phil wilson :: a geek commodity

12:24 PM

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

It seems the few offocial BBC RSS feeds (list) have now disappeared (they all 404).

Does anyone know when they might either be back, or replaced with a coherent syndication strategy from the BBC?

The BBC Syndication page hasn't been updated in about forever, although I seem to recall reading about the launch of their "our headlines on your pages" for schools and other like facilities last week. Any ideas?

It seems it was just a temporary thing, but there were definitely a number of hours yeserday when they were down but everything else was working. In slightly better news, a "BBC Insider" left a comment here saying the BBC have no intention of taking them down. Hurrah!

10:08 AM

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Fairly surprisingly, Danny Ayers’ post about the FOAF autocreation from OPML file tool made the top 15 of Daypop. Surprising, but nice. As noted before, FOAF is a really good thing, not least because it demonstrates a fairly simple use of RDF, but also because it has the potential for wider practical applications, especially now that the new version of Movable Type (TypePad) will automatically provide its users with a FOAF file.

For the rest of us, I think I’d like to see the FOAF-a-matic 2 be finished (or at least, have functionality provided for the pages that are there) – maybe I should ask if I can lend a hand.

Will FOAF be the embodiment of “Social Software”? Who knows, but at least it lets me use a buzzphrase.

2:02 PM

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Friday, April 25, 2003

Get WYSIWYG XHTML editing in Mozilla with Mozile. No end-user installs, just some javascript and a contentEditable="true" attribute on the node you want to be able to edit.

This is just a quick and dirty version but:

If you’re browsing in IE, the contents of this box will be editable, and if I'd had time to put bold and italic buttons on, you’d have been able to use the bold, and italic buttons to change the style of this text.

If you’re browsing in Mozilla, or another gecko-based browser, hit F7 to view the system caret, then click inside this box to edit the contents (in full WYSIWYG).

This is completely genius stuff

11:08 AM

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CSS adds a layer of complexity to the browser. says Sjoerd Visscher, talking about the "flames" Dave Winer’s been getting from having made this post (most of which are actually responses to a point that Dave didn’t make - that CSS is harder and not as good as the old, bad ways of table-based layouts).

Perhaps to the browser implementation it does (tag soup has to be harder to cater for though, surely?), but not to writing web pages, for sure. spacer gifs? nested tables? browser-specific attributes? Differences in table padding on different browsers? Don’t make me laugh.

To me, the learning curve for both these methods has been exactly the same, with the benefits of using CSS being that my HTML is clean, easy to read, easy to manipulate using other tools, more semantic, and more easily maintainable by other people.

Clean, presentational markup: isn’t that what we all want, really? Deep down? Is it achievable? I’d say so.

Tim Bray’s company, has dropped support for version 4 browsers. Hurrah! My company did the same just a few weeks ago and already web development has speeded up no end, and all the developers are much much happier that we’re no longer having to support such old technology.

In fact, we’re in the process of developing web apps for some major institutions in the UK, and every page is laid out using CSS, and looks the same in every browser. Very few problems, a couple of niggles that took ten minutes and left everyone wiser.

Some legacy web apps we have to maintain have up to six nested tables, with images, spacer gifs, cell-padding, cell-spacing, empty cells, the works. When I started working here it took about a week just to understand what was going on and to re-indent everything so that it would make sense to future maintainers. All the other developers agree, the old table-based layouts are plain awful.

We like CSS.

10:45 PM

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Number one RSS aggregator request: search.

I knew someone, in one of the feeds I subscribe to, had mentioned using the :before pseudo-element in CSS, I need to know who, and why, and to re-read their explanation. Could I find it? Could I buggery.

My aggregator is Syndirella, and seemed to remember that when I tried SharpReader, it had this feature. Download, import my OPML file. Wait for the download and update (this was all via a 56kbps modem). Look for a search option. No such luck.

Someone, please, implement “search in these blogs” or something similar. You’ll be saving us all an awful lot of trouble.

5:15 PM

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There is almost nothing as completely frustrating as sitting on a train with a delayed departure time. Especially when youhave a connection tomake. You are completely unable todo anything about it except sit and hope that you willbe leavingany time now...

Apparently the [space] key on my phone is knackered...

9:33 AM

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At last, blogging from my phone is a reality. But takes forever! (this is from my Motorola v70) courtesy of wapblogger.
3:15 PM

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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Sam Ruby’s last few posts about RSS past and future help to explain why it needs namespaces (or some other change) in the future, which helped clear my previous confusion. That makes sense, but for weblog aggregation? I'd still argue against a body tag, but what do I know?

Tim Bray wrote:

RSS is no longer a science experiment, it’s becoming an important part of the infrastructure, which means that a lot of programmmers are going to get the assignment of generating and parsing it, and they need better instructions.

In summary:

the two problems he complains about are that entity-encoded HTML is allowed and that relative URI references are not allowed.

I agree with Bill Kearney here, Before we bother with extending all this, let’s get the core stuff working first.. I think it would be fair to say that RSS is mainly used for website aggregation, and seeing as the apps that are out there don't even agree on how RSS should be parsed, and the specs are ‘conversational’ (I read that somewhere, probably in a comment on Sam Ruby's weblog, and liked it - conversational specs, heh), it might be nice to have some ratification and concreting of what we've got. Not to slow stuff down, but so we can draw a line and say this is the version websites should use and this is how it's supposed to work, and this is what you're doing wrong (of course anyone who wants to can use the latest in RSS feeds, and implement changes as they see fit - Sam does this well by providing a whole range of RSS versions for his site).

The part I disagree with most in all of this is that of allowing relative links. It’s probably the single most annoying practical problem around. There’s no consensus amongst RSS publishers or consumers on how relative links should be resolved. With respect to the server root? With respect to the <link> tag? With respect to the actual RSS feed?

A while ago, Scott Andrew wrote

Once again I broke my RSS feed with a relative URL. And once again I must ask: why can’t RSS readers resolve relative URLs like browsers do? I am after all required to include a base URL in the LINK element of my RSS feed. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is bogus. Route around it.

AFAIC links should be absolute or begin with a ‘/’ and be relative to the webserver root. How else do you specify where it should be? Relative links blow chunks.

10:40 AM

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JTextile 1.0 is now out. Thanks to Gareth Simpson for his hard work whilst I was out sunning myself.

There are a few bugs to be cleared, but if there are any I haven’t spotted, just leave a comment.

Fixed some bugs, introduced a new rule, as proposed by Scott in the comments.

10:56 AM

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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

I give up. I give in. I concede defeat. Regular expressions have been for a long time been my weakest field, and my attempts to make a Java version of Textile have ended in ignominy.

Has anyone already performed this regex-a-plenty task? Or is anyone else willing to give it a go? Go on Lazyweb, be my hero.

(Mark Pilgrim also wrote a version in Python, which you can see here)

11:21 AM

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Monday, April 14, 2003

OPML2HTML.js can now deal with hierarchical structures like those output by SharpReader (due to this comment on the LazyWeb).


12:06 PM

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Friday, April 11, 2003

Okay, I ‘fess up. I don’t get it.

Why should I bother using xhtml:body when I could just as well be using content:encoded ? What’s the inherent benefit? I don’t buy the bandwidth cost answer, either.

There’s a nice short overview which probably summarises all the main points, and back when it was all new I didn’t get it either, but I wasn’t publishing RSS then, so thought I was just missing something. Now I am publishing, and I still don't get it.

Sure you get a namespace, and it's probably nicer, in a web egalitarian way, but is it actually better?

So what’s the deal? Why should I change my RSS feed to support xhtml:body ?

1:22 PM

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Thursday, April 10, 2003

Thanks to a suggestion from Phil Ringnalda, my RSS feed has now moved. Hopefully this could mean better HTML parsing and RSS 2.0 production. xhtml:body here we come.

My new RSS feed

→ Something is broken though. My RSS description contents are much shorter than they should be, although links to comments and real permalinks now appear correctly. But I rather think the contents of the posts are more important...

→ It stops after the first <span> tag. Most of them are unnecessary additions from a Textile clone, so just taking them out should provide the full post in the <description> section.

4:32 PM

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Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I don’t have an MT weblog (‘cause I’m “powered by Blogger”), but even I understand the principles behind trackback.

It seems that Dave’s been having trouble, but I don’t see what there is to get (although admittedly, this is after I read a very good explanation), I have a short html form for when I want to send a trackback from my Blogger blog, which takes the TB URL (which is the trackback:ping=”xx” bit of the embedded RDF snippet), then enter my entry title and an excerpt and hit submit. It takes about a minute, which is probably about 59 seconds longer than a native MT user, but it works.

Dave may also like to know that both Sam Ruby and Mark Pilgrim have the embedded RDF in their weblog posts, uncommented and commented respectively, I suspect the commented version is more correct, but I could easily be wrong.

3:46 PM

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A quick (and imperfect) workaround for the lack of Blogger RSS feeds is the service provided by Voidstar, which necessitates you add a <span> into your main template, and then generates your RSS feed for you.

Not a bloody bad idea given that a number of “A-list” people have said they won’t read a website which doesn’t provide an RSS feed (here is where I’m supposed to link to Phil Ringnalda and Sam Ruby saying exactly this, but I can’t find their comments offhand).

Anyway, all this makes my new RSS feed, which astonishingly, even validates

All would be perfect if it didn’t seem to insert random exclamation marks and break the anchor link on occassion, replacing it with a link I’ve made in the text. But I can live with this, at least temporarily.


11:11 AM

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More importantly than anything else at the moment though (translate: bugging me the most) is that Blogger doesn’t generate RSS feeds.

Blogger Pro users seem to be able to do this, but with the widespread proliferation of free and simple blogging tools which all provide this, this is something Blogger really needs to sort out.

Suffice to say that as soon as I have a Joggle server set up, this site will be available in RSS 0.91 and 2.0.

And about bloody time.

I think I’ve discovered my favourite diveintomark post ever. And who said programmers couldn’t be funny?

11:03 AM

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I’m terribly busy.

A big fuss about SharpReader (YA3PDNA) currently fills the world, and the developer of Syndirella talks about stopping development.

Personally I think Syndirella is far superior, just because it's much simpler to use and follows normal UI practice where SharpReader doesn't. It would be a huge shame if Syndirella was to stop where it was.

ieSpell, a spell-checker for us in IE is very useful. It would be nice to see something like OmniWeb’s in-line spellchecking in the next version of IE.

The Mozilla Guide for Web Developers is very good, especially the info about LiveHTTPHeaders which is something I’ve been looking for for ages (so that I can see the headers when doing local testing instead of having to upload a webapp to a server).

4:13 PM

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003

More namespaces:

All courtesy of Eric Vitiello's foaf file (via Phil Ringnalda). Actually Eric's FOAF file is an excellent all-round example of just how far it can go. Now all we have to do is make every person on the planet get one, and voila instant world personal database.

3:50 PM

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Some interesting FOAF (or other RDF) vocabularies I've come across:

Some nice FOAF examples:

More to come later...

1:21 PM

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MSN->FOAF can be done via msnm-lib

Jabber Roster -> FOAF can be done via Jabberbeans (although I'd prefer to use somthing like Smack because Jabberbeans is so hard to just get started with, Smack, on the other hand, is a delight)

Obviously JID -> FOAF entry can also be done using JabberBeans.

But what's the point? FOAF is a nice use of RDF in the real world, but I'm not writing an RDF parser (I'd use Jena if I was), and I've not yet seen any great uses of FOAF profiles (yes I've seen FOAF-a-naut and so on), but GeoURL is better for locating people who live close to you and things like the blogging neighbourhood are better for finding people's sites you might like to read. In fact, the best thing I've seen done with it so far is Mark Pilgrim's ‘About’ page, which is generated directly from his FOAF file. But while this is a neat use and exercise in RDF manipulation, it doesn't really serve any purpose.

What FOAF needs is for someone big to start using it, productively. There's a Movable Type plugin that lets you enter the URL of your FOAF file and it fills in the relevant comment boxes for you (name, URL, email address), which is cute, and, I've not looked into but, but if it supports standard autodetection (via the link tag), you've only got to enter the normal URL of your website.

What we really want is Amazon to use it though. Register? No need -- here's my website, find my FOAF file and get all my info from there. Amazon then becomes one-click registration (and you know how much they love their one-click systems), and others must surely follow. Security worries (I mean, how do you know the user is who the FOAF file says they are?), sign your file.

Obviously this then gives you a web-wide secure digital signature, all based on open source, human-readable techo-babble, which is probably not how it was intended, but wouldn't you like to see people use that instead of MS Passport? (btw, I've heard the Liberty Alliance has fallen apart, is this true?)

10:01 AM

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Pinch, punch, first of the month. No returns or anything back.