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August 26, 2010 / BrianOFlan

How to make a useful webpage

While working on our group’s public webpage, we were brainstorming what kind of content to put in it.  The professors had all kinds of ideas for diverse content and a complicated layout.  We obliged on penalty of academic death but wondered if we any of this content would interest potential visitors and users of the site.

xkcd summarized the problem of academic institution web sites:

University Website

The roll-over caption says,

People go to the website because they can’t wait for the next alumni magazine, right? What do you mean, you want a campus map? One of our students made one as a CS class project back in ’01! You can click to zoom and everything!

My dominant web design philosophy is simplicity. Allow people to search and drill down into all kinds of interesting details but don’t cloud their view with everything all at once.

As long as we nod appreciatively, I think a round-about discussion with the professors will trick them into consenting to a more simple structure for the site.

August 25, 2010 / BrianOFlan

CMS Software: SavviCMS by Savvior

I get to use an interesting CMS system called SavviCMS, made by a company called Savvior.  Digging up reference material for it took some doing so I’m reminding myself and the world it exists here:

June 15, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Endangered Languages

UNESCO keeps track of which languages are in danger of going silent forever:

Explorer Wade Davis gave a talk on the subject at the 2003 TED conference:

May 3, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Subversion Hosting Comparison

So you want a Subversion repository to version control your code or your documents. (Subversion client TortoiseSVN integrates delightfully with Microsoft Office — compare, restore and control different versions of Office documents.)

But you don’t want the hassle of running your own server at home or at the office. What’s a good deal on some Subversion hosting?

Initial survey on Google Docs spreadsheet here.

May 1, 2010 / BrianOFlan


Notes, 2009-07-19:  So Christa says to me, “It’s fun to be around newlyweds and remember what it was like to actually be passionate.”

May 1, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Comparison of project management web app

I love the Basecamp-esque idea of a collaborative web application. Think of a productivity-oriented Facebook: Instead of an infinite tangle of emails either too broadly or too narrowly addressed, you post Twitter-like public status several times a week or day describing what you are working on. Your team can follow your progress (great for accountability) or send a public message to you on your MySpace/Facebook-ish profile or wall.  (No Farmville or Mafia Wars to distract you.)

You can view a running list of statuses and messages about and by people you care about — your teammates or chain of command, perhaps. You can silence anybody’s stream of updates if they stop applying to you.  See them again by visiting their profile directly.  Private messages are always available within the system or without, by regular old email.  Other hand project tools like deadlines, milestones, big goals, little tasks, task templates, time-tracking and more.

If anyone is lost (“Who do I even begin to ask about this project?”), they can put their question up publicly or search the wide system of public messages and statuses (statii?).

For your sakes, I have compared their different subscriptions in a spreadsheet and summarized it below.

Basecamp (the original idea):
Free 1 project, $24 for 15 projects, $99 for 100 projects, $149 for unlimited
Cheaper storage for file sharing.

Zoho (a kind of Basecamp clone, slightly cheaper, once hindered by mild bugginess):
Free 1 project, $12 for 10 projects, $35 for 50 projects, $80 for unlimited
Lower cost per project.

Nozbe (GTD-based “projects”):
No free, $7 to $49, 1 user until $24 (6 users) or $49 (15 users)
Hard to compare; more expensive storage and different underlying philosophy defining “projects” according to the Getting Things Done formula.

For me, I think Basecamp for the business (more reliable and professional) but Zoho for personal and family use.  Nozbe and GTD fascinate me but is very solitary.  I’m learning about teamwork now.  I don’t need another way to isolate myself in work.

March 24, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Optics Light the Future

March 24, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Earn a living? Or just a spending? Why people get jobs, leases and mortgages.

I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender


January 30, 2010 / BrianOFlan

Die well

Everybody dies.  Its a guarantee.

Most of us hate to focus on death, pain and sadness.  That’s good.  Plenty of that comes along without us dwelling on it.

We had better not ignore it or pretend it’s not going to happen.  I know it can be intimidating but what’s worse:  Facing it or procrastinating getting our affairs in order?  Spend a few minutes clearly and reasonably addressing the issue so you don’t leave a disorganized disaster to your survivors.

Everyone says you need a will and life insurance and other important documents to minimize your posthumous purgatory in probate court.  If you have kids, you need to pay attention to how their mother will provide for them without you.  If you are married, you want to leave your spouse as well as possible.  If you are a free wheeling single, you can decide whether or not your own parents or siblings should have anything besides debts to remember you by.  In any case you may want to avoid spoiling your relatives or leaving them impoverished.  You may want to give a bump to a charity you care about.  You may want a statue and museum erected in your former residence, devoted to the brief majesty of your self importance.

My father in law told me to take a class at church:  Winning at Work & Home.  What kind of loser is so obviously begging for remedial education like this that his wife’s family tells him so?  The class is part of a series on authentic manhood by Rev. Dr. Robert Lewis (1).  Authentic manhood?  What kinds of stories is Christa telling her people?  My manhood is authentic enough, thank you very much.  I’ll take the class to promote family harmony.

Class 6 of 16 wraps up a section on winning financially.  It concludes with something sweet:  A love letter to my wife.  You write a love letter and include important financial details (bank account numbers, internet banking passwords, etc.) in appendices.  You keep this letter (prime identity theft material) in a safe or safety deposit box.  The class ended with sniffles from all the husbands envisioning their bereaved widows opening up the family lock box in weepy bewilderment over all these bills she now gets to pay on her own.  There on top of every useful and carefully organized financial document is a letter, P.S. I Love You style, expressing your disembodied but undying love for her and talking her through some next steps.

I usually postpone writing important things indefinitely.  I want to be prepared.  I want to do my research.  I want to draft and revision and start all over a couple times.

But dying is the most important violation of the Boy Scout’s motto.  You can’t thoroughly prepare.  You don’t know when or how it will come to you, how terribly soon.  You can see what to do about your impoverished soul and that’s about it.

I’m going to write this letter quickly.  If I survive the week or month, I can draft an improvement.  Does anyone have a good estate lawyer?

Last night the wife said,
“Oh boy, when you’re dead,
You won’t take nothin’ with you but your soul.”  (2)

January 25, 2010 / BrianOFlan

How to install Apache Ant with all optional tasks

It’s not as easy as the manual’s directions indicate.  I’m running on an old MacBook (1GB RAM, 2GHz Core 2 Duo) with OS X 10.5.8.  I already had ant installed but it lacked the optional tasks like ftp (from common-net.jar).

To fix it, I built the latest ant release from the source.

First I switch to root to modify folders like /usr/share :

sudo su -l root ;

I locate ant:

which ant ;

For me, ant already lives in /usr/share/ant, a symbolic link to /usr/share/java/ant-1.7.1

So I remove the link to ant 1.7 and create a folder for ant 1.8

NEW_ANT_VERSION=ant-1.8.0RC1 ;
rm /usr/share/ant ;
mkdir /usr/share/java/$NEW_ANT_VERSION ;
ln -s /usr/share/java/$NEW_ANT_VERSION /usr/share/ant ;

Download and un-bundle the source code:

cd /tmp ;
curl -O${NEW_ANT_VERSION}-src.tar.gz ;
gunzip apache-${NEW_ANT_VERSION}-src.tar.gz ;
tar -xf apache-${NEW_ANT_VERSION}-src.tar ;

Add Junit then bootstrap Ant (compile just enough Ant to use Ant to compile itself the rest of the way)

cd apache-${NEW_ANT_VERSION} ;
mkdir -p lib/optional ;
cd lib ;
curl -o junit.jar -L${NEW_JUNIT_VERSION}/junit-${NEW_JUNIT_VERSION}.jar?use_mirror=cdnetworks-us-1 ;
    #That "-L" is important to curl to follow the kind of redirects that sourceforge throws at it
cp junit.jar optional ;
cd .. ;
./ ;

If the bootstrap command succeeds

bootstrap/bin/ant -f fetch.xml -Ddest=optional ;
    #fetch.xml populates the lib/optional folder with the jar files necessary for the optional tasks
./ install -Dant.install=/usr/share/java/${NEW_ANT_VERSION} ;

Or just download a binary distribution.  After all this work building my own with the optional task jars, I noticed the binary download already includes them all.  I don’t know why my pre-existing ant installation (1.7.1) didn’t have any optional tasks.  It seems like it would be hard to get a copy of Ant that doesn’t have them.