Integrating Batch Modify Into Trac

Posted by Brian Sun, 27 Jun 2010 17:40:00 GMT

Some preliminary discussion on moving the Trac Batch Modify Plugin into Trac has been started here. The proposal page outlines some of the issues that need worked out before adding this functionality into the Trac core, some of which will be worked out in the plugin in the meantime. For example, I have never liked the current UI. It predates the custom query functionality and should be reworked to use a UI similar to that.

If you are a user of the plugin and wish to contribute some thoughts please add them to the the ticket or to the proposal page.

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The Stand

Posted by Brian Tue, 22 Jun 2010 00:34:00 GMT

The Stand
By Stephen King


I am once again falling incredibly far behind on my reviews. The deficit currently stands at nine books. Time to get back on track.

I started reading The Dark Tower series last year. After reading The Gunslinger my brother recommended that I read The Stand before continuing any further, as it tied into later books in the series. (I’ve since learned that many Stephen King books tie in, but I am unsure how many I will read.)

Let me just say right off the bat that I am a sucker for movies or novels about the apocalypse. I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the collapse of civilization. Needless to say The Stand was right up my alley. I ended up picking up the uncut edition from the library, weighing it after 1000 pages. As far as length goes, that puts it about on par with Cryptonomicon, which I read last year. Fortunately Stephen King is a much easier read than Neal Stephenson. Dense The Stand is not. If you can call a book about the death of 99.4% of the population breezy, then this is it.

You can read all about the plot of The Stand elsewhere. I just want to muse a little on Stephen King’s place in literature. Before reading The Gunslinger last year I had not read anything by King since Cujo in middle school and had since dismissed him (for no good reason) as popular tripe. Starting to read The Dark Tower series (and now The Stand) has been a revelation. Yes, as he describes it, he often suffers from diarrhea of the typewriter, but I find myself not minding. He’s a terrific visual writer and his work reads much shorter than it’s heft would indicate. Compared to a lot of my usual reading his work qualifies as quite relaxing. Maybe I am enjoying it because it is such a change of pace for me. Most of my fiction reading is fantasy or science fiction. King mixes elements of each with horror and general fiction to create some very readable work. Anyways, I’m very much looking forward to finishing The Dark Tower (I just finished The Waste Lands last night). And since The Dark Tower ties into so many of this other works maybe I’ll just keep going.

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Batch Modify 0.6.0 Released

Posted by Brian Sat, 19 Jun 2010 19:38:00 GMT

I released a new version (0.6.0) of the Trac Batch Modify Plugin. This version fixes a bug that caused unexpected results when adding keywords to multiple tickets. You know, modifying them in a batch. Oops. Thanks to beachroad for the patch that corrected this. That same patch also fixed the redirect after a batch modify to bring you back to the same query page.

This release also adds the ability to add keywords from a batch of tickets by putting ‘-’ before the name of the keyword to remove. Thanks to oliver for this patch. There are also new configuration options for list fields, such as keywords. See the plugin page for more details on how to use these. Thanks again to beachroad for providing that patch.

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The Future of Ideas

Posted by Brian Mon, 31 May 2010 19:01:00 GMT

The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
By Lawrence Lessig

“Technology, tied to law, now promises almost perfect control over content and its distribution. And it is this perfect control that threatens to undermine the potential for innovation that the Internet promises.” - Lawrence Lessig

In our cultures rush towards the salvation of the unfettered free market promised by the right we often lose sight of a couple of key points. First, one of the key pillars of that free market espoused by the right is a system of intellectual property law that itself is brought into being through government regulation. They preach that this system of patents, copyrights, and trademarks is absolutely essential to ensure that inventors and artists have incentive to create. Second, the biggest driving force behind the economic growth of the past fifteen years comes from a resource that purposely avoided using the patent system. As Lessig reminds us in *The Future of Ideas” “the core of the internet was… code built outside the proprietary model.”

If you are interested in the balance that must be found between proprietary ownership and the commons on the Internet then this book is for you. Lessig guides the reader along the founding design principles of the net and how business is seeking to subvert those principles today in order to gain control of what has been an open network to this point. What is meant by “open” though? It goes to the idea of net neutrality which is currently being hotly debated by the FCC, which is seeking to preserve it, and large media companies and ISPs, who wish to abolish it. Net neutrality simply states that all content flowing across the network must be treated equally. For example, Comcast owns the largest cable TV system in the country and also supplies internet to millions. In order to protect its cable monopoly Comcast may want to limit internet video traffic across its network, effectively using their monopoly in old media to stop new competitors from emerging. An explicit system of net neutrality would legally prevent this.

Lessig also proposes sweeping reforms of the copyright system. Currently our system of limited copyright protection for the promotion of the arts and sciences has been perverted by large media. The Copyright Term Extension Act extends copyright in many instances to over 100 years. This does nothing to encourage production of new works of art, instead working to strengthen current monopolies by preventing anything from ever entering the public domain. In The Future of Ideas he proposes a 5 year copyright that can be renewed up to 15 times. This is still a longer term than I would like (Lessig has since modified his stance to support even shorter terms).

The topic Lessig takes on is vast and one the vast majority of the public never thinks about, something that large media companies use in their favor. If you are interested in tackling the subject yourself this is an excellent place to start.

Lessig practices what he preaches as well. You can download The Future of Ideas for free here.

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Guns, Germs, and Steel

Posted by Brian Sun, 16 May 2010 03:29:00 GMT

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
By Jared Diamond


I first heard about this book in spring 2005 when I took an American military history class in college and the professor showed the documentary based off of this book in class. It didn’t have much to do with the rest of the course, but he felt that Jared Diamond’s work was important enough to show anyways. The book lingered on my To Read list ever since, but I finally got to it. It was well worth it.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond sets out to explain why one culture dominates another without resorting to the usual racist arguments. The Wikipedia page goes into sufficient detail so I won’t dwell on the specifics. What I do want to discuss is the skills that Diamond possesses that allowed him to write such a wide ranging book and what can be extrapolated from that.

Most of the last century saw a dramatic increase in scientific specialization. The sheer amount of information coming in as scientific advancement progressed at an ever increasing rate simply requires it. For the most part, if you want to carve yourself a name among a scientific community you need to specialize. A biochemist specializing in a single bacteria is common in that field. This has come at the expense of being able to synthesize information across many different fields though. A towering figure the likes of Newton is impossible today. In Newton’s time it was possible for him to keep abreast of most scientific discoveries of the day, regardless of what field we would today categorize them in. The need for these figures has not diminished though. They are needed more than ever and that to me is what makes Diamond so special. During his career he has been active in Physiology, Biophysics, Ornithology, Environmentalism, Ecology, Geology, Evolutionary Biology, and Anthropology. For a researcher today to move across so many fields is incredible and it is this diversity that gives him the unique lens to write such a comprehensive book in such a convincing fashion.

A couple of other thoughts. I have heard some rumblings about the length of the book by those who feel it was a magazine article extended to 400 pages. While he can be repetitive, with a subject this large I would prefer the author to be repetitive and thorough, looking at the problem from many different angles, instead of glossing over too much. I felt that Diamond walked the line very well with regards to length. It would have been easy to have such a large topic grow to 1000 pages. In doing so he avoided many of the problems found in The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, which devolves into an overwhelming catalog of facts.

Finally, it was hard for me to read this without thinking of Isaac Asimov’s *Foundation” series, specifically his concept of psychohistory, which he used to predict the collective actions of very large groups of people. Diamond does not go nearly that far, but reading anything about large sweeps of history that attempts to give an explanatory model makes me think of Asimov. And anything that makes me think of Asimov is a must read.

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Batch Modify 0.5.0 Released

Posted by Brian Sun, 16 May 2010 03:08:00 GMT

On May 13 I released a new version (0.5.0) of the Trac Batch Modify Plugin. This version adds better support for keyword separators (you can now use any non-alphanumeric character) and the ability to perform a batch modify without changing the last modified time. This is most useful if you are using this plugin in conjunction with the Trac Unread Plugin. Thanks to daltonmatos for this patch.

This is also the first release with separate versions for Trac 0.11 and 0.12. This was necessary to support the last modified time feature. Trac 0.12 changes timestamps to POSIX microseconds from POSIX seconds.

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The Greatest Benefit to Mankind

Posted by Brian Tue, 27 Apr 2010 01:39:00 GMT

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity
By Roy Porter


In college I took a history class called Changing Concepts of Health and Illness that was taught by the best professor I ever had, Theodore Brown. He brought immense knowledge and passion for the topic to bear in an engaging fashion that made me look forward to going to every class. The main text for that class was The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, but we only covered about somewhere from one-third to a half of it. Ever since then it has sat on my bookshelf until I finally got around to reading the whole thing. Unfortunately, without Professor Brown’s teaching to go with it, the book shows itself to be overwhelming in its efforts to be comprehensive.

Roy Porter sets out to provide the reader with a comprehensive history of medicine from a Western perspective. The problem is that the topic is simply too large to handle in the manner he attempts. When covering a topic this large there must be some sort of narrative or flow to propel the reader forward. In this case though Porter has written in a very dry, encyclopedic style. Names are thrown at the reader so fast they just become a blur. In many sections multiple names are thrown out and then one is referred back to and it is difficult to remember who did what.

I can’t help compare this book against Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I just finished this weekend (review forthcoming). Diamond took on a similarly daunting task of tracing the why’s of 13,000 years of history, but he did it in a narrative way. He clearly set forth his goals to the reader and followed through. When taking on a monumental subject you must give the reader goals to be reading for. Guns, Germs, and Steel would have been nowhere near as successful if we had wrote it in Porter’s style.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind is probably best served in the way Professor Brown used it: as a supplement to a conversation on Western medicine. It serves very well as reference material, helped by its enormous index. Don’t read the whole thing though.

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Ender's Game

Posted by Brian Sun, 04 Apr 2010 20:27:00 GMT

Ender’s Game
By Orson Scott Card


Ender’s Game has been on my reading list for years, but I just got to it last month. It is considered a classic of science fiction and propelled Card into the upper echelon of sci-fi authors. I wanted to concentrate on the controversies surrounding the novel here, but it seem that many of those include details from later books in the series. I would rather read those before reading about the controversies in detail and forming an opinion. Instead I will simply share some thoughts on the foreword to the version I read form Orson Scott Card.

In that foreword he briefly discusses the treatment of the gifted in our society, mainly the assumption that children are not capable of complex thoughts. I have always found this view to be ridiculous. Of course Card takes this to the opposite extreme by having Ender’s siblings manipulate humanity from a young age, leading to one ruling Earth and another leading the first expedition to an alien planet. However, there is a vast middle ground between those two extremes that most children fall into and it important to recognize that there is vast spread in that middle ground. Our current education system mostly ignores these differences though.

I’m not going much of anywhere with this and I’m having a serious case of writer’s block so let me just say that Ender’s Game is a fabulous morality tale told through the eyes of children and the adults manipulating them. Card’s writing consciously avoids needlessly complicated language, something he disdains. Card’s portrayal of Ender as sympathetic character may be tough for some to swallow, but it will certainly make you think.

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The Cluetrain Manifesto

Posted by Brian Tue, 30 Mar 2010 22:07:00 GMT

The Cluetrain Manifesto
By Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger


Well I started writing this review once and lost all my work when I was about three quarters done. Consequently I have no motivation to write a detailed review again. My initial one dug into what parts of the The Cluetrain Manifesto had come true and which had not over the past decade. Since I am lazy you get the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes version.

The Cluetrain Manifesto was written at the beginning of the rise of the internet and basically boils down to markets are conversations. Companies that wish to proclaim and hold their customers at arms length will suffer as real conversations come to dominate. To a certain extent this has come true. Many small businesses are built entirely around this concept, but it is arguable whether many ever lost authentic conversation to begin with. With respect to large businesses this has been applied as just another avenue of market research, support, and advertising. It hasn’t supplanted the traditional proclamations from on high or mass market advertising campaigns.

If you want a view of the early optimism of the power of the internet this is a great read. Today that optimism is tempered with fear of big business and governments continue to dream of locking down the internet to further their own ends. The writing style is purposely aggressive. In many ways the authors are almost belittling the old guard. I for one am always up for that.

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Ease of Trac

Posted by Brian Wed, 03 Mar 2010 23:15:00 GMT

I wanted to take the time to highlight how easy it is to hook into Trac. A couple of months ago I had never even looked at the Trac code base in any meaningful way, let alone wrote anything with it. That changed when we wanted some customizations done at work.

Our (now canceled) BPM initiative uses Teamworks as the engine. Unfortunately, Teamworks 6 offers no version control at all, which makes it very difficult to keep track of what you have changed for a particular release. To get around this we wanted to start listing these on Trac tickets in a way that would allow them to be aggregated into a list that could be used for deployment and to see who else was working with a particular item. To do this I created a macro that scrapes the individual items from text areas into a neatly formatted list. Using the Trac and Genshi APIs this was very easy. The only hurdle was my mediocre Python skills. I haven’t put this up on Trac-Hacks, but I may do so at some point. It’s still a little rough around the edges for general use.

Around this time I also discovered the batch modify plugin, which would make our release engineer’s life much easier. Unfortunately it was unmaintained and broken. I fixed it internally and then offered to officially take over the plugin. Once again most of the pain has been in my lack of Python experience, but Trac itself is very powerful. It’s amazing how little code is actually in the plugin. Kudos to the Trac team.

I may get some more hands on experience in the future as well. The batch modify plugin may be merged into Trac itself and I have a kanban board plugin that I have been working on a little in my spare time that would give an alternative view to query results.

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