Google Maps Mobile – My Location

News today that there is a new version of Google Maps for Mobile alongside there now being a Symbian native version it also includes a ‘My Location’ feature that triangulates an approximate location based on the cell towers the phone can communicate with. So away I go downloading it – runs great, aside from the ‘My Location’ feature which produces an error that my location is temporarily unavailable. Anybody managed to get it to work on an N73 running X-Series on 3?

Learners

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We finally got around to watching Learners, the comedy drama featuring Jessica Hynes and David Tennant that the BBC showed a few weeks ago.

In the programme Tennant plays Chris, a Christian driving instructor, and Jessica Hynes his pupil. Jessica Hynes character falls in love with her instructor, but he has fallen for Fiona, the boss of the driving school. The scene where Tennant as the driving instructor declares his love to Fiona has probably the funniest line of the whole film (well for C of E viewers at least):

“But Chris, I can’t – I’m a Bhuddist!”

“It doesn’t matter, I’m Anglican and desperate.”

Facebook Beacon

I’ve been reading an interesting post about Facebook Beacon, which together with the other posts it links to gives a pretty good overview of the technology and why people are concerned about it.

In layman’s terms, what Facebook Beacon provides is a way for third party websites to find out whether a user is logged on to Facebook, and to perform actions on Facebook based on what you do on their site. The examples used in the article are from e-commerce sites, so one person has bought a coffee table and the mini-feed in Facebook has told all her friends, and another added some DVD’s to their rental list, and again this was reported to all the listed friends. Currently there are 44 third-party sites signed up, but more are being added.

From a technical point of view it is pretty clever (check here for the technical breakdown of exactly what it does), especially as it isn’t being done with some sort of complicated data exchange, however from a personal privacy point of view it is a decidedly worrying step, especially as there is no global opt-out – you have to opt-out site by site. Just for a moment think of everything you do in your web browser, do you want details of any or all of that being broadcast to all your friends, or more importantly stored away by Facebook?

If you’re a Facebook user and decidedly worried, the simple way to stop it working is to remember to log out of Facebook before browsing to any other site. However if you want a more automated solution, the deconstruction article includes a number of tips as to how to block operation of the system.

Update: Facebook have now implemented a one click opt out from the whole system in their privacy settings – but I’m still going to leave the site block for the beacon address running.

The Nativity Story

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Amongst the bargain bin DVD’s in Tesco as I was going around this week was a copy of The Nativity Story, the glossy telling of the Christmas Story that came out last Christmas. Putting aside the irony that Tesco have shelves full of crackers and decorations already but have chucked a telling of the meaning of Christmas into the bargain bin, I picked up a copy, and this afternoon sat down to take a look.

Largely as would be expected, it’s biblical accuracy extends as far as being a generally pretty straightforward version of the traditional Christmas story that everybody knows, so we get the basic story from Luke, inter cut with the wise men travelling (who incidentally have their traditional names), and then switching fully over to the Mathean story after the shepherds. Mary and Joseph then escape to Egypt, and the part of Luke where Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem are ignored. I’m not overly surprised as it comes as a bit of a shock to most people that there are two totally different birth narratives in the Bible, and much as with Carol Services the world over, the problems are largely brushed under the carpet for the purposes of the story and not rocking the boat.

Anyway, what is good though is that Mary is realistically young, indeed there are scenes at the beginning that deliberately re-enforce how young she is. There is also a good deal of symbolism throughout the movie, with pre-empting of later parts of the gospels occurring in a number of places, and also interesting symbolism around the angel Gabriel who generally appears as an apparition of man in a white robe, but whose arrival or departure is shown by a soaring bird. You also get a suitably scheming Herod, and thanks to judicious amounts of CGI a pretty convincing image of Roman Palestine.

One other interesting aspect of the film worth mentioning is the soundtrack. Written by Mychael Danna, brother of Jeff Dana who provided the score for Gospel of John, the score combines traditional sounds with a regular orchestral score, but also at key moments uses some very familiar carols – in Latin – intertwined with the other music. The best known are O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Silent Night which occur at key moments in the film, but there are several others to spot too.

All in all, it’s not a bad film, and certainly is one of the better movie versions of the nativity I’ve seen. The cast is pretty good, although having watched Alexander Siddig for years on DS9 there is some amusement in having him turn up as Gabriel in this. It also doesn’t stray too much into the realms of Mel Gibson style fantasy additions to pad out the story, with the additions needed to pad the simple story in the Bible to a movie fitting in and underlining aspects of the story without adding anything theologically significant. If you’re looking for something to explain the religious significance of Christmas, it’s certainly worth digging around in your local Tesco bargain bin to see if you can find a copy.

Developer Day Number Six

Today was the sixth of the Developer Developer Developer events at the Microsoft Campus in Reading, and as with the previous events, I spent the day enjoying the sessions. As in previous events what I actually attended didn’t quite match up with what I thought I would attend, but the beauty of these days is you can quite easily switch dependant on what takes your fancy on the day, or indeed which sessions have seats!

First off I sampled the first part of Oliver Sturm’s double presentation on producing business applications with Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Like most people, what I remember about WPF is the flashy eye candy filled demo applications – what Oliver aimed to do was show that alongside the eye candy was a strong platform that could produce the kind of ‘boring’ business applications that most people end up writing, something in which he very much succeeded.

I commented after DDD4 that the kind of material that Oliver covered needed an early slot, rather than the graveyard slot where everybody was tired, and it is great to see that the comment had been taken on board, as a result I thought I gained a lot from attending both the first and second parts of the presentation (although it would have been better in successive slots I have to say), and certainly have a better idea of what I can do with the new framework.

Another session that gave me a better idea of what I can do was the slightly mis-titled Cruise Control .Net session presented by Paul Lockwood. I say mis-titled as the titular piece of software only appeared at the end of the session, much of the earlier part was looking at all the other bits of software that Cruise Control .Net actually uses, and which provide much of the power of the continuous integration process. No matter as it was an interesting session, and certainly gave me some pointers towards what is needed in setting up a continuous build process. Having said that, at work we’ve been saying we’re going to set up a continuous build process for a long while, whether we’ll actually get round to doing it is another matter!

After that it was back to see Oliver for part two of his session, and then from there on to lunch.

The main lunchtime activity was the Grok talks, of which more in a moment, but first the one thing that really annoyed me about the day (well aside from the car service indicator, but that’s another story) which was the way lunch was handled. Now they’ve tried various ways around this from full scale hot food, through to the bagged lunches they have now. The bagged lunches seemed to have worked fairly well, but it is always slightly slow because they randomly pack the bags so whether you’re just like me and fussy, or more importantly have food allergies you sometimes need to look through to find a reasonable combination. Now obviously there have been comments about this, as this time they had taped all the bags shut and the only option was vegetarian or meat – but still with the same random selection. There were also Microsoft Events staff posted at each table handing the bags out and being downright rude if you tried to have a look at what was in the bags. Heaven help you if you actually had a legitimate reason to be careful what you got. Luckily my random selection was pretty good and I didn’t get a sandwich ruined by tomato and cucumber, and even struck lucky with the flavour of crisps. But seriously taping the bags shut may remove a symptom of the problem, but it’s not actually solving the problem, it’s just annoying!

Anyway, onto the lunchtime talks. In an improvement from last time they were actually held in Memphis rather than in the foyer. There was still a bit of a problem with noise as the doors were open and people were chatting outside – not helped by the lack of a microphone for the speakers in that room, but it was a definite improvement. Whilst on the subject of microphones, in answer to the organiser, who shall remain nameless, who introduced and closed the day in Chicago by saying both times “you can hear me, I don’t need a microphoneâ€?, “we can’t, and you doâ€?! I know it’s a pain to use a microphone, (and I know other people who don’t like it and think they can get away without) and it’s probably not comfortable, but you can’t be heard at the back if you don’t.

Anyway, back to the Grok Talks – there was a good mix of topics including tips on packaging up your custom controls, a demo of Windows Power Shell and some tips on how to speed up Reflection. Probably the two most memorable were firstly a senior programmer, whose name unfortunately I don’t remember, who did a primarily non-technical presentation about a recent project he led implementing a patient record system in the UAE. Basically by reviewing the project from a business perspective it highlighted all sorts of gotcha’s for other people developing software in foreign countries. In terms of software design, things like other countries having names that don’t fit neatly into the forename/surname structure used here are important, also the d’oh moment when they realised that having a picture of the patient was pretty useless when large numbers of the women wore a burqa was good to share. He also highlighted that the scheduling aspect of the system was complicated by Ramadan as the scheduling algorithm would be different in that period. He also highlighted issues of staff morale, and just getting things done – all useful stuff that some might consider common sense, but are easy to miss on a complex project.

The second most memorable was for totally different reasons. This one was Guy Smith-Ferrier talking about Extension Methods. It was memorable not because of the topic, but because Guy chose to do it as a Pecha Kucha where the presentation is limited to twenty slides, each shown for exactly twenty seconds. After those twenty seconds the slides automatically move on, whether the speaker is finished speaking to the slide or not! Even if you’re not really massively enthusiastic about the subject, the format itself does bring in a strong element of interest as you watch to see if the speaker succeeds or doesn’t manage to keep up. Although there were a few points were Guy fell behind, and even one occasion where he was waiting for the slide to move on, he largely succeeded in coping – maybe an idea to try for more speakers next time?

After lunch I stayed put in Memphis for a Question Time style session on recruitment, not because I was massively interested in the subject, but because the panel included Barry Dorrans on the panel alongside a recruitment consultant. To understand why, have a read of some of the posts on his blog… Anyway, it was a worthwhile session, as there was a good discussion of the pros and cons of going freelance – something I’ve considered before, but rejected – which was an eye opener, particularly the comments from the recruitment consultant about the issues with trying to swap back again. I also felt somewhat better about the lousy pass rate we got on the programming test we gave to potential developers on our most recent recruitment round – the manager on the panel said only one in twenty programmers pass his simple test which sounds much the same as ours. I also came away with a great little test for helpdesk operators too which I guess I’ll have to pass on. As to Barry he was entertaining and animated as always, and managed to not lay in to the recruitment consultant too much – and when he did, about the lack of technical knowledge they have, he largely agreed!

The final session was perhaps the one I had least idea before hand which I was going to attend. Eventually I resisted the temptation of Swaggily Fortunes, and went along to hear James Winters talk about how to write a Facebook application, mainly out of curiosity.

The first thing I learned from the session is that in order to make money from writing for Facebook you don’t need to do anything complicated, indeed James showed us an application that recently sold for about $25,000 that in reality took about three hours to write. To understand why, you have to go back and look at how the Facebook model actually makes money – advertising. Therefore the more users an application has, the more it is worth – so all the stupid little applications that some of the people wanting to use Facebook as a business tool tend to look down on are actually worth significantly more because they generally have many more users than the more serious applications.

The general impression I took away from the session is that a basic Facebook application is actually relatively simple to produce – the real skill is coming up with an idea that has the sort of viral penetration to spread through thousands of users, which is how you can make any sort of money as a Facebook developer. Aside from that the applications are really just web applications, albeit with some functional limitations imposed by Facebook.

Anyway, all in all it was a good day, and I picked up lots of useful bits and pieces – and maybe if I can think up a good idea I’ll make my millions writing a Facebook application… maybe not. Oh and if you’re wondering why I wasn’t micro-blogging along with some of the others on Twitter, blame the Twitter mobile service, as I tried to hook up but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised I wasn’t following the feed, so nothing had worked. Maybe next time…

DDD6 092 and DDD6 125 originally uploaded by blowdart2000.