Archive of Posts from April 2002

Krzysztof Kieslowski's series Trois Couleurs (Blue, White, and Red) are three of the best films of all time (especially Red—skp's favorite movie). For some inexplicable reason, the company that has distribution rights in the US has not released them on DVD. They're available in Europe, but they're PAL encoded so they won't play on US DVD players.

Two weeks ago, I spotted a brazilian version (Azul, Branca, e Vermelha) through a Google search and ordered them on the spot. They arrived today. The packaging and on-screen DVD controls are in Portuguese, but there are English subtitles for the film. The video quality and extras aren't spectacular, but it's still way better than VHS. If you haven't seem them, they're worth renting. If you've seen them, you've probably already clicked to order the Brazilian release. Películas surpreendentes!

Update: The English subtitles aren't always grammatically correct. Or correct in general.

Spent a spectacular day yesterday at Pt. Reyes walking from the Estero trailhead to Limantour Beach. I've been on the Estero trail a few times before, and part of the trail is on ranch land. So you often end up walking through a heard of cows. And they just stare at you with this evil look in their eyes. Like this:

moo, dammit
more >>

More inside. (And they're not all pictures of cows.)

I've been cracking up at some of the Google Smackdown results people are sending in. Here are a few that I can share on this family-accessable site. (The first is particularly heartening.)
  1. good (81,000,000)
  2. evil (7,410,000)
  1. U2 (1,940,000)
  2. Oasis (1,840,000)
  1. the egg came first (817)
  2. the chicken came first (588)
  1. linux (50,400,000)
  2. windows (46,800,000)
  1. Cat (15,800,000)
  2. Dog (12,400,000)
Thanks Flearun, John, Rik, Josiah, and Robert!

Google Smackdown

I stayed up past my bedtime playing with the new Google API. The result? Google Smackdown!

Two words or phrases go head-to-head to see which reigns supreme on the Web. Perhaps you're wondering who is more popular: Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? Which German Philosopher has web cred: Nietzsche or Hegel? Do people really say touch wood instead of knock on wood? There's only one way to find the answers: a G-Smack.

sparrow
Golden Crowned Sparrow

I made a change to the Weblog Bookwatch. If there are two editions of a book being mentioned (usually hardcover and paperback), it combines the totals and counts them as one. The edition information for these combined totals will say "Hardcover and Paperback". And the mentions are broken out by editions when listing the weblogs that mentioned that book. I think this will be a bit more accurate.

I picked up this World Lounge sampler from my local record store this weekend. Imagine Esquivel meets Ravi Shankar to produce an electronica soundtrack for an Indian spy film set in France. I like it.

Hiked to the top of Sonoma Mountain today. Here are a couple of pictures from the top:

lunch spot

green fields at the top

I'm going to be hurting tomorrow, but it was the perfect time to go.

I know the Spanish word for weblogs is bitácoras, but do any other lanuguages have their own word for weblog? And if so, what's the etymology?

I heard that bitácora roughly means captain's log. (¿diario de navegación?) I'm not much of a Spanish speaker, but looking at my Spanish-English dictionary, I'm wondering why they don't use the word corredera instead...which also seems to have a nautical connotation. I bet that's a silly question to a native Spanish speaker, but I can't find bitácora (in it's earlier sense) anywhere in my dictionary.

Update: I wish my Spanish was better. It sounds like this post on Tremendo discusses why they use that term over others, but I can't quite make it all out. The babelfish translation isn't so hot, but it helps. The origin of the word is from the latin habitaculum: a case that protects a compass. (The English equivalent is binnacle. When was the last time you heard that used in coversation?) I guess they also translated Star Trek's captain's log into bitácora...so maybe it became associated more with futuristic technology than seafaring technology. But it's interesting to think about weblogs as a tool for navigating the web—pointing the way; and the format itself as a container for those directions.

Dori is tracking down other Sonoma County webloggers. If you live in Sonoma County, keep a weblog, and are reading this post, drop her a line. I'm surprised there aren't more of us up here.

Marketer Discovers Blogs—Thinks Contact May Be Useful: "Many readers will appreciate a representative of the company listening to their comments." [via Meg] Before attempting such contact, a clue may be required.

purple flowers rising

Douglas Rushkoff: "In my reality tunnel, the Palestinians and Israelis are basically looking in the mirror. The religions are quite quite similar, and the false notions of state-hood imported from Europe have the people acting out insanely unfounded mythologies of national identity. These people don't have national identities, because nations aren't real." I agree. Now, how do we convince them?

Rael put together some Perl to provide a simple interface to the Amazon recommends system: Amazox. The example on his site is a box with Amazon's current bestsellers...and one for Apple related books best sellers. This code would make it easy to put the top books from any category on your site in your design.

I hope Powells, BookSense, Half.com (all already have affiliates programs), and every other Web bookstore is working on an API. Competition in this area could be good for innovation.

A couple of great links have been contributed in comments here:

About eBay's XML API (and its big time fees for use): eBay API Fees May Impact Sellers' Bottom Line (minimum: $6k setup/certification, then $6.50/1000 calls.) [thanks andrew!]

Another independent example (using Microsoft technology) for working with the new free, yet limited, Amazon XML API at PerfectXML: Amazon.com Associates XML Interface. [thanks allan!] This example also provides more technical detail about the API.

There are more good pieces of the-state-of-APIs puzzle in the comments.

"The street finds its own uses for technology."
- William Gibson, Neuromancer.

And while I'm executing a core dump of menu extensions, here's another one that's fun:

DayPop Links

After installing this, the menu entry "DayPop Links" appears when you right-click on a link. When you choose it, a new window pops-up with the search results for that link at DayPop. (Thanks DayPop!) If you read a lot of weblogs (like me) and you're curious about what others are saying about any given link, this will do it. You know the drill: Win/IE only, this installs it:

DayPop Links Setup
(right-click, Save Target As..., click to install.)

Google It

Here's another browser extension that I've found handy. This one places a context menu entry called "Google It" into the right-click menu for Internet Explorer. You can highlight any text on a page, right-click, choose "Google It", and it brings up a new window with the search results for the text you highlighted. Nothing fancy, but I use it all the time. This script will set it up:

Google It Setup
(right-click, Save Target As..., click to install.)

Once again, Internet Explorer on Windows machines only.

I just found out today that I'm going to be able to attend the Emerging Technology Conference that O'Reilly is putting on. I am stoked—and I don't use that word lightly. Many of the sessions are directly related to things I've been obsessing about; especially web services. I just looked at the schedule, and here are a few that strike me as can't miss: And for the weblog-related value: And those are just the sessions I picked out at first glance. As with any conference there is too much going on to see it all, and I'd like to see a public note exchange like we set up for sxsw.

Rambling About APIs

I've been thinking about turning my Amazon scraping scripts into an XML API to their book information (I call these SCRAPIs), but it could never be as reliable as Amazon offering their own API. Plus I'd have to keep up with their page design changes. It's fun to think about rogue APIs to web sites, though.

I wonder when/if eBay will open up an interface to developers. I bet there are thousands of home brewed scripts out there to scrape eBay for auction information. If they had an API, I could see specialized auction sites popping up with their own design...and eBay would always get a cut of the transactions. Perhaps some sites would like to offer auctions, but they don't have the resources to develop their own software, and they don't want to send people to eBay. Yet they have an audience that would be willing to participate. The value in offering an API is extending services to places they can't go today. And in the ideas generated outside of the company...those most interested in the service become the development team. It's sort of like widespread prototyping.

This can be scary for companies. Michael Schrage said, "Prototype-driven innovation ends up promoting a radical deconstruction of existing organizational charts..." In the sense that teams form around prototypes, rather than teams being put together specifically to build them. I think on the outside, through an API, this behavior works to the company's advantage. It attracts people to their technology, it brings people in with fresh ideas, and it discourages politics that have formed around ideas. If you think about an API as widespread prototyping, this interview with Michael Schrage about "shared spaces" has some great ideas; even though he's mostly talking about working within an organization.

Hey, it's Weblog BookWatch Top 10!

I thought it would be interesting to see which books are being mentioned most frequently on weblogs. Weblog BookWatch keeps track of weblogs that flow through the recently changed list at weblogs.com and searches for links to Amazon.com. Then it looks at the ISBN in the link's URL, and counts the link as a mention of that book. The most fequently mentioned books show up on the Top 10 list, with references to the weblogs that mentioned them. It's only looking for books right now (not CDs or other products), and only looking for links to Amazon.com.

Update: To answer Jason's question, yes I'm scraping Amazon to get the book information. They don't offer it through their API yet.

Thanks to weblogs.com for the great service (and for offering their list in XML). And to Amazon.com for the book info.

similarly, Google released their API—ya know, in case you hadn't heard. It feels like the Web is taking its next step. (Or maybe it's just the big sites catching up.)

Amazon is offering an XML Platform for developers so they can integrate Amazon's best-sellers into their websites. If you're an associate, log into the associate site for more info. This is an interesting step toward Amazon becoming a Web Service. They're ahead of the curve, and really understand how the Web works. I can't wait to see how they expand this.

An independent developer has already written a Perl module called Business::Associates that works with the new platform.

this rocks: DayPop is tracking Amazon Wish Lists. (I have one of those.) The next step is to be able to filter a list like that by my friends—or by groups of domain experts in various subjects. (imagine: this is what the top 50 web designers [as voted by their peers] are wanting to read. or doctors. or indy musicians. or anthropology students. etc.)

Are we getting the whole story from the Middle East? According to CNN, "In Ramallah, Israeli forces raided the offices of several news organizations and one U.S. aid organization Monday, using gunfire and explosives to enter the buildings, according to eyewitnesses." (CNN and Fox News among them.) And this AP story contains an Editor's Note at the end: "This story was submitted to the Israeli military censor, who ordered significant deletions." [via Democracy Now] I'd like to hear people at news organizations talk about how much they're able to report.

Add Link Titles

I wrote a script to solve another one of my pet design peeves. And I figured, why not share it? When a new window pops-up, especially for comments on weblogs, many times there is no status bar. Then, when you mouse-over a link, you can't tell where you're going to end up if you click that link. You either have to click it and take your chances, or right-click the link and view properties to find the URL.

This new way to view URLs will save a few clicks. I created a browser extension that will set the "title" attribute of every link on the page to the value of the "href" attribute of that link. So when you mouse-over a link, like this one, you'll get a little window (similar to alt text for images) with the full URL for that link. To activate this feature on any page, you'll just need to right-click anywhere and choose "Add Link Titles" from the menu. Here's a script that will install the menu extension:

Add Link Titles Setup
(right-click, Save Target As..., then double-click to install.)

Add Link Titles screenshot
What the new context menu entry looks like.

This is for Internet Explorer on Windows machines only.

I live outside of DSL range so I use a standard dial-up modem every day. Being bandwidth-impaired can be frustrating at times, but it could be better if more sites practiced some minor low-bandwidth courtesy.

My top design pet peeves are related to forms and have simple solutions:

a) It's fine to have a JavaScript focus() in the page's onLoad event, but if there are a bunch of graphics on the page, I've probably already filled out five fields by the time the page fully loads. Once all of the graphics finally load, the focus takes the cursor away from the field I'm working on and places the next five characters I've typed into the initial field...where they don't belong. Then I have to erase those characters, find the spot where I was on the form, and continue. And I'm not going to wait until all of the images load to start filling out the form–and neither is anyone else. If there are a bunch of images on the page, skip the "convenient" focus().

b) I don't mind images instead of standard form buttons, but for pete's sake, pre-load any graphic form elements with JavaScript so they're the first images that show up on the page. Once again, I don't want to wait for every other image to load before I can find the submit button. Most likely I'm done with the form by then and ready to move on.

It feels like I'm in the minority of Internet users with only a dial-up connection because just about everyone I know has DSL. But I'm actually in the majority. According to this article: Broadband Slowed by High Prices, "By the end of 2002, only about 15 million to 16 million U.S. households will be using a broadband connection — out of roughly 66 million homes with Internet access."

The weather was freaking incredible this weekend. For a few weeks every year, the weather hits damn near perfect in this part of the world. The hills are still green and wildflowers start blooming everywhere. Now is the time, and I spent most of the weekend outside taking advantage of it. The lawn is mowed, the garden is ready to go, and some plants have been planted. I went for two hikes this weekend, with today's the most spectacular: a four mile trail at Point Reyes with some great views. We saw deer, elk, snakes, rabbits, giant slugs, ducks, cranes, and only four other hikers on the trail. I took pictures.

click for some more...

it's later than you think it is.

lights

bridge

curled cat

curled cat

I recently switched from Twinings tea to PG Tips. Makes the morning stand up a little straighter.

Chocolate Milk

Oh God! It's great!
to have someone fix you
chocolate milk
and to appreciate their doing it!
Even as they stir it
in the kitchen
your mouth is going crazy
for the chocolate milk!
The wonderful chocolate milk!

- Ron Padgett, New & Selected Poems

I don't like chocolate milk. But I like this poem.

Just the promise of stock options used to be as good as a paycheck. But things are different now, as Primedia is finding out in two lawsuits. [via OCR] The End of Free on the Web should also refer to the end of free work.

Great tutorial at Digital Web Magazine on preparing digital photography for the web. I use slightly different methods to achieve some of the same results, but I still feel like Mr. Voss was looking over my shoulder when he wrote the article.

This site and my email were down all weekend. If you sent me a message, it was probably lost in the mists of Internetland.