Monthly Archives: December 2006

Pinpointing local search results

Here’s some tips for improving your search results when you’re looking for businesses or resources in a particular location. So many times you want to find something nearby to where you actually are or are going to be, and the Page One hit from Google for the term you’re looking for isn’t precise enough.

1. Include the zip code in your search term. Not all zips are the same size, and you might have to hunt around for a few of them when you are trying to cover odd geographies, but when this works it works really well. Google search for e.g. “car wash 48104” returns at the top a link to a map of car washes near 48104 from Google Maps. The ads that are running there look like they are aimed at owners of car wash businesses. These white page listings have categories, and so you can construct searches that result in page like this map of public libraries near 49855 (Marquette, MI).

2. Search on Mapquest by category rather than by business name. Here’s a similar search for libraries near 49855 on Mapquest, and it unearths a few places that the public libraries search doesn’t touch (e.g. the library at the National Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, MI). Note that category names are coming from a fixed list (a controlled vocabulary) so some experimentation to see what terms your index uses might be in order.

3. Search on Yahoo Local. It shows maps of search results, and includes user reviews in the listings. (Of course, these reviews can be gamed, but there aren’t 100s of them like Amazon and so at the moment I tend to mostly believe them.) A search for libraries near Grayling, MI (a typical stopping point on our car trips, and I’d like to have a place to go better than McDonalds) unearthed a recommendation for the Frederic Community Library

I love to read and I find it very nice that we have a library so close. My Grandchildren always look forward to going there too. If there is ever a book Sandy doesn’t have in the library she will call all around and find it for you. I go to the library usually weekly and it is always a nice atmosphere there. Sandy is always friendly and ready to help in any way. Thanks again for the great library in our little town.

4. Business Week has a story – Fine-Tuning Local Search – about Skyhook Wireless’s location-pinpointing service and their Loki search engine that looks for things based on where you are now. A May 2006 review of Loki by jeepx wasn’t thrilled about the search engine itself, and since it’s Windows only I’ve never tried it myself. It claims to search for things based on where you are now, but really as these examples show you it’s almost always at least as useful to search for things based on where you aspire to be (or where you’re going to be in the next couple of days when you’re traveling).

I still haven’t figured out how to do proximity searches over a long stretch of highway, short of finding someone who has already done the work for that route. You’d think there would be travel planner / route planner / map directions tools that offered the easy way to do searches along the route, e.g. “find me a good vegetarian restaurant somewhere between Ann Arbor and Chicago within 15 miles of the Interstate”, but it turns out that you have to stumble through three pages of listings with that kind of imprecise search to find a blog entry like Vegan Diva’s Food on Our Trip where she recommends the Kalamazoo People’s Food Coop as a place to go (grocery store, not restaurant, but closer than the typical roadside Big Boy).

Ann Arbor bus real time location information

Written from the bus.

Car free Ann Arbor had a post about a new AATA service that lets you get near real time bus location information from their web site. It is best viewed in a browser, but a little hacking with curl and beautiful soup squashed it down into something viewable on a small screen. More work to be done before it is generally usable.

Ideally I would hook it up to a bot so that through twitter it would be possible to ping for bus information from your mobile phone.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Top 10 wireless Internet cafes in Ann Arbor for 2006

From the end-of-year-lists department:

Here’s a list of the top 10 places in Ann Arbor to go with a laptop and get some work done.

1. Eastern Accents, Fourth Avenue downtown. Tea, bi bim bop, buns, and window seats with a nice view of the street. This is the home of our weekly Thursday a2b3 meeting.

2. Caribou Coffee, Stadium and Packard. Big south-facing windows look out and catch some of the winter sun, if there is any; in the summer time, pull down the shades so you can see. Now free wifi – it was pay only when it originallly started. Conveniently near home.

3. Sweetwaters Kerrytown. Comfy chairs near the east window and near power outlets. There’s a lot of people around most of the time. Watch out for the Community High lunch rush. Wifi is relatively fast.

4. Espresso Royale Caffe, Main St. Cavernous, usually quiet, no windows. Find a seat along the walls to be near an outlet. A big round table is a good work area for groups.

5. Mallett’s Creek Branch Library, Stone School and Eisenhower. The reading room has magazines, a fireplace, a view out the window and power outlets at every seat. Bonus: a few extra Ann Arbor District Library databases (including a geneology database) that’s available online only in the building.

6. Panera Bread (multiple locations). Free coffee refills, decent if unspectacular sandwiches, and good connections. Their Sonicwall firewall can be irritating. Perfect place to land if you’re traveling or if your rural western Washtenaw home doesn’t have broadband.

7. Washtenaw Wash, Washtenaw Ave near Golfside. 24 hour laundry, big washers for your comforters and quilts, and good wifi. Print a $1 coupon from their web site and get 4 quarters to spend on your first wash.

8. Cafe Ambrosia, Maynard St. Graduate student hangout, power outlets at every seat, always busy. Saul and I were Sunday regulars for a long time when he was little. One of the best events bulletin boards in town if you’re of a certain age. Check out the pictures of Ed and Mike and their kids. (Also in Evanston, IL.)

9. Detroit Metro Airport, Concourse A. $8/day (ouch) gets you Boingo service, ideal if you have a long layover or if you need to get some work done before the flight takes off. Power outlets are relatively plentiful in the main concourse, but if you need to get online in baggage claim and need power look for seats by the exit doors.

10. Cafe Verde, Fourth Ave next to the People’s Food Coop. Fair trade coffee, local and organic vegetables, hot bar and salad bar, and yummy pastries. Note that you can buy fruit by the piece at the coop and bring it next door, so a $0.27 banana can get you in for some work time.

Note that this list is bound to change for 2007 depending on the success of Wireless Washtenaw. If their free service works well enough, you should be able to get online from a lot more places that don’t have their own wifi links, and the idea of a specific “internet cafe” might change. Remains to be seen…

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Singapore to Seoul via Atlanta – impact of the Taiwan quake on network routing

If you take a look at traceroute.org you’ll see a page full of links to traceroute and ping and “looking glass” route information servers at network operations centers all around the world. Using these tools you can interactively view the path of network packets from one spot to another.

The recent Taiwan earthquake cut network cables near that island, and as a result many carriers in the area have had to reroute traffic as best they can to reach destinations. Here’s one example, a trace from Singapore to a site in Korea that goes via Europe (Italy, London) and the United States (DC area, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles) before heading back across the Pacific. (Details below.)

(Please note! If you google for “Taiwan earthquake” you’ll get this 1999 quake summary coverage as a page one result from the BBC, showing details of that earlier quake which killed more than 2000 people. This current BBC Taiwan earthquake story lists 2 deaths and 42+ injured.)

(Note also that parsing traceroute can be difficult on international backbone links since many hops are not named, just numbered.)

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Network down – what do you do instead?

An earthquake off the coast of Taiwan damaged a number of submarine cables that bring Internet and phone service to Asia. As a result, large parts of the Internet there are down, slow, or disconnected from the outside world. Internet Traffic Report Asia has periodic status messages from IP pings.

After the 2003 blackouts in the US, I came up with a network down reading list to contemplate the sort of fiction inspired by widespread outages. Especially recommended was E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops (1909).

Brett Glass reports on Dave Farber’s IP list:

Dave: IPers might be interested in knowing that, as a result of this slowdown, we have already seen a noticeable decrease in the amount of spam we’ve received — much of which originates in Taiwan, China, and South Korea. (The flow of spam from South America, Poland, Germany, Italy, and American “zombie” machines — the latter mostly on cable modems and Verizon DSL or FIOS — has, alas, continued unabated. But the impact is still significant.)

Because more than 95% of the traffic we receive from the Asia-Pacific region is spam, it occurs to me that if these countries made aneffort to limit the amount of spam they generated, it might ameliorate or even

eliminate the slowdown while the fiber optic cables were repaired.

Danwei has reporting from China on the outage. One of the comments there:

“some foreign websites in China are still not loading properly” …some?? In Nanjing using VNet ADSL, all foreign websites haven’t been loading since the quake. There have been sporadic moments of accessibility at molasses in winter-like speed; otherwise, all queries return the Nanny-like “Cannot find server”. The lone bright (localized) spot: Google.

Shanghaiist asks Where are the optical cable guys?

Our problems are small, relative to banks and businesses that rely on the internet, and even less significant compared to those of the families of the people who died or were injured in Taiwan. However, be reminded that while Shanghaiist is a website about Shanghai, our servers are actually located in the US, including the servers that the contributors use to do their writing. This is why many of you might have noticed that the Shanghaiist page loads slowly or incompletely, and why there have been less posts than usual.

In the meantime, there is a stripped down version of Shanghaiist at http://www.shanghaiist.com/mob that might be able to load faster. And remember, you can always read Shanghaiist posts using your RSS readers.

Mobile social networks, my experience with

Via a TechNewsWorld story bookmarked by Howard Rheingold:

Although mobile social networks garnered early adopters as far back as 2003, “what’s new is the number of people participating in it,” Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs, told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s only really recently that we have had large numbers of people around the world with access to both broadband Internet Free How-To Guide for Small Business Web Strategies – from domain name selection to site promotion. at home and Internet connections on their mobile phones,” he added.

Nevertheless, online communities will remain a hub for social networkers and the mobile scene just a spoke of those hubs — albeit a very important spoke.

My experience with this is in trying to use LinkedIn from my Blackberry just before a meeting. It was possible to use it – the web site did load, and everything on the page was visible, though kind of weirdly and awkwardly formatted. It was slow, and the information presentation was not at all designed for the small screen.

I don’t think this would be hard to do right – it’s just another kind of optimization where you design to a handheld style sheet and test against the devices your target users have. You don’t need to do anything particularly fancy, just plain things down so that they work.

Walking late at night exercising

When the weather was nicer, one of my favorite regular evening routines was go to out for an hour’s walk in the neighborhood in the late evening and be offline for a while. Sometimes this meant a stop at the cafe, other times just a meander through the surrounding area.

Somehow it has gotten enough colder and darker and the days shorter again and I’m not getting out like I used to. Note to self: go for a walk.