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March 15, 2005

In Search of Bezos

So, A9.com launched a new search feature today. Jeff Bezos launched it with a presentation at eTech2005. The nifty thing is that it has an interface for people to add their own custom column with the OpenSearch API (similar to RSS). Now people can syndicate specialized search engines and/or results.

I got to play with it ahead of time, of course. Unfortunately, I was too busy with my regular work to delve properly into the zen of building columns. I suggested some columns, but they didn't make it in, unfortunately - organic chemistry search engines, and O'Reilly books/site.

The organic chemistry search would have been really nifty if I could have figured out how to drive it. You see, one of the difficulties in the environmental chemistry field is getting the right name(s) for the myriad organic contaminants (hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, pesticides, polycarbonated biphenyls, etc.) It would be real nice to search on a name or common name, and come up with all of the synonyms (of which some compounds have several) and related compounds. The problem with the search, of course, is that most of the specialized search engines in the field are owned by major chemical companies or consortiums.

Still, it is a nifty item, and may help people make sense out of the masses of data available on the net. When a search on "alcohol content of wine" can bring up anything from recipes, medical texts, drug abuse, hydrometers, brewer's supplies, chemicals tests for alcohol, "health" sites, and assorted stuff, in addition to the occasional content labeling page, it gets a bit difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. OpenSearch, and A9 columns, can help with that.

Disclaimer: I work for A9.com, although not as a programmer. I reserve the right to blog about the neat toys my employer releases. My opinions are my own, however, not theirs, and I'm not a PR hack. I'm an opinionated geek.

Posted by ljl at 12:12 PM | Comments ()

March 1, 2005

Living How You Want To

I just read that the life partner of one of my online buddies died in a horseback riding accident. I'm sad, but not crushed.

You see, the woman, Dawn Marie, had MS - yes, *gasp*, she was disabled! She was in a long term, committed relationship with Carla. A couple years ago, they moved out of the city onto a ranch where Dawn Marie could work with her beloved horses. She was a disability advocate, and a gay rights advocate, and even though I never "conversed" with her online or in person, she made an impression on me, through Carla.

She didn't bend to the crap of "you're disabled, you shouldn't take risks, you shouldn't do physical stuff, blah, blah." Even though she rode a wheelchair, she also rode a horse! She and Carla didn't hide who they were, they bought property together! They weren't slave to the insidious "you should"s that are shoved down our throat by the pervasive, controlling, big bad sky father god culture.

In other words, Dawn Marie lived! She didn't merely exist, meekly subservient to doctors, preachers, and cultural expectations of what a disabled woman should be, or who she should love.

Yes, she died in an accident, riding her horse. But better to die living, than live dying the straw death of doing nothing.

Goodbye, Dawn Marie. I raise a glass to a life well lived, and a person well loved. My sympathies to Carla, who has a tough act to carry on alone.

Charities that Dawn Marie cared about:
Basic Rights Oregon
National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Posted by ljl at 1:48 PM | Comments (3)

March 7, 2005

Spam Reduction Practices

I get spam. Everyone does. I have multiple mailboxes, multiple addresses, so I get the damnedest spam. Let's look at the source vectors... and how to cope.

Mailing lists: If the list is publically archived, and the list software doesn't mung your address, or if the list manager doesn't care, you get spam. I use custom addresses for most lists, and I've started expiring them as well. It's a bit more manual maintenance, but it foils the vendors of boob jobs and pecker pills a bit.

Web addresses: I have my email on my resume, so the get rich quick jokers think that's a likely sucker. Yes, I break it up and munge it, but the spam skanks still find it. So it gets dated an expired too.

Generic addresses: Addresses like sales, marketing, end such like just plain bounce for my domains. You want to "market" my site? Too bad. If I want your "services" to publicise my presence, I'll find you.

Now, for certain types of areas of interest I have specific addresses. If those start getting skanky ads, the address gets flushed.

Still, I would seriously consider the death penalty for spammers. Or maybe prison terms for suckers who buy from them. I mean hell, if you want p*n*s p*lls or br**st *nl*rg*m*nt, just buy them from Amazon.com. (Yes, the links are real!) At least Amazon won't steal you credit card and identity details and rip you off.

Posted by ljl at 12:17 PM | Comments ()

March 4, 2005

What's New?

Well, I'm at a new $Job. More about it in a bit.

My previous contract gig was working on embedded Linux at Wyse. One of the products that the software went on is here. No, I wasn't a major member of the team, there were four others, plus a group overseas. Embedded is a lot of fun, but it really gets infuriating when you realize that a lot of applications coming out these days are very bloated, or require bloated libraries. Try printing without CUPS, and the massive perl layer it requires! The more current printers aren't even supported in anything else - there are as yet no other applications that can effectively parse some of the latest PPDs. Hint to C programmers looking for an app to write: rewrite the CUPs print engine in C, without the bulky GUI. Leave hooks for people to add as much or as little GUI as they need.

Before that I was working for Nuasis. An interesting product, but a disfunctional corporate culture. I'm glad I was contract and paid hourly. I learned a lot, but was glad to leave. They replaced me with two people, possibly three. I know, I interviewed them!

Now, I'm working for A9.com. Yes, folks, a "dot com", and I'm actually mentioning their name, because I'm gonna talk about their stuff and what I think of it. They do enhanced and personalized search. Want to use their site without all of the tracking stuff? Use http://generic.a9.com/. It doesn't track your history or have any "personalization".

One thing that I was very, very concerned about when I interviewed is privacy. You see, A9 is a subsidiary of Amazon. Amazon has gotten a bad rep on SlashDot and other things for privacy. They managed to satify my concerns, which is difficult since I am pretty paranoid. Looking from the inside, but off to the side a bit, Amazon actually is very paranoid about customer data going anywhere it shouldn't. Yes, they track a lot of stuff, partly so they can gauge how well they are doing to serve you, partly so they don't "recommend" to you something that you have no interest in. Now, I still have mixed feelings about Amazon's recommendations engine, but it has improved greatly since I first encountered it several years ago.

What A9 does is search and personalization of search. Their latest releases are the Amazon/A9 "Yellow Pages" (see this search for bread in San Jose, California), and the new version of the A9 toolbar (wherein, IMO, they fixed some really glaring problems.) Yes, the toolbar works with Mozilla and Firefox, not just IE. Amazon.com and A9.com run Linux.

One of the things they've done is Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" feature. See the "Look Inside" on some of results for this Perl Books search? That lets you see if the book has what you need before you buy it. Very useful, IMO.

Oh, BTW, I broke down and joined Amazon's affiliate program. I don't expect to get rich from it, but anything toward my web hosting bill can't hurt... ;-)

I don't think I need to mention, again, that the opinions here are mine, not my employer's, either past or current, but I will. Since I'm not developing product at my current place, I feel a bit more comfortable talking about their released stuff (and my opinion thereof), and have disclosed that I work for them.

Posted by ljl at 2:6 PM | Comments ()