29 Jul

What Barack Obama’s Popularity Burst Tells Me

listen pal, I know what's good for ya

The guy delivers a decent speech at the DNC and now he’s all over the place. Isn’t this sudden excitement sign that the Democratic ticket is desperately boring? It’s just a speech people, it’s not like Obama has invented the cure for cancer. I’m sorry but I’m not excited by people whose major achievements are rethoric and pushing more legislation. The guy went to law school for chrissakes, that should tell you something (for one, that might get him a VP job one of those days!).
One can always hope the US will shake up from its current drift ever closer to Euro-like over-regulated nanny state. The difference between Bush’s "compassionate conservatism" and social democracy is thin — it’s just that the former doesn’t even pretend to balance its outrageous expenditures with enough taxes. But getting back to core American values of freedom, responsibility, openness and opportunity is not going to happen with creeping statism. Go ahead, impoverish people with high taxes, waste most of it and give some targeted "relief" back to buy some love (wait a minute, wasn’t this my money in the first place?). How about getting out of the way instead, big daddy? Have you seen how every American politician is sold to you as a great father and spouse? How telling, how patronizing.
Anyway, whether Barack Obama is the new Doctor General Howard Clark is an irrelevant detail (it’s funny though how the Democrats get excited by a new guy every quarter). At least he’s good looking and articulate and he blinks like a real human being. No, the big story is the zombification of the GOP. The fact Bush has not been challenged through Republican primaries is a disaster, the unraveling of the Reagan legacy. Now we have a competition between two flavors of protectionists and big spenders who want the federal state to have a finger in every pie because someone has to think of the children in the name of God.
What a waste of opportunity. I’m left (bad pun intended) with rooting for a Kerry victory so that the GOP kicks the religious nuts and prescription drugs collectivists out and reinvents itself into something finally palatable to fiscal conservatives and libertarians. Much like in Europe, it needs to get worse before it can get better.
09/02/04 update: Ken Layne: What Conservatives?.
08/22/05 update: I miss Republicans; The Gingrich Legacy.

21 Jul

A Critical Mass of Advertisers Makes Contextual Ads More Relevant

Andrew Goodman:

"I can attest to having been extremely frustrated doing web searches trying to find things like software, templates, standard documents, and legal agreements to help me grow my business.
But when advertisers of such services start to put their little classified ads up next to those keywords, the process gets a lot faster. I still use PDF Factory Pro, for example, because I saw their ad on Google next to a jumble of useless results for my web searches on PDF publishing."

Hear, hear! I find myself actively looking for the ads when I’m doing product/shopping-related queries, as sometimes all I want is to know where to buy the freaking stuff and how much it costs. Someone explaining why they offered the thing for their grandma for Christmas, or an obscure academic paper which happens to include my query’s keywords, is sometimes just noise. It’s all about context.
01/14/05 update: Google search within sponsored links.
05/30/05 update: indirectly related: Yahoo Mindset.

12 Jul

Allmusic’s redesign should be public soon with lots of goodies for music lovers

Allmusic

The Allmusic beta preview I’ve seen looks nice, though it felt a bit sluggish (the dll-based architecture and long-winded URLs are still there) and there are some bugs left, so I’m not sure the site is really ready for launch today as advertised (search gets me a javascript error, that alone is a showstopper). One thing the site supports better is discovery by browsing around. You can for instance explore it by instrument, and you’ll get a blurb about, say, the trumpet, as well as a list of top related artists and albums. This is still a bit crude though since you can’t combine that facet with others. What I’d be interested in is the intersection of instrument and mood, or instrument and genre, for instance what is significant in piano blues or aggressive electric bass?
There are still some datapoints you cannot use as pivots, for instance even though Chopin is filed under the Romantic era, that period is not a hotlink that would lead to its own area on the site (which is frustrating because contemporary works are supposed to be browsable by decade, though that feature doesn’t work too well).
The new sortable list/detail format is more efficient to let you browse a discography, and other features such as the picture browser let you access more content without reloading the whole page. Some features such as advanced search (which loads within the page too) will require free registration.
Overall, this feels like a nice update to an invaluable resource that makes better use of the huge underlying database (and now classical is merged with the rest), here’s hoping the rough edges will be ironed out soon.

Read More

10 Jul

A Triumph of Images

Peggy Noonan:

"Before that Mr. Kerry did nothing but boring boilerplate–John Edwards "shares American values"–all that vague stuff. What does that mean? It means someone’s focus group said “they like the word values” But they like it when it has meaning, when it is connected to issues that mean something, not when it’s just some dumb word cynically thrown out for the boobs. Boobs are sophisticated now. They may be sophisticated beyond their intelligence, but they know rote words used to please them are rote words used to please them. And they’re not impressed. "

I wouldn’t want to go beneath Peggy Noonan’s utterly civil but nonetheless lethal scalpel! But please, every columnist should have an RSS feed. Ditto for, say, David Brooks, or whomever you want to follow (Krugman triggers so much response he doesn’t need his feed, each of his columns will be abundantly praised or fisked anyway).

07 Jul

Gmail Agent API v0.5

Johnvey Hwang:

"There are two distinct components here: an open source Gmail API written for the .NET framework, and a proof of concept Windows application built on top of that API that provides basic remote Gmail functions."

Open source, client software, in .NET, connected to Gmail — all in the same sentence? That’s blowing up a lot of common misconceptions.
And this is very interesting in terms of architecture:

You’ve probably noticed that Gmail’s interface is extremely fast when compared to other web-based email systems like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail. This is a result of Gmail’s placement of the UI engine on the client-side as a JavaScript module. Whenever you log in to Gmail, a copy of the UI engine is loaded into one of the HTML page frames and remains there for the duration of your session (credit has to be given to Oddpost for being the first ones who perfected this idea).

I wonder whether the exposure of those variable arrays in the javascript code is intentional to allow such third-party extensions, or if this is just a byproduct of how client javascript code works. I guess you could use encryption on the code (can you?) but that probably becomes probably at a prohibitive performance cost (OK, I’ll admit I have no idea, I’m just shooting in the dark).

Read More

07 Jul

Technorati tracks 3 million blogs

David Sifry:

"And we’re striving to handle the load. But to be perfectly frank, it isn’t easy. We’ve had some bugs and some outages – and for that I am truly sorry. I don’t think the service is fast enough or stable enough. So, stability and fast response time is job #1, over new features and product developments. It has to work, 100% of the time."

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last we hear from Technorati this summer…
Update: speaking of scalability, Wikipedia faces interesting challenges too. Small organizations serving always-increasing demand with a shoestring budget while the underlying content database keeps growing too deserve a lot of respect.

03 Jul

Rich clients, network wealth

Phil Wainewright, after having drifted too far into the "the web is good enough" camp, now gets back to a point of view I find much more easy to agree with:

"Jon Udell’s recent column on The Google PC generation made a very strong case for deploying PC horsepower to marshaling data rather than enhancing the user interface: "If you join massive horsepower to vast data, amazing things will happen." The mistake that Microsoft is making by pouring resources into Avalon is to focus on perfecting the user experience for solitary creative endeavours at the expense of enhancing good-enough access to the tremendously powerful collaborative resources of the Internet (low-cost photo touch-up service providers, for example)."

While I’m not sure Avalon is so much of a focus that it would hurt Longhorn’s strengths as a rich internet client, at least we agree on the premise: the challenge is to get the best of both worlds, rather than keep opposing reach and richness. We want both, and there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll get them. What platform will get there first, and in what timeframe, is what remains to be seen.
07/15/04 update: Phil got back to this topic here, and addresses the counterpoints I and others raised in this entry (where he underlines the synchronicity between the sale of Oddpost to Yahoo and the acquisition of Alphablox by IBM). I have witnessed firsthand the resistance of resource-starved small and medium businesses to feature-rich but high-maintenance solutions such as the Exchance/Outlook combination, so I certainly can relate to the idea that lighter products such as browser-based apps can be valuable.
Whether Microsoft will be pushed ever further into the upper market by the web and eventually seriously challenged by bottom feeders (Phil’s thesis) or whether it will succeed in co-opting the internet remains to be seen. I’m not saying Phil’s perspective "couldn’t possibly happen," but I don’t think it’s the most likely outcome. Desktop applications show signs of web-ifying themselves quicker than the web is desktop-ifying itself. And isn’t the former way easier to do technically? Yahoo wouldn’t have paid what’s rumored to be significant money to buy Oddpost, were the javascript code they had created trivial to emulate. In contrast, tapping and feeding SQL databases put on the internet, XML streams, or web APIs, with a desktop application is ever easier to do with modern languages and development tools.

Read More