Thoughts: time warp to 2008

13
Nov

First DrupalCamp Australia was a success

A few weeks ago (on Sat 18th Oct 2008), we (a.k.a. the Sydney Drupal Users' Group) held the first ever DrupalCamp Australia. Sorry for the late blog post — but hey, better late than never. This was Sydney's second full-day Drupal event, and as with the first one (back in May), it was held at the University of Sydney (many thanks to Jim Woulfe from the Faculty of Pharmacy, for providing the venue). This was Sydney's biggest Drupal event to date: we had an incredible turnout of 50 people (that's right — we were booked out), and for part of the day we had two presentation tracks running in adjacent rooms.

DrupalCamp Australia logo

DrupalCamp Australia logo

Morning welcome to DrupalCamp Australia

Morning welcome to DrupalCamp Australia

Geeks in a room

Geeks in a room

17
Oct

Listing every possible combination of a set

The problem is simple. Say you have a set of 12 elements. You want to find and to list every possible unique combination of those elements, irrespective of the ordering within each combination. The number of elements making up each combination can range between 1 and 12. Thanks to the demands of some university work, I've written a script that does just this (written in PHP). Whack it on your web server (or command-line), give it a spin, hack away at it, and use it to your heart's content.

14
Oct

A count of Unicode characters grouped by script

We all know what Unicode is (if you don't, then read all about it and come back later). We all know that it's big. Hey, of course it's big: its aim is to allow for the representation of characters from every major language script in the world. That's gotta be a lot of characters, right? It's reasonably easy to find out how many unicode characters there are in total: e.g. the Wikipedia page (linked above) states that: "As of Unicode 5.1 there are 100,507 graphic [assigned] characters." I got a bit curious today, and — to my disappointment — after some searching, I was unable to find a nice summary of how many characters there are in each script that Unicode supports. And thus it is that I present to you my count of all assigned Unicode characters (as of v5.1), grouped by script and by category.

24
Sep

Randfixedsum ports in C# and PHP

For a recent programming assignment that I was given at university, I was required to do some random number generation. I decided to write my program in such a way that it needed a set of random numbers (with a fixed set size), each of which had to be within a fixed range, and all of which had to add up to a fixed total. In other words, what I needed was a function that let me say: "give me 50 random numbers, and make sure that each of those numbers is between 1 and 20, and also make sure that the total of all those numbers is 200... and remember, despite all that, they have to be random!" Only problem? Finding a function that returns such data is extremely difficult.

Fortunately, I stumbled across the ingenious randfixedsum, by Roger Stafford. Randfixedsum — as its name suggests — does exactly what I was looking for. The only thing that was stopping me from using it, is that it's written in Matlab. And I needed it in C# (per the requirements of my programming assignment). And that, my friends, is the story of why I decided to port it! This was the first time I've ever used Matlab (actually, I used Octave, a free alternative), and it's pretty different to anything else I've ever programmed with. So I hope I've done a decent job of porting it, but let me know if I've made any major mistakes. I also ported the function over to PHP, as that's my language of choice these days. Download, tinker, and enjoy.

27
Aug

Legislation and programming: two peas in a pod

The language of law and the language of computers hardly seem like the most obvious of best buddies. Legislation endeavours to be unambiguous, and yet it's infamous for being plagued with ambiguity problems, largely because it's ultimately interpreted by subjective and unpredictable humang beings. Computer code doesn't try to be unambiguous, it simply is unambiguous — by its very definition. A piece of code, when supplied with any given input, is quite literally incapable of returning inconsistent output. A few weeks ago, I finished an elective subject that I studied at university, called Legal Method and Research. The main topic of the subject was statutory interpretation: that is, the process of interpreting the meaning of a single unit of law, and applying a given set of facts to it. After having completed this subject, one lesson that I couldn't help but take away (being a geek 'n' all) was how strikingly similar the structure of legislation is to the structure of modern programming code. This is because at the end of the day, legislation — just like code — needs to be applied to a real case, and it needs to yield a Boolean outcome.

24
Jun

On the causes of the First World War

WWI was one of the most costly and the most gruesome of wars that mankind has ever seen. It was also one of the most pointless. I've just finished reading The First Casualty, a ripper of a novel by author and playwright Ben Elton. The novel is set in 1917, and much of the story takes place at the infamous Battle of Passchendaele, which is considered to have been the worst of all the many hellish battles in the war. I would like to quote one particular passage from the book, which I believe is the best summary of the causes of WWI that I've ever read.

05
Jun

Drupal and Apache in Vista: some tips

I bought a new laptop at the start of this year, and since then I've experienced the "privilege" pile of festering camel dung that is being a user of Windows Vista. As with most things in Vista, installing Drupal and Apache is finickier than it used to be, back on XP. When I first went through the process, I encountered a few particularly weird little gotchas, and I scribbled them down for future reference. Here are some things to look out for, when the inevitable day comes in which you too will shine the light of Drupal upon the dark and smelly abyss of Vista:

  1. Don't use the stop / start / restart Apache controls in the start menu (start > programs > Apache > control), as they are unreliable; use services.msc insetad (start > run > "services.msc").
  2. Don't edit httpd.conf through the filesystem — use the 'edit httpd.conf' icon in the start menu instead (start > programs > Apache > configure), as otherwise your saved changes may not take effect.
  3. If you're seeing the error message "http request status - fails" on Drupal admin pages, then try editing your 'c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts' file, and taking out the IPv6 mapping of localhost, as this can confuse the Windows mapping of 127.0.0.1 to localhost (restart for this to take effect).
  4. Don't use Vista! If, however, you absolutely have no choice, then refer to steps 1-3.
26
May

Drupal at the 2008 Sydney CeBIT Expo

The past week has been a big one, for the small but growing Sydney Drupal Users' Group. Last week, on Tuesday through Thursday (May 20-22), we manned the first-ever Drupal stall at the annual Sydney CeBIT Expo. CeBIT is one of the biggest technology shows in Australia — and the original CeBIT in Germany is the biggest exhibition in the world. For three days, we helped "spread the word" by handing out leaflets, running lives demos, and talking the talk to the Expo's many visitors.

Ryan and James at CeBIT 2008

Ryan and James at CeBIT 2008

Drupal demo laptops at CeBIT 2008

Drupal demo laptops at CeBIT 2008

The Sunday before (May 18), we also arranged a full-day get-together at the University of Sydney, as a warm-up for CeBIT: there were a few informal presentations, and we got some healthy geeked-up discussion happening.

Drupal May 2008 meetup at Sydney Uni

Drupal May 2008 meetup at Sydney Uni

Dinner and drinks after the May 2008 Drupal meetup

Dinner and drinks after the May 2008 Drupal meetup

09
Mar

The Net, ten years ago

Internet access is available anywhere these days — even on tropical islands in south-east Asia. Several weeks ago, I was on the island of Ko Tao in southern Thailand. Myself and several of my mates were discussing our views on the price of Internet usage. Most of us were in agreement that the standard Ko Tao rate of 2 baht per minute (about AUD$5 per hour) — which was standard across all of the island's many cafés — was exhorbitant, unacceptable and unjustifiable. One bloke, however, had visited the island ten years previously. He thought that the rate was completely fair — as he remembered that ten years earlier, the entire island had boasted only a single place offering access; and that back then, they were charging 60B/min! Nowadays, the standard rate in most parts of Thailand is about ½B/min, or even ¼B/min if you know where to look. This massive price difference got me thinking about what else regarding the 'Net has changed between 1998 and 2008. And the answer is: heck, what hasn't?

25
Feb

Step one: consume less

Consume less, and all else will follow. It's as simple as that. The citizens of the modern developed world are consuming far above their needs. The planet's resources are being gnawed away, and are diminishing at an alarming rate. The environmental side-effects are catastrophic. And the relentless organism that is our global 21st-century economy rolls ever on, growing fatter every year, leaving ever less pockets of the Earth unscathed, and seemingly unstoppable. But despite the apparent doom and gloom, the solution is ridiculously simple. It all begins with us. Or perhaps I have it all wrong: perhaps that's precisely why it's so complicated.

12
Jan

Robotic garbage sorting

The modern world is producing, purchasing, and disposing of consumer products at an ever-increasing rate. This is hardly news to anyone. Two other facts are also well-known, to anyone who's stopped and thought about them for even five minutes of their life. First, that our planet Earth only has a finite reservoir of raw materials, which is constantly diminishing (thanks to us). And second, that we first-world consumers are throwing the vast majority of our used-up or unwanted products straight into the rubbish bin, with the result that as much as 90% of household waste ends up in landfill. When you think about all that, it's no wonder they call it "waste" .There's really no other word to describe the process of taking billions of tonnes of manufactured goods — a significant portion of which could potentially be re-used — and tossing them into a giant hole in the ground (or into a giant patch in the ocean). I'm sorry, but it's sheer madness! And with each passing day, we are in ever more urgent need of a better solution than the current "global disposal régime". Could robots one day help us sort our way out of this mess?