interoperability

Drupal Camp Toronto 2010

by Joey deVilla on October 15, 2010

drupal camp toronto 2010

Drupal Camp Toronto 2010 is happening in Toronto today and tomorrow! It’s a gathering to discuss all things Drupal, featuring keynote speakers such as ones: Dries Buytaert, Jeff Eaton, and Mark Brown. It’s at a nice, central, easy-to-get-to location, the Toronto Reference Library (a few steps north of the corner of Yonge and Bloor). And here’s something you might not expect – Microsoft Canada is a Platinum Sponsor.

port 25 canadaFor more about Drupal Camp Toronto 2010, I refer you to Microsoft Canada’s open source community blog, Port25.ca, which is run by the Open Source/Interoperability team of Nik Garkusha, Julia Stowell and Jenna Hoffman (whom you might remember from Make Web Not War earlier this year in Montreal). They’ve got some articles on Drupal and Drupal Camp Toronto, including:

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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My Photos from Make Web Not War 2010

by Joey deVilla on May 29, 2010

I’ll post a more detailed write-up of the Make Web Not War conference later, but I thought that those of you who were there (or wished they were there) would like to see some photos as soon as possible. I’ve posted my photos at full resolution to my Make Web Not War Flickr photoset, which you can view either on Flickr or the slideshow above. The photos all have titles, and I promise I’ll finished the remainder of the descriptions over the next couple of days.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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internet explorer and svg

My philosophy is that Microsoft should focus less on “compete” and more on delighting the users. Or, as I’ve said before, “the best tech advocacy is to make tech that helps people rock.”

One important path to building tech that helps people rock is interoperability. In today’s networked, heterogeneous world, no tech is an island (my apologies to John Donne). It’s best for Microsoft – and everyone else – if the company plays well with others, adopts open standards and the open web and actively participates with standards-making bodies. I see things like The Empire’s participation at W3C’s Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee Meeting in November, Microsoft’s being a Gold Sponsor at the upcoming ConFoo conference and the work being done by the Open Source Teams in both Redmond and Toronto as signs of what I call the company’s “Sea Change”.

So it pleased me to see an Ars Technica article titled Microsoft’s Collaboration on SVG is a win for the Open Web pointing to the announcement on IEBlog that Microsoft is joining the W3C working group on Scalable Vector Graphics, a.k.a. SVG.

Patrick Dengler, Senior Program Manager for the Internet Explorer Team, writes:

We recognize that vector graphics are an important component of the next generation Web platform. As evidenced by our ongoing involvement in W3C working groups, we are committed to participating in the standards process to help ensure a healthy future for the Web. Our involvement with the SVG working group builds on that commitment.

To date, I have had several interactions with the SVG working group, and their clear dedication to creating a great technology for end users and developers alike stands out.  I personally look forward to future and more direct involvement with this great set of folks.

It’s not a formal announcement that SVG support’s going into future versions of IE, but I certainly hope that this is the first step towards that.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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LearnHub: Powered by Rails, Searches with Bing

by Joey deVilla on June 29, 2009

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Introducing LearnHub

learnhub_home_pageLearnHub’s home page.

If you’re a student applying to colleges and universities and are looking for help with the process, you should try LearnHub. Based in Toronto, LearnHub is a social learning network that helps students to prepare for standardized tests, assists with finding places to study abroad and provides career counseling. LearnHub’s site has hundreds of thousands of pages of free content, including the world’s largest bank of questions that appear in the GMAT and SAT standardized tests. The site has a large following among students worldwide, particularly in India, and has partnerships with 25 universities to recruit domestic and international students.

learnhub

With those hundreds of thousands of pages, LearnHub needed to provide a way for students to find what they’re looking for. They provide a search function, and it’s powered by Bing.

The people at LearnHub are part of that sector of Toronto tech that’s into Ruby on Rails, open source and founding startups. Founders John Philip Green and Malgosia Green are a husband-and-wife team who are known for building web applications for education and have been active members of Toronto’s tightly-knit open source tech community since the earliest DemoCamps. John caught Rails fever after trying it out and decided to rewrite a major application using it. The core development team of Wesley Moxam, Carsten Nielsen and Libin Pan are fixtures of the local Toronto’s on Rails scene; a gathering of local Rubyists doesn’t feel complete without them.

So what are they doing, using Bing?

Site-Wide Search

learnhub_dev_management_teamThe main room at LearnHub’s offices. Management are to the left, developers to the right.

In the beginning, they went with their first instinct, which was to use Google. “We launched in March 2008,” said co-founder John Philip Green, “and we needed to provide site-wide search, so we went with Google. We signed up, and for a few hundred bucks a year, we got a search function that covered about 5,000 pages. It seemed like a pretty big number, and we thought that would be more than enough to cover our site.”

They soon found that the results weren’t what they expected. “We weren’t getting good results. We’d use our site-wide search to search for something that we knew was in our site, and it wouldn’t show up in the results.” The same search would work just fine if you did it from Google.com, but not from their Google-powered search function. “The results just weren’t relevant, and we also had a limited number of queries,” John said.

learnhub_management_dev_teamThe main room at LearnHub’s offices. That’s management in the foreground, developers in the back.

LearnHub’s page count grew quickly and beyond the 5,000 pages covered by their arrangement with Google. “Going up to a bigger package was expensive;” John said, “it would have cost a couple thousand for 50,000 pages, and we were already at hundreds of thousands.”

“We could’ve gotten the functionality for free, but that’s only an option when you show ads in the search results, and the ads that showed up were for our competitors.”

learnhub_sales_teamLearnHub’s sales team.

There was another problem: Google’s site search returned its results as a web page. In order to make LearnHub’s site-wide search’s results page have the same look and feel as the rest of the site, they had to stick the Google results in an iframe. “And even then, what was inside the iframe didn’t match the rest of the page,” added John.

They started looking at other options for implementing LearnHub’s site-wide search, including running their own spider. “We really didn’t want to do that,” said programmer Wesley Moxam.

Enter Bing

wes_moxamLearnHub developer Wesley Moxam.

While looking around at search options, Wesley found the Live Search API, which is now known as the Bing API. “It was free, well-designed and spits out JSON,” he said. “Google requires a JavaScript interface or SOAP, and SOAP libraries in Ruby are painful.”

“It took a day to implement and get it up and running,” said Wesley, “The entire switch-over project happened over three days, with us working on it on and off, while we were doing other tasks. Best of all, we get consistent results – the results from the API are the same results you’d get if you just used the Bing site.”

“Bing’s API is simple and straightforward. You call it, you get the results, you take those results and use them how you like,” he continued. “It’s good. It’s hard to explain good software; good software is inherently simple.”

Here’s a screenshot of a LearnHub search results page for the search term “accordion” – and yes, the word appears on a handful of Learnhub pages!

LearnHub search results page for the search term "accordion" LearnHub’s search results page for the term “accordion”.

LearnHub have benefited from using Bing to power their site-wide search, and they’ve decided to share the wealth. Wesley’s working on refactoring the Ruby library he wrote to act as a wrapper for the Bing API and open source it for anyone to use. It should be available later this summer. He’ll announce it when it’s released, and I’ll announce it here.

The Bing API

Bing logo

It’s easy to harness the power of Bing in your applications, whether for desktop, web or mobile.

The first step is to get an AppID, which is a string that uniquely identifies you as a registered Bing application developer. Go to the Bing Developer Center, sign in with your Windows Live ID (which you can get for free) and follow the link to created a new AppID. You’ll be asked to supply some very basic information about your application and to review the Bing API’s Terms of Use. If you provide the information and agree to the Terms of Use (which I summarize in plain English below), you’ll get an AppID.

Once you have an AppID, you can start experimenting right away with the Bing API. All you need to do is start typing URLs with the format below into your browser’s address bar:

where:

  • <AppID> is the AppID assigned to you
  • <SearchTerms> are your urlencoded search terms
  • <SourceTypes> specifies the type(s) of search results you want. The different sourcetypes are explained in the table below:
SourceType Description Example Search Terms
Web Searches for web content accordion – returns web pages containing the term “accordion”
Image Searches for images on the web accordion – returns images of accordions
News Searches news stories accordion – returns news articles about accordions
InstantAnswer Searches Encarta online what is an accordion – returns the definition of “accordion”

convert 1.6 kilometres to miles – returns “0.9941939 miles”

sin(30 degrees) – returns “0.5”

Spell Searches Encarta Dictionary for spelling suggestions accordian – returns “accordion” 
Phonebook Searches phonebook entries accordions in Toronto – returns location results for “accordions in Toronto”
RelatedSearch Returns query strings most similar to yours accordion – returns results like “{piano accordion; button accordion; accordion store}”
Ad Returns advertisements to incorporate with results (use this to make money with you Bing-powered application) accordion – returns ads relevant to the keyword “accordion”

 

The default format for results is XML, and that’s the format you get when typing in API calls in your browser. You can also have the results returned as JSON or SOAP if you prefer.

You can find out more about the Bing API in the Bing API section of MSDN.

Bing’s Terms of Use, Explained as Simply as Possible

Here’s a quick explanation of Bing’s Terms of Use for those of us without a law degree. It’s adapted from the Bing documentation and provides a quick summary of what application developers using the Bing API must do and cannot do (besides the obvious "I promise not to use the API to plan a terrorist attack, run a drug smuggling ring or help the band Nickelback take forceful despotic rule of planet Earth").

What you must do:

  • You must display all the results you request. No filtering!
  • You must display your results in the context of a user-facing application or website.
  • You must display attribution to Bing in a manner compliant with our branding rules. Currently, you may determine the specific manner in which you display attribution. A link to http://www.live.com with the query echo is a suggested example.
  • You must restrict your usage to less than 7 queries per second per IP address. You may be permitted to exceed this limit under some conditions, but this must be approved through discussion with the folks at api_tou@microsoft.com.
  • If you interleave data from any source other than the API with data from the API, you must clearly

    differentiate the respective sources. (Yes, you can interleave Bing results with other data!)

What you cannot do:

  • You cannot use API results for search engine optimization (SEO). In particular, using the API for rank checks is explicitly prohibited.
  • You cannot display advertisements in positions other than the mainline and sidebar.
  • You cannot change the order of the results the API returns from a SourceType other than Web. (In other words, you can re-order results from standard searches for web pages!)

Bing Your Apps!

From there, the sky’s the limit. The Bing API is very straightforward and easy to use, it costs nothing to use it, and as someone who’s been using Bing as his default search engine since its beta period, the results it provides are great. Go forth and Bing your apps!

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Eclipse4SL: A Silverlight Plugin for Eclipse

by Joey deVilla on March 10, 2009

Darth Vader and Trekkies: "See? I play well with others!"

I wouldn’t have joined Microsoft if I hadn’t seen signs of a newfound willingness to play well with others. You can see the latest sign in eWeek’s report of Soyatec’s Eclipse4SL, which enables Eclipse developers to build Silverlight applications.

Eclipse4SL is an open source plugin for the Eclipse IDE and Rich Client Platform. According to the Eclipse4SL site, it has these features:

    • Increased Interoperability: Eclipse will contain functionality that will help Java Developers build Silverlight applications that work better with Java Web Services using REST, SOAP, JSON and other standards.
    • Silverlight Project System and Silverlight Compiler: Eclipse will contain both an advanced project system for creating Silverlight applications and media experiences as well as a compiler for packaging Silverlight applications for deployment.
    • XAML Editor & Preview with code hinting and code completion: Eclipse will contain an advanced, standards-compliant XAML editor with code hinting and code hinting features which helps detect and correct coding errors.
    • Full compatibility with Microsoft’s Development and Design Tools: The XAML and Silverlight projects created by Eclipse will be fully supported by both Microsoft Visual Studio and Microsoft Expression Studio tools.

Eclipse4SL is currently in beta, and the 1.0 version is expected to be released in June.

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Google Maps, Live Search (a.k.a. Microsoft Virtual Earth) Maps and Yahoo! Maps are all based on Navteq’s mapping technologies. As a result, the tiles used in rendering the maps are the same size, and if you set the zoom to equivalent levels in each, you can seamlessly switch between the three. Take a look at the map below, which shows a map of Toronto as rendered by Google Maps, Live Search Maps and Yahoo! Maps:

Seamless stitched-together map of Toronto, with the left third rendered by Google Maps, the middle third rendered by Live Search Maps and the right third rendered by Yahoo! Maps

The article Switching Between Mapping APIs and Universal Zoom Levels at David Janes’ Code Weblog explains that the mapping systems differ in their zoom levels:

  • Google Maps has 20 levels of zoom, ranging from 0 (out in space) to 19 (pretty close to ground level).
  • Live Search Maps has 19 levels of zoom, ranging from 1 (out in space, but not as far out as Google Maps’ 0) to 19 (pretty close to ground level). Live Search Maps’ zoom levels are equivalent to Google Maps’; for example, zoom level 5 mean the same level of zoom in both Google Maps and Live Search Maps.
  • Yahoo! Maps provides the fewest level of zoom – a mere seventeen. Their counting system is the opposite of Google Maps’ and Live Search Maps; in the Yahoo! system, larger numbers mean farther away from the ground, not closer. The closest you can zoom in with Yahoo! Maps is zoom level 1 (street block level, equivalent to Google’s and Live Searh’s zoom level 17) and the farthest you can zoom out is zoom level 17 (equivalent to Google’s and Live Search’s zoom level 1).

David proposes a universal zoom level and provides code to do conversions between it and Google’s, Live Search’s and Yahoo!’s systems.

Links

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