Eyeballs: Feb 22, 2006

Another week of Firefox tabs to close:

At last, someone’s trying to drag the travel industry into 1998. The primitive booking systems we have at the moment drive me nuts–yes, there’s a lot of complexity hidden beneath the surface but the user interfaces and feature sets are appalling. I liked kayak and the other similar “find the best price for a specific date and trip” systems, but it’s about time someone offered a “find the cheapest dates for this destination” service. The system I use to price my international travel, by the way, is Expert Flyer, recommended by master traveller Artur Bergman. It’s powerful but frightfully complex–Flyspy is wise to be building a very simple interface to that power.

Since I moved back to New Zealand (flown on flights found on Expert Flyer!) I’ve been BitTorrenting some shows to stay plugged into American culture. Veronica Mars is my current favourite, and I was chuffed to find this Wayfaring map of Veronica Mars locations. I may make a pilgrimage when I’m in San Diego for ETech. I won’t visit the Jack Bauer 24 map of “Day 5” locations. These came via the great Google Maps Mania blog, and it’s interesting to see both made via Wayfaring. EBay Motors/Google Maps makes for a nice combination (written by the head technical evangelist for EBay and author of Upgrading to PHP 5). See ProgrammbleWeb for a very long list of Google Maps mashups.

I’ve been catching up on the Google Map hacking as part of my work preparing for this year’s Where 2.0 (registration now open!). I’ve been struggling with what to do with the mobile phone LBS industry at the conference–the pace of adoption and change in that industry is so slow. However, Russell Beattie’s blog note about MashupCamp caught my eye–he pulls together some isolated projects I’d been watching, like Socialight and BonesInMotion, into a nice picture of the life in the mobile local space.

EvokeTV is focused on multi-tasking tv watchers – the growing population of users that have broadband internet connectivity while watching TV. Whether you are a passive viewer or actively engaged with the programming you watch, we strive to give you a better user experience, by creating a new community based online dimension to your television programming.” Interesting to see some of the first steps at this coming. TV shows are starting to realize that people in their prime demographic multitask with IM and cellphones, so laptops just make sense as a continuation of that. I remember watching the Simpsons in my apartment in 1994, sprawled on the couch with my laptop, IRCing with my friends who were watching the same show. Great times, until the RSI blew out my wrists for several months.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the benefits of a computer science education–the framework for thinking about computational problems and the toolset it gives you for attacking them are both valuable. I know there’s a lot of talk about how impractical a CS degree is, how it doesn’t prepare you for the real world, etc., but I think they have a lot to offer conceptually and pragmatically. For me, the CS degree gave me a cosmology, a world view of computing and a history of research in the area. When I meet a problem now, I can say “aha, that looks like virtual memory paging” and I know the relevant algorithms and data structures, the right books to read, and what hidden traps lurk beneath the surface of a seemingly obvious problem. The danger of programming without this context is that you’ll waste time reinventing the wheel, and you may not be smart enough to reinvent the round wheel. This thought brought to you upon reading Alan Perlis’ aphorisms.

It isn’t easy being big. You try to avoid offending one group and suddenly you’re attacked for not trying to avoid offending every group. Given that there’s a group who’ll be offended that you tried to avoid offending anyone, you can’t win. Now, if only they’d try a little harder to offend the Chinese government’s censorship bureau.