A long overdue pointer

I found Alex Barnett’s weblog via Scoble tonight. Alex is the “online customer experience manager” for Microsoft’s UK website. I’ve been on half a dozen email threads with him regarding my past job as product manager for an internal tool that measured online campaign response for Microsoft.com. Now it seems he’s a kindred spirit in another way. And there are some things we should probably talk about.

North Carolina speechisms

Ed Cone: Bless His Heart, or How to Speak Like a Native. The political blogger hits some high points of North Carolina dialect, though I will say that “hey” as a greeting is not isolated to North Carolina—I remember it widespread in Virginia (southeastern, Charlottesville and Northern) and it’s equally pervasive in Redmond, Washington. I do have to give him points for calling out other regionalisms, including “people” for family, “tea” meaning sweet iced tea, “might could” as previously discussed here, “like to,” and of course “bless his heart.” And my wife still makes fun of me when I tell her to “mash down on” a button on the remote, meaning to hold it longer than a quick press.

Courtesy Doc Searls.

Coming back on line

It’s a crazy few days—a full day offsite on Friday that was bookended by some frantic product plan production. I’m back now and should be able to blog uninterrupted for at least a few days. Then we go to Boston on Wednesday to stay with Charlie and Carie through Sunday.

The offsite, incidentally, had some cool stuff. It was at the Blue Ribbon Cooking School, where they showed my new work team how to make paella (and supervised us as we actually cooked it). Among the things I learned: both my boss and his boss are big Wim Wenders fans, and both think, along with me, that Until the End of the World was one of his best films.

Bill Gates: blogging and RSS “very interesting phenomenon”

Microsoft Watch published notes on a speech Bill Gates (my überboss) gave to the Microsoft CEO Summit. In the speech, which was webcast externally, he talked about technology empowering individual users, and highlighted weblogs and RSS:

Gates called blogging and the RSS Web content syndication service a “very interesting phenomenon.” He suggested that by using RSS as notification system, customers can “get the information you want when you want it.”

Sounds like a positioning statement to me.

Manila 9.0.1 now available; cosmos links supported

Manila 9.0.1 has been released. While ostensibly a bug fix release, it adds some cool new features that I’m looking forward to playing with.

One feature is particularly cool because I asked for it sideways smiley. The new encodedPermalinkURL macro for news item templates enables constructing Technorati Cosmos links like the ones on Boing Boing. Kudos to the UserLand team for being responsive. (Incidentally, asking for new features on one’s blog is less productive than asking for them on the manila-dev mailing list.)

Update: Well, my site now has Cosmos links for every post, but now the query into Technorati seems to return a bunch of garbage. Oh well. One step forward…

RSS to Outlook

LockerGnome: RSS to Outlook. Neat tool, potentially, for bringing RSS data about events, meetings, or what have you into your Outlook calendar where it belongs.

I remember someone doing the reverse case (bringing RSS feeds into iCal) when Apple’s iCal came out. What I wondered at the time was when someone would actually start exposing useful date feeds that people could consume this way. It looks like there’s been a lot of discussion since then, but no killer app. Anyone have a good answer?

RIP, Robert Kellogg

Robert Kellogg, former chair of the UVA English Department, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and first principal of Monroe Hill Residential College (later Brown College) died on January 3, 2004. I didn’t learn about it until today, thanks to the Alumni Magazine.

To me, he will always be the teacher who inspired in me a passion for the English language, its history, vocabulary, and usage.I took a course in the History of the English Language my third year from Professor Kellogg. The course, which covered semiotics, phonetics, basic linguistic theory, Old, Middle, and Modern English, resulted in my first paper on the Internet when I wrote about some of the words and expressions I observed people using in Usenet and IRC. (Portions of the essay, including Professor Kellogg’s introduction to its publication in a UVA undergrad journal and the glossary, by far the most useful portions of the text, are somewhat foolishly reproduced on this site.) I went on to take two semesters of Old English, including reading Beowulf in the original, and to become a passionate student of the language (though my impoverished writing on this blog may not always reflect that).

In 1999, at my five year reunion, I tried to see Professor Kellogg, to tell him how grateful I was to have had him as a professor. I didn’t realize that he had retired already by then, though he might have been teaching in his beloved Iceland. I never got in contact with him again, so I will have to settle for thanking him here.

RIP, Elvin Jones

Reuters: Elvin Jones of the John Coltrane Quartet Dies. While not a surprise (he played his last gig a week or two ago with an oxygen tank on stage), this is still sad news. For years Elvin was one of the most vital forces in jazz, and his powerfully propulsive drum style was a foundation for the John Coltrane Quartet’s sound—and for his own solo career.

I saw Elvin play in a small theater at the University of Virginia on February 19, 1993, at Virginia’s late lamented JazzFest (alas, this is the only web evidence I can find for the shows). I didn’t try to write down my impressions at the time, but I remember thinking that in a festival that was dedicated to Coltrane and swimming in jazz giants, he easily stole the show (and stole the set from Ravi Coltrane, the late saxophone giant’s son, who was playing with Elvin’s band). His physical presence—big, muscular, imposing—was secondary only to his musical presence. Without my notes, the best I can do is point to this description of Elvin’s playing, which squares pretty well with my memory of the set in Old Cabell Hall.

Fare thee well, Elvin.

Is it the year of 78s?

Weird to see so much music on 78s become newly available all at once. It appears that Boing Boing’s staff has been on a tear finding these sites. Witness :

Why RSS is succeeding where CDF failed

I’m the first to say that this meme of “RSS in 2004 equals push in 1996” is full of crap. However, a recent (last month. I’m a little behind, OK?) post from Don Box points out some funny prior art in the form of CDF, Channel Definition Format, an XML based syndication format with a <Channel> element containing a bunch of <item> elements. CDF was Microsoft’s response to the “push” bubble, which featured such wonderful business models as PointCast (remember them? screensavers with headlines, clogging your network in real time! and it’s free!).

Do you remember CDF? Only Internet Explorer (which does something with the format, though I’m not clear what) and Don (and Mark Pilgrim) do. So why is RSS succeeding where CDF failed, in spite of infights, name calling, confusing branding, incompatible version forks, and big hairy egos? ITWorld doesn’t know, and Wired’s best guess is that it survives despite itself because it’s useful.

I think that RSS succeeds where push and Pointcast (and CDF) failed because the value proposition is even stronger than it was seven years ago. The rise of weblogs means that there is a ton of interesting stuff out there that’s impossible to read if one only relies on the browser and bookmarks. The rest of the content of the web has gotten smarter, too, and most of the major publishers have automated back end systems that can easily put out information in other formats than Web-ready HTML. The Web is much more XML friendly than it was in 1997; every current operating system and browser groks XML at least at a fundamental level.

Finally, RSS isn’t owned by a big company. To the extent that it has owners, they are all the content authors, aggregator developers, and readers who have invested time and energy in making it work for them. That’s a community.

Oh, and by the way…

…Saturday’s sting was from a wasp, not a bee. Which explains why, all those years as a kid living next to honeybees and stung periodically, I never had an allergic reaction. So there you go.

Who knew buying a camera was worth four posts?

Okay, so maybe I’m stretching this out a little. But I was surprised at how hard it was to buy the camera I wanted with my gift card.

I went to BestBuy.com today to buy the camera on line. Unfortunately, as far as I could tell looking on line, there was no way to specify that I wanted to use my gift card. The payment page offered credit cards and reward points as the only two options.

So I drove to the local retail store and explained my dilemma to the clerk. After we looked at some alternatives (and I got a chance to see the Nikon CoolPix 3200, which has the same body but a higher megapixel count for $100 more), I decided I really wanted the 2200. The clerk offered to place a custom fulfillment order for me. So I was ultimately able to place the order, even though it cost me an additional $30 in taxes and a lost 10% discount because I wasn’t able to buy it directly on line. Sigh. It should arrive later this week.