Ed Bilodeau

This weblog had moved: http://www.coolweblog.com/bilodeau/

# Notice (Oct 19/05): So ends my stay here on Blogger. This morning Google implemented an anti-spam 'feature' that forces me to answer a challenge phrase when I want to post to my own blog. No notice of the change, nothing. Worse is that it doesn't even work! I type the phrase, submit, "An error occured", post deleted. Damn you, Google. Chances are I will revive my blog somewhere else, sometime soon. I'll post the new coordinates here as soon as they become available. (BTW, I'm unable to post anything to my RSS stream, so I'd appreciate it if readers could spread the word and ask people to take a look at this notice)

Update (Oct 19/05, ~noon): After a frustrating few hours (and not just trying out alternatives to Blogger), I've decided that this is a good time to take a break from all this. A day? A week? Who knows. But I need to step away from it before I pass a heavy magnet over the whole mess.

Update 2: According to this post, the reason I'm seeing the CAPTCHA (challenge phrase) is that Blogger has classified my blog as spam. Thanks. User for five years and now I'm spam. I searched the Blogger site, but there is no mention of how to get the spam flag turned off. There is also no way of contacting anyone at Blogger. Wow. Spam they say I am, so spam I must be. Maybe it is time to take a break.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ars System Guide: June 2005 edition: I find these reports from Ars to be a great way of staying on top of the state of PC hardware.
Thoughts on Blogger wonkiness: I came across a post on the Blogger help site acknowledging that changes made to the system to support Blogger Images (whatever) are causing layout problems.

The root of the problem, IMHO, is that their new functionality breaks Blogger's tag model. Up to now, anything that was inserted into a template was marked with a tag like this:
and it was pretty clear what would be inserted when the pages were rendered. It was a system that worked well (and one that is pretty standard across all template systems).

Now, they've gone and broke it. Before I would insert the text of a post using the tag
which would insert my post text as is. Now, my post text is wrapped in additional tags which have a non-negligible effect on my layout, i.e.:
is rendered as
<div style="clear:both;"></div>
<div style="clear:both; padding-bottom: 0.25em;"></div>
Google's first mistake was implementing a new feature in a way that broke the exisitng code. Their developers clearly thought that a few empty div's wouldn't break anything, which indicates that they don't really appreciate how their software may be used.

Google's second mistake was releasing the change without properly testing it. Although they claim to have tested the change, they also note that many of the problems are with blogs that use one of the canned Blogger templates. Forget my apparently whackjob layout: their changes break their own plain-jane layouts. So what exactly did you test if not on the dozen or so canned templates?

Google's third mistake was doing this without documenting the change in functionality. Even now, all they are saying is that they've made some changes, but we (i.e. the users) don't know what they are or how our sites will be impacted. This indicates that they were not confident in their work and their testing to publish how the new functionality will work. Instead, their plan appears to be to put the changes into producion, see what breaks, and then go back and rework their code. Then, maybe someday, they will document the changes we need to make to our templates.

Google's fourth mistake was how they implemented the markup. Looking at the snippet above, the div's are not identified in any way (i.e. with a class or id). As a developer, if the system is going to autorender elements, I want to be able to get at them, either with CSS, Javascript, or whatever. I can't have any untouchable elements on my page. Something like this:
<div id="BloggerImageBegin" style="clear:both;"></div>
<div id="BloggerImageEnd" style="clear:both; padding-bottom: 0.25em;"></div>
Furthermore, what's with the inline styling? This is 2005, my friend. Those have to go. Into the <style> where they belong.

Google's fifth mistake was that they didn't allow me to opt in to their beta test. Or more importantly to me at this moment, there is no way for me to opt out. There is no "Please remove this busted functionality from my Blogger setup until you get the bugs worked out, although I'm very happy with Flickr so I doubt I would ever use it anyway, and besides aren't you a bit late to the image-upload game anyway, and no Hello doesn't count" button for me to click.

I don't really care if they ever fix this: it is really unimportant. But I think there are lessons here for anyone who is developing applications and is concerned about making sure that upgrades go smoothly.
The weather here has been hot (in the thirties) and humid for almost a week, and it doesn't look like it is going to break before the weekend. No a/c at home, so the temperature in the apartment has been hovering at just under 30, even at night. The fans help a bit, but overall, it has been draining.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Someone at Blogger decided to tweak the rendering engine so as to insert a
<div style="clear:both;"></div>
between my permalink code and post code, resulting in a messed up layout. Since it isn't in my template, I'm not sure how to stop it from appearing.
Jay Cross gives an overview of Gnomedex, pointing to it as a model for a 'new' kind of conference. We already know that at most conferences, the interesting stuff happens outside the sessions, so why both wasting everyone's time?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Often when I'm working on a new document, I start out putting down my ideas on paper. It doesn't take long for me to say to myself, "I don't really have time to do this twice", at which point I switch over to the PC to start my writing.

Should I work at giving myself more time to work on things so that I could draft my work out on paper, or should I work at getting better as using my computer to draft my ideas?
Confirmed: All Typepad blogs blocked in China. The article notes that Blogger sites (hey, like mine!) are also blocked. MSN Spaces appears to provide built-in censorship features for Chinese spaces/blogs, stripping out 'bad' words.

From what I understand, the technology that makes this censorship possible has been provided to the Chinese government by US companies. If it is OK to sell them technology that kills and maims, I guess it isn't a far stretch to OK the selling of technology that allows them to control their citizens.

If the recent past is any indication, the coming years will do away with whatever remenants of techno-utopianism persist in the minds of the people who build and promote information technology as a means to a better way of life for everyone. We may see calls for a greater sense of ethics among developers, but it won't matter. Engineers (like all professionals) already have a code of ethics that they are sworn to uphold, and yet they still manage to build technology that causes both immediate and offset harm to our planet and the people living here. So will it be with software and computer technology.

Is there anything to be done? Sure, but I have a lecture on information repositories to prepare, so that post will have to wait for another time.
I've posted a number of pictures of the new home for McGill's Faculty of Music. The building is impressive from the outside, if not dominating its supprounding, out of place.

From what I understand, the building will allow the Faculty of Music to consolidate offices, classroom, libraries, and other facilities that are currently spread out around campus. The bad news is that once they've done that, the new building will be full, leaving them again with a space problem.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Michael Geist on the impact of Canada's new copyright legislation on P2P file sharing. In a nutshell, uploading is probably illegal, downloading is probably legal, and we won't really know until the law is tested in court. For someone like me that just wants to 'do the right thing', our government and legal system are doing a poor job.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Last week was the last full week of work I have until August 22. I'm not expecting pity. I know I have it good. But all these short weeks are going to make for some very busy days over the next two months. So be it.

Last year this time I had my Ph.D. to work on, so my "off" days were spent working on research. Not this year. Not ever.
Aaron reports from SF: Things I have learned getting to work in Silicon Valley for three weeks
Last night I tested using my Muvo N200 to record the audio from my lecture. I hit the record button and dropped the player into my shirt pocket. No extra microphone, just the crummy little built-in mic. Here's a sample of the resulting audio, where I'm explaining to a student what podcasting is about.

audio-test-podcast.mp3 (~ 4MB)

My plan now is to record all my lectures and post them to my class web site for students to listen to. Will students not bother to come to class? I don't know. That's a challenge for me to deal with. Besides, my goal isn't to get students to sit and listen to me for 3 hours a week. My goal is for them to learn the material, and if I can do that in a more flexible way, all the better.
Me: "Getting someone with a CS degree to write production code is like asking a physicist to build a bridge."
The Rise of Open Source Java. I'm glad to see what appears to be a high-level of interest in Java, especially since we decided to go with Java as the common language in our credit programming courses. Pascal just wasn't cutting it any more! :P
My current backup procedure: Keep ~ all documents/data in one folder (/my documents/mirror), and use SyncBack (freeware version) to automatically (scheduled to run at 9am every morning) sync that folder with my user directory on the file server.

The only problem with this is that I only have 1GB of space on the file server, which is close to the size of the documents/data. Solution: Prune my set of working documents by ~ 50% and archive a bunch of stuff on to CD. Time available to work on said pruning: not today, that's for sure!
Yesterday it was annouced that Professor Peter Todd from the University of Virginia has been appointed Dean of the Faculty of Management here at McGill for a five-year term. Given his area of specialization, I'm hoping to see a renewed emphasis on information systems research and teaching at the faculty (as well as a renewed interest for our own programs here at the Centre).
Graphic: The Technologies of Cooperation

Monday, June 20, 2005

I made a small tweak to the code for my del.icio.us toolbar link (based on Jon Udell's original tweak). Adding the following
+'&extended=\"'+encodeURIComponent(document.getSelection()) +'\"'
onto the end of the standard toolbar link will dump whatever text you have selected into the extended field, quoted to boot. (I just added the quoted part, which is beyond trival, I know, but was driving me nutso.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

This morning I'm going to give getting Firefox to work on my PC another try.

A few weeks back, after McGill's IT department came by to set up my PC to run off of Active Directory, Firefox stopped working. The window and basic chrome would appear, but nothing would load and nothing (not even the chrome) was interactive. I've been using IE ever since.

Red Door

Working with IE has been fine, although it did take some getting used to. A few sites had funky layouts, but those were mostly weblogs from people who are probably not using IE as their main browser (and who are writing standard-compliant code). So its been ok, but earlier this week, when Karl was telling me about a neat RDF plugin that requires Greasemonkey, well, being stuck in IE-land has felt like a bit of a backwater.

So this morning I've rolled up my sleeves, and am going to give it the old college try. Updates will be appended to this post.

Update: Five minutes later, I'm done. Everything is working fine. The trick, I guess, was to manually delete all remenants of Firefox from my HD, and then reinstall. My guess is that the AD install required the creation of a new user account, and this messed up my Firefox profile. All is good now, although now need to rebuild my Firefox setup.
What happened to the BizTalk Framework? From this 2002 document describes what I understood the framework to be: "a new cross-platform e-commerce framework that makes it easy for businesses to integrate applications and conduct business over the Internet with trading partners and customers. The BizTalk framework is based on new Extensible Markup Language (XML) schemas and industry standards that enable integration across industries and between business systems, regardless of platform, operating system or underlying technology." The original site, biztalk.org, now points to the Microsoft Biztalk Server page.

I knew BizTalk was always an MS product, but I thought they were going to keep the framework separate from their implementations. What gives?
Karl contemplates Technorati's business model of making money by mining the data we post to our weblogs. Not that they are alone in this (ex: Google), but it is important to understand how your data is being used. Mind you, people didn't seem to care when Google modified my content in order to make money (regardless of the licence applied to it) so I can't get too upset or expect much opposition to Technorati making money my off content without altering it.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Duke iPod First-Year Experience: information and findings on Duke's experiment at giving students iPods. At the very least, it looks like it wasn't entirely a publicity scam.
This comment thread contains an interesting description of how instant outlining (which as I understand it is more like shared outlines) is being used as dogfood by the product's own development team. I just want a good outliner! :)

Related: Rogers Cadenhead on OPML, which I thought was a format but appears to be the name for the new outliner.
Librarian humor: I'm not sure of the original source of this, but here is a list of odd LC subject headings as discovered by my fellow students at GSLIS.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

This morning I was talking to a professor here at McGill about an online course I'll be helping put together over the summer. We were talking about... well, actually it was more like lamenting the fact that WebCT (Campus Edition) isn't much of a student-writable environment. That is, it does a really poor job of facilitating collaboration between students and allowing them to add content to the site outside of the well-defined limits of the discussion groups and student presentation sections. WebCT Vista is a *bit* better, but out of the box, not by much.


Anyway, I mentioned to her that there were a few folks working on a instant outliner, when she broke in saying, "I love outliners! Have you ever heard of MORE? I've never, ever found anything as good as that..."

Same guy, I told her. Same guy.
CSM: Techno-rebels spread wireless network vision. There should be a requirement (or incentive) that would encourage publicly funded organizations to provide some level of free wireless service in their environs. You should be able to provide a limited amount of free, secure bandwidth off your network while still being able to meet the needs of your organization.

I can think of at least one large organization downtown *cough*McGill*cough* that could lead the way in this regard. Unfortunately, the notions of connectivity are still, for a variety of reasons, mired in older ways.
David has put together a nice arrangement of (what I think are) his favorite photos from flickr.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Most weblogs are public forms of self-expression. It is important to keep this in mind, both as an author and as a reader, when trying to evaluate the quality and value of any given weblog.
Conceptually, the weblog is a format, a form of media. There is nothing about a weblog that constrains the content in any meaningful way. People are free to publish more or less whatever they like. So trying to talk collectively about weblogs is a bit like trying to generalize about books: it doesn't make much sense.

It does happen often, however, mostly because weblogs today have, overall, a certain character. The majority of weblogs are created by people who are taking advantage of inexpensive/free tools to express themselves in a public or semi-public way. They are not thinking about audience, in that they are not writing their content to meet the needs of a specific audience. They may want readers, but not people who are looking for useful information or a useful service. Rather, they are interested in people who are interested in them for what they have to say, for who they are.

Family and friends are the most natural audience, and I'm guessing, for the majority of weblogs, the primary audience. Having a weblog can also help you to meet people online, to make new acquaintances, new friends. Maybe it was because of something you wrote, a picture you posted. Maybe it was something you did on another site, in a discussion forum for example, and the person linked back to your weblog and found it interesting. Or maybe it was someone you met offline, and who googled you and liked what they saw. However it happens, your weblog connects you to others.

A lot of what you read about weblogs, about finding an audience, developing a readership, generating revenue, etc applies only to a very, very small number of people. Most of us should really be spending our time elsewhere, living our lives and perhaps, occasionally, reflecting on and sharing our thoughts and experiences with others through the words and images we post to our blogs.
I came across an good article over on AdAge that discusses why ad gencies are playing a smaller role helping to develop organizational strategy. According to the article, "somewhere along the way, ad agencies and other communications companies started thinking less about the strategy and more about selling execution. Worse yet, they started to fill their staffs with people who were craftsmen and not strategists. The result: They began to be viewed as laborers, not architects."

I was discussing exactly the same thing with a co-worker yesterday, lamenting the fact that most of the outside marketing and writing resources I've encountered over the past few years being little to the table other then their technical skills. Nothing wring with that, except that I have a hard time spending good money for someone to write English or layout a page in Photoshop, especially if the design process ends up being "collaborative" (i.e. I come up with the ideas and they lay them out for me).

This is an opportunity for not only ad agencies, but all kinds of service firms (include web development shops) to add value and differentiate themselves from their competition.
The new MSN toolbar brings tabbed browsing to IE. Update: I've turned tabbed browsing off. I'm too used to using the taskbar to navigate through open pages.
Jon "Hannibal" Stokes at Ars Technica makes an interesting observation that points to problems that arise when the specifics of the technology are part of the brand: "[The] "RISC" PowerPC architecture has been a core part of the Apple brand and the overall "mythology" of the Mac platform since the 68K transition, even if that architecture rarely delivered on company's promises with benchmark numbers. So what Apple fans are mourning right now isn't the loss of some actual technical superiority of the Mac hardware, but rather the loss of the perception of that hardware's "technical superiority." Even more importantly, Mac enthusiasts are also mourning the loss of that perception's role in the ongoing maintenance of the myth of Apple and of the Apple brand in the form in which these two have coexisted in the PowerPC era."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I'm most of the way through watching Jobs' WWDC demo from yesterday, where he announces the switch from PowerPC to Intel processors. A few things worth noting.


First, Jobs is such a great presenter. If you build and/or give presentations as part of your job, you owe it to yourself to watch Jobs talk whenever you have a chance.

Second, Apple is really smart. To have the foresight to make OS X platform independent from the beginning, and to have a 'secret' team working on making sure that every version of OS X runs on Intel. For the past five years. Seeing the flexibility that gives them... smart.

Third, everything, everything about Apple is slick. Don't think I need to say more there.

Fourth, the fact that you won't be able to run OS X / Intel on a non-Apple Intel box isn't a big deal. I mean, really, who wants to run OS X on a boring, grey tower? Do you see me using my old Dell monitor with a Mac Mini... I don't think so! People who buy Apple want to whole stack.

What we are more likely to see, however, is some very good performance for emulation of Windows apps, or even folks running Windows XP full out on their Mac hardware. This transition makes the Mac/Intel less of a closed hardware platform, which can only be good for Apple.


A post that really needs to be written: Why what you are talking about is not tacit knowledge, and because of that, I'm having a hard time not flipping the bozo bit on you.

Monday, June 06, 2005

"We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac"

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Today I was able to spend some time with WebCT Vista, and overall, I've very pleased with what I saw.

Iron monument

Two problems that have not been solved:

1. You *still* cannot sort discussion topics to display new posts at the top.

2. You *still* cannot create relative items in the calendar, i.e. Create an event in week 2 of your course and have the system figure out the date each semester. FPITA.

But, BUT, it looks very good, and much better then before. I'm one of the few faculty at McGill who will be using it for their courses in the fall. If I experience anything truely noteworthy, I'll be sure to post a note here.

On an unrelated note, why, if my laptop has access to a weak 10Mbps connection and a wired 100Mbps connection does it insist on using the weak 10Mbps connection? Why do I have to manually slap it and force it to do the smart thing? Not that it makes much of a difference, since the network speed has been abysmal all day.