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Name: Dan Connolly
Member since: 2000-07-11 16:05:27
Last Login: 2018-04-24 17:48:18

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I deal in open source and open standards. At work
I write software to support research. At W3C I did Web Architecture, HTML, HTTP, XML, URIs and the like. I hold a degree in Computer Science from U.T. Austin, but I started hacking when I was 13, and I think USENET (esp. comp.lang.*) was where I learned most of the good stuff... perhaps my favorite article is Re: Python, Tcl and
Perl, oh my! (was Re: tcl vs. perl)
from 1996, in which I argue that the community around a language has more impact on code quality than the intrinsic features of the language.

I learned perl from tchrist in about 1990 while working at Convex. Hi kbob! I'm a pretty big fan of python, and I leaned a lot studying
scheme, and I'm a fan of the smalltalk culture... my WikiWiki bio tells more of the story.

I hang out in #swig channel when I'm
hacking. The swig
is our weblog.


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KC Star to to limit free web browsing with a civilized paywall

The Kansas City star's web site is obnoxious. The ad-supported content model is clearly failing. The publisher announced they're moving to a paywall. This is a "civilized' paywall, following the model of the New York Times:

Yes, the NYT paywall is porous — but that’s a feature, not a bug. It allows anybody, anywhere, to read any NYT article they like. That makes the NYT open and inviting — and means that I continue to be very happy to link to NYT stories. (If you follow a link to the NYT from this or any other blog, you’ll never hit the paywall.)
Paying for something you value, even when you don’t need to, is a mark of a civilized society. The NYT treated its readers as mature and civilized adults, and outperformed internal expectations as a result. 
I see a lot of gripes about the change--some legitimate; e.g. Michael Peregrine brings up citizen journalism:

I will miss some of the Star’s content, but frankly I find that it is not the place for breaking news. Information breaks first on Twitter and then local television sites. Recently, when I wanted to find out the source of loud booms in my neighborhood, I did not come to the Star’s website. I went to Twitter, where I found lots of people talking about what was going on in the neighborhood. Are these people trained journalists? Hardly. Were they accurate about what they were observing outside their windows? Yes.

I'm excited about the rise of citizen journalism, but the impact of the web on the free press is a two-edged sword. I still think professional journalism is important to corporate and government transparency and accountability, and it's being disrupted in a big way, as Hearne Christopher Jr. observed Oct 29:

Meanwhile, much of the new newsroom remodeling is complete but the jury’s still out.
Clearly it looks a lot better than the old newsroom back when I was there (and until a handful of months back). And moving people down from Features on the third flood (and Sports) will rid the staff of that haunting feeling of having to stare each day at the dozens of empty desks where people like Brian McTavish, John Mark Eberhart, Ward Tripplet, Paul Horsley, Aaron Barnhart, Robert Butler, Dan Margolies, Jennifer Mann, Julius Karash, Chris LesterSteve Penn and countless others once labored.

Though I never got into the habit of reading the morning paper, my wife reads it over chai tea in the morning, so it's an important link between our family and our city. So in our case, the net price of the paywall an extra 70 cents a month, which seems like a fair price for unlimited access to archives and such. It's a long-shot that I'll use the archives much, but I think it's important that they be preserved. I convinced the family to cut cable in favor of Netflix and the like, but while the Star isn't what it once was, I'm content to pay for the low-tech reliability of the local newspaper and at least a hope of professional journalism.

Syndicated 2012-11-30 16:42:00 (Updated 2012-11-30 16:42:57) from Dan Connolly

8 Jul 2012 (updated 12 Jul 2012 at 05:10 UTC) »

Nokia Lumia 710 with Windows Phone 7 is an eye-opener

At first, the conversation was about a new iPod touch vs. a mobile phone. The battery in my youngest son's aging iPod touch lasts about half an hour now, and his birthday is coming up. He was leaning toward a new iPod touch, but the reason we get mobile phones for our boys is so that mom's taxi service can reach them, and the lack of a phone for him has caused some issues in that area recently.

So we took him to the T-Mobile store to shop for a phone. We're OK to pay a few more dollars a month to add him to our family plan (especially since we can drop the land line) but we're not getting him a data plan.

We had just about decided on some Samsung talk-and-text model when the clerk said "I can show you a touchscreen phone that doesn't require a data plan." It was the Nokia Lumia 710 with Windows Phone 7. The price? Just $50* (with the usual 2 year contract).

I have spent a couple decades avoiding the influence of Microsoft in my life, and especially in the Web, but Microsoft is motivated to be more open and interoperable in the mobile space, since they don't dominate it.  Plus, a good friend of mine gushes about his new Windows Mobile phone, a complete turn-around compared to his endless gripes and frustrations with his original Windows Mobile phone. So I was open to it. But even $50 is $40 more than the other phone, so I asked my son if he was sufficiently interested to contribute a certain chunk of the price. Yes, he said, without hesitation, and we went for it.

This thing has all the "wow! it can do that too?!" of my Samsung Vibrant with Android 2.2 and none of the "oops... hey! what? grrr..." surprise and frustration and waiting. The back button is as quick as it used to be on the sidekick/hiptop. I don't know why Android can't cache web pages worth a lick; didn't Andy Rubin design both platforms?

The one bit of frustration is by design: until his birthday actually arrives, won't let him install any apps.

So migrating his contacts was a bit of an adventure. We ended up using python-idevicesync on my linux box to get them in a vCard file for uploading into his google account (I set up google apps for domains for our family a few years back). Then the phone knew how to get the contacts from there.

I didn't discover the shortest path to loading music right away. It has a micro-USB connector, but doesn't act like a flash drive. Evidently it speaks music transfer protocol (MTP). The up-side is that it doesn't need to re-scan the entire flash filesystem every time you connect it to a computer (or turn it on). MTP is supported by rhythmbox and lots of other open source music managers, but evidently not quite the dialect of MTP that Windows Phone 7 uses. When I tried to drag a bunch of tracks over, Rhythmbox would copy one track and then stop. And it wouldn't set the artist/album/track metadata right. Evidently it was silently discarding an error (grrr!). gMTP did better: it would report an error after each track, but when I acknowledged the error dialog, it would continue to the next track. It still didn't get the metadata right.

This exercise prompted me to resume the quest of cleaning up my music archive, including convincing Ubuntu to share files with Mac OS X again (netatalk seems to be dying; ugh... samba config! caramba!).

dupeguru Music Edition, where have you been all my life?!

It cleaned up thousands of duplicate tracks in my filesystem and even cleaned up dead tracks in my iTunes database. (Of course, I expected iTunes Home Sharing's ability to detect tracks that I already have to extend to the case of dragging and dropping the contents of a playlist, and I was wrong, so I have another batch of dups to clean up...)

I expected  to run into the same age restriction with Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac as my son ran into with Zune on his netbook, but not so. I was able to use it to install a Windows Phone update, though it gave me a scare when it quit during the "do not disconnect" part of the update; I was mentally preparing to take the bricked phone back to the T-Mobile store when the phone rebooted and announced that the update was complete. Whew!

Syncing music worked with Windows Phone 7 Connector. It got the metadata right, but I think it excluded some songs due to DRM that were actually not DRM-encumbered.

I have had my eye on the Galaxy Nexus with Jellybean. $350 unlocked seemed like such a good deal, but now I wonder... do I really want to choose a phone based on my ability to tinker with it? With my Samsung Vibrant running Android 2.2, I'm constantly dreaming of ways to improve it. But that's because I'm constantly interrupted from what I was actually trying to do with the phone by some bug or performance issue.

Wasn't it Ed Dumbill who said "I don't want to sysadmin my phone." Maybe I'd be happier with the no-user-serviceable-parts-inside product that Nokia, Microsoft, and T-Mobile are offering for hundreds less.

*EDIT: It looks like the $50 price we got at a local T-Mobile store is not widely available. Amazon wants $300 and gives a list price of $500.

Syndicated 2012-07-08 22:56:00 (Updated 2012-07-12 04:40:42) from Dan Connolly

Imagine there's no ICANN... with namecoin and cjdns

The Web and the Internet are, by design, decentralized. Noteable exceptions are the allocation of DNS and IP addresses, both administered by ICANN. By and large we ignore this wart in the architecture, but this week ICANN showed up in the headlines of the newspaper outside my hotel room:

Companies anted up $185,000 per domain to apply for naming rights. ... ICANN, which has received 1,930 applicants, will have to sort out whose claims are strongest.

— Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon seek domains from ICANN By Scott Martin, USA TODAY

That's a cool $350M. Is that a healthy direction for the cyber-real-estate market? It doesn't smell like it, to me.

Many of us have long accepted this wart in the architecture because we didn't see any alternatives.

Recently, I've seen some alternatives:

In place of centralized administration of domain names, 

  • distributed/decentralized
  • : each user has its own copy of the full database
  • secure
  • : security (with public/private keys) is deeply integrated in the software to allow only the owner of a name to modify it in the distributed database.
  • pseudonymous
  • : all transfers of data are public and linked to random generated addresses
  • open
  • : anybody can use namecoin to register a name or to create its own Namespace

And, with the tip of the hat to zooko 6 Jun, in place of centralized administration of IP addresses:

Imagine an Internet where every packet is cryptographically protected from source to destination against espionage and forgery, getting an IP address is as simple as generating a cryptographic key, core routers move data without a single memory look up, and denial of service is a term read about in history books. Finally, becoming an ISP is no longer confined to the mighty telecoms, anyone can do it by running some wires or turning on a wireless device.
This is the vision of cjdns.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

There are over  55,000 namecoin domains already.

Syndicated 2012-06-15 17:16:00 (Updated 2012-06-15 17:32:02) from Dan Connolly

Diplomacy, not technology

A quote from Gruber, via Norvig in 2009, on the sociology of developing ontologies:
In some domains, competing factions each want to promote their own ontology. In other domains, the entrenched leaders of the field oppose any ontology because it would level the playing field for their competitors. This is a problem in diplomacy, not technology. As Tom Gruber says, “Every ontology is a treaty—a social agreement—among people with some common motive in sharing.”13 When a motive for sharing is lacking, so are common ontologies.
13. "Interview of Tom Gruber," AIS SIGSEMIS Bull., vol. 1, no. 3, 2004.
Reminds me of the WWW2006 panel on tagging vs the Semantic Web, where I acknowledged that symbolic methods are no match for statistical methods when it comes to natural language processing and a lot of other tasks, I don't want computation of my bank balance crowd-sourced.

Medicine has a long tradition of controlled vocabularies, but they originate from billing systems. I suppose they have a role in evidence-based medicine, but that role isn't entirely clear to me yet. I'm pretty new to the field.

Syndicated 2012-02-28 20:14:00 (Updated 2012-02-28 20:29:34) from Dan Connolly

18 Feb 2012 (updated 22 Feb 2012 at 18:09 UTC) »

Saying Goodbye to Moore Method math notes and Robert Miner

I'm purging another box of files today: college math & C.S. notes, including a few dozen transparencies I prepared for classes on Topology and Fractals that Dr. Starbird and Dr. Cline taught using the Moore method:

Instead of using a textbook, the students are given a list of definitions and theorems which they are to prove and present in class ...
After Moore became an associate-professor at University of Texas at Austin in 1920, the Moore method began to gain popularity. Today, the University of Texas at Austin remains a strong advocate of the method and uses it in various courses within their mathematics department ...
Metric spaces, hausdorf spaces, cauchy sequences, attractors... I'm sure glad for Wikipedia, because I can hardly follow my own notes; most of it has leaked out.

I thought about capturing one or two formulas for posterity, which reminded me to try Web Equasion, which, amazingly, does handwriting recognition of LaTeX using JavaScript. (hat tip: @therealmaxf). I couldn't quite get it to completely recognize a 1-to-infinity sub/superscript notation, but I noticed the nicely typeset output was rendered with something I didn't recognize: MathJax. Cool! "an open source JavaScript display engine for mathmatics that works in all modern browsers." So I started looking into it...

... which is when I got the sad news about Robert Miner, who was co-chair of the Math Working Group, along with Patrick Ion for much of the time I was at W3C. I didn't work with him extensively, but the Math Working Group was always a class act.

Syndicated 2012-02-18 17:10:00 (Updated 2012-02-22 17:38:36) from Dan Connolly

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