Geeklist spamming people

I had never heard of Geeklist until last week, when I received an email from them and then read the story about their promotion of “brogramming” and abusive response to being called out for it.

The email came first – and as I had never head of them this –

Hi, my name is Jenny and I work for Geeklist, sorry to bug in advance! I noticed you have your email listed on github, so I wanted to reach out and send you a quick note (only this once and never again I promise!). We recently added integration with Github‘s API and wanted to see if you are interested in testing it out and give us feedback, perhaps you can add Groovy-Life or valext?

I realize this comes out of nowhere, but this might be interesting way to connect with other awesome geeks too (mabye), would love to hear feedback in general on that as well.  We have a ton of geeks in our system already ranging from Matz the creator of Ruby awesome geeks building great products

If you are cool with this and want to check it out go to:********** and use this code: ******

We are only sending this to a few people, so let me know if you wish to invite others! thank you so much and sorry to bug you!

– made me think they were a genuine community effort. I made a note to have another look.

But having read about their attitude to women that other other look is now a good deal more sceptical – though even I thought it odd they suggested I added a program designed to analyse the XML output of a hardcore debugging tool.

And, of course, the first thing I noticed on a second look was the subject line:

RE: Quick question / your work on Github

As I have never written to Geeklist about anything and had never even heard of them before the email turned up it is obvious that this email was not “RE:” anything. It is spam from some spammers trying to cheat spam filters and will be treated in just the same way as the occasional other bits of spam mail that get through the filter.

I hope others will follow a similar course of action.

I would not have minded if they had actually badged the email as what it really was – as they say my email is on Github and if you consciously post your email it is because you want or expect people to get in touch. But the crude attempts at psychological manipulation – hi my name is jenny – and above all the dishonest subject line mean it is straight to the WPB for them.

Raspberry Pi delivery date

I have had an email telling me the “good news” that my Raspberry Pi will be here “by the end of June”. Cannot help but think they could have charged more at the start to finance the shift to mass production.

Nasty computer scientists (again)

Autism spectrum
Autism spectrum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My gut feeling is that we are about to see another “internet bubble” burst: money has again flooded in to the development community (partly because in a recessionary environment cash is being hoarded just about everywhere else), skilled staff are in short supply and a massive IPO (Facebook) is about to happen, which will only, if temporarily, increase the frenzy.

With the bubble along come the nasties – or as one of them apparently refers to himself the “No Talent Ass-Clowns”. The person concerned, one Matt Van Horn, has probably taken enough flak for his immature and ridiculous behaviour, so I won’t focus on him, but on the more general issue of why so many poorly adjusted and socialised males are attracted to computing? (It’s for others to judge if I fall into either group here, but I think I can at least be allowed to get away with regarding myself as higher functioning if they do.)

Perhaps it is partly some self-selecting autism spectrum thing (computers do what you tell them without the burden of emotional interaction), but I also have to pin a lot of the blame on the promotion of the “hacker culture” by its high priests – whether in the Orthodox Branch – or the Reformed Wing.

Neither RMS nor ESR are particularly attractive characters, whatever their technical or marketing skills may be, so holding them up as the great paragons of the computer revolution is almost certainly counter-productive.

Power law growth is not the only way on the internet

Sometimes it is difficult to understand what to think about the internet as a transformative medium.

We can see the Arab Spring and the way in which networked and social media has broken down the only monopolies of power and information in authoritarian societies (though do not forget the way the Iranian regime used social media to pick off its opponents too) but in Britain I can also see that, despite a lot of hype and hoopla, the “traditional” media – broadcast news and print journalism – still count for more than any and every blog, even though the internet is continually reshaping these outlets too (or in the case of print, slowly strangling it to death).

I think one of the barriers to understanding the real impact of the internet on communications is what seems to be the need of the growing army of social media consultants to deploy the hyperbolic. The famous (and utterly compelling) video shown below is just one example.

But the reality is that one can build a decent presence on the internet without looking for explosive growth, viral spread and power law dynamics. This – the long tail – is typified by the this blog. I do not claim that anything written here is driving the news agenda in Britain, and nor is readership growing exponentially. But it is growing in what appears to be a linear fashion.

I have had a few stories picked up by slashdot and occasionally by one or two other influential tweeters and similar, which cause spikes in readership of particular pages. So I looked at the graph of readers of the home page.

Home page view numbers

There are still spikes for the wash over from the big hits, but much more important for me is the steady growth in the core readership. Already in 2012 the hits on the home page (3721) are comparable to the total for 2011 (4215) despite the two big peaks you can see at the end of February and start of September for last year. Much of that traffic is search engine driven (across the site as a whole Slashdot has been the top referrer – 15900 views – with all search engines managing 9646 referrals, but that is way ahead of Twitter – 1914 – and Facebook – 479).

Of course, it would be great if the blog “went viral” and millions were coming here to read about hex editors and domain-specific languages. But that is never likely, so the steady growth is a healthy sign, I think, that I must be getting something right. It also ought to remind social media boosters that theirs is not the only way.


BASIC as a domain specific language

A few posts back I was bemoaning the end of the simplicity of the BASICs I used thirty years ago – then I could just write a few lines to visually solve an equation and so on.

Cartridge with BASIC computing language for At...
Cartridge with BASIC computing language for Atari 8 bit computers. Model CXL4002. Photo by the uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That got me thinking about how to recreate that as domain specific language (DSL) – writing some other code that interprets the graphics primitives to put dots and lines on the screen. That pit seems quite simple. But, of course, to be able to plot a function you need to implement the maths code too – including some relatively complex stuff like SIN, COS, TAN etc.

And, presumably, you would also want loops to advance your parameters along a bit as well – pretty soon you would end up implementing a fairly substantial BASIC interpreter.

Still a project worth thinking about in my view – but it seems someone, not surprisingly, has already done this – treating BASIC as a DSL using Scala.

Mission accomplished

Licensed for reuse under creative commons - credit required, no commercial use permittedToday was graduation day for my MSc and I have to say I rather enjoyed it.

The master of Birkbeck, David Latchman, gave a very good speech I thought, emphasising the college’s commitment to its part-time students and to helping them get the funding to which they are entitled and we also got a speech by Gulam Noon – being made a fellow – who made his views very clear when he quoted the Hadith “the ink of scholars outweighs the blood of martyrs”.

The master also made the point that Birkbeck’s graduates are its greatest recruiters and that we should do our bit to encourage applications – which I am more than happy to do.

So, onwards and upwards.

Blink and you probably would not miss much

I completed Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink last week and I would not feel the need to overly revise my “thin sliced” view.

The book is not a complete waste of time, it contains some interesting insights on race in particular and did, at least, explain to me why office chair design has changed in the last five yearsMalcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 confe... and also how my reactions to that change – from “that chair looks awful” to “I love sitting in this chair” were, in fact, fairly typical. I also read a lot about a musician I had never heard of (the book attempts to explain why) and an embarrassment for the US Department of Defense.

But essentially the book seems to be a long-winded way of noting that:

  • experts often have a near instant gut feeling about things which turn out to be right;
  • evolution means we are equipped to make decisions in a split second so we can survive but that decision-making ability is also automatically applied to many areas where the decision is not about survival; and
  • often these rapid decisions are good and helpful, but often they are not – in particular even those of us who abjure racism will make decisions conditioned by a sub-conscious racial prejudice.
The race stuff was depressing, the chair stuff interesting, the book about 100 pages too long.

Thirty years of the ZX Spectrum: the machine that killed computing?

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the advent of the ZX Spectrum, the micro-computer than really brought computing to the masses, in Britain at least.

Sinclair 48K ZX Spectrum computer (1982) Türkç...But I am in two minds about it. Unlike the BBC Micro it was not a rich-kids toy, as it cost half the price. But it also did more than anything to move the focus of UK home computing away from programming and on to games.

I am not claiming to be a saint in this regard either – when my brother and I finally got one I could feel my interest and enthusiasm for code-writing wane too. With all the good games that were available home made code from a 16 year old was never likely to match that from the increasingly professional software shops and anyway took time that could have been spent trying to crack the problems of the games (The Hobbit – see the video – was a favourite).

My brother, though, did keep hacking away. Even when doing his PhD, in the late 80s/early 90s he was still writing published code for the Spectrum (see SNA2TIFF).

In search of a good book on Java Swing

My effort at creating a good hex editor has (temporarily) run aground, as the UI code proved to be just too complex and I was making that bit up as I went along.

So, now I need the perennial tool of the computer engineer when faced with difficulty – a good book. Anyone care to recommend one on Java Swing. Nothing with the word “beginner” in it, please: I just want to know how to do it, not to have object orientation explained to me!

A reason why kids don’t do programming any more?

As I write this, in the next room my two daughters are playing with their Wii, with the eldest using her Andorid phone to provide incidental music. It’s a not untypical Saturday morning scene in millions of homes I imagine.

In here I am contemplating one of the legacies of my teenage years – the desire to write a computer program for no other reason than I enjoy it.

The immediate problem I face with the current piece of code is user interface related and that does make me wonder if one of the reasons kids have lost interest in programming is (alongside the awful way they are taught about computers) the sheer hideousness of UI code.

Back in the days of Sinclair (or BBC) BASIC things could be made to appear on the screen by simply specifying their cartesian co-ordinates and issuing a PLOT command or similar.

So, I could get back from my A level maths class and plot the graphs of the functions we’d been discussing in a few lines of code. I could write, and graphically represent, the behaviour of heat quanta in a molecular grid with just a few hours work.

Now I would have to set aside a day to do the graph from scratch or use somebody else’s code. The heat quanta representation boggles the mind.

I can understand why the makers of the Raspberry Pi seem to be recreating the BBC Micro environment alongside the electronics: all this UI code just gets in the way of helping kids build useful software.