Here I sit

At work.

Not near my MakerBot®.

Unable to print a 20-sided die.

Bummer.

September 30, 2011 | Comments Closed

My 85% Rule

I’m sure others have a similar rule, but this is my formulation.  The 80/20 rule is a pretty decent formulation of it.  Per Wikipedia:

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

I’d take it one step further.  If there’s a solution that covers 85% of situations, I figure I can improvise the remaining 15% of the time.  Case in point – there’s my swiss army pocket knife.  I wanted a knife with features that would be useful to me 85% of the time.  I chose one that had scissors, bottle opener, wire stripper, flathead screwdriver, a philips head screwdriver, a magnet, blade, and a few minor other features.  I didn’t get the one with the pliers, corkscrew, saw, or other wacky features.  Applying this rule, I chose a knife that fairly cheap, but had features I would use 85% of the time. 1

I applied this rule in creating ProfileMaker2 3  I wanted something that would help people in about 85% of the situations they would face.  I also applied this rule when choosing my new laptop.  I didn’t need a workhorse for playing games, video editing, or large number crunching, so I got an economical laptop with plenty of hard drive space and long battery life.  Tonight I was asking my little laptop to crunch some big numbers – namely render a big OpenSCAD design composed of a number of smaller STL’s.  Waiting for things to render, now that’s when I sometimes look back and wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off getting that last 15% worth of computing power.  :)

  1. The Rambler, if you’re interested. []
  2. And, really, in about 85% of all things I program… []
  3. And, if you look at most of what I’ve written, I’d say about 85% of them are about 85% done. []
September 21, 2011 | Comments Closed

While I’m griping about Netflix…

Why in the world did they change the user interface?  Now it’s much more akin to what you would see in a touch-screen.  I use a laptop or desktop with a touchpad or mouse.

I just wish they’d stop trying to fix things that aren’t broken.

Reed Hastings Netflix CEO just doesn’t get it

Netflix recently split their services into DVD shipping and internet streaming, while increasing prices.  Back in July this change was announced and today Reed Hastings has issued what he describes as an apology.  Only, it isn’t. 

The price increase and service reduction announced back in July1 was met with public outcry.  Reed Hastings and Netflix responded with interviews and press releases, but never a change in their policy.  In one of these interviews Hastings made a comment that the price increase was “just a latte,” which struck the wrong chord with some.  Yes, it shows he’s out of touch with his customer base, but that’s hardly breaking news on the heels of a 60% price hike. 

To make matters more interesting, on September 1, 2011 Netflix lost one of the biggest draws to it’s streaming service – the deal it had cut with Sony and the premium cable channel Starz.  So, not only does the Netflix price increase promise lower service and higher prices, but they’re also going to be offering 100,000 fewer titles.  And, these aren’t just old titles – Starz was contributing recently released movies and lots of Disney titles.

Now Hastings publishes a post entitled, “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”  In a nutshell, he’s saying:

  1. People are upset about the price increase and service reduction.
  2. I’m sorry I didn’t communicate about the price increase and service reduction more.  I wouldn’t have changed anything, you’d still be charged more and getting less, I just shouldn’t have been so uncommunicative about it.
  3. We’re splitting Netflix into a new DVD-by-mail service called Qwikster and keeping internet-streaming on Netflix.  Don’t worry, you’ll still get red envelopes.  You’ll now need to manage separate queues and websites that won’t be integrated.

Hastings, let me respond to help you put things in perspective.  And, I have a feeling I speak for some of the 12,000 people who responded to your morning’s post when I say this:

  1. If you’re not really going to apologize for something people are upset about, don’t bother apologizing for things they aren’t upset about. I’m not upset about the amount of communication.  Believe me, the problem is not that I’m just not getting enough Hastings with my Netflix.  In fact, I actually enjoy a product more when I’m not busy thinking about the CEO of the company.
  2. What really irks me about Hastings is that he has continually tried to spin price increases and service reductions as service improvements.  This really is offensive to me.
  3. This new development of Qwikster is making things worse.  Now, not only am I going to pay more and get less (especially with Starz leaving), but you’re doubling the amount of work I have by making me manage two queues.

Why isn’t anyone at Netflix paying attention?  Your customers are not alienated because Reed Hastings isn’t talking enough.  Your customers are alientated becuase prices and hassle are going up while services and selection are going down.

  1. Which was scheduled to be implemented on September 1 []

On Sketching

On a slightly wistful note, Kathleen Jennings’ simple, elegant, and evocative sketches make me miss sketching.  Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I would carry an analog notebook everywhere and sketch in pen and ink, my favorite media.

I still sketch occasionally, my most amusing sketches are now done at the behest of my daughter.

  • Draw me a sea lion!  So, I draw a lion wearing a SCUBA tank, mask, and flippers
  • Draw me a unicorn hula hooping!  So, I do.
  • Draw me a penguin, Mary Poppins, and Santa!  So, I do.
  • Draw me a cuttle fish!  So, I do.
  • Now a Lizard Wizard Library!  A castle!  These commands I obey as well.

Ah!  But, now the mood has struck!  I also find that my sketches that I appreciate the most are ones that are totally off the cuff.  Just pen, paper, and 30 seconds to draw something before my daughter’s attention fades. 1  We have a few of these little sketches framed around our home.

One of my favorites that is not framed was also inspired by my daughter.  I think I was teasing her about something, suggesting she was too good smelling to do something or other.  She insisted she was smelly.  I insisted she was not.  She said, again, she was and that she was rolling with the pigs.  You see, when you’re 3 years old the smelliest dirtiest thing you can conceive of is a pig rolling in mud.   The resulting sketch is of my daughter in what appears to be a sedan/SUV with several pigs, all of them wearing sunglasses, with her driving – as she rolls with the pigs.

I like to think she gets her artistic tendencies from me.  She probably colors something on the order of 20 sheets of paper a day in drawings.  Markers, crayons, and color pencils.  It’s pretty amazing to come home and find pages and pages of new artwork every day.  What’s more, there’s always a story to go with each picture.

I tend to sketch a lot more on vacation.  I’ll actually dust off a sketchbook to take with me and sketch things I see while out and about.  I have several pages devoted to the grad school road trip out to Las Vegas and New Mexico with my roommate.  It features the Grand Canyon, random exit signs, people we met, scenes and sunsets.  I have more pages devoted to a Mexican cruise from about six years ago filled with funny inside jokes and bits about the funny people we met.

Almost totally off topic, but while I’m in a sharing mood – tonight I kept my daughter entertained for about 15 solid minutes with several dozen variations of card tricks based on three slight of hand maneuvers.  The best part is she really and truly believes I taught her magic. 2  I put the deck in front of her and let her knock on it with her hand and tell me where the Ace of Spaces was supposed to be – the top, middle, or bottom of the deck.  And, wherever she said, that’s where it always was.

  1. I don’t mean to blame her for this – she get it from me.  And, really, my attention span is considerably shorter []
  2. Don’t worry, I’ll fill her in later []
September 14, 2011 | Comments Closed

The Dalek Game

The Little Dalek - by Kathleen Jennings

The Little Dalek - by Kathleen Jennings

The Dalek Game just makes me all kinds of happy.

Kathleen Jennings has started a little game where she inserts the word “Dalek” into literary titles and then draws an accompanying picture.  It is the best thing the internet has brought me all day.1

  1. Thank you ROFLazzi! []

Today just must be my day for commentary on social media…

In case you’re ever interested, there’s a really great piece of open source software called YouURLS available at Yourls.org.  It is a LAMP1 architecture URL shortening software.  It’s about as easy to install as WordPress and reasonably barebones.  But, once installed, “it just works.”  A few weeks ago I became enamored with the idea of having my own URL shortener, so I went out on the hunt for possible cool names.  A lot of the good short names are already taken, prohibitively expensive2 , or are reserved/unavailable since many TLD’s3 don’t allow 1 and 2 letter domains. 4

There are some potential problems with running your own short URL service.  First, if you don’t intend to keep it around forever it isn’t that much use to people in general.  Second, the market space is pretty well packed already.  Third, anyone can have their very own URL service for the price of a domain name5 , some hosting6 , and an installation of YOURLS7 .  Fourth, some spammers/scammers/phishers are always on the lookout for legitimate but unknown URL shorteners so they can obfuscate their spammy/scammy URL’s – and you don’t want to be associated with that kinda mess anyhow.

But, if you just want one because you really like the idea and aren’t going to make it public to anyone else…  why not do it?  Want to know the short URL domain name I chose?  Well, I’m going to tell you anyhow.

http://shor.tw

Cool, huh?  It fit all of my criteria.  It wasn’t too expensive8 , is very short at just 7 characters for the entire URL910 , and is memorable/clever.  It’s not public, because I don’t want to deal with spammers and whatnot, but I can think of a number of cool uses for such a service.  And, of course, I’d welcome any of your suggestions.

  1. Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, natch []
  2. As in $150-$500/year []
  3. Top level domains – .com, .net, etc []
  4. When you’re Twitter getting hold of the person in charge of holding the reserved “t.co” was probably not a problem. []
  5. Which is cheap starting at 1.99 []
  6. Free to cheap []
  7. Free to modest, if you have someone install it for you []
  8. At $35/year it was more expensive than any URL I have ever purchased, but still quite modest []
  9. Not counting the “HTTP://”, which is the same no matter what you have. []
  10. It is even shorter than one of the first such services, TinyURL.com which is 11 characters []
September 5, 2011 | Comments Closed

Twitter’s cute little information gathering tool… the short URL

You’ve probably seen Twitter’s URL shortener, “t.co”, pop up in links.  Then again, you might not even realize it’s there.  Whenever you post a link, it will be shortened with this service automatically.  Interestingly, even a URL that is short enough already, or shortened with another service, will still be shortened into a “t.co” short link.  Their FAQ suggests that all of your links and even your URL shorteners will still work.  It’s just that your click will get passed through “t.co” before it goes on to the URL shortener and then on to your final destination. 1

The reason why seems pretty obvious – because they want to see what people are clicking on and why.  As with other social websites, the users are the product and commodity being sold to advertisers.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a philosophical problem with this.  It seems a decent and legitimate enterprise and a reasonable bargain with the end user for the free use of their service. 2

So, I’m the kind of guy who, seeing a link on a website will sometimes copy and paste that link into an open browser tab, rather than clicking on it.  Sure, it’s 10 more seconds out of my day – but it gives me a perverse little bit of pleasure to thwart such information surveillance.  Imagine my surprise today to discover that this didn’t work!  I went to Twitter, highlighted and copied a Bit.ly link, and pasted it into an address bar.  But what appeared was the “t.co” link!  I figured I must have messed up the coping, so I did it again. 3  Again, I get the “t.co” link.  Once more into the breach.  Again, the same “t.co” link.

Then I notice that each time I hit “Ctrl-C” or right click on the highlighted link the link text flashes for just a moment.  I do it a few more times and realize what’s happening.

Whenever the Javascript in Twitter’s website detects a “Ctrl-C” or right mouse click on a link, which has the CSS class “twitter-timeline-link”, it will swap out the text of the URL for the “t.co” shortened URL.

This little bit of tech just tickles me.  I can conceive of a legitimate reason for this behavior – ubiquitous and imperceptible URL shortening for the ease of all users. 4  But, really, this is just about controlling all links that originate from Twitter so that they can aggregate and analyze.  I just admire this behavior because it is just so slick and nearly totally seamless.

  1. I would point out that when the URL appears in an RSS feed, it shows up as a “t.co” link, which goes through “bit.ly”, instead of the actual link itself. []
  2. I’m not trying to describe their service in any pejorative terms, I’m just trying to describe it accurately.  I don’t think anyone would dispute this is their business model. []
  3. After all, Ctrl-C can get pretty complicated. []
  4. Perhaps you were going to copy/paste the URL into an e-mail and now you won’t have to worry about a broken URL []

Has Google become evil?

I’m not a fan of Facebook or Google Plus.  However, Google’s new “real name” policy is really getting on my nerves.  My Google Plus account is under the pseudonym of “MakerBlock,” so I might as well save them the trouble of suspending my accounts and just delete it now.

Eric Schmidt recently publicly stated Google Plus isn’t a social networking service, it’s an identity service.  The justification for this position was that Google Plus would be better able to serve us by knowing who we really are as well as ranking downwards those people who really are evil.  But, really, Google’s business is selling advertising to those people most likely to be interested based on their research of those people by studying, on a grand scale, every aspect of their lives. 12

I get that the person who logs into Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or Google Plus aren’t the real customers, that we’re just the product.  This makes sense and, in some cases, seems a fair trade.  It’s a funny line these businesses must walk, however.  Cater too much to the advertisers, and you lose your audience.  Cater too much to the audience, and perhaps you’ll lose advertisers.  I understand, from a business perspective, wanting to know as much about your users as possible.  But, after a certain point it just gets creepy.

No one was really offended by Facebook’s policies until relatively recently – a few data breaches here, a few account suspensions there.  And then they stopped people from treating the data those people created (or consumed) as portable.  People were fine with Google Plus until Google really started enforcing this position.

I suppose, for me, the fundamental issue may just be respect.  I think Google and Facebook have lost respect for their users.  While their business models clearly require observation of the user, it is the difference between watching animals on a wild life preserve versus watching animals in the zoo.  When those policies start to close in around the user – and they can start to see the high walls and feel like they are being watched – that’s when people start to grumble and leave.

  1. I really doubt Google would dispute that description. []
  2. Hell, it’s probably in their marketing materials… []

OMG – You guys are back!!!

So, after the ridiculous fiasco with my former hosting company it looked like nearly everyone had abandoned this blog. At least, according to Feedburner.  The Feedburner logo had said there were only 30 or so people who were still subscribed.

Well, let me just say, I’m glad to see you’re back.  I’ve brought back ProfileMaker, which I’m really happy about.  So, hang out, I’ll continue to post more drivel here that isn’t fit for the MakerBot® blog.  :)

September 1, 2011 | Comments Closed