Archive for the ‘geek’ Category disclaimer: thank heavens they told us

June 19, 2008

As a fan of (and the creator of an accused imitator), I noticed tonight a new disclaimer:

do not taunt happy fun ball

If you can’t read my screenshot (because I still haven’t upgraded this theme), the first sentence says

Product narratives are for entertainment purposes and frequently employ literary point of view: the narratives do not express Woot’s editorial opinion.

I don’t know when this came along – it’s super-new and the google hasn’t been of any help.

Was this legitimately confusing anybody, or angering particular vendors who couldn’t overlook the silliness while the cash came in? The words “editorial opinion” seem specifically chosen.

(Random note: I’m listening to the new Girl Talk mashup album and “Whoomp! There It Is” just played. Woot was a better name than Whoomp.)

Crowdsourcing bicycle commuting routes

May 31, 2008

I met someone last night (I think it’s badhill but didn’t get a last name) who described himself as a transit hacker, and we talked for a while about bike commuting (I bike to work almost-daily).

We talked about one of the problems for new bike commuters, which I’ve seen over and over again – getting started is hard because you don’t know how to get there. Especially if you haven’t bike commuted before and so are going to be nervous, you want a route that’s safe, has no unexpected obstacles or hills, and is easy to remember.

Automated online driving directions don’t cut it, even if you can skip highways, because while you might be ok taking a chance on online directions when you’re driving, biking is a bigger commitment and mistakes loom larger (especially for new cyclists).

In Seattle, you can ask for help on the Cascade message boards, but you first have to know they exist. Of course you can talk to friends, but that’s still not perfect.

The City of Seattle distributes a beautiful Seattle bicycling guide map, but it’s job is to tell you what you can do, not what you should do. They take input from commuters, but it generally comes from public forums, which are really just an excuse for people to yell at each other.

This is a perfect opportunity for crowdsourcing, though: thousands of people bike commute every day in Puget Sound, and wherever you’re going, probably dozens of others are doing the same. What if you could just follow their routes, even if you didn’t know them?

The more fun way to do this is to give thousands of cyclists tiny GPS devices that unobtrusively tracked their routes and then reported back to a server, like Dash‘s outbound features for cyclists. This would work, could update as construction impacts routing, etc. It’s also very cool. The more practical way to do this (which Brandon suggested) is to have an online map tool where you encourage cyclists to post their commute routes.

Then you overlay all of the paths heat map-style so that people planning their own route can find the most-often-trekked streets (and directions) and routes. Ideally you could follow individual routes as well, so that you could see why people pick one route over the other based on their final destination.

There’s obviously some way to save out the coordinates that somebody uses to create a path on an online map – Gmap Pedometer creates permalinks, for example – so it certainly seems possible to build this sort of thing. And as being a transit hacker sounds fun, maybe I’ll do it sometime. Or maybe you will. I’m already behind on other projects…

Google, by the numbers

March 19, 2008

After accidentally searching for 50 on Google and getting a link to 50 Cent, I remembered the Google Suggest single-letter test when it launched, which showed the top result Google Suggest would give when you pressed just one letter. I imagine this has changed over time, but I’m doing a different test – what are the first things to come up when you search for numbers, 1-50, and what does that tell us?In each case, I’ve included links to a few of the top links (removing similar links,  which Google sometimes gets right and sometimes doesn’t), and when the source isn’t obvious from the title (like VH-1 going to and is interesting, I’ve added source information.  Also note that Google inserts a bunch of viral videos with numbers in them from YouTube etc. as part of universal search – I’ve just skipped them.

Google, by the Numbers

1 January 1 (Wikipedia [Wp for short]), MPEG-1 (Wp), CSS Level 1 (, VH-1, Deep Space 1 (a NASA project)
2 XML Schema Part 2 & CSS Level 2 (W3), MPEG-2 (Wp), May 2 (Wp) , a Ruby on Rails Tutorial (Part 2)
3 3 (Wp), January 3 (Wp), 3Com, CSS Level 3 Draft (W3), Halo 3, NYC Subway Line 3
4 4 (Wp), MPEG-4 (Wp), NBC4 in Washington DC, NYC Subway 4, 4-H, Human Chromosome 4 (note: when I did this search earlier from my iPhone, I saw 4Chan)
5 5 (Wp), February 5 (Wp), NYC Subway 5, Babylon 5, US Internal Revenue Code 5, NBC5 Chicago, Perl5
6 May 6 (Wp), February 6 (Wp), Google Holiday Doodle (the 6 is in the URL), Motel 6, Big6 (a literacy initiative), Java SE 6, Perl 6 (three links)
7 7 (Wp), January 7 (Wp), 7-Zip, WHDH 7 Boston, ABC 7 SoCal, KIRO 7 Seattle, QuickTime 7
8 8 (Wp), January 8 (Wp), Human Chromosome 8, Channel 8 (MSDN), Super 8, 8 ½ (IMDB), 8 Mile (IMDB)
9 The 9 (Yahoo!), January 9 (Wp), Channel 9 (MSDN), May 9 (Wp), Human Chromosome 9, Form I-9
10 Channel 10 (MSDN), Powers of 10 (the website), NBC 10 Philadelphia, March 10 (Wp), ICD-10 (disease classification, Wp)
20 20 (Wp), September 20 (Wp), 20/20 on ABC, Human Chromosome 20, Top 20 2007 Security Risks, 20Q (2004 Toy of the Year), US Title 20, 20 Years of Perl
30 30 (Wp), 30 Rock, September 30, (then results for 300),  a php statistics app – no idea why it shows up here, WVIT 30 Hartford
40 40 (number) (Wp), 40 Principales (Spanish Top 40), 40 (year) (Wp), The 40 Year Old Virgin (IMDB), American Top 40, WD-40, 40 Ajax accessibility tutorials,
50 50 Cent (official site), 50 Cent (Wp), 50 (number) (Wp), 50 Cent (AOL Music), Lycos top 50, Z39.50 protocol standards

Some notes:

  • Wikipedia, unsurprisingly, dominates the results – numbers, dates, years. The summaries varied widely – sometimes the first sentence of the article, sometimes a random sentence below
  • Technology, especially web standards and Perl, are all over the place. Maybe this is a sign of the long tail of technology online – if there’s nothing else more relevant, technology rushes to fill the space.
  • For every commercial brand (WD-40), there’s a non-brand (Z39.50).

Blogging, Blogging Everywhere

January 30, 2008

Just a bit of work news: we’ve kicked off a WhitePages Developer Blog. When your brand is commonly associated with the phone company, it’s difficult to begin a conversation with assumed technical credibility – but the scale and complexity of what we do is legitimately interesting and there are deep software & operational design issues behind supporting hundreds of millions of queries/month on a capex shoestring, and I’m hoping we highlight – and share – that information with technical friends across the globe.

Anyway, I have the first two posts, including one about our just-completed Hack Week.

I’m like a nerd in a nerd store

January 15, 2008

It’s been ~10 years since I coded for a living (or a grade). While I figured out early that I didn’t need to be writing code in order to get a sense of satisfaction from software design, development, and deployment, I still like to write code.

This is a problem.

Every twelve-eighteen months I pick up a project. The last few years, they’ve been for work, but they’ve been “optional” – i.e. the business could continue to run (thank goodness) if I didn’t do them. And each time, I have the same set of realizations:

  • The role of early learning in language development applies well for software language development – i.e. if you learn a language early, even if you don’t use it very often, you’re still more likely to recall it then if you learned it late. The first language I learned that had referencing and dereferencing was Scheme; the first one where I actually understood it was C. Even though I haven’t written C code in a looong time, I can still remember how to manage C pointers without much thought.

    I’ve been programming off-and-on in Perl for 10+ years, and I still can’t remember how to use $ and @ and @{$_} and $# and other syntactic sugar without making lots of mistakes and refreshing myself every single time. It’s not all Perl’s fault. (Just mostly.)

  • Old habits don’t die hard – they just don’t die. I started as a ready-fire-aim programmer, and every time I start again, I’m a ready-fire-aim programmer. On each product, I design, code, hack, stop, design, code, hack. (At least now I put the design first.) Then I just stop for a while and relearn the concepts (like the ones above) so I stop wasting time.
  • I still get excited about programming – I start a project and I don’t want to stop, I think about it when I’m not working on it, I end up working until late in the night, it takes at least a week for me to start breaking projects into stopping points rather than just stopping when I’m exhausted (or when, y’know, my family needs me for something). I’m glad I’m still motivated by the rush to create.

Anyway, I’m programming now, at least until the end of the week, in between management meetings and interviews and other management meetings and watching my younger daughter learn to sit up. And I couldn’t be happier.