The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

San Francisco

I'm sitting in the Hotel California lobby watching rain-soaked buses trundle down Geary Street. I'm in the lobby because the hotel's WiFi doesn't actually reach the fourth floor. This, and the unfortunate confluence of a room overlooking the street and a 23-year-old's birthday party Saturday night that spilled out of the lobby and down the block until the cops broke it up around 4 am, is my only complaint about the place. Old hotels have old windows, so it got a little noisy during the melée

The hotel is truly a gem. From the little perk at check-in—a frozen tequila shot—to the wine and cheese spread they put out every night, to the understated décor, to the lobby it shares with Millenium (a wonderful vegetarian restaurant with a tasty wine list), I love staying here. The bill adds to my pleasure: only about $100 a night, half of what hotels closer to the Moscone Center wanted. Since it's also only about 500 m from there—a 10-minute walk through Union Square—it was a no-brainer.

Of course, I'm in my third-favorite city on the planet (after Chicago and London), sitting in a hotel lobby. The one day that the conference sessions are truly uninteresting to me is the one day that it's pouring down with rain. It's supposed to let up a bit later, so I may have dinner at the Ferry Building or even, if the spirit (and Muni bus) moves me, Sausalito. And they put out the wine and cheese in an hour.

VSLive: Day 0

One would think that planning a conference for 1,500 or so software developers would involve planning for 1,500 or so laptop computers. This means, among other things, providing (a) power outlets and (b) decent WiFi access.

After searching for half an hour I found one lone power strip in the "Gold Passport Lounge," and the only reason the other 1,499 people here aren't using it is that they're patiently sitting upstairs listening to an ill-prepared presenter from Microsoft who will probably get a "BillG" email tonight asking him why he was so unprepared.

As for WiFi access, despite the relatively few people down here in the lounge, I'm still getting only about 77 kbps of throughput. Yes, I'm at a developer conference getting modem-speed Internet access.

I'll have more later on today's presentations, the final three of which I may skip. The pre-conference workshop I attended yesterday I found invaluable; I'm looking forward to Deborah Kurata's panel discussions later on this week.

Things forgotten

I realized last night that I forgot to bring some important things to VSLive:

  1. Business cards. I have about six with me. I have about 200 in my office. Hello, Kinko's?
  2. A USB cable, required to connect my phone and my camera to my laptop. There's a CompUSA about 100 m from here, fortunately.

It's always something.

Also, a propos of nothing, I got the best pitch from a panhandler today that I've ever heard: "Buddy, can you spare $1,000? I have a payment plan..."

Ouch: $38 bn fund data wiped out

This has to hurt:

While doing routine maintenance work, [a] technician accidentally deleted applicant information for an oil-funded account — one of Alaska residents’ biggest perks — and mistakenly reformatted the backup drive, as well.
There was still hope, until the department discovered its third line of defense, backup tapes, were unreadable.

The article said "no one was blamed." Right.

MSNBC spell-check sadness

MSNBC reported overnight that U.S. troops have entered Sadr City in Baghdad. That's newsworthy in itself, but they added an extra level of irony by running their nightly headline-roundup email through an over-zealous spell check:

U.S. troops enter Sadder City
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers entered the Shiite stronghold of Sadder City on Sunday in the first major push into the area since an American-led security sweep began last month around Baghdad.


The Economist on Windows Vista

Good, detailed summary of the economics and business aspects of Microsoft's latest operating system:

For years Microsoft's Windows logo often appeared against a blue sky with cottony clouds. But the cloud has become one of the company's biggest threats. The operating system matters less when programs can be provided online. Moreover, online software can be delivered to customers more cheaply, there is immediate feedback from users and applications can continually be improved. Those are big advantages over software sold in a box, one version at a time.
In the past Microsoft tied its operating system and applications together by “commingling” the code (and ran afoul of antitrust authorities for doing so). The rise of online applications threatens the primacy of Windows because the network becomes the platform for the software. It does not mean PC operating systems are unnecessary, just that it is increasingly the cloud, and not the PC, that is the launch pad for computing.

Wal-Mart and the abuses of software

Wal-Mart will soon start scheduling employees based on predicted customer loads, requiring the employees to be more "flexible:"

The move promises more productivity and consumer satisfaction, but could demand more flexibility and availability from workers in place of reliable shifts and predictable pay checks, the Journal reported.
Wal-Mart started using the system for some workers, including cashiers and accounting-office personnel, last year, the paper also reported.

This is an example of software developers forgetting their work sometimes has human consequences. The idea of micro-managing employees through software didn't occur to Wal-Mart just recently; in fact, I worked on a system that would have scheduled call-center employees' potty breaks down to 6-second increments almost 10 years ago. I quit, because I thought the software, however profitable, was immoral.

Perhaps I have an extreme view, but really, I think a company has to believe its employees are no more than cattle to treat them like this. Absolutely companies need software to predict customer loads and marketing approaches, and I'm happy to assist. Scheduling employees to this level of precision just goes too far.

The thing is, the people writing the software, like the people paying for it, would never tolerate that kind of control over their own lives. Tell the CEO of a company that he has to take a potty break between 10:15:06 and 10:15:42 and he might clock you (no pun intended). Make his salary dependent on that kind of intrusion and she'll simply go to another company.

The people affected by this kind of scheduling don't have as many options; that's why they work for Wal-Mart. Once Wal-Mart has crushed all the other businesses in the area, the only thing between the employees and indentured servitude might be the state's anemic minimum-wage laws.

What Wal-Mart is doing is legal, but only possible because twenty years of Republican legislatures and right-wing propaganda have stripped workers of the power they accumulated in the 20th Century. It's the early industrial revolution again, with working people getting shafted in new, high-tech ways.

The huddled masses yearning to breathe free live here now.

Software fall down, go boom

I am not happy today.

My company's Exchange server, which handles all of our email, crashed in a maddening fashion. Apparently the server's security database got damaged when the server rebooted after a critical update. The only way to fix it is to rebuild the server. This requires building another server first, so that our Websites don't go down in the interim. It's going to take us probably three days to fix the problem, partially because we've got client work to deliver before we can really care about the email outage.

In related news, I'm reading a new book:

Elated customer service

Last week, my puppy Parker chewed through a laptop power cord. The fortunate part of this was that he munched on the DC lead, causing the laptop to shut down immediately when it detected the short. Had he gotten through the AC lead it might have been a lot worse.

In due course I ordered a new adapter from Dell. In my haste I ordered the wrong adapter, which I didn't realize until I opened the package. So I got in touch with Dell by email to request an RMA and shipping instructions.

Here's the great customer service part. Even though it was my fault that I got the wrong adapter, they're sending me a pre-paid UPS shipping label and eating the shipping costs. When I wrote back to customer service to say, no, really, my fault, I'm happy to pay for the shipping, I got this reply:

Dear Mr. Braverman:
Thank you for your reply.
I understand that you have placed the order for the wrong item erroneously however, please be informed that the pick is already scheduled with ups carrier and the tracking number is also generated.
I request you to wait until the carrier comes and picks up the package. I am elated to serve an esteemed customer like you and customer satisfaction is our main priority and I assure you it is our hope that you have a positive experience with our company in future also.
Mr. Braverman, I hope this takes care of your concern, please feel free to contact me for any additional support.
Thank you for choosing Dell.
Customer Care Specialist
ABU Customer eCare
Dell Inc.

I am so happy to have such an elated customer-service rep. That just doesn't happen every day. It does, however, show why I buy from Dell.