Beck (and puppets) on Saturday Night Live this weekend!

PuppetsVia the PuppetVision Blog (!), I just learned that Beck and his puppets will be making what “may be their final public appearance on SNL” (according to puppeteer Rob Saunders, who I had the pleasure of meeting briefly backstage at Yahoo! Hack Day). If you’re wondering what in the world I’m talking about, be sure to check out the video from one of my prior posts. I don’t think a day has gone by at work that I haven’t said, “Doesn’t anybody work here? Where are the servers? Where are the techies to support this?” (you gotta watch the video to get it).

For more on Beck and his puppets, check out these links:

I love those damn puppets.

Subscribe to my blog via email

I love FeedBurner. Every now and then, I check out features I’m not using and try a new one out. Tonight, I added the ability to subscribe to my blog via email using FeedBurner email. The form is permanently in my blog template now, but here’s what it looks like for all you RSS-only readers:

To subscribe to my blog via email, enter your email address below:

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Enjoy.

Counterfeit Mach3 cartridges and the war on terror — and boy, my face hurts!

I’ve written about transcedent shaving on this blog before, talking about my trip to the hallowed halls of shaving at Truefitt & Hill in London, where I got a truly elegant Mach3-compatible razor in July (lovingly pictured at right). I wrote then: My Mach 3 has never felt so classy. As close as I came to touching the face of the shaving gods in London in July, I just experienced a serious karmic shaving reversal, and it’s kind of shocking.

It all started a few weeks ago when I made a bulk order for 52 (!) Mach3 cartridges from an Amazon seller. The product page said: “Stock up and Save! 52 Blades in one package. Enought [sic] to swap to a new blade once every week.” Imagine. . . not having to buy Mach3 cartridges for a whole year. Who among you Mach3 users have not dreamed of a near-endless supply of sharp-and-ready Mach3 cartridges? Sold! I don’t think I’ve ever waited for a box any more eagerly than that one.

When I got the box, there weren’t 52 cartridges — it was a few short. “Oh well,” I thought. “I’m still good until August 2007 and I don’t have time to deal with it, so I’ll just eat the difference.”

I still had a few of my existing cartridges left, so I didn’t dig into my Mach3 motherlode until last week. After tossing the last one I already had, I attached one of the not-quite-52-pack to my gorgeous Truefitt & Hill razor, did my usual old-school routine, and on the first stroke: OUCH! I thought maybe I hadn’t lathered enough, so I lathered more, and it still hurt. I eventually got the hair off my face, but I’m pretty sure a cheese grater would have worked better. It says something about a deep trust in brands that I wasn’t even aware of in myself, but I kept trying all last week, just not believing that my trusty Mach3 blades could work that poorly, and maybe it was something wrong with me.

After another horrible shaving experience with a “new” blade today, it suddenly struck me: are these things fake? A quick search for “counterfeit Mach3” made it clear that these were not my beloved Mach3′s. Enter the public servants at fakeblades.com to lay out in excruciating detail just how screwed I (and many others, apparently) were on my bulk Mach3 purchase. Shocking.

My search also led me to testimony by Richard K. Willard, Senior VP and General Counsel for Gillette before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate. Some quotes (definitely read the whole thing, though):

While corporations that sell well-known, branded products are the obvious and direct victims of counterfeiting, this illicit activity also poses a real threat to the livelihoods and lives of workers and consumers, though many may not realize it.

When the average American thinks about counterfeit goods, he or she may think of phony Rolex watches, fake high-fashion handbags, or cheap knock-offs of designer T-shirts. The purchasers of these items usually know the products are not originals, so they may readily conclude that buying a fake is no big deal, no harm done. What many consumers do not realize, however, is that this benign and somewhat limited picture of counterfeiting could not be farther from the truth. Counterfeiting is far more pervasive and dangerous than street vendors selling fake luxury items. In fact, only a minute portion of counterfeit goods are luxury items; most product counterfeiting has a far more immediate, and sometimes devastating, impact.

. . .

Consider for a moment the consequences should the counterfeit batteries wind up in firefighters’ flashlights and fail during a major rescue operation? The counterfeiter, a criminal, is the only one who stands to gain.

My battery example involves just one package of one product at one company. The magnitude of the problem at Gillette alone is staggering. Our lawyers are working alongside law enforcement agencies worldwide to identify and arrest counterfeiters. Recently in China, over the span of one week, we seized more than 1.5 million fake Gillette products that were destined for France, Russia, South America, the Middle East, and English-speaking nations. In one province, we seized a substantial amount of fake packaging for several of our products. In another, we recovered 100,000 counterfeit razor blades, 400,000 fake disposable razors, more than one million counterfeit Duracell batteries, and 40,000 fake Oral-B toothbrushes. Again, all of this is in just one week, in just two Chinese provinces, and involving just Gillette’s products. Imagine how much bigger the problem is for all U.S. manufacturers and for manufacturers around the world.

. . .

The danger of counterfeiting goes beyond mere financial harm and theft. Organized crime and terrorist groups use the sale of counterfeit goods to raise money for illegal activities and violence. The Basque separatist group, ETA, has been linked to the sale of counterfeit clothing and handbags. Paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have funded terrorist activities through the sale of pirated products, including copies of Disney’s The Lion King. Protection rackets in Italy no longer demand just money from retailers; instead, they want shelf space to sell counterfeit goods. Most alarming is that those who aim to terrorize United States citizens look to counterfeiting to help them achieve their deadly goal: Seized Al Qaeda training manuals recommend the sale of fake goods as a financing source for its terrorism.

Did you know that your shaving-related purchases could be unwittingly supporting terrorism (gasp!)? Mach3 counterfeiting must be stopped — we definitely need to move all those law enforcement resources focused on the Microsoft Windows piracy beat over to this one. A stolen copy of Windows XP never caused facial irritation and general discomfort.

It’s a strange feeling when you glimpse into a world of deceitful corruption that you didn’t even know existed.

I’m headed to my local Walgreen’s right now to pick up some new Mach3 cartridges. I guess I’ll get back to buying them 12 at a time and keep my eyes peeled for terrorist toothpaste.

Update: I also found this document (PDF) entitled “Global Protection of Patents,” in which the Mach3 is mentioned. Check out slide 33 (just after slide 32, which states “Let Your Lawyer Loose Across the Business”), which begins a few slides about the “The Most Successful Consumer Product Ever” and the 63 patents protecting the Mach3. This appears to be a presentation from attorneys from Ernst and Young, Johnson & Johnson, and Gillette at the Advanced Patent Law Institute in November 2005. Having now shaved with a fake Mach3, I have a little more respect for patent enforcement.

WordPress upgrade

I decided to upgrade my 1.x install of WordPress to 2.04 tonight, so those of you reading this on my site and not in RSS, you’ll notice that I changed my theme to Fluid Solution. I had gotten sloppy with my other template, so it was time to clean house. All in all, it was an easy upgrade and I didn’t have to go back to any of my backups to fix any problems.

I did have to upgrade the FeedBurner Plugin to the 2.1 version and it seems to work. If you see anything funky, let me know.

Love and hate: back on the Mac

Update: June 4, 2007: I have no idea what I was thinking when I said kind things about Entourage below. I was very, very, very wrong. Entourage is beyond bad.

Two days ago, I switched back to the Mac as my primary work machine after just over a year using a PC. I was a Powerbook user for a couple years before coming to Yahoo and use a Mac at home, so the Mac is nothing new to me. I’m sure I’ll have more to write later, but here’s a very superficial rundown on the first couple of days with the MacBook Pro:

Love

  • Entourage. When I used a Mac before, I used Mail.app and Thunderbird. I’m hooked into Exchange at Yahoo! (good for calendaring and Treo synching), so I’m using Entourage now. It is so much better than Outlook on the PC. I had no idea.
  • Backlit keyboard. I like working in the dark.
  • Expose. Expose, oh how I missed you!
  • Unix. Yeah, there’s Cygwin for Windows, but it never feels right.

Hate

  • That absolutely idiotic magnetic power supply. Who thought that was a good idea?
  • Single mouse button. I’m a big right-mouse-click person. I know you can still do that if you plug a mouse into the Powerbook but there’s nothing like having it on the laptop keyboard. This is nothing new, of course, I just forgot about it until I switched back.

I could say a lot more, but after two days, I’m loving it overall.

Yahoo! Open Hack Day: how it all came together

I have to admit — since Hack Day ended, I have been struggling with how to contextualize it. It’s hard to put a nice neat wrapper around something that was so profound for me. For the people who were there (and you can read for yourself), it felt like a defining moment. The best way for now is to point out some of the people who made it happen and tell some of the inside story. In some later posts, I’ll probably go through some of the principles that guided us in planning Hack Day (e.g. who we invited and why, approaches to making such an event work), but for now, I just want to provide some backstory and point out some of the people who helped make this happen. There are literally hundreds of people in the mix, so I apologize in advance for those who I have missed. This will be my first attempt “official recounting” (as Bradley put it in his post). Like all good stories, some things will be left between the lines, of course.

Before I get into the narrative, if anyone out there is wondering how we pulled this off, I offer one clue: total pros rolling up their sleeves to do whatever needed to be done. I’ve always been surprised at how intelligent people ascribe self-limiting qualities to organizations that they don’t really have to accept. Large companies are “slow.” Small companies are “agile.” “They” would never let us do this. What happens when you work in a large company and you are able to leverage the size of the organization to form a lean-and-mean ad hoc team with broad expertise (technical, management, legal, security, networking, etc.) on a moment’s notice? Something pretty powerful — you turn the cynical “they” who won’t let you do anything into the unstoppable “we” that won’t take no for an answer. I learned that inspiration might be the world’s only renewable energy source and it scales like a motherfucker.

Hack Day and getting things done

Beck checking out the hacksIt’s really easy to lose sight of the fact that in all the excitement of having a rock star like Beck on our campus, our Hack Day efforts (internal and external) help us get lots of real things done. We launched a ton of new stuff. Don’t take it from me that Hack Day creates results, though. Ryan Kennedy writes of our last internal Hack Day (where he won a “Technically Sweet” award for a kick-ass hack that used the Yahoo! Mail API that we eventually previewed for Open Hack Day attendees): “It [the internal Hack Day on September 15] was the event that reinvigorated my efforts to get mail ready for show time.” Ryan’s post crystalizes for me the clear relationship between our internal and now external Hack Day efforts. Ryan built the Mail API, then gave it a spin at our internal Hack Day with his winning hack, then spent the next couple of weeks refining it before giving a talk about it at Open Hack Day. Then he stepped down from the podium and spent his next 24 hours working alongside our visiting developers to build hacks using the same API (for which he got some shout-outs from the stage — read Ryan’s post for more info). Four cool hacks were produced by external developers with this brand-new API (see the list of all the hacks). If this isn’t a very good thing, I don’t know what is — this is the web ecosystem in action. Hack Day works.

The birth of the concept

As Bradley said in his keynote, we decided to do this just a few weeks ago, really, though we were inspired by the experience of doing seven internal Hack Days on three continents (the photo at right is of me at the beginning of the very first one). To get started on the first public Hack Day, I set up an Upcoming page and when I had to choose the category, I chose “festival” for a reason. I didn’t think the world needed another tired developer conference in a too-expensive downtown hotel where we stood in a booth and handed out t-shirts while our attendees racked up double-digit mini-bar bills just because they wanted a Diet Coke in the morning (more on this in a later post, I hope). We didn’t need that stuff anyway — we’ve got an awesome campus with a lot of space, tons of classroom space, a fat pipe to the Internet, beautiful lush corporate green grass, a cafeteria that could house and feed an army, and thousands of multi-talented people. So we launched HackDay.org on August 25 and posted these words:
First Hack Day at Yahoo!

We’ve opened up Yahoo! from the inside out with our world-renowned Hack Day and from the outside in through the Yahoo! Developer Network. Now we’re opening up Yahoo! itself to a select group of hackers and other special guests for a weekend festival of hacking, camping (yes, the tents-in-the-outdoors kind – we have really, really nice grass), music, and good times.

Yahoo! Hack Day will begin on Friday with a free all-day developer workshop, then we’ll kick off a 24-hour Hack Day with an outdoor party into the wee hours, with special guests providing the soundtrack. More details later, but we guarantee it won’t be your usual corporate-wedding-band-for-hire leading the crowd through 2am group sing-a-longs of “Brick House.” Stay tuned.

Yahoo! Hack Day will continue throughout the night (in tents, in URLs, our cafeteria) and conclude on Saturday afternoon/evening with judging from a panel of luminaries and special awards for the coolest hacks. After nightfall we’ll close things out with another round of entertainment that you would be happy to pay for, except that you won’t have to.

I wrote those words, and it was both the vision and the project plan. The only thing was that we had no entertainment lined up and nothing else worked out, just an idea of the environment we wanted to create — that’s it. That was barely four weeks ago!

Punk rock

After we got the idea rolling, I sent an email out to our internal Hack discussion mailing list (something I seeded after our first internal Hack Day in December of last year) and said, “who wants to help put together a public Hack Day?” Within a few days, I had about 80 people ready to help: engineers, product managers, business development, attorneys. . . . name a function and we had someone step forward. No coercion by management, none of the browbeating you might see in a typical corporate environment, no silly corporate brainstorming exercises, no discussion of “branding,” no PowerPoints (not one!) We had one planning meeting to kick things off (it was our first and last meeting), and pretty soon, I was standing back and watching the magic. People stepped up. We needed t-shirts, and they appeared. PR pros called BBQ vendors to arrange food. Some of the world’s foremost CSS experts stuffed welcome packets. Hard core backend engineers offered themselves up as low-level tech support for the hackers doing their demos. I talked to our totally awesome facilities team about our grass and the sprinkler system (needed to make sure the ground wasn’t too squishy for the campers). At one point when we were setting up the wifi network on Thursday, the guys needed 200 zip ties and several hundred feet of ethernet cable. I sent an email out to my list of volunteers and within the hour, it all appeared (thanks, Kent). Punk rock.

This kind of thing happened over and over and over. It was magical to watch.

Thank yous

It’s an impossible task to get this right, but there are some specific people I wanted to thank. First, there’s Bradley. When I moved over to YDN, we started talking about a public Hack Day almost immediately and the idea started crystalizing. I honestly don’t remember exactly how the “crazy” Beck idea came up, but when it did, it was Bradley who gave me that patented Bradley look that said, “dude, this is TOTALLY POSSIBLE!” and quietly lit the fire under me to make it happen. I’m hoping that everyone out there has a boss like this one day. (It’s cool that Nina caught me taking a shot of Bradley with my Treo while he was doing the Filo-to-Beck intro). Some of my fondest memories of this whole process were high-fiving Bradley in various meetings as we started to get the sense of what we were planning. We just couldn’t wait to share what we were doing with the world. Thanks, Bradley, for making work so fun.

Kiersten Hollars (in the far right in this photo) totally rocks. Bradley gave some props to Kiersten in his post, but I just can’t say enough. Her official job is PR, but if you had a slice of pizza or a doughnut during Hack Day, Kiersten is the one who made it happen. That’s not to say that Kiersten was diminished to phoning in food orders because she is an absolute pro at what she does. She just wasn’t afraid to dial Domino’s when we needed it and that’s why this whole thing worked. I won’t deny that getting this done had some stressful moments, but Kiersten and I kept each other calm. Kiersten doesn’t write code, but she’s an amazing organizational hacker. Rock on, Kiersten.

Once we got the verbal commitment from Beck, Jackie Waldorph (photo) and Christy Garcia on our events team took that ball and ran with it, dealing with the production issues, the stage, the sound, security, and anything else related to the show. It was a gargantuan task that had never been done before. One of my favorite moments happened about half an hour before the show was to begin when I ran into Jackie and she said, “Now that he’s here, Beck says he wants to do a longer show.” Well, OK!

The YUI team put the whole excellent Friday agenda together along with Dan Theurer on the YDN team. In one of the key roll-up-your-sleeves moments, Eric Miraglia (photo) brought a wagon from home to help move welcome packets, schwag, and anything else around that needed moving. A wagon hack! Eric’s contributions were immeasurable, as were his entire team (led by Thomas Sha, who was enthusiastically involved from the beginning).

To the extended Open Hack Day Team, you guys totally rocked — all 80+ of you. And a gigantic thanks to the YDN team that I am so freaking proud of: Dan, Kent, Matt, Jeremy, Jason, and Vernon. It’s hard to believe that this team really just started working together.

A big thanks to Tara Kirchner, whose various acts of heroism made a lot of the key ingredients for Open Hack Day fall into place. Micah Laaker gave us the logo after we told him we were stuck and had 20 minutes before we had to send a design to the printer, or no t-shirts.

For setting up our high-performance wi-fi network from scratch for all the visiting hackers, Tim Stiles (photo) and Tom Keitel (photo) deserve HUGE props. I also have to give a big thanks to our security team (network and physical), but I can’t discuss what they did or they would have to kill me. ;) I used to be totally immersed in the world of enterprise IT, so I know IT rock stars when I see them. These guys fit the bill.

No one deserved this photo with Beck more than Nicki Dugan. And to that certain skateboarding hacker in our midst — thanks, man.

Mike Arrington was an excellent moderator. Keeping the demos moving is more grueling than you might think, and he handled it with great humor and skill.

As Bradley mentioned in his post, this crazy idea quickly gained support at the highest levels of Yahoo! and we appreciate it. David Filo outlasted nearly everyone on Friday night, and I was inspired by all the other Yahoo! execs who hung out with the hackers. Like Bradley, I also want to give a shout out to Jeff Weiner, the man who cleared the way for our very first Hack Day and helped us grow it at every turn. And to Ash Patel for encouraging us to make it even bigger when we moved into his organization.

new Canadian friendsLast but definitely not least, I wanted to thank the hackers who came out. You guys came from far and wide with nothing but faith that you were going to have a good and productive time partying and hacking with us. I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything anyone has written about Open Hack Day and I am more inspired than ever by your feedback. It’s a real honor to have put this together for all of you and I’m looking forward to seeing you around. (Remember, all the “winners” are listed here — but everyone was a winner. Seriously.)

Beck

And then there was Beck.

One of the hardest things about putting this whole thing together came when I was on the phone with Beck’s agent and manager very early on and they asked me if Yahoo! had ever done something like this before. I swallowed any indie cred I had built up in prior conversations and said, “Well. . . . we had Sugar Ray once.” Silence. “I’m really sorry I had to say that.” They sensed my pain at bringing that up and graciously moved on to the business at hand. All I know is that it’s gonna be a hell of a lot easier next time when I can say, “we had Beck last year.”

For the record, Beck’s entire team was incredible to work with, from the puppeteers to Beck himself. Beck could have jumped in his tour bus after the show and fled the building (especially since his dressing room was our gym), but he hung out and talked with us, even making some rounds to check out the hacks after the show.

The puppeteers were so impressed with us, that we converted one of them to Yahoo! Search. Read the comments on this post:

you yahoo’s were all amazing! if only you had a need for puppeteers on staff…i’d so be there!

for the record, you all have been so great…i’ve switched over to yahoo for my homepage search engine. it’s a little thing i know…but i do what i can.

Getting Beck was not so much about getting a “big name” (though he admittedly was), but more about bringing someone in who we saw as a hacker. Some people hack music and some people hack software. Some people even hack puppets. Mixing all of that up was one of the great joys of the event (aside: a special shout out to Jonathan Grubb and the Rubyred Labs guys for their help with the video). We saw Beck and his band as participants in the whole event, not just a stage show.

Love and community

Susan does an excellent job of connecting Hack Day back to Burning Man, FOO Camp, etc, and I’ve listed some of my own inspirations in the past. The interesting thing about Hack Day to me is that the spirit behind it all lives every workday in the halls of Yahoo! The best thing about Hack Day is that when it was over, I went back to “normal life” working alongside the same people who made it happen. It’s too early to tell what this all means yet, but for us back at Yahoo! this is at least different from the “temporary community” of a Burning Man.

Ultimately, I think the reason this worked so well and people were blown away by the event is that we took the genuine love we feel for each other and our joy in working together and we reflected it out to the hacker community, and they gave it back to us. If you’re the cynical type and you’re thinking, “yeah, whatever,” then don’t take it from me. There’s Ben Metcalfe’s post and many others but my favorite was Kristopher Tate’s post about the Yahoo! “family”:

I think the best thing that describes Yahoo! is family — Yahoo is an amazing, close family that was gracious enough to open themselves up to over 450 outsiders (including myself) over the last two days from the lowest levels to the very top.

Perfect. See you again next time.

Loads of new stuff from Yahoo! Developer Network for Open Hack Day

Lest you think our Yahoo! Open Hack Day was all about Beck (yes, it was really cool to have him), we also released an incredible stream of stuff for the hackers to play with while they were hanging out with us at Yahoo! There is nothing like a big event with a hacker rock star to mobilize the teams at Yahoo! to tackle the last 10% to get those releases pushed out! Here’s the list. This has been covered in many places already (I was happily buried with Open Hack Day stuff instead of blogging):

  • Browser-based authentication, or BBAuth: This is big. As Dave says, “If it’s easy to program, and delivers on what it says it does, this is a huge deal.” Agree or disagree with Dave, you have to listen. (see the YDN blog post and Dan Theurer’s post as well. It was Dan’s focus and tenacity that got this thing out. Thanks Dan!)
  • Yahoo! Photos API: combined with BBAuth, you can now write applications that have read/write access to users’ photos when they grant your application permission to work with their images. More on the YDN blog.
  • Upcoming PHP5 wrapper: Check out their post for all the details, but they delivered a PHP5 wrapper for their API and a couple of new method calls. Rock on (they’re hiring, too — Guitar Hero excellence preferred, but not required. Check out this photo of Beck with the giant Guitar Hero screen the Upcoming guys set up for Open Hack Day in the background).
  • Flickr support for JSON and Serialized PHP: Read all the details in Cal’s post to the yws-flickr group.
  • .NET Developer Center: A shout out to you Microsoft fans out there. Check it out.
  • Yahoo! Mail API: We gave everyone who came to Open Hack Day a crack at this API. Stay tuned for general release in a few months. This one is really exciting. Check out the News.com story for where things are headed.

The Yahoo! Developer Network team and our partners in the product teams around Yahoo! rocked harder than Beck did on Friday night to get this stuff out and put on our Open Hack Day, so the credit extends to hundreds of people inside Yahoo! for getting it done and to all the incredible hackers who jumped right in, built stuff (often side-by-side with the developers who built the APIs they were using), and gave us immediate feedback.

I’m totally sleep-deprived right now, so I’ll save any extended commentary for later — but the past few days have been among the most memorable and exciting in my life. It’s been that good.