Simon Willison’s Weblog

Items in 2012

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What is the easiest server-side platform for Android Java developers to learn?

Take a look at the Play framework—last time I looked (a couple of years ago) it seemed to be the most instant productive and sane way of doing server-side Java.

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How are websites hacked to have their content defaced? How can I prevent such attacks on my website?

There are countless ways in which a website could be defaced—way too many for a single Quora answer!

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What makes an awesome hackathon? I want to host one at the LAUNCH Festival and I have never run one.

One of the hardest parts to coordinate of a hackathon (we tend to call them hack days here in the UK) is the demos at the end. If you have 50+ teams giving a demo you need to make sure everything runs SUPER smoothly or the whole process will quickly jam up.

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What are some programming conferences and events being held near Detroit, MI?

We have a crowdsourced listing of conferences and events in Michigan here: Conferences in Michigan | Lanyrd—two that might be relevant to you are Agile and Beyond 2013, 9th March 2013 and Kalamazoo X Conference 2013, 13th April 2013

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How do I really learn coding?

Build real websites. Find a project and work on it. A personal blog is a great project as it can be simple to start with and get more complex over time.

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Django (web framework): What are the Best Practice For Displaying another Website from yours?

This isn’t really a Django-specific question—the answer would be the same no matter what server-side tech you use.

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What are some good ways to insult an Information Architect?

Ask them if they’ve started calling themselves a UX designer yet, or if they’ve jumped straight to Service Design :)

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Why do developers so dislike “ideas people”?

There’s no disdain for creativity or the business side—those things are essential! The disdain is for people who think that having the idea is enough for them to be useful for the company (“I’ve got a great idea, I just need a developer to build it for me”). If you can’t build you’d better be able to do a LOT of other useful things. Having an idea isn’t enough.

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What’s the real reason for the drop in cash that Y Combinator now gives companies? What really precipitated this change? Were they not seeing the value for their money and wanted out?

I was in the first batch that got the 150k. I believe Paul Graham when he says that the amount was high enough that companies stuck around for longer than they would have otherwise (and founders were more likely to “fight over the corpse”) and that 80k would have been enough to get companies through to the point where they either raise more money or decide not to continue.

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What are some great things happening in London in January 2013?

Keep an eye on the events calendar on Ian Visits: London Events Listings Guide—it doesn’t have much for January yet but closer to the time you can guarantee Ian will have tracked down some fascinating, obscure and worthwhile London events. He’s amazingly good at tracking down the weirder side of London—parades, one-off openings of private houses, guest lectures, guided walking tours and so on.

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What’s the best free online newspaper in the U.K?

The Guardian. (OK, I used to work there, but I would say the same even if I hadn’t. It’s a world class newspaper with a truly excellent website)

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Is it worth accepting an investment from YCombinator if you have an established network in the valley?

Yes. Plenty of the companies in our batch at YC already had well established networks, and they still benefited enormously from the advice and introductions YC could offer.

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If I have not seen the recent James Bond movies Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace with Daniel Craig, should I see the upcoming SkyFall, or wait to view them in order?

There’s basically nothing in Skyfall that depends on the previous two movies, so you’re perfectly safe watching them out of order (don’t watch Quantum of Solace without watching Casino Royale first though).

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What are the major plot holes in Skyfall?

I find it hard to believe that MI6 could be that incompetent.

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Can you recommend a few video lectures on web application design with Redis?

We have a collection of 27 videos of conference talks that cover Redis on Lanyrd, gathered by our community: Redis Videos | Lanyrd

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Where can I find videos of talks from big tech/science/startup conventions?

Our site encourages people to add links to videos from events all around the world—we have nearly 9,000 videos indexed now (with detailed metadata about speakers, topics and locations). Take a look at our collection here:

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How did Simon Willison learn programming?

My dad taught me to program at first on a Commodore 64 when I was about 7. I only found out many years later that he’d had the “how to program” manual on his left hand side, me sat on his right hand side and was only ever a couple of pages ahead of me in the book!

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Why doesn’t Wikipedia try something other than donations to make money?

Wikipedia is run by a non-profit, and the content is created by volunteers for free. Those volunteers created that content under the understanding that it would be for the benefit of the species. Alternative methods of making money would break that assumed contract with their volunteers, and would likely damage their ability to encourage free contributions in the future.

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How do you get started with an entrepreneurial idea?

Anything can seem like a good idea at the moment you come up with it: the ideas worth pursuing are the ones that still seem like a good idea weeks or months later.

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Who is the author of the Apache Solr project?

Solr has a lot of contributors, but I believe the project was originally created by Yonik Seeley while working at CNET.

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What are the best practices for onboarding new software engineers?

I’m a huge fan of “deploy on the first day”—which forces the issue in getting all of their accounts set up, their development environment ready, showing them where source control is, how code review works and so on. Even if it’s just adding themselves to the about page or humans.txt file, it means they can come in on day two ready to get real work done.

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How can I practice giving presentations / public speaking?

Look out for opportunities to practice in front of a friendly audience. There are two event formats that are particularly good for this.

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To become a better developer ? To read more OR to create/contribute to open source projects?

Contribute to an existing project, rather than starting one yourself. There are a bunch of benefits:

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What are the ways to get your links expand in Twitter inline?

This feature is called Twitter Cards - you need to add some metadata to your pages, then apply to Twitter for inclusion in the program (they currently operate a whitelist of sites). See the documentation for more details.

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How do I learn how to write a javascript framework?

First, spend a few years writing JavaScript without using a framework. That should ensure you have a deep understanding of both what problems you want to solve and how you can solve them!

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What are some apps, problems you would suggest to solve a new python developer?

The best way to learn python in my opinion is using the interactive prompt. Install ipython (a massive improvement on the standard python shell) and use it to interactively solve some simple tasks—things like downloading a CSV file from the web using the urllib library, parsing it with the csv module, then poking around in the data using python list comprehensions and saving some of the results out to a JSON file.

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Is there a way to uniquely identify the device of the user that are connecting to a web app or a website?

If the device is a mobile phone running an app it’s very easy to create a permanent identifier for the application/device—it can be generated once the first time the user runs the app, stored locally and then passed to Facebook with every future request. Think of it like a browser cookie, but unlike browsers the app developer can ensure the cookie is never deleted once it has been created.

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What are the top Apps/Mobile conferences & events for 2013?

The biggest is still Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February—tens of thousands of attendees and representatives from pretty much every mobile company.

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How do media outlets get the presidential election results that they report?

When I was working for the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas back in 2004 the results were compiled at city hall and made available to reporters / other concerned parties via FTP in a terrifying CSV format. I don’t know if the technology has evolved much since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was much the same today.

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Events (leisure): What would you think of a conference that had longer hours?

I agree with Lenny Martin, for most events this would just be too long. There’s one exception: events that provide a sit-down dinner and have a talk during that dinner. PyCon UK in Birmingham have done this in the past and it was great—the conference itself ended around 6pm, you have an hour and a half to yourself, then you sit down for a banquet-style meal at 7:30pm with the other attendees. Their dinner speaker was a local historian talking about the science history of the local area, which was a really nice complement to the rest of the conference.

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