I just noticed something odd on the MPAA site: under "Protecting Copyright and Creativity" they have a list of all the companies they've successfully sued into bankruptcy. That's quaint, isn't it? I imagine the halls leading to Valenti's office are adorned like the Lord of the Flies, with the severed heads of Napster, Scour, and the others all sitting on spikes.
After seeing it I also couldn't help but think of Krusty the Clown:
Krusty: I've had plenty of guys come after me, and I've buried them all. Sea Captain. Joey Bishop.
Pennycandy: Don't forget the Special Olympics.
Krusty: [wistfully] Oh, yeah... I slaughtered the Special Olympics! -- "Krusty Gets Kancelled''
Adam Kalsey takes the California State Fair webmaster to school, covering every bug, display problem, and user experience issue during the process. The level of detail is great, I often find myself stuck in similar forms and situations but can never muster the energy to write down everything that is wrong with the site.
These exercises are useful for every developer and designer working on similar sites. This critque, combined with sites like Design Not Found are loaded with lessons on what not to do. Those that don't learn from mistakes are destined to repeat them.
I'm a bit of a linux newbie, so it took me a couple days of trying to hook Homesite up to a staging server that only offers SSH 2 connections, but I'm glad to say I did it.
Thanks to a free java package called mindterm and these instructions I finally did it, and now instead of downloading the staging site to my local disk, then editing and uploading every changed file by hand, I can do everything directly from Homesite by just clicking on a filename, editing then pushing save.
I don't even want to know how much time I wasted over the past year and a half doing this by hand, pulling files down, navigating directories in WinSCP and uploading again (then having to login to use CVS to commit them).
While checking for updates using my blo.gs sidepanel (I've used blogtracker and blogrolling before too, though weblogs.com seems to be less reliable than normal lately), I noticed its keen resemblence to my TiVo's "Now Playing" list.
But I realized the weblog tools are missing an important feature when I read sippey.com this morning. He started republishing new stuff on Stating the Obvious, which he runs, but I had to read it on his site to know that.
With the advent of features like this at Technorati to tie multiple weblogs to a person, and tools like this to find similar weblogs, why can't these tools say "you may also enjoy these 5 weblogs" whenever I check for updates? If I like them, I can keep them, or next update they're gone. In this case, hopefully Sippey's other site would pop up and I'd be able to add it with a click.
There this game called Fishy that is fairly simple and highly addictive. You start out a tiny goldfish, and you have to eat things smaller than you while avoiding things bigger than you. With much patience and practice you begin amassing enough small fish to grow larger and eventually you're bigger than everything else. It takes forever to win and you can lose in a heatbeat (it took me two days to beat the game, after losing 20-30 times).
I've been shopping for my first home lately and for some reason the game feels like a metaphor for the average american's financial life. You are born broke, and told to save your pennies for decades (by the way, whatever happened to my childhood savings account with 50 bucks in it?) until one day you can own that perfect million dollar place. But one tiny missed student loan payment, one forgotten video rental at Blockbuster, or one too many credit card bills and your chances of getting that perfect place go poof, just like ol' Fishy.
I've been a fan of Scott Andrew's music for a couple years now, and I know it takes him anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to create a new song. When he said he was going to go from idea to song in 24 hours with Shannon Campbell, I wasn't sure if they could pull it off, it seems like so much pressure to force a creative output like that.
As of 8:30PM tonight, The song is almost complete and sounds amazing. They've even working on a new song to fill the remaining time.
Nice! Amazon developer Alan Taylor notes they've added RSS via the link tag to many product category and search pages. Here's amazon's announcement about it, and here's an example RSS feed I got on a book search for "weblog".
This could be one of the first good examples of RSS making a company real money, by letting people watch a product area they are interested in and buying products as soon as they are notified of it.
update: whoa, pb drops science on exactly how this works and how to personalize it for your own associates ID.
While searching around for boot disks tonight, I realized my PC's floppy drive was dead. Eventually I found Bart's bootable CDROM that allowed me to create an ISO that booted right into DOS once burned and loaded.
It seems like something that should have been devised years ago, but this is the first I've ever heard of it.
The folks over at Microdoc news did some great research to try and prove the "are blogs clogging google?" question.
I think the experiment design is sound, using random recent searches at All The Web is acceptable input, though I'm wary of the qualitative value judgement that splits non-relevant and reduce search value into different piles. Non-relevant and reduced utility seem to be one and the same to me.
Without seeing the full results, I'll trust the author's judgement and concede that maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill by noting blogs in many of my searches. Perhaps it is that the topics I search for are being blogged heavily. Perhaps it's that many good information sites have terrible HTML that makes them harder for Google to index.
An interesting estimate from that study is that almost 4% of all web pages on the internet could be blogs, which is kind of astounding.
Virgin Atlantic's new "upper class suite" looks like it was designed for hip-hop stars on MTV's cribs. This here's my plasma screen, that's my chill-out room over by the wet bar, and the jacuzzi's in the back.
"Dear teenaged males of America, with your baggy pants and ironic nerd hair: You have turned all the teenaged females of America into lesbians, good work. Do you think there were this many teenaged lesbians 10 years ago? Sorry, there weren't. I am not judging you, just letting you know."
Ev took my previous statements to task, and I do admit I was light on examples. I was seeing my own site in search after search but didn't bother to document them. Typepad offers a nice stat and referrer interface, so I just took a peek to grab some examples of what I was talking about. These aren't my searches, but instead what people search for online and end up on my site. The following is a list of every search referrer that lead to the site for the past 2 hours (from 4:30PM to 6:30PM 7/23/03), keeping in mind that tomorrow the site is officially one week old:
tivo phone prefix
phillips dsr 7000 #1 and I barely mentioned it
tivo hack service call
hacking tivo series 2 another number 1
phillips dsr 7000 hard drive number 1 again
tivo series 2 setup network modem
hacking tivo I don't see the site in these listings, though in the first few pages I noted lots of blogs
phillips dsr 7000 "home media" the only result
phillips dsr 7000
tivo dialing ethernet
phillips dsr 7000 support #1 result, and it leads to the front page instead of a post
Some of the posts on the PVRblog are helpful to the search terms being used here, but I would say the many (half? the majority?) aren't that useful.
Do I hate blogs? Of course not, but I've been doing lots of research online recently (about music, elections, mortgages, and gadgets), and blogs are showing up for all sorts of things, and they're not always helpful or directly related to the information I'm seeking. And again, i don't think blog authors are doing it consciously, and I don't think Google is favoring blogs for any special reason besides they happen to have all the properties of a great indexable site. I didn't set out to give the blog haters credit for "ruining google," I'm just making an observation here that I can no longer ignore. I love Google and it's by far the best research tool out there, I just hope it can stay that way, especially when the flood of new users from services like AOL Journals start going online by the thousands.
I know this has been around for Firebird for a while, but the Flash Click To View extension for mozilla and firebird makes content sites with distracting, loud flash movies a thing of the past, and you can selectively watch the ones you want to. This is exactly the kind of user control you'll never get in IE.
note: update to this post
As much as I hate to say it, I'm starting to buy the whole "blogs are ruining search engines" hype that's been spread around these past few months. Let's look at what types of things a search engine like Google likes to see:
- frequent updates to webpages
- many incoming links
- meaningful page titles
- important text wrapped in header elements
- meaningful page filenames
In the web's history, few sites did all the above well, so using these properties as criteria in locating good sites could be reliable. I think it's a total accident that blogs do all of the above well, especially those with nice Movable Type setups that create meaningful page titles and filenames, and those designed with CSS and using well-structured content. I don't think people set out to do each thing specifically to gain in google rankings, but the cumulative effect of all the above is pushing blogs high into searches for almost anything.
Now that I'm doing the PVR blog, I'm doing a bit of research for every post and when I run searches for TiVo and other terms, I'm finding a disturbing number of basic searches end up with the PVR blog in the top ten. Someone might point that out as a great success, but keep in mind the site started on Thursday of last week — it's 4 days old.
Tonight I started to write up a review of a product and found that a search for the product name gives my photos of said product as the #1 result, with the actual product in second place. My site is days old but outperforming the more useful site that has been around for a couple years.
Something isn't right in Googleville and perhaps it's time to figure out new criteria for predicting a high quality informational site that doesn't instantly favor blogs.
As a life-long cyclist, I go to a lot of bike company sites. Today I went to BiGHA, a bike company that makes some pretty cool looking recumbent bikes, and they've got a useful, great site with tons of personality. I also couldn't help but notice it is the first bike company I've ever seen that plainly has "weblog" in their site's navigation. Pretty cool, and goes with their open, personal company image completely.
I noticed in the PVRblog referrers that the site Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)" href="http://dir.yahoo.com/Entertainment/Consumer_Electronics/Video/Digital_Video_Recorders__DVRs_/">has been listed in Yahoo and that reminded me of how strange it must be that there are still Yahoo Surfers that do directories by hand for the search engine. I immediately thought of the Amish. These people scour the web for new interesting sites, constantly adding, editing, and tweaking their huge handmade taxonomy of all things web, while in the background millions of robots do their job better. Yet in the face of that, they keep pressing on.
On the Information Superhighway, Yahoo Surfers have orange triangular safety reflectors on the back of their buggies while the Googlebots whiz on by.
Jason's got a spectacular post about how business can acquire trust and regular customers by doing their best to deliver what people want, as quickly as possible.
The comparison between a music company and the donut guy reminds me a lot of a similar more obvious comparision I've been meaning to make for years:
Jack Valenti and Hilary Rosen could learn a lot from porn.
Remember the old jokes from the 90s about how the internet was nothing but a place for free porn? Well, it sort of was, and still is, but you don't hear about porn companies making a big fuss over people downloading free porn. You know why? They're too busy making a large profit. What about file sharing networks? Places practically built on free porn? The Adult film industry is embracing it and using P2P to post $750 million-to-$1 billion in profits. This quote from the article is apt:
"The adult industry is leading the way in peer-to-peer and begining to monetize it instead of fighting customers," Hunter said. "Any smart merchant can't look at a mall filled with 200 million people and not look at the opportunities to set up a kiosk."
The story of the donut man reminds us all there are two ways a business can view people crowding around their valuable products: either as thieving pirates that must be stopped at all costs, or as potential customers that can bring in a lot of money. As a business owner, what view is best for your profits?
I've been playing with Typepad for the past month or so, and I liked it so much I've been trying to come up with a reason to start a new blog over there. Well after some brainstorming I found a good reason: PVRblog (I'll be mapping pvrblog.com to it soon).
Though it's just me writing for now, eventually I'll be adding friends that are also TiVo/Replay/Freevo power users and hackers to offer their perspectives. I've got a backlog of things to write about there, including my adventures with a Directivo that I upgraded a couple times, my on-going project to build a TiVo that does it all (including reviewing every part of it and covering the installation in detail), and reviews of the upcoming TiVo hacking books.
Last night I caught the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and I was quite entertained and amused by it. It was just the right amount of camp and action that made for perfect movie escapism. Having grown up in Southern California, I loved the subtle nods to the ride (though I was surprised they didn't give a subtle jokey nod to a certain famous scene in the original ride).
I noticed the subtitle on the movie is "the curse of the black pearl" which makes me think there's a possibility this could become a series, which would be great. Hopefully future releases all occur on September 19th [via h-arrrrrr-umph].
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Open Source and Free Software projects have historically had terrible interfaces, due mostly to their volunteer community nature. Most often, the people that create the program and write all the code end up being the ones that also create the interface. Most projects are too complex to allow for interface contributors, so what we're often stuck with is lots and lots of open source software that was designed by an engineer and is difficult for most to use.
This past weekend I started looking for software to rip a few DVDs to Divx so I could watch them on a plane (without carrying around the discs or cases). I used Mencoder for OS X and although it was easy to create the movies once I had the proper settings, the interface was needlessly complex. Mencoder OSX is an open source port of linux tools. While searching for alternatives, I found another port of mencoder for os x called DVDibbler. If you check out the screenshot, you'll see it has the same functionality, but in a simplified and straightforward interface. And it's open source as well.
Now that there is a recently-formed open source software usability group, I'm hoping that improvements such as this will someday become common.
My latest feature essay: Beyond the Blog is all about how I've extended the use of Movable Type for this site and others.
First they came for the email, and I did nothing. Then they ruined the search engines, and I ignored it. Then they came for the blogs and there was no one left to stop them.
Thanks to a combination of over-inflated Google pagerank of blogs and article after article extolling the virtues of weblogs, I've been getting email and snail mail from a steady stream of hucksters, all related to this site.
Today I'm supposed to tell you that Vonage is now supported somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Michigan. As much as I love the vonage service, they really need to fire their clueless PR firm that sends me press releases (as attachments no less!). Also, a couple companies have propositioned me to seed my blog with links to their viagra hormone penis breast enhancement pills. From $7 per link (says the spam company that is headquartered in a tax shelter in Bermuda -- that's not too much of a red flag) to $30 per link, per month, people are offering to pay me to help them abuse google and make their site go higher in the ranks. I wonder how many actual takers they've gotten. I've gotten a couple free music CDs and a few books from publishers. Now, I had no qualms about getting free stuff, and I'd be happy to mention these titles by name if they were good (honestly, I would talk up good books no matter how much I paid for them), but to be honest the quality sucks. What's the protocol when someone puts you on a band's "street team" and the music is overproduced fluff? Is it ok to stay silent on the crappy books I got from a publisher, books that have nothing to do with the web and were painful to read after a few pages?
My favorite is the database software company that makes some plugin to a database software package. It adds functionality I would never need to a package I don't use. And I got followups to the first exciting press release. Why hadn't I mentioned it yet? Here's another press release! Have you mentioned the last exciting press release yet?
To all the hucksters: shine on you crazy diamonds. You've made my email amusing again.
Call me childish, but it cracks me up to no end that there exists a .bm registry.
I'm glad to see the new Adaptive Path site is online. It's truly a work of art, building on the previous design in innovative ways, making things much more clear and easy to find, while at the same time going totally standards compliant. The site is also loaded with dozens of cool tricks and hacks any CSS coder would faint over. My hat's off Doug for an amazing job.
The old design required dozens and dozens of images for almost every page, and was a royal pain to maintain (adding a new page meant new nav item images in several sizes, new title images, etc). Now, AP is a team of seasoned web veterans, but on more than one occasion changing the site required my intervention. AP's new site is a testament to the wonders of CSS. The markup is vastly simplified, making additions trivial and maintenance a breeze. It also works in almost any device, is much more accessible, and uses much less bandwidth making it cheaper to host and faster for users.
It's win-win, and I'm in awe at Doug's mad CSS skillz.
After my powerbook hinge exploded a while back, I figured out how to get around it by just leaning the screen against things. While not ideal, it was cheaper than the $600 repair that Apple quoted me, until the video from the LCD stopped working yesterday.
At that point it was either repair, buy a PC laptop, or replace with a new mac laptop. I weighed the options, and thanks to new pricing I ended up going for a 12" powerbook. It was only a few hundred bucks more than the PC laptop I was eyeing and I figured it'd be easier to just migrate from my old powerbook.
And that's where things get surprising. Moving from one powerbook to another is a lot more difficult than I thought it'd be. I'm having to go back through a couple years of archived email to find registration numbers and info on all the software I bought for the old one, and I haven't yet tried to convince my iPod that it has a new home and I'm not trying to steal music with it. For all of Apple's great software, I'm surprised they haven't produced a nice tool to migrate from one mac to another. You'd figure with their history of faulty hardware and constantly upgrading customers, there'd be a demand for such a thing.
update: thanks to the number of people emailing to mention a firewire connection from one machine to another will do the trick, and apparently pick up all the magical preferences that contain serial numbers and dependencies and such. I'll give that a go today.
In case you haven't already heard, TypePad is now in public beta and is definitely worth checking out. The posting interfaces are simple, powerful, and sublime. I've also found that after playing with Typepad's mobile blogging and photo blogging features, I never want to upload photos through my current crude methods on this site. The system they got there is so refined and easy to use, I can't wait until the innovations trickle into a future Movable Type product (or I guess I'll wait until they support custom domains at typepad and just move my site over there).
This idea for a September 11 photoblog is a great one, and something I'll be participating in. While it seems a lot like the Behind the Curtain project in 2000 (my entry), I like the extra meaning attached to this project. It's not just photographing your life for 24 hours for the hell of it or the pure vanity. It feels more like something that will produce a collective work that says "here is what humanity is like, what we hold near and dear, and why we celebrate life." It's being held on a day that will forever be a dark anniversary, but I'm glad to see some attempt at injecting light into it.
I moved to a new place recently and decided it was time to try out some new technology. The first thing I wanted was a Vonage phone. It's a VoIP (voice over IP) service that basically uses your broadband connection to send your voice to some server that converts it to the regular phone system (how it works). It's grown very sophisticated in the past few years and in the days I've had it, I can't tell the difference between calls made with it and a regular line.
Because your calls are essentially digital bits, they are cheap for Vonage to transmit, and their prices are low. I sprung for the $40 a month plan that has unlimited calling in the US and Canada, and they include every feature imaginable, including voicemail, caller ID, emails when you get a message, wav files of your messages downloadable, call forwarding, etc. It also means you can choose a phone number from anywhere in the country and you won't show up in any directories (I'm hoping that means no telemarketing calls either, which it has so far). Their rates to Europe and Australia are unheard of, and it means I can finally catch up with friends in Melbourne for just a few bucks a month.
The funny part is that I originally was going to get a DSL line to support it, but the local telecom requires that you also have a phone line with them to use DSL. I don't know if that's because they knew a company like Vonage would spring up to undercut their prices and service, but I decided to instead go with a cable modem. So far, my new Comcast cable modem is averaging 2.5mbps download speeds in the daylight hours, which is faster than any DSL line I've used, and it's also ten bucks cheaper than any DSL line I've had before.
I didn't intend to completely avoid the telephone companies at my new place, but I'm glad I did. Once and for all I can avoid SBC's shoddy service, overpriced products, and outdated business models. I'm hopeful that companies like Vonage totally revolutionize the industry.
update: There's a great review article about current VoIP services in the Seattle Times that puts Vonage on top of their ratings. Also, if you're interested in trying it, email me and I can send you a first-month-free link as an email (via Vonage's refer a friend program).
I've long been a fan of Scott McCloud's work, and I've always enjoyed how he plays with the online medium and his comics. He's written whole books on why comics look and act as they do and how with the web, they can do a lot more. His newest comic is both an experiment in micropayments (costs a quarter to view) and an experiment in display. Using Flash, it's pretty effortless to get through the story in a couple minutes.
And yet, it still feels like comics done online are at the training-wheel stage of development, if that far. Five years ago, I was amazed at a piece called Fuel at Born Magazine (which unfortunately only works in Netscape 4). It's a pulp fiction-style little story of mystery and murder, and it's beautifully illustrated and presented in an innovative way. I always thought that was the just the tip of the iceberg and we'd be seeing all sorts of amazing stuff in years to come, but it hasn't really happened for the most part. It still looks pretty revolutionary as far as online storytelling and graphic art are concerned. Most of today's online comics are still just 3 or 4 pane short narratives, designed for the constraints of a printed page.
Scott's new comic is cool, and I like the ease-of-use on the flash viewer. It's baby steps, but at least they are steps in the right direction.