Tuesday, May 30, 2006

California Drivin'

I just got back from my road trip to California last week. It was a really great trip, despite the huge amount of driving, about 3350 miles in just over a week.

Our first destination was the wine country north of San Francisco. Before we even got to the hotel, we drove through the Napa Valley. After all that driving, I just wanted out of the car, so we took a random turnoff and ended up parking at a monastery on a hillside. Practically in the parking lot, we ran into this man-eater of a plant.

We walked around a little bit, and eventually ran into a wild turkey nest in a copse of trees. One of them ran off, I think to distract us. Actually, he was amazingly fast. Perhaps there was some roadrunner blood in his family. He took of down the road, and then flew over a fence before I could get a decent picture.

After the dangers of the man-eating plant and dangerous turkey, it was time for some wine. We hit up several random wineries in the area, sipped some wine, and practiced looking snooty and talky about fruity overtones and earthiness.

As an aside, I found that I'm not a huge fan of the wine tasting per se. I can certainly appreciate sitting around sipping wine, but wine tasting is a different proposition. Mostly it was the "bartender" that bothered me. They would list off 5 or 10 different flavors in the wine, and I just don't have the palate to taste that, so I felt a bit like a blind man at an art show. Plus I don't like making small talk, and being scrutinized by strangers while I'm trying to drink is just disconcerting. So really, my favorite part of the wineries were the grounds. Every one of them was beautifully landscaped, and most had picnic areas. Unfortunately drinking and photography didn't mix too much, so I don't have many pictures.

The following day we went to Healdsburg, a small town in the Russian River Valley. Healdsburg is a nice little town, with lots of nice restaurants and shops, but what really drew us was the tasting rooms. There are at least a dozen within walking distance of the town center, and unlike the wineries many of them offer free tastings. Best of all, I didn't have to drive between the wineries, so no more worrying about drunk driving.

The day after Healdsburg, we swung through Sonoma on the way to our next stop in Monterey. Overall, it was a great, relaxing start to the trip. Plus, we walked out of it with about a case of wine to take home. It's a good thing we didn't pack the car full of luggage before then.

Tomorrow, some pictures from part 2 of the trip, Monterey.

PS, I'm messing around with SmugMug, check out all the pictures here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Latest Buzz

Lately I've been working on some stuff that I think is pretty cool. At Newsgator we're calling it Buzzlets, which is kind of a lame name (originally it was NewsBytes, but then it turned out the New York Times has that trademarked).

Basically Buzzlets are little blocks of data that can be easily dropped onto a page. They pull from the Newsgator database to show things like "Most Buzzy" or "Most Popular" posts. Mostly just what's going on in the world. It's neat data, updated regularly.

I was going to put them up here, but I just haven't had the time. Putting together the Buzzlets themselves is not hard, but making it pretty is tough for a code geek like me. So instead, check them out on the Newsweek reader. It's the stuff in the left side bar, under the heading Latest Buzz.

But that's from a user perspective. What's neat from a geek perspective is that getting the data just takes one SCRIPT tag. On top of that, is fully templatable from inside your HTML. Basically you write an invisible tag that has the template inside it, tell the SCRIPT tag about it, and it takes care of the rest.

The templating engine is about 11KB of pure Javascript that downloads itself, grabs the data, reads your template, smashes the two together and sticks the result into your page. I have to say I'm pretty proud of it. It's not the first (or even best) Javascript templating engine out there. For example, I considered using TrimPath JST, but decided it wasn't quite right. It has a lot of capabilities we don't need that added complexity, and was missing a few things I really wanted.

You can also nest them inside each other -- originally the Newsweek reader used that and some slick DHTML effects from my coworker. So for each thing you see in the Latest Buzz now, it would accordion out to show more in depth info like the feed's image, number of subscribers, description, and list of recent posts. I really liked it, but it didn't quite make the cut for this version. We're hoping it'll get in the next version.