Sunday, February 28, 2010

Have We Lost Wordle?

If you've read my efforts here, or on the DGDC News blog, or on the NSGIC News blog, you'll know that I am a fan of Wordle, a lovely little web tool that is used to create word clouds from blocks of text. This morning, I read on TechCrunch that Wordle has run into trademark trouble. Someone already owns the name "wordle" and they want it back.

I use Wordle to creat graphics that illustrate points I'm trying to make. For example, here is a word cloud I made from the abstracts for presentations planned at the 2010 Delaware GIS Conference:
I used this in a series of posts introducing the various presentations. I've also used Wordle-generated word clouds in presentations, in e-mails, and as a representation of my work duties that is posted on my office door.

So, the thought of losing this tool makes me sad. The developer has posted a request for pro-bono legal advice. That's all there is at just now. As far as I know, that site was never a money-making proposition.

I hope an accord with the trademark-owner can be reached. Or, at least, that the-site-formerly-known-as-Wordle can come back under a new name.

Update 1: Phil Bradley's comment points to his own post on this (Wordle Closed - alternatives) which includes a list of other word-cloud tools. It's very helpful.

Update 2:  Richard James has let me know that Wordle is back, at least for now. And the TechCrunch post has been updated with a link to a twitter campaign to save wordle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another Twitter Conjunction

Every once in a while things line up unexpectedly in my twitter stream. This evening, for example:

Twitterer Liz Purcell was celebrating her joy in watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a great web-series by Josh Wheedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris. At almost the same time, Harris, who tweets as ActuallyNPH was wondering why he was watching Curling.

That's Cory Groll sandwiched in between. His tweet was a bit more serious.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Governor Markell

Our Governor here in Delaware, Jack Markell, has just launched his blog. He used the occasion of our recent doubled blizzard and the response and reaction from people within state government.

Last week, he had sent all state employees an e-mail thanking us for our work during the storm (no credit to me, the emergency personnel and the snow-plow folks are my heroes) and asking us for our stories of survival and assistance from or for our neighbors. He sent a follow-up today saying that he'd heard many stories that inspired him. he gave a few samples and then announced his blog.

As he explains in the first posting on his blog, much of what he heard back was about the sung and un-sung heroes among the state workforce.
For that reason, I’m launching my blog today and dedicating it to our very hardworking employees across Delaware.  I’ll be sharing stories from citizens and colleagues about acts of bravery, as well as important issues that affect us all.
I think this is a great thing. The Governor already has a twitter account (@governormarkell) and is perfectly up-front with the fact that he splits the posting duties with a few members of his staff; tweets that end with *B are from Brian Selander and those that end with *F are from Felicia Pullam. Both Brian and Felicia, by the way, maintain their own very interesting and useful twitter accounts.

I will assume that posts on this new blog are probably a team effort as well. That doesn't mean they are any less the thoughts of Governor Markell; it is, after all, his blog. And knowing him just a little, as I am happy to say that I do, I would not be at all surprised if he did a lot of the writing himself.

In any case, this is another source of information from our Governor. That is a good thing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"BBS" Means What, Now?

There's a note on CrunchGear today that takes me back to my earliest web work. Yesterday, apparently, was the birthday of the first-ever public "BBS," which stood for "Bulletin Board System."

A BBS was a dial-in, text-based computer bulletin board; not quite "the web" as we know it now, but a start. That first one started in 1978!

I was not involved in BBS work that far back, but I did run a BBS for Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control back in the early 1990s when I was a Community Relations Officer.

Our intent was simple -- we wanted to provide a place for the regulated community to access the latest versions of the state's environmental regulations. That meant translating all of the regulations into text files -- ascii text files with no formatting.

Of course, many of the regulations in those days dated back to before the widespread use of word-processing systems. In some cases, we were scanning and translating old, several-times copied typescript.

And we were struggling to create a usable system that the few very computerized engineering firms could use. I think we succeeded.

Later in the 1990s, I was working for the Economic Development Office and got to set up a series of World Wide Web pages to present census and other data to small business and other data users. I was using very rudimentary HTML coding and every section of the site was a new design challenge.

Things have changed a lot. Today, almost all state agency web sites use a "common look and feel" web page design put together by the government Information Center. We use twitter and RSS feeds and, in some cases blogging software and other tools.

But if you trace back from today's gov 2.0 web sites, you find simple, text-based BBS systems that were accessed over phone lines using modems that beeped, and booped, and transferred data via some strange wash of white noise.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

RIP Phil Harris

I was saddened to read this morning that Captain Phil Harris has passed away. He was 53 years old.

He was the captain of the fishing vessel Cornelia Marie which was featured on the discovery Channel program Deadliest Catch. He suffered a massive stroke at the end of January and died yesterday, February 9.

I did not know Phil Harris personally. He was just a person whose job was featured on a very well-filmed, well-run documentary program. But I am a great fan of that show and Phil Harris was a fascinating part of the story.

I found some personal resonance in his suffering of a blood clot and pulmonary embolism on the show recently. I had a similar event in 2005, though mine was not nearly as serious or scary as his. His lifestyle was much more unhealthy; he smoked, ate poorly, went long periods on little sleep, and had a ridiculously high stress level.

He was a character and fascinating to listen to as he tried to run a risky fishing business and teach that business to his sons. I can't say that I was surprised to read of his death, but I will miss watching him.

I am thinking this morning of his sons, the rest of his family, and his friends and crew.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sliding on the Walking Dune

sliding on the walking dune
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
We were all home again today. School was canceled and state government was shuttered in Kent and Sussex Counties because of the terrible great snowfall.

I spent the morning e-caucusing with my conference planning committee, talking about whether or not to postpone the 2010 Delaware GIS Conference which was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. We used e-mail, cell-phones, google sites, and EtherPad to determine that, with roads still a mess from the week-end storm, and another sizable snow storm on the way, we should postpone it.

In the afternoon, I took a ride out to Cape Henlopen State Park and headed up to the walking dune to watch people sledding. We don't really have hills here so when there is enough snow, people head for the walking dune.

Coming back through town, I poked around and checked on the status of several streets.

It's pretty snowy around here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Digging Out

We spent much of our day digging out from the Great Delaware Blizzard of 2010. It was a family effort. We had great help from the City of Lewes road crew, who were kind enough to plow away the snow bank at the end of the driveway.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Blizzard of 2010?

We've had a bit of snow around here. It started snowing late yesterday afternoon and continued pretty steadily until around 7 this evening. Along the way, we think it changed over to rain for a little bit overnight last night. But most of it was heavy snow and high winds.

Our Saturday was blizzardy and wild.

This was mid-afternoon when the white-out was at its height. I took this video from the garage door, without venturing out. The girls asked me to leave the driveway alone until they can get out and romp in it tomorrow.

A bit later I went out in the back yard to check the heat pump. There I found drifts up over my knees.

This has been a rare sort of a storm for us. We don't usually get this much snow and I don't recall ever seeing "Blizzard Warning" on the evening newscast before. Also unprecedented was the order from Governor Markell last night through most of today banning all but essential folks from driving.

As a state, we hunkered down and waited it out, except for emergency crews, snowplow drivers and National Guard troops who were out helping the few morons who did try to drive -- and moving folks whose power died get to shelters.

We're suffering a bit from cabin fever, but here in Lewes, we've been lucky. we kept our power all day (but for one 10-second blip). We lost the cable for a short time, but had lots of Lucy and other favorites stored up on the TiVo.

Tomorrow, it's snow shovels and aching muscles for all!