Category Archives: That’s Pretty Messed Up Right There

Dear Microsoft: Here’s How To Communicate with Developers

0) State what your technology is and what problem it’s trying to solve on the product’s web page. Use plain, practical language. Hint: “professional-quality business applications” does not mean anything.

1) Don’t use a video. Use words first, then use a video to convey, you know, visual concepts, if necessary.

2) If you use video, the video has to actually work. See:

Reason #285 Why Paper Telephone Books Must Die

A few days ago we got a delivery of a ten-pound paper Yellow Pages telephone directory. It went straight into the recycling, along with every paper phone directory we’ve received for the past 12 or so years.

Just now, I get a phone call from some mouth-breather asking whether we’d received the phone book that we didn’t ask for and will never use. A phone call. On my cel phone. During working hours.

Even better, when I told the person on the phone that I wasn’t interested in getting a paper phone book ever again, and I’d prefer that they put me on my Do Not Call list, the person on the phone said that to get removed from their list, I had to call some other number (of course, that number was printed on the now-recycled paper phone book; she couldn’t just give the number to me, ironically). When I pressed her, she said that removing me from their call list was “not her job”.

She literally said this. I am not exaggerating here.

Someone, please to make this business practice illegal? Thx.

Update: San Francisco heard me and is apparently actually going to make the delivery of unsolicited phone books illegal. Hooray for big government!

Nobody Said That Open Source Projects Were All About Customer Service

These are sort of ancient (two and a half years old), but I just ran across them today and found them to be emblematic of a cultural defect that plagues many open source projects. These are a couple of feature requests (for the same feature) filed against the file-transfer utility FileZilla:

#2648: Feature request: Support Amazon S3 (closed)

#2741: Feature request: Amazon S3 (closed)

How many things are wrong with this? The fact that the person who shut down the feature request did so unilaterally, immediately, and with absolutely no discussion? The fact that the person used a pseudonym that doesn’t link back to any kind of profile or policy, so there is no way to get context on who this person is or why they made their decision? Or the arrogant tone of the response, which almost ensures that the people who took the trouble to file these feature requests will never do so for this project again?

For commercial products, feature requests are gold. Clearly, for some open-source projects, feature requests are an annoyance at best. It may be possible that FileZilla’s mission is “support dessicated IETF and W3C standards only,” but there’s no way for a civilian user to know that. Most civilians look at FileZilla’s mission as “transfer files from one place to another.” In that context, this kind of feature request is not unreasonable, particularly since many other file-transfer utilities (including the commercial product Transmit, which I use on OS X) have supported Amazon S3 for some time. If it’s really unreasonable to support a mode of file transfer because it wasn’t part of an IETF standard codified in the 1980s, then I have a new feature request for you: plugins. Just like Firefox does. Duh.

Ultimately, the technical solution to the problem isn’t really the issue here. Maybe providing this feature is too hard or outside the scope of the project’s mandate. But if that’s the case, then say that (and take a second to link to more information about your rationale). If somebody who worked for me provided such glib, dismissive responses to a feature request, they would be fired. The fact that we’re probably dealing with a volunteer here is not the issue. The fact that FileZilla is a free/open source project should also not make a difference. The snotty attitude (for this and many other open-source projects)  poisons the ecosystem and ensures that the software remains second-rate.

Your open-source project is not your fiefdom.

Web Developers: Don’t Do This

I’m not including the URL of this page in case somebody figures out how to turn this into an exploit, but in a way I almost wish somebody would, because after filling out these guys’ survey and getting this horrifically amateurish error message on the final page, my first impulse was to figure out a way to crawl into their database and delete all my personal information out of it.

(BTW, if you’re looking for customizable online survey portal software that’s free/open source and not horrifically amateurish most of the time, check out Tinypug.)

Helmet fire – Wikipedia

Link: Helmet fire – Wikipedia

"Helmet fire" is an expression for a mental state characterized by unnaturally high stress and task saturation and loss of situational awareness. The term originates in the military pilot community: military pilots are trained in high-performance aircraft and wear helmets to protect their cranium and muffle out engine and wind noise. A fire aboard any aircraft is considered a serious emergency, and the term helmet fire is used jokingly to say that the pilot is undergoing so much stress that his brain is on fire or smoke is coming out of his ears.

A Little Security Theater To Conclude Our Vacation

Coming through the Honolulu airport on the way home from vacation today I objected when they insisted on making me dig out my boarding pass and ID for a second time while going through the metal detector. I hate to be a dick about this since these droids are obviously just doing their jobs. But I must ask you, mister metal-detector operator: your uniformed colleague at the front of the security line already checked my ID and boarding pass — do you not trust him? And if you don’t trust him, then why is that my problem?

While accidentally contemplating this out loud, I muttered, "Why are the security procedures different at every freaking airport?" and the droid behind the x-ray machine gleefully volunteered "because it confuses the terrorists!" And I am pretty sure he was serious, which made me literally angry with rage.

At this point, my genius wife, who is invaluable in situations where I accidentally start speaking truth to power, shushed me, preventing me from blurting out the fact that the 9/11 terrorists actually had valid IDs and boarding passes, hello.

This all happened after the security droids made our baby take off his shoes. (But for some reason they didn’t make him take off his diaper. Could he not be hiding an even bigger bomb in there? He certainly subjects us to large diaper-delivered bombs on a daily basis at home.)

Anyway. I think that as a libertarian social protest, parents with infants should insist on taking off their children’s diapers and sending them through the x-ray machine at airports.

Dear PayPal,

If you are going to have a feature called "Instant Payment Notification" it would be nice if the notification happened, you know, instantly, instead of 14 minutes and 59 seconds later.

How do you expect people to debug their applications if it takes this long for your sandbox to respond?

Also! It would be neat if there would be a way to see a list of all the transactions that were submitted to your sandbox account the same way you display outbound emails.



Let’s Have A Discusssion Around Around

Here’s the latest in a long series of peeved posts on the way that people in technology
talk wrong, probably because they don’t get out enough. I’ve actually noticed this one for a few years now, but it’s just now starting to drive me completely insane: saying "around" when you mean "about". As in, "On Monday we had a discussion around a few outstanding topics." When you say this, do you mean you didn’t actually discuss the topics, you just sort of flirted with them and then moved on to something else?

The Christmas Present That’s Gathering Dust

Over Christmas, I wanted to get the kid a cheap little portable video player so she could keep herself occupied on road trips. The Disney Mix Max player seemed like a good choice, and the $99 price made it sort of a no-brainer, so I picked one up for her.

Since Christmas morning, the device has gathered dust on my desk. The problem is that the device doesn’t come with its own software for converting and loading movies; you have to use the loathsome Windows Media Encoder to convert movies. The settings required by the device are totally nonstandard, and the instructions they provide (PDF) seem to be written by a non-native speaker of English. The guide also doesn’t seem to cover the version of Windows Media Encoder that Microsoft currently provides for download. Naturally the instruction manual didn’t actually come with the device either; you have to search the web for it, and if you’re lucky you can find it on the OEM’s web site (Memorex Electronics). But the fact that they hid the instructions doesn’t matter, since the instructions don’t accurately describe how to get the device to recognize converted videos anyway.

There’s a good comment thread on this where people have been trying for months to get the device to play converted videos. It doesn’t look like anyone has been able to get it to work.

They might as well have wrapped the "import a movie" feature of the device in electrified barbed wire, and when you think about it the reason is obvious — Disney doesn’t actually want you to convert the movies you’ve already paid for (or created yourself) to use on this device, instead they want you to pay them $20 a pop for them to reformat the movies you already own and sell it to you on an SD card.

The next time I got to a Disney theme park, I plan on hurling this
device off the top of the Matterhorn in hopes that it breaks into
enough pieces that no one else will be tempted to waste time getting it
to work. Avoid this product at all costs.

San Franciscans Hurl Their Rage at Parking Patrol

Link: San Franciscans Hurl Their Rage at Parking Patrol

"They think they can take out their frustration on government in general" by abusing the [parking control] officers, who work 40-hour weeks for about $40,000 a year," she said, adding, "They say, ‘I’m tired of the city taking my money.’ "

There certainly is money in parking tickets. San Francisco issues 1.9 million parking citations and brings in more than $40 million a year from violators, according to the transportation agency.

There’s obviously no excuse for beating up a meter maid, but it’s also not the case that the assaults on parking enforcement officers in San Francisco are some sort of random happenstance. This NY Times piece (in which only union officials and "parking experts" are quoted) seems to imply that it’s Californians’ crazed affinity for cars that’s to blame. (This, by the way, is probably the millionth NY Times piece that uses some lazy, pointless and ultimately inaccurate cliche about the culture of the West as its launchpad.)

Anyway, if the "car crazy culture" bit were true, parking enforcement would be as manic and dangerous in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara as it is here. But it’s not. It’s a fact that our city does some very aggressive parking enforcement and consequently demands a lot from its meter maids/tax collectors. Anecdotal example #1: I’ve received at least five tickets parked in my own driveway in the past year. Example #2: Last year we got a ticket while we were repairing a flat tire. The meter maid didn’t even stop to see if we were OK, he just whizzed by and took down our license plate. If we’d been murdered in a drive-by shooting in front of a fire hydrant, would the meter maid have pinned the ticket to our corpses?

San Francisco is not a car-crazy city, at any rate. We love our public transit here (one of the reasons why we moved to our neighborhood is because it’s near a BART station). As the Times piece points out, the only thing wrong with public transit in San Francisco is that there isn’t enough of it, but on the other hand, no duh, that’s the problem with public transit in every city on the globe.

I’ve always wondered how parking enforcement might change if there weren’t a profit motive in it for the city, but I suppose that’s a pointless fantasy, since parking fines represent such a gigantic chunk of the city’s annual budget. (To put it in perspective, the $40 million in parking fines plus the $33 million in parking taxes pay for about 25% of the budget of the entire SF Police Department.) I realize that the money’s gotta come from somewhere, but taking it out of the pockets of people who happen to roll to a stop in front of a red curb after getting a flat tire seems sort of wrong to me.

End of embittered municipal rant. I thank you for permitting me to indulge myself.