Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Occurs tomorrow and Friday.
The solar event causes the sun to set in alignment with Manhattan’s street grid.

Friday may be the most interesting day, with the sun in perfect alignment just before it begins to disappear below the horizon. On Thursday, perfect alignment begins just after sunset has begun.

-Savor the sunset: Manhattanhenge is this week

Friday, May 23, 2008

geek tshirts

In a few months I'm going to the Open Source convention out in Portland (I'm pretty excited, it's a good nerd conference), and when registering I had to pick out my tshirt size. Suprise, they now offer women's sizes!!! It's the little things when you're a girl geek- all my previous Oscon tshirts are Men's Medium because they didn't even offer women's sizes the other times I went.

In my closet is an entire collection of unworn geek tshirts I've collected over the years, all in men's sizes. So I tend to see "do they offer women's sized tshirts?" as a bit of a equality-in-engineering metric.

Large Scale Data Munging

I don't believe I've ever posted a link to one of my favorite blogs, Datawocky. Great article today on super large scale data munging:

Yet the Map Reduce paradigm has its limitations. The biggest problem is that it involves writing code for each analysis. This limits the number of companies and people that can use this paradigm. The second problem is that joins of different data sets is hard. The third problem is that Map Reduce works on files and produces files; after a while the number of files multiplies and it becomes difficult to keep track of things. What's lacking is a metadata layer, such as the catalog in database systems. Don't get me wrong; I love Map Reduce, and there are applications that don't need these things, but increasingly there are applications that do.

-Why the World Needs a New Database System

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Food stores of Bleecker

I took the PATH train to Christopher and Hudson this morning, as I do pretty often when the weather is nice, and walked on down Bleecker to my office. You could gain 50 pounds just looking in the windows of all the wonderful food stores along this walk- The Kitchen blog has a nice writeup of some of the most famous ones.

Foodie Walking Tour of Bleecker

They missed a few other nice ones like Grom Gelato.

Alarm Clock Law

This might even reveal itself in the Alarm Clock Law: if another device can handle the task of a dumber gadget, it will replace it

- The Alarm Clock is Dead, Long Live the Cellphone

Been doing it when traveling for years, but I used to use a CD player alarm clock at home. I've recently switched to my ipod, plugged into computer speakers. So for years I'd kind of wanted one of those 'zen alarm clocks' that have nice chimes for the wakeup sound, but I could never really bring myself to spend that much for a simple alarm clock. Last year I had a brain wave, bought a MP3 album of chimes from the amazon MP3 store, and dropped them into a playlist on my ipod. Bingo- $8 zen alarm clock. I love it. Especially when it goes off at 5 AM every morning, prompting Declan to wake up and start demanding his breakfast.

Monday, May 19, 2008

NYT on email recommendations

Guessing the Online Customer’s Next Want

Very high level overview of a company that provides an email marketing solution based on customer's past buying habits. From the end:

“I still get e-mails from Amazon recommending books based on the Jared Diamond titles I bought three years ago,” he said. “But I get nothing about my interest in gardening.

Same Author recommendtions are much easier, an stronger, than same subject. And it's hard to notice shifts in customer interests- you might think that you're really interested in gardening, but you only buy 2 books on it, compared with dozens of another subject. I find myself frustrated with the same thing, even though I know I can look at the list of my purchases and searches and see a different pattern appearing there than I think there should be.

On the similar interests filtering topic, I first heard about this stuff via Firefly at the Media Lab. Wired has an article from long ago about its demise, Firefly's Dim Light Snuffed Out.

After all, Firefly is more than just another failed Microsoft Web venture. As far back as 1996, the technology, and the community that piggybacked on top of it, stood out as one of the most potent properties anywhere.
In essence, Firefly was a collaborative filter -- a technology that asked users what they liked, learned their tastes in music, then got them in touch with people having similar tastes.
Five years and several new paradigms later -- and following the company's 1998 buyout by Microsoft -- the light is going out for good on the forums. The underlying technology will live on, however, powering Redmond's e-commerce efforts.
Some of the service's users clearly long for the good old days.
"What the hell happened to the fly?" wrote one displaced Firefly user in an MSN forum. "It went down for a few days and then BLAM!!!!!! ... They decided to shut it down ... Does anybody remember when there was over 400 people on at one time in the fly?"
MIT professor Patti Maes does. She headed up the software agents group at MIT's Media Lab and led the development of the technology that would eventually spin off to become Firefly.

So that would make it 10 years ago when I was a junior or senior in college. This kind of recommendations filtering has changed a ton in that time, but it also has remained pretty static. Sure, now you can use MapReduce and we have several orders of magnitude more data, but at the root it's still the same basic algorithm.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

NYT article on women engineers

“Most people just don’t look at a woman and see an engineer,” Ms. Muller said.

- New York Times article on women engineers in the workforce (yet again, is this article in the Styles section because they assume only women will want to read it?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Copyright years

Dear Developers, Don’t Hardcode Copyright Years

Ha. So glad that this annoys someone else. I wish I could remember how many first-Tuesday-back-at-work-in-the-new-year online pushes I've signed off on just to fix a hardcoded year. People, you're presumably using a template language of some kind. Take advantage of it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

NYC, again

Last year I was mildly obsessed with Greenwich Village. This year, it's been my almost daily walks down Bleecker to Bowery to grab lunch. The last few blocks of Bleecker have a sort of hidden feeling to them... a few small stores, the backs of some large buildings, a really back corner, haphazard feeling... then you reach Bowery, and there's the old CBGBs (now a jeans store), the new Rogan store, the new Think Coffee, and all these little shops popping up in a small area. The sociologist in me is still mad obsessed with these blocks.

The sun finally came out again this afternoon, and I managed to snag a backwards facing window seat on the train, so I had a great ride home. The reason why a backwards facing window seat is so wonderful is that as you come across the meadowlands on your way to Newark you can sit and stare off in the distance at NYC disappearing.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive
Originally uploaded by wck
Here's some more Monterey- a view of the pacific ocean as we whizzed along 17 Mile Drive. After stopping at 1 beach so that I could take photos, my sailor wasn't so interested in any further photo stops, hence the blurry pictures. Want to see what the ocean looks like at 35 mph? There you go.

Before this trip he finally got a briggs & riley roller suitcase after listening to me evangelize about them for, oh, the past 5 years, so we compared my older model to his new one. While checking out all the pockets on mine, he opened the address card holder and asked me when I thought I'd last changed the card in there. I thought for a moment and said, "it's still amazon." Nope... Google. Geesh. I need to fish out a new business card and think about what tags are on my other pieces of luggage...

NYC is warm but rainy today. I took the ferry across to Manhattan at 7 AM this morning when it was lightly drizzling and sat inside sipping my coffee. Nothing like a gorgeous short ferry ride in the rain to feel at home again.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Originally uploaded by wck
Against all odds, it's actually sunny and warm in Monterey today! Wow. I was fully expecting the weather to be the same as it was the last time I was here, in June 2000- chilly, foggy, and gray.

Let's see... I woke up early and had some coffee on our deck. Then we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, walked around for 2 hours and then took the 'behind the scenes' tour, which was very neat. Afterwards we had lunch and did the 17 mile drive. I got my toes and fingers into the Pacific, but wow- it was very very cold. I first saw the Pacific ocean about 10 years ago, in June 1998, so it seemed fitting to spend the afternoon scrambling around tide pools and lying around in the sunshine. So relaxing and wonderful, in so many ways.

It's funny, how peaceful water makes me feel. Growing up on the lake, I was basically submerged for 4 months each year, and I think I'll never outgrow the need to be near as possible to a lake or an ocean.