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Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem

I now am a resident of Massachusetts. The state motto above in Latin (Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem) translates to ''By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty''. So they seem to be serious about their liberty around here. The trip was crazy - over 6,400 road miles traveled within a few weeks (cross-country twice). Got in a fender-bender in Troy, NY and managed to to hit the guy who was the Mayor of Troy up until a few weeks ago - lovely. No injuries, except to my ego. Saw a wild turkey walking alongside a New York road and thousands of Geese heading North - Spring must be coming soon.

We landed in a little town called Tewksbury, about 25 miles NW of Central Boston. This will only be temporary. Hard to get used to apartment life again - I get pissed when the upstairs neighbor decides to vacuum at 11pm and wakes my kids up. Nearly all of the locals nearby have strong Boston accents - if you're a fan of the CBS show Survivor - they sound like Boston Rob.

Still don't have my bearings yet, in many ways. It'll come, I know it. I got emotional several times as I left Seattle - that region means a lot to me - it was there I met my wife, courted and married her - had my two children and built a career on the Internet (within a span of 10 years no less). I used to dream of living near Seattle when I was a child growing up in arid Eastern Washington State. But life had become comfortable (routine) and I no longer felt such a strong pull to the region. My wife's pull to move back to her native region was much stronger, and it made sense to make our move as soon as possible, for many reasons.

I also feel strange from a genealogical standpoint. My entire family - on both sides - has been marching steadily westward from Europe since the 1500's. From Germany, Ireland and England to New York, Virginia, to Pennsylvania and Ohio to Nebraska then Wyoming and to California, then recent generations to Washington and Alaska. It's almost like I'm at the end of the generational trip, some 500 years later and can say ''I've seen the frontier - been there, done that, there ain't no more.'', and return to the East. Maybe my kids will move to Germany someday, who knows.

Apologies to any of you who tried to reach me during the trip - I was web-deprived most of the time. When I got my PC up and running again (with newly-acquired DSL no less), I was a very happy camper.

Sun, Mar 14, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

Road Trip and Moving On

I am leaving Amazon.com (on good terms), and I am leaving Seattle. I'm moving my family to Boston and will begin working at Monster.com in a few weeks. I will be driving 3,000 miles - twice, in the next few weeks, so apologies to any who are trying to get in touch. Don't expect much contact until mid-March. It's another big adventure, as life should be, no?

Fri, Feb 13, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

So, what the heck is this thing on Mars?

Well, what is this object right next to the Opportunity Rover? Browsing (like the geek I am) through the raw imagery from mars, I noticed a small white spot - a bit smaller than a bowling ball, about 10-12 feet from the Rover - being focused on in a couple of frames (Stereo-wiggle image below left). Some more digging found a better-quality second look at it as well, from the most recent panorama (contrast-enhanced detail at right). The whole panorama shows it in more context (slice of that panorama below right, click for full image). Oddly enough, this object does not appear to be present (or in the same place) in the Sol 1 panorama image here - there is a small white spot, but it's location is shifted to the right quite a bit. The Opportunity Rover has now rolled onto the surface and appears to be right next to (or on top of) this thing.


I'm not a conspiracy theorist - and am sure there's a logical explanation. It looks like either a crumpled piece of metal or paper (somewhat rigid), or maybe a broken piece of crystalline rock. I hate to say that it looks sort of like a small vertebra, but it does (to my eyes). My guess is that something broke off the rover/lander, or that it disturbed and knocked something into the crater with it. If you look at the stereo-wiggle image (left) you can even see some soil that looks recently disturbed. I would be really curious though, to know exactly what this is.


Thu, Feb 2, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

Stupid Browser Toy - the Orgulator

For no particular reason, other than I felt like it, I present the Orgulator - a silly Browser toy (IE5.5+ on Win PC only) that lets you play with websites displays via IE Filters. Blur, Wave, Invert, Emboss, Tilt, Desaturate and De-Bigulate your favorite websites.
Thu, Jan 29, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

Odd Thoughts, Assorted Items

- Two Information-Age Situations in Need of a Name: A) Scanning through and deleting from a 'filtered spam' Email folder, sure that 99% of it is spam, but looking for the occassional 'actual email'. B) That moment of ego-boost when one stands behind a co-worker/friend/other, watching them type a URL into their browser, and auto-complete kicks in, giving them away - showing you that they have previously been to your site - obsessively in some cases.

- Watching the Kerry Iowa victory speech - while not particularly thrilled about Kerry himself, I still got emotional, felt a glimmer of hope (apologies for the cliche) - just seeing a large room full of people so energized and loud and motivated to unseat GWB. This should prove to be a real roller-coaster of a campaign.

- If you haven't visited, drop in and read Ask Metafilter - one of the best new surprises in recent months. People ask, people answer - just about any subject imaginable. Very fun.

- My baby boy has just taken his first few steps (1 yr old this weekend). How cool - he's so excited by it, grins ear-to-ear, squeals, and a big surprised look when he eventually plops down on his padded bum. I cannot believe it's been one year - or that my daughter will be four years old this year. Time seems to speed up as you age - when you have children that acceleration goes into overdrive.

More Mars

The Mars Rover 'Spirit' has a wonderful open-door policy for their raw images, allowing anyone to peek in and see what's happening - On this page, from Sol 16 of the mission, I noticed a series of similar photos, and realized it was a composite panorama waiting to be put together, so I helped myself, and came up wih this lovely view of Spirit's Lander, from a perspective about 5 feet off the ground, much as you might see it if you were walkng about on Mars. Larger versions are here: [640x480],[800x600],[1024x768],[2048x1536]. I look forward to Opportunity's upcoming landing on Saturday the 24th, just 1 million kilometers to go.

Wed, Jan 21, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

So we're heading back to the moon, eh?

Well I thought it would be a good exercise to look back at where we've been along that road before, and just finished my project: To the Moon, Our Journeys to Luna (and Back). Of the many Lunar Exploration timelines I could find, most ignored the failures, and the better ones had rather limited information. So I combined everything I could find into one list of all Lunar Missions launched by Humans. Here we go with the ''Did You Know''s:

Did you know that Men have launched a total of 105 missions to the Moon? Did you know the first Earth creatures to reach the Moon were not American Astronauts, but Russian Turtles? Did you know that first photos of the Moon's far side were taken in 1959 by a probe that carried its own photo-processing kit? Did you know that the first manmade object to touch the Moon (USSR's Luna 2) carried a payload of Russian emblems and ribbons, which were explosively dispersed across the Lunar surface on impact in 1959?

Did you know that 19 Spacecraft still sit intact on the Moon, including 5 Lunar Rovers (3 American and 2 Russian)? Did you know that in 1970 Russia landed their Lunokhod 1 Rover vehicle, which operated on the surface for nearly a year? Did you know that of the 381.3 kg of Lunar soil returned to Earth, 301 grams were collected by the USSR using unmanned lander/returners?

Well, I didn't know any of that either, until I worked on this project. Something that bothered me was that almost no other site bothered to list the eventual fate of the various probes. I mean, come on - if you launched a probe to the Moon in 1960 and it flew to within 400 km of the surface... where is it today, in 2004? The general answer is - unless the craft was destroyed, planted on the Moon, or returned to Earth, we can only guess. Did you know that in addition to Mars Express, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey there are likely 6 or 7 dead satellites still orbiting Mars as we speak, including the Viking Orbiters? Nobody's sure about that though, they may have crashed to Mars by now.

Back th the Moon though - I love some of the early exploration efforts - the USSR hurling propaganda at the Moon's surface at 6,500 mph, the US videotaping crash-landings, beaming back the final visual moments of a doomed craft in order to get a better look at it. The tentative approach - is the Lunar surface too powdery to walk on? Will the astronauts sink into it? The ground-breaking discoveries, a first look at the Far Side of the Moon, the first look at the Earth from another horizon, the thrill of seeing one of us on another world. What an amazing accomplishment. I hope you enjoy my overview of the journey to date.


Wed, Jan 14, 2004 < link >
 
 
 

Dan Rather on Saddam's Capture

Watching this morning's coverage of Saddam's capture, I transcribed Dan Rather's coverage for about 10 minutes - the man is informative while at the same time as sounding a bit like a demented old man of the Ozarks. Here's the transcription:

[Headshot, Dan Rather]

''Here's what we're gonna show you - a new picture of the captured Saddam Hussein.''

[Still Photo, Shaven Saddam Hussein]

''This is said to be a picture of Saddam Hussein, now with his beard shaved. We're going to pause for a second - let's leave this picture up.''

[pause]

''The caption on this is: 'Saddam Hussein after being in American captivity for uh.. a little more than a day.' Now, whether he shaved himself, or he was shaved, we don't know.''

''But this is, if you will, the 'perp' picture of Saddam Hussein. The kind of picture that might be taken at your local police station if you've done a second-story job or mugged somebody.''

''Don't want to make light of it - just leave that up for a moment. Look, not at the Sunni Triangle, but the triangle of his face, eyes , nose downward. Look at the look in his eyes.''

[pause]

''Saddam Hussein: Shaved. Now, we're going to show you pictures that wiggle - which is to say, video tape pictures of Saddam Hussein just after he was captured... Bad need of a haircut, beard white down below - whether that is natural or a part of his trying to be incognito.''


Sun, Dec 14, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Printable Link Footnotes

Ever printed out a web page, only to read the printout later and wish you knew what the hypertext you were seeing was actually linking to? Well, me too - and I decided to do something about it too - a bookmarklet that converts all text hyperlinks into footnotes, and lists out their URLs at the bottom of the page - nice, printable, and relies on good old numeric footnote matching (you do still read books with footnotes, right?). I love it, and have used it a bunch just today, and decided to share it.

To install it (for those unfamiliar with bookmarklets), either click and drag the following link to your IE toolbar (IE4+ only), or right-click it and choose ''Add to Favorites...'':

['+lc+']')}}for(i=1;i<=lc;i++){tmpStr+='
  • '+la[i].innerText+': '+la[i].href+''}d.body.insertAdjacentHTML('beforeEnd','

    Link Footnotes:
      '+tmpStr+'

    ')}fNote();">Printable Link Footnotes

    To use it, now that it's a favorite/button in your browser, 1) navigate to any website, 2) click the Printable Link Footnotes favorite/button - you will get see footnotes appear inline, next to text links, and the bottom of the page will then list the appropriate links in order. You can now print the page and the link footnotes should print out as well. Let me know if there are any problems/suggestions you have for this. If anyone wants to take on the ''insertAdjacentHTML'' method in a mozilla-friendly way, please let me know, I'll post a link here for that as well.
    Tue, Dec 9, 2003 < link >
  •  
     
     

    Dan Maas makes NASA's Mars Mission look good

    While viewing a show about space travel and Mars on the Discovery Channel, I saw some of the NASA animations for the upcoming Mars Rover missions, and I was really impressed with the quality of these animations. The camera work, cinematography, some shake, some quick-zoom, some focus-pulling, all put togeter with high-quality imagery really make for a compelling experience. Luckily I found the animations online (more video choices, formats and sizes here), and tracked their creator by the credits at the end. It seems that Dan Maas, a 22-year-old resident of New York and recent graduate of Cornell has been very busy lately. As a one-man operation, Maas Digital, he has spent the past couple of years creating animations and still imagery for NASA that has been used online, on television, even at Disneyland. Dan even got so lucky as to have his renderings mapped onto the side of the Delta rocket that propelled the rovers to Mars.

    NASA has really capitalized on Dan's Hollywood-caliber work, recently launching a site called ''M2K4: Roaming the Red Planet'', complete with well-produced faux Movie Preview Trailers made up largely of Dan's animations.

    Dan reminds me a little of Brian Taylor and his Rustboy project, where they both have the support and funding to dedicate themselves to creating quality digital art on their own. There is a real appeal to being the sole creative source (even if you have clients to please). I wish him luck, and applaud his efforts to move NASA animations even further from stolid and wonky to compelling and realistic. Here are a couple of additional links to recent interviews with Dan (1,2)
    Fri, Dec 5, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Martian Invasion

    Look out Mars, here we come - in the next few months, there will be seven spacecraft active at Mars, one from Japan, two from Europe, and four from the US. NASA's pretty excited too, they're even hosting an event they like to call Marsapalooza.

    Currently Orbiting:

    A) Mars Global Surveyor in orbit since 9/12/1997. Although the MGS primary imaging mission is now completed, it's still active - and just released 10,232 Images (from 2 Mars Years of observation). NASA has also opened up a Public Image Request Form, where anyone can enter 'responsible, reasoned suggestions for images to be acquired' by the MGS.

    B) Mars Odyssey, in orbit since 10/23/2001, conducting Water, Mineral and Radiation studies, and will soon act as a communications relay for upcoming NASA Rovers

    On The Way:

    A) Nozomi ('Hope'), launched by Japan on 7/3/1998, due to arrive at Mars around December 14th. A flawed mission, which will likely miss Mars by about 800km, and could possibly impact the surface. There still is the possibility they may fix the flaw in time, but December 9th is the drop-dead date for bugfixing. Current news on Nozomi.

    B) Mars Express, A European Orbiter/Lander mission will arrive on Christmas Day, 2003. (The site even has an Advent calendar starting today). The lander, named the Beagle 2 (which looks like a giant pocket watch when folded up) will also have what may be an Outer Space/Cyberspace first - a Planetary Lander Blog. The Beagle Blog is already up and running.

    C & D) Nasa's twin Martian Rovers named Spirit & Opportunity. Spirit Lands on January 3, 2004, and Opportunity lands on the opposite side of Mars on January 24, 2004. The two 400-pound Rovers will begin 90-day missions, equipped with nine cameras, three spectrometers, a robotic arm and a drilling tool. Interestingly, both Landers will also carry with them a DVD with 4 million names of Mars Enthusiasts on it. The DVDs are hosted by, supported by, and attached to the lander with LEGOs. The LEGO company helped sponsor the DVD, and has an image of their Astrobots on the DVDs. Also, oddly, LEGO and the Planetary Society are hosting the Astrobot Diaries - email correspondence written by LEGO minifigures Biff Starling and Sandy Moondust, theoretically on board the NASA Landers on Mars.

    This is all a lead-in to the arrival of Cassini at Saturn in July of 2004, and Cassini's launch of the Huygens Probe - a lander aimed at Saturn's moon Titan, a moon with a thick atmosphere and unidentified surface features.
    Tue, Dec 2, 2003 < link >

    The Cat in the (Officially Licensed) Hat

    Once again last week, I found myself face-to-face with Universal Studios in my local grocery store. While not as humorous as finding the Hulk on a box of Nilla Wafers earlier, I still was struck by the image of Mike Meyers, mugging at me in his Cat in the Hat costume - from the front of a package of ''Lunchables Deep Dish Pizza Mega Pack''. So, I decided to find out what other marketing tie-ins This Cat had in his Hat, and an evening of surfing Amazon, Yahoo Shops, Froogle, and Google resulted in this page, a list of over 200 Cat in the Hat Movie product tie-ins found online in less than 24 hours. The Universal Viviendi Marketing Machine Rolls on.
    Thu, Nov 13, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    A life where TiVo has always existed

    Remember this? It was a TiVo contest in September of 2000 - three years ago now. That's when I won my first 30-hour TiVo box. My daughter was only 3 months old when it arrived and we set it up. As far as my daughter knows, TiVo has always been around. Now that she (and our TiVo) are three years old, and there are some very interesting things I've been able to observe.

    First - she doesn't watch much TV (an allotted hour per day), but when she does watch it, she gets a choice of a recent episode of any of her favorite pre-recorded shows (current favorites are Dora the Explorer and Caillou), and she can watch it at any time of day. We get to choose what shows we'd like to allow her to watch, set up a Season Pass, and we're done.

    Second - Commercials are an infrequent novelty to her. We always fast-forward through commercials, or watch non-commercial shows. When she does occasionally see a full commercial, she's fascinated, and will often ask us to stop so she can see what's going on. How can we demonstrate to her the evils of commercial interruption, when she has never had to experience it?

    Third - Ignorance of Schedules/Programming - she has no idea when her favorite shows are on, never has. She gets quite confused when we are watching a non-TiVo TV, and she asks to watch ''a kids show'', and we have to explain that this TV won't do what ours at home does. We've sometimes shortened this explanation to ''This TV is broken'', which she seems to accept, and will wait until we get home to watch our ''fixed'' TV.

    Fourth - pausing taken for granted. She is now the master of paused TV - saying ''Can you please stop this for a minute - I have to use the Potty''.

    Fifth (a parent's perspective) pre-screening. Is that Disney Movie that's rated ''G'' really worth a ''G''? Our daughter was freaked out by the scary sharks in Finding Nemo, so we take care to screen (easily with FF-ability) movies that we consider letting her watch.

    I compare all of these observations to my TV-watching experience as a child - always excited about Saturday Morning, because that's when cartoons were on - swapping stories about the latest Evel Knievel motorcycle I saw on a commercial with the other kids, knowing they had all seen the same commercials as well. Feeling disappointed when my parents would switch off a show mid-way through because they decided it wasn't appropriate. The pain of commercial interruption, the disappointment of ''nothing's on'', or the missed shows that were probably gone for good. (On a side note, anyone else remember the days where if you missed a movie in the theater, you'd never get a chance to see it again?)

    There are a lot of other home entertainment developments that have changed since I was a kid, but none so radically as the TiVo experience. I never cease to be amazed when I'm zooming past a commercial with a woman dancing with a ''swiffer'', and I hear my daughters small voice say: ''Wait Papa, I wanna see that''.
    Tue, Nov 11, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Changes Cycle through

    Last week, I officially changed teams at Amazon.com, and am now a part of their Web Services group (AWS). Although I did a lot of work with AWS before, it was all unofficial and my real dayjob at Amazon was in the Cross-sell group, responsible for such loveliness as the DHTML Golf/Basketball games you may have seen, The Goldbox, various DHTML ads, and the famed 'people who bought item X also wear underwear' recommendations. I acted as the messenger, so please don't shoot ;)

    Now that I'm on the AWS team, there's a lot to do, a lot for me to get up to speed with, and a tremendous amount of imminent possibility. It's cool to be involved with something (webservices) that feels like it's just in the primitive beginnings of some larger evolution. I'll have more to say later. For now, it's just about absorbing it all.

    Also, I finally (after much prodding) got this blog of mine into an RSS feed, for those interested. It's in addition to my other low-threshhold Ephemera link list.
    Thu, Oct 9, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Lost in Translation - a rave

    Go see this movie. Really. It's not a movie that kicks you in the head, or that makes you dizzy with effects, it just grabs hold of you and takes you along on a very nice stroll. I read someone compare it to a cinematic poem - I couldn't agree more. I can't believe how much the movie has stayed with me, how great it is to just think of it and have pleasant emotions wash over me.

    Sofia Coppola, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannson and Tokyo make up the important parts of the experience. The story is a very simple one of need, feeling lost, finding comfort in someone else. It's so touching, so realistic, just wonderful. The way Bob and Charlotte look at each other, dance delicately around certain unspoken situations, take glee in each others company - all so much fun. It's a sparse film - much left unsaid, unexplained, undescribed - in the best possible sense. The alien (to westerners) surroundings magnify the surreal experience, and well, I'm just carrying on now. Go see it, you'll be glad you did. I found myself smitten with both Bob and Charlotte, so you know they do great work. And that last whisper - fantastic end note.


    Mon, Oct 6, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Ugh - and Ooqa Ooqa

    United Virtualities - the company that brought us ''shoshkeles'', or flash ads plastered over your webstite of choice, has now launched a newer, more annoying tool, ooqa-ooqa, which basically takes over your browser, removes your toolbar, and inserts ads. (They call it a ''Branded Browser'', and say it's fully ''opt-in'', which it wasn't for me)

    Wrong Wrong Wrong. How Wrong can you be? Unbelievable.

    I saw it in action here, at Forbes.com (to be a victim, I believe you need IE5+ on a PC, maybe not).

    Taking over the end-users browser NEVER is a welcome or good idea. That was hashed out and generally agreed upon years ago, when the ability to do it first arose. I think Forbes and United Virtualites just took a big step backwards, and hope (please please) that people A) complain, and B) don't click on the ads.

    Wed, Sep 24, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    What Verisign tracks when you type in a bad domain

    So, verisign took it upon themselves to step in as a ''helper'' when you mistype a .com domain name. How precious, and presumptuous. Not only are they then attempting to hijack traffic, and increasing their pageviews, but they are deliberately checking and sharing quite a bit of information. It is, to be fair, all aggrgate information, as far as I can tell, and nothing personal is grabbed, but I thought it might be nice to air out exactly what they are gathering, and with whom.

    If you mistype a domain, you may end up with a page that looks like this (mistyped kokogiak.net). If you view-source on that page, you'll see a ton of javascript at the bottom - I believe this is code from Omniture, Inc, and may be part of their SiteCatalyst tracking code.

    Essentially, this script gathers a lot of information about the page you're on, your browser, PC, what you click, etc, gathers it into a big string, and fetches an image with that string as its querystring - allowing Omniture to log your info on their servers, and presumably share it with VeriSign.

    Just by landing on that page (even accidentally, which will usually be the case), here is part of what they gather, as far as I can determine:

    Time and Date
    Attempted Domain
    Number of suggested sites based on that attempt
    Number of suggested VeriSign search categories
    Referring site
    Your Browser/OS
    Your Screen Resolution
    Your ColorDepth
    If Java is enabled in your browser
    Java Version installed
    Width/Height of browser window
    Connection Speed
    If verisign.com is your homepage.

    All of that (and a bit more) gets packed into an image URL that looks like this:

    http://verisignwildcard.112.2o7.net/b/ss/verisignwildcard/1/G.2-Verisign-S/ s16840397426149?[AQB]&ndh;=1&t;=17/8/2003%2010%3A37%3A44%203%20420 &pageName;=Landing%20Page&ch;=landing&server;=US%20East &c1;=kokogiak.net&c2;=kokogiak.net%20%2802/00%29& c12=Yes&c13;=02&c14;=No&c15;=00&c16;=Yes&c17;=15&c22;=NOT%20SET &g;=http%3A//sitefinder.verisign.com/lpc%3Furl%3Dkokogiak.net%26 host%3Dkokogiak.net&s;=1280x1024&c;=32&j;=1.3&v;=Y& k=Y&bw;=958&bh;=752&ct;=lan&hp;=N&[AQE]

    If you want to see what they got from you when you landed on that page, just go to a verisign wildcard page (like this), and paste this into your address bar: javascript:alert(document.images[0].src) and hit enter - you should see the info pop up in an alert box

    And, if you should actually click on anything, there is some script to re-render the image with new parameters, so they (Omniture and Verisign) know exactly what you're clicking on.

    So Omniture (registered owner of 2o7.net) gets, by the benefit of supplying tracking code to Verisign and it's 404-replacement, a huge base of results to gather more aggregate data, which they can then use at their discretion - for instance, sell that information to clients interested in what size the average browser window is. My problem with that is that I did not agree or ask to be a part of that - I get no choice whatsoever. If I accidentally mistype a domain name, or click on a link with a typo, I am in effect helping Verisign and Omniture (by handing them information about me and my environment) without even clicking on any of their links.

    I do hope this goes away or is stopped at some level. I don't mind sharing aggregated information at sites I voluntarily seek out, but having opportunistic companies grab what they can when you make an error makes me mad.
    Wed, Sep 17, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Remembering 9/11/01

    As if we could forget.

    As I worked on this (mirrored here after 9/11), I was sobered by the fact that the list of names is over 70k of plain text. That may seem trite, but it's a unit of measurement I deal with every day, so it becomes yet another way to measure the magnitude. I'm rarely been moved emotionally while writing code. I couldn't help it this time.
    Wed, Sep 10, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Amazon Light 3.0

    Okay, so visually, Amazon Light 3.0 (AL3) is not terribly different from version 1.0, but the madness lies in the method, no? In this case, the method is all about XSLT, or XSL Transformation. Basically it's a way of taking two documents - one of content, the other of structure, mashing them together, and emitting a single formatted document.

    Inspired by such groovy work lately from people like Dan Cederholm, Matt Haughey and Dan Shea, among many others, I decided to take a stab at reworking the Amazon UI once more, with an eye toward modernizing things - massaging the semantics and rendering the display entirely in CSS (basically my 7th rework of Amazon's UI in about a year). Though the results aren't completely what I was after (fell short of XHTML strict compliance due to Amazon's XSL transformer and content, semantics are markedly better, but not completely what I intended), I'm still really happy with the outcome - an entire website made up of two files (plus Amazon's Data).

    For AL3, I spent a good deal of time composing the XSL file (here) to accomodate Search/Browse and Detail templates. I learned a lot more than I already knew about XSLT and XPath in the process. The worst thing about developing in this style is the brittleness of it - one wrong character and the transform breaks with no helpful errors.

    This XSLT method is far different from my last two versions, since they all used server-side proprietary scripting (VBscript on IIS), and version 3.0 now relies completely on open standards-based architecture (XML, XHTML, CSS, XSLT, and XPath). Much like ''view-source'' laid open the underpinnings of websites, having a link to the stylesheet built into the URL opens up the mechanics to everyone as well. Also - another nice thing - it's just grabbing the stylesheet from my server once in a while - caching it at Amazon.com, so the load on my server is trivial, compared to some of my other projects.

    Next on my list of project to add to this are some alternate style-sheets to choose from (shouldn't be terribly hard), and to try to fix display for Mac IE5.

    Coding to Standards is tough, just as tough as it is to code to the quirks of any particular browser or scripting language. The results are mixed, with lots of variance from browser to browser, (for instance, why does IE allow the A element to have a width, yet Gecko does not?), but it has been a real learning experience. Now it remains to be seen if it's a truly useful/worthwhile undertaking. If you have feedback, let me know.
    Mon, Sep 8, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    It's August, right?

    Just went grocery shopping last night, how exciting - but one thing of note, my local grocer already has an Entire Aisle full of Halloween candy and a papier-mache Haunted Tree. Isn't Halloween 62 days away? Guess it's never too early, I mean, there's only 117 days until Christmas, right? Get shopping! Consume! (and by consume, I mean eat those bat-adorned Snickers bars too).
    Sat, Aug 30, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Miscellany, yet of Interest

    Took out my (low-power-bought-in-a-mall) telescope last night to look at Mars. It's small, round, and the color of toasted sand. I could barely make out a dark and light feature. The movement of mars across my telescope lens made me a bit dizzy - reminding me in one more way that we are all really just primates clutching a giant flailing rock, or MOAR (Monkeys on a Rock - more on MOAR later). - The newest US Quarter for Maine is really beautiful, the best yet (looks better in life than online) - can you believe that within a few months we will be up to 25 Quarters - halfway through the states. - It's truly amazing that Humans have survived this long - considering the overwhelming urge all little ones have to stuff things into their mouth as a method of discovery. Hardly a good survival tactic. - Paying off a credit card is one of the best and emptiest feelings you can have as a middle-class adult in the US. The good feeling you get is akin to the pleasant sensation you'd have when you finally stopped hitting yourself in the face with a hammer... for five years. - Adding up the running times all of the movies/series/shorts from IMDB that were written by Stephen King or based on Stephen King stories, it comes out to roughly 144 hours, or 6 full days. In one sense that's a surprisingly low number - in another, it's frighteningly (sorry) long. Did you know that there are not two or three sequels to the mediocre 1984 SK film ''Children of the Corn'', but SIX?! Exhibit G: ''Children of the Corn VII''. And SK has at least five or six titles in production as we speak. - All this digital work of mine and that of others I know and respect seems so incredibly fragile, so ephemeral - where will it all be in a hundred years? What a shame for something that takes so much effort to feel so insubstantial.

    Okay, more on MOAR - it's a mindset, a Weltanschauung of mine. In my moments of nihilism (or clarity, depending on my current mood) the best way I can imagine our (meaning everyone in the world) situation is as a large troop of Monkeys on a Rock. That's it, nothing more profound. Buncha Primates clinging to a big round rock whirling around in empty space. We cling to each other, squabble over space on the rock, live and die here. Everything else in human existence is semantics, diversion and/or ornamentation - including religion, relationships, philosophy, love, money, self-esteem, music, ego, sex, technology, success and security. Nihilism isn't a real crowd-pleaser. Calling someone a monkey on a rock is far from flattering, but if you rule out the inherent nobility or divinity of being human (which I often do), then I don't see what else is left. I think of it every time I realize I'm tensed up in traffic. I tell myself it's really the sublimated monkey-mind buried in my subconscious, screaming at the top of his monkey-lungs in terror because I'm flying across the ground at 70 mph, and am sure to smash into a tree or rock soon... right? I'll dig myself out of this nihilist hole in a while, and all will be rosy again, and then I'm sure I'll disagree with myself yet again, as is my monkey-prerogative.
    Wed, Aug 13, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    ''You are There'' vs. ''This is what happened''

    Sitting here in my office, listening the distinctive screaming roars of the Blue Angels jets as they fly right past my window, I'm reminded of warfare (go figure). This reminds me of an episode of my favorite new show -the Discovery Channel's ''Moments in Time''. Last night I watched (via TiVo) the episode called ''Napoleon's Lost Army'', recounting the horrors and deaths experienced by hundreds of thousands of French and Russians during Napoleon's brutally dismal 1812 invasion of Russia.

    This is the same disastrous march so famously graphed by Charles Minard in 1862, and recently lauded by Tufte as a triumph of statistical representation. 422,000 men marched with Napoleon's Grande Armee from Paris in June of 1812, and after enduring the harshness of a Russian Winter, and the bleak Scorched Earth countryside, only about 10,000 survived to return home, some 6 months and over a thousand miles later.

    I remember poring over Minard's map when I first encountered it years ago, marveling at the concise and informative multi-dimensional interweaving of place, time, date, temperature and army size. I remember thinking about how harsh the experience must have been, it certainly was brutal from a statistical standpoint. But it wasn't until I watched the show last night that the horrors really hit home for me.

    Those 422,000 men weren't statistics, they were individual men, mostly in their early twenties. They marched 20-plus miles a day following a leader they held in the highest esteem, save those who were conscripted against their will. They ran headlong into a very foreign land, hundreds of miles from home, and suffered painfully before the majority of them died, of starvation, cold, exposure, battle wounds, disease and more. There was nothing noble in their deaths.

    The documentary's style: ''You are There'', really brought it home, the tragedy, futility, and base ugliness of it all. It lent so much more Human dimension to those events than Minard's famous graphic ever could. My guess is that part of that gap in experience comes from the gap in time - Minard was thirty-one years old when the tragic March took place, it was contemporary, it had a major emotional impact on him and anyone who read his charts at the time, so his interpretations were a way of codifying an existing emotional experience. Now that experience has dissipated over 200 years, Minard's chart doesn't have the cultural context it once had, so the impact on the reader is inherently less powerful. Nobody reading this chart today lost a brother or father or friend in that march.

    My point here isn't that the documetary is better than the chart or vice versa, it's just that when I watched the documentary last night, I had the same sort of epiphany I had when first viewing Minard's graph of Napoleon's March - only in the reverse order of Minard's contemporaries. I saw the statistics, then later felt the emotional impact. Both parts combined make a powerful statement. So in the interest of Information Design - I'm even more compelled to try to remember the Human side of the numbers. On the other end of almost every GET request in my webservers logfiles, there's a living, breating person - that may seem obvious, but can be easy to forget.

    Thu, Jul 31, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Selling 10 Years of WIRED - On EBay

    I'm selling my entire collection of WIRED Magazine, plus a couple of extras: The first three issues of WIRED Japan, and a WIRED-branded CueCat scanner with cable and software. If you're feeling nostalgic, or if you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass it along, thanks.


    Tue, Jul 29, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Workblog - Amazon.com gets RSS

    So starting today, Amazon.com has RSS feeds for Books, Music, Video and DVD (most subcategories and search results). The RSS URLs are baked into the HTML as alternate 'link' elements (you can see them in the HEAD tag with view-source). The cool thing was that this was put together with existing parts, and really didn't take much work to put out there.

    Using an example Browse Category of 'Music | Styles | Opera/Vocal | Operettas', the RSS XML is created by taking an existing XML feed for Browse Node 64729 from Amazon's Web Services (AWS), and using the existing AWS XSL transformation capability to transform the original XML into RSS XML via a new XSL Stylesheet.

    Good God, what an acronym soup. So, to sum up AWS XML + AWS XSLT + XSL Stylesheet = AMZN RSS, right? Clear as mud. I've been playing with the beta feeds for a while and have to say it's pretty cool to see that a price has dropped (or risen) on an item I'm watching just by having my NewzCrawler auto-update an RSS feed - instant auto-notification. It was also cool to be in the right place/right time/right mindset to make this happen too, I hope it proves to be a worthwhile endeavor.

    Thu, Jul 24, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    My Time is Stored all over the World

    A new essay about time, my habit of using cheap pocket watches, and what happens to them when they die. It's longish, but hopefully worthwhile.

    I was driven to finish this story (it's been sitting around for a long time) by recent events. My wife's grandfather died on Friday, at age 94. He was a truly wonderful person - my son's middle name is his own, Paul. Paul worked in the cemetary business, and had some very interesting stories to tell. I enjoyed hearing those, and they are what I remember about him most vividly. Now that Paul is gone, I realized, so are all of his stories - at least the ones that aren't written down, and the ones that nobody else remembers.

    Think of how many stories you have, ones you tell all the time, ones you have yet to formall put together, storiess that hurt to tell, storiess that make you laugh every time. Share them. Share them somehow with someone. If they stay bottled up inside you, they may vanish along with you when you depart this world, and that would be a shame.

    In honor of Paul, I share this story with you. You may like it, or hate it, take it as you may - it's my story and I'm sharing it with you today - and possibly with the mega-caching machine that is the Internet, prolonging it's life as if it were written in stone.
    Mon, Jul 21, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    A Yahoo Pick again - Cool

    Toot Toot - tooting my own horn again - it's always nice to be chosen as a ''Pick of the Day''. Thanks Yahoo folks. And how refreshing that it has absolutely nothing to do with Pennies or Amazon.com. Also, thanks to gtmcknight and their massive button collection - including my own for Amazon Light: Amazon Light. Use a button and support them via PayPal!
    Wed, Jul 16, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Server Issues

    Life on the Internet - My webserver died an ignominious death this morning - appears to be back up now (or at least it's replacement). It's amazing how well this all (the Internet) works together, considering the tenuousness of it all - package loss, latency, electrical disturbances, corrupted files, interoperability and just plain human errors. It seems so fragile to be so expansive, like a light skin of static electricity spread across the surface of the Earth.

    Also, go visit my Amazon Light DE site - especially if you're from Germany or Austria - and let me know what you think.
    Mon, Jul 14, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Redesign Time

    Enough things are happening recently, that I decided to re-work my default page for kokogiak.com. It's easier for me to scale with on the back end (to add projects to, maintain, etc), emphasizes this blog a bit more, and is finally CSS/XHTML compliant and valiated.

    I tried for a transparency trick (transparent images as background-image), and it sort-of works. It looks like I want, but the page rendering is slowed while scrolling or paging. Too many pixels to paint/repaint I suppose. I'll try this for a while though, since I like the look.

    The nicest thing about this version - no server-side browser sniffing. I relied pretty heavily on that for the last version of kokogiak.com, since I went heavily with IE-friendly CSS layout (Mozilla was just an ugly beta back then, and Opera's CSS support was dodgy). That conditional logic in the template made updating a pain, and the downlevel version was never what I intended, just a poor compromise. It's one-size-fits-all now, the HTML output is the same regardless of the client.

    This new version dives headlong into the CSS/XHTML world, and in doing so bids adieu to any layout control in pre-4.0 browsers (Netscape 4 - I'm looking your way). The page looks like Hell in the older browsers, but the text is still readable, and the information is still there.

    I have to say it's both painful and liberating to give up layout control. I hate that this site looks like shit in Netscape 4, but I refuse to bother myself with the tedium of catering to a browser that should DIE ALREADY. Why doesn't someone write a virus to go around worm-like and remove (or upgrade) every version of Netscape 3.x and 4.x.

    For nostalgia (or curiosity), I keep a copy of Kokogiak.com's First Version - retired in March of 2002, and now also archived is the Second incarnation - retired now, in July of 2003. Welcome to the boxy world of kokogiak.com 3.0.
    Mon, Jul 7, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Google AdSense Experimentation

    So I thought I'd try Google's AdSense, an ad-delivery system. It seemed like a decent way to place low-impact ads on my Amazon Light pages (way below the fold so they'd be unobtrusive), certainly worth an experiment.

    Well, the ads served key off of your URL, and in my case that means 'kokogiak.com', since all of the pages are dynamically created via ASP, they're not static - so Google can't crawl them, thus Google doesn't know my content, so the ads are irrelevant (mostly about Alaska). Test to see what ads would be delivered to your site here.

    Being nosy, I peeked into the ad code for Google's AdSense, and noticed a neat little line in there that looks like this:

    if (window.google_page_url == null) {
      google_page_url = document.referrer;
      if (window.top.location == document.location) {
        google_page_url = document.location;
      }
    }

    Seeing that line was how the URL was passed to Google, I thought I'd experiment and set the google_page_url variable to be a keyword ''Math'', instead of my URL ''kokogiak.com'' - lo and behold, it worked - immediate relevance in the ads. How cool - but was it kosher - would it be allowed by Google? Nothing in their terms of service expressly forbade setting the keyword, just a catch-all clause about ''nothing may be altered''. Hmmm. I altered the code slightly and vastly improved performance. Surely they wouldn't mind that... Better email and find out. I did just that, and got my response. In part:

    ''Our AdSense program goes beyond simple keyword matching to understand the context and content of web pages. Based on a sophisticated algorithm that includes such factors as keyword analysis, word frequency, font size, and the overall link structure of the web, we know what a page is about, and can precisely match Google ads to each page''

    So, basically, no. Adding that keyword variable isn't allowed, so take note - you other nosy developers out there. I guess I can understand, since a porn site could conceivably set a keyword of ''disney'' on their site, and get content that the advertisers would rather they didn't. But still - it's painful to have a one-line change that makes a world of difference be disallowed because of policy. Maybe they'll change their minds... here's hoping. I should note that the Google folks were cool about the situation too, even thanking me sincerely for my feedback and soliciting more. Let 'em know if you have anything to say about AdSense.

    Wed, Jun 25, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    The Hulk The Hulk The Hulk

    Last week, I was walking through my local grocery store, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a box of Hulk Nilla Wafers. I laughed out loud - what product could sound so un-Hulk-like? A small wafer called '''Nilla'' that's best when dipped into Milk? Curious about what other marketing/merchandising deals had been put together for the upcoming Hulk Movie (opens June 20, 2003), I found out that there was a virtual green tidal wave of stuff either endorsed by, licensed by, featured by, or associated with Universal Pictures ''Hulk'' movie. This Incredible List of 180+ products and brands is just what I could find in one day online.
    Sat, Jun 14, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Another new feature on Amazon Light (I know, I know)

    Last week I was looking through Amazon's DVD New Releases, I was struck that every week we have between 150-250 new titles becoming available. IMHO, Amazon does a so-so job of listing these , but I wanted to tackle the problem in a different way, and ended up with this:

    An HTML list of DVD New Releases by Week (and category) for this week and the next 3 months:
    http://www.kokogiak.com/amazon/dvd/default.asp

    Same List built as an XML RSS Feed for weekly updates for Newsreaders:
    http://www.kokogiak.com/amazon/dvd/default.asp?isXML=true

    I also plan on creating a weekly email signup as well, for anyone who wants the top 10 new DVD releases in their inbox every Monday. It seems like this is a service Amazon (or at least Netflix) should already do, but they don't seem to. The smaller DVD review sites I've found that do have newsletters just pack them full of other stuff/upsell/ads, etc. I'm shooting more for just the plain-jane ''Here are the New Releases, do what you will with them''.

    It'll be interesting to see how this shapes up.

    Tue, May 6, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    The Burning Building Question

    Fascinated by the imagery of the first days of the war, I became curious about a certain building that stood prominently in the Baghdad skyline (and many press photographs) that apparently was hammered many times by heavy bombing in the first week of the Iraq war.

    The ''Council of Ministers Hall'' (CMH), as I believe it is called, is shaped like an art-deco version of an Aztec Pyramid, with Arabic overtones. The smoking, flaming hulk of the CMH became a global icon of the Baghdad bombing - yet little if anything was said about the building itself. So my major three questions became 1) why it was so prominently featured in the news, 2) what was it called, and 3) what was its (former) purpose? And, like any good armchair-investigator these days, I fired up my Google search and took off.

    To see where my journey took me, click here.
    Fri, Apr 18, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Hey - a Conference!

    Short notice, but very cool, I get to go to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference next week. I will be taking a small part in the Amazon Day workshop there, and attending like a normal geek thereafter. I'm psyched, since it's been ages since I've gone to a conference like this, and it should be a great opportunity to share and learn. I'll write more about it on my return, I'm sure. Nothing like a group-geek-gathering to kick-start one's creatitvity (and, hopefully, productivity).
    Thu, Apr 17, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    The war looks to be tough on animals as well as man. Again, culled from Yahoo News' feed of wire photos:

    • Donkeys - destroyed like any other transport
    • Cows - collateral damage
    • Sheep - obstacles

    • Camels Afire (sort of)
    • Dogs of War
    • Dogs of War II
    • Dogs of War III and his intended Victim
    • Dogs of Peace
    • Dogs of Peace II
    • Canine Uprising
    • Israeli Cat of Fear
    • Dolphin - Commando Flipper
    • Dolphin II
    • Dolphin III
    • Dolphin IV
    • Dolphin V

    • British Pigeon - an early invader
    • British Pigeon II - a stowaway arrives in a warzone
    • American Pigeon - on duty
    • American Pigeons - traveling in an 'air wing'
    • Chicken (sort of)
    • Owl - spy or passenger?
    • Hawk - he fights crows for peace

    • Dove - ironic and very sad


    Tue, Apr 1, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Watching the War

    I've set a little page (here) that's set up to make viewing Yahoo News Iraq photos a little simpler/more intersting, imho - It's just a simple frameset with links to Yahoo News, but set up with the focus mostly on individual photographers (AP/Reuters/Pool, etc.) who are either embedded or in-country already. Not only can you discover interesting images, but you can visually follow a photographer's progress over time.

    Some notable photos so far:

    • Centerfold
    • Sleep in Armored Vehicle
    • Baptism
    • Benevolence via Candy
    • Missiles Firing
    • Surrendering
    • Gang Signs
    • Eerie Invader
    • Fear part I
    • Fear part II
    • Fear part III
    • Mishap
    • Smoke?
    • Passing the Camel

    Mon, Mar 24, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    There is a warship in Elliott Bay, just outside my window here in Seattle. I know rationally that it's a defensive move, a precaution, but I can't help but think ''what do they know that I don't know?''. This really viscerally brought it home to me. We're about to go to War, and many people will likely die and be hurt badly. I'm so torn, and feel painfully ambivalent. I do not think the U.S. did everything it could to avoid hostilities, but on the other hand, I do agree that something needed to be done. I'm not a big fan of G.W. Bush, but he is the man in charge (whether disputed or not), so he gets to make this sort of call - and I get to voice my disagreement.

    Before the last Gulf War, I sent an impassioned letter to Bush the Elder, an angry note from a 21-year-old college kid, holding him responsible for any casualties. At the time I remember feeling as if I had purged some of my anger and made some small statement. Now I do not have the same knee-jerk reaction. I am older and my feelings have moved toward the middle a bit I guess. I have children and a wife, and my life's perspective has changed drastically.

    I am angry, sad, confused, frustrated and anxious - probably the same as millions of others. Anyhow, enough navel-gazing.

    Fun stuff (diversions) I've been working on lately:
    • Amazon Light UK - it's up and running (even though traffic is lackluster)

    • Amazon Light Current Events Booklist - A dynamic list of Books relating to current world news

    • Amazon Light 2.0 - going to keep this around as a power-user version, but enough people spoke up with negative reviews that the 1.0 version will remain the main interface.


    Wed, Mar 19, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Amazon Light Version 2.0 lives

    After far too many late night sessions, Amazon Light now has a revised look. The old version isn't going anywhere anytime soon, no reason not to support two at twice the price, eh? The design currently only works in IE5+ for Macs/Pcs. I'm working on a mozilla version as well (I'm a glutton for punishment).

    Some interesting facts about Amazon Light v2:

    • 14 stores
    • 2,605 categories and subcategories in those stores
    • 5,764,600 items in those subcategories (as of 1/15/03)
    • 225k - the total weight of the HTML for just the categories/subcategories
    • 55k - the weight of the initial page (other navigation info is brought in as needed)
    • 8 - total number of non-navigational files
    • 1 - the total number of non-product images used (a spacer gif, used sparingly, so sue me).

    I'll be putting together some more on this soon, filling in the help/faq areas, etc. For now I am tired and happy it is done, even if it's only in beta.

    Fri, Jan 17, 2003 < link >
     
     
     

    Random Web Goodness

    Some wonderful visitor from Brussels noticed my translations on the French Revolutionary Calendar page were sub-par, and wonderfully decided to send on his own translations (all 365 days - yow). How cool is that? I'll be updating the page soon.

    I'm looking forward to the upcoming Animal Planet show (Jan 1st) ''The Future is Wild''. The same sort of presentation of Walking with Dinosaurs or Walking with Prehistoric Beasts - only used to present future evolution. Speculative animals like the Squibbon, Sharkopath, or the Toraton. They also have a companion book (with website) and children's book.

    And a parting link - quite possibly the world's strangest urinal. I think I would feel... er, uncomfortable doing my business standing over this. To say the least.
    Tue, Dec 31, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Historical Alexa Traffic Rankings

    Okay, i'm an Alexa junkie, I must be, I write about them enough. Yes, their traffic rankings are flawed, and yes, they are skewed, but they are interesting nontheless, flaws and all. Well, they just added a new feature that I think is pretty danmn cool - Historical Traffic Rankings. You can watch a site's decline, rise, or fluctuation for up to a year's length, and even compare two domains side-by-side.

    Some comparisons: metafilter.com vs fark.com , cnn.com vs. msnbc.com , ebay.com vs. amazon.com , republican national committee vs. democratic national committee , coke vs. pepsi , and , finally - aol.com vs. msn.com.

    You can view the graphs in more context at Alexa, complete with trending, reach, average page views, etc. - for example the aol vs msn page is here.

    Of course what led me to all of this was narcissism, so here's my 1yr graph for kokogiak.com - that big spike around July matches the launch of Amazon Light, and the more recent spike matches a sudden surge of traffic to my Seattle Waterfront photo project. Take the data with a grain of salt, but it seems generally accurate from my POV.
    Fri, Nov 15, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    22 Pairs of Unexpected Pants

    The hazards of working in ecommerce. Last week, as we worker bees in Amazon.com were busily rushing to get ready for the launch of our new apparel store, I got a note from my boss - I had to put a targeted message on the ''thank you'' page if someone bought an apparel item. Okay, fine, I can do that - and start witing the script to test for items purchased, and testing it. The catch is that in order to see the ''thank you'' page, you have to actually buy something. (You see what's coming don't you). We have many development machines where you can buy all day and it's just play money - no orders actually placed. Guess who made a mistake and started developing on live data... yep - before I could figure out my idiocy, I found that I had actually ordered (on my own debit card no less) 22 pairs of ladies stretch boot cut jeans, size 1, and a couple of winter jackets from the Gap (and I'm nowhere near a size 1, trust me)

    Why these clothes? They were the first ones I ran into when looking for any apparel item to buy. Why size 1? It was the first choice in the drop-down box. Frantic attempts to cancel (too late, orders sent off to distribution centers very fast) failed. So two days later, on a Saturday morning, I open my front door in bathrobe to get the paper and nearly fall over the Giant Heap of Pants on my front porch. The jackets came later. I was able to return them to a real Gap store, no problem, and all is well now.

    But the next time someone asks about the hazards of developing websites under pressure - remind them that you could indeed wind up with 22 pairs of unexpected pants.
    Fri, Nov 15, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Accolades, Thoughts, Miscellanea

    Nice to see more coverage of my work, from sites familar and not. (Much as I may like to pretend otherwise, attention is always nice, and usually appreciated). First, The MegaPenny Project was a USAToday 'Hot Site' for the third time today. It was previously ranked as such on 2/07/2002, and on 3/14/2001. If there's a record out there for 'most posted to USAToday', maybe I'm in the running.

    Next, Amazon Light is a ''Web Pick'' in FastCompany's print magazine (Nov 2002, pg.52), but unfortunately, there's no online version.

    And last, but not least, my barely-mentioned nowords.org (the less said the better) got a 'cool link' mention of sorts - the only trouble is that it's in Hungarian, so I haven't the slightest clue whether they think it's great or crap. A while back I appealed to the Icelandic speakers out there (thank you) for help. Any Hungarian translation assistance here would be great too.

    Lots more I'd like to write about tonight, but a severe lack of oomph is holding me back. (Maybe to your benefit). I'll sum up. Russian siege: so that's why debilitating gas isn't used more often in hostage cases. Work isn't currently fun - what else is new. I want the ability to switch between dream-state and consciousness at will. Money changes everything. That guy i saw in the passing car this morning - I just saw him for a second and thought ''He's truly conscious of only himself - just like me''. My Amazon Light project is likely doomed - someday soon either Google or Amazon (or someone else) will come up with something similar and blow me out of the water. Klyuchevskoy volcano. Krzysztof Penderecki. Doubly-landlocked nations. Multi-message pagetype-independent serial message delivery systems. Human voices are so incredibly distinct - I can tell that's Donald Sutherland on that ad without even giving it conscious thought. Our lives are so short. Small pleasures mean a lot - like these warm socks I have on tonight. Meandering thoughts can be a bore - my mouth runneth over.
    Mon, Oct 28, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    One of Those Moments

    Last Sunday, I was home alone with my two-year-old daughter, and not in such a great mood. I was walking out of the living room after turning on some music for her so she could dance. (The music requested was ''real ballerina music'', as opposed to the nearly identical ''pretend music'' I had played for her earlier). I felt a gentle tug at my hand, and in a quiet, unusually subtle voice (the same one that helps daughters around the world wrap their fathers around their little finger) she said ''Papa, please come dance with me?'' My bad mood evaporated, happiness took its place, and choking up, I did my best to really savor the moment - and the next few minutes dancing and laughing. What could possibly be better than that.
    Mon, Oct 14, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    More is not necessarily better... often it's worse

    From the 'random observations' category: I recently had the displeasure of a long wait in a public waiting room. Looking around for anything to read, I could only find a ''Barney Color Book'', and the latest issue (September) of Vogue. Blaring across the cover of this weighty tome was the headline: ''750 Pages of Fall Fashion's All-Out Glamour''. So, curious and not a fan of Barney, I picked up the Vogue magazine.

    The first thing you notice is the heft - followed by the thickness. It's nearly two inches thick, and heavier than the Yellow Pages of a small city. I cracked it open, and started the all-too-familiar ''hunt for the table of contents'' process. I finally found the first part of the TOC - forty-two pages in. The entire table of contents was spread over three pages - spaced out amongst more ads. In fact, since I had the time, I counted pages, and discovered that of the first 205 pages (over 25% of the entire magazine), only seven pages had actual content. The remaining 198 pages were all ads (from a quarter-page to 8-page spreads). Of the seven pages with actual content, three were table of contents pages, 2 were the masthead, and two were a letter from the editor (which was half text / half images).

    Granted, the balance of editorial-to-adspace improved after that to nearly 50-50, but I was just amazed that the first quarter of the magazine was literlly 97% advertising. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, I'm not usually a reader of Vogue (and trust there's not a lot of overlap between Vogue readers and readers of this blog). But it's just a real-world reminder that all media is crammed with advertising / sponsorships these days, and that the web is not a uniquely bad experience because of the all its advertising, but because it is becoming a more accepted, typical medium, and is behaving as such.


    Fri, Sep 13, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Obligatory Update (time catches up with all)

    It's 9/11. I'm weary from trying to think grave thoughts while doing too much work. I've avoided most TV and media. I'm further saddened by this fact - being so tired of seeing/hearing sad stories about 9/11, I'm starting to avoid them - turn off the TV or switch off the radio. That makes me feel like I'm being callous, but it's really just weariness. On another note...

    Autumn

    One year and one week ago, I also celebrated the approach of Fall, writing: ''After bearing another summer, I'm literally thrilled again to welcome another season of crisp mornings, cool evenings, blustery afternoons and beautiful leaves.'' Last week, Autumn breezed into the window of my office, tapped me on the shoulder and said ''Good to see you again''. It's good to revisit old friends.

    Google Rules (still)

    After my last Google post, I thought I'd never hear from Google again. Wrong. For some reason, another (or the same) anonymous source at Google mailed me some more delightful Google Gear. It's enough to wam the cockles of any good web geek's heart. I scored a great Pen/Notebook, a Heavy-duty collared Google Shirt, and a groovy blue squishy-fluid-filled Google CD carrier. I still don't know who is behind this, but thanks much, and I'll gladly keep trading good words for great schwag! (If I could only score a Lava Lamp...)

    Amazon Light

    Thanks so much to all of you who continue to use and write in about Amazon Light. Yes, I will be updating the source code to include all recent developments soon, and may have one or two other interesting things to add in the near future. Also, apologies if it's been slow or hiccup-y lately. Apparently Amazon.com has been having issues with their XML feeds.

    Nowords.org
    Watch this space.
    Wed, Sep 11, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Google is Cool - but What Else is New?

    So I get home from work on Friday, and there's a pouch in my mailbox with a return address of Google.com. I thought I had worked out my troubles with them a while back, but still felt my heart jump a bit. Wait a minute though - subpoenas or threatening letters usually aren't soft & squishy though. I opened it to find - a black ''Google'' T-Shirt, and nothing more. With no note or name on it, I can only view it as a thank-you for not making a big brouhaha about their Cease & Desist email, and for changing my Amazon LIght site quickly. At any rate it's a cool gesture, if a small one (and by small, I mean I haven't worn a size 'Large' in many moons, but thanks all the same).

    On a completely different tangent - some fun / interesting finds via my referrer logs: A) Fake Dr. Peppers - an exhaustive collection of Dr. Pepper Wannabes. B) OneLook - search up to 100 online dictionaries at one time (they indexed my site - Luciferous Logolepsy as well). C) The AmazonBlog, a blog tracking all things Amazon, and D) my favorite - look up ''Fast and Efficient'' on Yahoo.com, and there's Amazon Light, coming in at number four.
    Sun, Aug 18, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Time to Recreate

    Hokay - so I just spent waaay too much time finishing on a new feature for Amazon Light called ''Your List'', and am a little burned out (by quite a number of things at the moment), so we're off to a campground this weekend for recreation (I love that ''recreation'' is literally ''re-creation'', a renewal).

    But I just want to spell out exactly why I spent all that time on ''Your List'' - Any time you ever want to gather a bunch of Amazon products together, it's not that easy. Whether it's for your shopping cart, or adding to your wishlist, or gathering ASINs together to make some links for a website, it's always been hunt, find the page, go two or three steps more, and then find your way back again to start over. ''Your List'' lets you gather items on the go with one click - not the Amazon patented ''One-Click'' technology - just to be in legally clear waters ;) - then when you're done gathering, you can do a number of different things at once from a single management space. I've already used it a bunch myself, and hope others find it useful too.

    But now I'm stopping myself from adding anymore to Amazon Light, just let it breathe for a bit - and resist the urge to add more. Time to head out into the real world and breathe some real air among the real trees.
    Thu, Aug 8, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Gorgeous Norge

    So I have a little hobby of checking some obscure webcams around the world - some in Scandanavia from time to time, (okay almost daily). I'm not exactly sure why, since I have no particular relationship with Scandanavia, I just think it's a beautiful place, it reminds me a lot of Alaska - only it's been populated for a lot longer - thus has more visible history. One of my favorite cams is on the M/S Nordkapp - a forward-and-back facing pair of cams mounted on a large Norwegian Ferry. The M/S Nordkapp sails up and down the Norwegian Coast, crossing the Arctic Circle twice a week. I love the little glimpses of Fjords and mountains the webcams give.

    Today I noticed a small town on the webcam I hadn't seen before, and managed to track it down - it was on a series of Islands in an area called called Lofoten. As I looked up info about Lofoten - I came across some simply wonderful photographs of the area. If you enjoy Northern landscapes, you'll like these.

    From Lofoten Photogalerie, we have a Summer Gallery, a Winter Gallery, and a series called Photos of the Week. Don't miss these - some of my favorites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7
    Mon, Jul 29, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Amazonning

    Okay, after the Google.com legal request, and some ugliness involving theft of my work and ideas (the reason for the formerly ''deleted'' post, the ''Amazon Light'' project has calmed down a bit (and thus has taken up less of my time and mind). It's been a lot of fun, traffic is still pretty heavy, and the Amazon Associates referral fees are.. well, they are there, but not really all they are cracked up to be (but that was never the point, just a nice side benefit). Traffic boosted the overall ranking of ''kokogiak.com'' with Alexa from about 128,000 to 68,000. (I have a little widget here that allows you to enter a domain and check its Alexa ranking).

    I took some of that referral money and re-invested it in a textad on Metafilter.com, also as an experiment. Metafilter is a great place to spend the money, and a lightweight textad is right in line with the lightweight motif of AmzLight. It'll be interesting to see how it performs, right now it's getting a click-through of about 1.3 percent (which isn't too bad). I have one more piece I'd like to add to AmzLight, then want to call a moratorium on new things - I really want it to stay clutter-free.

    So, without trying too hard, my life has become deeply entwined with Amazon.com. I work at Amazon.com, as a web developer, I'm an Amazon Associate, I have a book listed on Amazon.com, I'm a publisher and part of the Amazon Advantage program for small publishers, I now host an alternate version of Amazon.com on my site, and as of next month, I'll be an Amazon.com stockholder too. Is that too much? It's a bit much, I think. I need another non-Amazon hobby.
    Sat, Jul 27, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Hey - my First ''Cease And Desist''!

    Well, now I know I'm moving up - I just got my first Cease & Desist notice from none other than Google.com's Legal Department. Apparently, the first version of Amazon Light was too close to Google in ''look and feel''. The letter was short and to the point, and yes, it was a blatant copy, so rather than kill it, I redesigned a bit, and now they're happy.

    It's a little disappointing, since I don't personally feel there was any harm being done, certainly none meant, but the Web is such a level playing field - a couple of nights of coding and a few small pages turned out to be a valuable interface to Amazon.com and registered negatively with the folks at Google (I wouldn't call it a threat).

    At any rate, I feel like I should print out and frame the letter.

    On the plus side - wow, traffic to the site is insane, and how cool it is to hit the No. 1 spot on Daypop and Blogdex at the same time. Seems like there's a lot of pent-up desire for simplicity at Amazon.com. It's nice to be able to facilitate it (hoping my server can just hold up under the traffic...)
    Thu, Jul 18, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Amazon Light and Webservices

    So, at work, they held a contest last week to see what sorts of applications people could come up with using their newly-expanded XML API - now fully grown into Amazon.com Webservices. I made an application, and got an honorable mention for it - so here, go and give it a spin: ''Amazon Light''. The interface is way-Googly, intentionally. Basically it's an entirely new facade for Amazon.com's catalog - done in three template pages. Click around on the tabs and different categories, your seach term will follow you around until you choose which category to search.

    The contest also highlights some other great work, and top of the list was Erik's BookWatch Plus - a great combination of Bookwatch, Google API, and Amazon's API. Click here to see all of the entries chosen to launch Amazon's Webservices (the first two are external folks, the others are from Amazon). If you want to hack around with creating new ways to play with/display Amazon.com's content, the road is wide open. I'll be interested to see what more comes of all this.
    Tue, Jul 16, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Any Icelandic speakers out there?

    My MegaPenny Project page has been discovered by Iceland's Tilveran, an apparently thriving equivalent to fark.com or b3ta.com, all basically linkfests of one sort or another. Oddly enough, it's all written in Icelandic (imagine that), so I have no idea what the link text they used: ''Svol�ti� klikka�ar p�lingar...tengist peningum'' means.

    I can guess it's ''something something... something pennies'', but even that's stretching. This is as much fun as trying to figure out the links earlier from China, Israel (Hebrew), Japan and Norway. Whoever said that English is the dominant language on the net apparently is missing out on a lot of content out there - I'm always happy to discover these out-of-the-way places via my referrer logs.
    Wed, Jul 10, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    The 5k

    The wonderful and fun 5k competition is back up - with all new 2002 entries. Of course, I'm going to suggest you view my entry: Gegenschein, an Illuminating Light Show. Be forewarned, it's for IE4+ on Windows machines only (since it uses IE light filters, which are not available to any other configurations). Be sure to rate it if you like it.

    (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the 5k Competition is a free-form contest to see who can come up with the most interesting / creative / useful / entertaining bit of web content in under 5,120 bytes - a very small amount of space. It's a real challenge and always fun to see what people come up with).
    Mon, Jun 24, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    What is up with my TiVo?

    Twice now in the past week, I've checked my ''TiVo's Suggestions'' list to see what shows TiVo has decided I might want to watch - and have been unhappily disappointed. Normally in the past, the suggestions were really good, related to shows we had recorded or watched in the past. I loved the serendipity of finding an unknown gem based on these suggestions. But for some screwed-up reason, TiVo has decided that I really really must love Westerns. Yes, I've had over 30 random Western-genre films suggested from different channels, placed at the top of the list no less, which I assume means a stronger suggestion.

    I don't hate Westerns, but nobody in this house has watched one in years. Either the A) the suggestion algorithm has suddenly gone flaky, B) TiVo is shoving something at me I don't want for some ulterior marketing purpose, or C) I'm in some weird test group - ''Let's see what tey do if we shove a bunch of genre-related title in front of them''. Whatever it is, it takes away value from something I always liked, and I just hope it stops soon.

    And what the Hell was the ''important download'' it had to get last night that it warned me sternly against cancelling? It recorded a blank screen for 25 minutes - exactly the final 25 minutes of the USA-Mexico World Cup match. That's two strikes in one week TiVo.
    Mon, Jun 17, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    Really Interesting Cars

    Okay, here goes a long one. Driving home last Friday, I spotted this amazing little yellow car (pictured) on I-5, and grabbed a quick picture of it - at 50 mph (surprising the driver I think). Having never seen a car like it in real life, I decided to find out what it was. Thanks to Google and an obsessive mentality, I discovered a lot. Firstly, this yellow car is a Sparrow from Corbin Motors. The Sparrow is a single-seat three-wheeled electric commuter vehicle with a peak of 70mph/40hp, and it just looks snazzy. Well, it doesn't stop there - Corbin also makes a gas-powered three-wheeler called the Merlin Roadster [img] that runs a Harley-Davidson V-twin Engine and can max out at over 100 mph - but also rates only 35 mpg.

    So that got me to thinking - hasn't there been a lot of noise about 'little' cars lately? Well, where are they, especially all of the electric or Zero Emission ones? Here's what I found - Lots of interesting cars, generally expensive with small but loyal followings, and a lot of financial struggling by companies big and small.

    More specifically I found cars like the Smart Car [img], a gas-powered, tiny car designed and marketed by Mercedes and Swatch (yes, the watch company). Apparently it's a big hit in 18 countries so far, just not North America yet. That might not be the case for long though, as E-Motion is test marketing an electric version of the Smart Car in Atlanta, GA this year.

    I also learned some jargon - EV = Electric Vehicle, any type, but usually sedan-size. CEV = City Electric Vehicle, the next size down, generally a very small car. NEV = Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, basically a street-legal souped-up golf cart in size and speed.

    Aside from Mercedes, some other big boys are working on some intriguing vehicles as well; Lee Iacocca started Lido Motors to sell 'Luxury' NEVs [img], Ford has the Th!nk City car [img], and Daimler Chrysler is showing off their Gem Car [img 1,img 2].

    Frazer-Nash provided electric runabouts for the Sydney Olympics, and they have some interesting macro-minis, like the Solar Baby 2, the picoBus, and the immense Solar Road Runner that carries 45 passengers.

    Two asian City Electric Vehicles of note are the Nissan Hypermini [img] and the Reva [img] from India.

    And now, I've saved the best two for last. First up is Feel Good Motors, Toronto-based makers of the Zenn and the Dauphine. The Dauphine has a retro-cool design, and comes in really eye-catching colors - and best of all, it's sold in North America (and the government of Ontario even offers a $1,000 tax incentive to make it easier to buy).

    Lastly is Cree AG, Swiss makers of the the three-wheeled electric SAM. Why is this my favorite? Basically it boils down to design - it's sleek, sci-fi, evocative and pretty damn cool-looking. Oh, and the website is nicely designed with great photos - and that doesn't hurt either. The SAM is a two-seater (one in front of the other), has a range of up to 70km, and is supposed to launch in late 2002.
    clear='all'>
    Oh, and one last mini-vehicle of interest: The Honda ACTY SDX Mini Dump Truck. Yes, a mini dump truck. According to my rough conversions, this tiny truck is just over 4 ft tall, 4.5 ft wide, and has a 6 ft bed. Using AltaVista to hack-translate, I discovered that A) this truck comes in five models, including the SDX, the TOWN and the ATTACK. B) It is useful for carrying up to 52 50-liter boxes of tangerines, up to 770 pounds. and C) it has an optional fold-up passenger seat which is called a suicide seat?!
    Sun, Jun 16, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    PSA

    Okay, just a brief announcement. I've added comment-ability to this blog using ASPComments. I have to say that it was really easy to set up. Almost everything else here is home-grown codewise, so this is an experiment, but so far so good. To comment, simply click on the 'comment' number to the lower right. Let me know if you see anything wonky or weird.
    Sun, Jun 16, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    A Work Post

    So, I don't much talk about work here. Not for any real reason, but Amazon.com holds its cards close to the vest, so it's generally better to be safe than sorry I suppose. One thing I do want to bring up is our group's latest experiment. I won't go into the gory details, but we've just put up a new DHTML banner on Amazon's home page. It is an experiment, so only a random 50% of users will have a chance to see it - and it's only there through this weekend. Also, since it's DHTML, we've limited the browsers to IE4 and up for Windows and IE5 and up for Mac. If you're using one of those browsers and end up in the experiment group, you'll see a red banner slide down touting Amazon's digital camera selection, slide back up, and tuck away into the corner. (animated gif demo here)

    It's an experiment, and I'm a little nervous - because it's DHTML, it's my code, and it's on the home page of one of the heaviest-trafficked websites in the world. Actually, I'm not too worried, but any little thing that may pop up is just magnified by the sheer volume of traffic.

    Anyhow, now you know who is to blame/accost for introducing DHTML to the Amazon.com homepage.
    Thu, Jun 6, 2002 < link >
     
     
     

    A Person in a Word

    While talking to Erik the other day, I remembered a day not so long ago when I was spending an afternoon in the small town of Petersburg, Alaska. I had quite a bit of time and not much planned, so I found myself walking about, and discovered their cemetery. I remembered learning about some famous authors who gathered names for their characters by wandering cemeteries, and found myself walking from stone to stone, reflecting on the names. Aside from a heavy Scandanavian influence, and the occasional Native American name, most of the names were quite normal. I found that a name without context really did not say much to me. Then I came across a small grave marker with a single word on it: ''FATHER''.

    It really stopped me in my tracks. If you had to sum up a person's existence in a single word, I can't think of one more meaningful, more evocative, more respectful than MOTHER or FATHER. The stone was weathered, and the engraving was rough and dark, but there was no missing it, or the meaning inherent in it. I never knew or met the man buried there, but by simply being told that ''here lies a Father, our Father, my Father'', I was told a great deal about him and his life. It spoke far more to me than a stone adorned with ''Abigail Stanton'' or ''Sven Nordquist'', strangers whose names told me very little about them.
    Tue, Jun 4, 2002 < a href='#06006200245' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Aliens and Movies - Nothing Wrong with That

    ''Men in Black'' was a fun popcorn movie, so I'm looking forward to MIB2. Today I found a link to some PR photos for MIB2. Interesting aliens galore - but there was one that stood out for some reason... let's see, oh yeah. There's no way anyone will believe this individual is an alien. Turns out MJ is playing (in an uncredited role) an ''Undercover alien intelligence officer''. Shyeah, right - ''playing''.
    Fri, May 31, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    The Big Bear Cleans Up

    Well, strangely enough I never received any response directly from the Disney folks about my discovery of the 76 bad words exposed in their ''Bear in the Big Blue House''.swf file. But, the Internet being the beautiful thing it is, some people read my post, a few spread it around, and eventually it ended up in a place that caught the eye of someone who knew people inside the Disney Online group. I found out through email with one of the Disney folks that it was indeed a bit of an embarrassment (though not his fault, someone else was on the hook for it). Long story short, the Bear .swf file has been cleaned up, no swear words can be seen anymore.

    Now, the funny thing at the end of all this is that although the words are indeed hidden, and nobody would really stumble across them again, if you know where to look with your cursor, (in the black, to the left of and just below the Bear), you can see your cursor turn into a Text icon. If you click and drag blindly in that area, you can still select and copy some bad words. It's like a perverse form of fishing, since you can't see what you're selecting and copying until you paste.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the Internet Rocks, and the connections and communication it facilitates are simply amazing.
    Fri, May 31, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Updates and a couple smaller projects

    I added a ''what's new'' box to my main page, so I can post some smaller things I've been working on.

    First on the list is the Seattle Waterfront 2002-1907 - a project I've been meaning to finish for a while now. It's a panoramic photo of Seattle's waterfront taken in 1907 and again by me in 2002 (actually some of it is from 2001, but that's just between you an me). It's got some dhtml to show a nice transition, or some downlevel ways to view it as well.

    Next up is my photographs page. The images are varied, mostly Pacific Northwestern though. Some turned out much nicer than I had planned - I'm learning to love my digital camera more and more.

    I also added 25 new images to my 300 Miles High project, and have some experiments with Amazon.com's XML API, and finally am proud to announce that my book, The Strangest Town in Alaska has just gone into its second printing. All fun stuff, I've had great fun working/playing with.
    Fri, May 24, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Naughty words from Disney.com

    Okay, so first - I'm a father of a 2-year-old girl who absolutely loves a certain Disney Channel TV show called ''The Bear in the Big Blue House'' (BitBBH). Second - when she's with me by the computer she likes to play with it, so I thought I'd look up some BitBBH stuff online - at playhousedisney.com. I found some wonderful animations and games done in Flash there. Third - since my daughter is a girl of little patience, I thought I'd just save these Flash files to my local machine to avoid having to download them every time she wanted to see them. Makes sense, right? I doubt I'm the only one to have ever done this.

    Well lo and behold - one of these little games has a surprising Easter Egg - an unhidden list of 76 'offensive' words, right there, in plain view, right next to the head of the Big Bear. You have to look at just the .swf file itself, not the page containing it - and you may need to resize your browser window to be wider than it is tall to see the wordlist in question

    The game is a pretend postcard you send to Bear, and he sends you one back. When you type in your name, there must be some actionscript in the flash file that does a quick check against the list to see if you typed something nasty (or part of something nasty). It's cute if you do type a bad word - Bear yelps and the word vanishes. But my surprise and gripe is that the word list is right there - they didn't make a very good effort to hide it in my opinion. I'm sending them email today and will report back if I ever hear of anything. If it is taken down, for posterity - here is a screenshot of the offending textarea.

    And if you're wondering what the 76 words (and partial words) are, click the button below to see them. Some, like 'underwear' are borderline, but this is supposed to be Disney, right?

    Fri, May 17, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Serenity through Japanese Cranes and Winter Scenes

    Serendipity being what it is, today I stumbled across the site of Hiroshi Nakajima. It's in Japanese - and no, I can't read it either. But you don't really have to speak the language to be able to enjoy the serene beauty of these photographs. There are dozens of photos of Japanese Cranes in various settings, and some really evocative Japanese Winter scenes as well.

    Start with the Cranes: Photo Galleries 1,2,3,4 and 5 (5 links to 9 other galleries as well). Move on to the Winter Galleries 1,2. My favorite individual photos: Crane from below, Crane Dancing, Crane's Breath in Cold Sunset (1,2,3), some icy tree branches, and a great Wintry hillside.
    Thu, May 9, 2002 < a href='#05005200240' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Half a Lifetime ago in the Sodium Vapors

    After seeing a movie by myself tonight, I was driving home, and had a strong memory grab me and send me back in time.

    Seventeen years ago (when I was 17 years old), I would borrow my Mom's car to go out with friends - one of whom I had a huge crush on. That Fall was an emotional rollercoaster, some nights filled with good omens, others maddeningly depressing. One constant in all that - the drive home alone.

    I'd end up driving home after 1 or 2 AM, the streets deserted. The Autumn evenings were usually crisp and foggy. I'd be driving home, listening to the radio, and wrenching over some emotional problem or another. There was one long straight stretch of road that always stays with me (long after all the emotional issues have been dead and forgotten).

    At 2 AM, without another soul on the road, the light from orange-amber sodium street lamps formed soft-edged cones in the fog above both sides of the road that stretched off into oblivion ahead. No other cars or house lights or stop lights could be seen for a few miles, just street lamp after street lamp, alternating toward the horizon.

    I would turn the music up as loud as I could bear, floor the accelerator, sing out as loud as I could and charge off into the amber-colored fog ahead. It was a rush, a release, a risk... an act of a Teenager.

    The long stretch of road ended abruptly, darkly, as it became a short bridge over a railroad track. As soon as I crossed that bridge, the music came down, the speed eased off, and I calmed down. I'd soon walk quietly back into my house, re-enter the banal real world, and go to sleep.

    But I'd always look forward to the next drive home, and hoped the conditions would be right - that the fog would be thick enough, that there would be no other cars (or police), and (please oh please), that a decent driving song would be on the radio.
    Sun, May 5, 2002 < a href='#05005200239' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    One's Own Private Monorail

    The Niles Monorail - a 300 foot track, two cars, five years and a lot of dedication and passion add up to the world's first Garden Monorail. Unlike the monorail system here in Seattle, this one actually has a switch and is a connected loop. Besides it being a private monorail, the next best thing about it is the cost - just over $4,000 total (cars and rails), or about $13.50 per foot. Compare this with the estimated cost for the new Seattle Monorail of about $18,500 per foot. Of course, concrete and steel can be a bit more expensive than plywood and sheet metal, no?
    Wed, Apr 24, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    No Respite

    Politics aside, it's amazing to see the sad lot for those living in Northern Afghanistan. Decades of warfare, poverty, recently the detrimental Taliban regime - and most recently, the U.S. bombing, three solid years of debilitating drought, a recent series of earthquakes - and now a plague of locusts. This has men out in the fields defending their new crops using plastic bags and scarves. What an incredible amount of hard luck.
    Mon, Apr 22, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Mmmm Vanilla Coke

    It seems Coca-Cola is bringing back an old classic: Vanilla Coke. The article states that this announcement follows ''months of speculation''. I'm happy and everything, but who has been speculating about flavored Coke for the past few months? Okay, so now I'm speculating... How long until we see Lemon Coke?
    Tue, Apr 16, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Preserving the French Republican Calendar

    Some of you may have noticed the odd date at the top of my redesigned homepage. It's from the French Republican Calendar - as if it had never been abandoned. I'm fascinated by the FRC because it was an attempt at decimal time, an attack on the control of the Catholic Church, an attempt to marry beauty, function and reason, and it was designed by poets, mathematicians and painters. Anyhow, for an exhaustive overview, click the link above (also linked to by the date on the homepage now).
    Fri, Mar 29, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Pronunciation and Current Events

    While doing a search on Yahoo News, I stumbled across an odd but useful resource - The Associated Press Current Events Pronunciation Guide. It appears to be updated often, and generally covers the difficult-for-English-speaker names and words. The Pronunciation Guide for today has some obscure (Gul Agha -- gool AH'-guh), some familiar (Al-Qaida -- al-KY'-ee-duh ), and some I guess I've been mispronouncing all along (Tom Daschle -- DASH'-uhl)... I always thought it was DASH-lee.
    Thu, Mar 28, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    The Volvo Hogster

    Yes, that's right. The Hogster, from Volvo. Volvo's first SUV. I am nearly at a loss for words. One part Jeep, one part Farm truck, and two parts weird surf-mobile. Slideshow here.

    I just... the ''Hogster''?
    Wed, Mar 27, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Additions and Renovations

    Today I launched my homepage redesign, and my latest project, Luciferous Logolepsy - a collection of over 9,000 obscure words. It was fun. Very cathartic to finish. I hope they are well received. Please, go, visit, enjoy. And then... go outside already.
    Fri, Mar 22, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Too much control

    Continuing in the vein of simple thoughts - I have far too much control over one aspect of my life - the volume of my headphones. The music streaming from my meager collection of MP3s to my eardrums gets filtered by six, yes six, different controls. Since the quality of the MP3s is all over the map, I have to fidget with the volume all the time, so the main question is - ''which control did I use last time?''

    There's the volume slider knob on the speaker itself, the volume dial embedded in the plastic cord of my headphones, the overdesigned volume scale built into my WinAmp skin, and the the Wave, Digital, and Master volume sliders in the Windows volume control panel. I ask you, does anyone need that much control?

    On the other hand, if this is all I have to complain about today, I'm doing pretty well.
    Thu, Mar 14, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Sublimation - the process of a substance changing state from solid to gas without first becoming a liquid. Glacial ice can undergo sublimation - where the ice becomes water vapor without ever melting. Something so ethereal and appealing about the thought of a solid simply evaporating into thin air - and it happens all the time.
    Sun, Mar 10, 2002 <link >
     
     
     

    Morbid questions

    From the ''If there really is an afterlife...'' department - You know how it can be when you're driving to work, or worse to somewhere like the airport for a long flight, and the last song you hear played on the radio just resonates in your head for hours afterwards? And, further, how much it sucks when the song isn't a good one?

    Well, I often wonder if that might happen in death - imagining a horrible car crash where the last song you heard stays with you throughout eternity. I also switch the channel often when a bad song comes on... just in case, you know.
    Sat, Mar 9, 2002 < a href='#03003200229' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    MegaFauna

    Okay, long time, no updates - I've been busy, preoccupied with world events, etc. But I did want to share one fun thing I've been working on for a while now - MegaFauna (in keeping with my current style of all things 'mega').

    For a long time I've had a fascination with these massive Ice Age animals. Very few good websites / documentaries seemed to exist, so I started making a collection of favorites, which grew into this new project.

    Another fun thing, a great sort of coincidence - several high-profile Ice Age productions are about to 'hit the street': First, the BBC and Discovery Channel have ''Walking with (Prehistoric) Beasts'', showing in November in the UK, and December 9th in the US. It looks just fantastic, made by the same folks who did ''Walking with Dinosaurs''. Next up is a groovy-looking computer-animated film from Fox and Blue Sky Studios called Ice Age.
    Now if you ever heard of Blue Sky Studios before, it was likely because of the Oscar-winning CGI short they made called Bunny - A great short film with a really interesting look (they used radiosity to generate a very natural lighting effect). Ice Age looks like it could be a really cute story, and the visuals so far look fantastic. I'm really looking forward to both of these shows.

    At any rate - prepare yourselves for a media buzz about all things Ice Age over the next several months or so. I know I'll be enjoying it. It's nice to see some extinct animals - other than dinosaurs - get some attention.
    Mon, Nov 5, 2001 < a href='#10011050127' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Universal Appeal

    I've written before about the interesting journey of my MegaPenny Project, the audiences that have found it worth viewing and linking to - well, the journey gets stranger and more interesting every day. On the one hand, it's been a 'cool link' on Yahoo's Yahooligans kids site, it's been featured in coin collectors forums, math discussion boards, grade school cirricula and personal sites. On the other, it's been referenced by some rather odd sites - for instance it was recently featured on the adult website 'Voyeurweb' (sorry, no link for you).

    But the links in print are always the hardest to track. I thought it was great when the site got a mention in Newsweek Magazine a few months back, and now I find out the latest link (driving quite a bit of traffic) comes directly from Playboy Magazine. I saw a mention of the feature on someone's site, so being the vain person I am, I had to run out and buy a copy.

    I searched seven different convenience stores and funny enough, could not find one. These stores either had hardcore porn magazines or no porn whatsoever, none carried Playboy. How weird (I am very out of practice - I haven't bought one since I was in college). Then there was the added embarassment of asking seven different store clerks (in my neighborhood - in front of neighbors) ''Do you carry Playboy?''... ''No''... ''Hmm, okay well do you know where I can find a copy?'' (Then watching them fidget and shake their heads, rather confused). Apparently one is not supposed to actually talk about buying porn with the clerks, just do it silently.

    I finally found one (at a 7-11 if you're curious). There it is, a couple-paragraph description of MegaPenny on page 40 of Playboy's November issue (one of my graphics is there too). Big deal? Not really, I just thought it was very strange - I never imagined anything I ever created would end up in the pages of Playboy - especially a site that has been lauded by kids sites and grade school educators for months.

    I think I am going to buy a copy for my Mother though. She'll be proud ;)
    Tue, Oct 2, 2001 < a href='#10010200127' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Therapeutic Writing and Visualization

    There are so many things I've thought and wanted to write in the past week, yet every time I sit down to write them out, the will just leaves me. I sit staring at the screen. What were they trying to do by destroying so much? What did they hope to accomplish? I really have no idea.

    So many poignant words have been written, so many tears shed in the past week. I can't get my head around it all. I read that each of the floors of the WTC was nearly an acre in size. Two towers at 110 stories = 220 acres (plus the other buildings). So much space flattened. I heard an architect musing that all large buildings are still essentially 'hand-built', making them sound so much more fragile than I'd ever thought.



    And the people. The missing and hurt, so many. At this stage it sounds like the number of dead will likely be around 6,000. That just sounds too big to be right. I wondered what that many people would look like in a group photo, probably something like the start of a huge marathon run. So to satisfy my need to grasp this, I found an image of a group of 20 people - then multiplied it up to create a group of six thousand.

    This is what six thousand people looks like. As I was making the image, I kept thinking ''this must be wrong, it looks like too many'', but it isn't wrong.

    Life seems to be getting back to normal. My office-mate will return tomorrow (his brother was in a nearby building and was injured during the attack). I don't feel like crying every hour - like I have been feeling. Laughter comes a bit easier. I love the fact that my daughter is too young to realize what's going on. She has been happy and wonderful as always, and has really made things so much nicer.
    Thu, Sep 20, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Stunned

    I woke to video of the attack in NYC. Loss for words. I hugged my wife and daughter. I'm at work now, most of us somewhat dazed. It feels like a wave of fear and anger is rising up from the land - I'm afraid for what happens next.

    Standing outside, looking into the hazy blue sky above Seattle and seeing and hearing no airplanes at all, no contrails, nothing. It wouldn't be any more bizarre if all the birds stopped singing at once.

    Angry need for retaliation, swinging blindly in frustration, the US could make a real mess. I hope we're careful and sure, but I also hope we do something... something, I have no idea what would be appropriate. Maybe it's time to discard a sense of appropriateness.

    Having worked at MSNBC.com before, I am imagining the chaos going on there as millions of curious electronic pleas for information drag down their servers. I'm also imagining the people on the planes, the people in the towers, the people on the ground, and anyone in the US who happens to look middle-eastern - and is now in danger.

    Human beings can be really appalling.
    Tue, Sep 11, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Fall is here!

    Autumn, Fall - that woderful time of year. After bearing another summer, I'm literally thrilled again to welcome another season of crisp mornings, cool evenings, blustery afternoons and beautiful leaves. I could never in a million years live in a place with no fall or winter.

    It's been years since I've worked seasonally or been in school, but like an old homing pigeon, I still feel the urge - like something exciting and unknown is right around the corner - a new phase, a life-change, a big event. Just the smell of a distant fireplace on a cool morning is enough to send me to this place. The only other feeling like it is the anticipation of Christmas.

    More entries coming soon, a couple that are too big to sum up here, so they'll get their own pages. I just watched Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures this weekend. It has had an inspirational effect.


    Tue, Sep 4, 2001 < a href='#09009200124' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Mystery Audio Addendum

    Steve Rhodes wrote me a short time ago to let me know about an encounter he had shortly after reading the whole mystery song saga on here.

    Steve went to a presentation that David Byrne was putting on and wrote ''I saw David Byrne do a powerpoint presentation based on his new book at cell space in San Francisco Sunday night. When I had him sign my book, I gave him a brief (there was a long line) synopsis of the mystery song story. He said he was trying to get the rights back to Music for the Knee Plays, so he could put it out on CD.''

    It's cool to think that this experiment in shared resources not only put my curiosity to rest, but actually went all the way back up and touched the original artist. It's a fun time to be alive, no?
    Tue, Aug 21, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Differing Perspectives - Part I

    I've just started re-reading ''The Shining'' by Stephen King. Funny enough, the paperback book I'm reading is the exact one I first bought from a newsstand back in 1978 or '79. Its cover is silver, with a faceless silver-black boy's face. Years of storage in various places have left it slightly swollen, and most pages have a wavy surface.

    I remember reading this for the first time, being very scared (I was 10 or 11 years old for crying out loud), and how the story made me feel. It made a big impression. I remember identifying with the boy, Danny - how he wanted to be close to his father, but feared him (rightly so). My folks had just gone through a divorce, the very thing Danny fears in the beginning of the story. Now, some twenty years later, I'm reading it again, and find it fascinating that I am identifying so closely with the Father, Jack. So many of Jack's neuroses and fears feel familiar to me now, so much moreso than Danny's thoughts.

    Of course, I don't have Jack's addictions or suicidal leanings, but I find him a whole lot more sympathetic now than I did back then (whe I harbored some hefty ill will toward my own father). For crying out loud, I think I'm now older than the character Jack in the novel is.

    The written word as snapshot. It stands still while life marches past - if it covers enough points of view, you can see yourself in the story many times in the course of a lifetime.

    Oh, and I also have a real thing for Kubrick's movie adaptation of ''The Shining'' as well, but I think it's literally a different animal than the novel, and the two shouldn't really be compared. I like them both, but for very different reasons.
    Mon, Aug 20, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Feline Rescue

    For the past couple of weeks, we've been trying to trap a kitten. I've learned two major lessons here - One, If I had to rely on my skills as a hunter to survive, I'd be dead long ago. Two, nobody wants feral cats.

    This kitten just showed up under our neighbor's porch, and made it home. It meowed constantly, and was obviously hungry and scared. We didn't feel right leaving it there, (our neighbors didn't want it around at all), but we couldn't adopt it as our own (long story). Calling the ''authorities'', or other pet organizations all led to the same sort of ''we'll take it if you can trap it - but we 'll likely have to euthanize it''. Great set of options - leave it be to live miserably under a porch (harassed by dogs), or trap it and possibly let others kill it.

    Regardless, we had to catch it first, so after a laughable series of traps failed to catch the wily kitten (involving boxes, twine, sticks, stones, food, meowing and many bug bites), one finally worked, mostly because the poor thing was nearly starving. We made a few more calls, hoping to not have to take it to a shelter - and amazingly we found a young couple who wanted to take it in.

    It was a great ending, mostly because of how awful I'd feel to take it to a shelter - that sort of decision felt to me exactly like ''I'm deliberately trading a creature's life for my convenience'', and would have been ugly. Of course, that makes me a hypocrite for eating meat, but that's an easier hypocrisy to live with.
    Fri, Aug 10, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Reflections on a Month of Unemployment

    I knew I shouldn't have risked working for a small start-up, but I listened to my greed and restlessness rather than to my gut. I had a comfortable job at drugstore.com, and felt reassured I wouldn't be affected by their layoffs - but I was growing bored. After working with a kickass team of people to build a solid reliable ecommerce platform, and then to refine and debug it into a smooth machine, there wasn't a whole lot left to do (in my opinion of course).

    I was freelancing for friends, and they lured me to work for them fulltime, and to leave drugstore.com. They offered a bucketload of money for a salary, and since I had recruiters actually calling me at work to offer other jobs, I really felt like the risk was minimal if they should go under. Of course, I didn't foresee the bottom falling out of VC funding, tech employment, and enthusiasm for all things Web.

    My new startup got shaky, then tremulous, then people got very quiet, then we moved quietly to 3 and 4 day weeks, then, a few weeks later I got laid off (one of two layoffs out of 11 employees). That phrase ''laid off'' really doesn't capture the experience though.

    It happened like this: Around 3 in the afternoon on a Tuesday I was deep in debugging mode, really working on a tricky sorting problem for our tool we were building when the president (a friend of mine - small company) pulled me aside to talk. I expected to hear him ask me to take a salary cut, or to explain some more about the tough times they're having - I at least expected a conversation. Instead I got (from him) a sigh, a slight shake of the head and ''We gotta let you go''. I responded ''Oh. Wow, okay. Hmm, today?'' ''Yep''.

    I walked to my desk, packed up, deleted personal emails, and walked out. Emotions: varied and confusing. Anger, frustration, resignation, relief, humiliation, stoicism all churned in my stomach and mind. I left quietly, sent a terse email to the company with a forwarding address and no more, and that was that. I figured I'd be over it in a day or two and back at work in a week or so. I was wrong on both counts.

    Almost all of my initial resumes sent out were rejected or ignored (surprising me to no end). I especially hate the ignored ones. How much effort does it take to respond, even with a ''sorry'' email? The layoff really resonated in my mind. Rationally I knew I did nothing wrong, and was not fired, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had fucked up badly. At this stage of my life I am the sole breadwinner for a family of three and somehow allowed myself to become unemployed. I must be a fuckup, I thought. Then - lots of stupid destructive mental tennis - ''it's just the state of the economy, don't worry'', ''it's no big deal, you'll find work'', ''maybe they secretly wanted to fire me all along'', ''maybe my skills are overrated'', etc. A bunch of wheel-spinning in an effort for me to try to get a handle on a situation somewhat beyond my control.

    Funny enough, I got a call from my new employer on the same day I was laid off, which led to several interviews, and finally an offer. The process took a month though, a month in which I bounced up and down way too much for my liking. I wish I could have relaxed and enjoyed the time off more, but all it did was crank up my anxiety and self-doubt.

    Monday I start my new job, at Amazon.com. This really puts me at ease, and hopefully will be a start of a new adventure of sorts. I've worked for a few big Internet companies, but Amazon has always been a different beast in Seattle. It's one of the few big tech companies in Seattle that's not a Baby Bill, and started out just about the same time I started my career in this field. We even started in the same area, and I almost interviewed there once back in 1996 (I took another job before the interview was scheduled). I'll be a part of Amazon's Community Team, as a Web Developer. Sounds like they'll have plenty for me to do. Now all I have to do is start stretching some rusty old Unix muscles I used to have.

    Oh, and of course, special kudos to Erik, who put in several good words for me at Amazon, and really helped me get my foot in the door.
    Sun, Aug 5, 2001 < a href='#08008200120' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    The book that was, but not really

    So once upon a time, (actually twice) I wrote a book. No, not the one that actually got published, but another one, a technical book. But it never saw the light of day.

    Hayden books (now a part of MacMillan publishing) approached a company I worked for in late 1996 to write a book about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) , an upcoming technology. The CEO had once written a book about the Internet - it was sort of lame, but it was one of the first out there, so Hayden came to us. Well, nobody in the company knew much about CSS except me, because I was and still am a geek. Plus nobody was fool enough to undertake writing a book (except me), so I ended up doing the lion's share of work, and then some. The payoff promised to be nice, a few thousand dollars plus maybe some royalties (and not to mention the prestige).

    This was supposed to be a companion book to Steve Mulder's larger, more technical book. After months of writing to spec, creating examples, wrestling with beta releases of IE4, Netscape's Javascript Stylesheets (JSSS, which were DOA as a technology), creating illustrations (it was supposed to be 'edgy', and 'stylish'), I finally had a 12-chapter book in Word Doc format.

    I began the process of editing, going back and forth with the publisher, and got back my first chapter in pretty short order. Not many changes, but it was a small chapter. I worked on more illustrations - chapter fronts (the big image that faces or backs the opening page of a chapter). Then - the letter came.

    Hayden had run into a problem, and decided to drop over 500 titles. Mine was one of those dropped. As a consolation, they issued a check for $2000 dollars (split by me and my former company). So the book just sat, as a Word doc, mine to do what I wanted with it. I had no money or experience needed to self-publish, so it just died an unremarkable death. The material became dated so fast that later publication would never work. The only thing that remains is a few Zip disks, and some of the chapter front illustrations. The illustrations are mingled amongst some other images over here.

    So consider this entry as the epitaph of ''Killer Web Design: Using Cascading Style Sheets'' (working title)


    Sat, Aug 4, 2001 < a href='#08008200119' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Gainfully Employed - once again

    It's been an eventful week. Too much to really go into details right now. I'll sum up. Many separate incidents, involving emergency room visits, job interviews, health insurance, babies being born (to friends). Suffice to say all is well, the baby is healthy, the job offer was good (and I accepted), and the ER visit led to ''nothing to worry about''.

    Also, saw A.I. (the movie) and loved it. I am truly a sap these days. Warning - do not leave your small child with a babysitter for the first time, then go see a movie that revolves heavily (and sadly) around child abandonment issues. I did that, was choked up during a large part of the film.

    And, saw Planet of the Apes. Have to say ''what is up with that ending''? Makes very little sense to me, but maybe that's the point.
    Sun, Jul 29, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Nice Service, but...

    So I went to see Jurassic Park III on Wednesday. My local movie theater has a tendency to sell out, but I hate going too early to wait in line - so this time I thought I'd try a service I remembered seeing on one of those pre-coming attractions commercials they show in theaters these days. The service is called Fandango, and allows you to pre-purchase movie tickets for your local theater online. Not a huge leap of commerce, but it seemed like it might be useful, so I tried it.

    Things went relatively smoothly, except I was forced to sign up for an email newsletter. When I got to the movie box office later, I had to show them my credit card and tell them ''I got it from Fandango''. I felt like an idiot, the pack of young midriffs behind me quietly snickering (I assumed). I felt like I was at Denny's ordering something stupid like a ''Moon over My Hammy'' meal. I can understand if the cool domain names ran out, but having to say ''Fandango'' in public is definitely a hurdle blocking widespread adoption.

    Oh yeah, the system worked fine, I got my ticket, and the movie was.. well, I had fun, so it wasn't horrible. The ending just looked to me like they sort of ran out of film one day - ''Okay, wrap it up now''.
    Sat, Jul 21, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Mystery Audio Update: Epilogue

    Got my used LP in the mail today (David Byrne's ''Music from the Knee Plays'') - it cost me 10 bucks, plus five for shipping. It's been so long since I've bought an actual vinyl record that I'd forgotten the little ritual of ''open the album, slide out the sleeve, carefully remove record from sleeve, hold it by the edges, etc''. ''Winter'', the song in question is track 10, in the middle of side B. You can see immediately, just by the different shading of the grooves on the record, that this song is unlike any other on the album. The other songs are interesting, but none as captivating as ''Winter''.

    It wasn't so long ago that ''side A'' and ''side B'' actually meant more than ''disc 1'' and ''disc 2'', was it? It really seems like ages ago. What will my daughter be listening to in 30 years?

    After all this detective work, I'm a bit weary of hearing the song, and now need to give it a rest, before I erase any of the specialness.
    Thu, Jul 19, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Magic Book

    Last year, I was contacted by someone from the University of Washington's Hit Lab looking for a good 3D story to use to demonstrate their new piece of hardware/software. They had stumbled across my 3D RavenStories, and asked to use them. I sent the code over, and offered to help translate, but I think there was too much difficulty involved in making the two pieces work together. At any rate, the idea sounded pretty cool - a ''Magic Book'', that combined the dexterity of Ebooks with the possibilities of 3D space. Like a pop-up book for the 21st century - with uses from entertainment to science. I have no idea if any of my work was used, but hope it was helpful to some degree.

    Then a short time ago, I saw a name that looked familiar - Mark Billinghurst - the same person who contacted me from the UW. Turns out he's doing quite well with the MagicBook, and he just recently won the Entertainment category of the Discover Magazine 2001 Innovation Awards. I saw his name in the magazine, and was happily surprised. Congratulations and best wishes to Mark & the rest the team.

    Wed, Jul 18, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Audio Mystery Solved

    What can I say, it's a great feeling to resolve something that's been nagging at me for many years. Again, the Internet rules - and, of course, so do all of you who helped out.

    First, the answer:
    The song is titled ''Winter'', from the album 'Music for ''The Knee Plays''', released in 1985 by David Byrne

    Second, the sleuthing story:
    I posted my mystery song on July 9th, got some help spreading the word, and within one week (after hundreds downloads of the excerpt), I had an answer. Again, thanks to kottke.org and boingboing.net - and also to the folks at bbspot for spreading the word. Thanks to all those who sent in suggestions (many more than I imagined), and to Waxpancake for dredging the depths of usenet on my behalf. Bonus points go to JIMWICh for getting the answer correct first (though it was from memory, and unconfirmed), to Yary Hluchan [no website given] for confirming the album by listening to his own, and finally special thanks to Judith for not only giving me the right answer, but finding an online link for complete confirmation. Judith passed on a RealAudio clip of an archived show on WNYC from 1998 (playlist here). The first 30 seconds of this clip has bits from my mystery song, and an announcer naming the composer as Byrne. In all, I had over 50 responses, and I thank you all for your efforts.

    Third, the story of the music:
    Well, the bad news is that this album is not available as a CD. Apparently it is the only David Byrne album unavailable in digital form. It was issued by ECM in 1985 on LP & cassette & is now out of print. Of course, the Internet being as great as it is - I was able to find a copy on a used LP website & placed an order. Hopefully the LP will be in good shape, and I'll have it soon.

    The 'Music for ''The Knee Plays''' album is actually a collection of works originally meant as a part of a much larger work of art. The larger work was called ''the CIVIL warS'', a collaboration of many artists - primarily composer Philip Glass and playwright Robert Wilson. ''the CIVIL warS'' was to be a Wagnerian 'Gesamtkunstwerk', a great day-long Epic in five parts performed by artists from around the world as a part of the opening of the 1984 olympic Games in Los Angeles. The epic performance never was presented for various reasons - but many of its parts were released in different forms - including Byrne's ''knee plays'', various musical interludes to help stitch together an epic performance.

    One other great outcome of this experience has been the list of potential artists - a list which I'll now add to my ''future music buy'' wishlists. It's been a great way to discover other 'soundalikes'. Here's the complete list of possibles put forward by myself and others (a surprising number of which have collaborated over the years):

  • Stuart Dempster
  • Pauline Oliveros
  • Brian Eno
  • Phillip Glass (close)
  • In The Nursery
  • Aaron Copland
  • Paul Hindemith
  • Angelo Badalamenti
  • John Adams
  • Wim Mertens
  • Ingram Marshall
  • Arvo Part

    Again, for those who wish to have the full version of the song, email me, and I'll send you a link.

    Mon, Jul 16, 2001 <link >
  •  
     
     

    20-year Audio Mystery Update, Part I

    Just wanted to say thanks to all those sleuths working hard out there to identify this song, and to kottke.org & boingboing.net for helping to spread the word. Via email, I have some hot trails, which I'm tracking down now. The Internet just plain kicks ass.

    My list of probable artists now includes ''In the Nursery'', Copland, David Byrne, Philip Glass, and Brian Eno.

    I'll keep you posted if any of these turn out to be correct. (Though I'm suspecting that David Byrne might be the front runner right now).
    Sun, Jul 15, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Nasdaq & Wired

    Yes, I'm such a geek. It occurred to me a while ago that the inflated sizes of some tech-focused magazines matched the bloating/deflating of the stock market, specifically the Nasdaq. Okay, no huge insight there, but I thought it would be fun to see how the page counts of Wired Magazine in particular matched the market over time - so I graphed it. (Told you I was a geek).

    My collection of Wired mags is incomplete (missing 4), but there are enough to get the gist of the pattern. There's a nice peak every December (issue *.12), the page counts tend to be steady or climbing slightly during the remaining months - until this year. Issue 9.08, the latest to arrive in my malbox, is 162 pages. It's the smallest issue since 2.10, printed October, 1994 (unless one of my missing issues is smaller, but that would still go back 6 years).

    I'm making the assumption that 'page count = advertising space' at some level. I remember deep in my past learning that X amount of editorial space required Y amount of ad space to remain profitable. So, unsurprisingly, this would seem to point to less ad buys in Wired lately. Again, no big insight, just another way of looking at things.

    If you'd like to help make this a bit more complete, send me page counts for my missing issues. I don't have issues 2.03, 3.10, 3.12, or 4.03.
    Sun, Jul 15, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    What did they say?

    Someone (no not me, I have too many other diversions) should really put together a website called ''What did they say?'' (domain names whatdidtheysay.com & .org are available as of this writing). There are countless times that I can remember when watching a movie that a word or line, or even whole dialogues are unintelligible, either because of bad sound, bad theater experience, or more specifically they are in another language - and are not translated.

    World War II movies often have German and Japanese dialogue spoken in their respective languages, but do not always offer translations. ''Saving Private Ryan'' is one that comes to mind recently. I speak some German, and appreciated Speilberg's realistic take on things, but I must say, I'd love to know exactly what was said by the Nazi soldier to his American opponent in the awful and memorable scene where he slowly kills him while whispering in his ear. There are many other instances - the Gungans in Star Wars, Ep. 4, the VC soldiers in a few pivotal scenes in the Deer Hunter, many more.

    It wouldn't take much, some multiligual volunteers to do the translating and fact-checking, someone to spot and record potential 'whatdidtheysay'' bits in movies, and someone to post them collectively on one site. As they say, It's an idea. It'd certainly help out some of us curious but mono-lingual sorts.
    Tue, Jul 10, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Help me Solve a 20-year Audio Mystery

    Solved!

    Somewhere back in the mid-eighties, when I was in High School, I played around with tape recorders a lot, picking up stray sounds, trying to edit them into something weird / cool / funny. One good source was the radio, and one day, while recording a show on NPR, I picked up this song (short excerpt in MP3 format here - about 800k). The tape ran out before the announcer said what the song was, or who performed it, or anything. I know nothing about this song, but over the years, it's come to mean a lot to me.

    This recording (on a cheap cassette) has survived dozens of moves, boxes, tape players and neglect for nearly 20 years. Only recently I recorded it onto my PC (so the sound quality is poor). My request to you, if any of you can help, is to help me name this song / artist / album, since I would dearly love to buy a better quality recording, and hear more music like it.

    My only clues are that it sounds like something performed by Stuart Dempster (but I don't think it is), and that it's performed with brass instrument(s), and that the release date is pre-1986. If you can help, or to get a link to the full MP3 version of the song (6mb), please send me a note. Thanks ever so much.
    Mon, Jul 9, 2001 < a href='#07007200110' style='font-weight:normal'>link >
     
     
     

    Mysterious Referers

    Every once in a while, traffic to one of my sites takes a sharp spike upwards (traffic goes up by ten times or more), then slowly tapers off. Usually, I can tell by looking at referer logs where visitors are coming from. When the Klondike Site got a ''cool'' designation from Yahoo, or when MegaPenny was posted on a popular Norwegian Webzine, it was easy to tell who was coming from where (in general), but every now and then, big spikes have almost no referer listed.

    The first mysterious spike I eventually tracked down to a members-only email update done by Earthlink (they made MegaPenny a ''cool'' site). Do people really read those emails? Apparently, yes. The last one I had took a while longer to uncover - it was a mention of MegaPenny in NewsWeek Magazine (the print edition), as a site of the week. People by the thousands were typing my URL into their browser (or their favorite search engine - go figure), and ending up on my page. What a test-bed that would have been for the Cue::Cat widget, huh?

    Well, today (and yesterday) traffic spiked again (on MegaPenny), and I have no bleeding idea where it's coming from. It looks like an email of sorts, judging by the logfiles I have. I love a mystery. One of these days I'll write up a ''history of a 'cool site''' regarding MegaPenny - it's been fun to watch unfold.
    Fri, Jul 6, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Laid Off

    It's a cliche. I'm a statistic. It sucks, but what can you do about it.

    (Sigh, shrug, move on).

    If you know of anyone in the Seattle region looking for fulltime Web Development work to be done, drop me a line. ataylor@kokogiak.com.
    Tue, Jul 3, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    Avalon - the movie

    I've seen scattered coverage of this film on a lot of movie sites, and have to say that it looks really interesting, for a lot of reasons.

    First, the film itself - a science-fiction film about real/virtual worlds written and directed by Japanese filmmakers (the same ones responsible for the great Ghost in the Shell), targeting a Japanese audience - yet it has an all Polish cast, was filmed largely in Poland, and has Polish dialogue with Japanese subtitles (probably no subtitles for U.S. release.)

    Next, a large part of it is filmed in gorgeous sepia tones with rich contrasts for a geat visual look (may be used as a cue to distinguish real world/virtual world). Plus, the special effects just look great from what I can see.

    And last, but not least, Neil Gaiman appears to be working on the English language adaptation of the script. Based on what I love about his work on Sandman and the Princess Mononoke script before, I have high hopes for this as well.

    Avalon links:
    Main site
    Trailers I - (bottom of page)
    Trailers II
    'Coming Attractions' info page
    Neil Gaiman's mention of work on the film - (Apr 27th)

    Mon, Jul 2, 2001 <link >
     
     
     

    36,000 Fuzzy Homes

    There's an old bad joke - something you might see on an old bumper sticker - that goes ''Tennis Players have Fuzzy Balls''. Well, you can change that now to ''Mice have Fuzzy Balls'' (sorry, apologies, very bad).

    The Wimbledon Tennis Tournament is donating some of its used balls (an amazing 36,000) to be used as homes for Harvest Mice in the South of England. Small holes will be drilled as a doorway, the balls will be attached to poles, and the mice presumably will move right in.

    Remember this the next time you're wandering about the English Countryside and see some green balls on a stick in a field, and wonder to yourself - 'what in the world?'
    Sat, Jun 30, 2001
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    Modern Ruins

    Wonderful photography - Images of abandoned places. Shaun O'Boyle has some really interesting imagery here. I'm nowhere near finished looking through these photos yet, and plan to page through the whole site at a more liesurely pace later this weekend. The boatyard and the Girl's Orphanage caught my eye immediately and were worth the download times (I'm still stuck on dialup).

    This reminds me a bit of Abandoned Places, a site I spent too much time on one day a few weeks ago. The main differences are that Modern Ruins appears to be in the US and the photos have a more artistic feel. Abandoned Places is mostly centered in Europe, and has a more alien, intriguing feel to it. Love 'em both.

    I always wanted to take such photos, but living on the West Coast of the U.S. doesn't really give you many opportunities to find centuries-old structures lying about. The closest I ever came to finding a ruin out here was finding a long-abandoned cabin built around 1900, overgrown with Devil's Club, near the shore in Alaska.
    Fri, Jun 29, 2001
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    Sometimes, you just have a need

    Sometimes, you simply must do something - or see something. For those who really need to see the Space Needle, here's your solution: Six live views of the Space Needle. When you absolutely, positively must see what the Space Needle looks like from every angle (and what the world looks like from atop the needle) right now.
    Thu, Jun 28, 2001
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    Visual Kei

    Trolling through a Google Image Search of 'Misery', an image caught my eye - a young goth, full of attitude (pic). I clicked, started digging, and soon found an entire genre or movement in Japan called Visual Kei. At first I thought, 'mass-marketed girl goths', but soon read that nearly all of these band members (there's a gallery here) are not young women, but are indeed young Men! See for yourself - a couple of representative bands: DespairsRay or Madeth Gray'll.

    Some of the descriptions of Visual Kei (translated as 'Visual Style') mention androgyny, but this goes way beyond androgyny - some of these boys become beautiful women (visually of course). They look so feminine in clothing, makeup, attitude and style that I still can't believe that they are reportedly 'mostly heterosexual men'. Even so, their fanbase is described as overwhelmingly female.

    As far as I could tell, the music they play comes off like pop-metal, or radio-friendly industrial rock. The best-known of these bands appears to be X-Japan, but they appear to have toned down the glam-factor quite a bit. Here's a fan page that literally drools over the pretty young band members of the up-and-comers.

    Aside from the initial curiosity-surprise in seeing these young men, and this movement (again, I'm so out of it - this movement may be long dead, and I'm only stumbling on its Internet fossils), I found it really interesting since the general impression of Japanese culture we're spoonfed in the US is one of conformity and uniformity. It's so cool to see such a major move against a stylistic norm in such a culture. Here's an article that goes into the entire 'Visual Lifestyle' movement a little deeper.

    I don't think I'll be buying any Madeth Gray'll CDs anytime soon, but it's pretty cool they exist and that they're Big in Japan.
    Thu, Jun 28, 2001
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    Experts Plan 2,300mph Rail Tunnel To The US

    Amazing, scary, and very cool. First, imagine a 5,000 mile-long tunnel, next imagine that the entire thing is a vacuum, and next, imagine that it's submerged just below the ocean's surface. I don't know if I'd trust that such a thing could be built & maintained. If Nature abhors a vacuum, why give her a 5,000 mile-long cylinder to attack constantly - especially if there are human lives involved.

    Still, the idea of traveling to Europe in capsule in a pneumatic tube (imagine the biggest 'thhhhoomp' sound you can) sounds pretty cool. Travelling at 2,300 mph could be cool as well, but if one little thing went wrong... No such thing as a controlled recovery when you're travelling over 3 times the speed of sound in a vehicle that is mere millimeters away from a floor, ceiling or wall.
    Thu, Jun 28, 2001
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    I am a Player Piano

    Driving to work the other morning, lost in an old song on my stereo, I found myself feeling manipulated. I discovered myself singing loudly (and badly), choking up, tearing up, and getting chills on my back and neck - all unconsciously. On realizing what I was going through, the first image that occurred to me was of a Player Piano - 'I am being played'.

    Scrolls of paper are able to extract beautiful melodies from a hunk of wood and metal. In the same way, this wonderful music - these amazing vibrations reached deep inside of me and extracted tears, goosebumps, muscle twitches and amazement form this hunk of flesh and bone.

    Like a Player Piano in some Twilight Zone episode, I fought off the controlling scroll of music, wiped away tears and tried to act of my own volition, but soon found myself falling under its spell again. This time I relaxed into it, gave up the fight, and just let myself be played. I walked into work sniffling, sheepish.
    Tue, Jun 26, 2001
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    What does happiness look like?

    Discovered the Google image search engine a day or two ago. It's always interesting to visualize the intangible, so I fired off a few searches.

    Misery (more Stephen King than you'd think), Pain (more bread than you'd think), Love (less Courtney than you'd think), Relationships (far more diagrams than necessary).

    Ugly, Angry, Cheesy, and last, but not least - Schadenfreude.
    Tue, Jun 26, 2001 < link >

     

     

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