Fast Track

Fast Track: “ForwardTrack is a new system created by Eyebeam R&D designed to promote on-line activism. The system tracks and maps the diffusion of email forwards, political calls-to-action, and petitions. Our goal is to help people understand decentralized networks and see the power of “6 degrees of separation.” ForwardTrack technology helps prove that one person can make a difference.

Millions of political messages are distributed through email, but it has been a notoriously difficult medium to measure. In 2001, Eyebeam’s R&D Director Jonah Peretti, then a graduate student at MIT, had considerable difficulty tracking the spread of his Nike Sweatshop email forward. It was impossible to determine how many people received the email or exactly how it diffused.”

And it will be made open source.

MT to WordPress redirects.

I used the following script to create a mod_rewrite file for my new WordPress install. After running the script, the redirects look like this:

Redirect Permanent /ease/archives/001694.html

Note the /562/ part. That’s different from the usual WordPress URL’s.

The reason I had to write this script is that the existing scripts assume every item has a title. I have written a lot of my MT entries without title, so I can’t use the style, because it assumes no two entries on the same day have the same title. Empty titles wouldn’t really work. It’s not a huge problem, but I tried to solve it anyway, by setting up a URL structure that incorporates the entry ID: (in the WordPress admin, go to Options > Permalinks and use the following code)


This way every entry has a unique URL, even when it doesn’t have a title.

The script below isn’t particularly well developed, so you’ll need to know PHP to adjust it for your purposes. Enjoy.

View the script at

Went to see Maria Full of Grace last Saturday. It’s a good movie, not all doom and nastyness, but just real people doing real things.

As someone who has lived in Colombia (and my gf who is from Colombia agrees), I can say Colombia is exactly as portrayed in the movie. My gf said the moto guy was exactly like the real moto guys she knew in Colombia.

I’ve shot a documentary in Colombia earlier this year, and in the beginning of the movie, I kept thinking “we have that footage!”. All the scenes where shot in places we have shot or at least been to as well (Queens, NYC; the airport; Medellin Colombia, Bogota). Of course, we don’t have that story, nor that acting, nor that moviemaking talent.

I donated US$50 for the Kerry campaign on the street the other day. I can’t vote in the US, but US politics fascinates me more and more. Tactics are scarily refined. In Belgium, we have a multi-party state, every election 2, 3 or 4 parties work together to form the governement. Here in the US, it’s one winner takes all.

My laptop replacement system

After trying (without success) to get my laptop to play nice with my wireless card for about 10 gruelling hours, and hearing I’m getting a nice tax refund, I’ve decided on plan B: using my laptop replacement system.

Every few years, I buy a US$900-ish consumer laptop (using the best deal I can find), and sell it about 2 years later for about US$400. Then I buy a new one. This way, I always have a decent model, while paying very little (about US$300 a year). It’s a much better strategy than buying the latest new fancy model for US$2500 and keeping it 5 years. First of all, you’d be paying more per year. And second, on average, you’ll probably have a less powerfull system during those 5 years, since after 2 years my latest new laptop will be at least equally powerful to your older laptop, and after 4 years I’ll have a laptop that’s much more powerful than your old one.

So that’s been my system, and it has worked pretty well. An additional (and not to be underestimated) benefit is that you get a fresh Windows install every 2 years. One of the biggest factors in slowing down a Windows machine is simply the amount of time you’ve been working on it. And there’s really not much you can do about that, even with obsesive cleaning up of your computer. Installing a fresh Windows copy on a laptop yourself is an experience I can’t recommend.

I don’t spend too much time comparing laptops. I know I need a consumer model, I just look around for good deals (there are always a few good deals with rebates and such floating around) and then compare tech specs to check if there are no snafus. For example, on the laptop I decided on this year, you have to take out existing 128M memory cards (and pretty much throw them away) if you want to add memory. Not nice, but I can live with that.

So this year I’m selling my Compaq Presario 715US and buying a
HP Pavilion ze5730us Notebook. Pretty much the same computer, but more powerful. The harddrive is 40Gig instead of 20Gig, the processor is about twice as fast, I can install more memory (up to 1024 M RAM compared to up to 465 Meg on the Compaq) and it has built-in wireless. And a fresh XP install, of course.

Additionally, I’ll sell the old laptop in Belgium instead of here in the US. Laptops are about 20-30% more expensive in Europe compared to the US.

Working for yourself with tech support?

I’ve spend 10 hours so far trying to get my laptop to work with a linksys wireless card. Their support is good because they have chat (I like chat support, even though it’s often slow, at least you can ask questions), but we haven’t been able to fix it. I’m sure someone who knows their stuff and with access to the computer could fix it in 15 minutes.

Working for yourself is great, but where do you get tech support when you need it? I’d happily pay someone to fix this, just don’t know where to go. If you work for yourself, how do you deal with this? Any pointers?

I’m at the point where I’m considering buying another laptop, or re-installing XP from scratch, both way too painful for something stupid like this. Am I going to just have to deal with it and spend 10% of my time wasted trying to fix things like this?

Now that I’m working on my own online service, I am the programmer, the marketing department, the usability person, the designer, the business person. I do it all. What is surprising me is how easy switching between the roles is.

I’ll be programming something, then run into a problem that requires a business answer. So I go sit somewhere else, and do the business thinking. Then I sit somewhere else and do the usability sketches, and back to programming.

I didn’t think it would work like this, I had kinda planned to write specs the way I usually do, then implement them. But I’m writing few specs (I am writing documentation). Bad practice? Maybe not for a team of one?

NewsForge | Open source usability is a technical problem we can solve on our own: “The reason why there is no usability data pool is that there is no data to be had. Useablilty is simply a matter of taste and choice, that’s why when you ask a quesiton about useablilty all you get is opinions. Useablilty labs are like marketing labs; they are there to gather opinions from focus groups on useablility.
Asking developers to increase usability is roughly equivalent to asking them to dumb the interface down. That’s a big hurdle, but one that’s important to broach.
It’s difficult to understand what users say, just like whales.
We need guys that do beautiful things… guys like Everaldo, though he’s a designer, not a GUI expert…
There is an immediate tradeoff between useability and features.
Just how seriously should people who’s basic goal in life seems to sit around whining about something rather than actually getting off their fat lazy asses and actually doing something to improve the world. I hate to break this to you so-called “Usability Experts”, but Open Source wasn’t created for you losers to build your so-called careers on.”

And so on.

Google, for the first time ever, has an ad on its homepage: “Have a digital camera? Try Google’s Picasa software. Free Download.” I know the company is theirs, but it’s still an ad. Am I Angry? Do I Hate? Can I Kill?: “But butt-fucking kids while their mothers look on? While videotaping it? I’m not sure that’s really in line with the ‘rape, loot and pillage’ modus operandi so loved and respected throughout human history. Pushing the envelope a little, that. It may not be specifically forbidden by the letter of Geneva Convention, for example, but I’m pretty sure it goes against the spirit of it.”

New Scientist: “After nearly 30 years of arguing that a black hole destroys everything that falls into it, Stephen Hawking is saying he was wrong. It seems that black holes may after all allow information within them to escape.”

5 minutes with Python

I know PHP, and I’m learning Python. After 5 minutes:

– it’s pretty much the same as PHP, except that you don’t put ; characters at the end of a command.
– and except that Python comes with a tool that lets you run programs without having to upload to a server.
– and variables don’t use the $ sign in front of them.
– don’t use curly brackets, instead just indent stuff
– and more little differences like that: elseif() in PHP is elif in Python. function becomes def. Variables within functions are local, not global, just like PHP.
– you have to define variables before using them. This annoys me much. And it complains when you mix different types of variables. This annoys me mucher. I don’t see why this is necessary, except for making my life harder.

Going well so far – I got Hello World running in minutes.

Yesterday I spent all day writing the registration pages and error checking code (including defending against those snarkyt sql injection attacks) for my upcoming service, making it as user friendly as possible (which is much more than most registrations). I decided to use the “almost there” pattern, where, when an input error happens, the user is sent to an intermediate “almost there” page instead of being sent to the same registration page with errors highlighted, which most registration systems seem to use. I like the “almost there” approach better: the user doesn’t have to actively ignore a lot of stuff they’ve looked at before. It goes against accepted wisdom that all input should be checked clientside before submission.

So today I’m taking a day off from this project and I’ll learn Python. Python’s desktop capabilities seem to make it a good fit for some of my future projects, so I’m going to spend some time getting familiar with it.

I love having my own business and deciding for myself what I’m doing with my day. I was originally going to work more on the registration script, but I didn’t feel like it so I’ll do one of the more fun things on my long to-do list.

A question: how easy is learning Python (with wxPython) compared to learning Visual Basic? I want to learn some programming language that lets me do desktop applications that are heavily internet connected (xml-rcp, ftp, …). Which language should I spend my time learning?

I’ve been trying to include text in a SMIL movie that I save as a .mov and play in Quicktime. Including a .txt file works, but I couldn’t markup (bold, italics, …) the file. Finally I figured it out. QuickTime Text Descriptors like {plain} can be used to markup text (fonts, bold, how long to show pieces of text, …) you want to include in a SMIL presentation for Quicktime (Quicktime doesn’t do HTML markup).

I met up in downtown Manhattan (Soho) with Jay and Drazen Pantic, a serb who helped create B-92, the radio station that was in sarejavo during the war and was the only independent voice out there, and former Yugoslavia’s first internet provider.

In the video (inside) he’s explaining how they had to log in remotely in their internet service and erase all user data to protect people. We talked about videoblogging and his new project which is like a bittorrent host where people can upload video (torrent files). Share the media – be the media.

One of his quotes I really liked: “Politics happens on the couch.”. Which is why we need Freevo – so people can watch real-people TV from the internet on the couch, not huddled behind a monitor. He also told me about FFMPEG, an open source product that can be used to optimize video serverside.

The video is inside.
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