Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Feeding the Bloggers a Blog

Kevin Freitas came by the Living and Working class recently to discuss his blog and his work. He was received well by the students, as evidenced in their own blog entries. The longevity of his participation in the blogging community, the uniqueness of his site and the thousands of photos that he has aggregated over time were part of the conversation. Photo safaris, community involvement and gaming cheats were also on the agenda.

We talked about the fact the Kevin built his own blogging engine, and then also fashioned a mechanism by which entries from all around the Tacoma blogging ranks could be funneled through a single site, just like a news feed. That of course would be FeedTacoma, one of my favorite tools in the South Sound online world. (Yes, RR, we also talked about the Tacomic).

The big announcement though, was the introduction of the ability for those who have accounts with FeedTacoma can start their own FeedTacoma blogs using technology that he has built into the system. Previously, account holders could participate in the forums and build events into a calendar. Now with the blogging capability he has almost created a hyper-local Google (sans search).

The setup and use are extremely simple.

Go to your account (or create one if you haven't already) and Start an Entry.

Fill in the blanks. In particular I like the idea of a subtitle on the blog entry, something not available here on Blogger.

The formatting buttons were familiar and easy to use.

Overall a solid start, with two features I would like to point out in particular.

Number one, the requirement of tags (and the explanation of what they are). I like to see that the tool is making tags a mandatory part of the post. I would in the future like to see a more illustrative reasons behind it. The idea that tag clouds, searching tags across blog entries and general organization of the users blog would be helpful to any new and occasional users.

Secondly, I loved that I could resize my photo within the blog entry and that I could drag and drop it on to the page. Very nice.

When I was through with my post, I kept hopping over to my new blog, but I didn't see the entry there.

I finally figured out that I needed to select the "Make Public" button to be able to see it there myself.

As a result, I managed my first blog post on FeedTacoma's site. Seen here it is a blog post within my blog post.

For those who already blog on other engines, it will likely be hard to switch, but if you are starting a new blog, it is quite nice. You can also tag Tacoma to your posts in order to immediately move them into the FeedTacoma feed.

I could then blog post this blog post over on the FeedTacoma blog post and then back again to achieve an Escher like blog posting, but that is probably too much.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A "Bama Breeze" in Las Vegas

“I took off for a weekend last month, just trying to recall the whole year”

Julie and I and some friends of ours headed to Vegas this weekend. The precipitating event was the Jimmy Buffett “Bama Breeze” concert at the MGM Grand Arena Saturday night. We stayed at the MGM Grand itself, which made getting to the concert that much simpler.
"Yes I am a pirate, 200 years too late. The cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder, I'm an over 40 victim of fate".

There were far too many Jack Sparrows loose on the grounds. What we didn’t think about, but surprised us, was that for Vegas, this was Halloween Weekend. The number of people roaming about in costume all over the town was amusing and funny. There was also a big Halloween costume party at Studio 54 in the hotel which just added to the concentration of costumes. Angels, devils, cheerleaders and lots and lots of pirates were everywhere. Someone dressed in a maids outfit looked like they were trying to break into our room, so I chased her off.

At 6:45am on the day of our flight back there was this lone vampire just getting back in and he definitely looked like the living dead.
“I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Hines 57 and French fried potato.”

The food was amazing. We tried to keep the dining casual but two meals stood out. We went to a place called "Corsa Cucina" at Wynne's and had a Wild Mushrooms pizza made from mushroom puree, robiola cheese and white truffle oil, some Mozzarella di Bufala made from marinated heirloom tomatoes, basil, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil and split a huge hand cut Kurobuta Pork Chop with roasted butternut squash, raisins and apples.

The wine was incredible but the side potato dish fell short.
"In days of old, when knights were bold,
and journeyed from their castles,
Trusty men were left behind,
Knights needed not the hassles.
They helped themselves to pig and peach,
and drank from King's own chalice.
Oh, it was a stirring sight
these gypsies in the palace."

We were at the Wynn to see Spamalot. We missed the opportunity to see it at the Paramount when it was just here so I begged Julie and we made it part of our plans for Friday night. It was fun and entertaining and left me singing much of the songs from the show. Last year, Jill, a faculty member of the school of business, and I sang “A Song That Goes Like This” as part of a performance here at the UWT campus, so it was great to see the song in the context of the show.

A word of warning. They have cut down the show and removed the intermission for the Wynne theater version. The good news is that at 95 minutes long, it means you’re done early enough to go out on the town. The bad news is that something did seem missing. More than just the Arthur line “Have a drink and a pee, we’ll be back for Act Three”, “Two, sir” “Two, Run away, run away, run away.”, some of the songs seemed to have been shortened.

Nevertheless, check out half price tickets and hit the balcony and it is still a good deal.
“At a moment like this, I can’t help but wonder, “What would Jimmy Buffett do?”

After Spamalot, we met up with friends at Margaritaville Café and got a surprise.
The members of his band were all there on stage providing the music for the evening.
Nadirah Shakoor who sings vocals was the headliner, announcing a CD she was releasing, and introduced Tina Gullickson, who also provides vocals. Michael Utley, Mac McAnally, who was just admitted to the songwriter’s Hall of Fame (and recently discovered he was a second-cousin in law to Elvis) were on hand with several other band members. Jimmy would wait until the concert to make his appearance.
“You got fins to the left, fins to the right, and you're the only bait in town.”

I am used to Corona sponsoring the concert so I was surprised to see it sponsored by LandShark Lager. LandShark Lager, which has replaced Corona as Jimmy Buffett’s beer sponsor, is brewed by Anheuser-Busch. I am a little disappointed by this, but in the scope of the world, I think I can adjust.

“We are the people, our parents warned us about….I’m growing older but not up”

The concert was great. Very solid set and the music did not stop. Many of my favorite songs, which are quite a few, and some rarely heard ones. The only time Jimmy left the stage for a break, Mac McAnnally took over with Piece of Work, which Mac wrote, and another song. They played for nearly three hours with two encores (per usual) and the place was rockin’. The crowd has grown older along with Mr. Buffett, and it was evident only in looks but not attitude. There are always young fans coming on board, but this night was definitely skewed toward the veterans.

My favorite fan sighting had nothing to do with costume, though the prerequisite flowered shirts, coconut bra, leis and funny hats were being worn. No, it was the multiple piercings and the dark makeup that made me take notice. Those were the first Goth Buffett fans I have encountered.

All told, a truly fun weekend.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

On the Internet Everyone Knows You're a Gnome

There is an old saying that goes, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” It works on a number of levels and addresses anonymity, aliases, virtual characters and the secret lives of canines whose owners leave their computers logged on.

The web allows for us to create extensions of ourselves that to some can be as real as any other individual, or gnome, that they might meet. Few are immune to the call of character creation, and most people already have multiple email addresses which they imbue with different tones and activities depending on the situation.

It’s already a time honored tradition in the print business. Advice column by committee with a figurehead is one example. The Weekly Volcano has printed guises of Bobble Tiki, Natasha and the like. In the online World we have a multitude of posters under pseudonyms, and a great discussion on the Exit133 forum about use of real names when posting.

So it only makes sense that characters real and surreal co-exist in the blogging world. Is it the real Steve Jobs or the fake Blogging Steve Jobs? Check out the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs for a laugh. ("Dude, I invented the friggin iPhone. Have you heard of it?") Or like Victor/Victoria, the story of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman, it may be Steve pretending to be someone else pretending to be Steve. (It’s not; it’s Daniel Lyons of Forbes).

But anonymity has many levels and many uses. I had two recent visitors to the Living and Working Class who bare this out.

TacomaChickadee is a frequent blogger, and author of Tickle Me Tacoma. She is a writer in the real world, works in the South Sound and is a fine individual. On her blog, she freely writes about the things she enjoys about Tacoma and life in general. However, you may notice that her site does not betray a great deal of personal information within the posts or the profile and she likes it that way. It is an excellent outlet for her love of writing and it also allows her to keep her working life separate.

On the other hand, I had assumed that the TacomaGnome was an alias and looked forward to meeting the blogger behind the garden décor. Instead I was treated to a genial Norwegian Garden Gnome whose relatives live all over the world but who himself has chosen to discover Tacoma.

Whereas I thought he might speak to the class about living online as a personality, instead the pleasure was in learning how easy it was to communicate to all of his Gnome friends and family around the world through his blog. He has visited the Tacoma Dome, the Murano, UrbanXchange, Savi Day Spa and other locales.

His trip has been a pleasure thus far, and he has garnered attention from the bloggers at Grit City, Exit133 and Mark Briggs online in the South Sound.

A thanks to him for stopping off at the UWT.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Association of Internet Researchers

I have been trying to refine a simple idea into a research project and admit to having some difficulty. Though I have been an active member of the internet and world wide web community since 1993, writing on several topics and building up a business out of some of the opportunities provided by emerging technologies, that does not make me a researcher. In fact I need help.

I am a believer in leveraging what the web community has to offer, and I may have stumbled across a helpful organization.

While poking around for some solid information on basic surveying methodologies and trying to find others who may be asking the same questions that I am, I came across a web site for "The Association of Internet Researchers". It almost struck me as too obvious. "This can't be for real, because it appears to be just what I'm looking for", (I said to myself in that stilted cadence of written dialog).

They are self described as:
an academic association dedicated to the advancement of the cross-disciplinary field of Internet studies. It is a member-based support network promoting critical and scholarly Internet research independent from traditional disciplines and existing across academic borders.

So I am going to give it a go. The membership dues are not that high, though it looks like I would have to renew again in Sept. I just missed out on the conference held in Vancouver, Canada and Copenhagen is a little too distant to just attend, but perhaps I will have put something together for 2009.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Support Independent Musicians with SongSlide

I spent some time with a couple of musicians last week, and though the two have been around for years playing bluegrass, folk and country, we didn’t talk about music as much as we talked about software. Devin Brewer and John Hurd are the co-founders of SongSlide, a music distribution and sales site that lets fans set their own price for what they pay for downloads.

Devin, who is from Seattle, loves to write songs and has been performing his blend of original bluegrass, folk, and country music since 1999. John plays with the The Tallboys who in turn play “Old Time music”. He also lives in Seattle plays at different venues like The Tractor Tavern where they host a monthly Square Dance.

With all their performing and recording experience they discovered that every time they let the fans choose the prices they paid for shows and CDs, they always made more money.

Say they two, “People who wanted to pay more, paid more. And people who didn’t want to pay more were still able to contribute at lower prices. It was good for everyone. The fans were able to express how much they liked the music by showing their support in the most meaningful way. And we walked away with more money, which meant we had a better chance to continue making the music our fans loved.”

They took that principle to heart and spent the last year plus building out SongSlide and signing up independent musicians who provide their fans to help support their art with how they pay for music.

The site is in Beta, but it is getting some notice. They were recently mentioned in a WIRED article that interviewed Jonathon Coulton and locally were just interviewed on NPR.

Jonathon Coulton is one of the top selling artists on SongSlide and has built quite the following using a web based strategy from his own web site when he podcast one new song a week from September 2005 through September 2006, under a Creative Commons license.

As they say on their site, “Our goal is to help independent musicians make more money from their music, and at the same time help millions of fans find new music they never knew they loved.”

Check out Jonathon Coulton’s song RE: Your Brains. It is very funny year round, but should be a Halloween staple.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All About Your Name

Doing a vanity search, a search engine exercise wherein you look up your name, is now a time honored exercise in finding out information about yourself that exists out on the web. More often, it is about finding out information about other people with your same name who are doing more interesting things than you are or are perhaps incarcerated for some crime that you did not commit.

In order to track the real you down, you need to add additional search elements in a refinement process. ““John Smith” Tacoma, Washington” and ““John Smith” Elite Rugby Most Valuable Player Barcelona” provide two different glimpses at John Smith and get you closer to the one you are looking for. Heck, if an elite Rugby player for the Barcelona team hails from Tacoma, you may get too views of the same guy.

But if you are looking for important information such as the origin of your name, how it is said in Pig Latin, its binary representation or perhaps how “well envoweled” it is, then you should check out “IsThisYourName”.

Brought to us courtesy of “bunch of firstname and surname lists with two cases of Red Bull and a month of evenings and weekends”, this web site goes beyond just the simple Etymology.

I also love the “3 things you didn’t know:” section where your “Power Animal” is calculated for you. For a process “known only to three people” mine s the Kunekune Pig. In the end, they do reach out and return blog posts related to you, but since that is courtesy of the Google Blog Search, at this juncture it returns to the simple vanity search.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mark Briggs, Newspaper Innovation and Webcasts

An idea occured to me when my TINST 207 class had the pleasure of a visit from Mark Briggs last week.

Mark Briggs is editor of, the flagship web site for The News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma, Wash. He follows online activities and web trends from his blog Online in the South Sound as well as tracks innovations and technical trends within the newspaper industry.

I recently posted about his book Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Age" and would like to note that there is also an accompanying blog.

The visit was preceded up by the now familiar EPIC 2015 film, which discusses the demise of the Fourth Estate and the subsequent rise of consumer generated information. It ends on a much warmer and fuzzier note than the original EPIC 2014.

When you consider that the print circulation of our local newspaper was down in May of 2007 and the online activity was up, the launch of the presentation and following question and answers seemed appropriate.

One thing was made clear. It isn’t just about print and ink anymore, and Mark showed some excellent examples how newspapers were remaining hubs of the community by employing online interactive components that leveraged the news gathering machine that was already humming along.

Included was a mapping program that could allow you to trace out your route in Chicago, and then get a report on crimes reported along that route, sortable by crime type. This feature won a Grand Prize Batten Award in 2005 for its innovativeness.

“"A pioneering integration of geomapping and a public database, it delivers one of the most comprehensive crime sites online. It's a knock-out for one journalist to see all the pieces and put them together.”
-2005 Batten Advisory Board Judges”

What I found even more interesting was a couple of sports journalists for a Naples Florida paper, The Naples Daily News, who produced a video prep sports report for their newspapers web site. With a professional looking opening sequence a crew of production staff, it looks like a bit of crossover into television territory to me.

Considering Tacoma and the South Sound lost their last dedicated local television station in 2001 when KSTW left for Seattle (Renton,) maybe we have an opportunity here. How about a web based local news program on a nightly basis in conjunction with the Tribunes staff? How about it you Grit City bloggers?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Which Exit did the Art Commentary Take?

This blog may have seemed a little tech heavy lately, or at least not as focused on the arts as it has been in the past.

I am still writing about arts events and theatrical interests, though the entries oftentimes are found at a new address. I have been making contributions to the B side of the south sound community blog Having a B side concentrating on the arts and entertainment scene is an interesting endeavor by the regionally focused site. It has evolved and been treated as a media outlet by organizations and event management, and is in many ways looking more familiar as such.

I provided a review on a local theatrical production when it launched and contributed to the film reviews for it's Tacoma Film Festival coverage. This week I wrote about the following...

Murder, Mayhem, and Some Really Nice Wines

Departing from Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square aboard a vintage 1937 railroad car christened the Cascade, my wife and I headed toward Mt. Rainer to Lake Kapowsin on a three hour round trip. Throughout the cabin, people were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries; we were seated at a table with two nice young people celebrating their first year of marriage.

Get A Clue

But this was no ordinary train.

Interrupting the conversation, a loud and rather large ex-jockey (James Dean) came down the aisle soliciting our support to get him rehired by the rancher Buck Jackson (Bob Yount). After all, his horse, Dances with Speed, had never lost a race. It wasn’t long until Buck and his sociable wife, Candy Cane (Kay Ethan), came from the other direction and the accusations began to fly.

Suddenly us passengers were faced with some hard questions to mull over. Why had the horse never lost? What’s the real reason the jockey was fired? And who was behind the death of a certain private investigator?

If you haven’t already guessed, we were aboard the Spirit of Washington Murder Mystery Dinner Train.

For the rest, take the 133B Exit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SEED to start Planting this Friday

I attended the West Sound Technology Professional Association (WSTPA) CleanTech Summit last night and was glad to hear of movement on the SEED project in Bremerton. The event was well attended and included speakers from both Congressman Jay Inslee’s office as well as Senator Cantwell’s. The meat and potatoes of the dinner event, aside from either the pork or the chicken, was a set of presentations by Bert Gregory, President and CEO of Mithun, (Architects, Designers, Planners) and Tim Botkin, Director of the Kitsap SEED Project (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development).

The SEED project has been germinating (I crack myself up) for some time and the presentation by Bert Gregory give some inspiring architectural detail of what the buildings and grounds would look like. The grounds are representative of the type of work Mithun specializes in. The press release from the company gave the intention they were following.

Mithun is targeting LEED Platinum designation to showcase the highest level of sustainable development and business operating practices. Pioneer companies at the Kitsap SEED business park will have the joy of inhabiting a space that demonstrates and promotes their technologies. Mithun's master plan is built on an infrastructure of renewable energy sources. To meet water needs, site design includes water collection, treatment, and re-use strategies.

The Kitsap SEED project furthers Mithun's mission to provide a sustainable world for future generations. Mithun is a founding member of the Washington State Clean Technology Alliance. The US Green Building Council has certified ten of Mithun's projects, and four Mithun projects rank among the nation's Top Ten Green Building Projects according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Committee on the Environment (COTE).

This is a bold and challenging project, and there have been overt evangelists and vocal nay sayers to its viability and the likelihood of the complete project blossoming (there I go again). Its effects would be felt throughout the South Sound region and would include research and development opportunities with WSA Vancouver and the Institute of Technology here at the UW Tacoma. Tim Botkin makes it clear that he is aware of both sides of the belief spectrum when he talks about the “world class” intentions of the project and the logistical advantages and disadvantages of the region it is designated to reside in.

Whatever your position, there is one thing is that is not in doubt.

This Friday they are breaking ground for the first POD of the business and research park.

Tilling the soil as it were.

Monday, October 8, 2007

DigitalSpace Builds Virtual Worlds

The Washington Post has a pretty in depth article this weekend in regards to virtual worlds and the people who inhabit them. In particular it discusses people with disabilities escaping through avatars which provide them with the freedoms they don’t have in real life. It also discusses how those who are feeling they may have lost a little something can retain their youth online. Hmmm, maybe a study on whether we are trading in our red corvette convertibles as mid life crisis symbols for an overly bejeweled “Sword of Anthar”. But I digress.

It is a good read with the prerequisite “experts intrigued but wary” warning label.

Second Life was mentioned many times over in the examples they gave, but one of the online world resources mentioned that I have not been familiar with was the straightforwardly named, DigitalSpace, which creates Digital Spaces.

DigitalSpace is “is an international corporation with a leading practice in virtual worlds for industrial design engineering, education and public outreach.” Their sample projects extolling their expertise in creating worlds is abundant with lunar rovers and other space exploration type projects. There is the “Surveyor Mission” virtualization and the “Moonyard Lunar Obstacle Course” and the “VASTSim ISS Crew Emergency Medical Training Simulator”.

The company was also approached by a health insurance company to develop a facility on the Internet using Active Worlds. Digital Space writes that “The company felt that the development of a Virtual Worlds facility should be in the form of a Virtual Headquarters. Rather than seeing this just as a marketing tool, The company wanted the facility to allow visitors to experience the next best thing to visiting the physical offices the company.”

Which is cool. But, what I thought was the coolest application was with Buddy and the street crossing game built for children with autism. The safety training is provided in a virtual environment which teaches kids to learn how to navigate sidewalks and street crossings through the use of a game tuned to their specific needs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Topic Suggestions Add Search Assistance

For some time now I have primarily used Google as my search engine of choice. Mostly because it is clean and does an excellent job of searching. Yahoo used to be the king of the Internet search, but now runs second to Google, with Microsoft coming in third.

I used to, meaning years ago, go to Yahoo for most of my searches. But when Yahoo decided they wanted to be known more as a news and community portal and changed their home page interface, “search” started to feel like an afterthought when you visited their site. Even today the look of the page suggests search as a feature as opposed to an application.

But Yahoo is not sitting still, and on the heels of some MSFT search improvements, this Tuesday they announced search improvements of their own. According to the company, the redesign is attempting to predict user intent more effectively. With it they hope to get searchers to the results they are looking for more quickly. Search Assist gives consumers real-time query suggestions as well as related topics and concepts that have an association with the keywords being submitted.

"We know that consumers want a complete answer, not a bunch of links, and the changes we've made are focused on getting people to the best answer -- whether it be a Web link, photo, video, or music clip -- in one search," Vish Makhijani, general manager and senior vice president of Yahoo Search, said in a statement.

You can see how Search Assist opens a drop down menu of suggestions and related concepts for further exploration around the search topic.

Here are some examples:

If you were to start typing Tacoma, the world may be thinking of trucks, but the News Tribune comes to mind as well.

In the global community it looks like the Business Examiner comes out on top. If you take their suggested link it is our local publication that is listed first.

If you are looking for Tacoma blogs, how can Kevin Freitas not come to mind.

I think this is a very interesting new feature, and suggests once again that competition spurs innovation. Will I now use Yahoo search more frequently? Maybe. One thing going for it, when I did a vanity search on "Andrew Fry" I made the top entry. On Google I don't show up until the fifth and sixth links. Hmmmm...

Monday, October 1, 2007

The T-Dome for Less Than a Twenty

Though I was quite busy during the weekend on home and work projects, I did have enough time to buy the Tacoma Dome for a mere eighteen dollars. I suppose that could put me in the same category as a gullible New York tourist who has purchased the Brooklyn Bridge, but I prefer to think of it more akin to naming a star after someone special through the International Star Registry (which I have done).

It isn’t official of course and I don’t maintain any rights to the real property. However, on A Dollar an Acre what I can do is add descriptive text to the acreage as it appears on a global map and can designate a destination for any click through.

The site exists through the efforts of Michael Pilon, the founder of MapMuse, a web mapping services firm that provides advanced mapping services to real estate brokers across the United States and an internet company has been around since 1999.

Intrigued by the idea, I wrote and asked him what he hoped to accomplish with the site. To me, it was a rather obvious money making venture with an interesting hook. He wrote back, “DAA is a business venture but kind of a side venture to my primary business, I thought of it one day when I saw some of the other Million Dollar Web pages that were selling pixels. I thought it would be very interesting to connect geography to websites….

An example of this is the Million Dollar Homepage, a website created by Alex Tew, a 21-year-old student from Wiltshire, England to help raise money for his university education. According to Wikipedia, “launched on August 26, 2005, the website is said to have generated a gross income of $1,037,100 USD and has a current Google PageRank of 7.”

Michael also wrote, “I thought DAA would also connect the virtual world to the physical world but in a more visual way. It will also be interesting to see what people buy, why they buy it, and what they connect it to. We also hope to make some money from it but to be honest I think it will either take off or not get many visitors…”

As Cindy Jett, Michael’s wife informed me in her promotional email, “You can buy these acres for advertising purposes, sentimental reasons, or as an investment. Every acre in the virtual world is available for just 1 dollar.

Dollar an Acre is described as “part billboard, part game, part human interest, and part investment strategy.”

I love it. Create a virtual depiction of the real world and then start selling the real estate for it.

So far, it appears I am one of only a small handful of people who own a piece of this non-property. When I bought my parcel of digital land less than two hundred acres were spoken for. Most of those have been scooped up by Michael, who promises only to buy a small number of spots. As of today, 238 acres of the 196,935,000 sq miles of surface area on the Earth have been bought, so there are a few acres left.

I may not be able to camp on it, but I will print out the page it is on and place it next to the coordinates for the star I named through the international star registry.

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...