xmllint

This Linux tool is my new best friend. We get thousands of XML files from our clients for loading user, class, and enrollment information. Some of these clients customize our software or write their own software for generating the XML.

This means we frequently get oddities in the files which cause problems. Thankfully I am not the person who has to verify these files are good. I just get to answer the questions that person has about why a particular file failed to load.

The CE/Vista import process will stop if its validator finds invalid XML. Unfortunately, the error “An exception occurred while obtaining error messages.  See webct.log” doesn’t sound like invalid XML.

Usage is pretty simple:

xmllint –valid /path/to/file.xml | head

  1. If the file is valid, then the whole file is in the output.
  2. If there are warnings, then they precede the whole file.
  3. If there are errors, then only the errors are displayed.

I use head here because our files can be up to 15MB, so this prevents the whole file from going on the screen for the first two situations.

I discovered this in researching how to handle the first situation below. It came up again today. So this has been useful to catch errors in the client supplied files where the file failed to load.

1: parser error : XML declaration allowed only at the start of the document
 <?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

162: parser error : EntityRef: expecting ‘;’
<long>College of Engineering &amp&#059; CIS</long>

(Bolded the errors.) The number before the colon is the line number. The carat it uses to indicate where on the line an error occurred isn’t accurate, so I ignore it.

My hope is to get this integrated into our processes to validate these files before they are loaded and save ourselves headaches the next morning.

Me Social Media

Dan Schultz doesn’t like Facebook or Twitter because they are too focussed on individual expression rather than the community.

That may be because he is using them wrong. I liked photography as a kid, but I didn’t know any photographers. Flickr happened to come into my life just after I bought my first digital camera. My participation in photography exploded. Not because I had a way to post my photos but because I had a way to find other local photographers for mutual encouragement. Even better was forming local groups to encourage people to meet. The value of Flickr is developing the community.

Worldwide Photowalk Panorama

Similarly, I got into Twitter because my community, peers at other universities running the same software as myself, were seeking help there. Any place with answers to the problems we face, which is where people with the answers are watching, is where we go. Twitter was the place to get the attention of the right people not a forum like phpBB. (There are already lots of email lists.) My other community, people using the software I run are also on Twitter. I’ve resolved issues for many clients by finding their public complaints and offering solutions. When my focus changed away from using Twitter for the community is when I stopped liking Twitter.

Personally, I have yet to find much sense of community in the phpBB, Google Wave, and Ning. So I find it strange these are the exemplars of community applications. They seem fractured so one finds dozens of groups to covering the same interest. Sometimes this is because some moderator upset a portion of the community with draconian behavior causing people to form an alternative community. Bad blood exists for a while. Other times people set up a new community unaware others exist.

Linux Adventure Part 1

For about a week now I’ve been without my personal laptop as anything much more than a brick. I think tonight I am going to copy off the pictures and other important information to my desktop. From there, anything I do to make the situation worse will no longer matter as much.

Monday night, I shutdown the laptop. Microsoft Vista Automatic Updates said it was working on some updates post-logout. Rather than babysit, I went to bed. I should have babysat it.
🙁

The next morning, Tuesday, starting the computer told me I had a corrupted or missing \boot\BCD. The Boot Configuration Data file is pretty important, as without one the Windows operating system doesn’t even give me a command prompt. After some research I found out I needed my Windows installation DVD only 250 miles away. This caused me so much distress I even forgot I had a spare computer with me.

So I decided to download a Linux Live CD and use that while stuck away from home. At least I would be able to research the problem and possibly fix it later. The first Live CD I tried was a downloaded iso flavor called Knoppix, I remembered from many years ago. Ick. Knoppix Adriane is intended for the visually impaired slipped by me, so the computer reading everything got annoying extremely quickly. Finally turned off the reading stuff, but I had a new problem. Wireless wasn’t working.

Macintosh LC III … And I was out of CD-Rs.

So a newer memory was a few years ago, a friend with a barely functioning Macintosh LC III (pictured right) wanted to get her stuff off it. She brought it up again a few times since, the most recent occasion to ask me to explain why her Windows computer cannot just read 3.5″ floppies from the Mac without any computer-ese. A coworker mentioned a Live CD of CentOS could mount the drive and transfer the data.

So, I downloaded an iso of the CentOS Live CD while I went to the store to get some disks to burn. While starting up CentOS, I downloaded Ubuntu just in case this second Live CD failed. It was a good thing because the CentOS Live CD was prettier without any improvement in getting on the wireless.

Nor was the Ubuntu Live CD any better.

By this point, I had found a site offering a torrent to a Vista Recovery CD. The quandary was to go back to Windows or stick with Linux. The recovery CD off a random web site could just not work or at worst infect the non-functioning computer. So I installed BitTorrent and downloaded the recovery CD. I tried the Startup Repair, System Restore, and Command Prompt (to manually rebuild the booter). Since this failed, I decided Windows Vista was dead.

So I started looking into how to make Ubuntu work for me.

Linux Adventure Part 2Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

Computer Metaphors

An effective way to explain something is to use a metaphor. This can be especially effective by picking an metaphorical object or behavior with which the audience is already familiar.

The one I see most often is comparing computers to a car. This morning I saw this on an email list describing a person’s experience  migrating to Vista 8 from Vista 3.

It is like I have traded in a familiar (though frustrating) car for one that has the lights, wipers, and radio in new locations.

Also this morning, Vista 8 was compared to a malfunctioning pen forced on faculty who would rather use a better pen. Nevermind all pens are not used exactly the same. (Fountain vs rollerball) Some require more maintenance and care than others.

A coworker always says Free Open Source Software like Sakai or Moodle are free as in free puppies not free beer. Nevermind proprietary bought systems like Blackboard are bought as in bought puppies.
🙂

Tell Michael Chasen

From a January 13, 2009 email from Michael Chasen to the customers:

Please share any feedback with me directly at a Web site created for just that purpose called Tell Michael Chasen.  I will personally read every message I get, so please let me know what you think.

That page in the email is no longer available.

I guess it was moved in the web site redesign for the launch for Learn 9 (Jan 27), then this page lasted at its original location all of 14 days. The new page is Tell the CEO.

A redirect to get those of us who refer to the emails we have received to the right page would be nice.

Worldwide Photo Walk

Flickrite Shadows I’m looking forward to this Athens part of the Worldwide Photo Walk in four weeks. I’m even more impressed it filled to the 50 person capacity. We have been having meetups for Athens Flickr users since September. I don’t think any have approached half that number. (There are only 32 members in the Flickr group.) I attribute this success to Steven Skelton‘s efforts spreading the word.

Awful Chatter

Seems to me when involved in an IM chat with someone who sends 10 one line messages back to back, the purpose is to give me time to read already sent messages while typing the next. Apparently I wait for indications the other person has stopped typing before I even start to read what they have written. Why read a message when I know the other party is about to send something else? I can read both in a couple seconds. Waiting for the next is also a waste, especially when another is going to come on the heels of the second one.

Is my approach okay Netiquette? Am I a bad person for ignoring my friends and coworkers?

Apparently, these people posting several messages back to back violate the “Give time to respond.” rule of IM etiquette. Who tells people, “Hey, give me time to respond!” anyway? Maybe with more tact….

Feedback Loops

Remakes don’t scare me. Some are good. Some are bad. 

The thing to remember is, “Its just a movie.” The world won’t end over a poor movie. There’s always another one in a few weeks to either like or hate. If it stands up to the test of time, then you’ll buy the Blue-ray and next three formats over the next 30 years. If not, then just ignore it ever existed… Much like I’ve done with Superman III, Superman IV, Star Trek The Final Frontier, and hundreds of other movies.

Getting worked up over change? Not worth it.

Quibblers would have kept “Star Trek” more like its old self. Quibblers inhibit revolution. Quibblers would deny the basic law of forward motion in pop culture:

If you love something, they will remake it.

But if you really love it, you will set it free, and let them.

The Trouble With Quibbles

Film makers should keep in mind, the types of people involved in  fads: connectors, mavens, salesperson. Fans are mavens. People are going to trust the opinion of these fans. So if the fans’ concerns are just a few quibbles but still an endorsement, then the general public will flock to the movie. If these quibbles amount to wide rejection of the movie by the existing fans, then the general public will mostly stay away from it.

Quibbles are not really the issue. Endorsements are. 

I think you missed that there is a life-cycle to most such endeavors, and feedback is very useful at specific times, and disruptive (in a bad way) at others.

So, the problem with “fan feedback” non-stop is that they tend to fall into a mob mentality, off being “trolls” about any innovation. But, that said, remember that early forms of the Batman movie with the Heath L Joker was shown to fans (at a Comic Con) to get feedback on the style and whether too over the top. The feedback was used to find the balance and deal with the nature of the ending. Fans were given leaks and teasers (semi-trailers) along the way as well, but the mob rule was not allowed not hound the people making it.

That said, what makes a movie work or not is very different from what made its source material work. The reason the Spiderman movies worked for a large audience who knew nothing about the comics had a lot to do with the simpler nature of the comics. Batman has always been more complex in the psychology of its heroes and villains, as much by what does not happen as what does. Watchman is trickier given its narrative model and how much it connected with its time (Cold War, etc).

— PaulK
The Downside of Feedback

Design by committee sucks. So fans should not take over the process. However, total rejection of fan criticisms probably will result in rejection by the fans and slow sales.

The LMS is So Web 1.5

The claims Blackboard’s Learn 9 provides a Web 2.0 experience has bothered me for a while now. First, it was the drag-n-drop. While cool, that isn’t Web 2.0 in my opinion. A little more on track is the claim:

The all-new Web 2.0 experience in Release 9 makes it easy to meaningfully combine information from different sources. The Challenges Are Real, But So Are the Solutions

Integrating with a social network like Facebook is a start, but again, in my opinion, it still isn’t Web 2.0.

So, what is Web 2.0? I did some digging. I think the Tim O’Reilly approach meets my expectation best. He quotes Eric Schmidt’s “Don’t fight the Internet.” as well as provide his own more in depth.

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I’ve elsewhere called “harnessing collective intelligence.”) Web 2.0 Compact Definition: Trying Again

Users expect a site on the Internet to meet their needs or they eventually move on to a site which does. There are so many web sites out there providing equivalent features to those commonly found in an LMS. There is the danger of irrelevance. This is why every LMS company or group strives to continually add new features (aka innovating). The bar continually gets raised, so LMS software continually needs to meet this higher standard.

Tim additionally provides some other rules which you can see at the above link.

When an LMS reachs the point where the resources of the Internet helps people learn, then it will be a Web 2.0. As long as an expert or leader imparts knowledge on students, the LMS is still something different than Web 2.0. Sorry…. The irony? This is exactly what Michael Wesch and PLE advocates preach.

Bottle v Tap

Its funny what people think about something we take for granted. Brown tap municipal tap water was stated as the reason for drinking bottled water. Is it a corporate v goverment thing? Is it because bottled water is so much more expensive than tap water so it must be better?

From Coca-Cola’s letter to the state of California about what is in DASANI water:

Most facilities that purify and bottle DASANI procure water from municipal water systems. At a few plants, however, water is obtained from protected groundwater sources managed by the bottling plant, with approvals from local authorities. DASANI® Bottled Water Report as required by California SB 220 (PDF)

It goes on to describe what they do to purify the water they procure: activated carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light disinfection, re-mineralized, ozonation. So the municipalities get the water to within EPA standards but not FDA standards. Companies selling bottled water have to adhere to the FDA standard not the EPA. Maybe its a good thing: “Generally, over the years, the FDA has adopted EPA standards for tap water as standards for bottled water.” FDA Consumer magazine: Bottled Water: Better Than the Tap? (Should we be worried the same overworked agency which lets us get hit with all kinds of bacteria is protecting us from bad water?)

Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department has a similar report where they list how the water exceeds the EPA standards.

Personally, I would love everyone producing water to publish reports about their water quality with the amounts of detected contaminants listed as is shown in this DASANI analysis example. Too bad its just an example of a typical analysis. Anyone know where the real DASANI quality reports might be found?