A cute little Mac app that exports your address book contacts in multiple formats ...including an HTML file with hCards!
Monday, June 30th, 2008
The Copenhagen Report
Reboot 10 was everything I thought it would be: chaotic, stimulating, frustrating and fun. It’s an odd conference, pitched somewhere between TED and a BarCamp, carried off with a distinctly European flair.
The speakers delivered the goods on a wide range of subject matter. Howard Rheingold was as thought-provoking and interesting as you would expect, Jyri shared his thoughts on social interaction online and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to David Weinberger riffing on Charles Babbage and Claude Shannon. With at least three tracks of simultaneous talks at any one time, and with plenty of catching up to do in the corridor, I didn’t get to see all the talks but a superb round of micro-presentations gave me the opportunity to get the quick versions of talks I missed.
My presentation seemed to go down fairly well although I thought I was just rambling on. Maybe the fact that I was accompanying myself on mandolin meant that the audience was more forgiving. I didn’t really have slides, just a few hyperlinked documents to tie the narrative together.
The theme of this year’s Reboot was
Free. Fittingly, my presentation resulted in my receiving two free gifts. Michael Rose, a local piano player, gave me a CD on which he accompanies a series of Irish tunes. Nikolai—who was introducing the speakers and taking care of the sound in the room where I was presenting—was reminded by my mention of Lawrence Lessig that he had boxes full of The Future of Ideas that were originally destined for the Danish parliament. They were distributed amongst the attendees of Reboot instead.
Sunday, June 29th, 2008
Good Reads is responsible for one of the most egregious abuses of trust â€” using the password anti-pattern to spam your address book. Micki has the details.
A real time satellite tracking web application. Over 8000 satellites are tracked and can be displayed on the familiar Google Maps interface.
A nice collection of sketches and paper prototypes.
Notes and slides from Tom Taylor's talk at Oxford Geek Night 7. It's a great collection of things that talk (or at least Twitter): Tower Bridge, asteroids, plants...
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
A tool for generating beautiful visualisations from commits to code repositories.
Friday, June 27th, 2008
All of Google's data APIs (Calendar, Blogger, Contacts, etc.) all now support OAuth. Excellent!
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
I’m off to Copenhagen for Reboot 10. Reboot is always a fun gathering. It might not be the most useful event but as part of a balanced conference diet, it’s got a unique European flavour.
As usual, I’m going to use the opportunity to talk about something a bit different to my usual web development spiels. This time I’ll be talking about The Transmission of Tradition, a subject I’ve already road-tested at BarCamp London 3:
This talk will look at the past, present and future of transmitting traditional Irish music from the dance to the digital, punctuated with some examples of the tunes. This will serve as a starting point for a discussion of ideas such as the public domain, copyright and the emergence of a reputation economy on the Web.
At the very least, it will give me a chance to debut that mandolin I picked up in Nashville.
This will be my third Reboot. My previous talks were:
I recently discovered the video of that last presentation. Jessica was kind enough to transcribe the whole thing. She also transcribed my talk from this year’s XTech. Go ahead and read through them if you have the time.
If you don’t have the time, you can always mark them for later reading using Instapaper. I love that app. It does one simple little thing but does it really well. Hit a bookmarklet labelled “read later” and you’re done.
Here’s a little sampling of documents I’ve marked for later reading:
- The Web Time Forgot by Alex Wright
- Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?, a report on Jan Chipchase
- A (very long) Conversation with Dopplr’s Matt Jones by Ryan Freitas
- Two Legs, Thing Using and Talking: The Origins of the Creative Engineering Mind by Professor F.T. Evans
Maybe I should fire them up in multiple tabs and read them on the flight to Denmark. Or I could spend the time brushing up on my Danish.
If you’re headed to Reboot, I’ll see you there. Otherwise …Farvel!
Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
Christian is using the prize money he won at Mashed to put on an event in London in September devoted to "ethical hacking": creating mashups to make social networks more accessible.
Monday, June 23rd, 2008
A presentation from Reboot 9, held in Copenhagen in 2007.
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
San Francisco. A cathedral to geekdom. The aisle of Market Street divides the city in two. The spire of the Transamerica Pyramid soars through the fog. The city rests on the San Andreas fault, a bedrock as safe and secure as the new economy. Erstwhile home to the gold rush of ‘48, San Francisco is now the epicentre of a whole different land grab.
I showed up on the weekend and spent a few days with Cindy checking out the street art in San Rafael, sampling some excellent sushi and making a fool of myself on the Wii. By Monday morning I had transferred over to Port Zero and together with Tantek, I headed out to the opening of Supernova 2008.
This was a very different conference to my usual diet of design and development. There was a definite whiff of “thought leaders” in the air, tinged with the odor of entrepreneurs and consultants. The day got off to a good start with the inimitable Clay Shirky followed by Esther Dyson. Things took a bit more of a corporate twist when Rob Iannucci from Nokia began boasting of the company’s market share. My usual reaction to hearing these kinds of statistics is the same as seeing the latest music or movie charts — to me, it all just reinforces Sturgeon’s Law.
The downward spiral continued with a panel devoted to television and advertising, two crappy flavours that taste crappy together. I don’t hate these subjects because they are outdated and doomed;I hate them because they are boring. Once again, Buzzword Bingo saved the day. At least three people in the front row (myself, Tantek and Kevin) were shooting buzzword fish in a buzzword barrel to save us from having to gnaw our own legs off.
Then, just when I thought that things couldn’t sink any lower, Arrington The Hutt waddled on stage, sucking the last remaining vestiges of cool from the room, leaving only a slime trail for attendant VCs to eagerly lap up. But at the last moment, the day was saved with the utterance of those two magical words: “free booze.”
Day two was very different. It started off with one of the best panels I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. BJ Fogg expertly moderated the clumsily-titled People: What We Know, and What it Means? featuring Charlene Li, Eszter Hargittai and Elizabeth Churchill. Not only were all three excellent speakers, but they also brought a wealth of research with them to support their findings on user behaviour. The panel was entertaining and stimulating; the perfect antidote to the previous day’s channelling of Adam Smith by Rob Iannucci, who was convinced that all motivations were transactional in nature …a creepy, misguided viewpoint that completely fails to account for the rich tapestry of emotions that drives our activities.
The afternoon was taken up with a themed track of talks called Open Flow which had been put together by Tantek. In a nod to the spirit of openness, he projected a backchannel onto the wall: any Twitter postings containing the words “supernova2008 open flow.” Ariel and I rickrolled it just once or twice.
Tantek took the moderation reins for a panel entitled Whose Social Graph?, a title that prompted an absent Zeldman to propose
a breakout session on advanced webcockery, my favourite comment of the day. The panel featured Kevin from Google and Dave Morin from Facebook, very deliberately separated by Joseph from Plaxo. Tantek pulled up David’s blog post entitled It Seems that Google and Facebook Still Can’t Get Connected and watched the sparks fly. Arguments around privacy and terms of service were tossed back and forth between Dave and Kevin until Dave finally played the lawyer card and refused to discuss the situation any further.
I was due to moderate the final panel and, much as I like to stir the shit when I’m the gamesmaster, I knew I could never follow the perfect shitstorm that Tantek had so cleverly whipped up. I could, however, have some fun.
A few times during his panel, Tantek confused Google’s Friend Connect with Facebook’s Friend Finder …or maybe it was Frend Feed? Anyway, it’s an easy mistake to make. It seems that most of the hippest new technologies are named by simply combining positive-sounding words like “connect”, “friend” or “open”. So while the other panels were still going on, I hacked together The Social Buzzword Generator (it seems to have tickled the funny bone of at least one journalist at the Wall Street Journal).
When it was time for my panel, I debuted the buzzword generator and also pulled up buzzword bingo, encouraging the audience to play along with both toys. The panel was called Bottom-Up Distributed Openness and I had Tantek, David, Chris and Leah lined up. The order of the line-up reflected the age of each technology I had them speak about:
- Tantek described microformats—three years old this week.
- David talked about OpenID—less than two years old.
- Chris gave the skinny on OAuth—a specification since November.
- Leah described oEmbed—just a few weeks old.
I was interested in finding the commonalities and differences between all these communities. As we delved into the inner workings of each one, it became clear that they were all “open” but to a deliberately limited degree. But that’s no different than, say, the open source movement. It’s clear that Linus Torvald’s contribution to Linux is going to count more than a complete stranger’s. I posited the idea that it was no different for each of the panelists in their respective communities. The term “benevolent dictatorship” was tossed around. A comment on Twitter summmed it up nicely:
Open is as open does.
All in all, it was a good panel and a good day. Best of all, there was a visual journalist on hand throughout the afternoon, doodling all the ideas and connections that were flowing.
So Supernova was a bit of a mixed bag overall but when it opened up to real people who genuinely had something worthwhile to say, rather than company shills pitching their products, it really shone. Kevin put a lot of work into organizing this conference and it was a pleasure to be a part of it. In some ways, Supernova is the perfect reflection of San Francisco …warts and all.
Wordle puts a new spin on the tired old tag cloud. Here's a cloud of my del.icio.us tags.
Now you can perform data analysis on the subtitles of the most recent series of Doctor Who, courtesy of the brilliant Matthew Somerville.
Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.
Saturday, June 21st, 2008
Blogging can be hard. Here's some free relief. Sure, it's a shameless commercial promotion but it's kind of cute.
Creating Portable Social Networks With Microformats
A presentation from XTech 2008 in Dublin.
The inimitable Dr. Brian Cox gives us a peek into the state of play with the Large Hadron Collider. "Because of its size and ambition, the LHC could inspire an entire generation to rediscover the value of exploration in the way Apollo inspired me â€¦
I had a very pleasant chat on the phone with Ben Worthen from the Wall Street Journal. He likes my social buzzword generator.
Friday, June 20th, 2008
Planning to quit Yahoo? This might come in handy.
An abecedarium of knitted letters.
In the future, all great scientific discoveries will be conveyed in 140 characters.
A blog devoted to film title sequences.
Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
I’ve finished my little bout of timezone parkour to Nashville and San Francisco. I attended a conference in each place and enjoyed both in very different ways.
Voices That Matter had an eclectic line-up of speakers. Whereas other conferences are organized around a theme or a set of technologies, the only commonality at this conference, organized by New Riders, is that the speakers have all published books through New Riders. While this means that the conference doesn’t have a specific focus, it does offer a nice varied range of subjects. Talks ranged from the specifics of using CSS for colour, typography and layout right through to discussions of user-testing and social networking.
I enjoyed getting the nitty-gritty details of CSS fonts from Jason Cranford Teague. He and Richard are clearly kindred spirits. The revelation of the conference for me was hearing a great hands-on presentation from Zoe Mickley Gillenwater on liquid and elastic layouts. Okay, so I might be a bit biased but I think it’s great that this subject is getting coverage and Zoe is just the person to do it. She’s currently writing a book for New Riders on this neglected area of web design. It should be out by December. Pre-order it now.
I missed a few talks because I was whisked away to be interviewed for a future video podcast. Under the very professional-looking lights and cameras, I participated in a one-on-chat and also a thoroughly enjoyable discussion with Christopher Schmitt and Steve Krug. I missed more talks because I wanted to get outside the hotel and explore Nashville a bit. The highlight of that exploration was getting a guided tour —thanks to Ari—around the historic Hatch Show Print where they have been making letterpress posters for musicians for over a century; a great place to soak up some design inspiration.
My ulterior motive for escaping from the conference hotel was to seek out a mandolin for myself. I went to the Gibson outlet store at the Opry Mills shopping mall on the outskirts of town but even the cheapest mandolin there was still beyond my price range. They sure were a pleasure to play, though. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across a flea market in the same mall where I happened upon a cheap second-hand epiphone. It’s not brilliant but it’s suitable for my purposes; a decent little instrument that I can take travelling with me. I’ve got a suitable travel bag to go with it. It has the shape of a tennis racket case but all the pockets of a laptop bag. I may even try to pass myself off as some kind of freakish sporty geek hybrid.
All in all, I think I managed to get a good look around Nashville and get plenty out of the conference too. I was only there for a few days before it was time for me to head on to San Francisco for Supernova 2008. That was a different kettle of thought-leading fish.
Tuesday, June 17th, 2008
Worst. Parties. Ever.
My new motto is "The Social Graph is a Spherical Cow."
A wonderful source of data on user behaviour and perceived skill levels online.
Monday, June 9th, 2008
Now that I’m done travelling for pleasure, it’s time for me to travel for business again. I’m heading out to San Francisco for the Supernova conference. Tantek has roped me into moderating a panel called Bottom-Up Distributed Openness.
I’ll be showing up in SF next Friday. Until then, I’ll be in Nashville for the somewhat embarrassingly-titled Voices That Matter conference where I’ll be delivering a half-day workshop on Ajax and a presentation on microformats.
While I’m in the heartland, I’m planning to treat myself to a new mandolin. Then I can bring that mandolin with me when I go to Copenhagen at the end of the month for Reboot 10 where, if my proposal is accepted, I’ll be talking on The Transmission of Tradtion. The video of my talk from last year, the pretentiously-titled Soul is available for your viewing pleasure. I’ll see about getting it transcribed and added to the articles section here.
All that’s ahead of me. Right now I need to prepare myself for the long and tedious trip across the Atlantic. See you in Nashville, San Francisco or Copenhagen.
Sunday, June 8th, 2008
I’ve published a transcript of the panel I moderated at South by Southwest this year. The subject was Building Portable Social Networks and I had a blast moderating, mostly due to my great co-panelists, Chris Messina, Leslie Chicoine, David Recordon and Joseph Smarr.
During the panel, I made reference to an ongoing joke by Brian and myself to do a negative version of XFN — an XHTML Enemies Network. I always thought of it as a frivolous idea but sometimes I wonder if there might be the occasional real-world use case.
Suppose, for instance, that I wanted to link to Mike “The Dick” Arrington’s latest bit of bollocks over on TechC*nt? Well, now I can add some extra semantic richness to that link by throwing in the appropriate
I give you the XEN 1.0 profile.
Please note the fine print:
XEN is not a microformat. It is a joke.
Building Portable Social Networks
A panel I moderated at South by Southwest Interactive 2008. My fellow panelists are Chris Messina, Leslie Chicoine, David Recordon and Joseph Smarr.
Fullscreen mode for Flash movies could be used to totally freak people out. Here's how.
Remember when I blogged about wanting to be able to scrobble the music that someone else in the same room as me is playing? Well, Brad Dougherty has built it.
Saturday, June 7th, 2008
Andy and his cohorts have been busy recovering an important televisual document of computer history: The Machine That Changed the World (originally titled The Dream Machine). The series comprises of five parts:
- Great Brains
- Inventing the Future
- The Paperback Computer
- The Thinking Machine
- The World at Your Fingertips
The first episode is particularly fascinating, tracing the history of the idea of a universal machine, starting with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine. The documentary includes footage of Doron Swade, author of the excellent book The Cogwheel Brain (released in the States as The Difference Engine). The story then moves on to the turbulent time period of the 1930s and ’40s that saw the creation of the world’s first programmable computers — a period so evocatively described in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.
The documentary shies away from declaring any one computer as “First!”, though plenty of time is devoted to ENIAC. The Colossus is covered but the secrecy surrounding the project ensured that its place in computer history would be denied for decades. Churchill himself once quipped that he would personally shoot anyone who blabbed about the code-breaking at Bletchley Park.
Today we understand the historical importance of Bletchley Park and yet the charity responsible for the upkeep of the centre has to go cap in hand to the Heritage Lottery Fund to ask for the money required for its upkeep. If you are a British citizen (or resident) and you consider the preservation of the site of the Colossus to be an important task, consider signing the petition to save Bletchley Park.
Here's something to bring on the geek goosebumps: a countdown to the activation of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Many sectors have already completed cooldown.
Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! "A new generation of environmentally friendly 'hybrid airships' could be just about to take off." Anything that makes everyday life more like Steampunk must be good.
Scott Kveton rips Chris Saad a new one, and rightly so. We all sent Chris the same message at Social Graph Foo Camp, he's had enough time to shape up but instead things have become increasingly hype-laden and bullshitty with him.
Friday, June 6th, 2008
A really nice interactive infographic from the New York Times.
An excellent article that explodes the ludicrous myth that terrorists like to go around taking pictures of potential targets so therefore photographers are dangerous.
An excellent rant by Jeff Atwood that explains just why the password anti-pattern is such an abhorrent practice: "How did we end up in a world where it's even remotely acceptable to ask for someone's email credentials?"
Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
Today Yahoo announced the release of their Address Book API — previously only available internally and to selected partners. It follows on from Google’s Contacts Data API and I hope that this is one more nail in the coffin of the password anti-pattern.
Chris has expressed disappointment with the proprietary nature of the response formats and Dave also wishes there were more consistent APIs. It’s a fair point but the situation is still immeasurably better than logging in and scraping the individual address book services.
The sites that have so far abandoned the anti-pattern in favour of best practices are:
Meanwhile a whole bunch of otherwise-great services are still encouraging people to get phished:
- Last.fm and
- Twitter …although, to be fair, they’ve got some other problems they need to be concentrating on right now.
The clock is ticking. There really isn’t any excuse any more for asking for my Yahoo Mail or GMail username and password.
Prompted by my proposal for this year's Reboot, Christian Crumlish pointed me to this post by Christopher Fahey that echoes my assertion that the Twentieth Century might turn out to be just a blip on the cultural timeline.
This new photojournalism blog is filled with stunning imagery.
If there's an RSS you think Ryan should know about, you can tell him here.
You can know use an API (with BBAuth) to get contact Yahoo account contact details. There really is no excuse now for still using the password anti-pattern.
Ooh, look what else I've found on the Reboot site.: this is my pecha kucha... I mean, this is my "micropresentation" about increasing the power of your hyperlinks (with microformats ...of course).
Wandering around the site for the Reboot conference in Copenhagen, I came across this video of my talk from last year. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this talk.
An excellent passionate call to action by Eric explaining why the href attribute should be freed from the shackles of the anchor element.
Brothercake looks at the problems, issues, and alternatives to requiring a human to prove that they're not a bot.
Monday, June 2nd, 2008
Sunday, June 1st, 2008
Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine.