Flourescent lights

Jaimie and I have been pushing to reduce the impact of our living on the environment. Recycling was an obvious first choice. Just by being careful about what we throw out, we’ve been able to reduce our trash significantly. Our recycled papers and plastics have taken a lot of the mass out of our weekly trash.

The second largest change we could make was to swap out our normal light bulbs for flourescent ones. These have several advantages, use a fraction of the electricity and last much longer. However, they have downsides as well. The color is different, a much starker white. It’s a bit weird to get used to at first, but not the end of the world. Another problem though is that they take a while to warm up. The bulbs will start out dim and come to full brightness after about 60 seconds. This can be a problem in areas like a bathroom, where you enter and leave fairly quickly, not giving the bulbs a chance to warm up.

I’d really like to be able to stay with the new light bulbs, but to offeset the negatives I’ve found that mixing the flourescent bulbs in a 2-1 ratio with standard bulbs works very well. This balances the color out to a more standard feel and adjusts the brightness so that there’s light immediately.

Otherwise I’ve very happy with the new bulbs. There’s no flicker or any other downsides of flourescent light bulbs.

Weird things coming home from vacation

Jaimie and I prefer to vacation in Hawaii, it’s beautiful, it’s easy, and it’s not too much work. However, the last two times we’ve gone, the only two since we’ve been in the new house, we’ve come home to some strange things. The first time we came home from a week trip and all of the smoke detectors we’re going off. Apparently they had been for the entire afternoon. There’s nothing in the world that will get your adrenaline pumping like coming home to your newly purchased home and hearing all of the smoke alarms going off. Nothing was amiss in the house except that we had let the heat go down, but not <50*. We figured that this must have somehow affected the smoke detectors.

What was really strange was that none of the smoke detectors are attached. They’re all simple battery units, but three of them were going off in three different rooms of the house. They also weren’t CO detectors or anything else fancy.

After going in and pulling the batteries to get them to shut up everything was normal. Then after putting the batteries back we found that they were all dead, they kept doing the low battery chirp. So, one trip to Home Depot later, I pick up new batteries and new smoke detectors just to be sure, had wanted to get CO detectors anyway. Haven’t had any problems since then.

This time on returning from our latest trip to Hawaii, we’ve got another smoke detector dead and chirping. We didn’t allow the house to get abnormally cold this time as we kept the heat program running through the week. Just a strange coincidence to come home to.

Trouble for Webshots

Webshots and the Facebook have a rather symbiotic relationship. The core audience of the Facebook has historically used Webshots to post all of their party pictures. Webshots allows free hosting of 240 pictures per free user. However, most people are smart enough to realize that they can sign up as many free users as they like or if they really care, sign up for a premium membership to get storage for 3000 photos. The problem is that the Facebook just announced free unlimited photo hosting for their users. This removes any impetous for their users to go to Webshots and manage a half dozen free users. I’m curious to see how Webshots responds.

Just a little pet peeve with Bloglines

I love bloglines. I use it every day and usually keep a browser window open to the site. However, lately I’ve noticed that I seem to be getting more and more stories duplicated. I’ll check in the morning and go through all my feeds. Then later on many of the stories that I read earlier will return as new again. Not the end of the world, but a bit of a pain none the less. Is this due to load issues at bloglines? Otherwise a great service.

Javascript libraries

There seems to be dozens of javascript ajax libraries opening up these days. There was an interesting one featured on ajaxian recently called moo.fx that produces very nice effects within the browser. I’m finding it amazing how far the web developers toolkit has come over the last several years. It used to be that it was very difficult to create a full featured website that would work consistetly in everyone’s browser. Now I think we’re finally on the verge of creating desktop replacement apps on the web.

If you’re careful and design the archetecture from the ground up to do so, it should be possible to start replacing desktop apps on the web. I’m very excited to see what the next year brings on this front and am personally playing with creating some apps as a test bed.

One of the issues that I’m concerned about though is with mixing these libraries. If you want to take one thing from one and another feature from another, what is the impact on the end user. Do the various libraries allow themselves to be cut up into smaller pieces?

TV Poker

Started watching the Travel Channels coverage of Texas Hold Em awhile back and found it interesting if I had some time to kill. One of it’s best aspects was watching the pros bluff each other and having the inside knowledge of what was going on. It was fascintating to see the control over emotion and strategy that they had. The commentators seemed to be rather knowledgeable as well.

Last night I caught ESPN’s version of the same. It was just bad. Poker for the lowest common denominator. You never watched more than one hand in a row and the commentators were not only idiots and offensive, but outright wrong sometimes. I try and avoid watching most anything that’s on ESPN and the only reason that this snuck in was that I was up late in a hotel room that only got 10 channels.

It’s sad to see coverage of an interesting event handled so poorly. What’s worse is that the 24hr news channels are looking very similar.

In Kauai for the week

Jaimie and I have been spending the last week in Kauai, HI. It’s our one vacation for the year and we really look forward to it. We’re big fans of Hawaii, it’s close, it’s easy, and it’s very relaxing.

We went to the Big Island’s Four Seasons for out honeymoon and that was simply amazing. We’ve also been to Maui twice. We decided to try out Kauai this time though. It’s absolutely beautiful, but rather lacking in the snorkeling dept. The waves are pretty rough right now and not a whole lot of good sandy beaches to swim off of. Maui wins in this department.

We’re staying at the Hyatt, which is the second best place we’ve ever stayed, but everything else is way behind the Four Seasons. We’ll have to save up to go back there some day. The gym is just amazing and everything is perfect. Just can’t say enough positive things about it.

One more day here, then it’s back to the grindstone.

Text box autocomplete

Fun project for the weekend.

Figure out how to do the text box autocomplete display with javascript. I understand the ajax part about fetching the data. I just need to figure out the display portion. How to format the div so that it floats underneath the text box and looks somewhat proffesional. Any suggestions or examples of it is being succesfully employed would be great.

Managing my data

I’m fascinated by the implications of the Web2.0 idea along with ajax and rich web apps. I’m a bit disappointed though that most of these applications seem to be dealing with social type programs. Maybe these are just the low hanging fruit, but there are so many other areas that can be improved upon with these types of applications that have nothing to do with meeting people.

There are areas like backup, document management, finance, identity… that could improve by huge margins and get out of the enterprise arena and into the consumer market.

Data envy

There’s an interesting article on I, Cringley about Apple’s latest video ipod and more importantly a study on Google’s AdWords. I think it’s fascinating that Google has risen to the level that people are spending this much time analyzing the way that they work. I also just finished reading Battelle’s book Search that discusses some similar topics. Battelle talks about Google having a pulse of the entire world since it is able to see what the world is searching for at any given time. He argues that search queries are the best view we have inside people’s mind to their true desires. I agree that of all the ways that we have to watch people from a distance, search terms are probaly the best way to take the world’s pulse.

I believe that Google is in a truly envious position. Having access to this data, the computing power to process it, the ability to hire the best people, and then the abilty to give those people the time to sift through it is amazing. Being able to study and test economic theories in a very live and large lab is unprecedented.

Cringley talks about a study of AdWords, where some customers try and optimize their performance using economic theories. He hints at an underlying false assumption, that the Google Adwords system is optimized for customer performance, where it is much more likely optimized for Google’s performance. I hope that Google is sticking to their “Don’t be evil” theme, but it’s so tempting for corporations when there’s so much money involved and since this is Google’s cash cow funding everything else they do. However, as a software engineer I think another assumption that probably is incorrect is that the AdWords system is static at all. There are a very large number of smart people over there all trying to put their stamp on creating the best product possible. This calls for constant modification and optimization. I have no doubt that the algorithms are being adjusted daily and that they are trying out different theories.

My only hope is that with all the possiblility for true science to come out of the experiment that is Google, that some of it gets published for those of us that don’t work within the campus.

Responding Quickly, Good Job Bloglines

I just noticed that bloglines has added hot keys. This is just a few short days after Google Reader came out with them in their product. I played around with Google Reader a bit and using the hot keys was really the only way that I thought it was usable, it was just way too clumsy and slow otherwise. I like being able to set up folders in bloglines and then going through each folder. This way I’ve got the posts in order by topic, ie. news, then software, then business. The only way I can keep my head wrapped around things.

Do I really need hotkeys with bloglines, no not really, but now that they’re there I’ll probably get used to using them. I really like the responsiveness though. Working at a company that is unable to make nimble changes is incredibly frustrating and the reason that I left my previous job. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. Good job Bloglines.

Over-analysing Blogs

In tonights 106Miles meeting there was a bit of discussion on RSS and tracking readership. This came from some other discussions in the blogosphere about being able to track who’s reading and how many subscribers a blog has. This is an inherently difficult thing to do because of the way that the system has been set up. A large number of blogs will have several ways of syndicating the content, though rss, feedburner, myYahoo, bloglines, … This choice is one of the reasons for blogs/rss’ success and all of them take away from the publishers ability to track readership. Allowing people to read what they want on their own terms is why this whole thing is taking off. Giving control to the reader is the important part of the equation, not counting how many people are reading and I would argue that the two are mutually exclusive.

When you boil down what is happening with blogs, it occurred to me that it’s an extension of the model of the niche scientific or industrial community. As you progress upwards in a specific area towards being an expert in a field, it’s harder and harder to find mainstream content about the field that satisfies your need for learning. That’s the area that the niche publication and conference have filled in the past. What the blogs and rss has allowed is the same type of communication, it’s just become much easier to form groups dynamically and to expand the coverage into areas that weren’t commericially viable in the past. The only problem is that there is little to no penalty for producing content that is of no value to anyone.

106Miles is back

Tonight was the first meeting in a couple months and I’m glad the group is back. The focus of the discussion was Web Services from Amazon. Jeff Bar, the webservices evangelist, started the talk with a 10min presentation. He then moved on to syndic8.com, a personal project of his.

The focus of the amazon portion of the talk was on the affiliate program. Amazon makes money on the sales of items that have been passed through by an affiliate’s web site, while the affiliate takes a commision from the sale. The main take home was that Amazon understands that the more locations that postings for it’s items live the better it does. There are some issues with fighting fraud, but the program is generally a success.

Also, the Alexa division announced yesterday that it was offering much of its services over the web as well. No data on usage yet since it’s brand new. The main difference was that this was going to a fee based service. After an initial period it’s $.15 / 1000 requests.

While Amazon definitely should be praised for leading the way in webservices and they’re making a big deal about the web2.0 nature of some of the things people are doing with the service, I still have questions. What type of SLA is amazon providing with these services? If it is no longer in Amazon’s best interest to offer these services it will be difficult for a business that has built on top of them to continue.

I believe that this latest web2.0 hype isn’t really anything new from a business sense. Companies have been partnering for a very long time. The technology has just advanced to the point that it is much easier to create something valuable out of a partnership with very little work or time. This does not reduce the need for businesses that are building products around these partnerships to hammer out details and concerns.

Why use xml with ajax

Continuing with my explorations of ajax, I was struck with the question of why to use xml as the message structure. It seems that there are two options.

    Use javascript to add functionality to the page, use xml as transport from the server, format response and alter page.
    Use javascript to add functionality to the page, use html as transport from the server, directly embed response to alter the page.

The main difference here is that the conversion of the xml response from the server into a something that can be displayed on the page is actually a rather tricky matter. I think that that’s where the javascript functions are getting incredibly complicated and breaking for developers. Handling errors in xml parsing and formatting is a PITA. It requires a LOT more of the display logic to reside with the client.

Why not just have the server handle all of that and keep the client a bit dumb and just insert whatever it gets back from the server using element.innerHTML method. This makes development of ajax apps 1000% easier.

The downside of course is that it’s more difficult for other apps to work with the interfaces. If this is something that you want to do with your application, you should probably be looking to expose interfaces explicitly for this purpose. This will allow for monitoring and control of these interactions. Once you’re doing the formatting for html, it’s not that much harder to add a second one for xml on the server side.

Oh well, there goes the neighborhood

I’ve been doing a lot of playing around with ajax now and last night I saw something that took my breath away. I should have known it was coming, but sometimes you just hope for the best. A site had taken to using ajax style elements to produce popup ads within the page. It floated over the middle of the page and wouldn’t go away until you clicked on it. It was annoying as hell, and I won’t be going back to that site again, but this is an ad networks dream. It’ll get around pop-up blockers. You can’t just ignore the ad, you have to deal with it. It’s in your face and going to be very difficult to screen away. Really a bottom of the barrel technique, but it seems that there are plenty of people out there willing to use these techniques. This is going to bring a whole new level to thinking about dynamic web pages.

Years ago, you would just turn off javascript within the browser. No one was doing anything useful with it and if and if they were doing something, you didn’t want to be a part of it. Now the landscape has changed quite a bit. There are a lot of things out there that I want javascript to be able to do. It’s going to be much harder to filter out the bad from the good.