February 24, 2005

Cursor Words, or, Offensive Gestures of the Future

Someone had sent me a link to something entirely unrelated (a page about the mysteries of the In-n-Out fast food menu) today and that led me to notice that the same site had a page about the origins of the gesture of giving someone the finger:
In 1415, before the Battle of Agincourt, the French were anticipating a great victory over the English.  The French proposed to cut off the middle fingers of all captured English soldiers, thus making it impossible for the English soldiers to draw the renowned longbow and making them incapable of fighting in the future. This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew."

This got me thinking about what might be the offensive gestures of the future? (Alas, Google knows not a thing about such a query.)

For instance, at some point, people are going to stop using mice, once we all have datagloves or better yet, some sort of sensing device that watches your body language and interprets gestures as instructions for interacting with a computer application.

But are there mice gestures now, or simply jargon related to windows-icon-mouse-pointer (WIMP) interfaces, that in decades (or more likely) centuries hence, would be considered outrageous insults or profanities?

"Go click yourself!"

"Cancel you!"

"Drag and drop!"

How about physical gestures related to present-day mouse use? I can imagine a hand gesture where it appears you're holding a mouse, and draging it angrily down and to the right, as if you were taking a document and tossing it in the Mac's trash can? Or another hand gesture where again it appears you're holding a mouse, and you extend your index finger and then make a motion as if you were clicking the left button of your mouse? Which reminds me: TV remote controls are another oddity that some day will go away, to be replaced by who knows what. I already use the gesture sometimes, in jest, of holding out my arm, with my hand curled a bit as if I am holding a TV remote control, and my thumb repeatedly pressing an imaginary channel button as if to tell the other person, "Enough of you! How do I get rid of you?"

Someone hundreds of years from now is going to write a PhD dissertation on the quaint origins of the that most offensive hand gestures, the dragging-the-icon-to-the-trashcan. (One hopes that someone else will have found it necessary to write a dissertation on what trashcans were.)

Update: Ok, I know that it turns out the "Pluck yew" anecdote above is an urban (or perhaps rural) legend. I could go on about urban legends of the future, but that's another blog posting for another time when I'm not busy. :-)

Posted by brian at 04:45 PM | Comments (3)

February 21, 2005

Jesse Update

The rain's really coming down today -- huge downpour. Jesse misses lying in the sun with all the gray skies and rain -- probably wonders if we snuck back to Seattle without telling him.

This morning at about 645am after we took him out for his morning business, we brought him back to get him on his little matress to settle him down for the morning, and as we were getting ready to do so, he keeled over and collapsed. This time he stayed conscious the whole time. It was like he was fighting the whole time to stay up, but couldn't keep his balance and tipped over, banging his head against the base of the bed as he fell. But as he lay there, he kept his eyes open and kept breathing. He lay there a few minutes, with zero energy. Then, still damp from being outside, he sat up. We toweled him down and he stretched out on the floor. He normally rolls around on his back at this time of morning, crawling upside down on the floor to scratch his coat. No strength for that this morning. After a few minutes I was able to get him up on his futon and tucked into blankets. He quietly grumbled and moaned as if he were very uncomfortable and in pain. He's been resting ever since, and seems a lot better now.

Nothing we can do but make him comfortable and hope for the best. Here's a photo of him and his Bud Light lookalike taken about a month ago:

Posted by brian at 08:27 AM

February 18, 2005

Intel Outside . . . for now

More hardware arrived today at the office -- servers for the system we're building for the data center.

I'm amazed at how much CPU speed, disk space, and memory you can cram into a 1U-rack space these days, and how it all doesn't cost an arm and a leg anymore, either. Of course, it'll be Linux running on these machines.

We would've bought more disks but Newegg, the mail-order place we've been buying from, ran out of them after our order! ("Minimum 20 per customer", the site warned.)

Posted by brian at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2005

Under-Promising and Over-Delivering

In the parlance of Crossing the Chasm, I've been a late-adopter to iPods. An avoider.

I love iPods but I knew if I got one I'd listen to too much music. So until now, iTunes on a PowerBook, headphones, and a 250gig external drive have sufficed.

Well, all that's changed. Today I received an 1GB iPod Shuffle that'd been given to me as a gift. Ordered on Tuesday from the Apple online store, which had indicated it would ship in "3-4 weeks". Then it said it would arrive around "March 10th."

Then I got an email last night saying it shipped and would arrive tomorrow! And sure enough it arrived this morning, in an oversized box and marked with mysterious non-Apple return address.

I was surprised by the presence of little annoyances within Apple's online store and account manager. For instance, my billing address zip code is one digit different than my ship-to address. I accidentally saved the ship-to zip code as the bill-to. Oops. No way to change that. I caught the mistake within 5 seconds, but that was 5 seconds too late. Oh sure, there's a way to go into your account and change your shipping address, but as far as Apple is concerned, that has nothing to do with an order that's been placed. This is too bad. They ought to fix it --- when they set the customer's expectation that the product won't ship until March 10th, then why can't I change the ship-to address right now?

Once I got the iPod Shuffle out of its packaging, I immediately connected it to my PowerBook and it mounted as a USB drive. Great. So I dragged an MP3 file into that drive. Then I tried to play the tune. Nope. That is when I discovered that Apple wants you to use iTunes to install music on the iPod. I like iTunes but I don't like being forced to use it in this fashion. Oh well.

One More Thing . . . : The earphones included in the packaging don't work. Or should I say, don't fit. They fall right out of my ears. I guess I don't have Apple-compatible ears. I'm using more conventional headphones.

Posted by brian at 05:29 PM | Comments (2)

About dot What!?

News out today that the New York Times is acquiring About.com for a reported $410 million from Primedia, who paid $690 million for it back in 2000.

Good grief.

About.com has always been a mystery to me. I just don't see the value. Too many blinking ads, poor layout and formatting, very little relevant content --- it's a site I would never actually click through to explore. When I wind up at About.com, which would usually be by mistake by clicking on a promising Google search result, I always turn around and leave.

What in the world would the New York Times want with them? First of all, About.com is so deeply old school, very 90s. Do we need an About.com in the era of Wikipedia and Google, to name but two more sophisticated services?

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of The Times Co. this week and learn what method there is in their madness . . .

Posted by brian at 04:17 PM | Comments (3)

February 15, 2005

Seth Godin vs. The United States of America

Seth Godin complains about the "persistence of really bad ideas", for instance, the U.S. State pulldown menus in so many web applications:

This means everyone from Texas or New York or heaven forfend, West Virginia, has to scroll all the way down in order to buy something.

This scrolling led to a similar breakthrough to enter your country. Afghanis get a big break (so do people from Andorra) but those in the biggest online consuming country on earth have to scroll all the way down to the 'U's.

No wonder so many people abandon shopping carts online.

As he points out, country lists are even worse. Far more annoying in my opinion than the 50-state list is the 130-some-odd country names in a country pulldown menu.

Seth doesn't propose any better alternatives. He suggests it'd be easier to just type in the name of the state. Problem is, people make mistakes. Even with two-letter abbreviations. Quick: identify MS, MO, MI, MN. Or AL and AK.

Here's a quick-and-dirty alternative, that lets you see all the states in one glance, and quickly pick one:

Doesn't consume any more space in a form; you'd click on the little down-arrow thingie to launch the little popup selector, pick your state, it automatically populates the form with the correct entry, presto, done.

Posted by brian at 09:35 PM | Comments (11)

February 14, 2005

Having a Bit of Fun

With apologies

to Christo . . .

I present,

The Gates:

The Blog Version.




Posted by brian at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

Things I've Stopped Doing

Some things, in no particular order:
  • Using eBay It's not that I stopped buying and selling stuff, but I'm just not buying and selling stuff through eBay anymore. And Bill Cobb may think eBay's buying every word in the English language is an effective Google AdWords strategy, but I find it very cheesy when I do a Google search, and notice eBay mentions that keyword, get intrigued, click on the ad, and land on a search page in eBay and find there really are no items matching that obscure term, and then I feel cheated and then I leave the eBay site.

  • Using Fotolog I now use Flickr. It's bettr.

  • Google Groups (i.e., USENET archive). I used to search the USENET achive through Google all the time. I never use it anymore. They ruined it.

  • All Music Guide. I used to use this ALL THE TIME -- as in prolly once a day. Constantly referring to it, looking up things, remembering some artist and wondering whatever happened to them, all kinds of little things. It was handy, accessible, fun. Now, it is none of those things. They ruined it, imho, and I never use it anymore.

  • The WELL Just too busy. I rarely sign on anymore. Graham Nash once called it a "huge time sink". He's right. I'm sinking my time elsewhere these days, and not looking back.

  • The Daily Show One too many stay-up-to-eleven-pm-only-to-find-out-it's-a-rerun situations. Or, not funny anymore. Or, too depressing anymore. Or, in the end, it (like Atrios, TPM, et al) didn't make a difference.

  • Internet Explorer. I never really did use it unless I had to; now, if I have to, I don't use it and I don't use the site that requires it, so there.

  • Windows. With MacOSX available, why would one ever think of using Windows?

  • Orkut. Ryze. LinkedIn. etc. etc. etc. They were fads. Or I'm the wrong demographic. Or something.

  • Movies. I went to 75 movies in 2004, and 80+ in 2003. I've gone to about 3 so far this year. Too busy, is the main reason. Just too busy.

  • Reading books. The number of books I read per year is way down. Number of blogs I read per day is way up. Is this a good thing? No. I plan to find a better book/blog balance this year. Which reminds me. Gotta finish the so-far-excellent Mountains Beyond Mountains . . . .
Posted by brian at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Groanage Part II

Murphy's Law #2733: If you stay up late intending to do an allnighter, and around midnight realize it is around midnight and you're now more tired than you are being productive, and you go home with the rationalization that you will come right back to work within 6-7 hours, and then you actually do show up back at work just 7 hours later, and you start working productively again, then you will awaken Murphy who will wreak some sort of havoc on you causing your work to be interrupted making you think that you should have pulled the allnighter anyway.

I got in to work around 645am, and started working again right away, deep in the middle of some product specs, and suddenly KA-BLAM!!!!! a huge explosion outside, somewhere nearby, the blast echoinig off the surfaces of buildings and houses and hills in the distance, but at the same moment, the lights and all power gets CUT. The only thing still working is the PowerBook, and the document I had open was safe and undisturbed.

Power was out for about two hours. Apparently a transformer blew.

Ok, so how is this about Groanage, er, Vonage.

Well, about 15 minutes after the power resumed, say around 9:15am, my desk phone rings. This is the Vonage line! It just up and worked!

Here it is almost 4pm in the afternoon, and it is still working. Why, as far as I can tell, it has worked all day! Will wonders never cease?

I never did get the promised follow-up phone call or email from Vonage Customer Care.

I am reminded of the old saying: "AOL, Customer, Service. Pick two."

Update: 16:10. Just got a call from Anthony at Vonage. The Level III Engineers made some changes to software on Vonage's side and things worked. He doesn't know what the changes were. He said they didn't tell him. He didn't seem too happy to be talking to me. I wonder if he reads the blog.

Posted by brian at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

Groanage, or, How Do I Opt-Out of this Revolution?

Our Vonage phone lines have been dead for two days. When exactly it happened I don't know. Why exactly, or even inexactly, it happened, I don't know. Inbound calls are not possible, but at least get routed to Vonage's voicemail (at least I think so). Inbound faxes are unavailable. Outbound calls are not possible. Not good. No replies from Vonage's tech support to two support emails I sent them. Yesterday.

Next step was to call Vonage (on my cell phone). But rather than contact Vonage directly, I decided to start with Linksys. I figure, the one vendor's gonna wanna point their finger at the other vendor, and everybody assumes hardware first, so start with the hardware. I'd picked up a Linksys WRT54GP2 wireless router back in November. The wireless was awful (too much interference with other nearby WiFi sources) and we couldn't use it. But it did come with two built-in phone jacks and Vonage support, so I signed up for a Vonage phone line and free fax line. Dumb move. But it did work okay for four months after a bumpy start. This new outage was completely unexpected.

11:54 am: Call Linksys. The recording mentions hey did you know we have this thing called Linksys Check, that can almost automatically troubleshoot your router, just go to www.linksys.com/check. . . so I did. And I click on the buttons, and nothing happens. I inspect their code, and see it's trying to download an .exe file.... (um.... they could have said Windows only...)

11:57 am: Called Linksys again. "Press 1 for wireless. 2 for routers. . . . 8 for Voice over IP." (Ok, so if I have a wireless VOIP router, should I press 218? Seriously, what is a customer to do when they own a product that is wireless, that is a router, and that supports Voice over IP?) I picked Voice over IP. Got through quickly to a support rep. He said to reset to factory defaults and then talk to Vonage. I just called Vonage.

12:10 pm: "Thank you for calling Vonage. If you're interested in signing up for Vonage and joning the revolution please press 1". Bad idea #1: When you are talking about the lifeline for your business -- one of them anyway -- you don't wanna join a revolution, you want something that Just Works.. I press "5" for "repair" and get a new recording. "Thank you for your loyalty as a customer . . . we apologize for. . . " yadda yadda . . . "Press 4 if you're experiencing trouble with your outbound calls, press 5 if you are experiencing problems receiving inbound calls, press 6 if you are experiencing problems with faxes." One again: what is a customer to do? I can't get inbound calls, i can't receive faxes, and I can't do outbound calls. Should I press 456? I think not. So I press 4, and get . . . A BUSY SIGNAL!

12:11: I hang up and redial.

12:12 --- "...Press 5 if you are experiencing problems with your inbound calls." I pressed 5 this time. Pause. Ker-ching. Connecting to something new. Pause.

12:14 --- "Thank you for calling, all Vonage asistants are helping other callers, we appreciate your call and with be with you shortly" then silence. In the background, the faint background, I can hear an increasingly choppy voice and chopping on-hold music.

12:16 --- Still on hold. A loud BEEP. Then three quick dialtone signals, then more silence except for the background noise.

12:17.... Another beep-beep-beep. Continued choppy, barely intelligble recordings going on in the far background. A perky voice encouraging callers to "visit our website!" and "sign up today!"

12:18 A recording: "Your call is very important to us please stay on the line for the next available service rpesesentative thank you."

12:18. More choppy faint audio in the background...... on-hold music, short-circuited, and broken messaging about "our website".

12:19. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you."

12:20. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you."

12:21. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." I continue to hear the faint perky voice ... "call waiting!" then "call forwarding! then "and much more!"

12:22. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." Some garbled message that sounded like "Sign up on our website!" and then something that sounded like "updat--- . . . cred--. . card information . . . ."

12:23. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." More music clips -- imagine a half-a-bar of music, followed by a sudden silence for a second, followed by another half-a-bar, followed by another second of silence . . . and on and on ad nauseam. To the accompaniment of continued unintelligible, choppy messages. Something about "--ignup".... Something about "-ternational..."

12:24. "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available service representative. Thank you." And then, silence. And then, a (ring). And then a second (ring).

12:24. "Customer Care, this is Anthony can I help you." I explain to Anthony the problem. I give him my Vonage phone number. He sees the Linksys router through his diagnostic software on his end within seconds. "I see the device register," he says. "At 3:20 it registered here on our site." (He's in New York, I guess. Has a New Yawk accent. I am imagining the movie Boiler Room.)

12:25. "I wanna see if the davice grabs my updates in just a moment. . . I'm waiting for an open port number I can use..... so I can log it, just be a minute or so....." I wait some more. He's waiting too. We're both on the line waiting. Since I know he's still there on the line, I mention to him that his company ought to look into the problems customers are experiencing with the on-hold music and messaging while we sit on hold for Vonage Customer Care representatives. He says they're aware of the problem. "It's the Nortel vendor's on-hold music. Whenever Nortel comes out and says it's fixed, it isn't." Great, just great. I suggest he consider another fine company that does on-hold services among other things, but he doesn't take the bait.

12:29. "Ok, I think I got one here," he says hopefully. No, not quite. We wait some more.

12:33. He puts me on hold, to loud overamplified piano music. You know what I mean. What is it with companies playing overamplified music through telephone systems? And not just any music, but Muzak-style music? If it were The Who, then yes, you could play it loud and over-amplified, and I might even tap my foot. But I do not want to listen to loud, over-amplified Muzak.

12:35: He comes back on the line and asks me to reboot the router, meaning, pull the power cord out, hold ten seconds, and then put it back in. I do this.

12:36: I tell him the two phone LEDs are out on the front panel of the Linksys. His test did not work. "Both lights still out, ok I am gonna ty reassigning a number and trying again, just one moment....." I wait. And then, "It looks like it's still failing." By now I am noticing the cacophony of voices in background --- thick new yawk accents... I am imagining a scene from either Boiler Room or Wall Street. Wanna go to a Nicks game? Come on, Daddy-O. . .

12:39. "I want you to reboot your router agan." I get up and go cycle the power again. I go back and wait.

12:41. "It looks like it is still failing." Pause. "Alright gimme one moment and I'll be right back."

12:41. Loud overamplified piano music resumes.

12:44. Still listening to the loud overamplified piano music, but now there is ever-increasing white noise mixed in. The music continues, but loud wooshing static sound slowly taking over.

12:46 Music getting REALLY choppy, static noise now louder than the music, which has gotten so choppy it's like someone has cut the wire, and for kicks is taking the two cut ends of the wire and reconnecting them -- but just briefly. And then disconnecting. And reconnecting. I think: wanna bet this on-hold stuff is going thru a Vonage connection?

12:47. Music, hiss, chopp, continues. Is it an audiotape? Has it looped? yes. It has relooped and started over. Idea. People ought to podcast their tech support calls. When you call a company for support, you should record the call, then recount the experience in a Podcast. You could start the call telling the Customer Care representative, "This call may be monitored for a future podcast depending on my satisfaction level at the end of the call!" See how they take that.

12:51. Still on hold, still listening to this insane piano pop music.

12:52 Anthony suddenly comes on the line again. "OK, I need you to reboot that routuh again... we're sniffing what's going through the connection..... I need to put you on hold and confer with my lead, be back with you shortly."

12:53 --- The piano hiss music again.

12:58. Still on hold. I am thinking about cell phones and microwaves and damage to nerve cells, and suddenly Anthony comes back on. "Alright sir, we want you to put the Linksys wireless into your cable modem." It's a long story. I have two Linksys routers. Suffice to say, I do what he asks. Maybe we'll get a breakthrough. Of course, this means our network is down. One of the folks on my team declares he's going home to work, where there is still a network. I continue to wait for Customer Care Anthony to return.

12:59. "It looks like it's doing the same thing." Oh well.

13:00. "Alright, gimme another rmoment please, thanks."

13:00: That goddamn piano/white-noise music again. By now I have the cellphone on speakerphone-mode. And it occurs to me. I can record this music, for the world to hear and enjoy. And so I did. Here is a 83-second MP3 recording of what it was like to listen all these minutes. Now, if you listen to that you may immediately wanna say, "Why'd you make such a lousy recording?" And I would say, "But no, that actually is a VERY faithful rendering of what one hears at Vonage when on hold." Toward the end of the recording you get a good idea of what the choppiness and hiss sounds like. Now imagine 90 minutes of this.

13:08. Still listening to the choppy hissy piano pop from hell.

13:10. Still on hold.

13:15. Anthony gets back on. Wants me to use the browser to log into the Linksys router's administration options. I have to go rewire things so my Mac is connected directly to the Linksys router. I do that. I reset the factory settings. It was a lot of work to get things set the right way, and now all that work is undone. Then the router has to think for five minutes, its lights blinking wildly on the front panel. Five minutes pass and finally the power light stops blinking, which Anthony tells me means the Linksys is happy again.

13:20. The Linksys may be happy, but I am not. Anthony is talking to someone in the background, an engineer I take it. Unintelligbile mumbles about what they're seeing on their screens having to do with my router. They're waiting to see if my router's Vonage chips start behaving correctly. Suddenly I feel like I am on Mars, watching over the Spirit or Opportunity Rover. JPL is sending signals to the Rover but nobody knows if it is going to wake the Rover up.

13:23. And then, Anthony speaks. "Ah, shit! Same thing!" he says to this Vonage customer. Great. I guess this is what "joining the Revolution" means. "I'm escalating this to the level-3 engineers to take a look at," he says. "I'll give you a ring back to see what's going on. It's not even making a reg request," he says.

13:25. I ask for a case number. Why, I don't know. Do I care? No. I am thinking about what it will be like to be an SBC telephone customer. "There is no case number," he tells me. One hasn't been filed yet. I guess the Level-3 engineers have to do that.

13:26. "I will also call you know," he says. Or he will email me. We end the call, problems unresolved.

13:27. So the Linksys router is now unusable, the network is down, the employees are at home. I get the network back up. I go back to the Doc Searls' afternoon keynote at the Desktop Summit up in Del Mar.

Update. It is now 17:06. The on-hold music is still playing in my head. I wonder how long it's going to keep playing.

Update #2. It is now 18:15. I just realized hey, Anthony never called back a half hour later, like he said he would. Nor did I get an email. I guess this means I order two POTS lines tomorrow. I hear that Vonage has a $40 cancellation fee. They better not pull that on me.

Posted by brian at 05:07 PM | Comments (6)

February 08, 2005

Google's View of the World

The problem with relying on Navteq is that the world winds up having an awful lot more water in it than it actually does . . .

Posted by brian at 08:51 AM | Comments (1)

February 05, 2005


Been extremely busy this past week, no time at all to blog. More travel to Silicon Valley, more pitches to potential investors, meetings, phone calls, and oh, a complete loss of voice due to lingering cold, with coughs and runny nose thrown in for good measure.

What we're building at EVDB is incredibly exciting. I can't wait to share it with the world. We're driving everybody crazy being so insistent on stealth-mode. Sorry. I think it's going to be worth the wait.

Jesse News.
For those following the health of Jesse, the English Bull Terrier, he's been feeling good lately. Much more like his old frisky, mischievous, demanding, energetic self. He's essentially forgotten about his ailment, but it hasn't forgotten hiim -- his heart is still bad, but he has stabilized. He's eating and drinking vigorously which explains all the energy. I really miss taking him for a walk -- and him taking me for a walk. But I fear he'll collapse right on the sidewalk if I do.

Posted by brian at 08:48 AM | Comments (1)
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