27 February 2009

Doctorow Did It!

As I was catching up on my usual Web comics this morning (which were really on fire this week--see links in sidebar at right), I was especially amused by a thought that occurred to me when reading Wednesday's xkcd. If you've seen Cory Doctorow's excellent essay "Wikipedia: A Genuine H2G2—Minus the Editors" in the mostly disappointing The Anthology at the End of the Universe, you realize this comic's basically already been written. Have you seen that "Simpsons did it" episode of South Park? I couldn't help wondering if Randall Monroe has similar visions of Doctorow always one step ahead of him. Then again, in the case of those two, the idea-borrowing goes both ways.

Anyway, great comic anyway, as usual. Image courtesy xkcd.com and used by permission:

P.S.: I hate to badmouth anything DNA-related, but, seriously, The Anthology at the End of the Universe pretty much sucks. The notable exceptions are the Doctorow piece and the brilliant and hilarious "The Secret Symbiosis: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Its Impact on Real Computer Science" by Bruce Bethke. I work with these people--it's all true.

P.P.S.: I'm sure other people have pointed this out on the xkcd forums, but in my opinion the scraped away Kindle logo should have yielded "Don't Panic." It's an inside joke anyway--why not get it right?

23 February 2009

Rave Within A Rave

My colleague David Meerman Scott just posted one of the coolest projects I think he's done: a video in which he hopes to demonstrate the power of and principles for creating what he calls a World Wide Rave by starting one around his new book of same name. I do editorial work for David and was involved in both the book (available from Wiley on March 3) and the new e-book (in which he explains how he put the video together), and I highly recommend that anyone interested in raising the online profile of his or her organization have a look at what he's put together. Watch carefully during the first few seconds!

18 February 2009

Another Bootcamp

For those interested in computing, The Hacker Within will be doing our second bootcamp of the semester in a few weeks. See below for details (flyer by Katy Huff, our talented Director of Creative Affairs):

14 February 2009

New Insights Posted

I mentioned in the last post that I'm taking over as the editor of the Engineering Learning Center's Teaching and Learning Insights newsletter for the semester. Just thought I'd mention that the February issue (which I did the markup and some light editing for) is posted at insights.engr.wisc.edu. I wrote an article for TLI last year and am looking forward to getting started on some articles for the March issue soon.

09 February 2009

The Difference Is Maintainability

So I write a lot of Python, and one of the claims promoters of the language usually make is that it helps you write more maintainable code. I think they're right in that claim, and I think they're right to stress the centrality of the issue.

We've discovered over the years at St. Francis House (and in my research group, for that matter, and at Wisconsin Engineer, if I remember correctly) that maintainability is also essential--and difficult--on the Web (of course, this is really just another kind of source-code-maintenance problem). In a high turnover organization, it's especially hard to cultivate a continuous Web presence.

Say what you will about the low-powered solution offered by Google Sites, I think they're on to something, and I'm super-excited that we've ported the St. Francis House website over to this system. Sure, I wish it were a little more flexible and powerful. But I think you'll agree that it lets you construct reasonably attractive and well organized sites (nearby St. Andrew's uses the system as well), and I can attest to the relative ease of use over other options (and I like screwing around with webpages and have learned a lot about XHTML/CSS in preparation for taking over for the semester as editor of this site about engineering education). Most importantly, no FTP or SCP is required (we computer geeks take these tools for granted, but I think they can be just as much a barrier as HTML).

I think Google's got another winner here, at least for a presumably significant market niche (groups who want a good site but can't afford to pay professionals, especially for maintenance and updating). I'll keep you posted as to whether the feature-set improves in the coming months.

02 February 2009

Holmes Slice

Just had to pass along a quick Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. snippet that was the "Thought for Today" in Wordsmith.org's A.Word.A.Day email:

Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power.

This is the same Holmes (father of the Supreme Court Justice) who brought us the wonderful "Wonderful One-Hoss-Shay" which Henry Petroski writes so thoughtfully about in To Engineer Is Human. Sounds like an interesting fellow.