Over the past year, I studied in Europe, visited 3 countries and 5 cities for the first time, went on my first business trip, traveling by land, air, and sea. I flew 29,066 miles – that’s all the way around the equator and a bit more! I couldn’t have predicted any of this in December 2006, so let’s just wait and see what 2008 brings.

Following Kottke’s lead, here’s my year in cities for 2007:

  • New Delhi, India
  • Beaverton, OR*
  • Seattle, WA*
  • New York, NY
  • Santa Clara, CA
  • Silver Falls State Park, OR
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands*
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Paris, France
  • Chula Vista, CA*
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Ensenada, Mexico

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster has named “W00t” the Word of the Year for 2007.

Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, said “w00t” was an ideal choice because it blends whimsy and new technology.


Purists of “l33t speak” often substitute a “7” for the final “t,” expressing a “w007” of victory — an “in your face” of sorts — when they defeat an online gaming opponent.

Last Monday, in an attempt to promote our Facebook application while experimenting with Facebook’s advertising platform, I signed up for Flyers Pro, a low-cost CPC-based service that allows users to purchase targeted advertisements on Facebook.

Over the course of one week, my flyer received 2,108 impressions and zero clicks. Starting with almost 1000 on the first day, daily impressions steadily declined as the week progressed, probably because Facebook’s algorithm saw that they weren’t making any money on this flyer.

Flyers Pro Statistics

Even though I don’t expect people to click on ads within Facebook, since I rarely do myself, I find it somewhat surprising that I didn’t receive a single click from any of the high schoolers to whom this flyer was shown. If I were to receive a single click at this point, that would give me an overall click-through rate of less than 0.05%, which is abysmal by any standard.

While I fully recognize Facebook’s value in reaching and engaging the younger online population, this experiment has made me skeptical of the viability of CPA or CPI-based advertising with Facebook and its competitors. Given that this realm of advertising is very much in its infancy, this picture might change very soon.

Over the past month or so, Clint, Erik, and I have been working on a Facebook application that allows people to track, share, and discuss their college applications with friends on Facebook. After learning a great deal about the Facebook API and Ruby on Rails, we launched yesterday, and are gaining users with every passing hour. Check it out!

My College Apps

Here’s a small hack I stumbled across in the Ubuntu Forums: you can enable support for two-finger scrolling on your Synaptics touchpad with a couple lines added to the “synaptics” section of your /etc/xorg.conf.

Option      "VertTwoFingerScroll"   "1"
Option      "HorizTwoFingerScroll"  "1"

Here’s what the entire section looks like for me:

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier  "Synaptics Touchpad"
    Driver      "synaptics"
    Option      "SendCoreEvents"    "true"
    Option      "Device"        "/dev/psaux"
    Option      "Protocol"      "auto-dev"
    Option      "HorizScrollDelta"  "0"
    Option      "VertTwoFingerScroll"   "1"
    Option      "HorizTwoFingerScroll"  "1"

There are a lot more options described in the forum thread linked above, like assigning a different mouse click to each corner of the touchpad. Once you make these changes, just restart X (or your computer), and you should be able to scroll with your fingers!

I’m running Ubuntu Feisty with the latest version of the Synaptics driver (synclient -V says 0.14.6), but I think this should work with any distribution or desktop environment, assuming you’re using the Synaptics driver. Additional configuration instructions can be found in the Ubuntu Community Documentation.

Now that planning for Firefox 3 is well underway, Asa Dotzler, Mozilla Corporation’s Director of Community Development, has restarted the public discussion about what features should remain, go, or be added in future releases of Firefox. Among other questionable ideas, such as removing the “View Page Source” feature and “Character Encoding” menus from Firefox’s default build, he suggests that a version of AdBlock be included.

While I respect the idea that people should view content as they want to, such a decision by Mozilla could take us down a slippery path towards moderated content for two reasons:

First of all, this is impeding on a fundamental relationship between content publishers and their viewers. The web browser’s job is to simply deliver content between the two. Who is Mozilla (or anyone else, for that matter) to unilaterally decide that online advertisements should not be seen? What process would the use to decide which ads to block? Keep in mind that this discussion differs from blocking pop-ups or phishing scams – those practices are undeniably harmful to users. Thinking beyond advertisements, should your web browser be making any decisions to block sites based off of their function or appearance?

Secondly, because much of the Internet relies on ad revenue, it would be quite irresponsible for an organization like Mozilla (whose mission is to promote the Internet’s continued health) to encumber the creation and distribution of content that’s funded by online advertisements. Publishers are able to make things available for free because of an understanding with people that advertisements will at least be passively seen, if not clicked. The vast majority of us understand that money is needed to create and deliver our web experiences, and that it can effectively come from ads. I hope that an organization as influential as Mozilla doesn’t make a choice that disables this immensely valuable process.

Of course, I’m not saying that people can’t go install AdBlock on their own choosing. Isn’t that what extensions are for in the first place?

Having grown up watching the Portland area adapt to its rapidly growing population through road and freeway expansions, numerous MAX lines, a Streetcar, an aerial tram, and commuter rail, all in combination with lots of new construction, I’ve always been interested how cities are designed in advance to support their future inhabitants.

Dutch transportation infrastructure is designed in a unique way which supports access to members of every strata of society. In the city, streets are flanked by well-marked bike lanes and sidewalks, complete with three sets of traffic lights – one for cars, one for pedestrians, and one for bikes. While this is a logical extension of American infrastructure, there’s a paradigm shift akin to that in India: the largest vehicle rules the road in any case of confusion. Bikes rarely slow down or stop for pedestrians. In many areas, trams join the party, and their tracks are not remotely grade separated. Within 48 hours, I saw bikers cut across tracks and cars make U-turns in front of moving trams with mere meters to spare. Even so, the equal access system seems to be successful with few problems while granting people many transportation choices to suit their individual needs.

Long Time, No Post

According to Technorati, it’s been a full 75 days since my last post on this blog. That’s quite a long time. Since then:

When I was originally thinking about starting a “serious” blog, Rajat’s first response was that I needed to define what I would write about. I think that part’s taken care of. There are plenty of interesting things to write on, like what I’m doing in Europe – I just need to sit down and get it all on (digital) paper. Hopefully I can cover all of the backlog with a barrage of posts in the next few days and start blogging regularly again.

A Practice Interview

I have always been a little apprehensive about conducting interviews, since I’ve never been in a position where I think the time I’m asking of someone else would be worth giving up for them. In this case, however, it was a good experience. We were assigned to conduct an interview to practice for ones we might be conducting while researching in Amsterdam, using Dr. Philip N. Howard’s in-depth research format.

I chose a few questions related to wayfinding that we might ask in Amsterdam, and found someone in the dorm where I live whom I didn’t know particularly well. This selection wasn’t aimed at someone particularly comfortable with wayfinding, as we will be interviewing students similar to ourselves in our research. I didn’t indicate my subject area of interest before the interview began.

Content wise, I started off with “have you ever” questions, and followed them up with “why?” in order to gain a better idea of the circumstances or intentions at play. This combination yielded two discoveries. First, the interviewee was very eager to share in both instances, and provided a lot of interesting details when asked to describe their experiences and/or intentions. Second, it gave me a clear idea of how long a simple interview could potentially last if not kept in control. As mentioned above, I want to keep interviews both interesting and useful to maximize what we can learn from them, while not wasting anyone’s time, if possible.

I didn’t record or take any notes of the conversation, as the questions were very straightforward and I don’t have a problem remembering the responses I received. Of course, this will not be the same in our research methods, as we’ll have to document and analyze numerous similar interviews.

Questions and answers that came up during the interview are not posted here in order to avoid confounding our research results, as everyone in our research group will likely read this post.

At some point in each of its seasons, 24 has done a excellent job in showing what the US might look like as its population retaliates against a certain segment of people, which usually turns out to be the American Muslim community. Questions regarding Fox’s accuracy and biases aside, Ian Buruma seems to have done the same, except that in this case, the scenario is real.

Buruma effectively illustrates the shocked response to the murder of Theo van Gogh as a juxtaposition against Amsterdam’s philosophy of pragmatic tolerance. The discussion of this particular incident is supplemented by a narration of many immigrants in Amsterdam, allowing for many sides of the discussion to be seen by readers.

The book did a good job of drawing a picture of the current state in the Netherlands and Europe with regards to public sentiment towards immigrant communities. Since this is very much a current issue, one is left with a sense of incompleteness, as there remains a lot to be said. I learned quite a bit, and would recommend it for anyone interested in the issue.