(1) Thu Mar 01 2007 18:56 Code Complete:
Sam's big chapter is done, the authentication section is done, and I've sent the REST book off to the proofreaders. We still have some TODOs to take care of, and we'll be changing it later in response to feedback, but it's basically done. We're very happy with how it's turned out. It really shows what the REST ideas can do without sugar-coating them.
Thu Mar 01 2007 22:00:
My box of raisin bran says: "Erewhon was a utopia where each individual was responsible for his own health." That's a nice way of putting it.
[W]hereon it came out that illness of any sort was considered in Erewhon to be highly criminal and immoral; and that I was liable, even for catching cold, to be had up before the magistrates and imprisoned for a considerable period—an announcement which struck me dumb with astonishment.
(4) Fri Mar 02 2007 15:52:
After going through much stalling and bureaucracy, I just got the post office to agree to pay my insurance claims. With one exception (the person I called today to reopen my claim), every single USPS employee I've dealt with through the entire process has been totally unhelpful, patronizing, and only interested in passing the buck.
My claim was held up because I didn't put down "dates of purchase" for things I inherited. I sent them a letter explaining the situation, which they lost or ignored. Then they closed my claim for "inactivity". I got them to reopen the claim today. They called me and still wanted dates of purchase. I suggested they put down my mother's date of death for the date of purchase. We settled on me making up random dates for them to put down.
You always hear about postal service employees delivering things despite impossible odds. In my letter I promised to swallow my pride and publicly praise the postal service if some enterprising soul would put in some effort to find my packages instead of working so hard to delay my claim. It turns out they lost my letter too. Screw them. They get this instead.
PS for posterity: If anyone finds my packages I'll donate $800 (twice the amount of my insurance claims) to a charity of the finder's choice. My package codes are VE866819288US and VE866505200US. They're plastic tubs: one transparent containing breakables, a Mars globe, and an antique bedside lamp; one gray with a red lid, containing red-bound scrapbooks and a compact Oxford English Dictionary. This offer does not expire.
Mon Mar 05 2007 00:36:
"Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy"—cool online beginner-level workshop. Kannada is vexing me.
Mon Mar 05 2007 09:10 Frak! It's full of stars!:
Yesterday's Battlestar was really cool: the fleet was refueling at a gas giant, and they showed people flying through the atmosphere of the gas giant, but there was no overbearing Star Trek voiceover or West Wing exposition explaining exactly what they were doing. Also, gas giant. Whoo!
(1) Tue Mar 06 2007 20:28:
I complain a lot about bad customer service, so I'd like to tell you about a time customer service improved. In 2005 I wrote some stuff about Amazon's web services (service, at the time) for Beginning Python. I needed a tiny clarification so I sent an email to Amazon. I did the little dance I do when triggering customer service to try and avoid being treated like an idiot. I clearly explained my problem and cited specific sections of the document I was having trouble with (call it document X). I got back a boilerplate response saying "We value your existence. Please see document X." I got mad and I sent a pissy response which they didn't bother with.
Today I wanted to talk to Amazon about stuff I wrote in RESTful Web Services. I sent an email to the contact address of the AWS weblog. Now I'm having a conversation with two real people who are interested in the book.
What happened? There are a couple obvious differences. The first is that I'm writing a book for O'Reilly called RESTful Web Services, not a book for Wrox called Beginning Python. My publisher has more cachet and my topic is hotter. But the Amazon of 2005 didn't even care that I was writing a book: it just scanned my email for a keyword and matched it to some boilerplate.
What actually happened is that Amazon Web Services got a weblog. With a few exceptions, even corporate weblogs are written by specific people, and you can contact those people. But why did AWS get a weblog, and why do the people who run this weblog care about my book? How come it's now part of somebody's job to see the opportunity in my email and respond to it sanely, when it wasn't in 2005?
These days, Amazon's web services make money for Amazon. This was true in 2005, but back then all the money came in as retail purchases. Now people are hosting websites on S3 because it's (apparently) cheaper than having a rack of boxes and a sysadmin. That's not much income compared to Amazon's retail business, but it's nonzero, and it shows up as a separate line item. Now it makes sense to actively promote these services. Which leads to the weblog, which leads to real people talking to me. In 2005 my email was a cost to be borne as lightly as possible. Now it's a potential source of profit.
I'm going to drift into the semirelated topic of business models for web services. (I don't cover this at all in the book, which is purely technical.) A lot of web services are prestige items or loss leaders. So are a lot of websites, actually. This is the underlying reason why Google shut down its SOAP-based search service. Google's business is to deliver ads, not search results. Google already has huge mindshare in search, so the SOAP service served no business purpose. Now they expose search results through an ad-laden Ajax widget whose TOS prohibits you from changing it. If you want programmatic access to search results you use Yahoo's service.
My hunch is that users get treated better when the business model is more transparent. Some web services bring in money directly. Some are exposed to people who are paying for something else. Some are run by volunteers or nonprofits. I hesitantly include in this category services exposed within a company.
My hunch on top of a hunch is that the business model can be more transparent when the web service doesn't just copy some preexisting website. That is, when a client can't screen-scrape something that's already available for free and have a "web service" that's just as good, or better.
(2) Tue Mar 06 2007 20:59 The Golden Age:
That book was 100% exposition. ("As is already encoded in your cognitive matrix, Hyperbob...") Then you get to the end and they want you to buy another book. I dunno. Is there action in the next book?
Tue Mar 06 2007 23:20:
Also, due to limitations in XML, [? -ed.] we will have to integrate a great number of the footnotes into the text. We can do these as official notes and warnings as well as parenthetical asides.
I hope David Foster Wallace never writes an O'Reilly book.
Thu Mar 08 2007 00:08 Our trip:
So we're going to be in Mysore from the 10th until the 13th, and in London from the 13th until the 16th. If anyone lives in those areas and wants to hang out, please email me. This is a very hanging-out-centric trip but we can always fit more people into our interaction schedule.
(2) Tue Mar 13 2007 17:38 London:
In London. We saw many interesting things in India, including monkeys, a juggernaut, and (I'm pretty sure) a cop being bribed with a coconut. Also things that I took pictures of. I've learned enough Kannada to refuse offers of food.
We're currently planning activities for London, so if you're Kevan and I haven't called you back that's why.
(3) Sat Mar 17 2007 00:20:
Travel blah. Got bumped to a later flight due to NYC snowstorm. Said snowstorm also froze the cargo bay doors shut, so we waited around the luggage claim for about an hour and a half. You're not interested. Anyway, we're home. Nick and Duncan, sorry for not seeing you while in London. On the plus side, we met Kevan and Holly for the first time. And we helped a Swedish guy named Magnus get into Manhattan. More later.
Also, just call me Uncle Leonard!
Sat Mar 17 2007 21:18 Giles Goat-Boy:
What was that, a Terry Pratchett novel?
(3) Sun Mar 18 2007 09:06 I have some... inadvertent discoveries!:
The Indian 50 paise coin is attracted to a magnet. I don't know of any other money that does that.
Tue Mar 20 2007 23:29:
Can't sleep for half an hour because I just took my antimalaria drug, so weblog entry time. There is no rest for the holiday-maker. As soon as we came back, Rachel came to town. Today I went out with her seeing sights. We went to the Cloisters and then we decided to go to the Met for the hour before it closed. As we came in who did we see rolling towards the exit but Peter Hodgson! [Last seen in NYCB #502! --your pal Stan] Despite the alleged later closing time they started herding people out of the Met about 5 minutes after we came in, so our sojourn there was brief.
We walked with Peter through the park, and then Rachel and I went to a fancy dinner with Rachel (Chalmers). Sumana could not come to dinner due to an ache of the stomach. Now we're exhausted from walking around all day.
That sounded really boring despite the compliment Avedon paid me when we were in London: "You think he's going to say something boring but then he says something really funny." Sorry. My heart's not in it; I'm just writing this for something to do until I can lie down. So two more details:
Peter said that the Met guards have a ritual to flush people out of the museum. They start at the points furthest from the exit and converge on the exit, shouting and clapping and driving all before them. When they reach the exit it's like this T.G.I.Friday's Götterdämmerung and people wait outside the Met just to see it. We did not wait to see it, so I can't verify.
We ate at Brasserie 8 1/2, a place not as fancy as WD-50 but still pretty good. My goat cheese/mushroom tart was unrecognizable as such, but very delicious. I had a dessert called the "Ring Ding Dome", which sounds like a level in a Mario game.
(2) Wed Mar 21 2007 23:45 Stranded:
I dislike the Strand bookstore in Manhattan for a number of reasons. As pointed out in John Henry Days, New York media people are always getting review copies of books and upon receipt they immediately trot over to Strand to sell the review copies for a couple bucks. Strand has whole aisles of review copies in the basement, fifteen copies of every lame-ass nonfiction book from the past two years. Who buys them? I suspect the only buyers are the other, scraggly-looking used bookstores in the New York area who are the scavengers to the Strand's primary carnivore.
The Strand staff run the bookstore according to "Customer Relations Secrets of the TSA". It has a very tiny science fiction section that's about 1/5 Tolkien, and a generic-fiction section so huge it makes me not want to try to find anything. But when I went today with Evan and Rachel there was a pretty good SF selection, so my dislike was mollified. I picked up three books from the yellow Gollancz "collector's edition" series, which series I really like. I don't know if these are books that went out of print and are being revived, or what, but everything I've read from that series has been excellent. Eric Frank Russell's Next of Kin sticks in my mind.
Today's Gollancz catch was two John Sladek (The Reproductive System and Tik-Tok), and Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland, which I'd never heard of before but which looks good. The concept, I mean. The book itself looks like a facsimile of an original printing that used too heavy a font. When I was staying with Avedon and Rob I was painfully aware that they read all these books in the 70s and I'm behind the curve. Did I live through the 70s? Let me check. The answer is no!
Thu Mar 22 2007 22:42:
When we visited Holly in London she made a huge lunch and everything was delicious. By popular demand Holly now has a food weblog with cute photos and everything. Hopefully she will demonstrate her recipe for sesame-encrusted chicken, because I forgot to email her and ask for it.
Fri Mar 23 2007 09:09:
Great cranky interview with game pioneer Ralph Baer. You know I love these cranky interviews.
I was once up on the range after having had all four molars pulled -- you know, the cornerstones in your mouth -- with one dentist in the Army. One dentist holding a chisel, the other one hitting it with a hammer. And after I lay down on my bunk, the platoon lieutenant comes in and says, "Hey, we're firing for record, get up! Get off your ass." And he drove me up to the firing range in his Jeep, and I was standing out there with my jaws swollen and firing, alternately hitting bulls-eyes and missing the target. And then he forgot about me and I had to march back to camp. That was the Army.
(1) Sat Mar 24 2007 22:04:
Sorry, nothing really happened today. But yesterday Rachel and I walked the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain. That was pretty fun.
Sun Mar 25 2007 17:42 Doesn't this class go by the rule?:
The other thing about Strand is that they sell Books by the Foot. They let you judge not just one, but an arbitrary number of books by their covers, and line your wall with them to impress girls or law clients. It's easy to get upset about this misuse of the sacred book, but really who cares. I've been places that used a service like this to create a literate air, and the books are all lousy: thirty-year-old autobiographies and interchangeable novels. Services like these let some underperforming books get put out to pasture instead of being pulped. That appeals to me because I have a taboo against destroying books. Books by the Foot is the natural end-of-life for all the review copies that end up at Strand.
What about rich fools who use this service to buy up nice editions of books and never read them? Again, who cares. Nobody reads those things; it ruins the resale value. It's like taking the comic book out of the Mylar sleeve. And it's not like you could have afforded that book if only the rich fool hadn't bought it. I just get the Penguin or Gutenberg edition.
(6) Mon Mar 26 2007 15:37 Obscure reference explained:
Sumana requested an explanation of "Doesn't this class go by the rule?", which shows up (now) three times on my site and nowhere else on the web. Prepare to be disappointed. It's one of those phrases that only sticks in my head because it sounds like it means something. It's from an old cartoon commercial for Fruit by the Foot. I saw this commercial 2022 times when I was in about 4th grade. I had to go get babysat after school but all the other kids (like Susanna) were in 1st or 2nd grade, and it was dismal. Kids' TV was playing all the time, and it was hot and there was no grass in the backyard.
Oh, you want to know what was in the commercial. Let's suppose there was a health-and-safety video where a kid named Joe hates Fruit by the Foot. But he lives in a universe where Fruit by the Foot is everywhere! Everyone's constantly chowing down on the stuff. It's disgusting. Joe summons a Coily-type spirit and demands that said spirit delete Fruit by the Foot from his universe.
But Coily is very lazy, and rather than carrying out this task in detail, he finds an alternate universe where there is no Fruit by the Foot, and swaps Joe with the corresponding Joe-prime. The health-and-safety video has Joe in his new universe, coming to terms with the disastrous consequences of his Fruit by the Foot-deleting bloodlust. The commercial, however, is about Joe-prime.
Joe-prime's story is the exact opposite of those health-and-safety-videos: he is thrust unprepared into a universe where everything depends on Fruit by the Foot (or, as they called it in olden days, Fruit by the Foote). "Never heard of it," he admits. "Am I the only one?" Yes, Joe-prime. Yes you are.
The lad is understandably confused. After some initial mishap (which I don't remember but which must be there because of the rule of threes), he hails a cab to take him away from the scene. "Doesn't this cab go by the mile?" he asks. "No!" cries the cabbie enthusiastically, pulling out an infinitely long stripe of the maybe-you-can-convince-your-parents-it's-not-candy device. "I go by Fruit by the Foot!" I envision the cabbie as a jovial Topol-type fellow who knows not what torment his words inflict.
Panicking, Joe-prime flees to the safety of the classroom. But in class, everyone's swilling down Fruit by the Foot like it's going out of style. What fresh hell is this? There is no learning here, no order; there is only Fruit by the Foot. Rending his garments, Joe-prime cries out: "Doesn't this class go by the rule?" I think you can guess the punchline. Yes, I just told you a shaggy dog story and omitted the punchline. Don't say I didn't learn anything from my father.
Mon Mar 26 2007 17:50:
Today I saw a limousine that was covered with a big red advertisement. Now that's a stylish ride! I sure envy the incredible wealth of whatever high roller goes around in that limousine!
(3) Tue Mar 27 2007 22:11 Cup Conjecture:
The number of cups used per unit time is proportional to the square of the number of people in the house.
I have no idea how this happens.
Wed Mar 28 2007 12:33 Non-Spiral Jetty:
Adam Parrish drew a cool map.
(5) Wed Mar 28 2007 14:27:
Currently in final crunch mode for the book. The cover is revealed! The animal is a carnivorous marsupial called the vulpine phalanger.
The real drop-dead date for book changes is the day it goes off to be indexed. Garrison Keillor told a story once about a guy who spent his life creating a concordance to Ulysses, and then they found the missing page 22 from Ulysses and rendered all his work usel[y]ess.
(6) Thu Mar 29 2007 23:08:
OK, the book is now out of my hands. What's next?
(1) Sat Mar 31 2007 20:34 Wear a Necktie So I'll Know You:
Tonight we saw the full moon, behind a few clouds, right next to the Empire State Building. It was awesome. Shamefully, my first thought was "That would make an awesome picture."
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