The journal of Paul M. Watson.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Asian pear...

Asian pear... by aikitherese
Asian pear...
Originally uploaded by aikitherese.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One step forward, one step back

I love that in Visual Studio 2005 the CSS editor auto-completion is smarter than it was before. e.g. background-im will auto-complete to background-image and not get all confused.

I hate that windows is a new CSS attribute as I keep auto-completing to that instead of width which used to be first in VS2003.

Hidden Trail

Hidden Trail by S*W*Q
Hidden Trail
Originally uploaded by S*W*Q.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I like Cameras, hello

I have joined the I like Cameras writing team in Paul Scriv's new blog network, Fine Fools.

Woah, don't I dislike blog networks and think we need one more like a fish needs a tube ticket? Yes and no. No we may not need loose networks of independent sites but yes we need more quality blogs in editorially influenced networks. The difference between Fine Fools and 9rules is that 9rules is a loose affiliation of independent authors on independent sites. Fine Fools is a team of authors on a fixed set of channels (blogs) dedicated to specific topics. I like Cameras' is photography, from the gear to the art.

Don't I have enough to do already? Yes but the web needs a quality blog about photography. I have yet to find a good photo blog out there. Existing blogs are either the press-release junket variety or have fine content but are updated every other month.

So far the team consists of Steve Staskiewicz, Bill Turner and Jeremy Johnson. I broke the ice with them an hour ago and the ideas and collaborations are already flowing. I will be on the slower track with I like Cameras in that there will be 2 or so main posts from me a week. The others are on different tracks, some posting every few hours to others, like me, only every few days.

It will be all quality though. That is the terms of agreement we have with Fine Fools; quality over quantity.

So check up on I like Cameras as you please and I hope we can bring you the best photographic content this side of a loupe.

nipped in the bud

nipped in the bud by alfarman
nipped in the bud
Originally uploaded by alfarman.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Karmic design

Say you create a few designs for an AIDS charity website. The client picks one and discards the other two. Naturally they picked the design you least liked, but that is OK, it is their website.

This means you have two perfectly decent designs unused.

Would it be wrong to use one of those designs for a party website? A website featuring scantily clad females, cheap vodka drinks and pimped bouncers.

I am so going to hell.

Subversion keywords

A handy feature of Subversion (which I am told other SCMs share) is that of keyword substitution. You can put a keyword in your code, e.g. $Date, which on commit is replaced with the relevant value.

The use of this is mainly to update code comments. Many coders put a block comment at the top of their class files which show the author, last updated dates and other info. Not every coder remembers to update this comment block when they make quick changes. Having it as a keyword leaves it up to Subversion to change.

The Version Control with Subversion online book lists the other available keywords.

Charlie and the cardboard factory

Got my WordPress Golden Ticket last night which invited me to setup a blog on the invite-only WordPress.com site.

For those who don't know WordPress it is a popular PHP/MySQL based blogging system. It is quite powerful with support for plugins and custom themes. The posting interface is advanced with everything from categories to pretty-permalinks to custom fields. Multiple authors are supported as well as multiple-blogs with a bit of MySQL tweaking. All in all it is one of the best blogging systems you can download and host.

Up till now though you had to host it yourself. During the past few months there has been a steady buzz about the coming hosted WordPress site called WordPress.com.

Let me first say that I have used TypePad and I am using Blogger.com. I have also installed and hosted almost every blogging engine under the sun. So I am used to both ways of getting a blog up and running.

WordPress.com is decidedly underwhelming.

You can't use plugins, a 3rd party support issue. You can select from a handful of themes but you cannot modify them or create your own, a security risk. Not even the most basic HTML or CSS editing is allowed. You can't insert JavaScript into your own posts. The usable but rather plain WordPress admin interface has been recoloured blue, AirBag is not impressed. You cannot have multiple authors/users.

Doncha has a FAQ which should be entitled; Things you can't do with WordPress.com that you should be able to do.

The response of "We don'’t support plugins currently. We don’t have time to support 3rd party code." is particularly poor I thought. There are many good plugins out there which add great functionality to WordPress. All WordPress.com has to do is select a few decent ones and spend a few hours on them, make them part of the WordPress.com feature-set.

On the plus side you get 26mb of space to use the upload function. You also get a decent URL e.g. PaulMWatson.WordPress.com and you do get a decent blogging system.

Granted all of this is in an invite-only, beta phase. Much will change and improve before they go live to the public.

The biggest problem I see is that WordPress.com satisfies no one. It is too limited for advanced users and too confusing for the usual Blogger/LiveJournal/TypePad users. It sits somewhere in the middle and I am not sure there is a market to be had there.

I was simply expecting more. WordPress is a great blogging system. The hosted version though is a let-down. Advanced users wanting a blogging system would be much better off using one of the 1-click-install WordPress hosts and other blog users would be better off with Blogger or TypePad.

After all that; If you want an invite to WordPress.com then send me an email.

UPDATE: My one invite has been given out. Not sure if WP will be sending out more.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gearing

Gearing by wild
Gearing
Originally uploaded by wild.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sobering

Every 5 seconds a person dies of AIDS.

A sobering statistic given to me as I create a design for an AIDS awareness website.

The client wanted an AIDS-deaths counter on the site. I suggested starting with the current death-toll and then incrementing it every 5 seconds. There is a lot of disagreement though in just how many people have died of AIDS worldwide. Some say 35 million, others 40 million and others far less. The only figure they can agree on is the above.

Whatever it is, 1 every 5 seconds means 15 people have died since I started typing this post. At least 1 has died since you started reading it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

in the shadow of circular emotions

in the shadow of circular emotions by sherIZAN
in the shadow of circular emotions
Originally uploaded by sherIZAN.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Which open identity?

I just spent 30 minutes of my life trying to get OpenID to work on my domain. It seems a good idea but apart from the pre-installed LiveJournal base it is in the "needs rocket scientist skills to use" phase. Not exactly what Flickr needs to appease its Yahoo! hating users.

For my Colib.com project I want to use an "open identity" system. With so many Web 2.0 services popping up I don't want Colib.com to force you to register a whole new ID on a whole new site. I must have used 50 registration forms in the last two weeks thanks to Web 2.0 betas/launches. Quite insane.

So what open identity system would you recommend? Colib will be a Ruby on Rails app though my hosting provider has PHP support too if needed.

On being fake

Greek view Carine and I popped over to Greece yesterday and stayed the night.

Hah, I wish. This is Club Mykonos, a resort up the West Coast of South Africa styled, as the name suggests, after Mykonos in Greece.

Carine is studying there for a week and I drove her up. Now Club Myk is pretty famous amongst South Africans as not only is it Greek styled but it is also a dastardly casino. People seem to love casinos, god knows why.

I had never visited it before mainly due to a part of me being a bit of a snob about things like this. "Themed" resorts don't exactly tickle my fancy. They bring to mind cheap plywood walls painted to look like the Seychelles/Tuscany/Hawaii/Greece with the ruder, more real grime beneath it. Fakely smiling stewards in themed costumes who flop into their fraying chairs at night in front of the telly and beat their wives for lack of a more fulfilled life. Paper umbrellas that turn to mush and fall into your Hawaiian drink.

You know, fake. Just plain old fake with no redeeming value. Themed resorts, how awful.

Well, Club Mykonos had me pining for the Santorini, the Naxos and the Paros that I visited a few years ago faster than you can say souvlaki! It is really quite decent. Lost amongst the narrow, white-washed walls of the resort I still knew it was fake but it was good enough that it felt good. When I walked out and saw Langebanne in the distance I didn't feel cheated. I felt it was a nice place to spend a few days and that while it had a passing resemblance to Greece it didn't go overboard and demand that you believe in it.

Maybe that is the key? Be themed but don't treat your customers like children. Realise they know it isn't the real thing and provide a solid under-structure to balance. Play with a bit of the magic that you are copying but don't pretend you managed to steal its soul.

So I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't go into the casino and the place was quite deserted (middle of the week and winter is still in its death throes) which helped but even full the whole resort probably has a good feel to it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Plazo importing

I tried Plazo out awhile back but Trumba was simply better at the time. Things have changed though and now Plazo is not only a better tool but is also free to use. I'll write more about Plazo latter but I just wanted to note that I asked Plazo if they would introduce an import feature and their reply was "in 1-2 weeks." I have quite a bit of data in my Trumba account so an import feature in Plazo (from ICS or CSV format) is important. Hopefully that 1-2 weeks estimate is a firm one as my Trumba trial will be running out then.

BTW: Planzo and Trumba are online calendars.

Oh dash it

The thrice-identified moravec skittered forward on silver-spider legs.

from Olympos by Dan Simmons.

I am no grammar expert but if that sentence had to have a dash surely it should have been between "spider" and "legs" and not "silver" and "spider"? The legs are those of a spider and happen to be silver. I don't even see the need for a dash, there is no confusion to be seen as one would need for the use of a dash.

Right?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It failed again?

Unit Test by Paul Watson

That is the NUnit interface showing a failed unit test of mine. The unit test was meant to fail as I had not yet implemented the class I was testing. First you fail your tests, then you write your code until the test passes. I am following the NUnit Get Started guide.

The grand thing is that I was unintentionally shown the value of this unit test even as I was following the guide. The first step in the guide makes you write a unit test that fails against the account class. The unit test runs various methods to withdraw and deposit funds with the final test being a balance check. At that stage your account class has only stub methods so withdrawing and depositing did nothing which meant balance checking returned erroneous values. The next step is to add just enough code to the methods so that the unit test will pass. So I followed the code they provided, compiled and ran the unit test. Only it failed, again. The guide clearly said it should pass at this stage.

So I went back to my account class and looked over the code. I spotted my mistake; I had balance += amount; in the Withdraw method instead of balance -= amount;.

Now if I had been doing this the old way with no unit tests I would not have spotted my mistake (because it all compiled fine and there were no runtime errors) until my client had come back and said "Buddy, when I withdraw, my balance goes up! What the hell is going on?".

So wow, what a great illumination in my first 30 minutes of trying out test driven development.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tagging tags

I want to tag my tags. I want my tags to have meaning. I want tags to have types, to be distinct in what they are; A location, a person, a relationship, an animal, a plant. I want to add one tag which by already having been tagged adds further meaning to the item without having to type in superfluous tags.

When I view a jaguar tag I want to see cars, not cats.

Flickr helps in this regard by offering tag clusters. Through some powerful data-mining they differentiate the tag jaguar for cars from the tag jaguar for cats.

The problem there is that it is a computer system doing the data-mining, doing the figuring out. Sure, it is using the tag data you and your friends entered but the clustering logic is not yours. A big point of folksonomies is the folk bit. You entered the keywords. You made it work the way you wanted it to work. The keywords you entered are the keywords you are comfortable with, the ones you remember and are familiar with. Tag clustering works by including other peoples' tags which brings along their methods of tagging, not yours.

A good deal of the time Flickr tag clustering works and works well. But when you want to be specific, when you want an unusual tag cluster, it fails. Try the orange cluster. Where is the fruit? I want to see photos of an orange, the fruit. I assume the reason for this is that in proportion to other uses of orange (colour, sunset, flower, M&Ms), fruit is not used much. If you try the oranges cluster though you do get fruit. Just a plural difference results in success or failure.

orange <= fruit or "tag the tag 'orange' with the tag 'fruit'. Anytime I want items tagged with orange and I mean fruit, I can get them. orange <= colour. Anytime I want items tagged with orange and I mean the colour, I can get them.

fruit <= plant. Now we can infer that orange is a plant. Or can we? We can but inference would also tell us that orange is a colour. That is a problem caused by the cloud and non-unique nature of tags. In a hierarchical system the orange in plant => fruit => orange is unique and separate to the orange in colour => orange. In tag clouds, orange is just orange.

If tags are tagged though at least through a suitable interface we can refine the list implicitly. Currently we can't, refining is done by data-mining and aggregating other peoples' methods of tagging.

You might notice that a pseudo-hierarchical system comes into being when tags are tagged. That is fine, it is not against the nature of tags because while we can infer a hierarchy out of tagged tags we don't hit the shortcomings of proper hierarchies. Remember the orange tag can still be a colour, a fruit or word that does not rhyme all without creating copies of orange as we would have to do in a hierarchical system.

Naturally we don't want to make tagging complicated. Tagging is working in large part due to how easy it is to tag. In most systems you have a free-text field that you just go wild in. Enter as many or as few or as strange tags as you wish.

So any tagged-tag system would have to retain the freeform nature and remain easy.

Here are some simple tagged-tags I can think of:
Bob Geldorf <= musician
Jimmy White <= friend
Cape Town <= city
Edna <= bride
Morgan <= groom

Those are simple relationships. How about adding some notation to imply other relationships.

Location: Cape Town :in: South Africa
Part-of: cog * watch
Synonym: T.V. ~ television

Synonyms are a good example of where tagging can fall down. When tagging a television show do you use TV, T.V. or television? Half the folks use one, some use the other and the rest use something else. Even a single person will vary, one day using bicycle, the next day using bike and then back to bicycle. When they go back to find all items tagged with bike they miss the bicycle items. I do it all the time, I try not to and it is simple to remember T.V. vs. television but there are plenty of situations where it is not so simple to remember. "Do I use web or www to mark items like this?"

Recently in Flickr I stopped tagging all my photos with South Africa. I realised it was polluting the system to have photos tagged with that when the photo was of my New Balance shoes. I felt that I should only use South Africa on photos that were distinctively South African e.g. of Cape Town city or of a Zulu hut. But 5 years from now I may ask "Where did I take that photo of my New Balance shoes?" and without a South Africa tag I won't remember.

I haven't quite figured it out though; how I can tag my shoes photo with South Africa and not pollute actual photos of South Africa also tagged with South Africa. I think tagging tags can help there, but the implementation details are bedeviling.

Still, tagging of tags can offer us more meaning without sacrificing the good qualities of tagging. For now I have to tag this photo with woman, Carolyn and friend when all I should have to tag it with is Carolyn which is in turn tagged with woman and friend.

Microsoft Max

Microsoft Max by Paul Watson Microsoft Max is a bit of demo software for WinFX which has the potential to become a real product.

It is a pretty basic demo, slick but basic. What is interesting though is the notion that a single slide in your slide-show can consist of more than one photo.

Check it out above. I have a bunch of photos in my slide-show, 13 in total. But when you play the slide-show you are only shown 4 slides. This is because I have grouped some of the photos together onto one slide.

The grouping is dead easy, no fiddling with resizing, borders, margins and such; just drag photos from one slide to the other or into a new slide (e.g. Cinnamon in the last slide is a photo on its own.)

You can see a screenshot of one of the slides here.

The rest of Max is OK. You can create slide-shows to share with friends but they then need the Max software to view them so the scope is limited.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Formats and Ruby on Rails

Note to self; Don't name a table Formats (e.g. for storing RSS, Atom, OPML etc.) when creating a Ruby on Rails app. You will utter "doh" quietly when later on you try to, through a join, call feed.format.id. Format is a private method so you can't have anything of yours named format.

Hmm so I need an alternative. ElFormats? Formatics? Formatts?

Ruby on Rails Plural Jog

This little post is just for me. And everyone else who forgets the pluralisation rules of Ruby on Rails.

IT IS SINGULAR WHEN USING SCAFOLDING. ruby script/generate scafold Contact and NOT Contacts.

I wonder if I will remember. I always get it wrong.

Subversion and logging out

Just got my first Subversion repository up on my TextDrive hosting and it is working very well.

Just one thing though; If you ever need to logout your SVN user then on Windows you need to delete the %APPDATA%/Subversion/auth/ folder and on Unix you delete the ~/.subversion/auth/ folder. Doesn't seem to be a way to do this through the SVN command line or TortoiseSVN.

Thanks to Max for the "logout" tip.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

iTunes 5

iTunes 5 by Paul Watson

I have been using Windows Media Player as my main music player since it turned into a proper library driven app (version 8 or 9 I think). While it was never perfect it worked quite well with Winamp, Foobar and other players not coming close to my needs.

I tried iTunes when it first came out for Windows but something never quite clicked and I quickly went back to Windows Media Player 10.

iTunes 5 though seems like a keeper. My mate Jon describes iTunes' allure as K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) which while not completely true is a decent description. It does not have the tabbed interface of WMP but opts for a consistent list down the left-hand side; your library, playlists and other bits. It never disapears and it never scrolls horizontally like a WMP tree list can do. The menu bar is quite huge but it fits in the player controls and "LCD" info bar.

Couple things I am digging about iTunes:

  • Live search. Start typing and the main list filters down.

  • The browser is a three pane display. Genre, Artist and Album. Select an entry in one and the others update to reflect the now limited choices. Makes for drilling down into your library easy and a whole lot better than a tree.

  • Ctrl+L. It jumps the display to the current playing track. I had many times in WMP where I simply could not spot where in the list what was currently playing was. Helluva feature, yet so simple.

  • Reloads with the exact view you exited in. WMP10 is terrible at this and I got bloody frustrated with it.



Bits I am not digging though are:

  • Media keys on my keyboard don't work properly when iTunes is in system-tray mode. Pity.

  • About as slow as the WMP interface which was pretty slow.

  • Only displays the CD list-item once it has attempted to find the GRACENOTE entry. Bit of a pain when your net connection is slow.

  • Album-art panel is pretty useless unless you have a CD in. WMP10 displayed it correctly even with ripped music and single tracks.

  • No task-bar player like WMP10 has. I guess this is more because this is really Mac software where a taskbar does not exist.

  • It got a bit confused when importing my WMA collection. Created some duplicates, missed out a few folders and I eventually did a clean import.



The killer feature though is its consistent list on the left-hand side. Just makes things so much simpler and painless to use.

Now all I need is a nano.

UPDATE: I was bitching to my aforementioned mate Jon about how there is no option to hide the Music Store link the left-hand menu. I can't use the Music Store as I am in South Africa. He pointed out it can be disabled though through the Parental Control menu in Preferences. So can Podcasts, Radio and Party Shuffle though through the General tab in Preferences. Nice one Apple.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Not Another Network, or NAN

Somebody has got to do a spoof on the various blog networks springing up.

Gawker Media, 9rules Inc. and Weblogs Inc. are the big boys out there but there are many others. Basically you, with your avatar sidekick robot dog blog, join a network and they list you. They make it hard by reviewing each submission to ensure that not just any old site gets in (though I expect 9rules will soon have to change their name to NineHundredAndNinetyNineRules Inc. And then again in Spanish, ElNinoRuloh Incoh.)

Anyhoo.

I can see it now, the spoof that is. Everyone, including Jessa Crispin (she is just too hot to exclude), Zeldman, David Bowie... I mean David Shea... and your mum, is a member. Oh and Shaun Inman, he is minty fresh. Anyone with a blog, a website, heck even a GeoCities or a LiveJournal is written into the roles of NAN (Not Another Network. Or Not A Number. Or a type of Indian bread.) We just use the Google, Technorati and Bloglines APIs see.

That is amazing eh? In one foul stroke we achieve what Scrivs and co. has been trying to achieve all the time; A-Listers. Zeldman for petes sake! On NAN!

The goal of NAN is to drive traffic to NAN. No, not a typo. I know they say the goal is to drive traffic to your site, by being an Old Boy, but come now; you put a big old leafy logo on your site that goes to the network's world domination HQ site. How can that not be about driving traffic back to the blog network?

The goal of the Knights of NAN (that is you, blog boy) is to get out of NAN. That's right, like Survivor but backwards (which is freaky considering Survivor is backwards.) The last NANian (sort of Lion, Witch and Wardrobe eh) gets to close the door on his, her or its way out.

I expect Zeldman would be first because he'd very politely tell NAN he can't lend his awesomness to NAN without prior consent (Zeldman, you rock for not doing this whole A-Lister, blog network thing. A pity you already have a wife, I cook well.)

Every month we, that is me but it sounds better when you say we, go through the NANites (sort of iPod Nano, someone buy me one please) begging to be let in out and we choose the most fitting. A big announcement is made about each removal. We profile their site and talk about why we think it is suited to being let go. Great content, great design, great ideas, great design, great personality, great design, A-List status, great design, etc.

Everyone who gets kicked out is expected to make a self depreciating remark about how they never expected to be kicked out and they just threw their name in the hat on the off chance and expected to be laughed at and so on. Basically you sucker punch everyone with your removal post.

You: "I suck!"
Everyone: "No! You rule! Welcome brother!" (or sod off in our case)

Everyone, except those already kicked out, get to put a NAN badger (yes, badger, not badge. You know you can put Linux inside dead badgers?) on their site. NAN will link to Microsoft (because they would pay the most for it.)

So everyone belongs... oh crap. I just realised this already exists. It is called the world wide web. And nobody wants to get off.

p.s. In no way am I disrespecting any of the 9rules members or the Gawker/Weblogs Inc. writers. I subscribe to many of their sites and consider them to be Good For The WebTM. And while Paul Scrivs can talk a mile a minute I read his work too as it has a lot of useful information. I just think this whole blog network blitz needs a bit of deflating. It is fine to have it but for one 9rules needs to go easy on those submissions. It is not scaling and won't scale, you are just becoming Yahoo! Directory with commentary. I already can't figure out which sites are worth keeping track of in the 9rules network.

The spoof site would be a lot of fun though. :-D

EDIT #1: Changed 9Rules to 9rules. Spot the difference, apparently their CEO has nightmares about it. Bit like the poor .NET folks. Though funny how everyone remembers it is iPod and not Ipod or IPod. Or GoGetMeAniPodNanoNowPlease.

Star spangled ratings


How do you rate your personal music collection in applications such as iTunes, Windows Media Player and Winamp?

They all offer up the usual 5 star system with 5 being better than 1. None though actually specify that 1 is bad and 5 is brilliant. They just present the 5 stars and let you choose. 1 could just as well be middling and 5 rather good.

Last night I switched over to iTunes as my main media player and began the fun task of re-rating all my songs as they played. It struck me then that 5 stars as usually used does not offer much of a gradient for good music. In my previous media player I treated 1 star songs as unlistenable garbage and 5 as "play it again, Sam".

How then do you rate Thank You by Alanis, A Horse With No Name by America, Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles and Song 2 by Blur? They are all great tracks but, sorry Alanis, Thank You is no Song 2 which is no Eleanor Rigby which means Alanis gets a 3, Blur a 4 and The Beatles a 5. Except that Thank You deserves more than a 3 if it means "average" (1 being "poor" and 5 being "great").

I then had an interesting thought; I don't want 1 star songs in my library. A poor song gets deleted from my library. So the 1 star and 2 star feature becomes pretty useless as anything assigned either is invariably deleted. 3 starers barely survive by virtue of being "a cheesy but fun song."

So I decided that 1 star is "cheesy but fun", 2 stars is average, 3 stars is good, 4 stars is great and 5 stars is effing brilliant.

This lets me have a finer grain of control over my ratings all within the 5 star system. It does still feel strange selecting 3 star songs for a good listening playlist.

Of course it presents problems when this data gets out into the open of other systems where 1 is poor. But so far in 7 years of computing nobody has come up with a way for ratings to get spread around the internet through your desktop media player.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Date Google

On September 28, 2004, a search on “podcast” in Google turned up 24 matches. As I write this, the number is 17,000,000.

from Seth Godin's free Who's There? ebook.

Just a thought; Can you use date ranges in Google? I reckon it would be useful for fact checking to be able to limit a Google search to a date range. Would the date range though check the date the item was added to the Google index or the creation date of the item?

TagCloud

TagCloud is a really nifty idea.

Firstly, it is not about tags. It is about keywords but since tags is the buzzword of the moment and the ideas are similar we all just call them tags. So it should be KeywordCloud.

Anyhoo. You input a few RSS feeds into TagCloud and it generates a list of tags/keywords that it found in your RSS feeds. It then applies styling to the keywords which indicates its popularity. The more popular the bigger the styling. This is a lot like the Flickr tags page.

For example I imported every single RSS feed I have in my Bloglines account (luckily TagCloud can use OPML) into TagCloud and got back this cloud.

Clicking one of the keywords will take you to a list of all items/articles/posts from my RSS feeds that have that keyword. Try it, click the New Orelans keyword for instance.

As I said calling them tags is confusing. TagCloud does not look for tags in the RSS feeds. Your RSS feeds don't have to be manually tagged or have categories or any such thing. It just sifts the textual content for good keywords (it uses the Yahoo! Content Analysis web service to find keywords and phrases. Notice how hurricane and hurricane katrina appears while only new orleans and not just new appears. Seems a decent content analyser to figure that out.)

TagCloud lets you create as many clouds as you want using subsets of your feeds. You can then display them on yout website with some simple JavaScript (which they provide. Sadly I can't put it into this Blogger post as SCRIPT is prohibited.)

Something like this could go far. It is simple, does one thing and does it well. Most importantly it works off of any RSS source you can throw at it. It isn't restricted to photos or links or documents. Even just the idea of it is good enough for other implementations to be made. A Ruby version say to plug into your Rails site.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Delete this group

I have held off on commenting on this because it does not deserve a mention but I got so angry earlier today that I just have to vent.

The Delete Me! group on Flickr is the worst group I have yet to see.

The aim of the group is to collect a "safe" of quality photos through commenting and tagging. Members comment "deleteme" or "saveme." When either hits 10 the appropriate action is taken.

Sounds admirable enough but the manner in which the members go about commenting is simply disgusting. Not in all my years on the internet have I read such vile comments. Decent photographs are ripped apart, sometimes with constructive though still vicious zeal but more often than not with one-liners of no redeeming value.

People who have complained about the brutality of the group are told that they shouldn't read the comments. But I love reading comments on Flickr. Most offer wonderful insight into not only the photograph but the person making the comment. Negative aspects of the photograph are dealt with in a constructive and civil manner. I don't pass through the Delete Me! pool to Flickr photographs. I find the Delete Me! laced commentary on photos in my friends' photostreams and elsewhere. Mainly though Flickr is not and never will be a photo critique site. If I want venom laced commentary I go to PhotoSig.com or Photo.net.

So when I view an interesting photograph and start reading the usually great comments I am gutted by the sprinkling of Delete Me! blades.

The group brings out the worst in people which is something that Flickr normally does the opposite of; bringing out the best in people. Just check out DRP's or Slight Clutter's photostreams to find beautiful odes to life. They don't dodge the rough edges of life but they don't rub it raw so that it bleeds.

Here are a couple of the tamer Delete Me! comments. I can't bring myself to repeat the harsher ones:
yay! look everyone. i got neck! and for your benefit, i have named it "neck" even. maybe you think its boring or uncreative or unarty. But guys, its in BLACK AND WHITE! by kuriakonz

this might mean something to you or your lover. to us it just looks like an accident in photography. by phil h


Those two are from just one photo.

I have been told that the means (vile comments) justify the ends (quality "safe" photographs.) Thankfully, for my belief in a beautiful world, I have seen better results through better means. The Safe photo pool is fine. There are some beautiful photographs in it and some decent ones too. All the really stand out ones though I have seen in other groups and through other means.

Even if the results were extraordinary though I would not want it to come through this haze of vicious verbage that Delete Me! members spout. Flickr is not a photo critique site and Delete Me! is regularily spoiling my Flickr experience. I hope the members remember they are decent folk and go back to enjoying their Flickr experience rather than getting all worked up over besting other Delete Me! member comments.

My own Columbian

Columbia 365 Mountain Jacket Hailing from Durban, a sunny, sea-side city in South Africa where 15 degrees celcius is considered freezing, I tend to walk through Cape Town winters in shorts, a t-shirt and takkies. While others are warmly bundled up I stuff my hands in my pockets and walk through the cold wind and rain. That is how you can spot a Durbanite in Cape Town; just look for shorts on a winters day.

One can do this in Cape Town because while it is colder than Durban the winters here are mild in comparison to Europe or North America. It snows only on the highest mountain tops, never drops below zero degrees and there are odd winter days where you can hit the beach in a swimming costume.

Ireland though, where I am soon to live, is a different story. It may be considered mild for a European country but it still beats the winters I have experienced by a long margin. I will also be hopping over to the mainland every now and then and want to try my hand at skiing.

With this in mind I went out one winters day, in shorts and bare-feet of course, and bought myself my very first outdoor jacket from Due South. Jerseys, pullovers and track-suit tops have been sufficient for all these years. Now though I have a new Columbia mountain jacket with all the bells and whistles; waterproof, breathable, wind breaking, pockets galore, strappable wrists, hood and a detachable inner.

Couple things I like about this jacket:

  • It looks good. It is neat and smart. I bought a khaki and dark-grey one. No bright blues, greens, pinks or oranges here. Also all the zipper-tags, buttons, sealers and other bits are covered up so you don't look like a walking mountain sherpa about to traverse the north face.

  • When zippered all the way up my chin fits inside the neck cowl. Other jackets leave your throat and chin raw from rubbing.

  • Zippable armpit vents (though there is probably a more technical term for this).

  • Rip-stop material that doesn't look like it was made from old tents. The material is a nice blend between soft, cotton jackets and plasticky bin-liner jackets.



So far I have not tested out the waterproof capabilities (rain damnit!) but it sure cuts through the wind and cold with ease.

Remove me

With the proliferation of web-applications it is all too easy to end up registered to a horde of systems.

They make it very easy to sign-up but what if you want to remove your details? Very few make that easy. Most don't mention it all in their help systems even. The common method is to send off a few emails to various contacts begging to be removed from their database. Often they have no plan for how to handle this.

Flickr makes it easy to kill your account with them and other web-applications should take heed.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Yes, but what are you?

The last few days I have been scouring the net (no, not with AJAX) finding as many tools, applications, web-apps and projects related to feeds as I can. For each one I find I put a stub page into our project wiki with a Quick Info heading. It gives an ordered summary of what the tool/app/project is, what technologies it is based on, requirements etc. I'll then go back over the list and start filling in details so that by the end we will have an overview of the "state of the art" of feed systems on the net.

That is the idea. In practice finding out even the simplest details of the various feed systems is a nightmare. You are lucky if you can tell whether it is a desktop or web-application. There is a lot of marketing on these sites but very little useful information. Sure, you don't want to put your technology requirements on the front-page but you definitely should have them on the download/sign-up or the FAQ page. On a couple of projects I have had to download the app before I was able to figure out exactly what it is. On another I had to open the source files to see that it was a PHP application.

SourceForge projects do a good job of quickly informing you what technologies the project uses. But opposite to the other projets they contain very little marketing info. You end up knowing that a project is a Windows desktop app built using C# but you have no clue what the app actually does.

And this applies from the smallest open-source projects to the largest commercial projects. Very few give you the info you need to decide if it is worthwhile.

Pass Christian House Before/After

Pass Christian House Before/After by CraftJunkie
Pass Christian House Before/After
Originally uploaded by CraftJunkie.

Friday, September 02, 2005

You are what you lunch on

2nd March 2005 If I am what I eat then I am two parts tuna, one part avocado and a side order of hake. Tuna salad, hake with rice and avocado on toast seems to be about all I eat these days. Along with my usual 20 cups of ceylon tea a day of course.

I so adore tuna salad for lunch that I even photographed the process. It is simple but the fresh vegetables with the tangy mayonnaise and rich tuna make for a mouth caressingly good lunch.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Just On Board or JOB

My voluntary unemployment has come to an end as I started work at TSSG today. I will be working with Brian Delahunty on a very interesting internet-technology project. Can't say a whole lot about it as our one year funding is for a proof-of-concept system which if worthwhile will be spun out into a company.

I have always worked on client or public systems so it is going to be a change and challenge spending a year of my life on what is effectively research. An exciting challenge though as while we have a good idea of what we are going to do, how we do it and the path to it is open. Also never had more than a month for a project so I will get to experience something with lasting impact. Brian is a smart chap too and from what I have experienced today and the last few weeks the rest of the TSSG gang are sharp as tacks.

I will be working remotely for TSSG until my Irish work-permit comes through. At that point I will pack my bags, fly to Ireland and kiss a blarney stone for a couple of years.

Finally I just want to thank Barry Downes and Conor Ryan of TSSG for persevering through the FAS, work-permit and other hassles of bringing in a third-worlder like me. Final, final thanks though go to my mate Brian who kick-started all of this and must have said some damned awfully good lies about me. Thanks my friend.

When ZIP, improves

WinZip 10.0 BETA WinZip has been around ever since I can remember. Well, I can remember DOS but since Windows then. Following it through the versions I have often been frustrated with large ZIPs that were full of folders and sub-folders. WinZip would display all the files in a big list with the folder names down the right. Not too helpful for finding just that one file you needed.

Quietly, quietly though WinZip 10.0 BETA has arrived and hallelujah it includes a Windows Explorer like view (as well as the old one should you want it). 7Zip lasted all of 7 days but WinZip has bounced back I reckon.

French Connection

It is faster for me to download files from foreign mirrors than it is to download from a mirror I can literally take a 5 minute drive to. 50Kb/s from France, 15Kb/s from UCT.

Why is that?

One thought I had is this; While I am thankful for having it at all, ADSL in South Africa is quite restricted. There is one provider; Telkom. Every ADSL account has a monthly cap (genreally 3Gb but it depends on who you buy it through). They only really care about international bandwidth which is why only international bandwidth usage counts towards your cap. Once you hit your cap they don't cut you off but they shape your international access such that anyone else who hasn't exceeded their cap gets first priority. Effectively your international access becomes useless except at the dead of night when you might get 5Kb/s. Local bandwidth is never counted nor shaped.

So if local mirrors were effective I'd rarely use international bandwidth for the big downloads.

I doubt it is intentional though. More than likely Telkom, SAIX and co. have local requests tied up in an unintentional knot.

Pity I don't know anybody at the UCT mirror as then it would be quicker for me to cycle there, burn a CD and cycle home than downloading from France, Hong Kong or Antarctica.