Tweet and Shout: leveraging Twitter for popularity

The talented Shimon Rura just launched a new service called tweet and shout: music people are talking about. It mines Twitter to find bands and musicians that people are talking about, and provides the number of people and tweets and cross-references with the Amazon sales rank.

What’s refreshing about Shimon’s work is that he admits the service isn’t “groundbreaking or thought-provoking.” But he does point out the interesting things, including the facts that the service provides context to otherwise unconnected conversations, and the fact that the service puts faces to fandom.

links for 2008-05-21

Today’s theme: Excel

Snapshot of JHN with the Excel theme.I switched on Monday to a new theme, Excel, that addresses a few of the issues I had with Cutline. The color balance is much better than with the version of Cutline I was using (which I must say, in all fairness, was a much older version of the theme). I also like the layout, which is a two column layout but which floats the post “trivia” (publish date, tags, categories, etc.) in a separate mini column, leaving just post title and text in the main column.

Things I don’t like:

  • The amount of vertical space consumed by the header region (seems to be a common trend among the themes I’ve tried so far)
  • Need to tweak styles — tags and recent comments run into each other, headings in the sidebar are too prominent, need some custom style work for the Delicious widget
  • The dark borders around images and the big blocky links make the top of the page feel too heavy

But it feels closer than Cutline did.

links for 2008-05-20

Integrating Rally with Trac

My company uses Trac as a ticketing engine and wiki and Rally for requirements management. We’ve been investigating ways to combine the two. (Of course, Rally has its own defect tracking system, but Trac is pretty well entrenched and integrates with our source repository.)

Rally provides a pretty well defined REST-based API, and much of their integrations are built using the RallyRESTAPI Ruby gem. So I went hunting for something comparable for the Trac side. It looks like Rtrac might be the way to go. One challenge is that the Rtrac documentation is scanty and it’s not clear how one might do an arbitrary ticket query (say, all tickets saved since a certain date). But we should be able to use some of the existing Rally integration examples to proceed.

links for 2008-05-19

The Fennell roast

Fennell, with iPhone and pipe, at the partyI had a bit of driving to do this weekend; I traveled from one Arlington to the other, from Massachusetts to Virginia, so that I could help Craig Fennell celebrate his impending nuptials. It was a great time, quite mellow as these things go. Lars Bjorn and his wife Erin were great hosts, and I got to spend time with quite a few folks I hadn’t seen in years (Kevin Dixon, John Duncan, Ananth Kadambi, Ben Johnson, Dan Roche, and even Guido Peñaranda) as well as some folks I hadn’t met (mostly the rest of Craig’s bandmates in Wonderjack, as well as his brother and sister). It was a great evening, and my only regret was that I had to drive sixteen hours (eight each way) to be there for only sixteen hours.

(It’s kind of funny that, even with gas at $4 a gallon, the car was still the cheapest way to go this weekend; $50 cheaper than Amtrak, $150 cheaper than JetBlue. I don’t think that will be the case for too much longer, though.)

Anyway, it was a great time and there was much reminiscing. I wasn’t in the VGs with Fennell, Dan, Ben, and Ananth, but had enough common experiences that we stayed up talking until late in the night about music. I’m looking forward to hearing the Imogene Heap cover that this year’s VGs did–we all passed around Fennell’s iPhone so we could hear parts of it, but I think it probably will sound better over speakers.

links for 2008-05-16

About today’s theme: Cutline

Cutline 3 Column WordPress ThemeI swear I’ll stop writing about the site soon, but right now the visual aspects are kind of front and center in my mind. Today’s theme is called Cutline, and it’s by Chris Pearson. It’s a very popular theme, currently number one at the WordPress themes site.

Things I like about it:

  1. Appearance: crisp, graphically well laid out, doesn’t use the Microsoft sans serifs (though I’m not crazy about Arial/Helvetica as they ship, and will probably make some tweaks here).
  2. Post layout: brings the interaction element right up top.
  3. Easy to manage.
  4. The headline image has interesting placement, the author has provided an easy way to randomize the headers, and the non-obvious image dimensions have made me think about how to pull details out of larger photos.

Things I don’t like:

  1. The typographic color is all off. The posts disappear in the middle of the page because the sidebars are so dark. Partly this is because of…
  2. The heavy use of horizontal rules as separators. The dark lines pull my eyes all over the place. And the bold Helvetica/Arial for the headline type in the sidebar is overkill.
  3. The title region plus the header image pushes the site pretty far down the page.
  4. Not liquid layout. I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to cram everything into one sidebar, but it makes the page harder to work from an information perspective, and it limits the resizing I can do. Plus the sidebars are sized in pixels, so that limits the amount of text resizing I can do.

I can fix #1 and 2, and have some ideas about #3, but #4 is something I’d rather not try to fix myself. I’ll have to see how other themes handle this issue.

Anyone have strong thoughts about this theme?

links for 2008-05-15

Adding Wikipedia articles to Google Maps

Google started baking some mashups into the main Google Maps interface earlier this week. As a Wikipedia editor, the one that intrigued me was the ability to hover over a feature on a map and click through to a related Wikipedia article. The question I had was, how do I change my article so that it appears on the map?

Fortunately, it appears to be a pretty simple process, with only one complicated bit, the first one:

  1. Find the place. That is, the place that the article is about. Google Maps is of course your friend here. Once you’ve found the location, double-click to center it in your browser.
  2. Get the coordinates.  This actually isn’t as hard as you might think, thanks (again) to Google Maps. The article Obtaining geographic coordinates provides some helpful suggestions, with a special section on Google Maps. I particularly like the bookmarklet provided, because it makes the workflow so simple–find the place as above, then use the bookmarklet to get the coordinates already in a template. Whatever your method, you’ll want to use the appropriate precision.
  3. Add the appropriate template to the article. There are a few different templates that add geographic coordinates to an article, and some Infobox templates (including Template: Infobox University) include a coordinate parameter. But if you use the bookmarklet I mentioned above, you get the coordinates handed to you in a coord template, which is the one you want to use for compatibility with Google. The only change I’d make is to add the display=title parameter, which floats the coordinates up to the top of the page.
  4. Set the template options. The two I recommend are display=title and type= the appropriate value; for a building, use landmark. This is important because it sets the zoom to the appropriate value.
  5. Preview, making sure to click through and check the map link, then publish.

As an example, I added coordinates to the article about the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Now the next question will be: how long does it take those coordinates to percolate over to Google Maps? I suppose we’ll find out.


Still working on getting the new site up and running. I reinstituted the blogroll today, starting from scratch (it’s amazing how many links, old friends’ blogs particularly, have lapsed). If you’re reading this in RSS, you’ll have to go to the site to check it out.

I also removed the widget from my sidebar, because (drumroll) I was able to get their autoposting service to work. So that post with all the links? That’s my bookmarks from yesterday. Right now it’s set to fire daily between 6 and 7 pm, so you’re pretty much guaranteed that you’ll get a daily update from me, though it may not be my wittiest, wisest prose.

One downer: There doesn’t seem to be a way to format the posts. So you’re stuck with my unfiltered output and an ugly format. Maybe once I finish rebuilding the site theme the autoposts will start to look better.

links for 2008-05-14