Archive of Posts from June 2003

June 30th, 2003

Slashdot on AMZN HCKS

Slashdot: Amazon Hacks For Fun and Money. [via Erik Benson]

Smackdown down

Google's API is down which makes Google Smackdown down. That's a lot of down. This is the first problem I've experienced with Google's API. Update: back up, smack up!

June 29th, 2003

spider picture

spider

June 27th, 2003

Winged Migration

Winged Migration was a hoot. (owl joke.) It made me want to stop eating animals.

June 24th, 2003

AWS in the news

Business Week: How Amazon Opens Up and Cleans Up. "Bryar hopes that by setting free much of its internal data, Amazon will transform itself from a retail site and a provider of some hosting and transaction services into the key e-commerce platform." This article also describes one of my favorite hacks from the book that I use all the time—cell phone wish lists. (Amazon Hacks is still on track to be out in August.)

June 23rd, 2003

wine cellar picture

cellar

June 20th, 2003

Rex Club picture

Rex Club

Trucks on I-5 picture

I-5 Trucks

June 15th, 2003

My own Russian film festival

I saw two Russian movies this weekend, Solaris (1972) and Russian Ark (new!). One takes place in the future, and one in the past—but they both deal with the subject of art as a way of understanding the human condition. If you can get past the surface misogyny of Solaris (the only developed female character is an alien attempting to become human), there are some very interesting and relevant ideas about simulation and reality; technology and humanity. The film has some beautiful, long, meditative scenes that completely drew me into the story. (And the DVD is part of the criterion collection so the image quality is great.) And speaking of long scenes, the Russian Ark is filmed in one continuous 96-minute shot. It has thousands of people in the film, and it's worth the price of admission just to see what they accomplished. The story takes place at the Hermitage, and careens through different time periods observing the people who passed through its rooms. Some scenes reminded me of Barry Lyndon because Russian Ark has the same attention to detail in set design and costumes to recreate a period. Like Solaris, Russian Ark has some long moments of inhabiting the space with the characters. The lack of cutting from scene to scene had a flowing, absorbing effect. (A nice change of pace from jarring, MTV-style visual bombardment.) The film assumes the audience has a certain knowledge of Russian history, and I'm definitely going to learn more before I see it again. Many of the references to specific events were lost on me, but its themes are universal. At one point in Solaris, the immortal neutrino-based alien becomes absorbed in a Bruegel painting, Hunters in the Snow as she learns more and more about being human—while Russian Ark tried to show that art is how humans achieve immortality. It's just chance that I saw these two back to back, but the combination added something to each of them.

June 12th, 2003

OJR on localized weblogs

Online Journalism Review has a story about localized weblogs:
"People have long talked about how the Web is wonderful -- and how online communities are wonderful -- because you can find people of like minds and with similar interests regardless of where they are," [Heath] Row told me. "The Web can help us learn more about where we are -- and where we're going. It can also be used to add a layer of annotation to a physical location. That's what excites me the most."
Me too! Connecting with people all over the world is fun. But the Web is rarely used to connect with your physical neighbors. Ironically, as the Web becomes ubiquitous, making local connections is becoming more possible.

Mopho Nation

Wired: phonecam nation. (mopho nation is funnier.) [via boing2]

Trackbacks vs. Referrers

John Gruber's critique of Trackback makes some good points. And I agree with many of them. But I have to disagree with his central argument that you can use referrer data instead. This argument completely misses what I feel is the best use of Trackbacks: category-specific aggregation. Take Blogpopuli, for instance, which uses Trackback to gather posts about weblogs. Each of the site authors who send Trackbacks to Blogpopuli would have absolutely no reason to link (create a referrer) to Blogpopuli every time they posted about weblogs—it just wouldn't make sense to their post. By sending a Trackback behind the scenes, they let a subsection of the world know the post is about weblogs without changing the substance of their post. It's a subtle distinction, perhaps, but I think an important one. Using Trackbacks, we suddenly have a new service that simply points to distinct posts of a given category. Extreme-niche, category-specific aggregators can be set up using Trackback that just aren't possible with referrers or (non-categorized) RSS. And an open posting form means even those who aren't using Movable Type can contribute.

Even with its current widespread use of Site A linking to Site B, referrers don't measure up. For a referrer connection to be made, someone has to click on the link. That may seem trivial, but it means less popular sites could be cut out of the loop. Referrers track what a site's audience is doing, not what the site's author intended. To make matters worse, the referrer will not point to the specific post that is relevant. For example, most people will click a link from this weblog's main page, and create the referrer: http://onfocus.com/. As posts slide off the front page, referrer data will quickly become meaningless. Trackbacks use permalinks, which means the link will work well into the future. (Not to mention the problem most referrer-tracking scripts have distinguishing between http://onfocus.com and http://www.onfocus.com/...they're the same site!)

There are also some cases were it's impossible for referrers to work. Check out the way Matt Haughey is using Trackbacks to keep a list of songs he's listening to in Winamp. Because Winamp isn't a website, referrers can't exist. Extending weblogs into other devices requires a mechanism for transporting Web micro-content; Trackback could be that mechanism.

Sure, there are some problems with Trackback. And I think its current primary use of Site A notifying Site B of a relevant post isn't really its killer use. Topic-specific weblog post-aggregation is where Trackback could be very powerful—and relying on referrers isn't going to work to make that happen.

June 11th, 2003

Permalinks

Ahh, memories. I've been blogging since before there were permalinks.

Amazon Reviews Weblog

Amazon World is a new weblog focused on "highlighting some of the more interesting user reviews found on amazon.com."

And more proof that Amazon is a technology company (that also happens to sell stuff)—Amazon launches subsidiary. The subsidiary, Amazon Services, will apparently focus on selling/implementing their sales platform for other businesses. More at InfoWorld, Seattle Times.

Powell's Tech Talk

O'Reilly Hacks authors Rael Dornfest and Rob Flickenger will be speaking at Powell's Technical Books in Portland tonight. If you want to pick up tips on working with Google, Mac OS X, Linux, 802.11b, (and other hacks topics) stop by. It will be a fun talk.

June 9th, 2003

Postcards from Portland

Here's an amazing collection of historic Portland postcards. [via Portland Communique] It's too bad those lighted arches over 3rd avenue are gone.

June 8th, 2003

McDowell Creek

sk and I went for a little hike Saturday morning at McDowell Creek near Lebanon (map). Here are a few photos.

Majestic Falls (click for more)
Majestic Falls at McDowell Creek

June 6th, 2003

New ORblogs launches

I just updated ORblogs.com, a site that lists Oregon weblogs. I even added a FAQ. You know a site is getting serious when you add a FAQ. The update adds some new features like sorting, mapping, and latest-posting.

June 4th, 2003

Panoramic Picture

I stitched together these pictures from a walk today. This park is about 5 minutes from where we live, and we just discovered it a couple days ago. On a less hazy day we should be able to see some peaks in the cascades really well from this hill. (Pay no attention to the UFO in the left-hand corner.)

Chip Ross View (click for a bigger version)
The view from Chip Ross Park

geography plaque

Setting aside the memorial aspect, plaques like this make me think of the plaque Carl Sagan designed for Pioneer 10 that's hurtling through space. I can imagine the designers of the plaque above said, "How do we explain the relative height of geographic features to aliens?"

This alternate suggestion for the Pioneer 10 plaque by Tufte always makes me laugh.

Flower picture

flower

June 2nd, 2003

Amazon Hacks (almost) in the can

As Rael mentioned, the book I've been working on—Amazon Hacks—has gone from orange to yellow. Now I'll make the transition from intense daily (and nightly) writing/editing, to less frequent editing as it goes through production. It'll be a big shift, and I can finally look up from Word (now hitting save more frequently) to other applications. Hopefully it means I'll get back into the swing of posting here more often.

Even with the long hours lately it's been a very fun project to work on. I've met a lot of people doing cool stuff with Amazon's API and Associates Program, learned a lot about programming Web Services with tools and languages I don't normally work with (Perl, Python, and Mozilla especially), and had a chance to convey my excitement about what Amazon is building. And to top it all off, it was great working with Rael, and I hope we can collaborate again in the future.

In related news, Amazon Hacks and Weblog Bookwatch were mentioned briefly in the Guardian the other day: The third era starts here.