Java, Linux, Radio
Userland guru and accomplished author, web developer...
Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Rogers
Cadenhead, an accomplished author, writer, Web developer and
Web publisher (whose sites receive more than seven million
hits a year).
Rogers is a columnist for Linux
Magazine and has authored more than 17 books such as SAMS
Teach Yourself Java 2 in 21 Days (http://www.java21days.com),
How to Use the Internet, and the recent, Radio
UserLand, Kick Start (http://www.cadenhead.org/workbench/kickstart).
Q: Rogers, you have been active with Radio Userland
programming since the first beta release. We are looking
forward to discussing your experiences in this area and
others. Thank you for doing this interview.
A: Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about it.
Q: As an Internet content management and programming tool,
describe the features and benefits of using Radio Userland?
A: Radio UserLand has benefits on two levels. For casual
users, it's an excellent way to publish a weblog and read
RSS newsfeeds. You can get started with the software in
minutes. My wife Mary Moewe recently began using Radio to
publish Wordzilla (http://www.wordzilla.com),
a weblog about scriptwriting, and has started following a
few of her favorite sites through the RSS aggregator. This
is her introduction to weblogging and RSS, and Radio seems
like the best choice for that purpose. For advanced users
with some experience publishing Web sites or programming,
Radio is a powerful Internet development platform, object
database, and content management system that can do all
kinds of interesting things -- publish dynamic Web content
as HTML, RSS, and XML; produce and consume Web services with
XML-RPC and SOAP; mirror content; and gather information
from Web servers and Internet services.
Q: You are an acknowledged expert in Radio Userland. How do
you employ Radio UserLand in your work?
A: I'm using it in so many ways that I devote the first
chapter of Radio UserLand Kick Start to answering
this question. Radio has quickly become essential to my
daily work routine -- it's running all the time. I use it to
publish Workbench (http://www.cadenhead.org/workbench/),
a programming and publishing weblog that has grown to 1,700
pages and 900 entries, and to mirror Web pages and other
files automatically from my desktop to several Web sites.
One of the biggest timesavers is how Radio replaces the need
to use an FTP client -- I offer banner ads on a Web site,
and when I finish designing an ad, I save it in a folder on
my computer and Radio uploads it to the right server
automatically. Radio's great at this kind of information
routing. I'm using it to collect and present information
from a custom XML feed offered by NASA, publish my Advogato
programming diary using XML-RPC, and move data around using
HTTP, XML, RSS, POP3, XML-RPC, and SOAP.
Q: Can you comment on the UserTalk programming language and
the software’s object database?
A: Radio is built atop the same foundation as Frontier,
UserLand's Internet server and content management system.
The company's scripting language and object database have
been in active development for over a decade, and they're
great tools. UserTalk is a loosely typed language that
favors the ability to use data over the need to control what
form it is in. There are more than two dozen data types that
include simple things such as strings and booleans and
complex types such as outlines, UserTalk scripts, and binary
data. The object database, which can be accessed with simple
assignment statements such as workspace.name = "Bull
Mancuso", stores all of these types persistently. The code
and data you create with Radio are stored in this database
(or another in the same format). It's challenging to master
these tools, but UserLand does something unusual that helps
when you're learning to use the software: More than 90
percent of the code that implements Radio's features is
stored in the object database and can be examined (or even
modified) by users.
Q: Describe the development process for Web services and
detail XML-RPC, RSS and other aspects of the software’s XML
A: Radio is adept at producing and consuming XML-RPC (and
SOAP) Web services, reading and producing RSS newsfeeds in
all of the popular formats, and can read and write XML data.
New formats are supported all the time -- when Sam Ruby's
Atom project finishes its weblog and syndication format, I
expect that UserLand will offer a nightly software update
that adds read/write support to Radio within days.
Q: Why did you write the book on the topic area?
A: I was approached by Sams Publishing because they knew I
was avidly using the software to publish my own site and had
been an early beta tester. I was writing about Radio
frequently because I liked the software and had no idea it
might turn into a book.
Q: Who would be the audience for the book and why read your
A: The book is primarily intended for people who have
installed Radio, decided they like its weblog and RSS
features, and want to take the software further. One of
Radio's best-kept secrets is that it's a $39 product that
has most of the functionality of the $899 Frontier. Because
the software does not include formal documentation, I'm
hoping the book opens some eyes about how much Radio can do.
Q: Could you provide five tips from the book?
A: 1) Use the Nightly Backups preference to enable Radio to
save your weblog data on the server hosting your weblog.
When you publish with Radio, your most important data is on
your computer, not the Web host. Saving it to the server --
which is off by default -- makes it easy to recover from a
hard drive crash and other disasters.
2) If your weblog outgrows the free hosting offered by
UserLand, consider switching to the Python Community Server
an open-source clone created by Phillip Pearson and Georg
Bauer. It's faster because there aren't as many users and
offers additional features such as the ability to edit
3) A lot of great add-on tools have been created for Radio.
I use Kit by Mark Paschal to enhance the RSS news
aggregator, Footbridge (also by Paschal) to publish a weblog
category to an Advogato diary, and MyRadio by Mikel Maron to
collect other data sources.
4) When you write scripts, there are times when the compiled
script you are running will be different than the one you
see in the editing window. This is a feature, not a bug, and
the reason is explained in Chapter 12 of the book.
5) Befriend the Radio debugger. When I finally took the time
to learn how it works, I was kicking myself for avoiding it
for so long.
Q: As a Java developer, where do you see it evolving versus
competing products and how does it compare with other
A: I'm currently working on a revision to Sams' Teach
Yourself Java 2 in 21 Days that will cover Java 2
version 1.5, which is presently scheduled for early 2004
release. This may be the most dramatic upgrade since the
introduction of Swing -- the addition of generics, automatic
conversion between primitive types and objects, new for
loops, and other core language elements are eagerly
anticipated in the Java community. I'm not close enough to
C# to forecast how well it will do versus Java, but for me
the biggest reasons to continue using Java are the
well-designed class libraries, great open source Java
projects from Apache Jakarta, Eclipse and other developers,
and Sun's genuine commitment to platform and data
Q: You’re a widely read columnist on Linux. Talk about open
source, Linux, and related areas—share your views.
A: After writing a Java column for Linux Magazine for the
past year, I've been amazed by the amount of great open
source code that's available for Java developers today --
projects like Struts, Velocity, and Log4J from Apache and
the XML Object Model (XOM) library by Elliotte Rusty Harold.
You can bootstrap a useful Java Web application quickly
using well-written and reliable class libraries like these,
and they're also great real-world examples from which to
learn. Harold's XOM is especially useful in this regard --
he has documented his design principles for the XML
processing class library, and they're great lessons for any
Java developer. One of my favorite principles: "Simplicity
is a virtue." There's exactly one way to do things in each
XOM class; you don't have to learn 10 similar methods with
all of their nuances.
Q: Please share your experiences with Web publishing—any
stories to tell?
A: I've been publishing Web sites since 1996, missing all of
the great money-making opportunities that seemed so obvious
in hindsight. (Who couldn't have created a Web directory
like Yahoo in the mid-'90s? Me, sadly.) I missed the
weblogging bandwagon for a long time, but finally jumped on
board to thrill an audience of dozens. My claim to fame is
probably the Drudge Retort (http://www.drudge.com),
a parody I began with television writer Jonathan Bourne when
the domain became available in 1997. We've been using it to
be the Saliere to Matt Drudge's Mozart for six years now --
our most recent project was to fake live California election
Cruz Bustamente ended up in a tie, Gary Coleman finished
third with 15 percent, and Larry Flynt had a respectable
showing. I also have exchanged e-mail with unnaturally perky
Apple Switch spokesuser Janie Porche; I'll cherish it
Q: As a developer guru and IT expert you have a considerable
grasp of the IT industry. Can you make some
predictions—which products and services plus vendors to
concentrate on? Can you give specifics?
A: As long as you understand that any tech analyst with a
legitimate grasp on the future should be retired to a life
of luxury by now, and I'm not, at the moment I'm most jazzed
about IBM Eclipse, which has huge potential as an integrated
development environment and an application platform; Struts,
a framework that makes it much easier to design scalable,
reliable Web applications with Java; and UserLand Software.
Weblogging is booming, and the three companies most
responsible for it are Pyra (acquired by Google), Movable
Type's Six Apart (financed by venture capitalists in April),
and UserLand (independent). I expect to check News.Com one
of these days and learn that some software company has
backed up a money truck to company founder Dave Winer's
house and acquired UserLand, Weblogs.Com, and the rest of
the company so they can compete in this space.
Q: With your considerable business and development
knowledge, I’m going to ask you a questions on a hot and
controversial topic today, Web services.
1) How do you create a successful business model for Web
A: Short answer: beats me. So far, the mercantile efforts
I've most been impressed by are the Web services offered by
Google and Amazon, but in a larger sense RSS is the most
successful Web service. As a former newspaper journalist and
online newspaper editor, I'm amazed that so few pro
publications are offering RSS feeds to put their content
before several hundred thousand webloggers and other
readers. The print media needs to recognize that it has to
be on a 24-hour-a-day news model to compete with TV and
radio, and offering RSS feeds (and even weblogs) is the way
to begin that transition.
2) What are the traditional business models and what impact
will Web services have on these traditional business models?
A: We've wandered outside my comfort zone here. My last
corporate experience was as programming director for Zing
Systems, an interactive TV company founded by several cable
companies that were burning millions long before the dot-com
bust made that kind of thing fashionable.
Q: You see these everyday in your activities however it can
be a tough question. What are the ten most common problems
and their solutions facing businesses and developers today?
A: On the Web, the biggest problem I deal with is the
futility of making money through banner ads and affiliate
programs. There was a brief moment before the dot-com bust
in which it seemed like mom-and-pop Web publishers had an
opportunity to make respectable money publishing their
sites. I haven't had any hopes of generating revenue from my
Web sites until the recent launch of Google AdSense, the new
context-based ad service, and that could still prove to be a
fluke. I think the biggest problem for everyone on the
Internet is spam. There's a huge opportunity for a company
that creates an alternative e-mail network in which the cost
of e-mail shifts from the recipient to the sender. I'd love
the chance to pay 1 cent per e-mail with the knowledge I'd
only be receiving mail from people who paid the same fee.
Q: Sometimes it’s not what you know but can you find the
important information when you most need it. In your
writing, development and Web publishing work, which ten
resources do you find the most useful?
A: My best resource is the network of webloggers and other
sources I read with my Radio news aggregator and Feedster (http://www.feedster.com),
an RSS search engine. It's like being plugged into a hive
mind that's a step ahead where news about Java, Internet
development, and daily events are concerned. Whenever I'm
considering whether to write about a topic, I check Feedster
to see what webloggers are saying about it. They're great at
deflating hype and spotting things before the mainstream
media catches on -- one big example was how the Valerie
Plame Wilson leak scandal bounced around weblogs for more
than a month before the Washington Post and other media
caught wind of it.
Q: Wisdom is better than knowledge and derives from life’s
experiences. How did you get to your current position in
life and career? You must have some useful tips to share.
A: Like a lot of people who made the land rush onto the Web
early in the mid-'90s, I was there because my career up to
that point was not particularly successful. (If it had been,
I wouldn't have had the time to poke around the Web.) I was
given an opportunity to begin writing computer books in the
mid-'90s by Sams Publishing by editors I'm still working
with today, and it happened primarily because I forgot that
I wasn't 100 percent confident in my qualifications for the
job. Sixteen-odd books later, I'm convinced that a lack of
self-awareness regarding your own limitations is the biggest
contributor to personal success. It's like one of the rules
of the Elements of Style author William Strunk Jr.: "If you
don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!"
Q: If you were doing
this interview, what three questions would you ask of
someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: We've covered so much ground I'd like
to offer three questions in the hopes someone can answer
them for me.
1) Why did the Mozilla project sacrifice
all of Netscape's browser market share to develop a
from-the-ground-up Web browser, write a great browser, and
then abandon it to develop an entirely new browser right
after I wised up and adopted Mozilla?
2) Who was the person who thought
executing code in e-mail was a good idea?
3) Why am I the only technology guru who
recognizes the singular excellence of Microsoft Bob?
Q: Rogers, thank you for telling your story and providing so
many useful insights for our audience.
A: Thanks. And remember to buy Radio UserLand Kick
Start. For yourself and the ones you love.