Posts Tagged 'Internet'

IoT App hell of the future

On the day after it was revealed that some models of the Google Home Mini speaker was revealed to be recording voices 24/7 due to a defect, Danny Palmer has a thoughtful piece on ZDNet about the toxic legacy of IoT devices.

Danny is spot-on about the social and technological impact of connected devices past their support date. While I’ve complained in the past about constantly updating apps, both adding function that slows the original device, and removing function that changes, often destroys the original value proposition of the device. It’s perhaps when the devices stop getting updates we have the most to fear from?

I have a Netgear NAS that is out of support, in fact, since I have an identical NAS that wakes-up Tuesdays at 2am and backs-up the primary NAS, I have two of them. While they are out of support, Netgear has been good at fixing urgent vulnerabilities. Of course, since I can’t see the source, I don’t know what vulnerabilities they have not fixed.

Kate and I went to see Blade Runner 2049 on the opening day at the local AMC cinema. It’s a bit of a thing of mine to sit through ALL, and I mean all of the end credits, As we left the theater, there it was, right at the very bottom of the screen, unseen from the seats, the Windows XP Start-button. I have no idea what projector they were using, but yes, many projectors did, and obviously still do run Windows XP.

Nobody wants to use…

Everyone wants to have everything. Bertil Muth has a great blog on software invisibility and use, where he asserts “Nobody wants to use software“.

Bertil makes a good case for AI driven software, that senses or learns why it exists, and just does what it should. Of course building such software is hard, very hard. It’s a good read though with some thought provoking points.

In the article when discussing Amazon he made a claim it was worth clarifying. It’s about the “infamous” 1-click patent. My comment is here.

“Then they [Amazon]pioneered 1-Click payment”
Actually they didn’t, they popularized a prior method, which after re-examination by the patent office was restricted to the use online, only in shopping carts.

The idea of a single click payment or financial transaction had been implemented many times before, however, prior to 1982 software patents were extremely hard to get for individual functions of so-called unique concepts, and were reserved for much broader, unique “inventions”.

In 1984, I was one of many working on Chemical Banks Pronto Home Banking System. For transfers between accounts within the bank, we initiated a 1-click on the UI for the PC Junior version of Pronto.

As far as I’m aware, nothing from Pronto was patented due to the high cost at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s software patents started to be filed for individual methods, by the mid-90’s software patents became commonplace, and their use both defensive and offensive, sadly became commonplace too.

Overall though, it’s an excellent post which resonates with many of the themes of simplicity and usability I’ve argued here and elsewhere over the years.

Short DNS and brand ownership

I cycle home Wednesday evenings and back in on Thursday morning, it’s a 22-mile drag from Round Rock to Down Town Austin, with some quiet bits, some busy bits and some dangerous bits. While spinning up North Lamar heading south  towards 183, I was thinking about the rise of web URL shortnening websites such as tinyurl.com, which was the first I was aware of that offered a free service to take a long url such as this blog entry https://cathcam.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/short-dns-and-brand-ownership/ and turn it into http://snipurl.com/shorterdns

The main reason these became really popular was becuase some systems, such as Lotus Notes used to produce bizzare, very, very long URL’s for pages in Notes databases. It was easier to remember tinyurl.com/ae5ny than it would be to remember the page name, try it… Now, people these days know these services for twitter.com where every character counts, but thats not how or why they started.

There are a bunch of these services, tinyurl.com, snurl.com, is.gd, bit.ly etc. I tend to use snurl as it allows you to save specific names, I’m sure other shortners do too. What I was thinking about last night was the ownership, rights etc. to shortened URLs.

When my son wanted some cards from http://moo.com to help him promote his DJ work, I created them for him, but his myspace URL didn’t easily fit and flow, and what if later he wanted to create a website, he’d have to get new cards.

Answer, use snurl. So Oli and his alter ego Kaewan are now http://snurl.com/kaewan – It currently points to his myspace profile, but I can change it whenever I want. 

So these services have become, in some way, analgous to Domain Registrars. Sure a short URL isn’t a domain, but effectively it’s the same as one, except you don’t own it, and you didn’t have to pay for it. For fun I created http://snurl.com/redmonk – It actually points to Redmonks home page. But it could easily point elsewhere. And there’s the rub. With a traditional Name regsitrar there is an established right of review and appeal if you believe that someone has registered a domain that impinges on your brand and trademarks.

Not long after I created this blog, original DNS http://ibmcorner.com _ I got a “cease and desist” call from IBM legal pointing out that this wasn’t allowed and I should stop using it and not re-register the domain when it expired. SO where does http://snurl.com/ibm point to? Well not IBM and is was nothing to do with me.

It’s all about customer service

A tale of sorry customer service, broken processes, and sadly, poorly thought out system design. No not a tale of dealing with IBM, but the joy of hosting websites with 1and1 Internet Ltd.

Back in the day, I used to give early Internet presentations, mostly about the opportunity the Internet and the web would bring, on a few slides I used to make fun of some of the early web sites, to draw attention to some of the business related, rather than technology related issues. One of those was a hat web site that John Patrick, IBM Alumni and one of the key IBM Internet revolution leaders, used. It had a notice saying to call to confirm your order between 9-5. With no indication of timezone. How much fun, fast forward 10-years or so, how the Internet and the web have changed things.

When I lived in the UK, I hosted a number of websites at 1and1. In the old days(2002?) they were fast, efficient, helpful, easy to use and cheap! Since I was only building website for community or neighborhood associations, a friends art and my triathlon club these were all essential elements in selecting a host. Fast forward 6-years or so and as far as I can tell everything has changed, including where I live, which is the crux of the matter.

After a couple of attempts at dealing with 1and1, one of the websites is locked out because the account is unpaid. It’s unpaid because my credit card company refused the charge, as the address 1and1 provide as part of the authorization process is incorrect. Their billing system won’t let you enter a non-UK address, even though it asks for a “zip” code rather than a British Postcode.

So, trying to use a non-UK credit card is a non-starter, since the address won’t match, including the post/zip code. I don’t have a UK credit card as, err, I don’t live there any more. Calling 1and1 caused much frustration as their first response was to just tell me to complete the web site as best I could(which of course was the reason I was on the phone already).

The only alternative is to set up a PayPal merchant authorization to allow 1and1 to bill against it. Helpfully, 1and1 have a web page to do that. So I do that, each time paypal completes but the return to 1and1 fails with a 500 Unexpected Server Error from the 1and1 server. Logging back onto the 1and1 account shows that nothing has changed, but each time the number of PayPal merchant authorizations goes up by one.

Call 1and1, supposedly a world class Internet host. Their accounts dept. is only open 9-5 UK time. Nothing can be done. So I decide to take a different tack, rather than try to get my hosting account re-activated from the Accounts dept., I figured I’d try to get their server fixed by calling tech support.

I get through to tech support, or rather the telephone answering service. After a brief authorization process, the person answering the phone comes back and says “You can call the accounts dept. or retry later today.” – I point out the obvious problem with calling the accounts dept. given I’m in Texas and they work UK hours(note that I didn’t say they work in the UK). The person answering the telephone says “then just try re-running the Account change again later”. I point out this is a formal, financial transaction that has already completed 3x today, and just randomly retrying it doesn’t instill confidence. Actually what I did was laugh and say “you lot are a bunch of cowboys!”.

Finally I decide now is the time to do what I should have done a long time ago, transfer the website to someone in the UK still involved with the organization. I download the 1and1 change of ownership form. Oh dear, another badly broken and defective process. The form is supplied as a PDF form. You are helpfully advised by 1and1 that they won’t accept any handwritten forms. So, I complete my details, the account details and print it. I then sign it. The problem is, the person to who’m I’m transferring the website has to complete her part of the form using a PDF reader, and will have to retype my details in her copy, and then print that, copy my signature onto the completed form and then either fax or mail in to 1and1. All I have to do is to fax, or mail my copy of the form to her. Second thoughts, I’ll just print it to a PDF. Best of luck Liz!

As they say “you are the customer, we provide the service”. Hopefully dealing with IBM isn’t like this.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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