I don’t know why, but I think it’s so damn cool that Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Bobby Hurley are actively pursuing the head basketball coaching position at Columbia University. The word in the press corps is that neither are likely finalists for the position, but still, it’s nice to see that Ivy League basketball is still considered a worthwhile pursuit at the coaching level.

alison the wasp

Spurred on by the guilt of looking at other people’s images, I finally got my SXSW 2003 pictures up. Enjoy…

Doesn’t it just seem logical for NASA to gather photos of orbiting space shuttles from military satellites? The NASA and military people quoted in the article imply that the image quality won’t be quite as good as we’d all assume, but that just doesn’t seem honest. It’s relatively well-known that the current generation of commercial imaging satellites have sub-meter resolutions back to the surface of the Earth, and fair guesses place the resolution of U.S. reconaissance satellites at somewhere less than four inches. Now, move your target a few hundred miles above the ground — and above the distortion of the atmosphere — and I feel confident guessing that the military’s best satellites would be able to show you the expression on an astronaut’s face. And if images from the satellites provide options for shuttle controllers in the event of in-flight problems, then that’s a major plus for the space program.

Something interesting and new to play with: Fotonotes.net. It’s a tool that allows you literally to annotate your images (well, JPEG images), providing information about the content of the pictures to people who are viewing them. It’s sort of like captioning them, but within the image itself; the information is only visible when the viewer wants it. (Dan Gillmor explains the technology a little better than I do.) The fact that it only works with JPEGs, and that the information is actually written within the image file itself, leads me to believe that the tool uses the IPTC metadata standard. If that’s the case, then there are a ton of other tools that should be able to read, if not manipulate, the information as well.

In a move that surprises nobody, AOL Time Warner is pulling free content from all its magazines’ websites, starting this weekend with People and Entertainment Weekly. Between AOL’s first-ever quarterly loss of customers and all the talk about how it’d make sense for Time Warner to dump the Internet service on its ass, it makes sense for AOL to leverage the content of the Time, Inc. magazines in order to get its subscribers back. It remains to be seen, though, whether anyone feels that People and EW offer unique enough content to justify shelling out $25 a month for a dialup provider…

We’re back from Puerto Rico (well, I’m back from Austin and San Antonio and Puerto Rico, and Shannon from the latter two), and it was an amazing trip all around. Good old and new friends in Austin, good old friends in San Antonio, and a big block of relaxation in Puerto Rico make for a good two-week break. (And nearly as good was coming back to find out that I didn’t fail the boards, and that Lia did a bang-up job taking care of the kitties and plants.)

More on all of this later; I have to be back at work in less than 10 hours…

the texas capitol building, austin

Goodbye, Austin, and SXSW 2003; it was a fun trip. Now, onto San Antonio for a few days, and then a week in sunny Puerto Rico for drinks with tiny umbrellas in them…

I’m glad that, in this time of threatened war and a terrible economy and whatnot, our Congress is working hard. Sure makes me feel more secure about our leaders…

While I don’t have much faith that it will be resolved to the benefit of consumers, I am pretty happy to see that the issue of whether or not the big telcos can be sued under antitrust laws is going to be resolved by the Supreme Court once and for all. Any customer in a big city can tell you about the terrible service given to competitors by the market’s dominant carrier; in New York City, the alternative providers are all still at the mercy of Verizon, whether you’re talking about standard phone service or higher-bandwidth connections. It’d be nice to see the legal system back up the pro-competition laws, and give customers the power to demand adequate service.

A few notes about the Google panel; the inital speaker was Craig Nevill-Manning, and then Evan Williams spoke a bit about Blogger. All quotes are approximate, and from memory.

Google indexes “the entire web” every 3-4 weeks, touching nearly 2.5 billion (or 4 billion, depending on when you listened) documents each run. There are over 100 factors that play into how Google determines the relative importance of text on a web page, including text size, link text, and proximity to other elements on the page (he didn’t say which elements, though).

Google’s infrastructure: Google uses consumer-level hard disks and “really cheap, unreliable memory.” (“If something fails, it’s not you, it’s probably the memory.”) They have around 10,000 commodity-level Linux computers set up in a parallel network (“the largest Linux cluster in the world”), and anticipate the death of “a few machines every day.” Their network is set up to be able to route around a failed machine instantly.

Google’s use data: As you’d expect, Google tracks all kinds of data about how people use their service. For instance, they track the use as a function of time per country; he showed a graph of Mexican use, and pointing to the drop in traffic around midday, surmised that it was because of the prevalence of siestas. Nevill-Manning also said a few words about TouchGraph GoogleBrowser, something I’ll have to play with a little bit later.

Google Labs: There are always a few cool projects going on at Google, many of which you can play with. A few mainstream products have come out of the Labs, such as Google News; Nevill-Manning talked a bit about Froogle, since he was one of the original developers on it. He claimed that it’s special because, “like Google itself, there aren’t any paid placements or preferential inclusion.” Instead, stores appear based on reputation, and he was overt in saying that reputation was mostly based on PageRank.

Blogger: Honestly, not much was said here. Evan Williams explained a small bit of what Google brings to Blogger; he didn’t speak much at all to what Blogger brings to Google.

Q&A: Google doesn’t have any plans for XSLT transformations for searches performed through their search API. Evan likes Google’s food, a lot. Google does usability testing on any and all platforms they can get their hands on, but doesn’t ascribe much importance or time to mobile platforms like cellphones and PDAs. The indexing engines are the same for every subsite of Google (e.g, the British site, the Spanish one, etc.). Google doesn’t currently have any plans for a news API (i.e., a way for other sites to grab a newsfeed from Google and display it on their own).

For those who haven’t yet seen it, Roogle could be one of the more interesting salvos fired in the search engine wars in a while. There’s nothing more annoying than searching for a phrase and ending up on a dozen pages that have the phrase contained somewhere other than in a block of content (say, in the copyright statement, or in a text ad). The search engines have all tried to implement various algorithms to decide what text on a web page is more important than the rest (wheat vs. chaff, as it were), but fifteen seconds with any of the engines shows that indexing the framing content of a site is an unavoidable part of the business. Roogle is the first to use a site’s RSS files as its own filter for the meaty pulp of content, index that content, and then point searchers back to the original web-formatted pages. It’s also implemented well (made all the more clear after after watching the development process unfold), and it will be great to see where it goes from here.

(Interestingly, after posting this, I ended up in the Google panel, where a lot was said about how the company decides what text on a page is important.)

A tip, for everyone who’s broadcasting their unencrypted passwords over the free wireless network at SXSW: don’t, since I’ve seen at least half a dozen people capturing packets off the network just to see what they can see. If you’re using one of the big commercial web-based email services, use their secure login, not the standard one; if you are uploading files to your webserver, use secure FTP or secure copy, not FTP. Likewise, realize that Outlook, Entourage, Eudora, and most every other mail client sends your password across the network as clear as day unless you set them up to use an encrypted service (and then have that service running on your mail host). Posting to your weblog is no exception, either (unless you want the person who grabs your login and password to also be able to work on your site); set up a secure tunnel back to your weblog host, and then use that to do your posting.

Thanks go out to Cory this year (again) for wireless connectivity at SXSW

I’m glad to see that Matt’s trying to get back to writing longer essays. His latest piece is a fine review of the great features that Mozilla has made users expect from their web browsers, and it makes me remember how much I have enjoyed reading Matt’s perspective on the world.

The subject matter of the piece also made me remember a conversation I had with Anil recently, discussing Internet Explorer’s lack of a popup-blocking function. We both came to the conclusion that, in this day and age of the overwhelming proliferation of popups, the only possible reason that IE omits the function is a fear that Microsoft will be somehow blamed for yet another move destined to hurt the little guy, in this case, the advertiser trying to make money on the web. (Remember when IE was the first to implement third-party cookie blocking, and how people complained that Microsoft was being unfair to advertisers?) By resting on the huge browsing majority and letting popup blocking gain acceptance (or, more appropriately, achieve required status) with other browsers, you can bet that there won’t be a peep when the next version of IE includes the feature.

There are a lot of annoying things about working the overnight shift in the emergency room, but one huge entry in the plus column is that I can walk into the bagel bakery across the street at 6 AM, just as they unlock the front door, and have my choice of any steaming hot bagel my little heart desires.

Anthony Sebok has written an interesting column for Writ looking at a recent decision making an HMO equally liable for coverage decisions as a doctor would be for therapy decisions. It’s a big finding, because in the past, HMOs have shielded themselves from malpractice claims by stating that coverage decisions aren’t the same as active medical care; as such, they aren’t stopping someone from getting specific care, but rather, just saying that their insurance won’t pay for that care. In Cicio v. Vytra Healthcare, however, the Second Circuit disagreed with this, holding that there are times when a coverage decision is indistinguishable from the choice and implementation of a specific treatment — in effect, coverage determines treatment. And while the decision isn’t perfectly generalizable, Cicio seems to potentially open up the door for further HMO liability when care is denied based solely on cost. It’s an acknowledgement that medical care has changed a lot since malpractice law was drafted. In the words of Sebok:

It may be time for the foundations of medical malpractice to shift. Once, this area of law was based on the special relationship between doctor and patient. Now perhaps it should be based on the fraught economic relationship between the patient, the doctor, and the insurance company.

Am I the only one that finds it terrifically ironic that Time Warner has national television commercials trying to convince people that they should get Roadrunner-brand cable modems so that they can more efficiently swap music with friends?

Generally, I’m pretty content with the understanding that there are probably quite a few threats to peace and security in the United States about which the lay public never learns. (After all, it’s the premise of the most basic spy thrillers, including most of the Bond movies — a brewing plot to destroy civilization as we know it is undone at the last second by secret agents, and life continues unaware of how close it was to coming to an end.) That being said, I’d love to know why there have been around a half-dozen National Guardsmen, armed to the teeth, in the subway station underneath the hospital the last few times that I’ve arrived for my overnight shift…

If you’re the administrator of a machine that runs sendmail, there’s a nasty security problem that found its way to the surface today. Discovered by the people at ISS, the bug allows someone to compromise your machine simply by sending a specially-formatted email; firewalls aren’t going to help you on this, since it’s the contents of the email that trigger the security breach. The list of affected systems and operating systems is pretty extensive, so you might want to peruse it before assuming that you’re not vulnerable.

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t learn something else about New York City. Today’s find, via an article in the New York Times: the New York Cross Harbor Railroad. It’s one of the shortest railroad lines in the United States, with only one and a half miles of track, a bunch of carfloats, and a single active locomotive. The line serves to move railcars from Brooklyn to Greenville, NJ (which means a trip across New York Harbor); on the Brooklyn side of the water, the train actually runs along city streets in order to pick up and deliver its cargo. The carfloats meander across the Harbor once or twice a day, providing shippers who don’t want to travel the extra 150 miles to Albany with a shortcut across the Hudson River. As you’d expect, the line faces many difficulties, from double-parked cars blocking its tracks to fog in the Harbor to the dwindling resources devoted to surface freight in New York City; despite this, it continues on, providing the city with a tiny anchor to its manufacturing and shipping roots.

Today was guy’s day out in my family, our annual celebration of my father’s birthday at the Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn. If you’re in New York and have never been, do yourself a favor and drop in sometime; most importantly, get the bacon, which may well be the tastiest morsel of food that’ll ever pass your lips. For the first year, the girls organized a competing lunch, and afterwards, we all met up at my sister’s new apartment to ooh and aah at her latest ultrasound pictures and catch a little of the Spurs game. It was a great day, and it’s the perfect example of something I’ll miss terribly when I move to Boston this summer.