For Blog Geeks…

You may notice that I’m now running this blog on WordPress. I got tired of waiting for Perl to execute, and since I’m on a shared host it meant I couldn’t blog in the morning.

Next step: find a theme that doesn’t suck ass.

On Gratitude in Public

A long, long time ago, I was a musician, or so I defined myself. As such, I had to give a lot of public performances, ranging from a few other students’ parents in the neighbor’s basement to a thousand or so people in an auditorium. Afterwards, the scene would be something like this.

Well-meaning person: I enjoyed your piece very much. It had good rhythm.

Me in hyper-self-critical-performance-analyzing mode: Well, that was about the only good thing about it.

Taken aback well-wisher: No, it was lovely, really, I-

Me: Yeah, sorry it couldn’t be better.

And so on until one or other of us broke off, embarrassed.

It wasn’t until I watched a former professor of mine after a recital, just a small one on weeknight, when he dealt with the inevitable little old lady who attended any classical concert and thinks it’s just lovely:

Little old lady: Oh, thank you so much, that was just lovely.

Professor, smiling warmly, looking her directly in the eye, and shaking her hand: Thank you!

That was it. She turned away, satisfied, and left, without any embarrassment on either part.

It was a revelation to me. And after learning the technique I found that public situations (except talking to strange women in bars) got a lot easier. It’s really no big deal: everybody is usually wanting you to do well because they don’t want their time wasted, and everyone who comes up to you afterwards had a nice time and just wants to express that. There’s really nothing so scary about it.

I thought I was just particularly socially inept, but now I read Stephen Fry’s second-ever blog post (no, each post is not called a blog, thank you very much), and how he got the same lesson from John Cleese, of all people:

“Oh, nonsense. Shut up. No really, I was dreadful.” I remember going through this red-faced shuffle in the presence of the mighty John Cleese who upbraided me the moment we were alone.

‘You genuinely think you’re being polite and modest, don’t you?’

‘Well, you know …’

‘Don’t you see that when someone hears their compliments contradicted they naturally assume that you must think them a fool? Suppose you went up to a pianist after a recital and told him how much you had enjoyed his performance and he replied, “rubbish, I was awful!” You would go away thinking you were a poor judge of musicianship and that he thought you an idiot.’

‘Yes, but I can’t agree with someone if they praise me, that would sound so cocky. And anyway, suppose I do think I was awful?’ (which most of the time performers do think of themselves, of course.)

‘It’s so simple. You just say thank you. You just thank them. How hard is that?’

Granted, Fry writes as if he’s so British it might hurt occasionally, and thus he tends to a particularly English need for self-effacery, but I’m glad to see it’s not only me who needed a virtual clout about the head.

God, When Will These Apple Fanbois Quit?

Notorious Apple-defender John Gruber is at it again.

He just can’t accept any other music service. I mean how can you not see through phrases like There’s very high “it just works” factor here. or Music is easy to find, easy to buy, and easy to download once you have the Amazon MP3 Downloader installed.

When will they stop distorting the truth with such knee-jerk reactions as, I can’t see why anyone would buy DRM-restricted music from iTunes that’s available from Amazon.


File This Under ‘No Shit, Sherlock’

SCO thinks it won’t survive the legal mess it started.

Just think, if they hadn’t tried to assert ludicrous claims about owning intellectual property they didn’t own, they might have been able to focus on making their crappy products better and have a story like Apple’s, who abandoned suing their way into profitability for innovation. Now Apple is worth half of Microsoft, and SCO, well, this time next week you could probably buy SCO with the change you find in your couch.

You Bought Some of My Time, Not Me

I recently read a rant on a non-profit mailing list about how vendors were out to screw the little guy by “overcharging for hosting and hiding it by bundling it with maintenance hours.” It pissed me off.

Here’s the scenario I get from various alleged do-gooders: “Hey, we went and hosted on FlyByNight Webhosts, and then someone on the board said their kid knew computers pretty well and he went to change things on the server and now your application we paid $50,000 for is broken! So fix it!”

First: if you cheap out on hosting, you will get what you pay for. How people have $50,000 to spend on custom development (and trust me, trying to get them to compromise on the tiniest point often gets, “But we’re small and don’t have much money and we want just a little thing, and it helps the children. You don’t hate the children, do you?”) but only $60/year for ongoing hosting blows my mind. That’s like spending $250,000 on a Ferrari and deciding to go to a shade-tree mechanic and putting Bubba-Bo-Bob’s Retreads on it.

Second: the scenario above is a frequent occurrence. Face it: you probably don’t know anything about hosting a website. Unless you’re prepared to pay someone who does to take care of that for you, you’re probably going to be as successful as if I tried to file IRS paperwork for your nonprofit. I might get lucky, but probably you’ll be in Deep Doodoo.

Third: even if you do know how to handle the server or can afford someone who does on a reliable host, custom software is highly complex and routine security upgrades can break things. So yes, you’ll probably need a software developer who can fix things for you when that happens. And even if you don’t, there are some changes you’ll discover you need because the environment you’re operating in changes between the time you had the software developed and now. Again, you’ll want a developer’s help. Also, you may break things when you use the software in novel and unexpected ways. Or you may find bugs that weren’t caught in the preceding two years, even if you exhaustively tested the application on receiving it.

But most importantly: You paid for my time (and knowledge) to develop software to behave exactly the way you wanted it. But it’s no more fair to ask me to provide more of that work for free later because you didn’t catch something in testing (in 15,000 lines of code, there are likely to be several areas that behave in ways you didn’t anticipate in edge cases, even if it’s not technically a bug–and let’s see you write a 150,000 word book in three months, edit it, come back two years later and guarantee it will have no typos or grammatical errors or inept phrases) than it is for your grantor to ask you to do more work for the original grant two years down the line because something you set up didn’t sustain itself as well as you’d hoped without providing you any more funding.

Believe it or not, we’re not sitting around on piles of cash, occasionally working for a non-profit and screwing them out of money when we’re bored. Consulting is not a rich man’s game, and usually has thin margins. If we don’t have money being given to us for our work, we’re going to go out of business. So it’s just not possible–even if we wanted to–to provide a lifetime guarantee that our products will never be defective, even if you break them. No one else in your life will do that: not your grantors, not your clients (if you do direct service), not your cooperators, not the electric utility, not the government, not the realtor, not the bank, and not even the kid who cuts your lawn.

So why do you think when you paid me to do some work, you bought me?

Finally an Honest iPhone Editorial

Finally, amongst the outrage of over-privileged jackasses braying over the unfair price cut of a piece of technology–as if this didn’t happen eventually with every consumer electronics product ever–Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post captures the real reason for the anger.

The sky-high price was supposed to guarantee a decent period of exclusivity. For a time, if you bought an iPhone, you were supposed to be the envy of your friends. The ability to show off all the neat things it could do was your compensation for the fact that the iPhone didn’t really change your life.

Eventually, you understood, everybody would have one — as happened with the iPod. But after spending $599 for a cellphone, the aura of supercool should have lasted longer than a couple of months.

Yes, it’s not about “fairness” or Apple “screwing” anybody. It’s about a bunch of hipsters with $600 to burn to be the envy of their friends feeling cheated now that the hoi polloi will have iPhones. Then how will they demonstrate their superiority to their fellow man by the mere act of conspicuous consumption?

If you’re upset that a cool piece of technology will drop in price after you buy it, you might want to invest in real estate. Whoops, you’re screwed there, too. What’s a whiny hipster jackass to do?