Archive for August, 2005

Even more on Katrina

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

I really appreciate Ted’s offer over at CT to motivate/thank people for donating to relief agencies. I encourage everyone to donate what they can. In case the suggested $100 is too much for some, I thought I’d offer an incentive/thank you for smaller donations. If you give $35 to the Katrina fund of a relief agency then I will send you (restricted to US addresses*, I’m afraid) a copy of my parents’ book Symmetry, a Unifying Concept. It’s a nice book filled with hundreds of wonderful pictures. I will also add a unique thank-you card not available in stores.:)

If you would like both a CD from Ted and the book then why not donate at least $135?

Send me a note at katrina05@eszter.com letting me know that you made the donation and when. Be sure to include your mailing address.

Offer ends when I run out of books. I’ll update this post when/if that happens.

*If you live outside the US and make a donation, I can send a book on your behalf to a US address you specify (gift for a friend?).

Craig’s List for Katrina victims

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

Numerous people are turning to community site Craig’s List in an effort to find information about family and friends from the New Orleans area and also as a means to reach out to victims with offers of help. People from across the country are offering free housing. If you know of victims who left and are stranded in various parts of the country, the notices on the site may help them out. Of course, as with all such things, one needs to proceed with caution.

It’s sad to see, however, that even these sites are not immune to spam.

Lifehacker goodies

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

I’ve been very busy over at Lifehacker. A friend of mine says it’s like “quirky academic meets Martha Stewart”. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it’s a reasonable description of what I’ve been up to. Here are some posts I put up in the past couple of days. I will have a roundup of all the free downloads later in the week. If you can’t wait, feel free to check out the site directly.

General tips

GMail/Flickr tips

Got any lifehacks?

Monday, August 29th, 2005

I am guest-blogging over at Lifehacker this week while regular editor Gina Trapani takes a breather. Lifehacker is part of Nick Denton‘s Gawker Media empire that has managed to make money out of blogging. (We’re not all in it for the $s, but it’s nice to know that some people who don’t necessarily have other main sources of income are able to pull it off.) CT readers are probably most familiar with Gawker’s Wonkette, but there are about a dozen Gawker sites at this point addressing all sorts of topics.

Lifehacker focuses on ways to make your life more productive. Many of the posts feature downloads (e.g. Firefox, Flickr), shortcuts and pointers to helpful Web sites. There is a whole category of advice pieces as well ranging from how to deal with various situations at work to ideas for getting things done more effectively.

If you have any lifehacking tips, please send them along to me this week by writing to tips@lifehacker.com.

Major search players

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Anecdotally, I still often hear people say (like I did last night) that it wouldn’t take that much for a new company to enter the search engine market. But we are not in the late 1990s and it would take tremendous resources to enter this market.

The major players at this point are AOL, Ask Jeeves, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!. (Note that in contrast to much anecdotal evidence in the press and among other commentators, Google does not have nearly the market share that many people suggest. Here’s one occasion when I already commented on this point.)

Among the above search engines, AOL, Google, MSN, and Yahoo! represent much more than just search engines. They are vast empires of Internet-related products that continue to innovate and introduce new services.

This does not mean that there is no room for innovation. In fact, we seem to be undergoing a second boom these days (somewhat reminiscent of the late 90s, but in a much more realistic manner). Numerous interesting and innovative services have sprung up in the last few years. However, you will notice that many of these are eventually acquired by one of the companies above. Examples: Google’s acquisition of Blogger and Yahoo!’s acquisition of Flickr.

And to be sure, we have even seen new entrants in niche markets of search, for example, the searching of recently added content. Here, Technorati and Feedster come to mind. While offering valuable services – an almost immediate inclusion of blog content in search results – these engines focus on a very small segment of Web content.

It would take tremendous amount of resources in this day and age to even come close to the computation and labor resources that drive the above-mentioned companies and allow them to index Web content at a more general level. It is unlikely that we will see independent new entrants in the near future. If we do, they will likely be acquired by one of the companies above.

Revisiting my paintings

Thursday, August 25th, 2005
Self-Portrait 1995

Self-Portrait 1995,
originally uploaded by eszter.

Uploading pictures to my Flickr account is a nice little walk down memory lane. Occassionally I’ll be adding photos of paintings I did, for the most part, many years ago. Here is a self-portrait, the only one I’ve ever done. In case you’re wondering why the look is so intense, try painting a self-portrait sometime.;-)

I took a few studio art classes in college. I started with a course called Design I. I had a great time and then pursued some other courses as well. My most productive year was in Geneva where I took a year-long course at the Geneve School of Fine Arts. Although regular students of the University of Geneva could not enroll in those courses, Smith College – on whose junior year abroad program I was taking part – usually managed to make special arrangements for us. It was a wonderful experience. My teacher, Aldo Guarnera, pushed me to paint on huge surfaces I would never have considered approaching on my own. It was quite a challenge. Here are some of the results.

Nifty GMail “Send Mail As” feature

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

After considerable time away from home I’m finally catching up on all sorts of nifty things. GMail recently introduced a great new feature allowing users to specify the outgoing and reply-to addresses of all messages. The feature is under Settings > Accounts. See it here. (If you can’t see this in your account then just be patient. When I first checked yesterday I didn’t have the option yet, but today I do. Since GMail is still in Beta, not all features are introduced to all users at the same time.)

The feature is done well. You can only specify email addresses to which you have access so you can’t just start impersonating others.

This should help in the fight against spam. It is now possible to send a note to a mailing list using a different address from what you may use otherwise. This is helpful so your address is not exposed to numerous people and even worse: bots. Very helpful, neat.

Google Talk

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

For those who did not feel like reading my last long post, I thought I would put up a separate entry noting the arrival of Google’s chat and online phone service: Google Talk. I just tried the phone feature with my Mom and it works great. The instant messaging feature works well, too.

Google Talk is linked to one’s GMail account, which may make it much too obvious for spam. Luckily, it looks like GTalk will only allow incoming messages from people whom you have designated as contacts. This should cut down on unwanted messages.

Google World

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

[Also posted on Crooked Timber.]

I am back from a five-stop two-week trip and am finally catching up on various things Web. I missed the discussion John started at Crooked Timber a few days ago about Google. Instead of adding to that thread, I’ll add a whole post. To think of Google as just a company focusing on search is outdated, in my opinion. Google is becoming much more than that. Since the beginning they have been an expert at using network analysis to their advantage. With the various services they are rolling out, they can use that ability not only to in the realm of search, but in the realm of building profiles of their users.

The title of this post does not refer to a new Google program. Rather, it’s what I suspect the company is aiming at overall. That is, they are introducing (whether through internal development or buyouts) new services constantly, many of which suggest that they have their eyes on doing much more than providing search. Today, they launched Google Talk so now they are in the instant messaging market. For Google Talk, you need a Google Account, which is the same as your GMail account if you already have one. If you don’t, you may consider getting one since now they offer over 2.5 gigabytes of storage. Of course, you may never need that amount of space for email (although I learned a long time ago never to say never when it comes to storage space) in which case you may just want to use it as a backup for files.

One of the great features about GMail is that it checks for new email regularly (several times a minute) so as long as you stay logged on, you can get regular email updates. Of course, as long as you stay logged on, Google can track all of your online activities connected to its services, which include searches run on its search engine. Not only do they have information about all of your emails, they also know what searches you run and what results you choose.

Being able to scan your email (as they do for the purposes of displaying Google Ads) doesn’t only give them information about what topics you discuss, they also know with whom. They can develop very nice maps of people’s networks. Now that they have launched Google Talk they will also know which of your email contacts are strong enough that you also tend to contact them through chat (assuming you are using Google Talk for IMing). They will have more data on which to draw for a network map of your connections. And since the use of Google Talk requires a Google Account from both users, they can construct network maps of those people as well. So your network map is not just at one degree.

Of course, Google is not the only player in town. This is a good thing since at some point all of this tracking can get potentially disconcerting from a privacy point of view. Yahoo!, MSN and AOL remain major players. Yahoo! has been rolling out new products constantly as well and they have been buying up all sorts of popular services (e.g. Flickr, which has already been merged with people’s Yahoo accounts). Many many people continue to use the various services of these other companies. In fact, during my trip in the past few weeks, I saw and heard numerous people use and refer to all sorts of non-Google products (e.g. the continued prevalence of Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Mapquest, AIM, etc.). Of course, my observations are based on anecdotal evidence, but that helps at times just so you don’t think everyone else’s actions mirror your own.

Much of Google’s financial success is attributed to its ad program. However, this has started to encounter problems recently due to click fraud. You will also notice that Web site owners’ desperate attempts at getting people to click on Google ads is leading to some very opaque placement of ads. That is, it is not at all clear that you are clicking on an ad. One example is this site where the user may think that the links below the four pictures on the top of the page have something to do with the images, but that’s a wrong assumption. This may lead to more initial clicks, but long term users may get weary and although they may continue to click through to a list of results, they won’t take the extra step to click on anything on the list of results.

In the meantime, Yahoo’s ad program is gaining prominence. Not only have several big sites switched to it (e.g. CNN, The Washington Post), but they are now also targeting smaller content providers. Who is to say AOL Time Warner won’t come out with its own such service as well? And Microsoft has already announced that it will be moving into this space soon.

Given all these recent developments, it makes sense for Google to focus on more than just search. Or even if search remains its main source of revenue, it makes sense for it to develop super detailed profiles of its users. It helps advertisers to have as much information about the audience as possible and the profiles generated through the use of Google’s web of services will offer immense details about many of its users.

It would be very naive to think that new players can enter this market easily at this point. However, there are some old ones that remain viable alternatives. Of course, from the user’s perspective this is a very healthy thing. Whether MSN or Google, we wouldn’t want one company holding a monopoly on all of our online doings.

As for my part, I continue to use a variety of services from various companies partly so my profile at any one of them doesn’t become too detailed.

RSS via email

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

This is a test post to see how/whether RMail works with my blog. If it does then I should receive an email about this entry being posted.

Perhaps I’ll say a few additional words about what’s going on here given that not many people seem to know what RSS means. According to Wikipedia: “RSS provides short descriptions of web content together with links to the full versions of the content. This information is delivered as an XML file called RSS feed, webfeed, RSS stream, or RSS channel. In addition to facilitating syndication, RSS allows a website’s frequent readers to track updates on the site using a news aggregator.”

People can track updates to selected Web sites by getting feeds from them. This allows tracking content without actually having to visit each Web site of interest separately. Rather, RSS readers (e.g. Bloglines) aggregate the feeds and present them in one location. However, not many people seem to use such services. I have set up a few (I have an account on Bloglines and I have also set up some feeds using the Live Bookmarks feature of Firefox, which can add feeds to the Bookmarks menu of the browser), but I don’t tend to use them much. Instead, I’ve always thought receiving email notification of new posts would be ideal. RMail is supposed to do just that. I’ll see if it works. (I’m also curious to know how it handles updates to a post that’s already been published. If it sends out a separate email each time an entry is updated then I’ll want to be careful about tweaking a post after putting it up on the blog.)

UPDATE: It works! I did get notification of the post, although not immediately. I have since been able to test it on the post that follows this one as well. That notification arrived about half an hour after the entry had been posted to the blog. That sounds good to me. I don’t have to hear immediately. So I have now added some more feeds to RMail and will see how it works. I wish there was an easier URL though. I always think to look for rmail.com, but then realize the URL starts with k. Is rmail.kbcafe.com a possibility Randy?

Calling all sofa and moving experts

Friday, August 19th, 2005

[Also posted on Crooked Timber.]

Super smart and super nice blogger Jeremy Freese is calling out to the blogosphere in a desperate plea to help him figure out how to get his sofa into his new place. Jeremy just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and it turns out his beloved sofa won’t make it up the stairs into his new apartment. Even before his furniture arrived earlier this week he had already succeeded in finding wifi and keeping his blog readers updated regarding his move. Not having any furniture for a night didn’t pose any major challenges, but the sofa’s arrival yesterday meant the start of some real stress. It is still standing in the hallway its legs now only held up by the remaining three screws that won’t come off.

Anyone with suggestions on how to solve this puzzle, please leave a note on Jeremy’s blog.

I’m sure everyone has and knows of hellish moving experiences. One of the worst stories I recall concerns a friend gearing up for her last year in graduate school. The university’s housing office told her that they could not accomodate her any longer so she had to move. She packed up all her stuff and transferred everything to the new location. Unfortunately, it turned out that several items among her possessions would not fit through the doorway and hallway of her new apartment. In the end, the univ housing office let her back into her old apartment. But so why exactly was all that packing up necessary?

The winner of the most unfortunate move in my circles is my brother. He was in the midst of moving in between cities and spent a night in a motel. His truck in the parking lot got broken into overnight. The culprits managed to take all the really personal stuff that could never be replaced leaving the few things that were perhaps of any objective value (e.g. a computer). Go figure.

It seems that moving always entails some hellish experience, the question is more about the magnitude of the unfortunate events that will unfold.

Create a Web page full of post-it notes

Thursday, August 18th, 2005

This is somewhat random and I don’t know if I’ll end up using it much, but it’s interesting enough to pass along: customized stickies on a Web page. (That link points to one I just set up for my Web-Use Project. You can see the service’s main homepage here.)

Some first impressions regarding features:
1. The user should be able to change the graphic in the upper left-hand corner of the page. That’s the location where one expects to see the title of a page and it’s confusing to have the company’s general logo there. In the least, the user should be able to specify “User’s Protopage” to taylor it to the specific page a bit.
2. It’s a bit annoying to have all the links opening up in new tabs (or new windows). Why not the current one?

As I said, I’m not sure if there will be much use for this, but it’s nifty enough to try out.

Firefox/GMail problem

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

Continuing the discussion about browser/program nuisances, I just noticed something else that’s not right. I use GMail for most of my emailing. (For some emails I’m still a Pine user.:-)

I prefer to compose messages in plain text. Previously, when I pressed Reply (or simply clicked in the text area), Plain Text would come up as the default option. Now Rich Formatting appears. Moreover, my cursor is not automatically inserted in the text area, I have to click in it. This didn’t used to happen either. This latter component is especially annoying as it requires a mouse movement whereas I prefer to be able to do things relying solely on the keyboard. (And note that even if I use the keyboard shortcut for Reply “r”, the cursor is still not placed in the text area.)

It all seems to work just fine in IE.

So is there a compatibility problem between Firefox 1.0.6 and GMail?

Is there a way I can force the compose window to default to Plain Text view?

All this is making me wonder whether I should have started out the title of the last post with Firefox as well since that seems to be the culprit here. Otherwise, it would be quite a coincidence that just when I upgrade Firefox things start to get weird.

WordPress/Firefox problem

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

I cannot log into my WordPress panel for esztersblog.com using Firefox. It works fine for IE. However, I know it’s not a general WordPress/Firefox incompatibility, because Crooked Timber – the group blog of which I am a member – uses WordPress and I can log into that account just fine using Firefox. So what may be going on? Any ideas?

How comment spam destroys blogs

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

Others have commented on this, but I wanted to add my part. The two most recent posts (before this one) on this blog have already received comment spam. They will have been in existence for one and two days respectively. I have installed a plugin that closes comments on all posts after seven days, but is that too large a margin?

The problem is not only one of annoyance, it’s one of blog viability as well. My provider almost shut down my previous blog – or suggested I switch to one that costs $100/month – solely due to the amount of resources eaten up by comment spammers. Of course, figuring that out took several hours in and of itself, which is a cost to my productivity.

If anyone has suggestions on how else to deal with this, let me know. Again, the problem is not solely that I have to delete and/or moderate. It’s also the resources eaten up by these scoundrels.

Quiz, take you will

Monday, August 15th, 2005

My result after taking the Which Revenge of the Sith Character are you? Quiz:

You scored as Yoda.

Yoda

53%

C-3PO

53%

Padme Amidala

47%

General Grievous

47%

Mace Windu

44%

Anakin Skywalker

39%

Obi Wan Kenobi

39%

Darth Vader

39%

R2-D2

39%

Clone Trooper

31%

Chewbacca

31%

Emperor Palpatine

31%

I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s probably best not to make much of it given that I have no idea how things were figured out. It’s fun especially since I got the Yoda picture. That’s good enough for me.:) (No, I did not change my answers even in cases where I thought I was definitely not going to be aligned with Yoda given my choices.)

Geography of E-Blog visitors

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

This map shows the geographical location of E-Blog visitors, courtesy of gvisits.com. This one is the map for Eszter.com.

UPDATE: I just realized the maps only show the geo location of the last twenty visitors, fyi.

Free wireless on Amtrak

Friday, August 12th, 2005

I just had to try this. I’m sitting in the Harrisburg, PA station of Amtrak waiting to depart. I caught some free wireless. How cool. Had to try blogging while sitting on the train. :-)

UPDATE: Of course, before anyone gets too excited, I should follow up by saying that as soon as we pulled out of the station the connection was gone. But since we had a few minutes at the station it wasn’t completely useless.

Running

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

I started a program to train to run a 5K. I posted a blog entry about the related pledge (password: running) on Crooked Timber, but since that was the time E-BLOG was misbehaving I hadn’t replicated it here. A dozen people from all over the world pledged to join me and so we’ve started down on the road to a healthier lifestyle. (Perhaps I should only speak for myself on that point. The running program is only a part of a larger agenda for me. I’ve given up on sodas for the most part and continue to look out for additional ways to change things for the better.)

We started last week. The first week was not easy, but it really motivates to know that other people out there are also undertaking the same training at the same time and you owe it to them in addition to yourself to stick it out. Now I’m into the second week and for now I’m happy to say it’s going better. It’s hard for me to imagine that three training sessions would make that big of a difference, but who knows. For now I am really enjoying the program, which helps.

I used to run quite a bit back in elementary school and was good at it. Since then I haven’t done that much. However, several of my close friends run regularly and I also have numerous friends who even run marathons. So I figured there must be something there if all these people I like are so into it. That’s partly what motivated me to try a program. I’ll report back on how it is going.

Lego Lady

Monday, August 8th, 2005
Socializing with Lego Lady

Socializing with Lego Lady,
originally uploaded by eszter.

I loved playing with legos when I was a kid. I remember constructing an entire town with my brother one time. It was super fun.

Most toy stores in the US that carry legos usually sell complicated preconstructed elements. My interest has always been in starting from scratch with the very simple little bricks.

I finally found a lego store that I thought would have the basic bricks. I walked into the store enthusiastically. The store clerk who greeted me started with a simple question: “What age is the child?”. Ouch. Now how is that a good marketing plan? If I had been any less confident about my legitimate lego interest I would have turned around or had pretended I was shopping for a kid. Instead I just raised my arm and pointed my index finger at me. Then I asked for the basic bricks section.

In this same mall – located on Michigan Ave aka Magnificent Mile section in Chicago – is this lego lady at the West end of the third floor. There’s a guy on the east end of the second floor near the store itself. I wonder if I’ll find any others during my next visit.