April 30, 2006

T-shirts for Monday

You probably know how I feel about this immigration debate. My baby sister is protesting on Monday with these pro-immigrant t-shirts. She's quite a bit more spiritual than me, but her theology is on the mark.


April 25, 2006

A bad report card for Enterprise Search

Enterprise search sucks? Tell me about it!

I lost the bookmark to my employer's on-line travel agency, and yesterday, out of eat-your-own-dogfood, introspective curiosity (with a touch of masochism, I admit), spent 20 minutes poking around our corporate portal trying to find a link.

The portal main page has a section called "Shortcuts" with helpful links like "GPARS" (performance appraisals), "GPAI" (manage your resume), "US Shared Services" (human resources), and a number of other opaque links, including "GCARS", "NetSTAR", "RFA", "GlobalView", "GTS Bus Dev", and "PAV". Finding nothing there, I gave up and did a keyword search for [travel]. I got several hits, none of which were the travel agency site. One result that looked promising was a Word document which I discovered contained information on how to contact the company's previous travel agency!

I eventually gave up and did what everybody else does, ask someone who's more organized for the link she had bookmarked.


I had hoped to attend this month's meeting of Refresh DC tonight, but missed it. I'm very disappointed.

What's Refresh?

Refresh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical, and professional culture of New Media endeavors in their areas. Promoting design, technology, usability, and standards.

What could be better?

Check for a Refresh group in your city! (Or start one, eh?)


April 23, 2006

Is it time for JPEG 2000 to go mainstream?

Tim Bray pointed to Dave Hyatt's High DPI Web Sites, wherein he discusses various problems for Web design raised by the rapidly increasing resolution of high-def monitors.

Most sites are designed with the typical 800x600 or 1024x768 monitor in mind. As high-res devices squeeze more and more dots into the same area though, naively treating one CSS pixel as one device pixel would render Web pages so tiny as to be unreadable.

Scaling fonts is not a big deal, and we have the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) standard for, well, scalable vector graphics.

But what about raster images, such as photos? The recommendation is to serve high-res images, and then scale them down in the browser using CSS trickery.

In addition to supporting scalable image formats like SVG, we want to make it possible for Web designers to continue to use image formats they are familiar with (like PNG, JPG and GIF), but give them the capability to conditionally include higher resolution artwork.

The idea behind this approach is that a much higher-resolution image can be specified and then either used only if the resolution is detected to be high enough, or downscaled on lower DPI displays.

I think the venerable-but-mostly-unknown JPEG 2000 standard would come in handy here. JPEG 2000 is a format that allows for lossless compression and intelligent progressive downloading that only pulls down the amount of data you need at the zoom level that you've chosen (think Googe Earth).

JPEG 2000 is used extensively in specialized fields such as medical imaging and geographic information systems, but has not been picked up by the Web browsers yet. (There's a Mozilla bug entry for JPEG 2000 support, which dates back to April 2000.) The lack of enthusiasm for browser support may have something to do with uncertainty over the underlying patents. Mainstream adoption by the browsers may also be contingent on mainstream adoption by the Web servers and image editing tools.

Am I missing something here? Does taking JPEG 2000 mainstream not seem like a good idea?

Update: Deleted a stupid aside.


April 22, 2006

Baby Brewing

No, we're not expecting. My sister-in-law just launched her very first Web storefront, selling funny maternity tees over at BabyBrewing.com.

One shirt references Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' Church of Scientology silent birth weirdness. Not planning a silent birth? She has a shirt for you.

My favorite shirt:
it was fun practicing


April 21, 2006

RSS Bandit Feeds Mix Up

I've been using RSS Bandit for, oh, a couple years maybe? Every once in a while, I'd look at someone's feed and discover entries from someone else's feed there. Annoying, but not so much as to outweigh the things I like about this aggregator. It looks like it's been a known issue for over a year now. (I'm using version, if you want to know.)

So yesterday, I decided to organize my feeds a different way. Previously, I had:

  • Blogs - A really long list of blogs from family, friends, Web geeks, Web designers, usability gurus, etc., plus a couple of PubSub queries.
  • News - Various news feeds from the usual suspects, plus Search Engine Watch, SearchTools.com, and Yahoo!'s most-emailed news stories feed.
  • Politics - This is where I cloistered some of the blogs that I'd be more likely to scan only when I had ample free time.

I thought I'd try putting a little more structure on the Long Scroll that is the blogs I like to follow. My new list of categories is:

  • Design
  • Family
  • Friends
  • News
  • Politics
  • Science
  • Tech
  • Usability

As soon as I did that, approximately 80% to 90% of my feeds became corrupted with entries that didn't belong to them.

I deleted everything in my Application Data\RssBandit\Cache directory, restarted Bandit and clicked the "Update All Feeds" button, which seemed to clean things up nicely, while maintaining read/unread status. If I have time later, I'll try to troubleshoot this some more. Up to now, I haven't paid much attention to the data store or the source code.


April 20, 2006

Immigration Debate Blogging

Big Brother is watching this blog on the immigration debate (and other things).

Baby Sister is writing it, and knows the issues better than anyone he knows.

Big Brother is very proud.

Wikipedia Revisited

We weren't the only group to hear Jimmy Wales talk about Wikipedia yesterday. Andrea Seabrook blogged his talk with the National Public Radio (NPR) staff, and says some important things about the lessons NPR is learning.

BTW, NPR's All Things Considered should get an award for Thembi's audio diary that they aired yesterday afternoon. I listened to it on the drive home, and absolutely lost it when she told her father that she had AIDS.

Butterfly Surprise

I have to do some public speaking today. I don't do it all the time, but I've done a fair amount, and particularly to this crowd. I'm surprised by how nervous I get still.

Literacy and Law Enforcement

The State of Virginia had one of those big, flashing highway signs out on the beltway this morning that said:

  55 MPH

I guess you don't need to be literate to operate a radar gun...


April 19, 2006

Google Enterprise Developers Group

In addition to adding a section for enterprise developers to code.google.com, Google also created a news group for Google enterprise developers today.

Google OneBox for Enterprise Search

I'm very happy to see this announcement.

The OneBox on Google.com -- now available on the Google enterprise appliance -- is the section of special search results that are returned for particular types of search queries. For example, if you type in a UPS tracking code, you'll get a link directly to the UPS site's status page for your package. If you type in a math or conversion problem, such as [1 mile in furlongs], you get Google Calculator results.

This kind of capability is great for enterprise environments, which are oozing with structured data sources that users would love to be able to search using the familiar, friendly search box.

I'm hoping that, by providing such an easy API, Google will encourage enterprise portal developers to quit developing unfriendly, multi-input query forms, and start developing simpler, easier look-up tools that can be accessed from one place.

Wiki Rock Star

So I'm sitting here, listening to Jimmy Wales give a talk on Wikipedia to techies and managers for a rather large enterprise. I'm sure he's given this talk thousands of times before, but he's amazingly calm and collected, considering that Wikipedia was completely down this morning and is barely limping along right now.

He's covered some interesting inner-workings type stuff, and gave a great illustration for the philosophy behind wikis. He said giving steak knives to diners at a restaurant is dangerous, because one of the diners could kill another diner with his steak knife. But we reject one possible solution: putting each diner behind bars so he can't get at the other patrons. Such a "gatekeeper" approach is inappropriate for social software too, when an "accountability" model makes better sense.

From his MediaWiki Roadmap slide:

  • Wysiwyg (Wikiwyg) - Ingy
  • Client API
  • Ajax features
  • Multi-tier architecture (db layer ok, UI and domain layer intertwined) -- The wiki text parser in particular is a monster, and everyone's afraid to touch it.
  • Heuristics for vandalism -- Most "vandalism" is actually "sandboxing," where people who don't believe they can actually edit the page unintentionally break a page.
  • WAP/wireless output -- Wikipedia sucks on your cell phone now, but could be a killer app if it worked.

Update: Jimmy will be talking to NPR later this afternoon. I'm guessing that means he'll be on All Things Considered today.

Another update: I see Jimmy's steak knife story has already been posted.


April 14, 2006

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is finally here! I haven't had a lot of time to play with it, but it matches Gmail's friendly, intuitive feel.

I was just cursing Outlook today for its complete inability to do basic, helpful things, like add contacts to my address book automatically when I reply to them, or let me do a quick keyword search of my messages.

Which, of course, leads to this, the most important question:

When do we get Gmail and Google Calendar for the Enterprise?


April 12, 2006

Dust in the Wind

Steve Rose illustrates the tardiness of our species on the evolutionary time scale, using a Web page that's 135 feet wide (via PZ Myers, the page has some display problems with Internet Explorer).

He was inspired by Troy Brophy, who used the same horizontal scrolling arrangement to illustrate the vastness of our solar system.

Both clever ways to show how incredibly insignificant we are in space and time.

Evolutionary Timeline by Steve Rose


April 11, 2006

Breaking it down for the xenophobes

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is ON FIRE! She responds to an emailer who voiced all the usual complaints: that illegal immigrants overwhelm our emergency rooms and schools, yet don't pay taxes, don't fight to defend our country, don't learn English, and send their earnings overseas. It's a succinct, point-by-point rebuttal of the drivel that passes for political dialogue these days. Here's an item that was new to me:

The first soldier to die for the United States in the current war in Iraq was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

He died for you.

You are not in Iraq fighting for anyone. You are home, sending lie-riddled missives to strangers at 3 a.m. on your computer.

Enough said.

Read more about Lance Corporal Gutierrez here.


April 7, 2006

Google Mini Resource

Paul Silver has a great site for anyone interested in the Google Mini search appliance, including some good advice on the tasks for which it IS and IS NOT best suited.

Enterprise search products generally provide more support for searching structured information, such as databases or documents marked up with domain-specific metadata fields. As Paul says, this is not where the Google product shines.

I've installed and managed some Google search appliances over the last couple years, and in my opinion, Google's enterprise search engine shines in more important places, such as:

  • Making users happy by returning the most relevant results on page one -- and without requiring extra work from them.
  • Allowing your users to search across a heterogeneous collection. For example, one search can find relevant records from your database and your TPS reports.
  • An industrial-strength web crawler that's easy to manage.
  • A clean, RESTful web service interface that makes front-end work as easy as it gets.