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    Tip: Be with People who Love what You Love

    This morning, I attended another of Jeff Pulver’s Social Media Breakfasts.

    Every time I go, I end up risking a parking ticket. The metered spots are invariably for 2 hours, and 10AM comes almost instantaneously. I can’t tear myself away to go mind the meter; been lucky, so far.

    At these events, I’m continuously engaged with friends new and old; like-minded people who love ideas like I do, and who can bat them around like tennis pros.

    If you’re like me, you find this kind of intense interaction to be exhilarating and stimulating.

    This is what we want to facilitate at SocialDevCamp East — a thoughtful conversation about new ideas and how to realize them. We want to discuss the future in an informed way, synthesizing the lessons of the past with today’s emerging trends. We want to include economics, psychology, and design in this discussion. And iPhone and Rails and Twitter.

    Anyway, if this sounds like a conversation you want to have, we guarantee that SocialDevCamp is going to be a blast, and that the day (and the party afterwards) will be a blur. A good blur; a blur you can leverage in the form of new ideas, relationships, and opportunities.

    We want to thank our two newest sponsors: AwayFind.com and WebConnection.com. Also thanks to David Kirkpatrick, Senior Technology Editor at Fortune magazine, for attending.

    Looking forward to seeing you and your ideas in Baltimore on May 10th!

    Sincerely,
    Dave, Ann, Keith, and Jennifer

    Hacking Freerice.com: A Program to Feed the World

    While I was working on some changes to Twittervision yesterday, I saw someone mention freerice.com, a site where you can go quiz yourself on vocabulary words and help feed the world. How? Each word you get right gives 10 grains of rice to, one hopes, someone who needs it.

    The idea is that you will sit there for hours and look at the advertising from the do-gooder multinationals who sponsor it. Which I did for a while. I got up to level 44 or so and got to feeling pretty good about Toshiba and Macy’s.

    It occurred to me though that my computer could also play this game, and has a much better memory for words than I do. In fact, once it learns something, it always chooses the right answer.

    So I wrote a program to play the freerice.com vocabulary game. In parallel. 50 browsers at a time. Sharing what they learn with each other. Cumulatively.

    It’s a multithreaded Ruby program using WWW::Mechanize and Hpricot. Nothing terribly fancy, but it does learn from each right and wrong answer, and after just a few minutes seems to hit a stride of about 75-80% accuracy. And a rate of about 200,000 grains of rice per hour (depending on the speed of your connection).

    UPDATE: With some tuning, the script is now able to push out about 600,000 grains of rice per hour, which according to the statistic of 20,000 grains per person per day, is enough to feed over 720 people per day! If one thousand people run this script, it will (allegedly) generate enough to feed 720,000 people per day.

    Before you go off on me, disclaimer: Yes, I realize this program subverts the intent of the freerice.com site. I’ve released this not to “game” freerice.com but simply to show a flaw in their design and have a little fun at the same time. If what they are after is human interaction, this design doesn’t mandate it. That’s all I’m saying.

    Run it for a while and see how many people you can feed!

    Prerequisites:

    • Ruby (Linux, OS X, Other)
    • Rubygems
    • gem install mechanize –include-dependencies

    Download the code

    MoMA NY Selects Twittervision & Flickrvision

    Yesterday, I received final confirmation that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has selected my mash-ups twittervision.com and flickrvision.com for its 2008 exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind.

    I’m certainly very flattered to be included and have never considered myself to be an artist. I didn’t seek out MoMA on this. I am just very, very happy to have an opportunity to participate in a small way in the ongoing dialog about what technology means for humanity. Crap. Now I sound like an artist.

    Incidentally, this means that twittervision.com and flickrvision.com are the first ever Ruby On Rails apps to be included in a major art exhibition. I already told DHH.

    Anyway, at RailsConf Europe a few weeks ago, Dave Thomas’ keynote speech emphasized the role of software designers as artists. He said, “treat your projects as though they are artworks, and sign your name to them.” Or pretty close to it. I think this is incredibly valuable advice for software designers today.

    We’re past the days of using machines as amplifiers of our physical efforts. It’s not enough to jam more features into code just so we can eliminate one more position on the assembly line. We’re at a point where the machines can help amplify our imaginations.

    Today, creativity and imagination (what some folks are calling the right brain) are becoming the key drivers of software and design. With imagination, we can see around the corners of today’s most pressing challenges. While technical skill is certainly valuable, if it’s applied to the wrong problems, it’s wasted effort.

    Creativity, imagination, and artistry help us identify the areas where we should put our efforts. They help us see things in new ways.

    Everywhere I turn (perhaps partly because I am a Rubyist), I hear discussions of Domain Specific Languages, and of framing our problems in the right grammars.

    This is hugely valuable because the creative part of our brain thinks in terms of semantics, grammars, and symbols. If we can’t get the words right, our imaginations can’t engage.

    Everything stays stuck in the left side of our brains when we have to jump through hoops to please some particular language or development environment.

    I hope you all will come out to see Design and the Elastic Mind when it opens at NYC MoMA, Feb 24 – May 12 2008. I’m not sure how we’re going to present the sites but we’re going to see if we can get some partners and sponsors involved to do something really beautiful.

    And again, thanks to MoMA for the selection. And here’s to creativity, imagination, and artistry as the next big thing in software design!

    Adhearsion is Moving Forward in a Big Way!

    Over the next two weeks, Jay Phillips, Chad Fowler, Marcel Molina, Rich Kilmer, Ed Guy, Glenn Dalgliesh and myself are getting together to work on advancing Adhearsion, the open source VoIP technology.

    For those of you who don’t know about Adhearsion, it brings a simple, elegant grammar to the world of VoIP. It’s an object-oriented DSL (domain specific language) written in Ruby. But that’s what’s going on underneath. Here’s what’s going on for you, the user:


    # This is an example extensions.rb file which
    # would handle how calls are processed by
    # Asterisk. This is all completely valid Ruby
    internal {
    case extension
    when 100...200
    callee = User.find_by_extension extension
    unless callee.busy? then dial callee
    else
    voicemail extension

    when 111 then exec :meetme

    when 888
    play weather_report('Dallas, Texas')

    when 999
    play %w(a-connect-charge-of 22
    cents-per-minute will-apply)
    sleep 2.seconds
    play 'just-kidding-not-upset'
    check_voicemail
    end
    }

    Obviously this is much more palatable than what you might find in your average asterisk extensions.conf file.

    Chad, Marcel, and Rich are some of the biggest names in the Ruby & Rails communities. Ed Guy is a legend in Open Source telephony. Jay is the originator of Adhearsion. Glenn, Ed, Jay, and I all work together for the project’s sponsor, Truphone. There is some thought that with all of us on the job, Adhearsion might just become the next big thing to come out of the Ruby community.

    We’ll see about that; it could certainly happen. One thing that is for sure though is that our efforts should bring a level of beauty and clarity heretofore unrealized in the VoIP/telephony/collaboration world, and that certainly is a good thing.