Life is a Mystery

21 December 2008 . Comments Off

Fixing broken WordPress XMLRPC

Today is a nice snowy Sunday, but I spent almost the whole day in front of my computer. It turns out that the WordPress installations we run were all compromised. This was quite a headache and took a bit of sleuthing to nail down, so I thought I’d at least document what we learned in case it is helpful to anyone else. Read on for the details. Read the rest of this entry »

21 December 2008 . Comments Off

Transforming online government

The federal government has a boatload of websites, most of them feel confusing and old fashioned to me. Not surprisingly, these sites are managed by a boatload of webmasters. What does surprise me a bit is the quality of the white paper these webmasters produced for the presidential transition team. This document from the Federal Web Managers Council on Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government is quite an eyeopener. I imagine many large organizations (universities, state governments, and the like) could benefit from adopting these principles.

16 December 2008 . Comments Off

No more Christmas?

Apple cancelled Christmas. This will be our last one. Well, almost. I guess I’ll get more work done in January from now on.

16 December 2008 . Comments Off

Printing once upon a time

I am so happy that while at Yale I got a taste of the printing arts. That exposure to letterpress and design has served me all my life. Today I ran across this film describing the printing industry in 1947. It is amazing to me how much of this feels familiar from the letterpress printing I did at Yale. Printing has changed a bit since!

16 December 2008 . Comments Off

Recounting the Star Tribune

It would be hard to miss the news that the real election-day battle here in Minnesota was for our Senate seat. Norm Colman and Al Franken are now tied in one of the closest Senate elections in history. An internal Franken analysis I got in email a few weeks back, for example, estimated that they would win the election by 4 (that’s F-O-U-R) votes out of almost 3 million.

Let’s leave aside that this narrow a margin is well within the noise for our election technology. There is just no way to really be sure who won. I expect the US Senate may, in the end, have to make the call. Still, for now the state is engaged in a wonderfully informative recount. All things considered, it has been a very civil and positive affair.

I’d like to call out one organization for special recognition: the Star Tribune. One of two metro newspapers, the Star Trib is on the verge of bankruptcy and may not be with us much longer. During this recount, though, they have proven their worth and shown some real creativity. I hope it helps them win readership, it has certainly made me feel better about the money I spend on a subscription.

As the two campaigns have challenged ballots during the recount, the Star Trib decided to post images of every single challenged ballot. They let folks come to their web site and record their views about the validity of each challenge. Access to these images alone was a great service, but the Strib didn’t stop there. From the data they collected, the paper created a “virtual canvassing board” which used the wisdom of the crowd to analyze these challenges. From this they predict that once all but the 200 most difficult challenges are resolved, Franken will likely have erased Colman’s lead. Fascinating work.

I love that this old rag has found a way to engage the new media intelligently. Not just showing us the story, but letting us turn around and breath life into the story ourselves. This is the future of the fourth estate. I wonder if the Strib will be around to live that future.

15 December 2008 . Comments Off

Go iPhone, young coder

OK, maybe its time we seriously encourage Alex to write an iPhone app! Two quotes from a recent Newsweek article:

“It’s kind of a gold rush,” says Brian Greenstone, who runs a tiny outfit (it’s just him and a few freelancers) called Pangea Software in Austin, Texas, that has created several hit games for the iPhone, including Cro-Mag Rally and Enigmo. Greenstone, 41, has been writing games for Apple’s computers for 21 years.

Steve Demeter, a 30-year-old programmer, built an iPhone game called Trism in his spare time, working nights and weekends. By the end of September he’d earned $250,000 in just two months.

Greenstone, of Pangea, wonders if he’ll ever write for the Mac again. What makes this work? I think a combination of a strong platform (the iPhone is really a fun environment to code for, very clean, very few limits), great SDK (iPhone apps are basically Cocoa apps, this Objective C programming environment has been tops since the days of NeXT, many rough edges are now silky smooth), and way easy distribution (its hard to imagine buying and installing an app being easier than it is on the iPhone with the App Store). You just have to add ideas and code. That’s the fun stuff!

13 December 2008 . Comments Off

O Not

The logos that were not. Sol Sender, leader of the team that developed the O we know, discusses the evolution of the design.

Picture 9.png

9 December 2008 . Comments Off

Evolving Mona Lisa

Take semi-transparent polygons of this sort…

Picture 5.png

…and write an algorithm to arrange them so that they build up an imitation of another picture. If you could only use 50 polygons, how close could you get to Mona Lisa? Here’s how Roger Alsing approached the probelm with “genetic programming”:

I created a small program that keeps a string of DNA for polygon rendering.
The procedure of the program is quite simple:

0) Setup a random DNA string (application start)

1) Copy the current DNA sequence and mutate it slightly

2) Use the new DNA to render polygons onto a canvas

3) Compare the canvas to the source image

4) If the new painting looks more like the source image than the previous painting did, then overwrite the current DNA with the new DNA

5) repeat from 1

Take a look at his result, 904,314 generations later. More at Slashdot.

4 December 2008 . Comments Off

Watching TV without one

We have had one TV, the same one TV, in our family for over ten years. A few years back the sound died on the set, so now we just have an old set of speakers plugged into the attached DVD/VCR player. No cable, no satellite. The fact is, in our house we almost never watch TV. But I see a lot of TV shows.

On the other hand, each one of us has a laptop computer. Youngest child has oldest laptop, I have the next oldest (though my desktop is newer), and Mary has the newest tech (she’s a go getter, she is!). We watch our TV online. Hulu, ABC, iTunes, and other streaming media. We really loved the raw streaming coverage of the Democratic National Convention, for example. In fact, we get so much of our TV via computer that we are pretty sure that when broadcast TV moves to digital next year, we are not going to bother replacing the TV set.

So I will second Laura Holson’s article in the NYT. Who needs a TV? We watch on laptops too.

4 December 2008 . Comments Off

Shame on YouTube

Ick. I’ve embedded a lot of YouTube video on my blog and today, returning from Austria, I realized all of it was a lot uglier. The change seems to have happened last month. I don’t think YouTube fully grasps the responsibility it has to treat “embedders” well. We’ve trusted YouTube with a tiny corner of our own sites, we expect that corner to look decent, to be treated with respect. Now it has been turned into a “portal” or an ad even, an intrusion of YouTube into my site over and over and over again. Too bad they didn’t make this an opt-in feature of their player.

For a while now I’ve felt that Vimeo has had the better presentation of video in an embedded player. You be the judge. Note that any of these may change as the respective sites change the code these embeds run.

YouTube now:

YouTube as it was before this (note, just add “&showsearch=0” to the end of the video link in the embed to make the search bar go away):

Vimeo as it is now:

UPDATE: I’ve found this search and replace plugin for WordPress very helpful. With it I was able to do a global search of my content for &fs=1&showinfo=0" and replace it with &fs=1&showinfo=0&showsearch=0" so that all the search bars were taken out of my embeds. Now I just have to remember to do this myself in the future.

UPDATE: It looks like YouTube may be listening to its users, the search bar seems to be off by default now.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org