fighting the lack of good ideas

alif the unseen by g willow wilson

Along with Mira Grant (Feed & Deadline reviews), I think I have found a female author I can read.

G Willow Wilson’s debut novel, Alif the Unseen blends technothriller (a la Cryptonomicon), Arab mythology, statism, distrust of the government, and more.

The story follows a young mixed-blood technophyte who has been making his living on providing digital secrecy to whomever wants it. Along with myriad others only referred to by their handles – Radio Sheikh, The Hand, NewQuarter01, and more – Alif is not his real name. And like all good stories, there’s a girl. Well… 2 girls. And kind of a third.

Shortly after the story begins, The Hand begins to tighten his grip on on Alif’s activities, and Alif starts his run from The State.

I want to say more, but that would be the whole story – Wilson’s writing is engaging, exotic, prescient, and believable: even the intermixture of Arab myth with current (though not entirely time-dependent) technology is fascinating.

Written during the first stages of the “Arab Spring”, and still sounding as if it could be happening today, I cannot recommend Alif the Unseen highly enough.

hashtagiquette – inline, or append?

There seems to be a great deal of divide over where, when, and how hashtags should be used on social media services like Twitter.

If you google “hashtag etiquette”, you’ll get a variety of differing results.

So – what’s the best route to follow? When is it ok to create your own? Why would you want to use them at all?

Why use hashtags?

Dating back at least to the heady days of IRC, hashtags give a convenient (if implemented) way to finding related content to what you are looking at now. (In IRC they are used to call attention to a user and/or name a channel.)

For example, on Twitter, if you search for, say, “#ObamaCare“, you’ll see a variety of recent tweets that talk about or reference the “Affordable Care Act”. If you want to join an ongoing discussion, it’s a good way for people to be able to find you and what you think.

When make new ones?

Some folks seem to get a thrill out of hashtagging everything they say. Like this: “#crazy #TSA #waittimes #patdowns #cavitysearches #whowouldeverwanttofly?”

#your #statusupdates #look #so #cool #with #your #hashtags #saidnoonever

pretty much

So when should you make new ones? When you’re tweeting something that hasn’t been before, or you want to repurpose an old tag, or some other Really Good Reason™.

For example, when I was at Moab Con in 2011, I live-tweeted many of the sessions, appending or prepending (depending on where I thought it should go) #moabcon2011 to my tweets or folks could find and follow easily. Or when a family we knew was doing an adoption fundraiser 5k, they used “#r2b1h” for “Run to bring 1 home” (which, very excitedly and unexpectedly has now turned into bringing 3 home!).

Where do they go, then?

The general “best practice” (though I despise that term) seems to be to tag inline, and append additional tags at the end (and post any links that may be in the tweet). For example, you might tweet a news story thusly, “#Amtrak considering fleet replacement and new stations #train #transit #rail” (story and link made up).


Overall, hashtags should not be repetitive (eg “#Ubuntu #Linux 13.10 betas available #linux), and every tag should add something to the post – the first tag tags the entire post, and adding more makes the post harder to read, and adds no semantic value to it.

This same concept applied when tagging blog posts, question on sites like the Stack Exchange family, etc. In many ways, it’s no different than the old card catalog at your local library. Tags are like a selective concordance – there may (or may not) be a reason to have a truly exhaustive concordance for something (eg Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance), but in all likelihood, you don’t really care every time someone uses a simple word like “the”. You care to find the meatier terms in the text.

Maybe we can all enjoy SMS to the masses a little more now.

what is the “new” python?

9 years ago, Paul Graham made a controversial statement:

[W]hen you choose a language, you’re also choosing a community. The programmers you’ll be able to hire to work on a Java project won’t be as smart as the ones you could get to work on a project written in Python. And the quality of your hackers probably matters more than the language you choose. Though, frankly, the fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages.

He had a follow-up the next month to expand a little on that thought:

[Y]ou could get smarter programmers to work on a Python project than you could to work on a Java project.

I didn’t mean by this that Java programmers are dumb. I meant that Python programmers are smart. It’s a lot of work to learn a new programming language. And people don’t learn Python because it will get them a job; they learn it because they genuinely like to program and aren’t satisfied with the languages they already know.

Which makes them exactly the kind of programmers companies should want to hire.

I wonder – what is the “new” Python? If Python was what the Cool Kids™ were picking up for fun a decade ago, what is it today? R? Ruby? Or something that isn’t as well known? Ruby is two years newer than Python, but seems to have only become truly popular with the advent of Ruby-on-Rails. R may be too focused (it being designed for statistics programming), though it is also 20 years old now.

What new languages / techniques are there? Are there any? Haskell is  nearly a quarter century old. Erlang is nearly 30.

If you were a hiring manager, what would strike you as “motivated” or “must be smart” in terms of language(s) on resume?

seamless is now avnet

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, Avnet has finalized the purchase of my former employer, Seamless Technologies.

All of STI was brought over “intact” – ie, we’re still a unit, and Avnet purchased us for the people – but it’s very weird to go from such a small company (about 60 people) to such a large one (about 17000).

The last time I rode through an acquisition, it was very bad (HP’s overtake of Opsware in 2007). So far, this one looks a lot better – but, of course, only time will tell.

Hi Avnet 🙂