Wednesday Apr 06, 2005

The Long Tail

If you haven't already read it, this article, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, Wired's Editor-in-Chief, is likely to change your life. OK, maybe not, but Chris makes some extremely compelling arguments with a wealth of insight. He describes and elaborates on the unique ability for e-businesses like Amazon.com to take advantage of "long tail" consumer demand economics in opposition to traditional, hit-driven economics. Although Chris doesn't talk about it, my intuition tells me there are some significant insights to be had here for software distribution in relation to open source.

Tuesday Feb 01, 2005

Abe Vigoda is...alive!

Upon hearing of the Pope's illness, I rushed right over to see if another of my favorite octogenarians was doing alright. According to abevigoda.com, Abe is still OK. Well, at least he was when I posted this.

Abevigoda.com is a simple website with a terrifically funny concept. The best part is the subtle font difference between the word alive and the rest of the page, as if at any moment the website would be updated were Abe to pass on. It's almost as if Abe were himself connected to the Internet, just like my toaster will be someday. I suppose this is fitting: In general, I like to think of Abe as leading us boldy into the future, with just an occasional bathroom break along the way.

Wednesday Jan 26, 2005

A Spicy Site

A colleague pointed me to a terrific site that can tell you just about everything you'd want to know about spices, be it chemical, linguistic, cultural, or culinary: Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages. For instance, the entry on pomegranates has a fascinating discussion of "biblical spices" described in the Old Testament. I could easily spend a couple of hours reading Gernot's site (what am I saying, I already did).

Monday Jan 24, 2005

Chris Webster's blog

He's kept quiet about it, but my colleague Chris Webster has a blog. Chris is an Open API black belt and was one of the lead engineers on the NetBeans 4.1 release. He worked hard to bring all sorts of cool J2EE development features to the NetBeans IDE. After a tour of duty in the NetBeans group, Chris is now back working with me on building Service-Oriented Architecture tools in the Java Studio Enterprise group. He's sure to have plenty of useful and interesting things to say in the coming year, so please pay him a visit.

HOWTO: Adding Technorati Cosmos Links to a Roller Blog

As I mention in the article below, my technique was primarily a hack to get around what I assumed was either a missing macro or missing documentation. Patrick Chanezon is more familiar with Velocity and has explained the proper way to escape links in Roller. Cheers, P@.

After seeing the convenient Technorati Cosmos links on Tim Bray's blog, I wanted to add them to my Roller-based blog. Unfortunately, it was a bit of trouble, so I'm blogging my findings here for my fellow Roller bloggers.

The Technorati Cosmos URL takes the following form:

http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=[blog permalink]

To use this URL, we merely need to supply the [blog permalink] in the template above and put the result in an anchor tag. In Roller, you can get the relative permalink (relative to the base domain and roller context path) with the following variable:

$entry.permaLink

However, if we want to avoid hard-coding the domain and Roller context path, you can prepend the following variable:

$absBaseURL$entry.permaLink

Now, putting this together in an anchor tag and remembering to escape the embedded URL, we have the following (note, this should all be one line when used in HTML):

<a href='http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&amp;
url=$absBaseURL$entry.permaLink'>...</a>

This almost works, but there is one subtlety with Roller's permalink syntax that caused a bit of trouble for me.

Specifically, Roller includes a document fragment in its permalink URL, and document fragments must be preceded by a hash mark (#). When tacked onto the end of the search URL above, the browser interprets the hash mark and fragment as belonging to the actual link instead of being part of the value of the url query parameter. Thus, when sending the search request to Technorati, the browser omits the fragment identifier and the search ends up returning the wrong result set. In order for the full permalink including the fragment identifier to be sent as part of the request, the hash mark preceeding the fragment identifier must be escaped so that it will be interpreted as part of the value of the url query parameter. Unfortunately, Roller doesn't include any macros (that I could find) to escape the hash mark.

My admittedly hack-esque solution was to use a little bit of JavaScript to escape the fragment identifier when the link is clicked. While this technique won't work if the user has turned off JavaScript, that condition is fairly uncommon these days; until someone addresses the missing macro in Roller, this technique should suffice for the majority of readers.

First, add the following JavaScript to your master Weblog page template's <head> tag:

<script language="JavaScript" type="text/JavaScript">
function replaceCharacters(conversionString, inChar, outChar)
{
    var convertedString = conversionString.split(inChar);
    convertedString = convertedString.join(outChar);
    return convertedString;
}

function escapeHref(object, inChar, outChar)
{
    object.href=replaceCharacters(object.href,inChar,outChar);
}
</script>

Now, modify your _day template and add the following anchor so that it appears once per entry:

<a href='http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&amp;
url=$absBaseURL$entry.permaLink' onclick='escapeHref(this,"#","%23")'>
...
</a>

Remember that although I've split lines above, you should put all of this on a single line in your template.

That's all there is to it. When the link is clicked, all hash mark occurrences in the href attribute will be replaced by the escaped form, "%23", before the URL is sent to Technorati.

[Find more about at Technorati]
[Find more about at Technorati]
[Find more about at Technorati]

Friday Jan 21, 2005

Toddicus Fastius, 26 CE

My parents have been spending the last several years doing a huge amount of geneological research in their spare time. I'm not really suited to the task of doing such research, but I love to hear the results. In contrast to simply cybersleuthing online using sites like Ancestry.com, they've been researching in meatspace, scouring various documents, tax records, receipts, and church legers in rural parts of the Midwest, as well as conducting interviews with aged relatives and scanning tintypes and photos of people whose likenesses had been presumed lost. It's pretty remarkable to see photos of relatives many times removed. I'm sure it will be even more remarkable for our distant descendents who will have access to video, documents, email (perhaps even the V i @ G r A spam I get every day—will they even know what it was for?), and all sorts of other digital detritus we shed as a byproduct of our technology-infused lives. Merely considering the incalculable possibilities for insight my Thunderbird address book might present in a hundred years is mind-boggling.

While conducting research recently, my parents unearthed something I thought was even more amazing, however. They had been researching my grandmother six degrees removed on my mother's side, which to me was already pretty remarkable; it's hard to imagine that they could trace back that far given the number of undocumented children, multiple marriages, premature deaths, and other glitches that often bring geneological research to a standstill. Despite the odds of just getting that far, they were able to connect this gggggggrandmother to research someone that else had published on Ancestry.com. Remarkably, this research went back nearly 2,000 years to a citizen of the Roman Empire in 26 CE! I've yet to get the full scoop from my parents, but according to them, this improbable genetic journey wound through places like the Near East, Northern Asia, and Western Europe, and included at least one pass through Norwegian royalty.

Now, I'm the first to admit that it's extraordinarily hard to believe that such research could be supported by rigorous evidence...but, if by some astronomical chance it is valid, it means that I had a Roman relative that lived in the Near East as a contemporary of Jesus. I say this not because it's at all special in itself—we all have relatives that were contemporaries of Jesus (or Siddhartha, or Mohammed, or Zoroaster, or any great historical figure), not to mention I'm probably related to a statistically significant percentage of you reading this right now—but the fact that this person's name could be known 1,979 years later bakes my noodle. Regardless of its veracity, I consider it a good story, and especially for an American, a lesson on our often tenuous connection to the past before 1776.

[Find more about at Technorati]

Wednesday Jan 19, 2005

It's official: I'm now a tech blowhard

Despite years of toiling under unofficial status, I can now officially be labeled an arrogant, myopic, out-of-touch, tech blowhard: I registered toddfast.com and for the time being have pointed it here to my blog at Sun. Despite the typical track record of people with vanity domain names, I couldn't resist given that it was still available after all this time (the last time I checked must've been some time last century); then again, my name is far from common. I do feel a few small pangs of guilt and shame at the indulgence, but in any case, it's considerably pithier than http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/toddfast.

Thursday Jan 06, 2005

Texas Twang

Hmm, is there an upsurge of general interest in linguistics lately? I just watched the last half of "Do You Speak American?" last night on PBS, and now Yahoo! is running a story on the Texas twang. I moved to Texas from the Midwest when I was 5, and aside from a few "y'alls" and the occasional "tump" or "fixin' to", I never picked up the accent. In fact, quite the opposite: the constant teasing over my nasal Midwesternisms purged nearly all regionalism from my speech.

Turn me into Ali G

Would you believe that Ali G has a blog discussing Java enterprise tools, Web services, NetBeans, and developer collaboration? Read for yourself, courtesy of da Ali G Translata.

Wednesday Dec 15, 2004

Get a Free TiVo!

I saw this great news on Alan Coopersmith's blog: TiVo is giving away free TiVo's to frustrated Comcast customers on Friday, December 17th. Actually, it's a charity event and a way to tweak Comcast's nose at the same time.

I've had TiVo for nearly 5 years now and I can't express how much I enjoy it. I even did an interview for Tech TV as a loyal TiVo customer a couple of years ago (no, don't ask for the tape <g>). If you don't have TiVo yet and you subscribe to Comcast cable in the Bay Area, you should absoultely, positively take advantage of this.

Saturday Nov 13, 2004

Prague, Belarusians, and a drink to avoid

Well, I'm off to Prague in 12 hours or so for some in-depth discussions with the NetBeans group. I can't say I'm looking forward in the least to the 14-hour ride in coach. The last time I went to Prague (exactly one year ago this week), I was lucky enough to sit next to a couple of friendly Belarusian's with a 2-liter bottle of duty-free vodka. The bottle didn't survive the trip, but it was a great way to enjoy a long trip compared to shelling out for business class. I don't expect to get that lucky this time, but at least I'm looking forward to some cheap liters of pilsen and some medovnik once I get there.

This time around, though, I will definitely not be ordering what the bartender at the Diplomat told me was a fave among Prague youth: shots of Red Bull and absinthe. <shudder> Contrary to someone's assumption, combining two horrible-tasting drinks doesn't make them taste better--quite the contrary, in fact.

Don't actually try this, but here is a guess at a recipe to approximate the taste of this horrible concoction, since absinthe is largely unavailable in the US (though actually it's not illegal, as most people think):

  • 1 can of Red Bull
  • 3 aspirin tablets (for the bitterness)
  • Handful of grass clippings (for the sickening plant flavor)
  • Everclear (for the kick)
Mix the Red Bull with the Everclear in a 2:1 proportion. Dissolve the aspirin in the mix, throw in the grass clippings, and steep for about a week. Enjoy.

Friday Nov 12, 2004

Congrats to Matt!

My friend and colleague, Matt Stevens, had a brand spanking new addition to his family today. I will leave the details to him to publish once he gets some rest. Congratulations!

What The Unclean Masses Are Thinking: Yahoo's Buzz Index

Today I noticed Yahoo's Buzz Index feature that purportedly provides insight into mass culture by uncovering nodal points for all to see. Cool, but few surprises overall.

However, from looking at the leader board, it's obvious that a significant fraction of Yahoo's users are likely to be video-game playing, urban-music-listening, Oprah-watching (?), teenaged boys. Although Yahoo screens out all adult-themed searches, I have a feeling that the leader board would remain eerily the same even if they were included.

Final Hours of Half-Life 2

Check out this great article at Gamespot describing in great detail the saga of Valve's soon-to-be-blockbuster game, Half-Life 2.
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