August 29, 2000

Writing RSS 1.0. A tutorial.

The more I work with RSS, the more I love it. It really encapsulates most of what I love about working with the web. I'll have to write more about that soon. Been meaning to, anyway.


One of the things that excites me about the web is that complex applications can be delivered through a relatively simple--and increasingly universal--user interface: the web browser.

With this happy thought in mind, I'll design an application using this "simple" UI...and the problems start rolling in. People's stupidity never ceases to amaze me. When I think things are at their worst, I read this account of one developer's UI design problems, and just sigh in resignation.

Don't get me wrong--I freely count myself among the most frequently stupid. This s one thing that retail taught me: people are stupid, no exceptions.


Whoo-hoo! A beta version of MacOS X will be released on September 13. Despite what I thought would be my better judgment, I've realized that I am one of those people who will be itching to install OS X as soon as possible. First in line at the candy store. Why I'm psyched to do this with OS X before the bugs are shaken out, yet at the same time strongly cautioning people against doing the same thing with a new version of Windows, I'm not so sure.

How much of this is an anti-Microsoft bias? I'd like to think not much. I happen to like most of the Microsoft products I use. I use Word not because I have to because it's ubiquitous, I use it because I think it's the best word processor out there--at least for the Mac. (I really don't care about the distinction between WordPerfect and Word on Windows...I support Corel for releasing a Linux version of WordPerfect, and wish that I could use it on LinuxPPC, although my pocketbook would rather that I could use StarOffice.)

And as for the OS...frankly, my Mac crashes far more often than my Windows box at work. Part of the credit goes to the excellent tech support staff we have there, but face it--the MacOS is buggy. Weird extension conflicts shouldn't be as much of a problem as they are.

Of course, I've experience similar problems with Linux: libraries getting pissed at each other or something.

And I'm not a huge Windows fan, but neither am I a major detractor. It's an OS, it does its job for the most part, and for the most part I'm happy.

So why the urge to rush into OS X? Because it's cool. I'm pretty sure that's it. I'm eager to play with the new toy, just as I was eager to install Linux, just as I'd love to install some flavor of BSD.

August 28, 2000

Last night I did something with CSS and tables in my resume that's tripping a bug in Netscape 4.x for Windows and causing the browser to crash. Until I can get home and fix it, the printer-friendly version is available for your perusing pleasure. :-)

Update: Well, I think I've fixed the problem. Setting up a table within a table cell turned out to be disastrous in combination with the style sheet code. I can't wait for Netscape 6.

August 27, 2000

Good discussion about the development of RSS 1.0. RealAudio or MP3.

August 26, 2000

Turned on the TV the other day to find what looked to be people rappelling down grain silos, choreographed to music. "Thank god for public television," Kiara said. "Otherwise these artists would have no outlet." Now I see that local rag City Pages has an article about it. I guess I didn't dream the whole thing, after all. Weird. Damn weird.


Got the Meerkat news feed working. Not hard at all, thanks to Meerkat's API. Now I get to play around with configuring it to get the articles that are actually interesting. :)

August 25, 2000

RSS Delivers the XML Promise.

I'm going to take the time to get the Meerkat thing working here tomorrow.


#1 on the bestseller list at Fatbrain right now is Who Moved My Cheese?


A priest from Saint Cloud, Minnesota was killed in Kenya. There is so much that I could write about this but can't. Silenced by experiences that are not mine. I wish that it could suffice to say that I grieve for this man and those who knew him.


Very, very cool Visible Earth site from NASA.


Have I mentioned that I am the target audience for Volkswagen commercials? I love 'em. Even had I not had my eye on a Golf for years now, the commercials might just have done me in, yet strangely this doesn't bother me.

August 23, 2000

I forgot to mention one thing about Québec and Montreal: the coffee was generally bad. Nowhere was it actually good, most often it was simply mediocre, and occasionally it was outright terrible. Most disappointing, although certainly not the worst, was the espresso at the Brûlerie de St. Denis--it was pulled too long. The blend had possibilities that were ruined by poor preparation. Admittedly, I did not specify that I prefer espresso ristretto, but this really was just too long a pour. Kiara enjoyed her café au lait, though. And strangely, the coffee at Le Champlain, the otherwise excellent restaurant at the Château Frontenac, was unbearably atrocious.

Why is it that the best restaurants so often serve the worst coffee?


A message to language teachers in Minnesota: the dialects here do not usually distinguish between "bring" and "take." For years I have struggled with the French verbs amener and emmener. Dictionaries usually say that one means "to bring" and the other means "to take." Since until my mid-twenties I did not even know that English usually makes a distinction between those two words, this did not help in French. I'm still confused.

I wonder why this distinction is lost in Minnesota. I'm convinced that our frequent use of superfluous prepositions at the end of sentences (e.g. "where's it at?" or "where's she going to?") results from the influence of German on the local dialect, since German syntax often follows similar patterns. Does German have distinct verbs for "bring" and "take"? I don't know.


Back now, from an all-too-brief sojourn in Montreal and Québec. It was a good time. We did some of the usual tourist things, of course, but I'm glad. There are some amazing things to see and very little time. Next time we can step off the tourist track, I hope.

As my first foray into a French-speaking region, it was very educational for me. For one thing, the French is different from what I'm used to, but not ubiquitously so. Through my studies of French linguistics I had come to expect a few things: less pronounced tension, affrication of /t/ and /d/, lots of unexpected diphthongs, fronted vowels, different genders of some words. I was surprised to hear frequent devoicing of the "zh" sound in words like "bonjour" (pronounced like "bonshour" instead of "bonzhour"). The older the speaker, the more pronounced these traits--no surprise there. I should not have been but was still surprised by the variety of accents I heard. Probably just more sensitive to it since it's not my native language.

It was also disappointingly easy to use English. Since most of my interaction with Montréalais and Québecois was with those working in the service industry, who frequently deal with English-speaking tourists, if I hesitated for even a moment the conversation switched to English. I had rather hoped to be able to use far more French than I did. However, this week did drive home how ill-prepared I am to discuss daily matters in French. Oh sure, ask me about linguistics or French literary theory and I'll talk your ear off. Try to talk to me about food, though, or the names of everyday objects, and I'm lost.

Of course, I face the same lack of everyday vocabulary in English, so that's no great revelation.

That's misleading. The problem is not so much vocabulary as it is idiom. When you're next in a restaurant, pay close attention to all the little things that you and the staff say. A lot of it might not be obvious to a non-native speaker. The canned phrases learned in high school French classes don't quite cut it, especially since the idioms will vary from region to region and speaker to speaker.

Once, though, in the Brûlerie de St. Denis (a cafe in Montreal I'd been meaning to visit for years, ever since some conversation on a Usenet coffee list back in the day), I did have a helluva time understanding the person behind the counter. Felt terrible. The one exception to the younger speakers being easier to understand.

Beatiful cities, though. I could live in Québec.

And I've decided that I need to do a better job of following world news, making sure that I have at least some idea what's happening in Canada. I am wholly to blame for being as ignorant as I am of current events, and am even somewhat comfortable in my ignorance, but even when I read several newspapers a day I knew little of Canada.


I see that there's a new browser for Windows using Gecko. Pity again that I don't have a Windows box.


Shortly before we went on vacation, our cat Takeshi chewed off one of his stitches. Now he wears a cone on his head to prevent him from doing that again. The people who were taking care of him have a new nickname for him: Takeshi Koneshiro. If you're a Hong Kong film fan, you'll get it.


Anyway, I'm back in town now and have to start looking for a job. And building this site. Just after I catch up on all my reading...

Dang. One of the things I was hoping to do after the vacation was explore Deepleap. Not looking likely now...

August 14, 2000

I guess that I need to explain the calculus comment I made yesterday. Back when I was taking calculus (days that I am glad are behind me) we were always told that the most important thing that we would learn was not so much the calculus itself as the way it made us think. And I believe that was true. Calculus involves a different way of thinking, of conceptualizing and approaching problems. Agree or disagree with me, I found that to be true. Of course, I've forgotten all the calculus I learned. But I do believe that those problem-solvig universe-imagining habits stuck with me.


Downloaded Mozilla M17 today--it rocks! And fixes a problem or two that have been bugging me. It's been an absolute delight to watch this software develop. I wish that my C/C++ skills were stronger so that I could help work on it.

August 13, 2000

At long last, I've started reading Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. It's looking very, very good. I'm going to have to start a list here of things that I've read and am reading that have changed the way I think. This might be one of those books.

Kinda like calculus. :)


I finally got around to the redesign. Still have some work to do, primarily moving everything to CSS and XHTML, but that'll have to wait until I return from vacation.

August 11, 2000

Lots of catching up to do here.

First, I told my supervisor yesterday that I'm going to start looking for another job. It's quite simple: my position is moving away from web development and in a direction that holds far less interest for me: human resources research. I very much want to stay in web development. I love it. I wish I had the time to develop this site more, so I can show that I love it and that I'm actually quite good. Perhaps in a couple weeks, when I've polished the resume to my liking and am comfortably in a job search. If there are any web developers out there in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area who want to switch jobs, I'm game. :)

I realized that I've been unreasonably nervous about quitting jobs. It's never fun and I try to avoid it--I've been very fortunate to work at some pretty cool places. But about 8 or 9 years ago when I quit a job to enter the fine world of specialty coffee, the manager/owner of the place I was leaving broke down and cried. It struck me yesterday that ever since then I've been wary of inflicting this effect on my other managers.

I think I'm safe.


Hey, I just found out that there's gonna be another Highlander movie released in a couple weeks. And Adrian Paul will be in it! I always preferred the TV series to the movies, in part because I'm no fan of Christopher Lambert, but mostly because the writing is much, much better.


Spent some time today in a local coffeeshop. After having spent seven years working in coffee, and more than that being more than a little obsessed with it, it's really hard for me to bite my tongue when I hear obvious falsehoods being spouted by the staff. I can tolerate this--even expect it--from the customers, who more often than not are trying to learn something, but I foolishly expect that people who work in coffee will be better informed than they are. Or at least admit when they don't know something.

I should know better. I mean, hey, it's almost certainly a crappy minimum wage job. And there are good baristas out there.


A new design is coming, really. This one is on my nerves. Sunday. Not much, but a heckuva lot better than this.

August 9, 2000

I had an excellent conversation with someone at work today about...well, basically her dream of radically transforming the institutional culture into a cooperative, collaborative environment that recognizes, values, and utilizes people's strengths and interests. Strange: I keep finding myself working with or for people who have dreams like this and who begin laying the groundwork for realizing them, getting me all enthused...shortly before I leave. :)

Puts me in mind of an article in Fast Company a few years back about Dee Hock, the guy who set up Visa. Reading that article changed the way I thought about business, organization, management, and working with people. Worth a look.


One of the most disturbing cases of road rage I've heard of: the other day a guy followed someone home and threw acid in his face. What the hell frell?!

August 8, 2000

Someone just alerted me to a problem with the messages from the Kenya Travelers. Doesn't work in IE5.5; the <div>s run together. This is just a pain, since it renders just fine in IE5 for both Mac and Windows, in Mozilla, and even in Netscape 4.x! Have to take a look at that, I guess. Thing is, I'd done things with the files that I probably shouldn't have. Healthy experimentation and all.

But now that I know about this IE5.5 problem I have to rethink the design I was planning for this page--or at least how I go about implementing it.

I love browser incompatibilities and lack of standards support. Really. This is why I dig the Web Standards Project. <sigh />

August 6, 2000

I never thought I'd bother to have my own site. Yes, I do this for a living, and so you might think I'd jump at the chance to publish my own web site. Fact is, I've long railed against the wasted bandwidth of vanity sites, weblogs, and so on. Until now I have used this space for my own dastardly purposes, to experiment and occasionally break browsers. Yet more and more, I've been feeling the need to articulate a few thoughts and ponderables, and now I find that I need somewhere to keep my resume. So here it is.

I'm no longer certain that blogging is wasted bandwidth, either. Perhaps I'll explain why someday.

For now everything is rather spartan, I know. This space will hopefully develop rapidly as I figure out what I'm doing with it. One thing that won't change--I will continue to experiment here. Please let me know if anything that I've done here looks weird or doesn't work in your browser. I would really like to move away from a table-based layout but buggy browsers have kept me at bay. I'll experiment, but I don't want to crash browsers. :-)