Automatic Translation

I’ve noticed quite a few of the backlinks to my postings are in a variety of languages. I speak only English and a little bit of broken German, but one of the wonderful things about the Seattle area is we have lots of people from around the world attracted here by the jobs (Microsoft, Boeing) and the beauty of the place. More than a third of the residents of my adopted hometown of Bellevue, WA were born outside of the US.

It’s a showcase of our American melting pot, and it reminds you how big this planet is.

To try and make this content more approachable outside of the US/CN/UK/AU belt, I’ve added corlosquiles nice, simple translation plugin for wordpress to the sidebar. Machine translation is still rough, ugly, and messy. But it’s getting better, and I’m amazed at what’s possible today.

How useful is this automatic translation to you? (in English, if you want me to really know. :) )

Updating this site with wordpress

Apologies if you got several old postings in your feed reader this morning.

When Feedsparks was released, this blog was hosted on Textdrive. But, unfortunately, the server there has been up and down a lot through late 2006 and early 2007, and it chose to go down for a bunch of hours at that key time. So I did an emergency move to my dedicated server at As it happens, then aplus had a network problem which caused them to not route packets to the server for 6 or so hours. So, again at a bad time, the blog had some frustrating downtime.

Two lessons: (1) Host small blogs at a blog-specific host like blogger (like is)– there’s been virtually no work to do to keep that running, and now with custom domains, you can still get the SEO benefits you might be looking for (2) If you do self-host a blog, make sure to have some kind of site monitoring going (which I did), also including checking the page for some keyword that should always be there if the page is loading properly, and separate feed monitoring with feedburner feedbulletins (which I didn’t, causing the blog to be down much longer than it needed to be).

But, in any case, this all made for a good excuse to move to update the blog. To the latest version of wordpress (2.1), and the site template. “veryplaintxt” is a simple, widget-friendly template with configurable fonts and column settings. It has some problems (e.g. no comments on Pages, which I had to fix). Anyone hate it?

At the same time, all plugins were upgraded. Some were dropped (e.g. translation links), making the right sidebar a little less crowded. Drop a comment if you miss any of those.

The blog was also upgraded to the WordPress Feedburner Plugin 2.2. The previous version exported a separate, special feed URL from the site, which you would give to Feedburner. Then your ‘real’ feed URLs would be redirected to Feedburner’s groomed versions. The new plugin introduced a change where you just provide your real feel URLs to Feedburner, and the plugin (through some magic) will special case those requests. So you have to re-configure where Feedburner grabs your feed.

Which gets us to another problem. Even though the posting dates don’t change (and the original dates are still visible), Feedburner treats your new feed address as a bunch of updated posts, and sends them all out again. So my 58-or-so readers (thankfully, the readership here is still, um, exclusive ..) all got my last 10 postings re-copied to their feed readers. Yuck. This seems to be a problem that the plugin or, more likely, feedburner must solve.

So, apologies for the multiple posts if it affected you. And anyone know of a way I could have avoided it?

Every Problem is an Opportunity

Apple is set to announce a new product line this morning — an Apple phone, previously called the iPhone.

The Internet is buzzing about this for one simple reason — the cell phone market today is one huge headache for consumers. The quality of the hardware and especially the software on phones is lousy. The carriers, especially here in the US, are all about lock-ins to long contracts, and towards that goal they use their bag of bait-and-switch, selective crippling, and other lock-in strategies against the consumers that they aught to be serving more honestly. Microsoft has been doing a better job with Windows Mobile, but still is resistant to open standards at the communication layer (e.g. syncing contacts).

Apple has a track record of taking a broken situation involving complex technology, focusing on the basics, and making it actually work. In recent years (since the second coming of Jobs), they’ve flipped to become a fairly steady supporter of standards. So thus all the hope and hype.

In this case, I have a nagging suspicion that expectations are running ahead of Apple’s ability to deliver. Many of the problems are too entrenched — for example, the rumor is that Apple will launch with Cingular, which is unlikely to change its ways for just this single partnership.

But we will soon see. The announcement, whatever it is, is minutes away now. And for anyone with a small business, it’s always useful to watch as others try, as we do, to turn problems into opportunities.

Technorati tags: Apple, iPhone, phone

A Custom Search for Makers

sunjardiagram.jpg“Makers” are geeks who build custom creations out of more than bits. Make Magazine has popularized this, but it’s also part of the larger prosumer trend. This is more common than you’d think, and it’s easy to start with small projects like this cool Sun Jar.

When you’re looking for parts for a robotics, mechanical, or device project, it’s sometimes hard to find what you need. The part names can overlap with other common words, which then throws off a regular search (for example, try searching for an “ARM cable” when you’re actually looking for a cable for an Advanced Risc Machines CPU board). Or, more commonly, news and press releases come up in results ahead of the products you’re actually looking for.

So here’s an attempt to apply Google’s Custom Search to produce better results for anyone sourcing industrial or electrical parts for your next creation. I’ve collected the best resources on the web I know of for finding this stuff.

If you’re a Maker, let me know if you find it useful or if you know of other good sites to add. Just enter the kind of part you’re looking for into the search box immediately below.

You can also get a page to bookmark (and a google gadget, etc) with the same results at the homepage for this custom search.

Attention, Advertising, and The House

We’re in an “attention economy” where there’s so much interesting stuff going on, that it’s tough to rise above the din. Eventually, providing good content or a good service will get you noticed, but ‘eventually’ can be a long time… and the rest of the world isn’t standing still.

So we advertise. Well, actually, I haven’t bought any adwords yet, being the cheapskate that I am, but the smart people advertise. And the smartest people of all are the people running the ad networks. That is, Google. Millions are gambling, but Google is the House. You may win or lose, but the house will always get their share. In this case, with all the ads flying around, the house is now a $150b dollar company.

So what if a bunch of buddies just get together for a friendly game of poker? No house. No cut. In the online ad world, this used to be called ‘banner sharing’, and it mostly went the way of the banner.

What’s old is what’s new again. A new, free service called adGridWork has been getting some attention. You put an ad block on your page, and you get an ad which is displayed on the other member sites.

The more click-throughs you generate, the more impresssions you get. Unlike the old banner sharing systems, adgridwork is trying to learn from what Google got right about ads: unobtrusive, relevant, helpful. They match the ads to pages based on keyword, etc. (although the matches so far are not that great — perhaps as the body of ads increase, they can be targeted better).

They’re a donor-supported-service so far, but I wouldn’t begrudge other forms of revenue. For example, they have a very specific, motivated audience showing up at their site to configure and re-configure their ads — adwords ads here might generate good click-through (with a cut to the house, of course).

Leancode_source_dec_61.gifSo you’ll notice the “free ad co-op” block on my right sidebar. It’s other people like me trying to make people aware of what we’re doing. Feel free to click — nobody will get paid, but you’ll see a related site, and I’ll get the ad for this page displayed in a few more places. This blog doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic, but I’m happy with what this network has steered my way .. traffic is up 29% in the days since joining the network.

And the house won’t get quite as much of a cut. A little competition and a few more options that way can only be a good thing… right?

Java is back

nullJava has been in a state of slow decline, rightly loosing ground steadily to other language/platform choices. Sun’s decision to release the Java language and VM under the GPL changes everything. Sun has realized that licensing under the GPL will provide maximum future innovation with minimum balkanization, and they’re right.

For more detailed commentary, see David Berlind (ZDNET).

It may take a long time to detect the change in momentum (think how long it took to get from Netscape to Firefox), but … Java is back.

Technorati tags: ,

Search will get better

I can’t function without web search. It has become an essential extension to my memory, my way of working. But as the cat-and-mouse game of search engine optimization for ads has flooded us with seemingly (but not actually) relevant content, it has actually gotten harder in some cases to find the good stuff.

Google’s new Custom Search Engine is a neat tool to sift through this clutter. I tried it by putting together a custom search with only the best sources of information for programming in Ruby. The search box is on this site’s sidebar (on the right, below ‘archives’).

If you’re a rubyist, try it out. See if it produces better results than you’d otherwise get with a generic google (or other) search.