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Workblog - Amazon.com gets RSS

So starting today, Amazon.com has RSS feeds for Books, Music, Video and DVD (most subcategories and search results). The RSS URLs are baked into the HTML as alternate 'link' elements (you can see them in the HEAD tag with view-source). The cool thing was that this was put together with existing parts, and really didn't take much work to put out there.

Using an example Browse Category of 'Music | Styles | Opera/Vocal | Operettas', the RSS XML is created by taking an existing XML feed for Browse Node 64729 from Amazon's Web Services (AWS), and using the existing AWS XSL transformation capability to transform the original XML into RSS XML via a new XSL Stylesheet.

Good God, what an acronym soup. So, to sum up AWS XML + AWS XSLT + XSL Stylesheet = AMZN RSS, right? Clear as mud. I've been playing with the beta feeds for a while and have to say it's pretty cool to see that a price has dropped (or risen) on an item I'm watching just by having my NewzCrawler auto-update an RSS feed - instant auto-notification. It was also cool to be in the right place/right time/right mindset to make this happen too, I hope it proves to be a worthwhile endeavor.
Thu, Jul 24, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

My Time is Stored all over the World

A new essay about time, my habit of using cheap pocket watches, and what happens to them when they die. It's longish, but hopefully worthwhile.

I was driven to finish this story (it's been sitting around for a long time) by recent events. My wife's grandfather died on Friday, at age 94. He was a truly wonderful person - my son's middle name is his own, Paul. Paul worked in the cemetary business, and had some very interesting stories to tell. I enjoyed hearing those, and they are what I remember about him most vividly. Now that Paul is gone, I realized, so are all of his stories - at least the ones that aren't written down, and the ones that nobody else remembers.

Think of how many stories you have, ones you tell all the time, ones you have yet to formall put together, storiess that hurt to tell, storiess that make you laugh every time. Share them. Share them somehow with someone. If they stay bottled up inside you, they may vanish along with you when you depart this world, and that would be a shame.

In honor of Paul, I share this story with you. You may like it, or hate it, take it as you may - it's my story and I'm sharing it with you today - and possibly with the mega-caching machine that is the Internet, prolonging it's life as if it were written in stone.
Mon, Jul 21, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

A Yahoo Pick again - Cool

Toot Toot - tooting my own horn again - it's always nice to be chosen as a ''Pick of the Day''. Thanks Yahoo folks. And how refreshing that it has absolutely nothing to do with Pennies or Amazon.com. Also, thanks to gtmcknight and their massive button collection - including my own for Amazon Light: Amazon Light. Use a button and support them via PayPal!
Wed, Jul 16, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Server Issues

Life on the Internet - My webserver died an ignominious death this morning - appears to be back up now (or at least it's replacement). It's amazing how well this all (the Internet) works together, considering the tenuousness of it all - package loss, latency, electrical disturbances, corrupted files, interoperability and just plain human errors. It seems so fragile to be so expansive, like a light skin of static electricity spread across the surface of the Earth.

Also, go visit my Amazon Light DE site - especially if you're from Germany or Austria - and let me know what you think.
Mon, Jul 14, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Redesign Time

Enough things are happening recently, that I decided to re-work my default page for kokogiak.com. It's easier for me to scale with on the back end (to add projects to, maintain, etc), emphasizes this blog a bit more, and is finally CSS/XHTML compliant and valiated.

I tried for a transparency trick (transparent images as background-image), and it sort-of works. It looks like I want, but the page rendering is slowed while scrolling or paging. Too many pixels to paint/repaint I suppose. I'll try this for a while though, since I like the look.

The nicest thing about this version - no server-side browser sniffing. I relied pretty heavily on that for the last version of kokogiak.com, since I went heavily with IE-friendly CSS layout (Mozilla was just an ugly beta back then, and Opera's CSS support was dodgy). That conditional logic in the template made updating a pain, and the downlevel version was never what I intended, just a poor compromise. It's one-size-fits-all now, the HTML output is the same regardless of the client.

This new version dives headlong into the CSS/XHTML world, and in doing so bids adieu to any layout control in pre-4.0 browsers (Netscape 4 - I'm looking your way). The page looks like Hell in the older browsers, but the text is still readable, and the information is still there.

I have to say it's both painful and liberating to give up layout control. I hate that this site looks like shit in Netscape 4, but I refuse to bother myself with the tedium of catering to a browser that should DIE ALREADY. Why doesn't someone write a virus to go around worm-like and remove (or upgrade) every version of Netscape 3.x and 4.x.

For nostalgia (or curiosity), I keep a copy of Kokogiak.com's First Version - retired in March of 2002, and now also archived is the Second incarnation - retired now, in July of 2003. Welcome to the boxy world of kokogiak.com 3.0.
Mon, Jul 7, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Google AdSense Experimentation

So I thought I'd try Google's AdSense, an ad-delivery system. It seemed like a decent way to place low-impact ads on my Amazon Light pages (way below the fold so they'd be unobtrusive), certainly worth an experiment.

Well, the ads served key off of your URL, and in my case that means 'kokogiak.com', since all of the pages are dynamically created via ASP, they're not static - so Google can't crawl them, thus Google doesn't know my content, so the ads are irrelevant (mostly about Alaska). Test to see what ads would be delivered to your site here.

Being nosy, I peeked into the ad code for Google's AdSense, and noticed a neat little line in there that looks like this:

if (window.google_page_url == null) {
  google_page_url = document.referrer;
  if (window.top.location == document.location) {
    google_page_url = document.location;
  }
}

Seeing that line was how the URL was passed to Google, I thought I'd experiment and set the google_page_url variable to be a keyword ''Math'', instead of my URL ''kokogiak.com'' - lo and behold, it worked - immediate relevance in the ads. How cool - but was it kosher - would it be allowed by Google? Nothing in their terms of service expressly forbade setting the keyword, just a catch-all clause about ''nothing may be altered''. Hmmm. I altered the code slightly and vastly improved performance. Surely they wouldn't mind that... Better email and find out. I did just that, and got my response. In part:

''Our AdSense program goes beyond simple keyword matching to understand the context and content of web pages. Based on a sophisticated algorithm that includes such factors as keyword analysis, word frequency, font size, and the overall link structure of the web, we know what a page is about, and can precisely match Google ads to each page''

So, basically, no. Adding that keyword variable isn't allowed, so take note - you other nosy developers out there. I guess I can understand, since a porn site could conceivably set a keyword of ''disney'' on their site, and get content that the advertisers would rather they didn't. But still - it's painful to have a one-line change that makes a world of difference be disallowed because of policy. Maybe they'll change their minds... here's hoping. I should note that the Google folks were cool about the situation too, even thanking me sincerely for my feedback and soliciting more. Let 'em know if you have anything to say about AdSense.

Wed, Jun 25, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

The Hulk The Hulk The Hulk

Last week, I was walking through my local grocery store, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a box of Hulk Nilla Wafers. I laughed out loud - what product could sound so un-Hulk-like? A small wafer called '''Nilla'' that's best when dipped into Milk? Curious about what other marketing/merchandising deals had been put together for the upcoming Hulk Movie (opens June 20, 2003), I found out that there was a virtual green tidal wave of stuff either endorsed by, licensed by, featured by, or associated with Universal Pictures ''Hulk'' movie. This Incredible List of 180+ products and brands is just what I could find in one day online.
Sat, Jun 14, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Another new feature on Amazon Light (I know, I know)

Last week I was looking through Amazon's DVD New Releases, I was struck that every week we have between 150-250 new titles becoming available. IMHO, Amazon does a so-so job of listing these , but I wanted to tackle the problem in a different way, and ended up with this:

An HTML list of DVD New Releases by Week (and category) for this week and the next 3 months:
http://www.kokogiak.com/amazon/dvd/default.asp

Same List built as an XML RSS Feed for weekly updates for Newsreaders:
http://www.kokogiak.com/amazon/dvd/default.asp?isXML=true

I also plan on creating a weekly email signup as well, for anyone who wants the top 10 new DVD releases in their inbox every Monday. It seems like this is a service Amazon (or at least Netflix) should already do, but they don't seem to. The smaller DVD review sites I've found that do have newsletters just pack them full of other stuff/upsell/ads, etc. I'm shooting more for just the plain-jane ''Here are the New Releases, do what you will with them''.

It'll be interesting to see how this shapes up.

Tue, May 6, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

The Burning Building Question

Fascinated by the imagery of the first days of the war, I became curious about a certain building that stood prominently in the Baghdad skyline (and many press photographs) that apparently was hammered many times by heavy bombing in the first week of the Iraq war.

The ''Council of Ministers Hall'' (CMH), as I believe it is called, is shaped like an art-deco version of an Aztec Pyramid, with Arabic overtones. The smoking, flaming hulk of the CMH became a global icon of the Baghdad bombing - yet little if anything was said about the building itself. So my major three questions became 1) why it was so prominently featured in the news, 2) what was it called, and 3) what was its (former) purpose? And, like any good armchair-investigator these days, I fired up my Google search and took off.

To see where my journey took me, click here.
Fri, Apr 18, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Hey - a Conference!

Short notice, but very cool, I get to go to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference next week. I will be taking a small part in the Amazon Day workshop there, and attending like a normal geek thereafter. I'm psyched, since it's been ages since I've gone to a conference like this, and it should be a great opportunity to share and learn. I'll write more about it on my return, I'm sure. Nothing like a group-geek-gathering to kick-start one's creatitvity (and, hopefully, productivity).
Thu, Apr 17, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

The war looks to be tough on animals as well as man. Again, culled from Yahoo News' feed of wire photos:

 Donkeys - destroyed like any other transport
 Cows - collateral damage
 Sheep - obstacles

 Camels Afire (sort of)
 Dogs of War
 Dogs of War II
 Dogs of War III and his intended Victim
 Dogs of Peace
 Dogs of Peace II
 Canine Uprising
 Israeli Cat of Fear
 Dolphin - Commando Flipper
 Dolphin II
 Dolphin III
 Dolphin IV
 Dolphin V

 British Pigeon - an early invader
 British Pigeon II - a stowaway arrives in a warzone
 American Pigeon - on duty
 American Pigeons - traveling in an 'air wing'
 Chicken (sort of)
 Owl - spy or passenger?
 Hawk - he fights crows for peace

 Dove - ironic and very sad


Tue, Apr 1, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Watching the War

I've set a little page (here) that's set up to make viewing Yahoo News Iraq photos a little simpler/more intersting, imho - It's just a simple frameset with links to Yahoo News, but set up with the focus mostly on individual photographers (AP/Reuters/Pool, etc.) who are either embedded or in-country already. Not only can you discover interesting images, but you can visually follow a photographer's progress over time.

Some notable photos so far:

 Centerfold
 Sleep in Armored Vehicle
 Baptism
 Benevolence via Candy
 Missiles Firing
 Surrendering
 Gang Signs
 Eerie Invader
 Fear part I
 Fear part II
 Fear part III
 Mishap
 Smoke?
 Passing the Camel

Mon, Mar 24, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

There is a warship in Elliott Bay, just outside my window here in Seattle. I know rationally that it's a defensive move, a precaution, but I can't help but think ''what do they know that I don't know?''. This really viscerally brought it home to me. We're about to go to War, and many people will likely die and be hurt badly. I'm so torn, and feel painfully ambivalent. I do not think the U.S. did everything it could to avoid hostilities, but on the other hand, I do agree that something needed to be done. I'm not a big fan of G.W. Bush, but he is the man in charge (whether disputed or not), so he gets to make this sort of call - and I get to voice my disagreement.

Before the last Gulf War, I sent an impassioned letter to Bush the Elder, an angry note from a 21-year-old college kid, holding him responsible for any casualties. At the time I remember feeling as if I had purged some of my anger and made some small statement. Now I do not have the same knee-jerk reaction. I am older and my feelings have moved toward the middle a bit I guess. I have children and a wife, and my life's perspective has changed drastically.

I am angry, sad, confused, frustrated and anxious - probably the same as millions of others. Anyhow, enough navel-gazing.

Fun stuff (diversions) I've been working on lately:
Amazon Light UK - it's up and running (even though traffic is lackluster)

Amazon Light Current Events Booklist - A dynamic list of Books relating to current world news

Amazon Light 2.0 - going to keep this around as a power-user version, but enough people spoke up with negative reviews that the 1.0 version will remain the main interface.


Wed, Mar 19, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Amazon Light Version 2.0 lives

After far too many late night sessions, Amazon Light now has a revised look. The old version isn't going anywhere anytime soon, no reason not to support two at twice the price, eh? The design currently only works in IE5+ for Macs/Pcs. I'm working on a mozilla version as well (I'm a glutton for punishment).

Some interesting facts about Amazon Light v2:

14 stores
2,605 categories and subcategories in those stores
5,764,600 items in those subcategories (as of 1/15/03)
225k - the total weight of the HTML for just the categories/subcategories
55k - the weight of the initial page (other navigation info is brought in as needed)
8 - total number of non-navigational files
1 - the total number of non-product images used (a spacer gif, used sparingly, so sue me).

I'll be putting together some more on this soon, filling in the help/faq areas, etc. For now I am tired and happy it is done, even if it's only in beta.

Fri, Jan 17, 2003 < link >
 
 
 

Random Web Goodness

Some wonderful visitor from Brussels noticed my translations on the French Revolutionary Calendar page were sub-par, and wonderfully decided to send on his own translations (all 365 days - yow). How cool is that? I'll be updating the page soon.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming Animal Planet show (Jan 1st) ''The Future is Wild''. The same sort of presentation of Walking with Dinosaurs or Walking with Prehistoric Beasts - only used to present future evolution. Speculative animals like the Squibbon, Sharkopath, or the Toraton. They also have a companion book (with website) and children's book.

And a parting link - quite possibly the world's strangest urinal. I think I would feel... er, uncomfortable doing my business standing over this. To say the least.
Tue, Dec 31, 2002 < link >
 
 
 

Historical Alexa Traffic Rankings

Okay, i'm an Alexa junkie, I must be, I write about them enough. Yes, their traffic rankings are flawed, and yes, they are skewed, but they are interesting nontheless, flaws and all. Well, they just added a new feature that I think is pretty danmn cool - Historical Traffic Rankings. You can watch a site's decline, rise, or fluctuation for up to a year's length, and even compare two domains side-by-side.

Some comparisons: metafilter.com vs fark.com , cnn.com vs. msnbc.com , ebay.com vs. amazon.com , republican national committee vs. democratic national committee , coke vs. pepsi , and , finally - aol.com vs. msn.com.

You can view the graphs in more context at Alexa, complete with trending, reach, average page views, etc. - for example the aol vs msn page is here.

Of course what led me to all of this was narcissism, so here's my 1yr graph for kokogiak.com - that big spike around July matches the launch of Amazon Light, and the more recent spike matches a sudden surge of traffic to my Seattle Waterfront photo project. Take the data with a grain of salt, but it seems generally accurate from my POV.
Fri, Nov 15, 2002 < link >
 
 
 

22 Pairs of Unexpected Pants

The hazards of working in ecommerce. Last week, as we worker bees in Amazon.com were busily rushing to get ready for the launch of our new apparel store, I got a note from my boss - I had to put a targeted message on the ''thank you'' page if someone bought an apparel item. Okay, fine, I can do that - and start witing the script to test for items purchased, and testing it. The catch is that in order to see the ''thank you'' page, you have to actually buy something. (You see what's coming don't you). We have many development machines where you can buy all day and it's just play money - no orders actually placed. Guess who made a mistake and started developing on live data... yep - before I could figure out my idiocy, I found that I had actually ordered (on my own debit card no less) 22 pairs of ladies stretch boot cut jeans, size 1, and a couple of winter jackets from the Gap (and I'm nowhere near a size 1, trust me)

Why these clothes? They were the first ones I ran into when looking for any apparel item to buy. Why size 1? It was the first choice in the drop-down box. Frantic attempts to cancel (too late, orders sent off to distribution centers very fast) failed. So two days later, on a Saturday morning, I open my front door in bathrobe to get the paper and nearly fall over the Giant Heap of Pants on my front porch. The jackets came later. I was able to return them to a real Gap store, no problem, and all is well now.

But the next time someone asks about the hazards of developing websites under pressure - remind them that you could indeed wind up with 22 pairs of unexpected pants.
Fri, Nov 15, 2002 < link >
 
 
 

Accolades, Thoughts, Miscellanea

Nice to see more coverage of my work, from sites familar and not. (Much as I may like to pretend otherwise, attention is always nice, and usually appreciated). First, The MegaPenny Project was a USAToday 'Hot Site' for the third time today. It was previously ranked as such on 2/07/2002, and on 3/14/2001. If there's a record out there for 'most posted to USAToday', maybe I'm in the running.

Next, Amazon Light is a ''Web Pick'' in FastCompany's print magazine (Nov 2002, pg.52), but unfortunately, there's no online version.

And last, but not least, my barely-mentioned nowords.org (the less said the better) got a 'cool link' mention of sorts - the only trouble is that it's in Hungarian, so I haven't the slightest clue whether they think it's great or crap. A while back I appealed to the Icelandic speakers out there (thank you) for help. Any Hungarian translation assistance here would be great too.

Lots more I'd like to write about tonight, but a severe lack of oomph is holding me back. (Maybe to your benefit). I'll sum up. Russian siege: so that's why debilitating gas isn't used more often in hostage cases. Work isn't currently fun - what else is new. I want the ability to switch between dream-state and consciousness at will. Money changes everything. That guy i saw in the passing car this morning - I just saw him for a second and thought ''He's truly conscious of only himself - just like me''. My Amazon Light project is likely doomed - someday soon either Google or Amazon (or someone else) will come up with something similar and blow me out of the water. Klyuchevskoy volcano. Krzysztof Penderecki. Doubly-landlocked nations. Multi-message pagetype-independent serial message delivery systems. Human voices are so incredibly distinct - I can tell that's Donald Sutherland on that ad without even giving it conscious thought. Our lives are so short. Small pleasures mean a lot - like these warm socks I have on tonight. Meandering thoughts can be a bore - my mouth runneth over.
Mon, Oct 28, 2002 < link >
 
 
 

One of Those Moments

Last Sunday, I was home alone with my two-year-old daughter, and not in such a great mood. I was walking out of the living room after turning on some music for her so she could dance. (The music requested was ''real ballerina music'', as opposed to the nearly identical ''pretend music'' I had played for her earlier). I felt a gentle tug at my hand, and in a quiet, unusually subtle voice (the same one that helps daughters around the world wrap their fathers around their little finger) she said ''Papa, please come dance with me?'' My bad mood evaporated, happiness took its place, and choking up, I did my best to really savor the moment - and the next few minutes dancing and laughing. What could possibly be better than that.
Mon, Oct 14, 2002 < link >
 
 
 

More is not necessarily better... often it's worse

From the 'random observations' category: I recently had the displeasure of a long wait in a public waiting room. Looking around for anything to read, I could only find a ''Barney Color Book'', and the latest issue (September) of Vogue. Blaring across the cover of this weighty tome was the headline: ''750 Pages of Fall Fashion's All-Out Glamour''. So, curious and not a fan of Barney, I picked up the Vogue magazine.

The first thing you notice is the heft - followed by the thickness. It's nearly two inches thick, and heavier than the Yellow Pages of a small city. I cracked it open, and started the all-too-familiar ''hunt for the table of contents'' process. I finally found the first part of the TOC - forty-two pages in. The entire table of contents was spread over three pages - spaced out amongst more ads. In fact, since I had the time, I counted pages, and discovered that of the first 205 pages (over 25% of the entire magazine), only seven pages had actual content. The remaining 198 pages were all ads (from a quarter-page to 8-page spreads). Of the seven pages with actual content, three were table of contents pages, 2 were the masthead, and two were a letter from the editor (which was half text / half images).

Granted, the balance of editorial-to-adspace improved after that to nearly 50-50, but I was just amazed that the first quarter of the magazine was literlly 97% advertising. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, I'm not usually a reader of Vogue (and trust there's not a lot of overlap between Vogue readers and readers of this blog). But it's just a real-world reminder that all media is crammed with advertising / sponsorships these days, and that the web is not a uniquely bad experience because of the all its advertising, but because it is becoming a more accepted, typical medium, and is behaving as such.


Fri, Sep 13, 2002 < link >

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