SOPA/PIPA Strike Over?

The Jan 18th SOPA & PIPA strike is over and sites are coming back online.  But, I found it to be an interesting experience.  About half of the websites I use regularly, perhaps more, were blacked out for the bulk of the day.  Of those that weren’t unavailable, they still had blacked out or censored images to show their disagreement with the bills.  Google, among them.

When I first saw that Google had only blacked-out their logo, I was disappointed that they hadn’t gone with a full site outage as protest.  But, by afternoon, I understood: its hard to appreciate a global internet blackout, if you don’t know about it. By Afternoon, I had discovered, largely through Google searches, just how pervasive the blackout protest had become. I found myself getting frustrated when site after site was unavailable.

I probably would have read about it in the days afterwards, but it makes a much greater impact when you can experience it your self.

Hopefully we all made enough of am impact to permanently kill SOPA & PIPA, otherwise we may find the Internet to look a bit different and to be a bit less useful if one of these bills pass and is signed into law.

A short missive on Chronological Usability

I’ve found a blog that really interests me, but want to read all the posts chronological order because it makes more sense that way.  Problem is, almost every blog, including mine, presents the posts in reverse chronological order.  Which is great if you’ve been following along already because the latest entries are always on the main page and at or near the top. 

But when you decide that you want to read them in the order they were posted, it gets rather cumbersome:  You have to locate the first entry, which can be an interesting prospect if they don’t have archives enabled, then you have to read from the bottom of each page towards the top — so you’re constantly reading down the posting, then moving up, past it, to the next one, reading down the posting, moving up, past it, to the next one … and so on.  Then when you get to the top, you usually have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page again to find the link that takes you to the next page, chronologically.  When that page loads you’re looking at the top of the page again, so you have to scroll back to the bottom of the new page to the last entry, then start the whole process over again.  What a pain!

It’s not so bad when each posting, when viewed by itself, has links to the next/previous posts, because then you can simply read the post, then click to the next one and so on.  A lot more page loads, but easier to navigate.  Unfortunately, many blog themes, or layouts, don’t seem to have these links either — mine included, again.  I think most people just don’t think about it:

What if someone wanted to read my blog in book style, from the earliest posting, until now?  Will it be easy to do?

It’s a part of the user experience, or usability, that seems to get lost when developing the blog or when web-designers develop themes and templates.  But it’s also something that could easily be fixed, either by adding the next/previous links to the page that displays individual posts, or by creating an optional “index” page that sorts the posts chronologically, instead.  Relatively small changes that could dramatically improve the usability of your blog — especially if the contents or subject matter lends itself to being read in date-order.

Although I can’t see why anyone would possibly want to read AlienSplicer this way, I’m going to have to modify it’s layout just in case they do.

What do you think?

Dish Network Extortion, or am I being Stupid?

I just spent an hour and a half on the phone with Dish Network and now feel like an extortion victim.

It all started earlier this week, when I got a flyer on from my employer about discounts employees might be able to get from Dish Network.  This is not unusual, it’s a large multi-national company and we’re always receiving employee discounts from places.  I didn’t think anything about it.

We’ve been Dish Network customers for the last 5 years.  Today, I looked over the flyer and, although I noticed that it appears to only offer discounts to NEW customers, some of them looked like they might be available for existing customers as well, so I called Dish to double-check.  As suspected, all the discounts on the flyer were for new customers only.

But while I was on the phone with them, during one of the several periods of “on hold” time, I logged onto Dish Network’s website to check our programming options.  There I noticed that we were paying $10/month for HD service, but that there was now another option where we could get “HD for Life” for $0.00 — free!  A definate no-brainer decision.  I asked them about getting “HD for Life.”

The problem is, there are only two ways you can qualify for free “HD for Life.”  the first one involves handing them direct access to your credit card or checking account, while the second is to pay them $99 for the privilege.  Both of these options leave a sour taste in my mouth.

To be honest, the first option actually has three requirements: sign a 2-year commitment, give them access to our credit card or bank account, and use paperless billing.  The only real issue I have with these requirements is having to give them access to our accounts. 

If it were just the 2-year commitment, it would be a done deal — it’s the same as with our cell phone carrier.  We’re long term customers, so an occasional two year agreement is not unreasonable to get some sort of perk.  But we don’t give anyone the authority to charge or draw money from our accounts as they see fit.  There are so many ways in which doing so could result in problems.

So, for those of us who wish to maintain control of our finances, they offer the other option: we can buy the discount.  I find this offer to be distasteful, counter productive, and not particularly helpful.  In order to get HD for free, we had to, in effect, prepay for 10 months, after which it would be free.  Since the goal was to reduce our monthly bill, asking us to pay this … fee … in order to do so is very unpalatable.  Especially considering we’ve already paid more than this much over the last year or more for HD service.

I negotiated hard with four different people — 2 customer service representatives, their supervisor, and their manager — to try and find a reasonable solution.  We’re long term customers, but don’t like to give up control of our finances; and that having to purchase a discount seems punitive.  This is why I was on the phone with them for an hour and a half.

In the end, I was basically told that they don’t need us as customers — long term or otherwise.  We can either continue paying the monthly fee (for a service that’s offered for free), give them our financials, purchase the free service, or go away.  It’s our choice.

Dish Network is right, it is our choice.  Direct TV and cable are not the only alternatives.  There are now numerous options on the Internet for watching our favorite TV programming and movies.  We have many choices.

I hate spammers!

… right-arrow, center-button, right-arrow, center-button, right-arrow, center-button …

I really detest spammers! Most of us give it little thought, but when we receive spam messages, the “sender” is usually a spoofed address. Not spoofed in that it was made up — that’s too easy to test for in many cases — but spoofed in that they use someone else’s email address as the spam message’s sender. … right arrow, center-button … When we receive the spam, that little fact doesn’t mean much to us. But when they use your email address as the spoofed sender, you know it.

… right-arrow, center-button …

Over the weekend, I’ve received several thousand — yes, that was thousand — bounce messages where a spammer had attempted to send their spam to invalid email addresses, to mailboxes that were already full, to servers that correctly identified the messages as spam, to systems that needed some sort of anti-spam confirmation actions, and more for a number of other reasons. … right-arrow, center-button … What these bounce messages had in common was that (1) the original message claimed it came from one of my email addresses, and (2) it had actually originated from Brazil (many of the bounce messages were kind enough to include message headers from the original).

… right-arrow, center-button …

Having to constantly delete messages from my inbox all weekend long was very annoying and I had to be very careful, as it would have been very easy to accidentally delete a real, valid, message from someone that I knew. There’s nothing much that could be done about it, except, perhaps, to create a couple of temporary mail filters to assist with the deleting.

… right-arrow, center-button, right-arrow, center-button …

To make matters worse, the particular email address that had been victimized was one that not only delivered mail to my inbox, but also delivered copy to my PDA phone. … right-arrow, center-button … a small detail I missed until late last night. Although the wave of bounce messages finally trickled off to almost nothing shortly past midnight, I’m still deleting them from the phone, where each one has to be individually acted upon with a two button sequence. It’ll take some time to get them all deleted.

… right-arrow, center-button …

Did I mention how much I loath spammers?

… right-arrow, center-button, right-arrow, center-button, right-arrow, center-button …

PSP Replacement needs Replacement

During the first weekend of the year, Son#2 downloaded new firmware for his PSP and attempted to perform an upgrade. But just before the firmware upgrade completed, his PSP’s screen suddenly went black. It had apparently died. When it was turned on, the power light would come on, but the screen would remain blank. It was “bricked,” as we later learned on the Internet.

We googled for hours, searching in vain for way to recover it, but instead found hundreds of horror stories of people who’s PSPs had been bricked, and of the draconian “support” they had received by Sony. Our only real choice was to send it back to Sony for service.

Son#2 had purchased it with “birthday” money from a local Walmart a few months back, so it was well within the 12 month warranty period. However, we couldn’t find the receipt and, being a cash purchase, didn’t have any other documentation Sony would accept as proof of purchase. Comparing notes we were able to narrow the purchase date down to a two week period and a very helpful Walmart Manager was able to locate the purchase in their Transactions database and printed a copy of it for us.

So on January 10th, Son#2’s PSP was shipped off to Laredo, Texas, for repair or replacement, at Sony’s discretion.

Late yesterday afternoon, I received a call from an excited Son#2: his replacement PSP had arrived! He was quite happy to have it back.

Today, less than 24 hours after arriving, the replacement PSP began failing. When UMDs (PSP game disk-cartridges) were inserted, the PSP would attempt to read them, but would fail: disk is unreadable. We tried several times with different UMDs, and always got the same results: the disk would spin up for about 2 seconds, then would stop.

I’ve already called Sony, and this PSP will be shipped back to them tomorrow. Judging from the previous time, we should see the repaired/replacement unit in about two weeks.

While on the phone making arrangements for this machine to go back, the support representative informed me — as they had the previous time — that our original PSP had a 12 month warranty, that replacement PSPs come with a 90 day warranty, and that our effective warranty would be either 90 days or the remainder of our 12 month warranty, which ever is longest.

My suggestion that they extend our original warranty by the 4 weeks Son#2 will have been without his PSP fell on deaf ears. Considering all that we’ve heard about Sony in the news in recent months, I wasn’t surprised.

Maricopa County, sponsored by …

Maricopa County has decided to cash in on the popularity of their GIS Maps website — the site receives 300,000 visitors a month — by soliciting for advertisers.  The website interfaces with the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database and allows county residents to search for and view property lines, plat data, and other information on land and properties within the county.  This aligns very well with the Service Provider directories (Real Estate, Financial, and Home Services) already designed into the site.

I understand and appreciate the County’s drive to increase their annual revenue without raising our taxes, but I feel rather uneasy about commercial sponsorships of a government agency.  The potential for abuse is high since it provides special interests an avenue for exchanging large bids, to otherwise cash-strapped agencies, for favors.  It can also lead to the indirect endorsement of one product or company over another.  This is not a role that should be played by local, state, nor federal government.

I realise this isn’t a new idea — public schools have had advertised sponsors of scoreboards and events for years — but if this is a sample of things to come, where does it end?  Chain-gang clothing provided by … or naming rights for the State Capitol building?

Scratch them Off our List

We went out to dinner last night to Valle Luna, a Mexican food restaurant that we used to really like and enjoy. The last couple of times we were there, however, the food was served only mildly warm and the tamales looked like they had been getting old, but since we had really liked the place and it had been some time since our last visit, we thought we’d give it another try. Last night, unfortunately, was no exception.

Not only was the food barely above room temperature, but the plates — although I’m sure they were clean — were so scraped and roughed up, especially around the rim, that they looked absolutely filthy. Worse, nobody was paying any attention to what was said and didn’t really seem to care: the hostess seemed put out that we wanted a booth instead of a table, although I asked politely both times; hot-sauce was an apparent commodity since each request for multiple dishes — one for each of us — resulted in only one dish being delivered; although the one special order dish was carefully explained and, we thought, confirmed, it arrived wrong with their claiming ignorance of any special requests — although, they did offer to replace it with a meal prepared the way we had originally asked; when we mentioned the unappetizing appearance of the dishes to the Manager who, naturally, delivered the re-prepared dish, we got nothing more than a blank stare for the few seconds it took for him to make his getaway; when we finally got tired of waiting at the table to pay our bill, the young lady at the register argued with us that our waitress would have to take our payment at the table or, at least, be the one to enter the payment at the register.

I think we’re finally done with this place — it will be a very, very long time before we consider going back again.

Their Problem/Their Problem

I’ve just spent several hours — make that most of the damn day — trying to get our Veritas NetBackup software to “talk” to our Network Appliance file-servers. This has been driving me nuts to the point of wanting to pound my head against the desk, keyboard, monitor, etc.

The problem is that the Veritas authentication mechanism wasn’t authenticating to the filer. Yet everything appeared to be setup correctly on both sides — the change that caused this was that I had upgraded the OS on the filers to the latest production release.

Attempts to locate documentation on the vendor’s websites failed miserably. The only “How To” available on both sites was the same document … for a VERY OLD version of NetBackup that not only doesn’t look anything like the current version, but some of the commands referenced don’t exist anymore — assumably, they’ve been replaced.

I tried contacting both Veritas and Network Appliance for help. They each basically pointed at the other and said it was their fault.

Grrrrr …

Having nothing better to try, I tried changing the passwords on the filers and within the auth config. It worked! But putting the passwords back caused the same problem. It turns out, that the damn thing does’t work if the auth password is MORE THAN EIGHT CHARACTERS LONG !!!!

Now that I know EACTLY what the problem is, it was easy to find the solution on NetApp’s site: change the password to one shorter than 8 characters. DUH!! Too bad the tech on the phone couldn’t be bothered to suggest that a couple of hours ago!

You know … a career change to Sunflower farming is begining to look really good about now.


People keep talking about how the economy has gone to hell in a hand-basket. That we’re in the middle of a mild depression — although, from the sounds some people are making, you’d think we were nearly in another Great Depression. The cost of living is too high, the job market is non-existant, and everyone is struggling to put food on the table.

I don’t buy it.

From my observation, things haven’t changed much in the last couple of years. Oh, sure, the high-tech industry has had some set-backs and the stock market is returning to normal after the false high it reached from the likes of Enron and Worldcom cooking their books. But there seem to be plenty of non-tech jobs out there. Especially construction. You can’t drive anywhere in Phoenix without seeing a new building or house under construction. In fact, they’re building entire housing developements such as Anthem and Tramonto as fast as they possibly can. This isn’t low-cost housing either. Most of them are luxury homes.

Developers wouldn’t be building as fast as they are if they weren’t selling. If people are buying high-cost houses as fast as they are, then smaller, lower-cost, houses are selling as well. Apparently, at a increasingly phenominal rate. This couldn’t happen if the economy were really as bad as constantly reported.