Monthly Archives: March 2005



TaskInfo is totally worth the shareware fee for any power user of Windows. It provides vast information about processes and the system, is completely stable (I’ve been using it on three systems for 3 or 4 years with no problems), and doesn’t seem to be too hard on system resources itself.

I just used it to check progress on a download. I visited a page that embeds a QuickTime plugin, which was not providing any indication of the download progress. However, I could pop up TaskInfo and see the files Firefox was accessing, and where in the file the file pointer was. It was easy enough to see which file was being used to cache the download, and how many bytes had been written so far.


Semi-freeform database

I admit to not knowing much about ontologies (in the knowledge-management sense), but I am interested in them.

However, what I did discover is that Stanford’s Protégé project works well as a semi-freeform personal database.

For example, a while back I was writing a paper for a psych class, and of course had to have a bibliography. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the bibliographic database software I found out there, so I started to look around for some easy way to build some. I found Protégé because I was exposed to it via another class. I found that despite the fact that I don’t really know what it’s for :-), I was able to use Protégé to get the job done easily.

The nice thing about it, from my perspective, is that it allows for the formality and precision of a database schema, while also allowing for some of the sloppiness and incremental evolution of, say, a plain text file. As I add entries to a database, I sometimes discover that I want new fields in the records, or that I want to formalize something that was informal before. Protégé allows me to do that with a few clicks, without disturbing any existing data or causing any referential-integrity headaches, and it automatically populates the data-entry form to match.

If a new field is marked as required, then I get a visual indication in the form that the field is required, but I’m not forced to add it. For example, if I was building a “people I know” database (which is my current Protégé project), I could add a required birthdate field. I may not know all the birthdates of people I know yet, but I want the schema and form to reflect the fact that its important information that I should eventually fill in.

It doesn’t have the best GUI, because it’s very general, and therefore not the best possible interface for any specific application. However, forms can be customized to make them prettier, or one can embed the database and/or form components in some other program for total control. (I do have to say that the default GUI is much nicer in version 3 than in version 2.) In any case, it’s definitely smoother than any GUI I’ve tried as a front end to a relational database.

I mentioned embedding; the API is easy to work with if you need to get some functionality that’s not natively supported. I wanted an HTML version of my entire bibliography, so I wrote a Jython script in about half an hour to pull the data out of the store and format it appropriately.

And finally, because it’s open-source, it’s free and easy to modify beyond even the API level. Woot again for open-source.


Pet Pillows

OK, I will go on record as saying that taxidermy in general, and this in particular, is weird: Pet Pillows. They’re gonna get so much publicity from the fact that everyone who sees it and thinks it’s weird will link to it :-). Good luck, I guess.


Long Now

On the subject of time, The Long Now Foundation is an interesting concept. They’re trying to get people to think about 10000ish year timeframes, for all the benefits that incurs. Or, as they put it:

The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to todays “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking.

I can dig it.

I came across this page from some interview of m’man Brian Eno, but the board also includes an intellectual ton of other visionary-types.

I can’t believe Kurzweil isn’t involved. Doesn’t he expect to live into/beyond the 10000ish range?


Time lapse and slow-mo

If you like time-lapse and/or slow-mo stuff, check out Playing With Time. It’s a neat project with videos of ordinary stuff at unordinary timescales.


Conspiracy to get rich?

Hmm, very interesting.

Matt reminded me about WikiBooks, which I hadn’t peeked at in a while.

The last time I looked there was when I was reading “The Science of Getting Rich”, by Wallace D. Wattles. Despite the assumptions you might make from the title, it’s a pretty neat book. Whether you want to swallow it whole I don’t know, but there are a number of great little nuggets in there.

So when I went to look at WikiBooks again, I saw that the book had been marked for “speedy deletion”. Huh. There was no explanation given by the person who marked it such, but other commenters on the site provided a plausible reason: some scammer was trying to keep the book from free circulation (it’s in the public domain), because they wanted to sell “their” program for getting rich based on the book.

Oh, yeah, now I remembered. When I first noticed the book I did some searching around the web, and indeed, there are like a bazillion people trying to make money off the book with little additional work of their own in the package.

That’s probably a big problem with a Wiki-type system for collaborative knowledge gathering. Gotta have a mechanism for allowing people to remove unauthorized material, but discerning whether a given person really has the associated copyright/etc. is not easy to do through an automatic interface. So jerks can go around deleting (or modifying) things they don’t like to hear, regardless of whether they really have any say in the matter.

Weird situation… OK, now I have to try to find a good copy of the book and mirror it on my site to save it from the world.

Oh, looks like WikiSource has a copy, still.


Hand-tremor mouse assist

This is a pretty damn smart idea that will probably spawn a number of new technologies to improve HCI. The general idea that you can get more information from a data stream by filtering out some of the data is not a new one to those familiar with information theory (in the Shannon sense), but to apply it to something like the movements of a mouse is a new idea to me. And, ya know, if it’s new to me, then… OK, that doesn’t really mean it’s new to anyone else.

IBM Unveils Mouse Adapter That Assists Hand-Tremor Sufferers


Sisters and mothers

I’m thankful for… my sisters and mother. I just spent a weekend with them, doing almost nothing actually interesting in the traditional sense, but we all had a wonderful time. Cuz they’re all wonderful people. It’s nice to be exposed to some of the deeper bits of greatness in people whom you’d love even if they weren’t so great.


Information Architecture and Alzheimer’s Disease

Information Architecture and Alzheimer’s Disease

This kind of discussion will really improve the world some day, I think. Everything we can figure out to allow people to extend their spheres of input and output, regardless of their condition relative to ‘the norm’, will have unanticipated positive consequences, for the person and for the world.

Every being, in-the-world, has a vantage point from which the infinite-dimensional holographic world can be integrated for a new picture… or something like that.


JavaScript domain-specific language syntax-hack

This is an interesting idea: using the JavaScript ‘with’ keyword, you can hack up a syntax for an embedded DSL pretty easily. Even if I had known about the ‘with’ keyword :-), I might not have thought of that. Although I actually did do something like that in Python before, using a string of Python code and eval, which is actually the same thing but harder.

Now, the syntax you get here isn’t perfect; the extra commas and stuff aren’t that cool. However, it’s neat to see that such a simple idea can get you so close to having well-integrated embedded DSLs.