bestkungfu weblog

Opticians – a metaphor

Filed in: consumerism, marketing, vent, Web, Sat, Sep 24 2011 23:45 PT

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me.

I have a prescription, but it’s for contact lenses, so it’s missing one measurement I need so that the lenses’ focal point will be set properly in a new pair of glasses I’m buying.

I need an optician to measure my pupillary distance. You know that thing they do where they hold up a little plastic ruler to each eye for about 5 seconds, and write a couple numbers down? That. The people I talked to wouldn’t do that for me, even for money. I would have paid $20 for that one skill that they have, that takes them 5 seconds. But they wouldn’t do it.

The reason they do this is as plain as the nose on my face (especially in its current condition, that is, unencumbered by glasses). Opticians make their money selling eyewear. Specifically, they take your eye doctor’s prescription and turn it into the eyewear you need. An optician is to an eye doctor what a pharmacist is to a physician. Except, of course, your pharmacist hasn’t figured out how to sell you a high-index UV-coated Prada pill case.

In this day and age, however, there are many new places popping up that offer comparable products for much less money. All that is needed are the numbers on the prescription, plus a couple more that the optician is qualified to provide, and your glasses come in the mail. This destroys the potential for opticians to profit on your frames, lenses, coatings and other upsell opportunities they may have. So it appears they have chosen instead not to offer services to people who don’t want to buy their other products, even when they would happily pay for an optician’s skills à la carte.

And that’s fine, really, especially if you’re a libertarian. I’d have some respect left for the opticians today who gave me the cold shoulder if they had told me money was the reason, but each was at pains to state otherwise. I was told that it was policy, that they couldn’t guarantee the work, even that it was harmful to their integrity as opticians to spend 5 seconds measuring my pupils.

Recently, it seems even information about my own eyes, information which I had commissioned and paid for, is being treated as proprietary. I have asked for a copy of my prescription from my own eye doctor, and been refused. This was unthinkable even a couple years ago. Imagine your physician telling you that you can’t find out what he’s telling the pharmacist to dispense to you. Once you have left the exam room, the experience is no longer about helping you see well: it is about ensuring the greatest amount of money stays in the office. They will cling to your data and the skills you lack to keep you coming back to them, rather than finding a more efficient solution.

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me. Not because they couldn’t, but because doing it their way makes them more money. And now I’m generally distrustful of opticians, if not actively looking forward to their obsolescence. From this point forward, I will only get my vision checked by an eye doctor who will hand me a printed copy of all my information at the end of the visit.

Web professionals, you might want to bookmark this. It may become relevant to you at some point in the future.

It’s panel picker time

Filed in: vent, Mon, Jun 13 2011 01:58 PT

A couple months ago, my friend Andy Budd put his finger on the core problem with the modern SXSW. It’s unfathomably large. I mean, really, who’s going to attend much of a conference when it’s split across seemingly every meeting room in downtown Austin? Can anyone ensure quality for the conferencing dollar with 1800 speakers in tow?

Of course they can’t. And the secret we don’t want to talk about is that it doesn’t really matter. Twenty-five thousand conferencegoers cannot be wrong. Everyone who has attended more than one SXSW knows that each year, it grows outside its container. And each year, it’s outside that container where most of the action is anyway.

Still, when the sun is out, we need a place to go, if only to check our phone to see whether that taxi driver who tried to give us Ron Paul campaign materials is going to return the laptop case we left behind, or keep it as payment for puking in his cab. At SXSW, these waiting areas are called “sessions”. And these sessions are driven, at least in part, by feedback from the SXSW panel picker, which will kick off the battle for our hearts, minds and Twitter streams on June 20th.

For those would-be panelists who are willing to listen, I’d suggest that if you think someone else is going to propose your panel, and you think it’s going to be roughly as good as yours, either try to join forces, or get out of the way. There were over 2500 proposed talks last year, and it was plainly too many for the crowd to come to any reasonable consensus around. Having seen how this system works, I find myself strongly in favor of returning to a curated conference with no public voting system, but sensing I’m in the minority here, I’d generally prefer ways to trim down the noise.

Speaking of which: most of what I will ever see of your panel picker proposal will be the title. I may end up looking at a hundred actual pitches, for which I recommend some thinking and discussion in advance, but that doesn’t mean you need to post the verbal equivalent of Speakers’ Corner. I’ve noticed a few patterns that I would like to mark as cliché, and I’m offering examples of accepted panels from SXSWi 2010, so we may avoid the mistakes of the past.

Cut the Shit

The easiest way to draw someone’s attention when all you have is one line is to curse or use graphic imagery. But any writer worth a good goddamn knows profanity is just a crutch. Witness this batch of winners:

  • Avoiding the 11th Hour Shitstorm
  • Bend Over? Surprise! Agencies Are Screwing You
  • Bordering Incest: Turning Your Company into a Family
  • Career Transparency: Why Personal Branding Is Bullshit
  • F***ing Old Spice Guy: Race, Sex, Micro-celebrity
  • How Social Media Fu@k’d up my Marriage
  • Recruiters Are Full of Shit, I Am One
  • Social Media and Comedy: Fuck Yeah!
  • Social Media or Sado-Masochism? Cyberbullying and Celeb 2.0
  • Tired of @#%ing Social Media Experts? (Led by two SM experts. Predictably.)

If you weren’t keeping track, in that list alone were seven FCC words, and one reference each to sadomasochism, incest and anal rape. And these are the proposals that got in. Stay classy, panelists!

I like a good F-bomb. Probably more than I wish I did. (Stupid 2 Live Crew.) But seriously, people. Using profanity in your title to get attention is nothing more than verbal prostitution. Don’t degrade yourself, or SXSW, by making this a race to the bottom.

Another thing about these aggressive titles is that, looking back at the most out-there sessions of SXSWi 2009 (which I attended) and 2010 (which I didn’t), disappointment reigns. Unless your name is Mike Monteiro, you cannot pull off a session built around an epithet. Actually, let me double down on this: watch Mike’s “Fuck You, Pay Me” talk. He makes this work not by beating his audience over the head with it. What he did, which I think is brilliant, is that he got the audience to join him in the joke. The point is, Mike has mastered profanity, and you have not. More importantly, he’s also talented enough that he could propose “Mike Monteiro Explains Client Billing through Experimental Jazz”, and I’d at least consider it, if it’s a late-afternoon slot. He’s proven his value. What have you done?

SM Addicts

Let’s revisit the last title in that bunch:

  • Tired of @#%ing Social Media Experts?

OHDEARGOD YES I’M SICK TO DEATH

…ahem. There were 2563 proposals for SXSWi last year. Of them, one hundred seventy-three had the words “social media” in the title. Another 165 had “social” in another form. All told, more than one out of every 8 panel proposals was somehow social.

This is my message to all social media folks: yes, we get it. You want to be on a panel at SXSW. But you also all want to talk about what to the rest of the world looks like boring, contrived bullshit that serves only to prop you up individually, and it’s gotten old. The only thing worse about the situation is that the panel picker rewards people with large networks, who then vote up their proposals, whether or not they may attend as a result. A distributed acceptance of service, if you will.

I like you. Many of you. Okay, some. And if you want to talk about the social aspect of things, great. But please, offer value to someone other than you and your navel-gazing friends.

For SXSW 2012, I’m going to vote down every panel in the panel picker with the word social in it, and I encourage you all to do the same. It’s 2011. We can take for granted that all but the most bare-metal tech talks have some aspect of humanity to them. Try harder.

You’ll be the death of me

Which brings me to my next category of useless titles: those who are trying too hard. A sampling:

  • Are Internet Consumers Killing Online Creativity?
  • Banks: Innovate or Die!
  • Death of the Demo; Rise of Branded Tutorial
  • Death of the Relational Database
  • Death of the Textbook, Emergence of Games
  • Iterate or Die: How Media Businesses Must Adapt
  • Kill Your Call Center! Bring Your Support Home

Yeesh. Always with the dying. How much Cure is in your vinyl collection?

Death isn’t sexy. Java’s been dead for 12 years, if not more. So why did Oracle buy a $7.4 billion corpse? The fact is that all of these cases are more about things transitioning from the New Hotness to an established technology, or from an established technology to a legacy technology. The Death card symbolizes change. Try talking to me about how things are changing instead of putting another few rounds into this particular equine.

Think about the future

  • The Future Enernet: a Conversation with Bob Metcalfe
  • Future Fitness: The Power of Personal Data
  • Future of Collective Intelligence: Location! Location! Location!
  • The Future of Content is Personal
  • The Future of Innovation in Banking
  • The Future of Microformats
  • Future of Mobile Gaming/Entertainment
  • The Future of Nonprofits: Thrive and Innovate in the Digital Age
  • The Future of Philanthropy: Social Giving Takes Off
  • The Future of Storytelling: DEXTER Fans Play Killer
  • The Future of Touch User Interface Design

So there are the dozen “Future” sessions. Add to that the 42 “How to…” sessions, and you have a pretty good idea at what words are just filler. Yes, we want to know the future of what you are interested in. Yes, we want to know how to do what you do. That is why we are at SXSW. (Well, that and Tacodeli. But mostly, knowledge!)

Buy my panel… suckers!

Finally, there are the sessions that tell us, the voters and badgeholders, that we’re idiots.
  • Freelancers Are Slutty, But So Are You
  • Grow Some Balls: Build Business Relationships from Nothing
  • How to Not Be a Douchebag at SXSW (sic)
  • Your Meetings Suck and It’s Your Fault
  • Your Web Developer Thinks You’re an Idiot

It’s not like you have to flatter people in your proposal, but most of this stuff reads to me like a Fiona Apple Oscar speech. This whole world is bullshit! Yeah. Useful. Thanks. Sessions that cater to those with low self-esteem do seem to be crowd-pleasers at SXSWi, strangely enough, but it’s another reason to dig in and ask for a meaningful description of the situation and where you, the panelists, find yourselves. Don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong. You don’t know me, or 99% of the others in the room, and the involuntary Twitter backchannels that are spawned will apprise you of this fact with extreme prejudice. Better to build up than to tear down.

So, we’ve covered what not to say in the title. What’s left? I can answer that with yet another session title from SXSWi 2010:

  • Who Are You and Why Should I Care?

The voters of the panel picker need to represent the values of the conference they want to attend. I think that’s been lacking, and the result is that fewer, not more, voices are being heard. When people set foot in Austin, they vote with their feet, and what they look for has nothing to do with punchy titles and everything to do with reputation. In stock market terms, that’s called a flight to quality. We want our Zeldmans and Veens and Bowmans and Santa Marias. Maybe the best thing we can do to have the SXSW of the future represent us is to return to the days where the choices were fewer, but they were generally sure to provoke, if not to enlighten. I have an idea for how to make those qualitative choices a little more reliable, but that’s for another late night.

Twitter, ye markup be non-standarrrrrd.

Filed in: design, vent, Web, Fri, Sep 19 2008 11:10 PT

Twitter unveiled a new redesign today. Very little of it is really noticeably different, until you look at the underlying code. Which, last I recall, used to be pretty good–they even used the fancy-pants XHTML 1.0 Strict doctype (though still using tables for layout, which the spec says it shouldn’t do).

But one thing about the latest version makes me wonder just what the hell they’re doing these days.

<center>.

The <center> element. In September 2008. From the “it” Web 2.0 company. Seriously.

I know this will make me sound like the annoying standardista, but how could anyone who still uses <center> still be doing web design professionally in, of all places, San Francisco? This is an element which has been deprecated for eleven years. Do we really have people who haven’t changed their coding practices since before 1997?

Sadly, yes. And the worse news is, they’re writing books. I just saw a book whose first edition was published in July 2008, which teaches users to use <center>, to do layout tables, to use CSS primarily just for font selections, and loads of other outdated guidance. This is material from the bad old days of web design, and it simply gets regurgitated over and over again. To quote the late, great George Carlin, “it’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.”

I don’t know what it is going to take to finally cull the proverbial herd of these kinds of authors and designers. But each time I see this, it makes me wonder when we can expect some kind of professionalism out of the average content producer. Many of us have been talking about this stuff for years. It’s de rigueur at many web conferences, to the point that people now roll their eyes at it. And yet, it continues. I also don’t know whether Twitter is doing this in-house or if they hired an external designer. But certainly, somebody there dropped the ball.

And I know that one <center> is not a big thing. It’s just a symptom of a larger disease: that of lazy, ignorant and/or incurious designers. When someone sticks to one way to do something without ever updating their own skill set, their designs get more and more inflexible. Which makes redesigns more and more difficult, and more expensive, all with less to show for it. Which brings us to the boxy gridlock we experienced in the 90s. Which is why standardistas get so angry about this stuff. We know that customers deserve better than this. We know that when customers find out how their designer painted them into a corner, it casts a shadow over all of us in those customers’ eyes.

The question that remains from all this is, how can the professionals in this field separate themselves from the amateurs? Really. I want suggestions. What concrete steps can we take to ensure that the good designers and developers, the ones who are always learning, who have a full and balanced skill set, don’t get lumped in (or worse, beaten out by) the ones who are locked in 1995? Who’s got an idea?

eBay, please don’t speak for me

Filed in: design, vent, Web, Mon, Jul 28 2008 09:06 PT

I just had a horrible experience with eBay, which I think is summed up in this message I just sent to them.

I have a serious complaint with the way eBay sends automated messages. I was forwarded a message sent from eBay to the seller, which reads:

“I would like to have the item shipped to the address below:”
…followed by the shipping address in my eBay account.

However, I had never asked eBay to give that address as the shipping address, and in fact, the payment info I sent on PayPal had the correct address. As a result, the seller shipped the package, then went out of her way to return to the post office to change the shipping address from the _right_ one to the _wrong_ one–all because eBay says I told her to. And now the package will be delayed by a full week, and arrive at my home, where no one will be present to pick it up.

I hold eBay and its email notification system responsible for this.

eBay should never, under any circumstances, misrepresent its users by making statements beginning with the word “I”. You do not speak authoritatively on behalf of your users. I’m a designer and I understand the urge to sound human, but in this case, and I’m sure many others, you are doing more harm than good. I am extremely displeased that my package will be late, but even more upset that eBay sees fit to substitute its words for mine.

The same goes for any other e-commerce outfit out there. I know it sounds all down-home folksy to say things like “I would like to have the item shipped…” instead of “The buyer’s address is…”, but you don’t know what I want. You only know what your user tells you. And you should never communicate more than that.

On supporting the troops

Filed in: Iraq, personal, politics, vent, Mon, May 19 2008 13:57 PT

I have a sister who’s 18. She’s studying nursing at Northern Arizona University, and I’m really proud of her. Occasionally, though, she sends me chain letters, and I just got one from her today. It consists of couplets contrasting our relative comfort against the struggle of our soldiers in the Middle East:

You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.

You’re angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
He’s told he will be held over an extra 2 months.

You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.

And so on. It ends:

If you support your troops, send this to 7 people.
If you don’t support your troops well, then don’t send this out.
You won’t die in 7 days, your love life won’t be affected, and you won’t have the worst day ever.
You don’t have to email this. It’s not like you know the men and women that are dying to preserve your rights.

And that was enough to set me off.

The classic subtext in the “support the troops” argument is that those who oppose the administration’s objectives in prosecuting the war are somehow “against” the troops. Which is like saying you hate your favorite sports team simply because you think the owner or general manager is a bum. Actually, it’s far worse than that: it is to suggest that you therefore hate each player to the extent that you don’t care if they die.

During the first Gulf War, I was proud to wear a yellow ribbon because I was proud of the individuals that make up the military, if not the proverbial owners and general managers. That’s still true today, individual crimes and misdemeanors notwithstanding. But the yellow ribbon is now driven by that quiet dual meaning, and I won’t wear one because it’s more important for me to be clear about my divided opinions of the management versus the rank and file.

What really got to me about this letter was that it reminded me of a story from my past, and since my sister was so young, I thought it best to relay it to her:

So, you probably don’t remember this, since you were 2 at the time. But during the first Gulf War, there was a billboard on the railroad between Santa Fe and Butler (in Flagstaff, Arizona) that had a “We Support The Troops” sign. One night, someone went up and papered over the words “the troops” with “Death and Destruction”. The next day, my friend David and I climbed up 20 feet onto the billboard to scrape it off. And I’d do it again.

So if you ever meet whoever started this chain letter, tell them I said if they think I don’t support the troops because I won’t forward their preachy, jingoist message, they can FUCK RIGHT OFF. For real.

Nothing personal. I still love you. It just pisses me off like nothing else when people confuse being against the war with being against soldiers. I care a lot about the soldiers, and I’m willing to do a hell of a lot more than start a chain letter if it would help make them safe, strong and free.

Love,
m

Survey says…

Filed in: vent, Mon, Apr 30 2007 18:44 PT

Question: What do you like least about eMusic.com?

Answer: At the moment, the fact that you use Zoomerang, whose survey interface is buggy on Firefox when it has no excuse to be.

I mean, come on. How can a survey engine be dumb enough to forget what users are entering, then not only fail to validate the submitted form on the client side, but have such terse errors that you might not even notice they’re there? I filled out two different companies’ surveys on that site in the last three days, and had the same problem each time. If you want me to spend my time providing feedback, the least you can do is not waste any more of it than is absolutely necessary. From now on, Zoomerang requests go straight to /dev/null.

Fix Firefox’s password scheme

Filed in: design, vent, Web, Thu, Nov 30 2006 11:58 PT

I’ve had a problem with how my browser memorizes passwords for a while now, and I’m certainly not alone. Since the holy grail of identity management appears to be a long ways away, I think it’s time to address it.
When I enter a username and password, Firefox helpfully offers to remember it. This is good, and helpful, if you know your username and password. My problem is that I have hundreds of accounts scattered all over the place, and I can never be sure that the username and/or password I am entering is correct. If it’s not, and I tell Firefox to remember it, then I am guaranteed to be starting with the wrong credentials on subsequent visits. Only I won’t know it until I try signing in. That’s a less than stellar user experience.

The problem compounds itself on sites where the form sends you to another page in the site’s hierarchy. Then, you may store the correct username and password combination on that other page, and Firefox will remember them both. And as a result, you’ll go to log in on a site’s front page, then fail, but then be sent to that second page, which will let you in. I had to do that for years with Vonage, having forgotten that the original username and password I provided were useless.

It seems a better way to store new usernames and passwords would be to ask whether to store them after the transaction has been completed. So once you submit the form, and you know whether your credentials have been accepted, you can inform the browser to continue. If not, you can go back and try again. But in any case, you will not be saving bad credentials that will continue to come back and bite you each time you forget whether you used this password or that, or whether you’re bob or bobsmith or bobs or bobsmith@gmail.com or b0b_l0l_360 at any given site you have visited.

Am I alone in this, or does this seem like a useful feature request?

The latest exhibit in why people suck

Filed in: consumerism, vent, Mon, Feb 20 2006 18:33 PT

On January 17th, I ordered a case for my iPod. Not just any case, mind you, but the dock-compatible, magnetically-fastening Sena case, in dark blue. I was undeterred by the fact that it was on backorder, for this was the Ultimate iPod Protecting Device — and in the Blue Flavor signature color, no less.
On February 17th, according to US Postal Service records, the case was delivered to my apartment complex.

Where it was promptly stolen.

Sigh.

It’s not the lost money that bothers me. What has me really peeved about the situation is that someone stole an item that presumably is of near-zero value to them, out of a public space, from a box that wouldn’t exactly cry out “steal me” like, say, one with a big Apple logo on it. And here I am, fifty bucks poorer, with a growing need for a protective outer shell for my still-naked iPod, and having to endure another long backorder for another case, while some asshole has probably already tried selling mine to some pawn shop or fence, and most likely trashed it somewhere when they failed.

Apparently this is the first time someone has had their mail stolen from here in two years, and the manager told me he had kicked out a “transient” who had snuck into the building on Friday afternoon, so it’s probably someone on the outside. But my god, do people suck. I’m having all of my packages delivered to the office from now on, so that I can sign for them, and so that boxes like this will go into a locked mailbox. Of course, I must first add my work address to the list of authorized addresses on my cards, which I now have to do thanks to other people who suck, and who use stolen cards to have big-ticket items delivered to them. Thieving pricks.
Something tells me I need to run by Capitol Loans and see if they have any new iPod cases…

Any press is good press

Filed in: personal, vent, Thu, Aug 11 2005 14:11 PT

…as long as they spell your name right.

Which, of course, they didn’t.

In an column on Podshow receiving venture capital, Marketwatch’s Frank Barnako (I checked it, twice) refers to me as “Matt Kaye.” Now, I frequently get “Mike May” and “Matt Mays,” but Kaye? Hmm. Maybe I’m Doug‘s kid.

Honestly. Is “Matt May” really that difficult? Does The Other Matt May have this problem? Should I just go by “M” from now on?

Thanks to Hylton Jolliffe (I checked it, twice) for the pointer.

Who’s a podcasting insider?

Filed in: projects, SXSW2005, vent, Mon, Mar 21 2005 11:26 PT

I’ve had enough. Dave Winer has taken enough sideswipes at SXSW over the last week, and its “insider” nature, that I can’t let him get away with it any longer. If anyone is a podcasting insider, it’s Dave Winer.

I was a panelist on the podcasting session at SXSW, and although I don’t necessarily feel that I need to, I can explain why (your favorite podcaster’s name here) was not on the panel.

I was approached to be on the panel about three weeks before the conference. They knew I was going to be at SXSW because I was speaking on another topic, and they knew I was a podcaster because I put it in my bio. Others on the panel were exhibitors (such as Dannie Gregoire) and/or locals. So, to those asking why Eric Rice or Evan Williams were not on the podium, there’s your answer. It was a last-minute thing, and the organizers didn’t pore over the attendance list with a Certified Podcasting Expert. That’s all.

Now, let’s deal with this “insider” crap. The podcasting session was held on the show floor of the conference, which was free and open to the public. Dave should know this, since I told the podcasters list about it. At the time, though, he was more interested in getting into the conference for free because he was a podcaster. Which strikes me as something an insider would try to do.

Speaking of. Winer talking to Robert Scoble about “insiders” still has me tickled. Who better to talk about them? Winer is the ultimate insider. He’s been in nearly all of the hundreds of mainstream media articles about podcasting — and moans incessantly about it when he’s left out. He has the phone number of anyone (he thinks is) worth talking to in podcasting. When he issues a command from the Holy See of Scripting News, and finds that it has not been done his way, whoever is responsible will find their Winer Number reduced in due time. He has his favorites, and his favorite villains, and makes good use of both lists when it suits him. (In the interest of full disclosure, he once shouted me down at a Seattle blogger Meetup for daring to have a view on the role of music in podcasting that wasn’t both in line with his and composed of two or fewer sentences in length. He also got his digs in at me when I went to the Berkman blogger meetup, apparently for no better reason than that I work for the W3C. For someone who talks so much about openness and exchanging ideas, his ability to handle such an open exchange is laughable.)

I did record our session, and I plan to make it available as soon as the SXSW people, now possibly recovering from their final hangovers of SXSW Music, give me their blessing to distribute it. I know that time is of the essence here, but I want listeners to have a clear enumeration of the rights they have to the final MP3. More on that soon. But let’s bury this “insider” bullshit once and for all.

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