Archive for the ‘Blogging, Computers & the Internet’ Category.

So Ellen Pao is About to Discover the Roger Goodell Problem

Roger Goodell is the President of the NFL, and despite huge love for the NFL itself, Goodell is hated by many, even most, fans.  At the NFL draft, which attacts arguably the biggest fans of the NFL, Goodell gets booed every time he walks on stage.  One reason for this is the decision Goodell made a number of years ago to "police" player behavior.  Tired of bad headlines about this or that player being involved in some sort of (alleged) criminal activity, Goodell decided to crack down.  No longer was it enough that the criminal justice system had a process for punishing people who break the law, Goodell wanted the NFL to be seen to be layering on extra punishment.

I said from the very beginning that this policy was fraught with problems.  If the NFL wanted a conduct policy, it should establish simple mechanical rules tied to outcomes in the justice system.  For example, a rule that says that if convicted of a misdemeanor a player would get a standard X game suspension.   Goodell's role should be limited to correcting the inevitable unfair situation where mechanical rules lead to poor outcomes.

But no, Goodell, like many smart people, fell into the trap of thinking he was smart enough to mete out punishments himself.  This has led to a real mess.  The public compares each punishment (and non-punishment) to all other such decisions and immediately get upset about perceived inconsistencies.  Worse, having established the precedent of policing conduct, he is being pushed by various vocal constituencies to police even non-crimes, like  unwelcome speech.  On average day in sports talk radio, you are as likely to hear a discussion of Goodell's conduct rulings as you are about anything on the field.

In taking over Reddit, Ellen Pao is heading into the same technocratic trap.  She has begun to ban certain forums and types of speech on the platform, but she has not established any consistent public rules for doing so other than her own judgement.  She appears to be deleting things that offend her personally (and early mass deletions of content critical of herself personally seems a really bad way to start).  And as with Goodell, two bad things are already happening (even beyond the more fundamental Reddit user issue that she is violating a core ethic of Reddit by censoring).  First, she is being called out for lack of consistency with folks saying "how can you ban X and not Y."  And second, she is apparently already getting pushed by various constituencies to be more and more aggressive at censoring certain classes of speech.   Once she established herself as censor in chief, she became an immediate lobbying target for many, many groups, and that is going to just get worse.  Just look at how much of Goodell's time is now sucked up into personal conduct issues.

Dear Bank of America: Are We Still Living in 1995?

I just encountered my second major piece of software used by Bank of America for my business accounts that will only work with Internet Explorer and most definitely will not work with Chrome.  Their ACH/Treasury/Direct Payments system has to run on Internet Explorer (only) and now I find their secure email system that sends me all my merchant account notices does not work on Chrome and only works on IE.

I am just waiting for the moment that a Bank of America tech support person tells me I have to use Netscape.

Things I Never Would Have Guessed

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AOL is still apparently worth over $4 billion.  Next someone will be buying The Source.

Hard Drives in Windows 7 Randomly Appear and Disappear

Long-time readers will understand immediately that this is not a post for regular readers but is meant to be found on Google by people with similar problems.

I installed Windows 7 home premium 64-bit on a new Asus motherboard with an Intel Z97 chipset.  I have a couple of hard drives and a couple of RAID's connected by eSATA.  Once the installation was complete, I noticed one of the hard drives was missing from the drive listing.  Not only was it not recognized by Windows, it was not recognized by the Windows disk management utility or even by the BIOS.  So I rebooted, and found that this drive now appeared but another disappeared.  This kept happening over and over.  Some reboots I had them all, and some I did not.

I did all the usual stuff.  I swapped cables, swapped drives, etc.  I even RMA'd the motherboard when I got desperate, thinking there was an issue with the drive controller.  But it kept occurring on the new board.  I considered switching the drives from AHCI to IDE in the BIOS, as some people reported this fixed the problem for them, but I really wanted to avoid that**.  I updated the chipset drivers and all the other drivers (sound, graphics, etc) in case there was some IRQ conflict, as some people have reported that this fixed their problem.

I finally found a fix, and thought I would share it.

  • Check your power plan in Windows control panel.  Even if the computer is set never to sleep, your hard drives may be set to sleep (this is in fact the default in windows 7).  Go to the power plan advanced settings, look for hard drives, and set the time to sleep to 0 which causes them never to sleep.  I am not sure this is necessary but others report some success with this.   I may go back later to see if I can change it back -- I don't necessarily need my hard drives spinning all day.
  • It turns out that installing the Intel chipset driver is not enough.  I had thought that since the SATA controller is part of the chipset, the chipset driver would cover it.  However, once I installed the Intel chipset driver, when I checked the SATA / AHCI controller in device manager, it still showed the driver to still be a Microsoft driver.  Turns out this is the problem.  You need this to be an Intel driver
  • The drivers I wanted for the Z97 were right there on my motherboard support site and were called:
    • Intel AHCI/RAID Driver Path for Windows Win7 32bit & Win7 64bit & Win8 32bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 32bit & Win8.1 64bit.
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver software V13.1.0.1058 for Windows Win7 64bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 64bit---(WHQL).
  • I had originally thought these were some sort of utility (and a utility is included) but these are essentially the eSATA drivers I needed.  Once installed, checking device manager now showed an Intel rather than a Microsoft driver.

And that fixed it.  Ugh.  Hours and hours of frustration.  My apologies to Asus who got a returned board that was probably just fine.

 

** By the way, the reason switching to IDE probably fixed the problem is that it is a different driver.  But one gives up capabilities and a bit of performance going AHCI back to IDE.  Also, the switch is not entirely straightfoward and the switch back, if one ever wants to make it, is complicated.

A Company Called Upskilled Is Still Threatening Me Over Spam They Put on My Site

I got yet another email from blog spammer Upskilled that had a more threatening tone than the last:

We have tried to contact you several times regarding the link on “http://camprrm.typepad.com/” to our site http://upskilled.edu.au/.

This link is in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines and must be removed in order to bring our site into compliance with Google's terms.

Like it is something I did that is in violation.  They are now sort of hinting that if I do not respond they will have to put my site on some naughty list sent to Google.  All of which follows this laugh-inducing line from their prior email:

We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines.

Yeah, as if I put it there. It is a spam comment they put there years and years ago back when Google rewarded such behavior.   A spam comment not placed by me but in fact placed by them against my wishes. The comment was one sentence repeated out of the post itself and signed with their corporate link.

For those who are not familiar, the original Google secret sauce over older search engines was that they did not rely on metadata in the post itself to assess relevance of the post (back in the day, people used to fill their metadata with "Britney Spears" and similar gunk to attract search rankings).  Instead, they looked at how many other sites linked to you.  The more, the better.

But people are nothing if not innovative in gaming metrics, and quickly web sites started trying to spam links to their themselves all over creation.  They sometimes paid sites for links, but why pay when you can stick links to your site for free in spam comments on blogs.  This is what Upskilled clearly did.

Now, Google has changed their algorithms (actually they change them constantly) and penalize sites for having these spam links.  Which is why this company Upskilled is trying so desperately to convince me that I am somehow responsible for their spam link.  It almost tempts me to create a whole web page that is just the word "Viagra" repeated over and over and linked to their site.

For the record, here is my response to their email I have sent several times to their National Marketing Manager Michael Crump, which they continue to ignore and pretend that I am not answering them:

I no longer control this site at typepad.  I left it 7 years ago for self-hosting.  Typepad continues to display the blog, but I cannot make any changes without paying hundreds of dollars to reactivate my account.

Perhaps I misunderstand the situation, but I must say I have only limited sympathy.  Your company obviously engaged in a marketing campaign where you used automated programs to leave spam comments on blogs -- in this case the comment your bot left was just a quote of some of the text in the post itself.  Such spam comment bots are the bane of us blog owners' existence and we spend a lot of time and money fighting the behavior you engaged in.  In trying to promote your business, you vandalized my blog with digital graffiti.  Now that Google has changed its search ranking rules to penalize this behavior, you want me again spend time and effort doing your cleanup for you.

By the way, now that I read your original email more clearly, I am infuriated with your approach.  "We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines".  You are implying that I put up the link rather than you guys.  Insulting.

You want to scare me that somehow I am in violation of Google guidelines.  But in fact you are in violation.  It was you or your paid marketing representatives that put the link on my site, not me.  I didn't even want it there.  And since that sort of spam comment violates the terms and conditions of my site, you put it on my site in violation of my rules and express wishes.

It's Hard to Find Partisan Blogs that Actually Try to Engage with the Opposition

I try really hard to read some partisan blogs from the Left and Right so I see what they are saying and don't wallow in some libertarian echo chamber.  I have read Kevin Drum on the Left for year because, while I often disagree with him, he is willing to engage with opposition arguments rather than just dismissing them as the rantings of racist cis-gendered Koch-funded, uh, whatevers.

Unfortunately his guest bloggers seem to be cut from a different cloth (by the way, best wishes to Drum who is struggles with some awful health issues).  Here is Max Sawicky today:

In this post from just last weekend, Kevin links to a bit from Tyler Cowen. That was your first mistake, Brother Drum. I realize linking is not endorsing, though KD offers a limited, tentative 'interesting possibility' type of approval. You see, the prolific and very smart Tyler hails from the zany economics department of George Mason University. No good can come from referencing him. These characters spend all their time excoriating Government and social protection for the working class from tenured, Koch-subsidized positions at a public university. Sweet.

This is unfortunately what substitutes for debate nowadays.  His conclusion seems to be "don't read people that disagree with me, read only folks who work off the same assumptions.  Stay in the echo chamber!"  This is exactly what I try to avoid, but the ubiquity of this sort of ad hominem argumentation is making it really hard.

Upskilled: Yes I Sprayed Graffiti on Your House. I Now Demand You Clean It Up

Update:  I have an update on Upskilled's continued attempts to blame me for their spamming this site.  

I received a link removal request the other day from Upskilled.edu.au pointing to a link in a comment back at my old typepad blog site.  In part the email said: "We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines."

This is hugely insulting.  The link in question is obviously from a spambot marketing campaign they had years ago.  If they had just confessed that and said they were sorry I might not be ticked off, but to imply that I somehow put up this spam comment and therefore am obligated to take it back down is infuriating.  Anyway, I would have to pay Typepad hundreds of dollars to get back into my account so I can't do it anyway.

I sent them this:

I must say I have only limited sympathy.  Your company obviously engaged in a marketing campaign where you used automated programs to leave spam comments on blogs -- in this case the comment your bot left was just a quote of some of the text in the post itself.  Such spam comment bots are the bane of us blog owners' existence and we spend a lot of time and money fighting the behavior you engaged in.  In trying to promote your business, you vandalized my blog with digital graffiti.  Now that Google has changed its search ranking rules to penalize this behavior, you want me again to spend time and effort doing your cleanup for you.

No thanks.

Yelp's Way of Caving to Corporate Pressure and Hiding Reviews While Saying They Didn't Delete Anything

A few days ago I posted a negative review of Applied Underwriters, and linked to this post on my blog for much more detail.  Yelp promptly pulled the review, saying I violated their terms of service by linking to a commercial web site.  I thought that bizarre, since my blog has absolutely nothing commercial about it.   But it made more sense when I received a letter from Applied Underwriters demanding that I take down my negative Yelp review or they would sue me for libel.  I don't know for sure what happened, but I suspect that Applied Underwriters sent Yelp a similar demand and they used the link in the review as an excuse to delete it and avoid legal entanglements.

So I posted an updated review with more detail and no link.  Now, Yelp is hiding the review, along with most of the other negative reviews, behind a nearly invisible link at the bottom that says "other reviews that are not currently recommended".  Scroll down to the bottom of this page and you may see it if you have a keen eye.  It is not even clear it is a link, but if you click on it, you get all the bad reviews Yelp is hiding.

Let's dismiss all the reasons why Yelp might say they do this.  One is clarity, to reduce clutter.  But go to your favorite restaurant Yelp page.  Likely you will not see this link / hidden review phenomenon.  You will see pages and pages of reviews, far more than they would have to show if they just displayed all the reviews for Applied Underwriters.

So there must be another reason.  They say in their note there is a quality algorithm.  Anyone who has read a lot of Yelp reviews will know that if this is so, their quality algorithm is not working very hard.   They have a number of reviews that they "recommend" that are nothing more than a rant like "I will never use these guys again" while my unrecommended review includes paragraphs of detail about the service.  They say it is based on your review volume as well, but I have more Yelp review volume than several of the others who seem to pass the screen.

All of which leads me to believe that this is Yelp's purgatory where they hide reviews based on corporate pressure.  They have gotten a lot of cr*p publicly about deleting bad reviews from sponsors and from corporations that pressure them to do so.   They have a zillion self-righteous FAQ's asserting that they don't delete anything.   So imagine Applied Underwriters sends Yelp loads of threats to take down each negative review that comes up.  What do they do?  They put them in the not-recommended purgatory.  They can claim that they haven't deleted anything, but absolutely no one will ever likely see the review.  And they don't count any longer to the company's review count, so for all intents and purposes they are gone.

All of this is a guess, because it is absolutely impossible to contact Yelp about these issues.  No phone numbers.  The ones in general directories for San Francisco don't work for them.  You can't email or chat or contact their customer support in any way.  For a company in the transparency business, they avoid it like the plague.

But do you want to know what makes me doubly sure of my analysis?  Because there is no way to up-rate any of the "not recommended" reviews.  I would have thought the whole up-rating system was how they sorted reviews to present the most relevent at the top, but you can't do that with the ones they have put in purgatory.  Why?  Because these reviews are being put in purgatory not for some customer benefit but to protect corporations able to put pressure on Yelp.  Yelp doesn't want them uprated.  They are supposed to disappear.    If I had time, I would compare the number of "not recommended" reviews for corporations with powerful legal staffs like Applied Underwriters to the number for Joe's local business  (AU has 17 recommended reviews but a 28 full reviews that have been "disappeared" as unrecommended).

Diversity Update

Remember my hypothesis that in common use, at least on campus, the word "diversity" does not actually refer to ending out-groups, but is  just is a code word for shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another?

Here is a great example.  And more here, from a man in an interracial marriage who was labelled a white supremacist by Entertainment Weekly.

Moderates, libertarians, and Conservatives on campus would have done well to have fought back like this 20 years ago.

Update:  I love Sarah Hoyt.  "We haven’t yet reached the point when “banned by the New York Publishing establishment” is a badge of honor, but unless I mistake my gut we’re not very far off."

Why I Don't Like Online Photo Sites

I love the convenience of having my photos online and share-able, and especially having them backed up automatically as I take them, but the problem is that all the major sites seem to have a dream of being the last internet site standing, and want to keep all your photos in their little universe.  Shutterfly, Facebook, Google, Flickr -- they tend to only allow sharing within their little universe (though I am hoping for good things from Google peeling photos out of Google Plus).

Basically, sending your photos to these sites is a bit like sending someone to North Korea - they go in but never come out.  Someone just shared a shutterfly album with me and God forbid you want to actually save some of the full-resolution images rather than just buy prints from them.  At best these sites have some kludgy way to download full resolution photos one at a time, but it is never, ever easy and none have, as far as I have been able to see, a batch download function.  Flickr is the best in several ways due to its API that lets me automatically share albums and photos pretty easily in WordPress, but its core interface is now so ugly with the revamp a few years ago that I can barely stand to open it (and they tend to change names for the same damn thing - set, album, collection, etc - depending on which menu or context you find it).

Where's Coyote

Well, it is time for many of our seasonal operations to open over the next few weeks so I have been running in circles on business issues.  Also, I must confess that blogging is becoming a sort of Groundhog Day (the movie) experience, with the same arguments circling over and over.  How many more times can I write, say, a long article about how minimum wage increases are a terrible anti-poverty program only to get one line emails asking me why I hate poor people.  So blogging will be light as I do real world work and try to recharge.

I will leave you with one note of optimism, from Mark Perry.  I went to college in the nadir (1980) of the American beer industry, where a small oligopoly of mediocre beer producers was protected by government legislation.  It was a classic example of how regulation drives monopoly, consolidation, and loss of choice.  With deregulation, the American beer industry has exploded.

beer1

 

As an aside, my current go-to beer is actually Brazilian, Xingu Black

 

Net Neutering: Isn't It Great That This Old Lady Is Going To Take Us To Her House And Give Us Candy?

I read a number of tech sites like Engadget every day, and am just shocked at the continued happy puppy reactions to the FCC's takeover of the web.  The articles can all be summarized as "Hey, isn't it awesome this old lady is taking us to her house in the woods and giving us free candy?"

Daniel Henninger shares my reaction:

Washington’s seizure of the Internet is one of the great case studies in the annals of political naïveté.

Over several years, leading lights of the Web—among them Netflix,Google and Tumblr—importuned the Obama White House to align itself with the cause of net neutrality.

“Net neutrality,” like so many progressivist-y causes—climate change, health care for all—is a phrase designed to be embraced rather than understood.

But net neutrality had real meaning. Its core idea was that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, a Washington agency whose employees have been regulating communications since 1934, should design and enforce a price mechanism for the Internet. Up to now, nobody did that.

In February the FCC did, and on that day the Little Red Riding Hoods of net neutrality found out what big teeth grandma has. The FCC said its plans to regulate the Web were in a 332-page document, which no one can see until the agency is ready....

Mr. Karp and the rest of the 20-something and 30-something Peter Pans in the app development world should find their way to the 80-something communications lawyers and lobbyists retired in Florida for a tutorial on what it’s like trying to get Washington off your back once it has climbed on. Here’s the tweet-length version: You are going to pay and pay and pay. To save you, Washington will bleed you....

No one can do business until they first run it through the Beltway bosses. For the K Street corridor, it’s the golden age all over again.

As I wrote before, isn't anyone in tech worried that the government used a semi-imaginary problem that perhaps required a flyswatter to address to justify acquiring 16-inch naval guns?

The Problem with Email is That It's Free

Yeah, I know, free is always supposed to be better.  But the problem of spam is caused entirely by its being free.   Here is an example:

According to the indictments, between 2009 and 2012 Nguyen and Vu hacked at least eight email service providers -- the companies that collect your data under slightly more legitimate circumstances -- to steal marketing data containing over a billion email addresses. After that, they worked with Da Silva to profit from the addresses by sending spam with affiliate links for a company he controlled, Marketbay.com.

At least according to the DoJ, all of that work netted around $2 million in affiliate marketing fees.

We don't have any idea how many emails they sent to each of these billion addresses.  But let's say they sent 10 spams to each (probably a low guess).  That is 10 billion spam emails for a net revenue of $2 million, or around $.0002 per email sent in revenue.

Long ago I proposed that (and I am not sure how to do this technically) emails should cost $0.001, or a tenth of a cent, to send.  For you and I, say if we sent 200 emails a day (an email copied to 5 people would be 5 emails for this purpose) it would cost us 20 cents a day or about $75 a year, not much more than we pay for security software and updates.  But if you could make it work, spam would be reduced drastically.  No way there is any profit in sending an email for $.001 for an expected return of $.0002.

I have no idea in the current structure of the Internet how one would even do this.  The charge would have to come from the receiving end, somehow refusing to deliver it if it does not get payment information.  However, anyone who is going to steal a billion email addresses could likely hack the payment system.

I was going to call this tragedy of the commons, but that is not really quite right.  Tragedy of the commons is sort of related to free public resources, but is more of an issue of lack of property rights than of the zero price.

Matt Walsh on Net Neutering

Matt Walsh has an epically good article on why we should fear having the same folks who freaked out over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" running the Interntet

Net Neutering and Innovation -- Would Google Even Exist Under These New Rules?

From Gordon Crovitz at the WSJ 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler justified Obamanet by saying the Internet is “simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee.” He got it backward: Light-handed regulation made today’s Internet possible.

What if at the beginning of the Web, Washington had opted for Obamanet instead of the open Internet? Yellow Pages publishers could have invoked “harm” and “unjust and unreasonable” competition from online telephone directories. This could have strangled Alta Vista and Excite, the early leaders in search, and relegated Google to a Stanford student project. Newspapers could have lobbied against Craigslist for depriving them of classified advertising. Encyclopedia Britannica could have lobbied against Wikipedia.

Competitors could have objected to the “fast lane” that Amazon got from Sprint at the launch of the Kindle to ensure speedy e-book downloads. The FCC could have blocked Apple from integrating Internet access into the iPhone. Activists could have objected toAOL bundling access to The Wall Street Journal in its early dial-up service.

Among the first targets of the FCC’s “unjust and unreasonable” test are mobile-phone contracts that offer unlimited video or music. Netflix , the biggest lobbyist for utility regulation, could be regulated for how it uses encryption to deliver its content.

Until Congress or the courts block Obamanet, expect less innovation. During a TechFreedom conference last week, dissenting FCC commissioner Ajit Pai asked: “If you were an entrepreneur trying to make a splash in a marketplace that’s already competitive, how are you going to differentiate yourself if you have to build into your equation whether or not regulatory permission is going to be forthcoming from the FCC? According to this, permissionless innovation is a thing of the past.”

This is yet another example of an effect I have observed before -- why is it that the media is willing to raise concerns about an expansion of government power only after that expansion has passed.  We saw it before on ethanol and the stimulus bill, and now I think we are going to start to see it on net neutering.  A cynic might say that the media wants these expansions of power to occur, but also want to be able to point to their own prescience when these expansions inevitably cause problems.

My Response to Triumphalism over Turning the Internet into a Utility

Engadget is celebrating the fact that the Internet just got turned into Ma Bell.  Here was my response in the comments:

 This is utter madness.  Since when has "free" ever meant "tightly controlled by the government"?  Regulation like this always locks in current competitors and business models.  Hate Comcast?  You just guaranteed them their infinite existence and profitability.  They will be the Ma Bell of your generation.

New competitive models and technologies will now have to be vetted by government bureaucrats who will soon be captured by the industry itself.  It literally always happens this way.  How much innovation did you ever see in the landline phone business?  My telephone at my birth in 1962 was identical to the one in my dorm room in 1984.  Power companies?  Water companies?  Cell voice service?  What innovation have you ever seen?  What new competitors have you seen pop up to challenge the old guys?  Only in cellular data has there been any innovation, and that is to date the one place in phone communications the FCC has not regulated with this model.

I am exhausted with people justifying these heavy-handed government regulations based on the good intentions of their supporters rather than the actual facts of how these regulations always play out historically.  We will look back on this day as the beginning of the end of the wild, open Internet we loved.

I will say that folks can really be rubes.  Playing on the fear of one narrow issue that would have been easy to legislate (that broadband companies might block or limit access to certain sites), the government used this niche concern to drive through a total takeover of the Internet.  Way to go sheeple.

Update:  Some additional comments I made:

This problem of blocking web sites is almost entirely hypothetical, and to the extent it has been used at all it merely has been a negotiating tactic between big boys like Netflix and Comcast who can take care of themselves.    It could have easily been fixed with a narrow bit of rulemaking but in stead we get this major regulatory takeover.

Doesn't it bother you that this is a problem that could have been solved with a fly-swatter but instead the regulators demanded they be given a 16-inch naval gun.  Don't you worry why they need all that regulatory power to swat a fly?  Aren't you at all suspicious there is more going on here?

Where's Coyote?

I am off for Disney World to run in the Princess Half-Marathon this weekend.  My knees feel like I have four flat tires and have been driving on the rims for 20 miles, but I am running this last time with my daughter.

We started running this race together a number of years ago and the first time we ran was something of a breakthrough for my daughter -- the experience dedicating herself to a goal and the confidence she gained from achieving it led to many knock-on benefits, so much so that it became the core of her college essay.

That essay began with the story of she and I making our first tutu together.  At the time, I did not even know what tulle was, but we watched a YouTube video about how to make a tutu without sewing and we eventually got it done.   She ran the whole race, as she has ever since, with a tutu and a tiara on.  (By the way, I am always amazed at the niches in the Internet that I never knew existed.  This is the video we watched to make the tutu -- it has 2.4 million views!  We basically followed this process except we used a piece of underwear elastic for the waist band rather than ribbon).  My job is to cut the tulle into strips -- we make them twice as long as she wants the skirt, and then my daughter ties them to a piece of elastic in the middle, so two strands hang down.

The challenge has increasingly become to use different colors than any past tutu.   The last one looked more like a skirt.  This one she wanted to be shorter and puffier, more like a ballet tutu.  It is hard to capture it well in a picture to get the detail but this is the result:

click to enlarge

 

Not to worry, your humble correspondent will be in costume too.  I have some great Darth Vader running gear I will be wearing.  I wore a rebel pilot outfit last time.  Disney really hit on something with these runs -- they have 8-10 different ones now.  The Princess half-marathon is still the most popular and sells out in about 45 minutes.  It was as hard to get a spot in it as it is to get Comicon tickets.  But given the popularity, there are whole web sites specializing in themed and costumed running gear.  I love capitalism.

PS -- I am still amazed she takes on all this extra weight and drag for fashion.  When I have to run this far, I am tempted to cut off the ends of my shoelaces to save weight.

PPS-- Here was the first one, at the finish line (a little worse for wear)

finish

Argumentation

I strive to treat people I disagree with as intelligent persons of goodwill.  I don't always succeed.  It helps that many, even the majority, of my friends and family disagree with me politically.

A reader sent me Evil Greedy Stupid Sheep: 4 Modern Ways to Win An Argument.  The only quibble I have is the word "modern".  I am pretty sure that if we had better historical sources we would find people accusing Ramses or Sargon of being evil and in the pay of grain merchants.

I would add a fifth category to this I would call "out-group".    I don't have to listen to you because you are from group X.  There is a famous quote from WWII from a man I believe was in the British Foreign Office, who, when asked about stories of Nazi atrocities, said that they needn't take seriously a bunch of "wailing Jews."

As I grew up, I thought we might actually be getting beyond this.  You know - the sixties and tolerance and racial understanding and all that.  But it turns out that tolerance does not mean the end of out-groups, it simply means that the out groups are changing.  "Check you privilege" is the common campus shorthand nowadays for "shut up white male."  Males, whites, the religious, the well off -- these are the new out-groups whose origins are used to automatically invalidate anything they say.

Hey, I Started a Meme!

Root Cause Failure Analysis Fail

I just finished setting up 10 laptops for new managers.  I hate this process, but it is much faster now since I figured out how to get one exactly right and then clone a disk image onto a usb hard drive.  I can then boot the new computer with a recovery disk and apply the disk image.

Anyway, there was something wrong with two of the installations.  Symantec had server issues all this week and two of the PC's simply would not sync with their servers, probably because I set them up at the heights of their issues.  So I had to pull them out, and do the uninstall-reinstall thing on the virus software.

But the very first laptop did not work -- it was coming on but its screen was blank.  I pulled another out of the box.  Same problem.  And again.

Panicking I changed the power supply, checked the power outlets, and everything else I could think of.  I finally called Dell in a rage.

Before they could really even pick up the phone, I happened to tilt the computer.  The screen came on.  I lifted it up in the air.  Worked fine.

I finally figured out that I was sitting the laptop on top another closed laptop (of the same model) I had been working on.  The bottom laptop was powered down, but it turned out that something was causing the laptop on top of it to have its screen not work.  I can only guess it was some magnetic thing from the battery charging apparatus, since that was the only thing that was likely energized in the other laptop.

Anyway, problem solved but I never would have guessed that stacking laptops would make them not work.

Update on Slippery Cell Phones

In my review of my Droid Turbo, I mentioned in passing that I was frustrated by how slippery a lot of cell phones were.  I was in the Verizon store the other day killing time while they fixed something on my kids' phone, so I tried holding a bunch.

The slipperiest by far were the HTC One M8 and the LG G3.  Both, probably not coincidentally, get high marks for being attractive due to their metal or faux metal backs, but the same backs make them like a wet bar of soap to hold.  You can put a no slip case on them of course, but then if you are going to put them in a case, why buy a phone that is promoted in large part on its looks?

My Droid Turbo is OK, with no slip surface around the edges but a very slick back, at least the nylon back one I have.

The Galaxy S5 is better than average.  Its back gets a lot of grief for being ugly, but it will not slide around in the hand and is comfortable to hold.

Until this week, the no-slip champion for me was the Moto X with the bamboo case (it is real wood veneer, not some plastic fake thing).  It looks good to my eye and it is very grippy in the hand.

But there is a new champion.  I tried the Moto X with the new football leather backing (again, real football leather).  This thing is not going to slide out of your hand (unless maybe if you are Jay Cutler).  The looks are ... different, but I could get used to it.  Phones for me are a convenience item, not a fashion item.  The Moto X's only problems are a small battery and a camera that is a bit weak.  Which is why I bought the Droid Turbo, which is a very similar phone but with a bigger battery.  Just wish they had all the cool Moto Maker options the Moto X has.

Don't Worry, I am OK

An Unexpected Roadblock to Some of Our HR Automation

We are trying to use some of the available tools out there to better automate our application and onboarding process for employees.  Though we are not a huge employer (about 350 part-time people) we hire and fire them all every year, so there is a lot of burden for our size on the HR system.

We are running into a frustrating issue.  Most of our employees are older and often have limited computer skills, but we are getting past that.  But we tend to hire couples, and it turns out in the over-50 set that couples often share the same email address.  I can't even imagine having the same email address as my wife and having to filter through all of her business, but there it is.  Unfortunately, in the world of web accounts, must vendors use the email address as the one reliable unique identifier for a person and thus use it for the user name or expect it to be unique.

This is throwing us for a loop.  It is less of a problem in the application system because most of our couples just want to submit a single joint application anyway.  But for onboarding, they  each need their own W-4, I-9, etc.  So they need separate user accounts.

The question then comes down to this for us:  I can require them to get a second email address, but that is likely going to flummox some folks and require my manual intervention to help them.  Do I thus cause more tech support issues for myself than I save from the automation itself?

No point here, just venting on a problem I have not figured out how to fix.  And no fair saying stuff like "gmail is free and easy to sign up for, just make them get another gmail account."  I have managers who do a fabulous job for me that it took me days to teach how to log into and use Gmail.  A better and fairer comment would be "you have 20,000 applicants, make the application process require separate emails and even make it a little technically challenging so you limit your hiring pool to people who are better suited to using modern computer tools."  And yes, that may in fact be our solution.

Apple Has an iMessage Fix for Those Switching from iPhone to Android

As I wrote last week, one encountered a terrible problem when switching from iPhone to Android -- your phone number remained registered with the Apple iMessage servers as an iPhone and so that Apple tries to deliver texts from other iPhones to your new Android phone via their iMessage servers.  That does not work, and so the text just disappears into the ether, with the sender thinking it went through fine but the new Android user never seeing it.

After months and months of problems, and at least one class action lawsuit, Apple now offers a fix.  You can now de-register your phone number in the iMessage system by going to this link.  I don't know if it works and I don't know if there is any time delay.  I suddenly started receiving my texts from iPhones this weekend, about a week after I made the switch and called Apple to de-list me in their servers.

By the way, I tried to use the de-listing link.  The process involves a text back.  I never got a text back, lol.  So I am not positive the de-listing link is actually working, but since I was successful (apparently) with it last week doing it using the old method, I am not worried. I was successful using the method at the bottom of this page.

The Madness of Software Design: Designs that Require Customizing Browser Setting to Operate

We are looking at a number of third-party internet-based software solutions for a range of things from HR onboarding to safety and training management.  With minimum wages and other government-imposed employment costs rising, we are looking for ways to automate anything we can.

We have run into a useability issue on most of this software.  As a note, my employees tend to be 55 years old and older, and so many do not have a firm handle on computer skills.  So stuff needs to be simple and just work.  Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing or able to design a system that works with default browser settings.  In particular, everyone wants to design their software to require popups.  I have no idea why.  But time after time I put a system out for a subset of my employees to test and I immediately get 19 people calling me back saying that it does not work, they can't get in, etc.  The typical problem is that most of this software seems to require that the browsers popup blocker be turned off.  Why in the world would you design software for a feature that 99% of browsers today have turned off by default?  And worse, that require users to change a setting that only exists deep in setup menus most users don't even know exist.  I am pretty capable and it took me some poking around to find the popup options in Chrome.

This makes me totally crazy.  I had a long talk today with my onboarding company trying to explain why getting rid of an hour of HR time with their software at the cost of an extra hour of IT support time for each new employee trying to access the system does not save me any freaking money.  We received access to a training and safety system for free from our insurance company but it took so much of my personal time to get each employee able to successfully log into it that we abandoned it this year, despite it having a lot of good resources in it.  I will tell you guys that despite the world of these business solutions being apparently crowded, there is still room out there for someone who can program a front-end that reliably works with a variety of browsers and systems.