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Thursday, July 22, 2004


Zip codes pass like stars before my eyes

zipdecode is way too entertaining and informative. Written by a doctoral candidate at MIT, this beautiful web application is essentially an interactive zip code map. It’s the implementation of it that’s so amazing.

Click on “zoom,” then start typing in a zip code. Behold the quiet beauty of government planning.

The interface is so fluid, it encourages poking around and trying to make sense of the arrangement. Manhattan is 100. Washington is 200. Los Angeles is 900. San Francisco got 941. Can’t win ’em all.

I know this sounds dorky. Go check it out yourself.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Ah…now I get it

I guess I’ve known about RSS for a little while, but it was one of those technologies that solved a problem I didn’t have. In case you’re not hip to it, RSS is a scheme to deliver web content to other people and sites without delivering the whole site around it. (As with many such abbreviations, not everyone can agree on what it stands for, and nobody really cares. But “really simple syndication” makes good sense.) When you see Yahoo! headlines on some fool’s personal page, that’s RSS at work: Fool creates a little place for headlines to go on his page, and Yahoo! delivers them there whenever you visit, and takes care of updating them. If you want to include feeds on your site like baseball scores or the latest coverage from the Scott Peterson trial, RSS is great. But so what?

Here’s what: RSS readers. If you’re interested in keeping current on something without having to go and check on it every few minutes, RSS kicks ass.

Let’s say I’m looking for an apartment, because I am. I want to know about any two-bedroom cat-accepting place in Willow Glen as soon as it gets posted on craigslist, but I don’t want to go to the site every 15 minutes. Enter a program called NewsYouCanUse, one of many news readers available. I give it the RSS address corresponding to my craigslist search, then forget it. NYCU just sits quietly in the menu bar, checking craigslist every 15 minutes for me. If a match comes up, it gives me an audible alert, and the menu icon changes color. Blue means a new listing somewhere in the South Bay, and red indicates a new listing in my preferred neighborhood.

Is this such a fresh concept? Not really. I know the Windows world, especially, is full of geegaws that exploit RSS. But when something like this really fills a serious need, like finding a freaking apartment, it’s cool as hell.

Friday, July 16, 2004


My latest stolen idea


If I had gotten this post up in time, I would still be able to link to the July 8 article in the New York Times about a guy in England who’s come up with the splendid idea of using old telephone handsets in conjunction with modern cell phones, attaching them just as you would attach a hands-free headset. He calls his design Pokia, and lacking mass production and distribution, he sells the one-off prototypes on eBay. The last one went for around $200 this week.

As soon as I saw the article, I knew this was for me. Not because I want to cultivate a street style based on the Home & Garden section, but because I crave a phone that’s actually comfortable to speak on. Most of my phone conversations happen on a tiny little Motorola, even at home. There’s no good way to hold it for any extended period, and my hand cramps up trying. The plastic flexes and creaks audibly under normal use, and its flat design keeps the phone side of my face all sweaty and hot. I’ve tried using a hands-free dealie, and while that’s an improvement, I can’t help but feel a little insane when I speak without either a face or a mouthpiece in front of me. I had to have one of these things, but I wasn’t about to pay $200 for it.

The Times article assured me that the success of Pokia had inspired a legion of imitators, with knockoffs available on eBay and instructions available on the web. An eBay search turned up nothing. Thinking that I would need instructions to construct my own alternative handset, I scoured the web for an hour, but had no luck in finding so much as a wiring diagram.

I’m certainly no genius with electronics, but my limited grasp of audio circuitry made me think that the speaker and microphone in a Bell System handset probably wouldn’t just automatically work if you could plug them into a cell phone. I mean, why should they? You wouldn’t expect the audio standard on a modern battery-powered digital phone to be compatible with the Bell standard developed for line-powered phones decades ago. At least, I wouldn’t.

Undeterred by an almost complete lack of knowledge about what I was doing, I decided to just start working and see how close I could get to success. I had an old telephone receiver (a spare from my BellSouth payphone) lying around, so I had a head start. I also had a hands-free headset that came free with an old cell phone. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the bottom line is that it works, and it’s great. I think it delivers better audio to both parties in the conversation, and just like a landline phone, it lets you hear your own voice through the earpiece. I find that this diminishes my tendency toward “cell yell.”

Besides, let’s face it: for all the messing around done with telephone design over the last 20 years or so, has it ever improved? Is there a handset more comfortable and pleasant to use than the good old Western Electric style? I don’t think so.

handset in use

In case you came to this page in hopes of finding instructions on how to put this together, here’s the secret: There are four wires in your old handset. There are four wires inside the cord of the hands-free headset. Figure it out. If you can’t, I will personally build it for you, provided you pay me dearly for it.

Sunday, July 4, 2004


Free to be a crustacean

Today will be the Fourth of July I remember for finding a big old crayfish in Aptos Creek. I can’t believe this thing belongs here, but where did it come from? And how best to cook it?

Aptos crayfish

By the way, if you’re hiking around there and you find a goat, here’s the number to call.

lost goat

Man, I love it here.

Friday, July 2, 2004


Love me dew

Maybe I was way too captivated by these dewy spider webs. But damn, what a macro lens, huh? And the film scanner’s not so shabby, either. The web can’t show the level of detail present on these negatives, but you could really see it in, say, some prints that could be for sale soon.

dewy dewier dewiest
Thursday, July 1, 2004


This is Bush country

Not this site, of course, but the part of California from which it originates. Personally, I have a thing against chimps in general, and ignorant ones in particular. But the little slice of central California that I call home has already voted for Bush with its campaign contributions. I know because www.opensecrets.org told me so. Want to know who your town supports? Want to know the names and addresses of all the contributors, along with how much they gave and to whom? Of course you do. It’s pretty interesting.


Fun with awful music

I just got this link to an audio experiment proving just how crappy and formulaic Nickelback’s music is. They’re really on the periphery of my music awareness, so I was doubtful, but this is funny stuff.