Friday, February 10, 2006

digg - Submit Item

Special Episode of Digital Citizen features Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives discussing the future of Archives and the new media landscape.

read more | digg story

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I'll be shutting this blog down in the next month or so.

All of my fluency posts have been archived here at my blog.

See you there!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Milestone 10: Thinking algorithmically

Learning to program has been one of the most difficult undertakings of my life. For some reason, I have just always had an incredibly hard time grasping the kind of abstraction we touch on in Chapter 10 of Snyder. Even now, they way I approach things (programming and otherwise) tends to be more of the try, try again variety. And trying to wrap my head around data structures (again, touched on in Chapter 10) has always been difficult. While I understand most of the basic stuff, I have never, ever gotten very comfortable with recursion. I understand what it does and how it does it- I just don't really know when its a useful tool.

But, this kind of understanding is important. Even working on web pages and blogs- while a site like blogger is fine for classwork and the like, if one wants to build a site that looks good and is easily navigable, one has to know more than basic html- the digital-citizen site, for example, runs on the scripting language PHP, and many of the plugins and tools used for its "theme" are written in PHP and javascript. Over the holiday break I plan on doing a major revamp of the Digital Citizen website- making it look a little more professional and giving people access to tools they can use to help out. Doing this will have me diving into a language i'm not very familiar with and trying to use it to arrive at something unique and useful. We shall see.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Create something cool, get some users, sell it to the giant: How Web 2.0 Works

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Digital Citizen Episode 2: E-Rulemaking

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Senator Wiki

Utah Senatorial candidate running a wiki.

read more | digg story

Why Wikipedia will survive the storm

The Wikipedia has taken quite a beating this past two weeks. Here's an article that finally talks about why it will survive, instead of just condemning it as a failure.

Check it

Blogging in the Classroom (with Blogger)

Public Domain Torrents

A collection of movies that have fallen into the public domain, downloadable through bittorrent!


Democracy 2.0

Democracy 2.0 is a Wikilaw experiment that hypothesizes that a wide range of individuals, not just politicians and special interest groups, can contribute to the creation of our nation's laws.

Check it out!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

54 Hour Movie Project #8 is up!

Month eight of the 54 Hour Movie Project is here! This month's sentence: "They started an online gambling web site."
Each month teams across america get together to produce a movie in 54 hours. 6pm Friday they get "the sentence"- the single guidepost for the film's content. Teams must submit by 12am on monday.

read more | digg story

Make sure to check out Yar Hasty Ent's Entry Toxic- Its a play on the Google dominated future!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Social Bookmarking For Digital Citizens (milestone #9)

If you sign up for this and have links for Digital Citizen, please use the "for:digitalcitizen" tag. Thanks!

This is a different sort of fluency milestone because its not really related to the Snyder book. I'm going to talk about social bookmarking and discuss a way for everyone to participate in Digital Citizen- without having to worry about speaking out loud or writing massive essays.

Social Bookmarking is like picking "favorites" or bookmarks for your web browser- Internet Explorer, Firefox etc.. But instead of having the bookmarks just sit in your browser, the bookmarks are stored on a website. Through "tags" you place on the bookmark, the bookmark is shared with the rest of the internet. You can send it to your friends, you can subscribe to feeds that feature tags you are interested in or you can just use it to keep track of the things you like.

The social bookmarking tool I'm going to talk about here is There are of course others- Digg or Furl.

Here is an example of a group of tagged bookmarks. In this case, I've tagged them "digitalcitizen" so i can refer to them when i'm writing.

You can also look around at the popular tags through what is called a "Tag Cloud"- just for a hint of what's popular among those of us who are forced to sit at computers all day. Its almost entirely tech related, for now. This is a great way of just happening upon interesting sites.

So say you find a story you want everyone in the class to find out about. Using the Browser Buttons or Firefox Extension, you can tag the site and give a brief summary of what you've found. If you tag it "digitalcitizen", it will immediately show up here, and as a feed you can subscribe to.

You can also use the tag "for:username" to send a bookmark to a friend. Say I found an article about Wikipedia that I wanted to send to Piotr, and he had a user account on, I could simply tag it as "for:prokonsul" (assuming that was his username) and it would show up in his inbox. You can also send tags directly to me for digital citizen by tagging them "for:spacemountain", which is my user account on

I'll be including the digitalcitizen tag feed on the Digital Citizen site so everyone can see it in action. Give it a try! It sounds a lot more confusing than it really is.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Citizen Media Evolution: A Look at Podcasting

Some friends of mine made this documentary about podcasting and the changes it could potentially bring. If you've been wondering what the fuss is about, check it out:

Watch it here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Vote for Digital Citizen!

Click HERE to vote for Digital Citizen at Podcast Alley. You need to give them an email address and click through a link they send you but that's it! Help publicize Digital Citizen!

Friday, November 18, 2005

DC listeners

My friend Andy posted an insightful response to the Wikipedia interview with Piotr, and I put it up as a post on the Digital Citizen Page. If you have some time, check it out and feel free to add to the conversation!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Captcha vs. People with Disabilities

This week's This Week In Tech Podcast features a discussion by a blind podcast who railed against authentication systems that use image verification (aka Captchas)- such as the one some of us use to verify comments on Blogger. It seems that they are major problem for blind people because they don't conform to the reader software many people use to browse the web. He mentioned that some web sites allow you to turn on an aural equivalent of the captcha, while others allow you to contact them for authentication, though he said response was spotty at best. He also said that while google pledged to improve their Captcha system for people with disabilities, they as yet have done nothing.

What the Hex (Milestone 8)

Although I doubt most of us will need to know how to convert bits to bytes and ascii to bits and bin to hex or whatever on the day-to-day, its kind of neat just to understand why its there, because suddenly you see its use in a lot of things- especially if you're online. Have you ever tried to find a color for a web page? Hex. Wondered just what the numbers in your IP address represents? 32 bits encoded as base-256. If you've ever had to mess around with a router at home, you have heard of your MAC Address, 48-bits represented in hex.

XP (Milestone #7)

I am not a good programmer. I have taken many programming courses and done well enough, but outside of coursework I have an extremely hard time programming anything beyond simple scripts and modifying other people's code. I understand the concepts but I think because I neglect any practice of it I have a very hard time with it every time I try to pick it back up. With that said, debugging is even harder.

There is a programming technique that a few years ago was the toast of IT- XP, also known as eXtreme Programming. Though I am obviously not fluent in XP myself, one facet of XP that became quite popular and seems in retrospect beyond obvious is the practice of "team" programming, where two coders sit down and work on the program together. Having a second brain on hand to help brainstorm your way through problems certainly doesn't apply only to programming, but its use in programming is really kind of revolutionary. If you've ever stared at code for hours on end, only to have a friend point out you missed a semicolon somewhere, you know how useful this can be. One person codes, the other watches, offers thoughts, thinks about what they're seeing. A big problem in debugging as I see it is that you are simply too close to the code to see the errors. Another being that people can't read more than a few lines of code and truly understand what its doing, so error checking by another person later on is as much a matter of trial-and-error, as it is for you, if not more so. Even with good comments!

In a lot of ways, conversation is the same way. I'm often startled by the things I find myself thinking when I converse with people, simply because the act of conversation has caused me to think and react in ways I wouldn't have had I not entered the discussion.

Of course, it may not work for everyone, but I've found it quite useful. Peace.

Monday, November 14, 2005

My 7+ Point Plan for E-Rulemaking

1. Update the legislation!

2. Create and fund an organization dedicated to providing software tools for rulemaking bodies to:

  • publicize comment periods, collect comment information
  • quantify the information
  • allow discussion between the public, the agency and other stakeholders
  • This software "company" will produce software whose source is open to all government agencies and educational institutions for use and modification as they see fit.

3. Capitalize on the collected knowledge of the internet through moderated, wiki-like knowlegde resources. These resources can be modified and updated by users who have registered and applied for certain credentials.

4. Advertise, for free, on the internet through communication with prominent bloggers, news sites and message boards. This is not PR, this is creating discussion. Show stakeholders you are interested in their opinion and at least some of them will make a strong effort to educate themselves and participate.

5. Use social tagging and moderation tools to evaluate public comments:

  • Create a jury of moderators from agency members, stakeholder representatives, and elected citizens who have applied for the position online
  • Moderators will evaluate user messages and rate them, a la Slashdot etc. Higher rated messages can then be filtered and recorded for later advisement.
  • Again, like slashdot: Allow users the opportunity to moderate as well, on a limited basis, providing a perspective that appointed moderators may have missed.
  • Create a centralized database that stores user participation and evaluation. Users will build up a "trusted" level over time, and those users will be more likely to be allowed "user moderation" tools during the comment process.

6. Educate.
7. Fund.

This is admittedly idealistic and naive, but that's how we get good things done, so live with it. Please tear this apart. I would seriously like to see if we can build something workable by discussing this.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ego Searching (Milestone 6)

So what better way to look into online research than seeing what kind of fingerprints you've left on the 'net. With Snyder chapter 6 in mind, I've done some cursory searching on Yahoo, Google and All The Web resulting in (literally) an embarrassment of riches.

Things I've long since forgotten:
  • My top 20 from 1996

  • A Picture of Edith Frost I Took in 1997

  • Record reviews and other strangeness from

  • The WPTS Top 30 from November 1996?

  • Weird places my name turns up in:
  • A fix for iTunes 5.0, stolen from the apple support page

  • My name in a NYT ad for Mozilla Firefox

  • Wrestling Team

  • Weird message boards

  • An online music magazine

  • My Muhlberger Paper

  • A very old group project

  • Somehow, my actual blog.

    Things I'd rather weren't there at all.

    Finally, people who aren't me:
  • Travelogue Weirdness

  • Some pianist

    Weird, wild stuff. And so concludes Milestone number 5, the ego search.
  • Thursday, November 10, 2005

    Digital Citizen Button

    Add this:

    to your links!

    Here's how- just copy this text and paste it into your template:

    Digital Citizen #1

    Digital Citizen is now LIVE

    Subscribe to the feed HERE

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Digital Citizen #1: Coming TONIGHT

    I had some technical difficulties last night working on Digital Citizen #1, but it will be finished and available for your listening, commenting and guffawing pleasure at

    Episode 1 will feature:
    The Sony Rootkit Debacle
    Bogus Wifi Laws
    Blogging legislation
    Technology Voice's own Hul Mal Gamay on "The Analog Hole"
    Piotr Konieczny on the Wikipedia

    Well, I had the entire thing recorded and was about to sit down and edit it together when I realized I somehow deleted 90% of it. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

    This is how I feel.

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    Technology Voice Podcast #18: Fascism and Fashion in America

    New TechVoice! Hul Mal Gamay takes on the Xtian Right, Zardoz and the Analog Hole. Check it out.

    read more | digg story

    Monday, October 31, 2005

    SBC Chief Declares War On Google, Vonage

    This is the power of monopoly. At this point we are practically down to two major telecoms with Verizon and MCI merging as well as AT&T with SBC. The very notion of charging companies for use of an internet backbone is insane, scary and ultimately doomed- but it may not be before we see outages, lawsuits and more from internet companies against the reborn Ma Bell. Read on...

    SBC CEO Edward Whitacre has declared war on Google and Vonage, among others. He told Business Week, "Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them." In other words, if the sites don't pay him an extortion fee, he'll block access to them.

    read more | digg story

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    Library of Congress opens DMCA exemption comment period

    Article Here

    " The Copyright Office of the US Library of Congress has formally announced an open comment period to solicit evidence from "interested parties" regarding whether the prohibition on circumvention clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has an adverse effect on legal, non-infringing use of copyrighted works. Anyone may submit comments via forms on the Copyright Office Web site between November 2 and December 1. All comments will be made public"

    The DMCA represents the last major upgrade to copyright law, and among other things makes it illegal to circumvent any type of copy protection placed on copyrighted material, regardless of whether you have fair use rights to copy the software or not.
    This restriction makes illegal (among other things):
    Using a felt tip pen to get around certain types of music disk copy protection.
    Making copies of DVDs you own.
    Backing up or making copies of purchased DVDs for library or archival use.
    Putting a box on your TV to allow your DVD player to play through the coax.

    The list goes on and the real kicker is that these restrictions can absolutely trivial, but as long as they are copy protections they are protected under the DMCA. This comment period is basically a time for people to submit suggestions for exemptions to the DMCA. You can view a list of notable exemptions in the article as well as links to information about submitting and the work the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ALA have done.

    Open Launched.

    "The Open Library website was created by the Internet Archive to demonstrate a way that books can be represented online.

    The vision is to create free web access to important book collections from around the world."

    read more | digg story

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Larry Lessig on the Creative Commons

    We haven't talked about Lessig in class yet, but this week's This Week In Tech is guest hosted by him. In the midst of the meta-pod talk and industry insiderishness, there is actually a pretty good discussion about the need for changes to the copyright system and how restrictive lawmaking is hurting America's belief in "the system."

    This Week In Tech is a weekly podcast dedicated to technology and hosted by a bunch of former TechTV personalities as well as tech commentators and writers.

    Check it out.

    Friday, October 21, 2005

    China Blocks Wikipedia

    From Digg:

    News is coming in that at least in Shanghai, you can no longer access Wikipedia. Under fire recently over the quality and accuracy of some articles, Wikipedians living in China are shit out of luck.

    read more | digg story

    Thursday, October 20, 2005


    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Assignment 3: Noveck

    For your enjoyment, my paper on Noveck: PDF, DOC

    And, because thats what the people want:

    In Unchat: Democratic Solution for a Wired World, Noveck opens by discussing the necessity for deliberation in democracy, in her words, “Deliberation is a special form of speech structured according to democratic principles and designed to transform private prejudice into considered public opinion and to produce more legitimate solutions.” She continues by adding that technology in and of itself is not a solution in bettering democracy, but it can be used to such an end by creating- through software- a structure for deliberation. She then describes the design and use of her Unchat software, which is of course for sale to at!
    Noveck’s main point before going into detail about just how Unchat works is that while the web has essentially been built out and formalized for commercial use and (especially) e-commerce, it has not adequately done so for political, social and cultural uses.(22) I would advance that while it is certainly the case that e-commerce has essentially worked out its kinks, these uses of the web are certainly on the rise, with the advent of commercial and free services that allow people to gather and deliberate on a variety of platforms to all of the aforementioned uses. Granted, Noveck’s Unchat design is quite remarkable to me, but at this point it is not the only software in the running. (See Slashdot, Digg, Flickr,, Kuro5hin, WIKIPEDIA) In discussing the needs of an e-deliberation platform, Noveck outlines the following: Accessibility, no censorship, accountability, transparency, equality, pluralism, inclusiveness, staying informed, publicness and facilitation.
    Part 2 of the chapter outlines how Unchat aims to fulfill these needs. It runs on free software and is designed to work for all common computing platforms. It appears to be unencrypted and “on an open port” though her reasoning that having an “open port” promotes openness is questionable- if nothing else it leaves the computer open to exploitation in a number of ways. I don’t believe that implementing security (including https encryption) would hinder the speech of participants, but would aid in keeping snoopers from accessing profile and library information that may not be intended outside the context of the chat. Is that against the nature of Unchat? I would say no, as protecting the privacy of the participants in what is ultimately a moderated forum should be considered.
    Autonomy is dealt with in that the rules for deliberation can be modified based on the needs of the group – though the way she outlines the hierarchal nature of the software, it may be up to the higher level administrators to define how discussions will operate and who is participating in them. Accountability and transparency are dealt with by forcing people to engage as themselves, “signaling to the participant the seriousness of the exercise, thereby linking real life consequences directly to virtual conversation.” (27) Noveck believes that the recognized advantages of anonymity on the ‘net work as disadvantages to deliberation because the user does not take their role as a deliberant seriously.
    Unchat was designed to act as a real time conversational tool to simulate a real life conversation between people. According to their website it can be used asynchronously as well.
    Unchat uses a roundtable-like representation to guide users into a situation where they feel engaged with each other in a recognizable setting without the reliance on intensive video technology. They have also considered its appearance and design so as to not alienate the technologically literate and illiterate from its use. I don’t know how one could resolve a situation like this, but in its dealing with user autonomy and visual representation, I wonder if they have considered the effect of real life knowledge of each other chat participants might have, and how it effects the way they converse within the chat room. Consider an office-like situation, where there could be an established social order- will the fact that the communication is not face-to-face be enough to encourage all participants to engage freely, or will they bring the weight of their position (bosses, managers, secretaries, etc) with them, and engage each other as they would in the real world.
    Unchat has a number of interesting features in facilitating deliberation- it is designed to be easy to use for moderators and users and even has a feature that allows the moderator to step out if they need to reacquaint themselves with the program or if they feel the discussion should go unmoderated. Roles are defined as Site Administrator, Topic Administrator and Unchat administrator, and while they are hierarchical, they do allow for multiple users to control a lot of the functionality based on how the chat is set up. One feature that I keep coming back to because it is such a good idea is the ability to not only speak, but also to shout and whisper. In Unchat, shouting is a function that allows a user to make an empowered, somewhat spontaneous exclamation to emphasize their point and step outside of the moderator’s control. They designed this specifically to allow for the kinds of spontaneous exclamations that occur in regular conversation, but as this is software, they have even built controls into the system to allow for the suspension of shouts if the user begins abusing that power. Whispering allows users to talk person to person without having their conversation appear in the main chat, which allows them to deliberate amongst each other before making a decisive statement.
    The software features logging of chats for both archival use and instruction. One of its logs is used to monitor a moderator’s actions for potential abuses and to “study the effectiveness of different rule structures and their impact on the group.” They are considering adding search tools, threading and collaborative filtering to the archives. They also provide a “library” function that can be used for distribution of information for the entire group as well as individuals. Allowing libraries to be user searchable would be a great enhancement, with users designating private or public information, letting users “tag” data with keywords that can be shared among other users and for easy recollection and filtering of the data in the libraries. This would effectively allow a delineation of data between users but also facilitate sharing of relevant information to interested participants.
    In order to facilitate informed deliberation, Noveck has created impediments to directly entering a chat, allowing chat room administrators to force a user to interact with the content and enter the chat better informed and given context for discussion. It even allows for a counter point to any argument a user may make in its pre-chat quiz system, forcing the user to consider other points of view before she engages with others in the chat.
    Noveck concludes by discussing the possibilities of future iterations of the Unchat and other deliberation software, including accounting for the advantages of anonymous speech, allowing emoticon-like non-verbal speech inclusion (though I would argue that users will have long figured out their own ingenious ways of engaging in yawns, guffaws etc without having it standardized in software), and other administrative and user-based tools and rules to effect deliberation. She closes by noting that we now realize how important media is for democracy, and that though it may be changing, its impact has not.
    That last sentence is really something to think about, as our class has gone back and forth on the value of this new technology. As I interpret it, her point here (besides selling her software) is that technology is going to influence the way we engage no matter what, and we are at a point where we can influence the direction the relatively new technology of the web takes. Unchat, as it is described, is both evolutionary and revolutionary, and put to good use, seems like it could have a significant impact on the discussions of its users. It is evolutionary in that is building on accepted paradigms of chat, threaded and moderated bulletin and usenet discussion as well as face to face discussion. It is revolutionary in its attempts to democratize the discussion, harnessing the power of internet chat while reigning in the potential anarchy. One could argue that despite its openness, there will still be controllers- administrators and moderators who shape the discussion, the quizzes and the libraries to force users into a particular perspective, but at the same time this product seems to try to account for many of the internet’s problems of discussion- shouting, dominant uses, jokers, flamers etc. It is absolutely a great first step.
    I am really trying not just to deconstruct, but it seems extremely ironic to me that a software product designed to facilitate open discussion is apparently not open source, or even free. Open source software is software that allows anyone to look at the code, modify it and even create their own version if they’d like. The creator controls the copyright over the code but users are allowed to derive as they wish (depending on the license- I am generalizing here with the GNU Public License in mind) and add features and functionality to better suit their needs. If Unchat or an Unchat-like deliberation tool were to become a part of institutionalized democracy one would hope that at the very least it is designed around either approved standards or de facto accepted standards and protocols, if not fully open source to insure complete accountability and openness in its use. I may be off the mark, as the Unchat website really provides very little useful information about the product itself. Its server side is built on open software, but they make no mention of the availability of its code. If it is based on the GPL, they must make the code available upon request. It could be that they as they are in the business of selling service and support for the Unchat software, they may make the software itself available at no cost.
    As I mentioned above, collaborative deliberation tools are taking shape on the internet, and while they do not take the very specific form of informed deliberation, they are intriguing nonetheless. I mentioned in my previous paper sites like and, which are entirely dependant on user contribution and discussion. The latest buzz word in Silicon Valley is the term “ Web 2.0”, with many people focusing on the future of the web as a user-centric, user created medium. Unchat seems to sit quite close to the idea of a person centric, collaborative discussion. With the advent of blogging, flash mobs, collaborative tagging, filtering and information gathering, there is potential for people actually step out of what was previously very much a one to many discussion with news and information filtering down through special interests. Earlier I mentioned tagging and how it could prove quite useful to a tool like Unchat in allowing users to access information quickly and on their own terms. Building in interfaces to online information resources that support tags could take their use even further.
    Ultimately, the adoption and use of deliberation tools like Unchat could very much help inform citizens, and it is a fantastic start. I have to at least mention that deliberation tools like this made available from government will only be truly successful if there is a populous educated enough to use them and which has access to the internet (though they have sought to keep bandwidth to a minimum) and access to a PC of some kind. Unchat is a great solution to organizations, schools and the like, but a successful e-government initiative that used a tool like this would depend on nearly ubiquitous access, which we are still nowhere near and there is really no clear plan for accomplishing it. Still, this is exactly the type of work that must be done now so that we can insure it becomes a part of the democratic landscape in the future.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    The growing phenomenon known as "Internet"

    Please watch old tv news report about "Internet."

    Check out the discussion of understanding messages without body language and tone, and the solution known as "emoticons".

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Newspapers vs. The Internet in a Nutshell

    Compare my previous post to this, mentioned recently on Damien's flog. As far as I can tell they are about the same subject. One was posted to tech/internet friendly Slashdot, the other, the Grey Lady. Mudslinging indeed!

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Delaware court rules in favor of anonymous blogger

    From Slashdot:

    The Delaware Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision requiring an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger who targeted a local elected official. Judge Steele described the Internet as a 'unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before,' and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. 'We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously,' Steele wrote.

    RSS (Milestone 5)

    Yesterday in class a few of us were talking about RSS, what it is and how to use it.

    RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (among other things) and essentially its a way of publishing the information on your website in a standardized way.

    It's used for a variety of things including:
    Aggregating news from various websites.
    Sharing text, sound, images and video. (RSS forms the basis of Podcasting and Vlogging- as well as a lot of Torrent based content sharing)

    Still confused? Ok, so lets say I have 30 websites that I go to every day, but I'm sick of opening up my 30 bookmarks. If I have an RSS reader- they can be web based and there are also a variety of RSS readers for all operating systems- I can "subscribe" to the RSS "feed" or newsfeed from that website, and instead of browsing through Salon, Plastic,Slashdot or my favorite blogs, I simply browse a list of my subscriptions, looking for new articles and headlines that interest me, presented in a very easy to read, quick to access format. If I want to know more, I can then click a link from within the feed to take me to the site itself.

    Your RSS reader will let you know whenever a site's content is updated, so you don't have to keep going their looking for new content.

    Other uses of RSS included feeds published by search engines that will automatically update themselves with new content based on your search terms. The possibilities are endless.

    RSS feeds are what people subscribe to when they listen to podcasts in iTunes.
    Also, everyone's Fluency Blog already has an RSS feed. For instance, the RSS feed for Floggist is

    Apple's Safari supports RSS feeds, as does Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

    Bloglines is a very common feed aggregator that allows you to personalize your feeds as simply or as complex as you'd like.

    Here is what RSS looks like in Mozilla Thunderbird:

    Notice that I have a subscription to all the class' Fluency Blogs as well as today's New York Times headlines and Slashdot headlines, and I can see which articles I have or haven't read. When I select an article I can read all of the articles contents, including images. So assuming I'm up to date with my Fluency Blogs, every time I log in to my reader I can see if anyone has updated without having to browse to everyone's site.

    It goes without saying that Wikipedia has all the information you will ever need about RSS.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Your local library (Milestone 4)

    Have you taken full advantage of Pitt's electronic resources? They are so abundant as to be overwhelming. I know Snyder says that we must make use of a library's print collection as well, but there is so much informationy goodness (yes, I said informationy) that you really ought to take a look around. When I worked at the Hillman Library reference desk (2000) we were already referring people to online resources quite frequently- I can only imagine it is much more so now.

    The University of Pittsburgh Library System Home Page offers up a variety of searching options.

    The "Find" search box with the "Zoom" button is the ULS' "Federated Search." It literally indexes every electronic resource the ULS has access to and returns the results to you. The amount of effort involved in this is pretty amazing, as many online databases use proprietary methods for displaying results- the result can sometimes be muddled, but if you drill down a bit it can be quite rewarding.

    Have I mentioned that Pitt has one of the largest collections of online resources in the US? This includes the famous Lexus-Nexus to the some incredibly obscure web resources like The Pennsylvania gazette 1728-1800

    You can also scan through the Databases A-Z list if you know the name of the database you're looking for. Usually the names have something to do with the subject you are interested in so browsing can be useful.

    Browsing Databases by Subject can help you narrow down your search in a matter of seconds.

    I should also note that Pittcat, the ULS Library Catalog contains information about all of the ULS' electronic as well as print resources.

    The ULS Digital Research Library and other digital initiatives are working to digitize and collect information from the University community as well as local historical data, pre-print articles and a LOT of other interesting stuff. Stephen Foster's Sketchbook, for example.

    Finally, it should be noted that these resources are not available to the public, and thus you must use Pitt's SSLVPN service to access them from home. Also, do not hesitate to bring your questions and problems to the various reference desks around the ULS- the public services staff are very smart, very thorough, and really good at their jobs.

    Full disclosure: I work for the ULS.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    IP + TV = IPTV (Milestone 3)

    IPTV is quickly becoming a popular way of viewing content on the net. I don't think it's ready to take off just yet, but yet another of my favorite bloggers has jumped into the fold: = Kos interviews Middle East expert Juan Cole

    Other IPTV Programs
    Digital Life TV

    Another aspect of IPTV is the rise of Vlogging- Video Blogging- which often combines the confessional aspect of blogging with interesting video and cell phone footage. In their terms, "Mundane is the new Subversive." Here are some video blogs.

    It's funny to return to this kind of one-to-many viewing paradigm but even here the internet provides interactivity through the form of email and user comments as well as the democratization of televised media, and ultimately no censorship as there is no FCC and no advertising calling the shots. This is not necessarily the future of the medium, but it could well become a part of the larger media landscape.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Publishing on the Web (Milestone 2)

    The chapter on HTML really hit me on just how difficult it could be for a user to create a web page without understanding the underlying structure of them and even the importance of a little server side knowledge. It took me a long time to understand how to do relative paths in web pages- hell it still seems odd to me.
    In some ways the web as a collaborative medium is a failure- WYSIWYG html editors work to a degree but without a general understanding of what is being coded most users are going to get confused at some point in the game. In all honestly I have never coded a table by hand in my life, and honestly I don't know that one should have to, but the basic understanding of how to lay out a page, link it up, and put it on a server has made things a lot easier for me.
    It's interesting to see how we have coped with this relatively high entry point, with such things as wikis and of course blogging tools. Wikis seem almost redundant to me in their design, but ultimately they make real the promise of the web by adding truly collaborative writing in addition to hyperlinking and rapid publishing.
    Blogging tools on the other hand are the closest I think we may ever be to giving people a simple means of publishing on the web with a low barrier to entry. Even the big free sites may take some getting used to in teaching people the ins and outs of posting images, links etc, but they do make it a lot easier than finding a host, putting up the files and doing the design work. There are tradeoffs of course, mostly in the realm of design and individual creativity, but at the same time sites like blogger allow someone to publish what could be very important data or their most personal thoughts and feelings to the world for all to see, and they even provide a means of interaction for readers that makes their site a truly interactive medium.
    My last rant was all about the disconnect between what users understand about computers and what they really are- the same can be said for publishing on the web, but in this case people are slowly making the tools to allow universal publishing better and better. Anyway, my father has been asking me to help him set up his blog, so let's see if WYSIWYG is enough for Pops Ferdinand.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    A confession

    I sometimes feel that I might seem a little irrational in my exuberance for the connected digital world. That may very well be so, but I think I have some pretty good reasons why. So in the grand old tradition of confessional blogging, I'm going to try and explain why my experience has lead me to my perspective.

    I grew up in the small city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Hazleton is a small, dying coal city that is close to no large urban center and very isolated even from neighboring communities. Growing up, I was shy, quiet and very much an outsider. I came to be interested in things- music, art and the like that it took a *lot* of work just to maintain an awareness of in Hazleton. There were very few people who shared my interests, so I always felt like an outsider in my community.

    In 1994 I moved to Pittsburgh to attend Pitt. All of my friends had gone to other schools (mostly Penn State Hazleton) but I had decided to head for a larger city. Most people feel Pittsburgh is small beans, but this city to me is everything I wanted in a big city with a lot of the smaller town feelings that I *did* like about Hazleton. When we got to school, the Web was in its infancy. But we had access to email, and almost immediately, I found a way to stay in touch with all of my friends. Phone calls and snail mail were basically out of the question, but we were still able to maintain close contact- something I truly believe was much more difficult only a few years before. To this day, my friends and I stay in touch over a distribution list- and while that list has grown with friends we've picked up a long the way, we are still as tight as ever. We see each other only a few times a year now, but the closeness is there.

    So there's that. But here's the big one: In 1997 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's B-Cell Lymphoma aka lymphatic cancer. I had to leave school and for the next year I was essentially stuck in my house as my immune system was destroyed and I lost all of my mobility (as well as my hair) due to a year long chemotherapy treatment. At that point, though I could leave the house, it was a huge health risk- and there were times where I nearly died due to infection. I was sick and tired, I could hardly clime my stairs, but what I could do was sit at my computer and talk to my friends. I could find out about the world of music that was going on, even though I might not get to see my favorite bands. Before 1994, finding rare music was extremely hard- you relied on magazines or a college friend to clue you in; but now, finding out about new music was as easy as browsing to a web site, or subscribing to distribution lists devoted to whatever you can imagine. Instant messaging appeared around that time, with the program ICQ, and suddenly I could talk to my friends in real time. I had all of my friends in my Dad's office, waiting for me, whenever I was well enough to get out of bed.

    So when I go out of my way to defend human relations in the digital realm, it is because my life would be vastly different without the internet. I know I would not be as fortunate as I am. Like we said in class yesterday, fundamentally these things aren't changing our fundamental humanity- the way we communicate and interact and think and feel, but the method in which we engage in those things has changed. In my case, it was for the better.

    Oh yeah, I should add that I don't doubt for a minute that my idealism is in some way inherited from the utopian fantasy of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sad, but true :)