Just Shelley

Jet through the trees

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

My roommate decided I needed exercise for my painful back yesterday and took me to the Sculpture Park near our house for a gentle walk. Aside from the fact that I was walking somewhat like Frankenstein’s Monster (arms rigidly at my side, stiff backed, movements accompanied by occasional non-verbal grunts) and that we were prey to every West Nike infested mosquito for miles, the walk was very pleasant.

The park has several trails, some paved, some rough dirt, each with sculptures appearing in clearings and glades, across streams, forming pyramids. Fascinating, and very peaceful.

As we walked back to the car, a siren started to sound, first in one part of the park, then another, and another, until we were surrounded by the sounds of synchronized sirens. As one siren would soften, another would take up the cry, each echoing around us among the trees. It was probably one of the most astonishing sounds I have ever heard.

And then, as I was standing listening to the sirens, just ahead through the trees at the top of the hill we were climbing, I saw a jet fly past.

“Rob! Did you see that jet!”

“No. Where was it?”

“Through those trees over there”, I said, pointing, walking as quickly as I could to the top of the hill, past the trees only to be met with more trees. No airport, no runway.

When I arrived home I went online and searched everywhere for information about the Sculpture Park, the sirens, the plane. I could find nothing other than a description of the park and the statues.

I know there is a prosaic answer to what I saw. The plane was most liky from a nearby airport, its closeness an illusion caused by incorrect perspective. As for the sirens, they’re most likely an exhibit at the park or a test of the local emergency tornado warning system. Every question has an answer, a reasonable answer.

However, the experience I had yesterday is made magical by not knowing, not having the facts, and leaving the questions unanswered.

(And if you have the answer for my mystery, keep it as your little secret. Let me have my moment of magic.)

Update: photo of the dangerous West Nike mosquito.


News Readers

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Ben Hammersley, the author of the upcoming O’Reilly book on RSS, Content Syndication with XML and RSS has a new article out in the Guardian about RSS Newsreaders. A nice read on the subject.

I don’t know what it is about Ben’s writing, but he makes technology seem so approachable and folksy. Put the water on to boil for coffee and glance through the RSS newsfeeds as you wait for the whistle. Probably spreads a bit of Marmite on his toast as he reads the full articles, but we’ll forgive him that.


The Quiet One

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Dorothea wrote two related articles recently, The Sickening Grunch and Running with it.

The Sickening Grunch focused on the term ‘sexy’, and the whole scene of being made into a sex object by those who are, bluntly, the product of much in-breeding. Though there is much that I agree with in this article, I am with Andrea in that I have this strong urge to drive up to Madison to sit with Dorothea over a cup of coffee and have a chat about hating one’s body. To me, body and mind are a package deal, and we need to accept and cherish both (and to hell with other’s standards of beauty).

In the second article, Dorothea continues her discussion about a female gaming character that she introduced in the first article, Fechan. She writes a fascinating story about subverting the character when the GM (Gaming Master) decreed that her character was going to be ‘comely’, something Dorothea emphatically didn’t want.

I have more that I want to say about the second essay, but I’m not sure how to say it. So for now, I’ll post the link and pick up this thread a little bit later in the week after I’ve had some time to think on it.

Technology Weblogging

Tech stuff

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Back is still quite painful, and has now been joined by cable modem. A case of new technology on old wires — for the modem, that is, not the back. Until the repair person comes out a week from tomorrow, my online access is going to be sporadic.

Sam Ruby has provided a very abbreviated introduction to RSS. I appreciate Sam’s effort, though I think it’s important to note that the RSS 0.9x and the RSS 1.0 efforts are following two separate and not necessarily parallel paths. Small correction — I believe the original expansion for RSS was “Rich Site Summary”. (Thanks to Mark for link.)

There’s a new effort for defining weblogging data with the BlogMD initiative. I’m not sure whether the group would be interested in the RDF vocabulary I designed for ThreadNeedle. From current discussion in the associated forum, probably not.

Speaking of which: the active effort of embedding RDF (data) for ThreadNeedle in each weblog posting is out — doesn’t work with existing weblogging tools. I’m now working on a webbot and scanning for links and building discussions from same, which will then be stored in a respository. From this I will then generate RDF documents of a discussion.

Frankly, after the rather unenthusiastic response I’m seeing with TrackBack, I’m not sure weblogging really needs or wants some of the technology the techies keep wanting to provide.


A few points of clarification on RSS

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Dave has a long multi-part posting today about RSS as well as article that covers RSS and aggregators, which he blasts but won’t link to or provide a means for us to discover said article.

He writes:

A note to people writing articles about RSS-based news aggregators. UserLand wrote and deployed the first one, in the spring of 1999. It was called My.UserLand.Com and was quite popular.

The concept of news aggregators, as well as RSS, had roots that extended back beyond Dave and My.Userland.Com. The concept of using XML to provide news feeds had implementations as channels with both Netscape and Microsoft (and other specialized companies that didn’t survive the dot-com implosion).

Don’t believe me? Then read an article I wrote and managed to salvage through the Wayback Machine from the now defunct Netscape Enterprise Developer magazine, January, 1998. In it, I showed how XML provided for IE channels, known as CDF could actually be picked up and used in other “aggregators” — except they were called “applications”. Jon Udell also writes about this, and references the use of RDF for describing channels in this Webbuilder article.

To provide more background material, Dan Brickley did a very nice overview of the history of RSS at the Yahoo-based RSS Development discussion group.

So, technically, Dave not invent the concept of using XML for aggregation. Nor did he write the first implementation of a “news aggregator”. And the examples I just cited are what is known in legal circles as apriori art, which means that Dave should use caution when he throws around “patent” with the implication that he’s the inventor of RSS or aggregation.

What Dave did do was help provide an implementation that gained popularity for the idea, especially when Netscape dropped out of the picture. For this, the RSS folks do owe Dave a debt of gratitude. However, at this point in time, it’s time for the concepts to slip out of one person’s hands and into the public domain where it belongs.

The RSS 0.9x family of RSS has been and will always be under the dominion of Userland. Debt of gratitude or not, I would rather put my money on a specification that isn’t owned by any one person or any one company.

The RSS 1.0 specification has two advantages. First, it’s based on RDF, which means much of the existing work and APIs and technologies that can be used with other RDF applications can be used with RSS. Secondly, it’s an effort that’s based on a team effort, with no one person ‘owning’ the effort at any one time. In fact, the RSS development team just voted to allow several new members on the team due to their outstanding contributions to the specification.

Dave asked us last week about what the RSS in RSS 1.0 means. He then printed up a page of our efforts, and then…nothing. Why did he do this? The only reason I can see — the only one — was to look for something with which to discredit the RSS 1.0 effort. And since those few of us who took the bait didn’t give him a weapon he could use against us, he somehow latched on to an email sent to him from an RSS user with little markup experience who believes that somehow RSS 0.9x is simpler than RSS 1.0.

News for those who think RSS 1.0 is too ‘complicated’ to work with: The RSS functionality I built into this weblog page uses straight XML processing to parse the RSS 1.0 page, and incorporate the contents. It was built using PHP, and took me about, oh, 20 minutes to write.

Piece of cake.

I’m not going to repeat my reasons for supporting an RDF base with RSS 1.0. I am going to ask my own question, instead:

Dave, don’t you think it’s about time you stopped fostering the split between the two specifications and work with a team of folks — a team — in making sure that the RSS 1.0 specification maintains its simplicity, even with the use of RDF?

In addition, Dave, you might as well know right now that I wrote about aggregators in my RDF book and didn’t include Radio. Why? Radio’s only one application, it’s not the first, and aggregation is only one part of its functionality.

Regardless, don’t you think it’s a bit bald to write the statement “Sloppy habits that come from working in a corrupt industry” when referencing both a publication and a reporter who can’t then defend themselves because you won’t even privide a link or a name?

Second Update: I received an email from a friend that perhaps Dave didn’t link to the article because he was trying not to be directly confrontational, and was trying to be nice.

Any professional author and publication can take the heat — I know I have for my articles more than once. Dave withholding the link for these reasons just doesn’t wash, though I will acknowledge that his intentions could have been ‘good’.

However, by criticizing the article, saying it was ‘wrong’ for not including Radio, and then not providing a link to this article, Dave’s preventing us from reading it and judging for ourselves. Now all we’re left with is rumor and inuendo.

Update: In the comments associated with this posting, b!x pointed out a thread on RSS and the ethics of republication at

In my January 1998 article, mentioned above, I covered the problems associated with providing a data feed using XML on the web and how the material could be republished in ways not intended.

There’s also more of a story with this article — I proved this concept and associated problem out with Wired’s CDF file at the time, republishing their data at my web site as an example of the problems associated with published XML feeds. Wired discovered this — and the awful page I plastered their data into, leading them to start protecting their XML feed at that point.

Now, almost five years later, we’re starting to question the ethics of republishing RSS feeds.

My darling webloggers, what did you think people were doing with all that data — printing it out on pretty paper and using it to paper the baby’s room?