News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 2/11/98

From: gjb@luc.ac.be (Geert Jan Bex);
Sent at Thu, 12 Feb 1998 14:41:44 +0100;
Learning systems

If you're interested in learning software, you may like to have a look at TopClass, http://www.wbtsystems.com/. I've been using it to host discussion groups on computer algebra software for some time now, and I'm quite satisfied with it.

It allows to set up "courses" run by "teachers" who can assign "students". Course material can be entered via the web, as well as exercises to be solved and corrected by the teacher.

Everything runs as a CGI on a webserver deployed on MacOS, WindowsNT and a few flavors of Unix.

They have a "lite" version that is fully functional for up to four concurrent connections, the commercial version allows much more simultaneous connections.

All material is stored in a database, so no interaction with other processes or programs is possible, which in my opinion is the major flaw in the concept.

WBT is about to release version 2 which should have an impressive list of new features.

From: Frontier-Newbies@scripting.com;
Sent at Thu, 12 Feb 1998 16:43:18 +1100;
Frontier5 reference card?

I've got stacks of downloaded Frontier5 html docs, which are very helpful. However I have worn the paint off my desk where the F5 reference card should be.

Is there anything approaching such an animal? Just two or three sheets, all the verbs, one line each.

I've been using Verbi a lot, and the syntax and "action" sections from the doc server would do nicely for each verb.

From: jmcmurry@ixlmemphis.com (James McMurry);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 98 23:09:47 -0600;
Frontier builds it, Apache serves it.

adamt@smginc.com asked:

Do you know of any other high profile sites that use Frontier on one box (like an old Mac) to do site development, but then shift the pages over to something more high powered?

I found one today, as a matter of fact: http://www.be.com/support/

From the source code: <META NAME="Generator" CONTENT="Frontier 4.2.3 Mac">

Apparently, most everything under this URL is scripted with Frontier 4.2.3, including the wonderful FAQs they have on everything to status of the Intel port to developer Q & A's to support resource links. The next/prev design of the FAQ sections is interesting, and was the reason I viewed the source in the first place.

According to Netcraft, "www.be.com is running Apache/1.1.1." Why the older version? I don't know, but www.be.com is running FreeBSD. As are you.

I'd consider this subsite "high-profile", if for no other reason than the Intel FAQ. Lots of people are anxiously awaiting that release, and Be maintains a mailing list for people who want to know when it gets updated.

From: mainememories@lamere.net;
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 23:07:43 -0500;
Cathedrals are Bazaar

Greetings, I enjoy reading your ecclectic page several times a week and I'm not even really much of a programmer. I find it very informative even when I don't know exactly what is being talked about code wise alot of the time. Maybe some will rub off by osmosis! The wide range of news topics and the reporting of the trials and tribulations of computerland has a humanizing quality to it that alot of computer news sites lack. Keep it up.

I don't have the time now but your software sounds intriguing enough that I might try it out sometime in the not to distant future. Although it seems to have a good sized learning curve for the "code challenged ". I do graphics on the Mac platform and do use "Actions" in Photoshop. Applescript was a thought but with Apple wobbling so bad these days if I was going to invest my blood, sweat, and tears in learning more scripting I think I'll do it in Frontier.

I wrote to put in a word about Eric Raymond's Cathedral and Bazaar essay.

You frequently invoke the call to playfulness; "let's have fun!" so the other day I was reading Eric Raymond's reply on your newspage and noticed your cool and quite droll 'Userland Frontier' icon on the bottom of the page. Don't know how I missed it before. I've only had a computer for two years and my interests are in animation, 2-D and maybe 3-D later (need a much bigger machine for 3-D). So I animated your icon for fun and tried to reinforce the theme of 'Userland Frontier' as being "on the job sun-up to sun-down" The sun even lights up the cow skull's eye socket before it sets.(not a huge effect but I only had a few pixels to work with).

In the spirit of Eric Raymond's Cathedral and Bazaar essay , it's yours if you like it, straight from the open source "gift culture". It's a bigger file size than the original but since it's at the bottom of the page it should have no big effect on page download times.

Your original was 8k and this has 6 frames of animation but it weights in at around 16k (instead of 48k) Weight watchers!

frontierAnimated picture

Keep up the broad range of discussion on your page, not just all business and no play!

"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants"

From: jeff@wired.com (Jeffrey Veen);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 13:35:17 -0800;
Re:Learning from Newbies

Many people, but newbies in particular, encounter the same hurdle with Frontier that you did with Apache. The need a GUI. They need something that makes sense to them. It's easy to argue that Frontier has a GUI -- the Object DB and the outliners are nested and imitate the list view in the Finder. But this is just replicating the functionality in a internal sense.

Remember the number one rule of user interface design: Users want to be successful, not knowledgeable. The have no interest in what the system does, they merely want to accomplish the task they set out to do. The 1000 people you mention who made it to the point of publishing Web sites are the 1 percent skimmed off the top; they are the ones who took the time to grok the insides.

Think again about what it took to get Apache running on your NT box. Didn't you really want a dialog to come up asking you to fill in a few pieces of info (port number, domain name, document root, etc.), then click a button and have the big green "server running" light go on? Behind the scenes, some .conf file is being written, some command-line flags are being set. But as far as your concerned, you turned the key and the engine roared to life.

You absolutely need to build this on top of the web production component of Frontier. Seems like now that you can use Frontier as a HTTP server with a cgi component, you may as well build the frontend to all of this in HTML. Launch frontier --> point your web browser at --> fill in the blanks to create a new site, then push the 'Publish' button when you're ready. Easy, powerful, successful (and totally x-platform and portable).

BTW, you're not the only one who wants to capture meaning from threaded discussions on mailing lists and the like. So does Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Lotus. Check out their XML-based proposal.


From: Frontier-Newbies@scripting.com;
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 14:29:02 -0600;
Frontier and Cold Fusion

Does anyone have any experience using Frontier with Cold Fusion? I am using an older version of Cold Fusion, v. 1.5 standard, and would like to use Frontier to automate the production of Cold Fusion templates for various purposes.

The critical issues seem getting Frontier to produce .dbm (.cfm in later versions) files rather than .html ones, plus hooking Frontier and Cold Fusion so that previews can be accurate (i.e., they go through Cold Fusion before being previewed).

If you don't know what Cold Fusion is, you can check it out at http://www.allaire.com/.

From: heilman@pc.maricopa.edu (Chris Heilman);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 14:00:57 -0700;
Re:Learning from Newbies

I don't mind sitting down once a day for the next few months and writing up one of these recipes for success with Frontier. I have two questions from here: How do we organize this stuff? And how can I encourage other people to do the same?

I want to do a brain dump, once and for all, of everything I know about Frontier that could help an excited newbie climb the curve. I want everyone else to do this too. I want to create a permanent resource, so we can tackle bigger problems on the mailing lists.

I'm thinking about a question based repository, similar to a faq.

In the Chemistry Help Board, we originally used it like a bbs, where everyone on it had the same voice volume. But students didn't want to hear other students attempts at answers or their questions when they didn't need them. Only authoratative answers (the teacher's) are important.

Now the way it works, all questions are filtered through a single source, in this case a webpage with an fcgi (the good old Guestbook). Answering the questions builds a page that quotes the question and provides the (I hope) correct answer. Since the questions are indexed and searchable, students can search the questions to find the good stuff without wading through a bunch of non-relavent content.

Most of this system resides in my head, as yet. The specifics of the implementation can be different, but the essence is a searchable index of questions leading to pages with an answer on each page, keeping the high noise questions away from the low noise answers.

I'm still diggin' but I could use an extra 4 hours a day to do it in,

From: ToddM@rna.pcidirect.com (Todd McGuinness);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 14:23:44 -0600;
Java usage...

Just saw the coolest product demo ever yesterday! Interactive Intelligent Inc. or http://www.inter-intelli.com has developed an all Java product that acts as an Enterprise Interaction Center, or Enterprise Voice/Fax/Web/E-mail server. This stuff was incredible because: 1.) One box for everything(voice, email, fax) using MS - Exchange server. 2.) It's an ACD ( Automatic Communication Distributor) and a PBX 3.) It does text to speech (get email from the airport)

Thought you might be interested in another Java app that does what it was meant to do! It really works!

From: Patrick.Breitenbach@aexp.com (Patrick Breitenbach);
Sent at 11 Feb 1998 13:14:16 -0700;

I think the design of scripting.com represents less of UserLand's lighter experience with more current web design techniques than of UserLand's user-focused design, something that is quite rare these days.

scripting.com is one of the very few sites I visit multiple times throughout the day which would not be the case if it had a bunch of gratuitous images, frames, onMouseOvers, tiny text, etc.

From: bcox@gmu.edu (Brad Cox);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 11:25:28 -0800;
Re:Learning from Newbies

I don't mind sitting down once a day for the next few months and writing up one of these recipes for success with Frontier. I have two questions from here: How do we organize this stuff? And how can I encourage other people to do the same?

My context is teaching the Internet. Yours is teaching Frontier. My tool is server-based CGI and Perl. Yours is client-based Frontier. Neither are real differences at all. The same solution works in both cases. Its called empowering users, enabling them as active participants in a learning community versus passive receptacles for lectures or "help" files.

It is to teach a little, then have the learner restate what they learned in their own terms to move to the next level. Via web forms in my case, similar in yours. The web forms report learner information back to the server where perl scripts (in my case) automatically present it in addition to my original instructions to subsequent learners.

Learners are thus given a choice between learning from the expert or by reading instructions written by previous learners (learner view).

See http://www.virtualschool.edu/now under Taming the Electronic Frontier. Visitors are welcome.

The reasons I didn't do this in Frontier instead of Perl in the first place are the same ones that broached this discussion. I seriously considered Frontier but bounced off the learning curve, and simply found Perl more approachable (and portable back then).

From: tony_jacobs@ced.utah.edu (Tony Jacobs);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 11:07:30 -0800;
Re:"buddy system"

I had some ideas about this a while back when developing an automatic FAQ system for our site. My thought was do develop a multi-level marketing system type thing. You have levels of expertise and people work their way up the levels after they helped x number of people on their level or perhaps levels above. That way the experts only have to deal with expert questions and so on. People would have to give in order to receive. People would be challenged to help others in order to progress up the ladder of expertise.

So you have levels of experts (or mentors) and levels of questions. In order to advance to the next level you have to answer x number of questions at or above your level.

You're going to have two kinds of people, those who just want to ask questions and get help, and those who want to also contribute by answering questions.

The real key to a system like this is for it to be automated so you don't have to have a full time person administering it. The other key is to have a nice system of archiving the questions and answers so that other can search for them or so that once a question is posted, it can be compared against past questions to suggest a possible answer. I think KEY words need to be associated with each question and answer. Those KEY's would be part of the system of organizing and classifying the Q & A's.

A question is posted, something parses it and suggests possible similar questions. If a match is found, then their question is considered answered. If it is not, then it is put into the pool of unanswered questions. The pool of unanswered questions needs to have some kind of progression to it which causes the hard questions to float up to the top. The mentors at any particular level would either try to answer the question or pass on it. They might also vote it to be a higher level question.

Each question might have multiple answers just like a thread in a newsgroup. Those answers need to be classified and rated (automatically of course!) so that the good answers float to the top. People looking for answers could rate the answers based on how well the question was answered. The answers with the highest ratings would float to the top. Perhaps a mentors rating is determined not only by how many questions are answered at any particular level but also by how hight a rating the answers earned over time.

I think this is an incredible idea. Multi-level marketing applied to education! Very neat idea. DW

From: derick@valinor.med.utah.edu (Derick Siddoway);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 11:06:55 -0800;
Re:Learning from Newbies

I often say to him "You should have seen how this worked in Frontier 4!" We both have a good laugh. It's about making software. There's always room for improvement.

I agree -- always room. But what do you consider improvement? How do you see or prioritize the role of software developer? I see at least the following things that happen in software, and I wonder which you pay attention to, and which you ignore. Maybe ranking them?

For me and my team, different priorities at different times. For the last couple of years porting to other platforms (Windows) has been the highest priority. Making it easier for new users is also very high. Memory has not been a high priority, but it will be again I'm sure. Since we use the software ourselves, some are newbies, some know everything about it, we always go deeper. But our primary focus now is on making it easier for new people and really making it fit into the interapplication culture on Windows. DW

From: cm9778@wepco.com (Steve Booth);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 11:06:03 -0800;
Re:Learning from Newbies

We are currently wrestling with the "learning thang" as well. From my point of view, a mailing list is a good one time shot at informing. Archiving works better on a web site. One of the nicer features that I like about Allaire Corp.'s Cold Fusion is it's Support. I can pay by call or I can go to the knowledgebase or (most likely) I'll go to their forums. Knowledgebase and Forums are free. Very few times am I the first or only person to have encountered a problem. Works for me.

From: jvandyk@iastate.edu (John VanDyk);
Sent at Wed, 11 Feb 1998 13:06:33 -0600;
Re:Learning from Newbies

In this piece you mention you have a good 10-minute demo. Any possibility of doing realvideo, quicktime, or screenshots with voiceover...some way for those of us who can't fly out to see it?

I was ready to go with another tool, but Frontier looks like it's rejuvenating. Highest priority for me is, CGIs on NT, FileMakerLib porting to NT.

This page was last built on Tuesday, April 7, 1998 at 6:10:57 PM, with Frontier version 5.0.1. Mail to: dave@scripting.com. © copyright 1997-98 UserLand Software.