Older blog entries for malcolm (starting at number 119)

Poor Criticism

Straight out of the "cheap shot" basket, but I cannot resist: I saw this post go paste in my RSS feed earlier this evening (via programming.reddit.com). It's almost a textbook example of begging the question.

The author wants to make the argument that you shouldn't hire "rock star" programmers/developers and gives a few examples of IT advertisements looking for such. He then starts his case by definining "rock star" in a way that makes his argument. The problem is highlighted further down as he points out what a really good developer might bring to the table (not just coding, but documentation, testing, and working with and educating others). For some reason, they don't make his definition of rock star. After all, that would undercut the argument and render the post (more? less?) pointless. Such people really would (and do) bring a rock star effect to place in the sense that they perform well and others want to be around them and emulate them. Having a slightly less "glass half-empty" outlook could help here.

Really, people, if you're going to offer "look at the silly animals" commentary, try to make sure you're not inside the same cage.

Syndicated 2007-05-25 19:38:53 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Pirates: At World's End

I may have watched a longer movie at some point, but it doesn't come to mind. I'm pretty sure I went into a Friday session and when I came out it was something like Tuesday already.

This movie needs a meal break about halfway through.

On the plus side, I could sit and listen to the score for hours and the characters are great, even if the story drags a bit at times. Worth seeing.

Syndicated 2007-05-25 16:42:02 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Free Bike Loans

I hope a plan to loan residents bikes for free in south western Sydney works out.

Syndicated 2007-05-23 09:47:23 from Malcolm Tredinnick

A Cool Use For Flickr

Suppose you were a startup company trying to attract people to work for you. You wanted to sell yourself as a "cool place to work". One approach, taken by Exoweb is to have a Flickr group devoted to your company. Probably kind of obvious in retrospect, but I'm easily impressed.

I found this whilst mindlessly browsing through Flickr today and realising I hadn't checked out the Django/Python cluster in a while. Always interesting to see what people are doing there.

(I'm not associated with Exoweb in any fashion; I've never paid any particular attention to them until 20 minutes ago. Merely noting their cluefulness in this particular instance.)

Syndicated 2007-05-19 06:15:06 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Foreign Workers In The USA

Articles like this one that suggest there are some pretty obvious abuses of the USA's H1-B visa program going on really annoy me. The article does a pretty good job of pointing out why there isn't any obvious way of returning the scheme to its original purpose without making things even more difficult for employers and employees (both local and international).

I have a very large vested in these problems: I'm an IT professional with a lot of experience who likes the US and wouldn't mind working in any number of places there. However, in the current climate, it isn't even possible to get a foot in the door and on the odd time when a firm hasn't done their homework and approaches me about an onsite position, interest rapidly dries up when they find out I'm Australian (on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog a Southern hemisphere resident). There's even a special visa type for Australian professionals working in the US, but it's not well known and eyes have already glazed over by the time they hear "not currently able to work permanently in the US, but..."

The problem isn't isolated to the US, either. In most countries, an employer is taking on a lot of extra effort and expense when they consider trying to hire a foreign worker, even when genuine attempts to hire locally have been exhausted. The companies using foreign worker schemes as a way to ultimately outsource do not flag their applications as "frivolous" or "exploitative", so the genuine cases don't stand out from the others.

I have a lot of sympathy for the motivation behind a restricted visa program like this. International-scale outsourcing and other forms of job replacement make sense on a global economic scale, but at the level of the individual work, or community, it is completely debilitating. The reality is that knowing somebody else has a job doesn't put food on my table and the theoretical correction that redundant workers are retrained or placed elsewhere takes time and a person can't live outdoors and not eat for three months and then double up in the subsequent three: you are already in trouble after month one! So I am not an advocate for simplistic solutions like "increase the quota" or "add more sub-types", since that's a screw-your-buddy-in-the-other-country solution on a global scale.

There is not simple solution, or even necesarily a complex one, to this problem. How can you identify genuine cases where a foreign worker is the right solution, in the sense that they possess skills you cannot hire from your own country? How do you do this without driving down wages in a market-driven economy?

That, of course, is the counter-counter-argument: local job losses reallly bring home the downside of international markets and, yet, the same people live improved lives through the benefits of those same markets. Reduced income means you can no longer afford those foreign-manufactured shoes, clothers and cars that people like so much. Selective blindness to the bigger picture is certainly not a recent phenomenom. Everybody is aware of their own areas of speciality and take other pieces of the infrastructure they operate in as something akin to necessary and acceptable magic. Considering the full set of interactions is very depressing and only a few people have the necessary skills, drive and opportunity to try and take it all on.

I'm going through the first part of that last sentence at the moment: in many ways, I can't see that the regulators creating restricted working visa systems are doing the wrong thing. Politics is mostly local and it's often a question of considering how wide your local area extends when making decisions. I can easily get very angry at companies who try to work around such systems for purely their own benefits, though. I mean, a company like Wipro is, by their very nature, an outsourcing company. This isn't a case of a US company hiring a foreign worker directly. It may be legal, but I have trouble with the ethics behind it. Accenture is a trickier case. A US company with a huge multi-national presence where an internal transfer can involve a new country stamp in your passport. How do you stop them using foreign workers as a way of saving costs whilst still permitting cross-training experience that requires a couple of years to be worthwhile?

Like I said: no easy solutions here and the logistics of international business means it might well unfixable. There are other facets to the problem as well, particularly having to do with long-term contributions to the community you live/work in, but I don't want to write forever here. I mostly agree with what I wrote about a year ago in the comments at Dave's place, although I think I must have been on happy drugs at the time, because I'm a lot more frustrated by the realities now than I was then. On a practical level, I am grateful for the fact that most countries allow contract workers in most fields (particularly mine) to enter and work for a few months without requiring special visas. So off-site work with periodic visits are possible, as are short-term contracts.

Syndicated 2007-05-16 21:13:52 from Malcolm Tredinnick

I Told You It Was A Good Book

Random follow-up to a random post: Justine Larbalesteire's Magic Or Madness book (the first one in the trilogy I reviewed) won the Andre Norton Award last night for best Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel in 2006. That's part of the Nebula Awards, so kind of a big deal.

See? Other people thought it was good too.

Syndicated 2007-05-13 15:41:17 from Malcolm Tredinnick

"This Should Be Easier..."

The sort of code comment that is usually a sign that whoever wrote this code originally thought it would be easier than it turned out:

  # If all that malarkey found an object domain, use it; otherwise fall back
# to whatever get_absolute_url() returned.

Syndicated 2007-05-12 00:55:01 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Runtime Model Creation In Django (?!)

One of the nice things I like about hacking on Django is that the design lends itself to changing things without having to modify the core code. The internal pieces are split up pretty sensibly into different classes and functions so that you can override and subclass just the bits you need to. It's something that orients my internal design compass a lot when I'm looking at code additions.

Consequently, it's nice to see other people taking advantage of this. Along these lines, Marty Alchin's recent documenting of how to create models at runtime deserves some publicity.

I don't know that this is a particularly robust idea in general, but it clearly has its uses. Marty needs to do it for some reason. I guess with a bit of work and some robust database schema migration code underneath, you could create a web-based model design tool, for example. It's certainly a nice example of using the available hooks and reading the existing code to see how to extend the process.

Syndicated 2007-05-11 19:07:56 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Banning Books Is Stupid, Okay?

Go and read this post over at author Maureen Johnson's blog. Ignore the fact that the blog is very pink and the post titles are in all-capitals and the pictures of headless women in the left column. Read the content. Now pick your jaw up off the floor.

I am astounded that the type of logic that led to the banning of one of Maureen's (or anybody's) books is considered acceptable anywhere. Okay, we're only hearing one side of the issue, but the other side would have to be pretty overwhelming to outweigh the side we read about there.

It's not unexpected that some adults hold extremely conservative views about what is appropriate for their child. Or that they think these values should be projected onto everybody else. Or even that they think kissing between two girls risks pregnancy (although one wonder how they became parents in the first place if this is their understanding of the mechanics). What boggles the mind is that a "committee" of reasonable high school teachers and librarians couldn't or wouldn't see through the obvious problems in the argument.

Syndicated 2007-04-28 15:35:45 from Malcolm Tredinnick

Best Foreign Language Test Phrase Ever!

I've been doing a lot of work lately that is ultimately of benefit to people who want to use a language other than English in their software output (and input). For this you need test data, preferably in a lot of languages. Until now, I've been using a little file with the equivalent of "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" in a number of languages.

Today I struck gold!

My new favourite test phrase is "my hovercraft is full of eels" and here is a page with the phrase in over 60 languages. Brilliant!

(For those who don't know the origin of the phrase, it's from a Monty Python sketch called The Hungarian Phrasebook.)

Syndicated 2007-04-27 18:57:34 from Malcolm Tredinnick

110 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!