Private Comments via XMLIMPORT

Making shareable (Sharing with a single person or specific group but not with the world.) comments on public writing is a fairly awkward spaaaaaace right now. There are things like AnnotateIt and Awesome Screenshot and the annotations in Diigo. So I’m looking around for other free options and brain storming odd ideas and not find a whole lot and I came up with the following . . .

Note: I’m not saying this is a good idea, it may even be a bad idea but it might inspire someone to do something more interesting down the line.1 I at least found it mildly amusing.

Here’s how you might pull an author feed from WordPress into Google Spreadsheets with separate cells each paragraph (for paragraph level commenting). The idea being that you can share the Google document with just that student and do the commenting via the GSS commenting feature.

Google spreadsheets will import lots of things (xml, atom, rss). WordPress provides lots of specific feeds (author, tag, categories, combinations thereof).

So step one is to get the author feed – for example You can then use the IMPORTXML formula in GSS to import that XML and do some XPATH parsing of the pieces. In this case I used =IMPORTXML(“”,”//p”) to pull out the paragraphs. I can then share the document with just that student and comment on the paragraphs using the Insert>Comment stuff built into GSS. You can see an image of that below and below that is the embedded document in all its odd glory/shame.

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1 I think it makes a nice cheat to be able to analyze text from an RSS feed using more commonly held SS skills. There are a few other things I’m kicking around in my head as well.

Weekly Web Harvest (weekly)

  • “There was no widespread outbreak of panic across the United States in response to Orson Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Only a very small share of the radio audience was even listening to it, and isolated reports of scattered incidents and increased call volume to emergency services were played up the next day by newspapers, eager to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. Both Welles and CBS, which had initially reacted apologetically, later came to realize that the myth benefited them and actively embraced it in their later years.[49][50]

    tags: misconceptions wikipedia trivia history list weekly

  • “Ah, the non-serious come out to play. Naturally you would be the uneducated – unfamiliar with critical review. Yet, amazingly, you seek out opportunities to ‘contribute’ – what? Nothing of any value or substance. My god, your triviality…do either of you contribute anything to the world of Ideas or Art? And just how would you respond if you had created something of value that someone thoughtlessly tore down?”

    The author responding to a book review . . . for his book . . . with teddy bears as characters.

    tags: socialmedia commenting author publishing online weekly

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

3D Passenger Pigeon Bones

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I’ve been working with Bernard Means who runs VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory1. We spoke briefly a while back about building a site to allow for interactive views and downloads of 3D STL files his team has made of passenger pigeon bones. One of the goals was to allow mobile devices to interact with the site in an “app-like” fashion. This is more than a desire for the PR boost that seems to come with creating an “app”2 What we’re working toward is the ability to cache this stuff and enable archaeologists in the field to interact with the virtual shapes on mobile devices or download the shapefiles, print them out, and carry the replicas into the field (next up is a consideration of points). We wanted to get the passenger pigeon bones out in time for the anniversary of the extinction of the species which was 100 years ago today. Due to the excitement and drama that is the new school year, I didn’t end up getting the bones or focusing on this until Thursday.

This was the first website I’ve made by hand (non-cms) in a while. I figured it’d be good for me and I thought it’d help remove complications. I don’t know if that ended up being true but it was a decent idea. It was a hassle to update the shared structure across the websites. I’ll have to figure a way out of that in the future.

Step one was to get a decent responsive structure. I used a quick and easy bootstrap template generator called Lay Out It. It is amazing how many free options like that exist now.

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 4.16.30 PM

The second concern was trying to think through was using an old school image map as the main visual navigation. We wanted people to be able to click on the bones and end up at the 3D interactive pieces. I hadn’t made an image map in a long time either. I did suspect that there’d be some issues with responsive image resizing and navigation like this. A bit of googling later and it turns out there’s an answer for this and it’s on github and it uses Power Puff girls for the example. It worked perfectly. The first two steps took about 10 minutes from desire to working prototype. All hail the Internet.

The third piece, and the one that ate up most of my time, was making interactive web components from the STL files. My ignorance of 3D shapefiles knows no limits but I did find three.js a while back and it has loaders for STL and a number of other common formats. I installed it and hand no trouble running the examples but failed at loading the pigeon bones. I failed at binary exports. I failed at ASCII exports. I failed, I failed, I failed in so many different ways. I then attempted to really cheat and use some of the hosted solutions where I quickly ran into size limits and requests to pay for things and other sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make.

I then circled back to GitHub. Turns out it does a really nice job of automating the display of 3D shapefiles up to 10 MB and makes a handy iframe embed option available. I had to use quadratic edge collapse decimation on a few of the files in order to get under that limit but left the larger files available because GitHub makes that so easy.

I wanted those iframes to be responsive as well. This nice little post answered that question quickly and easily.

As always, there are lots of things I need to do better and many ways I can/should improve the site. I’ll be looking at caching options, making this a more portable structure that others will be able to add to and improve.

1 I do need to see if we might offer some attractive reasons to come over from

2 The media is an enemy of the people.

Sociological Theorists WordPress Site

Our Sociology Department Chair, Jennifer Johnson, is out there leading the way for the Sociology Department at VCU. She’s not only thinking through how syndication will impact the design of their entire program and curriculum (online and off), she’s also teaching a course on Sociological Theory in a way that shows how student work can interweave in interesting ways. There is a real focus on interaction between undergraduate and graduate students and the idea that the student work will be centered around the theorists themselves. The site reflects a number of those choices and it’s going to be fun to watch it grow. They’ve already got upwards of 90 posts and we haven’t even finished the second full week of classes.

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The site is a basic mother blog setup with a few tweaks. You’ll notice the landing page is a basic grid layout with the theorists images linking to the categories. So the Max image links to Most themes don’t really encourage this particular layout. There are plugins that will allow you to give categories “Featured Images” like posts have. In this case that felt like more trouble than it was worth as I’d also have to do some extra work to make the categories display the way I wanted.

I figured someone smart had done a decent grid CSS layout tutorial and I was right. Using Automatic’s Jetpack Plugin and activating the CSS module made it easy to add the CSS I needed for the grid. Now I just needed to tweak it a bit and generator the HTML to link to the categories and display the images. I fell back on my favorite way to create standardized text patterns – Google Spreadsheets. All of the content was the same except for the name of the theorist so it was easy to write the formulas to make it all happen.2

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There’s nothing revolutionary in the web design area. I actually like it better because of that. I’m also trying to show how many people have already done the work for me. It’s up to me to look around a bit and use that work. I try to add my bit back into the mix by explaining how I do what I do. It’s a virtuous cycle.

#holder {
	width: 100%;

/* Style for each floated item */
.item {
/* Give the distance for floated items */
	margin: 8px;
	border-style: solid;
	border-color: #E0E0E0;
	border-width: 4px;
	float: left;
/* Width and height for each item */
	width: 150px;
	height: 170px;
/* Text align and background color */
	text-align: center;
	background-color: #E0E0E0;
	font-size: .75em;

.item:hover {
	background-color: #666666;
	border-color: #2293e2;
	border-style: solid;
	border-width: 4px;

/* Clear the "float" style */
#clearer {
	clear: both;

1 Do note that this requires an agreement to use the same categories. In this case, simply using the last name of the theorist.

2 You can see how that works at the spreadsheet but I am curious if people have alternate ways to generate that kind of standardized content with minor variable changes.