December 15th, 2006

last night

The Marvels of Modern Technology

Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time learning about DVDs. It's amazing what you can get free on the Internet - Avidemux for file converting, trimming, and identifying timing for DVD chapter points, which can be fed into GFD as you create the DVD structure, and finally Imgburn to burn the disc (as Windows XP only comes with software to write CDs; and I'm in no hurry to update to Vista).

As a result of all this, I now have Part 2 of the Last Night of the Proms on DVD, with the leading/trailing edges removed, and a basic menu with nice chapter points to jump around. uitlander has kindly kept her MythTV copy of Part 1, though we're having some issues getting a 5.5GB file from her PVR to my PC, and the copy we extracted a few months back (which is curiosly a little smaller) seems to be corrupted, at least in the eyes of Avidemux (though MPlayer seems quite happy with it).

The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from ...

Book Review: Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom, by Ben Hammersley
O'Reilly books are a varied bunch: I can't recommend too highly the titles on XSLT and Swing, for example, but I wouldn't touch Java in a Nutshell - it's really little more than a hard-copy of Sun's own documentation (and that "nutshell" gets bigger and bigger in every edition).

So, where does Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom fit in? Somewhere in the middle, I think. I bought it because RSS has been a hot topic for a while, and I was curious to understand exactly why. I have to admit, I am still not convinced it has a must-have quality to it. It's useful for syndication of content from one site to another, I can see that. I've never used a desktop RSS reader and maybe that's why I'm not particularly sold on it - if I want to see new content for a page, I'll go and look at it myself.

The book doesn't go out of its way to sell the technology, either, though the author was on one of the working groups that developed one of the RSS specifications. (There's an introductory section explaining the factionalisation of the RSS standards, leading to two separate streams for RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0, plus Atom). For a book that's about a technology rather than a language, it has chosen Perl as the language for all of its examples, which is a shame. Though you can get the gist of what's being done, I think even Perl gurus would admit (or perhaps boast) that it isn't the most readable of languages. There are quite a few significant typos in the text, too: mostly of the "missing word" variety that wouldn't show up in a spell-checker but should leave the page ripe with green underlining from Word's grammar checker. Of course, techies are notoriously illiterate but these things should have been picked up by an editorial process, and there's one diagram completely missing from the text, which is unforgiveable. It's also apparent that some chapters have been reordered from a previous book on the same technologies - but the references haven't been reworded when they refer to material that is yet to come.

I suppose this is all evidence of a scramble to meet deadlines in a fast-moving industry, but I'm afraid I switched to Eats, Shoots and Leaves mode. Allegedly we're all more educated in Blair's Britain, but I wonder whether that is so that we can produce more and of higher quality, or whether it's to provide us with error-correction instincts needed to read the works of others.