Sunday, December 28, 2008

Economic crisis or just newspapers doing what they like most: create fear?

I was reading this article on BBC today: Chinese warned off lavish gifts. It talks about how the Chinese government said it's forbidding Chinese officials to buy expensive gifts for Chinese new year. They claim that this is because of the difficult state of the Chinese economy due to the world crisis.

If you stop reading the article at this point, like most people do, they will end up with the idea that the Chinese government is really worried about the state of the Chinese economy and is telling people not to spend too much money. Then, if you read further you find:

[...] Each year too the Communist Party exhorts its officials to avoid conspicuous consumption. [...]

Which might be the only actual note that the Chinese government sent. The same it sends every year. But then reporters took this as being a sign of impending doom. If Chinese officials are asked not to spend all their bribery money on their "friends", it means that something really bad is going on. With all the things that the economy is doing, that has to be the cause! And people should be warned of it. No more parties, no more happy Chinese. No more happy Chinese, worst quality at the Wal-Mart stores. Lower quality on Wal-Mart, lower quality on most US households (because people won't stop buying - it's so inexpensive). Lower quality of products in US households, higher chance of accidents. More accidents, more medical bills. More medical bills, more unhappy citizens. More unhappy citizens, more stories to put in the newspaper. So it must be true! Q.E.D.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Living in the new house, and tired

So my life has been centered on the big move lately. Nights were spent putting things in boxes, except for when my father was in town. Not that I could do much more, as we had a freak snow storm in Seattle that kept us stuck at home for days. But now everything is much better.

Anyway, back to the move: it was supposed to happen on Friday, but got postponed on Friday morning by the moving people because they couldn't get their trucks out because of the snow. But we had everything ready. The bed was in pieces, all clothes were packed. So we decided to just take the air mattress and move anyway. And I was working on Friday, which worked out ok, because once we got to the house we didn't have anything else to do. So I was able to get good work done in the evening and this morning.

The house is doing well. As I start to live in it I end up finding a lot of small things that could be improved, but it's how it goes. It feels kind of odd that I now can do things with the house and when I see blogs that point to gadgets for the house, I can actually pay attention to them. Very time-consuming and potentially harmful to the wallet. But I have been good so far in trying to organize things and prioritize.

Tomorrow is finally going to be the real moving date (I hope), so it's waking up early and going to the old house, making sure everything is ready to go, being bored waiting for them to pack their truck, come to this house and direct traffic to make sure I don't have to haul furniture around the house once the movers are gone.

After that it's putting everything in the right places and start to plan the new year's party that will happen here on Wednesday. Mostly I have to have the kitchen ready enough to cook and then start to think of what I'm going to cook this year. The theme is "something new", so it has to be something I haven't tried before.

Oh, there was one problem with the house because of the snow: it had an awning in the back that didn't survive the weight of the snow and collapsed. Fortunately it didn't damage anything too much on its way down. I just will probably need a new cover of some sorts in the back to protect my grill when it arrives tomorrow.

Alright, enough about this. Time to go to sleep as I probably will have a long day ahead. Moving is very painful.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The great things of 24h chat support

So I've had my problems with Quicken for some time. Tonight I was feeling "lucky" and decided to contact their 24 hour chat support and see if I could get it to work. The short story is that it's now working again! The longer story is that it took almost 30 minutes and I was the one that actually found the solution to the problem (as a variation to a step that the support person kept asking me to repeat in different contexts). The program even crashed once while we were going through the steps. But the important thing is that it's working now and I would never have been able to get it to work if it had one of the "classic" support systems that would only be open during business hours. I'm rarely in front of my home computer during business hours!

Now it's done and I can drop again and Microsoft Money.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adding things

So I finally decided to try and understand Blogger's plugins and make my blog a little more of a destination for people to see what is going on with me. So I've added a feed view of FriendFeed. So now people can see every time I post on this blog by looking on the right side of the blog, instead of having to look at the main column. Brilliant, isn't it?

Actually my FriendFeed contains much more than this blog. It contains my Twitter, delicious, Google Reader (which I don't use any more), LibraryThing (which I also don't use - I use Shelfari and I've just added a widget to show what I'm reading), LinkedIn, Facebook and Netflix (which I also don't use any more). So you can see what I'm doing in many different angles, isn't it weird?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Today was getting poor day and after that I was working from home (not to have to take a bus downtown and waste an hour commuting, as I didn't have any meetings scheduled today). But it wasn't a very productive day. The whole day I was thinking about what happened and the plans for the next few days (my father is arriving tomorrow evening and staying until Saturday morning) and next few months in the new house. So... No in-depth shoe size analysis for me. Just a lot of random thoughts and observation about the most important concept of all statistical analyzes: if you don't have a model, you can't analyze anything meaningful. I can look at things and calculate averages, do general clustering and find patterns, but without a model I can't tell if what I'm looking at is meaningful.

It all goes back to my inability to assert things to people in a way that they will accept and act on it. I trust people too much and I don't trust myself enough. So, when multiple people ask for something, even when I know it shouldn't work, I decide to go ahead with it and get to the same conclusion the practical way.

So, that's where I am. The rest of the week is going to be mostly dead with my father's visit and some meetings (Wednesday and Thursday are my days full of meetings - it's great that they are concentrated this way, unless I hope to get anything accomplished those two days in particular, and Friday is my closing date and key collection). But we keep on moving forward. I have started working on a model (which is now on a paper that was invaded by information on the contractor that is fixing the roof at the new house) and that's what I'll have to make sure to settle on before I move back to analysis. Then I'll do the thing that I got at Amazon to do: analyze the Amazon catalog for patterns. In this case, figure out how to train my model and validate that it correctly represents shoe sizing.

Can't quite explain what my thoughts are, but I'll say that it's a very interesting problem. What makes it very complex is the fact that there are multiple ways of explaining to a user the size of a shoe. There are multiple size standards (including some that are very similar, like US Men's and US Women's, which are off by 1.5 or 2, depending on who you ask), with sometimes non-fully-deterministic translations between the sizes. There are also shoe width information, with multiple standards. And these "standards" are not exact. Some brands or product lines run smaller or larger than the actual number that they say, which is technically another size feature.

So, with all those features, how can you make sense of the size? That's the question that I'm trying to answer in the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Huh, Microsoft Money, what do you mean?

I've been using Quicken for about 4 years to organize my finances. I chose Quicken because I had no choice, as I had a Mac and all online options were kind of ugly. I was happy with it until last year when it decided to be unable to sync with my WaMu checking account (note that it was able to synchronize with my WaMu savings account that uses the same user name and password). I kept using it for some time until I decided to plan better my finances in preparation to buy a house. Then I got really annoyed by it and decided to try other options.

Oh, I have to note before I continue that I have since moved my Quicken to the Windows version because it had way more features, looked nicer and was the same price.

I haven't had that much time to try around, but I've tried the famous, which was pleasant, but certainly had less features and was slower to edit than Quicken. However, it was able to sync with my WaMu without a problem. I tried Quicken Online too, which had even less features than and also was able to sync with WaMu.

Then, this evening, I decided to just accept it and install a trial version of Microsoft Money. The installation was very quick and setting up the accounts (except for my Charles Schwab account, which requires calling their support service, apparently) was very easy. But then, when it takes me to the account home page I see that I have one huge expense type: transfers/credit card payments! Huh? If the credit card is listed on their system, isn't counting credit card payments causing all my expenses to be counted twice (one month apart from each other)?

If you go to the reports section, it's the same thing. And you have to turn on "advanced reports" to be able to hide this class of expenses, which is very puzzling. There is probably some sort of configuration that I have to enter to make this stop showing, but it's odd that this seems to be the default behavior for this popular financial management software. I'll dig a little more into it and find out if maybe I'm missing something quite obvious. Until then... Huh?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Driving to the gym

I always thought it was funny to drive to the gym. You are "lazy" to go exercise. But now I see how it would make more sense:

Gym Car Concept Sounds Both Healthy and Extremely Dangerous

Now they just need to add a shower inside the car and it would make it perfect! :-)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Great spam

I received a great spam message today:

from: Yahoo/Msn Lottery Incoporation
to: undisclosed-recipients
date: Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 9:19 AM
subject: Windows Live Lottery Have Chosen You Has A Winner

And it came to my gmail account, which makes the mix even more interesting. And, yes, gmail did recognize it a Spam. Gmail is generally pretty good at identifying spam. It's just too aggressive sometimes. About one "non-spam" email a week ends up in my spam folder. It's been a long time I haven't seen any spam in my inbox.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Friends, old games and gmail

This is a post done by request from my best friend, who went through a great ordeal to send me one of the games we used to play a lot a long time ago: X-COM UFO Defense. Great turn-based strategy game! So it's time to take a step back in time and remember the games that "defined my computer gamer experience". The list below is not in any particular order. And it could be much longer than this, but I decided to keep it simple, so that I might still be able to get some sleep tonight:
  • X-COM series
  • Maniac Mansion
  • Indiana Jones The Last Crusade & Fate of Atlantis
  • Monkey Island series
  • Leisure Suit Larry series (well, I think I've only started playing pretty late in the series, something like 5 or 6)
  • Loom
  • Myst
  • Test Drive series
  • Planetfall (I really disliked that game because I was never able to get very far on it, but it was probably one of the first games that I've played on my 8086)
  • SimCity
  • SimEarth
  • SimAnt
  • Flight Simulator
  • Lakers versus Celtics
  • Battle Chess
  • Lemmings series
  • Prince of Persia (they just come out with a new of this series, amazing!)
  • Sam and Max
  • Space Quest (also didn't play too many of the series)
  • The Adventures of Willy Beamish
  • Elvira & Elvira 2
  • Budokan
  • Indy 500
  • Vette!
  • Stunts
  • Syndicate
  • Out of this world
  • Wolfenstein 3D
  • Doom
  • Dune
Writing this list made me realize how much free time I used to have... And there are tons of games that I remember playing them, but couldn't figure out the name any more. And these are all computer games. I could try to list old game boy, NES, SNES, SEGA Master System... Oh, so much time... I'm so old!

And what about gmail? Well, it's the second day in a row that I receive a message from somebody saying that they tried to send me something on my gmail and it bounced. So the ended up sending it to my yahoo account and it all worked. Go figure how evil Google wants to be.

Ok! enough about forcing my memory and time to go to sleep. It's been a very busy week so far and it's just the beginning. I'm looking forward to the weekend when it's supposed to be below freezing and snowing. The joys of winter.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A day of crazy news

I really should be going to bed, so I'll keep it quick.

Today, I mean, yesterday, was a day with lots of odd news happening at once. None of them completely surprising, but all of them quite big in different ways. The two highlights are:
  1. The house purchase is decided. It's still not complete - things close on the 19th - but I really can't back out out it without paying for the consequences (on the order of US$11K, which is not an amount of money that I should be throwing away).
  2. I received a letter saying that I should be receiving my green card in about 3 weeks. Interesting that I won't be in this house in 3 weeks. I hope it gets forwarded correctly. The full process took only 1.5 years! It's amazing how time flies with those things.
So that's it. Now it's time to really go to bed. This morning I have to wake up early to see if I can decide on the color of the roof for the house. So exciting!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Why are news readers so buggy?

Well, I know that the answer is: because they try to use too much JavaScript and AJAX and all the minor differences between how to do stuff and reference objects in the browsers make them very prone to being buggy. Also, sometimes it's not only how buggy it is, but what you have to do to get around some flawed design decisions, which makes the experience even worse. But let's get to some examples, shall we?

Google Reader

I was very happy with Google Reader until one day that I think Google was having some problems with their servers and opening any links was very painful. That's when I realized that it was painful because all links are actually links to their tracking page that redirect you to the site you want to get (and, by the way, Gmail does the same thing, but let's not talk about Google's evil ways today) and their tracking service was apparently having a slow day. I don't really mind people tracking what I'm doing, because I know that in the end it actually will help other people find things. What I mind is that it was interrupting my reading experience. So I stopped using Google Reader.

But today I went back to see the changes that they made and started just clearing all the lists marking everything as read when I saw an interesting bug: when I read all posts on one feed that was inside a folder the count in the feed went to zero but the folder was still showing that I had unread posts. I wished I took a screenshot of it, but after some time there seems to be some "refresh" task that cleaned it up.

Bloglines Beta

I decided on using the Bloglines Beta because I was too used to the Google Reader model in which things are marked as read only when you scroll to them. The classic Bloglines marks everything as read automatically as you select the feeds to read.

More than just bugs, Bloglines Beta had a very simple annoyance: it wouldn't refresh the feed you are reading. You had to navigate out and back into the feed. That took a lot of time, considering that I read my feeds once a day or once every two days and I usually have on the order of 500 entries to read. When I get to part of them, there are new waiting.

A very well known bug of Bloglines though, and what made me move away from it, was the fact that it just didn't refresh some of my feeds. The blog itself had new messages, Google Reader would show them, but Bloglines wouldn't. It's something that has been observed by other people, but it was time to move on...


My latest trial is NewsGator. It's a pretty simple system that does not try all the fancy AJAX things that the previous two had: it does not try to see what you are reading to auto mark them as read. You have to go to the end of a page and click on "mark all posts on this page as read". It took me some time to get used to it, but in the end it made it ok to set waypoints on reading entries instead of one at a time. It was way lighter-weight, so it made me happy.

But not everything is great in this world here. NewsGator seems to have a very odd bug on the counts of unread emails on the summary on the left. Sometimes I mark things as read, but it does not get in sync with the list on the left. At least in this case there is a button "Refresh Feed List" that fixes it. The only problem with it is that it takes you to a "feed discovery" page, instead of keeping you in the context of where you were. Quite annoying.

The conclusion is that there seems to be no online RSS reader that doesn't annoy me in one way or another. I'll keep using NewsGator for a little longer, but let's see what happens.

Oh, all tests above were done on my Mac using Firefox 3. I haven't really tried other browsers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

And music

Lots of very stressful things are going on right now. But that's not what I want to write about today. I'm about to do what psychologists say you shouldn't do: write about what is good and not what is bad. Writing what is bad makes you understand it better and find ways out of it. Writing what is good just helps banalizing it and then it's not as good any more. But, well, even after all this understanding, I'll still do it. I don't want to make any of my readers decide to remove my blog from their trial list.

So I've joined a choir again. It's a Jewish choir, so no more large amounts of church songs to sing. Not that I'm against singing good choral music. What I'm against is people deliberately choosing Christian church music because that's what they are more comfortable with and never really branching out to anything else equally interesting, and less sung.

Back to the current choir: it's been an interesting ride. In many ways it reminds me of one Jewish choir I was part of in Brazil. It started out with something like 50 people. Now, a little over a month after the first rehearsal, it's already down to something like 35 people. Out of these, maybe 15 actually know how to sing, while the rest are in a varying grade of followers. I think the choir experience should be fun, so, as long as the conductor doesn't feel like we don't really need to learn things to perform, we are still good.

Our first concert is tonight, actually. At Bellevue Square Mall. Yes, a shopping mall! That is doing a special "holidays" celebration and decided to invite us even though we haven't been around for very long. It will likely still work out, but it won't be exciting enough for me to advertise it out for my friends for them to check it out. We'll be singing something like 7 pieces for about 15 minutes total. So, it's not that worth people's time yet. Parking at a mall at this time of the year is torture. Listening to a choir that hasn't been rehearsing for very long is not much of a relief.

But I'm enjoying it. It's doing something that I was not expecting: It's making me appreciate music again. I've been going through a phase where my mind can't abstract itself any more to appreciate music the same way I did before. I stopped being able to compose (although I was not never very good at it anyway - so it might have been a good thing) and even just sit in my corner in my office and listen to things like Beethoven's late string quartets. But it's all coming back to me now! I find myself spending time just playing intervals, short melodies and quick harmony exercises on my keyboard almost every day now. Odd that it's not a place to leave stuff on any more.

I guess that's it. If you didn't come here to read about me rambling about my life, I'll leave you with something funny:


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, life and news readers

I've been finding hard lately to find something to blog about. It's part shame, part confusion and part simply lack of time to consider anything. But I'm here and still alive. I feel like the world is a confusion right now. The stock market is maddening, and even vitamins that people thought were good for you, don't seem to be. Actually, after reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, you learn to question everything that science is saying about nutrition.

Also, I've been disappointed with Google Reader. I don't like the fact that Google tracks all the links I click on it and, in general, I thought the UI is a little sluggish sometimes. So I moved back to Bloglines, which I found confusing because it just marks everything as read before I scroll through all the feeds. But they have a Beta interface that looks very much like Google Reader. I've used it for some time but realized it seemed not to work for some feeds sometimes. But the most annoying thing is that it had no "refresh this feed" button, so if I was reading one feed and when I finished going through it there were more articles, I'd have to navigate out and back in to read them.

That's when I decided to move onto something new and started trying what seemed to be number 3 for news readers (actually this is probably quite skewed, but it's interesting to see Outlook showing as number 1 biggest news reader somewhere - maybe it has a bigger refresh rate?): NewsGator. It's not as AJAX-y as the previous two. It paginates the feeds, so that you have to keep pressing "Mark All Posts On This Page As Read" to move on, but it's snappy, has no link tracking and it mostly works. The only annoyances that I've found so far is that the list of feeds on the left with counts of unread items sometimes doesn't get updated and you have to click on "Refresh feed list". But at least you don't have to navigate in and out of things.

Well, I guess that's it. Time to start my day!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The pain...

After battling for another couple of hours with NTRootKit-AC and Generic FakeAlert.a and Generic FakeAlert.d, I decided to give up and reinstall Windows. I moved all my data files to my data partition (E). I wasn't able to access anything external, but I was fairly confident that it would be easy to just clean up my program partitions (C & D).

Well... Things didn't go as well as planned. When I tried to clean up the first two partitions of my disk, for some reason the format procedure thought that the first partition had the full disk size and destroyed all partitions in the process. Including the one with all my data!

So what did I lose, you might ask. Well, besides multiple save games from multiple games I've started and haven't yet finished, including Spore and Fallout 3, and everything that I've added to Quicken since about 6 months ago (when I did the last CD backup) - including all the budgeting that I have been doing in the last couple of weeks, the thing that I'm mostly sad about is that I've lost multiple of my personal projects. That was probably about 80-100 hours of designing and coding. Surely I will take less time to redo it than it took me to go through the first version, but it's just depressing. It's like I'm starting a lot of things from scratch again.

And what doesn't help is that I've already rebooted my computer since I've reinstalled Windows 10 times (and installation took many reboots too because of the mess with the partitions that I've mentioned above). And Windows Update still says that I have 23 updates to install after SP3.

Lesson learned? Maybe quit using Windows? ;-)

When things just don't work

Last night I was working until a little late trying to get some reports to work. To generate these reports, it takes about 5 hours. But the surprise I was getting was that after about 5 hours the report generation tool would crash mysteriously. Nothing logged, just simply apparently the application would stop responding correctly. Very painful. But that wasn't all...

While I was in this pain and running multiple tests on this service, I was playing around on my windows box looking at random sites to see if there was anything close to a project I want to work on. While I was going through this almost-random search, I came across some very fishy sites. But I was in the middle of lots of things going on and, by accident, I clicked on download/open (which was by reflex) an .exe file! ARGH!

Note that I do have an anti-virus running on that computer. But it didn't quite work. It detected that something was wrong, but too late. Next thing I knew, my computer auto-rebooted. Then when it came back up, the antivirus was off. Not long after that, I got popups from Windows Security saying that my computer was contaminated but they could help. They scanned my computer for me and said that I had 37 infected files and I only needed to pay something like $60 to fix it. Even if I really wanted to pay, of course I wouldn't be that idiotic to enter credit card information when there is some sort of trojan installed on my computer.

So I went to McAfee, which the antivirus I use, and turned on full firewall to isolate myself from the web. Ran a full scan. Found 17 infected files and quarantined them. But I kept getting the warning from Windows Security. So I've restarted the computer.

Everything seemed normal. No more messages, my antivirus was turned back on. I was starting to be less worried... When... Another reboot. And we are back to the previous state.

Now I'm running another virus scan, but ready to get all the user files I have on that computer and start over. I don't use it for much more than games, but game files are huge! It's late, so I guess I'll have to wait until tonight to continue fighting the good fight. Right now I've even disconnected the computer physically from the network.

Oh, joy...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oblong Glove

I think this is what Microsoft had in mind with its "Surface" plan:

oblong industries, inc.

Pretty-looking, but you probably need a huge computer behind it to handle all the interactivity, a very expensive setup of screens and... I'm not sure to what benefit. Throw letters around the room?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Antarctica Mystery

Apparently they are still trying to figure out the mystery of the Antarctic mountains. They probably should look for answers in past literature

Yes, that's all I have to post today... I'm fighting a cold right now, as well as a lot of small details at work. Haven't had time to play Fallout 3 since last week. Quite sad.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Still here

I know I haven't been blogging much lately. I have multiple posts in draft right now and I can't seem to be able to finish them. So I'll keep this simple.

I'm back to Seattle after a short-ish trip to Brazil for my sister's wedding. The trip was generally good. The only thing I was a little sad about this trip is that the schedule was quite tight and it's not that I didn't have free time to meet with friends, it's that I didn't know when I would have free time to meet with them. The result of that is that I've ended up not doing much besides the wedding events. Oh, well. I kept my mind away from work (something that was helped by my blackberry not wanting to sync with my mail) and it's always good to get back with a fresher perspective on things.

Since I'm back I can't say I've done too much. I was exhausted on Thursday, went to work on Friday to find Amy sick at home. I've played some Fallout 3 until I realized it was going to consume my next few weeks so I've been controlling myself. And it also crashed on me twice.

Today we tried to get out of the house a little, going to Lunchbox Laboratory (a quite expensive burger place with somehow different burgers - quite good) and the Ballard Market to walk around a little under the rain (it started raining while we were walking at the market). And now I'm here finishing this post and preparing myself to get back to cleaning my room and finishing folding laundry and ironing my shirts. Lots of fun ahead!

Oh, and I am annoyed that the connector to the suction cup on my GPS broke and it will cost US$50 to get a new one. Considering that a new GPS (with the suction cup) costs $200, it's silly that this is this expensive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When work ruins fun

No, this is not going to be a post about working too much and not having time to have fun. This is about how working on something sometimes can change your perception of things around you and highlight problems, reducing the ability for me to enjoy reality.

Here is today's example: I was looking at MyThings to understand what they were really trying to provide you as incentives to cataloging everything you own and purchase in their systems. So I decided to list the first thing that I saw in front of me: my printer, an HP Photosmart C6180 All-in-One. So I started typing "Hp Photosmart C6180" and using the great auto-complete I've received the following suggestions:

hp photosmart c6180 hewlett-packard
hp photosmart c6180 all-in-one

What is the difference? Uhm... So I picked up the first one. And that's when I had an even nicer "surprise". They give me a list of products to choose that match "hp photosmart c6180 hewlett-packard":

1) Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart C6180 All-in-One
2) Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart C6180 All-in-One
3) Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart C6180 All-in-One

Two pages of it (about 18 options). All with the same title, the same specs, and two different images. All in the category "Other Electronics", which is a great category name. Finally, on the left there is a summary of how many per category were found and it shows:

Other Electronics (17)

And nothing else. So what is the categorization of the 18th product? No clue... they all look the same, so it's hard to figure out what doesn't show on their category count.

Most people wouldn't be bothered by those kinds of things. However, because improving an online retail catalog is my job, it killed my whole experience with the website and I decided to stop playing around with it, write this blog post and go to bed. I'm sure there are some great ideas on the website, and hopefully one day I will get back to it, but right now it's just too sad to see something like this.

Anyway, it's Wednesday now... Less than three days from now I'll be on an airplane heading home to Brazil. I don't know why, I'm actually a little nervous with this trip. Probably because I haven't planned much this time. It's going to be short with a lot of wedding-related events, so I didn't want to be just running around while I'm there. Oh, well... Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Up earlier... What to do?

Yesterday during house cleaning apparently somebody readjusted my alarm clock (which is a terrible piece of engineering, by the way, but I won't get to it here) and changed the time in such way that instead of waking me up at 6:15 AM as normal, it woke me up at 5:35 AM. As I didn't know of it until I got to my computer to read the morning emails and news, now I can't really get back to bed any more.

So suddenly my day was given extra 40 minutes... What to do with them?

Well, first I tried to find more information about Siri, a start-up with a good amount of AI big names, all that worked in SRI's big CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) project. It is arguably the largest AI project ever built with funding from DARPA.

Unfortunately there isn't much out there, just that they raised US$ 8.5 million and don't want to say what they are really about. ReadWriteWeb has some observations, but still not that helpful. I did sign up for the private Beta and will see what happens whenever they decide to launch.

Everybody should be skeptical about AI-focused applications, but they do have a strong team of people and experience. Judging from the "paper trail" that the CALO project generated, there could be something to it. I think it's a great concept to (and now I'm projecting a concept to their product, which could be completely off) instead of trying to build a search engine, to build a layer on top of the web (so that integrates search engines and specific websites) that tries to guide you to the information you are looking for, instead of forcing you to be search-savvy, i.e., find out by yourself which search keywords will actually take you closer to the information you are looking for.

Again, I'll wait and see... While I'm waiting, I can do the most time-consuming thing (and get rid of my extra 40-minutes): go through the CALO papers...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Starting again... but so many things to do

So the whole Jewish New Year event is over. It's actually my favorite Jewish Holiday actually mostly because I like reasons to stop and reflect on what happened with the past and plan the future. It's actually an interesting time to plan the future as in a week I'll be "celebrating" 4 years working at Amazon. And I like to think of things in 4 year cycles.

So, what is my plan for the next 4 years, you ask... But I won't answer it here. I'll have to say that I don't really have a real plan yet. Economic situations are being an influence on the lack of a real plan, as well as the many things I have to think right now. First, and foremost, my imminent trip to Brazil in less than a week. With all the things happening right now, I didn't have much time to think about what I need for this trip. I haven't bought any presents, only a few of the requests that I've collected... I'm pretty much utterly unprepared this time.

It's going to be a short trip. Only two weeks out, meaning only 12 days in Brazil with the couple of days lost in transit. Technically two weddings to go (same people, but first in the civil wedding and then the religious wedding), plus a big party. That leaves only about 8 days left that I can do something about. And with my lack of thought to plan anything, I think I'll end up not doing much. We'll see.

What else is going on? Many other things, but I won't bore anybody with details. Some parts of work (when I'm not out for high holidays) have been interesting. I could claim that in the last week I've made Amazon something like 60 cents! So exciting! I should ask for a pay raise! :-)

And I think that's what I have to say. Back to seeing how odd things happen when you have way too much visibility on what people are doing, even when they shouldn't be doing much. Wouldn't it be funny if Michael Arrington is right and "the video video will always be associated with the end of Web 2.0". Not that I believe it's true, but humorous nevertheless.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Saltpetre + stock market today

I was asked to take saltpetre home. That's the description for one of the offers on Amazon:

For women who do not want their partners to have outside relationships. Also for exorcisms & other purification rites.

I guess I'm not asking for details about why they want it... (btw: it's supposed to be for cooking)

Also, today looking at my daily emails from MarketWatch, this is how you want to wake up to the market:

6:36 AM: U.S. stock indexes open more than 2% lower in opening minute of trading
7:09 AM: Dow industrials break below 10,000 mark; Nasdaq composite plunges 4%
7:33 AM: Dow industrials down 400 points
7:47 AM: Dow industrials down 500 points

And I'm sure it's only going to get better throughout the day.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Funny things about Twitter

If you don't know what Twitter is you are probably living in an alternate universe. But, although it's been pretty big for some time now, it feels like people don't really know how to use it correctly. It started out very simple: I create a network of friends and people can send short messages through their cellphone or online to say what they were doing now. This way people can quickly organize themselves and know what their friends were doing.

But then it turned into a "stalker" type environment: there is this set of people that I'm interested in and I follow them to know what they are thinking. On the other side, I want to advertise myself to my "stalkers" (or fans if you want to put a positive twist to it) and keep them thinking that I'm a good person.

The problem in my opinion with this new reason for twitter is that it's not that good at that. It centralizes everything into one platform that allows you to have only 140 characters to send out your message. So it becomes a world of sending links around that is very hard to index and organize. And if you want to keep an eye to what is going on, you have to be online all the time and reading a lot of things (that are now linked around and not there for you to filter based on the text).

Then what happens when you have a tool that people can't really find a perfect use for but lots of people are using it? Well, you start experimenting! People start using it to try to promote themselves by starting to follow somebody, which will make this person look at what you have and decide if they are going to follow you or not. That's what happened today when I was followed by masstransitnow, a political temporary twitter account that is trying to pass some proposition to increase the amount of money sent to mass transit in the greater Seattle area.

There are others, like comcastcares that tries to use twitter to solve customer problems with Comcast.

Does this type of thing work? Well, it's not a great way of sending good content to people, but it's a cheap way of getting your name out there and getting a couple of hundred people to know that you exist. The numbers are completely meaningless for most of those applications (what would 200 extra votes do to a proposition being selected in a place like the whole state of Washington?), but it's easy and free. You only need 140 characters a day and people will keep you in mind.

So back to my personal experience: do I use twitter for anything useful? Actually no. I end up writing less because things that I want to write are too long to twitter about, but because I first try using twitter, I feel like in order for me to post it on this blog it needs to be more in-depth, which usually means that it just never gets written.

I'm actually amazed that I was able to finish this post... Before 2 AM!

Friday, October 03, 2008

First concert of the season

So my first Seattle Symphony concert for the 2008-2009 season has finally arrived and it was quite good. The only kind of depressing thing is that the concert hall was quite empty. Usually it's between 80-90% capacity (at least as far as I can see), and today it was at about 60%. Maybe too many people wanting to watch the VP debate. Who knows? Anyway, they missed a great concert. Three pieces:

1. Stephen Albert's "Anthems and Processionals"
2. Dmitri Shostakovich's "Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107" with Lynn Harrell playing the cello
3. Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben", with Maria Larinoff playing the violin solo (she is the first violin for the Symphony, not an invited guest)

In general it was great. Albert's piece was an American premiere of the revised version, which brings me to a puzzling concept: Stephen Albert died on a car accident in 1992. He was a composer in residence for the Seattle Symphony and the Symphony did its world premiere in 1988 (somewhere in the program it said it was in 1998, which made it more puzzling, but it was most probably a typo). Just after the premiere, he started working on the revised edition. And only this year they finally played the revised edition. At least 16 years after it was written (probably closer to 20 years). A long time to leave a piece in the drawer.

Nice piece, though. I did overhear some people saying that it was a piece for the MTV generation, because something happened on it every 20 seconds, but I wasn't able to remember it enough to confirm it. In any way, I should look into more things from this composer.

The rest was also great, but not new. The Shostakovich is a very hard piece to perform, but it was performed amazingly well. Not perfect, but, hey, I wouldn't want to be the one playing it. The Strauss had amazing energy. This is an example of a composer that is able to use a huge orchestra and build something that doesn't sound just like a mass of noise. Or one big chord. Genius!

Alright, I should stop writing emails and posting on my blog and go to bed.

Oh, I just wanted to add that my day today started very interestingly: with a bus on fire inside the bus tunnel just by work. Not terrorist attack type of fire, just the engine apparently overheated or something and had actual flames coming out of it. I wished I had the energy to take a picture with my camera so that I could have posted it here for the curious. I was already thinking about all the things I had to do at work, so I decided to just move on.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A TV addict? Me?

It's kind of odd right now that I'm actually watching something like 4 series:

1) House: yes, I know I'm kind of tired of always about the same thing over and over again, but it's entertaining sometimes.
2) Fringe: a brand new series with 4 episodes so far, maybe 5. It's kind of an X-Files with a little more emphasis on technology and less on aliens or the government trying to hide things from us. I've been quite happy with the results so far
3) Terminator: Sarah Connors Chronicle: Ok, this one I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've been watching. It's really not a good series, but I think it's a little bit of being old and remembering watching the movies.
4) True Blood: I'm not sure yet if I like this series. The acting is pretty bad, but there are some interesting oddities to it. If I fast-forward through all those sex scenes, it has been watchable. But it's in the fringe of derailing to "vampires are evil and let's kill them all" type of thing. If it does, I guess it's going to come out of my list.

I'm waiting for another couple of episodes of "Knight Rider" to really consider this series trash. There is also a new potentially ok SciFi channel series starting this Friday, Sanctuary. It looks trashy, but, well, I'll have to find some time to have a look. One good think about most of those series is that they only have new episodes every other week, so it allows me to have time to watch them spread out through a couple of weeks. The beauty of a DVR and Hulu.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Odd idea for today:

This is an odd idea:

For $2 you can send a something measuring 0.4 x 0.4 inches (that is 1 cm x 1 cm, pretty small) to space. Aren't you excited about it? Hello? Anybody there?

Anyway, it's only $2, so it's not that it's a huge investment for something so meaningless. People spend more meaningless money out there, like paying to send small digital gifts to people on Facebook, or paying taxes so that companies that make bad decisions in what to invest can get out of it for free... I could make this a long list, but I won't bore you with my list. Just think about last month's expenses and all the things that you could have lived without. I'll assure it's way more than $2.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ask a designer to do statistics...

Here is a great example of what happens when you ask a designer to draw something cool to show statistics:

(sorry for the poor image quality here: I don't have a real image cropping tool on this computer)

Note the market share for Creative Labs as written and as represented. If the error isn't also somewhere else, it's supposed to be 3%. When you have somebody manually creating and typing numbers, you get typos. I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever have a designer do graphics for you. What I'm trying to say is that for such a simple representation, probably it shows that our graphics building software options are a little on the weak side.

Source: The Trouble with Zunes from Fortune Magazine.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A morning of looking at web2.0 companies

Every time I see a random list of "best new web companies" I get amazed with the amount of diversity there is right now. They all have this web2.0 feeling to them, but try to do a lot of random things. I won't try to go through all of them in this post (because I don't have time for it), but I wanted to highlight two today:

SezWho: I've heard of this site before when it was on inception but it seems now it has some tools available. The idea here is to create communities around people's trust ratings based on people's activities across multiple websites. Sounds like a not-so-bad idea, right? But I don't think it will work as it is today. Why? because it requires the site to be "SezWho-enabled", i.e., the site owner has to do coding work to make sure their posting and comment system actually traces back to SezWho. Who will do this jump of forcing their site's experience through somebody else's system? I know I wouldn't. I could ask SezWho to listen to my site's RSS feed and then provide content aggregation and cross-rating. Making it a part of my site is not an option.

Get Satisfaction: Another site I've heard before but when I saw it was in private beta or something like that. The idea of this one is for people to post comments/questions about companies and their products and then for companies to be able to post answers to those questions. All public and searchable. Not a bad idea, I say.

This one is kind of odd to think that it's not going to work. If I post something public about how I don't like my old Canon printer, Canon might think it needs to participate on trying to defend their printer. And once people see that they really have a connection to the company, they might start to really use it.

My biggest concern here is the silo approach again. You have to post on their site. The future is aggregation, not silos. Make you sign up, register your data source (blog, twitter, etc.) and make them aggregate what you say about companies. Then you let companies comment on their system and that is automatically sent back to your site as a comment (whenever possible) with an ad to their service.

Anyway, we will continue to see a lot of changes coming in the future. I just don't know if people will ever be able to fully change.

Friday, September 12, 2008

People love statistics, even when they don't know how to interpret them

So I was reading this article from ComputerWorld that shows statistics about Chrome users to their site and comparing to the other 3 "most popular browsers": IE, Firefox & Safari.

They go through a lot of discussion of how it varied every day, and that during the weekend it went up, then down again and then it "stabilized" at around 5% market share, a bit lower than Safari. Sounds like a meaningful analysis? Well, just look at the graph and tell me! Look at the amount of variation that happens with "old" browsers, like IE and Firefox. They seem to keep competing for the first position, even when they have already been out for many months (actually years, because I think they aggregate all versions into one metric).

My point is, if that's the variation on normal operation, why does anybody care about .5% or even 5% changes day by day and try to conclude anything about them? Yes, Chrome got a pretty big market share quickly, but that's what you expect with anything that is released by such a big and well-known company. And that's the only thing I would take from it. Leave the rest of the conclusions for when you have month-over-month data and you can actually see cannibalization.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

An evening of working from home + Spore

So I decided to leave work earlier today to concentrate on working on a new idea. The last times that I've tried to do that I ended up getting sidetracked and not really doing what I was planning on doing. And you might think that this time the same thing happened because of the title, huh? Oh, well, not really. I did get some work done. Not enough to prove if my idea would work, unfortunately. I was interrupted by the reality of working with HTML parsing: not all parsers can parse all pages. Oh, well...

But it's actually somehow funny to do it, because you realize how "unprofessional" some sites really are behind the scenes. I'm not going to cite names here, but here are some pieces of HTML that I found around:

<!--modified by sakthi for req no: 104293 -->

<!--Code added for Task1 .3 start-->


Anyway, so why did I mention Spore? Because I actually did download it and try it out. It's not a bad game. Has a huge potential for just consuming all your free time, so if you want to give it a try, keep it in mind. The graphics are pretty nice, especially underwater. When I moved to the ground form, the graphics weren't as nice, but the amount of variations you can put on your creature was quite neat.

In any way, I had fun!

Quite odd how different the evening can be when I get home before 7 pm.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Odd statistics

I was going through Estadao's neat statistics UI on Sao Paulo's governor's election poll. Not very complicated, but has some odd things (which is more likely to mean that somebody entered data incorrectly than anything else):

If you look at the general election numbers by education level and income level, you will see that there is a positive correlation on both factors with voting for Alckmin. You'd expect that, as there is a positive correlation between education level and income level.

But when you go to the 2nd round is when things get odd. There is now still a positive correlation to education, but not on income.

I'm a little away from Brazilian politics (although I'll be in Brazil this year during the 2nd round - but I won't be able to vote as of now, because my voting registration was canceled, because I haven't voted for so long), but one thing that I can relate to is the rejection rate on Paulo Maluf. I'm somehow in shock that the guy is still running for a public office. He has a huge track record of corruption, but apparently he still thinks that he was able to get more things accomplished while giving money and taking money from "his friends", so he deserves to be put in power again. The scary thing is that he is not completely wrong about it, just a little narrow-sighted.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thinking too much?

Sometimes I have this feeling that I'm thinking about too many different things at the same time. For example, right now I have four main technical projects at work, two at home, I'm reading 4 books at the same time, 3 podcasts weekly (I've reduced that from about two months ago) plus news and stuff.

It's not the busiest time-wise that I've been in my life. I still have time to watch the Olympics, work on a jigsaw puzzle and play some Wii (mostly Soulcalibur Legends and Boom Blox). The problem is the mental cost of not being able to focus on anything specific for enough time. I have been coming home earlier than usual and more tired than usual. Quite worrisome.

And is this improving any time soon? Not really. Some of the projects at work have to finish in the next week or so, but new ones will take their place. I'll be going to Vegas for KDD this weekend, which will probably give me more ideas of other projects to do at home.

But one of the things that I feel like I'm being most wasteful about is that not only I haven't been finishing most projects, but when I do get somewhere I don't really write it down to both remind myself later and try to give something back to my readers as a token of going through things and suggestions of what they should look into. So I'll try to be a little better about that from now on. Easier to write about a book that I've finished than write emails that friends never reply, or when they do I take months to reply back.

So, what was the last book that I've read? Well, I actually finished two at the same time:

Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

Quite an interesting book, but unfortunately I wasn't able to absorb too much out of it, because it's more focused on building leadership on your company, creating a theme for it, and making it something visible to the outside world, and it's really not the level that I usually operate. I'm not even sure why I bought this book, but it was on my bookcase, so I decided to read it.

Sunstorm by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

I really like Stephen Baxter. I thought this was another very well-done book. I liked it more than the first of the trilogy, Time's Eye. I actually bought the trilogy when I heard of the death of Arthur C. Clarke. I always wanted to read it and found it was a good opportunity. I was actually at the bus reading the news and went on my Kindle and bought the trilogy. Later I found out that I had already had this idea before and I had the trilogy on hardcover.

I'm not going to any details about the book, as anything might spoil part of it. As all Stephen Baxter books, I'd only suggest it to the hard sci-fi fans and not the ones that like nice stories in a futuristic environment. The technologies were interesting, but maybe a little lame. The connection of it all and the reaction of the world to tragedy was interesting.

Anyway, as I said, I won't get into any more details. I'll just mention one thing: I really like my Kindle. Great device to read books. Unfortunately not so great for other things. I tried newspapers (and still have a rolling subscription of at least one newspaper at all times), but it's just hard to skim through it and see if anything catches your attention. And that's how I usually read newspapers. But for books... Ah... One of the things that differentiates it from my bookshelf is that I can see all the books that are there waiting to be read. My bookshelf has too much noise of read books. I usually just delete the books I've read from my Kindle (I can re-download them at any time anyway), so it's easy to see what is there waiting for my attention. Also buying new books is way too easy. Very dangerous! I read some news or listen on a podcast about a book that sounds interesting and I get my Kindle, check if it's available and if it is I usually just buy it there. Very dangerous to my finances.

I think that's what I had to write today. Long post, I know... But hopefully with some interesting content.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The reality of our taste

I was reading this post on The Amateur Gourmet and it reminded me how all our experiences are tainted by subjective connections to other things in our lives.

Getting out of food, a typical example of this is on human relationships. If you had a big disagreement with somebody in the past, it's very common for you to never really trust that person's judgment. You have to force yourself to be neutral to be able to correctly compare that person's ideas with others'.

For me I found a different easy way out. I've been so grumpy lately that every idea seems bad. No effort involved in trying to level the the ideas to the "best common denominator". Why I've been grumpy? That requires probably a post that will take longer to write than the 2 minutes I have before having to leave to go to work. So maybe some other day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

VMware time bomb

This must have been a lot of fun for VMware users

Very hard to test something like this. But I won't get into more details here. Maybe this should be a topic for my other blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Microsoft Surface... Interestingly odd

So Microsoft seems to now be pushing its "Surface" product/concept of interaction. It has even, according to this article, installed some in Sheraton hotels in some cities in the US. Go to the article to see a video of how it is supposed to work.

So what do I think about it? I think the goal is great. But I'm not sure they have the right applications in mind yet. They love the flipping through pictures idea and the iPhone multi-touch style zoom, but pay attention to the transition: press a light corner of the table??? Also, they show in some videos on their website the ability to integrate with phones and other active elements.

And that's where I think they are getting things wrong: instead of right now working with everybody to discuss how they can integrate the technology with all devices they are going through a private testing only with selected distributors of Microsoft technology. So, where the innovation can happen will not receive any SDK until who-knows-when. And when this happens, it's hard to say what the compatibility will be with devices.

In a way, this is what Apple got wrong at first with the iPhone, but now is slowly remedying it. They launched a great new way of people interacting with their phone and at first you had to break into the device to install more useful software. Now you can buy it through Apple. Things are still limited, and will always be, because Apple wants to control the iPhone experience, but you can already see the explosive reaction of the development community. That's what people are looking for.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A window to the past

I don't know for how much longer this will be available, but it's funny:,-92.239196&panoid=SqGxboge__NMt6Fy4liZ0w&cbp=1,98.31571236932916,,0,-2.044612009305669&ll=34.89151,-92.238336&spn=0.010789,0.02223&t=h&z=16

It's a picture from the Google maps streetlevel view of a house on fire with firetrucks and everything. Quite amazing quality.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sometimes they are hard to believe

Sometimes you are browsing through news items and you come across something that just doesn't make too much sense. Today, it was this article on the Daily Telegraph:

Sexual harassment okay as it ensures humans breed, Russian judge rules

I can see that in some cases it's hard to do something about these sexual harassment cases, mostly because the threshold of what defines a sexual harassment is always a little fuzzy and it's hard to find good evidence. I think that's the case here, but the newspapers took it in a completely different way: that it's a good thing to have. Oh, I'm not trying to say that hitting on a co-worker is a good thing. It actually creates a very bad working environment and that's usually the last thing you want if you want to ensure people are happy and productive.

What I'm trying to point out here is that the way this news was written, it looks like the judge was just oldfashioned and wrong. Although judges make mistakes, it feels like there is a part of the story that is missing here.

When you know that a program has been over-engineered

From time to time I have to be reminded what is bad software engineering. And it usually happens by accident, reading an article that was about something completely different. This morning, it was this interesting article on ComputerWorld:

Free Windows XP tuneup: Put new life into an old workhorse

Look at the trick to add "Copy to Folder..." and "Move to Folder..." to your context menu: you go to the registry and add some completely meaningless GUIDs somewhere and... magic! If somebody on the design team decided to add this capability, you either should have put it in a structured menu to add this, or just have removed it from the system altogether!

The other tips are a little bit less worrisome. Interesting article. If my main operating system wasn't a Mac OSX, I would probably use some of those hints.

Oh, and don't think that I consider the OSX great. But it's very simple. It does have some "hidden features", but they usually don't require knowing magic keys here and there. Just digging through menus you didn't know existed, or calling command line tools.

It all always reminds me of the horror that I felt when I had to code using MFC. I bought the great The MFC Answer Book and was shocked by the amount of hidden and under-documented features (well, this was back in 1999 - maybe some things were documented after that) that just did magic to your applications. Things like (this is a fictitious example): "want to create a window with three panels, where two are static and a third can be resized? Just override this "CMainFrame::OnWindowInitialization()" and return "FALSE" and it will just work. Huh?

Anyway, I'm glad that's something far in my past. And also far in Microsoft's past (it's still supported, but there are way better ways of building "rich" UIs right now in Windows using .NET)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Camping this weekend

IMG_5963, originally uploaded by Wandering Minstrel.

So I went camping with friends this weekend. We went to Dash Point State Park, which is only about 40-50 minutes south of where I live. Nice park, but small. What it means is that you can get to anything in the park within a 20-30 minute walk, but there isn't that much to see.

In any case, it's always nice to get out and enjoy time with friends away from the normal day-to-day tasks. Good conversations, fun cooking around the campfire, some smoky but cleaner air...

If you want to see more pictures, you can check the SmugMug album

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cutting 10 zeros?

This article today kind of shocked me: Zumbabwe knocks 10 zeros off currency. 10 zeros??? How can somebody have a currency in which you have to deal with such large numbers. Certainly an inflation rate somewhere in between 2.2 million and 12.5 million percent (according to this article at MSNBC) can do something like that really quickly. I kind of vaguely remember the hyperinflation period in Brazil and basically you get two things:

1) Banks become very important and need to make things move quickly. That's why the banking system in Brazil right now is so good (compared to here in the US).
2) You just don't keep money laying around. Every minute that you have cash you are losing money. So there were rushes to stores and banks during payment days. And everything would get even more complicated when there were all the plans to freeze prices and such. Life was not fun.

But this was many orders of magnitude lower than Zimbabwe. I can't think that anybody there can use money. As the bills get out of the press, they are pretty much not worth the paper that was used to make them. Yikes! It saddens me to even think of life there...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Technology demos - sometimes not very impressive

The last couple of days I've seen a few demos of potentially interesting technology that when you get to it they are just not there yet. One I mentioned on my last post, so I decided to increase the list:

The first one, as most people are already talking a lot about, is Cuil. There are lots of articles about it out there, so I won't write much besides saying that it's quite impressively fast, but relevance is worse even than MSN Search on its early days (and that's a hard thing to beat).

Then, going to a whole different type of technology, there is the Martin Jetpack. It claims to be able to run for 30 minutes and get to 8K feet, but the demo is underwhelming: a guy with a big thing on his back making a lot of noise and then two guys around him guiding him around hovering a couple of feet off the ground. A few balloons and a lawn chair seem way more efficient.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Twine and OpenLink

I've played around with Twine for some time and then for some reasons that I will eventually try to summarize, I've stopped paying much attention to it. I still receive the daily digests from the twines that I follow and do skim over them, but in general haven't found a real reason to do any switching over. I'm a little addicted to having the bookmarks on my Firefox and be able to quickly find what I'm looking for by using ctrl+b or APPLE+b and typing a keyword. Twine only offers something like that if I get to their website first.

But, anyway, as I said, I'll get to an analysis of Twine some other day. Right now I'm going to just make this observation hoping that I'll have somebody solve this for me. I was reading Kingsley Idehen's blog post about Twine and OpenLink and it referenced the ability to navigate Twine through the relationships that it adds to the pages.

It sounded interesting so I downloaded OpenLink for Firefox (which required me to create an account with Firefox Add-ons) and gave it a try... And then started the head-scratching. Lots of options that don't seem to do anything (like the relationships on the popup from the storage URI section) and things that don't seem to work until you click twice on them. But once you got used to clicking around, there is some information there. Not organized enough, in my opinion, but it's probably a good start. If you have some organization it will highlight better what isn't organized correctly.

But the question that remains for me is: is this what is missing? Should this be the next browser experience? I don't get it yet, but it might be more because of clunkiness of interface and some improvements in the data. It's a way of looking at information, but it's just not fluid enough. Not all interactions can have a real grouping that is not themselves. And if something is only grouped with itself, what is the use of grouping?

Anyway, it was an interesting experiment anyway. Now back to something more productive. Not mowing weeds (which was part of today's entertainment)...

Mistakes cities make

When you have too much money to spend, as do bigger cities like Seattle, you are bound to make very expensive mistakes. The latest one to make to the news here is the great "high-tech" toilets that now the city is trying to auction off through eBay, but hasn't been able to find people that are crazy enough to pay 90 thousand dollars on it. Ok, I actually should be a little bit more precise in saying that it's not the city that is using eBay, but a contractor for the city that is specialized on getting rid of surplus equipment.

They are quite expensive toilet to maintain: something like US$360 a day (according to this other article on the Seattle Times). And, well, they are a public "safe and clean" place, so they attract illicit activities, like drug dealing and use, and apparently prostitution. Think that there are only 5 installed in the whole city!

Anyway, they will be gone and the 332 people that use it every day will have to go somewhere else. Perhaps to some US$16 a day port-a-potty.

And yes, this is the level of concerns that I have lately. Actually I'll have to say that lately I've been trying to work more on interesting projects at home and I think I'm close to something quite fun that uses FreeBase. I've subscribed to their modeling mailing list and that has made me excited about paying more attention to what is going on there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting people to do things for free

I read this interesting article on TechCrunch:

We Want A Dead Simple Web Tablet for $200. Help Us build it

Simple thoughts and reasons and then you look at the reaction of people claiming they want to help. The pattern I found that is very interesting is people saying that they can code anything in a set of languages that usually starts with PHP. So sad that there are so many PHP coders out there. It's a very weak language with powerful libraries, in my opinion. But I'm not here to get into PHP. Back to the analysis of the people that respond to this article.

The response has been pretty huge. Lots of people got easily excited about the project: a cheap computer that does 80% of what you usually do on the internet. It won't help on making me blog more often or actually write emails to my friends, but it certainly would be a great piece of technology. People can see it, but they can't really see the actual complexity of the problem. You find comments like:

"College student will help with writing the marketing aspect." - huh?

"Wow, this sounds like an awesome idea. I’d love to contribute in some way, I have lots of education contacts and some limited coding expertise. Maybe my biggest asset is enthusiasm and time? Contact me if I can help."

"Finally! I can help promote this in and bring it to Canada. Let me know if you’re interested - I am!"

"I would be happy to contribute my companies resources and expertise to the project." - and this guy has a web hosting company

There are too many other hilarious things to quote.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Odd watch brand

Those are things that I find out because part of my work is to look at the items that are part of the Amazon's catalog:

01 The One

Definitely a geeky watch brand, but a non-geeky website. Odd combination.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Show me your ads and...

I was looking at an address in Seattle on MapQuest today (yes, I do still use it from time to time), and I was shocked by the ads that I was offered. They all come from Google's adsense: out of 10 textual ads (yes, quite amazing how much they can cram on that page), 4 were for DUI attorneys, 2 for life insurance, 2 for job search, 1 for a DJ and the last one for a florist. Getting ads for DUI stuff when you are looking around for driving directions gives quite a negative feeling about driving. Probably not what MapQuest would have chosen if they were given a choice.

That's the inherent problem around any algorithm-based advertising (if not almost any computer-generated prediction). It's very hard to encode and take into account psychological reactions to things. It's much easier to just consider the financial correlation. If (I'm inflating the numbers here a couple of orders of magnitude) you put an ad (A) that will make 10% of the people click on it (out of confusion and disgust) and 50% never come back to the website and another ad (B) that only 8% click on it (which let's say is the average click-through rate on ads - again, this number is a couple of orders of magnitude off), it's easy to build an algorithm that will tell that A is better than B, but very hard to tell that B is better than A. It takes some time until you realize that there is a traffic reduction going on due to showing ad A.

Anyway, I'm probably going to be back to MapQuest. I keep rotating around the map provider I use not to miss new features and to make sure that I can appreciate all of them better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The oddities of seeing past snapshots of the world

Actually the title of this post is a little misleading. I'm really talking about looking at the US stock market. I'm not a big investor at all, so I don't keep track of what is going on throughout the day. However, I'm subscribed to MarketWatch's bulletin and when I get home I read all the "spam" that I receive from them. It's quite amusing just to look at the headlines. Here is an example for today:

7/15/2008 9:52:14 AM - Dow industrials down triple digits; AIG, B. of A., J.P. Morgan biggest decliners
7/15/2008 11:14:22 AM - Crude oil slides more than $8 to trade below $140 a barrel
7/15/2008 12:33:12 PM - Nasdaq and Dow erase steep declines, turning modestly positive
7/15/2008 3:00:00 PM - Crude oil loses nearly $7 in biggest one-day drop in 17 years
7/15/2008 4:03:29 PM - Dow industrials drop nearly 100 points, with AIG, B. of A. pacing slide

What a roller coaster! And It's been like this almost every day for many weeks now. I don't know how people that actually get their sustenance out of this can keep their sanity!

Yes, I do have money in the stock market. Mostly funds, many through a retirement account. It's kind of depressing to see how their are doing right now. They are not doing terribly, but pretty much everything is in the red compared to some months ago. So I don't look. I'm not planning on needing the money any time soon.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I love to waste time

Today's time waste is brought you by:

Flock, a Firefox modification that tries to integrate social networking on your browser. It's an interesting concept, but things don't seem to work as well as they should. For example, I set my Twitter account, but it didn't seem to be able to show anything yet. It also doesn't have FriendFeed, which is probably my favorite "life feed manager" right now.

Shelfari. I think I talked about this one in the past. And I mentioned that I was trying to move away from it because it was too slow... Well, I didn't and realized that it's probably the best one out there. I thought of moving onto Library Thing because of the integration with FriendFeed, but after I've entered "The Amber Spyglass" and it said that there were no other members that had read it, I got a little frustrated. Now that I look at it again, there are members that had read it. A lot of them! So I guess I'm back to my indecision, and more time wasted. Thanks!

Wigix. This is way less than the others. I'm still a little puzzled about this website. I can't seem to grasp how to really make it work on the sales/exchanges side. Yes, it has product information and some sellers trying to sell things, but the dynamics of buying and saying that you would sell yours for a specific price are still a little odd to me.

Well, and now I can add this blog post to the mix. Let me get out of here and start my day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Health science?

I was watching a show today on Discovery Science about how to improve your diet. I didn't catch it from the beginning, but I'll explain the absurdity that I've seen. Three stories (not in the right order that they appeared on the show):

1) How much gas do people produce and do men produce more gas than women? To try to prove something, they've strapped some gas collector on a cowboy and a cowgirl and after 24 hours they saw that the man had about 10% more gas volume-wise than the woman. What kind of scientific method was that? The amount of gas varies by the amount and quality of food you eat and the biology and chemistry of your intestines. They didn't compare that. It was only two people in one day.

Sure, I do believe that men usually eat more than women so they produce more gas. The result is not surprising. The surprising part is that they advertise it as proof of something.

2) Does eating 4 cloves of garlic a day solve erectile dysfunction problems? They started the program saying that they found 7 people with problems, but only two wanted to appear on the TV. So they went through the whole "experience" that those people had eating that much of raw garlic (it had to be raw to work) a day and how much they smelled. After 3 months, one had improvements and the other didn't. They blamed the lack of change to his pressure pills.

What they didn't discuss is that out of the two people, one had just started having problems a few months before and he is the one that got better. The other had problems for years and didn't get better. Another thing they didn't show is what happened with the other 5 people that just didn't want to appear on TV. Can't they tell the results at least? It would be a little bit more believable if more than one person had improvements.

3) Does eating the caveman diet for 12 days improve your health? They got 10 people or so and put them in the middle of a Zoo and gave them only fruits, nuts and raw vegetables to eat for 12 days. Surprise: their cholesterol numbers dropped, sodium dropped (well, they had to sodium sources and it is water soluble), blood pressure dropped. And all "because of the food".

What they forgot to mention is that all these people lived in London and for 12 days they were not working, sleeping more (after it gets dark pretty much they didn't have anything else to do), not going through traffic, having to worry about what to eat, what to do, where to go. their stress levels were orders of magnitude (and, yes, that's not a scientific number, just an expression) lower than their normal lives. Doesn't this have any impact on their health? It's ridiculous to say it doesn't and that just by changing your diet you can get healthier.

Conclusion: I never thought of Discovery Health as a great source of information, but I thought it wouldn't be a great source of disinformation. People should just avoid TV altogether.

And why was I watching TV? Because I had a Tetanus shot yesterday and I'm not feeling so great today. Didn't sleep very much last night, and the day was just hard. Hopefully tomorrow I'll feel better.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The eye into the people

I don't have much time to discuss this right now, but I found this article interesting:

What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer

It shows that if you put aggregate information about people out there, it can tell you things you don't want to know. The tricky thing is how do you prove that what you are seeing is close enough to a random sample of your population to prove anything.

In any way, in the world of information, it's amazing to see how we can gather data about people. The trick is how this information is going to be used. Can it be the end of illegal porn? Or drugs? I should start searching for "jumping off the bridge" ;-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Twitter is a funny world

It's kind of odd to see how people use Twitter, or FriendFeed (more on FriendFeed some other day, I think). But before I get to other people, I should try to answer this about myself: how do I use Twitter?

I have three "types of entities" on my Twitter "followed" list (that contains 14 people as of now - not that many, which shows I'm really not a big twitterer):

1) Friends: not too many of those (4). Most my friends, as far as I know, don't use Twitter. Not a lot of traffic here at all.
2) People that seem to have interesting ideas and I was suggested to follow: That's the bulk of it (8), and 95% of all the traffic of messages. They vary between famous "technologists" like Jason Calacanis, founder of, and Amazon's CTO Werner Vogels (all Wikipedia pages, how lazy of me). I look here for interesting links and ideas floating around.
3) "Automated" or "semi-automated" users: Only 2, that include a weather helper and a TWiTlive tracker. Very little traffic here, and not too useful at all.

I used to have a little more, but I've migrated some of them to FriendFeed. As I said, I'll talk about FriendFeed some other day. I'm not sure I'm ready for a final conclusion about the system.

So, my use of it is quite straight-forward. I don't twitter everything that happens to me. Actually sometimes I feel like I should twitter more and it still won't feel like I'm trying to broadcast to everybody every small step I make, which is very likely to be a huge waste of my time and all my followers time (13 as for now).

Which brings me to my followers, the odd piece of this equation: who is following me? Like me following people, there are some friends, there are some that automatically follow you if you follow them, but there is a bulk of completely random people. I'm not sure if they do this to try and see if you'll follow them in return and boost their following crowd (most of those have 3K+ people they follow and usually the same order of magnitude of people that follow them), or if it's just a mistake or temporary curiosity and as my twitter traffic is so low, they don't care to remove myself from their list. Who knows?

Anyway, twitter gives a lot of people to be strange, because it touches directly their ego. Your twitter is all about you. You choose who to follow, and you lure people to follow you. It's like a social network site, but where the connection is less "powerful" than friendship, so it's much easier to get very large numbers and keep growing. Also, it doesn't seem to have constraints on the maximum number of "friends" like most social networks systems.

It certainly doesn't bother me, because it's expected and maybe even healthy for these people. Better than getting attention by doing other crazy things like killing people in the middle of the streets somewhere. Who knows how many lives twitter hasn't saved? And no, productivity is not alive.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Explosive information intake

Sometimes what you read or watch can be very powerful to shape your state of mind. And sometimes this final shape is very detrimental to your well-being.

Last night, it was a combination of receiving 1 email every 15 minutes with an alarm that I couldn't check what was happening, reading "The Future of Management" and then watching "Mr. Brooks". Why? It was one of the things I spent some time thinking last night while I couldn't sleep (which is a VERY rare state for me). Here is my current theory:

NOTE: This might contain some spoilers about the movie, so if you haven't watched the movie and want to fully enjoy it when you do, you might not want to read any further.

Reading TFOM puts you in a state where you stop trusting management in general, in which you believe that the most important thing for any company is to post what needs to be accomplished and let people do it if they want to. It's all a matter of how to correctly give incentives to the non-management workers so they they are happy and don't backstab you when you are not looking. And that's the connection to the movie: the main protagonist helps his daughter but at the end of the movie he has nightmares that any day his daughter might stab him in the back to take over his business (or, well, maybe because she just can't help it).

That all comes back to the alarms I've been receiving. I was out of the office yesterday afternoon enjoying an afternoon with a friend from High School that decided to come to visit for a couple of days. I've even left my computer at the office, so that I couldn't check what was happening, just receive emails through my BlackBerry. And apparently while I was out something stopped working correctly and because it still isn't working, I was given the impression that the person that was supposed to care about it doesn't care at all and, thus, things are still broken.

Anyway, that's the theory. You don't have to accept it. But I have to leave to catch a bus and go to work.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Back from Hawaii

So I'm back from Hawaii. It was a very nice trip. O'ahu is a nice island, with nice beaches and steep green hills. It's also quite small, allowing you to go and visit most of things without having to spend too much time just driving from one place to another. A huge plus!

Got way too sunburnt, learning that those spray sunscreens are evil. Using them about two days for two people we almost finished with the whole bottle but still got sunburnt on some places. The tricky thing is that you can't really tell how well you have sprayed your skin. Maybe with some experience it's better, but for now I'll go back to my normal manual process.

And, no, I wasn't lying at the beach somewhere. We went kayaking to the sunken island on Monday. So the part that suffered the most were my knees. I was barely able to walk in the evening and next day. Today it's much better.

Now I'm back and very annoyed and disappointed with what happened while I was out. I kind of feel the same way I felt when I went to Brazil and when I got back everything didn't make much sense at work any more. At least this time it was only 3 business days, so I shouldn't be too worried.

Time to go to sleep. I had plans of starting to organize my pictures tonight, but they didn't quite work out. I don't have that many pictures, but it still takes way too long to organize them. My computer keeps reminding me that I need an upgrade. And I feel like I could live with only a memory upgrade, but I'm falling for the "Mac Owner Syndrome" and am tempted to just buy a whole new laptop. I'm even still running an old PowerBook G4... No Intel chip for me yet.

What a disconnected post...

Friday, May 30, 2008

From Hawaii

Here I am in Hawaii posting a short message from my BlackBerry... Not that much to write about yet. Hawaii doesn't seem as impressive as I was expecting. I'm at Waikiki Beach in Oahu and it just feels like a small but well developed beach city. Things are not so clean, people are not very educated, but the scenery is nice if you are looking the right way.

Anyway posting from a BlackBerry is annoying, so I'll just go and enjoy the nightlife, which really somehow exists here!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another late-night blogging. I was reading and replying to emails today and, although I've started reasonably early (about 11:15 PM), it's already 12:45 AM! Time flies when you are trying to write useful emails, huh?

Anyway, this post is not about writing emails, or my lack of ability to write emails quickly, but about my second experience looking at

I have to start by saying that the project itself is great. I'm always excited about open content anything that leverages information that exists out there (book catalogs) and tries to add less structured content on top of it. Apart from all that, what I find interesting about this website is actually its problems: finding anything!

Their goal is to have a page of every single book ever published. Which means, multiple pages for books that have been republished multiple times. And so far with no concept of "work" that would group those books together. To exemplify where the problem is, I decided to do a search on all their catalog and see if I could randomly come across a book that had not only the library card part, but also contents. For that I needed a book that has been around for long enough that it would be in public domain. The book that came to mind was Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" (don't ask me why).

So I started by searching "a tale of two cities"... Terrible mistake. Received 26 results. On the first 20 results, only 1 said it was written by Charles Dickens:

Dicken's A tale of two cities by Dickens, Charles
(American book company, 1911)

I found odd. So I clicked on the author. I was then sent to the page of the author and all the books. No counts of the total number of books there, but I found 12 in the first 10 pages. Not grouped at all, so I had to look page by page and find the book (and note that for some reason Firefox didn't like the page and when searching it would only find the first occurrence of the words and then be stuck there).

It was time-consuming and yielded no scanned versions. Yes, it's still a beta site, but apparently they still have a long way to go there before I can say that I'll start using it for something.

I re-found this website after listening to this week's TWiT. Brewster Kahle was there to talk about the Internet Archive and mentioned this website he was working on building. What I found nice is the apparent motto behind the internet archive: "Children today are being educated on the internet. However, the internet today does not contain the quality that you were able to find on books of the past. So we are just not providing them with the opportunity of a high quality education." Very interesting point.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Random links for the day

I've spent some time trying to think of a theme for this post, but couldn't find any. I was just reading news around and came across the following articles that were quite odd in some ways:

The Miracle Fruit, a Tease for the Taste Buds: Interesting and well-known fruit from West Africa that makes acidic things taste sweet. It certainly changes the taste of a lot of things. I'm now very curious to check it out...

A tragedy: New Challenge for Space Station Crew - A Broken Toilet. This reminds me of some research I saw a long time ago on rapid prototyping. they claimed it's the only possible solution to longer-term space travel, because you never know what is going to break, so you can't keep spare parts for everything. Thus, they need some technology to just build the part you need. The only problem of the technology last I saw it was materials. The only reasonable materials they were able to use for rapid prototyping was a type of paper and a type of waxy glue. None of them are very good for things that are supposed to be used in real-life. Oh, well... At least the space station is not that far, so people can send things over to them.

Finally, it seems like everybody is behind multi-touch:

Windows 7 will be multi-touch capable: I don't trust Windows any more, so I'm not really concerned.

OLPC XO-2 to include multitouch and possibly haptic screen from PixelQi: This is actually pretty cool if it's not vaporware. Have to remember to keep an eye for this one. Much more interesting than the recording pen!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Playing with ideas

I was going around today playing with Exploratree... It's a project that has been around for some time now (since sometime at the end of last year). It's quite neat in its goal of creating frameworks in which you can organize your thoughts and plans. It's focused on educational use, so that you can actually ask people to add information and then you see this on the web.

The UI is quite slick. Quite interesting to see what people can do with Flash on a browser. However, it's kind of annoying in many ways too. For example, I tend to be a little too verbose on what I write on each entry and it doesn't really try to resize and text-wrap things for me. So I end up spending most of my time actually trying to make the text fit in the places. Also it doesn't seem to be a model behind the UI. So if there are two elements that are supposed to have the same text, you have to enter the text twice.

Oh, well... It's an interesting idea anyway. I wished I could see somebody using it for real, and not only the fishy demos on the site.

And talking about education-oriented products, I was also looking at Livescribe's Pulse. It's a product that I've seen an ad for a long time ago, but apparently now it's for real. Nice concept, but I'm a little worried when they show that the only use that they have thought about right now is taking notes of classes and then referring back to the audio that was going on during the notes by clicking on the notes. Not a bad idea at all!

However, there should be some other things that this pen should be able to do... It can't be used to digitize things that are written on a whiteboard or something like that, because it needs the special paper with special location dots. So that restricts the interaction to something quite "private". Maybe if it could be used to write music or something... Or when you are trying to review something that somebody wrote and you are one of those people that need it printed, you can print with the dots, review and then digitize the review of the paper to send it back to the writer.

Anyway, it's a cool technology. If I could find a half use case for the things I do right now I would have already ordered one. So I'll keep looking!