Category Archives: Ranting

Location-based advertising

Microsoft’s thinking about targeting ads to Sync users in their car.

“We know where you are and we know where you’re headed. We could target that advertising directly to your car.”

When I worked at AT&T Wireless, I used to have an argument about this pretty frequently. They all went like this:
“We’ll be able to deliver ads to your phone based on where you are! So you’ll be next to a Starbucks and we’ll send you a coupon for $1 a latte!” (it was always Starbucks)
“Do you realize how many Starbucks locations there are in Seattle?”
“There are dozens of Starbucks. Are you going to send me dozens of Starbucks coupons as I drive up I-5? I’d turn off my phone to avoid that. It’d be a horrible experience.”

You could, of course, solve this by only sending a few messages and upping the cost and the incentives for the user (“free latte at the Columbia Center Starbucks? I’m there!”) but the implementation ideas always ended up delivering horrible user experiences.

I’m not surprised that the idea hasn’t died: it’s so easy to think that there’s an impressionable customer base just out of current reach, and if only you could reach out and touch them, you could drive them to take a particular action. They just don’t ever think it through to the user’s perspective.

My presidential choice…

… will be entirely determined by whoever first promises to have the FTC shut down companies that include a “subscribe me to all your spam lists” checkbox that resets to checked on re-draw (say, if you recalculate shipping, or attempt to continue with a phone number that doesn’t quite meet their formatting expectation).

Sure, it’s petty. I don’t care.

Following up: a deputized copyright enforcer abusing their power

I wrote earlier about what could go wrong if you allowed the MPAA/RIAA/whoever to determine which torrents were violations of their copyright and go after them.

There’s actually a great example already out there: The Church of Scientology abusing copyright claims on eBay.

Descent into knock-off Matrix sunglasses

Another in the continuing series of posts on topics only of interest to me…

My favorite pair of sunglasses ever were a pair of Killer Loop Pandemoniums. They fit perfectly, they looked good, they were light and comfortable. So of course I lost them. Now, at the same time, the first Matrix movie had come out, and the Killer Loops were similar to the Blinde Neo (which they were inexplicably not selling). Killer Loop, having designed a pair of sunglasses I liked, promptly stopped producing them (bonus: their website’s USA page doesn’t work). Which is sad, since Bausch and Lomb at one point called them out in their 10-K (“The Killer Loop Pandemonium sunglasses combine a contemporary new style with a bold attitude and youth relevant advertising to drive worldwide expansion. “). Which makes me a little embarrassed that I liked them so much. (More embarrassing: “Intended to be worn to the limit, this sleek line of eyewear was designed for extreme sports — snow boarding, in-line skating, mountain biking and surfing.”)

The Blindes from the movie, when you could find them, were listed at $250. I bought a pair on clearance for ~$50 on Overstock, and one of the lenses popped out in a few days (woo-hoo!) and couldn’t be repaired.

Here’s the Blinde, the official, actual, worn-in-the-movie version:
actual Blinde Neo Sunglasses

From the now-sold-out page.

And so, down two moderately-expensive pairs, I descended into the world of knock-off sunglasses. It is, as you’d guess, a lot easier to find knockoffs of the movie sunglasses than my favorite Killer Loops. It’s also a lot harder, though.

Here’s a site (“Matrix Eyewear”) which uses Matrix trademarks pretty shamelessly and has what appear to be a fairly high-quality, looks-like-the-real-thing pair for $38 (of course they’re sold out). Or the pretty-good $27 knock-offs.

These are a lot like and probably the same as these $14+ shipping sunglasses

Then there’s a strain of knock-offs which don’t look like the Blinde but are sold as a knock-off:

cheap sunglasses

The big difference is that there aren’t any lens rims — the arms and nose bridge are both essentially bolted into the lenses themselves. They’re horribly constructed, and once you recognize them, you’ll see them everywhere. I bought a pair for $5 and promptly destroyed them through a few hours of wearing.

These absolutely dominate the eBay listings, though, as “Matrix sunglasses” and sell for $7 + a ton of shipping.

Ah — here’s an image from one of the auctions that shows off how they’re built.

That’s pretty awful. Compare them to the original, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re not even really copy cats: they were probably a design they were stamping out and the wholesaler thought “hey, they’ve got oval lenses, the Blindes have oval lenses…”

Some places, though, sell these awful things for $25. Or $17, and they’re sold out.

The market is flooded with those horrible, super-cheap glasses that don’t even look like the real thing, for prices of $5 (where they’re plentiful) to $25 and up (where they’re apparently so hot they can’t be kept in stock). Meanwhile, though there’s clearly a continuing market for these kind of knock-off shades, it’s quite hard to find any that actually look like the Blindes — though some exist, if you dig through ebay listings, and they’re just as cheap.

It’s a really interesting economic problem: if you can produce knock-off sunglasses for so little that they’re extremely profitable to sell at $5, why do the horrible-looking pairs survive against the reasonable facsimiles? And did Killer Loop get out of the market entirely? Is there somewhere a single Chinese manufacturer that happened to be putting those horrible ones out that lucked into a 10-year knock-off market niche as wholesalers passed them off as “Matrix” glasses?

Why am I paying?

That hard drive I didn’t get to work turns out to be defective, so I’m returning it… and paying for shipment back. How is that reasonable? I didn’t break it — I’m essentially now paying an extra $10 for this item, assuming the next one isn’t broken. And this is Newegg, which has pretty awesome customer service for an internet computer parts retailer.

Dismissing your supporters

Here’s what I don’t get about the Clinton campaign’s “all the states we lost don’t matter” strategy: it’s not true, obviously, and it’s silly, but beyond that — I think about the people here in Washington that went out to the caucus to support her. The organizers and everyone who are now hearing from the campaign they tried to help that our state’s meaningless.

How can that campaign go back to those people now and ask for money to compete in other, presumably more important states? Why would someone who has been told that their state and their support wasn’t worthy of attention give money for Clinton to run ads in Ohio and Texas?

And moreover, doesn’t that make those people much less likely to support, much less volunteer, for a national campaign if she wins the nomination? After all, they’ve already been helpfully informed that they don’t play an important role in the national political life.

ISP spying, DVDs, and the lessons of history

Nicholas Weaver speculated that what AT&T planned to do to stop copyrighted material from crossing its network was to farm the work out to the MPAA & others:

All that is necessary is that the MPAA or their contractor automatically spiders for torrents. When it finds torrents, it connects to each torrent with manipulated clients. The client would first transfer enough content to verify copyright, and then attempt to map the participants in the Torrent.

Now the MPAA has a “map” of the participants, a graph of all clients of a particular stream. Simply send this as an automated message to the ISP saying “This current graph is bad, block it”. All the ISP has to do is put in a set of short lived (10 minute) router ACLs which block all pairs that cross its network, killing all traffic for that torrent on the ISP’s network. By continuing to spider the Torrent, the MPAA can find new users as they are added and dropped, updating the map to the ISP in near-real-time.

Which garnered this response from Richard Bennett:

Is there any reason that such an automated system should not be used, or does Net Neutrality now connote a license to steal?

Ignoring the intentionally inflammatory wording of the choice, I’d like to present an argument for why it should not beyond the privacy, free speech, and common carrier arguments I’ve read: such a system will inevitably be used for evil.

The only question if it’ll be immediately, after a few months, or if they’ll wait for everything to be settle down. How can we be so sure of that? It is, after all, a legal system designed to a good end.

History provides copious examples of power granted for innocent purposes abused, but I want to focus on one that involves the players here who would be tasked with not abusing their position.

A long time ago, when the DVD standard was designed, they put in something that took control away from the consumer for the consumer’s presumed good: the Prohibited User Operation (PUO). This was supposedly there so that people couldn’t skip the FBI anti-copying warning and such good stuff, which everyone fast-forwarded through on VHS. In authoring a DVD, they could set the FBI warning to play for 20s or 20m and disable the controls to force you to stare at it. They took the user’s ability to use the object in certain ways in order to show those dumb warnings. The warnings, of course, did nothing to reduce piracy, and soon, the PUOs were being used for evil: forcing people to watch a preview, or an ad, or three previews, or something ridiculous — Disney probably being the worst of these offenders. By controlling technology designed to take away control from the end user to promote a larger goal, they were able to force a horrible consumer experience on everyone who bought the DVDs and do it without consequence, because there was no recourse.

Now take the legal state of copyright today. Fair use is frequently decided not on the merits of the case but on the inability of single artists to fight those suing them, and even more frequently isn’t decided at all, because no one tests it. Danger Mouse can’t mix Beatles samples with Jay-Z vocals and create the Grey Album without having EMI and Sony/ATV try to stamp him out. Labels are aggressively pursuing P2P lawsuits against single users, often with scant evidence of wrongdoing, and against even Google for linking to something that links to a potentially illegal download. SFWA issued blanket DMCA notices against people hosting suspected science fiction works — and nailed people publishing critical essays, stuff licensed under Creative Commons, you name it.

What happens to the next Danger Mouse in this new world?
1) DJ Example uses 2,000 1-second samples to record a mind-blowingly cool version of “Sympathy for the Devil”
2) Puts it up on his website as a torrent
3) MPAA, representing the Rolling Stones, joins the torrent and shuts down everyone attempting to distribute it
4) DJ Example briefly considers suing for restraint of trade, gives up, becomes a quality assurance specialist at the toothpaste factory
5) DJ Example is poisoned by tainted flouride, dies

That’s a significant harm to freedom of expression.

What we’ll see, beyond that, is the kind of over-reaching we see today. The copyright holders will pursue the most profitable copyright law interpretation possible, and continue to stretch the limits of what they claim infringes until

Take a film like “This Film is Not Yet Rated” which embarrasses the MPAA. If that came out under a Creative Commons license, distributed by torrent, its spread would depend not on whether clips it uses are fair use but whether anyone of the potential claim-holders is particularly angered by its message, at which point they shut it down. Commentary could be entirely destroyed.

Further, consider for a minute the distribution of documents that offend a particular party and are subject to frequent legal fights — for instance, the Scientology documents that came out in court, are public, but may still get you sued if you post them. Will they be allowed to use this auto-spigot?

What then — can anyone who wishes to stop the spread of any document they don’t like simply hit the big switch and stop all trade in it?

Is that really what anyone wants for a future?

The wonder of technology

I’ve been spoiled by circumstance: by being broke for so long, I haven’t bought any computer components of any kind in well over a year. So I was happily rolling along when I needed to replace my DSL modem.

No problem, I got that and a new hard drive. Six hours later, neither of them work. I’m online (to look up support docs) on the old, erratically-working setup while the gleaming new D-Link modem sits and looks annoyed… and I’ve rebooted I don’t even know how many times trying to get the hard drive recognized… it may be DOA, but it shows up as a new device…. sometimes. And then not in Disk Management which — joy of joys — is really difficult to use… Reboot, BIOS, reboot, windows, repeat.

I’ve been writing a lot about this in the book I’m working on — looking back at the sci-fi visions of how computers worked, one of the things that always annoys me is that they’re all slick and perfectly integrated. Re-reading Neuromancer, I wanted to cheer when Case has to find an adapter for his deck’s cable. Not that it’s particularly realistic. But that’s one of the things I love about cyberpunk: the starship Enterprise doesn’t ever have an untraceable bug that may or may not cause the control consoles to lock up when under severe display loads… but they should. Because it’s a good 15 years (!) since I first plugged an ethernet cable into something, and over twenty (!) since I first got my hands on a hard drive, but you still can’t plug and play them consistently.

What reason is there to believe that in 2030 we’re all going to be using seemlessly integrated, bugless portable devices that connect to an entirely orderly world data sharing network?

Guess the make

Today, driving on some remarkably ice-slick roads to work, I was on a three-lane arterial, minding my own business when – despite there being a ton of space behind me – someone in the right lane sped up next to me, cut me off, and braked. I went full antilock and everything for a second, no harm done except the month it probably took off my life, and kept on. After not a quarter of a mile, they went back into their lane and took a freeway onramp.

Here’s the thing: I could take a survey of people and I’d bet at least two-thirds could guess what kind of car they were driving, and they’d be right.

Isn’t that weird? I wonder if at some point each of these asshat driver thought “hey, that moron drives like me and I too have $65,000 to drop on a car — to the dealership!” and a demographic was born.