Thursday, July 12, 2007


I find tagging really attractive as an alternative to strictly hierarchical categories. My main uses of tagging are in, LibraryThing, and Lightroom. Picasa, that I used to use before Lightroom, also has a form of tagging, but it never seemed very "natural" to use it there, probably because it's not very well implemented. Flickr is another big user of tagging, but for some reason I've never gotten into using Flickr much.

Tagging, especially in sites like and Flickr, is often promoted as a "social" tool. I've never really used it that way, maybe because I'm not much of a "social" person :-) Of course, I've benefited to some extent from other people's tagging, but that's never been my main benefit. I primarily use to maintain my personal bookmarks.

As far as implementation, has a nice system, especially for web based software. It shows you all your tags, auto-suggests as you type, shows recommended tags, and popular tags. I have wondered why they "hide" the popular tags (ones other people have used) down at the bottom of the page. I guess this is to avoid the problem of people just applying the same tags as everyone else, which would somewhat defeat the purpose of having a wide variety of people applying tags.

LibraryThing's tagging could definitely be improved. You often have to type tags just from memory, with no auto-completion or suggestions. A system more like would be a lot nicer.

Lightroom has auto-completion and lets you drag and drop tags, but its unique feature (at least, I haven't seen it anywhere else) is its "implied tags". A common issue with tagging is what level of detail to tag at, and how many tags to apply. For example, do I tag with "Saskatoon", or "Saskatchewan", or "Canada", or "North America" or several of these. Similarly, do I tag with "pelican", "birds", or "animals". Ideally (for searching) you'd apply all the relevant tags, but that would make tagging a tedious process. Lightroom lets you create tags as children of other tags, so "Saskatoon" is a child of "Saskatchewan" which is a child of "Canada". You manually apply the most specific tag, e.g. "Saskatoon" and the parent tags are automatically "implied". So if I search for "Saskatchewan", I'll automatically get anything I tagged with "Saskatoon". Very nice. I would like the same feature in and LibraryThing.

On this same topic, I listened to a Long Now talk by Clay Shirky on my run this morning. He was talking about the problems of hierarchical categorization, how it is mainly a result of having to organize physical materials, and that tagging is better suited for digital information.

Also on basically the same topic, I am currently reading Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger (who also co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto). It makes many of the same points.

So it seems a little incongruous that a hierarchical system can make tagging better. Of course, in a way it's just a shortcut for entering tags, it doesn't really alter the tagging. And I wonder if the hierarchical part is really essential. At first when I saw "implied tags" in Lightroom, I wasn't thinking of a hierarchy, I just thought that one tag could imply others. But that could be tricky to handle since it would allow loops and if not used "properly" could end up with a mess. But it would be interesting to try.

I keep thinking there should be some way to apply tagging to our business software, but so far I haven't come up with anything really appealing. We could allow tagging things like equipment, but I'm not sure whether that would be a big benefit. Maybe we should try it and see whether people like it. Maybe we could replace things like "Type" and "Role" with more general tagging.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Font Rendering!

Here's more than you probably wanted to know about font rendering and why Windows, Mac, Linux, and Adobe Reader are different.

Texts Rasterization Exposures

I found this via Joel Spolsky in connection with his earlier post:

Font smoothing, anti-aliasing, and sub-pixel rendering

I'm afraid most of the time I don't even notice these fine details. But I have struggled with text sizes and layout issues in Windows. And really bad rendering can be quite annoying - Open Office (on Windows) used to be pretty bad.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New MacBook

My new MacBook arrived today. I tried to buy one locally, but no one had the model I wanted (a black 13" with 2gb ram and 160gb drive). I decided I might as well order it from Apple myself rather than get a store to order it. I ordered Thursday afternoon and it arrived Tuesday morning. Pretty fast. I also ordered a spare battery and it arrived at the same time.

I've been thinking about getting a MacBook for quite a while. Working on my old Windows laptop the other day and finding it quite slow tipped me over the edge to order the Mac.

As I would expect from Apple, the experience of opening the box and setting it up was a delight. I really like the little touches like the charge indicator on the batteries and the magnetic power connector.

The only (minor) problem I had was that I couldn't enter the key for my wireless connection from the setup process. I had to choose "no network" and then configure it later. No big deal.

I still have some setup to do to get things the way I want (e.g. installing Parallels) but so far, so good.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

New Network Hard Drive

With both Mac and Windows machines on my home network I decided I wanted some shared storage that they could all access equally. I can access shared directories on the Windows machine from the Mac (haven't tried the reverse). But that means I have to turn on the Windows machine. And it doesn't give the Windows machine any backup storage.

I looked at various possibilities but looking for something that explicitly supported Mac narrowed the choices. I ended up with a 320gb Lacie ethernet disk mini ordered through Frontier PC. I hadn't dealt with them before but they looked like a reasonable choice for a Canadian supplier. There were no problems dealing with them and shortly I had my drive.

I plugged it into my wireless router and it "just worked". It even came with a network cable.

I had no problem accessing it from Windows and it wasn't much harder from the Mac. The problem with the Mac was trying to get it to connect at start-up. On Windows this is a simple matter of a checkbox, and from the web I understand Mac OS 9 was the same. But not anymore. I found various suggested solutions, none of them simple or easy. One problem was how to supply the user and password for accessing the drive. In the end I used Automator. The funny part was that for all it's fancy drag-and-drop graphical workflow, it all came down to getting the right cryptic url. In other words, Automator ended up being window dressing on a command line.

In case any one is tackling a similar problem, what I ended up with was a "Get Specified Servers" action followed by a "Connect to Servers" action. The url for the "Get Specified Servers" needed to be "afp://user:password@ipaddress/sharename" with the appropriate user, password, and numeric ip address.

The other trick is actually getting it to run when you log in. Again, Windows seems simpler (but maybe just because it's more familiar), you just put stuff in the Startup folder. On OS X you do it through System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items - not exactly easily discoverable.

Originally I had thought I would keep the master copies of my music and photo libraries on the shared drive so I could access it from any of my computers. But this didn't work too well. For example, if the network drive was disconnected for any reason (as it often was when I was first struggling to get the connect at log in to work) then Adobe Lightroom would recognize (rightly) that the files were not available. The problem was when the network drive was reconnected, Lightroom would start checking the availability of the files - roughly 10,000 of them, one at a time - not a speedy process!

So now I'm mainly using the network drive as a backup. My next plan is to come up with a way to sync my music and photos between the Mac and the network drive, possibly using ChronoSync which I saw recommended.

One feature that I don't have on the Lacie drive is the ability to run the SlimServer for my SqueezeBox. Currently I am running the server software on my Windows machine - but that means it has to be turned on if I want to play music. Theoretically it should be possible since the Lacie runs Linux and there is a Linux version of SlimServer, but I couldn't find anything on the web about how to do it. It does support UPnP A/V but unfortunately the SqueezeBox won't accept that. It's the usual trials and tribulations of trying to get things to work together.