Monthly Archives: June 2006

Tour dis-Grace: What’s Left?

None of the top 5 finishers from last year are riding in this year’s Tour de France. Lance has of course retired, and the other 4 have all dropped out on drug accusations, along with many of their team members. The pro-cycling world was torn apart by the names released with the Spanish probe into doping. The prologue stage begins tomorrow and the Tour continues for a few weeks. Who’s left? Maybe Lance should have stuck around for one more.  Of course he’s been thoroughly accused himself.  Armstrong is busy fighting off Greg Lemond’s charges, and the whole world of pro-cycling, past and present, has turned into a spectacular cat fight.  If everyone is doping, then doesn’t that just create an even playing field where there’s no advantage to cheating anymore?  I wonder why the US cycling team trains in Spain and has historically seen a lot of the same doctors and trainers as the accused dopers?  File suits and counter-suits all you want, but the reputation of virtually everyone seems tarnished beyond recovery.  This year’s Tour de France will certainly be interesting, but for all the wrong reasons.

Yoplait: Good Yogurt, Bad Container Design

Yoplait Yogurt ContainerAt work we have a number of snacks stocked in the kitchen and occasionally we have yogurt in the fridge. The other day I was eating from one of the Yoplait Yogurt cups and started scraping at the bottom to get the remainder of the yogurt. Some coworkers started giving me grief for the annoying scraping sounds and I defended myself saying how it’s really the design of the container that’s preventing me from getting what I want.

The tapered design of these yogurt containers has always bothered me, and there are a number of other factors adding to the already poor design…

  1. The bottom of the container is convex, making the yogurt-remains even less spoon-friendly.
  2. The container opening has a lip that doubles back inside the container, making the already small opening even smaller.
  3. Said lid also catches unnecessary amounts of yogurt under it’s edge, requiring flexible spoon techniques for getting it out (or sometimes licking).
  4. The container kills animals.

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A Surreal Airport Moment With Cheese

I’m not sure why I didn’t remember this sooner, but on my way back from Duluth, Minnesota I was waiting in the Minneapolis Airport when I had an especially strange moment. I was sitting at my gate, waiting for boarding, watching the “Airport Network” version of CNN news, where the top stories were Al-Zarqawi’s death, some new suicide bombing, and Senator Robert Byrd setting the record for longest-serving US senator. The CNN anchor said they’d be right back after a commercial break, then a blank screen for a second, and then…

This character comes onto the screen, immediately followed by this bit with the same character (YouTube videos). There was no break between the segments, they were combined into a single 1-minute bit, which made it feel particularly long where you usually see 15 or 30 second spots. I was engrossed/amused/baffled. I was nearly laughing out loud. I looked around and saw some other puzzled faces amongst the airline passengers (particularly at the screen-licking part). I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what it was an ad for, but it was brilliant. I even thought for a second that it was a practical joke by the person controlling the airport TV feed. Maybe he slipped in some humor during his boring day? And then finally the Cartoon Network logo came up.

The character is from the show, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and his name is Cheese. It’s a Craig McCraken (Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Lab) show that I had somehow never run across before. Cheese is one of the minor, imaginary friend characters, and he also likes cereal. It all makes sense now, but that sure made for a surreal airport moment.

A Week with Bloglines

Bloglines I’ve now been using Bloglines almost exclusively for over a week, for my weblog checking and reading. For ages now I’ve been using this static bookmark page as my homepage and I’ve still been hitting the various sites directly to check for updates and read new posts. My original plan for the page (as the name suggests) was to pull feeds for the sites and have it be a single-stop, quick-glance page where I could see what’s new. Continual problems with feeds and scripts gave me more errors than I wanted, and sent me off on trouble-shooting goose chases. I eventually stripped the page down to a link page and quite enjoyed visiting each site on it’s own. The setup still wasn’t ideal, and I found myself missing occasional updates.

After a number of recommendations, I decided to give Bloglines a try. At first I was half-assed about it and would only occasionally check things through Bloglines. To give it a real effort, I converted my default homepages over to the Bloglines page, and decided to use it exclusively for a week. It’s been pretty nice. I like the simple left-pane interface, to browse through your sites, and read updates on the right. I never got used to viewing updates for a whole group at a time (multiple sites’ feeds listed all together), so I still viewed updates site by site. With everything in the same window, and the numbers of new updates listed next to each site link, I found it incredibly quick to browse and catch up on the latest happenings.

As I’ve written before, I think there’s something to be said for visiting the actual site, rather than viewing someone’s content through a third party window. I’ve been stubborn about it, and it was with some reluctance I finally tried Bloglines. During the week, I still found myself visiting some of the original sites just in case I missed something. It just didn’t feel right when I wasn’t reading it on the original site. Then there are some sites out there that don’t give you full access to feeds, so I still had to visit on my own. Or there are the sites that break out their link and post feeds separately, so I was checking two feeds in Bloglines for a single site.

I’m not sure whether I like the feed reader experience better than my old-fashioned habits, but after a week I did get used to things. It certainly is easier to add and organize sites in the Bloglines list, rather than a lousy hand-edited HTML file. I might continue this way for a while. Does anyone prefer a site other than Bloglines? The Safari RSS option was also mentioned, but I’m on a PC much of the day. Or maybe something like Sage for Firefox could do the trick. Firefox live bookmarks are neat, but don’t provide a good at-a-glance overview. What are your preferred methods for reading the web?

The US vs. the World… Cup

While the rest of the country is whining about the Jerry Stackhouse
suspension, and poor Shaq getting knocked down in the completely-uninteresting NBA finals, the United States put on a good show yesterday in their World Cup game against Italy. The game was incredibly exciting, but for most of the wrong reasons. The US was playing strong, dominating early, with some good opportunities, but Italy scored first with a header, 22 minutes in. And that’s pretty much where the normal game ended.

Just a couple minutes later, the US tied the game 1-1. But wait… it wasn’t the US that actually put the ball in the goal. The Italian defender tried clearing the ball, but the bad kick just bounced it right into his own goal. Hey, we’ll take it.

And then the fouls and red cards start flying. McBride elbowed in the face… and then some poor tackles by the US also called red. The US news coverage of course considers the follow-up red cards completely ridiculous, but others are a bit more neutral on the matter. Here are the foul/red card video highlights. Regardless, it’s still unfortunate to see both teams lose men and play short-handed. You can find a full-game highlight reel here.

But thanks to Ghana’s amazing upset over the Czech Republic (highlight video) earlier
in the day, the US still has a slim chance of moving on in their bracket. First, they absolutely need to win against Ghana on Thursday, and then Italy would need to beat the Czechs. Or, if Czech beat Italy (or tied), it’d come down to goal differntial, and we’d need to beat Ghana by 4 points. It’s a long-shot, but the World Cup has already shown that crazier things could happen.

And lastly, here’s a video of an amazing lead-up to a perfect goal by Argentina.

Time, Money and Lawyers

Last night, for some unknown reason, my dream contained a little lesson in law and economics:  When it comes to legal matters, time, money and results are all directly proportional.

I suppose it’s mostly true.  The more time and money spent on a case, the better results.  Want better results, spend more money, and your lawyers will take longer.  It’s not exactly the most revolutionary nugget of wisdom, and it applies to almost everything, not just law.  I have no idea why my subconscious was so intent on my tossing and turning in the middle of the night with this thought in my head.  I wish I remembered other specifics from the dream, but this is all I got, over and over.  Hmmm… Is there legal trouble in my future?

How Red is the Redfin Fin?

In my Techcrunch party write-up the other day, I pondered a bit about the profitability of the various startups around. I’ve chatted a bit more with some friends about Redfin in particular, and how well their model of selling houses online is going to fare. I ran across this blog post, actually written just before last week’s party, which dissects some of the numbers quoted in this Seattle PI article about Redfin’s sales to-date. Whichever numbers are correct; 40 homes at $18 million ($180k commission), or 13 homes at $7 million ($70k commission), I think they’re fairly impressive for having their direct service running for just 5 months (and still at just 25 employees).

The PI article mentions that ZipRealty sold $900 million worth of homes in the first three months of the year (with a shocking 1,400 agents!). Applying Redfin’s “measly” 1% commission to that and we’re talking $9 million in income. Yeah, yeah, so what do all these numbers mean? I’m no economics genius, but it seems clear that the online home buying business scales nicely. Despite having to hire numbers of agents to man phones and process paperwork, manage offers, etc. the throughput of a polished web-based real estate system is always going to be faster (not to mention cheaper to the buyer) than going through it the old-fashioned way. Also, considering only a fraction (maybe half?) of Redfin’s employees are currently agents, they’re currently more efficient (by either sales figure) than ZipRealty (for the time being).

Redfin is in it’s infancy, and the 360Digest post mentions that a small $70k commission sum might not be worth an $8 million investment round. I would argue that the ZipRealty example demonstrates that the idea scales very nicely, and can easily make that $9 million back with the right throughput of sales. I think Redfin is in good shape, and I’m really rooting for them as they’ve taken on the San Francisco market. Expanding means hiring more of their pseudo-agents to handle the sales, but the more they can streamline their core application, the more sales they can push through, and so on…

Hey Baby, nice Lensbaby

I ordered myself a Lensbaby (2.0 version), last week, as well as the macro attachments. It arrived just the other day, and yesterday I ventured out to give it a try with some mixed results…

Ladybug 4 Flower Abstract

A few good shots out of about 80 total. I had most fun playing with the macro attachment, but even normal scenes give good results. The principle is simple: you’ve got a flexible lens mount, so as you bend it and compress it, you’re changing the focal length and therefore adjusting the plane of focus as well as the “sweet spot.” It took me a while to get the hang of focusing, especially on the shaky macro shots and moving subjects (pesky insects!). Want a different aperture (thus expanding or contracting your area of focus), just pop out a disc and put a new one in.

Even though the lens is about as manual as you can get, my Canon continued light-metering in Aperture Priority (Av) mode, and adjusted the shutter speed accordingly. This is pretty nice, since it takes one extra piece of guesswork out of the process. Of course I still found myself making plenty of adjustments.

I’ll keep playing and continue to post the successes in my lensbaby set on Flickr.

Techcrunch Web 2.0 Party write-up

Last night, my friend Darren and I attended the TechCrunch Seattle Web 2.0 Party. The event was sponsored by local startups: Redfin, Farecast, and TripHub. It was the expected shmooze-fest of young, un-profitable new businesses, established big-guns chatting and hinting at their grand plans, and plenty of regular folk all wanting a piece of the pie. Here’s the summary of the few demos saw and various conversations we had…

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