Tuesday, December 20, 2005

BlogPulse Trends: Kong Gaining on Iraq

I just found something really fun and somewhat interesting: the BlogPulse Trend thingy. Graph blogospheroid trends (tags?) against each other over time. Just like stock charts. Here's a good example: Iraq, King Kong and Microsoft. The ape gaineth.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Far, får får får? Nej, får får lamm!

I finally found a reason to learn Swedish. No, not the chef; rather, the simple fact that you can say things like: Far, får får får? Nej, får får lamm! Which, of course, means "Dad, do sheep get sheep? No, sheep get lamb!" But you knew that already. My newfound single-sentence Swedish expertise is courtesy of SLAY Radio's Mastering Swedish.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Frostopolis returns.

Following a brief stint in domain-name purgatory, my main blog is back online: Frostopolis.com ...along with some new pictures and a meta-post about the things I've written here (how very bloggy of me). So now I return to the original mode of posting more "serious" things over there, and playing around a bit over here. Hopefully the playing around will be at least a little bit interesting to those of you who might have stumbled across this blog. But it won't be as frequent as my posts here have been in the last week or two. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hey Yahoo, what's the deal with you guys lately?

Come on, Terry! You're just down the street from me here in Sunnyvale. If you'd come over to the Bean Scene once in a while for a morning latte, you could run these things by me, and you'd avoid at least some of these embarrassing slip-ups. Like the one where you try to grab my mouse out of my hand. I just blogged that one today under the happy title . And now comes this. The last time I saw somebody make it this easy for people to hijack their websites, it was some wanna-be journalist expats over in Hungary. Print media, Terry. They had an excuse, they thought the Internet lived in that little blue e. Hold on to your hats, boys and girls. Here it is: . With bonus Custom Scripting. What can I say, Terry? I thought you guys had gotten with the whole clue program... So come on over next time, and save yourself the embarrassment. I'm easy to spot, buddy. I'm the guy reading the New York Times at the outside table. The coffee's good, by the way.

The desperation of Yahoo

Has anyone else noticed the new, maximally-obtrusive ads on Yahoo.com? I use my.yahoo.com as a sort of news-and-information home page. It's nice: I have a few RSS feeds, the weather here and abroad, my currency cross-rates, and international news. Plus a few stocks. Unfortunately, I now also have these gigantic ads that take over the entire page whenever I accidentally move my mouse over the smaller version of the ad. They also suck up lots of memory, and don't always close properly when asked. Way to go, Yahoo. Are you guys really desperate now, or what? I was rather hoping Yahoo's text-based ads might become a serious competitor to Google's. Lord knows we need something better than AdSense, and even though I suspect it'll be Google that provides it, they're obviously done innovating on that front until they get some serious competition. But now, I'm beginning to think Yahoo is slipping back into don't-get-it mode. That statue incident might mean more than I originally thought... It's really pretty simple in the end. This is the Web. The barrier to entry is low. There is a lot of competition, large and small. If you treat your users with contempt, they will not be your users for long. And yes, Terry, screwing with my ability to move my mouse around counts as contempt.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Firefox 1.5 acting as a server?

I just upgraded to Firefox 1.5 on my Windows laptop. When I launched the application, my software firewall told me the Firefox had requested permission to act as a server. That is, to listen on a port and accept incoming connections from the network (mine, or maybe the Internet). Of course I said no. If there had been a "F*** off" button I would have clicked that instead. Now, I know the good folks at the Mozilla Foundation really care about security, and I know that Firefox is their best-loved child. So what's going on here? It could be my firewall acting up, but I doubt it. The firewall has a pretty simple job. A quick web search showed that it might have something to do with the auto-update feature, but that doesn't sound convincing either. Why should auto-update be anything other than a pull through port 80? My best guess is that the Firefox crew simply missed this one and will correct the mistake in the near future. "Missed" could mean they carelessly designed in some kind of mostly-harmless server, or it could mean that they carelessly design in something that looks like a server but isn't. Or it could have to do with the quality feedback agent, although that seems odd as well. In any case, I don't think it's worth investigating further. I love Firefox and plan to keep using it as my primary browser, and I look forward to playing with the new features in 1.5. But if it actually needs to act as a server for something, I'll toss it faster than you can say "Opera."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Do not place localization in global variables.

I was just viewing the source code for a page here at and found a gutbuster:
// Do not place hardcoded english grammar or sentences into JavaScript, 
// place them here.
var bold_tt = 'Bold';
var italic_tt = 'Italic';
var text_color_tt = 'Text Color';
...and so on. Mmm, tasty global variables for the localization crew! This one goes out to you again, . You've got $1.3 billion burning a hole in your pocket, so how about hiring someone to refactor that out of Blogger before it shows up on ?


Brilliant rant from best-of-craigslist on . You know, those things you need five of to make a nickel. The rant is hilarious, and actually pretty insightful too. Go read it. Now.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Andy Hope

Dammit Andy, it can be a pain in the ass Googling for you sometimes. Maybe this will help, since I always forget to use your other name and nobody can decide whether you're Andrew or Andy anyway. Here goes: a page full of art by contemporary artist . Casual readers, have a click and go look. Good art, and a nice simple page presenting it. And that hippie guy at the top, isn't that Miguel? Wasn't that him in the Harper's picture too? I'll get a proper post on Andy up on Frostopolis once I get the domain name out of purgatory.

The broken part of MIT's $100 laptop.

Those well-heeled Boston geeks at MIT have been working hard to produce a aimed at kids in poor countries. The idea is to have governments (and such) buy lots of them and distribute them to the kids, who obviously couldn't afford the $100, and thus try to diminish the Digital Divide. But there's a fatal flaw in this scheme: they won't sell them to consumers. I remember once, a long time ago, when I was a kid and times were very tough financially, we got some free cheese from the government. It was cheese and we ate it. In a quesadilla it wasn't too awful. It didn't taste as good as the cheese you'd normally buy, but it was much better to have free cheese than no cheese at all. But in retrospect I think it would have been a lot better for all the families getting free cheese if that same cheese was available in the store, and just very cheap. Let's say it's the lowest-end cheese available and only poor people buy it, and if you're really poor you can get it free somewhere. Psychologically a whole lot better, and better in other ways too. For something like a computer, the same logic applies tenfold. First, by not letting people sell it MIT is telling us it's not really a $100 laptop, it's a laptop they decided to attach that number to no matter what it costs. If you can't make a profit selling the things for $100, then you're just playing with the numbers. The most important problem, though, is that if we can't get them in rich countries, they will suck. Uh-oh, I've committed the cardinal sin of insulting Mr. Negroponte's intelligence. Now Google won't buy this blog. Damn! Seriously, Mr. N, have you not heard of this Internet Thing? You want your $100 laptop to run Linux, but you don't seem to have given much thought to what makes Linux great. It's the hackers, stupid. I truly hope that one day it's every bit as normal for a hacker to come from Khartoum or Kandahar as from Moscow or Palo Alto. But you're going to get a lot further towards that goal if the hackers in Palo Alto and Moscow are playing with the same computer you're handing out to the kids in Kandahar and Khartoum. Granted, it may be more of a toy than a laptop to someone in Cambridge. But hackers love computing toys even more than they love fancy computers. Of course all the computing experts behind this project are helping, and of course you need to give it to people with good solid purpose-built software to get them started. But if you think your experts are better than all the basement hackers out there, you haven't been paying attention. Enough griping. Here's my solution to this problem. Apply with cluebat.
  1. Figure out how much the things really cost, wholesale, with normal shipping etc., in reasonable numbers (not a million units at a time, guys).
  2. Create a nonprofit to sell them.
  3. Set a retail price that's as cheap as possible but truly covers all your costs.
  4. Partner with someone (Amazon?) good at online sales and fulfillment.
  5. Watch as the world of hackers saves your idea from oblivion.

A thought on the Google Factor for startups.

In the Web startup world, the Google Factor is a large part of any business model today. The Google Factor works something like this: For any given WebWidget idea, you have to consider how much time is likely to pass before widgets.google.com enters "beta." If you think you can beat Google to the punch by a wide margin, you might be able to sell your WebWidgets to them. (Look at this Blogger thing here.) But it's a bit dangerous, since Google might already be working on their version, or they might just not like you, or they might be in a mood to build instead of acquire. Which leaves Yahoo, Microsoft, or going it alone. Going it alone is very tricky if you're going to end up competing with Google. Not impossible, but tricky. Most people already think of selling to one of the big three, either as a direct strategy or as a way to handle growth (see Flickr). If Gwidgets is already out, you should think seriously about doing something else. Just now I had an interesting thought on this subject. Maybe it's better to be faster than two of those three than to be faster than all three of them. If your WebWidgets are the first ones out, everybody will wonder what Google's going to do. (Do we seem a bit like ancient Greeks lately, worrying about capricious gods?) But if your WebWidgets are gaining popularity at exactly the same time as Gwidgets, Ywidgets!, or (marginally) MSWidgets - but only one of these - then the interest of the other two is likely to be strong indeed. Keep up with the Brins and so on. Even in this famously innovative territory, the big boys spend a lot of time sniffing each other's behinds. It's part of being big. If you smell familiar to them, you smell a little like fear, and then they're after you. This is off the cuff, but it seems to make sense this morning. Hey Vincenzo, file this idea away for your grad thesis!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Seth Godin on the Hobby Economy

Seth Godin has lately climbed high on my Required Web Reading list. He's nominally a marketing guru of some sort, but I think he's at his best when he's riffing on general business themes. His main point is usually the same, and fairly predictable: you should strive to be great, and if you suck (and especially if you hate your customers) you are doomed. But he delivers it with enough style, and with enough truly thought-provoking examples, that I always go back for more. One of his newer riffs is on the :
What the web is doing, though, is exposing lots of avenues for people to use to find satisfaction (but not necessarily cash).
As I sit here contemplating a notion to build a loss-making publishing empire, I catch the full resonance of this. Anyway, check it out. And bookmark Seth, you should stop in there at least once a week if you care at all about modern business and/or the Web. He's at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/. (Aside: Eurified American that I am, I can't decide how to pronounce his last name. Seth, if you're reading this, post an audio sample!)