Compare the Candidates

Compare The Candidates is a nifty web app that I found when looking into AppSpot, a Google cloud computing thingie. It shows a new style of design that rose in the last few years. I really admire it, and I love interacting with sites like this.

It’s a little scary though, it feels like a generation gap. I don’t really feel like I know how to make something that feels like it. When HTTP and CGI came on the scene, I had my feet under me right off the bat. With this generation of design sensibility, I feel a little lost still.

In related news, I find myself complaining too often these days that the music is too loud. Sigh.

512 words

I am looking forward to Curtis’ 512 words. If he sucks and doesn’t do it often enough, I’ll do them myself here on this site and embarrass him. How’s that for a helpful, encouraging friend? 🙂

Curtis’ adventure to take the time to be a professional writer is really inspiring, and it is part of what brought me back to my blogging. I am also considering to do some recreational fiction writing. Perhaps 512 of Curtis’ words will inspire me even more.

Good luck, buddy. We’re watching!

Indian Risotto

Here’s a tiny blurb about life in my new environment:

Tesco is down the street. They are the UK’s largest supermarket chain, think Safeway in the US. Generic, filled with irritating British mothers and their unruly children, with prepared food as far as the eye can see and bad produce. (Good arugula though, I have to admit). Tonight Marina and I had our hearts set on risotto. And Tesco, with 500 types of frozen pastys, has only one brand of arborio rice. And it is out of stock.

No problem, we’ll just stop at one of the other shops on the way home, there are loads.

But they are all SE-asian shops, with one Polish shop thrown in for good measure. Turns out that Poles apparently don’t eat risotto. But South Indians do!

In the south of India, they make something called idli, which near as I can tell is a fermented rice ball. Not something I’d order off the menu normally, but in the supermarket you can’t see the final product… just the ingredient. And I’d recognize arborio anywhere, even in an Indian grocery store. I bought it because I was 90% sure that idli rice is the same as arborio, and when I got home I Googled it: sure enough, if you are trying to make idli and you can’t find the right rice you can substitute arborio!

Or vice versa, in my case.

Excuse me, I have some risotto to stir.

Some tech stuff: DreamHost, WordPress and OpenID

Since I am getting back to tech life, a good first post would be about tech.

What caused the big downtime was a not-very-careful switch from a friend’s Linux server to DreamHost. I switched because I am too old, too lazy, and too impatient to do Linux sysadmin anymore. I outsource it now. Especially mail system setup, which has become an infinite nightmare as a result of spam. With just a few clicks at their really excellent control panel, DreamHost let me outsource all the hassles of email to Google, while still keeping control of my web server. And actually DreamHost helps me with that too, because with a few more clicks on the control panel, I installed WordPress in my blog, then upgraded it a few months later.

I changed from MT to WordPress because the MT world has become too corporate and confusing. Is it open source or not? Is it about communication, or about selling licenses? I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Also, I’d installed WordPress at Tellme, and customized it to do some clever stuff with single signon authentication (obligatory for corporate intranet blogging). I really loved the design, it felt clean, fast, and calm. MT, on the other hand, always felt like a lumbering beast of a CGI — the kind of thing I used to write and hate myself for doing. (I’ve just noticed another good reason to use WordPress: auto-saved drafts, like in Gmail. That single feature makes all the Web 2.0 buzz tolerable.)

In a former life (WebTV and Microsoft) I was on a project to integrate Passport signon to something, I don’t even remember what. I remember loving the idea of third-party single signon, and hating Passport’s implementation. I kept watching as Liberty Alliance made the same mistakes, just to make them in an alliance against Microsoft. You guys remember that? When it used to be “everyone against Microsoft”, and you’d have these strange alliances like “IBM + Sun + Oracle + Windex + Cargill Salt” trying to knock down Microsoft. It was all rather pathetic and disgusting. I just wanted single signon to work.

So I disappeared from tech for 4 years, and when I came back, OpenID was finally done and working right. Cool. And it REALLY works right. Delegation is the coolest thing ever, and makes it so so so easy to get an OpenID that you control and will always control your whole life regardless of what becomes of Microsoft or Liberty Alliance or Windex. So the first change I made to my WordPress install was hack it to allow only OpenID. If you want to comment on my blog, you have to have an OpenID. Starting here, starting now, the “password per site” madness ends.

Here’s how I recommend to do it:

  1. 1. Signup at GetOpenID
  2. 2. (optional) Edit a webpage that you own to include the delegation magic. View source on http://nella.org/jra to see the magic. Look in the <head> tag.
  3. 3. There is no step 3.

If you did only step 1, GetOpenId tells you what your new ID is, which will be a URL starting with getopenid.com, and ending with your name.

If you did step 2, the URL of the page you edited is your OpenID. Choose which page you put the delegation magic in carefully, the whole world will know you by it’s URL.

(There is another way to get an OpenID, where you control it 100%, and don’t have to trust the nice people at GetOpenID at all. I will let the aluminum hat brigade carry on with that, and get on with my life in peace, thank you very much.)

Login to my blog with your OpenID, and WordPress automagically creates an account for you. You can edit your profile if you want, or just leave it. The defaults are good enough.

I’m Back!

After an extended downtime due to lack of give-a-shit on my part, my blog is back, and I am back to blogging. Expect something here daily, which is my goal.

Lots and lots of news… where to start? I suppose at the last post. Since then, Marina and I were evacuated from Chad due to fighting in the town where our project was located. We then found a nice little meningitis emergency in DR Congo. When we came home we had a little vacation, then I went to the USA to see family after close to a year away. We found separate postings with MSF for the summer, which was hard but worthwhile. Marina worked in Myanmar doing mobile clinics from boats, and I went to Oromyia, Ethiopia to participate in an nutritional emergency intervention.

In August, we made a whirlwind tour of all of our various families in various parts. This grueling tour was for a worthwhile purpose: we announced our engagement! We’ll be married sometime in mid- to late-2009.

We are now living in Leeds, England. Marina is studying for a Masters in International Public Health at University of Leeds. I am the house husband, though I am doing work too; some IT contracts if I can find them, lots of self-training to get caught up to the tech landscape, and maybe some volunteering for various places too. Of course, I am a blogger again, and I’ll give some time to that.