On the downside of freely sharing stuff

This blog is published under a creative commons license (specifically, the non-commercial use, with attribution license) – chosen to let folks rip/mix/burn whatever they found useful. I really believe that type of sharing is important.

Regardless, I was a bit surprised to find this obvious homage to my blog design (well, to K2 and my tweaks), which closely mimics my blog’s current appearance – right down to recycling each and every one many of my blog banner images (which have been removed since I posted this).

My initial reaction was a quick “dude, that’s so not cool. use the design, but at least come up with your own banner images!” But, what’s being done is completely within the bounds of the CC license – attribution is being given, and it’s a non-commerical endeavor. So, I decided to let it slide. It’s understandable – the license I use allows it, and I even provide a full colophon listing the various off-the-shelf bits that twiddle to make up this blog.

So, while the CC license is a Very Good Thing™ for fostering reuse, it can also be a bit of a mixed blessing. It’s really weird – I’m totally fine with people doing pretty much whatever they want with the text, as long as they’re clear about not blatantly ripping me off. But seeing the images on some else’s blog just felt strange, and not in a good way.

What does that say about images vs. text? What does that say about my relationship with the banner images? They are all taken by myself, at various stages in life (one from the beach we got married on, one from the hospital room Evan was born in, etc…), at various locations in my travels (Hawaii from NMC2005, more photos of San Francisco than are warranted on a blog by a Calgarian, etc…). Each one means something special to me. To see them on someone else’s blog, where they are essentially stripped of that meaning and are being used simply because they’re pretty pictures, just doesn’t feel right.

Portfolio vs. Dossier

In the background thinking/planning for our own “ePortfolios” project (man, I hate that “e”) we realized that many/most of the off-the-shelf portfolio packages were really just simple fill-in-the-blanks templates. Not really a portfolio, at all. Essentially a simple dossier. A collection of standardized data about a person, with no real creative input required or allowed.

A portfolio (e- or otherwise) is about as far from a simple templated dossier as I can imagine. Ok. Flying monkeys with laser guns on their heads would be farther, but you get the point. Portfolios are a process of creative expression. Of reflecting on what you’ve done, how you did it, and hopefully, where you’d like to go. Every person’s portfolio should be different. Different content, different presentation, different context. Things that a dossier just can’t capture. Dossiers are good for comparing batches of nearly-identical things, and helping to highlight differences between them. I imagine a hiring committee sitting at a big table with a stack of 500 of these templated dossiers, sorting them by some criterion to get to the Right Person To Hire.

That’s not really what a portfolio should be – it’s best used as a showcase for an individual. I picture the portfolio as being closer to the job interview than the resume. It’s a creative proxy for an individual, not a standardized data transmission vector.

So, when we were deep in development of Pachyderm, and tossing ideas around about how it could be used academically, the idea of a dynamic, interactive, person-centric portfolio management tool seemed pretty cool. It’s totally not what Pachyderm was initially designed or intended to do, but because it’s basically content-agnostic, it doesn’t care how you use it. And that’s pretty much what we need from an “ePortfolio” authoring tool.

I’m very interested to see how the first batch of students use it, and what they come up with. Should be interesting…

Calgary Blog

Ted Buracas just launched a Calgary blogging site: the Blog at Calgary. It looks like a great start, with links to local media, arts, music, entertainment, etc… I’ve already found a new Jamba Juice replacement called *atomic – downtown, just north of The Bay. Next time I’m downtown, I’ll have to check it out (although that may not be for awhile – I seem to be downtown about once per season or so…)

the Blog @ Calgary

Looking forward to watching/helping it evolve. Calgary isn’t quite as online hip as the ‘Couv, but it’s a great start! I’m subscribed to the feed from the Blog@Calgary.

Feedster Top 500 List

I was checking my feeds this morning, and saw that Jenny Levine (of The Shifted Librarian fame) has been added to the BlogBridge Experts List – giving her top library-related blogs as a starting point for folks who are into that kind of thing. Very cool.

In the announcement, they mention that The Shifted Librarian is a pretty highly ranked blog on the Feedster.com Top 500 list. It’s sitting at #369 right now. That’s also very cool.

So, in a fit of self-agrandizing narcissism, I decided to see if my blog was on the list. Holy crap. It’s sitting at #330!

Feedster.com ranking of this blog, as of 2005/12/15

I find it hard to believe there are 2300 pages linking to this blog…

SFMOMA is Podcasting!

SFMOMA PodcastsI just got an email from Peter Samis, the lead Pachyderm wrangler at SFMOMA (complete with signature Tilley). SFMOMA just launched their podcasting program. They’re providing a feed with a variety of content providing information about the exhibits at the museum.

And, here’s the kicker. They’re taking it all the way. Instead of charging a fee for providing this service, they’re providing a discount on museum admission to people who take advantage of the podcasts! Talk about an awesome way to give people an incentive to come to the museum. The best of both worlds – they can take advantage of the podcast without stepping foot into the museum, but if they’re in the area, they get a break for coming in and seeing the collections in person. That’s great!

Good work, Peter (and Tim, and Tana, and all of the elves…) It’s pretty cool to see what you came up with after the initial brainstorming we had over “four cheese pizza” in San Francisco this summer 😉

Ubuntu Linux on an 8600?

Well, I’m kinda stumped. I’m following Brian’s lead in playing around with the Ubuntu Linux “live demo” cd – the one that lets you test drive linux on a mac without actually installing it. Worked ok on my Powerbook (albeit rather slowly), but I can’t seem to get my old 8600/300 to boot from the disk for the life of me. Searching Ubuntu Linux’ documents turns up dead links. Google turns up references to BootX and yaboot (BootX for Old World Macs like mine, yaboot for New World Macs). I’ll give up for now, but would love to get linux running on the old faithful Mac at home.

It’s kind of funny, but all I need linux for is as a vector to get a current build of Firefox at home. I’m running a creaky old Mozilla build 1.3.1 so it’s a touch out of date. And, my first reaction to the circa-1985 DOS bootloader on the demo cd was that MacOSX doesn’t have anything to fear in the area of polish and usability. Still, it’s worth some grief to get a modern browser at home, since I won’t be springing for a new machine for some time (no matter how cool the new stuff is at MacWorld in January. Damn you, Apple 😉 )

Update: Found a page on the Ubuntu wiki that describes how to get it running on OldWorld macs – even how to convince it to boot from the Live Demo CD. I’ll be trying that out soon…

Update 2: Gave it a shot last night, and although I did get the 8600 to boot from Ubuntu, I had to remove 2 PCI cards first. My old Quickdraw 3D accelerator and my just-as-old ATI Rage Pro VR cards had to be yanked to get Ubuntu to boot past a kernel panic. Then, I let the Live Demo CD chew for about half an hour, and eventually wound up with another kernel panic as it was 69% of loading up. Oh, well… It’s running MacOS9 now, and it runs well enough that I can’t justify taking the time to debug linux on it.

On the possibility of autism

My son had a speech therapy session yesterday, and we were all thinking things were going pretty well. He’s been doing so well that I didn’t even take time off work to go to the session (I have been to almost every other session). Then, I get a phone call at work from my wife, and something’s not right. Hard to make out what she’s saying on the phone, and then I recognize a few words. Autism. Asperger’s Syndrome. The therapist says she saw some signs that were pointing to a possible case of Asperger’s Syndrome, and that she’d like to refer us to the Children’s Hospital for a full assessment and possible diagnosis.

I go a bit numb. Then, I go the rest of the way. I leave as soon as I’m able, and when I get home we’ve all had some time to think about it. We’re alternating between being completely OK with the possibility of it – we know we can handle it, and he’s such an intelligent and sociable boy that even if it is true he’ll be able to function normally. Then, we start thinking about the stigma. Even if he’s able to function 100% normally, he’ll have a Label attached to him. If he’s diagnosed, there will be Programs. Specialists. He won’t be Normal. That’s when it hits – there is a chance that his childhood could really suck if this label and associated stigma is applied to him. How will he cope with being Different? Should he have to?

Then, I do what a good geek does. Hits the Wikipedia (autism, asperger’s syndrome) and Google (1, 2, 3, 4).

I grew up with a mild case of epilepsy – I was just different enough to feel that I didn’t fit in (medications, doctors, occasional seizures) but normal enough to do everything that my friends did. There was a bit of a stigma (“epilepsy? isn’t that when there’s something wrong with your brain?”) but nothing anywhere close to what’s associated with autism. As irrational as it is, I kept seeing Corky Thatcher (I know, he had Down’s Syndrome – my own irrational fear and association).

The irony is that a diagnosis would help explain a lot – he’s been a much more challenging boy than any of his friends or cousins ever have been, right from day 1. In a sense, there would be a bit of relief – it’s not something we’ve done wrong, but a bona fide medical condition. But then I start wondering if I brought it down on him. Feelings of guilt (rational or otherwise) and fear.

Regardless, he hasn’t been diagnosed – we’ll be having some assessment sessions in the new year – and he seems so completely normal that I have trouble picturing this possibility as being anything other than a drastic mistake by his speech therapist. She’s not a doctor, and is not an expert in autism, so she may not be on the mark.

And this is not a plea for sympathy – none is needed (and please don’t offer any). I am (yet again) simply using my blog to help me structure my own thoughts.

MediaWiki and Access Control

I’ve been asked by a couple of people about ways to restrict access to pages in wiki.ucalgary.ca. My initial response was often something like “wha? that’s just wrong. you don’t lock down wikis…”

Then, they explained more about what they wanted to do, and why they couldn’t just leave the pages out In The Wild and trust that it was private through obscurity. Things like collaborative student experimental writing, where it would be a Bad Thing™ if things like the Wayback Machine kept eternal snapshots of not-fully-baked writing, which could come back to haunt someone later. Shouldn’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater – restricting access to pages within the wiki would let them play, without exposing them more than they’re comfortable with.

So I did some Googling over the last few months, and still haven’t come up with a solution I’m completely happy with. The closest I came to a workable solution is the Access Control extension – but that needed some tweaking before it would run as expected (my modified file), and I fear it exposes some pretty scary security risks. What happens if Joe Spamass edits Main_Page and adds a fake access control list to the page? I’ve installed it, but will be keeping a close eye on it, and maintaining nightly MySQL dumps of the wiki databases Just In Case™.

I also found this patch to enable a “restrict” feature, but it really just creates a “penalty box” where pages can be sent, and only people who are allowed to see the “penalty box” can see the pages – but there’s no fine granularity, it’s an all-or-nothing thing.

I really don’t know why this isn’t part of the core feature set of Mediawiki. Sure, the Wikipedia wouldn’t use it, but how many gazillion corporate/institutional wikis could benefit (or require) this feature? There are a lot of folks who are interested in this, but no real solutions that I’ve found…

Updated Blogroll / Links

I know – nobody reads blogrolls anymore, but I needed something mindnumbingly trivial to do for a few minutes. So, I had Blogbridge spit out an OPML file of my subscriptions, and I’m updating my various linkositories (Bloglines, Links) with the updated goods. Bloglines has been chewing on the file for 15 minutes, so no promises that it’s being updated successfully there…

477 feeds – that’s actually down a bit from what I was reading before – and it looks like several feeds have borked htmlUrl values so you might need to grab the opml source to get more info on some feeds.

Blogbridge does a few “off colour” things with the opml export – largely for the better, but still outside of the spec so it gets iffy – like adding in my rating for each feed (from 0 – 4 stars), and an icon for each “folder” – but that’s only meaningful within Blogbridge itself.

Update: Bloglines tech support elves were able to get my opml file imported, after the web interface choked on it. Not sure what they might have done differently, but it’s been synced to my latest feeds.

Yet Another Wiki Spam Attack

Over the weekend, wiki.ucalgary.ca got hammered by a(n apparently) coordinated and distributed spam barrage. Hundreds of pages hit, new pages created, talk namespaces crapped into, etc…

I think I saw part of it happen in “real time” – I was watching a movie with Evan, with my Powerbook plugged into our TV (the only DVD player in the house), and every now and then I heard the system beep. After the movie ended, I saw the Watchmouse monitoring page for wiki.ucalgary.ca saying there was trouble connecting, and the main wiki.ucalgary.ca page was showing a MySQL connection error. Reloading the page made it go away, so I didn’t pay much attention.

Paul and I just spent the better part of an hour going through the wiki and delousing it, and I sure hope we didn’t inadvertently nuke a “real” edit, or spank a “real” user. The last thing I want is collateral damage in this silly battle against spammers.

I just can’t put into words how frustrating this is – we run a service for the use of the University community, to enhance the practice of teaching and learning online – and spammers run repeated drive-by-shootings spraying their crap all over it. It’s not just simple vandalism, though. It diminishes trust in the resource – why would a prof put stuff in it, if they can’t protect it from spam?

There has got to be a better solution to protecting a wiki from spam. I’ve got the Spam Blacklist extension for Mediawiki installed (and keep adding my own regex patterns, and periodically grabbing the blacklist from meta.wikimedia.org) – but that only helps protect against known spammers. I’ll be adding Bad Behavior (thanks to Paul for the link) to see if that helps.

Is there a tool available to go into a wiki and nuke any spam it finds? If spam keeps getting through the filters, there should be a way to yank it out again…


Well, this explains a lot – first, a serious congratulations to Joshua, and kudos to Yahoo for picking up del.icio.us. (and thanks to Les Orchard for the heads up)

I’ve been wondering about the business model for del.icio.us since before I started using it – wondering how it was going to be paid for. It’s a free service, with no ads. Soaking up ungodly amounts of resources and bandwidth. Now that it’s Yet Another Yahoo Family Member, it should benefit from Yahoo’s infrastructure, and lose the imperative to “monetize” – since it’s part of the value-add for Yahoo.

Here’s hoping the first thing the Yahoo server fairies do is throw some über high-end hardware at the service to help alleviate the occasional performance issues…

Drupal 4.7.0 Beta 1 + Quiz Module

In a master stroke of synchronicity, I was looking for a download of Drupal 4.7 to test out the Quiz module just yesterday afternoon. This morning, I see that Drupal 4.7.0 Beta 1 was released! So, I grabbed a copy of it and set up a fresh install on my desktop. Some really nice refinements to Drupal. The configuration side of things is starting to make sense. Good to see them giving it some proper love.

I dropped the Quiz module into place, and started creating a quiz. Looks pretty straightforward, and the quiz questions have exactly the kind of functionality that I’ve built into quiz tools previously (for multiple choice quizzes, the ability to have per-answer feedback, random/notrandom, tracking time in quiz, etc…) – but I can’t seem to take a quiz.

I’m sure it’s just a minor hiccough with the new Drupal 4.7.0 Beta 1, or perhaps an incompatibility between the older Quiz module code and the new Drupal code. Once that’s worked out, I think this could be a pretty solid informal testing tool, or a great option for outside-the-LMS testing.

Now, to see if I can convince Quiz.module to start letting people take quizzes…

I’ve also been playing with various CMS options, and so far Drupal is feeling like the right balance between flexibility, control, and ease of use. Joomla just feels to “heavy” for novice users. WebGUI is waaaay to over-the-top enterprise-application heavy (borking MySQL on my desktop box when I tried to test it). Drupal is a nice, light, fluid system…

Iggy vs. Brodeur

Iggy vs. Brodeur: photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Uncle Greggy.

I actually got to watch the game last night. Calgary vs. New Jersey. Hell of a game, and it helped that the Flames kicked some royal ass, too.

In the first period, I had a sinking feeling that Calgary wasn’t quite there. And then it happened. Iggy got pissed off. And almost dropped the gloves. Flashback to the last Stanley Cup run, where the Flames were often dormant until Iginla got pissed off and beat the crap out of someone, then went on to score a bunch of goals. He was |<-- this close -->| to scoring a hat trick last night, after being held goalless for the previous 9 games.

It helped that New Jersey basically shut down after Iggy got in their faces. Their defense just stopped trying. They did outshoot the Flames by over 2:1, but Sauve was rocking our net. Great to see we have two solid goalies this year – Kipper can relax a bit.

Now, if only the TSN announcers would just shut the hell up during the game. Leave the commentary to the time between plays and periods, and let us watch the game without your inane banter…