Simon Willison’s Weblog

Items in 2011

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Public Speaking: How can I control my stress during my presentations?

Make sure you have run through your talk, in full, out loud in the privacy of your home or hotel room at least twice.

[... 185 words]

Would having a maths degree put you at that much of a disadvantage against a CS student when it comes to jobs?

No. Plenty of the great programmers I know have maths, physics or even literature degrees. Read a couple of classic computer science text books and get some programming projects under your belt and you’ll be fine.

[... 64 words]

What criteria should a company meet in order to have a 5 million dollars valuation?

They need to convince an investor to buy 10% of the company for $500,000.

[... 35 words]

Why are TED talks 18 minutes long (or less)?

I imagine it’s because enforcing a shorter talk time results in consistently higher quality presentations, by forcing speakers to carefully structure their talk and strip out any unnecessary details.

[... 75 words]

What are the most practical beneficials for Python, comparing to Java?

For me, the single most productive advantage of Python is the ability to work with it interactively in a REPL—I use ipython but Python also ships with an interactive mode out of the box.

[... 176 words]

Does domain name masking negatively effect SEO?

Yes, because you’ve made it impossible for people to share links to sub-pages on your site—which means you won’t get incoming links to those pages, a crucial ranking metric.

[... 44 words]

What are the most popular conferences and events for digital publishers to attend?

The O’Reilly TOC (Tools of Change for Publishers) events look very good (I haven’t been myself)—they publish a lot of video so you can watch some talks to decide if it looks like the right event for you to attend:

[... 112 words]

What are the ways to create custom jQuery effects?

You don’t need any extra tools or code, you just need to master jQuery’s built-in .animate() API:

[... 34 words]

Is it better to do Python development on an SSD, or on a mechanical disk?

SSDs are faster than regular drives for every application—Python is no different. That said, unless the Python code you are developing does a huge amount of disk IO you probably won’t notice the difference.

[... 57 words]

How do startups verify the real names of their users?

The short answer is they don’t: they expect people to obey the policy, then block accounts that are clearly in violation.

[... 134 words]

What are some things I can do if I’m lying awake and unable to sleep for an hour?

Listen to a podcast. If you’re lying at rest in bed you’ll still get at least some of the benefits of sleeping, and you might find that listening to the podcast helps take your mind off things and sends you to sleep.

[... 66 words]

Is there a way to find out what apps are used by a specific django-based website?

Not really. You might be able to figure out some of them by looking out for common patterns of URLs and form field names, but a lot of reusable django apps don’t really expose much of a signature.

[... 60 words]

Why does Wolfram|Alpha present all search results as pictures rather than text?

Wolfram Alpha is essentially a web interface to Mathematica (plus a huge corpus of structured data). Mathematica has been around for decades, and has an extremely sophisticated visualisation engine (try typing “sin(x)/cos(x)” in to Wolfram Alpha and see what happens). It’s also very good at rendering mathematical formulae that would be very hard to represent in plain HTML (without using MathML, which isn’t supported by IE).

[... 137 words]

What is a good video series on learning Python?

It probably won’t teach you the basics, but we’ve collected 190 videos from conference talks about Python here:

[... 35 words]

What are the coolest benefits/perks offered by startups?

I heard that Songkick give all of their employees a monthly gig budget to encourage them to go to live music (since that’s what the site is all about), which I think is a neat and appropriate perk.

[... 52 words]

Is Portland, OR a good location for a major content strategy conference?

I can’t comment on the relevance to Content Strategy, but having been to both OSCON and DjangoCon in Portland a few times I think it’s an absolutely superb city for hosting a conference.

[... 192 words]

What are people’s top cloud business apps for 2014?

The combination of GitHub and Campfire has been working extremely well for us.

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Does one still need to learn C/C++ if one just wants to build web applications?

No—you don’t need any knowledge of C or C++ to get started building web apps—I know plenty of extremely smart and talented web developers who have never written a line of production C in their while careers.

[... 122 words]

Twitter API: What is the best data storage mechanism and client library for analysing tweets using Python?

It depends on how much data you intend to collect, and how you intend to then share that data.

[... 182 words]

How much ram do you need for 100M hits per day?

That entirely depends on what you are running your site on. If it’s static HTML pages, nginx will work fine on hardly any RAM at all (though you would probably be better off serving the entire site out of S3 and not using a VPS at all).

[... 99 words]

What are you some good blogs, videos, papers, etc. on scaling Django?

We’re building up a pretty sizable collection of video (and slides) from talks about Django on—including plenty that talk about scaling issues. Try this:—we have 16 videos and 16 slide decks from talks at events all over the world.

[... 102 words]

What are the cheapest hotels in Granada, Spain?

When we were travelling around Spain in 2010 we found reliably gave us the best prices on hotels— and were both good for hostels

[... 45 words]

What’s the difference between a software engineer, developer and programmer?

Absolutely nothing. Job title differences like those only really matter when working for a large organisation that sets compensation based on title—in which case you want to figure out which title gets you the best deal at that particular company.

[... 58 words]

What Social Media, marketing events or conferences are taking place between December 24 and December 31 in New York City?

The #140conf holiday party is on the 27th of December and is likely to attract a bunch of social media / marketing / entrepreneur types:

[... 53 words]

Are there any Meta APIs? is a good example of this kind of API—it gives you one endpoint which wraps oembed APIs on dozens of other services (plus a bunch of custom scraping code). We use it as part of our video/slide embedding feature on

[... 57 words]

What are the best practices in Node.js to communicate with an existing Java backend?

Node speaks HTTP extremely well, and using HTTP means you can do things like put an HTTP load balancer or cache (such as varnish) between Node and your Java application server at a later date.

[... 55 words]

What specific skills are most important in a front-end web developer and in a back-end web developer?

Understanding of web app security. If they don’t know what XSS, CSRF and clickjacking are I’d be worried.

[... 41 words]

What are good 2012 Technology Conferences in US for Programmers?

It would help if you were more specific about the kind of programmer you are—there’s a big difference between C++ game developer conferences, Ruby on Rails events, Agile methodology conventions etc. Each developer ecosystem has its own flagship events (for Microsoft developers it’s the BUILD conference, which hasn’t been announced for 2012 yet—for iPhone/Mac developers it’s Apple’s WWDC, Oracle have Oracle OpenWorld, the Rails community has RailsConf, for Django people it’s DjangoCon US and EU, etc).

[... 200 words]

What is a single page application and is this the technology I should use for developing  my web application?

Single page applications are applications which are heavily dependent on JavaScript, with just one web page that you visit which then loads all other content using JavaScript. Prominent examples include Gmail and the new

[... 360 words]

Can someone improve their knowledge of programming in Ruby or PHP by using a framework like Rails or Zend, or does the framework just do a lot of the work for you without giving you an opportunity to learn from it?

Read the source, luke.

[... 82 words]