About This Site

What’s all this then? Dead Programmer’s Cafe is basically a rather unfocused blog with a few running themes. I write a lot about New York City and in particular subway, architecture and NYPD. There are a lot of posts about weird food, all things caffeinated, logos and symbols, stuff made out of unobtainium. I take …


When faced with a lot of stress I employ several coping techniques. There’s collecting pens ala officer Sorenson, watching New York’s pigeons(overweight and disheveled they remind me of myself), meditatively looking at cornucopias of goods in various retail store layouts and fixtures, and then there’s food.

Happiness derived from material things is fleeting, especially in the pursuit of the American Dream. But I grew up in the Soviet Union where the Socialist economy greatly restricted variety and quality of just about everything, and I have a slightly different perspective on materialism.

My friends who visited Cuba told me that people there are much happier than in the US: they have very little to aspire to in material goods, and thus live a life that is much less busy, and as a result much more relaxed and happy.

I frequently quote a paragraph from a letter by Carl Steinway to his brother Theodor in Germany:

“I cannot advise you to come here if you are able, by diligence and thrift, to make a living in Germany. People here have to work harder than abroad, and you get so used to better living that you finally think potato soup tasted better in Germany than the daily roast here.”

Carl and Theodor are two of the “Sons” in Steinway & Sons. Steinway Tunnel is named after the third one.

The variety of food that I had access to growing up was not that great, but I certainly had better fruit and vegetables than the majority of Americans have these days. I’ve asked my younger co-workers, and they are sure that strawberries sold in American supermarkets taste like strawberries. It’s a bit of a Matrix moment there (supermarket strawberries absolutely do not taste like real strawberries).

I had a childhood in which I only experienced hunger when dieting and cold when fishing in bad weather. On the other hand, my grandfather, who went through WWII, remembered the real hunger and the real cold. He was very glad that me and my father never had to experience hunger, and every time I would refuse to eat kasha, he would say – “so, you don’t want to eat kasha that your grandmother made you – what do you expect – marzipan”?

I would ask him what marzipan was, and he’d say – oh, it’s a very tasty French candy. He must have remembered marzipan from NEP times or maybe from his early childhood before the Revolution.

I always though that marzipan was something amazing and heavenly, the tastiest treat possible. I was also pretty sure that I’d never taste it. It was the gastronomic equivalent of the “sea rooster” fish (a very rare fish that I dreamt of catching in the Black Sea).

These days I mutter curse words when I catch “sea roosters” – they are considered a throwback fish in NYC. And marzipan – well, it turned out to be yucky concoction of almond paste and sugar that appears on store shelves around Festivus. I buy it from time to time to remember my grandfather.


And when I want to taste a tomato or strawberry that tastes good I have to spend a lot of time and money at farmers markets or take a trip to my hometown.

The Legend of Kovalevsky’s Tower

I decided that I’ll take a break from a blogging break to tell a story that has two of my favorite things: symbolism and legends of my hometown. In particular, it’s the legend of the Kovalevsky’s Tower.

A fountain and a tower are two very commonly used symbols. A fountain is a symbol for life and creativity, one with a mostly positive meaning. A tower is a darker symbol, one about overreaching achievement, and fall. In Tarot a Tower card is an ill omen. Yet a tower is a very attractive symbol. I am immensely drawn to towers, just look at how frequently I write about them.

There aren’t any skyscrapers in my hometown. There are fountains though. Not just the regular water spritzing ones: there are three very important neighborhoods called The Big, Middle, and Little Fountain. You see, Odessa, although on the sea, is located very far from any rivers that can provide potable water. In the olden days much of the water was procured from three wells, the Big, Middle, and Little Fountains, which were located relatively far from the city center, near the sea. An alternative way to collect water from rooftops was available, but as there’s a lot of dust in the air, people referred to this less tasty water as “this is no fountain”, an expression that survived to this day referring to something sub par.

If you take a tram from the city center, you’ll pass through the many stations of the Little, Middle and Big Fountains which follow the sea shore and are mostly filled with dachas. My grandparents used to have a dacha at the 13th station of the Big Fountain, a little plot of land with a house and outhouse that my father and grandfather built themselves. When we left, it was sold for about $7000. I am told that the land that we used to own would be worth about $1,000,000 today.

The last station is 16th. There you would switch to an ancient little tram with two “heads” (it was needed because there was only a single track, and one tram would service the whole line going back and forth). This tram, nicknamed push-pull would take you to yet another neighborhood called Kovalevsky’s Dacha. There were more dachas there, a large Russian Orthodox monastery, and natural, sand-less beaches with steep rocky cliffs (the rest of the shore used to be like that as well, but the cliffs where dynamited and sand washed on).

There is a legend connected to Kovalevsky and his dacha. This legend is a little bit like Rashomon, as there are many different ways it’s told.

In one version, a wealthy merchant, Timofey Kovalevsky decides to solve Odessa’s water problem by building the first water line. He finds a huge water well beyond Big Fountain and starts laying pipe into the city. At the source he builds a huge tower. He finishes the project, but he is financially ruined due to insufficient revenues. Either the water is of poor quality (not like Fountain water, because of the pipe sediment), or because people are afraid of technology and call his water “machine water”, or because around the same time another water line from Dniester river is completed. One way or another he is ruined, and commits suicide by jumping from the tower. In this version it is a story of pitfals of technology, its quick obsolescence and/or inferiority to older technology.

A famous version of the story comes from Kataev’s “Lonely White Sail”. In Kataev’s version Kovalevsky undertakes his water line project alone out of greed. A slew of bankers beg him to take them as partners, but he refuses, wanting a water monopoly. He builds the tower to get to the water, only to run out of money – the water is too deep, and the machinery and pipes are too expensive. He begs the bankers for money, but they refuse. Kovalevskiy keeps circling around the tower thinking about how to get money to complete the project, getting crazier and crazier, but one day gives up, climbs the tower and jumps off it. In Kataev’s version the legend is a cautionary tale of greed.

An even more disturbing version comes from Paustovsky’s “Slow Time”. Paustovsky tells the story differently. In it, Kovalesky is a very rich eccentric. He buys a plot of land far from the city and builds a dacha. Then he commissions a huge tower to be built, for no practical reason whatsoever. Several times he drinks tea at the top of the tower, and then commits suicide by jumping from the top. In another variant of this the purpose of the tower is mystifying the contractors, until the moment it’s complete: Kovalevsky has it built in order to jump from. This way it’s a story of depression, eccentricity, purposelessness, and suicide.

All stories mention that the tower was preserved until WWII, and did end up serving a purpose: it was a very good nautical navigational landmark. During WWII it was destroyed, similar to Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island. Legend of Wardenclyffe Tower echoes many aspects of the legend of Kovalevsky’s Tower – the running out of funds, the mysterious purpose, etc.

This, of course is all very lame journalism and research. I am basically retelling the same story the way I heard it, the way I’ve read it on a number of websites, and in several books. I don’t have access to archives or any specialist literature that might shed any light on what really happened with Kovalevsky and his tower. I hope maybe commenters might eventually add some more information to this post.

I don’t know exactly where the tower used to be and where its remnants are right now. My understanding that it’s somewhere near the Big Fountain cape. The link provides the rough coordinates and a photo. Maybe it’s possible to find the location in Google Maps.

I was able to locate only a single photo that supposedly shows the tower on a website retelling one of the variants of the story. The tower is indeed humongous, and really does not look like a water tower. Maybe there’s a point to the the story about a pointless tower built for suicide.

[update] I recently found this old photo that provides a view from beyond the lighthouse:

From all the accounts that I’ve encountered the tower was destroyed. But what is this then? I’ll be in Odessa this summer, and I’ll mount an expedition to check this out.

The tower is described as an over-sized chess tower, a tower that looks like a lighthouse, a good navigational aid seen from the sea, and a ominous, dark building.

Here are some two old postcards (a photograph and its retouched version) of the Big Fountain cape. There is a lighthouse, and something that looks like a long slender tower. Could that be Kovalevsky’s tower?

This is what the natural beaches looked like all over Odessa’s coast. I remember beaches near Kovalevskiy’s dacha looking like that when I was little.

Another view of the Big Fountain cape, with a “shalanda” fishing boat. There’s something tower-like in the distance, but it’s very hard to tell.

Zoomfly Test: Capitalist Monkey

I frequently want to post images that don’t make a lot of sense to post in smaller format. I’ve been meaning to build a custom zoomer similar to Zoomfly, but gave up and just installed an off-the shelf module.

Here’s a sample file – a scan from a Soviet “Youth Technology” magazine circa 1961. A bought a couple of these on eBay – and I got to tell you, they really took me back… While growing up I was constantly reading back issues of these magazines, and now, in these few random issues that I purchased I found a few illustrations that I remembered, like the one that is at the end of this post. It’s a very strange feeling – remembering a picture last seen 20 years ago.

Another very strange feeling is noticing the lack of ads and Photoshoppery – all illustrations are either photographs or drawings, and they look so much better than what you’ll find in most todays magazines.

The article that accompanied this full page illustration was titled “Bourgeois Ideologists on the Future of Mankind” and was about doom and gloom that proliferated amongst western philosophers. In the illustration robots are going Abu Gharib on their creator’s ass, Martians are running for cover from Pentagon’s missiles, labour bosses are exploiting monkeys, dour looking generals are growing artificial goose-stepping soldiers, hippies are going back to stone age, and Malthusians are working on biological warfare. The top hat wearing capitalist monkey in the background is just darling.

Meanwhile, on the next page simple Soviet people are partying in the light of aurora Borealis.

Pro Drupal Development

Pro Drupal Development is strongly recommended for any PHP programmer who wants a truly in-depth look at how Drupal works and how to make the most of it.

— Michael J. Ross, Web developer/Slashdot contributor

Drupal is one of the most popular content management systems in use today. With it, you can create a variety of community-driven sites, including blogs, forums, wiki-style sites, and much more. Pro Drupal Development was written to arm you with knowledge to customize your Drupal installation however you see fit. The book assumes that you already possess the knowledge to install and bring a standard installation online. Then authors John VanDyk and Matt Westgate delve into Drupal internals, showing you how to truly take advantage of its powerful architecture.

Youll learn how to create your own modules, develop your own themes, and produce your own filters. You’ll learn the inner workings of each key part of Drupal, including user management, sessions, the node system, caching, and the various APIs available to you. Of course, your Drupal-powered site isnt effective until you can efficiently serve pages to your visitors. As such, the authors have included the information you need to optimize your Drupal installation to perform well under high-load situations. Also featured is information on Drupal security and best practices, as well as integration of Ajax and the internationalization of your Drupal web site. Simply put, if you are working with Drupal at all, then you need this book.

  • This book is written by Drupal core developers.
  • Drupal architecture and behavior are mapped out visually.
  • Common pitfalls are identified and addressed.
  • Chapters provide regular discussion and reference to why things work they way they do, not just how.
  • The front matter features a foreword by Dries Buytaert, Drupal founder.

The Train that Sang, What You See is What You Say, and Subway Gymnastics

I haven’t written about the subways for a while. My commute changed somewhat and after years and years of seeing  the peeling paint at the 47-50th street station, I am now instead being watched by the mosaic eyes of the Chambers Street station.

Those remind me of Sauron, his eyes and his “chambers of doom” (I think I encountered that particular expression  in LOTR somewhere).  By the way, MTA’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign has a new poster, that claims that last year 1,944 new yorkers saw something and said something. As my former co-worker Gur rightfully noted, this is a rather crappy PR move (and Gur knows a thing or two about PR). 1,944 does not seem like such a great turnout, especially considering that trains and bus stations were plastered with the ads imploring to IYSSSS. If I understand it correctly, those 1,944 people saying something did not foil 1,944 terrorist acts. If they did, it’s not very clear from the ad.

Besides the eye mosaics, my new subway station has another interesting feature. Some of the trains arriving and departing make a very strange, I would even say haunting sound. I’ll try to record it somehow and post it then. My guess is that the “singing” trains are the R142 on the IRT 2 line – they have induction motors that are said to produce a weird sound when accelerating and decelerating.

NYC Subway is a stage to many performers of various level of annoyance. I’ve seen many hip-hop acrobats and gymnasts who dance,  and jump around to the headache aggravating boombox. The kids I recently encountered demonstrated a very interesting move. After an impressive, but not uncommon gymnastic routine in a semi-crowded train, one kid announced – “ladies and gentlemen, please do not try this at home.” The other kid took a running start, somersaulted, and then vaulted off the third team member  into the air. He positioned himself parallel to the floor and  reached the ceiling of the train car, slamming into it with a loud bang, then proceeded down for a controlled landing. I wish I recorded that on my Treo camera.


When I attended a party thrown by Joel Spolsky at his apartment, I got to browse through his library. Joel’s library was somewhat bigger and better organized than mine, but with a significant overlap: on almost every shelf I encountered at least several books that I already had or had in my wishlist.

Keeping a large library is something that I feel a little guilty about. Living space is precious and books take up a lot of it. One of my livejournal friends told me that he does not keep more than a small bookshelf of books at home (although he reads more than I do). Once he’s done with a book he either sells it at Half Price Books or gives it to a friend or acquaintance.

So why do I keep all the books? Besides the obvious vanity: look how sophisticated and edjumacated I am, there are other, more subtle reasons. When I was little, my father had an even bigger library. It was a great: exploring hundreds of books right at home was a great joy. My bed was located right under a huge bookshelf – if I wanted some bedtime reading all I had to do was to stretch my hand.

Joel put it best that evening: he feels that if somebody would read all the books that he has read, that person would start thinking similarly. A library is a sort of a mind dump, a memex chain. It becomes a part of who you are. Giving my library up would be extremely difficult for me. Call it the collector’s instinct, a fetish – it does not matter. Some poor people just are attached to physical books.

One of the reasons I got a job at TV Guide was because at the time it purchased two most promising eBook companies, NuvoMedia and Softbook. It thought that the electronic revolution would finally happen and we’d be reading from small electronic tablets, like on Star Trek. I do love paper books, but the promise of instant gratification and the library in a chip that was promised to us so long ago was even more tempting.

Sadly, the two companies were deprived of resources and smothered. I still think that the tablet reader is in our near future, and the Sony eInk tablet is a step in the right direction, although I am so displeased with Sony for a number of reasons (about which I’ll rant some other time) that I refuse to buy any of their products. In any case, my former co-worker Martin Eberhard, the founder of NuvoMedia (maker of the more successful and practical RocketBook) is now building awesome electric cars. I really wish I had a chance to interact with him at TVG — I share his fascination with Tesla and world changing technologies.

Since the ebook revolution is not coming any time soon, I finally decided to do something about keeping my books organized and joined LibraryThing. LibraryThing is a great online tool that allows you to create a catalog of your books by either typing in an ISBN number or book title. The interface is super usable. To make cataloging even faster I dug out my good ‘ol CueCat that I “declawed” back in the day. Seeing how crappy it was, I broke down and bought a real usb laser barcode scanner off eBay. It works like a charm – there’s a rotating laser inside and everything. Indeed, you get what you pay for.

I simply scan the barcode (if there’s one) or type in the title, add a tag that contains a shelf number – and that’s it. Now if I need to find a book I can simply search for it and find out which shelf it’s on. I don’t really need a more exact location. So far I’ve entered about 250 books. This covers the kitchen, bathroom and a couple of shelves in the living room. Altogether I have 2 Ikea Billys in the living room, 2 in one bedroom and 3 in another. In my estimation there should be at least 2000 books in my library, although a friend of mine thinks that it’s more like 1000. We’ll see who’s right once I’ll finish the catalog. My friend estimated (conservatively) that I spent about $5 per book, so my books must have cost me $5-10K. I feel kind of like Carrie from Sex and the City who had about $40K worth of Blahniks in her closet.

Darren on the Train

Since we are on the subject of lookalikes, a couple of weeks ago I thought that I saw Darren Aronofsky on the train. It was on the BMT Brighton Line which is featured so prominently in Pi, and he got off at 7th avenue, which would make sense as well.

If I were to talk to Darren Aronofsky, I’d try to persuade him to film The Lady Who Sailed The Soul or Scanners Live in Vain. Rachel Weisz could totally be Helen America. That would have been awesome.

Bear Waltz

I never received any musical instruction. My mother always believed that I did not have any musical talents. In fact, she used a Russian saying “медведь на ухо наступил” (“a bear stepped on one’s ear”) to describe my musical aptitude. When I was little, I assumed the bear story to be literally true.

When I became a little older, I realized how lucky I was–many of my friends had to spend many, many hours studying music, and every one of them hated it. Those who studied music further, hated their lessons even more. I had one friend, for instance who used solfeggio as a curse word.

To this day I do not regret not getting a musical education: I feel that all that reading, fishing and playing that I’ve done instead of music lessons was a better use of my time. Besides, I think my mother wasn’t very much off in evaluation of my musical ability.

Having married into a musical family (my mother-in-law is a piano teacher and father-in-law is a senior tuner at Steinway and Sons), I have more music thrust in my life than I ever thought possible. My wife, an amateur organist, took up almost half of the living room space with an organ and a harpsichord. The mother-in-law and her take turns in bringing my baby daughter, whose entire vocabulary is limited to “papa”, “mama”, “baba”, and “kaka”, to the harpsichord keyboard and letting her hit the keys. My father in law has absolute pitch, but at this point it’s unclear if little Natalie inherited it or my own “bear-stepped-on” ears.

While a harpsichords and an organs are hardly common instruments, I bet every one of you has encountered a well-abused piano situated in a classroom. Invariably, some kid pulls up a chair and starts playing a simple melody. In the United States it’s usually a Chopsticks, in Russia–Dog’s Waltz.

It turns out that Chopsticks is actually called The Celebrated Chop Waltz and it’s composer is known. Dog’s Waltz’s, composer, on the other hand is unknown, but the tune has a wider international influence (also, musically, it’s a more interesting piece than Chopsticks).

Dog’s Waltz, as I learned from the Wikipedia article, is one of those things that has different names in different cultures. There are many examples of this: Russian roulette is known as American roulette in Russia, Mk 2 grenade is known as “pineapple grenade” in the US, but was called “lemon grenade” in Russian, cocks being called roosters in the US (for understandable reasons) and so forth.

The cultures don’t agree in what the said roosters sound like, with versions ranging from “cock-a-doodle-doo” to “goh-geh-goh-goh” to “chic-chi-ri-chi” and so forth. Cat sounds vary from culture to culture as well, and so do dog sounds.

In the similar manner, Dog’s Waltz has a multitude of names in different cultures, ranging from Cat March to Flea Waltz, Donkey March, Fools’ Polka, and The Little Monkeys. The Japanese, take the prize by calling it Neko Funjatta–I Stepped on the Cat. Interestingly enough, this tune is relatively unknown in the US.

New Billboard Day Effect : How to Advertise More Effectively on Your Blog

Advertising. “The Engine of Commerce”. Ideally, it should work like it does in the Simpsons episode 2F12 “Homer the Clown”:

“In the middle of driving down the highway, Homer skids to a halt in front of a billboard.

Homer: [gasps] It must be the first of the month: new billboard day!

Homer: [reading] “This year, give her English muffins.” Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard! [skids off]
[stops suddenly at another billboard for barbeque sauce]
[cars collide behind him and explode]

Homer: [reading] “Best in the West.” Heh heh heh, that rhymes!
[looking at the next one] “Clown college”? You can’t eat that.

At the power plant, Homer piles his purchases (including MSG, “Best in the West”, and English muffins) at his work station. “Well, I got everything I was supposed to get. I’m not going to enroll in that clown college, though…that advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever. In his daydream, he imagines himself sleeping and dreaming of himself eating a sandwich. The billboard for the clown college batters its way into his thoughts. The Krustys on the billboard start dancing to circus music.”

Of course, Homer enrolls in the clown college. Having never enrolled in a clown college because an ad told us to, we all go on thinking: “advertisement had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever.” It can’t possibly be true: bajillion dollar industries, such as advertising don’t simply exist if they are not effective.

During the dot com bubble even large companies mostly failed to earn much from banner ads. Even the heaviest online ad campaigns did not seem very effective and suffered horrible clickthrogh rates. Online ad companies escalated the war for clickthroughs by inventing obnoxious popunder, popover and floater ads. The more the ad was like a flash-bang grenade mistakenly used by NYPD on an elderly woman, the better. For instance, many sites started using larger sizes of vertical banners known as “Skyscraper.” That was not enough though – extreme, flash-driven skyscraper ads with movies and sound, capable of crashing browsers and known as “Godzilla” and “Pagekiller” started to appear.

The founders of Google decided to address this issue, and as a result, made bazillions of dollars. As a former googler remembered:

” Besides, Larry and Sergey hated these kinds of advertising. In fact they hated most kinds of advertising as inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s (meaning their) precious time.”

We all know that AdWords and AdSense, Google’s advertising programs managed to earn so much money through unobtrusive, mostly text ads. The winning strategy was “relevancy”. Google’s server would read in the page where the ad were to appear, and serve up a relevant ad.

For instance, after parsing pages on chupaqueso.com, a site dedicated to a cheese snack invented by web cartoonist Howard Tayler, in theory shows ads about cheese. And after reading about chupaqueso’s cheesy goodness, I might indeed be in the mood to buy some cheese online.

On the other hand, the AdSense algorithm is not too efficient. On some pages in the abovementioned site it serves ads like this:

Yes, indeed, amongst Howard Tayler’s readers there are a lot of computer geeks. I know I am not a typical web user, but I am a pretty typical web developer. And I have zero desire to “Boost XML app performance.” I also have all the “ODBC drivers” that I need.

Many of you, my readers, are bloggers or have regular web sites with AdSense ads. Look at them. How many you’d say are “inefficient, dishonest and a total waste of people’s … precious time”?

I say – about 99.5%. And clickthrough ratios are pretty horrible. People try to tweak them by playing around with ad types, look and feel, positioning and excluding advertisers, but it’s all rather ineffective.

Google’s ads only pay if people click on them. In the TV, billboard, magazine and the type of advertising that people tattoo on their bodies there’s no such things as clicks. You get paid depending on how many people see the ad. It works really well if you need to make people remember your company’s name or logo.

Side Note:
When I was little, in Odessa ( Ukraine, Not Texas) somebody scribbled in almost every public phone booth “[Some girl’s full name] is a whore.” In a city of about a million people this worked like a charm. The mindshare that that advertisement delivered must have been off the charts.

These 99.5% of unclickable ads can be divided into two categories: a) ad campaigns that build brand’s awareness almost for free and b) those that indeed waste everyone’s time and money.

I don’t think I ever clicked on any Vonage ads, even though I’ve seen thousands of them. They worked without any clicks — if I did not also know that their customer service sucks and reliability is horrible, I’d have their VOIP service now.

The ads that nobody ever cares about still do get some clicks. When people come by a useful and interesting site, they tend to click on random ads so that the site owner would get some revenue. This is the untraceable portion of a much scarier phenomenon called click fraud. I am not even going to address this here.

In short, I feel that even though Google’s ads are a step in the right direction, AdSense sucks, especially for a blog with a smallish audience, such as mine. The useless, stupid ads that clog AdSense are a waste, even though they might generate a few “pity clicks.” Only half of my ad revenue for the site came from AdSense last year. The rest came from my experiment that I think will be of great interest to everyone.

My thinking went like this: I want to serve ads that are extremely relevant to my blog posts and interesting to my audience. Even more importantly, they must be selling something that I would be interested in. Ads I’d click on.

When you have limited advertising space, the problem with AdSense is that it often tries to sell things that your readers don’t want. What you want to do is advertise things that people aready want. As an example of such salesmanship, let me direct you to a post on the very popular waiterrant.net, where The Waiter describes selling dessert to calorie-conscious women:

“”Ladies,” I say sweetly, “We have some excellent desserts tonight.”

“Oh, nothing for me,” Bubbly Blonde replies.
“No dessert,” Severe Brunette says, holding up her hand.
“Me neither,” Lawyer Babe says firmly.

The fourth woman, a Soccer Mom type, looks at her companions and sighs. She wants dessert.

I see the longing for chocolate in Soccer Mom’s eyes. She’s my weak link. My in.

“Would anyone like some coffee?” I ask. Suggesting coffee is the first stage in selling dessert to calorie resistant ladies.”

“The ladies pay the bill, tip well, and leave. As I watch them go I think about how I got them to order dessert. To be a good salesman you have to have a seductive quality about you. Don’t believe me? Look at pharmaceutical reps.”

That’s what I want to do! This means that I need to find something that will be the equivalent of selling chocolate dessert to Soccer Mom types.

I believe that my 1000 readers are a lot like myself. And what do I spend a huge amount of money on every year? Books, movies, cds and gadgets. Also I purchase some rather esoteric items on eBay too, but the majority of my spending happens squarely at Amazon.com. My wishlist there is humongous, and in fact, I spent my advertising revenue there.

Luckily, Amazon has a pretty generous associate program. You can link to any of the products they sell and get a cut of the sale price, if the sale happens as a result of your clickthrough. In fact, you get a cut of the entire shopping cart amount (I am not sure, this could be only the items that were added after the click). In any case, it’s decent money, and most importantly, a great selection of new and even used items to sell.

What to sell, of course depends on your audience. I found some success selling items that tempt me. In fact, many times it’s the items that I am planning to buy or already bought.

In some cases, relevancy is important. My article with pictures from Fog Creek’s party sold 4 or 5 of Joel’s books. It was a combination of a very desirable in this particular audience product with a closely related article. Interestingly enough, I tried to sell the toy that you can see in the picture as well, but none sold. As I own both books and don’t own the toy, this seems logical.

I might have tried selling flat panel monitors and Aeron chars (WOW, Amazon sells them too! ) ,that make Joel’s office so nice (in fact, at home I have the same exact dual monitor setup, an Aeron chair and a window with a view, and I had id before Joel wrote about his bionic office). These are big ticket items though, and the likelihood of someone buying them on a whim is lower. But then again, so are rewards.

The relevancy does not matter as much as I thought, though. For instance, I advertised “Make” magazine subscriptions and Shure E2c headphones, and sold a few.

In fact, I think that the approach to selecting products should be somewhat similar to the one that Kevin Kelly uses for selecting items on his website Cool Tools:

“Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. I am chiefly interested in stuff that is extraordinary, better than similar products, little-known, and reliably useful for an individual or small group.”

In short, advertising video iPods is good, advertising “The world’s greatest 3D IM” is not!

Side Note:
My former co-worker won a $300 gift certificate for a certain gadget catalog in a contest. Now, he’s a guy who spends a lot of money on gadgets, like the uber geek that he is. I mean, he owns planetofthegeeks.com domain. But despite that, he had a lot of trouble picking something to spend $300 of free money on in that catalog! Not only was everything overpriced, but there were very few things he’d be interested in owning!

The great thing about selling items from Amazon is that you know that the prices there are very Wal-Mart-like, and most of your readers already shop there. Some people prefer not to patronize Amazon because of software patents or other issues, but there are “organic” alternatives, like for example Think Geek (in fact they sell through Amazon too).

The one gripe that I have with Amazon is the difficulty in creating the links. The tools that they provide want you to use iFrames to create image wrapped links, which of course do not work well in RSS Readers. This brings me to my final point, the specifics of blog advertisement.

A blog is a two-sided entity: it generates page views from people who don’t use RSS aggregators and those who come in from search engine referrals. And then there are the views from within RSS aggregators, in case you are serving up the entire text of the article in the feed. Some blogs don’t do this, serving up only the title or a title and a teaser. The thinking is, readers will click through to the page where they will see ads and thusly generate revenue. Some do this because they don’t serve ads and want to limit their traffic, and yet some do it because they use a default setting in their blogging software and don’t know better.

The great thing about my advertising scheme is that you can serve ads in-feed. A New York blog Gothamist, for example serves atrociously uninteresting ads that repeat. At some point they had a long run of a flashing ad for something that made me unsubscribe from the feed. If they started selling interesting items, they could greatly increase their advertising revenue.

Advertising my way does not detract from regular content and isn’t cheesy. It is clearly marked, unlike those fake editorials in magazines and newspapers. Advertisement can be entertaining in itself! Since the early years of Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, people look through catalogs like Levenger, Victoria’s Secret Penzeys Spices and Think Geek for fun! My wife has a lot of gardening catalogs that she looks through now and then. After finishing an interesting post, readers would not mind learning about an interesting gadget or book they might want. In fact, they might already be in the mood to buy it! There is no reason to serve partial RSS feeds with this type or advertising.

P.S. I turned off comments to this article because for some reason it attracts a ridiculous number of spam comments. If you would like to contact me, see about the author section. I also changed to a different way of displaying Amazon’s related items.