alan little’s weblog

new project

28th February 2005 permanent link

I am working on a new project. Since I’m between consulting gigs as of this week, I thought it was time to start making a more substantial contribution to open source development than reporting the odd bug and moaning about the state of the python infrastructure.

I’ve been looking at several interesting open source projects in other languages, but I already know and like python, and it would take me a lot longer to get to the point where I could actually do anything useful in ruby, smalltalk or lisp. So python it is, for now.

I wanted something where I could do something useful and substantial in a reasonable amount of time, on a project that already had some momentum. I didn’t want to wander off into the wide blue yonder on my own and build something that would be either hopelessly trivial and obscure, or wildly overambitious and doomed never to get anywhere. What I chose was an Oracle connector for SQLObject.

SQLObject looks like an interesting project that is quite widely respected in the python community. It’s part of two python web frameworks, Webware and Subway. The lead developer, Ian Bicking, seems to be competent and respected and is definitely a nice guy who I’ve already exchanged email with a few times. SQLObject already has working connectors for numerous open source databases and a couple of commercial ones, but nothing for Oracle.

I know about relational databases – I’ve earned my living designing and building them for the last fifteen years, and in particular have spent large chunks of the last five years designing and coding heavy duty financial calculations in Oracle. So I know Oracle quite well from the inside, and I know python reasonably well – so how hard can it be? Hard enough to be interesting, apparently: Ian says:

I wouldn't think it'd be hard, but seeing that everyone starts it (or at least says they have started) but doesn't complete it, maybe there's something mysterious and hard about Oracle support.

I’ve also been emailing with a guy in Russia called Oleg Broytmann who has already been looking at it and says yes, he is finding it hard. He seems to be particularly struggling with special characters – he’s probably using Russian data and so hitting problems early on that an American developing with English-language data wouldn’t find until later. Finding problems earlier rather than later is good. I will of course try to coordinate with him rather than going off on my own.

It’s a great pity, in a sense, that we’re still spending time on this kind of basic infrastructural plumbing when we’re already half a decade into the twenty-first century. The interesting and challenging things about databases should be how do you go about gathering heaps of potentially interesting data to put in them, and how do you then go about extracting actually interesting information from all that potentially interesting data. Not how do you go about the tedious mechanics of shovelling the stuff in and out. But since the tedious mechanics bit doesn’t in fact seem to be quite finished yet, somebody should get on and help finish it. And why not me?

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