I've spent the last two weeks taking a segue to learn how to develop applications for Android phones. I just gave a presentation last night to the Seattle Google Technology User's Group. If you're interested in getting started with Android, I pass on some general tips for the beginning developer.
My friends know that I have an interest in antique computing devices, and in particular, the German Enigma machine. I thought it would be cool to make a very realistic simulation of the Enigma that I could run on my phone. After two weeks of work, I finally published my Pocket Enigma Machine into the Android market - and sold 6 copies in the first 12 hours!
We got an envelope that said "Official Document, 2010 Census". But on the inside, it's a "survey", where you eventually see by question 5 that this is NOT an official US census, but rather a fund-raising letter from the Republican National Committee. WTF?
This IS a US Census year, so it's easy to see why people would be confused. It's just a slimy attempt to deceive recipients into opening a piece of junk mail they would otherwise discard. Is this legal? It's certainly unethical. Do people respect organizations that walk the fine line between legality and criminality by playing these dirty tricks?
Maybe I've just become overly sensitive to unethical behavior, but I keep running into examples of bad-behaving companies and organizations. I find it hard to understand why people behave this way; it certainly does not enhance their reputation and respectability.
I've twice reported companies to the WA State Atty General for unethical business practices in the last year (Microsoft, for retaining my credit card against my will, and SquareSpace for retaining my subscription payment after the point I determined that their service was defective for me). This RNC letter may compel me to send a 3rd complaint.
Earning money is hard - but do businesses really have to resort to tricking their customers to make it? I would love to see stronger laws in place that would penalize companies for acting badly; especially when there is such a big divide between the power of the company vs. the power of the individual.
Here's are my biggest pet peeves of bad behavior:
- Making services more difficult to cancel than they are to purchase. E.g., not allowing consumers to cancel a service using the same mode as they purchased the service (I can sign up for Vonage VOIP phone quickly online, yet I have to wait on hold on the phone to cancel the service).
- Not refunding the (unused) portion of a subscription payment if the customer finds the product or service defective to their needs.
- Retaining customer (billing) information against the wishes of the customer.
- Sending deceptive communications in order to trick consumers into reading email or mail (actually there ARE laws against this - but companies walk the fine line of being strictly legal, but still unethical).
- Repeatedly charging consumers for services they don't want or are no longer using.
I've been meaning to update my personal web site for a long time. When I heard the glowing recommendations from Leo Laporte about the SquareSpace hosting service, I signed up for a trial account. The migration of my existing web site looked to be a bit more complex than I had thought. So I had to upgrade my account to have another user log in so I could get some help from Zach.
After several attempts by both of us, it became apparent that their service is just too limiting for the type on content I want to create. SquareSpace is pretty - but it's a locked down environment, and they are missing features like FTP access to do bulk upload of content to their service.
So, after paying for SquareSpace for 6 months, and never deploying my site to it, I finally canceled my account. BUT, here's where SquareSpace shows their true colors. Because it has been more than 90 days since they took my payment, they refused to refund ANY of my 1 year subscription. Even though their service never worked for me, and despite my willingness to pay for "time served", they were totally inflexible in giving me a refund for the remaining time on my contract.
This puts SquareSpace in the "Evil" column for me - just like cable TV and cell phone providers. They position themselves "against" their customers, rather than trying to serve them and provide real value.
So, SquareSpace wants keep my money, even though their product was never able to satisfy my needs. After several back-and-forth emails with their product support, they just told me "I'm screwed".
So - chaulk up another company as entering the "Evil" column. I would never recommend that anyone use this service. There are many more companies that can solve the same problem (and for a much better value - compare to DreamHost where you can get multiple domains, and mulitple user accounts all for about $10/month).
As I've been researching the Exhaustive List of Google Products (now up to 256 items), I was looking at the Google Services and Tools Page. The page contains a number of product icons, which are arranged is a single large image map.
Interestingly, there are icons in the image map that do NOT appear in the page. I've found what a few of them are by looking at the CSS file that styles each of the images. There, each icon is given a 4 character name (e.g., the icon for Google Alerts is called 'ALER'). With that as a clue, I was able to determine:
Music Home - a Chinese site with links to music.
MOBA - I think this icon represents Mobile Applications
But there are other icons I've not yet been able to identify. Anybody have any idea what products these icons represent?
GURU - This might be an alternate icon for the defunct Google Answers, but there is another "Q&A" icon in this set too - so I'm not sure that it is. Found (11/27/09) - Q&A Forum is available in Thailand (Guru), and Russia (Otvety "Answers")
REBA - Is that an asian script in the logo? Found (11/27/09) - Rebang (China) - "Hot List"
CLAS, SHEN, TRAD - There are 3 distinct names used for this logo. It looks a bit like a classifieds icon with little strips of paper you can tear off like a posted notice. Found (11/27/09) - Shenghuo (China) - "Life Search", also in Russia (Classified Ads).
TEXT - ???
TOPI - Topics?
Update (11/27/09): I found two of these icons on the China Services and Tools Page.
Last week, Scott Wisniewski and I were guests on the Startup Success Podcast (by Bob Walsh and Patrick Foley). We started out talking about co-working and the origins of StartPad (at about 9 minutes in).
Scott introduced his code-backup solution - Transactor. He's been working out of StartPad since beginning this project, and is now very close to shipping his first version to (non-Beta) customers.