Race Review: Eugene Marathon 2011 - Finisher!

A few weeks ago we ran the 2011 Eugene Marathon. Finally. I've been wanting to run this race for several years but the dates never seemed to work out.

The race started bright and early at 7am. The weather was dry with temps were in the high 30s/low 40s which made for a cold start. There were three corrals with about 8000 runners total.

Miles 0-8 were an out and back loop that held the biggest hills of the day - not huge and after Mile 9, the course was very flat. The miles clicked by quickly and before I knew it we had crossed the Willamette River and were running through Springfield. After crossing over Interstate 5, we were already at Mile 16 passing the U of O (the Ducks) football stadium. Wow, that thing is B-I-G.

Miles 17-25 followed the river northward, crossing over at Mile 21 and heading back south.

The last mile was a blur with a super fast finish on the track at Hayward Field - incredible way to finish a race. As the race slogan says, you feel like you are "running in the footsteps of legends"

I had my best finish time in 3 years, which I definitely attribute to training and the course - flat makes for fast times.

Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:

Organization – Very well organized and staffed. Grade: A

Course - River section is scenic, neighborhoods are fun. Not a ton of crowd support. Grade: B

Aid-stations - Seemingly everywhere. Grade: A

Swag – Nice technical long-sleeve and medal.  Grade: A-


SSE in the News

SSE (aka Stanford Incubator) has been getting a bit of press lately:

As a mentor, it's been great to watch things take root and grow!

SSE Labs: Juntos Finanzas

Ahorrando Juntos!

Quick post on the company I'm mentoring this term at the Stanford Startup Incubator (SSE Labs): The motto of Juntos Finanzas ("Saving Together") does a great job of helping explain the vision of founder Ben Knelman's company. In a nutshell, Ben and team are working to create personal finance tools (ala Mint) but with a twist - the target demographic is first-generation Latin Americans.

The initial product is completely SMS-based (there is an option to receive a monthly summary report via email) and does not require the user to even have a bank account. Tracking spending is as simple as sending a text message to Juntos Finanzas with information about the purchase. Interacting with the SMS-based service is done completely in Spanish. The technical solution (SMS) and target market resonated with me when I first met Ben as it is similar to some of the work I've been doing with the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University. Entrepreneurs are realizing that there are huge addressable market segments that require a different perspective.

The intial sign-up is really easy - just send a text message to 408 758-8269

At our last meeting, I stopped at La Bamba for lunch. Here's shot of that transaction:

COM 7 means I spent $7.00 on food. Easy, no hassle to capture each transaction.

Check out the service, interesting concept and target market.

Moving to Posterous

After mulling it over seemingly forever, I’m going to migrate off of Moveable Type and onto Posterous.

The reasons are numerous, but mostly because Posterous is just a great blogging platform. I tried several others, including WordPress.com, but in the end liked Posterous the best.

Things will now be here but the current address should redirect you. Now just have to spend some time with mod_rewrite to make sure all my link goodness doesn’t go missing

Facebook Comments Have One Bad Interface

We’re busy creating new UI for PersistentFan, including the addition of Facebook comments. Having comments on each video is something we’ve been after for a while, especially comments that have a built-in social graph.

Imagine my surprise, after fighting with the pretty simple plug-in markup, to discover that Facebook comments are pretty awful from an interface perspective.

Here’s a basic example from the Facebook Social Plug-ins page

Facebook Comments


Note that I’ve entered a comment and checked the box to have it published in my news feed, which is shown below

fb:comments in news feed

It is pretty hard to figure out what the context of the comment is (i.e. what is the comment in regards to? Shouldn’t there at least be a snippet of the site the comment was from?) and the citation of the source URL certainly doesn’t help.

At least with a like from the comment plug-in, a friend could have somewhat of an idea about the content:

fb:like in news feed

This feature is definitely a #fail in my book.

AWS Rolls Out Beanstalk

Amazon is continuing on their crazed march, adding yet another impressive set of features to AWS.

Today they announced the Beta launch of “Beanstalk”, which significantly reduces the complexity of service deployment and management. Previously, an AWS user had to deal with all the capacity issues:  provisioning, deployment/rollback, instantiation, load balancing and service monitoring. (Note that there are commercial solutions to this like RightScale and open source projects like OpenStack)

The initial offering is tailored to Java developers and uses Tomcat as the app server. All that is required is a .war file uploaded to Beanstalk that you then deploy. Beanstalk handles load balancing of the service and includes monitoring. Based on the post, it looks like there is some ability to control the environment (JVM settings etc) and directly login to a provisioned instance.

Of course, for the auto-scaling functionality to work properly, a site needs to be architected to work in an ‘n’ app server framework. I’d suggest testing this out before turning over the keys to Beanstalk.

Pricing for Beanstalk is attractive (free). The basic deployment looks incredibly inexpensive as well.

AWS Elastic Beanstalk Pricing

Book Review: Life - Keith Richards

Keith Richards, guitar player for the Rolling Stones has published his autobiography entitled “Life”. I expected the book to be vague/hazy on many aspects of the Stones and heavily ghosted to boot.

Was I surprised – this book is incredibly interesting and full of stories from Keith. Some of the things I enjoyed include:

  • His stories and observations about the social upheavals of the late 60s/early 70s quite interesting. The Stones were constantly harassed by the Establishment at the time. Keith points out that the authorities were threatened by the band, which he found quite odd.
  • Mick Taylor, Mick Taylor, Mick Taylor
  • Long study of American blues including details about various musicians of the genre and era. Really interesting
  • Making http://amzn.to/eCBqI3 ">Exile on Main Street – read a lot about this when it re-released recently, but learned even more.
  • Wingless Angels and Keith Richards solo (X-Pensive Winos)

As expected, lots of complaints about Mick – zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

As I read the book, I would periodically take a break and watch Stones videos on PersistentFan.com  Made the book that much better :-)

Overall, great book. The best musician autobiography I’ve read in a while. Definitely queue up all the Stones discs with Mick Taylor to listen to while you read.

SEO and Sitemaps on PersistentFan.com

Sitemap Bacon and I are always working on search engine optimization (SEO) for PersistentFan.com. In addition to ad buys, viral features, etc., like many sites, we have a monthly spend for acquiring traffic. Also like many sites, we constantly tweak many aspects of this spend to optimize.

Over the last few months, we added features to improve the visibility of a given topic (like Justin Bieber) by tweeting new topics from our @PersistentFan account, making it easier to share a link for a specific video (e.g. Jimmy Fallon), and Facebook/Digg sharing. Search engine crawlers are fairly latent; it can take upwards of a month to see the impact of certain changes. As we introduced various features, we began to see an uptake in both eCPM and search engine traffic/visibility. However, the progress was fairly muted overall. Before the holidays, we decided to start back at the beginning and analyze how search engines were crawling our site. I spent a lot of time doing this:

tail -f /var/log/httpd/access_log

One thing that struck me almost immediately was that I saw a ton of crawlers (Tweetmeme, etc) from the @PersistentFan tweets, but didn't see a lot of folks like GoogleBot. After some analysis, we noticed the obvious - the front door of PersistentFan.com showed both the most popular topics of the last few hours, along with a scrolling list of recently viewed videos. At any given time, we were exposing about 15 or 20 topics to bots, but no more. The many thousands of topics we track for persistent fans were effectively hidden from bots because we didn't provide direct linkage or navigation to discover them. (doh!)

The solution to this was to provide a sitemap. Since our topics grow dynamically, both from user-generated searches and topic creation and various feeds that we use on PersistentFan, we needed a solution that generated a sitemap on a regular basis. I looked around but couldn't find much in the way of libraries so in the end I wrote a Java app that grabs all of the topics in our database, builds and serializes a DOM to create a sitemap on a nightly basis. Once this was complete, a simple change to our robots.txt let the crawlers of the world know where to go:

Sitemap: http://www.persistentfan.com/sitemap.xml

Within a few hours we began to see crawlers performing GETs on URLs which were not previously requested. Sitemaps, FTW!