Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

Monthly Archives December 2002


Home pages are dead. Yahoo! GeoCities should re-invent itself as a blog site. Fresh content is better than stale content, and blog authors have an incentive to keep their blogs up-to-date.

(Note: the views expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer.)

Home pages are dead. Yahoo! GeoCities should re-invent itself as a blog site.

Creating your own website (traditional homepage or blog) is, for most folks, an exercise in vanity and self-indulgence. “I’m John Smith, and here’s my kewl website! Aren’t I special and unique?”

Part of what makes publishing appealing is the fact that someone might be reading what you’re writing. It’s like getting to act in your very own 6th-grade play — people are watching you and they care what you say! (Or, at least we web authors are duped into thinking that someone cares.)

When homepages first became a big thing in 1996-1997, people created these multimedia atrocities. There are tons of GeoCities sites that are nothing more than a collection of blinking GIFs that they found somewhere else.

My guess is that folks eventually realized that compiling a bunch of images that you stole from other people’s sites doesn’t make for a very compelling reason to visit a website. And since most of us aren’t artists, it’s too difficult to create our own images. For an amateur, putting together a professional-looking website is no easy task. So many of these websites have gone stale.

Enter blogs in 2001-2002. Instead of being graphics- and design-heavy, they are text-heavy. This makes sense, because everyone knows how to write. (Well, everyone who is literate knows how to write.) And everyone knows what’s going on in their own life, too. So making an online journal suddenly doesn’t seem so difficult. And you’ve got incentive to keep it up-to-date, because you’ve got all of those loyal fans who are waiting for the latest installment of your very-exciting life! To extend my 6th-grade play analogy, it’s like performing in that play every single day!

Adding blogs to Geocities has significant costs. Aside from having to develop a whole bunch of new software, they’ll have more customers using GeoCities’ resources. Constantly changing content and archiving means more disk space and more pageviews because people are reading that content more frequently. Of course, GeoCities really would need to provide RSS feeds (this is de rigueur in the blogging world) and these feeds will be polled by robots, which will increase server load even more. So Geocities might need to beef up its resources to handle the increased demand from customers. And then there’s the whole customer support issue…

Even so, a blog service would be a win for Yahoo! in the long run. Feeling some compulsion to keep your blog up-to-date is sorta like email — it’s very “sticky”. That means increased customer loyalty, which is always a good thing in the business world (even if it costs you some money).

It’s a Wonderful Life

Why buy the DVD when it's on TV every year? Every year around X-mas time I’m sure to mention the story about how It’s a Wonderful Life became a holiday classic due to a snafu with copyright law. Earlier this week, NPR reported on this very story:

NPR’s Rick Karr reports on how a 1946 box office flop became so ubiquitous on television this time of year. It’s a Wonderful Life is a sentimental favorite… in part because of Jimmy Stewart, but also because no one ever bothered to file the papers to extend the copyright on the movie. [NPR Morning Edition]

NPR also aired a Motley Fool Radio Show about the movie.

Duraflame and egg nog

duraflame2.jpg We lit a fire tonight in our fireplace. It was the first time we’ve had a fire in our new home. A chimney-sweep came out a few weeks ago and said our chimney was OK to use as long as we didn’t have a fire for more than 8 or 9 hours.

Avital drove out from Malibu with some Egg Nog-flavored frozen yogurt. We blended it up with some Captain Jack’s and rice milk and it turned out absolutely delicious.

I captured some video of the fire and was going to put it online, but it’s 222K for just 2 seconds worth (48 frames). Something is screwed up with this AVI compression. Why doesn’t my cute Logitech webcam offer an MPEG export? Oh well.

Keeping my blogroll up-to-date

My blogroll (the list of RSS feeds I subscribe to, which appears in the right-hand column of my blog page) is now going to be more consistently up-to-date. Here’s how I did it.

First, I set up a cronjob to fetch mySubscriptions.opml from my Radio Userland page. Next, I’m using Jeremy’s opml2html.pl script to convert from OPML to a list of HTML. I’ve actually tweaked it slightly since I sent patches back to Jeremy to clean up some charset issues.

I went into the MovableType management UI and clicked on Templates. I clicked on the Main Index template and changed the Ouput File to index.shtml. Next, I edited the Template Body and added a <link> tag to the top of the page:

<link rel="subscriptions"

type="text/x-opml" title="Subscriptions"


Below the Archives section on the page, I added the following:

<div class="sidetitle">

<a title="RSS channels I read in XML format"

name="blogroll" href="mySubscriptions.opml">My



<div class="side">

<!--#include file="mySubscriptions.html" -->


And that was it! Now my blogroll will get updated daily without me needing to edit the HTML by hand.


chaya-thumb-1.jpg We’re dog-sitting this week. Our friends Rob & Lamelle are in east Asia, so we’re watching Chaya, their Israeli mutt.

chaya-thumb-2.jpg I’ve been told by friends before that dogs are much more work than cats. You’ve gotta walk the dog two or three times a day! Luckily, Ariella has been taking mornings (I like to sleep in) and I’ve been doing evenings.

I managed to get Chaya to sit still long enough to grab a couple of grainy frames with the webcam.

Top 10 Web-Design Mistakes

Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Web-Design Mistakes of 2002:

“Every year brings new mistakes. In 2002, several of the worst mistakes in Web design related to poor email integration. The number one mistake, however, was lack of pricing information, followed by overly literal search engines.”

As usual, Jakob is right on the money. Did you notice how radwin.org borrows the “trail of breadcrumbs” style navbar from useit.com? Imitation is the most sincere from of flattery.

Ray Sun has a blog

raysun-tinsel.jpg My friend Ray Sun, longtime MSFT employee and all-around kewl guy, now has a blog.

I set him up with my tool of choice: MovableType. I didn’t even bother to run uname -a or perl -v. I just unpacked it, tweaked mt.cfg, and the thing just worked.

Ray used to be a program manager for MSIE and MSN Search, but these days he’s working on getting MS technology in next-generation cell phones.

Mmm…. Catherine Zeta-Jones…

YHOO is buying INKT

inktomi-logo1.gif In a not-so-surprising turn of events, Yahoo! is buying Inktomi for $235M.

There has been a lot of discussion both outside and inside the company about search engine competitor Google, so clearly Yahoo! is doing this to stay competitive in the search space. Whereas Yahoo! has something like 74 different properties in 25 countries, Google does one thing and they do it well. But search is an important part of a portal. Very important. And Yahoo! knows this, or it wouldn’t invest a pile of cash.

I just hope that this acquisition goes smoothly. Peter Lynch wrote in One Up On Wall Street that after a M&A goes through, the new combined business is usually worse off than if the two companies had remained separate. And I think Yahoo!’s track record has been better than average. On the one hand GeoCities seemed to go pretty well, but whatever happened to all that great content from broadcast.com?

Will McDonald’s follow United Airlines?

One of the nation’s biggest airlines recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Now I read this headline from Investor’s Business Daily: McDonald’s Expects Its First-Ever Loss As Chain Retrenches Amid Weak Sales. Another sign of the weak economy? Hardly. Maybe McDonald’s is losing money because they’re not vegetarian-friendly.

I completely stopped giving Mickey D’s my business about two years ago when I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good. Although they are fried in canola oil, the fries themselves contain “natural flavorings” as one of their ingredients.

“The company will not reveal the exact origin of the natural flavor added to its fries. In response to inquiries from Vegetarian Journal, however, McDonald’s did acknowledge that its fries derive some of their characteristic flavor from ‘an animal source.’ Beef is the probable source, although other meats cannot be ruled out. In France, for example, fries are sometimes cooked in duck fat or horse tallow.”

Maybe if McDonald’s came clean with the vegetarian community and dropped animal additives from their food, they’d find themselves with a growing market opportunity. Burger King introduced a Veggie Burger this year, and their fries have always been 100% veggie-friendly.