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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Being Smart with Databasing: Less Really IS More

Ya’ know, I want this blog to be positive – to be helpful. There is no intent to convey anger. But…(there it is!) Yep. This one’s for the idiots managing web databases, the ones charged with gathering too much information about all of us, no matter what.

With plenty of experience in databasing, please let me give you a thought: You don’t need to know everything about me – nor do you deserve to – unless the quid of your quid pro quo is substantial!

I know you’ve convinced your management that you can squeeze the number and location of all birthmarks from site visitors but you’re doing your company no favors. And if your CEO ever gets hold of stats from competitors who aren’t hounding users for data, and he realizes how you’re actually damaging the corporate image, you may well be gone. But, meantime, you’ll continue your harm.

Case in point. (This is just one. It happens all the time but this is the latest). Pantone. They generate color products and services. In fact, just about everyone is familiar with “Pantone 100 C” description. Cool company. In fact, it is the standard for colorimetry.

I happen to own one of their Huey products. It’s used to calibrate monitors so that you know what you’re really getting. And, not to overuse “cool”, but that’s what the device is. It works flawlessly on XP Professional and on Macs.

And then, I upgraded to Windows 7. Aha. Needed a new driver. Loaded the disc that came with the Huey and, of course, nothing there. So I made my way to the manufacturer website. There the milking started. Seems some database guy/girl there is convinced they need to know everything about me in order to give me the driver. And he/she did his/her doggoned best to make sure they got it, with every data box asterisked as a required field.

First: I paid for the doggoned thing. That’s enough.

Second: You don’t need to know everything about me in order to support your product. More importantly, I don’t need nor do I want to join your “club”. I don’t want your emails, I really don’t need your forums. I just need the device to work.

Third: If you do manage to pull the wool over your CEO’s eyes and convince him/her that you’re entitled to all that information, at least do a decent web design so that the page functionality doesn’t make me repeatedly complete the page, e.g., if you have to have (a good page doesn’t, but…) a phone number in a particular format, tell me it’s “xxx-xxx-xxxx” instead of returning the page with a “violation” and, at the same time, wiping other info you forced me to enter. Guys, that’s just insulting. But again, apparently you’ve been able to buffalo your top management.

I did finally get the driver and that cute Huey stepped up and recalibrated the video card in the new 7 machine in about a minute, but now I feel I’m on intimate terms with their website – all for their enabling a device they sold me to continue working.

Now one of my big issues is people who complain without offering solutions. So, here you go.

• Weigh what you’re offering against what you’re asking for

• Ask if you really need those data or if it’s just so you can puff out your chest or, worse, sell it

• Consider incremental databasing. Don’t know what that is? Then you probably shouldn’t be in your job. But when a person comes to your site the first time, you can ask for a bit of info. On return, you might ask a bit more. One more return and maybe some more. And, of course, if you sell them something, you’ll be able to gather additional transactional information. Don’t think it’ll work? I’ve seen it and done it.

Again, the point here is the positive aspects – if you’re running a database, think about what you’re asking for. If you’re entitled to it, go for it. If not, leave it out. Hey! It may actually improve business.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gone in Sixty Seconds

The star of this one isn’t Nicolas Cage and the title really isn’t as above but rather, Obsolete in 18 Months.

Technology keeps marching, for sure but now it’s double time or better. Maybe it’s the technology or maybe it’s just churning the masses and generating new purchases.

Hey, I can understand true advances but the one I’m writing about is not. It’s an “upgrade” by what you want to think is one of the good guys. Google.

Google and T-Mobile launched the MyTouch and Android pairing. Pretty good competition for iPhone. Worked great. I bought one. The Android platform is open source and thousands of folks are developing apps. I’m amidst one right now.

Well I was – until awhile ago. The phone slowed to a crawl. Sometimes locked up, even rebooted on its own. But the biggest annoyance is that the touch screen runs slowly, often responding to a touch long after a finger has left it. And with that, slow screen changes including over a minute for the screen to rewrite itself after dialing a phone call or reading an email.

Calls to T-Mobile were a laugh with the first one beginning with, “Have you turned your phone on and off?” Well actually, it didn’t begin there. It began with them asking if I was aware of a certain promotion…I had to remind them that they shouldn’t be pushing anything on me while my phone was misbehaving.

At first, the person denied that it was a common issue – until I pointed to pages on T-Mobile’s own forums and all of the problems and complaints posted. Then she admitted that, well, there have been some other calls. Well, if the calls were like the posts, people aren’t happy. In fact, they’re angry at both T-Mobile and Google

There were no improvements after the first call. Reset a lot of things, turned off one app that had decided to run all the time, but no improvements.

I made a trip to the T-Mobile store. “You’re not alone,” the kind guy behind the counter said. “I probably had five or six others just today.”

“So what is it?” I hoped for an instant fix.

“Google.” Well, Android 2.2, to be specific,” he smiled.

I wasn’t smiling as he continued, “1.6 was fine but when they went to 2.2, the MyTouch 3G saw all sorts of problems. Looks like your phone has most of them.”

“How do I fix it?”

“Go back to 1.6,” he said. But you don’t have long on your contract…stick it out and get a different phone.”

That wasn’t the right answer. Especially when he said the alternative was to go back to 1.6 which meant wiping everything on the phone, reverting to the old version of Android and reloading it all. I asked if there was a patch coming for 2.2 which would fix the problems and he said it wasn’t likely.

OK, off to the web. The guy was right. Lots of folks getting burned by a non-caring Google. At least that’s how it seemed. Apparently, I was lucky. At least my alarm still worked and I could get text messages. But as I read the complaints and checked them out, I found I had even more issues. Battery life, for sure and keyboard freezes. Now I get the battery life issue – a newer OS may be running more items in the background and it’s all those cycles in CMOS that suck current – but keyboard freezes? C’mon, Google. A $600 stock price doesn’t give you the right to ignore your customers…unless your goal is a $300 stock price!

Next came another call to T-Mobile. “May I have your phone number?” he asked.

“You mean the one the automated system already had me type in?”



“And the last four of your social…”

“And you mean the ones the automated system already me type in?”

“I’m sorry. That information doesn’t come over to us.”



“Never mind. I know it’s not you. Let’s hope someone actually listens to the recording you’re making for ‘training’ purposes. Where do we start?”

“First, let’s turn your phone off and back on.”

I resisted the urge to stick my hand through the phone. “OK, but if you have any of my account history in front of you, you know this is going to take some time.

“That’s OK.”

So we waited…and waited. Did get to talk about weather.

“OK. We’re back up. I counted almost four minutes. How about you?”

“I’m sorry sir. How is it working? Can you open an app?”

The first one opened perfectly, as fast as I touched it. But when I closed it out and opened another, it slowed to its usual crawl. After some investigation, he was hard-pressed to believe that no one had told me that 2.2 allowed me do move apps from the phone to the SD card and that that should clear everything up.

The migration started…and stopped. “These apps have the “Move to SD Card” option greyed out,” I told him.

“Yeah. Some don’t work except on the phone.”

One after another gave me no option but to leave the app on the phone. But convinced that moving the apps would free up needed phone memory, I made a mistake. I told him that I could do these changes without holding him up and I’d call back if there were further problems. He thanked me, promised he had noted everything in my account history and hung up.

I moved another eight or 10 applications to the SD card then restarted the phone. The house of hope fell in on reboot. No better. I mean no better.

Another browse session just showed more disappointed users. I called T-Mobile customer care again and, as you would expect, went through the same restating of my information as before. I got to an unsympathetic lady who
• Read my account history
• Confirmed that a lot of people were having the problem
• Asked if I had turned the phone off and back on
• Disagreed when I asked her if she thought that Google and T-Mobile have rendered my phone obsolete (“…after all, you can revert to Android 1.6 and your phone will work…” she said.) – as if somehow asking me to spend hours fixing a problem brought about by an “upgrade” was fine with her
• Told me she didn’t know how to get my message (that Google and T-Mobile have to provide support for their products or say goodbye to consumers) to her supervisor or others in “management”

So, with an 18 month old phone, I’m on the make again. This time, though, it’s for a new service provider as well as new phone. I’d say, “Farewell, Android, [Aquarius] and we thank you,” but the astronauts on Apollo 13 were saved and Aquarius helped. Android burned up on reentry.