May 2010 Archives

links for 2010-05-30

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summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime

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Seven years ago, I wrote a post on this blog entitled "free at last, free at last!," about how very good it feels to reach the end of a long school year and gaze out at the blissful summer stretching out ahead.

Between then and now I got into a terrible habit of overcommitting myself over the summer. The memory of relaxation lulled me into a false sense that I could take on just one little project...or maybe two...or... And then, suddenly, that wonderful feeling of school being out for summer was gone.

Last summer, I think, was the last straw. Picture the Impossible was a wonderful, gratifying project to create and implement. But it swallowed my summer (and fall) whole, and left me struggling to get my energy and engagement back when it was done.

This summer, I deliberately chose not to take on any new projects. And one week after commencement, I already feel like a new woman. I'm spending plenty of time in my backyard hammock, reading trashy novels (currently working my way through J.D. Robb's "In Death" series) on my iPad, tending to my Upside-Down Pation Garden (jury's still out on how the tomatoes will do in that, although they're definitely safe from the dog digging them up), and getting plenty of sleep. But at the same time, I can feel my intellectual energy perking back up. I'm playing with technology in way that I haven't in a long time, and finding it fun rather than frustrating. I'm cooking up new ideas for research and classes, without any stress about implementation timelines. I'm plotting out a late-summer cross-country road trip with Gerald and Alex (we'll ship Lane off to San Francisco for the duration). And, as you can see, I'm actually blogging again.

I have no idea how long this euphoric state will last. But I'm awfully optimistic. I have three more months of summer still to go. Life is good.

using ldap with mediawiki at rit

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This summer I'm not over-committed, which means I'm getting to indulge my inner geek with web implementation challenges.

First up was figuring out how to install a wiki that could be used only by specific RIT faculty and staff members, without requiring them to create (and remember) yet another user ID and login.

RIT has a centralized authentication database (an LDAP server) that can be queried by other on-campus servers, so I wanted to be able to tap into that for authentication on the wiki. Happily, there's a plugin for Mediawiki (the open source wiki software used by Wikipedia) to enable LDAP authentication. Less happily, it took a while to find documentation for it. Even less happily than that, RIT provides no public documentation of their LDAP server, so I had to do a lot of trial-and-error to get things working. Here's what I ended up doing:

1) Downloaded and installed the latest version of Mediawiki in my account on the departmental web server. (Note: don't bother trying this on Gibson; you won't be able to proceed past this step.)

2) Set up a wiki database in mySQL for Mediawiki to use, and ran the Mediawiki installation. Gave the default admin user for the wiki the same username as my RIT login (ellics) -- this is important.

3) Disabled anonymous access to the wiki, by adding these lines to LocalSettings.php:

The last line makes it possible for an unauthenticated user to view the main page and the login page (and the logout page, which is necessary for users who are authenticated but not trusted, as described in later steps).

4) Installed the Mediawiki LDAPAuthentication plugin in the extensions directory of my Mediawiki directory.

5) Configured the plugin using these instructions provided by the developer (which, puzzlingly, aren't linked anywhere from the plugin page). Do not use the "Part 1" instructions, which are for AD (Active Directory) LDAP installations. For RIT's server, you must use the Part 2 instructions for Posix LDAP installations. Here are the lines I added to my LocalSettings.php file to enable authentication:

At this point, anyone with a valid RIT account could log into the wiki using their standard RIT login and password. However, we want to restrict access to only faculty and staff in our department. I evaluated and discarded two approaches to this problem--first, getting a custom group established in LDAP to authenticate against (bad because it requires going through central IT for any changes), and second, using .htaccess to limit access (bad because it requires two logins and https URLs). I finally settled on using a custom group within Mediawiki to distinguish between trusted and untrusted users.

6) First, I disabled access to most functionality for all users:

(This is why I needed to include the logout page in the whitelist--otherwise untrusted users could log in, but not log out.)

7) Then I re-enabled that access for members of a new group called Trusted:

Because Mediawiki uses the most permissive group you belong to when determining access, this (or administrator access) overrides the restrictions from the previous step.

8) Anyone with administrative access has the ability to assign a user to a group, which means that once a faculty or staff member has logged into the wiki for the first time, an administrator has to grant them full access.

And that's it. It seems to be working well on one server right now; I'm going to move it to a different server this week and see if it holds up. If so, I'm hoping these instructions will help others facing the same problem in the future.

links for 2010-05-29

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links for 2010-05-24

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For what feels like forever, smart women in tech have been talking and writing about their frustration with the fact that women are so often underrepresented at tech conferences. Yes, it's true, women are underrepresented in the computing fields, as well...but that number tends to be in the 20-30% range, which is *far* below what most tech conferences sport in their speaker lineups.

But it's not just women who have been pointing this out, and explaining why this is a bad thing not just for the women, but for the industry as a whole.

Given that this argument has broken out anew on Twitter over LessConf 3010, it seemed worth gathering up some of my favorite posts by men on this topic and providing a set of links back to all of them. Everything that Anil, Jason, and Chris said in these posts apply to today's conferences, and I can only hope that the organizers of LessConf will stop lashing out defensively (which is nothing new...see this post by Blogher co-founder Elisa Camahort, or this Geek Feminism wiki post on Silencing Tactics), and instead think about how they might make different choices if they're ever involved in organizing a conference again.

I'm highlighting the posts by these men because I think they provide a view into the issue that can't be dismissed as a function of "sour grapes"--there are far more posts, as or more compelling, written by women. I'll try to spend some time this weekend collecting and annotating those. But as Chris Messina says in the last post I link to here:

"Why should it only be women who raise their voices on this issue? This isn't just "their" problem. This is all of our problem, and each of us has something to do about it, or knows someone who should be given an audience but has yet to be discovered."

Anil Dash:

The Old Boys Club is for Losers (02/07)
"That brings me to my final point, which I'll explain more in my next post: Those of you who are defending this status quo are defending a culture of failure."
The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn't Cover (02/07)
"But in 15 minutes, I was able to construct a set of theoretical sessions that you won't see at events that specifically exclude women, or that make sure not to reach out to them."

Jason Kottke:

Gender Diversity at Web Conferences (02/07)
"From this list, it seems to me that either the above concerns are not getting through to conference organizers or that gender diversity doesn't matter as much to conference organizers as they publicly say it does."

Chris Messina:

The Future of White Boy Clubs (09/06)
"So let me be bold: the future of the white boy club is in inclusivity one-upmanship. Not just because it benefits everybody, but because it benefits us. We simply can't stay hidden in our isolated little geek enclaves and plead ignorance or expect things to get better by themselves; there's too much at stake, too much to gain and too many interesting voices out in that great bazaar that we're missing out on that we must do more to encourage, support and welcome them where in the past we have failed."
Future of White Boys' Clubs Redux #fowaspeak (02/09)
"The question is no longer "where are all the women?" -- it's why the hell aren't white men making sure that women are up on stage telling their story and sharing the insights that they uniquely can provide!

links for 2010-05-12

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links for 2010-05-11

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could i travel with only an ipad?


The big question I was trying to answer on this past trip was "could I travel with only an iPad?" (and not a bulky, heavy MacBook Pro)

The answer is a qualified "yes."

On this past trip, I used my MBP only twice--once to review and make minor changes to my PowerPoint slides, and once to give my presentation. The iPad has Keynote available, so I could potentially use it for that purpose. However, initial review of Keynote for the iPad indicate that it's lacking in a number of areas. In addition, there doesn't (yet) seem to be any way to control an iPad presentation with a remote control, which is a deal-breaker for me.

So, until the iPad has a fully-functional presentation tool (for both creating and giving presentations), it won't be able to completely replace my laptop for travel. It will, however, allow me to relegate the heavy laptop to the rollaboard bag rather than the shoulder bag.

favorite ipad apps, week one


I've had a few days of travel with the iPad, followed by a few days at home relaxing. Based on that, I've already found some apps that I'm particularly fond of.

I've divided them up into entertainment and productivity, since those are two very different modes of use.


  1. iBooks: Yes, the iPad is an awesome ebook-reading device. I haven't purchased any books from Apple's bookstore, but I have loaded quite a few non-DRM'ed books onto my iPad. I also installed the Kindle reader, since I've purchased books via my iPhone in the past. I much prefer the iBooks interface, though, primarily because in landscape mode it shows two pages at a time; that means that the line width is much more comfortable for reading. On non-DRM'ed books, iBooks also allows you to copy text to the clipboard, so it's possible to extract quotes for use in other apps. Of course, this is less useful without multi-tasking, but once the next version of the OS is available that issue will be addressed.
  2. Videos: This is a built-in app that allows me to watch videos that I've synced to my iPad using iTunes. It would be far less useful without Handbrake on my Mac, which allows me to optimize movie files (.mov, .mp4, .avi, etc) for the iPad screen.
  3. NPR: The NPR app is fabulous for both reading text versions of news and listening to favorite shows. What's particularly nice is the labeled segmenting of shows. Today, for instance, I was listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" in the car, and found the segment featuring the superintendent of the Air Force Academy particularly entertaining. When I got home, I was able to bring that segment up and play it for Gerald with just a few taps on the screen.
  4. NYTimes Editor's Choice: This is a really nice newspaper implementation--it feels like the perfect blend of the newspaper and the iPad. It takes fully advantage of the interface, while preserving the look and feel of the classic newspaper. Lovely! (Runner-up here is the USA Today app.)
  5. Tap Tap Radiation: I loved the idea of Tap Tap Revolution on the iPhone, but never really used it. On the iPad, however, this game is delightful. It takes full advantage of the larger screen, and engages the user in a delightful blend of rhythm and hand-eye coordination.
  6. 1on1 Hockey: The best free app I've found for showing people how much fun the iPad can be as a social gaming device. It's just a simple air hockey game, but it's fun and engaging and deeply social.


  1. Dropbox: This app works on both the iPad and the Mac (or PC), allowing you to store files "in the cloud" on their website and access them from any device. By placing documents from my Mac in the Dropbox folder, I can easily access and view/edit them on my iPad. You get 2GB for free, and that's plenty for what I need.
  2. LogMeIn Ignite: Remote login from my iPad to my Mac. If I leave a file behind, I can use this to log into my home machine, copy the file to the Dropbox folder, and instantly have access. I can also launch and run programs on the remote machine--it's slow, but there are times when that kind of access is critical if you're traveling with only a mobile device.
  3. Office2 HD: Allows me to create, view and edit Word and Excel documents. Even better, allows me to access and edit Google docs from the iPad, something the iWork suite doesn't provide, and the iPad Safari browser won't support.
  4. Instapaper: I had the free version of this on the iPhone, but seldom used it. On the iPad, it's great. I can add anything I see on the web to my Instapaper account using a bookmarklet, then sync those items to my iPad and read them whether or not I'm online. It's integrated into the Twitter client I'm using (Twitterific) as well, which makes it easy to send an interesting linked article to my "read later" queue.
  5. Evernote: This amazing notetaking app works on every device I own, making it easy to take notes anywhere and access them whenever I need to. But it doesn't just do text notes--it also allows me to take a photo with my phone, create a note with it, and have that photo undergo OCR so that any text in it (say, from a white board, a napkin, or a business card) be searchable anywhere. Hard to believe that this gem is free, but it is!

I've got other apps on the device, of course--games, productivity tools, entertainment. But in the five days I've had the device, those are the ones that are currently proving to be the most useful and/or enjoyable.

first thoughts on the ipad

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We acquired a 16GB WiFi iPad for my lab last week, for use in prototyping and sharing in meetings. I took possession of it at 11am on Wednesday, and left on a 48 hour trip to San Francisco that afternoon, so I got a chance to put the device through its paces on a long trip.

The verdict? It is, quite possibly, the best traveling gadget I've ever owned. Perfect for books, videos, catching up on email, posting tweets, checking Facebook, and playing games.

I brought my iPhone and my MacBook Pro on the trip as well. It's the first time that I haven't had my phone run out of battery on the first day of a trip (due to game playing and book reading and music listening on it while traveling). More remarkably, I only used my laptop once on the trip--to prep and then present my Powerpoint slides on Thursday morning. In fact, if there were a good way to present from the iPad version of Keynote (it would need to support a remote control), I could probably skip bringing the laptop entirely on many trips.

On the down side, it's not a great tool for getting real work done--I'm typing this review on my laptop, for instance. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, the onscreen keyboard is completely insufficient for text-heavy work. Yes, I could set up the iPad on a desk and connect my bluetooth keyboard, but that's a lot more awkward than sitting in my recliner with a computer on my lap.

Second, the lack of multiple windows and multitasking is crippling for anything other than the most basic email replies. I need to be able to switch between documents and messages and web pages. If Google Docs worked in a web browser, that would help, but right now the only way to work with my Word and Google based docs is by using a dedicated app (Office2HD) which can't run at the same time as a browser.

A review of the iPad in The Atlantic included the following line, which I think is right on target: "The netbook is a work machine on which you can procrastinate. The iPad is a procrastination machine on which you can work, especially if work mostly involves catching up on email."

I'd have to agree with that assessment. I definitely prefer the iPad to the Asus EEE PC I got last summer, and can absolutely see taking it as my only computing device on trips where I don't have a lot of significant content-creation work to do. But it's not going to replace my laptop anytime in the foreseeable future.

(The next post will be a discussion of the apps that have made the best first impressions on me.)

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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