January 28, 2006

Announcing learningAPI.com - Renaming this site

Today is the long-overdue update of this site's domain name from emediacommunications.biz to learningAPI.com. learningAPI.com is slightly catchier, I think...although from emediacommunications.biz there was nowhere to go but up!  If you link to here, please update your links to point to the new domain..  

Why learningAPI.com?  To a programmer, an API is the set of interfaces that allow software components to interact and work together to exchange and process information.  learningAPI is targeted at those of us working at the intersection of technology and learning.  The industry has seen digital media technology, content management, search and contextual analysis, and "Web 2.0" technologies converge into the broader, connected areas of "knowledge management" and "instructional technology".  

My work in teaching and learning with technology brings me contact - and hands-on time - with all of these technology topics.  learningAPI.com will continue to cover some of  what's interesting and cool where media & technology meets knowledge & learning.

Posted by larryb at 03:23 PM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

April 06, 2005

Fooling the search engines -- and the rest of us

I often wonder how someone gets up in the morning thinking about nothing but how better to deceive, trick and scam people out of hard earned money, time and sanity; but we all know that there are people who do that. Anyone who's has a victim of malware/adware knows this.  Thankfully, products like SpyBot and AdAware help counter the malefactors' efforts.

My surprise tonight came from seeing a new practice - new to me, anyway.  As my wife and I worked away on our respective laptops, she suddenly began uttering words of frustration at a web page that would only stay visible for a moment before being replaced by a marketing site - an  "Asian Import Export Portal."   What was odd is that she was looking at an Open Directory page she found via a Google search.  If she were using Internet Explorer, I'd suspect a worm/malware of some kind, but this was Firefox, and the system is kept tightly secured.

A bit of investigation revealed the reason for the mystery behavior -- the site operator has copied the entire Open Directory from dmoz.org into their own site.  Then they've added a Javascript to the page that will, after one second, forward the user to a new URL - the aforementioned "Asian Import Export Portal."  (Honestly -- do these people think for a moment that this will increase their sales?)

The site is at http://www.bizviet.net/directory/index.php/Reference/Encyclopedias/ (deliberately not linked so as not to help to enhance their ranking).  To view it, first disable Javascript in your browser, else you'll only see it for a second.  They do reference Open Directory and (technically) they link to it, not that users can find or use that link in the one second it appears before they are jarringly shuttled off to never-never land.  We tried to let the dmoz.org folks know about the issue, but there's no contact info for anyone on their site.  We have notified Google, since they are sometimes inclined to clean up deliberately misleading results in their index.

Technically the villain here appears to have satisfied the DMOZ license by providing attribution.  It's a sad thing - apparently legal, but designed to annoy, frustrate, and misguide users.  Sounds like just the kind of company you'd want to do business with, eh?

Posted by larryb at 06:46 AM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

March 02, 2004

Why you'll love using Mozilla to surf the Web

For many users, after cruising the Web with a recent version of Mozilla, the geriatric Internet Explorer 6 feels like an oil-burning heap in the slow lane.  Here are fifteen powerful reasons people who try Mozilla won't ever go back to using IE. 
  1. Tabbed browsing - open multiple web pages in "tabs" along the top of the browser window. Switch back and forth between them at will.
  2. Want to open a link in a new tab and have it load in the background while you continue to read? Just hold the control key as you click the link to open it in a new tab. 
  3. Or, drag a link up to a tab to open it in the background. These features are incredible for scanning thru Google search results - pages load in the background in other tabs while you continue to scan the search results page for other goodies.
  4. Got a bunch of tabs open to pages that all relate to one topic? Bookmark the whole group of tabs as one Favorite.  Open it later and all your pages open in tabs, just as you had them.
  5. Configurable popup filtering built-in.
  6. Ability to deny pages the right to hide the status bar, raise or lower windows, resize windows, and more.
  7. The Form Manager - at your command, it remembers any data you enter in web forms. Next time you visit a page with a form, it remembers what  you filled in last time.  Or pick from a picklist of all the values you've ever entered for that form field. Just double-click on the field to enter the default value. 
  8. The best GoogleBar in the business.
  9. A Javascript console with detailed script error messages and expression evaluation.  There's also a full Javascript debugger - no kidding.  If you develop Javascript, this thing is indispensable.
  10. Editable "View Source" with syntax highlighting. Plus, you can select a portion of a Web page and select "View Selection Source" to view just that portion of the Web page code. 
  11. Right-click from a framed page and select Open Frame in New Window or Open Frame in New Tab.
  12. Want to find a link in a large or cluttered page? Just start to type the link text and Mozilla will find-as-you-type and select the link. Press Enter to click the link - no mouse required. Ever look for the "Yellow Pages" link on Yahoo?  With this feature, you don't have to find it, just type "yellow" and press Enter.
  13. Want to find text in a page? Just hit "/" and then type the text you want to find. 
  14. Just press control+ or control- to change the font size in a page you're viewing.
  15. Composer - a really terrific simple Web page editor with advanced features, WebDAV support, and automatic ftp publishing.
And more....blazing speed, the DOM browser, the Sidebar with dozens of pluggable components, XPI plugin installers, the cookie manager, image manager...  Try it, you'll like it!  Mozilla.org

Posted by larryb at 09:41 PM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

February 12, 2004

DRM turns computers against their owners

I haven't had my new iPod long enough to have found all the limitations imposed by Apple's Digital Rights/Restrictions Management scheme, except for one - it's a read-only device.  Once a music file's been copied onto it, I can't copy it form the iPod to any other device.  I can only delete it. 

Hey, I work for a major content-producing entity, so I'm not in favor of people violating legal and reasonable copyright claims.  It's the unreasonable (and those counter to legal precedent) ones I have a problem with.  About DRM in general, my discomfort can be summed up in this quote from Annalee Newitz's great piece in the San Francisco Bay Guardian about DRM and the entertainment industry:

"DRM turns computers against their owners. I don't want a Disney security guard sitting in my living room watching my every move." -- Ian Clarke

September 30, 2003

"Embarassing" monopolies of ideas

In researching an article for streamingmedia.com about applying Creative Commons licenses to audio and video material, I came upon this incredibly relevant Thomas Jefferson quote about patents and copyright:

"Certainly an inventor ought to be allowed a right to the benefit of his invention for some certain time. It is equally certain it ought not to be perpetual; for to embarrass society with monopolies for every utensil existing, and in all the details of life, would be more injurious to them than had the supposed inventors never existed; because the natural understanding of its members would have suggested the same things or others as good."

--Thomas Jefferson to Oliver Evans, 1807. ME 11:201

In this time in which business and government are colluding to use senseless patents and perpetual copyright as a club with which to bludgeon competitors and customers into submission, it's fascinating to read Jefferson's declaration that, for both society and the economy, more is not necessarily better when it comes to the ownership of ideas.

Posted by larryb at 01:34 PM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

September 09, 2003

Freedom to discover

Dave Weinberger echoes my previous post in his article in the June issue of Wired, which talks about the legal locking down of information and the ability to share, comment, critique, and build on it. As Dave notes here, these abilites are the basis for our democracy and our economy and are being locked down by technological means as well as legislative and judical ones.

Yet we're on the verge of instituting digital rights management. What do computers do best? Obey rules. What do they do worst? Allow latitude. Why? Because computers don't know when to look the other way.

We're screwed. Not because we MP3 cowboys and cowgirls will not have to pay for content we've been "stealing." No, we're screwed because we're undercutting the basis of our shared intellectual and creative lives. For us to talk, argue, try out ideas, tear down and build up thoughts, assimilate and appropriate concepts - heck, just to be together in public - we have to grant all sorts of leeway. That's how ideas breed, how cultures get built. If any public space needs plenty of light, air, and room to play, it's the marketplace of ideas.

Posted by larryb at 06:13 AM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

September 04, 2003

Freedom to know

It would be a dark day indeed for the industry (any industry) and for writers if companies were able to prohibit the publishing of reviews of their products.  Ziff-Davis reports that Tibco (makers of enterprise messaging software) has sued competitor Sonic for publishing the results of tests done by a third-party.  Tibco claims that performance testing "constitute[s] an unlawful use of Tibco's software."  These kinds of licensing provisions have become more common of late, and have almost universally been thought of as unenforcable.  Here's to hoping that remains true.  As a writer and even more so, as a consumer, I realize that the free exchange of information about the items, products, places and ideas that surround us all is the only way to maintain a free society as well as a healthy economy. 

In a related issue, the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, have been embroiled in a suit with Suzuki since 1988.  Consumer Reports reported that the Suzuki Samurai rated unacceptable due to safety concerns that became evident in the course of CU's exhaustive tests.  Suzuki sued for defamation, but a judge dismissed the case.  Upon appeal, however, the case has been reinstated and is being sent before a jury. 

CU's president Jim Guest:

"The First Amendment guarantees the right to report our independent findings, even when our judgment differs from that of the government or the company in question. The record of our testing of and publication about the Samurai demonstrates our high testing standards and the consistent concern in Consumer Reports for accuracy, fairness, and impartiality. Our product ratings are based on our test and survey results, and we make our judgments solely for the benefit of consumers."

Posted by larryb at 06:07 AM [permanent link]
Category: Misc

June 21, 2003

Two Movies - One story: The Matrix/Monsters, Inc

They say there are only thirteen stories in the world and the universe of art and literature just keeps retelling them over and over again in different ways. Well...have you ever noticed that The Matrix and Monsters, Inc are the same movie?  Me neither!  But NPR's Bob Mondello did.  Listen to his insightful and funny comments! (3min 32sec)

Posted by larryb at 10:55 AM [permanent link]
Category: Misc