24 Dec

Newest Project

I thought with the lack of news going on this week, I would provide some info onto what I am currently working on. I have decided to create a library organization software, both to fulfill a need in my life and to experiment with some new technologies for myself. The eventual goal is to create a piece of software that allows you to add items such as books and dvds to a database that stores all the information associated with the item and even where it is located. I would like to make the collection easily searched so I can find exactly what I am looking for and if I own the item. I’m currently above 500 books with more being added every month and it has started becoming a hassle knowing if I own an item or not. This problem has been growing and pushed off to the side for several years now. I am finally getting the time to address it and I’ll address it the way that I know the best, with software.

I’ve been planning and writing some of the preliminary code for this library software for several weeks now and have a pretty good idea of where I want this to go and what I hope to learn along the way.

I’m initially going to write this as a desktop app in Java. I would like to eventually port/rewrite it into a web app along with an Open Social and Facebook integrated widget. I am also doing this because I want to release something that is FOSS, and hopefully solve this problem that was on Slashdot awhile back but without the cost associated with the solutions given.

I’ll hopefully be working on this and blogging about it every week or so to keep everybody updated. I will be releasing it to the public and the community when I hit a version that is runnable as well as fully understand the licensing and other work that I may have to do to keep it an open source project. Also I don’t currently have a name for this project and would appreciate any and all suggestions.

16 Dec

Facebook Marketplace: For Sale AK-47?

So this is being quickly put out there, but in the Facebook Marketplace, I just witnessed an AK-47 for sale. Does this seem at odds with the normal rules on gun sales. I’ll have to look at this closer but doing a quick search on ebay for AK-47 or even looking for guns in general reveals nothing more than parts and airsoft rifles. Facebook may have just developed a new problem. I’m going to look into the regulations governing gun sales, especially online, but it is my understanding that you have to preform a background search on the person before the sale can be finalized.

More on this as it develops.

Update (16 Dec. 2007 1:52pm) The sale of guns online looks iffy at best according to this article from Internet Business Law Services.

Update (16 Dec. 2007 2:33pm) Facebook Marketplace Guidelines do not allow firearms to be sold.

Update (16 Dec. 2007 6:56pm) An AR-22 was also placed for sale today, in the same marketplace.

13 Dec

Government Regulations: Do They Help or Hurt?

Cosmic Variance is a blog that discusses mostly physics related news and advances, noted an interesting study this morning. The study (PDF) examined the number of patents granted for sulfur-dioxide control technologies per year, noting at the points when major air control legislation listed. The graph can be quickly summed up by saying that before the legislation was in place virtually no patents were granted, going back to 1887. Post the Clean Air Act (1960) and the Clean Air Act Amendment (1970), the average number of patents going into 1995 is well over a 100 per year. The only reasonable explanation and the one that the study found was that government regulations when they force pollution to be more expensive than financing R&D into limiting pollution and implementing those ideas, was more effective than leaving it up to the marketplace.

Generally speaking, I personally am in favor of limiting government intervention into the marketplace. Anyone who has even worked with the government on a limited basis knows that all aspects of the government are over regulated and limited in terms of flexibility and innovation. Also government entities can’t simply assume new duties or go in a new direction as Google or most companies can, instead they have to receive approval via a legislative body generally or an order from one of the other branches of government. This combined with the current political atmosphere leads to a an almost snails pace in terms of the government making changes. Also has been seen numerous times, our representatives in government aren’t not always knowledgeable in all areas in which they are required to cast votes and make decisions on. Nor should they be, we have experts from both sides of an issue to handle this. Politicians should be good at one thing listening and weighing the merits of an argument and reaching a consensus, in short a good politician should be likened to a good judge. Currently I would argue that this doesn’t occur often enough.

So why here is the government an effective mechanism, when the majority of the times they simply create more problems or are too far behind to be of much use? The main reason is that in this and other related areas the marketplace looks at the consequences of pollution and doesn’t see too many intrinsic reasons to invest in green tech. This appears to be changing as both the idea of global warming is becoming more realized to people, and green technology is one of the fastest growing trends in engineering across the board. This is not to say that the marketplace is wrong, it’s simply that the marketplace as an inherent part of it’s design only examines things in the very short time frame. A long term project at most companies is something with a time span of 4-6 years. Looking at the effects of putting sulfur into the air 50 or more years into the future is simply not a factor for businesses.

Government regulation becomes a necessary factor when the marketplace will not solve problems or the problems become something that must be looked at decades into the future. This is especially important given that the US is currently in opposition to a global agreement on cuts on global greenhouse emissions. While I would argue that the Bush administration has some logical points, the lack of India and China is one such example. Overall however if change is to occur it has to start on some sort of level. And given that Bush recently agreed that climate change was a real problem and that a goal was needed on greenhouse gases, it seems silly to reject regulation in this area. Politicians all the time have to work with imperfect laws that aren’t exactly what they want or that always have no drawbacks for their constituents, that is the nature of a representative government, not everybody gets what they want.

P.S. To those of you who would argue that global warming is not real, you would at least agree that all the crud we throw up into the air can’t be good for at the very least the health and safety of humankind. The majority of pollutants are also dangerous to humans. I would also encourage you to read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, before responding as that is widely considered one of the most recent and authoritative studies on the matter.

 Update (15 Dec. 2007, 1:01 am) The US just agreed to a deal at the Bali Conference which I mentioned earlier, no clue yet what the total agreement is.

13 Dec

Could Facebook Have Just Killed Open Social?

Facebook, on December 12th announced that they will be licensing the Facebook Platform methods and calls. In essence if you have written an application for Facebook, it will be able to run on other sites that have a license for FB platform. This could be the shot that killed Open Social before it ever even really took off.

As seen in this Google Group for Open Social the To-Do list for Open Social is pretty extensive and this was only 2 weeks ago. Open Social is not even in an Alpha stage yet. Facebook on the other hand has the momentum with both developers and users. Google is attempting to defeat this by leveraging the ability for developers to write-once run-anywhere mentality and cross the boundaries of a site. Facebook has just defeated this without even trying and done one better. Bebo has announced that they will be using the FB platform for there site. Bebo is one of the largest social networking sites in the United States, number 3, and the largest in the United Kingdom. Bebo will also be supporting Open Social but that is a mere footnote in this story.

Has Facebook killed Open Social? Google has a lot of love from developers and the media as does Facebook even in light of recent privacy concerns over FB Beacon. Both Google and Facebook have passionate and active users, although Facebook’s are more active mainly owing to the site’s nature. Google has been viewed as one of the few sites on the internet interested in aggregating and freeing data and making it available to the public at large (except of course for information regarding it’s top executives, search data and PageRank algorithm). Facebook on the other hand is exactly the opposite, it locks your data away behind a wall of registration and requires you to try and find all your friends to create a use out of itself.

I love both Google and Facebook, I use them both constantly throughout the day, however I want to be able to pull all my data out on my friends all the time. I want a super contact management system, that integrates with all online applications, desktop clients, phones and other mobile devices. I have a Palm Pilot with data locked behind it’s propertiy format. I have a phone that I can send data back and forth to the palm with Bluetooth but can’t sync to each other. On top of that I have my email connections which can’t connect to either. I have my contacts in Facebook with all their data locked behind Facebook. All of this data is useful to me and I want access to all of it at any time. I don’t want to have to go to my email client to find a person’s email address, I don’t want to enter in information from a business card into 3 or more places and then find them on all my social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).

That would a killer application/format a way to pull my data out of every site, make it easily transferable to any other application or device. If it could sync and keep all the devices and applications up to date and current with all the information that would be even better. Plaxo with Pulse is coming close to this but there are still some problems with it’s service.

Before anyone leaves any comments telling me that I can do this using Outlook for Email and a Windows Mobile device, I want to have the option of changing devices and software on the fly, which that doesn’t allow me. I am in essence locked into Outlook and Windows, still generating the same problem. I want the freedom to switch devices and programs at will, and this in essence will make me a more likely purchaser of a device if I can try it out without having to do a lot of work to make it my device, ie. it contains my information on my contacts.

I don’t think Facebook has killed Open Social completely but it’s made Facebook more entrenched into being the premier social network site at least for the moment.

07 Dec

HTML vs. Text Email Newsletters

I have recently been involved in a project at my current job (Student Assistant for the T-STEM Center at TTU – the job rocks) in coding up an email newsletter. I have been doing research on the side reading blog posts and such regarding the HTML vs. text email battle. For those who don’t know, the issue is whether email should be strictly text or include HTML elements. The text emails are your basic plain vanilla text email you receive from your friends and colleagues detailing an issue or how their day is going. The HTML newsletter is the one from shops and stores with images, background colors, all kinds of stuff going on in it. In short the HTML is a marketing tool and the text is a correspondence.

 

That is my response to this issue, the HTML newsletter is designed as a marketing tool. Majority of people realize images will capture your attention, heck even Scoble knows that. Also the HTML allows you to place your customized logo in there, to present in essence a web page to a person. This allows a company to take their magazine ad convert it to HTML and send it out, creating a unified experience in advertising as well as being able to incorporate images and colors into a company’s unified brand. HTML allows for marketing to be more effective and allows for a richer experience for the reader of these emails.

At the same time, correspondences are normally basic text and for a good reason. Text is fast, simple and easy to both read and write. Basic correspondences should not take half the day to create, that would be ridiculous. No one would use email as a means of communication if it took that long to tell Aunt Petunia that Cousin Earl is getting married in a month. Heck the message might take a month to write depending on how fancy you wanted to get.

It is for this reason that I feel that HTML newsletters are not an evil or even bad thing. If the purpose of your newsletter/message is marketing something then go ahead and use HTML. However if you are simply communicating to either your friends, business associates or even sending out a basic informational newsletter then you should stick with basic text.

All of this does of course come with several limitations; you should present users with the option to select HTML or text newsletters if using HTML, always have an opt-in policy and a quick and easy unsubscribe process, never spam or even come close to spam, most importantly make sure the newsletter works and is viewable in all email clients and provide a link at the top to view it online somewhere on your site.

Examples For Each:

HTML:

  1. New items up for purchase

  2. Similar items available for purchase to one a person just purchased

  3. Monthly newsletter for a store/purchasing center

  4. It will honestly enhance user experience and you test that it goes over well with your clients/customers

  5. The newsletter is sent out less than once a week, preferably once a month, unless prompted via a user action

TEXT:

  1. General correspondences

  2. You are not selling anything

  3. The newsletter is not selling anything only presenting information

  4. The newsletter is sent out more than once a week

  5. The newsletter informs the user of an commonly occurring action on your web page (A message is received addressed to myself via Facebook’s internal messaging system.)

  6. The majority of your users will only respond to text based emails or use email clients that do not support HTML emails (A common enough occurrence in the open source world.)

I think this is a pretty fair standard and seems to be the way the majority of most companies are going in terms of emails. The largest problems is when people embed an image as part of the signature on their emails or companies sending out HTML email for everything and anything.

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