We bought a house and remodelled it extensively. The new kitchen and bathrooms were the biggest part of the work but we also repainted, added new lighting, new hardware, and generally changed the place around. It was expensive and took a lot of time and energy but the result is great. We're very happy with our home.

We worked with a designer for about a year, Randall Koll Lifestyle & Design. And while the resulting design is mostly good some of the things he did caused a major project management and payment mess. I wouldn't work with him again. The main life lesson I learned doing this house project is to always be in control of the money and top level contractor relationships. No matter how much you like your architect or designer a lot of things can go wrong. But if you always know who's doing the work, who you're paying, and how much things cost then you can retain control.

  2009-06-28 21:49 Z
Thanks to a neighbour I learned about Sanborn Maps, an amazing historical resource for maps of American cities. The Sanborn Map Company drew maps of American cities from 1867 to 1970 for sale to the fire insurance industry. They're incredibly detailed drawings of every building's shape and structural details with annotations of nearby ovens and fire hydrants. There's a significant collection of these maps at the Library of Congress, since digitized by ProQuest and often made available for online PDF download via your local library.
Above is an animation of my half block (Church & Clipper in SF) from 1900, 1914, and 1950. All the old 1900 buildings survived the earthquake and you can see the whole block fill in around 1914. No major changes in 1950 except my house and the one behind me which were rebuilt in the 1930s. Still don't know why.

What I find most interesting are the ephemera, the sheds and workplaces. In 1900 my house had a big hen house, behind me was a French laundry, and the block had three windmills pumping water. In 1914 my hen house had turned into a third apartment, the laundry became a bakery (along with two others on the block) and the windmills were all obsoleted. And by 1950 my house is entirely new, the bakeries are all gone, but now there's a print shop in someone's back yard.

There's an enormous amount of data about American city development, the problem is it's all locked away on paper or, if you're lucky, microfiche. It's great that we have our libraries and companies like Google and the Internet Archive doing so much archiving work, but we've a long way to go before all this data is digitized and indexed.

  2009-06-25 19:44 Z
A couple of weeks ago I took a road trip up to Portland for my college reunion. I took three days to drive up the coast and two days back on I-5, twittering all the way. I had so much fun I made a custom Google map with annotations, photographs, tweets, etc. Embedded below, but you really need to see the full view to read the annotations.

I've always loved road trips: my US tour in 1996 is one of the most important experiences in my life. Having an iPhone along for a road trip is entirely transformative. Maps that know where you are, directions, email, Twitter, Yelp, music, and a telephone all in this little device.

And, importantly, geocoding. There's no reason your iPhone can't annotate every tweet and photo with your exact location. A bit of extra battery life and it can keep a GPS track for you too. I made the Google map by hand in about two hours. But it'd be a great and doable product to automate that whole process, give iPhone owners an easy way to create their own travel diaries. The Google Maps presentation isn't perfect but it's very easy to produce and is a good start.

Thanks to Kastang I now know about TripTrack, an iPhone app that does almost exactly what I'm asking for.
  2009-06-23 21:12 Z
San Francisco residents are no doubt familiar with the Examiner newspaper, largely by tripping over unwanted yellowing copies scattered on our sidewalks. The paper claims 250,000 subscribers by virtue of them delivering copies free whether you want them or not. And stopping the litter is remarkably difficult, particularly since their unsubcribe web form does nothing.

But thanks to the Noe Valley blog I found a solution: asking Bevan Dufty, my Board of Supervisors representative, for help. I hate to waste an elected official's time on something so trivial, but apparently he's handled this problem before and within minutes I was put on an audit list of people who didn't want copies delivered. And today was garbage free!

Here's some ways to try to stop the Examiner, in order of escalation:

The useless web form

Calling circulation at (866) 733 7323

Politely contacting Edie Alejandre, Circulation Manager of the Examiner. She really exists and answered my mail.
ealejandre...sfexaminer.com, 415-359-2818

Asking Bevan Dufty (or your district supervisor) for help

Seeing the Examiner always makes me angry because of its sorry history. SF used to have two real newspapers, but The Examiner was in decline before I moved here. But the anti-trust dodging scam negotiated between King Willie Brown and the fake newspaper Fang family was just too much. The Fangs made out like bandits and the Examiner crumbled. Sadly, it's maintained enough fake circulation to siphon off life-giving advertising from our one remaining real newspaper.
  2009-06-21 21:10 Z
The older I get, the more I think about social capital. Am I making enough friends to last me through my life? I'm naturally a bit introverted and don't work a regular job or go to church or have a social hobby, so making friendships doesn't come easy.

For the past three years I've been playing World of Warcraft. Playing a lot: 25 hours a week. And well: full Black Temple clear pre-3.0, Sarth+3D, Zul'Aman bear, etc. WoW is a very social experience. Playing seriously means being in a guild, playing intimately with 25 people ten or more hours a week, learning to work together, handling personal conflicts, etc. I got to know a lot of people playing WoW, made some friends, and at various times was a leader of my guilds and raids.

I just quit playing WoW. And looking back on all that time I invested, I didn't get much social capital in return. I'll never talk again to 90% of my guildmates. I have one friend from my old guild I keep in touch with via Twitter, mostly because he's so smart. And one friend from my new guild who I'm emailing with to talk about games, if nothing else. There's a few other people I'd enjoy keeping up with but haven't. And as nice as my former guildies are, none are "real" friends. I'd never invite them to a wedding, or loan them some money to help them through a bad patch, or expect they'd visit me in the hospital if I get sick. It's not just how well we know each other (all that time together!), it's that our friendship is virtual.

Why is that? The simple answer is online games are limited by not allowing face to face meetings, everyone's scattered around the globe. And that's certainly an important factor. But I've got lots of real friendships from other online communities. I met my partner Ken via a friend from Usenet. On my recent trip to Oregon I made a special point of seeing people I know through Metafilter. Even something as simple Twitter plays a more important role in cementing and reinforcing friendships than WoW ever did.

I think the difference with online games is that the experience is mediated via an avatar. To my WoW friends I'm not Nelson, I'm Flyv the bear druid (rawr!). Our primary shared experiences weren't talking to each other or eating in a cafe, they're exploring virtual temples and slaying synthetic monsters. All fun and productive social activity, but mediated, insulated by our virtual skins. And without a reason for our friendships to transcend the game world they remain locked inside it.

That's a shame. I like online gaming, I like the social experience. I'd like my friendships from online gaming to be more real. I wonder if the key is to better bridge out of the virtual world into the real one. I don't particularly need the role playing or anonymity of MMOs, I just like playing fun games. It'd be nice if my virtual game experience leaked out more into other online media, into Twitter, blogs, email. It's not an accident that the two friends I mention above have blogs and Twitter accounts; it's given me a handle to keep up with them after the virtual world ended.

  2009-06-14 17:13 Z
Awhile back I wrote about removing the obnoxious left side sidebar on iGoogle with a magic URL parameter. It changed, the new secret to make the product work right is to go to
hl now, not gl.

My secret agenda is to get enough people doing this that the iGoogle team notices the traffic in their logs and makes no sidebar an official option.

  2009-06-10 14:33 Z
Finding a good hotel in Portland is always a challenge. I'm generally visiting friends in Southeast near Reed, but there's not any good hotels there. There's a variety of fancy hotels downtown, but none are as good as their cost and being downtown is a bit of a hassle.

So this time around I stayed at the Avalon Hotel, located in the forgotten John's Landing neighbourhood. Very pleasant. There's not a lot in the area and a car is pretty much essential, but it's a nice out of the way quiet spot and convenient to both the Ross Island and Sellwood bridges. (Except during rush hour, there's only one road out).

I stayed in a nice king river view room. Great balcony on the fourth floor with nothing but trees between me and the Willamette looking over Ross Island. Tranquil view. The hotel is pretty new and is the sort of comfortable anonymous business hotel I love to relax in. All in all very comfortable and easy.

The hotel also has a day spa with massages, etc. And a fancy bar/restaurant that I fear no one ever goes to. Beautiful view from the windows, though, and the bar is comfortable and the menu looks reasonable.

  2009-06-07 23:08 Z