All articles, tagged with “the biz never sleeps”

AP style update (google edition)

In the future, you are encouraged to refer to the social network sometimes called “Google Plus” or “G+” by its proper name:

The Plusterfuck”

Additionally, the act of partially or completely breaking a formerly useful service in order to coerce people into using G+ when they have no desire to do so is to be referred to as “plusterfuckery.”  Example usage: “Man, they really plusterfucked Google Chat with the new Hangouts feature.” or “I still use Gmail, but I’m kinda worried that they’re going to commit some plusterfuckery to it eventually.”

On a related note, the proper name for the personal heads-up display popularly known as “Google Glass” should henceforth be referred to as “Segway For Your Face.”

this is why you fail

Most of the photos I’ve taken of my daughter are with a now nearly eight year old Canon SD500.  Every once in a while, I think that I should replace it with something newer and faster: Theda tends to move at near-mach velocities in her calmer moments, and I miss a lot of shots waiting for the autofocus.  I’ve been thinking this now for a good two years, and yet I have not actually replaced the camera.  Why?  Well, this is what I see every time I go to Canon’s web page and start researching replacements:

I’ll spare you the effort of counting them up: that is THIRTY TWO distinct models of compact camera that Canon is currently attempting to sell.  Almost all of them are priced within the range of $110 to $250, and the model names are a sludge of letters and numbers that could only make sense to some sort of obsessive camera-otaku.  Some, but not all of them have completely meaningless star ratings: shockingly, they all get four or five stars out of five! And best of all, their “compare models” tool only lets you compare three models at a time.  So that’s helpful.

The only sane answer to the question “which one of these cameras do I want?” is “fuck it, I’ll just use the camera in my cell phone,” and according to Canon’s most recent financial results that’s pretty much what everyone is doing.

You’d think that someone in the camera business would have noticed this and decided to try something different, but they’re all just as bad: Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, you name it.  They all have dozens of nearly identical models, and they all introduce new models like clockwork every six months.  Surely the introduction of the new SX128g878ASDF7-HSPRO model in shiny purple (that won’t ship anywhere outside Japan for another four months by which time the details of the next model will have leaked) will reverse the trend!

The single smartest thing Steve Jobs did in the first FIVE YEARS of his second tenure at Apple was to take a very large axe to Apple’s overgrown product line, and reduce it from over 25 models to six, with clear feature differences at each price point.  It’s always amazing to me how many industries have yet to grasp why that was a good idea.

[After the fact edit: yes, people, thank you for the camera recommendations.  And yes, I know about third-party review sites that attempt to ameliorate the suckage of the original manufacturers’ product lines and web pages.  My point, such as it is, was that the manufacturers should stop sucking.]

[Edit the second: the really frustrating thing is that at least in Canon’s case, they demonstrably know better.  Their DSLR selection is everything that their compact line-up isn’t: there are 9 total models (really actually 7 with some older out-of-production ones still in stock), each at a different price-point, and with a clear and obvious performance reward for spending each additional $500-1000.  There’s no earthly reason that their compact selection couldn’t work the same way.]

any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice

(An actual letter I just had to send to someone who almost certainly did not deserve it.)

Dear Ms. [Elided]:

My apologies for the intrusion.  My friend [elided] was kind enough to share your contact information with me, and after close to a month of getting the run-around from Clipper customer service both over the phone and in person, I’m willing to try just about anything.

What follows is probably way too verbose.  The nutshell version: my card was blocked on 10/10 because my credit card number changed causing an autoload to fail.  I updated my account with new CC information on 10/11 and autoload began to work again, but the card is still blocked and nobody on the phone or at the clipper service booths have been able to unblock it.  The card serial number is [elided].  Any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.

The long version:

Sometime in late September, my Visa card was cloned by someone in England.  Visa’s fraud detection department noticed it immediately and reissued my card.  They assured me that any recurrent subscription payments would be automatically migrated to the new card number, and with one glaring exception that was true.  You can probably guess what the exception was.

On October 10th, Clipper tried to autoload a new BART pass onto my card, using the old Visa number.  The transaction was of course declined, and Clipper immediately blocked the entire card.  (As a parenthetical, there was still an active ~$15 e-cash credit for MUNI from the last successful autoload for that product, but apparently clipper’s system can’t distinguish such things and the card was locked on all transit systems.  Which is awesome.)  They sent me an email message informing me of this, and I immediately logged into the clipper website and updated my credit card information.  The website accepted the new CC info, and on Oct 11th I was cheerfully informed via email that in three-to-five days my card would be unblocked.  Which seems like an odd time lag compared to the instantaneous blocking after an autoload failure, but so be it.

Five days later, my card was still not unblocked, but I was about to take a trip to the east coast so I didn’t pay it any mind.  I returned from new york on the 20th, and the card was still blocked.  There followed a series of increasingly hilarious interactions with clipper support:

On this Monday the 24th, a young man cheerfully informed me that there was “an unlock in the system” for my card, and that I would be able to use it again on the morning of the 25th.  This was not true.

On Tuesday the 25th, a young woman answered the phone, got about halfway into stating her name before she dropped the receiver.  After some fumbling around, a second young woman said “hello”.  I said “hello” back, and there was then an awkward silence.  After some prodding, she admitted that she was in fact a Clipper service agent.  After looking at my account, she insisted that what I needed to do was go to a BART fare gate, tag my card, and when the screen flashed the red “See Agent” message, to do exactly the opposite of what it instructed: stand still and hold the card on the reader for another ten seconds.  This, she assured me, would definitely unlock the card.  I had and still have a suspicion that she was yanking my chain, but I figured nothing ventured nothing gained, right?  To the intense annoyance of the people in line behind me at Montgomery station, I tried this, not once but three times: it of course did not work.

Yesterday, the 28th, a young man informed me that actually it wasn’t the BART fare gate that I needed to tag against, but the ticket collection machine.  Possibly the red SFMTA one instead of the blue BART one.  And if that didn’t work, I should take the card to the Embarcadero service booth, since obviously it was damaged.  This of course also did not work, and the BART gate agent at my station assured me that the card was not damaged, just blocked.

Today, I left work early and took my card to the Embarcadero service booth ($3.50 round trip, but what’s a few dollars when I’ve already wasted several hours?), where a very friendly gentleman attempted first to unblock the card himself, then to call Clipper HQ to get more information, and then lastly to attempt to issue me a new card.  As you’ve probably already guessed: Clipper HQ couldn’t tell him anything more than they’d told me, and the system would not let him issue me a new card.  He confessed to me as he handed me the card back that his personal recommendation was to never ever use AutoLoad, because “this is always what happens when anything goes wrong with it.”

So here I am: the Clipper website insists that autoload is working, and in fact has helpfully charged me roughly $60 to top off both my BART pass and my MUNI e-cash.  But the card still doesn’t work, and nobody at any level of Clipper customer support seems to have any idea how to unblock it.  Probably the smart thing to do at this point would be just to cancel the account completely, dispute the last autoload transaction with Visa, happily resume using BART’s paper tickets, and regale friends at bars with this story for a few months in hopes of having them buy me drinks out of sympathy, but literal-minded sort that I am, I find myself thinking that if the card was blocked from the central office with no interaction with me needed, surely the card can be unblocked remotely just as easily without me having to do some sort of complicated dance between multiple card readers.

Please feel free to contact me via email or the phone number below if I can offer any more useful (or at least funny) information about this.  As above, any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.


-Doctor Memory, Esq, PhD, OTO, OGS, etc

  San  Francisco, CA

rest in peace, you beautiful crazy bastard

Thank you, Steve.

face the face

Reading the coverage of “The Social Network” has made two things apparent to me:

1. No amount of effusively positive reviews — hell, not even an effectively infinite number of them — is enough to make me even slightly interested in watching a movie about Mark Zuckerberg’s journey from douchebag Harvard student to douchebag baby billionaire.  Seriously here, I’m almost starting to think that this is some kind of carefully orchestrated prank by the world’s movie critics: “a movie about Facebook’s douchebag founder” (a movie about Facebook’s founder, for real) is like some sort of platonic ideal of “things which well-adjusted people should never care about.”

2. Only a small residual sense of propriety and decency was standing in between Jesse Vincent and becoming a multibillionaire.  There’s a lesson here, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.

meanwhile, somewhere at apple

You know, I don’t think iTunes is bloated, baroque or feature-overstuffed enough yet.  How can we fix that?”

Dude, we’ll totally ad a social network to it!  The kids love those!”


Mostly, I snark to note that in here in C.E. 2010, “…we’ll add a social network/connection to facebook” appears to have supplanted “…we’ll make it read email” as the default end-state of software project management gone metastatic.  The wheel turns.

dear publishing industry

Today it finally happened: on my way out of the house this morning, I realized that I’d just finished the last book I was reading, and it was therefore time to pop the next one off the to-read stack.  The next one being a luscious-looking hardcover volume.  I looked at it, looked at my backpack, felt my shoulders a bit, took a deep breath…

…and pulled out my iPhone and ordered the same book from the Kindle Store, so I could read it on the phone.  A book I’d already bought: a mistake I won’t make twice.

Dear publishing industry: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.  Amazon is in the process of doing to you what Apple spent the last decade doing to the music industry.  It’s not going to be pretty, and a lot of you basically deserve it.  But I’d really like to see my local awesome specialty bookstore not go out of business as a result of your general incompetence. 

So maybe, just maybe, act a bit less dumb than the record labels?  (You allegedly do less coke than them, so this shouldn’t be that hard, right?)  The music companies insisted on getting as close to pay-per-listen as the law (which they often had a hand in writing) would allow them, and their reward was a generation of no-longer-really-customers who think that downloading albums off bittorrent is just fine.  Those that do pay money do so into walled (or at least strongly fenced) gardens (Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody) where johnny-come-lately tech companies skim off huge profits in return for decimating your physical media sales.  All of their attempts at creating their own supply chain for electronic delivery were crashing failures: they couldn’t compete with Apple on convenience, and they sure as hell couldn’t compete with bittorrent on price.

What I’m saying here is: I just happily handed someone $30 for a bound pile of wood pulp.  Of that $30, you got the lion’s share.  I’m the sort of person who does this regularly.  Want to convince me to do it again, despite the drawbacks of print media?  Stick a mini-CD into the dustflap with a PDF copy I can read when I’m not on my couch.  The pirates will continue jacking your e-books whether you do this or not, but at least this way your local customers won’t all be fleeing directly into Jeff Bezos’ hungry arms.

can we lease Steve Jobs out to some other industries on a contract basis?

Oh for the love of god, Canon.  TWENTY-FIVE separate consumer camcorder models?  Coupled with a website that lets you compare — hold your breath for the awesome here — a whopping three models at a time?

Lordy.  It’s like looking at Apple’s product line circa 1988:  “Do I want the Centris 610, the Centris 650, the Performa 455, the Performa 457, the Peforma 503, the Quadra 700 or the Quadra 900?”  Only actually worse.

No wonder Flip/Cisco swallowed the consumer video market whole.

(A friend with a hell of a lot more patience than I possess actually dived in and realized that most of the different model numbers actually correspond to the amount of built-in storage: there are actually just five camcorder bodies being sold here.  Models with three-digit numbers are the ones that are bring-your-own storage only, and hence the ones that sane people will buy.  I assert that any unpaid web design intern on the planet could have figured out a simpler way to convey this information.)

two steps forward, three steps back

The (more or less) complete list of things that constantly annoy me about my iPhone that are apparently not going to be fixed in version 4.0:

  • Ugly, modal, history-less, illegible alert dialogs. 
    • In fact, with “local alerts” subbing in for any sort of actual IPC, this is going to get much, much worse.
  • No custom SMS/calendar/voicemail alert sounds.  (Seriously.  In 2010.) 
    • This is a double failure: you can’t add any alert sounds to the built-in ten (nearly all of which are awful), and you can’t assign alert sounds per user/calendar.
  • No Google Voice support, nor apparently will there ever be.
  • No third-party email apps.  (Which means no proper Gmail support except via the slow-as-hell webapp, but also means that whatever feature you might want, if Apple doesn’t think it’s worth putting into Mobile, it’s never going to happen.)
  • No OTA sync, no wifi sync.
  • No way to customize the lock or home screen contents.

Dealbreakers?  Maybe.  God it’s a pity that Palm appears to be in a death-spiral right now: their OS is nice, but the hardware is half-baked and overdue for a major revision.  Android is crawling toward usability, but the Nexus One’s softbuttons are the devil’s work.  Pity nobody in the US seems to be selling the HTC Desire except on the grey market yet…

sparc transit

True story: the now-former CEO of Sun Microsystems, the day after his company ignominiously succumbed to a buyout by Oracle, announced his inevitable resignation by posting a cute haiku to Twitter:

Financial crisis / Stalled too many customers / CEO no more.”

For those of us who watched Schwartz preside over the decade-long destruction of what was once the most important technology company in the world, this is a fitting final insult: revisionist, myopic, and self-serving to the bone.  Allow me to offer a handful of alternative epitaphs for Schwartz’s tenure, still in senryu format:

once upon a time / this company was money / bye-bye you suckers

golden parachute / drifts over palo alto / kiss your job good-bye

dot-com era cash / could not hold off the penguins / now larry owns us

we made cool shit once / spent a decade jacking off / so long, solaris

if you invested / cash in sun microsystems / you were a sucker

company called sun / build the goddamn internet / now long forgotten

datacenters full / of ultra enterprises / now gathering dust

Feel free to add your own.