Blowing Up the New Year

Fireworks Hawai’i is a unique place to ring in the new year for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, we’re one of the most western time zones. By the time you read this, it’ll probably be late morning on January 1st, yet we’ll still have a few minutes to go before the clock strikes midnight :).

The second, and perhaps more noticeable, feature of Hawai’i is our insane celebratory use of fireworks. Due in part to our large Chinese population, Hawai’i is one of the loudest places in the world to be on New Year’s Eve. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these firecrackers from 2000 – and no, this isn’t an unusually large amount.

Stories abound in the local papers about New Year’s fires, asthma problems, and attempts to ban fireworks in Hawai’i. Yet the big, illegal fireworks that our civil servants can’t seem to crack down on still go off (like the one that just hit my roof – think Disneyland-sized mortars in residential neighborhoods, folks). There always seems to be a party in the Pacific Ocean that somehow rivals that cute little glass ball in the Big Apple.

There’s a contemporary Hawaiian song that was popular a few years ago… “You can take the boy from the islands, but not the islands from the boy.” I think if I ever moved away, one of the things I’d miss is the explosions on New Year’s Eve. Despite the pain it causes my ears, I think it would be very different not to experience it.

So wherever you are or wherever you may find yourself in 2004, make the most of every opportunity and every situation. May you find peace and joy in all you do, and may you find God’s aloha in every part of your lives.

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

(Image courtesy Jon Sullivan.)

From the News

It’s been an interesting news day. A lot of recent articles have caught my attention.

Mad Cow Disease – Despite the fact that parts of the cow infected with mad cow disease may have reached Hawai’i, I haven’t stopped eating meat. (I’m sipping on a Diet Coke from Jack in the Box as I write this.) It’s a little unnerving, but I believe the reports that contamination is unlikely, so I’m not going to worry about it too much.

Is There a Doctor Aboard? – For 67 year-old Dorothy Fletcher, there were 15. The Associated Press reported today that the Liverpool, England native was flying to Florida for her daughter’s wedding. When she suffered a heart attack en route, 15 cardiologists flying to a conference in Orlando rushed to her aid. Despite a five-day hospital stay, Fletcher arrived in time for the nuptials. It sounds like everybody involved will have quite a story for their friends and family…

That’s Sir Tim to You – Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist, will soon be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Currently the head of W3C, Berners-Lee is credited with the creation of a little program called WorldWideWeb in 1990. The rest, as they say, is history. In true form for him, Berners-Lee dedicated the honor to the entire web development community:

This is an honor which applies to the whole Web development community, and to the inventors and developers of the Internet, whose work made the Web possible. I accept this as an endorsement of the spirit of the Web; of building it in a decentralized way; of making best efforts to keep it open and fair; and of ensuring its fundamental technologies are available to all for broad use and innovation, and without having to pay licensing fees.

I would venture to say that content bloggers probably fit into the category of “Web development.” I know that I’m grateful for the Web. I learn so much every time I peruse the pages millions of people have chosen to share with the world.

Freedom of Press on the ‘Net

I try to think of myself as an advocate for freedom of speech. I’ll admit that I stumble all the time while trying to live up to this ideal, but I think the ability to say what you think, even when it’s not something I agree with, is very important to society, and an ideal I strongly believe in.

As you may be aware, trusted computing is being pointed to by many as the end of freedom of speech on the Internet. I’ve known about the danger for quite a while (it’s why my next computer will be a Mac, assuming Apple doesn’t botch up and start thinking about DRM).

John Walker, eloquent as always, has managed to make me aware of a fundamental trend in technology that I hadn’t noticed before. “The Digital Imprimatur,” a reference to the old English requirement of requiring printing presses to be licensed, points out that NAT devices, like my Linksys router, are a catalyst toward a fundamental distinction between publishers and consumers.

His argument, which is admirably solid, caught me completely off-guard. I’m exempt from Walker’s warning because I can and do open ports to my internal network, but at the same time, I can see how this would affect the ability of many to originate content. An argument he didn’t address, but a relevant one, is the increasingly common practice of restricting broadband Internet service to a single computer, or preventing servers from being run.

I don’t expect the implications from these problems to stop the march toward Internet tolls, however, which makes me increasingly nervous as we approach 2006.

RSS Out, Nothing In

Movable Type is really good at what it does, but from the very start, I’ve noticed something kind of important missing from the mix. It’s really easy to output RSS for aggregators – it comes with templates to do this pre-installed and ready to go. The problem is, there’s no easy way to get RSS back in to your blog.

Yes, there’s plugins like MTRSS Feed to do this, but it seems like it should be one of the features to be built-in.

Top Ten Web Site Design Mistakes

Over at Heal Your Church Web Site, Dean is commenting on Jakob Nielson’s top ten web design mistakes of 2003. I found it informative, and I wanted to add my thoughts on a few of them:

3. Undated Content. Regarding your question about static pages: I think it’s always a good idea to include a date. In fact, in many cases, it’s a good idea to include two: one for last modified, and the other for last reviewed. That way, people know your content can be trusted, even if it hasn’t been updated in a while.

4. Small Thumbnail Images of Big, Detailed Photos. This is a really good idea, and one I hadn’t considered before. The problem I see is that these thumbnails are often made dynamically. Do you know better than me about an image module for Perl or PHP that can do cropping without help? Seems like it would be kind of difficult to code from scratch. You could do some fancy contrast comparisons and so forth, but we all know that machine vision isn’t ready for prime time yet…right?

5. Overly detailed ALT Text. ALT is for a general description of an image. If you need to be more descriptive, the LONGDESC is what you’re looking for. Basically, it lets you add a link to another web page with more detailed facts. You can visit W3C for an example of this.

Merry Christmas to all! May God bless you in the ways you least expect this year.