Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Really?! Microsoft Update really needed to screw with my networking settings?

I have a desktop and a Tablet PC which I network together via a crossover cable. I use the NWLink IPX/SPX NetBIOS Compatible Transport Protocol and the NWLink NetBIOS protocol rather than the standard Microsoft NetBIOS because I find it to be far more reliable, and a little bit faster.

This morning I ran the Microsoft Update on my Tablet PC. When it was finished the network connection between my Tablet PC and desktop wouldn't work. A quick look revealed that Microsoft Update had disabled my NWLink protocols and installed Microsoft's NetBIOS protocols instead.

Are they that freaking determined that everyone on the planet use their products that they have to screw up my network connections just to increase the proportion of computers that are using NetBIOS? Really!?

And the bizarre thing is that the NWLink protocols were written by Microsoft too. The technology just wasn't invented by Microsoft so they gotta try to shut it down. Talk about poor sports.

Unfortunately, I am far too dependent on certain Windows compatible programs to jump ship over to Linux. And Apple is even worse than Microsoft when it comes to consumer lock-in. Not going there either.

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Acrobat Clippings

This is my idea for what I call Acrobat Clippings.

Currently all acrobat documents must be viewed in a separate window via the acrobat browser plug-in. Why. Every other type of browser plug-in can display the specified content inline with other HTML content on the page. Why must all Acrobat content be kept segregated? I understand thatmost Acrobat documents are just that, entire documents. However, if the Acrobat browser plug-in could display documents in-line (on the same page and in the same window as other HTML content) then a wider array of applications opens up for the Acrobat format.

I propose that Adobe develop a means by which the Acrobat browser plug-in can dislpay content in-line with other HTML content.In addition, I propose that they develop a means by which users can select segments of a page in an Acrobat document and quickly save just that selected area of the page as a separate Acrobat "Clipping."

Then, people can include just the parts of an Acrobat document, that cannot easily be displayed as HTML, directly in-line with their HTML content. Yes, I know it is possible to save a selected part of an Acrobat document as a graphic file by using the snapshot tool and pasting that into a graphics program. However, this greatly degrades the quality of the image and throws away all the additional features offered in Acrobat such as linking or forms. Using this technology, web designers and others wishing to document complicated information could place diagrams on their web pages with all the functionality of the Acrobat format. Imagine diagrams with links, without all the complicated area mapping required in HTML.

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.
However, I give anyone permission to use this idea in their product, especially Adobe.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Save my spot!

Here is an idea for programs like Adobe Acrobat (both the reader and the full version). Allow users to set a "Current Page" bookmark. I know Acrobat will remember the last view of a document. But sometimes that is not where the user left off reading. They may have simply looked at another page for reference. Besides, that is saved on the computer rather than within the document. Therefore, if the user is synchronizing the document between multiple machines, as I often do, then when they pick up reading on the other machine they will be taken back to where they left off on that particular machine. This is not ideal.

All these programs need is a special bookmark, using whatever technology they currently use for bookmarks, but just update the location pointed to by that bookmark to whatever is the current page when the appropriate button is pressed or menu item is chosen.

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Black Box Intermediaries

A recent posting on Slashdot mentions an article about a bank accidentally sending customer data to some unknown gmail account. The bank is suing to get that account disabled and to get the owner's personal information. Most of the people on Slashdot just seem to be moaning and complaining. So I posted the following idea:

Why can't the courts in these cases set up third-party intermediaries to receive the information that the plaintiffs are asking for (such as someone's personally-identifying information) and then have all communications go through that intermediary? This is just the same as e-mails from Craig's List users going through Craig's List instead of directly between the users. It could even be a system where no human ever sees the information. Instead it could be encrypted such that no one would ever be able to dig it out. Then the plaintiff could contact the individual and they could carry on a conversation and straighten things out, without the individual's individual identifying information ever being disclosed.

Perhaps what we need is a government sponsored but publicly run (and open-source developed) central system to provide this service. It would have to be open source so that anyone could check to make sure that the system didn't have any back doors.

Without a system like this, then the technique used by this bank could become a powerful tool to do an end-run around privacy laws. If I want to find out the personal information about someone, or even shut down their e-mail accounts or all of their internet access, all I have to do is claim to have accidentally sent them private information about someone else. Heck, I could just make up bogus info and send it to the individual. Who would know, because that info would be kept sealed "for the privacy of the people in the list."

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Steady Misrepresentation

I was reading the January 2009 Scientific American, a special issue about Charles Darwin and evolution. On page 99 they have a quote from Darwin that I think is especially prescient:

"Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure."

Charles Darwin

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Self Healing Hyperlinks

I'm an avid user of Microsoft OneNote 2007. I keep all my notes in it. I even wrote the outline and first draft for this post using it. I upgraded to the 2007 version specifically because it allowed the creation of hyperlinks between documents. Unfortunately those hyperlinks aren't worth a darn because if you move a page then all the links to anything on that page get broken, even links from within the same page. Many links don't even work correctly when you first make them. It is incredibly frustrating.

So, I have been stewing on a way to create a note-taking application based on HTML rather than Microsoft's proprietary format. I quickly realized that links created within this new application would also break as soon as the user moved a page in the collection. Sure, I could require the user to always and only use the application to move the pages then have the app update all the links to a page whenever it is moved. However, this would only work if the user made sure to use the application to move the pages and never forgot and simply moved them manually. It would also make moving pages pretty darn slow because it would have to search through every page in the system to find links to update. Therefore, I have been trying to think of a way to quickly find the new page location and update the links as necessary.

In what seems like a separate issue, I have noticed that academic papers often exist in multiple different locations all over the internet. Sometimes the file is named appropriately but oftentimes it is not. Sometimes there is good descriptive text surrounding the link to the file but oftentimes not. Sometimes the original file can still be found exactly where you first referenced it five years ago but usually not. This means that finding a current reference to an original academic paper for which you only have old citation information can be quite daunting. So I have been also trying to think of a way so that one could use a single link to refer to any one of the multiple identical copies of that document no matter where it was actually located on the internet and instantly retrieve that document, even if the original was no longer in place.

I had been thinking about using some kind of indexing system to enable one (or one's browser) to find these moved web pages. This morning, as I was waking up it finally hit me how to solve both of these problems and eliminate the vast majority of 404 errors at the same time. I call this system "Self Healing Hyperlinks."

The basis of the system is to insert additional information into the URL in a link so that either the target web server or the user's browser can find that target even if it has been moved. This additional information consists of domain and/or globally unique HTML element ID values which are included as attributes in the elements of the link target. The system also requires an indexing engine to be installed as a plug-in for the web-server software in order to index and look up these element IDs. When a broken link sends a browser to the target web site, that web server can look up the new location in its index rather than return a 404 error. One or more global indexing servers would also be set up to crawl the internet looking for documents that contain these special element IDs. Then, when a browser cannot find a target that was linked to using this additional information and the target web server did not return a replacement page, then the browser can query the global link database and still find the document. The system does not require any additional scripting in the web pages or the on the server. The web server and browser plug-ins would do all the work.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My First Flash Project

Here is the first Adobe Flash animation that I made for my AR399 class (Animation and Gaming). I have attempted to recreate the experience I had when I was a child and first learned that a "famous artist" could possibly make a mistake. This painting is what made art seem accessible to me. I have been a big Bruegel fan ever since.

Unfortunately, I had a hell of a time getting Blogger to display my flash properly. So I have posted it up on the tiny bit of personal web space I have with my ISP. Just click the picture to go to the actual animation.

Bruegel's Peasant Wedding

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.
Naturally, this only includes the Flash animation. The rights information for the original image that I used is at