Archive for January, 2005

Parsons’ Principles

January 31, 2005

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons. Well, not such a big fan that I knew he had a blog. Perusing its content, I found his 16 rules for survival in business. They’re nothing particularly new, but they give some interesting insight into a local success story.

Reading that previous entry, I said that I’d work there in a heartbeat if my ASP skills leaned towards .NET. And so now they do. More on that later.

They’re So Into It

January 30, 2005

Intuit, makers of Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax, are apparently discontinuing support of Quicken 2002. That’s nothing particularly unusual: Microsoft recently discontinued support of Windows NT 4. Users can’t realistically expect a company to support all versions of their software; it’s hard enough supporting a few versions and things get really hairy for shrinkwrap software because of all the possible environmental permutations that muck up technical support.

What’s different about Intuit’s policy is that they’re also disabling access to online banking through that version. That means that the program is basically useless for people whose bank offers online account access. Mind you, nothing on the bank’s side will change and, presumably, the software is just as capable of downloading data.

This isn’t surprising to me because Intuit’s business model seems to be tricking customers into thinking that they need to upgrade the software every year. I bought TurboTax years ago and didn’t use it after that year because I thought that it was outdated. I hated such built-in obsolescence and refused to buy it every year that Intuit junk mailed me about upgrading.

Intuit is more boneheaded than most software companies because they’re constantly implementing self-serving features without telling consumers and then removing them when everyone, rightly, complained. They tried to cancel development of Quicken for the Macintosh and then relented. They said they were going to stop development of QuickBooks for the Macintosh and then relented (though the version they put out might not have had any development behind it). They put in some authorization checks that phoned back to Intuit at installation and people got pissed so they got rid of it.

The major problem I have with this move is that I know the online banking side of the equation pretty well. I know that Quicken implements the Open Financial Exchange standard (OFX) that allows for interoperation with Microsoft Money and other personal financial management applications. This standard has basically been set in stone for the four plus years we’ve been working with it. That means that Intuit’s move is solely driven by the desire to shake some more money from the user base.

I’m all for making money, but I think that software upgrades should be driven by compelling features instead of removing features. A piece of software, once purchased, should work for as long as you keep opening it. The problem for Intuit is that there’s nothing compelling that they can add to any of their programs to make people want to upgrade. They’ve been dumping in a lot of features in the past in order to make their laundry list of features longer than Microsoft Money’s and so as to get better reviews from tech writers who make recommendations based on that.

Intuit is as close to slimeware as you can get while still being respectable. They hover around the borderline and are generally pretty careful about stretching over it. Unfortunately, they typically don’t float trial balloons—instead they act and then retreat if the hue and cry is sufficient. You think they’d learn or at least alter this basic strategy, but they seem married to it.

Spampossible

January 29, 2005

Today I had a thought about a way to solve (or, more realistically, limit) email spam. I was thinking that my new blog, Found on the Web, could use my email address on it for feedback, comment, or link suggestions. But I didn’t want to just put my email address out there so I would need a way to protect it from acquisition by spammers.

My idea is the idea of an expiring email address. Basically, you would post an email address that was only good for that day and the next day. After that, all email to that address would go into /dev/null. The tricky thing is to actually implement it: you couldn’t have an email address like bill_01-30-2005@bbrown.info because it would be easily guessable and would thus allow the spammer to project valid email addresses into the future.

So I thought about using some encryption algorithm to store an encrypted version of the expiration date in the email address. So you’d get something like info_7097997XGDASD9@bbrown.info that would indicate to the mail client (or the mail server depending on your preference) when to stop accepting emails to that account number.

The main problem with that approach is that such an email address is no longer usable to a person since you can’t memorize it and you can’t effectively communicate it over the phone. You’re never going to get around ugly URLs because encryption isn’t pretty. Further, these email addresses would be machine generated and are not intended for general audiences.

The key for the algorithm should be something that every mail client already has, like your email account password.

My only concern is that this would encourage spammers to send out their unsolicited commercial even quicker. Instead of spending time collecting lists of potential marks, they would just send out their emails as soon as they find an address.

Getting Things Done Update

January 28, 2005

So I’ve been using the Getting Things Done system for a few months now to a varying extent. I think it’s time for an update on my progress. Am I getting things done?

Overall, it’s helped me to be much more focused on what I need to be doing at any given time. The system is pretty unobtrusive and it’s really easy to keep up with it. Previous attempts at getting organized have always degenerated into time spent maintaining the records whatever system required.

That being said, I’ve still got a long way to go. I mentioned earlier that I was using the Hipster PDA described by Merlin Mann. I’ve developed quite an assortment of 3″x5″ index cards. In a comment left on Merlin’s update on the Hipster PDA, I described my system thusly:

Next Actions (one card per context)
Divider (orange, labelled Projects)
Projects (cards for Personal and Work)
Divider (pink, labelled Calendar)
Calendar (one card per day, with times indicating appts)
Divider (green, labelled Waiting For)
Waiting For (list of people and what I’m waiting on)
Divider (bright yellow, labelled Someday/Maybe)
Someday/Maybe (one card per list)
Divider (muted yellow, scaled version of Advanced Workflow diagram)
Blank cards (five or so cards)

The labels for each of these cards (@Home, Jan. 15th, Personal, etc.) are at the bottom of the card with a horizontal rule separating them from the content. Thus, I can flip through the PDA quickly and open up the clip only when necessary.

Further, my next actions are immediately accessible. I generally pull out the context card for wherever I am and move it to the top for more efficiency.

Another gentleman has taken the Hipster PDA and crafted PDF templates for the various index cards you might need. You print them on card stock as necessary and then you get a nice, standardized look. I may have to create some of my own since he doesn’t have the same types of cards that I do.

I’m currently on a GTD hiatus because my work has lately consisted of putting out fires. It has largely been reacting to bugs as they come in and solving larger problems; this has temporarily reduced my need for a time management system. Things have finally calmed down and it’s time to get back on the wagon. I need to start scheduling the weekly review since it currently happens rarely. I also need to work on applying the system to my personal life, where I’ve recorded the projects though I haven’t really focused my energies on them.

Oh, and Merlin Mann has posted a three-part series updating his progress. He does an admirable job at analysis and it is worth scrutiny (as is most of his site).

Broadband Bill

January 28, 2005

DSL: installed.
Wireless: active.
Bill: happy.

WRT54G Fun

January 27, 2005

So I got the Linksys WRT54G yesterday—two business days after I ordered it with free shipping. The price is phenomenal: $49.99 after a $10 mail-in rebate. I plugged it in, flashed it with Sveasoft’s Alchemy Firmware Upgrade, and locked it down. I named the access point “Galt’s Gulch” so passers-by can know that I’m down with Ayn Rand.

Cruising through the settings (which is all I can do without the DSL installed—”The fun will come down tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar/That tomorrow/There’ll be fun.”), I was impressed by the range of features Sveasoft has added to the GPL’d Linksys firmware. My favorite is definitely the power boost of 900%! When I had it downstairs, I was getting full signal upstairs through several walls.

I’ll prepare a full report tomorrow.

[UPDATE (1/28/05): The 900% power boost really boosts the range of the WRT54G. Tomorrow I’ll do a little walking and see how far I can go. I’ll post another update here.]

Baghdad’s Big Dig?

January 26, 2005

“$80 Billion for War in ’05”: among the tidbits in this story is that the new American embassy in Baghdad will cost at least $1.5 billion. I say “at least” because cost projections that large inevitably run over. (Side note: the projected cost of the Iraqi War could run to $1.5 trillion. That’s more than freaking World War II.)

This is exactly the sort of thing that I hate about George W. Bush. Time was, conservatives were religious zealots but you knew that the size of the budget wouldn’t blossom too much. With a projected budget deficit of $427 billion, Bush is showing the tax-and-spenders a thing or two.

The good news is that he can’t run in 2008, so there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, I have no idea what Republican would take his place: McCain is fiscally conservative but more pragmatic than I would like and Schwarzenegger is foreign-born. This rampant spending, though, has to be curbed.

Water Problems

January 26, 2005

In case you didn’t know, the City of Phoenix has issued a warning directing residents to avoid using tap water that hasn’t been boiled. The mayor urges us to not panic and hoard up on bottled water. Does this strike anyone else as conflicting desires? When encouraged to boil water for no less than five minutes and then told not to worry, most people would jump in the nearest vehicle and beeline it to the grocery store.

However, the hype and hysteria centering around this announcement belie the nature of the problem: one water treatment plant failed a federal clean water standard for particulates. Particulates, to my knowledge, aren’t harmful unless they’re particles of poison, bacteria, or sharp objects. They just make the water cloudy. The water is then not appetizing, but it’s no less potable.

The worst part of this situation—crisis seems unnecessarily dire—is the difficulty of getting valid information. Most of the local news sites carried a simple AP wire story on Monday and Tuesday that lacked any details. The City of Phoenix’s site, linked above, had quite a bit of information but it was from the horse’s mouth and the likely liable entity should people get litigious.

The Arizona Republic finally got a balanced story that tempered the hype and answered a lot of questions (including the advice to “wash with hot water and a lot of soap for as long as it takes to sing Yankee Doodle Dandy“). Of course, Laurie Roberts, a Republic columnist, tried to incite more hype by pandering to widespread ignorance and blaming the Department of Water Services instead of Mother Nature.

In my entire life as a Phoenix native, I have never heard of this sort of thing before. We’ve had serious rains before and, presumably, serious runoffs without such advisories. I have to wonder if it’s because we have more stringent requirements and more sensitive instruments now. We may have had this exact same problem in years past but we didn’t know anything about it. And I also wonder at the frequency of this sort of advisory around the country in places where rainfall is more plentiful.

Mini-ize Me

January 26, 2005

I really love the idea of the Mac Mini. Getting a new Macintosh for only $499 makes it almost a no-brainer. With an impending huge tax refund, it seems like an easy way to slide a few C-notes Cupertino’s way.

But Tiger‘s coming in the second quarter of this year. My PowerBook G4 and iBook G4 currently run Panther (OS X 10.3). Sandi, the primary user of the PowerBook G4, could care less about upgrading—in fact, she’s vehemently (and inexplicably to me) against it. So I’ve got to upgrade one computer to Tiger and it’d be a shame to have to upgrade a second. So maybe I just wait on the Mac Mini purchase until Tiger is released and comes preloaded.

Now I just need to run this purchase by Sandi. Time to marshal all the convincing arguments used to buy the iBook G4!

All Spin Zone

January 26, 2005

I find the spin in the article “In One Night, Iraqi Turns From Friend to Foe” to be outrageous. The writer tries to paint Imaad as a normal, middle-class person who had no psychological problems or particular beefs with the Americans until they searched his house one night in January.

Tim Blair recasts the situation using just the facts provided, stripped of the normative elements of the article. Clearly, Imaad has some problems. He was supposedly a religious man yet hid pornographic materials in his bedroom. He slapped his mother once they had left for reasons unstated (though attributed by his mother to his frustration at his house having been searched). He refused to provide his mother medication because the pills were foreign made. I’d say he might have been predisposed to paranoid behavior prior to the search.

The behavior of the soldiers hardly seems reprehensible. It could be that they were throwing the contents of his room around and that the magazines happened to fall near the Koran. Most soldiers, I would wager, aren’t that culturally sensitive to have intentionally placed the Koran among the pornography.

Reading the article after reading Tim Blair’s reconstructing, I was surprised at how skillfully the facts were buried under seemingly innocuous evaluations that deftly undercut the context. I’m not sure I could say that the article’s author conscientiously spun the story because I could think of how she might have actually believed Imaad’s version. Clearly, though, the effect of the story is to convey how badly our boys are behaving over in Iraq in an effort to apologize for the insurgency’s actions.