December 30, 2005

What The Fuck is with Dell Technical Support?!

dell I'm on hold waiting to speak with a Dell Tech Support representative, presumably in India. The Dell 2405FPW UltraSharp Flat Panel LCD Montior I recently purchased (using our corporate discount at work) arrived in a broken state.

When powered on, the video display is horribly distorted. I should be seeing the on screen display (before I hook up any video sources) but instead I see what looks like a single line of pixels stretched vertically to the point that they consume the entire display. Attaching a real video source (VGA or DVI) fails to rectify the problem.

dell 2405fpw So I found the on-line Dell 2405FPW manual and confirmed that I've attempted all the troubleshooting ideas they've published. No help there. It's still messed up.

I then found the phone number to call: 1-800-822-8965 (for individual home consumers who purchased through an Employee Purchase Program). On the first try, I navigated the annoyingly stupid IVR system. It starts by making me press buttons on the phone and them strangely transitions to using voice response, which I hate. It's slower, less accurate, and more frustrating. I was eventually put into a holding queue where I waited about 10 minutes before simply being disconnected.

I called back and repeated the previous steps. But this time I found myself patched through to a phone in a call center in India (I could tell by the accents). However, nobody was actually talking to me. I somehow ended up on the phone of a person who was talking to someone else. I got to overhear bits of several office conversations before the representative said something like "thanks for holding. I'll transfer you to my manger now. I've spoken with him and explained your situation."


I tried to interrupt and explain that it was highly unlikely, since nobody had talked to me yet. But before I knew it, I was apparently speaking with a manager. About 20 seconds into explaining the problem, he hung up on me.

So I've called back a third time and decided to document my progress so far. I'm starting to think that if they're treating me this way, I have every right to charge back the credit card charge. I've followed every instruction they've given in the manual and when I call, but so far they're simply not helping.

They are wasting my time and making me regret purchasing another Dell product.

While writing this, a representative picked up the phone and asked for my computer tag number. I explained that the problem was with a monitor, not a computer. She then asked me for the order number. I worked to look it up in my email and suggested that it'd be faster for her to find it. She found the record and then informed me that my call had been sent to the wrong department.


I asked how I could ensure that doesn't happen next time I call. Was there a different answer I could have given the IVR? She had no idea.

So now I'm back on hold for the fourth time. Dell really puts the "service" in customer service, don't they?

Update: According to my phone, I've been on hold for 35 52 minutes now. I wonder how long this will take...

Update #2: After 53 minutes on hold, I was connected with "Austin" who examined the record and realized that he couldn't help me. Since I had purchased the monitor through a corporate discount program, I needed to talk to someone else. (Where have I heard that line before?!)

As I write this, he's connecting me to that department. He took my phone number so they can call me if the call is dropped. (Heh.) Total time on this call so far is 62 minutes.

Update #3: About 10 minutes later, I was connected with "Apollo" (heh) and we went a few rounds so that I could convince him that I'd tried everything. He then determined that they need to send me a new monitor (duh). I had to give him all my shipping information again, even though he has access to my previous shipping record. That makes no sense. I also had to read him the serial number off the back of the unit. Why do I suspect they already have that info as well?

Update #4 After another 10 (or so) minutes on hold, he collected a bit more info and gave me the case number and dispatch numbers I needed. He'll get the monitor shipped to me and I'll ship them the bad one. Total time on the call was 1 hour and 26 minutes. Amusingly, he was able to give me the "right' 1-800 numbers to call and the extensions to dial. I guess the third time's the charm or something.

What fun. Why couldn't I have accomplished this all in 5 minutes on their web site? Wouldn't that be cheaper for them and easier for me?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:08 PM

The Combined Power of Celebrity People, Products, and Companies

In his discussion of Yappers and Shippers, Tim asked an interesting question:

Is the tech industry in Silicon Valley in any sense a celebrity-driven culture? You know, in the sense that the film industry in Hollywood is celebrity-driven.

It didn't take but a few seconds before I commented:

Of course it is. Sometimes the celebrities are real people, sometimes products, and sometimes brands. In some cases you get all three in one organization, like Apple: Steve Jobs, iPod, and Apple. Or Google: Larry/Sergey, Search, Google.

Upon thinking about it a bit more, I've come to realize that having all three is a remarkably powerful combination. A famous company with a killer product and an authoritative celebrity face to associate with them both is golden. The three can feed off each other in very powerful ways. And I'd never really thought of it in these terms until Tim brought it up.

Based on what I've seen, the brand depends on the person (often the company founder or founders) and the product--especially early on. As products gain traction, companies grow. And when that happens, that's where things get tricky. More often than not, companies don't capitalize on their star(s) as much as they could.

Using the same two examples is interesting. Apple, in my mind, is the model of how to do this. Steve Jobs is the undisputed rules of Apple, literally and figuratively. What he speaks, it becomes gospel. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else at the company who comes remotely close to his "authority" on anything related to Apple.

Google is a similar case. Early on, Google was inseparable from Larry and Sergey. The company seemed, quite literally, like an outgrowth of them. They have one of the most famous brands in the world and a killer product that's clearly number one. But now when they need to speak authoritatively on something, Larry and Sergey are strangely absent. Instead they trot out Eric or Marissa. It's an interesting choice they've made.

Technorati is another example. While it's hardly a household name today, it has a loyal following, great product, and Dave Sifry (again, the founder).

If I knew anything about business history, I'd be tempted to see how this played out in the early automotive industry. Cars (and car companies) seem to inspire the sort of passion and devotion among their owners that many people associate with their favorite technology products, brands, and people.

And where's Microsoft in all of this?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:53 PM

December 27, 2005

Schwetty Balls, a Christmas Classic

I know that I mentioned this last year, but we just watched it again last night and it's as funny as ever. If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it since last year, check out the classic SNL segment: Delicious Dish (otherwise known as Schwetty Balls):

It cracks me up every time. :-)

I'm still amazed that the actors were able to keep themselves from lauging during the sketch. Now that's talent!

Posted by jzawodn at 12:16 PM

December 26, 2005

Mobile Video Recorder Ideas Needed: Lipstick Camera vs. Hard Drive Camcorder

Dear Lazyweb,

I've long wanted to get a system rigged up that will let me capture video while flying. Once a flight is over, I'd like to transfer the video to a computer and edit it down to a reasonable size and format.

The requirements are roughly:

  • A recording capacity of a minimum of 4 hours, ideally 8 or more (some flights are long)
  • Television quality video or better
  • Small size and weight (there's not a lot of room in the gliders and planes I fly)
  • Able to take external power via a cigarette style adaptor (the gliders usually have a 12 volt power supply available)

So let's look at the options...

Separate Devices

Viosport Lipstick Camera One option to consider is a small lipstick style camera which I can mount above the aircraft panel, above my shoulder, or even on my hat. I've found a number of these devices online. Viosport makes a line of lipstick sized cameras for helmet mouting in "extreme" sports.

The output would need to be fed into a recording device capable of recording the video signal in a useful format. I've had little luck in locating a small self-contained video recorder/encoder device which can take the output of such a camera. Ideally, the device would be roughly the size of an iPod or maybe an iPAQ.

Unified Hard Drive Based Camcorder

JVC Hard Drive Camcorder I've long wished that someone would build a compact video camcorder that had a built-in hard disk rather than using old-fashioned low capacity tapes or similar media. That day has finally come!

I just discovered the JVC Everio G series camcoders (specs). There are several models available, featuring either 20 or 30GB hard disks, 15-25x optical zoom, and either 1 or 2 megapixel sensors.

I need to see one of these in person to determine if it is physically suitable. However, there are a few things to note just reading the specs:

  • The standard battery lasts roughly an hour. Progressively larger add-on batteries are available, but even the largest promises just under 5 hours of life.
  • There's apparently no cigarette adaptor available for external power (see accessories). There are standard wall power adaptors, so I'd likely need to poke around some more and rig up an ad-hoc solution.
  • It's not clear whether there's anything I can do to stop the auto-focus from focusing on the aircraft canopy from time to time. I've noticed that this is occasionally a problem with digital still cameras, so I can only assume it affects video cameras too. However, it's far less likely that I'd notice until is far too late.

Are there other hard drive based video recorders out there?

In My Dreams

My dream rig would have self-contained power for up to 6 hours, store 20 hours of high qualify video, and record extra data along with the video (time and GPS coordinates). But I suspect that's a couple more years off.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:23 PM

December 23, 2005

Best Web Bigco of 2005: Yahoo!

Over on Read/WriteWeb, Richard MacManus gives a rundown of his "best of 2005", including "Best Web Bigco of 2005":

However the most impressive Web company this year has got to be Yahoo. Ever since they introduced RSS into the MyYahoo portal in 2004, I've been following them closely. This year Yahoo acquired 3 of the trendiest Web services: Flickr (my best LittleCo in 2004), (my runner-up last year!) and konfabulator. As my post earlier this week illustrated, Yahoo has integrated RSS into a whole suite of products: from mobile, to news, to podcasts, to email. They also released Yahoo 360 (a social networking platform), My Web 2.0 (a relatively unsuccessful imitation of, a Podcasting service, Yahoo Shoposphere, ... too many things to mention or link to! They're also still the world's top website. Yep, Yahoo! is the Best Web Bigco of 2005 and I defy anyone to argue with that.


He also named Microsoft as runner-up and noted that Google took first place last year. I wonder if we'll ever see AOL on his list.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:17 AM

December 21, 2005

Heading to Ohio via Houston

It's that time of year again. I'm due for my annual dose of Midwestern winter weather (windy, cold, snow), family, friends, and food. And given that I waited until a few weeks ago to buy tickets, I'm headed to Ohio via Houston.

Oh well, at least the flight gets broken up a bit this way.

I'll be in the Cleveland area on Thursday, head to Toledo on Friday, then back to Cleveland for Sunday. And the following Wednesday I'll be in Columbus for the day, then back to Cleveland on Thursday for my flight back to San Jose via Houston again.


If you're also traveling for the holidays, relax and take it easy.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:48 PM

December 20, 2005

Hear me on, Wednesday at 8pm EST

webmasterradio.fmThe fine folks at have been bugging me and Tim Mayer to do a radio show for over a year now. We finally caved and are on their shows page.

Starting tomorrow night, Tim and I will be hosting "Power Source", a monthly hour long show on Here's the description from the site:

Tim Mayer and Jeremy Zawodny, presented by Yahoo! Search, are your hosts for a power hour surging with an exciting look at some of the Valleys newest and hottest companies! Tap in to interviews and commentary from people working behind the scenes… plus, Tim and Jeremy will light it up with the latest happenings in the online world… and details on their ongoing quest for world domination! This show airs the last Wednesday of each month...make sure you tune in.

Basically it's an hour for us to do pretty much whatever we want. Well, within reason.

I wanted to make a joke about it sounding more exciting that it really is, but we've never done this before. So it's kind of exciting. I have no idea what will come of it. :-)

Our guest tomorrow will be Adam Rifkin (blog) of Renkoo, 106 Miles, KnowNow, and various other pursuits. Adam's been around the block a few times. As far as I can tell, he knows everyone who's anyone in Silicon Valley. I'm working on some questions we can fire at him. If you've got questions we should ask him, let me know.

Oh, shoot. It looks like Gary Price scooped me over on the SearchEngineWatch blog.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:24 PM

WordPress Blog Hosting on Yahoo!

It seems like just a few days ago when we announced Movable Type on Yahoo! Web Hosting. Understandably, lots of folks asked for WordPress support. Luckily, Matt and the hosting folks have been busy.

Sign up now and get:

  • 33% off the monthly price for the first six months, and the setup fee is waived
  • Free domain name
  • 200GB data transfer per month
  • Support for up to 1 million page views per day**
  • 5GB disk space for your posts, graphics, and more
  • Support for PHP, Perl, and MySQL
  • 24-hour toll-free phone support

Enjoy. It's been in the works for quite a while now. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:47 PM

December 19, 2005

The Powerbook I Want

powerbook I've been talking to a few friends recently about the imminent launch of Apple's Intel CPU base Powerbooks and realized there's a good chance I'd want to switch back.

What would it take for the new Powerbooks to win me over (again)? Three things:

  1. A version of Virtual PC (or something like it) that allows me to run Windows apps a nearly native speed. This was a major reason that I left the Powerbook. I have Windows apps that I absolutely need to run with reasonable performance (think small scale 2D and 3D real-time animation rendering). And with a real Intel CPU under the hood, why shouldn't that be possible?
  2. The exceedingly long battery life that Powerbooks have been known for. That means at least 4+ hours of light to moderate work.
  3. A screen with resolution that's on par with modern laptops from other vendors. That means 1400x1050 or better on a roughly 15" display.

That's really it. Everything else about the existing Powerbooks and OS X are a-okay in my book. I already know that the new powerbooks will be dramatically faster than the current crop of Morotola based machines, and that was my only other major beef (I think).

What would you need to switch to a Powerbook?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:57 PM

Podcasts from The Long Now Foundation

10,000 year clock prototype One of the many good things that The Long Now Fondation does is organize a series of free seminars (email list) in the San Fracisco area. I've wanted to attend many of them but have been unable due to scheduling conflicts most of the time. Luckily they're making audio archives of their talks available on-line.

All of our seminars are recorded and archived. This page supplies links to the media associated with each speech (mostly audio). Note that both Vorbis and MP3 files contain the same content, so only one or the other is necessary for download.

If you haven't heard about The Long Now or the 10,000 year clock they're building, here are a few tidbits:

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
The term was coined by one of our founding board members, Brian Eno. When Brian first moved to New York City and found that in New York here and now meant this room and this five minutes, as opposed to the larger here and longer now that he was used to in England. We have since adopted the term as the title of our foundation as we are trying to stretch out what people consider as now.

Good listening.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:59 PM

December 18, 2005

Responding to Konfabulator and Yahoo Critics

One of the things I really didn't notice in the craziness of last week is the negative sentiment expressed by some bloggers and technology journalists about the new release and re-branding of Konfabulator as Yahoo! Widget Engine. It reminded me of the negative attacks we saw on the acquisition announcement.

In both cases, critics are working with several unfounded assumptions.

Team Assimilation and Brainwashing

Some seem to think that we assimilate teams from smaller companies and then either break them up or inject them with a bunch of suits who then set about ruining the previously cool product or service.

Here's what Arlo of the Konfabulator team has to say about that:

Here’s the thing. We’re still the same people running and working on this project. We don’t have a long line of random mysterious faces telling us what to do. As many of the folks that would be those people can attest, I’m quite firm about how I want this project run, what goes into it, and how it comes across to the end user and Widget developers.

In fact, read his whole post.

In the case of Flickr, Stewart is still running the show. Andy and crew are still running And a lot of folks have asked me what's going on with as well. Simple. Joshua is going to keep doing what he's been doing: building a great service.

The goal is to help these services get bigger, better, and faster while also learning from them. If we wanted to destroy them, that'd be obvious by now.

Outages and Bugs

Somehow bugs and outages are suddenly attributed to malice at Yahoo once a company has been acquired. You might be surprised to learn that we don't drop a truck load of servers off on the day the papers and signed and force new acquisitions to migrate to the "Yahoo platform" as soon as possible.

In the case of the recent outages, there was a power loss at the data center. (If you remember back, LiveJournal had a similar problem earlier this year.) And now there's a failed disk in a one-off piece of specialty hardware that needs to get replaced. Joshua has been dealing with that as best he can and we're accelerating the process of getting some new infrastructure.

Flickr still gets a massage once in a while too. Such is life. Scaling is hard but growth is good. The outages are becoming less frequent. (It's not like Google didn't have problems with Blogger for a while too.)

Oh, and let's all cut SixApart a little slack for their recent TypePad outage(s) too.


I don't think you'll ever see Flickr renamed "Yahoo! Photo Sharing Engine" as some have joked. Personally, I'm not thrilled with the name "Yahoo! Widget Engine" but that boat has sailed. I think Konfabulator was a cool name and we could use more cool product names and less of a focus on the generic formula of putting the name Yahoo! in front of a semi-generic term like "answers" or "music" (remember Launch?). It just feels so... Microsoft.

But that's me and I don't get to make those decisions.


(Sorry, I couldn't resist including that.)

The good news is that the trail we blazed by NOT changing the name of Flickr has taught us a little bit about how names and name changes affect perception. It was a good thing to do and I think people are happy about it. Notice that hasn't been changed to "Yahoo! Events" or "Yahoo! Calendar 2.0" or anything like that?

Hanlon's Razor

Though I often forget the source, I'm a big fan of Hanlon's Razor, which says:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

It's not because I think our company is full of stupid people (a few morons maybe), but because it makes us realize that there are far fewer Big Evil Plans floating around than the detractors would like you to believe.

Sometimes I wish they'd just stick to reading Slashdot.

If you don't think we've made a lot of progress in the last year, you haven't been paying attention. A little faith goes a long way. Trust that the folks who created these great services still have the vision and conviction to keep 'em on the right track.

I do. Otherwise I'd give up and find something else to do.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:14 PM

December 17, 2005

Citabria Flying Lessons: Final Supervised Solo Flights

Today was my third and final "supervised solo" lesson. On a supervised solo lesson, you start off by flying with the instructor in the back seat. He'll have you fly a few takeoffs and landings. And if you don't screw up, you get to drop him off and do a few more on your own.

Citabria N53893 I had done this twice with Dave, my normal instructor. But he was unavailable today, so I flew with Jim. And I also flew in a plane I'd never flown before. It's a Citabria 7ECA like all the others I fly, but N53893 (the Orange Citabria) and I were not yet acquainted. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of the same make and model aircraft one flies, they all their own personalities and my orange friend was no different.

We had a 10-20 knot wind blowing (mostly right down runways 13 left/right) and N53893's brakes and rudder felt a little different than I was used to. And the seat is different. So I had a bit of trouble on the ground. In fact, my first takeoff was embarrassing. I was weaving all over the runway like a drunk driver, but once I got in the air it flew very nicely. For some reason it seemed easier to stay coordinated in this plane (or I'm actually improving).

Into the Air

I took off on runway 13 Left, flew a pattern, and did a full stop landing. We then taxied back to runway 13 Left for another takeoff. The second time was much better. I had the feel of the plane, so I managed to mostly stay on the centerline. Again, I flew a left pattern and back to land. This time, however, Jim asked me to perform a touch-and-go, so we were back up in no time.

Just after takeoff, the tower directed me to switch to a right traffic pattern and use runway 13 Right. That turned out to be perfect, since Jim was going to ask them for that anyway. I guess they knew the routine.

We did a touch and go on 13 Right and back around for another landing. This time Jim asked me to turn early so that I could make the runway without having to add power. I had been coming up a little short due to the headwind. So I turned early and got to show off my slipping skills.

I did a full stop landing and Jim asked me to drop him off by the terminal so I could go do a few landings on my own. I taxied over to the terminal, let him out, and headed back to runway 13 Left.


I again took off on runway 13 Left, staying nearly on the centerline, and was climbing like crazy before I knew it. It's always nice to have a bit of weight out of the plane. ;-)

My full-stop landing was good and I taxied back for another go. However, I ended up following a Cessna that was flying a really wide-ass pattern. I did what I could to follow him while staying out of his way but was coming really close to busting San Jose Class C Airspace. The tower noticed and cleared me to land on 13 Right.

I headed toward my new runway and was a little high. After I crossed onto airport property, I again got to demonstrate my ability to slip the plane and burn off altitude. I rounded out over the numbers and proceeded to bounce the plane down the runway.

Nothing broke and I knew how to handle it, but I still felt like a moron.

The tower cleared me to back taxi and takeoff again. I decided that I was going to make up for that landing.

I took off, flew the right pattern, setup for a slightly high final (strong headwind still) and managed to get the height almost perfect. I need only the slightest slip to get on the glide I wanted.

My landing was... one of the best I've ever done! :-)

After a nearly perfect 3 point landing, I decided to call it a day. No sense going for a forth and having to end the day on a less than high note.

I taxied the plane back, shut it down, parked it, and tied everything down.

Now I’m officially allowed to do pattern work on my own, assuming the weather is reasonable. After getting a few more hours under my belt, I should be able to fly to a couple of nearby airports on my own as well. And after that it'll be getting into cross-country time.

Woohoo! The fun continues.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:25 PM

An RSS Feed For Steve Gillmor

Steve Gillmor has his panties in a bunch (yeah, we blogger non-journalist types can say stuff like that) because he's subscribed to my ancient RSS 0.91 feed which contains only excerpts of each post.

However, the default feed for my blog has been my fancy new RSS 2.0 creation for a while now. It appears I'm not the only one impressed by his lack of research.

The folks over at TechDirt had this to say:

Normally this is exactly the type of post I wouldn't even read, but something seemed odd -- and it took me a few seconds to realize that two things didn't make sense. (1) I came across Steve's post in the ZDNet blogs RSS feed which (whoooooops!) is a partial text feed -- so, yes, his attempt to make fun of partial feeds is, indeed, cut off itself by his own partial feed. (2) I read Jeremy Zawodny's feed as well, and it's full text. So, here we have someone who has a partial feed complaining about the partial feed of someone who actually appears to only offer full feeds...

Now, it's true that I still offer the old partial feed for folks who use it (most do not), but the full-text one is what I've been promoting for a while.

Looking at Steve's feed, I see that he offers both at once. The "description" section for each post contains an except. The "content:encoded" bit, however, contains the full post. I wonder which aggregators prefer the "description" over "content:encoded'?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:28 PM

December 16, 2005

Quote of the Week: Hand in Garbage Disposal

Earlier today we had a holiday party up at the Yahoo! Research Berkeley Lab, which turned out to be a good low-key way to end the week. For reasons I don't quite grasp yet, this week has seemed exceedingly long. On Wednesday I actually believed it was Thursday. And before the end of the day, I thought it might even be Friday.

Anyway, at the end of the day I was trying to decide what to do. Getting back to San Jose from Berkeley in the evening is a matter of timing. Sometimes it pays to wait an extra 15 or 20 minutes before hitting the road. Doing so can result in saving a half our or more in the car.

I had a brief discussion myself about checking my email or hitting the road early when Chad uttered the quote of the week:

Checking email now would be like putting your hand in a garbage disposal.

Heh. I guess I wasn't the only one to have a long week.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of good stuff happened. But somehow the combination of a load of email, three round trips to San Francisco, one to Berkeley, and a few late nights all added up.

I've got a flying lesson tomorrow afternoon. That always takes my mind off everything else. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:20 PM

December 15, 2005

Night Flying in Citabria 07S

N7807S with Engine Showing
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

This past weekend I had the chance to go flying with one of my glider pilot friends (Jonathon) in a Citabria (N7807S) based at the Watsonville Airport. The plane is co-owned by four glider pilots and has been getting a lot of use recently. My flying lessons have been less frequent recently due to scheduling problems and being very busy, so I jumped at the chance to go up.

Engine Work

First things first, we had to finish up after the previous day's oil change. The engine cowling was still removed so we had to make sure everything looked right (no leaks), the engine ran smoothly, and button the plane back up.

That ended up taking quite a bit longer than expected, mainly because of a slightly bent throttle control. The throttle was sticking when Jonathon tried to test the engine, so we spent time futzing with that. After a lot of minor adjustments, it loosened back up and the engine seemed to run nicely. We put the cowling back on and prepared to go flying.


We took off from runway 20 at roughly 3pm and flew one pattern Just In Case. We wanted to make sure that we'd be very near the airport if something was going to go wrong.

The pattern was uneventful, so we took off again and headed southward toward Salinas. From Salinas, we headed a bit more eastward toward King City and somewhat following US-101. It was around then that I got the controls and did most of the flying until we were 50 feet above the runway 3 hours later.

N7807S Engine Test
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

En Route

We flew around the hills near Pinnacles National Monument and on toward Coalinga. At Coalinga I turned us northward to fly the typical return flight we'd use on a glider cross-country day, going back to Hollister.

A few times we managed to spot new landing strips. That information comes in incredibly useful when we're flying our gliders during the soaring season. If you know there's a good strip "just over that ridge" you're more likely to venture out into previously unexplored territory.


On the way back to Hollister the sun set and it started to get darker and darker. I had never been up in a single engine plane (let alone flying one) at night. The world really looks different at night. Most of the prominent geographic features vanish. And at the same time, previously sparse looking areas end up being sprinkled with the lights from the houses and cabins hidden in the hills.

I took us within a couple miles of the Hollister Airport and then made the left turn to head back to Watsonville. Once back, we flew along the beach for a little while. The moon was out and lighting up the Pacific Ocean nicely. But before long it was time to head into the landing pattern and call it a day.


I flew the pattern and gave the plane back to Jonathon just after we crossed the runway threshold. He landed the plane and taxied over to the fuel pump. We gassed up the plane, put it in the hanger, and began the ritual of cleaning up the plane and tucking it in for the night.

It was a fun day. I learned more than I expected to about the Citabria's engine, got to fly from the back seat for the first time, and finally got to try some night flying. Now I'm looking forward to the night training that I'll have to complete before getting my license early next year.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:44 PM

December 14, 2005

A Toolbar For Jonathan Schwartz

I was chatting with some fellow Yahoos after Doc's closing keynote at the Syndicate Conference tonight when I learned something amusing. Apparently Jonathan Schwartz said that the Yahoo! Toolbar was only available for Internet Explorer.

Now Jonathan is a busy guy, so I'm not surprised that he missed the launch of the Yahoo! Toolbar for Firefox back in February of this year.

In that post, Duke said:

If you've been following Asa's blog, you probably already know that Firefox is well on its way to 25 million downloads worldwide. Well Yahoo! has certainly noticed and believe me, Firefox is very popular here at Yahoo! too.

Wow. It's hard to believe that Firefox had only 25 million downloads back then. We've come a long way since then.

Go Firefox.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:20 PM

Hey, You Can't Link To That!

Alright, it's pretty clear to me that I've stirred the pot on a never ending debate. I might as well have come out arguing against (or for) abortion and legalizing drugs.

So I'll make a final pass through some reactions I've seen since last night and then go back to my regularly scheduled random blogging until this trial runs its course (roughly two weeks from now) and the Lemur Auction begins...

Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogscoped weighs in on Paid Links Evil?

Over on SEO Scoop, Matt is being pressed for details:

If Matt or Google would simply be slightly less Googlish (vague) and more clear in what they mean, they could probably stop all the arguments immediately. So what is it Matt? Does Zawodny's site deserve to be penalized for selling links? Will you do so?

Of course, it's the wrong forum for getting a policy answer like that. (Hint: my blog is an equally wrong forum for that.)

Over on SiteReference, there's a Purchasing Links for Pagerank post that goes into many of the issues brought up here. Of particular note is this:

Of course, you might want to make sure that you don't get in trouble for buying links, even if your intention is completely innocent. Although Google has gotten better at determining what links are purchased and what links are natural, they still can not determine a person's intent. To keep yourself safe, always request that the person you are buying the link from adds the “nofollow” attribute. This will protect both you and them from getting penalized.

That leads to a question. Do any of the popular link brokers recommend this to their publishers? I haven't done an exhaustive survey of their sites, but I've yet to see one that includes a nofollow recommendation in their publisher documentation. Might one expect them to at least drop in a footnote?

Finally, I received a private email which said the following:

As a personal user, I want to thank you for being bold enough to make the moves you've made with sponsored links. Experimenting is important.
I was thinking just the other day---mainly thinking about the Protestant Reformation; it's what I get as a Methodist for being friends with lots of Presbyterians who idolize Calvin and Luther---that those who are often the biggest defenders of orthodoxy must live in the conundrum of loving and praising those who were, in and of themselves, unorthodox. After all, you don't build a new orthodoxy or restore and old one without being outside the bounds of the present orthodoxy!

It's refreshing to see that there are folks out there who actually get what I'm doing. I thought it was pretty clear when I wrote this:

It's one thing to hear about this stuff second hand (or from the folks on either end with a vested interest in "selling" their idea to publishers), but it's quite different to become a participant in the system. I've experimented with AdSense an YPN in various forms. I've tried paid job listings (never worked out, which is a story for another day). I've used's affiliate program. I've even tried AdWords. And each time along the way it's been a useful exercise. Sometimes it works well, other times not. My success rate has been rather mixed so far.

But people have a way of reading only what they want to read. And my success continues to be mixed, but that doesn't mean I should just walk away, does it?

Let me close with a final question. How do you know none of my other links were paid? Is paying me via their affiliate program for linking to one of their product pages when I say something nice about a product I like? Does that help their rank, their brand, and their sales? They are text links without nofollow.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:20 AM

Struck the Sponsored Links Nerve, Did I?

Well, judging by the reaction to my sponsored links post I've struck a nerve. And I have to say, it feels like there's a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of FUD out there. I'm still trying to digest everything. But so far I've found that there are at least three sides to this issue.


Yeah. I've since heard directly from three of the advertisers. Advertiser #1 said "we're outta here!" and pulled their link. Advertiser #2 said "we're with you man!" And advertiser #3 said, "hey, give us a nofollow on our link."

Interesting, huh? I sure couldn't have predicted these results.

In fact, if I had merely asked what people thought of this practice, I probably wouldn't have received even 20% of this feedback. And speaking of feedback, it's my turn to point at and respond to a bunch of what I've read so far in no particular order. (Bear in mind, it's 1am as I start to write this…) As a bonus, you don't have to track down a bunch of this on your own.

#1 In what is otherwise a pretty good summary over on SearchEngineWatch, Danny Sullivan says that I'm caught in a link selling debate.

Caught? No, I practically *started* the debate. I'm facilitating it. And it's teaching me a lot.

He also says:

What's going to happen to Jeremy? As Greg notes, he's not going to be yanked from Google. His site is far too important for that. But Google might prevent it from passing along link juice to others. Apparently, I'm told by others (not Google itself) that Google's done the same to Search Engine Watch because of our SEW Marketplace ads that we sell.

Far too important? Ha! was removed, if I recall. I think anyone would agree that WordPress is far more important than my dumb blog!

He then goes on to bash the practice of de-juicing entire sites rather than specific links:

If so, Google's just stupid. If it can't figure out that we carry the same sponsored links in the same area and filter out that part, really -- they're dumb. They're even dumber if they have to wipe out the ability of an entire site to help influence its results in a good way. We link to many excellent things -- including things Google wants people to know about. Our links don't carry weight because Google's not smart enough? And Jeremy's site might not carry weight as well? Please.

There's some commentary in the SEW Forum too.

Tim Converse (of the Yahoo! Search Engineering Team) adds to this a bit:

Anyway, selling linkage does make life harder for search engines, but maybe that's our problem not yours. (By "our", I mean people who actually work on the search engines themselves.) A perfect search engine would be able to detect which links were true endorsements and which were purely sold, and adjust accordingly. But to the extent that imperfections exist, there's money to be made.

He also asked why I wasn't using nofollow and speculated that it'd make the links worthless. Using nofollow would have ruined the experiment. I'm trying to find out "does this stuff really work? And is it sustainable?" And the early returns are mixed, as I noted above.

Part of what makes me wonder is the fact that these link brokers exist and seem to not be going out of business. What's behind it all?

#2 Jarrod at (hadn't heard of them until today) says that there's lots of excitement over this.

It's too bad that he didn't say more, since he's clearly got an insider's viewpoint.

#3 In Links, Condoms, Shit and Fans we learn that I'm "essentially daring the engines to throttle his outflow of link juice."

I assure you, if that was my goal I could have come up with a much more dramatic way of doing it. (No, I'd rather not explain what that might be.)

But, hey, good attempt to make it look like I'm playing chicken with the folks in Mountain View or my co-workers. I'd give it a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

#4 The folks over at Best of the Web have posted their thinking on the matter which also came to me via e-mail.

A couple of weeks ago, Brian received an early afternoon email informing him of a pretty intriguing advertising offer. We were told that industry pundit, and Yahoo insider, Jeremy Zawodny would soon be accepting advertising - text link ads, to boot. Naturally, we were excited - the demographic of Jeremy’s readership is a nice fit for BOTW eyeballs. We signed up by the end of the day.

That's the first I heard of operations on the buying side. I guess that means they had expressed an interested in buying links and waited for a site that matched their profile to come along. They also thought about asking for a nofollow right off the bat, but decided no to:

Ultimately, we decided not to ask Jeremy for the tag. Primarily, we hoped that we would get the “juice” that we needed to start pulling better in Yahoo, an engine in which we have historically had difficulty making significant headway. Ironically, we were not trying to manipulate Anchor Text/PR for Google purposes, but quantity of links in an attempt to boost our Yahoo listings.

They've changed their minds since in light of the recent discussion:

we have decided to ask Jeremy to add the rel=”nofollow” tag. (I just received an email from Jeremy saying that he’d “rig up the code to do that within a day”) In hindsight, we should have requested it from the beginning, and I hope that this is not now a case of closing the barn door after the cows have run out.

Advertisers discussing the thinking behind their choices and doing so in public? Nice.

#5 is all about playing up the drama in Paid Links Soap Opera:

Will Jeremy fold and add nofollow? Will advertisers pull out because of that? Will Jeremy say up my arse Google? Will Matt counter with a sitewide penalty/ban? Will Matt take it to the advertisers?

Marc is really fond of this "Jeremy vs. Matt" meme. As if I was thinking "ha! Surely *this* will get under Matt's skin..." all along. I suspect Matt's job is hard enough without me actively trying to get in the way too.

#6 Over on Threadwatch we see that seobook (who I must assume is Aaron Wall) says several things, including:

Keep in mind that this is not just any old search employee selling links. Jeremy has on multiple occasions posted how much he hates spam. So long as the link is not pointing at spam Jeremy sees no problem with it.

Eh? I can't think of a single Internet user, let alone a Yahoo! employee, that I've not heard complain about spam if the topic came up. This hardly makes me special, now does it?

But like I said in my previous post, I visited each site to see if it felt like spam. If it did, I rejected 'em.

Anyway, there's some interesting questions in the comments on that post.

#7 Over at Search Engine Roundtable, Barry used a headline that bugged me: Google Fights Paid Links & Yahoo Defends Paid Links

I said the following in his comments (which have some sort of posting delay, so I ended up making the same point twice):

Your title is just plain wrong.
Making this out to be a "Yahoo vs. Google" think is barking up the wrong tree. And you know better.
What I do on *my* personal site is my business. If I experiment, I experiment. I've been pretty open about this, past experiments, traffic sources, money sources, etc. It has nothing to do with Yahoo policy.

I'm pretty surprised that he did that, but he's also going for some drama points I guess. It's odd, because he specifically points out that this is a *personal* site in his post.

His post also appears on Search Engine Journal ("fair and balanced" as it is).

#8 There's a funny Greg Boser quote in the SEW Thread:

Reminds me of a quote Greg Boser made at SES San Jose something to the effect that "Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home."

That reminds me of what I was thinking over two years ago when I wrote PageRank is Dead and said, among other things:

Google has a really hard problem to solve. It's not unlike the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. PageRank stopped working really well when people began to understand how PageRank worked. The act of Google trying to "understand" the web caused the web itself to change. Blogs are only a recent example of that. Oddly, unlike many of the previous problems with Google (see also: search engine optimization companies; link spammers; google bombing), blogs were not designed to outsmart Google. They just happen to use the web and hyperlinks the way we should have been using them all along.

#8 Over on I read one of the more amusing titles: Six Degrees of a Lesbian Porn Scraper

thanks to Jeremy Zawodny a large portion of the web just got one step closer to lesbian porn.

It's pretty late now, so I'll resist the temptation to make a juvenile comment about doing my part to surface more lesbian porn.

#9 In Text link follow-up, Matt Cutts (of Google) digs into what the links link to and was the one to uncover the Lesbian Gay Sex Positions site. Luckily he does this stuff for a living, so he can call it "work." :-)

He also suggests that I could offer flying lessons to my 10,000th visitor. I'd need to get my CFI certificate first, but you never know... Gimme a couple more years.

There's some amusing theories, wild speculation, and even a few insightful comments in the discussion on his post too. Give 'em a read for what both sides think.

Matt is wise not to respond to those asking him if AdSense is providing most of the motivation for folks who want higher ranks and resort to various tactics to get it. There are mines in that field!

#10 Over on the ink-stained banana, JR (a co-worker) says:

What Jeremy is doing is the same thing as a Morning DeeJay doing a spot for a mattress company or a TV show character talking about how comfy Brand X shoes are. You pony up extra, you get that extra love.

Everyone listening to the morning dude knows it's and advertisement when he says that stuff. But would a speech to text system? What if Google tried to index all radio ever broadcast using such technology?

#11 Jesus, it's almost 2am. I'm going to bed!

Posted by jzawodn at 01:52 AM

December 13, 2005

Vote For Me in the Search Engine Journal 2005 Blog Awards

A co-worker pointed this out to me the other day (I've been waaay behind on blog reading). The folks over at Search Engine Journal have opened voting for their 2005 Search Blog Awards. And, believe it or not, I'm up for an award!

Question #4 on the ballot is:

Matt vs. Jeremy: Which Search Employee Most Likely to Flame You For Spamming?

Heh. This is quite amusing. All because of this?

Just between you and me, Matt really needs to take the flaming up a notch if he's gonna win. He's letting me off way too easy!

Come on, man... To quote Road Trip, Uleash The Fury! :-)

Update: Tim Bray just emailed me to point out that Matt and I are merely following in his footsteps. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:40 PM

At Syndicate Conference on Wednesday

Tomorrow I'll be at the Syndicate Conference in San Francisco most of the day. I'm part of Charlene Li's "Corporate Blogging" panel, which she describes as:

Blogging - it's fast, cheap and effective. Customers are coming to expect it. Marketing should love it, so why aren't more corporations doing it? Probably because senior management is uncertain and the legal department is scared. Even if you get permission, who should write the blog and what should they say? And should you really let anyone comment on your corporate blog? Learn how to get through these roadblocks and develop best practices from veteran corporate bloggers.

Other folks on the panel are: Greg Reinacker (CTO & Founder, NewsGator Technologies, Inc.),
Jodi Baumann, Senior Manager (Corporate Public Relations, Network Appliance), and David Geller (President & CEO, WhatCounts, Inc.). I was on a panel with Jodi once before and am looking forward to meeting Greg and David.

If you're there, drop by and say Hi. Or come to the panel and harass me. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:25 PM

Drupal Hacker with PHP/MySQL Skills Needed

A couple friends are looking to put together a new on-line service and are in need of a skilled engineer to get their first working prototype built. If things go well, you'd have the chance to be a founder in their new venture.

Specifically, they've requested:

  • PHP and MySQL experience.
  • Drupal experience as a "very nice to have" skill.
  • Some AJAX know-how, if possible.
  • Experience building consumer-facing websites with a community/social angle.

I'm 90% sure they'd like someone in the San Francisco Bay Area but will consider remote folks too if it's a good match.

If you're interested, please e-mail me or leave a comment and I'll forward your information along to them.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:56 AM

One Six Right: An Aviation Love Story

I recently received my long awaited copy of One Six Right, a movie that every pilot should see at least once or twice. One Six Right contains a wonderful mix of beautiful aviation photography, interviews with a variety of pilots, and a good dose of aviation history.

The setting for this film is the Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) in the San Fernando Valley. Van Nuys is the busiest general aviation airport in the country and has an insane number and variety of privately owned planes operating there on any given day. During the course of the film, we get a brief history of the airport and aviation in the Los Angeles area.

Topping it all off is an excellent soundtrack that really brings some of the flying to life. Oh, and there are a bunch of extra features on the DVD as well.

I've had the DVD just about a week and have already watched it four times. But I'm a bit of an aviation nut. Your mileage may vary. :-)

If there's a pilot on your giftmas list, consider stuffing a copy in his or her stocking. They won't be disappointed. Neither will you.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:29 AM

December 12, 2005

Walking A Mile in a User's Shoes

Earlier today I was part of an all day off-site workshop which included a role playing session. I was a bit skeptical of how valuable it'd be but tried to keep an open mind. Without giving away any big secrets, each small group member was assigned a persona complete with some background info, a photo, and other useful tidbits. The moderator then explained the scenario we were about to find ourselves in.

It was a little awkward at first, but before long I really felt like we were thinking like the members of the group we were trying to understand (as best we could). At the end I was surprised by how much more in touch I felt with this group of people we'd never met.

Originally I wondered why we should go to all this effort when a simple thought experiment would suffice. But it turns out that the act of playing a few scenarios out with others makes you think about things "in context" rather than looking in as an outsider might.

Now I find myself worried that we don't do this nearly often enough. I've participated in usability studies before, where you can watch someone up close and personal (thru the one-way glass). Those are also very enlightening. But I always found myself wondering why the participant was thinking they way were. This was different.

To walk a mile in your users' shoes is an exercise worth trying at least once.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:14 PM

Sponsored Links

I've tried several monetization methods on my site over the last few years. I've learned a ton about the search powered ecology works by actually participating in it. I've figured out what works, what doesn't, and what effects various tweaks have on the payouts.

It's one thing to hear about this stuff second hand (or from the folks on either end with a vested interest in "selling" their idea to publishers), but it's quite different to become a participant in the system. I've experimented with AdSense an YPN in various forms. I've tried paid job listings (never worked out, which is a story for another day). I've used's affiliate program. I've even tried AdWords. And each time along the way it's been a useful exercise. Sometimes it works well, other times not. My success rate has been rather mixed so far.

However, my latest test (sponsored links) seems to have stirred the pot a bit. Greg in particular seems tweaked by it.

I'm a little (but not completely) but not completely surprised by this.

Going into it I thought about what I did and didn't like about existing advertising systems and how those play into this.

In particular:

  • I didn't hide the links. (Remember the WordPress fiasco?)
  • They're clearly labeled as sponsored links.
  • They're far less annoying than distracting graphical ads.
  • I've made it possible for anyone to comment on them. In public. Who else does that?
  • They don't show up in my RSS feed(s).
  • I rejected the on-line casino, drug sales, cheap hotels, and really offensive stuff--basically, anything the reminded me of blog comment spam I've bit hit with or that sends me to a sleazy feeling site. No need to encourage 'em.
  • The links aren't permanent. They go away after a month (see below).

Nobody seems to be up in arms about the fact that I run advertising from Google's AdSense program, one of my company's largest competitors. They are ads that are sometimes graphical and more disruptive than those in question right now. (I also use, gasp, Google Analytics too.)

When this one month test is over, I'll decide what to try next. Maybe I'll drop the links. Maybe I'll keep 'em. Maybe I'll refine 'em. Maybe I'll try another service (BlogAds? AdBrite? I signed up ages ago but didn't finish.). Maybe not.

It depends on feedback and how the experience goes.

What next? Put up a poll to decide which non-profit gets the cash? Or can I decide that myself? ;-)

Actually, that's not a half bad idea. There are probably a few good causes I'd like that aren't on my radar...

Posted by jzawodn at 11:00 PM

MovableType on Yahoo! Web Hosting

As of today, it's official. You can get MovableType on Yahoo! Web Hosting.

And I'll let you in on a little secret. Even though it says "Yahoo! Small Business Web Hosting" you don't need to be a small business to use it. Individuals and Big Business can use it equally well. It's MT for anyone.

Given that blog hosting services seem to be a dime a dozen, why would you bother considering Yahoo? Here are a few reasons (thanks to Anil for helping with this list):

  • Yahoo! scales. Yahoo can handle it when a blog gets slashdotted. No sweat.
  • You probably already know this, but Y! Search Blog and the Y! Developer Network both use MT (of course, I set both of those up, so I might be a bit biased).
  • Yahoo! servers run FastCGI, which is an order of magnitude faster than typical hosting environments. It might have been possible to rig this up yourself with a lot of work in the past, but now it's just there.
  • No need to install MT. Really. No tarballs. No chmodding. Hallelujah. Upgrades are easy too.
  • Lots of pre-installed plugins: stylecatcher, spamlookup, nofollow, wysiwyg, Yahoo! search, BigPAPI. Plus there's plugins for all your favorite Yahoo services, from Flickr to

I've talked with the Yahoo! Web Hosting folks quite a bit about blog hosting over the past few months (and done some testing too). And you know what? They get it. All along the way, they've been asking what the typical pain points are for bloggers. They've thought a lot about what we can do that other hosting providers have trouble with (scaling, easy upgrades, high bandwidth limits, etc).

Oh, and Dave Winer thinks we'll have a WordPress offering soon too. Wouldn't that be cool?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:15 AM

December 11, 2005

Do Search Engines Censor Bloggers?

A few weeks ago, in the comments section of PR Spam to Bloggers Continues, I wrote the following in the comments:

To those who complained about the title of my post: get over it. It does *exactly* what a title should do. It conveys in very few words what I'm trying to get across in the article.

Many people seem concerned that "Krause Taylor Associates Spams Bloggers" will have negative affects on the company because it'll show up in Google. While it's not my "problem" I've changed the title to something a bit more vague. (A discussion of why I should or should not censor myself because of where Google may surface it is a discussion for later...)
Several folks complained and suggested that I should change the title of that post, despite the fact that it was a very accurate title for the post I wrote. As I was changing the title, it occurred to me that something very odd was happening. Google was censoring me.

What. The. Hell.

The more I think about this, the more it bugs me. Search engines are basically opt-out at this point, and in most cases the benefits of being in outweigh the benefits of being out. But I suspect that most of us don't consider the fact that you may find yourself censoring yourself because something is "just a little *too* easy to find."

Would this even be an issue in a world where PageRank inspired search engines didn't exist?

If not, why do we accept it now? Is that just one of the costs of being on the web today?

Given Google's algorithmic fascination with blog-style content, it would seem that blogs are disproportionately affected by this. I'm really not sure what to make of this all. I can't decide what to think.

What do you think?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:22 PM

December 09, 2005

Yahoo's First Hack Day: What a Blast!

Earlier today, I wrote that I was hacking on a project and didn't have a lot of time to write. Now I've got a bit of time to tell the rest of the story.

Today was our first annual Hack Day in the Search and Marketplace Group (SMG). Inspired by the hackathons run at companies like JotSpot, today was dedicated to hacking.

The Plan

Organized by Chad and supported by the rest of us on the Technology Development team, the plan was simple: give people a whole day to hack on prototypes, pet projects, ideas, learning a new tool, etc. Make sure there's ample food and drink available: coffee and snacks in the morning. Pizza, beer, and caffeinated drinks for lunch. Then more beer, snacks, and finger foods for dinner. At 5pm we'd gather in a conference room to let anyone demo what they'd done with their day.

A fair amount of planning and speculation went into the day, and we really didn't know what to expect. How many people would participate? How many would finish hacks by the end of the day? Would it be worthwhile?

The Day

Cameron and Jeremy Hack
Originally uploaded by caterina.

Not to be left out, I managed to recruit Cameron Marlow and Caterina Fake to help build the hack I'd been threatening to work on. (The picture in included for those of you who like to pick on me for spending less time coding than I used to.) I worked on the back-end piece in Perl, interfacing with some of our public APIs (and one not-yet-launched API). Caterina designed an attractive user interface. Cameron hacked on some Perl, PHP, and Greasemonkey code so that the front-end and back-end could meet in the middle. We started around 9:30am.

By 3:30pm, it had become apparent that we bit off more than we could chew. The announcement and related coverage made it difficult to focus at times earlier in the day. So we had to scale back our ambitions a bit and focus on building just enough to demonstrate at the end of the day.

At 5:05pm things weren't quite working yet. I had a bug in my server that meant it crashed after serving every request, so I had to restart it. It would serve the right data, but you could only get one call to it between restarts. Grr! (Amusing trivia: I ended up re-using some of my old server code written over 4 years ago and still in the Yahoo! Finance CVS tree.)


Cameron and I headed over the training room #3 to watch others show off their hacks and see if we could get ours in a workable state. I was shocked to see that the room was packed full of people. I mean "standing room only" full. There was a very real sense of excitement and anxiety in the room--the kind that comes with showing something to a crowd for the first time. :-)

SMG Hack Day
Originally uploaded by caterina.

We brought some food upstairs (thanks, Tara!) and everyone attacked the snacks and beer while the lightning style demonstrations began. I settled in to watch for a while and was impressed with what I saw. There was quite a backlog of people waiting to demo. It was a far larger group that I expected we'd have.

After an hour of watching (and eating), I sat down next to Cameron, popped my notebook open, and tried to focus some of my attention on tracking down the last few bugs in my piece of our hack.

The Result

Around 7pm, Chad made a "last call" for people to get their names on the whiteboard and get in line to demo. By a stroke of luck, I managed to find and fix the last two bugs I had roughly five minutes before the night was over. So we hopped into the end of the line and gave our brief demo when the time came.

It was a blast!

Everyone had a great time. The folks who hacked got the feeling that only comes from racing against the clock to get a prototype built and then showing it to a room crowded full of you peers-the same ones who applaud and cheer when you finish the demo. Those who dropped in to see what we'd done with our Friday easily got swept up in the fun and excitement of seeing all these great ideas up on the big screen.

I'm sure this will be the first of many Hack Days to come...

All in all, today was a good day.

See Also

Posted by jzawodn at 10:13 PM

Welcome to Yahoo!

I'm hacking on a project and don't have time to write much more about the news than I already did on the Yahoo! Search blog.

Yes! And as of today, is part of the Yahoo! family.

But I just wanted to briefly say "welcome aboard" to the crew. 2006 is gonna be a hell of a year at Yahoo! 2005 sure has been...

Posted by jzawodn at 11:56 AM

December 05, 2005

Swimming Pools and Hard Disks

hard disk A few weeks ago when I wrote Cheap On-Line Storage Coming Soon, I suggested that the stars are beginning to align in a way that makes it possible to build companies that offer services like on-line backups.

I was surprised at many of the comments left in response to that post. Many people were of the opinion that it just didn't make sense because US broadband is asymmetrical (read: crippled). The limits imposed on upload bandwidth made it a useless offering.

Andrew said:

I've been hoping for the same thing, but I don't think it can scale with current broadband when you start taking high-res photos, and digital video? I've got about 500GB of data (and probably another 100GB on old Hi-8 tapes I haven't digitized yet) and no matter how cool the online data storage features are it's almost impossible to upload that much data. If you had a T-1 at 1.5Mbs you're looking at 31 days. Even a more modest 50GB of data would take 3 days. Am I missing something?

Greg said:

Yeah, Cheap On-Line Storage *isn't* Coming Soon. Where's your head at? Anything more than a couple gigs takes too long to transfer. And it'll be cheaper just to buy your own disks.

Bob said:

bandwidth is the obvious issue for hundreds of gb, esp considering most broadband is still asymmetrical.

The common alternative a few suggested is roughly "buy a big external USB disk and just backup your own stuff."

But that's a solution that doesn't work for most people. You need to automate or remember to run backups. Most people forget. They're lazy, forgetful, or simply too busy. There are so few people that have a remotely sane backup system in place, that it's pretty depressing.

Another View of the Ladder
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

That leads me to swimming pools.

The annual opening of our swimming pool was a family ritual for years. It still is, but I no long live anywhere near my parents so it's hard to participate. We had to get all the gear out of storage, remove the cover, clean it, clean the pool, get the filter running, and fill the pool.

The pool held roughly 10,000 gallons of water and took a long time to fill. While some people had been known to fill using a really big hose from a fire hydrant, we did the simplest thing that could work: drop in the garden hose.

It took many hours to fill a swimming pool with the garden hose doing the work, but we really didn't worry about it that much. Sure, the water pressure in the rest of the house was a bit lower during that time. It will still livable.

Eventually, the pool was filled and everyone was happy.

I think the same technique works for on-line backups of one's hard disk. Using Quality of Service (QoS) controls at the network level and some intelligent scheduling on the client side, a service could offer the peace of mind that comes from automated and professionally managed backups that don't bog down the computer or the network.

Sure, there's the one-time cost of getting that first backup done. It's not that different than desktop search.

What am I missing?

Update: Fred Wilson has put his thoughts on-line in Online Backup's Inflection Point, in which he says "I have been using online backup for over ten years in my home. I have even used it over dial-up. You just let the backup go over night."

Yup. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:38 PM

December 02, 2005

John Battelle at Yahoo! Today

John Battelle @ Yahoo!
Originally uploaded by jchaddickerson.

As part of the weekly speaker series that our Technology Development Group runs (well, really Chad does all the work), John Battelle visited to speak of a room packed full of Yahoos.

He split the time between reading from his book and talking about his experiences researching it, his time at The Industry Standard, Wired, and so on. As expected, John was entertaining and interesting. He's really enjoyable to listen to. And having spent so much time digging into search for his book and on his blog, he has a unique perspective on this industry that many of us are living in.

There's an idea that he threatened to blog before I do, so I'll let him do that. I'll only mention that it's a search related doom-and-gloom screenplay. :-)

He also spent some time answering questions ranging from privacy to publishing and his vision for the future of search.

One of the things I like about John is his ability to stay down to earth, funny, and self-deprecating while also being one of the most visible figures in this industry.

John, sorry for the picture. I saw several folks taking pictures today, but Chad's blurry camera phone shot is the only one I can find on Flickr right now. And thanks again for dropping by Yahoo for the afternoon.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:21 PM

MySQL 5.1 Appears: Partitioning, Dynamic Plugins, and more...

The first public release of MySQL 5.1 is available now. The MySQL 5.1.3 alpha release is a developer preview that gives early adopters, fans, and hard-core database geeks a chance to kick the tires of the next big release.

Major new features include:

Partitioned tables. You can have single tables spread across multiple disks based on how you define them at table creation time.

A Plugin API and support for dynamically loading new modules of code into the server. The first example of this is pluggable full-text parsers. That means you'll be able to write a custom parser to index any sort of oddball textual data you might want to store and retrieve. MySQL still handles the details of executing the queries, so you need only worry about the specifics of parsing your data.

The instance manager has been beefed up with additional SHOW commands for getting at information about log files. You can also issue SET commands that change configuration options which get written back to the configuration file.

VARCHAR fields on cluster tables really are VARCHAR fields now.

And there's lots more. The MySQL documentation, as always, has the gory details.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:16 PM

Citabria Lesson: More Crosswind Fun

Citabria N1806G
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

Today I flew N1806G (see aircraft) again with Dave. I was glad to see the weather clear up early today so that we could get some flying in late this afternoon.

There was a bit of wind blowing today. It was roughly 13 knots out of 270 through 310. Since we were flying off runway 31, that meant a bit of a left crosswind to contend with on some of the landings.

Dave had me fly about 5 touch-and-go patterns and then told me to let him out of the plane so that I could go do two more. The first of those landings was very good--almost a three point landing. The second one was a bit more interesting.

On final, I noticed the windsock indicating a nearly 90 degree left crosswind. I setup to correct for it but noticed something funny happening. The closer I got to the windsock (and the runway, for that matter) the more the wind shifted to being right down the runway. In other words, my approach started with a 90 degree left crosswind but ended up with almost a headwind as I touched down. That meant I was slowly trying to undo my side slip the closer I got to the ground.

But I didn't completely undo it. And I didn't pull the stick far enough back after touchdown, so the plane got a bit anxious to go elsewhere. Once I got control of that situation, I taxied off the runway and back to the tie-downs.

I hope to somehow squeeze in two more lessons next week. One will be to practice some ground reference stuff again. Then we may or may not try an introduction to wheel landings.

Fun stuff. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:04 PM

December 01, 2005

Best Autoresponder Message Ever

I recently was part of an email discussion that involved Kevin Sites of Hot Zone fame. My first message to him triggered his autoresponder, which cracked me up:

I am out of the office for most of the next year, on assignment to cover conflicts around the world...

It continued to give a few phone numbers and names for alternative contacts that I obviously won't reproduce here.

But I couldn't help but to laugh and wonder what it must feel like to write the phrase "out of the office for most of the next year" into an autoresponder setup.

I mean, that's gotta feel pretty cool at some level, right? ;-)

What's the best email autoresponse you've seen?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:47 PM

Platforms, Mashups, and Markets

Yesterday Greg Linden asked Is Web 2.0 nothing more than mashups? In that post, he makes the following claim:

Companies offer web services to get free ideas, exploit free R&D, and discover promising talent. That's why the APIs are crippled with restrictions like no more than N hits a day, no commercial use, and no uptime or quality guarantees. They offer the APIs so people can build clever toys, the best of which the company will grab -- thank you very much -- and develop further on their own.

I believe that a lot of folks are wondering about that too. They're more than a little suspicious of companies like Google and Yahoo! opening up APIs. (Amazon and eBay can't hide their profit motives, so nobody even wonders about that.)

Related to that, Fred Wilson asks When Is A Market Really A Market? He's focused specifically on on-line advertising, but his questions apply equally well to lots of other on-line "markets" as well.

So, I believe that right now, we have a marketplace, but it’s a nascent marketplace. The thing that gets me so excited, though, is that is so clear where all of this is headed.

I claim that these two discussions are actually related by the notion of a platform.

The platform is what you must build today in order to create a new on-line market. To be clear, the process goes something like this:

  1. Build new "open" platform
  2. Get critical mass (this is where mashups start to come in)
  3. Add financial incentives, creating a marketplace
  4. Profit!

That leads me to ask the only unasked question so far. In the Internet of 2006, what's it mean to be (or create) a "platform"? What is a platform? Is one necessary to create a new marketplace online?

What do you think, based on the evidence we've seen so far?

Posted by jzawodn at 02:32 PM

Sponsor Comments: Performancing

When I asked if my linkblog should have comments, Jim responded that the new (as of today) sponsor box could have comments as well. I still remember when Kuro5hin began offering comments on their advertisers and it worked pretty well.

So here's your chance to comment on Performancing, this month's sponsor.

And, before anyone asks, yes this is new. They get an ad and a link--that's it. December 2005 is the first month that I've had a sponsor on my blog. I'm curious to see how it goes and would love your feedback.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:08 AM