Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Review of John Battelle's The Search

Tech, Book Review: I just started reading a great book about the recent history of search by John Battelle. Battelle has interesting things to say; I follow his blog BattelleMedia quite regularly. Since I build search engines for a living, I find the topic pretty apropos, but I think the book should be of interest to anyone interested in how a search engine works, how they came to be, and more importantly, why they're such a big deal -- amongst other impacts: altering humanity and its social and economic interactions. Though the book is about much more than Google, Battelle does dig into a lot of nitty gritty about the rise of Google, and how Ad Sense and Ad Words was the fundamental/intimate connection to cash the business/ad world was seeking back during the late 90s Internet hay day. He also proposes a bit of a theory about how they ripped the idea off of Overture, since aquired by Yahoo. I'm not done yet, so I may have more to say on this topic soon, but I've read plenty to recommend it. I give it 2 3/4 stars out of 4 - mostly because that simplistic business writing style isn't engaging enough for a serious reader. I'd rate it higher if I was only considering it against similar business books.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Action Packed Sunday

Life: Well yesterday was quite an interesting day. My son and I packed up and went out on a long bike ride. My wife has recently discovered a gem of an idea, and I decided to give it a go -- I pull the Burley trailer behind me, with all of our "luggage" for the day - basketball, soccer ball, knights and castles legos, lunch, and most importantly bike lock. Then, when Nayan gets too tired to ride, I just lock up his bike, and pop him in the back of the trailer. He made it a surprisingly long way - we rode down to the Nordic Heritage Museum, played basketball, snacked up, then rode down to the start of the new Burt Gillman, rode that to the locks. We then meandered across the locks, visited a friend on the other side, after Nayan pushed his bike up a huge hill. Then he made it almost to Discovery Park. We had a lovely picnic lunch out where Ameen and I got married, at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center. Then he rode almost all the way home, where the real action started.

We get home, and a gigantic antenna is sticking out of the KIRO news van in front of our house. Here's a clip from the Seattle Times located HERE:

A three-hour police standoff ended Monday afternoon with the arrest of a 53-year-old Ballard man suspected of threatening his family. Police say the man possessed several weapons and that he and his wife had a previously unreported history of domestic violence.

Family members called police after they left the home in the 8000 block of 28th Avenue Northwest shortly after 2:15 p.m. with the man inside. Seattle police cordoned off the area in the Loyal Heights neighborhood and called in a SWAT team and negotiators.

Failing to get a response at the house, police thought the man might be hiding in his backyard. They tossed a percussion grenade into it and released a gas irritant. The man was flushed from a boat in the backyard and arrested, said Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt.

Nayan of course was thrilled with all the action in the neighborhood - helicopters circling over head, police barracades everywhere, etc. And like tried and true crime jaded Americans, our neighbors were all busy cracking jokes about the violent state of the nation. Alas, its a bit sad that few people are shocked over this sort of thing anymore. I'm sure if this happened in my friend's quaint neighborhood in violence deprived Oslo, people would be aghast.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fun with Google Trends

Tech, Politics: I ran across this interesting new tool from Google labs called trends. It shows plots around the frequency of searches on Google correlated with the occurrence in the news. It also points the most popular origins of the queries, and key news events triggering the spikes, along with links to the news articles. Here are a few worth checking out:

Bush/Kerry - Note: Its pretty obvious who lost the election.
Cheney, Rumsfeld - Note: The largest spike was Cheney's famous display of hunting prowess.
Java - Note: The top 5 cities querying for the programming language are all in India.
Hurricanes - Note: The news loves to pump these up, and then afterward, discussion and concern quickly fade.
India, Pakistan - Note: It's pretty obvious which country is modernizing and getting its citizenry on the net.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Review of the Feast of Roses by Indu Sundaresan

Book Review: I just completed The Feast of Roses, by Indu Sundaresan, the sequel to The Twentieth Wife, which I reviewed HERE. I don't really see The Feast of Roses as a sequel -- the two books, in my view, were simply split up for marketing reasons. Nonetheless, I am really bummed to be done with this book. My evenings have been entertained for maybe 3 weeks now by Sundaresan's lovely and engaging story -- what am I going to read now? Here is a snippet from a great review by Wesley Burnett available HERE:

My outline of world history says only that Jahangir was given to drink, and that, as Empress, Mehrunnisa ran the show. It wasn't that easy, of course. Mehrunnisa, who repeatedly reflects that she wishes she were a man, forms a junta with her father, brother and the heir-apparent to the throne, Shah Jahan, and ruthlessly exploits Jahangir's love to seize ever increasing authority and power. In the process she violates most conventions of Mughal society. For starters, she leaves the zenana, the harem, to stand beside her husband at public audiences where she begins making official pronouncements. This offends Jahangir's advisors who are also his lifelong friends, male chauvinist pigs that they are.

Well, possibly they are, but as the story progresses, it becomes ever more difficult to sympathize with Mehrunnisa. She is the most powerful person in the world's most advanced civilization, but while she is wily as a fox, she isn't necessarily wise as an owl. She crushes opposition in the zenana where she ruins lives and alienates her few supporters. They get their revenge. A well-contrived accident terminates Mehrunnisa's pregnancy and her potential for mothering a dynasty. She exiles Jahangir's chief advisor to Kabul where he swears vengeance. She has to arrange a less than desirable marriage for her daughter who is unenthusiastic about producing males who will have to fight for the throne. Even her co-conspirators in the junta come to despise her.

Mehrunnisa's turn for the dark side was nicely portrayed by Sundaresan. The Twentieth Wife, she was a bit fluffy, and wide eyed - this was definitely not the case in The Feast. Her transformation and intoxication with power was engaging to observe, and forms a strong theme in the book. The sense of place and history was very well done. I highly recommend this series to any one, but particularly anyone interested in the Mughal period of rule in Indian history. I really hope Sundaresan keeps writing sequels until eventually reaching modern day India.

If only my history books were half this engaging. It gets quite boring seeing the fomulaic spattering of who conquered who, when and how fast in the dry discourse typical of historians. This historical fiction is so engaging, I may have to go find another one now. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. All in all I give Feast of Roses 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Don't Name Your Kid Omar

Politics: There's a rather frightening article in CSM called Death squads deepen division in Baghdad by Dan Murphy. Apparently the Mahdi Army's lovely rocket scientists in Baghdad have decided to kill everyone named Omar and Bakar. Here's a snippet:

Around midnight, seven cars roared down his [Abu Omar] street. One of the vehicles, a Toyota Landcruiser, burst through his front gate while men with rifles, grenades, and black masks poured into his yard, breaking the windows in his car and at the front of his house with their rifle butts, shouting "where's Omar, where's Omar,'' the name of his 18-year-old son.

Omar scrambled over a back fence and found safety in a neighbor's house, while his father was taken away for five hours of interrogation. "They told me that they were from the Mahdi Army and I thought these were my last moments on earth,'' he says. "But after a while they got a call, and decided to let me go. But they also told me they'd kill my son when they got him."

Abu Omar says the men told them they were killing all young men named Omar and Bakar - popular Sunni names borrowed from early Islamic caliphs hated by Shiites. They said they would be back for his son.

What is the world coming to? It seems we have indeed opened Pandora's box...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Oh No, Not That Frog Again.

Life, Review: Yesterday, Nayan and I rode our bikes down to the Sunset Hill Community club to see Frog Lake by the Thistle Theater folks. Here's a snippet from their website:

Enjoy the classic ballet Swan Lake transformed into a contemporary ballet, Frog Lake. Taddy, a young frog, is excited to be seeing her first ballet at her local pond. As the Conductor Frog enters the theater a hush falls, broken only by the sound of frog croaks and cricket chirps. On cue, fireflies flit to their respective footlights to illuminate the stage of the “Ballet de Pond”. Traditional choreography will be brought to life as the frogerinas dance to Tchaikovsky’s famous music.

I really wanted to like this, but I realized it had some fundamental problems. First, its a parody of a ballet. If you know anything about kids, it should be that they don't get irony or sarcasm, and certainly not parodies. So, you say, surely the intent is to entertain the adults, and that the puppets themselves are sufficient to keep the kids engaged. Well, if you know a bit more about kids, or atleast boys, its that the idea of "Silent" anything just doesn't work. Another problem could just be my testerone hang ups, but frankly, of all the fine arts, the one I like the least, is ballet. But atleast in real life, you can admire the physicality of the dance - but with puppet frogs very seriously leaping around in frog leotards? It could work if you embraced the stupidity, and cracked jokes about it - but alas, the "Silent" part killed that possibility. So, every time the main frog would come on stage, a cackle of 3 year olds would start shouting, "Oh no! Not that guuuuuy again." The theatre director, opens the show by admonishing the kids for yapping, and pleads for the mothers to assist. So, innevitably, the play was spent w/ mom's in a tizzy, trying to keep their bored kids engaged.

Just to keep up the bashing, I also, was utterly unimpressed with the set design - only a couple scene changes! The one thing that kept it from being a disaster, is that the puppets were fairly well done. This, from the Thistle Theater folks, who usually skimp on both set design and puppets. The Peter Rabbit puppets w/ the exception of the farmer, were something out of Wal-Mart, but alas, atleast he spoke.

Why, you might ask, am I harshing on the artistic merit of kids puppets? Well, this IS Seattle, where we not only have the good fortune of having puppet options, but most of the kids puppet theater is simply amazingly well done. The North West Puppet Theatre's renditions of both Babar and Madelaine were just beautiful and engaging - the kids and adults were enthralled; the set changes continuously and in a fairly complex manner. There's also this local couple that does a Spanglish version of a Mexican burrito guy that is by far the best puppet production I've seen with stunning hand painted (like by a real artist, and a good one at that) scenery, and the young couple are just amazing performers.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

That Glazed Laptop Look

Politics, Life: CSM has an interesting article called Professors want their classes 'unwired' by Maia Ridberg. I've always thought this whole obsession of getting kids intertwined with their laptops is a bit manic. Here's a snippet:

When Don Herzog, a law professor at the University of Michigan, asked his students questions last year, he was greeted with five seconds of silence and blank stares.

He knew something was wrong and suspected he knew why. So he went to observe his colleagues' classes - and was shocked at what he found.

"At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90 percent of the students were online," Professor Herzog says. "And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started.... And I was just stunned."

This seems obvious - computers, especially well wired machines, can be an incredible distraction; on occasion I will work from a cafe, or somewhere I am not wired, just so I can focus - I often go out of my way to unplug from IM apps, shut off my email notification, etc.

I held a meeting the other day, and a few folks hauled their laptops in. My team is extremely busy these days, and I strive to keep meetings very short so team members can get on with their work. The mere presense of these machines, while well meaning - to look up relevant information here and there, ended up distracting the two team members, and dragging the team meeting out.

Here's another entertaining quote from a student in Ridberg's article:

"Every single person I have ever seen bring a computer to class has also surfed the Web or been on IM," says Amy Kornell, an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis. "I saw one girl watch a whole episode of 'Gray's Anatomy.' But I would guess that solitaire is the most popular game."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Frogs on Granville

Life: We spent this weekend up in Vancouver visiting Ameen's family. Was a nice, relaxing trip. Saturday was intermittently blustery - we ran through some storms while passing through Bellingham, then it just sort of rained. Sunday, however, was sunny and bright -- a picture perfect spring day in the northwest.

Ameen spent about 15 years of her life studying, then printing/art making, on Granville Island in Vancouver. Whenever we're in Vancouver, Ameen gets an amazing itch to head to Granville. It's a lovely place, so of course I also now get this itch. For anyone visiting Vancouver, you can find out more at

We got a chance to catch up with our good friend Peter who owns and runs New Leaf Editions, a fine printmaking studio on the island. Peter's a tad eccentric, and amongst other interesting Peter-isms, he has an exhaustive collection of frogs. Nayan was fascinated by the 40+ odd years of frog collecting Peter's been doing. His studio is full of frogs - coat hanger frogs, clock frogs that sing Irish drinking tunes, dancing frogs with red rubber tongues, and dead Japanese ones with a zipper instead of legs to hold coins, to name a few.

One of the joys of parenthood is seeing the fascination and enjoyment of the simple every day things we long since learned to tune out. Ananya, at the site of some rather standard ducks, was shreaking like a very happy banshee.

Monday, May 01, 2006

News Feeds and other Site Info

Tech: I recently installed Google Analytics, so I can get an idea of what you all do on this website, and how I might be able to improve it. As an aside, Google Analytics is an order of magnitude better than any site analysis tool I've used. The Google folks have perhaps the most elaborate and effective use of AJAX I've seen on the web. Among other things, I get to see which links people are using, how they enter the site, how often they simply bounce back out, where they come from, geographical maps, etc.

One of the things I learned is that many of you aren't using RSS feeds, but are periodically visiting the site (mostly by Googling for Chalo Bolo). That's not a bad thing, if I were a more diligent poster, but I suspect many of you get mildly annoyed to find out that I haven't posted in a while. So I recommend using a consolidated viewer like Bloglines; with a blog lines, or similar account, you can keep all the news, blogs, etc. that you read at one URL, then you can automatically see which of your sites have new content, summaries of the posts, etc. You can usually simply add the URL of your sites, and almost every site, including blogs and more popular sites like the NYT, Christian Science Monitor, etc. all support RSS feeds.

Another thing I learned, is that many of you are repeatedly following the Topic links off to the right of this post, which is great. For those of you who have not, I'll briefly explain. For each post I make, I tag the post w/ certain classifications, like: Life, Politics, Movie Reviews, etc. The links off to the right point to these posts. If all you're interested in are Movie Reviews, than you can simply follow that link and avoid the rest. And of course, if you're interested in all of it, you can ignore this advice all together!
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