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Working Online Thursday 2006-07-20

Are you planning to through away your desktop tools and make the move to net based programs and storage. Byte’s David Em has the story for you. In “Gliding Into the future” he presents an effort by TransMedia to start doing just that. David writes

“Several of Glide’s components, such as device-independent online email and media sharing, are already in common use. Glide takes these capabilities, including storing images, photos, and videos, and adds simple image editing (cropping, inversion, and the like), slide shows, emailing, calendaring, and personal web site and blogging software.

A sophisticated multimedia-savvy word processor called Glide Write that exports Word, HTML, PDF, and ZIP files. A presentation tool called Glide Presenter is on the way. You can set Glide to automatically sync and back up your images, contacts, and calendar from your personal computer. It sends upcoming calendar date reminders to your email. I suspect the Microsoft Office team is following these developments with great interest.”

The company addresses the complexity of different stationary and mobile platforms in more than one way. The goal is that whatever device you use, you should be able to transparently load your documents and continue the work.

As David points out, there are great advantages in server based storage. For example if you want to send an image by email to someone, you just send the link. The reciever decides when and where to download the actual image. In my opinion though, the beautiful thing with online tools and storage, is that you can leave your office or home, and connect to your desktop from anywhere, even using a mobile device, and continue the work.

You get the service for free or for a small fee, depending on how much disk space you need.
Finally SUN’s slogan and vision “The Net Is The Computer” seems to start rolling out. Is that Web 2.0?
From their mission statement we read

“Our goal is to provide you with a place to design your life, where you can share unlimited media and information with unprecedented compatibility, flexibility and peace of mind. This is Glide Effortless.”

That may not sound completely new to me – say Flickr par example ;) However, they have just launched a photo sharing system, and there is more to come, they promise.

I’ll get back to you as soon as have made some preliminary tests.
In the mean time go figure!

Hyperlinking Considered Harmful? Thursday 2006-07-13

Oh my gosh!

Lorelle of WordPress fame writes in her very much readable blog “Do I Need to Ask Permission to Put a Blog in My Blogroll?“. She says that she haven’t thought about the question before and writes

“Since a link in a blogroll is a compliment and recommendation, do you need to ask permission to include a blog in your blogroll? Good question.

I would think not. You are not linking to content, and you are not violating any rights. You are linking to the whole blog, not a single post. There is nothing to ask permission for, is there?”

Earlier in the week she pointed her audience to an article by Shel Holz entitled “When is a Link not a Link“, which questions your right to link to somebody else’s content.

This seems to to amount to something, I don’t know what. Don’t blame Lorelle, she is perfectly sane or I’m brain dead, but could it be that the summer over the western hemisphere is too hot , or maybe the web has matured to the point of being suicidal?

Is HTML, “Hypertext Markup Language” to be considered harmful? Oh, Goodbye.

Before we seriously enter the Web 2.0 world of fame an ridicule, let’s take a deep breath and a step back and look at what the web 0.1 – 1.0 is all about.

It all started as a possibility to link text based information to other relevant text based information. When the author of a ( usually scientific ) document referred to sources or or other texts of interest in the domain of his/her article, it would easily be reached by including a link to that material.

With the advent of HTML as a formalized way of accomplishing this, and the hypertext transfer protocol as a standardized communication protocol between the information servers and clients ( consumers ), the web was born. The rest is, as they say, history. And amazing as such.

This is what it’s all about, don’t you, dear reader, agree? Linking information to other relevant peaces of information. In the beginning very few used the web and decided what was relevant. Linking was done in rather closed domains and cross linking between domains sparse.

As the web has grown ( some under stating here :) , the writers and readers on the web have very disparate opinions on what’s “relevant”, and as a consequence cross linking among “domains” abound.
Many links lead to ballooney, and link lists without human comments are useless. Human nature plays its part – and it should. It is to be expected.
For those of us who want the web to be a source of useful information, it may be frustrating to sift through ads we don’t want, sex we don’t like and thoughts we think could be offered by a piece of wood – or worse.

But it’s inevitable, and in some way the start of a new kind of democracy ( oh, how dared I ?), where everyone has his or her say. If you say something clever many will listen. Yes, hopefully, I know.

Am I spacing out? Right, I am. It’s my blog, so I can do that.

Back to the linking and blog roll business, or “can I link to any content on the web?”.
Yes I can, but with some exceptions.

As for asking permission to include someones blog in my “blogroll” or linking to other recommended reading – give me a break!

If someone doesn’t want to be linked to, or recommended or read at all for that matter, there are lots of ways to avoid that. Here are a few.

I don’t think I’m being harsh here :) The web is all about hyperlinking and it is a social endeavour. It’s all about information and it’s all about people.

Link on, and happily so!

Google GWT for AJAXian Widgets Thursday 2006-06-29

The newly released Google Web Toolkit, or GWT for short uses a somewhat unexpected route to build GUI’s for the web. You write the components of your user interface using Java and then compile it with the GWT compiler. What you get is a mix of HTML, XML and Javascript.

A must read for programmers, who want to develop applications, is the an excellent article entitled “Exploring the Google Web Toolkit” by Philip McCarty of IBM DeveloperWorks.

In the article he describes how to build the GUI and set up the AJAXian RPC communication to use a weather service. It is instructive and detailed and it gives you a good feeling for what can be done with this new toolkit and API.

Go get the Google Web Toolkit SDK and read the article at IBM DeveloperWorks.

Building a Home on Earth Friday 2006-04-28

Finally it is possible to build your own cozy home in the virtual world. Quick Online Tips today publishes a tip for Google Earth habitués. Google releases a free 3D modeling tool called Google SketchUp. With the tool you can draw realistically looking buildings and other stuff.

You can than place your new home on Google Earth and at least fly around it. We will probably have to wait for the day, when we can enter our virtual home and sit down at the kitchen table with a nice cup of coffee.
Advanced buildings can be crafted with SketchUp, like Tai Mahal or The White House. Maybe you need the payed

pro version for more complex things.
But if you have Google Earth installed, and like to build things on the planet, go get Google SketchUp and hammer away. Show your new home to the real world.

Google Calendar is Up Thursday 2006-04-13

Today Google Calendar is up and running, and you may centralize your events handling system. Over the years, many different solutions have been presented, to solve the problem of group and personal calendars, that you can reach from anywhere. The first networked calendars were for company internal use, so that work groups could note meetings and other important dates. Later calendars, from among others Microsoft and Netscape, used Internet based HTML calendars. More ore less sophisticated, they allowed for private calendars, that could be used also by groups. The private calendar is naturally used for private events, as visiting aunt Molly or the dentist, while group calendars knits together project groups.

Google’s new web based calendar takes the technique of earlier calendars a step further, by using an web 2.0 Ajax approach, which makes the user interface fast and easy to use. You can customize the calendar in a lot of ways. There are setting for the presentation, such as what days to show, on which day the week starts and what time format you want use. You can also choose what i kind of notifications you want from the calendar, and how long time before the event it should be sent to you. You can get notifications by email or by SMS. The latter can only be done via certain mobile service providers, that Google has an agreement with. Living in Sweden, I seem to be unable to get the SMS notifications.

You can invite your work group members, friends or family to view your calendar and/or send invitations to it.
If you let anyone see your calendar, you’re at risk for receiving unwanted spam invitations. So you better setup the calender for moderated invitations, which means you have to accept the invitation before it reaches the calendar.

To use the calendar, you will need a Google account, which is free.

Patents of Software Destruction Tuesday 2006-04-11

blood was rushing to my head, as I came about an article in ZDNet news entitled “Eolas work-around puts the brakes on Rich Internet Applications“.
Provocative title, no doubt, but what’s it about?
Eolas Technologies Inc. and the University of California has raised a lawsuit against Microsoft over a patent on interactive software embedded in net documents. Says ZDNets Ed Burnette:

“Eolas basically patented the idea of embedding interactive content (like a Flash control or a Java applet) in a web page and won’t let anyone else use this idea without paying them millions of dollars.”To no surprise, Microsoft is not willing to pay, but reacts by crafting a work-around for embedding Active-X controls. In effect they regard them non-interactive until the user “activates” the applet by clicking on it. For the user, this means the applet must be clicked on to focus it before it is usable. An inconvenience, and in my opinion completely unnecessary. There should be a world wide ban on software patents. They only work to hinder development and use of good software and user experience.

In this case a federal judge has ruled that Microsoft pay Eolas and the University of California $520 in damage for the alleged patent violation. I usually think that Microsoft, while doing a lot for the computer and Internet users, are also doing too much to lock them into an all Microsoft environment. In this case though, I think their place on the barricades is beneficial to all, users and programmers alike.
Look at this excerpt from US Patent 5,838,906 filed October 1994, and let me know what you think!

“What is claimed is:
providing at least one client workstation and one network server coupled to said network environment, wherein said network environment is a distributed hypermedia environment;
executing, at said client workstation, a browser application, that parses a first distributed hypermedia document to identify text formats included in said distributed hypermedia document and for responding to predetermined text formats to initiate processing specified by said text formats; utilizing said browser to display, on said client workstation, at least a portion of a first hypermedia document received over said network from said server, wherein the portion of said first hypermedia document is displayed within a first browser-controlled window on said client workstation, wherein said first distributed hypermedia document includes an embed text format, located at a first location in said first distributed hypermedia document, that specifies the location of at least a portion of an object external to the first distributed hypermedia document, wherein said object has type information associated with it utilized by said browser to identify and locate an executable application external to the first distributed hypermedia document, and wherein said embed text format is parsed by said browser to automatically invoke said executable application to execute on said client workstation in order to display said object and enable interactive processing of said object within a display area created at said first location within the portion of said first distributed hypermedia document being displayed in said first browser-controlled window.”

And it goes on like this of course in ten paragraphs. Yes I know, legal gibberish looks like this, and for a reason. The patent is not so much for a technical solution, as for the mere idea of embedding software in a web page and have it execute (at least partly) on the client computer.

When it comes to real usable software, copyright laws are absolutely sufficient, and patents only serves to make development difficult and users suffer.

Please tell me otherwise, if you like!

Don’t Get Lost in the Tag Cloud! Wednesday 2006-03-01

Word, words, words. We are spreading single words around us on the Internet as never before. It’s a new kind of poetry, where long lists or big clouds of words pop up where ever you go. It resembles the very long lists of uncommented links, so common in the early days of the web. There are tags for finding related posts on a certain blog you visit, or on other blogs. There are syndicated bookmarks, tags on your every blog post and tags on your photos at flickr.

With two hundred words in different font sizes, what do you do? Should you tag? How would you let others make good use of your tags?

I’ll leave the answer to these and other crucial questions to the more experienced bloggers and taggers, and give you some links.

I recommend you first to read Carthik Sharma’s article “Tags are not Categories“, where he makes it chrystal clear, why you should not confuse one for the other. It’s good reading and will set you firmly on track.

Then I suggest that you read two articles by Lorelle. The first one elaborates on “The Problems With Tags and Tagging“. She writes:

“As the blog administrator and writer, tags make sense. In addition to the high concentrated use of keywords in posts, as well as the good use of categories as tags, and inclusion of tags in my posts, I’m doing my best to make sure search engines and tag services can crawl my site and store my information in their database for others to find. But then what?”

Se goes on to answer that last question, providing the pros and cons of using tags.
The other article I want to bring to your attention, is her excellent post on efficient techniques you can use to insert tags into your posts. To know how you go about, you should read “A Tagging Bookmarklet for WordPress and wordpress.com Users“.

Categories are for structure, and tells us what domain a certain class of posts or images belong. Tags are for cross reference between more loosely related posts and may very well span different categories. Let’s keep that in mind as we tag along!

Google’s Image Search Under Attack Sunday 2006-02-26

It’s stormy weather at the top, and the “good guy” Google has reached high enough. Jason Lee Miller of webpronews brings to our attention that …

“Google suffered a setback in court last Friday as US District Judge Howard Matz ruled that thumbnail displays retrieved by the company’s image search feature were a likely violation of copyright law. Links to third party sites and the practice of “framing” the image above those sites, however, were not considered to be in violation.”

This is the result so far of a law suit against Google, brought by Skinmag Perfect Inc, claiming that thumbnails from their images presented by Google image search, be an infringement on their copyright.

I’m not a jurist, but the whole matter seems ridiculous from my common sense view. The company has published its images on the web in such a manner, that they can be viewed by anyone. If some of the pictures are intended to be viewed only after payment, it is the responsibility of the company to hide them from harvesting and indexing by search engines. As any well behaved search robot, the Google bot respects a robots.txt file. There could be no copyright violation by just presenting what’s already in the public eye, and the publication is to no disadvantage to the company

On the contrary, if someone finds one of their images by an image search, it will boast their traffic, as Google presents the thumbnail in a frame above the original page containing the image. If the image itself is of interest, it is likely that you go to their site for more of the same.

It is significant, that the company bringing the suit, has a semi pornographic site, and most probably they have made this move to get out in the lime light. I have the feeling ( again, I’m no jurist ), that many law suits on big companies and rich individuals in the US, are aimed at fame or fortune, and built on fragile ground, but that’s just me.

I don’t care to give you a link to the site, as you will easily fin it by a Google search ;)

XHTML Aware AdSense Saturday 2006-02-25

I have been pretty preoccupied with the redesign of my WordPress theme lately, but today I decided it was time to check my blog for XHTML compliance. As expected I got a lot of errors, but knowing that error multiply when the W3C service parses a page, I wasn’t that worried. I should have been though, as I came to learn.

The first bunch of errors came from my Google AdSense text links in the header an my skyscraper ads in my left sidebar.
Google delivers these ads using a JavaScript that, you cut and paste into your template. The script contains an array of parameters for size and colors and a function that requests the ads from Google. When called the function delivers an iframe that’s inserted in the page. Nice and simple, but the W3C XHTML evaluator doesn’t like it one bit, but spits out a bunch of complaints. Knowing something about XML, I felt sure that encapsulating the meat of the script in a CDATA section would be a quick and easy solution. CDATA is supposed to tell an XML parser to leave the content alone, and make no interpretations but just move it from the indata stream to the outdata stream, stripping the CDATA envelope.
<script language="JavaScript">
  <![CDATA[
   <!-- Adsense here -->
  }
  ]]>
</script>
With this markup, whatever goes between the <![CDATA[ here ]]> should be sent to the resulting document untouched, and the document should validate. No it did not! In my eager search for an explanation I came across this article by Stu Nicholls at CSS Play. He gives a workaround using the object inclusion tag to embed an external non XML document of type text/html. This plain HTML document contains the AdSense script and data. With the ads incorporated in this rather dirty way, the document should validate.
Stu also refers to an article “Making AdSense Work with XHTML” at Keystone Websites, where the author also discusses content negotiation and delivery of different markup depending on the target browser.

AS a background the have an article by Ian Hickson, who gives an explanation of why the AdSense code doesn’t work well with XHTML. It turns out that the Javascript function document.write(), responsible for writing the ads to the page, once it is executed on the client side, is not allowed in XHTML. To make thing worse, the JavaScript writes out an iframe containing the ads, and iframes are not allowed in the XHTML. In short, we have to externalize this ads. we could write the external old fashioned HTML file and add the object inclusion tag to our template, or use a ready made plugin.

In my search for explanations and solutions, I found a plugin called “Google AdSense Injector” at lambcutlet.org, that uses the technique discussed above. It uses content negotiation to insert the object tag if the produced document is application/xhtml+xml and just copies the code as is if the type is text/html.
I installed the plugin, and it seems to work. At least I got rid of all validation error for the AdSense inclusion.
I also realised that other widget I have on my blog, are delivered without any thought of standards compliance. My little button plugging for Firefox, has a query string in its callback to Mozilla.org containing parameters. As is usual in queries, the parameters are delimited by an &-character or ampersand. This has special meaning to XML parsers and are interpreted. My attempt to hide the ampersands from the prying eyes of the validator, by encapsulating the whole callback url in a CDATA section was in vain. the only solution was to use the entity &amp; in the url.

Another really hard problem is the Flickr badge in my left sidebar. It is also included using JavaScript, but the same approach as for AdSense didn’t seem to work. The code is fairly involved with a mix of JavaScript code and CSS in-line styling. I tried to take the badge apart and move the style rules to my stylesheet, but that broke the badge.
Integration of services from near and far shows that there is a long way to go before we can easily be standards compliant. As for the Flickr badge it seems impossible, but luckily Flickr has an API, and it should be possible to write  code to integrate Flickr objects in a standards compliant way. But that’s another story.
Over and out.

Google Page Creator Friday 2006-02-24

Google continues to launch new services at a roaring pace. Today the company that taught us to “google” rather than to search, presents Google Page Creator, a refinement of the idea many web hosting companies have used for building web sites. Google Page Creator is hopefully more sophisticated and aimed at creating good looking web documents. You log in to your G-mail account and start writing pages. There are some different templates to use – sorry to say, I haven’t been able to test the creation process, as this beta service immediately went overly loaded with requests. They promised to contact me by email, as soon as they get a some bandwidth slot for me.
Says SearchEngineWatch: “Google Stops Page Creator Enrollment“. This happened a few hours after it was opened to eager writers.
Sign up and take test drive if you can.

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