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HDR

I’ve been playing around with HDR photos lately. The concept is intriguing, and the results are definitely unique. I’m trying to figure out where it fits on the continuum between gimmicky and artistic…

Linville Falls 1
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Information Overload

I wonder if researchers in the future will look back at this time in history and shake their heads in wonder at the barrage of beeps, bloops, and chimes that we subjected ourselves to. Most days I feel that I suffer from a self-imposed ADD–I can only focus on any given signal for a short period before I’m lured away by a new message or update in some application or another. I find it hugely comforting to use a program like Scrivener, a word processing application that allows you to block off everything else as it takes over the screen and presents you with its calming emptiness. Boy, it sounds like I need some therapy. Hey, look! Someone updated their blog…!

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Web 2.0

I found a very informational/enjoyable clip explaining the horribly overused “Web 2.0” in an easy to understand way. The points it raises are thought-provoking.

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Drupal and Joomla!

Picking a content management system to manage a web site has proven to be a rather complicated task. We moved up and down the chain of complexity, trying very powerful (and complicated) tools like Bricolage and experimenting with very simple PHP scripts that render a directories’ contents into an auto-generated list of URLs. All of this in an attempt to find the sweet spot for content owners to be able to upload their information to the web without having to be computer programmers to manage the process.

Last year I started experimenting pretty heavily with Drupal and was quite impressed. I set up a site for our department at work and had things moving along nicely. When I started doing some initial training for end users, however, it became evident that the flexibility of Drupal was actually proving to be a detriment to new users. When you add content to Drupal, for example, you can specify the URL path to be whatever you want. For someone who knows what they are doing, this is powerful and welcome. For someone who is not familiar with the implications of changes to this path for those browsing the site, it is too much control. On many levels, users with access to the backend system have opportunities to cause trouble.

I therefore started playing with Joomla!. There are things I miss about Drupal on the developer side, but from the end user side there are a couple of things that sold me on the tool:

  1. A front-end interface that lets content owners access the content via the same interface they read it in. This has proven to be more intuitive for most users.
  2. A more advanced design/development community. There are a number of commercial options for purchasing professional templates, which aids in easing the learning curve when getting started. There are templates for Drupal, but with few exceptions they tend to look like Drupal sites, which isn’t what we were looking for.

I don’t like Joomlas method (or lack thereof) of generating sensical URLs. It requires a plug-in that requires quite a bit of setup on a large site to configure correctly.

Anyway, it wasn’t a case of one being all good and one being all bad, we simply had a set of requirements that were better met by Joomla!

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Getting things started

I worked off and on all through the holiday break to get my productivity workflow in order. I’m not where I wanted to be, but I’m a lot closer than I was before I began.

I’m trying to move everything into web services. I use multiple machines between home and work and I often need to sit down and get something done with minimal prep time. If I don’t have my laptop and my laptop is where my master task list is, I’m sunk. The problem is that each tool wants to do a bigger chunk of the workflow than I think it is capable of. There is no “one tool to rule them all”.

Here’s what I’ve got hooked up so far:

  1. Netvibes. I like the ability to add modular content via RSS and HTML and the ease of adding new tabs as well. This has all but replaced my news reader for my daily feeds.
  2. Microsoft Outlook Web Access. This is what I am required to use at work. I’m trying to get auto-redirects going to Gmail, but that has its own problems.
  3. Central Desktop. This is a Basecamp-like project management tool that we’ve licensed at work. I like it, but the licensing model is a bit restrictive (limits on number of projects, most of all) and I’m looking for an alternative. Enter…
  4. ActiveCollab. I’ve got several instances of this set up for different groups and I am really liking where it is going. It is now my de-facto tool for managing search committees, as it allows for many types of interaction (posting candidate docs, discussing interviews, etc.). I’m also testing it as a general purpose, low-level project management tool for intra- and extra-unit collaboration.
  5. Remember The Milk. This is my working to-do list manager. I have master task lists associated with projects (in the various tools listed above), and when I’m getting to work, I plunk down in front of RTM and get rid of a few next actions. It also integrates well with…
  6. Google Calendar. I keep a copy of this open not to reference my work schedule (which is still in Outlook), but rather as a quick reference calendar that I can use to set up reminders, tasks (via the RTM interface), or even just to see what day of the week the conference I’m considering ends on. I know that there are many OS-level calendars that can be up a bit more quickly, but they aren’t tied directly to my working task lists. I’m experimenting with a few other uses, but these are still very much in the mushy development stage.
  7. Google Docs. I used Writely before they were purchased by Google. I know I’m selling my life away to the big G here, but I like the ease of integration with my other tools. I’ve used Zoho apps, but I’m a little leery of their beta status and don’t want to get too invested until I know how much it will cost me in the future.

Quick and dirty overview, I know. I’ll try to keep you posted regarding how it goes.

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Ning

I’ve had an account for a while, but it wasn’t until I had a project that I jumped into the Web 2.0 development service called Ning. I’ve got a buddy in Charlotte who likes food almost as much as I do, and every once in a while we try to compare notes about where to get the best burger/mexican food/steak/etc. I played around a bit and in around 20 minutes had a semi-functional site for personal restaurant reviews. Take a look, and then try your hand and making your own web service.
http://dalepikesrestaurants.ning.com

Tying your shoes

On several occasions over the past few years I have been fascinated by the work of Ian Fieggen on his amazingly comprehensive shoelace site. A couple of weeks ago, I was wasting time…er…BROWsing through the site and came across a page Ian has written about the “wrong way to tie shoelaces.”

Now, tying shoelaces isn’t something I’ve really thought about for a long time. It only took a couple of minutes, however, to realize that all of the signs of an unsecure slip knot were exhibited by my hastily tied laces. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this caused me any large degree of angst, but I determined to learn the proper way to tie a knot and incorporate it. Piece of cake, right?

It boggles my mind how hard it is to UNlearn something as deeply ingrained as shoelace tying. I’m working on it, though, in part because it is so difficult. How do you tie your shoes?

Personal Information (mis)Management

I think I’m finished. A combination of technologies have increased my ability to access multiple channels of information and effectively brought my productivity DOWN in the process. I’ve got RSS streams for every kind of data imaginable, and they all feed into my favorites bar in Firefox, where I can click on deceptively simple-looking drop-down menus to find “all the latest”, at least until I realize I’ve spent another day chasing my tail again and promise myself to do better tomorrow. Photos, audio files, design guidelines and best practices, and–here’s the clincher–ALL OF THOSE DARN NEW “WEB 2.0” SERVICES! How am I supposed to keep them straight? I’ve got media spread across who knows how many AJAX-interfaced servers… Each one gets around 21 seconds of attention before the siren song of del.icio.us/flickr/reddit/blink/furl draws me toward its ever-receeding flame of promised reward.

OK, OK, so it isn’t quite that bad, but I have definitely noticed an increasing breadth to the type and amount of web-based applications that are available. Working the good ones into my workflow takes considerable effort, and discovering which ones are any good is an increasingly daunting task.

Educause: Pachyderm 2.0

I’ve been following the Pachyderm project for a couple of years now, so I was excited to see a session here at Educause for the 2.0 version of the open source development platform.

Pachyderm is a tool originally developed by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to allow them to develop rich multimedia presentations without requiring programming skills on the part of the collection developer. The original output was of very high quality, but the code was not very clean, portable, or scalable. Enter the New Media Consortium (NMC), who wrote and received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to take Pachyderm to the next level.

The product has been totally reworked from its FileMaker and WebObjects origins and runs in Java. The interface is clean and fairly intuitive. There are still a few rough spots around the edges (the development interface could use a visual browsing interface that allowed for more intuitive browsing of media, for example) but overall the package is very impressive. It will be released as a public beta on Monday, October 26th. The NMC will host content for a year to allow testers to get a feel for the package and time for the development of installation binaries for multiple platforms (OS X and Windows in January, with Linux and Solaris close behind).

I can’t wait to start playing…

Educause: McNealy keynote

Listening to Scott McNealy’s keynote at Educause. There are some interesting tidbits of information, but to be honest, I feel like I’m sitting through a two-hour sales pitch. There is only so much of “look how bad everyone else is and how great we are” as a theme that you can take.

Of interest:

  • >Global Education and Learning Community (GELC)

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