into the picture. Check out the elephant family I found... And this isn't even the full resolution.


Very cool!

Hello world!

Being very late to this party, I nevertheless thought it would be fun to start a blog. Since technology is what I spend most my time immersed in, technology is what we'll mostly be talking about. So, by way of introduction, here's what this site is running on (as of the time of writing!):
  • Hosting:
  • Web server: Apache
  • Database server: MySQL v4
  • Blogging software: WordPress
  • Custom functionality: Rails
Props to In setting up a friend's account and dealing with the hassle of moving domains & registrations around, as well as installing & configuring this blog and another one (, I've found their support to fast and reliable, and the functionality they've written to painlessly set up MySQL databases and software packages (such as WordPress, Gallery and MediaWiki) is excellent. Plus, they support Rails. What more could you ask for? :-)