If you're like me, you've probably been hearing a lot lately about asynchronous/event-driven/non-blocking web applications and the advantage these have in terms of performance and scalability. You've probably heard of this in the context of Node.js, Tornado, or Comet in general. These technologies are indeed opening the door to whole new classes of web applications and have enormous impact on the degree of interactivity possible on the web. These new applications are a paradigm shift from classical web applications and require fundamentally different implementations; this is a topic for another day. However, from an architecture point-of-view, it's possible for conventional applications to take advantage of async web servers for signficant performance gains with minimal changes to the application code.
This morning I went through the process of transitioning CMYK – a Django site formerly served by Apache with mod_wsgi – to run on the Gunicorn WSGI server with Gevent workers. In this post I'll share some notes on getting this deployed on WebFaction – my awesome Django hosting provider – as well as some performance metrics captured using Blitz.io.
Spoiler: the difference is uncanny.
My past several posts in Render to Response have looked at very specific implementation topics – caching, search, minification – so I thought I'd pull back and comment on a much broader topic for a change. A lot has happened in the web application world over the past year, and if you blinked at all you're likely to have missed some of it. To save you from the embarrassment of blowing a VC pitch for your idea of a cloud-scale video-sharing social networking site running on Joomla, I'll try to present the current state of web application frameworks as I see it in the summer of 2011. A word of warning: I have not used most of these technologies first-hand and am not a trained computer scientist; my views are admittedly biased by own experiences and intuition, so feel free to make corrections or call me out.
I'll start by postulating that the web application world has grown up a lot in the past few years, and as it's done so, the main focus of discussion has gotten more sophisticated. This development has been largely out of necessity, as the sites which have managed to survive have been forced to adopt new strategies toward scaling, but I would also argue that to some extent there has been a natural maturation. As we go through school, we progress from basic subjects like grammar and arithmetic to specialized topics such as chemistry and composition, and eventually to meta-topics like engineering and literature which depend on an integrated level of awareness. In a similar way, I believe that over the past few years, the debate among web application developers has progressed from the question of programming languages to infrastructure mechanics and now to matters of distributed system design.
Note: It turns out I have more to say on this topic than I anticipated, so I've decided to split it into two parts. In Part I I'll lay out the landscape and try to explain in very sweeping statements how we got to this point, and in Part II I'll give a roundup of the frameworks I think are important right now.
It's a little pathetic that the last post I wrote for The Haçienda was my 2011 roundup, but that fortunately says more about my own time commitments than the state of music in 2012. Nearly all of my work on CMYK this year was related to deployment of the site itself; I managed only one long-format post this year – a technical one at that! Nonetheless, my "favorite records of the year" post has always been my favorite one to write, partly because it's easy to knock out once I've made my list but more because I like revisiting it later as a historical account of the year as I heard it.
I'm pleased that this year's list continues to cut across genres and reveals a vibrant music scene without boundaries. We see consistent high-quality output from list veterans, artists suddenly kicking it into high gear, and a few surprising comebacks. Regrettably, there's not a single debut album on this list, which is a bit disconcerting, as I'm either not discovering as much new music or it's not making as much of an impression. Let's hope the recent rollover of the Mayan calendar shepherds in a new age of sonic prophecies.
My third annual favorite records list seems weirdly fitting for 2011, a year in flux by all accounts. In spite of – or perhaps because of – global social upheaval and the death throes of old-style media distribution, the music scene itself seems to have been relatively stagnant. I'm not sure whether it says more about me or the state of the music industry, but my list features a surprisingly small number of debut albums this year and instead is studded with perennial favorites. The albums below set a high bar and represent mature artists at the top of their game, but I'd like to see more new blood and hope next year's list has some names we've never seen before. All the best in 2012!
While I've been busy "stumblelogging" on Posterous, this section of CMYK has been suffering quite a drought, so I thought I'd see if I could do something about that. It's too early for an end-of-year round-up, but I've put together a list of my favorite places to get a (mixed) drink in Boston.
The establishments I've listed here are ones where the bar staff exhibit a true craft and sense of innovation, and the atmosphere enhances the overall imbibing experience. Sometimes, you just want a gin & tonic, and I can make a good Manhattan myself, but I won't be giving shout-outs here to "booze plus a mixer" bars or my own kitchen. I should probably follow up a similar listing for beer bars, as Boston's beer scene has gotten quite exciting.
This is just based on my personal experience, and I haven't been everywhere, so don't take offense if I've missed your fave, but feel free to let me know.
As some of you may know, I've been on a honeymoon in Spain for the past couple of weeks, hence the inactivity on my sites. Nevertheless, I've returned with an armada of tippling recommendations for any of you who happen to be venturing to Barcelona or Andalusia in the near future.
Before I begin, it's worth noting that bars as such are somewhat gratuitous, since some of the best drinking in Spain is done at meals. Great wine is ubiquitous in Barcelona and Andalusia still abounds with tapas bars in the classic sense. However, since Erika will no doubt share some of her food porn in the coming days, I'll stick to the booze-focused venues in my report...
Early in Enter the Void – Gaspar Noé's hard-tripping, DayGlo death trip through the Tokyo night – the protagonist Oscar's friend Alex reveals to us (through Oscar's eyeballs) the absolute intensity of the psychedelic plant datura: "You don't even know you're fucking tripping." It's easy to take this, like most of the dialog in Enter the Void, as trivial drug chatter, but in fact this introduces the film's Big Idea (or cosmic joke), which Noé proceeds to bend and break over the remaining two hours of the film⊕[Spoiler below!].
Am I high, or am I dead? Or am I just watching a movie?
As self-respecting indie tastemakers, it's doubtful that many in ETV's audience would consciously want to identify with Oscar, yet Noé mercilessly frustrates our attempts to escape that fate. Most obviously, we are locked into Oscar's vision by the persistent first-person perspective, but Noé also plays on our motivations as viewers. If we had to identify with anyone in the film, we'd probably pick Alex, the arguably "enlightened" tripper (who doesn't, comparatively, use drugs all that much). As someone who has been to the void, he is dismissive of overt, superficial trippiness and thrills at being tuned into his own conscious awareness. Oscar, by contrast, just wants to see weird shit; he is, by default, cut off from the ultimate trip of not knowing whether he's tripping by knowing that he is always tripping. Alas, we don't get to be like Alex. In our passive role as moviegoers, we are there to see weird shit, too.
After being acclaimed at Sundance and generating a strong buzz internationally, the British film Four Lions has begun to show in limited release in the US. We took the opportunity to see this last night at the Kendall. Labeled a "Jihad satire", the film plots the comedy of errors of a group of disgruntled and confused Sheffield Muslims as they attempt to become "proper good" terrorists.
Jihad may not lend itself to comedy, but Chris Morris' sharp direction and satirical wit assure the audience that it's okay to laugh. And Four Lions is, on the whole, quite funny – at least for a British production.