Ian Ozsvald picture

This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

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30 July 2008 - 15:53Learning Python via ShowMeDo

Every now and again it is useful to look back at what’s been achieved – ShowMeDo started three years ago and we considered ourselves lucky if 1 Python video was contributed a month.  Now we get several whole series each month!  Often each series is information-laden and created by a competent screencaster.  Viewers learn very quickly and they remember ‘seeing it happen’ after they’ve watched the video.

I figured that a look at some of the recent series might be useful.  In total we have over 330 Python screencasts, with 8 series alone for Django.  Over 150 of the screencasts are aimed at Beginner Python coders.

We’ve had several series which cover test-driven development (TDD), unit testing and coverage, as well as discussing the whole development process.  Seeing these hard-core videos teaching ‘a good way of coding’ is really nice, these skills are hard to describe and easy for a beginner to ignore.  Three that spring to mind are:

It is nice to see some web-framework series sprouting up:

In the Club (for paying users) we’ve been busy, currently we’re simultaneously publishing several meaty series.  They’re aimed at beginner/intermediate Python programmers, mixing Python background with useful worked examples:

In total we have 11 strong series in the Club which reduce the learning time for a beginner.  We’ve also commissioned some of our open-source authors to join us in the Club, two new series on ‘batteries included’ and ‘C+Python’ are in the works.

We welcome new open-source authors – each author’s contributions are special to us, we don’t stick ads on the pages or require ownership of any rights.  We just do our best to bring an author’s knowledge to a wider audience.

I guess the biggest thing that we’ve achieved is ‘recognition’ – it is nice mailing a project author to discuss a relevant series that we’ve had submitted and to have them say ‘ShowMeDo – yes, I was watching some cool stuff there just the other day…’.

No Comments | Tags: Life, Python, ShowMeDo

9 July 2008 - 17:21Experimenting with eLance

I’ve posted a job into eLance for the first time – I figure it is time to experiment with remote web design and CSS implementation.  Now this might seem odd given that I live in web-designer-rich Brighton…

I’m a believer in building on-line marketplaces where we can remotely trade our skills rather than only doing business in person. I’m also well-aware that I’ve never really used the marketplaces that exist.

Since I’m rather likely to build more businesses like ShowMeDo which revolve around the idea of remote marketplaces, I need to get more involved with the dynamics of these sites.

Of course the easy thing to do now would be to turn to friends in Brighton and ask for a pointer to ‘the right person’ to solve my design needs…instead I’ll take the slightly scarier route to dealing with someone I’ll never meet in person.

What’s the site?  A few days back I finished a draft for my new professional-screencasting site.  I’ll use the site when I make contact with companies that I think could benefit from using screencasts to explain their software.  Given that I’ve produced over 100 screencasts in the last 3 years (and received some incredibly positive responses from viewers) I intend to scale up the activity.

I’m heartened by Patrick McKenzie’s experiences with eLance (and from there have opened a dialog with Gursimran) and the final design of bingocardcreator, whilst a bit too busy to my eye, is a serious improvement on his older site.  I shall report as I progress…

Addition – when I listed the project I provided a 4 paragraph text summary (which is shown in eLance) and a 3 page pdf proposal.  So far I’ve received 14 bids, many are cut/paste proposals, only a few have resulted in useful conversations.

I realise in retrospect that I’d probably receive more targetted bids back if I’d included pictures in my proposal pdf.  As it is I link to external sites but that puts more work onto the bidder which results in the cut/paste less-useful bids.  Since many proposals are (I believe) ignored, the bidder wants to do the minimum work to win a percentage of their bids.

So far I’m happy with the amount of effort required (about 5 hours including writing the proposal document) given the better bids that I’ve had back, I’m narrowing my search down to two providers now.

Addition – I’ve decided to go with Gursimran outside of eLance.  We’ve spokenly extensively over email via Patrick’s blog entry (above).  If it wasn’t for Gursimran then I’d have gone with Danet.Solutions through eLance.  User danetsol understood my requirements and quoted very competitively, I’d be happy to suggest that others invite his company to bid, his examples really were very good.

2 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, ShowMeDo

3 June 2008 - 13:56TurboGears caching decorator released (thanks John!)

John has just published his TurboGears Caching Decorator.  We’ve been using it on ShowMeDo for the last 6 weeks – our cpu usage dropped from 60%+ on our shared box down to <30%.

Currently we cache the main pages for 1 hour, these ought to be extended to ‘forever’ since I have a good cache-expire key for these pages.  If I fixed this then I’d imagine our cpu usage would drop even further.

Getting it installed and running with the ‘cache using files’ version took about an hour.  Developing some custom keys (one for each type of page) took another few hours, we’ve had no bugs and we’re darn impressed.

John developed this decorator for his Chrss and our ShowMeDo – we’re in debt to John for digging us out of our performance woes.  Much obliged!

No Comments | Tags: Python, ShowMeDo

11 April 2008 - 16:04Teaching Python at ShowMeDo

Two months ago we started our ShowMeDo Club where paying subscribers get access to specially crafted Python tutorials. These series are generally much longer and more involved than most of the free videos on ShowMeDo, they tend to include exercises with worked solutions too.

We’ve had a very good response and everyone who has bought access has sent me great feedback. It is really rather rewarding to receive feedback from individuals who have benefited from my series. I’m also very happy to say that Kyran (my business partner) and John are about to start authoring Club videos too, again focusing on Python – from wxPython GUIs to CGI and the Google App Engine.

My most recent series have been for unit-testing a website using Twill and pyWin32 and COM programming for Python.

The Twill series is about teaching the same test framework that we use to reliably test ShowMeDo. The pyWin32 series is a collection of tips basically for using Excel as a cheap charting tool for Python with just a few lines, then builds up to writing a full COM server in Python.

These are all a part of our ‘python tutorial‘ section which now contains over 231 Python videos – how cool is that? I’ve also been making free screencasts on topics like installing easy_install, installing nose_tests and installing twill.

These are just short videos but they seem to really help out new users – if you’re used to a web-based installer, but the interweb is playing up, then you don’t know what the error message you see is all about. These 3 videos are there just to show how a successful install looks, with a check at the end to confirm everything is there.

I’m up to 96 videos now (see them here) which puts me at the head of the nbr-of-videos table, though Dai is quite close with 73 videos on topics like OpenOffice and Scribus. Very soon I’ll have over 100…I wonder how many minutes that is?

No Comments | Tags: ShowMeDo

18 February 2008 - 13:23First Brighton Python Meet – Weds 20th

John and I are holding our first Brighton Python meet this Wednesday 20th at The Hampton Arms. Paul Silver’s The Farm is running on the same night – we’ll be sitting on a nearby table.

We’ll have a copy of Learning Python on the table, I’ll have my laptop with ShowMeDo‘s TurboGears code and John should have his laptop with the Django-based FivePoundApp.com code.

We can talk about A.I. and C-integration stuff (IPython, scipy, matplotlib, Numpy, ctypes) too, along with IDEs, resources and anything else you need to know. You can be experienced or ‘just interested’ – all are very welcome.

No Comments | Tags: Programming, ShowMeDo

15 February 2008 - 14:00Learn Python – ShowMeDo Subscriptions

I’m rather proud to say that we released our Subscription package for new Python programmers last Saturday. We aim to be the on-line ‘Python school’ that so many beginners are looking for.

Python is a great language for beginners, has many learn-Python books and a strong Python Tutor mail list. One area that it lacks is in making it really easy for a non-Python programmer to get up to speed on the language easily and confidently.

Our target audience is ‘new Python programmers’ – at first those who have some prior programming experience (so they know about e.g. ‘if’, functions and variables) who want to learn how to write ‘good Python code’. Next we’ll probably target those who know less about programming.

I’ve already covered some of the basics like file reading/writing, csv data files, unit-testing, refactoring and common IDEs in my previous series. In my new series I’m looking at wxPython GUIs and later we’ll look at web-applications with Django and CGI.

This marks a turning point for us – now we know where we’re focusing and what we have to deliver (previously we had too many ideas and not enough focus).

Next I have to create several solid new series over the next 2 months and figure out how to market to the right users. It feels like this is a constant quest for skills-acquisition!

I’m very pleased to say that John Montgomery is joining us as our 3rd Python author – he has a great background in Python, Java, programming for the web and all sorts of geek topics.  His videos will make a great addition to ShowMeDo.

Onwards and upwards for 2008 🙂

No Comments | Tags: Life, ShowMeDo

8 January 2008 - 18:42Installing IE6 on Ubuntu Gutsy (7.10)

I wanted to test ShowMeDo‘s rendering on IE6. My Windows XP box uses IE7 and I figured my Ubuntu box could run IE6 via Wine…it turns out to be just a simple install step. I was up and running within 5 minutes.

First – install wine. Second, get the ies4linux installer and run it using their last instructions (their step 4):

wget http://www.tatanka.com.br/ies4linux/downloads/ies4linux-latest.tar.gz
tar zxvf ies4linux-latest.tar.gz
cd ies4linux-*

I had to run ./ies4linux three times to complete the installation, I chose IE6 with Flash.  The installer visits microsoft.com to fetch the right versions of everything. It was installed (after the 3rd attempt) as an icon on my desktop and available via the command line: /home/ian/bin/ie6

I then used IE6 to visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com and it identified two updates, both ‘complete’ but upon returning to WindowsUpdate it flags one of them as still being required.  My version of IE6 running on Ubuntu 7.10 is ‘Version: 6.0.2800.1106’.

Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

5 Comments | Tags: ShowMeDo

18 December 2007 - 21:31Subscription sites – ScreenCastsOnline.com

I’m doing research on community-sites that have a paying subscription element as a part of our re-think for ShowMeDo. I found some nice data on ScreenCastsOnline and I figured I’d share it.

Don McAllister (UK) is the voice behind ScreenCastsOnline – he provides weekly screencasts to teach viewers about Mac software and web sites.

Don was interviewed by Robert Scoble in December 2006, he mentions that:

  • He started in August 2005 to help family members learn the Mac
  • He went full-time in March 2006
  • In December 2006 he had 1,000 paying members
  • He has 11-12k free listeners subscribing each week

Does anyone know of more recent information on the growth of Don’s site? I’d be particularly interested in more recent paying-subscriber figures so I could get an idea of how these things can grow.

According to the Extras page the subscription is $25 for 6 months. For that you get access to high-definition versions of the screencasts and the full back-catalog (costing $20 as a one-time setup fee). Casual followers get access to 3/4 of the content in a lower-definition format.

Don promises 1 new episode every week, the content is typically about Mac software or related websites. Episodes appear to be 30 minutes long. Apparently 21-25k screencasts are downloaded weekly (March 2007) – this is about 3* our own (according to our mostPopular page).

Christmas special – Don is offering a 10% reduction in the subscription during December.

No Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, ShowMeDo

12 December 2007 - 15:33Which sites do you subscribe (£/$) to?

We’re planning a move to a paid-subscription model inside ShowMeDo – we’d like to keep all the content freely available and start adding pro-features that enhance a user’s learning experience. Having never promoted a subscription model before I’m looking for feedback…

Here’s the question – which services do you pay to subscribe to on a monthly basis? Leave me a comment and I can do some research on how other companies get this right (and, ugh, wrong – see Experts Exchange below).

Currently I use 37signal’s BaseCamp free plan for project management, maybe I’ll pay for that when we have more to manage.

I also pay for my Yahoo email – the account came via BT back in the days of old, they were going to cut it off if I didn’t pay or [gasp] dial-in once every 3 months under the terms of my old contract (such a stupid plan – now I dislike yahoo and bt, before I just didn’t like bt).

I used to use Experts-Exchange (wikipedia) – they let you ask questions for free (though they’ve hidden the free option behind layers of pay-to-subscribe links now). You can ask a limited number of questions as a free user and more as a paying user.

You hand over ‘points’ in a very-inflationary system to the person who answers your question successfully. The system used to be successful but that seems to be broken by horrid forced-subscription options. Roughly the service costs $8 per month for users with larger plans for corporates.

HotOrNot has a unique subscriber model – it is free to join, if you want to talk to someone then one of you has to be a member (faq item 54).

In interviews I’ve heard them say that is usually the guy who pays to talk to the girls. You pay when the service looks like it has something useful for you (you rate each other before talking, rating is free, therefore you know the other person is a person and not an empty shill profile), you can stop paying as soon as you’ve had enough. I’ve never tried it.

Dating sites do something similar – I used to subscribe to The Guardian’s Soulmates – I paid a monthly fee for the option to talk to single girls, they have to be paying too to talk back. You don’t have a way of finding out if the other profile is an empty shill profile (a practice that less reputable dating sites routinely follow), otherwise the model is similar. Costs are roughly £15 a month (and yes – it worked for me :-).

There’s also a nice timely report on slashdot about ‘making a buck online without advertising‘ which details Consumer Reports’ approach to only having a subscriber model – no ads and no free plans. It seems that they do very nicely out of this.

Finally Tim O’Reilly has talked about the move from a ‘bookshelf model’ to ‘all you can eat’ for subscribers:

“With Safari, we’ve increasingly moved from a “bookshelf” model (in which you put books on a bookshelf and can only swap at month end) to an all you can eat model, because we’ve discovered that people consume about the same amount of content regardless of how much you make available.”

So – what do you pay to subscribe to? If you can point me in the right direction to services you like then I can see what might give our users extra value – and bonus points if you can point me at novel subscription methods (like HotOrNot) whilst you’re at it.

8 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, ShowMeDo

14 November 2007 - 21:33£5 App Xmas Special – Tues Dec 4th @ Quadrant (1 week early & different venue!)

Dear all, this is a quick pre-announce that the fandabbydosious Xmas Special for the £5 App will be on Tuesday 4th December (about 3 weeks time) at The Quadrant pub in the centre of town.

John has arranged private use of the newly refurbished upstairs room for us. I’ll also arrange some sponsored (free!) beer and the pub has agreed to do us a bit of a deal on beer for later. This xmas special will be popular so mark yourself as Attending (we do have limited nbrs).

Resident Artist Shardcore will be speaking on ‘The £50 Million App’ or ‘how he and Martin blew tons of cash during the dot-com boom on various start-ups including beenz.com. Martin is a past co-worker of shardcore, he also spoke on ‘The $30 Apps – life as a Mac Indie‘ a few months back.

Note that ShardCore’s art (a regular feature of our talks) is available for public view at the Tin Drum (Kemptown).

Quick plug – I’ll be speaking on Tues Nov 20th during Danny’s week of skillswaps on how to Master the Art of Screencasting – attend to learn why you should screencast, how you can do it in 5 minutes without installing any software and where you can host the videos for free afterwards.

2 Comments | Tags: Entrepreneur, Life, ShowMeDo, sussexdigital, £5 App Meet