Ignorant objects

Khoi Vinh (paraphrasing Jasper Johns):

“Unused objects are ignorant; only the ones that have been put to use, that have traveled, that have been tossed around have accumulated knowledge. That knowledge and familiarity, if it’s worn properly, can make an object desirable.”

Summer reading

I really enjoy traveling. Not just going to see new places, but the process of getting there. It is a special kind of down time. It also often means more bandwith attention for books.

We’re leaving in a few days for a week in Seattle, then shortly after that I’m off to Michigan for a wedding and some visiting. So I’ll have some solid travel time in between vacations. Here are a few I’ll be taking with me, and a couple more that have moving bookmarks this summer.

  • I’ve got the last issue of Monocle (it appears issue 5 hasn’t hit shelves in Burlington yet). This turned out to be a great read on my last adventure, and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • William Gibson’s Count Zero. I love the gritty feel of his other books. This should be some fun cyberpunk goodness.
  • The next (for me) installment of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has been sitting in the queue for some time. I might pack it along this time.
  • Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style is a beautiful book and is turning out to be an absolute pleasure to read.

There are more, but that’s my short list. What are you reading this summer?

The subtle power of microformats

Drew McLellan describes a great example of microformats in action:

This is a superb example of the utility of hAtom. Last.fm doesn’t have a dedicated feed for their shoutboxes, but because they’re nicely marked up with hAtom, it can be converted to Atom on the fly. Awesome.

In other words:

  1. Last.fm outputs their content in what is little more than semantic HTML. They’d have to do this any way, but they took a little extra time to make sure that the HTML conformed to the hAtom draft specification.
  2. Last.fm’s users use an existing service provided by Mr. McLellan that parses Last.fm’s html and outputs it in a format that other services and tools can easily read. Now these users can display that information on their Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, and others, or just subscribe in a feed reader.

So by carefully marking up their content, Last.fm was able to provide a new feature to their members without having to devote additional programming time to roll out any new functionality on their end. Behold the subtle power of microformats!

Time to make the donuts

I love the smell of donuts in the morning. I sometimes catch the smell of donuts wafting on the breeze on my daily walk up the hill to work. It took me a few years to realize where the smell was coming from. Koffee Kup bakery, purveyors of those scrumptious, plastic wrapped delicacies you see all across New England, is right there on Riverside Ave.

Aside from the pleasant smell and subsequent grumbling of my tummy, I am struck by how well the odor carries across town. What if it was a paper mill, and the smell was closer to rotten eggs than donuts? For that matter, the wood burning power plant is right around the corner from the donut factory. What else is floating through the air?

To tell the truth, I’m not all that concerned. I am intrigued, however, by the idea of one relatively small neighbor having such a large, yet subtle effect on the community around it. Does everyone notice this and just not mention it? Do they mention it in passing, but then forget about it? Does it go unnoticed by the concious mind, only to resurface in dreams and fragments of déjà vu?

Hmmm. All this talk about donuts is making me hungry.

Finding and deleting old files

Here’s a nifty little unix command line snippet that I found a while back while trying to find a way to clear images from a directory on a regular basis. It lets you manipulate files that are more than a specified age. For example, if you wanted to see all files in the /var/log directory that were more than two weeks old, you could do something like this:

$ find /var/log -mtime -14 -type f -exec ls -al {} \;

Deleting files can be done in a similar fashion. To delete any files in the current directory with a “.jpg” extension, one could probably do something like:

$ find /home/you/yourpictures -mtime -14 -type f -name "*.jpg" -exec rm -f {} \;

As with many unix commands, go slowly and carry a big backup. Be careful. The person who originally posted this snippet did so with a word of warning that I will repeat:

Find is very powerful, and I suggest you do some reading BEFORE you do any removing using “find”. Also, as a test you can replace the “rm -rf” with “ls -la” to get a list of all the files that would be removed.

So consider yourself warned. Here’s the manual page for find, in case you are interested. Wikipedia also has a nice entry that includes plenty of examples for you to practice with.

Directory Digger

Update (2007-06-27): Directory Digger is a featured download on Apple.com‘s main dashboard widget site. Cool! (thanks Rob, for the tip)

Directory Digger IconIn my spare time (heh), I’ve built an Apple dashboard widget that lets one search an LDAP directory. For me, the tool is filling a number of needs. The project page summarizes some of them:

This application is intended to simplify the search interface that is found at the directory pages of many organizations. It also aims to provide access to that information in a handy place. It leverages OS X’s local ldapsearch tools to search remote LDAP directories, as opposed to relying on an external server to provide the lookup functionality and return results.

You can read more, and download it on the DirectoryDigger project page.

Release early, release often, right? Well, this is one I’ve been sitting on for some time. Years, I think. It feels good to get it up and out.

Discovering Jazz in Burlington

across the way from the skatellitesThere’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer daydreams about being in the Land of Chocolate. Skipping around, he takes bites out of random parts of the landscape. Everything is made out of chocolate – even a passing dog, which Homer chomps a mouthful of before letting it scamper off.

As I wandered around the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival this weekend, I felt a bit like Homer in the Land of Chocolate. Everything was so good, and if I found something that didn’t particularly suit my fancy, I could stop for a taste and mosy down the block to the next one. Here are a few of the acts we saw that I definitely fancied.

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Caching and zooming your Flickr images

I’ve made a few changes and additions to Dan Coulter‘s phpFlickr API class. These modifications address the retrieval of image URL’s, and allow the caching of images locally. In the process, I also created a little helper class to complement existing phpFlickr interface methods.

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Watch a building get demolished

Steve, Wes and I were walking over to the library today for a meeting, when we started seeing a lot of dust. With all the construction going on around campus, we might not have thought anything of it – except that there was a certain building nearby which had been boarded up and scheduled for destruction. Sure enough, as we walked around the corner, there sat a giant semi-autonomous robot eating the rear corner of the bookstore.

demolishing the bookstore

It must have been hungry, because by the time we got back it had made some pretty good progress. Not quite as much as Steve thought it would have (I knew I should have wagered a beverage!), however. Perhaps it has been snacking on the remains of Carrigan.

a day's work

The best part? You can watch it all live from the comfort of your home, office, or favorite coffee shop. For a bigger screening, try the East View link on the web cams page of the Davis site. I’ve heard we’ll be able to see a compilation clip of the whole process after it’s done. Stay tuned for more on that.

Preparation, presentation, and communication

Good presentation skills have nothing to do with slide shows or getting up in front of a room full of people. They are the same skills you use almost every day, when you communicate with others.

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