July 31, 2006

Should I Learn Python or Ruby next?

I've been programming (when I do program) mainly in Perl for the last 10 years or so. But I've been itching to learn a new language for a while now, and the two near the top of the list are Ruby and Python.

I figure that Ruby would be easy to learn because of its similarity to Perl (I'm told). But I also figure that Python would be easy to learn because of its simplicity. And when it comes to webby stuff, I can use Rails with Ruby and Django with Python.

I'm currently leaning toward Python and began doing so last week. I started with Mark Pilgrim's excellent Dive Into Python and made it thru the first 3 chapters pretty quickly. So far it feels pretty good.

Before I really dive in, though, I'm curious to hear what others think about the choice between these two languages.

(On a related note, you might also read Tim Bray's On Ruby post, since he just started learning Ruby.)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:29 AM

July 24, 2006

Heading to Portland for OSCON 2006

I'm hopping on a plane shortly for OSCON 2006 in Portland. Hopefully it's cooler up a there!

As Tim noted last week, I'll be participating in the Executive Briefing Session. I'm really looking forward to the day, since there are some interesting topics up for discussion and I'm not really sure where it's going to head.

I kick off the day with a conversation with Chris DiBona from Google, Jeremy Zawodny from Yahoo!, and Jim Buckmaster from Craigslist, exploring how they use open source in their companies, and how web 2.0 applications harness their users at levels far above the code. I'll also do my best to put them in the hot seat about how they give back to open source.

I'll be at the conference until late Thursday afternoon. If you're there too, drop me a note or track me down. I'll be hanging out with other Yahoo's and at the booth now and then.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:34 PM

JotSpot 2.0: Very Cool.

A few weeks ago, Ken gave me early access to the upcoming JotSpot 2.0 so that I could kick the tires a bit. It didn't take long to realize that they've taken most of the complexity out of a Wiki and built something that a lot of people would be comfortable using to publish and organize information as part of a group.

Aside from a few suggestions for improving the product, the only other feedback I could offer was:

Stop calling it a Wiki and I bet more people would use it.

I was only half joking. JotSpot is really powerful stuff. It does a lot of the non-email stuff that Yahoo! Groups ought to provide (easy on-line spreadsheet, group documents, simple photo sharing, easy theme management, etc.) in a way that's uncluttered and easy to grok.

Nice job, guys!

Posted by jzawodn at 12:19 PM

July 19, 2006

On the Ajaxification of Yahoo!

Jeffrey Veen, echoing what Mike Arrington said ("Millions of people may have their first interaction with Ajax in the coming days."), asked Is Ajax ready for prime time?

This feels like a relatively big step in the evolution of what is possible to achieve with web interfaces. Not that these simple interactions and browser-based technologies are particularly new - the effects on the Yahoo! page could have been produced years ago. Rather, it will help a far broader set of people become accustomed to a new set of expectations for the sites they use every day.

Indeed. One thing Yahoo has always been good at is brining new technologies to a mainstream audience. Sometimes we even get it right. :-)

But this has other benefits that hadn't occurred to me...

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the technological precedent being set. Much like Doug Bowman's standards-based redesign of Wired News years ago, Ajax at Yahoo may signal to conservative IT managers that it's finally ok to loosen the reigns a bit. This technology is in the hands of the majority of users. Let's use it!

Perhaps that means that our internal applications (expense reports, trouble tickets, travel booking, etc.) will start to suck a little bit less? One can only hope. :-)

But the Yahoo! home page isn't the only place that's getting some Ajax love. Over on the Yahoo! User Interface blog is a list of Ten Things Yahoo! Is Already Doing with the YUI Library:

Since the YUI Library was released under an open-source BSD licence in February, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about YUI. One of the questions we’ve fielded more than any other, though, is also one of the best and most relevant: Who at Yahoo! is putting this stuff out into production? The answer is that almost everyone at Yahoo! is using YUI to some degree, including some of our most highly trafficked and high-profile sites.

If you're a web developer and haven't seen that blog or YUI (offered up as part of the Yahoo! Developer Network), check 'em both out. YUI is really helping to Ajaxify Yahoo! and it's all packaged up and ready to use on your site(s) too.

See also: Dustin's article 15 Things You Can Do with Yahoo UI

Posted by jzawodn at 02:47 PM

July 18, 2006

Kevin Smith Rips Into Joel Siegel

I have to admit that I've been a fan of Kevin Smith ever since I first saw Clerks many years ago. And I've been a fan of bloggers who tell it like it is ever since I first started reading blogs several years ago.

So it should come as no surprise that I enjoy reading Kevin Smith's blog.

Today is no exception. He holds back nothing in his on-line abuse of movie critic Joel Siegel, who loudly left the screening of Clerks II [IMDB] (the same move that got an eight minute standing ovation at Cannes) after 40 minutes.

I mean, it’s Joel Siegel, for Christ’s sake. As Paul Thomas Anderson once said of the man, getting a bad review from Siegel is like a badge of honor. This is the guy who stole his mustachioed critic shtick from Gene Shalit years ago, and still refuses to give it back. This is a guy who seemingly prides himself on being "punny" - that is, he likes to add his own nyuk-nyuk wordplay into the reviews he writes/gives.


Shit, Joel, I know you like being on camera and all, but was it so difficult to not be the center of attention for 40 minutes that you just had to sparkle, Neely, sparkle-it up for your peers instead of showing them a little goddamn courtesy by leaving the theater the way most people do, either during or after the picture: quietly? What are you, a twelve year old boy, cutting loose with your pals at a Friday night screening of "Scary Movie 4" while your parents are in a theater down the hall watching "The Devil Wears Prada"? Leave the diva-like behavior and drama-queen antics to the movie stars, not the movie reviewer, ya’ rude-ass prick.


Go read the whole thing.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:09 PM

July 16, 2006

Weekend Wrap

Matt asks and answers the "what did you do this weekend" question.

I'll answer that for the three of you who care since I can't muster the energy to do the other 50 things I ought to do before going to bed.


Drove to Reid-Hillview airport after work to drop off the 120 day registration extension that the FAA sent us for the plane. As you can see, the registration was messed up because I can't follow directions.

Drove to Fernley and spent the night at the Fernley Super 8 Motel, which is quite a bit cheaper than the Best Western and probably nearly as decent. Got there late and didn't get to bed until 1am, so...


Slept late, got up at 7:30, showered, ate, checked out and drove into "town" for the home inspection. The many pictures will be uploaded when I'm back at work and have upload speeds that don't suck.

The inspection went well and I headed to Truckee at roughly 11am for my afternoon flying slot in the DG-1000 and the annual Truckee Bash (a big BBQ for glider pilots).

I had my Digital Rebel with me and time to kill, so I took a ton of pictures of gliders staging and launching. Again, those will be uploaded later since there are many.

Lake Tahoe

At 3:00 I flew with Ed for a bit over two hours. The conditions were surprisingly good for a late launch on what looked to be an unremarkable day. We landed at 5:30, tied down and covered the glider, and then joined the congregation of folks waiting for the BBQ to begin.

Ate good food, chatted with folks, and hit the road back to San Jose at about 8:00pm and arrived at home a bit after midnight.


Slept in again, did some shopping (I was fresh out of apples, peaches, and bananas), and drove down to Hollister. Met Terry, chatted about our plan for the day's flight, and ate lunch.

We got the Grob ready and launched about 1:40pm for Panoche. Flew for a bit over 2 hours, landing back at Hollister with enough time to chat for a bit and still get home in time for dinner.

Turned on the air conditioner for the second day this year. Grilled dinner. The grill then caught somewhat on fire in my attempt to "burn off some of the juice" that was left. Heh.


Lots of driving, flying, pictures, good people, and good food. It must still be summer.

How was your weekend?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:13 PM

July 13, 2006

Traffic Continues Not To Spike

When I read the TechCruch story Technorati scores $7.6m more funding I was immediately struck (and highly amused by) the phrase "traffic continues not to spike."

"Clever!" I thought. That Marashall guy has a way with words.

[By the way, this has nothing to do with Technorati or their traffic. I love those guys.]

Anyway, that got me wondering why that phrase was particularly funny to me. And after a bit of thinking on the matter, I hit about the likely candidate: the surprise. The word "not" is unexpected. If you happen to be skimming the article quickly, you might not even see it. Your brain would read "traffic continues to spike" and you'd think "yeah, Technorati keeps getting more popular."

But it doesn't say that at all. It's a subtle insult hidden in plain sight. And that, for some reason, appeals to me.

I then realized that there's a whole class of expressions I occasionally encounter in journalism that bother me. A statement like "President Bush failed to XXXXX" is common to hear or read--and not just because Bush is considered to be a failure by some. It's common because it's a sneaky way to make you think that there's an expectation or a goal when there often never was.

The extreme example of such language is for me to say "I failed to hit a single telephone pole on my drive home last night." While it's a completely true (and mildly amusing) statement, it makes you think that I might have been trying to hit telephone poles. You're not entirely sure if that inability to hit telephone poles is good or bad.

It's kind of like what someone once told me about flying. Flying is the act of falling and failing to hit the ground.

Are there other examples of such language play that have particularly amused you in the past?

Posted by jzawodn at 05:02 PM

The Satisfaction of "It Just Worked"

Last week, I asked the question Where does your sense of accomplishment come from? I'm reminded of this because of a related experience I just had.

I've been working on some code that will become public and when a new offering launches on the Yahoo! Developer Network in the not too distant future. I wrote my Perl code using a mix of reading the documentation and translating the existing PHP examples. I built some basic sanity and error checking in along the way and then tried it out.

It Just Worked.

And that was immensely satisfying. Not just because it confirmed that I hadn't completely lost the ability to write code, but because there was no frustration, confusion, or ambiguity involved. The service did just what the docs said it would do and my code handled the edge cases I intended it to.

It's so rare that things work this way in other parts of life that I really had to stop and enjoy the moment. It was then that I realized that this was a completely unexpected trigger for that sense of accomplishment I had written about earlier.

[I'm sure someone will insert the standard "that's why I use a Mac" response in the comments.]

Posted by jzawodn at 04:23 PM

July 12, 2006

MySpace vs. Yahoo! Mail, or Apples vs. Oranges

It's pretty amusing watching everyone misinterpret the recently released Hitwise data. Claims of "MySpace Bigger than Yahoo!" sure make for good headlines, but only if "good" means "attention grabbing" not "based in reality."

I was mildly alarmed when I first heard the noise but spent a few minutes looking into it and now understand a bit more of what's going on.

Let's review the situation, shall we?

It's hard to blame people for jumping to the wrong conclusions. On their blog post the wise folks at Hitwise managed to make this as confusing as possible for someone who isn't reading carefully (you know, skimming).

How'd they do that?

  1. They used a headline which implied that MySpace is the biggest site on the web. But one you start reading the text, you find that they're comparing www.myspace.com to "Yahoo! Mail." Seriously. So what's a site? A domain name? What about international versions?
  2. They included a completely unrelated graph that shows how www.myspace.com compares with www.google.com over time. (I wonder if they run the numbers without the www prefix?)
  3. They further confuse things by providing a table of search referral terms that constitute what we call "navigational queries" to illustrate... something. But does that make any sense? Why would a Yahoo! user use a search to find Yahoo? Or a Google user use Google to find Google?

To recap: there are three useless apples vs. oranges comparisons (MySpace and Yahoo! Mail, MySpace and Google, and the search terms) that really don't help to support their claim very well.

Can someone please explain to me how this has anything to do with Yahoo?

It seems to confirm what we all knew already: MySpace is growing like a weed. Duh. But "bigger" than Yahoo? Not by a long shot. Don't make me dig up user statistics, time spent on site, and all that other stuff.

This feels a lot like Hitwise trading their credibility for some cheap press headlines. I guess it's working.

[And no, this is me bitching, not an official Yahoo! statement. I can get you one of those if you'd really like...]

Posted by jzawodn at 01:21 PM

July 11, 2006

Scott Adams on Secret Society and Government

Scott Adams cracks me up. On his Dilbert blog, he writes about his favorite conspiracy--that "the world is being run by a handful of ultra-rich capitalists, and that our elected governments are mere puppets."

It's very reassuring:

The only way I can get to sleep at night is by imagining a secret cabal of highly competent puppetmasters who are handling the important decisions while our elected politicians debate flag burning and the definition of marriage.

Fair enough. But it gets better (or worse, depending on your take):

It’s the only explanation for how the governments of the world could be staffed with morons and yet everything still runs okay, sort of. Granted, things aren’t perfect, but when you hear our leaders talk, you have to wonder why our energy policy doesn’t involve burning asbestos on playgrounds. There must be some competent people pulling the strings behind the curtain, adjusting the money supply, twiddling with interest rates, choosing the winners for American Idol, and that sort of thing.

Heh. Gotta love it. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 02:09 PM

July 10, 2006

Head MySQL Geek Needed at Yahoo!

It seems like only yesterday that Jeremy Cole came to Yahoo! to take the job I vacated to join the Yahoo! Search team.

Well, he's out on his own now and we need some serious MySQL geekage around here.

The official job description looks like this:

Yahoo!'s Platform Engineering group is looking for a MySQL expert to provide consulting, training, and internal support for MySQL and data storage technologies. You will be working with teams to help them understand how MySQL may fit into their applications, making internal releases of custom MySQL binaries from source, analyzing database performance, and helping others to tune their hardware and software settings.
An ideal candidate has designed distributed and high-performance application architectures, is familiar with MySQL replication and load balancing, and knows the features, pros, and cons of MySQL's storage engines. Familiarity with Perl DBI, PHP, and MySQL administration tools is also required.
A source-level understanding of MySQL helpful but not required.
A BS/MS in Computer Science or equivalent and 4+ years experience with MySQL and Unix (FreeBSD/Linux) is required.

Shoot me a resume if you're interested.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:22 PM

Ok, screw that...

Let's just call my attempt to use Google Reader for a week, uhm, "misguided" and move on, shall we? It failed for exactly the reasons that several of you mentioned.

On a whim, I decided to poke at Bloglines a bit (it had been a few years) and in doing so realized that it's exactly what I wanted.

Now back to your regularly scheduled... uh, whatever you read this for. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 02:10 PM

Google Reader for a Week

I've decided to give Google Reader a try as my primary feed reader. For the next week or so, I'll use it exclusively to figure out if it is a suitable replacement for FeedDemon.

Last night I did an OPML export of my subscriptions and imported them into Google Reader. Here's what I learned from that process:

  1. Google Reader intelligently applied labels to the sub-groups of feeds in my single large OPML file.
  2. The system made to attempt to warn me of feeds that it could not import. I'm certain there are a few which were password protected or otherwise not accessible to the public. This strikes me as an important omission.
  3. Though I was subscribed to all of the imported feeds, it took several hours for the Google Reader to "get" that. There were no unread items initially, and trying to select feeds by tag label resulted in a confusing user experience.
  4. You cannot "mark all as read" but they're apparently working on that.
  5. You cannot search within your own subscriptions. Again, this strikes me as a serious shortcoming.
  6. The Google Reader Group is well attended by some of the Google Reader engineers. This is impressive.

Having said all that, the product has improved a lot since I first kicked the tires. It's responsive and uncluttered. You can even turn off the fancy animation. Like Gmail, it seems to have a bit of a learning curve (good keyboard shortcuts but no folders), but I'm trying to keep an open mind about it. I suspect I'll end up unsubscribing from a few of my marginally useful feeds just to keep the clutter down.

I'll try to document the pros and cons I run into along the way.

Have you tried switching to Google Reader? What was your experience like?

Update: Okay, screw that...

Posted by jzawodn at 06:54 AM

July 09, 2006

Where does your sense of accomplishment come from?

A few weeks ago it occurred to me that a sense of accomplishment is pretty important but it's not always obvious where it comes from. I've really only asked people about it in the context of a job interview. You get some interesting answers doing that, often times because the candidate hasn't really thought about it before.


I don't think there's any single answer for everyone in every situation, but it's clear that there are a few common sources. And they seem to match the different roles people find themselves in at work.

  1. Solo work (the individual contributor). Some of the best engineers I know are those who really, really know their stuff and can be insanely productive if you simply get out of their way. Meetings are often a waste of their time. They pride themselves on getting their hands dirty and quickly producing quality, tangible results.
  2. Team work (team player). Others prefer collaboration to individual work. They're skilled in the art of compromise and can easily navigate the politics that often emerge in group settings. Their sense of accomplishment is directly tied to what the group as a whole produces.
  3. Leadership (team lead or manager). Often the unsung heros, good managers work behind the scenes to make things run smoothly and give their teams the freedom and authority they need to get the job done. They pride themselves on the quality of the team's work and encourage their employees to shine. They're happy to see their team recognized for going a great job.

In reality, I think many of us derive our sense of accomplishment from a mix of those. Consider the solo worker who is also a very successful married parent. She may be a solo worker on the job and a team player at home.

What about you?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:00 AM

July 01, 2006

At Gnomedex

I'm up at Gnomedex before heading out for the 4th of July holiday. I haven't had a chance to write up everything going on here, but it appears that I really don't need to. There's a ton of stuff that you can find on Technorati.

My discussion session starts at about 3:00pm today and I'm considering using it as an open bitch session about social software and social media.

That should be fun. :-)

I'm in Nevada with some family next week, so things are likely to be slow around here.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:37 PM