Thursday Aug 25, 2005

How to destroy a brand: Saturn is dead.

As far as I'm concerned, GM's Saturn line is dead.

Some years ago, my parent's (non-GM) car caught fire in their garage due to a defective cruise control switch.   The fire went out but there was substantial smoke damage elsewhere.  They had been on vacation at the time, and a recall notice for the defect was in their held mail when they returned from vacation.  So I tend to take recall notices and the like as high urgency issues, worthy of immediate action.

My current car is a Saturn.

Today, in my mail, I received a plain white envelope with a Saturn return address and the ominous notices "Important Vehicle Information Enclosed" and  "Open Immediately Do Not Discard".   I was suspicious, but given the past family experience with recalls, I opened it immediately just in case.

Was it a recall notice? 

Nope, just a slimy marketing trick.  When I called the dealer to complain, they denied that it was a deceptive practice and then hung up on me.

It used to be that Saturn tried to be a brand for people who just wanted reliable transportation without the slimy behavior so common among auto dealers.  My experience buying in 1996 was good.  But now it seems they're no different from the rest.  For all practical purposes, they're dead.



Thursday Apr 21, 2005

Cheese maker stealing from The Mouse?

Hypertouch, a California ISP, is suing Kraft over spam sent plugging its coffee subsidiary Gevalia.  Oddly, one of the spam examples cited by Hypertouch includes "chaff" text  in an HTML comment which was evidently stolen from the ABC News website.  ABC, as we all know, is now a subsidiary of Disney.  So... "Cheese Maker Stealing From The Mouse"?

Sunday Apr 17, 2005

One more reason to get annoyed at accountants..

According to the WaPo, due to tighter interpretations of regulations by accountants, the Pediatric Vaccine Stockpile is at Risk:

... they can no longer treat as revenue the money they get when they sell millions of doses of vaccine to the stockpile because the shots are not delivered until the government calls for them in emergencies. Instead, the vials are held in the manufacturers' warehouses, where they are considered unsold ...

and therefore participation in the program hurts the Officially Recognized Bottom Line (even though it puts money in the bank..).  Ouch.

Friday Apr 15, 2005

Volcanic Typecasting

My tivo captured a fictional pseudodocumentary called Supervolcano, exploring the short-term consequences if the Yellowstone caldera erupted again.  One thing I found amusing was that several of the characters were played by actors who have recurring characters on Stargate SG-1, one of whom (Garwin Sanford) first appeared when he was rescued by SG-1 from a massive volcanic eruption on an alien planet, and another who plays the recurring troublemaker Colonel Maybourne.

Alas, there was no evidence presented that the eruption was triggered by either Maybourne's experiments with stolen alien technology, or by alien-possessed humans with sporadically glowing eyes...

Thursday Feb 03, 2005

Lingering scribe-like death...

The above titled phrase was in semi-common use for a while within an MIT subculture.  ("scribe" being a reference to a  typesetting program, which was in common use before people there largely switched to TEX and LaTEX).

But google only found one document on the web with that phrase.

I guess that means that "lingering scribe-like death" has itself suffered a lingering scribe-like death...



Sunday Jan 23, 2005

Blizzard of '05

Before and after digging out, I took some photos of the mess here in Arlington, MA.

Fortunately managed to borrow my neighbor's snowblower for a bit (after I helped him shovel out the mess left by the plow which were entirely too much for his snowblower to handle as-is...).

Thursday Jan 13, 2005

Unreleased products

Glenn Reynolds has been meta-blogging about how different companies react to pre-release product rumors in blogs.
I have to say that few of these top this one from about 4 months ago..


Friday Jan 07, 2005

"How about the radio?"

So, after I ranted about the poor quality of the XM website, someone asked me what I thought of the radio and the service...

Radio

I got the older "SkiFi" module, not the newer SkiFi 2.   The radio attaches to a cradle; the cradle connects to power, antenna, and your car stereo -- I've got the output set up via a cassette adapter widget into my car stereo.  (There's also an FM modulator available).

The radio UI is relatively straightforward.   The one big knob is for channel selection; it does not have a real volume control (though youcan adjust the line out level to match your CD or AM/FM levels with a half-buried menu item).

Surprisingly, unlike virtually every other bit of consumer electronics I've owned over the past 10 years, it doesn't have a clock.

Service

The service is OK, not spectacular.  Not quite enough variety in the Classical department for my taste - just three channels: classics, vox, and pops.  Pops seems to be misnamed as it's more of a "classical greatest hits" channel (playing symphonic movements and the like) while the "classical" channel does somewhat less obscure works.

I also am something of an obsessive news-hound; there's a good selection of news & talk channels, but some of them (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) are just the audio of the cable news channels, and rather than inserting more newsy content during the TV commercial breaks they insert advertisingfor xm radio.

Different channels are clearly getting different data rates -- the music channels have high quality, the talk channels less so, and the traffic/weather channels sound like their microphones are underwater.  My inner geek would like to know what the bit rates of each channel are but the radio doesn't provide that info.

Reception

They warn you to install the antenna externally but so far it's been working well (full-strength signal) just sitting on the rear shelf area of my car under the rear window.

As a partial stress test, I drove through part of the underground section of the Big Dig with the radio on.  It kept working far longer than I expected it to but eventually cut out; either they have part of, but not all, of the tunnel covered with local transmitters/repeaters, or they're doing some very impressive FEC games.

Thursday Dec 30, 2004

If their web site is representative..

.. then XM Radio is doomed.

Got one of their radios as a christmas gift.  Tried to register it using their web site but had to give up and use the phone...

I was expecting a simple form like "what's your radio's serial number, and what's your credit card number?"

What did I find?  Broken Javascript causing "next" buttons to not work in the signup forms.  Large warnings that we are not to use the "back" button, but when you use their form's "back" button, it seems to screw up your state just as badly, leaving me with two or three stranded half-registered user accounts.

There's also apparently no way to "rescue" a half-registered radio without calling in to their support number.  (What's their threat model here?  Altruistic bandits paying for premium services on someone else's radio?)

Lots of nosy questions on the website ("where are you going to use the radio?").

(And even more nosy questions over the phone, like "what is your birthday?").

Wow.


Thursday Nov 18, 2004

Missing the Point

Recently, EFF, in conjunction with one or more non-profit political lobby groups, released a report making recommendations on mailing list management and spam control. It was fairly critical of spam blocking practices used by various ISP's. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that one of these groups mentioned in the report as being blacklisted "wrongly" has some problems following mailing list best practices ...

One of the recommendations -- that ISP's never refuse mail but always accept it and redirect it into a spam folder -- simply does not make sense to me. In particular, I simply do not have time to look at even a small fraction of the spam sent to me. IMHO, it's much better to reject messages which appear to be spam during the SMTP exchange; that way, a legit sender will get a definite indication that I won't be reading the message and can try some alternative way to reach me.

In an ideal world, the customer of an email service provider would be able to:
1) specify the acceptance policy (some combination of DNS blocklists, URI blocklists, bulk-mail detectors, spamassassin rules)
2) at any time, request at an audit trail of what the email service provider's filters had done on their behalf in implementing their policy.

And most spam would simply evaporate because the half-assed MTA's run by spammers would just move on to their next victim.

Tuesday Oct 26, 2004

.. there I was, attempting to translate something from the Australian..

see an epithet that I think I understand, but just to be sure, I type whinging poms into Google, and what do I get as number #1 but a coworker's external blog.

Tuesday Oct 12, 2004

Eating of tasty animals

If Jonathan Schwartz really wants to make himself unelectable, he should perhaps go to Norway or Japan and try whale meat.. As I understand it, the population of many species of kangaroos has exploded since the introduction of modern irrigation techniques in Australia and they are hardly endangered.

Another one bites the dust.

I love it when Spamcop gets results:

Thank you for your report concerning this recent Unsolicited Commercial Email incident.

We contacted our customer on 6 October 2004 following receipt of a large volume of complaints. On 7 October 2004 we were provided with a written assurance that no further Unsolicited Commercial Email abuse would take place using our network, and that no Unsolicited Commercial Email would be transmitted regardless of its point of origination advertising or promoting the visiongain.com domain whilst that domain or any associated services (web, mail etc) are hosted on the easynet network.

Unfortunately, this assurance has not been adhered to and complaints are once again being received. As a result, we have now begun the account termination process, and the IP range of our customer's easynet connectivity solution has been null routed to disconnect it from the Internet and to put an end to the abuse. All trace of the visiongain.com domain (DNS service, mail etc) should be removed from our network within the next 24 hours.

Once again proving spam rule #1: "spammers lie".

Wednesday Sep 08, 2004

Obscure equivalence of the day.

For unsigned m, x in C:
((m < x) || (x == 0))
is the same as:
(m <= (x-1))
due to unsigned integer underflow. I have no intention of ever using this.

Wednesday Aug 25, 2004

Features vs Quality

I just read John Clingan's post on Features over Quality.

At a previous employer (left nameless to protect the guilty..), I had realized that I wanted out and gave notice just as it was announced that the company was being taken over by a competitor. During the customary two week notice period, some folks from the new management came through, and, at an all-hands meeting for the site, emphasized that feature count, not quality, was what caused "us" to make sales.. and that we therefore shouldn't put any effort into fixing customer-experienced bugs lest it get in the way of adding new features to the product.

Gah. Were I not already on the way out, I would have given notice shortly after the meeting. Instead, I quietly got up and left the room in the middle of the meeting.

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sommerfeld

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