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Section of Adam's
Design

Adam Kinney recently unveiled a redesign his blog. I posted a snippet there to the left.

Adam is one of those rare developers who has both solid design skills to complement his solid coding chops. In other words, he makes me sick, rubbing our absolute lack of design skills in our faces.

It is overall a pretty sweet design. The layout is clean with a crisp headline. My only niggle is the styling (or lack of) of the Recent Entries list. Just a little more CSS will go a long way there.

Keep up the good work, man.

subtext comments edit

I noticed the following checkin message in the subtext commits mailing list today (this is the mailing list in which we can receive Subversion checkin notifications).

Revision: 999
Author:   simo
Date:     2006-04-21 13:56:27 -0700 (Fri, 21 Apr 2006)
ViewCVS:  http://svn.sourceforge.net/subtext/?rev=999&view=rev

Log Message:
-----------
The link to Phil Haack blog was wrong 
(http://haacked.com/blog) Fixed it.

-- SNIP--

This had me cracking up because I am the one who added the link to my own blog originally. It took someone else to notice the mistake and fix it. An inability to link to oneself correctly. Is that a recognized form of dementia?

Tags: Subtext

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I recently moved my blog off of WebHost4Life where I have had it hosted for a couple years now. Apparently the traffic on my blog was causing a load on their servers. I never fully believed it was my blog’s fault since they didn’t give me any convincing evidence.

In any case, it is a fitting time to move it to my company’s dedicated server (at 1and1) and my blog is now blazingly fast compared to before. I figure rather than paying WH4L for hosting, I might as well pay my own company for the privilege.

I switched DNS over and so far no problems. In case you are wondering, I use ZoneEdit.com for my DNS servers. They are a free DNS provider and I have not had any problems with them at all. Very simple to set up and use.

The key benefit of having all my DNS over there is that everytime I change hosting provider, I don’t have to change the root DNS servers at my Domain Registrar.

Since I have already paid for a year at WH4L, I will probably set up a Subtext blog for my younger brother and some of his friends there.

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Chinese Character for
Money Jeff has a great post in which he compares UML to circuit diagrams and then asks, why doesn’t UML enjoy the same currency for software development?

In the comments Scott Hanselman makes a great point…

It’s because, IMHO, UML isn’t freaking obvious. It’s obtuse. What’s the open arrow, open circle mean again?

I think he is spot on. But you could also say that about any programming language, right? What is that colon between the two words mean?

public class Something : IObscurity<-- What the heck is that?
{
}

If you are a VB programmer, it might be unfamiliar. But if you are a C# programmer my question is like asking what is that funny curly line and dot at the end of this sentence? Oh that’s an interface implementation silly. Of course!

Don’t get me started on C++ with its double colon craziness and its @variable and variable* which leave the befuddled developer asking what exactly do they mean?

Isn’t UML a Decent Abstraction Layer?

The evolution of software has been a steady stream towards higher level abstractions. We no longer punch holes in cards to represent computer calculations in binary (at least I hope not). As a managed code developer, I don’t even have to worry about allocating memory (malloc anybody?) before I use code…Glory be! So doesn’t it seem natural that UML would be the next evolutionary step in that chain?

Umm…Well no.

The most successful widespread abstractions are those that abstract the underlying computing architecture, which itself is abstract. Memory, for example, is pretty the same thing to everybody, no matter what kind of software you are working on. If the machine can handle allocating and deallocating it for you so you don’t have to think about it all the time, then all the better for everybody.

But that same principle doesn’t work as well when we start raising the abstraction level to cover our real world concepts. The next obvious level of abstraction are domain classes. How many times have you written an Order class? I’ve written one. Great! Since I did the work, I can simply post that baby on SourceForge and save the rest of you suckers a bunch of time. Now anybody can simply just drag the UML representation into their UML diagrams and bam!, their Web 2.0 revolutionary microformatted shopping cart application is complete. Sit back and watch the flood of money flow in.

If only it were that easy.

Make a Wish

Evil Genie It would be nice to be able to work with such high level abstractions and wire them up. Oh, here, I’ll just draw a line from this order to the shopping cart and boom! when the user clicks this button, the item goes into the cart. But what about the various business rules triggered around adding this order to the cart? What about the fact that the cart lives in another process on a separate server and the order needs to serialized? What about the persistence mechanism? How do you express that in UML?

You can’t. Writing code is like asking an evil genie for a wish. No matter how carefully you craft the wish, there is always some pernicious detail left out just waiting to jab you in the eye. I wish I were rich and now I am some poor slob named Rich living in abject poverty. There are just too many moving parts and pitfalls in a piece of software to deal with and worry about.

UML has a bit of trouble capturing the semantics of code. Like snowflakes, no two Order classes are alike. Every client has their peculiar and idiosyncratic ideas on what an order is and how it should work in their environment. So what do we do? We start encumbering UML with all sorts of new symbols and glyphs so that we can work toward a semantically expressive UML (executable UML anyone?)

But this just turns UML into another programming language. The fact that it is in a diagram form doesn’t make it any more expressive than code. In a way, adopting UML is like changing from English to Chinese. Sure a single Chinese character can represent a whole word or even multiple words, but that doesn’t make it any easier to grasp. Now, you have to learn thousands of characters.

Not to mention the fact that you are writing the same code twice. Once by dragging a bunch of diagrams around with a mouse (how slow is that?) and again by writing out the actual compilable code. Granted, that particular issue my be solved by executable UML in which the model is the code. But that suffers from its own range of problems, not the least of which is the huge number of symbols required to make it work.

What is UML Good For?

Now to be fair, my criticism is about formal UML and UML modelling tools such as Rational Rose. If you are prepared to run wild and loose with your UML, it can be useful at a very high level as a planning tool. I sometimes sketch out interaction diagrams to help me think through the interactions of my class objects. That is useful. But I rarely keep these diagrams around because hell will freeze over before I waste a bunch of my time trying to keep all of them up to date with the actual code. The code really is the design. The only diagram potentially worth keeping around is the very high level system architecture diagram outlining the various subsystems.

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So after a few humiliating losses (in both soccer leagues I play in), we finally have a convincing win last night (5 to 2) in the Olympic league (the more competitive one). I even had a goal off of a dangerous cross that the defender tried to stop, but ended up deflecting it into the goal.

Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

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DibsI love working with other developers who are really excited about technology and the work we are doing. As is characteristic of such an organization, there is a constant flurry of IM messages and emails with links to interesting new technologies and topics.

This is nothing new of course, except for a recent phenomena of calling dibs to blog these topics. Is this something that happens to you? Let me give you an example.

A little while back, Jon Galloway IMs me a link to this very cool tool to remove source control bindings from a VS.NET 2003 project.

Immediately I start firing up w.Bloggar when his next IM message comes through, Oh, by the way I am going to blog that. He called dibs on blogging it.

This doesn’t mean that he owns this information somehow. Certainly there are others who have blogged about it. But I do feel it is good form to defer, since we probably have a similar readership. To that end, I present the rules for calling blogging dibs, which have their roots in concurrent software development.

  • Dib Contention: In conversation, if the person (the originator) who mentions the interesting link or story (the content) does not call dibs, and another person does, dib rights are lost to the originator.
  • Dib Wait Condition The listener must give the originator a reasonable moment (a pause really) to call dibs. Afterwards all bets are off.
  • Dib Hijacking In IM conversation, the originator has exactly one message (or 30 seconds) after the content to call dibs. If the next IM message is off topic, the other party may call dibs at any time..
  • Dib Deadlock Resolution Tie goes to the originator.
  • Implicit Dib Call In the absense of a dib call, it is assumed the originator has dibs until some point it is taken away by an explicit dib call.
  • Dib Race Condition If the listener can write and post the entire blog post before the originator calls dibs, the originator loses dibs privileges for obvious reasons.
  • Dib Access Violation Violating another person’s dibs right loses the offending party’s dibs rights for a period no less than two weeks.
  • Dib Timeout Condition A dib has a shelf life of one week. If no blog post is forthcoming, dib rights are fair game.
  • Dib Finalization Once the originator has written a post. The listener may follow up. It is good form to link to the originator’s post.
  • Keep dibs in the freezer, or they melt.

So go out there and steal someone else’s thunder. But do it according to the rules.

I violated one of my own rules. Can you figure out which one?

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CoComment Logo My blog now supports CoComment tracking. Let me know if you run into any problems with posting comments.

As I mentioned earlier, I added CoComment to Subtext as an administrative option. I am running the latest build from our Subversion repository. What better way to hash out bugs than to dogfood your own code. And man, was I eating some chow last night and this morning. I think I teased out most of the pressing bugs and my blog is pretty stable right now. Whew!

I performed a live test of automatically upgrading the schema and stored procs via the new web-based upgrade wizard in Subtext. That was really cool. When I was done, it looked like all my blog posts were gone. I nearly splattered my eyes on the monitors. But that was simply a UI glitch caused by hitting the site while files were still being copied over.

subtext comments edit

Subtext Logo Steve Harman reports that Subtext reached 1000 downloads just recently on SourceForge.

That is pretty sweet news. I sort of wish we added some code that asked permission to ping us when someone installs Subtext, but as you can imagine that would be very low on the totem pole of requirements.

We are getting close to a bug fix release that contains some extra goodies. I will set a release date soon. I have just been overwhelmed with work and other events.

Tags: Subtext

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Joel Spolsky totally nails it this time with his article on the Developer Abstraction Layer. This is one of his better articles. It is a tad on the long side, but well worth the read. Try to get it in your manager’s hands.

With a software company, the first priority of management needs to be creating that abstraction for the programmers.

If a programmer somewhere is worrying about a broken chair, or waiting on hold with Dell to order a new computer, the abstraction has sprung a leak.

In summary, a development company is a lot more than the developers. In fact, it is a huge support organization designed to remove abstractions for the developers so they can let the magic happen. Beautiful.

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If you are seeing duplicate posts from my blog in your feed aggregator, my apologies. I am dogfooding the latest development version of Subtext straight from the Subversion repository. Unfortunately, my unit tests did not catch the fact that I changed the link and guid elements from fully qualified to virtual URLs.

Doh!

I should have a fix soon.

UPDATE: All fixed. Sorry for the brief disruption.

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Rainbow Eric Ramseur who works on the Rainbow 2.0 Portal project looks like he has made progress inimplementing Subtext as the blogging module for Rainbow. That is pretty sweet.

I have to admit I do not know much about the Rainbow system other than it is a Content Management System written in C# with versions for ASP.NET 1.1 and ASP.NET 2.0. It definitely bears investigation to see how it compares and contrasts with DotNetNuke.

I am definitely interested in seeing how easy (or not) it is to integrate Subtext into another system. One thing I have been working on when I have time is to refactor Subtext to clean up some code and make it easier to understand the source. As a team, we also hope to make the codebase even more modularized. This stuff is fun.

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Red Paperclip This is one of the most ingenious methods of self promotion I have ever seen. Not to mention an interesting way to obtain a house.

Mr. Galloway sent me this link to a guy who is trying to trade a red paperclip for a house. Well not directly. He is attempting to negotiate a series of trades. In each trade, he attempts to get something of more value than the previous item. In the end, he hopes to trade for a house.

It sort of reminds me of the way you teach people about exponential growth. Start with a penny on day 1. Double it every day. And at the end of the month you are a multi-millionaire (unless it is February).

But of course, this is not exponential growth in the true sense of the word. Really, it is a demonstration in some small part of how wealth is subjective. The value of an item is really dependent on the value the people involved in a transaction see it. In a good trade, both parties are become wealthier because they both received something of more value to them than the item they gave away. Otherwise they wouldn’t have made the trade in the first place.

The other lesson may be a demonstration of how much people will give to be a part of something public. Just like reality television. In some small way, as his site makes the rounds, these people get their 15 minutes of fame.

In the end, when this guy receives his house, it will be remarkable to compare that house to the value of the paperclip. But the value of the publicity and of taking part in this interesting experiment may make the red paperclip quite valuable to the two women who received it. Of course this guy will be the biggest winner of all for his ingenuity.

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Gorilla Swinging Jayson emailed me to let me know that my PageRank is now

  1. That puts me up in the ranks of the big guys like Scott Hanselman. Woohoo!

You realize what this means dontcha? After all this time and hard work, I moved from a 5 to a 6 on a 10 pt scale. It means I am no longer flunking the blogosphere. I am getting a D baby! Woohoo! I can’t wait for my next highschool reunion so I can shove this back in the face of all the popular kids.

  1. Me

    You thought I was a loser, eh? Well check this out! My PageRank is 6! What’s yours? Who’s the loser now? What!? What!? That’s what I thought!

  2. Popular Kids

    Ummm, who are you again? I don’t think you went to this school.

  3. Me

    Oh. Umm. Right. My next reunion isn’t for another year but I couldn’t wait.

It is great to have another scale of measurement in order to bolster a false sense of superiority and privilege over other people.

  1. Me

    Oh, lookie lookie here. Mr. Atwood’s PageRank is only five. Poor guy. How does he live with himself? Maybe I’ll start a raise Atwood’s PageRank campaign.

Don’t worry, I won’t let it change this blog or myself one bit. Except for the minor detail that in order to contact me, my contact form now sends an email to my publicist. And if you don’t mind, please refer to me as the blogger formerly known as Haacked.

Yes, for you humor (or English) impaired, this is satire. I am really not that infatuated with PageRank. No really.

UPDATE: Ummm so this is kind of awkward, but Mr. Atwood points out in my comments that his PageRank™ is actually a 6 if you put the www. in front of his URL. I am afraid I must end the Raise Atwood’s PageRank™ campaign. Sorry about that Jeff. Heh Heh. No hard feelings, eh?

And I am actually sincerely glad to have a higher PageRank™. So I did not mean this to punk Jayson in any way shape or form. The higher the PageRank™ the more AdSense Revenue people I can reach with interesting technical content.

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Madness - Image from DC
Comics There are a lot cool javascript libraries floating around the Intarweb these days that add cool behavior to web pages. My favorites are the ones that you simply add to the head section of your website and control via markup. It is a great way to enhance structural html markup with Javascript.

Unfortunately many of these attempt to hijack the window.onload event. Ok, a show of hands (and I have been guilty of this as well). How many of you have written code like this to handle the onload event in javascript within a .js file?

function init()
{
}

window.onload = init;

Stop it!

That line of code will completely wipe out any other functions that were attached and ready to handle the onload event. How arrogant of your script to do so. Instead, your script should learn to play nicely.

Unfortunately, Javascript doesn’t support the delegate syntax that C# has. It’d be nice to be able to do this.

function init()
{
}

window.onload += init;

But that won’t work. One approach I found on Simon Incutio’s blog (which is used by the original LightboxJS script) involves using a method that safely attaches an event handling method to the onload event without overwriting existing event handlers.

It works by checking to see if there any methods are already attached to the event. If so it attaches a new anonymous method that calls the original method along with the method you are attempting to attach.

Here is a snippet demonstrating this technique.

function highlightXFNLinks()
{
  // Does stuff...
}

//
// Adds event to window.onload without overwriting currently 
// assigned onload functions.
function addLoadEvent(func)
{    
    var oldonload = window.onload;
    if (typeof window.onload != 'function')
    {
        window.onload = func;
    } 
    else 
    {
        window.onload = function()
        {
            oldonload();
            func();
        }
    }
}

addLoadEvent(highlightXFNLinks);

This is pretty nifty, but there appears to be a whole new school of script libraries that provide this sort of functionality for attaching to any event, not just the window.onload event.

I am sure you Javascript Gurus will expose how out of date and ignorant I am of this area (it is true) but the few that I have heard of that seem to be catching on like wildfire are the Prototype JavaScript Framework (often just referred to as prototype.js), the Dojo Toolkit, and Behaviour.

I will probably end up rewriting all my libraries to use one of these tooltips so that I stop duplicating code. Since each of my javascript libraries are stand-alone, I make sure to include the addLoadEvent method in each of them. But I think its time to allow a dependency on another script to avoid this duplication.

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UPDATE: The script now uses regular expressions. This fixes the problem where it translated met to me.

You’ve heard BillG say that we need Microformats. Do you catch yourself asking But Why?

Good question. Right now the Microformats movement is dealing with a bit of a chicken-egg problem due to a lack of tool support. Without tools to make microformat creation simple for content publishers and to make microformats more usable and visible to content consumers, it is difficult to see the point of the effort. The effort / reward scale is currently tipped heavily towards the effort side.

That may soon change as Microformats start taking over the web. In preparation for an article I am writing on the topic, I have been doing some thinking and reading up on Microformats. I won’t spoil the article by discussing Microformats in much detail here, but instead will highlight one microformat and my effort to make it more visible.

Do not reinvent the wheel!

Remember, Microformats are not about trying to reinvent the wheel. In fact, it is a key principle of the Microformat philosophy to build on what already exists. For example, even before microformats there was an initiative called XFN (or XHTML Friends Network). The idea is to add semantic information to web links in the form of the rel attribute to signify relationships.

This existing format has been adopted as a microformat. When linking to a friend’s blog or website, for example, you might add the following rel attribute.

<a href="http://haacked.com/" rel="friend met">...

This incidentally creates a network that is indexed by XFN crawler. But how does the average visitor to your site even notice this? Unless they view source, they won’t. This sort of goes against the Microformat principle of focusing on humans first and machines second. Better tools are needed to highlight interesting microformats to end users.

So let’s expose our friends

Well that is where my XFN Highlighter script comes in to help in a very small way. This is yet another Markup Based Javascript Effect Libraries in the style of my table mouse over script, and Lightbox JS. As more web publishers start adding microformatted content to their sites, I think we’ll see a proliferation of these type of scripts targetting this content.

Note that this script is a bit rough around the edges (for example, I need to replace indexOf with regular expressions). I slapped it together quickly one evening and there are many improvements that could be made. But the current version works well enough and I figure it is time to share it so I can generate some feedback (hopefully!).

What the script does is look through your html for links using the XFN microformat. It then places a little icon next to links that express a relationship as well as a special tooltip that lists the relationships info. But rather than talking about it, I should give a demo. Again, I will have to ask you to try this out in a browser since most aggregators will not display my javascript and CSS. Here are a list of a few people I know. Go ahead and move your mouse over them. Go on now.

A few friends and acquaintances

How to Use

Setup

​1. Add the following Javascript declaration to the header.

<script type="text/javascript" 
    src="scripts/XFNHighlighter.js"></script>

​2. Include the XFNHighlighter CSS file (or cut and paste these styles into your own stylesheet).

<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/XFNHighlighter.css" 
    type="text/css" media="screen" />

​3. The CSS references an image friends.png in the images directory. Make sure that image exists or change the CSS to point to an appropriate image. This image is placed next to the link.

Activate

​1. Add an appropriate rel="value" when linking to a friend or acquaintance. Check out the list of relationships from the XFN quickstart page.

Download

Grab the files (neatly organized) from here.

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Lightbox JS brought a new level of hotness when it came to displaying pictures on your website or blog. Reference the javascript file in your html page, add a rel="lightbox" to a link, and voila! You have a sweet way to display pics. I even implemented it on my blog as evidenced by the image below. Go ahead, click on it (assuming you are not reading this in an aggregator).

Screenshot of Lightbox JS 2.0 In
Action

Pretty cool eh? Well just as I go and get this implemented, the people that brought you Lightbox JS just released Lightbox JS 2.0. New in 2.0 is an easy way to group related images and slickly navigate through them. They also added some fancy schmancy transition effects.

The image above is a screenshot of the image grouping feature in action. Notice the Next link that displays on the upper right when you mouse over the image. Click on the below image to see a larger screenshot. (Oh the irony using Lightbox 1.0 to demonstrate Lightbox 2.0).

This is just one of many cool new toys for the discerning blogger. Good job Lokesh!

subtext comments edit

CoComment Logo Since I was called out, I went ahead and quickly implemented CoComment for Subtext, but I have yet to deploy it to my personal blog. It will be released as part of our upcoming interim 1.0.5.0 release which is focused on bug fixes and a few developer goodies thrown in.

I said before I wasn’t interested in supporting CoComment, hoping to see a cleaner approach come along and surprise everyone. But it seems that adoption of CoComment is going pretty well and I am not one to stand in the way of progress. Besides, it really didn’t take long to implement at all.

CoComment support in the latest build of Subtext is pretty automatic. There is no need to update any skins. Simply go into the admin section under the Comment Settings and click a checkbox to enable CoComments. That’s it!

I wrote a base server control (in Subtext.Web.Controls if you are handy with Subversion and want to get it from our source control repository) for rendering out the CoComment script. This control lets you set the various properties and renders out the appropriate CoComment script. I then inherited from that class to implement a Subtext specific version. That control gets rendered in the head section of the page to maintain as much XHTML compliance as possible. I am seriously anal, aren’t I?

Tags: Subtext

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I was recently approached by some people I know purely through blogging and IM conversations to write on a topic for a book they are putting together. Of course I was honored and appreciative that they thought of me, even after finding out there would be no payment for the work. Doh!

In any case, I am taking their lead by not discussing what the book is about, except to say that I am writing about tools that I use all the time. In attempting to cover these tools in sufficient detail, I realized how little I really knew about them. These are software utilities that I use every day, but as is the case with many tools, I wasn’t using them to their full capacity. I had quickly learned just what I needed to know to get stuff done and stopped there. How lazy and counterproductive of me!

Of course as developers, we all need to find that balance between spending the time to RTFM and just plowing along and getting to work. Back in the day, we called this the Commodore Shuffle (though I am sure there are many names for this phenomena). This is the technique of figuring out how to use a piece of software by playing around with it and clicking on everything that moves. Unfortunately, this often will only cover the surface of what a piece of software can do.

I think I will try skimming the manual more often now.

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Web 2.11Despite the apparent hype factor of “Web 2.0”, I am really starting to get into the whole Web 2.0 phenomena. I think it really clicked when hearing about it in various panel discussions at Mix06.

The foundations are quite simple. Web 2.0 is about:

  • User created content.
  • Using AJAX to make websites UI responsive
  • Providing simple Open APIs.
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • And so on…

But jumping on Web 2.0 now is like jumping on a hot stock. By the time you’ve heard about it, so has everyone else. That information is immediately absorbed by the stock market and reflected in its price. In other words, you have already missed the boat sucka.

So I am letting you, my limited audience, in on a secret. The time is now to leap ahead of your competition and embrace Web 2.1.

Web 2.0 is oh so five minutes ago. Now that Microsoft is joining the Web 2.0 fray, you know they are going to get it right. But they won’t get it right in 2.0 (remember Windows 3.0 or .NET 1.0? Exactly). It is all about adding the .1 baby!

At Mix 06, Microsoft unveiled their vision for the web, which seeing as how their modern product versioning system works these days, will be marketed as Web 2007. By the time it is released it will probably be called Microsoft Web Based Collective Intelligence and Open API AJAX Platform (or WBCIOAAP for short). I personally can appreciate the double “A” thrown in there.

Some of the pillars of Web 2007 WBCIOAAP include the following:

  • Why stop at user generated crap? Animal generated content! Who better to fling crap on the web than animals?
  • AJAX is about making UI responsive. But why be so reactive? Web 2007 introduces PRAJAX! It combines the power of prayer to create PRedictive AJAX. This stuff is going to rock!
  • Current efforts to harness collective intelligence makes the unreasonable assumption that everyone who contributes is equally intelligent. Well we know that ain’t true. Introducing the Microsoft Idiot Filter. If you are going to allow tagging, this software makes sure to filter out the idiots, leaving 5% of the tags, but a very intelligent 5%.
  • And so on…

I will be converting my business and Subtext into a Web 2007 application soon. What about you?

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View from
Pool In case you were wondering how such a loudmouth as myself could be so quiet for four days and three nights, my wife and I were in Puerto Vallarta enjoying a real vacation. By “real” I mean completely devoid of work. I didn’t so much as walk into a cyber cafe (though I did peer real hard inside).

Probably the closest thing to “work-related” I did was chat up a couple of school teachers on a boat getting their input into some software my company is building for labor unions.

We stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast named Casa Amorita in the downtown area of PV, if you can call it a “downtown”. The picture on the top left is the view from the patio/pool. The B&B is built on a steep hill so there is a pretty nice view from everywhere.

Phil on a rooftop
bar It also has a nice rooftop honor bar as you can see me on the right, attempting to draw upon my inner Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail.

If you are viewing these pics in a browser with javascript enabled, click on the pics to see larger versions.

Although PV is pretty heavily developed, it still retains some of its rustic charms. The streets in the downtown area are cobblestone and fun to explore. We endured one of those “We are not a time-share but we are still trying to sell you something you don’t need and can’t afford” sales presentations in order to get some free loot. We actually enjoyed the tour of the resort, got to spend time on their beach, and then took a nice boat over to Yelapa.

I put up a few photos on Flickr if you are interested.