Archive for February, 2007

One of my original intents of registering the domain name was to publish photos of my new baby son or daughter. That was two years and two daughters ago and, until this weekend, photos were nowhere to be found on my blog. I host my blog on the Windows platform and had no desire/time to do any of the following: (a) buy a separate package for image management; (b) cobble together an ASP.NET solution to manage my photos; (c) switch blogging software to a tool like Community Server that has integrated photo management. Furthermore, I already manage my photos on Flickr and I’m more than happy with the service, user experience, and the cost-benefit. What I really needed was a way to integrate my existing Flickr photos into my current .NET-based blog (DasBlog). The pursuit of this goal is what this blog entry is all about.

Being a regular blog reader, what I’ve seen a lot of out there are the Flickr badges. These badges, available in either HTML or Flash versions (like the one in the sidebar of this blog), are pretty slick and can be found pretty much everywhere on the Web. The problem with these badges is that they only offer the opportunity for shallow integration. Click on the badge and bye-bye blog, you’re zipped off to Flickr’s site to look at the photos. Since I aspired to achieve a bit deeper integration, I needed a different approach.

Next thing that I looked into was programmatic access to the Flickr API or a pre-existing solution that I could use wholesale or reproduce with little effort on my part. The Great Flickr Tools Collection has a vast assortment of very interesting tools – none of which quite seemed to meet my needs. I checked out the Flickr.NET API Library, which was written about in a Coding4Fun post and can be found for download here. It’s very well done and, although it probably won’t be the last time I mention this API in my blog, it will be the last time I mention it in this posting.

What I eventually stumbled on was a simple and elegant solution that got me exactly what I wanted by embedding the Flickr slideshow viewer into a custom page on my existing blog. Paul Stamatiou has an excellent post on his blog on how to do just that. By using an iframe and setting some API attributes you can get this up and running very quickly; qualifying this as a super easy hack that just works. Note that only photos marked as public will be displayed.

With the Flickr slideshow viewer up and running, I only needed to add the ability to select between multiple photo groups and I was done. With the actual Flickr viewer taking care of all of the real AJAX work, all that was needed was a bit of light JavaScript to tie this all together. Below you will find the code that does all of the lifting.

<script type="text/javascript">// <![CDATA[
      function changeSlideshow(url, title)
            return false;
// ]]></script>

Clicking on any of the photo group links / thumbnails makes a call to the above function passing the URL for the slideshow in the manner stipulated in Paul’s article for populating the slideshow viewer. The title is also passed so that the title of the page can be updated. You can see this at work on my new photopage. By viewing the page source, you can see the exact mechanism I used to make this work. If you’re have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

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I realize that the title of this blog post is something that one would probably not associate with a blog that purports to cover technology. Bear with me please and surf over to YouTube (or view below) to look at the video posted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. I think you will agree that the video is very well done. Much like the partnership between Google and the Pennsylvania Tourism Office that I blogged about a couple of months back, this posting to YouTube represents some signs of forward thinking, Web-based focus, and creativity on the part of state government.

Granted, with tourism and fishing, we are looking at revenue generating sectors of state government. You don’t yet see this sort of thing from Welfare service divisions. How long will it be though until other sectors of state government start looking at public Internet services as an alternate channel for communications with their constituents? The economics of these services surely works in their favor (that is, they’re free). It then becomes a question of what the best channel is to reach one’s constituents.

Face-to-face interaction, snail mail, and government sponsored portals will be around for a while to come, I surmise. But as usage of cell phones, email, inexpensive audio devices and collaborative community-based Internet services like YouTube continue to permeate through the layers of citizenry, state governments will not be able to ignore these viable communication mediums. The one question that remains is whether state governments are prepared to engage in the two way dialog and deal with the power shift that these new communication vehicles will invariably bring.

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The innovation engine at Yahoo is heating up, looking to get Yahoo back in the race with the “Big Boys”, rivals Google and Microsoft. In an environment categorized by copycat service offerings and one-upmanship, Yahoo’s offerings are refreshingly unique. I cover three of the most recent services that I’ve been playing around with and that I think will prove entertaining to my readers as well – Pipes, OmniFind Yahoo! Edition, and TagMaps.

  • Pipes – No less a luminary than Tim O’Reilly called Pipes “A milestone in the history of the Internet”. Pipes is a browser-based visual editor that allows you to take input from one source and pipe it (in UNIX parlance) to another source. Along the way, you can apply a series of filters and transformations to manipulate the data. The data sources start and end as common feeds (RSS, RDF, etc). What you do with the data between its input and output is constrained mostly by your imagination.
  • Yahoo Pipes

Yahoo! was certainly not first on the scene with this idea. Dapper and others have preceded them in this regard. What Pipes brings to the party that no one else does is a really cool visual environment that allows you to trace the path of the data through the transformations and filers, interactively debugging along the way based upon the value of the successive outputs. It also has this cool reuse flavor to it, where you can experiment with, tweak, learn from, and potentially improve or fork off new versions of other peoples pipes or just reuse them in a black box sense.

After you’ve read Tim O’Reilly’s introduction, I encourage you to play around with Pipes. Although seeing is believing, you’ll learn best by actually doing.

  • OmniFind Yahoo! Edition – Product of a nifty partnership with IBM, the OmniFind Yahoo! Edition is an enterprisey search solution that is the baby brother to IBM’s commercial OmniFind enterprise product. Built on top of the open source Apache Lucene search engine, OmniFind has the solid lineage necessary to be considered worthy of the task.

Yahoo OmniFind

The product is a very easy install, whether on Windows or Linux, requiring very few steps to get the product up and running. OmniFind returns search results against locally indexed documents and the Internet, with the results being returned in the familiar Yahoo! look and feel. For those interested, the UI can be styled to match a particular site’s look and feel or you can go the direct route and work with the exposed REST APIs.

With the pricetag (free) and support for a couple hundred file types, there’s little not to like about OmniFind. Search performance has proven to be very fast with a few thousand documents. Indications are that the tool scales pretty well although the indexing process can be quite processor intensive and there are a couple of known issues with cleaning up very large temp files that could eat into your available disk space.

  • TagMaps – I stumbled onto this product a couple of weeks ago while looking for some information about creating GeoRSS feeds. TagMaps is another way of visualizing data (tags in this case) on maps. I must confess that seeing tags on a map takes a bit of getting used to. I found that the best way to indoctrinate myself was by using Trip Explorer

Yahoo Tag Maps

Trip Explorer is a mashup of TagMaps and Yahoo! Travel users’ public Trip Plans. What’s cool about Trip Explorer is that the clustering of tags reveals hidden tour gems that you might not otherwise find on a traditional map mashup. These gems become more evident (and detailed) as you progressively zoom in.

TagMaps is built upon Yahoo’s Flash maps, which are very interesting in their own right and need to be experienced if you haven’t yet had the chance. Aside from using Yahoo’s canned Explorer TagMaps, of which Trip Explorer is one, you can create your own TagMaps mashups. Simply create a GeoRSS feed or select an existing GeoRSS feed that returns a set of weighted tags for a given lat/lon bounded box. Easier said than done, I know. I’ll be writing more about how to do this in a coming blog entry. Until then, give this a look.

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I don’t like to do book reviews back-to-back but Founders at Work has kept me pretty busy reading (and not writing) over the last couple of weeks. The book definitely deserves a five star rating and at $13 for the e-book version, it really is a great deal. My review follows…

Founders at Work

This is an absolute must read if you’re job, your passion, or both (if you’re lucky) has anything to do with creating technical innovation. “Founders at Work” is a wonderfully meander through the stories of successful company founders – across several decades. Far from focusing on just those who made it big during the first dot-com boom or those who are profiting from Web 2.0, Jessica also includes some of the true pioneers in the field. She recognizes that, not only do these industry veterans have valuable stories to convey but, since many of them are helping to steer companies and venture capital funds to this day, their advice is quite topical and current.

From the great introduction right through the final interview, this book is packed with great anecdotes, advice, information and inspiration. Makes you wonder as to what the story is behind the story – how did Jessica get unfettered access to such a broad array of the founding fathers?

I’ve included some illustrative quotes from the book below. Give them a read and then go pick up this book. The printed copy is a bargain and the e-book version is a steal. It may turn out to be one of the best investments you ever make.

  • “You guys are nuts. Throw out your business plan. Your customers—or potential customers – are telling you what your business should be. The business plan was only used to get you the money. Why don’t you rewrite a business plan that is focused just on providing what your customers want?” – Q.T. Wiles advice to Charles Geschke (Cofounder, Adobe) on the real purpose of a business plan
  • “There were some warning signs. Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world’s leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they’ll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it’s just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you’re growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn’t know?’” – Philip Greenspun (Cofounder, ArsDigita) on scaling corporate culture
  • “That [not improving core product quality] was probably the biggest mistake we made. And that’s the advice I give everybody. All those little coupon schemes, this is what General Motors does. They figure out new rebate schemes because they forgot all about how to design cars people want to buy. But when you still remember how to make software people want, great, just improve it.” – Joel Spolsky (Cofounder, Fog Creek Software)
  • “I think some people slept; I know I didn’t sleep at all.” – Max Levchin (Cofounder, PayPal)
  • “There were times when we were really broke before we had our angel investment, when only one guy who had children was getting paid.” – Caterina Fake (Cofounder, Flickr)

With nearly 21 of the 32 interviewees having the term “Cofounder” in their titles, Joel Spolsky’s advice seems perhaps to reflect best on what was critical to the success of these companies. “But because they never really take the leap and quit their job, they can give up their dream at any time. And 99.9 percent of them will actually give up their dream. If they take the leap, quit their job, go do it full-time—no matter how much it sucks—and convince one other person to do the same thing with them, they’re going to have a much, much higher chance of actually getting somewhere.”

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