lazyweb: macbook or macbook pro for aperture use?

I mean, of course, if money is no object, get the most pimp-daddiest MacBook Pro with gills of RAM and stuff. But… Will the new solid aluminum case MacBooks do the trick? (and, yeah, if money truly was no object, I KNOW I’d rather get a fully maxed out Mac Pro with dual 30″ displays and terabytes of storage…)

I need to replace my antique home system, and need something that can run Aperture well (not necessarily pro speed, but well enough that I don’t want to throw the fracking thing across the room while waiting for it to catch up…). I’d initially planned on getting a 20″ iMac, but think it’ll be better to maintain mobility.

So… Will the new MacBook do the job for running Aperture (and other stuff). Just day-to-day use, and daily workouts in Aperture. Is the MacBook Pro really worth the roughly extra $1000$600 for a little more screen real estate and a real video card?


what should I read while offline?

Old Books 2I’m dropping offline soon for a couple of weeks on a family vacation. I’m bringing a book or two, but want to stuff some blog posts and articles that I’ve probably neglected onto my iPod for more in-depth reading. I’m planning on using Instapaper to bring offline copies of stuff so I can read it anywhere.

What should I bring? What is the most important article or post that you’d recommend for offline reading? Doesn’t have to be related to education, or technology, or anything in particular.

What would you bring?

how to list comments by users in WordPress?

I’ve got a prof using a WordPress site to manage some really active discussions in his course. He’d really like to be able to list all comments posted by each user, as part of the assessment rubric for the course.

I’ve found LOTS of “recent comments” and “popular posts” plugins, and some requests for similar “list all comments for a given user” functionality, but haven’t been able to find anything that fits the bill.

Ideally, the solution would list all contributors to a blog (everyone with accounts), with links to a page (or pages) that lists all of their posts, their pages, and comments.

Any suggestions? Do I get to write another plugin?

on context and identity

I had a discussion with King Chung Huang and Paul Pival this morning, about one of King’s current research projects. He’s working on the topic of context and identity – what it would mean from both institutional and individual perspectives, if our digital identities and contexts were pulled out of the silos of Blackboard, email, and other isolated and closed systems. What would it mean if every person, group, and place has a URL, which is aware of contexts (institutional, academic, geographical, temporal, etc…) and is also able to gather and provide lists of relevant resources.

A Person would have what is essentially a profile (name, role, contact info, interests, courses, websites, etc…), a Group would describe its type (department, faculty, course, session, club, etc…) as well as lists of relevant bits of info (uses a wiki, has a Blackboard course, meets at this location at this time, has these members, etc…). And Places would describe physical locations, knowing which resources are available, where they are, which Persons and Groups are interested in the Place, as well as scheduling information, etc… (hmm… do we need a fourth primitive type of Time?)

At first blush, it felt like a “portal” problem. Set up a personal Pageflakes or Netvibes page, dropping in some relevant widgets and links. Everyone can customize their own page, and a directory could be created to help discover people, groups, and places.

But that approach loses any real meaning of the contexts. It’s just a dumb content display utility, without being aware of the meaning of the contexts of the content, or of the relationships between people, groups and places.

We talked for awhile, and came to the realization that there is a missing fundamental concept. One that describes the identity and context, and ties the relevant bits of salient info together in a way that can then be used to build novel applications.

Currently, a prof sets up a Blackboard course. They add content to the course. They add Links to various bits. But none of this stuff really knows the context – just that it’s some text that’s been pasted into a container within Blackboard. A prof could spend a lot of time and effort building up a course site in Blackboard, only to kill it at the end of the semester. (sure, it could be cloned, but again that’s context-unaware).

What if the course was just a Group, set up with its own identity and context, and aware of various bits of information. Is Called Mythical Course 301. Has Course ID of MYTHCRSE301. Has Professor… Has TAs… Has Blackboard Course… Uses Wiki at… Podcasts available at… Meets MWF 1000-1050 at ST148…

The idea that Paul came up with is that this is related to the mythical EduGlu concept, but as a necessary first step that is currently missing. Right now, there would be much manual labour to set up an EduGlu service to aggregate activity that happens as part of the practice of teaching and learning. What if we could take advantage of the contexts of Person, Group, and Place to automate that process? We could pull sets of RSS feeds into the aggregator, apply some processing, and export different formats for use in different contexts. Map views. Calendar views. Timeline views. Analysis of individual and group contributions. Interaction analysis. etc…

But, is there some tool, application or platform that is currently able to handle this abstracted concept of context – of Person, Group and Place – that can be used to create a flexible *cough*portal*ahem* to manage and display the torrents of centralized and decentralized information?

Network vs. Machine

Cole wrote a post about how his Twitter network helped him solve a problem. His blog suddenly decided to stop accepting comments, and he wasn’t sure how that happened, or how to fix it. I was just going to post this as a comment on his blog, but, well, it’s still not accepting comments 😉 (and I apologize if this post comes across as snarky – not intended to – it’s just a pre-caffeinated response to a blog, first thing in the morning…)

Posting a question to the Network via Twitter etc. is great, and it really IS impressive that people provide answers so quickly. But one thing that I wonder about is the reliance on other people rather than our own referencing and querying skills. I’m probably more guilty of this than anyone I know – heck, I have a whole tag of “lazyweb” posts here on my blog.

What I find puzzling, and I’m not meaning to pick on Cole here, is that the same answers to the same question could have been found in less than 5 seconds with a properly worded Google query. Like this, for instance:

Google Query for wordpress enable comments on all posts
Google Query for wordpress enable comments on all posts

The trick is to know roughly what you’re looking for. Key words like “enable comments” might not just roll off the fingertips of everyone with the problem. But variations might work as well.

I’m really NOT trying to discount the power of the Network in pooling resources and brains, but we also need to remember that we have tools at our own fingertips to help enlist the huge databases of the Machine to help find information to solve problems independently.

Web-based student response systems (ala clicker?)

I’ve been looking for something to fill this need for awhile now, but haven’t found a decent solution.

We’ve got students coming to class with web-enabled devices (laptops, iPod Touch, iPhone, smart phones, etc…) and it makes sense to take advantage of this stuff wherever possible. Instead of making students buy and lug around yet another piece of gear, I’m looking for an effective way to provide assessment and response functionality via a web browser.

I don’t care if it’s a custom app that needs to be installed on a server, or a third party thingamawacky. Just that it’s accessible by a browser, and can be used in the context of a class (so, One Big Shared App would need to have rooms or classes or something to help organize the communication). The web interface for the student responses needs to be lightweight – no java, no flash – so that it can run anywhere (or as close to anywhere as is physically possible) and must be easy to use.

Ideally, the web app should do handy things like collecting stats from responses, charting the breakdown of the responses, letting people ask questions to be answered by the class, etc… It should be displayable on The Big Screen from a computer so the class can see the results in a presentation format. Bonus points for storing the responses for later use as well, and providing a downloadable dump of the data for crunching if needed.

Has anyone found anything that serves this purpose?

complex hierarchical taxonomies in drupal?

I’ve been struggling with this problem for some time now, and am a bit stumped. Bits of it are trivial to solve, but when I start hooking things up, there’s a pretty big gap and disconnect.

On the surface, it’s a simple problem. I’m using Drupal, and am building a website to store things like profiles for individuals. That’s easy. I need to add lists of the degrees they’ve been awarded. Like this:

D’Arcy Norman

  • Bachelor’s of Science, 1992 (University of Calgary)
  • Bachelor’s of Education, 1994 (University of Calgary)

Sounds easy. Could just be a CCK content type, with a text field that allows multiple values. Enter whatever text you want.


I also need for the site to be organized such that I can list everyone who’s earned a BSc in Zoology from UCalgary, or everyone that’s earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1992, or just people who have earned a BEd from UBC in 1998. Or potentially any combination or permutation.

So, simple text fields don’t cut it. They solve the display problem but not the data modeling and querying problems.

Taxonomies seem like the natural way to store the data – I can set up a Taxonomy vocabulary to represent the full hierarchical structure that is needed.

The problem with a hierarchical taxonomy is that I can’t seem to get it to actually display the hierarchy, with the full lineage shown. On the node display page, I get something like this by default:

First, that shows all terms from all vocabularies. In this case, “calgary” and “ucalgary” are from the Tags vocabulary, and “Bachelors” “Education” and “Science” are all from the Degrees vocabulary. Except they’re all munged together. And the hierarchy is completely gone.

With a bit of custom code, I can separate the vocabularies, like this:

Getting closer. But the hierarchy is still gone. I can’t get it to show something like:


  • Bachelors > Science
  • Bachelors > Education

The specifications call for the end result to look similar to this:

And there’s perhaps an even bigger problem – I can’t associate a year or institution with the degree. Under this strategy, there is no easy way to say Bachelors > Science (University of Calgary, 1992) and have the data be stored in such a way as to be properly searchable and meaningful as opposed to be essentially for display purposes only.

The other thing I’m hitting my head against is the need to keep data entry as simple as possible. Some really nicely designed forms have been sketched out with ease of use as the primary concern. But they’re going to be pretty darned difficult to implement in Drupal without writing custom modules. If ease of use wasn’t such a big concern, I could probably just use text fields for display so I could enter whatever text I wanted to represent the degrees, and have a set of Taxonomy vocabularies to be used to represent the data for querying and filtering. But that’s redundant data entry, and would be very confusing to anyone actually entering the data.

One other idea I had was to model institutions and degrees as nodes (using a custom content type) and use the node relation CCK field to tie it together. That could work, and we’ve used that technique on other projects (like the Great Teachers website) but I’m not sure that’s the best angle to take in this case.

Any Drupalistas out there with some ideas on how to properly represent multiple bits of hierarchical data to store and display things like sets of degrees granted in given years by given institutions?

why I love my Network

I’m firmly in the @injenuity “The Network is People” camp. And I freaking LOVE my network.

I’ve been experiencing an annoying glitch on my MacBook Pro since upgrading to MacOSX 10.5 – nothing serious, but occasionally it’d bug me. What happened was, if I opened a Finder window to /Users – it would show every user’s home directory except mine. I mean, I know it’s there, because all of my files are there. And if I used Terminal or remote SSH login, the directory was certainly there, as were all of my files. If I used Finder’s Go to Folder command (Command + Shift + G) I could enter “/Users/dnorman” and all was well.

But it was annoying.

Every once in awhile, I’d try to debug. I’d use Terminal and navigate to /Users. I’d run ls -l and I’d see this:

$ ls -l
total 0
drwxrwxrwt   7 root     wheel     238 23 Mar 15:17 Shared
drwxr-xr-x  13 demo     demo      442 14 May  2006 demo
drwxr-xr-x@ 47 dnorman  dnorman  1598 31 Mar 18:12 dnorman

The other user directories had either a + or no symbol after the file mode section. My directory had a @. WTF. I’ve tried looking through man. man ls. man chmod. Couldn’t find any mention of @. Try googling for @. Not helpful. This is where the gaping holes in my *NIX geekery are exposed. I was completely stumped.

Finally, I decide to try checking with the LazyWeb. I posted a tweet to roughly describe the problem – as best I could in the 140 character limit – and…

Waited 3 minutes before @thepatrick responded with a hint, and another one.

So, a few seconds later, I was running a new (to me) command via the command shell, finding out about xattr to list extended attributes about files.

$ xattr -l /Users/dnorman
0000   00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 40 00 00 00 00 00 00 00    ........@.......
0010   00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00    ................

Bingo. There’s some funky bit set. So, how to nuke it. I ran man xattr and found it has a -d flag, which is used to delete attributes by name. So I ran this:

$ xattr -d /Users/dnorman


My home directory now properly shows up in Finder. Everything’s hunky dory.

The power of my Network, harnessed with a simple LazyWeb plea, solved in 3 minutes what I’d struggled for 5 months to solve on my own.

I love my Network. It’s the people.

Thanks, Patrick. I owe you a $beverage.

What videos would you show faculty?

I’m going to be showing some videos to faculty members who have participated in our Inquiry Through Blended Learning program. I get 20-30 minutes, during a wrap-up lunch on Friday. But I’m stumped. I could easily just show a TED talk (or two, if edited for time) but… what you YOU show, considering the audience is made up of faculty members from a wide range of disciplines, but are brought together by a common interest in inquiry and blended learning?

I was initially just going to remix/edit the Canadian eLearning 2007 Video Party but that’s almost a year old. Surely something more recent could be dropped in. Any ideas?

MooseCamp – WordPress and Your Problems Followup

During the MooseCamp session “WordPress and your problems” I promised to look into a few items that we were discussing, and report back to the group. I’ve finally made some time to dig around, and here’s the goods.

Nancy White asked some questions about tweaking her WordPress site, and they were all things that sounded really good, but that I didn’t know how to implement.

  1. Automatically tagging new posts on the WordPress site on – not sucking tags into WordPress, or listing latest sites tagged, but automatically bookmarking each new post (with categories and tags applied as in the WP post) in a way similar to the Twitter Tools plugin’s broadcasting of new posts. I haven’t found any way to do this, but am still looking.
  2. Hierarchical menu display – how to have expandable/collapsible menus within the WordPress site?
  3. Use as a source of tag autocompletion within WordPress? The idea is that there should be a canonical set of tags that a person can use for all of their tagging – blog, flickr, – and that it would be great if WordPress could use a person’s tags as the source for an autocompletion while tagging new blog posts within WordPress. I haven’t found anything that does this, but know a BUNCH of people would be smiling if something could be found.
  4. How to add a link to an external website as part of the main page menu structure? it’s possible to hack a theme to add links this way, but not in the middle of the menu. I’ve found the WordPress Menubar Plugin, which looks close, but am still wondering if there’s a more mainstream way to do this.