Monday, February 26, 2007

This weekend's accomplishments

Wow, I didn't really believe people when they said it was a lot of work to organize a wedding, but... well... it's a lot of work!

Kathy came to visit for 4 days this past week, I took Friday off, and we hauled ass around the East Side getting some wedding ducks in a row. Most importantly, we picked out my wedding dress (I don't know how I would have done it on my own, it's definitely helpful to have someone there with you, if only to strap you into the darn things! I don't think I tried on a single dress that I could have gotten into by myself). For the record, I highly recommend Knar's Bridal and Amanda's Bridal Boutique to anyone in the area looking for a reasonably-priced dress.

We also settled on wedding colors, ordered the flowers, contracted the DJ and the photographer (who sounds really cool, by the way; she's going to come out to photograph my roller derby squad sometime soon!), and planned out most of the ceremony and the music. Now Nick and I just have to decide on the cake (mmmmm, cake...) and write some vows, and we'll be done with the big stuff, I think. Oh yeah, and set up a registry. And get him a tux. Then we can get on to the little stuff. :-) Organizing this hullabaloo is like being an admin all over again! But I think it's going to be an awesome party... (I know I'm looking forward to it!)

Other action-packed weekend events included yoga class on Friday, a Rat City roller derby bout on Saturday (Best in the West, baby!), derby practice on Sunday evening, and me driving to and from the airport (~30 miles) 6 times (yuck).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A blast from the past

When I was a sophomore at Cornell University I did some research on the (now defunct) Cougar Project. The idea was to create an embedded database over a sensor network. This work was very similar to the work in TinyDB being done at Berkley around the same time.

Our group began to lose interest, especially after an Intel official told us, "there's no killer app for this stuff." I thought he was wrong then, and time seems to have supported my thinking.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

I hope you each had a pleasant Valentine's Day this past week. I was lucky enough to get a beautiful bouquet of roses, an e-rose [ ())>-%--- ], and a semi-creepy unwanted note (ask me off-line if you want to hear that story).

Nick took me out to dinner at this amazing Persian restaurant near our house. Unbeknownst to us, they had a special Valentine's Day menu: a four-course meal including fresh naan, hummus & dips, lentil soup, lamb, saffron rice, baklava and pistachio rosewater ice cream... it was impossibly delicious. Anyone who comes out to this area must go to this restaurant (it's a bit pricey, but totally worth it). The flavours are indescribable, fresh, savory... They even had "romantic live flamingo guitar [sic]" throughout the evening, and brought us a rose at the end of the meal. It was a leisurely and lovely evening.

In other Valentine's Day news, one of my products (Webmaster Tools) officially went out of beta on V-Day, as well as being one of the first official Google blogs to open up comments (a very popular move w/ the webmaster community). Go, Webmaster Tools!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rich Internet Applications

This article focuses on a failing of Java to become the standard for rich internet applications. The title says it all, "How and Why AJAX, Not Java, Became the Favored Technology for RIAs." Some may say it's a shame, others may rejoice. But the fact that we see such an article points to a growing trend on the web of Rich Internet Applications. Just check out the Google Web Toolkit for some validation of this phenomenon.

I did some research in this field while getting my MEng at Cornell University. And in fact have a paper awaiting publication in 16th International World Wide Web Conference that came out of that research (the second such paper, the first was in the proceedings of the 2006 ACM SIGMOD International Conference on Management of Data). So I think this trend is pretty exciting.

If you're interested in what that research is up to these days check out The Hilda Project. I know I'm still interested in what my colleagues are up to.

And if you're interested in Cornell University, consider this quote I just got in an email from a friend.

For me, there's nothing worse than not having a challenge or not working to your fullest capacity. I think this is also worse when you come from a place like Cornell where you can flat out give your best efforts until you drop and they still want more.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A retrospective, surprising review of...

This is a cool article really. It covers the film-maker's previous work and draws this awesome, abstract picture of the film which jumps around as much as I imagine the film does. I read the first whole page without realizing this is about... wait, I don't want to ruin it for you. Go read the article...

I thought this movie looked really bad (I never saw it), but now I really want to! I hope you do too

Open Letter: Interoperability, Choice and Open XML

Here's an interesting read from Microsoft.

the campaign to block consideration of Open XML could create a dynamic where the first technology to the standards body, regardless of technical merit, gets to preclude other related ones from being considered.

That's an excellent point. Seems like Microsoft is actually doing a good thing by opening it's document format.

On December 7th, Ecma approved the adoption of Open XML as an international open standard. The vote was nearly unanimous; of the 21 members, IBM’s was the sole dissenting vote. IBM again was the lone dissenter when Ecma also agreed to submit Open XML as a standard for ratification by ISO/IEC JTC1...The IBM driven effort to force ODF on users through public procurement mandates is a further attempt to restrict choice.

Sounds like IBM may be in the wrong on this.

We have listened to our customers. They want choice. They want interoperability. They want innovation. We and others believe that Open XML achieves all these goals, and we look forward to supporting Ecma as it works positively with national standards bodies throughout the ISO/IEC process. See for an indication of some of the support for Open XML and for more information on the rapidly growing community that is developing with the Ecma Open XML standard.

Seems as if Microsoft owns this site (they own the copyright, NS1.MSFT.NET is the authoritative name server). So I don't know if I buy this quote. And I think this lack of independent support community is a systemic problem for Microsoft.

In the end, I guess I don't have all the info, but maybe supporting Microsoft opening it's formats, protocols, and processes is a good thing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Myth of Prodigy and Why it Matters

Interesting article about a talk Malcolm Gladwell gave for the Association for Psychological Science.

Really what we mean … when we say that someone is ‘naturally gifted’ is that they practice a lot, that they want to practice a lot, that they like to practice a lot.

Location independent home directory

This guy knows where it's at:

I have many accounts on Unix machines scattered around my house, the country, and the planet, and I have an abiding desire for every single one of these disparate accounts to work and look exactly the same. I don't care if the machine I'm logging in to is in Japan or the Netherlands... if I cannot concentrate on the important differences instead of being distracted by the unimportant ones, then I will be less productive.

Keeping everything in version control buys you two really nice things:

  1. Location independent storage, which can be reliable, available and all that other good stuff from being on a separate host.
  2. Revision history. You can track just about any change you make.

It's handy to be able to run svn diff on my kernel config file to see how make xconfig changed it. I can recover files that I've deleted, or delete files because they're not relevant right now, and know I've not really lost them at all. Amazingly, my Subversion repository is only 4GB in size even with all this historical data.

I used CVS while getting my Master degree and kept everything there, source code, LaTeX files, word documents, graphs, data-sets, everything. I've got quite a history of work in there now.

For my latest project I've started using a hosted Subversion server at My Version Control. Silly name, but they seem to be pretty top notch. I've been in the middle of a support thread for a while and it's run by a pair of brothers in the UK. Sounds like they're just starting out, but they're really nice, helpful, professional, and their interface is slicker than snot on a doorknob. Oh yeah, they've got Trac integration which is awesome: "Trac uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Breast Cancer Site

Every day I visit The [Good Cause] Site to click the giant button that gives free stuff to good causes.

"The Site" is really a series of six identical sites that each support a different cause: children's health care, literacy, animal rescue, feeding the hungry, fighting breast cancer, and saving the rainforest. Each site has a big button, and for every person that clicks that button, advertising sponsors will donate money to that particular cause (in exchange for your eyeballs on their ads). It's an easy way to take 20 seconds out of your day to help a good cause for free.

The part that I find particularly interesting is that, once you've clicked, along with a big patchwork of advertising you get to see how much "stuff" was funded by yesterday's clicks: 66192 cups of food for hungry people, 24990 bowls of food for rescued animals, etc. The numbers are usually around this order of magnitude; several thousand books donated, several thousand children vaccinated, etc. But when I started looking at the breast cancer numbers, I got a shock: consistently, about 5.5 free mammograms were funded per day for underprivileged women. Compared with 25000 bowls of food for animals!? Does that mean that people are over four thousand times more disposed to help animals than to help women get health care?

Of course, it dawned on me shortly afterwards that one mammogram is probably significantly more expensive than one bowl of cat food. This realization was borne out by their daily results page, which gives more detailed statistics including the number of clicks received per day for each cause. I guess it speaks well for people's priorities that more people are clicking on The Breast Cancer Site than on The Animal Rescue Site (not that you shouldn't click on all of the sites; but if you're going to pick one over another, I'd rather see people getting the care than animals).

I hope you join me in putting these sites in your browser's bookmarks, or on your daily calendar. It's an easy way to make a difference, at no cost to yourself.

Friday, February 9, 2007

This American Life, live!

This American Life is on tour again! I got Nick and myself tickets this morning to the Seattle show (March 7) by calling Ticketmaster several minutes before they went on sale and then making the lady put me on hold until she could start selling the tickets (I know, I have a problem). But I got us really awesome seats, front and center. We saw TAL live in Ithaca a couple years ago and it was great.

Some guys at work asked me about the live show and said they like TAL, but didn't want to go see the show because they didn't want to have a face to put to Ira Glass' voice—that it would break the magic. I definitely know what they mean; seeing Neal Conan in Wordplay was a shock (best quote from that movie, BTW: "Bring it, Shortz!!"). And don't ever image search Peter Sagal (host of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me), you'll be sorely disappointed. But I think Ira Glass lives up to his voice pretty well. As a hopeless TAL addict, I'd much rather get to see a live show than savour the suspense of Ira's faceless voice... especially since that would mean I couldn't watch the TV show when it comes out!

Personalized search is starting to freak me out

Remember how, in my naïveté, I was all excited about This American Life being the #1 search result for the query [this]? Well, I've been grokking the concept of personalized search a bit more fully since then, and have come to two realizations:

  1. Since I've had Google personalized search enabled for some time, that may have just been my personalized result, and may not reproduce in the 'generic' index, or in your personalized search results.
  2. Personalized search is starting to freak me out.

I know that personalization seems like the inevitable way to reach that end goal of The Ultimate Search Experience: when you enter [dolphins], the algorithm simply knows whether you want information on dolphins, or the Miami Dolphins, or somewhere to buy stuffed dolphin collectibles. But when I enter some fairly generic search query and get back a bunch of obscure roller derby results (this happened recently), well, it's kind of creepy at the same time as it's satisfying. A lot of people have been making Big Brother references when discussing this topic, so I'll refrain from doing so since it's already been said.

However, there have only been a handful of search results that were good enough to make me take notice and think, That's weird...; so how many dozens and dozens have I not noticed, because they just made sense?

(The other big buzz around this feature is that it's throwing some SEO folks into a tizzy, because now there isn't just one giant Search Results Ranking that you must optimize your site for, there are potentially millions of personalized search results that may rank your site completely differently... But that's a topic for another day.)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Famous internet people!

Last month I got an email from my Webmaster Tools PM saying that she was organizing a ski trip and movie night for our team, and that Danny Sullivan and some kids from SEOmoz would probably be there. I got terribly excited about this because these are Famous People (on the internet) whose blogs I frequent, and I was all psyched to get to meet and hang out with them in person (I declined to blog about it because not even Nick knew who they were, that's how niche-geeky I am).

The 'SEOmoz people' turned out to be Rand Fishkin and his girlfriend Geraldine (this will become important later in the story). We all watched movies and ate pizza and it was fun, Rand and Danny and Geraldine were all really cool. End of episode, right? Well, yesterday in a meeting my PM says, "Oh hey, by the way, Rand proposed to Geraldine last night... you can find the video on ifilm." I'm thinking, the video?? What does that mean? So I go look it up.

Turns out Rand is the latest internet meme: the anonymous bachelor "JP" who has been planning to propose to his girlfriend during the Super Bowl on national television. His story has become somewhat of an internet phenomenon: according to the Seattle PI,

"After Adweek polled respondents about which commercials they most anticipated seeing during the big game, "That marriage proposal guy" came in first with 36 percent, beating (21 percent) and the new Budweiser Ads (18 percent)."

Long story short, he got a corporate sponsor who was gonna pay the however-many millions it costs to get ad time during the Super Bowl, but then they pulled out at the last minute, so he aired his commercial during Geraldine's favourite TV show instead, a couple nights ago.

So go watch it! And when you're done, watch her response—it's great. :-)

Congrats to Rand and Geraldine! (And, in a much more insignificant way, to me for knowing internet-famous people!) I hope I get to hang out with you guys again sometime...

Edit: Just found a blog post that Rand did about that evening... complete with pictures and a subversive list of Google To-Do's for 2007!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

IE hates Apple

I was just watching the latest Apple ad and went to close my browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer 7). And look at what happend: Coincidence? I think not.
What does this even mean? I work here and I can't decipher it...

My favourite perks

I've gotta say, my favourite perk here at Google is definitely the breakfast. When I started there was instant oatmeal, and then pastries once/week on Thursdays; but they've since started serving a fresh breakfast every morning: bagels & cream cheese, donuts, scones, croissants, coffee cake, and a tray of fresh fruit.

There's nothing so nice as coming in to work and sitting down with a hot cup of chai, a croissant and some mango and kiwi slices!

(Though the $5 massage is a close second...)

Monday, February 5, 2007

5 Things I Learned in the Last 24 Hours

  • Stay low on the corners
    At roller derby practice the coaches (and the other skaters) are always telling me to bend my knees and skate low to the ground. Conceptually I get it—low center of gravity, less likely to fall, less distance to fall, these are all good things—but yesterday it really hit home when I was racing some other girls and started taking the corners super-crouched down. Man, it makes you zoom!
  • Even a mouthguard can give you blisters
    These frickin' mouthguards are huge. They fill places in my mouth I didn't even know I had. Maybe if I knocked a few teeth out first I'd have more room to fit the mouthguard in...
  • How to launch a successful blog
    Have (lots of) good content that you're passionate about; get involved in your blogging community; syndicate with RSS feeds. I guess it sounds obvious when someone spells it all out, but, well, I found it interesting (as I ponder the hypothetical launch of my own professional blog at some point... maybe).
  • Googlers are (awesome) geeks
    I think we all suspected this one already, but it was totally confirmed today in one of my meetings. One of my teams uses this ad hoc spreadsheet to track the amount of development and QA work needed for certain tasks, e.g. "'implement service X' requires 5 units of dev time and 2 units of QA time to be completed". We were updating these numbers today in our meeting and this one new guy said "Yeah, I'm halfway done with this task, so bump me down from an 8 to a 4" and everyone else sort of hesitated, and one guy said, "Actually, you can't have a 4, you have to choose a 5 or a 3. Somehow it's become convention that you're only allowed to use numbers that are in the Fibonacci sequence." And indeed, as I looked over the 100+ cells in the spreadsheet, they were all filled with either 0, 1, 2, 3, 5 or 8. Weirdos!
  • Running in the morning can actually feel good
    Okay, so we didn't actually run today, we brisk walked. But we woke up at 6:30a to do it. And it felt good. Which for us is a big step in the right direction!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Keyboard shortcuts

Okay, this is gonna be my super-geeky post, I think I should be allowed at least one per month... I'd like to talk to you about keyboard shortcuts!

If you're looking for a way to become One with your browser, to impress your friends and mistresses, or (this one is for real) to be more effective at your computer and reduce your dependence on your mouse (thus reducing wrist strain!), keyboard shortcuts are for you. 'Keyboard shortcut' means that you can use the keyboard to do certain things you would normally do with the mouse. A few basic examples*:

  • [Ctrl + T]: open a new tab
  • [Ctrl + W]: close current tab
  • [Ctrl + N]: open a new window
  • [Ctrl + Shift + W]: close current window (all tabs)

Not exciting enough for you yet? How about these actions, which you may use more frequently:

  • [Ctrl + Tab]: view next tab (if you have several tabs open in your browser)
  • [Ctrl + Shift + Tab]: view previous tab
  • [Ctrl + E]: puts your cursor in the Search box
  • [Alt + D]: puts your cursor in the Address bar (the place that shows the URL of the page you're on)

I know, it's pretty hot. You have no idea how many times I switch between tabs all day long, and it's really nice to be able to do that in a millisecond without taking my hands off the keyboard, rather than having to switch to the mouse, move it around, click on the next tab...

I could go on, but if you're intrigued, there are lots of other cool things you can do with shortcuts in Firefox (change the font size, go to your homepage, etc.); check out these great references for more. I hear that it's possible to completely browse the web without using a mouse at all.

*Note: these shortcuts apply to the Firefox browser on Windows. Shortcuts for other browsers or OSs may differ. [back]

Weird beers

People seem to treat wine with a little deference, and I haven't seen too many Frankenstein mashups of wine-plus-something-weird (aside from the mimosa, which I think we can all approve of); but for some reason there have been a lot of beer abominations in the news lately:

Any I'm missing?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Global Warming "Very Likely" Man Made

global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those on the Atlantic Ocean, such as Hurricane Katrina