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

Photographing Public Places Illegal in Calgary?

Thank you.