Saturday, January 1, 2011

Song of the Sausage Creature

I was reminded the other day of this classic piece. It is loosely about motorcycles, but it is mostly about a certain mindset, I think. What do you think?

"Song of the Sausage Creature" by Hunter S. Thompson

Select quotes:

"There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them - but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous."

"Of course. You want to cripple the bastard? Send him a 130-mph cafe-racer. And include some license plates, he'll think it's a streetbike. He's queer for anything fast."

"Some people will tell you that slow is good - and it may be, on some days - but I am here to tell you that fast is better. I've always believed this, in spite of the trouble it's caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba...."

"That is the attitude of the new-age superbike freak, and I am one of them. On some days they are about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The Vincent just killed you a lot faster than a superbike will. A fool couldn't ride the Vincent Black Shadow more than once, but a fool can ride a Ducati 900 many times, and it will always be a bloodcurdling kind of fun. That is the Curse of Speed which has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. On my tombstone they will carve, 'IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME.'"

Friday, December 31, 2010

Should You Accept Mom & Dad's Facebook Friend Request?

Have your parents joined Facebook yet? (Luckily, mine haven't.) Have they hit you with the question yet?

If yes, here is some helpful advice for you. From Mashable:
"Should You Accept Mom & Dad’s Facebook Friend Request? [FLOWCHART]"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I didn't even realize that these were my favorite animals

This was arguably the best "best of" list I ran across when doing some surfing here at the end of the year. This was really entertaining to read about. From Cracked:
"6 Animals That Just Don't Give A F#@k" by Danny Vittore

Here's why I love the mongoose: "...for one very simple reason: because the mongoose isn't fighting snakes for food, or for territory, or for survival -- it's fighting snakes because fuck snakes. That's seriously the reason why."

How about the cane toad. This guy is sick: "There has been at least one recorded attempt of a cane toad to mate with a long-deceased female that had been completely flattened by a car ... for eight straight hours!"

You have to love the honey badger, though. From the article:

"But the perfect example of the honey badger's inability to give one hot shit comes around 2:15 into the video: One particular honey badger got hungry, so he went to find a nice meal. Now, he could snuffle around in the dirt all night, looking for the safest food source, but that sounds hard, and it might take a while. So instead, he opts to piss all over the very concept of survival instincts, and just eats the first damn thing he comes across. Unfortunately, it happens to be a puff adder -- one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

"The badger stumbles across the snake midway through its own meal, so what's a badger to do? Why, steal the food straight from the death-serpent's jaws, of course, and then sit down to eat the snake's stolen meal right in front of him, while he furiously spits and hisses. When the badger finishes the snake's dinner, he's still a bit peckish, so he walks right over to the still-furious snake and mauls it to death, sustaining multiple bites in the process. Ignoring the deadly poison coursing through his veins, the badger settles in and starts eating the puff adder. Tragically, a few minutes later, he collapses.

"And so ends the story of this honey badger, who died as he lived, spitting in the face of mortalit- what's that? He's back up? Holy shit! Two hours pass, and the badger miraculously resurrects himself from apparent death! He's been given a second chance at life! A second chance to ...

"Go right back and continue eating that snake."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Zuckerberg, Dubois, and your online identity

Here's a fascinating article that poses an interesting question, from zunguzungu:
"The Soul of Mark Zuckerberg: What DuBois can tell us about Facebook"

The broad question is: What is our online identity? Can we have more than one?

Mark Zuckerberg: "You have one identity ... The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."

Is there any benefit to having multiple online identities? If so, is it a sign of a lack of integrity?

I happen to agree with the author that sometimes people don't fit into a given category, and that it is beneficial. I also don't think having multiple identities is a bad thing.

Bear in mind that Zuckerberg's personal beliefs have shaped, and continue to shape, the largest social networking site in the world. What are the implications of this? On Facebook all your friends are lumped together. You can't present one image to your co-workers and another to your wild friends; it's all mixed. (I mentioned this, by referring to a great presentation on the subject, in a past post, "Google Me", back in August.)

It is convenient for a public figure like Zuckerberg, someone whose every move is scrutinized, to think this way. It is probably not possible for him to separate portions of his life given his status. He also has the convenience of not feeling the need to present different personalities to the world, which DuBois pointed out.

But just because he doesn't feel the need to have multiple identities, should he impose that vision on all of us, as he does with Facebook?

Furthermore, the article points out, Zuckerberg makes his money this way! The more he knows about you, the more he can monetize that information. Yes, online sites (and banks, credit card companies, cable/satellite TV providers, internet service providers, et cetera) know a lot about you. But you should certainly be able to control how you are viewed by the world, right? You should make that call, not Zuckerberg. I like to think that Google is generally better at this than Facebook but they have made glaring errors (Buzz, anyone?) in this area, too. It is a fine line.

Fascinating article.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Android Market

If you have an Android phone you might have seen the new Android Market. It has a new look and feel, designed to make finding new apps much easier for users. All that is wonderful, but I'm more interested in the policy implications of the Android Market changes.

From Mashable:
"New Android Market Coming Soon"

Notice that in the past any purchase from the Android Market could be returned for a full refund 24 hours after purchase. That refund window has now shrunk to 15 minutes. A simple Google search of "new android market 15 minutes" shows the reaction to this change. It is generally not positive.

Many people have pointed to the 24 hour refund policy as a big advantage of the Android Market as opposed to Apple iTunes. But the relevant question is: Better for whom? The better question is: What is the best time to allow refunds, considering the interests of both app developers and customers?

If there is no refund window, it is more attractive to app developers. If there is a long refund window, it is more attractive to consumers. But if it is too attractive to consumers, too easy to get a refund, that will turn away developers. Developers may feel that it is unfair to have a 24 hour refund window because someone could download a paid game, play it on a 5 hour flight, then return the game as soon as he got off the plane. Basically, people could get all the benefit of a paid app for free.

On the other hand, there are some really bad apps out there. Do you want to have to pay, without possibility of a refund, for an app that you just want to try to see if you like it or whether you'd use it over the long haul?

I think it IS a good idea to have some sort of refund interval. But it is also true that a 15 minute interval may be too short. If you have a spotty network connection it may take the better part of that time just to download the app. Furthermore, some apps (calendars, schedulers, task lists, etc.) might take much longer to properly evaluate. So maybe 15 minutes is too short.

Perhaps the better model is for app developers to make two versions of their apps, one that has embedded paid advertising and another that is ad-free but is not free. Users can try the ad-supported app for free, see if they like it, and then upgrade to the paid version if they like it.

There is a trade-off here, and it affects the number of developers and consumers that will use a market. So the next time you hear that the iPhone has way more apps than Android, think about why. Ask yourself whether hundreds of paid fart noise apps or stupid paid wallpaper apps really make one app market better than another.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Delta Sucks

I have a story to tell. It is a story about how a company can attempt to make your life miserable for absolutely no reason. Delta Airlines, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

My family and I planned to travel to Upper Michigan to see my dad and other family over Christmas and New Year's. We bought tickets to fly on Christmas Day--cheaper price, less crowded airport. We checked in for the flight online the previous day, as I normally try to do. We had a ride arranged to the airport. Everything looked good.

And then the first sign of trouble: We got an e-mail saying our flight was canceled. We were planning to fly to Milwaukee. Delta had canceled our flight to Milwaukee (MKE) but re-booked us on a flight to Minneapolis (MSP), and then a later flight from MSP to MKE. This would cost us many hours of additional travel time and put us into MKE at a time when we probably wouldn't want to drive all the way to Upper Michigan (driving late at night, on Christmas day when nothing was open). We wouldn't make Christmas dinner with my dad.

Why was our flight canceled? There was a storm system moving towards the east coast that was threatening to dump an inch, maybe two (!), of snow on Atlanta. Forget about the fact that the Christmas Day forecast for Atlanta called for weather comfortably above freezing and the rain (not snow) was not expected until evening, possible turning to snow at night. Nonetheless, Delta started canceling about half their flights (based on what I saw on the flight status boards when we got to the airport the next day).

We considered alternate travel plans. It didn't matter to us whether we flew into MSP or MKE, either would work. If we could get a rental car out of MSP, why bother with MKE at all? So we booked a rental car for MSP. It was cost prohibitive to rent in MSP and return in MKE, so we needed to ask Delta to just skip flying us from MSP to MKE (saving them the bother and saving us time) and change our return flight from MKE-ATL to MSP-ATL at any time on 1/1/11 or 1/2/11. Didn't matter to us. We did our research and found that Delta had 11 direct flights from MSP-ATL on both days.

Well, we would have asked Delta this if only they had answered the phone. They didn't even put us on hold and lie to us about how long it would take for a person to come on the line. Everyone must have been calling. Which only meant that the next day at the airport was going to be fun. And by "fun" I mean "hell." Which it was.

Because the person giving us a ride had other commitments early in the morning, we headed to the airport at 5:30a and got there before 6:00a for an 8:30a flight (both the original flight to MKE and the new flight to MSP left at nearly the same time). We didn't have a problem with this given that we appreciated the lift anyway, but in this situation we felt like we would need extra time. And so we did. We needed every minute of the extra time we had.

First thing we noticed were the tons of canceled flights. Due to snow. Yeah right. Flights to Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, San Juan, and many other sun-drenched locations all canceled due to snow.

We got in line around 6a. We waited in line for almost an hour. Finally, a little before 7a we trudged up to the counter and started what was to be an hour-plus ordeal.

We explained our situation and said that we were not interested in flying to MKE and wasting our whole day in airports. Either airport (MSP or MKE) worked for us. So why burden Delta with flying us to MKE? Let us off in MSP and be done with us, but please set us up with a return flight out of MSP rather than MKE. Turns out that they had plenty of room on those flights, the Delta person at the counter told us so. Seemed like a win-win to me.

They said no. Any particular reason, I asked? No, just can't to it. It's against policy. Your destination is MKE. Any change in destination requires a change fee of $150 per person.

This didn't make any sense to me. Delta was canceling flights for no reason (weather was partly cloudy, maybe 40 degrees, no precipitation (yet, and not for some time). They were going to spend more fuel and more manpower on their part. It wouldn't cost them anymore to fly us back form MSP than MKE given that they had plenty of available capacity on the MSP-ATL flights (remember, they told us that directly). This would make our lives much easier. And yet they wouldn't do it.

I further explained to them that I don't need their help in determining my destination. I know what my destination is. And in this particular case it was neither MKE nor MSP, but that either one would work to get me to my ultimate destination. I'm not sure they ever fully comprehended that.

So at that point I became "that guy." The guy I always bitch about. The guy who won't just get his damn boarding passes and move on, to keep the line moving. In my defense, I wasn't the only one. We saw several other groups of people having the same problem, for about the same amount of time.

In summary: I literally stood at the Delta counter for over an hour. Arguing, pleading, begging, demanding, doing everything I could think of to talk some sense into them and to find someone who had the authority to make an exception to the mindless policies Delta has.

All this after waiting in line for nearly an hour and on four hours of sleep. Which reminds me, my girls literally fell asleep on the airport floor and took naps while I argued with the morons who work for Delta.

I literally argued with them for an hour. Literally an hour. The original person we spoke with couldn't help us. He explained that he couldn't approve the change of the return trip origin from MKE to MSP. I asked over and over again, "Well, who CAN make that decision?" He called over his supervisor. It took a while but she came over. She said no, she wouldn't do that. It's against policy. I kept asking "Who CAN make that decision?" I was told to call customer service, the same number that wouldn't answer the previous night. I was told that they, at the counter, couldn't change the flights without a "waiver code" from someone with more authority.

So I called customer service, without much hope at this point. I think that the ticket agent at the counter thought we would leave while we made that call. He thought wrong. I told him that I was going to make this call right here and now while we stood in front of him. I wasn't going anywhere until this was resolved.

Now at this point you, gentle reader (as Ms. Manners would say), are probably wondering why I'm being such a dick about all this. My justification: Delta is flat-out lying to us about why they are canceling flights. There is no snow. They are canceling flights to places where there is absolutely no expectation of snow. There is a deeper story here, which we may never know. Maybe a lot of pilots called in "sick" because it was Christmas Day, I have no idea. But it sure as hell was not because of "snow." Furthermore, Delta has in their power the ability to make things right by simply changing my return flight, by putting me on a flight where they have plenty of extra capacity.

I was further egged on by Delta's insipid justifications for their policies. "Well, I'm sure it's for your safety," I was told, among many other lies that I can't remember off-hand. Yeah, right. Remember, they are still flying out of Atlanta. And still flying into MKE. Other people on our flight from Atlanta to MSP were simply trying to get to Washington, D.C. And they were re-routed through MSP. All to avoid "snow." By flying from a non-snowy airport (Atlanta) to a snowy airport (MSP) back to a non-snowy airport. That's right, in order to avoid "snow" Delta routed people through an airport where they had plenty of snow.

My heart sank when they said that it would be 13-19 minutes before a representative would be available. That I could leave my number and I would receive an automated call-back at that time. We were going to have to stall. I have no idea all the stuff I said while I waited. I do remember a couple things, though. At one point I asked the Delta counter person, "I know you have to say stuff like that [that it's for our safety and other such lies], it's your job, but don't you ever get tired of it? Doesn't it wear on you, looking people in the eyes and saying that?" He didn't answer that one.

Ultimately customer service did call me back. So I began the phase of the negotiation (if you can call it that) where I was talking to both the the counter agent and customer service at the same time. After getting bounced around a bit by customer service I did get to a person who approved the change. Hurray!

But all was not roses. It was taking them forever to make the changes. The person at the ticket counter couldn't give us boarding passes until the customer service person made the changes in the computer system. The flight was to take off at 8:30a. But it was 7:45a now. The counter person was telling us that he needed to check our bags quickly or we wouldn't get them on the flight.

Delta customer service said it would be "just a moment" and put me on hold. And then nothing for over 10 minutes (we were watching the clock). Apparently Delta's definition of "moment" is a little different than mine.

There was a moment of truth. They said they would make the changes. I told the ticket agent, check my bags through to Minneapolis. And crossed my fingers that the customer service agent on the phone wasn't lying to me. Luckily we got our bags checked at 7:55a or so. And we got our boarding passes at just before 8a.

We had to run through security (line was relatively short). We ran to the tram. We ran to the gate. We got to the gate just as they announced the final boarding call for our flight. Good thing we did, too, because the flight was full and many people were waiting to fly standby. If we hadn't gotten there when we did, we would have lost our seat. And there was no next flight, not for a while anyway, because many ATL-MSP flights were also canceled.

I was still worried whether our bags made it on the flight, but we were rolling the dice. Luckily when we got to MSP, our bags were also there.

I was happy that we made the changes we did. We got on the road at 11a or so from MSP. Weather looked good so we took the direct route through Hayward, Clam Lake, Mellon, etc. But it started snowing fairly heavily along the way and driving conditions were tough. I had to slow to 30 mph or so for long stretches of time, the car was sliding so much--that's how bad it was. I would have hated to make the drive late at night. I'm very happy we didn't take the flight from MSP-MKE where we would have gotten a much later start and had to drive the treacherous roads in the dark.

In summary, Delta lied and used snow as an excuse to cancel flights. They refused to make a reasonable change. And I didn't take it. I continued to keep saying, if you can't approve this, who can? Let me talk to that person. I worked the counter agent and I worked the customer service agent on the phone while talking to the counter agent to stall him. It was epic. We got approved 30 minutes before flight time. Luggage barely made it on board. We got to the gate just as they announced final call. It was amazing and exhausting. It was necessary, to get here in time. I hope I don't have to go through that again--although I will if I have to. I got them to change and I got us here on time.

In retrospect, my "ask" of Delta is: Just tell me the truth. And make reasonable accommodations when you force changes on people. You canceled flights because it was Christmas day and you had a lot of nearly empty planes. So you dropped many flights. Re-routed people through other hubs. I get that. But when you do that, just allow me to change my plans, too, if it doesn't adversely affect you.

Also remember, this whole fiasco at the airport could have been avoided if Delta had simply answered the phone the night before, when they canceled our tickets. Just answer the damn phone. It's not that complicated.

Post script, January 4, 2011

From the linked article, it said:
"Delta is offering customers whose flight plans may be affected by winter weather across the Southeast and East 'the ability to make one-time changes to their travels schedules without fees. Delta's weather advisory encourages customers to consider postponing or rerouting their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight delays.'

"Customers 'booked on Delta-ticketed flights to, from or through' several cities 'may immediately rebook for travel before or after their original travel dates as long as new flights are ticketed and rescheduled travel begins by Dec. 29.'"

This is exactly what I tried to do, and they simply would not allow it (not until I really pressed the issue). Delta LIED.

On our return flight we landed about 45 minutes later than scheduled (slightly late departure coupled with having to pull out of the landing because we were "too close" to the jet in front of us because the jet in front of us was going too slow, according to our pilot). And then we had to wait literally an hour and fifteen minutes for our luggage. Way to go, Delta.

Best music videos of 2010

At the end of the year everyone comes out with their lists. I've been reading a bunch of these. Here is one that caught my eye, about the best music videos of 2010. This list doesn't focus on big name musicians but on truly great music videos. Very interesting.

From Nerve:
"The Top Eight Music Videos of 2010" by Max Goldman

There are also links to other "best" lists on lists like this. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All my phone are belong to me

Remember the old internet phenomenon "All your base are belong to us"? I do. And I think it applies to me!

Here's the story. I am very fortunate to get a bunch of phones due to the generosity of my employer. So I have an HTC Nexus One personal phone ("Nexy") and a Motorola Droid X business phone ("Xy"). The screen size of Nexy is 3.7". The screen size of Xy is 4.3". Why is the screen size important? Read on...

It so happens that I got another phone for Christmas, a Samsung Nexus S. And the screen size of the Nexus S is 4.0".

Will I give away one of my other phones, perhaps Nexy? Hmmm, not so sure. People ask why I need another phone. Here's what I tell them: "Well, there are times when a 3.7" screen is too small. (You can see where this is going.) And there are times when a 4.3" screen is just a little too big. So...."

Seriously. They laugh and laugh. Not sure if they're laughing with me or at me, but they ARE laughing! :)

In related news, I need a nickname for the new phone, the Nexus S. I'm thinking of "Nessie" because "Nexy" is already taken. What do you think?

If you also have an Android phone, here is some good information from The Official Google Blog:
"Some cool Android tips and tricks"

Finally, here is a picture of my six Android phones, three used by me (Nessie, Xy, and Nexy across the top) and three used by the rest of the family (two Nexus ones and a G1 across the bottom). Is six too many? I don't think so. :)