Archive for the 'CMS' Category

Nov 16 2014

The Map Thief: in the stacks of Sterling

The time came in college where I had to foot the bill and as part of my tuition plan I needed to work a campus job. The usual scholarship gig was washing dishes in the dining hall — one of those hair-netted jobs that seemed embarrassing because you cleaned up after your friends, but when I went to the campus employment agency to fill out a form I happened to be there as a courtly looking professor kind of man was posting a job in the Sterling Memorial Library’s print shop for a printer’s devil.

I interrupted his conversation with the clerk and introduced myself. He was Professor Dale Roylance, the curator of the library’s typography collection and its Arts of the Book department, a room on the ground floor that displayed the art and science of typography from Gutenberg through the modern era. He questioned my qualifications, he was looking for an experienced printer’s devil with some time in one of the many letterpresses around the residential colleges; and realizing there was no bullshitting the man I was honest and admitted to having no experience or even interest in bibliography and letterpresses. I was a writer and wanted to experience the mechanics of book making first hand and appreciated the craft from having run my high school newspaper and the agony of producing that every week. He was skeptical, but agreed to give me a chance. He warned me the work was tedious and messy — largely consisting of cleaning up after him, wiping up ink, cleaning platens, and putting type back in its proper cases.  He’d teach me anything I wanted to learn, but only after I took care of the boxes of scrambled or “pi’d” type and various chores such as cutting mats for  exhibits, and being his errand boy around the other presses on campus.

Every afternoon from one to three, I’d walk to the library, step behind the main library call desk, walk down stairs to the vast basement and unlock the door to the Yale Bibliographic Press. On the main bench would be a list of things Professor Roylance wanted done.  Go crosstown to the plate maker and pick up some copper engravings. Un-ink and then unlock two chases — the iron rectangles where the type was set, spaced and locked down with quoins — and return the type to the right job box. Set and print six copies of the new library hours and mount in the wrought iron frames at the entrances. Run over to the Beinecke Rare Book Library and get a few rare botanical woodcuts for some forthcoming exhibit. Pop up to the fifth floor map collection and ask the curator for a list of maps for a forthcoming exhibition on Colonial cartography.

I’d turn on the campus FM radio station and play jazz in the subterranean  press room while I put on an apron, folded a sheet of the New Haven Register into a pressman’s cap, and pushed around a pushbroom for a while. The press had to be kept clean. Dust ruined print runs and Roylance was a little OCD — which I came to learn was a requisite character trait in a good printer. The worst part of the job was breaking down the chases he’d left behind — he was nearly never there when I was there, preferring long lunches at the Faculty Club to managing me — full pages of type for some special project he was working on. Type setting (and un-setting) is done using a wooden tray criss-crossed with dividers known as a California job box. This is like a QWERTY keyboard of sorts — every letter had its own special compartment, and each box comprised the totality of that type face in one specific point size. The Bibliographic had full sets of Times New Roman, Goudy, Baskerville and Garamond in every size from 6 to 96 point in bold as well as italic versions. There were other fonts as well, but just the main four typefaces occupied a huge storage space, each job box weighing over 25 pounds.

2_job_cases

The brilliance of the job box was the size of each letter’s compartment was proportional to the frequency of each letter’s use in the English language. Hence “E” had the biggest compartment and “Q” one of the smallest. One learns to “touch-type” and work a case without looking at it, and with practice the task of returning type to the box gets fairly automated. Setting type, the act of composing a line of text, was far more fun and challenging. A tool called a “composing stick” is used, set to the appropriate width of the text and held in one hand while the other hunts through the job box for the next letter or spacer.

Composing backwards and upside down takes some getting used to, and I was slow and sloppy with my leading, hyphenation and never had the patience to do justified margins.

There were three presses in the Bibliographic Press, but the prize was the 1830-era Albion drop press. I loved that press. It was one of the old Benjamin Franklin style presses, with a big lever one would grab with both hands and swing to drop the platen and make the impression. This is the Albion from the Bibliongraphic Press. It’s since been pulled out of the basement and put on display. I worshiped this thing.

albionpressWhile placards and exhibit note cards were the stuff I was mainly asked to print, occasionally Professor Roylance would pop in and teach me some new aspect of the craft. One month he taught me how to make marbled end papers, a cool process like a Grateful Dead light show at the Fillmore where a solution is prepared, inks are “floated” and swirled into amazing patterns, and a sheet of paper is pulled up  to lift the inks from the carrying solution. I remember the recipe called for carrageenan, a gelatin derived from a particular kind of Irish seaweed. Roylance also taught me binding, leather work, embossing, the fine points of spacing and of course the amazing glossary of specialized terms known to printers as part of the craft.

The library became a home – a monastery away from classes, my social life, my daily rowing practices. It was one of three jobs I held down. The first was delivering the New York Times every morning to 300 campus subscribers — a dark o’clock job that involved running up  lots of dorm stairs on the eastern side of the campus and which got me warmed up for the morning crew practice at the Payne-Whitney gymnasium where running a dozen flights of stairs a dozen times every day was the worst part of the off-season training regimen. In the evening, after the crew team returned from Derby and the Housatonic Rover, I’d put in two hours at the Chapel Street Wine Shop, delivering kegs of beer around campus in the store’s incredibly abused delivery van (more running of stairs, only this time with full kegs of Heineken or Michelob). But the library was the best.  It smelled … like a grandfather.  It was an amazing stack of precious knowledge made even more cool by the glowing alabaster walls of the Beinecke Rare Book library, a cube rumored to have a Halon fire extinguisher system that could suck all the oxygen out, kill the patrons and staff, but save the rarest books on the planet. Walking past a Gutenberg bible, getting to hold the original palimpsest of Lord Jim with Conrad’s corrections and notes, checking out Captain John Smith of Virginia’s map of the New England coast — the same map he gave to Prince Charles to do the honors of naming the places on it (hence the future King named the Charles River after himself). Beinecke was the library to end all libraries, but Sterling was my favorite.

The library was, for me, the best part of the last Indiana Jones movie. Sterling is the setting of the end of the motorcycle chase through the Yale campus at the 2:44 mark.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Cartography was, and still is, a happy thing for me, especially staring at antique nautical charts. One of the best classes I took in college was taught in the Sterling Memorial Library’s map collection by the map collection curator, Alexander Vietor. The only assignment I remember was to use the university’s computer lab to develop a computer generated map using quantitative inputs. The whole thing was done on punch cards which were submitted for a batch processing run and then output onto a big graphics plotter. I did a map of New England ports with each proportionally sized according to the numbers of barrels of whale oil landed in each in 1824. Between that class and my daily duties in the press, I got to handle some amazing maps, stuff that has come back to the public consciousness thanks to E. Forbes Smiley — the map thief chronicled in an excellent book published last spring by a Boston author, Michael Blanding: The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.

E. Forbes Smiley III was a well known dealer in rare maps who served a select set of private collectors (one of whom, Norman B. Leventhal, owns some homes here in Cotuit and donated his collection to the Boston Public Library). Smiley, an over-extended, suave self-taught expert in colonial American maps, resorted to theft from a half-dozen university libraries, stealing hundreds of one-of-a-kind maps over the years by simply ripping them out of atlases. His undoing was when he dropped an X-Acto knife on the rug at the Beinecke in 2004 and was arrested and investigated by the FBI. His impact on Yale, Harvard, the New York and Boston Public Libraries is incalculable. I read the book with keen interest, realizing I had personally handled some of the materials Smiley stole. There were a lot of scholars and collectors who passed through the Sterling and Beinecke stacks in the late 70s when I was a student at Yale and Smiley was still a student at Hampshire College. Some wealthy student bibliophiles were renowned for their dorm room collections.  One, the scion of a Manhattan real estate empire, was operating a thriving business on campus as an undergrad, and another went on to be Smiley’s more vocal critic, W. Graham Arader III, who was dealing rare maps from a Yale dorm room during my time in New Haven. The New York Times said of Arader at the time of Smiley’s arrest: “At Yale, he [Arader] said, he focused on “blondes and squash,” but became interested in maps after he met Alexander Orr Vietor, the curator of Yale’s map collection. Before long, Mr. Arader was selling maps from his dormitory room. “I love maps, and when you get hooked, you get hooked,” he said.

I was hooked but more on the book making side of things and less on collecting stuff. After all I was paying my through school and my earnings from the library went right to the bursar to off-set my tuition. My masterpiece was the printing of a full chapter of Moby Dick — Chapter 23, “The Lee Shore” — made famous in the great baseball novel, The Art of Fielding. After graduation, when I applied for a internship at the Boston publishing house of David Godine (publisher of Andre Dubus among others), Godine himself, a bit of a prickly man, was ready to blow me off as just another Yale grad dishwasher looking for a publishing job when I pulled my manuscript out and handed it over for his inspection. He pulled out a loupe and started examining my kerning and inking very carefully, criticizing the descenders on my “P’s” and generally ripping apart my work before looking up, smiling and saying, “I started out with a letterpress in my barn. It gets in your blood. The ink I mean. Doesn’t it?” I landed  the internship (unpaid of course) but the best memory of my eleemosonary employment at Godine was when he handed back the Melville manuscript and told me it was “nice work.”

It’s sad what Smiley did to some irreplaceable maps but he also changed the way libraries operate and from the book’s account, ruined forever a sense of trust they had in the scholars who depend on them.  Extensive security, new rules, and a general climate of mistrust has crept in behind the damage Smiley’s done. Whatever undergrad is lucky enough be the Sterling Memorial Library’s printer devil probably doesn’t get the keys to the kingdom like I felt I had.

I offer this because I started musing about my career in “content management” and my place as the last of the “typewriter generation” — those 50-somethings who didn’t have computers in college but did their work on Olivettis, Smith Coronas and IBM Selectrics. As I finished my first novel the final semester of my senior year (unpublished but proudly sitting on a shelf in the Scholar of the House collection inside the Sterling), the college’s Scholar of the House program arranged for me to hire a professional typist to produce the final manuscript. Due to the deadline I would drive to her home in Orange, Connecticut and spend hours transcribing onto her new Wang word processor, the first of it’s kind with big floppy discs the size of album covers. Those green letters on the black screen. The ability to move paragraphs, to cut and paste …. it marked the beginning of three decades working with words on computers. That summer, as a cub reporter at the Cape Cod Times, I worked on a typewriter, glued my pages together with a pot of rubber cement, and moved stuff around by cutting it out with scissors and pasting it back manually. By the end of the summer the Times was going computerized, and at my next newspaper job at the Lawrence Eagle Tribune I worked at a Hastech terminal, and was given a Tandy T100 with rubber suction cup modem for filing from the State House press room on Beacon Hill at 300bps. I haven’t seen a typewriter, let alone an Albion drop press and California job box since. Now I’m all about cloud-hosted Drupal and “content.” Somehow I don’t imagine anyone who has ever set a page of type by hand has ever called the result a piece of “content.”

 

 

4 responses so far

Jan 21 2009

Interwoven on WordPress

Published by under CMS

Disclosure: I am on Interwoven’s customer advisory board

I’ve known Tom Wentworth at Interwoven since 2005 when I was part of the team bringing Interwoven Teamsite (a very capable enterprise level content management system) into CXO Media at IDG.

I’ve posted in the past on the impact of WordPress — the leading open blogging environment — as a free CMS alternative. I was happy to see Tom tackle this topic in a Dec 30 post:

“As a blogging platform, it’s amazing.  Having been in the CMS space at Interwoven for roughly 8 years I really appreciate it any time I see innovation in or around the CMS market.  WordPress is one of the most innovative and impressive applications I’ve used in quite some time- WordPress changed the game for blogging.   I’ve spent a lot of time with WordPress and although I’m not an expert- I’ve spent enough time with it to get a good feel for what it can (and can’t) do.

 

So- is WordPress a CMS?  Well, no.  Although Matt Mullenweg might disagree, WordPress is not a CMS- at least not an enterprise CMS.   I won’t get into the limitations in this post but suffice it to say that WordPress isn’t ready to tackle the content challenges faced by Interwoven customers.  But as a blogging platform, WordPress does many things well.  Here are four things I think CMS vendors can learn from WordPress: …

Hat’s off to Tom for tackling the elephant in the room. I need to post in the future from the point of view of a global enterprise customer concerned with expense challenges and asked, on a regular basis, if there is an open (read “free”) alternative to things like metrics and analytics engines and content management systems. Right now, open isn’t ready for prime time, but for SMB and mid-market, the open allure is undeniable.

2 responses so far

Sep 14 2008

WordPress auto-update — first time results

Published by under CMS

I’ve been blogging on WordPress since 2004, when Om Malik suggested I get back into blogging after a brief, but discontinued foray on Blogger back in 2002. I have my own host — Churbuck.com — at Cape.com (now Meganet) and had been running a simple Frontpage-built set of static pages for a couple years, primarily tending to the domain so I could enable the churbuck.com email address.

I installed WordPress and after some serious stumbling and fumbling, figured out MySQL, Php, and the old days spent in front of IPswitch’s FTP client transferring files and building directory structures on my host.

I love WordPress — indeed I would go so far as to claim it is the most significant and beloved piece of software in my life over the past twenty years — and it just got better.

Much better.

While I was in my admin dashboard this morning I saw the suggestion that I “automatically” upgrade to the latest version. In the past, any time I attempted a maintenance upgrade of my blog I would usually kill it, requiring the intervention of more capable minds, such as Mark Cahill to get thing sorted out and running again. Mark told me when he last upgraded me in July that the auto-update would be coming, and well, yes it is.

About one minute, a simple, straightforward set of questions, and ta-da, I am up to date with the latest verison. Gratitude aside, this auto update is a big step towards making WordPress the defacto opensource content management system for the world, taking out the technical/sysadmin barrier to entry that makes self-hosting so challenging for people like myself, who don’t have the time or cause to get good at the essentials of open source LAMP based hosting.

I love WordPress.

2 responses so far

Jul 16 2008

WordPress 2.6

Published by under CMS

I’ve been a massive fan of the software that drives this blog — WordPress — since first installing it in the fall of 2004 at the recommendation of Om Malik. As I’ve blogged in the past, this open source tool has the potential to disrupt the content management system market, as I believe it is now capable for most any content publisher to use and adapt WordPress to provide CMS services at a level that would have easily cost $100,000 in site licenses a year ago.

Full disclosure, I am a major Interwoven Teamsite fan as well. I’ve advocated Teamsite into two big implementations and believe it, and other enterprise strength CMSs will always have a role in the large global enterprise. Put simply, the probability of a site as complex and critical as Lenovo.com converting to WordPress or Drupal is nil at this point in time.

But WordPress — the list of sites that have adopted the software as their primary CMS backs up my contention that the power of the “blog movement” is not the trackback/RSS/notification environment, nor the citizen journalist side, but that it opens the realm of dynamic and frictionless content management to the masses. Indeed, not only the countless numbers blogging for free on hosted servives like WordPress.com and Blogger, but serious sites such as AllThingsD (Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the WSJ), and CNN’s main politics blog (which doesn’t feel so much a blog as a really crisp site.)

Anyway, Mark Cahill upgraded me this morning to the latest and greatest version –2.6– and as he notes, the power of this version is not only it’s CMS capabilities (he formally annoints the version as a CMS and he should know coming out of Atex), but it’s auto-update capabilities for self-hosted morons like myself.

The single biggest feature though, is one that will come in handy for the lone gunman blogger: they will now be able to do an automatic (single click) update for WordPress when a new version comes out. That’s a huge feature, and will help the less technical stay up to date and secure

One response so far

Apr 27 2007

AllThingsD – WordPress as CMS

Published by under CMS,General

AllThingsD

Whoa. The new Wall Street Journal project by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg is pretty good, not for what the writers have to say (that’s okay) but for how the site is produced.

One word: WordPress.

I’ve been arguing for three years that blogs are, at their fundamental heart, open-source content management systems for everyman; easy ways for the you’s and me’s of the world to quickly publish, format, and monetize content. In a post I made earlier this year, recapping some advice made to a friend who had assumed the editor-in-chief position at a regional business magazine, I argued that an editorial enterprise that invested big money in an expensive content management system was investing in the wrong things. Publishers don’t need ornate Content Management structures, but should be investing in quality editorial material — writing, photography, video, audio — and putting their production infrastructure down on the strategic ladder with telephones and electricity.

Alas, my friend was outshouted by a moron who insisted the publication’s web presence wasn’t worth squat unless it was constructed on the back of a $500,000 commercial publishing system.

Well, along comes the Wall Street Journal, and its two best tech reporters, and what do they use?

WordPress. The same free CMS/blog software that runs Churbuck.com. The big difference? They designed and implemented an awesome template that supports advertising, looks like a “magazine” (whatever that means), yet which supports the essential functions generally associated with a “blog”, commenting, tagging, permalinking, etc.

Me, I’d say this is hands down the best implementation of open source publishing technology I have ever seen, one that should serve as a wake up for any online publisher wondering if they should invest $1,000,000 in web publishing technology.

4 responses so far

Oct 11 2006

Most excellent example of comments in a blog I have ever seen

Published by under CMS,Community,Technology

Jack Slocum’s Blog » WordPress Comments System built with Yahoo! UI

My post over the weekend about missing some vital Lenovo mentions in the comments of blogs that I track yielded some excellent suggestions from faithful readers about various plug-ins and options to gain better insights into the sentiments of peanut gallery. Rick Klau at Feedburner, Mitch Ratcliffe at BuzzLogic, and Chris Murray, ex-of-CXO all chimed in with good pointers.

Then I find this baby. Jack Slocum took advantage of Yahoo’s open architecture and built a comment tool for WordPress that is to blogs what David Foster Wallace is to footnotes. Check out the expandable nav bar on the left. The ability to drop a comment on a specific point in a blog post. I am totally freaked and want it.

 

No responses yet

Aug 17 2006

CSS evil strikes

Published by under CMS,General

The nastiest thing about WordPress and Cascading Style Sheets is their relative impenetrability to anyone other than a dedicated web monkey/producer. If you don’t work in this stuff for a living, then all you can hope for is a stable template, easy management and no bugs like the one that hit me this morning which is putting everything into italics. My patience wears thin. Sure, I can go into the admin console, hit “presentation” and do to myself what I did last winter when I took the entire blog down for a week and had to spend cash to get the coders at my ISP to un-befukticate me.

[Update: Ryan from the c-c-c-comments delivered the solution.]

5 responses so far

Jun 13 2006

Further messing with blog design

Published by under CMS

I finally — after the debacle in January — went back to Michael Heilemann’s Binary Bonsai, downloaded the 167 build of K2, unzipped it — backed up the MySQL databases and transformed Churbuck.com into a better looking place than the old 1.5 Kubrick which has held me together since 2003.

Then I decided to be done with the perpetual act of trashing my sidebar and converted to Widgets — which I still haven’t mastered but which at the very least give me some control in an Ajaxy way over what elements get displayed and which don’t. The header image I talked about late last week when I went scanner crazy on some old Cotuit photographs. I wish I had the time to get serious about CSS, but I know from keeping my HTML chops sharp in the 90s that such knowledge is wasted unless its practiced daily. Even so, the nerd manque within demands that I start getting dirty with code, be it page description, BASH shell commands, MySQL db structures …..

I think I need to set up a sandbox server and get really serious. This recent convalescence has given me a little time to steel wool the rust off of my techie talents, but nothing to the extent of the early 90s when I was beta-testing HotMetal Pro and Vermeer and turning down offers to write books about SGML …. sigh, now I worry about banner ROI and search engine optimization and other generic online marketing challenges.

I am further convinced that within 5 years we’ll see another revolution in site construction, management and display when the next Vermeer arrives to build a full WYSIWIG LAMP implementation out of the box. Do I think the average joe will become his own sysadmin? Never, but we’re still a very long way from having a content management system for the masses.

Bugs I’m detecting in K2– I can’t blog photos from within Flickr that will appear in Firefox. They are fine in IE but I am not fine in IE and I can’t figure out how to tailor the del.icio.us and Bloglines widgets to display my tags and blog roll. Time to move on to work related stuff. Migraines are gone. I don’t feel like I have morning sickness all day long, and I want to get back on the bike. More on that saga of how to convince an insurance company adjuster accustomed to pricing dented fenders on a Camry that yes, indeed, a person can be foolish enough to invest over $5,000 in a bicycle. The company thought they were dealing with a Huffy rider. Bah.

2 responses so far

Mar 27 2006

Auto-optimization

Published by under Advertising,CMS,Metrics

I may be dreaming here, but why couldn’t a metrics system such as Omniture be integrated into a CMS such as Interwoven, and based on rules, automatically shift traffic down predetermined paths?

Example: if a vendor is driving traffic through banner URLs and paid search to landing pages, and if there are multiple instances of those landing pages as part of a standard A-B/multivariate suite, why couldn’t the “winning” page begin to receive the majority of the clickstream as it wins out over its alternatives? The metrics system would need triggers that would run against a rules engine, modifying in real time the destination URLs to funnel traffic to the appropriate page.

It would seem the human interaction in the production-analysis-placement chain is the weakest link in the flow. I need to think more on this one and see where it goes.

5 responses so far

Mar 08 2006

cmurray.org » The Content Management Gap – Part II

Published by under CMS

cmurray.org » The Content Management Gap – Part II

Chris Murray throws down the challenge — why isn’t there a mid-tier CMS solution between the realm of opensource and the heights of enterprise CMS?

I say there needs to be an ASP model. There’s no justification for a company to consider CMS management a strategic IT investment. For those who do, they build their own and tune it to their model. For them’s that don’t, they need to treat it as a utility.

One response so far

Feb 27 2006

Centralization vs. De-Centralization in Global Web Ops

I have never operated in a multilingual web environment, managing the so-called “localization” of content into multiple languages. At IDG, global publishing was handled on a very de-centralized model, with the flagship brands writing in English and then licensing that content to country-based operations who in turn would pay to have the content translated into their local language, adding in local reporting in that same tongue to build a country-specific superset of the original brand.

Decentralization to gain operational agility is a noble cause, and one I support, but in IT enabled business models it can quickly grow a lot of hair, particularly when corporate messaging and brand management come into the picture. Look at CIO.com and compare it to the Polish version, CXO.pl, and you’ll see what I mean. The Polish operation completely rebranded the domain, creating a variant against the CXO brand, using their site as a portal into other c-level titles.

Having just read IBM Redux, an account of the Gerstner turnaround of IBM in the 1990s, one of the biggest issues that Gerstner and his CFO Jerome York had to confront was the extent to which the company’s “Geos” or geographic businesses, had completely gone off on their own, competing internally and raising havoc with the financial and managerial controls across the company.

Pat McGovern, the founder of IDG, says he adopted a very loose, de-centralized structure after returning from a business trip to find a packed inbox, realizing that he was the bottleneck and that he had to loosen his controls so the business could thrive.

Decentralization was, I think, a necessity in the days before ERP and content delivery networks. The one thing that technology cannot remove is the reality of time zones and the complexity of cross-country meeting and calendar coordination. But time-shifted communications — I’m talking fancy talk for email — and voicemail, has all but obviated the need for a decentralized management model.

If the corporate model for a global enterprise is viewed at three levels — worldwide operations at the headquarters level, geographic which encompasses regions: (EMEA, Asia Pacific, etc.) and then country-level — then the importance of a rational command-and-control structure becomes clear. The trick, for a CEO, is, to borrow the phrase from McKinsey’s Dick Foster in Creative Destruction, to “loosen control without losing control.”

I raise this issue of global governance as I enter the early stages of organizing a network of over 70 sites. While there are obvious economic and operational benefits to a centralized hub model, one predicated on a master corporate database, there is less clarity on how to organize centrally while extending local control and translation down to the country level where the expertise resides. Last week I met with Eli Singer, CEO of Web Collage, and he said the notion that translation must be decentralized is misinformed and that cost savings and managerial control can be achieved in a central hub.

I could always follow my brother’s advice, one echoed by an Englishman I met at Ogilvy & Mather last week, and that is what I call “Texan Translation”: wear a ten-gallon hat and yell English very loudly until people understand you. (The Englishman smiled and said in a loud voice: “I SAID, MAY I HAVE A CUP OF TEA?”) All kidding aside, and abject apologies to the world at large for being yet another American mono-linguist, there is no Web esperanto or precedence for English taking over the world of ecommerce any time, ever, soon. Airplanes, ships .. some industries and professions have standardized on English. Not commerce.

2 responses so far