Scripting News for 12/31/2006

Tomorrow begins the year we decide who won the Long Bet between weblogs and the NY Times.  

The Rolling Stones sang Time Waits for No One.  

EngadgetHD: “The ‘plug and play’ approach that has become quite common on today’s electronics didn’t work out so well with HDTVs, leaving customers baffled that their TV wouldn’t magically display the clean, crisp imagery they viewed on the in-store displays when making their purchase.” 

Mike Arrington asks what is a weblog? 

I wrote a piece on this subject in May 2003. 

I tripped over two new (to me) NY Times podcasts today. One of my favorite columns in the Sunday Times is The Ethicist. Now it’s available in a podcast. And they have a podcast of a selected op-ed piece from behind the for-pay wall.  

Al Jazeera report on Saddam Hussein execution. 

Doc Searls, wordsmith 

Is “wordsmith” a word? Not sure, but if anyone qualifies as one, it’s Papa Doc. (Postscript: It is a word.)

This piece, about DRM, is exquisite in its imagery, in its wordsmithery, and accurate.

However, I don’t agree with Doc’s recommendation for technology.

Any software whose purpose is to copy-protect data, will fail. This is a simple corollary of Murphy’s Law, which isn’t just a joke, it’s a law of nature. Engineers have to learn this in designing systems. It’s one reason users get so pissed off when copy protection schemes interfere with their ability to use products in the way they were intended to be used.

For example, I bought a copy of Windows XP to install over some bits that had gone bad on an IBM ThinkPad. As I was installing the software, it told me I would have to first uninstall it on another system it believed I had already installed it on. Now, I couldn’t do this, of course, because the software was wrong, I hadn’t installed it anywhere else. So here I am, almost $200 poorer, hoping to have a good user experience, and getting ready to call for help, a misadventure all of its own. Never did get the software working on the laptop. Microsoft has my money, I have nothing. If I want satisfaction I’m going to have to put more than $200 of my own time into getting it. Never mind. Lesson learned. No more copy protected operating systems for this user. I don’t care how much of my rights they’ve taken into consideration. I don’t trust schemes whose purpose is to lock me out of things I have a right to get into.

So Doc, if you’re going to draft a set of rules by which customer-aware companies live, put NO DRM pretty near the top of the list.

Imho. 🙂

United Airlines almost didn’t blow it 

But they did.

When I was checking in on the web before going to NY, they offered the option of upgrading to first class for $250. Now that was too good to pass up. Only $250 to be treated better, to get a bigger seat, to be smiled at and cared for? It’s a deal! On the way back, I expected to get the same offer, and take it, but they made it really difficult. Here’s how.

First, I had to change the flight. Of course there’s no way to do it via the web, I wish there were. I call the 800 number, and navigate through their automated system, knowing all the time that it wouldn’t be able to handle it either. I pressed 0 for Operator a number of times, but that trick, which often works, was disabled. Remember that I was prepared to pay more to be treated better. Finally, I navigated to the place where it routes you to a person. They put me on hold, listening to recorded messages, but the connection had gotten really bad and I could only hear every third word. I wasn’t sure if they were saying things I needed to hear, or if it was the usual idiotic advertisments. I stayed on the line. Finally, after waiting ten minutes, an Indian voice came on. Her name is “Annie.” I could only hear every third word. I tried speaking loudly slowly and clearly. After repeating myself a few times I got off the phone, and checked my email. She had made the change, charged me $100, and I went ahead to the web site and spent the $250 to upgrade to first class.

But I realized, sheez, I wanted to pay more to be treated better, and in the end I paid more and wasn’t. My time was treated as valueless. Second, not only did they save money by hiring a cheaper person in India, but they also cheaped out on the phone line! Even Skype would have been better than the system they were using. India may be far away, but don’t they have good phones? They must be losing business this way. It sure didn’t feel good.

Otherwise, the service was great, and I would say What A Deal were it not for this little bit of mess.

The Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel 

I promised the desk clerk at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel that I would blog this and I am a man of my word.

When I checked in there, they asked for a photo ID. He said he was going to make a photocopy. I said I didn’t want him to do that. He said it was a requirement, since the hotel was part of the UN. Not sure why or if this is true, but I’ve been asked for a photo ID going into office buildings in NY, and generally let them have it, but I was concerned in this case because they had also taken an imprint of my credit card. With these two piece of information, there are some delicate places they can get into.

If you’re not worried about this, I think you should be. When you hear about schools and businesses losing hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers, it could be yours. I once had all my mail stolen. They eventually caught the people, and it was identity theft. I don’t think they ever got access to any of my accounts, but they got banking records and credit card numbers. Since most places don’t ask for driver’s licenses, it’s still thought of as a fairly good way to identify people. But not if you routinely give it to hotels and they enter it into their systems. Next time they lose a few hundred thousand identities, it may include drivers license numbers. If it’s the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel that loses them, it will be include mine, because I let them photocopy my license.

If I hadn’t, I would have lost the money I pre-paid for my room. The desk clerk promised that I would get the copy back when I checked out. However when I asked for it when I checked out they said I couldn’t have it. I said that’s the last time I stay at your hotel, he said fine. I said I’m going to blog it (I felt stupid at this point) and he said okay.

In my humble opinion, the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York plays pretty loose with customer’s identity information. I won’t be staying there again — a shame, because otherwise it’s a nice hotel, reasonably priced, at a good location.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Dave

    RE WinXP’s over-zealous license sillyness: if you don’t need specific XP features — only one I can think of that’s kinda nice is ability to run Windows Defender — Windows 2000 Pro is a good solution.

    After you install it, there are a few tuneup steps, noted below.

    — stan

    Windows 2000 Installation Notes
    o- install Win2K
    o- create Disk Management shortcut (diskmgmt.msc)
    o- install Fix-it Utilities 7 [FIU7]
    o- use FIU7 to clean Windows registry
    o- install Win2K SP4
    o- install Win2K SP4 Update Rollup v2
    o- install MS DAC 2.8 SP1
    o- install IE 6 SP1
    o- install Windows Media Player 09
    o- install DirectX 9.0c
    o- run Windows Updates til there are no more — AVOID IE7
    o- use FIU7 to clean Windows registry


  2. Bummer, I’m staying at that hotel in a couple of weeks. I guess now I know what to expect.


  3. Dave, glad to hear you’re jumping on the non-copy-protected operating system bandwagon. Incidentally, operating systems of this sort are a subcategory of what is usually known as ‘Free Software’. Free, in this case refers to freedom (as in Free Markets, or Free Speech), not price (though, for obvious reasons, they can frequently be obtained without payment as well).

    The core freedoms that Free Software guarantee to the user are:

    Freedom 0: Freedom to run the program, for any purpose

    Freedom1: Freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs

    Freedom 2: Freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor

    Freedom 3: Freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits

    In your Windows XP misadventure, you ran afoul of Microsoft’s limiting Freedom 0 (if you can’t install it, you can’t run it).

    There are many Free Software Operating Systems to choose from. If you want recommendations, I am sure your readers will be happy to oblige. I use the Ubuntu distribution of Linux myself, but many other distributions of Linux (and the several BSD variants) would likely be suitable.

    Good luck!


  4. Posted by Ben on January 1, 2007 at 6:58 am


    When you say “No DRM”, do you have a follow-up message to content providers on how not to get ripped off? or are we saying “getting ripped off comes with the territory, and the cure is worse than the disease so get over it”?

    I don’t know a single person who would feel comfortable shoplifting from a bricks and mortar store but many of those same people don’t think a second about shoplifting digital goods (using pirated versions of software, music, video). If no DRM is the requirement, what gives the content providers the motivation to go into digital distribution? what confidence do they have that the $ will materilize to to compensate the staff, to return profits to the owners? e.g., if college textbook publishers put all their textbooks online in unprotected PDFs, do you seriously think that students would be buying those books vs buying one and emailing and posting them all over the place?

    Or, is a corollary of what you are saying, is that with No DRM must come a change in how profits are derived? meaning, w/digital products we must realize publishers are going to have their content duplicated endlessly, so you need to figure out a different way to monetize yr product to make up for that open copying? in the case of musicians, they have to go on tour to make money; for textbook publishers, they have to stick ads in the online textbooks or have product placement in case studies, etc.



  5. Ben, has the existence of DRM proven *any* hindrance to acquiring illegal copies of content, whether music, software, or movies? No?

    Well then, DRM must not actually be about combating piracy.


  6. Hi Dave, I guess your United Airlines experience is a “good news/bad news” piece. The good, your profile at identified that you’d be a good candidate for an upgrade. The bad, the eservices systems are not sophisticated enough and the implementations are so poor that even good ones leave a lot still left to do using person-to-person interactions.

    I recently had a similar experience, when a colleague and I travelled to Helsinki from SFO, he had a Systemwide upgrade that was about to expire, rather than lose it, he offered to me and I agreed that I would repay with one of mine later in the year. His experience showed how easy it should be, login to, select my flight and request and upgrade for me using his systemwide upgrade. Everything went swimmingly. Now, just at the tail end of the year, my colleague travelled to Asia and he requested ‘payment’ in the form of a systemwide upgrade from me. I logged onto, followed the same process as my colleague had done for me, only to be S.O.L. I called the 1K members number and ended up talking to “Annie” who didn’t understand my request and as the call went on I became increasingly less confident that my request had actually been acted on, so much so that I called again and had to check with another “Annie”… Guess what, no such request was even registered, if I hadn’t called back again my friend would’ve had his long-flight back from Bangkok sat in economy not business class.

    To complete the story, I actually had to go to a United ticket desk in person to complete the process my colleague completed online in a few seconds…

    I’ve not costed this out, but I can almost guarantee that it cost United a lot more than they’ve saved from implementing the Indian version of “Annie” and in the process they cost me over 2 hours of my time going to a United ticket office and having to call them twice, not counting the gas, car wear and tear, etc, etc… There is a place for off-shoring customer services, but the distance appears to be the inhibitor to delivering truly effective customer service experiences.


    PS, in full disclosure I work for a customer services technology company, United is a customer of ours.


  7. I went up to Stanford University for a consultation with a doctor and I stayed overnight in a Travelodge in Palo Alto.

    The desk clerk asked me for my driver’s license to photocopy, in addition to taking a credit card imprint. When I asked him why they needed my driver’s license, he said that it was a police requirement. This didn’t seem right, but I never got the chance to inquire with the Palo Alto Police Department.


  8. Leslie –

    I had the same experience at a cheap motel in San Bernardino–according to a sign posted behind the counter, the local police request photo ID of every guest (and every guest’s guest).


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