Monday, December 08, 2003

Game Companies Embrace Mod Builders

Since my son has described his efforts at modifying some of his favorite games, I was particularly interested in this article about game companies recognizing the market potential of "mod" builders.

"In recent years, players dedicated to modifying store-bought computer games have morphed into an underground movement - mod makers, as they often call themselves. Now they are showing signs of breaking into the mainstream as game developers are increasingly willing to give away the very software tools they use to construct the games, including them on the disc with the game itself."

"As a result, working alone or in teams, the mod makers are spending hundreds of hours tweaking or completely redrawing popular games to be played on their own terms. The payoff is fun and bragging rights, and just maybe a career in the multibillion-dollar electronic game industry."

Friday, November 14, 2003

Penn State Formerly Announces Music Subscription Service

em>I see Penn State has formally announced the music subscription service that President Spanier mentioned in his Educause panel discussion on peer-to-peer file sharing and antipiracy efforts.

"Pennsylvania State University has agreed to cover the cost of providing its students with a legal method to download music from a catalog of half a million songs, in a departure from punitive efforts to curtail music swapping on college campuses."

"The deal between Penn State and the newly revised Napster online service is expected to serve as a model for other universities. It comes as the music industry applies pressure on students and colleges in its antipiracy campaign."

"The service will allow students to listen to an unlimited number of songs as often as they want. They will be able to download the music to use on three personal computers as long as students are at Penn State. If they want to keep the songs permanently or burn them to a CD, though, they will have to pay 99 cents each."

"Dr. Spanier said the university will pay for the Napster service out of the $160 information technology fee students pay each year. The cost to the university is "substantially less" than the $9.95 fee that individual subscribers pay for the Napster service, he said, though he declined to disclose the precise terms."

Thursday, November 13, 2003

EyeToy Utilizes Playstation2 USB video capabilities

"RICHARD MARKS, a 34-year-old astronautical and aeronautical engineer, has been spending a lot of time lately pretending to be Harry Potter. His wand is made from parts of a hotel clothes hanger and has a brightly colored ball on one end. But when he waves it, Dr. Marks says, it begins to glow and emit a distinctive hum in a TV monitor across the room."

"By moving the wand in a circle, he can produce a trail that turns into a ring of fire on the screen. By flicking the wand toward the TV, he can make a fireball sizzle across the monitor. Other geometric shapes conjure tornadoes or make the player invisible. "I actually had my son draw up a list of spells he thought would be good," Dr. Marks said."

"Don't put in an emergency call to the Ministry of Magic just yet. Dr. Marks, a special-projects manager for research and development at Sony Computer Entertainment America, is only recounting his exploits with EyeToy, a miniature camera he invented that attaches to the PlayStation 2 and translates body movements into a video game."

I noticed ads for this little device in our local technology store newspaper inserts. Until I read this article, however, I couldn't quite understand all of its potential.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Disneyland lacks interactivity

Yesterday, I revisited Disneyland after 37 years. Not surprisingly, it seemed rather dated to me although the children under about 10 seemed to be enjoying themselves. I think the problem with many of the offerings that were not just outright motion rides that always appear to appeal to younger age groups, was that they are just too passive now that we are growing increasingly accustomed to an interactive environment. I was particularly disappointed in the "new" Indiana Jones ride. As you lurched along in a track-controlled vehicle, little scenes would appear along with way with an animatronic Indiana Jones warning you about your precarious position. I think a telling indicator about the lack of impact of the experience was the absence of anyone saying "let's do that again" as I walked through the exit tunnel.

Now, what I think would have been a superior experience would have been a walking/running journey in which each participant is given a bullwhip, a sack of sand, and a fedora and you are told you have ten minutes to complete your mission. As you proceed cautiously through the cave, creatures, activated by a disturbed laser beam, scurry across in front of you and Disney would use the same air puff technololgy as they use in "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" to make it feel like they are scurring across your feet and ankles, You are confronted by what appears to be a bottomless pit with a vine hanging over it that you must grasp and swing across, As you round a corner and see a fork in the trail, a laser beam activated rack with a simulated body pierced by stakes swings down in front of you blocking your path down one fork of the trail. You enter a chamber where snakes appear to block your path. You must snap them with the bullwhip to get them out of your way. You make it to the map room where you must pick up the crystal-embedded staff and try to position it into the map so a beam of light will activate to provide a clue to a successful mission. You finally arrive in the cave with the golden statue on the weight-sensitive altar and you must try to judge how much sand to leave in the pouch and carefully remove the statue and replace it simulataneously with the sand pouch. Temple walls appear to start to fall and you turn and run for the exit. Laser activated darts fly across in front of you as you dash down the corridor which has been reconfigured with a movable partition to shunt you off into a different tunnel. As you run you see a big boulder rolling towards you and you look desperately for the simulated cobweb-occluded escape slide that deposits you amid tropical plants and native warriors pointing a spear at you. The warriors separate and the Last Templar steps forward offering you a selection of cups on a tray in exchange for the statue (if you still have it). He tells you to "Choose but choose wisely". At the bottom of one of the cups is the offer of a free copy of a picture of you somewhere during your experience. Movable partitions could be used to create a variety of pathways to increase the replayability of the attraction.

I revisited Pirates of the Carribean and the Jungle Cruise. I've done "Star Tours" in Orlando so I didn't bother to take the opportunity to hurt my back any more than it already is. I think of the "ride" experiences, I enjoyed the Davy Crockett canoes the best. It was a beautiful day and it was relaxing just to paddle around the waterway. I smiled to myself as I watched a little boy of about three (the same age as one of my grandsons) swish his paddle through the water with such a serious face. I'm sure he was convinced he was doing his part as a real frontiersman.

I also particularly enjoyed the Abe Lincoln presentation. The dimensional sound experience was nicely done and I thought it was interesting to hear the sounds of the Civil War and its participants from the viewpoint of a soldier.

One of the most disappointing "reunions" was my tour through the Haunted Mansion. It had been redecorated with cartoon images from Tim Burrton's "A Nightmare Before Christmas". I didn't think the film was worth seeing when it was released and it definitely detracted from the Haunted Mansion experience.

The Parade of Stars at the end of the day was enjoyable. I got quite a kick out of some of the park guests who had been commandeered to participate in the parade. There were big husky guys dressed in tootoos trying their best to piroette when instructed to do so by the Disney "choreographer". Of course the Disney heroines were beautiful (Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, etc.) and Tarzan was quite a hunk! Later I saw a little girl whose parents had bought her what I thought was a Cinderella costume (actually it was an Ariel costume I learned later) and she was just walking along waving gracefully to the other visitors that passed by as if she was Cinderella herself.

Thursday night, Educause sponsors treated everyone to a Party In The Park over at Disney's California Great Adventure park. Although I enjoyed the "Soaring Over California" Omnimax-type experience, the rest of the park was little more than a 50s-type carnival with the old manual games of throwing balls and typical rollercoaster, Octopus, and ferris wheel-type rides. I'm glad it was provided at no charge because I definitely would not have paid $47 to spend the day there. In fact, the few hours we were there was more than ample for me.

Interactive Powerpoint the basis for new classroom interactivity

Interactive response tools appear to be coming on strong. I saw two products designed around Interactive Powerpoint. Although both offered keypad devices, they also had virtual keypad clients for handheld devices. They had similar functionality but one stored response data in Excel while the other used an SQL database for a foundation. Also, the Excel-based model used a device client while the SQL product was browser-based. My primary concern with both products was the residence of the resulting data on the instructor laptop. I would have much preferred a client/server environment for the instructor as laptop loaners are particularly vulnerable to damage and theft.

Both products were in the $5,000 per instructor workstation with 50 student clients price range. Since Silicon Chalk offered response tracking as part of an integrated environment with a host of other features for only a $3 - $8 per seat price, I think I would prefer to explore it in preference to these products although I received a working demo of the Excel product that I can evaluate more fully.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Silicon Chalk Provides Powerful Feature Set with a Great Price

Another powerful tool with a lot of potential that I encountered is a new product from the original founder of WebCT called Silicon Chalk. ( Silicon Chalk uses IP broadcast within a subnet (or multicast across subnets) to record and broadcast a class presentation between computers equipped with the Silicon Chalk Client. For example, an instructor presenting with Powerpoint and a microphone would have his/her screen presentation automatically recorded with voice over, timecoded and distributed to the workstations of each student. As the students listen to the lecture, they can type notes, send instant messages, and browse referenced websites. These activities of the student are also recorded and timecoded in synch with the instructor broadcast. The student's lecture file can then be used for review and even later notes can be added to particular portions of the lecture. This feature is especially important for students who missed the lecture.

The product can search sections of the presentation by text strings either within the instructor's powerpoint presentation or the students notes. The vendor explained that if, every time the instructor said something like "Now this is important. It will be included on the midterm", the student typed "midterm" in their note section. They could then easily retrieve any portion of the lecture in which "midterm" was mentioned. The product also includes a student polling function with the instructor having the control of display of the results. Best of all, this powerful product is very inexpensive. A pilot client is only $3 and even after the pilot period, the clients would cost in the neighborhood of only $8 based on the number of clients requested.

Electronic Curriculum Vitae Product Promising

In the exhibit hall, I have discovered several products with the potential to address some of the problems we have experienced in the college. I reviewed an electronic curriculum vitae product developed by Academic Management Systems ( that had some nice features. It was similar in design to the online vitae program I initiated several years ago but they had taken the product several steps beyond capturing and categorizing vitae components. The product enabled faculty members to set up customized CV "views" to be used for different purposes and check or uncheck individual items so they could be excluded from a particular view if desired. It also used a date-based criterion so items could be included based on a particular time frame and had summary reporting capability displaying a breakdown of how much faculty effort was being expended in activity categories like instruction, research, outreach, etc. - extremely helpful for preparing such reports as the NCATE survey each year. It had a tiered access and security system based on organizational levels such as administration, department, user, and delegates.

They also had a product for online course assessment. I've been out of that loop for a while but I think CRIs are still being done with the old bubble sheets. It is essentially an online survey tool with a robust analysis and reporting module supported by a security system to filter views based on user status (student, instructor, administrator, etc.) I pointed out to the developer that the biggest challenge with online surveys is integrating the system with some student activity to ensure completion. I suggested to him that if the survey were treated like a final course assignment, completion of it could be managed by Blackboard if the product could send a completion confirmation to Blackboard. He said he was meeting with the Blackboard folks later in the day and would discuss my suggestion with them.

Smart Music Interesting Product

I also attended a session on Ubiquitous Mobile Computing. I expected this presentation to be focussed on the new Wireless opportunities but instead it was a case study of a college that had installed a robust network then purchased laptop loaners for everyone on the campus including their students with the expectation that technology would be incorporated into every aspect of their educational experiences. They then presented examples of technology integration into a variety of disciplines. One of their students demonstrated a product called Smart Music that is used to provide accompaniment to vocal music students practicing for performance. When she first described the product, I thought to myself "What's the big deal - it's just karioke." But she explained how the product can be set to follow the singer instead of vice versa. She demonstrated this feature by singing a passage from the opera "Carmen". She sang several lines then paused in mid-stanza and the computer stopped at the same time. Then the computer displayed a "D" to let her know the next note. She sang several other notes but the music did not resume until she hit a properly pitched "D". Very impressive! I also appreciated her obvious enthusiasm for her learning experiences.

Educause's Virtual Communities of Practice

I attended a session on Virtual Communities of Practice but was a bit disappointed that the presenters appeared have little experience in actually maintaining a thriving online community. They mentioned a number of problems about the effort of facilitation and distribution of information that I think could be handled by a web log and RSS and even mentioned they were aware of blogs and RSS but when I questioned them further, they apparently had not even attempted to set up a group blog or encourage their members to blog about their professional experiences.

I suggested to them that they study the aspects of successful Yahoo groups but I could tell by their reaction that they considered that environment hardly worthy of academic consideration. Too bad. Our Imperial Rome discussion group has flourished, beginning with only a dozen members. It now has over 500 members and lively daily discussions that focus on topics quite in depth. I pointed out to the presenters that they need to try to leverage the gifts of their members. On our Imperial Rome discussion group, members that travel to historical sites upload their images, other members record their favorite ancient recipes, we have databases of Roman biographies, battles, and films, and I maintain an RSS-fed online news magazine about Roman archaeology, Academic presentations on the Roman Empire, and books, games, and multimedia with ancient themes. I also maintain a searchable database of images of the ancient world to be used for educational presentations.

Peer-to-Peer discussion with Entertainment Execs Interesting

Yesterday's general session on the problem of peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted materials was quite interesting. I especially enjoyed the "showmanship" of Jack Valenti. Even the attorney from the RIAA was articulate and came across as not at all threatening. I also found the president of Penn State quite intriguing.

Penn State is launching a project whereby the university has entered a partnership with RIAA to subscribe to an extensive database of music tracks to provide quality "legal" online music to their students as part of their university experience. Their motivation for this has apparently been threats from Congress under pressure from the powerful entertainment industry to pass legislation that would make the defacto ISP legally liable for the copyright violations of their constituent base. I thought it would only be a matter of time before this type of rumbling would surface because traditionally, claimants in court go after the target with the deepest pockets and a university would obviously have more financial base than the typical college student.

RIAA has apparently been pleased by the success of Apple's I-music initiative and applauds this effort as a viable business model that could be emulated by others. RIAA also appears to be taking a cue from the MPAA and is considering offering content-rich CDs or DVDs that would include value-added features like artist bios, music videos, etc. that would not typically be available from a pirate download site.

In presubmitted questions from the audience the issue was raised repeatedly of outdated business models and the industry being willing to eliminate middle men in their business that are essentially "dinosaurs" in the new online environment and reexamine pricing to be more reflective of the lower costs of this delivery mode. It reminds me a lot of the ebook market. Many publishers have been willing to jump on the ebook bandwagon but tried to price ebooks as high as a regular hardbound book even though the printing, inventory, and warehousing expenses had all been eliminated. That ridiculous pricing strategy coupled with a lack of a quality device to simulate the reading experience of a book with the features of digital manipulation has stifled the market thus far.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

MIT Open Courseware, Copyright, Assessment topics discussed

The presentations are a little light duty on the technology side but I manage to pick up tidbits here and there. Yesterday I went to a session on MIT's open courseware initiative that was very interesting. I was particularly pleased to note that the MIT faculty were actually very supportive. They said they have received more attention for their work and their research from not only other universities around the world but even from their own colleagues in other disciplines. MIT arranges a license with the faculty members so they actually retain all copyrights with permission for MIT to provide the materials on the OCW site. The website clearly states the licensing provisions which prohibits the use of the materials for commercial purposes. Someone asked if MIT thought providing these materials would adversely impact enrollment but MIT's director said they don't think so but they are keeping an eye on it. I think it would boost their enrollment. Webstats on the OCW site shows that the site is generating over 9 million pageviews a month. That's nothing to sneeze at!

I went to a copyright session but the actual legalities were not explored in depth. I was surprised to learn that there are lawsuits in the courts that are trying to stop anti-spam and pop-up blocking products because they interfere with the content delivery intended by the content provider. (I hope the courts don't fall for that one)I guess there is also a lawsuit trying to gain a ruling on "deep linking" - linking directly to information on a website without forcing the viewer to navigate the site as intended by the conent provider. (that's another bummer) Apparently the internet's version of telemarketers are as persistent as those in the direct mail industry!

I attended a session on assessment strategies for online courses. The presenters definition of assessment was strategies to gain insight into the learning levels of the students. I think many of the attendees were expecting something else but I found the presenters rubric of dividing students into various levels of content and technology skill levels with the strategies to deal with each group interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Integrated cell phones to dominate the handheld future?

Yesterday I attended the preconference seminar "Catch the Handheld Wave". The presenter focussed on introducing a typical handheld (Palm in her case) to education faculty as a first step in promoting the use of handhelds into the classroom. The College of Education at the University of Central Oklahoma obtained a grant from Palm and have developed a well accepted and well supported program for faculty using handheld devices. The integration program included formal training for both users and support personnel, an equipment loan program with accessories including camera, GPS, and scientific probes, and a stipend program to compensate faculty for producing learning modules for the devices. U of Central OK also requires teacher candidates to become proficient in the use of handheld devices and requires a handheld component in their graduation portfolio.

Classroom projects that have been the most successful included using handhelds for graphic calculators in science and math curriculums, using handhelds as portable databases to aid school administrators in monitoring student behavior, and collecting information from student users to facilitate classroom management. The presenter's environment is limited since it is not yet wireless so infrared is used for data transfer between devices. However, the uses her faculty and students make of handhelds would be even more viable in a wireless environment.

The presenter provided us with a wealth of resources for obtaining software and developed learning modules for handheld devices that I plan to explore more fully when I return.

Several international attendees pointed out that the really ubiquitous handheld technology out there are cell phones. They wished to explore information delivery to internet-integrated cell phones. I pointed out that format independent delivery mediums like RSS could be used with the smaller cell displays but I don't have a device to test my suggestion.

Methusaleh Mouse Prize established to stimulate immortality research

I found this article particularly interesting although I must admit to being a skeptic. At the recent Pop!Tech conference in Portland, Aubrey de Grey expressed his conviction that the 4,000- or 5,000-year life is right around the corner. Mr. de Grey was not selling an afterlife or a metaphor. He is a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, in England, and his prophecy was straightforward if hard to believe: Getting old and dying are engineering problems. Aging can be reversed and death defeated. People already alive will live a thousand years or longer.

He was at pains to argue that what he calls "negligible senescence," and what the average person would call living forever, is inevitable. His proposed war on aging, he said, is intended to make it happen sooner and make it happen right. He subscribes, it seems, to the philosophy articulated by Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Educause 2003: A bit of a rocky start

The trip down to Anaheim for the Educause conference went reasonably well but when I arrived I discovered the Hyatt had "exaggerated" about in-room internet connections. All they have in the rooms is a phone line! :-( However, this morning at breakfast I learned from some other guests that there are high speed jacks available in the lounge for $9.95 a day. There is also Wifi but everyone attempting to use it said it was very flaky so I opted for a sure thing!

I thought I was going to have to find another hotel if I could since I didn't want to be out of communication for a week.

Today I have a meeting with Dell and Tipping Point Security Systems at 11 a.m. and then this afternoon I am attending a preconference seminar "Catching the Handheld Wave". I sent the presenter a batch of questions about using handhelds in interactive lecture formats so we'll see if they have any new ideas about that.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Quandry Looks Promising For Developing Interactive Case Studies

I came across a relatively inexpensive shareware product (lite version is free...full version is only $50) last week that I think would have potential for use in developing web-based interactive case studies. It is called "Quandry" from HalfBaked Software (don't let the name fool you).

"Quandary is an application for creating Web-based Action Mazes. An Action Maze is a kind of interactive case-study; the user is presented with a situation, and a number of choices as to a course of action to deal with it. On choosing one of the options, the resulting situation is then presented, again with a set of options. Working through this branching tree is like negotiating a maze, hence the name 'Action Maze'."

The product offers not only a decision tree type structure but also has transactional capabilities that you can incorporate into the exercise such as resource management, item inventories, etc. Some of the new features in version 2 include:

Assets can now have decimal place settings.

Transactions can add, subtract, multiply, divide and do other complex math with asset values.

Exercises can have timers.

Web output no longer depends on frames.

Exercises can be uploaded to, and student results and actions can be stored.

New Wizards can be used to create some basic interaction types such as multiple-choice questions.

Unicode support allows the use of languages such as Japanese and Russian directly in the interface.

Transactions can now be added in three places: on ENTRY to a decision point, on a LINK (as before), and on EXIT from a decision point. This gives more flexibility in the structuring of complex mazes, and reduces the need to duplicate transactions in many places.

At this time Version 2 is available only for the Windows platform. It also requires browsers which fully support W3C standards (such as Internet Explorer 6 and Netscape 7). Version 1 is available for both Windows and Mac and is compatible with all browsers released within the last 5 years.

Wireless Handhelds Superior to Response Pads

I was catching up on my reading and noticed the TS article on wireless response pads. I had not yet read that article so I took a look and explored the website link to the company that produces the response pads. For lecture interactivity I think a group Weblog environment might be a more practical solution rather than an investment in a proprietary hardware system (no offense intended to my fellow authors at the Technology Source). Now that we have wireless installed throughout most of the classroom spaces on campus, I think we will see more students coming to class with their own internet-enabled devices whether they are full size laptops or handhelds. Here in Education we have also implemented a "COW" cart filled with wireless Gateway laptops that we provide to instructors for classroom use. The instructor could use their own wireless laptop to instantaneously post questions to a class web log then students could post their reactions and questions via the comment function.

The Pollxn comment plugin for the Blosxom Weblog product ( I have been evaluating has a setting to require posters to enter their name and e-mail address before posting their comment. This would help to ensure appropriate identification for credit purposes.

For wireless exam purposes, a tool like Dragon Web Surveys by Waves In Motion ( enables an instructor to easily develop an online exam with points assigned to questions and, if configured to process responses immediately upon receipt, provides the instructor with a web link to results as they are submitted. It also has a branching capability that enables the development of adaptive learning strategies based on a student's responses. Students access the exam from a simple web link using any wireless-enabled device. Since students would be using their own devices, the instructor also does not have to deal with distributing and collecting response devices before each class.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Long URL caused problem with blog display in Safari

Blosxom Test Notes: Thanks to Dr. Jason Hoffman for pointing out a long URL in a post that was causing the Mac browser, Safari, to extend the center column of the GLD blog and therefore required Safari users to scroll to the right to read posts. John Hibbs was so sure it was his post that had caused the problem that I focussed on it looking for long links and was quite frustrated when I didn't really find any. Now I'm embarrassed (blush) because it was one of my posts with a really long amazon link that was the culprit. I also didn't really need it anyway since I have the magiclink plugin installed and had inserted a reference to the ISBN number which the magiclink plugin automatically links to the correct Amazon inventory record anyway.

UTF Encoding Plugin Preserves RSS Integrity in Global Environment

Blosxom Test Notes: A big Thank You to Rainer Volz of Virtual Projects for writing a plugin for Blosxom that encodes posts as UTF-8 and preserves the integrity of the RSS output with posts containing accented characters. It was becoming a daily task to edit posts to eliminate accented characters in an effort to maintain a valid RSS news feed.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Text Mining and Web Log Analysis

"With the aid of text mining, Michael N. Liebman, a research director at the University of Pennsylvania, is exploring whether bearing a child later in life has any link to postmenopausal diseases."

"Text-mining programs, unlike search engines that display lists of documents that contain certain keywords, go further, categorizing information, making links between otherwise unconnected documents and providing visual maps (some look like tree branches or spokes on a wheel) to lead users down new pathways that they might not have been aware of."

"Currently these programs are used by academic researchers and companies, but information scientists expect that to change. Lower-cost text-mining tools eventually will be offered to ordinary people who want to dig into medical or political issues using public documents. Madan Pandit, an expert in text analysis in Bangalore, India, who runs a Web site called K-Praxis (, has suggested that text mining could help people make sense of voluminous documents that are already on the Web, like the 858-page report on the congressional inquiry into intelligence failures regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

As we develop online communities of practice sharing observations and daily discoveries through such technologies as web logs, text mining tools could prove invaluable in analyzing disparate findings and pointing out possible relationships and new paths of inquiry. Although the two products mentioned in the article, Clear Forest and SPSS offer products in the $75,000 and up range, less expensive products are already in development. Products like PolyAnalyst from Megaputer provide taxonomy-based categorization for approximately $2,100 (education pricing). Netica's Bayesian network tools can be purchased for as little as $285 (education pricing). Perhaps the ultimate solution will be a hybrid of some of these programs.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Added Author Email Field

Blosxom Test Notes: I added an author email field to the submission form and modified my article format file to automatically link this field with a mailto link. Big thanks to Anthony Wendell Kay for helping me with the Perl syntax.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Headlines plugin works for list of recent posts

I had to switch from the recent entries plugin to the headlines plugin to include a list of properly linked recent post headlines in the web log layout. The recent entries plugin was designed for a category-linked rather than a date-linked weblog and the plugin author said it would take a complete rewrite to get it to work with the default date-based blosxom web log.

The author of the recent entries plugin suggested I try the headlines plugin and it works like a charm!

Random Text and Improved Formatting Plugins Added

Blosxom Test Notes: Today, I added a plugin to deliver a random quote file to the weblog (to offer words of wisdom) and another plugin to format messages more elegantly.

I tried to use the textright plugin to correct problems with foreign characters but it did not seem to make any difference. Perhaps I misunderstood what the plugin is supposed to do.

Our Perl programmer Jon Miyake also helped me with the syntax I needed for my article format file so if a poster leaves one of the fields blank, it simply does not ouput that line. This not only improves the appearance of the post but prevents invalidation of the RSS output file.

We've Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture

This book with an introduction by blogging guru Rebecca Blood looks interesting.


This is an example of the automatic Amazon book link facilitated by the Blosxom plugin "magiclink"

This same plugin can link a word like "syntax"[dict] directly to its definition in

Features such as these make the blosxom program more versatile than many commercial programs

Monday, October 06, 2003

Last Build Date Plugin Now Outputs RFC 822 Date

Blosxom Test notes: Big thanks to Joe Francis for updating the lastbuilddate plugin so that it now outputs a valid RFC 822 Date. He also identified the problem I was having with the plugin outputting a date of zero:

"Plugins that provide their own entries routine and do not return the story files in the %files hash will cause lastbuilddate to find no date. In this circumstance lastbuilddate will not emit a field. To work around this, rename lastbuilddate so that it executes ahead of these plugins. For example, rename to 00lastbuilddate."

I don't really know what the %files hash is but I do know that renaming the plugin as indicated makes it work perfectly in my configuration.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Checking the Format for an Article post

Blosxom Test Notes: I adjusted the name of the format library to see if blosxom will now recognize my custom post format file.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

CGI module upgrade breaks Blosxom in IE 6

Blosxom Test Notes: I thought I was going crazy. I had been working happily with Blosxom for several weeks and came in Wednesday morning and all of a sudden, when I tried to view my weblog in Internet Explorer 6, my browser was prompting me as if it considered the file a downloadable Mime type. The day before I had asked the system personnel to upgrade the File::Spec module to the latest version so the recententries plugin would work. I called them back and asked them if they had done anything to the overall server settings that would cause this behavior. Everyone seemed baffled, especially since the Weblog still loaded properly in Mozilla, Netscape, Opera and older versions of IE. I even went to the trouble of uninstalling all the plugins, downloading a fresh copy of Blosxom and reconfiguring and resetting the file permissions but nothing changed. This afternoon, one of the Perl technicians called me back and together we reviewed the content-type settings produced by the Blosxom script. He noticed that the script was outputting an extra space before the ending semi-colon in the Content_type statement. So he changed line 262 of the Blosxom cgi file thus:

Was: $content_type =~ s!\n.*!!s;

Needs to be: $content_type =~ s!\s*\n\s*.*!!s;

Now it once more works with IE 6. He suspects that when the systems people updated the cgi modules, one of new modules must have been less forgiving than the older version. I thought I would share our experience with you in case it might help others.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Finally Got Calendar Plugin Working

Blosxom Test Notes: Well, today I finally got the Archive Calendar plugin working. There was a syntax error in line 348 of the plugin. The mode parameter and closing semicolon had been omitted. It should be modified to read: or mkdir $blosxom::plugin_state_dir,755; I used the $calendar$month_calendar variable in my head.html file so it displays just the month and not a separate year display because I wanted it to be smaller. I've written to Todd and asked if there is a way to also omit the Day headings to make it smaller still. I also created a stylesheet with calendar settings in it but can't seem to get it to read the stylesheet. I asked Todd about that too.

Modified Calendar Plugin to Shrink the Calendar

I wanted to make the archive calendar created by the calendar plugin smaller so I wrote to Todd Larason, the author, and he said:

You have a couple options.

1. make flavour files for the calendar; if you just want to remove the day of week headers, then make empty files named calendar.month_sub_head.html, calendar.month_sub_day.html and calendar.month_sub_foot.html (replace the 'html' with your flavour name(s))

2. edit the plugin; if you have lots of flavours, this might be easier. near the bottom of the file, find the line that says "__DATA__". a fwe lines below that are lines that start "error month_sub_head", "error month_sub_day" and "error month_sub_foot"; just remove those lines.

3. don't remove the day headers, just shorten them; in the configuration section at the beginning, change @dowabbr = qw/Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat/ if ($#dowabbr != 6); to @dowabbr = qw/S M Tu W Th F S/ if ($#dowabbr != 6); or something similar

4. use CSS. In the CSS file, add a style like:

.month-calendar-day-head {display: none;}

so the headers are still there, they just don't get displayed.

I created a CSS file and linked it to the head portion of head flavour file but couldn't get it to recognize it. So, I opted to remark out the three related error lines in the plugin itself. I will write back to Todd and see if the style-sheet link needs to be elsewhere.

Using Autolink with a Glossary File

Blosxom Test Notes: I thought of a way to use Fletcher's Autolink plugin to link to a glossary of terms or professional acronyms that may be not included in I'm going to create a glossary.html file with anchors then simply add the word with it's related link to the glossary file in my autolinks file.

Magic Link Script Updated to Correct Problem with

Blosxom Test Notes: I tried the Magiclink plugin and it almost worked. I submitted a post which included "syntax"[dict]. It linked the word

and went to but could not find the word because it kept the quotes around it for the search. I tried removing the quotes but then I did not get the link and the [dict] part just showed up as part of the post. I posted my problem to the Blosxom discussion list and plugin author Bruce Alderson made an adjustment to the plugin and now it works!!! Thanks, Bruce!

Monday, September 22, 2003

May have solution to Recent Entries plugin error

I submitted the error message I was getting upon executing the recent entries plugin to Jon Miyake, our Perl expert at the Computing Center. He sent me an email back telling me that the error was caused by an outdated filespec on our Unix server. I have sent a request to have the filespec object updated to our systems engineers. I'm hoping they will get the file updated soon and that will resolve the problem. I would like to use this plugin because it produces a list of the Titles of the most recent posts. I think this is a handy timesaver since I tend to be a bit verbose in my posts. Readers can just click on the topic of greatest interest and avoid scrolling down to the article they want to read.

Archive problem resolved in Blogger weblogs

As I have been working on Blosxom and viewing my error logs, I have noticed that some of my Blogger weblog archives have been triggering error messages and links to the archive files are not showing up on the weblog. I had two weblogs that were working fine. One was my very first weblog where the archive files were stored in the root folder of my public_html directory. The other, however, was one of my newer weblogs where the archive files were stored in the directory I had created for archives under the root folder but when I checked the archive file settings, path to the archives was set to my root folder then the archive directory was set to "" to let Blogger find the files by default. This was working even though the other three weblogs where I had specifically set the archive path to the specific archive folder and set the specific directory location were not. So I changed their archive settings so the path to the archives was set to my root public_html folder and the directory set to "" like the one that was working and voila! All of my archive links appeared. I'll have to revise my Blogger settings instructions.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Using Date Time variable for Submission Filename

Blosxom Evaluation Notes: Rather than use the category field for a filename, I have consulted with our Perl programmers and they provided me with a snippet that will assign the date and time (down to the second) for the filename.

I like this solution much better because the length of the filename is the same for all files and the filename itself provides valuable creation date information.

Blogger Pro to be offered free

I was surprised today to get an e-mail from Blogger saying that they now plan to roll the features formerly only available in the pay version, Blogger Pro, into their free version. That will make it possible for my faculty to obtain Blogger accounts and have RSS support without paying for anything. I guess this was made possible by Google's deep pockets since Google bought out Pyra labs, Blogger's original developers.

Submission Plugin: Using Title for Filename A Problem with RSS Validation

Blosxom Test Notes: Yesterday, I encountered a problem with validating the RSS feed for my blosxom blog. The default setting for the format file used with the submission plugin sets the filename to the contents of the Title field. I've configured my Title field to be the headline for my article and I want it to be descriptive without having to use underlines between each word. However, a filename with spaces in it makes the RSS validators choke. So, I have added a new field, Category, which has a one word category descriptor and set this for my filename parameter. Now to try it out.

Submission Plugin: Using Title for Filename A Problem with RSS Validation

Blosxom Test Notes: Yesterday, I encountered a problem with validating the RSS feed for my blosxom blog. The default setting for the format file used with the submission plugin sets the filename to the contents of the Title field. I've configured my Title field to be the headline for my article and I want it to be descriptive without having to use underlines between each word. However, a filename with spaces in it makes the RSS validators choke. So, I have added a new field, Category, which has a one word category descriptor and set this for my filename parameter. Now to try it out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

AutoLink plugin Terrific!

Blosxom Test Notes: Today I am testing a new plug-in for Blosxom. It allows you to create a file to specify a url for a keyword then the plug-in automatically links the url to the keyword within the text of the post. It was developed by Fletcher Penney.
Of all the Blosxom plug-ins I have tried, this one actually seems to work without
a bunch of tweaking! Thanks, Fletcher! It is a real time saver too.

Another test of the submission format file

Bosxom Test Notes: I have been struggling and struggling trying to get the format file I designed to work with the submission plugin. I had used the original format file named "plugin" written by DJ and made some alterations. Well I got to looking at it again and noticed that I had not changed the package designation. Although I am not a Perl programmer, I had read somewhere that the package designation must be the same name as the file name. So, I changed the package designation in the format file and it works!. Now my posts submitted by the submission plugin have the URL and author URL field automatically linked and the headline formatted as a Level 4 Headline. I'm thrilled!

Configuring Blosxom A Challenge

Blosxom Test Notes: I discovered that many of my problems appeared to be the result of my misunderstanding the location of my Blosxom weblog. I had wrongly assumed that since my blog item files were stored in a particular directory on my site that that was also the location of the weblog. I couldn't understand then why Rael had specified a $datadir (where the items are kept) and a $url (where the weblog is located). Although the two can be the same if you place your blosxom.cgi in the same directory as your item files, I had used the default installation recommendations for a Unix server and placed my blosxom.cgi file in the cgi-bin folder under my public_html folder but wrongly indicated my weblog directory as the directory containing my web items. After I corrected this problem in my blosxom.cgi file, the search plugin developed by Fletcher worked perfectly. Hopefully, I'll struggle less with other plugins I wish to use.

Tweaking the Submission form format file

I've been experimenting with the submission plugin format file again. It occurred to me that the variable $formatlib was supposed to be the location of the directory not the name of the format file. So, I made the appropriate change to the submission plugin script. Before I was getting the default format, not my custom format. Now we'll see if my changes had any effect.

LastBuildDate Plugin Fowls RSS Output

Blosxom Test Notes: I tried Joe Francis' LastBuildDate plugin but it produced the entry "0" which of course invalidated my RSS feed. Back to the drawing board for that one.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Submission plugin finally working!

Blosxom Test Nots: With a lot of help from suggestions posted by Fletcher Penney to the Blosxom group, I was finally able to get the submission plugin to work today. I installed my blosxom.cgi in a cgi-bin directory under my public_html directory and my Blosxom application files are in a separate folder named blosxom under my public_html directory. This seems to be wreaking havoc with my $path variable. I'm a newbie to perl programming but I wish plugin authors would specify exactly where to place files rather than suggest you place it in one place then give examples based on the file being placed somewhere else. I would really like to get all of these wrinkles ironed out so I can develop a template installation for end users without them having to edit any configuration files. That could be quite a challenge though.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Blosxom Pollxn Plugin A Challenge

Blosxom Test Notes: Worked all day yesterday learning many of the ins and outs of Blosxom. I managed
to not only install it and get it working well but modified the templates so
is more attractive. Then today, I installed the Pollxn plug-in to add comment
functionality. I had quite a time with it because I was a bit confused over the

Problem 1: The instructions for adding the Comments link to the Blosxom blog
said to paste the following code into the story.html file.

<a href="/cgi-bin/pollxn.cgi?storypath=$path/$fn.$flavour">$pollxn::comments_count</a>

The first part of this link only works if the pollxn.cgi file has been copied
into a /cgi-bin directory under the Blosxom datadir. The instructions initially
recommended installing it directly in the Blosxom datadir then said it could
be installed
in a cgi-bin if necessary. Often an ISP will limit users to a single cgi-bin
directory directly under their public_html directory. However, if such a user
tries to use the above script, they will get a file not found. I’m trying
to work out a defined installation procedure with as much preconfigured as
possible since faculty don’t like editing configuration files. I prefer to install the cgi file directly in the blosxom directory then changing the url to:

<a href="pollxn.cgi?storypath=$path/$fn.$flavour">$pollxn::comments_count</a>

Now for the second problem. I couldn’t figure out why the link was resolving
to a filename ending in .html when my Blosxom.cgi file correctly specified
my file extension to be .txt. It appears that the $fn variable refers to only
the filename without the file extension. My Blosxom “flavour” is
specified as .html (I use modified .html templates). The result is that the
above link resolves to a filename ending in .html instead of .txt. I further
modified the link to:

<a href="pollxn.cgi?storypath=$fn.$file_extension">$pollxn::comments_count</a>

to correct this problem.

Friday, September 05, 2003

GreyMatter provides easy install but RSS module problematic

I've been asked to present information on Blogging and Syndication
for the Instructional Technology Council in a few weeks. Although I have a
number of personal blogs on commercial provider Blogger (,
I wanted to search for software that provides the same functionality at a reduced
cost and came across this software from GreyMatter.
The installation instructions were very clear and I had no problem installing
it or configuring it. I particularly like the ability to censor Comments for
inappropriate language as I want my blog to be student-friendly for
all ages.

Although GreyMatter does not provide a built-in RSS conversion
process, I noticed there was an RSS Syndication module listed in the modules
section. The module requires PHP so first I had to check the version of PHP
running on my host server. The PHP script also choked on my weblog name -
"Mary's Technology Tips" - because it had an apostrophe in it. I had to correct that problem before I could get the script to run. I also had to make all paths absolute to ensure that the script would run properly. Then I was able to get
the script to run if I logged into my host server but could not get it to run
from the browser even when I placed it in the cgi-bin directory and set the
rights to 755. I had one of the perl experts look at it but he couldn't see
what the problem was either.

Thursday, September 04, 2003


"Researchers at Hewlett Packard have developed a prototype electronic book which can hold a whole library on a device no bigger than a paperback."

I was quite impressed with this effort. It is only 1 cm thick! As long as the price is reasonable, this product or one like it could finally break open the e-book market