Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

Category Archives: web stuff

Can’t open links in Firefox on Ubuntu when it’s open – Fixed!

This is a little obscure but there’s a number of people with this problem and too many “simple” answers that just don’t work. There are a number of situations that cause Firefox to respond with an error message when you click on a link from outside of the browser (like Thunderbird or any other application that try to launch a url). You get an error message saying:

Firefox is already running, but is not responding. To open a new window, you must first close the existing Firefox process, or restart your system

The normal reasons for this are things like locked profiles etc. which are well covered here. But some users get this error message even when Firefox is open and there aren’t locked profiles 😦 The solution is to edit the way that Ubuntu invokes Firefox.

Grab a terminal and go to ~/.local/share/applications this is Unity stores it’s information for launchers in the unity dock thingy. You should have a Firefox.desktop in here, you might have several in which case the one called “Firefox Web Browser.desktop” is probably the one that Ubuntu is using by default.

Edit the file and have a look at the “Exec=” line about 4 lines down. In my case the problem was caused because this line was referring to an old profile that I’d previously removed trying to fix the problem. If you’re not sure what it should look like set it to “Exec=firefox %u“, save, exit and click links once more 🙂

Wrote some REST code to access a site’s API and saw a job offer in the response

What an excellent way to advertise directly to your target audience 🙂

I was writing some code to get some info from a site from their REST api and saw an unusual header in the response from the API which said something along the lines of “if you’re reading this come and get a job” with a link. The clever thing about this is that it’s already only filtered in people who already have the right skills that the company is looking for and it was unusual enough for me to immediately follow the link. Excellent innovative recruitment!

And the site? wordpress.com although it’s changed now to “Oh, Awesome: Opossum”

I’m a big fan of wordpress.com for a number of reas0ns. First they host my blog, for free. Second the authoring experience is always awesome opossum.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

I’ve decided to rename my blog from “The MacDaddy” to the imaginatively titled “Mike MacDonagh’s Blog”.

When I first setup this blog I had no idea what direction it would go in and I’ve always been terrible at naming things. I decided on the MacDaddy as an ironic nod to Kriss Kross and because there’s a “Mac” in my name and I’m a Daddy. I don’t think anyone ever got the joke. Jump jump…

Anyway, I’ve known for a long time it was silly so I’ve finally  renamed it. I toyed with ideas such as “The Software Ninja” and “Software Kung Fu” in blatant references to mastery and the Kung Fu of Software Engineering but that’s a bit too software-y when many of my posts aren’t really about software. Putting “Business” in the title would make me want to give myself a good slap so I’ve ended up with an almost no-name name. Hopefully now I’ll get less confused visitors looking for a blog about Apple Macs.

If you’ve got a better idea for the name of this blog I’d love to hear it 🙂

Netflix UK Review 2012

I really like the idea of Netflix. You pay a flat fee of £5.99 a month and then you can stream movies and tv shows whenever you want them, over and over if you want, with no ads. So I thought I’d try it out (for free). The convenience of being able to watch whatever you want when you want is a great idea, and if it was ubiquitous I believe it’d cut down on piracy massively since it’s cheap and easy.

The bad news 😦
Unfortunately there’s no linux client. Since most media servers are linux based this is a shame but it’s due to DRM dependencies. There was talk of there being a linux client and now talk that there won’t be, however a Chrome addon is likely to eventually support NetFlix on linux.

The other bad news 😦
Although there’s clients for a variety of devices, including android tablets I can’t get the android client to work, I load it up and just see a spinning throbber endlessly.

The good news 🙂
The Wii client works well and was fun to browse. TV listings are well structured and programme fast-forwarding through thumbnails is great. Quality is ok and I loaded up a few FireFly episodes and enjoyed flicking around them. The quality wasn’t as good as my FireFly DVD though, so I turned off the Wii and put the DVD in my linux media centre to watch in my bedroom. If you’ve never watched FireFly it’s worth signing up for the free month trial just to watch it.

The really bad news 😦
The choice is just terrible at the moment. I like rubbish movies, and even old rubbish movies which is good because that’s all there is. In terms of TV there’s just ancient stuff. Top Gear episodes from 2003-2009 (which is basically the Dave playlist minus QI) and some other things I can already get for free (or rather forced purchase) from BBC iPlayer. In terms of US tv shows the choice ranges from appalling to non-existent (Ok so there’s a couple of good shows but I’ve already seen them, notable popular shows not on Netflix UK include Bones, Castle, Supernatural, True Blood, Nikita, Eureka, The Mentalist, The Vampire Diaries, Glee, Game of Thrones, Fringe, Homeland etc). It is possible to pretend you’re in the US rather than the UK of course, since Netflix is just looking at your IP address, in which case the choice is much better but that’s probably considered cheating at best and is probably T’s and C’s violation. If you do proxy to the US you’ll find most of the shows I listed above are available.

The conclusion
It’s a bit like dusting off my own DVD collection of rubbish old films and old good tv boxsets. Maybe there’s a couple of things in there to enjoy during the free trial month but there’s no way I’ll be continuing my membership past the free trial which is a shame. I like the convenience, I’d like it even more if there was a linux client and the android client worked, but it all comes down to the library in the end which just isn’t good enough at the moment.

I’m hoping it’ll get better and I’ll happily sign up again.

What is cloud computing?

In any sentence including the word “cloud” if you substitute “network” the sentence still makes sense, and normally makes a lot more sense.*

I’ve recently been doing some stuff with cloud computing and thought I would offer the above insight. It’s slightly flippant however, in that there is a difference  (at least to me) between cloud services and network services and that is in their focus. “Cloud services” tend to be focuses towards consumers whereas “network services” are rendered by businesses to business, although as is normal in business they’re further obfuscated translated to b2b services or, if intended to portray an image of easy-consumption “b2b cloud services”.

You’re currently reading this blog on the cloud or syndicated by a cloud service (like google reader, netvibes (oh yes I see you), bloglines etc.) on a device of your choice.  I’m writing it on a cloud service and other cloud services (like google, bing, whatever) are providing search for curious folks to find this blog.

So what does all this mean? Is cloud pointless or the most important thing since 7 layered network protocols? Or all of the above?

Personally I’m leaning towards the third option. In many ways this is nothing new. I’ve been able to use network based search, hosting, virtual provisioning, remote servers, remote APIs for many years. In another way it’s totally new, I can provision a network based on a topology of my choice based on a collection of OSes for little or no money for whatever purpose suits me, storing data in a federated fashion and integrated with a number of web services after just a few clicks, both as a business or an individual.

There are many excellent cloud services out there, I personally use the Ubuntu One service to transfer files between my main desktop PC and my Android tablet, it’s actually more convenient than using a USB stick (and free) – this for me is the real distinction between “network” services and “cloudn” services (deliberately misspelt for those who do the copy/paste search/replace exercise). They’re so convenient and cheap (or free) you’d use them above anything else. Amazon is really trailblazing in terms of consumer and business cloud services.

I recently setup a website. I entered my credit card details and literally moments later had a linux server with the web server of my choice running. I was able to FTP and SSH to the box and do whatever I wanted as it appeared to be my box. Of course it’s not my box, it’s a virtual box hosted by a (probably virtual) hypervisor or similar on a bunch of racks distributed around a bunch of data centres in various places but that’s not relevant to me as a consumer, I just ask for a “box” and get a “box” in moments, in a convenient and cheap way.

That is what cloud computing is all about.


* Try this trick with this blog, copy and paste the blog to gedit/notepad/whatever and replace “cloud” for “network”

FireFox extension to view your WordPress.com blog stats

The MMD WordPress FireFox extension is finally publicly listed on the mozilla site. After battling problems with xul layouts on Mac’s (which was tricky because I don’t have a Mac) I’ve finally resolved the issues that were preventing my firefox stats toolbar from being fully reviewed on the main FireFox site.

If you’ve not seen it before, the MMD WordPress FireFox extension adds a tiny toolbar that shows you your current blog hits on your wordpress.com blog(s). You can then right click to get quick access to the full stats page, new post page and view your blob. Simple but quite useful. Download and install from mozilla

MMD WordPress Extension

 

Ngrams for nerds

Pictures that are worth 500 billion words!

Google Ngram Viewer shows graphs of how many times words or phrases have occurred in a set of 5 million books over the years. They’re a really interesting way of seeing trends in information and relative importance between words. It’s free and easy so check it out.

Here’s some I recently ran that I found interesting. I ran most of them from 1950 onwards and  the info only goes up to 2008.

Comparison of programming languages

Programming Languages

Ngram link – When looking at this you’ve got to mentally remove the baseline Java and Pascal references from the 1950 as they’re about coffee, islands and mathematicians. Interesting to see Java so dominant.

Programming paradigms

Programming Paradigms

Ngram link – I found this one really interesting. Compared to the others in my query “structured programming” had a lot more books written about it. I wonder how much this is a reflection of the rise of the internet… these days although there are lots of programming books the primary source for learning a language is online material?

Methodologies

Methodologies

Ngram link – I was a little surprised to see RUP so much more prevalent than agile but then I did have to add “software development” to the term to avoid including the bendy and stretchy. Also as with the previous one I suspect that there’s a difference here between a vendor driven process with supporting books and a more open source philosophy on agile as a generic umbrella for methodologies, and therefore more online sources. As Ivar Jacobson says: “No one reads process books

Shareware, Freeware and OSS

Shareware, Freeware and Open Source

Ngram link – This one speaks for itself 🙂 I wish I could have worked out how to add “expensive vendor products” to the query!

User Stories vs. Use Cases

User Story vs. Use Case

Ngram link – Ah yes, this argument again. Interestingly this dominance of use case over user story in written books correlates with query stats between user stories and use cases on by blog and the ivarjacobson.com site. Personally I think they’re both great and complimentary, I often use them together on software projects.

Windows vs. Linux

Windows vs. Linux

Ngram link – Yep, Linux beats Windows at every turn.

More Ngrams!

For more fun with Ngrams watch this very funny video explaining this stuff

UNTHINK – first impressions and screenshot

I saw a video for UNTHINK a while ago that appealed to me. I like the idea of total control of my data, of separation between friends, acquaintances and brands/interests. Also I’m a pathological early adopter. I like new things, and the shinier and more buttons the better. Sometimes I get carried away with links too.

I had an early invite to UNTHINK when it opened to public beta, clearly along with many other early adopters. First problem there, the servers couldn’t handle the pressure, there were too many early adopters and without the power of Google behind UT (not the best acronym huh?) the public beta was essentially a fine example of  a DDOS attack.

Anyway, a couple of days later and here’s my first impressions, now I can access the site.

UNTHINK

First of all I find it be gloriously complex. G+ has catered for the simplistic market, but I like complicated things, and this suits me. The UI is reminiscent of the early Facebook and MySpace.  G+ allows me to separate people via circles but I have to set that up, UT has it from the start. It’s all private by default and they tell me I own my content (the unthink emancipation deed). UT prompts me from the very start to control the privacy options of my content, unlike Facebook which decides for me frequently. Finally, it reminds me of uplink for some reason, and that’s double or possibly even triple awesome

But… the social networking market is saturated. Facebook is the Daddy Mac, it’s where everyone is. Some of my techie friends still aren’t on G+ so that’s quiet. UT is positively empty. I keep coming back to Facebook because it’s where people are, many of my friends have no appetite for multiple networks and as with G+ I wish I could cross post with FB.

Whether it catches on or not, it’s existence is a good thing as it will apply pressure on widely adopted networks to provide better features. It wasn’t long after the exposure of G+ circles that Facebook created “Close friends” and “Acquaintances”.

Google+ review

G+ is a social network from Google to rival Facebook, twitter, tumblr etc. I’ve been trying it out and kinda like it. It’s intuitive, easy to use but also a bit surprising. The best feature by far is the circles (screenshot below) which allow you to segment your social graph, or more simply put your contacts into groups. Then when you share something like a post or photo you can choose who to share it with. That means you can have things like family, work, acquaintances or just people you follow all in one place.

The interface is nice and shiny with lots of drag and drop and nice little features and animations, but when you first load it up it can be a little disconcerting how much it already knows about you. If you’ve already got a gmail account, an android account, picasa etc. then all of that stuff is already there in front of you. When I first logged in it had my picture, suggested various people members I should connect with (based on my email) and once I linked in my blog account it put in my blog intro into my profile. Clever, but a little annoying as well.

I’ve read that hangouts (a kind of chat platform) are the killer app for g+ but I’ve not checked it out. If I want to video call I tend to use skype and even then I don’t really want to video call, I’d rather IM, text or phone than video call.

Overall, I really like it. The ease of use, the simplicity of controlling where content goes, the nice simple little andriod app and the shiny interface have me drooling like a geek with a new toy. If only it was 5 years earlier and there were more people on it. I can’t imagine it replacing Facebook and twitter in the short or medium term as the stable door has been open far too long and there’s an emotional investment that people have in those sites.

Play a game with Google 2001

In honour of Google’s 10th birthday they’ve dusted off an old search index from 2001 and tied it up to the Internet Archive. The Web was a lot different in those days (no ipods, facebook etc.) and it’s fun to ego search and see the difference.

In Google 2001 if you search for “Mike MacDonagh” I think the first hit is my Dad at the Smithsonian, and my sister features on Page 3 (har har, not like that!) because of a school play she was in but I’m nowhere to be seen! At that time I was running Midnight Skulker Software of which there’s a whole page of hits, but I seem not to have put my name on it anywhere! An exercise in bad branding! I’ve still got all the old source for that stuff, and still use some of it myself 😀

More reading: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/2001-search-odyssey.html

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