Decade of Difference

Surprisingly, my WorldTimZone personal website has been in operation for at least seventeen years. Over the past decade, various web pages on the site have been added and tweaked, but the blog has been dormant. In part that’s due to time constraints and focus elsewhere — what is a personal website all about, anyway? — but also due to technical issues.

This site began like much of the early World Wide Web as a collection of basic web pages hand-coded in HTML. In those days we simply called them “websites” and they were personal, quirky, delightful, and unique. People everywhere were creating “firsts”: these were the days where nothing was on the Web and people were creating wonderous new websites about things important and trivial.

In those early days, people tried to guide others to additions and improvements to their sites be adding “New” or “Updated” tags or special “What’s New” pages, but this felt superfluous on a Web where everything was always changing and continually being updated 1. Plus, this quickly became a maintenance burden for hand-coded pages, especially as the websites grew in scope and size.

And then came the blog (short for web-log) and turned everything upside down. I mean that almost literally: at the start, blogs primarily were about update posts linked and shown on a reverse chronological timeline page. “Newest on top”.

The other main attraction of blog software was that it took away the maintenance burden. Instead of hand-coding the HTML pages, the software would manage a database of information and dynamically build the web pages while handling all the linking and relevant updates across the website.

Like many, I was enticed by the blog and threw out my homegrown pages and incorporated blog software into my website sometime in 2001. I started with b2/cafelog and added a blog section to my site. B2 was fairly simple and was the most usable blog software that I found. I also appreciated that it was Free Software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It wasn’t until a year or so later that I realized how much this mattered.

Somewhat abruptly the creator of b2 disappeared and there was a scramble to figure out how to keep fixing and improving it. A number of groups took the b2 software and created their own versions (forks). I evaluated several and liked some of the ideas in b2evolution, but the one that most attracted me was WordPress. From the start, WordPress strongly emphasized usability. I resonated with this focus and was happy when it was the named the official successor to b2 2.

Since I’m a programmer, and because the blog software wasn’t overly complicated, I was able to mash the early version of WordPress into my site’s existing b2/cafelog software to create a wicked WordPress/b2 hybrid/variant, giving me the best of both worlds. 3 WordPress countinued development and improvements and I eventually upgraded the site to WordPress version 1.2 (more or less).

Due to transferring hosting providers, database configuration changes, and some vaguely rememebered challenge I had upgrading my WordPress variation, my blog got stuck on WordPress 1.2 and time slipped by. I’m honestly shocked that it was still working (albeit was throwing PHP warnings into the logs). The only plugin I’d been using at the time was MarkDown 1.0b4. PHP compatibility kept it mostly working and I know I rewrote some of the WordPress internals (and disabled others) to stay functional. I finallly got around to upgrading and reconfiguring the site to use the current WordPress 4.9.1. Counting all releases (regular, maintenance, and security fixes) in between, this is jump of 280 WordPress releases! If you only count the major point releases, this is 30 releases later. Either way you count it, it’s a big upgrade.

  1. In those early days websites included obligatory Under Construction notices to inform the reader that the site wasn’t “Done”. Now it is assumed. 

  2. The 60 second guide to b2/cafelog tells more about b2 and the start of WordPress. 

  3. Or so I thought. I was primarily focused on usability. I suspect that I included minor usability refinements from b2evolution as well. 

Check Your Computer for 2007 Daylight Saving Time

As you are no doubt aware, the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended daylight saving time (DST) in the U.S. by four weeks. Starting in 2007, DST begins on the second Sunday in March instead of in April and ends the first Sunday in November. Canada adopted the same rules as the U.S.

While there are a number of sites that describe how to update your computer with the revised DST rules — I used the TZEdit.exe application on some older Windows boxes as described here — I found few that tell you how to check whether or not your computer is properly updated.

Since the JavaScript date object allows access to a computer’s time zone information, it should be possible to determine whether or not a computer is properly configured just by viewing a web page. After you have updated your computer with the new DST rules, you need to restart your browser to test it.

The line below indicates whether or not your computer is set up properly:

Continuing the Journey

Look at that — a new post and a new theme. When I began work on the lamppost theme last year, I also had an idea of doing a Dawn Treader theme. It’s been frustratingly slow to develop. According to the file timestamps on my computer, it appears I first started working on it on March 31, 2006. It’s been an off-and-on process since then, mostly of five or ten minutes at a time with long gaps in between. I finally decided it was time to let it go. So, in the best “it’s good enough, but will likely be changed again soon” spirit of the web, here it is.

I enjoyed the playfulness of the animated snowflakes in the previous theme and wanted to try another animated theme. I experimented with various animations of the waves, but they all conspired to make me seasick (like Eustace) and most had prohibitively large file sizes. In the end, I’m close to the picture as it is described in the book, with just a hint that it is about to come to life—a slight ripple in the pennant at the top of the mast. I hope you enjoy it.

It was a picture of a ship—a ship sailing nearly straight towards you. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with a wide open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ship—what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended—were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it….

“The question is,” said Edmund, “whether it doesn’t make things worse, looking at a Narnian ship when you can’t get there.”

“Even looking is better than nothing,” said Lucy. “And she is such a very Narnian ship.”

“It’s a rotten picture,” said Eustace. “Why do you like it?”

“Well, for one thing,” said Lucy, “I like it because the ship looks as if it was really moving. And the water looks as if it was really wet. And the waves look as if they were really going up and down.”

Of course Eustace knew lots of answers to this, but he didn’t say anything. The reason was that at that very moment he looked at the waves and saw that they did look very much indeed as if they were going up and down….

The things in the picture were moving… Down went the prow of the ship into the wave and up went a great shock of spray. And then up went the wave behind her, and her stern and her deck became visible for the first time, and then disappeared as the next wave came to meet her and her bows went up again…. Lucy felt all her hair whipping round her face as it does on a windy day. And this was a windy day; but the wind was blowing out of the picture towards them. And suddenly with the wind came the noises—the swishing of waves and the slap of water against the ship’s sides and the creaking and the over-all high, steady roar of air and water. But it was the smell, the wild, briny smell, which really convinced Lucy that she was not dreaming.

— from The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis.

Savor the flavor

After watching and helping me scoop grounds into the basket to make my morning cup of coffee, my son exclaims “Daddy, I know how they make coffee — they get some dirt and they put it in a machine and then it comes out and it’s coffee.” I sit down and carefully explain to him how coffee is grown, picked, sorted, roasted and then ground. I grab some coffee beans and remind him that he has watched me grind them before. He runs out of the kitchen and proclaims “Mommy, it may taste like dirt but it’s really from the coffee bean.”

An Iconographer? Me? 2.0

Once again it is time for the Icon Writing Workshop. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks and have already been immersing myself in icons. Today we open with prayer and then will begin tracing the prototype.

I’m just the tiniest bit more confident than last year. At least I know what to expect. I’m excited and realize I’m very much a beginner. I spoke with master iconographer Xenia Pokrovsky a few days ago and she likened it to learning to play the piano. You don’t start out playing some complicated piece, but work up to it, learning a bit at a time. You start to memorize some of it. You have to practice the scales and chords so that playing the notes becomes part of you. Practice, practice, practice. You learn dynamics and improve your ability to flow through the piece. And someday, you know it.

I was delighted to see several prayers included in our workshop materials. Below is one that is a variation on the one that Fr. David prayed for me last year.

A Prayer Before Beginning an Icon

Oh Divine Lord of all that exists, Thou has illumined the Apostle and Evangelist Luke with Thy Holy Spirit, thereby enabling him to represent Thy most Holy Mother, the One who held Thee in her arms and said: The Grace of Him Who has been born of me is spread through the world.

Enlighten and direct my soul, my heart and my spirit. Guide the hands of Thine unworthy servant Timothy so that I may worthily and perfectly portray Thine Icon, that of Thy Mother, and all the Saints, for the glory, joy and adornment of Thy Holy Church.

Forgive my sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons and who, kneeling devoutly before them, give homage to those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel. This I ask through the intervention of Thy most Holy Mother, the Apostle Luke, and all the Saints. AMEN.

Open Source Your Library

I was recently looking at Jon Udell’s library lookup bookmarklet generator and trying it with some local libraries. This got me thinking about web-based library catalogs: it is frustrating that there are so many different systems with widely varying capabilities and that the local Kinlaw library’s system apparently does not allow ISBN lookup. (If somebody can figure this out, I’d love to hear about it.)

Aside: In “Nobody expects the spontaneous integration” Jon notes how easy it can be to connect two websites and thereby create new and better services, and yet people don’t expect that nor do they design to make it easy. Having worked with bookmarklets for many of years, I know how painful it can be to create useful integrations. Thankfully, this is changing. For example, it is amazing to see the ways people are inserting new data into Google Maps, despite Google doing little to provide for this initially. Housing Maps combines Google Maps and housing information from Craigs List to make it easier to find a place to rent. Chicago Crime displays information about reported crime in Chicago on a map.

What if libraries designed their systems for integration with other web services? Do the many different systems provide a great benefit? Or is that wasted duplicate effort? It seems that a library catalog system would be a logical open source project. I mean, how hard could it be? All you’d need is a fairly simple database and web app. Then I started researching it and it seems it might be a little more complicated than I first suspected.

The OSS for Libraries site provides a wealth of information about open source projects related to libraries. From there I was delighted to find several fairly mature open source projects for full fledged library systems. I was primarily interested in what I believe are called OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs) but discovered that many of these systems also provide Circulation Desk features and various reporting capabilities.

  • I found Koha first and it seemed the most impressive. It was developed in New Zealand and is in use by a number of large libraries with multiple branches. It certainly would benefit from some user interface work, but that’s a typical problem for open source projects (and library OPAC systems in general if you ask me). I believe it uses Linux, MySql, and Perl. It is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

  • OpenBiblio was also impressive and offers similar features. It uses PHP and MySql. It is available under the GPL.

  • PHPMyLibrary seems a bit behind the other projects, but has a clear roadmap for improvements. From what I gather, MARC format is the standard for library interchange and it is working to improve its support for the format. I didn’t play with this one as much.

  • Finally, the PHPMyLibrary site pointed me to the Emilda project. I found this one somewhat clunky to use, because it seems to emphasize somewhat inscrutable graphics in the interface. It was developed in Finland and is in use by several school libraries there. It was recently open sourced under the GPL.

My love for libraries started at a young age. I’m increasingly fascinated by libraries and the activities involved with organizing the collections, managing the circulation, and preserving rare works. I think it would be fun to work on converting a library that is using a commercial system to an open source project. It would also be fun to help with improving these systems. Using and improving open source projects seems an obvious way for libraries to cut costs while potentially providing better services.

To think that I started this research because I simply wanted to be able to find out if a book was available in a local library. Of course better than finding out that a local library has the book would be for the book to be available online. I’ve been happy to see more libraries making their rare collections available online. This improves access as well as protecting and preserving. It would be nice if this could be done for more libraries’ collections. Given that many works just sit on the shelves, it would be terrific to find a way to virtually check them out from anywhere in the world.

Book Meme

I see Basil will do about anything to entice me to blog again, even infecting me with a meme. Apparently it worked.

  1. Total number of books I’ve owned

    I have absolutely no idea. If I counted the books I purchased for college alone, it is a sizable number. A rough extrapolation of the books on the shelves in my office is around 400. I’m sure I could double that with the books that are around the rest of the house. And I’ve got a whole slew of books that are still at my parents’. Perhaps a better answer is “enough for a small library”, although it would be a somewhat limited library of mostly user interaction design/computer programming, orthodox theology, and science fiction books.

  2. Last book I bought

    I think the last book I purchased was from our church bookstore, which is somewhat surprising as I buy many books online. I think it was either The Soul, the Body and Death by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo or Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers by Mark Gruber. I gave both books to BrBourbon. The last book I purchased for myself was also The Soul, the Body and Death. It was so good I figured BrBourbon needed a copy. The next book I purchase is likely to be DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM by Stuart Langridge. Ignoring the silly title, this looks to be a terrific book about using JavaScript in modern web design.

  3. Last book I read

    I just reread The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams in preparation for the movie, but that doesn’t really count since I’ve read it several times before. Before that I think the last book I completed was Playing with Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale by Sam Posey, a fabulous book and yet another perfect gift from my sister. She says she didn’t know it was on my wish list and just thought of me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to any model railroaders, armchair or otherwise. I also recently finished Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American an autobiography by Jean-Robert Cadet. Provided insight into the Haitian culture and was somewhat disturbing. I speed read most of Journey Back to Eden before giving it away. At times very beautiful, it provided a look at the Copts through Western eyes.

    Technically, the last book I read, I read aloud to the kids. We’ve been reading the books in the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The last one we finished was By the Shores of Silver Lake. We’re working on The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle now.

    As is normal for me, I’m currently reading several books. Here’s the main ones:

    • The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness by Virginia Postrel — Has application to my computer work and makes me consider how the aesthetics of Orthodox worship impact me. Hopefully I will write more about this in the future.
    • The Soul, the Body and Death by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo — Very good. It’s taking me a long time to get through this one because it is so rich.
    • Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father translated by Vera Bouteneff — I just realized I haven’t read the Spiritual Father section.
  4. Five books that mean a lot to me

    1. The Bible
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis — I couldn’t pick just one, but if I had to it would probably be The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or The Silver Chair, or The Last Battle, or… never mind.
    3. Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective by Daniel Clendenin and The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware — Combined these books started me on a journey into the Eastern Orthodox Church.
    4. About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design by Alan Cooper
    5. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène Du Bois
  5. People I will infect with this meme

    BrBourbon, Moose and Chris.

I’d suggest that a better Book Meme would include the last book you received as a gift and the last book you gave as a gift. It appears I answered those as well.

Pressing on

For those of you keeping score at home, I’ve (finally!) switched over to using WordPress 1.2 for my blog. I had previously been using an ancient and heavily revised version of b2, the precursor to WordPress. The transition was more painful than I anticipated, especially since the WordPress installation docs indicate that b2 should import just fine. Oh well, it’s done now.

I tried to be really careful, so hopefully you haven’t noticed any major changes around here. In fact, that was my design goal: make it work and look just like the old version.

The site now uses CSS for layout, with a gaggle of hacks to fix the less capable browsers. If you’re using an old and broken browser like Netscape 4—you really should get Mozilla or Firefox—you’ll now get just basic styling, which should be much better than all that crashing. Using a two column table for layout was cake compared to this. If Douglas Bowman hadn’t provided his Liquid Bleach I don’t think I’d have attempted it. Many thanks, Doug!

Let me know if you see anything that’s broken.

Microsoft pays Lindows $20 Million

Microsoft and Lindows have settled their trademark dispute. According to the settlement, and a change that was already in progress due to international lawsuits, Lindows will transition to the name Linspire and cease using the Lindows trademark. Microsoft will pay Lindows $20 million.

Linspire sells “a full-featured operating system … that offers you the power, stability and cost-savings of Linux with the ease of a windows environment,” according to their website. The more companies that are working to enhance the usability of the Linux desktop the better in my book. I’m wishing the best to Linspire with their new name. I hope it does well.

Holocaust survivors hid in caves

National Geographic Adventure magazine features an amazing story about a group of Ukrainian Jews that survived for a year and a half underground. Living in a cave for any length of time is dangerous due to the risk of hypothermia, air and water contamination, malnutrition, and of course getting lost in the dark. It’s surprising how the families handled it and adapted to it. The Ukrainian American Youth Caver Exchange Foundation also has pictures of the cave, called Priest’s Grotto, that was their home for the majority of the time.

Can you imagine living in darkness for almost a year?

They had few candles, so light was limited to three short periods each day. After enough time spent wandering in the dark, they memorized the feel of the cave floor on their bare feet. It was like directions in braille.