Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Happened to Honesty?

Today the Washington Post revealed that the House ethics committee formally unveiled charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). But this post is not about the ethical lapses of Rangel, but about the growing lapses in honest marketing, specifically Time-Warner. Cable.  Both Rangel and Time-Warner Cable demonstrate that those in power have little regard for ethical behavior.

In this case, we received a brochure from Time-Warner Cable informing us of a free Showtime preview.  The glossy we are your friend brochure had some instruction on how to locate the channel.  When I tried those instructions, I could not find the channel.  So I decided to call customer service - surely they would know what channel the free showing would be on. Well, I was greeted to a recorded message informing me of a 20 minute wait time.  I had a cordless phone, so I was able to do other things while holding. As I listened to the recording, over, and  over, I developed the list below. This is only a short list of an even longer list.
  1. Time-Warner claimed that customer service was one of their top priorities.  So why would I have to wait 20+ minutes to get customer service.
  2. Time-Warner advertised how they offered movies before they hit certain stores.  Of course Time-Warner does not mention that they entered into agreements with these stores so that the stores would delay the rental of certain movies. Seems like restraint of trade, not the free-market at work.
  3. The most irritating part of the experience was the remote control  Who would think that the remote control would be purposely programmed to be "difficult". In searching for the free preview I scrolled through some of the premium channels.  It turns out that if you are in the remote's program guide and are on a premium channel you can not exit back to your program! With the free channels you can simply press "exit" and get back to your program.  With the premium channels you have to get back to the guide (step 1), then use the program guide to find a free channel (step 2), then when you find a free channel you can then exit the guide (step3), but to return to the channel that you were previously watching you have to find it again (four steps in all)! Unbelievable
  4. Time-Warner claims blazing fast internet speed, but they have never clearly articulated what you are actually getting. Time-Warner also advertises that for some extra $$$ you can get power boost.  I seem to remember that this was part of our subscription, but I really can't remember.  Nevertheless, I am left with a suspicious feeling - me being a conspiracy type - that the service may have been initially offered, then silently discontinued; and now being offered as an extra feature that you have to pay for.  Unfortunately, I don't know whether that is the case or not.  But after Comcast's boondoggle of "traffic shaping" you have to wonder.
 After listening to the endless stream of sales pitches the customer service representative finally answered.  He was very helpful and after fumbling a few times finally figured out what channel we needed.  The customer service guy did a great job, but it also illustrates how poorly implemented marketing strategies that are quite disingenuous in nature create customer ill will and actually cost companies money.

When our political leaders (Rangel) and our corporate leaders (Time -Warner) act soley out of their self-interest it sets a bad example. If they do not feel constrained to act in an ethical manner, then why should the general population?  Anarchy anyone?  Individually, these examples, within the context of the whole US economy, may not seem significant; but when you add in spectacular failures such as Enron and Lehman Brothers you have to wonder where honesty went.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Continued Quest by Corporations to Criminalize Behavior They Do not Like II

The New York Times through Computerworld reports: Apple Loses Bid to Criminalize iPhone Jailbreaking. Yet another example of how corporations are attempting to continue to criminalize behavior that they deem reduces their profit margins.  I guess competition will no longer be based on making the best product for the consumer.  Use the product in the "wrong" manner, do not pass go - go directly to jail.  So much for the free-market.  Furthermore, how is it that corporations have been able to "buy" this type of legislation.  Also when you buy a product you acquire a property right to use that product as you see fit (within certain reasonable limitations of course).  So if you want to monkey around with it, why should that be considered a criminal activity?

Gregg Keizer of Computerworld wrote: "Apple lost its bid today to criminalize "jailbreaking," the practice of hacking an iPhone to install unauthorized apps on the smartphone, according to a decision by the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress."

In related news, TechDirt reported: Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper Mike Masnick wrote: "Part of the key selling point of the whole concept of Android-based smartphones was that they were open to tinkering. Apparently, Motorola thinks somewhat differently about that. paperbag was the first of a whole bunch of you to point to variations on the story that Motorola has put a thing called "eFuse" on the Droid X which will effectively brick your phone if you try to mess with the software."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dell and the Dark Side

Why is Dell still in business? Today I had to sit in on one of those long boring meetings where you can barely stay awake. We had to bring our laptop computers to this session. We use Dell computers at work. I had not plugged my computer in, so I went to borrow the plug from my neighbor's computer. Absolute shock, the power plugs were different! Unbelievable, so not only does Dell use non-standard power plugs but they even use different plugs between their computer models. There is simply no excuse for using non-standard power plugs for consumer electronics.

Another plaintive cry of pain: Why? Why? Why??? Power cord hell!

Recently I ran across this New York Times article: "Suit Over Faulty Computers Highlights Dell’s Decline".

Update: Soon after posting, I received an email informing me that Forbes ran the following: "Server giant Dell is warning its customers that a handful of motherboards were shipped with embedded spyware."

Another Update: Dell to Pay $100 Million Settlement. The Times reports: "“Dell manipulated its accounting over an extended period to project financial results that the company wished it had achieved but could not,” said Christopher Conte, associate director of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, in a statement announcing the settlement.". It is never ceases to amaze me how a company that sells non-standard parts and uses "innovative" accounting can stay in business. It is also a sad reflection of what a US corporation should be.

I have never bought a Dell because when Dell was a relatively new company I ran across some posts that were very scary, Dell did not use standard power supplies. If you were to replace a Dell power supply, not knowing that fact, you would potentially destroy your computer. Fortunately, the internet has a long memory. "Warning! Dell PC owners read this before replacing your powersupply".

In an unrelated story, "Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper".

The free-market is a wonderful concept. In theory the products that are produced serve the customer, but it seems that some companies in their quest for profits bastardize our economic system for their self interest, in the case of this post - non-standard power cords. Financial "freedom" nearly destroyed our financial system. Many people lament the loss of our manufacturing capability, but here you see companies purposely pursuing self-serving strategies that are ultimately destructive. If companies refuse to make components that obviously should be standard, regulate them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

European Diaspora II

In my prior post "European Diaspora", I raised the concept that populations displace other populations. In real terms, that Western Europeans were being forced to move West as access to the East was "blocked" by aggressive populations, such as the Turks.

Since the original post, it occurred to me; Where did the Turks come from? Wikipedia to the rescue! Wikipedia has several articles concerning this topic. One "Genetic Origins of the Turkish People" appears inconclusive citing both a strong native Anatolian presence and "that Central Asians have made a 30% genetic contribution."

Another Wikipedia article, "Turkish Diaspora", writes "The main migration of Turkish people to Anatolia occurred at the same time of Turkic migration between the 6th and 11th centuries (the Early Middle Ages), when they spread across most of Central Asia and into Europe and the Middle East. The Seljuk Turks (Selçuk Türkleri) were the first Turkish power to arrive in the 11th century as conquerors, who proceeded to gradually conquer the land of existing Byzantine Empire. In the following centuries the local population began to be assimilated from the emerging Turkic migrants. Over time, as word spread regarding the victory of the Turks in Anatolia, more Turkic migrants began to intermingle with the local inhabitants, which helped to bolster the Turkish-speaking population."

Of particular importance to the narrative above is the Battle of Manzikert. In this particular battle, August 26, 1071, the Seljuq Turk forces led by Alp Arslan inflicted a decisive defeat to the Byzantine forces. According to the article this allowed the mass movement of Turks into Anatolia. By 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks's, eventually culminating in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

Battle of Hattin (July 4, 1187) (though 120 years later) was similar to the Battle of Manzikert in its outcome, that these Muslim victories opened the door for continued Muslim expansion. In the Battle of Hattin Muslim armies under Saladin captured or killed the vast majority of the Crusader forces severely crippling the ability of Christians to hold onto the Holy Land. Jerusalem fell to Saladin on October 2, 1187. The Muslims eventually conquered the rest of the middle east.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

European Diaspora

Few people think in terms of Columbus's voyages to the "New World" as the beginning of a European diaspora. It's much more interesting and romantic for historians to portray Columbus as an enterprising merchantman seeking new trade routes to new lands and bringing the benefits of European culture. But there is an alternative viewpoint; that Columbus was really an early "refugee". Of course that tends to go counter to what we are normally taught.

At a fundamental level, western Europe at the time of Columbus was weak. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Muslim's. Muslim expansion into Eastern Europe continued unabated until July September 1683 with the Battle of Vienna. Besides the Muslim expansion, there was the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire dissolved dissolved in 1368, but the Grand Duchy of Moscow apparently did not gain full independence until 1480.

If one thinks of population movements in terms of "pressure", the New World was a "vacuum" of virgin relatively unpopulated areas ripe for settlement. Eastern Europe however possessed hostile aggressive expanding civilizations that "pushed" Europeans west. For example, the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620. But 1620 also saw the defeat of the Poles by the Muslims at the Battle of Tutora. Given this situation, the logical approach for Europeans seeking a better life would be to move west.

What specifically prompts this post, is a "60 Minutes" video interview with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. While this is an interview of today, it's significance is that Western Europe continues to ignore the continued multi-century ethnic cleansing of Christians from formally Christian areas. This is one of the few times that a major news program has acknowledged this piece of "neglected" history. In that video Bartholomew laments that Western Europe has abandoned the Christians in Turkey and that the Christian population continues to decline (move out).

As another example of the decline in a Christian population because of out-migration, you also may be interested in the video Tiabe, the last Christian town remaining in the Holy Land (Palestine). I have also brought up the European diaspora here.

On the topic of balanced news from major news sources (such as the Washington Post and the New York Times); when Easter roles around the news media routinely provides front page coverage on the Roman Catholics celebrating Easter, but have you seen any articles on Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian Christians celebrating Easter?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Microsoft retires Windows 2000, Windows XP SP2

Microsoft has retired Windows 2000 and Windows XP SP2. Rob Pegoraro has a nice write-up in the Washington Post covering this. My concern isn't with Microsoft retiring these programs, but with an implication that seldom gets attention.

No product, especially software lives forever. Someday it becomes obsolete, so when a company discontinues support for a product those who want to continue using the product should be entitled to receive a FINAL CD. Also nothing wrong with the company charging a nominal fee for that final CD.

In discontinuing a product, the company has abandoned the product. With that abandonment in mind, the product should fall immediately into the public domain so that the user community, it it wishes to, can maintain the software. The users payed to acquire the software and hardware so they have a legitimate property right to continue to use it. There simply is no reason why software and hardware has to be figuratively tossed into the trash because a company declares it "obsolete" while it can still perform useful work. That constitutes an economic "waste" to both society and the individual. With the free-market, let the user community decide when a product no longer meets their needs and should be migrated to the dump.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grigori Perelman and Intellectual Property

Grigori Perelman, a Russian Mathematician, was awarded one million dollars and turned it down according to the Washington Post. The Post writes: "Three months ago, a famously impoverished Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman was awarded the prestigious $1 million Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize for his groundbreaking work -- having solved a problem of three-dimensional geometry that had resisted scores of brilliant mathematicians since 1904. ... Thursday, the institute announced that Perelman, known equally for his brilliance and his eccentricities, formally and finally turned down the award and the money. He didn't deserve it, he told a Russian news service, because he was following a mathematical path set by another." (emphasis added).

It wasn't until I started reading reader comments on this article that there was a strong link to the copyright/patent debate. Those in favor of "strong" copyright assert that it is necessary to foster creativity. Obviously that is not true since people were creative before copyright/patent law ever existed. But that is not my point with this post, several readers commented that the motivating force for Grigori Perelman was his love of mathematics. So many of the readers immediately perceived that this creativity was not about the money or otherwise making some form of intellectual property claim.

Furthermore the Post notes that "Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman isn't the first one to turn down a substantial prize for personal reasons. Take look at some other figures who have turned down large sums and rewards to maintain their integrity."

The Continued Quest by Corporations to Criminalize Behavior They Do not Like

Soon after posting "Federal Rules on Campus File Sharing Kick in Today" I ran across the posting on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Ticketmaster's Terms of Service Cannot Make You a Criminal". The link between the two posts is the continued erosion of personal liberties through the criminalization of activities deemed inappropriate by various corporate interests. In theory we are a free market economy, I guess not. It's unfortunate that the government seems to acquiesce to the corporate demands for ever greater criminalization.

In its posting on Ticketmaster the EFF writes: "The four defendants in this case are the operators of Wiseguys Tickets, Inc., a ticket-reselling service. In its indictment, the government claims the four purchased tickets from Ticketmaster by automated means, violating Ticketmaster's terms of service and therefore the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)." (emphasis added). "... under the government's theory, websites could put the power of criminal law behind their own terms of service to create severe obstacles for their competitors," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann.

Besides the obvious injustice of corporations attempting criminalize unappreciated behavior there is the little fact that virtually every terms-of-service "contract" on the internet is subject to change without notice. A partial quote of Ticketmaster terms-of-service from the EFF Amicus Brief, "By accessing, browsing, or using this website, you acknowledge that you have read, understood, and agree to be bound by these Terms. We may update these Terms at any time, without notice to you. Each time you access this website, you agree to be bound by the Terms then in effect." Great loophole for retroactively deciding to define something criminal after-the-fact.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time Warner Joins the Dark Side

Well Time-Warner has just joined Staples, Verizon, and Intuit in my wall of shame. In this case Time-Warner proclaims that as a valued customer that they will continue to offer me a Price Lock Guarantee. As is typical with these so-called contracts, the only obligation is on the customer to pay. Time Warner, however, reserves to itself the right to discontinue any service at any time. In theory, Time-Warner could cut me off from all services and still charge me. (Click on the text to see it better) I learned of this from Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog "Tales of misguided customer service". Soon after reading I received my own personal invitation to sign my life away. To be fair to Time-Warner, I do not have any complaints about their service. Also Time-Warner need some flexibility as does the subscriber. Nevertheless, it points to corporations abusing the English language and making promises that upon inspection are empty. Of course I can't resist using Time-Warner's non-nonsensical motto: "The Power of You"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Federal Rules on Campus File Sharing Kick in Today

CNET today reported that "Federal rules on campus file sharing kick in today". The quick take, this is simply another law that incrementally assaults our civil liberties in the name of fighting a "war", in this case the war against piracy. This law would seem to violate at least three fundamental principles.

One is due process, if the finger of blame is pointed at you, you are guilty by default and can be immediately disciplined. Think your innocent, well you will have to prove it.

Second, "wiretapping". People seem to get all vocal and hysterical about wiretapping and the need for little bureaucratic details such as a search warrant. However, when it comes to an overt invasion of privacy for the purposes of fighting piracy there is a sudden attack of laryngitis not to mention the apparent use of Valium. Search warrant, none needed.

Third, this law essentially forces universities to act as a private police force for the sole benefit of the content industry. Technically, infringement is supposed to be a civil matter, but it has been turned into a criminal matter that includes forcing universities to protect the revenue stream of the content industry. This is perfectly illustrated by: "The greatest constraint on your future liberties may come not from government but from corporate legal departments laboring to protect by force what can no longer be protected by practical efficiency or general social consent." Thanks to Thanks to William Stepp at Against Monopoly for finding the quote below from John Perry Barlow.

Imagine this onerous hypothetical example. An RIAA executive taps you on the shoulder and demands that you break into the house that he is pointing to, that you search the house for unauthorized content, if you find it that you bring it to him. Search warrant? None needed. So how can he force you to break and enter someone else's house to "protect" his property that you have no interest in? If you refuse, you go to jail. Doesn't sound legal, but given today's trends it seems we are headed that way.

You may also be interest in:
"New rules bring online piracy fight to US campuses"
"Universities Struggling To Deal With Law Requiring Them To Fight File Sharing"
"The Next Generation Of Anti-Piracy Legislation Goes To School"