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, October 19, 2005

Shutting down the site, moving back to MT : This weblog has moved to http://www.coolweblog.com/bilodeau/. Here's the reason why. Please update your bookmarks and newsreaders. Sorry for the trouble.

(The fact that I can post this indicates that this morning's problems appear to have been fixed. Too late, Google.)
Embrace and extend : Google Librarian Center: "Librarians and Google share a mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. We support librarians like yourself who work each day to further that mission. This page is a first step toward improving and expanding that support." This gets a raised eyebrow from me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Curtains : Curtains
In case you are wondering about the dearth of posts here, I'm on vacation this week. A study week vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. Not having a wireless network set up in the apartment means that I'm not online all day. I've been logging on at night to check messages and catch up on news and happenings, but that's about it.

The week and the studying have both been going well. I was worried I would have a hard time getting anything accomplished, but I've made good progress over the past two days. I'm feeling positive about how the rest of the week will go.

The best thing about having taken this study week off, though, is to be able to go for walks during the day in the lovely fall weather. Fall is probably my favorite season (winter a close second, spring, then summer).

BTW, just over two months until Christmas! :)
To turn over control of your life : In a recent post, Merlin Mann refers to "the overloaded, always-on, interrupt-driven world in which most of us are living." I would have thought that this kind of behaviour would have been something to avoid and free one's self from, and not something to embrace, to excel at.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Rain : Rainy day
The rain finally let up today. It was grey, cloudy, windy, and cold. But no rain. To tell you the truth, I don't mind either way.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

mp3 : mp3
Diary entry : Woke up late to a chilly, wet, and windy day. Tempting to stay buried under the blankets, but I eventually managed to pull myself out of bed and start the day.

With Nathalie heading off to work, I went with her parents to pick up a case of wine at the SAQ Depot just on the other side of the tunnel. I had never been before, but they assured me the wine was good and the prices better. Since I am not a fussy wine drinker (I have a binary palette: good/vinegar), I wasn't too worried about the quality of wine. Inexpensive I'm interested in.

Once we got there, I picked up a case of 12 empty bottle and 12 corks, and set about choosing my wine. You can only buy in multiples of 6, so I opted for 6 red and 6 white. I also picked up one of those bottle sealing thingamajigs so that we can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner without having to drink the whole bottle. Sealing the bottles was surprisingly easy. They have a manual machine in which is embedded all the knowledge of how to properly cork a bottle: place the bottle on the platform, put the cork in the hole, pull the lever, done. It was fun, and I saved about 40%-50% off what I would have paid retail.

This afternoon I puttered around the apartment. Laundry, dishes, surfing and slacking off. Had a wonderful supper with Nathalie. Folded some laundry. Watched our Saturday night shows (As Time Goes By, Rosemary and Thyme), did the last of the dishes. Make myself a cup of ovaltine (note to self: buy more milk) and settled in at the PC for a bit of before-bed surfing. Decided to write this note. Did so.
  1. Wired News Design Documentation
  2. The Restful Web
  3. Are multiplayer online games more compelling, more addictive?
  4. Ajax for Java developers: Build dynamic Java applications
  5. World Standards Day 2005
  6. Who isn't a knowledge worker?
  7. Twenty Years of Windows
  8. HTML, CSS, PHP, and More Cheat Sheets
  9. Library Journal: Periodical Price Survey 2005
  10. Measure Map
  11. 23 Ways to Speed Up Windows XP
  12. A Look Inside the Security Development Lifecycle at Microsoft
  13. The Noguchi Filing System
  14. Gobby - Collaborative text editor
  15. Benefits of anonymity in online forums/dgs
  16. dp.SyntaxHighlighter - JavaScript syntax highlighting
  17. FeedBurner
  18. BetterDesktop: Usability test methods and data for Linux developers
  19. BBC: Web enjoys year of biggest growth
  20. Google Adds Tagging
  21. Favorite Library of Congress Subject Headings
  22. Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia (or Build a Website for No Reason)
  23. Interview with Sun's Florian Reuter (OpenOffice)
  24. Quality of Wikipedia writing questioned
  25. Slashdot : What Makes an OSS Class Work?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Walking down after class : Walking down after class
I took the above picture while walking down from my class in Trottier last night. This morning I'm starting off my day by preparing and posting the slides, audio and links from the lecture.

It looks like my MuVo battery died near the end of the lecture. I checked before I started, and figured two bars (of three) meant I had enough to last for three hours of recording. Apparently not. Oh, well. I did warn my students that Murphy was likely to strike my audio recording. Such is life.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Heading home : Heading home
WebCT Vista content module : Annotated screenshot on Flickr. Other users of WebCT Vista are welcome to add their own thoughts/opinions/experiences.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tower : Tower
And then there was one : Blackboard and WebCT Announce Agreement to Merge. I doubt this will change the fact that I'm stuck using WebCT Vista for the next few years.
Wes Felter on iTunes 6 : "As usual, if you value your fair-use rights, don't install iTunes 6 until a corresponding version of JHymn comes out." (link)
Everything has a price : Given that Apple is selling TV shows, how long until it starts charging for early access to movie trailers?
Update : More or less done the first draft of tomorrow's lecture on gathering requirements. It just needs some tweaking and polishing, and it will be good to go. I think I'll put it aside for a few hours before making those changes.
What the... : Ads on cbc.ca. After the strike, you would think they would be trying to build audience, not drive us away.
Blogging may be harmful to chances for tenure : Too Much Information?: ""A blog raises your profile, but it raises your profile for something other than research," Carroll said. And even if you are extremely productive as a scholar, he said, some professors may view a blog as sign that you could be spending more time in the laboratory or library, engaged in traditional research."

It is interesting to note that as much as tenure is touted as being a mechanism for supporting academic freedom, my impression is that it is more often used as a control device to regulate the behaviour of academics seeking tenure.

Tenure also underpins the "crisis" in scholarly communication, creating an artificial dependence on expensive journals, and I think explaining why academics have not moved en mass to take advantage of the web as way of sharing knowledge.

Some institutions have begun to take a more enlightened path to tenure. Some even include teaching excellence as part of a candidates portfolio! But overall, I would say the concept has been twisted beyond recognition and no longer serves the university, academics, or society well. We need to move on.
Good morning! : Coffee and a home-made scone in hand, I'm good to go! On today's agenda: prepare tomorrow night's lecture, go for a walk at lunch and maybe drop in on Karl, finish up a draft of a site architecture.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Outside the bus : Outside the bus
New MS Office Open XML format will not require Office 12 upgrade : Details in this post by Brian Jones . Not that you won't need office. Free updates will be available for Office 2000, XP, and 2003 allowing those programs to read the new file formats as well.

Jones positions this as something which should ease the concerns of people thinking they would be forced to upgrade to Office 12, which is true. However, I think it is equally true that it will ease the concerns of those considering buying into Office 12, but worrying that they won't be able to share their files with anyone else (without down-saving).
WebCT Vista grief - Posts : WebCT Vista does a poor job of handling the formatting for posts in the discussion groups:

If I type in a plain-text post:
> Preview shows [br]'s, although they don't show up in the actual post.
> URLs are not converted to links (as they were in CE)
> Clicking on "Use HTML" and adding the necessary HTML code results in the proper links, but the line breaks all disappear, crunching your text together.

If I use the HTML creator (i.e. the Java-based WYSI-sorta-WYG text editor), it works better, but (a) I have to wait for the Java applet to load, (b) I still have to manually create the URLs using the applet's mouse-only formatting tools.

Vista also does away with the "Quote" reply feature, meaning you have to scroll down, find the text you want to reply to, paste it into your reply, and format it so that it looks like a reply.

As far as post editing goes, Vista is a step backwards over waht CE offered. I guess they figure everyone will use the HTML Creator widget.
Findability : ALA has published an article on findability. I'm glad to see to someone articulate what I would call "usability for information spaces".

Where the objective of a site is to provide users with access to a collection of information, the usability of the site is determined by the ability of users to (a) locate and (b) 'consume' the information they are seeking.

Findability focuses on the first part: the ability of users to locate what they are looking for. Effective labeling, organizaiton, and navigation methods contribute to this. The Polar Bear book talks about this at some length. I'm guessing Morville's new book will go into even more detail and perhaps provide a new perspective that will make it easier for practitioners to actually build information architectures that are usable.

Consumption, meanwhile, focuses on other things: the layout of the page, the organization of text, the clarity of the writing, choice of language, use of non-textual media types to enhance comprehension, etc. Information design more then information organization.

I think findability will become a useful concept, and I look forward to reading Morville's book.
Good morning! : Having a few minutes before class starts, I decided to set myself up in the serials reading room and check email and do a bit of surfing. Not much to report. A truncated week ahead, due to yesterday's Thanksgiving holiday. A lecture to prepare. Site architectures to work on. A few meetings. Plenty to keep me busy.

First task: secure a cup of coffee before class. God willing, the wireless in the classroom will be functioning.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Giving thanks : Day's end
Sam! : Last thursday, my brother Andre and his spouse Nicole welcomed little Samuel into this world. Everyone is back home now, resting, and doing fine.

Hello, Sam! We're hoping to get out to Halifax to meet you sometime soon. :)
CNN : Fire destroys 'Wallace and Gromit' warehouse. Oh, no... Nick Park had this to say, "Even though it is a precious and nostalgic collection and valuable to the company, in light of other tragedies, today isn't a big deal." Still,...
  1. SIMS 141: Search Engines: Technology, Society, and Business
  2. LiveMarks - monitor additions to delicious
  3. Windows Media Player 11 screenshot (vista 5231)
  4. Joi Ito's Web: Web x.0
  5. Intranet Views: An Alternative for Search and Knowledge Management
  6. Piefecta - A superb 3-col tableless layout
  7. The 50 most cited work in the Arts and Humanities Index
  8. OpenBusiness
  9. Ports you should not block if you're offering Internet service to the public.
  10. Eight years of email stats
  11. Turning the Pages: Digitized rare books at the BL
  12. Wikipedia: Community of practice
  13. CoP: Learning as a social system
  14. Quick look at the Gateway M280 Convertible Notebook
  15. How To Nail A Sexy Layout
  16. Bill Ives
  17. The Cook's Oracle: Index to Recipies
  18. Updated MSCONFIG w/ Tools menu
  19. VLC media player (DVD, etc)
  20. Operating Systems for the Co-Co
  21. Paint.NET - Home
  22. BitTorrent
  23. Audioblog.com
  24. Jensen Harris: An Office User Interface Blog
  25. Brian Jones: Office XML Formats

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Podcasting how-to video : Systm Episode 4 - Podcasting. 200MB+ bittorrent, but worth it.
Nathan Weinberg on Google Reader : "[In] the last hour of tinkering with it, I have never been so frustrated with a product. Nothing works the way it is supposed to, whole features are broken, importing fails, and usability decisions boggle the mind." [full post]
Dave Winer on Google Reader : "This is the second blog-related product they've come out with recently that appears not to have been touched by human beings before it was introduced to the world" [full post]
Google's idea factory : Karl asks if its a good idea to trust Google with your communications.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Work : work
Google Reader, Update : OK, for the hell of it I decided to give Google Reader another try. The responsiveness seems to be much better now. Still not sold on it.

The main problem is how it lists the posts to read. It does at least seem to interfile them, but I can't figure out exactly what it is doing. When I use "sort by date", there are posts that I know should be at the top, but aren't. I pay around with it, and all of a sudden there are a few newer posts that appear. Scrolling through the list I see an item from September, then one from October, then another from September. What date are they sorting on? The plutonium calendar? I can't see exact timestamps on anything, so I have no way of verifying whether or not the feeds are up to date. Important functionality for a news reader to have, IMHO.

Then there is "sort by relevance". What does that mean? relevant to what? I'm guessing it is some sort of post ranking similar to what they use in search. The problem here is that I'm not searching, I'm browsing. Would I like some sort of relevance indicator displayed? Yes. Do I want posts to be hidden from me because the blogosphere hasn't bothered to link to them? No. Useless.

Beyond that, there is no functionality available. I guess you might say, "There's no functionality, but its all cool and AJAXy! So that's good! Please send me targeted advertizing!" Or you might say, "This is pretty lame."
Google Reader Falls Flat : I tried to experiment with Google Reader by importing an OPML file of 20 or so feeds. It promptly choked on it, not crashing, but taking waaaaay to long to import it. That done, the UI was so kludgy and slow as to be unusable.

I wasn't even able to delete my feeds to see if it would work with just one feed. I was taking so long, and the AJAXy interface was really so bad, jumping around, slow, slow, slow.

From what I could tell, you still need to look at the posts from one feed at a time, and even then you have to click the title of each item to see the contents...

My recommendation: don't bother wasting your time with Google Reader.
WebCT Vista - Better, but not by much : When I first started teaching at the Centre, I put my materials up on my own web site and gave students the URL in class. It wasn't secure, and there were no communication tools, but the overhead was almost zero and it did the job.

Once I started working at the Centre full time, I became the web guy, and so was asked to try to improve our department's use of WebCT. Since it would be hard for me to convince someone else to use the system if I myself wasn't on board, I decided to take the dive and use WebCT for my class web site.

In the semesters that followed, I learned how to use WebCT effectively, which meant in essence not using most of the functionality, and instead using it to host files and provide a discussion group. C'est tout.

With Vista, which I am using for the first time this semester, I decided to try to use as much of the functionality as possible, to see how much things have improved. Overall, I would have to say that while things are better, they are not good enough for me to use on an ongoing basis.

The biggest change for me was to use a learning module (aka a content module) to organize my course materials, but the new version is still just as cumbersome as before, if not more so. I actually have less control them before over how to display the content. I'll stick it out this semester, but come winter, it's gone. Same goes for the gradebook, which didn't even get out of my pre-semester planning.

I think if we were to look at what most faculty on campus need out of a LMS, WebCT is overkill. Not in the functionality, which does look good on paper. But the implementation of those ideas leave a lot to be desired. WebCT Vista breaks almost every measure of good web app design. Frames, disabling browser controls, popups, plugins, no URIs for content, jamming way too much into the UI.

But we're stuck with it. This semester I'm going to try to get more feedback from my students, and hopefully in the winter session come up with a better way of using WebCT.
WebCT Vista and software dependencies : In class last night we were talking about understanding the technical constraints that you need to be aware of before you begin designing a web site. Things like target platforms, etc. The recent example of Gap, Inc.'s web sites blocking Safari users shows that this is still a real issue.

We got to the issues of plug-ins, and noted that the less plug-ins you use, the less software dependencies you build into your site, the less headaches you will have in the long run.

At this point, one of my students related their experience at work, where the tried to access the course WebCT Vista site (during his own time, of course), and was told by the system that he didn't have the correct version of Java installed, so he downloaded it and installed it. This caught the attention of the corporate IT staff, who followed up to see what he was up to.

This brought about a good class discussion of the fact that increasingly, PCs both at work and at home are locked down so that people cannot install software without a fair amount of work. In a year or two when Windows Vista ships with Least-privileged User Account functionality (finally!), few people will be surfing with admin priviledges to their machine. If your site requires plug-ins that are not already on their machines, you are going to have a hard time getting people to install them. At least it will be a lot harder then it is now.

In thinking about all this, it made me think about the number of software dependencies the WebCT Vista requires. Not just in terms of plug-ins, but in terms of software and system configurations that need to be made. They even have a feature, a web browser checker, which will tell you if you are set up to use WebCT Vista or not. Go ahead, give it a try! Post a comment letting me know how well you fare and what you think of the whole thing.

(BTW, for the amount of fuss the system throws up for not having the correct version of Java installed, you'd think it was critical to the functioning of the system. From what I can tell, it isn't. There are a few components that need it (i.e. WYSIWYG editor, chat, whiteboard), but none of these are by any means critical to the system. Bells and whistles.)
Two steps forward, one step back : In a recent column, Can business and ethics coexist? Ephraim Schwartz takes companies to task for falling in lock-step with less-then-democratic countries. There's more to business then just making money, he says.

Unfortunately, Schwartz steps away from taking a proper and aggressive stance: "I'm not suggesting that companies refuse to do business with totalitarian regimes."

If I was someone living under such a totalitarian regime, I'm not sure I would appreciate the logic that allows Schwartz to draw a line at which point supporting and enabling the regime is no longer acceptable.

With for-profit companies, ethical issues are, by and large, contraints on their behaviour, and not an organizational goal. If they are not imposed on them, they won't bother. Whatever they can get away with, I guess. (Or rather, whatever we let them get away with.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Downtown : Buildings
Selection readers : Mentioned by Jensen Harris, one of the UI developers on Office in this post: "Selection readers are just what they sound like: people who select text in a document as they read it." I do this myself as well.

Unfortunately, the post doesn't talk about ways to address the need faced by selection readers: assistance keeping our place in the page. I guess its a bit like reading and using your finger to keep place, which we were always taught is bad, but which speed readers tell you is good.

The post does talk about a new UI feature called the Minibar, which, as described, leaves me with only one question: can I turn it off?
BitTorrent : For the first time yesterday I actually got BitTorrent to work. Past attempts have always resulting in glacial download speeds, but yesterday I was able to download two 200MB+ video files within a few minutes.

From what I understand of how BitTorrent works, the performance of the system is dependant on the amount of activity the file is seeing. The more people who are downloading the file, or who have it downloaded, the better the overall download performance.

In any case, it was nice to see it working, since I think it has the potential of being a very important technology.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Watching : Watching
Working late : I'm staying late tonight to catch up on work. Hoping to make some good progress over the next two hours.
Brian Jones : Native PDF support in Office "12". Great! No doubt that will take a sizable chunk out of Adobe's corporate sales of Acrobat. I would guess that most of those users only use the "Print to PDF" functionality, and not any of the fancier PDf features like annotation, etc, etc.
Good meeting : Another one! :)
Karl : Ta mere en maillot de bain Web 2.0. I would wade into the discussion and join Karl in his criticisms of a lot of the Web 2.0 blather that is going around, but we (the Centre, not Karl) are having our semi-regular management meeting this morning, and I need to keep my cynicism in the back of my mind for now.
  1. del.icio.us/matthewgood
  2. Open Content Alliance
  3. FeedTree
  4. Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system
  5. Paul Vick - Panopticon
  6. .Net Framework General Naming Conventions
  7. Visual Basic Naming Conventions
  8. MSDN: Learning Visual Basic
  9. Visual Studio 2005 Express Editions
  10. USPTO upholds Eolas's embedded Web app patent
  11. l i t e s t e p . n e t
  12. ShellFront
  13. Pepping Up Windows
  14. Practical Development Environments
  15. How IBM Conned Our IT Execs Out Of Millions
  16. The Funniest Grid You Ever Saw
  17. The Web-based Office will have its day
  18. urban asshole notification cards
  19. WordPress.com
  20. WordPress.org
  21. Kick procrastination's ass: Run a dash
  22. Firefox extensions - Web Developer
  23. A cognitive analysis of tagging
  24. blogbot
  25. Handbook for Bloggers & Cyber-Dissidents

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Day's end : Day's end
Good meeting : It's important to keep track of these as well!
Yahoo clones delicious : My Web 2.0 BETA. The problem with apps like delicious and a lot of the other bare-bones apps from the 37 signals school of keep-it-simple-and-easy web development is that it is trivial for anyone to duplicate the app and generally do a better job of marketing and supporting it. At best the original developers can hope to get bought out and given a job by the BigCo. But in the medium and long term, they aren't really viable.

Update: After writing this, I think to myself that its a good time to backup my delicious data. I click on the delicious bookmark... waiting... "delicious could not be found. Please check the name and try again" Ugh.

Update 2: A few minutes later, delicious is back.
Another call for Apple to open up : I took a bit of flack from one of the faithful on this when I voiced a similar sentiment last month. I'm not surprised that others are noticing the same thing: When is Apple going to open up? The comments to Mr. Turnbull's post don't surprise me either.

I was going to wriet something longish and snarky abotu people who are more comfortable with the priest up on the stage, behind the curtain, mumbling in Latin... but I have work to get to.
GLIS607 : Review of corprate authors, uniform titles. I need to spend more time reading AACR2, along with Taylor and Chan. I think I'll pay a visit to the reserves desk.

Good news is that the first quiz isn't next week as I thought, but after the midterm break. Whew!

Monday, October 03, 2005

The fight against blog spam : I've enabled the word verification option in Blogger to try to reduce the amount of comment spam I've been getting recently. Sorry for the trouble.
CMIS 543 Update : Cleaned up and posted the audio from Friday's lecture to WebCT. Also posted lecture slides and updated syllabus and handouts with new (extended) assignment due date.

While better then CE, WebCT Vista is still a pain to use. Too inflexible. Feedback from the students in my class has been luke-warm at best, with several coming to see me to make negative (and valid) comments. I'll probably have to re-evaluate how I use it at the end of the semester.
Picture : Programmer-supplied error message
Purchased : Matthew Good, In a Coma (Deluxe Edition). Ripped, but haven't listened to it yet. You know it will be great.
Email archive update : I've managed to get my mail folder down to < 10 MB. I created a local .pst with two folders: sent, received. I then copied all messages from the Sept 10, 2004 to Sept 10, 2005 timeframe to the .pst (Sept 10 was my start date at McGill, so I use it to tick off the years).

I copied the .pst to a normal CD (i.e. not an archival quality one) in case I need to refer to anything over the next few years (after which point I expect the CD data to be toast). I also left a copy of the .pst on my local HD in case I need to access old mail. Its in the /temp folder, though, and isn't part of the regular mirroring to file server. The next time my HD gets hosed, I just restore from the CD.
Ad pointer : "It descends from the heavens..."
Afternoon grief : I had forgotten how long it takes to move a few thousand email messages from the Exchange Server to local pst file. 12 minutes! Then I've got to burn the mess to CD, which will probably take another 15 minutes. God, how much time do they think I have for this kind of stuff?
Morning grief : Upon checking my email this morning, I discovered that (a) some spambot has found my blog, and (b) I've hit to 250 MB limit of the email box.

As for the spam, I may end up just turning off the comments entirely.

The email? Well, remember that 250MB is for all my mail folders, and not just my inbox (which typically contains < 10 items). When I get back to the office later today, I need to waste time dumping my mail into pst files that I can archive to CD. Hopefully it won't waste more then an hour.