New search experience

The new Search experience on (not to be confused with MSN Search, which searches the whole Internet; this search “merely” searches the 4 to 6 million pages of content on is available.

Before today, if you searched for a term you would get categorized buckets of results: the top three downloads, product information pages, support articles, etc. that matched your terms. Today the results are returned in a flat list, with additional search scoping options available in the right navigation.

Reduced functionality? Not really. As Amazon has found, if you return results in fixed scopes and categories, you run the risk of a highly relevant result in a category that’s far down the page and consequently never seen. Getting the categories out of the way but keeping the option to select them for filtering handy is a kind of “best of both worlds” situation: the categories don’t interfere with relevance but are there if you need them.

It will be interesting to see what people like Korby Parnell (and his commenters in this post) think of the difference.

Aside: while I didn’t work on the actual release, I was part of a team of researchers that analyzed customer data around the last version of search to make recommendations for this version. Kind of nice to see the vision come true; hopefully it will be an improvement for our users.

But can you tilt the ballot to find the winner?

Ben and Jerry’s will be doing an iTunes song giveaway on free cone day. I read the headline and groaned, remembering the Pepsi giveaway and imagining premiums hidden in cones and under pint lids—in short, everything we feared when the company was bought out.

But the mechanics are quite a bit different. In Ben and Jerry’s giveaway, the giveaway isn’t tied to merchandise, but to activism. If you sign a pledge to vote in November’s presidential election on their website, you get a free song. Needless to say, the offer is US only. (No mention of the promotion yet on their site, though.)

The links in my neighborhood

A quick tour round the block:

  • “CSS is like Legos.” — Tom Harpel at Tandoku, about the design of The title of Tom’s piece is an hommage to Bob Dylan’s last album, Love and Theft, on which the master has subsequently been proved to appropriate lyrics from an obscure Japanese novelist. Tandoku is Japanese for “independence.”
  • “every day 14 kids are killed, 81% from guns. … but there you have the vice president holding his phallic symbol of power and protection and defense and safety. three incredibly handsome men checking out that nice long hard shaft. whoops a kid just died. in ninety minutes another one will go. dont let it get you down though, fellas, odds are it was a brown kid.” — Tony Pierce’s Busblog.
  • “The internet doesn’t touch people who decide in the voting booth how to vote. The internet doesn’t touch a whole lot of people. But we won the activist universe.” — Matt Gross, ex-blogger in chief for Howard Dean, speaking on Presidential Blogging during BloggerCon II: Electric Blogaloo (thanks to Tom at TheMediaDrop for the summary).
  • “I’m in the refrigerator. — I’m in the ice box. — They’ve got me put away and they’ll pull me out like a carton of milk when they need me, and then put me back.” — Secretary of State Colin Powell, as quoted by Bob Woodward in a 2002 60 Minutes interview about his book on the first 100 days after 9/11, Bush at War.
  • “I prefer not to develop back problems while reading, so I’m waiting for the paperback.” — self professed Bookslut Jessa Crispin on the new Neal Stephenson book, perhaps ironically called Confusion.
  • “I didn’t get into this to make money.” — perhaps unnecessary quotation from Ned Batchelder in the New York Times, on how making about $2 a day in Google AdWords from his blog isn’t leading him to quit his day job any time soon.

Craftsman project weekend

We spent a lot of time this weekend in the oft-neglected older half of our house. For those just coming in, our abode is a bit of a Frankenhouse, with a big 1999 addition with master bedroom, great room, and garage added onto a Craftsman cottage that started out around 1916 and grew over the years into a five-room house. Unfortunately, we hadn’t spent a lot of time on the original portion of the house since renovating the bathroom, and there was a lot of work still left undone.

This weekend we started to reverse the process. Yesterday Lisa’s dad and I measured and cut the baseboards that we never got around to adding to the newly remodeled bathroom. Today, Lisa and her dad primed the cut ends of the boards while her mom and I started scraping and applying caulk and spackle to various nail holes, cracked boards on banisters, and so on in preparation for painting on the old porch. I also ran to the Home Depot and found that the most economical nailgun for applying molding was an electric model that I bought for about $10 less than I could have rented a pneumatic model and air compressor.

So tomorrow night is cut out for me: popping moldings into place with a nailgun, a little touch-up paint, some caulk, and the bathroom is almost all done. Just some trim to go over the doorjamb and we’re set. Heaven only knows when the paint on the porch will be done.

Voice is the value-add of blogging

I was reading Tim Bednar of e-church’s paper on blogging and religion, “We Know More Than Our Pastors,” (highly recommended, btw), when I ran into this quotation. I call it out since I think it resonates with what I fumblingly tried to say yesterday. If you are looking at the PDF draft of the paper, the quote is on page 10 (emphasis and hyperlinks added):

Steve Collins explains that his blog is “not spiritual, except that everything human is.” Andrew Careaga reinforces this idea; “I try to consider most of the conscious activities as spiritual activities, even if not exactly religious.”

This passion to live incarnationally unites these bloggers. Jordon Cooper writes about his blog and describes what I mean:

Many of the sites 20,000 monthly visitors can’t seem to get their head around how a site that has so much about postmodern thought and the church can also have links to the Calgary Flames and the Saskatchewan Roughriders […] I started to get e-mail back saying, “wait a minute, it is knowing about you that gives the site some character and credibility.” […] People went on to say that without the personal stuff, the site just became a collection of links posted by someone they don’t know. My stories about my life gave it some context and something to judge it by for good or bad.

This holistic engagement between author and audience is what makes blogging unique and compelling. In this respect, these “Christian bloggers” are no different than all the other opinionated bloggers except that they intentionally bring their faith in Christ to bare [sic] on everything that interests them: hockey, Microsoft, George W. Bush, Jennifer Lopez or Strongbad.

Without the personal stuff, this site is a collection of links posted by someone they don’t know. I don’t know if anyone has articulated it this way before, but I think it points to something important that I’ve discussed before: personal voice. Specifically, personal voice isn’t just a defining characteristic of blogging, it’s the whole value proposition.

Electric Blogaloo

This weekend is the second BloggerCon. Unfortunately, no such fortunate confluence of events as last time will allow me to attend. It’s a shame; between no paid panelists, lots of interesting discussion groups including one on religion and blogs, and a really good group of attendees, it sounds like it will be a lot of fun. Congrats to Dave and the gang on putting on another show; I look forward to following the proceedings from here. I hope someone will archive the IRC backchannel; last time that was one of the most interesting parts of the proceedings.

Oh, and if I’m the only one to reference my favorite movie sequel title, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, in conjunction with BloggerCon II, I will be sorely disappointed. Or relieved. Or something. (Of course, that film DID feature both Ice-T and Martika, so it couldn’t have been ALL bad, right?)

A donation to Cathy is a donation to send Greg to DC

Tired of hearing the GOP leadership rail against MoveOn for violating soft money bans (as though independent groups couldn’t voice an opinion about the president)? Wondering whether there will ever be another Internet savvy candidate again after Dean’s disappearance? Wondering which candidate you should support for a seat in the US House of Representatives with good old fashioned hard money?

Well, wonder no more, bunky. Following up my coverage of the campaign two weeks ago, I wanted to point to the latest Cathy Woolard development. Greg Greene, blogger extraordinaire, press secretary and research director for Cathy Woolard’s campaign, and my former college roommate, has mounted an appeal for funds on his blog. Benefits: help elect Georgia’s first gay congressperson, ensure that an experienced, fiscally moderate, socially progressive voice gets its place in the House, deny the GOP a seat in the House, and help send Greg with his boss to DC. Contribute on Cathy’s official site, and give an amount ending in $.07 so that the campaign will know it came from Greg’s blog. I’ve given; won’t you?

Now, about that beer, Greg…

On speaking

Well, the Script-dotting (q.v.) of my reaction to Bush’s press conference seems to be slowing down. Thanks to all the readers who participated in what must be the most spirited discussion ever on this blog yesterday. Special thanks to Gary Robinson, who kept the tone of the discussion high and brought forward some interesting points.

At some points during the discussion yesterday, I had one of those “oh no” moments. I normally don’t worry about things I write on this blog, but at one point I began to sweat a little. I now know co-workers, old friends from high school, and others who read my blog, in addition to my RSS subscribers and all the Google visitors. Am I making a mistake by putting my political views out there? Maybe.

But I’ve had my political views out on this site almost since it began, certainly since 9/11. It’s not possible to put the genie back in the bottle.

I think this is one of those deep-breath moments that must come to every blogger. To really blog, unless you blog exclusively for work (or everything you write on your blog is untrue), you have to put it out there. Otherwise it’s just lists of links or news about gardening. But even with lists of links, you’re subject to having people guess your politics. In these echo chambers, one’s choice to link to Oliver Willis or Joshua Micah Marshall (or Greg Greene) instead of Instapundit or LittleGreenFootballs says a lot about who you read and who you think is worth talking about. But if one is to add any value to a blog it has to have your voice in it.

I talked about this with Esta some time ago. She’s now blogged her concern about her blog’s effect on her employability as a minister. So I’ll present my side of the conversation. One: your blog shows, if nothing else, that you can think and write. Really well. Two: your blog shows that you are a real person with real experience. I think that knowing about an individual’s struggles with the Black Dog, or about their difficult life decisions, makes one’s appreciation of their work that much richer. Particularly if the job they are going into is one where empathy is a very large part of the job.

So that’s good for Esta. I would argue that being as open as possible about things that matter is good for all of us. If nothing else, it can get you into conversations with a CEO you might never otherwise meet.

Not funny any more

I watched and listened to the President’s news conference last night with anger, resignation, and something like shame. After all that’s happened, even acknowledging that we know now that Saddam had no stockpile of WMDs, he still says he would have invaded Iraq. Barely an acknowledgement that the small decentralized cells of radical stateless terrorists who blew our lives apart on September 11th pose more of a direct threat to the US than Iraq and the rest of the “axis of evil” ever did. He says the August 6 PDB memo didn’t constitute a clear warning. What about “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US” is unclear? It might at least be expected to give one pause before cutting an emergency post-9/11 call for additional anti-terrorism funds from the FBI by two-thirds.

And what was up with the response to the question, “After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say? And what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s answer, “I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it… I can’t come up with something under the pressure of the press conference,” is the clearest self-articulation of Bush’s lack of self-reflective wisdom, courage and inability to handle anything unscripted that I’ve heard yet. As Queso wrote, “!?! Wow.”

And compare his non-response to the question, “you never admit a mistake. Is this a fair criticism? And do you believe you made any errors in judgment” to Richard Clarke’s unequivocal statement: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you….And for that failure, I would ask — once all the facts are out — for your understanding and your forgiveness.”

The folks at Pandagon echo my shame: “I hate having so little pride in my own President.Dave Winer thinks Bush ought to resign and take the presidency of Iraq, since his focus has been there and not cleaning up troubles and threats at home. I don’t know that one has to go beyond the first part of that sentence. Bush ought to be a man, admit that he and his cabal of true believer advisors were wrong, wrong, wrong, and resign. He is unfit to be our president.

Update: Lots of good discussion around this. Thanks to one commenter for pointing out I had misquoted the title of the PDB; I’ve corrected it in line.

Brilliant use of Technorati for cross-blog conversations

BoingBoing added Technorati support to their template, enabling site visitors to click a link and see all the other weblogs that are commenting on that particular item. Dave Sifry at Technorati explains how anyone with a Movable Type weblog can do the same.

It’s pretty simple to do. The URL at which the Technorati Cosmos for a particular post lives is a static construction with the permalink of the item at the end, like The problem for Manila is that the only way I can get the permalink of the post is through the permalink macro, which takes no arguments and always spits out a linked graphic.

UserLand, if you’re listening, I’d like a macro that would just return the permalink URL so I could pass it into other things like the Technorati macro.

Needing an open window

joseph cornell toward the blue peninsula

At various times in the past I’ve written about my fascination with the work of Joseph Cornell and my experiences with his works. Last night I finished the big collection of his work, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay…Eterniday, and as always came away both inspired and humbled by the work.

And saddened. William Gibson wrote in Count Zero that the Cornell-manque boxes encountered by the protagonist evoked “impossible distances, loss and yearning,” and Gibson wrote that he sensed autism behind Cornell’s obsessive junk-shop searchings.

I think the truth is closer than that. Cornell’s series of parrots caged in decaying European hotels rings sad when you know he spent his entire adult life in his house in Queens, taking care of his mother and brother. Imprisoned? By choice, if so. But still, looking at the empty bird cage and cut wire of Toward the Blue Peninsula, with its open window in the back of the box, one wishes that Cornell, too, had let himself fly the coop.

Seven hundred year old buns

How and where did hot cross buns come to symbolize Easter? And for whom? I know that, growing up, hot cross buns weren’t something we regularly had, but my mother in law makes them every year and they were an important part of Lisa’s traditions.

This site claims, variously, that they date back to pagan times or only 150 years or so. Neither claim cites supporting evidence. A Gannett news service article cites Sister Schubert’s cookbook Secret Bread Recipes in claiming a medieval origin for the buns (incidentally, “Sister” Schubert is not a nun). The Wikipedia agrees and points to another article which gives the most detailed origin for the buns, fixing a year (1361), a place (St. Albans), and a name (Father Thomas Rocliffe, also spelled Rockliffe) to the story—meaning that the origin is almost certainly fabricated. Other sources agree with the pagan origin claim; this one cites Charles Kightly’s The Customs and Ceremonies of Britain. Yet the earliest reference the OED finds for “cross-buns” is a 1733 mention in Poor Robin’s Almanac.

Oh well. At least they’re healthy.

Four services later

I just got done with Easter dinner with Lisa and her parents, after spending seven hours at church (like AKMA, I was up at 5 for a sunrise service). Four services’ worth of singing, including four performances of the Hallelujah Chorus, took a lot out of me, but fortunately the veal roll with arugula sauce and potato and tomato casserole put a lot back into me.

Also have to give a big thumbs up to the Planeta Winery, whose Santa Cecilia has to be one of the most incredible reds I’ve tasted recently. Big full bodied fruit up front just bursting with flavor, yielding to a softer but still intense almost-vanilla aftertaste.

Now to nap, hopefully.

(Thanks, Tony, for the link, and belated best wishes to you and Mox on the “nuptials,” however April Foolish. If two bloggers with such diverse political views can find connubial bliss (or even nubile bliss), there’s hope for us all.)

Before and after

before and after science

Here is that before and after shot I promised. You get a sense of how much airspace has been added in front of the house.

To do today: dig out some pine needles and ascertain the extent of the damage to the soil where the tree branches overhung their beds; plant some hardy native groundcover; and, oh yeah, get some shopping done for Easter dinner.