The sad state of application programming

The Hulu app froze again yesterday and required a force stop. We had another episode of the house phones (the Panasonic DECT6.0 cordless set) not seeing the line from the Ooma, and the Ooma Telo box needed to be power cycled to fix it. I’ve had to power-cycle the Fire TV Cube a couple of times since I installed it a couple of weeks ago. It seems that the Fire TV Cube and the Ooma box will just need regular power cycles to keep them from hanging. This kind of stuff is becoming more and more common… apps are stable for a few hours or a few days, but past that your chances of things working as they should decline rapidly.

I think software development is really being taken over by people who are only marginally competent. You probably know the type. They’ve been to all the classes, got the degrees, can write the code, but really don’t understand how things work, and their code is functional only under ideal conditions. I work with these types daily. They’re unable to think about what happens when things don’t work exactly as they should. The typical conversation consist of me asking one of them what happens when X breaks, which results in a puzzled look. X isn’t supposed to break, you see, and if it does then X is at fault and should be fixed. Never occurs to them to allow for X breaking as a known possibility. Problem is, the guy who wrote X is also a marginally competent idiot, so in the end everything breaks and no one understands why.

We seem to be accepting this as the norm. I talk to people a generation younger than myself and either they are incredibly lucky, or I’m incredibly unlucky, or I’m the only one in the world that ever has an application misbehave. They seem to just accept it as normal and move on. A quick power cycle, a quick reboot, force stop and move on, whatever. As do I, but I do notice it. I can remember when applications being unstable was not unusual, but everyone understood that it was a problem and something to be fixed. Now it just seems that no one cares. OK, if we’re talking about some time sucking game, I don’t care either… but we’re not. We’re talking about systems that should be at least as reliable as what they replace, but turn out to be a pile of crap. I can’t count how many working hours are wasted on bad phone connections, twitchy chat sessions breaking, crappy remote meeting sessions, and slipshod work by people who should know better.

Why am I such a tightwad?

Yesterday in the mail I got a really nice invitation to contribute to an organization whose goals I support.  They even sent me a nice little pocket sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  And these guys are good; I really do like the work they do.  And I won’t send them any money.

Why?  Because it means that they will immediately add me to their list of people to harass constantly and incessantly for more, more, more.  I have had this happen with any organization to whom I give a dime.  I donated a couple of times to the Wounded Warrior Project, with a letter asking them very plainly to not waste their money (the money I donated, in other words) sending me crap in the mail begging for more.  I know who you are, I told them; I know where to find you and if I decide to donate more, I will do so without their prompting.  Furthermore, I told them, if they did decide to waste the money I donated on mailers and phone solicitations to try and get more from me, I would cut them off.

Unfortunately, since then they have wasted much of the money I donated on mailing me crap every week or two begging for more.  Sorry, screw ’em.  Not another penny, since they seem to be more focused on soliciting money than anything else.  I won’t donate to organizations that will simply waste the money.

I told the NRA the same thing.  After I joined I was inundated with junk mail begging for donations.  I wrote them a nice letter telling them that if they continued wasting my dues on sending me junk mail, I wouldn’t renew.  The junk mail stopped, and I’ve been a member ever since.

Most of the solicitations I get, though, go unanswered.  It seems that too many organizations are no longer charitable or activist or whatever their nominal purpose is — they are focused on fundraising, apparently for the sake of fundraising.  If I could kick in a few bucks and be left in peace, maybe I would.  But I hate paying for more junk mail.  Sorry if that makes me a tightwad.

 

Class actions

I got a post card in the mail today about yet another class action lawsuit.  This time it’s Sirius XM.  Apparently some people (probably former XM customers) were upset that Sirius bought XM, then raised their prices.  Well, yeah.  It’s a time honored tradition.  You buy up your competition, become king of the hill, and charge what you want.  Or sometimes you buy up your competition because they were close to going under anyway, and raise your prices so you don’t follow them down the hole.  So of course they got sued for anti-trust violations, and agreed to a settlement.

Naturally the customers who were affected got…  nothing, squat, dick.  Not that I care; it didn’t affect me in the slightest.  The settlement terms basically say that groups of customers can renew their subscriptions at the current rate, people who dropped their subscription can renew without a reactivation fee, and no one gets any cash.  Except, of course, the lawyers who will without a shadow of doubt get their hefty portion of the estimated $180 million in settlement valuation.  And of course Sirius XM might possibly get a bunch of subscribers back.  It’s like the Blockbuster class action settlements…  millions of people got coupons for a buck or two, to be used the next time they rented from Blockbuster.  I bet they (Blockbuster) really felt the sting from that!

What an incredible victory for the consumer.  Or maybe everyone but the consumer.  Class action lawsuits seem to be a are pretty good business to be in if you’re a lawyer, and if you’re a cagey defendant you can twist it around to your advantage.  In the end the only people who get screwed are the customers, who have to bear the cost of the whole sideshow.

 

WordPress.com hacked

Well, it looks like one or more of the WordPress.com blog hosting site’s server(s) was/were hacked.  Among the things the attackers got were, apparently, the keys used to interface WordPress.com blogs with Twitter and Facebook.

If you know me, you probably know I have a fairly low opinion of Facebook and a much, much lower opinion of Twitter (which could simply shorten its name by three letters to improve accuracy).  There has been a disturbing, headlong rush over the past few years to concentrate far too many people’s personal lives onto the servers run by Facebook, Google, and a few others.  I see this as problematic for a number of reasons.

First of all, I see a very great threat to personal privacy.  It may be tempting to use these “services” for their intended purpose, but people tend to either ignore or forget basic common sense.  OK, so Google lets you search the entire internet for “stuff”.  Great, I love that.  But shall we take a Google search as the Gospel truth?  Google is a multi-billion-dollar corporation.  They make lots of that money by selling advertising space.  Where are those ads?  In your search results.  At the top of your search results.  They also provide “free” email through Gmail.  Free?  Well, not really.  Your email is examined, indexed, and used by Google to (can you guess it?) sell more advertising.  “OK”, you say, “It’s not hurting me, I get free email out of the deal”.  Great.  Then you won’t mind if I stand by your mailbox, open all of your email, read it and sell a general synopsis of the contents to marketing companies who will use it to stand outside your house and wave advertising banners as you pull out of your garage – right?  I mean, I’ll do it for free, and hand your mail to you after I’m done with it.

For some people Facebook is replacing email – not to mention phone calls, text messages, and in-person meetings.  I lost count long ago of how many arguments have spiraled completely out of control due to simple misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Some people’s newfound refusal to just pick up the phone and call someone, or drive ten minutes to visit in person and discuss things face to face, has been the cause of at least two family feuds that I know are going on at this moment.  Brothers and sisters not speaking to each other, sons and daughters, friends falling apart — largely because we seem to be losing our willingness to communicate in ways that involve more than a few seconds of typing.  Hurtful, horrible things that we would never dream of saying to someone in person just seem to slide right out of the keyboard and onto a website, to be seen by people who have absolutely no business knowing your business.

But I’ve strayed away from the WordPress thing.  Yes, I run WordPress (the open source blog software) for my blog as well as another.  But no, I don’t use the WordPress.com site.  Why not?  Well, this is one huge reason.  By keeping my own data on my own systems, I am responsible for what’s there and how secure it is.  I have control over how the site is run, the advertising supporting that site (or complete lack thereof), and whether my blog has to co-exist with those with whom I don’t want to be associated.

“ME”-ligion

Pete sent me a picture message this afternoon; apparently there are some flavor of quasi-religious nutbars on campus there, advertising their views with signs of some sort and, no doubt, flyers and noise.  I couldn’t quite make out the writing on the sign in the picture he sent me, so I asked him what it said.  His response was, “Well, we’re all going to hell, basically”.  Nice.

This is one good example of what I like to call “ME-ligion”.  It’s kind of like religion, but more personal.  In a ME-ligion, your belief system boils down to this: “Everyone in the entire world is going straight to Hell.  Except ME, of course, because obviously God agrees with ME.”  And, one assumes, those who agree totally with and are willing to be completely and unquestioningly subservient to the individual in question.

There are ME-ligions based loosely on Christian beliefs as well as Muslim, Jewish, and some really oddball beliefs.  Wherever you find arrogant, self-aggrandizing megalomaniacs you’ll find a new and more nutty flavor of some religion.  And, hey, once you’ve convinced yourself that only YOU have the answers and that everyone else is going to be smitten by God anyway, it’s not a big leap to realize that it’s OK to shoot them or blow them up.

What does “Enterprise ready” mean?

“Enterprise Ready” means, in the end, that you have a vendor to blame if something goes wrong.

Let’s assume I spend a million bucks of company money on software from major vendors and pay a few million more per year on maintenance and support. Now let’s assume something goes horribly, horribly wrong — we’re dead in the water for a day, for example, or our online stock trading application crashes at market open. I have spent millions of dollars on high end software from top tier vendors, who all work very hard to get us back up and running. Eventually it’s all sorted out, and everyone is satisfied. I keep my job, and when it’s time to renew the support contracts the vendors remind the senior execs about how they pulled our ass out of the fire. Total cost: Let’s snatch a number out of mid air and say $12MM annually on software and support, and a $6MM outage. $18MM total.

Now let’s assume we go another route. We use all free, open-source software and save millions of dollars.  The same “something” happens, but now there ARE no vendors to call. We, our loyal, courageous and highly skilled technical staff, work tirelessly to solve the problem. We’re up in HALF the time it would have taken the vendors to rescue us. Total cost: a $3MM outage, plus say the two mil I spent on consultants and contractors to implement everything. We just saved $13MM, woo-hoo!

All the blame for the outage now falls upon me, the hapless putz whose idea it was to use all this “home-brewed” hacker stuff the vendors warned our CEO, CIO, CFO and everyone else about. It matters not what happened, why it happened, nor how well we handled it. A few stockholders (who coincidentally also own stock in the software vendors) file a class action suit. Blame is assessed, disembodied heads demanded. I’m out on my ass, along with anyone associated with me, probably my boss and maybe his boss as well.  I can’t find another tech job because it’s all my fault my company took a three million dollar outage.

You think I’m making this up? Think again. There’s a reason big companies pay loads of money for next-to-useless support contracts from Red Hat and Novell to run SLES and RHEL, instead of using free Linux distros. And there’s a reason they spend tens of millions (in the case of a large company) for software and services from Microsoft, IBM, BMC, HP, BEA, EMC, Oracle and all the rest. And for the most part it’s got nothing to do with technical considerations.

It’s one of the lessons we learn when working in an “enterprise” environment.  Of course no one ever wants to talk about the real reasons; we talk about “value propositions” and “core competencies” instead.

I call shenanigans!

OK, so now we have an uproar over a political cartoon in the NY Post.  If you haven’t seen it, it shows a chimp laying dead on the ground, having been shot by a cop.  Two cops are standing there; one says something to the effect of “Now they’ll have to find someone else to write the next economic stimulus package”.

I have seen the cartoon.  It’s about as funny or un-funny as most; it very clearly uses a current story (pet chimp goes nuts, has to be killed) to illustrate the fact that the economic stimulus package recently pawned off on the US taxpayer could easily have been written by a demented chimp.

Of course now we have Al Sharpton and the rest of the usual band of jackasses claiming that this is somehow a racial attack on Saint Barack.  OK, ‘scuse me?  Are we going to have to change the color of the ink in the newspaper, lest we be accused of trying to make a racial slur against the Anointed One?  Close down zoos for fear of us white devils telling our kids that black people look like monkeys?  Get serious.  This is 2009, not 1949.  Like it or not, we are a whole lot further than we were 10 years ago, or 20, or 30 — but I think we’d be a lot farther were it not for people trying to make things seem worse than they are,  just to increase their own power and line their own pockets.

If I may be permitted to candidly discuss a racial issue, it’s people like Sharpton and the rest of the nattering nabobs of the left that cause most of the racial issues I have encountered.  I cannot tell you how many times it has been presumed that all white people are somehow biased against blacks, usually secretly, often unconsciously.   If something doesn’t go the way the black person feels it should, well then obviously it’s the white guys secretly banding together to keep the brother down.

Hogwash.  I can count on my fingers the number of white people I have encountered in the past year or two who have shown any detectable bias against or dislike for blacks in general.  On the other hand, the more time I spend in Charlotte the more I hear my black fellow citizens bitching about how all the cards are stacked against them.  I think a lot of it is the constant harping of Jackson, Sharpton and the rest of the so-called “leaders” of the black community.

We’re paying for what??

As I suspected, it turns out that the cute little octuplets born in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia will be largely supported by tax money.

A lot has already been said, and will continue to be said.  I won’t beat it to death.  I will say this: The federal government and the state should both sue the doctors who agreed to do the in vitro fertilization to recover the entire cost of the delivery, neonatal care and tax dollar support until those kids turn 21.

I call this the “Michael Jackson Syndrome”.  Some people desperately need to have someone around them to say, “Look, this is a really bad idea.  You’re obviously not thinking straight — you just can’t do this.  It’s wrong, and it will also make you look like a nut case”.  Jackson has never had this, which is why he’s in the state he is.  Apparently neither has this woman.  You’d think a bunch of doctors would have the common sense, not to mention the social and medical responsibility, to do it for her — but, hey, this is Kali we’re talking about.

I win!

I moderate every comment posted to this blog. All one of them, so far. I don’t do that to censor viewpoints with which I don’t agree (though I could). I do it to keep the spammers and other jackasses from polluting the pond here. Every once in a while I get a dozen or so bogus comments posted by lame-ass criminals trying to spread viruses, Trojan programs or porno ads. I just delete their sorry crap and go on with my life.

The Internet as we know it is under constant siege. Unfortunately most of the attacks come from outside the US, places where the local governments are unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Even more disturbing, I suspect the majority of these attacks are perpetrated by US residents, using crappy computers in crappy, backwards or unfriendly countries to avoid prosecution in the US.

The answer to this problem as it stands today is not more laws. The laws we have are easily (and universally) circumvented or ignored. The only answer I can offer up is frontier justice. In the mean time, I just play Whack-A-Mole with the spammers, thieves and other low-life scum. So far I win.

Lied Lodge in Nebraska City

We spent the past weekend at the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City. My side of the family had our family reunion there, and I have to say we’ll be back!

The lodge itself is beautiful, well maintained and well staffed. Natural timbers are used throughout, and the huge lobby and quiet veranda are a couple of very relaxing spaces to sit and read, talk with family and friends, play cards or whatever. We also spent some time wandering through some of the many trails, visiting the Morton house and carriage house, playing some games on the lawn, etc.

The restaurant puts on a pretty good buffet for breakfast. In fact, after a large, late breakfast we skipped lunch both days. I don’t think we ever had dinner at the hotel restaurant. We wanted to do the free wine tasting (Sat & Sun. nights) but the timing didn’t work out right either evening.

All in all, it’s a beautiful place and one we’ll visit again. I could see an annual stay there, in fact.