This is the time of year when I get a little sad that I’m not going to be traveling to Austin to attend SxSW. I put in a good few-year run of making it to the conference, but last year and this, my work life here in Boston (and my two-week honeymoon in October!) has made it impossible for me to make it down to the great state of Texas. (Having spent two formative decades of my life 70 miles south of Austin, I actually mean that, at a minimum because of the chile con queso, breakfast tacos, and margaritas.)

Being that my training as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist has taken precendence over the web-geek side of my life for the past little bit of time, moving SxSW onto the back burner makes good sense — hell, when I went two years ago, my professional focus had already shifted enough that the talks and interactive sessions played a clear second fiddle to having the chance to see a bunch of old friends and meet a slew of people in-person that I only knew via email and instant messaging. And while it still makes sense that I dedicated my conference time this year to the annual American Society of Hematology meeting, I’m nonetheless sad that a sizable chunk of my friends will be getting together in Austin over the weekend, listening to great talks about the world of interactive media, eating amazing breakfasts at Las Manitas and lunches at Guero’s (I’m looking at you, Alison!), going bowling late into the night, and generally having fun.

I’ll miss you guys — have a big bowl of queso and a margarita (on the rocks, with salt) for me!

Inspired by a comment made by Anil in the what’s-next-for-weblogs panel: the first Usenet post by me that Google Groups appears to have indexed. See, I’ve always been a geek!

(Alas, though, I’m a bit disappointed that my first indexed post wasn’t this one; there’s rarely a day that goes by when I don’t look down and notice the scar on my left palm that was part of that experience.)

The first SxSW panel of the day for me is the Revolutionary Search Technologies panel, with representatives from Google, Feedster, MRL Ventures, and the University of Texas. The panel focused mainly on the future of search — where it’s going, what the challenges are, and how the technologies of today are trying to anticipate the challenges of tomorrow. I decided to take some notes, if anyone’s interested.

Don Turnbull just announced that the idiotic no-using-the-power-outlets policy in the Austin Convention Center has been cancelled. Apparently, we have Hugh Forrest to thank for this, so thank you, Hugh!

Thanks, Dave…

alison the wasp

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

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…

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).

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.

sxsw kick 2003

Thanks to Eric Lacombe, the 2nd annual SxSW kickball game has a brand spankin’ new logo. Andre Torrez recommended him to me, after the great job that Eric did on Andre’s logo; I’m happy to say that he accepted, and the game’s all the richer because of it. Go check out the loot shop, complete with shirts and whatnot with Eric’s new logo, and buy stuff to support the game!

I’m starting to get excited about SxSW 2003, if only because of all the activity in the weblog arena lately. There’s Google buying Pyra, AOL sniffing around the periphery, the debut of TextPattern, the announcement of Movable Type Pro, the promise of Meg and Nick’s collaborative Lafayette Project, and whole slew of other, smaller interesting tidbits. Now, I know that SxSW is about a hell of a lot more than weblogs, but part of my connection to the conference is through my personal site. As my medical life exerts more and more pressure on my site and database design life, QDN remains the excuse that I use to justify the amount of time I spend learning new programming languages, content management systems, web standards, and design skills. Last year, I was glad to get a chance (if only for two days) to listen to people who have worked wonders in the world of interactive media, and I feel like I came away from the conference with a good deal more knowledge, not to mention the buckets of respect for the collective intellect that’s devoted to building a better web. If all the positive energy in the weblog world this year has any meaning, I’m eager to get back to Austin this year.

(Of course, I’m also excited about Kick 2003, but that’s a post for later this week…)

The 2003 SXSW blog is up and running, thanks to PB and Matt. It appears to be running on the MetaFilter codebase, which is another great demonstration of the versatility of Matt’s work. (And of course, as a former Texan, I love the Shiner Bock theme of the sidebar.) A reminder, though; for those planning to go to next year’s SXSW, this Friday is the deadline for the current registration rates, which will go up by between $20 and $75 on Saturday.