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>> Tutorials at

Tue, Feb 3rd 10:07am 2009 >> Linux

This is the second year I've had the opportunity to present a tutorial at, and I must admit that I still don't really know how to do it properly. This year I had the great pleasure to be jointly presenting with Hugh Blemings and that certainly took a lot of pressure off me: I have a huge amount of respect for Hugh and knew that I could rely on him to go above and beyond, which of course he did. Doing the tag-team thing worked out fairly well I thought. But I still haven't figured out how to present a useful tutorial in the context of LCA. Other talks in the conference are typical presentations: one person standing up the front sharing their knowledge with the audience. They interact with the audience, of course, but it's still an audience, not participants. With a tutorial it's meant to be more hands-on: participants rather than an audience. In theory. In practice, there are always far more people in the room than expected and with extremely varying interests and levels of knowledge. My "Real World / Second Life Integration" tute at LCA2008 was meant to be participatory, but it ended up being standing-room-only and totally impractical to actually work through projects with participants, so it devolved into a 2.5 hour presentation full of live demonstrations. That was fun and I heard that a lot of people enjoyed it, but it still doesn't satisfy my criteria for a tutorial. People got to see but not try. That sucks. When Hugh and I were doing our initial planning for the Arduino tute this year we briefly commented in passing that we'd probably have 20-ish people in the room, and our expectation was that they'd all have hardware kits to play with. Then when we saw we'd been scheduled in the big auditorium I started worrying because I thought we could end up with the same situation as last year: a roomful of people that we can't possibly get around to individually. In the end we had a bit of a balance. It was a reasonably full room, but we took it at a slow pace and mixed in demonstrations and little hands-on experiments with prepared code. In the room we had people who had never even seen an Arduino before that day and came along expecting to just watch, and we had people who have designed their own Arduino variants and built custom hardware. Andy Gelme even brought more hardware to the tute than Hugh and I combined! Catering to both ends of the scale was, frankly, impossible. I heard one suggestion that what would have been useful is a session where everyone sits down with soldering irons and assembles their own Arduino (or Boarduino, or whatever) kit from scratch. For people with no soldering experience that would have taken the entire 1:50 tutorial timeslot though, and would have been a logistical nightmare (I don't have that many soldering irons to lend out!). A great idea for a different context though. So where does that leave tutorials at LCA? I don't know. My personal experience has been that it's very hard to deliver a traditional "tutorial" in the context of a conference (I've done tutes at OSCON and OSDC as well, and had similar difficulties) but the opportunity for conference attendees to get personal assistance is too good to pass up, so I definitely don't think they should be scrapped from the program. Perhaps they just need more oversight and control from the conference organisers such as putting hard number limits on tutes and requiring people to pre-register to attend them rather than throwing the doors open to everyone. Both Rusty and AfC are veteran LCA tute leaders (and they both make my "best conference presenters of all time" list) but I think even they struggle with the question of how to best run a tutorial within the structure of LCA. Their tutes are always very popular but I don't think the average attendee realises the difficult balancing act that they must perform in order to deliver something meaningful on the day. It really is a tough act to pull off, and I tip my hat to them. As for me, I'm still trying to figure it out.

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>> Yes, I'm still alive

Mon, Feb 2nd 9:40am 2009 >> Linux

I seem to go silent on blogging exactly when there is the most happening, which I suppose is pretty understandable. I'm just back from two weeks in Tasmania, first for 2009, then for a week of holidaying with my family. That meant a week of forced absence from teh interwebs because my mobile broadband provider (Three) has exactly zero coverage in Tasmania, and although Melissa Draper was kind enough to lend me her Soul/Optus 3G dongle for the week it seemed to want a password and wouldn't let me online. A problem that could have been solved by a quick phone call to Melissa, of course, but I took it as a sign that I needed to de-net for a while. More updates to follow, there's some very bloggable stuff going on right now!

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>> Phrase from nearest book

Fri, Nov 14th 8:49am 2008 >> Linux

Another blog meme, caught this time from Stewart Smith and Josh Stewart with rather amusing consequences:
  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
Result (and this will make me the laughingstock of the office, I'm sure): "We understand the technology, which at the end of the day is really what drives the industry." From, wait for it ... "Microsoft Secrets", by Michael Cusumano and Richard Selby. Now what was *that* doing on my desk? ;-)

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>> Move to BZR coming along well

Fri, Oct 17th 9:38am 2008 >> Linux

Much of my difficulty with switching from svn to bzr has been my own mental blockage, but thanks to the helpful folks on #bzr I'm getting past that now. Little nuggets of wisdom like spiv's suggestion to "think of it as 'pushing to the branch' rather than to the repo. Having a repo shared between multiple branches is essentially just an optimisation detail that doesn't affect behaviour" have been enough to rebase my mental processes and get things working well. Yesterday we had a dev team meeting to bring everyone up to speed on the conversion, and BZR-day is tonight: the SVN repos will go offline after 5pm, the trees will be moved over to BZR, and come Monday morning everyone will be doing "bzr ci" instead of "svn ci". Happy days! Not that SVN has been bad. On the contrary, it's served us extremely well over the years. It's just about time we moved on and started taking advantage of some of the mega coolness of a distributed revision control system.

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>> BZR breaking my mind

Fri, Oct 10th 9:56am 2008 >> Linux

BZR looks awesome. I just can't get my head around it. We've been using Subversion at IVT for years, and after so many thousands of commits my brain is so hard-wired into the SVN way of doing things that I just can't get it around the concepts of the BZR way. I desperately want to switch the dev team over to a distributed / patch-based revision control system to overcome some of the limitations of the SVN model, but it's proving harder than I thought. I've read all the "BZR for SVN users" tutorials, gone through all the repo structure guides, read every relevant blog post I can find, and I still can't get it working properly. I think I need an experienced BZR user sitting next to me to slap me upside the head every few minutes and tell me when I'm doing it wrong.

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>> MySQL training

Mon, May 12th 12:03pm 2008 >> Linux

I've done talks about MySQL all over the world and thought I knew it reasonably well, but now I'm sitting in a MySQL training day run by Arjen from Open Query and I learned 4 significant new things in the first 40 minutes. Happy :-)

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>> Removing PHP4 from Dapper boxes

Wed, Apr 9th 10:35am 2008 >> Linux

This is the second time I've run into this problem this week, and being rather thick in the head I couldn't remember how I fixed it the first time a whole, oh, 48 hours ago. Hence this data insertion into my externalised long-term memory to bypass my buggy wetware. An Ubuntu Dapper server had originally been running Apache/PHP4 (libapache-mod-php4) and at some point was switched to Apache2/PHP5 (libapache2-mod-php5). Doing some cleaning up I tried to remove ye olde PHP4 and got this: root@web160:~# aptitude remove libapache-mod-php4 Reading package lists... Done Building dependency tree... Done Reading extended state information Initializing package states... Done Building tag database... Done The following packages will be REMOVED: libapache-mod-php4 0 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 1 to remove and 45 not upgraded. Need to get 0B of archives. After unpacking 3187kB will be freed. Writing extended state information... Done (Reading database ... 28126 files and directories currently installed.) Removing libapache-mod-php4 ... Error: does not have a corresponding .info file. The above errors might cause apache to not work properly or start Please refer to the documentation on how to fix it or report it to Debian Apache Mailing List <> if in doubt on how to proceed dpkg: error processing libapache-mod-php4 (--remove): subprocess pre-removal script returned error exit status 20 Errors were encountered while processing: libapache-mod-php4 E: Sub-process /usr/bin/dpkg returned an error code (1) A package failed to install. Trying to recover: root@web160:~# Boom. The fix? Simple once you know. Just do: echo "LoadModule: php_module /usr/lib/apache/1.3/" > /usr/lib/apache/1.3/ Then try again. Bye bye PHP4!

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>> Real World / Second Life talk at Hitwise

Thu, Mar 20th 1:07am 2008 >> Linux

I was just putting together another bunch of Arduino hardware hacking kits tonight for a tutorial I'm running tomorrow at Hitwise, and remembered that I'd taken a photo of the first batch of kits being put together for LCA2008. It's kinda cool seeing so many Arduinos together in one place: I've been getting even more requests for private tutorials and consulting gigs than usual recently, so now that Quickstart Guide to Google AdWords is out I'm thinking for maybe offering a 1/2 day or 1 day course on AdWords. Could be run either in-house or by bringing together people from different companies at a training facility with a bunch of computers, and it could be a lot of fun. If you're interested in that idea please drop me a line.

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