January 29, 2004

Why Google needs Orkut

In all the discussion of Orkut I've seen so far, most folks are busy comparing Orkut to every other social networking web site around, typically they mention Friendster ("it's so much faster!"), but as we all know these sites are a dime a dozen these days. At least it seems that way.

What surprises me is that nobody has looked at it the other way around: What problems might Orkut solve that Google would otherwise find significantly more challenging?

Those that do seem to speculate about "applying your social network to search" and other exotic stuff, but I'm thinking of something far more basic than that: users.

That's right, users.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Google has millions of users!" Of course they do. How much do they really know about those users? Do they really have a user database from which they can mine interesting data? If they have one, it must pale in comparison to what Yahoo, AOL, and MSN have.

Rather than try to convince users to start "registering" for Google, why not piggyback on one of the most viral fads going around: a social network application? And, for added effect, make it an invite only system so that you feel special once you're invited.

Just think about it for a few minutes. If you've been thru the Orkut registration process, you know that it attempts to collect a ton of data about you. The kind of demographic data that marketing folks drool over. And right now there are lots of folks dying to get that special invite and begin the sign-up process.

Still with me? Good.

Let's assume that Google internationalizes Orkut and lets it run to the point that it has millions of users registered and active. That's not an unreasonable thing to expect. Then, one day down the road, they quietly decide to "better integrate" Orkut with Google and start redirecting all Orkut requests to orkut.google.com.


Suddenly they're able to set a *.google.com cookie that contains a bit of identifying data (such as your Orkut id) and that would greatly enhance their ability to mine useful and profitable data from the combination of your profile and daily searches.

Of course, we know that the "big three" already do this sort of thing to some degree or another. But Google's lack of intimate knowledge of their users is surely holding them back from doing some of the things they'd love to do. Many folks think it's just a matter of time before they try to get "real" users signed up.

Could this be the start of that?

[As I've said before in case it's not abundantly clear, I don't speak for my employer on my weblog. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs some serious medication.]

Posted by jzawodn at 03:55 PM

PHP Lesson: is_int() vs. is_numeric()

Note to anyone else who might do the dumb thing I did. When you're handling GET/POST input in PHP and wan to know if a value is numeric, don't use is_int() because it'll lie to you. What you want is is_numeric(). Of course, the is_int() documentation specifically warns you about this, but it doesn't do much good if you read right past it.

I was *this* close to walking over to Rasmus or Andrei and asking for a sanity check, but I decided to re-read the docs one more time. Heh. There's an hour or so I'll never get back.

Of course, this *is* the first PHP work I've done in quite a while. You don't want to know how many times I tried to declare a variable like: my $foo, thinking it was Perl. I think that's finally out of my system.

Note: Coments may be off-line for a bit. I'm being DoS'd by some comment script kiddies right now. Retards.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:50 AM

January 28, 2004

I got the house!

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I haven't posted on this topic for a few days, 'cause I've been very busy. So here's the slightly shorter version...


This past Sunday, my realtor and I met to go look at places. The first place we saw was in Campbell. The townhouse was listed at about $465k which I quickly realized was over priced. It had been on the market a long time and many, many folks had looked at it (as evidenced by the stack of other realtor's cards in the kitchen). I'd have been glad to buy it at a 10-15% discount and put some of that "saved" money into upgrades for the kitchen.

On the way of that place, my realtor accidentally left her little realtor access device (an electronic thingy that opens the key box) inside. So we were done for the day. Rather than waste it, I drove off to the southern tip of San Jose, near 101 and 85 to scope out another place I wanted to see. While there, I checked out the area quite a bit. It was far from work but very nice. We planned to meet again on Monday morning.


We met Monday morning at the place in southern San Jose. This is a very new development (about 5 years old) and the place was very, very nice and less expensive. The only problem was that it had 2 bedrooms rather than 3. I really wanted 3. However, another unit 20 feet away was also for sale but not yet in MLS, so we checked it out too. It was a 3 bed, 2 bath unit listed at roughly $465k. The floor plan wasn't quite as good but I really liked it.

With that in mind, we headed back north into San Jose to visit two others. The first was we saw was the least expensive place on the list. At just under $400k, it was reasonably sized but old. It hadn't been upgraded at all in a long time and it was in an older neighborhood. The monthly HOA fees were unknown. I wasn't too impressed with it.

The final place we looked at was on Roy Ave in the Willow Glen area of San Jose. It was nearly 1700 square feet and listed at $485k. And it was already vacant--the owners had moved out last week. That place was quite spacious. It had a very large living room with a good size dining room and kitchen. The kitchen wasn't really new but wasn't exceptionally old either. I really liked the back patio (where I discovered the air conditioner) and detached garage. There's extra overhead and side storage in the garage. Upstairs, the master bedroom is quite large and the other two aren't bad either. I quickly decided that I wanted to put an offer on the unit.

The Offer

I met my realtor yesterday morning (Tuesday) to put the offer together. Having done it once before, it went a lot faster. We sent the offer in at 2pm with a "we need an answer by 6pm" clause. The sellers contacted us at 5pm to say they were waiting for a few others and needed to wait until 8pm. We agreed to let it go longer. But then they tried to push us back until this morning. That pissed off me and my realtor, so she made that clear to them. We had sent in a good solid offer and they knew it.

Well, my realtor called me at 7:30am today (yawn!) to let me know that she had a late voice mail last night from the sellers. I got the place!


Sorry, I have no pictures to post at this time, but that will change in a few weeks. I'll likely be replacing the carpet before I move in, since what's there know is quite ugly (to me). And I may have some repainting done too.

Next up: more documents, inspections, and other fun. Stay tuned for more (if you care).

Posted by jzawodn at 08:08 AM

January 26, 2004


You know it's a bad sign when you're only caught up on e-mail and it's already 7:30pm. Not all e-mail, just the important and/or job-related stuff.


If you've mailed me recently and haven't heard back, well, you may not for a bit longer. Sorry. House hunting + busy at work + other stuff = slow to respond.

Looking at my calendar for the rest of the week, I see it's not gonna let up either. I'm just glad that this isn't prime soaring season too!

Posted by jzawodn at 07:32 PM

Configuring MovableType to Ping Yahoo: Three Easy Steps

As a follow-up to last week's launch of RSS in My Yahoo! I'd like to describe how amazingly simple it is to configure MovableType to ping Yahoo's RSS database each time you post to your weblog.

But first I should explain why you want to do that... Simply put, if you ping Yahoo, you content makes it into My Yahoo much faster. Otherwise, left to it's own motivations, the crawler will pull your RSS feed every so often (more often if it thinks you post frequently).

Step #1

Main MT Admin Page

First, you must get to the main administration page in MovableType. It probably looks something like the image above. If you've never seen that before, I can't really help you. Once there, click the "WEBLOG CONFIG" button. To help you identify it, I'd done my best to imitate a 6 year old circling it with an electronic crayon.

Step #2

Weblog Configuration Page

Next, you need to click on the "Preferences" link at the top of the weblog config page. Once again, the digital crayon is here to help you find your way.

Step #3

Remote Interfaces

Then, on the Preferences page, scroll down quite a way until you see the "Publicity / Remote Interfaces / TrackBack" section (shown above). Again, follow the crayon. In the text area, type http://api.my.yahoo.com/RPC2 and save your changes.

That's it.

See Also: Ping Yahoo RSS from WordPress and Moveable Type.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:35 AM

January 25, 2004

Newer IM Marketshare Numbers

Okay, it turns out that I was less wrong than I thought a little while ago. I'd like to quote an article on Instant Messaging Planet here:

"Since 1999, when AOL served 100 percent of IM users, AOL confronted two major new IM entrants, Yahoo! and Microsoft, as well as numerous smaller entrants," the application continues, citing figures from industry researcher Media Metrix, now part of comScore Networks. "As a result, AOL has experienced a substantial decline in its IM share. Its share of unduplicated, all-location users has fallen from 100 percent to 58.5 percent in just three and one-half years."

There we have it. AOL is a bit over half the IM market. That means Yahoo and Microsoft probably have something close to 25% each. Those numbers are from April 2003, so it's anybody's guess as to which direction they've gone since then.

Thanks to Jim for the pointer to newer stats.

Update: He also IM'd me a a CNet article from August which says:

Although AOL's AIM and ICQ together make up the largest IM network, MSN and Yahoo are making strides. In March 2003, AIM had 31.9 million unique users while ICQ had 28.3 million, according to ComScore Media Metrix. MSN Messenger reached 23.1 million unique users while Yahoo Messenger reached 19 million. Both Microsoft and Yahoo launched IM clients with virtually zero market share.

So there we go. It's really a four horse race.

Another Update: Based on the international feedback rolling in, it would seem that the "A" in "AOL" really does mean America. The Microsoft Monopoly is indeed strong overseas. Interesting.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:05 PM

No TV for 30 Days

Starting now, I'm not going to power on my TV at all during the next 30 days, nor will I watch the TVs at work. The TV will remain off.

I really don't watch TV much compared to the average American, but still... I realized last night how much of my time is sucked away by it.

My time is valuable. I really don't get that much out of most of the shows I watch. On Feb 25th, I'll re-evaluate my lack of TV and decide what do to next--maybe some heavy editing of my Tivo wishlist?

Posted by jzawodn at 02:42 PM

My Take on Social Networking Business Models

The launch of Orkut has re-ignited the debates about whether or not there's any money in this whole "social networking" game. More specifically, many folks wonder if a purely social networking company can make money without becoming part of a larger (Google, AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay) company.

I'm of two minds on this issue. First, this social networking craze is really just the beginning. The services we see today are too numerous and require far too much of our time, energy, and attention compared to the value they deliver. They're fads. They'll either evolve or die when then initial "gee whiz" factor wears off.

My other mind points out that the only social networking services offered by the big guys today (Instant Messaging) likely don't make any money either. If those companies decide to get in the game, they'll likely start with enhancements to their instant messaging and e-mail services while pouring bits of social networking goo into the rest of their offerings (shopping, job search, travel, etc).

The only thing I can't figure out is if this social networking craze is a "winner take all" scenario. Had you asked me about that during the very early days of IM, I'd have said something like "that's obvious, isn't it? We either need one big service that has 95% of the users, or 2-4 big services that all co-operate on some fairly basic level."

But clearly neither of those has happened. The IM market today is basically AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo with roughly equal pieces of the pie (or so I'm told).

I really wish I knew the answer.

Late Revision

I was wrong. Though hard numbers are hard (or expensive) to come by, there is some data to indicate that AOL was in the 90% range in the year 2000.

While Yahoo and Microsoft have been the fastest-growing IM services of late, according to recent Media Metrix numbers, America Online's AIM and ICQ remain the team to beat. Together they comprise an estimated 90 percent market share, analysts said.

Anyone have more current data than that? No, I'm not gonna pay $2500 for the pleasure of knowing.

Now I'm left wondering why Microsoft and Yahoo even bother. Even Apple, the king of small marketshares, teamed up with AOL for their iChat service.

Even so, AIM doesn't require an AOL account, so my assertion stands. It probably doesn't make any money.

Another Update: See also Newer IM Marketshare Numbers.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:29 PM

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life

Performed by Sarah McLachlan but the iTunes Music Store won't sell it to you.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:21 AM

January 23, 2004

Downtime this afternoon/evening...

On Friday afternoon/evening, I'll be moving my web site and tons of other stuff from the old machine to the new machine. It should be mostly seamless, but there are bound to be some hiccups.

This also affects my e-mail, DNS, MySQL, and several other blogs I host: varchars.com, Soup is Good, and Because I Can.

I'll have my fingers crossed...

Posted by jzawodn at 11:28 AM

January 22, 2004

My Yahoo! RSS Beta Launched

It's been under development and testing for a while (it even tried to sneak out recently) and is now ready for you to play with. Now you can add nearly any RSS feed to your My Yahoo page. That includes news sites, weblogs, searches, and more. Think of this as the natural evolution of one of the oldest web-based news aggregators.


Three simple reasons...

  • RSS makes it easier to track and share dynamic information and has been growing in popularity over the last years. It is becoming an increasingly important technology for anyone who spends time online gathering news or keeping track of friends and family (via weblogs). It's not just for geeks anymore.
  • It makes My Yahoo better. No longer are you restricted to the content that Yahoo has traditionally provided. It's the next logical step.
  • And, well, it's just cool. That counts for something too. :-)

The bottom line is this: RSS is big at Yahoo. We have a lot of RSS fans here. We already have RSS feeds for Yahoo News, for the Yahoo Buzz Index, for Ask Yahoo, and so on. And there's more to come after this, I hope.

Some of you may now realize that I cheated. My talk of RSS and Open Syndication in 2004 was really foreshadowing, not just guesswork. Sue me.

Try It

To start, go to add.my.yahoo.com/rss and follow the directions. But before you do, here's some stuff to keep in mind:

  • This is a beta. There will be bugs. It's not done yet. Really. I can tell you for a fact that there are a few problems with the OPML import. (Yes, you CAN import OPML either via HTTP upload or by providing a URL to a publicly hosted OPML file). It works quite well in some cases but not others. We're working on it. If you report a bug with it, having a copy of (or link to) your OPML file would help a lot.
  • We're looking for feedback. Of course, you're free to blog it or discuss here too, but if you use the form I linked you'll know that someone at Yahoo is reading it.
  • There are some docs on-line about the RSS module and for publishers, including notes about the crawler and opt-out.

Since some of you are certain to be too lazy to read anything else about it, I'll make a few more quick points.

The Crawler

The user agent is YahooFeedSeeker/1.0 (compatible; Mozilla 4.0; MSIE 5.5;) and it respects robots.txt as described here. If, for some strange reason, you don't want your content on My Yahoo, block the crawler. It's that easy.

The crawler will not eat up all your bandwidth. It uses an adaptive polling algorithm that attempts to match the typical update cycle for your feed. If it seems to be doing bad things, please say something. If you've been watching your referer logs, you may now that it's been in testing for a while now.

Ping It

Like weblogs.com, Technorati, and blo.gs, and other services, Yahoo's RSS database can be pinged when your blog updates. This ensures that it will be crawled in a very timely manner. The entry point you need to use is: http://api.my.yahoo.com/RPC2. It's just like the weblogs.com ping API.

If you'd prefer a REST API, it has that too. For example, to register an update for my blog, I'd fetch this URL:


So you can even to it with a simple bookmark if your weblog software doesn't allow you to add more ping targets. Just create that link and drag it to your button bar, bookmarks, favorites, or whatnot. (I'm working on a quick HOWTO for adding My Yahoo pings to MovableType. It's quite easy, really.)

This is also documented.


To repeat something I said earlier, this is a beta. Expect bugs. Don't tell all your friends and grandmothers unless you think they're willing to deal with a few rough edges.

Having said that, the folks who have been building the RSS module would really like to know what you do and don't like about it. For example, if you'd like to subscribe to more than 25 feeds per My Yahoo page, say so. If you think we should publish a "top 100 subscribed to feeds" page, say so. (They're all the rage this month, it seems.) Use the form or leave a comment here. I'll do my best to relay any feedback posted here or on other weblogs.

And finally, have fun with it.

[As I've said before in case it's not abundantly clear, I don't speak for my employer on my weblog. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs some serious medication.]

See Also: Configuring MovableType to Ping Yahoo: Three Easy Steps.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:10 PM

Watch out Friendster, here comes Google's Orkut

News.com says:

Google tip-toed into the hot market of online social networks with the quiet launch of Orkut.com on Thursday, CNET News.com has learned.
The search company, which is expected to go public this year, is flexing its power with its Internet fans by constantly offering new services, including comparison shopping and news search. Orkut could be the clearest signal that Google's aspirations don't end with search.
"Orkut is an online trusted community Web site designed for friends. The main goal of our service is to make the social life of yourself and your friends more active and stimulating," according to the Web site, which states that the service is "in affiliation with Google."

It's getting warm in this space, isn't it?

Anyone have an Orkut invite you can send my way? :-)

Update: Wow. Suddenly I have a lot of friends. Heh.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:37 PM

Social Network Backlash

There's a nice little rant over on BoingBoing:

Is there a word for that post-Friendster/Tribe/LinkedIn/SixDegrees oh-god-not-again feeling I'm getting as I read the launch announcement? Like, HTML rug burn? I mean, really -- I haven't played around with eurekster yet, and I mean no disrespect to whoever built the project. But if one more website asks me to "invite all of my friends," I swear I'm gonna fucking throw up. Invite your own damn friends, you website.


I guess it's a big copycat game right now.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:35 AM

Did Riobel Steal from MySQL AB?

I happened across Riobel today and for a minute I thought I was looking at the MySQL home page. The Riobel page is such an obvious ripoff that my confusion seems pretty well founded.

In case they change it, here are two screenshots: MySQL and Riobel. You judge.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:25 AM

January 21, 2004

Craigslist Rocks!

The other day when I wrote about Craigslist RSS feeds missing prices, Eric Scheide responded. He's the CTO at Craigslist. We exchanged a bit of e-mail after that and he said he's look into getting prices into the RSS feeds.

Well, great news... They're fixed!

Thanks so much to Eric and the folks at Craigslist. Their RSS feeds just got a whole lot more useful. Craigslist has always impressed me, but now it impresses the hell out of me. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 11:11 PM

PubSub vs. Feedster

It seems to me that both PubSub and Feedster provide feeds of searches run against many RSS feeds.

My question, to whoever (Scott, maybe?), is this: What the real differences here? Or are they providing something that's functionally equivalent?

Anyone tried both and care to comment?

Posted by jzawodn at 02:44 PM

January 20, 2004

The Price of Being Single

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

The wait is over. I just got the call. I had the better offer but still did not get the townhouse.


I'm not a family.

Yes, that's their reason.


Pardon my french, but why the fuck didn't they put that on the damned listing instead of letting me waste hours today seeing the place (twice), comparing with two other places, and then doing that mountain of paperwork to assemble an offer (the higher offer, I might add) to meet their deadline?


It's a good thing I'm not gay. Or black. Or ... both.

This really pisses me off. There was a filter there all along, but I wasn't told about it until far too late in the process. I hope the new residents of 39 Starlite Court in Mountain View enjoy their place.


The search continues... But first, I need a drink or two.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:40 PM

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I put an offer on a townhouse today. I've supposed to hear back by 9pm, but my realtor just e-mailed me to say she hasn't heard anything yet.


I'll say know more when I know more. Needless to say, it's been a completely insane day. The housing market in the Bay Area is heating up, that's for sure.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:12 PM

Feedback Forms in the Age of Weblogs

Tara sent me a note that caused me to read the ResearchBuzz article on Yahoo Labs before I had a chance to find it in my aggregator. While I'm impressed that the article doesn't point out the obvious (that it looks like a copycat maneuver in the Google war--nobody could think of a name other than "labs"?) right away, that's not what struck me about it. Neither is the fact that she paid me a nice complement at the end. :-)

What hit a nerve for me was this:

There needs to be more communication between Yahoo users and Yahoo. I had a question about AltaVista news last week, and the only communication tool I could find at AltaVista was an online form. (I used it but nobody at AltaVista ever responded.) And Yahoo needs to have some kind of intention about what they're going to do for search--not just following Google but striking off in their own direction.

I couldn't agree more. I think that Yahoo needs to get beyond using stupid comment forms that generate e-mail into a pseudo-CRM system as their primary vehicle for user feedback. There's been a lot of buzz at, around, and about Yahoo and RSS and weblogs. Yahoo needs to realize that this technology is used to open up communication and that this really ought include communication with and among Yahoo's users.

Several times, in discussions with PR/Marketing type folks, I've pushed for a more open feedback system. When Yahoo launches a new product or service, I think users deserve an open forum in which to communicate with Yahoo and each other about it. A form to e-mail system ensures that Yahoo will see their feedback (at least in aggregate), but nobody else will. Not even other interested users. I suspect that if Yahoo supplied a Yahoo Group for user feedback on a new product launch, the result would be open and honest feedback as well as new ideas. Users would interact with each other and share ideas for improving the new product or service. Yahoo would benefit and Yahoo's users would benefit.

Yes, there'd be spam, bitching and moaning, and so on. Does that mean it's not worth doing? I think not.

Really, it's not all that different than Asking Questions in Public. By not offering a Yahoo hosted place to discuss such things, Yahoo is turning a blind eye to the positive effects of the communities that form around new ideas, products, and services. Those who happen to have weblogs will probably end up posting their rants or praise in blogspace. Then the Yahoo PR, Marketing, and Product Managers will end up searching Feedster and following TrackBacks to find out what users are thinking and saying. (Don't get me started on the irony in that statement.)

I'm not saying people shouldn't blog their reactions and ideas. But if it's the only real mechanism to get it out in the open, that's bothersome to me. Isn't Yahoo, in large part, a communications platform?

I thought so.

On the plus side, I think that in the near future it'll become apparent that Yahoo is not simply following Google's lead. The intention is there. Trust me on that one.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:02 AM

January 19, 2004

Tax Advisor Meeting

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

This morning I met with my new tax advisor to discuss things related to home buying and stock option related taxes. I brought the previously mentioned spreadsheet with me to get a sanity check on my thinking.

Ken suggested a minor adjustment to the "tax benefit" calculation, namely pegging it at 33%, but said it was pretty accurate otherwise. (Thanks, Nelson.) So it looks like things are on track from his point of view. It was very helpful to get his validation of my approach to handling my money.

Next up: checking out a townhouse tomorrow morning.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:25 PM

Google News Watching My Back

Sometime last year I setup a Google News Alert for my name. Why? Because I can't read every damned thing that gets published and I'd like to know when my name appears in the press--for good or bad. And I'd like to know before someone else asks me about it. As the screenshot at the right shows, there are currently three matches. This is a milestone of sorts, I guess.

The first one is from Jon Udell's latest Infoworld Column. The second is John Battelle's Foo Camp article from cnn.com. And the third sort of surprised me. It's an article in the Hindustan Times (India) that points to my 2004 predictions.

Cool stuff. Thanks Google. I know I bitch about PageRank a lot, but nobody else seems to match your news alerts coverage.

See Also:

Posted by jzawodn at 07:05 PM

Selective Flash in Mozilla Firebird?

I made the mistake of installing Flash for Mozilla a while back to view a few web sites that ...oh it hurts to say this... required it for access. Now I get all these dumb ass flash ads showing up on Yahoo and other sites.

Is there a way to enable or disable it on a per-domain basis (sorta like pop-up and ad blocking)? I'm using Mozilla Firebird 0.7 on Linux (if that matters). There's nothing in the UI that claims to do this, but I have to wonder if there isn't some hiding preferences file setting I can tweak to keep this crap out of my face for the 95% of times I don't want to see it.

Anyone know?

UPDATE: As the comments below note, the "Flash Click to View" plug-in kicks much ass in this regard. Bye-bye flash ads. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:23 PM

Square Feet

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

After the place I saw the other day, I got to wondering how big my apartment really is. The place I saw was in the 1,500 square feet ballpark and just didn't feel very big. It seemed that I had quite a bit more room in my old 1,400 square foot house back in Ohio. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the floor plan. I wasn't very fond of what I saw. There seemed to be a lot of wasted space--at least from my ideas of where the space should be used. It was carved into too many smaller rooms.

So I busted out the tape measure. My apartment is 24 feet by 34 feet, or 816 square feet. And, except for wanting a bit more storage (in the form of a garage) it's basically big enough for me and the cats. I really had thought it was bigger than that, so now I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't adjust my strategy a bit. Rather than looking for a 3 bedroom place where none of the rooms are quite large enough, perhaps I'd be better off looking at 2 bedroom places that are about 200 square feet smaller. In doing so, it seems that I'd be able to save quite a bit of cash--especially if I go a bit farther away.

One example is here.


Decisions, decisions...

Posted by jzawodn at 12:15 AM

January 18, 2004

File::Tail is damned useful

In the last week or so, I've developed a renewed appreciation for the File::Tail Perl module. If you haven't guessed from the name, this module provides a native Perl implementation of something akin to tail -f somefile and--better yet--it can do this on multiple files at the same time.

In case you're wondering, the reason I find it so helpful is that I've been building various tools that need to perform real-time scanning of log files. Specifically, I'm dealing with logs from a mail server (Exim) and a radius server. By putting the two together, I can determine, in real-time, which WCNet users may have infected machines which are using our designated mail relays for spamming.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:19 PM

January 17, 2004

Craigslist RSS Search Script

I've been idly looking at a few used vehicle models for the purpose of towing a glider (and glider trailer, obviously). Recently I've been checking out Toyota 4runners and Jeep Cherokees. A few weeks ago it was Nissan Pathfinders. Trying to gauge availability and pricing is a tricky business and one that I really didn't want to spent a lot of time on.

Since the used car ads on craigslist are quite active, I figured that was a good place to look. The trouble is that in the South Bay, East Bay, and Peninsula listings, they go by pretty quickly. I don't have time to track all that.

So I wrote a script that uses the RSS feeds. This is both good and bad.

The good points:

  1. I can run it from cron every 20-30 minutes and get e-mail.
  2. It's very lightweight.
  3. It took 5 minutes to write and another 5 to test and tweak.

On the negative side:

  1. Some false positives. People aren't always sure how to represent, say, a Toyota 4runner. Should it be 4-runner, 4runner, 4 runner, four runner, or something else? So I have to be a little more liberal in the regex I use. And sometimes they're selling a 4 runner service manual or something.
  2. There's currently no logic to notice that I've already seen a particular listing before, so I see duplicates sometimes.
  3. Craigslist, for some stupid reason, strips prices from the titles in their RSS feeds. So I have to look at every listing by hand. Or I may have to automate the process--fetch every page that looks interesting and try to find the price.

That last one really pisses me off, but it's a free service, so I can't complain too much I guess. All in all the script has saved me a couple hours of time so far.

What's that? You'd like the code? Oh, okay. I suppose I can share: cl-carfind.pl (921 bytes)

Share and enjoy. But don't mis-use it.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:52 PM

House Hunting, Weekend #1

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

This is is a copy of the note I just sent to my realtor.

I headed out on Saturday to check out a few Mountain View neighborhoods where some townhouses are listed. It just so happens that the first one of them had an open house, so I got a chance to check it out.


  MLS #371981
  1551 LILAC LN

This one had the open house going on, so I poked around. I liked the location a lot. The area didn't feel crowded at all and there was a fair amount of extra street parking for visitors. There were a few things I didn't really like about the place. First, the living room was quite small. I'd have loved to take some of the dining room space and use it to enlarge the living room. Also, I'm not a fan of hardwood floors. I hadn't really thought about that before, but I'd end up just putting in carpet anyway.


  MLS #372109

This one faces Middlefield road but is a fair distance from the road. From the outside it's hard to say much. But the parking and garage area felt cramped compared to the area on Lilac Lane. It's virtually the same price and square feet as the other one, so I'd like to have a look inside. I think that'll help quite a bit in setting my expectations and having a good basis for comparison.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:13 PM

Blogging Job Interviews

In Open Source Person, Tim says:

I thought it might be entertaining to give a blow-by-blow account of my job hunt here, naming names, trading off pluses and minuses, telling all. Then it dawned on me how incredibly clueless and lame-brained that would be.

Amusingly, I've been down that road too. I'd love to be able to blog the job contacts, interviews, and offers I've had in the last year or two, but it probably is a bad idea even though I've stayed put the whole time. Some of them are truly entertaining, others are exciting, and some are just lame. It's really too bad I can't (or, more accurately, won't) share.

Maybe in another year or so I'll write 'em up here. It's an interesting mix of the biggest and smallest names in the tech world. What is a reasonable amount of time I should let pass?

I really have been tempted to write about some of them, but have had to settle for passing comments in other entries and other games.

Oh, well. I'm no stranger to stirring the pot once in a while. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 11:43 AM

January 16, 2004

First Realtor Meeting

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I headed over to Los Altos on Tuesday morning to meet my realtor for the first time. What I expected to be a 40 minute "get to know each other" meeting ended up being 2 hours and 15 minutes of productivity.

We started with the basics of home buying in California and Santa Clara County specifically. It's quite a bit different than, say, Ohio. The disclosure requirements for sellers are much higher here. Sellers bear a lot more of the expense here, but that varies on a county by county basis. If I were to move up the peninsula into San Mateo County, the tables are turned.

Very funky.

We talked a bit about the overall costs. One thing I've been trying to get a feel for is how much cash will out of my virtual pocket to cover all the miscellaneous fees, taxes, and other crap that comes along with acquiring a home and the loan to pay for it. She estimated about $5,000 - $6,000 in my price range.

Good to know.

After all that, we talked a bit more about what I wanted and how high I was willing to go on price. In the days leading up to our meeting, I'd been working with slightly modified version of Nelson's handy spreadsheet to gauge how much I want to spend. I'm using the post-tax-benefit monthly cost as my guide. I don't want to go too far over $2,000 per month.

Using that as a rough guide, that means I can go as a high as a $575,000 purchase price.

So what does half a million dollars (it sounds like a lot when I say it that way) buy in Mountain View or Sunnyvale?

To answer that question, we hopped on the computer and played with various searches against the MLS database. We spent a lot of time doing this, selecting properties, and discussing the good and bad points of each--based solely on the data in the listing. That was very helpful, because I got to learn about how proximity to major highways affects price (it gets a bit lower if you're near enough to hear or see the traffic) and how the various school districts affect home resale value. There's an interesting west to east decrease as you move from Los Altos to Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and so on. The school districts (in general) seem to go from very attractive to less attractive as you follow that progression.

Anyway, using searches in the $400,000 - $575,000 range, I learned that my dreams of a 3 bed, 2 bath condo or townhouse with at least 1,300 square feet and a 2 car attached garage is realistic.

I also brought home a ton of paperwork to look: info about my realtor, her company, typical expenses, tax schedules, sample home sale contracts, and so on. I have much to read.

Next up: My Thursday visit with the loan guy.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:14 AM

Good Yahoo Story with Minor BS

I'm reading RSS feeds for the first time in over a day and just came across Yahoo Emerges From Dot-Com Gloom which seems to do a good job of summarizing the highs and lows from the last few years at Yahoo. Yeah, it's a bit dramatic in places ("After a mortifying two-year slump") but pretty good overall.

Well, it was good right up until the end when I read this.

Yahoo's early $10 million investment in Google is likely to be worth hundreds of millions if, as expected, the online search leader goes public this year. Semel says he hasn't decided if Yahoo will sell the stock to help finance its own future expansion.
"I haven't given much thought to Google's IPO," he said. "We've been too busy taking advantage of all our opportunities around here."

Oh, please. How stupid does he think people are? I don't doubt that people at Yahoo have been busy. I see it every day. But the bit about not giving Google's IPO much thought really sets of my bullshit detector.

Let's think about this. One of Google's main competitive assets right now is the fact that it's private. They don't have to tell anyone jack shit about their revenue streams. Yahoo's management has to make guesses. Yes, they're educated guesses, but they're still guesses.

Going public changes all that. Google then has to publicly report certain financial data every single quarter. Do you expect me to believe that the folks at the top of Yahoo aren't dying to see those numbers?

Come on.

In fact, as a shareholder maybe that should set of warning signs. When a company is too busy to even pay much attention to one of their competitor's most important financial events, should you start to wonder even a bit?

Posted by jzawodn at 12:41 AM

January 15, 2004

Developers who build their own platforms and toolkits

It recently occurred to me that most of the software developers I know (at least those on Unixish operating systems) seem to fall into two groups:

  1. Those who mostly use the basic tools, APIs, and environment they're given.
  2. Those who, over time, begin to construct their own platforms by layering their own libraries, APIs, and--more fundamentally--their ideas and philosophies on top of the base platform.

It's interesting. At first I figured it had to do with how long someone had been building software on Unixish systems. But that seems to be a poor indicator. I know folks with lots of experience who seem to always go back to basics when building things. I also know of relatively new folks who are already building up their own tool boxes and platform pieces.

When presented with the need to write a new network aware application, hackers in group #1 will drop down to low-level socket calls (or the equivalent in whatever language they're using). Those in group #2 will realize that they've done it (or part of it) before and reuse that code, or re-factor it into a library that both applications can share, or even go looking for some 3rd party library that does the job better.

I'm not sure why I'm bringing this up now. I haven't really concluded anything from these observations. I think that, more than anything else, it brings up more questions in my mind.

  1. Are those in either group generally "better" software engineers (or maybe architects) than those in the other?
  2. Is this a conscious decision, a reflection of someone's training, or something else entirely?
  3. Does this distinction exist in the Windows world too?

In my limited observations, the folks in group #2 tend to be more productive--at least to the extent that they can work within the same general problem domain and stay on the same platform. Those in group #1 seem to be more flexible. They can hop from company to company or platform to platform without substantial drops in productivity.

It seems not to be limited to any particular language. I've seen both groups in the C/C++, Perl, and PHP worlds (those are dominant at work). I assume the same is true of Java, Python, Visual Basic, C#, and so on.

Thoughts? (Aside from the obvious...)

Posted by jzawodn at 11:34 PM

Booked at Seminole Lake Gliderport

With a conference in April taking me to Orlando, I'm going to stay a few extra days to visit friends and fly at the famous Seminole Lake Gliderport in Clearmont.

On Tuesday the 13th, I'll fly in their Grob 103 for an area checkout with an instructor and then probably take it up solo for a bit. The conference runs the 14th-16th. Then I have their DG-300 scheduled for Saturday and hope to maybe try some dual X-C in either the DG-505 or their DG-1000.

It should be a fun time. And April in central Florida is supposed to have pretty good lift. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 06:27 PM

Power Flight Instructor

I finally got around to calling West Valley to find an instructor I can start flying with on the weekdays. They handed me off to a guy to chat with. After a bit he asked if I was nearby. Since it's only 10-15 minutes away, I headed over.

We talked a bit about my goals and experience and then agreed to fly together next week. Since I don't know what I'd like to train it, we'll probably do a flight or two in each of: Cessna 172, Citabria, and Piper Archer.

I'm looking forward to it. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 05:51 PM

Geek Dinner Thanks

Thanks much to the 20 or so geeks who came out to The House of Orient last night for the Geek Dinner. I snapped a few pics that didn't come out terribly well. Oh, and you'll see a few folks have already pinged the original post with TrackBacks to their write-ups too.

As others have noted, most folks seemed to know fewer than 4 or 5 other people there, so there were a lot of interesting discussions. Several folks suggested that we do this again sometime. I'd be happy to organize another dinner sometime next month.

I enjoyed the dinner, meeting the new folks that showed up, and connecting faces with blogs.

Thanks again for coming!

Posted by jzawodn at 08:50 AM

January 13, 2004

Appreciating Happy Gilmore

cover How can some people not appreciate the sheer comic brilliance of the excellent Adam Sandler film Happy Gilmore? I just happened to see it on TV last night (yeay for Tivo) and the program guide had two stars next to the movie title.


Heck, even Amazon users have given it over 4 stars! Now that I think of it, I don't yet have it on DVD. It's probably time to rectify that oversight, wouldn't you say?

Posted by jzawodn at 02:33 PM

January 12, 2004

The Value of a Sanity Check

A funny thing happened today. Something we can all learn from.

In the last week, I've been helping some folks at work do some performance testing and tuning with MySQL. One group's problem seems to be solved. The other, however, was running into pretty poor performance. Today one of them IM'd me (is that a verb now?) with some concern. He was seeing swapping on the machine. And it was really slow.

After being interrupted by a few phone calls, I asked how much memory was in the box. 5GB he tells me. Okay, that should be more than sufficient. At that point we talked about his memory settings in MySQL. He had a reasonably sized innodb_buffer_pool. I think it was 1.5GB or so.

After a bit of thinking, I realized that there was something really wacky going on. There had to be. He sent me the output of top and it showed that mysqld was indeed using about 1.4GB of RAM. Not much else. Hmm.

That blew my only theory. I figured that there were some other random memory intensive processes running on the box. But no, nothing.

It was at this point that I was completely out of ideas. The data made no sense, so he was clearly not telling me something. Not because he was hiding information, but he simply wasn't seeing it and I was mostly relying on his descriptions..

So I got a login on the machine... and found the problem in about 45 seconds.

The machine had 512MB (or 0.5GB) of RAM, not 5GB. It swapping because, really, that's what he had told it to do.

I started by verifying the basic assumptions. I looked at what processes were running, how much disk space was on the box, how much physical RAM it had, and... that was it. I was done.

(If you think I'm picking on this guy or making fun of him, you're going to completely miss the point, so stop now and leave no comments please.)

The Moral of the Story

We've all been there before. You know, things simply don't make a damned bit of sense when you're debugging some weird ass problem or piece of code. That's when you really need a second set of eyes, ears, or both.

A tactic I've used before (when facing many strange problems in my code) is to bug someone else to come over so that I can explain to them how it works. Four times out of five, as I'm explaining it I figure out the bug. The other one time? The guy (or gal) I'm explaining it to finds some really stupid, basic thing I'm doing wrong. (Like a misreading memory info.)

We all do this.

These sanity checks (or something like them) are vital to figuring out computer-related problems. And I'm sure they're just as critical in so many other detail-oriented pursuits: science, engineering, medicine, detective work, and so on.

The biggest problem that I seem to have with them is not doing them soon enough.

Are there other sanity check strategies you've found useful? I'd love to hear about 'em...

Posted by jzawodn at 09:51 PM

Wednesday Tim Bray Geek Dinner Reminder

This is just a friendly remind of Wednesday night's 7pm Geek Dinner at The House of Orient in Campbell, California. (See the original announcement.)

Please ping me if you're coming. So far I've heard from:

  1. Adam Kalsey (maybe)
  2. Jason May
  3. Johannes Ernst
  4. David Orchard
  5. Paul Hoffman
  6. funjon
  7. Allen Hutchinson
  8. Bill Humprhries
  9. Don Park
  10. Chuq and Laurie Von Rospach (unless Alaska Air sucks)
  11. Bill Lazar
  12. Mark Fletcher
  13. Jonas Luster
  14. James Briggs
  15. Mark Lentczner
  16. Ramon Felciano

Plus me and Tim is 19 so far. Did I miss anyone?

See you Wednesday.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:18 PM

Fellow Yahoo Employees and Investors...

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

You can thank me this time.

You see, about 9 months ago, one of my co-workers used to joke that it was his fault every time there was a significant jump in our stock price.


Because he was buying a house and selling stock to help with that process. This probably happened two or three times. It got to the point that when I saw a spike in the price, I'd IM him and ask "Did you sell this morning?"

I thought it was funny in a "I hope that never happens to me" sort of way.

Well, it would appear the tables are turned now.

Remember, Murphy is always watching. Always.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:19 PM

January 10, 2004

Estimated Taxes, Safe Harbor, and AMT

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

In the comments for my earlier post on the matter, someone asked if I had $100,000 in the bank for a down payment.

No, not quite. Much of it is invested. To come up with a down payment, I'll need to sell off a fair amount of stock and/or cash in some stock options. These sales will not be classified as long term capital gains. They'll be short term gains, which means they are counted as income for tax purposes. And that means my taxable income will be quite a bit higher than it has ever been.

Given the greedy, unfair nature of our screwed up government, that may spell trouble in a couple important ways.

Estimated Taxes

Normally, my employer withholds money from my paychecks to cover my tax liability. However, if they don't withhold enough money, I may be forced to pay estimated taxes. That is, I'll have to guess how much I'm likely to owe and send a check to the IRS on a quarterly basis to cover my ass.

Why might my employer not withhold sufficient tax money? They may not know about all my sources of income (such as the book and the magazine articles and the consulting and so on). So they may conclude that I belong in one tax bracket when I really belong in a higher one. Or maybe I'll incur significant gains from investments that they don't know about.

Either way, if I end up paying less than 90% of what I really owe to the government, I may be subject to fees and penalties unless I pay estimated taxes.

One simple solution is to contact the payroll department and adjust my W-4 Form a bit. I can instruct them to withhold additional money from every paycheck for tax purposes. I did this on Wednesday.

For more reading on the issue, see Paying Estimated Taxes from the Motley Fool. You may also want to see the Fairmark Press Guide to Estimated Taxes.

Safe Harbor

There's a catch or two.

I'll just quote the Motley Fool rather than explaining it myself.

If this is the first year that your income has spiked or otherwise increased substantially, you still might not have to pay estimated taxes and might be able to pay the entire balance due on April 15 without penalty by using the so-called "exception #1." Essentially, if your current year's withholding is at least as much as your previous year's total tax (assuming that your AGI for the prior year is $150,000 or less), you can ignore any increases in 2002 income and pay any balance due with the tax return on April 15 without penalty.

And even then there's a follow-up catch:

If you can't get out of paying estimated taxes, there's a convenience you need to know about: the "safe harbor." For the average person, this means that as long as you pay 100% of your previous year's total tax liability in withholding and/or estimated taxes, you'll be free from any penalty for underpayment of estimated tax, no matter what the current year's taxes end up being. So if your tax liability was $12,000 last year, but this year you expect to sell some stock and have substantially higher taxes to pay, you'll probably have to pay estimated taxes. But you can use the safe harbor and just make sure that you pay at least $12,000 in estimated (or withheld) taxes.

What this all means is that I may not have to worry about paying the extra taxes until April 15th of next year. But that really depends on my 2003 tax returns, which I haven't quite figured yet.

Fun, isn't it?

Wait, it gets "better"...

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

As if the government isn't raping me badly enough, there's a provision in the tax code known as AMT. The idea is to provide a separate, parallel set of tax rules that take over in situations when the government feels that the normal rules haven't quite raped you hard enough.

The rules are actually quite complicated, but in a nutshell there are a few things that tend to trigger AMT:

  • Exemptions
  • The Standard Deduction
  • State and Local Taxes
  • Interest on a Second Mortgage
  • Medical Expenses
  • Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions
  • Credits
  • Incentive Stock Options (ISOs)
  • Long-Term Capital Gains
  • Tax-Exempt Interest
  • Tax Shelters

For more reading on the subject, I recommend the Fairmark Press Guide to Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). It's a fair amount more detailed that what the Fools provide. It covers:

As you'll see, it's sorta complicated.

Finding Help

The smart move is to find a tax professional who understands all the nuances of the tax code and how the laws may apply to my situation(s). So this week I contacted someone based on a recommendation from a co-worker. (See, it's my social network in action again.)

After we've had a chance to meet and go over some details, I'll post a recommendation here if I think he's doing a good job for me.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:49 AM

January 09, 2004

Geek Dinner with Tim Bray in Silicon Valley on Wednesday

Tim Bray is coming to Silicon Valley next week. I suggested we have a little Geek Dinner and he's up for it. The plan is to meet at The House of Orient in Campbell at 7pm for Chinese food. The address is 851 West Hamilton Ave. Yahoo Maps provides this map for those more visually oriented.

I'd like a rough idea of who's coming, so please leave a comment, trackback, or e-mail me if you're planning on coming. If you need to get in touch on that evening, call my cell phone: 408-685-5936.

I'll probably blog a reminder on Tuesday for folks who miss this over the weekend.

Remember, Tim is looking for a gig. So if you've got ideas, drop by.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:01 PM

Finding a Real Estate Agent

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Over the last several weeks I've spent quite a bit of time on-line looking at the Bay Area housing market. Looking at MLS listings, realtor sites, craigslist, and so on. I've been in touch with a few sellers.

There are a few things I've learned so far:

  1. Many town house and condo properties are For Sale By Owner (FSBO) rather than being brokered thru an agent. I'm really not sure why that is. Anyone know?
  2. The market is pretty dynamic. I've contacted a few sellers with the intent of going to visit their home, only to find that it had 4 bids just a day or two later. Keeping track of this requires a lot of time.
  3. There's a wide variety of posts. On craigslist, for example, many folks post very basic ads which leave out critical details (how many square feet?!) and don't bother with pictures. I find it difficult to get interested in those.

Several folks had advised me to try doing this without a realtor. As much as I'd like to be able to chop a few percentage points of the home price, I don't think I can do an adequate job of finding properties quickly, making arrangements to visit them, and then following thru on all the details I'd need to. Plus, there are a lot of documents and considerations that I don't know about and would have to learn somehow--like reading How to Buy a House in California and The Complete Guide to Your Real Estate Closing.

Also, the realtor I used back in Ohio to buy and then sell my house was very, very helpful. I could have done it myself, but it would have required a lot more planning, time, and learning on my part. I have less time for that now than I did then.

With that in mind, I began trying to find a good way to locate a realtor with expertise in the areas in or near where I'm thinking of living. After a few moments, I remembered that this has come up several times on our "for sale" e-mail list at work. And since I archive most of the interesting stuff there, I was able to quickly locate the recommendations. I've since made a few contacts and will link to my realtor's web site after I'm sure that it's going to work out.

I could have shot blindly, but using recommendations is, in my mind, a much better way to narrow down the field. The only wrinkle was finding how much specialization there is out here. While they all claim to deal with the general Silicon Valley area, each seems to have a clear bias toward particular areas. Some were Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mountain View. Others were East Bay only. Still others focus on the peninsula.

So I ended up finding someone who focuses on San Jose and many of the surrounding areas. My next task is to clearly explain the things that are "musts" and "nice to haves" in the sort of property I'd like to buy: number of rooms, garage, locations, etc. (Some of them are listed here.)

Posted by jzawodn at 08:51 AM

January 08, 2004

eBay Motors experiences?

I spent about 20 minutes poking around on eBay motors today, mostly because I'm trying to understand the market for vehicles capable of towing a glider trailer--think used pickup truck or a 6-8 year old SUV (Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, etc).

I must say, I'm underwhelmed. The pickings are so much better over in the autos section of craigslist.

Anyone out there ever bought a car via eBay Motors? I'm curious to hear about it. I really don't think I'd go that route, but I'm curious anyway.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:27 PM

My Blog Readers Rock!

I have to say, I'm very impressed with the response to my recent home buying post. In a matter of hours, I heard from lots of folks via e-mail, posted comments, and TrackBacks. Lots of helpful info coming in. I've been pointed at properties I might like, heard from folks who have recently bought in the area, and so on.

One person invited me over for a drink to check out his complex (there's at least one unit for sale three), while another sent me MLS numbers for some that match my criteria.

This is awesome!

Thanks to everyone who has contributed suggestions so far. They're all very much appreciated.

I've added a house category to my blog. All posts related to this will end up there.

Coming soon: Finding a Real Estate Agent and Estimated Taxes, Safe Harbor, and Accounting Fun

Posted by jzawodn at 04:49 PM

The Hole

My friend Jeff is stationed in Iraq.

He had his picture taken recently (see right).

Can you guess where?

Yeah, I thought so. :-)

What a great Giftmas card photo this could be. Too bad he didn't have a Santa Hat with him.

This concludes my coverage of the so-called "war" in Iraq.

Thank you.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:30 AM

January 07, 2004

Justification for spending too much money on a home

You probably thought I'd forgotten about my plan to blog the home buying process. Not quite. I've just been a bit slower about it than I should have been.

So here's where things stand. While back home for the holiday I had a chance to think about this a bit more and do some more looking to see what's available. Here's what I've decided based on what I know today. I'm looking at a condo or town house in the South Bay. I'd like to stay within a 20-30 minute commute to work, but that's not a hard and fast requirement. I could always telecommute a bit more often. The price range I'm looking in is $350,000 - $415,000. An actual house is out of the question for that range and requires more work.

What you're reading is, of course, all subject to massive change if I come across better information.

The Financial Incentive

Here's what really got me motivated: the tax break. Let's use some round numbers and say that I buy a place for $415,000 and to do so I put down a $100,000 down payment. That means I need a $315,000 loan. Assuming I take that loan over 30 years at, let's say, a 6.5% interest rate. According to the calculator at interest.com, I'd have a monthly payment of $2000 if you round it up a bit. (I currently pay $1,300 in rent.) As you can see below, the vast majority of that $2000 is interest--at least initially. That's how these loans work. (Click here or on the table below to see the first 2 years.)

After the first year, I've paid $3,520.78 of the loan principal and a whopping $20,371.34 in interest. To put that in perspective, I currently throw $15,600 down the tubes every year in rent. Over the last 4 years, that totals $62,400.

That $20,371.34 interest is a tax deduction. Assuming I pay the federal government more than that much in taxes (I do), it's a huge savings. Rather than throw away $15,600 every year in rent and over $20,000 in taxes, which total over $35,000, I get to divert the majority of the tax money toward paying for the new place. [NOTE: That's not quite right, as you'll read below.]

Yes, yes, I know. This is an over-simplification. What about property taxes? That's money I'm not currently spending. Fine, add in several thousand dollars a year for property taxes. And a bit more for home owners insurance. And the inevitable Home Owner's Association (HOA) fees. And maintenance.

Well, there are a lot of little things that will certainly add up. Even if, in the end, I end up spending just as much money as I do today, that's okay. I'll have a larger place to live, probably in a nicer neighborhood, and I'll be building equity. In theory, I'll be able to sell the place sometime in the future for at least what I paid for it.

Yes, it's a gamble. The local real estate market could tank and I'd get screwed. But I'm willing to take that gamble.

Now, what about specifics of this place?


It seems that I can find something with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms without too much trouble. I really only need one bathroom and would love a 3rd bedroom, but let's not get greedy. And I'm really not picky about the living room, dining room, etc. I would like lots of windows and ample storage.


This is probably what's going push me toward the upper end of my price range. At a minimum I'd like a 1 car garage. Not just a carport or parking spot. A real garage. And I'd be willing to pay extra for a 2 car garage. I like having a lot of storage space for all the crap I've managed to accumulate.


I'm looking in Santa Clara, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino, and nearby areas. As long as it's close to some of the major highways (85/101/280/237) I should be okay. I might consider going a bit farther like, say, Fremont.

Other Stuff

I'd like AC but probably won't get that lucky. I can always get ceiling fans installed before moving in. After all, there are really only about 10 days each year when I'd really need the cooling help.

I must be able to get Cable or DSL there--preferably both.

I'd really like a first floor unit.

The place must have laundry hookups. If it doesn't actually have a washer and dryer, that's fine. I'll get my own (again).

The fun begins...

UPDATE: Yes, I know I screwed up and forgot to note that it's a percentage of the theoretical $20,000 that I save, not all of it. Read the comments below for more.

Posted by jzawodn at 04:39 PM

Also, Soaring at Lone Pine...

Hmm, soaring at Lone Pine looks like a lot of fun too.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:48 PM

Soaring Sofaris

As the result of a few rec.aviation.soaring posts, I wandered over to see what's up with Southern California Soaring and found some cool stuff.

Specifically, their Sofari (soaring safari) program is interesting--more details here. I like the idea of getting a group together to go fly at various locations around California and Nevada. You can read their past Sofari reports for feeling of what they've done in the past. Of course, they have some photos on-line too.

I'll file this under "things to do after I buy a glider" I think.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:39 PM

January 06, 2004

I'm a Slob

I always have been and probably always will be. I just don't have that piece of brain that motivates one to organize and clean. Maybe that's why I like to play with databases? The forced order. Hmm.

Like many computer geeks, I'm a creature of habits. Mostly bad ones.

My home directory is littered with junk and my apartment is no different. But for the first time in ages, I came home to a clean apartment this evening!


All praise the Merry Maids. I'd post a picture, but you really wouldn't appreciate the difference. Really.

What did you get yourself for Giftmas? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:57 PM

Apple Makes Windows Hardware

In reading one of Apple's many press releases today:

The Apple Xserve RAID has qualified under the Microsoft Designed for Windows Logo Program. Apple successfully completed all of the tests necessary for qualification for the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system.

Heh. And...

"This is the first time we are certifying an Apple product on our Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform," said Mike Evans, vice president of Channel Sales and Development at Red Hat. "This combination delivers one of the most aggressively priced storage solutions available on Linux today."

Is hell freezing over today?

Posted by jzawodn at 11:16 AM

January 05, 2004

The Fast Network at Work

I decided to download the 2.4.24 kernel to build on my Linux desktop at work.

jzawodn@autopsy:~/src/linux$ wget ...
--17:48:45--  http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/...
           => `linux-2.4.24.tar.bz2'
Resolving www.kernel.org... done.
Connecting to www.kernel.org[]:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 29,837,818 [application/x-bzip2]

100%[====================================>] 29,837,818    10.70M/s    ETA 00:00

17:48:48 (10.70 MB/s) - `linux-2.4.24.tar.bz2' saved [29837818/29837818]

So much for running to the restroom while it downloads, huh?

Okay, three cheers for peering at PAIX!

Posted by jzawodn at 05:53 PM

Amazon.com Wish: Softcover Alerts

I really wish that Amazon had a button I could click that said "Notify me when a softcover edition of this book is available" or, better yet, "1-Click order the softcover edition of this book even though it doesn't yet exist."

As it is now, I have to put this book on my wishlist and hope that I remember I was waiting for a softcover edition before I decide I'm no longer interested in getting it.

Or maybe this feature exists and I've missed it. Anyone know?

Posted by jzawodn at 03:35 PM

January 04, 2004

Little Bits of Winter Lift

Today was interesting. Lance and I got down to Hollister around 11am and each grabbed a Pegasus. I didn't have one reserved and needed to have mine (9JH) back to the field at 1pm for its reservation. So I launched first (just after noon) and headed toward the Three Sisters.

I got off tow around 6,200 feet and scouted the area around the microwave towers. It was very calm until I got down to 5,000 feet. Then I noticed an area of zero sink. It seemed to follow the power lines along the northwest end of the valley, so I flew the power lines several times very slowly (48 knots or so) and lost no altitude. At the south end of the valley I found a little pocket of 2 knot lift. I couldn't quite stay in it but I could get enough to give me a 1 knot climb on average. So I hung out there for a while before I left to go explore.

That was a mistake. There was no other lift that I could find, so I headed back in the zero sink and arrived at my lift pocket around 4,600 feet. By that time Lance was headed my way. I told him what I'd found and he explored the area a bit too.

After a while, he wasn't finding much and had already come down to my altitude, so he came my way and continued south along the power lines. He found bits of lift and eventually got higher than I was. However, I happened to glance at my watch and noticed that the glider was due back in 8 minutes!

So I put the nose down to fly toward Lance for a minute before heading back to the field. Not finding much, I flew the south ridge at about 75 knots, skimmed the peak, and flew back to the airport. I still arrived at 3,000 feet and needed to burn off that altitude. So I flew some 90 knot circles near the airport (apparently a few folks noticed that!) to get down to land.

Lance was only 20 minutes behind me.

After a ton of gliders launched, I headed back to the staging area and noticed Mike getting ready in the Grob. I went over to lend a hand with his launch and he offered me the back seat. How could I resist?

We launched and flew toward the same area. We didn't find much, but then Mike figured he knew a good place. The trouble was that it was all surrounded by 6-8 knot sink, so we didn't stay up very long.

Then, at the end of the day, after we'd packed the Grob up for the night, Jonathon appeared and decided to take the Grob up. He offered the back seat, so I went up again. We managed to find bits of lift and zero sink in the foothills, so we stayed up for about 45 minutes. Not bad at all for a 4pm winter flight.

I think Lance went up in the Fox while I was in the back of the Grob. At least neither of us were bored!

Posted by jzawodn at 11:26 PM

January 03, 2004

Two Flights Near Fremont Peak

When I looked out the window this morning and saw a clear blue sky with the hint of cumulus clouds forming in the distance, I called HGC to reserve a glider (Grob 36L) and headed to the gliderport.

On the drive down I realized that it was shaping up to be a really good day if the conditions were similar in Hollister. They weren't bad but could have been better. There were lots of active clouds near Fremont Peak.

As I was preflighting the Grob, Miguel asked if I was going solo or had a passenger. Clearly he was looking for a ship to fly in, so I offered him the front seat. That gave me a good chance to practice my back seat flying in the Grob a bit more. I hadn't flow the Grob in a while, so I had to re-adjust to the rudder pedals and 36L's poorly compensated variometer.

We launched around 12:30 and towed to the southwest. We released at 6,200 a bit south of the peak, heading toward the clouds. We spent the next hour struggling in scattered lift under and between the clouds. Wolf, in the 1-34, had way out-climbed us and Harry Fox wasn't far behind. We didn't do quite as well but did stay up.

When we got down to about 3,300 feet we headed back to land. I flew my best Grob back seat landing to date. And, get this... there was even a cross wind.

That reminds me, I should really get another flight or two with an instructor and get the back seat checkout done.

A bit later, Miguel offered me a deal I couldn't refuse. He wanted to take the Grob back up and the DG-1000 was free for the rest of the day. I gladly let him have the Grob.

Not wanting to waste the extra seat, I offered Mike Payne the rear seat. I added another tail weight (we had 3 in total) and we launched at roughly 2:30, heading back toward Fremont Peak. Unfortunately, the sink was stronger and the lift was weakening and harder to find.

We tooled around a bit and eventually found one small area of strong lift. It was too small to circle in, but I managed to "thermal" in and out of it, gaining roughly 100 feet on each turn. The core of it was at least 6 knots. Once I figured out the trick, it was easy--until the cloud shadow killed the lift from the rocks under us!

We flew back over downtown a bit, hoping to find some heat off the buildings but didn't. So we entered on a 45 for left traffic on 24 and were back on the ground about 45 minutes after launching. Not bad considering how late in the day it was. Plus, my landing was really good. Mike seemed impressed. I feel like I've really got the hang of the DG-1000. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 09:54 PM

The Fox Has Arrived

The Fox glider that I mentioned earlier has arrived in Hollister. Its maiden flight was yesterday (Friday) but it spent quite a bit of time in the air today as well.

I took advantage of the nice day to snap some pictures of the Fox while Lance and Drew got ready to go for a ride.

I hope to get a chance to go for a ride in the next week or two. It should be fun.

While putting gliders away this evening, I commented to Harry that it's the collection of gliders at Hollister is really quite amazing. We have a Duo Discus, DG-1000, the first four DG-300s, and now the Fox--all at our gliderport.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:04 PM

Missing the Point of Social Networks

I thought I was done talking about this stuff, but I guess not. In response to my FriendRank post, I noticed something on StartupSkills.com that I've been hearing lots of recently:

Like so many people, I've used Friendster and found it an intriguing idea from both a technical and business standpoint. It is a revolutionary concept, although by no means is it original. Social networking is a subject taught in business schools around the globe. The 'entrepreneurial model' of social networks in particular is an extremely valuable concept to learn and practice and many people do. But why should we embrace a technology based on this?

And, later...

I personally believe social software has little future primarily because of this. Just like Friendster, I was intrigued at first but after awhile I realized that this was simply another technology solution looking for a problem.

This is what I like to call missing the point.

If you really think that Friendster, Tribe, LinkedIn, or any of those other sites are going to survive doing what they're doing today, you're really smoking something. However, if you think that also means the technology isn't worthwhile--that the notion of modeling social networks in software is a pointless exercise, well then you're really smoking something good. You couldn't be more wrong.

Think about how things work in the real world. So many of my decisions are already influenced by people I know and people they know. Job decisions, buying decisions, business deals, what movie to see decisions, dating, etc. The list goes on and on.

Get yourself out of the mind set of social network software for the sake of social network software and start thinking about how adding a social networking component to existing systems could improve them.

That's an important point, so I'm going to say it again with emphasis:

Start thinking about how adding a social networking component to existing systems could improve them.

That's where the future of systems like Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe and all those other systems lie. Right now they're just figuring out the platform. The metadata to capture. The basic functionality on the back-end. The current search and browse interfaces suck, but it doesn't matter. The real value of this stuff comes from integrating it with services like Amazon.com or Google or your favorite on-line movie tickets site. Like many things on-line, it will move from novelty to utility.

If you really think that Friendster scored over $10 million in VC funding on the premise of being nothing more than a "browse your friends" site, get real.

Or maybe I'm the one smoking crack. But I'd bet you $1,000 I'm not.

UPDATE: An excellent response. That was fast. Damn.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:35 PM

January 02, 2004

Why a Commercial Pilot License?

While reading the bio I posted earlier, Scott asked why I wanted to get a commercial license. Do I plan to try making money by flying gliders? No, not really.

Read the rest in my flying blog.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:06 PM

Commercial License Study and Practice

While reading the bio I posted earlier, Scott asked why I wanted to get a commercial license. Do I plan to try making money by flying gliders? No, not really.

Flying isn't something you learn how to do and then stop learning. Getting a license was just the second of many, many milestones. The first was my first solo flight. If I don't keep pushing myself, I'll stagnate, get bored, and not feel the sense of accomplishment that fuels a lot of my interest and enjoyment.

Getting a commercial license involves learned more about the FAA rules and regulations, and knowing them in more detail. It also means learning to fly more precisely. The flight test standards are more strict for a commercial license than they are for a private license. By getting g a commercial license, I'll be pushing myself to do more and do better.

Yes, I'll be able to fly rides for money and that sort of thing, but I don't expect to do that much (if at all). It really depends on whether or not HGC would need me to do fly for them. There are a fair number of pilots with commercial licenses who fly rides already.

The one the next stepping stones, a much bigger one in my mind, is becoming a flight instructor. But that's a ways off and I'll write about it more later.

In the meantime, I'm going to start working on my power license and my bronze badge. I hope to begin flying cross country this year. More milestones, both in gliders and in power.

So, Scott... I hope this answers your question.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:03 PM

My Bio

One of the many details of writing a book is that the publisher wants a few paragraphs of biographical material that can be used in the book itself, promoting the book, and so on.

I've spent far too long on this already. For some reason it's a real challenge to write about myself (in the third person, no less) and do so concisely without sounding stupid or full of myself.

Here's my current working version. Comments are appreciated unless you plan to bash MySQL. In that case complain to someone else because I'm getting really sick of it.


Jeremy Zawodny and his two cats moved from Northwest Ohio to Silicon Valley in late 1999 so he could work for Yahoo!--just in the time witness the .com bubble bursting first-hand. He's been at Yahoo ever since then, helping to put MySQL and other Open Source technologies to use in fun, interesting, and often very big ways. Starting with the popular and high-traffic Yahoo! Finance site, he worked to make MySQL part of the site's core infrastructure in large batch operations as well as real-time feed processing and serving content directly on the site. He then helped to spread "the MySQL religion" to numerous other groups within Yahoo, including News, Personals, Sports, and Shopping. Nowadays he acts as Yahoo's MySQL Guru, working with Yahoo's many engineering groups to get the most of of their MySQL deployments.

In 2000, he began writing for Linux Magazine and continues to do so today as a columnist and contributing editor. After over a year of active participation on the MySQL mailing list, he got the idea to write a book about MySQL. (How hard could it be, really?) You can still find him answering questions on the list today.

Since 2001, Jeremy has been speaking about MySQL at various conferences (O'Reilly's Open Source Conference, PHPCon, The MySQL User Conference, etc.) and user groups in locations as far away as Bangalore, India. His favorite topics are performance tuning, replication, clustering, and backup/recovery. In more recent times, he's rediscovered his love of aviation, earning a Private Pilot Glider license in early 2003. Since then he's spent far too much of his free time flying gliders out of Hollister, California and Truckee, near Lake Tahoe. He hopes to earn his Commercial Pilot license in 2004 and go on to become a certified flight instructor someday. Occasional MySQL consulting also helps to pay for his flying addiction.

Jeremy rambles almost daily about technology and life in general on his weblog: http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/

Are there other things I should say or highlight? Does that, from the book marketing person's point of view, provide sufficient evidence that I'm qualified to write this book? What would you change?

Would you date me based on that?

Oh, wait. This is not a geek personal ad. I forget that sometimes when I don't take the little pink pills.

You know, it occurs to me that I could probably [re]use some of this material to update my outdated bio page too. Hmm.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:21 PM


Like most normal people, I was just having an interesting telephone conversation with a friend of mine (at 2am) about Google, Yahoo, Friendster, on-line marketplaces, approximate searches, and some secret stuff. Along the way I got to thinking about some of the fundamental similarities between Google (those who mapped the relationships among web pages and put them to use) and Friendster (those trying to map human relationships and put them to use).

It occurred to me that Friendster needs FriendRank. Like Google's similarly named dead technology, PageRank, think of FriendRank as a way of providing a measure of influence among "friend nodes" in a social network. Imagine, for example, that Howard Dean wants to convince me to vote for him. He can either advertise in the hopes of reaching me, or he can be a savvy Internet sorta guy and try to use my social network (thru the Internet, of course) to do the job.

At first you might think okay, that's easy. You just need to find the shortest path thru the network from Howard Dean to me. Then you'd figure out who along the way he needs to contact to try to get to me. Well, maybe. Social networks aren't that simple. They don't always use the shortest path--at least not in the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" sense. Often times they use the most well lubricated path. Or the path that may result in reaching the greatest number of people who are "close" to me. Or those that have more influence with me in matters of politics, as opposed to something complete unrelated like cat grooming.

You get the idea. Like PageRank, it's a multi-dimensional measure that could prove to be quite powerful if applied properly. It's like a routing problem with different dimensions involved.

FriendRank would quantify that stuff. It's the algorithm used to find paths of social influence in various contexts, for various purposes, and in varying networks. Or maybe it's the value that algorithm produces for a given set of inputs. Either way, it's the idea that counts, right? Initially. Then comes the implementation.

Now, if you go search for references to FriendRank, you'll see a few. So this term (and idea?) isn't exactly original. But some of the real possibilities just clicked for me about 10 minutes ago, and believe me, this example is the tip of the iceberg. Some of the discussion here is really, really missing the point. So try not to get sucked into that void.

(Yes, I'm purposely not saying a lot of what I could yet. It needs time to percolate...)

On a semi-related note, it's too bad there's no Friendster web service API I can use to get the data needed to prototype this, huh? That could be a lot of fun. Or really frustrating, as most hard problems are... :-)

On the other hand, Friendster is not a necessary component in the equation. (Or Tribe.net, or LinkedIn, or...) It's just damned convenient since it's big and centralized. If I could get access to enough IM buddy lists, blogrolls, and so on, it'd be doable but much, much harder.

Okay, bed time now.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:34 AM

January 01, 2004

I am not mainstream

With all the "top 10 foo of 2003" lists floating about, I'm becoming more and more aware how mainstream I'm not. It all started with reading the Top Searches 2003 from Yahoo! and the 2003 Google Zeitgeist.

I have never used KaZaA, didn't read or see Harry Potter, haven't seen the new Matrix film, never watched American Idol, and I don't find Britney Spears attractive. I couldn't tell you what sport Kobe Bryant plays (and don't care either, thanks). Last night I even discovered that Paris Hilton (and the famed video) has nothing to do with a hotel in Paris!

Oh, well. She has a misleading name anyway.

And in looking at the top albums list, I realized that not only do I not own a single one of the albums, I haven't even heard them, and I don't even know who most of the artists are. That's not to say I don't still accumulate music. It's just not what the majority is listening to.

Am I trying to be different or ignore what the rest of the world (at least the US-centric pop culture herds) are doing, buying, watching, listening to, and gossiping about?

No, not really. I just happen to have my own interests. Few of them revolve around the front page of People magazine or the latest Fox "reality" TV show.

I do own and love my iPod, which is pretty popular I guess. And I've been using Linux as my "desktop" (and laptop) OS for a few years now. That's becoming more and more The Thing To Do in some circles too.

Hmm. Or maybe I'm just weird.

If I had the ambition, I'd aggregate a bunch of these "top 10" lists and create some sort of "How mainstream were you in 2003?" quiz that provides a color-coded terror level style score graphics that people could slap on their blogs in the first week of 2004.

But to do that I need to know a lot more about the stuff on those lists. Obviously I'm not the guy for the job. However, if you feel like doing it, knock yourself out. Just make sure I get credit for the idea. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:17 PM