Sunday, December 30, 2007

Snowbike

Most gadgets that I blog about are somewhat electronic in nature, and often connectivity plays an important role. Today's gadget has no electronics, isn't connected to any network, and still beats most other gadgets in its design, usability, and ingenious concept.

I am talking about the Brenter Snowbike, which is somewhat of a cross between a mountain bike and skis. I had the opportunity today to try the snowbike for 2 hours and enjoyed the experience greatly:

AlfSnowbike

As a matter of fact, I had so much fun, that I am going to rent a snowbike all day tomorrow and have some more fun on the slopes. Driving a snowbike is incredibly easy to learn - provided you already have mastered two other skills previously: skiing and riding a bike.

After two test runs on the beginner slope we went up the mountain and on the regular slopes and had a blast. In a timed run, I was skiing downhill on the bike at a speed of 48 km/h (30 mph).

More photos of our lesson today are on my SmugMug photo web site.

Here is another cool tidbit: the owner of the ski school that we rented the snowbike from is Hermann Koch, and I chatted with him after dinner at the hotel tonight. Turns out that he just recently set a Guinness world record: on March 22, 2007, Hermann Koch and Harald Brenter (the inventor of the snowbike) skied downhill 107,400 vertical feet in 11 hours.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year

It is this time of the year again. After a very busy fall season with several trade shows, product launches, and musical adventures we are finally finding some peaceful days to enjoy the holidays, spend time with the family, and enjoy a few vacation days in Vienna, Austria.

We greatly enjoyed watching the Nutcracker at the Staatsoper (State Opera) last week, and while I could not take any photos inside, the Opera building looks quite spectacular from the outside, too:

Opera

 

Yesterday we packed our suitcases again and continued our journey towards Salzburg and the small village of Obertauern in the Alps. The flight to Salzburg was just fantastic with a thick blanket of fog covering many of the smaller valleys and low foothills.

1X5F0140

 

And the approach to Salzburg airport was quite impressive, too. Is there really an airport somewhere underneath those clouds?

SalzburgApproach

 

Upon arrival in Salzburg we were greeted by frigid temperatures and copious amounts of snow on the ground. Even the luggage carts at the airport had a beautiful icicle display to offer:

Icicles

 

The drive from the airport into the Alps to the village of Obertauern was great. The landscape is just so pretty and the mountains left and right got steeper and steeper the closer we came to our final destination.

Trees 

After checking into the hotel, we immediately went to rent skis and poles and were on the slopes in the afternoon already. The ski area here is indeed one of the best places on the planet. Tons of lifts and trails, perfect slopes, well groomed every night, and not too many people. We are going to enjoy the next 10 days here, no doubt!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2008!

Swanee, Calvin, Nora, and Alexander Falk

 

P.S. You can find more photos from 2007 on my personal photo web site on SmugMug...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Atomic Clocks, Street Views, and Flash Disks

A few random things caught my eye today:

GPS has brought atomic precision time to us in the form of small portable GPS devices, as well as network time-servers that sync with the GPS data. The time from the GPS satellites comes to us with such precision, because the satellites carry cesium atomic clocks on board and are synchronized with ground-based clocks and being corrected for relativistic effects.
But for some folks getting the atomic time from GPS is not enough - they call themselves "Time Nuts" and have atomic clocks (such as the 5071A) at home as a hobby. See also this nice article in Wired today. Wow! I've always loved time, clocks, calendar calculations, leap seconds, and physics. I guess that's a hobby that I could get into, too....

From atomic clocks and GPS it is only a small leap to navigation, which brings us to cartography, which brings us to Google Maps - and the second item of interest today: Google has launched Street View in eight new cities in the US, including Boston. Very cool.

Last, but not least, here is something I want in my next laptop: Toshiba announced a 128GB Flash HDD yesterday. My current laptop has a 80GB conventional disk drive, and it looks like the form factor of that Toshiba drive would allow for an actual replacement.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Best Christmas Present Ever

The holiday season is upon us and today we did a little Christmas (and Hanukkah) celebration in the office. I got the Best Christmas Present Ever from the entire staff here at Altova, Inc.:

Fenway Park Bleacher Seats

These are authentic Fenway Park Bleacher Seats, removed in November 2007, and they come complete with certificate of authenticity, holographic authentication stickers, and - most important of all - some chewing gum still stuck on the bottom.

As part of their renovation program for Fenway Park, the Red Sox did apparently sell the old seats to fans, and the gang here at Altova managed to pull off the impossible and get me a pair.

IMG_2943

For the time being I am keeping them in my office - until the new house is ready in a few years - and we've rearranged the furniture to make them part of the seating area. That way they will actually be used for our weekly team meetings and are also available for visitors.

If you want to know how happy I am about these seats, just look at the grin on my face in this picture to the left.

Thank you guys! You've really made my day!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

XML 2007 (or not), IE8, and Google on the iPhone

XML 2007 ended in Boston today and despite planning to go to the conference today, I unfortunately missed the event due to some time constraints at work. Elliotte Rusty Harold blogged from the conference (thank you!), and he was asking if nobody else was reporting live from the event. Well, I was planning to do so, but couldn't. Sorry.

The one talk that I had really wanted to go to was by Irina Kogan (IBM) and Dr. Nick Nagel (Altova) who spoke on "XML-Driven Database Design and Information Retrieval" this afternoon - fortunately the presentation slides can be found here so I can read up on what I missed.

In other interesting news today:

I've already played with the Google interface on the iPhone and it is really nicely done. I get Google search, GMail, and Reader all nicely integrated and with a slick iPhone like UI.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

OOXML Resolutions to ISO Comments - a closed process to create an open standard?

It appears that Microsoft has now provided 662 responses to the ISO comments on DIS29500 (Office Open XML) through Ecma, but those responses are presently only available to members of the ISO voting organizations through password-protected access. This move is already gathering much criticism from the ODF camp.

Guess what: those responses are neither provided in ODF format nor in OOXML. They are 662 individual PDF files. How ironic is that...?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fortune Cookie

With a snow storm approaching the Boston area we decided to gas up the car (it was almost empty) and get Chinese takeout tonight. Apparently a lot of other folks had the same idea, because there was a huge line both at the gas station and at the Chinese restaurant.

After dinner, my son found this in his fortune cookie:

If your cookie is in 2 pieces, the answer is yes.

It doesn't get any better than that...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Golden Compass Movie Sneak Preview

We got to see a sneak preview of the upcoming Golden Compass movie today - six days before it opens nationwide in cinemas. The movie is certainly beautiful to watch - the renditions of some of the technological marvels of that other universe are elaborate and impressive. And the acting isn't bad either. However, the shape-shifting of the kids' dæmons was quite disappointing (they shift so fast that you don't get to see any nice CGI-transitions at all). And the story has been brutally mangled as it was turned into a screenplay: important aspects of character-development are missing, entire sections of certain chapters are missing (e.g. the ambassador of the witches), the sequence of events has been overturned (e.g. Bolvangar vs. fight of the bears for the throne), and the end has been turned from a breath-taking, earth-shattering, and tearing-the-sky-open cliff-hanger into a mediocre happy ending, Hollywood-style.

Furthermore it appears that the Authority still has a strong grip on affairs in our universe: the movie doesn't dare to criticize the Church and only calls it the "Magisterium" and even the church buildings in the movie have only a fleeting resemblance to cathedrals and look more like a cross between Metropolis and greenhouses.

Nonetheless, one of the positive things about the movie is that you can visit the movie website and do a quick test to meet your own dæmon - here is a picture of mine, and her name is Hypatia:

GoldenCompass_Hypatia_Cropped

I really like that tiger - I think I'm going to keep my dæmon.

So what it all boils down to is this: I recently read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy on the Sony Reader (a few months before the Kindle came out) and the Golden Compass book is just so much better than the movie. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and get the book before you watch the movie!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazon Kindle Review

UPDATE February 24, 2009: I've received my new Kindle 2 today and posted a detailed review of the new Kindle 2 on this blog.


Being a gadget aficionado, I placed my order for the Kindle yesterday when it was announced and promptly received the new device today. I've now spent about 3-4 hours with the Kindle, including reading a book at the hair dresser, having my hair stylist and friend recommend Anne McCaffrey's Talents series to me, and using the Kindle right then and there to promptly buy Pegasus in Flight and have it download to my Kindle wirelessly within a minute.

But before I begin with this review, let's put a few things straight: (a) I love books - my parents have always had tons of them, my wife and I have thousands of them, and I will never give up paper books; (b) this review is not being paid for by anyone (however, if you click on a link to Amazon.com from this site and then purchase something, I will earn a small percentage under he Amazon Associates program); (c) I've started using the original Sony Reader over a year ago and just upgraded to the newest Sony Reader about 2 months ago - the reason is that I travel a lot and I like to read when I'm traveling, but I don't like to either lug around 5-6 books with me or run out of reading materials during a trip.

To make things interesting, I purchased a few books and a couple of magazine subscriptions for the Kindle through the Kindle Store yesterday after placing my order for the device. Amazon promised that these would "magically" be delivered to my device once I unpacked it.

So when the package arrived today and I unpacked it this evening after coming home from work, I was immediately surprised by the lightweight nature of the Kindle. I had expected it to be heavier based on the leaked photos, but it is actually quite light - it appears to even be lighter than the Sony Reader. The package is a bit of an homage to the Apple iPod (as is the white color of the Kindle, the power supply, the cables, etc). Luckily the book cover that you can attach the device to is still black!

Kindle The actual Kindle is not even half as ugly as the previously leaked photos seemed to imply. The alphabetic keyboard at the bottom takes a bit of getting used to, but the page-turning buttons are cleverly located where they ought to be (the lack of those was a big flaw in the original Sony Reader, that was, however, fixed in the newer version this year). Once you put the Kindle into its book cover, it has the right touch and feel of a book, and is very comfortable in the hand.

The first time starting it up took a little while, but after it had booted I was very pleasantly surprised to find the following on the home page (after going through a few basic introductory help-file pages of how the device works): (a) a letter from Jeff Bezos that started with "Dear Alexander"; (b) all the books and magazines that I had purchased online the previous day; (c) all the blogs that I had previously subscribed to via the Amazon.com Kindle Store. Furthermore the device was pre-configured to be linked to my Amazon.com account so that all shopping from the device was linked to my account and credit card right away without any setup. The promise that is works right out of the box without any kind of setup is actually quite true.

I then proceeded to read a few articles in the Wall Street Journal and it was nice to see that the scroll wheel and cursor sidebar actually worked quite well. I was able to follow links to web pages (courtesy of the built-in web browser). Navigating was very easy with the page-turn buttons in combination with that scroll wheel.

But I couldn't really play nearly enough, since I had a hair dresser appointment and so I took the Kindle with me. As I mentioned above, it was an immediate hit at the hair salon and I ended up purchasing a book wirelessly right there.

After returning home I continued to read a few blogs - including Robert Scoble's review of the Kindle - and then proceeded to test some more functions that the Sony Reader is lacking:

  • I have always been a fan of search (since I can never remember where I've read about stuff before), and so I searched for the most elusive stuff out there - "dark matter" - and promptly found 7 references in the Amber Spyglass (part of Pullman's His Dark Materials series), one entry in the built-in Dictionary, a link to look up "dark matter" on the Wikipedia, and a link to search for it via Google.
  • Where the Sony Reader can only bookmark pages with a very simple bookmark function, the Kindle shines with its ability to either highlight certain paragraphs in a book (by placing a rectangle around the paragraph), to add annotations at any place (via the keyboard), or to store parts of a page or a whole page as a clipping in a separate clipping file that you can access later.
  • The built-in dictionary lookup lets you position the cursor on any line of text and look up all the words on that line simultaneously in the dictionary.
  • I wanted to continue reviewing a recent trade show report that I had received, so I forwarded an e-mail with a Word attachment to the private e-mail address of my Kindle, and was able to read that document in the comfort of my living room without having to balance my laptop on my knees.

All of these features - combined with the ability to go online and buy new eBooks wirelessly from anywhere - easily is worth the $100 extra that the Kindle costs more than the Sony Reader.

And both devices use the same screen technology from eInk, so they both have excellent daylight readability as well as working in dim lighting conditions. Btw, if you have never seen this kind of screen, be ready to be wowed: the text is crystal clear and the resolution is so fine that you can hardly make out the edges of the pixels that are used to render the text. Since it is a grayscale device, it will also render pictures reasonably well (in black&white). However, one thing that requires some getting used to is that the page blinks briefly when you turn it - this is inherent to the screen technology and not a flaw in either device.

There has been much talk about whether the iPhone isn't a better eBook reader than the Kindle. Trust me, it is not. I love my iPhone and carry it with me all the time, and it is great for reading a few web pages here and there and maybe some blogs on Google Reader. But the screen doesn't even come close to having sufficiently high resolution that you would ever want to read an entire book on it, nor is it big enough - you'd go crazy flipping pages every 2.5 seconds. The iPhone is fantastic for what it was designed to do, but reading books isn't part of that scope.

One thing that is presently being criticized by many is that Amazon actually charges for blog subscriptions - what these people don't realize is that the wireless service that is offered with the Kindle is free. There are no monthly fees, no yearly contract, no hassle. However, if you want content delivered over the wireless network, Amazon charges a small fee for the use of the wireless network, and actually splits the revenues with those bloggers - that's only fair.

In addition to all the official features, the Kindle also has a section of functions that are termed "Experimental", which include a Web Browser. So you can easily venture beyond the blogs that are presently offered through the Kindle shop and access any web content out there. However, reading the fine print in the terms & conditions reveals that Amazon reserves the right to charge for such web usage, since you are, of course, using the wireless network for that purpose.

Another fact that might be of interest to international travelers: currently the Kindle doesn't offer roaming outside of the US. You can, however, still get new content onto your Kindle if you are abroad: all you need to do is connect the Kindle to your laptop via USB, download the files from Amazon.com manually and place them on the Kindle via the USB interface (the Kindle appears as a storage medium to the laptop, like a USB stick or iPod). I might be testing this, when we go skiing in Austria this winter...

Overall, I am definitely rather impressed with this device from Amazon and look forward to reading a few books on it on my upcoming travels. There is, of course, plenty of room for feature enhancements and improvements, but it is a great first version and definitely beats the Sony Reader in just about every aspect, so it will be in my briefcase on all future trips.


UPDATE December 5, 2007: I've now owned the Kindle for two weeks and I continue to be impressed by it. So far I've added about 12 more books to my library already, and after "borrowing" my Kindle a few times, my lovely wife has also bought one and we are both looking forward to reading a lot during our upcoming skiing vacation in Austria.

I've also found a few more things over the past two weeks that I wish Amazon had done differenly or simply a few additional feature requests for the next version, and I provided the following feedback to Amazon already via e-mail - repeated here for your enjoyment:


  • The search function doesn’t seem to index all books on my Kindle. I bought the CIA World Factbook 2007 and it is not getting indexed. Unfortunately this totally defeats the purpose of me buying the book. For example, searching for “Linz” does not find the entry for Austria in the CIA World Factbook.

  • I’ve bought plenty of books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers (and I’m using an SD card) and the home-page on the device is getting a bit unwieldy (4 pages already). It would be nice, if I could create folders/directories on the home page to group my books into categories. And it would be necessary to be able to sort different folders by different criteria. For example, I would like to be able to group them into:

    • Periodicals/Subscriptions (blogs, newspapers, magazines) – the content of this folder I would want to sort by Most Recent First

    • Technical Books (sorted by title)

    • Reference Books (dictionaries, CIA factbook, etc)

    • Economcis Books (sorted by title)

    • SciFi Books (sorted by author)

    • Others


  • It is great that I can send PDF and Word docs to my Kindle via my personalized kindle.com e-mail address. But that is not enough. When I place annotations, notes, and highlights in such documents on my Kindle, I now want to be able to e-mail them back to my office e-mail address and I want to see those comments, annotations, notes, and highlights back in the Word or PDF doc so that I can send it to others in the company. This would allow me to use the Kindle for actually reviewing business documents – it would be fantastic!!!

  • How can I get additional blogs on the Kindle? I am happy to pay extra, but I want to be able to enter any RSS feeder URL into my Amazon account and create a Kindle blog feed for it.

  • It would be nice, if Amazon could integrate some Social Networking aspects into the Kindle. How many of my friends are reading books on it? What are they reading? How can I post comments about a book to my blog? How can I tell my friends about comments I have on a book?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazon Kindle - the eBook gets connected

A very interesting new gadget is being announced by Amazon today: the "Kindle" is an eBook reader that is always connected to the Internet. Unlike the Sony Reader, which I currently own and have used with great delight on several recent business trips, the Kindle does not require a connection to a PC in order to buy/download new eBooks. The two devices share the same eInk screen technology, which provides for a very crisp display with excellent readability both in bright (i.e. sunlight on the beach) conditions as well as in low-light environments (e.g. airplane during trans-Atlantic flight).

amazonkindle

Looking at the first leaked photos, the Kindle does certainly not look pretty at all (unless you are into 70s retro design). This is in stark contrast with the Sony Reader, which is extremely elegant and regularly gets people excited like the iPod and iPhone when they first see it. However, the Sony Reader has certainly not been met with any business success so far - which is largely due to the fact that the Sony Connect application, which you have to use to buy your eBooks, outright sucks. Therefore, the Kindle has a fair chance to become a success-story, especially due to its always-on connection to the Internet and the ability to buy eBooks directly on the device as well as read blogs or do other connected things. Together these things could more than make up for the design deficiency - it's definitely worth giving it a try, and I plan to purchase mine tomorrow.

Newsweek has a 7 page article about the Kindle based on an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon. There is also plenty of buzz in the blogosphere already: TechCrunch, TechMeme, Gizmondo, Scobleizer (the latter one pointing out a fantastic similarity with an April Fool's joke posting that is worth reading), ...

UPDATE: I just placed my order on Amazon.com with overnight shipping (courtesy of Amazon Prime) and will blog more once I have received the device tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Best Practices for XML Internationalization

The W3C has released an updated working draft of "Best Practices for XML Internationalization", which has been authored by the Internationalization Tag Set (ITS) Working Group.

This document is a complement to the W3C Recommendation Internationalization Tag Set (ITS). However, not all internationalization-related issues can be resolved by the special markup described in ITS. The best practices in the new working draft document, therefore, go beyond application of ITS markup to address a number of problems that can be avoided by correctly designing XML schemas, and by applying a few additional guidelines when writing XML content in an XML editor.

See also this announcement on the W3C Internationalization (I18n) Blog.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

MLT's Wizard of Oz dazzles audience


Marblehead Little Theatre's Wizard of Oz production opened this weekend and the performance was enchanting. The story, special effects, and first class acting bewitched children and adults alike.





Starring Ron Amon as the Lion, Lianne Gennaco as Dorothy, Ted Merritt as the Tin Man, and Erik Rodenhiser as the Scarecrow, the "Fab Four" set out on their quest to find the Wizard and follow the Yellow Brick Road all the way to the Emerald City.





Janet Sheehan is spectacular as the Wicked Witch of the West, as she tries to get Dorothy's slippers and attempts to block the way of the quartet every-witch way she can.





Likewise, Ursina Amsler attempts to help the four as Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and comes to the rescue when things get sticky.





The Munchkins are adorable and oh so thankful to Dorothy when she drops her house on the Wicked Witch of the East.



DSC02865



Karin Anderson, Nora Falk, and Barbara Lasovick are the Apple Trees who don't like to be picked, and are defending their reputation by throwing apples after the Scarecrow and Dorothy.





The best thing about the show, however, are the dance scenes - both in Oz and in the Enchanted Forest, where the Jitterbug captures the travelers. This elaborate choreography is a clear departure from the old ways for MLT and adds greatly to the overall professionalism of the performance.



For more photos, please see this gallery, where you can also buy prints. However, I should add that I wasn't able to attend the dress rehearsal this year, so these photos were taken during an actual performance, without flash, and only with the small 7 Mpixel camera, so they are not as perfect as in previous years.



Last, but not least, if you want to see the show, you can buy tickets online on the MLT web site. The show runs the weekends of Nov 10, 11 and Nov 17, 18 with Saturday performances at 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM and Sunday performances at 1:00 PM.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Google's Open Social API - is this the end of Facebook?

Google is holding a press conference right now, and it appears that they have everybody's support for the new Open Social API in an attempt to stem the popularity of Facebook among 3rd party Web 2.0 application developers. Supporting sites include MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Friendster, etc.

UPDATE: Full text of press release here.

TechCrunch has reported on this topic before and has some details on what the APIs contain.

Marc Andreessen also writes about the API and concludes that the Open Social API is "the next big leap forward". He cites two big differences compared to the Facebook APIs: (a) with Open Social API there can me more than one container, whereas with the Facebook API there is always only one container (i.e. Facebook); (b) the Facebook API requires the use of FBML and FQL, whereas with the Open Social API developers can use any standard HTML and JavaScript.

I haven't seen the actual Open Social API documentation yet, but I bet it'll be using XML all over the place. Good news for the XML Aficionado... ☺

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox are World Series Champions 2007

The Sox have done it again - and no 86-year wait this time. With a 4-3 victory in game 4 of the World Series, the Sox complete their 4-game sweep of the Rockies to become MLB champions for the second time in 4 seasons!




Time to celebrate and buy some stuff...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Where in the world...

... was the XML Aficionado, when he took this photo today:

Where in the world?

It is indeed a grim place, and it is no secret that this is somewhere in Vienna, Austria (since that is quite obviously where I've spent this week - as can be seen in recent blog postings). But the question is: where in Vienna, and what place is this? I'll provide just one hint: DiffDog would have loved that place.

Be the first one to comment on this XML Aficionado blog with the correct answer, and you'll win one single-user license of Altova DiffDog 2008, the essential differencing and merging utility for developers.

Disclaimer: all blog comments subject to review; prize cannot be exchanged for cash; void where prohibited; winner responsible for all taxes and dues; employees of Altova GmbH and Altova Inc as well as Falk family members are eligible to participate, since the location of the above photo is only known to me personally and I was alone when taking that photo; batteries not included; no animal was harmed in the taking of the above photo; if you are reading this, then you (a) are probably a lawyer and/or (b) don't need any glasses...

Friday, October 26, 2007

PopChar - a delightful character map replacement utility

There are many reasons why one would need to use the Windows CharMap utility from time to time - be it to insert special mathematical characters, Greek letters, to properly write Daisuke Matsuzaka-san's name in Kanji (松坂 大輔), or enter any other Unicode characters into your XML documents - but one use was mostly on my mind this week in Austria: the need to write German Umlaut characters (ä, ö, ü) and the German sharp-s character (ß) when you want to write proper German text. This is, of course, next to impossible when you have non-German keyboard, because none of these characters are available on the standard US keyboard layout.

Unfortunately the Windows CharMap utility isn't really that helpful at all when you want to type those characters, because you have to find it (typically it's hidden away under Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools) and then you have to copy/paste every character into your word processor or e-mail program one at a time.

PopChar1 I was, therefore, very happy to rediscover an old "friend" this week: PopChar is a character map replacement utility and much more. I say rediscover, because I used to use PopChar all the time some 15+ years ago on the Mac, but they now have a Windows version 3.2 as well, and it is just so much more powerful and useful than CharMap.

After installing PopChar for the first time, you get to adjust some preferences, such as whether you want PopChar to auto-start every time you login, or what hot-key you want to associate with PopChar (I use Ctrl-~ on my laptop). From then on PopChar lives happily among the task bar icons in the lower right corner of your screen. Then, when you want to insert a special character into your word processing document, e-mail, or XML document in your favorite XML editor, all you have to do is hit the hot-key and PopChar pops up with a list of characters that you can insert. Click on the character you want, and PopChar inserts it at you current cursor position in whatever document you've been working on, and disappears again. Fast, convenient, and unobtrusive.

The PopChar display is highly customizable, too, and you can pick either ASCII mode or Unicode depending on what characters you need to work with. The font size of the characters can be adjusted as well as the width and height of the window. You can select what font you want to use, and PopChar can optionally also style those characters in the selected font when you insert them into your document, which is highly useful if you pick some special symbols from a Dingbats or similar font.

PopChar2

But working with Unicode characters in XML documents is where PopChar truly shines, which is why I am writing about this gem of a utility on XML Aficionado. In this screen shot I have entered "ka" as a search term and PopChar immediately displays only those characters that contain "ka" in either the character name or the Unicode Block name. In my example, I was searching for the Devanagari letter ka (क), and PopChar found it quite easily, and also showed me Arabic letter kaf (ك), as well as the Cyrillic letter ka (к). In addition to the search function, you can choose to display all characters grouped by Unicode block, you can immediately jump to a particular block by picking it from a drop-down menu. The available characters in the display do, of course, depend on the kind of font you have selected, and the number of glyphs present in that font, so for intensive Unicode work in various exotic scripts a font such as Arial Unicode MS is highly recommended.

PopChar3 Equally useful is the ability to choose between 3 different insertion modes: regular character, styled character (i.e. including font information), and HTML code. The latter one is really crucial for HTML and XML work, because PopChar can automatically insert the proper character entity, such as € for the Euro currency symbol (€), or the numeric character entity, such as ∯ for the surface integral (∯).

In this screen shot I have selected HTML insertion mode, and you can immediately see the HTML code for any character as I hover over them with the mouse - very useful! I have added some red ovals to indicate where the HTML code is displayed. This insertion mode is actually what I used to write this blog entry and insert the special characters in the preceding paragraph.

Bottom line is: if you need to type special characters frequently, if you work a lot with Unicode, or if you need character entities in HTML and XML, then you should definitely give PopChar a try.

PopChar is available to download as a trial version (with only a subset of all characters available for insertion) and a license key is quite affordable at € 29.99 per user (with multi-user discounts available).

Oh, and for you Mac users out there, they also have a Mac version.

P.S. If your browser or feed reader doesn't display some or all of the above Unicode characters, that simply means that you don't have a font installed on your computer that contains the corresponding glyphs for some of the more exotic scripts.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

TV in Europe vs. the US - amazing culture/technology shock

In addition to a visit to the European headquarters of Altova GmbH in Vienna earlier this week, I'm also spending 2 days with my folks in Linz, Austria. Its good to be back home for a bit and we are having a great time here - despite the nasty cold that I caught earlier in the week.

But when we watched a bit of TV after dinner, the huge cultural and technology differences between TV in Europe (in particular in Austria) vs. TV in the US became quite apparent...

Positive things first: we watched a German movie adaption of a Donna Leon novel about Commissario Brunetti, and it was done quite nicely. I was especially delighted to watch 2h of movie on a regular TV station with no commercial breaks whatsoever. It's much harder to do e-mail or Twitter on your iPhone while watching TV if you have to pay attention all the time due to a lack of commercial breaks. :)

Issue #1: there is still no HDTV programming. Yes, there maye be one or two satellite providers who provide HDTV over a dish, but the normal cable TV that is in 90% of households does not include a single HDTV channel. Compare that to a minimum of at least 10-15 high-def channels in the US by now.

Issue #2: when I looked at the TV guide and also did a bit of channel-surfing, I was astounded that I was (a) unable to find a single channel that would broadcast the World Series game tonight (but I could watch soccer on 5 channels - thanks, but not thanks!); and (b) the total number of channels was 34. No, I'm not saying that my folks only paid for the 34 standard cable channels at the lowest price - the brutal reality is that there is only a maximum of 34 channels total. That's it.

I would have thought that over the past 6-7 years Europe would have caught up wih the US a bit with respect to TV technology and avalable selections, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Google switches to its own translation system - machine translation still questionable

I've been closely following the various attempts at getting automated machine translation to work for the past 10-15 years, and often found the outputs from those systems laughable at best. Be it BabelFish, or the various commercial systems, the bottom-line is always the same: automated systems cannot do even a half-decent job at translation, because they lack human comprehension - and we are still 20+ years away from any AI...

So I was very intrigued today to learn that Google has switched from Systran to its own translation engine.

As a simple test-case, I asked Google Translate to translate this XML Aficionado blog from English to German, and this is the live result: XML Aficionado in German. For those of you who understand German, this will be a delightful joke!

Bottom-line: machine translation still sucks...

Monday, October 22, 2007

German language legalism on railroad ticket

While being in Austria, I am planning to visit my parents in Linz on Thursday this week, and since the weather forecast calls for rain for the rest of the week, I decided to take the train instead of renting a car. So I went online to purchase a ticket from the Austrian Railroad company. The online ordering process was a bit cumbersome (after first selecting which train I wanted to take I had to then again select which train I wanted to take in order to actually reserve a seat on said train), but finally resulted in a printable ticket (with barcode and all).

However, I was quite bewilderd to find the following "important notice" on the ticket:

Wichtiger Hinweis:
Die Inanspruchnahme des Online-Standardtickets abweichend vom verkehrsüblichen Weg zur schnelleren Erreichung des Bestimmungsortes und in vorwärtsstrebender Richtung gilt dabei nicht als aufzahlungspflichtige Umwegfahrt.

This notice was quite puzzling to me, because I could not undestand the meaning of the entire sentence - despite the fact that German is (or should I say: was) my first language.

For those of you who don't speak any German, let me attempt a literal translation to show you why this is so strange (but it almost does make sense once you see the English translation):
Important Notice:
The utilization of the online standard ticket deviating from the usual
traffic path for the faster arrival at the destination city and in a
forward-going direction does not constitute a detour that would require extra
payment.

And I always thought that legalisms in English were bad enough...

Sox win ALCS, go to World Series 2007

After being down 1-3 against the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox did the impossible (again!) and just won game 7 of the ALCS defeating Cleveland 11:2 to go to the World Series 2007. Similar to the great come-back of 2004 (they were down 0-3 against the Yankees then), they just focused on one game after the other to take back the series.

So how do I know about this, despite being in Europe on a business trip this week. Well, this is another fun story all by itself: I woke up at 5:18 am this morning (due to a bit of Jet Lag coming in from Las Vegas yesterday). Since I couldn't fall asleep anymore, I turned on the TV to see if they would have any channel broadcasting the game - but alas, there was none. However, I did find a channel broadcasting a time-delayed version of the Patriots game against the Miami Dolphins, and so I am watching that right now, and that is great fun to see, too. Amazing work by Tom Brady and gang.

Anyway - back to the baseball story: so I ended up using my iPhone to watch the pitch-by-pitch reporting of the game on wap.mlb.com from the top of the 8th inning on. It took me only a little while to realize that it was still before midnight in the US, so after reading about the fantastic double by Pedroia with all the bases loaded, I called up my lovely wife and we "watched" the rest of the game together with her reporting to me on the phone pitch-by-pitch and we cheered for every single out counting them down during the top of the 9th. It was great fun, and we had to laugh so hard, because it reminded us very much of Kishon's classic phrase "Die beste Ehefrau von allen...".

So there you have it: I'm sitting in a hotel room in Vienna, watching the Pats on TV, cheering for the Red Sox and talking baseball with my wife, and blogging about it at the same time - all before even remotely considering the idea of breakfast. Can we get any more "americanized"... :)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes...

You know, it's really strange: it has only been a little over 6 years since we relocated from Europe to the US, and yet certain customs over here are by now totally alien to me. For example, take smoking: I cannot remember the last time that I was bothered by smoking in the US (not even in Las Vegas last week). Today I met with Alexander Schaelss, an old friend of mine, at a Kaffeehaus (i.e. cafe) and we later went to have dinner at a Beisl (i.e. local restaurant) in the first district. The amazing thing was that both in the cafe and at the restaurant people at the next table were smoking numerous cigarettes and it was totally acceptable to everybody. Never mind that I found it offensive and it impacted my enjoyment of the Einspaenner (i.e. a strong black coffee with whipped cream on top) or the Schweinsbraten (i.e. pork roast)...
I hear that in Italy that have already passed a law (similar to the US) banning smoking in public places, offices, and restaurants. I can't wait for that to happen in Austria, too!

Update: it appears that our discussion yesterday has inspired my dear friend - Alexander Schaelss is now on Twitter, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

IBM Information-On-Demand XML Highlights

I am writing this quick report from the airport lounge in San Francisco, as I am waiting for my flight to Frankfurt and onward to Vienna for a week of meetings at Altova GmbH's headquarters in Austria. You just have to love Wi-Fi access - how did we ever get anything done before the Internet, laptops, Wi-Fi networks, and blogs?

With a week of conference sessions and trade show work in Las Vegas behind me, here is a quick summary of what I perceived to be some of the highlights of IBM's Information-On-Demand show from an XML Aficionado's perspective:

IBM announced DB2 version 9.5 (scheduled to ship October 31st), which contains several feature enhancements to the pureXML functionality, including inlining of XML, compression, several performance improvements for transactional XML, and the first implementation of XQuery Update in a major database. The last bit is probably the most interesting, because of the lack of updating capabilities in the original XQuery specs, which was exclusively focused on queries (analog to the SELECT statement in SQL). XQuery Update provides the ability to insert, delete, or update any node, i.e. potentially just one single element or attribute in the database, which should provide a huge difference to current implementation, where the entire XML document typically needs to be written back to a column in the database.

Altova's Nick Nagel, spoke on XML-Driven Data Management in a Developer Den session on Wednesday, which was well-attended. Nick's presentation addressed a "top-down" approach to data modeling using XSD (XML Schema Definition language) as a data modeling language with implications for data storage and retrieval as pureXML in DB2. Nick spoke on how XSD in turn can drive process implementation serving as formal design document, and how XML facilitates process development by enabling automated data binding, data mapping, as well as storage and retrieval with XPath 2.0 and XQuery. He also showed several screenshots on how Altova's tools can make working with XML in DB2 easier for developers.

IBM's Berni Schiefer conducted a Birds of a Feather session on Performance Tips, Conundrums and Experiences with DB2, where he answered customer questions and spoke in-depth about performance tuning of DB2, including tuning for pureXML. He also gave a few other interesting talks, but I did unfortunately not have time to attend those.

There were also plenty of interesting customer talks about how they are using XML, as well as more in-depth sessions on various aspects of pureXML in DB2, but my flight is boarding in a few minutes, so I don't have enough time to report on those anymore.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Restaurant Review: Shibuya at the MGM Grand

I had the pleasure of having dinner at Shibuya twice this week: on Tuesday I invited our trade show booth team to celebrate a successful presence at the IBM Information-On-Demand conference and trade show in Las Vegas, and on Thursday I ate a quick bite at the Sushi bar before seeing KA by Cirque du Soleil.

Sushi Bar @ ShibuyaShibuya is located in the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas and features regular restaurant tables, teppan-yaki style tables, where the chef grills at the table, and a fantastic Sushi bar right below a gigantic virtual aquarium.

For our trade show team dinner we set at a regular table and were served by a very competent, friendly, and knowledgeable waiter.

To start the evening off we had cocktails, and I can only highly recommend the Shibuya Cocktail: it is a delightful Vodka- and Sake-based drink with crushed sake-flavored ice, that give it a unique texture and taste. Not too sweet, but also not too dry. If you like Cosmopolitans, you will definitely enjoy the Shibuya Cocktail, although it is not nearly as sour as a Cosmo.

Sake Business Cards The Sake menu at Shibuya is simply impressive. They boast the largest selection of Sakes in the country, and while I cannot verify that claim, it certainly sounds plausible, given that their menu is practically a book. The sakes are nicely organized in separate groups between the honjōzō-shu, ginjō-shu, and daiginjō-shu. When you order a bottle, the waiter brings a little "business card" for each guest that describes the Sake that is being served. We had two junmai-daiginjōs and they were equally exquisite. My favorite was the Wataribune from Ibaraki Prefecture: light and pure, with subtle hints of pineapple and peaches.

The appetizers are inspired and range from Kobe-Beef-Tataki to Toro-Tartar. They are all wonderfully presented and simply delicious. Make sure to order some Edamame and a seaweed salad to share for the table, and don't skip the Miso soup. It is also a good idea to order a few appetizers and share with friends to take in all the different tastes.

Yellow Tail Jalapeño + Toro Scallion (Negi Toro) While the menu certainly has a wonderful variety of warm dishes that are probably excellent, we didn't try any of them. I simply cannot help it: when I'm faced with a spectacular Sushi bar, that's what I'll have. The Sushi menu has a broad selection of Nigiri, Nori-maki, and Temaki, and all the fish is freshly flown into Las Vegas for them. The O-Toro that I had melted like butter and was just wonderful. There is a Spider-Roll (soft-shell crab) on the speciality side that is to die for. And I can also highly recommend the Negi-Toro (or Toro Scallion) maki. An inspired combination is the Yellow Tail and Jalapeño maki - the spiciness of the Jalapeño very nicely compliments the Yellow Tail and is slightly subdued by the Sushi rice, so as to not be totally "in your face".

Sushi chefs at work The only thing on the menu that I disagree with, is the Hinomaru roll - Buffalo Mozzarella and basil in a Sushi Roll? Who's ever heard of that combination? However, John Judy actually tried the dish and insisted that it was not only delicious, but also argued that it is permissible to try such new cuisine cross-over variations. I don't know about that - when it comes to Sushi I'm a bit of a traditionalist....

But during my second visit I saw many other people order the dish, so I guess it must be pretty good - maybe I'll try it some day, during a future visit to Las Vegas.

Master Sushi Chef Yoshinori Nakazawa On my second visit I also had the honor of sitting right at the Sushi bar in front of Master Sushi Chef Yoshinori Nakazawa, who directs a team of 5 sushi chefs and they are truly experts at the art of creating Sushi.

Watching Nakazawa-san work his magic up-close was inspiring and made the visit to Shibuya a mesmerizing experience. And the Sushi tastes even better when you sit right at the bar and it appears in front of you the very second that the chef has finished his creation - and a true creation it is, with all the detail that goes into making each piece.

If you are brave enough to leave some room for dessert, you will be aptly rewarded. My favorite is definitely the Mochi ice-cream, which comes in 3 flavors and is just spectacular. A thin layer of Mochi wrapped around fruit and green-tea flavored ice - heavenly!

To end the evening, I recommend a cup of hot Genmaicha to round things off.

In my opinion, the Sushi at Shibuya is at the pinnacle of Sushi restaurants in America, and puts Shibuya on par - if not even above - my favorite Sushi places in San Francisco. More on those in a future review here on the XML Aficionado blog.

My rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ (5 out of a possible 5 diamonds).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

iPhone SDK - Apple (finally!) listening to user demands for 3rd party apps

Apple Computer's Steve Jobs just announced that Apple would (finally!) provide an iPhone SDK to 3rd party developers in order to enable them to create native applications for the iPhone (and, incidentally, also for the iPod touch). While the actual SDK won't ship until February 2008, this announcement is a monumetal shift in strategy for Apple, who has thus far tried to control the applications available for the iPhone and limit 3rd party developers to Web 2.0 apps running in the Safari browser.

The story leading to this announcement is also a great example of how public opinion of a product can quickly swing the opposite way, when a company attempts to not only create a closed system, but then also tries to punish customers, who used 3rd party applications, by turning their expensive phones into "bricks" (which is what happened during the recent 1.1.1 software update).

Pressure on Apple from customers and bloggers alike very quickly led to this turn-around in strategy - and this can only be a good thing or both Apple and its iPhone customers. Having the iPhone be a true mobile platform - similar to Palm, Nokia, and Windows Smartphones - is key to any long-term success of the iPhone product line.

While I haven't personally installed any 3rd party apps on my own iPhone in the past, there are certainly several that I am missing since I switched from a Windows Smartphone to the iPhone this summer - and I am looking forward to the ability to get this extra functionality back next spring!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

XMLSpy awarded Certificate of Excellence for IBM CTO Innovation award

XMLSpy 2008 was selected today as one of only three finalists for the IBM Information-On-Demand CTO Innovation award.

It was a very diverse list of nominations for the CTO Innovation award and a very competitive judging process - with Altova being the only company in the XML and developer tools space among the semi-finalists and finalists.

At the award breakfast today the actual "winner" didn't even show up, but we received the above Certificate of Excellence. The judging was done by a panel of CTOs, experts, and IBM executives, and they were positively impressed by the new DB2-specific functionality of our XML editor.

XML Aficionado in the News

Two articles hit the news today that are based in part on interviews with the XML Aficionado:

The former is a detailed analysis of the OOXML vs. ODF controversy from a developer's perspective, including interviews with Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly, Microsoft's Brian Jones, and me.

The latter is a review of the new Altov XMLSpy 2008 release (in German).

Monday, October 15, 2007

What are you doing with XML?

We are exhibiting at the IBM Information-On-Demand conference and trade show in Las Vegas this week, where we are demoing Altova’s deep integration with IBM DB2 pureXML, and I just noticed a profound change in the answers I get to my standard question that I’ve asked every booth visitor for the last 6-7 years.


For the past several years, when I ask my standard “So, what are you doing with XML?” question, I’ve always received very diverse answers ranging from the “Oh, I’m just getting started” to the more elaborate descriptions of what key-role XML plays as a part of an entire information management infrastructure. And – depending on how general the show audience is (i.e. if this is a pure XML-specific event or rather a more general developer conference or industry event) – there was always a fair share of “XML? What is that?” responses.

What struck me only today – at the end of the second day of this show – is that I haven’t gotten a single “What is XML?” answer. Every single person I’ve talked with is using XML for something! And this is not an XML-specific event, but rather a very broad audience that goes way beyond just developers. I think that is a significant change – and a very positive one.

So let me use this observation as grounds to proclaim what I’ve predicted all along: XML is now ubiquitous. It is all-pervasive, all-encompassing. It is the lingua franca of how systems talk to one another, how data is transported, how content is stored, reused, and manipulated. And it only took a little over 8 years for XML to conquer the world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jaiku has been bought by Google

Very interesting! Google apparently moved into the micro-blogging or "lifestreaming" space today by acquiring Jaiku. That they acquired Jaiku instead of Twitter came as a surprise to some.

Maybe it's time for me to switch from Twitter to Jaiku...?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

The Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II has been my favorite camera for the past 2 years. Several of my best digital photos were taken with that camera, and I really love the versatility of the EOS series and all the lenses I can use with that body.
I was, therefore, very delighted when Canon recently announced the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III successor model that will ship in November this year:


The technical features are just amazing: a 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, dual Digic III image processors, 3.0 inch LCD monitor with live-view, 45-point AF, SDHC support, and tons more.

And the sample photos in this gallery are equally impressive (even though only four have been posted so far).

For more details see the whitepaper (PDF).

Sure, it's not a Hasselblad, but then I'm not really a good enough photographer to warrant that either.

So this Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III gets a clear Thumbs Up from me and is hereby officially added to my Christmas wish list....

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Josh Beckett shuts out Angels

Josh Beckett, in top form today, throws a complete game, shutting out the Angels in in the ALDS game 1 at Fenway Park tonight. Final Score Red Sox 4 - Angels 0.

Go Sox!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo - interesting synchronicity

I could not help, but notice an interesting synchronicity between the various announcements and news clips about these three firms in the last 2-3 weeks or so:


Sep 9, 2007Microsoft fails to win ISO approval for OOXML. A review of detailed country comments does, however, show that they are likely going to succeed in the next round in March 2008.
Sep 16, 2007Yahoo launches Mash - a new social networking site designed to compete with Facebook.
Sep 17, 2007Google adds slide-show/presentation application to Google Documents in an effort to increase competition with Microsoft Office.
Sep 24, 2007The The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is in talks with Facebook to acquire a 5% stake in the social networking site.
Sep 27, 2007Microsoft announced an updated Search capability in the Live Search engine. Incidentally it is also Google's 9th birthday.
Sep 30, 2007Microsoft unveils its answer to Google Docs called Office Live Workspaces.
Oct 1, 2007Yahoo announced a new Search Assist function to improve Yahoo Search.
Oct 2, 2007Steve Ballmer speaks in Europe and says that the craze for individual social networks such as Facebook risks being exposed as a "fad". UPDATE: Robert Scoble responds that Steve Ballmer doesn't "get" social networking.

Office, Social Networking, Search, Office, Social Networking, Search, ... — is it just me, or is there some kind of pattern here?

And it all seems to revolve around online advertising platforms. Hmmmm.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Yahoo launches Search Assist

Yahoo announced a new Search Assist function to improve Yahoo Search:


The Search Assist function brings suggestions for related concepts and point-and-click query refinement to the search box.

Looks pretty cool - and nice to see that the fourth suggestion when searching for "XML" is "XML Spy", Altova's XML Editor.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Red Sox win AL East Champion title

The Red Sox won their first American League East Champions title in 12 years tonight (the last one was 1995). After defeating the Twins 5-2 (thanks to Daisuke Matsuzaka), fans in Red Sox nation kept their eyes on the Orioles - Yankees game for another hour - until the Orioles defeated the Yankees in the 10th inning, thereby losing the pennant race.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Microsoft releases updated Live Search

Microsoft has announced today that the updated Live Search engine includes a 4 x increase in index size, significant enhancements in the core algorithms, increased focus on query refinement, and a new web data extraction model.

More details about these technical improvements are promised to appear in the LiveSearch Blog over the next couple of days.

I've tested the new Live Search today, and it indeed produces more accurate results than Google: e.g. searching for the term "XML Editor" on Google produces a whole bunch of irrelevant web pages and entries on the first page of the search results - including websites like Peter's XML Editor that aren't even supported/maintained anymore. Ironically, the #1 best-selling XML Editor and de-facto industry standard tool - Altova XMLSpy - is not even listed on that first page of results.

In contrast, the same search for the term "XML Editor" on Live Search will produce only highly relevant entries, including Altova XMLSpy as well as some competitors that are indeed maintaining their software and keeping it current.

It may have taken Microsoft a while to get Live Search right, but that's simply how they work:
  • The first version of Internet Explorer wasn't the killer, but subsequent versions kicked Netscape's butt.

  • The first version of Visual Studio wasn't damaging the Borland developer tools, but future releases forced them out of the market.

  • The first XBox wasn't hurting the PS2, but the XBox 360 is showing Sony who's boss, or rather who's Master Chief.

Extrapolate from those examples to the field of search, and I'd say now is a good time for Google to start to fear Microsoft...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Twitter search goes live

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, just announced that the real-time search function is now live on Twitter.

All you need to do is set up your phone or IM on Twitter, and then you can send a command like track NYC to automatically receive an update whenever anybody twitters about "NYC".

Very cool feature!

P.S. You can follow the XML Aficionado on Twitter, too...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

XMLSpy Tip: Using the XPath analyzer to quickly find information in files

One of my favorite features in the Altova XMLSpy XML Editor continues to be the XPath analyzer, which lets you quickly locate information in any XML file by typing an XPath 1.0 or 2.0 expression. Introduced first by Altova in 2001, the XPath analyzer gained XPath 2.0 awareness in version 2004 and was turned into a new dynamic window with multiple output tabs in version 2007.

The XPath analyzer is really convenient and easy to use. Located within the bottom information/output window, the XPath analyzer is found in a separate tab, right next to the Validaton results and the Find in Files function. You can configure it for XPath 1.0 or 2.0 with the click of a button, and can immediately see the result of any XPath expression, by typing it into the text input line - the XPath expression is evaluated immediately and the resulting nodeset is displayed in the output window:


In this example I have used the XPath expression //expense-item[@type="Lodging"] to locate all <expense-item> elements that have a type attribute with the value of "Lodging".

The resulting nodeset is evaluated dynamically as you type, so you can always see whether or not you have entered a correct XPath expression (in addition, the text entered turns red, if there is any error in the expression). You can quickly navigate to any of the found nodes by clicking on them, and the corresponding node in the document will be highlighted in the main editing window (irrespective of which view you are using).

One of the cool new features that was just added in the new XMLSpy 2008 version this month is the ability to also evaluate XPath expressions across multiple files. This is great if you are working on a larger project and need to quickly see where certain information is located. Sure, there is always Find in Files, which has powerful Regular Expressions, but a true XML Aficionado always prefers to use XPath :)


In this screenshot I was searching for all elements in any of my project files that have an xml:lang attribute - this can be expressed in XPath as //element()[@xml:lang] - and the resulting nodeset shows nodes found in several different files in my project. I can, of course, open any of these files and immediately view the found nodes just by clicking on them.

Here is another nifty trick: if you often work with larger files and want to persistently bookmark certain positions in those files, you can also use the XPath analyzer to quickly navigate to those locations. All you need to do is add comments to the XML file to mark those locations, e.g. <-- Bookmark #1 --> and then you can use the XPath expression //comment() to show all comment nodes in your file. Now you can click on each one and you will see them displayed in the editing view. You can even quickly reestablish bookmarks by clicking on each one and hitting Ctrl-F2 to set a new bookmark:


To see more useful information about the XPath analyzer, watch this cool flash video or read the XPath Evaluation chapter in the online manual.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Microsoft in talks to buy a stake in Facebook

The Wall Street Journal reported just now that Microsoft is in talks with Facebook to acquire a 5% stake in the company. The deal is said to result in a valuation for Facebook of $10 billion.

Both Google and Microsoft are said to have been in negotiations with Facebook at one time or the other, but Microsoft has an advantage at the moment, due to an exclusive agreement with Facebook to deliver ads to Facebook users that was signed last year and runs until 2011.

Question: why wouldn't either Google or Microsoft want to buy all of Facebook instead of just a 5% stake?

Answer (according to the Wall Street Journal):

"Microsoft has considered trying to buy the company outright, but people familiar with the matter said it's unlikely at this time. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has steadfastly kept his company independent with the goal of eventually taking the company public. In a round of negotiations last year, Mr. Zuckerberg rebuffed acquisition approaches from Microsoft, Yahoo and others."

See also my previous article "Facebook: it's not just for kids anymore..." on my XML Aficionado blog.

Also seen in Valleywag and TechCrunch today.

UPDATE: New posting in the WSJ Deal Blog has an interview with Bo Peabody, the 36-year-old founder of Tripod Inc. - one of the first social networks, all the way back in 1992.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Red Sox clinch post-season ticket

Last night the Red Sox became the first team in the MLB to clinch a playoff spot in 2007 thanks to a three-run ninth-inning rally: Jason Varitek tied things up with a solo homer, and then Julio Lugo launched a two-run tater to cap the comeback.

The game didn't go too well for the Sox earlier, but the 9th inning turned it into a 8-6 victory over the Rays.

This makes Terry Francona the first manager in Red Sox history to reach the postseason on three different occasions...

More info on redsox.com...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Restaurant Review: Atomic Cafe

What a great last day of summer in New England. Fall starts tomorrow, but today's temperatures are in the high 70s and it's just beautiful out there.

Talking of which, I just got home from lunch at the Atomic Cafe, and liked it so much that I thought I'd share a few thoughts and some photos (nothing high-res, just a few snapshots taken with my iPhone during lunch today).

Over the past few months Atomic Cafe has become a new staple in Marblehead due to it's central location, great food, and excellent coffee selection.

Located on School Street - right next to the Marblehead Little Theatre's newly renovated Firehouse - the Atomic Cafe sports 4-5 booths for seating 4, 3 tables for seating 2, a small bar overlooking school street, and a few comfy chairs. Their official address is 14 School Street, Marblehead, MA 01945.

In the summer you can also take your drink outside to the two benches in front of the cafe, or enjoy your beverages in the sun.

The Atomic Cafe offers WiFi interet access to patrons for free, and you can easily connect with your laptop (or iPhone) and utilize fast connectivity while enjoying your Frozen Cappuccino or other fine beverages.

Talking of coffees - I can't even begin to describe how good they are, as I wouldn't be doing them justice. Luckily, there is already another great blog post on barismo that goes into great detail about he espresso shots and doubles, so you should read that. Another great blog reaction is on (a)musings.

In addition to the usual selection of sandwiches, wraps, and panninis, the Atomic Cafe offers a few signature dishes that are both inspired and delicious.

This Grilled Pesto and Goat Cheese sandwich on the left is what I had for lunch today, and it is simply "to die for". As such it has quickly become one of my favoites. Equally impressive is the Caprese Twist or the Swanky Chicken. The selection of cakes and other sweet treasures easily out-performs Starbucks and their coffees creations, inspired teas, and smoothies are spectacular.

There is also a second sister location of the Atomic Cafe in Beverly, but I haven't tried that one yet. I will plan to do that in the upcoming weeks for some work lunch, since my office happen to be in Beverly, too. It will be interesting to see how the two locations compare, especially since the one in Beverly was already established in 1996, whereas the Marblehead location is fairly new.

My rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ◊ (4 out of a possible 5 diamonds).