Saturday, February 27, 2010


You know the the acrophytes have gotten out of control when it's more effort to pronounce the TLA than the phrase it replaces. There are no two-syllable letters.

Expanding my WWW of influence

Thanks to KAZ for linking my blog from hers. This will likely double my readership.

Turnabout is fair play, so I'll link to hers as well. (I don't think she could prevent me if she tried. I wonder how she'd feel if I linked to her in the middle of my porn link collection).  Let's see..., in memorium

Alas, went down with my old NeXTcube server, sometime in the late 90's. When I left MIT in 1997, I left the cube running, under my desk, with no keyboard or monitor. Remarkably, it kept running for two or three years, probably until they cleaned the office out (prior to knocking down the wall and making it into a double office for the new Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics).

Fortunately, Google is forever (or so I'm told) so, for posterity, Here's a photo of the underside of our Holmes Humidifier, two weeks after we bought it, and half-an-hour after it burst into flame, three feet away from my (then newborn) daughter's crib.

Holmes' business strategy was particularly nefarious - they offered to fix the $25 humidifier for free if I would send it to them, at my expense, along with a $25 check to cover shipping and handling. This pissed me off, having nearly seen my (then, only) child go up in flames. I created the next weekend, after telling the story in the NIST lunchroom and learning that one of my colleagues, who I'll call Alan, had exactly the same experience with his Holmes humidifier but simply bought another one after learning that it would cost more to get it fixed under warranty than to replace. I thought something needed to be done before someone actually lost a baby. I posted my Email address on the WWW site and collected 100 names from others with similar experiences, all of which I passed on to the nice investigator from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).

Eventually, Holmes corporation offered to refund my entire $25, but only after I had already sold the burned out unit to the CPSC. I hope they fixed the design.

Important stuff

Boy, some people have really important things to say on their blogs.

Thank God I'm so shallow. I don't think I could type fast enough to keep up with me if I actually had anything to say.

Visual Thesaurus - continued

So, as promised, I filed a complaint with the NY AG office (Complaint form) and with the NYC BBB (Complaint form). I also fired off an Email to ThinkMap's VCs (GFT, inc).

Afterwards, I sent off another Email to the CEO ThinkMap, Michael Freedman, letting him know that I had filed the complaints and expressing my disappointment that I had to go so far. Naturally, I didn't expect any response to this Email, since they had ignored all of my previous attempts to contact them.

Lo and behold, ten minutes after I sent the Email, I got a reply from Mr. Freedman, including a link to download and install the software. He also left a voicemail on my cellphone. This was Sunday morning at 10 a.m. In both his Email and voicemail, he assures me that ThinkMap had responded to all of my online requests ("they must be caught in your spam filter") and also that he had never before received any Email from me. Perhaps *his* spam filter blocks anything that doesn't have the words "attorney general" or "better business bureau" in it.


He said, I said. Maybe it is my fault, maybe it's not. As far as I'm concerned, this was WAY too much effort for me to use something I paid for and it was their system/policies that made it this way. Eventually the AG and BBB complaints will get marked "resolved," but, if they keep getting more of them and they only get resolved after the complaint gets filed, eventually ThinkMap will improve the process.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blog protocol

E. tells me that a blog post should be no more than 1-2 paragraphs and that it must contain links. Otherwise, it's just an electronic journal.

So, here's a link to My Blog.

And here's a link to My WWW Site, which doesn't work anymore, since I changed ISPs.

Visual Thesaurus

So, for my first rant, let's talk about ThinkMap Corporation, producers of Visual Thesaurus and other cool data-visualization tools.

I like Visual Thesaurus. It's almost as good as a thesaurus and much more fun. It reminds me of the really cool thesaurus that was built into the original WordPerfect, though now with dancing! If you aren't familiar with it, check out the free demo.

I do a lot of writing, often on airplanes and other places where the net is inaccessible, so I bought the desktop version of Visual Thesaurus (for about $40) a year or so ago. I was a little impatient at the time, so I bought the "download" rather than having them mail me a CD with the software.

Just this month, my employer has generously bought me a slick new laptop, a Dell E4300 (which arrived with a crashed hard disk, but that's a story for another bloglet). It's faster than the old one, has 50% longer battery life, and weighs about half as much. The only cost to me is the effort of moving all of my files, programs, and configuration settings to the new device.

I'm a pretty complicated guy, so I had to reinstall about 30 different applications, most of them copy-protected. This meant contacting some 15 different software companies, assuring them that the old laptop was retired, sending them my new macID, and getting new "keys." Every company I talked to, with the notable exception of ThinkMap, was perfectly reasonable.about this. I understand the need for copy protection, we all want to be compensated for our work. For completeness, here is a partial list of the companies who pleasantly and efficiently supported my move to my new laptop:  Microsoft, Adobe, National Instruments, Hamilton Technical Services, Texas Instruments, Symmetricom, Quadravox, OriginLab, Mentor Graphics, SolidWorks. Clearly all of these companies  understand that copy protection needs to be as easy and transparent as possible for your loyal paying customers. It's the carrot and stick methodology, right? You can't skip the carrot.

O.K.  - so I went to the ThinkMap WWW site, entered the download "code" from my original purchase, and it came back with "Sorry, this has been downloaded too many times." I went to their "Customer Support Inquiry" tab and typed in the story about the new laptop, assured them that I was not a thief, etc. and requested a new download code.

After two days with no response, I went back again and typed in the whole story again, perhaps this time with a little more frustration.

A week or so later, I tried calling them on the telephone, which was one of these automated systems where you pick from the menus until finally you get to the Visual Thesaurus Customer Support line, which told me to got the WWW site and hung up on me.

Not to be discouraged, I spent a little time Googling ThnkMap, found that they're a spin-off of one called "Razorfish" and picked up the names of the CEO and CTO. With a little more Googling, I found their Email addresses. For reference, they are:
CEO - Michael Freedman (B.A. Fine Arts, U. of South FL)
CTO - Marc Tinkler (B.A. Architecutre, Carnegie Mellon)
Sorry, I don't have the Email addresses here. I lost them with the E4300 hard disk.

So I wrote a nice explanatory Email to Freedman and Tinkler. I figured that maybe the technical/business leaders of ThinkMap were unaware of the poor treatment that was being given their customers by the support/sales department and that, if I made them aware of it, they would want to step in, help me out, and fix the problem before it frustrates other (loyal, paying) customers. It was certainly my expectation that this would be the last of this and that I would be subsequently contacted by someone from their Sales or Support group and we would be done with this. But no, it's been a week now and still I have heard nothing from ThinkMap.

To summarize:  My "download key" was rejected, I have twice requested support on the WWW site I've tried contacting them by telephone, and I've written a personal Email to the CEO and CTO. I have yet to receive any response of any sort from them, not even a "sorry but we think you are a thief." I think that I have done my due diligence here. Certainly, I have worked as hard as anyone should have to in order to use a product that they have already paid $40 for.

ThinkMap is incorporated in New York and has a mailing address in NYC. They are at least partially owned by a couple of VCs:  Motorola Ventures and GFT Technologies. Today I will file a complaint with the NY Attorney General's Consumer Affairs office and cc a copy to GFT and Motorola Ventures.

Why blog?

We should be so happy with the democratization of the internet that now ANYONE can publish, without the censorship of Big Publishing. Now ANYONE with a keyboard can bore the entire world. Big Publishing was doing us a favor. Between the cost barrier of publishing and the (relatively) literate editors, they were shutting up the %99.999... of the population who have nothing interesting to say.

But there is an upside... Perhaps that bore at work, or the bar, or the family dinner will now indulge his self-involved monologue through his blog. Satisfied with his world following he will shut up and let someone else get a word in edgewise. This is me. My wife, kids, and the poor sap who draws the seat next to mine on the airplane, will all be thrilled when I morph into the strong silent type. If they care what I think, they can read my blog. Otherwise, the good folks at Google can archive it forever, or until they figure out that it has no monetary value, whichever comes first.