Archive for January, 2004

Book list

I added my latest book purchases to the book list. As you can see, I am in a SQL frenzy these days.

It's about the content, not the author

I can’t really agree with
Rick’s statements
on the importance of knowing who a blogger is.  Rick
writes:

I simply disregard blogs that give me no way to identify the blogger. Life is
too short to be wasting it trying to decide whether someone’s message is worthy
regardless of their failure to have enough self-respect and courage to identify
themselves as the speaker of the message.

Far from me the idea to defend what Saunders is doing, but I have to say I
don’t agree with the above statement at all.

Why is it so important to know the real identity of weblogger?

We work in a domain where it’s pretty easy (almost scientific) to determine
the validity of articles and posts.  I don’t care if the article was
written by a twelve-year old, a software guru with thirty years of experience or
some marketing shill serving a hidden agenda.  I can decide for myself if
this person is posting something that I find
interesting.

Granted, knowing the employer of such a person might possibly be relevant but I
don’t even need that to decide if I want to subscribe to that person’s weblog.


Rick’s recent posting
is equally misguided.  Obviously, you can’t hold
a weblogger to the same standard you would expect from a nation leader or a
journalist.  Let’s try and keep things in perspective.

The bottom line is:  if you don’t know the author of an article or of a
blog entry, it is your duty to apply maximal skepticism and use your judgment
before forming an opinion.

Spam, spam, spam

Like everybody else, I am subjected to various forms of spam every day. At the top of the list, email, of course, which pretty much everyone reading this weblog probably endures every day. But I also receive more unusual forms of spam that only a smaller portion of the online community ever has to deal with.

As the owner of a relatively big mailing-list (EJBGen, 620 members as of today), I am a regular target for both untargetted (sex, loans, etc…) and targetted (recruiting firms) spam. I have always been reluctant to make my mailing-lists moderated, because my time is limited but also because I want posters to feel free to email whenever they feel like it. Then I realized that Yahoogroups offers two very effective ways to prevent spamming without resorting to full-length moderation.

First of all, I receive an email every time a new member joins. Mailing-list spammers are not very clever at making out fake names, so their email address is usually a dead give away (cheap_loans@yahoo.com, etc…). I don’t expect this trend to last much longer, but it allows me to preemptively remove and ban the person quickly.

The second feature that I recently turned on is that first posters get moderated when they send their first message. This is extremely effective and it will force the spammers to send at least one on-topic message on the list before being able to unload their crap on my subscribers, something which I don’t think will be worth their time.

Then, there is weblog comment spam.

Most weblogs allow readers to leave a comment, optionally allowing them to leave an email address and a Web site. It didn’t take long to spammers to figure out that this was a cheap way to have many self-created links to their own Web site, thereby artificially inflating their Google ranking.

What baffles me with this kind of spam is that it strikes me as an extremely inefficient way to boost your ranking. First of all, you need to go through a form to file a spam, and while it is theoretically possible to automate pretty much any kind of interaction with a browser, I suspect most of these spams are made by hand. Leaving a comment on a weblog is an expensive process, aggravated by the variety in weblogs and procedures needed to achieve that result. Another thing to keep in mind is that this kind of spam is only effective if the comments are displayed prominently on the weblog, or at least, that they are reachable by a GoogleBot, another thing that is not a guarantee.

So I am really shocked to see that despite these facts, spammers take the time to leave fake comments in weblogs. Which is pretty alarming since it confirms that these guys have a lot of resources and money to be able to finance this kind of grunt work.

So far, I was just deleting the comments manually, one by one, which is pretty easy since I receive an email every time a comment is left on my Weblog. However, I received my first “full scale” attack a few days ago and a spammer left over thirty spam comments spread over that many entries. So I decided to install MT-Blacklist, which is now up and running and working great. Spammers can now be blocked right away if the content of their comment matches a black list, but in case they work around this first measure, I still receive the comment in email and the bottom of that email contains a link allowing me to eradicate and blacklist the offender in one fell click. Quite a relief.

I wonder what spammers will come up with next…

iPod Mini

Well, Steve finally gave the scoop on the new iPod. It’s 5 Gb (1000 songs says Steve, adjust with the Jobs distortion factor accordingly), thinner and lighter than the competition. It’s priced at $250, $50 more than the average MP3 Flash players.

It sounds good except that Jobs also announced that the entry-level iPod was switching from 10 Gb to 15 Gb, while keeping its original price of $299.

Maybe there are people who will want to save $50 at the expense of 67% of capacity but I really doubt they will be legion. It seems to me the iPod Mini is hitting exactly in the middle of the two sweet spots: either lower the capacity and the price or bring it closer to the regular iPod. I predict disappointing sales for that very reason, but time will tell…

A trip back with father Tiresias

I am just back from France where I spent the holiday break with my family, split between Paris and Deauville (my home town). I only go back once a year and it’s always an interesting experience. In many ways, I have the feeling that things don’t change a bit back home. Same old faces on the television, same people in politics, same strikes, same scandals, same artists.

Every year, I go through the same puzzling experience: I feel like a total stranger in France but I am surprised by my ability at not only understanding the language but actually being able to blend in. Believe it or not, but I can really pass as a native. This probably sounds funny to you but it’s constant rediscovery for me. The only giveaway of my expat status is not that I use English words in my French (I love the French language and I do my best to always look for the right French words, even if English words tend to come up more easily), but rather that my sentences and my words sometimes have an American intonation to them. Also, my absolute ignorance of certain events and famous personalities would probably be a dead give away.

Like every year, I am impressed by the amount of SMS messages that French exchange every day. I heard that on January 1st, four million text messages were exchanged between midnight and fifteen past midnight. By 8 o’clock, the number had reached twenty million, to which you need to add SMS messages exchanged on private networks (so 30-40 million is probably a more accurate estimate). The state of affairs in the United States is pathetic compared to Europeans. Hardly anyone even knows what SMS is, much less use it at all.

That being said, I am happy to report that for the first time in three-four years, America seems to have caught up in terms of cell phones: form factor and functionalities are now on par with what French use.

Another thing that is always a wonderful rediscovery is the breadth of French TV news. You need to see it for yourself to realize how much Europe is a reality there. There is not a single TV newscast that doesn’t include at least 30 if not 50% of news from all over Europe. This is something that the US needs to learn very fast. Even San Francisco, probably one of the most varied city in America in terms of ethnic representations, is very much guilty of “nombrilisme” (the act of staring at one’s navel). TV or newspaper, it’s really really hard to find any kind of non-American news.

I also used this time to catch up on French movies. Big disappointment there, I found pretty much all the movies I watched very boring or even pathetic, even those that received reviews from the critics, such as “Le Placard” (which was shown in San Francisco for a while, featuring Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Jean Rochefort and many other top-notch French actors). I can’t say I even smiled once watching it. I was also exposed to Michel Vaillant on the plane (a comic strip I used to love when I was a kid, and which, even though the script was written by Luc Besson, turns out to be a ridiculously pompous and ludicrous movie). Maybe I watched the wrong movies but it seems to me French screenplay writers are in desperate need of an imagination fix.

I did come back home with a few French DVD’s though (my DVD player is region-free): “L’integrale des Nuls” (a group of French comedians who can be compared to Saturday Night Live and who unfortunately stopped their comic work a few years ago) and “les Inconnus” (same thing). I am looking forward to watching these and my only regret is that I can’t really share them with my non French-speaking friends.

Another thing very unique to France compared to America is Bandes Dessinees. I could translate this to “comic strip” but it’s really not doing this genre justice. First of all, bandes dessinees are sold in hard cover, but also the attention to the scenario and the drawing makes it a full-fledged art, right up there with books and movies. I learned to read with bandes dessinees when I was four years old, so it comes as little surprise that I’m still fascinated by this genre. Throughout the years, I do my best to keep my collection current and I also take every opportunity possible to discover new authors and new heroes.

My recurring purchases are typically Blake and Mortimer, Thorgal, XIII, Largo Wynch, and Yoko Tsuno among others, but I also recently discovered the Aldebaran cycle and also AquaBlue. As for novels, I didn’t have much time to shop around and 95% of my reading is in English anyway, but I did buy Bernard Werber’s latest two novels. Werber is the author of the fascinating “Ants” (and its two sequels). If you think that a fiction novel about ants cannot be interesting, I urge you to read at least the first book, which is available in English if I’m not mistaken.

But Werber didn’t stop there and he wrote riveting novels after that, one of my favorites being the “Thanatonautes”, about near-death experiments. Very recommended, it will make you see things in a very different way. I am very much looking forward to reading my two recent purchases.

I don’t keep up much with French music but I never fail to see if Mylene Farmer or Jean-Jacques Goldman have released any new album. Goldman is a French version of Mark Knopfler (and as a die-hard Dire Straits fan, it’s not a compliment I make easily). He is an outstanding guitarist (actually he also plays the violine and many other instruments), composer and singer. He also wrote countless songs for dozens of famous singers such as Celine Dion. His recent album seems to be very influenced by Irish traditional songs but I need to listen to it more to decide. If you would like to discover this amazing and yet simple guy, I strongly recommend his masterpiece album “Entre gris clair et gris fonce”.

All in all, I enjoyed my trip and nothing can explain what it tastes like to eat French food even at the simplest “troquet du coin”. You need to experience it for yourself.

Happy new year to you all.

Pico-puzzled

Okay Carlos, thanks for the attempt to explain why you like PicoContainer, but I’m still not convinced.

You are saying that Pico forces you to structure your classes better by avoiding getters and setters. First of all, I don’t believe in this kind of generalization and while I do agree that the practice you recommend improves your code quite a bit, I argue that in real life, things are not so easy. Even your simple BankAccount example would become much more complicated in the real world and I challenge you to stick to the rule “no setters/getters” then.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume you can indeed “normalize” any Java class by removing all setters and getters and by initializing your object only with constructors. Well, in that case, what you are telling me is that PicoContainer has made you think differently. It’s changed the way you program and has made you a better programmer, but it still doesn’t make the use of PicoContainer mandatory. It’s a bit like learning about Aspect-Oriented Programming and realizing the importance of separation of concerns. But you can apply such technique without any AOP framework.

I really want to like PicoContainer, but so far, I am still unconvinced why I should adopt it. I went through the source code of the ten-or-so projects that use it and I haven’t found one very obvious usage which would be hard to achieve without it.

Carlos, can you try again?