What’s changed?

Matt Johnston commented recently that the recent surge in activity in the community side of the local tech & business scene could be “the ‘real’ end of the ‘Troubles’?”.  It’s definitely a positive thing, I’m delighted the next generation of technologists in Northern Ireland has a growing & diverse community around them.  Something that was sorely lacking in my formative years, where it seemed that the only exposure to technology was from inside the technology firm you worked in.  [and I’m a committed technologist, not a 9-5 salary man].  So what’s changed?

Many of us are of a similar age, all in full-time IT roles from the mid-90’s onwards, some for much longer.  Is it the relatively recent additions that have invigorated us? People like the hyper-active Andy McMillen, or what’s caused “the old guard” like Matt to push on with xcake & startvi, or Colm & Norbert to persevere with MobileMondayBelfast, or Darryl & the first Open Coffee Belfast?

Surely none of us would admit to letting Northern Ireland’s previous problems get in the way of the way we lead our lives?

So what changed?  How do we make sure we don’t loose momentum?

How much would your life changed if you had the community & adventure surrounding you 10-15 years ago when you first discovered your passion for technology could pay the bills?  Would you have endured the 10 years in big, faceless corporations? [how did we get brain washed into thinking that the best IT career involved one of 3 or 4 companies in NI?]

Would I still be doing what I’m doing now? Probably, but probably not for who I’m doing it for.  And I hope I would have had a much interesting & independent path here.

Portadown – Open Source Hotspot

I’m just back from the Open Source Solution Centre’s Information Evening at the Seagoe Hotel, Daniel Bled has obviously worked hard at sharing his passion for open source software, he and the rest of the team from Southern Regional College & InvestNI put on an evening they should be proud of.  Daniel did a sterling job of trying to convey the Open Source philosophy to the gathered non-technical, business oriented audience.  He focused on:

  1. Open Source – the source code is available for all to view.
  2. Open Licensing – zero licensing costs for using the software, although support costs.
  3. Open Access – your data isn’t locked away.
  4. Open To Change – you have the source code, you can make it fit your needs.

I’m paraphrasing all of this as I didn’t take notes and this is all from memory – Daniel please feel free to correct me.  I’m sure Stallman & Co would be spitting blood by now, but Daniel’s pitch seemed to strike home with the audience, I think The Four Fundamental Freedoms would have been lost on them in the 10min Daniel had.

After a substantial meal, we had a talk from an InvestNI representative who attempted to convince us that the current economic environment is tough, but we have some come through tougher aspects in the last few decades, and he did a fairly good job – the outlook is gloomy, but a lack of confidence will only make things worse.  He repeated a comment I have heard before, “the project was good last month, it’ll be good next month, if it makes sense, do it.  Don’t let the bad outlook on the news put you off”.  Here here.

The next stage was a little more depressing, the idea was for local businesses who have worked with the OSSC to talk about there experiences & benefits, unfortunately Bowman Group’s Marketing & Sales Director couldn’t resist a captive audience and squandared the bulk of the time to tell us all about the group and what great windows they make.  Luckily their HR & IS manager was more direct & to the point, explaining that data lock-in, a lack of flexibility & rocketing costs helped them select SugarCRM as their CRM platform, helping them track there sales process and possibly even drive part of their manufacturing processes.

Next up was one of the owners of a local HR outsourcing firm, it was a similar story of meeting with Daniel and Daniel & his team helping them use SugarCRM to manage there growing list of prospects, customers, projects and related tasks.  The speaker put across her point well, explaining that even her as a non-technical user could see the benefits and use the software easily.

A brief wrap up from Daniel was followed by the usual attempt at a panel Q&A session, which failed miserable as they usually do in this part of the world.

What I’m looking forward to next is discovering what the next step is for the Open Source Solution Centre is, how do we in the Open Source community enagage with the OSSC and how do local businesses do the same.

The NHS Works

The NHS gets a lot of flack from all sorts of sources, and the media tend to delight in hi-lighting the terrible experiences people have had with the NHS, including horror stories about people being left in trolleys in A&E, people not being able to get access to Doctors out of hours

Over Christmas, my 15 month old daughter caught a nasty virus/cold that knocked her for six, and we ended up calling our local surgery out-of-hours. Several times.  Our surgery participates in the local out-of-hours scheme, where there is a central number to call, they take your details & a Doctor calls you back.  On each occasion we had a call back within the hour.  On each occasion the Doctor was friendly & helpful.  On each occasion we ended up taking Zoe to the out-of-hours clinic to be checked, after being given a specific appointment time.  

  1. One the first visit, we were seen almost exactly on time, given a prescription and told which chemist near us was open and able to complete the prescription.  We had the visit, prescription fulfilled and were on our way home within the hour.  This was on a Sunday 28th December.
  2. Our second visit, we were seen within 10min of our time slot, given a slightly stronger antibiotic, which the Doctor made up there & then as it was late and we wouldn’t be able to find an open chemist until the morning.
  3. The third visit was much the same, seen within 10min of the time slot, Zoe was thoroughly checked over & we were advised to finish the current course of medication.


The out-of-hours clinic is 15min from our house, there’s plenty of parking, the staff are friendly, the staff there are who the out-of-hours telephone number goes to.  

Craigavon Area Hospital & Lurgan Medical Practice, hats off to you, your system works, you were there when we needed you and you delivered a service you should be proud of.  I for one am glad that my income tax is being spent wisely.

More noise needs to be made when the NHS does something right, constant negativity is only self fulfilling.

I’m fully aware that this was fairly simple primary care, and that things get a lot more complex with serious medical conditions, but that why I choose to pay for medical insurance that covers these major things.  Having a service that’s available 24 hours during the holidays when you have a sick child is a mind saver, if not a life saver.

What the Amish are Teaching America?

I read this on Saturday night, it was also covered in Church this morning, by Pastor Benji, here’s an excerpt:

The evening of the shooting, Amish neighbors from the Nickel Mines community gathered to process their grief with each other and mental health counselors. As of that evening, three little girls were dead. Eight were hospitalized in critical condition. (One more girl has died since.) According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.

You can read the full article here: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/1006-33.htm

Bright Ideas II: Photo Tagging

I use a mix of photo gallery software, I use Flickr for some things, notable stuff that’s public for other people to use, I also use Fuzzy Monkey‘s My Photo Gallery, which is simple, but has some neat features (like auto thumbnail generation, keeps photos and thumbnails seperate, allowing me to use Unison/rsync to keep my online photos in sync with an offline copy, simple passwording etc).

But I’m beginning to dig tagging, so I hoked about for some web gallery software that does this, and there seems to be a real shortage, I found Original and a modification of it that supports tagging, but it mix of php & python, and I couldn’t get my head round all of the Python.

So this got me thinking about what is the best way to generically tag my photos so that the will work in my online gallery and with my offline tools. Microsoft have added a couple of tags in the EXIF standard, eg XPKeywords. There is some stuff on XMP, Extensible Metadata Platform from Adobe. IPTC gets mentioned quite a bit, and is also supported by Google’s latest incarnation of Picasa, but is supposedly being phased out in favour of XMP.

Notably all of this is support by Phil Harvey’s ExifTool, which is a Perl library and CLI tool.
All of this comes under metadata, i.e. it’s data about the images. So, where to start? Well, I think I need to do the following:

  • Decide which format to support! (EXIF XPKeywords, XMP, IPTC etc)
    (actually, the gallery should probably support multiple methods, but let’s try and focus on one to start with)
  • Extend My Photo Gallery so that it can scan it’s directory of photo data & build a tag database
  • Extend My Photo Gallery so that is can generate a tag cloud.
  • Extend My Photo Gallery so that it can manage tags in the management UI.

Easy eh?

Where to start? Minimal overhead to start with, probably use SQLite for the tag/photo database, make it scan photos for tags, then work on building a tag cloud. jbrout looks like the thing to start tagging with. Then add tag management to the web UI.
Here’s some of my background reading: