Archive for May, 2006

Xtreme Podcaster Lorenzo Gariano summits Everest

May 21, 2006

Lorenzo Gariano reached the summit of Mt. Everest today, according to reports here and here relayed by Chris Valentine. Lorenzo, former KMi ‘plantmeister’, Seven Summits aspirant (highest peak on each continent — 5 down, 2 to go) and KMi Xtreme Webcaster Extraorinaire came very close last year as we reported then, and has now done it!

The descent is typically even more dangerous, so we’re waiting with bated* breath to get Lorenzo’s next podcast/update.

In the meantime, hearty congratulations!!

*[update: thanks to tipoff from Peter Sharpe about my sloppy typo, here’s a commentary from Michael Quinon on World Wide Words

“…The correct spelling is actually bated breath but it’s so common these days to see it written as baited breath that there’s every chance it will soon become the usual form, to the disgust of conservative speakers and the confusion of dictionary writers. Examples in newspapers and magazines are legion; this one appeared in the Daily Mirror on 12 April 2003: “She hasn’t responded yet but Michael is waiting with baited breath”.

It’s easy to mock, but there’s a real problem here. Bated and baited sound the same and we no longer use bated (let alone the verb to bate), outside this one set phrase, which has become an idiom. Confusion is almost inevitable. Bated here is a contraction of abated through loss of the unstressed first vowel (a process called aphesis); it has the meaning “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath refers to a state in which you almost stop breathing through terror, awe, extreme anticipation, or anxiety…”

Plus much more: worth reading the original

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Calendar widget challenge

May 21, 2006

There’s some nice movement taking place in the online calendaring world right now, and the fact that Google is throwing its 800-pound gorilla weight around sure helps raise the stakes!

I’m increasingly migrating my stuff over to Google calendar, which means moving from casual experiments to increasingly rely on it for real. It has numerous great capabilities, style, and approach that have been commented on at length elsewhere, so I won’t repeat any of that, but just wanted to add a little twist of my own.

Via a recent Stowe Boyd posting I found out about Elias Torres’ Google Calendar Quick Add Firefox Extension, which makes it that much simpler to add that little ‘Dinner w John Sculley Tue 8pm’ line we’ve all been so eager to do since Mr Knowledge Navigator himself launched the Newton Message Pad onto the world many moons ago.

This is NOT to be overly cynical about the benefits of being to add ‘intuitive one-liners’ to you calendar: Google Calendar’s quick-add really does work if you’re even moderately cooperative about using it nicely (sure, you can fool it, but that’s not the point) .

But it does trigger some thoughts, sketched out below.

The widget challenge and some past experience with natural language calendar input

About 10 years ago, former KMi superstar Stuart Watt and I experimented with super-quick meeting scheduling tools that relied on just email and natural language input. The idea was that you could email a tentative scheduling ‘suggestion’ to your relevant friends and colleagues, and CC it to one of Stuart’s Intelligent Agent tools (called Luigi), and the agent would mediate the booking arrangements!

The bad news is that people don’t really like agents mediating their arrangements — though even this had its upside, because the realisation led us to develop the agent-free Meetomatic that just uses a dumbed-down (and highly popular, I might add) click-the-dates-and-show-me-the-big-constraint-table interface. The good news is that Stuart wrote a fantastic date parser for Luigi, that let you type in all sorts of nice and intuitive expressions to schedule your meetings, e.g.

“Next Tuesday 10am-4pm”
“Thu 25th 8-1”

etc. You would enter these one per line, in a plain vanillla email (that also described the purpose of the meeting, the venue, etc), CC it to Luigi, and Luigi would handle the rest. This parsing side of the work was very promising, so naturally I’m very happy to use Google Calendar’s Quick Add capability, since it ‘does the right thing’ enough of the time, given the caveat about being a cooperative user.

The challenge

But the quick add capability does not address a very common situation I find myself in, hence this challenge, with I think is pretty easy: I receive an email message, and somewhere in the subject line or body of that email is a short piece of text saying something like

“Seminar by X, on Tuesday, 23rd May, 12:30PM in the Lecture Theatre”

Usually there are relevant URLs included, and (rarely) an iCal “add this to my calendar” link. But what I want is simply this capability:

1. I highlight the segment [Tuesday, 23rd May, 12:30PM] with my mouse
2. I click the right-mouse button
3. Up pops a context menu with several choices offering me the option to ‘do the right thing’, including (of course) add this to my Outlook calendar, add this to my Google Calendar, add this to all my calendars, or any other user-settable action I have provided to the menu tool.

So, I don’t require any software to determine where the right text is! I’m happy to do that.

Note that I’m fussy: I only want to engage in an absolute maximum of 3 mouse actions: highlight, right-click, ‘do it’. Even great tools such as Quick Add require you to do more, or they require the text to be embedded in a Gmail so that relevant actions can be displayed on the right. I’m thinking of something more general that would give you a choice of user-settable actions.

Anyone want to give this a shot, or point me to an existing solution?

[QUICK UPDATE: forgot to mention if you try the exact example above,
“Seminar by X, on Tuesday, 23rd May, 12:30PM in the Lecture Theatre”
then with Elias’s plugin you can do the following:
1. Highlight all that text
2. CTRL-C (copies);
3. CTRL-; (pops up quick add plugin)
4. CTRL-V (pastes your text)
5. Hit the RETURN key, and the entry is in your Google Calendar, correctly.

Hmm… as a keyboard junkie and ex-EMACS fanatic, I have to admit that little keyboard sequence is pretty damn quick. My challenge still stands, however, as it has other more generic uses.]

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Ian Katz phones me from Havana…

May 12, 2006

…today, but I don’t know the guy: he’s a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and apparently he’s now stationed in Havana, and among orther things is doing a report on UCI: Universidad de las Ciencias Informaticas.

UCI is the fantastic place I visited in late 2004, and blogged about in my entry “Cuba’s Other Revolution” back then. Apparently that blog posting is one of the few external sources of information about the place, so Ian wanted some followup info, before visiting there himself.

I explained that the place is a “must see”, and am very keen to hear how he gets along – in fact it is not easy to get an invitation, so I hope he succeeds!

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OMG I’m back… tnx Technorati

May 12, 2006

Technorati tech support has come to the rescue (of my posts mysteriously not being indexed); I wasn’t worried about the delay so much, more the mystery:

After making a small adjustment, it looks like all is in order and your blog has been indexed with your most recent posts and tags
… There was an issue with WordPress blogs in particular that should be fixed now.

Hmm… I’m trying to find out more.

Main thing is that being unindexed by Technorati is a remarkable disincentive to posting! OK, no excuses now!

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Buddy list is key to future publish/aggregate world

May 4, 2006

Stowe Boyd has been writing some key posts on and off about making IM and buddy lists the center of a much larger publish/aggregate/communicate/socialize world. In an end-of-April entry he talks some more about AOL’s plans for AIMspace = AIM Pages.

The integration of personal publishing with IM is long overdue. … [AIM Pages] … Looks like the closest thing to the Nerdvana client I have been begging for, where all sorts of information is hanging off the buddylist, like RSS feeds, appointments, and who knows what else. After all, people are the center of the universe, and I want everything arrayed against identities.

Check out the onward links from Stowe to David Card on AOL Building out IM as Community Platform and Richard Siklos New York Times article on AOL: A Punching Bag in Need of a Big Hit.

People sometimes find it hard to believe that we can leverage so much power from a ‘mere’ buddy list; or that it ought to be the centre of our universe. I don’t think it needs to be the centre: but it’s demonstrably a core component of many things that many of us do! For example, check out how BuddyFinder/CORDER can leverage a buddy list to triangulate on the best match to a query, even in the absence of stored user-profiles (by scavenging the web pages of other people on your buddy list to create an ‘inferred profile’).

I don’t think that social search, publishing and aggregation will necessarily be the centre of the universe, but with these new facilities you only need a once-per-year high-impact result to completely alter your online behaviour!

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Ontology definitions 1 and 2

May 3, 2006

I recently came across these two ‘branches’ of Wikipedia that very nicely (in my opinion) clarify the distinction between the modern semantic web / computer science usage of ‘ontology’ and the old philosophical usage:

Ontology (Computer Science usage, e.g. as a data model):

In computer science, an ontology is a data model that represents a domain and is used to reason about the objects in that domain and the relations between them. … Contemporary ontologies share many structural similarities, regardless of the language in which they are expressed. … most ontologies consist of individuals (instances), classes (concepts), attributes, and relations.

Ontology (Philosophical usage)

In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek ὄν, genitive ὄντος: of being (part. of εἶναι: to be) and -λογία: science, study, theory) is the most fundamental branch of metaphysics. It studies being or existence and their basic categories and relationships, to determine what entities and what types of entities exist. Ontology thus has strong implications for conceptions of reality.

VERY useful and concise descriptions, in my view, including some deeper discussion and very nice examples; at the very least worth a 3-minute read of each.

You may disagree with these pages, BUT my informal criterion is that the first should have you saying “ah, of course” and the second should cause your head to spin and/or cause you to reach for (more) alcohol.

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Peter Millard dies

May 3, 2006

Just catching up on postings today, I noticed this from Peter Saint-Andre from a few days ago:

Peter Millard, my friend and a longtime contributor to the Jabber community, died last night. …
His software (first Winjab and then Exodus) was used by hundreds of thousands of people across the world and introduced Jabber to Windows. … In short, Peter is a big reason why Jabber technologies are where they are today.

I didn’t know Peter, but sure used a lot of his software and read a lot of his comments; extremely sorry to hear the news. Peter Saint-Andre will be putting together some form of tribute for users of Exodus and related software, so check for information.

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WordPress hack gets RSS2 output back…

May 3, 2006

…and validated once again in

Apologies for the last four or five posts on this subject – they were really an attempt to catch the eye of WordPress or Technorati or RSS gurus who might have had the solution.

Thanks to Kevin for the PHP tweaking suggestion that solved this: boy is it subtle. I have never touched this file before, so the reason for the sudden occurrence of the problem this month is still a mystery to me. Moreover, the code in the ‘analagous’ file for older-spec RSS0.92 parses correctly with no problem, so the mystery remains.

Here is the solution.

Top: OLD CODE in my WordPress file wp-rss2.php; bottom = NEW CODE

Old code

New code

After the change (note single-quote-to-double-quote alteration between old and new), FeedValidator is happy. Well, happier anyway. Still a few minor complaints that are then resolved by the second tweak, namely in WordPress adjusting the setting in Options… Reading… Syndication feeds… For each article show… Summary rather than Full text.

Easy, no?


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Broken RSS 2.0 feed in WordPress, caused by mystery file, mystery whitespace

May 1, 2006

I have posted my problem here on the WordPress discussion forum, as follows:

[begin original posting]

Yow; I am struggling big-time with (recently, this past month) complaining at the very fist line of my RSS2 feed (detailed error at the end).

I have been up and down all the forums, FAQs, etc, and finding that there are extra whitespace issues is almost beyond belief. Whitespace should not cause such a huge number of headaches in this day and age.

Now I find my blog is no longer picked up by Bloglines or Technorati as a result of *SOMETHING* that happened in the last month, and am really stumped.

The error is dealt with in the next post: not that easy to post the full code here without upsetting WordPress)

Even if I hardwire the apparently unevaluated get_settings to say “utf-8” I still get an error (this time complaining about the blank line 1).

Anyone got a suggestion? All plugins are disabled EXCEPT Akismet which I need desperately for spam detection. Moreover it worked fine until this month.

Many thanks!

p.s. since my original posting I have also turned off all my plugins; found a few more related threads about this problem; seems a lot of people are going crazy…
I have emailed Technorati and WordPress support directly about this, last week, but still no news.

[end original posting]

Ho hum… there is a great/relevant article from j wynia who writes:

So, what was the problem you ask (and lots of people on lots of forums have been asking about this very problem)?

1. If there is any space, extra line or anything at all before the initial xml at the beginning of the output, the strict validators will puke on it.

2. Are you serious, J? Yes. An extra empty line in front of the first text is what was breaking it.

So, it is just a matter of removing the line and my chest can swell with geeky pride, right? Well, not so fast. See, the empty line wasn’t in wp-rss2.php.

That is right: (a) extra whitespace (this is 2006, or is it 1006?); and (b) it is not caused by the file you think it is. So far so good – this is normal debugging life; BUT I have disabled all plugins, and still get the same behaviour (did I mention that the behaviour is new, only this past month)?

I see others have found that manually deleting extra whitespace from extra files, even with plugins all disabled, can crack this one!

Don’t know if I will have the patience to persevere with this one. May revert to an older feed technology, RSS0.92, but that will have some unwanted side-effects. Suggestions still welcome!

Technorati tags: (oh yeah, they don’t get spotted anyway until the above problem is resolved, so I will not bother).