Can't we please try to solve real technology problems for real users?

Why does Scoble choose to deliberately misunderstand Tim Bray’s thought experiment about Microsoft using ODF as the underlying core document format for Office? Robert isn’t dumb, so I have to assume his response is a deliberate misreading of what Bray is suggesting. It’s reflective of all too many technical arguments.

As a user of technology, my devout wish is for technologists to make a real effort to make my life simpler. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have enough gray hair that I no longer have any expectation that the real world resembles the one I wish existed. Microsoft’s approach to making my life simpler, of course, is to persuade the entire world to use the same version of Office. In the world I live in (where 90% of my documents are simple paragraphs of text with a bit of bold and italics thrown in, as Bray suggests), I can’t even count on compatibility between different versions of Microsoft’s own differing versions of Office.

My solution over the last several years is twofold. First, when I do work on documents that are developed, reviewed, and edited by a group that frequently crosses several organizational boundaries, I end up working with lowest common denominator features and functions of Word, Excel, or Powerpoint. If I’m lucky I get to use maybe 5-10% of the features available. Don’t even get me started on Word’s notion of version control, Track Changes. If this part of my strategy is as common as I suspect it is, I might be trying to muddy the waters too. If Office did put ODF at the core of its file formats, I doubt that I would ever bother to use any feature that depended on a Microsoft specific extension.

The second element of my personal strategy has been to treat Office products and file formats as my final output formats only. I do somewhere between 75-90% of my knowledge work today using tools that help me create and manage ideas and substance first and foremost. I wait until the last possible moment to transfer this work into Office formats and tools and, when possible, bypass Office entirely. Frankly, I don’t really expect Microsoft to be terribly interested in helping solve my knowledge work problems. Making it easier to share my work among colleagues and clients would be a good step in the right direction. But, I expect that looks like a threat to the installed base that Microsoft will go to great lengths to avoid.

Tim Bray wants Microsoft to make Office support ODF.

Tim Bray just told me (and my fellow Microsofties) to do more work. He wants us to convert Office to support the open document format from OASIS.

Tim, I think you are GREATLY overstating the point when you say

Learning technologies overview from down under

Another excellent resource courtesy of Stephen Downes on technologies in learning.

Emerging Technologies: A Framework For Thinking ,
This sweeping and forward-looking report commissioned by the Australian
Capital Territory Department of Education (ACT DET) to look at the
impact and potential of emerging technologies in learning is a
must-read for decision-makers in the field; it also serves as an
excellent introduction to emerging technology in learning for anyone
interested in the field. While the authors nod toward traditional
learning technology, such as learning management systems, they also
capture well the larger trends impacting the field: mobility,
interoperability, collaboration and communication, creativity, and open
source. They also note that many of the technologies that will be used
to support learning “are currently banned, or otherwise highly
restricted, by schools,” an indication of the cultural and management
challeges posed in the emerging environment. While on the one hand
conservative (look at the layers of intermediary between students and
internet postulated by Figure 2 (section 6.1) the authors nonetheless
capture the practical value of blogs, wikis, podcasting and vodcasting
(to name only a few). Don't miss this one. PDF. [] [] [OLDaily]

Building a personal knowledge management environment

Just a quiet little pointer from Dave Winer this morning on the idea of his that has ended up driving a huge amount of my experimentation with creating an environment for personal knowledge management.

1/4/01: “In the centralized model for the Internet, your browser makes requests of a server that could be very far away, or slow for other reasons. Now imagine that the server is very close and you don’t have to share it with anyone, it’s yours and yours alone. It would be fast!” [Scripting News]

My work means that I am frequently not connected to the web for significant chunks of time. Ten years ago, the solution to that problem was Lotus Notes as both an email and document management environment that understood the problems of intermittment connectivity. Unfortunately, Notes got hijacked by the IS group and locked down behind layers of complexity that prevented amateur programmers from rolling their own solutions.

That was followed by a period where Outlook and Microsoft Office were almost the only tools I used on my notebook machine. For all its strengths, Office, IMHO, is fundamentally focused on the production aspects of final deliverables and is either weak or an active hindrance in the earlier stages of creating and developing knowledge work products. Nor do the components of Office do much helpful to support the real issues of producing final products that are the joint collaborative efforts of a team (compare Word’s Track Changes against any reasonable version control system that software developers would take as a necessary tool in their world).

Somewhere around the time Dave wrote this, I started playing with Userland’s Frontier and Manila and then began to use “Radio” as my< blogging platform. One of the key value added features for me was the built in outlining capabilities hidden inside Radio. Unfortunately, they are a bit too well hidden even for someone who loves outlining as a key thinking tool. Also, the innovative energy around Radio and Frontier dropped off from my amateur's perspective. I no longer have the time or the skill to do major development. I am fundamentally a technology user. What I can do is take advantage of the efforts of others and tweak and adapt what they do to my needs. That works best if you can plug into a thriving environment of developers and users. I've posted elsewhere (Experimenting with Web 2.0 on my laptop, Details of my Windows/LAMP Environment) about my current practices, but I wanted to make the connection back to the original ideas that drove my approach.

To date, most of this experimentation has been about improving my own knowledge work effectiveness over time. Moving that to the level of project team and work group has been more difficult. First, because you need to overcome the blinders imposed by the marketing investments of most software vendors who generally promise more than they deliver and who actively ignore the organizational change issues of new work practices. Second, there are the barriers imposed by IS groups who tend to be more focused on managing the risks introduced by users who are unwilling or unable to understand the technology they already have than they are on helping a handful of mavericks push the envelope. In a world of worms, viruses, and Sarbanes-Oxley that’s an entirely appropriate focus, of course. I work hard to keep the folks in IS informed and happy.

Today, even though I’m making less use of the specific tools he’s developed, I continue to make very productive use of Dave Winer’s insights and perspective.

Details of my Windows/LAMP Environment

I posted something recently talking about how I am using my laptop as a test bed for various Web 2.0 ideas ( Experimenting with Web 2.0 on my laptop ). Several people have asked for more details on that environment.

Here is what I am running today:

Hardware: IBM T41 with 1GB of memory and a 30 GB harddrive


  • Windows XP Pro (SP1 plus selected elements of SP2 as determined by our IS
  • Apache 2.0.53
  • MySQL 4.0.24
  • PHP 4.3.11
  • Active Perl
  • Python 2.3.5
    • mod_python 3.1.3
    • pywin32-204

I also have a variety of other libraries and utilities installed as part of larger applications I am using or experimenting with. Installing these in a Windows environment such as that above is generally pretty straightforward and well-described in the installation documentation I have used so far.

I configure my various Web 2.0 applications to use localhost as their host. Apache is configured to listen only to requests that are local. Recently I have begun to set up virtual hosts using Apache and entries in my hosts file (in windows\system32\drivers\etc) to map the virtual hosts to localhost.

I have had to learn a bit about how to configure Apache and tweak the configurations of the packages above. Most of that has involved backups that you trust and a willingness to read through installation documents and notes that

Experimenting with Web 2.0 on my laptop

Who knew I was so avant garde? As I understand Kottke's proposal, the
next step on the way to the WebOS is to run a web server on your
desktop so that you can get access to data on your local machine by way
of your browser and effectively erase the distinction between data out
on the web and data locally.

Back in 2001about when I started this blog, Scoble helped
me become a beta user of what shortly morphed into “Radio”. One thing
that attracted me to the product was that was precisely its
architecture. Browser access to an app that was a web server and data
store running locally. I'm writing this post in that environment right
now as I ride the train home from work. Since I've been living and
working off laptops and in various modes of mass transit since the
early 1990s this is an essential requirement. Think clients work. So
did Lotus Notes. But the architecture Dave Winer
dreamed up did too, although it's not always intuitively obvious,
especially to non-technical users. Watching the problems that many
users encountered (and still encounter) with Radio should be
instructive to anyone who wants to follow this path. At least in
today's environment, it pays to understand where your data is and how
it flows from place to place. Maybe someday it won't, but we aren't
there yet.

Since then, I've pursued a strategy of using open source tools to
replicate Winer's architecture for much of my routine knowledge work
efforts. I've put together a LAMP environment on my laptop running
Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Python. I can, and do, run a variety of open
source applications on top of this environment. I run WordPress,
several wikis, dotProject, trac, textpattern,
and others all locally.
Some of these are tools and products I am evaluating. More importantly
they host the primary tools I use for much of my knowledge work and
form the nucleus of my effort to explore and understand personal knowledge management.

For now, this is a mix of learning experiment and developing new
habits. One thing that it gives me is a degree of platform independence
coupled with an ability to work both connected and disconnected. For
now, the technology is a bit of a lash-up, but it allows me to explore
the behavioral issues. And those are what will ultimately drive
adoption of the technologies as they mature.

Jason Kottke has a lengthy and detailed proposal
for the platform builders to realize that the Web is the ultimate
platform, and to get on with building for that, rather than just for
their own private silos. When that's done, he says we'll have Web 3.0

More RSS converts

RSS bigots of the world unite! This is another of those 'you need to experience it to understand it' kinds of phenomena.

rss, where are thou?

is key. I have become such a snob that I won't read a blog if I can't
dump it into my BlogLines account. Okay, snob is a bit harsh. It is
more about convenience. I don't have time to search out every nifty
blog I come across every day to see if there is a new post. I want it
delivered to me. When I find a new blog I enjoy, the first thing I do
is scour the sidebars for a link to syndication. No syndication, no
subscription. The blogger loses out on higher readership & I lose
out on reading some awesome posts. And so I'll end with a simple plea
to all bloggers – check your sidebar. Do you link to your feed? Is it
easy to find? If not, why?” [so this is mass communication?, via Scripting News]

Kaye, you're not alone! In fact, I think we need a badge….

Update: heh… Paul Beard answered the call. Here’s an “RSS Bigot” badge! I’ve added it to my pages at the bottom of the right-hand column. Thanks, Paul!

RSS Bigot

Making A Better Open Source CMS

I feel much better knowing I’m not the only one who finds Open Source CMS systems so frustrating. I’ve been poking around with several on the theory that a decent, affordable, CMS should be a key component in a personal knowledge management environment. Veen helps articulate why I’ve been struggling and it’s not because I’m stupid, which is always reassuring. The comments to Veen’s post are also helpful in suggesting some paths forward for my own experiments. Now, if I can only find those hours hidden between midnight and 1AM that I’m sure exist in some parallel universe

Jeff Veen: Making A Better Open Source CMS. “I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard people tell me things like, ‘Yeah, we tried PHP-Nuke. But everything came out so Nuke-y looking.’ That suggests to me that most systems are designed with a particular genre of site in mind. Then, features and functionality are added on top of that basic framework. And the whole package is then shipped as a tangled mess of add-ons and faulty assumptions.” There seem to be a lot of people who want to write Slashclones or blog software or dynamic app frameworks, but not much in the way of generic content management. [Hack the Planet]

Stripe Snoop Homepage

Aren’t you just a little bit curious about what is hiding on the back of those credit cards in your wallet? I see some soldering iron time in my future.

  • Stripe Snoop Homepage.

    Stripe Snoop is a suite of research tools that captures, modifies, validates, generates, analyzes, and shares data from magstripe cards. The data is captured through different hardware interfaces (or stdin), the contents decoded into the correct character set, and then a CDDB-like database attempts to figure out what the contents mean.

    Originally a proof of concept for an interfacing project, and then a spin off from a research project, Stripe Snoop has matured in the definitive software for accessing and understanding magstripes.

    [Privacy Digest]

A Taste Of Computer Security

I’ve only just begun to read through this, but it certainly appears to live up to its billing.

A Taste Of Computer Security. andrew_ps writes “Amit Singh has published on his a paper (mini book really) on computer security. A Taste of Computer Security is a VERY comprehensive paper in what it covers, but is remarkably easy to read. This is not some list of “sploits” though! Topics covered include popular notions about security, types of mal-ware, viruses & worms, memory attacks/defences, intrusion, sandboxing, review of Solaris 10 security and plenty of others. Most notably it includes probably one of the most fair and intelligent analysis of the Unix-Vs-Windows security issue that I have ever seen.” [Slashdot:]