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What I've been busy with, continued

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Jul. 7th, 2007 | 12:00 am
mood: productive

So, after another long pause, I'll try to answer the question which remained at the end of my previous post: how does my friend Jim's being in jail make me busier? 

Well, you see, Jim had an interactive Web site, which he referred to as a wiki, and which he'd set up, more than a year earlier, in order to experiment with how wikis work.  When he found out, in May of this year, that "That old judge wouldn't budge", and he'd being spending six months in jail, Jim had the brainstorm that this existing wiki could be repurposed: it could be a communication vehicle for those who wanted to stay in touch with him, and otherwise support him, while he was in the correctional facility.  For example, he could write something like a "blog" which could be posted on the site.  (No, he doesn't have computer access in jail; he writes it by hand, a Minnesota Friend transcribes it and e-mails it to me, and I put it up on the site.  But that's getting ahead of the story.)

Jim put a quite a lot of energy into getting the site ready for this use, during the short time he had before reporting as ordered.  But he knew from the outset that, for this to work, someone else would need to administer the site while he was actually "inside".  As he and I are pretty close friends, and fellow "semi-retired" computer professionals, he asked me to do this, and I readily agreed.

And for weeks (through, and well beyond, the last update to this Radio blog), I, in turn, poured a great deal of energy, and more than a little worry, into it.  As for the worry part: at least part of me knew, all along, that nothing really critical depended on getting this wiki (which I prefer to call an "interactive Web site") set up "just right".  But I was upset about Jim's having to go to jail; felt "there must be something I can do to help"; and when the opportunity to do this presented itself, I not only was happy to oblige, but undoubtedly invested it with some of the emotion that I wished I could invest in "fixing things" so that he didn't have to go to jail, if only there were a way to do that.  I'm sure there's a technical name, among shrinks, for this phenomenon.

One issue with which I wrestled a lot was whether to take advantage of the wiki software's capability to restrict access to the site, so that only those with a username and password could "get in".  I ended up doing so, but it was a hard decision for me, because it wasn't what Jim had intended, when he handed it over to me; and I wanted to respect his wishes as much as I could.  But I ended up concluding that I would have to trust my own instincts: he was "inside", by the time that I understood the pros and cons of this issue.

Anyway, that's only an example of the things I've agonized over, and labored on, in trying to make this site serve its several purposes, as best I could.

I can imagine that I might have made you curious to see the actual site in question.  Actually, I think part of me hopes I've make you curious.  But it wouldn't do much good to list the URL, since, as I said, you'd need a username and password in order to "get in".

I will tell you that the "wiki" software in question is known as JotSpot.  The people who developed it call it a "wiki", but more specifically, an "application wiki"  This means that within such a site, you can have various pages which embody various kinds of on-line applications (from forums to spreadsheets), not just the "web pages you can edit right in your browser" which are most commonly associated with the term "wiki".  That's part of why I prefer to call it an "interactive Web site"; the other part of the reason is that some people don't associate anything with the term "wiki": that word is just not part of their vocabularies.

I could take this bit of writing in different directions, from here.  I could talk more about the JotSpot technology: why it seems potentially promising to me, and why I'm worried that the promise will not be realized.

I could also talk about Quakerism: Jim and I are both friends and Friends, i.e. members of the Raleigh Friends Meeting, and most of the people participating in this support effort at the Minnesota end are members or attenders of the Twin Cities Friends Meeting.  So it would be interesting to discuss whether the way I've been able to build cooperation with these people, whom I've never met, reveals anything that's special about the Religious Society of Friends (the more formal term for the faith tradition known as Quakerism).

Perhaps I'll do both of those things, if I can find the time.  But that will be in posts yet to come.


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