Archive for November, 1999


Attached is the hacked version of PrefsSuite.drawNavigator.

It adds an optional parameter that defines a template for the items that are being listed. The template defaults to “***<p>”, making no apparent change from the currently shipping version. The “***” is replaced by the link and the text.

There are several advantages to this.

  1. Allows for the insertion of a &ltbr> instead of the paragraph tag, which adds less whitespace.
  2. Allows for horizontal navigators if you don’t insert a line break at all. My personal favorite is [ link ] [ link ] …

Hopefully I can get this rolled into the main distribution.

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Thread View #2, using pre

Attached to this message is take number two on the thread view.


Message number is the number of the message that you want threaded. It returns the html to produce something that looks about like this:


This links to the message using the poster’s username, which is shorter than their full email address, and creates the structure using preformatted text.

I like this one better since it is a much more compact system than the UL attempt.

In addition, this one has the title and author of each message in the title field of the link. This gives you a little popup windos in MSIE, nothing in netscape. This provides a little extra context that can be useful when you are deciding what to read.

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Thread View #1, using UL

Attached to this message is take one on the thread view.


Message number is the number of the message that you want threaded. It returns the html to produce something that looks about like this:


This links to the message using the poster’s name/email address, and orients things using unordered lists.

In addition, this has the title and author of each message in the title field of the link. This gives you a little popup windos in MSIE, nothing in netscape. This provides a little extra context that can be useful when you are deciding what to read.

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Thread View

The current discussion group thread view mechanisim is less than ideal at conveying the maximum amount of information in a minimum amount of space. Using minimal space is essential if the link macros are to be used in interesting locations, such as in a right hand column. Cramming lots of information into a small area requires care and attention to exactly what information is important. I’m trying to model my interactions on Edward Tufte’s information presentation theory.

The first example below (unimplemented) each asterisk would be a link save the current page. The second and third examples are implemented and can be downloaded at the respective links. The thread listed in the examples is the current thread.

One Idea: “Thread View #1, using UL” “Thread View #2, using pre”.
(Not Implemented)

{threadView()} {threadView2()}

The principles that I’m going on are

  1. No redundant information
  2. Compact, so we can show as much relationship information as possible
  3. Reduce marginally relevant information
  4. Bring important information to the foreground.
  5. Allow additional information with user interaction.
  6. Every pixel conveys information by position, color, and content.


Titles are not relevant information. Most of the time, they are the same as the message that is being viewed. Perhaps differences in the titles should be highlighted when the changes are more significant than a missing Re: or a change in capitalization. (principles 1,2,3)

The relationship to the whole thread is important. Visually identifying the current position within the thread by not linking the current document (putting it in a single bold line?) is essential. Distinct colors for unvisited and visited links is also essential. (3,6)

To a reader familiar with the community, the author is typically the best predictor of the value of an article. Using only the first name of the author can convey a significant amount of the possible information within the smallest possible space. Even where there are multiple members with the same first name in a community, the consequences of confusion are small. (4,5)

Revisiting the first model, I’m not convinced that * is a good link anchor. The character itself does not convey any useful information about the content or revelancy of the article. In place of the author name, there could be some other small piece of relevant data. Perhaps a count of page views of the message is a valid measure of the usefulness of the article.

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Letter to the Editor

I-695 did not go far enough.

While I-695 is a welcome reduction in the cost of owning a motor vehicle, owning a car is still too expensive. I am saving about $250 next year, but that savings is dwarfed by my insurance bill and the cost of parking in downtown Seattle.

It is unfair that just because I choose to drive a little red sports car that my insurance should be over $1000 per year. Everybody knows that the insurance compainies are as wasteful as the government, so they should be able to survive on $30 per year per driver. All they have to do is cut out insurance fraud and waste.

Now that the convenient bus service to downtown is being cut, my parking bill is going up. It is criminal to be charged $200 per month just to park a car in a location where I don’t have to get wet on my way to work. Parking fees downtown are highway robbery and should be limited to $30 per month. The lot owners will make it up in volume.

I-695 was a good first step, but still does not lower barriers to car ownership enough. Driving is a God given right, so we should all be able to drive for free!

Sarcastically Yours,

Eric Soroos

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*** Amazon.com

Death of the net predicted, this time from “Amazon’s Net Patents”
.gif at 11. A while ago, I posted this detailing that I was boycotting amazon.com due to their spamming practices. Since that page went up, their market cap has gone up by orders of magnitude. I’m thinking that the boycott wasn’t that effective.

*** net.censorship

A misguided attempt to require “download filters” in Arizona Universities.

*** Y2K

My “Y2K” Predictions. And my response to Mayor Schell’s festivites here.
*** WTO

As some of you may know, the WTO met in Seattle the week after Thanksgiving, 1999. It didn’t go well. I wasn’t out protesting, but I have some observations. See “Seattle and the state of the occupation” for more details.

Following up on the Seattle occupation, “WTO 2 weeks later” discusses some of the reasoning why I think that the WTO is not such a bad thing. It takes into account not only the protests, but also the economics driving the organization.

*** I-695

I live in the State of Washington, which recently passed I-695, which has to be the most popular misguided piece of drek in recent memory. The public debate was frightening in its inaccurate numbers and general “who cares, someone will bail us out” attitude.

The sponsor is dismissing legal challenges as a waste of money, when court review of legislation is essential for the function of the state. And now the sponsor wants to bring us more of the same.

So I wrote a “letter to the editor” of the PI. It may or may not be published by them, but certainly can be published here.

In recent news, I-695 was declared unconstitutional. It’s being appealed. Good riddance.

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November Meeting Report

The theme for the evening was Manila. We were sorry that Brent Simmons
could not join us but understood that his theme for the evening was final
touches on Manila. To Brent and all of Userland- beautiful job!

Our group was a little small with Thanksgiving only being two days away.
Michael Gilbert was our host and Eric Soroos did the honors of demonstrating
the Manila installation process and pointing out recent Userland
developments. Lauri was in attendence and balanced our conversations with
the ease of a seasoned marketing person. I rounded out the group with my
enthusiasm for my first Manila site ( http://www.whitney-hall.com/fishOn ).

In looking at Manila, we drilled into several areas of discussion:

  • Control panel- an HTML interface for managing Frontier.
  • Site Heirarchy feature- including the built in examples of FAQ and

  • Server menu, ease of creating new sites and installing sites when gDB’s
    are moved between machines.

  • We also discussed the idea of Manila sites as sub-sites within manila

Topics that we need to return to in a future FUG meeting include the Manila
search engine and syndication.

One unresolved question is: How do you control the location of the calendar
within your template?

Our conversations turned around many other subjects as well. I just
finished “Weaving the Web” by Tim Berners-Lee and Michael and Lauri had
recently seen him give a speech in Seattle. We agreed that his integrity,
and vision of a future based on ideals instead of the aquisition of wealth,
was the very reason for the sucess of the web. On a similar topic, we
discussed the upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle.
Sounds like the mass of dignitaries, media, and protestors is practically
going to shut the city down.

We also drilled deep into some of the interface issues regarding discussion
threads. We talked about the continued life of NNTP servers and various
News interfaces. This led to spirited brainstorming about ways to visually
reveal the structure of a discussion Group thread as a means to quickly
navigate that thread. Eric got excited by this and took some notes so we
are all hoping he digs further (hint). (see “Thread View”, ed.) I was also lucky to get a
mini-demonstration of Eric’s mail server and his recent efforts to build a
manilla like control panel interface. This looks like another item for my
to-do list.

We agreed that our 4th Tuesday meeting schedule would be difficult over the
holidays and that we would meet again in January.

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Web Based Backup

*** The Problem

Frontier (optionally) backs up all the changed GDB’s each day. Unfortunately, they reside on the same machine as frontier. This is not a good thing for the terminally lazy, as my recent system adventures might prove. I was very nervous until I got the few databases that weren’t backed up off the machine recovered.

*** Possible Solutions

Solution #1 is to save GDBs to a shared drive. It’s ok, but not a completely elegant approach. For instance, the data is still on your lan. Off site backups are a good thing too.

Solution #2 is to use the built in http or xml-rpc server to do remote backups.

If you’ve seen the Qube, they present a checkbox list of items to back up, you select what you want and your web browser downloads an archive with the backed up files. Restores are a multipart form upload. This is elegant. I want it in frontier, but automatic.

*** Proposed Architectures

Client == machine to be backed up.
Server == machine with big tape drive.

  • Push. The client machines upload the appropriate GDBs whenever they feel like it.
  • Pull. The server queries the client as to the databases that they wish to upload. The client returns with a list of databases. This could trigger the push, or then the server asks for each GDB individually.

Push is good from a security standpoint, although it could be an issue if two client machines hit the server at once with GDBS that will saturate the incoming connection for any length of time. Using push also means that machines that are not always connected could backup when they are online.

Pull is good for the server scheduling the uploads, so that the GDB’s can be done serially if that is necessary, or in parallel if bandwidth permits.

I would think that gzip encoding might be a very useful thing for this application.

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October Seafug Meeting

We were looking for answers to the question: what do beginners want?

We had 2 new attendees, one of whom has a DG based website up, the other has played with frontier for about 30 minutes. Of the previously known people, there was me, (SA, but easily distracted), Michael (Very experienced, also easily distracted with neat ideas), Ivy (who has done a couple of frontier websites and is a graphic design/writer who has very little patience when Michael and I go off on a techincal tangent), Lauri (new frontier user but used to instructing about technical systems) and Ken (Intermediate frontier user)

We also touched on the question of how to train designers familiar with marking up each piece of text by hand to create designs that can be built by scripts and templates.

The upshot is that there are several pieces of the puzzle.

  • Tutorial of how to navigate the frontier app/odb.
  • An overview of what’s already been built and what is availiable w/o major programming.
  • Tutorial on programming using Usertalk and programming in general

In all cases save the first, examples and sample sites/packages were considered very useful. Michael and I had a couple of side discussions of the form: I’d really like feature X, it needs to be a sample. Followed by me saying, I was just thinking that this week, I’ve implememnted it/ it’s on the todo list. We were pondering trying to get 10 or so projects that scratch an itch, get some working beta code out there and trying to build a open source community around it. Projects that are things that programmers will use every day so that the fix and extend them. On the list of 10 things, we’ve started to fill out a list of stuff that we really want to see happen. (See “projects”)

  • Networked Bookmark List
  • Address book or other flat file db functionality using a simple prefs.root
    type interface.
  • Filtered news feeds.

Of these, I’ve started the filtered news feeds, to the point of almost having a site live to do it. I also mentioned that I am serving my netscape bookmark file via frontier and a filespec link so that I can get to it from anywhere in my world.

There were a couple of comments about the support associates program.

  • It hasn’t been well promoted to the general population at this point.
  • Ken liked the fact that there was a phone call interface that happened and showed up on one of the mailing lists. we also pointed out that there is a great value in being able to distill your question down to an email, since it forces you to think through your problem.
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Seattle Frontier Users Group

The Seattle Frontier Users Group meets every fourth Tuesday of the month, at 7pm. We will be meeting at the offices of Socialecology (my employer) at 1818 Summit. (near Denny and Olive on Capitol Hill) Email seafug@soroos.net for directions.

January’s meeting will be held on Tuedsay the 30th (yeah, that’s the fifth tuesday), at 7pm. There’s no adgenda at this point.

We have reports of some previous meetings online.

  • “November Meeting Report” (1999)
  • “October SeaFUG Meeting” (1999)
  • “September Manila Demo” (1999)
  • August Meeting Summary (missing in action)
  • “July Mailserver Demo” (1999)
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