The Eclectic

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A mature expression of freedom follows the discernment between desire and need. It follows then that liberty must follow education, not the other way around.

Reflections on EpCon 2010

This weekend I attended EpCon 2010, which was billed as a conference for college/university students interested in technology. About half way through the conference I recommended that it be renamed (at least this year) to SMECon, Social Media & Entrepreneurship Conference, in keeping with the recurring themes in the vast majority of talks and breakout sessions. In general I enjoyed the conference, although I felt it lacked three things: greater diversity of topics (with fewer shameless plugs for big-company products), opportunities for discussion groups (rather than unending presentations), and content more about society/technology/values to encourage students to think critically about emerging technology. Read the rest of this entry »

Unifying Web 2.0 Applications & Feeds: One App to Sync Them All

For the past several days I have been wrestling with various useful Web 2.0 applications in an attempt to get them to talk to each other suitably.

What I’ve found is that Google Reader and similar services will put all kinds of feeds together so that I could make one link that contains everything: my blog, my tumblog, my twitter, my facebook, etc, etc.

However, what I would like to do is–rather than trying to convince everyone in my life to use a Google Reader link when they are more comfortable with a particular application (usually Facebook or Twitter)–what I’d like to do is post information to anywhere, and it will automatically be made available everywhere. Here are some highlights of my attempts and frustrations:

  1. Tumblr will sync with Twitter (post my tweets, and tweet my tumblr posts), as well as repost my blog and my Facebook feed.
  2. The Twitter application in Facebook will post my tweets as Facebook status updates.
  3. Combining 1 and 2, I posted everything except my Facebook status to tumblr, and allowed [anything but Facebook] -> Tumblr -> Twitter -> Facebook to do the work. This still has problems though. First, Twitter turns media rich posts on Tumblr in to mini URLs, so an image or video posted to [anything but Facebook] gets to Facebook as a mini URL, while Facebook supports media-rich posts. Furthermore, posting to Facebook is still a dead end, the solution to which would be posting my Facebook updates to Tumblr, creating an endless feedback loop: Facebook -> Tumblr -> Twitter -> Facebook -> …

One solution would be a smart synchronizer that uses the API from every service that interests you to check whether a post exists at location X, and if it doesn’t, forward it there in the correct format. Provided that ONLY that synchronizer is used (so that it can keep track of post’s origins without error) that would work.

Another solution would be to have one application where all posting is done, whether it’s a quip, status update, image, video, whatever. Then this “super application” sends out the information in the correct format to everything. The problem with this solution is that the super applicaiton needs to be available for every platform that I use to post content (my phone, my laptop, my PC, a Mac, etc, etc). This solution also doesn’t really solve the problem because I can’t simply post using any interface I want, and expect everything to get updated–I have to use the super application all the time.

Is there anyone out there that has found a good solution to this problem? I’ve seen seesmic for Facebook and Twitter, but it doesn’t cover other applications. I’ve also tried flock, but for some reason it won’t play nice with my self-hosted WordPress blog.

Any help on this would be appreciated. I would hate to have to learn 1/2-dozen APIs and write my own application to do this properly.

//Mark

On Observation of Difficult Languages

Writing Python all day and then tying to make a “simple PHP script” when I get home really emphasizes that PHP has become just… inconvenient.

Template for UW E&CE Work Term Reports

So, I spent a bunch of time getting this template setup, so I figured I should make it available. If anyone finds any errors in it, please let me know. I am hoping that over the next two years the department will spend its time on more important things than tweaking the details of the work term report specifications, and I won’t have to update this too much.

Big scary disclaimer thing: Just to be clear, users of this template cannot hold me responsible for any errors in this template if they result in a problem with your work term report. I don’t know whether one would be required to cite me as having contributed to a report that uses this template, so answering that question, as well as (potentially) including such a citation is also the responsibility of the report writer. Basically, I am offering this to save people time, but if you’re the one writing the report, you’re the one responsible for the report and its contents.


Notes on using the template:

  • I used MSOffice 2007 fields for a lot of information in the front matter. The nice thing about that is that when the information is repeated, I included a reference to the first appearance of the information. I got lazy later in the document and you will just see examples, not example-text-within-a-nice-text-field.
  • Make sure you are not in Design mode when you create a new document using the template, it messes things up and is prone to producing inaccurate field values.
  • If you see something like { REF SomeName }, that is a reference to previous data entered using a text field (or Control in MS lingo). To ensure that everything is accurate, I recommend making sure you have filled out all previous fields first, then use the right-click menu Update Field, then use the right-click menu Toogle Field Codes. The same applies to front matter tables and lists.
  • If you run into problems with references, it may be useful to know how I made references to text fields (Controls). First I created the text field and named it. Then I created a Bookmark that refers to the value of the text field. Then I inserted References to the Bookmark wherever I needed the data again.

I guess that’s all there is to say about the template. I hope others find it useful. Again, if you find any errors, email me or post a comment to this post. My apologies to those who use OpenOffice or previous version of MSOffice; I don’t have time to write a template in every office suite out there.

//Mark

New fees on electronics: a new love/hate relationship

The other day I took a return trip to Canada Computers. The new LG monitor I bought for my wife’s birthday was defective and I wanted to exchange it for a similar Samsung model. Unfortunately, I was met with two unpleasant surprises when I arrived at the shop. The first thing was that the problem with the display wouldn’t reproduce for the guys in the shop, resulting in a small restocking fee. The second surprise was that in 24 hours I’d had the monitor, Ontario instated a new fee for purchasing electronics, which almost doubled the damage on the restocking fee in this case.

To be clear, when I found out the reason this new fee is being put into place, I was pleased. The fee is a part of the new Ontario Electronic Stewardship which aims at making the disposal of electronics more environmentally friendly. Of course, more careful disposal is more expensive, but I am happy to pay for such a noble environmental effort. As a tech guy who frequents computer shops, I’m sure I’ll be paying this fee more often than many; I hope some of it gets reinvested in awareness of the program so that more people paying for proper electronic waste disposal actually use it.

//Mark

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