8.31.2009

No more robocalls? Maybe it'll be safe to answer the phone again

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission had made my day. In their release entitled, New Rule Prohibiting Unwanted "Robocalls" to Take Effect on September 1, we learn:

Beginning September 1, 2009, prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls to consumers – commonly known as robocalls – will be prohibited, unless the telemarketer has obtained permission in writing from consumers who want to receive such calls, the Federal Trade Commission announced today.

Hurray — except there are many exclusions to the Telemarketing Sales Rule:

The rule amendments going into effect on September 1 do not prohibit calls that deliver purely “informational” recorded messages – those that notify recipients, for example, that their flight has been cancelled, an appliance they ordered will be delivered at a certain time, or that their child’s school opening is delayed. Such calls are not covered by the TSR, as long as they do not attempt to interest consumers in the sale of any goods or services. For the same reason, the rule amendments also do not apply to calls concerning collection of debts where the calls do not seek to promote the sale of any goods or services.

In addition, calls not covered by the TSR – including those from politicians, banks, telephone carriers, and most charitable organizations – are not covered by the new prohibition. The new prohibition on prerecorded messages does not apply to certain healthcare messages. The new rule prohibits telemarketing robocalls to consumers whether or not they previously have done business with the seller.

A big sources of unwanted phone calls at our home are alleged charities claiming to be calling on behalf of our local deputy sheriffs, firefighters associations, etc. Scams, all of them. Plus, there are lots of faux surveys, sponsored by political groups, that are carefully worded to influence public opinion. Those are except as well.

Of course, lots of organizations are going to ignore the new rules anyway. Still, this is great news.

8.30.2009

Facebook's third-party developers know everything about you

Third-party developers, using Facebook's published APIs, can gain access to nearly everything on your personal Facebook profile — no matter how your privacy settings are configured. You can learn about this in a disturbing post, "What Facebook Quizzes Know About You," by Sarah Perez on ReadWriteWeb.

Sarah writes that the American Civil Liberties Union is demonstrating the power of Facebook's APIs by the use of a simple Facebook quiz. Once you "take" the quiz, the ACLU's computers have unfettered access to just about all your personal data on Facebook. The ACLU shows that info to you, to demonstrate how significant this problem is.

What's more, writes Sarah,

The second question is even more disturbing. It informs you that everything on your profile is made available to the developers when your friends take a quiz. To drive this point home, the ACLU's Quiz loads up information pulled from your friends' profiles and displays that data below the answer for your perusal. Here, information on your friends is shown including hometowns, favorite books, political views, networks, birthdays, number of wall posts, and even personal photos. Thanks to the quiz, all that info which you can see on your friends' profiles is now available to the quiz author, too.

As Sarah explains, Facebook does not screen third-party developers for trustworthiness, nor does it require them to conform with Facebook's own privacy policy.

The ACLU's recommendation: Pay very strict attention to your Facebook privacy settings, especially those that involve third-party applications.

Alan's recommendation: Do not put anything on Facebook or any other social media service that you don't want the entire world to know about. Always assume that everything that you put onto the Internet is available to everyone, at any time, forever.

(PS: Credit goes to my friend Steve Maller for pointing to Sarah's post.)

8.28.2009

Alan's PR suggestions for open source project teams

What do I wish that open source project teams understood about dealing with the press? That's the question posed by my dear friend Esther Schindler about six weeks ago. She was doing a panel on open-source software at OSCON, and was also researching an article.

I shot some thoughts back to her in an email, and Esther was gracious enough to use a few in her excellent post, "Four Things Open Source Projects Should Know About Dealing with the Press," published today on IT World.

Esther (pictured) wrote a great article, but not all my comments fit into what she was writing. Therefore, with her permission, I've turned my casual email into the list below.

What should open source projects know about dealing with the press?

• Make it easy for reporters to find someone who can speak "on the record" for your project — like, put a press contact onto the project home page. It's okay to put several contacts. Real names are preferred, not just "handles," of a spokesperson.

• Make sure that the press contact is generally available and willing to talk to the press, and can respond reasonably quickly. We understand that you're volunteers, and won't hold you to professional PR-agency standards. That said, two business days may be as long as we can wait for a meaningful response.

• If your project is corporate-sponsored open source, be up front about it. Reporters see top-down corporate projects as different than bottom-up community-driven projects. Not better, not worse, but different.

• Put onto your site clear language explaining the basics about your project — when the project was formed, who the founders were, and what the heck it actually does (or plans to do). Reporters may not be as technically astute as your project contributors or even your users in figuring all this out.

• If you have a milestone release, announce it, even if it's just a notice on your site. Say what's new and different about this milestone than previous ones. Reporters aren't going to try to decipher your bugzilla comments to ascertain exactly what is in release 0.96, which is said to have "some bug fixes and a few new features."

• Not all reporters are OSS fanboys covering your news because open source is cool or because they hate Microsoft. What reporters care about is context — why is your project important, what opportunities does it offer consumers or developers, what threats does it present to other products or projects. Be prepared to speak clearly on those topics.

• Too many reporters think that OSS == Linux. Be prepared to patiently explain that not all open source is Linux. However, don't focus on selling OSS as a concept, or start babbling about the GPL, or rant about why Microsoft is evil, or whatever. Instead, talk about all the great stuff going on with your project.

• Because most OSS projects launch with little (or no) fanfare, don't get offended that we haven't heard of Hadoop or jPodder or Greenstone or whatever your project is called, and therefore haven't written about it before. You've got our attention now, and here's your opportunity to tell your story. Don't waste it by whining.

• Don't be a jerk. Don't get snarky if a reporter or editor doesn't "get it" right away. While it's not your job to represent the OSS community — because there isn't such a beast — realize that what you do does reflect on other open source efforts, at least to that reporter.

• Don't talk in technobabble. Don't try to impress the reporter with how smart you are, or what a n00b the reporter is. Instead, impress the reporter with how patient and helpful you are.

8.27.2009

My favorite comic strip: Pearls Before Swine

Stephen Pastis' strip, Pearls Before Swine, is almost always excellent and evokes a smile (if not outright laughter).

The adventures of Ego-Man, shown at right, are a bit older but still among the goodies. (Click the comic to enlarge.) Fun characters, interesting adventures, exciting wordplay.

Read the current Pearls Before Swine here.

What are the odds that Microsoft will repeat its racial photo blunder?

As was widely reported on Tuesday, Microsoft admitted doctoring a stock photo image of a black businessman — used for a U.S. campaign — to depict a white businessman instead for a Polish campaign. You can see the two versions of the photo on CNet, under the story, "Microsoft apologizes for race-swap photo incident."

Would you bet that this will happen again? What are the odds? That's the subject of an unsolicited email I received today from an Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power plc. What do you think?

From: "Paddy Power Press Release"
Date: August 27, 2009 6:39:29 AM PDT
Subject: BOOKIES TIP 2010 OFFICE TO BE RACIALLY DIVERSE

PADDY POWER PRESS RELEASE

27 AUGUST 2009. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BOOKIES TIP 2010 OFFICE TO BE RACIALLY DIVERSE

[Dublin, Ireland] Following the recent controversy surrounding an advertisement on Microsoft's Polish website where they superimposed the head of a white man on a Afro-American man's body, Irish bookmaking outfit Paddy Power are taking bets on the race of those who front up Microsoft’s forthcoming major global advertising campaign for the launch of MS Office 2010.

According to Paddy Power a racially diverse mix of white, Afro-American and Asian actors/models is the most likely option and is the bookies 11/10 favourite. A white and Afro-American double act is the 9/4 second favourite with white only at 4/1 and Afro-American only at 6/1

Paddy Power said “This gaffe must have resulted in plenty of red faces in Microsoft but I’m sure that when it comes to the launch Office 2010 they will be ultra careful not be offend anyone”

Race of those who appear in MS Office 2010 global print advertising launch campaign

11/10 White, Afro-American and Asian
9/4 White and Afro-American
4/1 White only
6/1 Afro-American only
8/1 Asian only
10/1 Afro-American & Asian
12/1 White and Asian

All prices remain subject to fluctuation.

Resurrecting a dead MacBook Pro

It's back... From Beyond the Crypt!

A good friend and colleague, who shall rename nameless (you know who you are!), had an unfortunate incident involving a 24-ounce cup of iced coffee, a two-year-old Apple 15" MacBook Pro, and a canvas tote bag. The end result was a soggy tote bag and a thoroughly dead MBP.

The bad news is that the MBP is toast. As it was out of warranty, we decided not to bring it to Apple to repair, but instead attempt a salvage operation. (Even if it had still been in warranty, there's a good chance that the soaking would have voided it: Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty for MacBook Pro excludes coverage for damage resulting from a number of events, including accident, liquid spill or submersion, unauthorized service and unauthorized modifications.)

Suspecting that the hard drive itself would be undamaged, here's what we did:

1. Sent my anonymous friend and colleague to the Apple store to purchase a new MacBook Pro. In this case, it was a nice new 13" model. Very snazzy.

2. Simultaneously, I ordered an external 2.5-inch SATA drive case from Amazon.com, with overnight delivery. It was an Acomdata Tango USB 2.0 portable enclosure, $19.99.

3. When the Acomdata enclosure arrived, I dismantled the MBP (gosh, there are a lot of screws!) and removed the hard drive. Note: You will need a size 0 Philips screwdriver and a T-7 Torx screwdriver to disassemble a MacBook Pro.

4. Cleaned up the outside of the hard drive (which was slightly sticky), and put it into the Acomdata enclosure.

5. Attached the external hard drive to my own computer. The drive spun up and mounted. Yay! Immediately made a disk-image backup of the external drive onto my own machine using Disk Utility.

6. Fired up the new MBP. Created an administrative account with a name that didn't exist on the old MBP. Attached the external drive. It mounted, yay!

7. Used Migration Assistant to move over the accounts, applications, settings and data from the "old" account on the external drive. This took about 90 minutes, after which the external drive was dismounted and unplugged.

8. Rebooted the new MBP. My friend was able to log into his "old" account. Everything was there, including unsent messages in his outbox. The operation was a success!

9. The drowned MacBook Pro has been stripped for parts. My friend kept the AC adapter, which works with his new MBP.

We were lucky, because the MBP's hard drive was not damaged. Hard drives are study little guys. It usually takes a very hard shock or a serious long-term soaking to kill one.

Should you find yourself in this situation, with a lot of liquid dumped into a notebook that is not covered by a warranty, here are my suggestions:

1. Immediately unplug the computer and remove the battery. Resist the temptation to "test" the notebook to see if it works. Putting power across a wet circuit board can destroy it instantly.

2. Flip open the lid and turn the notebook, face down, on top of a towel, so that moisture can drain out. If you can, let a fan play gently across the computer. Do not use heat.

3. If you can easily remove the hard drive to dry it off and back it up using another machine, do so. MacBook Pro hard drives are difficult to extract, but some other brands or models are easier.

4. Let the computer sit for at least two days. After that, it will be safe to test.

5. Put the battery back in, see if the machine starts up. If so, immediately do a backup. The machine's lifespan may only be minutes or hours.

6. Budget to buy a new laptop soon, even if your old one seems to work fine once it has dried out. Its days are probably numbered.

8.26.2009

Texting technology targets tiny tots

How young is too young for texting?

My teenage son has an iPhone 3G. Maybe we've spoiled him, but he does use the technology: he checks and updates our shared family calendar, he texts with his parents and friends, and he checks email. Sure, he plays games and listens to music too, but imho a responsible, well-behaved high-school student is old enough to have that type of technology.

According to a story in today's New York Times, companies are targeting younger and younger children with mobile communications technology. I had no idea about devices described in, "They’re Old Enough to Text. Now What?" like the Leapfrog Text and Learn device — a faux BlackBerry that's a bit more modern than the classic Fisher-Price telephone.

To quote the story, interviewing a blogger, Cat Schwartz,

When are children ready to text? Ms. Schwartz has seen children as young as 6 with their own phones and says that texting is popular with youngsters because it allows them to keep in touch anywhere — from a movie theater, the back seat of the car or the dinner table (though you may take issue with that).

Amazing!

Attacking Microsoft

Look out, Microsoft: The Free Software Foundation is on a crusade to cast out sin, and they’ve done everything but name Windows 7, “Beelzebub.”

Once upon a time, the FSF’s mission was to promote and support “free” software. The company emphasize the goodness of free software, including its own GNU tools and operating systems. It also helped developers of free software with its GNU General Public License.

In that far-away era, the FSF message was positive, focusing on why everyone should use and support free software.

That changed, beginning with the company’s lawsuits (in conjunction with the Software Freedom Law Center) against businesses that violated the terms of the GNU GPL.

And now the FSF has gone onto the offensive, as you can see with its latest campaign specifically targeting Windows 7 with a new website. The “Windows 7 Sins” site contains some pretty heavy stuff. There’s a graphic of a person throwing away the Windows logo, accompanied by the words, “Microsoft is trashing your freedom.”

Microsoft’s sins, as described by the FSF are enumerated: Education, DRM, security, standards, monopoly, lock-in, privacy.

Is there anything new about Windows 7 that has raised the FSF’s ire? As the organization says on the page,

The new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, Windows 7, has the same problem that Vista, XP, and all previous versions have had — it's proprietary software. Users are not permitted to share or modify the Windows software, or examine how it works inside.

The fact that Windows 7 is proprietary means that Microsoft asserts legal control over its users through a combination of copyrights, contracts, and patents. Microsoft uses this power to abuse computer users.

The FSF adds that it doesn’t like how Microsoft is positioning Windows 7 for the fast-growing netbook market, compared to the heavyweight Windows Vista:

Windows 7, like Windows XP in 2001, has a more modest requirement footprint, making it ideal for low-powered netbook computers. However, unlike Windows XP, Microsoft have deliberately crippled Windows 7, leaving netbook users at the mercy of Microsoft to control which applications they can use, as well as the number of applications that can be run simultaneously.

But don’t think that this is purely a public service message from your friends at FSF. The real message is that you should – surprise – use Linux! As the site continues,

Free software operating systems like GNU/Linux can do the same jobs as Windows, but they encourage users to share, modify, and study the software as much as they want. This makes using a free software operating system the best way for users to escape Microsoft and avoid becoming victims of these seven sins.

Once upon a time, the FSF innovated. Then it litigated. Now it’s attacking Microsoft directly. Is that the best way to support the development of free software? I don’t think so. The way to promote Linux is to talk about its compelling features and benefits – in a positive way, and not merely as a righteous alternative to a “sinner.”

8.22.2009

Linking Facebook and Twitter: Words of advice

Please don't link your Twitter account to automatically update your Facebook status, but if you do, remember it when you tweet. (This was a separate item in my "Facebook tips" blog post, but I've pulled it out.)

Facebook and Twitter are different social media, with different communication styles and conventions. If you do link your accounts (I'll confess: mine are linked), try to be courteous toward your Facebook friends while tweeting.

Below are some of the issues that I see. If you're a Facebook friend, and you do these things often, I'm probably going to stop following your friend feed.

• Please don't "live tweet" events. A constant flood of messages like "John Smith is walking up to the podium" followed 30 seconds later by "John Smith is showing his first slide" is not what Facebook status updates are for.

• Please don't retweet. RTs and @names make for lousy Facebook status updates.

• Please don't tweet messages stuffed with hashtags. They don't make sense in a Facebook context.

• Please don't write in choppy fragments.
Facebook readers don't want to "unpack" your messages. Twitter-speak doesn't make sense in a Facebook context.

International cellular data usage is really expensive: $15 or $20 per megabyte

An American friend forwarded an expensive message from AT&T. He took his smartphone on a business trip to Canada, and didn't think about it. Oops. Or rather, "Ouch!"

From: AT&T Customer Care for Wireless

High International Data Usage Alert

Our systems have detected that you are using a substantial amount of data internationally. Unlimited domestic plans do not apply when roaming internationally.

Our records indicate that you currently do not have a discounted international data plan. Data usage in Canada will be billed at $0.015 per KB (approx $15.00 per MB). Usage in all other countries outside of the US and Canada will be billed at $0.0195 per KB (approx $20.00 per MB).

Many Americans subconsciously think of Canada as part of the U.S. market. No. It's not.

Traveling outside your domestic market with your smartphone? Be sure to either arrange a discount plan with your carrier or turn off cellular data roaming. In any case, when you want to check email or surf the Web, use the smartphone on a WiFi network as much as possible, as even the discounted cellular plans are costly.

Here are details about AT&T's data packages for smartphone and laptop usage outside the U.S.

If you have an iPhone, here's a specific iPhone Travel Tips page from AT&T.

8.20.2009

Facebook suggestions and best practices

Hello, Oscar the Grouch here. Here are some suggestions that I have for my friends and colleagues who use social media — Facebook, particularly.

These are based on my observations; while they probably overlap other lists, that's coincidental. (This posting was prompted by a story, "The 12 most annoying types of Facebookers, on CNN.)

1. Please use a real profile photo of yourself.

Don't use a funny glyph. Don't use a picture of your kids, your pet, a celebrity, or yourself as a small child. It's nice to see what you look like. We're your friends, after all.

2. Please don't give away too much personal info.

Don't share what year you were born, your mother's maiden name, or stuff like that. Think "identity theft." Review your privacy options often to restrict information to just your own friends (not friends-of-friends and so-on). In any case, don't reveal too much.

3. Please don't talk about your travel until you get home.

Never reveal travel dates on Facebook or any social network, or disclose that you're currently out of town ("Must go to bed early, we're leaving on our cruise tomorrow morning" or "Wow, we just saw an iceberg off the port bow").

If your friends post something onto your wall about your current or future travel ("Have fun in Alaska next week!" or "Did you see any glaciers today?"), delete the post as soon as you can. When you get home, tell everyone that you're back and you had a great time.

4. If you have changed your name, please tell Facebook about your other name(s).

Sometimes I get friend requests from people whose name is not familiar because they have married (or divorced) and changed their name. (Go to Settings -> Name -> Change to fill in an alternate name.)

5. Please don't post a link to a story, video or other website without offering a little context or commentary as to why you're sharing it.

I don't need a clipping service, and I can find my own funny Web pages, thank you! Go ahead, share an interesting or relevant link — but add some value of your own. Just please avoid just a bare URL.

6. Please don't over-post.

A half-dozen posts a day is more than enough!

7. Please don't link your Twitter account to automatically update your Facebook status, but if you do, remember it when you tweet.

(See separate post.)

8. Please don't let your Facebook apps and games bombard your friends with their own status updates.

Nobody cares that you got a score of 16/20 in in Advanced Star Trek Trivia or befriended a lonely sheep in FarmVille.

9. Please don't invite all your Facebook friends to sign up for fan pages that you've just discovered.

Or join your favorite groups, play your favorite games, take your favorite quiz or attend your favorite events. Facebook likes to send such invites to everyone in your friend list. That's great for the application developer, but bad for your friends. Don't let Facebook do that. If you want to send out such invitations, pick specific people to send them to — people that you're confident will appreciate them.

10. When you post photos, please share only the good ones.

Filter, filter, filter! Don't post blurry or dark photos. Don't post your entire "camera roll" — you don't need to share pictures of everything you saw or did. Instead, post only the photos that you're proud of, because they're beautiful or meaningful. I'd rather enjoy ten lovely photos of your trip to Alaska instead of wading through 300 mostly lousy ones.

Do you have other Facebook best practices to share?

8.19.2009

U.S. Commerce Association lauds my electrical equipment repair skills

A bogus organization calling itself the "U.S. Commerce Association" is mass-emailing out bogus emails hyping a bogus award, so that it can sell business owners bogus plaques. Here's what I received:

From: "Board of Review"

Subject: Second Notification: Camden Associates Inc Receives 2009 Best of Greenwich Award

I am pleased to announce that Camden Associates Inc has been selected for the 2009 Best of Greenwich Award in the Electrical Equipment Repair Services category by the US Commerce Association.

In recognition of your achievement, a 2009 Best of Greenwich Award has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Camden Associates Inc. by following the simple steps on the 2009 Best of Greenwich Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to receive your award: [deleted]

Each year, the US Commerce Association (USCA) identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

Also, a copy of the press release publicizing the selection of Camden Associates Inc has been posted on our website. The USCA hereby grants Camden Associates Inc a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, distribute, and display this press release in any media formats and through any media channels.

Sincerely,

Ashley Carter
Selection Committee Chair
US Commerce Association

Gotta love the press release. Read it here: http://www.us-ca.org/PBW-5L5-D8. Of course they want "winners" to distribute the bogus press release: It confers credibility and helps perpetuate the scam.

The "organization" is a crock, and this is a scam!

8.16.2009

The cause of United's flight delays: Too many email addresses!

This is unbelievable.

My profile on United Airlines' website is configured to send me three copies of every flight notification, like if my flight is going to be changed or delayed. One of the notifications goes to my wife's email, one goes to my regular email, and the other goes to my iPhone's email. That way, all the bases are covered.

All those cc's or bcc's are causing a serious problem for United Airlines. Here's the message they sent me last week.

Action required by August 17, 2009! This is an important message from United Airlines regarding your EasyUpdate flight notification contact information and settings.

On August 17th, we are making a change to the Easyupdate Flight Notification section of our website. When this change takes place, a maximum of 2 contact points will be permitted for each type of message - your account currently exceeds this maximum. By limiting the number of contact points, we streamline the volume of messages sent out each day, which will increase performance through faster response times. This will be especially beneficial on days where there may be larger numbers of messages we need to send to our customers.

To avoid any interruptions and to ensure that you continue receiving your Easyupdate flight notifications, please log into www.united.com/easyupdate and follow the instructions to update your contact points so that no more than two contact points are selected for each message type.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sheesh. United's EasyUpdate system is lame anyway. For example, let's say I get to the airport early, and get onto an earlier flight. United's ticket system knows all about that. Do you think it tells United's EasyUpdate system? No way. EasyUpdate still thinks that I'm on the original flight, and cheerfully sends out notifications of that flight's takeoff, arrival and delay status. Helpful? Not.

(What about that intercap? The "editor" in me wishes they'd make up their mind: EasyUpdate or Easyupdate? United is inconsistent.)

8.05.2009

Nice time-wasting cartoon site

Thank you, Natalie Dee, for ruining my afternoon!

Toxic Zones: Throne Room and Chow Space

Sometimes I get off-beat press releases, and highlight them on my "Stop-the-PResses" blog. This extremely off-topic release, though, was so appropriate (given the perennially messy state of my office) that it seemed worth sharing. While there's no dirty laundry in here, I do have plenty of old coffee cups.

DORM ROOM SURVIVAL GUIDE 101

CONQUER FRESHMAN FEARS OF CLEANING WITH HELPFUL HINTS FROM “THE ACCIDENTAL HOUSEWIFE” – JULIE EDELMAN

(New York, NY) If you thought sending your child off to kindergarten was hard, wait until they leave for college! With summer coming to an all too quick end, it’s time to pack up, stock up and prepare your high school graduate for their freshman year of college and life without their favorite maid-MOM!!! And when it comes to cleaning, cooking and laundry your kiddies probably won’t think much about it but when laundry takes over their room, dust bunnies rule their roost, they can’t get to the bathroom because their stuff is everywhere and they’ve got odors that just won’t quit . . . well that’s where some good enough survival tips are a required course. Luckily, TV Personality, New York Times best-selling author and Home & Lifestyle Expert – JULIE EDELMAN, aka “THE ACCIDENTAL HOUSEWIFE,” is always here to help!

Below she shares some bi-weekly quick, cheap and easy hints & tips that will keep health inspectors away without calling in your mom; your undies ‘n tees clean enough; and your favorite electronics in gear!

IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE: Toxic Zones: Throne Room and Chow Space

A lot of the new college dorm rooms come in suites, so not only are you responsible for cleaning your bedroom, you have a bathroom, kitchen and common area to worry about. Don’t fret – break up the cleaning into two zones so you can better judge if it should be cleaned pronto or you can leave it for when the mood hits and head to the quad with friends.

Toxic Zones: Bathroom and kitchen, since these areas have the most chance of nasty smells, bacteria and build up from old cafeteria food or your roommates toe clippings
- Clean weekly
- Organize monthly

Not So Toxic Zones: Bedroom and common areas, that attract less things that multiply and usually don’t start smelling unless your roommate leaves a week old pizza under the couch!
- Clean every one to two weeks
- Organize monthly

IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE: Non Toxic Zones: The Sleep and Study Sanctuary

If they never cleaned their room after 18 years at home, they probably won’t start now. Here are some ways to prevent mess, so the busy student can avoid cleaning:

1. Use mats and go shoeless to limit the amount of dirt and dust your friends track in from their messy room down the hall
2. Close windows – to keep outside dirt and dust from entering
3. Purchase lots of bins and organizers – so you can throw you books, school supplies, etc. that way not to be left aimlessly on the floor or your desk

Don’t let those bed bug bite – remember to wash and change your sheets and pillow cases every two weeks!

The Microwave: A Dormer’s Best Friend

And pop goes the microwave – popcorn explodes, reheated sauces bubble over and your ramen noodle dinner spills. Avoid these messes by:

1. Layer it – put ten to twenty sheets of paper towels on the bottom, so if anything spills all you have to do is remove a sheet or two.
2. Cover it – unless otherwise directed, cover all foods with microwave-safe tops

If you happened to pull an all nighter and forget to cover or layer, grab a lemon from the cafeteria, cut it in half and squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water. Zap the bowl of lemon water for five minutes. Once cooled remove the bowl and wipe down any remaining yuck with paper towel.

Laundry 101

Heading to the laundry room in the basement of the dorms can be a scary thing but these basic tips will have you doing laundry like the fluff and fold down the street…

1. Sorting
- Divide and conquer – separate your whites, darks, lights and towels
- Empty all pockets – make sure to take out loose change, student I.D., gum and iPod

*** If you accidently wash your cell phone or iPod take out the battery, blow dry and then place both in a bowl of uncooked rice for 3 days—no problemo if you leave it longer unless you’re hungry and want to nuke it to go with some Chinese Take Out!!!

2. Washing
- Never mix – wash sorted loads separately
- Green Enough: Make sure to set dials to the appropriate water temperatures
o Whites: hot or warm
o Lights and darks: warm or cool
o Delicates: cold

3. Drying
- Don’t Overload – though it may be tempting to stuff the dryer to the rim to save money, if you exceed the limit clothes won’t dry

8.04.2009

EST and EDT, PST and PDT: Just say no!

On Monday, a colleague on the East Coast asked me to call him at 12:30 EST.

EST means Eastern Standard Time. However, in the United States, we're not using Eastern Standard Time, which is the time used in the fall and winter. We're currently using Eastern Daylight Savings Time, or EDT. That's an hour different than EST.

What mattered is that my colleague was specifying that the call time was at 12:30 in the afternoon in his New York time zone, and thus 9:30 in the morning in my California time zone. He was making sure that I didn't think he meant 12:30 in California, and 3:30 in New York. Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time were irrelevant in that context.

My colleague probably didn't remember (as many people don't remember) whether Standard Time is what we use in the winter or in the summer. Why not? Because it doesn't matter! All we care about is that New York is three hours ahead of California, and that London is usually five hours ahead of New York (except when it's six hours ahead, of course). The names are irrelevant.

My friends, unless you truly and deliberately mean "Standard Time," don't write EST, CST, MST or PST.

Similarly, unless you truly and deliberately mean "Daylight Savings Time," don't write EDT, CDT, MDT or PDT.

You might think I'm being pedantic, which dictionary.com describes as "overly concerned with minute details or formalisms," Well, maybe. That's not the point. If you think that it doesn't matter if someone confuses EST and EDT — I agree with you. So, if it doesn't matter, why specify the S or the D?

Recently, I received an invitation to a webinar. The webinar landing/registration page listed the start time as 1:00 EST / 10:00 PST. That was in July — again, during the months where we don't use Eastern Standard Time or Pacific Standard Time.

What do I recommend instead? Spell out the time zone's name. Ignore the designations for Standard or Daylight Savings. Ignore the three-letter abbreviations.

Thus, invite me to a meeting at 12:30 Eastern. Start the webinar at 1:00 Eastern / 10:00 Pacific. Everyone will know what you mean — especially those outside the United States, for whom EST, EDT, PST and PDT are just a bunch of letters.

Thank you for listening!

McCarthy’s Four Laws of Software Estimation

“Developers,” said my friend Mac, “are really bad at guessing how long it takes to write software."

Michael “Mac” McCarthy and I go back to the mid-1980s. What Mac likes to do most, beyond enjoying a fine Chardonnay and talking politics, is making observations about the world of technology. While he’s not a programmer himself, he has worked closely with them for years, and has managed many software projects at media companies and startups.

Over the course of a delicious lunch today at Harry’s Hofbrau in Foster City, Calif., Mac shared some good stories about his experiences with corporate development teams. As part of that, he stated some principles that, with his permission, I’ve repackaged and labeled as “McCarthy’s Four Laws of Software Estimation.”

The First Law: If you ask a developer for a project estimate, and if he thinks the project is a good idea or would pose an interesting challenge, then he’ll say, “three weeks.”

The developer has no idea how long it will take, but “three weeks” sounds encouraging enough that you’ll probably go ahead with the project.

The Second Law: If you ask a developer for a project estimate, and if he thinks the project is a bad idea or wouldn't be fun to work on, then he’ll say “six months.”

The developer still has no idea how long it will take, but “six months” sounds negative enough that you’ll probably say “in that case, never mind.”

The Third Law: Whether the developer estimated “three weeks” or “six months,” if the project proceeds it actually will take a minimum of nine months.

That's because, Mac says, developers are bad at software estimation.

The Fourth Law: When asked why the project is behind schedule, the developer will blame inadequate or incomplete specifications.

What’s your experience — are developers good or bad at project estimation? Do their estimates vary depending on whether they like the idea or not?

8.03.2009

I won a photography award - but it's a scam

I've won an amateur photography contest, sponsored by the International Library of Photography. According to the letter accompanying the award, signed by Russell Hall, Senior Editor,

Congratulations! Out of literally thousands of entries, your photograph, "Jenny," has been award Second Prize in our International Open Amateur Photography Contest! As one of the editors and judges for this contest, I can truly say that this is an outstanding achievement.

Accompanying the letter was a nice bronze coin, shown here. There was also a "Photographer's Release Form" that essentially turns all rights to the photograph over to the group.

There were several items that made me suspicious. The most obvious were that I haven't entered a photography competition in more than 30 years, and I've never named a photograph "Jenny."

Further, the letter was addressed to "Alan James Zeichick," residing at BZ Media's New York office address. My middle name isn't James, and I would never enter a competition like this using the corporate address.

According to some Internet threads, if I sent in the release form, I'd then receive an offer to sell me an expensive copy of a book containing my award-winning photograph. That's part of the scam. Here's a link to a warning about it. If you get one of these, just ignore it. Keep the coin, though, it's nice.

8.02.2009

Network Solutions has addressed my every need!

My every need fulfilled — that's what Network Solutions is promising!

I've heard it said that "friends don't let friends use Network Solutions," but I've persisted in using them for most of my domain-registry needs. The main reason is inertia. While NetSol's registry services are more expensive than some of their competitors, and they drive me crazy with their non-stop attempts to up-sell me services I don't need, technologically they've been stable and reliable.

Imagine my delight when I received an email from them claiming "every need addressed." Do you find this as funny as I do? I love that this message, which arrived on July 30, is talking about things happening "on or around August 1." What, they don't know their own release schedule two days in advance?

The subject line is "We’re Changing: Check Out the New Network Solutions," and it leads with a big headline saying "You Spoke. We Listened." Ooh, there's a new logo! Here's what they say:

In recent months, we’ve asked you to tell us how we can better serve your needs and improve the products and services that we provide. We‘ve received an overwhelming amount of valuable feedback which is driving a reinvention of our company.

On or around August 1, 2009, much of the hard work we’ve been doing to improve your overall Network Solutions® experience will be on full display. Here is a sneak peek of what to expect:

• Every need addressed. We’ve re-engineered and simplified our products and services to better meet your specific needs.

• Find what’s right for you. The new networksolutions.com has been restructured to give you control over how you browse—whether you’re an individual, business owner, designer or developer.

• Get the guidance you need, when you need it. We’ve developed more robust support and educational tools to help you start and grow your business online. Plus, we’ve enhanced our community websites so that you can freely interact and learn from others just like you.

These changes are just the start of a number of improvements designed to better serve you which you’ll be hearing more about in the coming weeks and months.

Do these changes include lower prices? That's what I really need.

Here's a good part. There's a shaded box that says:

Not only are we sporting a new look, enhancing our products, and offering even more services to help you succeed online - we will continue to offer 24/7 Support, from a real person, online or over the phone!*

And then the small print.

* 24/7 support is not available for our Ecommerce products and Online Marketing services. The hours of customer support for our Ecommerce products and Online Marketing services are 8am - 8pm CST, Monday through Friday.

Whee.

About Me

My Photo
Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.