Sunday, December 31, 2006

"Heart and Soul" - cool NPR story on origin of the piano duet


I remember kids at church and at family parties playing this piano duet. Turns out it's a simple but infectious love song from the 1930's.


The Bouncy Joy of 'Heart and Soul'
by Sara Fishko

Bea Wain was the first to record "Heart and Soul," which became a No. 1 hit in 1939.

All Things Considered, December 31, 2006 · It's holiday season, and that means it's party time. Parties make me think of a particular song that, like no other, insinuated itself into almost every social gathering at one time.

It doesn't take more than a couple of beats to tell what it is, and the impulse is to just join in.
And that's what traditionally happened when anyone started playing the jaunty bass part of the song "Heart and Soul."

Somebody was always around to run over and play the melody. You just had to. One person told me she lived next door to omeone and they both had pianos; so they'd play "Heart and Soul" -- through the wall. One playing the bass in one apartment, the one next door pounding out the melody in octaves. It was infectious...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I've reached Gmail's 2.7 gig quota

When Google launched Gmail on April Fool's Day in 2004, folks couldn't believe they were giving every user a quota of 1 gigabyte. They doubled the quota a year later, and thereafter the quota grows automatically every day.

Soon thereafter when a Google PR person gave me a then-coveted invitation, I made Gmail my primary e-mail service for all things work and otherwise. I've let mail accumulate, wondering when my archives would approach quota.

Click to see full-size image (and Google's bad math)

Well, it's happened. With large Powerpoints, images, and some sound and video files, I keep bumping against the limit. Of course I could've gotten there artificially by sending a single large video file, but I hit the limit just following Google's advice.



I wonder if this is just me, or if the natural size of the average attachment that folks send and receive is growing faster than the Gmail quota? Digital camera resolution, USB hard drive, and thumb drive capacity continue to increase at an astonishing pace.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Google turns a business school into a blog

Google offers a blog search feature. Today it picked up a news item from the home page of the Broad Business School at Michigan State University:

Click to see full-size screen shot


If you look at the home page for MSU's business school you will see a couple of columns of news, but it doesn't even feature an RSS feed. Wonder what fooled the Googlebot?

Google REALLY wants you to install their toolbar

I've got the Google Toolbar installed on most of the computers I use. While using a computer that doesn't have it installed, I was surprised to see this:
Google, which famously doesn't clutter its home page with extraneous links or ads, shoves a huge pitch for the toolbar right in your face. An in-your-face change to the interface, you might say.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Wi-Fi record: JFK Airport hot spot serves East Lansing

Recently while in an East Lansing establishment, the Peanut Barrel, I found an unexpected Wi-Fi access point:



Given that Wi-Fi signals normally reach only a few hundred feet, it seemed a little odd that an access point in New York City could serve East Lansing. I mean, I know my Thinkpad has a superior antenna embedded in its little screen, but c'mon!

Of course this was some nearby jokester setting the SSID to a fictional label. I think this is a great idea. Instead of naming your access point locally -- 123 Albert Street or 1234 Smith Tower -- name it after the Albert Hall or the Eiffel Tower.

Especially do this with your portable access point; really get those hotel guests guessing.

Three Days of the Condor DVD Offers Very Strange Title Menu


My wife asked Netflix to send her a movie called "Three Days of the Condor", a film that scared the bejeezus out of me when it came out in the 70s. I remembered it well, with Robert Redford in the lead, and Max von Sydow a chilling bad guy, and Faye Dunaway an, er, unlikely accomplice and lover.


So we put the DVD into the player, and up popped this graphical menu that seemed to be more about a Hispanic or American Indian movie. I assumed that Netflix had sent us some obscure B movie, totally unrelated to the Redford flick from the 70s.

I went to IMDB and tried to find this false match, and couldn't find it. So I clicked on PLAY and sure enough it really was the movie that Sydney Pollack made in the 70s.

So my question is: what the heck is this graphic? Was someone at the studio assigned to make a DVD menu about this movie, and they Googled "condor" and found a graphic without any regard to the Redford flick? Do all of the Condor DVDs have this goofy graphic?

Should we return this DVD to Netflix, or is this a one-of-a-kind collector's item?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Internet lyrics sources susceptible to misheard rock lyrics

Over the years many have laughed at how they misheard lyrics to pop songs. For some reason while thinking about Christmas gifts I was thinking of coal and its other form, diamonds. That reminded me of a Jimmy Buffet song I like about diamonds. The top Google link for lyrics let me to this site:

I had to laugh when I saw this as the refrain:

(Diamond. Diamond. Diamond. Diamond. Diamond)
Coal under pressure (Diamond)
Sparkle of treasure (Diamond)
Crystaline measure (Diamond)
On a mental pleasure (Diamond)
In the corner of your eye (Diamond)
Make a grown man cry (Diamond)
All the seeds you've sown (Diamond)


Um, er, sorry -- I'm pretty sure Jimmy wrote "ornamental pleasure" ...

Ahhh yes, the wisdom of the masses.... Wonder why Jimmy (who understands the Internet) doesn't put all his liner notes on the Web?

http://sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Diamond-as-Big-as-the-Ritz-lyrics-Jimmy-Buffett/D04F324B9F017D0C482569A1000FA274

Would Richard Wiggins like to rent a condo from Richard Wiggins?

In a time when spam has doubled in three months and phishing is out of control, you're a little suspicious when you get a commercial solicitation involving your own name. A couple weeks ago I started receiving e-mail from Rentalo.com asking if I'd like to rent my condo in Naples, Florida. It was addressed to Richard Wiggins. Since I don't own a condo there (or anywhere) this seemed odd to me. I marked it as spam.

Good Afternoon,We just received a booking inquiry from John Doe who is interested in staying at a Vacation Rental similar to yours in Naples for 2 adults to stay 20 nights (Ref. 2377758).

When a few days later I got another inquiry from them, I Googled my name and Naples, and found a hit that appeared to be someone named Richard Wiggins wanting to rent his condo there.

So I hit the reply button, explained that somehow Rentalo had looked up my e-mail address and started using it, and the other Richard Wiggins might want to fix that.

No reply. On Friday, I got another rental inquiry. This time I called the phone number listed for Richard Wiggins and we had a nice chat. Turns out he lives in Massachusetts and he and his wife do own a condo in Naples. He said that he'd thought my e-mail was a joke from a realtor. I told him my wife thought that their place looked kind of nice, and maybe we might want to rent it someday. Richard said he'd have his brokers update their address records for him.

Then I received this note from Richard Wiggins:

Richard

I appreciate the call and I will take care of this with rentalo. As my wife said "Tell him you are the real Richard Wiggins" Any way thanks again and if you and your wife have any interest just drop me a line and we can work something out.

Best

The real Richard Wiggins
It will be kind of strange making a check out to Richard Wiggins if we ever end up renting this place. But before then, Richard, have your wife Google our name... :-)

Probably the most prominent Richard Wiggins I'm aware of invented digital speech synthesis products for Texas Instruments. Remember the Speak and Spell toy from 1978?


Sunday, December 03, 2006

AOL screws up their link to sign up for free account

Click to see full-size screen shot

America Online famously makes it hard to convince a customer support rep to cancel your account. Just now I ran across an AOL ad for their new free service, and tried to convert the $5 a month account I've had for years. The link to convert to the free service is broken:



A conspiracy theorist would assume this is deliberate. Anyone who's ever worked with AOL would recall that old saying "never ascribe to conspiracy what can be explained by incompetence."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

60 Minutes advertises Yahoo search as finding aid


For a while now, Pontiac has told people in its TV ads that people should go to Google to search for information on their vehicles. Huh? Not to Pontiac.com? Or GM.com? Tonight, I noticed CBS' "60 Minutes' doing the same sort of thing.

The ad said that you could go to Yahoo and search for "60 Minutes" to find out more about tonight's stories.

That's right: they didn't say go to 60minutes.com, or cbs.com, or cbsnews.com.

They sent you to Yahoo to find CBS' own content.

It's not news that CBS and all other old media are constantly seeking content partnerships. There may be a new battle brewing for building search partnerships.

AOL pioneered this with AOL Keywords. Google has sold its Adwords to the highest bidder, with great success. Without using the term, I think we're seeing Yahoo Keywords, Google Keywords, and MSN Keywords -- registered keywords that are uniquely owned by the advertiser or content partner.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The abysmal architecture of michigan.gov and election results

Ever since then-Governor Engler outsourced michigan.gov to an IBM datacenter running Vignette in Colorado, I've thought that our great state's Web presence was pressed into a misshapen cookie cutter.

Last Tuesday I tried to find out when the polls closed in Michigan. Fox News offered a vote tracking tool that claimed that the latest poll closing in Michigan was 9 pm. As a long time Michigan citizen, I was sure it was 8 pm.

So I went to michigan.gov to learn the scoop. There I found oodles of links including a nice way to look up myself (or anyone else for that matter) to see where I was registered to vote.

What I couldn't find was a simple answer to a very basic question: when do the polls close?

I challenged some friends on Ed Vielmetti's "Vacuum" list to tell me where the Michigan Secretary of State site reveals when the polls close. One old Michigan friend, Jeff Stuit, cheated a bit based on past experience and revealed that the answer was to be found in a PDF guide for poll workers. Ed, who thinks about such things a lot -- e.g. how late is the library open -- remarked that the most basic thing a storefront must tell its customers is its working hours.

This demonstrates yet again the hubris of the Webmaster. She or he publishes what the boss wants to say, and doesn't think about what customers need. She or he doesn't ask a sample of customers what they seek; let's just assume what we need to publish. Surely out of the millions of people seeking to vote last Tuesday, many thousands had a simple question to ask of state government: How late can I vote? Not many would-be voters would think to click on a link for poll workers -- especially not an Acrobat file.

Lou Rosenfeld and I are writing a book on search log analysis. Our mantra is that every Web site should include a search function, and every competent Webmaster (or searchmeister) should analyze search logs to determine what customers seek the most.

Having found it ridiculously hard to even find the phone book for state workers, my guess is that no one at the Secretary of State in particular, nor the Michigan state government in general, is doing search log analysis.

By the way, I concluded that the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- we call it the UP -- is in the Central time zone, and that their polls follow state law and close at 8:00 pm -- thus 9 pm Eastern. And Fox News, for once, was right.

Also by the way: Saturday, days after the cataclysmic 2006 election, michigan.gov offers a helpful link to election results. The only problem? It's the results from the 2004 election.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Eminent domain, the 2006 election, and me in a statewide commercial

On the hottest day of 2006, a July day with the heat index well above 100, I participated in a film shoot. This was a political commercial produced by a good friend, one of the leading makers of commercials in Michigan, Doug Monson. For over a year I'd asked Doug to let me tag along on a video shoot. I've dabbled in video production for years and wanted to see a pro do it.



Doug upped the ante: he cast me, and other friends, in the commercial. The pitch was in favor of Michigan Prop 4, which amends the Michigan constitution to place severe limits on the ability of government to take property from one private party (e.g. a homeowner) and transfer it to another private party (e.g. a strip mall developer) in the name of "economic development." I play the reluctant bad guy, who has to tell the aging homeowners that the state is taking their homestead away from them to build a strip mall.

It was an amazing eye-opener for me to see how much work goes into a quality 30 second spot. Doug worked with Such Video, a Lansing area video production company. They had 10 or 12 production workers on site. It was the making of a small movie -- very specialized, the sound guy, the lighting guy, the cinematographer, the production coordinator --and Doug directing.

We did take after take after take, all in 100 degree heat. No one needed a pee break despite consuming hundreds of bottles of water.

Doug shoots on film, even though the editing is digital. He insists the quality of film remains superior, even though he has to have it developed in the one lab in Michigan that still processes film.

You can download and view the finished commercial.

You can also see still photos depicting the making of a 30 second campaign ad.

How will I vote on Prop 4? Frankly, I'm not sure. Most newspaper editorials in Michigan say we don't need to amend the state constitution, as the most recent state Supreme Court decision makes it hard for government to abuse eminent domain. I guess I lead towards voting for the proposal, knowing how governments across the country have abused the notion of "blight" to take perfectly fine, albeit older, homes and neighborhoods to serve the tax base.

In particular, I believe that the city of East Lansing has never admitted that John Hannah brought over 40,000 students to town. The city and its homeowner tax base (and voter base) remain in a 40 year state of denial. Starting circa 1967, East Lansing should have encouraged smallish, mixed-use student apartment/retail complexes around town, instead of creating the ghetto of delapidated 40s homes and new duplexes, with a nod and a wink to illegal rentals.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Northwest Airlines Boarding Pass Generator

Now comes one Christopher Soghoian who wants to raise awareness of a major flaw in airport security: TSA visually inspects your boarding pass, but does not use a scanner to verify online that the document is valid.

So Chris now offers the Northwest Airlines Boarding Pass Generator, which creates a valid-looking boarding pass that you can print at home. For instance, here's a first class seat I've generated for Ronald McDonald:




Observations:
  1. Long before 9/11, I wondered about allowing people to print boarding passes at home or office. Since Christopher has demonstrated how easy it is to spoof a boarding pass, expect to see TSA adding scanners at the security checkpoint.
  2. After the recent liquid explosives scare, the TSA has relaxed rules a bit to allow you to purchase a bottled water inside the secure area. Now that this raises the question of whether the secure area is secure, Christopher's demonstration may cause a lot of dehydrated passengers.
  3. The ads Google is serving up on Christopher's site are for X-ray scanners.
  4. It's good that Soghoian is an uncommon name; fortunately, few people will be inconvenienced when TSA adds Christopher to their watch list.



Understanding related searches: a colorful approach

Recently when trying to better understand patterns of searches at Michigan State University I color-coded related search terms and analyzed 13 months of data. Not too surprisingly more people seek football tickets in the fall, bookstores at the beginning of the school year, and information on academic probation after grades are posted.



This is a pretty basic approach, one that wouldn't work well for folks with color blindness. I'd love to have a tool that learns related terms and clusters them for you.

Lou Rosenfeld and I are working on a book explaining the value of search analytics; you can find more information about seasonal clustering and a link to my color-coded spreadsheet.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

One of those crisp Fall days

Friday was one of those crisp Fall days that football announcers proclaim "And it's a beautiful day for football!" Sadly the prospects for a happy football feeling in East Lansing on Satuday are not propitious, so here's some Fall color to cheer folks up a bit:



More photos of the Red Cedar stroll are at: http://www.imagestation.com/album/pictures.html?id=2101059166\

There are some photos of the Spartan Marching Band practicing as well.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My first experience trying to correct a Wikipedia falsehood

For my Day Job at Michigan State we've been working on celebration of 50 years of computing at the university. MSU engineers started building the university's first computer, MISTIC, in 1956 -- fifty years ago.

Click to see full-size screen shot

MISTIC was based on a design by the legendary John Von Neumann at Princeton, a design offered to the world and replicated 15 times. Wikipedia reports that MSU also built a computer called MSUDC. There is no evidence that MSU built such a critter. It's likely that someone somewhere ran across an alternate name, never adopted, for Michigan State University Digital Computer. (MISTIC was Michigan State Integral Computer.)

Wanting to contact the author of this false information, I found links to a sort of Wikipedia screen name, and no evidence for a human's real name. So for my first venture into this world, I signed up to edit a Wikipedia article. The article claims:


MSUDC
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Computer Center once housed the early computers
MISTIC and MSUDC.

The MSUDC or Michigan State University Discrete Computer, was a first-generation computer built by Michigan State University

based on the IAS architecture developed by John von Neumann. As with almost all computers of its era, it was a one of a kind machine that could not exchange programs with other computers (even other IAS machines)




This stuff simply isn't true.

There never was a thing called the "Discrete Computer" at MSU. Some people may have called MISTIC some such thing, but MSU built one IAS computer in the late 50s, not two.

It is also most manifestly false that programs could not be exchanged among the IAS computers. Trust me, in June I interviewed the man who led the development of MISTIC, Dr. Lawrence W. Von Tersch, and he emphasized how important it was that the University of Illinois had shared mathematical and statistical software that they'd developed, which helped jump-start scientific computing at Michigan State.

And one of the IAS computers was built in Australia -- Sydney's SILLIAC, like MSU's MISTIC, a close clone of ILLIAC. They developed a diagnostic program that played out "Waltzing Matilda" -- these machines had speakers to chirp out the sounds for diagnostic purposes -- and that program was used every day at 8:00 a.m. circa 1959 to test MISTIC.

Even the statement that these computers were based on the IAS architecture is false. They were based on the IAS design. Von Neumann is famous for the stored program concept -- that a computer would have program code and data in a single shared memory. But the design that IAS offerred the world was a very specific design for a computer. You know, schematics. Each implementation had its quirks, but from what I've gleaned, ILLIAC, MISTIC, and SILLIAC were all quite close to one another in actual function.

So we have some random author of an article in an encyclopedia asserting the existence of a computer that never existed, and asserting that the 15 or so Princeton IAS Von Neumann computers couldn't run each others' programs. Both claims totally false.



In other words, virtually the entire substance of this Wikipedia entry is simply wrong.

This is my concern about Wikipedia: not that they will get "why is the sky blue?" stuff wrong, because a million people will correct that. Instead, they will get small, but important pieces of history wrong, because some well-meaning writer with poor research skills will get an important niche story wrong.

Why can't I find the real name and contact info (real phone number, primary e-mail address) for the person who wrote this article?

Here is my call to the author of the article filled with false information:

It is distressing that Wikipedia gives the imprimatur of authenticity to an
encyclopedia article written by an anonymous person who does not have the facts
straight.
I request that the author of this page contact me at
wikipedia@richardwiggins.com


For stories like this, Wikipedia puts the kid struggling to write a paper for school on the same level as a tyro who wrote a piece about an obscure piece of history. For some people I suppose that's very cool. To me it's scary.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Memo from New York Times: What matters most happens on the coasts

David Pogue, who writes about computers for The New York Times, declares in his most recent column:

"White-collar types on both coasts have become addicted to the BlackBerry, thanks to its ability to display e-mail instantly as it arrives and to synchronize with your computer back at the office over the air."

Oh, so mo one uses Blackberries in the middle of the damn country? Does Blackberry offer no service other than on "both coasts"?

For decades the New York and LA media elites have been jealous of each other. The de facto detente they reached is to refer to, and to cover, "the coasts". This most arrogant formulation omits the middle of the entire country -- including the North Coast, the Great Lakes, home to thousands of miles of coastland and the greatest collection of fresh water on Earth.

Does Mr. Pogue assume that the Blackberry does not function in Chicago, home of Boeing executives? Does he postulate that the Blackberry does not operate in Memphis, home of Fed Ex? Does he forget that big oil executives work in Texas headquarters? Does Pogue suppose that a white collar employee of 3M, based in Minneapolis, is deprived of the opportunity to be among the Blackberry cognoscenti? Does he think that Warren Buffet, a billionaire who made his fortune out of simple propositions, could not have a Blackberry in Tulsa if he thought he needed one? (No doubt Buffet would rather drink a Coke or read the print edition of the Wall Street Journal instead of poking and peeking at a Blackberry.)

Adding irony upon irony: Research in Motion, or RIM, which invented and markets the Blackberry, is a Canadian company, based in Toronto. Not on the coasts Pogue refers to, but near the Great Lakes.

Please, drop your coastal arrogance.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Overloaded Google News links to tasteless Steve Irwin story parody

Prominently listed among the 3,462 articles about Steve Irwin, Google News offered this headline:

Stingray Apologizes for Crocodile Hunter Irwin's Death

Click to see full-size screen shot

Of course, it links to a parody news site:



No doubt there are a lot less tasteful Steve Irwin jokes in the pipeline. I just don't understand why Google News includes parody sites in a news service. At the very least, Google should be transparent about which sites it includes and why. What are the criteria for inclusion?

http://www.laist.com/archives/2006/09/06/stingray_apologizes_for_crocodile_hunter_irwins_death.php

Monday, September 04, 2006

80 gig for 80 bucks - and tiny

Once upon a time it was amazing that disk storage cost a dollar a megabyte. Today I bought a disk drive that was the size of a PDA. It cost $90 for 80 gigabytes. That's 80,000 megabytes if you're paying attention.

It's a LaCie drive, USB powered, no need to carry an external power brick.



Dr. Lew Greenberg, retired director at my day job, recently told me that Moore's Law doesn't apply to disk; improvements in disk storage outpace improvements in semiconductors.

You can store an awful lot of stuff on an 80 gig drive that fits in your pocket. Expect much more corporate espionage and identity theft.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Florida universities know how to execute an emergency plan

Every institution, including every university, should have a business continuity plan. Universities in South Florida are executing those plans right now, as Ernesto, either storm or hurricane, approaches.

Others can watch these universities execute these plans, as seen on the Web:



Sunday, August 27, 2006

Columbia, please redirect without spanking me

Normally I try not to complain about rank stupidity at a univerisity. When you work at a university, you know what crazy ideas committees come up with.

But when you find a truly goofy idea, it is hard to stay silent. Columbia University spanks you if you don't put www in front of their domain name. Go to Columbia.edu and they tell you that you are a bad boy for not putting www at the beginning of their URL.

Honestly, I should be kinder to Columbia, because their searchmeister implemented a Best Bets service inspired by MSU Keywords.

Best Bets

I attended “The Accidental Thesaurus: Enhancing Search Precision through Manual-Selected Best Bets” presented by Richard Wiggins at the IA Summit. Inspired as I was, I didn’t get around to implementing the same thing for Columbia until recently. Crunching a year’s worth of query logs from our Ultraseek server revealed much the same distribution curve that he found at Michigan State University.

(See Beyond the Spider: The Accidental Thesaurus(PDF))
My results:



From the IAwiki:
Best Bets
Pareto Principle
Zipf Distribution as one of various Statistical Laws

But please: C'mon, people, just redirect. In 2006, the world equates CNN.com and www.CNN.com.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Lately I've been thinking a lot about what it must have been circa 1956 when professors and others yearned for a computer where they could perform scientific calculations.

You know, moving from pencil and paper, and slide rule, to a computer. These were not minor changes.

So I laughed when I stumbled on this photo from Internet Librarian last year:




The early days of computing were all about scientific calculations. This photo accidentally shows how much we take for granted.

Monday, August 21, 2006

AOL forces its CTO out, and fires two unnamed employees

The chief technology officer for America Online, Maureen Govern, resigned in light of AOL's release of search logs showing activity for 650,000 plus customers over a recent 90 day period.

AOL's press release says that two other AOL employees were fired. My guess is that the two fired employees were Abdur Chowdhury (cabdur@aol.com) and Greg Pass (gregpass1@aol.com) of the AOL "Search and Navigation Group." They merely sought to publish an academic paper and contribute to the search log analysis community. I've e-mailed them; one mail bounced from the (former?) AOL account. My guess us they have better things to do than to answer press inquiries.

But they gave away too much data. Pass and Chowdhury should have understood that posting detailed logs of search sessions would reveal private information. Here's my coverage of this story for Information Today:

http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb060814-1.shtml

But now The New York Times and others have weighed in. AOL is hurting, and this news came at a very bad time.

It would be very bad indeed if this case leads to legislation that outlaws search log analysis, which, used properly, simply helps people find things.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Searching the AOL search logs - the implications

Greg Pass and Abdur Chowdhury of AOL and Cayley Torgeson of Raybeam must have been proud. In June they presented a paper, "A Picture of Search" at an international conference in Hong Kong. Then they posted at research.aol.com the data used in their research: detailed log files covering 36,389,567 searches performed by AOL members between March 1 and May 31, 2006.

The researchers goofed. Although the log files didn't have AOL screen names, they did have a unique identifying number for each user. It only takes a few iterations to learn a lot about an
individual -- in some cases, including their identity. AOL yanked the dataset but it was already mirrored worldwide.

An enterpsising Daniel Zhao of Mount Pleasant,
Michigan, who tells me he is an 18 year old about to enter his sophomore year at Penn, quickly registered aolsearchdatabase.com on August 7, and soon thereafter he produced on the Web searchable database of the AOL search logs.

S
o here's what you do: search for something unsavory. For instance:


Click for full-size screen shot

We find, for instance, 43,206 people searched for "child porn." Now, do a new search, filtering only by a user number. You'll see all the searches that person did over a three month period. If you see enough disturbing searches, you'll conclude the searcher is more than just unsavory.

Here's what's going to happen: law enforcement officers at every level are mining this data right now for unsavory searches. When they find a pattern of worrisome searches -- user
2150654 seems very interested in how to make meth -- they'll search for clues to the identities of these searchers. (User 2150654 wants to buy a truck in Oklahoma.) If they can't find a person's identities in the search logs, they'll pursue a subpoena to make AOL cough up the screen name, using the disturbing search terms as probable cause.

In many cases, this will lead to arrests, maybe even successful prosecutions.

And then, watch law enforcement at all levels, from the Justice Department to your local sheriff, demand the ability to fish through search logs indiscriminately.

See http://www.aolsearchdatabase.com

A hard hat and heartfelt compassion - in 100 degree heat



Will have to explain this one later...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Official election results from Connecticut: the Secretary of State office is incompetent

Many of us have more than a passing interest in the U.S. Senate primary race in Connecticut. Many of us feel that Senator Lieberman, an honorable public servant, tossed his credentials as a Democrat when he filed to run as an independent if he lost in the primary.

So many of us are watching the Connecticut race carefully.

And the official elections Web site is melting down, a sad gelatinous goo of Crystal Reports gone bad. Most embarrassing of all, it appears that the Connecticut Secretary of State failed to acquire a license for the reporting software:

Click to see full-size screen shot

Please, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Who owns - or will own - this license plate?

Back in 1994 when I was working on my book, The Internet for Everyone: A Guide for Users and Providers, my wife bought me a vanity license plate, INTRNET.

A few years later, I proposed to Andy King, co-founder of Webreference.com, that we create The Internet License Plate Gallery. Andy came up with clever graphics including a Fifties Cadillac and stripes going past you on the highway, and we launched the site. Andy's since left Webreference, and sadly, it appears the site is languishing with no updates (though still providing ad revenue for Internet.com).

Now Michigan is all aflutter over Google opening a new presence in the state for its Adsense product. That got me to wondering: Who owns (or will own) this license plate?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fascinating article on how users interact with Web sites

Andy King gave me a heads-up about a fascinating article posted on his Web Site Optimization site. I especially love this "heatmap" showing where users' eyes tend to travel when looking at the Google hit list. Graphical and empirical proof that the top of the hit list is an extremely precious place to be.



See:

Clickstream Study Reveals Dynamic Web

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Daddy! Daddy! They've got WeeFee!!!

We were heading into a restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan, the best breakfast joint in town, the Omelette Shoppe. A couple of families with young children was headed in right behind us.

One young lad, age 6 or so, was already excited but his eyes really lit up when he saw a banner above the entrance.

"Daddy! Daddy! They've got WeeFee!!!" he proclaimed.

And sure enough they did. I just didn't know the correct pronunciation.

American Express renames me: &$$htmBegin&$$

A payment notice from American Express appears to be addressed to me as &$$htmBegin&$$:





Click to see full-size image

Looking more closely, I see that it's some sort of a flag for a wrapper, a field for a content management wrapper that didn't get expanded properly at publication time.

We've all seen this sort of thing before, where a distributed database or mass mailing system makes a goofy substitution or fails to substitute the customer name for the generic field name. There's a funny folk song about material addressed to "Your State Name Here."

Over the years I've heard some hilarious examples:

  • My friend Mark Grebner, whose firm is the leading political mailing list service in Michigan, puzzled over why so many people have a surname of Usafret. What the heck ethnicity is that? He figured out that it's USAF (Ret.) -- a retired member of the Air Force.

  • My wife's friend Deb Biggs once got mail addressed to Ded Buggs.

  • And the all time winner of the trifecta, Mark Allen Knopper, at the time a network engineer for the Merit network, received mail addressed to Mirv Alien Knipper. Yup, all three of his names transformed. For years thereafter people called him Mirv.

I'd love to legally change my name to &$$htmBegin&$$ but like Spock I'm afraid you wouldn't know how to pronounce it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our book on search analytics - competing with itself thanks to O'Reilly

Lou Rosenfeld and I are writing a book on search analytics -- how to exploit the gold mine of information that exists in the logs your local search engine compiles. Lou, co-author with Peter Morville of the best-selling O'Reilly title, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, has launched his new publishing house, Rosenfeld Media, and this will be one of the first of its books in the area of improving the user experience.

We're really excited about the book. We're learning great things by interviewing some very smart people who work for leading search technology companies, or leading companies exploiting search analytics. Thanks to Lou's reputation and his extensive network of friends in the information architecture field, we're able to connect with wise folks who can teach us a lot.

Please check out the Web site for the book where we're discussing our learning process as we go:

http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/searchanalytics

Now that's all great news... Here's a frustrating footnote. Last year Lou and I submitted a proposal to the noted computer publisher O'Reilly. We were still in discussions with them when they mailed me a contract! It took a little longer for Lou to receive his copy, but we hadn't agreed to write the book for them, and by then Lou had decided to proceed with his own imprint. We confirmed to O'Reilly that we wouldn't sign the contract and would publish elsewhere.

Imagine my surprise one day in April 2006 when, while merrily Googling away doing research for the book, I discovered you could already buy it! O'Reilly had assigned the book an ISBN -- 0596101910 -- and submitted it to the Amazons of the world as a soon-to-be-published book!

Click for full size image

Poking around a bit I found that Amazon.uk, Powell's, and several other outlets listed the book. Some sites even accepter pre-orders! At first this was mildly amusing.

On May 1, Lou politely asked a contact at O'Reilly (aka ORA) to excise the book from the publishing world's pipeline. We eventually received word that they would.

Now it's July 16, and the book now appears on more publishing outlets than it did on May 1. You can buy "our book" in Canada, the UK, Germany, and Japan. Powell's, the legendary bookseller in Portland, Oregon, has it.

This is more than a little bit frustrating, and no longer a bit amusing. As our real book moves closer to publication, the phantom title could cause serious confusion in the marketplace. ORA tells us that once they ship an ISBN out on a book industry network called Onix, it's hard to retract it from booksellers.

Regardless of whatever technical hurdles ORA faces in undoing this mess, it seems to me they are obliged to un-do what they've done -- promptly.

Click below to see the Japanese, UK, and German -- and US -- versions of the problem.







Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Yipes, Yahoo is down

Folks on a message board that I frequent report that Yahoo is down. While Pings and Traceroutes eventually get answered, over the Web, Yahoo is either non-responsive or it emits very strange results.

For instance:

var _phppl="";function plinks(){ this.openPlink

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Charging an arm and a leg

I am 6'4" and don't fit well in commercial airplanes. For years I've sought the exit row when flying in Coach so as to get some desperately-needed legroom. Yesterday I was telling my friend that for the first time I paid the new Northwest Airlines premium to sit in an exit row. She wanted to know how much it costs.

I said "$15 a leg."

A puzzled look crossed her face. "They charge by the leg?!"

It took me a second to disentangle our crossed communications. I explained it's $15 per leg of the journey, not per leg of the passenger.

Saper reflects on Picasso and Cubism

Saper Galleries in East Lansing is running an exhibit of works by Picasso. Roy Saper, the owner, explained to a few visitors a bit about Picasso's art, the influence of women on his life, and the market for his works. As Roy described Cubism he gave the example of one etching that depicted both the profile and the straight-ahead view of a woman's face.

I noticed that Roy's reflection in the glass echoed the point he was making:

Click on the image to see it full-size

The lithograph is entitled "Noble Dame" and Picasso made it in 1959.

Roy says the exhibit runs through July 2, but his gallery and two partner galleries will offer items not yet sold from this collection for some time to come.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Apple Web site STILL touts advantages of PowerPC chip over Intel

Sometime in the late 80s I attended a talk at Michigan State where Apple reps confidently showed graphs that "proved" that the PowerPC chip could scale in ways that Intel chips never could.

Of course, now Apple has famously switched to Intel processors, and they offer nothing but praise of Intel CPUs. Gee, isn't it odd how they used to deride the Pentium and praise the PowerPC?

As the saying goes... "Where you stand depends on where you sit."

See:

http://www.apple.com/g5processor/architecture.html

and read:

Fastest Bus in the West

The G5 features a scalable design that enables it to run at clock speeds up to 2.7GHz. But all the megahertz in the world wouldn’t mean squat if the G5 were stuck talking to the rest of the machine at the 167MHz bus speed of the Power Mac G4. That’s why each G5 features two unidirectional 32-bit data paths: one traveling into the processor and one traveling from the processor, unlike previous designs. Its frontside bus works at speeds up to 1.35GHz for an astounding 10.8GBps of total bandwidth. That makes it over 280MHz faster than even the latest Intel 925XE chipset, which sputters out at 1066MHz.

So wow, dude, so like, the PowerPC totally rocks over Intel CPUs? Mark my words, these claims that Apple espouses are still on the Apple.com site even after Apple embraced Intel.

Now that Apple has a new religion, you'd expect that they would've purged, as the Soviets would have, any history of the old religion. Not true! Apple.com still offers pages proclaiming the superiority of ... the now-discredited PowerPC chip!

My guess is that Apple will eventually assign someone to the task of purging Apple.com of all evidence that Apple ever claimed that the PowerPC chip was ever superior to Intel's chips.

But even when they do, Apple can always live with this screen shot, from Apple.com, in June 2006, ridiculing Intel CPUs compared to their previous engine. Click to see full-size image.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Macbook as Star Wars Light Saber

My IBM Thinkpad has a sensor that measures accelleration and the attitude of the computer. The purpose is to detect a fall and retract the head on the hard drive to prevent a head crash.

Apple just added this capability to its latest line of laptops. Clever folks have discovered how to access the sensor in software. So it had to happen: turn your Macbook into a light saber.



I'm betting that someone will accidentally test that head parking function while showing this trick off. I hope the saber software shares the sensor.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

New York Times falsely claims AltaVista was the first Internet search engine

Today's New York Times carried an obituary for Alan Kotok, who, according to the obit, was a pioneer in video games. As a devoted Times reader, I was happy that the NYT would publish this kind of obit, remembering impoortant people that most of us would little note nor long remember. The article informed me about an important player in computing history. This is why I read The New York Times every day -- to learn things that otherwise I would not know.

But it was very disappointing to read this sentence:

"He was the chief architect for the PDP-10 family of computers and a senior consultant to Digital's AltaVista project, the first Internet search engine."

The second half of this statement is false. AltaVista was not the first Internet search engine.

AltaVista was an important milestone in Internet history, the Google of its day. I personally badgered DEC to market AltaVista as an enterprise search product; my employer, Michigan State University, was one of the first beta testers of AltaVista Enterprise Search. (Alas, AltaVista did not scale to handle millions of URLs, and AltaVista, like DEC, died.)

But by no measure can you say that AltaVista was "the first Internet search engine." Certainly Archie, created by Peter Deutsch and colleagues, was an important early Internet search engine, helping you find software to download, eons before AltaVista. In the Gopher era, Veronica was an important Internet search engine, circa 1992. Other important Internet search engines predate the launch of AltaVista.

Even in the Web era, AltaVista was not the first search engine. For instance, I remember WebCrawler, which dates to 1994, very early in the Web era. AltaVista came out at least a year later.

As I recall, I first learned of AltaVista when I read about it while reading my New York Times sitting in a Wendy's restaurant in East Lansing, Michigan. I hope NYT reporters appreciate that history entails more than the first time he or she happened to write about a milestone.

As The New York Times is the newspaper of record, I hope and expect The Times will correct this error.

Alan Kotok, 64, a Pioneer in Computer Video Games, Is Dead

By JOHN MARKOFF

Published: June 3, 2006

Alan Kotok, a computer designer who helped create the first video game program as a member of a small group of M.I.T. students in the early 1960's, died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on May 26. He was 64.

The cause was a heart attack, his daughter, Leah Kotok, said.

As a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Kotok developed an interest in computers after joining the M.I.T. Model Railroad Club in the late 1950's. Its membership included several other young men who shared his interest, and the organization became a kind of incubator for the computer design field.

The students were the original computer hackers, at least as they defined the term. Today it also refers to a computer outlaw, but the term originally described a member of a subculture of passionate hardware and software designers. A "hack" was a project without constructive end, according to a dictionary compiled by the Model Railroad members.

....

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blogging backwards?

For my Day Job we're going to do some things to celebrate and document the 50th anniversary of digital computing at Michigan State University. One of the basic things we need to do is create a historical timeline.

I was trying to think of what software to use for this, and then it occurred to me that a blog might be the perfect tool, since you can set the date of publiction for an article. As long as the calendar logic is correct for 50 plus years, of course.

Then it occurred to me you could use it as not just a scratch pad, you could write the articles in present tense as if they had been blogged for a contemporaneous audience....

Tie it into a graphical timeline and you've got a neat way of telling the story.

Then it occurred to me that anyone -- a family, a business, a city, a public library, a society -- could use backwards blogging. As you encounter historical tidbits you just file them under the historical date.

Now for the wackiest idea: a backwards blog as a form of fiction. You write a story set in say the old West. Maybe rewrite Little House on the Prairie in the form of a blog?

Does anyone know of any examples of blogging backwards?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Exceeding the greater good

Wow, it's nice to be recognized for your achievements, but to achieve beyond the greater good is especially humbling.

The bit about being a gelding is a little unsettling, however....

Posted on Sat, May. 27, 2006

Wiggins wiggles past Greater Good

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE - Wiggins grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch and cruised to a 21/2-length victory in the $58,900 featured allowance race for 3-year-olds and up at Churchill Downs yesterday.

The 6-year-old gelding, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, covered the 11/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.41 to beat Greater Good for the 14th time in 31 career starts.

Trainer Dale Romans said Wiggins will most likely run in the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap on June 17.

http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/sports/horse_racing/14680240.htm

Monday, May 15, 2006

Google Maps thinks Pizeria Uno serves Mexican food

We're looking for a pizza place close to our hotel in Chicago, and of course I turn to Google Maps. They list multiple Pizzeria Uno locations. To my surprise, the closest one serves ... Mexican food!

Click for full-size screen shot

And a mariachi band! Ahh, those wacky Google robots.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thinking outside the linear drive-up window box

So I went to Wendy's to get an iced tea, and found myself behind folks with most bizarre idea of how drive-up service works. Two cars were side by side at the ordering window. The car next to the window seemed to have finished ordering. Both cars sat adjacent, yakking through open windows, until I honked for them to go up to the pick-up window.



They pulled up next to each other at the pick-up window. The Wendy's server handed a bunch of drink cups and bags of food to the car at his window. In turn, about half of these cups and bags were passed over from the passenger side of the one car to the driver of the next.



It took forever.

When they finally left, I pulled up and asked what the heck that was all about. The cashier said it was the dumbest thing he'd ever seen. Not only did they do totally goofy two-car ordering, relaying orders from the car on the right through the car on the left; they also asked to have everything repacked into separate bags to match the two cars.

You know, for 99.9% of us, our drive-up window thinking is just so linear.

Clever font adjuster at ESPN.com

I stumbled upon a little control panel at ESPN.com that lets you change the font size for the article you're reading. This is a common complaint from the presbyopic: those hip sites with crisp graphics and tiny fonts can't be read by folks with bad close-up vision.



This is really cool! It seems to adjust the site's CSS on the fly, so you don't have to screw with your browser's font settings or use zoom controls.

Here's my question: shouldn't the text "Adjust font size" be in a larger font?

Oh, and the article was interesting, too.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Google announces Google Coop - sounds cool, but it's Error 404

Today Google announced yet another cool tool, Google Coop. The press release says:

Google Co-op beta is a community where users can contribute their knowledge and expertise to improve Google search for everyone. Organizations, businesses, or individuals can label web pages relevant to their areas of expertise or create specialized links to which userscan subscribe.


Hmm, sounds promising. And they offer a link to this cool new thing. Google says:

Google Co-op is available today on all English language Google domains including Australia, Canada, NewZealand, and the United Kingdom.


Does that mean they left out the United States deliberately? Because this is what you happens when you click on www.google.com/coop/:










nnn

Monday, May 01, 2006

Save the wireless!



How can a country that landed men on the moon, a country of such affluence, allow this coffee shop to suffer through wirelessness?