Monday, April 30, 2007

Database Hack: Copy and Paste Tables

Here's a hack for cutting and pasting the contents of one Postgresql table into another. It's useful for when you have a small table, and it's just a hassle to dump and restore from a file.

Step 1. Use the commands below to spill out the contents of a table in CSV format to your screen:

psql <Your_Source_Datatabase>
\copy <source_table> TO stdout CSV

Step 2. Highlight and copy the output from the command.

Step 3. Connect to your new database and load the table.

psql <Your_Dest_Datatabase>
\copy <dest_table> FROM stdin CSV
-- Paste the contents from above here
\.

The final \. is really important, it's what tells Postgres that you are done feeding it data.

And there you have it. You've copied the file in less time then it takes to read this blog entry.

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Posted: 30 Apr 2007 12:00 AM GMT-06:00

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nike Free - Not faster, just funnier looking

"Does color matter to you?" the clerk asked over his shoulder as he led me through the clearance section. "Nope" I enthusiastically replied. "Good" he said with just a bit too much confidence.

And so it was that I walked out of the Nike Outlet with a pair of bright yellow Nike Free shoes for the rock bottom price of $29.99.

The Nike Free shoe is classic Nike marketing. For the low low price of $90.00 (when not in the clearance bin) you can have the benefits and value of running, get this, barefoot. In other words, Nike will sell you something to loosely approximate something you already own - your feet. And they say selling bottled water takes chutzpah.

So I took the shoes home and Googled them (note to reader: this is backwards. The reason we have mobile access to the Internet is to Google first, *then* buy). The shoe actually get good reviews by runners (and even a mention CoolTools). Though they also get a strong warning: train up slowly to using them, or suffer serious injury. No pressure.

And that's what I've been doing: phasing these new shoes into my running. I started with wearing them around the house and have worked up to my usual 45 minute runs in them.

For walking they have been really comfortable. For my first run, they were wickedly uncomfortable - causing me a pair of matching blisters on each foot.

However, in the end, I buy into the benefits of these shoes and just love their pure simplicity. No doubt, I will put up them for a bit longer before I declare them a dud.

So,if you see some guy running/hobbling down the street in bright yellow shoes, that would be me. Please don't stop and ask me if I want a ride - I might just take you up on it.

Update: I tried to crop the photo to show as little of my legs as possible. Yuck, they just aren't appealing. On a good note, I really do love wiredness, a super simple way to edit photos.

Lucy - Huh?

Here's a sign for the Coming Soon business, Lucy, in Pentagon Row. Is it a spa? We have 2 of those already. Health club? Got one of those too.

I just have to know - how is this advertising useful? Sure, it got me to blog about them, but couldn't they do better than that? Like make me want what they are selling?

I guess it's about the buzz factor. But how useful is just raw, direction-less, buzz?

--Ben

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Birthday Surprise

My team surprised me for my birthday today. Their gift was simply too kind - it was both decorative and functional. And matched my colors too!

Here's the gift...

And here's me blowing out my candle. Who needs wax candles, when you can have whiteboard candles?

And here's the team.

Vaccine Hack

Quick - the year is 1803 and the world is getting devastated by smallpox. Good news, you have discovered a vaccine. Bad news, you have no way to transport the vaccine over long distances without it losing it's efficacy. How do you vaccinate people thousands of miles away from your home country?

Easy - you use 22 orphan boys as live carriers of the vaccine, and simply ship them across the ocean.

What a sweet hack.

I just learned about this famous expedition, the so called Balmis Expedition in a book on tape I'm listening to: Saving the World by Julia Alvarez. I had a bit of concern that the whole story was made up, but a quick check on Wikipedia showed me that it really did occur.

Talk about an elegant solution to a wicked problem.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

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Posted: 26 Apr 2007 12:00 AM CDT

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Talent Isn't Everything - 7 habits to master

Boxes and Arrows has a terrific article titled Talent Isn’t Everything. The article outlines 7 habits of highly effective graphical designers.

One example is habit #3 - be versatile:

Versatile and flexible designers can weather the economic ups and downs of a design studio because they can be staffed to more types of projects. A sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot is saying “I don’t do web” or “I don’t do print.” You’ll be seen as a diva and won’t last long.

"Herman Zapf, famous type designer, tells a story of his first job. He interviewed with a printer who asked if he knew how to use a process camera. Zapf said yes. He got the job and went straight to the library to read up on how to do it."

Unlike what Zapf would say, I still hear many designers proclaim, "I don’t want to design websites. It’s too technical." These designers close themselves off to the possibility of learning and growth as well as the reality of technology’s prevalence.

I've seen developers fall into this same versatility trap, ironically often with the topic of design. Basic design is indeed a topic that non-designers can learn, and goes a long way to making you more versatile.

The majority of the habits mentioned in the article are ones that developers should practice and master.

Do yourself a favor - read this article, and consider setting goals against it.

Software Development Proverbs

Here's a fun collection of Software Development Proverbs.

My favorite one, which I hadn't heard before has to be:

"There's no time to stop for gas, we're already late"

-- Karin Donker

And my favorite development proverb, which isn't on this list is:

No matter how far down the wrong path you are, turn back
--Turkish Proverb

What quotes do find inspiration in?

Windows Vista: First Impressions

While at Costco tonight I noticed a bunch of laptops on display. Naturally, I was drawn to them and couldn't help but play.

I noticed that they were running Vista, and this would be my first time actually interacting with the OS. Here's what happened...

  • I noticed the laptop had a webcam built in and decided I would play with it (what else can you do in Costco to amuse one's self?)
  • I looked under the Start menu for a program to use the camera. I finally noticed the search box thingy and typed "Camera" in it. Sure enough, the Camera and Scanners program came up. Very nice. One point for Microsoft.
  • I kicked off the program and it told me that no cameras were attached. No problem, I clicked on the scan for hardware button and poof, it asked me if I wanted to add the camera to the system. Again, very nice. That's half a point to Microsoft (why should I need to install hardware that's built in to the hardware?
  • I started the install process, and poof, the machine both hung for a few seconds and then spewed out a Blue Screen Of Death. Whoops, that's -10000 points. Sorry.

Not much of a first impression, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Summer's Here

The proof? Getting to enjoy a nice outside meal at Noodles & Company.
Yum.


--Ben

Dental Compliment

How's this for a compliment from the hygenist:

"You know, they [my teeth] don't look so bad"

Whoo! That's the nicest thing anyone in the dental profession has ever
said to me.

The dentist himself asked: "so, how's school?" - it's only been 4 years
since I've been going to him, why would I expect him to remember me or
the fact that it's been almost 9 years since I've been out of school?

Still, with the glowing compliment I received, I'm a happy customer.

--Ben

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Posted: 24 Apr 2007 12:00 AM CDT

Monday, April 23, 2007

Husband and Wife

A big mazel tov to Ian and Lizzy - they are now husband and wife! Don't they look cute?!

Here Shira and Ian are together. No doubt they'll have to compare notes on the crazy eccentric wonderful family they both married into.

And you knew this photo was coming. Doesn't Shira look cute? Thanks to Ralph for snapping the photo. I know, it's about time we had one that didn't include my arm in it.

Microphone Hack

Shira just needed to test a speech synthesis program. But, we are in the airport in Denver and didn't have a microphone handy.

I remember being told that speakers and microphones work on the same principle, and were essentially the same thing.

So, I plugged my earbud headphones into the microphone jack and spoke loudly into them. Sure enough, it worked. The sound quality was awful, but it worked well enough to show the software was functioning.

I'm just glad TSA wasn't around to see me talking loudly into my computer. That would no doubt give them cause to do a full body search. And I'm just not in the mood.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Family Gathering

Let's face it - there's one place my extended family really feels comfortable. The hotel bar. We sure did have fun last night.

Of course, this was just the warm up for the real wedding festivities later today.

I love the photo of my Mom and Aunt. It's the miracle of genetics at work.

The Wedding Journey

Some photos from our trip to Lizzy's wedding venue, Lake Arrowhead, CA. Clearly, the journey in this case was as fun as the destination.


I guess a traffic jam on the freeway really does mean we are in California. Truthfully, if we wanted traffic jams, we had plenty of those in D.C. already.

According to the GPS, the wedding venue is close by. Just up that little mountain ahead of us.

Try clicking on the photo below. Can you tell what is carved into the mountain side? How romantic.

The view was so pretty, I made Shira stop the car so I could grab a photo of us.

Hmmm, a little higher up now on the mountain. Seems like we have just a tiny bit of fog. At least with the fog, I can relax a bit, because I don't see the steep drop off from the road on my right hand side.

OK, that's not just fog, but a bit of snow.

Whoa, chains required. Not suggested, not optional, not recommended - required. Perhaps we should have rented something with a bit more off road capability than a Chrysler Sebring.

This is no longer a light dusting of snow. This is lots of snow, with a very steep and narrow road. How steep and and narrow? Glad you asked...

This steep and narrow....

But, it was totally worth it. Check out this perfect winter wonderland. And the view of the lake is just perfect.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Review: Statistics Hacks

Statistics Hacks, by Bruce Frey is the best kind of book. The kind that fundamentally changes how you see the world.

Despite what the title suggests, Statistics Hacks is really an entry level textbook on the topic. Having managed to avoid statistics beyond high school (or maybe middle school), it was exactly what I need.

The bottom line is that statistics allows me to solve a class of problems which would have normally been beyond my reach. Not only can you analyze data, but it goes beyond that to making predictions. And, thanks to statistics, you even know how likely your predictions are accurate.

If you are like me, and have no statistics background, I recommend picking up the book. If you have some past stats training, you might still want to pick it up simply because the hacks format may work as a refresher.

Why just this past week I solved a problem at work by using a statistical approximation instead of throwing up my hands and saying the data isn't there. I give the book a 9.3/10 for being a mind altering (and improving experience).

--Ben

Not Funny

--

Flight Attendant: Welcome to United 923, service to Denver, Colorado.

Ben: What!? Aren't we going to California?

Shira: Oh #$@!$%

Ben (with a look of sheer panic): what do we do??

Shira: You idiot. We have a lay over in Denver

--

Moral of the story: at least glance at your itinerary before getting on
an airplane. And, remember, a good bit of what comes out of your wife's
mouth isn't true.


--Ben

Refuel before leaving

I'm all for cutting costs. But whoever decided that during a 6 hour
flight to California the meal was unneccessary, has got to be kdding
me.

Shira and I stopped at California Tortia before boarding to quickly
snarf down some food. The food was actuall pretty good (especially the
garden salad), but that's not the point.

There simply has to be some happy medium between full fledged meals
(which people only kvetch about) and a 3 oz. bag of pretzels.

Heck, why not hand out powerbars? Or simply install a Subway in every
plane...

Oh wait, we were just told to turn off all electronics. Better end this
post now...

See ya'all in California. Hungry, no doubt.

--Ben

Adding A Generation

Tonight wasn't exactly the normal reunion of college buddies I'm used to. Not only did we get to catchup on the latest in everyone's lives, and reminisce a bit - but we got to hang out with the next generation.

Yikes, that makes one feel old.

Jared, it's still hard to believe your daddy. Though, between you and Beth, you guys totally make it look easy.

Here's a shot of the new gang:

Also, here's the requisite photo of Shira and the baby. I won't even attempt to decide which of them is more cute, that's a no win argument right there.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

One Sentence Stories

Here's a site dedicated to one sentence stories. You wouldn't think this would work, but it so does. Check out some examples:

billray - I knew I was out of my league when she used 'summer' as a verb.

Sam - My dismay led to tears when my Underoos didn't transform me into He-man like the commercial said.

Joe Touchole - As I bent over to pick up her pen, the sound of my pants ripping warned me that my life was about to change.

I have this theory about my writing and how it's been influenced by my life of programming. When it comes to programming, there can be absolutely no ambiguities. As a result, when I write, I have this urge to fully spell things out completely - which sometimes is a good thing. Yet, it often leads to verbose writing. Instead, I need to learn to trust that you, the reader, will fill in gaps I leave, rather than throwing a compiler error.

See, take that last paragraph. Shira would have simply deleted it, as it's not necessary for this post.

So, excuse me, I'm going to go study the art of one sentence stories and hope to heck it makes for shorter blog posts.

How ironic is it that you spend most of your school career learning to fluff and pad your writing to exactly N pages, when you should be learning the difficult task of writing using fewer words.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sketch Swap - Drawing Fun

Sketch Swap is a really nifty site. You draw a picture, submit it, and another sketch is shown to you.

I'm not sure how practical it is - though it does seem like a fun way to practice drawing (especially if you have a tablet). As a bonus, you may actually get to see how some creative work is drawn by a stranger.

I like how clean and easy the UI is to use. For a more advanced UI though, you should check out this one. (Sorry, it's in Russian, so I have no idea what the site is named or is for).

Fun stuff, and probably also a nice web toy for kids to play with as well.

Here's an example. First, what I submitted:

And here's what was spit back to me. Looks like the person who I swapped didn't exactly get a fair trade. Sorry about that.

Trader Joe's and CSBWA

Yesterday, Shira and I were goofing around on Google Finance looking for companies to buy stock in. The drill went a bit like this: we'd think of a company who we had an especially good experience with or we thought had a good business model, and we would look them up. We would then ponder the data that came back.

While searching around we thought of Trader Joe's. We looked them up and while they aren't public, Google still had a company profile to show us. While reading through it, I was surprised to read the following:

To keep costs down, its stores have no service departments and average about 10,000 sq. ft.

Whoa - stores have no service departments? Maybe I'm not reading that correctly, but isn't that kind of surprising? When you Google around, you find that Trader Joe's has nearly fanatical customer service record (in fact, they totally rock), yet they claim to not have service departments.

When I looked around, I couldn't find any other references to this cost cutting measure. Though I could find at least one trend; TJ customer service seems to follow the classic management style: Management By Walking Around (MBWA).

In other words, TJ conducts Customer Service By Walking Around (CSBWA). They don't wait for customers to give them feedback - management is on the prowl, actively looking to address issues and assist customers.

Perhaps T-mobile, Bank of America and other big corporations could learn a thing or two from Trader Joe's strategy. I know I have.

--Ben

Mad Cool Skills

Here are two videos of folks with remarkable skills. Like the juggling video I posted a while back, these videos are mesmerizing. Give the rock and roll one a chance, you'll like it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Really Lightweight Photo Editing

Red Ferret pointed me to Wiredness. An ultra lightweight image editing site.

No signup. No accounts. Just quick image editing. It's almost too easy, there must be a catch. The site doesn't even use Flash - it appears to make use of Ajax to get the job done. Very impressive.

This is truly the tinyurl of image editing sites.

Here are some other lightweight image editing solutions: picknik and IrfanView.

Give it all back? Don't think so.

Obama Media mentioned that classic fund raising conundrum. Mainly, someone of questionable moral standing goes ahead and helps you raise $1.3 million in donations. In this case it's David Geffen helping with the donations, and Barack with the conundrum.

As Cinderella Ferret shows, some folks suggest you give it all back:

The good Senator (one of my favorite candidates) received $1.3 million from David Geffen. The David Geffen who profits from the music of Snoop Dogg and others. I could quote lyrics from Snoop Dogg here, but I will leave that to others. The lyrics are quite similar to the reprehensible words spoken by Imus, and in many cases worse. My point is this: Will Senator Obama now return Geffen’s money?

Now, I'm definitely a Barack supporter, but I'd like to believe my answer would be the same regardless of the candidate.

Here's my suggestion: keep the money. Heck, ask for more money if you can.

Why?

Well, first, I can't imagine that it's reasonable to screen out your donors based on their views or any other realistic criteria. OK, you don't want accept donations by Snoop Dogg, but how about his listeners? How about convicted felons? If you are pro-life, can you take money from someone who's had an abortion? Or even someone who is pro-choice?

It's simply ludicrous to think you can only accept support from those who meet some moral yardstick.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you have to remember what is going on here. In this case, David Geffen was supporting Barack, not the other way around.

Accepting a donation from someone is saying that you acknowledge their support for you. Accepting a donation isn't a kind of seal of approval of their behavior. Sorry, but this is strictly a one way form of support.

If some scum bag wants to support the United Way, then more power to him. It may be the only good thing that scum bag does, and at least someone should benefit from this.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ann Taylor: Don't Forget The Guy Factor

I'm standing here with, I kid you not, 5 other guys outside of the Ann Taylor dressing room.

We are all going through the same routine. We stand here quietly in a kind of sleep mode. When our significant other appears we scurry over to consult with her (no doubt telling her that she's not fat and that Ann Taylor's sizing is criminal, how could they call that a 6?! That should be marked a 2....).

Then we are handed some absurd assignment:

find me this brown color suit in taupe, but make sure it's a 6P and not a 6, oh and it was in clearance, so good luck with that.

We complete our missions and then stand at attention waiting for further orders.

If I were Ann Taylor I would...

  • Give us a comfortable place to sit
  • Feed us and keep us hydrated
  • Give us access to a play station, the Internet and TV

Here's the way I see it: if you make this a fun place for me to hang out, I'll bring my wife/girlfriend here to shop more often. And I won't be annoyed when she wants to spend all day trying stuff on.

Mom My Ride

I wonder if Moms find this video as funny as I did? Any Moms out there want to share their thoughts in the comments?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whiteboard as Website

I've used whiteboard's to plan websites - but I don't recall ever seeing one used as the website.

Until now. Very clever stuff.

Via: 73Signals

Review: Intelligence in War

Intelligence in War, by John Keegan is about, well, intelligence in war. The book sets out to prove a thesis, which first struck me as kind of odd: intelligence doesn't win wars, fighting does. Intelligence just helps the process along.

Keegan then goes on to show historical examples, from Napoleon to current day, where intelligence (or lack there of) played a role in the outcome of a battle. However, he makes it clear, intelligence only takes you so far. You still need to fight the good fight and a bit of luck never hurt either.

I found this whole argument got a bit repetitive at times. Perhaps the first time he made this point I had an "ah-hah" moment, but by the fifth time I was feeling a bit weary.

With that said - the famous battles that Keegan recounts more than make up for his verbose arguments. I simply had no idea how remarkable the battle of Midway was, or how the British dealt with the V2 rocket attacks. Did you know that the Poles cracked Enigma using pure mathematical theory? Neither had I.

In the end I'm not sure I learned anything Earth shattering about intelligence from this book. But it did provide a neat vehicle for getting a much needed history lesson, and for that I give it plenty of credit.

I give the book a 7.352/10 - it gets a bit stale at times, but provides for plenty of action as well.

--Ben

Like Watching A Train Wreck

Check out this video clip refuting evolution. It's like watching a train wreck - you know you should turn away, but you just can't.

Can you believe that there is 51% of our country who would watch this video and simply accept it? OK, I'm exergerating a bit. But still, this video isn't as controversial as I think it should be.

I'm so tempted to weigh in on the facts of the video. Like, for example, how it claims that evolutionists continue to try to build up scientific evidence that life came from non-life (without the Big Guy's help, of course). Yet, if you do even a tiny bit of research on evolution, you'll learn that biological evolution has nothing to do with creating life. Evolution is concerned with how life got more sophisticated (evolved, if you will) not how it originated.

I know, I know. Why do I bother reasoning with a clip like this?

What I wouldn't give to have a real, honest to goodness conversation with someone who thinks this video is valid. I'd just love to know what's going through their head.

Anyway, watch it. Tt's not pretty, but I'm sure you won't be able to turn away:

Via: Internal Monologue

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Surprise New Location

What a pleasant surprise! I walked into the office to find my stuff had been relocated...

It even included this kind message from the administration:

Oh wait, my stuff has been actually relocated into the hallway. The end of the hallway, but still, the hallway. I see a bit of tradition developing here - every time I'm out of the office, I have to come back and dig around to find my desk.

Thanks to everyone for bringing a smile to my face. And besides, it demonstrates good solid teamwork to pull this off.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paper Prototyping (correctly) Defined

I just finished reading Carolyn Snyder's Paper Prototyping: The Fast and Easy Way to Design and Refine User Interfaces, and I think I finally get it. Sure, I thought I understood paper prototyping, but it turns out, I was really missing some of the key aspects of the technique.

However, before I dive into what paper prototyping really is, we need to take a step back.

Every application is made up of two aspects: the UI that takes in and displays information, and the back end behavior. Some websites, like Google, have a really simple UI, and very sophisticated back ends. While other applications (and websites), like Photoshop, have both complex UIs and complex back end functionality.

Whenever you create a prototype, your goal is to develop something as close to the working model as possible. You'll probably take short cuts on either the back end logic (such as just forwarding the user to the next appropriate screen with data already filled in), or the front end UI (such as wrapping a complex process in a simple command line interface). But either way, something is going to give.

The goal with a paper prototype is to render the UI with (no surprise) paper. But it doesn't stop there. The back end process is modeled by, (surprise) a human. The human who's simulating the back end isn't simply doing random actions, but is performing against some scripted behavior. In the world of paper prototyping, this human is known as the Computer (versus computer in all lower case).

Consider this example of a paper prototype of Google:

Computer: shows a paper version of the Google home page
User: enter "Linux"
Computer: writes the word "Linux" in a text box
User: click submit
Computer: build a paper search results page with Linux results
...

The end result is that a paper prototype isn't merely something you look at for screen design, but is actually an extremely crude version of you're application. Without writing a single line of code, or designing any graphics for the UI, you have a version of your application.

I find this concept to be nothing short of remarkable. But, it actually gets better.

OK, you have this version of your application that you can now use to interact with, but what good is it? Well, there are a variety of things you can use it for. It's a good demonstration tool for other groups in your organization. It can also serve as a specification of sorts for your programmers. I find this specification idea to be a good one because it avoids you having to write a big thick spec, yet doesn't allow you to leave out any critical details. Synder's favorite use of a paper prototype is for usability testing.

And what is usability testing? Glad you asked. It's when you sit folks down in front of your application and observe them using it. There's some debate about what kind of things you can learn by doing this. But everyone agrees, you'll learn something. And probably something important.

Usability tests help learn what people are and aren't getting about your application. What buttons do they always miss? What processes do they always seem to want to do in reverse? And why the heck can't people figure out how to use cropping tool? It's the patterns of behavior, not specifics, that you are on the lookout for.

So, imagine it: you sit strangers down in front of your paper prototype and have them interact with it. You then learn things, and fix things about your application. Mind you, you've never written a line of code, yet you are already making important progress. How cool is that?

I actually like paper prototyping (now that I understand it) for a couple of reasons. First, it causes you to focus on what you really should be focusing on: the user experience of your application. Sure, you can make a screen prettier by sending it off to a graphics designer, but, you can't truly fix a broken process that way.

Secondly, I love the ratio of effort to feedback involved in a paper prototype. You've done almost no work extraneous work, yet you've gotten useful feedback on your system.

Snyder's book on this topic is no doubt the definitive source for information. Because of the close relationship between paper prototyping and usability testing, she manages to cover a significant amount on that topic as well. If you are even slightly interested in paper prototyping, pick up the book - it gives all the info you need to get started, and manages to inject just enough humor to keep it fun. You can also check out the book's companion website here.

For your next application, you might want to give paper prototyping a try. If nothing else, you'll have a great excuse to raid the office supply room. And, you may just discover that big flaw in your application before the programmers have exhausted themselves implementing it.

And We're Back

And we're back! Hope you had a good ending to your Passover.

It wasn't the traditional Post Passover Pizza, but hot dogs (with buns!) and french fries sure were tasty!

How did you close out your Passover?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Photo Editing On The Go

CoolTools pointed me to picknik.com, an online, Flash based, image editing site.

I suppose this is even a lighter weight solution for image editing than IrfanView, in that you don't even need to carry around your thumb drive with you.

I haven't poked around the site yet, but if Cool Tools is recommending it, it has to be good.

The main reason to still carry around tools on your USB flash drive is that some internet cafes I've been in, don't like you uploading huge files. Which means, you can't upload the big file to your image editing site to crop it, and make it small enough to upload. It's a image editing catch 22.

But still, this site is probably quite handy for other purposes.

Google by Phone

It almost sounds like an April Fools joke, but it turns out, it's true. Google is now offering local search over the phone. Just dial 1-800-466-4411 and follow the prompts.

The only cool feature, as far as I can tell, is that you can have Google text message you the business details by simply saying "text message." It uses your caller ID to avoid you having to type in your phone number again.

A voice UI to search has always been something folks have dreamed of (usually in the context of complaining about the keyboard and screen of a cell phone). But I'm not sure this is anything special. I still think the AOLYellowPages AIM bot is a better user experience than most for getting local data.

And that approach works well on both mobile and desktop environments.

On the other hand, if anyone can be innovative and creative on the voice UI side, it's Google.

Via: Micro Persuasion

$100 Laptop Explained by Red Hat

Here is Chris Blizzard from Red Hat giving a bit of an explanation and demo of the $100 Laptop Project.

I'm a fan of the project, and while this is probably nothing new, I hadn't seen this clip before.

For a longer, more in depth video, check out this one on YouTube. Heck, there's even a video taken from a Cambodian Village, showing the laptop concept in use.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Whoops I was wrong, and other unlikely titles

AbeBooks.com is running a really hilarious ad campaign that shows how wide their selection is. Their tagline: if you can't find it here, it doesn't exist.

Here's one example of their print ads - this link has more (like: knife throwing for kids):

Ruby Rocks, Javascript Doesn't?

Check out Sucks-Rocks.com to get a quick idea if something, well, sucks or rocks.

Take, for example, this programming language example: it says that Ruby is the rocky'est language (right along with Erlang!) and Javascript is suckiest.

I have to say in this case, the site didn't do that awesome of a job (Javascript is worse than Fortran?). But, perhaps other examples they have (I like the cell phone provider one) hold more promise.

If nothing else, the site provides minutes of entertainment.

Via: RedFerret

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Build-a-bot

My friend Gareth mentioned to me this cool new robot by iRobot.

It took a moment for me to catch on - iRobot is the same company who created the Roomba (not to mention the R-Gator, a military grade autonomous vehicle!). The new bot is quite hacker friendly as you can program it in either C or C++, and doesn't require any hardware tweaks to start using immediately.

Oh, the bot is fairly reasonably priced too.

It's a nice find Gareth. Now, if only I had the free time to do this kind of hacking. Hmmm, if I could create a bunch of code-review-bots, I'd be all set.

A photo a year

Here's an interesting tradition:

On June 17th, every year, the family goes through a private ritual; we photograph ourselves to stop, for a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing by.

Here's the very impressive result of their effort.

Via: The 4th Avenue Blues

Your government at work: Google Maps

I have to say, this blows me away:

Google's replacement of post-Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery on its map portal with images of the region before the storm does a "great injustice" to the storm's victims, a congressional subcommittee said.

The House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight on Friday asked Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain why his company is using the outdated imagery.

I don't mind someone picking on Google for posting the old imagery - but for this to be brought up in a House Committee? Please.

Are you telling me that the most useful thing Brad Miller can do for the victims of Katrina is to interrogate Google about their maps? Surely Mr. Miller can find a better use of his time than policing a free satellite image site?

Of course, Google responded to the issue and fixed the problem without any fan fair.

Our politicians have really got to find a better use of their time...

Review: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

I just finished Michael Lewis's The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and it really was terrific. How terrific you ask? So terrific that I found myself completely engrossed in a book about - get this - football.

This isn't actually all that surprising. Michael Lewis, through Money Ball, made baseball a completely fascinating topic. So why shouldn't he be able to pull it off with football? And he does.

The Blind Side covers two stories simultaneously. First, it talks about how the position of left tackle evolved from being nothing special, to one of the most critical (and well paid) roles on the field. Secondly, the book covers the story of Michael Oher, a football player who will no doubt be a star in this coveted position.

The evolution of the left tackle position brings up this terrific question: what if you had someone in your organization who didn't actually move the ball down the field, but made it so that others could? How much would that person be worth? Heck, could you even recognize that the person existed in the first place?

Read the book, and you'll truly appreciate that this is a question worth pondering.

As for the story of Michael Oher, it makes the book a must read. Michael's story is completely unlikely: he's a broke, hungry and mostly homeless ghetto kid that ends up being adopted by a rich Christian family, and becomes one of the most sought after college football players in the country. If this was fiction, you wouldn't read it because it was so far from possible. Yet, it's the real deal.

I give this book a 9/10 for being easy to read, hard to put down, and for showing me that even I can like football.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Chag Semach!

Shira and I wish all ya'all a Chag Semach!

May you truly appreciate your freedom and other's slavery this season.

And may your cholesterol not soar.

See everyone Wednesday evening!

--Ben

Sunday, April 01, 2007

In the Banking Business

Shira read a Time Magazine article about Kiva.org, an organization that allows people to make microcredit loans to others.

Unlike other groups that get the general public involved with microcredit, Kiva actually treats your money as a loan, not a donation. And, provided the business you fund is successful, you'll get paid back. In other words, you aren't just helping the microcredit process, but are actually playing the role of the banker.

This was too cool not to try out.

So, if you make it to Kisumu, Kenya, and you need any carpentry work done - please look up Anthony Wafula. I bet he does great work, and the people lending him money to expand his business are really nice folks.

A New Look

Martha Stewart's kitchen has nothing on ours. I just laid down shelf
paper on the counters - one of the final steps of getting the kitchen
kosher for Passover. We now have a mix of plain blue, cherry pattern,
and flower pattern covered counters.

I'm proud to say I picked the colors out myself.

Yeah, I won't be quitting my day job any time soon to become an interior
designer...

--Ben

Memory + Tradition

With Passover quickly approaching, it's time to wrap up loose ends. And while waiting here at my barber shop, I'm getting ready to take care of one of those very loose ends.

How's this for a tradition: for around the next 33 days, (some? most? A few?) Jews don't get haircuts. The reason for this is a bit hard to tap out on my sidekick, so I'll just say we do it as a small sign of mourning to remember a long ago plague.

Regardless, my hair cutter from Argentina thinks this is basically loco. But, she goes along with my request, and will cut it nice and short.

So, when you see me with the extra short hair cut, you'll know why. Ahhh, the things we do for tradition and memory.

--Ben

Another Color Tool

Here's another color tool, the type of which I always seem to be on the look out for (I guess I assume if I find more color tools, the colors I pick will be better. So far, my theory doesn't hold up, but I'm not giving up yet.)

This one groups colors into themes and then connects the themes together by tags. It also provides a really slick editor for creating new color themes.

As UI's go, it's actually quite impressive. Definitely worth checking out, if only to play with and be reminded how interactive a flash UI can really be.

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