There’s a lot of talk these days about unplugging and disconnecting. This music video captures the problem quite well. We more connected than ever, and yet…
Regular readers know that I test a lot of products. I don’t let let a measly little “beta” label scare me away. But once in a while, you get screwed. And when that once in a while comes along, be sure I’ll let you know so you can avoid a similar fate.
In this case, the culprit was the Microsoft FolderShare beta. The concept of FolderShare is this: using your Windows Live account, you can install the FolderShare software on multiple PCs and even Macs. I had installed it on a laptop running Vista, a desktop running XP and a MacBook Pro running OS X.
Once installed, you can create a “share” between the computers and FolderShare will sync files across them. You have the choice between automatic or on-demand synchronization. In my case, I chose on demand. You also chose the corresponding container folder on each PC (they can be different on each).
Here is where my tale of woe begins…
I had just purchased and downloaded Big Blue Ball from Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records via iTunes on the Vista laptop. I simply wanted to copy the songs over to my desktop (all legal — it’s one of the devices attached to my iTunes account). I could’ve done this any number of ways, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to give FolderShare a real-world test.
After installing the software on the three computers, I created a Personal Library called “Music.” I added the iTunes folder from my laptop, and it added the files to that library (somewhere on a FolderShare server).
Next, I setup the desktop (where I wanted the files). Unfortunately, as soon as I connected to the new personal library, it started adding all the music I had on my desktop to the library as well. Not what I wanted at all.
Looking back on the laptop, I noticed that FolderShare had automatically created a long list of folders that matched how my music was stored on the desktop. Inside each folder was a special “shortcut” that if you clicked it, would fetch the requested file from my desktop and transfer it to my laptop. Likewise on my desktop, I saw new folders that mirrored the folders on my laptop, also with the little shortcuts for each file.
Well, that’s neat, I suppose. I tried to transfer a few of the files over from my laptop, and the were “downloaded” properly. So that part worked, but what to do with the massive, empty folder structure that was created on my laptop. Remember I didn’t want to copy my music from my desktop to the laptop.
At this point, I suspect someone will point out that FolderShare is in fact designed for folder synchronization. This is true, although I suspected by selected the “on demand” option as I did, I could control what got synchronized, when it got synchronized, and where it got synchronized. I was wrong. And I’m not the only person to have been bitten by FolderShare.
So moving back to the laptop, I decided I would never want to transfer all those files from my desktop to my laptop, so I selected all the folders that were created with their little FolderShare shortcuts and deleted them.
Holy shit…. what a mistake!
Yes, the folders were deleted from my laptop, but (as I realized later) the actual MP3s on my desktop were also being deleted — victims of a synchronized deletion. To add insult to injury, they weren’t even moved to the recycle bin. They were just… gone.
As soon as I discovered what was happening, I exited FolderShare and deleted the library. I don’t know if that was a mistake, too, but now I’m left with a massive music folder structure that is completely empty — no more music.
Some of this music was downloaded, but most of it I’ve got on CD. I can burn it again, but it’s going to take time.
The moral of the story: steer clear of FolderShare. It has promise, but the fact that it deleted files on another computer without warning or confirmation is entirely unacceptable.
I did it. Last Saturday I took the bait and plonked down the cash for an 8 GB iPhone.
I’ve been using an HP iPAQ hw 6515 for the past two years. It runs Windows Mobile 2003 and can technically do a lot of the same things that an iPhone does. In practice, the iPAQ is clumsy, even when using as a phone. Add to this the fact that most of the new software won’t work on Windows Mobile 2003, and the hw 6515 can’t be upgraded to the newer versions of Windows Mobile.
So in order to support the research and writing on messaging, collaboration and social network technology on BigBlueBall, it was time for an upgrade. After some hemming and hawing, I became the proud new owner of the very sexy iPhone.
Saturday afternoon I walked into the local AT&T Wireless store and asked if they had the iPhone in stock (they did). I have an existing account with AT&T, and wanted to switch to a new cell number (local, since my old number still tagged me as a 909-er) and upgrade to the iPhone. The process was smooth and painless, and I was on my way home in about ten minutes.
This is where my story takes an ugly turn.
I unboxed my new iPhone and hooked everything up. I’m running Windows XP Pro, but iTunes recognized my iPhone and gave me a friendly “Let’s get started” message. I was asked to enter my Apple ID. Trouble is, I use my AOL ID for all my iTunes purchases, and I couldn’t find a way to enter it. I tried using my @aol.com email but no dice. Oh well, I had other things to attend to, so I’d have to activate later in the afternoon. I’d sort through those details when I returned… or so I thought.
When I came back later that afternoon, my activation session had expired. No surprise, really. I just undocked and reseated my iPhone to restart the process. WRONG! Instead, I was greeted with a message informing me that “iPhone activations are unavailable at this time.” There was an ambiguous message stating that they would be available after 3pm EST (it was much later already) but no date was given.
I tried several more times, shutting down iTunes and even rebooting my PC to make sure it wasn’t a local problem, but always got the same message. I tried calling 6-1-1 (customer service) from my old cell phone, but after navigating their voice mail maze, was summarily dismissed with a request to call back Monday through Friday during the hours of blah-blah-blah. I couldn’t hear the specifics over my cursing.
I finally went to bed, hoping that Sunday would bring better results. I was wrong again.
Sunday morning, same screen, same frustration. I put it aside and went for a bike ride with Lynn. I drove to Murrieta to review an offer I received on the house. I kept busy until well past 3pm EST, hoping that surely the activation process would be working by now.
I hooked up the iPhone and got the encouraging “Let’s get started…” message. So far, so good. I enter in the basic info about my current phone number, and after 30 seconds or so verifying, ran into another roadblock. The message was worded almost the same, but without the pretty picture of the iPhone to taunt me. This one simply said “iPhone activations are not available at this time.” No ETA whatsoever.
My frustration level was increasing in direct proportion to my compulsion to “try again.” I turned to the web, hoping to find solace in the company of other new iPhone owners. The AT&T Wireless customer support forums confirmed that many others were also having the same problem. We were all asking what to do with our $400 paperweights.
Fortunately, I did find a different customer service number for AT&T that took me directly to a representative — no voicemail maze to navigate! The rep informed me that yes, their activations servers were in fact down, and that no, they did not know when they would be back up. His advice? Wait a while, and try again later. The situation was now officially fucked up.
How can Apple accept this shoddy level of service? When a customer shells out $400 for an iPhone, they expect they’ll be able to use it that same day. I hope that they have a clause in their agreement with AT&T that gives them an “out” and allows them to offer the iPhone with other carriers sooner, if (when?) AT&T falls down on important issues such as activation. I’m keenly aware that things go wrong from time-to-time, but this reflects poorly on both companies.
On the bright side, on Monday morning the activation servers were finally up. My iPhone is activated and I’m all is well in the world again.
I still need some questions that maybe some other iPhone users can help answer.
I’m looking forward to reviewing the best of the IM options for the iPhone.
Ars Technica has a great article on how Google dropped the ball with their 2005 acquisition of Urchin — a web analytics company based in San Diego. Urchin provides web site administrators with the ability to analyse their log files and understand how people use their web site. To Google’s credit, they took some of the Urchin technology and came out with Google Analytics, providing really nice (and free) web-based web analytics. I use Google Analytics on all my public-facing web sites, and highly recommend it.
But… there is still a valid need for local analytics, particularly at large organizations with intranets that cannot be served by Google Analytics. This is where Urchin fit the bill nicely. Urchin is a commercial product. You can still buy Urchin from Google, though you must work through one of their certified consultants. Unfortunately, since Google’s acquisition of Urchin back in 2005, there has been little or no progress on updates.
Personally, I would love to see the charting and data presentation of Google Analytics integrated into their standalone Urchin product, but it appears that Urchin, like so many other Google acquisitions (remember Dodgeball?) is withering on the vine.
I’ve been having weird problems with the WordPress admin console. I didn’t get they nifty little icon bar for TinyMCE when composing a post. When I bulk moderated comments, only the first change would actually be applied (the other changes remained in the moderation queue). Things just didn’t always work the way I expected them to (or the way they used to).
I thought maybe an upgrade to the latest version of WordPress might fix things up, so I upgraded to WordPress 2.3. The process went quickly and smoothly, but the problems persisted. It turned out all of the problems were related to the Squid proxy I was using. Eliminate the proxy and all the symptoms disappeared.
Since there are times when I have no choice but to use the Squid proxy, this doesn’t entirely solve the problem, but at least now I know where to look (and how to get around it when I need to post here).
What does the former leader of Iraq have in common with these two party girls?
Wordtracker publishes a report that shows the top search terms used on various meta-search engines like Dogpile and Metacrawler. Wordtracker’s Top 300 Surge Report shows the top results from the past 48 hours, and the top ten are:
Apparently blood lust trumps plain old lust. Unfortunately, the complete list doesn’t get much better.
You know I’m a big fan of Flickr. The online photo community has, for me, been fun, useful, amusing, educational and immensely interactive. Flickr helped popularize the whole concept of folksonomy tagging. And their secret formula for calculating ‘interestingness’ has an uncanny knack for surfacing truly amazing photos.
What exactly is interestingness? Well, it’s a method of calculating which photos are the most interesting, using information such as the tags used to describe the photo, how many times it’s been viewed, how many comments it’s received, the age of the photo, how many times it’s been saved as a favorite, and by whom — and probably a few other factors. The combination yields delightful results. Whereas Google’s image search reveals what you expect (the mediocre stuff), Flickr’s interestingness factor delivers the exceptional. Tim O’Reilly recently described a perfect example of Flickr’s interestingness in action.
The beauty of interestingness, as explained by Yahoo!’s own Bradley Horowitz, is that it exponentially expands the pool of participation within a community. People participate in the process of establishing interestingness without necessarily doing anything. Which is exactly what community builders want; a way to get the lurkers and the consumers to share their knowledge and insights.
Ok, so interestingness is a good thing, right? Well, now Yahoo has filed a patent application on interestingness.Â Now I can understand that Yahoo! wants to protect their secret sauce, but isn’t that really limited to the weight factor they give each variable in their interestingness equation? If they are awarded the patent, does this mean I can’t take usage metrics to derive results in other arenas, like serving up the most interesting/salient/relevant knowledge? And really, is the concept of relevancy (however it’s defined) really new?
I love Flickr, and I like Yahoo! But this patent is too broad and filled with “uninterestingness.” Let’s hope it dies quietly.