Nerd time – issue 10

Nerd time is just a short mailing list I put out to my ex-coworkers at APL. They’re in the applied engineering research fields, so what’s going on in the web world isn’t well known to them in their daily work, so I fill them in from time to time. If you regularly read techcrunch, proggit, or slashdot, I’m sure you’ve seen these before.


Hey all,

I was going to make this one about new services I use that might not be well known, since there’s nothing terribly interesting going on lately. But after a month of haphazardly collecting interesting things, no particular pattern appeared. Just a hodgepodge of things I found interesting. There’s nothing terribly hard this time. All easy reading, except for the one on APL at the end.

Take screenshots to measure your productivity.
This is something Ian’s been asking for, and I thought he’d like to check it out. No Linux client yet though.
http://www.rescuetime.com

Prof. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture
This is a CMU prof that is dying of cancer, and he gives a last lecture. You can skip all the intros and extros, as the actual lecture is about an hour. It’s pretty good, and entertaining. I found his lecture of time management to be pretty helpful.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5700431505846055184

Voice tracking camera
This is one of those “simple” things that you wish you did. Theoretically, it’s pretty easy. You use microphones to do triangulation, to figure out where the voice is coming from. But when you see his setup, he uses seven all around the room–so it might be a bit complicated. It’s a long way from our own two ears.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrOy6LpL940

Commenting engines
Commenting is one of those fundamental aspects of web interaction that gets implemented over and over again, in wikis, in forums, in social apps, in blogs. But with commenting comes a host of problems. Some technical such as spam bots, cross referencing them, keeping the most relevant ones. Some social, such as trolls, scaling a conversation, etc. These two implement that for you, and commenting becomes just a widget. Not a bad idea, especially if they can thread conversations
across different blogs.
http://cocomment.com
http://www.disqus.com/

Build your own car
I’ve always wanted a hackable Linux based car. Everything from the onboard entertainment system to the safety system. While this isn’t it, it’s a step closer. I think they’ll ship you all the parts you need to build your own car.
http://www.grabercars.com/content/view/80/2/

Dopplr is a service way to tell your friends, “hey, I’m going to [town], who’s already there, let’s hang out, or I need a place to crash” sort of thing. It’s a social network focused on travelers. I’ve often was somewhere, and found out a friend was there at the same time too, but we didn’t know. It’s still in private beta.
http://www.dopplr.com

Mozilla Lab’s social network in a browser.
This is an experimental add-on from mozilla that tells you want your friends are doing online. It’s like the news feed in facebook. So any time anyone posts a link, updates their status, etc. you’ll see it. And sending links to people is easy. You just drag it to their photo in the side bar. So instead of me sending nerd time over email,
I might as well blog it or use something like “The Coop”
http://wiki.mozilla.org/Labs/The_Coop

OAuth is Open Authentication.
I think I posted something about OpenID way back. OpenID is an open way of having uses verify to you they are who they say they are. That way, you don’t have to have a separate login/pass everytime you want to use a new service. OAuth is a way for users to grant permission to a new service for their API. So if you signed up for mobtropolis, and your social network is elsewhere, you’d use OAuth to authorize
Mobtropolis to look up your friends.
http://oauth.net/about/

XFN microformats and FOAF
This is also part of the effort to open up your social network. Microformats are basically little bits of meta-data inside HTML tags. It’s part of the effort to make the web more semantic. This can be used in conjunction with OAuth to make your social networks portable. We’ll see if people make headway. You can view microformats with the Operator mozilla plugin for firefox. Microformats are actually on quite a few web pages now.
http://microformats.org/
http://www.gmpg.org/xfn/
http://www.foaf-project.org/
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4106

Forth is a stack based programming language. I don’t know as much as I should about it, but it’s mind-expanding. The language lacked conditional branching and loops. But apparently, that’s because you can write your own, not to mention any other weird control structures you can think of. In fact, you can write your own Forth based-PC, its environment, OS, and language in about 2000 lines of code (it is said)
http://weblog.raganwald.com/2007/10/until-you-understand-how-forth-is.html

APL — the language
I heard of this language, but never managed to see any code. I can see why. You need a whole other keyboard to program in it. But it is pretty neat. You can write Conway’s Game of Life in one line. I expect this is because it maps well to functions. Neat idea.
http://catpad.net/michael/apl/

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Operator for Microformats

I’ve put microformats in the stuff I’ve built before. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure if they were going to take off. The formats were there, but none of the tools to actually use them were around. For a long time, I just used the tails export add-on in firefox. You couldn’t really do anything with it, but you could at least see microformats.

The Operator takes it one step further, and adds actions to microformats. In a way, it’s a god-send, and now I’m wondering why I didn’t write it. I HATE having to cut and paste addresses into google maps. Now, if there’s a microformat of an address on a page now, all I have to do is use Operator–two clicks and I’m there. (As an aside, Humanized Enzo makes it even easier to include maps.)

Microformats have been gaining momentum for a year now, and I think it will be important in the web to come. Not because it’s one-more-thing to have to know, but because the guys over at social network portability are using it as part of their solution to open up the walled gardens of the social network stovepipes in effect today.

Given how we’re all use to using web applications today, it’s as if we’re always ‘reborn’ every time we sign up for a new service. It’s an odd idea to be able to “take your network with you”. If you can do this, especially as mobile devices get more powerful, there can be more and more web applications that can act as mediators in social contexts of the users as they go about the world.

One nice little app would be a name-recaller. At a conference or a party, my mobile phone would detect which other mobile phones are around. It could then query the web application whether I’ve met any of these people before, and what their names are. So when I actually go to shake their hand, I can address them by name. And as we all know, the sweetest sound to a person’s ears is his/her own name.

But that’s still a long ways from now. Probably not in another 4 or 5 years, if not more. However, I’d keep an eye on this area. I’m sure you’d hear more about it soon.