Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Serious Questions

How often do you click "Follow us on Facebook" links from a company's website?

How different is this from a web ring?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thank you John Carmack

A note about something I just realized.

The most anticipated computer game ten years ago was Quake 3.  It was one of the few core games that seemed guaranteed to transcend the core market-- Gamers would see it as the next way to compete.  Normal people would play it casually with friends.  Geeks would play it for the dynamic lighting and curved surfaces.

When the demo was released, the Mac and Linux versions came out first, which sent an enormous amount of Windows users scrambling.  Because this was years before installing Linux convenient in any way, it forced a great number of people to learn about booting from floppies, partitioning, filesystems, the command line, installing proprietary video drivers, and a host of other Linux-y skills.

It took me four days to get to the point where I could even run the game, but I got to enjoy it three days before my friends.  And it set me on a path that I've been on for ten years.

Thanks, John!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

An Open Firefox Feature Request

I love tree-style tabs.  It suits my [scatterbrained] working style to have 50+ tabs open at a time.  I almost always middle-click links to put them in a new tab. This way, I can leave parent pages completely untouched while I go off on tangents, compare notes, etc.  I eventually return to the page I started on and continue on my merry way.

Increasingly, links no longer point to discrete pages but DHTML elements that are meant to change the appearance of the parent page.  They can't be opened in a new tab, and there's no reassurance that they won't mangle the page beyond recognition.  Not only that, but they're hard to identify-- Generally their destination ends in an anchor tag (i.e. "#content"), but other than that they are indistinguishable from normal off-page links.

I propose that middle clicking these links opens an overlay that can be easily closed.  This way, the damage can be undone, and the browsing experience can continue uninterrupted.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Well, that was an experience

This morning, I decided to take a short detour to Radio Shack to pick up some magnet wire.  While the decision seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, it lead to a very unreasonable series of events-- Starting with a bike ride across town to visit three different stores, and finally culminating inside a local machine shop where a toothless, semi-drunk store employee wrapped five feet of wire around a pencil and gave it to me free of charge. 

It's not that I'm upset about the day's events per se but the confused expressions on people's faces when I asked to buy such a common item.  Magnet wire is in virtually everything.   I concluded two things:

1)  I visited three very bad electronics stores.
2)  Tinkering with electronics is not as common as it should be.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In my dreams

Last night I had a dream that my parents had chartered an Antonov 225 cargo plane for a family trip to Pierre, South Dakota.

The plane had been massively upgraded.  Inside, it featured essential creature comforts like champagne, wi-fi, and a racquetball court.  The engines (and structural framework) had also been upgraded at great cost to allow for supersonic flight.

This unfortunately meant that I would reach destination of Pierre much faster.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Most Disturbing Part About Twitter that suddenly people like John Cleese, Shaq, and Ted Nugent have a better understanding of an applied technology than I do.

Jason Belmonte, Bowling Radical

Two days ago, an Australian man named Jason Belmonte walked away with the PBA tour title.  He's the first person to win using a two-handed technique:

Apparently, involving both hands allows him to achieve a greater amount of spin (630rpm versus the average professional's 400rpm), creating a significantly more forceful pin strike.

It's amazing to me that a sport as old and as simple as bowling can be revolutionized by single, somewhat obvious innovation.  I suppose Jason Belmonte can now join the ranks of Dick Fosbury, Rick Barry, Pete Gogolak, and other sports luminaries who did things the "wrong" way to great effect.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Google, we hardly knew ye

News broke today of Google's latest wave of layoffs-- 200 employees in marketing and sales.  This adds to the 100 layoffs in recruitment and the 40 in the now-defunct radio program.  So, 340 since January. 

The company wrote:

"In some areas we've created overlapping organizations," Google said. "We over-invested in some areas in preparation for the growth trends we were experiencing at the time."

Two years ago, the phrase "overlapping organizations" would have been unthinkable in the same breath as "Google".  Now, it's hardly a surprise-- In fact, their stock actually rallied today despite the announcement.  Google, once organized into perfect and discrete elements, now sprawls into social networking sites and blogs-- a sort of slow bloodletting for its formerly iconic brand image.

Its core applications like Mail, Maps, and Docs have been suffering at the hands of the Labs, Gadgets, Themes, Gears, "Older Version", and other features that have added complexity without improving extensibility.  What's worse is that these features are totally inconsistent-- Labs and Themes only work for Mail, Gadgets only works for Sites and iGoogle, Offline only works in certain browsers at certain times.  Of course, none of these things work in Google Apps. 

Confused yet?  I am.

I don't think it's premature to say that the Google is finished as an innovator.  Many large tech companies have followed a similar arc:  A single great brand that spawns an entire culture, leading to the hiring of young talent, bonuses, a blockbuster IPO, and years of industry dominance, followed by a slow dissolution of the brand as the company grabs at new and seductive revenue streams.

Obviously, this isn't the end of Google.  With the sheer amount of talent and money they have locked up, they'll continue to release new and sometimes excellent products.  The game-changers, though, are all used up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let there be light

Those of us who have lived in the Northwest know the importance of sunlight in our energy, mood, and productivity.  Even if you hasn't self-diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, appropriately), there's no doubt that summer hours are a welcome transition.  Google trends shows in the greater United States, searches for "depression" are about 50% more common in the winter than in the summer.

According to this map of solar insulation, the Northwest is perhaps the darkest part of the mainland US during the winter:

While I don't know much about the biology of sunlight, I do know that the Northwest has a reputation for chemical imbalances.  It manifest in our music, politics, propondance of serial killers, our glut of cafes and bars.  Individuals tend gravitate towards opposite ends of the extreme:  A long, deep, brooding in the winter, followed by bouts of impulsiveness in the summer.  Loathing self-desctruction combined with fitful creativity.

What's more is that during the late summer, it actually becomes brighter than just about anywhere in the east:

So why am I bringing this up?  Over the year, sunset and sunrise times vary according to a sine wave, and we're just about to enter the period of the most dramatic change.  In one month, we can expect another 96 minutes of daylight.  Sunset happens about 1.6 minutes later each day.  With daylight saving time (March 8), most of us will probably enjoy another hour of waking sun each day. 

So, Northwest residents, armed with this knowledge, I urge you to use your early-spring manic cycle wisely.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

San Francisco

I'll be in and around San Francisco from 1/22 to 1/29.  Just sayin'.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Harper's Index 2000-2008

I always skip to the "Numbers" (or is it "Figures?") section of TIME magazine before I read anything else. So  imagine my excitement when I found this huge list of figures, compiled by Harper's, for the Bush era:

It's a little bit factual, a little bit editorial, and a whole lot of sad.  I love this kind of format, though.  Numbers don't lie.