October 31, 2007

On The Platformization on Yahoo!

Over on Seeking Alpha, Jeff Jarvis (hi, Jeff!) writes Yahoo Edges Away From Portal Towards Platform, Finally, in which he wonders (in a skeptical tone of voice) whether Yahoo is really serious about going from a portal to a platform.

I think what we witnessed Tuesday night was the debate the company is having within: portal or platform? Even if platform has won at the top, we need to hear stronger confirmation of that and see strong action and the question remains whether it’s possible to change Yahoo’s culture to make the shift. It’s already big and old. But it’s not too late to change, and I think I finally saw the seeds of that change.

Well, Jeff... I have a few answers for you.

First of all, I think you're making a false dichotomy. Portals and platforms are not somehow mutually exclusive, though the tone of your article makes it seem like you think they are. There's nothing about being a portal (a starting point for millions and millions of people) that precludes also letting outside developers build content, services, modules, widgets, or media that the user could choose as part of their starting point. My Yahoo! has been doing some of this for years now.

But more importantly, I'm seeing movement on this (not just PowerPoint festivities) stuff becoming a reality at all levels in the company. I've been part of the planning and brainstorming around this work and have both seen and heard some of the reactions all the way up the chain of command. The company is quite serious about this. It's not just an experiment or a fad. It's part of our evolution. It is our future.

The seeds of change have, indeed, been planted. They won't sprout all at once. And they will require some extra watering and attention for a while. But once things start to grow, I think a lot of folks will start to understand what we're doing.

Oh, and about that "at a very early stage" comment. Do you not agree? Do you actually think the Internet is close to reaching maturity? I, for one, hope not. There's so much runway ahead of this technology yet.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:52 PM

Technology PR Spam Revisited

spam Back in July of 2005, I suggested An Email Blacklist of Technology PR Agencies and caught a lot of flack for it. Not surprising, really.

Then in November of 2005, I followed up with PR Spam to Bloggers Continues and couldn't decide what to do about it. Calling out a single person or agency at a time is time consuming and not really a good way to spend my time.

Just a few days ago, Chris Anderson took the bold step of publishing a list of all the email address he's blacklisting because of PR spam. In fact, Sorry PR People: You're Blocked does a nice job of explaining how many of us feel about the random solicitations and cries for attention we receive:

So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I'm interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that's why my email address is public).

Well said, Chris.

He's taking a very hard line on this and I'm tempted to follow the same model. I will, of course, hit the "Report Spam" button in Gmail before blocking a particular sender. If enough of us do this, it just might help a little bit.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:20 PM

October 23, 2007

Caption Contest!

Because I am occasionally willing to subject myself to various forms of punishment and/or torture, I hereby post this photo of me for your amusement in the form of a caption contest.

Caption Contest!

Feel free to post your submission here or on the photo itself.

What might you win as a result of participating in this amazingly innovative competition?

I have no idea. :-) But I'm sure that won't stop most of you!

Posted by jzawodn at 10:42 AM

October 17, 2007

I'm on Cranky Geeks Today!

If you're bored around 12:30pm (Pacific) today, tune into Cranky Geeks to see me on screen with John Dvorak (the crankiest geek of them all), Sebastian Rupley (his co-crank), and John Furrier (PodTech).

I'll admit to not having watched the show until last week when they invited me to come up to San Francisco for a guest appearance. But not only was last week's episode rather amusing and informative, their guest was someone I'd met before and am a fan of: Vanessa Fox.

Anyway, the stories we're looking at for this week's show are all over the map and likely to generate some fun arguments. So come watch us be cranky. :-)

Update: Episode 86 is online now. Check it out.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:16 AM

October 16, 2007

Hey, Thanks Google!

A few recent news items made me realize that I haven't written anything positive about Google for a while. So allow me to point out a couple of things...

Google Teaching Hadoop

First off, in a press release titled Google and IBM Announce University Initiative to Address Internet-Scale Computing Challenges, I read the following:

The goal of this initiative is to improve computer science students' knowledge of highly parallel computing practices to better address the emerging paradigm of large-scale distributed computing. IBM and Google are teaming up to provide hardware, software and services to augment university curricula and expand research horizons. With their combined resources, the companies hope to lower the financial and logistical barriers for the academic community to explore this emerging model of computing.

Fantastic! The world needs more people who know how to design, build, and deploy large grid computing systems.

For this project, the two companies have dedicated a large cluster of several hundred computers (a combination of Google machines and IBM BladeCenter and System x servers) that is planned to grow to more than 1,600 processors. Students will access the cluster via the Internet to test their parallel programming course projects. The servers will run open source software including the Linux operating system, XEN systems virtualization and Apache's Hadoop project, an open source implementation of Google's published computing infrastructure, specifically MapReduce and the Google File System (GFS).


We've been big fans of Hadoop for a while now at Yahoo. In fact, we employ a number of engineers who primarily work on Hadoop--making sure that anyone (yes, even Google) can use it.

Now we can count both Google and IBM among our bigger users!

It's great to have such big visible partners working to spread the knowledge of Hadoop to more and more students.

Mail Storage: Unlimited vs. Still Counting?

Over on the Gmail Blog, I see More Gmail storage coming for all, which talks about speeding up the counter that governs the maximum size of an email box.

It's great to see them bringing up the issue of email storage again. It was back in March that Yahoo! Mail announced unlimited storage.

I'm not sure why they insist on counting anymore, but it's so nice of them to keep brining up mailbox sizes again. :-)


Posted by jzawodn at 12:02 PM

October 12, 2007

How Sears Lost My Business

About a week ago I decided that it was time to get a new washing machine. The old one had developed a problem that costs far too much to repair. So I headed off to sears.com to do some shopping.

washer Before long I had found a model that fit the bill. It was fairly inexpensive, the right physical size, and fairly uncomplicated (and without a ton of features we'll never use). I ordered it on-line including delivery and haul away of the old unit. About 15 minutes later I had an order confirmation number in my email.

Well, on Sunday night or so I got an ambiguous email from Sears saying:

Thank you for shopping at Sears.com. Unfortunately, due to either the demand for the item(s) that you ordered or the method of your payment; we were unable to process your order. Consequently, we will be canceling your order for the item(s) listed below.

That's right. They had to cancel the order but weren't quite sure exactly why. Assuming that it was an inventory problem, I went shopping for a different washer on Monday morning. I double-checked that the new unit (a tiny bit more expensive) was available for next day delivery. I ordered it.

I waited for a confirmation via email but didn't see one. I figured they'd call me on Tuesday to confirm delivery and didn't give it a second thought. But Tuesday came and went and there was no email, no call, and certainly no new washer.

I called them on Wednesday morning to find out what was going on. They guy on the line was able to find my order after much hassling with his computer. I asked why I didn't get a confirmation number. He didn't know. I asked for the number and he gave me that (so I could look at the status on-line myself). He then said that the order was being held up by the fraud department.

I asked him to transfer me to the fraud department so that I could resolve the problem--probably using a different credit card or something. After digging in for another minute or two, he changed his tune and told me that it was held up at the warehouse.


I asked him what the escalation path was. He said he'd email the warehouse to find out. I asked to be included on that email but he explained that they only get a Subject and Body. There is no To or CC line, I guess. Whatever.

In the meantime, I had used the order number to look up the order on-line. It confirmed that I had ordered the unit and it was scheduled for delivery on Tuesday the 9th of October. (I was talking to him on Wednesday the 10th.).

I decided to give them another day to pull their heads out of whatever orifice they were stuck in and deliver my new washer.

As you've probably guessed, nothing else happened. So I called again on Thursday (yesterday) to find out where the hell my washer was. I explained the whole story to the new customer service representative and pulled up my own order on the web site. It looked like this.


Yup, that was taken on Thursday the 11th, two days after it was supposed to have been delivered.

After some back and forth, she put me on hold to check with a manager. After a few minutes, she came back and explained that this was a "bad order" and had to be canceled and re-issued.

I asked what made the order "bad" and she said "well, it's been here for days and nothing has happened!" (as if it it should have been obvious to me). She went about canceling the order on her slow computer while I considered how much effort and time I'd already invested in getting a replacement washer.

When the time came to re-order the washer, I asked her if I could still get next day delivery so that I'd have it today. She said she didn't know and couldn't guarantee anything.

It was at that point that I said I'd look at local options instead. She actually seemed a little surprised!

Last night we stopped at the local Western Appliance on the way home from work, picked out a better washer that costs less than either unit I tried to get from Sears, and scheduled it for delivery on Monday.

In summary, if you're in the market for a new appliance, don't try giving your money to Sears on-line. They haven't figured out how to take it yet.

What is this, 1997 or 2007?!

[As as amusing postscript, the order appears to still be in their system. I can get to it on the web. I wonder if I'll ever see a charge on my credit card. If so, I''ll have to invoke the magic of a charge-back.]

Posted by jzawodn at 04:52 PM

October 11, 2007

Yosemite Hike to Nevada and Vernal Falls on the John Muir and Mist Trails

Last Saturday we headed into Yosemite National Park for some hiking. Given that Summer is basically over and the kids are all back in school, we were a bit surprised at how many folks were in the park. But the weather was nearly perfect (sunny and mid-50s to low-60s), so we could hardly blame anyone for spending the day outdoors.

Trail Sign on John Muir Trail

For the ascent, we took the John Muir Trail from the Happy Isles valley floor up to Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.

Trees and Rock

The initial part of the trail was probably the most challenging. The John Muir Trail starts out fairly steep (compared to later parts of the climb), so it was hard to get adjusted. I started with the pack on my back and didn't get much of a chance to warm up before we were right into the climb.

Half Dome and More

On the plus side, the scenery was amazing pretty quickly. And the relatively low temperature made it comfortable. After a couple hours of climbing, eating, and resting, the trail started to shallow out a bit and we were within view of the Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls from a distance

On the way there, we had to cross some wet and icy areas. Even the rock wall on one side of the trail was covered in ice.

Icy Rock Wall along John Muir Trail

But before too long, we made it to the top and got to enjoy the view across and down into the valley.

The View from Nevada Falls

From there we made a quick restroom break and continued on via the Mist Trail and a slightly more leisurely hike down to Vernal Falls, stopping to take in the sights now and then.

Kathleen on a big rock

Just before reaching the falls, we came upon the lake where the water collects before going over the falls. Had it been hot outside, I'd have considered dipping a toe or two in the water. Instead, I opted to take a few photos and continue on.

Lake atop Vernal Falls

From there we continued the descent down the rock "stairs" and were treated to more views of the falls.

Vernal Falls

The hike took us about 4.5 hours in total (I think) and was a bit over 8 miles (I think). I was a bit sore the next day, but it proved to be nothing compared to the horseback riding.

I'd love to do this hike again when the falls are really flowing hard. And I'd like to try going up and down on the John Muir Trail (rather than the Mist Trail on the descent), since it affords more time to look up and take in the views.

We finished off the day with a hearty dinner in the cafeteria in Curry Village.

More photos are available in Yosemite Hike to Nevada and Vernal Falls on Flickr.

See Also: Day Hikes in Yosemite Valley

Posted by jzawodn at 07:59 AM

October 09, 2007

Horseback Riding

Last weekend we went horseback riding at the Pine Mountain Lake Stables & Equestrian Center. Specifically, we went on a weekend guided trail ride that normally goes for 1.5 - 2.0 hours.


Now I hadn't been on a horse since the sixth grade. And while I barely remember that, I'm pretty sure that adventure didn't last more than maybe half an hour or so. And the weather probably sucked too, as it tended to when the sixth graders went to the Storer Camp up in Michigan.

Me on Horseback

We had a very experienced guide, nice horses, great weather, and a scenic ride along the 400 acres of riding and hiking trails. It was all quite pleasant except for one not so minor detail.

My. Sore. Ass.

And knees!

I can appreciate the rustic nature of horseback riding: traveling on an animal through mostly unspoiled wilderness the same way that our forefathers did. It's a very romantic and low-tech sort of thing to do on a beautiful Sunday morning/afternoon (leaving out the moment when my cell phone rang, of course--that was kinda funny).

Kathleen on Horseback

But what I cannot understand is why on earth the horse saddles are so damned hard!.

Seriously folks. Let's take a bit of memory foam, Nerf, or even AstroTurf and glue it to that torture device that's politely referred to as a saddle.

Big Open Field (and sky)

Take a cue from the auto industry. Add a bit of foam and fabric to the mix. You don't see Honda or Ford trying to sell cars with hard plastic seats, do you? The 30 year old seats in my little airplane are infinitely more comfortable than a horse saddle!

Old Building

So after very careful consideration, I've come to the conclusion that my body was not build for horseback riding--at least not three hours of it.

On the Trail

Thee hours? Oh, I guess I haven't mentioned the part of the ride (just before the two hour mark) where we ventured off into previously unexplored horse trails across the road. Again, the scenery was great, but I paid for it later. It took a while to find our way back out.

Funny Looking Tree

I thought the worst of it was the pain in my rear end, but when it came time to hop down off that horse and resume to walking, I was greeted by a previously unexperienced type of knee pain. It was slow going for a few minutes and then a gradual recovery.

Kathleen on Horseback

Will I ever go horseback riding again? Probably. But I'll do it for less time and probably bring something to sit on.


I don't mean to sound overly negative. I did get some nice pictures of the ride. And it may be incredibly immature of me, but horse farts still make me laugh a little bit. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:59 AM

October 08, 2007

Ian Rogers, A Yahoo! With Balls

Sorry for two Yahoo related posts in one day, but that's the way the cards fall sometimes. I'll put my pom poms down after this.

foo Ian Rogers, the general manager of Yahoo! Music has posted Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses and Content vs. Context, a Presentation for Some Music Industry Friends, a presentation he gave to some music industry execs recently.

In that presentation, he does an excellent job of succiently using his own career in this business to explain the last 8 years of failed attempts to incorporate DRM into most online music offerings.

When you compare the experiences on Yahoo! Music, the order of magnitude difference in opportunity shouldn’t be a surprise: Want radio? No problem. Click play, get radio. Want video? Awesome. Click play, get video. Want a track on-demand? Oh have we got a deal for you! If you’re on Windows XP or Vista, and you’re in North America, just download this 20MB application, go through these seven install screens, reboot your computer, go through these five setup screens, these six credit card screens, give us $160 dollars and POW! Now you can hear that song you wanted to hear…if you’re still with us. Yahoo! didn’t want to go through all these steps. The licensing dictated it. It’s a slippery slope from “a little control” to consumer unfriendliness and non-Web-scale products and services.

Part way through, we get a sense of what Ian is made of:

I’m here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.

He's not willing to waste another 8 years before the situation gets to where we all know it should be.

If you're at all interested in DRM and music, I highly recommend checking it out.

It's people like Ian that make me proud to be part of this company and this industry.

Nice job, Ian!

Posted by jzawodn at 12:50 PM

On Yahoo! Answers, Facts, Opinions, and Discussions

Greg Linden recently wrote a post titled Revisiting Yahoo Answers in which he concluded the following:

Despite the name, Yahoo Answers is a discussion forum. People are using it like a newsgroup, chatting about various topics. They are not using Yahoo Answers as much to generate authoritative answers to questions.

Heh. :-)

yahoo answers Though I don't remember who to attribute it to, it's been said that all software is social and Yahoo! Answers is a great example of that.

The fact that Yahoo! Answers is being used for more than simple fact-based Q&A is no surprise. To me it's a good thing. It shows that (a) people want a[nother] place to talk, and (b) they feel comfortable on Yahoo! Answers. Some questions end up spawning discussions and collecting a lot of opinions (as well as facts), while others are pretty simple fact-based questions and responses.

The fact that the Yahoo! Answers team isn't trying to fight the community on this is also a good thing. A very good thing. Smart product managers don't fight their users in a situation like this. They've built a service that can do more than it was originally marketed for and people are making use of that.

While I've asked only a few questions on Yahoo! Answers, I've spent enough time on it to realize that you don't have to try very hard to figure out when someone is giving you facts vs. opinions. Often times the "extra" information that someone provides by going beyond a simple Wikipedia citation can be quite useful. They give you ideas for related ideas or additional background on the issue.

I've also been impressed by the speed at which questions get answered. Each time, I've had a dozen or so answers within the first hour or two of posting. That's pretty satisfying.

Greg doesn't clearly issue an opinion on whether or not he thinks this is a good thing or not. But I'm more positive now than I was a year or so ago.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:50 AM

October 04, 2007

Vice President or Public High School Teacher

In a rather entertaining thread on an internal mailing list at work, some folks were discussing the number of Vice Presidents in the company (no doubt inspired by the coverage of last week's "all VP" meeting).

At one point in the thread, people run scripts against our internal data to crunch the numbers and figure out the average number of employees per VP. Depending how you count (who is excluded and whatnot), the number seems to be around 50. Given the size of the company and the larger variation among the organizations, that seems reasonable.

Someone questioned whether having only 50 people under them was sufficiently burdensome enough to be called a Vice President. So the question was posed thusly:

If you were responsible for ~50 people, what would you want your title to be?

And, as usual, an entertaining, witty, and accurate response came in just a few minutes later:

Public high school teacher?

If I was to ever leave this place, I'd certainly miss the internal mailing lists. They're a great source of information and entertainment. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 02:57 PM

Bashing Microsoft

While bashing Microsoft has always been common in the circles I run in, I've tried to do less of that in recent years. I know more people working there and have a lot of respect for them. I now understand that a lot of their problems are the result of systemic problems and sheer inertia.

But still, sometimes you see things that ought to be pointed out.

Henry Blodget's Microsoft's MSN: Still Sucking Wind After All These Years is rather eye-opening.

Did you know that MSN is currently losing about $1 billion a year (run-rate)?  That's right, $1 billion.  On about $2.2 billion of advertising revenue.  (See this page for details).  Unless Microsoft's disappearing access business is losing a lot of money--which we doubt--all of the division's losses are attributable to the advertising and media business.  That means that MSN is losing nearly $0.50 for every $1.00 of advertising it sells.

Not good when compared with rivals, it seems.

And then there's the employee retention problem.

Translation: We only grew headcount 12%, but we have to pay so much to retain and recruit people that our overall headcount expenses increased more than twice as fast.

He concludes by saying:

Don't forget that, in round one of the Microsoft's-going-to-rule-the-Internet wars, Microsoft accelerated dial-up subscription revenue and expenses in an attempt to catch AOL. That effort failed, as did several that followed. In the past 12 years, in fact, Microsoft's online story has had any number or re-orgs, restarts, and revampings, but the reality has never changed.

Makes you wonder when Microsoft will find their way on-line... if ever.

And then there's former Yahoo Bill Reardon's Microsoft Search post, which is a most excellent rant. He's got a talent for taking the obvious and making your realize how fucked up something is.

Reacting to the fact that Microsoft's Search finally has stemming:

They didn’t have these things before?!
Understanding “driving” vs. “drive”? That’s a pretty basic problem called stemming. How basic? Put it this way, there’s been open source code out there to this before there was a Microsoft Search. Fuck, even the Wikipedia page has existed since 2007. All they had to do was go there. I know Microsoft is big about “eating their own dogfood”, but damn, use Google just this once to find it.

He paints a pretty sad picture, and reading the Microsoft presss about their technology, it's hard not to agree with him.

Read the whole thing. It's worth it. Bill really cracks me up.

Don't even get me started on their "you can look but not touch" .NET source code release.

Hint: It's not like Open Source. Not at all.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:20 AM

October 02, 2007

Fighter Jets with More Seats?

It's funny. As an aviation and military aviation buff, I enjoy seeing how technology makes it possible to do things that we'd only imagined a few years ago. Automated In-Flight Refueling of an F/A-18 Fighter Jet is a recent example of that.

That sort of automation is consistent with the amazing growth in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the popular Predator. And with all this fancy new technology, I expected to see a next generation fighter that's self-flying and remotely controlled to some degree.

But then I came across something completely in the other direction!

EA-18G prototype

Under the heading of Cyberwar Spawns New Combat Aircraft, I learned that the military is building new 2 seat versions of the popular F/A-18, F-16, F-22, and even the F-15 fighter jets!

Even two aircrewmen may not be enough as cyber, intelligence and air combat commands have joined forces to promote new fighter designs that can conduct at least three missions at the same time.
New two-seat versions of the F/A-18, F-16, F-15C, F-15E and F-22 with advanced active, electronically-scanned array (AESA) radars will be expected to wind their way through enemy air defenses, invade networks, shoot down opposing aircraft and find very small targets and bomb them with precision.
Planners also see two-person crews as crucial in establishing local area networks so that in the event of nuclear, electronic or computer attacks (which could blackout command and control of today’s network centric forces) even a few of these aircraft could quickly begin communicating, gathering intelligence and counterattacking.

That's right, they're adding seats!

Huh. Who'd have thought?

Now, the important question here: Who can get me a ride in one of those jets? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 12:38 PM

My Eyes are Nearly as Big as the Web

You know, I've mostly managed to get my inbox under control in the last few weeks. Unlike previous attempts, it seems to be working reasonably well.

But my browser tabs are a completely different story. Here's what I see when trying to close Firefox:

36 tabs


Apparently I have zero faith in my toread del.icio.us tag, because there are far more tabs waiting to be dealt with than links with that tag.

You know how you can over eat and someone will say "I guess your eyes are bigger than your stomach"?

Well, I guess my eyes are nearly as big as the Web. At least that's the way it feels.


Am I the only one with this problem?

Posted by jzawodn at 06:35 AM

October 01, 2007

Nokia buying NAVTEQ

This is very, very interesting.

Garmin c340 GPS Nokia has announced their intent to buy NAVTEQ, one of the few providers of mapping data to both on-line companies like Yahoo! and Google, as well as the in-car companies like Garmin and TomTom.

I expected someone like Microsoft or Google to acquire NAVTEQ, not a mobile company like Nokia. I'm not saying that it doesn't make sense--merely that I'm a bit surprised by this deal.

Tele Atlas, another data provider in this space is often used as a supplemental data provider by these same companies. So it'll be interesting to see what happens next.

Update: It looks like (as seen in the comments below) that Tele Atlas has already been gobbled up by TomTom. The plot was already thicker than I realized...

Posted by jzawodn at 09:20 AM