Blog-Wiki Integration Turned On

Long-time followers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed my habit of smooshing seemingly harmless words together. I often do it with people’s names — for example, Eugene Eric Kim. Some of you may have guessed why I did this, but most of you probably figured my space key was broken.    (GB)

Starting today, my reasons should be more clear. Notice that “Eugene Eric Kim” is not only improperly written, it is now also a link. Browse through my older blog entries, and you’ll notice that all of the smooshed words are either links or are followed by a question mark link. This is blog-Wiki integration at its finest.    (GC)

Why I Turned WikiWord Integration On    (GD)

My purple plugin for Blosxom always had this WikiWord feature, but I kept it off until today. The main reason for this was that I wasn’t sure how I wanted to use it.    (GE)

I already use several Wikis quite actively — the Blue Oxen Wikis as well as a private one for my personal notes. I try to use the Blue Oxen Wikis for my ideas on collaboration whenever possible, so that they would become part of a collective repository of ideas rather than a personal one. Even though a personal Wiki is publically editable, the individual’s name can act as a kind of branding. Because this blog acts as a work log (my occasional food entries aside), my ideal would have been to integrate this Wiki with the Blue Oxen Collaboration Collaboratory Wiki. Unfortunately, that feature is not available.    (GF)

At minimum, I knew a personal PurpleWiki installation would be useful as a support glossary for this blog (more on this below). Nevertheless, I decided to write as if I had Wiki integration, but to wait a while before actually turning it on. This wasn’t hard for me: using WikiWords is practically second nature. Most of my entries ended up chockful of WikiWords, leading many to question my competence with the keyboard. These questions reached critical mass recently, and so I decided to turn the feature on.    (GG)

More importantly, I decided how I wanted to use my new Wiki overall: as a support structure for this blog, and also as a place for publishing essay drafts, design notes, and other random thoughts. Stuff I publish there will be implicitly labelled, “Work In Progress.” This will serve as a disclaimer that will make me more comfortable publishing my half-baked ideas, while also encouraging others to contribute while the ideas are still half-baked.    (GH)

Ross Mayfield on Social Software, Social Networks

Last Friday, I finally got a chance to meet Ross Mayfield, who was speaking at the November meeting of the Bay Area Futurist Salon, held at SAP Labs in Palo Alto. Ross is CEO and founder of Socialtext, a company that is selling social software to companies. Some people have compared Blue Oxen Associates to Socialtext, which is apt in some ways, but is not quite right, as I’ll discuss below. Christine Peterson (one of our advisors) had said great things about Ross and Peter Kaminski (Socialtext‘s CTO), and Ross and I had exchanged some pleasant e-mails. The meeting confirmed Chris’s judgement. Not only is Ross a good guy, he had some interesting things to say about Social Software and Social Networks.    (D8)

Social Software    (D9)

I mostly agreed with what Ross had to say about social software, and I especially liked his overall philosophy about what makes a good tool. I did have a few nitpicks, though. Ross defined Social Software as follows:    (DA)

  • Software that supports group communication    (DB)
  • Software that adapts to its environment, rather than requiring its environment to adapt to it    (DC)

I asked him to clarify the latter statement, and he explained that most collaborative software tries to enforce too much structure. These tools force users to figure out how to fit the data into the tool, whereas the tools should fit the data. In this vein, Ross spoke highly of Wikis and blogs, and also of human filtering (such as Google’s technique of measuring backlinks) as a way of organizing information.    (DD)

I strongly agree with Ross’s philosophy, although I don’t like how he worded it in his slide. His statement is equivalent to the first part of Doug Engelbart‘s philosophy of coevolution of tools and processes; however, it leaves out the second part, which is equally important.    (DE)

Doug says that tools ought to augment human processes. However, as we learn more about the tool, we also must evolve the processes to adapt to the tool. An example that Doug often cites is the bicycle. Riding a bike is not intuitive, but it offers significant performance advantages over a tricycle. (To illustrate this point, Doug likes to show this picture.) “User-friendly” tools can be useful, but they should not be the end-goal.    (DF)

One “semistructured” tool that Ross does not like is e-mail. In predicting its demise, he cited several statistics regarding the amount of time required to deal with e-mail, especially but not exclusively due to spam. Ross introduced a cute term that I had not previously heard: “occupational spam” — e-mails from “legitimate” sources that have no bearing on your life or work whatsoever. This often manifests itself as being cc’d on threads of little or no relevance. Ross claimed that 30 percent of our inboxes consist of occupational spam. I should have asked for a citation on that stat, because it’s an interesting one.    (DG)

One of his main arguments against e-mail as a collaborative tool was that it encourages discursive discourse, and that it’s hard to make any sense of the sum product. I agree entirely with this argument, but would use it as an argument for how to use e-mail effectively rather than against e-mail entirely. Internally at Blue Oxen, our e-mail and Wiki usage complement each other quite nicely. We kick off the discussion using e-mail, and we synthesize the resulting thoughts into the Wiki, with links back to archived e-mail.    (DH)

Social Networks    (DI)

Ross’s presentation on Social Networks was outstanding. He’s obviously thought deeply about these issues, and he’s collected quite a bit of interesting research. He first described his and Valdis Kreb’s Blogmap Project, which mapped relationships between members of Ryze‘s Blog Tribe.    (DJ)

He then discussed the power law of blog space, which states that the distribution of links to a blog is inversely proportional to the blog’s rank. In other words, the number of links to the most popular blog is exponentially greater than links to the next-most popular blog.    (DK)

Ross then proposed three types of collaboration: the publishing model (one-to-many, where the power law applies), the individual’s social network, and small teams. He cited the primatologist Robin Dunbar’s work to suggest that social networks generally numbered about 150, and said that people’s interactions with their social networks generally followed a normal distribution. (Interestingly, he showed his RSS aggregator, which had 146 subscriptions.) Finally, he suggested that the optimal size of teams is about 10, and that the number of interactions between team members tends to be about equal.    (DL)

Socialtext Versus Blue Oxen    (DM)

Socialtext and Blue Oxen are similar in that we both are interested in collaborative tools, and that we both share similar philosophies about tools. Socialtext sells these tools as enterprise applications, however, whereas Blue Oxen is focused on understanding how best to use and improve these tools and on disseminating that understanding widely.    (DN)

In that vein, we both have embarked on similar projects, but with different goals. Ross talked about Socialtext‘s experiences with Social Software supporting face-to-face events, and those tools were available during his talk. We did a similar project with the PlaNetwork 2003 Conference, for which we set up a Wiki, RSS aggregators, and an IRC channel.    (DO)

We host collaboratories, and plan on charging for membership to those collaboratories once our infrastructure is up to snuff. However, we’re not an ASP, although we will make (and already have made) ASP-like services available to communities. Our infrastructure is meant to be cutting-edge and rough around the edges. It’s a way for people to experience first-hand what it’s like to use those tools, an opportunity to learn (and share) how best to use them, and a platform for coevolution. Despite our intentions, we’ve already discovered that even with promises of little/no “official” support, people enjoy using our tools for their real-world collaborative needs. As members, they’ll have free access to these tools for their groups. When they start needing better support and enterprise-level features, we will happily point them towards Socialtext and similar companies.    (DP)

“Turn Off Your Computer” and Other Pattern Ramblings

As I mentioned previously, Blue Oxen is finishing up its second research report. We spent several hours developing a survey for the report, and all of us were quite satisfied with the final draft. Then we e-mailed the surveys. Almost immediately afterwards, the three of us thought of several more questions we would have liked to have asked.    (CR)

The experience struck a chord in Josh Rai, who suggested there was a force there that manifested itself in several patterns. Last Thursday, he came up with a pattern as an example: Turn Off Your Computer. It’s both a pattern for good living — or as Josh called it, a “Martha Stewart” pattern — and also a pattern for knowledge work. I think the underlying force is one that crops up constantly, and is worth discussing. I also think explaining this particular pattern is a useful way of demonstrating the difference between a pattern and a force.    (CS)

Turn Off Your Computer    (CT)

Problem: You can’t remember whether you’ve finished all of your tasks.    (CU)

Context: You think you’re done with your tasks for the day — scheduling a meeting, sending an e-mail, etc. — but you have a sinking feeling that there was something else you were supposed to do.    (CV)

Forces: ?    (CW)

Solution: Turn off your computer. You’ll remember what you were supposed to do after the computer is off.    (CX)

Resulting Context: There is a sense of finality in turning off your computer that helps unclutter your mind, making it easier to remember whatever it was that you forgot.    (CY)

Rationale: You can always turn your computer back on. Remembering what you forgot before it’s too late more than makes up for the five minutes wasted in restarting the computer.    (CZ)

Related Patterns    (D0)

All of the Think Out Loud patterns tend to have a similar effect. For example, I often find that I discover all sorts of new insights and ways to express ideas after I submit a paper for publication. One way to trick yourself into thinking of these ideas ahead of time is to show your drafts to people. I’m generally reluctant to do this — as are many others I know — because I’m self-conscious of my writing. However, the payoff always makes it worth it.    (D1)

The software analog of this is Commit Early And Often. Checking in code not only allows others to review your work, it often frees your mind into solving previously unresolved issues.    (D2)

When I’m having trouble thinking through a problem, discussing it with other people often helps. In fact, I often figure out the solution myself right after explaining the problem. Sometimes, just formulating the problem in my head prior to explaining it leads to the solution. Nevertheless, I find it vital to have the person physically present.    (D3)

Pattern Ramblings    (D4)

In this particular case, we recognized the force before coming up with the pattern (although I still haven’t managed to describe the force usefully). I think of the difference between patterns and forces as analogous to the difference between patterns of language and the rules of language. Infants (and perhaps most adults) learn languages by recognizing and repeating patterns. We know nothing about syntax and semantic rules until we are taught them, at least not consciously. Nevertheless, while knowing the rules are not necessary for learning the language, they are valuable for understanding and evolving the language.    (D5)

Furthermore, we are good at recognizing patterns, but we’re not necessarily cognizant of them, and hence, are often not good at synthesizing them. Writing a good pattern is hard; recognizing a good pattern is much easier.    (D6)

We don’t necessarily have to be cognizant of patterns in order to apply them. However, it certainly helps. Comedians, for example, are applying patterns of humor. Most of these comedians are probably aware of these patterns, although they probably weren’t when they were merely funny people. People who aren’t natural comedians can learn to crack jokes once they are aware of these patterns.    (D7)

The Quest for Santa Maria Barbecue, Part II

Yesterday, I journeyed south to what is now known as “the O.C.,” or what my friend Christine refers to as “behind the Orange Curtain.” I think of it merely as my new home away from home. The trip gave me an excuse to revisit an earlier quest: to sample some authentic Santa Maria barbecue.    (BR)

To recap: Last July, I took a detour from my normal route south to visit The Hitching Post, a steakhouse in Casmalia, one of Santa Maria‘s neighboring towns. While the food was good, there were two flaws in the experience: The restaurant served steak, not barbecue, and it did not serve pinquitos, a bean native to the Santa Maria Valley and an integral part of the Santa Maria barbecue experience.    (BS)

Going Grassroots    (BT)

Having been disappointed by the restaurant experience, I decided to go grassroots. I had read that the natives often congregated downtown on weekends to smoke tri-tip and cook beans. I called the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce to confirm the story. The woman who answered the phone did just that, waxing poetic about how various community groups camped out on Broadway Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, every Friday and Saturday and hosted barbecues. She recommended visiting the Valley Christian barbecue just south of Stowell Road.    (BU)

As she spoke, I envisioned a small country road, surrounded by storefronts straight out of an old Western, and lined with smokey grills as far as the eye could see. A barbecue nirvana, if you will.    (BV)

Duly inspired, my younger sister Jessica and I woke up early yesterday morning and headed south on the 101. The drive was unusually beautiful. Not only was the sky a crisp, clear blue, but the vineyards that line the highway through the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara valleys had acquired fall colors — beautiful hues of red, yellow, and orange. Four hours into the drive, I spotted the Broadway (Highway 135) exit, and we turned off, excited and hungry.    (BW)

Not Barbecue Nirvana    (BX)

Immediately, I had to scrap my vision of barbecue nirvana. Santa Maria is no small country town. About 80,000 people live there. Broadway Street is a wide, busy street lined with strip malls and fast food joints. Nevertheless, my spirits remained high. I told Jessica to look out for Stowell Road, while I opened my window to sniff for smoke.    (BY)

Five minutes into our drive, we had our first sighting. A Mexican family had set up shop in the parking lot of the Holiday Motel, and a small group of hungry citizens lined up behind a metal grill covered with hunks of meat and half chickens. I fought off the impulse to pull over immediately, and we continued down the street to see what else was out there. A minute later, we spotted the Valley Christian barbecue. A large white bus was parked in front of a strip mall, and smoke rising from two barbecue trailers engulfed the entire street with a sweet, oaky aroma.    (BZ)

There were only two other barbecues along Broadway, but my disappointment was outweighed by the earlier sight of the Valley Christian barbecue. We turned the car around and made a beeline for the white bus.    (C0)

Where Are the Pinquitos?    (C1)

Jessica and I each had a tri-tip dinner, which consisted of several slices of tri-tip, salsa, beans, cole slaw, and buttered bread, all for six dollars. “Eat the meat with the salsa,” I urged Jessica, as I prepared to take my first bite of the meat.    (C2)

One of my favorite sayings is, “Everything tastes good barbecued,” and it’s usually true. It is very hard to go wrong with smoked meat. The barbecued tri-tip was no exception, but it was not exceptional either. The meat was smokey and moist enough, although it probably would have benefitted from some additional salt in the rub. Nevertheless, I had no problem with the meat.    (C3)

The sides were another matter. First, the salsa was inferior and obviously store-bought. This was disappointing, but understandable. These folks served many people, and couldn’t reasonably be expected to make buckets of fresh salsa along with the meat every weekend.    (C4)

The beans, however, were inexcusable. Everything I had read about Santa Maria barbecue made special mention of the pinquitos, and one of the main reasons for my disappointment at The Hitching Post was that they didn’t serve these beans. When we opened our cartons of food, Jessica glanced at the beans and said, “They look like plain old baked pinto beans to me.” Then she took a bite, and said, “Taste like pintos too. Not very impressive ones, either.”    (C5)

I finished my food quickly and walked back to the bus to grill the man manning the grill. “Are these pinquito beans?” I asked.    (C6)

The man shook his head. “Baked beans from Smart & Final,” he responded.    (C7)

The Search for Red Oak    (C8)

I was disappointed by the sides, but in retrospect, I wasn’t too surprised. Again, these folks served a lot of people, and they didn’t charge much money. Corners would inevitably be cut. I resolved to visit one of the smaller barbecues in search of a more authentic experience, but before I left, I asked the man where he got the wood. My thinking was, if I could bring home some red oak and pinquito beans, I could hold my own Santa Maria-style barbecue.    (C9)

“What kind of wood are you using?” I asked.    (CA)

“Oak,” he answered. “But we went through a year where we had to use eucalyptus.”    (CB)

“Why?”    (CC)

“Folks around here are a bit sensitive about their red oak. We couldn’t get any for about a year. But, we have a new supplier now.”    (CD)

His explanation was a bit fuzzy, but it had something to do with the trees being located on the vineyards and with local rules preventing these trees from being chopped down. He couldn’t tell me where his supplier got the wood, but he did share some useful tips on smoking meat.    (CE)

I returned to the table, where Jessica was still eating, and told her about the beans and the wood. She narrowed her eyes, and shook her head disapprovingly. As if on cue, the wind picked up, and a gust actually flipped her carton over, dumping the beans on her sweater and the rest of the food on the table. Jessica stared at her stained sleeve in utter shock. Meanwhile, I looked mournfully at the remaining slice of meat on the table, now wasted. It was clearly a sign to move on.    (CF)

The Man From Nipomo    (CG)

We decided to visit the first barbecue we had seen, on the off-chance that they might serve pinquitos. As we pulled our car into the lot, a short, friendly woman waved us over. “Do you have pinquito beans?” I asked.    (CH)

“Mexican beans? Yes, right here.”    (CI)

“No,” Jessica interjected. “Pinquito beans.”    (CJ)

“Pinto beans, yes,” the woman repeated. No one seemed to know what pinquito beans were. However, her beans did look homemade, and their meat looked awfully good as well. True, I had just finished eating fifteen minutes ago, but….    (CK)

“Where did you get your wood?” I asked, fighting off feelings of gluttony. The woman didn’t know, so she asked a man sitting at the table. The man started speaking volubly in Spanish. I helplessly turned to Jessica — who had taken years of Spanish in high school and had even won some awards — for help. However, the recent food intake and sweater trauma had resulted in a brain cramp, rendering her temporarily useless.    (CL)

Fortunately, another man came to our rescue. “Nipomo,” he explained. Nipomo was a town about five miles north of Santa Maria. The man couldn’t tell us exactly where to buy the wood, but I felt confident that we would find a place. Jessica was less confident. The idea of tooling around a strange town, searching for firewood, did not seem to appeal to her, especially since we had another four hours of driving ahead. Being a sensitive guy, I knew I had to treat her gently. The threat to leave her behind worked, and we headed north to Nipomo.    (CM)

We spent about fifteen minutes driving around Nipomo, which truly was a small town, but to no avail. We did, however, spot a small, old restaurant called The Mayor’s Place advertising barbecue. It had a false storefront that gave it a cozy, homey feel. We pulled up next to the restaurant, and recognizing the now familiar smell of burning oak, we decided to go inside.    (CN)

I approached a waitress, and asked if they served pinquito beans. Once again, we were denied. I then asked her where they got their wood, and she explained that there was a man in town who delivered the wood every few weeks. She very kindly gave me his name and phone number, which I promptly called. The man explained that he had some property with lots of red oak, and when he visited it on weekends with his family, he would bring wood back and sell it to various places, including The Mayor’s Place. He said that he could bring some back for me in about five weeks, and although I was sorely tempted, I thanked him and hung up.    (CO)

Jessica and I arrived in Irvine later that evening, and upon hearing our tale, my dad suggested that Santa Maria barbecue was an overhyped myth. Perhaps it is. My vision of the country road lined with people gathered around smokey grills has been replaced by one of a long, wide suburban thoroughfare, lined with strip malls and the occasional grill serving Smart & Final beans. Nevertheless, I find something strangely compelling about this little town of 80,000 people, so proud of their local barbecue that they’ve trademarked the brand, so protective of their local wood that it’s almost impossible to buy. There may not be grills on every corner of Broadway Street, but there are more than a few grills over a two-mile stretch, and they’re there every weekend.    (CP)

I remain convinced that somewhere in the Santa Maria Valley, there is a place that makes meat so sweet and smokey, it practically dissolves in your mouth, a place that serves pinquito beans that are so good, you sigh in resignation every time you see a plate of pintos. And so the search continues….    (CQ)

Upgraded Blosxom and Plugins

I finally upgraded blosxom to 2.0, which has been available for a few months now. I upgraded Tatsuhiko Miyagawa’s ping_weblogs_com_xmlrpc to v0.06 (after fixing a minor bug), and I installed two new plugins: entriescache_purple and Rob Hague’s cooluri.    (BJ)

entriescache_purple    (BK)

entriescache_purple is a slightly modified version of Fletcher Penney’s entriescache plugin (v0.61). Old versions of entriescache and entries_index had a pretty significant bug that prevented them from working nicely with other plugins. Fletcher did a good job of not only fixing the bug, but improving entriescache to the point where it’s really the only caching plugin anyone needs.    (BL)

entriescache supports metadate tags within the entries themselves. I hacked it to support PurpleWiki metadata instead. It’s a very minor hack, and it truly is a hack, but it works great. I’m not going to post my changes to the Blosxom Plugin Registry, because it’s mainly targeted towards users of my purple plugin. However, the diff (to version 0.61 of entriescache) is available.    (BM)

cooluri    (BN)

Rob Hague’s cooluri plugin solves what I consider to be one of blosxom’s biggest flaws: lack of stable permalinks. Now, instead of relying on path-based (category) permalinks, I can use date-based permalinks.    (BO)

In reality, date-based permalinks aren’t necessarily stable either. Some bloggers repeatedly revise blog entries, which means that the entry date changes, and hence, the date-based permalink is no longer stable. However, I don’t plan on using my blog this way, whereas I may very well want to revise categories, so date-based permalinks are the way to go for me.    (BP)

In order to get these permalinks working properly with my other plugins, I had to make some minor modifications to seemore and purple.    (BQ)