The MyBlogLog earthquake

This has undoubtedly been a tough week for MyBlogLog, but it’s standup posts like these that make me proud to work so closely with these guys. Nice job, Eric (and great job to Todd, Steve, and John for implementing real fixes while deflecting lots of criticism).

And Caterina puts the whole thing into context in a way that only she can.

By the way, the earthquake in the title of the post is not just a metaphor. I was sitting across the table from Eric in the midst of the craziness, and suddenly the ground moved beneath us. It was that kind of week. . . . looking forward to next week.

MyBlogLog is hiring: work for Yahoo! in Berkeley

The MyBlogLog team is settling into their cozy space in the Berkeley office (home of Yahoo! Research Berkeley) and we’re now starting to build out the team (if you didn’t already know, MyBlogLog is a recent acquisition that we’re really excited about at Yahoo!)

You probably know that there are a few thousand people down at the Yahoo! HQ in Sunnyvale, and it’s a great place to work, but the Berkeley office is (like Berkeley itself) marches to a slightly different drummer. It’s a couple of blocks from the Downtown Berkeley BART and walking distance from great bars, movie theaters, and Thai food. There are spring days where you walk up to the Cheese Board for some pizza and find a jazz trio there to entertain you while you’re waiting — on a weekday. Only in Berkeley. Add in the fact that the newly-arrived MyBlogLog guys are just really great folks, and you’ve got a winning work combination.

So, without further ado, here’s what we’re hiring for. If you’re interested, send me an email (it’s chad, then add and tell me why you deserve to be so lucky as to work with an excellent team in Berkeley, a town that writer Michael Chabon called “the most enraptured city in America on a daily basis.” I’ve lived in Berkeley for nine years, and it’s true.

(follow the links for job descriptions)

Voting is too hard / Berkeley ballot silliness

I signed up for an absentee ballot and set aside some time this morning to do some research and fill out the ballot so I could get it in the mail today. It took a really long time to figure out my votes. The issues are pretty complex in some cases, especially when it comes to the state propositions. It’s disturbing to me that so many election decisions will be made based on TV/radio commercials and pithy phrasing on glossy flyers. That being said, I consider myself pretty well-educated and well-informed and although I did some diligent research, I can’t say with confidence that all of my choices were the right ones — but I voted nonetheless.

Now, on to nutty California stupidity. . . .

I’m not a fan of the current presidential administration by any means, but city measures like this one on the Berkeley ballot where I live are just plain stupid and embarrassing:

Measure H: Shall the City of Berkeley petition the United States House of Representatives to initiate proceedings for the impeachment and removal from office of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney and call upon the California State Legislature to submit a resolution in support of impeachment to the United States House of Representatives?

Oh, please. I voted “no.” Regardless of how I feel about the current administration, I would appreciate it if the Berkeley City Council would focus on things like recycling and fixing street lights, and leave constitutional matters to more appropriate governmental channels. On a practical political level, I can only imagine that Berkeley City Council support for such a resolution would only make it less attractive for the rest of the country, whose support would actually be meaningful.

Despite its frequent stupidity, Berkeley remains strangely loveable. Michael Chabon’s essay “The Mysteries of Berkeley” explains the love/hate relationship one can have with Berkeley far better than I ever could. He really nails it when he calls the Berkeley City Council “that august tribunal of collective neurosis.” Overall, Chabon’s essay is the best single piece of writing on Berkeley I have ever read.

The Y2K that wasn't

For reasons I would rather not go into (hint: my idea of Friday night entertainment is tending towards the geriatric and my girlfriend was in Milwaukee hanging out with famous movie directors anyway), I decided that tonight was going to be the night that I sorted through my stack of old VHS tapes with the hopes of tossing 99% of them. Digging through the pile, I found one tape labeled “Y2K worldwide collapse in 2000”:

Y2K collapse VHS tape

The redundant nature of the label is amusing to me by itself, but there’s a story behind this tape that I had forgotten. During the crazy housing boom (which I believe has ended, or at least subsided), I often wondered how I got such a good deal on my house back in 1999, but this tape reminds me. The man who sold the house to me was divesting of his Bay Area real estate at the time. While I was in the process of completing the purchase, he was fortifying a house he had bought in Sacramento in the final days of 1999. My memory is a bit hazy, but I remember talk of generators, tanks of drinking water, and stockpiles of canned food. I think that I was handed this tape during one of those conversations (a cursory viewing tonight showed preachers Stan Johnson and Mark Andrews of the Prophecy Club forecasting the doom that would come upon us all when we flipped over to January 1, 2000). I probably nodded, said, “thanks,” and never viewed the tape.

I do remember that I ran into the guy who sold me the house a couple of days after Y2K proved to be a non-event. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head: “Oh well.”

My advice: take out a mortgage in a doomsday scenario if you get the chance. If the doomsday doesn’t come to pass, you’ll be happy you took the plunge. If the world ends, there will be no one left to collect on the mortgage. You can’t lose.

Berkeley-area doctors map mashup

Mashup screen I was sorting through some old papers and found one of those thick health care provider directories that you used to get when you started a new job with new health insurance. While most providers disseminate that information online now, the display of the information is often close to useless — you run a search and get dozens of providers back, and even if you can drill down by specialty, you’re still looking at a bunch of addresses with no sense of where they are relative to where you live. And who wants that kind of aggravation when you’re already sick?

To get ahead of the game (while I’m not sick), I created a Berkeley-area doctors maps mashup using screen-scraped data from my health care provider. I’m not a great interface designer, so it’s Web 1.0-certified, complete with frames. What the interface lacks in pizzazz, it hopefully earns back in simplicity: there’s a list of medical specialties on the left, and when you click on one, the providers that match that speciality display on the map in the window on the right.

Getting the data in shape was the hardest part, and required quite a bit of Perl elbow-grease with a little MySQL database design thrown in. From there, a little PHP hacking leveraging the Yahoo! Maps API and voila! That pediatric gastroenterologist that I hope you will never need is just one click away.

While the data part of this equation was difficult (it would have been WAY easier if this information was available via RSS), I think the utility of such an application made the data parsing worth it.

Berkeley: the magic and the guilt

I’ve been thinking a lot about Berkeley lately. It’s where I’ve lived for the past seven years and the only home I’ve known in the Bay Area. One of the reasons I’m so excited about the new Yahoo job is that I’ll be working at least some of the time at Yahoo! Research Labs – Berkeley. I love Berkeley. Berkeley is the kind of place where a simple trip to the grocery store can leave you wondering if the people you just saw acting strangely in the produce section were engaged in some sort of deliberate performance art, or perhaps just unconsciously living their own mundane lives. In Berkeley, there might not be a difference anyway.

My love of Berkeley aside, I have to agree with what Michael Chabon wrote in the hands-down best essay on life in Berkeley, “The Mysteries of Berkeley“: this town drives me crazy. In this essay (which I just discovered this week), Chabon affectionately explores all the annoying yet energizing subtleties of life in Berkeley that make it the place that I want to live:

I’d be willing to bet that, pound for pound, Berkeley is the most enraptured city in America on a daily basis.

If that statement has the ring of boosterism, then permit me to clarify my feelings on the subject of my adopted home: this town drives me crazy. Nowhere else in America are so many people obliged to suffer more inconvenience for the common good. Nowhere else is the individual encumbered with a greater burden of shame and communal disapproval for having intruded, however innocently, on the sensibilities of another. Berkeley’s streets, though a rational 19th century grid underlies them, are a speed-busting tangle of artificial dead ends, obligatory left turns, and deliberately tortuous obstacle-course barriers known as chicanes, put in place to protect children—who are never (God forbid!) sent to play outside. Municipal ordinances intended to protect the nobility of labor in Berkeley’s attractive old industrial district steadfastly prevent new-economy businesses from taking over the aging brick-and-steel structures–leaving them empty cenotaphs to the vanished noble laborer of other days. People in the grocery store, meanwhile, have the full weight of Berkeley society behind them as they take it upon themselves to scold you for exposing your child to known allergens or imposing on her your own indisputably negative view of the universe. Passersby feel empowered—indeed, they feel duty-bound—to criticize your parking technique, your failure to sort your recycling into brown paper and white, your resource-hogging four-wheel-drive vehicle, your use of a pinch-collar to keep your dog from straining at the leash.

. . . . .

The result, perhaps inevitable, of this paralysis of good intentions, this ongoing, floating opera of public disapproval and the coming into conflict of competing visions of the path to personal bliss, is a populace inclined to kvetching and to the wearing of the default Berkeley facial expression, the suspicious frown. Bliss is, after all, so near at hand; the perfect egg, a good night’s sleep, reconciliation with one’s mother or the Palestinians, a theory to account for the surprising lack of dark matter in the universe, a radio station that does not merely parrot the lies of government flaks and corporate media outlets—such things can often feel so eminently possible here, given the intelligence and the passion of the citizens. And yet they continue to elude us. Who is responsible? Is it us? Is it you? What are you doing, there, anyway? Don’t you know the recycling truck won’t take aluminum foil?

In Berkeley, it is possible to engage in more various and simultaneous forms of guilt than any place on earth. The citizens of Berkeley are connoisseurs of guilt, and relish their guilt in all its distinct flavors like a leisurely dinner at Chez Panisse. Keeping up with the Berkeley Joneses is about successfully displaying your guilt publicly, not what kind of car you drive (unless, of course, it is a Prius with the proper bumper stickers).

My simple consumption of a banana earlier this week very nearly turned into a paralyzing existential crisis. For anyone outside of Berkeley, eating a banana would simply be viewed as a positive step towards the “five a day” fruit and vegetable goal, a healthy treat. That’s exactly how I felt until I noticed the “Fair Trade Certified” sticker on my banana. Supporting fair trade through fruit consumption should make me feel good, but it only spurred a reflection on all the presumably unfair trade that had produced the fruit I had so carelessly enjoyed just a day earlier. I managed to push those thoughts from my mind long enough to finish the banana, but then as I was walking over to the garbage can with the peel, I stopped in my tracks as I realized that I had never gotten around to getting a proper compost bin going. I really shouldn’t throw banana peels in the garbage, so I left the peel out on the counter and put the compost bin on my weekend to-do list. Within a couple of days, a swarm of fruit flies had occupied my kitchen and I was faced with yet another Berkeley dilemma: should I zap those bastards with good old-fashoined Raid or consult with one of my many neighbors who seem to have an unusual level of expertise in environmentally-friendly ways of killing insects? I managed to pull myself out of the fetal ball I had put myself in on my (likely-produced-under-torturous-conditions) rug and mustered just enough strength to throw the banana peel in the trash can and coat those fruit flies in a layer of Raid that could have forced the surrender of the Japanese in WWII.

Sorry, Berkeley. I will try to do better next time.