SH Sean Harding/blog
2007 holiday card
Friday, December 21st, 2007

It’s that time of year again! We’ve sent off our holiday cards, and now I’m sharing it with all of you via the miracle that is the Internet. Enjoy!




Philips LED Icicle lights are evil
Saturday, December 8th, 2007

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I’m an early adopter. I like to try out new products and technology, and I’m used to products having some rough edges. But sometimes, the edges are so annoyingly rough that I just have to share my frustration. You, dear reader, are the lucky recipient.

About this time two years ago, I was at Target shopping for some new outdoor Christmas lights, and I saw some really cool looking blue LED icicle lights from Philips. They cost far more than the old fashioned kind of lights, but they looked neat and I’m a sucker for new products. Also, the box claimed that they offer “up to 88% energy savings” and “25,000 hour average bulb life,” so I figured they’d last a long time. I bought three sets, put them up, and I liked them so much that I bought another set last year.

This year when I tested them before hanging them (a crucial step), I discovered that three of the four sets were malfunctioning. Including the new set purchased just last year. On two sets, only half of the lights worked, and on the third, none worked at all. After some testing and inspection, I discovered what you see in the photo below.

That’s right. Rust! Apparently, the wires on the LEDs are steel, so they rust when they get wet. Really great design for lights that are meant to be used outdoors, huh? All four strings have severe rusting. It’s worst on the lights at the bottom of the “icicles,” presumably because that’s where the water runs to when it rains. It turns out, this is a known problem. But it wasn’t known to me when I bought the lights, and it may very well not be known to you. Until now, of course. You’re welcome.

This year, I’ll be using good old incandescent Christmas lights outside.

Kindle thoughts
Monday, November 19th, 2007

John Gruber thinks Kindle will flop. His main points revolve around DRM and closed formats — common hotbutton issues with tech bloggers. I don’t often disagree with Gruber, but in this case I think he’s missed the mark. Or, at the very least, I think he arrived at the conclusion via incorrect assumptions.

Gruber makes analogies to music and video formats, but he doesn’t account for an important difference between the way many people use books and the way people use music and video. When I buy music, whether it be on CD, iTunes, MP3 or anywhere else, I want to be able to listen to it over and over and over for a long time. When I buy a book, I tend to read it once, maybe refer to it a few times over the next few weeks or so, and then let it sit and take up space on my shelf for the rest of my life.

It certainly could be argued that this isn’t the most logical thing to do. If I want to read a book only once, borrowing from the public library seems like a great choice. However, the selection isn’t as good as Amazon’s, and it’s far less convenient. I should sell or give away books when I’m done with them, but again it comes down to the convenience factor — finding someone who wants to take a bunch of random books can be harder than you’d think. And of course I could throw them out, but that just seems wrong. So I’m stuck with boxes and stacks of books I’ve already read, and I know I’m not the only person in this situation.

From that perspective, Kindle is very attractive because the books take up no space and require no effort to get rid of when I’m done with them. Further, given the way I use books, I don’t give a damn if I can’t read them three years later. I wouldn’t even be terribly annoyed if I couldn’t read a book a month after I’d finished it. That’s a total non-issue to me. I’m not building a library (well, I am, but not intentionally). I’m reading books once and storing them because I’m too lazy to figure out what else to do with them.

All that said, I’m not planning to buy a Kindle at this point. The convenience is tempting, but I don’t think it’s worth $400 to me. I’m also not totally sold on the idea that an electronic device could replace the experience of reading a paper book. I think those are the things that will have a big impact on Kindle’s fate. DRM will certainly be a factor for some people, but on the list of things that determine Kindle’s success, it’s nowhere near the top.

Disclaimer: Though I’m a former employee, I never worked on anything even remotely related to Kindle, and I don’t have any insider information about it. If you’re looking for inside scoop, you’ve come to the wrong guy!

Raccoon hate
Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I think I qualify as an animal lover. I like cats, dogs, even lots of rodents. But raccoons? Raccoons are my enemy. They may look cute, but they are pure evil.

My first encounter with our neighborhood raccoons happened a couple of years ago. When we bought this house, the back yard was landscaped pretty intricately, including lots of small trees, bushes and flowers. It looked nice, but it was a pain to maintain, and we wanted a small patch of lawn. So we dug up about half of the landscaped area, removed the plants and laid sod. It was a humble plot of grass, but it was ours and we were proud of it.

A couple of nights later, we were in bed and we heard a strange sound in the back yard. We turned on the lights, looked out back, and saw a family of raccoons destroying our sod. They ripped it all off the ground, tore the pieces apart and left us with a muddy mess. Apparently they like to look under sod for grubs to eat. We pieced it back together as well as we could, but it didn’t look the same. They came back again, we tried various things to stop them, but in the end, they won. The lawn was destroyed and instead of a nice landscaped area, we had a patch of mud.

Fast forward to last week. We were sitting in the living room watching TV, and we heard a loud noise in the back. We looked outside, and saw a fat raccoon in the planter on top of the fence around our deck. We had a solar-powered lantern hanging from a hook in one of the corners of the deck, and most of it was gone. Our best guess was that the raccoon had tried to steal it or use it to climb down, the shade fell off, and he bolted. It’s not completely destroyed, but the raccoon left his mark.

Unfortunately, it turns out the lantern wasn’t the only thing he broke. In retrospect, that’s probably not even what we heard crashing to the ground. Yesterday, I was looking out back again and I noticed that our nice terra cotta thermometer was on the deck, broken into dozens of pieces. There’s no amount of glue, hot or otherwise, that can make it the same. So into the garbage it went. I hope the raccoons are satisfied.

Happy Halloween!
Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Halloween. I’ve had a fun day. One of my favorite things about working at Google is that people really get into holidays, celebrations and even slightly offbeat special occasions. Lots of people dressed up today and we had a great party at lunch. One of the costume contests was “best team costume” and the Webmaster Tools team won! We all dressed up with a theme of “80s pop culture.”

I was a Rubik’s Cube. I came up with the idea on my own, but after I’d decided to build it, I found that several other people have done very similar costumes in the past. Fred Benenson’s appears to be the most famous, but this guy (whose name I can’t find) has a great photo set of his process of building an improved version.

Their instructions were helpful, but I was in a bit of a time crunch — I’d finally figured out my costume idea Monday afternoon, and didn’t get home with the materials until after 7:30 Monday night. Becky and I worked on it until about 1:30 AM. Tuesday night I had improv, so I didn’t get home until 10:30. We finished building the costume a bit after midnight. So I didn’t really have the opportunity to implement some of the more elaborate elements of the other designs, and I didn’t get the chance to correct a few errors I made. But I think it turned out really well. It’s mostly made out of black foam core board, with lots and lots of hot glue holding it together. Hot glue is even better than duct tape.

Amanda was Rainbow Brite — an amazing costume she made herself! Nish was Mr. T. By the way, this photo was taken by the team tiki bar. What a great place to work ;-)

Here’s the whole group of us after winning the contest.

I suppose I can’t end this without mentioning Matt’s LOLCat costume. Truly excellent.

Happy Halloween!

Update: Check out some of the other costumes from the global Google webmaster teams on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog!

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