Thursday, 29 May 2008

I’m Covering Nat’l Conf. for MEdia Reform 2008

The 2008 National Conference for Media Reform will be held here in Minneapolis a weekend from now June 6-8.

I’m excited to have a press pass to the conference.

These 3 sessions that jumped out to me immediately:

These look interesting as well:

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

FailBox: The Broken State of Email Clients – Part 3

“Last week a friend send me an email, while I was traveling. So he got my ‘out of office reply’.”- Wolfgang Luenenbuerger

Wolfgang goes on to describe how – in an age of instant messaging, mobile devices, and wifi – the ‘out of office’ reply is as anachronistic as the busy signal.

Both signals assume synchronicity and place are more valuable than the communication itself.

It’s rare that either are.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

FailBox: The Broken State of Email Clients – Part 2

I realized I had completely taken for granted the life-changing innovation that is near-infinite email storage when I received the following message

Your mailbox has exceeded one or more size limits set by your administrator.
Your mailbox size is 75286 KB.

Mailbox size limits:
You will receive a warning when your mailbox reaches 75000 KB. You may not be able to send or receive new mail until you reduce your mailbox size.

Items in all of your mailbox folders including the Deleted Items and Sent Items folders count against your size limit.

First, I have no idea how I accumulated 75 Gig of email in a few weeks on one of my lowest volume accounts, but let’s say I did.

Second, this system has the power to halt business (no sending or receiving of email), WTF? This is like the mail boy striking because people aren’t throwing the messages away fast enough. What qualifies the messenger the arbiter of value? Baffling.

Third, this is a business account, and I’m guessing lawyers would say it’s a good idea to save all professional correspondence. I know librarians in universities do.

On top of all this, I couldn’t actually take the action requested – the interface didn’t have a ‘Deleted Items’ or ‘Sent Items’ folder in it. Remarkable.

Failbox: The Broken State of Email Clients – Part 1

If you’re of a certain age, as I am, your first expose to email was probably in college or at work. Processing messages daily wasn’t difficult; the number of people that had access or reason to send you messages was low and messages arrived fairly infrequently.

So quaint and last century.

Today, I’m tracking 8 email accounts, multiple Twitter accounts, 1 phone, and a number of other accounts I check infrequently1. By a conservative guesstimate, I receive 400 incoming messages daily. I suspect this is lower than some of you and higher than others.

In this context, there’s no surprise Facebook, MySpace, etc have become a primary communication mechanisms for peer communication. The restricted context makes processing messages much easier if only by reducing the number of messages. Easy, like the scenario some of us started with.

Here’s a quick survey of popular email clients
Email Client (Initial Launch)
Apple’s (2001) direct descendant of NeXTMail (1991)
Hotmail (1996)
Microsoft Outlook (1997)
Yahoo Mail (1997)
Google Mail (2004)

While all of these applications have evolved and changed, their DNA is from a simpler time. A time with less email and no Twitter.

Spam has guaranteed receiving an email message is no longer a rare event, yet all of these clients insist on an unread indicator and its annoying little brother – the unread mail quantity indicator. All ordered reverse chronologically. Why a message has priority simply because it arrived last is baffling. Imagine lines at the IKEA managed via last-in-first-out. Riots would break out.

“My broader gripe is messaging fragmentation – creating a growing need for universal app to do mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc” – Julio Ojeda-Zapata

In Chris Anderson’s recent conversation with Russ Roberts, Chris Anderson digs into the economics of providing email clients for $0 (Yahoo, Google). It left me wondering if free is the innovation or if it’s preventing innovation.


“Personally, it feels like my Facebook stream is becoming an email inbox. I get a lot of messages, a few of them matter to me, and there are lots of business newsletters and promotions” – Jim Lastinger

1. Flickr, Facebook, Pownce, Skype.

Planting Flying Meat Acorn Near Photoshop Elements Grave

Like most professional graphic designers, my career was measured in versions of Adobe Photoshop.

v2.5: I decided I wanted to be a graphic designer. The dad of a high school classmate was one. I went to talk with him about it. He worked out of his basement home office with a view of the lake, a room full of Apple gear, and telecommuted to Minneapolis. He launched Photoshop and showed me some of the crazy stuff he was doing with it. I left stunned.

v3: Spent far too long on the Photoshop Classroom-in-a-book tutorial as part of my least favorite college course – something about printing methods and preparing images for press.

v4: The first version I used in a professional environment auch auf Deutsche.

v5: Editable type, Multiple Undo. Those two features are reason enough to fall in love with it.

v6: Like Word 6, and Star Wars 2 – all the hope, promise, performance, and love of the previous version was an unsaved memory. This is the last full version I used and the beginning of my strained relationship with Adobe.

In 2002, my new digital camera shipped with Photoshop Elements v2 and then a couple years later, my scanner shipped with Elements v3. Aside from a few small omissions (inverse selection, select color range, etc), Elements was all the image editing horsepower I needed. It was my go to app, until I switched to the MacBook.

Elements never launched on the MacBook. It’d just bounce and bounce and bounce and bounce until I forgot why I opened it and Force Quit (a pretty good indicator of my image editing workload over the past 2 years).

After 15 years, my relationship with Photoshop officially ended today.

A while back, I downloaded Flying Meat’s Acorn and hadn’t opened it until this afternoon. While Elements was bouncing, I opened Acorn to take a closer look at a client website mockup. Instinct kicked in and I was pushing pixels, using the same key commands I remembered from Photoshop.

Before I hit Save the first time, I bought a license.

In addition to costing less than 1/10th the price of Photoshop, it was the most integrated web/desktop licensing experience I’ve seen. After completing the purchase online, a single click in the browser applied the license to the still running desktop app. Seamless. Fast. Amazing.

I’m one step closer to being Adobe-free and happier than ever.

Friday, 23 May 2008

America, Which is Your Lesser Insecurity?

Within 6 months, we will know which of the following three insecurities we, as a country, have less of; ageism, racism, sexism.

While it’ll be nice to know the answer, it’s unfortunate we have to ask.

Thanks to Mungowitz for the video.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Did Twitter Kill This Blog? No, Cullect Did.

No, despite my activity on Twitter, I don’t blame it for my barely bi-monthly postings here. And given Twitter’s uptime (ba-dum-bum) you shouldn’t either.

There’s a far more guilty party;

Writing posts on Twitter is easy – have a passing thought, write it down. Done.

Writing more than 140 characters is more time consuming. An hour, if I actually collect my thoughts. An hour Cullect whisks away far more easily. Just ask the 10 drafts at this blog, a few more elsewhere, and the 2 coffee review podcasts in the queue.

The few bits of weblog writing I eek out between posts here are probably at Cullect’s blog (though it has a number of unpub’d drafts as well).

3 Other things Cullect has all but eradicated:

Like my newborn daughter, Cullect is only a few weeks old. We’re all still adjusting.

Big thanks to Dan Grigsby for asking.

Update 29 May 2008
Though I’ve picked up the pace since publishing this, I wanted to chime in to Chris Heuer’s question of why I don’t write more often by seconding a few of his excuses:

  • Don’t think I have anything valuable to say
  • Not in the mood

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Parsing Arbitrary XML Namespaces in Ruby with Hpricot

(This post inspired by a Ruby.MN conversation)

I’ve burned through at least 3 different XML parsing libraries in building Cullect. I started the built-in REXML (pro: built-in, con: heavy and slow) then moved to FeedTools (pro: easily parses the most common feed formats, con: no longer in active development). I have a lot of love for FeedTools, but in the end, it didn’t want to parse XML it didn’t already know about. Then, after a series of far less memorable libraries, I found _why‘s Hpricot (pro: written by _why, con: written by _why).

Hpricot is fast, lean, and doesn’t care about expected tags, namespaces, valid XML, it just makes it easy to get the data and attributes out of the XML.

Here’s an example of how I’m grabbing a feed item’s permalink using Hpricot

doc = Hpricot.XML(feed_contents)
items = (doc/:item)
items.each do |raw_item|
link = raw_item.%('pheedo:origLink') || raw_item.%('feedburner:origLink') || raw_item.%('link')

Notice how Hpricot doesn’t require anything special to grab pheedo namespace links or feedburner namespace links in comparison standard links. Just tell it what the tag is you’re looking for. Fast, easy, scalable.

Friday, 9 May 2008