A new take on word art: Wordle

I am an irregular listener to the Java Posse podcast. One of the things they have on the show is the “Java App of the Week”. The current show featured Wordle. The idea is that it reads an RSS feed and then generates a word cloud based on the words used in that feed. You can then play around with font, colour and text orientation, before saving it to the Wordle gallery. Here is what I created from the davidarno.org RSS feed:

Fun, if somewhat pointless 🙂

Singularity: Is The Web Replacing Reality?

button_120x90.gifFor a while now, I’ve been carrying the Singularity logo on this blog, curious to know what it was all about.  Last weekend Aral Balkan revealed it to those of us who’d help promote his project. I was both excited and sceptical about it, but we were asked not to say anything until the project went public. Today, it has gone public and so I can start publicly commenting.

If you haven’t already looked, Singularity is a web conference planned for later this year. It’ll be a large multi-day, multi-track conference involving 100 speakers. What is different though is that  the whole thing will be completely web-based. There’ll be no travelling expenses, no hotel costs, no food costs (though cheap-skate events like Flash on the Beach didn’t both providing food either, so maybe that isn’t a valid advantage) and no event hire. Of of this should keep the costs – and so ticket prices – low. Due to the lack of travel, the event also scores “green points”, as it will have a low carbon footprint.

There are downsides to all this though. At a “real” conference, there is a buzz that will be near-impossible to recreate online. The crowds; the venue itself; the speakers on stage talking to; and responding to, an audience sat before them. All of these things set the scene. Then there is the face to face contact with other delegates, the chance to talk to product suppliers, potential customers and the speakers themselves.  Finally there are  products to try, books to browse and freebies to collect. Compare all that with being sat at your desk at weork, headphones on, watching a podcast and communicating via twitter or comments on someone’s blog. There will be none of the buzz, just interruptions, distractions and boredom will easily set in. Just as sitting at home by oneself watching Lord of the Rings on a 12″ portable TV will never be comparable with going to watch it in a packed cinema, so online events will never be comparable with real conferences.

Of course there is a big advantage to an online conference too. With a normal event,  typically one or two people from a company attend due to the costs. With a webcast though, a whole department can sit in a meeting room with a laptop and projector and watch the speech. Whilst real conferences often put videos of the speeches online, the speaker spoke to the audience, not the camera and the video often doesn’t work very well. Speeches designed for online broadcast from the outset ought to work much better.

So all in all, I am cautiously optimistic about this event and will be watching its development over the coming months with interest.

Microsoft release a SQL Server driver for PHP

php-med-trans-light.gifMicrosoft recently released a SQL Server driver for PHP. Anyone who have ever attempted to connect PHP to SQL Server using php_mssql.dll will know how amazing it is to finally have a proper – Microsoft supported – driver. However being Microsoft, there are the usual caveats:

  1. It’s not open source (even though they make a big deal of it on the “open source” Channel 9) . This is unsurprising.
  2. It’s a Windows only driver. So no planning a “LASP” (Linux, Apache, Sql Server and PHP) box. This is annoying.
  3. It’s a PHP 5 only driver, yet it is a procedural-only driver with no OO support. This is just stupid.

So another “almost great news” announcement from Microsoft then.

If you want to keep up with news on this product, or give Microsoft feedback, they have a product specific blog and a forum that covers this driver along with other SQL Server connectivity options.

From whence the visitors come

The web is a fascinating “place” in both the way that it can make the world seem such a small place and the way that people seem to move around pages and end up in all sorts of odd locations. Take this blog as a case in point. I’ve been posting to it for just three months now and due to it being just one of thousands (millions?) of blogs out there, there is no obvious reason to assume anyone would bother reading it. At times this simple reality can make it feel like I’m talking to myself. So I decided to monitor the visitor traffic to see if anyone did visit. Rather than plough through nasty log files or set up a google account to monitor it, I picked one of those drop-in graphical gizmos that various web companies offer.

So four days ago I signed up for a ClustrMaps map, linked to to the site and waited. After four days, I’ve had a total of 68 visitors (not sure if that is unique visitors, I’ve a suspicion that the majority are me if not). Not a brilliant number, but the amount I’d expect after such a short time. The thing that surprised me though were the locations people were from: various parts of Europe, the USA, Canada and even India. It is all too easy to take the world for granted these days, but I still find it really amazing that someone on the other side of the planet might have found their way here.

So if you are one of those people who live outside of the UK and who have stumbled across this blog, please add a comment to this post to let me know where you are from and how you found me.

Online Office Bandwagon Really Gets Rolling

buzzofficelive.jpgLife used to be simple. If you did Windows, you did Office. If you did Linux, you did Open Office. If you did Macs, you drew pretty pictures, edited movies and probably used some obscure office package that was the best thing since white plastic on gadgets. Then along came Google with a funny idea: run the office app “in the cloud” and access it via web browsers. Turns out though that the big guns of the computer world didn’t think it such a funny idea after all and are taking it seriously. So this week has seen Microsoft launch the beta of their Office Live package and Adobe have bought up Virtual Ubiquity (which was of no surprise as they funded its start up in the first place), the producers of the Flash-based word processor, Buzzword.

Of course in true “emperor with no clothes” style, people seem unwilling to point out the obvious: the web browser is a really clunky naff way of supplying the power of office tools, but since when has common sense ever stopped people? I don’t think it is all a bad thing though, as the desire to run desktop apps within a browser is pushing the development of Silverlight, Flash, AIR and the like. And the collaborative features of the Google spreadsheet program should hopefully push “real” office apps in the same direction. Sometimes a funny idea can have great consequences.