The Virtues of Blogging

Andrew Sullivan, has, I think, hit upon one of the key virtues of the blog as a tool for journalism; he writes in his “Blogger Manifesto” that “Peer-to-peer journalism, I realized, had a huge advantage over old-style journalism. It could marshall the knowledge and resources of thousands, rather than the certitudes of the few.”

Blogging-as-journalism then shares the advantages of open source software—you have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bug finders, fixers, and coders working because they want to. And I think this “open source” effect is one of the potential side effects of using blogs for instruction. You are helping students find a voice, a personal commitment to their words and thoughts, and you are teaching them to think about audience, one of the central requirements of good writing. These are all Good Things.

Since I started really thinking about blogs—and deliberately reading and researching them—I’ve slowly realized that one could argue that my central Celtic Studies Resources site is a blog, a blog with categories, and stories.

Cascading Style Sheets

I’ve looked at articles recommending Cascading Style Sheets before, but I’ve always been frustrated by the browser incompatibilities and bugs. For the last month or so I’ve been following css discussions more closely, and I’m going to try using css again. I still don’t quite understand why people hate tables—I find them to be very useful—but the ability to use a style sheet for my sixty-something pages does appeal to me. So I’m taking a closer look.

I’ve found some good resources—this series of Apple tutorials, for one, and WebMonkey’s Style Sheet Guide then there’s Dave Raggett’s guide—and his useful “ccs readiness” checker HTML Tidy (I’m using Terry Teague’s BBTidy BBEdit plug in port). I’ve also found WDG’s Quick Tutorial and the New York Public Library Style Guide helpful, not to mention all the resources at the CSS Pointers Group.

Next of course is xml.

Yet More Blogs—And some Perls

So in my frenzied selfless search for blog tools, in between writing my dissertation, I took a look at Radio Userland. Cool. I think. Yeah, cool, but I think it’s more than it seems. It lets you automatically fetch “headlines” from a list of sites. I chose to look at O’Reilly’s Perl.com, and found a link to an article on the perils of Perl for the unwary, specifically, finding and downloading .CGIs. There’s a nifty checklist of things to watch out for, worth knowing about. Part of the article is a plug for .nms, a SourceForge project, as a source for solid Perl scripts, but it is nonetheless interesting.

More Open Source for Education

Yes, I’m still looking. I’ve found a couple more sites that are collecting information about open source projects of interest to education. There’s an article in NewsForge about SchoolForge, but the stuff that looks viable to me is mostly at the more traditional sites like Fresh Meat, or CPAN, the mother lode of Perl modules. Which reminds me, there’s now a well organized site at perl.org, for learners.

Software doesn’t have to be New to be Good

Lately I’ve been talking to others in IT who are, like me, interested in solid products with good interfaces,and are taking advantage of stable but geeky standard protocols and unix tools and applications but putting a web front end on them.

I’ve been thinking about doing this with an NNTP server. Network News Transport Protocol is what makes UseNet newsgroups work, from a server perspective. Most of the discussion board products are monolingual; UseNet News is not, and readers are designed to support pretty much any language someone would post to UseNet in. News is threaded, and there are a number of ways to integrate HTML front ends. Why not use News as a discussion bard?

There are scads of News servers, but I keep hearing about DNews News Server, which runs on Macs, among other platforms. It’s particularly interesting since user authorization controls allow read and/or post access to be restricted for particular users or newsgroups; NetWin, the developer, also offers dBabble, chat server and webNews, a .cgi for a web front end to a news server. NewsRunner is a neat Mac application you can point to your News Server, and it will convert posts to HTML, text, digest form, email, or database and archive them. We were early adopters of Web Crossing, which supports UseNet news groups via the web or a client, email, private discussion boards with customizable templates, chat, and ssl connections.