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The Net Takeaway: Page 19

OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST

Danny Flamberg's Blog
Danny has been marketing for a while, and his articles and work reflect great understanding of data driven marketing.

Eric Peterson the Demystifier
Eric gets metrics, analytics, interactive, and the real world. His advice is worth taking...

Geeking with Greg
Greg Linden created Amazon's recommendation system, so imagine what can write about...

Ned Batchelder's Blog
Ned just finds and writes interesting things. I don't know how he does it.

R at LoyaltyMatrix
Jim Porzak tells of his real-life use of R for marketing analysis.

 

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No Pay, No Help · 02/26/2006 05:20 PM, Personal

Lots of folks think that pay-for-service is a great model in this capitalistic world. They feel that government should get out of the way of everything, and that its ok to charge the consumer for everything or anything they can.

(Its funny how these same folks complain about DRM (oh, you mean, I have to pay now? Oh, then this sucks!) , but that’s for another time…)

So, it starts coming down to this: If you don’t pay, you can watch your house burn down:

Southwest Missouri firefighters watch as fire hits nonmember

(Via The Consumerist Blog)

Yes, there are details: Surrounding areas went to tax supported rural firefighting, but this area didn’t. Newcomers are left to fend for themselves or pay an annual membership fee.

Yes, the owner offered to pay cash on the spot… but “the Monett department does not have a policy for on-the-spot billing.” If this were on TV, it would be funny. But in real life, its just pathetic.

Look, I get paid well for my specialized services, and I bill by the hour… but I don’t hesitate for a second to spend my time helping a person who has collapsed on a walkway to an aircraft, as I did a few weeks ago. My time is valuable (As is everybody’s; see Bruce Mohl’s column in the Boston Globe) but sometimes you have to overlook commerce for life. Seems obvious to some… but why not all?

That not one firefighter considered breaking rank, that not one person thought about de-droning, says worlds about where we are headed. And you thought Robocop was just an absurdist violence-fest fantasy, didn’t you?

So, my note for today is: Get your money where you can… but keep your priorities straight. If they don’t have health insurance, you can still treat them. If they didn’t pay for your “advanced services”, you can still give them a break every once in a while and let them benefit. And if their house is burning down, then save it now, even if they haven’t paid. Don’t worry, you’ll get your cash one way or another… but more importantly, you’ll make everything a better place, not just for you, but for those around you.

And that is really where we want to be, right?

Comments?

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Videora update on the way? · 02/20/2006 06:13 PM, Tech

I haven’t yet upgraded my Apple iPod firmware to 1.1 yet, because of lots of complaints about video performance from Videora converted videos (on Apple forums, Videora forums, and blogs). For many people, the videos just stop playing about 30 seconds in. This seems to be more of an issue on the 60gb than the 30gb iPods, btw, so if you have the smaller one, go ahead and upgrade.

Note, btw, that Apple has made not one mention or official recognition of any of this pain. No blogger, no leak, no nothing. Could it be that they don’t know about it? I doubt it… but at the same time, this issue has really not been carried as well as it should have by the various iPod sites such as iLounge or iPodGarage. No rumblings or revivals of the story, no updates, nothing. I am somewhat surprised, given the fuss about the battery issues just a few years ago. Maybe not enough people were impacted… but I consider this a huge letdown by the “social community” around an issue which Apple could easily have addressed with nothing more than a tech note. With our whimper and whiff, Apple gets away with another abuse of its customers.

The issue, according to some of the more technical posts, seems to be with the way Videora puts together the final package of audio and video (aka muxing).

But according to this thread on the Videora iPod Converter forums, the Videora folks are playing with a fix which will not only convert new video properly, but include an option to “repair” the previously converted files. This will presumably be version 0.92; as I write this, 0.91 is still the current version on the Videora iPod Converter home page.

Now, if you can’t wait, there are lots of techie-tools which will let you “re-mux” yourself. These are not for the faint of heart. Some folks have tried to strip this down to the essentials, and if you want to give it a shot yourself, mrtony’s post from the above thread is about the simplest I’ve seen:

If you’re like me and you’ve already transcoded a bunch of movies using Videora 0.91 and now they won’t play right on the new iPod 1.1 firmware, follow these simple steps:

1) Download and install Yamb. http://yamb.unite-video.com/Yamb-1.5.exe

2) Run Yamb.

3) On the “Mux” tab, add the old MP4 file to the “Audio & Video” section.

4) Leave the “Subtitles” and “Chapters” sections blank.

5) Leave the “Output” filename to the default or change it to whatever.

6) Click the “Mux” button. The progress bar might loop through a few times, just wait for the log message “Muxing finished completely”. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

7) Remove the old MP4 file from your iTunes library, add the new MP4 file, sync to iPod, and enjoy!

I haven’t tested this. Seems simple enough, so if you try it, let me know what you find. In the meantime, check out that thread and see if the “0.92” version helps.

I’ll update here when the 0.92 is finally released.

Comments? [1]

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Nasonex and Batman? · 02/13/2006 08:51 PM, Trivial

Why, you might ask, would those go together? For those who don’t know, Nasonex is an anti-allergy medication. You might have seen their constant TV ads involving a computer generated bee:



Now, does Batman have allergies? Does he carry the Nasonex sprayer on his utility belt?

Well, no. But in stumbling around the web, I found out who made these ads. And the man responsible is the one who drew, to me, the iconic Batman. Not the Frank Miller one; Miller drew his inspiration from this man, who changed Batman from the buffoon of the 60s to the Dark Knight of the 70s. He also added the yellow backdrop to the chest logo, saluted by Miller in the line from The Dark Knight Returns, “Why do you think I wear a yellow target on my chest? I can’t armor up my head.”

If you can’t guess, click here. Or see just why I will always think of this version of Batman here.

Is this a sell out? Well, he’s gotta pay the bills. But these ads are on my list of most annoying things ever. It’s too bad that the man who made the indelible image of Batman is now making the “wish it could be burned from my retinas” ads on TV.

Maybe, someday, Batman will swoop in and stomp on the bee. I can dream, can’t I?

Comments? [2]

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Hardware questions of the day... · 02/11/2006 12:09 AM, Tech

1) I have an external 80G Iomega hard drive, connects to USB, etc. I presume the inside is just a plain ol’ IDE drive, right? That is, I should be able to open it up, pull out the drive, and put in any traditional IDE (aka PATA) drive, correct? It seems so, but I haven’t tested it yet. Anyone try this? Does Iomega do anything non-standard which would prevent this?

Answer: A little hunting revealed this thread which talks specifically about the Iomega DHD080-U, but gives hints for most of the drives. It points out that a) there are 2 hidden screws under the rubber feet in the back, and b) its easy to replace with a drive up to 137GB, but the board in the box may not support higher, and that the ventilation is weak in these boxes since they have no fan (cheap Iomega!).

2) I now have a Linksys SRX WRT54GX. This is just like all my other Linksys routers, and no, I haven’t put any 3rd party firmware on it, though it is the Linux version. But instead of worrying about all that stuff, I have a simpler question.

Does anyone have any idea what USB adapter will work with this SRX stuff? Even Linksys themselves don’t have one! SRX is just their name for MIMO, will any MIMO adapter work? BTW, MIMO also appears under the names True MIMO, Pre-N, VLocity, and RangeMax. Will any of these work?

Check out the product page for Linksys and try to sort through SpeedBooster, SRX, and just plan 11g. There are PCI SRX adapters (don’t want to waste a slot), PCMCIA SRX adapters (I have a desktop)... and that’s it. In fact, it was only a few months ago that they finally made a normal sized USB adapter at all, instead of this monstrosity. Oh, and what the heck is SpeedBooster, anyway?

So, Linksys is out. Any suggestions on who makes an ok USB normal sized MIMO adapter which will work with this Linksys router?

Comments?

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Referrer Karma · 02/10/2006 02:07 PM, MetaBlog

I’m trying a new referrer blocker that’s popular in the Wordpress world called Referrer Karma.

It looks like it should work cleanly, but if you are having strange experiences when you get here, please let me know at wexler at yahoo dot com.

Dr. Dave has all the details, but basically, the tool uses Curl to pull out the referring link from the header, and if that referring link doesn’t truly have a link to this site, it returns a 403 and blacklists the IP. I can clear the lists or whatnot, but in my tests, it appears to work fine for legitimate linkers.

I am not using Wordpress for this blog, so there may be some bumps but my address is in the sidebar of every page, so just ping me if you have problems.

Update: Dr. Dave now hates Wordpress, so he’s abandoned this little gem. His page is still up, but the file is no longer available from him. It can be found at:
http://waybackmachine.org/*/http://wp-plugins.net/downloads/ref-karma.zip

Comments? [2]

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New PC, New Software · 01/28/2006 06:25 PM, Tech

My wife was getting sick and tired of her old PC, so we took advantage of the holidays to upgrade me to a new Dell and give her my old one. I tried to do things a little differently this time.

I wound up with a Dimension 9150, which is similar to an XPS 400 (middle of the line gaming machine). I went for 1 gig of ram, a 250G SATA drive, and an nvidida generic (dell version) Geforce 6800 on a PCI Express 16 slot. The system uses the new Intel Pentium D 830 chip (800 mhz bus, 1mb onboard l2 cache, acts like 2 cpus, but no hyperthreading) on an Intel 945G chipset.

Zippy machine, but lots of gotchas to be aware of.

Because I was trying to save money, I decided to try something different with my utilities. I’ve used Norton Utils since the early 80s (when they bought out my fav PCTools from Central Point Software). But each additional version has been more and more annoying, and has more and more ways to take my money. So, I decided to try some less well known but cheaper options.

Costco is wonderful for software when they have it. Its always cheaper than anywhere else, even Newegg, even Buy.com. And so I got the following:

Iolo System Mechanic 6

Iolo, out of LA in California, have been around for a while, since 1998. They are now on version 6 of their package, but its gotten practically no reviews. A couple of people have reviewed version 5, and the response was always mixed. In addition, they always reviewed the System Mechanic Professional version, which includes anti-virus and firewall, but I wasn’t looking for that (more below, but the AV and FW is just Kaspersky and I wanted something different (and it used to be Panda, so can’t they keep a partner?)). The reviews usually focused on that part of the toolset and ignored the useful stuff. So, I was flying blind when I bought System Mechanic 6.

So, what have I found? Well, its true, they did cheap out in places. Where Norton makes a WinPE bootable CD and disk for rescue purposes, Iolo chose to use FreeDos (and don’t really provide any of the GPL code or GPL licenses, bad move). The problem is that the version of FreeDos they are using to make the CD bootable (or to make a boot floppy) doesn’t recognize the SATA drives in the new Dell, so the rescue boot thinks I have no drives and locks up. While this is not a dealbreaker, it does leave me a bit defenseless during a catastrophic failure. I never had that issue with Norton; its rescue stuff always boots. I will be playing with the disks myself to see if I can update the FreeDos or create my own rescue disk (lots of botable CDs out there, but none have the Iolo tools).

The interface does have some weaknesses: everything is a wizard, so its hard to get control over some of the features. It assumes the user is not as savvy as an expert, and so tries to hide some of its details away. I don’t love that, but I can usually tell what its doing. (Read my McAfee review below for an interface which hides everything it can, to the user’s detriment.)

I’m going to focus on what I use; there are lots of features here, many of which I don’t care about. It does have the various alerts and such to tell you that you haven’t optimized this or that. Unlike Norton, it does have an Internet “speed-upper”, basically a set of registry mods to up the TCP receive window, simult connections, etc. It checks startup programs and lets you re-order them (a nice touch), as well as “optimizes” them and, of course, remove problems.

Like Norton, it has a defragger. While its faster than Norton’s, and does have boot-time defragging (a very nice touch), it pales in comparison to the absolutely awesome Diskeeper. I don’t own it personally, but we use it at work, and WOW (but the Professional edition is $50, 2x the price of all of SM6 at Costco). Anyway, the defragger is not as fast as Diskeeper, but isn’t bad.

System Customizer is a nice menu over a collection of registry settings for all sorts of speedups and hacks. SM6 also has a “memory free-up” and “memory defragger”. Most reviews of standalone memory utils say they suck (I recall the fun of Ram Doubler and its ilk during the heydays of Windows 3.1 and 95) and I haven’t found this to be all that useful… but its interesting. There’s also a nice process manager, not as powerful as the amazing (and FREE!) ProcessExplorer at Sysinternals, but still pretty handy.

I haven’t yet tried it, but it does have a Registry cleaner. Fred Langa did an amazing review of 10 registry cleaners (though not this one) and he wasn’t all that impressed with any of them. SM6 also has “Spython”, a spyware checker, but I’ll stick with Microsoft’s Anti-Spyware.

It’s Drive Medic is their Disk Doctor. Its slow, and doesn’t reveal what its checking, which really irks me. I presume its like Norton’s, but honestly, it hides so many details that I’m completely unsure what its doing. That scares me. I don’t understand why they don’t provide an expert mode for each tool, esp this one, which gives full into on what its doing, finding, and fixing.

There is a wizard which looks for security flaws, which is not such a bad thing. I didn’t agree with all of its recommendations, but it was probably right. Automatic System Protection basically backs up some current settings (home page, etc.) and tries to intercept changes to them, mostly around Startup, certain process insertions, and homepage and searchpage changes. One could consider this a spyware/virus protection thing, but I already have Microsoft’s Anti-Spyware and a virus scanner keeping an eye on these things. A “Windows Change Tracker” does snapshots of many settings, akin to the system restore built into windows or Norton’s GoBack (but not as continual as GoBack, which is pretty impressive if your system has the horsepower). An OK System Info tool gives the usual stuff, and a built-in logging system tries to let you roll back changes (but is so confusing that to me, it’s worthless). I have to say, the logging is full of extraneous and undetailed events. I really don’t care that the menu was opened, but I damn well want a list of what scans were run and what was found, from Drive Medic through to Defrags.

There is a scheduler built in for running many of its maintenance tasks. SM6 also has a popup blocker (who needs this nowadays?), a “junk file remover” which I never trust (I can clean my tmp and internet temp files myself, thank you very much), a Dupe file finder, a software uninstaller (don’t know how much I trust that yet either, but it may turn out to be handy if it cleans the registry), an Internet cleanup/privacy tool (don’t know if it can kill index.dat, and cookies aren’t so bad, what’s with you people?) as well as a “permanent file deleter” which overwrites the file with scramble. There is a shortcut fixer, which I don’t think I have ever worried about in all my years of Windows. It has a “software mover” which basically edits shortcuts and the registry when you move apps to a different drive or folder (but on the same machine, this is not Alohabob’s PC Relocator) These are all dupes of various standalone utilities and apps, some of which you may want, but for me are just useless. I guess you are getting them as a bonus, since Norton doesn’t really have any of them. If these are things you don’t already have, or really want, more’s the better.

Support has sucked electronically. I’ve waited multiple weeks for responses for each request I’ve logged. Each time I’ve had to call and sit on hold for up to 20 minutes. The techs are ok, and are American, but still… Online technotes are void of useful details about the tool, and mostly repeat the help files.

I miss my Norton Recycle Bin, which caught anything deleted by any program. Iolo has nothing like that.

Summary? So far, its OK. I wish the rescue boot thing worked. I wish defrag was faster. I wish they were more upfront with tech info on their site so I could better understand what the tool was doing. But it was much cheaper than Norton, and it does have many of the same features, if not implemented the same way. I don’t recommend it unilaterally: decide if Norton is worth the extra money to get the extra stuff (Ghost is great if you get the expensive package, and of course, NAV is a standard, GoBack can be handy). There is a free trial, so you can actually use it for a time to see how it works. Backup your stuff, of course before trying this (I love Norton’s Ghost or Retrospect by Dantz.)

McAfee VirusScan and Personal Firewall Plus

My other machine has run NAV and ZoneAlarm Free for years, and for the most part, its been pretty good. ZoneAlarm, of course, is the gold standard for free personal firewalls and thanks to the loss of most of the rest (I’ll talk about them in a future post), its an obvious starting place.

The problem was that I started wanting more more and more control over what the firewall allowed and didn’t allow… and ZoneAlarm Free didn’t do it. I could have upgraded to a paid version… but that still left me wondering what to do for a Virus. Yes, since I didn’t buy SystemWorks, I had to find a virus program as well.

There are free anti-virus programs out there as well, but I don’t love any of them. And since I wasn’t going with SystemWorks, I now had to find both a virus and a firewall.

Costco to the rescue again. They had a bundle of McAfee VirusScan and Personal Firewall Plus (I have not figured out what’s so plus about it) for cheap… and it was already installed on the Dell for a 90 day trial, so I figured: let it run and see how it does. For those history buffs, the firewall is the relabeled Signal 9 ConSeal Private Desktop which McAfee absorbed in 1999, and VirusScan has been around since DOS days (along with the faster F-Prot).

Basically, McAfee crams it all into a “security center” console, and tries to treat the user like an idiot. Going even beyond Iolo, it hides away every possible way to let the user know what its doing so that you can have an “ignorance is bliss” feeling. Every setting is an “all or nothing” setting. I can’t, for example, allow local IPs in my network to do some things but not others… I either trust them completely or block them completely. Too bad, I really wanted to allow my wife to see pictures of my son, but I guess she won’t be allowed to. If you are willing to click deep enough, you do stumble across some useful firewall features, but they are both well hidden and incomplete.

AntiVirus just bugs me. Scans are pretty fast. But its impossible to find out information about what happened. No log of runs (or of settings used) is kept, no info about the scan is given to the user at all (elapsed time? k/sec? What it scanned, what it skipped?). I guess they feel that if nothing is found, then the user shouldn’t even know anything happened… and that’s sloppy, esp for a security company. And how about this gem from the Help file:

“Rescue Disk is not supported by your operating system. We are currently working on a solution and will automatically provide an update to your VirusScan software when it is available.”

Well, thanks for nothing. Funny, your compadres at Norton do provide a way to make a rescue disk. Yes, I am aware that Iolo copped out on this too. Hear the birdies go “cheap, cheap, cheap”.

Basically, VirusScan is probably powerful at detecting well hidden and subtle things, but how can I tell? So much is hidden away from the user that if I did get a virus, I would have little to no control over how to fix it.

The Firewall is also a subscription service. Why? What possible reason could we have for subscribing to a firewall? Turns out that they want us to download new application signatures for automatic configuration. Tell ya what, McAfee: let me figure that out, don’t try to find a way to keep charging me for a firewall. You have a cash cow with antivirus, don’t pee into the wind.

This firewall has a bad rep for outbound events, with perhaps too much emphasis on inbound events… that is, it logs (relatively well) the inbound stuff of interest, but there is no logging of outbound (which really, really sucks). Good trace and ban features (though the fact that I trace a portscan to Bulgaria helps me how? Pretty though it may be…). Reviews constatnly pointed out how leaky (allowing programs lots of outbound access) it is, and though some folks disagree, I think its sad that only ZoneAlarm is so focused on fixing this, while others (like McAfee) seem to just let it ride. PCMag got verification that McAfee allows this on purpose which is rather disappointing. Seems the McAfee corporate firewall stops leaks, but regular old infected users are allowed to pollute the internet as much as they want.

Now, I haven’t seen it, but almost every review points out the incessant ads in McAfee products. B/c my Dell has the full suite in trial mode, I don’t see ads now… but if I start seeing them, I will be pissed. Since the other reviewers imply that its coming, I’m gritting my teeth. See, for example, AdwareReport’s review

So, my summary? It was probably a mistake to cheap it out. I should have bought ZoneAlarm Pro which retails for $40… and if I had bought it direct from ZA, I could have gotten Iolo SM6 for only $20 (even cheaper than Costco). The full load is $60, which is getting to SystemWorks or Norton Internet Security pricing… but ZA really seems more controllable.

Note that Symantec effectively priced me out. I wanted to get SystemWorks and the Norton Firewall and be a one-stop shop, but even at Costco, I would have spent almost $100 and bought some programs twice.

Its too soon to spend more money on this stuff, and its dangerous to run too many types of these utilities at one time. I will probably, near future, get Systemworks and ZoneAlarm and run things the way I want to. Yes, I know Systemworks has problems, but better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t, right?

Firewalls

If you don’t want to buy one, at your own risk check out:
ZoneAlarm Duh.
Filseclab Open Source…
Jetico Freeware
NetVeda Appears to be free, but hard to tell
Kerio Acq by Sunbelt Software, a “limited” free edition (and cheap purchase)

A recent (01/24/2006) review by WXPNews is here where Kerio is the winner. Some people complained, and they followed up with:

For an unbiased opinion, though, check out Neil Rubenking’s firewall review in the October 2005 issue of PC Magazine. He reviewed the same products and came to the same conclusion: Kerio is the best choice for Windows 2000 and XP. We should have mentioned that Kerio PF 4.0 doesn’t support Windows 9x and Me. We also should have mentioned that, like the others, Kerio has a free version as well as the paid one. Some of our readers mistakenly stated that Kerio is not free and shouldn’t have been compared to the free firewalls. You can also read the review at http://www.wxpnews.com/rd/rd.cfm?id=060131ED-Review, which gave Kerio a 9 out of 10 user rating. Kerio 4.0 also got 5 stars from popular U.K. magazine Webuser at http://www.wxpnews.com/rd/rd.cfm?id=060131ED-Review2. It has also been recommended by Jason Parker at CNET. We could go on, but you get the idea: we aren’t the only ones who believe Kerio is a great choice if you need a personal firewall.

Sygate and Tiny are both gone. Agnitum Outpost is pro only. (Correction: As my brother (Thanks, Darren!) points out below, Outpost does still have a free version… but it hasn’t been updated since 2002, so for all intents and purposes, its free but potentially out of date. Since it was one of the better ones, its probably still worth considering, with caveats as noted by PCMag’s review).
Windows XP SP2 has a firewall, which is better than nothing, but barely.

Anti-Virus

Same as above. Some of these are just scanners, others include live blocking (you want the live blocking! aka on-access real-time scanning).
AntiVir Personal edition
ClamWin Free open source scanner (only!) for Windows
Grisoft AVG Free Editon (note how they hide this from the main Grisoft page).
Free Avast
BitDefender Free Edition

There are probably other FW and AV programs, but these were in my bookmarks. There are also free online virus scanners, but that doesn’t help you remove the problems. Finally, note that spyware is different (but related) to viruses, and you want one of the usual suspects on your machine such as Microsoft’s, Lavasoft’s, or S&D Spybot as well as your virus stuff.

Comments? [1]

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So, there are some good eggs out there... Like Covertec · 01/27/2006 12:36 PM, Personal

When I got my Blackberry, only a couple of “whoops” drops told me that I needed a case, something I’d never had to buy for my other phones (all clamshells). I mentioned the Covertec case I purchsed as part of my Blackberry Adventures and I mentioned some aspects of it there… but I’ve learned a lot recently about what separates a good company from a great one, and why we need to encourage good companies who make good products and stand behind them.

Covertec does make a good case; the many good reviews around the net convinced me that it was worth investigating. They have some very unique features, including a completely removeable belt clip which makes it a pocket case (Yes, I am aware of Krusell’s line, with a similar functionality, but they are much uglier). While it does require a screwdriver (which they thoughtfully provide), it’s removal makes the back almost completely smooth as if the clip had never existed. Very handy when you don’t want to look like you are carrying a tricorder on your belt. Pics and explanation of their “WIPS” system are here.

But, over time, I noticed that the clip was staring to weaken. That is, the portion which attaches to the belt has a flange plate on its rear (its the part facing us in this picture), but the plastic around the screws holding the flange to the clip portion was showing stress lines and fracturing. It didn’t appear to be immediately problematic, but it also didn’t create a sense of safety when your $400 phone is on a belt clip which is starting to shatter.

They had responded to pre-sales questions by next day, and then post-sales questions by the next day (now, who does that in the tech industry? No one else I can think of), so I figured I would ask them about this. I fully expected to get the usual varaition of “user error”, probably “don’t treat your products so roughly, as its obviously your fault”.

Instead, not only were they very concerned about the issue, they immediately Fedexed me a replacement clip… and a nice keychain, sort of a laignappe for my troubles. It was completely unexpected, just the nicest possible thing they could do.

Was it a bribe? No, it wasn’t money, and it was just a keychain… But to take the time to rush out a new clip via Fedex and throw in a little extra is practically unheard of in these times. But wait, it gets better.

The new clip was immediately put on the phone case, and another few months went by… and the same problem started to occur. Now, yes, it could be that my difficult job driving a desk and wrestling with SPSS could have caused the clip to flex in unexpected ways, but I doubt it. I sent another note about this issue, assuming that there is no way they would send me another clip but hoping they would at least let me buy a few.

Not only did they respond immediately (again less than a day!), but they apologized to me! They explained that yes, they had seen a bad production run of clips, and that this had happened to a small group of people recently, including myself, and their in-house shipment as well (meaning the replacement clip was alos bad, as we discovered).

And yes, fedexed the NEXT DAY, came 2 (2!) replacement clips… and another little laignappe, one much bigger than a keychain. I won’t say what it is for fear of lots of people bugging them to send free stuff, but let’s just say that it was completely unexpected, completely unnecessary, and very kind. Even my wife was impressed at the “over the top” behavior… and she expects quality service as a given in the companies she deals with.

Now, I am not suggesting that you be a bonehead and try to game Covertec into sending you free stuff. What I am telling you is that this is a company which stands behind their products in a way I’ve rarely seen, and I dare you to name 3 other companies which stand behind their products to this extent. We should do all we can to encourage this type of behavior in others, and reward it when we see it.

I heartily recommend Covertec cases. They are trying to play in the space Vaja, Sena, Bellagio, Krusell (to some extent) and Piel Frama have invented of luxury leather cases… but the Covertec cases are slightly more affordable, and tend to have some better design features. Yes, you think, “Of course he likes them. They sent him free stuff” and “So, they paid him to do this”. Well, come on: what company needs little ol’ me to care about them? They sell cases worldwide, why be so nice to some nobody in Mass.?

And that’s why I recommend them here. Not just because they make good stuff. Not just because they put lots of thought and work into what they produce. Its because they stand behind their products, not just for important folks, press writers, etc… but even nobodies like me (and, yes, even you) who make the choice to buy a case slightly more expensive than perhaps you intended, and who chose them from the many impressive options out there.

So, a hearty thanks to Covertec for being the kind of company I wish every product had. If you have an iPod, PDA, cell phone, etc. you can’t go wrong putting it in a Covertec case.

Comments? [1]

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Wiper Blades · 01/04/2006 04:44 PM, Personal

I remember helping my dad change the wipers on our car. Growing up in New Orleans, you have a lot of rain. The wipers needed to be changed every 6 months or so… but it wasn’t all that hard. You simply removed the wiper component, and slide out the rubber strip. Then, at the gas station, you could buy a new rubber strip and slide it in… or the full service attendant could do it for you. 15 minutes total.

Well, we are now a wasteful society. When I went to change my inserts this time, I learned that DIY isn’t always an option.

First off, few companies even sell the rubber strips (my first clue). When I finally found them at an AutoZone, they were all “universal” fit (my second clue). I removed my wiper holders from the ML320, and it was only when I sat down to whip out the old inserts that I realized that these car companies just don’t want to let you save the money or the materials.

That’s right, you can’t just remove the rubber. Its wedged in there good and tight. And, when I finally got it out with needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver… you guessed it, the universal fit rubber inserts… didn’t fit, universally or otherwise.

So, off I went and bought complete wiper pieces. 2 for the front, 1 for the rear… $62 with tax.

“What do I do with these old ones?” I asked the parts guy.
“There’s a trash can right there.” he replied.
“Aren’t they worth anything? Trade in? The only thing wrong with them is the rubber, can’t that be replaced? After all, these new ones here were worth $60!”
“Nope, you just throw them out and buy new ones.”

Thanks, Mercedes. I guess to you, if we are rich enough to overpay for our car, we are rich enough to overpay for all the maintenance and upkeep as well. That’s the way to keep a customer loyal.

Its easy to focus on Sony and other record label’s attempts to control use of media, but don’t ignore how every company wants to control obsolescence and replacement capability (funny, Sony comes to mind again, spelled “memory stick”) to force the consumer… to consume.

Time spent trying to replace insert: 35 minutes
Drive time to buy new wipers: 45 minutes each way
Cost to buy wipers: $62
Pain from trying to do the right thing and being forced to just spend more and throw out more? Priceless.

Update: a friend let me know that if I buy 3rd party wiper assemblies from companies such as Bosch, many of these have easy to replace wiper inserts. Its only the “OEM” parts which make it difficult.

Comments?

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New Media on Radio? · 01/04/2006 04:27 PM, Trivial

I find podcasts to be one of the biggest waste of time, right up there with standing in line at the bank and sitting in traffic. These recordings of people babbling from their car, cell phone, or cheap microphone are completely synchronous: you have to listen to it in serial order, you have to be present from beginning to end, and if its 30 minutes, then you have to take 30 minutes to experience.

Compare that to a blog: I can read faster than most people, so I can fly through content at my own speed, scanning and skipping to what I want, in the order I want. It’s a control thing, I guess.

And its unfair to point out the low production quality, poor voice and acting ability, and plain boring nature of most of the podcasts out there. Even the most popular ones, done by “professionals”, tend to be eye-glazers. Yes, some have music snippets or intros, some are like radio shows, and a rare few manage to make me lose track of time while listening… but most are just ignorable.

So, should we be happy that people are creating their own media? The fact is, when its good, yes, by all means… but just because its user created doesn’t make it good. I am getting bored of this aura or halo around user created work. Yes, we can lower our expectations, and “appreciate the gritty nature of the back-to-basics production experience” as one critic said, but let’s get real: even if my kid spent hours drawing a picture of a horse with his crayon, the Met isn’t going to treat it as art. It may be good for a kid, but you aren’t going to frame it in your house.

Similarly, so someone makes a recording of their thoughts. Great. If the content is there, if the voice has modulation, if the user elminates wind noise, if they interview someone interesting, all of these can make a good podcast. But without it, just because its user created, its no big deal. If this is the future of audio media, we are all in trouble.

So, we look back to the “real” media of FM radio… and it turns out that it sucks as well (but we knew that) Expectations (and revenue) are higher for this format, so its even more disappointing how unlistenable it is. Howard Stern has left the building, and in the Northeast US, we now get to hear David Lee Roth (yes, former lead singer of Van Halen and recently EMT around NYC). And yes, its like listening to a bad podcast. Stern wasn’t always great, but there was a palpable sense of energy, of tension from the unexpected. Roth’s show is a buzzkill; his downbeat tone and lack of excitement are like wrapping your head in cotton… and then hitting it against a wall, just to feel something.

So, what to do? User created audio media tends to stink. Now, “professional” radio is continuing its decline. Will I now have to pay an additional fee just to listen to interesting new music over satellite? Will I be forced to listen to AM talk radio just to keep my ears from bleeding?

Perhaps you know of a podcast which disproves my broad generalization. Post it here. If I’m wrong, I’ll gladly eat crow here… and I’ll podcast it.

In the meantime, any recommendations for a good Sirius receiver?

Comments?

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Yahoo buys del.ico.us, tags win? · 12/23/2005 06:56 PM, MetaBlog

I got some funny mails from folks crowing that with Yahoo buying del.ico.us, tags must be the future of search. I don’t know if that’s quite the right analysis.

First off, if you don’t know how I feel about tagging, feel free to check out the previous entries where I point out all the myriad flaws with tagging. Go on, I’ll wait.

(Side Note: others are seeing lots of problems with tagging as well; lots of complaints about how to edit tags, how to not lose content in the “tag soup”, etc. For example, check out this post on the “You’re It” blog, which is one of the better tag cheerleader sites. So, let’s all just get off our high horse and recognize that tags are interesting, but they are also highly flawed).

Ok, so I don’t like tags, not on their own, but because people have put them on a pedestal. Now, let’s consider what Yahoo wanted.

I have actually found a use for tags. While they suck for research, they are great for serendipity and the stream of discovery. I use http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/ipod as a continuous stream of what’s new about iPods. (Again, it is USELESS for research; trying to answer questions about iPods with tags is like talking to a bird about quantum physics: it probably knows the answer, but isn’t sharing.)

Now, if I’m Yahoo, and my model is now to be a media site, I can create media 3 ways:
1) Link to others
2) Hire writers
3) Let users create

All of these are now present in the modern Yahoo. They will continue to have a search and aggregation engine. They now have a stable of writers in Finance and News. And with Flickr, del.ico.us, My Web 2.0, Yahoo360 and other social services, they are letting users drive new content. (Actually, they have had Geocities for eons, but everyone forgets that).

So, they recognized that the most active contributors to the “stream of novelty” use del.ico.us, and so in a Microsoftian “embrace and extend”, they now have these folks providing a constant stream of new content for users to review… from Yahoo.

I think its a good idea. Again, the tags aren’t replacing the search engine, and while they may be allowed to influence it, I doubt it will be a requirement. As long as one recognizes that tags are a way of putting a small rudder into a stream and diverting a chunk to pan for gold, then tags make sense.

But if you believe they will replace a search engine, you are not as smart as the folks at Yahoo.

Rumour has it that tags will start to permeate the site, but not to the exclusion of other access methods. So, expect that folders will stay in the new Yahoo Mail (which I LOVE), but tags may be added at some point just like the annoying Gmail.

(Another Side Note: Ari Paparo, founder of Blink/BlinkPro, wrote a soulseeking post about why his company didn’t get acquired. I pointed out in the comments that del.ico.us and BlinkPro solve different problems. His problem was that he solved the research problem, but he really wanted to solve the sharing/discovery problem. He made a great tool for the former, and, as he points out, not a great one for the latter. It’s well worth a read, even if he beats himself up too much. If you are curious about other bookmark sites, I review most of the useful ones here.)

Comments?

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