What up with Yahoo!?

We’re finally settled in and I thought I’d talk about some of the cool things going on at Yahoo, some of which I’ve been directly involved in.

Hack Day

Several times a year (it might be once a quarter) the company sponsors an internal “Hack Day” for company engineers (this is different from the Open Hack Days that the company sponsors which should be coming up at the end of September). Basically, you have 24 hours to come up with something cool and present it to the judges and your peers. To be clear, this is a work-sanctioned event – all work stuffAlthough I can’t go into specifics, I am very proud of my team’s Hack Day project. Admittedly, I contributed a small (but very prominent, I must say) piece to the Hack given my schedule (my cats were coming in from NY AND my furniture was being delivered all within those 24 hours) but we did make the top 25 and were actually singled out by Ramus on an internal mailing list as a hack that he really enjoyed. Very cool. Congrats to the team!

YSlow (no involvement, but we use it all the time)

Hopefully you’ve heard about YSlow. YSlow is a Firebug extension to help with site performance. YSlow scores are taken seriously inside Yahoo and it is a good (but certainly not the only) indicator of your sites performance. Read more about it here.

Yahoo Go for TV (no involvement, but very cool technology and killer release party)

The mashup between TV and Internet is inevitable and Go for TV brings it that much closer. See your favorite Yahoo content while watching TV and also take advantage of the DVR features. Windows only right now (hey, Linux folks, they’re hiring engineers for the Linux port, get me those resumes!). Find out the scoop and download from the Yahoo! Go site.

And for all the latest with Yahoo, you don’t need to wait for me, just check out Next @ Yahoo.

…and some fun stuff….

Great America

Great AmericaThe Media Engineering Group (to which I belong) was given the afternoon off and free passes to Great America. We had a great year with some outstanding accomplishments and this was a awesome way of the higher-ups to say thanks to the people who make it happen. Engineers are actually the folks “on the ground” when it comes to bringing a project to the finish line. The idea folks, the designers, operations, customers, special teams have all had their input and requirements, but really, it is the engineer that is given all of this and told to make it work. I’ve seen this quite often throughout my career and it is really nice to not only be recognized for the actual job that is done but to be appreciated in that way. Yahoo is good to us like that.

As many of you know, I’m a big baby when it comes to amusement park rides but I still managed to have a good time with the team.

Camp Yahoo

Camp Yahoo 2007Also, we just had Camp Yahoo a couple of weeks ago. Camp Yahoo is the company picnic and was held at the San Mateo events center. Lots of food, games and rides, and of course, free for employees and their families. Heck, Elissa and I even got to ride a Segway. Evan? Sorry, kid, you don’t meet the height requirement just yet. 🙂

More California-isms

Well, not really ‘-isms’ and not necessarily only in California, but especially (meaning only) pertaining to roads and food, the only two things that really affect my life at the moment.

The roads and signs – crazy. Signs in weird places or behind trees are standard fare. In fact there are several places I can think of that actually have a sign to turn for a particular road ON the exit for the road, giving you zero chance to read it in time. Other interesting road and sign traits:

  • Not unusual for two streets with almost the same name to intersect.
  • The designation of “expressway” is meaningless. Roads designated as expressways have traffic lights, intersections, retail stores and maybe exits to get on or off.
  • Speaking of exits, it is not unusual for an exit to lead you to another road with exits, but you won’t know this until you’re on that road and really probably won’t know until you missed your turn.

Yes, driving has been fun here in CA.

Iin and Out signIn other news, I had some interesting fast food over the weekend. I started out with In-and-Out burger. I had this once before back in April and the results where the same. Good burger, OK fries. I opted for the strawberry shake and I’m sorry to say it was gross. I had to throw it away.

WienerschnitzelOK, here’s the big news. Many people are aware of my dislike for hot dogs, yet I actually ate at a Wienerschnitzel and it was pretty good. Of course, I didn’t eat any hot dogs. As I expected, they had a pretty full selection of non-hot-dog related food. Who eats hot dogs, anyway?

Noah’s New York BagelsFinally on food front, as native New Yorker, I had to try Noah’s New York Bagels. The verdict? I miss NY bagels.

In other news, My car arrived! I am no longer held captive by the rental car companies.


Yes, you heard me. I also went to the Kwik-E-Mart in Mountain View. If you haven’t heard, several 7-elevens have been transformed into Kwik-E-Marts as a promotional stunt for the new Simpsons Movie. I have box of Krusty O’s on top of my cube. Too bad they don’t sell Duff Beer.

Raining on the F and G parade

I think the impression everyone has of Facebook is way too misguided. Yes, college students use it – lots of them. And they love it. But, most of us graduate college and move on with our lives. Facebook has not done a good job of recruiting the “non-college crowd” (why would they, that’s not their niche) and I predict this will be their ultimate demise. It may even be sooner than that as we might see someone like MySpace use the Facebook API to transfer the FB’s profile data to their own site (I’m not sure if this actually can be done, or maybe it is done already?) upon a user’s request. Why would a user request this? Because ALL of their friends (family, college, work) are on MySpace, not FB.

“So what?”, you say, “Facebook has the attention of a key demographic! College students like toys and gadgets and they (or their parents) have lots of money so FB will get lots of advertising $$$.”. Yeah, maybe for the next year or two. For the long term, it’s not quite that simple.

Monitizing a “profile” is going to prove more and more difficult as the excitment of online advertising dwindles, just as it did in the late 90’s. It’s great that Best Buy has another mechanism to reach people who are likely to buy their headphones but I’d argue it’s all noise to the people actually using Facebook.

So, what’s the saving grace of internet advertising? Data mining. Get me exactly what I want for my particular need. Showing me headphones isn’t enough – I need headphones that are going to fit my oddly-shaped ear. How are you going to do that? Either find out about my oddly-shaped ear or find out that I want to know about headphones for oddly-shaped ears and show me information on others with oddly-shaped ears who purchased headphones. (I don’t have oddly-shaped ears, do I?)

The requirement to accomplish the above? Longevity. The true allure of internet advertising is the ability to focus on someone’s true interests and place things in front of them that they would actually want. That’s what Best Buy really wants because it then becomes an easy sell. You just need to be around for a while and be collecting and crunching data to do this. Facebook isn’t collecting any real, usable data to help push product. Right now, Facebook is the equivalent of putting a billboard right in the center of campus: Everyone is there, everyone sees it, everyone congregates around it. Then everyone graduates and everyone forgets it.

Google is smart enough to see the need for data mining as we can see by their key products and acquistions. Some examples:

  • Mail – figure out what people are talking about.
  • Maps – one of the first applications of the web and useful to everyone. Plus, they can figure out where people are going
  • Doubleclick – nearly everyone’s computer has a Doubleclick cookie on it
  • Feedburner – what are people reading and how is content being aggregated and passed around
  • Docs and Spreadsheets – Office is the killer app of the desktop. Unleash the user from those shackles and they can become all-G, all the time.

The problem is that Google is scaring alot of the low-key (yet 800-pound) gorillas in the media industry as well as the content providers and producers with their hype, practices and market cap.. Not to mention those in the tech sector. These companies aren’t going to just roll over as Google tries to take over. Ever watch Survivor? The person who is so wonderful in the beginning is generally voted off early on. We’re still in the cheerleading phase with Google and they’ve already made some enemies. The truth is, although they produce alot of “good”, other than search, they got nothing. Don’t get me wrong, search is big, but we’ve all been through this before in the late 90’s. This kind of reminds me of the band Kajagoogoo – they had a really big hit, a couple of smaller hits and a catchy name that we all laugh about now.

Only time will tell.

CA observations: Roads, TV and Food

There are plenty of things to note about California (I’m sure), but since I spend most of my time either at work or by myself, these three things really jump out at me. Here are my current observations on 3 things that have a great impact on my life.

Definitely different here. Besides the traffic that we’ve all heard about there are some notable things about the roads:

The street with two names

It is very common here for a street to have two names depending on where you are on it. So, you may (will) come to an intersection where turning right is marked (unclearly – see below) with one street name and turning left is marked with another. Honestly, I think this is dumb, not-to-mention confusing.

Two car pool lanes and one bike lane

Traffic is a big deal here, so much so that some roads have TWO carpool lanes. I currently live right off of the Lawrence Expressway which has two such lanes. Get this, though, one is on the far left (as you might expect) and the other is on the far RIGHT. So, if you make a right onto the Lawrence Exp., you need to quickly move out of the right lane and into the middle during rush hour or receive a hefty ticket.

Many roads also have bicycle lanes. This is a good thing as many more people seem to use bicycles as a primary means of transportation than in the suburbs of NY. In fact, several people on my floor at work ride regularly and some of my coworkers do it several times a week – Yahoo even has onsite bike repair. As inspiring as it sounds, though, I’m not quite there yet….

It’s a Bad Sign

Road signage in CA stinks compared to NY. The signs are way too small and put in unusual places. I guess they’re really not terrible but they fall short compared to LI. On Long Island, I’m convinced you could probably find your way around by just using the signs. Here in California, I think the signs really serve more as hints rather than true markers of roads and turns. There are definitely points while driving that you are not exactly sure what road you are turning onto due to the unusual placement of the sign. And as I just said, they’re way too small.

Forks and U-turns

I’ve never seen so many roads that fork nor have I seen so many opportunities (or encouragements, depending on how you look at it) for U-turns. I feel good about this, however, because I now know that I’m not the only person who doesn’t know where he’s going.

I’ll sum my driving experience as:

“I spend alot of time making U-turns because I missed the fork in the road due to the fact that I couldn’t read the signs and therefore couldn’t move over to the appropriate lane in time due to carpool restrictions just find out that I’m on the wrong road because it is called something else in the other direction.”


Nothing to see here, keep moving. Really. TV seems especially lousy here. The local news is particularly bad. Good thing for Yahoo News. Seriously, I resorted to watching it like TV. I just fire up the video player and let it go. Less commericals, too. Right now I’m watching an Intro to Computer Science course put up by De Anza College which is the highlight of TV around here. I guess there really is no reason to watch TV, though, as the weather is pretty awesome for the most part.


Of course, I like to eat and the food here is pretty damn good. What really did surprise me was how hot the people here like the food – they mean business! I always considered myself a fan of hot food but I’ve been put to shame by the California folks. I went to Wing Stop the other day and ordered a 10 pack of the Atomic, their hottest flavor. Man, it was HOT!!!! I actually had to rinse my mouth out in the bathroom the sauce was so hot. It started off quite subtle but quickly became a raging flame. I’ll definitely have to try it again.

Eat at URL’sUntil then, I’ll stick to URL’s. URL’s is the main cafeteria on campus which has deli, grill, Mexican, Indian, Chinese and salad bar, plus assorted packaged food and snacks. Each building has a cafe which will have one or two of these but you go to URL’s if you want the grand selection.

California is definitely lacking in donuts, however, and it is not worth eating a bagel here. The pizza is edible only because they seem to load it up with lots of toppings, otherwise, it is just bread, sauce and cheese. Any New Yorker knows that’s not pizza.

My first week in CA (Part 2)

My First Day at Yahoo!
Yahoo Building DMy first day of work at Yahoo – of course I want to arrive early, right? Well, so did the other 100 people starting that day (yes, really, 100). Why were so many people starting that day? New Hire Orientation also includes interns and June 18th was the first day for many of them – otherwise the orientation would came in around 40. Why does it matter? Because my paperwork got lost in the tons of interns – that’s why! I had to go through some hassle and didn’t my ID (which lets you get around at Yahoo) that day and I was pretty bummed. Thankfully, my boss met me for lunch and took me to see my cube (BTW, it is pretty freakin’ nice!) and see the team again. Other than that, orientation was fine. I met some cool people in the different depts that I still see and talk to around campus. There were lots of handouts and lots to remember – I’m still sifting through it all.

Terry Semel steps down
As you probably heard on the news, Terry Semel, (former) CEO of Yahoo stepped down to be replaced by Jerry Yang and Susan Decker. The announcement was made on June 18th, which I mentioned above was my first day at Yahoo. During our orientation the SVP of HR actually came in and gave us the news *before* it was public. I really found this a pretty sincere gesture on their part – they considered us “new folks”. That made up for some of the misery I experienced the first day.

My Mac!Orientation continued on day two of my first week and was specifically geared toward technical folks. We got an overview about how things are done at Yahoo and were to find more information. We also received our laptops. All the misery I experienced on day one was erased when I received my MacBook Pro. We had a choice between a Mac and a PC and I’m so glad I went with the Mac. In short, it is awesome. Highlights include “just works” wireless, a glossy screen (which I read some bad reviews on, but I like it so far) and the backlit keyboard. Trust me – get one.

My First Week at Yahoo!
The remainder of the week was filled with meetings, training (alot of training classes at Yahoo, some of which you are required to take), geek stuff and fun. Yahoo emphasizes working in teams therefore you end up working with people quite often – you’re really not at your desk very much at all. My group participates in a technique called “Swarming” in which a bunch of developers are in a room (conference rooms at Yahoo are scarce given the philosophy of the company to have people work in teams) with a predefined list of tasks and they work together on that list until it is done. It’s actually a fun way to program as it is very relaxed yet very focused. Look out for new changes to the News Property very soon.

This past weekend
orchard_glen_kitchen.jpgThis past weekend was filled with apt hunting for me. We found a nice place in Santa Clara which is in a happenin’ area and is a reasonable commute to work. Elissa and I decided that we wanted to live someplace “nice” right off the bat given the last few years of living through renovations in our house. All new appliances, granite countertops, two bathrooms and two balconies, all overlooking the courtyard. The back of the complex backs up against a park so I’m sure we’ll be taking Evan their often. Plus, it is 10-15 minutes away from downtown San Jose so we’ve the children’s museum and plenty to do there, too.

Jack in the BoxMy other highlight of the weekend included a trip to Jack-in-the-Box. These used to be on Long Island up until the early 80’s. Like Carl’s Jr., I never had it before so I thought it was a good opporunity to try. I had the Sirloin Burger, with cheddar and grilled onions (JITB’s gimmick it to let you pick your cheese and the type of onionis that you would like on your burger) with Fries. Not bad at all! I think I like JITB better than Carl’s Jr., although the Carl’s Jr. restaurant was definitely cleaner.

I also had an incident with my rental car in which I thought the woman in rental returns was going to kill me, but I’ll save that story for another day.

A few days before I left NY…
I got poison ivy. I went to the doctor before I left NY and had been taking prescription medicine for it, but I’ve since ran out and it still itches. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, but damn, it itches.

All told, it has been a fun week. I miss my family and really can’t wait until they get here. At the same time, it is probably a good think that they’re not here right now as it as let me become adjusted to my new job and get to know my coworkers. What? Want to be my coworker or even work with me? We’re hiring. Tell ’em Tom sent ya.

My first week in CA (Part 1)

It has been an interesting first week here in CA. There’s alot to adjust to: new area, new job, new computer (Mac, baby!), new life (temporarily, my family isnt here with me and I miss them dearly) plus the time difference. This is part one of two of my first week here in CA:

My First Weekend in CA

First Night
The flight was great – 6pm EST, Jet Blue, second row, aisle seat. There was a quiet guy sitting in the window seat with no one in between us. I didn’t even mind that we left JFK an hour late. I guess people realize that leaving from JFK is a hassle because the schedule seemed to have this delay built-in as I arrived in San Jose “on schedule”. I just took the time to relax, watch some TV (Fox 5 NY – the Simpson at 6:30 right through Seinfeld at 11 EST, with some channel surfing during the Primetime stuff) and did some light computer work. I got off of the plane about 11:45pm EST.

Got my luggage and rental car with no problem. Now, here’s where the fun begins. I’m staying at the Availon Silicon Valley and needed to pick up my keys. Since the office at the complex was closed I am instructed to find my keys in a “secret” location. Well, they did a great job of hiding these keys because I spent almost two hours looking for them and turned up empty handed. After a discussion with my relocation agent, the security team at the complex and the corporate housing folks, not to mention locking my car inside the gate of the complex, it was decided that I should just get hotel for the night and pick up my keys the following day. Fine, except for two things:

  1. It is now about 11pm PST, so to me, it is 2am
  2. I really don’t know where I am – where am I going to find a hotel?

OK, not to worry, I know how to get back to the airport and actually feel confident that I can get myself back to the hotel I stayed at in San Jose back in April. So, I get myself back there and the parking lot is packed – this doesn’t look good for me. Sure enough – no availability. It is now 12am PST and I’m not feeling well. The person at the desk sends me around the corner to a dumpy, but decent place and I wake the woman at the front desk and she gives me their last room. Luckily, I had no where to be on Friday morning so I could sleep in and hang out.

Man, what a night!

Apt Living
The weekend was uneventful. I unpacked, did some food shopping and drove around a whole bunch. I may have looked at a few apartments but nothing too seriously. The place I’m staying is really nice now that I can see it in the daytime. To this day I still haven’t gone in the pool but I am using the fitness center. Got to make up for all of that White Castle I was eating before I left.

Carl’s Jr. and Deluxe Burger
Deluxe BurgerThe highlight of the weekend was definitely going to the Carl’s Jr. across the street and believe me, it wasn’t too exciting. I would compare the food to Wendy’s quality. Oh, and I also went to a townie burger joint on Saturday in San Jose. The burger at Carl’s Jr. was better than Deluxe Burger’s but I can’t say the same for fries.

Tune in next time kids for details about my orientation and all of the hijinks that ensued….

Google Print

Much debate has arisen over Google Print, and I would like to weight in on the matter: It’s much ado about nothing. Why? Because it is almost completely useless in today’s form.

I did a search in Google today for “how to write a business letter”, and the first listing came up as “Book Results”. Ok, I thought, this will be great, and I click on the first link. I come to a non-intuitive interface that hides the fact that all I’m going to see is the table of contents. Now, I’m not “just off the boat”, I had a feeling something like this would happen. But, actually being in a position of a web-user, I must say that this really sucks. If you can’t read what you need/want to, what good is it? After determining that the last 1 minute of my life was wasted, I hit back button and moved on to web results.

I would hate to call what many consider the “world’s coolest geeks” dumb, and I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to. I bet that they know the product is useless right now, and so do the publishers fighting with them. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that Google has the technology and the motivation to index all of the print material they can, and the publishers know that they are living in a dying medium. When their medium finally does die, who will be there to save the day? Google. The book companies will be held captive by the number one search engine, and will be forced give their content away, or it will be rolled up into some aggregator a la “Walmart” style, and sold for nothing (Walmart has been criticized for strongarming smaller businesses in the past, and I have personally seem them in action in years past). Modeling the techniques of what is probably the greatest business in world history? No, these geeks certainly aren’t dumb.

However, the current state of all of this stinks. It reminds me of a system that we had in the library called “Infotrac”. How annoying it was to have to shlep to the library to use this system, and half of the results that you would get you didn’t access to because the library didn’t subscribe to that content (or perhaps, you would only get an abstract).

This brings me to another pet-peeve, along the same lines of this information-restriction. When searching for technical things, I often get results from experts-exchange. This is particularly annoying, because you have to at least be a member, and perhaps even pay to see the results. Now, to be fair, I am a long-time member, but I don’t remember my account info (another problem with the web…), and I’m not about to sit there and try to figure it out.

So, it would be nice if Google put something in their preferences to turn off the “features” that we don’t want. Don’t include book results until I actually get the results, and don’t include information that is not free for me to at least read. I’m as much a capitalist as the next guy, but if I can’t have it, there’s no sense in teasing me about it. Besides, I personally think you would have BETTER luck in getting book publishers to provide license to the content by NOT providing it. The “legitimacy” of the web is becoming stronger daily, and someone (most likely a capitalist) will publish their own version of the info for free in the hopes of making advertising revenue anyway, so the World will just use that. Sooner than becoming completely obsolete, the book publishers will cave and provide some form of useable license to Google.

Even if everyone held on to the idea of being able to “buy and sell” the info, there was no way for me to do that there. I was given links to Amazon, BN, etc., but the fact that I’m using the web to search for information pretty much means that I want it NOW. Not an “‘estimated shipping time 1-2 days’ + priority overnight” from Now.

It will come at some point, and it will be useful. Someone CC me on the announcement when it does.

Zend Certified Engineer Exam

This past week I became a Zend Certified Engineer (WooHoo!) and thought I would share my experiences about the process and exam. There are plenty of people who have done this before, and have recounted their experiences, so I’ll keep the standard stuff to a minimum, and try to focus on things that I haven’t read anywhere else.

On the zend website, back in August, they were offering a $75 discount (which I believe is still being offered), so I decided I would give it a shot. My reasons for doing so are two-fold: As many of you know, I’ve been using PHP professionally (read: daily) since version 3.0.5, so I figured I this would be a “capstone” to my experience. Plus, I believe in the corporate future of PHP, and the proliferation of certified professionals is only going to help that. Those who know me know that I’m not a certification junkie, and although I remain neutral on the whole “its just a piece of paper” debate, it is nice to see this available and legitimized for PHP folks.

Back to registration, basically, you paid through Zend, and they send you a voucher via email. You then go to pearsonvue.com website and choose the time and location you want to take the test. I left myself about a month to study, knowing fully well that I probably wouldn’t have time to study until the last moment (the born procrastinator that I am!). I know myself well, because that’s pretty much what I did. 🙂

To some up the stats on the exam:

  • The entire exam is taken on a computer, in a lab, potentially with other students taking other tests
  • 70 questions, 85 minutes, your score, and the number of correct questions needed to pass is NOT public info
  • Multiple Choice (possibly with multiple answers, eg: “choose three”), true false, and fill in the blanks
  • A study guide and practice test book are both available, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH!
  • Test Price: $200 (mine was $125 with the discount mentioned above)

    So, what’s on the test? Here’s where my accounts differ from others:

    As I studied for the test, and even as I took it, it became increasingly clear as to the objectives of the test authors. This is not a standard memorization exam. You won’t have any questions that require you to memorize something otherwise useless. I can now see how much of a challenge this was. Why? Because, in the general learning and understanding of PHP, you learn lots of other things that about the web, your, platform, tools, libraries, databases, etc. that THEY CAN’T ASK YOU on the exam, because it is a PHP exam, not a “Web” exam, not a “Database” exam, and not a “Linux or Windows” exam. Does that mean that there aren’t any database, platform, etc. questions on the exam? No, but it means that the questions are related to your understanding of the topic at large, and not a tiny detail about the 4 parameters of a function.

    Now that I’ve been through it, I can see some of the thought processes that the authors went through. They tried hard not to make this an exam that didn’t prove anything, and instead created an exam which very accurately proves your experience level. What they must of done was recount their progession in learning about PHP, and recorded it in timeline form. When you look at it that way, you can see that most of us probably followed the same path. For example, one of the first things you probably did was to learn about form handling. Very soon after, you got into databases. Then email. File Uploads. Reading/Writing to Files. Objects and Arrays. Regular Expressions, etc. Maybe then, you got into Sessions and Cookies. Finally, as a developer with a 1 or 2 of experience, you started really thinking about more advanced topics, like security, software patterns, advanced configuration and debugging techniques. They did a good job of this, IMHO. You’re really not going to do well on the exam if you haven’t had these experiences firsthand, so I doubt the training schools are going to latch on to this test.

    Ok, but you want more. What’s really on the test? Where the test can bite you, and where the practice test book and study guide really come in handy are in helping you determine “what really happens” scenarios. We’ve all looked at plenty of code and can see why something is wrong, but the question is, WHAT is going to happen. You have an array with various keys, what’s the next key going to be and why? You have a complex equation, with all sorts of operators, including bitwise and logical, what’s the precedence?

    You’re also expected to understand configuration issues, on both Linux and Windows. Why? Because the average developer with the right amount of experience will be asked at some point to move their application to another platform – guaranteed. See what I mean? They’ve gotten into the heads of the experienced developer and quantified it. Again, I feel they did a good job on that.

    Is it “worth it” for you to get certified?

    I have a general habit of doing things that “aren’t” worth it. I’m also a notary public, which is handy for friends and family, but it’s not like I’m going to retire off of it, so you’re probably asking the wrong guy.

    So, Tom, are you now a shill for Zend? Are you moving to change the name of LIPHP to LIZEND?

    No, but I am certified, and am pretty happy about it. I learned alot by studying for the exam, and it certainly wasn’t a breeze, but I was well-prepared. The forums at phparch.com state that no one has ever gotten a 100%, and I believe it, as there were definitely some questions that I didn’t know the answers to myself. But, if you have the experience and study hard, you’ll find the test to be challenging, but very fair.