How to move personal publishing to the desktop

May 11th, 2011

You can do everything "in the cloud" these days, from blogging to posting photos to running servers. Most impressively, you can now also lose control of your files and personal information with unprecedented ease, or simply lose it, period. This is exactly the worst possible feature for the personal publishing use-cases of cloud computing. Possibly the most distressing aspect of cloud-based publishing is that it firmly designates the intangible network as the primary resting place of one's data. (I will note here that this aspect is itself what I am using to define "cloud computing" for the purposes of this blog post.) If the first place you put your creations is some hosted service on the great wide interwebs, you're playing with fire.

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Wanted: Chained package management

March 4th, 2011

One of the minor pain points (but a major surprise point) of using the Ubuntu Linux package management system occurs when upgrading an application that itself implements package management. A classic example of this is Firefox, which has an extension system with a central repository, version compatibility checking, and automatic updates.

On local installs of Firefox (or in Windows), Firefox handles its own upgrades, and has the ability to warn the user if any extensions will be disabled due to incompatibility with the new Firefox version. However, when Firefox is managed by an external agent such as APT, no such warning can take place. (There's another problem hereā€”upgrading Firefox when it is running results in gradual bitrot of the running process as it loads mismatched bits of itself from disk.)

This is totally a solvable problem. Deb packages can contain pre-install scripts that check for bad install or upgrade conditions, and I would bet they can also prompt the user for input in questionable circumstances, such as forced disabling of extensions. There's the minor issue of how to handle multiple user accounts, networked /home, etc., but these all seem solvable with a reasonable amount of effort.

I suspect this post will be too late to influence the Firefox 4 release, but I'm filing an enhancement request anyway. Hopefully the developers of other apps with package managers will take this advice as well.

Comment tokenizer algorithm

July 5th, 2007

The existing comment-tracking systems that I know of just aren't enough. CoComment is buggy and fails to properly parse out comments for a number of blogs, and is missing a number of important features. (Float unread to top of list, for example, or track a URL without visiting it.) Co.mments.com has a much nicer interface and tracks better, but lacks a Firefox extension and some of the advanced features of CoComment.

Rather than simply whining about the lack of excellent trackers, I want to help the existing ones improve. Here I present most of algorithm to parse out comments from an unfamiliar blog template.

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Open surveillance to the public

June 21st, 2007

My local paper, the Daily Progress, ran a story today about a proposal to install 30 security cameras on the Downtown Mall. I think there's a wrong way to do this, and a right way. I'll explain why the wrong way is wrong, and suggest a scheme that could lead to a right (or better) way.

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