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Shared Items

A quick note to publicize my Google Reader Shared Items feed URL: http://feeds.justagwailo.com/justagwailo/shared. It uses FeedBurner and its MyBrand service which lets you use your a subdomain of your own domain for feeds. (It's a little weird that you have to email to sign up, since it should be an automatic process where you click a button then set your DNS to point to feeds.feedburner.com, but at least, as which Rogers Cadenhead correctly argues, it prevents lock-in to the FeedBurner service.) Right now it's only my shared items directly from Google Reader. I'd like in the future for it to include my 'dugg' items at Digg, my Flickr and YouTube 'favorite' photos and videos, respectively, and if there was a feed for it, my MetaFilter and Ask MetaFilter 'favorite' posts and comments. Just Google Reader items for now, though, as it's the easiest to setup while letting me add to it later.

Please let me know if you have feedback on the shared items. Too much of one thing and not enough of another? I subscribe to about a hundred feeds, which isn't close to those whose shared items I subscribe to. If I have comments about an article, I'll either socially bookmark it or blog about it, but at least this is a low-threshold way to say "this is interesting for some reason" without giving that reason.

Au4

After listening to their album a couple of times from their site, I'm currently downloading the ambient electronic sounds of Au4, evidently pronounced "oh-four", who hail from Vancouver. I heard about the band through my co-worker Kris Krug (also of Static Photography). This was my first purchase of digital music outside iTunes, so hopefully the local band gets to see all of the money. They don't seem to be famous enough for a Wikipedia page, but maybe someone can re-write their their bio into a stub to get the process going. Their site links to their MySpace and something called vancitybands.com, evidently a showcase for independent Vancouver music.

Two More Podcasts

Not much change from the list of podcasts I listen to from last month, but I did add two more since:

  • Book's Music, from John Book, who plays a very wide variety of music on podcast episodes that are exactly an hour long each. I've known about John Book for several years, likely since 1997, when I first subscribed to the Influx mailing list about DJ Shadow.
  • The Talk Show, an awfully-named podcast with an awful website with no show notes or links, and slowly improving production values. Dan Benjamin and John Gruber talk about Apple, Inc., and mostly about the iPhone lately. They've had an interview or two, and after 5 episodes, no women or non-white people have been guests. All that must make people wonder why I even bother subscribing, but I have to admit I think about the stuff they talk about (Macs, digital photography, the iPhone), so therefore I listen.

Also I'm listening to podcasts much more now that I leave my computer at work on weeknights. That was a decision I should have made several months ago.

Inattention Data: Requesting a Skipped Items Feature for Google Reader

After months of fidelity to NetNewsWire, the excellent news reader for the Mac, I'm switching back to Google Reader. The reasons for getting drawn back include peer pressure (everybody's doing it) and the social features (the 'Share' button beneath every item), as well as not requiring a manual refresh. The automated refresh makes it harder to reflect, but that's what leaving your computer at work is for. Google Reader still needs authenticated feed support, but at least in my case the only stuff requiring a password is work-related, and I appreciate that the separation between the browser to a desktop application leads to separation between work and play, something I value more than I let on. I also like subscribing to people's shared items, so other than Darren Barefoot and Kevin Marks, could you please publicize the link for me to paste in? (Especially interested in reading the perspective non-white or non-dude peopel, or both, since my reading list is currently at 100% gwai lo.) I'd love to know what my readers are reading.

(What about my URL? I'm afraid it's going to change at some point in the future so naturally I'm working on an overwrought solution to that.)

Talking to Darren about his shared items, he reminded me of the 'Trends' section, which shows what you've read as opposed to marked as read. After about 3,000 entries (over slightly less than a week), it looks like I read pretty much everything that crosses my path. This is most certainly not true. The number is closer to %50, if that. I'd love to know what I see but don't read, much like how in iTunes I can (but don't) know what songs I'm likely not to listen to after hearing the first bit. iTunes keeps track of which songs were skipped, and if there were a way to tell Google Reader "yup, saw it, don't care" then I can get stats on what I'm paying inattention to. Over lunch, Mark noted that Google reader marks as read things that you've passed, and suggested Google Reader could flag as 'seen-but-not-read' any item that you spent less than 2 seconds—or whatever—looking at. That probably won't work for most intense information consumers, nor will it work for me, simply because there are photos and take me about 2 seconds to see and "read" and maybe there's a post with one sentence that contained significant wit and brevity that it took me less than the alloted time to consume.

I'm Tired of Facebook Thinking That I'm Tired of Being Single, Especially When It Knows I'm Not Single!

Facebook, as many people know, is a social networking site for keeping in touch with the people you know, and for sharing things with those people. I've found that it strengthens the weak bonds I've had with people I've met a few times and gotten to know, and has re-united me with people from my past whom I regretted not keeping in touch with. There are still people who haven't joined—I should just send them an email—but for those that have I've found things out about some of them that I really should have known anyway (including a pregnancy) and some I don't want to know much about (relationship details).

Ad in my Facebook feed asking if I'm tired of being single

The above ad sometimes appears in my Facebook News Feed. It's fairly clearly marked as a sponsored ad, and while a little too close to looking like information about my friends for comfort (and why on Earth would I want to share an ad I didn't seek out?), the site has to make a dollar, and they do that through advertising. I see a problem with this, however: why can't the above ad have at least something to do what it knows about me? Facebook seems not to be aware of the fact that I'm in a relationship, something I explicitly told the site! It's a little shocking that here are in 2007 with contextual ads being all the rage and the website that has the most personal in both qualitative and quantitative can't figure out my status. I'm tired of Facebook thinking that I'm tired of being single, especially when it knows I'm not single!

Groups

Ma.gnolia is a social bookmarking website, making it easy—and pleasant—to publicly and privately submit links to interesting websites and articles, tag and rank them. They do a lot of things right, including a permanent link for each individual bookmark, so that I can link directly to it if a comment someone makes needs responding to or pointing out. (Dare they add comments? But think of the spam!) Earlier this month, Alex Jones has been posting some excellent articles on how to maintain and promote Ma.gnolia groups. I've been administrating, gardening, and maintaining a few groups on Flickr and now on Ma.gnolia, and Alex's tips apply to all microcommunities built on someone else's community site. I wanted to take some time to promote the groups I'm heavily involved with, even though their membership is small and not likely to grow into overwhelming numbers.

  • Vancouver Transit on Flickr: for photos of buses, boats, trains, and other vehicles under the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) operate to support their public transit routes. Initially through private emails through the site while following the 'translink', 'skytrain', and 'seabus' tags, I've managed to grow the group to 238 members and over 1800 photos at this writing. I still need to make a decision on whether Aquabus counts, since it's neither publicly-operated, owned by TransLink, and worst of all, it does not even sport TransLink's trademark camel-casing! People are now contributing photos without my having to ask them. Build it and people will come.
  • Icelandair on Flickr: since visiting Iceland and knowing about it all my life, I wanted to create a place where people could show their love, respect or at least interest in Iceland's national airline. I'm doing the same thing I did with Vancouver Transit: starting small and privately asking people to submit their photos. As time goes on, people will see others contributing, join, and post to the group pool as well.
  • Vancouver Olympics Protest: after a false start with the wrong URL, I'm administering this group with Kris Krug. The idea is to document the resistance to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, be it in protest, graffiti, or poster form. At the outset, I wanted to make sure that membership in the group is not a declaration of how you feel about the Games (those that support it or are neutral are welcome to participate), but rather just a way to share what you've seen on the streets that oppose the Games.
  • I have administrator status in other Flickr groups, but don't participate heavily in them.
  • Public Transit and Vancouver on Ma.gnolia. So far the least used groups, since Ma.gnolia has a relatively low number of users in my social network. I thought big with the first one, as I'd like people to contribute links about public transit from all over the world, and there are enough people who either live in Vancouver or love it or both to have a group dedicated to it. So far I'm the only contributor to the Vancouver group, but someone has to start the fire!

Discovering that Ma.gnolia implements OpenID, making it easy for me to login without having to remember yet another password, that finally got me to move my over 2000 bookmarks from del.icio.us, which doesn't have the community features Ma.gnolia has like thanking for bookmarks (I like being thanked!) and it doesn't look nearly as pretty. Not that you need to look good to be popular (e.g. ILX, Craigslist), but it doesn't hurt (e.g. Digg). I can't imagine keeping up with a community the size of MetaFilter, which I rejoined, so if the little communities I created or am trying to create solve a problem for me and a few others, then I can feel like I've made at least a small contribution to the health of the Internet.

29

Today I enter the final year of my twenties, turning 29 years of age. The last few weeks I've been reflecting on how to get my shit together, and the prospect seems overwhelming. Money currently ain't a thang, but I have no plan for 5, 10, 20 years from now. My hobbies revolve solely around a computer, and the only thing I know how to cook is spaghetti. I lead a disorganized life in a small apartment, something I feel condemned to continue. Other issues nettle, like health (much improved due to floorball and dragon boat) and sleep schedule (closely related to my so-called diet), so over the coming weeks and months I'm doing a complete assessment of my life as I live it presently and coming up with at least the outlines of the next 30 years.

Where do I want to be? What do I want to do? What should I do? Whom do I want to spend my time with? What's that goddamn beeping noise? These questions and more I'll be asking myself. And my friends, annoying them surely. Some of them have it together in my view, so I'm not about to let this social network I've developed over the years go to waste. But first lunch (you guessed it, left-over spaghetti), then off to buy a new notebook to make it seem like I'm starting over. Because that's what it feels like.

The Morass of Such Thoughts and Insoluble Problems

Vincent Van Gogh to Theo: “'Am I an artist or am I not?' must not induce us not to draw or not to paint. Many things defy definition, and I consider it wrong to fritter one's time away on them. Certainly when one's work does not go smoothly and one is checked by difficulties, one gets bogged in the morass of such thoughts and insoluble problems. And because one feels sorely troubled by it, the best thing to do is to conquer the cause of the distraction by acquiring a new insight into the practical part of the work.”

Interesting Site Note: Taglines

A few people have mentioned that my website's tagline changes from time to time, and have noted the wit they contain. (One even thought it was a running story, which isn't a bad idea actually, but few taglines are related to each other.) This site's tagline, technically the "slogan" in Drupal-speak, is often a turn of phrase from a rap song, but sometimes something that resonated with me from a text, like a book or article. A few months ago I set it up so that instead of manually changing the tagline through Administer » Site configuration » Site information, I could create a page that would automatically set the tagline's explanation. The advantages of that are many: I can create an RSS feed for tagline updates, tag each tagline, and refer to each explanation with a URL instead of having to go through it each time someone asked. And people could comment on each tagline.

How I Did It: CCK, Views, and Some Elbow Grease

The taglines, old and new, are available at http://justagwailo.com/taglines with an RSS feed at http://justagwailo.com/taglines/feed. To achieve that, I created a content type called "Taglines" with a description field using the CCK set of modules. Then I created a view using the Views set of modules, with an RSS feed argument. The hard part was getting it to automatically change the Drupal site slogan when I saved it, but the code that does it can be seen in the Fenchurch omnibus module I wrote. The relevant code is as follows:

* The function takes the title of the most recently posted Tagline CCK content type.
* Replace 'content_tagline' with the content type you are using to update your site's slogan with.
*/
function fenchurch_nodeapi(&$node, $op) {
$content_type = 'content_tagline';
switch ($op) {
case 'submit':
case 'insert':
if ($node-?>status == 1) {
$result = db_query("SELECT nid FROM node WHERE type = '%s' ORDER BY created DESC LIMIT 1", $content_type);
$nid = db_result($result);
if ($nid == $node->nid) variable_set('site_slogan', $node->title);
}
break;
}
}
?>

(In your module you would have to change the function name to match the module name. For example, if the module is called arthur.module, you'd name the function arthur_nodeapi. I wrote it with a switch statement so that I can add functionality to it without having to restructure.)

Since the tagline appears on each page, it would need an explanation on each page. For that, I have the following code in the page.tpl.php file my theme (this is simplified from the code that currently runs) that creates an unobtrusive question mark people can click on to find out more, with instant gratification for those who hover their mouse over it.

$tagline_explanation = strip_tags(db_result(db_query("SELECT field_description_value FROM {content_field_description} WHERE nid = %d", $tagline_nid)));
print '[' . l("?", 'node/' . $tagline_nid, array('title' => $tagline_explanation)) . ']';
?>

Briefly, the code above retrieves the ID of latest published tagline, then retrieves the data from it, strips out the HTML from the description, and wraps it in a link. It could use a little unpacking, since a lot happens on each line, and there's some magic using Content Template, if you understand PHP, you'll get the idea.

Search Engine Benefits

The site slogan, as it's called in Drupal, goes in the RSS feed added on to the title of the website, so anybody syndicating the site will likely have that in the link title. That often means that you will quickly rank highly for whatever you've set as your tagline, as I have for most of my site's taglines. It looks like I drop quite a bit in search engines for old taglines as soon as I change it, but at least with each tagline as a 'page' as far as their concerned, I'll still have a position in the search engines for my previous taglines. But more important for me is to have a record of when and why I changed what appears at the very top of my blog.

Interesting Site Notes: Introduction

Talking to Boris about this website last week, by way of a feature request he reminded me of both how overwhelming my site can look on first glance and how much stuff it hides from the front page. It also reminded me of an experiment I tried once with another website of mine: have a 'changelog'—that is, a list of changes made to something, usually software, with the most significant changes listed at the top, or prominently in some other way—in the sidebar of all modifications significant to warrant a mention. Both Boris and Darren calls making note of these changes "Boring Site Notes", but the geek in me likes these notices, as they alert me to things about the site that might have changed since the last time I actually visit them. So as homage, I will call my changelog "Interesting Site Notes", at least until I come up with a snootier phrase. I have an out-of-date colophon, but that's a static document. Boris suggested using 'diff' functionality to show the changes made to that what I consider a static document, something that accurately describes the current state of being, but which changes as the state of being changes.

(Via Kevin Marks' shared Google Reader items I read about an idea for a diff of all United States legislation. I want a version control system of the whole world, which is theoretically what the news media is supposed to provide.)

Changes to the site usually involve Drupal somehow, since most of the site is powered by the CMS. I'll post brief instructions, with PHP code where applicable, so that people can duplicate it if they feel like it. If any of the above or any of the following site notes confuse anybody, I'd love it if you asked me. I hate to think that I talk over people's heads—it happens, I know—and I love helping people discover new and interesting ways to discover new and interesting things!

Giro di Burnaby 2007 Next Week

Giro di Burnaby on the Heights

Next week, Criterium bike racers will convene in North Burnaby to participate in Giro di Burnaby. I was at last year's event, and it was pretty amazing seeing the speedy racers whiz by. I took some video using my cameraphone (each hosted by Amazon S3, so there are BitTorrent links as well, not that it matters really), as well as a few photos posted to Flickr. Looks like Terry Power posted some photos as well. I added the event listing to the Urban Vancouver events calendar, so it will show up in the upcoming events listing when the time comes closer. This year, I have a much better camera (a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi in addition to the Nokia N70 I took photos and video with last year), so this will be my chance to take some higher quality photos while figuring out how to capture fast-moving objects.

(Most of this post lazily recycled from my post last month at Urban Vancouver on the subject. Photo taken last weekend while on a bike ride through Burnaby Heights.)

Podcasts, In Various States of 'Listened-to' and 'Unlistened-to'

It's time for another listing of the podcasts I listen to, in various states of 'listened-to' and 'unlistened-to'. In alphabetical order as listed in iTunes:

Compare that to the list I made in March, and you should be able to tell which ones I unsubscribed from.

iPhone, Co-Housing (With Wife-Swapping Jokes), Next Bus Info on Facebook, and Spying on Your Readers at DemoCamp Vancouver

After some initial confusion about the location of tonight's DemoCamp Vancouver, we all made it to the Irish Heather to hear about the iPhone, co-housing, a Facebook application for bus schedules, and tracking the movements of people while they visit a site. And then networking ensued, at least presumably, since I left after the demonstrations.

First a demonstration by a self-described fan-boy of Apple's iPhone, the latest status symbol among geeks and affiliated. I happen to think the iPhone is pretty awesome, so after someone said "it's just a phone!" I yelled towards the presenter, "what else can it do?", knowing full well it's a better looking but smaller (in disk space terms) version of the iPod than the current non-nano non-Shuffle versions. It was cool, and dude answered all the questions reasonably without going into hype overdrive.

Next up was a "presentation" about co-housing, which I think left people wondering why we should care about it. He started off with a joke about how people hear it's about wife-swapping and that yes, it's about wife-swapping. Stupidly thinking that this was a bombed joke that needed resuscitating, I blurted out something like "so tell us about wife-swapping". Yeah, real smooth, seeing as how my girlfriend was sitting across the table from me, among other women in the audience (though they were a distinct minority in the crowd). I know what my girlfriend thinks already, but Megan and Ariane, you were there, what did you think? Was it just an attempt to get a cheap laugh that failed, or is it negatively indicative of the type of events that have the word "Camp" in their title?

The co-housing presentation itself seemed to lead to more questions than answers. Usually, if I don't come out with more questions than answers, I give the presenter a lot of credit for raising them in my brain. In this case, however, I knew there would be a presenter on the subject, and came for that reason, but came away with two questions that a lot of audience members might have also come away with. I for one would have started right away attempting to answer 1) what is an intentional community and what are some examples and 2) how is co-housing really different than a strata, or is it? I came in with those questions, and left without an answer.

I'm no doubt getting the order wrong, but John Boxall presented on MyBus Vancouver, a Facebook application that shows you (and only you) bus schedules on your Facebook profile. I'm more interested in next bus information via SMS, since I'm not bringing my Facebook profile with me to the bus stop, but we were assured that the developers are making progress in re-igniting the service that does that. If TransLink would only open their data to an API...well, that's an argument that deserves its own series of blog posts.

Finally, Andre Charland got up to demonstrate RobotReplay, which tracks the movements of person visiting a website and records them for playback later by the website administrator. The goal is to figure out what people are clicking on and what they are typing in in order to make the experience better for current and future users. Or, it's a tool to spy on your readers, but I don't see how different that is than what Google Analytics or the various statistics packages many people unproblematically (and rightly so) use already. The demonstration itself could have had better examples or people navigating a site for a period longer than 10 seconds, but it's cool, lightweight tech and Andre knew his shit and addressed the concerns people had about privacy and future features.

This was a very well-documented event (with multiple video and still photographers), so I don't regret not bringing my camera.

Perception of Functionality Trumps the Actual Function

From John Gruber's first impressions of iPhone: “Booting: A cold boot takes about 20 seconds. (Sleep/wake is effectively instantaneous – far faster than any Mac.)”

From Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow:

There was a cheap Malaysian comm that he'd once bought because of its hyped up de-hibernate feature -- its ability to go from its deepest power-saving sleepmode to full waking glory without the customary thirty seconds of drive-churning housekeeping as it reestablished its network connection, verified its file system and memory, and pinged its buddy-list for state and presence info. This Malaysian comm, the Crackler, had the uncanny ability to go into suspended animation indefinitely, and yet throw your workspace back on its display in a hot instant.

When Art actually laid hands on it, after it meandered its way across the world by slow boat, corrupt GMT+8 Posts and Telegraphs authorities, over-engineered courier services and Revenue Canada's Customs agents, he was enchanted by this feature. He could put the device into deep sleep, close it up, and pop its cover open and poof! there were his windows. It took him three days and an interesting crash to notice that even though he was seeing his workspace, he wasn't able to interact with it for thirty seconds. The auspicious crash revealed the presence of a screenshot of his pre-hibernation workspace on the drive, and he realized that the machine was tricking him, displaying the screenshot -- the illusion of wakefulness -- when he woke it up, relying on the illusion to endure while it performed its housekeeping tasks in the background. A little stopwatch work proved that this chicanery actually added three seconds to the overall wake-time, and taught him his first important user-experience lesson: perception of functionality trumps the actual function.

All week I wondered about iPhone's responsiveness after "putting it to sleep" (no, as a good Canadian, I have to wait to get one), and John says it's zippy. I still can't help but wonder, though, if Apple pulled one over on people like the Malaysians did on Art.

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