Node.js – Giddy to begin programming again

I have decided to begin programming again. I had been living in Ruby land for a long time and I felt like my technical chops were getting a bit stale. So, tonight I had about an hour of free time and decided to install Node.js and begin playing around with it.

So far, I haven’t done a whole lot besides browse some of the top packages on NPM. I did install Restler and so far I LOVE it. I was able to easily connect to the FamilySearch API, perform a Basic Auth, obtain a session, and begin hitting the API. It is so easy!

I’m actually feeling really excited to dabble in the Node stuff. Perhaps my first project will be to create a Node library for the new FamilySearch Platform API.

How to Get Hooked on Twitter

I started using Twitter on the 25th of November, 2008. Before then, I thought Twitter was an immense waste of time. I finally saw the light, joined, and have become a huge fan.

Here are a few things I did to help me get hooked on Twitter.

1. Used the Gmail address book finder from the “Find People” link at the top. This helped me connect quickly with about 15 friends I didn’t even know used Twitter.

2. Found more friends to follow by exploring my friends’ “Following” lists.

3. Installed TweetDeck and Twitterberry. TweetDeck makes posting updates to your timeline really easy. It also has a handy URL shortener and gives you fast Desktop notification of your friends’ updates. Twitterberry allows you to easily give updates while you are on the go without needing to use SMS.

4. Began tracking my links with is a link shortening service that will give you click stats on all of the links you post. These numbers will begin to show you the power of Twitter as a broadcast medium. Think nobody is listening because they don’t reply? will show you that people actually do care about what you post.

5. Began posting regularly, although I still go through dry spells at time.

Hopefully this post will help other Twitter newbies more effectively use Twitter.

What have you done to get hooked on Twitter?

Any WordPress plug-ins I should be aware of? Other tools?

My New Job at FamilySearch

Three weeks ago I started my new job at FamilySearch, the LDS Church’s genealogy company, as a developer support engineer. In August, I wrote about how cool I thought it was that FamilySearch was opening up a new API for developers. What I didn’t realize then was how cool and powerful this API really is.

FamilySearch has completely changed the way that we will do our family history by creating a collaborative family tree. No longer will you have to beg your family genealogist to share his/her gedcom file with you. The family tree is already loaded with hundreds of millions of records and is ready for you to search out your family history.

FamilySearch has opened up an application programming interface (API) that allows developers to both read and write to this family tree from their own applications. Other powerful tools are available through the API that will help you to normalize place names, dates, and more. Access to a super powerful search tools are placed at the fingertips of developers who wish to create their own killer family history tool.

That is not all. The Record Search application at is an application that is built on the new Record Search API that will be released later this year. Third-party developers will have access to a vast collection of digitized records, many of which have been indexed and categorized.

So, expect to see a lot of really cool third-party applications built around this new FamilySearch API.

My job at FamilySearch is to provide programming support to these third-party software vendors. My position has never existed here before because we are breaking such new ground. This makes my job very challenging and exciting. This job is going to stretch my abilities and provide me with a lot of growing opportunities. I’m very excited to take on this challenge and to help this new program become a big success. My prediction is that this is going to be huge.

For more info on the FamilySearch APIs, check out some of the presentations from the Developer’s Conference (Scroll down to the schedule and you’ll find links to the presentations).

Web Apps As Platforms

One of the big ideas of the Web 2.0 movement is that the web browser is a viable platform for building rich applications. Common examples of this included Gmail, Writely (now Google Docs), and one of my favorites – Gliffy. This idea has been proven pretty well, and Apple has made Safari the platform for developing iPhone applications, even though there are rumors now that Apple will be opening up some kind of SDK.

A lot has happened since Web 2.0 has become a major buzz word. New trends are becoming apparent every day. One trend I think is especially interesting is that Web Apps themselves are now becoming platforms for new applications. For example, Facebook has opened up to developers to build cool apps that run in the Facebook social networking environment. The Google Personalized Homepage offers another platform for people to develop small widget applications. More companies are following.

The opening up of APIs isn’t a new concept in itself. Web services was a major push of the Web 2.0 movement and we saw a flood of ‘mashups’ that mostly didn’t go anywhere. However, web services and web app platforms are now finding value. In September, Facebook, Accel and Founders Fund launched a Facebook fund to give investment money to the most promising Facebook App ideas. Why code up a new social network application, when you can build your application inside one of the major social networking applications?

Twitter is becoming a platform for new age communication. In a “Scaling Twitter”presentation at RailsConf, Blaine shared that 90% of requests to Twitter were through their API. People are using Twitter for purposes beyond telling your friends about every mundane detail of their lives. Phil shared some ways that people are extending twitter by creating Twitterbots. Twitterbots are using Twitter as a platform to send messages through SMS, email, RSS, etc.

Seth Godin talks about his vision of Web 4.0 in an interview with Gerhard. He basically describes the web that is focused on events in your life. For instance, because you have a smart phone, and the web knows you have a meeting in San Francisco, and it knows that the plane is delayed, it will alert the people you are meeting with that you will be a few minutes late. It seems like something like this would revolve around messaging. While I doubt Web 4.0 will be exactly as Seth envisions it, the world is moving towards faster, shorter, more frequent communication. I believe Twitter is going to remain a big player in this new style of communication.

I think we’re going to see more and more web applications becoming platforms for new applications. What do you think?

Digitizing Books While Fighting Spam

You may have noticed that I recently added a CAPTCHA to my blog. My blog was getting flogged by spam comments that were making it past my Akismet Spam filter. I decided to install the reCAPTCHA wordpress plugin.


ReCAPTCHA is a system developed at Carnegie Mellon University that uses CAPTCHAs to digitize scanned books! The plugin will give you 2 words to verify that you are a human and can in fact identify the words correctly.

How does it work?

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

But if a computer can’t read such a CAPTCHA, how does the system know the correct answer to the puzzle? Here’s how: Each new word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The system then gives the new image to a number of other people to determine, with higher confidence, whether the original answer was correct.


I believe this is innovation at its finest. The guys and gals over there at Carnegie Mellon should really be commended for this effort.

If you post a comment, you can feel good about contributing to a greater good.

Making Money in Second Life

Last week, I reported in my IS Strategy class on IBM’s plan to invest $10MM in Second Life. I explained the concept of Second Life to the class because a large number of students had never heard of SecondLife. This spurred an excellent discussion on the implications of virtual worlds on IS strategy, and what companies like IBM would have to gain from investing in virtual world technologies. Many people were blown away by the fact that people actually make money in Second Life. I was asked, “How do people make money in Second Life?” Unfortunately I didn’t know at the time, so I decided to do some more research on the topic. After looking into it, there are endless possibilities for Making Money in Second Life or in other virtual worlds.

How is it possible to make money in a virtual world when nothing is “real”?

One way that people are making money in Second Life is by creating virtual objects and by selling them in a virtual shop. For example, someone with clever design and marketing skills can create their own virtual brand of clothing and sell their clothing in Second Life. How are Second Life items created? I’ve been asked if you must buy raw materials in Second Life. The answer is, you can, but you don’t have to. Items are created by using Second Life 3D modeling tools and the Second Life scripting language. You can upload images that become the textures on your new objects. It costs money to upload these images to Second Life, so it might be better to buy pre-fabricated building blocks to assemble your new creations. Check out the Suzanne’s Guitar video for a demonstration of creating a virtual item.

Sun's amphitheaterBuilding and selling objects is not the only way of making money on Second Life. There is a large service and entertainment market inside Second Life. Second Life entrepreneurs can buy land and build amusement parks, dance clubs, theaters, etc. and charge for admission. Businesses can build facilities to host meetings and other events. Sun Microsystems recently hosted a Q&A session on an upcoming Java release in their Second Life amphitheater. Dell Computers has also purchased an island that will feature a Dell history museum. Reuters now employs a reporter to report on activity inside of Second Life.

How many times have you heard someone say while playing Monopoly, “If this money were real, I’d be rich!” Second Life is like playing Monopoly with real money. It features a lot more complexity, and it is built on a real economy.

SecondLife lays the groundwork for a real economy.

When I first heard of Second Life, I thought it was ridiculous and nothing more than a networked Sims game. However, the more I research, the more I realize that the coming about of virtual worlds and economies is almost as significant as Columbus’ discovery of The New World. Second Life has its own economy with a real exchange rate. Over $500,000 USD changes hands inside of Second Life every day.

Linden Labs publishes daily statistics on the economy and other market data. People can invest in Linden dollars, Linden real estate, or Linden-based businesses.

Dangers still lurk for SecondLife entrepreneurs.

Recently, in-world business owners have been frustrated by Intellectual Property theft. A well-meaning open source software application that was meant to aid in creating Second Life items, has been altered to copy existing items inside the virtual world. The software, named CopyBot, is causing quite a stir in-world. With this software, anyone can copy any item, and reproduce it just like pirating real software applications.

Linden Labs has issued a warning that anyone found using this CopyBot utility will be banished and lose any property that they owned inside of Second Life. I’m guessing that better security measures will need to be put in place to protect business owners’ Intellectual Property.

Will SecondLife stay around?
My bet is that SecondLife will remain a lively community for years to come. Why? Because people have real money invested in this world. New versions of the software will continue to be built with better utilities, graphics, and options. New worlds will come into creation, and software will be built that will connect the virtual worlds into a virtual universe. IBM wants to work closely with other emerging virtual worlds and technologies. Virtual worlds are here to stay and shouldn’t be treated as just a game. They will make an impact on our lives and our children’s lives.

How Will Online Video Affect the Election?

I just cast my ballot for this year’s election season. I don’t express my opinions much on politics with anyone other than my immediate family because I don’t really like to argue. People get really heated over political views, so I usually stay out of it. Maybe some day I’ll become more active in the whole political arena, but as a student, I really don’t have much time to study all of the issues very thoroughly.

Because my time has been stretched so thin, I haven’t had much time to study all of the issues, but I wasn’t about to go to the polls without really taking a look at things. This morning, I set aside a few hours to go through all of the U.S. Senate and Congress candidates’ websites to read through the issues. Then I was thinking, ‘I wish I had watched some of the debates. That would help me make a better decision on which candidate to vote for.’

I then went to You Tube and searched for some of the candidates and found some of the debates and campaign commercials. Needless to say, the videos I watched locked me in on a few of the candidates. I don’t have TiVo, and I’m rarely home to watch TV, so online video has given me a chance to catch up on the issues and feel comfortable with the votes that I made.

I wonder how many other people’s votes were influenced by online video. With online video streaming still being so young, I bet we will see online video making more of an impact in the future.

In the years to come, political candidates will need to stay on top of new Internet trends including online video, blog networks, and social networking.