March 20, 2009

GalaxyGoo Needs a New Web Host

GalaxyGoo needs a new web host, and we'd appreciate recommendations.

Our basic requirements:

  • Apache
  • MySQL
  • Perl
  • ColdFusion
  • dedicated or virtual dedicated box
  • separate mail server, or ability to keep up with both CF and mail server at same time
  • full support and proactive server maintenance -- when things fail, help getting them up and running again

September 18, 2007

GalaxyGoo on Zazzle

For a while, I've been keeping an eye on, and have finally taken the plunge. GalaxyGoo is now on!

What was the deciding factor? They have a special program for non-profits, and all sales will result in donations for GalaxyGoo programs. Once we got into the system, I was delighted with how easy it is to get up and running.

create & buy custom products at Zazzle

May 17, 2007

Registration Before Downloads?

What do you think about registering, before getting open source files? I ask this because it is rather challenging for us, as a non-profit organization, to provide reports on how our efforts are received by the public. How many people are we reaching and serving with our programs? Are we fulfilling our mission? We could develop better server solutions for tracking download statistics, behind the scenes. However, I'd prefer to go with a full disclosure policy, from all parties.

Is registration "bad", when we're a growing community? Identity supports responsibility, and respect for fellows.

My impression is that this is a sensitive issue, and I'd like some well considered thoughts from the community at large. If you are unfamiliar with GalaxyGoo, we are a small non-profit dedicated to increasing science literacy.

March 22, 2007

Twitter Me?

Since so many of my geeky friends are on Twitter, I'm giving in and trying it out.

February 15, 2007

Comments turned off on some posts

I've turned off comments on some, but not all, of our posts as part of the long defensive battle against blog-comment spammers/vandals. Sometimes it sure seems like we're trapped in a siege-war.

While all comments are moderated, it's still a constant chore to deal with all the spam attacks. The last couple weeks have been particularly bad.

I'm tempted to add captcha, but I'm not sure if the accessibility issues have been worked out yet.

February 07, 2007

MSN, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo... Too many messengers?

There are dozens of instant messaging protocols out there. MSN, Yahoo and AIM are the biggest ones with ICQ losing more and more ground each day but still being a big player in some parts of the world. But there are also more protocols like Gadu Gadu, Jabber, SIP, etc... If you have friends that use different protocols, it can be a hassle to have multiple clients open all the time, one for each protocol. That's where multi-protocol clients come into play.

Continue reading "MSN, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo... Too many messengers?" »

January 31, 2007

Science and Technology week on The Daily Show?

Is it Science and Technology week over at the Daily Show? On Monday, John Stewart interviewed Bill Gates...who made a hasty departure.

Tuesday night, Mr Stewart interviewed Neil DeGrasse Tyson... who stuck around and gave a wonderful interview. Could Dr Tyson be breathing new life into Carl Segan's legacy? He sure makes Astrophysics seem very down to earth. I especially liked the way he talked about how "calculations" make things easy. The really is truth in that.

Off topic...could somebody talk to the folks at Comedy Central, and tell them to make their website more user friendly? Just getting a simple link to add to this post was a pain to accomplish.

January 29, 2007

You still gotta show up on time!

Dan Zanes played several concerts here in San Francisco, this weekend. Since my family and I enjoy his music, I purchased tickets for the show through an on-line vendor. We had to pick them up at "will-call", so we made sure to get there early. Everything went well, and we were really looking forward to the show, until a few minutes before the show began.

That's when another family showed up, expecting to sit in our seats. After the initial ticket checking and comparing, our husbands stayed with the kids, and the other mother and I headed to the manager's office to get things straightened out. The show was sold out, and there weren't any good solutions.

Why am I posting about this here? Because it illustrates what real people go through when every-day data handling is sloppy. If the ticket vender had kept it's data from various points-of-purchase in synch, things like this would never happen.

Another reason to post it: it illustrates that in everyday life, technology is not a magic bullet. You still need to schedule your life with room for unexpected mix-ups. You still gotta show up on time.

January 18, 2007

Trying out Linux without giving up your Operating System

When it comes to OS's (Operating System), most people stick to what their computer comes with, be it Windows or MacOS/OSX. But there are alternatives, dozens of them, some better than others. One of the best known alternatives is Linux. The name sounds familiar to a lot of people but that's where it ends. There is a common misconception that you have to replace your existing, familiar, tailored-to-your-needs OS in order to try it out. This isn't so. Read on for a few ways to try out Linux without removing your own OS.

Continue reading "Trying out Linux without giving up your Operating System" »

October 15, 2006

Ted Patrick on Web 2.0

In his recent post, Web 2.0 is Distributed Internet Applications, Ted Patrick writes

"It is simply no longer acceptable to create applications that do not work cross-platform. With Apollo we will see the first binary compatible application delivery model for Windows, Apple OSX, and Linux. Yes a single binary will install on 3 platforms. Why would anyone create applications with a limited reach?"

Indeed, cross-platform is what originally sold me on Flash itself. When expanded to Apollo, things get a lot more interesting. Small teams could produce creative and powerful desktop-web applications, without having to re-develop them for each platform, removing a lot of redundancy.

Changes are coming, and it's both scary and exciting. Scary, because there's a lot to keep up with. Exciting, for the very same reason.

October 12, 2006

Playing with Flickr and Moo cards

I'm addicted to Flickr! They've created so many of the features that I'd like to implement on GalaxyGoo: file sharing, groups, tags, connection to physical world (like Moo cards).

One of my explorations of flickr involves getting Moo cards made. I've been having fun with the cards, and uploading pix if patterns I can create with them.

In this one, I've recreated the complete mandala pattern by arranging the cards in a spiral stack.


Here, I've used cards with different cropping of the original image. Overlapping them, so that the plesiosaur pattern is completed, creates variations in color bands. Yes, I'm having too much fun with this.

My two-year-old wanted to get in on the action, and picked up the card matching the t-shirt she'd been wearing all day.

September 26, 2006

Network Neutrality and Nonprofits

Tech Soup (the technology pace for nonprofits) has published a great resource on Network Neutrality and Nonprofits, with links categorized as informative or opinion. The emphasis is on what net neutrality means to the non-profit sector.

February 14, 2006

On Expectations and Civility

It's easy to contact the authors of most websites. So easy, that when a particular technology fails, the website owner is made aware of the failure quickly, by visitors angered by the failure.

A lot comes down to expectations. We expect things to work. When they break, we expect them to be fixed. On the web, it's not always clear how many resources an organization or a particular project has. A lot of the web is filled with experimental projects that don't have a large tech support team making sure it's running perfectly 24/7. When these projects have technical difficulties, it can be very helpful when a visitor sends in a bug report.

Based on my own experience, a lot of people are confused about the difference between a helpful bug report and an abusive complaint. Behind that comment form is a real person, and nobody enjoys reading abusive complaints. The next time you're all fired up and ready to send your thoughts, stop. Think for a minute. Was there a notice on the page? Did you read it? Could you phrase your words in a more civil tone? The person reading it will appreciate your efforts.

November 14, 2005

Sponsor a CF upgrade on the GalaxyGoo server

GalaxyGoo needs to upgrade CF on it's server. Your donation will help us pay for the new licence and will also be tax deductible. Please mail your donation to

4104 24th Street, #349
San Francisco, CA 94114

Be sure to write "for CF upgrade" in the comment line on the check, so that the donation is earmarked for the upgrade.

Since we have such an old version of CF, we can't take advantage of the upgrade pricing.

Legal statement: GalaxyGoo is a registered charity in the state of Califorina, and is not solicitng donations from outside of California.

October 11, 2005

Art Show listed on

I've posted an announcement about Art Intersect Science on, and already there are a couple of people "watching" the event. Ok, call me a geek, but I think that's cool. Art Intersect Science: Art Show and Benefit Event at Lucid (Thursday, November 10, 2005)

September 01, 2005

Internet Rallies for Storm Relief

Craig's list has a special page for those who want to donate or volunteer, helping in the wake of Katrina. Cash is most needed. Relief organizations are good at what they do. They're organized, and have the skills needed. But it takes money to carry out much needed relief efforts.

There's a good article on the BBC site, about the how the Internet rallies for storm relief

August 28, 2005

Ask Permision!

Now, I like to share resources. In fact, I give away much of my work, as part of GalaxyGoo. It's part of our mission as a non-profit organization.

However, I do expect folks to ask permission before republishing our material. Especially if it's material that we asked the original author for permission to publish on our website.

Was it really necessary for these folks to copy and past our content into their webpage? Couldn't they just write a little blurb, and link to the full content on our site? They did, at least, have the courtesy to credit us as the source, and to include our copyright statement ;-)

August 25, 2005

Jon Stewart, Interviewed by Wired

"What's nice about the Internet is it's egalitarian. It is democratic in the way that it parcels interest." ~ Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, Wired 13.09: Reinventing Television, an Interview with Jon Stewart

My favorite part of the interview is Mr Stewart's answer to the last question, when he says "....At what point do we get saturated enough to say, 'OK, I get it! We can get anything we want at any time! Let's go sit around a large table and eat a meal in silence'..."

August 15, 2005

Slow down

When does being connected make you disconnected? There's a lot of talk about people being too connected or having too many choices.. I'd say it's not that we're too connected, but that we're not making careful choices about what we're connected to. Case in point, the driver who almost runs over a small child because they're paying more attention to their cell phone than to their driving. Or the dinner companion who constantly interrupts you to answer their cell phone instead. Or the person next to you on the subway, with their ipod cranked up so loud that everyone can hear it? These are anti-social behaviors. These people are choosing to disconnect from the people around them.

Do we have too many choices? While some may say so, I'd disagree. The problem isn't that we have too many choices, it's that we have too few meaningful choices and that we don't have enough trustworthy filters for all these choices. For example, some people are vegetarians and some are not. Life is made much easier for the vegetarian if there is a store with only vegetarian food in it. She can make the choice at the filter lever (a particular health food store) rather than at the individual food item level (checking all labels for ingredients).

While it may seem that I am just rambling here...well, maybe I am...this all relates to interface development as well as it does to quality of life and social issues. Are we building tools that disconnect people from their immediate surroundings and community, or that facilitate their participation in their community? Are we creating interfaces that distract the user from a goal, or that make the process easy? What about your work flow? Are you so busy attending to distractions, regardless of how important they are, to stop and really think about a project? Are you disconnected from inspiration, because you're connected to a cell phone or ipod?

In the words of Harry Nilsson (The Point), "a point in every direction is the same as no point at all."

June 25, 2005

Microsoft IE Redundancy

I can understand why Microsoft may want to set up some default links and folders in Internet Explorer--just basic default settings for a new installation. But doesn't a folder called "links" in the bookmarks menu seem overly redundant?

June 16, 2005

Too Many Cookies!

OK, what's with websites downloading a cookie for every navigation graphic on the page?!! Are they really using a different cookie to keep track of what nav button I'm clicking on?

June 11, 2005

Natural History Website Rocks!

In preparation for my upcoming trip to the UK, I've been surfing the Natural History Museum of London's website. I just love the animal graphics they use on the right side of the nav-bar! Very nicely done! It's cute, it's relevant, and it doesn't get in the way. Great use of graphics to give a "feel" to a site.

As an example, check out the Biodiversity research at the Museum - Natural History Museum.

March 10, 2005

Spring Cleaning...building our own forum application

At GalaxyGoo, we really need to simplify our community tools. We've got the blogs, forums software, and our own in-house discussion and project tools. It's just too complicated. Too many log-ins. So, we're going to close our forums, and beef up the simple discussion forums we built for our project pages. This way, our users will only have to deal with one log-in.

We need some feedback from the general community. From a technical stand-point, what makes forum software successful?

March 08, 2005

Poll Widget Wanted

Everytime I see the poll on Christian Cantrell's blog, I think "ooh, that's neat".

Well, I'd like one for GalaxyGoo. So, if anyone knows of an affordable version, and what server requirements there are, please let us know. If it can run on a very old version of ColdFusion, PHP, or Perl, that would be great. Why a very old version of ColdFusion? It was donated to us a long time ago, so that's what we have.

March 04, 2005

Search for science-based examples for programming courses

Today I'm wrapping up another web technology course, in J2EE/EJB. The course material uses the same business examples as all the other programming courses I've taken. You would think that by now I've built so many banking applications that I'd be qualified to work at Fidelity or BOA, and so many Coffee vendor store fronts that I could run Starbucks.

Why is it that programming courses all use business models as the vehicle to teach the material? If you are building a genomics application to manage data coming from microarrays would you still write "business logic" or just "logic" to handle the rules governing data transactions?

I'd like to see some ideas proposed based on real world science or biology examples as the foundation for examples in programming lessons. I would imagine that it is assumed that the average developer can follow the lessons when they use banking examples without being too distracted by the actual banking aspect. Why not science?

What ideas do you have for interesting science use cases that could be applied as the foundation of programming classes, without overwhelming the student developer with with excessive jargon or difficult concepts? I think I'll google for children's science experiments on the web to see if I can find any subjects that might work for and information management type of a use case.

Please post your ideas!

-Steven Erat

February 26, 2005

PDAs or Cellphones?

Eric Dolecki asks if PDA'a are about to be a thing of the past--are cellphones going to replace them?

If you use them just for contact information, then I'd say yes. But with wifi, and other data transfer methods, becoming widespread I can see more applications being developed for hand-held devices. Unless cellphones start using much larger screens, a PDA will be the way to go for data collection and display.

Hmmm...which is more like a Star Trek device now, a flip-cellphone or a PDA that takes photos, functions as a sketch-pad, has character recognition, and connects to a database via wifi?

Cool tech is the way to keep geeks interested, but what about the mainstream market? If PDAs are going to stick around, and not be replaced by cellphones, some useful applications have to be developed--like connecting to your personal recipe database when in the grocery store.

January 28, 2005

Bob Crimi Found

A while ago I was Searching for Bob Crimi, and tried a little experiment--testing the power of the blog. I posted to the Galaxygoo Blog that I was trying to find his contact information. A few weeks later, a google search for "Bob Crimi" listed my post as the first result. As I hoped, this got his attention, and we are now in correspondence.

Behold the power of the blog. :-)

November 13, 2004

Still Searching for Bob Crimi

Well, I still haven't found contact information for Bob Crimi, but I got a surprising result when I did a google search on "bob crimi" previous post comes up number one. Let's hope he does a vanity search :-)

Google Search: bob crimi

October 26, 2004

Searching for Bob Crimi

For the past few days, I've been trying to track down the contact information for a science illustrator named Bob Crimi. Google turned up many examples of his fine work, but no contact information. There's a webpage for a painter named Bob Crimi, but without any mention of science illustration. I also contacted the editorial offices of the Scientist and of Nature, in which his illustrations are published, but they didn't have contact information for him either. So, now I'm trying a little experiment. Are blogs powerful enough to get his attention and will we then contact me?

The illustration, by Bob Crimi, that caught my attention is about halfway down the page of this article on olfactory sensory neurons. His use of color is fantastic!

Bob, if you're out there, please contact me.

October 22, 2004

VRML...not quite dead yet.

When SGI dropped VRML, years back, it looked like the end of VRML.

Well, somebody's got to be using VRML because ParallelGraphics is still making VRML authoring tools.

I have a soft spot for VRML, and would love to see a revival.

ParallelGraphics (a 3D VRML company)

October 20, 2004

Wayback Machine

What has the index page of GalaxyGoo looked like over the last few years? Take a look with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

October 05, 2004

Linkup Central

This looks very useful: Linkup Central. Perhaps we'll give it a try for our next event.

~via Social Twister

September 20, 2004

New OpenCourseWare at MIT

MIT continues to grow its seed garden of Open Courseware. There are so many courses that I would work my way through, if I just had the time.

I may have to make time for this one: Foundations of Computational and Systems Biology.

By the way, the readings listed for each course are great. Sometimes I really miss the guidance of a prepared reading list, when diving into a new subject.

August 12, 2004

Non-profit sector discovers blogs

Articles like these may help explain the benefits of blogs to newcomers:

TechSoup - Articles: Web Building - Weblogs: The Promise for Nonprofit Organizations

For non-profit organizations, the benefit of blogging can be even greater than for commercial organizations. Much of what a non-profit does is based on the individual level. Blogging can breath distinct personality into a website, and can serve as a low-pressure means of encouraging community.

August 11, 2004

Internet Engineering Program

Came across this program while researching something else...seems like that's how I find most interesting things.

Looks like they are currently accepting applications for the fall semester.

USF | College of Arts & Sciences | Academics | Graduate Programs / Internet Engineering

August 03, 2004

Volunteer Technology Experts Serve Elections

It pleases me to no end, when I see geeks serving the greater good.

To quote the TechWatch website:

Are you a technology professional interested in election integrity? A geek who believes every vote should be recorded as intended? A techie who stands for reliable and publicly verifiable election systems?

If so, TechWatch is for you!

July 30, 2004

What's the difference between a Forum and a Blog?

In a meeting today, I found myself explaining the difference between a list-serve and a blog, and a forum and a blog…

Once you get comfortable with the technology, it’s easy to forget what the view is from the outside. It’s confusing!

This is just a brief explanation of what came up in the meeting. I’ve found discussion forums to be the most difficult to explain. Please feel free to contribute, based on your experience.

List-serve: members of the list-server send in email, and the program sends copies of this email to all other members on the list. Often there is an archive of all email messages available to be read online, like a web-page.

Discussion Forum: a lot like a list-server, but all posts are made through the website instead of by email. Discussion forums are great for organizing discussions into topics an subtopics. Some allow members to have posts, and notices of new posts emailed to them.

Blog: This is like a journal and press-release software all in one. A good blog has a distinctive personality or group of personalities at its core. There is also a social aspect to blogs. Many blogs allow visitors to post comments. Sometimes long discussions can take place on a blog, but each topic is started by the blog owner. Websites and software called “aggregators”, collect the feeds (like an AP wire press-release) from many different blogs and list recent posts all in one place.

July 28, 2004


It's hard to believe that a full year has passed since we did the blogathon, and created Curiouser. We posted 48 Flash experiments over 24 hours (one every half hour). After it was all over, we were named "Best Visual Arts Project" for the year.

Are we going to do it again? Maybe next year, since the blogathon folks are taking a year off.

July 05, 2004

Adventures in CSS conversion

Today, seeking technical inspiration in my efforts to convert GalaxyGoo to full CSS, I took a peek at source code for the O'Reilly website and was surprised to find that it was table based.

I turn, instead to

June 17, 2004

E-mail Etiquette: Don't Dress Like Spam

A lot of time and energy goes into avoiding spam. In fact, it's gone beyond mere annoyance. Personally, it costs me a significant amount of time to deal with sorting for real email among the spam. I can create new filters until nothing comes through at all, but what good will that do?

Wouldn't it be great if the people sending us email (that we want) would make them easier to spot? Personally, I prefer inclusive and positive policies over exclusive alternatives. This article has some good suggestions, while discussing simple etiquette for email:

TechSoup - Articles: Using the Internet - Essential E-Mail Etiquette

I can think of some other tips to share:

  • Don't include my name in the subject line
  • Be sure to include a subject line. If there is no subject, I delete.
  • Use more than one word in the subject
  • hmmm...can you tell I do a lot of quick sorting by subject?

June 10, 2004

GalaxyGoo Going CSS

After five years as a table-based website, GalaxyGoo will be converting to CSS for layout. The conversion is quite a bit of work, I'll tell you. But it will be worth it once it's done. Already, it's getting easier.

Why did we wait so long? I was concerned about older browsers being able to use our site. Believe it or not, Arpanet shows up in our logs. But the simplicity and separation of content from presentation was too much for me to resist.

May 23, 2004

When's the bus gonna get here?

This is one of the most useful things on the web I've ever seen: NextBus Stop Selector. I can't believe I hadn't discovered it before!

It gives the real time for the next expected bus/train at any given stop in San Francisco. If you've ever depended on Muni to get around the city, you'll know that there can be quite a difference between what the official schedule says and what the real-time schedule is.

The live map shows the location of busses in real-time with a Java applet. I got a geeky thrill watching the J-Church line make it's way down Church Street.

May 15, 2004

Silent Spamming Article

I just came across this article on silent spamming: The Admin Zone Forums - Security: Silent Spamming - Is your Website Being Abused?

I'm curious about how big of a problem this has become. Is it as common as blog-comment spam? It's been a big pain for me, on our forums.

April 01, 2004

Trouble sending email to England

Is anyone else having trouble sending email to England right now? No, this is not an April Fools joke on my part.

I've been trying to contact a few folks in England, and I keep getting messages back from my server saying that their domain is invalid.

March 09, 2004

blog-comment spam's cousin?

I've been noticing a new trend on our forums lately, and it seems closely related to blog-comment spam: fake registration on our forums listing questionable Home pages in profile. Is this some attempt to get search engine ranking, like with comment spam?

Registration for our forums is moderated, so the trend got my attention. Anyone else running into this?

February 19, 2004

MIT OpenCourseWare Update

The MIT OpenCourseWare team is moving forward into the March 2004 publication cycle with 200 new MIT courses scheduled for publication by March 31. ~The MIT OpenCourseWare Update -- Vol. 2, Issue 2

New courses include:

Darwin and Design and Toward the Scientific Revolution

February 11, 2004

Censored at the Source

It seems like a whole lifetime ago, but I used to do commercial web development. My company still exists (although cash flow is more like a trickle) and I occasionally do work for the clients that have stuck with me over the years. Today, I was working on some minor updates to a site when I noticed something that had me stumped for a few minutes.

All the modified files were uploaded to the server, and I was double checking it all through my browser. Everything was fine...except that the header graphic was missing on all pages! It was there when I looked with Dreamweaver. It was there when I looked at the site with a different computer. But there was no trace of the graphic through the browser on this machine.

I used view source on both machines. On this one, the img tag was completely missing. What?! Where did it go?!

Just as a hunch, I tried changing the name of the image file. Surprise, surprise! Once I changed the images name from "banner.gif" to "header.gif", the browser rendered it. My browser, or something on this machine, was censoring the source code. The implications of this are still bouncing around my brain. I am not a happy camper.

If I didn't have deadlines looming, I'd be researching this like mad....will have to wait for later.

February 05, 2004

Word Woes

Really, I don't know how folks avoid complete frustration when using Microsoft software. I just turned in my speaker's notes for Flash Forward, and thankfully shut down Word.

I'm wondering if anyone out there knows how to accomplish this in Word: highlight a block of text and turn off spell-check for that block, but leaving spell-check on for the rest of the document. Why? So the program will stop marking and re-marking my code snippets with what it "thinks" are spelling and grammar errors.

February 02, 2004

Stuck in Static When Dynamic is Right There?

Lately, a lot of my time is spent researching funding sources. This includes looking at what other folks are getting money for. Often, I'm completely surprised by projects that seem similar to GalaxyGoo projects, but take a completely different technological approach.

If you scroll down this page, to A Key to the Fishes, you'll find a project to develop a "web-based, dichotomous key". This looked pretty exciting to me, until I noticed that the project involved "building the long series of individual pages required for the key."

Why build individual pages? So much busy-work! A simple database would do the job much more cleanly, and leave the Biology expert focused on subject matter instead of page-making.

If they wanted something technical to spend grant money on, why not request a collaboration with GalaxyGoo?! After all, we've already built the engine to step the user through a dichotomous key.

The funny thing is that I've been searching for an academic to collaborate with, for exactly such an application of our experimental version of an interactive dichotomous key.

This example points out to me that GalaxyGoo could use some help connecting with project collaborations.