Archive for the 'Web sites' Category

One of my favorite Web sites: WalkerTracker

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

WalkerTracker logoAs promised, in honor of One Web Day, I’m posting information about one of my favorite Web sites and I encourage you to do the same, here or on your own blog. I’m always on the lookout for sites that make a difference in people’s lives and one such site is WalkerTracker. It is no exaggeration that it has had a direct impact on my everyday life as I have become a serious walking enthusiast and thus get more regular exercise now than I had ever before.

Walker Tracker September stepsWalkerTracker helps keep track of one’s daily steps encouraging a healthy lifestyle by offering all sorts of neat statistics and graphs of one’s step measures. Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need a gadget (i.e., a pedometer) or a tool such as this site to go out on walks, but I have found it extremely inspiring and motivating to be able to keep track of my steps and see the progress I make over time. My daily goal is 10,000 steps (that’s about 4-5 miles) and on average I’ve managed to come close to this each month since I’ve started in April, 2007. I’m excited to be averaging almost 12K this month.

The site has several great features and new ones are added all the time, which is impressive since it seems to be a one-man operation. Your data are your data and you can download information you have added to the site very easily. There are also all sorts of options on the site for generating graphs and charts of progress. A user can maintain a step blog, can connect to other users, and can also create groups and competitions. There are also various widget options to showcase progress on one’s own site.

WalkerTracker was created, is maintained and is continually improved by Ben Parzybok, a novelist and Web developer who also seems to be involved in several other interesting projects. Ben is extremely responsive to requests adding features regularly. The community consists of nice folks who share a love of walking. Use of the site is free although I was happy when Ben added the option of a Pro account since this is a service that deserves support.

To get started, you’ll need a pedometer. WalkerTracker has a list of the most popular ones by its users. Like others, I rely on an Omron NJ-112 and have bought about half a dozen for friends and family.

Those were the days…

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Those were the days... If, like me, you’re not quite ready to start a new workweek then I recommend YearbookYouself as an amusing distraction. [Thanks to Techcrunch.]

PS. For anyone wondering, none of those were actually my days, although this seems to come close.

Expert knows best

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

A Ripened Melon - Chef's choiceI just had a deliciously sweet cantaloupe. How did I know how to pick it? My favorite* chef, Chef Susan aka Chef Q posted some advice on the topic recently. Not only is she an amazing cook and baker, she is also an excellent photographer so her posts are illustrated with helpful images. I forgive her for all the pounds I gained last year due to her cooking (hey, at least I finally started a regular exercise regime) and thank her not just for all the great meals I’ve had the good fortune to experience, but also the helpful material she shares online.

[*] It’s actually a tie with my Mom, but she’s not officially a chef. Of course, that hasn’t stopped her from publishing a cookbook (see some of her recipes here).

Photo credit: Susan Beach

What have you been watching on YouTube lately?

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

I am rushing off to meetings, but this is disturbing news and I figured folks around here would want to know about it.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Kurt Opsahl (posted July 2nd):

    Yesterday, in the Viacom v. Google litigation, the federal court for the Southern District of New York ordered Google to produce to Viacom (over Google’s objections):

    all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website

    The court’s order grants Viacom’s request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users. The VPPA passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection.

    Rest of EFF post

Various MSM sources are just starting to roll out their own coverage (e.g., BBC).

I guess those – must be many – who watch YouTube without a user ID or without logging in to the service have less to lose, but forget the privacy of the more avid and loyal users.

As to the source code, Google does get to keep that. It’s interesting to see which news item (the user ID issue vs source code) is being covered where.

Taking care of Turquoise

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

I don’t seem to be doing too well playing rock, paper, scissors over on Facebook so I’ve decided to focus my energies on taking care of my adopted turtle Turquoise. It’s good prepartion for when I’ll get a real turtle likely in the near future (unlike some turtle plagiarists, it’s a plan I’ve had for a while).

Unfortunately, you can only earn munny to feed your pet by having your pet pet by someone else or petting other people’s pets. (That’s not as hard to say three times fast as it may seem at first read…) And it turns out that despite having over 150 friends on Facebook, only three of them have (fluff)Friends, one because I asked him this morning. So this is a request that if we are linked on Facebook (or should be since we know each other) then can you please come over and show Turquoise some affection? Thanks!

Anyone wondering why I would spend time on Facebook has to understand that it is imperative for the legitimacy of my research to familiarize myself with these services. It’s a sacrifice, but all in the name of science.

I should add that I have been thinking about a more substantive post concerning Facebook and hope to get around to it one of these days. Lots going on there, it is spreading like wildfire way past college students, and there are some understandable reasons for that. More later. It’s time to check in on Turquoise now.

The importance of deep linking

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Flash can be a great tool, but not as the basis for an entire Web site. There are various reasons for this (e.g. requirement of special software just to view the basics), but the one I thought I’d mention today is deep linking, or lack thereof on a flash-based Web site.

For those not familiar with the terminology, deep linking means that when you link to something online, you link to it directly. That is, say I want to point people to a research article on my site. Instead of simply saying “go to” and making them do all the work in finding the specific page of interest, I point them to the exact location of the page, e.g.

In fact, a big pet-peeve of mine is when people “help” you out in response to a query by sending you to a Web site that contains hundreds if not thousands of pages without pointing you to the specific location of the document of interest. That is hardly help, it is more like sending someone on a wild goose chase.

Unfortunately, on flash-based sites deep linking is not an option. So for example, there are some interesting videos on the Kompost Productions Web site at, but I can’t just point you to them, I have to give you additional instructions: click on Work then click on Doodle. How silly is that? Frankly, more often than not, I just don’t bother bookmarking such finds and certainly do not pass them along. In the end, it seems this would hurt the site in lost traffic.

Cite Bite takes the concept of deep linking to a next level by allowing you to link to a specific position on a Web page. Unfortunately, Cite Bite seems to be down as I write, which relates to a point I’ll be making in another post sometime.

Backfence in my backyard

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

This one doesn’t qualify as a random thought, this is just random period. Alternative, I’m missing something very obvious.

Backfence is a host for neighborhood Web sites. Of all the places in the US they seem to operate in thirteen towns for now:

Notice anything interesting about that list? At least interesting if you were me?


I’ll give you a moment. (This will only work for people who know me somewhat.)




Both Evanston, IL and Palo Alto, CA are on the list. What are the chances?

Friday fun or frustration

Friday, December 29th, 2006

Time sink

If you haven’t seen the Grow Cube before then you are lucky and I do apologize for bringing it to your attention. I realize that it’s been around for a while, but some may have missed it. [No thanks to Marc Rittle for the link.]

If you don’t have hours to kill then a search for grow cube solution on your favorite search engine should do the trick. But I doubt you’ll appreciate it if you don’t spend at least a bit of time trying to figure out the solution on your own. No comment as to how much time.

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.

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.

Yahoo! needs to stop rolling out services that are not ready for prime time

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

.. or they might just need to reconsider what is appropriate for prime time.

For years I have been using Yahoo! TV for getting TV schedule listings. Today, I changed my bookmark. Yahoo! TV seems to be experimenting with a new format that, like their Mail Beta, takes forever to load even when you are already on the page. I am not interested in seeing the little thinking bar when I just want to see the schedule and am already on the page, just scrolling down.

I’m trying out AOL’s TV listings. Anybody use anything else that works? I’m just looking for something simple that gives me the listings without annoying wait times.

At least Yahoo! Mail lets you switch back to the old version (I’m assuming due to user protest over the new version). I didn’t see this switch-back option on the TV portal.

UPDATE: One point I forgot to note is that Yahoo! also made the mistake of switching the system in a way that I got a 404 error when I clicked on my old bookmark. That’s not smart. If you’re going to change things, at least do so in a way that people aren’t channeled toward an error page.

MyBlogLog reinvents itself and gets noticed

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

.. or how to figure out whether you are hallucinating.

In the past few weeks I have come across more and more commentary about the site MyBlogLog, a service that is responsible for the list of pictures of other recent site visitors on the sidebar of some blogs (example).

But I was confused. I was quite sure that I had signed up for a free MyBlogLog account over a year ago, and this was not at all the service it had offered back then. I started searching and most recent commentary focuses on the above-mentioned social aspect of the service. So how to figure out if I am just utterly confused and mixing this up with another service?

First, I searched my email archives to see whether I had signed up for this service at some point in the past. Indeed, I had created an account back in June, 2005 with the purpose of tracking the relative popularity of various outgoing links on my blog.

Next, I turned to the Web archive to see what the site had looked like back then. As I had remembered, it was something quite different with a focus on enabling a site owner “to track when offsite links are clicked by your visitors”.

Finally, I did a search on to see when people first started bookmarking the site. The first mentions date back to March, 2005 with the descriptions focusing on the link-analysis feature all the way up until August of this year.

Nonetheless, reading the descriptions of the site you would know little of this.* I find it fascinating how short-lived people’s memories are or how little attention is paid to the background behind these much-hyped sites. Perhaps I’m just being influenced by all the historians I’ve been hanging out with recently, but I think context is interesting. And luckily there are tools that can help us figure it out even if current commentary is lacking in that domain.

Regarding the new features, the community aspect of MyBlogLog sounds interesting and not too freaky now that they have implemented the opt-out feature in case you do not want to be shown as having visited any particular Web site.

[*] To be sure, I haven’t read through the hundreds of recent mentions, but this is my impression from reading several.

Gift season

Monday, November 20th, 2006

My brother sent me a link to a site about regifting stories some of which are pretty amusing. On the side is a poll asking people about their reasons for regifting. I have considered regifting in the past, but in the end I don’t know if I’ve ever done it. It mostly comes up in cases when I really don’t like something I’ve been given. But then I ask myself: if I really don’t like it then would I want to inflict it on a friend? Plus there’s the potential embarrassment of being thought of as someone who might’ve actually found the item valuable. Hmm…

Africa on Google Maps

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Is this is a new Google Maps feature? I noticed the Google logo with Africa as the “g” on Google Maps today. I wonder if this is a way of letting people know that Google Maps now covers that continent. Neat.

Africa on Google Maps

From colonies to terrorists

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Ooh, this is cool. You can view a tag cloud of the most common words in U.S. presidential speeches, declarations and letters since 1776. Slide the arrows on the bar to move from the representation of one document to another. The bottom of the page has a detailed description of how the tag clouds were generated, it looks like a careful approach. What a neat idea. [thanks]

Got a few hours?

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Vivian’s recent comment wondering whether my work would interfere with my ability to post Friday time-sink amusements reminded me that I should not abandon my important role in keeping you from doing whatever it is that you had planned to do when you sat down at your computer.

This weekend’s amusement is brought to you by Jeux Chiants (yeah, I know, you’ll have to excuse my French).

Of the large selection, my highest recommendation goes to Double Jeu. You won’t miss much by not speaking French, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Just don’t let either ball drop. Hah, and doesn’t that sound easy? The one thing you’ll miss out on by not speaking French is the derogatory comments after you mess up. I managed to get up to 24.5 seconds. If anyone does it longer and understands the resulting comment, I’d be curious to hear if you ever get a true heartfelt congratulations.

I thought Labyflou was reasonably amusing and you can get it the first time around. It’s also not addictive, once is about enough.

Le jeu du ver is not bad. It’s one of those games that starts out almost too easy, but then gets significantly harder with each level.

Finally, La souris est invisible is a good reminder of how dependent we may or may not be on visual cues when using the mouse.

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: 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).

Happy birthday!

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Happy Birthday Del.icio.usThe social-bookmarking tool turned three today. It’s a great tool. It’s thanks to that E-BLOG has content even when I’m too busy to write up posts. I use to post a list of bookmarked sites automatically to this blog. Yahoo! bought last year and the service has just gotten more interesting (e.g. network features such as posting bookmark recommendations to other users on the system).

Leave a link to your account if you have one. I’m always curious to see what stes like-minded folks deem worthy of a bookmark.

Scrollable ads

Monday, August 7th, 2006

GMail does something very smart with the Sponsored Links it displays in the Webclips area just above the message view area, it lets the user scroll back and forth among the ads.

Maybe I’m an odd one for actually looking at ads on occasion, but sometimes they do tell you about helpful or interesting information and services. So I like to click on them sometimes. However, more often than not, I just glance at them in the corner of my eye as I am about to move to another page. What then happens is that the ad changes. In GMail, I can just click on the back button in Webclips and get the ad (or whatever RSS feed I may have missed).

GMail Webclip

On most sites this is not possible (e.g. Yahoo! Mail). If you click the back button of your browser, chances are that some other ad is dynamically generated on the page you were just viewing by the time you return to it. It’s a bummer as some of those ads could be of interest to users a split second later.

New links feature

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

.. as in “new links” and “new feature”. I created an account (free) on BlinkList and am publishing the links I add to my accoun there on the sidebar of this blog. The section is just below the search field, which is below the Flickr photos (or “Flickr badge”) on the right.

BlinkList is a social bookmarking site like BlinkList’s site has a page devoted to explaining its advantages over It is certainly a much nicer user interface and the fact that you can publish the links on your own blog so easily is a nice feature. BlinkList also offers the option of putting selected other users’ lists on your own watch list. This is a feature I very much missed in

Let me know if you start an account so I can add you to the list of people whose list I watch.

If you are a Digg user you’ll also note the similarity regarding the “blink it” feature.