Posts from December 2003

Snow in Corvallis

I can't believe it snowed in Corvallis while I'm away. I've been in Nebraska for a week and haven't seen a bit of snow. (But that made traveling to Kansas much safer.)

Western Kansas photos

I spent some time in Hoxie, Kansas over the holidays with family. Here are a few photos from the trip:

Western Kansas (click for more)
more »

The stars are insanely bright there. (Didn't get any pictures of those, though.)

Extended Trip

I'm still alive—and I'm still in Nebraska. Have you ever had your flight cancelled in the middle of the Christmas traveling season? Every flight at every airport is booked solid. Thanks for extending my trip several days, United! (that's sarcasm.)

Winter Solstice

shew, it's finally winter solstice—halfway to spring.

Corvallis: No to Home Depot

At least three big-box hardware stores—including Home Depot—have been courting Corvallis. Home Depot had a site in mind, but they needed some zoning changes to make it happen. Last night the city council decided not to change the potential research/technology site for Home Depot: Home Depot plan shot down. On one hand it would be convenient to have a giant megastore here (especially now that I own a home), but I have to weigh choice and availability with lifestyle. I chose to live in a small town, and at some point you hope the character of the town you want to live in takes priority over financial gain.

Update: Upon futher review it was the planning commission that said no, not the city council. So anything could happen.

ORblogs Changes

I made some changes over at ORblogs tonight. (If you're an Oregonian, you might want to get the full scoop on the changes in the discussion forum.) The change that I think will make the site much more useful is a small one—subtly highlighting post excerpts that are related to Oregon. Any post excerpt that talks about Oregon or has an Oregon place name will slightly stand out from the rest. I also added pages for cities in Oregon. The city pages are like the front page but limit weblogs, post excerpts, and photos to those associated with that city. Portland has the most associated weblogs with 46. My fair city only has three weblogs. There are 181 Oregon weblogs listed in all.

1976design banner graphic has a very cool title banner that displays the current time of day and weather conditions where the author is. Scroll down to "The panorama" on his colophon page to see how it's done. It was inspired by the (also) cool Lawrence, KS weather page that went around a while back. (And I'm guessing the Moon Phase pictures from the Naval Observatory—or something like them.) [via BlogPopuli]

Amazon reviews

Here's an article about a study linking Amazon customer reviews with sales: More Power to the People. I thought this was interesting: "...a longer five-star review has less of a positive sales impact than a shorter one. Chevalier and Mayzlin speculate that it takes more words to give a good, but mixed, review than a rave review." Also, negative reviews have a greater impact on sales than positive reviews in the other direction.

Amazon Sales Rank

I was asked another question recently about what Amazon Sales Rank means in sales, exactly. Unfortunately, I don't know the specifics. Amanda posted more from our exchange on the Foreword weblog. She's asking for any insight into the real meanings of Sales Rank.

Web Services

Yesterday I talked with Leslie Walker from the Washington Post about Amazon Web Services and Web Services in general, and she included some of our conversation in an article today: Early Days Of a Data-Sharing Revolution.

Amazon UK RSS

The contact form is already paying off. ;) Got a great question from Kolin about adapting the Amazon RSS Feed-Builder to make feeds for products. I thought I'd share the answer so other folks across the pond can build feeds for their Amazon.

Here's how the modification for UK works: create a keyword feed with the feed builder like normal. For example, you could type "Beatles" under CD Feeds. Then click on the resulting RSS feed. You should get an XML page in your browser that has a long Amazon URL like this:

US Beatles RSS Feed

(Take a look at the URL of the link above in your browser status bar, or copy to a text editor.) You need to make two changes.
  1. Add &locale=uk to the end of the URL.
  2. Change the domain to
Like this:

UK Beatles RSS Feed

Presto, RSS feed! Unfortunately, category IDs can differ across Amazon sites, so only Keyword/Author and Power Search feeds will adapt reliably. If you want to go through the hassle of finding the UK-specific category IDs, you can still use the feed-builder to get you most of the way there.

Here's a quick way to find UK category IDs. Go to the UK website, and click something under "Browse" on the lefthand side of the page. Then drill down to something like, "Art, Architecture & Photography". You get a URL like this:

(There's some junk after that last slash on the site, but this is the good stuff we care about.) After browse/-/ in the URL is the category ID for "Art, Architecture, & Photography" books: 91.

Now that you know the ID, create a category book feed with the Amazon RSS Feed-Builder, make the UK changes above, and change the category ID in the URL. The category ID is called "Browse Node" in Amazon lingo. And the piece of the URL you need to change is BrowseNodeSearch=x. (and in this case, x = 91.) There you have it, an Amazon RSS feed for Art, Architecture & Photography books at Amazon UK.

Of course, the easiest way to build UK feeds would be for someone to build a UK-specific Amazon RSS Feed-Builder—but then you wouldn't get the thrill that comes with Amazon Hacking on your own.

New Contact Form

In an attempt to remove all traces of my email addresses from this site, I put together a new contact form anyone can use to get in touch with me. I went a little over-the-top with security. Not only is the form SSL-encrypted, on the back-end the message is sent PGP-encrypted. (Well, GPG-encrypted to be specific.) It's not a perfectly secure system, but it's pretty good. heh.

Even though it's sort of a hassle, I wish more of my email was PGP-encrypted. I think one day a month should be "encryption day"—where people could try sending/receiving encrypted emails for fun without the social stigma. With just a little more familiarity with encryption, I think non-geeks could start using it. It's like sealing an envelope, and being as sure as possible that the person you're sending the message to is the only one who can read it. In the age of total information awareness and spam, it just makes sense to strengthen our email practices and safeguard our privacy.

The only problem I've found is that PGP-encrypted emails are impossible to search in your email client. (My client doesn't automatically decrypt messages, anyway.) So if I want to go back and find some info someone sent to me in an encrypted message a month ago, I'm out of luck. Anyone know of (or have ideas about) solutions to this problem?

Shasta Sunset and I-5 Picture

Shasta Sunset (click for larger version)
Shasta Sunset Assembled Panoramic (click for larger version)

Mt. Shasta and Truck Lights Picture

Mt. Shasta and Truck Lights
Mt. Shasta and Truck Lights

PSA: Fix Amazon Wish List Links

Public Service Announcement: If you link to your Amazon Wish List on your site, you may need to change that link. I've noticed that standard Wish List links are not working lately—but you won't know whether or not it's working if you have the Amazon cookie. For example, when I click on this link in my browser on my computer:
I see my Wish List. But if I click on that link in another browser (with no Amazon cookie, or a different cookie), I see a generic Wish List page. And more importantly, so will anyone else clicking the link. To link directly to your Wish List so others can see it, change wishlist in the URL to registry, like so:
Now the URL will point to my Wish List no matter what, and everyone can buy me stuff! Test out your own Wish List link yourself with various browsers (especially one without an Amazon cookie) to make sure you have a good link. (Note: The o in the URLs above is a shortcut for exec/obidos—just one of the many hints you'll find in Amazon Hacks. ;) )


Rael kicked off the new MobileWhack weblog today. "MobileWhack is a repository of hacks, hints, tips, tools, stories, news, ideas, and wishes for and around the mobile device you're actually using. The raisons d'etre are to be useful, to inspire, and to delight." Clever hacks are Rael's department, so this should make good reading for people who want to do fun things with their gadgets (rather than just hear about the latest gadgets). [via raelity bytes] I'll be watching the Sony Ericsson category.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is the most discouraging book I've read in a while (and I read some depressing books). I think there's a general consensus that watching TV isn't necessarily the best use of time. Watching TV is a personal choice—no one is forced to do it. So if it's not the best use of time there's an easy fix: turn it off. (That's why people have started campaigns like TV Turnoff Week which is sort of the modern equivalent of religious asceticism. You do your penance for seven days then go back to your real life watching TV. People even call it TV fasting.)

What Postman says in this book is far more depressing and there's no easy fix. He argues that television as a medium is bad for society. His thesis is that Orwell had it wrong—people won't be controlled by a totalitarian state that rewrites history and imprisons people with a manufactured culture. Instead, the medium of TV makes all culture trivial entertainment, closer to Huxley's dystopian Brave New World. He points out the futility of trying to point out this problem with the question, "To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles?" Postman sees TV like a virus. It trivializes everything it touches while its main purpose is to reinforce the act of watching TV. He sees Sesame Street not as a fun, educational show for kids. He describes it as television-indoctrination for kids. He sees the nightly news not as necessary information for informed citizens, but as entertainment that isolates citizens from their community. It's not that television producers are trying to trivialize, he argues, it's just inherent in the medium. And because TV is our culture's primary medium, it displaces other forms of communication that don't trivialize the subject of their message.

I guess what I found so disturbing is that there's no clear answer to the problem. He argues in the last chapter that media education is part of a solution. He says, " medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what the dangers are." And that's what this book is trying to do: help television users understand the dangers. Of course this statement also applies to a medium I care about much more than TV: weblogs.

Holiday Weekend Wrap-up

Catching up...
  • I spent four days offline and without touching a computer—it was good.
  • Today is World AIDS Day. Check out the Link and Think participants to see what the weblog world is saying about the day.
  • I watched the documentary on the Winged Migration DVD about how they filmed the birds. It was great to see, but I'm not sure "imprinting" birds so you can film them in flight is ethical. (Imprinting is raising birds to think a human is their parent/flight leader.)
  • I observed Buy Nothing Day on Friday, but went shopping on Saturday and Sunday.
  • It's not so much the Christmas songs that suck, it's the versions that stores play.
  • In any case, Santa Baby should not be (or have been) recorded or played by anyone, ever.
  • For Thanksgiving sk and I made chocolate carmel walnut things.
  • Putting together a puzzle is like giving yourself a temporary obsessive-compulsive disorder.
chocolate carmel walnut things