Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Baroque Cycle

So, if you haven't gotten around to it yet, you should really go read The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson. I attempted to say something to that effect when I finished it a while back, but simply didn't have the time and energy to put forth the required effort. Fortunately, I don't have to, as MJD already did it. I don't agree with everything he says (for example, I enjoyed Stephenson's earlier stuff, despite its flaws), but he does a fantastic job of explaining the core stuff you should understand about the books before you dive in to them, primarily the fact that they are really just one really long book, so you shouldn't form an opinion after the first half of Quicksilver, as you really need to get to the end of System of the World in order for it all to fit together properly.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Annotea investigations

So, back when I was working on the first edition of my book I spent a lot of time looking at PDF documents generated by the publisher, annotating them in various ways, and then sending them back. Usually what I'd do is use Adobe Acrobat to add little notes to the places in the document that needed to be fixed. If you've never used this feature of acrobat, notes show up as little squares in the document, and you can click on them to open them up, at which point they expand and show you their content, almost like little minimizing sticky notes.

Now, there were a lot of things to hate (and I mean really hate) about this workflow, but the ability to annotate documents like this was pretty slick, and if it was implemented correctly I could see it being really useful in other contexts (say, the web). So, every so often this idea gets stuck in my head, so I poke around trying to find out if someone has already implemented a magical sticky-note annotation system for Firefox.

The most promising stuff appears to be built around the w3c Annotea system, which oddly enough we appear to be using at work for some stuff. Annotea is a RDF vocabulary and HTTP protocol designed for annotating web pages and storing the results as RDF. Annotations can refer to each other in various ways, store bits of arbitrary metadata, and generally do all the things the Semantic Web people seem to be nuts about, and despite that association (which generally in my experience means "will never do anything useful") it actually seems to do a reasonable job of filling the requirements.

There are at least a few implementations of the server side of Annotea, which is nice, and there are at some Firefox plugins that make use of it, but none of them really seem to do what I want. I'm looking for something that just lets you create a note at some arbitrary point in a html page, expand that note to show its content, allow editing of that content, and then later on when you browse back to the page it should attempt to insert any existing notes into the appropriate places. The Firefox extension that comes closest to doing this kind of thing is Annozilla, but it seems to have a UI that's way more complex than it needs to be (why the hell is there a sidebar damn it, that's totally unnecessary, this should be a single context menu item, and maybe some dialogue for searching existing annotations, that's it!), and on top of that I can't seem to get it to actually work (the annotations show up in my local server, but Annozilla keeps saying there's an error).

So, am I missing something here? Has someone actually implemented my magical web-based sticky note system, either with or without Annotea? Would other people find this sort of thing useful? Do I really care enough to dive into attempting to learn enough about Firefox extensions to make it happen?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Speedyfeed Moves To The Labs

So, a while back I spent some time playing with mod_speedyfeed, an Apache module that let you filter your atom feeds as they were being served, removing entries that the client had already seen. It never really got finished (although it did work), and now it's rather out of date, doesn't support current versions of atom, etc. Additionally, it never really grew a user or developer base other than myself, so it's pretty much just a mostly abandoned experiment.

Anyway, since we recently kicked off the Apache Labs, a place at the ASF for Apache committers to play around with experimental projects that may or may not actually grow into something that develops a community, I figured that speedyfeed would be a perfect candidate. The rest of the labs people agreed, so I moved it over. You can now find it in svn at

In addition to the somewhat out of date mod_speedyfeed (which I will be updating real soon now, I promise!) there's also a prototype of a java servlet version, which is built on top of Apache Abdera. I've been messing around with that off and on over the past week or two, hopefully it'll turn into something useful eventually.

Anyway, just figured I should blog about it, since if people search for mod_speedyfeed it would be nice if there was a pointer out there to its current home.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Interesting Package

So, I was heading out the door to run some errands this morning, and I practically tripped over a package sitting on the steps. It turned out to be the author's copies for the second edition of Practical Subversion.

Now, this is both cool and weird at the same time.

It's cool because Practical Subversion has been rather out of date for some time (I have this vivid memory of committing a change a month or two before the book was scheduled to go out that made something in the book that couldn't be changed obsolete, so I personally contributed to my own book being out of date before it even hit shelves), and this second edition brings it up to date with the great stuff that the Subversion developers have been doing over the past few years.

It's weird because it's just a little bit odd to get an author's copy of a book that I didn't really do any significant work on. All the heavy lifting on this edition was done by Dan Berlin, with technical review by Malcolm Rowe. All I had to do was say "Sure, lets have Danny do a second edition", and everything between then and publication was totally out of my hands.

Anyway, if you liked the first edition, but wish it was more up to date, or if you haven't read it yet and are looking for a book on Subversion that doesn't assume you don't know the first thing about version control, I suggest you check it out. From what I've seen so far, the new edition has been well worth the wait.

Monday, December 4, 2006


It appears to be snowing. My roommates are way too excited about this. At least I don't have to drive anywhere today.

Oh, and I'm back from .nl. It was fun. There will likely be pictures later when I get around to getting them off my camera.