Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Are the Search Functions on Newspaper Web Sites So Poor?

(This was drafted on 12/07/08) In this morning's Washington Post I saw an article on a book called "Buyology", by one Martin Lindstrom. I wanted to read the article at my leisure, so I went online to look it up and email it to myself. I searched for "Buyology", figuring that would be sufficient. And I thought it was when I saw the results, it looked like I had a direct hit--the only result included the same photo that had accompanied the article. But when I clicked on it, it turned out that the link was only for the photo.
So then I searched the Washington Post site for "Buyology" and "Martin Lindstrom". This time I got a couple more results, including a review of his book from back in October, but still not today's featured article. My next step was Google News search: "buyology + washington + post". Bingo, first result.
I seem to experience similar behavior when I search within my local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Except, if anything, it is worse. I haven't ever bothered to analyze what is going on, but many, many times I search for an article I saw in the last few days, and either can't find it, or it is buried very, very deep within a lot of goofy results.
There is a lot of speculation in the air about how endangered print newspapers are, and that the ones which will surivive are those that will find a good transition to the web. Given the difficulty they have executing the basics on the web, I have my doubts. Read Dave Winer's article "A Plan B for News".

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Playing Football with the Flu

The Giants played their center, Justin Tuck, even though he had the flu. All through the game, it looked like he was struggling, and at the very end, he had come out. Maybe there is a detail I am missing, like the Giants backup center just broke his leg or something, but barring that, I just don't agree with playing a guy who has the flu. No matter how tough and how medicated, I don't think an "A" player fighting the flu is going to be effective as a healthy "C" player.

Mini-USB Charging Jacks

Pogue: Hail to every BlackBerry, cellphone, Bluetooth headset, Palm organizer, e-book reader, music player, cordless mouse and G.P.S. receiver that recharges through a mini-U.S.B. jack! No more big black power transformers — recharge from your laptop. It's the dawn of the universal, fully interchangeable power cord.
This is a great development, long overdue.

Power Stick

Wow, this sounds very cool. And MUCH cheaper than a second battery! The shuts off power when charging complete part is significant, too--I think that spending too much time on chargers contributes to the poor battery performance of modern devices.

POWER STICK Speaking of those hideous black wall warts [chargers]: you don't need them if you have a PowerStick ($65, It's a tiny universal gadget charger, the size of a stick of Wrigley's, that draws its power from your laptop's U.S.B. jack.

It comes with nine short cables for the opposite end, made to fit the power jacks of common cellphone brands (LG, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia), the iPod or iPhone and anything that gets its power from a mini- or micro-U.S.B. jack (see above).

First, you travel very, very light. (I haven't packed my cellphone adapter in a year.)

Second, the PowerStick does more than charge your gadget; it also stores a second charge, so that you'll be able to do another recharge in the field, without the laptop. (A cool "fuel gauge" lets you know how full it is.) Finally, a processor shuts off the power when the charging is complete, which saves electricity and, according to the company, prolongs your gadget's life.

Cell Phone Feature: Power Reserve Mode

It's great that cell phones can do so many things, but for most of us, emergency/short-notice communications device is by far the most important one. It's nice to play MP3's from my phone, but I don't want to run the battery to nothing doing that, and have it fail me at a crucial moment. So I would like to have a "reserve mode" feature, in which a cell phone pauses non-critical features, to warn you that battery life has dropped below 20%.

Noted that this may be the kind of feature that sounds good on paper, but adds more complexity to the platform than the feature is worth, if it causes flaky or unreliable behavior (like Windows Power Management has been known to).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NWA Flight Status Consistently Not Working?

My wife's flight was supposed to leave Cincy at 10:00 CST. Since 9:30 CST I have been checking the status on the NWA site, and there is no update beyond "scheduled". It is not 10:23. I was fed up enough, I hunted down another flight-status tracker, flighttracker, to see if it could do better. Sure enough, it told me the plane left at 9:15, and gave me an updated ETA.

This is the second time very recently something like this has happened. On her originally scheduled departure date, her destination, Albany, was due for a severe ice storm. We were 95% sure the flight would be canceled. But as of 3 hours before the flight, the NWA site still showed it as scheduled. Beth wound up calling NWA, and then they told her "oh yeah, that flight has been canceled".

Maybe this is just bad luck, but I am not impressed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Teaching Pay Structure: Discourages Mid-Career Switchers

Okay, we already know that teacher pay is not great, and nobody goes into the field to get rich. However, there is an additional problem, that would really penalize anybody from switching into the field mid-career. That is the fact that raises are pretty much 100% tied to time served. If you become a teacher at the age of 40, there is no way to make up for 18 years of lost ground.

Whereas in fields where employers are free to pay for performance, someone who switches professions mid-career, if they along the learning curve fairly quickly, may quickly find themselves making a wage comparable to someone who has been in the field much longer.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comment Reader Needed for Blogger

Few people read my blog, and slightly fewer than that comment on it. So I don't read comments regularly, though I do make it a point to catch up on them. And when I do, I always find myself scrolling through lots of posts, finding the few that have comments. Every time I do this, I find myself thinking "there must be some kind of comment-reader utility in Blogger".

This time I took a little time to search. I think I found the closest thing, which is the Moderate Comments option in settings.

What I am thinking of is a kind of view that would make it very quick to see only my posts that have comments, and to read those comments. I think the ideal would include:
  1. A running list of posts, with the comments below.
  2. The post itself would be presented in outline form (first couple of lines, then the rest collapsed, uncollapsible via a quick "Ajax-architecture" plus button.
  3. Something similar for the posts, though the unit for them might be 6-10 lines.
  4. A way to "Mark As Read".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Swiss-Army Cell Phone?

I have been interested in the long list of gadgets that the cell phone has subsumed. Here's an idea for another function to add to the cell phone: an LED flashlight. No, definitely not a major "game changer", but it could be kind of convenient, from time to time. Perhaps not worth the space and expense, but who knows, there might be use cases for it.

3/18/2010 Postscript: I have found this feature on a phone in the wild. Ironically, it is on the cheapest phone in our household--a $20 pay-as-you-go phone that my son got when he broke his real phone.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Even NYT Gets "Black Friday" Etymology Wrong

The venerable NYT committed this error:
Black Friday is named for the day when, historically, retailers moved into
the black, or became profitable for the year.

Although, I suppose, from the standpoint of a descriptive dictionary, this usage is steadily gaining ground versus the original usage (from Wikipedia):

The earliest uses of "Black Friday" come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to
the heavy traffic on that day, an implicit comparison to the extremely stressful
and chaotic experience of Black Tuesday (the 1929 stock-market crash). The earliest known reference to "Black Friday" (in this sense), found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, refers to Black Friday 1965 and makes the Philadelphia origin explicit:

JANUARY 1966 -- "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia
Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not
a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas
shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and
over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to

Laptop Keyboards--No Two Alike

I am visiting my parents and using my mother's laptop. It is a full-sized machine, so the keyboard is not particularly cramped, but it is always a discomforting adjustment to use an unfamiliar laptop, since the layout of certain crucial keys always differs. Since I am a fairly aggressive user of standard Windows keyboard shortcuts (End, Home, Alt-Tab, Esc), this probably affects me a bit more than the average user.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cranky Medical Residents

This article is on the general topic of how dangerous hospital physicians with bad tempers can be for the overall effectiveness of the system. However, the reference, quoted below, to a cranky, sleepy resident who couldn't be troubled, particularly interests me.

The American Medical Association frequently publishes articles calling attention to the health implications of people not getting enough sleep. But their industry is the absolutely, positively worst violator. What medical residents go through is insane.
It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.

The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry.

After a second page, Ms. Silverthorn said, “he became arrogant and said, ‘You don’t know what to look for — you’re not a doctor.’ ”

He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home. The child was rushed into surgery.
How much of a contributor is sleep deprivation?