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Find the source of source of campaign contributions for your congressperson.

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  • name:idiot 7/25/2003, 4:57 pm

    !

    @import url( http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/layout2b.css );

    Idiotprogrammer

    6/17/2003

    Campaign Contributions
    [General] ? rjnagle @ 9:59 pm

    Find the source of source of campaign contributions for your congressperson.

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    [General] ? rjnagle @ 1:46 am

    Reference of Commercial File Types. Useful.

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    10/23/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 4:58 am

    Rabid Weblogging

    One sign you are a rabid weblogger is when you start collecting links without actually finishing the articles. Funny, you can usually tell which articles you will like before actually reading something. I was always amazed at how uncanny Amazon.com?s predictions are about which books I might enjoy.

    Two pieces by myself: The Collective, Polemical Mind and This Process We Call Democracy . The second piece is about meeting my congressman at a town meeting.

    Here?s an article making the case why Linux should be at universities. Trinity University, my alma mater, has even gotten in on the act.

    The Kuro5hin forum about whether games are art was one of the most insightful things I?d seen in a long time. Especially enjoyed the comment by Socrates Ghost about art. I don?t read Kuro5hin often enough, but on occasion, they have more intellectual and less geek-oriented topics. Such as the Milgram Experiments, Cervantes, and the Glass Bead Game. ?Glass Bead Game? is an awkward translation of the title of a famous novel by Herman Hesse about an imaginary game played by intellectuals, and the Kuro5hin poster makes the argument that the Internet is as close as you are ever going to get to the glass bead game. By the way, the poem ?Socrates Ghost? by Delmore Schwartz is delightful.

    An opposing view on why games suck. Somethingawful has hilarious reviews of bad computer games.

    Articles about xhtml here and here. Probably important.

    Nice article about the art of writing FAQ.

    I just wanted to say that Canada?s ?National Post? had a brooding article about Vaclav Havel?s meeting with Cuban dissidents. But alas, the link doesn?t work, and I can find no archived or cached copy on google or archive.org. Stupid Canadians.

    Two quotes: The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing. Gamel Abdel Nasser.

    ?In times of drastic change, the learners will inherit the future. Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.? Eric Hoffer

    Another sign you?ve waited too long to blog is when you have multiple links on a single topic. How Google has changed their search algorithm and mischeivous webloggers can create google bombs. Actually, google has been giving more and more importance to dmoz, something I?d long predicted (which is why I?ve been able to produce such incredible search results. For more entertaining links about google, read an insider?s account about google answers and another on google?s pigeon technology.

    I still can?t understand this optical illusion.

    Mediaagora contains good articles about the travails of being a content producer in this day and age.

    I will be switching very soon to a new hosting service. I am probably going with rosehosting. Actually, the hot new trend is ?virtual servers? where webmasters buy miniature servers with root access. That allows people to configure their own servers, set up a larger number of domains and databases than most hosting services allow. Also, here are some good tips on finding a webhosting service.

    Curious George W. Goes to Washington.

    Comments (0)

    10/17/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 1:42 am

    More stupidity

    It happened. After a few paragraphs of links, I accidentally pressed the refresh button, thus refreshing the edit page. Arrrrgh

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    10/15/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:56 pm

    Searching for Friends

    When I am bored, I like grabbing some names from the past and doing Internet searches on them. It is fun, especially when you find someone. There are two problems to doing this. First, it depends on whether your name is unique. I have a writing friend from Johns Hopkins named ?Tracy Wallace.? I will never be able to find her with that general a name. Second, when women get married, they drop completely from the radar screen, and the only way you can find them is by checking their alumni news or something like that. Perhaps there is value in being difficult to be found on the web; perhaps as time goes on, we will value our privacy. Perhaps even if we knew how to contact information about these people, we wouldn?t bother to contact them anyway. While I certainly understand privacy concerns, I really wish it were possible to know where any given person was at any given time. It would be fun, wouldn?t it?

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    [General] ? Robert @ 12:50 pm

    Around the World

    It is a cliche to say this, but the web has made the world a smaller and cozier place. Today I sent an email to a professor in Australia about obtaining some books from University of Hawaii press. I had a (brief) chat with a former student in Germany and exchanged emails with an Albanian friend. Also, I responded to an email from a Malaysian friend (who I had never met but hope to communicate by webcam sometime). Then I sent an email to a project manager in Canada about the status of my work project, checked a newsletter from a man in Hong Kong and read a short story by a young American writer in Thailand. All these virtual acquaintances, and still I cannot find a date on Fridays.

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    10/10/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:31 pm

    Complaining

    An colleague from my old job wrote me to ask where I found the time to find the links I am constantly sending. Where does he find the time to write such emails?

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    [General] ? Robert @ 5:30 pm

    Opium
    It has been two whole days since Brandrecon has been updated. Experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms. For the last month, I have been living for this daily newsletter. Frank Yu, that amazing multimedia/gaming/wireless/Asian culture freak (who runs the site from Hong Kong) mentioned that he will be too busy to maintain this newsletter when he starts working for Microsoft/Xbox in Singapore. I?ve tried Camworld, Boing Boing etc, but the rush is no longer the same. Wood s lot gives a particularly lethal dose of culture. Take only in measured doses.

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    [General] ? Robert @ 5:23 pm

    That Point

    I have finally reached that point. I have big text files full of cool links that I never have time to add to my weblog. That?s the real bother of this weblog. It?s like one of those electronic toys constantly demanding attention. It?s hard to say, ?well, that link was really cool, and I need to mention it in my weblog. But this link is also very cool, but I won?t mention it.? Read this meta-paper on links and relevance. This piece on hyperlinking, by Susana Tosca, is even better. And I saw her deliver it at the 2000 Hypertext Conference.

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    9/29/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:25 pm

    Linking to Myself
    The periods of time when I?m not doing much posting the same periods in which I accomplish the most writing!

    I?ve gathered my literary and creative essays on a single page. Finished a longish book essay on Gao Jingjian?s ?Soul Mountain.? The thought occurred to me that 1)My ?See also? discussion on the left side is really just a way for me to ?blog? what other people have written on the subject (yes, in the past, we called that ?footnotes.? 2)Derrida?s Glas, besides being prescient about theory, also anticipated the formal design of weblogs today, which are generally commentaries about weblogs which are generally commentaries about other weblogs (and so forth).

    I wrote this article ?Must Have 5 Years Experience? during my recent employment.

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    9/22/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 2:39 pm

    Reading Your Friends

    Excuse the mess! Moving to Movabletype very very soon!

    Look up terminology with google?s glossary. (From Jemisa).

    I met several interesting people at a Houston weblog party : Big Pink Cookie,Coffee Corner, This page intentionally left blank, Overflow, Daily Ventings and Exclamations, getdonkey.com, Waterlily, Offthekuff and cybertoad.

    As much as I enjoyed meeting all these talented people, it was interesting also to meet people BEFORE reading their blogs. (At South by Southwest, I had experienced the eerie sensation of meeting the flesh-and-blood person AFTER reading their blogs). Of course, everyone was delightful and interesting, and it gave me some perspective with which to view these blogs. But it also called attention to the social nature of blogs. These people frequently link to one another (not that there?s anything wrong with that!) and use weblogs to map out their network of social connections. I know A who knows B who knows C. That was an aspect that had never occurred to me before. My interest was merely in mapping out my own brain?s surfing itinerary. With weblogs, linking and being linked produces a rush akin to being introduced to a new person in a social situation. There are even etiquette rules (one of which I had been blissfully oblivious). For example, how do you politely recommend yourself to be listed on another?s site without seeming cheeky? When someone links to you, you have gained a cyberfriend, one more social connection just hanging out there and and checking to see when you?ve last updated. When checking referral logs, a person is actually checking the people who have visited. (My socially-aware sister, when in high school, used to hang up photographs of friends and medallions from her drill team activities and birthday cards and such. I never understand that desire until now). The bulletin board/commentary function on most blogs also provide an outlet for the socializing that results from opening your front door to visitors.

    One of the bloggers, (I think it was bigpinkcookie), jokingly referred to someone?s blog as belonging to the A-List Bloggers, and I know what she meant. Sometimes it seems as though all the great writers know each other, all the great geeks know each other, and all the powerful politicians know each other. and so the most reknowned bloggers should know one another as well. Although most of the A-list blogs are good, some are not particularly remarkable, and even the good ones aren?t always remarkable (perhaps I am only showing my envy of their daily hits). It probably should not seem surprising that cliques should form in the cyberworld, but how often do they form on the basis of preexisting friendships in real life? Also, one can maintain only a finite number of social connections, (real or virtual), and there is not exactly a contest to see who can have the most. In weblogging, influence comes from 1)technical proficiency, 2)cool graphics, 3)linking to everybody, 4)posting frequently, 5)picking a subject that is unique, 6)being read by other people with influence. Anything else? Oh, yes, good content.

    Ed Dumbhill has written about a sort of ?Friend of a Friend? XML vocabulary which can be a sort of semantics for virtual social relationships. Although some critics have pointed the problems and limitations of such an idea, it would be interesting to map out the social relationships enabled by blogs and compare them with the social relationships enabled by school or work. For example, does the six degrees of separation rule apply to the virtual world as well? Or are the connections more direct? How much do virtual cyber relationships form along ethnic or socioeconomic grounds that segregate us in real life? How blind are weblogs of one group to those of another group? Do young people read weblogs of annointed A-list people? Or do they just read their friends?

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    9/16/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:41 pm

    Odds and Ends
    Here?s the first book review I posted on slashdot. First of many, I hope.

    Two good portals about new technology: Wireless Newsfactor and Tech Central Station.

    Academic journals like First Monday tend to be behind the curve on news, but their stories have been good. For example, an article about online grocery shopping or terrorist networks.

    It?s rather easy to make jokes about Nigerian spammers, but this series of emails made me laugh several times.

    Well, it had to happen, but the MS Word exploit should cause people to question the ability of companies (any companies) to support older products. I love Open Office , but I am annoyed that it does strange things to OLE objects, and so cutting and pasting is pretty awful. Hint: Choose ?Paste Special.?

    An interesting tale about the domain fuck.com. This is NOT a sex link, merely a story of the legal dispute that arose.

    I?ve seen some nice amazon pages by contributors on certain topics. Here?s one on elearning and macromedia.

    A nice Kuro5hin discussion: Are Video Games Art? I?ve written about that before, and will soon be writing another essay about it, so I?ll skip gingerly over this topic for now.

    A fascinating article about the linguistic challenges and innovations for people for use Short Messaging Services.

    A useful list of web-based GUI editors for CMS?s.

    I?ve been waiting for this link for a long time, but here are some mozilla faq?s and how-to?s (from the user?s point of view).

    For some reason, I can?t get through to blogger from my work. Proxy server problems, perhaps? That?s why it?s taken so long to post.

    A nice page about how to acheive web accessibility.

    Tim Oreilly?s prescient essay, ?Inventing the Future? seems mostly ontrack. Here?s Andy Oram?s thoughts about being an Oreilly author.

    Eclipse has been emerging as a platform-independent IDE for java and C++. Now if only someone could design a platform-independent FLASH editor the world would be a better place.

    Don?t want this blog to be about politics or economics, but this essay on US and world demographics is interesting.

    Article on linux security and snort. You can read his other security articles.

    Out of all the Iraq articles, this one struck me as the most convincing.

    Zope is catching up! See XMLTransform.

    Even though I sit underneath a wireless access port at work, in fact I am not yet wireless. I recently attended a Houston Wireless meeting . I still have a lot to learn about this. Here?s a graphical display of Houston wireless nodes. For people wanting to stream video (wireless or otherwise), you have mpeg4ip, Darwin Streaming Server, and others.

    For those wanting to see proof of IE?s vulnerabilities, you can test it here or here. Actually, I?m beginning to believe that Mozilla will eventually pass over IE. Mozilla has attracted a lot of developers to do funky things, whereas IE seems pretty much what it is: a PC browser and nothing more.

    The postnuke home page has improved considerably. Kind of embarrassing that the previous version was so hard to use.

    For those needing a funny diversion, here are some computer stupidities.

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    [General] ? Robert @ 9:37 am

    What?s Wrong With Yahoo?
    I stopped using yahoo after they removed pop-forwarding, but Atul Chitnis?s criticism of yahoo makes it clear that yahoo is truly clueless. Jeffrey Zeldman, in a piece on obsolete web standards, shows the awful code that yahoo does to maximize compatibility with old browsers. I?m no fan of yahoo (I discontinued my mail account after they stopped free pop-forwarding), but they still have some fundamentals right. For example, their my yahoo page is a masterpiece of usability and customizability. So is their calendar, and their briefcase, photos and even online banking. But when are they going to remove those nasty pop-up ads?

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    9/5/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 8:47 am

    New Stuff
    Some catching up to do. First, don?t miss my technical book reviews or what I?m reading now. If you were wondering whether I actually read fiction, here?s an essay I wrote about Hans Christian Anderson. Am currently reading an amazing book, Digital Game-Based Learning by Mark Prensky of games2train.com. I?ll be posting a longer discussion of this book very soon.

    From my Asiafirst weblog : Here?s a way to test how ferocious the Chinese firewall is . From this: It reminds me a little of the Monty Python sketch about the world?s funniest joke , and anyone who heard or viewed the joke would die of laughter. The premise of censorship is that offensive content contaminates the hearts and minds of people. But you can only have censorship if someone can judge content without himself being contaminated. This contradicts the premise of censorship, which alleges that these contaminating powers exist inherently in the offensive material. On the other hand, if a censor can censor without being contaminated, that implies that offensive content does not automatically contaminate the mind or heart of a person. In that case, you would be admitting that censorship is unnecessary. That is the contradiction of censorship.

    I finally put up a postnuke content management system at imaginaryplanet.net. Not much there yet, only two political essays. Heck, I?ll save you the trouble of clicking to it. Are U.S. Universities Trapped in Post-Colonialism Idealogies? and Is striking Iraq preemptively just crazy?

    I finally published my correspondence with Jeffrey Friedl about the art of reviewing technical books. Kind of silly, but enjoy it. Seriously, Friedl writes great books. (P.S. Don?t think I?m an idiot, but I just noticed that I spelled Friedl?s name wrong. Will change this afternoon). While looking over his online material, I came across this amazing essay by Andy Oram on Friedl and Regular Expressions. Oram compares their transformative power to that of Marshall McCluhan?s insight about how technology changed the nature and the scope of the message. He writes, ? Used to their fullest, regular expressions ignore figure/ground. They operate holistically. They swallow the entire text?sometimes tens of thousands of characters in one fell swoop?and create an impression of it. When you are processing a concept like ?find a quote-delimited string, but not where either quote lies inside a comment,? the result is a function of the whole text, not of individual characters.? Oram is an editor with Oreilly and a very interesting person.

    A good introduction to minidisc technology.

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    8/13/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 9:19 am

    New Beginnings
    It?s official. I?ll be working with Texas Instruments, a company specializing in Digital Signal Processors. They are located in Houston. Another company, another technical realm to be mastered, another list of acronyms to learn!

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    7/29/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 1:51 pm

    The Enemy is US

    Richard Stallman, on technology and freedom:
    ?The Soviet Union employed a range of methods to stamp out forbidden copying. First, they had guards standing by to watch what you copied. Second, those who they caught were punished harshly, imprisoned for years or sent to Siberia. Third, to help catch people, they asked for informers. Fourth, they used collective responsibility: ?You! You?re going to watch that group! If I catch any of them doing forbidden copying you?re going to prison.? Fifth, propaganda from childhood, to convince people that only a vicious enemy of the people would ever do forbidden copying.

    oday is using all of these methods. Guards on copying equipment: the DMCA opens up the path for robot guards in your computer. Harsh punishments: ten years ago, in the US, if you made copies and handed them out to your neighbours to be helpful that was not a crime. Now it?s a felony. You could be put in prison for years
    for sharing published information with your neighbours. In the UK, an MP has proposed a sentence of ten years for unauthorised sharing. ?

    Pot and Kettles: Tom Brokaw?s TV ?expose? about the obscenely high salary of corporate execs was last night. Maybe I?m just being fussy. Somebody should make a rule that only reporters who are NOT making multimillion dollar salaries should narrate such pieces. I say ?narrate? because it?s unclear how much of the prep work was done by NBC interns and how much by Brokaw himself.

    Slashdot reports that Joseph Biden is sponsoring a bill making it illegal for you to traffic files without a proper watermark. It?s understandable why content industries would encourage device makers to include copy-protection, but why do we need a law for this? The music industry should offer Digital Rights Management(DRM)-friendly mp3 files for a third of the cost of a no DRM music CD. That and special promotions could do a lot to get DRM devices in the hands of consumers. The government doesn?t need to be involved in this initiative at all.

    I probably oppose the bill (I haven?t really looked at the details), but having a central watermark authority is not as insidious as it might seem. The entity that validates SSL certificates of authority haven?t amassed any diabolical power (I realize we?re talking about apples and ostriches here). As long as individuals have the ability to watermark original material easily and cheaply, it?s hard to complain. Of course, there?s fair use, but actually I suppose a DRM-enabled device could be empowered to create an open source digital sample for classwork and online reviews. Oh wait, somebody could combine these digital samples into a single piece and circumvent the whole system. Still, it seems feasible for DRM?s to offer fair use sampling in the future. But any DRM scheme involving governmental coercion seems unlikely to work.

    Writer Burning Bird wrote a farewell note explaining why she is stopping her weblog. I?ve written about the problems with weblogs in my June 13 ?Death of Weblogs? post, so I?m not exactly surprised. But a week later, lo and behold, she?s posting more ?remarks? on the same URL with the caveat that ?this isn?t really a weblog anymore.? Silly woman! It reminds me of a time I said a long goodbye to a friend at school (thinking it would be the last time we would see each other), and lo and behold, we run into each other at a gas station 5 minutes later. So am I saying that DRM is a good idea and artists should lock up their content with industry tools? No. Indeed, it would seem that content creators who keep their content free will gain wider distribution than copy-protected works.

    Lately I?ve been finding information about open source LMS?s. Well, open source hacks haven?t yet discovered the booming field of learning management systems. It?s not too late to build your own! I?ve found a simple zope LMS, a php lms and a big academic project (the MIT?s Open Knowledge Initiative , which defines an architectural framework for learning management systems). A list of online learning lms? doesn?t mention any open source projects.

    Documentation strategies: I have been following gentoo?s excellent installation instructions. Although the directions are perfectly clear, they are in fact somewhat difficult to follow. More importantly, the documentation forgets to describe what will happen if you perform the step correctly. Just as students need to be tested on what they know, users need some way to verify that they have performed some task correctly. Or else, users (like me) will complain about missing a step. In this case, I performed all the steps, but never realized that one of the steps I performed actually accomplished nothing. (Actually, Linux/Unix is partly responsible with its cryptic command line responses). Without ways for readers of user documentation to test for success, readers will have no idea what constitutes normal system behavior.

    From my Asiafirst weblog: Frank Yu?s email newsletter provides news about Asia and technology. I prefer the content in the daily email to what actually is on the site.

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    7/12/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 6:51 am

    Life without Spam
    I saw Eric Raymond speak about open source software. (Will provide thoughts on a future post). His writings on the open source model are important and prescient, and he even keeps a weblog (I enjoyed his somewhat dated piece on HTML Hell pages.Probably the most remarkable thing about the lecture is that people from 5 different Linux/Austin user groups were present. Only in Austin.

    I don?t normally rave about windows-only tools, but I?ve been trying the new macromedia dreamweaver mx web editor, and I think it?s amazing. A lot of the problems I hated about previous versions (too much added code, scant css support or php support) have all been solved. It makes clean xhtml code now. The only problem is how much memory it uses and that it crashes occasionally, but it is a powerful tool, especially for dealing with styles. What little I?ve seen about Flash MX seems to be terrific also (especially for learning interactions which are SCORM compliant). They even have a great tutorial for building online quizzes and a great user group for instructional designers. I don?t know a lot about Flash, and in fact, I had to chuckle when a usability writer recently titled his book ?Skip Intro.? But they run a great website and strongly support user groups and calls for XHTML compliance and accessibility. I am definitely giving them a second look this month.

    While putting together what was probably the longest daily post on my Asiafirst weblog, I came across Frank Yu?s Brand Recon. He subscribed me to his newsletter, something I normally don?t approve of, except that the technology links are just great! While I?m in the habit of recommending Asia technology weblogs, I also like Me, Myself and the Web . Undoubtedly, by next month, my number one standing on search results for Asia+Weblog and India+Weblog will disappear.

    The next 72 or 96 hours will be totally hell for me. More about that next week (that is, if I survive).

    Google keyboard shortcuts for vi users.

    I have discovered another genius on the web. Mark Prensky, author of ?Digital Game-Based Learning? has produced cool online games for corporate training. A good example is here. Again, I wrote extensively about this topic last year. He wrote a ?theoretical underpinning? of game-based training, and includes a link to a thesis about games and simulations in corporations by Rolf Ahdell and Guttorm Andresen.

    Slashdot has a link to a Wired article about high-bandwidth culture in South Korea.

    I don?t mean to brag, but in the last three months I have not received a single piece of spam at my new email address. I forgot how wonderful it is. Of course, I protect this email very much and am very careful to whom I give it. Also, I have several aliases, which I can always drop or filter if a spammer finds one of them. Also, I use about 8-10 junk emails for site membership stuff and secure yahoo mail for consumer purchases. Interesting for those too cheap to afford Adobe Acrobat: 5 Free Online DOC to PDF conversions offer from Adobe. Speaking of which, I don?t use Acrobat and have limited knowledge of Framemaker, but I?ve really appreciated how newer PDF documents include sidebar indices. (I?m guessing they are using Framemaker + SGML).

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    7/3/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 3:13 pm

    True Cost of Ownership

    Congratulate me now?I passed the LPI Level One certification.

    An article I read contained this actual dialogue box from MS Outlook. Unfortunately, the original article (about managing email) came from a PDF.

    ?The Journal can automatically track Office Documents and also email associated with a contact. However, the activities tab on the contact item is the best way to track email and does not require the Journal. Do you want to turn the journal on??

    A RSS validator: whoopee! Postnuke sets up a newsfeed by default. Whoopee!

    It?s a great idea, so brilliant that I?m surprised that somebody didn?t think of it sooner. Moveup allows people to set up meetings/socials to meet like-minded individuals. For example, it might be fun to meet other bloggers once in a while.

    I have found the CD cataloguing tool called Ruby. It creates a catalog databases of CD?s that you?ve burned. I use it to record my mp3 collection and to have a listing of all the files on every single disk. It?s nice, simple and absolutely free!

    Acerbic political satire: Arafat calls for democratic elections in the US.

    Nicholas Petreley wrote an article about the most recent KDE release on Linux.

    It?s true. Typing India + Weblog brings my site as number 1! Also, typing in Vlore (the city where I taught while in Albania) brings my simple 1 page tourism guide as number one. Two thing that is clear about my attempts to get listed by search engines: 1)submitting your site correctly to dmoz ensures a good listing on google and 2)the longer your URL?s stay the same, the better placement it receives on google.

    NewsForge has an insightful (but obvious) article about using open source software as development aid to Third World Countries. Instead of worrying about the ?total cost of ownership,? we should instead be concerned about the ?true cost of ownership.? Sometimes it is difficult for a company to assess the true cost of using a particular technology, especially if there is piracy or implicit government subsidies to drive down the sticker price. It is difficult in such a setting to make cost-benefit analyses. I?m not saying that linux is the solution, but teaching technology people in developing countries to rely on open-source solutions really furthers development goals in general.

    When looking at the Internet economy, it?s helpful to use Marxist labor analysis. The disconnect between needed skills and the unemployed can often be traced to company?s reliance on closed solutions (See my May 7 posting about ?Learning the State Song of Georgia?.) Job seekers can?t learn every single proprietary tool, so the employer looks at only candidates with specific experience on that tool. That is exploitative of workers because it causes them to learn proprietary tools unlikely to be useful for other job assignments. Marx argued that alienation results because workers don?t own the means of production. In modern times, the ?means of production? is not the ?tools? but the ?technological knowledge? gained by investing time and resource to perform a variety of tasks. The more a person relies on proprietary tools, the less likely that this ?technological knowledge? will be useful for other jobs in the future.

    This may actually be less of a labor problem than a technology problem. I can speak only of the IT world, but tools and standards change so rapidly in the industry that new and better tools are coming out all of the time. The time it takes anyone to completely master a technology will usually be long enough for a better technology to emerge (which people will have to learn). Of course, the most talented are better at keeping up. The problem is that ?retooling? requires considerable time and resources, and often the burden falls on the individual instead of the company wishing to adopt these technologies (and profit from them).

    That is partly why schools and colleges have a valuable role to play. They give individuals the opportunity to focus on general skills rather than skills specific to a job. Once, while looking over Rice University?s course catalog, I was suprised to learn that their computer classes didn?t cover specific databases or programming languages, but general skills. At first, it seemed crazy, but looking back, it now makes perfect sense. Some of the school projects (i.e. building an OS) seem more academic than anything, but in the real world of apartment rent and car payments, such projects may never be started. It also seems to be an argument in favor of embarking on commercially useless projects while in college.

    Comments (0)

    6/24/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 7:42 am

    Quick Up2dates

    This post is one of those guilty ?sorry I haven?t made an entry recently.? I have been very busy. For people who like to write and do creative things on the web, they need to balance the desire to learn the programming with the desire to create. Contributing to this weblog is one of the rare pleasures I allow myself right now.

    I posted my article about ?Web Communities and the Art of Making Money.?

    Yesterday I tried updating apache and php and a host of other things on my home web server. Specifically, I tried to start using rpm?s instead of having to compile the code myself. First, I tried using Red Hat?s up2date, which looked promising. Then I discovered that it was not actually installing anything, but simply installing the version of the application that came with the Red Hat 7.2 release. Is that a bug? Although it seemed to resolve some dependencies, there were errors, especially in the GUI version of the product. Then I tried rpmfind, a gnome tool which unfortunately doesn?t provide enough information about what is actually being done. The main problem with rpm?s is that it?s difficult to figure out in what rpm the dependency file is located. Although red hat has a hyperlinked list of files for each rpm, it doesn?t go to the right place all the time.

    The other option ?Red Carpet? is an ok, solution, but the price ($10 per month) seems to defeat the very purpose of free software. The other option, gentoo, is something people in my local LUG are raving about. It?s worth a shot. I?ll probably be installing it on a test machine in the next month. I?m sure there will be quirks in the installation process and running portage. There will also be network problems (something I noticed with Red Hat Network).

    This whole experience is making me see how important the choice of distributions are becoming to linux. It affects how you upgrade your server (which really isn?t fun at all). Compiling isn?t fun, but to be honest, I found it more straightforward than using rpm?s.

    Other links. A nice Economist article about wireless technology. Economist really covers technology well. Interesting article about Microsoft?s DRM project, ?Palladium.? The idea is probably sound, although it?s probably going to be unworkable for a long time. It seems to imply that Linux and other free OS?s wouldn?t be able to interface with files/programs/systems on Win Palladium machines, but that seems ridiculous. SSH, tunnelling, and PGP has worked pretty successfully on linux. It?s hard to imagine why a comparable adaptation can?t be devised the open-source world. (Some might even argue that the open source world will eventually provide a sounder security system.

    I have become a spammeister. I sent emails to every single person who advertised a technical writer job in Austin during the last 5 years. I made the letter entertaining enough, but I am still plagued with some guilt. We despise spam, but sometimes we end up having to do solicitations for something.

    Comments (0)

    6/13/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 3:13 pm

    The Death of Weblogs

    Editorial Note: I?ve been working on an essay about web communities, so I haven?t had time to update the weblog here.

    This brings me to a subject I have wanted to talk about for some time: the death of weblogs.

    First, let me say that I love weblogs, blogger, diaryland, movabletype, slash and other web technologies. It has unleashed an incredible amount of creativity across the board from a variety of interesting people. After promoting my asiafirst site on metafilter, I have been actively checking my referrer logs to look for any upticks in web traffic. Webloggers are promiscuous about linking to people. Surprisingly though, the main benefit from this modest effort at advertising has been learning about the existence of the sites that linked to me (which in many ways are superior to my own). One incredible site, ?wood s lot? gives a well-annotated and well-chosen list of literary links.

    Weblogs emerged as a result of a webmaster?s need to create and update content without using ftp. They also needed a way to let visitors know what content is fresh. (If you looked at sites in 1997-8, by far the most interesting page on any site would be the ?what?s new?? page). They were also a pain in the neck to update. Eventually people started using weblog applications to update their site, and then the weblog became the site.

    But although weblogs were certainly a step forward, they meant hell for content creators. A site is only as good as the freshness of content, but realistically, an individual can?t update a weblog more than twice a week. (If he is doing so more often, then he is only bloviating or writing nothing substantial). Blogger solved that problem by allowing multiple people to contribute to a weblog, (with elearningpost.com and boingboing.net being the best examples), but weblogs had other problems. Some were editorial, and others were technical.

    A weblog format is better for a site that updates frequently. That means, if you want to create a weblog, you better update frequently! Or you better spread the burden among several people!
    People rarely read archives. Weblogs are most effective in relaying commentary on current events. But ask yourself: how often do people read newspapers more than a month old? They don?t; they throw them away!
    Weblogs group content by date, not by subject. How on earth would you know that your opinion piece on underwear appeared on the April 2001 archive page? Sure, there?s search pages, but that?s a very lazy form of information architecture. Movabletype seems to have solved that problem by giving webloggers the ability to categorize content. I haven?t deployed movabletype yet, but the deployments on burning bird and other sites put all items in a certain category on the same page. That might work in some instances, but generally it doesn?t seem to be a good idea.
    Although the informal style of weblogs may be suitable for personal diaries, they may not be good for intellectual discussions. Bottom line is the best example of a site that uses a weblog to deliver a daily argument on some subject. Arnold Kling can pull this kind of thing off. But the content on his personal home page is much more substantial and easier to search through. Clearly these opinion pieces are so good because Kling didn?t feel rushed to provide fresh content.
    Weblogs serve as rough draft repositories. I usually will start a rant or commentary on a weblog only to later transfer it to a static page, substituting the original entry with a link to the static page. In other words, the better the content, the more likely that it will be removed from my weblog. What conclusion should you reach about the content which is still here?
    Weblogs are good at letting people know about great links. Truth be told, the main reason I like putting links in weblogs is that I know where the link will be later on. Yes, that?s true. I actually use my weblog as a kind of bookmark page.

    Weblogs have been temporary solutions to the continuing problem of managing content. It is a sign that content management systems are still too complex, too expensive or too difficult to use. Here are some encouraging developments that run counter to the trend toward weblogs:

    WEBDAV is allowing people to change content without requiring sophisticated ftp or versioning tools.
    Many open source CMS?s come with many basic functions. (I?m now playing with postnuke)
    RSS allows people to include ?what?s new? syndication about their site pretty painlessly, making it unnecessary to change it by hand.
    As we start to use various devices for accessing webpages, it will be more important to have content that can be repackaged and repurposed depending on the device. CSS can take care of that on weblogs right now to a limited extent, but it still means that all the posts from a certain chronological range show up whether you like it or not.

    Those are the reasons why I think weblogs will die fairly soon. On the other hand, technologies frequently outlast their usefulness, and there is something to be said for not changing a method that has worked successfully.

    Comments (0)

    5/24/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 8:52 am

    Open Source Publishing and Star Wars Iconoclasm

    First, a fascinating political analysis of the Star Wars series. ?So under Imperial rule, a large group of regional potentates, each with access to a sizable army and star destroyers, runs local affairs. These governors owe their fealty to the Emperor. And once the Emperor is dead, the galaxy will be plunged into chaos. In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn?t liberate the galaxy?it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one. ? Please don?t take this article too seriously. I saw Clones recently and thought it way too ponderous.

    Why have I never noticed the CMS Watch website ?The articles are absolutely fascinating. Betty Harvey?s ?What SGML can teach us about XML & the web? is informative & helpful. It even had two articles on zope content management here and here . For those wanting up-to-date discussions, Cameron Barrett?s CMS-List is the place to go.

    Speaking of Zope, Reuven Lerner writes some of the most interesting articles about web applications out there. He is always at the cutting edge of technology. His ?At the Forge? column in Linux Journal is a must read for people interested in web publishing. His slide show on ?Application Server Shoot Out? pretty much summarizes everything you need to know.

    A subproject within Zope, plone.org is a documentation frontend for a zope CMS application. However, I?m not encouraged by the big warning on the download page. Should I tempt fate?

    Other Zope articles: Jeffrey Shell has written an overview of remote authoring with Zope/webdav
    Zopenewbies features a pay-site http://www.zopemag.com with an article on Zope workflow.

    Open Source Schools is an interesting initiative with some terrific articles on using linux in the schools . The story of open-source publishing details the fight to make texts public. It anticipates the appearance of ?creative commons? (a concept suggested by Lawrence Lessig and discussed recently on Slashdot), a way to put texts in the public domain.

    The last two sites I?ve mentioned use postnuke.org, the CMS most in vogue. Don?t worry?I?ll be deploying my own postnuke site soon! They are accumulating good documentation

    I used to think Cocky Bastard and Josh Davis were the only ones who did decent things with flash. But Ishkur?s Guide to Electronic Music is one of the most enjoyable and educational sites out there about contemporary music. This site will wow and entertain you. (At the time of writing, it?s offline?temporary I hope).

    I paid for a low-cost ad for 20,000 webviews on metafilter to promote my asiafirst weblog. It starts running next week. Matt Haughey?s text-ads are a wonderful unobtrusive way to reach content creators. I will report next week how many clickthroughs 20,000 webviews will bring.

    Well, perhaps this is better on Asiafirst, but Digital Freedom?s Network List of Chinese citizens imprisoned for using the Internet to express themselves is sobering. Please, Americans, savor your freedoms!

    Comments (0)

    5/16/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:59 pm

    The Seeing See Little

    Ben Schneiderman argues that visual interfaces will predominate in the future instead of auditory interfaces. I realize that the newspaper interview doesn?t do justice to Mr. Schneiderman?s ideas, but let?s examine the question posed by the journalist.

    As the article points out, speaking voice commands into a personal device or PC is slow, laborious and tends to prevent the individual from multitasking. A clear advantage to the visual medium is that people can touch screens or click things while talking or doing other things. The same is not true when we are listening and issuing voice commands. As far as locating information and manipulating available information, Schneiderman?s claim is probably correct. But a lot depends on the form factor. A small cellphone or PDA requires a screen keyboard for text processing, and that is notoriously inefficient. And although touch-screen menus can present a lot of information with several different dimensions and navigation methods, it forces the user to select among choices rather than inpu

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    @import url( http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/layout2b.css );

    Idiotprogrammer

    6/17/2003

    Campaign Contributions
    [General] ? rjnagle @ 9:59 pm

    Find the source of source of campaign contributions for your congressperson.

    Comments (0)


    [General] ? rjnagle @ 1:46 am

    Reference of Commercial File Types. Useful.

    Comments (0)

    10/23/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 4:58 am

    Rabid Weblogging

    One sign you are a rabid weblogger is when you start collecting links without actually finishing the articles. Funny, you can usually tell which articles you will like before actually reading something. I was always amazed at how uncanny Amazon.com?s predictions are about which books I might enjoy.

    Two pieces by myself: The Collective, Polemical Mind and This Process We Call Democracy . The second piece is about meeting my congressman at a town meeting.

    Here?s an article making the case why Linux should be at universities. Trinity University, my alma mater, has even gotten in on the act.

    The Kuro5hin forum about whether games are art was one of the most insightful things I?d seen in a long time. Especially enjoyed the comment by Socrates Ghost about art. I don?t read Kuro5hin often enough, but on occasion, they have more intellectual and less geek-oriented topics. Such as the Milgram Experiments, Cervantes, and the Glass Bead Game. ?Glass Bead Game? is an awkward translation of the title of a famous novel by Herman Hesse about an imaginary game played by intellectuals, and the Kuro5hin poster makes the argument that the Internet is as close as you are ever going to get to the glass bead game. By the way, the poem ?Socrates Ghost? by Delmore Schwartz is delightful.

    An opposing view on why games suck. Somethingawful has hilarious reviews of bad computer games.

    Articles about xhtml here and here. Probably important.

    Nice article about the art of writing FAQ.

    I just wanted to say that Canada?s ?National Post? had a brooding article about Vaclav Havel?s meeting with Cuban dissidents. But alas, the link doesn?t work, and I can find no archived or cached copy on google or archive.org. Stupid Canadians.

    Two quotes: The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing. Gamel Abdel Nasser.

    ?In times of drastic change, the learners will inherit the future. Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.? Eric Hoffer

    Another sign you?ve waited too long to blog is when you have multiple links on a single topic. How Google has changed their search algorithm and mischeivous webloggers can create google bombs. Actually, google has been giving more and more importance to dmoz, something I?d long predicted (which is why I?ve been able to produce such incredible search results. For more entertaining links about google, read an insider?s account about google answers and another on google?s pigeon technology.

    I still can?t understand this optical illusion.

    Mediaagora contains good articles about the travails of being a content producer in this day and age.

    I will be switching very soon to a new hosting service. I am probably going with rosehosting. Actually, the hot new trend is ?virtual servers? where webmasters buy miniature servers with root access. That allows people to configure their own servers, set up a larger number of domains and databases than most hosting services allow. Also, here are some good tips on finding a webhosting service.

    Curious George W. Goes to Washington.

    Comments (0)

    10/17/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 1:42 am

    More stupidity

    It happened. After a few paragraphs of links, I accidentally pressed the refresh button, thus refreshing the edit page. Arrrrgh

    Comments (0)

    10/15/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:56 pm

    Searching for Friends

    When I am bored, I like grabbing some names from the past and doing Internet searches on them. It is fun, especially when you find someone. There are two problems to doing this. First, it depends on whether your name is unique. I have a writing friend from Johns Hopkins named ?Tracy Wallace.? I will never be able to find her with that general a name. Second, when women get married, they drop completely from the radar screen, and the only way you can find them is by checking their alumni news or something like that. Perhaps there is value in being difficult to be found on the web; perhaps as time goes on, we will value our privacy. Perhaps even if we knew how to contact information about these people, we wouldn?t bother to contact them anyway. While I certainly understand privacy concerns, I really wish it were possible to know where any given person was at any given time. It would be fun, wouldn?t it?

    Comments (0)


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:50 pm

    Around the World

    It is a cliche to say this, but the web has made the world a smaller and cozier place. Today I sent an email to a professor in Australia about obtaining some books from University of Hawaii press. I had a (brief) chat with a former student in Germany and exchanged emails with an Albanian friend. Also, I responded to an email from a Malaysian friend (who I had never met but hope to communicate by webcam sometime). Then I sent an email to a project manager in Canada about the status of my work project, checked a newsletter from a man in Hong Kong and read a short story by a young American writer in Thailand. All these virtual acquaintances, and still I cannot find a date on Fridays.

    Comments (0)

    10/10/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:31 pm

    Complaining

    An colleague from my old job wrote me to ask where I found the time to find the links I am constantly sending. Where does he find the time to write such emails?

    Comments (0)


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:30 pm

    Opium
    It has been two whole days since Brandrecon has been updated. Experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms. For the last month, I have been living for this daily newsletter. Frank Yu, that amazing multimedia/gaming/wireless/Asian culture freak (who runs the site from Hong Kong) mentioned that he will be too busy to maintain this newsletter when he starts working for Microsoft/Xbox in Singapore. I?ve tried Camworld, Boing Boing etc, but the rush is no longer the same. Wood s lot gives a particularly lethal dose of culture. Take only in measured doses.

    Comments (0)


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:23 pm

    That Point

    I have finally reached that point. I have big text files full of cool links that I never have time to add to my weblog. That?s the real bother of this weblog. It?s like one of those electronic toys constantly demanding attention. It?s hard to say, ?well, that link was really cool, and I need to mention it in my weblog. But this link is also very cool, but I won?t mention it.? Read this meta-paper on links and relevance. This piece on hyperlinking, by Susana Tosca, is even better. And I saw her deliver it at the 2000 Hypertext Conference.

    Comments (0)

    9/29/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 5:25 pm

    Linking to Myself
    The periods of time when I?m not doing much posting the same periods in which I accomplish the most writing!

    I?ve gathered my literary and creative essays on a single page. Finished a longish book essay on Gao Jingjian?s ?Soul Mountain.? The thought occurred to me that 1)My ?See also? discussion on the left side is really just a way for me to ?blog? what other people have written on the subject (yes, in the past, we called that ?footnotes.? 2)Derrida?s Glas, besides being prescient about theory, also anticipated the formal design of weblogs today, which are generally commentaries about weblogs which are generally commentaries about other weblogs (and so forth).

    I wrote this article ?Must Have 5 Years Experience? during my recent employment.

    Comments (0)

    9/22/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 2:39 pm

    Reading Your Friends

    Excuse the mess! Moving to Movabletype very very soon!

    Look up terminology with google?s glossary. (From Jemisa).

    I met several interesting people at a Houston weblog party : Big Pink Cookie,Coffee Corner, This page intentionally left blank, Overflow, Daily Ventings and Exclamations, getdonkey.com, Waterlily, Offthekuff and cybertoad.

    As much as I enjoyed meeting all these talented people, it was interesting also to meet people BEFORE reading their blogs. (At South by Southwest, I had experienced the eerie sensation of meeting the flesh-and-blood person AFTER reading their blogs). Of course, everyone was delightful and interesting, and it gave me some perspective with which to view these blogs. But it also called attention to the social nature of blogs. These people frequently link to one another (not that there?s anything wrong with that!) and use weblogs to map out their network of social connections. I know A who knows B who knows C. That was an aspect that had never occurred to me before. My interest was merely in mapping out my own brain?s surfing itinerary. With weblogs, linking and being linked produces a rush akin to being introduced to a new person in a social situation. There are even etiquette rules (one of which I had been blissfully oblivious). For example, how do you politely recommend yourself to be listed on another?s site without seeming cheeky? When someone links to you, you have gained a cyberfriend, one more social connection just hanging out there and and checking to see when you?ve last updated. When checking referral logs, a person is actually checking the people who have visited. (My socially-aware sister, when in high school, used to hang up photographs of friends and medallions from her drill team activities and birthday cards and such. I never understand that desire until now). The bulletin board/commentary function on most blogs also provide an outlet for the socializing that results from opening your front door to visitors.

    One of the bloggers, (I think it was bigpinkcookie), jokingly referred to someone?s blog as belonging to the A-List Bloggers, and I know what she meant. Sometimes it seems as though all the great writers know each other, all the great geeks know each other, and all the powerful politicians know each other. and so the most reknowned bloggers should know one another as well. Although most of the A-list blogs are good, some are not particularly remarkable, and even the good ones aren?t always remarkable (perhaps I am only showing my envy of their daily hits). It probably should not seem surprising that cliques should form in the cyberworld, but how often do they form on the basis of preexisting friendships in real life? Also, one can maintain only a finite number of social connections, (real or virtual), and there is not exactly a contest to see who can have the most. In weblogging, influence comes from 1)technical proficiency, 2)cool graphics, 3)linking to everybody, 4)posting frequently, 5)picking a subject that is unique, 6)being read by other people with influence. Anything else? Oh, yes, good content.

    Ed Dumbhill has written about a sort of ?Friend of a Friend? XML vocabulary which can be a sort of semantics for virtual social relationships. Although some critics have pointed the problems and limitations of such an idea, it would be interesting to map out the social relationships enabled by blogs and compare them with the social relationships enabled by school or work. For example, does the six degrees of separation rule apply to the virtual world as well? Or are the connections more direct? How much do virtual cyber relationships form along ethnic or socioeconomic grounds that segregate us in real life? How blind are weblogs of one group to those of another group? Do young people read weblogs of annointed A-list people? Or do they just read their friends?

    Comments (0)

    9/16/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:41 pm

    Odds and Ends
    Here?s the first book review I posted on slashdot. First of many, I hope.

    Two good portals about new technology: Wireless Newsfactor and Tech Central Station.

    Academic journals like First Monday tend to be behind the curve on news, but their stories have been good. For example, an article about online grocery shopping or terrorist networks.

    It?s rather easy to make jokes about Nigerian spammers, but this series of emails made me laugh several times.

    Well, it had to happen, but the MS Word exploit should cause people to question the ability of companies (any companies) to support older products. I love Open Office , but I am annoyed that it does strange things to OLE objects, and so cutting and pasting is pretty awful. Hint: Choose ?Paste Special.?

    An interesting tale about the domain fuck.com. This is NOT a sex link, merely a story of the legal dispute that arose.

    I?ve seen some nice amazon pages by contributors on certain topics. Here?s one on elearning and macromedia.

    A nice Kuro5hin discussion: Are Video Games Art? I?ve written about that before, and will soon be writing another essay about it, so I?ll skip gingerly over this topic for now.

    A fascinating article about the linguistic challenges and innovations for people for use Short Messaging Services.

    A useful list of web-based GUI editors for CMS?s.

    I?ve been waiting for this link for a long time, but here are some mozilla faq?s and how-to?s (from the user?s point of view).

    For some reason, I can?t get through to blogger from my work. Proxy server problems, perhaps? That?s why it?s taken so long to post.

    A nice page about how to acheive web accessibility.

    Tim Oreilly?s prescient essay, ?Inventing the Future? seems mostly ontrack. Here?s Andy Oram?s thoughts about being an Oreilly author.

    Eclipse has been emerging as a platform-independent IDE for java and C++. Now if only someone could design a platform-independent FLASH editor the world would be a better place.

    Don?t want this blog to be about politics or economics, but this essay on US and world demographics is interesting.

    Article on linux security and snort. You can read his other security articles.

    Out of all the Iraq articles, this one struck me as the most convincing.

    Zope is catching up! See XMLTransform.

    Even though I sit underneath a wireless access port at work, in fact I am not yet wireless. I recently attended a Houston Wireless meeting . I still have a lot to learn about this. Here?s a graphical display of Houston wireless nodes. For people wanting to stream video (wireless or otherwise), you have mpeg4ip, Darwin Streaming Server, and others.

    For those wanting to see proof of IE?s vulnerabilities, you can test it here or here. Actually, I?m beginning to believe that Mozilla will eventually pass over IE. Mozilla has attracted a lot of developers to do funky things, whereas IE seems pretty much what it is: a PC browser and nothing more.

    The postnuke home page has improved considerably. Kind of embarrassing that the previous version was so hard to use.

    For those needing a funny diversion, here are some computer stupidities.

    Comments (0)


    [General] ? Robert @ 9:37 am

    What?s Wrong With Yahoo?
    I stopped using yahoo after they removed pop-forwarding, but Atul Chitnis?s criticism of yahoo makes it clear that yahoo is truly clueless. Jeffrey Zeldman, in a piece on obsolete web standards, shows the awful code that yahoo does to maximize compatibility with old browsers. I?m no fan of yahoo (I discontinued my mail account after they stopped free pop-forwarding), but they still have some fundamentals right. For example, their my yahoo page is a masterpiece of usability and customizability. So is their calendar, and their briefcase, photos and even online banking. But when are they going to remove those nasty pop-up ads?

    Comments (0)

    9/5/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 8:47 am

    New Stuff
    Some catching up to do. First, don?t miss my technical book reviews or what I?m reading now. If you were wondering whether I actually read fiction, here?s an essay I wrote about Hans Christian Anderson. Am currently reading an amazing book, Digital Game-Based Learning by Mark Prensky of games2train.com. I?ll be posting a longer discussion of this book very soon.

    From my Asiafirst weblog : Here?s a way to test how ferocious the Chinese firewall is . From this: It reminds me a little of the Monty Python sketch about the world?s funniest joke , and anyone who heard or viewed the joke would die of laughter. The premise of censorship is that offensive content contaminates the hearts and minds of people. But you can only have censorship if someone can judge content without himself being contaminated. This contradicts the premise of censorship, which alleges that these contaminating powers exist inherently in the offensive material. On the other hand, if a censor can censor without being contaminated, that implies that offensive content does not automatically contaminate the mind or heart of a person. In that case, you would be admitting that censorship is unnecessary. That is the contradiction of censorship.

    I finally put up a postnuke content management system at imaginaryplanet.net. Not much there yet, only two political essays. Heck, I?ll save you the trouble of clicking to it. Are U.S. Universities Trapped in Post-Colonialism Idealogies? and Is striking Iraq preemptively just crazy?

    I finally published my correspondence with Jeffrey Friedl about the art of reviewing technical books. Kind of silly, but enjoy it. Seriously, Friedl writes great books. (P.S. Don?t think I?m an idiot, but I just noticed that I spelled Friedl?s name wrong. Will change this afternoon). While looking over his online material, I came across this amazing essay by Andy Oram on Friedl and Regular Expressions. Oram compares their transformative power to that of Marshall McCluhan?s insight about how technology changed the nature and the scope of the message. He writes, ? Used to their fullest, regular expressions ignore figure/ground. They operate holistically. They swallow the entire text?sometimes tens of thousands of characters in one fell swoop?and create an impression of it. When you are processing a concept like ?find a quote-delimited string, but not where either quote lies inside a comment,? the result is a function of the whole text, not of individual characters.? Oram is an editor with Oreilly and a very interesting person.

    A good introduction to minidisc technology.

    Comments (0)

    8/13/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 9:19 am

    New Beginnings
    It?s official. I?ll be working with Texas Instruments, a company specializing in Digital Signal Processors. They are located in Houston. Another company, another technical realm to be mastered, another list of acronyms to learn!

    Comments (0)

    7/29/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 1:51 pm

    The Enemy is US

    Richard Stallman, on technology and freedom:
    ?The Soviet Union employed a range of methods to stamp out forbidden copying. First, they had guards standing by to watch what you copied. Second, those who they caught were punished harshly, imprisoned for years or sent to Siberia. Third, to help catch people, they asked for informers. Fourth, they used collective responsibility: ?You! You?re going to watch that group! If I catch any of them doing forbidden copying you?re going to prison.? Fifth, propaganda from childhood, to convince people that only a vicious enemy of the people would ever do forbidden copying.

    oday is using all of these methods. Guards on copying equipment: the DMCA opens up the path for robot guards in your computer. Harsh punishments: ten years ago, in the US, if you made copies and handed them out to your neighbours to be helpful that was not a crime. Now it?s a felony. You could be put in prison for years
    for sharing published information with your neighbours. In the UK, an MP has proposed a sentence of ten years for unauthorised sharing. ?

    Pot and Kettles: Tom Brokaw?s TV ?expose? about the obscenely high salary of corporate execs was last night. Maybe I?m just being fussy. Somebody should make a rule that only reporters who are NOT making multimillion dollar salaries should narrate such pieces. I say ?narrate? because it?s unclear how much of the prep work was done by NBC interns and how much by Brokaw himself.

    Slashdot reports that Joseph Biden is sponsoring a bill making it illegal for you to traffic files without a proper watermark. It?s understandable why content industries would encourage device makers to include copy-protection, but why do we need a law for this? The music industry should offer Digital Rights Management(DRM)-friendly mp3 files for a third of the cost of a no DRM music CD. That and special promotions could do a lot to get DRM devices in the hands of consumers. The government doesn?t need to be involved in this initiative at all.

    I probably oppose the bill (I haven?t really looked at the details), but having a central watermark authority is not as insidious as it might seem. The entity that validates SSL certificates of authority haven?t amassed any diabolical power (I realize we?re talking about apples and ostriches here). As long as individuals have the ability to watermark original material easily and cheaply, it?s hard to complain. Of course, there?s fair use, but actually I suppose a DRM-enabled device could be empowered to create an open source digital sample for classwork and online reviews. Oh wait, somebody could combine these digital samples into a single piece and circumvent the whole system. Still, it seems feasible for DRM?s to offer fair use sampling in the future. But any DRM scheme involving governmental coercion seems unlikely to work.

    Writer Burning Bird wrote a farewell note explaining why she is stopping her weblog. I?ve written about the problems with weblogs in my June 13 ?Death of Weblogs? post, so I?m not exactly surprised. But a week later, lo and behold, she?s posting more ?remarks? on the same URL with the caveat that ?this isn?t really a weblog anymore.? Silly woman! It reminds me of a time I said a long goodbye to a friend at school (thinking it would be the last time we would see each other), and lo and behold, we run into each other at a gas station 5 minutes later. So am I saying that DRM is a good idea and artists should lock up their content with industry tools? No. Indeed, it would seem that content creators who keep their content free will gain wider distribution than copy-protected works.

    Lately I?ve been finding information about open source LMS?s. Well, open source hacks haven?t yet discovered the booming field of learning management systems. It?s not too late to build your own! I?ve found a simple zope LMS, a php lms and a big academic project (the MIT?s Open Knowledge Initiative , which defines an architectural framework for learning management systems). A list of online learning lms? doesn?t mention any open source projects.

    Documentation strategies: I have been following gentoo?s excellent installation instructions. Although the directions are perfectly clear, they are in fact somewhat difficult to follow. More importantly, the documentation forgets to describe what will happen if you perform the step correctly. Just as students need to be tested on what they know, users need some way to verify that they have performed some task correctly. Or else, users (like me) will complain about missing a step. In this case, I performed all the steps, but never realized that one of the steps I performed actually accomplished nothing. (Actually, Linux/Unix is partly responsible with its cryptic command line responses). Without ways for readers of user documentation to test for success, readers will have no idea what constitutes normal system behavior.

    From my Asiafirst weblog: Frank Yu?s email newsletter provides news about Asia and technology. I prefer the content in the daily email to what actually is on the site.

    Comments (0)

    7/12/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 6:51 am

    Life without Spam
    I saw Eric Raymond speak about open source software. (Will provide thoughts on a future post). His writings on the open source model are important and prescient, and he even keeps a weblog (I enjoyed his somewhat dated piece on HTML Hell pages.Probably the most remarkable thing about the lecture is that people from 5 different Linux/Austin user groups were present. Only in Austin.

    I don?t normally rave about windows-only tools, but I?ve been trying the new macromedia dreamweaver mx web editor, and I think it?s amazing. A lot of the problems I hated about previous versions (too much added code, scant css support or php support) have all been solved. It makes clean xhtml code now. The only problem is how much memory it uses and that it crashes occasionally, but it is a powerful tool, especially for dealing with styles. What little I?ve seen about Flash MX seems to be terrific also (especially for learning interactions which are SCORM compliant). They even have a great tutorial for building online quizzes and a great user group for instructional designers. I don?t know a lot about Flash, and in fact, I had to chuckle when a usability writer recently titled his book ?Skip Intro.? But they run a great website and strongly support user groups and calls for XHTML compliance and accessibility. I am definitely giving them a second look this month.

    While putting together what was probably the longest daily post on my Asiafirst weblog, I came across Frank Yu?s Brand Recon. He subscribed me to his newsletter, something I normally don?t approve of, except that the technology links are just great! While I?m in the habit of recommending Asia technology weblogs, I also like Me, Myself and the Web . Undoubtedly, by next month, my number one standing on search results for Asia+Weblog and India+Weblog will disappear.

    The next 72 or 96 hours will be totally hell for me. More about that next week (that is, if I survive).

    Google keyboard shortcuts for vi users.

    I have discovered another genius on the web. Mark Prensky, author of ?Digital Game-Based Learning? has produced cool online games for corporate training. A good example is here. Again, I wrote extensively about this topic last year. He wrote a ?theoretical underpinning? of game-based training, and includes a link to a thesis about games and simulations in corporations by Rolf Ahdell and Guttorm Andresen.

    Slashdot has a link to a Wired article about high-bandwidth culture in South Korea.

    I don?t mean to brag, but in the last three months I have not received a single piece of spam at my new email address. I forgot how wonderful it is. Of course, I protect this email very much and am very careful to whom I give it. Also, I have several aliases, which I can always drop or filter if a spammer finds one of them. Also, I use about 8-10 junk emails for site membership stuff and secure yahoo mail for consumer purchases. Interesting for those too cheap to afford Adobe Acrobat: 5 Free Online DOC to PDF conversions offer from Adobe. Speaking of which, I don?t use Acrobat and have limited knowledge of Framemaker, but I?ve really appreciated how newer PDF documents include sidebar indices. (I?m guessing they are using Framemaker + SGML).

    Comments (0)

    7/3/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 3:13 pm

    True Cost of Ownership

    Congratulate me now?I passed the LPI Level One certification.

    An article I read contained this actual dialogue box from MS Outlook. Unfortunately, the original article (about managing email) came from a PDF.

    ?The Journal can automatically track Office Documents and also email associated with a contact. However, the activities tab on the contact item is the best way to track email and does not require the Journal. Do you want to turn the journal on??

    A RSS validator: whoopee! Postnuke sets up a newsfeed by default. Whoopee!

    It?s a great idea, so brilliant that I?m surprised that somebody didn?t think of it sooner. Moveup allows people to set up meetings/socials to meet like-minded individuals. For example, it might be fun to meet other bloggers once in a while.

    I have found the CD cataloguing tool called Ruby. It creates a catalog databases of CD?s that you?ve burned. I use it to record my mp3 collection and to have a listing of all the files on every single disk. It?s nice, simple and absolutely free!

    Acerbic political satire: Arafat calls for democratic elections in the US.

    Nicholas Petreley wrote an article about the most recent KDE release on Linux.

    It?s true. Typing India + Weblog brings my site as number 1! Also, typing in Vlore (the city where I taught while in Albania) brings my simple 1 page tourism guide as number one. Two thing that is clear about my attempts to get listed by search engines: 1)submitting your site correctly to dmoz ensures a good listing on google and 2)the longer your URL?s stay the same, the better placement it receives on google.

    NewsForge has an insightful (but obvious) article about using open source software as development aid to Third World Countries. Instead of worrying about the ?total cost of ownership,? we should instead be concerned about the ?true cost of ownership.? Sometimes it is difficult for a company to assess the true cost of using a particular technology, especially if there is piracy or implicit government subsidies to drive down the sticker price. It is difficult in such a setting to make cost-benefit analyses. I?m not saying that linux is the solution, but teaching technology people in developing countries to rely on open-source solutions really furthers development goals in general.

    When looking at the Internet economy, it?s helpful to use Marxist labor analysis. The disconnect between needed skills and the unemployed can often be traced to company?s reliance on closed solutions (See my May 7 posting about ?Learning the State Song of Georgia?.) Job seekers can?t learn every single proprietary tool, so the employer looks at only candidates with specific experience on that tool. That is exploitative of workers because it causes them to learn proprietary tools unlikely to be useful for other job assignments. Marx argued that alienation results because workers don?t own the means of production. In modern times, the ?means of production? is not the ?tools? but the ?technological knowledge? gained by investing time and resource to perform a variety of tasks. The more a person relies on proprietary tools, the less likely that this ?technological knowledge? will be useful for other jobs in the future.

    This may actually be less of a labor problem than a technology problem. I can speak only of the IT world, but tools and standards change so rapidly in the industry that new and better tools are coming out all of the time. The time it takes anyone to completely master a technology will usually be long enough for a better technology to emerge (which people will have to learn). Of course, the most talented are better at keeping up. The problem is that ?retooling? requires considerable time and resources, and often the burden falls on the individual instead of the company wishing to adopt these technologies (and profit from them).

    That is partly why schools and colleges have a valuable role to play. They give individuals the opportunity to focus on general skills rather than skills specific to a job. Once, while looking over Rice University?s course catalog, I was suprised to learn that their computer classes didn?t cover specific databases or programming languages, but general skills. At first, it seemed crazy, but looking back, it now makes perfect sense. Some of the school projects (i.e. building an OS) seem more academic than anything, but in the real world of apartment rent and car payments, such projects may never be started. It also seems to be an argument in favor of embarking on commercially useless projects while in college.

    Comments (0)

    6/24/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 7:42 am

    Quick Up2dates

    This post is one of those guilty ?sorry I haven?t made an entry recently.? I have been very busy. For people who like to write and do creative things on the web, they need to balance the desire to learn the programming with the desire to create. Contributing to this weblog is one of the rare pleasures I allow myself right now.

    I posted my article about ?Web Communities and the Art of Making Money.?

    Yesterday I tried updating apache and php and a host of other things on my home web server. Specifically, I tried to start using rpm?s instead of having to compile the code myself. First, I tried using Red Hat?s up2date, which looked promising. Then I discovered that it was not actually installing anything, but simply installing the version of the application that came with the Red Hat 7.2 release. Is that a bug? Although it seemed to resolve some dependencies, there were errors, especially in the GUI version of the product. Then I tried rpmfind, a gnome tool which unfortunately doesn?t provide enough information about what is actually being done. The main problem with rpm?s is that it?s difficult to figure out in what rpm the dependency file is located. Although red hat has a hyperlinked list of files for each rpm, it doesn?t go to the right place all the time.

    The other option ?Red Carpet? is an ok, solution, but the price ($10 per month) seems to defeat the very purpose of free software. The other option, gentoo, is something people in my local LUG are raving about. It?s worth a shot. I?ll probably be installing it on a test machine in the next month. I?m sure there will be quirks in the installation process and running portage. There will also be network problems (something I noticed with Red Hat Network).

    This whole experience is making me see how important the choice of distributions are becoming to linux. It affects how you upgrade your server (which really isn?t fun at all). Compiling isn?t fun, but to be honest, I found it more straightforward than using rpm?s.

    Other links. A nice Economist article about wireless technology. Economist really covers technology well. Interesting article about Microsoft?s DRM project, ?Palladium.? The idea is probably sound, although it?s probably going to be unworkable for a long time. It seems to imply that Linux and other free OS?s wouldn?t be able to interface with files/programs/systems on Win Palladium machines, but that seems ridiculous. SSH, tunnelling, and PGP has worked pretty successfully on linux. It?s hard to imagine why a comparable adaptation can?t be devised the open-source world. (Some might even argue that the open source world will eventually provide a sounder security system.

    I have become a spammeister. I sent emails to every single person who advertised a technical writer job in Austin during the last 5 years. I made the letter entertaining enough, but I am still plagued with some guilt. We despise spam, but sometimes we end up having to do solicitations for something.

    Comments (0)

    6/13/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 3:13 pm

    The Death of Weblogs

    Editorial Note: I?ve been working on an essay about web communities, so I haven?t had time to update the weblog here.

    This brings me to a subject I have wanted to talk about for some time: the death of weblogs.

    First, let me say that I love weblogs, blogger, diaryland, movabletype, slash and other web technologies. It has unleashed an incredible amount of creativity across the board from a variety of interesting people. After promoting my asiafirst site on metafilter, I have been actively checking my referrer logs to look for any upticks in web traffic. Webloggers are promiscuous about linking to people. Surprisingly though, the main benefit from this modest effort at advertising has been learning about the existence of the sites that linked to me (which in many ways are superior to my own). One incredible site, ?wood s lot? gives a well-annotated and well-chosen list of literary links.

    Weblogs emerged as a result of a webmaster?s need to create and update content without using ftp. They also needed a way to let visitors know what content is fresh. (If you looked at sites in 1997-8, by far the most interesting page on any site would be the ?what?s new?? page). They were also a pain in the neck to update. Eventually people started using weblog applications to update their site, and then the weblog became the site.

    But although weblogs were certainly a step forward, they meant hell for content creators. A site is only as good as the freshness of content, but realistically, an individual can?t update a weblog more than twice a week. (If he is doing so more often, then he is only bloviating or writing nothing substantial). Blogger solved that problem by allowing multiple people to contribute to a weblog, (with elearningpost.com and boingboing.net being the best examples), but weblogs had other problems. Some were editorial, and others were technical.

    A weblog format is better for a site that updates frequently. That means, if you want to create a weblog, you better update frequently! Or you better spread the burden among several people!
    People rarely read archives. Weblogs are most effective in relaying commentary on current events. But ask yourself: how often do people read newspapers more than a month old? They don?t; they throw them away!
    Weblogs group content by date, not by subject. How on earth would you know that your opinion piece on underwear appeared on the April 2001 archive page? Sure, there?s search pages, but that?s a very lazy form of information architecture. Movabletype seems to have solved that problem by giving webloggers the ability to categorize content. I haven?t deployed movabletype yet, but the deployments on burning bird and other sites put all items in a certain category on the same page. That might work in some instances, but generally it doesn?t seem to be a good idea.
    Although the informal style of weblogs may be suitable for personal diaries, they may not be good for intellectual discussions. Bottom line is the best example of a site that uses a weblog to deliver a daily argument on some subject. Arnold Kling can pull this kind of thing off. But the content on his personal home page is much more substantial and easier to search through. Clearly these opinion pieces are so good because Kling didn?t feel rushed to provide fresh content.
    Weblogs serve as rough draft repositories. I usually will start a rant or commentary on a weblog only to later transfer it to a static page, substituting the original entry with a link to the static page. In other words, the better the content, the more likely that it will be removed from my weblog. What conclusion should you reach about the content which is still here?
    Weblogs are good at letting people know about great links. Truth be told, the main reason I like putting links in weblogs is that I know where the link will be later on. Yes, that?s true. I actually use my weblog as a kind of bookmark page.

    Weblogs have been temporary solutions to the continuing problem of managing content. It is a sign that content management systems are still too complex, too expensive or too difficult to use. Here are some encouraging developments that run counter to the trend toward weblogs:

    WEBDAV is allowing people to change content without requiring sophisticated ftp or versioning tools.
    Many open source CMS?s come with many basic functions. (I?m now playing with postnuke)
    RSS allows people to include ?what?s new? syndication about their site pretty painlessly, making it unnecessary to change it by hand.
    As we start to use various devices for accessing webpages, it will be more important to have content that can be repackaged and repurposed depending on the device. CSS can take care of that on weblogs right now to a limited extent, but it still means that all the posts from a certain chronological range show up whether you like it or not.

    Those are the reasons why I think weblogs will die fairly soon. On the other hand, technologies frequently outlast their usefulness, and there is something to be said for not changing a method that has worked successfully.

    Comments (0)

    5/24/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 8:52 am

    Open Source Publishing and Star Wars Iconoclasm

    First, a fascinating political analysis of the Star Wars series. ?So under Imperial rule, a large group of regional potentates, each with access to a sizable army and star destroyers, runs local affairs. These governors owe their fealty to the Emperor. And once the Emperor is dead, the galaxy will be plunged into chaos. In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn?t liberate the galaxy?it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one. ? Please don?t take this article too seriously. I saw Clones recently and thought it way too ponderous.

    Why have I never noticed the CMS Watch website ?The articles are absolutely fascinating. Betty Harvey?s ?What SGML can teach us about XML & the web? is informative & helpful. It even had two articles on zope content management here and here . For those wanting up-to-date discussions, Cameron Barrett?s CMS-List is the place to go.

    Speaking of Zope, Reuven Lerner writes some of the most interesting articles about web applications out there. He is always at the cutting edge of technology. His ?At the Forge? column in Linux Journal is a must read for people interested in web publishing. His slide show on ?Application Server Shoot Out? pretty much summarizes everything you need to know.

    A subproject within Zope, plone.org is a documentation frontend for a zope CMS application. However, I?m not encouraged by the big warning on the download page. Should I tempt fate?

    Other Zope articles: Jeffrey Shell has written an overview of remote authoring with Zope/webdav
    Zopenewbies features a pay-site http://www.zopemag.com with an article on Zope workflow.

    Open Source Schools is an interesting initiative with some terrific articles on using linux in the schools . The story of open-source publishing details the fight to make texts public. It anticipates the appearance of ?creative commons? (a concept suggested by Lawrence Lessig and discussed recently on Slashdot), a way to put texts in the public domain.

    The last two sites I?ve mentioned use postnuke.org, the CMS most in vogue. Don?t worry?I?ll be deploying my own postnuke site soon! They are accumulating good documentation

    I used to think Cocky Bastard and Josh Davis were the only ones who did decent things with flash. But Ishkur?s Guide to Electronic Music is one of the most enjoyable and educational sites out there about contemporary music. This site will wow and entertain you. (At the time of writing, it?s offline?temporary I hope).

    I paid for a low-cost ad for 20,000 webviews on metafilter to promote my asiafirst weblog. It starts running next week. Matt Haughey?s text-ads are a wonderful unobtrusive way to reach content creators. I will report next week how many clickthroughs 20,000 webviews will bring.

    Well, perhaps this is better on Asiafirst, but Digital Freedom?s Network List of Chinese citizens imprisoned for using the Internet to express themselves is sobering. Please, Americans, savor your freedoms!

    Comments (0)

    5/16/2002


    [General] ? Robert @ 12:59 pm

    The Seeing See Little

    Ben Schneiderman argues that visual interfaces will predominate in the future instead of auditory interfaces. I realize that the newspaper interview doesn?t do justice to Mr. Schneiderman?s ideas, but let?s examine the question posed by the journalist.

    As the article points out, speaking voice commands into a personal device or PC is slow, laborious and tends to prevent the individual from multitasking. A clear advantage to the visual medium is that people can touch screens or click things while talking or doing other things. The same is not true when we are listening and issuing voice commands. As far as locating information and manipulating available information, Schneiderman?s claim is probably correct. But a lot depends on the form factor. A small cellphone or PDA requires a screen keyboard for text processing, and that is notoriously inefficient. And although touch-screen menus can present a lot of information with several different dimensions and navigation methods, it forces the user to select among choices rather than inpu

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