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I received a phone call at work this past week, while I was in the middle of debugging some complicated JavaScript. Usually, my desk phone shows the internal extension that’s calling me; this time, it showed a series of asterisks. Intrigued and confused, I picked it up… and discovered it was a recruiter calling me. Apparently a row of asterisks must be how this phone indicates “Caller ID blocked”. (Now I know.)

The next morning at 7:53, I got a call at home from a number that didn’t report any name. I always let those go to voice-mail. I heard another recruiter leave a message, including “it’s eleven o’clock”.

Two different recruiters in two days, making such elementary mistakes? I’ve been working on this article on the back burner for a couple of years, but it’s obviously time I finished it up and posted it.

Never Call a Prospect At Work

And I really do mean, never. You don’t know if your prospect’s current employer monitors calls. You don’t know if your prospect has already told their employer that they’re looking for other opportunities — but it’s safest to assume that they haven’t, because it is definitely not safe for an employee to tell their employer that. Especially in “at-will employment” states (like California), where an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason or none at all, there’s an all-too-real possibility that the employer will just fire the worker immediately. (I’m not saying this would be a smart thing for the employer to do. And I’m not saying the likelihood is high. But it does exist, and it’s too much risk for the employee to take.)

Telling your employer that you’re looking for a new job can get you canned, posthaste. Having your employer find out from some third party that you’re looking for a new job can also get you canned. You know what’s the one thing that would be even worse than getting fired for being on the job market before you can find a new job?

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Apparently tomorrow will be the “National Day of Unplugging”, when people who are ready to “take the unplug challenge” will obey the call to “put down your cell phone, sign out of email, stop your Facebook and Twitter updates”. But this isn’t just some kind of stunt or willpower exercise; there’s a point to it. Unplugging is supposed to help people “reclaim time, slow down their lives and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves.”

Uh, what?

Let me get this straight: Not posting any updates on Facebook, and not checking my friends and family’s Facebook updates, is supposed to help me connect with them? Turning off my cell phone, and refusing to send or check my email is supposed to bring me more into connection with other people?

What in the world do this event’s organizers think the rest of us are doing with Facebook, with email, and with cell phones?

The organizers are a group called the Sabbath Manifesto, and they espouse ten principles. The first two are “avoid technology” and “connect with loved ones”, respectively.

How the hell am I supposed to connect with my loved ones without using technology? Fewer than 10% of my friends, and absolutely none of my family, live within walking distance of me. (And I’m a fast and powerful distance-walker.) If I drive down the Peninsula, or take CalTrain to go see a friend, that’s using technology. If I quit using technology, I’d have to give up at least 90% of my social circle.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Once upon a time, Netscape invented the <blink> tag. And people saw the <blink> tag, and put it on their web pages, and thought it was good. And the rest of us saw the <blink> tags on those pages, and screamed, “No, you morons, it is bad! It distracteth the user mightily, for lo, our eyes are built to take especial note of motion and changes in light, for they might signal the approach of predators.”

And so, in the fullness of time, most people learned to never, ever use the <blink> tag. And that was good, for a while. But more recently, people have started putting new — and even worse — moving doo-dads on their sites: Animated Twitter feeds.

I’m talking about the kind of feeds that refresh or scroll every five seconds (or sometimes more frequently). You can see them all across the web. Here are just a few examples:

  • Any comments page on Whedonesque (Joss Whedon’s site). Try to read the text, and your gaze gets pulled over to the constantly-updating “Twitteresque” box on the right.
  • Any article on WikiHow. You have to scroll down one screen before the “Recent Changes” box becomes visible on the right — but that just means the problem isn’t apparent to a cursory, design-level glance; it only becomes obvious when you try to actually use the site for its intended purpose, by reading the content that’s published on it.
  • Even Webmonkey has gotten in on the action. Again, you need to scroll down a screen (unless your browser is way taller than mine), but the “Recent Articles” box will try to grab your attention as soon as you read past the screenshot in the main article text.
  • Like Webmonkey, you’d think TechCrunch would know better than to do this. Admittedly, they do put their “PostUp Beta World’s Best Tweeters” box further down the page, but their articles are longer, too.

Why would someone put something on their web page that effectively says, “Hey, don’t waste your time reading my content! Go look at my Twitter feed instead! Or even at some total stranger’s Twitter feed!” I’m honestly mystified. (That’s why my own Twitter-feed widget, Hummingbird, does not and never will have any kind of auto-scroll feature.)

But what mystifies me even more is: Why would people who (I presume) would sneer in disgust at the very idea of putting a <blink> tag on one of their pages — even for just one or two words — then turn around and put a much larger, more annoying motion distraction on every page in their site?

The fact that it uses AJAX and a Web 2.0, RESTful API doesn’t make a paragraph-sized chunk of never-ending motion any less of a design and usability nightmare. And this is not exactly a new concept: the W3C advised against constant motion back in 1999.

At that, they were Johnny-come-latelies compared to Jakob Nielsen, who called out “constantly running animations” as far back as 1996. In other words: The days of Netscape Navigator version 2.0x called. They have some usability advice for you… that you apparently still haven’t learned yet.

It can’t be that hard to figure out… can it?

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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It’s awfully convenient for Google that their famed corporate motto, “Don’t be evil”, doesn’t actually specify or define what counts as “evil”. And without any definition, they’re pretty much free to do anything they want, and just declare it not-evil.

Now, some of the things they’ve done have just been misguided. For example, I really, honestly believe that when they sniffed people’s unencrypted wifi traffic while doing Street View mapping drives, they weren’t being purposefully malicious, just absent-mindedly misguided. (I also have trouble getting too upset about sniffing unencrypted wifi signals — yeah, it’s kind of bad, but if the people who owned those networks really wanted privacy, would it have been that hard to turn on WPA?)

And then there was the bit where they auto-subscribed everyone with a Gmail account to Google Buzz — which, by default, made huge amounts of information public that shouldn’t have been. This was a really massive mistake, but given the way Google backpedaled from it, I still believe that they were just misguided and didn’t think things through at all, rather than actively wanting to cause harm.

But when Google Checkout tried to impose a “no adult content” rule on Dreamwidth? That’s a lot greyer. In essence, what Google did was tell an organization devoted to enabling free speech that it had to muzzle its users.

Google has the right to choose who it wants to do business with, based on whatever criteria it wants. But just because their choice is legal doesn’t make it “non-evil”. It’s not clear just exactly what “adult content” would have included, but there’s a strong likelihood that it would have included things like:

  • safer-sex information, including family planning, contraception, and how to use condoms properly;
  • discussion of rape, including rape survivor groups;
  • promotion of equal rights for sexual minorities

Keeping information like that off the Internet? Is not helping the world. Suppressing that kind of information harms the world, and I’d qualify it as a straight-up evil act.

It’s possible, though, that they only mean “actual pornography” (however you define that). As much as I personally may like both pornography itself, and the right to disseminate and receive it, I have to admit that simply choosing not to do business with a company that helps people publish it is not, in itself, evil.

So what about entering into secret back-room agreements to try to do an end-run around Net Neutrality and everything it stands for? And then promulgating a legislative framework proposal for Internet governance that would turn the principle of Net Neutrality into a defanged, loophole-ridden and corporation-appeasing shadow of its former self — while pretending, on the surface, to support it?

In effect, this means a full-scale attack on the core of a free Internet. This is something that reminds me of when Microsoft was going to try to “de-commoditize [the] protocols” that formed the basis for the Internet and World Wide Web, back in the first Halloween memo.

If there is a way in which this isn’t evil, can someone please explain it to me? Because it sure looks evil to me.

In the meantime, there’s one tiny problem with trying to boycott Google: They make some damned useful products. Still, if you want to start reducing your reliance on Google, here are some pointers that may help.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Here are a few things that I consider to be basic requirements for functionality in a smartphone, along with notes on how my Palm Prē fails to deliver:

When I press the power switch, the phone should turn on.
(Assuming the battery is charged, of course. And I’m willing to accept that a modern smartphone needs to be charged every night. No problem there.) But given that, when I press the “on” switch, I should see the screen light up within, say, one second. It should not take ten seconds. By the time ten seconds go by, I’ll assume that I must not have pressed the power switch hard enough, and I’ll try pressing it a second time.



Did you know that the Palm Prē stores power-switch presses in its input buffer? That means that when the phone finally does get around to waking up, it processes the first impulse, lights up the screen… and then immediately blanks it again as it processes the second impulse. This is extremely frustrating.
When the screen lights up and shows me an “unlock” icon, it should actually let me unlock the unit.
I’m not complaining about the fact that it shows me that icon. I recognize that it’s there to conserve my battery life by making me prove that I’m a human being, and not an inanimate object that jostled the phone in a crowded purse or backpack. I’m fine with that.



What I’m not fine with is having to try three-to-five times to get the icon to recognize my input. And it’s not like the Prē stores this stimulus in its input buffer, so if I just wait for it to catch up… it blanks out the screen and I have to try again.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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I went to find a package to install Git. The page at http://www.slackware.com/packages/ still says that the Slackware Package Browser has been moved to http://packages.slackware.it/ — it’s said this for years, and I keep wondering when they’re going to move the package browser back onto the main Slackware site.

But this time, when I followed that link, I found a page that’s so short, I can reproduce it in its entirety here:

The Slackware Package Browser

The old package browser was broken — instead of trying to fix it I am creating a new one from scratch. I’ll be using the Django framework. I’m also looking into Solr and Haystack to see if they can be of some use here.

It’s not going to take a lot of time and I will publish the working portions of the Package Browser as I finish and test them. Also, we’ll have some other thing to announce in a few days, so stay tuned ;-)

You should follow us on Twitter here.

The cherry on top of this sundae of fail awaits at the Twitter feed: the last tweet in it is from October 23rd, 2009. As of the time I’m writing this, that’s four months ago.

The one saving grace is that that last tweet includes a link to a web-browsable repository where I was able to download the package I needed. And yes, I do realize that Slackware’s essentially a volunteer project in Patrick Volkerding’s spare time. And I really do appreciate and love the distro’s commitment to remaining Unix-like.

But I need something that’s a little more rigorously maintained.

(Now I need to figure out what to migrate to. That’s likely to be quite a headache.)

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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This is rapidly becoming one of my pet peeves, right up there with misuse of the word “literally”:

This thing I’m writing right now? This single entry in my blog? This isn’t “a blog”. It’s “an entry” or “a post”.

Sort of like that piece of paper in a book is a page, not a book.

“Writing a blog” is like writing a book, or a novel. Don’t tell me “I wrote a blog yesterday”; you wrote in your blog. Jeff Atwood writes a popular coding blog. A few days ago, he wrote an entry about…

I’m fighting a losing battle, aren’t I? But I really dislike the ambiguity of having “blog” mean “a single thing” or “a collection of that thing”. I have no problem with language growing and changing (after all, the word “blog” didn’t even exist 15 years ago), but I’m firmly against making language messier and more awkward to use and understand. I don’t think the people saying “I wrote a blog yesterday” are adding anything; I think they’re just being sloppy.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” This is the same stupid excuse we always hear from people who want to invade everyone’s privacy, and I’m sick of it.

Incidentally, we need a good term for the privacy invaders. Folks like the EFF, EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg, Philip Zimmermann and so on get rightly called “privacy activists”. What should we call the people who make the bogus claim that privacy is a sign of guilt, and is something you should give up to prove your purity?

Funny how those folks never seem to want to give up their own privacy, isn’t it? The “If you’re innocent, then you have nothing to hide” brigade never seem to want their own private lives examined. If only someone could have looked into J. Edgar Hoover’s private life… And Eric Schmidt? When c|net published some public information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies and political donations — all of which it obtained through Google searches — Schmidt was so incensed, he ordered his entire company to stop speaking to c|net for a year.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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The more I play with OpenOffice.org’s Writer, the more confused I am by some of the odd UI/UX warts in it. Here are the ones that are on my mind this morning:

  • When I press F11 to bring up the Style Picker list, why does typing letters not navigate me through that list? Why do I have to use the down-arrow to navigate to “Heading 1″, rather than just typing “he” and then Enter?
  • Once I do hit Enter to apply the style I’ve chosen, why does the picker window remain open even though my cursor focus has returned to the document? This is the worst of both worlds: part of the document I’m working with is obscured by the picker window, and now I have to hit F11 twice in order to apply another style. If the window went away, I could just hit F11 once to bring it up the next time I wanted to apply a style.

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    Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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The following is a copy of what I just posted on the Palm Prē forums:

I woke up this morning to find that the webOS 1.2 upgrade had been pushed to my Prē automatically. I was happy, until the reboot finished and I saw:

Signed Out

You are no longer signed in to your Palm Profile on this phone.

If you plan to use this phone again, you can leave the files on your USB drive intact.

If you’re done using this phone, you can erase all your data on the phone and return to its factory default.

[Just Restart]
[Erase All Data]

The [things in brackets] represent buttons.

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Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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So, Palm was recently caught spying on its users. Major kudos, by the way, to Joey Hess, who initially broke this story. For those who haven’t kept up, various other news outlets and blogs have also been reporting on it.

Palm’s response to this problem is a single paragraph of corporate PR-speak:

Palm takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off. Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust.

The problems with this statement are:

  1. There is no indication of how to turn off this particular piece of data collection. Not on Palm’s web site, not in the user manual that came with the Prē, and not in the Prē’s user interface.
  2. For all the “detailed language” in Palm’s privacy policy, there is no slightest indication — anywhere — that they collect information about what applications the user runs.

It’s particularly interesting to look at the “On-Device Services” part of the privacy policy: It mentions types of data that will be collected “If you use services we provide” (emphasis added). For example, they say, “When you use a remote diagnostics or software update service, we will collect information related to your device (including serial number, diagnostic information, crash logs, or application configurations)”. This is the only mention of collection data about a user’s applications, and it clearly starts with “when you use a diagnostic service”.

It doesn’t say “once per day, no matter what”.

Other items under “On-Device Services” start with “When you use a back-up and restore service…” and “When you use location based services”.

All of this suggests that users have some sort of control over what gets sent and when. The Palm Prē’s “Location Services” preferences item has a control labeled “Background Data Collection”, with the caption: “Allows Google to automatically collect anonymous location data to improve the quality of location services.” (This is after other controls labeled “Auto Locate”, “Use GPS”, as shown at right. If you turn on Auto Locate, you also get a control labeled “Geotag Photos”.)

It doesn’t say that Google (or anyone else) will collect data on what apps a user is running. And it strongly implies that this data will only be collected when I actually run an app that uses location services — for example, Google Maps, or OpenTable (which wants to know where I am so it can try to find nearby restaurants).

And it blatantly claims that if I turn off that switch, it won’t send my data off to big corporations any more.

So far, I’ve verified a few things:

  1. The application data log includes installs, uninstalls, and launch and close times for all apps, not just Palm’s official ones. Homebrew and third-party apps are included.
  2. Flipping the Background Data Collection switch does not turn off the contextupload process that’s responsible for sending the information to Palm’s servers.
  3. Nor does it stop logging application launch and close times. I’ll repeat that: My Prē is still logging application launch and close times into /var/context/contextfile, even though I have Background Data Collection turned off.

We in the technology business have a technical term for what Palm is doing when it claims that it “offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off” in the context of this particular data. That term is: lying. Palm is lying to us, pure and simple.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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