Seeing code working

These internal views of how the browser renders an HTML page are fantastic. Here is how the browser sees's home page

The OLPC laptop has the "see code" button. What it really needs is "see code working" button.

Keep only the account name and password digests

It occurred to me the other day that both the account name and the account password should be recorded in the database as MD5 digests. There is really no reason to keep a clear text version of either of these datum.

Web experience needs the equivalent of Screen's workspace persistence

My web experience needs the equivalent of workspace persistence found in Screen. I am too often working with old web applications that process data as you wait. You submit the form and the application responds with "Please wait." And I do. And, when there is a lot of data to process, the wait can be for hours. During this wait nothing untoward can happen to the network connection or the browser. If something untoward does happen then the processing has to begin all over again.

What the Screen web equivalent would allow me to do is to browse the web as I normally would. When I detach from the internet, the pages I have displayed or the ones that are in the process of displaying would be available again when I re-attach to the internet. It is important to remember that these pages are the pages retrieved when I was previously attached to the internet. They are not pages obtained by re-requesting them. Doing so would only begin all over again the long data processing.

With workspace persistence, I could start the data processing using the old web application and not have the worry about a network hiccup or browser crash losing my work.

A road to solving this problem would be an augmented proxy server.

Enriching the search query

Most successful -- that is, used! -- online search tools have a remarkably simple query interface. The single input field is where your query interface needs to be. The wealth of your data is made available not by complicating the user's interface, but instead by automatically and intelligently enriching the query. Enriching the query includes the following, in no particular order,

  • term extraction -- words, acronyms, dates, numbers, email addresses, etc
  • term ranking -- some words are more important than others.
  • hyphenated terms -- query for both with an without hyphens
  • accented terms -- query for all extant variations of the term in the data (in the US, for example, accented characters are rarely used and so American's tend to drop the diacritics).
  • term spelling variants -- "color" and "colour", etc
  • term stemming and other transformations -- soundex
  • numbers and number names -- "101" is also "one hundred and one"
  • dates and times and date and time expressions -- "tomorrow" is "Thursday, 8 May 2008"
  • social relationships between authors -- Smith and Jones are frequently co-authors and so a search for Smith should include a search for Jones (within reason)
  • reference relationships between works -- the original linking
  • professional vocabularies -- nurses and doctors don't use the same terms for everything
  • lay vocabularies -- "cardiac arrest" is "heart attack"
  • spelling correction of terms -- only use the extant terms
  • broadening and narrowing of terms -- you say "tomato" and I say "solanum lycopersicum" or "vegetable".
  • ...
As always, do as much on behalf of the user as you can before asking them for more data.

David Coté and the South Kingstown Republican party's ineptitude

David Coté, of the South Kingstown Republican party, is once again in the local news. This time, he is not calling for the removal of several million dollars from the local school budget in his and the republican party's utterly inept effort to force competitive bidding on health care insurance for teachers, nor for successfully agitating for a referendum for a $500,000 cut, but instead recommending that the town would be better off giving the $10,000 budgeted to pay for the referendum to the Chamber of Commerce. Why would the town management, that has successfully held low the municipal cost increases each year to counter the ever increasing burden of the costs associated with federal and state mandated but unfunded educational programs want to give $10,000 to the Chamber of Commerce? The same Chamber of Commerce that recently spent almost $700,000 on new office space? The same Chamber of Commerce that is supported by the 700 businesses it promotes. David Cote should not be on page one of the paper, but in the funnies.

Where is sane political debate in this town? Clearly, not from the republicans. And clearly not from the democrates who continue to sit mute on the council.

Data in HTML

Web pages have a remarkably long half-life. Data files, by comparison, have a significantly smaller one. When preparing data for display in HTML make sure to include in the HTML the data in a form that can be readily reused. Otherwise, you are doomed to screen-scraping again and again.... Now, where did I put my screen scrapper?

What is the danger of the non-passenger?

Let's assume that the TSA's procedures at the security check points are effective. That is, they can detect the danger associated with a single event -- a gun, a knife, an explosive. Perhaps they can detect the dangers associated with a small set of correlated events occurring during a small time window. But what about a very large set of apparently-random events over a very long time window?

As many passengers do, I checked-in online. I was without a printer and so was unable to print the boarding-pass. I have done this before and so knew this was not a problem as the automated kiosks at the airport will re-print it. Obtaining a boarding-pass is an anonymous act.

The boarding-pass is a complex document with many associated facts: the bar code, the passenger details, the flight details, etc. This set of coordinated details is challenging to forge. Solving a crossword puzzle is easier than making one.

The TSA uses none of this complexity at the checkpoint. The checkpoint just checks that the name on the boarding-pass matches the name on the driver's license. In a photoshop-world, how hard is it to make the name on the boarding-pass match the name on the driver's license? Creating 10s or 100s of such altered boarding passes would allow these 10s or 100s of non-passengers into the gate area.

These 10s or 100s of non-passengers don't stay in the gate area. They enter and shortly thereafter leave. The TSA doe not check the departing passenger's legitimacy of being in the gate area. Why bother to check people leaving the airport? What damage could they do?

The damage comes from the result of a large set of apparently random but actually correlated set of events spread over a long time window. Why bother to fabricate your weapon outside the gate area when you can fabricate it inside the gate area. Bring it in one spring, one plate, one activator, one chemical, etc per non-passenger over several days.

It took me less than an half-hour waiting at my gate to formulate this scenario. I hope the TSA already has this covered.

Dirty feet

Once again, I was subjected to the ridiculous security procedures of the TSA. Wearing underwear, shorts, loose shirt and sandals I was obviously conveying weapons paraphernalia. Upon a sharp rebuke from TSA personal, I was told to remove 1/4 of my clothing to ensure the protection of the other passengers. Luckily, the 1/4 was only my sandals. And so, like many 10s of 100s of people that day, I trod through the metal-detectors spreading foot-borne bacteria between Rhode Island and Virginia. The terrorist need not trouble themselves with dirty-bombs when dirty-feet will do.

Raged and faded bumper stickers like the administration itself

I just returned from the heart of Republican territory -- the Hampton Roads area of Virgina. Most of the money in the area comes from military expenditures. It is a world there Obama bumper stickers are very rare. It is also, unsurprisingly, a world of Bush Chaney bumper sticks. Now raged and faded like the presidency itself. Holding on by a few patches of adhesives. John McCain bumper sticker are equally as rare as Obama's.