Archive for October, 2006


Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

To those I’ve shared written corresponded with, it will come as zero surprise that I simply cannot spell. Likewise, anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time. (Although maybe not some.)

A while back, talking with Khayman one day, I found both he & I shared the same dirty secret: we both would use Google as our fall back spell checker.

You spelling bee winners may have no idea what I’m talking about, but the rest of you, the ones living your hidden lives in red squiggly line hell know what I mean. For me, the challenge often isn’t to spell the word right. I know I have no hope of that. Rather, for me, the challenge is to get the word spelled close enough that the spell checker can figure out what the hell it is that I’m trying to spell.

And, I’m sad to say, I’m pretty good at stumping it. For whatever reason, no spell checker, anywhere, not Word, not ispell, not aspell, can figure out my spelling of convience.

Before Google, when failed by a spell checker, I used to fall back on a combination of grep, regular expressions, and /usr/dict/words. The experience was always mixed. I knew for certain it started with ‘con’, but then so did a lot of other words. ‘vence’ has to be in there some where. Wait, no results, I guess not. Damn. Most often, I’d just page through a long list of words until I found what I was looking. Ah, convenience. There we go.

However, today it’s just a click away.


‘Did you mean convenience?’

Why, yes, I did. Thank you, Google.

The reason this works is it takes advantage of the countless interactions my fellow dysfunctional spellers have with Google, combined with a little help from their loved ones.

In the days before search engines suggested the correct spelling of things (or even today when you stump them)things typically went something like this:

User: convience
Search Engine: … Crap Results …
User: Back Button

User: convenaynce
Search Engine: … Crap Results …
User: Back Button

User: convieance
Search Engine: … Crap Results …
User: Back Button

User: conveyience
Search Engine: … Crap Results …
User: Back Button

User: conviaence
Search Engine: … Crap Results …
User: Back Button

This would happen easily a dozen more times. (You know you really messed up when you get no results.) Eventually, surrender:

User: ‘Honey, how do you spell convience?’
Honey: ‘I think it’s c-o-n-v-e-n-i-e-n-c-e, but I’m not sure. You might want to check.’
User: convenience
Search Engine: ‘ Good Results ‘
User: ‘That’s it. Thanks, honey.’

What Google does is learn from this interaction. It looks at your sequence of searches, it sees you refining your query, and by terminating your search (and probably clicking a link), figures that’s what you must have meant. So it’s not that Google has any new or improved spelling heuristics to offer a better spell checker, rather, it’s learning from actual human beings. And, turns out, that approach works really well. Hence, it can figure out convience when nobody else can.

So it surprised me earlier this evening, that not only did I trump Word’s spell checker, but Google as well. And not only that, but I was right!

Typing ”sh’ into Word, I found the familiar red squiggly appear underneath. Hmmm’ none of the suggestions are correct. A few variations with much luck. I throw ‘sh into google & it’s not hot-linked over to the definition. Hmmm, must be spelled wrong. Not even a suggestion. Damn. A few variations there, no luck. Huh.

Now I’m wondering if ‘sh is even a word or something I’ve made up. I could swear it is, though. On a lark, I try Damn, no suggestions. Wait, that’s a definition. Hey, that’s what I thought it meant’ did it fix it for me? No, wait! I had it right. Double-check Google. Double-check Word. Same results. Whoa. I beat Word & Google. Those bitches at Scripps better watch out now.

Now, you may be wondering in what context I was using ‘sh. Was I looking for an antonym to describe me? (Antonym, there’s another hard one.) Actually, no. It was describe some of the sights in West Hollywood.

See, Ticketmaster’s offices are right on the Sunset Strip, so day to day, just going to coffee shop, you see a fairly eclectic collection of individuals. People who looked like they fell out of Entourage. Rockstars-to-be with their own distinct look. People who feel that some pieces of clothes, typically considered required, are, in fact, optional. (Those are the best.) Add in Halloween & the craziness ramps up a level.

Yet, the strangest personal sighting for me, still remains last week. Driving home, I saw a group of 3 guys walking down the Strip. Two where dressed normally. At least Sunset-normal. I’m not 100% sure of the details, because of the third guy. The third looked as if you had starved a Calvin Kline model, given him nothing to wear but a pair of diapers and glued a set of angle wings to his back. Honestly, I’m surprised the wind was blowing him away. Or that he wasn’t cold in that outfit.

And, honestly, if that doesn’t call for the use of the word ‘sh, I don’t know what does.

ExxonMobil and Wartime Profiteering

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

Hearing that Exxon earned near record profits of 10.5 billion, I wasn’t sure of what to make of the news. In general, I think it’s great when companies — big or small — reach that kind of success. (I.e., I’m the kind of guy who likes Walmart, not hates it.)

On the hand, we’re in a state of war. Americans have been suffering through higher gas prices through much of the War on Terror. Is Exxon taking advantage of the situation to shake down the American consumer for a few more bucks at the pump?

Which is it?

I realized what I wanted to know was how their profit translated into terms that affect the average consumer. How does it affect prices at the pump?

The math is obvious, but how many gallons of gas are sold in America? Quite frankly, I had no idea, so I didn’t know if 10B in profit works out to something like 1/10 cent per gallon (in which case, nice job Exxon) or is it something like $1 per gallon (in which, Rex Tillerson and the rest need to be publicly drawn and quartered for treason. It’d be just like the end of Braveheart, only instead of screaming “Freedom”, Rex would yell “Petroleuuuuuum!”).

Before going further, any guesses? How many gallons of gasoline does American consume per day?

Answer after the jump.

Aleksey Garber, You Are Not Alone

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Good Day, Mr. Kubrick (via Brandon)

There’s no entry for him on IMDB, so I’m guessing the acting thing didn’t work out too well.

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

I know, I know — it’s been a long time since this blog has provided any “value add” to your lives. Starting a new job, looking for an apartment, and a commute from hell in the meantime, leaves little time for things like blogging.

However, this should tide you over for a bit and then some: The music video of Mr. Roboto.

And, yes, it’s as awesome as you remember it.

Frank Miller + The Battle of Thermopylae == Crazy Delicious

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Prepare to shit your pants: 300

Is Burying People Alive Torture?

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Woman: Saddam guards buried people alive

Prison guards under Saddam Hussein used to bury detainees alive and watch women as they bathed, occasionally shooting over their heads, a former female prisoner testified Monday in the genocide trial of the ex-president.

A prison warden she identified as Hajaj ‘ whose name has been given by earlier witnesses in the trial ‘ “used to drag women, their hands and feet shackled, and leave them in a scorching sun for several hours.”

“Soldiers used to watch us bathe,” said the woman. The guards also fired over the women’s heads as they washed.

The woman said several relatives disappeared during the offensive against the Kurds. “I know the fate of my family (members). They were buried alive,” she testified.

The prosecution presented the court with documents showing that remains of the women’s relatives turned up in a mass grave.

It baffles me that I live in a country where our isolated mistakes are given moral equivalence to the systematic torture of a dictatorial regime and that some how that prior state of affairs was the preferred state between the two.

9/11, Yahoo, and Me

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

As our generation’s version of the JFK assassination, everyone remembers where they were & what they where doing on 9/11. I do as well, but it’s also struck me as curious how 9/11 has interleaved with my career at Yahoo. Three major milestones happened the day before, the day of, and the day after.

While the latter two happened on anniversaries, the first milestone happened a day before the actual event. I received my offer from Yahoo on 9/10/01. I was happy to hear it, as I wasn’t 100% if I would be getting one or not. The next morning I was awoken by my sister calling from the east coast.

I think at that point only the first plane had hit and while major news, nobody was certain what was going on. So the bulk of the call was telling her about the position, the offer, next steps, etc. As we said goodbye, she said it sounded like more was happening, and that I should go turn on the TV, which I promptly did. Only then did the enormity of the day’s events set in.

Later in the afternoon the recruiter from Yahoo called, expressed hope that nobody I knew was on the planes bound for LA, and that obviously everyone was shook up, so there was no rush on the offer & to take as much time as I needed. Prior to receiving the offer, I had decided what the criteria was I needed to accept. Yahoo met it, so my mind was more or less already made up, but still, I was touched by the gesture. I thought it was a good sign of the kind of place I’d want to work.

The second milestone my most uniquely Yahoo experience. My first year, working in My Yahoo, was interesting in learning how everything worked and how they handled so many users, so many page views, all with every changing data, but, over all, not that different from starting on any other job. During that time, Yahoo was still recovering from the crash. A few months after my start, we underwent a round of layoffs. Terry Semel had recently come aboard, but people where still deciding for themselves if it was a good thing or not. The general direction seemed up in the air & the company felt rudderless.

In My Yahoo, our focus shifted to the SBC partnership. I was involved in helping build out pieces of the portal, working with other teams to use their data in the new modules. Eventually I found my personal focus moving over to the system that replicated the bulk of near-real-time data for us — things like headlines, weather, sports scores, etc. Created by one of more senior engineers (and a great guy to work with), it was another great learning experience, but the maintenance ended up being a bit mundane.

So it was with a bit of free time, that I read Ash’s email asking for volunteers to help build a tribute site for the first anniversary of 9/11. I remember using cal to confirm my feeling: 9/11 wasn’t that far away. How would they pull this off? I didn’t know if I’d be able to help, but having nothing to lose & at the very least it’d be interested, I fired off an response saying I’d like to help.

An invite for the kick-off meeting shortly followed & once congregated, I walked in, looked around & quickly decided I was in over my head. I knew most of the faces in the room, if not personally, then by their reputation and abilities.

Debating if I should just walk out, the meeting started, quickly delving the specifics of what we wanted to build. Users would be able to create a “tile.” The tile would contain a large graphic — things like hearts, doves, national flags, etc. — and a text message. People would be able to share their tile with friends & family, but you could also browse tiles. You could do a generic search or simply look at the ones from your hometown. They would all tie together and make a larger “quilt”, the spirt similar to a virtual AIDS quilt.

The deadline for the project non-negotiable, we then set about deciding how to build it & built it fast. We considered using a few internal platforms, but most of those ideas where scuttled for a variety of reasons. We had recently decided that one of priority templating technologies would be deprecated in favor of PHP and the company was doing more & more with MySQL, so why not give those a go. Jeffrey, from the Finance team, was there. They made heavy use of MySQL, so that seemed like a good option. I don’t think any of us had used PHP, but figured how hard could it be? Rough design in place, we decided how to break things down & set out to do our individual pieces.

From there, for the next 1-2 weeks, things quickly became a blur. As the calendar marched forward, so did the pressure. Sleep became optional, as 20+ hour days and all-nighters became the norm. My ignorance of PHP was replaced with hatred of PHP. MySQL was starting to melt, but luckily, Jeremy was drafted and he was able to make magic happen & keep things running.

Some amazing things happened in the middle of it as well.

Confronted with an apparent performance issue in PHP, we called up Rasmus, the creator of the language (prior to him joining us). I initially balked, the analogy of pestering Stroustrup with my idiotic C++ questions bouncing in my head. At Petsmart, I couldn’t call Gosling when servlets blew up. Part sleep deprived, I remembered the size of Yahoo and imagined that maybe when you’re that big, you get a rolodex of Computer Science heavies. Maybe it makes sense. Snapping back into reality, I realized people where still talking to me, explaining that Yahoo was already in contact with him & we were hoping he’d join us full time. Damn, I thought. I would have liked that rolodex. I wanted to complain to Larry about the behavior of &foo;.

Needing hardware, an ops manager showed up in my cube a bit later with an excess amount of hardware for us to use. The only question was how could they help us get it up & running. No politics, no debate. Just how can we help.

After launch, we got a tremendous response. So tremendous that the simple moderation required for each tile — simple sanity checks to prevent hate messages, spam, and other things counter to the spirt of the project — quickly overwhelmed the tasked manpower. Another call for help went out, and the response was huge. In particular, I remember running a database query to see who the top moderators where. I was proud that in the top 10 where several of our senior managers. Everyone was rolling up their sleeves & doing whatever they could.

It’s still probably one of the craziest projects I’ve ever worked on. Crazy in terms of high profile, crazy in terms of effort, crazy in terms of dedication, crazy in terms of lack of sleep, and crazy in terms of pressure.

I loved every minute of it.

My third & final milestone was much more recent. On 9/12/06, after five years at Yahoo, I submitted my resignation. It was a difficult decision, but it was time to move on. There’s a lot of great things at Yahoo (witness Hack Day) and it was sad to say goodbye to so many good people.

So, it had to be something pretty compelling to make the switch, and that it is. Later this month, I’ll be joining the team over at I’ll write more about it in the future, but knowing a fair bit of the team already, it’s exciting to start a job knowing that I’ll be working for a great boss, with some really talented people, and taking on some challenging projects.

Between jobs for the next two weeks, I don’t have much in the way of big plans, but I’m thinking that’s a good thing. I’ll join my mom visiting my brother up in Seattle (who, btw, is moving from MS to Google!), and catching up on various errands I’d been putting off. Today, after a year and half of waiting, I finally got the tiny holes in the top of my jeep fixed. Aside from that, it’s whatever I wake up in the morning & feel like doing. Some reading. Some hacking. A little bit of video games & tv.

Day 1 was today, and so far, so good. :-)