A few folks have asked me to enable comments for items on my linkblog. That sounds like an odd request, but what do I know?
Based on the metrics I have, a good number of people subscribe to my linkblog's RSS feed. And many others simply read it in the sidebar of my blog. I'm not sure if much of it is worthy of discussion but willing to give it a shot if there's enough interest.
So, what do you think?
Apparently a lot of people are.
I didn't know what it was, but I've been getting referrer spammed like mad for Symmetrel today. Amusingly, referrer spam has no effect on my site, but that doesn't seem to stop the lame SEO slime who do it.
Anyway, I saw the name a few dozen times and it just sounded like it hand to be a drug. A quick web search revealed that it is the brand name for Amantadine.
Amantadine is an antiviral medication. It blocks the actions of viruses in your body. Amantadine is used to treat and to prevent influenza A (a viral infection).
[Source: Yahoo! Health]
Ahh, so it's a seasonal thing, not a new drug. That explains why I'm seeing the sudden increase in spam for it.
It's funny how all drug names seem to have similar names. You can hear (or read) a new one, have no idea what it is, but still know it's a drug of some kind.
Watching server logs in real-time is fun, no? The spam sure sticks out when you do... :-)
Roughly 60 days ago, I began My 30 Day Gmail and Yahoo! Mail Challenge. Obviously it lasted longer than 30 days, but the experience has been very, very useful. I've learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of both services.
Part of me wonders how many Gmail engineers have forced themselves to live off of Yahoo! Mail for a month. And I wonder how many Yahoo! Mail hackers spent a month exclusively on Gmail.
Anyway, here's the lowdown.
Before the challenge began, I was using Thunderbird for my personal mail, with a copy of every message also going to my Gmail account. When away from my notebook, I'd use Gmail as a substitute. Switching to use it full-time wasn't hard at all, since I was quite comfortable with the interface and knew the keyboard shortcuts quite well.The bad:
I've decided to continue using Gmail as my primary vehicle for sending and receiving personal email. A copy of everything still goes to my server (and then to Thunderbird) just in case.
Before the challenge began, I was using Thunderbird exclusively for my work email. When away from my laptop, I simply didn't send or receive much of any work related email. (Occasionally I'd send from my personal account.) Switching to use it full-time took some adjustment. Most of my struggles can be traced to two things: (1) the sheer volume of email I get as a result of being on tons of lists, and (2) the changing nature of the Yahoo! Mail beta.The bad:
The Yahoo! Mail Beta has evolved a fair amount since I began using it. It's a good product that I'd likely continue using if I didn't get so much email at work. But without a UI that's better tuned to "power users", I've gone back to using Thunderbird. A copy of every message still goes to my Yahoo! Mail account just in case I need web-based access. I'd have no trouble using Yahoo! Mail for my personal email.
Just for the record, the internal version of Yahoo! Mail has a few features that even the outside beta testers do not see. Some of them will likely be surprising...
Have you switched to web-based mail recently? If so, how's it working out?
Update: RSS is Now Integrated into Yahoo Mail and Alerts. It's one of those secret features I mentioned, but nobody told me we'd be announcing it yesterday. Grr. I'd have waited and included a lot more info here had I known. :-(
Ever since college, a small group of friends has had a really, really long running joke. You see, most of us got to know each other while servicing the computer labs at Bowling Green State University (beware lots of scary orange on that site) as part of the "Lab Tech" team. We had a tiny little office with way to many computers and computer geeks in it most of the time.
Before long, we'd begun to develop our own little subculture, inside jokes, and lingo. Part of that history is an endless string of "Keith's Mom" jokes. Keith is one of our original members, of course. Every group has something like this, right?
Anyway, I was looking through my Flickr RSS feeds earlier today and ran across the picture you see here in the Arizona Pool, which I highly recommend if you're at all into pictures of the southwest desert and such.
No, I'm not going to explain the joke. Use your imagination. :-)
Since all my friends know that I have a sick (as in "disgusting") mind, I wasn't at all surprised when the first thought that occurred to me upon viewing that photo was: Keith's Mom!
(I believe this is the first time that I've ever had to think about how best to explain a photo I felt compelled to blog, even though I was likely to be the only one amused by it.)
In response to yesterday's post about how not to get an Indian visa on time, I got email from a FedEx employee (who will remain anonymous) saying:
Hi, I read your weblog, and I am a courier for Fedex. I'm kinda writing to apologise for how screwed up it sounds like your visa package got, and to offer a little more info for you.
When I look at the scan information you posted, it looks like the courier in that area looked at you package, and said 'there's no way that guy will be there, and I can't leave it with no signature, so I'll leave it at the station'.
Fedex did work friday (I know I was there).
I'm not sure when your flight is, but if it is Monday morning, I'd call the 1-800 number at about 5:30-6am (800-463-3339) and tell them what the package is and is for, and ask for a manager at the Santa Clara location. There are managers there at about 5am, starting the morning package sort, so there will be one there to take the call, no matter what the 800 rep tells you. Be persistent, and they will probably allow you to pick up the package this morning (even before the center opens at 9am). It looks like your local center is 335 Brokaw Rd Santa Clara, CA 95050.
If you don't get to/want to do that, investigate why the package was not even attempted for delivery friday. Based on the times the scans are shown in your image, it appears that it never left your local center on Friday. Most centers launch their couriers at about 8:30 am, and with it being Black Friday (very light delivery volume) this scan happenning at 8:30 supports this. If they didn't even try to deliver it, then whoever sent the package can file a claim for consequential damages (you not getting to fly).
The plot thickens. (Emphasis mine in the above paragraphs.)
I wonder what the FedEx response is going to be.
The Resizable Textarea extension for Firefox has been incredibly useful for blogs and on-line forms (as well as forums). But ever since upgrading to Firefox 1.5, I've been sad. Version 0.1a of the extension wasn't packaged to work in Firefox 1.5.
Today I got sick of that and decided to fix it. For some reason, I'm not allowed to post a reply on the original site. So here I present to you the Resizable Textarea Extension 0.1b. This differs from the original version only in the metadata provided to Firefox. I had to increase the alowable maximum Firefox version number--that's it.
Install at your own risk, of course.
Also, if you still haven't tried Firefox (especially version 1.5), what are you waiting for? :-)
Update: Please see this post if you're using Firefox 2.0 or newer.
I had planned to be heading to Bangalore, India tomorrow afternoon. While there I was going to spend some quality time with the folks at the Yahoo! Software Development Center, the FOSS.in conference, and other friends.
This is the story of how my Visa (and passport, of course) ended up sitting in a FedEx building somewhere in the Bay Area on the night before I'm supposedly heading out.
I originally thought to title this post something like "When 'ovenight' really means 'in five days'" but decided that setting up a joke wasn't worth the effort.
On Monday the 14th, I finished up all the paperwork needed for my Indian Visa. I'd been through this exercise a couple years ago, so it wasn't a big deal. It requires a two-page form, a pair of photographs, and a letter from a company official who promises to cover your butt if something goes horribly wrong.
I waited until the 14th because I was in Taiwan the week before, and a Visa application requires giving up your passport while they consider your request. And since I was heading to Las Vegas the next day, Monday was my only option. That also gave us about six business days for the gears to turn. The travel folks assured me that six was more than enough.
I got all the paperwork done, took it to the travel office, and asked them to look it over one last time before sending it off. They realized I hadn't included a flight itinerary, so I emailed that over as soon as I got back to my desk. (I knew I should have taken my notebook to Sunnyvale with me.)
They shipped it off and I headed to Webmaster World the next day.
On Monday the 21st (6 days before departure and 7 days after sending the paperwork off), I got a call from the travel folks. They called to notify me that the folks at the Visa Network found a problem with my paperwork. Apparently, if one is going to a foreign country with the intent of speaking at a conference, they require a letter from the conference (as proof) inviting you to speak.
Despite the fact that I'd been advertised as a speaker on the official conference site for a couple months, I couldn't just print that out and turn it in.
So I had two options. The first was to get a letter from the conference folks inviting me to speak. That might have worked, but given the 12 hour time difference I opted for the other option: drop everything to redo the second page of the Visa application, redo the letter from a company official, find someone to sign the letter (again), and get it all to the travel folks in Sunnyvale before the end of the day so they could get a courier to run it up to San Francisco.
As you might imagine, a fair chunk of my morning was devoted to redoing paperwork. I, once again, hopped on the shuttle to the Sunnyvale campus (I actually work in Santa Clara now, which I guess has been only mentioned photographically thus far) and paid a visit to the travel office.
By the afternoon of Wednesday the 23rd (also known as the day before Thanksgiving), I hadn't heard anything back. So I emailed my contact in the travel office and asked what she knew. I got a phone call a few hours later saying that the Visa was all set (but still in San Francisco) and they could FedEx it to my house for arrival on Friday.
Not a problem. I provided my home address and they waived the signature requirement, since I had plans to be away from the house for about 3 hours on Friday.
A couple hours ago today (Saturday), I realized that Friday (yesterday) had come and gone and my passport had not arrived.
[This is the part of the soundtrack where the foreboding music plays.]
I hopped on to the FedEx website and plugged in the tracking number I'd been given on Wednesday, only to see this.
Apparently, we were not the only company that had Friday off!
Part of me was amused by the phrase "delivery exception" because it felt as if a Java programmer had invented it. But another part of me also thought "uh oh."
Then I figured that the travel folks and the visa folks actually knew about the no-delivery Friday thing and meant to say it'd arrive on Saturday. That led me to see if FedEx delivers on Saturdays. A quick web search revealed that FedEx has a FedEx Saturday Services page and a good FAQ which tells me that Saturday delivery is possible on some packages, assuming the shipper pays the extra charge.
I have no idea if the shipper paid that charge. But I'm beginning to suspect that they did not. I've further begun to suspect that neither the travel folks nor the visa folks realized that FedEx would be delivering on Friday. Those two suspicions combine to mean that I'm not heading to India as planned.
Now, in theory my stuff will arrive sometime on Monday. That means I could get on a plane Tuesday and be in Bangalore on Thursday. But I will have missed at least half the conference and most of the work week. Plus, I have things scheduled for the first full week of December that would make it difficult to extend the trip.
There are many lessons here:
I probably should have asked multiple folks in the travel office if my paperwork was okay the first time. This special invite for a conference certainly isn't new. Someone there has surely dealt with it before.
I probably should have offered to drive to San Francisco myself on Wednesday and pick it up in person.
Now I'm hoping I can convince Rasmus to give my talk for me.
The real kicker is that I had this trip in mind when I bough the iPod that led to the massive waste of time over Thanksgiving.
Murphy is quite a guy, isn't he?
Well, it's been a bit of time since I wrote about my powered flight training. Given my recent travel, I simply haven't had time to get in the air other than last weekend's Maule Flight to Petaluma. That flight was fun and I learned a bit about airspace and dealing with controller handoffs, but it's not the same as having an instructor in the back seat telling you what you're doing wrong.
I flew today with Dave in Citabria 5032G and we took the opportunity to reorient me to landing gracefully. Given that I hadn't flown a Citabria for a few weeks, my landings weren't exactly gentle. No, I bounced the first two. And when I got the bouncing under control, I had to deal with the shifting winds. We went from a headwind to left crosswind back to headwind and then back to a left crosswind again.
In the end, I got seven landings and one go-around in. The go-around was a first for me. That is, the first time I've ever decided to go around rather than make the situation work. I was high and a bit fast, already close to the runway, and facing a left crosswind. I quickly realized that I could probably slow it down, slip hard, and put the plane down in the second half of the runway. But that was risky. Coming out of a slip after you've burned up the half the runway and still need to compensate for the crosswind doesn't leave a lot of margin. So I said, "we're going around."
Dave asked me "are you sure?" I thought that was odd, but I suspect he wanted to hear my rationale.
My last few landings were better. I even managed to compensate for the crosswind the way one is supposed to.
Now, if I can find a way to get myself in the air at least once a week from now on, I suspect I won't feel nearly as rusty.
When I wrote When Better Isn't Good Enough, I had both features and design foremost in mind. I wasn't thinking as much about relevancy because I've seen enough data from blind comparisons to know that they're often too close to call. Tim and I talked a bit about relevancy in the comments and in a follow-up IM conversation.
The Search Engine Experiment is public blind test that's trying to sort out who is better than who. Seeing the results prompted Seth to write Can more than 60% be wrong?
About 65% of those tested said that Yahoo or MSN was the most relevant.
I won't go into the flaws with this method, since that's really not the point. He goes on to say:
Which reinforces my point that Google isn't "better" for most people if "better" means more relevant or deeper. Google is better because it feels better and quicker and leaner and easier to use. The story we tell ourselves about Google is very different, and we use it differently as a result. Think about that the next time you insist you need a "better" formula or a faster server or a stronger first baseman.
Music sounds better through an iPod because we think it does. Design matters. Stories matter most of all.
That's really what I had in mind in the "better isn't good enough" post. But Seth said it far better than I did.
Reading Brand X vs. Brand Y: Social Effect and Competition in the Software Industry, I'm struck this bit:
So what does this mean for search engine competition and Google? Well, I think increasing a search engine's relevance to become competitive with Google's is a good goal but it is a route that seems guaranteed to make you the Pepsi to their Coke or the Burger King to their McDonalds. What you really need is to change the rules of the game, the way the Apple iPod did.
I'm struck because it reminds me a lot of a conversation I've had with several folks in the last year or so at work.
Them: Once we do X, we'll be as good as Google.
Me: It doesn't matter.
Them: Sure it does!
Me: No, it doesn't. If you want to change people's behavior, you need to give them something dramatically better than what they're used to. This doesn't do that. Being "as good as Google" is the wrong goal.
Now, it's no surprise that we have a few people at work that are hell-bent on beating Google. But sometimes I'm surprised by the way people stop looking at the bigger picture.
I recently got an iPod Nano, mainly because I'm annoyed at the limitations of my iPod Shuffle on long trips (like flying half way around the world).
Two nights ago, I fired up iTunes and finally accepted its offer to upgrade from version 4.9 to version 6.0. That was a big fucking mistake--a mistake that I've spent the last two days attempting to recover from.
Warning: If you'd rather not read a rant, please move on... Seriously.
Somehow iTunes 6.0 "upgraded" my music library and managed to lose about 1,200 tracks along the way. I'm at a complete loss to explain how this could happen. But a non-trivial amount of my music simply isn't there as fas as it knows.
Now it turns out that the tracks really are there and the metadata is still around, but iTunes simply thinks the tracks are elsewhere. When I click one to play it, it asks me if I'd like to try finding. Of course, it doesn't mean that iTunes will do its best to locate it in my music collection. No, it means *I* must manually browse my library to point it at the file (as if there are no ID3 tags on the files that it could simply match against its own catalog).
What The Fuck, Apple?!
Are you kidding me? This software has been out for how long and has a bug this serious?
I had two options:
Well, I spent most of yesterday trying to find the patterns in the ways that iTunes blew chunks so that I could code fixes. But I'm at a loss to explain it. In some cases it seems to have simply renamed files. In others, it moved them. In others it combined folders and seems to have forgotten about that. In still others, it thinks that a few MP3 files should have AAC extensions, or vice-versa.
It's insane and terribly frustrating, not to mention disappointing.
I threw my hands up in disgust last night, realizing that there's no simple pattern to this. And iTunes appears to have no "repair my library" feature.
A few times I pulled my entire collection from my pre-upgrade backups and re-upgraded to iTunes 6 only to watch this entire horror flick over again.
At this point, the iPod Nano has cost me far, far in excess of the $250 they charge for it. And I'm going to think twice, maybe three or four time before I ever upgrade a single piece of Apple software again.
The reality is that iTunes 4.9 was working flawlessly. But I was getting sick of the nag to upgrade and stupidly assumed that having the latest version would be a Good Thing for my brand spanking new iPod Nano.
Oh, and have I mentioned that iTunes 6 seems to silently fail on CDDB lookups when I'm re-importing?
Yeah, silent failures. The worst thing you can possibly do is to fail silently. The arrogance of which ever Apple person decided that it should fail silently is difficult to comprehend. There's absolutely no feedback in the UI at all when this happens.
Let's just leave the customer to wonder what, if anything, might be broken when this doesn't work.
Is it my computer? A network problem? A scratched CD? Did it even TRY to do the lookup?
Fuck if I know. It just "doesn't work" sometimes and I feel powerless to fix it.
In summary, do not upgrade from iTunes 4.9 to iTunes 6.0 if you value your time, music, and sanity.
Steve Jobs, you owe me an apology.
For a company that's built a reputation on stuff that "just works", this is unbelievable. You're lucky I can't use anyone else's software to put music on my iPod. I don't look forward to spending the next 3-4 weeks re-importing 500 CDs into your buggy software.
UPDATE: [Monday, Dec 28th] I've been contacted by someone at Apple who may be able to help track this down. I need to send some files over to 'em tonight. I've also been contacted by a reporter who wanted to know if I'd heard from Apple. Heh.
When my water heater inevitably breaks, I'll likely be replacing it with a tankless model. There's a been quite a bit of discussion about the technology installation costs, savings in energy expenses, and required permits and construction.
But today I came across some interesting news. Apparently a company named Pulsar Advanced Technologies has developed a microwave tankless hot water device:
Pulsar Advanced Technologies has announced will next week launch its lead product, the Vulcanus MK4, a water heater USING microwave technology to heat water on demand.
Interesting. I haven't found any photos of the device but it sounds like it's similar in size to the other tankless hot water supplies I've heard about.
Powered by electricity and unaffected by the volatile gas markets, the Vulcanus MK4 can heat water from 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in seconds and can source multiple applications at once: showers, dishwasher, sink usages and more. The Vulcanus MK4 is the size of a stereo speaker with a sleek modern look, making it ideal for condos and apartments, while powerful enough to serve the needs of any size family.
I wonder how it'll compare in power consumption and performance to the more traditional tankless models?
I'm not sure if it's the amusing text overlays in the video, the fact that it's my friend Irina, or that the folks being interviewed know not to take it 100% seriously. But Geek Entertainment TV (GETV) really amuses me.
Geek Entertainment TV is an emerging global media empire, reporting from deep inside the bubble as it re-inflates. GETV covers buzzword compliant topics such as web 2.0, tagging, AJAX, social software and the bubble juice known as VCs. We like robots, so you'll hear about that too.
Irina takes her microphone and puts some of the folks "deep inside the bubble" on camera to find out what's going on. The results are both funny and informative. She once commented that it's a like a Silicon Valley version of The Colbert Report.
The best part is that Geek Entertainment TV is the result of just two people: Irina and Eddie (he handles the video and post-processing work, etc).
Give it a watch.
She's threatened to interview me in December. I can't wait. :-)
At the beginning of this year, I wrote Where will you store your data in which I was thinking about the move to on-line storage. With things like Flickr, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, all offering lots of disk space and the increasing availability of cheap, fast, reliable Internet access it only made sense.
I was reading about Companies I'd like to Profile (but don't exist) and noticed that the #1 idea on the list is Better and Cheaper Online File Storage.
We need a good product. Something as easy to use as the Flickr uploader on the client side, and easy web access. These tools need to go a generation or two beyond what xdrive is offering.
Features I’d like to see: drag and drop file adding and removing, an rss feed for my files, tagging of every file for easy search later, easy sharing, and the ability to publish files to the web with permanent URLs. And off location backups in case your building burns down.
I have absolutely no doubt that we'll see that product (or one like it) emerge in the next 12-18 months. The pieces are all coming together and the economics keep getting better.
The other stuff on that list is good too.
It's no coincidence that I'm currently listening to Brewster Kahle on IT Conversations talking about Universal Access to All Knowledge.
Listen to it if you get a chance.
I was reading Joyce's comments on MyWeb 2.0 last night and realized that I needed to write something about it, but I wasn't sure what. So I waited a bit.
Then it struck me a few minutes ago.
I think she understands MyWeb 2.0 more than some of the people who created the product. She's able to describe, in her own terms, exactly what MyWeb 2.0 is useful for and continues on to explain her problem with it:
One of the strangest things about MyWeb, and possibly the reason it hasn't caught the imagination yet, is that the three functions I mention above -- personal server-side bookmarking, social network-filtered linkstream, and human-powered search engine -- use what amounts to three different UIs, two of which are unattractive and/or hard to use.
She put her finger on something that's been bugging me for a while now, but I could never figure it out.
Last night I spent some time looking at my 401k account to decide if I wanted to make any changes for the upcoming year. I have a 401k account managed by Vanguard and for the last few years, I've been contributing some money from each paycheck.
In recent years that money has been unevenly split between two of their funds:
However, in looking over recent performance data, I was less than impressed with the T. Rowe Price fund:
The LifeStrategy fund, however, has been doing reasonably well.
So looking through the options I've found a few others that look promising. The current leader is the William Blair International Growth fund.
It's the only internaional stock fund available in my plan, and given my interest in diversifying into foreign markets, I'm tempted to shift a chunk of my new investment dollars (those which will be contributed in 2006) into that fund rather than the T. Rowe Price fund.
However, I'm still poking around and checking out other funds. There are a total of 13 funds available in our plan, so I've got a few more to check out.
While I've spent a fair amount of time in airplanes recently, it's been quite a ways away from the controls. But today I had the chance to do a bit of flying with Mark, one of my co-workers.
Mark is a partner in a 1999 manufactured Maule (N4140P) that lives at the Palo Alto Airport. We've been talking off an on about trading rides (me getting a ride in his Maule and giving him a ride in a glider) for months now. So I met him at PAO on this cloudless morning so we could do a bit of flying.
Mark put me to work changing out the light on the left wing while he uncovered the plane and got it ready to fly. Before long, we were in the plane and I got a chance to check out the instrument panel. It's quite a bit more complicated that the Citabrias I'm used to flying, but the basics are the same anywhere.
We taxied out to the run-up area, performed the pre-takeoff checks, got a takeoff clearance, and were airborne. The plan was to fly up the peninsula, get permission to fly through San Francisco's Class B airspace, past the Golden Gate Bridge, and on to Petaluma.
I'm not accustomed to flying in the sort of crowded airspace we have in the Bay Area, so it was interesting to see how many frequency changes were necessary to accomplish this. I may have lost track, but it went something like this:
Luckily, it's just a matter of doing what they tell you to do.
Basically, once we got airborne we headed toward San Carlos. They directed us to continue heading north but stay west of Highway 101. They eventually handed us off to San Francisco.
The folks at SFO cleared us to enter their airspace and we got to fly by the airport at a fairly close distance and get some nice views of the runway and the terminals.
Once we passed SFO, it was on toward the actual city of San Francisco (passing over South San Francisco, of course). We stayed well west of downtown and were instructed to fly to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge. The controller must have known that I had a camera and was in the right seat.
After we flew past the Sausalito VOR, Mark gave me the plane and said "get us to Petaluma." Given the onboard GPS, that wasn't terribly difficult, but it gave me a chance to feel how the Maule responds to various control inputs. I remembered being impressed on the ground at how smoothly the engine ran. The controls were similarly smooth. I especially liked the fine grained control provided by the elevator trim and the throttle.
I took us into the traffic pattern and Mark took the plane back on final to get us on the ground. We taxied off to the transient parking area and got out to stretch our legs, visit the facilities, and check out the other planes.
Small airports are always fun to visit, because you never know what you're gonna see when you get there. Sometimes it's an incredibly clean and polished RV-6. Other times it's an old war bird or a Piper Cub.
After a few minutes on the ground, we saddled up again and flew back down the east side of the bay and back across the Palo Alto. I got to do a fair amount of the flying on the return trip. The tower was so busy when we arrived that we eventually gave up waiting for them to transfer us to the ground controllers. Instead Mark just called up the ground controllers to ask them if it was okay.
I'm continually amazed at how much flying (lots of training) gets done at that little airport with its single runway.
Anyway, it was good to be back in the air with some time at the controls on a beautiful Saturday (it was clear all day and in the low 70s). I'm hoping to get back on with my own training in the coming week. I haven't had a chance to mention it, but I soloed a few weeks back!
What a blast. :-)
Wow, I have a lot of catching up to do. I'm sitting in Terminal A of the Las Vegas airport right now. They have free Wifi here, which is something I wish every airport took seriously. Surprisingly, they had 802.11b and 802.11g networks.
Anyway, I haven't posted for a few days 'cause I was pretty busy with WebmasterWorld PubCon and stuff. I'll wrap that up in a few days, but suffice it so say I had a good time, met lots of great people, had some good food & drink, and even saw a few sights along the way.
The picture you see in this post is one of several I shot tonight from the outdoor observation deck of the Stratosphere. The view up there is incredible. I need to go back again during daylight house sometime.
I'm headed out to the annual WebmasterWorld "PubCon" in Las Vegas this morning. I'm participating in two panel discussions: the Blogging for Fun and Profit super session and RSS Feeds and Pod Casting.
I'll be there for the whole conference this time, so look me up if you're in the neighborhood. And don't forget the Yahoo! Party tonight at Cesar's. It should be a lot of fun again this year.
Back in July when I half-jokingly suggested that we create An Email Blacklist of Technology PR Agencies, it stirred up quite a bit of discussion on my site and among PR bloggers. [See Bloglines citations and Technorati links.]
Today a message arrived at the email@example.com address (the feedback address we publish on the Yahoo! Search blog) which started off like this:
As you may know, AOL today announced a trial for the new "AOL Hi-Q" high quality video format, allowing broadband users to access to video on demand features to watch online movie trailers, music videos and soon a selection of hundreds of classic TV titles from the Warner Bros collection. Kontiki, the leader in legal, secure peer-to-peer networking, is providing AOL with its Kontiki 5.0 grid delivery networking solution that enables the distribution of DVD-quality videos to consumers more quickly and efficiently.
It went on to include more text as well as a full copy of the press release.
Now here's the best part. Krause Taylor Associates, the PR agency that's spamming bloggers, also does work for a high-profile blogging company: SixApart. (Check their client list) They really ought to know better!
I wonder if the folks at SixApart can help get the message across to their PR agency: DO NOT SPAM US.
Do they honestly think that a news release about AOL's Hi-Q video format is going to have any bearing on the Yahoo! Search blog?
I'm pretty certain we never opted into a mailing list using that address. Its sole purpose is a point of contact for people reporting problems about or asking questions related to our official blog. The mailto: link is even labeled "Email us your feedback and suggestions" not "click here for an address you can add to your PR spam database!"
What will it take?
I'm not entirely sure why, but I have recently sampled a few varieties of dried fruit. Most recently I grabbed a bag of dried pineapple and another of dried apples from Whole Foods. A company called
Made in Nature sells 3oz resealable packages of numerous dried fruits. There are no other ingredients in them, just dried fruit.
I was pleasantly surprised at the apples. They're tasty, light, and somewhat filling. I'll likely be buying those again sometime. That got me motivated enough to start sampling other fruits.
The pineapple, on the other hand, is a complete disaster. The texture is funky, there's virtually no flavor, and there's just not much to like. I'm a big fan of real pineapple, but all the sweetness and good flavor has been drained out of these.
Before I try any others, I'm curious to know what your favorite dried fruits are. I'm a big fan of peaches and am hoping they're more like the apples than the pineapple.
Are there others I should avoid? Some to put on my "must try" list?
Sometimes the simple things amaze me (or amuse me) most. Here are a few I've come across on this trip:
Now back to your regularly scheduled... Well, whatever you come here for.
In his posting titled Reading the Google Tea Leaves, Tristan compares various product offerings from Google against those of the "big three" (AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo!) and concludes:
Google does innovate in some spaces but has largely innovated in order to gain entry in markets that already existed. As a rule of thumb, they've been very smart at breathing new innovations in those markets. However, their competitors are generally quick to notice and are catching up.
I've been giving a much shorter verbal version of his post for many months now. Typically when I'm interviewing someone or talking to random folks who are trying to figure out this industry we're in. They'll ask a question like "what do you think Google is doing?" or "where is Google really headed?"
My answer is this: Google is trying to build Yahoo 2.0.
It's really that simple.
If they press me for details on this theory (that only happens about half the time) I say that it's as if someone decided to re-invent more and more of Yahoo's popular services in random order, giving them a fresh user interface, less historical baggage, and usually one feature that really stands out (such as Gmail's storage limit or Google Talk's use of Jabber).
When Google Calendar and Google Finance (more in a future post) finally show their faces, I suspect they'll follow the same pattern. They'll look like someone sat down and thought "I'm starting with a clean slate, so how would I build a modern version of Yahoo! Calendar, with a newer and more interactive UI, one killer feature, and fixing the various things we've learned since Yahoo! Calendar launched many years ago?"
A few people have recently told me that I'm not "stirring the pot" enough on my blog anymore. I assume that by "stirring the pot" they mean "talking trash about Google", so maybe this counts? Or maybe it's not trashy enough?
Anyway, what's your theory? Is Tristan right? Am I right?
Will Microsoft try to build Yahoo 3.0 in 24-36 moths when their newfound "services" vision finally trickles down through the ranks?
As part of their "special edition" content, Yahoo! Finance is running a four part series from Forbes.com titled "Buying the American Dream." It looks at what it costs to live the American Dream in four regions of the U.S. (northeast, south, midwest, and west)
How they define the American Dream is interesting:
We're breaking down the costs of maintaining a nice, but not opulent, life--private schools for the kids, a large house in an upscale neighborhood, a weekend retreat, a pricey night out once a week, a couple of very nice cars.
We find more detail about that dream in the details of their methodology:
We tabulated the annual costs for a family of four with one child in a private college and one in eighth-grade and attending a private school. If your kids aren't college-age yet, this gives you a chance to plan ahead. Our fictional clan has two houses--one in a nice neighborhood and one in the country or at the beach.
And on the weekend house...
We also wanted our imaginary family to have a weekend retreat. So we chose a likely location for a country or beach house (Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole). Some resort areas, like Idaho's Sun Valley, draw affluent visitors from around the country and the world, so vacation home prices were sometimes higher than the costs of primary homes in the state. We looked at last year's median sales price when we could obtain it, and used it to estimate what a nice second home might cost today. We used the same mortgage assumptions as we did for the primary home.
And on the cars to own...
Our family has two very upscale cars; a sporty BMW 325i sedan and a capacious Lexus RX 330 with front-wheel drive, both 2005 models.
And on eating out...
Since the Fictionals like to eat at nice restaurants, we figured out how much it would cost them to have dinner each week (including appetizer, main course, dessert, a bottle of nice--though not amazing--wine and tip) at a pricey local place. We then multiplied that figure by 52 to get the annual spending total.
And on vacations and travel...
This high-income family also likes to travel. We had them take three vacations each year: A week-long winter stay in Palm Beach for the parents; a romantic three-day jaunt to Paris in the spring; and a seven-day ski vacation for the whole family.
And on schooling the kids...
We figured our family would send its children to private colleges, which could be anywhere in the country. For this, we used the average annual cost for a resident student at an American college, including room, board and other expenses, according to the 2004 Annual Survey of Colleges performed by The College Board.
After reading through the section on the West, I've decided that I'm still pretty far from living the American Dream in California:
The costliest place in the region (dude!) turned out to be California. We have to hand it to West Coasters--it must be hard to be laid-back when you have to pull in nearly $370,000 per year after taxes to live well.
I guess I should have bought A LOT more Google stock back when it was cheap, huh. My 30 or so shares have to go way, way up in value before I have any hope. Maybe if I had bought 30,000 shares...
Then again, I'm also short a wife and two teenage kids, so I guess there's a lot of time before I have to strike it rich!
Not that I'm really think this whole "american dream" has much to do with what I personally want out of life. But it's still fun to see what's required to live up to a stereotype.
During one of today's cab rides, a Yahoo! Taiwan engineer was telling me about the re-launch yesterday of Yahoo! China's home page. He said it was search focused and uncluttered.
I decided to have a look for myself and was even more surprised than I expected to be (does that even make sense?). They have several tabs, just like Yahoo! US and Google do. But get this...
They have a MP3 as a full-blown tab!
And it even lets you search by all the common formats too: mp3, wma, etc.
I'm not sure why this impresses me so much. AltaVista has had an MP3/Audio tab for quite some time. Maybe it's the terminology that gets me? Having "MP3" front and center feels like a throwback to the Napster days or something.
This trip has been unusual in many respects so far. Here I enumerate and comment on them for my own amusement and because I'm running on limited mental power—you know, that feeling when you've slept several hours in 20 minute bursts on a loud plane?
It's about 11:30am here, which is 7:30pm "yesterday" at home. That's weird enough.
I'll try to say something more substantial tomorrow along with having more interesting pictures.
Tonight I'll hop on a midnight flight from San Francisco to Taipei, Taiwan to speak the ICOS 2005 (International Conference on Open Source). It's a midnight flight that arrives at 6am, so I'm thinking that jet lag won't be too bad if I sleep at the right times.
The ride back, however, is a whole different story. I'll leave Taiwan at 7:30pm on Saturday and arrive back here around 2:30pm the same day.
That's gonna mess me up.
Anyway, if you're gonna be there let me know.
If you haven't yet seen the news, there's a contest going on called Extend Firefox:
Calling all Firefox enthusiasts: it's time to submit your work for the chance to win great prizes and earn bragging rights as one of the premier Extension developers for Firefox! We're looking for new and upgraded Firefox Extensions that focus on enhancing the Firefox experience, especially those that take advantage of new features in Firefox 1.5.
Jesse Ruderman has a quick overview of new Firefox 1.5 features that you're encouraged to take advantage of. The computer you could win looks pretty nice.
Need help or ideas? Try the new IRC channel. Or look at the list that Jesse published. (Bonus points if you make his Google idea work with Yahoo too...)
Disclaimer: I'm one of the judges. I do not take bribes. Well, not often. ;-)
You know you've got some cool APIs when Rasmus takes the time to write some code against them and then show the world how easy it is: GeoCool!
Web 2.0 and the programmable web that I and others have been talking about for a while has mostly been vapourware so far. There are a few generic components that are useful, but it is somewhat limited what you can do with them. And yes, you may consider this a somewhat biased view, but I think Yahoo!'s new geocoding platform is a huge step in the right direction.
There is of course the fancy new maps.yahoo.com/beta site which is fun, but as far as I am concerned the killer app here is the geocoding platform that drives this. And it is completely accessible for anyone to use. It's also a sane API that anybody can figure out in minutes. Here are a few tips for using this API from PHP 5.
I get the feeling he'll be adding that as an example to a PHP talk sometime soon... :-)
Later this month I'll be headed back to Bangalore to speak at India's largest Open Source conference, foss.in. The conference has changed names a few times in its history. When I was there two years ago it was called Linux/Bangalore and I had a great time.
Bangalore is a quickly evolving city in one of the world's most important countries. I can't wait to see how much things have changed in the 24 months since I was there. But more than anything, I can't wait to enjoy some real Indian food.
Looking at the list of international speakers, I'm honored to be on it. Can you believe they got Alan Cox? Kick ass!
If even a small percentage of Microsoft employees take him seriously (and many at least read his stuff), then this will only serve to help Yahoo.
You see, having a company like Microsoft focus too tightly on defeating Google in whatever Google decides to do means they spend less time paying attention to us and more time trying to beat up one of our competitors.
What's not to love about that?! :-)
In his latest scheme, he'd like to see Microsoft and Yahoo "clone the Google API" (which Google API? That's not entirely clear.)
If Scoble really thinks that having a non-Google API is the real barrier to adoption, then I suspect he's not trying very hard.
Keep focusing on Google man... And bring as many of your co-workers along for the ride as you can!
One of the coolest things I've seen recently came out of a small group of hackers in the Search group at Yahoo. During the development of the new version of Yahoo! Maps (launched tonight with multi-point routing and other goodies), someone wondered what we could do to show off the new Maps and APIs.
Given that mashups are all the rage, it seemed like the natural way to go. From there, this small group began to hack on some ideas and ultimately developed the Local Events Browser as a demonstration of what can be done with the new Maps AJAX API, Image Search API, Term Extraction API, Local Search API, and Geocoding API. (It's a demo app--no docs and fancy stuff.)
Simply put, it's a highly interactive map based browser for local events. I could spend a lot more time trying to describe what it does, but go play with it and see.
If you've been wondering what Chad has been doing since he joined Yahoo, now you know. :-)
It's my favorite time of year again.
Ever since I've graduated from college and worked full-time, the end of the year has meant that I need to set aside some time to fill out forms as part of a formal review process. The idea being that I assess myself, my manager assesses me, and my peers provide feedback. This all gets stirred together by my manager and then results in a rating of some sort and possibly an annual raise.
Today I'm spending a bit of time to learn about how our annual review and self/co-worker assessments are different from last year. The biggest change is that we now have klunky web-based system. But every cloud a sliver lining, and this one comes in the form of humor.
Our on-line tool offers a "writing assistant" that suggests language for expressing how good (or poorly) a job you think you're doing. Here I present some of what it suggested to me for your collective amusement. They're like like little positive/negative/neutral fortune cookie sized bits of feedback which can be increased or decresed in severity.
Jeremy can synthesize a set of opportunities and goals into a common vision that he communicates to others. He simplifies complex issues so that others can understand and get behind what needs to be done.
Hmm. I do tend to simplify things, but "common vision" isn't quite right. Let me click the "more positive" link and see what happens...
Jeremy has a good understanding of our vision and values and communicates them to others. He can tailor the message so that its meaning is embraced by different groups, and he uses his excitement and passion to get others moving in the same direction.
Well that one used the word "embraced" so it must be better.
Let me choose "expemplifies values" from the "exceeds" column now.
Jeremy represents the organization with the utmost professionalism. He can always be relied upon to adhere to and promote organizational policies and standards in dealing with customers and others both in and outside the organization. He is always supportive of management decisions and encourages others to follow his example.
I wouldn't say that I'm "always supportive of management decisions", would you? :-)
It seems like these things get longer when I ask for the more positive ones. So let's try something on the negative side. *click* *click* "acts contrary to values"
While Jeremy seems to understand organizational values he could be more consistent about applying them on a day-to-day basis. I would like him to think about this as he plans his work and as he deals with others, especially those outside the organization.
Ouch! It really makes me feel like I ought to be trying harder when I read that!
Okay, moving on to the "Getting stuff done" metric:
Jeremy is a conscientious worker who can usually be relied upon to handle unforeseen obstacles. He is able to analyze new problems and develop action plans to deal with them.
I don't believe I've ever used the phrase "action plan" before when writing about myself. Let's see what else I can get this tool to invent...
Jeremy is often unclear when defining roles and responsibilities with his team, and as a result team members have been confused about what is expected. Jeremy should regularly meet with his employees to discuss their responsibilities and resolve any misunderstandings.
You know, someone needs to collect all of these and make a board game for office workers. That'd be fun. I could play with the "writing assitant" all day but wouldn't want to "get caught up in low-priority tasks", as the tool said to me a few moments ago.
Shelly thinks that tech.memeorandum.com has a bit of a gender bias (among other problems):
First, most of the stories covered are about business, rather than technology. The companies in focus may be technical, but the stories are about commerce.
Second, if you’re a woman writing about technology, don’t expect to show up in the site; when you do, expect to see your weblog disappear from view quickly. This site is for the big boys only.
Third, quiet uses of technology, such as discussions of .NET, digital identity, and others do not show in the list. If you want to appear, link an A-lister who is talking about Web 2.o or search (i.e. Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft). Actual discussions about technology fly under this ‘technology’ aggregator.
Fourth, rank matters more than content.
You know what? She's right. The comments on her posting are pretty interesting too.
It's worth noting that much of today's web search suffers from problem #4 as well.
Anyway, looking at the site's description, we see:
The Web is humming with reports and opinions on technology. tech.memeorandum is page A1 for these discussions. Auto-updated every 5 minutes, it uncovers the most relevant items from thousands of news sites and weblogs.
I guess part of the problem is the phrase "most relevant." What's relevant to Shelly may not be what's relevant to me. And neither are what's relevant to my new cube mate, Chad.
Now that the month of October is over and my AdSense numbers are complete, I figured it was time for a slightly more detailed follow-up to my October Web Search Referral Statistics post from a couple weeks ago. What I've done this time is to graphically summarize the data I have available in a way that doesn't disclose any raw numbers, so as not to violate the AdSense Terms of Service.
I'd like to start by looking at basically the same data I presented last time. The bar chart below represents the relative share of traffic to my weblog from the various sources I've been able to identify.
I need to explain the other and rss labels. Any traffic that comes with no referer header (a "-" in the Apache log, to be specific) is labeled as "rss" since much of it seems to come from desktop news aggregators. Of course, there's other stuff in there too, so think of it as one of two catch-all buckets. The other is "other" which represents any visit that came via a source other than those listed here. Get it? Other.
Next, let's look at where the money comes from. This is simply a chart that deptics which sources generate the most money (in the form of advertising clicks). Note that the relative shares here are quite similar to the overall traffic shares. One might conclude that the traffic equals money, which is generally true.
Digging a bit deeper, it's intereting to look at the click through rate (CTR) for various sources. Here's where the numbers get interesting. It seems that AOL and MSN users are more likely to click. Ask.com users aren't far behind. Yahoo is in third place with Google trailing by a fair amount.
Bloglines users, unsurprisnly, don't click much at all. They likely click through only to read comments, since my RSS feed provides full text articles. The "other" and "rss" referrals are neck and neck, and likely represents a good baseline for low-intent driven clicks.
This chart shows the data that most surprised me at first but made more sense as I thought about it. It shows how valuable an average click is when it comes from a user referred by each of those sources. There's a real difference (on my site) among users of the various search engines.
MSN users are clearly the most valuable on an indivudal basis, but as a whole they don't respresent much of my income. If more of my traffic came from MSN, that's surely change. They're followed by AOL, Yahoo, Ask.com, and then Google. Notice again that the "rss" and "other" groups are pretty close. Bloglines, as expected, is quite low.
It was great to see how many folks publshed their own numbers in response to my last search traffic posting. I don't know how many people slice their data to this degree, but if you do I'd love to see the similarities and differences.