Simon Willison’s Weblog

Entries in Mar

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Generating a commit log for San Francisco’s official list of trees

San Francisco has a neat open data portal (as do an increasingly large number of cities these days). For a few years my favourite file on there has been Street Tree List, a list of all 190,000 trees in the city maintained by the Department of Public Works.

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I commissioned an oil painting of Barbra Streisand’s cloned dogs

Two dogs in a stroller looking at a gravestone, as an oil painting
Two identical puffs of white fur, gazing at the tombstone of the dog they are

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Building a combined stream of recent additions using the Django ORM

I’m a big believer in the importance of a “recent additions” feed. Any time you’re building an application that involves users adding and editing records it’s useful to have a page somewhere that shows the most recent objects that have been created across multiple different types of data.

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How do I receive automatic updates from a Facebook group by email?

Facebook’s API does provide a feed of recent posts to a group: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/graph-api/reference/v2.8/group/feed

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Where do you like to eat in London?

I adore Ya Hala next to Paddington station—Lebanese food (so lots of veggie options), open until midnight, really good tea as well. It’s my first stop in London whenever I’m visiting, since you can get directly there from Hearhrow on the Heathrow Express train.

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Work process vs technology

Do you have a plan for what happens if you lose your hard drive, or someone steals it? I understand your need for offline access, but personally I’m terrified of losing my laptop to the point that I use cloud backup services (Dropbox, but I’ve used and liked Backblaze in the past) to make absolutely sure that I don’t lose any data should my laptop get lost or stolen.

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We applied to Y Combinator a few weeks ago and submitted a demo. We made significant progress since then and have a much better demo now. Is it possible to replace the demo? Is it advisable?

It’s fine to replace the demo, and definitely a good idea if your new demo is better. That said, don’t expect that anyone who has viewed the old demo will check out the new one. As a result the sooner you get the new demo in place the better.

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Have you ever experienced a boost in productivity by switching to a different programming language?

Switching from PHP to Python (over a decade ago now) dramatically improved my productivity as a programmer.

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How does one decide which Javascript framework (e.g. Node, Backbone, Angular) to use on any given project?

If you are just learning JavaScript, I suggest trying to work without any frameworks or libraries at all. Starting with something like Angular will make it much harder for you to learn the core language and browser APIs.

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What are some tips for improving public speaking skills quickly?

Practice your talk, out loud, in private, as many times as possible before you deliver it. There’s no better way of ensuring you know your material and that you can deliver it at a sensible pace without freezing up.

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Are there any YC startups based around open source software?

There have been a few.

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Does anyone ever had the experience where they could carry on a conversation with someone very well, but stutter and go blank when public speaking (eg. informal introduction) in front of a crowd?

This is extremely common, and will certainly go away with experience... but being well prepared is never a bad idea with respect to public speaking! Even for informal introductions it’s worth figuring out what you’ll say, writing it down, rehearsing it out loud several times in private and memorising it.

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What are some ways to organize conferences at a very low cost?

Find a venue sponsor: venues are the biggest expense for most events, and if you can find a company with their own conference-suitable facilities who will provide the space for free you’ve just massively slashed the cost of the event. Most BarCamps (at least in London) work on this basis.

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Why do academic conferences cost so much?

They’re usually a whole lot cheaper than industry conferences, where tickets can cost more than a thousand dollars.

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What are some ways to get a job from attending a conference?

Talk to people. Ask if they are hiring—if they aren’t, ask if they know anyone at the conference who is hiring. Make sure you have lots of business cards. Get other people’s business cards. Follow up afterwards. Connect with people on LinkedIn.

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What are some hidden features of Python?

Generators and Iterators are pretty amazing. These two tutorials will really open your eyes as to how powerful they can be:

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Where can I find out about upcoming conferences, conventions, and trade shows in design, publishing, and elearning?

Our site, Lanyrd, is a crowdsourced directory of conferences and professional events. We’re extremely strong in areas such as Mobile, Web Design and User Experience, but we also have listings for Publishing and E-Learning. Try these pages:

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How do I get started with node.js?

You don’t run Node.js in a script tag on your website. Node is a technology for writing servers in JavaScript—you can think of it as a replacement/alternative for PHP, Python, Ruby, ASP.NET etc.

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How do you get invited to speak at high profile events?

SXSW has an open call for proposals—you’ll need to submit a suggestion to the panel picker and encourage people to vote for you.

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How does one create innovation in a business conference? What’s new and different in this area?

Two formats worth investigating are unconferences and lightning talks.

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What is your review of xkcd?

★★★★★

It’s consistently excellent, and frequently throws out absolute diamonds. Here’s a great one from just a few days ago: [... 63 words]

What is the history of question and answer websites?

I’m afraid this answer will be a little vague, but I worked at Yahoo! back when they launched Answers, and the story I heard was that this category of sites was extremely popular in some Asian countries—particularly countries that didn’t yet have a large number of available native language sites on the Web. Q&A sites filled a valuable gap there by allowing people to discover information online in their own language despite there not being many existing sites.

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What are some system administration best practices? If someone is running a production web server, what are the basic things they should be doing?

Graph everything. I’m not a good sysadmin, but one thing I’ve learned from working with with good sysadmins is that they spend a bunch of time looking at graphs.

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What Y Combinator companies are going to SXSW this year?

Lanyrd (W11) will be there, we’re promoting our SXSW schedule planner / coverage tracker tool: http://sxsw.lanyrd.com/

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List of SxSW 2009 panels with “social” in the title

  • A Hard Sell? Social Media & Your Boss
  • Can Social Media End Racism?
  • Digital Urbanites: How To Become Part of the New Social Capital
  • The Future Of Social Networks
  • How Social Networks Are Killing the Revolution
  • Making Whuffie: Raising Social Capital in Online Communities
  • The Mix at Six Hosted by Social Media Group
  • Mobile Social SXSW BBQ
  • My Boss Doesn’t Get It: Championing Social Media to the Man
  • PBS’ Interactive Social Media & Online Video Studio
  • The Search for a More Social Web
  • Security for the Social Set
  • Social Engineering: Scam Your Way Into Anything or From Anybody
  • Social Gamers: Away From the Keyboard
  • Social Media For Social Good
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day
  • Social Media Nonprofit ROI Poetry Slam
  • Social Media: If You Liked it, Then You Should Have Put a Digg on it...
  • Social Networking in Health: e-Patients, Data & Privacy
  • Social Patterns and Antipatterns For the Win
  • Suxorz ’09: The Ten Worst Social Media Campaigns
  • Twitter for Marketers: Is It Still Social Media?
  • Using GPS & Location to Enhance Social Networking
  • Using the New Digital Social Media to Accelerate Sustainability

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A few notes on the Guardian Open Platform

This morning we launched the Guardian Open Platform at a well attended event in our new offices in Kings Place. This is one of the main projects I’ve been helping out with since joining the Guardian last year, and it’s fantastic to finally have it out in the open.

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wikinear.com, OAuth and Fire Eagle

I’m pleased to announce wikinear.com. It’s a simple site that does just one thing: show you a list of the five Wikipedia pages that are geographically closest to your current location. It’s designed (or not-designed) to be used mainly from mobile phones.

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Stupid computers.....do what I want!

Look for a header called X-Forwarded-For, but be sure to read this first.

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Oxford Geek Night 2

If you missed the last Oxford Geek Night, you really owe it to yourself to make it to the next one. If you were there then you shouldn’t need any convincing.

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My Future of Web Apps talk as a slidecast

The team at Carson Systems have a pretty quick turnaround on their podcasts; they’ve had full recordings of every speaker up for a few days now. I spent a bunch of time over the weekend splicing the recording of my talk together with my slides, and the result is now available at The Future of OpenID (a slidecast).

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