Dumping daily link posting

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, but I’ve now disabled the daily link posting by postalicious.  I also went back and purged all the link posts in the blog (which turned out to be about 50% of them).

If you are still interested in my daily link stream, I’ll continue to post it on delicious.  I’ve also started to experiment with a lifestream plugin on this blog.  I’m not sure if that will be useful or not, but it’s here for now.  I’m also hoping this give me more motivation to post more often.

Build your own real time whiteboard sharing on Linux

I can’t even remember the last time I had a coworker that was co-located with me in the same town.  Within IBM the other software developers that I typically work with are in: Minnesota, Texas, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, and Australia.  These are the folks that I would have 1 or more technical discussions with a week.  If I openned that umbrella up to a month, we’d add another few countries, and a whole lot more states.

A truly unsolved challenge in collaboration is replacing white board discussions with some sort of online equivalent.  I’ve got a drawing tablet, but honestly, my brain doesn’t think quite as well with it as when I get on a proper whiteboard.  After a phone conversation earlier this week that I realized was circling for lack of common artifacts, I took some time to try and figure out how I could get people to see the whiteboard in my office.

Ingredients of Real Time Whiteboarding

  • Logitech 9000 web cam.  This has 1600×1200 resolution, runs about $90, and does low light scenarios really well.
  • mjpg_streamer
  • a Linux machine that’s at least a P4 processor

Install all this software onto you Linux machine.  Then run the following to start streaming your webcam as video in real time:

mjpg_streamer -i "input_uvc.so -d /dev/video0 -y -r 1600x1200" -o "output_http.so -w /webcam_www -p 8080"

Viewing the results

The results can be viewed a number of ways.  There is a built in client in the source tree (screen shot below is from that).  You can also view it from vlc or firefox with the url http://your.server.name:8080/?action=stream. (In firefox I found you need 1 reload to get it to update frames, not sure why).  If you want to just get the current frame you can use http://your.server.name:8080/?action=snapshot.

The results a quite impressive (you may need to right click to get to full res):

This is definitely readable to as small as you are going to be able to write.  It’s about a 5 second delay from capture point to writing, which isn’t too bad considering.  I’m definitely going to use this in the days ahead, as it works a heck of a lot better for me than trying to diagram in a computer program interactively.  You’ll get motion blur on people, but given that this is mostly about the text on the whiteboard, that’s not really a big deal.

Update: I figured out how to do this with firefox and vlc, so the text now reflects that.

Why web design committees are so tough

I’ve been part of a process of redesigning the Poughkeepsie Farm Project website, both visually and functionally since about March.  It’s a group effort, with a good number of people from the PFP, all of whom expressed interest at the PFP annual leadership kickoff.  Last night we did our first review of the graphic designs that were graciously done pro bono for the project.

It amazed me a bit how varied the feedback was.  On most points there were people that had absolutely opposite opinions, and who agreed or disagreed with a point varied over ever detail discussed.  It was spiritted but friendly.  After about an hour of discussion we boiled it down to a base design, plus 6 concrete pieces of feedback that everyone wanted to see integrated.

I was thinking about why there was so many differences of opinion, and I realized web design committees are so tough because our interactions with the web are so personal.  Browsing the web is a solitary experience.  Everyone forms their opinions of what is good and bad in a vacuum, not influenced by others.  This leads to opinions on good vs. bad designs that vary drastically.  Page width/height issues, rotating content/or not, colors that are good or bad, what makes a good logo, how busy should things be, how often should things change.

Every one of us has some strong opinions in those areas due to what each of us use the internet for.  That diversity of purpose is what makes the web as ubiquitous as it is, but it definitely makes the design process challenging, because we all tend to believe the rest of the world uses the internet the way we do.  Which, ironically, is the only demonstrably false opinion that arises during the process.

Daily links valuable or not?

I’m curious if the couple of people that read this find the daily links valuable or not?  I’ve been wondering if I should keep them here, or put up something like lifestream on a suburl with them, making the main blog just original content.  I’m currently on the fence, and comments would be appreciated.