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The Net Takeaway: Page 11


Danny Flamberg's Blog
Danny has been marketing for a while, and his articles and work reflect great understanding of data driven marketing.

Eric Peterson the Demystifier
Eric gets metrics, analytics, interactive, and the real world. His advice is worth taking...

Geeking with Greg
Greg Linden created Amazon's recommendation system, so imagine what can write about...

Ned Batchelder's Blog
Ned just finds and writes interesting things. I don't know how he does it.

R at LoyaltyMatrix
Jim Porzak tells of his real-life use of R for marketing analysis.






Pib and Pog · 09/04/2007 11:27 AM, Trivial

From the Peter Peake at Aardman comes a more adult version of the Sesame Street shorts we all watched. While those were educational, perhaps we would all be better set to be adults if they had been done like Pib and Pog…

Pib and Pog at AtomFilms

I caught one of these on a Sunnyvale trip on KQED’s Imagemakers, a show that features independent shorts on PBS. Well worth a view to see some really impressive work. I saw the animation episode, 503: Animate Me and I suspect the others are just as good.

And yes, this channels The Mr. Bill Show by Walter Williams (from New Orleans, in case you didn’t know) quite nicely, but is much higher quality (and British, which always makes it sound cooler). If you enjoy Pib and Pog, watch some old Mr. Bill to see how clay used to be squished.


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What? No Chipmunks? · 09/04/2007 11:19 AM, Tech

Finally, see inside a live, spinning hard drive and understand where all those chatterings are coming from… via Digg:Inside a Hard Drive.

YouTube video below…

Comments? [1]

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VSee... Very Impressive · 08/30/2007 07:34 PM, Tech

I had a chance to use a little videoconferencing tool which has completely changed what I think can be done to collaborate remotely. And it’s free for consumers or enterprise within the firewall; if you want to collab with “outside” entities, you can license (around $500 a year per simultaneous call initiator).

Robin Good’s review of VSee is very clear about its power, and I can say that I completely agree. This little program not only provides the clearest picture of any videoconferencing tool I’ve used (short of the dedicated circuit “video-rooms” costing millions), including Skype, all the IMs, and the various video-chat tools.

We’ve had meetings with 7 different cams, including remote-controllable cams in a meeting room. Apps can be shared, group or individual chat is available, it can handle voice, on and on. If you work with people in other areas and you have webcams, this can really change how your meetings run.

And Webex and its ilk are great… but after trying VSee and seeing how easy it is, you will not want to waste your time with these other tools.

It’s really very striking. Even if you don’t have a web cam, the remote desktop sharing alone is worth playing with. Highly recommended. Read Robin Good’s summary to see more of what the tool can do, or just try it yourself.


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Harvey Balls · 08/22/2007 03:13 PM, Analysis

They have lots of names… but folks here at Yahoo! keep calling them Harvey Balls. I’d actually never heard that name, since I used the more understandable “filled ball chart”.

I was wondering where that name came from, so I did some research.

Harvey Ball is the name of the guy who invented the Smiley… so it would be convenient to name these graphics after him, given his great name.

But, it turns out not to be the case. Harvey Balls were named after Harvey Poppel while he was at Booz Allen in the 80s. Yes, though they seem to be everpresent in everything from Consumer Reports to the NYTimes, they are actually a relatively recent example of data visualization.

BTW, this is the same guy who invented voicemail, so he had a pretty impactful career. (

Comments? [2]

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Coney Island, Bourne · 08/20/2007 11:58 AM, Personal

Coney Island
I went back to the Coney Island amusement area for the first time in 10 years. At one point, many years ago, Coney Island was a large scale amusement area for the East Coast. Think Disney before Disney.

Walking around there now… well, like the glass being half full or half empty, there are two ways to look at older things in the NY area: full of character, or a blight on humanity. Coney Island is rapidly moving from the former to the latter. It’s hard to put a finger on what makes it so painful: Is it the boardwalk barkers with the mixture of anger and boredom in their eyes? Is it the lack of smiles on the kids who ride the rides? Is it the collection of bums who pretend to help people park and then stand over your small child while demanding money? Is it the general run down nature of everything, from broken safety straps to peeling paint to rusty fences? The guys drinking from paper bags? The dealers coming up to every kid who could walk, even families?

Look, I really wanted to enjoy it, like I did 10 years ago when I first came, when I ate at Nathan’s, played skee-ball, rode the Wonder Wheel, basically did the whole thing. And it was run down then too… but there was also a sense that “it’s ours”, a mixture of “sure it’s beaten up, but it’s beaten up because my father and my father’s father all rode these rides”. One felt a surprising sense of “we’re all here to have fun, so enjoy together…”

Now, there is more of a sense of hopelessness. As things continue to spiral down, as the talk shifts from renovation to destruction, there is a complete sense of urgency, and a drive to find some spirit that just isn’t there. The sense of “We’re going to have fun, like it or not, so get on that ride!” was pervasive, and it all felt so forced.

Even my son Sammy was weirded out by the whole experience. He was very much out of character that whole day, not wanting to try the rides, shying away from almost every one of them. He’s enjoyed these things in the past, but for whatever reason, Coney Island wasn’t clicking for him.

We cut the day short and went to Totonno’s Pizza (for those who don’t know, Totonno worked in Lombardi’s Pizza (of Little Italy, NYC, the 1st pizzeria in the US) and later opened his own shop in Coney Island) where, as usual, it was packed. The pizza there is amazing, with fresh mozzarella slices instead of grated cheese mix, and a thin crust which doesn’t flop around like regular pizza. The only pain? They love to burn the bottom of the pie, which is now a trademark, but I don’t love burnt bread. Didn’t stop me from wolfing down half the pizza, however. Highly recommended, and only a few short blocks from the amusement area. Let the tourists pack Nathan’s, and try the NY pizza everyone else wishes they could duplicate.

Is there hope for Coney Island? Can this place spring back to becoming a hangout for families, where people can go and not have to worry about all the pains of urban life for a few hours? Well, the current love of “retro community” and the rise of secondary sports like the Brooklyn Cyclones has given energy to a collection of developers who hope to rescue the area… of course, different people have different ideas of rescue. Many developers are describing grandiose visions which mostly involve tearing down pretty much everything. Wikipedia has a full article on the current development plans.

UPDATE: Got a quick note from Professor Soloman, an author most well known for How to Find Lost Objects. He writes:

My book “Coney Island” is a history and profile of the amusement district (which may soon be undergoing development). The book is available as a free PDF download.

For reviews, go to:

To download the book, go to:

Not only is he a much better writer than I am, but he really makes you pine for the days when Coney Island was, well, really Coney Island. Worth a read, even if you’ve never thought of going to CI.

The Bourne Ultimatum
I must really be out of step with America’s movies. I was bored with the last James Bond (Wow! A poker game! That’s thrilling!) and every Bourne movie has put me to sleep. And yes, let’s get it out of the way: Ludlum’s book series was much, much better than this (and even Eric Van Lustbader’s extension novels are ok.)

What’s wrong with this one?

What was good? Well, the lack of music during many action and suspense sequences, the gentle hints at potential backstory without just putting it on the table (ala the diner scene), the fact that parts were shot in NY right where I work and walk every day, and, well, that’s about it.

No character in the movie creates sympathy, as half of them sit inside a room and watch computer screens, and are in no danger. We don’t feel much identification with the lead character, we don’t see any relationships form, and we don’t have a reason to care whether he completes his self-imposed mission. Is it darker, grimier, grittier than the Roger Moore James Bonds? Of course. But it’s still just a toy in new packaging. We rarely see Bourne in pain, he continues to do superhuman stunts, he reacts on autopilot with no planning, and he rarely if ever makes mistakes (thank the director for the one notable screwup in Morocco). Friends keep saying “He’s more realistic, more human, more American than James Bond”... but this version of reality is the one on “reality shows”: scripted, controlled, and yawn inducing. If you enjoy chase scenes ala John Frankenheimer films, you will love this. If you are looking for something deeper, then forget the Bourne Ultimatum. Rent it on DVD, save your $10.50.


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DOS the way, Uh Huh, Uh Huh, I like it... · 07/31/2007 12:45 PM, Tech

Yes, that was decrepit. Sorry.

Anyway, in cleaning out the basement, I unpacked a box and found a stack of floppies… around 200 or so. Mixed in with the 8” disk (a collector’s item!) were a few 5 1/4” and the rest were 3.5”. Once I opened the next box and found an old floppy drive, I was able to read most of them: a collection of games and toys from when games had to have good gameplay and didn’t cost as much to make (or buy) as a movie.

So, my adventures to try to revisit the days of Tyrian (and yes, its now free as Tyrian 2000), Raptor, and Zoop.
(Trivia: Zoop is a great game; did you know that Joel Spolsky (of JoelOnSoftware fame) worked on this project? See his Java applet version. Other versions can be seen at

I. In which Windows compatibility mode is found to be incompatible.
Windows XP has the ability to store metadata around an executable to modify its environment to more resemble the old days (right click on the exe, properties, go to “compatibility” tab). However, practically none of these games worked properly. Some had memory issues, sound rarely worked, and timing was way off. There are programs like Mo Slow to slow down old programs, and VDMSound for SoundBlaster emulation, but at the end of the day, its a bunch of work. BTW, if you want to try, a whole list of these tips are at Running DOS games in XP. But beware: these games assume they are running on dedicated hardware. I got my first Windows XP BSOD from doing this.

II. In which we Virtually attempt to achieve runtime

IIa. We return to DOS thrilling days of yesteryear…
Next obvious step… whip up Virtual PC (yes, I still haven’t switched to VMWare) and pop into DOS... oh wait, not only do I not have a DOS, there are no preconfigured images for VPC since it’s considered to suck. (Yes, lots of trial and preconfigured MS specific stuff at but nothing of any use: no linux, no DOS, no old windows. Sigh).

So, I grabbed FreeDos... and that was the waste of 6 good hours. FreeDos is admirable in its attempt to duplicate DOS (well, kernel aims for DOS 3.3, support apps aim for DOS 6.2). But, like every other open source project, the docs completely suck. Besides assuming that you code with DOS every day, besides assuming that you already have every driver you could ever need, there is just no documentation other than historical pointers. For example, here’s the entire documentation on setting up networking: HowToDosNetworking give a history of networking from the 80s, including things called “modem”, a necessity in these modern times. Oh, you wanted things like How To setup? How To Configure? How To work around errors? What would those be doing in a How To?

I’m a DOS expert from way back, but FreeDos couldn’t even document the differences between MSDOS and their incarnation, so things that should work just don’t.

Great idea, pathetic implementation. If you aren’t a DOS programmer from the 80s, this is a waste of time. Makes Linux Docs look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Very disappointing.


IIb. Even the real DOS lacks a shell of value
A bit of hunting revealed that the old MS DOS disks are actually still floating around out there. (So is “DOS 7.1”, a version cobbled together of files from Win95 and a bunch of utility apps. I didn’t really get it to work, but clever idea.)

Grabbing those (sure its legal, I purchased the MS DOS 6.22 upgrade back in 80 or 90 or something), I installed those into VirtualPC and actually got it booting. But, of course, to really work with VirtualPC (and VMWare), you need some “Additions”, which enable things like file sharing outside of the virtual machine (how else to get your files into it? There are ways, but they are a pain (make an iso with your files, make a real floppy, etc.).

VirtualPC2007 includes these additions on an ISO, and its easy to mount (if you remembered to include the cd driver in the config.sys, edit config.sys, edit autoexec.bat, reboot, remount). However, the smart cats at MS never tested this ISO with DOS 6.22, because 6.22 can’t handle ISO lower case. (Remember? All the shareware CDs had to have 8 chars, all upper case. (You’d put mac and unix stuff in lower case so the DOS system wouldn’t be tempted to run them). So, you literally can’t get to the additions. Turns out that MS doesn’t care; DOS is no longer an “officially supported OS” on VPC; neither is Win95.

Sigh. Turns out that in VPC2004, the additions were on a Floppy image, and those worked fine. But where to get them? One of the best sites for solving these problems is EssJae’s VPC Page where he has kindly linked to them. (Also, consider searching for “DOS Virtual Machine Additions.vfd” if that link is down.)

Ok, got the VFD, mounted and ran the handy batch installer (missing from the VPC2007 ISO, would it have hurt to have added the 300 byte batch file?). Now, I could share files. I mounted the Zoop directory, changed to the drive, ran gload.exe…

And got an interrupt error. No game.

III. In which we learn about DOS Extenders and other nasty-sounding words
Zoop crashed right after the DOS/4G extender loaded. Now, for those who don’t remember, the early days of DOS kept it in the 640k region, and all those extra megs (not gigs) of memory were first Expanded (EMS) and then Extended (XMS) memory. Various configurators and tools were available to configure the memory, but programs had a terrible time managing it all. Some programmers used their own addins to manage memory, and the two most popular were the PharLap 386 extender and the DOS/4G & DOS/4GW extenders, initially by “Rational Systems” who renamed to “Trenberry” (great choice).

( and give much more info.)

Zoop used this DOS/4G, and said to use DOS/32A instead. Ok, what’s that? Turns out that some folks made an open source improvement and drop-in replacement for the DOS4G tools. DOS/32A is an easy download, but installing it varies depending on the game.

For more docs on this, I stumbled across which tells exactly how to work it into games. And so, for Zoop, I replaced the DOS4G with this, went back to VPC, and …

It worked. Plain and simple. It just worked.

Of course, it was molasses slow. VPC had turned this arcade game into a strategy board game.

So, VPC is too slow to run this. Time to load up VMWare… wait a second.

What page was that Dos32a stuff on? DosBox? I remember that…

IV. In which we learn that I am not alone in my plight, and DosBox is the bridge
DosBox is a great little project. A group set out to emulate only enough of DOS to get games to run. So, its fast, its easy, and it drops the ball on things like networking, database access, and all that other business stuff that a game doesn’t really need. For example, you get very few “command line utilities”, etc.

Its a fast install, and basically loads up to give you a mini DOS prompt. But what a difference from FreeDos and the rest… on loadup, it tells you everything you need to know:

Just simple. I mounted Zoop, and…

It was great. Speedy, sound worked, everything was as it should be. Hard to believe it’s open source.

V. In which all rejoice, but look ahead to future disquiet

So, in summary:
a) VPC can be great. But they sure make it hard
b) Open Source continues to be written by developers for developers. This will hold back the world til they get over this mental block. FreeDos epitomizes this plight.
c) Sometimes, folks just get it. DosBox shows what happens when you recognize who your audience is. (Yes, its docs need help too, but at least they make the offering as straightforward as they can).
d) Games from the 90s really are a ton of fun. The “Casual Gaming” movement, the return of retro arcade, this all points back to a movement against “event” games and back to “hey, this isn’t supposed be work or my 2nd life, its supposed to be fun”.

And that was the end of that leg of my journey. But there’s lots more to do:


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Google Maps does the obvious... · 06/29/2007 01:31 PM, Tech

And yet, its wonderful.

Google Maps ‘New! Drag the blue line to change your route.’ (At Digg, where they have a good sample link to play with).

I’ve begged Yahoo! maps to offer this feature, and for whatever reason, it just gets marked down on the prio list. Maybe this will stimulate it into action. You may not be aware that Yahoo allows you to sort of waypoint with a Right Click “Drive from here”, if you can find the location you want, but that’s not very user friendly and rather well hidden, isn’t it?

So, finally, I can say “Go from X to Y, but go using this way (because I know this way) and then from here, help me” or “The usual way is full of traffic; assuming we don’t get on the highway here, how can we go?”

These are real questions, and for years mapping programs have ignored them.

And yet again, Google simply solves the problem. What I don’t understand is that Y! supposedly is the user friendly company, and Google is the tech company. So why is it that Google so often produces things that actually help people first? Could it be that they don’t have to defend their products “ability to create viable media opportunities”? Something to consider in the future, I think.

Other articles I’ve posted over the years, pointing out similar flaws in most major mapping systems, reverse chrono order:

Garmin StreetPilot i3, show me the way…
Google Maps great…
Best Map Ever…

PS: A Digg commenter says that MSN’s Live Maps has had this feature for a while. Perhaps. I couldn’t find it on, though they still have the cool LineDrive feature from the old Vicinity days.

Oh, found it: (not like I had for over a year in this post). I like the address box (which gives you room to type 2 line addresses naturally (both Google and MSN convert 2 lines to one on paste, so no biggie). They also have the right click Drive from here, Drive to here like Yahoo. I can’t see any easy way to edit the route, so unless they meant the pushpin, I don’t see a way to do this. Google on top again!


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Still haven't scripted what I'm looking for... · 06/24/2007 12:19 AM, Analysis Tech

Ok, sorry to the boys in U2. I’m still looking for that language that a savvy analyst could pick up and use to prep data, deal with repetitive database issues, and control other programs. The thing is, I want it to run everywhere. That’s harder than you think. I also want it to be pretty easy; I don’t need to be able to re-write Word or anything super.

What have I examined?

So, who’s next on the list to play with?

I really like languages that run on the JVM, actually. It just saves lots of pain. Robert Tolksdorf’s Programming Languages for the Java Virtual Machine is the list of choice, and there you can learn about Jython, the Python which runs on the JVM, and JRuby, the Ruby which etc… As well as Basics and other languages. There is also Rhino, which is a basic Javascript for the JVM (like a shrunken version of Judoscript) as well as Groovy (if Sun had to approve a scripting language, you know it has to be a clunker… and this thing is a pita).

So, where do I land right now? Its really going to be Python for a little while; between the SPSS linkups and the hope for Jython, its seems the best choice. Its also not a one-man-band like Frink or JSDB, as impressive as they are.

I’m amazed that there isn’t a simple (SIMPLE) language focused around I/O of big data, optimized for frequency counting and restructuring, and runs on all platforms. A JVM based language would be nice (but since everyone has a flash player, maybe that’s the next runtime to consider…. Hmm.)

Maybe I need to write one… With all that free time I have, I guess.

PS: What do I mean by simple? What happened to:
FOR EACH LINE IN X: IF “coolbeans“(nocase) PRESENT THEN

We’ve made everything so cryptic and hyperclever… but sometimes, a simple grammar makes everything easier.

PPS: Ok, I want simple? I was pointed to Processing, the MIT Media Lab language for artists. Too much on graphics, not enough on anything else. I was also pointed to JavaFX which is really a wrapper scripting language for making GUIs, not really a whole language.


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Robot Chicken Star Wars... disappointing. · 06/19/2007 01:13 PM, Trivial

I have a link to it below, but may not work past a few days.

Anyway, this was a collection of Star Wars parodies by the team at Robot Chicken, basically Mego action figures and custom puppets in snarky comedy.

Lots of this was re-run, so it was fast on the Tivo. And yes, they had to stick in yet another crummy “musical” number, Star Wars on Ice, as an ending, so that sped it up as well. The Boba Fett was also desperate. Trivia wise, the Toshi Station quickie was one of the best. Truly trivial was the George Bush sketch, a total waste of time. Close was the George Lucas sketch, which was shadowed by the much better Shatner sketch from SNL (“Get a life!”).

Overall, pretty good. Some standouts include Darth and an infamous character from the recent trilogy, the call to the Palpatine, the other side of the bar scene from Star Wars, the momma fight, Toshi Station, the improbables (with Mark Hamill), and then that’s it. The rest suck, so just skip it.

Was it worth the hype? Nope. But its worth 10 or so minutes to see the good ones.

Edit: Please be patient when hitting that play button. The video takes a while to load and may initially freeze your screen for a few seconds.


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Accents... · 06/18/2007 07:45 PM, Trivial

I have a very Northern accent, but my Southern slips in when I’m not paying attention.

See what yours is…

More details at


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