Simon Willison’s Weblog

Entries in Feb

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Trying to end the pandemic a little earlier with VaccinateCA

This week I got involved with the VaccinateCA effort. We are trying to end the pandemic a little earlier, by building the most accurate database possible of vaccination locations and availability in California.

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Cross-database queries in SQLite (and weeknotes)

I released Datasette 0.55 and sqlite-utils 3.6 this week with a common theme across both releases: supporting cross-database joins.

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Open source projects: consider running office hours

Back in December I decided to try something new for my Datasette open source project: Datasette Office Hours. The idea is simple: anyone can book a 25 minute conversation with me on a Friday to talk about the project. I’m interested in talking to people who are using Datasette, or who are considering using it, or who just want to have a chat.

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Weeknotes: Finally, an intro video for Datasette

My big project this week was this Video introduction to Datasette and sqlite-utils. I recorded the video a few weeks ago in advance of FOSDEM, but this week I put together the annotated version. I’m really happy with it, and I’ve added it to the datasette.io homepage as a starting point for helping people understand the project.

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Video introduction to Datasette and sqlite-utils

I put together a 17 minute video introduction to Datasette and sqlite-utils for FOSDEM 2021, showing how you can use Datasette to explore data, and demonstrating using the sqlite-utils command-line tool to convert a CSV file into a SQLite database, and then publish it using datasette publish. Here’s the video, plus annotated screen captures with further links and commentary.

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Weeknotes: Mostly messing around with map tiles

Most of what I worked on this week was covered in Serving map tiles from SQLite with MBTiles and datasette-tiles. I built two new plugins: datasette-tiles for serving map tiles, and datasette-basemap which bundles map tiles for zoom levels 0-6 of OpenStreetMap. I also released download-tiles for downloading tiles and bundling them into an MBTiles database.

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Serving map tiles from SQLite with MBTiles and datasette-tiles

Working on datasette-leaflet last week re-kindled my interest in using Datasette as a GIS (Geographic Information System) platform. SQLite already has strong GIS functionality in the form of SpatiaLite and datasette-cluster-map is currently the most downloaded plugin. Most importantly, maps are fun!

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Weeknotes: Datasette Writes

As discussed previously, the biggest hole in Datasette’s feature set at the moment involves writing to the database.

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Things I learned about shapefiles building shapefile-to-sqlite

The latest in my series of x-to-sqlite tools is shapefile-to-sqlite. I learned a whole bunch of things about the ESRI shapefile format while building it.

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How to cheat at unit tests with pytest and Black

I’ve been making a lot of progress on Datasette Cloud this week. As an application that provides private hosted Datasette instances (initially targeted at data journalists and newsrooms) the majority of the code I’ve written deals with permissions: allowing people to form teams, invite team members, promote and demote team administrators and suchlike.

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Weeknotes: Shaving yaks for Datasette Cloud

I’ve been shaving a lot of yaks, but I’m finally ready to for other people to start kicking the tires on the MVP of Datasette Cloud.

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sqlite-utils: a Python library and CLI tool for building SQLite databases

sqlite-utils is a combination Python library and command-line tool I’ve been building over the past six months which aims to make creating new SQLite databases as quick and easy as possible.

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Aside from Google I/O, does Google organize any other conferences?

They run a whole bunch, but many of them aren’t widely advertised—they have a lot of invite-only events for customers of their advertising tools, for example, and there are things like the Google Analytics Summit.

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What are good event venues to have a 100 person weekend hackathon in San Francisco?

As a general rule, tech companies in San Francisco are very supportive of hackathons and keen to host events. Eventbrite have hosted this kind of event in their office in the past, and I’m certain there are a bunch of other companies with decent spaces that would be worth approaching. Does the hackathon have a specific topic? I suggest approaching companies related to that topic as a starting point.

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Does Y Combinator accept purely app ideas like WhatsApp, Flipboard, etc.?

Yes they do, but you’ll need to demonstrate that your team also has the ability to execute on the idea.

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Should I use Django forms or pure HTML in order to do not establish borders for the growth of my app?

Use Django forms. Django scales horizontally on the front-end, so if your site needs to handle large amounts of traffic you just need to run multiple front-end servers—your form handling code will scale up just fine.

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What are the most important things to keep in mind when doing a presentation?

Know your material, and don’t speak too fast.

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What is the best payment provider for a web app with monthly subscription fees at its early stage?

We found Stripe extremely easy to get started with for charging subscription payments.

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What are the key points accelerators such as Y-Combinator drill into their startups?

They also teach the importance of launching something and getting real feedback. The entire three month YC process is based around the need to launch and demonstrate traction in order to raise money from investors.

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Does Ycombinator welcome projects that are similar to alumnis?

Y Combinator has funded companies that are similar to alumni in the past. Two examples: they funded dotCloud and Parse, both platform-as-a-service startups, despite having previously funded Heroku.

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What’s the best way to communicate with go libraries from within Python programs?

Go speaks HTTP extremely well, so one simple but powerful approach is to hook your Go libraries up as simple HTTP+JSON APIs and have Python call them over HTTP (the Requests: HTTP for Humans library is awesome for this).

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What new apps were used most at SXSW 2013, and why?

Lanyrd will be at SXSW again this year, and we’ve continued to refine our unofficial schedule guide and session planner for SXSW Interactive. Here’s our site for this year:

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How many women are raped each year at tech conferences?

The geek feminism wiki maintains a comprehensive list of incidents at tech conferences: Timeline of incidents

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Are there specific elements of SXSW that make it a successful conference?

SXSW is a great event because of the people who go. There is no other technical/creative conference I can think of which attracts talented, interesting people at the same scale (20,000+ attendees).

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How do conferences make money?

Ticket sales and sponsorships.

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Which web/software development conferences a student should attend and why?

Offer to volunteer at conferences. If accepted, you’ll get in for free and you’ll get to meet loads of people (including spending time with the speakers)—in exchange for a full days work manning desks, finding speakers in time for their talks, giving people directions and generally helping organise and clean things up.

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What is the best 30-minute sitcom ever?

I’m shocked it hasn’t been mentioned already, but seriously: where’s the love for Father Ted?

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What are Startup Friendly Event Venues in Berlin?

We have a list of conference event venues in Berlin here (it’s a semi-unreleased feature, so I’d love to get your feedback on if it helps solve your problem): Venues in Berlin | Lanyrd

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Where do I find out about interesting upcoming events in London?

I’m a big fan of Ian Visits: London Events Listings Guide for finding out about some of the more obscure events going on. Ian is an excellent curator with impecable taste in cultural events, and frequently lists guest lectures, guided walks, tours and other events that you may not hear about anywhere else.

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Is Lanyrd any good?

For some verticals, we’re excellent: we have by far the most comprehensive listing of tech/programming/startup-related conferences anywhere online, curated by our growing community of event enthusiasts. If you’re interested in events in those niches it’s absolutely worth signing up, trying out our recommendations and subscribing to our email updates.

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