February 2005 Archives

farewell, marqui? (sponsored post)

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Well, this is it. The last contractual Marqui post.

It's been an interesting experience, and I'm not yet sure if I'll continue (if they choose to offer another contract). It has had some effect on my blogging patterns. I don't think it had any effect on the content of my other posts, though it did impact the frequency (I didn't want to post about Marqui without balancing with non-sponsored posts, for example).

I wish I was more enthusiastic about Marqui--that would make it easier for me to make the decision. But as I mentioned in my last post, I still don't feel as though they've articulated a clear message to a clear market, so it's hard for me to know who the audience I'm writing these sponsored posts for really is, or what I ought to be pointing them towards.

If I do continue, it will be with the same level of transparency that I'm already using--I'll tell you up front if I sign another contract, and what the basic terms of it are. And I'll clearly mark any and all sponsored posts with both an indication in the title and a visual offset on the page.

home again, home again...

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So much for my travel plans today. The later flight was delayed, and I finally had them rebook me for an early morning flight and went back home. The boys were happy to see me, at least. And I got to play a little Katamari. Now I'm off to bed, since I'll be up at 4am to try again. :/

video game store lament

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I took my older son to a local game store (HO/RC) yesterday that specializes in used game systems and games, and lets you trade in old systems. He had a GameCube that he no longer wanted, and three games that we don't play--Super Mario Sunshine for GameCube, and Gran Turismo 3 and GTA Vice City for PS2.

They had a PS2 with a missing drive cover (perfectly functional) for $100, but only gave us $25 credit for the GC and games. When I challenged it, the owner was extraordinarily rude to me, suggesting that I drive around and find out all the places that would rip me off more, and then come back so he could rip me off for less. We had a few more exchanges like that, all of which involved him being extremely rude and dismissive towards me (after all, I'm just the stupid rich mom, right?).

What I should have done at that point was march out the door with our stuff in hand, bought a new slimline PS2 at Sam's (with 2 games included) for $150, and sold the rest on eBay. But I was tired, and stressed about my slew of upcoming trips, and he so wanted to get it right there and then (I'd been promising this for a while). So I went against my good instincts and did the transaction. It left me with a very sour taste in my mouth, though, and you can bet I won't be back in that store again--nor will I encourage anyone else to go there.

When I searched for HO/RC just now, I discovered that they're also a prolific eBay vendor--but with a reasonable number of negative and neutral reviews, which doesn't surprise me at all. I'd be careful doing business with them, if I were you. That attitude towards customers is a very bad sign.

Sometimes I think that what I ought to do is open up the ultimate gaming spot geared towards parents as well as their kids. There's not much out there that targets tweens, really. The hands-on museums are for the younger set. The game stores and arcades are more for the teenagers (and the parents hate being there). So why not create a place that tweens will love, and that their parents won't mind taking them? Model it on places like Chuck-E-Cheese, with food and drink available, and places to sit. Put in a coffee bar and free wifi so that parents are willing to hang out while their kids wander around and/or play. Set it up like CEC, so that kids can't leave without the adult who brought them--that lets the parents relax, possibly in a separate glass-walled area so their kids can be seen but not heard. Hire teenagers to work there, and have them wandering around, available to talk to/encourage the tweens who are the real target. Sell card games and video games and computer games, and provide space for kids to play--for a price. (Maybe a monthly fee...)

I'm not much of an entrepreneur, but I bet something like this would do really well. There's a huge market out there that's pretty much untapped for this age group and their parents. Give us gamer moms somewhere to go that doesn't leave them feeling the way I did when I walked out of HO/RC. Please.

marqui: software as service concept (sponsored post)

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I've been lax in my Marqui blog-for-pay work lately, so today and tomorrow will be a one-two combo to get me up to date on posts, and bring me to end of my contract. (Haven't decided yet if I'll renew if given the option; several people I admire have expressed concerns about the mixing of editorial and advertising content, and I found Jason Kottke's recent post particularly compelling.)

That being said, I've been thinking about the "software as service" concept that Marqui is pushing with their CMS, and I find it somewhat intriguing. The basic idea is that your source content, and your finished output (HTML pages, Word documnts, PDFs, etc) live on your own your servers. It's just the processing of your input that's handled by Marqui's server. (Think of it a bit like having Blogger publish your site to your own server, rather than their servers--you provide the input, they process it and output it to your site.)

This is true of proprietary software, too, of course. If I create a project using Macromedia Flash or Director, I can output it and run it anywhere, but I can only edit it if I have the software. The difference here, however, is that once I've bought (licensed) the software, I can use it again at any time--with "software as service," once I stop paying I lose my ability to use the software.

Marqui's not the only place offering software as a service--some of my students have recently started using Basecamp for project management. For some reason, though, Basecamp feels less...well...scary to commit to.

Marqui really needs to work on its web site. When you get there, it's not at all clear what they're trying to sell you. Compare that to Basecamp's site. Clear, direct, easy to understand what they're offering. A free mode that lets you use the system for simple tasks. That would make me feel a lot more comfortable recommending to people that they give the system a shot. As it is, it doesn't feel clear or approachable--the site and the concept remain too opaque for most people to respond to.

delta blues


It's getting easier and easier to see why major airlines are getting their butts kicked by companies like JetBlue and Southwest.

I'm sitting in the Rochester airport, where Gerald and the boys dropped me at 12:30--with plenty of time to catch my 1:55 flight to Atlanta. The Delta line was extremely, worrisomely long--long enough that I wondered if they'd had to cancel a flight since I left the house (I'd checked online). But the prominently placed display screens showed my flight with an on-time departure, so I patiently waited my turn. And waited. And waited. Because they kept calling Cincinnati passengers up to the front of the line--guess being there on time doesn't pay.

When I finally did get to the desk agent, he informed me that my flight had, indeed, been cancelled due to weather. But they were "having problems with their computers," which is why there was no public indication of that fact (which would have saved me the 45 minute wait in line, since I could have called Delta on my cell phone and made alternate arrangements).

The next flight out isn't until 5:45pm, and it's not fair to Gerald and the boys for me to ask them to come get me again and go through the goodbyes once more. So I've settled myself into the Frontier Business Center at the airport, in a passably comfortable chair, with free wifi and power. I've got a giant latté from Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, and enough work (and neglected blogs) to keep me busy for a while.

This trip kicks off a busy month; I'll be in Atlanta for the NVHA Innovations conference on Social Network Media (with some other great folks). I get back on the 2nd, then leave on the 5th for Dubai, where I'll be speaking at the 7th Woibex Women in Business Conference. I return from Dubai on the 10th, and then leave again on the 12th for SXSW/Interactive, where I'll be moderating a panel entitled "Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora's Box of Community" with panel members Jay Allen, Cam Barrett, Jason Kottke, and Steve Champeon.

The plus side of all of this for, you my online friends, is that I'll be online and available to write and chat a whole lot more than usual. Expect to see me on AIM a good bit, and for blog posting to increase a bit.

disappearing cursor in os x panther?


Over the past two months (before the 10.3.8 update) I've been having trouble with my mouse pointer disappearing. It happens after I've had an external display hooked up. If I put the computer to sleep while the external display is connected (or just after disconnecting it), I frequently (but not always) don't have a cursor when I wake it back up. The keyboard still functions, and the mouse still works--I just can't see where it's pointing. So, if I move it up and left, eventually I can click on menus, but I have to guess where the cursor really is.

Can't track anything down online, so I thought I'd ask here--anybody seen this happen? Better yet, anybody know a fix? (And yes, Jeremy, I'll call it into the help desk, too... :)

J. D. Lasica has written an interesting article for USC's Online Journalism Review entitled "The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere."

My trust in the piece was somewhat marred by JD's poor fact-checking--I'm a professor, not a lecturer (there's a big difference...sort of like calling someone a copy editor vs a reporter, or a reporter vs an editor), and more importantly I teach at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) not RPI.

I would have commented on the site with a correction, but commenting on OJR requires not only your name and email, but also your date of birth, which I found a bit intrusive.

Nonetheless, I think JD does a decent job of outlining the issues in the debate.

I have to say that I take Stowe Boyd's criticism of the Marqui program with a grain of salt. I founded Corante's Many-to-Many blog on social software, and have been writing for it for nearly two years. I have yet to receive one penny of compensation from Corante for that work. This week, however, I cashed a hefty check from Marqui for the four clearly-marked sponsored posts that I wrote in January.

All in all, I don't feel at all bad about participating in Marqui's program. I don't think it has had any impact on my writing in other areas, nor have I felt that I've misled my readers in any way. So it's hard for me to see where Stowe's outrage comes from.

It will be interesting to watch where this all goes...

sabbatical details

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I was deliberately vague in my first post about the sabbatical, because I was waiting for details to get firmed up a bit. But I can now say, with no small measure of delight, that I'll be spending my sabbatical year as a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, in the Social Computing Group. w00t!

Many thanks to Lili Cheng, manager of that group, for making this happen. I'm really looking forward to working with her team, which is made up of some really amazing people.

What will I be doing, exactly? Well, that's still being worked out. I'm hoping to get a chance to peek over their shoulders on current projects like Wallop, providing feedback and participating in the design process. But I'm also really interesting in pursuing some work on what Linda Stone describes as "continuous partial attention."

I'll also be working on developing a social computing curriculum to implement at RIT upon my return.

Because I don't want to spend half my life in my car, we're planning on looking for a place to rent on the eastside (is it one word or two out there?). I love the idea of living in the city, especially since we'll be homeschooling, but I just don't think it makes sense given the traffic in the area.

My tentative start date at MSR is July 1, which means we're really only four months away from moving--which is more than a little daunting. Lots to do between now and then!

I've spent a little time today watching the Marqui animated demo today, so that I could write a belated first February post where I addressed the actual operation of the product. In general, I hate animated demos, and this wasn't really an exception. I resent a company demanding my undivided attention for a fixed period of time, and I hate it even more when there's no way for me to pause or rewind if I'm interrupted or distracted while watching it.

That aside, the basic ideas that the Marqui demo gets across are solid--the focus is on the fact that people in a workflow process (PR, legal, company management, etc) each have a role in creating, editing, and approving content. Marqui is designed to facilitate that process, allowing writers to produce content, editors to modify it, and publishers to approve final release of content. What makes Marqui interesting to me is that it does more than simply publish content to a web sit when its done. It handles a variety of content distribution approaches, including sending properly-formatted XML files to news publishers, sending email announcements, and publishing content in different locations (an internet site, an intranet site, even a CEO's blog).

From the brief glimpse of interface that the demo showed, it looks pretty well-designed for non-technical users. I'm hoping to get a chance to play with it hands-on this week so that I can do a better job of evaluating it. In the meantime, it does seem well worth a look for companies that have a variety of distribution formats and a moderately complex or distributed workflow pattern.

my husband rocks

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I told him at dinnertime that I'd put some software up for auction on ebay so that I could buy a PS2 and a copy of Katamari Damacy. He seemed somewhat skeptical, but I figured it was my software, so I could go ahead and do what I wanted with it.

He went out after dinner to buy groceries. After the kids were in bed, he asked me for some help in the living room. When I walked in, this is what I saw.


How cool is that? (No need to answer. I already know it's pretty damn cool.)

He says it's an early Valentine's Day present. So much better than roses.

why do academics blog?

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I keep getting asked this question by colleagues here at RIT and elsewhere, and I find myself sending them the same links over and over again. So here's what I give people who ask me this, in an attempt to clarify the value of blogging to those of us in academia. It's not all about personal confessionals. Really.

My Posts
you may ask yourself "how did i get here?"
blogging risks and benefits

Anders Jacobsen
Why I blog

Crooked Timber
The Academic Contributions of Blogging?
Academics and Blogging (see the comments)
Academic Blogging and Literary Studies
Lit Studies Blogging, Part II: Better breathing through blogging

Seb Paquet
Personal Knowledge Publishing and Its Uses in Research

Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen
Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool (PDF)

Collin Brooke
Blogging @ MEA (Collin's notes from the panel that I did with Seb Paquet, Alex Halavais, Clay Shirky and Jill Walker)


University of Minnesota's edited collection of essays, "Into the Blogosphere"

Feel free to add other favorite links to the wiki page I've set up.

camera comparison


Gerald's taken the boys to Polarwave (the winter equivalent of a waterpark), and I'm home playing with my new camera. Since one of the things I really wanted was the ability to take better, more detailed close-up shots, I decided to test the old and new cameras on the same image. I took close-up photos of the afghan I'm working on for Alex (same pattern as the one I did for my sister, different yarn color).

Here's the image from the old camera:

Yarn Closeup With Old Camera

And here's the one from the new camera:

Crochet Hook

Big difference in detail and clarity; and, since the second is a 5mp rather than 2mp image, I can crop it and get even closer in.

new toy!


ZA95A.JPGOur tax refund arrived this week (yes, we filed early this year), and I'd promised myself that when it did I'd finally upgrade my digital camera. I've been using a Kodak DX3600 for nearly three years now, and while I've been very happy with its operation and image quality, I was starting to want something a little higher-end.

I'm not a photo enthusiast, by any means, and I know that if even if I had the money to buy something like a Nikon D70 I'd never really learn how to use it properly. But I wanted something that had higher resolution that my 2.1mp model, did a better job in low-light contexts, and offered things like portrait and macro modes.

After spending a lot of hours reading through camera reviews on Dave Etchell's wonderful Imaging Resource web site, I finally made a decision--I wanted a Canon A95. Here's Dave's summary of the camera:

The PowerShot A95 is one of the few digital cameras that just seem to get everything right, with very few weaknesses. In virtually all respects (color, resolution, image noise), its images are good to excellent, and its range of features and capabilities is hard to beat for the price. Its 5-megapixel CCD and good-quality lens deliver sharp images with good color and little distortion. At the same time, it manages to make just the right tradeoff between image noise and sharpness, delivering plenty of the latter, with very little of the former. (A difficult balance for any camera, and one that many models get wrong.) Its combination of automatic and manual features make it very approachable for novices, but interesting for experienced users, the net result being a camera that will satisfy a broad range of interests and provide a good path for novice users to expand their photographic horizons as their experience grows. Other features like its excellent battery life and nifty tilt/swivel LCD are added bonuses. Bottom line, if you're looking for a great "all around" digicam for either individual or family, the Canon PowerShot A95 deserves serious consideration. Easily a "Dave's Pick!"

The best price the Imaging Resource site showed online was $314, via Dell.com, but I was in an instant-gratification kind of mood, so I went to RIT's bookstore to see if they had one in stock. They did, priced at $334...but they were out of stock. After some discussion, they offered to sell me the demo model for 10% off. Since they keep these cameras inside a glass case, and are very picky about handing them over (and this wasn't a high-traffic electronics store), I decided to go that route, and walked out of the store with my nearly-new A95.

The controls are a bit daunting; the A95 offers far more options and adjustments than my old camera did, but I'll start working my way through the manual tomorrow. I've also ordered a new battery charger, based on Imaging Resource's Great Battery Shootout. I'd noticed that my rechargeable batteries had gotten exceedingly short-lived, and was pretty frustrated about it. I didn't realize that the type of charger made such a difference in battery life, and I also wasn't aware of the variation in battery capacity. So I ordered the Maha C204W charger with 4 Energizer 2500mAh batteries ($41.97) and an extra 4-pack of 4 PowerEx 2300mAh batteries ($9.97) from Thomas Distributing, and should have it later this week.

sabbatical plans


My sabbatical application for next year has been approved! I'm still working out the details, but it looks quite likely that I'll be spending next year (with my family) in the Seattle area.

This mean that I'll need copious advice from my Seattle-based friends and colleagues on finding a place to live, getting settled in, homeschooling our boys, and people we must look up when we arrive (probably in July).

It also means that RIT will be looking to replace me for a year with a visiting professor, which is the real point of this post. We really need someone who has both interest and expertise in web development and social computing. It's a great opportunity for someone in industry who wants to spend a year in academia, or an academic at another school who needs a sabbatical opportunity of their own.

I realize that Rochester isn't everybody's ideal destination, but it really is a great city to live in. And I can't say enough good things about the work environment--I have great colleagues, a wonderful office, excellent support staff, and incredible facilities (both technical and recreational). The cost of living here is very low (and if you act soon, you could even rent our close-to-campus house, complete with furnishings...), recreational and cultural opportunities abound, and the public schools are excellent.

If you're interested, send me email, and I can give you more details.

running a local smtp server on my powerbook


One of the great frustrations of being a mobile user who doesn't use webmail is having to manually change SMTP servers each time I switch locations. There's one for when I'm at home, another for when I'm at work. And when I'm on the road, I have to remember to VPN into work in order to use their SMTP server. (Yes, I know, I should be using the VPN all the time...but it only protects traffic between my computer and RIT, and much of my traffic goes elsewhere.)

No more.

Yesterday I found an article by David Reitter, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, called Send E-Mail Everywhere: Postfix on Mac OS X (and other Unix systems). It has step-by-step instructions on how to securely set up a local SMTP server on your Powerbook.

It seems to be working...I ran a test where I sent mail to myself on six or seven different email accounts, and the test messages all arrived safely. And it's a whole lot faster than using the RIT SMTP server.

So, Mac tech gurus...have a made a terrible mistake? Has this set me up for abuse of my system in ways I can't anticipate or protect from?

sick and tired




Lost my voice, and colleagues who had it happen to them warn that a nasty head/chest cold is likely to follow.

I have no energy.

I have too much work, and haven't yet implemented a real GTD system to keep it under control. (I'm working on it. Really. But it's slow going.)

There are over 3000 unread items in my aggregator.

I'm going to bed.

useful household tips

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I'm cleaning out my inbox, and came across one of those "forwarded from umpteen friends" emails that I'd gotten back in '99 (yes, I have over 4000 messages in my inbox, and many are from years ago...). This one was worth saving, and it occurred to me that I should put it here in my "google-able outboard brain" so I could find the tips again if I needed them. I have no idea who the original author is; leave a comment if you know, and if I can verify it I'll add the attribution.

and we're back!

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Apologies to those of you who came to the site this afternoon and thought it had been hacked. We were making some changes with our ISP, and my son's web site (http://www.something-else-inc.com/) accidentally got swapped with mine temporarily. Everything should be back to normal now.

the mouths of (other people's) babes


I took a brief break from my organizational frenzy today to read some favorite blogs, including Bad Mother by the brilliant and funny Ayelet Waldman. I probably shouldn't have, though, because her Potty Mouth post made me spit coffee all over my nice clean desk. Apparently she and her husband had a bit of a quarrel this morning, which was followed by this conversation with her son:

Zeke, age seven says to me, "Daddy is not a dick, mommy. If Daddy is a dick, then you are a bush."

I stared at him and said, "What? What did you say? How do you even know that word?"

He replied, "What word? You know, Dick Cheney and George Bush."



The relative quiet around here hasn't been a sign of malaise. Instead, it's been an indication that I've been deeply engaged in activities that take me away from the blogosphere...and for good reason.

At the beginning of the year, I think I tripped an internal circuit breaker on clutter--in my office, in my house, in my brain. I didn't make any resolutions, per se, but I started looking seriously at how I could find a way to reduce clutter and the stress that it causes.

For dealing with household clutter and disorganization, I started with FlyLady. But while the basic approach is wonderful, I find the constant all-caps email reminders too much to deal with. So I went to the library and acquired FlyLady's book "Sink Reflections." From that, I learned that much of her method is derived from the book Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. And it turns out Pam and Peggy have another (more recent) book on organization called Get Your Act Together!: A 7-Day Get-Organized Program for the Overworked, Overbooked, and Overwhelmed that sounded like something Gerald and I could really use to get our day-to-day activities better organized. I bought that one via Amazon, and it was money well spent--the book is well-written, entertaining, and full of good practical do-able advice. We'll see how that goes.

I've also started tackling our most cluttered areas, one at a time, in an attempt to lighten my psyche a bit. I started with the drawers in the kitchen (a manageable hour-at-a-time project with clear rewards), and I was ruthless about throwing things away. It doesn't make sense to try to store old knives and ladles for a garage sale we'll probably never have time to hold. Then I moved on to the cupboards in the dining room, which have traditionally been where we hide everything before company comes over. That was a job, but it's done now. And Gerald and I are working on the basement disaster area, as well, starting from opposite sides (I'm working through baskets, wrapping, and old toys; he's starting with the workbench and tools) and trying to clear a path. As evidence of what pathological hoarders we've been, last night I found an old plastic garbage can (the kind people put in their bathrooms) filled with the contents of our junk drawer--from Tuscaloosa. We apparently dumped it out into this container and moved it up to Rochester back in '97...and hadn't touched it since. <sigh> But we're making real progress, as evidenced by the mounting piles of trash in the garage.

On the work and mind clearing front, I've joined the growing number of geeks gone wild over David Allen's Getting Things Done method. There's no question in my mind that it's the most valuable book I've bought in a long time (and at only $10.20 on Amazon, you'd be nuts not to get your own copy). I'm carrying it everywhere with me right now. (Scoble, I'm so jealous that you got a house call!) I've got the book, and the only blog I've been reading regularly over the past week is Merlin Mann's 43 Folders.

My office has been mostly cleaned out, my piles are greatly diminished, and my files are starting to take shape. I've also jumped on the Moleskine love train, and have acquired both pocket and standard-sized notebooks, as well as a fabulous Fisher Bullet Space Pen (black matte). It turns out that all those people who say that having a high-quality notebook and pen makes a difference in your willingness to carry them with you and use them are absolutely right. I love the silky feel of the Moleskine paper, and the solid feel (and durability) of the Fisher pen. It's freed me from feeling lost and unable to work when I don't have my computer with me, and allows me to sit anywhere--not just near a power outlet!

I've still got a ways to go in implementing a full GTD approach, but even my baby steps thus far are helping me to feel less overwhelmed and out of control. And Allen's ideas for visualizing "WILD SUCCESS!" (with no "Yeah, but..."s) has helped me in getting unstuck from some important work that had really been stalled.

My next challenge will be figuring out how to balance and integrate the digital part of my GTD approach with the analog version. I've acquired DevonThink and OmniOutliner, and haven't really been able to figure out how to use them well--until this week, when I found some great sites describing how others are using them. That's how I learn best--by modifying what others have done. If you're in the same boat, I highly recommend Steven Johnson's recent post on DevonThink (and the NYTimes Book Review article he wrote on the subject), Frasier Spears' post on OmniOutliner Pro, and on the analog side, Omar Shanine's "How the Moleskine Rocked My World."

So yes, I'm still here. And doing well, thanks. I suspect I'll be blogging regularly again soon (I've even set aside a section of one of my Moleskines for blog post ideas).

what is marqui, anyhow? (sponsored post)

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At the dinner table the other night, my older son asked me what Marqui was, and whether I used it. I told him I didn't, and he asked if I was endorsing it. I said I wasn't, that I was just writing about it. He wanted to know how that was different. My younger son piped up and said "Because she can say that they suck if she wants to!"

Yes, I could. I could write for three months (well, two more months) about how much I hate Marqui. But since I haven't used it yet, it's tough for me to say anything bad about them. And I can't really complain about the terms of my agreement with them--I'm able to clearly separate sponsored content from non-sponsored content, and there are no restrictions on what I can write.

Thus far, I've written pretty general material about the blogosphere program Marqui is running, and about what CMS programs do, generally. Tonight I'll start talking about Marqui more specifically.

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