Sunday, March 31, 2013

April Fool's "Journalism" Considered Harmful?

There seems a bit of a meme in twitter-land this year on the subject of April Fool's fake stories being A Bad Thing. I think I am generally sympathetic to the arguments, notably undermining trust. I can think of one beneficial side-effect, at least: it may help train people to detect Urban Legends. In my cosmology, this is a very important skill.

Erik's Rule of Grammar Checkers

Grammar-checkers are certainly A Good Thing. But for the most part, they serve only to alert, not to educate. Because the people in need of grammatical guidance are unlikely to understand the advice being offered. Conversely, the people who understand the guidance likely don't need it.

So yes, grammar checkers are useful, but only in an inspect-quality-into-the-product sense. Writers with strong grammar will be alerted to their occasional copy-edit-style mistake. Writers with weak grammar, but still conscientious enough to want to eliminate outright mistakes, will at least see they have a problem, and engage in trial-and-error reformulation, to eliminate the mistake.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reviews need to differentiate core product versus purchasing experience

Amazon reviews, and any others for that matter, really need to differentiate whether the scoring refers to the core product or something related to the buying experience. For instance, if you are buying and Asus monitor, and the monitor is great but you are upset because it took 3 months for the $20 rebate to arrive, it is really very useful to distinguish that in the review. For people buying the monitor and not eligible for the rebate, for instance, the delay is completely irrelevant.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Karmic punishment for Google

When a company commits a major transgression, I always root for them to receive karmic punishment. By that, I mean punishment that goes beyond short-term, incremental damage related to their crime du jour. I want them to suffer, extensive, lasting damage to their brand.

I'm not talking about cases where companies are merely annoying--like raising prices more than I would wish, or discontinuing my favorite color. I am talking about egregious cases that involve a breach of faith, or abusing a monopoly position. Like when Micro$oft briefly tried to make licenses for Office non-portable.

Is this vindicitve of me? I don't think so. Companies are a bit like toddlers. They are mostly amoral, and if they don't suffer a sufficient consequence for a transgression, they will keep pushing the boundary, every time they see an opportunity to gain by doing so. If they suffer mild, limited, ordinary punishment, that won't be enough deterrent. They will conclude the upside is worth the risk.

Google has been eating away at a reservoir of user goodwill with its long string of failed/canceled projects. Perhaps some are justifiable, in that there was never much uptake (Google Wave). But Google Reader was pretty important to a large number of people. And Google owned the market, and drove out all the competition. So the fact that they are willing to abandon it with short notice makes them worthy of karmic justice they are experiencing, as one journalist or blogger after another takes advantage of the recent announcement of the Google Keep note-taking app to and the Reader cancellation and concludes "why should I make an investment? Evernote is fine".

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Airlines should offer a free ticket exchange

As compensation for being bumped. It would be very useful, potentially more useful than a $200 voucher. Maybe throw in a free companion one.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Remember when cell phones were banned in gyms?

This article talks about a bar that has preemptively banned Google Glass. Made me think of the progression of cell phones...sometime around 2002, when cell phones had become very common, the YMCA I go to "banned" using them on the exercise floor. That rule was more or less respected. Then a couple of years later, as cell phone cameras became the norm, the rule didn't change, but the level of posting was increased, including the locker rooms.

Here's the funny thing...now that phones have gotten more powerful, and cameras, even video, could easily be used surreptitiously, respect for the rule has fallen by the wayside. Phones are so mutli-purpose, that people use them everywhere, including the locker room for listenting to music, answering texts, who knows what else, maybe using exercise tracker apps.

Anyway, assuming Google Glass or something like it catches on, I predict a similar cycle of resistance then surrender.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

University naming rights for prison controversy--how it will end

A university sells stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison operator, now dealing with fallout.

This feels like an easy one to predict. Tactics of the university president Mary Jane Saunders--who comes across as under-informed, bought and paid for: brush the whole thing off as a done deal. Let me go on record spelling out the predictable "I've seen this movie" outcome: 
  • Continued controversy
  • Further "revelations" that cast the prison operator, GEO Group, in an unfavorable light
  • Not guaranteed, but likely, additional revelations about how cozy the university president and/or administration is with GEO Group
  • Writing on the wall for all to read, and the parties mutually agree to cancel the contract
  • In canceling, Saunders misses the opportunity for a full-throated apology
  • Calls for president's resignation
  • President does not resign as an immediate outcome (unless a true smoking gun is found), but her tenure is substantially foreshortened

It all seems so obvious. If Saunders could just bring herself to do the right thing and reverse course, she could easily survive this. The fact that she seems to be sticking it out suggests to me that either there is more to implicate her, or she is just very tight with GEO Group and their president, and can't bring herself to ditch a friend. Ironically, though, she would be doing both parties in the friendship a huge favor if she did just that. We are dealing with students here. Even if they weren't in the right--which I think they are--this is just the kind of thing youth protest thrives on. It is a no-win for the university to try to tough it out.

(PS this brouhaha highlights two deplorable trends: The phenomenon of "naming rights", and the outrageous cost of higher education.)