Archive for August 2006

Low Involvement Fantasy Football

I just got totally screwed in our ESPN.com employees-and-alumni fantasy football league by the worst keeper rules I’ve ever seen. It’s a $200 $300 league too so it hurts twice thrice as bad. I don’t even want to get into the specifics, but let me just say, if you participate in a keeper league, be damn sure the people making the rules use standard keeper rules and don’t make up their own on the fly.

I feel crippled. And yet… I will still dominate.

If you’re already in enough fantasy leagues or you’re looking for a less “effort intensive” way to play some fantasy football, head on over to the Newsvine Hi-Lo Fantasy Football Challenge. The Hi-Lo Challenge is much quicker than full-roster fantasy football in that all you need to do is pick two NFL teams each week: one that you think will score a high number of points and one that will score a low number. The difference in their actual scores is your score for the week.

The catch — much like a “survivor pool” — is that you can’t pick the same high team or the same low team more than once during the season.

You can create up to 8 different entries and join a different group with each so as to play against different friends, colleagues, and people you’ve perhaps never met. So head on over to the Hi-Lo Challenge and test your football prognostication skills…

Mnemonic Devices For A Plutoless Solar System

The humorous results of Kottke's mneumonic device contest.

70 Year Old Newsviner Gets On The Ohio Ballot

Old Fogey working the phones in Coshocton CountyPeople often tell me that we don’t toot our own horn enough at Newsvine. Record traffic, record unique users, a rapidly expanding groundswell of contributors, and we don’t issue press releases, pump our chests out, or thumb our noses at competitors every time something cool happens over here.

Every so often, however, something *really* cool happens, and one of those somethings just happened.

Newsvine writer and community favorite Jerry “Old Fogey” Firman has just worked his way onto the Ohio ballot in the race to replace embattled Congressman Bob Ney in the U.S. House of Representatives. For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, Ney has been implicated by witnesses in the high profile bribery case involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

So who is this “Old Fogey”, you ask?

Well he’s a 70 year old retired Army aviator and newspaper man who provides some of the most enlightening and insightful commentary you’ll see around Newsvine. Although we think he’s giving the site a bit too much credit, he says in his column:

“I must admit that running for any office or even thinking of politics was very far from my mind when I first started to write on Newsvine. Newsvine got me off my duff and made me realize I should be doing something for my friends and neighbors instead of mowing grass and going to Texas for the winter.”

Although Newsvine is not in the business of endorsing political candidates, we’re more than happy to help spread the word of Firman’s candidacy. It’s a shining example of the positive effect online communities can have on individuals. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of until you find the right environment.

No one knows how successful this underdog citizen’s bid for an Ohio congressional post will be, but win or lose, we’ll learn a lot about the civic process from his candidacy and his column.

The Future of Web Apps Summit

If you’re going to be down in the Bay Area on September 13th or 14th, grab yourself a ticket to the Carson Workshops “Future of Web Apps” Summit and come discuss what changes are in store for the web applications and services of tomorrow.

I’ll be the lone idiot on the bill, surrounded by the likes of The Crunchmaster, The Diggmaster, The FlickrMastr and several others.

I’m extremely psyched about this particular conference not only for its interesting and relevant subject matter, but also because it’s the first conference in about a year where I haven’t drawn “the hangover slot”… or, the first session of the morning. My session will be between 5pm and 5:45pm on September 13th and we’ll be talking about user-driven content. Particularly, what about it is working, what about it isn’t working, and what the current state of things can teach us about where the whole movement is going. It’s also the last session of the day so after it’s over, we can all walk over to a bar and user-generate some drinks. We can even use the wisdom of the crowds to decide what to order. Should be fun!

Blockbuster Blockheadedness

Excerpt from a conversation I just had at my local Blockbuster Video store:

Clerk: “You’re not in our system. Have you rented here in the last three months?”

Me: “Ummm, no, it’s probably been about six.”

Clerk: “We’ll have to ask you to fill out an application for a new account then.”

Me: “You mean you just delete accounts if people don’t rent for three months?”

Clerk: “Yes.”

Me:Why would you ever do that?

Clerk: “You know… to keep the database small.”

Somehow I don’t think Blockbuster will have to worry about that for too much longer.

Join The Industry's Trash-Talkingest Football League

It’s fantasy football time again, and this year, we’re expanding the Industry Know-Nothings League (IKNFL) to a whopping 26 people. That’s 260 fingers worth of trash-talking… or trash-typing, as it were. The good news is that we have exactly ONE spot up for grabs, and now is your chance to win it. First there are some things you should know about the league:

  1. Don’t join if you don’t know football. We already have one of those and it’s a bit aggravating to hear cries of desperation throughout the entire season, and even during the draft.
  2. This is a $40 buy-in league with weekly payouts and end-of-the-year payouts, so please make sure your religion doesn’t frown on gambling before joining.
  3. We draft offensive and defensive players and the scoring is fairly normalized so that every player on the field can make an impact.
  4. We will be drafting live, online, in a couple of weeks.

So there you have it. If you’d like to claim the final spot, you need only do one thing: Write a haiku about Croftie (pictured to the right), who was the winner of last year’s league. Post your haikus in the comments. The league will pick a winner on Wednesday, August 9th.

UPDATE: Despite a collection of some of the worst haikus ever written, the league has spoken. Welcome Dan Rubin! Welcome to your doom… (cue Altered Best sound effects)

Thank you to everyone who submitted a haiku. I’m sure we’ll have a spot or two left next year.

Thoughts on The Dreamhost Meltdown

As many readers of this blog know, I’ve been an enthusiastic user and supporter of Dreamhost web hosting since getting turned on to it by Stan a couple of years ago. The service has been great, uptime has been excellent, and you simply can’t find the amount of storage, bandwidth, and other options Dreamhost gives you at any other reputable host that I know of.

It has thus been with great stress that I’ve watched Dreamhost go from one of my favorite companies of all time to an unacceptably unreliable provider of web hosting in only a couple of month’s time. First it was some minor e-mail problems. Then, some short site outages. Then finally, over the last couple of weeks, I experienced a site outage of several hours and an e-mail outage of an entire day… among other things.

This is not world-ending stuff. Babies are not dying. But it was enough to make me consider both leaving the service and also dropping my public recommendation of them.

Both of these would be tough decisions for different reasons. Leaving would be tough, because frankly, Dreamhost is the best deal in town and I’m not crazy about migrating to another environment. Dropping my recommendation would be tough because, well — even though I didn’t plan it this way — it brings in quite a bit of money for me these days. In my two years of being with Dreamhost, I’ve directly referred 647 new customers. Dreamhost, being the cool company that they are, kicks users back $97 for each person they refer. Do the math. :)

That being said, I began recommending Dreamhost because I stood behind the service, and even at the cost of losing $30,000 a year in free money, I was prepared to walk away for nothing. Money aside, I’d always felt like I was doing readers a huge favor by turning them onto a such a great service. With that no longer being the case, it was time to do the right thing and pull my recommendation.

In the interest of loyalty, however, I wanted to give the company one last shot. I added a message to my web hosting recommendation page suspending my endorsement of their service until further notice, and sent them an e-mail to the effect of:

“When a guy making $30,000 a year by just including a text link to you guys is thinking about walking away, it means you have a big problem. I think a candid statement from the founder to all users is necessary… like now.”

I wasn’t expecting much of a response given the huge amount of e-mails the support staff is probably dealing with these days, but a staff member got back to me within a day and I was satisfied and impressed with what he wrote. So much so, that although I haven’t lifted the endorsement caveat, I feel like things are back on the up and up. And then, sure enough, yesterday came this:

Anatomy of an Ongoing Disaster — An entry on the official Dreamhost blog written by Josh Jones, the company’s founder.

This is a really great piece of writing. It’s exactly what I needed to hear, and it strikes the perfect balance of taking blame and explaining the series of unfortunate power outages that have caused problems not only at Dreamhost but at every site hosted out of this particular building in Los Angeles… including MediaTemple, iPowerWeb, and even MySpace! I didn’t even know MySpace was hosted out of the same building I was! I feel dirty now.

Anyway… long story short, if you host at Dreamhost or any other facility in the Garland building in Los Angeles, you should read the above blog entry. It doesn’t make me 100% confident that every hosting related problem is behind us, but it reassures me that everyone over there has been working around the clock to get this stuff fixed ASAP and that if the safeguards being installed now work as planned, reliability will be even better than it was before.

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)