Gadgets, Open Source, Tools

Virtual Box error

After getting a new PC, installing all apps I needed, I finally came to installing Oracle’s Virtual Box and restored my backup containing all virtual images (VMDK). When I tried to run a Windows 7 image, I was greeted by an error from VirtualBox saying “81954AF5-4D2F-31EB-A142-B7AF187A1C41″. Also checking the properties for the Guest OS, the processor settings were grayed.

Error relaunching Virtual VM process:5

VirtualBox: Error relaunching Virtual VM process:5

VirtualBox: Guest OS Processor settings disabled

VirtualBox: Guest OS Processor settings disabled

After good amount of trials & searching I did the following which fixed the error and I was able to run the images.

Enabling Virtualization in HP Envy Phoenix 810 PC

Enabling Virtualization in HP Envy Phoenix 810 PC

  1. Enabled virtualization support in BIOS, this was the reason for the processor settings to be not available in Virtual Box, as can be expected
  2. Uninstalled the latest version of Virtual Box, my host OS was Windows 8.1 Update 1 with all updates till date. Installed the earlier version 4.2.26 (released 2014-07-15)
  3. Deleted the Windows 7 guest OS configuration in VirtualBox, recreated it and this time mounted the Virtual Hard disk as IDE drive instead of SATA as it gets configured by default
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Developer, Kid-Stuff, Microsoft, Open Source, Syndicate, Tools

Teaching my son to write software

The other day my 11 year old son asked me to teach him on how to write apps. I was thinking on what programming language I can start him with.

I didn’t want to start him with Mobile Apps as I feel that will curtail his possibilities . This meant Android Java, Objective C & Apple Swift won’t cut it. Being an ardent Microsoft language engineer I never liked Java, but that discussion is for an other day.

My friends know well about my “affair” with Visual Basic. Going with VB6 (there is a charm to this acronym’s sound) will mean he will be learning more on GUI/Drag ‘N’ Drop rather than programming and language fundamentals. Also the GUI guidelines of VB6 are rooted in Windows 95 days which are out dated in today’s iOS7/Metro/Material design world.

Next option was Visual Studio 2013 Express with VB.NET or C#.NET languages. Either of this would mean learning about objects and OOPS concepts at first class itself. I felt he will find it difficult to digest the vast surface of .NET Framework, without understanding which even Console.WriteLine(“Hello World!”); will appear to be magic for him. If he remembers software as magic (sorry Steve Jobs) he will not be curious enough to work his way through the entire process of how a program executes.

Speaking to one of my mentors (an expert teacher & coach on programming) I added Python to the list. For last few weeks I have been learning Python too as my side project but I am not at a stage where I will be able to teach my son. So reluctantly I gave up Python as the choice. I wish to teach my son Python after he is done with Basic.

After much deliberations I settled on Basic Language which is celebrating its 50th year at Dartmouth College where it was invented in 1964. Teaching my young son BASIC language in 2014 will be a fitting tribute that I can offer to this great language. Thinking of GW-BASIC brings in a nostalgic feeling for me, I started learning programming when I was about 13 (8th Standard) with GW Basic/Basica.

Having selected Basic I went looking around for MS-DOS and GW Basic, there are articles on how to get and install this combination even in Windows 8. If you want QBasic which included a  compiler and a textual based IDE for Microsoft Basic, it got shipped with every version of a Microsoft Operating System from DOS 5.0 till Windows 95 (you can get it from an old Windows 95 CD). I was not comfortable with either of this (running GW Basic or QBasic) in Windows 8 as it won’t give my son a chance to write true “Windows” programs or access modern necessities in later stages, as well as the archaic 8.3 file names he will not understand. I wanted a BASIC language in a modern avatar.

Looking around I found following three options. I just went with Free Basic, you can choose any of them (all 3 are good options).

1) Free Basic is a free open source compiler that’s fully compatible with Microsoft QBasic language. In fact almost all programs written for Quick Basic will compile with Free Basic. I found an IDE to go with it called FBIDE. Combination of FBIDE and Free Basic was awesome, it provided the simplicity of BASIC language along with ability to compile and run natively in  modern Operating Systems including Windows, Linux in both 32 and 64 bit as well as in DOS (I suppose that means MS DOS, DR DOS and FreeDOS).

2)  QB64 is a self-hosting BASIC compiler for Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, designed to be compatible with Microsoft QBasic and QuickBASIC. QB64 implements most QBasic statements, and can run many QBasic programs, including Microsoft’s QBasic Gorillas and Nibbles games. QB64 also contains an IDE resembling the QBASIC IDE.

3) Small Basic from Microsoft, this is a commendable effort by Microsoft especially aimed for students. The site even includes complete curriculum to teach Small Basic. This is based on .NET Framework so has the same OOPS issues, but I guess they way its been presented here can be managed.

I came across Real Basic (now Xojo) which is a BASIC inspired environment allowing you to write commercial grade apps for Mac OS. Since its a business grade and paid environment I didn’t give it a try.

Before settling on “Basic” I seriously considered Pascal, Turbo Pascal was my favourite language in College, when we programmed using it on our lab’s Novell Netware lab. I consider losing Turbo Pascal (and its Delphi avatar) is a big loss to software programming field in the last two decades and I still feel sad for it. In mid 90s I worked with a friend to develop a complete student course material in Pascal for a local college. I still have the materials and accompanying projector transparency sheets, I remember the long hours I spent typing them in AmiPro word processor. AmiPro was one of the best in its heyday and light years ahead of MS Word on those days, I am surprised AmiPro even has a Facebook fan page.

Coming back to Pascal, I found a Free Open Source compiler called “Free Pascal” along with IDE ( Lazarus IDE) to go along with it.  I will be trying it out in the next few weeks, it might turn out to be a good introduction to OOPS as FreePascal supports objects.

Look below the first program in Free Basic that I thought my son

FreeBasic

 

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iron python programming with visual studio 2013
Books, Developer, Open Source, Tools

Learning Python

I have been reading about Python (programming language) for last few years and wanted to learn it. But over the years in my work I have become more of the Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Manager and haven’t done any actual coding for many years. So the idea to learn a language and start typing, doing real work looked daunting. As experts say, we humans are animals of habit and getting out of your comfort zone is difficult.

I said to myself let me make the first step on this, even though I was not sure whether I will pursue it further. Python.org website has all the necessary learning materials, guides, manuals and tools (all for free) to learn and program in Python.

There is a .NET Framework based implementation of Python language called IronPython which is popular with Microsoft technology developers. Iron Python compiles Python language code to an executable that runs on top of .NET Framework and Runtime. Programs written in IronPython can use both Python libraries and .NET language libraries. Microsoft through CodePlex community has released Python Tools for Visual Studio, which integrates IronPython seamlessly in Visual Studio IDE. Using PyTools Visual Studio turns into a full fledged Python IDE.

New Python Project from Visual Studio 2013

New Python Project from Visual Studio 2013

PyTools is free, so are Visual Studio Express editions, making it convenient for anyone interested to start with Python & VS. I have in my PC, Visual Studio Ultimate edition in which I installed PyTools. The installation was smooth and I got options to create a Python project in the familiar Visual Studio “New Project” wizard, which I did.

iron python programming with visual studio 2013

iron python programming with visual studio 2013

Excited on seeing the output, in my typical style I went ahead and purchased following 3 books to further learn Python:

  1. Python in Easy Steps by Mike Mcgrath (the book appears simplistic but is worth reading as the first book on Python) – Rs.209
  2. Programming Python 4th Edition by Mark Lutz (this is a big fat book of over 1650 pages, has everything about Python) – Rs.939
  3. Think Python by Allen Downey – Rs.428

Let us see if the books gather dust or I read them and learn Python!

 

 

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Movies-TV-Videos, Open Source

The Internet’s Own Boy

Ever since I read about the making of this movie “The Internet’s Own Boy”, I have been wanting to watch it. It is about the sad story of early demise of Aaron Swartz, the whiz kid of Internet who did pioneering work in RSS and galvanized the US public against SOPA.

The-Internets-own-boy

Last week when the movie was released it was available only as a Pay per view from Vimeo and geographically restricted to US only (later they had a different link for rest of world). It was an irony that both the restrictions (pay-wall and geography lock) was against the ethos that Aaron stood for and died for. On the other hand it raises the question of how do the producers of the movie earn their investment and livelihood, after all the $93000 raised through Kickstarter would have met only a portion of the cost. This dichotomy is not surprising as it has been the defining theme of Aaron’s life.

Fortunately the movie is now available for free from Internet Archive.

The documentary film includes original clips of Aaron Swartz at the age of 12 or 13 talking in Industry working groups on upcoming Internet standards. I have been a passive watcher in W3C lists and active member in Tamil IT standards body and first-hand I am aware on how intensive these can discussions can be. Intensive both in terms of depth of technology and the politics. Watching this kid of 12 or 13 doing that with ease was unbelievable, at the same doubles our sadness on losing him on an issue which could have been negotiated.

Aaron took his life after he was hounded by US Government (and its security agencies) with a felony carrying 75 years imprisonment and millions of dollars fine over an act of illegal download of millions of scientific papers from JSTOR (academic journal firm) archives through MIT computers. When I first read about this tragic incident early last year (January 2013) I couldn’t understand on why the US Government went all-out nuclear towards a whiz-kid who was never known to be a threat to their national security and who had potential to contribute enormous value to US economy and technology leadership. I hoped the movie will answer the question, but listening to the interview by Aaron’s father and brothers throw up more questions. They keep repeating that US Government’s actions indicated that they were hell bound to make an example of Aaron, but why?, that remains unanswered and buried along with Aaron.

For all the adulation the developing world has towards USA Justice system for its citizens, Aaron Swartz case is a proof that all around the world Law Enforcement are capable of abuse and USA is no different. Its duty of the parliament (congress) to be ever more watchful, put checks and balances adequately.

The below eulogy posted in W3C forum by Tim Berners-Lee (Father of Web) captures the essence of Aaron’s life. Period!

From: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>
Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2013 12:06:05 –0500

 

Aaron is dead. Wanderers in this crazy world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down, we have lost one of our own. Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child. Let us all weep.

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Books, Management, Open Source, Writers

The year without pants

Before you think the book is about something sleazy, it is about Software Project Management with a fancy title.

Scott Berkun was a former Microsoft manager, in charge of first five releases of Internet Explorer. After which he turned to full time writing. His earlier books on The Art of Project Management and Myths of Innovation are famous titles. WordPress is the Open Source blogging software that’s powering this very blog of mine. Its used by 60 Million other websites and is used by 22% of top 10 million websites. So when I saw a book by Scott Berkun writing about his experience working for a year+ as a team lead/product manager at “Automattic” which powers WordPress.com, I immediately bought it to my Kindle.

Scott was hired by founder of WordPress Matt MullenweG in August 2010 as employee #58 at Automattic.  Automattic is a commercial firm also founded by Matt Mullenweg uses WordPress open source software to provide an online cloud hosted service of WordPress at WordPress.com with enhancements and additional services.

This is Scott’s first full time employment after resigning from Microsoft nearly a decade ago and working as a writer/consultant. Scott says his objective to take up the assignment was to experience a “new” age firm’s culture, contrast it with Microsoft’s and to see whether he can follow the advice himself that as a freelance consultant he was giving to his clients. Scott works in Automattic for next 18 months and this book is a first person narration of that. I like these first person narrations and biographies on management and technology, as you get to see how others are doing it,  get exposed to alternate ideas and viewpoints. The last few books I read on this genre was The Maruti Story and I am feeling Lucky (Google Employee 59). 

As Scott narrates his first experiences at we get a feeling its a company that is all counter-culture when it comes to its management style. All the (then) 50 employees were reporting to CEO or Matt directly, there were no managers in between. One of the reasons for Matt in hiring Scott was an experiment in introducing leads to the roughly 10 newly created teams. Automattic employees were mostly working remote from their homes or shared offices  or coffee shops from around the globe. This indifference to a location or an office allowed Automattic to hire the best talent out there, which follows the culture of open source development, where contribution can come from anywhere in the world. As a result the company relies heavily on online tools including Skype, IRC (yes the old platform) and for Project tracking/Group discussion a WordPress template they call “P2″. Reading about P2, I can see my firm at Vishwak Solutions trying out Microsoft Yammer for similar purposes.

Because of people working across timezones and many comfortable doing multi-tasking Automattic’s employee interactions online tend to be mostly textual (typed) and not even voice/video. For myself who is comfortable with online tools and social, a phone call or a face to face “coffee” meeting is invaluable. Scott claims the company used little of email, which was surprising to me. Even in my small office of 60 people all sitting mostly in our Chennai office, I see email being used for everything from ideas to project tracking.  I am curious to see on this as what works on a Products company may not work on a IT Services company like mine – but this will be a good experiment for me to try out.

After joining the first task Scott gets assigned is to work for a month on their customer support team “Happiness” after a 6 half-a-day training. This idea of having every new employee to work in customer support sounded similar to one that Tony Hsieh follows in his company Zappos. Automattic uses its occasional company meets not for founder speeches, strategy outlining but for individual teams to double-down to code and release a new feature, a concept similar to early days in FaceBook and its hackaton culture. Scott then narrates about how he gets his first team members. How they meet up for the first time after working for three months in a team offsite at Athens, Greece. It is in that meeting they plan to develop JetPack, one of the most popular plug-ins for WordPress. I am a big fan and user of JetPack especially its analytics features that it provides for free even for my self-hosted WordPress blog.

Scott says in Automattic culture there was no real central planning of features, individual engineers being smart work on items they see being talked in P2 by other teams or raised by customers in Happiness tickets. Being a manager myself and an entrepreneur this sounded like a dysfunctional idea and my gut feel says it can never work. Scott outlines the reasons why it works in Automattic. In 2014, Automattic has about 250 employees and I doubt whether that old federated approach still lives anywhere in the company. If in the first half Scott butt-kisses Matt for his brilliance, in the second half he goes about writing to Matt on the limitations of the online collobration tools used by Automattic. Apart from that you get lot of preaching from Scott on management best practices and quotes.

year-without-pants

The book was an easy read with sections that made you think. Apart from new online tools of collaboration, reading this book I learned  more about various tools of Automattic that might be of use in my work.

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