November 24, 2005

Running with Simpy

Posted in Software at 10:33 pm by mj

Earlier, I wrote that I was becoming disillusioned with Furl. Otis Gospodnetic–Simpy founder, Lucene contributor, and co-author of the fantastic Lucene in Action–wrote in to suggest I use Furl’s export as Mozilla Bookmarks to import into Simpy.

So, this weekend I made the switch to Simpy.

The import process worked wonderfully (if a bit slow for a mere 1,100 bookmarks). I wasn’t hopeful of preserving my ad hoc hierarchy, given that it was built on top of Furl’s flat namespace, and exported to a Mozilla bookmarks format. But Simpy took a topic such as “Work – Search” and not only turned it into two tags, but it also provides a great tag navigator that feels just like it’s preserving my hierarchy. (Yeah, I should have expected this, but instead I got a nice surprise.)

There were only two downsides to this. First, all bookmarks had to be imported as either “public” or “private.” I guess since sharability isn’t part of the Mozilla bookmark spec (which is just a fancy HTML file with custom attributes), there was no way to preserve that information on export. Second, every word in every page title was turned into a tag (as a result, my tag cloud is HUGE). Since that doesn’t appear to be the default behavior for bookmarking into Simpy, I’m not clear on why it was the default for importing.

But now I can commit to fully exploring Simpy’s features. Trying to assess a service while all your data is locked into their competitor’s service, and you’re psychologically bound to that competitor, is taxing.

November 23, 2005

News aggregators are driving me crazy

Posted in Software at 9:30 pm by mj

Whatever I do, I can’t seem to keep using a news aggregator for any length of time. I just find them all totally uncomfortable.

My favorites at this point are Blog Bridge and RSS Bandit. I love the promise of the former, in terms of its collaborative filtering potential, but I find its UI clunky (and Java Web Start is immature–I always have issues on Linux). RSS Bandit is a bit better UI-wise, but it’s a C# application, which pretty much eliminates it from the running from the start. The web-based aggregators are even worse from my perspective. I was expecting more from Google Reader–true, it does “feel” a little better, but I still find it difficult to use.

Obviously I am deficient in some capacity, because most people I know are merrily using one or another aggregator religiously, while I’m over here manually checking my sources through bookmarks whenever I get a hankering for information. What logical, time-pressed, sane person would do that? Right.

Writing a basic news aggregator isn’t hard. I’m not talking about the really cool features here. Sure, it’s great to have some analysis going on in the background to make finding feeds/articles easier. If you know me, I’m a huge advocate for recommendations and “implicit search”. But that’s not what I find lacking.

For me, it goes just to the feel of the UI. How groups, feeds, articles are presented and navigated. The responsiveness of the UI. The sense of context.

And the worst thing is: I can’t even put my finger on a set of features/UI elements that would make me comfortable. So I’m not exactly in a position to criticize, or produce something better.

Auuugh!

Thanksgiving again

Posted in Me at 4:19 pm by mj

Ah, the sweet, relaxing four-day weekend. This will be the fifth year that Yinghua and I have cooked together. Just her and I. The first year (before we were married) we cooked with/for my roommates, and another year we had some people over, but I prefer the quiet family weekend experience. I don’t have to worry about cleaning the house, or staying awake, or even taking a shower. Then at night we prepare for early morning shopping on Friday.

We cook more-or-less the same thing every year, and eventually–when our children are old enough to appreciate the difficulty of cooking a good meal, but young enough that they don’t yet resent our very existence–we’ll actually be good at it. (This year we’re trying a different, French mac-and-cheese recipe (I usually use my grandmother’s recipe), and we’re both tired of the sweet potatoe-in-orange-cup dessert from Emeril.) Last year was our best year yet for turkey. This year the turkey looks like it might have been coming down with a cold when it was slaughtered, so I’m not getting my hopes up.

This is also the one weekend I really treat myself. Usually I agonize over every penny I spend on myself, but not Thanksgiving weekend. So, if you’re a salesman, try to catch me the day after thanksgiving. Maybe I won’t slam the door in your face. Maybe.

Usually, the only thing I worry about during the Thanksgiving weekend is decorating the house for Christmas. But this year I have a project in mind too. We’ll just see how that goes.

November 12, 2005

Large companies versus small companies

Posted in Life at 10:03 pm by mj

There is something about the working environment of a small team that I miss. It goes beyond the shared focus on a single goal, or the ability to influence overall direction. It’s more about respect, familiarity and trust.

I started thinking about this after talking with some friends and former colleagues, who’ve moved on to new start-ups, or who know of opportunites with small teams. I have no real data to back up anything I’m going to write, and I’d like to see some real studies, but I don’t mean any of this as definitive anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

FDA considers new labels for condoms

Posted in Sex at 9:18 pm by mj

The FDA is considering new condom labels warning that condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of pregnancy or transmission of HIV.

Sounds like a straight-forward statement of the facts, right? If you’ve been paying attention, you already knew that.

Conservative groups are supporting this measure, because they think it will increase the number of unmarried couples abstaining from sex. Um, no, not gonna happen. The decision to have sex is not a logical decision. That decision has far more to do with hormones, emotions and social conformity than it does with rational risk assessment. Fact of life. And if the reason somebody is avoiding sex is out of fear of disease, they probably have more severe problems, and are not any more emotionally or logically well-adjusted as anybody else. (One who is well-adjusted, and does make it a logical decision, is not going to be swayed by being berated, anyway.)

But here’s the thing. Planned Parenthood is opposing the warning label because, so their argument goes, it will cause maladjusted teens to abandon condom use altogether. According to Planned Parenthood, unmarried couples having promiscuous sex already have an aversion to, and doubts about, using condoms. So telling them that condoms really aren’t 100% safe and effective will make at least some of them conclude that they’re not worth the trouble.

My guess is Planned Parenthood is opposing the label simply on account that Conservative groups support it. It can best be understood, then, as a political tactic, not a health tactic, simply so they’re not seen as agreeing with Conservatives, whether they expect the FDA to drop their recommendation or not.

Because, if not, what they’re really saying can be stated thusly: “More information leads to worse decision making. So keep people ignorant and lie to them if you have to.”

Hmm. That sounds suspiciously like some of the arguments made by abstinence-only advocates.

I’m sure there’s an economist somewhere who can lay out a great argument on how perfect knowledge can lead to degredation of everybody’s economic well-being. And we’re all aware of how impending disasters might be kept secret for a time until preparations are made so as to not cause panic and more damage. And, hey, if we accept that having sex is not a logical decision, then maybe we don’t want to combat public health issues with facts and figures and rational arguments. But it just seems so absurd to me.

Restarting my links: first up, joannejacobs.com

Posted in Education, Links at 12:15 pm by mj

I’ve decided to start over on the blog links I show over to the right, and introduce new links one-by-one as I talk about them. This will help me:

  1. keep only the good ones listed,
  2. prune my normal reading list,
  3. contribute more than simple links (Mindless Link Propagation is just so evil), and
  4. ensure I’m finding new blogs

First up is joannejacobs.com, a blog about education. Well, mostly she writes about problems in education, or innovative techniques that teachers find to accomplish great things in spite of a broken system. That she’s not a teacher herself probably discredits her in the eyes of some–particularly those who have a political agenda she has ridiculed at some point–but she finds excellent articles and provides succinct commentary.

I found Joanne’s blog through Findory, which I’ve started evaluating to see if its recommendation/personalization engine is as good as I’ve heard. As I prepare more for being a parent (no, I am NOT pregnant–and neither is my wife), education and childrearing resources are something I’ve started seeking out.

I’ve always been interested, but have just given up on what I see as a fundamentally broken, corrupt educational system that will eventually implode. Judging from some of Joanne’s stories–school districts removing history from their curriculum, high school teachers forcing students to agree with political polemics, teachers refusing to use best practices to teach math resulting in students who can’t calculate change, not to mention “intelligent design”–I’m not far off.

But going into parenting, as with any endeavour, you can’t be ignorant. Not only do you have to know what to do correctly, you have to know what’s being done wrong so you can prepare for and correct it in your own sphere of influence.

I haven’t been reading her long, but I’m sure she’ll still be in my regular line-up two years from now.

November 7, 2005

Two Month Assessment

Posted in Lessons Learned at 8:43 pm by mj

A quick run-down of my blog so far, more for myself than anybody else.

Number of entries: 5 (up from 3)
Frequency of posting: about once a week (down from once every two weeks)
Longest absence: 19 days
Number of links: 13 (up from 2)
Number of links into ongoing conversations: 5 (up from 0)
Average length of entry: long
Focus of entries: Reflective
Style: Somewhat formal.
Voice: Still not sure.
Number of comments: 1 2 (not including my own)

My second month saw my first comment; oddly, this did not come from a trackback to an existing discussion, or referring a friend or colleague. For a period, I really committed myself because it was enjoyable, but then we entered crisis mode at work and I’ve tailed off (hence the reason this assessment is 3 days late). At the end of my first month, I vowed to start linking more to discussions happening “out there” and become less insulated. After my initial 19 day hiatus following that commitment, I got on track to do just that.

Blogging is many things to many people, and I’m trying to figure out which of those things it will be to me. Getting in on some of the great discussions happening, particularly in the software world, is probably at the top of my list of “enjoyable things about blogging.” But we’ll see.

My third month, then, will be about trying to contribute something, more than about trying to find my voice or reduce my shyness.

Update: Another lesson learned: refresh your “Write Post” tab before writing a new post, or it will publish according to the date you last refreshed the page.

November 1, 2005

Ban Halloween, because it’s the conservative socialist thing to do

Posted in Politics at 10:11 pm by mj

Hugo Chavez–that upstanding nationalist socialist revolutionary bringing peace and prosperity to Venezuela–apparently thinks Halloween is part of the U.S.’s “game of terror”. Which should be obvious to anybody, what with George Bush’s campaign to bombard the country with anti-Chavez jack-o’-lanterns.

Okay, okay. Nationalists appealing to cultural heritage, and rejecting–if not forbidding–foreign cultures is nothing new.

But the juxtaposition between that and the response to the incident in Massachusetts is just great.

I remember the days of my youth, when the only people objecting to Halloween were old hags who thought the devil would steal our souls. Maybe they were just closet socialists.

What was that? Oh, gezhundeit!

(Thanks to Catallarchy for the pointer.)