Archive of Posts from May 2006

don't call this an update

I've been light on posts lately, but I'm still alive. Last weekend my folks were in town and we went over to Bend for a few days. We happened to catch the annual Pole Pedal Paddle where contestants punish themselves with a few intense hours of skiing (both kinds), biking, kayaking, and running.

ppp kayaker

I found a great first person account of the event at someone's blog: Pole Pedal Paddle.

ppp canoe

What I liked about PPP is that it turned largely solitary activities like kayaking, skiing, and running into a communal event. You wouldn't always want to kayak with hundreds of other people, but once a year it builds community. As I watched I thought about communal events in the virtual world, but couldn't come up with too many. In the early blogging days there was A Day Without Weblogs (now Link & Think) every year. But maybe weblogs are communal enough already so an annual group activity isn't necessary.

The scenic highlight of the Bend trip was Tumalo Falls:

tumalo falls

Unfortunately, the Cascade Lakes highway is still covered with snow—which we found out the hard way. But the road to Tumalo Falls had just opened, and the falls is probably at its peak this time of year. There's a short path that lets you walk up to and look over the falls.

We saw plenty of these little guys at the Lava Lands Visitor Center:

little buddy

I also saw the Da Vinci Code while I was in Bend. The movie is being universally panned, but I actually enjoyed it. (Maybe because I haven't read the book.) I think I enjoyed it because the hero of the story is a history professor. At one point in the film they're rushing through a city being chased by bad guys and Tom Hanks actually says, "I need to get to a library, quick!" Not your typical action hero line. We need more movies where knowledge is a more useful tool to the hero than a gun.

Computer Outlook Interview

oh hey, I'm going to be on the radio in a few minutes talking about Yahoo! Hacks. Tune into Computer Outlook if you want to listen in.

PB Vows 'No More Headlinese'

Try a search for the word "vows" at any news aggregator: Google, Yahoo. Everyone is vowing to do stuff across all news categories from entertainment to politics to technology to sports. I like a good vow as much as anyone else, but I vow not to use the term in my own post titles. Except this post, which is alternately titled: PB Breaks Vow on Headlinese.

Update: Jason noticed a lot of urging going on as well. And you can't help but notice the eyeing everyone is apparently doing.

Update 2: PB Eyes Wiki Headlinese, Urges 'Vows' Addition.

Finding Lost URLs

A week or so ago, a page by Professor Solomon called The Twelve Principles made the link rounds. The prof lays out a 12-step plan for finding any lost object. Most of the principles are mental tricks to get you back to the place you lost a physical object: your keys, your glasses, your cellphone, etc.

Unfortunately, the principles don't translate well to digital objects like URLs. You didn't stick that URL for the Xbox hacking How-To in your junk drawer, and it's not likely to be stuck in the "Eureka Zone" under your keyboard. But I lose URLs all the time. I remember something I saw on the web a couple weeks ago and I can't figure out how to get there again.

I don't have anything close to a 12-principle system for finding lost URLs, but I thought it'd be fun to examine my haphazard ways of re-finding web things. These are probably obvious, but I thought collecting them together would help me start a system for finding those lost pages, blog posts, and other digital artifacts that I'd like to see again.

1. Google - As you already know, Google is great at finding things, and I can usually get back to old URLs by remembering keywords for the document. Even if I don't find exactly what I was after, I can sometimes find good substitute information on the same subject. Unfortunately, a query like "SQL Remove Duplicates" will bring up thousands of documents, and if I'm looking for a specific bit of code I found once for removing duplicate records in a database the search has to go to the next stage.

2. Browse Browser History - Ctrl-H in the browser will bring up your surfing history and it can be a lifesaver if I know I visited the URL within the last week or two. It's especially helpful if I can remember the approximate time I was visiting the page I want to find, and I sort the history by date. But because browser histories only show the domain and page title, it's not very useful if I simply remember the subject of the page. I don't think of pages in terms of the domains they're hosted on, I think in terms of the page's content. (Searching your browser cache with something like Google Desktop might be better because you can search the full text of your browsing history, but I haven't started using this regularly.)

3. Revisit Web Haunts - Chances are good that I probably found the link I'm looking for at one of the sites I read regularly. Since I follow hundreds of sites with the news reader Bloglines, this can be a big search. Unfortunately the "Search My Subscriptions" feature at Bloglines isn't working for me, so generally I'll try to narrow down which site would have had the URL and then go back in time for each site individually using the "Display items within the last x" feature. Then Ctrl-F can help me find specific keywords within past posts. Google can also come in handy here. If I know I spotted a link about SQL on O'Reilly Radar, I can use the site: keyword like this: site:radar.oreilly.com SQL.

4. Search People - del.icio.us just rolled out a feature called your network that lets you track other del.icio.us members. There's no search yet, but you can browse back in time to see what people you know bookmarked at del.icio.us. I think this'll be handy, and I have gone back into specific people's del.icio.us archives looking for a URL. Having them all in one place is good for browsing, and saves time if I can't remember exactly who posted the link I'm looking for.

del.icio.us leads into my primary strategy for finding lost URLs: make links more findable before they're lost. Here's how I do it.

1. Use Web-based Bookmarks - I use del.icio.us (my bookmarks), but there are a bunch of web bookmark systems out there. When I come across a URL I know I'm going to want to get back to at some point, I'll click the del.icio.us bookmarklet and tag it. Searching my del.icio.us bookmarks is easy, but like your browser history, you're only searching titles, tags, and notes, not the full text of the site you bookmarked. Yahoo's My Web, and Google's Personalized Search both do better on the searching front—which leads to...

2. Turn on Search History - Privacy implications aside, I've found Google's Personalized Search handy for finding lost URLs even though I have mixed feelings about it. Once enabled, Google will remember every query you make and every search result you clicked on. You can then search just those sites that you clicked on in the past. Of course, that means everything you've searched for and every site you've clicked on is stored in a digital archive somewhere. I go back and forth, but privacy usually trumps findability for me so I might remove this option from my toolbox soon.

I should echo Professor Solomon's 13th principle: sometimes you can't find what you're after and you have to give up. The Web is ephemeral and pages come and go all the time. Even though it's maddening not to be able to get back to a document I know I've seen, that's life. What strategies am I missing?

Add Camera Images to Flickr

When I'm browsing photos on Flickr, I use the More Properties link quite a bit. That's the link that takes you to the Exif data associated with a photo if it's available. Embedded Exif data is how Flickr knows what type of camera took a particular photo, what the shutter speed was, aperture setting, and a bunch of other technical details about the state of the camera at the time the photo was taken. The more properties link is to the right of a photo on Flickr, and looks like this when it's there:

More properties link

The first thing I look at on the More Properties page is the camera model. But unless I know a particular camera model number already, it doesn't tell me much. "Ahh yes, the EX-Z750," I tell myself. Of course I have no idea what that model number means. So if I really want to know what type of camera the photographer used, I have to copy the model number, go to Amazon or Google, paste it in, and sort through the results. I knew there had to be a better way.

So I wrote a (relatively) quick Greasemonkey script that does the work of looking up the camera model for me. It even inserts a picture of that particular model on the Flickr "More properties" page. Here's what it looks like in action.

More properties page before:

More properties before

More properties page after:

More properties with camera image

And you can click the camera image to view more info about the camera at Amazon. Bonus for me: if you buy the camera through that link, I'll get a little kickback through Amazon's Associates Program.

Here's how it works. The script grabs the camera model from the Flickr page, contacts the Amazon API looking for that model in the Camera & Photo category, then grabs the image of the first result. Then the script inserts the image and a link to the product page into the page at Flickr.

It's not perfect. Sometimes Amazon doesn't carry that particular camera but has accessories that include a description with the model number. So you'll see a flash or remote shutter release instead of a camera. And sometimes the first result from Amazon isn't the correct model number—especially with older cameras. I'll keep tinkering with it to see if I can get more accurate results from Amazon.

If there's no match at all on Amazon, the script makes the model number a link to Google search results for that phrase.

The script just gives me a quick look at the type of camera that took the photo. I've been surprised to see cameras that look like video cameras taking nice still photos. Anyway, it was fun to put together and I learned a bit more about JavaScript.

If you already have Firefox with Greasemonkey installed, you can install this script for youself here: Flickr Camera Images

Thanks to the author of Monkey Match for a solid Amazon E4X parsing example, and of course Dive Into Greasemonkey. For more fun hacking around with with these applications check out Flickr Hacks and Amazon Hacks. (disclaimer: as you probably know I worked on both of these books.)