Life is a Mystery

18 February 2009 . Comments Off on Dubai dry

Dubai dry

At a recent dinner, a cousin of mine was singing the praises of Dubai, which she had been lucky enough to visit. She was very impressed. It could be that she’ll be less impressed on her next visit; Dubai is drying up.

Many new urban landscapes have sprouted around the world in the last decade. I had not considered the effect of those cities turning to ruins in the next ten years. Yikes.

17 February 2009 . Comments Off on Drupal madness

Drupal madness

I’ve been working on getting a Drupal site up for months and I’m beginning to really wonder about Drupal’s popularity. The Drupal team has a long way to go in making the system admin friendly. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the super-easy admin of WordPress and PmWiki. I wonder if team Drupal will pick up on some of the WP innovations.

The difficulties really started when I got a notice that my Drupal install needed a security update. No problem, I thought, I’ll let Drupal upgrade. Only, there is no way for Drupal to upgrade itself. There is a “Backup and Migrate” module, but it only backs up the db, not the filesystem. I don’t have SSH access to our production system, so now I’ll have to find a way to backup the fs without that. Ug.

Then the Drupal instructions for an upgrade suggest taking the site off-line during an upgrade. Only, having the site off-line eventually makes Drupal think it has no HTTP access and then it stops showing what upgrades are required. Where is this documented? It is not, that I’ve found. The only hints are in user comments at the Drupal site.Ug.

The instructions also suggest disabling all modules during an upgrade, but Drupal has no facility for disabling all modules, they must be clicked individually and there are many many (many!) more than needed in typical WP installs. Worse yet, some of the modules can’t be disabled until all dependent modules have first been disabled, and then these need to be reenabled in order too! Final insult: there is no way for the system to even remember which modules are in your “enabled” set, so the only way to record your choices is (yup) a screenshot! Ug.

All in all a shockingly cumbersome process. All this for a system that, once running, seems to be much slower than WP and has a much more complex “skinning” mechanism than WP. The next time around, I think I’ll see how far I can push WP. It has way fewer bells and whistles than Drupal, but I’m not sure Drupal can be managed by any non-system-admin types, whereas WP could potentially be managed by just about anyone with reasonable web savvy.

Clearly team Drupal assumes organizations running the system will have sys admins ready to manage it. That rules out a lot of organizations.

17 February 2009 . Comments Off on Where art thou?

Where art thou?

The straw poll is now closed, and Christopher did really well.

Christopher Celeste blew the doors off the competition in winning the first OhioDaily Senate Straw Poll of the long campaign with 44% of the vote in an 11 choice contest. Only hours after voting opened late Friday afternoon, Celeste had built an impressive head start flirting the rest of the weekend with the 50% mark.

So, what does this tell us? Well, not much. It does show that the son of the former Governor has a very focused and networked group of supporters. Once the poll launched Friday, there was a steady and almost robotic clicking of votes throughout the weekend. A quick glance at the background stats for OhioDaily showed a large number of Celeste’s supporters entering the poll via Twitter, Facebook, or direct email links. For a candidate most of us had never really heard of prior to Friday, it was an impressive show of support. The true test for Celeste, should he take this flirtation to the next level, will be how that same support translates into campaign contributions and how that support can be organically (and quickly) grown into a political movement.

When the race becomes “real” and candidates formally announce, the game changes dramatically.

True enough. Christopher has a lot of soul-searching to do. But if he does decide to run, I know where I want to be: by his side.


13 February 2009 . Comments Off on Oh, brother!

Oh, brother!

It looks like Christopher is considering a run for the US Senate in Ohio. Woo hoo! I find it hard to keep down the shivers of excitement I feel when thinking about bright next-generation thinkers and doers like Christopher and Michael Bennet building a new US Senate interested in solving our problems rather than building walls between parties.

I love the fact that I can already vote for Christopher! [Update, poll closed, see the results.]

Christopher Celeste, Washington, DC, 1/20/2009

13 February 2009 . Comments Off on Never apologize

Never apologize

I like Edward R. Tufte’s presentation advice:

Never apologize. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the issues for which you’re apologizing—and it just sounds lame.

Show up early. Something good is bound to happen—if there’s no need to fix a mechanical problem or resolve a room conflict, you can always mingle with the audience.

And much more.

13 February 2009 . Comments Off on Neil Gaiman says “read it aloud”

Neil Gaiman says “read it aloud”

Neil has had a good month. Coraline’s opening was big at the box office, and The Graveyard Book won the Newbury. Woo hoo! But then he found himself arguing with his agent: she thinks text-to-speech infringes on audiobook rights, he thinks buying a book means buying a right to more than glancing at the pages.

When you buy a book, you’re also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one’s going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors’ societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what’s good about them with it.

In the agent’s world, Kindle reading the book aloud from the text is an infringement. In our litigious society she may be right. But authors like Neil may stand up and say, as he does, “We must stop this.” If they do, then perhaps we will loose a bit more creative energy on the world.

10 February 2009 . Comments Off on FFR: Huffington map

FFR: Huffington map

A nicely done fundraising map by Huffington Post.

10 February 2009 . Comments Off on LT takes on authority control

LT takes on authority control

I love to see how LibraryThing approaches the task of cataloging. LT invites everyone to catalog, which rules out the use of priestly tools like AACR2 (3!) or the Library of Congress Subject Headings. One nifty feature of the professional library catalog has been authority control, which among other things provides the ability to distinguish one person from another, even if their names are the same. Last week LT started to offer an alternative for sorting out names.

LT calls this “distinct authors” and the concept centers on the fact that each author will have a universe of books they have authored, likely quite distinct from the universe of books authored by someone else of the same name. This clustering of books can be used to disambiguate the authors themselves. That could work! It is fuzzier than authority control, but that may matter little in our fuzzy tech enabled world. It also only deals with one of the problems in the authority control domain, but LT already has solutions to some others and I am convinced that over a long term the LT approach will prove more sustainable. We’ll see.

10 February 2009 . Comments Off on Herbert Van de Sompel

Herbert Van de Sompel

I just want to take a moment to acknowledge one of the giants in the field of library science today: Herbert. John MacColl posted a wonderful summary of a Herbert retrospective at the 9th International Bielefeld Conference last week.

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Herbert is fearless, jumping into problems with abandon, always certain that he and his teams can make a contribution. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not so much. But the failures are often as interesting as the successes, full of discoveries and insights.

His conclusion last week, after looking back at his work of the past decade: we do what we do in order to optimize the time of researchers.

That deserves a good ponder. Do new systems optimize the time of researchers? How does leveraging tools already out there in the infoecosystem balance with developing specialized tools to facilitate their research? Does this statement miss the need to facilitate collaboration as well as research? I love it when Herbert makes me think!

9 February 2009 . Comments Off on Not real stuff would get creepy

Not real stuff would get creepy

I got to see Coraline with the kids this weekend. I really liked it, like the tone, liked the tunes, liked the message. A few things really impressed me.


The movie relaxed me. How often does an animated movie feel relaxing? Much less a scary movie, or a kids movie? Yes, it was scary, truly so. But it somehow did not wind me up in a nervous ball.

As I left the theater I noticed that the real world looked brighter and more inviting than the movie world. I usually leave theaters and feel the opposite: that somehow it would be wonderful to live in the movie world of bright colors and grand adventures. But somehow the production values of Coraline, which was a super-beautiful film, made the real world feel fresh and exciting.

I thought about this again as I read a review of the film today. Here’s how one seven year old put it…

That’s what the scary parts mean… they aren’t scary really, they just aren’t real. Stuff is boring a lot, but it’s real, and you wouldn’t trade even though you think you would. Like, when you’re at Disneyland you’re thinking, “I want to live here forever,” but you don’t realize that you don’t really, because pretty soon it would suck, because it isn’t real… and living all the time in not real stuff would get creepy. That’s what that scary part is about. Coraline is really cool though, because she’s brave and does what she knows is right. It was awesome.

Yes! Exactly! And that was accomplished not only through story, but also in the way the film presented itself. I’ve never felt anything like it. An attractive experience that left me wanting my own life, flaws and all.

What was scariest? For me it was the presentation of Coraline’s parents. They hit way to close to home. Do I ignore my kids the way they do? I’m afraid all too often the answer is yes. That scares me, maybe I can do something about it!

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /