Graffiti Beta 1 – Review (part 1)

As some of you may have noticed, Reddnet.net got a face-lift last week.

I’ve migrated off of the BlogEngine code base (which I reviewed a while back) in favor of Telligent’s new Graffiti CMS product. So far Graffiti is making me quite happy even though it is only in beta 1, but a few important features are still missing.

I thought I’d go ahead and do a review on it, but once I started writing I ended up with a lot to say. So I’ll be splitting the review into a several parts over the next week or two.

So for the first part let me just tell you a little about Graffiti and Telligent in general.

Graffiti – It’s not a blog exactly…

Graffiti CMS is the newest product from Telligent, the folks that brought us Community Server.

CMS is an industry standard acronym for “Content Management System”, but with Graffiti the “CMS” part of this product’s name supposedly stands for “Content Made Simple” instead. The dual meaning is quite deliberate, and Telligent is promoting Graffiti as a light-weight Content Management System even though they are playing around with the acronym.

Graffiti is somewhere between a simple HTML content platform and a traditional CMS system.

I should say up-font that I’m very skeptical of anything that calls itself a web based CMS system. The web itself IS a CMS system by design, and so the only real value anything can add to that is just gravy. CMS as a term is kinda hard to define. But generally CMS systems manifest by giving the site operator tools to organize, control, and search content once you’ve accumulated a metric ass-ton of it. Of course, any web platform has to provide this kind of functionality so generally when you hear someone talk about CMS they are either stating the obvious, or just talking out of their ass.

But even though CMS is a flimsy marketing word there are a couple of things a good “CMS” will have to provide. The most important is tools for creating content that is of high quality. That means a simple and effective online content editor and usually also includes revision tracking, and content review and approval (work-flow) features. On the other end, a CMS should provide some mechanisms for organizing content. Usually that means categorization, labeling of some sort, reporting, and searching functionality. All this is necessary to keep old content from being buried under a mountain of newer stuff.

As I said though, any decent web platform has to do this. The only difference between a “CMS” and an online catalog or online discussion forum is the kind of content being dealt with. In Graffiti’s case, the content being managed is HTML “posts” like articles, blog posts, and similar.

In beta 1, Graffiti has a good start on the publishing end of things. It provides the essential tools to easily and quickly creates content, and it presents that content in an effective way. It also presents content over RSS feeds as well as HTML web pages. It is also highly optimized to search engines and has a beautifully simple way of managing URLs automatically so they remain very human friendly.

But the bulk of the heavy CMS features such as revisioning, review, and moderation are incomplete in beta 1. The searching, sorting, and categorization of content is present, but also not quite complete yet. There are a few rudimentary reports in beta 1 but presently this is limited mostly to summary traffic information… Basically beta 1’s reporting amounts to a glorified “view counter”, but the reports are very pretty.

Fortunately for smaller organizations or casual bloggers, the heavy CMS stuff is unobtrusive, optional, and if used will add a lot of value without adding a lot of complexity.

While Telligent is very careful to make sure everyone knows that Graffiti can do things other than blogs, the reality is that Graffiti’s design is very much blog-inspired. The only real difference between Graffiti and most other blog kits is that Graffiti is a tad more polished, more flexible, and built to be extended in other directions. But the core is very bloggish.

The light-weight CMS components will probably allow Graffiti a good bit of success in other markets such as for news and other “article” based sites as well as in product/service support applications as a knowledge base. I fully expect to see Graffiti add simple forums and wiki functionality very soon after the initial RTM release. If not, I expect the developer community will probably quickly move to supply such as add-ons.

But the largest market for Graffiti will certainly be the bloggers. Beta 1 lacks some essential blog related functionality though. The biggest for me is support referral services and trackbacks. But those are promised for the final release, and  it already has rock solid posting and RSS support.

About Telligent:

 I’m a huge fan of Telligent and I’ve been closely following their work since the company first formed a few years ago. If you were to ask me where I’d most likely seek employment if I were to relocate out of South Carolina, then I’d give you a list of companies with Telligent’s name at the top. They are a great group of very talented people and they make some of the best code on the planet!

On the flip side though, I’ve never been that big a fan of Telligent’s flagship product, Community Server. CS is just too big, heavy, and purpose built for my tastes. CS is most certainly the best large scale forums and blog hosting platform on the market. CS does what it does very well, but it also sticks to its niche pretty tightly and is hard to adapt, especially in smaller environments.

As a developer, I’ve always found extending and customizing CS to be… well… less than fun. It is quite painful and difficult to work with and requires a strong grasp of both .net as well as the CS product’s internal architecture. CS has gotten much easier to develop against over the years though, but also during that time it has grown into a monstrous beast with about a dozen optional enterprise level add-ons. So while developing for CS may be easier than in the past, there is a lot more to develop against too. CS is almost so big that you could make an entire career out of just developing CS sites…. kinda like sharepoint, which is another product I’m not all that fond of –and for many of the same reasons.

The Waffle House Code Engine

I spend a lot of time at my local Waffle House writing code. I know, not the most up-scale choice, but unfortunately a necessary one considering the lack of other good options these days.

For those unfamiliar with it, Waffle House is a very large chain of greasy-spoon diners. It is nearly a national chain, but there are a few areas that haven’t been graced with a waffle house yet but most places have something similar.

Waffle houses are very small restaurants seating around 25 people comfortably. They are usually located on major interstates or within major cities. They are also notoriously dirty places, with generally crappy food guaranteed to cause heat disease nearly instantly. The regular clients of such places range from retired old men to drunken motards with a lot of not much in-between.

On the plus side though, waffle houses are cheap places to eat (more or less), they serve great coffee. For their employees the house pays weekly, and they pay in cash too. This makes it the ideal job for drug-addicts, escaped convicts, illegal immigrants, and anyone whose idea of a “savings” account includes a mattress and some coupon books.

It wasn’t always this way for me.

I used to hang out in higher-class establishments like IHOP or Denny’s. Hey! I didn’t say “high” class, just higher class than the awful waffle. But I’m a smoker, and I love sitting around with my laptop writing code while drinking coffee and smoking at 3am, and for that there just aren’t many class-establishments to choose from.

It just works for me.

I’ve tried this at home, but all that mess about having to get up and make coffee, pour it myself when my cup runs empty… uug… and I don’t smoke in the house so I have to actually go out to the garage when I want a smoke. Also, at home I have all my other stuff handy like the TV, a fast internet connection, and a lot of neglected chores that need doing.

So its easy to get distracted.

At the office, things are better. But there I have co-workers that need working with, my end-users have questions to ask, bugs to report, and just general problems that need solutions. Plus there is my boss who needs status updates and has new ideas and features to propose and some other projects to discuss. Then there are meetings and the occasional talking to the customer too.

In short:

if(codeAtHome == null &amp;&amp; codeAtWork &lt; optimal)<br />{<br />    DoWorkAtWaffleHouse();<br />}

So while I get code done at the office, and less often even at home, I still do my best work after-hours in places where there are people getting paid to look after me. Plus the staff makes good entertainment when you need to take a break from the screen for a bit.

But the anti-smoking movement is on its way, and I’m sure it wont last much longer, every year there is more and more political noise in the direction of banning smoking in all public places. At this point it may just be a matter of time. So once I either quit smoking (which I’m planning to do this year) or they finally ban it, the only real thing that changes is that I’ll have more options for where to hang out.

Pack’n

Update: 6 months after buying the XD, I have replaced it with a Walther PPS 9mm. Find out why in my folllow-up post.

I was raised around guns. As a kid I lived on a small hobby farm in a rural part of South Carolina, and guns were just part of the scenery. As young as 6 or 7, I was using small rifles and shotguns. Not that I was much of a hunter or anything. Mostly the guns were for defense.

We raised cattle, and packs of wild dogs were still common in the area, so we carried weapons of some kind almost all the time in the woods or pasture. Usually we carried knifes, BB guns, pellet guns, or sometimes just big sticks. But if a pack of dogs had been sighted, suspicious strangers reported in the area, or a violent crime where the assailant was still at-large, we’d switch up to shotguns and rifles.

At least twice, having a gun on me in the woods saved my life. Once from a group of dogs and once from a very upset bull.

I have a healthy respect for the 2nd amendment and I am comfortable with guns, but I’ve not bothered to keep my own guns as an adult. I had several reasons including the high cost of weapons, but mostly it was just because I usually had roommates who owned plenty of guns. I just never felt the need to buy my own.

I’m not the kind to trust the police and government to protect me from danger. Police are great 10 minutes after the shit hits the fan, but they aren’t likely to be handy when you are actually being assaulted, robbed, mugged, car-jacked, etc.  And governments are just as likely to be doing the assaulting as protecting anyone from it. Likewise though, I do have a good grasp of the actual rarity of random personal assaults. Even in the most dangerous of urban areas. most assaults are committed by people you already know and have pissed off. So I just make a habit not to know too many people likely to assault me, and avoid pissing off the rest so much. This greatly increases my odds.

Still though, I have a habit of being out late at night and hanging around slightly dangerous places. I also own my own house now and live alone most of the time, so there aren’t roommates with guns around anymore. And that is why  I finally decided to buy a handgun, learn to shoot reasonably well, and get my conceal and carry permit. I have always carried a good knife on me, but I have no doubt that a knife would probably do little for me against a real threat.

Time to upgrade.

One thing that always bothered me about civilian gun owners is that they tend to get carried away. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes an ordinary person become a gun-nut, but It does seem to be a very simple conversion for most people. They decide they want to buy a gun, and two weeks later they are at the gun-show picking up their 8th pistol and 3rd rifle and have most of their credit cards maxed out on accessories already. They’ll go on for hours on end debating the merits of this vs. that weapon, talking technical details about the performance characteristics of different kinds of ammo, and worst of all –they spend an enormous amount of money buying weapons, accessories, and gear that they will likely never use other than recreationally.

I’m not a person who has a need to be a gun-collector, and I’ve never wanted to be a suburban gun-nut. But in becoming a gun owner, I see more clearly just how very easy it is to fall into becoming one. Guns are not simple, especially handguns. They come in an amazing array of sizes, shapes and calibers. Just deciding what to buy requires a significant investment in time and learning. And no handgun is good for everything. So it becomes very easy to have a conversation like this with yourself:

“I’ll get the 5″ 9mm semi-automatic for the shooting range. It is very accurate, holds a lot of ammo, and won’t beat the shit out of me. It’d have similar enough recoil to my concealment weapon to make it good for practice.”

“Then I can get the 6″ .22 semi-automatic for the range because ammo is dirt cheap for those, almost no recoil so you can fire it all day long, plus they are just plain fun.”

“But I still need a concealment weapon. For that I’d like to get the 3″ sub-compact semi-auto .45 with double stack magazine. Big bullets for best chance to put down an attacker in one shot, double stacked for more bullets, and still short enough to fit in a concealment holster… more-or-less.”

“But in the summer when I’m wearing thinner clothes, it would be easier to conceal that tiny little 9mm with the single stack magazine. It is really tiny, but with smaller bullets it holds as many shots as the double stack .45 and is a lot lighter. Of Course it will kick like a mule and be less accurate, so it’s not that good at the range”.

“OK, maybe I should go with a longer weapon. A 4″ barrel will help with accuracy, even though it’s harder to conceal, but that’s OK I can go with a smaller caliber instead”.

“Crap, what about brand. This one has a manual safety which I like, but it is double action on that first shot, which always throws off my aim. Maybe I should get the one with the trigger and grip safeties instead… I don’t like that as much, but it has a single action first pull… which would be better in a crisis.

“What about a revolver. They are more reliable and a little simpler to use.”

“Now, should I get all metal, or go with a polymer frame?”

“Fuck-it, I’ll just buy ALL of them!”

  
So I can see how collectors and gun-nuts happen.

For the record, I decided on a 3″ Sub-Compact XD .40 Caliber from Springfield Armory. It’s a short and squat weapon, but still a tad on the thick and heavy side. For most people it probably wouldn’t matter, but I’m so thin that concealing a weapon of any kind is a tad tricky. But this one conceals reasonably well when I wear a coat or heavy shirt, and most of the time I’ll probably just be in my laptop bag anyway (I rarely go anywhere without that at my side).

I stubbornly refuse to go crazy and become a total gun nut and collect a personal arsenal. But also, I do live in a two story house so I’ll probably pick up a second handgun for up-stairs and eventually a slimmer 9mm carry weapon for those times when the XD is just a tad too big or when I’ll be carrying for longer periods of time. Add that to a 12 Gauge shotgun, the ultimate home-defense weapon, and that should be about all I’ll need. It’s Four weapons, but still… most of my friends own twice that many or more…

Shit… OK, I’ll admit it… I’m now officially a gun-nut. Damnit! But I promise not to get too carried away.

I’m not your prozac

Caress has started blogging her experience with AVM over at “I’m not your prozac“. She wrote a lot of those posts while she was going through her procedures, but since I hadn’t gotten off my lazy ass and put up her blog site (and she was a tad too busy to do it herself) she’s didn’t get them online until more recently. Most of her posts are back-dated to when she actually wrote them.

I’ve avoided blogging about the experience mostly because I was waiting on her to blog about it first, and also because AVM is too damned scary for me to blog well.