Archive for the 'Geekery' Category

Fuck You, Microsoft

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

This is what I get for using the downstairs (Windows) computer:
Windows info bubble mentioning an automatic update

…note they chose to use the demur “this update required an automatic restart” rather than the more accurate “we didn’t like that, though you chose to manually run an update, you didn’t click the ‘Restart Now’ button fast enough, so — despite the fact you had your customary 46 browser tabs open — when you left to watch The Big Lebowski we took the opportunity to just reboot the computer without your approval. So fuck you, fuck your open documents, fuck your browser windows. We’ve got holes to plug!”

That Was $80 Well Spent

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

I awoke this morning at my customary hour — at least, I think I did, given that the clock was blinking. Seems we had a power outage this morning. These are not as rare as I’d like, so some time ago I purchased a UPS unit and connected my Mac and Ubuntu machines. Since I tend to have roughly eight billion Firefox tabs open at any given time (have you ever opened so many that they no longer show up? I have), this was a sound decision, but I’m particularly pleased with it today.

You see, I’d left the Linux machine chugging away on a two-pass video transcoding job, reducing a big MPEG-2 video file to a smaller Xvid version. That’s something that takes hours and hours, and you can’t just pick up where you left off after a power loss. So: yay for emergency batteries!

Now I should perhaps investigate this thing known as “backups”…

Could it be?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

Free wireless at Orlando International? Sure, it’s slow, but way to go anyway!

I just hope they don’t go talking to the jerks at Logan.

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Yesterday I took a stroll through my archives, with a goal of moving some uncategorized posts into a more appropriate section. Sometimes this was more difficult than I expected, due to a few links that had gone dead.

For example, three years ago (!) I wrote a post titled Two Quickies in which I mentioned I wanted something that was available on eBay. The link revealing the item is now dead. (Though I assume, given the Richard Branson reference that followed, that it was a private island.)

The unreliable nature of the Web is frustrating for me, but I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for the New York Times.

The Times has to deal with “linkrot” just like the rest of us, but their fun doesn’t stop there. Consider this bit from “How to Be a Curmudgeon on the Internet“, a recent article by David Pogue:

I replied to this reader that I’m including the first “ping” in my tally. In that case, there ARE five notes in the jingle, as you can hear here.

Pogue’s talking about the “Intel chime”, but if you follow the link you’ll hear something very different. (For those who don’t have speakers — and for myself, should I read this three years later — the sound file plays a commercial advising Times readers to check out another website.)

Years-old dead links are one thing, but this Pogue article? It’s been up only 4 days.

Better Than Nothing

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

I’ve often said that it’s embarassing how poorly the cellular carriers have managed to integrate their devices, considering the ironclad control they maintain over their services. That’s still the case, but Palm’s new Treo 700W will make at least a tiny baby step in the right direction:

This image, from David Pogue’s 10 Greatest Gadget Ideas, shows the Treo’s VCR-like voicemail controls: tap play to begin, or the trash can to delete, etc. The Treo then plays the corresponding touchtone.

It’s a simple but effective solution given the limitations of current voicemail systems. I commend Palm for doing their best (though I think they would be wise to follow Blackberry’s lead in finding a way to do it without a stylus.)

That said, the fact that this made a “10 best” list is a real testament to how crap the hardware out there is. Note the screen says simply “Voicemail”, with a timer for the entire call — that’s because there’s no way to show the caller’s number, the duration of the current message, the number of messages left, the date, or anything else you might want to know.

All of this could be built in using even the existing network (with SMS, for example) but in a world where you have to sign a two year contract to even get a number, nobody has the incentive to do it.

Call for Details

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Google has made the jump to paper.

No, not Google Book Search. I’m talking about, of all things, newspapers, specifically the Chicago Sun-Times. A story in Crain’s this week (which I found via Gruber) includes this sample image:
excerpt from Dec. 12 sports section showing sidebar

I found these ads intriguing. I’d expect Google to want to quantify their effectiveness, and it seems clear that the toll-free numbers are part of that effort. (If you visit, you’ll find two toll-free numbers, neither of which match that 866 one. Ergo, I conclude Google is counting and forwarding the calls.)

But I’m surprised they didn’t do anything to track site visits. After all, when you click an ad on, you best believe they’re tracking it (though some argue not well enough.) So why didn’t they use a special domain to separate paper readers from regular surfers?


If It Ain’t Broke…

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Seven months ago, Steve Jobs stood before an audience of Mac faithful (as he will today) and told them that Apple would be shifting its product line to Intel processors.

Well, actually, the slide told them:
Steve Jobs in front of slide reading 'It's true!'-with a dropped 'e'

By using Intel’s iconic “dropped ‘e'”, the slide cleverly gave the answer and referenced the question in just two words. It was a neat little move that took advantage of Intel’s massive brand recognition.

What a shame that this will no longer be possible, now that Intel has revamped their logo:
left: old Intel logo with dropped 'e', right: new with swoosh

In doing so, they join the new AT&T as well as Kodak:
old/new Kodak logos, the former with the traditional box, the latter with a pretty plain approach

In both cases, I don’t think the original was any great achievement of graphic design (in fact, the original Intel logo is pretty ugly) but that’s hardly the point today. The Intel logo has been in use for 37 years, since Gordon “Moore’s Law” Moore first designed it. Similarly, Kodak has used a box of some form for around 70 years, with the traditional ‘K’ appearing in 1971.

Both of these marks are being replaced with logos that could charitably be called generic. Intel jumps on the swoosh bandwagon, working hard to look like every logo since 1999, and Kodak abandons the idea of graphic treatment altogether, opting instead for two plain lines to carry its traditional yellow-gold.

I have nothing against a freshened look (I certainly welcome Intel’s new website; the old one was awful) but I fear that these are actually examples where the people who work at these companies, staring at these logos day in and day out, got tired of them before the customers did. Then they cover their tracks by spouting wisdom such as this:

Intel’s new logo combines the essence of both of these powerful symbols [Intel Inside and dropped ‘e’], building on Intel’s rich heritage, yet also signaling the new direction the company is headed today. It also includes a new tagline: “Intel. Leap ahead™.” This tagline is Intel’s unique brand promise and is designed to communicate what drives Intel as a company, and what Intel makes possible.

So, from a standing start on “rich heritage”, the logo’s mighty curl signals a new direction for the company, setting up the leaping brand promise that Intel makes possible.

That’s one hell of a swoosh.

Here’s hoping that next time a big American company with an iconic logo wants to make a change, someone from Coca-Cola gives ’em a call to talk ’em off the ledge…

You Know Your Industry’s Fucked When…

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

I was looking at flights today and found a feature on Travelocity I hadn’t seen before: a “1 seat left” warning. While helpful, I don’t find this feature that big a deal (Amazon’s long had a similar “only 2 left, order soon (more on the way)”) but Travelocity clearly does:

They’ve filed a patent for the feature.

Now, to be fair, Travelocity has to do a lot more work than Amazon to figure out how many items are left. Consider the complexity:

6. If you want to do a simple round-trip from BOS to LAX in two weeks, coming back in three, willing to entertain a 24 hour departure window for both parts, then limiting to “reasonable” routes (at most 3 flights and at most 10 hours or so) you have about 5,000 ways to get there and 5,000 ways to get back. Listing them is a mostly trivial graph-search (there are a few minor complications, but not many), that anybody could do in a fraction of a second.

7. The real challenge is that a single fixed itinerary (a fixed set of flights from BOS to LAX and a fixed set back) with only two flights in each direction may have more than 10,000 possible combinations of applicable “fares”, each fare with complex restrictions that must be checked against the flights and the other fares. That means that the search space for this simple trip is of the order 5000 x 5000 x 10000 [= 250 billion], and a naive program would need to do a _lot_ of computation just to validate each of these possibilities.

When your pricing is so complicated your resellers feel the need to patent a “Supplies are running out!” message, it’s well past time to fire somebody.

Die, Best Buy

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

On Sunday I needed to pick up some DVD-RWs so I could bring some, uh, material back from B-don‘s. There were few choices open in Rochester at that point (including Wal-Mart: never!) and so I made an exception and went to Best Buy.

There, deep inside the enemy’s lair, B and I discovered that the price tags were making reference to two sorts of discounts: “instant rebates” (whatever happened to “Sale”?) and “checks”. What were these “checks”? Some sort of new discount approach? I pulled a tag from the shelf and walked over to customer service to get the scoop.

At the counter, the girl told me flatly that “checks” is just the new name for “mail-in rebates.” Considering that more than 9 months ago, Best Buy pledged to phase out rebates “over the next two years” I find this practice doubly suspicious.

Why the name change if they’re going away anyway? (To be fair, this may be how they’ve done it for awhile. I do my level best not to enter the store, so I may just be late on the uptick.)


Saturday, November 19th, 2005

I’m worried about Eric J. Sinrod.

Sinrod, a San Francisco lawyer, just posted a Perspectives piece entitled “iPod porn pains parents, employers.” Seriously. The guy is worried about iPod porn.

With a 5G iPod, Sinrod argues, children could escape the watchful eyes of their parents — and the limitations of the too-public family-room PC:

However, the ability of parents to monitor is seriously undermined if their children quickly can download adult content onto their iPods and then take it away from the home for easy viewing elsewhere.

Very true — though of course the same could be said for PSPs, DVDs/videotapes (your children don’t have a TV in their room, do they?!), and of course the choice of adolescents since time immemorial: good ol’-fashioned magazines. So what’s new?

Not much. But Sinrod has a scare for the workers of the world lined up:

Yet, iPods are becoming so ubiquitous and are so small, they are an easy vehicle for bringing pornography into the workplace. Employees discreetly could [sic] try to view pornography away from the watch of others. By engaging in such behavior, they often could be distracted from their true work functions, and problematically, they might contribute to an inappropriate and potentially hostile work environment to the extent the iPod porn is seen by others.

Here Sinrod tries to have it both ways, arguing both for hidden porn and that seen by co—wait, why I am engaging this argument? I should be asking: where does this guy work? Do his co-workers tend to disappear for long stretches, unable to spend 4 hours (assuming they get lunch) without a porn fix? Where does he expect them to escape “the watch of others”? The bathroom? The supplies closet?

Perhaps at Duane Morris, Sinrod’s law firm, no-one suffers the indignity of toiling away at an open cubicle, so they can partake right in their offices. By… holding an iPod under their desks? Whilst wearing the trademark white headphones? Yes that sounds quite subtle — and certainly something that was impossible before, especially in an age of PDAs, laptops, and yes, even mobile phones.

Truth is, kids who want to see porn don’t need a $300 iPod to get the job done, and adults who want to sneak it into the workplace could just use a thumb-sized USB drive (and not have to transcode their stash.) Sinrod and other nimrods want to pretend this is a new “problem”, one that can be solved with yet more policies and restrictions. He’s wrong.

Really, if we could just find a way to avoid hiring — or siring — podpeople like Sinrod, we could all enjoy our iPods in peace.

The Apprentices Have Much to Learn

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

Tonight’s episode of “The Apprentice” featured some of the most uncomfortable television I’ve seen in awhile. First “The Donald” asked one of the contestants (age 22) if he’d ever had sex, and if that wasn’t awkward enough, told another that homosexuality was like ordering spaghetti instead of steak — it’s all “a menu.” Creepy.

Neither player got the boot, however, as The Hair opted to cut loose Markus, who had a Kerry-esque talent of using 30 words when 5 would do. He recently put this skill to use on, in which he attempted to rebut his portrayal on the show, episode-by-episode. Somebody prevailed upon him to stop, however, and those pages were pulled. Now his site contains 7 categories, of which 5 are “Coming Soon!”

Markus is not alone here — I found a list of contestant websites, clicked around, and soon found several “coming soon” pages, a whole bunch of Flash, and just generally empty and generic sites. I find that odd. (Well, not the generic part.) The show was filmed months and months ago, so these people had plenty of time to put together Web sites if they wanted to attempt to capitalize on their fleeting fame. Do they seriously expect that anyone will check back in the future for an updated page?

And before anyone claims that as an Internet nerd, I place a higher premium on this than the general public, let me point you to one of Martha’s hopefuls: David Karandish. This guy lists “Search Engine Optimization” and “IT Consulting” as his skills. He actually told Martha that he could greatly improve

So this guy at least must have some clue how to use the Internet, right? Err… not so much. He gets a few points for attempting a blog, but the stock photos? The faith section? The laughably incomplete business section?

I know it’s just a dumb TV show, but seriously: is this the best they could find?

Survival of the Widest

Monday, October 10th, 2005

In the last couple months, I’ve noticed some major sites unveil major redesigns that use more of the screen. I put this down to increases in the size of monitors and the speed and prevelance of broadband connections. I’m a fan of these changes, not just because I own a widescreen LCD and hate clicking “next page”, but because I think these trends will lead to richer, more interactive Web content.

For a hint at where I think things are going, take a look at CBS’ “Survivor: Guatemala.” The show’s annoying, but the Web presence is big and bold, with large photos and liberal use of Flash.

There are plenty of other examples, but I like “Survivor” as an illustration because it has a history. For example, compare the photos of cute boy Jamie (who looks better on the show) in Season 11 with cute boy Ethan from Season 8. The difference is huge: Jamie’s image is four times the size of Ethan’s (which is itself almost double those from Season 4, for example.)

Similarly, the use of Flash has increased markedly. The original Survivor on CBS has GIF (max 256 colors) mugshots with plain pages, though the source reveals a small “songcube” file that plays the annoying background music. Fast-forward 10 more seasons, and the whole screen is big photos, swapped out periodically via Flash.

I’m no fan of gratuitous Flash, but bigger, richer photos? Web sites that use more of my screen real estate and work to take better advantage of the medium’s strengths? Yeah, I’m down for that.

Uhhh, Edgar…

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Pop quiz: name a store full of items that all sell for the same price, regardless of each item’s differences or time on the market. Can you think of anything? The guy running Warner Music sure can: the iTunes Music Store. And he thinks that’s crazy:

“There’s no content in the world that has doesn’t have some price flexibility,” said Warner Music Group Corp. chief executive Edgar Bronfman at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference here. “Not all songs are created equal. Not all albums are created equal.” [qtd. in Reuters: Apple, record labels to face off over pricing]

“No content in the world”, eh? Is it just me, or did Eddie forget something? A pretty major form of “content”? They’re called movies, and anyone who’s been to a movie theater knows for damn sure that not all movies are created equal, but when it comes to the theater, everything is priced the same.

But maybe Mr. B was just having a bad day. At the same conference, “Red Herring” quotes him* as saying this:

“We are selling our songs through iPod, but we don’t have a share of iPod’s revenue,” [Bronfman] said. “We want to share in those revenue streams. We have to get out of the mindset that our content has promotional value only.

“We have to keep thinking how we are going to monetize our product for our shareholders,” added Mr. Bronfman. “We are the arms supplier in the device wars between Samsung, Sony, Apple, and others.” [from Bronfman Fires Back at Apple” via Gruber]

See? He’s just losing it, is all. Expecting a cut of hardware sales (when you’re already getting a cut of digital and CD sales for the actual music) would be like Coke demanding they get a percetange every time a cup is sold. Ridiculous. But what can we expect from a guy who uses the quasi-word “monetize”?

* Interestingly, the sources differ on the “world” line. Rather than “in the world” and “flexibility”, as Reuters has it, Herring quotes him as saying “There’s no content that I know of that does not have variable pricing,” which is different phrasing but the same effect.

End of My Journeys

Monday, September 26th, 2005

Well, I had a good birthday weekend (and thanks for the well-wishing) though two events, both Internet-related, left me scratching my head.

The first occurred on Saturday, when I awoke to learn my Internet connection seemed to be down. Naturally, the night before I had been uploading some huge files, so this caused me to curse. I cursed even more when, through the help of a support tech, I traced the problem to a fried cable modem. I knew it was raining, but not that hard…

Since, cleverly, I had decided the best bet was to buy and not rent the cable modem, this meant that even if a service call was possible (it wasn’t; our local CableCo doesn’t field weekend techs) they weren’t going to repair something that wasn’t theirs.

Fortunately, our local office supply store had an acceptable (albeit overpriced) substitute, and I made the switch and was once again connected. I didn’t suffer the effects of full withdrawal, thankfully.

Then on Sunday I noted the next odd turn of events: somebody snapped up JSPJourneys. In a lapse, I’d missed the renewal date for my travel site’s domain, and some dude from Tempe, AZ grabbed it the moment it expired.

It’s a spectacularly odd move, in my view, because that address, unlike this one, is hardly valuable except to those who wanted to follow my adventures in Oz (since merged into my travel category.) Even odder is that, if I’m reading the dates correctly, someone actually back-ordered the domain when I owned it. Very weird. My best guess is that with domain names as incredibly cheap as they are right now, even a tiny amount of established traffic is enough to slap up a link-farm.

I don’t know. Like I said, odd.

Firefox: Foiled by FEMA

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

One of the many advantages of Firefox, the better Web browser, is that it’s available for Windows, Macs, and Linux, which makes it essential for people like me who use several different operating systems.

One of the advantages of Linux is that its flexible license and modular nature allow people to create “live CDs“: an entire system on a burned disc, allowing users to run programs without any installing (KNOPPIX being the most famous example.)

A few Linux nerds took both these ideas and created a special Katrina “web kiosk” LiveCD. It’s a slick idea: get people to donate old PCs, hook them up to the internet, and just slide in the disc for a full-fledged Web browser. Since it all runs off the CD, there’s no need even for a hard drive, and even slow computers should work fine. Plus, the Linux license places no restriction on how many copies you make, so as soon as you get a donation, that computer is just a CD-R away from going online. (Contrast this with MS Windows, which requires license keys, “product activation”, “Genuine Advantage” validation — not to mention money.)

Yep, the Linux+Firefox combination seems like a good fit for this need — and in fact, the first center is already online. So what’s not to love?

Well, er, that would be FEMA. Seems the online form to register for disaster assistance is limited to Internet Explorer 6 (Win) only. This bone-headed move (almost certainly due to stupid use of JavaScript) means that while hurricane victims will be able to e-mail their friends and loved ones, they can forget about communicating with their government’s relief agency.

Another excellent decision by the team under the leadership of a fired former director of the International Arabian Horse Association.