Sunday, April 11, 2010

web: it's my data on their web site, let me get at it

I'm being audited, the IRS says "Please bring cancelled checks and deposit slips", how quaint. It's more like 250+ pages of electronic statements and electronic check images to print out. I wish the IRS let you bring a directory of hyperlinked PDFs.

Fortunately my financial institutions provide online records going back far enough, though one (whose name rhymes with "smells cargo") cuts off after a pathetically short two years.

==> Save your own PDF copies of your statements! Don't rely on your bank.

Unfortunately, all financial institutions make it difficult to grab this information. The URL to download my January 2007 statement is invariably an impenetrable mess. It should be just https://secure.thebank.com/records/internalUserID/2007/statements/checking_1234_2007-01.pdf, where internalUserID is what refers to me internally. Then I can just change the end of the URL to 2007-02, -03, etc. You might think it's more secure to have a meaningless jumbled URL with token IDs and session IDs and crap, but that's confusing a secured session with a complicated name, and it's guaranteeing the URLs will change when they rethink their web site.

(The same really holds true for any other data on the web. I can't get my pictures out of Sprint PictureMail because there isn't a simple URL for each one.)

Also, the institutions do the usual crappy job of naming the downloaded file. When I repeatedly click to download my statements, I get
Note the ^$#@! random order of the files because the institution didn't use ISO8601 date format. BANKSTMT_1234_2008-04.pdf sorts in the right order, why do people persist in using stupid date formats?.

The real interesting issue is what would happen if I was no longer a customer of Tells Margo? The moment you're not a customer, you lose access. But that's not fair, a former customer still should have rights to access old data. Again, that's why simple URLs are so important. An institution should let me access /records/internalUserID/correspondence/2010/some_old_record.pdf even if my accounts are defunct. And again, until the world works as it should, save those records in your own well-organized system despite the hassle.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

disintermediation part 1: ordering direct

I have a backpack from the Gap. It is utter garbage that's falling apart. So what exactly is the Gap adding when it has a Chinese factory sew its label on their part 53AF47Y?

Just let me order the best product direct from its manufacturer.

This applies whether I want a custom one-off or just their generic part. As I wrote (responding to a Gizmodo post triggered by Wired's garbled-rahrar-as-usual story about custom manufacturing about custom manufacturing:
I want the best worker in the factory cranking out quality $10 clothes to make me custom stuff after hours for five times the price (which will still be less than what some US store charges me for their worthless label). That just requires some bilingual entrepreneur to set up a web storefront to take my order and hook me up direct with the manufacturer.

This is a huge potential market. It cuts out the non-existent added value of some dumbass US brand supposedly getting me better quality goods while in reality they're just twisting their suppliers' arms to reduce costs.

Sadly for the USA, this innovation is more likely to come from a Chinese bilingual near the factory rather than someone living in America.

Meanwhile every American brand that only spends on marketing while ordering up generic crap (clothes, luggage, sunglasses, tools, ANYTHING, etc., etc.) from overseas factories DESERVES TO DIE. The actual factory can be the brand, and can offer custom work through these entrepreneurs. The moment Happy Dong Manufacturing gets a great rating from Consumer Reports and you can order its widget on eBay, a lot of USA specialty stores will really suffer.
This is starting to happen on Amazon. Go search for a replacement battery or USB and you'll find some entrepreneur from Asia selling them absurdly cheap.

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disintermediation part 2: Amazon should be/buy UPS

I used to compare items for price using MySimon and Froogle, now I usually go to Amazon and pay whatever they ask. There are still companies competing on price: you can buy LCD TVs from obscure companies in Nebraska that sound like they are operating out of a bedroom, some dot com sites are still trying "shopping innovations" such as buying circles (get 15 friends to buy the same product and it's 5% less), and of course there are people selling new stock on auction sites.

All of these are a waste. A third party coming between the manufacture and me can do no more than jack up the price. My thesis is simple: the lowest possible price of an item is the price at which the manufacture is willing to put it on the loading dock, plus shipping to your door. Everything else is overhead.

You may respond "But shipping 50,000 widgets to Walmart is a lot cheaper than shipping widgets to 50,000 addresses." Sure, but Walmart has its overhead. They have to uncreate 50,000 items and put them on the shelves of big stores, then wait for them to sell.

No manufacturer wants the hassle of shipping to 50,000 customers. But manufacturers don't really want the hassle of shipping even to 100 stores either. The whole process of getting goods to you is called logistics:
Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material-handling, and packaging, and occasionally security.
Many manufacturers already outsource this. What's stupid is the manufacturer pays for one logistics chain that gets widgets from it to the store, then the store pays for another chain that gets the widgets to customers' houses.

You could argue that manufacturers need stores to aggregate individual purchases into bulk orders; they can't run their assembly line in response to individual orders dribbling in, but they can intelligently respond to a 50,000 item order from a store. But bulk orders just hide inefficiency and mistakes. Some of a big order winds up on sale or dumped in discounters and outlet stores, which jacks up costs for the store. You could claim that stores should know their customers' tastes better than the manufacturer, e.g. the Super Bowl is coming up but economic conditions are poor so cheap 720p TVs will do well while 1080p will languish; but that's part of the problem: manufacturers need this information as much as stores do! A manufacturer whose customers are big stores knows less than a manufacturer whose customers are the actual users.

For years I've believed the obvious answer is for Amazon (market cap $ 52 bn, revenue $22 bn) to buy or become UPS (market cap $58 bn, revenue $ 45 bn). This results in one chain from the loading dock to the customer! Returning to my thesis, the manufacturer tells UPS/Amazon what price it's willing to put it on the loading dock, and Amazon/UPS puts it in the customer's hands. The manufacturer and Amazon/UPS can work out whether to manufacture 50,000 at once or do smaller runs, it all ends up in one supply chain. And Amazon/UPS has all the customer knowledge and programming smarts to offer sales approaches that reduce prices like bulk-buying circles, limited-time promotions, auctions, reverse auctions, overstock, etc. but in conjunction with the manufacturer.

Anyone know Jeff Bezos' e-mail address?

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disintermediation part 3: universal spiff

Retail stores are struggling because it's cheaper and better to buy things on the web. I see something I want in the store, but I wonder if that model is highly rated, and I know I can get it cheaper online. Yet manufacturers still need to get goods in front of customers in the real world where they can see, touch, and use them in order to make the sale. Some companies have tried manufacturer stores, but they are hampered by not undercutting other stores (my local Sony Style store closed a year ago).

When I worked in tech support, if a support engineer was able to convince a customer that they needed a product (often a paid upgrade to the new version that addressed the problem) , the employee would transfer the phone call to sales and get a small commission on the sale. This is called a “spiff”: A bonus or other remuneration, given for ... promoting the goods of a particular manufacturer.. The problem is if the customer later on bought the product because of that person's assistance, there was no way the employee could get compensated. I've also gone out on sales calls where my technical knowledge sealed the deal, yet the sales person got the commission.

My thesis is companies have a certain promotional budget for the sale of an item, and they should be willing to hand sum over to anyone on ANY sale. They already do this on click-through ads for web sites, but they should extend this to the world of people.

It would work somewhat like this:
Enter the e-mail address of the person who led you to buy this product: __@___

So whether someone demonstrated the laptop at the Sony lifestyle store, or someone showed it to you at a convention, or you saw a book at a bookstore but guiltily purchased it online instead, or your mechanic told you to buy some accessory, or you read a rave review about something on a blog, you can credit the person who led to your purchase.

This would encourage and liberate millions of people to sell things, and it would break down the artificial division between salespeople selling a product and the many people whose efforts can lead to a sale. It would provide a financial model for company "stores" and marketing events that merely demonstrate items yet often spur sales.

Companies probably wouldn't allow any e-mail address, they would have a known list of approved promoters: all their employees, partners, people on certain web sites. The system has vast potential for "abuse", e.g. someone who had nothing to do with the sale would offer to split the spiff with the buyer. But the abuse still leads to increased sales!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

non-support: Suddenlink can't help itself

My cable bill appears on my bank's billpay site, but when I click "View Bill" nothing displays. My bank can't fix it. So first I tried Suddenlink's "Chat now":

S Page: my problem with viewing my Suddenlink statement through my bank's online bill payment system. Can you assist with that?
Dana: Unfortunately, no. We provide the statements to your Suddenlink.net account. ... Viewing it via your bank's online bill pay, could be an issue with their system.
S Page: No, wsc.suddenlink.net is definitely doing something wrong. My bank's billpay site shows all my other electronic bills fine. It presents the amount and date of my Suddenlink bill fine, but when I try to view the Suddenlink bill, a) it only works if I reduce my browser security settings and b) even when I do that I get "JSPG0036E: Failed to find resource /WEB-INF/jsp/lang/en/atl_cferror.jsp".
S Page: This is a highly technical flaw with https://wsc.suddenlink.net/EUR_ViewBill/Controller/ProcessCheckFreeAuthorisation?data=...
Dana: That could still be an issue with their site. Have you been able to view your bills at that site before?
S Page: As I said, *every other electronic bill* I get works fine. Problem a) has been around for over a year, but the error message b) is new.
S Page: Do you have a bug reporting system? I want you to enter in it "Customer reports two problems with wsc.suddenlink.net's presentation of online billing to another billpay system. ..." I would be happy to provide more details but there's no point if you don't have a method to report problems with this system.
Dana: We do not have a method to report this that I am aware of. I can report it in your account.
Dana: Everything that I am finding on that error appears to be software issues so far.
S Page: Well that's completely lame. I'm trying to help Suddenlink fix a problem with a service it provides! Suddenlink must have a director of web software engineering who needs to know that your electronic bill presentation system isn't working. Yes it's a software problem.
Dana: (no response)

I tried again with Melanie on the phone. She also had no means to report that their bill-presenting software is broken, the best she could do is e-mail her supervisor.

It's the same sad pattern as Earthlink support and Symantec support. They can all help a customer with certain classes of problems, but the company is structured to be incapable of letting a customer help them.

The future of the web is supposed to be autonomous bits of software talking to each other on behalf of customers, but dinosaur companies aren't set up to support the interaction.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fonts on the Web are cool.

Dang, doesn't work in Blogger, go see separate test.

Or, I meant to say these Fonts on the Web are cool.

Good browsers support custom fonts. That header should look bizarre yet somewhat attractive. If you're using Microsft Internet Explorer (the big blue 'e') then you won't, so upgrade today. I used Fonts on the web site to make the compressed font that just has a few letter.

Besides the big incompetent blue browser impeding progress, the other problem with fonts on the web is the serious font foundries won't sell their fonts so you can refer to them from your web site, unless you pay tens of thousands of dollars. People point out that this means the serious font foundries will just watch free and pirated fonts take over this new market.

What's depressing is all the haters who attack the craftspeople who make beautiful fonts, for example one dope writes "Because, at the end of the day, you draw letters. How much did you *think* people were going to pay for that?" Fonts are no more and no less than a beautiful, optional tool for portraying written ideas. I used to be involved in technical publications and spent time looking at fonts and had the Adobe PostScript font posters on the wall, and I write my e-mails in plain ASCII text. Some of the ideas on this web site would be more compelling in a beautiful font.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

web, music: Mother of All Funk Chords video

  1. Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tprMEs-zfQA
  2. Click play and cover up the video, just listen to the musicians jamming.
  3. Now play again and watch.
What the ??

In some browsers you can perform these steps here.

An amazing achievement in music and video editing. I'll never get tired of watching the musicians figure it out together.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

web: Dear John...

The [Ignore] button on Facebook's ridiculously-named "Friend requests" seems so harsh but I realized I was ignoring them anyway, so here's the Dear John letter I've started sending:

I'll always treasure the "Subject from obscure technical workplace e-mail from years ago" messages from you, but I don't hang out on Facebook much and the mismatch between Real Life and the 30 friends that Facebook claims I already have is too weird for me.


Facebook leaves it unclear what [Ignore] does, so I think I'll just leave them in my Friend Request, the pic is a useful reminder.


Monday, August 11, 2008

web: life of a Beijing pirate is hard, yarrrr

Even with an outside high-def antenna from AntennaPros, I can't tune in to over-the-air NBC ever since the station moved to San Jose. Curse you, hilly geography!

So no Olympics (or Heroes, or Tonight Show) for me. Yet the opening ceremonies are meant to be the greatest ever!

Ahh, but I hear there be “pirates” a-sailing the IntarWub tubes who make TV booty available to landlubbers. (Though what, exactly, is the piracy in taking something freely broadcast over the air to anyone who can receive it and making it available to others?)

I knew from my experience trying to grab early Joanna Newsom albums how difficult this would be.
  • Google for Olympics 2008 opening ceremony torrent
  • Update to latest BitTorrent program just to be safe.
  • Download the small .torrent file, it opens in BitTorrent.
  • My download speed is close to zero, so I reconfigure my router's port forwarding for my current IP address
  • It starts downloading, dozens of computers world-wide handing me pieces!
  • The torrent contains two files
    1. Beijing.Summer.Olympics.2008.Torch.and.Fireworks.BBC-HD.1080p.H.264.AC3.2.0.mkv (1.12 GB)
    2. Olympic Opening Ceremony [2008] (minus athletes entering).avi (598 MB)
    The first file downloads in a few hours, the second file never gets started.
  • I watch the first file, in Media Player Classic. It's insanely high resolution but choppy as hell and it's only the five minute climax of the guy running around the scroll!
  • Search again, find torrents on The Pirate Bay yarrr, arrrr, together with user reviews. Everyone wants a torrent without commercials and without the irritating commentators, nobody has one. For a bunch of freeloaders we sure are demanding.
  • I settle on Beijing.Olympics.2008.Opening.Ceremony.720p.HDTV.x264-ORENJi, not-quite-so high-def
  • download the .torrent and BitTorrent starts grabbing pieces of the file.
  • It's 5 gigabytes, 53 files 95.3 MB each!
  • The next morning it's all downloaded, but my BitTorrent program continues to offer bits of the file to other users. Arrr, they're not just pirates, they be Communist pirates sharing amongst themselves!
  • Try to play the first file, orenji-x264-beijing.olympics.2008.opening.ceremony.720p.hdtv.x264-orenji.r00, but no luck: Windows Media Player, Media Player Classic, and VLC Player all can't play it. Media Player Classic knows a few details about it like the encoding rate, but there's no sound or video in any of them.
  • Google for x264 "Media Player Classic", figure out it's a variant of H264 video compression, this forum post tells me I need ffdshow plus Haali Matroska Splitter
  • I download and install those decoder packs, adding to the half-dozen media-playing bits and pieces on my computer. Both have dozens of setup options for which formats they should own and mostly incomprehensible video settings.
  • Again, try to play that first 95MB file, nothing doing.
  • I look more closely, there's also a orenji-x264-beijing.olympics.2008.opening.ceremony.720p.hdtv.x264-orenji.rar file, which sounds like a compressed file.
  • Try opening this, 7-Zip volunteers to open it.
  • Indeed, it's a compressed file, so I extract the original file blahblah.mkv
  • 15 minutes later, it's still extracting.
  • The original file is 5,157,477 kB!! 5GB! And there are 50 of these! I'll need to dedicate a hard drive just for this one TV program!
And even with these encoders, the sound is staticky and choppy; I guess not only is my disk too small, but my Athlon 64 3000 with 1GB of RAM isn't powerful enough. The insane file sizes and CPU demands demonstrate that high-quality computer video has barely entered the realm of possibility, unlike computer audio where any $40 cellphone or $2 birthday card can play music.

Yet clearly there are many people who have mastered this hassle and happily grab a daily buffet of free TV shows and movies from the pirates' distributed digital treasure chest.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

web: XULRunner means every app can be a Firefox app

The most excellent Firefox browser (see my tips) is built on Mozilla code. So is the Thunderbird e-mail client, and a bunch of other applications are “powered by Mozilla”. The name for the underlying code to talk to the network, render HTML, display controls, etc. is XULRunner.

An app powered by Mozilla is better than most Windows apps. As I've complained on the IntarWub
I wish my native apps worked as well as web apps in Firefox: ubiquitous text selection, spell-checking in every field, smart zooming, superb auto-update, user data cleanly separated in profiles, and powerful notions like bookmarking, caching, etc. But they don’t, they’re CRAP in comparison. I hate leaving the browser to screw around in native apps like iTunes, media players, and Norton Justshootme Virus. Then, to add insult to injury, these native apps are peppered with web links that don’t have Firefox’s context menu and so lack vital commands like “Bookmark this link” and “Copy link location”.
If native apps used the underlying code of Firefox, they'd work more like it and be better. However, Mozilla-based apps are heavier than they need to be:
  • another .exe installer
  • another copy of the XULRunner code on disk (18MB!) and in memory that you have to update.
There is a way to keep them lightweight, which is to run the application off the XULRunner code in Firefox. Firefox has an undocumented -app command line option to run a XULRunner application using the platform code that came with Firefox 3. (See my post about standalone ChatZilla for an example).

Strangely, Mozilla Corp and third-party vendors put no effort into promoting this. Mozilla folk seem to love extensions that improve Firefox, they have a Firefox extension called Prism that lets you turn Web sites that are sophisticated "Web applications" (like GMail) into icons on the desktop, and they tolerate Mozilla-based applications. But the idea of "use your Firefox code to run lightweight local applications" is well-hidden. Maybe they're afraid of tying other products to Firefox requirements and upgrade schedules, or they assume disk space and memory is "cheap"

The best future is one where Firefox and Thunderbird ship as just another relatively small application that runs off a "central" XULRunner binary, same as all other "powered by Mozilla" applications. That's how the Browse activity on my One Laptop Per Child XO machine works.

One platform to rule them all

I realize you have to pick your battles and Mozilla has to focus on making great products that give users a better Internet experience. But it would be a shame if the solid, coherent, Web-friendly XULRunner platform lost out because it didn't promote itself. Fortunately there's next to no money in platforms (just bragging rights, lock-in, and mindshare) so no one else is trying too hard. The competitors:
  • Every few years Microsoft promotes a different platform for building applications, currently it's Silverlight. No thanks, I keep declining it in Windows Update.
  • Macromedia/Adobe has spent years getting people to write Flash-based applications, first as lightweight gadgets in Macromedia Central, then as Adobe AIR. But text and scrollbars alone in Flash are so jarringly inconsistent that I find Flash apps uncomfortable.
  • Sun's Java is still around on the desktop, I think I have Eclipse and maybe BitTorrent apps using it.
One development that could quickly bring the promised land of all Mozilla-powered apps all the time are the coming low-cost 4PCs (power-performance-price-portability) and network tablets. Once you put Firefox or a Gecko-based browser on these, you've got that 18MB of code in memory, so reuse it to create the small fraction of your computing that isn't Web browsing. That's the vision behind this fantasy? Firefox web tablet.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

web: Chat powered by Firefox's XULRunner

I want all my applications to work as well as Firefox by running off its core technology. Here's an example of running an application off the XULRunner code built into Firefox. I've started using ChatZilla more to interact with OLPC and MediaWiki developers on IRC. This is available as a Firefox extension, but then it closes down when Firefox shuts down. The developer also provides it as a standalone XULRunner app separate from the XULRunner runtime. Although it's undocumented you can run it using your Firefox 3 code:
  1. download the XULRunner version of chatzilla
  2. unzip it (only 2.5 MB)
  3. In a command window, enter \path\to\firefox.exe -app \path\to\unpacked_chatzilla\application.ini
  4. Cool! You're executing a second instance of the firefox code, but it's running a different set of files
  5. To create a shortcut for it (Windows)
    1. Explore your Firefox folder in the Start menu
    2. Copy the Firefox shortcut, rename it Chatzilla XULRunner on Firefox
    3. In the shortcut's Properties, change Target to \path\to\firefox.exe -app application.ini and Start in to \path\to\unpacked_chatzilla
    4. click Change Icon and navigate to \path\to\unpacked_chatzilla\chrome\icons\default and choose the chatzilla .ico as the icon
If this is too geeky, don't worry about it. (Just download and run those “powered by Mozilla” applications like Songbird music player, Miro, etc. Disk and memory are cheap.)

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Monday, August 4, 2008

web: still no date love

I complained about the complete and utter randomness of date formats. Going through receipts from travel:
Jul'06 08
06JUL 2008
And Yankee imperialist scum, none are June, those are all July 6th 2008.

How much time do people waste comprehending the 20 different ways of representing a date? What does it take to get companies to stop this nonsense and use ISO8601 dates?

2008-07-06 Done. All ambiguity gone for anyone on earth.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

web: quick Firefox setup guide

Here's what I set up for friends and family so they can be more productive on the IntarWub.
  • Get Firefox at getfirefox.com
  • Make it your default browser: during setup there's a checkbox "[ ] Use Firefox as my default web browser", check this.
  • Install Adblock Plus and restart Firefox. After it restarts, go to http://adblockplus.org/en/subscriptions and click Subscribe: EasyList. A filter like this says "skip anything from http://adserv - adsnew - doubleclick - ..., they're all ads." Now visit a site like cnn.com: your browser no longer downloads all the irritating ads on web sites, so browsing becomes much faster!
  • Get a Google account. It's not necessary to customize your home page (below), but you're going to want it: gmail is probably better than your current e-mail, Google Docs is awesome (you don't need Microsoft Office), Blogger is pretty good, etc.
    • If you already have a gmail mail address, you have a Google account; otherwise, go to google.com, and on the right click Sign in then click Create an account now
  • Now sign in to igoogle.com, make it your default home page in the browser (Tools > Options > Main; and click [Use Current Page]
  • Add a few things to your iGoogle home page:
    • my blog (click "Add stuff", click "Add feed or gadget" on the left, enter http://www.skierpage.com/blog/ and add me to your home page.)
    • configure the weather applet
    • add news sites like BBC news
  • Set up keywords so you can jump directly to pages without going to a search box; I have keywords for Wikipedia, dictionary definitions, and various Google map shortcuts

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web: Firefox 3 and what stands behind it

The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet.
Makes it a no-brainer that I've used Mozilla since years before there was a Firefox web browser. The idea of the project was important before it made a decent browser, it's gratifying that the project has delivered the best current browser.

Firefox 3 is coming very soon, the improvements are real (here's a short Flash tutorial/intro). Release Candidate 2 is ready right now and is great. Or sign up now to grab it on download day.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

web: "where do they find the time?" exposed

This blogger gets the same response that I do when I tell people about Wikipedia editors, users supporting users, collaborative development, etc.:
Where do they [i.e. those losers] find the time?
First he figures out how much time we're talking about:
So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.
Wow, that's a lot of time devoted by people whom the clueless majority accuse of needing to "get a life". But the key insight is that is dwarfed by TV viewing:
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus
How come TV watchers get a free pass? Then he goes on to talk about if only 1% of the time we waste on mass media (whose attitude is just "How much can you consume?") goes to participatory culture, the change will be dramatic. Do the math, it's 20 Wikipedia-sized projects, every year. So expect more great things!


Monday, October 29, 2007

software: e-mail enhancements

I use Thunderbird for e-mail, a mere 700MB of e-mail from Eudora, Netscape, Mac Mail, and corporate Exchange. I took a survey. Here are my suggestions in more detail. They're keyed around several hassles:
  • the hassle of subscribing to mailing lists and getting duplicates of messages, and messages that are on web archives
  • the hassle of threaded discussions and all those chunks of >>> quoted message
  • the hassle of attachments, that again exist on the web

integrate Find Duplicate message functionality

There's extension that finds duplicates, but I want e-mail to detect them as they come in. If I get the same message several times (e.g. a personal reply and the message from mailing list), show me threaded with the one I prefer first, with an option for the rest to be flagged as less desirable. For example, if someone sends an e-mail to me and cc's to some mail lists I subscribe, I prefer keeping the original and deleting the ones that have the Yahoo Groups ad or Sourceforge.net promo line.

in threaded mode, detect and collapse previous quotations

The inconsiderate bozos who quote the entire message only to add "I agree" or "Thanks" need to be schooled (and bozos, don't top-post!). Meanwhile the mail program can help. It could inline the followup comments. Or, for each followup message, add thin colored bars corresponding to quoted sections, and you can click on the colored bar to pop up the comment, or display it inlined with the current message. And, if I go on to read a follow-up, the e-mail could collapse the original bits of text in the follow-up, sort of what Google Groups does

calendaring/address book/things smarts (e.g. turn e-mail into invitation)

This would detect "lunch tomorrow with Bob at Monk's and create a calendar appointment linking to Bob in Address Book, "Monk's coffee shop" as a Place (and its Web page), and back to the original e-mail. BUT, these linkages would also work in the current message. If I just have the text "Anna says we can install Minefield" in a folder called Beta, if I right-click on Anna or Minefield, the context menu can have a Related... submenu that should find the Anna Jones in recipients in the current folder, and find Minefield in subjects in the current folder.

Pensoft's Perspective PIM for PenPoint could do this, it was addictive and it felt that the software learned about your life.

Better control over attachment handling

It's still a hassle. Often Thunderbird's HTML window or View Source window could do an acceptable job of showing the attachment (like a .eml or patch file), but I have to save and open from the O.S. and then clean up. I want options for thumbnail preview in attachment pane, quick view in new window, a submenu for Open with > Paint / Firefox / jpegcrop / Thunderbird's own HTML viewer / Thunderbird as plain text.

use the Operating Systems's file system attributes to associate files with the attachment

Thunderbird's "Detach attachment" option is nice, but the file in the file system has no idea where it came from and doesn't get the same tags that the mail message had.

option to replace a local messages with a link to the same message in an HTML archive

I subscribe to mailing lists, but they're also available in mail archives. I should be able to tell my e-mail program about the connection, then allow me to follow/copy the archive URL, and to replace my local message with a link (but still keep track of my tagging, my read status, my reply status, etc.). When I reply or forward, I should be easily able to replace the quoted text with "John Doe wrote in http://mailarchive.net/list/x/msg1043.html". And I should be able to bookmark the link to the archive and share/push it to Firefox.

option to replace an attachment with a link to the file on the Web

People keep sending me huge attachments of files that are commonly available on the Web, even though YouTube, Flickr, and Google Docs make it unnecessary. So my e-mail program should proactively go out and find the same file on the Web and, much like mailing list archives above, I should be able to associate the attachment with the URL, or replace it with the URL.
The point is, my e-mail archives should be an added-value local repository that needs tight associations with the same information that's on the Web, and should propagate these associations to the file system.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

web: instantly learn about anything

Whenever I see an acroynym or name new to me, I just go directly to its page on Wikipedia, which for abbreviations is usually a great disambiguation page. Only if that fails do I Google for term slang.

In Firefox, you can assign a keyword to this that makes it even faster.
  1. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%s (shows an error page)
  2. Bookmark this
  3. Right-click on the bookmark, choose properties and give it the keyword 'w' and the name "Go to Wikipedia page".
Thereafter, just press [Ctrl-L]w term[Enter] to learn about anything! ZOMG FTW! (If my brief explanation doesn't make sense, there's a good guide on Lifehacker.)

Firefox ships with several keyword bookmarks in the folder "Quick Searches", e.g. dict term. But this is not just for searches. For every site that you go to, then you type something in a box, then the site shows you the page you really wanted, you can make a keyword bookmark that eliminates the first page. It works for map addresses, zip code lookup, favorite section of a site, etc.

I want something similar on my phone's browser (if you have a recent phone, it can browse the web! You can and should read BBC news optimized for a phone at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low.html.) I want to permanently load a home page on my phone that has a drop-down list of all my bookmarks and a text field where I can laboriously type the term:
Then I can jump to the Wikipedia page for "ganache" or the IMDB page for "Play it Again, Sam" and impress my friends without 5 minutes of navigating huge home pages on a tiny screen.

I think it's simple JavaScript, but I don't know of a phone that can do this. And there's no money in it, think of all the search ads and home pages I skip.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

web: huge lameosity at Yahoo TV listings

broken Yahoo TV listings
I used to go to tv.yahoo.com/grid/ to see what's on TV. Yahoo "upgraded" to a new interface at tv.yahoo.com/listings and it can't even get the time right. I've told tv.yahoo my TV provider is "San Francisco-Oak-San Jose", so why the hell are they showing Eastern Standard Time? I've even told Yahoo my timezone on my Yahoo ID Card. Judging from the screaming and yelling on this Yahoo blog, they've had this bug for five weeks, which is beyond inexcusable (the tracker on Yahoo's suggestion board claims this is resolved?!)

Google, please take on Yahoo and punish them for this incompetence. tv.google.com is currently a 404; I'm trying various TV listing gadgets for my Google home page, without much luck.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

web: an OpenID for me

Open ID logoI complained about the hassles of identity management in "it's one social network, not 1000 sites", so the least I can do is try out a proposed solution.

I followed the steps in this post. Now I’ve got an OpenID from myopenid.com (skierpage.myopenid.com). I am using delegation so that my official identity can forever live at the URI http://www.skierpage.com/openid.

What's the point?
To login to an OpenID-enabled website (even one you've never been to before), just type your OpenID URI. ...
Note: No more registering over and over at each Web site! What happens next:
The website will then redirect you to your OpenID Provider to login using whatever credentials it requires. Once authenticated, your OpenID provider will send you back to the website with the necessary credentials to log you in.
Sounds cool, I hope this takes off because unlike corporate attempts like Microsoft Passport:
Nobody should own this. Nobody's planning on making any money from this. The goal is to release every part of this under the most liberal licenses possible, so there's no money or licensing or registering required to play. It benefits the community as a whole if something like this exists, and we're all a part of the community.



Saturday, May 20, 2006

web: it's one social network, not 1000 sites

I just joined MySpace to send my regards to Bill Frisell. I had to join Flickr to comment on a friend's picture. I had to join LinkedIn to say something nice about a co-worker. I had to join Evite to decline an invitation. I had to join LiveJournal to make a registered comment. I think I have a .Mac page, I can't remember if I'm on Google Pages. I have user pages on several Wiki sites. Every week I have to register an avatar on yet another bulletin board just to make a forum post.

All these sites are converging to the same set of features: picture uploads, a blog, commenting or replying to other posts, find like-minded people based on interests, and tagging. Even though they all seem different, you can tell they're the same thing because they all output RSS feeds.

Not only do they keep reinventing the wheel, they make me maintain a set of wheels in 100+ towns across the 'net. The only value is if I want to remain a different person in each town — the sex-crazed female elf, the abusive technogeek, the sober businessman, and only I know they're all me. But if I want to integrate my selves, it's a complete pain. Every time I write something elsewhere, I have to consider whether to repeat it here or link to it (which pushes my readers themselves into joining yetanothersite), or let it slide.

The Web itself is THE social network. You put something on it, I link to it. It's unnatural and unconvincing to restrict social networks within it to a particular site. It's entirely possible and straightforward for my link to indicate the type of relationship: she's my friend, this is a reply, this is a review, etc. and for us both to keep track of the link.

Unfortunately, there's an impetus to own a set of eyeballs, to get and keep users on MySpace or some arcane bulletin board so you can present lots of ads and eventually sell out for millions.

I hope the costs of identity management — dealing with fake users, abusers, lost passwords, etc. — will push sites to trust third party identity services. I should be able to hand "Joe's cellphone php BulletinBoard" my identity and authentication token and an e-mail contact, and not have to sign up for their site. They can trust that identity more than their own membership form because I paid real money to get it. (Wayyyy back in Netscape 3.0 Gold time, I paid $10 for a Verisign class 3 identity and public key, but I haven't used it in 8 years.)

Even with federated identity and single sign-on, that still leaves my thoughts spread out all over. Sites make me to come to them to post, but that's short-sighted. If I'm writing a feverish reply correcting someone's William Gibson bibliography, I'm not going to click on any ads. Instead, sites should pull in responses from all over the net, so readers spend more time on the site. I post on my site about them, they show that content on their site.

One other value to all these social sites is that they're free and in a features war. I pay to have my own place on the Web (skierpage.com), and although monkeybrains are fine people for Web hosting, this dump only has a storage locker and an electrical outlet. There is no picture upload, forum, Web 2.0 animated social tagging, etc. at skierpage.com. But for privacy, control, and copyright issues I don't want to lose my primitive house and join the condo association at Myspace. All software features should trend to $0 cost so eventually I'll have them here.