Archive for September, 2006

Yahoo! Hack Day

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Taking advantage of my Silicon Valley location this year, I decided to go check out Yahoo! Hack Day (it’s actually a two-day event so I’ll be back for more today).

Hundreds of people showed up for the opportunity to spend a day adding functionality to various Yahoo! products such as Flickr, Upcoming.org and now even Yahoo! Mail. The demos of these creations will be this afternoon (Saturday) where we’ll get to hear 90-second descriptions of the hacks. It sounds fun and exciting especially to someone like me who’s such a fan of some of Yahoo!’s products.

The event organization so far has been impressive with clear directions, plenty of parking, fast registration and some fun swag. Yesterday was filled with various presentations culminating in a pizza dinner and then a live concert. I finally met Lifehacker Gina Trapani in person and hung out for a while. This was fun since despite having written for Lifehacker in the past, we’ve never met in person.

The surprise of the evening was the Beck concert (see a recent interview in Wired as to why he was an especially appropriate selection for this event). The performance included puppet versions of all the artists projected onto the screen behind the stage. It was great. You can find photos of the concert on Flickr (mine, others’) and there’s also a Yahoo! video not of the concert, but of the Beck puppet’s visit to Sunnyvale. Google gets most of the attention for being a fun place to work, but Yahoo!’s campus seems quite fun as well, something I already noted when giving a talk there two years ago.

Links for 2006-09-29

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Mailing list subscription netiquette

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I try to avoid rants here, but the following has become increasingly common so I’m going to comment.

I consider it a basic form of netiquette to ask people about a mailing list subscription before proceeding to add their name to a list. I realize that most people get too much email as is so if you have to go through asking them first and then requesting an opt-in action then the chances are small that they will subscribe. That said, most people get too much email as is so it’s fair to assume that if they can’t take the time and effort to opt-in then they won’t appreciate the messages anyway. Or perhaps it’s not fair to assume. In the end it’s an empirical question, I guess. I don’t know of any research on it, I’m afraid.

In the least, it would seem courteous to send people an introductory note letting them know that you have added them to a list.

Of course, worse yet is when people add you to a distribution list where you have no way of opting out whatsoever. Thanks to email filtering options, it is possible to route messages directly to trash without ever seeing them.

Problems with IE

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

UPDATE: I’ve figured this out (see the end of the post for details).

As Biliana noted in the comments, there seems to be a problem with displaying E-BLOG in Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out the source of this problem. It seems to have come out of nowhere from one day to the next. I don’t recall adding any code that would have suddenly led to this problem. I welcome suggestions for fixing it. In the meantime, I recommend using Firefox. I am not suggesting anyone would bother downloading a separate application just to view this blog, I am suggesting that it’s worth using Firefox regardless of this blog. (See download instructions here.)

FYI, it is possible to view each post individually in IE. The evidence seems to suggest that the problem is with some code in the sidebar. I just can’t figure out what exactly.

UPDATE: I took out the sidebar to see what would happen and nothing changed, so clearly that’s not the issue. Jim uses a similar layout on his blog (in fact, he got the code – although possibly an earlier incarnation – from here) and his site renders just fine in IE.

UPDATE 2: It turns out my edited version of the sociable plugin was causing the problem. I have disabled it and all should be fine now.

Links for 2006-09-28

Thursday, September 28th, 2006
  • “An online intermediary for Entrepreneurs, Researchers, and Journalists, who follow the Web.”

Introducing Casbie

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Casbie

A deer visits me almost every day here at the Center. There seem to be plenty of leaves falling from the tree to keep it well fed. On occasion I’ll look out my window and there it is. I have decided to name the deer and have given it the name Casbie as a mix of the Center’s abbreviation (CASBS) and perhaps you can guess what else. I’ve started a separate set for it on Flickr. (Sorry about all the “its”, but I can’t tell for sure if it’s male or female. At times like this Hungarian is so much more convenient without gendered pronouns.)

Links for 2006-09-26

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Links for 2006-09-24

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Links for 2006-09-23

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Free Flickr minicards

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

For all you Flickr Pro users out there (and I know some of my readers share my addiction), note that you can try out the new minicard service at Moo.com for free, for a pack of ten cards. The service is free for the first 10,000 Flickr Pro users so don’t delay. You know how active Flickr users are, it will be curious to see how quickly ten thousand of them take advantage of this opportunity. My understanding is that a sample of 10 is not otherwise available so it’s worth a try.

The service is being advertised mainly as a business card solution. Some seem to be saying that the cards are too nice to give away.:-) I look forward to seeing them in hard copy.

Before you start, it’s worth noting that the cards are much slimmer than a regular photo so try to pick ones where inclusion of the entire image won’t be necessary. The cropping can have an interesting effect, but in some cases it just doesn’t work.

Enjoy!

Links for 2006-09-22

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Links for 2006-09-21

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

The shocking truth: politicians lie

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

People have been asking me to comment on the recent riots in Budapest so I thought I would say a few words. First, a necessary caveat. I don’t follow Hungarian politics closely.* In fact, I don’t follow Hungarian politics much at all. I could probably write a whole separate post as to why not, suffice it to say that I don’t live in that country for a reason (or two or three) and years ago I decided that it was simply not good for my blood pressure to keep track of events. So I don’t. That said, when something especially noteworthy happens, I am curious to know what it is and will go to Hungarian sources instead of relying on various international reports. I’ve read up on recent events a little bit so here is a quick summary.

Politicians lie. Yawn. The twist here is that apparently many Hungarians naively assumed that they don’t. Worse yet, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was caught on tape saying that his party lied a lot before the elections last Spring. To clarify, the instigator of the riots was not some public speech the Prime Minister made in the last few days. Rather, someone taped and recently leaked a discussion [link to Hungarian text] he had with a few top people in about 180 of his party representatives back in the Spring.

The level of honesty in his comments is naive, refreshing and scary all at the same time. Imagine if you could give some magic potion to a president or prime minister of your choice that would lead the person to talk about his/her actions and policies from the last few years completely openly and eagerly. It could result in some frightening and fascinating speeches. And who knows where that would lead.

Hungary’s got a lot of problems. The main point of Gyurcsány’s speech was that it was time to fix at least some of them. Yes, the irony is that the point of the speech was to say that it was time to stop the lies and make some difficult, but important changes.

Students organize demonstrations, because they don’t want to pay any tuition for college. Pharmacists are appalled, because the government wants to stop their monopoly on selling drugs. (You can’t even buy aspirin in Hungary anyhwere but a pharmacy. Talk about a ridiculous monopoly!) Other than public servants, almost nobody pays the taxes they should, because there are so many ways to cheat the system. So the country runs on a deficit and needs some major fixing. It’s going to be painful. It’s not as though any other political party or coalition could fix these problems without major repercussions. People are freaked out. And now the person who’s introducing painful changes is heard saying that he lied to get elected.

Many people seem naive enough to think that the other side didn’t lie before the elections. Unfortunately – and see any parallels in US politics? – for whatever reason the left won’t start pointing fingers at the right to note that for every lie Gyurcsány’s party told, Orbán’s party (the opposition) told double (if not triple or quadruple). So the question of interest in my opinion is why/how some get away with lies so much better than others. (Okay, I realize being taped admitting to lies is not helpful in keeping it out of the spotlight.)

As to the rioting, it’s probably due to a few, but enough bad elements to spin things out of control. The impression I get from talking to my parents is that the city seems to be functioning just fine and it doesn’t sound like there are major concerns about things getting much worse on that front.

[*] For those not familiar with my background, perhaps I should clarify: I was born and raised in Hungary.

Links for 2006-09-20

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Links for 2006-09-19

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Ask the Rabbi

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Mighty Meth posted a photo of an intriguing billboard on his Flickr photostream. So I dutifully typed in the advertised URL: AskTheRabbi.org. It’s just what it suggests, a site where users can ask a rabbi a question. The site gives a brief bio of the people who may respond (or so I’m assuming that’s who those people are).

Links for 2006-09-18

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Road trip highlights

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Now that I’ve posted all of the photos from my drive West, I thought I’d point out some of the trip highlights. (Unfortunately, the photos are not in order and it would be too much work to get them rearranged. Oh well. UPDATE: I just realized it’s not necessarily that much work thanks to Flickr’s Organize feature. I’ve rearranged some of them, but with others, I just don’t quite remember anymore and the photo time stamps seem to be off.:()

For the geographically challenged (or those simply not familiar with this part of the United States), driving from Evanston, Illinois to Palo Alto, California requires crossing the following states: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Most of these states are incredibly long (that is, they have a wide east-west stretch), especially for someone who’s more used to the eastern part of the United States. Of course, you could also cross all sorts of other states while heading west (say, go north through Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc.), but I needed the quickest route, which is supplied by Interstate 80.

Hail storm in Iowa I’ve tried to pick a highlight for each state, but it’s not always obvious given that I didn’t have time to make detours with sightseeing purposes. In Iowa, the hail storm was the big event and I managed to capture a few photos, although they really don’t do it justice. It was much scarier and harder to navigate than it seems. I also neglected to take photos of the line of cars standing out on the shoulder of the highway waiting for the storm to pass. Of course, the twist in such a situation is that you likely get out of the storm quicker if you keep on driving, unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to drive when you’re in the middle of it. So that took a bit of time.

Free wifi at all Iowa I-80 rest stops An unrelated interesting aspect of Iowa was the free wifi that was advertised at every rest stop. I’m surprised that I’ve never heard Jeremy talk about this, it seems like the kind of thing he’d be proud of about his home state. I didn’t have time to try out the free wifi, but it sounded like a very nice feature to offer travellers. This nice service didn’t show up anywhere else on the trip.

The next notable experience occured in Nebraska where a crazy pilot nearly landed a plane in the middle of the highway. I wouldn’t call the pilot crazy if it had been a true emergency situation, which it seemed at first. But having seen the plane nearly land I followed its path to note that it got right back up in the air, made a loop, and then came right back to the highway. What a nutcase! I wish I had photos, but it was all too sudden to grab the camera. Sudden and scary.

Population: 2; Elevation: 8,000 The highlight in Wyoming was Buford, population: 2, elevation: 8,000 feet, as I described earlier. I honestly had absolutely no idea how high up we were until I saw the sign. As a commenter over on Crooked Timber noted, eastern Wyoming is part of a very large plateau and that’s why one doesn’t feel the ascent so much. This map helps with visualization.

The last town in Wyoming on I-80 before reaching Utah is a town called Evanston. That was funny. After having been on the road for so long, it was a little confusing to think I hadn’t left at all.

Cross in the salt fieldThe notable aspect of Utah was all the salt. Let’s just say I don’t think we’ll be facing a salt shortage any time soon. It was just unbelievable amounts of salt mile after mile after mile. Here’s some that seems to be in production already, and here (link to large version) you can even see the Morton Salt girl from the company’s logo.

I noticed that there were stones in the salt fields making up signs, symbols and words. These went on for many many miles. Here’s a cross in the salt. I didn’t manage to capture any of the writing, but it was usually names of people, “Mary”, “Jim”, etc. with the occasional heart. I wonder who put these there. There is an Air Force base or two in the area, perhaps they’re from military folks. There are no towns around so it’s really hard to tell, and it’s a bit hard to imagine people driving cross country stopping their cars to make one of these, but I guess that’s possible as well.

Way long road ahead... An additional memorable aspect of the trip here was the incredibly straight line of driving. Check out the map. It is not an exaggeration. There was barely a curve in the road. The only thing that breaks up this photo is the train above the highway.

Crossing from Utah into Nevada was very interesting. There is a town right on the border (which I guess then makes it two towns: Wendover and West Wendover) and there’s a mark on the pavement (not the highway, just in the town) signaling the border. I didn’t manage to capture that. Nor did I take photos of the two towns despite the very interesting difference between the two. Clearly you’d crossed into casinoland by taking that step, it was impossible to miss.

Rest stop In addition to the Casinos, the only other memorable part of Nevada was the change in scenery, finally. It took a while, but eventually there was some elevation and some trees again, which was refreshing.

The road from Nevada crosses into California right around Lake Tahoe so immediately the traffic picked up. There was also much more vegetation, and very pretty at that. The descent was unbelievably steep at times, somewhat stressful, in fact.

As proof of how much the pressure changed from the Western border of California in the Lake Tahoe region to the Eastern part of the state in the Bay area, check out the difference betwen these two pictures of the same bottle, before and after opening it at the end of the trip:

Water bottle after descent     Water bottle now opened

Not long after came the many-lane highways and bridges, welcoming me to my home for the next nine months.

Long trainOther random observations throughout: I got a kick out of following the railroad at various points in the trip. There were unbelievably long stretches of trains. It’s good to see this resource still in use. There were some monuments and sculptures scattered on the highway, which were also interesting enough.

And while there wasn’t always much on the ground to entertain the traveller, the sky was really beautiful at times.


Sun rays

Links for 2006-09-17

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Flickr trolls?

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

I noticed a fairly bizarre comment on one of my images on Flickr. (Screenshot here in case the person decides to delete the comment.) The picture is of a motel in Nevada. The comment by user “s_jagdish99” reads:
ok great………!
come on get good pictures like beaches.

That same user left a comment on another one of my photos (screenshot) so I took a look. I then realized that user “rushi.1985” had left the following comment three weeks ago:

whats this r they tennis courte?
ok great………!
come on get good pictures like beaches.

User “rushi.1985″ has nothing in the account. User “s_jagdish99″ also has no photos, but does list my account as the one and only contact.

There are no links on either account, so I don’t quite see how this is about spam for the purposes of gaining traffic. Is this supposed to be a troll? Curious.