A lot of what makes weblogs interesting is their personal, emphemeral, and informal nature. People can post the first thing off the top of their head (as evidenced here for the past three years), without anything in the way. If you can think it, you can post it.
That said, when a weblog comes along that takes a more serious tone, it's already a breed apart. When it's also filled with thoughtful commentary, you have something above and beyond your typical weblog.
UserNotFound.com isn't a typical weblog. It covers how online communities deal with death of their members, but what I love about it is the thoughtful essays posted by Dana. Instead of reading like a running tally of every site Dana has seen that day, it reads more like the research notes on a fascinating book. It's a fairly new site, but I can already tell she's onto something great there.
Horrible news: Craig Kelly, who many consider to be a Tony Hawk of snowboarding, died in an avalanche a few days ago.
Interesting poll on CNN's home page today. It seems pretty clear what tonight's State of the Union address will focus on, and what will be shuffled under the rug.
That kind of focus reminds me of City Slickers:
Curly: You know what the secret to life is?For some, I guess that's super zaxxon.
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don't mean nothing.
Mitch: That's great, but what's the one thing?"
Curly: That's what you've got to figure out.
It's good to know the supreme court that rejected the intent of the constitution a couple weeks ago still understands what parody and social commentary means.
How to make lots of money: create a duplicate online service like Netflix, but carry video games. One of the reasons I don't own a playstation 2 or xbox is because I can't see spending $60 per game for something I'll get tired of after a couple weeks (or worst case -- buy a game that sucks after just a couple days). I don't know why Netflix doesn't expand their already established operation, because it seems like a perfect application. I'd love to try lots of games and only buy the best ones for my own personal copies. Otherwise, I'd endlessly rent the newest games.
Judging by user experience, price, and features, gamefly looks the most complete and trustworthy (and they're local, which would help), and redoctane looks good. It's great to see the wide range of options on something I had no idea existed. It's also interesting to see how much utility, usability, and design govern my decisions. I wouldn't use veegeez unless a close personal friend could prove to me they have a great service (it doesn't look like it on the surface).
A recap of last week in Yosemite with photos, a movie, trip tips, and more.
I used early copies of iPhoto 2 and iMovie 3 to manage the photos on the trip and crunch the video. The new iPhoto is a lot speedier and more stable than the old one, though it offers no export features beyond .mac stuff (I couldn't find an export button anymore, time to write some applescripts I guess). iMovie 3 imports quicktime movies into its native DV format, which saved me the $30 I was going to pay for quicktime pro just to get this capability. The video splicing, effects, and transitions were easy to use, though the text stuff was a little quirky. Adding music tracks was a snap, by just dragging them in from an iTunes panel, though I couldn't seem to cut more than one audio track in the iMovie editor.
Bizarre page found in MetaFilter's referrer logs: a class assignment to figure out what kinds of things interest Americans and American Culture by looking at a few community sites. I'd love to see the papers that came back from the class.
Something I didn't think I'd enjoy nearly as much as I did: saw Undercover Brother and laughed until I cried. I wasn't expecting much more than a bad SNL-type movie but the over-the-top jokes that toyed with racial stereotypes actually came off right. I guess they blew the marketing on that movie when it came out, as I had no idea it could be enjoyable.
According to their stats, Live Journal right now has over 43,000 paid accounts, each member paying anywhere from $2 to $2.50 a month, which is about $90,000 a month, or around $3,000 a day. $3k a day is almost $1.1 million annually.
And who said there's no money in weblogging or online media ventures?
I'm surprised but impressed by the amount being written online about the Eldred decision. I can't help but wonder though, while it's saturating the world of blogs, is it on the radar of the average american? Perhaps this issue is one of the tests to see just how much real-world influence blogs have.
Over the past few days, I've taken about 200 photos and shot a dozen short movies in Yosemite and our vacation is only half over. Next week I'll be posting the 20-30 best shots, a single mish-mash movie of stuff we did, and a story of how to get there and where to stay.
For now, a shot from our journey to the big trees.
Aw, fuck. Copyrights lasting more than 150 years (author's life +70 or 90 years) are deemed constitutional, meaning in 15 or so years Disney will be asking for another extension and will be certain to get it.
"Limited time", my ass.
A classic shot from day two at Yosemite
The server this site sits on underwent a complete migration to a new hard drive today, after weeks of intermittent down time including almost the entire weekend. I can't believe how smoothly it went actually. I followed these instructions, backed up all my web application directories, the main windows directory, and it rebooted into the new machine just fine. After about an hour of additional tinkering everything was the same as before.
I suppose after years of running Microsoft software I've been conditioned to expect failure and for things to take three times longer than you thought, but sometimes they surprise you and everything just works.
I built the ticketstubs site to fill a small personal need: give myself a way to easily write up little stories about the experiences I've had. A couple people have told me it was a noble project that could potentially create a rich database of collective memories among strangers. I've told those people that my goals were more simplistic, but if the unintended effects are to create a permanent place to share and something becomes of that, then so be it.
This high minded view of what the website could be didn't really click until this week. Check out this story about a rock show that Scott Secrest went to. It tells the story of him noticing something odd -- a person lying on the ground -- that later turns out to be dead, and the impact on Scott and his friends. In yet another example of how even though there are billions of pages on the web, a chance occurrence connects people: the best friend of the deceased found the story a few days later and contacted Scott.
There's something incredibly human about a course of actions that took place entirely online.
A guy goes to a show, and saves the stub to remind him of the experience that had an impact on his life. Then he shares it online, and someone else involved in the experience sees it, and they share each others' perspectives. And then strangers from anywhere on earth can read about these memories and take something from that.
I can't put my finger on exactly why, but there's something both tragic and magical there. Beautiful and bittersweet, a universal human experience -- that of dealing with death -- was shared between people that otherwise would have never met, and it happened online.
A spiff new EFF design seems to be up, but only on a few of their front pages.
A few thoughts from macworld:
- The new small powerbook is really cool. It feels like a slightly refined 12" ibook covered in aluminum. The 867Mhz processor and 640Mb of ram made it feel much faster than my G4/400 with 256Mb of ram. The only downside was the total lack of a PCMCIA slot. I know it's a tiny machine and all, but it's the fastest way for me to transfer images off my compact flash card (I could use USB, but it's slower and requires me to lug a big card reader around).
- The 17" powerbook is huge, feeling like the upper limit of how big a laptop should ever go. At almost twice the weight of the tiny powerbook, it also felt hefty. Although it's only 1" thick, when you open that huge lid, it's like unfolding a sunday newspaper, or a x-large pizza box. The huge screen was nice, feeling a lot like one of their cinema displays welded to a laptop.
- The new iApps looked good, as did Keynote. Final Cut Express didn't appear too vastly different than the Pro release, perhaps the limitations are in the menus and options when importing and exporting. Still, it's a shame the new iMovie and iPhoto weren't ready in time for the show, I really want to give them a try. If I was more of a leet linux hacker and had different ethics, I would have opened a terminal on a demo machine, gzipped the new apps, and sent them to my server (I wonder if they do anything to prevent that kind of thing?).
- I stopped by the Panic Software booth to pick up a free CD (which was a 3" mini-CD ringed in plastic to appear normal CD size, it was really slick). After getting a copy from the co-founder, I remarked how much I like the Transmit program and asked if I could get a free shirt in exchange for recently registering it (they were giving them away for registrations that day). He asked for my name to look it up, and I told him. He asked if I was the same guy that ran MetaFilter, asked to shake my hand, then got me a shirt. We talked briefly about some bugs I'd found in the product and I was on my way. That was the first time anyone outside of a web conference has ever recognized me, and it was totally freaky. Weird.
- I don't know how on earth Apple did it, but their macworld conference appeared recession-proof. I went to the 2000 show and last year, and I'd say the amount of exhibit space appeared equal to the 2000 macworld. So while web conferences that once filled multiple exhibit halls but now can fit comfortably inside a regulation basketball court, somehow Apple's marketing machine has kept them at the same levels these past few rocky years. There were even giveaways for a new Hummer from Microsoft and a Mini from Macromedia. What year do they think this is? 1999?
Google's search algorithms are getting really good. I launched the ticketstubs site exactly one week ago today, and a search for the term turns up probably 40 weblog mentions already. A search at Technorati for the URL turns up 99 matches, but with many repeats. Blogdex and Daypop report similar totals.
But the point of this was to highlight the speed and accuracy of Google. A year ago when these blog tracking services popped up, they served the gap that Google and other search engines left between the present and their index. It looks like Google has really tuned their engines because by my measure they're keeping pace with the best blog tracking sites. I even found a handful of sites at Google mentioning ticketstubs that didn't show up in one of the other tracking services.
I woke up this morning looking forward to watching the apple keynote, but since 8:45AM to even now at 10:30AM, I haven't been able to connect to their streaming server once. I've only gotten "bad request" or a never-ending "configuring" then timeout error. It seems silly to waste so much bandwidth by only doing it online. Why isn't TechTV, who always seems to be dying for content, showing it live on their channel? Why isn't it on channel 700-something on DirecTV? I know they simulcast them in their apple stores, why I can't I see it at home on a satellite?
As a proof of concept, the event doesn't work too well online. Even in the past when I've seen a macworld keynote over quicktime, it's often been plagued with dropped video, and/or buffering delays. I end up waiting until it's over to download the recorded version with less of a crowd to share it with. It doesn't portray the squeaky-clean image Apple likes to project, so I'm curious as to why they confine themselves to it.
Clay Shirky's article on Zapmail, wifi, and voice over IP (VoIP) is a fascinating look at how the internet provides for new business models while crushing the outdated ones. Also, it makes me want to try out Vonage. They offer low-cost nationwide unlimited plans and dirt cheap overseas calling with all the bells and whistles the phone company charges extra for (caller id, voicemail (web accessible even), call waiting, etc). The kicker is that you can keep your old number, or have a new one in any area code you like, and it doesn't require the use of any phone wiring in your house, just some ethernet from your DSL or cable modem connection.
The Ma Bell phone cartel should be shitting themselves right about now. Their time for this world is short, if new upstarts can deliver on VoIP at a fraction of their rates.
Thoughts on Apple's new browser, Safari:
It's wicked fast. This is wicked good.
I love the way they compacted the toolbar area to half the height of other browsers. Also kudos to the ingeniously positioned downloading status bar filling color behind a web address while a page loads.
I'm not much of a bookmark user (I use server-side tools instead), but the bookmark system looks good.
The spellchecker inside any web form is a feature every OS and browser should have.
No tabbed browsing. I love my mozilla tabs to death and use them constantly. Seems like a simple feature they could add.
No sidebars. This feature is present in Mozilla as well as IE, and I use it constantly to access server-side tools in another frame.
I use the home button and stop button pretty often in other browsers. Not having them in Safari is a bit of a problem. I didn't see the home button on the view menu. In another show of elegant minimalism, the refresh button functions as a stop sign while loading, which I missed (thanks aaron)
My biggest problem with Safari is that it seems to default to a 72dpi display instead of every other modern browser's 96dpi.
When I coded the Ticketstubs site, I purposely left font sizes undefined, thanks to a vocal minority of users that surf with very large or very small fonts by default. I picked a font that looked good at the default on a mac, Gill Sans. PC users get Trebuchet MS which is also a nice font to read at the default sizes (I find default verdana to be far too chunky).
This is how it looks in Mozilla on my laptop. This is the same page in IE. However, this page (with no font sizes declared!) is painful to read in Safari.
I remember having this problem with Netscape 4 at Blogger, and we had to code in switches whenever font sizes were declared so that Mac Netscape 4 users got one size, PC Netscape 4 users got another, and IE/PC users got something else (CSS). I'd hate to see that ever happen again.
TicketMath™, n.: The only place where 2 x $12 = $34. The secret technology behind Ticketmaster's pricing engine.
Larry Lessig has mentioned the availability and pricing wars in Tokyo for up to 100Mb DSL lines. I paid extra for my current 1.5Mb download/128kbps upload line, and the most bandwidth I've ever had at my disposal was my own T-3 line at UCLA (about 4.5Mb both ways).
So the question I'm dying to ask is, what on earth does one do with that much bandwidth?
Streaming video? Massive online multiplayer games? Running servers? Porn? Warez? Music trading? I can't imagine having that much bandwidth at my disposal, or having something that would require me to have it. Is it just convenience?
This laptop looks fantastic, but I'm most interested in hearing the reported sound on it. Every laptop I've heard has tinny-sounding 1" speakers that produce all the fidelity you can get from a $5 AM radio. Even the ultra hip Tibook from Apple suffered from pathetic sound. If BestBuy and Porsche of all people finally got the sound right in a small case, I'll be amazed.
In fact, I'd consider swapping my laptop to this if it were more affordable. I hate to say it, but my 400Mhz G4 titanium powerbook is atrociously slow, taking almost a minute to launch photoshop, and searching email archives proceeds at a glacial pace. Web browsing is bearable, which is probably the only reason I keep it around. I find myself frequently putting work off at home until I can get to my 1.7Ghz office PC due to the laptop's limitations. Make no mistake, Apple makes fantastic software. I'd rather use OS X over XP any day of the week. iPhoto and iTunes have no equal in the windows world and are close to perfection. There are a handful of other apps I use (NetNewsWire, Toast (for burning hybrid CDs), BBEdit for some things) that also don't exist for the PC. But their hardware sucks.
If I could run OS X on a $1,000 >1.5Ghz intel/amd laptop PC, I'd never use XP again.
I kind of like Wikis for some applications, but I've found quite of few of them to be a pain to setup (current easiest in my experience has been phpwiki). I also haven't seen an easy way to setup multiple ones (I get one for personal writing, I can flip a switch and give a friend one for a book she's working on, etc). They allow for instant editing on the web in a way that is in many ways easier than even blogging (but yes, it does have its idiosyncrasies).
I know wrapping your head around the idea of a wiki isn't the easiest thing (it took me many months between the first time I was exposed to one, and the time at which I found any use for them). Still, I'm surprised there isn't any sort of single community host for them. It seems like something I'd give someone five bucks a month for, to let me run a wiki that was instantaneous to sign up and get going.
I could also see wikis used for specialized purposes, and I wonder why special flavors haven't popped up. I wrote a book with two friends, and we frequently exchanged ideas, lists, and built up the book's glossary on a wiki. It was the perfect place to go and jot something down at any point in the three month-long book writing process, working great as a collaborative idea pad. I could see it used by screenwriters as well. Start a list of funny jokes, set aside another page for subplot ideas. When the inspiration strikes, expand your list of jokes page into dialogue between two characters. Then expand the page plot ideas page into an outline and link to a scene in the larger script, which is the joke page.
It took a while before there was a free blog host like blogspot to let anyone blog in minutes. Maybe I missed the free wiki host that allowed for much of the same thing.
I picked up the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets CD a few weeks back on the basis of their "Math Song" and I noticed that all the bands I enjoy that do the whole "we're a band with a sense of humor" thing well seem to be Canadian. American joke-y rock is often crude and far from subtle, but it just seems like every whimsical, unpretentious band I hear comes from the great white north (Moxy Fruvous, BNL).
I launched the ticketstubs site tonight, about two and a half years after I first came up with the idea for the site. For the longest time I said it was just a weekend of work, and I just never found the weekend. Last week I finally decided to sit down and crank it out, and it was maybe 3-4 days of work total.
One of my idols is Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons. Back in the 80s, I used to look forward to the weekly Life In Hell comics that showed up in the local alt-weekly. I owned several of the Life In Hell books, and when he got the gig drawing characters for the Tracy Ulman show, I watched just for the 90 seconds of weekly Groening magic. The Simpsons grew way beyond all that. A year or two ago I read an interview with Groening, and when asked about any regrets he had, he mentioned not delivering on ideas, not completing things he started, and generally leaving good ideas aside until he completely forgot them.
His answers resonated with me, and I figured one of my resolutions for 2003 was to deliver on ideas instead of resting on my laurels. With that motivation I started hacking away last weekend and earlier tonight got to a good stopping point. Ticketstubs is the first site I'm launching this year, but I promise there will be more to come.