Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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2002-2009 blog page archive

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well, I think I've held out longer than most...  seven years in Internet time is pretty long! Since April 2002, this blog has been hosted on the "" server run by Userland Software, the company that makes the blogging package  "Radio Userland." The hosting has been included in the modest ($40) annual licensing fee for the software since 2002. Today I stumbled on the news that practice will end in December.

Too bad. I never did get around to memorizing the number in the address. I think 0106327, means that I was user number 6,327. Or maybe it was number 327? I seriously doubt that there were ever 106,327 of us, but maybe I underestimated the operation.

I had switched to Radio Userland from two no-charge-for-hosting blogs, because Radio gave me an automatic backup copy of the blog on my own computer, as well as the security that comes with knowing you're paying for something instead of trusting some dotcom startup's  free-service business model. The other two blogs were done with Userland's other program, Manila, and with a system called Trellix -- and both of those blog servers have long since gone away. ("Free" services can be like that. But I hope no one at Google/Blogger is listening.)

Here's my first Radio post:

Heh... I see that back then I still treated "Web log" as two words some of the time, even referred to "logs" instead of "blogs." How quaint. That was even though I'd been playing with since the previous December.  

Blogging History
Radio Userland at that point was used by some of the top bloggers, including (of course) Dave Winer, who founded Userland. Others included a self-promoting former MTV dude named Adam Curry, as well as Robert Scoble (who worked for Userland before going to Microsoft), and Linux Journal's Cluetrain guru Doc Searls, and more. Unlike every other "blogging platform" I'd tried, Radio put the software on your local computer -- laptop or desktop -- not just out on a Web server someplace. Along with the security of having my own local copy, I liked to work on blog items offline on a laptop in those pre-wifi days. I'd do some writing at a coffeeshop, then connect the modem at home or plug in an office Ethernet and "publish" the blog contents to the server.

As an alternative to, Userland also offered the option of using your own server, but I never bothered to make the switch, taking an "if it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it" approach even after I set up as my static home page. Now I guess I'll figure out how to move the blog over there, at least for archival purposes. I might even use this transition as an excuse to install my own WordPress server,  a good educational experience for me. We are using WordPress more and more here at Radford University, but I've never started from scratch. I've used three or four "hosted" WordPress accounts, including and -- an experiment and a cobweb, respectively. Always time to learn new things... (For the past year I've been learning about Drupal to do )

In fact, the last time I flirted with the idea of hosting a blog server, it was a year or two before Radio Userland came along: I had licensed a copy of its parent system, Userland Frontier and Userland Manila, intending to host a site at Emerson College's Department of Journalism. But the  technology folks across campus wouldn't let me run a server from our building, blaming the antiquated wiring. My office was once the servants' quarters on the fourth floor of a 90-year-old Beacon Street brownstone. When I moved out, Emerson sold the building. Today that floor is a $4 million condo. I suspect the wiring has been upgraded. As for the server, I had (more than) enough to handle with new courses to teach and a dissertation to finish, so I never pressed the issue.

It dawns on me that if Emerson had given me a chance to build that site, we would have beaten Harvard to the punch by a few years. Userland Manila and blogging came to Harvard when the Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society gave Dave Winer a fellowship in 2003, and he set up the original using Userland Manila. (A while after he left, the school migrated it to WordPress.)

Radio Userland and Dawn of Podcasting
Geeky digression: The name Radio is full of irony. Perhaps Userland called the program that because blogs are, in a way, a form of broadcasting -- but I don't think Userland actually had "audio programs" in mind, even though it turned out that Radio included the essential tools of what became "podcasting," the idea of sending radio-like programs over the Internet. Winer had built in to Userland Radio an  RSS feed generator and an RSS aggregator (receiver)... and he had tweaked the RSS standard to allow "enclosed" media files.

At Harvard Winer started using that kind of "enclosure" feed with fellow Harvard blogger and NPR-veteran Christopher Lydon's recorded interviews. A few weeks later, Userland customer Adam Curry, across the Atlantic, hacked together an Applescript to lift Lydon's interviews out of his Radio folder and dump them into an iTunes folder for transfer to his iPod. A few weeks later, a journalist at The Guardian used the word "podcast" for the first time, describing the Lydon interviews.

(I set up a separate podcasting blog to give it a try myself, got it workign for a demo, but then let my "Podfolk" site become an intermittent music blog instead.)

Anyhow, I'm searching my mailbox for official word that the service is closing. Maybe I missed it? Otherwise, I'm a bit annoyed that I haven't been told directly. Maybe something got lost in the mail? In any case, this morning I just stumbled on this notice at the company's home page:
Radio UserLand service closing
UserLand has decided to close the Radio UserLand and Salon Radio services as of December 31, 2009.
Please read the announcement for details of the closure.

Not the most "User-friendly" change of service procedure I've ever heard of. But the more detailed announcement does explain that I can still use the software to publish to my own server... For now, I'll be using my Blogger account until I figure out what to do with these archives.

See me there at

Suggestions? Comment below.

Footnote: This is odd... my local copy of my June 14 and June 23 posts to this blog have disappeared from my desktop server, and the June 14 link has disappeared from the blog calendar.  I'm posting both of them again today just to see what happens. Pardon the repetition. This was the June 23 item; the one below ran on June 14.


Ukulele madness at NPR (and at my house)

Summertime news: Fiddling while Rome burns may have been a sign of Nero's craziness, but strumming a ukulele is therapy, according to NPR.  I woke up to this piece on the radio yesterday...

Rather than wait for some conspiracy theorist declare a ukuleleftist plot at NPR by tracking down all its relevant stories, I decided to do the latter myself. 

(I was about to add,  "I don't remember whether anyone pointed out that both the ukulele and President Obama hail from Hawaii...", but I did a quick search for "Obama+Ukulele" first. Glad I did!  More conspiracy: Obama got a ukulele last month, ostensibly "a gift for his daughters"... 
But it may not have been his first. Was the uke (ahem) instrumental in his election? I didn't notice at the time, but there were campaign ukulele jam sessions, and even an attempt at a Million Uke March! And more:  244,000 Obama-uke links here.)

That search also found a press release announcing an attempt at a world record for "largest ukulele ensemble" in Chicago this August. Has NPR had that story, or am I scooping them? Anyhow, let's get back to evidence of the NPR ukulele conspiracy:
OK, so those are all mentioned as footnotes on yesterday's story.  But what about these NPR-featured players of the uke, among other instruments?
OK, maybe the ukulele is a legitimate story.

I bought a Romanian-made uke from a Michigan traveling tent-show music store guy at the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention last year... and he was back with more last week. A quick search for "uke fest" uncovers events in Hawaii, New York, London, Dallas, Tahoe, Portland, Göteborg (Sweden) and Stadsschouwburg of Sint-Niklaas (Belgium).

Search YouTube for "ukulele" and you'll get the impression it ought to be named "uketube," headed by some virtuoso clips from the amazing Jake Shimabukuro. (Top right.) One of his clips has had more than 3 million plays.)  And the magical Julia Nunes (right) -- who has gone from harmonizing with herself via webcam on YouTube to opening for Ben Folds... I see she's at Bonnaroo this weekend. I'm not.

And then there are these ukecentric sites, among many others:

So far, no uke jam sessions in my neighborhood. Maybe we should start one? Inspiration? Try the two videos on this page for a start.

9:28:07 PM    

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