Category Archives: Bad Tech

An Expensive Downgrade.

What percentage of development shops are pigeonholing their clients by their loyal adherence to their prescribed stack? Far too many. At V-Tek, we’ve found that .NET often fits quite nicely into our mostly open-source toolbox. Especially when our client already has an MS oriented product.

Everything from raw library-less JavaScript, to RoR coding by convention, should be fair game for a development studio worth its salt. Otherwise the first thing they will want (and have to) do is uproot your existing modules. While uprooting modules may be exactly what you need, doing it only because your trusted developer doesn’t understand them is just stupid. What you already have could be ingenious, but if your developers don’t recognize genius when they see it you may well pay a lot of money only for them to downgrade your system.

One of the most powerful combinations we’ve leveraged somewhat regularly is PHP scripting routines against MSSQL systems on Windows servers. Combine the power of CLI PHP with Windows’ Task Scheduler, libraries like CURL and Sockets, and we accomplish things that other shops have flat out claimed impossible.

So unless you, as a customer, are narrow-minded, then it is best not to hire a narrow-minded development shop that will treat you like a child while they themselves waste your money.

Entrepreneurial Philanthropy

Entrepreneurial philanthropy has been really gaining momentum in the tech sector. We know in the late 90s that a start-up could dive in just for the sake of profit and if the business plan showed promise they’d acquire investors. Then the bubble popped and sent those investors looking elsewhere for revenue.

Today it’s tough to make it mainstream, even for viable business models. However, a trend has developed that not only requires only mediocre viability, but also manages to keep investors from jumping off the sinking ship much longer. We like to call it “entrepreneurial philanthropy.”

People are bargain shoppers, and there are plenty of people in this world that are simultaneously burdened with a desire to be meaningful and make some difference in the world. Enter the entrepreneurial philanthropist (hereafter referred to as EP).

The EP has identified a niche market with capitalists who are willing to incur much greater risk on the possibility that the end product of their investment could, even in a small way, make the world better. After all, it’s the thought that counts isn’t it? Well, actually no.

1. Handing out money to beggars on the street feels good but the reality is your money is very unlikely to make that beggar’s life any better. In fact it will only enable them and neutralize any actual potential that individual had in the first place. It will make their life worse. If the EP is the beggar then the “actual potential” would have been an actually viable business model.

2. Philanthropy really isn’t about looking to make a financial return on your investment. So let philanthropy be about philanthropy and your investments be about investments. There is nothing noble nor charitable about wasting money for no profit and no improvement. As already stated in #1 the lack of improvement probably means that you are making lives worse with your money. This is the kind of wasted potential that made Dagny Taggart so grumpy.

3. I’ve rarely met a good investor that did not accept Occam’s razor except when it comes to EPs. A few pictures of hungry kids can and should move us to tears, but not to stupidity. There are proven ways to feed kids, and that is by feeding them. The EP will have more assumptions than answers in their presentations but still fools eager to be parted with their money will bow to the emotional appeal.

So beware of the EP. While viability and charity are certainly not mutually exclusive in the world of business models, charity is also not a suitable replacement for viability. If you know of an EP project that failed financially but succeeded socially please do let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, assumptions aside, viability must be important whether your investment is philanthropy or entrepreneurial. Otherwise you’ll likely accomplish neither.

Hybrid Hype

After I post this article I will be switching back to my old legacy hard drive. I was afraid this would happen.

When hybrid drives became available I followed the reviews obsessively, I could not wait to get one. Yet the reviews kept warning about poorly implemented firmware and erratic behavior. Then came the Seagate Momentus XT ST500LX003. Seagate did not manage to communicate the changes in the new model but obsessive research revealed that the new version had a full 8GB of SSD vs. the 4GB of its predecessor. Reviews stated that they had fixed their erratic firmware. The interface supported a full 6gb/s. It was time to move. With 8GB of SSD my whole system folder could fit on the SSD and then some! A “smart” firmware that goes further than that could only be better right? … Wrong.

After I installed the drive I immediately noticed improvement, super fast, and that lasted for about a week, maybe even two. I was reveling in the same joy that I had read in the reviews. Yet around week 3 I started to notice that my hard drive light would stay on, not blink, just solid on for 5-10 minutes at a time. Within a week of that this solid light was accompanied by system paralysis. I’ve now spent several months trying everything I can think of to stop the madness and renew the bliss of the honeymoon days.

From defrag to reboots, from searches for utility programs, to task manager. If I could only find a program that would let me move C:\WINDOWS permanently to the SSD portion of the drive and bypass whatever algorithm was so dreadfully flawed as to render my machine slower than with a 5400rpm dinosaur. Yet there appears to be no resolution. Random freezes, usually when I’m doing something important, have become a part of life.

With practice I’ve narrowed down a few things that cause this to happen more often. Sleeping the computer is a sure way to have to wait 5-10 minutes for the spasm to subside. Since my machine reboots in 2 minutes it makes sleeping the computer pointless. However, reboots also trigger the spasms… as does Chrome, the program that I use more than any other. Which should have earned it a permanent spot on the SSD if the mystery “algorithm” was worth diddly, but as usual there is so little accountability and Q/A beyond a 24 hour burn in test that it’s a sure bet that time will reveal lots of flaws.

So if you want to take your chances with bad tech, then we have one for cheap!

Google Maps, NY Guns, and reasonable data expectations.

While the entire nation was in an uproar about New York’s plunge over the slippery slope of lost public trust, one thing seemed obvious to a number cruncher like me. The map cannot possibly be current, complete, or even accurate, because the data cannot be. What has happened though, is we have realized that a State that requires gun registration can (and will) soon after release permit information to the public. Living in a state where permits are not required this makes me laugh. Perhaps the most practical result of liberal loons divulging what they believed to be gun owners’ addresses, will actually be a solid foundation for resistance to such a rule in states where registration is not required. How is that for contradicting their own agenda?

How simple was this to realize? Well, feel free to zoom into any site familiar to you on Google maps. Flip on “satellite” view, or even street view, and try to guess what year that photo was taken. I tried this with a house I moved out of in 2007 and there’s my truck in the driveway. With the piles of data that Google attempts to juggle there is only one answer to the processing challenge… batching. When trying to database the entire planet you can bet those batches can be separated by years, not days. Even websites on the internet have become so outdated in Google’s index that they will reference a non existent page for years after it was removed. This just keeps getting worse, but what’s even more suspicious is that Google represents the more competent side of this 2 sided coin.

In order to post “gun owner” addresses Google had to reference a government database of gun registrations. If you think my description of Google’s concurrency challenges was bad, the state is the worst. They are almost always as incompetent as they come. This isn’t 24, with Jack Bauer and a team of the best IT people in the world. I’ve known some good IT guys, and can assure you NONE of them would would work for the government for fear that gubment incompetence is contagious. So the formula is almost certainly useless. The saying: “good enough for government work” describes this syndrome pretty accurately.

Recently some wise states have begun asking the private sector to bail them out of the tangled mess that unaccountable pseudo-developers get them into. We get inquiries from government agencies regularly but we do not allow our staff to be held captive to misguided bureaucracy. They are too smart for that, so the only contracts we accept are self-managed. We don’t need no stinking Dilbertesque PHB experimenting with project management while we are on task. So watch out northwestern USA. If local government entities do get their act together the next time someone wants to publish a government dataset, the results might actually be correct!

Caught sleeping?

It’s simply wrong to think that what works on the internet today will work tomorrow. In fact, far too many people build something really great only to get left in the dust by googlebot et al. Fair or not it’s a matter of fact that if your site was #1 you must maintain that. Our brand: “VeraciTek” has been hijacked by anything from spammy “statistics” sites to knock-off network hardware assemblers. Googles answer? Let ’em.

Another major cause of the damage were just minor dns oversights. For instance, some of our nameservers were incorrectly configured to present a client site when accessed. Who would have thought Google would have bothered to index our name server? Other problems were also found, like hosting sample scripts from client folders on our domain that the client never moves to their own domain.

Interestingly Binhoo (like that, Bing + Yahoo = Binhoo) had no trouble isolating the core of our domain and maintaining who actually owns the brand. I say interesting because Google used to be the champion of this logic, however today they really have drifted away from that priority.

If you think you may have been caught sleeping jump outta bed and get some cleanup going. We get so busy that we forget we have our own website to maintain. Googlebot is an oppressive master.

Microsoft PubCenter Omen?

PubCenter for Content
The illusive PubCenter for Content!
It is true that there are a few web publishers that have the ability to put Microsoft’s PubCenter ads on their websites. We have seen the interface ourselves, and have come to learn a bit about it.

For the last few years Microsoft has not allowed new users to access this function and rumor has been that it is for a lack of ad inventory. A few folks that got in early have enjoyed some reasonable payouts on par with Google AdSense, and recently sometimes on par with the glory days of YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network). However, the interface was chintzy to say the least. Plagued with odd bugs and dysfunction. If Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo included a review of YPN it would undoubtedly have been chosen as the most ready-to-ship interface.

Accounts have remained available for integrating with Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 applications. However, the web is full of laments about low payouts. Our clients tend to focus on Droid or iPhone, and neither are supported by Microsoft’s PubCenter. Whether short sighted, or strategic, it is what it is.

So now for the omen, at the end of last month we were contacted by a client that had noticed a drastic drop in ad revenue. As we mentioned before, the interface is bug ridden, not just a little bit. Our alpha demos typically have fewer bugs. If you click in the wrong place your browser may well go into a seizure of recursive reloading. Use any browser but IE and you’ll be lucky to get any results at all. QA has clearly been procrastinated. However, working with a group like a possibly rouge and obscure advertising team within a big organization like Microsoft requires some street smarts. If you so much as change your email address in a fragile system like this revenues could collapse to never recover. It’s a degree of paranoia that is necessary. Once you’ve got things balanced, don’t touch ’em! Don’t even comment in a forum about them — more less write a whole article — just leave them alone!

However, our client had carefully heeded our warning. Even resisting the urge to view reports too often for utter fear that the balance would collapse. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work right? Yet earnings were dropping, very quickly. Earnings that had remained stable for several years, offering nice bonuses on occasion, but never such a dive. We were confounded. Their traffic demographic was exactly the same. Other ad programs were actually earning more, not less. Coverage (the percent of pages that showed ads) was identical to prior months at 99%. Yet PubCenter has flat-lined.

On a call, we had to ask again, are you sure you didn’t change anything? They hesitated, and then finally admitted that they had attempted to submit a new W9 to the site. We lamented, first that they hadn’t explained this sooner, but secondly that this may be irreversible. Like an episode of House M.D., after a strained admission on the patient’s part, we had diagnosed the cause and we’re pretty certain that it is terminal.

So in delusional hope we offer other possibilities, this could be somehow related to the end of the year. Though that seems unlikely since their “publisher traffic quality score” steadily dropped from 10 (for over a year straight) to 1.5 within 6 weeks. The only other thought is that M$FT may be giving up on content ads altogether. It would be nice to hear from any of the endangered species of organization that may be running content ads via PubCenter. However unlikely as it may be, since those individuals have quickly learned to keep their heads down and not rock the boat.

We are now more like divers exploring a ship wreck than developers coding to standards. In the secretive world of online advertising, be it Google, or Microsoft, or even obscure 3rd parties, we are left with vague TOS documents that may or may not contain any clue as to why Zeus chose to frown on our client today. Instead we try a half dozen different things in hopes one will work. This client is lucky, they have an AdSense account already. That is until Google’s Zeus is unhappy with his breakfast and decides to take it out on the minions.

What’s with these companies that don’t show you the price until you check out?

Newegg.com has taken up an experimental deceptive practice of hiding product prices until you are on the very last page of the online shopping process. They are not the first, but we have had several clients experiment with such tactics and based on those results we strongly suggest NEVER doing this, and here is why. With permission we can only show you statistics on two clients who attempted this and while their volume probably does not compare to Newegg, the risk is readily apparent.

Case 1 Garments and luggage: Prior to this experiment they were running a very respectable abandonment rate of 65%. We consider anything less than 70% to be pretty good based on our experience. However, this client was disappointed by overall volume and decided to hide prices on certain items. Only about 10% of the inventory had hidden prices, yet the abandonment rate immediately shot up to 77% and here’s the big rub. Upon pulling the plug on this 2 week social experiment their volume had fallen 20% and it took nearly 3 months to recover! In hindsight, and again, with permission, we pulled statistics on abandonment rate of just the carts that contained these “surprise price” items, and it was more than 85%! Interestingly the other carts were still at 70+% which seemed to say customers did not appreciate the game, even when they didn’t shop for those specific items.

Case 2: We only have permission to mention a few vague details here. Abandonment rate for this client was admittedly higher than we prefer, however upon attempting the “bait and shock” strategy (as we now call it) it increased by nearly 10%. Again it took several months to recover, and volume suffered severely.

So experiment at your own peril. We have determined that customers are offended by such tactics, and among an admittedly small sample, voted that this violates the trust necessary for a customer to trust us with their billing information. Of course our clients are boss, but we offer dire warnings for free. Don’t do it!

It’s the least we can do for our clients. Experience is an important part of our value. Many of our customers are coming here only after being burned by salesmanship from other shops. A common violation of our customer trust we’ve seen is making wild claims about capabilities and possibilities. Unless our client is Newegg talking in “millions” is irrational. A million is a huge number, even in web terms, and while it sounds nice and persuasive it’s unrealistic. For many small shops you might as well talk billions as millions. Be happy with a thousand, or even a few hundred active accounts. We manage a few sites that exceed a million hits a month, but even that does not translate into a million sales a month. Even a 1% ratio of hits to orders is doing pretty good. If your web developer is talking nonsense, like “millions”, it does call their credibility and experience into serious doubt.

2 Issues

2 issues have come to our attention:

Firstly, complaints about valid comments not being released. This site receives hundreds of spam comments per day, and thankfully only a few make it through our filters. Of those hundreds, there are dozens that are entered manually and get queued for moderation. We have honestly just been too busy to weed through and had often opted to just wipe them out. If you have been a victim of this, please accept our sincere apologies and realize it is nothing personal.

Secondly, the number of compromise attempts of our site has risen since our private client blog got mentioned in a publication. The content in the REDACTED article is the only content we authorized release of, and the only content that will be released. Feel free to continue to probe our site, you’ll not get far. In fact, your visits to several of our honeypot areas are helping us build yet another product. In other words, give it up 91.217.178.220 et al. We know you’re there, we just don’t really care enough to block you.

-Josh

Windows Easy Transfer My Arse!

easy transfer my ass

Leave it to Microsoft to take what should have been an easy task, call it “easy” and then proceed to make their wizard lead you straight to a mess.

The problem is, that while the “Easy Transfer” wizard claims that you are copying “an account” what you’re really just doing is copying files. That may seem obvious, but get this. If you setup up the new machine, and that machine has 2 users, and you log in as user A assuming that this “account transfer” is “smart” as “wizards” always pretend to be… so you initiate a transfer of user B… Guess what!??!! You will, very stupidly be stuck with a bunch of files copied into user A’s profile. No new user.

**EDIT: Turns out I was the stupid one. I failed to read the sentence on the first wizard page carefully. It clearly states that going to the advanced tab is necessary to accomplish precisely what I wanted… After clearing out 19000+ files from the wrong user profile I have learned to slow down and read. Something I’ve had to tell other users so many times. I can whine that it didn’t have the “sense” to warn me when it discovered gigs of files already existing in the destination account, but that would be too much to ask. CLICK ADVANCED… I REPEAT CLICK ADVANCED…. I’m not sure that I’d hide that setting under advanced, but CLICK IT! …

So take heed of my warning here (which, after you realize the ass you made of yourself by assuming that easy really meant “easy” you’ll discover exists all over the web) … create the user that you are copying. Windows is not planning on doing it for you, despite their claim that you are copying a “user account”. They just do a dumb file copy.

In fact, after reading a few other nightmares be sure, they will be copying junk you don’t want. From what I can tell, even junk you unchecked. It may well be better to skip the “easy transfer” and do things the “hard” way. As for me, this is going to be a big old pain in the butt. I have to figure out how to remove all of these files that are now intermingled with my other user’s files. Thankfully I have fairly current backups. Let’s hope system restore does it… (I’m not holding my breath on that one).

SOPA?

SOPA Censorship

Please click the image on the right and submit the petition!

I am writing to you as a voter in your district. I urge you to vote “no” on cloture for S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, on Jan. 24th. The PROTECT IP Act is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted. It does not deserve floor consideration. I urge my representative to vote “no” on SOPA, the corresponding House bill.

Over coming days you’ll be hearing from the many businesses, advocacy organizations, and ordinary Americans who oppose this legislation because of the myriad ways in which it will stifle free speech and innovation. We hope you’ll take our concerns to heart and oppose this legislation by voting “no” on cloture.

While we’re at it, what do you think about this?