In 1938, Ed Sullivan wrote in one of his newspaper columns that “youth is wasted on the very young“. He was paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, who once said: “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world — and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”

What does this have to do with management? Several years ago, I got quite angry when an older, more experienced friend, declared to me during the course of a conversation that “people under forty are unfit for management positions“. He was over 50, wealthy and quite accomplished. I was in my early 30s and had already become a director at age 25. I had done a great job in that position — not that I was saying it; people in executive management had said it of me, repeatedly, during my appointment. So I thought my anger was justified. I asked him to clarify and he said something to the effect of, “there are certain things you can only understand, directly related to the management of people and organizations, after you pass a certain age“. Well, that didn’t make sense to me, but I chose to let it go. There was no point arguing with him and possibly ruining the friendship. 

I am now over 40 myself. And the funny thing is that as I approached and passed this age, I began to have certain realizations that collectively, allowed me to finally agree with my friend’s statement. He’d had the benefit of experience on his side when he said it. And the cumulative benefits of dealing with many more people, at all levels of employment and management, during his long career (which still continues by the way, because the fellow has an insatiable work appetite.)

Now I also see the wisdom of Shaw’s statement (which is also attributed to Oscar Wilde in some instances). Beyond the surface applicability of mere skin beauty that tends to be there in abundance when one is younger, I see a deeper meaning that has to do with the experience of age, which would certainly be very handy to the young. 

What I also see nowadays, paradoxically, is a lot of young people promoted to management positions. To further clarify, I see a lot of (mostly) inept young people promoted to management positions, making one big mistake after another, because they don’t have the life experience and the work ethic of an older person who has dedicated themselves to their career. Perhaps this is to be expected when the current mantra is that “you really should change your job every couple of years”, which is the sort of idiotic thing young HR managers say to sound smart, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that promotes superficiality in one’s work ethic and the sort of bullshit CVs you see these days. 

I’m not saying I didn’t make mistakes in my job as a director at 25. I can think of several right now, off the top of my head, some of which still embarrass me. But I did a good job, as good a job as I could do. I gave it my all, earnestly. It turns out that in this modern world of ours, where youth is prized more than experience, that my performance as a young person in management was an exception, because most young people I see in management are a disappointment to say the least. They’re no good, and they’re not even trying. They’re not giving it their all. They’re bullshitting their way through their jobs and their lackluster, inadequate performances are accepted as-is, because “you can’t get better people nowadays, there’s a skilled labor shortage”. 

Really? There is one? In an ever-growing world, with 7.2 billion people (at the moment), there’s an HR shortage? What a shame… I wonder how much worse this shortage will be when we’ll be at 8 billion… And how come we didn’t have a shortage of people during the Great Depression, when there were only 2 billion people in the world? You know, back when (mostly) experienced people were promoted to management positions? 

I think we are somehow confusing youthful enthusiasm with leadership potential; energy with stamina; bright faces with optimism; intelligence with wisdom; knowledge with experience; a tailored suit and good cosmetics with a good work ethic. There’s a lot of confusion going on. I suppose it’s to be expected when so many changes are taking place in the world. Perhaps in this day and age it’s easy to look at the worn, exhausted faces of older employees and believe they can’t carry the load of a department or division or company, but it’s not about the cosmetics; it’s about the experience, the ability to look at the big picture and the small details. These are things that come with age, with dedication to one’s career and yes, with wrinkles and white hair. 

If you’re stumbling onto this post randomly and you don’t know my website, you’re probably waiting for the pitch. Well, there isn’t one. I’m not selling my services. I’m busy enough with my own work. Thanks for reading this and carry on. 

Thoughts

Management: wasted on the youth

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Thoughts

Unscrupulous customer care at Apple

This is one of those posts I don’t enjoy writing but this must be said.

I have a mid-2011 27″ iMac (with AppleCare). It has now broken down three times for the very same problem (its video card goes bad). Other things on it also broke down, like the SuperDrive.

Bottom line: Apple has refused to replace it, although I’ve asked them twice. I think they’re just trying to kick the ball down the road until AppleCare expires. This isn’t the first time, they did it to me with another iMac.

Section 3.1 in the AppleCare agreement says the following:

“Apple will either (a) repair the defect at no charge, using new or refurbished parts that are equivalent to new in performance and reliability, or (b) exchange the Covered Equipment with a replacement product that is new or equivalent to new in performance and reliability, and is at least functionally equivalent to the original product.”

Notice they’re giving no clear rules about when they’ll replace it, although when you speak with Apple technicians, they’ll say three times is when it happens. It’s been three times for me and still no replacement. Not specifying when a defective computer must get replaced in the AppleCare Terms of Service gives Apple lots of backpedaling room, so they can delay that expense as much as possible, perhaps until AppleCare expires.

Here’s what makes this unscrupulous and unacceptable from my point of view:

  • They did this to me before with my iMac G5 (Rev. B). Those of you who owned that computer know it had a lot of issues; most often, its motherboard went bad and needed to be replaced. The board on that iMac broke down three times during its AppleCare coverage. It was in the shop for other issues as well: the Super Drive, the Bluetooth module, the WiFi module, fan speed issues (fans would go on high and stay there permanently). The motherboard broke down for the third time a month or two before AppleCare expired. They fixed it but refused to replace it. Then it broke down a few months after AppleCare expired and by then, it wasn’t their problem anymore.
  • It’s unconscionable for an Apple computer to break down in such a major way, repeatedly, after a little more than a year of use, which is when the problems with my current iMac started. Imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t bought AppleCare for this thing. It’d be sitting in my attic alongside my iMac G5. Essentially, I would have paid about $2,000 (after taking out tax and cost of AppleCare) for a computer that would have lasted a little more than a year. How shoddy was Apple’s quality control when this computer was made?
  • When the video card in my iMac broke down a second time, I was promised by a technician from Apple’s Advanced Support department, that when it happened for a third time, I’d get a replacement. Now they tell me his promise wasn’t documented in the case history so it doesn’t count. Perhaps the technician lied to me at the time to delay the replacement.
  • I’ve been an Apple customer since 1994, when I bought a PowerBook 150, my first Apple notebook. I’ve bought plenty of Apple stuff since then. Is this the way they’re treating long-time customers?
  • Apple has been putting me through all this unpleasantry right around my birthday. They have my birthday on file. No comment here.
  • Apple is one of the richest, if not the richest, companies on earth. They ought to be treating their customers right, because it’s because of them that they are where they are. It’s the right thing to do and they have the wherewithal to do it.

I wrote to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. No response from him, but a few days later, I was contacted by one of the people at Apple Executive Relations EMEIA in Cork, Ireland. I thought my situation would then be handled properly. No, just insincere apologies and a refusal to replace it. I wrote to Tim Cook again. No response, instead more of the same from Apple Executive Relations in Ireland. That confirmed it for me: you know what they say, a fish starts to stink from the head down. It looks to me like he’s instructed his people to do everything possible not to replace computers, even when they should be replaced. What other conclusion can I draw but this?

I was asked to accept the repair one last time and was promised that my iMac would get replaced for sure the next time its video card broke down. I asked the woman with whom I spoke to put that promise in writing. She refused point blank. I assume this was yet another lie from Apple to delay the replacement. What else can I assume when a person won’t put their promise in writing?

What complicates matters somewhat in my situation is that I bought the iMac in the States but have since transported it to Romania, which is where we spend some of our time. I can take it into an authorized Apple Repair shop and AppleCare covers its repairs there, so technically, replacements should also work. Not that this is a problem. I’ve told Apple they can ship the replacement to my US address. But I think what’s happening here is that they’re using geography and customs complications as an excuse not to replace my computer.

What should have happened is this: Apple should have replaced my current iMac, no questions asked. And out of embarrassment because of the way they handled the repairs on my iMac G5, they should have offered to at least repair it, if not replace it with its modern-day iMac counterpart.

The AppleCare agreement also says this:

For consumers in jurisdictions who have the benefit of consumer protection laws or regulations, the benefits conferred by the above mentioned plans are in addition to all rights and remedies provided under such laws and regulations. Nothing in this plan shall prejudice consumer rights granted by applicable mandatory laws, including consumer’s right to the remedies under statutory warranty law and to seek damages in the event of total or partial non-performance or inadequate performance by Apple of any of its contractual obligations.

Apple is currently in breach of EU/Romanian consumer protection laws on at least two counts, by my understanding:

  1. European/Romanian consumer protection laws mandate that repairs be made with new parts, not refurbished parts. Apple technicians, including the people from Apple Executive Relations, have admitted that they’ve been using refurbished parts to fix my iMac until now, and only this last time have they used a new replacement video card. The woman from Apple Executive Relations Ireland said that to me during one of our phone conversations… So they’ve been in breach on this point from the get-go.
  2. European/Romanian consumer protection laws further mandate that the customer must be offered the choice of a replacement or repair. The choice rests with them, not with Apple. I asked for a replacement, didn’t get it, they’re in breach of the law.

Since I bought my iMac in Florida, I also put in a request for assistance with the Office of the Attorney General there and I’ll see what they say. If any of you reading this are knowledgeable on the matter, please chime in.

I’d like to quote from a recent ad campaign from Apple. Keep in mind the things you’ve just read above as you see what they’re saying:

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.
How it makes someone feel.

Will it make life better?

We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.

How am I supposed to feel after the way you’ve just treated me, Apple? Would you say that you’ve made my life better?

Couple this self-congratulatory ad piece with Tim Cook’s stating during the WWDC Keynote that Apple is #1 in Customer Satisfaction and that it “means so much” to him. If this stuff means so much to Apple, they wouldn’t be doing this to me (and who knows to how many others).

There will probably be some comments about switching to another platform. This isn’t about that. I love my Apple hardware and software. It’s just that quality control seems to be going down the drain and Apple execs seem to be in risk management mode. Apple computers have traditionally been about two things: design and quality. That’s what I’ve been paying for when I bought Apple products. Now it seems they’re about one thing: design.

I want to make it clear that I think what’s now happened to me twice is not the norm of my experience with Apple; that’s why I still buy Apple products. For example:

  • The Powerbook 150 I bought in 1994 lasted about 6 years before the hard drive went bad; if I fix it, I might even be able to boot it up and use it today,
  • The 15″ MacBook Pro I bought in 2008 is still going strong; along the way, I replaced the hard drive and the two cooling fans, but I can still edit HD video on it,
  • The iMac I advised my parents to buy in 2008 is also still going strong. It had a couple of minor issues but they occurred while it was still covered by AppleCare,
  • The 13″ MacBook we bought in 2008 still works; although the video conks out every once in a while, a reboot sets it straight, and
  • My experience with Apple software has been positive from the get-go; I’ve always found it to be stable, a joy to use and easy to live with.

I suppose whatever happened to my two iMacs was inevitable as their volume increased (making more of everything means there will be also be more manufacturing defects) but the way they’re choosing to handle the situation reminds me of PC companies, and I don’t think Apple shareholders and customers want to see it go down that road.

Still, if that’s what’s in the cards for Apple and their stuff is going to become less and less reliable, then I guess they’ll have to convince their customers to buy their stuff for looks alone and for the real work, people might have to build Hackintoshes, where they’ll get to use the Apple software they love and get the reliability, serviceability and upgradeability that we should be getting directly from Apple. With a Hackintosh, we won’t need to pay extra for AppleCare, which now appears to be a band-aid that tides you over with refurbished parts for the three contractual years only to have your computer break down soon afterward. Planned obsolescence and a price premium? Is that the Apple way?

My take-home message for Tim Cook and Apple: this isn’t the way you should be doing business.

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Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro
Reviews

What happened to Sigma and FujiFilm DSLRs?

A few years ago, there were two companies which had some interesting opportunities ahead of them: Sigma with its revolutionary Foveon sensor and lens-making know-how, and FujiFilm with its remarkable Super CCD SR sensor and long-term experience with professional lens-making.

They didn’t stay on course. Sigma’s continued development of the sensor has been much too slow to keep up with the market, and FujiFilm seems to have dropped out of the DSLR game altogether.

Back in January of 2007, I wrote about the Sigma SD14, a camera I thought was revolutionary because of its capability of capturing every color (Red, Green or Blue) at every pixel, due to its layered Foveon sensor. This was something no other camera on the market had.

The megapixel game isn’t everything and I was willing to believe so in the case of the SD14. Its advertised resolution was 14 megapixels, but its true resolution was about 5 megapixels. That’s because each layer of its Foveon sensor (there are three layers, one for each color) only captured 5 megapixels. When you looked up the photos resolution in the EXIF data, it came out to 5 megapixels. When you zoomed in at 1:1, the photo still only covered a 5 megapixel area. People pointed out that you could safely increase the resolution of processed images to 12 or 14 megapixels and they would still have the quality you need but in my book, 5 megapixels is still 5 megapixels even if you can multiply it by 3 and get 14 megapixels.

Regardless of my disappointment with the camera’s real resolution, I still thought Sigma had a gorgeous sensor on their hands. The ability to capture color accurately at every pixel is something other sensor manufacturers only dream about. Their sensors don’t do that. Instead, they spread Red, Green and Blue pixels around the entire sensor area using a mathematical algorithm called Bayer interpolation, then they do some very serious calculations to de-mosaic the resulting image, make out the right colors, and give you as accurate a color reproduction as they can give you. The Foveon sensor didn’t have to do all that complicated stuff. Supposedly, it already knew which color belonged at each pixel, because it captured said color from the get-go. Wasn’t that an amazing capability?

Look what’s happened in the 3½ years since I wrote about the SD14… Sigma launched the SD15 only a few months ago, and guess what its resolution is? It’s the same 14 megapixels if you play their multiplication game or 5 megapixels if you go by the book. Sure, they upped the ISO sensitivity to 1600 from 800 (3200 in extended mode), which is okay, but the AF is slow and the max shutter speed is still only 1/4000 sec when other cameras in the same category offer 1/8000 sec. And there’s no video, HD or otherwise.

In case you aren’t already thinking it, let me sum it up for you: Sigma’s product offerings have fallen behind the times by at least a couple of years, if not more. Some might say they came out with the DP1 and the DP2, and those cameras are interesting in their niches of the market, but they still offer subpar performance in low light and they still don’t record video (unless you count tiny 320×240 video as real video).

I’d like to ask the folks at Sigma this question: What have you been doing these last few years? You had an amazing sensor in your hands, but you didn’t develop it while others took their Bayer pattern sensors to incredible heights of performance. Your Foveon sensor ought to develop 14 or 16 real megapixels now, on each of its three layers. It should go to 6400 ISO or 12800 ISO natively. Then it’d be competitive in today’s marketplace. Instead, it’s the same sensor I saw more than three years ago, installed in a new camera body.

 

In early 2007, FujiFilm also launched a new DSLR. That camera was pretty amazing in its own right, like the SD14, except the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro actually met the demands of the marketplace of its time.

It had a wonderful resolution of 12.34 megapixels, an 11-point, 7-area AF system, a 14-bit A/D converter (most DSLRs at the time were still at 12-bit), ISO sensitivity that went all the way up to 3200 ISO natively, and 1/8000 sec max shutter speed.

Most of all, it had a revolutionary sensor developed in-house by FujiFilm. Here’s what they said about it in the S5 Pro press release:

“Fujifilm’s Super CCD SR II will be updated to the new Super CCD SR Pro. Using a unique layout of twelve million paired photodiodes (6.17 million larger ‘S’ photodiodes for main image information, combined with 6.17 million smaller ‘R’ photodiodes for bright area information), the S5 Pro will deliver improvements in noise, dynamic range, colour and tonality. Further improving the capability of the sensor, a new, improved low-pass filter will ensure that moiré and noise are kept to an absolute minimum. Fujifilm believes improvements in these key areas will be of more true value to professional photographers – the challenge is quality of information, not quantity of information.”

In layman’s terms, it had both large and small photodiodes, clustered together in a beautiful geometric pattern, to capture as much image information as a single-layer sensor could capture, and a powerful engine to analyze that information and turn it into beautiful photographs.

People who used the S5 Pro loved its image quality. And even now (in 2010) when you look on Flickr you see that people are using it and the quality of the images they post very good.

So what has happened since 2007? It looks like FujiFilm dropped out of the DSLR market altogether. The S5 Pro is listed as discontinued on their website and there’s no other model to take its place. None. Instead, FujiFilm is focusing on regular digicams, and seems to be leaning toward cameras that exploit the higher end of the focal range (15-30x zooms).That’s a losing battle as far as I’m concerned. High zooms suffer by default of aberration and other artifacts as one gets above 15x. And in order to get the proper magnification in a smaller camera body, the sensor needs to be made really small — so small that you run into significant noise issues and photo quality suffers even at low ISO and at close range.

What FujiFilm did makes no sense to me. They have incredible know-how in the production of professional, high quality lenses. Their Fujinon lenses are used in satellites, in high end telescopes and in broadcast-quality TV cameras and camcorders. They have the know-how to design really nice camera bodies. I used the FinePix S9100 and I loved its body design. And you only need to look at their current digicam models (S200EXR or HS10), at they way the controls are positioned and the grips are designed, to realize that Fuji knows a lot about camera body design.

When it came to digicam design, they also had what was a big plus over other camera manufacturers. Most of their zoom cameras had manual zoom and focus, and the ability to use regular AA batteries. A manual zoom is just nicer than a servo zoom. It’s more responsive, more controllable, doesn’t eat into the battery life, and it’s more reliable over time. And isn’t it nice when you’re in the field and your camera runs out of juice, that you can just pop in a couple of AA batteries and keep on going? That’s such a practical design aspect, but people tend to forget it when they focus purely on battery life.

Now you look at their line-up, and only two cameras still offer manual zoom: the S200EXR which B&H Photo says was discontinued by the manufacturer even though it’s still listed as an active camera on the FujiFilm website, and the HS10. The rest all offer electronic zooms, which I don’t like.

Keep in mind all the good things I told you about FujiFilm’s know-how, and let’s look at the S5 Pro again. The sensor and the engine was clearly Fuji’s. But the body design was similar to Nikon’s body design. The camera was made to work with Nikon’s lenses. It’s as if FujiFilm didn’t want to own the very camera it made, the camera which contained its revolutionary sensor. This makes no sense to me. They knew how to make fantastic lenses, but didn’t make them for their own flagship DSLR. They knew how to make fantastic camera bodies, but didn’t make one for their own flagship DSLR. Does that make sense to you?

I wrote to FujiFilm PR in January and March of 2007, asking for a review unit. They were willing to send me one, but they didn’t have any lenses to loan me. I needed to supply my own Nikon lenses for the camera, and since all my equipment was Canon, that was no good. I gave up on reviewing the camera. And I bet you I wasn’t the only reviewer who would have liked to write about the S5 Pro but was turned off by the lens issue.

I’m really sorry to see that today, FujiFilm isn’t even developing their revolutionary sensor any more. Sure, they’re using a variant of it in some of their point-and-shoots, but that’s like saying your lawnmower has a Lamborghini engine inside. You can’t get the performance of a true Lamborghini engine from a tiny, cramped 2-cycle engine made to cut grass, and in much the same way, one can’t expect to get the true performance of the large sensor found in the S5 Pro from a tiny 1/1.6-inch sensor.

Don’t tell me CCD sensors are inferior to CMOS. They each have their pluses and minuses. CMOS sensors were thought to be inferior to CCD just a few years ago, but there was a real R&D push to make them better, and look at them today — they’re incredibly good. Don’t tell me you can’t get great video from CCD sensors. Professional camcorders use either CMOS or CCD sensors to record full HD video, depending on the model and brand, so I know that’s possible.

I know that with continued R&D effort, both the Super CCD SR Pro sensor and the Foveon X3 sensor could have been improved greatly, making them competitive and even dominant by today’s standards.

I feel bad for FujiFilm and for Sigma. Perhaps FujiFilm feels the market is already too competitive and has enough business from its other sectors. And it could be that Sigma is focused on its lenses and is satisfied with only a niche of the DSLR market. I don’t know, but I would like to find out more. If anyone has any additional information, please chime in.

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Thoughts

Undercover Boss was my idea too

A couple of weeks ago, my jaw dropped as I browsed Twitter. SNL had put together a skit lampooning a new show on CBS called “Undercover Boss“. I didn’t even know the show existed, much less that it had been on SNL.

Since the show’s launch after the Superbowl, it turned into a nationwide hit, because it struck a vein with viewers. Several powerful themes are at work in each show, themes which I knew would make the show a success when I thought of it, such as the contrast between the rich and the poor, the proverbial desire to “be in someone else’s shoes”, and the will to find out what’s wrong and right it.

Don’t get me wrong. No one stole my idea. There was no foul play involved. I was simply late to the table. When I thought of the idea, the show was likely already in development. By the time I was looking for a production company to help me develop the show, “Undercover Boss” was already in production. Two different people had the same idea — well, almost the same idea, because my concept was slightly different, as I’ll explain in a bit — but one of them had it sooner than me.

My concept of the show differs somewhat from what is currently in production. I thought of it from a different angle perhaps. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the story of Scheherazade, the mythical Persian queen and the teller of “One Thousand and One Nights“, but I read those stories avidly as a child, and I still remember them.

A recurring theme in some of her stories is that of the caliph (ruler or king if you will) disguising himself in different ways and going out into his country by himself, or accompanied by a trusted servant, to see first hand how things are going, and what he must do to make things better. There’s a certain element of thrill in taking on a different position in life, particularly for someone who’s been accustomed to the royal treatment all his days, and clearly, there’s a benefit to his subjects if he gets to know how they live and is motivated to change things for the better.

Nowadays, there are very few kings left, and they haven’t got much power, unfortunately. Presidents don’t need to disguise themselves to find out how things are, because in those countries where there is enough freedom of speech, everyone is eager to tell them just what needs to be fixed. Even in countries where there is little freedom of speech, like Iran, people will risk life and limb in order to voice their beliefs.

However, there are clearly places where people are afraid to speak their minds for fear of retribution, and that is in corporate environments. In small companies, the owner or director generally knows what’s what, but in large companies, particularly multi-national ones, there are so many layers between the workers and the top guy or gal that many of them only know their company through the figures that filter up through the ranks. If someone has an idea about how to do things better, or is unhappy with something, they’ll likely keep their mouth shut for fear of losing their job, particularly in these tough economic times. So how is the CEO to know what’s really going on, and how his or her policies affect each John or Mary that works at their companies? They can’t, unless they, too, do what the caliphs used to do.

So far, so good, right? Well, I didn’t want to have camera crews follow the “new guy” around all day long. That’s  pretty much a dead giveaway and doesn’t encourage true reactions. I wanted to film with concealed cameras and microphones. In situations where that wasn’t possible, we could have planted cameras in concealed locations, or used “co-workers” who were really production crew members, carrying the concealed cameras themselves. I also wanted to film an entire season without airing a single episode, so word wouldn’t get out about what we were doing. Then after filming a whole season, and doing as many of these shows as possible, we would have started to air the episodes. Now that would have been truly amazing.

But I’m not the one with show running on CBS, am I? I’m just the guy with the me-too idea — this time, anyway — so the important thing is the folks who had the idea first got it made, and it’s successful, and that’s good, not just for them, but also for the American worker, because I believe in the power of this show to encourage positive changes in America’s corporate environment, changes that can make things better for the average worker.

I have a few more good ideas like this one. If you’re a serious production company with the resources to help me develop and pitch a hit show to a TV channel, please get in touch with me. I’d like to move fast on my other ideas, so I won’t be left in the dust again. I look forward to talking with you!

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Reviews

BMW 325i build quality problems

I put together a short video review of the build quality problems in the 2006 BMW 235i sport sedan. These are things like:

  • Rotting or loose rubber seams on the outside
  • Easily scratched/worn door handles
  • Faulty cup holders
  • Flimsy, easily melted cigarette lighters
  • Soft plastic finishes that disintegrate and scuff right away
  • Broken window shades
  • Plasticky, snap-together feel of ceiling consoles
  • Fading radio display
  • Various cockpit noises

Watch the video on YouTube | blip.tv

As one of the commenters in a BMW forum puts it, it comes down to “BMW’s choice of low quality materials in high wear areas“. That is a wonderfully succinct explanation of the problem.

These things keep breaking down, they get replaced, then they break down again. If BMW would bother to add up all the service costs they incur for repeat repairs to the cockpit, they would realize it would be cheaper to make them better in the first place. This is my plea to them: start building better cars — a bad cockpit ruins the driver experience and takes away from the wonderful handling and performance of a BMW.

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Events

Site migration complete

Last night, I completed what could be called an unusual site migration. I went from a self-hosted WP install to WP.com. That’s right, my full site is now hosted at my WP.com account. People usually migrate from WP.com to WP self-installs after their site gets big and they decide they want more options, like the ability to run all sorts of ads and fiddle with the code, etc. With me, it was the opposite. I wanted to stop worrying about my web server and focus on publishing my content.

As I mentioned here, things got worse after upgrading to WP 2.9. My server kept going down for no reason, and often, too. It’d go down several times a day. I’d have to keep watching it all the time, and that got old real quick, especially when I traveled and had no internet access. I’d often get home to find out my site was down and had been down for several hours, if not more. Since I hadn’t mucked about with my server to make things worse, and had already fiddled with optimized my Apache, MySQL and PHP settings to last me a lifetime, I decided to have WP have a go at hosting my site and let them worry about keeping it going. Judging by the initial results, it looks like they had a bit of trouble with it too (see this, this, this and this), but at least it’s not my headache anymore.

During the migration process, I learned three things:

  1. I hadn’t been getting full XML transcripts of my site in the past, when I used WP’s WXR Export feature. See this for more, and make sure you’re not in the same boat.
  2. The WordPress Import wizard still needs a TON of work to iron out the bugs. You’ll see why below.
  3. WordPress.com Support can be terribly unresponsive. I waited over 20 days for a resolution to my ticket about the site migration, and in the end, I had to work things out myself. When I told them as much — and I tried to be as nice as possible about it — it would have been nice to get a small apology, but I didn’t even get that.

Granted, my site migration does not represent the usual WP user’s migration path, nor was it a typical migration. By current count, I have 1,552 posts, 4,129 comments and 3,090 media files. That’s quite a bit more than your average blogger, and I think that’s what served to point out the bugs in the Import Wizard.

What exactly were the bugs?

  • Failure to import all posts, comments and media files
  • Post and media file duplication
  • Failure to properly change all paths to media files (either image source or image link or both)

Here’s where I need to acknowledge the help I did receive from WP Support. My WXR file was over 20 MB. The WXR upload limit at WP.com is 15 MB. WP Support modified the upload limit to allow me to go through with the WXR upload, and they also adjusted the timeout limit, because the migrations timed out prematurely as well. So I thank them for that help.

The big problem turned out to be the third issue mentioned above. The Import Wizard didn’t change all the paths to the image files. It turned out to be a very hit-or-miss operation. Given the scale of the operation, I might even call it a disaster. Some posts were fine, some weren’t at all, and some were a hodge-podge of images that were okay, and images whose paths were wrong, or whose links were wrong, or both. You might imagine that checking and fixing the image paths for over 3,000 media files can turn out to be a very big job, and it was.

I was also under pressure to finish the job quickly, since the site was live. Imagine how you’d feel as a reader if you visited a website and none of the image files showed up — you’d probably think the site was dead or dying, right? Well, I certainly didn’t want people to think my site was on its last legs, so I had to act quickly.

Thankfully, only (sic) about 40% of my posts had their image files messed up. The rest were fine, but then I also had plenty of posts with no images. If all my posts contained images, I might have had 90% of my posts to worry about… Still, I had to check every post, and as you might know if you’re a regular reader, I post lots of images per post, and where a post was messed up, brother, I had to do a bunch of work to get it fixed up. Just as an example, some posts have anywhere from 20-50 images…

Here are a couple of screenshots that show you how things stood. Here, the image link was okay, which meant I didn’t have to modify it. This was a happy scenario. However, the image path was still wrong, as you’ll see below.

The image source, or path, didn’t change during the import process, which meant I had to change it manually, or browse for the image by title or file name in the media library and re-insert it.

The image size was also lost, which meant that if I changed the image path manually, I had to also enter the width of the image.

What made things more cumbersome was the lack of an image insert button in the Gallery dialog box. That’s one of the differences between a WP self-install and WP.com. This meant that even though I’d uploaded a certain image for a certain post, and it showed on the Gallery tab, I couldn’t go there and re-insert it into a post. I had to go to the Media Library tab, search for it, then re-insert it, which takes precious time and clicks, particularly when you’re dealing with thousands of images.

In spite of all the extra work which I had to do, and which took about 1½ weeks of my time, I got done last night. My site is now fully functional, thank goodness!

As for my experience with WP Support, there are no hard feelings. I like the WordPress platform and it’s done good by me so far. I wasn’t a VIP customer and they didn’t have any financial incentives (besides the small fees for a space upgrade and a domain mapping) to get their hands dirty with my code. They offered minimal support, and to a certain degree, that’s to be expected when most of your customers are non-paying customers, as is the case with the large majority of WP bloggers.

Still, I would encourage them to consider doing the following:

  • Improve their Import Wizard so that it will not terminate until it checks and doublechecks to make sure it has imported all the posts, comments, pages, tags, categories and media files, and all the paths to the media files are correct. They’ve still got one of my WXR files, and they can use it as case study to help improve the accuracy of the import wizard.
  • Include an image insert button on the Gallery tab of the “Add an Image” dialog box, like the one that already exists on WP self-installs.
  • Offer the functionality of the Search & Replace WP plugin for WP.com blogs. This would have been a huge help to me as I fixed the image paths. I could have run a couple of queries on my blog’s content to change most of the image paths, and it would have halved my workload.

If you were one of the folks who kept seeing no images during this transition period, sorry for the inconvenience, and I’m glad you’re still around. If you’re still seeing no images, definitely get in touch with me, I might have missed a few — after all, I’m only human.

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Thoughts

A twist on telecommuting

Derek Thompson from The Atlantic picked up a post I wrote a couple of years ago, entitled “13 arguments for telecommuting“, in an article which proposes a twist on the idea: a 4-day workweek. The State of Utah switched to just such a program a year ago for its government employees, and the results are in: everyone loves it.

I wouldn’t have minded a 4-day workweek back when I did the 9 to 5 thing, but thankfully my boss let me shift my working hours. I’d come in at 11 am and leave at 7 pm, which meant I got to avoid most of the DC rush hour traffic.

Of course, it’s even better than all of this when you can telecommute entirely. That would truly save money for both employers and employees.

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Reviews

United Airlines breaks guitars

In addition to stranding people in foreign cities, lying to them, and making them pay for their own stay, thereby breaking the rules of the Star Alliance, United Airlines now also breaks guitars.

In March 2008, musician Dave Carroll flew with United Airlines through Chicago, where a fellow passenger witnessed his $3,500 Taylor guitar being thrown into the hold of the aircraft by one of the UA employees. Upon arrival, Dave filed a complain with UA, asking them to reimburse him for the repair to his guitar, which came to the hefty sum of $1,500. For over a year, letters and emails and phone calls went back and forth, until UA, true to their lying form, denied responsibility for the damage and refused to pay for the repair. In return, Dave promised to release three music videos, to shame them publicly. The first, entitled “United Breaks Guitars“, is already out.

Kudos to Dave Carroll! I hope tons of people see this video and decide to do their flying with other, more customer-friendly airlines. UA deserves all that’s coming to it for the way it treats people.

[via Gulliver]

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Thoughts

It’s no surprise broadband internet sucks in the US

A recent Akamai survey, which I shared here and here, ranked US in the 33rd spot (globally) when it came to broadband internet connections above 2 Mbps. Sure, it moved up two spots compared to last year, but it’s still lagging behind countries such as Monaco, Slovakia, South Korea, and believe it or not, Romania — which is where I’m living these days.

That’s sad. It’s very sad because a country such as Romania, with fewer resources than the US, and with a LOT more corruption at every level, has managed to provide better Internet services than the US. It just goes to show you how much pork barrel legislation and ridiculous lobbying can slow down an entire country’s Internet access. Why, every time a company tried to improve the way broadband worked in the US, it was eventually bought out or dragged down and kept down for the count.

Remember Telocity? It was one of the first companies to offer DSL service in the US, ahead of Ma Bell. Even though it was paying hefty amounts of money for the right to transport Internet traffic on Ma Bell’s lines, they had enormous problems with the same Ma Bell, due to problems that would somehow just happen to crop up on the same wires or the switching equipment. Then they’d have to pay more money so Ma Bell could fix their own equipment, which they’d say Telocity broke, etc., ad nauseam, and so on and so forth.

That’s just one example. Another was the more recent push to restructure the way cable services are provided (both TV and internet). One of the efforts was the a-la-carte programming initiative, and another was the push for faster and more reliable cable Internet services. You wouldn’t believe the advertising, PR and lobbying blitz the cable industry started and kept up for several months — actually, I’m fairly sure you saw their ads on TVs and buses everywhere, particularly in the Washington, DC area.

Or what about when they got together in late 2007 and 2008 to ask for an Internet tax? Remember the tiers of traffic they wanted to create? They wanted all the big websites to pay them for the traffic, as if they weren’t already getting enough money from the customers for their slow and unreliable services. They also wanted large chunks of money from the federal government in order to upgrade their infrastructure. No matter how much money they make, they’re so greedy they always want more, more, more.

What I’d like to know is how all these other countries, including Romania, can manage to offer faster and more reliable Internet services without asking for money from their countries’ government, without charging big websites for their traffic, and also by charging less per month for better broadband? How is that possible? Could it be that these companies actually know how to run their businesses while their counterparts in the US are filled with lazy, greedy idiots?

I still vividly remember an incident which happened while I was a director of IT at a Florida hospital, several years ago. A BellSouth technician had been called in to check the phone boards, and my network and servers kept going down and coming back up. The Medical Records system kept giving errors when employees wanted to access forms to fill in patient data, not to mention that other network services, like file sharing and printing, kept going on the fritz. I checked every one of the servers and they were fine. I finally walked into the switch room, at my wits’ end, only to find the moronic BellSouth employee with his fat, lazy butt on our UPS, jiggling it back and forth as he chatted with someone back at BellSouth HQ, plugging and unplugging the power supply that fed one of the main network switches. I went ballistic, grabbed him by the collar and threw him out of my switch room. Was he that stupid that he didn’t know where he was sitting? Was he such a pig that he couldn’t feel the plugs underneath him as he sat on them? He didn’t even want to apologize for taking out an entire hospital’s network during daytime hours. That’s BellSouth for you.

I don’t know how the US can get better broadband, unless it’s legislated. An ultimatum must be given by the government, one that can’t be overridden by any lobbyists or CEOs shedding crocodile tears in front of Congress. These companies simply will not get their act together until they, too, are grabbed by their collars and shaken about. They’ve gotten used to the status quo, they like it, and they’re clinging to it with all their might.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of the Internet plans you can get in Romania right now. For comparison purposes, 1 Euro is worth about $1.4 these days.

Romtelecom (the main phone carrier, provides ADSL services):

  • 2 Mbps, 2084 kbps/512 kbps, 4.88 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps, 4096 kbps/512 kbps, 7.02 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps, 6144 kbps/512 kbps, 9.40 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps, 8192 kbps/768 kbps, 14.16 Euro/month
  • 20 Mbps, 20480 kbps/1024 kbps, 24.87 Euro/month

[source]

Birotec (provides fiber optic services, all plans include phone line with varying amount of minutes based on plan price):

  • 3 Mbps up/down, 10 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps up/down, 15 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps up/down, 20 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps up/down, 29 Euro/month
  • 10 Mbps up/down, 49 Euro/month

[source]

RDS (provides fiber optic, cable, cellular modem and dial-up access — prices not readily available on website):

  • Fiber optic access up to 2.5 Gbps
  • Cable access up to 30 Mbps

[source]

The lowest internet access plan in Romania is 2 Mbps. Cellular modems are advertised at speeds up to 3 Mbps. Meanwhile, in the US, you can still find 512 Kbps plans at prices twice or three times as much as the 2 Mbps plans in Romania. That’s the price of complacency and excessive lobbyism.

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Thoughts

Don't use Project Wonderful unless you want to be offended

Project Wonderful is full of crap

A few days ago, I applied for inclusion as a publisher with Project Wonderful. I’ve been looking for a sponsor for my site, and I thought a boutique ad service might be just what I need.

Boy, was I wrong about them! First, they rejected my application. A nice, respectful rejection I can take. I can even handle a short, tersely written rejection. But when they basically called me a hack and a content thief, and expected to get away with it, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it if my blood boiled over. Have a look at what they wrote to me:

“When examining your site, we found that it appears to have one or more (not necessarily all!) of the following issues: sponsored “review” posts, posts with content taken from third parties such as other web sites or Wikipedia, posts with little original material, and so on.”

Excuse me?! I steal content from other websites and Wikipedia?! I write posts with little original material?! What?! Here I am, having typed my fingers off and eaten up my evenings and weekends for the past couple of years with my website, creating original content, writing every post myself, with my own words, and you dare call me a hack?! Now you can forget about doing business with me. And no, I also don’t write sponsored “review” posts.

It looks like — from my subjective point of view anyway — Project Wonderful isn’t so wonderful after all. I’d say a bunch more things about them right here, except my wife edited my post and cut out all the juicy stuff. Apparently I need to cool down and step away from the laptop…

Just to be clear, I did NOT steal this post from Wikipedia.

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