Blog, by date: 2009_jul
from the desk of travis johnson.
Goodbye, Walter Cronkite (from 2009/07/24)
I am in no way qualified to write a proper goodbye to the late Mr. Cronkite–him having retired a half-decade before I was born–but I have the greatest respect for the man, and wish in a lot of ways that I could have been around for it. On the other hand, reviewing videos of his newscasts, what strikes me is the massive impact and bleakness of many of these newscasts and how that contrasts with the emptiness of many more recent newscasts that I can recall. So most of my wistfulness revolves around our shared interest in spaceflight, his reporting obsession and a large source of my own scientific curiosity. I couldn't say it better than Couric's memorial commentary, which posited 'It's a measure of the man that he preferred the triumph of the space program to the despair in so much of the news,’ and that is certainly the way it was.
In lieu of saying goodbye to one of America's great legends I never met, I'd like to introduce him to some of those people who haven't had any exposure to him aside from his few lines dug up from the archives for Apollo 13. Please enjoy these three clips, and some sage editorial words we broadcast about the Vietnam conflict.
<blockquote>To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.</blockquote>
Blog Segregation (from 2009/07/21)
I'm slowly feeling more and more that I want some more compartments in my blogging. I've been thinking about stuff I want to blog, and stuff I don't want to blog, and invariably they tend to get filed in both places. For example, I'd like to move toward a more professional blog that I could talk about my research, papers I've been reading, web sites I've found interesting, course projects, professional meetings, etc.
At the same time, I am not immune to the desire to share my own breed of whimsy on blogging in a more light-hearted format for a more select group, mainly family and friends. I suppose I could include bored strangers, but presumably my life is boring enough that these will self-deselect after long enough.
Of course, there is significant resistance to this as well, because destroying the links and soforth to this blog is something I'd rather avoid. Perhaps I will just strive to move in the former direction and keep better track of my friends by other means. I believe this is how normal humans operate, come to think of it.
Wiki Problems (from 2009/07/21)
I really like the idea of having a wiki website. It's great to be able to share documents really easily, be able to edit stuff without logging in, track changes you've made, and so on.
I have also tried quite a few wiki setups, including MediaWiki(mostly at a job a while back and a spectacular success), MoinMoin, and PmWiki. However, each of them fell flat in a certain annoying way.
Mediawiki is very close to perfect. It a good(or at least, familar) interface for viewing and editing, and an amazing history to go along with it. Plugins are easy enough to deal with, and while I don't like PHP coding all that much, it certainly is where it's at with respect to ease of deployment. However, while the trust assumptions make sense for the encyclopedia-type data they are running, it makes little-to-no sense for how personal and research/course related materials should work.
MoinMoin and I also had a great start. The python was somehow more painful to deploy, but probably this can be attributed to my own inadequacies and laziness to thoroughly read the instructions. In my defense, my goal of any computer interaction has changed from 'Play with fun toys’ to 'Get real work done’, lately. Setup pains might be a O(1) dose of painfulness, and there's a lot to like here. MoinMoin's access control lists are perfectly executed, in my opinion. Some big issues remain though: Inconsistency with forward versions of the software(ie, everything I learned to get productive on an early version is junk for the latest and greatest), inability to edit sections of text(Mediawiki has this nailed), and, surprisingly, spam has been a huge issue on my personal site.
PmWiki was introduced to me by my dear friend Sharvil. It comes pretty close. The plugin structure here feels even easier, and it's an absolute cinch to install. I got math markup working very easily, and it seems pretty nice. The PmWiki philosophy is very similar to the latest Apple ad campaign, except their mantra would be: 'Yep, there's a plugin for that.’ This is all fine and good, except that it means that some things(users) are essentially an afterthought, and this complicates administration for the poor saps that have to use it. One exchange on their wiki suggested putting admin-vs-anonymous logic in the theme, which severely damaged the amount of trust I'd be willing to put in them.
I haven't addressed some other things yet. Notably, I'd love:
Some more thoughts: I like how ReStructured Text looks in text and HTML-rendered formats, but I'm not slick with Python. Perhaps now is the time to get that way? But if MoinMoin is a pain to install due to Python layout, I suppose I couldn't do much better.
I suppose this is a long enough rant on the current state of Wikis. I have this strong urge to start coding this up and see how well I could do, but the reality is that Wiki software is very hard to do correctly. I haven't even addressed in any of this how database-driven to make this type of setup, because I'm not sure what the right mix is. So I'm trying hard to resist this urge. There's always something more pressing to work on than a Wiki framework that nobody but you is going to view, edit, or extend.