Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Venmo: A case study on why e-mail verification is absolutely required by any web site with account creation

Friday, October 10th, 2014

I’ve had my estephen@gmail.com address since gmail was in beta, approximately 10 years now.

Now, personally, I don’t find it very difficult to remember my e-mail address. I can type it in just fine. But that’s far too challenging a task for many people, it seems. There’s an Edna, for example, who lives on the other side of the country from me. I know a lot about Edna — I know about her taste in cars and crafting supplies. The main thing I know about her is that she likes to sign up for lots of accounts and she believes her e-mail address is estephen@gmail.com. Poor Edna. And poor me, because I get a lot of her junk e-mail.

Sometimes I end up on e-mail threads having nothing to do with me. Two recent examples were a church group planning a camping trip, and a New York apartment complex trying to rally tenants to sue their landlord.

There is an Ed and an Elissa and quite a few others out there who have mistakenly used my e-mail address when signing up for accounts. Usually I can cancel their account or unsubscribe fairly simply. And sometimes I end up on a mailing list of a company that just refuses to take me off. (Car dealerships seem to be the worst at that one.)

Fortunately, many companies use e-mail verification: Before they let someone create an account, they send an e-mail off to whatever address was used to sign up, and require the recipient click on a link to confirm that the e-mail address is actually associated with the person who was trying to sign up. This is a smart process. It’s not entirely foolproof (since the e-mail recipient could confirm the address even if they’re a different person from the one who tried to sign up). But it’s far better than just relying on people to type in their own e-mail address correctly. You simply cannot trust people to be able to do that accurately.

Now a financial company, one that facilitates payments, you’d certainly expect them to use e-mail verification, right? Paypal and Square do. Both have elaborate processes to verify all aspects of your identity, up to and including your bank account (by sending a $1 charge to confirm that your debit card is real).

Today I had an experience with Venmo, a payments company similar to Square and Paypal (but with more of an apparent emphasis on Facebook integration). Venmo requires verification of your phone number, when signing up, but not your e-mail address. (They require e-mail confirmation to receive money, but not to create the account or send money.) Here is the e-mail exchange I’ve had with them earlier today that explains more.

[Screenshot of Venmo's cancellation screen]

Dear Venmo Support,

At some point in the past, someone named Exxxxxx Stepxxx created a Venmo account. She is apparently not a very attentive person, however, because she used the wrong e-mail address when creating the account — she used estephen@gmail.com.

Sad for her, but estephen@gmail.com is my e-mail address, and I have had it since when gmail was in beta.

Your company is idiotic to not require e-mail address verification. All of your competitors follow a typical process where an e-mail address cannot be used to create an account (or even changed on an account) unless a customer verifies that they actually have that e-mail address. The typical process is to send an e-mail stating that someone has created an account with this e-mail address, and then there’s a link to confirm the customer received the e-mail — thus proving the customer is in possession of that account.

For a banking company to not require address verification is absolutely moronic.

I had never heard of Venmo before today. I have never received any e-mail from your company before today.

But a friend wanted me to pay for a t-shirt using Venmo, so I tried to sign up today and found my e-mail address was already in use.

I thought perhaps I might have used your service in the past and forgotten about it, so I chose to reset my password.

Soon I received a password reset e-mail, and with one click I was logged in to Exxxxxx Stepxxx’s account.

From there, it appears I could see all kinds of financial and personal information about her account. She had a balance of $0, I didn’t check but it appeared to me that her bank accounts were also linked.

Instead of exploring her account, I chose to deactivate it immediately. She’s lucky.

But I’m flabbergasted that you are such a naive and terrible company that you let any customer type in any e-mail address they want and you just assume that they are able to type in their e-mail address correctly.

If you expect that your customers are actually able to remember their e-mail address and type it in, you are sadly mistaken. As a financial company you absolutely cannot trust people to be able to type their own e-mail address. YOU MUST IMPLEMENT E-MAIL VERIFICATION IMMEDIATELY.

I will create a new account using a different e-mail address to pay for my friend’s t-shirt, and then I will immediately cancel my account, because I suspect your company has one of the worst sets of security employees and practices in the entire financial world. You are demonstrably a completely untrustworthy company.

How can you be still in business?

FYI, I will be posting this to my blog, FriendFeed, Twitter, and Facebook. I will also be submitting this to popular security blogs. I will be recommending to all of my friends to not do business with you.

Please forward this message to your senior management, and in particular your security team.

My cell phone is 4xx-xxx-xxxx should you have any questions.

Kind regards,
Stephen Mack
The true owner of estephen@gmail.com for approximately the last 10 years

They replied about an hour later:

Hi Stephen, thanks for your very thorough review of our free service. We definitely appreciate constructive feedback from our users.

We also appreciate you looking out for the security of another user by canceling their account on their behalf.

When you created your account with your alternate email address, we sent a verification email to that address. If it’s not in your inbox, check your spam folder. The process is exactly as you’ve described. The email confirms that an account was set up with that email address, and provides a link for users to click in order to verify the account.

User bank and debit/credit card information is stored securely and entirely encrypted using bank-grade encryption technology. We only display the last four digits of a user’s bank account or card number, just as any other online retailer or financial institution does. This is so our users are clear about what funding sources they have on file at any given time.

We are continually working to improve the user experience and of course, the security of our free service and we value your comments.

I’ve noticed that you did successfully pay your friend but have not cancelled your account yet. If you are still dissatisfied with our free service, you can visit: https://venmo.com/account/settings/cancel to cancel your account.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us again.

Regards,
Tim

But this isn’t good enough, as my response details:

Tim,

Thanks for your detailed reply.

As you saw, I did in fact create my new account (and that’s good detective work on your part, since I used a completely different e-mail address). And I did receive an e-mail that offers me the OPTION of verifying my e-mail address in order to receive payments.

But that e-mail does NOT require me to verify the e-mail address to send payment. And most importantly it does not require me to verify that e-mail address BEFORE the account is created! That is completely horrifying and evil.

So, because of your company’s poor security practices, if I had used the wrong e-mail address, then the true owner of that e-mail address would have been able to see:

* My name
* My phone number
* My photo (if I uploaded one)
* My FB friends (if I had linked FB) or any other linked social media
* My transaction history
* The last 4 digits of my debit card and its expiration date
* My zip code (shown on the confirm cancellation screen)

You don’t mention if you’ve escalated this complaint to your security team and management or not. I highly recommend you do so.

It’s not so much that I’m “dissatisfied” with your “free service” as I am completely mortified at how horrifically terrible your security practices are.

I have not yet canceled my account because I’m investigating other ways in which you may be violating my privacy and security. But rest assured I will be canceling very soon.

I am currently in the process of writing my blog post about my experience. Please be advised that all e-mail communication sent to me regarding this case will be considered public and is likely to be included in my post.

Thanks for your quick response. Unfortunately your response doesn’t help with this security and privacy flaw, not by a long shot.

Best,
Stephen

Paper books vs. e-books: I still can’t decide

Friday, April 6th, 2012

I’m late to e-readers compared to some of my friends, but over the last couple of years I’ve been slowly increasing the quantity of books that I’ve read electronically. However, I’m nowhere near giving up on paper books.

The 2010 data from the Association of American Publishers shows that we’re still far from the tipping point. Despite impressive growth in e-book sales, the data shows that paper book sales aren’t yet decreasing, and that as of 2010 e-books hold a 7% share of total sales and a 5% share of units sold. It’s clear to me paper books are still going to be produced and sold for many years. However, in twenty years, I suspect paper books will no longer hold the majority of the market.

2010 data from American Association of Publishers for paper sales vs ebooks (graph by Stephen Mack)(click to enlarge)

It’s clear that e-books are growing fast; the same AAP data shows that e-book growth is over 1,000% a year, and a Harris poll released in September 2011 showed that e-reader ownership increased from 8% to 15% in one year. (Smart phone growth is helping a lot with that.)

Here’s my dilemma.

Paper Books Digital Books
Advantages Advantages
  1. I’m used to this format
  2. You can read them in the bath
  3. Loan them to a friend or sell when done
  4. Can buy ’em cheap at used bookstores
  5. Easier on my eyes
  6. Much easier to be given as a gift
  7. That new book smell
  1. Can read them anywhere, as long as I have my phone with me
  2. Ability to carry dozens/hundreds of books in my pocket
  3. Instant gratification when buying a new book
  4. Always remembers my place
  5. Ability to search
  6. Easy definitions of unfamiliar words
  7. On smart phone, built-in nightlight for reading in darkness
  8. Many free titles that are in the public domain
  9. Can enlarge the font if my eyes are tired
Drawbacks Drawbacks
  1. I lose them sometimes
  2. Gotta have bookshelves to store ’em
  3. Heavy when moving, adds to “stuff”
  4. They came from trees; have to be printed & shipped, using energy & fuel
  1. More expensive than paperbacks typically (but often cheaper than hardbacks)
  2. Repulsive licensing arrangements
  3. Restrictive DRM
  4. Unclear if I will lose access to purchased works in the future or not (what if Amazon or Apple go out of business?)
  5. Format wars
  6. Remote editing or removal from the mothership (e.g., the Orwellian nightmare)
  7. Often no universal page number reference
  8. Uses up my battery
  9. Can’t read during on a plane during take-off and landing

I’ve never had a paper book crash on me and require me to reboot my brain to continue reading. So there’s that.

For now, I’ll continue to experiment with both, and usually pick whatever format is cheapest for the titles I want to read.

Lying with Charts 102: Deceptions of stack

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

It’s time to lie with charts!

A few months ago I posted a FriendFeed item about how deceptions of scale can be used to make misleading charts.

Earlier this month, Wired argued in an article that “the web is dead” and tried to prove their point with a rather curious chart: A stacked area chart with the changing percentage of the Web’s share of total Internet traffic between 1990 and 2010.

Peer-to-peer and video take up a large share of total traffic in 2010 — naturally, because these files are huge, and web pages are relatively modest in size. A more honest chart would look at total volume of use (eyeballs/visits). If you read a tweet on twitter.com and then watch a video on Netflix, it’s not at all fair to assume the video was 3,571,429 times more important to you than the tweet.

But even setting aside the stupidity of conflating the importance of contents with its file size, a stacked percentage area chart is a visual deception. There are many ways to lie with charts, and stacking is one of the most frequent.

Here’s a simple example. Suppose your company sells three products, Wobjects, Dooders, and Flozzels. You have sales data for a year. It turns out that Wobjects are growing fast, and Flozzels are selling pretty well, but Dooders are sucking wind with sales volume decreasing. If you want to hide how poorly Dooders are doing, just use a stacked chart.

First, the pretend data:

Product Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Wobjects 67 69 72 76 80 82 82 88 88 90 94 103
Dooders 70 70 69 68 68 64 67 63 66 66 66 62
Flozzels 42 43 43 44 46 51 54 58 57 58 60 61
Total 179 182 184 188 194 197 203 209 211 214 220 226

The most deceptive chart first:

Example 1: Stacked bar

A stacked bar chart serves to obscure individual trends

Certainly if you know what you’re looking for you can eyeball the decrease in sales from Dooders. But for most people only the overall growth would jump out.

Almost as deceptive is a stacked area chart:

Example 2: Stacked area chart

A stacked area chart is almost as good as a bar chart for obscuring individual trends

This is slightly less deceptive because the eye is slightly better able to see that the middle area is decreasing in size over time.

To be more straightforward, use a line chart with a total:

Example 3: Line chart with totals

A line chart is not very deceptive for individual trends. Including the total makes the scale larger, hiding the amount of increase/decrease for individual series, but is valid if the overall total is the most important detail to convey.

The least deceptive approach would be a simple line chart with no totals:

Example 4: Line chart

The most honest approach for showing the performance of individual product lines is a straightforward line chart.

And to make a total mess of things, use a stacked percentage area chart, with gratuitous 3-D:

Example 5: Stacked percentage area chart

Stacked percentage charts are usually disastrous, because the relative share of three product lines is often totally irrelevant compared to the actual change in value. And 3-D is just a distortion.

Like roaches, Facebook Places users check in, but they don’t check out

Saturday, August 21st, 2010
I was at a playground earlier today. Yawn.

I was at a playground earlier today. Yawn.

Since its launch on Wednesday, I’ve been checking out the new Facebook Places feature. But that’s actually a misnomer: You can’t “check it out” because you can only check in. (More about that in a moment.)

Facebook Places competes with Foursquare, Brightkite, Gowalla, Whrrl, and several other location-based social networking services that I’ve never used previously. (I’ve dabbled with Loopt and Google Latitude on the iPhone, and used Yelp but only for writing and reading reviews, not for its check-in features.) While some users abstain from all of these location services due to privacy concerns, my main reluctance to use these services previously was because:

  1. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Most of my friends don’t use these services, which decreases their utility.
  2. I’m boring. I’ve got two kids, so most of my check-ins would be to home and work.
  3. Dubious utility. If I’m out, it’s probably with a group for a planned event. Would I want random other friends to crash that? And on the other side, how often would I be going out by myself and wanting to know where random friends are so that I could crash what they’re doing? Absent joining up with friends, what other purpose is there for me to tell people I’m at a car wash or a movie theater or a playground?
  4. Cheaters. Most of these services are easily fooled; I have one local friend who checks into Alaska regularly.

With Facebook entering the picture, and launching their feature switched on by default, immediately you’d think that the first problem is solved, since all of your friends can use the service easily from day one without having to sign up for anything. Alas, not so. The feature only works if you have an iPhone or other smart phone that can use geolocation services on Facebook’s mobile site. So that eliminates most of my friends from ever using it. And furthermore you have to remember to pull out your phone when you arrive, launch the Facebook app or web page, head to the Places feature, find the listing for the place that you want to check in to, and check in. It’s too many steps, and it’s a pain, so most people would never bother. And that seems to be the case: Of the half dozen or so places I’ve checked into, including a popular bar and cinema, most have had zero previous check-ins. It’s still the first week, but it’s clear most users are not immediately jumping on board with this feature.

Facebook’s implementation doesn’t make me more interesting, and if there’s more utility I haven’t found it yet. And I doubt it’s any more cheat-resistant than the competition. So the other problems still apply.

Facebook also has made some questionable choices about how their Places feature works. First of all, you can check in other people without their permission (unless they change the default setting). I cannot imagine any scenario where people would want you to do that for them without approving. Seriously. Maybe on Venus. But not on Earth. You could ask them (as Gawker suggests), but that seems witless:

“Hey, Joe, I’m checking into the restaurant on Facebook Places. Should I check you in also?”

“…”

The second problem is that check-ins appear on your wall or news feed or whatever it’s called now. The stories show up for all to see. This is incredibly stupid. Half of my friends don’t live in the same state as me. I don’t want their feeds cluttered up with the junk news of me checking into a car wash or a bar or any restaurant. It’s stupid. It’s dull. They don’t care. It’s just noise. I want my feed to be signal, not noise. You should be able to change the settings for Places so that it cannot post to your Wall. You can go back after the fact to remove the postings manually, but that’s a pain (and may not remove it from their copy of your feed anyway, depending on when you remove versus when they check their news feed).

Compounding that second problem is that you can’t add pictures. You can go back after the fact and comment, or put a brief comment at the moment of check-in. Pictures would serve to make the check-in a bit more interesting — I would feel like the wall entry wasn’t so dull and pointless if I could add a cute picture of my kids or something.

The biggest problem is number three: As I alluded to at the beginning, you can check in, but there’s no check out. If the point of checking in is to tell your friends where you are, you absolutely need to tell your friends when you leave the place, so they don’t come looking for after you’ve taken off.

Friday night I noted that two friends of mine, who I will call “Steve and Howard” (because those are their names) checked into Tide House. I rarely get a Friday night to myself — it’s usually date night for my wife and me. But Kimi wasn’t feeling well, and the baby sitter was paid for, so I was free to do whatever I liked. I checked into Molly McGees and played liar’s dice with my friend Matt before heading out to a movie, but I happened to notice Steve and Howard being right around the corner and I had a few minutes before the 8:10 showtime. So I walked into Tide House and looked around. No sign — they must have left. Facebook only gives you an approximation of when the check-in occurred (“two hours ago” becomes “three hours ago” eventually, but the period of time where it says “two hours ago” could be exactly 2 hours or it could be 2 hours and 59 minutes, or anywhere in between). So as a tool for meeting up with friends, that’s useless. You don’t actually know where your friends are at all. No check-outs, no certainty.

Dave Zatz checked into Your Mom's House. Not my mom's, fortunately.

Dave Zatz checked into Your Mom's House. Not my mom's, fortunately.

Facebook’s implementation is buggy as well. GPS locations are a bit off when you add a new location — I’ve seen it be off by about a half-mile. It also has failed to list the right location about half the time when I try to check in. If you’re at the car wash and try to check in, and the location isn’t listed, and you search for it, but nothing comes up. So naturally you assume it’s not entered yet, so you go to add the location, fill out the form, submit it, and THEN it warns you, “Oh, Lozano’s Car Wash — but wait, there’s a nearby Lozano’s Car Warsh [sic], would you like to check in there, or add your new one anyway?” Why didn’t it list it in the first place?

None of the locations have any useful info, like phone number, street address, menu, etc. Businesses can “claim” them somehow but few have done that.

Some of the competing services have game-like features where you earn points, badges, titles, mayorships, discounts, coupons or other random crap. Facebook has none of that (yet?).

Finally, the privacy concerns. By default, the Places feature is on, but you have to take manual steps to use it. So far so good. But then they made two privacy mistakes: First, friends should not be able to check you in by default without your permission. That’s irresponsible. Second, even if your settings are so that Places info is viewable to “friends only” across the board (as mine are), when you check in, anyone else at that location sees your name and face, regardless of your privacy settings. Um, what?

So. How pointless is it? Pretty much totally pointless. I’d call it half-baked but I really think like it’s about a tenth baked. Facebook can and should do much better. I feel like the design is, in a word, stupid. I’ll keep experimenting for a little while to see if there’s something I’ve missed, but until they add features, fix bugs, and redesign it almost completely from the ground up to be both more automatic, more accurate, and more respectful of privacy, I can’t see myself using this long-term, and I don’t think many others will either.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster: Terminology, a silver lining, and a graph

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

I have three things I want to say about the BP oil disaster.

First, a note on terminology. Let’s not call it a “spill.”

A “spill” is when my son knocks over his glass of milk. A “spill” is when you slip on some ice and graze your knee. A “spill” is what you do to the beans, as in someone accidentally letting slip the date of a surprise party.

BP’s CEO Tony Hayward is happy to call this a “spill,” because that word fits his position that this is only a “relatively tiny” event.

The truth is, of course, that it’s already been over a month, and this is now the world’s second worst oil disaster ever (probably) — and it’s not over.

BP’s original estimate of the flow rate was between 1,000 to 5,000 barrels per day. Current estimates suggest it was actually 95,000 barrels per day. So far, up to 491,000 tonnes of oil may have been released. In comparison, Exxon Valdez was 37,000 tonnes, and we’re still seeing the effects of that 20 years later. The current disaster is already more than 13 Valdezes.

So I reject “spill.” I use “disaster” and am considering “catastrophe.”

Second, there is a sliver of a silver lining. That formulation is this:

Three Mile Island is to nuclear power
as
Deepwater Horizon is to offshore drilling

Now for the record, I support nuclear power. I believe today’s nuclear power plants are safe and efficient. (France, the world’s leader, generates more than 75% of their power via nuclear plants.) Just 300 new nuclear power plants would end our dependence on fossil fuels for powering our cities — eliminating the need for coal mining, ending mining disasters. But because Three Mile Island happened, almost no politician will ever risk their career by advocating more nuclear power plants. That one accident, which killed no one, slowed our adoption of nuclear power dramatically.

In contrast, I oppose off-shore drilling, mostly due to spills and environmental factors. Because of Deepwater Horizon and the public outcry, it’s likely now that moratoriums and state-by-state bans will be enacted that last many decades. I’m glad of that, at least.

Finally, let’s do a quick comparison. Oil company profits are obscene. BP earned $6.1 billion in profit for Q1, which ended 20 days before the disaster began. As of May 24, they estimated they had spent $760 million on the recovery. However, it appears that about a third of that is the lost profit of $6 million per day because Deepwater Horizon isn’t operating. Separately, they also pledged $500 million for research into the environmental impact of the disaster.

So they’ve managed to find it in their hearts to spend a mere 17.3% of their Q1 profit on the disaster.

A pie chart showing a comparison of BP's Q1 profit of $6.1 billion versus the $500 million research pledge and $550 spent on recovery efforts

That’s insulting.

The alphabet according to Google

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Quick, head to Google.com. Sure sure, there’s that playable Pacman logo there today, but while I was there for that, I noticed something interesting, similar to what Slacy posted about bit.ly recently.

Type a letter in the Google search box. Immediately after just one letter, the auto-search populates, and you can see the most popular search term for that letter. (It’s not case sensitive.)

Here’s an example with the letter a:

Auto-search results for the letter a at google.com: amazon, aol, american airlines, apple

It’s important to note that the results appear to be regionally specific. Here in the Bay Area, when I type “b,” I see “bart” (for Bay Area Rapid Transit) third. My brother, in Canada, sees “bmo” (Bank of Montreal) third at google.ca, or “bed bath and beyond” third at google.com (whereas for me “bed bath and beyond” is listed sixth).

Even the first place is regional, since x for me is xkcd, but for my brother it’s xm radio.

Nonetheless, owning the first result is definitely an indication of local mindshare. I find the results very interesting and in some cases very surprising.

Now, before you look at the list below (after the break), you can play the Google Alphabet Guessing Game! Just choose a letter and predict what will appear on top. Did you guess correctly?

Numbers and a handful of punctuation characters also work.

(more…)

Buzz vs. FriendFeed: 14 features I miss in Buzz

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
[Screenshot of Stephen Mack's feed in Google Buzz]

My feed in Google Buzz

If you use Gmail, you’re likely aware of Google’s new social networking service, Google Buzz, which launched this week.

It’s only the the third day of Buzz’s public existence, and I only received access yesterday, so my experience is very preliminary.

In contrast, I’ve been using FriendFeed since January of 2008, so with two years’ experience under my belt, FriendFeed feels very familiar to me, and naturally my bias is towards what I know.

As I wrap my head around Buzz, I want to like it and have it succeed, but there are quite a few aspects of the service I can’t help but find lacking. Here are the features that FriendFeed has that I miss the most in Buzz:

  1. Pause. Both FriendFeed and Buzz present a feed that updates in real-time. With FriendFeed, the play button (or q key) pauses/unpauses updates. With Buzz (on a browser, not on mobile), items I’m reading suddenly getting scrolled away and I can’t figure out how to stop that.
  2. Custom lists of users. With FriendFeed, I can create my own lists (“Co-workers” and “Relatives” and “Favorites”) and automatically filter their updates. That way, posts from my relatives and close personal friends don’t get lost in the noise. With Buzz, either I’m going to have not follow so many people or figure out some other strategy for not losing updates that are important to me. Most likely I’m going to have to unfollow a lot of people who followed me.
  3. “My discussions.” In FriendFeed, there’s an easy link for me to keep track of items I’ve liked or commented on. With Buzz, some of the items I’ve liked or participated in appear in my regular inbox, but not consistently and not in a simple list.
  4. Smart collapsing of long posts and comments. FriendFeed’s layout for keeping items compact until I click “more” or “more comments” is ingenious. Buzz wastes a lot of screen real estate by comparison. Especially on the mobile version.
  5. Smart, flexible hiding, including hiding by service. FriendFeed allows very smart ways to hide updates I’m not interested in. For example, I never care about anyone’s Foursquare updates. In FriendFeed I can hide an entire service, or many types of updates from a particular noisy user. Buzz offers no such automatic filters yet.
  6. Hiding duplicates. Buzz seems to have some bugs right now where an individual post by a user is displayed twice (or even more) in my feed in two separate places. It could be the user posted the item twice by accident. But also several people could post the same item (a news item, for example). FriendFeed automatically collapses duplicate items into a single line (“1 related entry from so-and-so”). Buzz desperately needs this.
  7. Bookmarklet for easy sharing. The FriendFeed bookmarklet is ingenious and easy to use, a button that appears on your browser’s toolbar that lets you easily share web content, including excerpts and images. Buzz lets you share a URL but doesn’t (yet?) intelligently create an excerpt of the page. (See screenshot.)
  8. Reposting to other services, such as Twitter. The absence of this one is flabbergasting to me. FriendFeed lets you bring in services and also “exports” your posts to other services, including Facebook (via an application) and Twitter. Buzz is a one-way street right now: It can bring in your items from multiple connections, but once inside Buzz, there it stays. It can’t become your Facebook status or a tweet.
  9. Groups and “Imaginary Friends.” Not everyone will join FriendFeed, so you can create a placeholder account on them that brings in their public content into the FriendFeed interface. Similarly, not everyone will join Buzz, so it’d be nice to be able to get someone’s chat content into the same UI. But that feature doesn’t seem to be available. On FriendFeed you can use this to create a “group” or “room” built from whatever content you like, such as the USGS earthquake feed or the Amazon MP3 deal of the day Twitter account.
  10. Plethora of supported services. Buzz currently seems to support somewhere around a dozen “connections” that can create items in buzz whenever you use the service: GChat status, Facebook updates, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, FriendFeed, Picasa, blog content, Google Reader, and probably others. But FriendFeed supports 58 services, including Amazon wishlists, Reddit and lots more.

    Screenshot of FriendFeed

    Screenshot of my feed in FriendFeed

  11. Customized profile page. Not a deal-breaker, but users today expect their profile page to have some customization. Maybe not to the extent that MySpace allows, but both Twitter and FriendFeed let you pick your background image and color scheme. Buzz relies on your Google Profile, which doesn’t allow you to customize the layout or color scheme or background at all. (Buzz inherits your Gmail theme, so you can control how things look on your screen, but that doesn’t display for anyone else. Thus everyone’s feed looks the same.)
  12. Posting of text and photos simultaneously via e-mail. From my mobile phone I can take a picture, and e-mail it to share@friendfeed.com. The subject line of the e-mail becomes the subject of the posted item. Up to three pictures can be posted. Any text in the body of the e-mail become included with the item, as the first comment in FriendFeed. Buzz allows you to send a picture to buzz@gmail.com, but any text outside of the subject is ignored.
  13. Friend of a friend discovery. In FriendFeed, if I follow my friend Georgia, and she “likes” an item from her friend Lani, then I automatically see that item from Lani and can then choose to follow Lani as well. In this manner you can expand your social network and meet new people with shared interests. With Buzz, I don’t have any option to see items that Georgia liked, unless I already follow the person who posted the item. (Note that FriendFeed is flexible and lets you hide friend-of-friend updates if you prefer.)
  14. Flexible notification channels. Depending on my preferences, I can have FriendFeed notify me in several ways whenever a particular person posts, or if an item I posted gets comments. I can get an IM, a desktop popup via a standalone application, or an e-mail, either in real-time or at the end of the day.

So what does Buzz do better? Its mobile version is location-aware, and there’s a very interesting implementation with Google maps for following local updates. I was able to see someone post about a special offer at a restaurant near where I pick up my kids from their preschool, for example. Location awareness could be a tremendous change to how I interact with social media. Buzz also makes it very easy to e-mail an item to someone. Notification of new followers is handled real-time on screen, and it’s very easy to reciprocate. (FriendFeed notifies you of new followers via e-mail, so following back is less real-time and a tiny bit more of an effort.) Buzz has better keyboard controls than FriendFeed’s keyboard controls, having inherited the excellent Gmail keyboard implementation. I’m sure there’s more. But I can’t think of anything else yet.

In any consumer space, first-mover advantage is of course critical, because it builds mindshare and market share quickly via the head-start on the competition. But the competition gets a huge advantage also, because they don’t have to create the market, they don’t have to educate users on the category, and they can copy-and-paste the feature set while offering refinements and new features.

But if the competition only copies SOME of what the original offers, they can only succeed either by excellent marketing, an improved implementation on the core feature set, or because of a built-in audience from the brand name or related product. Google has copied some of what FriendFeed offered two years ago. But they really copied only a small subset, and as far as I can see even the core functionality of Buzz needs a lot of work: Counters are buggy, the layout is ugly and hard to follow, and the integration with Gmail feels intrusive and clumsy.

But it’s from Google, and by bolting it onto Gmail (which I use heavily and find to be the best web-based e-mail solution in existence), Buzz has instantly catapulted into a dominant position in the social media space, because they can make all 150 million Gmail users aware of it and even force them to try it.

Resolved: To never write another check

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Image: A generic check crossed out

I will never write another check again.

Any company or service provider who needs to be paid anything regularly can be set up for automatic billing through my bank or through their billing system. My bank will write the check for me, if need be — whether it’s for my gardener or the daycare my kids go to or what-have-you.

Anyone else who needs money can take cash or paypal or a bank transfer.

Checks had a good run (2100 years or so, if this article is to be believed), but I will no longer be a part of perpetuating this dead end of financial technology.

Why? My handwriting sucks. I hate having to wait for them to clear. I hate having to manually classify them in financial programs. I don’t want to have to carry around a checkbook. And who wants to pay other people?

I will still accept them. Begrudgingly. For now.

Winter travel report, 2012

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Hello to everyone! Happy New Year 2012! We just got back from our annual trip to Seattle, and, man, I have to tell you, we had a great time in Tacoma and seeing the relatives, but the one thing that sticks out is that the new travel rules are a bit inconvenient.

Look, I want our flights to be safe just like everyone, and I know the TSA is just doing its job, but having to check all clothing and personal items is a genuine hardship when traveling with kids. First of all, we had picked up the kid-sized robes for them from Long’s, and at first Sammy and Sophie seemed to like wearing the paper, but it was pretty cold at SJC and even colder in Washington. The cardboard slippers are really flimsy and didn’t stay on. Both kids really complained and were shivering. I swear Sophie’s knees were actually knocking. Meanwhile, Kimi and I showed up starkers as required, with just the transparent lanyard for my ID, and the modesty towels that we had to ditch in the bin upon boarding. (It was a tough juggling act to wheel two suitcases through the checkin area while keeping the towel on.) The security line cavity search was fine, finished in about three hours, but then at the gate, the new rules require you go through that cube to put on the TSA-supplied pasties. Well the cube is waaaay too small, and we were all being rushed to board. Then, afterwards, I was pretty self-conscious about having to wear basically a thong. They say they wash them between flights, but honestly it didn’t seem that sanitary to me.

Second, even for a short flight like the two hours from San Jose to Seatac, having to sit so still with no reading material or gadgets is honestly a hardship. The kids were bored after about ten minutes, and I wasn’t much better. The least they could do is put some reading material back on the planes. I know the last attempted terrorist attack involved paper cuts, but I don’t think it was really very dangerous for the flight crew. Maybe they could compromise and put on some magazines printed on tissue paper or something? At least they were playing holiday tunes. We passed the time by telling stories and by about the second hour I got used to not trying to turn my neck to look at my family while talking. And the restraint cuffs weren’t really that bad, although one ankle was a bit chafed by the end.

If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought we’d be required to sit literally stock still in an airplane with 300 other random naked people in order to get anywhere, I’d have told you you were crazy. But these are the times we live in. And to object seems like such pre-2011 thinking.

But next time, we’re just driving, I swear.

County vs. Bank: Both win, citizens lose

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The County of Santa Clara says I will owe more in property taxes this year, because the value of my home has increased.

Chase Bank, where I have a home equity line of credit, tells me my home value has decreased, and they are thus forced to regretfully (yada yada yada) close said line of credit.

Since I am not going to sell my house, and since nobody has sent by an appraiser, it’s impossible for either organization to really know the value of my house. I’m sure I don’t know its value either — but I know that it cannot both have increased and decreased in value simultaneously.

There are four possibilities of what the County and the bank can think:

Chase thinks my home value went DOWN: Chase thinks my home value went UP:
County thinks my home value went DOWN: (What I expected)
Pay less taxes
No HELOC
BEST WORLD:
Pay less taxes
HELOC limit increased
County thinks my home value went UP: WORST WORLD:
Pay more taxes
No HELOC
(True in a few years?)
Pay more taxes
HELOC limit increased

Finding myself in the most unfortunate of the four boxes, I must appeal. I neglectfully missed the deadline to appeal to the county; that deadline was yesterday.

Chase’s appeal process is ridiculously unfriendly: Call them, they’ll put you in touch with a third party appraisal agency, which you have to pay for. And as they say, “Any reinstatement of the credit line will be at our discretion and may be subject to other conditions that prevent reinstatement.” They don’t, by the way, accept the County’s assessment as evidence. Nor do they seem to have any method for me to point out to them that I used money from the HELOC to pay for work that improved the value of my home.

All evidence I can see based on property values from nearby home sales is that my house probably did increase in value (but not by nearly as much as the County seems to think). Yet Chase does not offer any details behind why they believe my home lost value.

Last year, under Bush, Chase received $35 billion in bailout funds. There has not, so far that I could find, been any accounting of how that money was used. I doubt it was used to make more money available to consumers or small businesses.

Is it any wonder that banks have a P.R. problem?

“Elven Blood,” “Mafia Wars,” “Mobsters,” “Vampires,” “Spymaster,” etc., are terrible games

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

[Elven Blood logo]I’ve stopped using Facebook almost entirely, because FriendFeed is much more engaging, useful, and easy. But back when I was using Facebook, I briefly played a game called Elven Blood (which has now been removed from Facebook).

The model used by the Elven Blood game is this:

  • You start at level one with low stats, no possessions or money, at a particular location.
  • You can choose to do one of several quests at that location. You complete the quest merely by clicking on a button.
  • Each quest gives you a small amount of experience, and usually money, and possibly a different reward (or a chance at different reward) such as an weapon or armor or mount or key.
  • Performing the quest uses up stamina and may also lower your health.
  • Stamina and health recharge over real-time.
  • As you grow in experience, you increase in level.
  • Each location has a store which sells weapons, armor, and possibly mounts.
  • As you acquire items and mounts, you can then move to different locations.
  • At the new location, there are more quests, sometimes requiring a larger party size.
  • You can sometimes purchase or find land or houses or special items, which give you a monthly income or increase your health/stamina recharge rates.
  • To increase your party size, you can invite your friends (or strangers for that matter) to join your party. Simultaneously you may (or may not) join their party. Joining someone’s party doesn’t really do anything except increase the “party size” stat. Other party members do not actually participate in questing or game play.
  • Pretty soon, the only way to progress in level (or to go to new locations) is to acquire more party members.
  • On the side, there’s a separate player vs. player (“PVP”) activity where you can attack or be attacked by random people. Victory or defeat is determined by what weapons and armor are used by you and your party members, plus random factors. But PVP doesn’t really do anything other than keep track of wins/losses and lower your stamina.
  • You start with a certain number of special points. These special points are used to buy extra party members, or instantly recharge health or stamina. You can acquire more special points by clicking on special offers (such as insurance quotes) or buying things, or paying actual cash.
  • By default the game posts “stories” to your Facebook news feed, announcing when you’ve gained a level or reached a new location.

[Mafia Wars logo]At least two dozen other games, such as “Mob Wars” and “Mobsters” and “Spymaster” and “Zombies” and “Vampires” use the same model. In addition to being found on Facebook, some of these versions are web games, some MySpace games, some Twitter games, some web games, and some iPhone games. (Doubtless other playforms too.) On Facebook, Mafia Wars is a top ten application, with more than 14 million monthly users, per AppData.

TechCrunch reports today that Playdom’s Mobsters is now available on the iPhone. Their review includes this description:

As with other games in this genre, gameplay largely revolves around completing missions and becoming more powerful by acquiring better weapons (there’s also a time constraint that forces you to keep coming back for more). It may not sound particularly appealing until you’ve tried it out for yourself, but once you do it’s easy to quickly become totally addicted.

[iMobsters logo]Already on the iPhone, you’ll find numerous re-skinned version of this game; currently in the top 25 are “iMobsters,” “World War,” “Jet Fighters Online,” “Brothers in Arms,”  “Racing Live,” and “Vampire II.” When looking at reviews, you’ll rarely see customers talk about the merits of the game, but the reviews consist almost entirely of people begging for you to “add me” (listing their user number or ID so that you can add that person to your party, so you can complete quests).

And that underscores the major problem with these types of “games”: The only challenge is finding friends, family members, co-workers and random strangers to add to your party so you can progress. There is not really any game here in the traditional sense: Completing the quest is simply a matter of clicking the button. If the quest is fighting someone, you don’t fight like in an arcade game or in a strategy game. If you meet the requirements, you succeed at the quest. (Some versions of the game may add in a random chance at failure.) There are zero decisions. There is no control. You have no options.

I am flabbergasted that so many are “addicted” to this game; I fail to see how anyone can stay interested for long.

In addition to the lack of actual game play, you end up polluting your news feed or twitter feed with random updates that — I have to assume — are of zero interest to anyone other than you (with the possible exception of other players of the game, who might then see you’re playing, and will then try to snag you to join their party).

To be fair, Elven Blood did try to incorporate some actual game elements. For example, there was a maze where you had to interpret a clue to figure out which location to travel to next. But even with these elements, the majority of the game was simply waiting until you had enough stamina, then clicking a quest button to succeed at a quest and gather rewards. Rinse, repeat. If anything, the best analogy to these games is those Tamagotchi virtual pets popular over a decade ago, where the gameplay consists of pushing a button in response to stimuli, to no real end.

So, then, the only real challenge is how effectively you can spam in order to get people to join you.

Am I missing something? These games are tremendously popular, but I honestly don’t see any lasting appeal. I was initially hooked on Elven Blood because for a little while it was engaging to join up with friends, see pretty graphics, and go through the whole RPG level treadmill progressing from neophyte to powerful warrior.

I’m most impressed by the monetization. The game creates a real incentive for you to pay cash or click on random dodgy offers just so you can grow your party without having to annoy other people. I’m sure that’s a very effective business model. As a game, however, I have zero interest.

SGI sold; what I learned there

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

“April 1st, 2009. For immediate release. Rackable Systems Announces Agreement to Acquire Silicon Graphics Inc.”

I saw this news release cross the wires yesterday, but thought it was a prank. Rackable Systems? Who? And only $25 million? Hah hah, very funny. Try harder to make it believable next year, okay?

Except it wasn’t a joke. When I opened this morning’s Merc, the front page of the business section had a big headline: “Fallen star SGI to sell most assets for $25M.” Engadget also covered the story today. So it’s true. SGI will not emerge from bankruptcy and is finally no more.

Its products will continue in some form, of course, and I’ve heard from a friend of mine who’s still there that “the early word is they want to keep most of us on.” But SGI is no longer an independent company.

I worked at SGI from 1997 to 1999, my first Silicon Valley job. (I’d worked as a corporate trainer in Oakland and as a freelancer on web sites and computer books prior to that.) It was my first exposure to the culture and work style of corporate high tech: casual start and stop times combined with long hours and passionate, smart employees; vendor food, beer busts, high end cafeterias, over-the-top holiday parties, and free soda; casual attire; dogs at the workplace; back-to-back meetings filling the entire day; 500 to 1,000 e-mails daily; the uneasy alliances and divisions between engineering groups and marketing groups and operational groups and customer support groups and IT groups and HR groups.

I went in already familiar with Unix and the web, and with broad computer and database skills, but I didn’t know anything about how large companies work, or what was involved with program management and product release cycles. The politics of big companies were also new to me. I learned a huge amount, from BOMs and ECOs and the importance of quarter end dates, to the different ways you need to communicate to, say, a VP of manufacturing vs. a director of marketing vs. a principal engineer. If I had to list the top skill I emerged with, I’d have to say it was knowing when to communicate with e-mail, when to pick up the phone and talk it out, when to walk over in person (not always easy with 40 buildings in Mountain View plus employees around the world), or when you needed to leave a note on a chair, sometimes with a plate of cookies. Or when to call from your director’s cube.

I witnessed first-hand a beaten company falling apart. In 1997 SGI was facing its first set of money-losing quarters, and I barely made it in the door before a hiring freeze. This was right around the time when long-tme CEO Ed McCracken resigned. I managed to survive several rounds of layoffs even as the new guy.

SGI was reeling from culture clashes between the Minnesota employees who came on board when Cray was acquired in 1996. On the high end, Sun and IBM and HP were brutal competition for SGI’s server and supercomputer business. (Especially Sun.) On the low end, Mac and Windows workstations were starting to catch up with SGI’s high-powered Irix-based graphics workstations made famous in movies like Jurassic Park.

Things bounced back a little in 1998 after Rick Belluzzo came on board. Rocket Rick talked a good game, the stock rebounded a bit, and new products shipped. He had two major strategies. The first, a Windows NT workstation, was a miserable failure. It took forever to develop, and when it finally shipped, it was far more expensive than anything else on the market, and while it did perform better, it was riddled with compatibility problems. Point releases from Microsoft for NT weren’t able to be installed until SGI could come up with their own patches months later. Sales of the Visual Workstation were awful, and competing Dell workstations caught up in performance before too long. His other strategy, to shift focus to servers, seemed pretty smart to me, since most of SGI’s business came from the government. But most of SGI’s reputation and PR came from Hollywood, and distancing itself from its Maya line of software and the special effects business was probably the wrong move. Belluzzo left in August 1999, Microsoft-bound. The company contracted rapidly after that.

By 1999, the dot-com boom was in full explosion. Gravity didn’t exist, and money grew on trees. Insanity ruled all. At SGI, the stock price was going down, the products weren’t selling, and every single week came announcements of major departures at all levels from all around the company. I ended up with three different bosses in three months. When the opportunity came along to move to TiVo, I resisted at first, because I was moving up the ladder at SGI pretty rapidly. But the writing was on the wall and none of my SGI co-workers were enthused about SGI’s prospects. Despite all that, SGI had thousands of employees and billions in assets when I left in 1999. So it’s not a surprise to me that they hung on for 10 years, despite losing money year after year. Many of the governmental and server contracts were multi-year, multi-million dollar deals.

SGI, I salute you. So long. Thanks for the experience and friendships. You made some amazing products and hired some absolutely brilliant geniuses. If only there had been a way out.

Sssssssssssssssssocial

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Forget that secret society thing from yesterday. What I’m really going to be doing is starting a new social network. It’s going to be architected to utilize the latest web 3.0 protocols in order to offer enhanced visualization tools for mapping business, familial, cultural and friendship relationship chains using virtual spaces, while enabling users to share status updates and media in real-time with multiple levels of embedded discussion threads and cross-promotion while surfacing discovery and long tail realization methods.

We’re in early alpha already. The name of the new service is YoumytwitflickfacefeedlinkfriendbooksterspaceRintübe.

Is GE now a bargain? (Lazy blog)

Friday, March 6th, 2009

General Electric (GE) closed today at 7.06, up from its recent low of 5.73, but 82% off it’s 52-week high of 38.52 (Google finance 1 year chart).

There are certain bright spots to a massive global economic tsunami. You probably don’t have to spend as much time interviewing candidates, since it’s likely your company has a hiring freeze. Perhaps, like me, you see less traffic on the roads, shortening your commute time. Maybe you don’t have to spend any time researching consumer purchases since you’re not making any. And most particularly, if you have a huge appetite for risk, there possibly some bargains in the market.

After all, weren’t some of the richest dynasties created by those who invested in the market following the crash of 1929?

If you’ve already done your due diligence, what do you think about GE at this point? Certainly it’s saddled with an investment banking arm that’s dragging down its overall fundamentals, but many of its other many tentacles seem healthy. I can’t help but think a modest investment below $8 would be worth two or three times that in a couple of years. (It could also be worth zero.)

I’m also starting to take a look at the other “generals” as well:

  • General Motors is in horrible shape, but closing at $1.45 today brings it below $1 billion in market cap, and I have to believe its patents, infrastructure and brand are worth more than that. I don’t think they’re worth nothing because I suspect we’ll continue to bail it out.
  • General Dynamics at 36.49 is also significantly off its 52-week high of 95.13. Researching here as well, could be a bargain.
  • General Mills at 50.96 is not far off its 52-week high of 72.01 and seems to have a high P/E so I’m not as interested.
  • Genentech is up 11% today and very close to its 52-week high, so not of interest to bottom-feeding penny ante bargain hunters like me.

Disclaimers: This is not financial advice. I don’t hold any of the companies mentioned (yet). Nor do I have any financial interest in these companies’ success or failure. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. If you buy or sell stocks based on this blog, you’re crazy. Contents sold by weight, not volume.

EDIT, March 10th: Yesterday Business Week posted an article asking the same question. The stock is up to 8.76, and 18.2% increase over yesterday’s close. I should have listened to myself and bought some on Friday.

Dow Jones Industrial Average graph, 1960 to 2009

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009
Dow Jones Industrial Average, 1960 to 2009

Dow Jones Industrial Average, 1960 to 2009, close for each year (partial data for 2009).

(Click on image to see larger version. Data from EconStats.)

Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 6,726.02, only slightly above the close for 1996, 6,448.27.

Nearly 50% of the value from the 2007 close of 13,264 has been lost.

If you’d invested $1,000 in the DJIA in 1996, you’d still have $1,000 today, but those 1996 dollars would be equivalent to $1,304 today, factoring in inflation.

If you’d correctly sold your shares at the high of 14,279.96 in October, 2007, that $1,000 would have been worth $2,123.09.

There’s been a lot of talk of Japan’s lost decade, and here we’re demonstrating a “lost baker’s dozen.”

Twitter account creation is deeply flawed (and so is eBay’s)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Take a look at the Twitter account creation page:

https://twitter.com/signup

Two big problems:

  1. The password field doesn’t show you the password you enter, and also doesn’t require you to confirm.
  2. The e-mail address field doesn’t verify you actually own the e-mail address you enter.

This evening, I went to create an account for my son Sammy. He and I have been talking about computers, the web, social networking (and sure he’s only three, but some of his insights are just as worthy of sharing as the junk older people tweet). He agreed he wanted to share updates on Twitter, so we worked together to create an account.

Unfortunately, the password I thought I entered wasn’t what I actually entered. And even more unfortunately, the e-mail address I entered for him was not his actual e-mail address. (In my defense, he doesn’t use it yet, and I created it three years ago.)

Even though we were still logged in, I couldn’t change the password (since it required I enter the old one to change it), I couldn’t reset the password (since I didn’t have access to the e-mail address where the new password was set), and I couldn’t change the e-mail address (since that requires entering the password). That meant I was stuck, and the only recourse was to delete the account and start over.

The harm of starting over is:

  1. We lost the updates he and I had typed.
  2. We spammed all the people he had followed, wasting their time.
  3. We spammed the actual owner of the e-mail address I entered. (I sent an apology.)
  4. We lost the username since the account is retained for six months, so had to pick an inferior username.

I sent a help request to twitter to purge the old account so I can reclaim the username from his new account; their help pages say that’s an option. They also say requests take 5-7 business days. We’ll see.

We also saw a few dozen fail whale pages (especially when trying to set the profile picture to the image he picked), so trying this on a Friday night probably wasn’t a good idea. Sammy did love the whale picture at least.

It’s not uncommon for people to fat finger both an unconfirmed password and an unconfirmed e-mail address. Given the design flaws in account creation, I would estimate that tens of thousands of twitter accounts are created each month only to be abandoned later when the user realizes they don’t remember their password and don’t have access to the e-mail address. A responsible account creation design has you confirm an e-mail address.

I recently experienced the other side of this with eBay. Someone named “Edna Stephens” created an eBay account. The e-mail address Edna entered was not hers, but mine. I started getting eBay spam. (I don’t use eBay.) I couldn’t unsubscribe, because the e-mail they sent me had an unsubscribe link that led to a page that required me to log in to change e-mail preferences. I couldn’t send customer support an e-mail because they require you to log in to send a customer support request. I couldn’t log in as Edna and change her e-mail address to something other than mine (or delete her account) because I didn’t know her password. I couldn’t reset her password because the password reset process required knowing biographical stuff like her favorite musician. I was stuck getting spam. Finally I created a new eBay account for myself for the sole purpose of sending a complaint e-mail to eBay. It led to an absurd chat session with several different eBay customer support reps who required me to verify my street address and cell phone number and jump through several other hoops before saying “they’d investigate.” But I haven’t received any eBay spam so they apparently did reset her e-mail address.

The simple fix for both issues is that there needs to be a step where you verify your e-mail address really is yours. The typical process is that after you enter your e-mail address, the site sends you an e-mail with a unique code, and then you enter that code back on the account creation page to continue.

eBay and Twitter don’t do that. They should.

I know why companies don’t always follow that step: Prospects will often not bother waiting for an e-mail and jumping through that hoop, and it also creates problems since a surprising number of people do not know how to copy and paste your code. Those prospects balk at that step and simply don’t join the site — and the prospect is lost.

(From a web development and QA perspective, it’s also more work to code in that verification step.)

It seems most companies would rather get the prospect and deal with incorrect e-mail addresses later. But I think the customer support burden and spam behavior really requires e-mail address verification during account creation.

The company I work for doesn’t require e-mail verification either — but then again, we create a tiny fraction of the accounts each day that are created for twitter and eBay.

Moral: Twitter and eBay should both reconsider their policies of account creation.

By the way, if you are so inclined, you can follow Sammy on twitter as e_sammy. I’ll be changing that back to esammy if I can.

New terms of service for zeigen.com

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

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Thoughts about recession

Saturday, February 7th, 2009
  1. What do we call this thing? I propose “global economic tsunami.”
  2. Bush’s $700 billion plus Obama’s $800 billion is $1.5 trillion. That’s $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Any proposed economic recovery plan should take pains to show how it’s better than just cutting us each a check for five large. So far I’m unconvinced.
  3. Fundamentally I’m opposed to solving a crisis brought about by out-of-control debt by borrowing billions more.

Best Superbowl commercial: will.i.am and Bob Dylan

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Look, some of the images and contrasts work better than others, and as a commercial this thing fails because no one even remembers what product is being sold, but I loved it just because of hearing Bob and will together.

I’ve already forgotten every other commercial. Good game though!

I hate Outlook

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I believe Microsoft Outlook is the most incompetent software in common use in the business world. Here’s reason #4,334 why I hate it:

  • Suppose you’re in offline mode because it randomly disconnected you and is stuck in a login-loop when you try to reconnect.
  • You forget you’re offline and you go to cancel a meeting by deleting it. It now wants you to send the cancellation. You click Send.
  • You get an error message that you’re not connected. It asks if you want to try to send the cancellation again.
  • Now you’re trapped. If you click Yes, you get the same error message. If you click No, you’ve just canceled the meeting on your calendar, but not on anyone else’s. There’s no recovering from that mistake. If you click Cancel, you’re back to the message that you need to send, but can’t be sent.
  • Even reconnecting (assuming you can reconnect) doesn’t solve the problem. Now pick up the phone and tell your  meeting attendees they have to manually delete their copy of the meeting from their calendars.

So much hate.