Monday, April 30, 2007

Ernie Johnson wins another Emmy

Congratulations to Ernie Johnson, a real stand-up guy who, we just heard (on the teevee), has won another Emmy award, along with the whole TNT NBA halftime show. As we have previously noted, here is another example of when Nice Guys Finish First.

They've got some hard-working young fella filling in for him in the studio tonight with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley (from left to right,) since Ernie's in New York getting the statue, and the veterans are not exactly making it easy on the kid. Hang in there, though, buddy -- I'd be intimidated, but you're doing jes' fine.

Related here:

TNT's NBA broadcast focuses on New Orleans today

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Even The Young 'Get' Focus, It Turns Out

Finally, reassuring proof that even the currently reigning young generation, people in their twenties, understand the value of focus. All we ever hear is how in-the-moment and up-to-the-minute and always On and utterly distracted they all are, their attention flitting from one soundbite to the next and don’t stop but shop til they drop. But there are some encouraging signs that, of course, there's more to them.

Tracy McGrady, one of the two all-stars on the Houston Rockets, is 27 and a phenomenal player. He told the TV sideline reporter that in preparation for this first game of the playoffs, he’d turned everything Off.

No e-mail, no Blackberry, no texting, no phone calls, no ticket requests. His wife handled everything. He just wanted to completely focus on the game.

(In the game, he caught fire in the second half and the Rockets won; last night he had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and they won again. The picture's from's story.)

Then there’s that great commercial where a video game version of a famous driver suddenly barks at the two kids on a couch playing the game, “C’mon, ya think I got where I am playing video games!?”

Okay, that's just one 20-something and one commercial; but the individual in question is an icon, and the other is a commercial on television -- in other words, practically scripture. So there’s some reason to hope.

And let’s hope so, because nothing of value is ever produced without someone willing to buckle down and focus on what's required to get it done. Sooner or later, the smart ones in every generation figure that out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Crackberry Down!

Regarding last week’s post questioning the readiness of the Internet and it’s related ecosystems for Web-only applications:

I thought the 12-hour Blackberry outage Tuesday night illustrated my point in a perfect and timely fashion, although I’ll concede that its users/fans/chattels may find it difficult to find any redeeming qualities in the blackout. Blackberry users had comments (in the Reuters article in eWeek) like, “"I felt like my left arm had been amputated," and the story says that “one Wall Street analyst said she kept hitting her BlackBerry's version of a ‘refresh’ button in disbelief that the system could fail.”

It's looking like I won’t be able to resist quoting a criminal defense lawyer in New York named Charles Ross (though no relation), who said the outage left him feeling "vulnerable and uncomfortable," and that is caused him to miss breakfast! (Okay, “a breakfast appointment.” It only sounded like these people were being denied basic sustenance.)

Now it turns out that all it took was an insufficiently tested routine system upgrade (“to provide better optimization of the system's cache," according to RIM. Appropriate, perhaps, since that upgrade's sure to cost them some extra cash). That’s great – I’m sure if it was an all out criminal-hacker assault, they would have handled it much better.

So, now how do we feel about depending on the Web for even more of our most basic applications? Let me hasten to note that Web apps are a great idea in theory, and probably an inevitable evolution, but that we are (i.e., the Internet is) just not ready for it yet.

RIM explains its BlackBerry outage
Cascading software and system problems caused interruption”
April 20, 2007

A Night Without 'CrackBerry': Curse or Blessing?”
Reuters, by Franklin Paul, via eWeek - April 18
Related, here:
"Baaack it up!" * (Before the Botnets get it) 1/15/07

(...which featured this quote from a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist:
‘The war to make the Internet safe was lost long ago, and we need to figure out what to do now.”)
"A Working Simple System" - John Gall

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Web-based apps vs. Verizon customer service

Lots of updated buzz recently on the newly dubbed “Webtop,” claimed to be the natural evolutionary successor to the electronic “desktop.” (In quotes because, remember, the original "desktop" is the one that your computer now covers.)

Google, Microsoft and many others imagine that you’d rather use a word processor running on their server farms than one installed on your own, once-“personal” computer. But as of this point in history, the highly touted promise of web-based applications just sounds like a Really Bad Idea (RBI).

(Excuse the interruption, but I’m informed that, especially since it’s the first week of the baseball season, we need to find another HTA -- High Tech Acronym -- for that.)
Think you’re dependent on an Internet connection now? What if you’ve got a thought that you want to get down right away, or a string of numbers you want to add up? Better lay in a supply of pens and yellow pads. If your thinking is as connected to words on paper/screens as mine is, you’re surely going to need them. We're just not there yet, or even very close.

Why, just take the recent case of injured blogger (and NBA hoop artist) Gilbert Arenas, who recently wrote about the hardships of being on the bench during his team’s stretch run to the playoffs. "I think the worst part was that my Internet connection wasn't acting right, so my video game session wasn't working. It kept kicking me offline. So, when you're injured, and video games [are] your life and you can't play, it just makes the injury that much worse."

This guy is a jillionaire, but he was as helpless as you or I when his Internet connection was down. What if he needed to do something important?

But let’s move on to more serious examples. Exhibit B: As it happens, this provides me with the perfect opportunity to rant about… I mean, comment, with oodles of cool, rational objectivity, on the truly dreadful state of Verizon’s DSL customer service.

In my recurring sideline as an indie tech support troubleshooter, I’ve had the delightful chance to spend hours on the phone with Verizon’s woefully under-trained and otherwise unprepared customer service people. And I mean sometimes hours per customer.

It is simply a nightmare. And I want to make it plain that I don’t blame the individual support reps; I’m sure they’re very bright people. Nor do I consider it a reflection on the country these folks are obviously sitting in, in the middle of the night on the other side of the world.

But it really does appear that Verizon, like other solely cost-conscious companies, is trying to do way too much too fast, following the custom of the software industry of working out all the bugs on the general population. One customer was given the most astonishing array of conflicting answers in a series of phone calls that you couldn’t believe they could possibly be from the same company. But sadly, they were.

Then there’s the language problem. I had one conversation where I explained the problem over and over, as clearly and slowly as I could (a no-connection error message dialog that would not go away, interpreting the Cancel button as meaning, “Try again!”), whereupon the support lady’s repeated response was, “Okay, can you explain what problem you are having?”

It was over a half an hour, what with on-hold time and all, before she decided the error message was coming from another department’s turf, and transferred me to someone else. That next rep was a very competent, clever person – her name was Rita, who I believe was sitting in Mexico – who I spent another hour on the line with, as she talked me through a series of command-line exercises.

When we were done, an hour and a half later, all was good – until the next time I rebooted, whereupon the exact same problem reappeared.

The New York Times’ David Pogue recently reprinted a surrealistic transcribed conversation from a Dell customer support call to that same country that I don’t want to blame, but where the people speak a version of English that most Americans find pretty much inscrutable. (That single post attracted 153 "yeah, me too, dammit!" comments.)

I really do feel sorry for those people, because for them this surely must qualify as the High-Paying Job From Hell. Because even when they probably only receive the same dollars per hour as someone starting at Borders Books in the U.S., (where, last I heard, they generously offer the minimum wage,) apparently that’s a lot of money over there. But imagine what they say about us when they’re released from their cube-farm stalls in the morning.

These travesties all come from companies that make their decisions based solely on the short term cost. But they are seriously failing to consider the Total Cost of (customer) Ownership. If the cable companies came up with a competitively priced offering, Verizon would be out of broadband contention in very short order, and deservedly so.