March 30, 2007

Shut Up and Ship!

On the subject of the recently announced YouTube competitor (which is clearly vaporware at this point), Chris DiBona pens this excellent rant.

I'm picturing the meetings. The posturing. The bandwidth provisioning. The advertising meetings. The legal reviews. The pr reviews. The plans. The emails. The cross-functional , inter corporate steering committees.
Who pays for what with what? Who is in charge? Who picks the content? Does anyone pick the content? Who can upload? What can they upload? When can they upload? How long will it take to transcode? Can a video be downloaded to iPod? Archos? Zune? Who will monitor the uploads?

I have trouble imagining he's wrong in this case. The rant continues, of course. You should really read the whole thing.

Anyway, he eventually concludes with:

So, end of today's post. The moral: Don't Talk. Do. Don't yammer. Launch. Release. Ship.

I couldn't agree more. In the last few years I've really become sensitive to these sorts of lame announcements. The feel like the sort of thing you'd get from a politician during an election year, not a company (or group of companies) hell bent on delivering something truly amazing and innovative.

You know the old sayings: Actions speak louder than words and talk is cheap.

The slightly more context aware version here is shut up and ship!

Posted by jzawodn at 07:37 AM

March 28, 2007

Yahoo! Mail API and Unlimited Storage

I'll have more to say about some of the larger issues around this in a few days, but now that the embargo has been lifted (damn you, Om Malik), I wanted to point at the pair of announcements from Yahoo! Mail today and yesterday.

The Bottomless Inbox

Yesterday came word of "unlimited" storage for all mailboxes on Yahoo mail. What can I say, storage is getting cheaper all the time.

SOAP and JSON-RPC APIs

Today's news is that the Yahoo! Mail API that we previewed at last year's Open Hack Day is now available to all developers. It speaks both SOAP and JSON-RPC and is well documented. The SOAP API is the same API that the mail front-end uses to talk to the mail back-end mail system, so it's the real deal. There's sample code too. And even apps it the gallery.

Screencasts!

In the last few weeks, Matt McAlister and I sat down to talk with a few folks using our "screencast interview" style. So I present two videos for you Quicktime viewing pleasure:

We'll have lower fidelity versions up on Yahoo! Tube Yahoo! Video before too long.

Make Money Fast

Oh, I should also mention that if you build the next killer application and convince people to use it and upgrade to the premium version of Yahoo! Mail, we'll pay you $10 per user. The sky's the limit on how cool your mail front-end can be. We'll handle the infrastructure.

This stuff has been in the works for quite a while and a whole team of people has been putting tons of work into make sure it all works right--especially Ryan Kennedy.

See Also

Posted by jzawodn at 05:02 PM

March 26, 2007

The Worst Search Results Page I've Ever Seen

Earlier today I was digging in some referral stats and ran across the Worst Search Results Page Ever. And, no, this is not about MSN, Ask, Google, or even Yahoo.

Witness the results of a SlashMySearch.com video search for "zawodny" (because you never know when those secret videos are going to leak onto the vast interwebs):

worst search results page ever

Now before you click that image to get the full-sized version, it probably looks sort of reasonable, right? From a distance it does.

Now go ahead and look more closely. See if you notice the following things:

  1. It's very difficult to tell the difference between the advertisements (I mean "sponsored links") and the organic links because they're all on a white background. Most respectable search engines try to provide some very obvious visual clue that the paid links are different.
  2. The "BLACK HAT SEARCH TRAFFIC?" advertisement just below the "Also Try" line is classy. Really classy. I mean, who doesn't want a search engine CLOAKER that delivers top rankings?!?!?!?!?!
  3. The message in the middle of the page that tells you there were 0 results found is partially overwritten by an advertisement on the right side.
  4. Wait a minute! If there were no [organic] results found, that means THE WHOLE FREAKING PAGE IS FULL OF ADVERTISEMENTS.
  5. The main ads all feature images on the left, a tactic explicitly banned by Google because it tricks users into clicking advertisements.

Yikes!

But that's just me. I'm sure I missed a few things.

What can you spot?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:41 PM

Should I go to China?

I've recently been given the opportunity to visit China as part of an Alibaba event. When I first received the invitation, I had a conflict that prevented me from going. But they recently asked again and, as luck would have it, the conflict no longer existed.

So I said I'd be interested in going. I'm often up for visiting a foreign land, experiencing a new culture, seeing the sights, and meeting like-minded technology people. In recent years I've been to Korea, Japan, India, Taiwan, and so on.

But then I got to thinking about it a bit. There's been a lot of controversy about Yahoo's involvement in China and I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I probably don't have enough information to make a decision based solely on the facts (and it'd be hard to get said information). That convenient excuse has allowed me to somewhat ignore the issues until now.

I'm a little uneasy about it.

I was talking to my parents last night and my dad mentioned you can hit a web site to find out if your site is blocked in China. So a quick search revealed greatfirewallofchina.org, which will "test any website and see real-time if it's censored in China."

Guess what... My site appears to be blocked.

So a part of me now wonders why I'd travel half way around the world to visit a country in which my web site has been blocked by the government, assuming the testing methodology is reliable, of course. Even if it's not accurate, the fact that I'd even have to think about this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They have a long and well documented history of censorship.

And, on top of that, it turns out that I have another conflict for the dates they'd like me to visit. Granted, it's a smaller conflict. But still.

What would you do?

Update: Thanks for all the feedback (public and private). That's exactly why I ask questions like this on-line. Like Mike Arrington recently said "What you get if you blog for a while is a sense of how valuable your readers are, and not because they view and click on ads." I get great feedback and a variety of things to consider. I'm off the fence now and planning to go. But don't let that stop you from voicing your opinion if you have one.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:55 AM

March 23, 2007

Desktop Tower Defense Considered Harmful

I almost never play computer games anymore. I grew up with the "classic" gaming consoles as a kid (Atari, Intellivision, etc.) and then had a Commodore 64 with lots of games. So I really had my fill early on in life.

But for reasons I cannot explain, I followed a link to Desktop Tower Defense earlier this week and have not been the same since.

The lack of posting here in the second half of this week (especially to my linkblog) has been a direct result of attempting to beat this highly addictive game.

Whatever you do, please DO NOT click the link and start playing that game. You may find yourself in the very same time warp that I did...

You have been warned.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:53 AM

March 21, 2007

When being early doesnít help...

A new pattern has emerged for me recently: when being early doesn't help. Here are a few recent examples.

Glasses

On Monday afternoon I received a phone call letting me know that my new glasses were ready to be picked up. I was surprised, because we'd ordered them just a few days before (after my eye checkup) and it usually takes 7-10 days.

So I stopped at the eye doctor's office on the way to work Tuesday morning. I tried the glasses on and they didn't feel quite right. The prescription was excellent (having clear vision is a wonderful thing) but something was off. When I tried to attach the clip-on sunglasses, they were too small.

The technician looked at things more closely and discovered that they'd used a frame size that was slightly too large. So they're being sent back to be re-done. The end result is that it'll probably be 7-10 days, just like I originally expected.

Teeth (and hair)

Today I headed over to the dentist (Spring is when a lot of my annual health stuff happens, I guess) for a cleaning. Upon arriving there, I found that I didn't have an appointment today. It was, in fact, tomorrow at 11am instead.

Whoops.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided that I should use the time to get a haircut. Normally I get a haircut about a month after I'm completely convinced I really do need one. But this is the first time I've gone for an opportunistic haircut.

I'm half expecting to wake up tomorrow morning and find that my hair fell out while I slept. That would seem to fit the pattern. Sort of.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:28 PM

March 20, 2007

Do Your AdSense and MyBlogLog Click Numbers Match?

In MyBlogLog and AdSense, Dom recounts a discrepancy between his AdSense click data as reported by Google and MyBlogLog.

Itís a simple question, but one Iíve been struggling with ever since one of my sites received a large spike in traffic. MyBlogLogís stats and AdSenseís stats showed roughly the same number of impressions (give or take what youíd expect for people who block ads), but the stats for click-outs were totally different - by a factor of 10!

I've also seen this myself, but most days the numbers are pretty close to each other. They're unlikely to ever be exactly the same, for a variety of reasons:

  • Google does click fraud detection and removal. MyBlogLog doesn't.
  • MyBlogLog click tracking will timeout quickly (dropping the click) if there's a network problem that slows it down.
  • AdSense stats are usually based on a 24 hour day in the Pacific timezone, while MyBlogLog uses Eastern Time.
  • And so on...

Having said all that, do you compare your stats between the two? If so, are they in the same ballpark most of the time? What's the biggest discrepancy you've seen so far?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:02 AM

March 18, 2007

Dealing with a Flat Tailwheel

A funny thing happened this weekend. And since the title has already given it away, I'll take a moment to tell the story...

After a non-eventful flight from Reid-Hillview to Avenal (home of the Central California Soaring Club) on Saturday, I landed on runway 13, one of their big (350' wide!) dirt runways. Once reaching the area where it seemed sensible to park, I initiated a left turn and attempted to follow it shortly with a right 180 degree turn to swing the tail around.

But the plane really didn't want to turn right. At all. I figured we might be in a soft spot in the dirt, so I nudged the throttle a bit. It had practically no effect. Since I the propeller was kicking up a fair amount of dust, I shut the engine down and decided to get out and just move it by hand.

Walking around to the back of the plane, I saw exactly what I didn't want to see.

Flat Tailwheel on the Citabria
A Flat Tailwheel

"Aw, crap!" I thought.

Before too long, Loyal (the tow pilot and all-around great guy) had an air tank out to re-inflate the tire. The plan was to pump it up and see if it would hold air. It did initially, so we ventured off to lunch and hoped it would stay inflated the rest of the day.

Alas, it wasn't to be. After lunch the tire was pretty mushy again.

Flat Tailwheel on the Citabria

Some of the locals suggested using a can of the flat tire sealant you often see for sale in auto parts and bike shops. Before trekking of to do that, I called our mechanic for his advice. I was wondering if we might not get away with pumping it up again just before takeoff and hoping for the best.

He said there was no danger in trying that stuff but that it rarely ever works in cases like this. He suggested we pump it back it just before takeoff, perform a wheel landing back at Reid Hillview, and taxi back to parking with no back pressure on the stick. He also suggested that the tire would be ruined in the process, but it had to be replaced anyway.

Fair enough.

But I hadn't done wheel landings for quite some time. And never at night.

Despite all that, I managed to get the plane home safely. My landing was what I'd call a "modified wheel landing" (the kind that starts with a gentle bounce). On taxi back to the parking area, I had to use more power (1,200 RPM) than normal to keep it moving and nearly full right rudder to counteract its desire to turn left. But it worked.

The whole episode turned out to be far less of an ordeal than I had first expected. It was, in fact, a fairly minor distraction in an otherwise spectacular day.

And hey, in a few days I'll be the proud co-owner of a new tailwheel.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:18 PM

March 15, 2007

When your AT&T/SBC DSL goes down, use local dialup numbers...

This came up recently on our neighborhood mailing list. The poster said that it took a bit of time to find all the relevant information, so I'm collecting it here in an effort to make it a bit easier on the next person who needs it.

Note: I've not had trouble with my DSL circuit, so if you end up posting questions here about how to get it fixed, I'm unlikely to respond with anything useful.

Anyway, if you're an SBC DSL customer, there are old-school modem dial-up numbers (mostly 56kbps V.90) available to use during an outage or service window--assuming your computer even has a modem!

You can lookup your local access numbers to get a list of phone numbers to try.

For example, the numbers in the San Jose (408 area code) are currently:

San Jose        CA        (408)889-9111    56K V90
San Jose        CA        (408)580-3411    56K V90
San Jose        CA        (408)580-0194    56K V90
San Jose        CA        (408)717-2412    56K V90
San Jose        CA        (408)849-4774    56K V90
San Jose        CA        (408)503-2412    56K V90

Then, if you're not familiar with dial-up configuration (or it's been too long since you last used it), go here to choose your provider (based on email domain name) and you'll be lead to a page with instructions for dial-up configuration as well as FAQs.

This information appears to apply to all the Internet Service Providers that have been gobbled up by AT&T over the years:

  • Southwest Bell
  • Ameritech
  • PacBell
  • Prodigy
  • etc.

Hopefully this is useful to someone.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:08 AM

March 13, 2007

A New Shade of Blue Chip!

Ah, the perils having an automatically updated news feed and stock price graph on your company's home page:

a new shade of blue chip

That's New Century Financial Corporation, which prides itself on being "A New Shade of Blue Chip." The trouble is that they are one of the largest of what's known as sub-prime mortgage lenders and the downturn in the housing market has hit them hard. Very hard.

Might that new shade be... red?

I was tempted to buy some of their stock earlier today for some of the same reasons that I considered buying airline stocks not long after 9/11. But it looks like trading has been suspended.

We'll have to see if the company sticks around, I guess.

Heh.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:48 PM

March 12, 2007

I don't accept calls from people I don't know...

do not call Over the weekend the phone rang. I donít get many calls, so I was wondering who might be calling. Imagine the annoyance of being greeted by someone I don't know representing some charity I've never heard of who is asking for money to resolve some crisis I don't know anything about.

Roughly 45 seconds into the exchange (and by "exchange" I mean "monologue" since the other person hadn't yet shut up since I said "hello"), I rudely interrupted her script by saying "excuse me!" more and more loudly until she stopped.

Then, not sure what to do, this emerged:

Me: I'm sorry, but I don't take calls from people I don't know.

Her: ... slience ...

Me: ... silence ...

Her: Really?

Me: Really.

Her: Oh. Okay. Sorry.

Heh.

I don't know how that line popped into my mind, but I think I'm going to use it from now on. I wish there weren't so many lame exceptions to the do not call registry.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:56 PM

Simple Weight and Balance Spreadsheet

Flying Citabria N5156X on my First Solo
Cross Country Flight When it came time for my Private Pilot Single Engine Land checkride I decided to make up a simple spreadsheet for the Citabria's Weight and Balance.

It's a requirement that you show the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) that the aircraft you're planning to fly with not be over its certified gross weight or outside of the center of gravity (CG) range specified by the manufacturer.

Given that the only variable I can tweak in the Citabria is how much fuel I put in the tank, I put together a simple spreadsheet to answer the question "How much fuel can I legally carry?"

n5156x weight and balance

Basically, you enter the weight of the pilot and rear seat passenger in the yellow cells. It will then re-compute the "Fuel (in gallons)" line to show how many gallons of fuel you can carry.

I'm providing this as a simple template for anyone else who may need to do something similar. However, make sure you use the numbers from your aircraft's most recent weight and balance sheet. You can't expect even aircraft of the same make and model (Citabria 7KCAB, in this case) to be the same. The empty weight will depend on any repair work, engine accessories, panel configuration, and so on.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:10 PM

March 11, 2007

Getting Things Done vs. Getting Worthwhile Things Done

You may remember back at the end of 2006 when I wrote about some of my goals for 2007. In 2007: Reduce, Focus, and Filtering My Inputs, I said:

My goal is to spend more time on quality stuff: getting deeper into stuff that I already do and want to do more of, building more stuff (more on that later), and spending less time on trivia, and generally trying to have a clearer head and less of a sense of urgency.

So far I've managed to do a decent job. I'm spending less time on trivia and more on stuff that matters. But I can do more. It's not just a matter of reducing inputs. As Anne Zelenka wrote in Ten Things I Hate About You, Web 2.0:

The productivity virus so many of us have been infected with in 2006 and 2007. Letís move on. Getting lots of stuff done is not the way to achieve something important. You could be so busy planning next actions that you miss out on what your real contribution should be.

Well said!

I've been trying to let more stuff fall off my TODO list and onto the floor where it can be swept away by the passage of time. It's a little surprising how many things come up and seem important but are easily forgotten a few weeks later, done or undone.

The irony here is that I spent several hours sorting paperwork and paying bills. I try to do that once a month if possible. I guess that makes up for all the flying I did yesterday.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:20 PM

March 08, 2007

Linux Software RAID vs. Hardware RAID

Over the years, I've configured and happily used Linux Software RAID on numerous servers. It has proven to be amazingly resilient and quite stable.

3ware But a couple years ago (2003) when I was building my newest server (which conveniently lives in a collocation facility about 4 miles from where I do), I opted to drop in a 3ware card. They had a good reputation in the Linux world and I figured I might as well move up in the world.

Well guess what died recently?

Right. That server suddenly became unresponsive about two weeks ago.

Due to some access complications, I wasn't able to visit it until this evening. I un-racked the machine, opened it up, and inspected things. All the cables were still plugged in and the card was firmly seated. Hmm.

When I rolled the crash cart over to put a keyboard and monitor on it, I found that the RAID array was simply gone. No trace. I poked around in the 3ware BIOS a bit and couldn't figure out what was going on.

I brought the machine home and decided to chuck the card. It'd failed in its single mission: keeping a redundant copy of my data on both disks. I plugged the two disks directly into the motherboard and stuck in my little Debian installation USB stick (just made it tonight). It's easier than finding a CD-ROM drive I can plug in.

Part way through the configuration process, I noticed the primary drive acting very bursty. Then I heard the clicking noises. We all know what it means when a hard disk start to click, right?

Now it was all making sense. One of the two drives flaked out and that caused the RAID controller to shit itself and blow away the array.

Nice.

Let's just say that I'll be going back to Software RAID from now on. The machine is rebuilt (minus the bad disk) and I'll put it back in the rack tomorrow morning.

Thanks to rsnapshot, I never lost any data. I had current off-site backups. In two locations. Doesn't everyone?

Let's just say I've been burned a few times in the past.

Anyway, soon I can finally migrate the data for this site and several others off my old (going on 6 years old) server in Ohio (happily running Software RAID).

In retrospect, I was adding complexity and a new point of failure to a system that had always worked fine in the past. I've learned my lesson.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:01 PM

March 07, 2007

Come As You Are

I came across this spoof image the other day and can't stop being amused by it, partly because it's Star Trek humor and partly because it's just so true.

san francisco

I've heard more than a few tales from people that all start with "during my first month in San Francisco, I saw some of the craziest shit..."

If you live in the Bay Area, what's the strangest thing you've seen? If you've visited, were you surprised by the, uhm, "diversity" of people here?

Posted by jzawodn at 01:08 PM

March 05, 2007

Email as we know it is doomed.

That's it. I've had enough. I'm fed up.

spam I don't know exactly when it happened, but an amazingly complex and ad-hoc ecosystem of spammers and spam filtering solutions (SpamAssassin, blacklists, IP rate limiting, Bayesian filters, keyword blocking, and more) has resulted is such an unreliable (or maybe unpredictable?) that I've simply lost faith in it.

It used to be a rare occurrence that a message I sent didn't make it to the intended recipient's inbox because of some overly aggressive filtering. No more. It seems to be happening on a weekly (almost daily) basis now.

The system appears to be, for lack of a better term, fucked up beyond all repair.

There are technical solutions like SPF and DomainKeys that try to attack part of the problem, but they really aren't cutting it.

It's no wonder that the younger generation seems content to throw away email addresses every year or so and prefer to interact via the messaging systems offered by social networking services (or SMS).

I send and receive a fair amount of email every day. I've been doing since well before spam was a Real Problem. I've seen little if any forward progress on this in recent years. A lot of talk, but no answers.

Despite my praises of Gmail's spam filtering, something changed a while back and it hasn't been the same since. How I long for the days when I didn't need to look in the spam bucket...

What are we doing to do? Use a Twitter like service? Go back to sending things via the postal service?

Beats me.

Some days I wish that Paying to Send E-Mail had taken off.

This sucks.

Am I the only one?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:42 PM

March 04, 2007

Off Tow

Steve Brockman, one of the towpilots at Hollister, has taken to fastening his camera to the wing strut of the Piper Pawnee and photographing gliders from the tow pilot's vantage point. Using a remote trigger, he can capture some interesting shots that'd otherwise be quite difficult when flying a single seat plane.

Yesterday (Saturday), he got a decent shot of me just after I pulled the release:

N304GT off tow
Above: N304GT off tow!

The picture above is a cropped version. The full image (including the empennage of the Pawnee) is on Fickr: N304GT Just Released From Tow.

I really need to do something about figuring a way to mount a camera in the Citabria and in my glider.

For what it's worth, Steve also shot these pictures of me in Citabria N5156X during one of my solo cross-country flights. He's getting good at this. I did mange to nab a picture of Steve in the Pawnee during that flight.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:30 PM

March 01, 2007

spam_lash.pl

I just found an old (circa 2002) Perl script that I wrote very early one morning after being spammed repeatedly on my pager/cell phone.

It looks like this...

#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w

$|=1;

use strict;
use Net::SMTP;

my $lines     = 100;
my $mail_from = "dev\@null.com";
my $smtp_host = "mail.XXXXXX-online.com";
my $mail_to   = "postmaster\@XXXXXX-online.com";
my $subject   = "Why did you spam my pager?!";

my $line = "Q" x 72;
$line  .= "\n";

my $smtp = Net::SMTP->new($smtp_host, Debug => 0) or die "$!";

while (1)
{
    $smtp->mail($mail_from)                  or die "$!";
    $smtp->to($mail_to)                      or die "$!";
    $smtp->data()                            or die "$!" ;
    $smtp->datasend("To: $mail_to\n")        or die "$!";
    $smtp->datasend("Subject: $subject\n")   or die "$!";
    $smtp->datasend("\n")                    or die "$!";

    for (1 .. $lines)
    {
        $smtp->datasend($line)               or die "$!";
    }

    $smtp->dataend()                         or die "$!";
    #$smtp->quit;

    print ".";
}

print "\n";

Heh.

Do not code when you're angry, kids...

If nothing else, it's interesting to see how my coding style has evolved in some ways but not in others--at least my "coding while pissed off" style.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:34 PM

Hiring at Yahoo! including MyBlogLog, YDN, Flickr, and Tiger Team

Yahoo! We have lots of really interesting jobs open at Yahoo right now. Most of them have been posted about in various places, so allow me to recap what's out there.

To the best of my knowledge, all the jobs are open to existing Yahoos (internal transfers are a great way to try out a new job without switching companies--I've done my share of that!) as well as outsiders. In most cases, however, location is an issue. The nature of most of these makes remote work difficult (at least in the short and medium terms). The Flickr jobs are an obvious exception to that.

Shoot me a resume (or a pointer to it) and let me know what you're interested in. I'll get your resume to a hiring manger and be happy to answer any questions you have about working at Yahoo, where I've been for 7+ years now.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:42 AM