I am the Empire

July 31st, 2008 by Daniele Muscetta

I am the Empire

I have been talking to Ariel last month, asking for a Microspotting T-Shirt since I had mentioned her earlier on my blog.

I have been on holiday in the meantime… but the T-Shirt had arrived and was waiting for me in my letterbox in the office !! How cool is that???

So today I am walking around the Rome office in it… and I am looking at people’s faces: you need to understand that Italian dress code is more or less the opposite of how people usually dress in Redmond… Italy is historically more formal, and it would be the norm to dress fancy… one would definitely look BAD here if he would show up in sandals in the office… and VERY bad going on sandals to a customer… 🙂

Of different digital expressions and Blogs

March 22nd, 2008 by Daniele Muscetta

Pool

"I have not posted in a while" …well you certainly will have read tons of posts beginning this way, right?
But that's the truth. One of the reasons is that you can follow very well a lot of what I do and write elsewhere on the Internet by using my lifestream RSS feed, which includes much more than just what I post on this blog. Our minds are not stuck on one subject matter only, but our thoughs just go around in many different directions. I mentioned the integrated feed/lifestream in a previous post, but I found that the concept gets explained very well by Yongfook in this post:

"[…] We interact with various websites and create content on them – why should I then have to come to my own website and reconstruct, repost or repackage the same content? It already exists out there on the internet, and it’s grabbable and usable. This is not to say I think conventional blogging is dead. I do however think it is evolving. The pace at which we consume and create content – photos, videos, links etc – is getting faster, more frequent. If we wanted to republish everything manually on our blogs, we’d just run out of time. […]"

So at least even if this SITE does not get updated often you can see I have quite a busy digital public life on the web.

Very interesting to also read this post by Scott Hanselman on the subject. He rather just focuses on twitter/microblogging as an evolved form of blogging which was getting boring and time-consuming to people:

"[…] The rise of blogs brought conversations on the 'net more out in the open. Blogging enabled conversation via essay, but as blogs have matured, posts have gotten longer and longer and threads more difficult to follow. Now, most posts are jumping off points for the more interesting conversations that inevitably move to the comments. […]"

He then goes into more detailed/structured analysis of what you can or could do with Twitter. While his analysis is pretty good about the many ways you could use Twitter as a broadcasting tool (and in fact loads of companies do already), I rather use it as public instant messaging. Or maybe not just. I don't actually know and to be honest I am not too much into classifying things, really. For example, if classifying what this blog is… I really am not sure I know myself what this blog is. It has been very funny when other people have tried to classify it… one said it was about "programming" (that would be nice, if I really was a better developer!), other people said it was "personal", other thought it was just about "IT" in general… Heck, there is no classification possible I am afraid. Therefore, not knowing what this blog is, I at least think that I know what this blog is NOT:

  • it isn't a marketing blog
  • I am not here trying to sell anything
  • I am not promoting anything, anyone, or any brand
  • It isn't just focused on one subject, on one area of interest

…and so are all my other "expressions" on the Net. Just me. Sprinkles of me all around. No special industrial plan for it. Just be myself. You might like me sometimes. You might hate me. You might not care at all. It's all good, anyway. Sorry for wasting your time.

Role Playing | Technology

November 10th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Role Playing | Technology

Role Playing | Technology, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

I had not been playing Role Playing Games anymore for nearly 15 years. My wife recently thought that Joshua would be big enough to try, so I am trying to introduce him to the world of RPGs. This, as you can imagine, after all of that time, took back memories, ideas, and also made me think of how much the technology changed this all.

I am not at all referring to VIDEO or ONLINE games, even those that are marketed as being RPGs: most of them are not "real" RPGs anyway, they merely borrow some rules. I am saying that technology changed the way people ORGANIZE and prepare their role playing gaming experience (=the one played with real RPGs where you have to ACT a character), and how they interact with each other, and how the "knowledge" spreads.

When I was playing RPG a lot, in the 80's and early 90's, everything was paper-based, no Internet and technology in sight. For example, we photocopied a lot of stuff back then, as opposed to today when I just downloaded and printed a character sheet. But it was not just printed material that was being photocopied: in those years I remember myself handwriting my own extended set of rules, manuals, scenarios, description of places (I even kept and found back some of those!). Everything was handwritten: text, drawings, maps. A lot of work, very hard to mantain. But passion was driving me (and my friends at that time too). That has also been a big enabler in how I taught myself to read and write english: by translating handbooks that nobody had translated in italian. But I digress.

We use to go to a couple of highly specialized shops that were able to import and resell one or two copies of some rare handbooks of a strange game that would otherwise not sell at all. Sometimes even the specialized shops did not manage to get the originals of some of those rare books. Therefore, some of the expansions were sold as photocopies.
Some other times there had been some guy somewhere who did have one copy bought in the US and he took the effort to make an UNofficial translation and TYPEWRITE it in italian. Photocopies of this "product" was all that was circulating.

I am not talking or caring of copyright or "pirate" issues here. We were not "avoiding" the original stuff: if anybody would have told us that the stuff we wanted was actually available in its original format, we would have bought it. But it just wasn't available at all, and we wanted it. This kind of material was really close to impossible to get, with high costs, and all that us busy kids wanted was books with descriptions of imaginary fantasy worlds to place our characters in, and improvise and narrate our stories and saga's…

Also, all in paper format, what was circulating was a certain number of fanzines, also photocopies of an original, wonderful, "master copy" that someone had made with a typewriter and sticking pictures with glue on the paper. Desktop publishing was not that common nor easy yet. But the layout is not really what interested me, it was the CONTENT that was hard to spread.

At one stage, the thing improved slightly: I finally managed to convince my parents that I was allowed to get a modem, so I started using it to connect to various BBS. A couple of those BBS of the time were related to RPGs or had a related discussion area. I was interested in technology and in knowing how it was doing its magic, but most of all I was also pretty excited at the possibilities I saw for the technology as an enabler in connecting people. Just like I am now.
I have met some good friends on BBS's at that time. I'm still in contact with some of them, I've lost some other ones, like it happens in life anyway. But the possibility was showing quite clearly: those BBS were mostly text-based, with high connection costs (in italy were you pay every call, also local ones, per minute)… even in those circumstances they were managing to aggregate some people and were used as vehicles to spread the knowledge.
In Italy, thought, they were mostly local. International calls were prohibitively expensive. Of course we did hear of what happened to similar BBS in the US.

In fact, after pencil and paper, through a typewriter, the revolution started there: being able to type stuff on a computer and pass your file over to someone else made it easier for it to spread. But again, I am not talking about copyrighted material. I am mostly talking about self-produced material. I still remember I had troubles with digitalizing maps because I did not own a scanner… on some of the BBS people were sharing their works, and you could find good adventures and extra stuff on them. I also got to publish somewhere a couple of those I had written, and they even made it on a fanzine first, and then on a real magazine.

At one stage, though, I really got distracted. I probably thought I was "big enough", or I got too interested in the "serious" computing business, or I was too busy with other stuff. Probably a combination of many factors. So I sort of abandoned playing for a long time.

Now, looking back at that world, more than a decade later, I can see how it all changed: you go to the Internet, use any search engine and find dozen if not hundred of sites with forums, people playing online using Live Messenger, people sharing their adventures or their stories of the adventures they have played, other sites that collect all of the covers and information about all the booklets and manuals ever existed for any possible version of any game. Even the vendors are giving out stuff to play for free.

PCs and the Internet DID change the world, if anyone was still doubting. And yes, Role Playing Games and computing ARE related interests.

The world changed, yet it stayed the same: you still play those games with people, with the help of your imagination. It's the resources that are now at your fingertips.

It's nice to see things called by their real name

September 3rd, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Facebook Terms of Service state that it is forbidden to "[…] use automated scripts to collect information from or otherwise interact with the Service or the Site […]"

For this reason, I had to pull down the code of the small application I had previously released, which was "logging" into the mobile web application "pretending" to be a mobile browser and change your status. Big deal!!!

I am quite sure there are a lot of people writing "official" applications (that is using the "platform API" and so on) that are collecting A LOT of information about users who install their applications. They are being sent the info about the visitors by facebook, they are storing them, they might do whatever they please with (study it, sell it to spammers, to marketers, to making-money-assholes) and nobody will ever notice because it is on their servers and nobody can check that.

But a script that changes your status from remote – since this is not a functionality they CHOSE to expose in their API – then THAT is a big issue. Doh!
It's just plain ridiculous, but that's it.

Sure, the terms of service for app developers say a bit more in this regard:

[…]
4) Except as provided in Section 2.A.6 below, you may not continue to use, and must immediately remove from any Facebook Platform Application and any Data Repository in your possession or under your control, any Facebook Properties not explicitly identified as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation within 24 hours after the time at which you obtained the data, or such other time as Facebook may specify to you from time to time;

5) You may store and use indefinitely any Facebook Properties that are explicitly identified as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation; provided, however, that except as provided in Section 2.A.6 below, you may not continue to use, and must immediately remove from any Facebook Platform Application and any Data Repository in your possession or under your control, any such Facebook Properties: (a) if Facebook ceases to explicitly identify the same as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation; (b) upon notice from Facebook (including if we notify you that a particular Facebook User has requested that their information be made inaccessible to that Facebook Platform Application); or (c) upon any termination of this Agreement or of your use of or participation in Facebook Platform;
[…]
You will not directly or indirectly sell, export, re-export, transfer, divert, or otherwise dispose of any Facebook Properties to any country (or national thereof) without obtaining any required prior authorizations from the appropriate government authorities;
[…]

Are we sure everybody is playing by these rules, when every facebook "application" really runs on the developer'server ? How do you know that they are really storing only what you want them to store, and deleting what you want them to delete ? Everybody knows how difficult it is to really "delete" digital content once it has come into existance… who knows how many copies of this database/social graph are floating around ?

Of course that is not an issue because people don't talk about it enough. But a script that changes your status – now, THAT is a very terrible thing.

I just don't get this "politically correctness". It must be me.

Oh, no… look! It's not only me!
I had read this post of Dare, but I problably had overlooked the last bit of it…. because he did point out this Hypocrisy going on:

[…]
Or (5) the information returned by FQL about a user contains no contact information (no email address, no IM screen names, no telephone numbers, no street address) so it is pretty useless as a way to utilize one’s friends list with applications besides Facebook since there is no way to cross-reference your friends using any personally identifiable association that would exist in another service.

When it comes to contact lists (i.e. the social graph), Facebook is a roach motel. Lots of information about user relationships goes in but there’s no way for users or applications to get it out easily. Whenever an application like FacebookSync comes along which helps users do this, it is quickly shut down for violating their Terms of Use. Hypocrisy? Indeed.
[…]

He then insists in a more recent post in calling things by their name:

[…]
I will point out that 9 times out of 10 when you hear geeks talking about social network portability or similar buzzwords they are really talking about sending people spam because someone they know joined some social networking site. I also wonder how many people realize that these fly-by-night social networking sites that they happily hand over their log-in credentials to so they can spam their friends also share the list of email addresses thus obtained with services that resell to spammers?
[…]
how do you prevent badly behaved applications like Quechup from taking control away from your users? At the end of the day your users might end up thinking you sold their email addresses to spammers when in truth it was the insecure practices of the people who they’d shared their email addresses with that got them in that mess. This is one of the few reasons I can understand why Facebook takes such a hypocritical approach. 🙂
[…]

Thanks, Dare, for mentioning Hypocrisy. Thanks for calling things by their name. I do understand their approach, I just don't agree with it.

I did pull my small application off the Internet because I have a family to mantain and I don't want to have legal troubles with Facebook. Sorry to all those that found it handy. No, I cannot even give that to you per email. It's gone. I am sorry. For the freedom of speech, especially, I am sorry.

I will change my status more often on Twitter.

43things Facebook app

August 28th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

WOW I already have 13 (thirteen) users for my Facebook application showing your goals pulled from 43things!

Sure, gapingvoid has got 700+ users in 3 days, I know. But hey, he's famous, and I don't see the point of cluttering my already busy Facebook profile with a cartoon. I do read him and generally like his cartoons, and I am in the "friends of the blue monster" group (so to say I like him).

But I prefer reading him in my "normal" aggregator.

I think Facebook apps should rather "inject social objects" (where did I read this definition? sorry I cant recall it or I would appropiately link to you… I swear).

There are of course other similar applications that just pull comics in your profile (like Dilbert, Garfield, etc) but again – I think this is all stuff that YOU are interested in, and thus should just go into your aggregator – so YOU can read it; on the opposite your profile in Facebook should talk about YOU and things YOU are doing, for example. Occasionally they can be YOUR posts or they can even be someone else's posts that you read and want to share/let other people see (that's why I pull in my Google Reader's shared items for example – things I read and want you too to see). If this includes importing other social objects/information from other social networks, like the music you are listening to on last.FM, or the photos you published on Flickr, then it is fine. That's why I wrote an app that shows the things you want to do, pulled in from 43things.com and one that shows the places you want to visit pulled in from 43places.com. Because I felt those social objects from another network were missing. In fact a user commented "[…] Glad someone finally took a step forward to create this, though 🙂 […]".

But of course what I wrote about which kind of applications you should or shouldn't have in your profile, remember that this is just my personal opinion rant, and everybody is free to put whatever stuff he/she likes onto his/her profile, in the end 🙂

My lost Facebook Appz! doh!

August 25th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

I am just figuring out that on this post of the 26th of July I mentioned I was trying to write a simple facebook application. I am not realizing I never wrote anything about it anymore. I did not spend a lot of time figuring out all the possibilities, and indeed I have not looked into it anymore since then, but that very night I did write something. Not just one application, but TWO (copycat) very simple applications: my43places and my43things, that pull into your profile the data about the things you want to do you entered in 43things.com and the places you want to visit you entered in 43places.com, respectively.

They are very simple: you enter your user name and they connect to their REST web service, extract the information about your places and/or goals, and show them as a list in a box in your profile.

I don't know why I did not blog about them before… maybe I thought they were too simple ? Well, they are, but, seriously: who cares? 🙂

Orkut make up

August 24th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

[…] Just as you change your profile picture to keep with the times, we're updating the look of orkut. The change isn't live yet, but starting soon, we will start rolling-out the new look. […]

this is what is written on Orkut blog.

…shouldn't they rather think of providing an API instead than just a new look (which does not look that different from the old one) ?

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

August 21st, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

Facebook mobile is not working from mobile operators not in the US, I suppose.
I can't even log on to m.facebook.com with my WIndows Mobile SmartPhone.
I can't send status updates through SMS.

I can't even send them by mail, or I get the following back:

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

So, now, I am updating Twitter.
Twitter can be updated with an SMS even from Europe. Or it can be updated with a bot running GTalk. Very easy, can do it from everywhere.

I then wrote a small command line application (based on the same "hack" as the one described before) that runs every five minutes from the scheduler on my server and keeps the two in sync.

I wrote it in C# as a Console application because that's usually what I do when I want it to run it both on my windows machines and/or on my Linux server (with MONO). I already used this approach in the past and I found it to be successful. As long as you keep the application simple enough and check out the documentation for the implemented classes on mono, it runs without modification both on windows on the "real" .Net framework and on Mono on Linux. i just copy the executable and I am ready to go.
Not this time, though.
I am hitting what seems to be a bug in mono. I might be able to find a workaround, but I haven't had the time to dig in the issue yet.
I posted some info about this on this forum.

Updated RSS Feed for this blog

August 16th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

I got tired of using FeedBurner, really. So I made a much more flexible and "Complete" integrated feed that includes posts on this blog, my photos on Flickr, my Status Changes on Facebook and Twitter. Please update your aggregator if you were using the old feed (which still works btw, but will keep having less information in it).

About Multiple Personalities

August 13th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

"[…] many of us are getting sick and tired of creating multiple user id's, checking messages on multiple inboxes and accepting the same 75 friends on 10 different social networks. For now here is my personal solution to the social networking problem – if you have my gmail address and my blog address, that is all that you need to reach me, read about me, see my pictures, date me, send me fan letters and/or harass me. […]" (exceprt from: http://www.anshublog.com/2007/08/identity-crisis-in-land-of-social.html)

lol! Anshu is so much right!!!! I agree with his conclusion 100%!!!!

Scoble Spam ?

August 13th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Scoble Spam ?

Scoble Spam ?, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

In reply to Dare….. he's Hijacked my news feed too!!!!

Facebook StateTray

August 3rd, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Facebook StateTray

Facebook StateTray, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

This is a Screenshot of the small application I first described in my previous blog post.

It is a simple Windows Form that lets you change your status on Facebook without having to browse to the site. It does not rely on Facebook's API (as they won't let you change your status, at least to date) but is really uses a hack on the Facebook mobile pages. It is based on PHP code posted by Christian Flickinger, ported to C# (.Net 2.0) by me.

When you pull down the form you get to see the settings:

Facebook State Tray

Those can be stored in an XML file, that gets loaded automatically every time the program starts.
Beware that password ARE displayed and stored in clear text.

The idea so far is that you run it on your PC and you just keep it resized so it does not show the "dangerous" bits.
You can keep it minimized on the tray in windows, pop it up when you need to update your status, write your new status and click "change" – it will freeze for a couple of seconds while updates your status, since it uses synchronous calls – then you can minimize it again.

UPDATED –  September 1st 2007: I have been asked by Facebook to pull down the source code from the Net, as it violates their terms of service (I had not realized that). Apologies to all.

Facebook API and WinForm experiment

August 2nd, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

While testing with the Facebook API, I started creating a WinForm using the Facebook Toolkit.

What I had in mind was a simple program that would run on my PC, maybe minimized in the system tray, that would let me update my status in a click, thorugh the day, without having to log on to the website. Most of the day I am busy working, and I don't really have time to go surf and check Facebook… but I like the possibility for people to hear how I am doing. Changing the status would keep them up to date, and would keep my profile current.

As I figured out afterwards, their API does not yet let you change your status yet.

There are other people asking for this possibility… but then I went further searching on the Internet, and I found this blog: http://www.nexdot.net/blog/2007/04/20/updating-facebook-status-using-php/

I just hacked together a small WinForm written in C# that reimplements this idea.

Facebook StateTray

I indeed would like to thank Christian for the idea, and my friend and colleague Pierluigi for his precious help with the regular expressions 🙂

At the moment it has terrible things such as hardcoded passwords in it, but as soon as I will have time to polish the code a bit, I will post it.

One more thing I would like to do with it is turning it from a standalone application into a Live Messenger Add-In, so that it synchronizes my messenger status with the one of Facebook. When I will have time for that.

Facebook development

July 26th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

I have been quite hooked into Facebook for the last couple of days, figuring out what it can and cannot do. It can do a lot. The possibility to inject code and brand new application into it is absolutely awesome.

PopFly lets you create mashups and even custom blocks, and I liked that too. But you have to use fancy-shiny Silverlight (which is very cool indeed, but probably not *always* necesary) and you can only create blocks using Javascript. Sure, as someone as already written, the meaning of AJAX is "javascript now works". I can understand (even if I don't know them for sure) the reasons behind certain choices. But I find it limiting. Maybe it is because I don't like Javascript. It must be it. 

Facebook, instead, empowers you to inject code into their social networking framework. Any code. In whatever language you like. They started it in PHP, but you can plug-in whatever you like: Java, Ruby, Perl…. you can even have your application running on your own server, still providing a seamless experience inside of facebook. This opens up to millions of possibilities, and I got fascinated by that.

At the same time, the paranoid part of myself has been thinking to the security implications of it. This open platform is cool, but it also sounds like a framework for cross-site-scripting (XSS) attacks. Sure, you can "report" an application made by a third party that does something weird… but who will really notice if all that happens under the hood is that your cookies get stolen (and someone accesses your bank account) ? Will you figure it out it has happenend because you wanted to see the "dancing pigs" loaded in your profile ? Or will you figure it out at all ?

This said, I set aside my fear for a while and I delved into coding. What I did learn in the last couple of years, having slowly moved away from security engagements, is to relax. When I was working costantly with security I was a lot more paranoid. Now I case much less, and I live a lot more.

So I developed a couple of quick and simple apps running from this very server into Facebook, and I started using thePHP5 library they provide, so to be able to follow the examples first and figure out how it was working.

Now I also want to take a look at the .NET library for facebook when I have time. It sounds cool.

Facebook

July 23rd, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

Facebook_Daniele

Facebook_Daniele, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

Yet another social networking. I am on there too, now.
http://www.facebook.com/p/Daniele_Muscetta/742258687

Ah, and by the way, I really find it incredible that every time I invite some people to a new social networking site (it has happened for all of them), it happens that some (many) of the persons I have invited reply to me or call me asking me "is this really sent by you ?" "it looked like spam" "what is this thing" and the like.

Come on, guys, we are in year 2007, you still don't know what social networking is… especially if you work in IT you are sort of a dinosaur, you know?

Le Citta' Invisibili

March 11th, 2007 by Daniele Muscetta

A couple of my pictures have been included in the book "Le Citta' Invisibili", that can be bought online on lulu.com.

This is a collection of photos first appeared on the "Bianco e Nero" user group on Flickr, under the common theme of talking about "the invisible cities":

"[…] Le città invisibili sono i nostri buchi neri, cioe' quelle parti di città che vengono dimenticate e lasciate a se stesse, al buio, fino a quando l'ennesimo caso di cronaca non le riporta alla ribalta per qualche giorno. Sono i quartieri che non si sono mai sviluppati, sono i quartieri che si degradano negli anni, i quartieri nati sotto l'emergenza e dove prevalgono problemi di degrado abitativo, di occupazione e di integrazione fra i vecchi e i nuovi emarginati. […]"

There are two versions:
the cheap version, but the quality of the print is not very good;
the more expensive version, where the quality is ok.
Or you can even download a PDF here and spend nothing 🙂

Time Capsule

October 12th, 2006 by Daniele Muscetta

Yahoo has done it again. Yet another cool photographic site: Time Capsule.
They show every day that they really GET the community thing. Thumbs up for them.

On a side note, I honestly ignore why do you need to UPLOAD photos there and you can't just LINK or REFERENCE photos you've already uploaded on Flickr (isn't it a site they bought ?). So I don't see the effort in any INTEGRATION here. I don't get why. If I had a photo platform like Flickr I would use its Web API to let registered users just "PASS OVER" some pictures from one site to the other.

But, hey…. regardless…..it looks really COOL. It really does. More cool than actually USEFUL (it reminds me of Intrusion Detection Systems… but I digress), but that's how this amount of community things are. It's not useful for your business, but it is good for your heart.

OrKuT

May 10th, 2004 by Daniele Muscetta

I have been invited on Orkut. It is cool. It simply totally rocks.
BESA says it is taking my soul !! – ROTFL