December 31, 2005
Chicago Bloggers pingserver

Brian announced it on the list today, but the ChicagoBlogger's pingserver is in production now. There are still a few minor enhancements I believe Brian has in the cooker, but it's already going to be a valuable resource for the geographically centric bloggers here. If you're not registered at, do that first, then follow the handy instructions.

Now if I could just keep myself from editing after posting so much!

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Posted by esinclai at 02:01 PM
December 30, 2005

Why do I get ideas for blog entries and essays during the 30 minutes or so I have between the reading of newspaper and the shaving->train dash each morning? And why is it that in the last 90 minutes of the day at work the barriers to accomplishing a stack of Next Actions suddenly fall away?

Is this just a bizarre 'when Eric can get time structured' thing? Or is there a better explanation?

One element, I think is that this is a matter of constraints focusing my decision making. Jason Fried (and the 37signals crew in general) have spoken about embracing constraints as a way to focus corporate activity. David Allen, with his 2 minute rule, focuses ones attentions in the organizing process to those things that would clutter other, later, goals.

And yesterday in the Times, in a column about New Years resolutions (and I'm not unmindful of those!), Nobel economist Thomas C Schelling's idea of preconditions crossed my radar. In essence (for those who can't get to the column online), one or more parties set boundaries and posts on a commitment before a final decision is made. So a legally binding treaty ostensibly binds future Presidents, and on a smaller scale similar pre-decisions can be used in our personal lives.

There's more in Schelling's work and in the column. In particular, the Times points to the essay Ethics, Law and the Exercise of Self Command (pdf).

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Posted by esinclai at 03:36 PM
December 29, 2005

A few weeks ago, 37signals made a somewhat cryptic announcement about an upcoming product, Campfire. I shrugged and moved on... I'm generally a fan of their Basecamp product, which I've used with some small success in tracking the community internet presence I'm involved with (more success for me than as a team product, but small steps are steps nonetheless!). And I've used their Backpack product some - and expect will more for some percolating ideas. And I even went to the Rails v Django chinscratchfest recently. But I figured more news would come later, and their other announcement, for a CRMish product named Sunrise, is less interesting to me at the moment.

Then this evening I was on the train home, and the Inside the Net interview with Jason Fried came around in my @todo playlist. He discussed a bit more about Campfire, and it does sound intriguing, at least for the RTC space that I still watch. From the 50 second description Jason provides at 27:40 in, Campfire will be a lightweight RTC app, focused on group chat (ala IRC) more than on IM chat. It sounds a bit like a counterpoint to ARSC (A Really Simple Chat), which I believe is the chat tool I saw used during the SSA Happening in 2003, and documented by Cory Doctorow Clay Shirky as a tool for In Room Chat. Presumably Campfire will be Railsified and streamlined in the 37signals look and feel.

This should be interesting to watch. A solid hosted RTC system that allows for shared spaces (channels, rooms, whatever you want to call them) as well as breakout one-to-ones (privates, IM, whatever!) is a very good thing in my experience. I have some concerns about the deep viability of public hosted models versus internally hosted models (and being sometimes conservative, even about the privately hosted RTC exchanges now beginning to come online), but there's almost certainly a market, and an itch, to be met here for the small shop market. I'm now actually a bit anxious to spin it up and kick the tires, when it comes around (possibly in 1Q2005, if Jason's estimates are correct).

Aside 1: in digging up the references for this article, I note that ARSC is still in relatively active development. Interesting, indeed.

Aside 2: I saw in some researching last night PaulV is talking of taking the perplog irc bot toward a possible 2.0 release, for those old school IRC meets new school granular addressing heads out there.

Update 2006-01-23: Correction of Cory for Clay

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Posted by esinclai at 10:43 PM
December 28, 2005
Punk History Lives, Film at 11

Of course, there is some good in the world. Take, for example:

An MP3 reissue of Party or Go Home (Mystic Records, 1983), featuring Minutemen, Big Boys, etc.


7 Inch Punk, MP3 reissues of classic and unknown punk 7"s.

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Posted by esinclai at 06:36 AM
Punk is Dead, Film at 11 part XVII

From today's NYT regarding Linkin Park's new contract:

The six-member Los Angeles band and its management company, the Firm, last week reached a deal with Warner calling for an estimated $15 million advance for the group's next album, executives involved in the contract negotiations said. The pact provides the company's Warner Brothers Records unit with an option for up to five more albums from the band, one more than had been called for in their original deal.

Warner also agreed to increase the musicians' royalty rate to an estimated 20 percent. The next Linkin Park CD, still untitled, is expected to be released as early as mid-2006.

Agent Orange, "Breakdown"

the public gets what they deserve
not what they demand
unless we all decide to be
a business, not a band

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Posted by esinclai at 06:28 AM
December 27, 2005
Marquis Cha-Cha!

minifig famous people # 4: mark e smith

Originally uploaded by minifig.

First there was the lego Steve Jobs, and the lego Steve Wozniak.

Now what ever punk and post-punk fan needs - a Lego Mark E. Smith!

Wonderful and Frightening indeed.

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Posted by esinclai at 10:30 PM
Cleaning up the bookmarks

For the past few days, off and on, I've been working to clean up my bookmarks in anticipation of uploading them all to my account using whatever version of Safarilicious is available at trigger time. In anticipation of this shift for my 1600 or so bookmarks, I've been using Bookdog to organize, find duplicates, and verify the remaining bookmarks. It's been a trip though various histories and pasts.

At one point in the past one of my hats was competitive and market analysis of the chat and collaboration space. In doing so I would bookmark various vendors of interest, either as partners or as threats. At some point, I bookmarked the website of United Messaging who, if I recall correctly, provided some services for enterprise and wireless data and messaging.

When Bookdog visited United Messaging's website, it flagged it as a 302 that was likely a 301. For in August 2002 United Messaging was indeed purchased by a company in the same general market space, Agilera. Who just 6 months later were purchased by BlueStar Solutions, who.... don't respond to pings. But they did have a online marketing campaign that reduced their costs of customer acquisition... and were then purchased by Affiliated Computer Systems in August 2004.

All this from a bookmark and some headers, indeed.

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Posted by esinclai at 06:22 PM
December 22, 2005
Seeking Info

Anyone know anything about this book?

"Wiki : Web Collaboration" (Anja Ebersbach, Markus Glaser, Richard Heigl)

(other than it would make a nice bundle with the Ward Cunningham book, and that SocialText is a sponsored add on the page (targeted promotion good!))

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Posted by esinclai at 07:03 AM
A thousand cuts

[Ed. Note: Clearing a bit of backlog from my toPost queue, this has been sitting around since late November. I'll be coming back to this topic soon, as it has been active in my mind. Future posts will result, possibly contradicting several of my points here and hoping to make cleaner distinctions between the various openness types at the end... Look for such buzzy compliance as wiki's, realtime, etc to appear]

Like most technology professionals (and heck, everyday technology users), I spend more of my time than I'd like embroiled in "issues". Issues with the products I use, personally and professionally. When not staring at issues, I periodically find myself musing on what makes for good customer service. Thanks to a bit of a peripatetic career path, I have multiple viewpoints on it, sitting on both sides of the keyboard, as a provider and coordinator, and of course as a recipient of the service provided (and sometimes inflicted) by various vendors I deal with.

Lately I've had the pleasure of observing the engineering team at Mark/Space, and I've concluded that a review of the November 2005 threads in the Mark/Space PalmOS group would be enlightening reading for anyone involved in the provision of technical support.

Some background which may prove helpful in setting the stage...

Mark/Space recently released an upgrade to their Palm OS connectivity software for Mac OSX. This is notable for users in two counts. First of all, Palm has been fairly explicit in their disregard for the Macintosh platform of late, with no planned updates to the desktop software, and a rather well publicized failure to pay attention to basic installation processes on a recent patch update. Secondly, with version 5.0 Mark/Space became the first vendor to provide support (via Apple's SyncServices) for category support between the Palm and Apple's iCalendar and AddressBook applications.

As so many programmers and start ups already know, being first has its risks. Despite previously providing other tools that provide these services (for the Danger HipTop and the Blackberry), the transition to SyncServices for the Palm product quickly proved to be more fraught with peril than any vendor would like to see. Mark/Space's public lists began to fill with negative reports - of dropped connections, mismatched data and, most troubling of all, lost data (insert your own mental note to make solid backups, regularly, here).

But the engineers bounced back admirably. As one reads the unfolding threads, actual developers were involved in answering user questions, providing a degree of detail that could be bewildering, but in its confidence was also reassuring. "Yes," the developers were saying, "we have some big problems here, but we want to fix them, and we need your help to do so." That these emails were sent at all hours of the day, night and weekend was an implicit vote of either the developer's or the company's priority placed on the problems. Issues uncovered in Apple's underlying frameworks were noted as documented for Mark/Space's own vendor. The peculiarities of the PalmOS world were explained.

Importantly, patch releases were quickly placed online and after a pair of them (as of this writing, version 5.02 has been in the wild for a week or so) many problems appeared to be resolved. Not all, but several of the most worrying were. Mark/Space's commitment and relative openness about their struggles was demonstrated,

Not all is perfect, of course. It's proven a bit galling to pay $24.95 (as an upgrade price) for software that quickly proved to be problematic. A T-Shirt or rebate would have been a nice bone to have thrown the early adopters... But the recovery (and the backups!) has taken out most of the bite indeed.

Considering this month along with other support experiences I've had over the last few years, a few thoughts come to mind about what small and large providers should bear in mind - as an organization, but as importantly as individuals involved in daily interactions. Consider this a fungible list of rules, none truly original, the contents in flux, and descriptions largely redundant - because when providing your users with a good support experience, the same issues and solutions will come up again and again and wrap themselves around one another..

Be Open

Make it easy for your customers and users to get in touch with you, by multiple means. Mark/Space runs multiple mailing lists, but also provides a structured incident reporting system. Their developers are good at reminding people to get the bugs into a trackable state whenever possible, but not dismissive of the unstructured concerns raised.

Be Referable

Part of being open is giving people things to point to. Put your FAQs up online, and make them current, though not at the cost of orphaning old versions. Make the email list open to the world when possible. If you have a tracking system, make as much of it user searchable and reportable as economically possible. If only 1% of your community is every going to use it, remember that 1% is almost certainly the 1% that will give you a play by play, a core file, a crash report, and a suggestion that you can actively use.

Use and acknowledge your community

Don't forget that your customers give you more than money. They give you referrals. And they give you ideas about what doesn't work right. Sometimes its things that don't work for ONLY them, but sometimes its things which silently don't work for anyone else either. Take every one of these suggestions and complaints in with grace, even the one-offs.

And if your community is really working, the users in the community will begin to support one another - pointing back to your open FAQs, relating their own fixes.

So what if you've got their money.

So you have the customer's hard earned money, and you have a EULA that makes no representation about the suitability of the product for flying an airplane, washing the car or saving a file to disk successfully. So what? You not only want their money when you upgrade, or when they get a new job at the next growing company. Treating the customer correctly at every interaction - complaint or compliment - keeps you on the positive side of their list.

Explain. Explain and explain some more.

Do you understand the problem? Do you have a decent clue? Tell the user even as you're developing the fix. And if you don't yet understand the problem, ask for the data you need - if users see light at the end of the tunnel, we can be incredibly helpful.

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Posted by esinclai at 06:53 AM
December 21, 2005
Newton Museum for Sale

Holy cow. The "Newton Museum" collection is for sale on eBay.

Six boxes of Newton stuff. Every primary model made. Tons of software. Connector kits. Books and magazines. Videos.

Finger poised, I resist, thinking of what AZ would do if they boxes actually showed up at the door.

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Posted by esinclai at 09:42 PM
I'm Still watching... They're still shipping...

Over the years I've become accustomed to watching various projects as they morph and develop.

I've discussed in the past my interest in the Open Source Application Foundation, in part because the Chandler project would appear to be an interesting idea - reforming the ways we think of our personal data is a GoodThing, and changing or morphing the ways we can interact with and share this data is compelling.

I'm also, of course, intrigued with the open work styles of the OSAF, as I am with most 'open group' work styles. How they decide what to share and what to ruminate upon before sharing is always interesting. OSAF has done a nice job of this - publicising via a group weblog opening up their local irc and wiki for public view under many circumstances.

My own startup experience was on the 'no sharing unless it is PR' side of the arrangement, which I always found a bit grating (if understandable, particularly in hindsight, as a good part of the corporate strategy depended on customer list discretion and IP) and still question. Of course, I also find confidence in discovering my own failures, which is something few companies have the wherewithal to do. So kudos to OSAF on taking a stand of ship often with warnings.

This is a longwinded way of dancing around a deeper post to point out that OSAF shipped Chandler 0.6 yesterday, which incorporates a nice bunch of usable (!) features, including CalDAV support, a workable GUI, and a lot of changes. It's big though - the installed OSX bundle is 181MB. Hope a lot of that is debugging code, 'cause we're never going to get a PDA endpoint at these sizes! More news after I spin it around a bit.

(Ted Leung of OSAF has some notes of Chandler announcement as well)

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Posted by esinclai at 06:41 AM
December 20, 2005
Two More Great Music Podcasts

So along with 75 minutes, two more music oriented podcasts have been hitting frequent play of late...

First of all, Paul Allen's KEXP has been repurposing favorite songs and sessions, within their Music That Matters podcast. Curiously, this week's episode played some Dengue Fever, who were also featured on another favorite non-Music podcast, the BBC World Service's From Our Own Correspondent.

Secondly, I've really been digging Zoe Radio. Zoe's ability to choose and mix music is top notch, and I wish my own radio shows pulled together when I was 15 were as strong (mental note: digitize, but remove the Jackson Browne track...) Running from soul to punk, with side trips to indie-rock, it's worth grabbing an episode or three for yourself. (OK, I might not have played Black Eyed Peas' Lumps, but...)

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Posted by esinclai at 09:28 PM
December 11, 2005
DIY Datebook

So with the Hipster PDA ever popular (and the paper-in-pocket meme is a real keeper, imho!), it's not surprising that we'd continue to uncover new and interesting variations....

The NYT this morning has a nice little piece on John Berendt's home-made agenda/addressbook/notebook (reg req'd) made from rubber stamps and a Clairefontaine notebook. It sounds very nice (but I'd love to have a flickr set. John! Embrace the duality of technology and paper into a seamed whole!).

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Posted by esinclai at 10:32 AM
December 08, 2005
How to impress the customers of your customer

I'm often amazed at the disconnect in a number of our new Web 2.0 business applications, those where the website paying customer is an organization or entity who then uses the Web 2.0 application to communicate with their customers. There's often a lot of high gloss on both interfaces, but regularly the fit and finish of the secondary user (OK, me!) gets less empowerment, or sees weird goofs that the internal systems likely don't show.

And sometimes it's just funny.

Today's episode, the confirmation page of our new benefits enrollment system contains this bit:


That's right! I need to change MY computer settings so their layout will print properly - no button for me to get a printer friendly page, just "here's how we laid it out, good luck!"

Thankfully, it actually fit on one page, red text notwithstanding. But why do these pages always have red text?

[Update: It didn't fit on one page vertically, it turns out. The two lines on the second page? Those highlighted above....]

Posted by esinclai at 06:38 AM
December 03, 2005
Snakes and Rubies and Chicago

I wandered off to the Snakes and Rubies confab - a meeting of the minds and questions between two of the core developers behind Ruby on Rails and Django (on Python). Being reasonably inexperienced with both languages - let alone frameworks - I'm sure chunks of it was lost on me.

Though Winter has finally hit here in Chicago, the room was SRO - well over 100 people attended. There were some (to be expected) technical difficulties, but the audience is a bunch of software, not hardware, hackers. Resolved through kludges or workarounds, each project provided an overview of their particular framework.

Django appears to separate itself in some way by its background in journalism - it's clearly defined to get something going, and get it going fast (or, as Adrian Holavaty put it "software development on journalism deadlines").

Rails, by contrast, follows a more constraining approach, one designed to approach 'beauty'. Beauty is the hallmark by which David Henemeier Hansson measures programs and programming language. This translates a bit like elegance, but subtly different.

Those are the described hooks. But in a lot of ways, the frameworks are more similar than not - each takes a full stack approach to web development, each proceeds from a MVC standpoint. Both are far better than PHP or (my own point of reference) 1.x/2.x Cold Fusion. Both are alluring.

From my untutored eye, Django looks a bit quicker to get started with for a project, but Rails appears to add a lot of presentation richness and sugar.

In terms of presentation, neither developer took unnecessary digs at one another - though DHH has plenty of barbed remarks about Java, and a backhanded compliment ( paraphrased: "We owe Larry Wall a debt of thanks for Perl, because without Perl we wouldn't have Ruby") to the Perl community. But the discussion was all above the belt and non-adversarial.

No day would be without some choice chunks....

Best question "Looking a bit beyond web frameworks, how do you expect the world to end?" -- why the lucky stuff (of course) (the answers to this, btw: DHH: All languages come to their end of usefulness. Java is there now, Ruby and Python, eventually, will also. AH: "Yoko Ono").

Best reason to develop in Chicago rather than Silicon Valley: "Because it's Chicago, not Silicon Valley." (another reason: RailsConf immediately precedes YAPC::NA next year!)

Best attempt to make a Powerbook connect to DePaul's presentation systems: Jonathan "Wolf" Rentsch, who just happened to have a DVI -> VGA connector in his bag. The attempt failed, but....

The video recordings should come out and be edited soon, along with audio - so if you weren't there, all is far from lost. Rumor has it Doug Kaye of ITConversations has been pinged on distribution, also.

It was great to see the community come together on a snowy day and cram into a crowded room; thanks to the Chicago Area Ruby Group, ChiPy, Depaul Linux Community for the space, and the DePaul Computer Science Society (ACM) for the snacks!

[Update 2005-12-05: DHH has posted slides for the Rails Presentation]

Posted by esinclai at 06:54 PM
Pajamas Media vs Journalist

Over the holiday weekend, our friend M clued us in to the new Pajamas Media (aka OSM) deal, which is apparently a more hipstery and cynical take on the citizen journalism which Dan Gillmor (currently at Bayosphere) has been championing and working at for several years.

This week, happily, DB pointed to an entertaining piece by photojournalist Jim Lowney on the whole thing, in a rather New Journalism bit of reporting from the OSM launch party. It's entertaining and - I fear - all too typical. I wonder about building a news site off of hype and good intentions, but it's proven successful for HuffPo.... Certainly another one to watch.

Posted by esinclai at 01:31 PM
December 01, 2005
Last night a DJ

...took my life?

Quick read: The Dangerous Cult of DJ Worship. Choice quote:

Bill and Jimmy left the music industry for our sins.
Posted by esinclai at 06:35 AM