CSS Stylesheets for EEK Speaks

I got an e-mail from Steve Iman, who had downloaded my blosxom flavours files for this blog. He said that it took him a while before he realized he needed my CSS stylesheet to make the flavour files work.    (3E)

I didn’t include any CSS files in the package, because they are publicly available from my web site. However, you will definitely need them if you want to play with my flavour files. Here are the direct links:    (3F)

Heavenly Brisket at Flint’s

This blog is supposed to be a work journal, and it is. But the temptation to write about other things is strong, and I am weak. I am especially weak for good barbecue.    (38)

In the summer of 1997, my then-boss, Jon Erickson, took me to Rickey’s Pit in Kansas City, supposedly one of Bill Clinton’s favorite meat joints. To this day, I have not had better smoked catfish. At the end of that trip, I almost missed my plane back to California in order to sample the succulent offerings at the Great Lenexa Barbecue Battle.    (39)

I’ve had decent barbecue in the Bay Area, but nothing that matched my Missouri/ Kansas experience. (The closest was at Big Nate’s in San Francisco, but having former NBA great Nate Thurmond take my order might have affected my judgement.) Until yesterday.    (3A)

Last night, I went to the original Flint’s Barbecue in Oakland. It’s located in a nondescript building in a nondescript neighborhood on the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Market. The place is old school and no frills. There are no tables or plates, and the menu covers the basics: brisket, ribs, chicken, links, and of course, the requisite slices of Wonderbread. If you want soda or silverware, you will have to go elsewhere.    (3B)

I had the brisket and ribs combo. The ribs were good, but the brisket was unbelievable. Just watching the friendly woman at the counter hack up slices of beef made my mouth water, and the meat tasted even better than it looked: tender, moist, and smoky, perfect with the hot barbecue sauce.    (3C)

Flint’s has been around for 55 years. I plan on doing my part to keep it open for a long time to come.    (3D)

David Perkins on Organizational Intelligence

David Perkins, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, just published a new book on organizational intelligence: King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). See Harvard Gazette‘s review of the book and of Perkins’s work.    (37)

E-mail as a Synchronous Collaboration Tool

I just got back from dinner with a friend in Berkeley. (Wow! Details about my life! Not just more boring thoughts about collaboration! Whoops, spoke to soon. Here it comes.) I spent most of the car ride back thinking about Leaping the Abyss and the inherent advantages that synchronous collaboration has over asynchronous collaboration.    (2T)

I then started thinking about my own experience with asynchronous collaboration, and also my observations of various open source communities. I realized something important: E-mail is technically an asynchronous collaborative tool (different time, different place), but it can also be used synchronously (same time, even same place). Some of my best experiences working with people over e-mail have occurred when we were all online at the same time, and we were responding almost in real-time to messages. One of us would receive an e-mail, do some work in response, and send out another e-mail. Momentum would build, and a chain reaction ensued.    (2U)

Many open source communities work in similar fashion. In fact, it’s common among open source developers to follow both e-mail and IRC as they code.    (2V)

Earlier today, I polled the Collaboration Collaboratory about e-mail usage. Dorai Thodla said something interesting in response:    (2W)

Mostly I read the posts in the evenings or over weekends. Sometimes I respond but most of the time I don’t since I look at these responses a bit late. [emphasis added]    (2X)

If e-mail is asynchronous, then how can you look at responses late? Well, you can. There’s a feeling of active inclusion if you’re participating in a conversation as messages are coming in. Following a fairly complete thread after the fact can feel more like reading than collaborating.    (2Y)

There are several potential metrics we can use to study this phenomenon:    (2Z)

  • Average response time in a thread.    (30)
  • Each participant’s average time-of-response.    (31)
  • Average time span of threads.    (32)
  • Correlation between depth of thread and average response time?    (33)
  • Correlation between number of participants in a thread and average response time?    (34)
  • Other possible correlations?    (35)

Using e-mail synchronously may be one effective way to use it, but it may not be the most effective way. One downside is that it excludes people who are unable to participate synchronously, such as people living on the opposite side of the world. Another possible downside is that it encourages superficial thinking at the expense of deeper, more rational discussion. A third possible downside is that it facilitates emotional conflicts (i.e. flames) while impeding resolution of these conflicts.    (36)

Stable URLs in Blosxom

One of the problems with blosxom is that it does not implement truly stable URLs. (Of course, one could argue that no URLs on the Web are truly stable, but that’s a topic for another day.)    (2D)

Bloxom uses the filesystem for data storage and categories. This is one of its distinguishing features. It makes it easy to set up and install, it makes it easy to edit entries (use the editor of your choice, or build your own Web entry system, like wikieditish), and you can easily preprocess entries either statically or dynamically. My blosxom_purple plugin takes advantage of this latter fact, as do many other plugins.    (2E)

Its dependence on the filesystem also has its drawbacks. It’s hard to keep the date of each entry stable, because blosxom uses the timestamp of the file for the date. If you modify the file at all, the date changes. (Plugins like entries_index fix this problem.) Multiple categories are possible via symbolic links, but this is hackish at best. And worst of all, it prevents you from having truly stable URLs.    (2F)

The blog term for such an animal is Perma Link, and the question of the moment is, what’s the proper Perma Link for blosxom? The default flavour suggests that the link should be the date and an anchor link to the entry itself (in case of multiple entries per date). This only works if you don’t modify any of your blog entries, in which case the date will change. If you rename the file, the anchor name will change.    (2G)

I use the category followed by the filename as the Perma Link, because I only wanted a single entry per Perma Link page. Here, the problem is if I recategorize the page (by moving it into a different directory), once again, the Perma Link breaks.    (2H)

These issues will not be a big deal for most folks, but it’s a big deal to me. It means that I have to be extremely careful about my categorization scheme, and I have limited flexibility in changing categories.    (2I)

I want Permalinks that are less fragile. The solution is to separate blosxom’s date and category system from the filesystem itself. This has already been done for dates, and could easily be done for categories as well. The problem is, now you’re getting away from the spirit of blosxom, one of the very features that makes it unique and desirable.    (2J)