Monthly Archives: August 2010

Can You Spell ASCII?

Welcome to another trip back in time.  This time we’ll look at … ASCII art.

The piece of ASCII art shown above was included in an email I received circa 1998.  Those of “a certain age” may remember when ASCII art showed up in email signatures, at the bottom of Usenet articles, and in forum posts.  Back then, most communication tools, computer displays, and printers used fixed-width fonts.  Pictures couldn’t be represented in emails or on Usenet.  So creativity prevailed:  Users used their keyboards and typewriters to create pictures.

The train shown above is relatively simple ASCII art when compared to other ASCII creations out there (examples here, here, and here). Even emoticons can be thought of as ASCII art, albeit at its most basic.

The rise of ASCII art can be traced to the 1970’s and early 1980’s with the growth of bulletin boards and later with Internet email and Usenet newsgroups.  ASCII art requires a fixed-width font (such as Courier).  In the 1990’s ASCII art began to wane when email clients and monitors were able to display variable-width fonts (such as Arial).

I once tried to design an ASCII banner/ribbon that I used in a “sig file” in my early email.  The idea was that my contact information would be ‘on” the ribbon.  I got hopelessly cross-eyed while working on it, so I gave up and “lifted” one from one of the many sig files out there.

I kind of miss the ASCII art.  Now nearly all of the email I get has been created on a “rich-text” editor, with a variable-width font.  Even though I have my email setting to Plain Text, nary an occurrence of ASCII art slips through.  Now, if someone wants to include a picture in their sig file, well, they just add a picture.  Gone (for the most part) are the days of wonderful, clever, and yes, artistic creations using just the keys on your keyboard.

Webrings. The Olde-Tyme SEO?

Again, I clicked an old bookmark I had squirreled away, and discovered something I didn’t expect.  I found a node in a webring.   I can’t remember the last time I was at a webring node.  I remember thinking at the time “Web rings. What an oddly tentative way of organizing Web information.”  I also remember asking “Why would someone create a webring?”

We like to create order out of chaos, and the World Wide Web can be considered organized chaos.  But, it may not be organized the way I like it or expect it to be.  Hence the webring concept, I guess.

But it seems to me that a webring needs lots of maintenance to identify potential nodes and add the node to the ring. There is webring software to do that; but it begs the question “Why have webrings?”

According to the Wikipedia article on webrings, “when used to improve search engine rankings, webrings can be considered a search engine optimization technique.”  There are lots of advantages and disadvantages associated with webrings.

I’d be interested in knowing if my readers are members of (or visit) other webrings.

(Oh, the webring I stumbled upon? The Beer Ring, which was included in Henry’s Beer Links. Don’t ask.)

Beer Ring

Travelogue of the Old Web – Part I

Yeah, well, I already ‘fessed up (here) to being a digital pack rat, so the focus of this post shouldn’t be too odd.

While sorting through my hard drive files today, I came across “oldbookmarklist-1.htm,”  an old bookmark file from an old computer I had.  I don’t have a date for it; but by the looks of things, it’s vintage 2002 or so; but it includes bookmarks that were captured in the ‘90’s.

I was clicking through some of the bookmarks and found that (in some cases) the site no longer exists or has been transformed into something completely different.  But in many cases the bookmarks were still valid and lead to sites that appear to be frozen in time. They don’t appear to have been updated, and provide a glimpse into what the Web was like back then.  (Yeah, you could go to the Wayback Machine, but my prose is way better than theirs.)

In these “travelogue” entries, I’ll take you down the path of discovery that sheds some light on the earlier days of the World Wide Web.  My old bookmark file has scores of URLs; and there are probably countless opportunities to examine “the old Web.”

First up: All Things Web (ATW).

  • The landing page indicates that it is vintage 1999. The “What’s News” link is labeled “as of May 28, 1999.”
  • It links to ATW’s Third “State of the Web” survey, which was done in May 1999. Main findings? Link rot is pervasive and pages are too big.
  • Frames, frames, & more frames.  Remember when the debate raged about whether or not to use Frames in Web sites?  ATW examines it here and here.  Is anyone else happy to see that Frames seem to have disappeared?
  • They have an entire section (“The Need for Speed”) devoted to discussing way to decrease “the actual and apparent load time of Web pages.” It is interesting to note that the AWS survey cited above reads:  “Pundits in the trade press have decreed 1999 to be the Year of Bountiful Bandwidth. (Of course, that’s also what they said about 1998!) The upward “creep” in page size suggests that some myopic Web designers may have actually begun to believe such drivel.” Thank goodness for broadband, eh?
  • The Web was fairly new back then, and Web authoring was new as well.  I recall many, many sites in the late 90’s and early 2000’s devoted to Web site construction.  AWS plays its part as well with a “Design Fundamentals” section.
  • But, some things never change.  The ATW authors note: “Don’t use reports of your browser’s popularity as an excuse for invalid, exclusionary, non-HTML markup tags.
  • Usability is key.  Although this is (almost) the last bullet here, “The Usable Web” is the first section on the ATW Web site.  User-centered design was – and IS – key.  My philosophy always has been that without users, why bother even having a site; so you should design it with users in mind.
  • Last but not least, there are the “ATW Perspectives, Essays on the WWW.” There are some interesting discussions of this “new” way of presenting information (the Web). Well worth a glance.

So, there you have it:  a look at a Twentieth-Century Web page.  It’s a very basic design (thankfully, no Frames!).  And notice how all the top-level links are visible on the Home Page, with no need for scrolling? Nice touch.

And, finally, using a technique I learned years ago (1997?), I “shaved” the All Things Web URL back to its root (www.panthos.com).  Well. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a page that read “Down for maintenance.”  Wonder how long it’s been down?

I’m not sure where my old-bookmark URL travels will take me next.  I hope you enjoy reading these travelogues and will come along for the ride.

Ooh, You’re So Smart!

I’m a Johnny-come-lately (or, rather, a Janie-come-lately) to the Smartphone environment.  I used to have Blackberry envy, wishing I could do all the cool things those devices could do.  But alas, I only had a low-end Motorola phone and a voice plan that I’d had since last century (1994). I used it mainly for emergency and change-of-plans communications with the home front.

In 2000 or 2001 I was bequeathed a Handspring Visor by my husband. He didn’t want to use it much, and I jumped at the chance to make it my own.  I couldn’t bring a Smartphone into the office, but I was permitted to bring the Visor – as long as the “beam” function was turned off.  I was happy to have phone numbers and a calendar that I could carry around with me.  At the time, it felt like I was in meetings constantly and this would ensure that 1) I’d actually make it to the meeting and 2) if there were follow-on meetings I’d have a calendar to consult.

And I did have a couple “applications” that I downloaded: Poker (for killing time while waiting for appointments, etc.) and the late, great Avant Go (an offline content browser for PDA’s and Smartphones).

That was it.  I was a two-device gal: a “dumb” phone and a PDA (with highly asynchronous access to online content).

I never used a hammer, though.

That situation lasted until sometime in 2007 or so when my trusty Visor gave up the ghost. It was a dead.  It had expired. It was deceased. It was an EX-PDA.

What to do?  Well, I’d heard Palm was coming out with a Smartphone and I wanted to wait until that came out.  So I down-graded to a very cheap (er, affordable), basic Palm PDA just so that I could keep my calendar and phone book.

Plus, I knew that Palm was coming out with a new Smartphone & I wanted to wait to get one.  As product launch kept getting delayed, I made a cursory look at Blackberry Storm, Curve & other (non iPhone) devices.  But I was still waiting.  Still waiting.

Finally, the Palm Pre debuted on June 8, 2009 and a week later I was in my local Sprint store getting my shiny new Palm Pre configured. I’m really loving this phone.  I can do so much with it that it’s hard to believe I ever lived without it.

GPS. Sprint navigation permits pre (no pun intended)-adding street addresses using an online form.  I use this when doing research for trips.  And it’s “saved our bacon” on those times when we were so hopelessly lost that we didn’t think we’d ever find our way home.

Apps. Yeah, I know, I know.  The Pre doesn’t have a gajillion apps like the iPhone does.  But seriously; how many apps does a person need?  I’ve always thought that the apps race was pointless. I haven’t gone app crazy. There are so many things that come with the Pre that I don’t need to. But, yes, I have a couple of Twitter clients, Facebook for Palm, a feed reader, a translation app, and a sprinkling of games.

Synergy. I’ll say it again:  Synergy. All my data (contacts, Facebook, and more) is synchronized.  Love it love it love it.  And it’s all in “the cloud,” so I know it’s backed up.

webOS. The Pre’s webOS operating system is built on a Linux kernel with proprietary components developed by Palm.  But the Linux kernel gives it at least some open source cred. (The SDK and PDK are out there.  Development is really taking off.)

So, now this “Janie-come-lately” is really connected to the grid.  I may address the down side of this in a future post; but for now, I’m grooving on my Smartphone.

There are rumblings that HP/Palm is developing a tablet in Q1 of 2011.  It will use webOS (& maybe Synergy) and will have the Pre apps available (I hope).  The question is, do I become a two-device gal again?

Hope you enjoyed this little tale of my journey to the 21st Century.

Now You See It . . .

On a recent visit to Costco (why do I still call it “Price Club”?), I was reminded again why one shouldn’t become too fond of products.  They are fickle things, you know.  They become a part of your life, and then – poof! – they up & leave. Nary a word. No explanation. Nothing.  (Oh, and they never call. But that’s another story…)  They leave you bereft & searching, trying to fill the void; when you know that nothing will ever come close to replacing Your Favorite Product.

My favorite shampoo (until now, that is) disappeared from the drug store and variety store shelves a few months ago.

Then, at my club store, nary a package of 400-count cone coffee filters (such a deal, and every bit as good as the “name” brand) could be found.  Because of the quantity, I admit I didn’t buy the item very often.  But really.

In a way this is a by-product (buy product?) of the amount of choice consumers have in the U.S.  If we have so much choice, retailers need to choose carefully the products that line their shelves.  Otherwise stores would expand endlessly, and the production cycle would continue to support old, passé products that one old lady in Dubuque buys.

The Storal of the Morey? Be flexible. Have options. And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t get invested in any one thing.  (And this applies not just to things you shop for, but much more broadly to many everyday situations.)

Update:  The coffee filters were merely relocated to the “paper products” section (paper plates, waxed paper, and table napkins) of the store.  But, until I found them a few trips later, they had been among the “disappeared.”

Where Do I Begin?

I’m a collector of words.  And while I don’t meet all the criteria of either a digital hoarder or a digital packrat, I meet some of them.  So, I guess I just have hoarder and/or packrat tendencies.

I do collect an awful lot of words, in the form of quotations, interesting articles, even reference citations.  Much of it is on my hard drive or in my Web Mail folders.  (I’ve even gone so far as to hold up disposal of an old PC so that I could download my old Thunderbird email off of it before it was wiped.  Who knows what gems might otherwise have been disposed of had I not done that? I shudder to think!)

My 20th Century Netscape bookmark file was legendary. I seemingly bookmarked everything I came across.

Much of the information I have is from an online newsletter called Innovation Weekly.  I subscribed to Innovation Weekly in the mid-2000’s.  Here’s the “masthead” information from one of the emails:

Innovation Weekly reports on trends, strategies, and innovations in business and technology, and is sponsored in part by Norwich University <http://www.norwich.edu>, Animatrix Inc. <http://www.animatrix.com>, and our loyal individual and institutional subscribers.  The editors are John Gehl and Suzanne Douglass, editors@newscan.com.

John and Suzanne also edited a long-lived newsletter called NewsScan Daily.  It was chock full of tech information.  I probably have a few snippits around; and they might also find their way into this blog.

Sadly both of those newsletters ceased publication some years ago. They were always a welcome addition to my email inbox.

Parts of the treasure trove of information I have will probably be the subjects of many blog entries.  On those days when I can’t think of something to write about, I’ll just look in my Blog Drafts hard drive sub-folder (saaay, isn’t that one of the symptoms of a digital hoarder or packrat?) and dust one off.

As I was looking over some of the materials from Innovation Weekly, I noted that many of the topics are still relevant:  “Are we too connected?” (2005) “What are the rules for collaboration?” (2004) “Strategies for remaining relevant.” (2004)  So, dusting off one of those topics won’t be too hard. It should be easy to make it relevant to today.

So, I really shouldn’t be at a loss for words.

We Are Contradictions

I received this in an email I received some time ago from Dan Galvin’s “Thought for the Day” (TFTD; TFTD@TAMU.EDU:

I have been uplinked and downloaded. I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the art, bicoastal multitasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.

This bit of observation was created by the late George Carlin.  I could not verify TFTD’s original source; however, here is a citation from Wikipedia.  You can view the full richness of the late Mr. Carlin’s complex weaving of words in his 3-minute “Modern Man” segment.

Mr. Carlin’s performance is the comedic counterpart to a portion of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” which reads:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

In today’s complex times it is helpful to recognize that everyone is just as complex as we are and just as complex as the times are.  We should be gentle with each other and celebrate – not rail against — our counterpart’s complexity.

Going Back in Time

While cleaning out some papers recently, I ran across the “Program, Proceedings, and Attendee List” for the 4th International World Wide Web Conference.  (The fact that I’ve held on to this since 1995 is not the point….although I may address this in a future blog.)

As I flipped through the program, I was struck by the state of Internet technology 14 years ago.  See if you remember any of these (extra points if you a actually used them):

  • Mosaic CCI
  • Netscape
  • Lycos

The list is short, which highlights the beauty and wonder of the Internet: It is timeless.  The tools may have changed; but, for the most part, we were talking about the same issues in 1995 that we are today:

  • Security
  • Collaboration
  • Micropayments
  • Accessibility

Yeah, the version of HTML has changed.  Collaboration has morphed into “Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0.” And who uses Netscape anymore?  And security is still a hot topic.  But the Internet itself is largely the same.

I hope that 15 years from now I’ll still have the same sense of wonder about the tool that helps us to do so much.

Guiding Principle

I saw a quote I saw on 7/16/10:

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it. — Jesse Stuart

I want this to be the guiding principle for this blog.  I’ve planned for Patchwork Jumble to be eclectic; but that decision presents something of a two-edged sword, in the blogosphere at least.

One the one hand, deciding to keep the content eclectic gives me the  freedom to write on just about any topic I choose and not be hemmed in by the purported “domain” of my blog (or an audience I might seek).

On the other hand, simply because of the varied nature of subjects in Patchwork Jumble, I may not be able to parlay my interests into professional respect, a job, or other outward “success.”

But I don’t mind.

So, I begin this endeavor with great excitement, but also with some trepidation.  It is, after all, a blog; and a blog (MY BLOG) can be about almost anything the author wishes.  (Wow. “My blog.” I do like the sound of that.)

So, I hope you will come along with me on this journey.  I can’t promise to publish daily, although at some point I hope to. At any rate, I do hope I make your visits to the Patchwork Jumble worthwhile.

I hope to add some engaging features to this blog; but I pledge not to make it an “eye chart.” (If I do, I’ll count on  you to let me know.)  I’ll probably change the header image, so don’t get too attached to that green, dew-laden branch.

Let’s go!