The Illustrated Stephenson

Credit goes out to Aron for ferreting this one out. He’s been on a bit of a Flickr kick recently and happened across a Flickr group that is seeking to photographically document the real-world locations described in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (i.e. Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World). Thus far, it looks as if they just have portions of England covered – I’m quite looking forward to the shots that will come from Mexico City, the Phillipines, the Japanese coast, India and the Barbary Coast.

Using To Get My Browser Life In Order

Hi, my name is Doug, and I’m a tab-a-holic. I have a severe problem: I open stories in my Firefox tabs, usually from one of the RSS feeds I subscribe to, never fully read the stories and then leave the tabs open with the intention to one day read those stories. The only problem is that I rarely ever get around to reading those stories. This means that my browsing sessions get ridiculously large and consume massive amounts of memory.
Well, I’ve had enough. No more shall I be a slave to my tabs. Instead, I have installed the bookmarklet and have begun posting all those links to my feed. If you’d like to follow my vast and varied travels around the Intarweb, feel free to click that link.
Hopefully I’ll kick my habit.
UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know it – the moment I post this story, goes AWOL. Wait a bit if you can’t reach it – I’m sure it’ll come back sometime soon.

Feed The Burn

I started blogging back in 2001 primarily as a hobby and have continued doing so to this day. At times, I’ve considered adding ads to the site in order to try to recoup some of the costs associated with hosting fees, domain registrations, etc., but in the end have decided against it. While I primarily blog as an outlet for my writing instincts, I have often wondered who, exactly, is reading the wonderful flowing prose piffle I call “content”. I initially joined The Truth Laid Bear’s Blogosphere Ecosystem (and Sitemeter in order to meet the Ecosystem’s requirements) to see just how many people were linking to my site (answer: not very many). However, I felt as if I was getting an incomplete picture of my “typical” reader, so in the interests of finding out just such information, I’ve installed a couple of useful WordPress plugins in order to get a better handle on who exactly is accessing my site.
First off is this Google Analytics plugin which painlessly inserts the Javascript necessary to track visitor hits into my pages’ headers. Why did I join with Google’s stats program if I already had Sitemeter serving that function? Simple: Analytics provides a far more detailed breakdown of my traffic patterns than Sitemeter does, at least without my having to pay. I’ve left the SM stuff in place so that my Ecosystem rank doesn’t get affected, but for the most part, I’m going to be counting on Analytics to help me understand where my readers are coming from.
Feedburner logo
The second plugin is Ordered List’s Feedburner plugin, which allows me to seamlessly redirect all of my feed hits to my unified Feedburner feed. While Analytics tracks all hits made to my site via web browsers, it can’t track all the hits I receive on my feeds, nor can Sitemeter. Both rely upon Javascript to send stats back to their respective motherships and feed readers can’t be reliably depended upon to interpret/execute JS successfully, so I turned to Feedburner to help me get a better handle on my feed stats. The stats I get back aren’t as detailed as the GA or SM stats (no IP addresses or referrers, for instance), but they do give me overall readership numbers and an idea of the various feed reading tools that people are using to access my content. Additionally, whereas in the past, I had to maintain up to four separate feeds, the new Feedburner feed is a unified “intelligent” one, meaning that a web browser, an Atom-, RDF-, or RSS2-compliant reader or even a WAP browser can all hit a single URL and be served up information in a format that’s accessible from their platform, with no worries on my part.
I’ve tried running my own stats packages in the past – BAStats, StatTraq and WP-Stats, as well as all manner of Apache log parsers and, when it comes right down to it, the WP plugins slowed down my site and I was sick of walking through logs myself, so I’ve been more than happy to hand that off to someone else. Sure, I lose some granularity in stats, but I’m willing to do so in order to spare myself some headaches.
So what does this mean for you, good readers? Well, if you visit this site with a web browser, nothing. The site will remain the same to your eyes. To those of you hitting here via feed readers, you will notice the addition of email, and Technorati links to the bottom of each feed entry. Other than that, precious little will change.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Testing Vanilla

Vanilla preview
There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Vanilla lately, including Michael Heilman moving his forums over to the Vanilla platform.
What is Vanilla? In short, it’s an Open Source forum framework that seeks to reenvision the forum/bulletin board concept. It has a lot of nifty AJAX effects and an extremely streamlined CSS-based design. It really seems to be a simpler take on forums and seems to be trying to match up to users’ workflows.
I decided to give it a whirl and grabbed the latest copy from the Lussumo svn server. After initially pulling my hair out in my attempts to configure the thing, I’ve finally got it working (as you can plainly see). I’m not sure if my site is big enough to require a forum, but I’ve started this as more of an experiment than anything.
All in all, Vanilla seems like a pretty cool app and a nifty take on forum software in general. I’ll post more as I find out more.
Tangential note: The Lussumo team also developed the excellently simplistic File Browser, which is well worth a look for those seeking a simple gallery program.

Ajaxian Gets A Redesign

To commemorate the advent of 2006, Ajaxian, your one-stop shop for all things AJAX has launched a new look. In addition, they’ve also made the excellent choice to move from Movable Type to WordPress. It’s quite spiffy and a marked improvement on their old design, so head on over and give it a gander.
Good on ya, fellas.
UPDATE: Idiotic grammar error in the post title corrected. Gah.

WordPress 2.0, Feed Icons And The Rise Of WordPress “Theme Engines”

The “Duke” Is Back In Town

WordPress version 2.0 (“Duke”) was officially released this week with very little initial fanfare, although the main WP site was given a complete facelift to mark the occasion. You can grab the 2.0 release on the download page. Be warned, however, that there have been a lot of complaints from users over on the discussion lists (and other places as well) about bugs cropping up in this new version; it is a .0 release, so there will probably be quite a few of those bugs to stamp out as it gets deployed widely. This main site is still running the older 1.5.2 codebase, while I’ve “secretly” had Brad, AndyOne and Andy II running on the 2.0 alpha/beta code ever since their sites’ inceptions. I’ll be moving LB to the 2.0 codebase very soon, probably this weekend some time, so expect some downtime. I was waiting on a few of the plugins that I use on a regular basis to release 2.0-compatible versions; most of them have done so at this point so I feel relatively comfortable in making the jump.

WordPress 2.0 – A Boon To Theme And “Framework” Authors

The vast majority of the work put into WP 2.0 was behind-the-scenes, “architecture”-type stuff, with precious few differences that will be visible to the end users. There has been a good deal of effort put into the editing interface and the administrative side of things, with a lot of AJAX and AJAX-ish touches being added in order to streamline the content authoring process. Owen Winkler has a rather comprehensive list of the major changes, although the one of particular interest to me is the implementation of functions.php. Basically, the new WP architecture allows any theme author to include a functions.php file along with their theme. Any code contained in that file is executed along with the other WordPress hooks whenever someone views the site, meaning that theme authors can begin to provide more than just looks with their themes – they can start including other functionality as well. functions.php, if included in a theme, is treated as an automatic plugin, basically, so now themes can easily create their own admin/options interfaces, include other plugins and in general act like more than just a pretty face on top of the WordPress engine.
Several teams of enterprising developers had begun creating “theme engines” or “frameworks” based on the WP 1.5.x code tree prior to the release of WP 2.0. These engines were more than simply themes; they included default hooks for some common and not-so-common plugins, as well as theme option pages and a host of ways to customize the look and feel of the themes without actually touching any of the theme files themselves. There are four fairly prominent frameworks that I have come across, three of which have released 2.0-compatible versions. The three are Regulus 2.0, Kiwi and K2, which currently powers this site. Squible also makes the list, although it is still listed as an “alpha” release and has not yet released a fully 2.0-compliant version. Each of these themes offers quite a bit of customizability, with Regulus probably being the easiest to configure and Kiwi being the most feature-rich. I, personally, will be moving to the latest K2 when I convert the site over to WP 2.0, so you will in all likelihood notice some small changes in the look and feel of LB.

A Unified Feed Icon

Last of all, Microsoft has announced that they will incorporate the RSS feed icon established by the Firefox team into Internet Explorer 7, meaning that the icon has become the defacto standard. No more will large orange XML boxes assault readers’ eyes; instead, peaceful icons color-matched to a site’s color scheme will welcome new viewers. You can see the current state of the icon on The newest K2 appears to integrate said icons, so you will soon be seeing them here as well.

Unfairly Criticizing Firefox

Let me start off by saying that I’m a big fan of Jeff Harrell’s work. I read a lot of bloggers on a daily basis and, while many are interesting, I find that I rarely anticipate further entries from anyone other than Jeff H. and Jeff Goldstein. Both share wry senses of humor, propensities to wander into the profane end of the linguistic spectrum and distinctly libertarian ethos. Neither is above using quite a bit of hyperbole for effect, should the situation warrant it.
While I enjoy the work of both bloggers immensely, I also find myself disagreeing with them on occasion; Goldstein is against the criminalization of marijuana, for instance, while I think that Harrell and I disagree on a few cultural issues. However, over the weekend, Jeff H. went and raised all my Open Source Geek hackles by gratuitously slamming Firefox. He starts out thusly:

Among all my Web stuff lately, I’ve been forced through cruel circumstance to download and occasionally use a Web browser called Firefox.

He then links to a post by the enigmatic “M.e.”, claiming that it says just about all that needs be said.
Harrell, continuing:

The interesting thing about Firefox, to me, is that so many people think it’s good. There’s only one explanation for something like that, you know? I mean, we’re not talking about personal taste here. We’re not talking about Coke versus Pepsi or blondes versus brunettes. We’re talking about something that’s objectively, demonstrably bad that lots of people think is good. There’s only one explanation for that: context. People think Firefox is good because it’s better than anything they’ve ever seen. Which is, you know, really very sad if you think about it.

Since Jeff’s piece contains no actual critiques of Firefox, I’ve only the text of the other article to use to interpret Jeff’s gripes with the program. Near as I can tell, he’s all hot and bothered because Firefox doesn’t hew to the Macintosh HIG, that is to say, he’s getting all Mac bigoted on us Firefox users. I really think Jeff is missing the point.
As one of M.e.’s commenters points out, Firefox isn’t designed to hew to any HIG other than its own, it’s meant to be a cross-platform browser above all else. The Firefox team is seeking to provide a consistent user interface regardless of your OS, be you a Mac, Windows, Linux, Solaris or Other user. They’re trying to create the Java of browsers. [And that’s a good thing? -ed. Quiet, you!] If I hit Google Maps, I should see the same interface regardless of my OS of choice, at least inasmuch as the Firefox project is concerned.
Jeff, however, appears to be willfully misunderstanding this and unfairly maligning Firefox in the process. If he’s really concerned with Mac HIG constraints but simply must have the Gecko rendering engine (the engine common to Firefox, Mozilla and a host of other browsers), then he’s free to use Camino or, to a lesser extent, Flock. Maybe he’s just trying to convince other Mac users of the wonders of Safari, but must he slag on Firefox in the process? He’s taken M.e.’s original point (“Come with me; wont you, as I describe in detail the intricacies that make the best browser for Windows, one of the worst browsers for the Mac.”) and expanded it out to all platforms, or so it would seem.
So Jeff, here’s my challenge: what, precisely, is “objectively, demonstrably bad” about Firefox? Please define it, or clarify your original statement and not just for Mac users. What about the flipside? Does the fact that Safari can’t handle Javascript in many situations where Firefox shines make it (Safari) “objectively, demonstrably bad”? How about the relatively closed plugin environment that has developed around Safari? Is that bad? Why should I have to pay for PithHelmet (or be nagged to death) when AdBlock Plus does the same thing, and better, on Firefox?

Link Ratings, An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Sean Gleeson has asked for commentary (or put out an RFC, in geek terms) on a potential system of icons that could be employed to indicate the actual content of NSFW links. So far he has “Offensicons” for nudity, sex, profanity, general yuckiness and other.
It’s actually a pretty good idea and the icons themselves are pretty hilarious. I await the first WordPress plugin to take advantage of these Offensicons.