Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is design undermining the Internet?

I've often thought that a big part of the success of Twitter versus, say, RSS, is the consistency and completeness of the UI. Trying to find the RSS subscribe link, sending it to the right reader, and understanding the relationship between your reader and the site you came from is a fair number of hurdles. On the other hand, finding "follow" is easy and the behavior very well-defined. It sucks that Twitter is a big centralized service, but that's what makes it work so well.

Similarly, it's lame that every band is forced to have a MySpace page, especially given how ugly MySpace can sometimes be. But when I ended up at weezer.com trying to find a way to listen to the new album, the easiest thing to do was to find the MySpace link and click on it, because I know that MySpace = listen to album, and the UI for doing so is quite prominent.

I wonder if web designers will ever be able to agree on design conventions to overcome this tendency for centralized sites to be more usable?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A million human interest stories is a tragedy

Between the bubble boy incident, the awesome Gillmor article, and linguistic errors in stories I am knowledgeable about, I've been getting grumpier at the media.

Every morning, I'm forced to choose between New York 1, where a nice man conveys actual information by summarizing stories from various newspapers that morning, and the Today Show, where the real news is increasingly compressed into a couple of cursory minutes. As much as I find Today a much more pleasant aesthetic experience in the morning, with its energy, beautiful people, lush colors, soothing music, and high production values, I find myself opting for NY1 more and more.

I really don't understand where journalism got off on this obsession with small human dramas. I'm happy enough to listen to stories about fashion or food or saving money, but every in-depth interview about some local murder or some missing person or even a plane crash makes me die a little bit inside. This is not important news that the entire country needs to hear. As much as I love reality television, I like it best when it's not masquerading as news. Millions of people dying every year because of our "market" health-care system while the politicians we elected cave to audacious lobbying seems much more deserving of an incessant drumbeat of coverage than these sad but minor tragedies around the country.

This seems of a kind with the deterioration of the New Yorker and Wired, two of my favorite magazines, into cute little biographies that occasionally discuss the world surrounding these people. After a paragraph of Richard Holbrooke's resume, I'm much more interested in how he's going to fix Afghanistan. After a bit of the story of Shai Agassi, I'm much more interested in whether his plan is going to work. After about a page of sychophancy, I'm interested in factually accurate reporting.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that facts and information are becoming less and less important in a country almost proud of being dumber than ever. But I'd like to think this whole Bubble Boy hoax/non-hoax thing might make reporters think twice about where they're directing our precious time. I'm sure CNN is really proud of getting the boy to blurt out that this might have been a hoax. But I think they should be embarrassed that they haven't produced any coverage about the health care debate that would inspire the country to rally together and start talking about facts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Mihai let the cat out of the bag recently about my little side project to let you create, embed, and collaborate on diagrams that are generated from simple sentences, and, he being the celebrity he is, it's gotten a lot of buzz (including Kent Beck(!), even if he doesn't know what it's for). :)

It's not as polished as I'd like (anybody know a pretty Java Linux font?), but that's launching early and often for you. It seems to be already useful, I've used it for a few things at work and found it way faster than wrestling with Visio or something.

The actual design is a little convoluted so that I could get a reliable data storage system with minimal changes from my current hosting environment. Ideally, the whole app would be on App Engine, but Java2D isn't available in the sandbox yet. You can see how it works here. I really, really wanted to avoid calling out to Dot, but after some time spent reading the paper, I realized how hopeless that was. :(

A shout out to some similar tools that just didn't quite do it for me:

Also a shout out to Alan Donovan, who built something similar inside of Google that I <3ed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crazy times


Richard got my blog all up and running again on his new server4you server (yay Richard!). Now I can recount various exciting goings on. Sadly, all the effort that went into this (plus the hotness of the new Wordpress) make me lazier about my planned switch to Blogger, even though I should, if only for the reliability and backups.

Anyway, the big event last week was the Preposition Bar Crawl, the follow-up to the great Exponential Decay Bar Crawl. This was quite some time in the making, since the only two we could come up with at first were Off the Wagon and Against the Grain. Searching for prepositions on Yelp turned up Under the Volcano, also recommended by Renee, and Dolapo suggested In Vino, so we sort of had a crawl at that point. Lindsay threw in Down the Hatch, and we were good to go. Akshay came up with Zum Schneider at the last minute, which turned out to be a lifesaver when In Vino didn't want us and ATG wanted us to wait. Also I had a gigantic Schneider Weisse there, as depicted. The turnout was excellent, which I attribute mostly to people's love of prepositions (ahem, where would we be without them?), rather than it being my 28th birthday and my last day at Google*, both of which it just so happened to be.

The other exciting thing that happened was Apple finally approved my iPhone app, Where Was I?. It's a pretty silly app, is just fetches your Google search history, but it could be handy in a pinch. Why did it take two months to approve? I don't know. Why does Apple require apps to use their buggy network-detection code? I don't know.

*That's right. I'm leaving the (awesome in many ways) nest! I think reading the sad comments on the Google Notebook blog tipped me over the edge. Don't worry, commenters, someone was reading your complaints, he was just powerless to do anything. I'll be trying out life at tiny, tiny chartbeat starting next week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Japan in no particular order (and belatedly): Food

One of nine tofu courses we downed at Kyotofu

Mostly, trying to eat in Japan consisted of looking for places from our guidebook and failing because Tokyo is unnavigable or because the place is closed, then walking in somewhere, and having them speak exactly enough English to tell you there's nothing vegetarian to eat. But that made the good finds all the more exciting...

We had fried vegetables and cheese on sticks (kushiage, and it's written as δΈ² - things on a stick!) at a street-side restaurant. It came with cabbage and sesame oil and tasty beer. Other fun street foods were noodles from a vendor at the park in Tokyo, and a baked potato in a random Tokyo suburb.

The best meal was definitely at Biotei, this really low-key place in Kyoto with an awesome prix fixe menu of tofu, vegetables, and soup. We went to a fancier place (Kyotofu) in Tokyo, which definitely wins for range of preparation, but actually was not as tasty.

Other meals: At a temple in Kyoto, we had vegetarian soba. Lots of red bean desserts. Tofu donuts and savory peanut brittle at Nishiki market. Conveyor belt sushi. Rice with cereal grains at the fancy ramen place in Kyoto. Wasabi corn nuts!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Switching to Mac

After a couple of years of thinking I should get a Mac laptop for myself, I finally bought a MacBook Pro. Of course, the first thing I needed to do was copy my music over. This was way more annoying than it needed to be, and the various instructions on the Internet all disagreed with each other. It eventually took up most of Saturday, and it's fairly lame iTunes doesn't support better cross-computer syncing. What ended up working:

1. Turning on remote login on the Mac, and using WinSCP to copy the files over. (The Mac couldn't find the PC's Samba server, and the last time I tried PC copying to a Mac samba share, a bunch of file names with extended characters caused trouble). The copy was also insanely fast connecting the laptops directly with an Ethernet cable.
2. Run iTunes once on the Mac but don't import anything, then quit.
3. Export library... on the PC and then copy Library.XML over to the Mac
4. Open Library.xml in emacs and replace all the file://localhost/C:/My%20Documents.... paths with file://localhost/Users/kushal/Music
5. Overwrite iTunes/iTunes Music Library.xml with my Library.xml file
6. cat /dev/null > iTunes Music Library
7. option-click on iTunes icon so that it lets you Choose library...
8. Choose iTunes Music Library
9. Because the file is corrupt, it restores from the XML file
10. Voila! Playlists, ratings, and play counts are all there. The only things that didn't make it were my podcasts, not really sure why, but I just did Add to library... and then resubscribed. There may or may not be a few other songs missing.

I think this might have been smoother if I had done "Consolidate music" in iTunes on the PC before copying, but it claimed to not have enough hard drive space? I think as long as the consolidate/organize settings are consistent, things work out okay.

(Thanks to Mihai and Dolapo for walking me through this! :) )

Monday, April 27, 2009

Japan in no particular order: Manners

Vending machines are everywhere.  So you're never far from a Pocari Sweat or Amino Supli.

Late in the game, Emma and I discover that the following things are considered rude:

  1. Blowing your nose or sneezing in public
  2. Wearing sandals barefoot without socks
  3. Eating or drinking while walking

Good thing we are doing them constantly. Oops! Sorry Japan!

The second of these is pretty unfortunate given how hot it gets. And the third is super-strange given the ubiquitous soda vending machines. It explains the lack of trash cans, though.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Japan in no particular order: Baseball


After Lonely Planet tells us that there are "beer girls with kegs strapped to their backs," there is no question we are going to the game. Luckily, the Yakult Swallows suck, so the ticket prices are cheap. (ticket girl: "You want to sit on the *home team* side?"). On the way in, we pick up sake and edamame, which you are allowed to bring in. The game starts out normally, and (phew!) there really are keg girls.

Then crazy things start happening. The other team has carefully-coordinated cheers involving sitting down and standing up and colored shirts and singing. The third batter comes out to Toto's Africa (homage to the Japanese toilet manufacturer?). The next batter opts for Carmina Burana. When the Swallows score, every other fan busts out a pink or blue clear plastic umbrella and thursts it into the air. There are cheerleaders, but in conservative outfits. There is a mascot dressed as a Swallow. When the Carp finally score, they inflate thousands of balloons shaped like sperm and release them all at once.

The Swallows pull off a surprise victory, due no doubt to our keg-girl-beer-fueled cheering.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More fun with TGUPT

I've been meaning to hack up a quick straight men-vs-straight women comparison, and I figured there was no better way to honor our Presidents than by finally getting around to it. enjoy! and take the test if you haven't already!

New digs!

Fwd: apartment pics!

I've failed to post about my new apartment, or about how awesome life has been since Emma moved in with me. This is probably because we've been so busy unpacking and furnishing and painting. Some things have gone well: the new neighborhood is much better for eating and subwaying than the LES, the view is amazing, the kitchen is a pleasure to cook in (garbage disposal!), Elfa shelving is relatively easy to install. Some things have been tricky: Wells Fargo freaked out at the last minute, Oz Moving ripped me off with charges for boxes, painting is way harder than anybody told us, brand-new apartments have kinks that require working out.

Fwd: apartment pics!

Last weekend, we had a housewarming at which copious amounts of alcohol were presented and consumed, much of it by people who bravely ventured across the bridge from Manhattan (or New Haven!). Luckily, this party was on Friday, leaving me well-rested to run the Bronx Half-Marathon on Sunday. 1:59:13 was slower than Brooklyn (and much slower than Brian and Monzy), but not bad considering how little I've been training. Later in the week, I purchased a bag of candy hearts and ate all 900 calories of them, undoing any potential benefits from the training.