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Notes related to education, learning sciences research and the design of learning technology.


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§ Exploration Place: Thumbs Up

Three big thumbs up for the Exploration Place. If you’re in Wichita with kids, go: this new science museum is a blast. Our daughter loved the three story castle exhibit, and Sue is coming soon. Best parental feature? A row of leather recliners with massage controls that face a huge bank of windows looking out over the river.

§ Vestigial Resource Forks

Resource forks are so 1990s.”

That may be, but it’s funny how they stick around in OS X, hanging on to data files like dryer lint.

I’ve been cleaning up a project archive so that I can move it into svn instead of doing ad hoc, zip-the-entire-folder style backups. The trick is that many of the files aren’t plain text files: there are Photoshop source images, AppleScripts, REALbasic project files… all kinds of stuff.

svn can handle text and binary files just fine, but it doesn’t pay any attention to resource forks. That’s the main reason I haven’t moved the archive over sooner.

But in OS X, resource forks are a deprecated technology, right? How pervasive can these things still be?


§ Bicycling in Seattle

I lost my Seattle bike map months ago and haven’t replaced it because I never get downtown to the Dept. of Transportation offices. Well, it turns out you can request a copy online, and the city will mail it to you for free.

§ Comment spam update

Bloggers are quite aware of the problem of comment spam: automated bots that seek out weblogs and leave inane comments that contain links. The goal is to improve the advertised site’s Google PageRank, in addition to providing a few impressions on the weblog.

We’ve had this problem under control for several months using a technique called HashCash. We also format all links in comments with the rel=’nofollow’ attribute, which prevents Google from using the link in its PageRank calculations. (Yet spambots still visit us. Go figure.)

Recently, some spambots has broken HashCash. So, we’ve added a new layer of shiny anti-spambot coating: the Obvious Question. If you’re leaving a comment (please do!), before you submit the comment form you’ll need to answer an Obvious Question. The answer is even provided, in case what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to you.

In general, we hate the idea of inconveniencing real contributors in order to better manage spam. But the ratio of spambot postings to real postings is running well over 1:1. The Obvious Question attempts to solve the problem in the least intrusive way.

§ Weird Terminal Bug

Weird. This is one of those mildly annoying problems that have to bug me several times before I focus the energy to track them down. Recently, every time I open a new Terminal window, Terminal has been changing the working directory to a folder deep in my Documents tree. I thought this was very strange and couldn’t find evidence in my login scripts that this should have happened.

It turns out the problem is that when you use AppleScript to execute commands via Terminal, the last command you perform via the “do script” AppleScript command can get “stuck” in Terminal’s ExecutionString preference, which is run whenever a Terminal window opens. (Fortunately for me, the command that got stuck was a simple cd command.) There is no interface in Terminal to view or edit ExecutionString, which makes the bug a bit tricky to track down. (Huzzah for Google, as usual.) To fix it, you need to either edit manually, or execute the following command in a Terminal window:

defaults write ExecutionString

§ TrollTech on API Design

I came across this piece on how to design an API that’s essentially written from a user-centered perspective. It discusses how TrollTech (who make the Qt cross-platform framework) have evolved their API interface to improve comprehension and reliability for their users: other developers.

The ideas and examples here aren’t just applicable to commercial API designers. Every codebase is essentially an API that someone is going to have to learn (or, if you’re returning to your own code, relearn). The ideas strike me as being a level above quibbling about things like the merits of Hungarian Notation, and more in the pragmatic programming realm.

§ More on InqBlot

Just a quick reminder: most of my posting efforts have moved over to InqBlot, a group blog edited by Inquirium designers. See you over there!

§ MacBooks

Apple and Intel, sitting in a tree. iMacs and MacBook Pros.

Here’s the thing, though. The move to Intel was spun as being about performance per watt. G5s were too hot to get into a Powerbook, they said, which is certainly true.

So what’s the performance per watt like in the new MacBook Pro? We have no idea, because there is absolutely no information available about battery life. That seems to be a conspicuous omission.

§ I'll stick with Earthlink, thanks

I was thinking about switching to Qwest DSL, since they’re been offering higher bandwidths and bundles with phone service. But their terms of service are a bit restrictive.

§ Congratulations Huskies!

UW takes its first women’s volleyball title, sweeping Nebraska. Way to go Huskies!