One thing you notice about the English is that they have a strange desire for discomfort. From their clunky phones to their clunky faucets, they seem to revel in being slightly “behind the times.” But, to their credit, they don’t generally carry this viewpoint over into actual legislation. You may be expected to be miserable, but you aren’t really required to be.

If only the French would learn to do the same.

Their latest assault on the finer things in life comes in the form of repeated assaults on Internet businesses for, among other things, free shipping for books. Yes, it turns out that offering free shipping is considered a discount on the “publisher’s recommended price” of the books involved. And, in France, the publisher’s price is considered more sacred than, well, sacred writ itself. You can disregard the Holy Bible if you like, but never the Holy BIEF.

Of course the obvious, and intended, effect of this nonsense is to give local booksellers a clear advantage over remote ones. After all, the local bookseller certainly doesn’t pay the “publisher’s recommended price” for the book, so the shipping he has to pay for is carefully hidden from the customer within his profit margin. Amazon used to do the same with the final costs to cover shipment to the buyer, but, as the French High Court has ruled that shipping is a discount and not to be allowed.

Lest you think this is some odd byproduct of a particular French love of books and booksellers, such price controls and draconian regulation is commonplace throughout the French economy. Consider the mess eBay stepped in when it expanded to France. As a site offering goods for sale, matching buyers with sellers, and providing extensive support for, well, auctions, eBay would seem to be guilty of the French charge of being an auctioneer. And, therefore, of offering an online auction without a permit. There is no news yet whether the French will also try to close down physical auctions in the United States. After all, what’s to stop some unscrupulous American auctioneer from allowing proxy phone votes from France?

Ah, the French. All the hubris of an actual world power, if none of the actual power.

And before someone responds that these are clearly just holdovers from an older, more genteel age, and need to adapt to the Wired Century, consider that the auction authority which is attacking eBay was formed in 2000. Far from adapting to the modern age, the French are deliberately and systematically targeting it for destruction. Their hatred of competition and free trade is so great that they’re actively expanding government power to put a stop to it.

So, let’s give them the win. Since they want to be insulated from the vile freedom of the Internet, let’s acknowledge their right to do so and simply prevent any and all traffic in or out of France to any e-commerce site located in the United States (or in any nation that wishes to join our virtual embargo). If the French fear having to compete on a global stage so greatly, let’s remove not only their need to do so, but their ability.

In short, it’s time to wall France off…at least virtually.

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Occasionally on The 12 Angry Men, we will post rants from invited guests. In lieu of our normally scheduled segment, today we feature an invited rant, from an Angry Guest Woman. You may remember our current guest from her previous appearence when she ranted about poor service, and tipping. – The Staff of The 12 Angry Men

My company, like many others, decided a few years ago to outsource all IT-related work in an effort to “save money” and have more “effective” business practices by limiting the people who worked on our IT systems to “specialists.” Of course, in reality, we ended up with the opposite situation.

Sure, there were the comical incidents associated with initial setup. Like the time I ordered my first Linux box through the new IT contract. It arrived, carried by a teen-aged-looking guy with slicked-back hair, wearing chains, presumably required to keep his pants covering the bottom half of his boxer shorts, whose cologne I started to smell about 10 minutes before he entered my building. He had a set of Linux CD’s in his hands and absolutely no clue how to use them. I ended up giving him a lesson on how to install Linux. (He had never done this before whereas I had trouble remembering how many Linux boxes I had installed.) He insisted on driving the entire time because he was the “specialist” and I was not. Incidentally, upon completion of my setup, several key settings needed to be fixed. Yet I was not allowed to have the root password or su power on my box so I had to keep calling the teenager and his associates to do things like set the correct date on my box. Each time he had to call me to ask how to do this; or just give me the password and then change it again when I was done. Apparently setting the date and time is not intuitive to some IT professionals.

Since then, I have taken the company’s system administration certification exam, applied to administer my own box, and have had relatively few problems, except having to re-negotiate my status every time someone new sees I’m defying the system. But, my boxes have consistently worked, no thanks to our IT contractors.

Well — until the *only* thing of mine over which IT has control, my email, stopped working yesterday. I kept getting weird server errors whenever my email program attempted to connect to the server to send/receive messages. After we went through the normal process of me calling; getting someone who has never heard of email but promises to have someone else call me back; and 5 different people calling me back with different reasons why it didn’t work AFTER insisting that clearly their server errors must be caused by the fact that I’m running Linux and my telling them they’re full of it because server errors occur *on* the server, we have the problem solved. Despite the fact that I was told that IT did not know they were going to start expiring passwords, apparently my email password had expired. But they couldn’t tell this had happened and they couldn’t notify me of the status of my email account because… get this… (this is my favorite IT excuse EVER) they didn’t have my email address!!!!! I should win an Oscar for making it through two phone calls this morning without bursting into laughter while two different men explained to me in very serious voices that my email address was not in their system (the system of the people who CREATED and ASSIGNED my email address and who RUN the email servers!) and that they needed to enter it. The first guy called to inform me of this epiphany. The second one called to check that they had entered my email address correctly. I presume both of them found my phone number in our company directory. (Incidentally, my copy of the company directory also lists email addresses.)

My sides hurt now.

When I stopped laughing, I was still unable to change my password because the web interface, which is the only way to do this from Linux, was broken. In response, IT has just released a statement saying that all of their problems are being caused by people running non-standard desktops and has issued a ruling that everyone must now use the same standard Windows desktop, with a few exceptions for Mac. I have been ordered to give up all of my boxes and replace them with one Windows box, which will have exactly the same installation as every other box at the company, including the machines running specialized equipment in the research labs and the box they give to our secretary. Did I mention that my job is to do research? I write experimental software for a living. On a machine with no compilers (because why does the secretary across the hall need a compiler?), this should be very interesting. Then there’s the issue that a lot of the software is written for operating systems that are not Windows… I complained to the decision-making head of IT about this change and he didn’t see a problem. Why am I not surprised? Probably because the person I spoke to didn’t know what a compiler was.

I’m off to fight again for the right to have a computer I can use to do work on. Please, if you’re a manager out there, think long and hard before outsourcing your IT department to another company. Each year or three we change IT contract companies, but they’re all the same: they charge you too much; pay their employees so little that none of them stay to complete the “training” process; and waste your employees time while contributing to your IT problems instead of solving them. Then they fill out their own “customer reviews” instead of sending them to the employees, like they’re supposed to, so they insure they will keep the contract. I’ll hold out as long as I can in an effort to be able to effectively do my job. Each time our entire building is taken down by a computer virus and my Linux box is one of the few machines left standing, I’ll take the time to smile and feel vindicated.

– Angry East Coast Guest Woman

Once upon a time, news trickled out into newspapers or magazines. Then radio brought news bulletins out on a twice or three-times daily schedule. Television merged the fast pace of radio with the graphic content of photographs but didn’t really accelerate things further. Over many years we doubled or tripled our daily dose, but that was about it.

Until cable. With the advent of CNN and Headline News, and all their successors we now had news on an hourly basis. Naturally the Internet would only take that further, with news now literally “on demand.”

So it was only a matter of time until some clever news agency merged various technologies to give us this: a fully embedded, Google map-based, interactive display of currently known hash houses in Florida:

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/php/specialreports/index.php?report_id=791046

Can a full merge of all this with Google Earth be far behind? Will we soon have “breaking news” layers for Google Earth allowing us to zoom in as events unfold? Will Google eventually stream live satellite coverage to allow us to watch police chases and shootouts in real time?

Is there even any downside? (Well apart from the unfortunate inevitability that some poor sap will have his house displayed for national scorn due to a mistyped address…)

Pretty soon will this scenario be not clever fantasy but simply the way it is?

If so, is that good or bad?

Discuss!

John C. Dvorak, a long time main stay of technology magazines, has proven that he is so absolutely out of touch with modern technology and its uses that his future opinions are all now cast into doubt. His recent statements are so off base, that I seriously wonder if he has suddenly suffered permanent mental damage. In a recent column for PC Magazine he declared that the as of yet unreleased Google Phone is already doomed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Google Phone is going to be a huge success either. It could really go either way. Plenty of good ideas, and big promises have been canceled or utterly flopped. The Google Phone may go that way, but given Google’s track record, I’m inclined to bet that they have something neat up their sleeves. Even some of their less well known products are amazingly useful, albeit less popular.

What really sets Dvorak’s statements from simply short sighted to down right moronic, however, is why he thinks the Google Phone is doomed:

So what is Google trying to do with a phone? First of all, it wants to put Google search on a phone. It wants to do this because it is obvious to the folks at Google that people need to do Web searches from their phone, so they can, uh, get directions to the restaurant? Of course, they can simply use the phone itself to call the restaurant and ask!

Right…, because people only do web searches to get directions to a restaurant, and of course always have the phone number for every location they might want to visit on hand? Obviously Dvorak has been asleep for the past few years and has thus missed Google SMS, which allows you to conduct Google searches with any SMS enabled phone by simply texting the search to GOOGL. Personally I can vouch for the fact that my friends and family all use Google SMS quite a bit. Whether it is searching for a Sports score when you can’t get to a TV or computer, searching for the nearest Asian restaurant in a certain zipcode, or using it as a text based 411, it works beautifully and is amazingly useful. It’s been so useful and so popular in fact, that Google debuted a new voice recognition version of it called Google 411, which works brilliantly, and is completely free (compared to the $1.99 most cell companies will charge for their 411 services).

In fact, Google’s new 411 service highlights an important point. Search engines for phones actually pre-date search engines on the web. So, yes, Dvorak, people DO in fact want to have search capabilities for their phones, and have actually wanted such capabilities long before the World Wide Web had even been a pipe dream. But you don’t have to speculate on the demand for mobile phone search capabilities, studies have shown that the demand is sky rocketing for these features (with mobile phone access to maps and directions topping the list).

Finally, Dvorak needs to realize that mobile phones are changing radically. Between roll up displays, compact virtual keyboards, and unbeliveably small projectors, it may not be long before the phone in your pocket is every bit as powerful and usable as a computer. Based on this information, I think Google is making a pretty safe bet by designing their phone around search capabilities. I’m really not sure where Dvorak is getting his ideas, but I think it is clear from his column that he has grown dangerously out of touch with modern technology.

-Angry Midwesterner


Today the Angry Men made a tragic discovery. Apparently, according to the infallible Intarweb, we rate only a modest “High School” reading level overall. Sad, really, since we pride ourselves on being educated beyond all need or reason. (Or perhaps that’s just some of us projecting onto the others. Well, and by some, I mean me…)

However, it did get us to thinking: What, in its infinite wisdom, would this Dark Oracle powered by the unholy forces of Redmond think of various sites around the all-knowing Blogosphere. So, we gave it a try—plugging everything into http://www.criticsrant.com/bb/reading_level.aspx and viola, the results were, ah, somewhat surprising.

Let’s start with the mainstream of American political thought:

But you know, this thing is really focused on Blogs, so maybe it’s just that these staid, stodgy, government sites and wishy-washy party sites aren’t an ideal test. Let’s try some honest-to-goodness blogs. Hmm, let me pick out an excellent example of clear reasoning from each political side:

Uh huh.

Well, maybe they’re just outliers. Let’s take three sites so extreme, so bizarre, so brain damaged that they just have to show their true colors:

Uh oh! Well, surely that was just bad luck. Let’s try two more crazy sites, one from either side of the political spectrum:

Yipes! This is really troubling.

Okay, now for the acid test, let’s use one of the most hillarious but least readable sites on the whole Intraweb:

  • TimeCube!!! [http://www.timecube.com]: High School (!?! – apparently it’s only at the college level that you get educated stupid!)

So, now in fear and trembling we wonder whether the whole world has turned upside down.

Fear not, noble reader, and take heart. All is not wrong with the world, for at least two sites on the Great Web of Life return the right results:

  • /. rates a High School level, which is being generous, but…
  • Chick Publications rates the Elementary result it so richly deserves…

Left as an exercise for the reader: find even more amusing examples and post in the Comments section.

(And, as always, Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Ah, the Internet, free domain of opinion, fact, discussion, education, and (of course) porn. What would the Net be without the freewheeling anonymity that makes it so, ah, special (in every sense of that word)?

Well, what would it be? A dreary domain of corporate conformity and groupthink? A blessed utopia of kind considerate discourse and shining happy people that just get along? What would the blogosphere be if every blog author and commentator had a traceable, verifiable, certifiable real identity posted with every statement? Would this be the best of all worlds, the worst of all worlds, or petty much just another world?

Or, to turn the question back around again, just how beneficial is Net Anonymity to valuable discourse on the Internet? Would whistleblowers and gadflies disappear if they had to out themselves to make their comments? Would shrill political activists actually be deterred by the thought that their victims might show up at their doorstep to chat about their recent online remarks? Would any of us Angry Men actually dare to write on this blog?

One thing is clear: anonymity is ugly. It brings out the worst in us all to often, and encourages the worst sort of gossip and slander. But is it just an evil, or a necessary evil—an important foundation of the anything-goes freedom of the Internet that annoys us sometimes, bemuses us frequently, but, ultimately, makes our life better.

Well, which is it? Discuss.