It was bound to happen at some point, but today is the day the T-28 met its demise while flying in my hands. Fittingly, it was a mid-air collision with another T-28 (and another former Bayside member) that ended its flying days so abruptly. Seems there are some things that EPP foam just can’t recover from, and of course I found this out the hard way.

Goodbye ParkZone T-28, I’ll miss you.

Dear people of the internet, please help yourself out by verifying that the email address you sprinkle to every web site, sweepstakes form, shopping cart, government entity and social network is actually an address that belongs to you. I’ll even tell you how to do this, just follow these simple, basic steps:

  1. Open your email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail) or web mail site (Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, etc.)
  2. Create a new email message.
  3. In the “To:” field, type in the email address you give out to everyone online.
  4. In the “Subject:” field, type “This is just a test”.
  5. In the body of the email, put in a trivial bit of text that only you should know.  It could be something simple like “I have three cats” or “I really like chocolate bacon.”  It doesn’t matter what it says, it just has to be unique to you.
  6. Hit the “Send” button.
  7. Wait a few minutes.
  8. If you receive the email you just sent without any error messages and it looks exactly like what you typed in above, congratulations! You win at using the internet. The rest of this article is not for you.
  9. If you didn’t get a response back, wait another few hours. If you still didn’t get the message, you need to read on…
Generally speaking, I am a nice person to be around (or so some people have toldme). I try to help people out when I can and offer suggestions when people get stuck or need some assistance. This is a courtesy I often extend to people I encounter on the internet as well, but to be fair, I don’t know for certain that these so-called internet people are actually real.

Over the past year I have started getting an increasing and alarming amount of personal and private emails delivered to my Gmail address. Normally, when I see an email that clearly has nothing to do with me I delete it or mark it as spam and be on my way. But during the past 12 months some of these internet people have really been pushing the boundaries of what I would consider safe or secure information to share online.

In at least three separate occasions that I can recall, I was so worried about the outcome of these internet people not getting these private emails that I directly intervened by calling the sender (using that old school voice telephone technology) and letting them know that they most certainly did not reach their intended receiver.  In each of these cases the sender was shocked that I wasn’t the internet person in question and then asked me to verify that I was who I said I was.  After the disbelief sunk in, they asked me, sheepishly in many cases, to please delete the messages and disregard any further emails sent from their address.  But this isn’t the sad bit of this story.

The really terrible thing is that these internet people just keep using my email address as their own, and on some pretty important forms and sites.  A small sampling of these repeat offenders are:
  • A notice from your landlord that your rent check bounced and that eviction is imminent
  • An official letter from your university that you have been put on academic suspension and have been asked not to return
  • Multiple emails attempting to confirm your financial records for a car and home loan from your bank
  • Appointment emails setting up and moving the times and places for your job interviews
  • Forms you must fill out to qualify for your state’s unemployment benefits
  • Confirmation emails for hundreds of dollars of computer equipment to be shipped overseas
  • Notices from your auto insurance and health insurance companies letting you know that your coverage has been dropped, the cost raised, or your claims were denied
  • Discrete FedEx tracking emails to let you know that your vibrator shipment is delayed
This doesn’t include the dozens of friend and family emails attempting to find out where you’ve been for the past month, why you won’t return their calls, why you were so drunk at that party last weekend and to let you know that your grandfather just died.  You would think that somewhere these internet people would wonder “hey, where did all of my friends, family, job, healthcare, insurance and banking emails go?”  But you would be wrong.

So consider this my plea to you, humble internet visitor: check your email addresses and make darn sure that the ones you are handing out actually belong to you.  Because I’d hate to be the one to tell you that your trip to Florida was cancelled after you spent all that money booking hotels and plane tickets, just because you didn’t get your confirmation numbers.

Your helpful internet do-gooder,

MS

Motorola Droid XMy day job is spent getting technology products and services made, shipped and into consumer hands as quickly and efficiently as possible. With such a job comes pressures to release things that aren’t quite ready or have known issues in order to secure time-to-market or competitive advantages. I sometimes have to put a companies best interests ahead of the consumer, even if I worry about the outcome. I state all of this up front so that people will have a clearer view into my thoughts on the process of software updates and the need to just ship something.

However, given everything I just said I am here to say that the latest Gingerbread release of Android (2.3.3 for those keeping score at home) on the Motorola Droid X is an unconditional and complete failure. Very few software updates in recent memory have done so much harm to a well respected product, to so many people in such a short period of time.  Don’t just take my word for it, go look at the US forums for the Droid X and see just how many people are having issues.  It isn’t just a few upset customers, it is thousands of them.

What makes this entire process all the more terrible is that Motorola had an early access program for select users to allow them to “soak test” the release before the general public got it.  Instead, it seems that the early access folks had only 48 hours or so with the update before Motorola and Verizon pushed this mess out into the world.  Worse still, many of these folks were reporting issues and asking to slow the roll out until at least some of the problems were fixed.  That didn’t happen, and now the Motorola employees on the forum have gone silent or suggested that the customers are simply not understanding the new update.

I am now left with a previously fantastic phone that reboots at least once a day, a battery that runs down in 7 hours, no working phone service if I dare turn on WiFi, a confused GPS sensor and an uglier user interface than I thought was possible to have.  Worse, because this new update is “better” than the previous Froyo release, there is no root access and thus no way to copy off the system log files or take screenshots to prove that all of this bad behavior is happening.  Bravo Motorola, you’ve turned my once useful phone into an expensive, defective paperweight.

I have certainly learned my lesson from this exercise. The next time I buy a phone I will make sure that it is fully unlocked, fully modifiable by the user and completely supported by the manufacturer rather than hoping that support folks will step in and do “the right thing” to help customers out.  Shame on me, indeed.

I try to not mention things related to past employers or clients but the scope of this issue is so vast that I feel something must be said.

The short story is that Sony had some kind of hack attack that exposed the full data set of all of their users. And by full data set I mean names, emails, home addresses, passwords, purchase histories and credit card numbers. And by all of their users I mean 77 Million people world wide. Let all of that sink in for a minute. What would you do if every bit of information needed to make a purchase or impersonate you was made available, along with almost all of the security data needed to answer a password question or reset security at any online site?

In my case I had to do something that I should have done long ago: change scores of passwords.  I don’t often reuse passwords but I do sometimes create a single master password seed and then add bits to it at the beginning or end.  Such was the password that I had on Sony’s PlayStation Network and Qriocity services before this break-in. As of today I’ve now had to slog through the password change procedure for dozens of sites that previously used a variation of what I gave to Sony.  I’ve had to start thinking what secret questions and answers are used on the hundreds of sites, banks and other institutions that could now be known to hackers. I had to call my credit card companies and inform them that I am one of the unlucky 77 million suckers who just had their info stolen. And all the while I have to wonder where we are today on privacy and security.

You see, as much as I want to blame the big companies who have all my data and can possibly lose it all (or partner with someone who does) I also have to accept at least a little responsibility for caving in and giving up all of this data in the first place.  Worse, since I am also a technology product consultant (product manager or strategy provider, if you will) I have helped to devise and have recommended asking and capturing of some of the very data that is now out in hackers hands.  It gives me pause to think that somewhere there’s a nefarious, dark group of criminals using data that was formerly held by someone I worked for and that somehow I may have helped to gather or at least brought customers into that environment.

So although I am many years removed from being a Sony employee I am both angered by and sympathetic to the plight we now find ourselves in.  Short of disconnecting from the internet, mobile network devices and credit card companies forever I must find a way to work within and around this system of interlocking and now inter-sharing worlds. I don’t have all the answers but I do know one thing: I will certainly be recommending far less personally identifiable data capture and I will be asking much tougher questions about data security from all my clients, prospective employers and future service providers.

For those folks (users or customers) on the outside of these big companies all I can say is be vigilant with your personal data and make very sure that whoever you give it to really needs all of it AND can protect you when (not if) the next data breach happens. If you can’t get satisfactory answers to how safe you and your data will be with a provider then it’s time to leave and find a provider that will give you that information.

UPDATE: I must have some kind of bad luck.  Not even 12 hours passed before another break-in at another online site that compromised my personal data.  This time the site was using another one of my “seed passwords” that caused me to spend 3 hours contacting sites and resetting accounts.  The idea of disconnecting from the internet completely is starting to make some sense, in a bunker-mentality kind of way.

 

Suck Meter patch

I found a post from Techcrunch today that neatly summarized a process that I’ve used for many years but didn’t put into concise words: Make Products that Suck Less.

I have been through the new or improve a product process so many times that all of the advice listed seems old hat, but it bears repeating and sharing in these modern times. It seems that you can’t turn the corner in a store (or online if that’s your thing) without running into a product, while initially interesting or attractive, that is utterly terrible in its function and form.  I should know as I too have fallen victim to some of the crimes outlined in the story post.

Item number one on the list is It only takes one person to make your product suck. Truer words have seldom been spoken. Just recently a client that shall remain nameless decided to make the entire process of getting their product hard for users to understand because someone in another part of the company thought it might be hard to get it done right.  Let that sink in for a moment. You have money, you want to give it to this company for their oh-so-cool-new-shiny thing. The company wants to sell it to you, but someone decides that it would be easier for them or their team to simply not do the work, thus making the process of getting said product many times more difficult. Thus, if you, the customer, really want the product you must now wade through suck to get to it.

Item five is another favorite of mine, Customers demand sucky products. Not on purpose (at least not all of the time) but people will often ask for things that make no practical sense in a product and refuse to buy a product if it doesn’t include these features. Again, a unamed employer once held focus groups and polled industry analysts about what features they would want in the next version of the product. The ideas came pouring in and many of them were truly, completely awful. The kind of awful that if you built it into the product you would never be able to sell it without returns. After months of study, data collection, internal discussions and executive consultation nearly every outside feature idea was eliminated from the product plan.

I’ve often wondered how a freshly minted product manager (or PM in the tech world) is expected to be successful when they start a new job, given that they often don’t know the political back story of a company nor the history of a product and its customers. The kernels of information in this Techcrunch story should be required reading for such product owner folks, or anyone else who wants to ship a succesful product.  I don’t profess to be an expert at making products but I have created a fair share of them. I can say this safely: if possible, a product will suck more often than it won’t, and that just shouldn’t be the way it works.

It was a fine plane and it outlasted nearly every other radio control craft I have yet owned, but today the T-34 sucumbed to less than skillful flying by yours truly and met its end upon high tension power lines.

The World Models T-34 Mentor would never win any beauty awards for scale looks or accurate renditions of the original airplane, but it was a hardy, reliable and very easy to fly craft. If not for some poor covering material that was shedding after years of faithful service it could have been one of the best planes ever built.

While it will never truly be replacable, I am sure there will be another plane to take its spot in the garage in the future.  Goodbye and farewell T-34, you will certainly be missed.

World Models T-34 Mentor
World Models T-34 Mentor

I have recently been called crazy (alright, not just recently) for my opinions of things found online.  However, recent changes in the way Facebook wants to use my private data (or what I thought was private) have me thinking that perhaps their site just isn’t for me anymore.  And for these thoughts I was labeled nuts, ridiculous and even a heretic, as I am also helping to create such grand systems of online data sharing.

During their f8 conference in April 2010, Facebook introduced a platform called the Open Graph.  On its face, it seems to do what users want: go anywhere on the web and see information about what their Facebook friends think and let them report their own activities back to Facebook.  Unfortunately, as a “feature” of this new roll-out comes the serious drawback: you are now watched, tracked and exposed everywhere on the web that Facebook has a deal.  What this means is that any data in your Facebook world is now available to any web site that uses the new Open Graph API.  Worse, these sites need only ask for permission once and they can reach in and grab all the data they want and keep it forever.

If all of this weren’t enough, some extra bits of bad behavior from Facebook are now becoming visible.  To “assist” in the social web expansion Facebook wants, they are now automatically opting-in every user’s private profile data to share with the web.  No longer are your favorite books, music, movies or your home town, education and events just between you and your authorized friends.  Nope, now Facebook is pretty much telling you “share it all or else you’ll have no profile page.” This is bad news, indeed.

So far, Facebook hasn’t caved on any of this.  Things have raised enough eyebrows that the US Senate has started asking Facebook to back down. It is likely, however, that Facebook will do nothing about all the controversy, chalk it all up to people not understanding how the web works, then plowing ahead with their own plans to completely own your identity and personal data online.  If you need a hard reason to believe that this will all end badly, look no further than the young Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself who tells the press “he doesn’t believe in privacy” online.  If that doesn’t get people to wake up I’m not sure what will.

I think it is time to own up to the generational gap: I believe that there must be the ability for me to control my personal information online.  I don’t think that a company should have unfettered access to all of my personal data, my friends and then be able to go off and give it to anyone, anywhere for as long as they like without letting me decide about it.  I feel there will always be a public forum on which to share certain parts of my life, but it should be on my terms and with limits that I set.  Yes, the future may be all about “the personalized web” and how great that will make discovering new things… but if it comes at the cost of all of my online privacy I think I’ll stick to hanging out with the uncool kids and their old-school, legacy information and decision-making processes.

UPDATE: after the original post went up the EFF put out this helpful summary of how bad the new Open Graph API is to your “private data.”  In short, if you want to have data shared between just you and friends, you can no longer be on Facebook.  Read Six Things You Need to Know About Facebook Connections for more details.

After a few years of “like it / hate it” service with my web host, named Bluehost.com, I have decided to move on. It wasn’t just one incident or issue that pushed me to leave, but a steady and seamingly growing lack of interest from the company to find and fix the issues that arose.

I had a few sites and about 5 gigabytes of data sitting on this host, so moving isn’t trivial. That’s what makes the decision to leave even more instructive to others: if I have to put up with the serious pane of moving my site, email and data plus that of other friends and colleagues to another provider, something must be really wrong.

Over the course of my time with them, Bluehost.com steadily worsened in the support department. It seemed that each month brought some new problem or distanced the customer further from their support staff. Just last week on a support call I had to wait nearly 45 minutes on the phone for answers, only to have my call dropped. When I called back I got the now-standard line from them:

We don’t know what the problem is, but we are looking into it. No, we can’t tell you when it will be fixed or what caused the issue. We have tens of thousands of customers and it would be too difficult to find out what the issue is each time this happens.

It’s not too difficult for them to take my money but it is too difficult for them to explain why they can’t provide the service that I paid for? Along with complaints from folks who simply couldn’t reach me or had their emails bounced, this explanation pushed me to move to a new host, Arvixe.com. Will they work out any better? Only time will tell, but for now anything is better than what I am leaving.

I’ve had people accuse me in the past of acting impulsively or overstating the situation when it comes to customer service and bad company behavior. Luckly, on the Internet the service you pay for can be monitored and quantified, and what I will show below is just a snapshot of the service, or lack of it, that I suffered over the past few months.

Bluehost reliability

What should be noted is that this is a snapshot of the overall service reliability, with 100% being the best case scenario. Whenver there is a dip on the chart, web, email or DNS service was impacted for some period of time. The further down the graph dips, the more issues there were on that date.  This isn’t some arbitrary graph, this is hard data provided by Basicstate.com, thanks to over a year of service monitoring of my account every 5 to 30 minutes.

In closing, I cannot recommend using Bluehost.com at the service level I paid for. They may offer better service for higher paying clients, but as I found when I moved to my new host, there are plenty of other companies out there providing better service for like-or-lower prices.

This is the first post on the new web host. Hopefully all is well and this will post up just fine. Time will tell if this host is any better than the last one, as the last one was positively awful near the end…. but more on that issue later.

For now the key is to find out if any of this works out and so far it looks like it does, or mostly does.

Just by reading the headline you can see that I have no problems leaving 2009 in the dust. It was a crappy year in just about every sense. But rather than drone on and on about what really sucked about the ’09, because really, I could, I will instead pull the old “look back” list trick from my friends in commercial journalism. It works for them so it ought to for me.

  1. The economy – I really should not have to explain this one. If you had stocks, bonds, a retirement account or any kind of savings you know it sucked this year. Enough said.
  2. Employment – or the lack thereof. By ending the year at 10% the US finds itself in bad shape for those wanting work. In California where I am it’s a cruddy 12.3%.
  3. Healthcare – one of the “benefits” of working as a self-employed or small business owner is acquiring your own healthecare. It is neither beneficial nor cheap, I’ve learned. And it seems that Congress would like to make it worse. Way to go, elected officials.
  4. The Financial system – big bailouts, too-big-to-fail thinking, insane back-room deals to help out insurance companies, messed up mortgages and bank failures. Oh, and your credit card APR is going way up.
  5. Climate Change – yes, the Earth is getting warmer in some places. But it seems to do that on its own from time-to-time. Now the truth is coming out and it looks like global warming is all about getting fatter government grants.
  6. Sarah Palin – enough already! Between her book tour, crazy fans, crazy family or just plain dumb things to say this would-be candidate really needs to be given a reality TV show so the rest of thinking American can tune out.
  7. AT&T – their network bites, they are beginning to losing money on services and they really have bad customer service these says. It may be time to start looking for other options.
  8. Apple’s walled garden – better known as the App Store to most folks. It’s been a bad year for Apple on this front and next year doesn’t look to be much better given recent events.
  9. Netbooks – this abomination of technology really needs to die. It may be doing so already. There are no profits in making them, users are unhappy after buying them and most of the internet won’t run on them. I know people are cheap, but come on, spend an extra $50 and buy a laptop.

I thought about going on and listing some hopeful predictions for 2010, but let’s just think about the track record for such things: they just don’t pan out. If you can’t predict the easy stuff, like tomorrows weather, then trying to guess how a whole year will turn out like is just nuts. I will stick with my current belief that next year will just be a bit like this year, only with a “ten” at the end of it. We’ll see.