Scripting News for 2/14/2007

A cell phone with a RSS button. (!) 

Congrats to Kevin Marks on his new job at Google. 

Love and technology 

Here’s a great story…

Dave Jacobs is PKD survivor, a hereditary disease that destroys the kidneys. Both Dave and his sister Cher received kidney transplants in 2004. His younger brother, Brant, died from the disease. Dave has three sons and is raising his nephew — each of these boys have a 50 percent chance of having inherited the disease. So the Jacobs family is very well motivated to solve this problem.

Dave is healthy again, really — you should see the guy, it’s a real miracle. We go out to eat, go to baseball games, take long walks, and kid each other about stuff that doesn’t matter, and cheer each other on as we go forward. And Dave is doing some amazing stuff, which I want to tell you about today.

His new company, Silverstone Solutions, has developed software that automates something that used to be done informally, manually and inefficiently, and the result is new kidneys for people who, without them, would likely die. Here’s how the system works.

Suppose you have a friend or relative who wants to donate a kidney to you, but for some reason that kidney isn’t transplantable in your body (wrong blood type, for example). So you register with your hospital, and they enter your data into the Silverstone software. Another person has a friend with a kidney that’s incompatible for them, but works for you. And suppose your friend’s kidney works for them. Bingo. Two people survive where before none would. The software of course can handle three-way combinations, and so on.

They’ve spent a couple of years getting it to work, and have signed their first customer, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. And today, Valentine’s Day, they performed their first transplant.

There’s no doubt that Big Dave survived his disease to find his purpose in life, to combine technology and knowledge with medicine and love, to save lives. I’m proud to know Dave, and honored to be among the first to tell this story.

A new feature for story pages 

A simple new feature, story pages now have a cookie crumb navigation trail at the top of each page, pointing to the day, month, year and entire archive. This way, when the story is indexed in a search engine, you can find your way back to the context in which the story appeared.

PS: I added a second new feature. Each paragraph on each story page now has a purple pound sign linked to a permalink for the paragraph, making it possible to point to individual paragraphs inside stories.


Things have been a bit slower here the last couple of days — I had minor elective eye surgery yesterday under general anesthetic, and it knocked me out pretty well. It seems to have been a success, had some problems with the retina in my left eye, still a bit wiped out from the experience, but overall feeling pretty well. Nothing like the surgery I had in 2002. πŸ™‚

Pipes, five days later 

Richard MacManus writes about Pipes. It has the chicken and egg problem, the same one every programming language has when its new, there’s not much interesting data to operate on. In this case, the target is the huge, rich base of RSS feeds, which is designed to work with one kind of aggregator, a River of News, and if you structured Pipes around that — a filtration process for a river, it might bear some immediate fruit, but its built on a different model.

It assumes that each feed can be dealt with as a procedure call, which according to the REST philosophers, it can, but in practice, feeds don’t take parameters, so they’re the least interesting kinds of procedures, like in UserTalk. Sure there are some verbs that build on that verb, date.month, date.year and date.dayOfWeek, but nowhere near as much as verbs that have rich parameter lists, which are like the gateways that Tim O’Reilly and Jon Udell are so excited about.

See XML-RPC for Newbies for background; a Pipes that could do XML-RPC could be interesting, esp because the Metaweblog API is an XML-RPC application, and is widely supported by blogging tools and CMSes.

In the RSS world, and therefore in Pipes, there’s no way to tell if items in two feeds are talking about the same thing. The best you can hope for is keyword serendipity, which all the demos so far do, and those make for unsatisfying demos, because you know you couldn’t deploy a useful app out of the concepts they illustrate. Very much like the early demos for HyperCard, Marimba, and my own Frontier.

Now it’s possible that a company like Yahoo, with its diverse flows of information, and nearly universal support of RSS, could add enough metadata to their feeds to be sure two items in different feeds were talking about the same thing, and then we’d be somewhere interesting. However at that point, I’d like a nice procedural language, something like Python’s treatment of XML-RPC, not the visually appealing but information sparse IDE that so many marketing people fall in love with, but not many programmers actually use.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John on February 14, 2007 at 10:59 am

    In this case, the target is the huge, rich base of RSS feeds, which is designed to work with one kind of aggregator, a River of News . . .

    Really. Was it. Interesting.


  2. Yahoo Pipe is definitely pretty, but on the same day I discovered it I came across to my mind a more useful mashup tool called Proto ( This is being developed by a New York company who already sell it in to Wall St. firms, guess what, they’re a software company that actually makes money by selling software! Proto has the ability to mashup web data and standard office data such as excel and uses VBA (beloved of power users everywhere) as its macro language. Combine it with RSSBus (, another within the firewall mashup tool, and lots of interesting lightweight apps could be possible.


  3. Re: Slowdown – Geez, I had my pupils dilated today and the whole afternoon was a waste. I don’t think I’d even bother if I’d had general anesthesia and surgery. Meanwhile you’re rolling out new features for Scripting News! Feel better soon.


  4. Hey Dave, From the “Slow Is Beautiful” camp, Cecile & I say hope you’re doing great and remember, slowing down is not a bad thing…


  5. Dan, I have been on a roll programming-wise for teh last week or so. Not sure where the burst of energy came from but I’m making great headway in a lot of projects, mostly shutting things down and simplifying stuff. Even having a weakened body isn’t interfering with the energy flow.

    Paul, of course slowing down is a good thing, but it’s all relative! πŸ™‚


  6. Posted by Tom on February 14, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Hey remember we were all talking about how we dislike those annoying pop-up preview links a couple of weeks back. Well I really dislike bad animated gifs too. I dunno, I just thought I’d mention it πŸ™‚


  7. Me too, I hate bad animated gifs. Of course I only use really good animated gifs on my site! πŸ™‚


  8. I have to say – that post about the RSS-buttoned phone is now officially the most popular post on my WordPress blog EVER. Previously, it was a post about Saddam being hanged.

    So it’s official – RSS is more popular than Saddam! πŸ™‚ Hurrah!

    Also, I think it’s funny when people say ‘I cant confirm this’, or ‘this could be a fake’ – I promise you this is not a fake.

    I think this was one of the most important things I saw at 3GSM. This was also not the only phone I saw which had a an RSS application – but it was the only one with a dedicated button.

    And no – I didn’t see any ‘My Atom’ apps. Or buttons with ‘Atom’ on it.

    The only trouble I did see though, was a slight lack of knowledge about what to do with enclosures. And representing, I have offered our assistance πŸ˜‰


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