Unsung heroes of open source

When my e-mails to vendors went unanswered, I turned to open source. A Google query for "sourceforge vx4400" yielded this first result: "Welcome to BitPim."

On the BitPim project site, I found not only sync software for Windows, Linux, and OS X, but also a wealth of useful documentation, including a beautifully written online help system. Thanks to these docs, I avoided buying the straight-through USB cable that would evidently have caused problems with my particular phone model, and instead got the alternate USB-to-serial cable.

It wasn't all clear sailing. I couldn't get the recommended FutureDial USB driver to work, so I wound up using a different USB-to-serial driver from Prolific Technology. After I sorted that out, BitPim could read and write the phone's contact and calendar records.

Although BitPim can import and export various contact formats, it as yet has no similar support for calendar events. You can move events back and forth interactively, but I wanted to automate the process. Happily, BitPim offers all the tools I need to make an easy job of it.

Because it's written in Python and uses the wxPython cross-platform GUI library, it's open and easily extensible. What's more, BitPim's developer, Roger Binns, thinks the same way I do about managing collections of simple objects. To export calendar entries to the phone, I only had to write a simple script that emits the ASCII serialization of a Python dictionary. Sweet!

I haven't taken the next step yet, which is to bypass the GUI and move data directly to and from the phone by means of a scheduled task, but it's clear that BitPim's architecture will make that undertaking a straightforward one.

When people talk about the heroes of open source, you tend to hear such familiar names as Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Brendan Eich, Guido van Rossum, Monty Widenius, Miguel de Icaza, and Rasmus Lerdorf. No question about it: These people are my heroes. But so is Roger Binns, and so are the countless other unsung heroes of open source. For solving a host of vexing problems with quiet competence, and for doing it in ways that invite others to stand on their shoulders, I salute them all. [Full story at InfoWorld.com.]

While I was working on my holiday podcast I was reminded of another unsung hero of open source: Dave Betz. Dave, who worked for BYTE when I first arrived there in 1988, is the author of XLISP, which is described on the project's modest home page as "a superset of the Scheme dialect of Lisp." If XLISP were open sourced today, its home page would doubtless be xlisp.sourceforge.net, but Dave was way ahead of that curve.

The XLISP scripting engine was embedded in a number of applications including, most notably, AutoCAD (as AutoLISP). What I didn't notice until last week is that XLISP is also included in Audacity -- it's the foundation for Roger Dannenberg's Nyquist, a "sound synthesis and composition language." I'd seen the plugin directory in my Audacity folder but never unpacked it until I was looking for a way to clean up a bad voice recording. Who knew? Those plugins are, for the most part, .ny (Nyquist) files, and they're written in a language that extends XLISP!

It would be a fun project for someone to scout out a bunch of folks like Roger Binns, Dave Betz, Roger Dannenberg, and others of the countless unsung heroes of open source, and weave their stories into a full-length treatment.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/01/03.html#a1142