Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Your Personal Powerplant

A while ago my brother, was looking at installing some solar panels on his house to reduce his electricity bill and the government was going to give him a big rebate that would pay for a lot of the up-front cost.

How about this option? It runs on natural gas, offsets your electricity bills and provides heat too. They say it's 90% efficient. Not bad.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nick, this one's for you

You may or may not know that one of Nick's current obsessions interests is Second Life and other virtual communities (to be fair, it's an intellectual research-driven interest, not a nerdy escapist gaming-freak interest, and I think it's great). Well, chew on this: is Google developing its own virtual world??

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Hero

He might look like an alien, and Prarie Home Companion might not be my favorite show, but Garrison Keillor has done more to expose me to, and make me love, radio than any other personality. And he certainly is a personality. He was there when I was a little kid waiting for my mom to cook up some tasty breakfast on Sunday morning, and he's still there now when I'm relaxing on Saturday night cooking a tasty meal of my own.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hotel near home

I know everyone thinks it's really funny that Nick and I work for Microsoft and Google, respectively, and assume that we must be incorporating NDAs into our wedding vows or heckling each other every day about our competing features and services. But I think we're generally pretty good about it. We'll rib each other when we have company over, since it's sort of expected, but we have enough perspective that we don't feel the need to spend our personal time promoting our employers to each other.

But today I just can't help myself, this is too good. :-)

I'm working on adding hotel recommendations to our wedding website, and I got a list of three hotels within minutes of our reception site, but I had no idea where the nearest hotels were to our home. So (of course) I went to Google Maps and searched for "hotel near home" (since, I might add, Google Maps is smart enough to know our home address, so I don't have to enter the whole address each time I search, I can just enter the keyword 'home').

Anyway. The search returns me four pages of results, but the first few listings include corporate housing, travel agencies, and a resort timeshare company; the first real hotel is the fifth result, and it's 1.5 miles away from our place, which isn't very convenient for people from out of town who might not have a car. So I complain about the results to Nick, and he suggests I ask Live Search (the Microsoft equivalent of Google). So I search for "hotel near 15667 NE 102nd Way, 98052" on Live Search.

First of all, the page takes nearly 10 seconds to load (an eternity in internet time), showing me nothing but a little circle going around and around. Then it pops up a security warning:

After I accept the security certificate, I get this message:

No results were found. Are you looking for the location of hotel near 15667 NE 102nd Way?

I wonder if I misspelled something... I compare this query to my original query... I find that they're exactly the same... I'm confused for a few minutes... but I decide Microsoft must know what they're doing, right? So I click their suggestion.

I get a map of central Poland, and this message:

The closest match for 'hotel near 15667 NE 102nd Way' is 'Hotel [Chotel], Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland'. If the closest match is incorrect, enter the complete address including country name and commas, and try again.

And I thought 1.5 miles was far away...!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Our wedding website

If there's actually anyone out there reading this, you may be wondering why Nick is kicking my butt at posting lately. The answer is that we finally found a wedding location last weekend and set a date; so I've been busting my butt this week to finish our wedding website so that we can send out our invitations this weekend.

Each invitation comes with a login and password so that families can log in and RSVP online: it saves paper (whoever came up with the idea of 25 little vellum papers and envelopes folded inside other envelopes?), it saves stamps, and it saves time. They can also let us know what guests they plan to bring, and leave us comments (such as "Congratulations!" or "My son is going through an anti-yellow phase so he needs an entrée without anything yellow in it").

The brilliance of keeping all our RSVPs in a database is that—aside from having all the info in one place and not having to keep lists or hang on to a million little response cards—it makes it really easy to pull up some statistics about who's coming and who's RSVP'd. (I always feel stupid saying RSVP'd; I know we use it as a verb in English, but I can't help thinking répondez s'il vous plaît-ed every time I hear it.) I built an extra module for Nick and me to view some basic information about how many people have responded, and to see any comments people have left:

There will also—as soon as I make some phone calls about this—be info on local hotels, group reservations, maps to our house and to the reception location (a cute farmhouse in Bothell), and other useful information. In case you can't tell, I'm kinda proud of it all. Now I just need to send the actual invitations out so that people can start logging in and using the darned thing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

IE Not Supported...

I was doing my job today and trying to get up to speed on some interesting debugging methods for various languages and came across this (the link will only repro if you're using IE):

IE is not supported - please use Firefox, Safari, Konqueror or just about anything else.

You might just be able to imagine where I work.

Cheney won't discuss his pregnant (lesbian) daughter

This is an interesting web of complex issues. If you step back for a minute, and forget that he's vice president in this administration, he's just a man with a particular set of beliefs. He loves his daughter and is glad to have a new grandchild, but doesn't want to discuss the more complicated issues involved.

If you step back and forget about the human being (there are potentially three of them involved here), he's an awfully public figure with a lot of responsibilities to his constituents, especially given how he and Bush campaigned. And he refuses to discuss this pretty hot-button issue which he's right in the middle of, and potentially has a very special perspective on.

I guess I think it's sort of a cop-out to refuse to discuss this. Everyone must be accountable for his or her beliefs, especially such a public figure. I can't really understand how he can maintain credibility and say, "I think you're out of line with that question", given how his administration and party feel about this issue.

What do you think?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Generation We?

It's really amazing where things are headed. I think of myself as pretty tech savvy and pretty next gen. But think about these kids that have never lived in a time without (forget Google), Wikipedia, YouTube, Revver, Blogger, etc. This story is about one 8 year old:

His interest in TV has really declined, because it's just there, you can't customize it... he's tuned to a world where he controls media, not the other way around.

They have the whole world right at their fingertips, and always have.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pandora Suggests... Hillary Duff

I've got a "Cake" radio station on Pandora. It's pretty well stocked with good music that I like, maybe not all of it is exactly like Cake, but what are you gonna do? So imagine my surprise when this comes up:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vichet Ou thanks you...

Like good little alumni, Nick and I have been donating a modest sum to the Cornell Annual Fund every year since we graduated. As an undergrad, my dependence on financial aid was, at times, a pressing issue on my mind; and I remember seeing some of the grandiose and/or pointless things that the University spent its money on (Big Red Diversity Arches, anyone?), and vowing that if I ever donated money to the University, I would specify that it was only to go towards financial aid.

And so we have done. This year we got a darling thank you letter from the Fund, telling us about an undergraduate student who may-or-may-not have directly benefited from our donation:

This gift has an immediate impact on several students each year. One of those students, Vichet Ou '07, is an English major in the College of Arts and Sciences. He has been involved with the gymnastics team, the Cornell Dance Sport Club (a competitive ballroom/Latin dance [group]), and has served as the president and an instructor for the Cornell Ballroom Dance Club. Vichet is interested in journalism, creative writing, and dance. He plans to pursue a career in either teaching or aerospace engineering. Because of your gift, students like Vichet have the opportunity to learn and become productive members of society.

As Nick said, "It kind of makes you feel like you're sponsoring a kid in the third world, doesn't it?"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Big Thinking on Public Goods in Virtual Communities

You might already know, but Second Life, and other immersive, virtual communities are one of my current interests. I'm still coming up to speed on what they are and what they can do, and I'm certainly not very well entrenched in any of these communities. But I'm learning. And I think the possibilities are really interesting

This interview is with Howard Rheinngold, one of these big thinking, futurist types. Here's one tidbit:

The research on open-source production seems to indicate that a mixture of motives is necessary for creating public goods like open-source software, Wikipedia, etc. Reputation, profit, learning, fun, altruism. Profit is in there, for sure. It's just not the only motivation.

Interesting stuff...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The sweet sound of metal on metal

My official NPR calendar (thank you, Jenny!) tells me that today is National Dress Up Your Pet Day. It is also the 20th anniversary of Weekend Edition Sunday, which they celebrated on air this morning by phoning up Liane Hansen (the regular host, currently on sabbatical) only to have her ask, "Do you want to know what I'm wearing right now?" (The answer, thankfully, was 'comfy pyjamas'; but I definitely felt a moment of awkward silence there before she said so.)

We enjoyed this weekend by having Paul & Julie Lorah over for dinner and games on Saturday. While cleaning up afterwards, I managed to grind up some steel measuring spoons in the garbage disposal. There's nothing quite so heartwarming as the sound of metal chewing on metal... Luckily we managed to pick 95% of the pieces out w/ kitchen tongs, so don't tell our landlords about it, okay? This is gonna just be our little secret: you, me, and the Internet.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rack and Pinion

As you may or may not know, we've been having a series of automotive (mis-)adventures with our 120,000-mile Ford Windstar van. Let's see... there was the time the emergency brake froze up (followed by air in the brake lines after they fixed it, and a resulting inability to stop the car, which we literally discovered minutes before heading off on a 60-mile trip); there was the headlights randomly turning off while we were doing 70mph in the backwoods of Michigan at night; there was the transmission replacement in August (ever broken down in Utah 60 miles from the nearest town? I don't recommend it); the braking system replacement when we got to WA; the broken front sway-bars... you see where I'm going with this?

In this latest installment of Fun With Ford, we learn about the rack and pinion.

When we came to WA we had the van checked out by a local Ford dealer, who recommended almost $2000 in repairs. Among these items was a full replacement of the power steering apparatus (rack and pinion). Since we'd just poured $3000 in for the transmission, we only accepted the "you can't drive without this" repairs, and told them just to flush the transmission fluid and we'd deal with it.

After awhile, though, we started to get this whining, grinding noise. The noise increased with the RPM of the engine and got much worse when we turned the wheel. Once it got too loud to procrastinate any longer, we found a Goodyear repair shop conveniently close to our house and took the van in for a second opinion (without telling them that we'd already been advised to replace the rack and pinion). To our pleasure, they said that all we needed to replace was the power steering pump (not cheap, $450-ish, but still not as expensive as the $750 quote for the rack and pinion). They assured us that the rack and pinion was fine. We felt cool and smart for having outfoxed the dealership who'd tried to sell us something we didn't need. We replaced the pump, and assumed that would be the end of it.

But when we got the van back, the pump was still making noise. The guy told us that newly-installed pumps are still noisy in about 30% of cases, and that it would probably quiet down in 3-5 days, but that if it didn't we should bring it back and they'd re-replace it for free (under warranty). Of course, it didn't quiet down. So we left the van in the shop for another couple days.

When we got it back it was nice and quiet, and once again we breathed easy and thought we'd put the whole issue behind us. But a couple weeks later, the whining was back again, worse than the first noisy pump. Back to Goodyear for a third time. This time they told us—surprise!—that the rack and pinion were leaking fluid (hence the three ruined pumps, none of which can really do what they need to do if their power steering fluid is dripping out) and needed to be replaced.

At this point I'd just like to mention the numerous exchanges we've had that go something like this: "How many miles do you have?", "120,000", "It should be fine... what's the make?", "Ford", "Oh."

They quoted us $570. We told them that (with the pump we'd already paid for) that put us at $1000, when we'd gotten a $750 quote from a dealer for the same job. We said we should only have to pay the lower quote price minus what we'd already paid them for the pump (that had been ruined through their negligence at not finding the fluid leak earlier). They said they had no idea how anyone could do the job for $750, but that if we brought in the quote they'd match it. We felt cool and smart for having outfoxed their expensive quote. We brought in our dealership quote. They took a look and told us it was for the rack and pinion only, so that in fact their quote was cheaper. We felt like weasely fools.

In the end we took their quote, and they replaced the rack, pinion and a new pump (thankfully, still under warranty and thus free). So for the fourth time, we're "putting it all behind us".

Which is to say, Tune in next week (or next month, or whenever the inevitable happens) for our next installment of Fun with Ford!

Most Annoying Ad Ever (today)

Maybe you've seen this guy edit his word document in an elevator full of snakes before real video content plays on the internet:

He's the spokesman for a product line from a certain large unnamed company. And his ad is confusing at best (an elevator full of snakes? what's the joke?). I think it's supposed to be cool, or forward looking. I just find it annoying.

Modelling Procrastination

Scenario: Here I am at work, surfing the web and posting to my blog. And what do I come across? An article on procrastination!

The Internet... [gives] people a constant source of putting things off, and they create motivationally toxic environments.

Imagine that.

Cisco and Apple Have At It over the iPhone

Looks like Cisco isn't just playing along after all. Sould be fun to watch (especially since I'm not invested in Apple either way).

I guess I'm a little surprised that Apple went with the iPhone brand. Seems like Cisco obviously had it months ago, and as it turns out, even years ago). And now Apple is going with Apple as a brand in its own right (e.g. AppleTV, not iTV).

Machines that (unwittingly) play music

Susan's dad is a MechE professor that has designed and built a pretty cool dynamometer which is so responsive that he can get it to play several different classical pieces (I've seen it in person!).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Score 2 for Google!

  1. Google is the #1 company to work for! (according to Fortune magazine, 2007)
  2. Neil Gaiman's son is coming to work for Google!

Ashley the "pillow angel"

The big news item in Seattle lately has been Ashley. To quote the Seattle Times: "Ashley is a 9-year-old girl who has static encephalopathy, a severe brain impairment. She cannot walk or talk... She is fed with a tube." So her parents have decided to stunt her physical growth and sexual development with medical procedures including having "her uterus and breast tissue removed... and [receiving] large doses of hormones to halt her growth" (International Herald Tribune). They say that keeping her around 4'5" / 75 lbs. for the rest of her life will allow them to more easily pick her up, carry her around, and generally care for her and involve her in family activities.

But as you can imagine, news of the procedure has sparked a lot of controversy. Every medical ethicist and their mother has had something to say on the issue. Personally, I find it intriguing, and I'm still not sure what my opinion is. I don't feel I have the authority or the experience to categorically say either "That's outrageous!" or "What a good decision!" I've never had children to care for, let alone a disabled child, so all I'd be judging from would be my gut reaction to the idea of cutting the bits out of a young girl. But it's always so much more complex when you're involved, isn't it.

The parents make a pretty compelling and rational case for it on their blog. "Ashley's smaller and lighter size makes it more possible to include her in the typical family life and activities that provide her with needed comfort, closeness, security and love: meal time, car trips, touch, snuggles, etc." That totally makes sense to me. But they also say "A fundamental... misconception about the treatment is that it is intended to convenience the caregiver; rather, the central purpose is to improve Ashley's quality of life." But... isn't the latter objective achieved only through the former? If she grew to normal size—say 5'6", 125 lbs.—I'm sure they wouldn't just leave her locked in the attic and send up food three times a day. They'd still try to involve her w/ the family as much as possible. It would just be a lot harder for them. Like it or not, her quality of life is inherently determined by how high a quality of life her caregivers are able to provide for her. And if she were 125 lbs., it wouldn't be impossible for them to lift her or bring her along on trips... it would just be significantly more, well, inconvenient.

Which, of course, is part of why the case is so controversial. There's not a black-and-white case to say that it would be impossible to care for her without this treatment, or that she'd die. Yet (in my opinion) it's naïve to think that the parents are doing this lightly, without significant thought or medical and ethical consultation. I have no doubt that they're sincerely doing it because, first and foremost, they want to improve her quality of life. But they also achieve the (slight) simplification of their own lives in the process, thereby making it easy for everyone who doesn't have to care for Ashley themselves to jump in and criticize.

Not to sound too biblical, but judge not, lest ye be judged...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It looks like Pandora is getting a little bit more aggressive with it's ads. If it keeps high-quality music free, I'm all for it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

I want a remote-control mechanical dragonfly!

My birthday is just around the corner...

iPhone (this time from Apple)

Here's some coverage from the MacWorld keynote. It looks like Apple is finally pushing out the iPhone. and they're using the iPhone brandname too. Read the bit about Cisco's response (they have a product with the same name, but I guess they figured out some kind of deal).

Looks like MS is naysaying, rather than trying to do something cool. I kind of wish they would focus on their own products instead of knocking other people's work. It reminds me of the failed demo they did of the Zune at the MS company meeting...

Monday, January 8, 2007

Santa Igor

Wow, I think I just heard the best song ever written.

Go listen to The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Suit from This American Life. Specifically, listen to the bit from 33:50 to 34:50. It's priceless.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Wedding dresses

Aunt Jann told me recently that the new thing is for regular clothing stores to sell wedding apparel. J. Crew, for instance, has a wedding line (including wedding gowns and bridesmaids' dresses), as does White House | Black Market (a store I discovered when we moved to WA; I lust after their expensive dresses every time we're at the mall).

Since we're not planning a super-formal wedding, since the traditional look isn't really me, and especially since I'm intimidated by the idea of one of those all-day fittings at a bridal store, I'm considering some of these more contemporary (and less expensive!) dresses. But, while I'm overwhelmed by the selection at the websites that specialize in bridal dresses, I'm equally underwhelmed by the selection at the department stores (J. Crew, for example, currently only shows four bridal dresses, none of which really excite me).

Does anyone have suggestions for other stores I could check out?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

A triumph of THIS

Today I was thinking about how I frequently use the word 'this' to link to stuff (e.g. "check out this article", "buy me this item for my birthday"...). I wondered, what is the most common 'this' link? Since Google uses link text (among other things) to determine ranking, I did a quick search for 'this'...

...and found that the #1 search result is This American Life!!! I love you, Ira Glass!!!

Citing my sources

Gmail (which I highly recommend to anyone who's considering switching their email client; let me know if you need an invite) has a nifty feature called 'Web Clips' that allows you to get RSS headlines above your inbox.

For those of you unfamiliar w/ RSS, it's kind of like a radio station, but for online content. For example, our blog has an RSS feed (well, technically it's an Atom feed, but let's not split hairs) and you can subscribe to that feed and read our posts without having to go to our blog, in much the same way that you can tune in to a radio station and listen to A Prairie Home Companion on your radio without having to go all the way to the Fitzgerald Theater in Minnesota.

Okay, so maybe RSS isn't exactly like radio. But the point is, if you have 10 or 20 or (god forbid) 100 blogs and websites that you like to follow, it's much easier to subscribe to all their RSS feeds and get the information all in one place (your inbox, for example) than to visit each of their websites every day. At first I thought Web Clips was stupid (because I didn't really follow any blogs), but I've come to really like it. I subscribe to about 15 RSS feeds, and all day long while I'm working various posts from these feeds are displayed above my inbox. It looks like this:

Gmail Web Clips screenshot

I can glance at it while I'm reading email, and if the subject looks interesting, I'll click on it to read the full post; if it doesn't, I just ignore it. It's a great way to keep up on what's going on without spending too much time trolling the internet looking for something interesting. For those looking to set up their own Web Clips (or feed reader), I recommend the following feeds:

My two favourite headlines from today were both from Slashdot:

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Wal-Mart Goes Solar?

If Wal-Mart is going after renewable energy I believe it means one (or both) of two things:

  1. Renewable energy is so popular now it's worth the huge investment switching over takes (100 megawatts, 60 times the amount Google is investing in, which has to be hundreds of millions of dollars worth).
  2. Non-Renewable energy sources are drying up and will be prohibitively expensive in the near to medium term.

Just my thoughts, but I think it's both encouraging and a little scary.

What are you doing to equip yourself with renewable energy?

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Just wait!

In my office building, IBM occupies floors 1 & 2 and Google occupies floors 3 & 4. After our crazy power outages last month, we had to take the stairs for a few days because the elevators weren't back in service yet. As I was climbing past an IBM floor, I noticed a piece of paper on their door that read, "IBM: The world leader in pretty much everything."

Below that someone (a passing Googler, presumably) had written in pencil, "Except search!" And below that, someone had written, "Just wait!"

Discover (our) Music

Pandora is a really cool service from the Music Genome Project which will play you almost any music you want, and then find similar music and play that for you too. And there's no commercials, just a few ads on the page (which certainally don't bother me considering what you're getting).

Think Gerry Salton meets Kid Rock. Information Retrieval + Rock and Roll is pretty cool

You can also browse other users' profiles, like mine to keep tabs on what people are listening to (even at that very moment!). It's a cool place to set up a music list too!

Monday, January 1, 2007


At the right you might notice the description we came up with for this blog. Prominent in said description is the term "athematic". When I suggested it I wanted to say that this isn't going to be a "theme"-blog. We're not here to provide intelligent commentary on Greenday, present vibrating images of Canadian Chocolate (the second site to do so!), or show-off American (or not) swimsuit models (just hit next blog a couple of times).

Instead I wanted to explain that we're just trying to blog, for whatever that's worth. Susan entered "define:athematic" into her Google toolbar and tells me that athematic means "In the Indo-European languages, thematic roots are those roots that have a 'theme vowel'", better yet she looks up "Thematic" at, inverts the results, and concludes that "Athematic" must mean "old" or "unpopular".

I said, "Great!"

ed: after posting this a certain reader-contributor informed our writing staff that the grammar, spelling, content, HTML etc. were all wrong. So we've rewritten this post and would like to thank said reader-contributor.

It only gets worse from here.

Wedding Planning

Everyone we talk to seems to want to know: "How's the wedding planning going". Well the answer is... it's not. We've cancelled the processional, exchanging of vows and rings, recessional, reception. You can send the gifts, and show up wherever you like, but we won't be there. In short, it's off.

No not really. But as you can see, we're about as excited about planning this thing as we are about dancing with a rhinoceros. They're both big, ugly and white. And I can't dance.

The truth is, we're planning something simple, beautiful, secular and fun for everyone. Which is to say, we have no idea what's going to happen. The trouble is, everyone we talk to tells us what a big affair it all is. A couple we know doing the same thing (and of course much farther along than we are) tells us that adding the bussles to the wedding dress is going to cost them $20 each. And there are a dozen or more bussles. I don't even know what a bussle is. Clearly, I'm not meant for such things.

Well, I know how much everyone is counting on this wedding (at least this is the impression I get from my nuclear and extended families). But help is on the way. I have graciously decided to turn over my wedding planning role and all related responsibilities and rights to Susan "my better half" Moskwa.

That's right Susan, you are in charge. Remember, everyone's depending on you.

ed: we'll let you know if Susan thinks this is as funny as we do.