Written in Glory – a daily history site of the Civil War’s 54th Mass. Regiment

My good friend Ken Bowen is launching a web project on new year’s day: a blog named “Written in Glory”  at 54th-mass.org. “Written in Glory” is a historical reenactment/reproduction of the year 1863 using the letters and memoirs of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of free black men that was created to fight in the American Civil War. Almost every day for the next year, letters from the officers and soldiers of the 54th will be posted on the same day of the year the letters were penned in 1863. Readers can subscribe and follow the story of the 54th’s first year in the real-time of 1863 (i.e. letters delivered by horse and steam, and news by telegraph.)

I’ve had a front-row seat to the construction of the site. Ken scanned, OCR-ed and proofed letters, memoirs, photographs and maps, as well as trawled the New York Times archive of 1863 for relevant articles. The site itself is built on WordPress with some unique customizations. For example, historic maps are listed for each post based on the current location of the 54th and any locations mentioned in the post. Serializing history like this is a great way to get a sense of the scale and difficulty of life and war in the 1800s.

A retronym for non-Cloud Computing: Raindrop Computing

With the recent adulation (and blunders) of Cloud Computing, I’ve wonder what is a good name for plain old regular computing? Just as “acoustic guitar” was created to differentiate it from the new “electric guitar,” and “snail mail” is used to poke fun at the postoffice in the age of e-mail, there should be a retronym for non-Cloud Computing. How about “Raindrop Computing?”

Raindrops are the opposite of a cloud in many ways. Clouds transform into raindrops (and visa-versa via evaporation). In contrast to whispy ephemeral clouds, raindrops are tangible objects. Raindrops are tiny, but in combination they can carve mountains and valleys. At best, clouds can only provide some temporary shade.

Raindrop computing is any computing done on your own computer, either alone or combined with others raindrop computers. Typing a shopping list into a notepad application on your computer is raindrop computing, while entering the same list into Google Docs is cloud computing.

The Reddit social news site is an example of a cloud computing system that runs on Amazon’s Web Services computers. BitTorrent is a raindrop computing system forming a completely decentralized file storage system. A classic raindrop computing system is SETI@home (and its BONIC brethren), which harnesses the idle time of thousands of small raindrop computers to create a virtual supercomputer.

My Macintosh port of the W3C HTML Validator (Validator S.A.C.) is a good example of cloud vs raindrop. The W3C’s validator is a cloud computing service, while Validator S.A.C. is a straight port of the web service to a local application — a raindrop application. Both the service and application do the same thing, validate HTML, but the application version runs on your own Mac under your own control and avoids the network and privacy issues inherent in the cloud service.

Cloud computing seems to currently have the upper hand, but I’d bet it will be the raindrops that shape the computing landscape in the long run.

Case Study: Blistering Barnacles! release to Apple’s Web App List

I released a simple iPhone and iPod Touch web app called “Blistering Barnacles!” (BB) — a homage to my favorite Tintin character, Captain Haddock. I submitted BB to Apple’s Web Application Catalog, which produced a small flurry of hits. Here are some of the numbers. In total about 770 unique visitors ran the app, about 460 on the first day when BB was listed high on the front page. There were very few repeat visitors, averaging about 1.08 runs per visitor.


Geographically, the English speaking countries are at the top. Curiously, Singapore makes a very strong showing, and why so few Australians?


After two days, BB had fallen off the front page and was in 10th place on the Most Popular page and 4th place in the Entertainment Category. Interestingly, the percent of iPhones to iPod Touches was roughly 60%/40%. I’m surprised there were so many Touches.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the low numbers, partly because the Adventures of Tintin are not that well know (at least until the movie comes out). Also, web apps are now a quiet backwater in the iPhone ecosystems in comparison to native apps which are directly accessible from the iPhone/Touch.

Strange Error Log Hits

If you monitor your website error log, you often see strange events. For example, I saw three near-simultaneous hits to an incorrect URL from three different continents! One hit each from Fort Mitchell (Kentucky, USA), Seoul (South Korea), and Jiddah (Saudi Arabia).

[Thu Jan 01 11:27:16 2009] [error] [client] File does not exist: /habilis.net/chucHTTP
[Thu Jan 01 11:27:22 2009] [error] [client] File does not exist: /habilis.net/chucHTTP
[Thu Jan 01 11:27:23 2009] [error] [client] File does not exist: /habilis.net/chucHTTP

Why? And where did the broken path “chucHTTP” come from? It makes one worry about international conspiracies, but it is probably just a poorly coded botnet harvester.