The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions

 

Sun, 2010-Apr-04, 07:56

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Now I Know Why American Express Wanted My Email Address

Now I know why American Express wanted my email address: to send me spam.

Each and every time I log into the Amex web site, the site begged me for my email address. I finally gave them one just see what would happen, and I even carefully set my preferences to make certain I would receive only the most essential communications such as messages about potential fraud in my account.

Overnight — Saturday night, the time when in Internet tradition spammers would emerge while system administrators had some time off — Amex sent me spam about one of their marketing programs. I've disabled the email address they're using, and no doubt they'll whine about it next time I log in.

I do have to marvel: what type of fool deliberately sends spam from to a customer who has taken the time and trouble to warn in advance that he doesn't want any? I'll think about this while I consider the move to a new credit card provider, one that respects my privacy.

Wed, 2009-Nov-25, 12:55

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Secret Jargon of the Computer Folk

Earlier this week I visited the Apple web site to purchase some computer memory for my older Mac laptop. In the end, I had to give up and call Apple to find out which memory to purchase.

The problem is Apple's web site, which reflects a trend in the wider industry. With almost no effort on Apple's part, the model number or serial number of the laptop could be entered on the web page an easily call up a perfectly fine, exact description of the laptop. Instead, the "shop for computer memory" section offers me a selection of laptops to choose from. Apple is completely wrapped up in their internal jargon and present me with terms such as "generation six" to describe the laptop. Unfortunately, what they don't describe at all is my particular laptop — my 2.33 GHz laptop simply does not appear on the list of available machines.

The problem here is that Apple wants to use me as a pattern-matching machine (this picture? this date of purchase? this processor speed?) to find out which laptop I have, even though they have a definite, unequivocal method to let me know (my model number). This is a common and annoying user interface error; I discuss similar errors in my latest online talk. The fix is easy enough, of course, and I admit that I'm surprised that Apple is willing to spend money on phone calls like mine instead of fixing the problem.

Tue, 2008-Dec-23, 09:17

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How's that Web Thing Work?

I received a letter from People's Gas, the local Chicago natural gas monopoly. I'm obligated, it seems, to schedule an inspection of my gas meter or they'll cut me off (eventually). But the letter gave a complicated URL to a web site that — they claimed — would let me schedule an inspection. After fiddling around with their registration and other intrusive inquiries, I finally clicked on the "safety inspection" link — to find that it's not as promised; it's for something else entirely. People's Gas is directing its customers to non-existent links on its web site. After wasting time on the web site, I will now have to waste time on the phone.

Not that Commonwealth Edison, the local electricity monopoly, is any better. Last night the power started to fluctuate. I went to the web to find the number to call — and found a link to "report outage." But instead of letting me report an outage, the link required me to find information on my bill, register, give them an email address, and so on and so forth. I have to hand it to ComEd — they actually found a way to make it easier to use the phone than the web.

People's Gas is oblivious, sloppy, and clumsy, but ComEd adds an additional layer of obliviousness: they have failed to disaggregate the different tasks that I want to accomplish online. Access to my account information may require (some) of the information they request; but why should I have to register and have an account with ComEd just to report a downed power line?

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Wed, 2008-Nov-19, 08:47

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"Terrible" and "Misleading" Marketing from Microsoft

Those quotes in the title are from an internal Microsoft email, produced in evidence during a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft.

"I believe we are going to be misleading customers with the Capable program," Allchin wrote in an e-mail to a group of Microsoft product executives. PC makers "will say a machine is Capable and customers will believe that it will run all the core Vista features," wrote Allchin, in the April, 2006 message.
As I said in the book, Microsoft's technology model is to oppose innovation instead of supporting innovation. As a direct consequence, Microsoft constantly finds itself pushed to the edge — or over the edge — of ethical behavior in order to resist the forces of technological progress.

Thu, 2008-Nov-13, 09:48

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Credit-Crunch Candy

I love the way marketing professionals can take a negative concept, disaggregate it from its original meaning, and then use it for positive marketing. Retailers in the UK are marketing "credit-crunch candy" as well as a slew of other items.

Thu, 2008-Oct-16, 05:22

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A Tide of Spam: Shutdown Time

While I was away for the holiday I received a tide of spam from various sources. First there's Ashok "Oblivious" Dande, who is determined to send me several pieces of spam day in and day out. Next comes Andre Mark of "Baytalkitec" who says in a letter apparently written by someone who didn't pay attention during in high school English classes that "I have done a study about your company and feel that you will need IVVR in near future."

As some of you know, I use hundreds of email addresses, and I shut them off when they've become infected. Ordinarily I would just turn off this particular address and be done with it, but I have a horrid fascination about this particular infection and I wonder just how far it will spread.

Mon, 2008-Oct-13, 06:13

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Constant Contact the Refrain: The "Subscriptions" Keep Coming

After my public complaint about Constant Contact, and their response that they "require" opt-in, I decided to take a look in my log files. I discovered over 300 emails from Constant Contact servers since August 2006, not one of which was opt-in.

I admit that I didn't terribly mind some of the emails, such as the ones from my publishers. On the other hand I found others quite annoying, and as such I decided last year to block all email Constant Contact and tell the people I do want to hear from that their email will never be delivered if they use Constant Contact. As an example, just in the past week I've received what appear to be two new subscriptions to mailing lists: the "Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center" as well as "Identity Circle." I can't say that I have ever heard of them, and of course I've never opted in to receive emails from them. It's just spam as far as Internet etiquette is concerned — unsolicited mass email — regardless if it somehow squeezes in under the rules of CAN-SPAM.

Fortunately, my spam filters now delete all email from Constant Contact correctly, that is to say immediately — problem solved.

Fri, 2008-Oct-10, 14:58

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Another Entry in the Hall of Shame

Another entry in the Hall of Shame: Exact Target, another firm that allows companies to create mailing lists without explicit opt-in. Just in case you were wondering about how to go about spamming within the letter of the law, and "avoid common CAN-SPAM pitfalls (like ISP SPAM filters)," you may ask for a handy white paper.

I've modified my email filters so that I'll never see any of their email again, but really, this is getting out of hand.

Wed, 2008-Oct-08, 08:46

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Other Fools Heard From

On my list of charities who will never receive a donation: "Lechem.org," which invaded my privacy with a pre-recorded phone call.

On my list of companies to avoid: Systel Computers. I've just received spam from Ashok Dande, who apparently bought a list of names from some spammer somewhere and is now sending me recruitment information.

Mon, 2008-Oct-06, 11:50

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Still Under Attack from Constant Contact

One of the annoying spam enablers on the Internet is an organization called "Constant Contact," which lets anyone use its facilities to send out spam. For example, right now I receive a costant stream of spam from Keerthi Chaitanya, of a company called NAM-IT, who assures me his spam isn't really spam because I could opt-out if I maneuver the obstacles he's erected.

I need to work on my filters: all email from Constant Contact is supposed to be immediately destroyed.

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