Long-Term Authentication for Digital Archives

This is my final project for 600.409, Digital Preservation, here at Hopkins; it's been an incredibly fun and rewarding seminar with four professors (for our eight students): Randal Burns, Sayeed Choudhury, Tim DiLauro, and John Griffin (winner of the minimalism award for his business website). They've been great to learn from for the entire semester.


New Hotness

It’s the last week of classes here at Hopkins, and this semester, the end can’t come quickly enough. This isn’t merely “senioritis”– I find myself much more burned out by the semester than usual. Soon, however, classes will be over, then finals, and I’ll have some days to just sit and play games before my parents come and I have to do the whole “graduating” thing.

However, that doesn’t prevent me from (when I have a few spare cycles) playing with fun new things:
<ul><li>New Apartments – yes, apartments. I finally got my housing nailed down for the summer in San Francisco– I’ll be just half a mile away from Six Apart, in the middle of San Francisco. Should be awesome. I’m also getting rid of my roommate in Baltimore, and moving a couple blocks south on Charles St. in the fall; I’ll actually be right upstairs from Shannon, and even closer to campus. (Before, I was only across the street from the freshman dorms, but a whole two blocks away from the Engineering quad– what an awful walk! :-) Now I’ll be straight across the street from the Engineering quad. And also pay less rent.) Life is good.</li><li>New Phone – I just realized that this never got blogged; right before Grand Prix: Philadelphia, my contract with Verizon was up, and so my brother and I got iPhones. It works amazingly well. I spent three hours in the Apple Store before buying it, learning how the Great and Wonderful Apple could Change My Life. (So it’s a bit of a cult. :-) ) At the end, I was convinced– and not just about the phone (see below). So I’ve had it for a month, it seems to be holding up to me well, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot; one has to understand that before the iPhone, I didn’t own an MP3 player. I once did– back when they were brand new, I owned probably the first one in the state of Montana. A whole 128MB of capacity. It rocked, but then Dad took it for running, and now it’s been put in a drawer since he has an iPod Shuffle 2G. So I’ve been really liking having my music travel with me– and just recently, I’ve discovered the Podcasts in the iTunes Store, and so now I can listen to Car Talk or Talk of the Nation when I’m wandering around the campus at 2AM. (Yes, you can mostly download them from their websites– but iTunes does it automatically, so I don’t have to remember to check, much like Google Reader checks my 35+ feeds so I know I’m always up to date.) Awesome.</li><ul><li>You have to realize– I’ve hated Apple since I was six. Seriously. They were always the broken, crappy computers when I was at school, and they never worked with anything else, and nothing ever went right for them. Even OS X didn’t seem to be improving that– sure, it said it was more UNIX-y, but it still wasn’t particularly compatible with anything. As of Tiger/Leopard (and really, as of the Intel switch), however, this has apparently changed– and I was blown away, standing and playing in their store. I also got to enjoy a nice blue Kool-Aid while I was there– they’re so friendly!
</li></ul><li>New Computer – having gone to an Apple Store for three hours to experience an Awakening, I got tired of dealing with Vista’s incredible number of crashes for no reason. At the same time, my laptop started really heading down the road– since my deadbeat laptop company won’t even return my phone calls to fix my laptop (recall its untimely injury in November), this isn’t good. Now, however, I’ve handled the problem with a vengeance, and my new ultra-powerful Mac is tearing up my apartment, resplendent with ZFS support and shiny “whoosh” graphics whenever I do something. I even have enough storage on it to finally put my various servers’ worth of stuff onto one RAIDZ’ed system– which makes the whole effort much nicer.</li><ul><li>Of course, switching to OS X does come with some annoyances– why does Home go to the beginning of the document, as on precisely no other computer ever? Why are you so obsessed with the silly Apple key (or Windows key on my keyboard– my wrists won’t let me use that non-ergo (but very shiny) Apple Keyboard, so I’m using my (wonderful) Microsoft Natural 4000 still)? And why is there still no release of Java 6 for all the Apple products? Extraordinarily silliness. But a lot of it I can work around, one way or another.
</li><li>And, of course, I’m still dual-booting to Windows– which is only for DCI Reporter (the tournament tabulation software for Magic tournaments) and games– the latter being much more a hope that it will one day be relevant, than any reflection of now. I don’t actually go there that often, but on occasion it’s necessary. (I’m struck by how many things are really available for OS X though, now that everyone uses x86.)</li></ul><li>New Analytics – at long last, I was given access to the Woopra beta, so I can have live statistics, and watch visitors as they click around my site. (Not that I couldn’t technically have done this before– this just makes it much nicer.)</li></ul>Now, however, it’s time for me to get back to work; a project due on Thursday, another on Monday, and then reading period starts. I’ll sleep, no doubt, when I’m dead.


My Hobby and My Job Are The Same (In a Good Way)

As I was handling yet another grade appeal last week, I made an interesting realization: my hobby and my (ostensible) job are the same.

For reference, the hobby to which I’m referring is judging Magic: The Gathering, and the job is being the Head TA for our introductory programming course (in Java).

So how are they the same?
<ul><li>I have a horde of people I’m supposed to enforce some order on.</li><li>The horde in question is filled with interesting characters– but for the most part, they’re smart, funny, great people to talk to, who I enjoy conversing with during any free second I happen to have.</li><ul><li>At GP: Daytona, a man I talked to was kind enough to share the secret for getting his wonderful huge Magic case; it looked like a 6xsized Ultra Pro case, but while it was at least as high quality, it was 1/3rd the cost of the small Ultra Pro one ($20 for the huge one, compared to $60 for a very small Ultra Pro case); the big secret was that Ultra Pro rebrands a toolbox found at Home Depot. How neat is that?</li><li>At GP: Philadelphia, I got to speak to a former US Robotics programmer, who now spends his time making computers for impoverished children, about the OLPC project.
</li></ul><li>My role is to help people, without being improperly helpful.</li><ul><li>In Magic, we answer the smallest possible question– this differs somewhat depending on what kind of tournament it is, but in general, we answer the question people ask, not the one they actually need to know to make the right decision, or the one they want us to answer, or the one asking what the best play in a situation is.</li><li>In Java, this becomes answering questions without giving away design questions, or answering questions they should have found in their textbook.
</li><li>In both cases, not giving them all the information in the world annoys the hell out of the people. (In Java, particularly, students demand that I just “do it” for them. Why would I do that? In Magic, players don’t demand I play the game for them– which is good, because while I’m actually reasonably good both at TAing Java and programming in Java, I’m not a good Magic player, at least not on the Grand Prix level.)</li></ul><li>The horde of people cheat, fairly often.</li><ul><li>In point of fact, this is not fair to the Magic community. The Java babies cheat way, way more– in one recent semester, we had a consistent thee or four different people caught (provably) cheating, EACH WEEK. That’s not even the highest rate we’ve had in the five semesters I’ve been doing this– and understand, this is with a class size of approximately 100. At Grand Prix: Philadelphia, we had maybe three or four disqualified, with 969 players. And we’ve not yet had a disqualification at JHUMagic. (Though hordes of judges are playing today; maybe this will be our first. :-) )</li></ul><li>Players appeal, all the time, often for very little reason.</li><ul><li>In Java, I’m actually the first line of appeals, so they get to come explain themselves to me. That doesn’t stop them from going to Dr. Houlahan (often without telling her that they’ve spoken to me; this leads to an obnoxious “playing Daddy vs. Mommy” problem), but sometimes I can talk some sense into them. “No, you don’t get points for having thought about the assignment. 0 means 0.”</li><li>In Magic, I only Head Judge JHUMagic tournaments, so there aren’t judges working under me; hence, I don’t receive appeals. But I do occasionally have appeals against my rulings, which is fine; it’s the player’s right, and I’ll be the first to admit that my rulings aren’t always correct. (Players tend to appeal the ones where they are correct, however, which is amusing.) The advantage here is that unlike in Java, when players are offensive about doing it (standing up and yelling for the Head Judge while I’m trying to speak– and understand, I’m always happy to get the HJ for them), it’s an actual infraction, with consequences; in Java, I can’t take off more points for being rude. (Though I want to. :-) )</li></ul><li>My signature has become wildly corrupted.</li><ul><li>In each of these activities, I don’t actually sign things, I just initial them. When I was only CAing, my initials were, you know, letters you could read. Since I’ve started judging as well (also requiring initialing), my initials have devolved into this kind of wild blur, best executed in black pen. It’s fairly amusing.</li></ul></ul>But hey– they’re both fun. (Well, judging is. :-) ) And in both activities, I have slowly established a rapport with the people involved (both other judges/graders and with the players/students), which is fun; players recognized me at GP: Philadelphia from judging at DreamWizards, and some new players at JHUMagic last week recognized me from the coverage of GP: Philadelphia (not the best photo, but here goes):

GP Philadelphia Finals.jpgFor now, off to judge what I hope will be the largest JHUMagic tournament ever; several judges are coming up early for the draft, as we’re holding a Judge Seminar afterward. Should be fun!


28 Hours Later

So, having worked a bit more on the blog (notice the new, new layout; incredible thanks to Bryan Tighe, for having adapted the Hemingway theme to Movable Type, and to Byrne Reese, for hosting it), I have several other issues with Movable Type, as I handle the little bits of the transition:

<ul><li>Standards Compliance. Yes, I know that standards are kind of a pain to deal with– but there are good reasons for them (so that we can all blame IE for rendering problems, for one, but also so that any screenreader/weird experimental browser/etc. can all read the page the same way. The big ones (XHTML, CSS) have been around forever. So why is it that Movable Type, as shipped, doesn’t validate as either clean CSS or XHTML? The CSS one is just a warning– but it’s simple to fix, enough so that it makes it seem like it’s been ignored. As for XHTML– again, it’s not hard. They specify XHTML 1.0 Transitional (not the highest possible bar), but they don’t even get there! None of this may be their highest priority, but it makes me somewhat cranky when I have to go poke through template code to fix something that is broken by default. (You’ll note that my pages are now fully compliant XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS 2.1; check the bottom of the page.) Please note, however, that I had at least as much to fix with Wordpress when I started with it, so this isn’t MT-specific; if, however, MT were to make it perfect (at least with the set of default templates/styles) it would be a nice thing.
</li><li>There’s no built-in support for a blogroll. It’s not the biggest thing in the world, but especially because of XFN, it would be really nice if MT had some easy, chromed way to add blog links with XFN relationships to a widget somewhere. It’s certainly not impossible to do myself, but it seems like an often-wished-for feature they’re missing. I know people want it, because of the number of users of the MT Blogroll plugin– unfortunately, that hasn’t been updated for MT 4.x, so it’s not useful to me. Wordpress does have this.
</li></ul>On the other hand, I’ve found more things to like about Movable Type, as well:
<ul><li>It’s dead-easy to write my own widgets, something I personally struggled with in Wordpress. It took only a few minutes to make a blogroll that fit in a widget (not dynamic or database driven, but it works and looks fine); you can see it in action down at the bottom.</li><li>Awesome defaults– for instance, look at the Archive Page. Isn’t that nice? Wordpress never gave me anything as clean and functional as that for my archives, though I could have used it. (And obviously, it becomes more important the more you blog.)</li><li>Once again, incredible speed compared to Wordpress. Your mileage may vary, but compared to a version of Wordpress my shared host had specifically worked on to make it faster– MT just kicks its butt.</li></ul>So I’m still happy. Adding a few things would make me even happier, but I suppose you don’t always get what you want right away. For now– back to work, this time on the sort of things for which I’m graded. :-)

[EDIT: For spelling, as pointed out subtly by Byrne in the comments. :-) ]