Java UI framework Vaadin releases version 8

After a long period of development, Vaadin Ltd has released version 8 of the Vaadin Java UI framework with a slew of new features.  The most notable changes can be found in the data binding API of the framework.

Based on Java 8, the latest Vaadin 8 release takes advantage of lambda expressions introduced in Java 8 to make data binding much much expressive and easy.

For instance, in the past, one needed a Container interface implementation to pass objects to the Grid component thus

List persons = Backend.getPersons();
BeanItemContainer container =
new BeanItemContainer(Person.class, persons);
Grid grid = new Grid();
grid.setContainerDataSource(container);

now becomes

List persons = Backend.getPersons();
Grid grid = new Grid<>(Person.class);
grid.setItems(persons);

I am personally very excited about this release because hitherto one had to rely on Matti Tahvonen’s Viritin addon to overcome the very verbose databinding Vaadin APIs.

Another awesome feature is that Vaadin 8 will now support the browser history API, meaning much more cleaner and search engine friendly URLs. Continue reading “Java UI framework Vaadin releases version 8”

Ghana- Of voter registration and wasted computer science graduates

It’s the year 2012 and Ghana is gearing up for her presidential and parliamentary elections slated for Dec 7, 2012. As has always been the custom, the voters’ register is revised to take out the names of the dead, add the names of those who turned 18 within the 4 year period from the last elections, and also those who for one reason or the other could not register are given the chance to do so.

This year, the Electoral Commission of Ghana in agreement with all the political parties, has decided to usher in the era of so called biometric voter registration, a move aimed at curbing the incidence of minors who register, double registration and voting among others. This on the surface it’s a laudable idea, but- and there’s always a but- upon reflection, one cannot help but notice how the entire exercise makes the thousands of computer science students that the nations universities produce each year irrelevant.

How so do I mean? Four years ago the National Identification Authority started what was a nationwide exercise to register every person living in this country for a so called Ghana Card. The one card to rule them all, in LotR speak. One of the main objectives of this exercise was for the data collated to form the basis for a voters’ register since the Ghana Card was going to be biometric. Millions of Dollars was spent in carrying out this exercise. 

Fast forward four years and the biometric voter registration kicked off this morning, with the goal of- guess – registering voters to be issued a biometric voter registration card. I’ve been asking the simple question of what happened to the NIA Ghana Cards? What has happened to the data that was collected? The NIA exercise was very comprehensive. Why can’t we just use that instead of spending another US$125M in conducting this exercise? If I can use the voter registration card both for voting and as a national ID, then of what use is the Ghana Card then? 

Is it that we don’t have the brains to be able to write a bunch of if-else statements to sort the data collected? What is needed for a voter register? Every data set needed to make up a voter register was collected during the NIA exercise. The same data is going to be collected again, at the expense of time, energy, money and at a considerable disruption of both work and school activities. If we have to keep duplicating duties and wasting hard cash doing so, then what becomes the use of the thousands of CS students graduating each year? Is data sorting, collating and arranging so difficult that the cost of starting from scratch is better than building on what is already available? 

We live in a country where we keep hearing the rhetorics of how we’re moving forward and becoming the beacon of ICT in the Sub-Sahara region, yet almost every public act belies this. A causal walk into any IRS office will testify to this. If the politicians won’t let the young, fresh CS brains they train help cut down costs, then I really don’t see why they should complain about brain drain and how graduates keep leaving the country en masse. 

Dennis Ritchie – A roundup of tributes to an unsung hero

Dennis Ritchie passed away over the weekend after battling an unspecified illness for a long time. He was 70. For those who knew him, or bothered to read about the history of modern technology, Dennis Ritchie, developer of the C programming language and one of the founding fathers of Unix was truly a remarkable man who deserves to be celebrated.

As part of showing our last and final respect to this incredibly humble man who contributed immensely to changing the world, we’ve combed the web for some of the best tributes to him and summed them up below. You can also grab a number of papers written by DMR from here.

DMR- standing. 1941-2011

The world of computing owes a great debt of gratitude to Dennis Ritchie, without whom there might have been no Unix as we know it today, and thus no Mac OS X or GNU/Linux. In fact the computing landscape might have been very different indeed, given that most of the world’s software is written in C. For any man to make such a contribution is a magnificent achievement, but Richie was also a kind and humble man, worthy of praise purely by virtue of his character. It’s difficult to imagine a man more radically different to Steve Jobs, for example, than Dennis Ritchie. Slated

Hope people will realize that without Dennis Ritchies work on Unix back in the 70′, there won’t be any iPhone today, nor iMac.
CgPage

So this young upstart whippersnapper comes along and decides to try to specify a language that will let people write programs that are: (a) high-level, with structures and functions; (b) portable to just about any kind of hardware; and (c) efficient on that hardware so that they’re competitive with handcrafted nonportable custom assembler code on that hardware. A high-level, portable, efficient systems programming language.
Sutter’s Mill

I am very fond of the C programming language. Despite all its flaws, I love the simplicity of C, and the raw power it gives me. And his book “The C Programming Language” (co-authored with Brian Kernighan) truly set a standard for excellence.
Tagxedo

Linus Torvalds once said, in reference to the development of Linux, that he “had hoisted [himself] up on the shoulders of giants.” Among those giants, Dennis Ritchie (aka dmr) was likely the tallest. Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language and co-developer of the Unix operating system passed away on October 8 at the age of 70, leaving a legacy that casts a very long shadow.
Ars Technica

There are several billion people using many billions of devices every day. From the code in your microwave to massive computing clusters, virtually all of our software can trace its ancestry back to this man’s intellectual output. I’m eternally grateful for his life and contributions to humanity.
SSIMS

We here at Ghabuntu would like to say a big thank you to Dennis Ritchie for his remarkable contribution to technology. RIP DMR, we will never C the like of you again. 

Tag cloud image courtesy Tagxedo

Google Releases Images of Tornado Destruction in US

Google has released a set of satellite images of the tornado destruction that swept across parts of the southern US. The images are available in this Picasa Web album. This imagery, as well as data sets such as Red Cross shelter locations and tornado touchdown reports, are available in this collection on Google Maps. We will continue to add imagery and data as it comes available.


Left: Google imagery from late 2010. Right: GeoEye imagery from Thursday, April 28. Top: Charleston Square Apartments, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Bottom: Towns of Pleasant Grove, Concord, and Hueytown, Jefferson County, Alabama.

Help Keep the Pressure on Sony- FSF

We asked you to email Sony CEO Howard Stringer during our last call to action
and Sony responded by shutting off his email address. Many of you then sent
emails to the next email address we posted, Nicole Seligman, Sony Executive VP and General Counsel. Your action was effective — it was an important part of the overall public pressure put on Sony to back off.

And back off they did. Sony ended up settling its lawsuit against George Hotz (aka geohot). Hotz has agreed to not use Sony devices in an ambiguous “unauthorized” fashion — in fact, he’s boycotting Sony anyway — and the accusations brought up in the case by Sony remain unproven.
 
While Hotz shouldn’t have to endure even this, which amounts to a gag order, Sony was stopped well short of what it was hoping to get. Hotz is now free to move on, but Sony is stuck with a fresh batch of bad publicity and no money or legal precedent to show for it.

You did a great job of letting Sony know how unacceptable their behavior has been. Here are excerpts from just some of the 300+ emails you’ve sent so far:

“I would like to let you know that I think your company’s behaviour
towards free software developers is atrocious and disgusting. I will
buy no further Sony products until you cease this action.”

“With the removal of OtherOS and now your attacks on the hacker trying to restore the functionality I paid for. I will be selling all my Sony equipment on ebay and will no longer be recommending any of your products to my friends and family.”

“You should be encouraging imaginative uses of the PS3. Each time someone in the free software community expands the PS3’s
capabilities, the machine becomes desirable for more people.”

We’re not out of the woods yet. Geohot is boycotting Sony over their behavior and we should too. Sony had alleged violations of the DMCA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and other copyright laws agains Geohot for jailbreaking the PS3. Sony was granted a number of subpoenas to access information on anyone with even a remote curiosity about the jailbreak, including server logs of geohot’s personal website to the records of anyone who watched the video “Jailbroken PS3 3.55 with Homebrew”.

Another PS3 hacker, Alexander Egorenkov, or graf_chokolo, had his home raided by the police and is now being sued for €1 million. Just recently, representatives of Sony went to his home again and confiscated his equipment.

It’s bad enough that Sony has put restrictive measures against developers in the first place by making jailbreaking necessary. Sony should be encouraging the software development community around the PS3, instead of throwing its legal weight around.

Keep in mind that one of the goals of PS3 hackers is restoring the ability to install other operating systems, a functionality that Sony removed after it was promised to buyers. Some of these PS3 owners have joined a class-action lawsuit against Sony. Interestingly, this lawsuit alleges Sony violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by removing the OtherOS function — the same law Sony uses against hackers who enable OtherOS. The cases against these hackers are still fresh, but Sony’s war on hackers has been going on for a long time.

So, let’s keep the pressure on! Do you oppose Sony’s actions? Are you boycotting Sony? Let them know. Email Nicole Seligman, Executive VP and General Counsel at Sony (nicole.seligman@am.sony.com) — as always, please BCC or CC us on emails at info@defectivebydesign.org! Check out our anti-Sony stickers in the store while you’re at it.

From the FSF

This Week In Africa- Interesting African Tech Headlines You May Have Missed

This Week in Africa is a new segment that we’re introducing onto this blog. It’s going to be a weekly roundup of tech related headline news with a focus on Africa and Africans. Without much ado, here goes today’s piece…
Ben Cole of Google takes a look at how technology impacts the lives of everyday Africans, the type that have barely head of what the internet is. He writes

…[I] had helped them establish web presences for their businesses, sign up for email accounts and get a taste for what the Internet could do for them. The work was immediately gratifying; I got to see the exhilaration in each person’s eyes as they saw their company on the Internet. But after months of plugging away and wondering what the outcome would be, I had a bit of an existential crisis. What was the real impact? Was any of this doing any good?

Mfonobong Nsehe writes on the Forbes blog about why it’ll be very difficult for a global scale technology company to come from Africa. He opines

Africans can create hugely successful tech products that will sweep the world off its feet. There are several entrepreneurs out there waiting to break through, but their ideas might never see the light of day because of a lack of seed finance.

Gameli Adjaho writes on the Gamelian world about South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometer Project. He reports

If everything goes according to plan, the landscape of the Karoo region in the Republic of South Africa will be transformed by 2025 into a beehive of intense scientific activity, bringing Africa into reckoning as a major centre of astronomy, the science of the stars. This exciting prospect has arisen because of South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

Google launched the Student Ambassador Program in Ghana and Nigeria during the week with the aim of “empower[ing] the African academic community with knowledge, infrastructure and tools to help Africa’s future leaders make the most of access to information.” Unfortunately my school was not part of those chosen in Ghana :-(.
Dale takes a look on the Ushahidi blog at the role being played by the platform in the uprising in North Africa. He writes

The Libya Crisis Map was very different than other mapping efforts. One, they didn’t need to train volunteers like in Haiti, the Stand-By Task Force was simply mobilized. Two, a number of customizable features like the Big Map were simply enabled via the Ushahidi Plugin. Three, Haiti response was an actual Ushahidi team effort, but this was United Nations initiative that called upon the Stand-By Task Force. 

Ghana’s never-seem-to-roll 6th telecom operator, Glo Mobile, has launched its fiber-optic submarine cable in Ghana promising to revolutionize how we communicate. 

If fully optimized by every sector of the society, the Glo 1 submarine cable has the infinite capacity to trigger an unprecedented social and economic revolution not only in the telecommunication sector but also in the agricultural, transportation, medical, hospitality, tourism and educational sectors.

That’s it for this week. Hope you enjoy reading those stories as much as I did. If you have any stories you’d want to be highlighted, you can drop them in the comments on send them to me on Twitter to be highlighted in next week’s piece. 

5 Free Computer Science Resources for Beginners

Back in late last year I set out to learn Python, the open source programming language. I was greatly inspired by my very good friend about the power of the language so I took the plunge. As I sojourn in my quest to master the Python language, the following 5 resources have helped a great deal in introducing me to the science of computer programming/engineering. 
 
This Google site has a number of tutorials freely available for beginners. Languages covered include Python, Java, C++ among others. It also features video tutorials and a discussion forum.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s open courseware has extensive lectures on the subject of computer science and programming in a wide array of formats: audio, video, pdf etc. 
Professor David J. Malan of Harvard University really does a great job with the CS50 program. “More than just teach you how to program, this course teaches you how to think more methodically and how to solve problems more effectively. As such, its lessons are applicable well beyond the boundaries of computer science itself.” Very much worth your time.
This book, authored by Allen B. Downey is an easy to understand introduction to software design using the Python language is a reference framework. It is available for free download in PDF or purchase in hardcopy from Amazon.
The Stanford University Engineering Department has an introduction to computer science program designed to introduce readers to “the engineering of computer applications emphasizing modern software engineering principles: object-oriented design, decomposition, encapsulation, abstraction, and testing. “
So there you have them all. These are the five resources that are helping me a great deal in navigating the complex world of computer programming/engineering on my own. If you are a beginner, then you definitely need to give these courses a try.

Ghana- Of Port Corruption and the Use of Technology

There’s a lot of talk in Ghana about the latest release by the nation’s most famous underground investigative reporter about massive corruption at the state port in Tema. Personally, I am not so much interested in the story as I am about why we allow such things to happen easily in this day and age.
A cursory look at procedures at the harbor, and indeed in almost all spheres of our public institutions, one thing that stands out is how lagging behind we are in terms of automation. Shuffling papers about, moving from office to office, signature after signature, all means one thing- more human involvement. 
Having more human involvement in any institution simply opens up room for abuse of office. If you need me to sign something, and without my signature, you cannot proceed to the next step, then you are at my mercy and will be ready to do anything I tell you to. What bugs me really, is that if the many needless paper shuffling and signatures are all meant to authenticate transactions, can’t computers through automation do better than humans?
I cannot honestly understand why the government, and for that matter, most African governments, don’t just make full use of technology. This abhorring act of plain theft at the Tema Harbor is just one of the many, many unreported cases of thievery going on in this country. And all this can be reduced to the barest minimum if only our government will be willing to move to the 21st century. 
Of course I am not naive to think that our corruption ridden society will heal overnight, no. What I firmly believe in is that when the necessary foundations for fighting corruption are laid, that in itself will surely act as a detterent in one way or the other. We cannot just be losing over $200m US in revenues through tax evasion and then turn around and sing the praises of some really initiatives by the West in the name of taking us out of poverty. 
Instead of the nation bickering about how bad those people there are milking the nation dry, I’d like to hear an honest, intellectual discussion about how to prevent a few insatiably greedy people from milking the remaining 25m of us dry. Let us think of how we can use technology to better our lives and fight corruption. The age of “man-power” should be over, let the time of automation be now.