Google’s Billion-Dollar HTML Tag

During her keynote at the O’Reilly Velocity Conference, Google’s Marissa Miller (VP of Search and UX) tells us how seemingly insignificant tweaks to the code behind websites can make incredible differences.

This phenomenon is best illustrated by a single design tweak to the Google search results page in 2000 that Mayer calls “The Billion Dollar HTML Tag.” Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page asked Mayer to assess the impact of adding a column of text ads in the right-hand column of the results page. Could this design, which at the time required an HTML table, be implemented without the slower page load time often associated with tables?

Mayer consulted the W3C HTML specs and found a tag (the “align=right” table attribute) that would allow the right-hand table to load before the search results, adding a revenue stream that has been critical to Google’s financial success.

Rich Miller’s post on the keynote

Yahoo! got the ball rolling a few years ago when some Continue reading Google’s Billion-Dollar HTML Tag

On Imperfect Perception, or Perceived Imperfections?

There’s something I need to make right.

The attentive person’s honest, real-time report is an imperfect approximation of her subjective experience, but it is the only game in town.

When a fruit salad, a lover, or a jazz trio is just too imperfect for our tastes, we stop eating, kissing, and listening. But the law of large numbers suggests that when a measurement is too imperfect for our tastes, we should not stop measuring. Quite the opposite — we should measure again and again until niggling imperfections yield to the onslaught of data.

Those subatomic particles that like to be everywhere at once seem to cancel out one another’s behavior so that the large conglomeration of particles that we call cows, cars, and French Canadians stay exactly where we put them. By the same logic, the careful collection of a large number of experiential reports allows the imperfections of one to cancel out the imperfections of another. No individual’s report may be taken as an unimpeachable and perfectly calibrated index of his experience — not yours, not mine — but we can be confident that if we ask enough people the same question, the average answer will be a roughly accurate index of the average experience.

One of the balls bouncing around my head for the Continue reading On Imperfect Perception, or Perceived Imperfections?

Type Smart With the Dvorak Keyboard

The QWERTY keyboard is a given. Everyone uses it, no one questions it… and it would be difficult to find a more inefficient way to type.

QWERTY was developed by Christopher Sholes in the early 1870s with one thing in mind: preventing typewriter jams. After one keystroke raised a typebar, pressing a nearby key too soon would result in a collision that locked the bars together.

So Sholes engineered his keyboard to maximize the Continue reading Type Smart With the Dvorak Keyboard

Signs: Short Film

Watched and really enjoyed Yes Man last night. Here’s a short video in the same vein.

It’s entertaining, but I debate whether to post it. The last thing I want to do is endorse the idea that you should live with your head down and… well, I’ll let you watch the video.

As for Yes Man, I’m sure a lot of people take away the obvious message, but I was reminded that you should be creating your own fun. Don’t go to the party… be the party. Recommended!

IMDB: Yes Man

Neil Halstead – “Oh! Mighty Engine”

I’ve started hitting the recent reviews page on Pitchfork every few days and downloading everything so I can listen to new stuff while I work.

Can’t remember what about the 5.9-rated review of Neil Halstead’s latest record, Oh! Mighty Engine, made me want to check it out, but I’m pretty glad I did.

Neil Halstead

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Neil Halstead – Oh! Mighty Engine” dl=””]

It’s an effortless, butter-smooth, quiet folk track with some steel guitar and a pleasant British accent. Bonus points for pronouncing “colons” co-lawns.

More than just a great song, it’s a reminder to check out everything and decide for myself. A 5.9 rating sounds pretty unappealing, but this album yielded my favorite song so far this year.

Dvorak Keyboard Proved Better With Evolutionary Algorithm

The Dvorak keyboard recently came under some (relatively) high-profile fire from a 1996 Reason print feature that resurfaced on social news sites.

In 1932, Dr. August Dvorak patented a keyboard layout designed to reduce typist fatigue by placing keys to maximize hand alternation and minimize finger travel. It shouldn’t be too hard to improve on a 140-year-old keyboard that marketing people changed at the last minute so “typewriter” could be typed from one row. I’m sure you’re familiar with QWERTY.

Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis argue that the studies Continue reading Dvorak Keyboard Proved Better With Evolutionary Algorithm

How To Remove the Search Box From A YouTube Embed

Are your YouTube embeds showing up with an ugly search box above the video? I had to approve a comment this morning and noticed this monstrosity in one of my posts.

Why would YouTube do this? Well, Google’s been scrambling to introduce new revenue streams since their earnings started getting leaner.

Google stock price YTD

The idea is no doubt that they can use embedded videos to drive more search traffic to YouTube. More traffic, especially search traffic means more ad revenue.

Anyway, how do you disable this feature so you don’t lose visitors to your embedded videos? It’s very simple.

If your embed code looks like this:

<object width="425" height="355">
<param name="movie" value=""></param>
<param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param>
<embed src=""type="application/x-shockwave-flash"width="425" height="355" allowfullscreen="true"></embed>

Add this to both the “param” and “embed” sections:


So it looks like this:

<object width="425" height="355">
<param name="movie" value=""></param>
<param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param>
<embed src=""type="application/x-shockwave-flash"width="425" height="355" allowfullscreen="true"></embed>

You can find all the YouTube embeddable player parameters here.

Wish they’d disable it by default.

Seeing Lots of Squirrel Roadkill?

Squirrel roadkill

This fall, there have been more dead squirrels on the road than ever in Austin. I’ve noticed they’re unusually active this year and wondered why.

It may be because oaks are producing NO acorns this year.

Well, I haven’t seen any info on the acorn crop in Texas, but across North America naturalists are reporting that the production isn’t just low, it’s nonexistent. The Washington Post mentions Virginia, New York, Maryland, Kansas, and even Nova Scotia. Apparently, other nuts are scarce too.

“Once I started paying attention, I couldn’t find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year,” said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. “We’re talking zero. Not a single acorn. It’s really bizarre.”

As temperatures continue to drop in Texas (and elsewhere), I expect to see more squirrels as they get more desperate for food.

Washington Post: Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop