Tuesday, April 29, 2008


So I just got an invite today to check out viewzi a search aggregator with a very strong visualization focus. I haven't had that much time to use it so far, but it seems neat. It would be interesting to see, as it grows, how much it will focus on being a framework for search visualization, start taking feedback from users (like, I want this page and everything related to it to be grouped, or removed from the results or things like that) and aggregate past user behavior to the results (which can be pretty cool).

A good introduction to what they have right now is available on their site as a video (just click on "Watch the video" on their main page). Not everything on their video is available for me right now, which shows that they are still investigating more sources and way to visualize those sources.

I should right now give some examples of queries and what I thought about the results and whether I would prefer to use it instead of normal search engines. However, I'm not going to do that just now. I don't really have anything exciting I want to research, so I'll wait until I do. Yes, I know that this might mean multiple months might pass before I get around to doing it, but I still think I would be more comfortable waiting to play around with it a little before writing a real review on the service.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Time for another Shelfari review

I've been in and out of Shelfari for the last year or so (it's actually a Seattle company, but I don't think I know anybody that works there). It's a nice idea with a lot of flash and neat integration with book databases (that's quite easy to do). However, as I never got into the social networking aspect of it, I never saw a reason to really use them. I can look at my bookshelf and know which books I have. I never found the use of knowing when I read a particular book, or how well I rated the book.

Today I went back to them, though. They decided to add a new feature allowing adding and editing information about authors. This caught my attention because that means that they are starting to add structured information to their database that is beyond book information. But when I got to it I realized that they didn't seed this data with anything. Also, they have very limited and static set of fields that define an author:
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Gender
  • Nationality
  • Official Website
  • Genres

Kind of depressing. And on top of all this, their search is being very slow today and I can't even add the books I have read recently. Time to move onto something else. Maybe I should go back to the huge LibraryThing. I gave up on them because I felt like a very small reader in the middle of the cattle. Maybe things are not like that any more. I'll give some examples of books I've added in both and the number of other members that have those books.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (my most popular book):
Library Thing: 13,187 other members
Shelfari: 12898 members

Sunstorm (A Time Odyssey) by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter (a more recent hard sci-fi book):
Library Thing: 236 other members
Shelfari: 116 members

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (more general, but not as popular):
Library Thing: 2,824 other members
Shelfari: members

So they are all in the same order of magnitude.

Also there were some very odd bugs on their system. This I just saw when looking at the example books. They don't list Stephen Baxter on the list of authors for Sunstorm. Well, maybe I should look at the other options out there:

Goodreads (apparelly huge, but their numbers seem a little misleading, like saying that "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" had 46,791 reviews in one place, 4,400 in another and 38,724 in yet another)
BookJetty (quite tiny, only 30 people with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time")

Oh well. Or I can get local and use Delicious Monster, a Mac only program that you can catalog your library by using a camera to read bar codes. Too many options!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Just because I mention weather

I mention weather on my blog and then it starts snowing... Quite enjoyable. And it's not snowing just a little, but at least it's not below freezing so everything should melt if we wait a little. Until then, well, I guess I'll be staying home and figuring out what I can find for dinner. No gym-ing today, I guess... But at least I made some dinner. Good stuff that I had to finish because it's not Passover-friendly.

Busy weekend ahead! Cooking, cleaning and going to seders. Most probably no time to work on any of my new project ideas.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Seattle and weather

Seattle people are hilarious when it comes to weather. Yes, winters can be quite cloudy and rainy around here. But when we get one day of sun, it becomes the subject of conversations for many days... Last Saturday we had one of those days: sunny, even warm! Then Sunday afternoon the rain came back and that's what we are getting and will be getting for at least another week (with chance of snow and rain mix on Saturday even). But people are still talking about "the amazing weather on Saturday". Makes me laugh!

For me, Saturday was good. I did a lot of work on the garden. Got our new irrigation system up and even was able to turn on the water to see how long it takes to correctly water the beds. But I do enjoy us having the cool and rainy weather again. I'm not sure why. Maybe I just like it so that I can enjoy myself when I hear people longing for the single sunny day of the month... :)

Gym sales people

I've just joined a gym last weekend, LA Fitness. Joining a gym for me was quite a complicated process, because there are no real good, convenient gyms around home or on my way home, as there were when I lived in Bellevue. So it took me more than an year to convince myself that I had to do it even if it wasn't as convenient. So I joined one that is about 12 minutes from home by car.

When you join a gym you start with people trying to convince you that it's the best gym there is and that it's very convenient and easy for you to use. Then they schedule you for an introductory "personal training section" where they would set my goals and give me a review of the gym. But what they do is set you up to paying for personal training sessions. And they do it in ingenious ways:

- They go through your goals and try to convince you that they know the best ways to achieve those goals
- Then they take you around for a quick "training" that is aimed at making you feel like you are weak and have to work a lot, and, especially, that they can help you by pointing out the correct techniques, sets of exercises and around to help you not to get hurt.
- Then they try to sell you packages of personal training sessions and keep trying to make you say that the price is too inconvenient so that they can do the "evil" move of lowering the price so that you feel like now you have to buy it (thanks Wally for the Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) book)

So I ran away from all this and just joined the gym. The upcoming weeks, with Passover, my aunt being here for visit, then my birthday, are going to be busy. I don't want to add more scheduled events any time soon. And, yes, those personal training sessions are expensive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

gmail annoys me

Slowly all my main non-work email moved to my gmail account. But more and more I'm actually concluding that using gmail is actually giving me more problems than solving them. It starts by CPU use. When Firefox is open with an open gmail tab, it's usually using at least about 7% CPU. Idle! When I turn off gmail, it drops to about 2-3%.

Then there is memory use. Leaving gmail open I can see my memory used by Firefox slowly growing without any sign of "garbage collection". Soon my computer is out of memory and I have to restart Firefox.

Then goes to organization itself. I'll have to agree that probably gmail has the best online user interface for email. Yahoo has drag-and-drop, which I use all the time, but it's dog slow. Gmail's simpler UI is much quicker and provides a lot of nice features, like tagging of email. That's why I moved most of my email to it. Also the 1GB free was a great push.

At first I used POP3 and Mac's Mail, but that didn't quite scale very well to the amount of email I received (Mail becomes dog slow with too many emails). Also gmail doesn't mark downloaded items as read, so when I had to access my email from work, I wouldn't know what I've already read by just looking at what is marked as read (like Yahoo does). So I tried to move to the IMAP, but that was quite slow too and very confusing with the tags becoming folders and repeated unread folders. So I went back to only using the web UI. And now I'm stuck.

Oh, well, choices you make in your life. If I had a better option out there I would try to take it, even if the transition is painful. But it doesn't look like there is one, so I'll hang in there and buy a bigger machine with more CPU power and memory. Maybe this will hide some of my annoyances.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Buying things on physical stores is certainly safer, huh?

This article today on ComputerWorld made me "laugh":

Hackers open new front in payment card data thefts

This time they've intercepted payments to local stores as they were being sent to credit card companies for charging. Great job for those hackers! Just shows that there is no way of having safe money transactions. Maybe we should just build walls around our houses, grow our own food and build our own tools. No more dealing with other people, as somebody in the middle of it might use you or steal your goods from under your nose! :-)

So that's how the world is right now. Am I scared? Actually not at all. People stealing things from other people is part of reality. If we are careful and pay attention to where our money is going, everything eventually gets to a good steady state. If credit card companies feel they are paying too much money due to fraud, they will invest on replacing those cards with way more secure technologies. These mostly include "active" cards, like smart cards, which perform the encryption through the card and allow for credit card numbers never to be sent out in the wild. Things have to change, but there needs to be way more financial incentive for it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

More Windows criticism

It's funny to keep reading more and more people complaining about Microsoft's Windows tactics. This time was again at ComputerWorld:

Windows is 'collapsing.' Gartner analysts warn

They make some interesting observations about adoption of Vista and how little people perceive as being a better operating system. I don't have that much exposure with Vista. At work the deskside people that deal with computer setups told me that Vista just doesn't work very well in an enterprise environment.

I'm not sure I really believe in that, as there are lots of different editions of it, but there are two things that I've learned from it:

1) This person is paid to do this analysis and make a decision on whether to do a complete company flipover to Vista. One of the things that Microsoft claims Vista is much better at is security. Apparently the security improvements that it provides are not that important to offset the cost of flipover.

2) From what I've used Vista, on my future brother in law's computer when I was taking the computer to Brazil, it's really not much different. Yes, you can search on the "start" menu (that doesn't have "start" any more), but this doesn't really impress me. What made me unimpressed is their new organization of expandable folder on the "all programs" list. They wanted to reduce the amount of real-state the the menu took, but apparently just made navigation through it way slower. You can't just hover over menu items and see the sub-menu showing up. You now have to click on it to expand it. Way slower.

3) Talking about screen real-state, having the dashboard items on the background makes it not very useful at all. It just makes background more confusing.

All the rest seems hidden under the trunk for me. So, no I'm not getting Vista any time soon. Maybe I'll wait for Windows 7.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Yahoo! - just a desperate company

After Microsoft decided to slap Yahoo with an offer to buy it, Yahoo seemed to have decided to go crazy and not really wake up, but snap and go crazy with major business changes: merge with AOL and experiment with using Google's adsense in their search results instead of their own. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch suggested that they are using a scorched earth technique to not leave anything behind for Microsoft to get. It's a shame. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Yahoo, but I think they have good products and have been able to create (or purchase and not destroy - which is a huge feat) a system of niches that empowered the internet.

It's going to be sad to see it all go away with this apparently spooked company. Damn you Microsoft! Just use your very capable workforce and get it right!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Being followed

Being on twitter is quite interesting. I'm still far from using it for anything useful, and I'm glad of that (I've heard of way too many people that were concerned that they were actually addicted to it and were spending way too much time trying to keep up with what his "followees" were saying). But, little by little, odd things appear. Today, I was just added to the following list of ACLU of Washington. Very odd... I think Twitter is a good example of civil liberties... :-)

For the rest, I'm just a little annoyed lately that I haven't been feeling that I'm doing anything really interesting. I've spent some time reading the Fortress spec and being quite impressed by it, but I'm not sure it's anything really related to any of my current possible interests.

I've been paying my taxes (another painful year - apparently I've made some money buying and selling stocks last year), and reading things around. But I just can't seen to find something that really makes me excited when I wake up in the morning. Probably it's nothing related to anything at work or even anything about the state of technology during economic recession periods, it's something deeper and way more complicated.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Flashbacks of Amapedia

This weekend I had some flashbacks about my time adding content to Amapedia... I was playing around with Twine and seeing if I could organize things using a combo of Twine and Freebase, so I was creating Twines and then trying to add links to freebase from there.

It was a good thought, but it didn't quite work. Freebase cannot be accessed without login, so Twine wasn't able to correctly generate previews. Also, Freebase's URLs are a little worrisome. Things like:


Not easy to see what you are pointing to. So I gave up on this and will change my playing attention to Twine's RDF and Freebase APIs. Let's see what I can use from those.

So sad it's Monday already. Another busy week ahead.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Trying out Twine

Finally I was able to be invited to join Twine! I was going through my rounds of reading blogs when I found this post by Shelley Powers, sent an emails and a few hours later there I was!

My first impression of it so far is: oh, it's quite powerful. Lots of things that you can do but all around one thing: you create a subject, called a twine, and post links to pages on the web that have to do with this subject. You can subscribe to twines, post to whatever twines you want, add comments to sites other people post, and that's mostly it. Posting can be through those funny links on your browser or you can send an email with the link to a special address @post.twine.com.

I'll keep on analyzing it and see how I could use that to reorganize my collection of bookmarks in a way that they might become more discoverable. Currently I'm mostly using del.icio.us, and there are a few things that bother me about it:

1) The big bucket of bookmarks with tags - I have work bookmarks (that point to Amazon internal tools) and external bookmarks. I would love to be able to partition them better. I like that I can share things I found at home with work and vice-versa, but I can't say I like when I'm at home and get "spammed" by work links when I'm searching for something.

2) The integration with Firefox for special keywords and things like that is not that good. Sometimes I set it in one computer and the other one doesn't really understand it. Then I create a new one o the other computer and suddenly I start getting warnings that there is a keyword conflict between the current computer and del.icio.us. Annoying.

3) "That's it": it's all what del.icio.us does for me: it organizes my links. It doesn't really offer much of a discoverability path. Yes, I can click on my keywords and find what other people have tagged with the same keywords and even read new things that come to those keywords as an RSS feed, but there is no de-duping, no discussion, just a stream of mostly noise.

Certainly Twine doesn't currently offer any integration with a browser, so I'll probably still use del.icio.us for some time, but if I can start transfering a minimum amount of information there and see how it turns out.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Initial reactions to R.E.M.'s new album, Accelerate

So, yes, of course I now have R.E.M.'s new album, Accelerate. I can't say I had much time to listen to it yet, but it's quite interesting. They seemed to have decided to get back to the way they were in the older times. Or a mix of all of it. You probably can list each song and tie to a different album they remind me of. Like "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" reminds me of "Monster". "Supernatural Superserious" reminds me of newer stuff, like "Around the Sun". "Accelerate" reminds me of something more like "Life's Rich Pageant"... And so it goes...

It's a short album, with most songs under 3 minutes.

I wished I had more to say about it. I'll leave you with a good article on Time magazine about this album that I read last weekend and made me excited about it: R.E.M.: Finding Their Religion

I'm happy!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Trying to get back to being myself

It's interesting how easy it is for you to lose what you consider to be your greatest sources of happiness. One of them was to be able to play around with things. Spend hours doing something just for the sake of doing it and learning in the process.

Today it was listening to discussions on Agile Programming (more on this some other day) and playing with Processing. So I'm happy!

The only thing that is not as happy is that I need to rescan my whole passport again, now in black and white, so that I can send it for my green card application. It's a lot of work involved there. I'm hanging in there because once it's done I don't have to worry about the silliness of the US consulate to renew my Visa any more. And that's worth even walking barefoot on fire!

Ok, maybe not that much...

I think it's time for me to go to sleep. It's been a long day of iteration planning (from 10 AM to 7 PM) and tomorrow is going to be time to get back to work. More importantly, tomorrow I won't be on call anymore! I keep telling my team that I shouldn't be allowed to be on call, because terrible things happen when I'm on call!