Archive for the ‘Rants and Raves’ Category

People! Be Nice! (Or At Least Be Professional)

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I know I’m not the first one to say it, but I really wish people were a little bit nicer online.  Or more considerate.  This “story” on Mashable kind of got my goat today:

Google: Gmail Outage Was Our Bad

So, yeah.  If you hadn’t heard it from 20 different places, GMail’s servers were down yesterday.  There was a massive unanticipated routing problem when they tried to do a routine server upgrade.  These things happen.  It was not a big deal.  It was not the end of the world.  The entire outage lasted less than 100 minutes (I’ve had power outages last 3 days.  Stop whining, internet.)

So fine.  It happened.  And it sucked for about as long as it takes you to go to lunch and come back.  And Google explained the whole thing.   And issued a huge apology. Seems like that should be it, right?

So why does Jennifer Van Grove have to be so snotty?

That’s one big oops Google. But it’s nice to see that you’re publicly apologizing for the outage and attesting to the fact that you will do everything in your power to prevent it from happening again. Here’s hoping you stick to that.

Google owes you nothing my dear. They’re a free service. They’ve been free since they started.  And they’re nice.  And they’re incredibly transparent (compare an apology like this to Apple’s App Store Rejection Process).

There needs to be a little professionalism in blogging.  That, to me, would be the great loss inherent in the death of traditional news media.  At least The New York Times can just report a story and not be complete dicks about it in the process.

I think this is part of a bigger discussion going on right now in blogging — especially in terms of anonymity and criticism (I’m, at the moment, trying to understand Time Out New York Theater editor David Cote’s  beef with George Hunka).

But in the end it comes down to — do you really need to populate the internet with a re-blog of a dead story just so you can bitch about it?  Try Facebook.  Or Twitter.

Or is it that you really don’t have anything to say?  In which case, maybe keep quiet?

UPDATE: Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch seems to be a bit crabby about it too. Seriously. Was it just a slow news day?  The only thing you have to talk about it to re-post a blog post from the Official GMail Blog and then bitch about them?  That’s some great journalism.  Hey, New York Times! you can close up shop!  We have a replacement for you!

Why not write an article about how a lot of big companies have growing pains (Facebook goes down all the time.  Or Twitter!  Jesus!) or a discussion of how Google’s massive, elegant server architecture system is still prone to human error?  Or a suggestion of how to improve it?

The App Store and Apple’s Recent Behavior

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Alright.  I’ve been holding my tongue about Apple’s iPhone App Store and their general iPhone shenanigans for awhile now, but I’ve had it.  Apple, you’re being stupid and you need to shape up.

Keeping in mind all of this crap that’s been floating around the internet for the past few days (in no particular order):

  1. Official Google Voice App Blocked From App Store
  2. Apple’s Chickenshit Approval Process Has Gone Too Far
  3. There’s No App for That: VoiceCentral Removed From App Store
  4. What Steve said about the App Store and why we need to suck it up
  5. IPhone SMS Attack to Be Unleashed at Black Hat
  6. iPhone Jailbreaking Could Crash Cellphone Towers, Apple Claims
  7. Is the iPhone causing Apple to lose the plot?

Apple, I’ve stood by you for a long time now, but you’re just being stupid.  Your App Store rules of rejection and acceptance need to be TRANSPARENT.  And when you reject an app like Google Voice, man up and give a freaking reason for it.  The Beckettian back and forth in #3 above is something I would expect from Dell.  And quite frankly, you deserved the unofficial response you got from Google’s Marissa Mayer (passive though it was).

As for #4, I completely agree.  If developers keep putting up with this, they’ll need to suck it up.  But after #3, why on earth would any sensible company want to spend months developing for iPhone, wait a month or more to be accepted then rejected with no explanation and no suggestions for how to get the app back into the store?  As a developer it makes my blood boil.  Makes me want to start coding mobile apps for basically any other platform — Android, WebOs… even Windows Mobile.

And as for the crap you’re trying to pull against the EFF and their campaign to make Jailbreaking a legal option, can you smell what you’re shoveling?  How can you say Jailbreaking would crash a cell tower?  Sure it’s a possibility.  But do you really think a serious terrorist would use an iPhone to do that?  You can do that with just about anything that can connect to the cellular network (an eval board, an old cell phone… basically anything but a tin can).  PLUS, unless you fix that SMS bug in #5 above right quick, a hacker wouldn’t even NEED to jailbreak his phone.  He could just send a text message and not only overwhelm the cell towers but crash all of the system’s iPhones in the process.  I only hope the courts can see right through that one (see #7 for more analysis on this one).

I’d been a pretty satisfied iPhone customer since the 3.0 (iPhone mind you.  not AT&T.  AT&T can suck it. I only hope Apple doesn’t renew their exclusive contract with them and I can ditch them for another provider when my contract is up.  And if they don’t I hope there are better iPhone alternatives by then.)  Most of the apps that I installed via Jailbreak were accounted for or rendered unnecessary with copy/paste, better integration with Google Calendar, etc.

But now, just out of principle, I’m going to jailbreak my phone again.  I advise you all to do the same.  This walled garden that Apple’s is creating is really stagnating for developer innovation (when there’s 15 variations of ‘Pull My Finger’, how many of those ‘approved’ applications do you really think are useful?).  And frankly, their guardianship seems to be done by a gang of ADD monkeys (I need to be 17 to use Wikipanion? Really?  And AroundMe?  It’s like you understand only the letter of the law, but not the spirit.  And frankly I’d rather not have a guardian of my phone than have an overprotective, uncommunicative one).

I guess in my mind, for any healthy industry to thrive, there needs to be some competition.  Where’s the competition?  Android, step up your game!  Palm, your marketing sucks.  Do better.

Until then, the best we can do is rebel in mild ways.  Like Jailbreaking.  Thanks Dev Team, for giving us that option.

UPDATE: A bold move from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch: I Quit the iPhone.
UPDATE 2: Developer Steven Frank is ditching the iPhone too.

The Saga Continues: Why The FCC Wants To Smash Open The iPhone
EVEN MORE: Apple Rejects Dictionary App for Containing Swear Words

It’s not enough that they have a warning on Wikipanion that some of the content in THE OPEN SOURCE ENCYCLOPEDIA might have content that’s inappropriate for children under 17?  They now ban dictionaries for swear words?

It’s like they have the Three Stooges manning their application approval process.  I really hope the FCC beats Apple to a pulp on this one.  They deserve it.


More Microsoft Ad Campaign Missteps

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Oh Microsoft.  You have so much money.  Why is it all of your ad campaigns make you look like a grumpy old dinosaur, a complete dick or a bad politician?


Of course this all started with the ill-fated Seinfeld campaign which made the mistake of putting Bill Gates in front of a camera for comedic effect.  The commercials made me wonder, “Why would I trust these guys’ opinions about computers? They seem really out of touch.”

Then there was the “I’m a PC” campaign which banked on the underwhelming selling point of “Look! Macs might be cool but some people also use PCs.”

Then there was the mildly misleading “Laptop Hunters” campaign to show that PCs are cheaper than Macs.  And that, given $1000 and a script, a paid actor would choose an inferior PC over a Mac.  You can read about it here and here and (my personal favorite) here, where a filmmaker chooses to edit video on a PC.  Interesting choice.  And as always, all of these ads were made on Macs.

But you were just getting warmed up!


I’ve Had it With You, Twitter

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Ok.  I was willing to give it a chance.  But after reading this brief little blurb in Time:

Years from now, when historians reflect on the time we are currently living in, the names Biz Stone and Evan Williams will be referenced side by side with the likes of Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, Philo Farnsworth, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs …

… and now I’m mad.  What a load of crap!

Twitter, as far as I can tell, is totally and completely worthless.  For me.  And for pretty much everyone I’ve talked to in my circle of friends.

It seems to be a revolutionary new way for people I don’t care about to say things I don’t care about and listen to the opinions of still more people I don’t care about.

While the aggregation of all of the posts on Twitter could amount to ‘the next wave of culture’ or ‘news’ you could say that about anything.  I could say that about the blogs I follow via Google Reader.  Or about the items on McDonald’s Value Menu.  Twitter is just data.  Mass amounts of unweighted, subjective data.  And while, yes, it does give you ‘access’ to people you otherwise might not get access to, I’d still say you’re fooling yourself if you think that access is unfiltered.

Do you really think Sarah Palin updates her own Twitter account? Oprah? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Ashton Kutcher? Maybe.  But it could just as easily be their press agents.  Or their interns.

To call it social networking is a lie.  It’s almost entirely anti-social.  You post talking points and assume someone somewhere cares.  The ‘conversation’ barely exists (unlike Facebook, where conversation is the whole point).

So fine.  Let the media people all hang on each others’ words until their heads explode.  Let the teeny-boppers follow Ashton Kuscher.  Let the Republicans follow Sarah Palin.  But count me out.

I don’t see anything Twitter has to offer me that hasn’t already been rolled into Facebook’s latest update, or into something like FriendFeed (that aggregates everything people have already posted).  And I already have a blog, thank you.  I appreciate that I don’t feel lazy or uncreative enough to feel daunted by word count potentially greater than 140 characters.  I like writing.

And the funniest thing is that Twitter’s platform is still completely unstable.  People have complained about their service being jittery nonstop for the past year.  And now, even in light of all of this media attention, they still can’t seem to get it together.

I’m not making any predictions because… sadly… I’ll probably be wrong. But let’s just say I wouldn’t mind if Twitter turns out to be a bad trend (like 80s neon and AOL) that people just try to forget they were excited about after 3 months.

Maybe we can focus our attention on more curious things like the supposedly game-changing Wolfram Alpha, and what on earth that could be.

UPDATE: Oh great. Anyone have any guesses as to why Apple is now, so to speak, sucking Twitter’s dick?  I’m sorry…. a Triumph of Humanity? Come on! A cure for cancer.  That’d be a triumph of humanity. The judges would even accept ‘a cure for Swine Flu.’  But Twitter?  What, did the same guy who wrote the Time article write this one too?  Maybe he gets paid to publish in bulk.

Man, I didn’t like you before, Twitter. But now…

Nerdy AND Anti-Palin

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

This is Sarah Palin’s new Twitter account (any wagers on whether Sarah knows how to post to Twitter?):


Note the text:

Bio: Creating New Energy for Alaskans as governor of the 49th state!

As pointed out by Gawker, this blatantly violates the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, a big no-no as far as reality and existence in this dimension goes.  Physicists and chemists everywhere should write Palin to inform her that she is toying with forces she couldn’t possibly understand.

Thanks for this, Gawker.  You’re always so trashy, but sometimes your trash smells oh so sweet.

Interestingly, while I was poking around on Twitter, I found California Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Twitter page (he’s one of the 7 people that Sarah Palin follows, along with Karl Rove and Newt Gengrich.  What a classy great group of people.), and noticed that he’s following almost as many people as follow him ( Following 43,369, Followers: 55,117).  That seems a little out of character for a public figure (Newt, for example, follows 92 people, while 214,506 lost souls follow him), but maybe that’s how Arnold keeps up with all of his many, many, many friends?

Facebook is So Dirty

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I’ve never liked Mark Zuckerberg.  He just seems like kind of a jerk (and, most likely, a thief).

I thought maybe he was turning over a new leaf with this whole rollback of Facebook’s Terms of Service (the ones nobody liked — hereafter called the Evil Terms of Service, or ETOS).


Turns out Facebook is pretty sneaky after all.

Yes.  They put their new Terms of Service to a vote. And if it passes they will adopt the terms.


1) FB will not adopt the terms unless at least 30% of active users participate in the vote (which roughly equates to 60 million users).

2) They gave these active users a week to read 1100 lines of legalese in order to make their ‘informed decision’ about which of the terms sounded more appealing.

3) I (and I’m definitely not alone in this) thought that FB had rolled back their Evil TOS (ETOS) when their users revolted back in February.  But if one compares the two documents being voted on, the terms marked as Current include the ETOS language that got everyone mad:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

Which basically says ‘if you post it, we own it.’

I know a lot of my friends didn’t think to vote because they thought the vote was between the the OLD terms of service (pre-September ’08) and some NEW version — that the offending ETOS version wasn’t even on the table.

It was confusing.  And I think it was deliberately confusing.

Now, I read it.  I read enough of it to know that the ‘current terms’ were the offending ETOS and the ‘new terms’ were less bad, and cast my vote accordingly.  But anyone who believes this is some sort of democratic process, just because Faccebook says it is, might want to read between the lines.  I’m sure Facebook is counting on most of their users either a) voting for the current terms thinking they were the old terms or b) not bothering to vote because they thought the ETOS had been repealed in February.

It is, no doubt, in Facebook’s interest to have their internal ETOS adopted.  If they own all of the content on their service, just think what they could do with it.  The fact that they’re hemorrhaging money wouldn’t seem like quite so much of a problem if they suddenly walked into a worldwide distribution license to ALL OF THE CONTENT on Facebook.

I think Facebook is being manipulative to try to get what they want, cloaking misdirection and miscommunication in user apathy.

But seriously Facebook.  If you want to take away my rights to my own content, just do it — and own up to your users’ wrath.  But don’t try to make it look like I asked you to take away my rights.

For more, check out Chris Dannen’s column at Fast Company

UPDATE: Alright, some of this sounds like conspiracy, but maybe we’ll just call Thursdays ‘Conspiracy Day’ here at Geek Chic and let you decide for yourself:

1) Facebook’s voting closed at noon PDT.  But almost every news source thought it was closing at midnight.  Did the Washington Post not check their facts this morning?  Or did Facebook change the cutoff because the press was starting to pick up the story?

2) Some users claim they didn’t hear there was a vote (to which, we have to say, ignorance is never really a great argument for a re-count, but still…)

Cyber Attack on Morgan Hill?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This is really weird for a number of reasons:

A Cyber-Attack on an American City

The long and short of it is that an unidentified group of people cut 8 fiber cables in Morgan Hill, CA (my hometown) on April 9th and basically everything went down.  Internet, phone, ATMs, emergency services, burglar alarms…

The most disturbing hing about it, I think, is that this is the first I’d heard of it — 2 weeks after the fact.  I partly paid attention because I’m from there.  But still… shouldn’t this have been reported by someone?  Like, maybe, CNN?  Or at the very least, the fearmongering FOX News?

Equally disturbing is the fact that they don’t know who did it.  It seems like they needed to have been fairly familiar with the city’s communications grid to do it.  But I bet a bright high school kid could get the paperwork he or she needs to do that.  Then all s/he’d have to do is organize a group of friends from Live Oak to all cut the wires around the same time.  It wouldn’t take much.

On the more mildly disturbing front (but still fairly disturbing), one of the casualties of the attack on the city’s fiber cables was the hospital’s local network.  Their local network!  Which is a pretty essential thing to have up and running at a hospital, don’t you think?  Who’s idea was it to make a local network in the hospital that was entirely dependent on its connection to the internet?  Is this the only hospital like that?  Or are there a lot more whose network engineers weren’t looking at the bigger picture?

On a mildly entertaining (and fairly educational) note, what did not fail is CB communication.  In order to relay radio calls for emergency services, they woke up the president of the local ham radio club and he and his buddies basically made up for the missing communication services.  This is a good lesson to learn — that it’s good to have a healthy relationship with a fair number of ham radio folk.  They may be the only way people can communicate in an emergency.

Look.  I’m not one to play into doomsday scenarios.  I don’t believe the premise of the latest Die Hard movie, or Fight Club’s ending, is actually realistic.  But I definitely believe we’ve gotten lazy — relying on technology working flawlessly and very seldom exploring possibilities of selective or total system failure.

I would hope that, with the changing of the guard in Washington, that we’d take a bit of time to explore our telecommunication system’s vulnerabilities and the ways that we can compensate in emergency situations.  I’m not saying that we need armed guards at every manhole, but we should definitely have a plan if someone were to stage an attack like this on a larger scale.  Morgan Hill has a population somewhere around 30K (and, all things considered, they seemed to come out reasonably unscathed).  If someone were to stage a similarly coordinated attack on New York — or New England — it would be a big, big mess.

Once again, I’m not saying we should be cowering in fear.  But we should definitely take a hard look at what happened in Morgan Hill and do some serious thinking — and planning — about what we would do if something like this happened on a larger scale.

It’s obviously a possibility.

UPDATE: As my friend Paul pointed out (also a Morgan Hill native):

a) actually this attack was in South San Jose and its effects stretched as far out as Santa Cruz (where Paul lives)

b) Perens’ characterization of Morgan Hill, with all of its ‘brokerages, and investors in the very wealthy community’ was… to be nice… maybe a little bit off the mark.  Anyone who’s been there will tell you — MH is literally 3 freeway exits between San Jose and Gilroy.  If you’re driving south on 101 and you sneeze, you miss it entirely.  And while it’s a town with a healthy upper-middle class, we’re no Los Altos Hills.

So I don’t imagine the attackers would’ve gotten very far trying to ‘manipulate the stock market’ from Morgan Hill when the wires were cut.  I’m sure they could’ve done more damage with an iPhone and a tethered laptop from an uncomfortable booth at Lyons.