Bizarro Apple

I stumbled across the “L Company” mentioned on a couple of RSS feeds I subscribe to. Their products sounded interesting (a 17″ notebook, and a 45″ flat panel display), so I checked out their website.

Welcome to Bizarro Apple. The site is an attempted 100% knock-off of another well known website.

Except, these guys just Don’t Get It.

From a snazzy flash intro (Welcome to the Web, Circa 1997!), to the WinXP garish colours, to the flashing/blinking bits all over the site clamouring for attention… Oh, and the 20-scrolled-pages product info pages… These guys completely blew the rip-off.

Oh, and their big claim to innovation (aside from flat panels, laptops, and menus that don’t work on properly in Safari)? You can customize the “L” logo for you system, carved from rock. I’m not kidding. Whoopiefreakingdoo.

Keynote to MPEG4?

I was just iChatting with someone, and the topic of Macromedia Breeze came up. I suggested it would be cool if Keynote could do that kind of thing, and he dryly mentioned that, since it’s just XML, why couldn’t it?

So, I’m poking around, trying to see what it would take to turn a Keynote .key file into a happy standards-compliant MPEG4 .mp4 file that could be played/streamed anywhere.

Looks pretty straightforward (not trivial, though). Start with the Keynote .key APXL file, run an XSLT transformation to an MPEG4 XMT file, compile that into an MPEG4 BIFS file, and then stream it to any compliant player.

How hard could it be? I know… Probably a little harder than it seems. Anyway, I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll report back to the rest of the class when/if I have anything to share.

About Pachyderm (and reusability of learning objects)

I’ve mentioned Pachyderm a few times, and hinted at it more than that. So, what is Pachyderm, and why is it interesting?

For starters, take a look at some sample projects completed using Pachyderm 1.0.

Pachyderm is a project started by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, out of a need to create some kick-ass interactive pieces from their collection of assets (images mostly, but also audio and video). They built a tool that took what are now called learning objects, and with some input from a curator, generated a highly interactive Flash piece that was way more than just a bunch of images.

The main goal of the Pachyderm 2.0 project, as I see it (and I’m just a minor participant, mind you) is to provide some tools and techniques for teachers and students to create high-impact, interactive learning objects from a collection of “lesser learning objects” or assets.

Imagine a comparative invertebrate zoology professor who sits down to create an interactive lesson. She may have some photographs, video clips, animations, etc… as well as some additional text. This tool (Pachyderm 2.0) will let the professor collect the assets to form an interactive narrative, so the students can work through the various bits of content at their own pace, and explore and inquire as they move through it.

Or, our old friend Lora may have some photographs from a field trip, as well as some some slides and rock samples, and she can create an interactive field trip out of these assets.

The resulting interactive pieces are, in turn, learning objects that can be shared, reused, and potentially broken down and rebuilt in other contexts (or, failing that, the assets used to build Piece A could be used in a different manner to build Pieces B through Z).

We’re looking at integrating Pachyderm 2.0 into the software that runs CAREO, so that learning objects and standards-based repository technologies will help drive the process.

In the end, we’ll be able to take small learning objects in CAREO (or any other source tied into the system, such as Corbis, or any other installation of the repository software) and create rich, engaging, and inquiry-based resources which will, in turn, be fed back into the system for use by other people.

In my opinion, this is one way to break through (or at least get around) the Reusability Paradox described by David Wiley.

iSight Camera Rocks!

iSight CameraI’ve had 6 video conferences today, using iChatAV and iSight. Coolest thing ever.

When I got the iSight, I honestly didn’t think I’d actually use it – I figured “Hey, cool toy. Sure is shiny!” and assumed it would sit on a shelf somewhere.

Now, I find myself plugging in the camera right after the keyboard, mouse, and power when I get into my office in the morning. The thing Just Works. It works amazingly well. And being able to see the people you’re working with is pretty cool (as long as they remember to shower and get dressed first… ahem).

CAREO Installer Continued…

I just tested installation, configuration and operation of CAREO on an unnamed, still-in-beta operating system.

With the installer, it took me all of 5 minutes to get all the bits in place, running a new instance of CAREO and ALOHA Server.

This included copying the disk image over from my TiBook, running the installer, and hand-configuring the WebObjects app (since I haven’t gotten around to getting the installer to do that automagically yet).

Oh, and this unnamed, still-in-beta operating system is set to kick some royal ass. But you didn’t hear it from me.

Monolithic Spaghetti

Great quote from Rick Jelliffe on the xml-dev listserv (found via a pointer from Tim Bray – thanks, Tim!):

Any sufficiently monolithic technology is indistinguishable from spaghetti.

Once a large technology is made from sufficiently intertwined parts, there is no way to order an exposition of it such that strongly-connected ideas are always close together.

Spaghetti doesn’t want to be free.

The current version of the-software-that-runs-CAREO has suffered pretty severely from this spaghetti syndrome. We’re planning the next version, which is a complete rewrite, to be much more modular. Using smaller bits of functionality, hopefully nothing reaches the spaghetti critical mass.

Of course, parallels could be drawn along the lines of Linux (monolithic macrokernel) vs. Darwin (microkernel), but I’m not going to go there at the moment…

UPDATE: I just re-read the excerpted quote, and this quasi-random thought popped into my skull…. Spaghetti wants to be written. Just like the One Ring wants to be found. Only vigilance can prevent it.

Open Source vs. Open Standards

Interesting piece on on the difference between Open Source and open standards. People often get caught up with the promise of open standards, and confuse that with the purpose of Open Source.

To me, the real goal isn’t Open Source. That’s a means to an end, often enabling and facilitating adoption of open standards. The real goal is the creation, adoption, and implementation of open standards, which don’t tie anyone to any particular piece of software or data.

The example cited in the article pretty much blows my mind. In order to file for a patent in the US, you have to do it in MS Word .doc format. Which means you have to own Word. Which means, by extension, that you have to pay MS in order to file for a patent. Holy crap! Open standards for document format would prevent this silliness, where Open Source has apparently failed.