Kindle Thoughts

I tweeted Reviewed an early-draft novel via Kindle. It worked well for that. Search was handy. Highlighted lines of interest. Over on Facebook, my cousin Sierra asked some questions about that. And Alex Soe had a comment, too. (Yes, I looked at Facebook today. I was out IRL with the high school chums yesterday and one of them reminded me that Facebook sucks less than it used to. So I looked at it today. It does suck less than it used to. There wasn't any Farmville-clone-spam. And there were comments.) Composing a reply in the little window wasn't going so well, so here is a longwinded reply in a blog entry.

Peoples' comments are in italics. My replies are not.

Sierra writes:

Is a kindle really worth it?

Hey, Sierra, good to hear from you. So far, the Kindle has been darned nice, but not totally worth it. It's handier than a paper book. The search feature is darned nice, especially if you think you're going to read the book carefully.

On the other hand, it was $150. And I'm a cheapskate. And... the library has paper books for free. Of the books I want to read, I can find most of them at the San Francisco Public Library or in the excellent Link+ network of libraries. Of the books I want to read, I can find some of them for Kindle. But not most. So I tend to check the library first.

So... I've had the Kindle for several weeks now; I've read several books meanwhile, but only 2.5 of those on the Kindle. Reading them on the Kindle was better than reading them on paper. Let's say my increased enjoyment was worth, uhm, $5 per book. So maybe I've derived $12.50 of value from the Kindle so far. Say I keep using it for two years, extrapolate out... At the rate I'm going, maybe I'll get $100 of value. I shelled out $150 for my refurbished Kindle. Trotting out the balance scale—darned nice, but not worth it.

(Yes, Kindle fans, yes it's my fault for not giving Kindle a chance. I should get into the habit of checking the Kindle store before I check the library. As more books become Kindle-ified, I'll have more incentive to check the Kindle store first, as the odds will be more in its favor. I'll use the Kindle a lot when I travel. The next time Neal Stephenson writes a book whose paper version weighs 20 pounds, I'll read it on Kindle, and it will pay for itself in reduced wrist strain. Yes, yes, yes, all valid points. But so far, honestly, I'm still thinking: darned nice, but not worth it. I'm glad I got it, but it was a splurge, an indulgence. Like out-of-season strawberries or something.)

Do you miss turning pages?

Nope. Then again, I didn't have a sentimental attachment to turning pages. If you do, you might miss it.

Is it bulky?

Nope. The one I have (a Kindle, uhm, Classic. Kindle I? Kindle original? I forget what they call it) is about the size of a, uhm, normal hardcover book. It's a good shape for something you want to hold for a while without cramping your hands, wearing out your wrist, etc. Newer readers are smaller. That doesn't make much sense to me—some of them look like my hands would cramp if I held them too long. Then again, I have big hands. If you're not a mutant, your mileage may vary.

I'm sooooo hesitant to get on the bandwagon...

Yeah. I'm not surprised to find out it's a popular gift—it's a nice thing, but expensive.

Alex writes:

Yeah, I heard good things about Kindle from my co-workers. Lots of them got it as Xmas present from their wives. It was also a hot topic at this year's CES. I am kind of intersted in the flexible-but-resilient, paper-thin e-reader. No more dirty fingers from reading traditional newspaper. Heheh...

Hey, Alex. Maybe the Hawaiian newspapers need to learn about the newfangled printing methods that have non-smearing ink. We have that here in San Francisco.

Wow, how awkward. I Tweeted, people replied on Facebook, and here I am reply-replying on my Blog. I can hardly wait until the Salmon Protocol lets us have this conversation in a not-so-disjoint manner.

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Book Report: Design for Community

It's Derek Powazek's 2002 book about making web sites that work well for communities. There were examples of things that worked well, things that didn't. A lot of this material is stuff you get to hear about already. There was one insight, one new way of seeing things that I liked: if you want higher-quality comments from users, your comment form should be less "usable". Your instinct as a web designer is to keep things easy, free, and open. But that ease-of-use also means that a bored 12 year old boy has an easy time posting "yermom" on your site. So if you're getting too much low-quality user input... move the post button to someplace less obvious. Maybe require a sign-in step.

This naturally made me think about Youtube comments, famous for inanity and mean-spirited-ness. Each user "pinned" to a page because he's watching the embedded video. If the video's a couple of minutes long, he's got a ocuple of minutes of half-attention with nothing better to do than write an awful comment. Maybe he should have to jump through more hoops first.

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Link: How to stop leaking private info each time a FB friend takes a personality quiz

A while back, I started looking at FB app coding, and was thusly creeped out. When someone writes a Facebook app, e.g., one of those What sandwich condiment are you?!? quizzes, they can tell that app to get information about the person who runs it--and about that person's friends. When the person runs the application, a screen comes up asking for permission to look at a bunch of stuff, including their friends' data. I.e., it shows one of those permissions screens that nobody bothers to read anymore. When the program runs, it "sends home" information about your friend--and information about all of your friend's friends. Thus, the personality quiz's writers get to see your FB data, just because your friend ran their app.

Each time you see something in your FB news feed saying "Your friend Joe is Miracle Whip! Take the What sandwich condiment are you?!? quiz." you can cringe a little--your friend Joe just gave away your Facebook information so he could find out what kind of condiment he was.

You don't want to freak out too much about this; for some applications, it's totally worth it to share this kind of information. But I don't want to give out my information to any bozo who throws together a personality quiz.

So I was pretty glad to see this article Quiz: What Do Facebook Quizzes Know About You?, even though it leans towards the privacy-freak end of the spectrum. Mostly, I was glad to find out about FB settings I can use to keep friends' apps from seeing this info even though I have a few friends who are enthusiastic personality testers. I didn't know about those settings before.

I will cringe less often in the future.

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Rerun, sort of: 25 random things meme

[A few months back, I posted a note on Facebook. It went a little something like this.]

How it is supposed to work....but don't feel obligated: once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

0. Like many computer programmers, I start counting at zero.
1. I'm allergic to douglas fir. I found out about this from an allergy test in which I was poked with many needles. I'm not sure how the allergy testing people fit a douglas fir into that tiny needle.
2. I am allergic to cats and dogs but pet them anyhow. And then I wash my hands to rid them of dander. Really, you should wash your hands after you pet a dog or cat anyhow. Dogs like to roll in poop, you know. I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm just saying you should consider it.
3. I once bought four traffic cones. I still have them, for no good reason.
4. If it looks like I'm thinking deeply, I'm probably thinking about burritos.
5. I am a USA citizen over age 25 who does not own a television.
6. I am a USA citizen over age 25 who does not own a car.
7. I am a USA citizen over age 25 who does not own a burrito AT THE MOMENT but I hope to rectify this soon, albeit temporarily.
8. I usually have a piece of paper with me with the Morse code, Braille, and Semaphore flag alphabets. This comes in handy more often than you would think, but still not very often.
9. My usual breakfast: two peanut butter sandwiches.
10. If needed, I can find something to complain about in any situation.
11. I don't have a personality as such. I imitate the people around me.
12. I get a haircut at least once per year whether I need it or not.
13. I'm not superstitious about the number 13. That might be because I start counting at zero.
14. The prospect of going bald appeals to me. I think I'd look more distinguished and could get away with more stuff.
15. I believe in finishing what I start. I could be out procuring a burrito RIGHT NOW, but I'm determined to finish writing this list first. Also, it's raining.
16. I used to visit Facebook once a day, but now only visit it when I get some notification or other--and I ignore most of those, too. Twitter and Friendfeed have replaced Facebook in my life.
17. I play in the Bay Area Night Game, Shinteki, and The Game.
18. I sat on a bee once and hope I never do again.
19. I am tall. Scientific studies have found that my height makes people more likely to think of me as a "leader". I have found that my height makes me more prone to head injuries. It logically follows that human society is doomed.
20. I have been stung by bees in other places, too. I wasn't fond of any of them, either, you understand. I'm just saying that one bee sting was especially bad, is all.
21. I used to be pretty unforgiving until I ran an iterated genetic algorithm that played the Prisoner's Dilemma; it changed my thinking.
22. I make funny faces when no-one is looking.
23. Every so often, maybe at a new job, maybe at a party "mixer", someone asks me to give an interesting fact about myself. I keep quiet about the things which might lead to undue interest from law enforcement officers.
24. I cuss casually.
25. Like many computer programmers, I am prone to "fencepost" errors.

[Fun fact: It is a pain in the !@@ to find an old Facebook posting.]

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Misapplying Google Friend Connect

I put a couple of "Google Friend Connect" gadgets on the site. These are little web gadgets that allow you to register your interest in the site and to leave comments on a wall. (That's "wall" in the sense of "write all", i.e., like a forum or IRC channel for you young whippersnappers who didn't have "wall".) And you're thinking "So what, big deal. I could already leave comments without these 'gadget' thingies." And you're right.

A neat thing about these gadgets, though--you can use them on more than one site and they share their data. E.g., I set up gadgets on a test website. The wall-comments there are the same as those on this site.

So... suppose you have a website on some topic. You can set up these gadgets for your own site. You can then encourage other folks to put your site's gadgets onto their sites. They'll need to install some HTML, and they'll need your permission (You'll need to tweak your Friend Connect settings under Site Settings > Advanced, you'll need to add their site's URL to the list of permitted sites) E.g., if you have a site about puzzly treasure-hunts and if you give me permission, I could post your gadget on my site. You might like that because it helps drive traffic to your site. I might like that because it makes my site part of a bigger community.

But I don't think my site could be the main site for the topic--my site's topic is me. I doubt that other sites want to start showing gadgets for my site. I do not have a personality cult; I am not Kibo.

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Link: Ghost Patrol Forums, Sort of

Meat Machine (well, the Bay Area team by that name) set up a "Ghost Capturing" part of their Ghost Patrol application: a social network for ghosts (and ghost sympathizers. I joined, but have encountered some anti-living bigotry. I think y'all should join and back me up... while respecting Ghost culture, of course.

Visit Lonely Souls

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David Hill on Hypotheses and Blurting

David Hill replied to yesterday's blog post on hypotheses in puzzle-solving. He replied on Facebook, so you probably didn't see it. I'll post his reply here. I have a couple of reasons for wanting to post his reply here. First of all: he makes some relevant and cogent observations. Second of all: His reason for posting this on Facebook is astounding.

sorry to post my reply on facebook and not your blog proper but here at work your blog is blocked by sonicwall as "personals - dating."

i enjoyed reading this a lot and thought about how teams i've been on have dealt with this problem on other games.

in new york, where our team has been as large as 20 people, we often try to huddle around a puzzle and do the blurting thing. but i can't deal with that because it is uncomfortable and i don't think well in that situation.

but my experience has also shown me that puzzles are rarely solved by one person suddenly cracking them, often the group has to brainstorm and share all their ideas, "blurt" them if you will, in order to get someone to that "a-ha" moment.

i think figuring out a set amount of time for each person to come up with ideas then everyone sharing them is a good marriage of these two approaches.

i also think having a copier available to make sure everyone can take a paper puzzle a quiet place to think is helpful.

This prompts some questions: How many of you people are using this site to find dates? How many of you would use this site to find dates if only your local firewall wasn't blocking it? Should I try to make matches among my single friends via this website? Which do you consider to be a better source of dates: or Should I think harder about what David wrote about collaboration instead of getting totally sidetracked by the whole "dating site" thing, or would that be out of character?

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Site Update: Contact, more XFN than you can stand

I've been marking my internet territory. That is to say, I've been federating my identity. That is to say, I added more rel="me" links to the Larry Hosken contact page.

Do you remember my ramble about XFN a few weeks ago? Or the follow-up ramble about how XFN-like links might ease the burden of finding your friends on a social network service you just joined? Or how I set up that FOAF profile back in 2003 and then whined because no-one else had a FOAF profile so I had no-one to link to?

I hope you don't remember those. They were ranty and rambly. Which is too bad, because this stuff got more interesting recently.

Here's a summary.

Probably more than one web page represents you. Maybe you have a blog, a flickr page and a twitter page. Wouldn't it be nice to specify that those pages were all associated with the same person?

You can--if you can edit the page's source code. You can add a rel="me" to the link. If your blog links to your flickr with rel="me", you've "claimed" your flickr. If your flickr in turn links back to your blog with rel="me", that confirms the claim. If you can't edit the page's source code, then you might still get a rel="me" link, if the service lets you specify your web page and then automatically supplies that rel="me link. LinkedIn does, flickr does, other services do, too.

You can identify your friends. By adding rel="met", rel="met acquaintance", rel="met friend", or similar attributes to a link, you can say "The web page at the other end of this link is a person who I met/liked/whatever". (For a list of the words you can have in the rel, read the XFN spec).

A while back, I added rel="met" to various links on my friends-links page. (I didn't try to add further qualifiers like friend or acquaintance because... I dunno, it just seemed a little too high-school.) Social networks sites can use these, too. LiveJournal annotates friends links with rel="friend"... uhm, in some places. Not on my LJ page, apparently. But on some other people's LJ pages.

So, what's new? What got me excited about this stuff again?

This info just got easier to use. Google crawls the web. Google recently started keeping track of these XFN links (and FOAF profiles, but... this "summary" is already getting long.) Google is making this info available to programmers via an API and to humans via a sample program that uses that API. The API is Socialgraph.

Yeah, that information is easily accessible now. A programmer who wants to use it doesn't need to set up their own crawl. Yay, Socialgraph! I also like the fact that it uses data from more than one source: FOAF in addition to XFN. I'm not super-fond of either standard; it's good that Socialgraph is flexible enough to work with either; presumably it will work with other, better standards that come along. Oh, and the docs have pretty diagrams showing how a social network could use this info to solve the new-member-wants-to-find-already-subscribed-friends problem.

Full disclosure: Yeah, you know where I work. I hope that doesn't bias me in favor of Socialgraph, but you never know. My opinions are, as always, mine. I don't speak for anyone else.

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Site Update: I'm on Twitter. (Are you?)

I signed up for Twitter. Yes, you can now get updates about my status much more often than you want to. You can see my Twitter status if you visit this blog's front page; if you resourcefully follow the "follow me on Twitter" link, you'll find other ways to receive those updates. E.g., there is a feed.

Are you on Twitter? Let me know.

I'd considered signing up for Twitter before, but their About page mentioned something about giving them my gmail password, and I was all like "No way! I sit down the hall from a bunch of computer security experts. They scream every time you tell your password to a stranger. I just couldn't face those people." So I gave up.

But you can join Twitter without telling them your email password. It's just that then you're kinda on your own for figuring out which, if any, of your friends are already on Twitter. Thus, I ask: are you on Twitter? If so, let me know so I can subscri^W follow you.

I already know that Vanessa is on Twitter; it was her blog post today that prodded me to sign up. How about the rest of you? Yeah, I know, the intersection between my circle of friends and Social2.0 folks is narrow; but there are a few of you.

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Puzzlehunts are Everywhere: Save the Burninators

In case you're wondering why my Facebook Status says "Save the Burninators", I just finished an IM conversation with Ian Tullis. He says that most of the Burninators headed into San Francisco this morning for some kind of National Treasure treasure-hunt dealie, and they haven't been heard from since. A naive person might think that they're just hanging out and solving puzzles somewhere. But I'm pretty sure that they've been kidnapped by Evil Hollywood Producers and that a rag-tag band of second-tier puzzle solvers will have to rescue them in a later stage of this puzzle hunt. Thus:

Save the Burninators

Speaking of Social Networks, if you're interested in what I was going to say about them back when I was talking about all of those rel="me" links...

A service that looks like the Links section of my Contact would be very helpful if someone wants to join a new social network and wants to ease the chore of connecting with their friends who are already on that social network.

Suppose that there is this service that allows you to set up a page that links to all of your profiles. Let's call that your "star" page since it links out to many pages and looks kind of like a star on a network graph. And on each of your social network profile pages, you link to this "star" page. More importantly, your friends do likewise.

Suppose that I about to join the (fictional, I think) social network dickr, where haggling enthusiasts exchange news about local bargains. I want to know which of my Friendster friends are also on dickr. I should be able to ask Friendster to figure this out: generate a report:

foreach f in my friendster friends:
  for each link l in f's profile page which f has marked as "theirs":
    visit page l.  for each link l' on page l:
      is it a link to dickr?  if so, remember that link

I should then be able to give this bucket of links to dickr and it can use that to suggest a list of people on its network that I want to befriend.

Why might Friendster want to give away this information? Because otherwise, dickr will probably ask me to type in my friendster name and password--and if I'm a typical overly-trusting internet citizen, I'll probably hand it over.

How would this "star"-page service make money? I don't know. Maybe humans would visit these pages, too. Humans might be curious to see what-all networks their friends belong to.

I thought that maybe the site provided these "star" pages--they are a social network site that allows you to link to your social network profiles. But I don't see an easy way for a computer program to get the links, it looks like socialurl kind of obscures the links. But they don't obscure the links very well... I can't tell if they're deliberately making it difficult or if they're just being obnoxious.

Anyhow, spread the word: Save the Burninators

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Site Update: Contact, Links

I updated the site's Contact and Links pages.

A few months back, Gavin Bell gave a talk at work. He mentioned in passing how various folks are using hCard to say "this web page is about a person" and using XFN to represent the relationships between people. Then he got on to the point of his talk: data-mining social networks. And figuring out how you could use them to get interesting reports on friend activities vs. separate reports for your friend's photos on flickr, status updates on twittr, etc. And the privacy concerns.

As so often happens at these talks, I was surprised by the part that I was supposed to already know. I hadn't heard of hCard nor XFN and the "excitement about microformats" had not yet caught my eye. (Maybe it hadn't caught yours, either. That's why I tried to summarize what each of those formats is for.)

So I set up my home page, contact page, links page, and blog page to point at each other with links that say rel="me". That says, "If you think of a web page as representing a person, then all of these pages represent the same person." (Of course, not all pages represent people--but some do--personal personal home pages, personal blogs, profile pages...) Then I set up some hCard info on my Contact page to say "Yes, indeed, there is a person associated with this cluster of pages." That page now links to some of my profile pages on social networks, each link marked with a rel="me" to say "That's me, too."

My Links page is mostly links to other people. But not all. Can I link to the dog-trainer continuing education page and say "That is Veronica Boutelle."... with a straight face? Not really. Anyhow, I gave some of those links, which were definitely about people a rel="met" tag, meaning "That's a person, and I've met them." For those pages where people gave their names, I also added some hCard information, saying, "This link is to a person named 'Kiem Sie'."

This is, of course, a silly thing to do. A very small fraction of my friends have publicly-visible web presences for which they declare their names. Many of them don't want lots of public "social" information about them out on the net. Some of them have been stalked. Most of this "social" information about people is locked up behind Access Control Lists, and that's probably a good thing.

The hard part about making these relationships visible to computers isn't the data structures, it's the permissions. If I have a private account on two sites and I want to consolidate their information somehow, I'm not likely to convince either site to send information to the other--they're probably competing.

Oh, there's more to say, but I gotta go soon. I guess the short story is:

I've been wasting time with links and social networks.

But the interesting part is that I found out that I know the guy who made the Machinima animation for that "Code Monkey" video. How cool is that?

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Quechup: Do NOT trust them with your address book

Quechup is a new spam site disguised as a social network. When you join up, they ask for your address book. Then they send invite emails to every address in your address book.

If you receive a Quechup "invite" from a friend, I suggest you ignore it. I've received a couple of them... and was saved from joining only because the main thing that I saw when I googled [quechup] was a lot of apologies from people who discovered that they had spammed all of their electronic acquaintances.

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Site Update: Fixed a Photo

A little script runs over this website's visit logs each night, generating a pretty report. I think I wrote the original back in 1999. I rewrote it last night. Python instead of Perl now. Sorted and clustered logs of errors. Some errors indicate that I've broken the web site; I want to fix those. Some errors indicate that someone on MySpace decided to use one of my photos as their background image without my permission; those errors are fine. The want-to-fix errors were getting lost in a sea of MySpace crud. So I re-wrote the script, tinkering, getting things the way I wanted them.

The pay-off so far? I finally noticed that I failed to upload a photo that someone sent me. Yes, the page that failed to display that graphic--I added that page back in October. Sorry about the broken image. Anyhow, it's there now.

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Link: Web Entrepeneurs in Full Color Video

Can a two-person start-up tell Google how to grow a great user-centered web service? Yes, yes they can. Chuck and Gaurav, the brains behind BillMonk, the social money network web site thingy, came to Google and gave a talk. Whether you're into web services, Billing For the People, social networks, entrepeneurs, making accounting fun tolerable, listening to users, or geek clothing fashion, this video lecture has something for you. Go watch!

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