Friday, June 25, 2004

What should I use to re-build my site?

I could use a litle advice. This site is mostly the output of NetObjects Fusion, an app I've been using as long as I've been creating sites for the Web. Some things it does elegantly, others it doesn't. For example, a couple years back, it took me a month of struggling to figure out how to embed my Blogger blog on the home page, which is what you're reading now (thanks for the help, Griff!).

A month ago, while moving all my software to a new drive, I reinstalled Fusion (just barely -- they don't let you store the upgrades and I was four days from the end of my extended download period, a $5 premium; yeex) and tried importing all my styles off the old drive. The style with which I last published here is highly customized with CSS and other stuff I couldn't replicate now if I wanted to. Not having that custom style means I can't update this site, which opens the door for shifting to a new platform altogether. So...

Some requirements:
Some alternatives:I'm no coder. If I have to learn a language, I lean toward Python more than Perl or PHP. I'm not interested in Java and definitely won't head to .Net. I'm not crazy about mixing and matching to get this done. I'm also pretty happy with Blogger (moreso if it had Trackback), which I can fit into any other framework, so it's not a priority to replace.

Some resources:Am I even asking the right questions? I'd love any and all advice and will report back the results of my quest.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Web hosting hygiene (and a nice find)

Over the years, I've ended up managing a few small websites on a variety of web hosting services, from XO for this site (my original account was with Concentric, which XO bought) to Earthlink and Verio. A year ago I consolidated most of my domain names (I had parked a few domains in different lots around the world) to Dotster, which relieved me of things like Register.com's nasty renewal fees and brought me a little peace of mind.

While thinking about creating a couple new websites for some of those parked domains, I quizzed a few tech-savvy friends. At first they taught me about dynamic DNS services such as ZoneEdit and TZO, as well as simpler URL forwarding, which Dotster can do. But those approaches would have layered complexity on what I already had. How about cleaning up?

We ended up realizing there was a far simpler approach: I'm switching to a new host that offers me a big step up. DreamHost, a web hosting service that several friends have recommended, is having a sale on its Code Warrior offering. If you prepay for two years, it's $16 a month. That's $384 for two years, total, compared to $100 a month or more I've been paying for my scattered sites.

Here's the kicker. On XO, my storage limit was 40 Mb and I kept bumping into it. The Code Warrior offering is 2.5 Gb. The offering also includes hosting for up to 15 domains. I'm in. I hope it all works as I envision it. (What took me so long to think of this?)

I hope Tom Malone's right about the democratization of biz

Tom Malone, Supernova's keynote speaker, described the theme of his new book, The Future of Work. Decentralization facilitated by new forms of electronic communications, Tom says, will (along with other forces) create transformations in the workplace as profound as the shift in civilizations from kingdoms to democracies. I sure hope so.

Questioners during Q&A were pretty pessimistic, but I share Tom's optimism, especially thinking over the time frames that Tom believes are at play here.

For a strong dose of critical insight on how undemocratic most corporations are, read Noam Chomsky's Profits Over People or go see The Corporation. For a far more neutral (but equally alarming) perspective on other corporate dysfunctions, read Art Kleiner's Who Really Matters, in which he describes how organizations tend to evolve unconsciously in ways that serve "core groups," rather than stated missions, stockholders or other stakeholder.

But I share his optimism that there is inevitable progress, aided by open and decentralized communications, toward more open, participative forms of organization.

Tom and his family spent a year in Barcelona at the same time as Jennifer and I were living there. We have fun memories of going to see the second Harry Potter movie with the Malones at the theater down by the waterfront in the old Olympic Village.

Business cards that illustrate the connections made

Standing in line to check in for Kevin Werbach's Supernova conference in Santa Clara, I watched Valdis Krebs exchange business cards with another gentleman. Now, Valdis makes a living mapping social networks using Inflow, software that he created, and it struck me that it would be cool (and just a little Big Brotherish) if Valdis' card were a little flat-panel display that showed his social network map.

Perhaps more interesting, as the card exchange took place, it would be easy to identify both parties -- IBM prototyped this years ago in its Personal Area Network demo -- then illustrate the connection being made with an animation on the business card, showing Valdis' network clicking in to his new acquaintance's network. Think of an animated Orkut or LinkedIn. A counter at the bottom of the card could spin, updating to the new, larger size of Valdis' network.

Eerie, eh?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Learning to love Furl

No sooner had I posted about Gmail, than Earl Mardle wrote from Australia, recommending I try Furl to solve the pesky routine of mailing articles to yourself all the time to keep them from disappearing into archives.

I had tried del.icio.us before on several friends' recommendations, and found it impossibly geeky and unusable. Furl seems to do that and more, very elegantly. It may also overlap functionality lots with Bloglines, a nifty Web-based RSS aggregator. More news, as I try Furl more.

Full text of The Aleph in English

I meant to add a link to the full text of Borges' story, which is available here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Net as an Aleph

In his 1945 short story El Aleph, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina's celebrated writer of metaphysical tales, describes some visits he paid to Carlos Argentino Daneri, an irritating acquaintance of his in Buenos Aires. On one of his last visits, Danieri tells Borges to head into the cellar, to lie on his back and look up a the nineteenth step. Despite great misgivings, Borges does, and he sees there an Aleph -- an opening through which he can see everything that ever happened, is happening and is still to happen. The following passage is Borges' description of what he saw.
On the back part of the step, toward the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph's diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror's face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I'd seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny -- Philemon Holland's -- and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon -- the unimaginable universe.

I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.
Not to be too much of a Romantic about it, that reminds me of the Net.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Learning to love Gmail

I recently helped my Mom start using a Gmail account, after years of using AOL's mail. (Disclosure: I'm a small-potatoes investor in Google.) The transition hasn't been that easy for her, between her normal concerns about having to notify people about a new address, to figuring out Gmail's interface (how do you really use labels? how do you store a draft message?) and grooving new use habits over well-grained, quirky ones. But I'm Mom's tech support (as are many of you, I bet), so let me describe the many problems Gmail does solve, and beautifully:
I know many people who still use their AOL accounts as their primary business e-mail bins. Given how difficult and limiting that is, I foresee an exodus.

With Gmail, Google has created a beautiful, subtle experiment in UI design and Web-hosted service. Keyboard shortcuts on a Web interface? Everything perfectly searchable with Google's search power? Yowza. Everything Google swift? Sweet autotyping of e-mail addresses? And with WiFi springing up in so many places, connectivity is getting juuuust about good enough to contemplate switching. Of course, then you can't do e-mail on airplanes, at least not until something like Boeing's Conexion service becomes available everywhere (hey, what's the holdup there?). And Gmail's not set up yet to manage mail from my own domain. But give them a little time.

I am concerned about privacy, but I worry less about Google here than about Yahoo or MSN, or our legal system and other organizations that may not want to pry today, but will want to later on, a concern that affects all online e-mail providers pretty much equally. For a great, nuanced look at the privacy issues, read Brad Templeton's essay.

In its recent cover story about Google (requires subscription), BusinessWeek describes Google's ballsy move to put advertising in e-mail. Eh? Have they ever used Yahoo Mail or YahooGroups? Don't they see flashy ads taking up more and more screen real estate there? Sure, Google's method is different, but it's not a new thing. Not by a long shot.

By bouncing around the issues, I think I've addressed all of Google's major competitors so far: AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft. None comes out looking good. Yahoo just upgraded its storage to 100 Meg, fully a tenth of Gmail's Gig.

Gmail is the first outside service that's made me stop to consider leaving the Outlook/POPmail combo I'm using now -- in fact, leaving desktop computing for services that live on the Net. I look at my 1.6GHz Schmentium M machine churning away helplessly while it tries to deal with incoming spam, Outlook filters, Lookout indexing (nowhere near as sweet as Gmail search) and the odd virus attack. I look at Outlook's .pst file on my hard drive, and it strikes fear in my heart. I know I may never see that data again. Tell me you know how you'll open that file ten years from now.

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