Saturday, July 29, 2006

Next Generation Travel Tools

A few relatively recent discoveries in the travel department...

Farecast is a site that predicts future trends in airfare prices. So, let's say for example you know you're flying to Los Angeles in early September for your sister's wedding. Do you buy your ticket now, or do you wait a week or two to see if prices drop? But what if they rise?

Enter Farecast, which will tell you whether to buy or wait based on predictive models. This falls right in line with my thoughts on the power of research noted in my previous blog post - Farecast was pioneered by a professor at the University of Washington, and is clearly the product of significant research efforts. Oh, and before I forget, they have a blog too.

Kayak is another travel site worth a look. They provide a quite simple yet robust interface for searching for flights, and pull their data from a large number of other travel sites. Great one-stop shop for finding great deals.

Perhaps the coolest feature of Kayak is Kayak Buzz, which lets you search by region, month, and price (and a whole lot more), rather than the traditional search by destination city. For example, here are flights in December 2006 to Asia for under $1500. I'm definitely going to use this when planning my next vacation!

People talk about how the web revolutionized certain industries - Orbitz, for example, is notable for revolutionizing the travel industry by elinating most needs for brick and mortal travel agents. It's interesting to see how these next-gen sites are busting out and revolutionizing their predecessors like Orbitz.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Haven't been engaged in blogging much lately.. not sure whether it's just a lack of interest, or work exhaustion, or my newfound addiction to Call of Duty 2 capture the flag on Xbox Live.

I've realized lately that my COD 2 games have become quite a bit more fun. Somehow, I've been getting matched up with much better players that are at or around my skill level.

When you play in ranked COD 2 games on Xbox Live, there's a short blurb in the game about playing in ranked matches improving your "TrueSkill" score. Never having heard of it, I did a quick web search, and found a Microsoft Research project page! says it best:

Half the fun is the game you play.
The other half is who you play with.

Totally 100% true.

I've come to realize that Microsoft Research (MSR) is in many ways one of Microsoft's greatest secret weapons. Trails of their work are found throughout Microsoft products everywhere - from Xbox to Office.

Recently, I've begun chatting with folks over there about incorporating some of their bleeding edge technology into the product I'm working on -- how many companies have such a resource at their disposal? A huge amount of their work is also published publicly on the web. If you've never browsed the MSR site, I'd definitely recommend checking it out - there are thousands and thousands of projects and papers posted just like the TrueSkill one above!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Another New Experience

Over the weekend I flew up to Orcas Island in a 1981 Cessna Skyhawk with a pilot friend.

I took lots of pictures from the air.

I also took a video of our first take-off, and uploaded it to Google Video:


MySpace is down, play pacman instead...

I went to myspace to read a new message someone sent me.. but it's down..

I think their chill attitude rocks.. "hopefully we'll be back online within the hour. its 6:40pm PST now. wanna place a bet? -Tom"..

Well, it's 9:40pm.. I guess Tom loses.. but at least they let me play pacman while I wait.

Myspace is the most viewed site on the Internet - above Yahoo, Google, and MSN. A whopping 4.46% of all US Internet visits during the first week of this month were to Myspace (according to Hitwise).

And despite that.. they still front the chill attitude - "hey bro, power's out.. play some pacman while we get it working aiiight?"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HTC Star Trek Lands

It's been a long time coming... but I'm just finally beginning to see HTC Star Trek phones appearing in coworkers hands and work.

I'd say this is officially the coolest phone to have today in Redmond, WA.

You can read a review here.

It'll still be a little while before the US mobile operators pick these babies up, but if you're itching to be on the cutting edge, you can pick an unlocked Qtek-branded model up here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Photo Highlights From Israel - July 2006

Funny billboard ad in New York City


Microsoft building in Herzliya


Projector in a fancy restaurant usually for projecting artistic images - but tonight world cup soccer


Israeli Navy graduation ceremony




Saint John's church


Starting young


Dome of the Rock


Western Wall


Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre


The hike down from Masada


Atop Masada


Floating in the Dead Sea


McDonalds at an Oasis in the middle of the desert


Jeep excursion


Israel/Jordan border crossing


Hanging new pictures of the King


The ancient city of Petra


Camel drinking Coca Cola and water







Why aren't we smart enough to do this in the US



There's No Place Like Home

After 16 hours cramped up in airplanes, I'm back home from Israel.

At the last minute, I decided to join friends from Los Angeles on an excursion to Masada, the Dead Sea, Petra (an ancient city in Jordan you might recognize from the last Indiana Jones movie), and Eilat. I went about a week without checking email or blogging, and it was great. :-)

Thank you to everyone who sent text messages and emails asking if I was alive and telling me to come home. While the situation is serious and unfortunate, I sometimes feel that the media has a way of turning it into a riveting, entertaining, thriller.

While terrorism, and resulting military response, affects everyone in this world from New York City to London to Madrid to Taba to Bali to Mumbai to Afghanistan, at no time during my trip to Israel could I be found dodging Katyusha rockets in the streets.

But, I appreciate the concern nonetheless. And to those innocent Israelis, Palestinians, and Lebanese who are dodging rockets and bombs or worse, my heart goes out to all of you.

On a much lighter note, I've uploaded all of the photos from my trip. Some highlights to follow in my next entry.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Bubble

Saw an awesome movie tonight: The Bubble (imdb)

It was directed by Eytan Fox - same director as Walk on Water and Yossi & Jagger - and shared a few of the same cast members.

It'll likely be a few months before it makes it to the US and other countries, but I highly recommend checking it out if you're interested in Israeli culture/film, or just great foreign film in general.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Busy Day

Today I met the Israeli Defense Minister, Chief of Staff, Mayor of Haifa, had lunch with the former Mayor of Tel Aviv, and took 2 trips in a Black Hawk helicopter.

Vacation doesn't get much cooler than this.

Arrived: Tel Aviv!

IMAGE_146.jpgAfter a couple days of traveling, with a day stopover in New York city, finally arrived in Tel Aviv. The city is so amazing, beautiful, and fun - I will upload lots of cool pictures soon.

In New York City, my Dad and I grabbed breakfast at Norma's. They had a $1,000 omelet on the menu, which I found worthy of capturing with my camera phone, but we didn't spring for it (you can see it on their menu here).

I've seen a few new/interesting things so far along the way.

1. The Continental 1st class lounge in Newark is amazing. I'd never been in a 1st class lounge before (I snuck in with my Dad, who is flying 1st). Huge lounge, huge windows, comfy chairs, tables, free phones, places to plug in laptops, bar with free liquor, beer.. quite the way to fly. If I flew more often, I'd consider springing for one of these club memberships.

2. My Dad and I hit a Barnes and Noble (yes, after my last rant about them being overpriced), where I convinced him to pick up a copy of Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's book, Naked Conversations. I tried to convince him to start a blog last summer, but the effort dwindled due to lack of time. I think a blog could have some great effects on his temple in Los Angeles, so I'm going to keep pushing.

3. There are Windows Mobile ads *everywhere*. In Penn Station in NYC, the entire central waiting area was plastered with ads. The W downtown had a big Q ad down the side, and I've seen similar ones here in Israel. Every magazine I've been reading from Business Week to GQ has full page ads for multiple Windows Mobile devices. Between the pure Microsoft Windows Mobile marketing, and the operator-branded device marketing, it's absolutely insane.

Anyhow.. just a few notable things I've come across/thoughts that have been running through my mind.. I think that pictures from my non-camera-phone-camera will be incredibly powerful when I upload them - I'm trying to capture as much of the cool stuff I see as possible. Unfortunately, it's hard to capture the feeling of an hour run along the Mediterranean sea at 6:15am watching the sun come up along the old city of Jaffa. But, I'll share what I can. :)


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Time Off

I'm going on vacation for 2 weeks to Tel Aviv.

When I see anything new and exciting, I'll be sure to blog it. I'll also try to upload new photos as often as possible - pictures from my last two trips to Israel are here and here.

I was running low on extra reading material around the house, and picked up a few new books today for my trip: Emotional Intelligence, The Design of Everyday Things, Built to Last, and Purple Cow. I'm also stuffing my messenger bag full of recent issues of Business Week, Fast Company, GQ, and Details that I haven't gotten to yet.

As I was creating the links to books at Amazon in the previous paragraph, I realized that I spent $78.17 on these 4 books at a brick and mortar Barnes and Noble. The total price: $47.22 (or $37.47 for cheaper editions I could've bought online but weren't at B&N).

I guess $40.70 is the price I pay for not thinking to order my books online ahead of time. Of course, I could save even more if I bought them used through Amazon like I used to do in college (the problem with used is that they arrive one by one, and I'm never around to accept deliveries - and no free shipping).

Anyhow, I'm surprised people still keep brick and mortar book stores in business. Oh wait, didn't the Borders in Bellevue just close?

Cya from the road.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Free Phone Calls From WLLpbVEB

As if traffic wasn't cool enough... from Dare Obasanjo's blog, I noticed there's another new feature of WLLpbVEB*: Free Phone Calls (to businesses).

You simply click on the "Call" link, enter your phone number if it's your first time using the feature, and WLLpbVEB rings both you and the business you're calling.

Of course, since most mobile phones in the US charge the same for incoming and outgoing calls, I'm not exactly getting fired up over the 'free' part. But the convenience of "Click-to-Call", and not having to switch contexts and dial numbers, is pretty neat.

I'd like to see them extend this to dial directly from your computer via Windows Live Messenger VOIP integration. Then I wouldn't have to switch contexts or use mobile phone minutes at all - I could just speak through the built-in microphone in my Thinkpad laptop. Messenger already has the calling feature - unfortunately it isn't free. I'm not sure why I would pay to make calls from Messenger when I already pay to make essentially unlimited calls from my mobile phone... but perhaps I'm just not in the target market?

Switching gears here, this makes so much sense from a business point of view for Microsoft. Microsoft has now inserted itself as a middle man in establishing these calls, connecting consumers with businesses - sort of like Google has successfully been doing with their online advertising services. Similar to what's happened with web advertising, if businesses start to see large numbers of customers funneled through this service, they'll be more likely to advertise on the service.

I think the real question is whether a significant number of users will use WLLpbVEB or the Click-to-Call service. Check out this Business Week article on how very few people actually use Google services other than Search, and ironically here, Maps.

Unfortunately, my first time trying the service connected me with a disconnected Microsoft product support number (the one listed in the image above). Guess it's time to go report a bug. :-)

* WLLpbVEB stands for Windows Live Local powered by Virtual Earth Beta - it just means so much more than something simple like "Google Maps"!