Gottlieb’s poor title choice

I just finished reading Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, and I have to say the book’s title doesn’t really match its contents. It’s brilliant marketing, though. Any kind of controversial title will always bring more attention to the book. I doubt Gottlieb would have riled up critics and skeptics as much with a title like Have actual reasonable expectations when dating. Not quite as snappy-sounding, is it?

Ultimately, though, that’s what it boils down to. Sure, Gottlieb throws in little humorous self-deprecating anecdotes and makes the book entertainingly simplistic. There is a lot of good truth in her book, though. Unfortunately, where people seem to take offense is in the book’s narrow scope. Truth may be truth… but not all truths are universal.

Who should read this book? Whom do this book’s truths apply to? It seems only women who are like Gottlieb. If you are a woman who feels entitled to the “perfect” man and believes “perfect” involves all sorts of nitpicky details about his hair color, his income, what clothes he wears, what his favorite movies are, etc., and you desperately want to get married and have kids… then, yes, you should read this book (and just ignore the sensationalist title). Anyone else will just find this an interesting sociological glimpse into the world of a certain segment of upper-middle-class heterosexual dating in America among those who buy into traditional gender roles.

In all fairness, I don’t think Lori Gottlieb picked the title to be sensationalist (that was probably just a fortunate-for-her side effect). From the beginning of the book all the way until the end, you get the sense that this epiphany of hers is strictly cerebral. Even as she is telling women (or certain types of heterosexual women) that it isn’t about settling but about recognizing romance, beauty, and attractiveness where perhaps you didn’t see it before; it’s pretty clear that she is still in the process of convincing herself, and so her perspective on it remains labeling that adjustment settling.

All of this becomes quite clear in the chapter in which she signs up for with the assistance of a dating coach named Evan. Her dismissals of various men explain quite easily why this woman who is desperate to get married (because not all women are) is still single in her early 40s. One man she dismisses because he doesn’t post his salary to his profile. Another she dismisses because his favorite movie is You’ve Got Mail. Even though she is only 5′ 2″ tall, she initially wants to look at men who are only 5′ 10″ tall or above. Seriously? This isn’t about settling. This is really about getting over the princess complex of “I deserve to have every little thing my heart desires.” She eventually, based on stories from friends and consultations with professionals and researchers, does make the distinction between what you want and what you need. I don’t think by the end of the book it fully sinks in for her that you may not even know what you really want (she does hint at it briefly, so there’s hope for her).

The main criticisms I’d lob at the book are:

  • Even though the professionals and friends she quotes in the book present more nuanced views of heterosexual relationships, Gottlieb keeps going back to this false dichotomy of men being either exciting and unreliable or boring and reliable. Men are human and complex, just as women are. I have absolutely no interest in her (I’m married), but if I were single, I know she’d glance right over me (my favorite movie is When Harry Met Sally, I’m much taller than her but still “too short,” I am not rich, I am not Jewish). Worse still, if she were actually interested in me, she wouldn’t be interested in me. She’d just be rationally convincing herself that I’m the last resort… and she’d be settling. It doesn’t sound as if she’s ready at all to appreciate men who aren’t some impossible Frankenstein hodgepodge of traditional het female ideals for potential mates.
  • She blames feminism for her problems. Well, she blames a lot of stuff, but she has a whole chapter dedicated to how feminism ruined her life. Feminism didn’t ruin her life, though. Feminism has nothing to do with it. Feminism isn’t about finding some crazy ideal of what a husband should be. Feminism isn’t about feeling entitled to some “perfect” man desiring you. Maybe she needs to go back and read some Betty Friedan and Susan Brownmiller… or even some Cynthia Heimel.
  • Not all marriages involved what she calls “settling.” Sometimes there are butterflies. Sometimes there is romance, sparks, fireworks, etc. Yes, couples that have been together a long time may spruce up their “how we met” story a bit, but that doesn’t mean “how we met” is always “Yeah, I couldn’t have George Clooney or Brad Pitt, so I married this guy. He wasn’t what I wanted, but otherwise I’d be alone in my 40s and writing bestselling books.”
  • A good marriage doesn’t just mean finding two people who match up with each other. We are not all puzzle pieces looking for a matching, interlocking puzzle piece. It’s not as if you suddenly meet “The One” and then everything’s golden. A lot of what makes two people good together isn’t just who they are and how well they match up with each other. A lot of it has to do with what they have been through together, the experiences they’ve shared, and the ways they’ve supported, shaped, and appreciated each other over the years. She quotes (and actually misquotes, at one point) When Harry Met Sally a couple of times. Maybe she needs to watch that movie again.

Despite all my critcisms (and, believe me, I’m not the only critic), I enjoyed reading the book. Lori Gottlieb has an engaging writing style, and she mixes in her own thoughts and experiences fluidly with professional and personal interviews/anecdotes. If you identify with this obsession with fairy tale weddings and having two-page lists of everything you think some guy should have, this book is certainly for you. It isn’t about “settling,” though. It’s about appreciating beauty where you didn’t think you would find it. It’s about ditching your assumptions about men based on their looks, salary, height, or superficial interests. It’s really about realizing that men are humans, too. If you’re a woman like Gottlieb, just think about how you would measure up if men judged you the way you judge them.


Some advice for Google about Buzz

Google just announced a new service called Buzz, which is supposed to be Google’s answer to Facebook. Unfortunately, based on the Buzz site and its accompanying video, I don’t see this supplanting Facebook any time soon. I’ve got some advice for Google on how to make it work:

  1. Allow people to start slowly. Yes, when Facebook was released to the general public (not just college students), a lot of us felt like “Really? You want me to sign up for yet another thing? I thought we did all this? Friendster, MySpace, Xanga, etc. I don’t want another account.” Many people gave in, though, and created another account because Facebook offered the kind of lively community other social networking sites had not yet offered. It’ll be a lot more difficult to convince people to start up not only another social networking account but another email account. A good chunk of my friends have GMail accounts, but they don’t all have GMail accounts. From what I’ve seen, Buzz requires a GMail account and is part of the GMail interface. That’s a mistake. It should be its own thing (like Docs, Translate, Maps, etc.) with perhaps added integration with GMail if you already have a GMail account. Google wised up to this with its recent changes to Google Voice (you can have a subset of GV features by using your current cell phone number, and you can add more GV features by creating an entirely new GV number). If Google doesn’t encourage people to start slowly, Buzz will die, because I’d much rather keep in touch with all my Facebook friends than only the ones who use GMail (by the way, I have a GMail account, but it is not my main email account, and I check it through an email client, not through webmail).
  2. Really follow through on reducing noise-to-signal ratio. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally grown to love Facebook. There are a few things about Facebook that still annoy me, though, and if Google wants to have people use Buzz, Google needs to step up and really fix the mistakes Facebook has refused to fix. The biggest problem for me now is that I’m basically friends with someone or I’m not. There are people I want to keep in touch with, but I don’t want to know every single aspect of their lives. Right now, Facebook allows me to either ignore certain friends completely… or hear about what they had for breakfast, and lunch, and snack, and what latest gadget they got, and some link they thought was interesting, and twenty pictures of their baby daughter. If Google can organically make the updates fit how friendships really work, that’d be a huge draw for future former Facebook users. No more fretting about whether someone is an acquaintance, a friend, a former close friend, a current close friend, a family member. You’ll get the kinds of updates you care about. Certain people will appear more frequently in your feed or more kinds of posts you care about will appear more frequently (to anyone who’s my Facebook friend right now, I love pictures and interesting status updates—I hate weird applications, quizzes, and embedded videos).
  3. Make privacy settings easy. The privacy settings in Facebook right now are the worst of both worlds: they’re complicated, but they are also not comprehensive enough. Just as I don’t want to hear everything about what’s going on in certain people’s lives, I don’t want everyone to know what’s going on in my life, but sometimes I want even acquaintances or not-so-close friends to know certain things. In Facebook, people can basically either see your updates… or they can’t. If Buzz has the ability to set any given post as for just super-close friends, for all my friends, for all my friends and acquaintances, or for anyone with internet access, that’d score points for me and make me want to move over from Facebook.
  4. Keep the interface consistent. I have no doubt, actually, that Google will do this. I’ve seen them overhaul GMail and the Google homepage, but they tend to take years to do a makeover. Facebook seems to want to redecorate every few weeks, and that annoys its users. If Google wants to bring people over, there needs to be a lot of emphasis about what Buzz has to offer that Facebook doesn’t.
  5. Encourage folks to “dual-boot.” If Google can find a simple way to encourage people to try out Buzz and actually use it while not entirely giving up Facebook, that’d be gold for Buzz. No one is going to drop Facebook completely and start Buzzing. If Buzz is going to take off, people have to be able to test the waters. I would suggest a Buzz kickoff week, in which Google encourages everyone with a GMail account to take a brief sabbatical from Facebook and Buzz about something cool that week.

That’s all I can think of. And I don’t even think that’s a surefire way to get Buzz to take off. I think if Google takes all these suggestions, it may have a fighting chance against Facebook. No guarantees, though. Right now, Facebook is everywhere.


Cinema Rewriting History

Spoiler Warning: If you want to eventually see Avatar or Inglorious Bastards, I reveal plot details here.

There has been quite a bit written about James Cameron’s Avatar. Here are two examples:
Annalee Newitz’s “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?”
Ariel Boone’s “Avatar: Count the ‘isms'”

I get it. I understand all the racial, imperialistic, and gender issues with Avatar. I knew all that stuff going in. And, you know what? It didn’t bother me that much. I was actually able to enjoy the movie, despite the “White guilt” sign that practically flashed on the screen every other scene.

What I find interesting, though, is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards. In it, there’s quite a serious rewrite of history, in which a Jewish woman, whose family is killed by the Nazis, is able to destroy the leadership of the Nazi party, and a rebel American group gets to carve the Swastika symbol on the foreheads of other Nazis so that they can’t later pretend they had nothing to do with the Holocaust. A nice, quaint rewrite of history, just as James Cameron’s Avatar says “Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice if one of the White settlers in the Americas could have led the Native Americans in revolt against the other evil White people, and the noble savages could keep the land pure and untainted by technology and corporate interests?” Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards says “Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice if we got all those Nazis, and if the Jews themselves could have given the Nazis a taste of their own medicine?” The cinema itself becomes a kind of gas chamber for Nazi leadership.

No one in the theater I saw it in was horrified. People were cheering. Everyone seemed to enjoy the film. I enjoyed the film. But I wonder… if Quentin Tarantino had decided to make a movie in which Black slaves in the American South in the 18th or 19th century violently revolted against their masters and lynched those White slave owners, would (predominantly White) American audiences still cheer? After all, those White people aren’t you, right? For many White people in America, those slave owners aren’t even their ancestors. And for those White Americans who did have slave owning ancestors, do you think about how the descendants of Nazis feel watching Inglorious Bastards?

Maybe I’m guessing wrong. Maybe American audiences would give it the same kind of reception. Maybe it would, as Avatar seems to do, soothe some White liberal guilt. Maybe James Cameron’s next movie will feature John Brown leading a successful slave revolt at Harpers Ferry. I just haven’t seen anyone discuss this angle when talking about Inglorious Bastards. For those of you who’ve seen both films, what did you think? Is there a connection between the two? How did you think about them sociologically?

P.S. I don’t really dig White liberal guilt. I am a non-White liberal (very liberal when it comes to race, gender, politics, etc.). If White filmmakers want to make a real change, a great start would be making more films that feature Asian American, Latino, and Native American (both female and male) protagonists (no reason to have foreign-sounding accents, either). The White straight male protagonist with a supporting cast of women, geeky men, non-Whites, and possibly a gay person approach has been done… and overdone, way overdone in Hollywood movies.


What bothers me about the Ubuntu-Yahoo deal

On Tuesday, Rick Spencer announced on the Ubuntu developers mailing list that Ubuntu has entered a revenue sharing deal with Yahoo! and will make Yahoo! the default search engine in the next Ubuntu release (10.04, Lucid Lynx). This sparked an extremely long discussion thread on the Ubuntu Forums about whether this is a good idea or not.

Generally speaking (with few exceptions), the reactions fall into one of two categories:

  1. This is great. I won’t use Yahoo! myself, but if it makes money for Ubuntu, why not? How hard is it to change the defaults. Two clicks.
  2. This is unacceptable. Yahoo! is in bed with Microsoft. This is wrong. If Ubuntu needs money, we should donate. Why wasn’t the community consulted?

Well, my reaction to this deal wasn’t quite either of those. Yes, I believe the community should have been consulted. That isn’t really what bothered me. What bothered me is that the decision was made soley with regard to revenue and not thinking at all about the user experience. It wasn’t “We evaluated the default search engine and decided Yahoo! has better search results or gives a better search experience than Google, and so we have decided to enter a revenue-sharing deal with Yahoo!” Nor was it even “We evaluated Yahoo! and Google and found the Yahoo! search experience to be only slightly worse than the Google one or about equal, but we thought revenue-sharing would be worth the sacrifice.” No, no mention of the user experience at all. It’s just the revenue.

I have nothing against Ubuntu making money. Mark Shuttleworth has deep pockets, but if Ubuntu is to be self-sustaining, it can’t just drain his pocketbook indefinitely. Nevertheless, defaults matter, and if they didn’t this deal would get Ubuntu no money (if most people changed the default, very few users would keep Yahoo!, which means Ubuntu wouldn’t get much revenue from this deal).

That last bit is something people don’t realize. If all (or even most of) the Ubuntu users change the default to Google or Cuil or Scroogle, then you can’t say “Well, I won’t use it, but great for Ubuntu to make some money.” They won’t be making money if you all keep changing the search engine.

But we won’t all be changing the search engine. Anyone handed the live CD and trying to do a search will either not know Yahoo! is the default search engine or just not bother to change it. (One of the reasons defaults matter.)

So I can see only two sensible reactions to this deal:

  1. This is great. Anything to make Ubuntu money. I intend to keep Yahoo! as the default to make Ubuntu money.
  2. Extra revenue is great, but why isn’t the user experience even considered when making this decision?

Obviously, I choose the latter.


How else can Linux fail in the consumer space?

Many Linux advocates and Linux bashers still think the success or failure of Linux in the consumer (not server or embedded) space rests on technical merits. Implementation, marketing, pricing, inertia, vendor lock-in—no, of course, those have nothing to do with whether people decide on Linux as opposed to Windows or Mac OS X. Would it help to work on the technical merits of Linux? Sure. Will that alone make Linux a success for consumers? Hardly. Technical merits will get technical users into it (Network admin, want a server? Use Linux. Hey, TiVo, want a free operating system for your DVR product? Use Linux).

Linux had a few good opportunities to succeed, but flubbed on the execution:

  1. OLPC. When I heard about the One Laptop Per Child project, I got giddy. It was marketed as the $100 laptop. It was going to be durable. It was going to use Linux. It was going to help kids in developing countries learn. If that had been what really happened, Linux would have really taken off, at least in certain demographic segments of the world. What really happened? Well, the laptop was nowhere near $100. It was more like $200. And if rich folks wanted them, they had to pay $400 ($200 to get one, $200 to give one). It also was a pretty ugly laptop, with an extremely crippled version of Linux.
  2. Dell. When Dell started up its Idea Storm section, it probably had no idea the section would be bombarded by Linux users demanding Dell start offering Linux preinstalled. Well, Dell half-heartedly gave in and offered a couple of select models with Ubuntu preinstalled. This half-hearted effort doomed the new venture to failure. Dell hid Ubuntu away so no one could see it on their website without a direct link or clever Google searching. Dell priced the Ubuntu laptops more than spec-equivalent Windows laptops. Dell “recommended” Windows on all the Ubuntu laptop pages (it still does). Dell still used Linux-unfriendly hardware (Broadcom, anyone?). To sum up, Dell was not invested in really selling Linux preinstalled. It just wanted to sort of, kind of appease the Linux community (most of whom continue to buy the cheaper Windows-preinstalled laptops and then install Linux for themselves).
  3. Netbooks. I love the idea of netbooks. The execution was terrible, though. They were not heavily advertised. Early netbooks had 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB SSD drives with 7″ screens. The battery life was poor. The keyboards were cramped. The screen resolution was practically non-existent. Worse yet, all the OEMs included crippled versions of Linux… Linpus Linux Lite, Xandros… installing software became in reality the nightmare that Linux haters often misrepresent it to be. It would be like having apps for the iPhone without an App Store. Yes, you could install a regular Linux version yourself, but that’s not what the everyday consumer is going to do. Microsoft slammed the years-familiar XP down on netbooks, and—suffering from a bad implementation and no marketing or advocacy from OEMs—Linux on netbooks floundered.
  4. Android. In many ways, Android is actually a success. But it is not the success it could have been. When people were saying various Android phones could be the next “iPhone killer,” I thought, Hey, maybe they could be. We’ll see. I wasn’t surprised to see that the G1 did not kill the iPhone, the MyTouch didn’t kill the iPhone, the Hero didn’t kill the iPhone, nor did the Droid, nor did the Nexus One. I have a MyTouch 3G with Android, and I love my phone. I understand very well why it didn’t kill the iPhone, though. Apple understands how to make an excellent user experience, and Google doesn’t. That’s the bottom line. I’m not an Apple fanboy. I actually disagree with a lot of the design decisions Apple makes. What I don’t dispute is that Apple has a vision. Every decision, whether I agree with it or not, has a rationale that makes sense. Yes, there are pros and cons, and Apple weighed them and decided the pros outweighed the cons. With Android, though, and with various HTC phones using Android, I see various bad interface implementations that have no pros at all. I just don’t see anyone properly testing these things. For example, on the MyTouch and the Nexus, the speaker is on the back of the phone. Why? On some of the Android text dialogues, you have to tap into the text field (even if you have no hard keyboard) to get the onscreen keyboard to appear (shouldn’t it appear automatically if the text field is in focus?). Those are just a couple of examples.

Just yesterday, Steve Jobs announced the iPad to much ridicule. People made fun of the name. People said it would be useless without Flash, a USB port, without a front-facing camera, without multi-tasking. They called it an oversized iPhone. They said the 4:3 aspect ratio wouldn’t be good for movies. The LED screen wouldn’t be good for reading in sunlight or for long periods of time.

I kind of liked it. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. I wasn’t drooling. But I can see the appeal. It looks like a slick device, and it’s priced a lot lower than people thought it would be (most of the speculation saw it between $700 and $1000). If it’s a standalone device (doesn’t need to hook up or sync to a Windows or OS X computer with iTunes), I might consider it.

I would be curious to see if any OEM is going to step up to the plate here, though, and give Linux a real chance. I doubt it. It would be quite simple, though. Create a tablet just like the iPad (has to include proper multi-touch, though… no backing out for fear of so-called patent infringement, Google). Run a Linux-based operating system that is mainly open source (but can have some proprietary programs on it). Include multi-tasking. Include a proper software repository. Use a regular hard drive instead of SSD drive. Include USB ports. Have better screen resolution or a widescreen aspect ratio. Then price it just a little below the iPad… oh, and give it a proper name… one people won’t make fun of.

How simple is that? Will it happen? Probably not. A bunch of iPad imitators will pop around, sure. They’ll each have serious flaws, though. Many will lack multi-touch. Most will be too bulky. Some won’t have a sensible user interface. Some will be too expensive. Then I can tack it on as yet another way Linux has failed in the consumer space.

Mark Shuttleworth, if you’re reading this, it’s about time you realized Bug #1 gets fixed once you create a full and unified software-hardware user experience. Hoards of Windows users aren’t going to download the Ubuntu .iso, set their BIOSes to boot from CD, repartition their hard drives, install Ubuntu, and then troubleshoot hardware compatibility problems. You (or someone with your savvy and financial resources) need to be the open source Steve Jobs if Linux is going to succeed in the consumer space.


The Power of Defaults

I tend to see two extremes whenever there are arguments about what should be the default (I’m speaking specifically of arguments on the Ubuntu Forums, but this could be applied to really anything in technology or anything in life in general).

One extreme is that defaults don’t matter at all. It’s not worth arguing about. Just put whatever as the default. Then people can just choose to change the default to something else if they don’t like the default. The other extreme is that defaults matter enough to have 500-post forum threads about arguing back and forth. Somewhere in the middle is some sanity.

Defaults matter. But defaults are only defaults. People can choose options other than the defaults.

Why do defaults matter? Here are some examples:

  • I love that on my wife’s Macbook Pro, you just press the function keys, and they do something right away (lower the volume, adjust the brightness). My netbook by default needs to have the blue Fn key pressed in combination with the function keys to get that behavior to happen. I can easily change that. But if I change it, it’s confusing for anyone else using my netbook, because the instructions on the physical keys themselves indicate the function keys are normal functions and that you need the Fn key in combination in order to do anything. In other words, whole products sometimes have fixed parts built around the assumption that defaults will go unchanged.
  • I use VLC for playing individual sound bits or videos. When I dug into the settings for VLC, I didn’t understand half of what that stuff is, and there were a lot of options to configure. Very confusing for a multimedia newbie like me. Good thing I didn’t have to configure all those settings. I just used the defaults. Sane defaults save the user from having to understand unnecessary minutiae.
  • As far as I can tell, every Linux user has a list of things she does immediately after a fresh installation. I usually change the wallpaper to a picture of my cat, replace Evolution with Thunderbird, add in some proprietary codecs, and delete the bottom Gnome panel. Sane defaults should make the sense for the most users. Even though I personally delete the bottom Gnome panel, the vast majority of Gnome users like to have both a top and bottom panel, so to have the top panel only wouldn’t make sense, because it would mean more people would have to take more time configuring things. If defaults are well-thought-out, less time is spent tinkering and adjusting and more time is spent using.
  • Linux live CDs can come in handy, especially if you need to help a Windows user recover deleted data. What happens in a default installation is the first impression that non-Linux user is going to have of Linux and may be the only impression she has. So if an ugly noise or splash screen appears, that’s the impression she’s going to get. It doesn’t matter if that noise or splash screen can be changed. Likewise, if you are using the live CD to show someone what Linux is like, you don’t want to have to “uninstall” and then “install” in the live session a whole bunch of software, especially if the computer you’re using has very little RAM.
  • And don’t forget that even though power users like to tinker and explore, most people just stick with defaults. 99% of Windows computers I see have the taskbar on the bottom, even though you can easily drag it to the top or the sides. 99% of Windows XP computers I see have the stupid blue theme, even though you can easily change to a silver or classic theme. Even though Firefox’s marketshare has skyrocketed in the past five years, Internet Explorer is still, globally the more-used browser over Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and Safari. It being the default web browser in Windows probably had something to do with that.

Yes, if you have an absolutely unbearable default, many people will probably just ditch it anyway, but instead of thinking “I’m so glad I have the freedom to change this setting,” they’ll most likely be thinking “What a terrible default! Who thought of that? Now we’re all going to have to change this!”

Sometimes defaults can have ethical considerations, too. For example, making people have to opt out of sharing information with a company or third-party corporation “partner” is a bad default (people should always have to opt in for that sort of thing), because it means if people forget to change the defaults or don’t investigate all of their basic settings and advanced settings, they will end up sharing more than they intended to share.

So if I see a bad default in Ubuntu, I’m going to make a point to say it’s a bad default. Good defaults matter. I will not, however, spend hours of my time arguing the point back and forth. Some things are a deal… they may not be a big deal, but they are still a deal.


Regarding so-called fragmentation in Linux

There are some people who operate under the delusion that if Linux developers could just all work on one project, Linux would dominate the desktop/laptop/netbook computing sphere. Windows and Mac OS X wouldn’t stand a chance.

I disagree. Here are the reasons why:

  1. One of the appeals of Linux and its related projects is open source and the ability to fork and make changes. Telling Linux developers “You can’t work on what you want. You have to do things this way” would be like telling people at a vegan conference that they’d be a lot more successful in winning supporters if they just ate meat. Okay. That isn’t the best example. After all, plenty of Linux developers and users also use proprietary software (very few are of the Richard Stallman I-use-only-Free-software persuasion). Nevertheless, the open source nature of Linux and related projects is a major part of the appeal for both Linux developers and users. Forcing the community into a closed development model (no forking allowed, no individual projects allowed) would essentially force out the community.
  2. Herding cats isn’t easy. Let me ask you a question. If you wanted to get the best recipe, which do you think would be a better way to get it—getting 100 chefs to all work on one recipe together or having the 100 chefs all work on their own individual recipes while simultaneously sharing with each other what’s worked and what hasn’t? For the gains in talent you get by everyone having to agree on working in only one direction, you lose a lot of efficiency through disagreements, in-fighting, and ego bruising, let alone bureaucracy and management structures. 1000 people working together do not make a project that is 1000 times better than one person working alone.
  3. Along those lines, Linux developers already are working together. Do you really think Ubuntu does everything from scratch? Quite the opposite. Ubuntu does almost nothing from scratch. Don’t believe me? Right-click the Network Manager applet in Ubuntu and then select About. Guess what it says: Copyright Red Hat. Copyright Novell. Firefox is from Mozilla. The beauty of open source is that you don’t have to start from scratch. You share. Want a file manager? Great. You don’t have to create your own. Just use an existing one. No weird licensing hassles. Able to program and want to add functionality to an existing open source application? Add it in. You don’t have to write it from scratch, and the original developers can benefit from your improvement (the added functionality).
  4. Choices aren’t confusing if they’re informed choices. Should there be only one restaurant? One burger? And one cheese to put on it? Should there be only one type of car? Only one color yarn? Choices are paralyzing only if they are meaningless choices. If you have information that actually helps you make an informed decision, having choices is a good thing. The solution to “too much choice” isn’t getting rid of options. The solution is making the options clearer. For more details, read Making sense of an abundance of choice.
  5. Not all distros have the same aims. Even if it were theoretically (and it is not, for all the aforementioned reasons) possible for Linux projects to consolidate into one distro project to win “the desktop” (shortcut for not the server or embedded), not all distros have that aim. Most distros have no concern about winning the Linux desktop. Many are personal projects or are targeted specifically at advanced Linux users and not the mythical “Jane [or Joe] Sixpack.”
  6. Most importantly, meritocracy is a myth. Even if a Linux distro or several Linux distros were to exist that had perfect hardware detection and compatibility ran all commercial software (neither of these is possible without cooperation from third-party vendors, but let’s just say the ridiculous were true), if it’s not preinstalled and marketed correctly, forget it. Only a tiny minority of computer uses download, install, and configure their own operating systems. Most people don’t even know what an operating system is. They just use whatever their computer came with. For more details on this, read Linux-for-the-masses narratives.

So should all the distro developers band together on one ultimate distro? No. It would be in direct conflict with open source principles, it wouldn’t be more productive than what’s currently in place, and it wouldn’t make a difference against Windows and Mac, anyway—and that’s not something everyone wants anyway.


Good support is in the timing and quality, not the medium

In “Complaints greet Google Nexus One phone,” the BBC says “Many people are unhappy with Google only responding to questions by e-mail and are calling for it to set up phone-based support.”

I’ve been the victim of bad customer service and the beneficiary of excellent customer service. I also happen to do customer service for a living (not for a corporation but for a school). Whether I’m getting customer support or giving it, I know good customer service isn’t any better on the phone. In fact, most of the bad customer service I’ve gotten has been over the phone. You know why? Because, although “your call may be recorded for quality control purposes,” it’s recorded by the company giving the support, not by you. You don’t have access to that recording. And chances are, unless you’re extremely diligent, you’ve totally forgotten the name of the customer service representative who “helped” you.

Many times I’ve received “help” over the phone and nothing was actually done. Something was supposed to be fixed, canceled, or sent, and it never was. The phone call leaves no accountability.

Phone support may seem immediate and “better” because you’re talking to a “live” person. Ultimately, though, I don’t want to be put on hold for a half hour or 45 minutes and be constantly told that my call is important to this company putting me on hold. I want answers, and I want them now.

You know the best customer service I’ve gotten? ICDSoft, my web host. Answers within minutes… usually one minute. And by email. It doesn’t matter what kind of silly question I ask, the expert support staff at ICDSoft gets back to me within minutes.

So don’t tell me customer service is better over the phone. Customer service is better—phone or email—when your question or problem gets answered or solved quickly. That’s the bottom line. The bonus with email is that you have a written record of the exchange.

Google, if you want to make your customers happy, give timely and effective support. Call centers have nothing to do with it.


TSA is just playing catch-up

There is an expression about closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped. I forget the clever phrasing that goes along with it. This seems to be the modus operandi for the TSA. 9/11 happened and all of a sudden you can’t bring nailclippers or anything remotely sharp on the plane. Someone tries to blow up a plane using some liquid, so you can’t bring liquid on the plane. Someone tries to blow up a plane lighting his shoe on fire, so you suddenly have to take off your shoes during security check. Now someone hid explosives in his underwear, and people are talking about full-body scans (I read Amsterdam, where his flight originated from, has already implemented this).

Are people stupid? Why is the TSA always one step behind? They’re like antivirus software, constantly updating on outdated definitions while malware writers are finding new ways to compromise people’s systems. I love OneandOneis2’s post on pointless airport security, describing ways to blow up a plane just using the electrical outlet provided in business class.

The real problem is that by the time you screen people at the security line, it’s too late. If terrorists don’t blow up planes, they can still blow up airports. They can find other ways to terrorize people. Find the terrorists before they find us. If someone is on the FBI’s terrorist list but not on the “no-fly” list, make him jump through hoops to get on a plane—don’t make me jump through those hoops.


T-Mobile MyTouch 3G with Android… Four months later

I already wrote T-Mobile MyTouch 3G First Impressions and A month with the MyTouch 3G and Android, but someone requested I write yet another follow-up post after having used the phone for a while.

Well, it’s been almost four months, and I have to say that my general impression hasn’t changed much. I can sum it up as generally positive with a few annoying glitches. If you are a part of the Apple ecosystem already, the iPhone is a better choice. But if you are a Linux user or already caught up in the Google ecosystem, an Android phone is a much better choice. A lot of other Android phones have had more hype (Hero, Droid). The MyTouch is a good phone, though. If I actually liked Sprint, I would have waited for the Hero. And if I actually wanted a boxy-looking phone with a “real” keyboard, I’d have waited for the Droid.

Here are the annoying glitches that have bugged me the most:

  • Every web browser for Android has a serious flaw. Ultimately, I’m willing to settle for the flaws in Browser over the flaws in the other ones (Steel, Dolphin, Opera, etc.).
  • The Facebook app is basically good, but when you click on a picture thumbnail, it doesn’t enlarge the picture within the Facebook app. Instead, it launches the Browser app to view the picture. Lame.
  • After the whole cease-and-desist fiasco, I wanted to support Cyanogen for making a Google-compliant fully legal rooted (i.e., jailbroken) ROM, so I’ve been using Cyanogen recently. Unfortunately, the performance has been spotty. Sometimes it’s super-speedy, and sometimes it’s super-laggy. I may end up giving DWang’s ROM a go again, even though it’s not technically legal (it’s in the spirit of the law but not the letter—apparently Google cares very much about the letter, though).
  • Google Voice is a great service. The Google Voice Android app, however, is buggy as all hell. Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes it’ll randomly duplicate SMS messages if I write the message in landscape (instead of portrait) mode.
  • This doesn’t really bother me any more. If you are thinking of getting a MyTouch, though, you should know this: the touchscreen interface takes getting used to. Unlike the iPhone, light swipes are not recognized. You need to press your finger on the screen when you swipe.
  • With the latest versions of Android, there is no way to disable the camera sound (which is extremely loud). I had to install an app called Sound Manager in order to silence it.

That’s about it.

What has been the good stuff?

  • Opening links in background windows (except the Google recently changed its Google News website so that you cannot open links in background windows—other sites work fine with it, though).
  • Good Google Voice integration.
  • Ability to turn any song into a ringtone without special software is great. Right now the Noisettes’ “Wild Young Hearts” is my ringtone.
  • Ability to send unwanted calls straight to voicemail through the phone and to just block them altogether with Google Voice is invaluable.
  • USB tethering is even better than Wifi tethering. You just plug it in and Ubuntu automatically starts using the connection. No need to select anything or change a setting.

In the end, though, a phone is a phone. It makes calls. It receives calls. I can check my email and look up something quick on the web. There are subtle nuances that will differentiate Symbian from WebOS and Windows Mobile from the iPhone OS X and all that from Android. SmartPhones all pretty much do the same thing, though.