Forget Barcamp, where's Ireland's SXSW?

BarCamp Dublin will be taking place in a couple of months and, despite the fact that it’s happening on my front door (I work in the Digital Depot), I probably won’t be attending. In short, this is mainly because I don’t think it has that much to offer to me. I have a blog, but I write mainly for my own enjoyment rather than as a means to rack up subscribers (you should see some of the some self-indulgent posts I have lined up for the next couple of weeks - wow). So with its heavy focus on blogging, search engine optimisation and unexciting technology which, frankly, was of no interest to me three years ago and is of even less interest to me now, BarCamp Dublin gives me no compelling reason to attend.

Now I’ve spent the day browsing through the SXSW website and drooling over the list of nerd-focused talks they will be giving, I can’t help but wish that Ireland had something similar. What attracts me to the SXSW stuff is the completely open nature of the festival. Rather than limiting themselves to a few topics, they’ve made sure there’s something for all types of nerd: movies, music, games, design, blogging, programming are all on the agenda. And because of this, it seems to be completely open, no sense of exclusion because of a lack of interest in a particular topic.

Panels that really caught my eye were:

Why hasn’t Ireland seen a similar event? It’s not for lack of talent. We have an abundance of talented, charming and articulate nerds that could give similarly interesting talks on a similarly diverse range of topics (although there’s also an abundance of ‘squeaky wheels’). Perhaps it’s because the geek community is so fragmented that it’s hard to rally them all together. The bloggers converse with other bloggers, the designers converse with other designers and so on. Perhaps rallying them together for a truly welcoming unconference with something for everyone would be too much effort.

But it would be a thing of beauty.

Then again, what do I care? I’m out of here soon.

A gaggle of Youtube celebrities →

For the new Barenaked Ladies video, the band asked a bunch of Youtube celebrities to record a video of themselves performing the song. The results are so very, very cute.

I’m familiar with most of these celebrities but I’ve never seen “Where the hell is Matt” before. So I hunted it down, and let me tell you, it brought a tear to this weary old face.

Listal: Catalogue your stuff!

listal.png

My DVD collection has reached the point where I can no longer keep track of what I’ve got, what I’ve loaned to other people or what I haven’t yet watched. So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly loading my entire collection into Delicious Library. A very pretty application, with a number of really nice features (easy to mark an item as “on loan”; export to iPod, so I almost always have a copy of my collection on-hand), but still had problems for me. Most importantly:

  1. It’s Mac-only

  2. Needs a powerful computer to run properly (which I don’t have at home)

  3. Needs a fast internet connection to run properly (which I don’t have at home) Last week, I stumbled across Listal. From the website:

Listal is a social website where you can list all the movies, books, music and games you own and want!

Despite of the lack of a decent “import” feature (right now, you can only import from DVD Profiler), meaning I’m having to enter each one of my DVDs by hand, I’m moving my catalogue from Delicious Library into Listal. Why? Well, there’s a few reasons.

  • It’s internet-based I can access (and edit) my catalogue from any computer on the internet, not just my Mac

  • Thin-client suits my crappy internet connection

The listal server does all the heavy lifting meaning my Clearwire connection remains relatively unruffled.

  • RSS feeds for every context

Besides the obvious applications of any kind of RSS feeds, it also means I can export my RSS feed to something like iDropper to dump the RSS feed onto my iPod, replicating the functionality of Delicious Library. This will probably get even easier when Listal finally has a “proper” export facility.

  • User-specified tags, ratings and lists

This is really what sold it for me - the ability to completely tag my collection as I want to. So I can have a whole bunch of movies listed as “hangover movies,” “Sunday matinees,” “Cheesy horror.” You get the idea. And this is without even touching on the “social” part of the application - being able to see friends' collections, recommend new films and easily arrange loans.

My listal profile is here. I’ve barely added 25% of my collection and even then, I’m going to have to go back and tag them all properly, so I’m going to be working on it a bit more. If you’re on there, add me as a friend!

Games are art →

Just wanted to throw a little Google-juice in the direction of GamesAreArt.com. Needlessly fussy site design and current lack of content aside, it’s an important site. The games industry has just entered an extremely difficult time, with critics discounting video games as a medium of entertainment, never mind expression, and it’s important that we, as games players and games enthusiasts, have some way of showing non-games players just how far the games industry has come.

Anyway, best of luck to GamesAreArt.com.

Movie release calendar

Warning!

This is still very much beta - use at your own risk

Today, I set about teaching myself the basics of web scraping, with the intention of putting it to some good use. Coincidence or providence, I read Kottke’s post about creating an ical for summer movie releases, and immediately thought of a personal itch I could scratch.

The Irish Film and Television Network provide a list of Irish Theatrical Releases, but this is just one big flat HTML file that is only marginally helpful. It still relies on me to remember to go to their page and see what’s out and when. It would be much more useful if this information was somewhere I tend to spend a lot of my day looking - say, my calendar program - and even more helpful if it was somewhere I could carry it around with me - say, my phone.

Well, now I can. Using various combinations of bash, sgrep, awk and sed, I created a script that will automatically grab the ‘releases’ page of IFTN.ie and export it as an .ics file, which can be read through iCal/Sunbird, and from there, synched to my phone.

You can grab the .ics file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_releases.ics

If you find this useful, please let me know.

And now the caveats:

  1. IFTN’s listing page is braindead. I can’t help this, and my script can’t predict its unusual behaviour. For example, why does it have two release dates for “Kicking and Screaming”, one on June 3rd, the second on July 29th? And why does it randomly have two “2005"s after “Fever Pitch”?
  2. This is my first real time creating a .ics file. I ploughed through RFC 2445 for pointers, but I might have commited some mortal vcalendar sin without knowing it.
  3. Bug reports to the usual address

Update For my next trick, I did the same for videogames using Eurogamer’s release dates. Grab the calendar file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_game_releases.ics

BBC Backstage

Tim O’Reilly suggests that at least part of the reason for Amazon and Google’s success comes from their open API. This allows people to access their information in ways that fit people’s individual needs (“rip, mix, burn”), giving them a massive advantage over monolithic proprietary apps. He gives the example of their own use in O’Reilly - they monitor the ‘technology’ section of Amazon’s books for how well their books are doing, their prices vs. their competitor’s prices, what new books have been released and so on. With Google, we’re seeing this as it happens as people continue to extend maps.google.com to tie in with other services, such as Flickr, producing Geotagging.

Well, the BBC must have been listening. Yesterday, they launched BBC Backstage, which is set to provide a one-stop-shop for all of the BBC’s web content, from their RSS feeds to their Search API (not available yet). Most interestingly for the casual user (read: non-developer), they’re also using this as a way to track the ways in which people are using the BBC website, such as providing a way for people to provide their own “external links” for stories, or giving stories del.icio.us-style tags.

I look forward to seeing what sorts of things people come up with.

Bleedin' Spyware

I’m putting it down to a momentary lapse in concentration.

Esat told us our line went ‘live’ on Friday, so I spent a while trying to remember what my username and password was. I must have spent a good half hour trying various combinations (It turns out the username goes in the form of $username@iolbb, not @iolbb.ie as the salesman told me).

So when I finally did get the right combination, I was so thrilled at having broadband at home again that I left the laptop for a few minutes to go bop around the room. I must have bopped for less than 10 minutes before I realised I’d left a Windows machine connected directly to the internet.

Too late.

And so, my first few hours of broadband are being spent de-fucking my laptop. It must have five different types of spyware on there, and no one tool is catching it all. Although, loathe as I am to admit it, Microsoft’s Antispyware has, so far, been the best, having already caught four things. There are still a couple of other things left on there, if I’m reading windump and ‘netstat -ao’ right.

I hate the internet.

del.icio.us

For the past few months, I’ve become increasingly fond of del.icio.us. Plugged into any half-decent RSS reader (liferea being my RSS-reader of choice), it becomes an invaluable tool to help me stay on top of my game, exposing me to tools and advice I probably wouldn’t normally have stumbled upon.

But until recently, I never saw the point of signing up for an account. To me, it was a link exchange - whoop-di-doo. I don’t really have enough to contribute to something like this, I don’t tend to come across things by chance that other people would find interesting. Finally, in the depths of last night, I realised its true purpose and how I could help make it better whilst simultaneously scratching many of my own personal itches.

When I browse around on the internet at home, there’s a lot of stuff that I just don’t have time to check out on anything but a ‘high’ level. I’m generally up until 1am, winding down by chewing email for a while and seeing what’s happening in the world, but it’s absolutely impossible for me to keep my concentration levels high for some of the things I come across. For instance, last night I came across a link that explains the Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do), but it being almost 1am, I couldn’t really digest the information. Since it’s nigh-on impossible (or at least, a whole bunch of work) to synchronise my bookmarks list at home with my workstation in the office, I began the process of emailing the URL to myself, to check it when I got into work today.

I stopped before hitting the “send” button as it finally dawned on me. I realised that I was completely ignoring the fact that I’d just gotten this link from del.icio.us - it would always be there. If only some bright spark could come up with a way for me to keep a track of all the stuff I liked on del.icio.us – one giant all-encompassing bookmark – where I wouldn’t need to maintain a file on a number of seperate machines.

But wait! Some bright spark already set this up! If I set up my own del.icio.us account, I could add the link to it, and have it available no matter where it was. I’m almost certainly pointing out the obvious to some of you here, but to me, it was like someone had finally removed the forest and I was able to say “Oh, there are the trees”.

This also has a number of other knock-on effects. Now, when I want to show someone something cool I’d seen that they might be interested, I don’t have to go digging through all the various machines I use, I can just point them at my del.icio.us account.

It also has the added advantage of making my bookmarks infinitely sortable. In Firefox, I have a “useful stuff” folder, where I dump, well.. useful stuff. This is to stop me getting confused “hmm.. where is that useful linux drum sequencer program I found? Is it in ‘linux’ or ‘music’?". Now I can have it appear in a filter for ‘useful’, ‘linux’ and ‘sound’.

Like I said, this might all just sound like the most obvious thing in the world to you all, but I’m glad I finally caught up.

404 Cheat

When our CEO came to me and told me that I had two weeks to design and implement a new website, I knew I was in trouble. In the years since our site first went live, it had grown a lot of ‘cruft’, information that was now completely useless. I started by going to our head of marketing and discussing what didn’t need to be transitioned across to the new website.

Although the CEO was happy with the look of the new site and liked the way we’d trimmed it down, he still insisted that all content be available. So I cheated a little.

I moved the old website to another directory (called ‘oldsite’), and set up a new virtualhost for ‘oldsite.ourdomain.com’. I gave this its own 404 page saying “Your page could not be found”. In the new site, I also gave it a custom 404 page - actually, a PHP script, which would redirect to oldsite.ourdomain.com

So, someone requesting a document we hadn’t transitioned to the new site:

It’s a simple procedure, but one which saved my neck. In the hopes of saving someone else’s neck, here’s that simple 404.php page

<?php
$uri=getenv("REQUEST_URI");
header("Location: http://oldsite.ourdomain.com$uri");
echo $uri;
?>