Tuesday, August 30, 2005

a quick review of Slide (after using it for 15-30 minutes)

So here's my quick review of slide, after using it for 15-30 minutes:

  • I'd love to have the sidebar thingy as a feature of flickr or have it as a plugin to the Google sidebar (feeding off of my flickr photostream).

  • I'd also be interested in the ability for the software to scan my local hard disk and just automatically find them and then, with the click of one button, upload them to a central site (I'd prefer flickr) for sharing or subscription by my friends (imagine this as a feature to picasa -- it does most of this, it's just the "upload to flickr" part that I'd want it to do).

All of my photo management stuff revolves around one software package: picasa. I'm starting to introduce a second service into the mix: flickr. I'm just not sure where slide fits into this.

One thing that Slide hasn't done, in my 30 minutes of installation and expirmentation: it hasn't found most of the photographs on my hard drive, which is weird. They are all in a pretty standard place (the My Pictures folder) yet it's only found other, more obscure photos.

One thing that I find to be a bit annoying is how when I mouseover a photo in the stream at the left, it automatically enlarges the image that I've hovered over and then it takes a moment for that image to go away. The enlarge thing happens too easily -- it's almost like I have to avoid that section of my screen now because if my mouse rolls over there, I suddenly have this big pop-up taking up my screen (and covering up the slider and preventing me from browsing other images). And, if I want to see an even larger version of that image, I double click on that image in the enlarged slide window and it takes me to a webpage (slide's webpage for some channels or a 3rd party website for some other channels). When I do this, I would expect for the enlarged slide image window to go away but it doesn't. So now I'm looking at the enlarged-enlarged image in a web page, I close that, I have to go back and close the enlarged and then I'm back to viewing the slide bar. Basically, this whole (important!) part of the app doesn't seem to be polished from a usability standpoint. The dynamics should be slightly different I think, at least for the way I want to use it.

Also the slide thing can be annoying and distracting. I used the Google Sidebar for a couple of days (before I decided it wasn't a useful enough allocation of desktop real estate) and I like the alternating single image in its photo plug-in a lot better.

So those are some scattered notes and first impressions.

Robert Scoble wonders if Google is trying to recruit one of their researchers

In this post Robert Scoble wonders if Google is trying to recruit one of Microsoft's researchers because there are Google Adwords on her name. Maybe, but what I think is more likely is that she's well published in her field and they are ads targeted at other researchers who are likely to be doing searches for her work. I noticed this a long time ago because there's a well known computer science researcher with my name at IBM and for a long time I've noticed that Google has adwords running on his name.

Hmmm, actually, now that I think about it, maybe their ads on "Rakesh Agrawal" are because of that great elevator algorithm I wrote in my operating system class in college that won me fame and adulation around the country! :)

Monday, August 29, 2005

two interesting articles on the IM industry and Google Talk

I read two interesting articles this morning about Google Talk and the IM industry. First, Nugget's livejournal post, picked up on slashdot. Thesis: Google's not implemented s2s in their implementation of Jabber which means that Google Talk users are still in a closed system. What Nugget didn't try to do is answer the question that this article lead me to: why isn't Google supporting s2s? There must be some reason for this over there. I read something on one of their Google Talk web pages, where they talked about federation, about how they had federated with sipphone and earthlink because they 'agreed with their philosophies about open chat systems' or something like that. It sounds like there are some hints at the reason in that statement, but it doesn't fully connect the dots for me.

And then there was this story that Nugget posted to about how Google Talk was shaking up the IM world and how this might accelerate some real competition and how that would be a welcome thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

ofoto / kodakgallery: poor international infrastructure?

This is interesting. One of my cousins in India has just started using Ofoto's UK site to upload photographs of their newborn daughter (lotta babies born in the past 2 months!). My first surprise was that I had to create a new account on the Ofoto.co.uk site. Hmm. I can type pretty fast and it's not above my threshold of pain to create a new account, I guess, so OK, fine, I create an Ofoto UK account, wondering all the while why I can't just use my Ofoto U.S. account. Now I can view the photographs, great.

So today, I decided I wanted to order a bunch of photographs from the Ofoto site and I wondered to myself, "Surely they have at least their back-end infrastructure setup so that the photographs will get shipped from their U.S. office rather than their UK office." I'm probably wrong, though I'm not sure. It looks like the photos are going to get printed in the UK and then mailed from there -- at least that's what I'm left to conclude after the magnitude of the shipping charge I'm paying.

What are the implications of this kind of weak international infrastructure (besides the fact that it's annoying to me as a user :))? It seems obvious to me that we live in an increasingly globally mobile society and that this is the type of user an Internet-based site should be supporting. It's specifically within the grasp of any company, with technology and the Internet, to solve problems like these. Not doing so is bad operations, architecture and design.

Another perspective on this issue is that societies and communities that cross national borders are able to develop much more quickly today than ever before because of the Internet. Folks from all over the world have access to reams of data from other countries of the world. I can surf the website of Japanese companies, buy electronics from Hong Kong (like lik-sang), exchange e-mails with bloggers in the UK, etc. Look at how engadget has launched sites in Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. So even leaving aside people/communities/societies that are moving around, there are tons of people that are interacting across borders and societies and communities coming out of it. At the same time, I'll temper these comments by saying that it is not like we live in a borderless world. There are still lots of things that stymie these cross-border societies and communities (language, probably a fair bit of culture, legal code, tarriffs). But the trend is definitely one that involves more global mobility and more cross-border communities and societies.

Two final observations:

1) technology companies should do what they can to cater to, where appropriate (like the ofoto / kodak gallery example above!), globalization trends because they are, I believe, up-and-to-the-right trends.

2) there will be exponential growth in technologies and services around globalization that will drive these trends and will be driven by these trends.

I'm a fan of optical illusions

I came across the Koffka ring and the Checkershadow optical illusions earlier this morning. Very cool! Here's the checkershadow in-lined:

(the square labelled 'A' and the square labelled 'B' are the same color!)

Seeing these two optical illusions reminded me of the rotating snakes optical illusions that I think were slashdotted a long time ago. He's got a few new ones up that are as interesting and along similar lines as the original.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

One short comment on Google Talk

So I just tried Google Talk on a quick chat with Chris Pirillo and I have one quick comment: the simplicity reminds me of UNIX's ntalk application. The good old days. :)

Something I'd love to see in Google Desktop

Something that I'd love to see in Google Desktop/Sidebar is a much better version of the Windows "My recent documents" feature. I'd like to be able to browse documents that I've opened in the past much like I can browse through my browser history. Maybe an application specific browser would be useful too (to effectively replace the MRU feature in Microsoft Word and Excel and promote it up a higher level in the OS). I remember reading that David Gelernter was developing some new paradigm for file management that could replace the traditional folder/sub-folder model. Maybe that's something that could be implemented in Google Desktop? I'm sure Google has a name internally for things that they can't do because they don't control the operating system (like they can't build searchability into the filesystem, for example -- they have to instead crawl the filesystem) -- "OS blocked"? Maybe Google would be "OS blocked" from creating something like this. It seems like a simple place though where they could do some innovation and make a visible impact on people's user experience with PCs (and control more of the user experience). It's a step away from their focus on search, but in many cases, I want to browse, not search. And the traditional folder/sub-folder model sucks when it comes to browsing because it requires stuff to be organized in the first place.

Related thought: It would be cool if my laptop had a GPS sensor built-in so I could not only browse by date/time, but also by geography, ie "I'd like to see all the webpages and documents that looked at or worked on while I was in San Jose last week." That kind of association is more natural and seamless than folder or date/time.

Google's not going to buy Skype

I have to get in on the commentary because I think the idea of Google buying Skype is ridiculous. This article was posted on slashdot earlier this morning and the idea of Google buying Skype have been floating around in the blogosphere for a little bit now. I really doubt this happening. I'm inclined to agree with Dave that Google's new IM package will be an eventual Skype killer (or force them to adopt an open standard rather than a proprietary one).

There's a deep cultural difference between Skype and Google Talk, a difference that happens to be Google Talk's only strong selling point right now: Google Talk is based on an open standard (Jabber). Skype is proprietary. Oil and water. Google's not buying Skype. (There is one other thing that Google Talk has: it's so freaking clean compared to it's advertisement laden competitors -- but I'm not sure how much that's going to do to get people to switch).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rob gives bad advice on digital SLRs

Rob Pegoraro's column in this weekends Washington Post was a general buyer's guide to digital cameras and I liked the the no-nonsense advice he gave out until I read this:

That, in turn, undercuts one of the primary advantages of digital cameras -- the ability to take one to as many places as possible. That's also why I don't recommend D-SLRs -- "digital single-lens reflex" models that, like their film equivalents, let you frame a shot through the same lens used by the image sensor. They take extremely sharp pictures and do so extremely quickly, but they also cost far more and are hardly smaller than film SLRs. Hold off on any D-SLR shopping until you find you're making photography a serious hobby.

I disagree here. The benefit of the extremely fast photo taking seriously outweighs the "downsides" of extra disk space. You don't need to have photography as a serious hobby to get big benefits from a digital SLR. Fast photo taking is one of those things that's hard to understand the benefit of until you actually have it. And I'm generally a photo geek and a technology geek so you might discount my opinion here, but my wife who is neither LOVES our Canon EOS digital, she absolutely swears by it. With a young baby (they never sit still!) or kids that play sports or perform in school plays or WHATEVER, the quick response time from a camera fundamentally changes the quality of the shots that you get -- not in terms of pixel quality, but in terms of capturing what you intended to capture and not an image 1-2 seconds later.

Yes, the bulkiness is a disadvantage but it's outweighed (no pun intended) by the shift in the results you get from digital SLRs.

Now if only the makers of smaller digital cameras (the stuff that Rob exclusively advocates) could put the storage buffers and whatever else gives digital SLRs a quicker response time on digital SLRs into the next generation of Digital Elphs, we'd have the best of both worlds.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Palestinian Study Tour -- photographs from 1997

Back in 1997, while I was still in college, I took a class on the history of the Palestinians and I was part of a subset of the class that went on a 2 week study tour to the Palestinian territories in Israel. Most of us stayed near Jerusalem and during our stay, we traveled to Ramallah, Bethlehem, the Gaza strip, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. Organized by student Allison Fine, the trip included private meetings between our group and key Palestinian leaders and intellectuals like Sari Nuseibeh and Haider Abdul Shafi.

I shot about 30 rolls of 36-exposure black and white film on the trip, probably the most significant photography project that I have ever undertaken. I got back to school and processed all of the film myself and put together quite an exhibit of phtoographs. I've always meant to put the photographs online because I'm really proud of the photographs I took on that trip but never got around to it until now. I hope to put up more of my photographs here along with captions and more information, but for now, I've uploaded a selection of photographs from the Palestinian Study Tour. All of the B&W's were taken by me. Color photographs were taken by Adam Reiser. Adam, where are you these days?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

TheHoneymoon.com not tested in Firefox!

In Chicago right now for a friend's wedding and I went to buy them a gift from TheHoneymoon and I was surprised to find out that the site didn't work properly in Firefox. All of the checkout pages had the action buttons "confirm order" and "place order" covered up by the footer of the page. TheHoneymoon.com, fix your website dudes!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

always explain the why

This is a simple rule, but I think it's a valuable one in several if not all spheres of life -- business and family for sure. I think it will make me a better parent.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Necktie overload

I realized tonight that I have way too many ties.

I've had this mostly broken tie rotator in my closet for the past year or so (it used to work before that). When I've wanted to find a tie to wear, I've had to manually rotate the belt to circulate the ties. I decided to take action and remove this broken piece of technology today. So I ripped it off the hanger rod in my closet and that's when I realized just how many ties I have.

How many? I'd say the count is easily above 50, maybe approaching 75. I'm not sure where these things came from, but somewhere along the way I picked up a bunch of ties. Yes, it is ridiculous. Want a tie?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

problem solved with... a corded telephone

Sometimes you have a problem that only gets solved with some very old, very non-flashy technology. We have a Panasonic multi-line, multi-handset telephone system in the main house with probably 5-6 handsets. We also have a room that's designated as the library and has the main computer (the same one that I recently bought a new dell widescreen LCD for). Problem was this: very often, when someone was working on that computer, they would want to make or answer a phone call (examples: look up restaurant review and phone number, call to make a reservation; look up store hours, call to confirm availability of some product; working at the desk and the phone rings). So as you might guess, cordless phones are useless in this scenario -- you've got to go hunt around for one and when you have as many people at home as we have, forget about it. No amount of training or exhortation will EVER get anyone to put anything where it belongs, much less the cordless telephones. That's why they are cordless!!! So that they can be taken into far corners of the house and hidden so no one else can find them or use them!!!

So I always thought it would be a good idea to get a two-line corded phone for that desk but never got around to it until last weekend. (As a side note, amazon and most other online stores don't make it at all easy to find corded telephones. Consumerreports.com hardly has any reviews of them. Likewise for other product review sites. So I was a gadget-purchaser-fish out of water. Not much to help me buy the right phone.) Last weekend I bought two single line, compact corded telephones with caller id from Target:

I'm getting high praise around the house as EVERYONE has been using these phones. Sometimes, the solution to a problem, even for the earliest of early adopters, is old technology.

Ticketmaster is terrible

I'm on the phone with Ticketmaster right now. What a terrible company. Ugh.

So here's the story, quickly: Shonali bought 4 tickets to an upcoming showing of the musical "Wicked" for a friend (b/c the tickets were being pre-sold to Amex gold card holders and Shonali has one and her friend doesn't). But after buying the tickets Shonali realized her friend had mixed up the dates and actually needed tickets for the following week. Shonali asked me to take care of it. I called Ticketmaster. I waited for a long time, frustrating in this day and age for any sort of customer service. I spoke to someone who said, "Your tickets have been mailed and you need them in-hand before I can help you." OK, fine, it's like a paper ticket. I get it, I'll wait.

So I got the tickets earlier this week and I called back today. Again, I have to wait a long time before I'm connected to someone. The gal on the phone is flippant, unsympathetic, and unhelpful. From her, after going around and around a few times (I could have sworn she was chewing bubble gum, filing her nails and rolling her eyes while I talked to her), I find out that there is no such thing as an exchange and that I need to mail the tickets back for a refund and buy completely new tickets if I want to.

Why didn't someone tell me that 6 days ago when I first called when I could have gotten better tickets for the following week?

I have to say that I've always disliked Ticketmaster, their service fees are outrageously high and they've never seemed worth it (in this case, their service fees accounted for about 15% of what I paid -- $10 per ticket!). They don't serve much of a function, at least not to me as a consumer. And to then see them do what very little they do (acting as a middleman for ticket sales) so poorly, well, it's really frustrating. I don't know anything about their business or their stranglehold over their customers, but I do know that there are countless companies today that could do what they do better than them -- how long before Ticketmaster gets toppled?

Google SMS: my latest show-and-tell

I pretty consistently have some technology product/service that I think is cool that I evangelize and show off to anyone and everyone that I meet. A couple of weeks ago, it was Google Earth. Five years ago (give or take) it was my home WiFi network, back in 1996 when I was living in Washington D.C. and working for American Management Systems it was my Palm III organizer (back in the US Robotics days, before 3com and everything else that has followed). For a while recently it was Lookout (and Google Desktop and X1, but mostly Lookout since it's what I use the most).

The thing I've been show-and-telling most recently is Google SMS. I use SMS a fair bit, the most when I'm out of the country or when Shonali is out of the country -- so I'm pretty good with text entry using T9 and I love everything about the user interface on my Nokia cell phone (including how it learns proper nouns in my 'vocabulary' that weren't built into its dictionary -- I should write about my love of my Nokia 6610 another time). So I've known about Google SMS for a while, but I only recently started using it. It's great. No more 411 and it does a whole lot more. I was in San Jose on Wednesday of this week and on my way to a meeting, I decided I needed some coffee -- I punched in the zipcode for where I was (I had it because I had just checked into my hotel and it was on the receipt) and 'starbucks' and I instantly got a list of all the nearby locations. I was parked at a Starbucks within about 2 minutes. Likewise, I've used it to get restaurant numbers, movie showtimes, and more. It just works. Now it certainly has it's limitations. There's no interactivity and the response time between input and output isn't that great (again, not Google's fault -- it's just about the way SMS works). This just means I have to know exactly what I'm looking for. Text entry can also be difficult for some people, so those people will continue to use 411's voice-based technology. Also, for someone whose not done any serious sms'ing, I'd imagine the menus might seem esoteric for a query response sequence.

I've also briefly tried Google's richer XHTML based portal for mobile devices (mobile.google.com, I think) and it improves on a lot. Again, like their SMS product, the results of this product are extremely well suited to the target device (which translates to "it just works!" in terms of user reaction). You can iterate more with your queries on this device, though the Cingular Edge Treo 650 that I tried it on was still laggier than I had hoped. I could search Google Local for a restaurant or a restaurant category and not only get a phone number and address, but I got a map (that I could zoom in and out of) and the ability to get driving directions. Similarly, I could look up movie times and more. I didn't have enough time to use it in real life, but I could tell that there was quite a bit of promise behind the concept.

Google SMS is great, if you can get the hang of using SMS, I predict it will be invaluable to you.

Just getting to 'e' for ebay

I have had about 200MB and 45,000 e-mail messages marked as SPAM sitting up on our company mail servers from the past couple of months. While most of them are actually SPAM, some could be actual messages that never made it through so I'm sitting down today to go through the painstaking process of filtering out the good messages and deleting the rest. Luckily, our SPAM filters are relatively good and I'm mostly deleting messages. I just hit 'e' and boy do a lot of spammers masquerade their SPAM messages as ebay emails!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

switched to cable modem

About 2 weeks ago, I switched from DSL to cable modem and my connection is much, much faster now. It mostly just makes a difference when I'm pulling down large files. I'm not sure why I couldn't get more out of my DSL connection... I think it might have had something to do with my distance from my nearest CO (central office). I know that I wasn't eligible for SBC-Yahoo's premium service for this reason.

iTunes everywhere

So I've been thinking about this ever since I bought a new wide screen Dell Ultrasharp LCD monitor and integrated speaker for the PC downstairs: wouldn't it be cool if the 100 or so CDs that I have ripped to my iMac upstairs were available everywhere in the house? The only thing preventing it was the fact that iTunes's built-in sharing feature would only permit sharing between computers on the same subnet. So I actually spent the time to reconfigure the two routers that provide network connectivity between the apartment upstairs and the house downstairs so now they're on the same subnet and voila... iTunes everywhere. It's pretty cool... The stereo for the speakers on the patio and by the pool are immediately below the apartment (which is where the iMac is) so nowadays when we are out by the pool, I just drag one of the laptops down there and wirelessly share music from the iMac upstairs to iTunes on the laptop downstairs. What we used to do was sync some music to the iPod Shuffle and then hook that up to the stereo downstairs.

Now I'm thinking about getting some appliances -- like the Roku Soundbridge -- that will eliminate the need for a laptop or a PC in between. I wonder if the iTunes SDK could enable a plug-in for Beyond Media for iTunes? I would LOVE that.