Google & OpenID: discovery URL

A while back, I mentioned that Google supported Opendid. There's one important detail that I had a hard time finding amidst the mountains of documentation:

If the user wants to use their Google account to log in via OpenID, the discovery url is

That was hard to find. I think it took me over an hour. It's mentioned on the Federated Login for Google Account Users page... halfway down... under a diagram showing the back-and-forth of redirects which I didn't especially care about because of course my code has to handle those already for all of the other OpenID redirections. And with plenty of mentions of OAuth, just to further convince me that I must be looking at the wrong page, and wander off to look at other places.

It took me just a few minutes to find out Yahoo!'s OpenID discovery URL. Some Yahoo! technical writer deserves a bonus.

(Yeah, yeah, I saw the blog post about webfinger and how it will automagically discover discovery URLs and we'll all be sitting down at lovely unicorn tea parties forever. But maybe instead of waiting for that, I'll just let people log in via their Yahoo or Google account, and that's probably gonna handle all of my users just fine, thank you.)

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Book Report: Alphabet Juice

This book is a sort of lexicon, except that instead of definitions there are riffs. These are some of the author's favorite words, or at least words that he wanted to write about. He likes to pronounce words, and reflects on words whose pronounciation seems to reflect their meaning.

This sounds like a self-indulgent book, but Roy Blount Jr wrote it, and it so happens that I am curious to know what Blount thinks about word sounds because he has a better writer's ear than I do. I care what he has to say about these words. He also writes about letters. He writes convincingly and charmingly about these words. Here's an example:

agenda Why is this a perjorative term? What's wrong with having an agenda? I wish to hell I had more of one. (Is that good English? "More of one?" I think it is, but it doesn't look printworthy.) Politicians play on the word's souding sort of dirty, like ...pudenda?

It comes from the Latin plural for "things to be done," but in English, it's singular.

He has some agendas himself. He just wishes you'd stop misusing just. He wishes you used literally to mean what it literally means. He argues his cases well. He's so convincing that he almost got me putting the hyphen back in e-mail before I realized what was happening. Keep your wits about you.

He cites dictionaries, friends, Yogi Berra, The book, published in 2008, is already dated. He claims he googled [cancan "no panties"] and got no results. Today, there are about 150 though most of them, as you might expect, are not very interesting results, automatically-generated nonsense "dancing girls cancan no panties florida's top ten attractions" yeah whatever. He's aware of this advance of information. In the entry for "Google", he wonders "Has Google rounded up a googol of data bits yet? Depends on when you read this." (But he's exaggerating--there aren't a googol particles in the universe; storing a googol bits is thus technically difficult.) Blount is modern, of course. He outs himself as an UrbanDictionary contributor. (He has a feed, you can subscribe to it.)

(I should also point out: this book can go on for several paragraphs without mentioning pudenda or panties or a lack of panties. The book's not filthy. But it doesn't tiptoe around the dirt, either. That's a good thing--when this book says that the "buck" in "the buck stops here" doesn't refer to filthy bribe money, I believe it.)

So what you have here is a series of short essays in alphabetical order. Belles lettres? Sure. Great words, great words... "mnemonic" "Moebius statement" "monkeys". If you love words, this can be a slow book to read. Swann had his cookie; but words have associations, too. You can get lost in nostalgia. Like the entry for tallywacker. It's not enough to read Blount's opinion. I had to dig through my old comic books until I found issue #3 of "When My Brother Was God" so I could re-experience this quote, this rant by a dorm resident annoyed at what she hears through thin walls: "Mommy raised me a nice girl; I didn't go to twelve years of Catholic school simply to shout Jesus Christ his talleywhacker [sic] must be ripping out her esophagus at random intervals, oh no." The entries for tmesis and zeugma--each left me giddy. He mentions Morse (in the entry for wrought, and has entries for dash and dot.

He's not familiar with software development. He doesn't understand our sense of recursion, though he understands that he has used it to excess. (But, in his defense, who hasn't?) He mentions that weevil comes from the same root as "wave", which might suggest a naming convention to folks working on a certain software project but maybe it's a bit late to point it out. He has an entry for truthiness. I was talking with Matt L. at work about software development, about the demo that looks good, but has rickety underpinnings. Matt coined a term that needed coining, the software-scheduling equivalent of truthiness: done-iness. I guess my point is that we can't expect Blount to take care of everything for us.

But he does plenty. This book is a fun read; check it out.

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Book Report: Letting Go of the Words

I'm a professional technical writer and I recommend this book about writing: Letting Go of the Words. I theoretically train engineers so that they can write clearly. This book would help those people--will help those people. I'm going recommend it. (Brief pause to log on to work and recommend the book on my internal blog-equivalent... Ah, thank you for your patience.) I don't tend to recommend writing books to engineers. Just The Elements of Style sometimes, but that book doesn't address the problems most of these geniuses have when writing.

I work with a bunch of web programmers. They might be confused by some chapters of this book, chapters which talk more about usability issues than about word choice. Protip: some of the same goofs that can make a web page unusable can make a web page's words unreadable.

But there are chapters about word choice, too. And about keeping your audience in mind, and figuring out what they're trying to do, and helping them to do that.

Of course, plenty of this stuff is controversial--amongst technical writers, who are detail-oriented folks who tend to bicker over minutiae. Maybe I like this book because I largely agree with its point of view. I'm sure that some of my colleagues would consider it harmful. (OMG a quick overview blurb before the three paragraphs of background material necessary to truly understand that blurb!!?! Yeah, I'll burn in hell for that by some standards--but maybe I'll let folks know whether it's worth their time slogging through those three paragraphs, spare some of those people the trouble.) Maybe I should ask other writers what books they recommend, make sure I'm listening to other points of view. But it took me so long to find a book that I'd recommend, I just kinda assumed none of them had a book that they recommended. I learned my craft in the school of hard knocks, didn't everyone?

Anyhow, I'm excited. So yay.

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Link: Warren Spector, Playing Word Games

Warren Spector does not, as far as I know, play uppercase "T" The uppercase "G" Game. But he designs lowercase "g" games. He worked on some good stuff for the Paranoia pencil-and-paper RPG... uhm, and you young'uns might have heard of a computer game he worked on more recently called "Deus Ex". He has a blog, and he wrote a fun post recently on word games. He mentioned a game played around the offices of Steve Jackson Games which reminds me of the four-letters or less game from Apprentice Zorg. (Said four-letter word game maybe having come from Harvey Mudd college if I'm remembering an old conversation correctly.) Anyhow: Playing Word Games.

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Book Report: Ambient Findability

This was not the right book for me. Rather, I was not the right person to read this book. Ambient Findability is a high-level overview, a survey of the surge of information that's coming at us, and the methods we use to navigate it. It talks a little about many things. Geographical data, RFID, SEO, taxonomies, ... It doesn't go into depth on any topic in particular. If you keep up with slashdot, or if you think about how to help people to find things, then you've probably already run into this book's material. I'm guessing that this book is snippets of talks that Peter Morville, the author, gives to people who don't read slashdot and who don't think about how people find their stuff. He's a consultant, he probably has to explain this crap to customers all the time.

I mean, you ask people, uhm, say you're talking with a kitchen appliance manufacturer, and you ask "The people who should find your website, what do they think they're looking for?" And the answer comes back "Oh, they're looking for a variable-speed food processor." And this hypothetical manufacturer wants you to organize everything based on "variable-speed food processor". And when you say "Are you sure that they don't think that they're looking for... like, wouldn't they call it a 'blender'?" And then this hypothetical kitchen appliance manufacturer looks at you sharply and barks something about "precision of language" and wonders why no-one can find his variable-speed food processors. What do you do? You could punch the manufacturer bozo, but that would land you in jail. Or you could give him a copy of this book. I can't tell whether or not the book would help him figure this stuff out, but it might keep you out of jail and that's worth something.

I haven't been posting much recently. I've been on jury duty. Or rather, I've been living in the shadow of threatened jury duty, and have thus been working extra hours at my job to get stuff done in case I end up on the trial and most of my time disappears for the next month. So remember kids: give books instead of punches. It keeps you--and perhaps me--out of the courtroom.

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Book Report: Rainbows End

It pays to increase your word power. I always thought that "hyperventilation" meant "breathing too fast", but really it means "breathing too fast and/or too deeply". I didn't know it was possible to breathe too deeply. And the occasional deep breath is a good way to calm down. So when the paramedic told me "Try to stay calm and stop hyperventilating", I breathed slower but deliberately kept breathing deep. That was a mistake. Last night, I had breathing problems again--started out as nothing but got worse as I took deep breaths to relax. They got better when I got up to walk around, but got worse when I sat down to try more deep breathing. Finally I got on the internet and looked up "hyperventilating", read about it on Wikipedia. I found out I'd been wrong about what it meant all these years. I didn't try to breathe deep; I felt better pretty fast.

Oh, right, I'm supposed to be telling you about Rainbows End. It is a science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge. It might be worth reading just for the in-jokes. Someone who read the book recently mentioned that he couldn't remember anything about it, so I guess I'd better leave some notes for myself: book shredding/scanning; Alice and Bob; micropayments; certificates. What's that? You want me to write something non-cryptic? OK. This book's setting is pretty interesting. It's a world in which online collaboration is pretty easy. In this world, engineer/designer folks don't really engineer/design things--they just do a really good job of describing what they want to other people who might do the real design work--or might farm it out to yet other people. But there's enough, uhm, findable expertise out in the world such that this technique works pretty well. Wearable computing is prevalent, but unfortunately most people are pretty bad with computer security; this is a bad combination. There appears to be some kind of micropayments system lurking in the background, butthe book says little about it. There are fun schemes to digitize the world's books faster than Google, Amazon, et al. would normally get around to it. There are jokes, there are many jokes. It's a fun read. Check it out.

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Book Report: Everything is Miscellaneous

I am scheduled for HEAD & NECK SURGERY. It says so, in all-capital letters on the appointment form. Don't worry, mom, HEAD & NECK SURGERY is a scary-sounding category of things, but really someone is just going to cut this bump off of my lip. I guess to make it sound less scary, they could have given a sub-category: HEAD & NECK SURGERY / LIP FIXING. But figuring out categories is hard, figuring out subcategories is harder and it's silly to waste time figuring out if some procedure is LIP FIXING or CUPID'S BOW REARRANGEMENT when you could spend that time cutting bumps off of lips instead.

If you have a bump on your lip, searching for medical information on the internet is frustrating. If you search for [lip], these sites serve up results for herpes. If you look over the description of herpes and say, "nope, I just have this one bump", the sites don't know what to say. I think that's because these sites are organized by condition--and for a lip-bump the doctor doesn't diagnose the exact medical condition. "Is it one of these scary things? Nope. Then let's just cut that bump off, whatever it is." I've had medical self-help books that are organized by initial diagnosis, not by medical condition. You start with "bump on lip" and go through a flow chart. They capture the case of "we don't know exactly what it is, but it's probably not too serious" better.

Categorizing things can be tricky. Figuring out which things are the things you're talking about can be tricky.

The first time I ever heard of Peter Morville, information architecture pundit, was when he gave a talk at work a few months ago. I got the impression that he hated tagsonomies, hated users annotating web pages/photos/anything. I thought he only wanted librarians to have that Mysterious Classification Power. (Hey, bear with me, Peter Morville fans. I now realize I was wrong.) It upset me and made me think he was a jerk. So, what did he say?

This is the free-tagging and the folksonomies of flickr and, and there's almost a sort of religous revolutionary zeal that's wrapped up with this notion of free-tagging. Get rid of the librarians, the information architects, the taxonomies, the controlled vocabularies, and just let the users tag stuff with anything they want! And in that sort of spirit, David Weinberger, who's got a new book out called Everything is Miscellaneous, said "The old way creates a tree, the new rakes leaves together." So the old way was about taxonomies and tree structures, and the new is about these wonderful self-organizing clusters. When I saw that, I thought you know that's the perfect metaphor. Because we know what happens to those lovely piles of leaves we shuffle through each fall. They very quickly rot, and they return to the ground where they become food for trees, which come in many shapes and sizes and live a very long time.

I actually think that David's book is brilliant; I think that he's a really smart guy. I'm not sure he's totally fair to librarians but I'm of course a little biased. But I actually think that the answer lies in the genius of the "and", in figuring out how do we bring these traditional and novel organization approaches together...

I hadn't read Everything is Miscellaneous. More to the point, I hadn't seen some of the reactions it drew from a set of idiot blowhards. Thus, I didn't interpret Morville's words as "tagsonomies and professionally-put-together taxonomies help each other." I just heard "this new crap will rot and then my beloved librarians will have the power back neiner neiner." His talk's ending didn't help much.

He told the story of the three stonecutters. Here, I'll summarize the story: ask three stonecutters in a quarry what they're doing. First one answers "I'm making a living." Second one answers, "I am honing my craft." Third one gets starry-eyed and says, "I am building a cathedral." Third one has his eye on the big picture. So, what does this story illustrate...

I've always thought of libraries as more than just warehouses of information. I've thought of them, to some degree, as cathedrals of knowledge. Sort of lifting us up and inspiring us, making us aware of the human potential to create and share knowledge and work together. And my hope is that we move further into the internet age that we take some of those values with us and that we also create and share with one another new sources of inspiration. That we are seeing the big picture in what we're doing, and that we're not just marching forward with this sense of some sort of pre-ordained techno-utopian future, but that we're actually taking the time to think about a future that we want to create, and that we end up working towards desirable futures.

When you're speaking to computer programmers, don't present the "cathedral" as a good thing. When you say "cathedral", programmers sweep the stonecutter story out of their brains, and instead remember the essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This essay is about the advantages of very-open-source programming--the model in which developers around the world can see a program's progress as that program is being written, can contribute to that program, all very open. That's the "bazaar". This essay's thesis is that the "bazaar" model works much better than the old model of programming: a team doesn't show their source code to the world as they work (or does so only rarely); the team doesn't accept fixes/code from the outside world; the resulting software is buggier because not as many people look at the source code. That's the "cathedral", the team that doesn't listen.

Don't call yourself a Cathedral when you're talking to programmers, not when you're trying to convince us that a small team of elites is doing something wonderful that a huge crowd of enthusiasts couldn't do. I'm sure Morville has read The Cathedral and the Bazaar, but does he understand how much more it resonates than that stonecutter story?

Oh, I'm getting worked up again. What was I talking about? Oh right--I didn't understand the context of Morville's statements. Morville talks to librarians. A lot. A lot of them had read this book Everything is Miscellaneous. And this book says--well, first: It doesn't say that librarians aren't talented; it doesn't say that librarians are stupid. It does say that as information moves of of paper and onto the web, many activities that librarians have historically spent a lot of time on--those activities aren't going to be so useful. But librarians still have useful skills. Many librarians understand this. Some don't; they say that this book is an attack on their profession. Some idiot blowhards, not librarians themselves, are tut-tutting the book, wrapping their toxicity in a cloak of "I'm just trashing this book because I love librarians."

That's a pretty slick maneuver. Everybody loves librarians, so folks might not figure out that you're just being an idiot blowhard. But that's not what Everything is Miscellaneous is about. Who are these idiot blowhards?

[In an earlier draft of this book report, here I quoted one of these fight-picking morons and then pointed out how they'd misinterpreted the book, why their misinterpretation wasn't even internally consistent... Ahem. But pointing at someone else and calling him a fight-picking moron... Well, that's not setting a great example of how not to be a fight-picking moron...]

It is good to remember that these idiot blowhards are out there. Some of them don't like it when you tell them that the Dewey Decimal System has not aged well. I bet they've whined at Peter Morville about it until he stopped wondering "Did I overlook something in that book?" and started wondering "Why is that David Weinberger being so mean to librarians?"

I finally read Everything is Miscellaneous. And reading it made me want to go back and watch the video of Morville's talk. EisM talks about subject classifications and tagsonomies. That reminded me that Morville had talked about librarians vs tagsonomies. I hadn't understood that Morville's "yay librarians/boo tagsonomy" remark was in the context of talking about Everything is Miscellaneous and the reaction. Now that I look at the talk again, I don't think he was really saying "boo tagsonomies". Morville likes them. He likes having someone with a taxonomic attitude make the first organization for information, but he doesn't mind users annotating.

So what is this book that baited so many idiot blowhards to bloviate? (Since I'm writing about it, I guess it's lured in one more...)

This book is about how we organize knowledge. It's about categories, about ontologies, about taxonomies, about indexes, about card catalogs, about the Dewey Decimal system, about books, about the web, about Web2.0, about tagsonomies, about user-supplied annotations, about user-supplied content, about how we perceive the world. And it's written very understandably. So you can see why some people would have opinions about it.

He talks about how we organize physical objects so that people can find them. You can categorize things--in an office supply store, you might put "printer stuff" in a section. You could try just storing everything in alphabetical order based upon some name provided by the manufacturer. But what if someone fails to find the Printer Cable they're looking for just because the manufacturer called it a "parallel cable"?

Categorization can also help you to identify things. Fun fact I learned from this book: Linnean classification predates acceptance of evolution. Similarly-classified things weren't necessarily supposed to spring from common ancestry. The classification was just a way of helping to identify the thingies you were talking about. Which flower? The one with the split stamen, five petals, etc etc. There wasn't a great reason to canonicalize your classification to be "first describe the stamen, then number of petals", but you did need some canonical order because you were writing all of these things down. And if you wrote down all possible orderings, then the resulting index would be larger than your botanical garden's library building.

Card catalogs have subject cards. But there was pressure on librarians not to assign a book to too many subjects--there wouldn't be enough physical space in the card catalog to hold that many subject cards. If a book was mostly about the Crimean War and had some interesting things to say about caring for horses--you'd probably never know about the horses from the card catalog.

The Dewey Decimal system is an attempt to order books by category. It was very impressive. It is showing its age. Why is the "Religion" section so big and why is Christianity so large within that section? Well, back when the system was devised, that might have made sense. Why doesn't Chinese get more of a... Uhm, the Dewey Decimal system is showing its age. (Though Weinberger doesn't talk about it, the Library of Congress system seems like it's skewing out of balance too. I think that's what they use at the UC Berkeley library. I find myself in some "subjects" all the time and others not at all--with less balance than I'd expect even with my narrow interests. I bet the Cutter System has similar problems.)

The web is here and it's popular. Now it's easy for people to annotate things. They can point out links between things. They can comment on things. And they can categorize things. It's very exciting. It's not limited by physical space. So an electronic card catalog could have 2000 "subject cards" for each book.

Our categories are fuzzy. Hamlet is a tragedy. What about Charlotte's Web? Well, it has sad parts. Maybe it's kinda tragic.

The chapter called Smart Leaves nudged me out into new-to-me mental territory: The things that we're trying to describe/categorize are themselves fuzzy. What is Hamlet? Is it the First Folio edition? There were a couple of editions before that. Is a book that combines all of those, showing the differences--is that Hamlet, too? How about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is that Hamlet? (I'd run into this problem while using allconsuming, a web site that lets you comment on books. It pulls some basic information about books from Amazon. But Amazon doesn't list "Hamlet"; it lists every edition of Hamlet that is has for sale. So when I want to comment on a book on allconsuming, I have to choose which edition to comment on. I usually look for the one that the most other people chose. But that's hardly scientific.)

It talks about..

It talks about the issues that you hit every day on the internet. Yet, I learned from it. And even when I was reading things that I already knew, it was sufficiently well-written such that I didn't get bored. Check it out.

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Link: Travelers Storybook

I have mentioned this before: When I was growing, I spent a fair amount of time with Bob & Kelly Wilhelm, friends of the family. Bob was and is a storyteller. I don't just mean that he can relay anecdotes, though he can do that. I mean: he's a traditional storyteller. There is an art to telling these stories out loud; they were composed and passed along with this delivery in mind.

Bob and Kelly moved out east to the Washimore area. Thus, I didn't get to hear stories so often. For a while, I had some stories on audio tape. I think I still have them. But an audio tape player... uhm, oh whoops.

Now, tradition gets an update: Bob has a podcast. I just found out about it yesterday. This was sufficiently exciting that I sought out a computer with a working sound card. It was worth it. I work with written words; I believe in the power of the written word--but I remember the power of the voice. I listened to Ivar's Tale from Iceland, and the voice was there.

Check it out. Really, go listen.

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Link: Webster's Online Dictionary

Puzzle hunts were everywhere last weekend. Midnight Madness in Hot Springs. Some movie called BHAGAMBHAG set up a promo treasure hunt in Mumbai, sounds big-scale. I didn't do any of that. I have a cold. I sat around the apartment, stayed cozy, puttered around with the computer. Not that there is anything wrong with the computer. It lets me see Webster's Online Dictionary, which presents a bunch of information about my query word. Definitions. Other words whose definitions mention this word. Translation into foreign languages (with furigana for the Japanese, no less). I think I could wast^W spend a lot of time on this site.

(I learned about it via Chronicles from Hurricane Country.)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, from Seattle to Siena

Some awesome folks in Seattle are contributing to their local Game community by setting up a web site with announcements and forums and stuff. Check it out. I fed their RSS feed into my reader so I can find out when the next SNAP game is announced.

To totally change the subject: This morning, I peeked at the research of Marco Ernandes, an AI researcher at the Universita' degli Studi di Siena. Specifically, I was looking at a project he works on with a couple of other researchers: WebCrow, an AI crossword puzzle solver. Among other techniques, it tries to solve clues by doing a web search on words from their words. If you want the 4-letter word which is "Nick Charles' dog", you could do a web search for [nick charles dog] and see what four-letter words show up especially often on the returned pages. It's pretty impressive. At the same time, it's sad to see that advances in technology may put my dad out of a job.

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Publishing News

Tom Manshreck is in town. Tom was living in NYC, working in publishing. There's a lot of publishing around there. Tom was working on engineering textbooks, but he still cares about the literary stuff.

Evidence: Tom came home from work one day and outside his apartmeent found an abandoned dog. He took in that dog. He named that dog Faulkner. I met Faulkner last night.

If this was a joke, then Tom would have told me, "This dog can speak English." And to prove it, he would have asked

"What's sandpaper like?"
"Ruff, ruff"

"Where is the chimney?"
"Roof roof"

"Name a fictional county"

...but this wasn't a joke. It was a good evening with old friends.

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Not Quite Letting Go of Spring

Did I mention that White Mughals mentions a doctor treating a bladder infection?

And the doctor is named George Ure.

Ure should totally be the root of the word "urea", though it isn't, really.

That book was full of great stuff. I will call myself lucky if Birth of the Chess Queen has half as much.

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