LaCie Big Disk Extreme back in action

I got the LaCie Big Disk Extreme 500GB backup drive back today. LaCie is suggesting it was just a firmware issue, so they thoughtfully updated the drive, nuked the data that was on it, and returned it. Over a month after it died. Going a month without any kind of backups is a little scary. Here’s hoping it was just a firmware issue – the drive checks out OK now, and already has over 100GB of backed up data on it (and growing – likely will be close to 200GB by the end of the day) – and that’s only 2 servers backed up…

Update: A few hours of unattended backing up later, and I’ve already burned through 214.79GB of space on the drive – including a full Carbon Copy Cloner image of my laptop’s drive, and all critical files from the two servers that I care about (and can still access). Whew!

Drupal + Aggregator2 isn’t quite EduGlu

I just took a few minutes to install a fresh copy of Drupal 4.6.5 along with the Aggregator2 module, which provides Glu functionality to Drupal. You can provide a bunch of feeds, and it sucks them in as if they are native content to that instance of Drupal. It tries to assign taxonomy/categories based on the data in the RSS feed, and provides some interfaces to view the feeds and items. I set up a prototype on my desktop box (so it might not be running all the time, and may disappear if my new box ever shows up), but it’s there to play with. I’ve pre-seeded it with my blog, flickr, and del.icio.us feeds, and took the liberty of adding the same for another couple of folks (Brian and Alan) to see how it handles multiple users adding data.

My initial reaction is that it does the Glu stuff really well. But the query interface isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to manage a full-on stream of hundreds (or thousands) of students pumping content into the system. Also, the Autotaxonomy module (the one that converts RSS categories into Drupal taxonomies) doesn’t break the categories into individual items. If one post has categories of “eduglu prototype” and another has “prototype eduglu” – they are stored as separate distinct items in the taxonomy. It should break them into “eduglu” and “prototype” so I could find relevant items without forcing all users to use identical category strings. Which would fall apart if someone wants to add an additional category, like “eduglu prototype drupal” since it wouldn’t match either of the other two literal string taxonomies.

It’s possible that Drupal (and the Aggregator2 module) could be tweaked to do what EduGlu would require. Might be easier to do the work there, rather than starting from scratch…

Update: Interesting – Aggregator2 is properly understanding the individual categories on items published by my blog, but not from other tools like Flickr or del.icio.us – maybe Aggregator2 is right, and the others are wrong in how they’re storing/sharing categories?

Flickr Faves 2006/02/26

More faves. I couldn’t use the cool new Ruby-powered favinator because it somehow conflicts with the CSS on my blog, and I haven’t had a chance to debug wtf is acting up there. Regardless, here they are. Links to individual photos on the Flickr page for this snapshot…

Flickr Faves 2006/02/26

iWeb as an ePortfolio Management Platform?

I’m involved with an ePortfolio project with our Faculty of Education – aimed at getting student teachers to build a series of high quality, interactive, personalized portfolios outlining their development as professionals. It’s more about the journey (self reflection, writing, documenting) than the destination (the final website) so we were looking for tools that wouldn’t require technical know-how in order for the students to produce interesting products. When the project got off the ground (in the fall of 2005), there wasn’t really any off-the-shelf product that fit the bill, so we started to implement an instance of Pachyderm so the students could start authoring in it.


But, things changed recently, when Apple announced and released iWeb. It’s a dead-simple app to use, and comes with some great design templates. The output is just standard HTML, which can be served from anywhere.


iWeb ePortfolio Authoring To help figure out if iWeb would serve as an adequate ePortfolio management platform, I just whipped up a quick and dirty skeleton of my own ePortfolio to see how it works out. After about 15 minutes of play time, I’m really impressed. Built-in blogging (with multiple "blogs" in a site, each with their own RSS feed). Great content-agnostic templates that let you basically do anything you want to.


I’ll be trying it out a bit more over the next few days to see if we should switch strategies, but if I was to start this project over now from the beginning, I’d have recommended iWeb as our first choice. It’s not perfect – things like the generated URLs make me want to cry – but it’s so simple to use, and flexible enough to let you be as creative as you can be.


There are 3 issues with this solution, that I see:


  1. Cost. The computers available to the students will have to be equipped with iLife ’06. Many of the computers are old enough that they’d have to be upgraded to install iLife ’06 in the first place. Perhaps just iWeb can be installed on lesser/older computers? Making each student cough up for their own copy of iLife ’06 isn’t going to fly. We could try to get some kind of bulk purchase price or something, but that’s not something to count on.

  2. Mac-Only. Many of the students don’t have their own Macs. Ideally, a cross-platform solution would be better. Perhaps Contribute may be up to that task? (but, see previous point about cost)

  3. Publishing. iWeb has automated publishing to a .Mac account. Most students won’t have one. (again, refer to point #1) Heck, I don’t even have one any more. FTPing files will be beyond many of the students. How about a built-in FTP upload function, or WebDAV?

Photographing Public Places Illegal in Calgary?

Sami went out last night to take some pictures around Campus. And was accosted by an undercover cop who demanded to know why he was taking pictures of a public place. He had to show ID, his information was recorded (including his driver’s license – how is that a required piece of ID when you’re not, say, driving?), along with several other questions about why he was there in the first place. He was asked to show the pictures he had taken. Then it was suggested that if he wants to take pictures of a public place, which was build with our tax dollars, that he needs to apply for permission, in writing, before that is allowed.

This is absolute BS. The cop apparently mentioned something about “that [he] should understand that in these times we have to know…” I’m sick of the “Post 9/11 World” copout bullshit. Security does not involve preventing photography or freedom of speech. If security can be “compromised” with a cheap digital camera and/or a blog, it wasn’t secure in the first place.

Calgary Transit has information published on its own website that may be more “damaging” than an amateur photograph of a snow-covered LRT station. They happily publish the specifications of the Siemens Light Rail Vehicles (including voltage and acceleration characteristics), as well as capacities and schematics of the trains. Heck, they even publish a map and schedule, so you know exactly when one of these things will pull up at any given location! I’m fine with that info being freely available, too.

I’m so pissed off about this that I’m shaking. What am I going to do about it? What can I do about it? All I can do is be vocal about how wrong this is. And, I will be taking more pictures of public places. Lots of pictures. I’ve posted pictures of the LRT before, and will continue to do so until I’m told in writing that it’s illegal.

What are the “official” rights that we have? If I’m stopped by an officer, what am I obligated to tell/show them? What am I allowed to legally photograph?

Update: OK. I went for a walk, had a bite to eat. I’m calmer now. I just can’t believe that this crap is allowed to happen in Canada. We rail against Evil Google censoring a search engine in China, but our own cops are telling us we’re not allowed to take photographs of public places in our own city.

Update: Here’s the email I just sent my MLA and Alderman. I’ve talked with both of them before, they are good people. I’ll post whatever response(s) I get

A friend of mine was taking some photographs around the University of Calgary campus last night. When he got to the train station, he took some photos of the snow on the tracks, etc. and was then stopped by an undercover officer who interrogated him. He was asked to identify himself (which is fine), provide ID (also fine), and answer several questions about why he was taking pictures. He was also asked to show the officers the photographs that he had already taken, and informed that photography is not allowed without written approval. I believe the officer crossed the line, and invaded my friend’s privacy and freedom of speech. I am absolutely astonished at this. I’m assuming that the officer was meaning well, and was only trying to protect us from evil terrorists. But, the way to protect our freedoms is not by revoking them. Please raise this issue at the earliest opportunity. It is not OK for freedoms to be revoked in the name of “post 9/11″ security. It’s a slippery slope, and a scary precedent to set. I’ve written up a brief description of my position on this issue on my blog at http://www.darcynorman.net/2006/02/24/photographing-public-places-illegal-in-calgary Thank you.

Dear Elena

This is one of those things that, as a parent, sends an icy shiver down my spine. An unfathomable loss to a young family – their 6-year-old daughter dying suddenly of bacterial meningitis. They’ve taken to blogging as a form of therapy, and/or an expression of love for their recently departed daughter.

I can’t even imagine how much strength it must take to survive such a loss, let alone to work through the grieving process out in the open.

My heart goes out to Daniel and Kim. There’s nothing I can say or do, but I admire how they’re handling the loss of young Elena.

Quick Photos from Around Campus

It started out as a simple photo collection mission. Shawn is in Hong Kong, and asked if I had any pictures of the “Goddess of Democracy” statue that was erected on campus in memory of the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. I didn’t have any photos handy, but wanted to take a couple.

It’s weird how walking around campus with a camera in hand makes you see things slightly differently. I’ve been on campus since 1987 (with a short hiatus when I was working downtown), and never realized that much of the drabbery around here is really kind of interesting. It’s not a beautiful campus like UBC or Stanford or anything, but it’s interesting in its own pragmatic way.

So, here are a few shots taken around campus today, including a few of the Goddess herself.

I’m going to try to keep my camera handy more often, and to use it more than once a week. Not committing to the “A Photo a Day” thing, but more pics ain’t bad. And I realize now that my blog is likely to get yanked from Google China for mentioning the “T word”

Drupal and Structured Blogging

I was bugging Boris with some emails today to ask about Drupal‘s support for structured blogging. I was asking if Drupal would be getting something like the WordPress Structured Blogging plugin, which provides templates for authoring various microformats.

It wasn’t until after he responded that I realized how silly my question was. Drupal doesn’t need the plugin, because support for custom formats and authoring templates is baked into the DNA of Drupal. Even for non-coders, anyone can make up new formats (and templates) on the fly using the flexinode module. And several other formats are already available as prepackaged modules (events, reviews, etc…)

So, just a reminder to myself to think about the nature of the solution, and not go looking for something done “the WordPress way” (or matching any other particular implementation – various applications have different concepts behind the scenes, and may approach the same problem from different angles)

EduGlu is a misnomer

Scott Leslie mentioned that he thought EduGlu was a bit of a misleading name for this conceptual educational RSS mix workflow application, and he’s totally right.

The *Glu projects are primarily about aggregation. Merging a bunch of different feeds into a single stream. At first blush, that’s what EduGlu is sort of about, too, but it is also about doing much more with the aggregated data. It may have a “default” view on the data that mimics the *Glu merged River of News, but it will also need to be able to generate alternate views of the data based on identity, context, and relationships with other content and concepts. Sounds muddy, because it is.

I think it will be important if/as this thing moves forward, for us to keep in mind that it’s not just an aggregator. That part of the puzzle has been done before, and done very well. No need to reproduce anything. The real hallmark of this EduGlu (EduMix? EduBurn? EduBlender? EduMatic?) thingamabob is that it is more about emphasizing connections and helping to move relevant bits to relevant places. In the end, the name doesn’t really matter. I’m just happy that it isn’t a contrived acronym .