10.30.2009

It may be the end for Jolt Cola, namesake of the Jolt Awards

Jolt Cola may be gone forever from supermarket shelves. Fortunately, I've got quite a few hypercaffeinated bottles stashed away.

Jolt Cola is the mascot of the Jolt Awards, which originated at Miller Freeman's Computer Language Magazine in 1990. (I was one of the founders of the awards, and served as a Jolt Judge for many years.) Sadly, the Jolt Awards are currently adrift without a publication or a conference to anchor them, and I'm worried that the 2009 Jolt Awards may be the last.

You can read the history of the Jolt Awards, as written by J.D. Hildebrand. There's even a sidebar by yours truly about the award's namesake soft drink.

But now, as Matthew Daneman wrote on Oct. 29 for the Democrat & Chronicle, a web-based newspaper covering the Rochester, N.Y., area, "Fizzling Jolt Cola may close":

The heavily caffeinated cola introduced 24 years ago became a popular culture phenomenon and still was available at thousands of retailers in North America and Europe until earlier this year. But Pittsford-based Jolt Co. Inc. now seems likely to close, according to an attorney for the company, after a contentious attempt at reorganizing fell apart earlier this week.

The demise of Jolt would be a shame. While I rarely drink Jolt Cola any more (too much sugar, too much caffeine for my tastes these days), the drink will always have a special place in my too-rapidly pounding heart.

10.26.2009

Definitely not the target market

It's a given that spammers don't put a lot of effort into filtering their lists to ensure that their marketing messages reach a specific target audience.

Thus, the subject line on a spam received today by my friend Andrew:

Did you suffer a Gallbladder injury while using Birth Control?

10.22.2009

The Windows Name Game

Today is Windows 7 Day. What better way to celebrate than to remember the two Windows desktop genealogies?

Let's begin with the long-forgotten family that started out as a graphical shell for DOS:

Windows 1.0
Windows 2.0
Windows 3.0
Windows 3.1
Windows 3.11
Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Windows 95
Windows 98
Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me)

Then there's the "New Technology" family, based on a non-DOS bootloader:

Windows NT 3.1
Windows NT 3.5
Windows NT 4.0
Windows 2000
Windows XP
Windows Vista
Windows 7

What will come next?

"My product supports Windows 7" is not news

Attention PR and marketing professionals: An announcement that your Windows products support Windows 7 is not news.

It's fairly safe to assume that every company with Windows desktop products is making darned sure that those products run on Windows 7.

The fact that your specific product runs on Windows 7 on Day 1 is not newsworthy. I'm honestly glad that it does: That's good for your business, and good for your customers. But unless there's some special circumstance, it's not a news story.

What would be news?

Let me know if your Windows products do not run on Windows 7, and that you have no intention of making your Windows products run on Windows 7. That might be a news story, in a "man bites dog" sort of way.

Thank you for listening. And have a nice day.

iPhone App to Serve Up Chicken Wings

This is one iPhone app that I won't be purchasing, even for 99 cents. But I got a laugh from the press release.

Subj: iPhone App to Serve Up Chicken Wings

What's everyone Kluckin' about?


NEW YORK, Oct. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Kluckr Communications announces today the launch of an iPhone app that will appeal to the tastes of chicken wing connoisseurs nationwide. Kluckr, the hot new app that rates, reviews, and locates wing joints based upon the consumers' demands is off to a spicy start.

For $.99, what exactly can Kluckr do for you?

-- LOCATE: Find the closest Wing location in just one click
-- KLUKR-ATE: Rate and review favorite Wing joints
-- KLUCKR TIME: Organize a wing-ding of a party
-- KLUCKR BUCKS: Pass along the app or review a wing location to earn points

The Kluckr app was created for a wing lover by a wing lover. "One thing you will always see guys disagree about is who has the best wings," says founding Kluckr, Mark Gilmor. "The argument starts like this: 'You know who has the best wings?' ... We based the iPhone app on that argument."

Between Monday Night Football and the World Series, the pop culture of eating chicken wings is on the rise. From major chains like Pizza Hut launching WingStreet at 3,000 of their locations and Buffalo Wild Wings being one of the fastest growing chains in the US... Wings are the craze.

With the tag line: 'For the Wing Connoisseur, by the Wing Connoisseur,' the Kluckr consumer determines a location's popularity. Features of the app can also be accessed through the online community at www.kluckr.com.

Long Live the Wing!

CONTACT: Emily Andrews, C & M Media, Emily@cmmediapr.com,
+1-646-336-1398, for Kluckr Communication; Vanessa LeBlanc, Kluckr
Communication, Vanessa@Kluckr.com, +1-347-454-4555

Where's my Tweet Me Elmo?

This year's most coveted Christmas toy should be Tweet Me Elmo. But as far as I can tell, nobody has developed one.

What would Tweet Me Elmo do? When you squeeze his furry tummy, Elmo says,

"Won't you friend me?"

"Having lots of followers is fun!"

"What are you doing right now?

"Let's count backward from 140 together!"

"It's time to play the Shorten the URL game!"

"Elmo is over capacity. Try again later."

C'mon, Sesame Street, get on the social bandwagon!

(Next year's toy, of course, would be RT Me Elmo.)

10.21.2009

Symantec wins today's Buzzword Bingo Award

"Symantec Offers New Service Delivery Model that Helps Ensure Specific Business Outcomes"

That's the headline of a press release received today from Symantec. My hat is off to the company's marketing copywriters, whose prose is 100% buzzword compliant, but doesn't appear to say anything.

Here is the first paragraph:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – October 21, 2009 – Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) today announced the availability of a new Managed Outcome service delivery model designed to help customers better align their IT priorities with strategic business objectives to achieve measurable business outcomes. Delivered by Symantec’s Global Services organization, Managed Outcome enables customers to transform their IT environment from its current state to a desired future state while delivering on operational metrics and achieving greater efficiency and lower TCO.

Second paragraph:

The Managed Outcome model is designed around meeting agreed-upon business results based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). While traditional Service Level Agreements (SLAs) focus only on operational aspects, the KPIs in the Managed Outcome model are business values that IT organizations are expecting to get from solutions, such as measurable and improved security posture and data backup success rate. Symantec has begun to establish this framework with its Security Operations Management offerings, as well as Managed Backup Services and Managed Endpoint Protection Services.

The third paragraph:

“Traditionally, the vendor/customer relationship has been defined as that of a buyer and seller, with the vendor’s role limited to selling and helping with deployments,” said Ajay Nigam, vice president of product management, Symantec Global Services. “These older, more traditional customer relationships are no longer sufficient, affordable or successful in keeping up with the demands on business critical IT functions. The new Managed Outcome model provides customers with capabilities to deliver increased IT availability and system performance, while reducing IT management complexity, minimizing security risks and speeding deployment.”

It keeps going on and on like that. There's even a bullet list of key customer benefits. But benefits to what? What is it exactly that Symantec is announcing? What's new here?

According to the press release, it seems like they're saying that customers will see measurable business benefits from buying Symantec products and services. If that's right, then that's a good idea… but hasn't that allegedly been the case all along?

Symantec PR team: Great job on buzzwords and corporate doublespeak. Lousy job on communicating what the company's news actually is.

10.19.2009

Can you trust the integrity of your data?

This afternoon, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. installed a new electric meter at our home. The SmartMeter reports its data over the powerlines – and can be remotely controlled by the utility company. Now, we’re not sure if we can trust our energy bills.

In the old days, before things were networked, possession of your data was 100% of the law. When the wheels on an old-fashioned electricity meter spun, you could tell how much power was consumed by reading the analog gauges. When you bought a book and put it onto your bookshelf, you were sure that it would say there – unless you moved it yourself, or someone broke into your home and stole it.

Now seemingly everything is connected via the Internet, cellular data networks or even power-grid networks – and you don’t have control over your own data.

Take the power meter – technically speaking, a Watt-Hour Meter. The old analog meters were basic electrical devices. No microprocessors, just motors and some circuitry. The model on our house was a Sangamo J5S, manufactured beginning in 1984. It is as simple as can be. The replacement, called a SmartMeter, is a totally computerized device. Who knows what it’s programmed to do?

Early receipients of the new SmartMeter have accused PG&E of playing games with the device. See “Customers say new PG&E meters not always smart,” in the San Francisco Chronicle.

About books – well, the books on your bookshelf are still safe, but what about your digital books? As was widely reported, Amazon.com erased books from customers’ Kindle e-book readers earlier this year. The company said that it wouldn’t do it again – but given that the devices are hooked up to a wireless data network, there’s no technological barrier from stopping Amazon.com (or a hacker) from going into your device and adding, removing or changing its contents at any time, without your permission or knowledge.

As more and more data is stored on connected systems, your ability to maintain control over that data is eroded. This applies to connected systems which are in your own home or offices, and of course, also to data stored in the Cloud. You don’t know who has access to “your” data, and who can manipulate it for their own means.

And that’s why we’re going to keep an eye on that SmartMeter… and on our utility bills.

10.15.2009

… But that's what it says in the computer

"Sir, your reservation is correct. That's what it says in the computer," the young lady said for the fifth time, pointing at her screen.

I was at the Hertz rental desk at New York's JFK Airport on Tuesday, picking up a car for my regular trip to BZ Media's Long Island offices. The return flight is on Saturday, Oct. 17, and that's what I made the car reservation for. However, the rental ticket in the car listed the return date as Thursday, Dec. 3 — that's an eight-week rental. Oops.

Fortunately, I noticed the error before leaving the lot, and went inside the Hertz office to correct the return date. Easier said than done.

I tried explaining again. "I don't know why it says that in your computer, but it's wrong. I'm returning the car this Saturday, Oct. 17. That's what I want to do. Not December. And that's what it says on my reservation confirmation."

I again handed her the reservation confirmation — I obsessively travel with a full set of confirmation printouts from the airline, car rental service and hotel. The Hertz confirmation listed the correct return date of October 17.

She looked again at the printout, and compared it to her screen. "It's the same reservation number. The computer says you're returning the car on December 3. You're all set." She handed the paper back.

"No, no. That's not what I want…" I started again, and then caught myself. "May I speak to the manager?"

The manager came over. I handed her the confirmation sheet and the rental ticket. "Your computer is wrong," I said. "I'm returning the car on October 17, and that's what my reservation confirmation says."

She looked at the documents. The young clerk looked at her. The manager said, "Change it to an October 17 return." The clerk seemed totally confused.

The manager sighed, reached over to the computer keyboard herself, typed for a minute. The printer spit out a new rental ticket — with the correct return date, and a significantly lower rental rate than I'd originally reserved. "Here you go, sir. I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

10.14.2009

Hurray! I'm 186! I'm 186!

Break out the bubbly! My blog, Z Trek, has made the "Top 200 Tech Blogs: The Datamation 2009 List," published on Monday.

My humble blog scored #186, with the description:

186) Z Trek: The Alan Zeichick Weblog
IT, software development, security, and networking, with a touch of humor from the Bay Area consultant-editor.

Yay, me! You can see the page with my recognition (covering 169-189) here.

I'm even more excited for my dear friend Esther Schindler, whose blog outranked mine — and deservedly so. You can see her at #112 here.

Do I pick up the award in Oslo?

(Can't believe that Z Trek beat Pogue's Posts, #190, and the Scobleizer, #200, both of which are fantastic. Wow.)

Thinking in polynomial time

The Status of the P versus NP Problem” is the title of an excellent paper in September’s Communications of the ACM. For many developers, it may be a look at the world you live in, where solving complicated problems in a reasonable amount of time may be easy – or it may be difficult. For others, it’s a rare peek into the world of algorithmic computer science.

My own state is somewhere in the middle. I clearly remember studying the classes of problems deemed NP – non-polynomial time as I think of it, but more properly defined as nondeterministic polynomial time. However, that was a long time ago.

P problems – those solvable in polynomial time – are generally easy to code. NP problems aren’t. They seek to do tasks like determining if a large integer is prime, or finding the absolute best way to pack load a delivery truck with odd-sized packages, or working out the gravitational paths of multiple objects. Generally speaking, NP problems can be only solved in exponential time; however, the solution often can be verified in polynomial time. (It might take years to factor a 512-bit number, but you can verify in a couple of nanoseconds that the factors are correct simply by multiplying them together.)

The CACM paper, by Lance Fortnow (pictured), a professor at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, discusses the ancient question: Is there a way of transforming NP problems so that they can be solved in polynomial time? In other words, does P = NP? (If I remember my computer science correctly, there is a hypothesis that says that if any NP problem can be transformed into a P problem, then all NP problems can be so transformed.)

Should we find out that P = NP, then a whole range of problems will become easier. Long-range weather forecasting is an NP problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to solve? On the other hand, public-key encryption only works because the factoring of very large integers is an NP problem. If P = NP, then the underpinnings of today’s best crypto algorithms will be washed away.

In a nutshell, it still seems that P ≠ NP. However, there is no proof one way or another. As Prof. Fortnow says, the question is still open. There’s a lot more to the subject – I recommend reading the paper. You’ll enjoy it; at least, I did.

10.07.2009

GameStreamer vows to arm congress

My hats are off to the gang at GameStreamer for today's press release. I have no idea about the games, but who cares? They've got a great sense of humor, and have delivered a solid marketing message.

GameStreamer, Inc. Today Announced a New Plan to Keep America Cool, Starting With Congress

GameStreamer vows to arm congress with better games to play during budget meetings.

TAMPA, Fla., Oct. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- On September 1st, 2009, a story broke on the web that two members of the Connecticut House of Representatives were involved in a scandalous activity, playing Solitaire during a budget vote. The picture of the deed can be seen here: http://bit.ly/2F2cgR

GameStreamer's Co-Founder and EVP Nathan Lands was shocked and appalled by this development and formally responded to the news as follows:

"When I first heard of this atrocity and degradation to America's image I was left mortified. We asked ourselves, 'Can GameStreamer help?' Unanimously the answer was 'Yes we can!'"

"Events like these are unfortunate and can be very damaging to the image of America. The USA is perceived as the world leader in gaming. We believe that everyone must do their part and thus GameStreamer has vowed to do its best to keep America cool by taking a first step. GameStreamer is giving a game coupon worth $20 to all 151 members of the Connecticut House of Representatives to be used for any game available through one of our partner sites,

"We believe now is the time for change in this country and it's just not going to happen playing lame games like solitaire."

This is but one of many initiatives by GameStreamer to help America and the world be a cooler place to live in. GameStreamer thinks trash and waste is lame and is leading the way in spearheading the digital distribution revolution. GameStreamer sees a future where gaming and media will be available everywhere you are, whether you're in a car, living room or on a train. This future will be free from the waste inherent with physical distribution of games such as physical media waste and all the cumulative waste that is produced from transporting the games and commuting to buy the games.

About GameStreamer, Inc.

GameStreamer is a leading innovator in digital distribution and streaming solutions for games and operates a massive B2B network with major clients across the globe. GameStreamer is headquartered in Tampa Florida with presence in major cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Moscow. GameStreamer is devoted to growing the gaming industry by verticalizing content to reach new niche markets and delivering targeted content to users using the latest in collaborative filtering techniques and social discovery.

GameStreamer has built the first truly Enterprise-Class Game Digital Distribution Network that is offered as a White Label Turnkey Managed Solution. GameStreamer provides custom game store solutions that target various demographics. GameStreamer is working with a wide variety of clients to generate new revenue streams, improve stickiness and grow a community for their websites and brands.

10.06.2009

I love it when a mashup comes together!

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those were the memorial words spoken during many episodes of “The A-Team,” a U.S. television show than ran from 1983 through 1986. During the show, a group of good-hearted Army veterans would ride to the rescue of an opposed.

The word “ride” is meant literally, as the team’s mechanic would often improvise a single-use mobile combat vehicle using scrap parts, baling wire and duct tape.

“The A-Team” episodes were funny, if a bit predictable. What I remember most fondly were the montages where Sgt. “B.A.” Baracus assembled the impressive, yet patchwork, combat vehicle.

His work reminds me of what’s going on today in the world of mashups, using internal applications, commercial components and Internet-based APIs. Need a calendar? Repurpose the Google APIs. Need some storage? Throw something onto Amazon S3. And so-on.

While I’d be hesitant to rely upon ad-hoc mashups for a true business-critical applications, it’s hard to deny that they offer a great blend of agility, rapid prototyping, platform neutrality and cost savings. The benefits are seductive – and genuine. On the other hand, ad-hoc mashups don’t offer any type of guarantee on scalability, reliability or even consistency. Documentation? Ha! Support? Good luck! Predictable performance? In your dreams.

What’s worse, of course, is that the more we use mashups – and the more often that the things that we’re mashing up are themselves mashups – the poorer our performance, scalability and reliability are going to be.

If your application depends on two services that each have 99% uptime, then your app will only have 98% uptime. If your app needs ten services that each have 99% uptime, then you’ll experience 90% uptime.

The combat vehicles built by “The A-Team” were perfect for their one-time use, which generally required intimidating some urban bullies. They can’t be compared to genuine mil-spec equipment.

Similarly, ad-hoc mashups are ideal for appropriate uses, including proof-of-concept systems, throw-away apps and rapid prototyping. But don’t even think about driving one into a real battle.

CueCat FAIL, and the graveyard of bad business models

The CueCat is the archetype of the bad business model. Ted Bahr (the “B” of BZ Media) and I often wave off a bad business model as “it’s another CueCat,” which is about as blanket a dismissal as you can have.

Do you remember the CueCat? It was a cute little barcode scanner – shaped like a cat – that appeared about a decade ago. It was going to link print advertisements to websites. The concept was that you’d have one of those CueCats attached to your PC. Ads in magazines would have bar codes. If you were interested in the advertised products, you’d scan the barcode with the CueCat, and a browser would open, bringing you to the advertiser’s special offer.

• The benefit to the consumer was that the CueCat would save them from typing the URL, and might unlocked special discounts.

• The benefit to the advertiser was that the individual barcodes could be tracked, so marketers would know which ads readers were responding to. Because consumers had to register to use the service, the advertiser would know who they were, too.

• The benefit to the CueCat company, Digital Convergence Corp., would be license fees to advertisers for the barcodes and referrals, and additional fees for access to its database.

The CueCat was an epic dot-com failure. While some advertisers initially took to the concept and licensed the barcodes, few consumers used the device — even after Digital Convergence mailed out hundreds of thousands of free scanners. Privacy concerns after a widely publicized security breach sealed the CueCat's fate. The company lost millions of dollars.

Once upon a time, I had several of the little cat-shaped scanners – they were mailed out in bulk all across the United States. Sadly, they disappeared a long time ago; they were probably thrown out. According to the Wikipedia, people have found other uses for the scanners, which is nice. You can still buy them on eBay.

There are loads of CueCat-like digital-age business models that have either failed or look like they’re going to. How about WebTV? The Iridium satellite phone system? Or spending millions to setup a big marketing presence for your company in Second Life, yeah, that was a good investment. What about vertical search – where’s that going?

Who else is buried in the graveyard of bad business models – and who do you think will be there soon?

10.02.2009

Our Sony Playstation 3 is dead, and we won't miss it

We purchased the Playstation 3 in May 2008, for the primary purpose of watching Blu-Ray movies. At $399, a 40GB PS3 was the same price as a dedicated Blu-Ray player. (You can read the story here.)

For the first year, we enjoyed the hi-def movie experience.
Since the summer, however, the movie images had been deteriorating, with blinking white speckles showing up on all output from the device. The speckles showed up whether we were using HDMI or not, and no matter which resolution we tried. After some experimentation, we determined that it wasn't a cabling or television issue, but was a hardware issue with the PS3.

Last night, we sat down to watch a movie ("The Final Countdown"). When we turned on the PS3, the TV display was corrupted and showed an error message. Then it died — no picture or sound. We tried all the tricks for resetting the video (power cycling with the rear switch, holding down the 1/0 button until there are two or three beeps) for over an hour. It's dead, stick a fork in it.

Our son is going to see if he can resurrect the unit, but otherwise, we've decided that it's toast. Once he gives up, that'll be that.

Fortunately, we only own four Blu-Ray movies, and one PS3 game. (The bulk of our Blu-Ray movies came from Netflix.) We're going to sell the game and PS3 accessories to GameStop — maybe they'll buy the broken unit too.I'd told Netflix to go back to sending us DVDs again, and we'll just sit on the movies we own for now.

Are we going to replace the PS3 with a new Blu-Ray player? No. We have a nice up-converting Samsung DVD player that works great with our 1080p flat-screen TV… it's what we used before purchasing the PS3.

Even though prices have come down, the family consensus is that the Blu-Ray movies weren't sufficiently better than standard DVDs to warrant purchasing another Blu-Ray player.

10.01.2009

The customer name is right in the database… but is spelled wrong on screen

When checking one of my bank accounts, I noted that my surname displayed on the welcome screen was misspelled, as "Zeicnick."

I wrote to the bank's customer service dept., thinking that my name was somehow wrong in the account database. The reply came in under 30 minutes, which is impressive.

The response, however, is puzzling.

Dear Alan,

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your inquiry about the incorrect name.

Upon review, I found that your name is listed correctly in our systems and only the information displayed on the webpage is incorrect. I can assure you that your name that is listed on your online profile will not impact your accounts.

I forwarded your inquiry to our technical team so that your online profile may be corrected. You will receive an email when this update has been processed.

Thank you,

How do you think this could happen? It's not like I provided my name separately when setting up the online access to my account, and might have typed it wrong at that time. Rather, the name field was auomatically populated when I entered my account number. It's an interesting puzzle.

About Me

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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.