Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Google: I Want to Know My Heroes

I've been writing before about the fact that it seems that Google's last redesign looks more and more like Netflix's. Since then, they've also butchered the Reader and GMail.

I would really like to know who is responsible for this crap, and why they still work at Google.

'Cause if this doesn't stop, now is a good time to start thinking where to jump off this accelerating train wreck.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dear Google: Dude, are you OK?

Lately, I'm noticing things in Google services that I never noticed before. Not that I wasn't looking. They just weren't there.

I'm talking about glitches.

Here and there, now and then, there's a 403, 404 and 500. Things happen. Calendar stops sending notifications (cost me some serious money). Multiple logins don't work. Docs and sites interface that made my pretty modern computer crawl (and their "redesign" might turn out on par with Netflix's). Other things I can't put my finger on at the moment. But the alarming trend is that the pace is increasing. And, just like always, Google is not transparent about what they do.

Why am I talking about it now?

Because Google Music, for no apparent reason whatsoever, ate four of five tracks of my favorite Wish You Were Here (rest assured, completely legal). And then I saw that out of almost 900 tracks I uploaded there (all of them paid for with my hard earned money) are about 650 left. And I have no idea which tracks are gone and why. And, of course, there are no logs.

So what, you say? Well, I value my time. I'm not going to spend it to figure out what is gone. I'll just switch. To what, I don't know (suggestions appreciated).

And back to the trend. A friend of mine said back in about 2000, "Ride the gravy train. Just don't forget to jump off before it hits the wall".

Now is the time to start thinking seriously whether it is the radiant Google's future we're looking at, or just the headlight of the other train in the tunnel.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dear Google: Please Fix the <Censored> Multiple Sign-In

When Google gets things right, users rejoice. When it doesn't, trying to tell Google about it is like praying to God: you say the words, but you never know if they're listening.

Multiple sign-in is probably one of most bug-ridden pieces in the whole Google infrastructure.

Sometimes it fails to provide a link or simply doesn't react when you click on it when you're trying to sign in into several accounts at the same time (to reproduce: click your name on top right/ switch account/sign in to another account => nothing happens 100% of the time).

Sometimes, it forcibly logs out all accounts logged in, and logs them in into whatever account du jour it feels like.

Sometimes, it throws a login/password screen at you right after you have logged in into a totally different account (or so you thought).

I'm not a paid Google tester and not going to get all worked up collecting use cases for these bugs to send it to them so they can fix them (see above about praying to God), but I thought they have enough testers to take care of the very face of Google (which I believe authentication and authorization is).

Looking at Google's face, all in pimples, makes me nervous.

And just now, it threw a 500 Error at me.

UPDATE: Fresh in: now in some places it doesn't offer to "sign in as a different user", it simply says "sign out and sign in as a different user". This blows *ALL* accounts currently signed in out of the water. Oh, and it is, apparently, their "new sign-in page".

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dear Google: I Want My Threads Back

I generally like Google. They make nice things. But sometimes they drive me nuts tying to protect me from me.

Consider this picture:

I Want My Threads Back

You can see with naked eye that memcache requests are lined up one after another. Yes, indeed, values stored in memcache are values in the collection, for which I have the keys. It doesn't make sense to group values under one memcache key. And it is a no-brainer candidate for parallelism, with standard Java tools.

But no, you can't. Google said so. It's for your own good. Go use Task Queues instead.

But wait, I don't want to. Task queues are not good enough for my purpose, which is simple - collect data from either memcache or datastore into local application memory. Task queue overhead is way too high for this, and requires to add the insult of double serialization to the injury of memcache being not too fast to begin with.

I simply don't believe that the team that pulled off creation of GAE is incapable of creating a sane thread insulation model that will withstand abuse and stupidity.

I believe that the lack of governed thread model was one of fundamental shortcomings of J2EE specification. It would be really cool if GAE could take it one step forward and provide one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Despicable Me^H^HNetflix

Been putting off disconnecting from Netflix, having collected 395 movies in the queue. Plus, been busy (you know how those disks are gathering dust for wees before you finally get your hands to watch them). But alas, money has to go where the mouth is, and we decided that the last movie we'll watch before shutting it of would be Despicable Me.

The movie is hilarious. We watched it, and immediately after it ended, we decided that we would very much like to watch the bonus features. Only...

There were none.

Behind every bonus feature title, there was a black screen with a short phrase, which reduces to "If you wanna watch the bonus, you'll have to buy the retail copy". Yes, and I forgot to mention that the disk had a "RENTAL" sign in big bold letters.

Well, to spare my time and breath, I'll just say that this is totally uncool. And totally makes me not regret finally saying goodbye to Netflix DVD.

PS: And they made me even more convinced that I had to do it by setting the cancellation effective date to one month from now. Which means they get to charge me extra month of service. I'm happy Mr. Swasey will get his extra latte or two.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SecuROM Strikes Back

Back in 2006, I bought Oblivion, oblivious to the fact that it used SecuROM DRM (that was my first encounter with it). Yes, Oblivion was a good game, and I played it through a few times, but alas, all things come to end, and today I decided to uninstall the game. Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs, Oblivion, what??? Disk? Oh I don't have the disk anymore - it was stolen. What? Good! Let me see...

SecuROM™ has determined that there is no disc in a local physical drive.

Yes, I knew that.

(bunch of irrelevant stuff)

If the problem persists, or you need additional assistance, please use the SecuROM™ Diagnostic Tool for further support.

Hmm... Not that I trust SecuROM in the first place... But there's no other option. Okay.

"Unknown publisher". Very nice.
Fifty pages EULA. Brilliant.

No applications using SecuROM™ found. Click 'Close' to go back to main screen.

Just what I need.

OK, let me add it manually.

The selected file is not using SecuROM™!

You've gotta be kidding me.

Now I remember why I didn't uninstall Oblivion since 2006. What was supposed to be a no-brainer split second action turned to be into a time sink (I have a gut feeling that this was hot the first time). Reasonable solution didn't materialize in ten minutes.

I guess I won't be uninstalling it today, either. Or, maybe... I know where to get a hold of a copy of the original Oblivion disk. Just don't tell anyone. And don't tell me that DRM doesn't make me a pirate.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Netflix: The King Of Stupid

It looks like Netflix has joined the ranks of companies whose own stupidity has run them into the ground (Nokia and RIM being prominent examples).

Not only they've screwed up their user interface, pissed off a million of their subscribers by spilling their lattes (which is better than expected, though), and lost a good deal of movies I wanted to watch.

Now they're trying to erase the very memory of it.

To whom it may concern @Netflix: I spent my own precious time to hand pick those movies over years, you dumb<censored>. Those titles were important to me, because you're not the only game in town and I wanted to watch them regardless of wheter you had them or no. Now they're all gone.

Of course, as the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. My own fault.

I guess I'd be killing off my Netflix account completely pretty soon.

PS: Now that I've saved their queue page so they can't steal more of my time and looked at it thinking how to automate the title extraction, it is very clear *why* their new user interface is so inefficient. Just take a look at the page source and try not to laugh. Hint: they could save about 40% of it just by removing unnecessary spaces and endlines. Forty bleeping percent.

PPS: This one-liner works just fine:

cat instant.html|grep -A 4 "class=\"title"|grep -v "\-\-"|grep -v span|grep -v "class=\""|sed 's/^[ \t]*//'|grep -v ^$

PPPS: "netflix alternatives" on Search Insights, Search Trends - impressive, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Google+ Is Not

Is Not That Persistent

How long do your posts and comments live?

Is Not Suited For Long Term Use

As time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to get to older posts. The only way to do that today is to keep clicking 'More' button and hope that the post will pop up. And God forbid you accidentally click on a wrong kind of a link, because if you use the 'back' button on the browser - well, guess what, back to square one.

Is Not Indexable

Whatever you post, goes to the black hole of your readership. Litmus test: try to find any of your public posts using any search engine. This demotivator comes to mind vividly.

Is Not Searchable

Now, *this* is a surprise, *the* search engine company being behind it. There is simply no way to search anything other than people on Google+.

Wonder if all of these are bugs or features.

UPDATE (2011/09/20): It seems that "not indexable" and "not searchable" complaints are now fixed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Google Maps + Earth + Android = Mountain Biker's Delight


As of July 2013, Google Maps on Android is broken. Actually, Google started breaking it long time ago - first they removed ability to send your exact location to people (it could be only linked to an existing address), then that ability was removed altogether, then Latitude was gone, and finally MyPlaces fell victim to their "improvements". Users are furious - look a discussions at Google Maps forum. Google promised to bring MyPlaces back in release notes for the version that removed it, but time will tell if they will.

It was a pretty stupid thing to do, but alas, Maps is not the only victim.

Let the rest of the original article stay, just to remind us all how good it once was.

Ever found yourself lost in the woods, with the route map being insufficiently detailed or just plain wrong? Here's how to fix the situation.


Create a route draft with Google Maps.

View Bell Pass Draft in a larger map


Save the map to a .kml file, open it with Google Earth, check elevation.


You can see the map you created in step 1 in Maps on your phone. You can see it even if you are off the cell grid - just make sure you download the map area to your phone.



There are things you need to remember before relying on your route, though. I'm sure there'll be more for other people in other regions, but here's observations from Arizona desert and mountains:
  • Careful with inclinations. When you're looking at routes in Google Earth, the surface seems much, much more flat than it is in reality.
  • Watch for rocks. Even though the resolution is often good or excellent, a path that looks smooth may, in fact, be impassable on the bike.
  • Watch for washes. What looks like a path may be a wash, full either of rocks or of fine sand.
  • Watch for breaks. What looks flat on the map may turn into a 50ft fall if you're not careful.
  • Look out for changes and have a Plan B. I once found myself looking at the road that was plowed along to prevent jeeps from coming through - well, it prevented me too. You can't bike through the raw desert, had to walk. Coincidentally, that happened in the middle of the heat wave with the temperature being over 130°F - even water doesn't help after a while. I was not amused.
Good luck.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Google Still Doesn't Get It

First they blew it with Buzz.

Now they blew it again with their latest "improvement", integration of Google Apps accounts into Google Accounts.

The bottomline of this "improvement" for me? Carefully crafted separation of online personas by interest destroyed. Different persona's identity and profile now slapped together into an indivisible mold, all relations blown to smithereens - with no [obvious] way to restore the state of affairs.

Starts looking more and more like the Lord of the Rings...

Hullo? Google? There *was* a good reason I created all these accounts - I *did* want to keep them separate. Yes, it is your decision to lump them together, but it is a straw towards the critical mass of people willing to walk away from your infrastructure.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shortage of i*: Cart ahead of the horse?

Excitement about long lines starts to seriously piss me off. This time, seeing the next enthusiastic reference, I remembered my own visit to Apple Store, when all I wanted to do was to buy an iPad.

That was back in October 2010, long way from any new product introduction. I knew *very* well what I wanted, didn't need any explanations, no selection process, no catches - and still, it took me half an hour to pay and walk out - five different Apple Store reps came to me, asked what I wanted, heard "I want to pay and go", and walked away into oblivion, just to be replaced by next rep.

Maybe it's not so much because iPad2 is in scarcity, and not so much because there are too many customers, but because Apple Store is made inefficient on purpose in order to create a perception of high demand?

UPDATE: Quick search confirms: it *is* on purpose. There is no checkout register in Apple Store, and, as one of fellow bloggers eloquently put it, You just have to aimlessly wander around the store and hope to A) get approached by a free employee or B) randomly pick an employee that’s helping someone and follow them around until they’re done.

There, people. We've been deceived again. Not for the first time, nor for the last.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Quote Of The Day: Design

Great design does not come from great processes; it comes from great designers.

-- Fred Brooks, Interview to Wired Magazine

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weather Channel: Who Do You Think You Are?

Let's take a brief look at permissions The Weather Channel application requests.
  • Services that cost you money: Send SMS messages - Who is the application going to send SMS messages to?
  • Services that cost you money: Directly call phone numbers - What numbers is it going to call?
  • Your location: Coarse (network-based) location - All right, I understand it wants to know where I am to tell me what the weather is.
  • Your location: Fine (GPS) location - Why does it want my exact location? Oh, I see, to show me ads. Thanks, but no thanks, you guys can easily do the same using just coarse GPS location.
  • Your personal information: Add or modify calendar events and send email to guests - What? Excuse me? Why would Weather Channel want to intrude into my calendar, and, worse, send emails to guests?
  • Your personal information: Read calendar events - This one even seems benign in light of the previous one, but still - why?
  • Storage: Modify/delete USB storage contents, modify/delete SD card contents - Again - why? I can guess that it wants to cache data, but surely not as much that it requires special permissions to USB storage and SD card?
Note that the detailed explanation of why these permissions are required is not available from the developer (at least as of the moment of writing).


The Weather Channel application requests unreasonably wide permissions with no justification to do so. If you value your privacy, you should never install it, or uninstall it right away if you did install it in the past (when permission set was more reasonable) and forgot to check permissions as updates were coming.


The Weather Channel is not the only application abusing permissions. Android core development team must come up with a way for the end user to selectively deny permissions requested by an application, so the end user doesn't fall prey to sloppy or malicious applications. There is some progress, but the definite answer from Google is not available - I wonder if there is a collusion between Google and big players in Android Market, just like there seems to be one with YouTube upload manipulation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


My friends,

I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.
"If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

-- Noah S. Sweat, 1952

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

iPad through the eyes of Android user, part 2

It is extremely easy to put something onto iPad.



It is not.

You need iTunes and a platform that it works on. Windows or Mac. Linux won't do.

Files in formats that are not forethought by Apple will have trouble getting onto iPad as well. In other words, forget about using it as just storage.

But wait, that's just the good half of the story.

The bad half starts when you need to retrieve the information from it.

Either you can't at all, or you can only in a crippled form (two words: "optimized photos").

Homework for the inquisitive reader: find a way to back up the content of your iPad without paying Apple for their services.

So now tell me: why can't I just mount(8) the damn thing, again?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond The Obvious

Some years ago every new device came with its own charger - a unique one. Even different devices from the same manufacturer.

Now it seems that manufacturers have eventually agreed that it is possible to get away with just one charger - the one supplying USB voltage. Yeah, sometimes you need more than usual, sometimes can't figure whether it is upside down or downside up, the struggle (or a lag) between Mini and Micro is not yet over.

But still, every bleeping device comes with its own charger - now a USB charger. I have more USB chargers now than a small African country needs, and they keep coming, and coming, and coming.

I wonder when is this going to stop.

Dear God

Dear God:

My prayer for 2011 is for a fat bank account and a thin body.
Please don't mix these up like you did last year.

-- Source unknown

Monday, January 17, 2011

Google Voice + Qwest Security Screen = Oops, $$$

Steps to reproduce the problem:
  1. Have a Qwest landline;
  2. Have the Anonymous Call Rejection and Security Screen on;
  3. Initiate a Google Voice long distance call from your computer;
  4. Wait in disbelief while nothing is happening;
  5. Knowing that GV is flaky sometimes, repeat the attempt a few times;
  6. Give up and use a different way to make a call;
  7. Only to realize later that you've been billed for all attempts to make a call, with no calls being actually made, as far as you are concerned.
Investigation showed that starting a couple of months ago numbers used by Google Voice started being recognized as "Out of area" by Qwest. At this point it seems that Qwests' Security Screen kicked in a voice playback to the caller prompting them to enter their number, and Google's calling service wasn't expecting that, and still continued the call establishment on the target side, thinking that the calling party has picked up the phone.

Likewise, for some callers (not all), your line with Security Screen on it doesn't ring.

It is interesting to note that disabling the Anonymous Call Rejection (*87) doesn't actually do anything - the call still doesn't go through, and you still get billed for the attempt.

However, removing Security Screen from your account helps. It was a useless service anyway - whereas intended to give your possible legitimate callers a way to complete the call, it, in fact, gives illegitimate callers a way to spoof the Caller ID - the number they enter may be anything, and not too many people even remember the meaning of a double ring nowadays.

Why the hell does one keep the landline anyway?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Second Coming of iPhone

Everyone and their uncle is making predictions about the fate of iPhone on Verizon and, in that light, Android. Let me make mine (consciously avoiding citations pro or con, and deep technical issues that are already aplenty):
  • There will be an initial surge of people that are just out of contract (or were waiting for iPhone) on Verizon;
  • There will be an initial surge of people that will switch to Verizon because they didn't want to switch to AT&T, but want an iPhone, who are just out of contract or were waiting for iPhone;
  • This surge will be somewhat sustained for the next few months as more people come out of contract;
  • The surge will then be dampened as they realize that iPhone (or Verizon, or iPhone on Verizon) is not all it cracked up to be, and relay their experiences to their friends;
  • Android acceptance curve will not be significantly affected because the target audience and market segments for Android and iPhone are different.
UPDATE (2011/02/14): Initial surge was weak, with two major reasons to blame: cold weather and people waiting for iPhone 5. Of course, we'll live to see whether more Verizon iPhones will be sold as the weather gets warmer, and what would be the iPhone 5 impact.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quote Of The Day: Kinds Of Biking

I like muddy trails over rocky trails because I'd rather be wet and muddy than dead and bloody.

-- DT