Perhaps it may shock some of you that I actually keep quite busy. In fact, over the weekend we took a trip to Pittsburgh to visit Berta's sister and their new baby, Ethen. ("e"?) So I have not had time to fully unpack my office.  There are about 8 packing boxes of books that are going onto my office as soon as I finish hooking up the actual computer equipment. This will involve drilling some holes, since the cabinets have an outlet inside them (this is where the computers will go), but the shelves have no power nearby to accomodate the printer, scanner, mixer, synthesizer, etc.  Nevertheless, one might wonder what I've been up to development-wise for all this time, especially if I have had some little access to a PC. After all, I haven't produced a line of WordPress code in ages, plugin or otherwise. Really, I'm not really sure what to do with WordPress these days. Sometimes I feel like I should do more with it, sometimes I feel like I want to have nothing to do with it, and sometimes I wonder what more really needs to be done with it. And so I put that off for another day.  Instead, I've been working a lot with MicroWiki. There hasn't been a lot of noise on that front, either. And while the reports of things not working pile up in the support forums (yes, I read them, even if I don't say anything), I'm still churning away.  What I've been doing lately with MicroWiki is moving non-essential functionality into plugins. The plugins will all be part of the package, but they won't be essential to the system. I discovered that I was adding new functionality to accomodate certain needs, and that this functionality wasn't necessarily of interest to the software's primary audience. And so these features are pluggable.  But what are they? I'm glad you asked...  One of the first things I added was basic blogging capability. Why would I do this if I already use WordPress? Well, a few of my other sites use MicroWiki (and don't already use WordPress), and I'd rather not dump 2MB of new code, a new admin system, and a new database on them just to add a little blog. So the blog plugin was born.

Basically, to create new blog entries you just create new subpages under a specific page. So for example, you would create "/blog/My+New+Post" to create a new post. The page "/blog" would contain a single wiki macro that says "subpages of ‘/blog' are blog entries, display them here in a certain format". And it does.  This is also neat because the macro lets you point to some other page as the source of the blog entries. So you can easily put more than one "blog" on a single page, and style them differently (using the built-in formatting features) than how they appear alsewhere.  You can use this same macro to build a feed for your blogs by using a different format to output the pages. There are several pages that come with the plugin that enable this, and do it via a new "RSS" namespace. So you have your blog at "/blog" and the RSS version is at "/RSS:blog". Very tidy.  I have also added some caching capability to the wiki, without which the blog would be completely unmanageable. Since it renders each blog entry as a fully-formatted page, a blog page can consume a good bit of processor time. With the cache, everything loads quickly and updates when any of its dependencies are updated. The cache functionality is available to any core feature or plugin, and I may make even more use of it with other features.  A separate plugin enables technorati tags in wiki pages. You just add a macro to create the appropriate tags in the RSS output. I will soon add a feature to ping Technorati when these changes are accepted.  The only significant thing lacking with the blog feature right now is commenting. And that shouldn't be too difficult. The wiki already supports quite a bit of submission and posting functionality. It should be pretty trivial to create a macro that updates a page in the "comment" namespace with new comments as they come in.  Now that you have blog functionality available, you might want to add that "enable blog on wiki" to your to-do list. Well, MicroWiki makes that easier with the new to-do list plugin.  You can see the to-do list in action. Basically, you add the to-do macro to a page, and that enables the dynamic to-do list functionality on that page. You can add and rearrange to-do items just like on sites like Ta-da Lists. If you put more than one to-do macro on a page, you can drag items between the lists.  I thought I was pretty much done, but it seems there is still a small quirk that I need to work out. You should be able to put a to-do list on a page and then include that whole page inside another page and still have the list work. This would let you put a to-do in the sidebar and have access to it throughout your wiki. You could then move to-do items from any page into the list in the sidebar, then switch pages, and move it from the sidebar onto the new page. I should have that one figured out very soon.  I've been beefing up the image gallery functionality of the wiki, too. The wiki has always had image handling capabilities that (in my not-so-humble opinion) dwarfed image handling in other wikis. I have removed that functionality from the core software and made a plugin of it.  The updated gallery displays all of the images from within one of the gallery directories as thumbnails. You simply put a gallery macro on a wiki page, specify the gallery name (the directory with the images in it) and optionally the size of the thumbnails. MicroWiki uses lightbox to help navigate through the gallery pages. When you click on an image, it pops up in an animated way, and an information bar appears at the top. When you click on the details link in the info bar, some custom code uses ajax to fetch the wiki page for the image and display it.  Did I mention before that every image handled by MicroWiki gets its own page? You can style that page using whatever regular wiki code you want to provide details about the image.  I updated the default layout of the wiki since the last release, but I haven't added the new default image uploading functionality. I'm thinking that I will rip this out of the core code and make a plugin of it, too. After I'm done removing all the extra stuff, MicroWiki will be extra-svelte.  One thing in particular I need to do is move the form-handling and wizard functionaltiy into its own plugin. I wrote that stuff specifically for one site and haven't used it for anything since. It's a huge chunk of MicroWiki's code, and if nobody uses it then there's no good reason to include it in the source on every page load.  I also need to extend the plugin capabilities to more easily enable action overrides. So from a plugin you would be able to add new actions to a page, or override the existing functionality of an action. A couple examples include a plugin that displays page change histories differently, or displays a visual diff between two versions of the same page. (Note that this functionality is already in MicroWiki to some extent if you use the built-in RSS update feeds.)

Another thing I've added is the ability to use the subdomain of a site as part of the configuration details. So you can select the database to use for MicroWiki based on the subdomain that was requested. The bottom line - you can set up completely separate wikis on different subdomains using only one copy of the software. I have set up such a system for my own testing purposes, and may be convinced to give interested testers an account.  I'm still trying to work through some bugs, especially the escaped quotes issues. I just don't have a server configured in a way that has that problem, which makes it difficult to debug. Maybe I'll tweak a local Apache configuration to emulate the buggy behavior.  So that's the productivity. That and the unpacking and the visiting inlaws and the getting the washing machine installed. Speaking of which, I should probably call them...

While Berta watched the kids milling around the Monroeville Mall playgound fashioned to look like Mister Roger's Neighborhood, I took a brief trip through Hot Topic.  Hot Topic is a kind of counterculture apparel store. During my heyday as a counterculture wannabe, I have done enough crazy things to merit shopping in this popular chain store (ha, "chain") on more than one occasion. As a matter of fact, Berta and I have bought enough stuff at Hot Topic that I have a couple of frequent buyer cards that are completely stamped full. Yes, I own a pair of leather pants and a bowling shirt with flaming skulls - so sue me.  It had been a while since I toured this black cloth, metal stud wonderland, and I was curious if the culture had changed any since the last time I had been in, walked around, and bought something.  The mens clothes looked all about the same as I remembered. Shirts usually classified into two categories: T-shirt with printed slogan and/or odd graphic design, or overly-heavy long-sleeved buton and chain-festooned livery that you might wear to a formal party or if you were feeling really, really emo. Pants usually have lots of buttons and extra straps like the kind used by carpenters to hold hammers, but serve no actual purpose. Or chains. Anything is fair game for chains, especially chains that are black.  The girls stuff is varied, but involves a lot of black and red lace, fishnet or nylon stocking sewn-in, black zippers, vinyl, silver buttons, more vinyl, and laces that tie up the back. Or something really stretchy and tight. Also, tall shiny boots are cool.  They carry albums of different sorts of music. I noticed CDs by bands with names like "Cattle Decapitation" and "One Dead Three Wounded". There was also an album of songs based on the works of Neil Gaiman - my marijuana-like gateway drug to the crack-addled world of gothdom, father of The Sandman comic book and Stardust novel, possibly the soul of stores like Hot Topic born into human flesh.

They had a rack of Invader Zim DVDs, and a few T-shirts with Gir on them, but no stuffed Gir toys. I really want a stuffed Gir toy. For my home office.  In the back, you've got the metal-studded chokers, the rubber bracelets (which now come packaged with matching rubber rings), and the pink rubber studded chokers, which scream out, "I'm a goth, but I'm friendly and cute". There are also the requisite packs of insta-hair color, which you squeeze out of a tube onto the included comb, and then grease through your hair for instant blue, pink, or green streaks. They come in itty-bity boxes designed to keep with you in the case of a lack-of-hair-color emergency. Change color as mood requires.  The glass display case around the counter housed the patches and stickers. Lots of band ids. No drug references whatsoever. (No, really.) I would say 20% skulls and demonic symbology, 30% fairies, 50% band logos. One of two things in the store that did interest me was in this case.  I've always thought it would be neat to have a pocket watch rather than using a wrist watch. I think I consider myself a slave to time, since I don't often see people I know using a watch. And while they're not necessarily reliably on time, I'm not either. I would hate to think how late I would be to everything if I didn't have a watch.  The watch that struck my fancy in Hot Topic's display case was on a silver chain (duh), and looked like very heavy brushed metal. The face had a skull and crossbones in the center with bold numbers. It was pretty to look at.  I briefly thought that it would be an interesting daily reminder of those times out with Brian to various goth concerts and clubs, usually not looking the part while clad in a bright yellow hiking jacket, much like I didn't look like the part of the usual Hot Topic shopper in my "about to attend a christening at, you know, a Catholic church" attire. One of the interesting bits about goth culture is that they're often very accepting, and once you get past the black clothes and makeup, they're usually (at least not in my admittedly limited experience) not as gloomy as one might expect, and really don't seem to care much that you're not also wearing black.  But I didn't get the watch. Is a pocket watch really practical, anyway?  The other item in the store was not so interesting as the watch. It was a messenger bag. I have this strange affectation for bags. I like to have containers in which to carry my crap. I bought a bag from Yellow Rat Bastard when we went to New York before Abby was born, and it's been the perfect companion for slogging around my subnotebook and reading materials while travelling. I often recall trips I've taken with ceratin bags, like, "That's the bag I took to Papua New Guinea. That was a good trip." I wonder if I look for new bags to associate new memories to, and whether that's healthy.  The bag I found was pretty functional. Lots of pockets and open spaces. It also had a black chain on the front with one cuff from a set of handcuffs, also black. But it was a little over the top, even if it was on sale.  While looking over the merchandise, I mused how it's interesting that before Hot Topic, counterculture clothing like this was counterculture because it wasn't in stores like this. And now that Hot Topic exists, is it mainstream? And if so, does mocking Hot Topic wares make your non-Hot Topic black clothes any more authentic?  I returned to the play area with these thoughts and without the tounge stud that I threatened Berta I would return with.

It seems like they're going to digitally remaster the original Star Trek series to produce a high-definition version. The new version will use digital models for space scenes, the main screen in the bridge, and background scenery on planets.

I've recently spent a lot of time (like three days) hooking up all of the new A/V equipment in the new house. Included in the equipment order with the TV and the stereo receiver, I added a video testing DVD.  The test DVD walks you through configuring your TV to display the best possible video. It shows several test scenes and describes how to adjust your TV's controls to get that awesome picture. But that's all.  Thinking about this, I wonder what products exist that could help you not just set your TV for the best picture, but optimize your audio and possibly help shop for a new receiver or speakers.

The new receiver we got has an auto-calibration feature that uses a microphone to calibrate the levels of each speaker. But not everyone has that, and even if they did, they might like to hear what "optimized" sounds like apart from simply being told that it's set appropriately.  I think this would make a wonderful open source community project. It could be distributed on the internet as a DVD ISO that you could download, burn, and test. It would help you calibrate the video, like the disc I have, and also calibrate the audio.  The system could play isolated sounds from discrete channels, and perhaps even tell you what the best audio setting is on your system for DVDs that have more than one setting.  A few high-action scenes could put the video and audio to the test, and let you get a better feel for what you've done when you're finished calibrating. The DVD could even contain some computer data to test HD setups using a laptop or desktop PC.  A disk like this would be very valuable to me, and if it was free open-source, I could download it and use it on the TVs of everyone I know. Is anyone aware of a project like this that already exists?

Apparently, there is a tropical storm bearing down on us this holiday weekend in the Northeast US, and watching (mostly listening to) the news has me wondering how serious this storm really is.  The weather service reports:

Ernesto is expected to weaken and become a tropical rainstorm within the next 6 to 12 hours, but will still pack strong winds on its trek northward Friday into Friday evening. ... The system will spread very heavy rain north across the mid-Atlantic states from North Carolina and Virginia Friday morning and during the day Friday, then into Pennsylvania and parts of mostly central and western New York state later Friday night into Saturday. ... Life-threatening flooding will occur across parts of North Carolina and Virginia and possibly north into Pennsylvania.

I'm not convinced that the weather service is above hyperbole for the sake of safety, but haven't we weathered tropical storms before? Was all of this hysterical panic present with all prior storms, or is it just overinterest caused by last year's bout with Katrina?  I'm going to need to see some photographic evidence of the flooding they're getting in North Carolina and Virginia before I start to get concerned way up here.