Off to visit the Beast of Redmond ;-)

Posted on 26 January 2008 in Resolver One

Mahesh Prakriya at Microsoft was kind enough to suggest that I give a talk at the Lang.NET symposium, and so tomorrow I'm flying to Seattle. It looks like a fantastically interesting meetup, and I'm really looking forward to it.

The one hiccup for me was trying to work out what to put in the talk. Having been on so many client and potential client visits, and done marketing material for non-technical users, it was very hard to switch over to thinking again about what Mahesh had clearly realised, and Jon Udell touched on back when he did a screencast with us: that a lot of the power behind Resolver One comes from the way it treats spreadsheets as just another .NET language.

This doesn't mean that our marketing and sales efforts are wrong -- our users and users-to-be don't really care about how the program does what it does, they care about what problems it solves for them. But it's useful reminder to me that I need to keep both sides in mind.

[Update] The talk went well! It was videoed and I'll link to it as soon as they put it online. In the meantime, here are the slides.

[Update, later] Darryl Taft has written about the talk in eWeek.

Another YouTube screencast

Posted on 23 January 2008 in Resolver One

Spent some time today on another screencast; this one's also up on YouTube, and looks pretty nice but isn't as clear as the last one. You can only just make out that my fake Web 2.0 startup has cashflow projections that would make a Bubble 1.0 e-commerce portal blush :-)

Resolver screencast

Why should the government fund space exploration?

Posted on 13 January 2008 in Space

This article (via /.) is meant to discuss whether space exploration is worth the cost, but discusses government-funded space exploration almost exclusively. This makes sense; the discussion as to whether whether commercial and other private space exploration is worth the cost is more one for the boardroom, not the New York Times. And it's an interesting question; I'm pretty libertarian, and government-funded anything tends to raise my hackles -- and to be perfectly honest, many of the arguments mentioned by the contributors to the article sound pretty weak.

But one does stand out.

I asked guests on The Space Show, students, and people in space-related fields what inspired or motivated them to start a space business or pursue their science education, over 80 percent said they were inspired and motivated because of our having gone to the moon.

When I was a kid, like most boys then, I wanted to be an astronaut. I grew out of it, but my interest in science -- which eventually led to my career in technology -- started then.

It's hardly scientific to point at the decline in space exploration in the West and the decline in the number of science graduates, and the contrasting rises in both in -- say - China -- and claim some kind of correlation. But it does make you think.

If space exploration increases children's interest in science, and causes long-term benefits to the economy that are not directly captured (or, I think capturable) by the explorers, then perhaps that's a good reason for state spending in that area.

Of course -- as you might have realised by my use of the word "West" above, it's not directly captured by the funding country either. British children like me were inspired by American space exploration. Would they be inspired by Chinese space exploration?

I'll leave that one open.

Dear lazyweb: what is is about Linux and WPA?

Posted on 11 January 2008 in Eee, Gadgets, Linux, OLPC XO, Rants

I don't think I really have enough of a readership for this blog to get an answer to this, but... perhaps someone passing by will know. Why is WPA support invariably so bad in Linux-based OSes?

Three examples:

  1. Despite having been a Linux user since 1992, I held off on switching my primary laptop, an aging Fujitsu-Siemens machine, from Windows for many years because no distribution I could find supported WPA out of the box with any kind of user interface I was willing to spend the time learning. This is not because I'm lazy -- I'm willing to put in weeks to learn web server configuration details, and years to learn programming languages. These things are inherently difficult and cannot be reasonably simplified. But connecting to an encrypted wireless network? Sure, the underlying tech is as complex as it gets, but if Microsoft can make it easy to use then why did it take so long for anything usable to get into any Linux distro? Sigh. Well, anyway, I eventually tried out Ubuntu 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, and was delighted to discover that its support was OK. Not as good as Windows XP's, but good enough for me to switch the old lappy over, which I did sometime last autumn, and have never regretted. So, standard defined in 2004 or so, decent support in mid-2007. Hmm.

  2. So along came my new Eee, just before Christmas, and for some reason I have difficulties connecting to my work or home networks. Why? Well, I banged my head against it for a while, and eventually discovered that there was a bug in the scripts used for WPA connections that meant it could not connect if you had a key with a space in it. A bit of digging around on the Eee Wiki helped me sort that one out, but seriously...

  3. Anyhow, I posted earlier on today that I'd not been able to connect my OLPC XO to my work or home networks. No prizes for guessing what the problem was... from the wiki (found via):

    WPA is not working from the User Interface in Build 650! Some OLPCs (including in the G1G1 program) cannot connect to wireless routers protected with the WPA protocol. Although the networks are visible from the OLPC, the stall when user enters a password.

    The first solution they suggest is to switch off WPA. Right. Sorry, but I'm not Bruce Schneier, and there's no way I'm switching to WEP. It's almost enough to send me into some kind of Fake Steve Jobsesque rant.

    Luckily, some kind soul has worked out a hack to work around the problem, so I'll try that. [UPDATE, posted from XO: it works!]

But seriously -- what is the problem? Linux is a great OS, but WPA support seems to be seriously messed up. It can't just be a driver problem, because both the XO and the Eee have OSes built for them by the hardware manufacturers. Does anyone out there know?

New gadget!

Posted on 10 January 2008 in Gadgets, OLPC XO

My OLPC XO arrived today. First impressions:

  • It's quite big!
  • Nice build quality - not as good as the Eee, but then it costs half as much.
  • The "rabbit ear" wifi antennae are incredibly cute.
  • It boots bit slowly compared to the Eee.
  • My first attempt at connecting to wifi failed -- I could easily find out the first steps of what to do, but was foiled when the dialog where you enter the network key refused to close when I hit OK

More later.