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The Net Takeaway: Page 23


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.







Statusbar Clock for Mozilla · 04/14/2005 12:38 PM, Tech

One of those extensions for Mozilla that I just can’t stop using, silly as it may be. is one source; there are others. Note that its hard coded to only work on earlier versions, but if you install on the older and upgrade to a newer version of the browser, it keeps working.

Some notes from a MozillaZine poster on how to get it to work on newer versions as a fresh install:

Download the xpi-file
rename it to .zip
open the new "zip"-file
edit the file "install.rdf"
change <em:maxVersion>0.10</em:maxVersion>
        to <em:maxVersion>1.1</em:maxVersion>
save the file and put it in the zip-file again
rename to xpi and install it. 

BTW, if you love this kind of stuff, lots of great extensions for Mozilla at as well as from your browser (Tools | Extensions).

Also, if you want a titlebar clock on every app instead of just the statusbar clock on just Mozilla, try TitleBarClock for Windows for free, or his TitleBarClockPro with many more powerful customization options for a small fee (about $10US).


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I still hate tagging... · 04/13/2005 04:30 PM, MetaBlog

Update: Lots of traffic to this link from some very nice blogs and users… so, note that it rests in context with my complete series (so far) on why I dislike tagging, including:

I Hate Tags
I still hate tagging….
I continue to despise tagging…
In conference
Tag-Hater at Yahoo, home of tagging?

Now, back to your regularly scheduled reading…


I originally wrote about how much I hate tagging a few weeks ago, in the article I Hate Tags. But I keep reading all these articles about “tagging”, the most recent being Stephen Levy’s article in Newsweek, and I still find it to be insane that all these smart people can’t see the obvious. Tagging is not designed to share, its designed to create walled gardens, defined originally in the wiki world. Here is one person’s summary from that page:

...a WalledGarden (at least as the originator originally imagined it) is a large set of pages that are suitable for a wiki, but bring in their own organizational or conceptual baggage, and hence integrate poorly with the rest of that wiki. The content is appropriate, but the form prevents integration.

This means that if you bring your own organizational structure to something, it won’t fit with the rest, walling it away.

Look, if I am looking for something specific, then I type those terms in. Say I use a search engine. If I am looking for a phrase, I use quotes and type in all the words (up to 10 for most engines) and I get hits with that phrase.

But usually, I want stuff “like” or “similar” to my words. Search engines know variations on words to try to give my search more breadth. Or, I don’t know what terms are appopriate, so I look for other terms in the content, read those findings, and learn the proper vocabulary as used by experts in that field.

But that’s now how tagging systems work. Instead, you have to know the terms up front to find anything. Using tagging systems to find stuff means typing in every possible variation of the terms you can think of. This is fun for browsing, but silly for research or answering questions. Note that every popular “tagging” system, to date, has been for consumer fun stuff (flickr, etc.) and not for real knowledge management.

Let’s try it together. is currently the hot social bookmarking site, so let’s find things on analyzing categorical data. I am sure someone out there is working on this, so let’s find it. The basic trick is that you type the term as part of the URL like this: more docs here.

So, let’s try and see that it returns nothing. For comparison, Google returns 179k for the same phrase. Ok, now I have to guess at terms that might make more sense. How about chi-square? Or logistic regression? Of course, I am an expert and know these phrases; too bad for the average person who is screwed at this point. returns 3 links.

Look at the tags they are coded under:

“Bayesian Logistic Regression Software”
“generative discriminative naive bayes logistic regression statistics machine learning tom”
“logistic regression statistics”

So, basically, I have to know some pretty techie (stats techie) to get my answer. I have to use terms that are known only to experts. This is insane.

How does this “organization” help an outsider research? It doesn’t. You have to stumble onto a phrase that returns some relevant hits, and then try to understand why a link has these other terms to decide if they help or hinder your search. The examples in the Levy article only epitomize this. He speaks of the tag “GTD” as short for relevant to a book, “Getting Things Done”. Ok, but if I don’t know that, it’s a useless tag for sharing. Oh, it shares with those who already know, but shouldn’t social activities online be about more than setting up cliques and private languages like we did in 8th grade? (US schools go from Kindergarten to 12th grade, so 8th grade means 14 year olds.).

Hell, I know all the terms I would use to categorize my links: They are very esoteric and detailed, and I use them all over my private bookmarks (ala Blinkpro and my new favorite, Link-a-go-go). But as DMOZ has shown over and over again, if you are trying to organize knowledge for others instead of just yourself, you have to think a little more open. Tagging is insular, not expansive.

So, I know this will evolve into something useful. We don’t have to stick with the Dewey or any other tree-based taxonomy if we don’t want to. My suggestion? Recommmend “Standard Terms” and “Free Terms” as 2 separate fields. Let’s try to do our best to share some phrases which are key to the concept of an article or link or page or functionality or whatever, and use that in the Standard. It can be a big list, and it will change, but the community would choose, and it would override (yes, change) the old terms where necessary. But “Free Terms” stay as whatever the user typed in there, as wacky and wild and useful and useless as they want to be.

I think we will find that using “Standard Terms” and then “Free Terms” together will allow folks to find useful things and expand their knowledge at the same time, instead of being forced to either find stuff they already know about, or ask to be let into the club.

Comments? [6]

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Desktop Search settling down.... · 04/06/2005 05:59 PM, Tech Search

So, when we last left off (3 individual links), we had many different search tools out there, but I had basically ended up liking X1 and Copernic Desktop Search. However, I had enough reservations with both that I couldn’t use either of them.

So, what am I running these days on my work machines? X1 and Copernic.

What?, you gasp… Didn’t you have lots of complaints? Yes, but things have improved.


Using version 1.5, current as of this writing.

Both tools attempt to search music and picture files, but I don’t really use those features. Neither searches Outlook Tasks, Notes, or other more esoteric features, but those will come.

So, get X1 if you can get the NoNet version, and can pay the fee, or get Copernic 1.5 which is really turning into a very nice tool, and continues to be free.

Bang for the buck, no contest. Get Copernic. But when X1 finally lowers its price, it will be worth paying for.

(Note: I have no affiliation to either company; I paid for one and the other is a local hometown fave (now owned by a Canadian company, but who’s counting) and I am getting no compensation for complaining about either product, both of which are pretty good.)

Comments? [3]

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Home MP3 Streaming · 04/01/2005 02:49 PM, Tech

I’ve been looking for a way to stream my MP3s from my home box to, well, wherever I am in the world. So, no, this post will not even begin to talk about home media appliances or other home networks. I basically want access to my tunes at work without having to schlep them there.

Thanks to the crackdown on anything which might begin to resemble sharing, its become harder and harder to find an MP3 “server” app these days.

I’ve got some typical requirements: I want it to run on my home windows XP box, no php, no database requirements, low impact, should use its own server (i.e., no IIS or apache/php required). I also worry about how many holes I have to punch in my firewall, so I would prefer custom port selection, though that’s not a requirement. I don’t want to put PHP or Apache (or IIS, for that matter) on my home box, though I’ve considered used xampp or other WAMP type installs is I get desperate enough.

Best New Offering

The best winner right now is MyOrb from Orb Networks, which basically does all of the above. It allows sharing of music, photos, movies, whatever. Free for a single user to access your single machine, but each additional user is $3.99 a month or $30 a year actually, as Ted Shelton of Orb Networks commented below, free for everyone. So, if you want an easy way to have your home media with you at any time, this is a great solution. Give it a shot.

Missing, of course, is remote control ala GoToMyPC or VNC or other solutions… but since VNC is open source and free (I recommmend TightVNC myself), run VNC on your machine along with Orb and you are all set (well, given that you know how to configure your firewall to let VNC play nicely).

Good to Try

There are certainly other options I’ve found as well. The leading runner up was AjooBlast which is an all in one client/server. Its pretty simple to run, and works pretty well. Not open source, windows only.

SlimServer also looks like a winnner, see below in Open Source section. Finally, Streamsicle (also in the Open Source section) looks worth checking out.

Open Source

Open Source solutions include:
* Streamsicle which looks as powerful as Ajooblast, if a bit harder to setup and use.
* Edna in python, haven’t tried it
* Jinzora is very popular, but requires that your media be on the same server that its running on, so if you rent hosting, that could be a problem (as is true for any php solution mentioned here). The screenshots look pretty good, but my host wouldn’t want hundreds of megs of MP3s on his systems.
* NetJuke is also pretty good, php, same issues (for me) as Jinzora. Note that both Jinzora and Netjuke can be embedded in various CMS systems, including Nukes and in some cases, Zope and Mambo.
* MP3-Server in coded in javascript and Perl
* Zina, see below…
* Okay, I said this post wasn’t about home appliances like Squeezebox, but those nice folks at Slim Devices have open sourced their SlimServer tool to provide streaming. Runs as a service under windows, looks pretty nice.

There are many “Shoutcast” type servers, but those aren’t the same thing. These stream a radio broadcast of mp3s, and don’t give playlist control. Lots of these out there, though, if that’s what you are looking for.

Others to look at:

The amazing AnalogX has lots of great things in every category, but here in the Network category, try SimpleServer and Shout.

OneWeb is an .ASP solution which is going well, free but donations accepted. ASP requires IIS, if you weren’t aware of that.

If you are willing to pay ($35), Andromeda has a nice ASP or PHP version which handles the usual. Zina is a well done attempt to duplicate it in open source, req. PHP and Apache.

The Exit66 jukebox (formerly BlueVade Jukebox) requires Java and is basically a control panel for your mp3 collection. Right now, its best just as a shared jukebox on speakers, but they are considering adding streaming, and if they do, could be a nice option. Their streaming would be like Icecast and other Shoutcast type streams.

Comments? [3]

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Expanding Excel's Undo · 03/20/2005 05:03 PM, Tech

I know, you never make mistakes, but I make tons. And here is something from the Office Letter team (which is a fantastic collection of MS Office tips and tricks) on how to expand Excel’s undo stack.

Note: you will be messing with the registry. If this strikes pangs of fear into your heart, DON’T GO ANY FURTHER. If it doesn’t, that must mean you’ve already backed it up and know that neither I nor the Office-Letter folks are responsible for any damage you do to your machine by being a dim-bulb and digging where you shouldn’t.

Now, from Office-Letter, Feb 14 2005 Standard Edition:
Works for Excel 97 and above

By default, Excel maintains only 16 levels of undo. Assuming you have the memory to spare, the good news is that you can expand that number up to 100 levels. The bad news (for some users) is that you have to modify the Windows registry. It’s quite simple:

1. Close all running programs as a precaution.
2. Use the Start/Run command and enter regedit. Click OK or press Enter.
3. You’re now in the registry editor. Use the File/Export command to make a registry backup—just in case.
4. Registry entries are displayed in a hierarchy, just like Windows Explorer lists files. Navigate to (and then click on)
HKey_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\xxx\Excel\Microsoft Excel
Where xxx varies by the version of Excel you’re using. Here are the substitutions:

Excel 97: replace xxx with 8.0

Excel 2000: 9.0

Excel 2002: 10.0

Excel 2003: 11.0
5. From the Edit menu, select Edit, then New. Click the “DWORD Value” option.
6. Select “New Value #1” and type UndoHistory. Note:
capitalization matters, so type the key exactly as shown. Press Enter to accept the new registry entry.
7. From the Edit menu, click on Modify and in the “Edit DWORD Value” dialog box, choose Decimal under Base. Type a value between 0 and 100 for the Value, depending on how many levels of undo you want.
8. Click OK and exit the registry editor.
9. Now, when you start Excel, it will store the undo history up to the number of actions you specified in step 7.

If you liked this, I encourage you to go to and sign up for the free version, or better yet, the paid one, full of extra tips.

In addition, as if you didn’t get enough mails, the best ones I get all seem to start from so unsub from those boring ones you never read, and start getting some of these to read great techie tips on using Windows, Linux, Hardware, Office, and everything in-between…

(Ok, I forgot one. While you are signing up on techletters, feel free to pop over to Fred Langa’s site and get his newsletter. Then, your techie email update will be complete.)

Comments? [1]

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Asimov's Foundation · 03/05/2005 05:09 PM, Trivial

Every psychologist worth their salt has, at some point, read about Hari Seldon and his Foundation in Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (then expanded with lots of other books to make a link between every other Asimov book, and like King’s efforts, was not worth the effort… but I digress).

I listened to them again on CD recently (thanks, Wellesley Free Library!). They continue to be an impressive collection of vignettes which tie together many aspects of power and influence ala Cialdini, leadership and religion, the role of technology in influencing economy, legal/courtroom dramas and a bunch of other stuff on top of a great story that’s hard to put down. The fall and rise of a galactic empire may sound like reading Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (which, btw, is an impressive read, but not to everyone’s liking) with spaceships, but it really does take a unique slant on how people change the universe… but in groups, even if led by one or a few.

If you haven’t read any of these, you owe it to yourself to grab the original trilogy. You’ll thank me later. You’ll also thank me for saving you the money on Benford and Brin’s attempts to expand the books. Those are two great authors, but they are really no match for Asimov and their efforts fall flat.

Amazon has the Foundation Trilogy for as low as $0.90, so its an easy buy… but your local library has it as well.

A few other sites delving into this vast world:
Isaac Asimov’s Foundations Universe
Wikipedia’s entry about The Foundation.

A few things about Asimov: Friggin Genius. Wrote hundreds of books, from guides to Shakespeare and the Bible to numeric puzzles to guiding every aspect of modern SF to describing physics and science in a way that only Feynmann can match.

Read more about Asimov at Wikipedia.

And yes, he wrote the original wonderous stories which were part of the movie I, Robot. And yes, he would have requested that his name be removed from the credits for any part of the movie I, Robot. Rumours surfaced in June that Foundation may be heading towards a movie. Let’s hope its better than I, Robot or the Earthsea trilogy on SF channel.


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Should programmers fight back? · 02/14/2005 09:20 PM, Tech

The wonderful Aunty Spam points out a destructive ploy by a PocketPC software writer to combat piracy. Bad Serial? Erase your Data! explain how “Pocket Mechanic”, a tool used to fix SD and CF cards which go awry, will instead erase your data if you use a blacklisted serial (presumably one which is floating around the net).

Anton Tomov has decided that hurting his users is more important than providing functionality, and has dedicated his efforts to this end.

Many folks have posted about this, and the general consensus seems to be that of the RIAA against perceived piracy: If a user lies down with dogs, they get bitten. Others have pointed out the foolishness of writing software which knowingly intends to destroy user data without permission, which is setting up the programmer for an impressive set of legal actions.

Interestingly enough, in the real world, I am not allowed to protect my home with lethal force in most states. Just because someone is on my property, I can’t shoot him or her unless I am directly threatened in many states. We have a history of restraint in this country which is rapidly declining in the online world. So, I can’t perform “harm” in the real world, but in the online space, I am allowed to destroy data, i.e., harm the unit? I am not comparing destroying someone’s address book with taking a life, but I can compare magnitude of impact from actions on a relative basis in both spheres. And clearly, in the real world, we expect more moderation.

The author posted his opinion on his own forums, but they are down as I write this. This post on PDAPhoneHome repeats some of his comments, including:

The program indeed contains a piracy check for a single serial number. It is used by approximately 2000 pirates at the moment and can be found on #pocketwarez on EFNet. The people who are using this key have no excuse, the chances of entering the pirated key by mistake is 1/10000000000 which is approximately 0.000000001%.

So, is this fair or correct? Should companies be allowed to “strike back” when they feel they are running improperly? Under the current environment, I suspect we will see more and more programs start to behave like this. Instead of locking up when they detect an invalid license, they will start punishing the user. Excel will randomly change data, or add incorrectly. Word will change spelling of words, but only when printing.

Windows XP, for all its faults, did something right for the activation. Once the key is typed in, it can’t be used for any other installs for 3 months. After that, it can be used again. This makes lots of sense. A pirate wants a key that can be used to run off millions of DVD copies and sell them cheap. A warez distro just wants a working serial to get cred. The regular WinXP key works, but only once every 3 months. This makes sense for a user, who may go a year or more between reinstalls… but is free to do so after 3 months.

Compare this with almost every other phone home product: once installed, you are screwed. They ping home and if you have multiple codes “pinging” at any time, you are out of luck. SPSS, for example, doesn’t describe how to “unregister” an install. If you install it twice, might as well throw away the CD; you’ve screwed yourself.

So, I think this shareware author is insane to write a program which knowingly destroys data, no matter what reason he gives. I also think companies are short-sighted (and I’ve blogged about this before here, here, and here), restricting users is long term stupid.

But like the music companies, I think they will have to sink before they learn how to swim.

Comments? [1]

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Great title... · 02/14/2005 04:50 PM, Database

Don’t really love the article, but the title is worth keeping…

Along Data’s Journey Into Might at


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No Big News: ExactTarget observes the same way the others did... · 02/09/2005 12:25 AM, Marketing

I get worried for our industry when even the smarter companies report “research” which repeats the flaws of the past.

(Note: I work for a competing email company. We like and admire ExactTarget (and have clients who use us both). But, yes, we do compete, and so my comments should be taken in that light, though I try to be fair… fairly abrasive, but fair.)

First off, read my post on “Day of the Week” mailings: There is no perfect day to email: an experimental study. Then ask yourself: after reading this, who would write yet another study which is purely observational?

ExactTarget, which has some smart folks and great tools, has fallen into the same trap as the previous companies of trying to prove something… without actually doing the work necessary to actually prove it.

Chris Baggott has his own blog where he “broke” the news, and I know that from his other posts, he is usually sharper than this. Instead, we have almost every flaw present from my comments on the previous work:

Now, to be fair, they do wind up at the right answer, and knowing those guys, I know they knew this all along (emph added by me):

“The results of our study indicate that marketers need to rethink the best times for sending email. There is no simple answer to which day is best for sending email. The results vary each month, by industry and by target audience. The notion of a universal “best day to send email” is, at best, a moving target, and at worst a myth. Instead of following industry trends (including the results outlined in this article), marketers should continue to construct logical hypotheses and validate them by testing the results.”

I am almost chagrined to point out that its hard to read this last with a straight face given that they just supported it with paragraph after paragraph of non-tested observation.

But the answer remains the same; our experimental work shows that across industries, if one sends the same message on different days, the difference on almost every metric is minimal in most cases.

ExactTarget and the others have their heart in the right place: they want you to focus on good marketing, not a silly hope of a silver bullet. I completely agree with them. But I also suggest that the research to support this finding is not that hard (we did it for 3 months to get a long term perspective, but it could be done in a week or two if you wanted to rush it) and I encourage other email companies to follow my example: Run the experiment to prove, once and for all, that day of week, for most cases, is one of the least important variables to worry about. Then, I will gladly link to each of your articles, and say “it is done. Let’s move on to the real impact of custom dynamic publishing and other relevance-creating instantiations.”

Comments? [1]

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Google Maps great... · 02/08/2005 10:52 AM, Tech

I really like the new google maps. I was a huge fan of WildTangent’s MapStream, but its gone now. Same idea: scrolling map, but it required the WildTangent DirectX style plugin. CNET still has its announcement of the MapStream offering.

I am continually impressed how Google is able to implement “rich client” functionality without needing, well, a rich client.

Yes, its still in beta… but cool stuff.

Still missing, of course are:
* Metro and T stations
* Waypointing (I want a map from A to B, B to C, C back to A)
* Constraints (I want a route which avoids Route X, or which has to take Highway Y)

I find that even the commercial packages tend to fail on these requirements, unless you go to the multi-thousand dollar operations routing software for delivery businesses.

(BTW, if you dig maps, you might like my previous post on maps, both online and paper… Best Map Ever)

Comments? [2]

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