Monday, February 26, 2007

OpenLaszlo 4 vs. Flex

My post on Adobe Flex and why I don't get it raised a bit of commotion. In particular, Ryan Stewart posted some well articulated objections to the points I raised, and most of the comments on his post seem to support his view. You can read my response to Ryan here.

Dan McWeeney commented on my original post and pointed me to OpenLaszlo 4, which was a delightful find: Modular, component-based XML syntax for declarative programming, JavaScript 1.3 with 1.4 extensions as the programming language. And, best of all, OpenLaszlo has an open output architecture, with support for Flash, Flash Lite 2 (for cell phones) and – standard DHTML + CSS + JavaScript 1.3. Plus there is no reason why it couldn't support Java, XUL or Avalon as well.

RUB – Refresh, URL addressability and Back button support is not part of the basic programming model, but can be added in a reasonable manner using built-in, documented functions. I'd love to see this becoming part of the declarative syntax instead though.

Check out this stunning LZPIX sample app, which implements cool Flickr picture search using OpenLadzlo 4 rendered to DHTML. It's almost had to believe that it's HTML + JavaScript underlying it. So hard to believe that I had to peek inside with Firebug, just to be sure :)

It can even be deployed as a desktop application – a good example of which is Pandora, which is built using OpenLaszlo.

For more info, check out Don Hopkins overview of OpenLaszlo.

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Bye bye Blogger lables

I removed the labels element from the blog.

Being an obsessive tagger, I use a larger number of tags (labels. whatever). And having them presented in a long list consumed way too much space.

So, I don't see anymore any value in using Blogger labels over, say, Technoarti tags. I guess I'll be going back to using Technorati tags only on my posts.

I feel that this is one of these cases where a tag cloud would make much more sense...

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

JPG Magazine

JPG Magazine uses a collaborative, user-generated approach to create a beautiful, offline photography magazine.

This is quite unique. Do you know of other services that do the same for other types of content?

Here is the photograph I submitted to the upcoming "Entropy" theme for the next issue:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I don't get Adobe Flex

Mark Anders
I don't get Adobe Flex.

Actually, Flex looks great. Solid architecture, slick IDE, modern declarative markup language and scripting language, lots of productivity features.

Still, I don't get it. Why would an architect choose to rely on a proprietary runtime, available only from a single vendor to do stuff that can be done just as easily with standard XHTML, CSS and JavaScript?

I chatted on Flex with Mark Anders from Adobe. Mark worked on ASP.NET from 1998 until 2003, and then co-founded the Flex effort at Macromedia.

Mark demoed Flex at FOWA today, building a functional, slick Flickr tag browser in few minutes using the Flex markup and practically zero code. The thing is that the exact same day can be built with just as easily with an environment like ASP.NET, with the output delivered to the client using standard XHTML CSS and JavaScript. So why Flex?

Is Flex Adobe's way of leveraging the huge Flash developers community and lure them into a vendor-lockdown?

According to Mark, Flex is a way to avoid the browser compatibility issues, especially with regards to CSS and JavaScript. It's a reliable, predictable runtime that works the same way on all browsers.

Flex must have been a huge engineering effort. Could the same effort have been dedicated to delivering the same productivity and reliability advancements, but with the markup and the script "compiled" into XHTML + CSS + JavaScript instead of proprietary Flash runtime bytecodes?

And what about search engines and other content-aware tools, which cannot easily access the content delivered by Flex applications? And permalinks, which do not work as naturally with Flex as they do with HTML? How do you bookmark a piece of content in a Flex application on Delicious? And - which surprises will you run into when you hit the browser's Back button?

The upcoming Apollo server platform from Adobe promises to deliver support for rich web applications that work equally well offline and online. This is something I've been looking forward to for a long time. Of course, it will require the Flex runtime to provide this functionality. Technically speaking, I don't see a reason why the same capability cannot be delivered through standard XHTML + CSS + JavaScript + a client-side plugin, which could be a subset of the Flex-required Flash runtime.

Given Adobe's track record with Flash and its 98% penetration, I think it's safe to guess that Flex will be hugely successful. Still, I can't help but feel that in a sense, it's a step backward. Or at least sideways.

Outlook PST is backup-hostile

Backup is important. We all know that. Of course I backup! Except that sometimes I don't.

My external hard disk crashed a few weeks ago. Literally crashed - it will, unprotected, from about 1 meter high. It contained several years worth of my digital photos.

Of course I had it backed up, only not recently… recovering the damage was a prohibitively
expensive and unpleasant experience.

I've gotten much better at backing up since then. I've looked at several different backup solutions, and end up settling for SyncBackSE, which is backing up the data to a low-cost NAS storage. Which is probably a reasonable solution.

But the solution I'd really like to use is one of these online backup solutions, like Carobonite or others. I don't want my backup to reside on my home network. I don't want to worry about setting it up and maintaining it. I'd love to have my stuff accessible when I'm not connected to my home network. And online backup solutions can do all that.

And the number one reason I can't do that this is Microsoft Outlook and its monolithic PST file. I am hooked on Microsoft's Outlook, I've been using it for years and I love its features and smooth integration. But Outlook stores its data in a single binary file, which can get rather large.

My 3.85 Gigabyte will take years (alright, not years, but a very very long time) to backup over an Internet connection. But worse then that - every new email that I receive or send, or any other minor change will cause this file to be marked as "needing backup", and the entire 3.85 GB will need to be re-transferred.

I will be switching to another desktop email solution the moment I find one that (a) allows me to read, write and search my emails, calendar information, contacts and tasks when I'm offline and (b) uses a more sensible and backup-friendly storage scheme.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Toys for men

When I first tried Gillette's new Fusion blade, I loved it so much that I felt an urge to tell someone about it. And then I forgot :)

But when I saw this question on Yedda, I knew I have to answer it:

Yedda - People.Sharing.Knowledge.Changing from Mach3 to Fusion

I'm considering changing from Mach3 to Fusion.

Has anyone tried it yet? Is it really better than Mach3 ?

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Asked by ekuiro on February 12, 2007

View the entire discussion on YeddaYedda - People.Sharing.Knowledge.

And here is my answer:
Yedda - People.Sharing.Knowledge.Changing from Mach3 to Fusion

Well, having "upgraded" in the past from Gillette Sensor to the Sensor Excel, and then to the Mach 3, and being very happy with the Mach 3, I promised myself that this time I will not give in to Gillette's marketing blitz and will refrain from moving to the Fusion.

Surprisingly enough, I failed, and found myself grabbing it just before approaching the checkout at the drugstore. Oh well. A man gotta have his gadgets.

Having used it for a few days now though, I am glad I did this! The Fusion is actually very good. The blades are excellent and result in a smoother shave, the plastics around them feel much better, and the vibration thingie is significantly stronger then before.

The coolest thing though is the extra blade at the back, which lets you explore facial angles where no blade has been before Smile:

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Answered by Yaniv on February 13, 2007

View the entire discussion on YeddaYedda - People.Sharing.Knowledge.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blogger labels and Technorati tags

Several weeks ago I've upgraded my blog from the old blogger interface to the new one. It was quite painful at the time, but hey, how can I not try a new toy.

The new blogger interface supports tags labels. The labels are even marked with the Rel-Tag microformat.

Too bad that the migration process did not migrate my Technorati tags (which are also marked with Rel-Tag) to Google labels. It would have been a considerate move on Google's part, especially when they took their time adding this now-standard rel-tag support.

So, I went and manually edited the older posts, copying the Technorati tags to that nice comfy Labels box.

And now Blogger is republishing my entire feed.

Oh well. Sorry for the mess!

"28% of Net users tag" ?

David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society (and one of my favorite RSS feeds) points on Joho the Blog to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project report, by Lee Rainie, and summarizes it with the title "28% of Net users tag".

Back when we started Yedda, the choice to go with free form tagging was a non-trivial one. Tagging was not yet mainstream, and the concept often met objections from early testers.

Still, we chose to go with free form tagging because we strongly believed that this is the only approach that can support the dynamic, ever-evolving nature of human interests & knowledge.

However, we quickly noticed that the word "tag" often resulted in a "huh?" blank stare, so one compromise that we did make is renaming it from "Tags" to "Topics" – surprisingly enough (or not), this choice had an immediate positive impact on people's acceptance of this approach.

"28% of Net users tag" sounds great. It sounds very mainstream, and it makes me feel good about our choice. But further reading reveals that the actual question that was asked is:
Please tell me if you ever use the internet to categorize or tag online content like a photo, news story, or a blog post
Well, categorization is very different from tagging. In fact, the word is often used to describe a process that, while having the same objective, is quite the opposite of free form tagging. (Well, in Wikipedia-speak, the term categorization applies to both activities. But you get my drift. I assume that the people who answered this question did not consult with Wikipedia first).

So, while the fact that %28 of Net users actually make the effort to add that meta-data to their content and to other people content (be it in the form of categories or of free-form tags) is great, I don't think it can be summarized with "28% of Net users tag".

It'd be interesting to see a similar report focusing on free form tagging. Pew?

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