Category Archives: Uncategorized

The wall is already pretty much done

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I’ve written about immigration policy before, and this is not that kind of post.

Instead, I am addressing a conventional fiction that “there is no wall” on the border of Mexico and the US. I’ve found that this is a surprisingly widespread belief.

We don’t even have to go to Mexico to get them pay it. Legislation is already in place for the wall, and for funding. With some modifications, we could have that wall.

You see, we have finished building about 60% of a wall. It’s actually a fence, but if you’ve seen it, it’s pretty big. And I think you’ll find the consensus is that this is much more realistic.

The border
The total length of the border is just under 2,000 miles. Roughly half of that distance is the Rio Grande (which gave rise to the derogatory term for Mexican immigrants, wetback, as many illegals used to swim the river to get to the US).

Securing the border
In 1994, a National Border Patrol Strategic Plan started the process of improving security on the border to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The post-9/11 war on terror gave this attempt a big boost, with the Bush administration pushing hard to build a fence and ultimately passing a series of laws.

In other words, we have had legislation in place for many years to build the wall. And it’s largely funded.

Quite a bit of the wall has been built
So far, the US has built roughly 600 miles of fence. Taking out the river, we’re more than halfway there.

(The remaining land is handled by the Border Patrol and various infrared and technical contraptions.)

The Rio Grande
Now, here’s where it gets complicated: We have this big river, the Rio Grande.

Putting a fence in a river causes all kinds of environmental problems, which even if you’re a conservative, are cause for some concern (I live in Florida, and have seen the damage that the Tamiani Trail did to the Everglades, and while a porous fence isn’t nearly as bad as a dam, there are some real issues at stake here.)AP_BORDER_FENCE_WILDLIFE

No worries! In 2006, the Real ID Act was passed, which, in part, gave the Secretary of Homeland Security (then Michael Chertoff) the ability to waive environmental regulations in this context. He really wanted a wall, so he did just that.

Yet, we still don’t have a fence completed.

A major problem is the fact that there are three Native American reservations that sit on the border in Arizona. This leaves a gap in the “wall” which is occupied by sovereign Indian nations.

Most notable is the Tohono O’odham reservation, which is huge — about the size of Connecticut — and includes the vast Sonora Desert. Citing its sovereignty, it once successfully barred the Border Patrol from entering the reservation. They’ve since changed their tune, since now, this opening in the border has driven drug smugglers into the area (as well as illegals, who are dying in the thousands trying to cross the Sonoran Desert).

This is a major issue: we have to figure out a way to build a wall through a sovereign Indian nation. It’s not insignificant. Imagine a wall going through your own neighborhood — the Native Americans are not crazy about this idea. And we can’t move the border south, nor north. It has to be a wall right through these Indian nations.

In other words, it’s a bit more complicated.

 

The fake review problem on Amazon

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Amazon got a lot of press recently for going after fake reviewers.

Sadly, this problem has not gone away.

For example, let’s take this product on Amazon, which ironically has quite a few good real reviews (no idea why they have to get fake ones):

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We have our first red flag — so many of the positive reviews are not verified purchases.

Simply clicking on the reviewer’s names shows that these are professionally paid reviews.  For example, both “Grant_Williams” and “Patrick K. Bracewell” amazingly have the same tastes — they both love breast pumps. In fact, they both love a lot of the same products.

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Without going on ad nauseam, this pattern continues for other reviewers. They magically like the same products.

Other types of reviews come from “Reviewer Clubs”. Companies like AMZ Tracker, ILoveToReview.com and others offer Amazon sellers the ability to get reviews from reviewers, in exchange for a free or discounted product. These are legitimate (and encouraged by some) and as long as the reviewer makes it clear that the review came in exchange for product, I don’t really have an issue with it.

Enter FakeSpot
Curious about a brand’s level of “fakiness?” Try FakeSpot. It will try spot the fake reviews.

Amazon, please change.
Reviews are a cornerstone of Amazon’s success, and allowing non-customers to post reviews has to end. Furthermore, Amazon can still do a lot more to make sure that fake reviews, even from “verified” customers, don’t happen. Their brand depends on it.

Social media scams using false identities

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The Man Himself

Fake profiles are rampant on social media these days. I’ve even had my own photograph stolen to falsely connect to other people.

The purpose is invariably to spam you or to scam you. So you have to be careful.

I’ve written about this before.

So I thought I’d share a particularly pathetic attempt to scam me today.

I got an invitation from “Bruce Diaz”, representing himself as a tech columnist for the New York Times.

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Who is “Bruce Diaz?”

Huh? Never heard of that name. A quick Google search shows no such man at the NY Times.

So I search for his image on Google (you should always do this on anything suspicious).

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The search begins.

Hmm… no luck there:

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So I go to TinEye, a reverse-image search engine and upload his picture.

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TinEye to the rescue.

Bingo! It’s not “Bruce Diaz”, it’s “Attractive Young Man” on Shutterstock.

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I reported it to LinkedIn. But you might still find him for the next few hours.

So don’t just accept a social media invitation with out checking!

The G2 on buying domains

Very useful if you’re ever considering buying a domain

The domain name market is a mercurial one; it’s relatively secretive, however not by choice. When most people approach me about a domain they’re trying to buy I usually hear the same thing, “it looks like a squatter has it, what should I do?”

So I thought it was time to take my experience in buying, selling, and brokering millions of dollars in domain names and share the same advice and step-by-step process that I share with my friends and startup founders around the world. Here it goes.

 What Every Startup Founder Should Know About Buying Domain Names

(h/t Larry Smith)

Meros: My new venture

meros logo smallModern software development is going through a massive change. Cloud computing, big data, new methods of developing products — the convergence of these factors (and others) has put the world of development into one of the most significant evolutions in how software gets designed, developed and managed.

A central part of this change is the DevOps revolution — new methodologies and tools to deal with the massively complex computing environments we live in today. At the same time, we are seeing the emergence of a game-changing technology, Docker, which is sweeping the development community with breathtaking speed.

Just google these terms yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Disruption is occurring, and yet the tools are barely keeping up. Companies like Puppet Labs, Chef and SaltStack were unheard of a few years ago. They are now mainstream, successful companies.

Back in 1993, I was at the birth of the modern internet and this feels just like that — the tools are often rough, difficult, and buggy. And those companies (including mine) that got in and made it all work did very well indeed.

So, I have assembled some of the finest developers I know to help me create a new company, Meros, focused on tools for DevOps. Our first product will be specifically for Docker and will release later this year.

We are currently in stealth mode, with the company being funded by my founding team and me. (We are starting initial discussions with a small group of select early stage investors and if you’d like to know more, email me directly.)

I have had fun working with and consulting dozens of companies over the past several years, doing several turnarounds and, generally, having a blast. But it’s time for me to go back to doing what I do best — running software companies.

 

Why board meetings suck

I’ve been meaning to write something along this line for quite some time, but never seem to have the time to do it. As someone who currently sits on four boards, plus more advisory boards than I can count, there’s lots to fix in how board meetings are run.

Fortunately, my friend Mike Rogers did the work for me (thank you, Mike!).

You can read his excellent article here.

One man’s battle against a bad vendor: an atom bomb

 

Jason Heller hired a company to clear out some poison ivy, and got horrible service. He was pissed.

Unfortunately for the vendor, Best Poison Ivy Removal, Jason is a weapon’s grade expert on web SEO. And he is out to make sure that other consumers don’t get ripped-off. Another SEO expert, Kevin Lee, has piled on (bro code in action). This is just the beginning.

And now, let the games begin.

How to Create Surveys People Won’t Hate Taking

If you know me, you know I’m a survey dork. Like, serious survey dork. I live and die by them. Testing, surveys, data.

So I was more than pleased to see Mimi An over at HubSpot take on the task of pointing out the obvious flaws in so many surveys.

It’s a good post. She doesn’t have all of the tricks, but some very useful tips. Like:

  • Make the darned thing short. Long surveys (invariably designed by committee) are a good way to get poor results.
  • Avoiding Yes/No questions.
  • Randomizing answer options to avoid “first-choice” bias
  • Correct use of matrices (pretty vital, IMHO)

And more, here.

The pathetic decline of SourceForge

It’s no news to anyone who downloads software. Most download sites are awful. Misleading practices.  Over-indulgence in advertising.

It’s all over the board. One can barely find a good download site anymore.

The best place to find a trustworthy download is directly from the developer. And even that is fraught with peril, since many developers use, well, download sites to propagate their software.

In response, many developers are using Github to provide downloads. But Github, at least for inexperienced users, is daunting.

But the most depressing is SourceForge. Made all the more pathetic by its once-proud past, SourceForge has become a sad and pitiable site. Apparently pushed mercilessly by its parent company, Dice Holdings, to make quarterly targets, the company has lost its way and is now the butt of jokes.

As Simon Phipps points out:

Once the darling of open source, SourceForge has been eclipsed by GitHub and package managers, leaving it with a long, thin tail of (mostly consumer) software. It has used increasingly desperate measures to monetize the service through questionable advertising, SEO, and adware injectors.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

And Google seems to agree, as I tried to download Ccleaner portable today:

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Sigh.

And then there’s the confusing advertising. What button do I click?

Download misleading

 

So, let’s walk through an install of FileZilla. Now, before you say “oh, FileZilla is cool, it’s the evil SourceForge”, FileZilla is getting paid for SourceForge’s bundling. Shame.

Misleading sourceforge988123

 

First, we are mislead. “An ad-supported installer” which “might provide you with an ad during the install process”.

Utter nonsense.

Oh well, then we have to get through this warning screen. Ooops!

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Anyway, we finally get to the installer and this is what you get (you are defaulted to “Quick (Recommended) which will change your default search to Yahoo). The “Internet Browser” is Chromium, defaulted to search to Yahoo, and defaulted as your primary browser. Irritating.

Filezilla misleading crap

 

Of course, Yahoo is safe, but there has been all kinds of crapware installed in the past.

And then it continues. At least you’re opted-out of this software:

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Whatever. The problems of SourceForge are well documented and it’s not worth getting into in more detail.

It’s enough to say: stay the hell away from this joke of a site.

Bubble-talk. It’s not us. It’s China.

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Yeah, we’re in a bubble. But China’s stock market is insane right now. Perhaps 1999 insane.

From the New Yorker:

Of seventeen hundred stocks on the Shenzhen Exchange, only four have fallen this year, and more than a hundred have seen their shares rise more than five hundred per cent. The Shenzhen Index as a whole has doubled since January, and is up more than two hundred per cent in the past year.

And from the Economist:

A hotel group rebranded itself as a high-speed rail company, a fireworks maker as a peer-to-peer lender and a ceramics specialist as a clean-energy group. Their reinventions as high-tech companies appear to have less to do with the gradual rebalancing of China’s economy than with the mania sweeping its stockmarket.

 

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But perhaps the most beautiful thing of all: a pet food company trading at 221 earnings.

The problem: China’s GDP growth isn’t that hot compared to its prior spree of raping of the US economy through currency manipulation.

So… what happens if China has a crash?

It might very well be a disaster for the US.

  • The US wouldn’t sell as many treasuries (China is the largest foreign holder of US debt). I’m not sure this would have a major impact, but it wouldn’t be a good thing.
  • Less revenue for big US companies doing business in China (GM, Nike, Apple, etc.).
  • A collapse of commodity imports (copper comes to mind) which would affect our economic partners.

In the end, however, we really don’t know until it happens. But with China being a major global power, now is the time to pay attention.

 

 

How usability can make or cost you millions

At one of my last companies, we had a large contract with a cable TV retailer to sell our product over the air.

Things initially seemed to be going swimmingly well, until the buyer mentioned that our returns were “a bit high”. But “a bit high” was unnerving and I was frankly shocked that the number was where it was.

We immediately started to research the problem, and found the issue came almost entirely from usability issues.

Once fixed, our return rates plummeted and everyone was happy. Considering that this customer did millions of dollars of business with us, the impact was not insignificant.

Later, we hired a full-time UX designer and started doing lots of usability panels, and as always happens in these cases, we were embarrassed and mortified to see videos of poor new users bumbling around, trying to do something that seemed completely obvious to us. We started to make dramatic changes to the product, with significant results.

If you’ve never seen a usability study, the following two videos by Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva, highlight the problem. A feature that seems obvious to a developer is painful for users.

This particularly user experience came down to a “simple” action of choosing a color.

Watch the first user:

 

So…Canva’s solution was utterly simple: just change the default color from grey to red.

And something magical happens:

Pretty dramatic! As Melanie says:

This tiny tweak has saved hundreds of thousands of people from struggling with this step and boosted our user’s self-confidence in the process.

Usability: it’s a Good Thing.

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June 1st: The first and fourth ammendment

For a brief time, we have freedom from the NSA. That’s the fourth amendment part.

And today, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Anthony Elonis, who had previously been sentenced to a 44-month prison term after posting threatening messages on social media.

44 months for posting ugly comments.

What did he do? He posted very graphic lyrics about his wife, co-workers, a kindergarten class and law enforcement.  For this, he was fired from his job and spent three years in prison. 

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He claimied he was acting as Eminem or The Whitest Kids U’Know, and he made references to his “art” and first amendment speech rights as well as using smiley faces to indicate some threats were “jokes”.

He also claimed these lyrics were therapuetic and never intended harm. That “never intended to harm” bit was the lynchpin of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Now, his wife claimed she was terrified, and I’m certain she was. However, SCOTUS looked at it from the standpoint of intent

His violation was of a federal law which outlaws the transmission of “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.”

However, the Supreme Court made a distinction, by saying:

The question is whether the statute also requires that the defendant be aware of the threatening nature of the communication, and—if not—whether the First Amendment requires such a showing.

In short, the Supreme Court found:

  • That the lower court’s instruction that only negligence was required with respect to a communication of a threat was not sufficient to support a conviction.
  • That the law does not indicate whether the defendant must intend the threat, and has no particular requirement as to mental state; and that scientier (a legal word meaning intent to do wrong) was not necessary to be present (citing, in part, a prior bank robbery caseL “In some cases, a general requirement that a defendant act knowingly is sufficient, but where such a requirement ‘would fail to protect the innocent actor,’ the statute ‘would need to be read to require . . . specific intent.’)

In other words, if one is stupid enough to say “I’m going to kill my neighbor” but not actually mean it, then it’s not necessarily a violation of the statute in question.

Which, I think, is good. In a completely social world, people routinely say stupid things, and to have some sort of thought police determine that a statement, said in anger, should then be subject to severe penalties, is in contradiction to the original intent of the first ammendment. 

Now, do I think Elonis is an idiot for doing what he did? Of course. But I’ll still defend his right to be an ass.