Archive for November, 2004

No More “Cross-Dressing” Day

This is killing me. A school in Texas has changed their annual “TWIRP” day, where the kids basically cross-dress, into a “camouflage” day. Apparently it’s because they’re afraid it might turn their kids gay.

I love this quote:

“It might be fun today to dress up like a little girl — kids think it’s cute and things like that. And you start playing around with it and, like drugs, you do a little here and there (and) eventually it gets you”

What I want to know is, why isn’t anyone scared of the camouflage turning their kids invisible?

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Social Software

Nearly ever since I can remember, the idea of communicating with other people over computer networks has fascinated me. I cut my technology teeth on movies like Wargames, and I recall thinking how cool it was that Matthew Broderick could connect to other computers by putting his telephone handset on top of the modem.

Soon after, I saved up enough money to buy a Commodore 64 and a 1200 baud modem (hook the phone line right in–no handset necessary!), and discovered the hidden world of the Bulletin Board Systems. My life was quickly consumed calling BBSs, reading and posting in local message forums, playing door games, and chatting live with sysops. This was an entirely new way to communicate and interact with people, and I felt like it could change the world.

As the Internet gained in popularity, so did the face of online communication, and I soon was blessed with email, newsgroups, web-based forums, cool social networking tools like (the now defunct) SixDegrees.com, and massively-multiplayer online games–all examples of using computer networks for communicating in new ways.

I must confess, though, that for the past few years I haven’t kept up with many of the more interesting innovations in the field, so I was pleasantly engaged once I started using Bloglines to manage some RSS news feeds and started reading some interesting weblogs on the side. Turns out we can use this (relatively) new term, “Social Software,” to refer to any type of software that allows group interaction.

It seems like a cool side effect of this blanket term, now that we’re associating these varied tools with each other through their common attribute of online interaction, has been the emergence of a sort of Social Software meta-group consisting of people who, like me, are excited by the effect it’s having on the way people communicate, and are using tools like weblogs to talk about it. It makes it easier to stay on top of the developments in the field that might prove to alter that effect in interesting ways. As an aside, it was very cool to stumble across a one-time professor of mine (and one for whom I have much respect) from RIT, who seems to be a prominent member of this community.

Now I’m more or less caught up. I’m starting to keep track of my bookmarks on del.icio.us, and hey! I’m even writing in a weblog! So I’m starting to think about the ways I can apply some of my own creative energy to the space. One of the reasons that I became a software developer was to help build tools like this (the other was video games–what kid doesn’t love them?), so I’m excited to begin experimenting with some cool ideas of my own. As time becomes available, I’m considering starting an interesting project that provides community-building tools to java-based web developers, but I’ll be writing more on that later…

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Extended Desktop on iBook?

My first major disappointment with the new iBook came yesterday as I realized that something was missing that had become so ubiquitous with laptops that I hadn’t even bothered to research whether it was supported.

The extended desktop, or the ability to connect an external monitor and see different things on each screen, didn’t work. Mirroring, where you see the same image on both screens, worked, but there was no splitting in order to increase the usable desktop area. This was particularly surprising since Apple pioneered this feature, and Macs had it years before Windows ever did. Today, just about any new PC laptop with an external monitor port has this feature, so why didn’t my new iBook?!

Thinking I must be missing something obvious, I took to Google for the answers. It turns out I wasn’t missing anything, because while the computer has the capability, it was intentionally disabled by Apple, presumably to incent people to check out the much more expensive (but only marginally more powerful) PowerBook line.

There is good news, though. Luckily, the option to disable extended desktop is an open firmware setting, which can be changed by the user. There’s even a handy utility to do it for you, which works like a charm on the new 1.2GHz iBook with the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 video card. Now I have the best of both worlds: lots of screen space while I’m at my desk, and the mobility that comes with a super small screen.

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Switched!

Well, I’ve spent the larger part of my free time this week playing with my new iBook! Ever since Apple came out with OS X (finally delivering the elusive “Unix for the desktop” that Linux never seemed to achieve), I’d said that I would get one if only the hardware price were reasonable when compared to a PC.

Well, I made good on my promise. I was looking for a laptop that was small and light enough to conveniently carry to work every day, and powerful enough to use as a development machine. The 12-inch iBook has all that, it runs Unix, has a wireless card built in (nothing to snap off), firewire, USB 2, CD burner/DVD player, and a battery that lasts over five hours! I’ve hardly seen a PC laptop match that, and certainly not at the same price.

There are a couple down sides, but they’re not too bad… it comes with 256MB RAM, which performs less than ideally with OS X. But after adding a 512MB chip (standard laptop DDR – very nice!) for a total of 3/4 gig, it hums like a bunny (do bunnies hum?). At 1.2GHz, it’s not the fastest CPU around, but I’ve hardly noticed as I’m not using it to play games, and spend a relatively small amount of time compiling large amounts of code.

Anyway, my impression after a week is VERY good. I’m getting to love the UI navigation tools — it’s much easier to keep a million windows open, even on this 1024×768 screen. I’m running Eclipse, Camino, Quicksilver, Apache, JEdit, Fink, and yes, even vi.

Yes, I still have my Windows desktop at home for games, etc, and the email/web server under the desk is running Linux. But man is it nice having all of the Unix tools in one spot, and having that spot be wherever I am, even on the BART on the way in to work. Count me as a convert!

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