Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Web 2.0" Reflections (Thing #23)

A lot of "Web 2.0" seems like so much flash, and much of it with it's share of security risks. However, where "Web 2.0" shines seems to be where the technology bests fits with it's users needs, and does not aim to lead it's users to work in a particular way; nor does it attempt to secure a market share.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the public release of HTML and HTTP, and today, the web is still in it's infancy, according it's primary inventor.

Flash, cool factor will always have it's appeal, but without community buy-in, it will merely be a "flash" in the pan. HTML and HTTP were contributed to the public fifteen years ago, and XML five years later. While Netscape and Microsoft fenced over features in their JavaScript (and JScript, respectively), the ECMA-262 standard laid out the rules for developers to write browser-side scripting that could work regardless of the user's choice of browser.

Competition is good. Collaboration is better.

On "Web 2.0" tools (Thing #22)

One of the greatest tools available today has got to be craigslist. Not only has it been a tremendous aid every time I have to clean the garage, but it's been a great way to get tickets to the Minnesota Opera.

I think one of the best things about craigslist is it's simplicity: it does what it's intended to, and little more. Evolution at it's finest.

The only thing wrong with craigslist ... what is a "st paul", anyway?

ON Web-based Apps (Thing #21)

There are a lot of advantages to web-based apps, especially when combined with network storage. While I would not trust sensitive documents to Google Docs, it becomes very useful for storing a shopping list (especially when comparison shopping).

Google Docs is also a great way to share information - I've used it in the past to compile a camping equipment list.

Hmm ... presentations ... now that sounds like fun!

On PBWiki (Thing #20)

PBWiki seems to have a very nice package for starting up a new community site. This is an area that has expanded by leaps and bounds, as people realized what they could do with the technology (and who knows what's next).

On Wiki-Wiki (Thing #19)

Wikis are just plain cool. I think Wikipedia was most likely my first experience with a wiki. I've been a contributing user for a while, and haven't contributed all that much.

My favorite, though, is my small contribution to the Superior Hiking Trail entry, especially this picture.

The Apache Wiki was my inspiration for bringing MoinMoinWiki in house several years ago. One of my favorite features was it's ability to format different types of source code (which is likely why Apache Software Foundation uses it). Like Plone, MoinMoinWiki is written in python, but at the time I looked at it, it did not have the GUI editor - a major downside.

WebJunction, MINITEX (Thing #18)

Silly me! Trying WebJunction Minnesota with Firefox (on Linux, no less!) ... painful. I guess I should have heeded the warning.

I do frequently use one MINITEX site - the MnLINK Gateway. Minnesota has a wealth of materials available through inter-library loans, including technical books from the U of M.

More on Tagging (Thing #17)

I guess I've talked about tags and tag clouds on a couple of posts now. Yep. Very cool stuff.

One thing I did notice, when I was looking at my blog before, it seemed like there should be a good way to list all the tags (or "labels") used on my site. When I didn't see it at first, I went to "Customize" my site, clicked on one of the "Add page content" links, and sure enough - a list of labels!

That should make it easier to find all my Web 2.0 stuff, right?

On (Thing #16)

The tag cloud is one of the more interesting visual reporting tools I have seen. I had first noticed it used on, and ended up creating an account on some time ago to play with it in action myself.

Of the links I have on, the most popular one seems to be the TV guide on, linked by 241 other people.

It's also interesting to be able to see what tags other people are using for bookmarks.

How could we implement tagging in Amanda? ...

On Rollyo (Thing #15)

Looking at Rollyo reminds me a bit of what we were trying to do at PageLab, but our business model was to roll together search engines for paying customers (which never showed up) that returned relevant results, AND links to their products.

Rolling your own search engine would certainly have it's uses. I could see limiting it to search just common developer sites, so when I do a search for "Tomcat", I'm only getting results for the Application Server.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Image Generators (Thing #13)

It's interesting to see these as part of "Web 2.0". I suppose this is another case of technology waiting for it's use. Many of the image generators looked an awful lot like some of the "Script-Fu" image manipulation that was written for GIMP. Could this be using the same framework?

It will be interesting to see what happens once Internet Explorer can handle SVG images (afaik, it currently requires a buggy plug-in from Adobe). I think image generation will grow by leaps and bounds at that point.

LetterJames is just plain cool. You can tell some real thought and design work went into each of the templates available.

Finding RSS Feeds (Thing #12)

One thing I've noticed about searching for feeds is the garbage to noise ratio is extremely high.

In the past, I've subscribed to many feeds (too many feeds), and found that I not only did not have time to read them all, I really didn't care to read most of them.

Generally, the feeds I subscribe to today are not from the result of a search, but generally discovered another way - for example, I had been a long-time visitor to, home site for Eric Meyer, CSS guru. So when I discovered he had a regular feed, I subscribed.

Beyond subscriptions, there is one site I visit frequently, even if I do not subscribe to their blogs - The use of a "tag cloud" gives a nice quick glance at what are the more hot topics at Sun.

Linked Out, thank you (Thing #10)

Sorry if I'm paranoid, but social networking sites concern me.

I am almost certain I would have done something incredibly stupid if Facebook or anything similar was around when I was in junior high / high school.

On Podcasts (Thing #9)

Podcasts are an interesting extension to RSS ... another example of how open formats can evolve to fit the needs of a changing community (like a community that suddenly is inundated by iPods).

As a geek, it's interesting to note the different methods of "adding" a podcast - iTunes and MY! users both register their selections through service providers. Zune makes it less obvious what is being done, as it apparently registers it's own protocol (zune://).

But in all the methods above, ultimately you're relying on RSS (a type of XML) for the delivery of the playlist.

I did find a podcast of a radio program I like, and frequently recommend - "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!", a game show based on current events, featuring a panel of three comedians. Mo Rocca, Roy Blount Jr., Paula Poundstone are a few of my personal favorite regular guests. The show is on locally on KNOW at 2 pm on Sundays, a time that almost guarantees I'll miss it if I'm not driving ... now I have another option!

On Web 2.0 Technology (Thing #7)

No one can deny that there is a certain "cool factor" to "Web 2.0". Long gone are the days when the internet was only for University Geeks and European Nuclear Physicists!

I remember the cool factor of Java Applets - incredibly cool at first, but as that wore off, people became less and less impressed with waiting 30-60 seconds with a frozen system while the Java applet loaded. And while Sun did first improve, and then eliminate the problem in later releases, too little, too late! Shockwave Flash is on the scene!

Next thing you know, every web site starts with a "jump" page, that serves no purpose but to show off the design skills (or lack thereof) of the site's developers. Okay, I guess it also helped sell Flash, but maybe I'm confusing chicken and egg.

But in my mind, the "Web 2.0" lineage is not from Java or Flash, but like so many things on the web, descends directly from the openness and usability of HTTP, HTML, and it's step-child, XML.

HTTP was made to be an extensible protocol - it's been extended by adding a secure layer (SSL), allowing PUT and DELETE operations (WebDAV, although originally part of HTTP), fully supports proxying (helpful for crossing networks), and essential to SOA / WebServices.

HTML made no attempt to hide itself behind proprietary code and end-user license agreements. It was made open to all, and even attempted to be somewhat understandable to the novice user. A standards body (the W3C) was even formed to allow global participation in developing future standards.

XML takes HTML (or possibly SGML) one more step, and allow developers to develop their own set of tags, and even provide facilities for validating those tags. XML became a hot topic several years before it truly started showing it's potential, but when it did ... look out!

So how do these boring protocols and markup languages relate to the coolness of "Web 2.0"? Because in my mind, the "Coolest" part of "Web 2.0" is the interaction between systems, and the collaboration between people that can develop as a result. Proprietary formats, license requirements for development, put limits on developers AND end users. Both Java and Flash started their life as proprietary formats, each hoping to dominate the "cool thing" market. "Web 2.0" did not develop in the vacuum of an R&D facility, but evolved in the public square.

And the evolution continues! Developers throw their gadgets into the ring; people use the gadgets or they don't; Some people will tell the developer their gadget needs "this", and the developer will agree and add it (or they won't, and maybe someone else will branch it!). People will learn about security risks the hard way (I predict cross-site scripting will lead either to people abandoning embedding video from YouTube and the like, or some new method of authenticating content being developed).

Cool factor gives it it's appeal to the masses, but it's open collaboration that truly has driven "Web 2.0" (2.5, 3.0 ...)

Dotting the "i"s, part one (Things #5 and #6)

Earlier this year, my employer gave the staff an assignment to discover "Web 2.0". Each week, a number of "Web 2.0 Things" were given for us to try out. While I did try out many of the things, there are a few I guess I've left behind.

Thing #5 and #6 both focused on using a specific photo sharing web site, owned by a search engine company that I refuse to give any support or business to, due to their poorly chosen name. I don't mention that name primarily because I don't want to give them any advertising.

The specific reason I avoid this company is in it's name. I was raised where saying "gosh" and "jeeze" was considered offensive, and while I generally do not take offense at words uttered in my presence (I fall victim to "sailor tongue" myself), it doesn't mean I have to approve of a business that uses an old blasphemy in it's name.

The fact that it's a common blasphemy, and one most people don't recognize only makes it more insidious to me.

I'm a goofball, I know. But I have the right to chose where I give my business.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The List - a special Earth Day edition

Over a week ago, I ordered a set of bread pans from King Arthur Flour. Like so many online retailers, they wanted my e-mail address in order to do business with them. I specifically unchecked the little box that said "I want to receive special announcements and specials".

The e-mail confirming my order was accompanied by a second e-mail: spam. I sent an e-mail to their customer service, requesting that they remove me from the list. The next day, more spam from King Arthur. This is actual spam, by the way, not merely order confirmation, or shipping information. This is completely unrelated "come buy more stuff" e-mails, which I explicitly (by un-checking a checkbox that is checked by default) told them I did not want.

The $8 shipping also said it would take five days. Today, day nine, the pans arrived. In a big box.

Happy Earth Day!

Today just so happens to be Earth Day. I might have actually forgotten, but Kitty went to Valley Natural Foods this morning, and was nearly trampled by an unruly mob waiting for free Earth Day totes (interestingly, the "tramplers" didn't stay to shop in our nice little co-op).

Then this afternoon, I get a big box from a certain retailer.

As you can see, it took not only a huge box, but an awful lot of paper to make sure that my metal bread pans arrived safe and sound. Especially appropriate for Earth Day!

That's it. KAF, you just made The List!!!

... and I need to pound the pavement, and find a local bakery supply store!