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  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:14 pm on December 24, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , food, , , Markus Frind, , Nevada Test Site, okcupid.com, , , Web Heirarchy, web people, web traffic,   

    Are Tables Important? 

    I was talking to a former co-worker about Inc Magazine’s cover story about Markus Frind and his very profitable, but godawfully ugly dating website plentyoffish.com.

    My co-worker (a programmer) loaded up the website. He took a quick look around and opened the source of the ratings page. Giggling like Bevis he could not believe what he saw: a gradient bar that was coded as [gasp!] an HTML table with bgcolor attributes.

    It looked like this:

    And was coded like that:

    <table border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=0 width=100%>
    <tr height=5><td bgcolor=#204080><img width=1 height=5 border=0>
    </td><td bgcolor=#202F70><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#3F2060><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#5F2050><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#7F1F4F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#90103F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#B0102F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#CF0F1F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#E0000F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#F00000><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    </tr></table>

    He was going on and on and on about how tables are bad, and mwu-ha-ha-ha — look at this.

    I was fully expecting him to take umbrage at the logo, the overall look and feel of the site, at the grotesquely skewed photo thumbnails. But no, all he was seeing is that Mr. Frind “used a table”.

    I tried to tell my co-worker that despite “tables” or ugliness this website generates tens of millions of dollars of profit to its creator, that it has as much web traffic as Yahoo while being served a small handful of very powerful servers, that it was created and maintained by a single person who gets to keep most of the profits – but to no awail. The kid could not get over “tables”.

    A famous hacker JWZ once was asked about his feelings about “an open source groupware system”. In a famous rant that followed he produced some of the best advice importance that I’ve ever seen:

    “So I said, narrow the focus. Your “use case” should be, there’s a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?”

    While I’ve never heard of HTML tables (not the furniture kind) playing any role in getting laid, plentyoffish.com must have resulted in a mind boggling amount of action.

    Plentyoffish.com, being a technological and aestetical abomination that it is, is firmly rooted in the lower, fundamental layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy and my Web Heirarchy.

    At the most basic people need oxygen, water, food, to take a dump/whiz, sleep, sex, and a predictability in environment.

    On the web people need hypertext, images, search, speed, and community features. If you provide all of these for a topic that is important to people, you will be successful. Start thinking about “html tables vs divs” first, and likely you won’t get to the important stuff.

    Doing it another way – saying, look, I’ll do a site just like plentyoffish but prettier and without HTML tables does not work very well: Frind’s competiors at okcupid.com who set out to do just that are not succesful in toppling plentyoffish.

    Ugliness for the sake of ugliness is not a good thing. In the long run people want things to be pretty, like Apple products and not ugly like Microsoft products. But taste, being pretty high up in the pyramid of needs only becomes a factor after all the basic needs are met.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:27 am on December 8, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Burn, cab driver, Cart, century state law, Dan Rossi, Department of Parks, Department of Sanitation, , , , food, , food cart licesnses, food cart vendors, , food vending wood, food vendors, Georgia, Heros II, , Kentucky, Metropolitain Museum, Metropolitain Museum of Art, Museum If, , , , , , , real estate market, , SECAM, , , Tamir Sapir, , , , , , Videocassette recorder, volt round plug devices   

    Entrepreneurship Heros II: Night at the Museum 

    If the Seal of New York City were designed today, it would not have a sailor and a Native American on it. It would have a cab driver and a food cart vendor.

    Cab driving and food vending wood seem like the two of the most democratic enterpreneurial options, the foundation of which is the public streets New York City: you just wheel out your vehicle and try to make some commerce happen. The only thing that you need is a license. The one for cab driving is called a “medallion”, costs $766K, and as an investment vehicle outperformed just about any commodity and stock index. The food cart licesnses are also very expensive. Plus you are hounded by NYPD, Department of Sanitation, and who knows what else. Cab drivers and food cart vendors are some of the hardest working and most prosecuted businesmen in the city, but sometimes they have their own victories, big and small.

    You don’t need to go any further than the Metropolitain Museum of Art to see two interesting examples. Right in front of the museum there’s a collection of food carts. They all are very typical carts, none of them are of the fancy variety. There are two types represented – the basic “dirty water hot dog” cars and “street meat” carts. But there’s one important difference – they all have stickers that say “Disabled Veteran”, and there’s usually an actual veteran somewhere nearby.

    In the past years the space in front of the museum was either empty or occupied by one or two carts licensed by the Department of Parks. Then one day Dan Rossi, a disabled veteran, discovered a 19th century state law that allows disabled veterans to sell food in areas that are off-limits to others. The location in front of the museum is particularly lucrative because there are no affordable restaurants as far as an overweight tourist can walk. This hack is a small, but significant victory for food vendors. They are still ticketed mercelesly by NYPD, have to work crazy hours, and deal with the need to urinate in some kind of a miraculous way. At least they got an article in the New York Times written about them.

    Across the road from the veteran’s carts is a mansion that belongs to billionaire Tamir Sapir, a former cab driver.

    Mr. Sapir’s legend starts in Georgia, USSR. He found an interesting niche business: filling out complicated emigration forms for the Soviet Jews. At some point he was persuaded by his mother to give up his excellent life (it was a very lucrative business, from what I understand) and emigrate to Israel himself. He found himself in the middle of the Yom Kippur War, and quickly emigrated to the United States. He worked hard to earn enough money to leave rural Kentucky for New York, and then even harder to buy a cab medallion (which was a lot more affordable in those days). Then he risked everything again by putting up that medallion as collateral for a loan that he needed to open up an electronics store with a partner.

    In the 80s there was a bit of a thaw in Sovet-American relations – Perestroyka and whatnot. There was a significant amount of people visiting the US – diplomats, scientists, sailors, and those invited by relatives. These people were allowed to exchange a small sum of rubles into dollars at the official rate – if I remember correctly, 60-something kopeks to a dollar.

    What these lucky tourists wanted the most was electronics. In particular – vcrs, doule deck cassette players, and Walkmen. They had the money to buy these things, but here’s a problem: they needed 220 volt round plug devices, and more than that, VCRs needed to support the SECAM standard. You could not just walk into any store and find these: American market was all 110V and NTSC.

    Every child in Odessa back then knew all of this, as well as that if you found yourself in New York City with some money, all you needed to do was trudge over to Timur’s (this was before he changed his name) store in Manhattan and find 220V SECAM VCRs.

    Mr. Sapir was making a mint, but more importantly he was making connections with the Soviet ministers, diplomats, and future oligarchs. A little later he was invited back to the USSR, and made more connections there. These connections allowed him to play on the Soviet deregulation arbitrage market.

    You see, when the Soviet Union was transitioning to the market economy all prices were regulated except those for commidities like metals, oil, and fertilizer. Those with connections could buy these commodities for already devalued rubles and sell them abroad for hard currency, making millions of dollars. All you needed was connections, which Mr. Sapir had.

    He made millions, but the game became very dangerous as people tougher than NYC cabbies entered it. Mr. Sapir did not continue his career as a commodity exporter. Instead he invested his millions into New York City skyscrapers. The real estate market bottomed out, and you could buy a whole skyscraper for 10 million dollars or so. He bought a whole bunch of them. The price of Manhattan real estate exploded, and he became a billionare.

    He bought a mansion across from the Metropolitain Museum to house his collection of carved ivory (for some reason this was a very popular area of collecting in the Soviet Union), has a yacht that used to be stuffed with a collection of exotic animal taxidermy that could rival Mr. Burn’s wardrobe or Amy’s car from Futurama.

    Well, the two lessons here are: 1) you have to take risks and 2) you have to find a niche. The rest is luck.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 10:41 pm on February 11, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advance-fee fraud, , British Columbia, , Crime in Nigeria, food, , online game, Social engineering, ,   

    My Advice to Russian Bride Hunters 

    I recently received an email from a reader who wanted advice about seeking a Russian bride. I decided to post my snarky, although relatively detailed reply here. After I sent the email, I realized that there’s a book on the subject

    that according to one review is “simply ‘excellent’. It is factual without being offensive. It’s helpful without being overbearing. It is instructive without being condescending.” I don’t think I managed any of these feats, but here’s what I wrote:

    Ancient Odessa, coin, erotic scene. II-III century BC.

    Hey, ….. .

    Your potential mailorder bride is most likely a scammer. I am about to give you and those like you some advice, which might turn out useful to some and entertaining to others (I plan on posting my reply on my blog).

    Seeking a foreign bride is not a simple, risk free, or casual process. It is not impossible though: one of my female friends married an Australian, another a Briton. These two pairs are extremely happy together.

    You claim that you are having problems finding a “normal chick to settle down with.” I think I know what you mean by that, but I am not sure that you do. In my interpretation you blame your inability to find a mate on the quality of the pool of potential dates available to you.

    By definition, “normal” means standard, usual, average. Since the majority is never “not normal” (unless you are in a psychiatric institution), there must be another explanation. It’s probably a combination of your high standards in selecting a mate (model looks, high paying job, domestic excellence) and your lack of same qualities. In short you are looking for a girl out of your league.

    So here you think: there are these places where the girls are super hot, live in poverty (and thus aren’t spoiled) and will jump at a chance of snagging a knight in shining armor who will whisk them away to America. Your thinking is correct. Being American with some money will let you fish in the deep end of the gene pool in many a foreign land.

    Russian and Ukrainian cities are teeming with ultrahotness: Slavic female beauty is world famous. There is no obesity epidemic there due to superior quality of food, so sometimes it looks like city centers are overrun by hordes of supermodels. The ubiquitous blond hair and rare eye colors are a part of the local genetic markup.

    Meanwhile, widespread alcoholism in men is far from being an untrue stereotype, and there are many men wearing purses in the street and speedos at the beach. Simply not being an alcoholic and having a modicum of fashion sense are great assets there. Basic hygiene is also not really a default in men there. Boldness and fatness is not as repulsive to women in those parts of the world, and an American citizenship is an outright aphrodisiac.

    So, those are all the advantages that you have there. What about disadvantages? A shared background is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship. You and your potential bride grew up speaking different languages, reading different books, eating different food, watching different tv shows. There might be some overlap in music, but the overall experiences that the two you of had were vastly different. That gap has to be bridged somehow, and it seems very likely to me that you will leave this burden to the girl. She will have to suffer the tremendous cultural shock upon arriving in the US (I know I have), she will have to speak English. Based on your spelling and grammar you do not strike me as good with learning languages, and Russian is a difficult one to learn. You also show a good level of ignorance of Russian culture, geography and history. That is a big handicap.

    So, yes, there are millions of “normal chicks” there, but you are limited only to English-speaking ones, of which there aren’t too many. Most “normal chicks” find it as hard to learn a second language as you are. So in practice the pool of girls that you are looking mostly consist of girls that have unrealistic expectations of life in the US, scammers (some of which are not actually girls), and those girls who can’t find “normal dudes” because of one issue or another.

    Even if you get through all the logistical and bureaucratic nightmares, there are some tough odds to overcome. Imagine yourself in a freshly minted mailorder bride’s place: being a stranger in a strange land, feeling exploited and locked into a marriage, no old friends to lean on, having to speak English 100% of the time, homesickness etc, etc. That is some tough situation. If you are not god’s gift to women where you live, your foreign bride stressed by all the changes will probably not like you much better, but will be locked into staying married to you for a good while. It’d be exploitative of you, wouldn’t it?

    The scammers are sometimes crude, sometimes very sophisticated. A friend of mine mentioned a girl that communicates in the way that you described with dozens of men, with the intent of scamming them. “She doesn’t ask me to send money, to go visit, or anything else like that.” That is a good sign, but this usually does not last: a good scammer does not want to set the hook too early. The fact that she does not own a tv or a computer and uses a friend’s computer at work seems suspicious to me. Her story – too smooth. You can’t be too careful in these situations.

    Remember I mentioned my two friends who made their relationships work? The guys they married are very good looking, hard working, and have outstanding personalities. One pair met in an online game (true story), another at a university. Both girls spoke near-flawless English (the men did not learn more than a few phrases in Russian, very typically).

    So here’s my final bit of advice: if you do want yourself a beauty from the former USSR — learn Russian, at the very least read everything you’ll find in Wikipedia about the places where you’ll be looking, but better thoroughly educate yourself about Russian and Ukrainian history, politics, current affairs. Then do some traveling. Then you might be ready for something like what you are attempting. If you will learn enough Russian and will travel there, you can get laid with impunity without having to go through with the whole marriage thing, unless the “sex tourist” label bothers you.

     
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