I got a letter from the government, the other day / I opened and read it, it said they were suckers.
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I am in California (Anaheim or to be really precise, Garden Grove) for the Association for Educational Communication and Technology conference. There's an odd disjunction (mentioned by Stephen Downes in his opening keynote Wednesday night) between the sedate academic atmosphere of the conference and the natural disaster taking place all around us. While Anaheim proper has not been hit by the wildfires, you can smell and often see the smoke from them when you are outside. The view flying into John Wayne Airport was even more striking. It's strange to have that kind of destruction hovering just at the edge of your consciousness while sitting in a presentation on, for example, knowledge life-cycles....
I still love my iPhone (and not in an entirely wholesome way, I'm afraid), but I am starting to regret that my purchase puts me into the same class as a bunch of greedy, deluded whiners. The outcry over the iPhone's price-drop was bad enough (note to whiners: you stood in line to buy a phone; of course you got overcharged for it). Now you've got people screaming for Steve Jobs's head on a pike because the latest iPhone software update bricked some unlocked phones and squashed the (unsupported, officially discouraged) third-party apps some hackers had managed to get onto their phones, just like Apple said it would. While I've learned not to begrudge people the right to turn their own stupidity into multimillion-dollar lawsuits, what's especially bizarre about the current crop of iWhiners is that it includes normally sensible people like Leo Laporte and the entire staff of MacWorld. I'm not giving links to any of these clowns, but if you want details, try any of the following worthwhile anti-whiners:...
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires
Taking the above Proverb of Hell to heart, I finally acted upon my desires and bought an iPhone this week. I had held this particular desire pretty much from the moment it was announced, but I don't think I started actually nursing it until the TV ads appeared last spring. Before that, I was prepared to be very reasonable: "it's a new product, it will have bugs, better to wait until the second generation, yadda yadda yadda." The moment I saw the ads, all that went out the window. It was pure "Gimme, gimme, gimme! Mine mine mine!" And there were just too few obstacles. I'd been saying I needed my own phone for over a year, and I was already leaning toward something in the "smartphone" category (as an owner of several Handspring/Palm PDAs, I was seriously considering buying an almost-new Treo off a colleague right about the time the initial iPhone announcement was made.) AT&T is, for better or worse, the only cellular carrier in these parts anyway. Add to that all the glowing reviews, the cool factor, and, finally, the price cut, and my desire had become irresistible. I placed my order a week ago Thursday, and by Monday afternoon, I had the object of that desire, at last, in my hands. And while I admit to having slaked my lust a bit that first night, the next morning I found myself stricken with a nasty gastrointestinal infection that put me in no kind of condition for such dalliances for the next three days, and Friday was spent doing little more than digging out from the load of missed work from my illness....
So as you can see, I've added a Twitter badge to my sidebar. Seeing all the cool kids doing it, I actually signed on last spring, but it did not especially appeal to me. More recently, however, I downloaded the Twitterific client, which makes both following and posting to Twitter almost infinitely less cumbersome. I also discovered Twitterfeed, which is letting me pipe content into my Twitter page: my Last.fm recently-listened feed, my LibraryThing recently-added feed, and my del.icio.us bookmark feed. I rather like the idea of using Twitter as the glue for my now far-flung empire of social software site participation (though I am not completely happy with the Last.fm feed: it's not really reflective of what is "now playing." Rather, it dumps the five most recent tracks as a block every half hour—the most frequent interval Twitterfeed will allow). Finally, I found a few folks that seemed interesting to follow, notably John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems. It is doubtful that any of these developments would hold my interest by itself, but taken together, they are keeping me intrigued with the service.
Christmas in July
iTunes has been besieging me with Christmas music lately. Why this happened and how I fixed it cannot be explained, however, without delving into the maze of twisty little passages (also known as playlists) that I use to manage my iTunes and iPod listening experience. So strap on your spelunking gear, here we go!...
Tinderbox 3.6 !
Mark Bernstein just announced Tinderbox 3.6, which has a slew of interesting new features. Mark mentioned some of the salient ones:...
As the midterm elections approach, I am finding myself more and more obsessed with tracking the latest polls and projections, and that has led me back to my old friend from the 2004 election: electoral-vote.com.
I have become everything I hate
I've had an Intel MacBook Pro for several months, but until today I had kept it untainted by that other operating system. Today I kissed innocence goodbye and installed Windows XP within Parallels Desktop. Aside from the disquieting knowledge that I've got a piece of pure evil residing on my beloved Mac, the process went very smoothly. Besides the official documentation, I also followed an article from Ars Technica that, while somewhat dated (it's for version 1.0), was helpful in explaining some of whys of the process. ...
Tinderbox 3.5 is out, and I'm very excited. Mark Bernstein has been previewing features such as automatic link discovery and common words for a while now, and they've had me pretty interested, but the thing that made me drop everything and download it immediately is actually the new support for OS X's font panel. One of my private grumbles about Tinderbox in the past has been the limited text formatting options for notes, font panel support should take care of that complaint nicely. ...
Notes about Notes
Eastgate Systems — makers of my beloved Tinderbox (a new version of which, 3.0.1, was recently released) — has launched a new website, Notes about Notes. I'll let it speak for itself: "This site collects ideas about making, analyzing, organizing, and sharing notes. The First Principle of making better notes is simple: make notes. Write it down."...
One LibraryThing to rule them all...
Sometime early this morning, LibraryThing surpassed 1,000,000 catalog entries (they were at 996,000 before I went to bed). That's pretty remarkable growth for a site that only opened three months ago. I've been doing my small part, having cataloged over 500 of my own books in the couple weeks that I've known about the site. I'm small potatoes, though; there are users with libraries in the thousands (I can only assume they had some pre-existing catalog of their stuff and are taking advantage of the bulk-import feature)....
Happy Birthday, del.icio.us!
del.icio.us, the social bookmarking service, turned two yesterday, and I wish it the very happiest of birthdays. How do I love del.icio.us? Let me count the ways:...
Build me the perfect browser!
After upgrading to Tiger earlier this summer, I spent some time with the new Safari 2.0 as my primary browser. It has a number of attractive features, but for now, I've come back to Camino (0.8.4). Camino isn't perfect either, but I've become very comfortable with it and the things I missed about it outweighed the features I could only get elsewhere. I'm still waiting, however, for the perfect browser. This mythical beast would combine:...
The previous post reminded me of extisp.icio.us, a tool for visualizing del.icio.us bookmarks. The original extisip.icio.us created an even more cloud-like 2D text mapping of del.icio.us tags. Creator Kevan Davis has now, I notice, added "extsipicious images" a mosaic of images corresponding to one's tags based on a Yahoo image search. It's certainly a clever bit of web trickery, but probably less practical than the text version.
Del.icio.us, the social bookmarking system, has gotten a facelift. There seem to be a number of enhancements, including auto-completion of tags, but what stands out to me is the "cloud" option for viewing one's list of tags. In the "cloud," the font size and weight of each tag increase according to the number of entries it contains. This is a technique I've previously seen at 43 Things, and it provides some quick visual feedback on what the "major" topics are. ...
From MapView to HTML
[Update (5/28): Damn, I knew I was going out on a limb by posting these ideas without testing them at all. Turns out two of the three rely on a feature of Tinderbox that does not exist: namely, mathematical operations on attribute values. Oops. What's odd is that I was so sure that I had seen this somewhere: I could half-picture a page from the manual with + = / and * on it, but when I went back to check, nothing. I guess I was confusing the fact that you can use computed dates like
Tinderbox 2.4.1 is now out. As I predicted, this version fixes the memory leak problem I was having a couple weeks back. There are also fixes for some printing misbehavior (which I'd experienced but never gotten around to reporting) and a few other minor issues. Tiger users will be happy about a modification to the file format that should make Tinderbox documents Spotlight-searchable (this had gone out to beta-testers a couple weeks ago). This update still is just a handful of small improvements, but they've been delivered quickly in direct response to user requests. What more can one ask for?
File under: Tools .
Why we love Eastgate
I've been having trouble with a Tinderbox file: not this blog, but the other important file in my life, a task-tracking thing that I've been putting all my work life into for the last 6 months or so. Suddenly it was perpetually consuming free memory (at a rate of 50KB/sec—I found it one morning hogging 400MB of RAM!). So I posted something on the Tinderbox Wiki in the hope that someone else had run into this and knew what was going on. No luck except for a note to contact Eastgate tech support with this....
File under: Tools .
Grudging props to Microsoft
I don't often sing the praises of the boys up in Redmond, but I recently installed Office:mac 2004 (only because I could get it through work and my personal copy of Word from Office v.X had mysteriously ceased functioning -- probably something to do with corrupted font files, but I didn't have time to diagnose and repair the problem), and the way Word now handles Track Changes and Comments is simply beautiful. (Larger screen shot.)...
File under: Tools .
Huzzah! Tinderbox 2.4 is out! I'm already using it (since I paid for my upgrade to 2.3.4 back in October). It has all sorts of new goodies in it: Map view enhancements like Sticky Adornments, Rules for conditional attribute-setting, improved HTML Export behaviors, even multiple pinging. I will be sorely tempted to spend the rest of this week digging into the features, but, alas, there is also work to be done.
File under: Tools .
I just became aware of Clutter this week, and already I'm in love. Although the intended purpose is to add a more familiar interface for selecting music to listen to on your computer (namely the visual metaphor of "albums" laying scattered all over your desktop), what I found most delightful about Clutter is that it automatically looks for album art (via Amazon) and you can copy that found art into iTunes. So I was up till 3 a.m. the night after installing it, grabbing cover art for all the music in my iTunes library. I was amazed that I managed to find most of it, although my practice of renaming and re-dating compilations and re-releases to reflect the original issues sometimes caused some confusion. I'm not sure I will use Clutter in its primary capacity that much (my desktop is cluttered enough, thank you), but I definitely like having the visual reminders of where my music cane from.
Browsers: New School and Old School
The blogosphere is buzzing with talk about Mozilla Foundation's two-page Firefox ad in the New York Times. Whatever the merits of Firefox as a browser (I'm still a happy Camino man myself), this strikes me as an interesting moment for the Open Source movement. In launching this very public challenge to Internet Explorer, Open Source is, effectively, throwing down the gauntlet in front of Microsoft. On one level, since Microsoft doesn't really make any money on IE, this is maybe not as critical a battle as Linux vs. Windows or OpenOffice vs. MS Office. But given IE's symbolic importance (as the centerpiece of of the federal antitrust case against Microsoft), and the centrality of web browsing to many people's computing experience, I think this does constitute a frontal assault on the Microsoft monopoly. I don't really expect IE to lose its staggering dominance of the browser market, let alone a serious weakening of Windows/Office, but 10 million downloads in a month is nothing to sneeze at, and if a significant minority of general computer users get comfortable with using open source software for one of their core activities, one could start to imagine them exploring other open source alternatives for other activities. I also wonder how long it will take until some state or large municipal government orders its units to move to open source, either because of security concerns or as a cost-cutting measure (speak of the devil, the Dutch city of Haarlem has done exactly this). ...
Fun with Smart Playlists
iTunes's Smart Playlist feature (which creates dynamic song lists based on search criteria) is useful for all sorts of silly things. Among the ones I am currently using: ...
I signed up with del.icio.us, the "social bookmarking" service, a few weeks ago (found via Liz Lawley, who's had quite a bit to say about it). So far I'm not really using the social aspects of it, but it is a handy repository for links I suspect I am going to want to look at again, but which I don't want in my bookmarks or which I'll need from another computer. Lately, del.icio.us/donutage has been especially useful for holding links for my off-campus course (hence the links to Kentucky curriculum standards)....
Mark Bernstein has a long post on the concept of a personal Daybook kept in Tinderbox. It's not immediately clear to me whether he is talking about an actual product made in/for Tinderbox, or if he is just theorizing. Either way, it sounds fascinating, and I want one. That and the ability to synch Tinderbox with my Palm. ...
Two digital preservation projects of note: the DejaVu browser emulator (via Jill) and Delorie Software's Lynx Viewer (found via someone, but I can't remember who). DejaVu emulates several older web browsers (IE2, Mosaic, Netscape, and even a line-mode browser). Lynx Viewer emulates Lynx, of course. Besides the nostalgia value (I used Lynx exclusively for a while), these are rather useful tools for testing one's backwards-compatibility. I wa spretty pleased with Donut Age's performance in these environments, though it may have convinced me to move to a table-less layout the next time I have time (maybe this summer).
Eastgate has released Tinderbox 2.1, a free upgrade for anyone who has bought or renewed Tinderbox in the last year (and if you haven't renewed, now would be a good time). There seem to be a number of nifty fixes and improvements, including greatly improved antialiasing of text (a purely aesthetic issue, but one that makes a surprising difference in the pleasure of working with the program), but the big thing here is the addition of macros in HTML export. Mark Bernstein has previewed this a while ago on his blog and it sounds fascinating. Guess, I know how I'll be spending my Christmas break.
Neunundneunzig Speech Balloons
Jill Walker and Elin Sjursen have been playing with a "streaming icons" enhancement for iChat AV and speculate on the idea of synchronizing chat comments with the images to create a kind of photographic comic book of the chat (a very loose paraphrase, but I think that's what they're getting at). I'm personally not a big chatter, so I don't have much to say about that idea as such. However, I am reminded of the "Comic Strip Mode" that is part of Microsoft's chat client (or was as of two years ago, which was the last time I looked at it). Comic Strip Mode not only gave you speech bubbles tied to an cartoonish avatar, but also a number of facial expressions, a choice of backgrounds, and some extras like thought bubbles. The software automatically chose whether to do close-up, medium, or long-distance "shots" of the conversation. We always used to show people this feature when we did workshops on computer-mediated communication. Students tended to think this was really cool for about 15 minutes, but when they actually wanted to get something done via chat, they almost always switched back to plain-text mode. What Jill and Elin are imagining would be different, because the "avatar" is a real image of the speaker at the moment of speaking, but I wonder if the images would still be seen as a distraction from the text.
For years, I've been grumbling about websites that put most of their useful information in PDF documents that must be downloaded and read in Acrobat Reader or, more recently, the Preview utility in OS X. Manfred Schubert's freeware PDF Browser Plugin (found via Macworld) has come to my rescue to provide seamless PDF viewing from within all my browsers. Huzzah! It works great in Camino (and I assume other Mozilla-family browsers) and fairly well in Safari (it hangs momentarily before rendering the PDF). There's a known incompatibility with IE 5, which could be solved by downloading an older version of the plugin, but I've practically stopped using IE for anything except compatibility-checking my websites so I'm not going to bother.
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