Archive for December, 2006

The five-things-you-didn’t-know-about-me meme

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Yaniv over at Hello World tagged me days ago regarding the “five things you don’t know about me” meme. I’ve been too overwhelmed to respond, but it’s time I got around to it. It reminds me, by the way, of the four things meme, which I suspect also revealed a bunch of things people don’t know about bloggers they read.

1. I grew up in Budapest with occasional short-term stays (lasting 4-21 months) in the U.S. specifically in Connecticut (twice), Texas and Hawaii by the time I was 16. Since then, I’ve lived in five additional states: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, in that order.

2. When I was 13, I wrote a fan letter to Dan Rather from Budapest. How much fan mail was he getting from teenagers in Hungary in the 1980s? Not much, I suspect. He kindly responded with an autographed photo (not that I had asked), which I found thrilling.

3. I was at the R.E.M. concert in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1995 when the band’s drummer collapsed due to a hemorrhage on the surface of his brain. A bunch of us from the Smith College Junior Year Abroad program went to this concert thanks to money we saved from our daily food allocation from the college.

4. When I was in middle school, I was interested in business (with aspirations of working on Wall Street one day) and so decided to study Japanese (this was the 80s after all). There was only one place you could study Japanese in Budapest at the time. It was fun, but due to subsequent US stays I had to abandon this particular interest.

5. My first choice for college was Cornell’s Communication Department thanks to the wonderful time I had attending the Cornell Summer College Program the summer before senior year of high school. I got in, but since Comm at Cornell is in one of their state schools and I was an international student, I did not qualify for financial aid. It was out of the question for me to attend a school in the US without financial aid. I was crushed. I was devastated. I ended up attending Smith College and absolutely loved it. In fact, I am convinced that it was a much better match than Cornell had been during its regular sessions so in the end all worked out well. Interestingly, years later, I did make my way to a communication department since that is where I am now based at Northwestern.

Finally, I’m supposed to tap five other people: Noor Ali-Hasan, Basket Case, Dan Drezner, Jeremy Freese and Seth Finkelstein – tell us a few things we don’t know about you.

Links for 2006-12-22

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Gift guide: charitable giving

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Last in this season’s gift guide series are some ideas for charitable giving. If you celebrate any of the season’s gift-giving holidays, it’s getting to that point where it is too late to order anything for delivery and soon you won’t have time to run out and buy something either. What’s left? You could make a charitable donation on behalf of the people on your list.

I am sure there are the usual suspects on everyone’s list, either charities that are the first to gain mention during any crisis, ones automatically associated with the holidays, or ones you donate to every year and so it is likely that you reach for your checkbook this time of year with specific organizations in mind. For example, some bloggers – like yours truly – have a history of supporting causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation since their mission is so closely aligned with what we do.

But in addition to the usual suspects, how about considering some lesser known charities? Is bigger always better in this realm?

Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting site called the Darfur Wall.

They have put up 400,000 dark numbers in honor of the 400,000 people who have been killed in the Darfur genocide. For each dollar you donate, a number is lit up to honor a lost life. The founders of the organization are picking up all administrative costs of the site so there is very little overhead. Other than Paypal fees (it would be nice if Paypal had a different fee structure for charitable giving), all of your donation goes to the four organizations supported by this foundation, allocated specifically to Darfur relief efforts.

You can choose the number you want to light. Instead of an extra stocking stuffer or an additional cookie platter, how about lighting up some of those numbers in honor of the people on your gift list?

Whatever your choice for giving, the Charity Navigator is a helpful resource in seeing how an organization spends its money. (I suspect because the Darfur Foundation is so new, they are not yet listed.)

In related news, the New York Times had an interesting article about charitable giving by Peter Singer the other day.

Links for 2006-12-21

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Links for 2006-12-20

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Links for 2006-12-19

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Links for 2006-12-18

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Links for 2006-12-16

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Where’s Waldo, 21st century edition

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Wow. These images are amazing. Viewing these may benefit considerably from a high-speed connection and definitely from a large screen.

In case you can’t get to it, it may be that the site is being blocked by your school/workplace, because years ago it was an “adult site” and it got banned by a bunch of filters. That raises an interesting point about buying domain names. It’s worth looking into their past. In this case, a quick check on the Wayback Machine would’ve helped.

In any case, the images are amazing, enjoy if you can get to them.

Links for 2006-12-15

Friday, December 15th, 2006

NYTimes permalinks

Friday, December 15th, 2006

New Picture (6) Next time you want to link to a New York Times article on your blog or want to bookmark it for future reference, you no longer have to rely on a bookmarklet to generate a permanent link. On each article page, there is now a Share link that reveals links to some sites plus the possibility of obtaining a permanent link to the piece.

The automatic link options are to Digg, Facebook and Newswine. What curious choices. I would love to know what went into those decisions, possible deals or whatnot. Digg users seem mostly interested in tech news so while it may make sense to have a quick link to that service on science and technology pieces, it doesn’t make sense on other sections of the NYTimes site. The idea suggested on The Mu Life about different links depending on the part of the site makes sense. And where are quick links to Reddit, Netscape, Yahoo My Web and, just to name a few. Has the Facebook user demographic changed significantly in recent months away from college students? If not (and I haven’t heard of any such significant changes) then why assume that users of that system would be most likely to want to bookmark and share NYTimes articles?

In any case, the good news is that they had the sense to create a permalink option that you can use to add the page to the social bookmarking site of your choice, which would be in my case thanks to its automated post-to-blog feature.

Gift guide: supporting the long tail

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

In the spirit of supporting the long tail, I thought I’d link to a few nifty items you likely won’t find in stores, but that are just as worthy as many of the items that are backed by big marketing budgets.

I found the booklet “Why Mommy is a Democrat” one day by clicking on a sponsored link in GMail (the line just above the message area). I liked the idea of communicating a message of this sort to little kids so I ordered a copy. I like the way the author and illustrator approached the topic. The idea of self-publishing something of this sort is also interesting. I purposefully use the word booklet instead of book despite the information on the site. The “book” feels more like a booklet. That doesn’t detract from its value. I mention it in the interest of realistic expectations. Cost: $10 including shipping in North America (with some possible savings for bulk orders).

On a different note, I highly recommend the California Soups and Salads 2006-07 Academic Calendar by Susan Beach. It covers September, 2006-December, 2007. Each month comes with a very inviting photo of a wonderful soup or salad dish plus its recipe on the side. Susan is our resident chef here at the Center and is an amazing cook. This could be a great gift for a myriad of people. Cost: $10 including shipping.

Moving on, I found the jams and jellies maker McKenzie’s Own at a summer fair last year and thought their products were divine. I bought two spreads: Mom’s Horseradish Spread and the White Chocolate Raspberry Spread. Both were great. Cost: $6.50 each plus $6.00 shipping.

I only have experience with online ordering regarding the first product, the others I bought in person. Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in promoting these products, I bought them and liked them, that’s all there is to it. I do know Susan personally though.

The site Etsy hosts lots of independent sellers although some of the products there tend to be on the expensive side. Of course, one can also find independents on ebay and on various corners of the Web. But what are those corners? Do share your favorites, I’m always curious to find the hidden gems.

This is second in the Gift guide series. Next week: giving through donations.

Links for 2006-12-14

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Links for 2006-12-07

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

YouTube’s search not yet powered by Google

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Andrew Sullivan posts a copy of this compilation of AT&T ads from 1993 predicting the future. They did a great job predicting what is today available to many. And remember, 1993 was the year when the first Windows-based browser was released helping along wide public access to the Web. But at that point little of this was obvious.

I wanted to find the video on YouTube directly. I didn’t realize you could just get to the specific YouTube page by clicking on the video window anywhere but the play button so I proceeded by searching for it on YouTube. I got one result (not the right one) for at&t 1993. A search for at&t ads didn’t give me this hit either.

At that point, I decided to just click on Share in the YouTube player (which annoyingly resizes my entire browser window) and tweak the URL from share to view to get to the page. That’s one way to do it (but again, clicking anywhere but the play button is probably the easiest if you already have the video of interest:). If you don’t have the specific video then it seems best to do a site-specific search for the video on Google as such: at&t 1993. I wonder when YouTube search will be powered by Google given the acquisition.

Gift guide: DIY photo projects (& a request for the number 3)

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

‘Tis the season for buying gifts (lots of us have December birthdays*, you know). So I’m starting a discussion of various gift ideas. My plan is to post about items that I have bought myself and so can recommend with confidence. Alternatively, I may suggest some do-it-yourself projects on occasion.

I’ll start things off with the latter. Consider giving someone a personalized memory game made up of photos that would be of interest either because they portray people/places of interest to the person, or because they are simply great photos. More details on this here. Note, however, that creating multiple wallet-sized photos can get expensive quickly. If you’re short on cash, but have time, you may consider editing images that contain a pair of two images each and then simply getting the regular size photos of these. That way, you can get two pairs for 5-10c each instead of 99c each with a leftover pair.

Another idea is to use one of the many amusing tools from fd’s Flickr toys. You can create a funny motivation poster, a magazine cover, a movie poster, or lots of other things and get these printed out. Regular size photo print-outs are only about 10-20c so definitely on the cheap side. And note that despite the site’s name, these don’t require a Flickr account, you can upload a photo directly from your computer.

Photojojo has additional ideas. I am intrigued by their Fotoclips selling for $15 (including shipping), but I haven’t bought any of those nor have I ever tried them out so this is just a pointer, not a recommendation.

Of course, nowadays, you can get a photo printed on just about anything, but the above items are mainly do-it-yourself so fairly cheap and have that extra personal touch.

* No worries, I’m well aware of the comment “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.” Nonetheless, if you care to contribute to my upcoming celebrations, I’m collecting photos of the number 3 from around the world. So email me one if you can (or better yet, post one on Flickr and send me the link). (Yes, I know I can find tons of 3s on Flickr, but these would be from you to me.:)

Links for 2006-12-06

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Links for 2006-12-05

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

NYTimes & Yahoo! Answers silly usability glitch

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

It took me about five attempts to submit a customer service complaint to the NYTimes using their online form the other day. It would be absolutely trivial to fix this glitch. Yahoo! Answers has the same annoying “feature” on their site. Don’t these companies employ usability specialists? (Uhm, or doesn’t somebody there use their own sites and care to improve the user experience?*)

Usability glitch on the NYTimes customer service form

Here is what happened. The form on the NYTimes home delivery customer service page is a big empty box waiting to be filled out. But when you fill it out even just halfway, you are told that you have used too many characters. You can only submit the form with 250 characters or less.

However, the form neither counts the number of characters for you nor gives you any hints about the permitted length based on the size of the box.

So I kept revising and revising until finally the site accepted my note. How hard would it be to offer a smaller box AND let the user know how many characters have already been entered? (I won’t even dare suggest they accept longer forms.) Other forms do this so it can’t be that impossible.

Consider that the reason the customer is on this site is likely due to something that has gone wrong with their customer experience, so what are the chances that they want to be annoyed further?

Another example of this same issue comes up on Yahoo! Answers. There is a limit on the length of comment you can leave on a resolved question. But there is no indication of the extent to which you went over the character limit. Users are contributing free content to the site, it’s not a good idea to alienate them by offering annoying experiences.

While I understand that unnecessarily long commentary could be inconvenient in both cases, the 250 and 300 character limits seem excessive in both cases.

* Yes, I realize the complexity at these organizations and understand that just because a couple of employees know of a problem, it doesn’t mean that it will be solved.

Links for 2006-12-04

Monday, December 4th, 2006