Category Archives: Business

Gadgets for the Road Warrior Lifestyle

Now up over at Change Ordered, my list of hardware and software tools for making the consulting lifestyle a little bit easier.

“Updates temporarily delayed”

Ah, iPhone delivery day has arrived as, coincidentally enough, the following message appears on the FedEx order status page:

IMPORTANT!
Package deliveries are proceeding as normal; however tracking updates are temporarily being delayed. Please try back later.

I wonder if the delay has something to do with 600,000 eager Apple customers hitting refresh every five minutes as they wait for their pre-ordered iPhone 4 to show up?

Fortune’s List of the Worst Cities For Jobs

My guess is that if you live in one of these places, you won’t be surprised to find it on this year’s list.  “The Rust Belt, Sun Belt and California fare particularly poorly in our annual ranking.”  Michigan is heavily represented: Troy, Dearborn, Holland all make the list.  The magazine also lists the big cities with the worst jobs picture: Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario appear there, as do Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Irvine/Santa Ana. 

While California's economy has come roaring back many times before, a resurgence this time will be slowed by the state's increasing willingness to aggressively tax and regulate those who will make it happen.

Or who just decide not to, and go elsewhere.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Was the Warrant Served in the iPhone Leak Case Valid?

Over the weekend, police seized computers belonging to Jason Chen, the Gizmodo/Gawker blogger who published details of Apple’s 4th generation iPhone on the Gizmodo site last week.  Gawker COO Gaby Darbyshire argues in a letter to the police (which I decline to link to, as I disapprove of Gizmodo’s behavior in this matter) that the search warrant is invalid, citing section 1524(g) of the California Penal code and section 1070 of the California Evidence code, which relate to the seizure of equipment in order to identify journalists’ sources. 

I’m no lawyer, but I wonder about Darbyshire interpretation of the law, here.  Gizmodo didn’t just get documents or information from a source, it bought the actual prototype.  That would seem to me to be a separate thing from the reporting.  Even if the police were prohibited from confiscating equipment to target the person who gave Gizmodo the phone, are they also prevented from seizing it not to identify the source but simply to, say, charge Chen or others within Gawker Media for buying lost property?  It seems a superior court judge doesn’t think so.  Any lawyers want to weigh in? 

Regardless of the answer, I have to say Gawker’s behavior during this entire affair has struck me as wildly incautious.  Even setting aside their purchase of the device itself, their very public tale of how the device came into their possession would seem certain to be evidence in any trial should they be prosecuted for buying it.  If their actions as they describe them were judged to constitute a crime, they have effectively implicated themselves.

UPDATE: this TechDirt post summarizes in a single sentence why, even if California law does protect Gawker here, I’m not convinced it should:

The shield law exists to protect unnamed sources, not to let journalists commit crimes (such as receiving stolen property) and then cover them up under the guise of their work.

Just so.

Valve Software Shows How Viral Marketing is Done

On March 1, an unannounced update to the Valve computer game Portal was pushed onto the Steam game content delivery service.  The update was described in the the Steam news stream like this: "Changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations." 

Shortly thereafter, people playing the game discovered something had changed.  For one thing, there was a new achievement listed for the game called "Transmission Received."

They then discovered several other interesting things.

  • A radio seen in the game world near the beginning of the game had changed.  It now had a red light on the front of it. 
  • When you carried the radio with you into a room on the first level with a big red button on the floor (a 1500 megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super-Button) the light on the radio turned green, and a strange interference noise was heard.
  • There were 25 other radios hidden throughout the game’s levels.  All but four rewarded being placed in a room with a super-button with similar noise.  The other four each played a different string of Morse code.
  • When you successfully collected all 26 radios, you got credit for the achievement.

Someone had the idea of pulling from the game the audio files that sounded like interference, and running them through Slow-Scan Television (SSTV) software.  (SSTV is a picture transmission method used by amateur radio operators to transmit and receive static pictures via radio.)  This revealed the 22 cryptic images seen here.

When decoded, the four Morse code streams read as follows:

  1. interior transmission active external data line active message digest active
  2. 9e107d9d372bb6821bd91d3542a419d6
  3. system data dump active user backup active password backup active
  4. beep beeeep beep beep beeeep beeeep beeeep beep beeeep beep beep

On further investigation, Morse code stream 2 turned out to be an MD5 hash.  Decoding it revealed a landline phone number in Kirkland, Washington, near where Valve is headquartered.

(When decoded, the new Morse code from Morse code stream 4 read, "LOL".)

Upon calling the phone number, people discovered it was a modem line running BBS software.  Using Telnet and the user name and password combination from Morse code stream 3, above, they were able to connect to the BBS and discovered additional graphic images and several amusing memos from the Aperture Science Enrichment Center featured in the game.  My favorite example:

A lot of you have been raising concerns about the so-called "dangers" of what we’re all doing here. The beancounters told me to tell you that as of today, testing will no longer be as mandatory or as dangerous. That’s not gonna happen, and here’s the reason: Science isn’t about why, it’s about why not. You ask: Why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: Why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won’t hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired. Plus, in the event of your death, I personally guarantee that, thanks to the form you were required to sign this morning, your family will not suffer the indignities of a prolonged and costly legal battle against Aperture Science. Trust me, I am rich, and it is a burden I do not wish on anyone.

There’s speculation this is all a prelude to an announcement of the sequel to Portal or other fun stuff at the Game Developers Conference coming up next week.

I’m not sure what’s more genius: the marketing smarts of the folks at Valve that cooked this up, or the tech-gnomes that figured it all out.  But how often do we see companies that know their target audience this well, and show such trust in its intelligence?

(Hat tip to ModernLR for a nice summary of the details)

“Unexpectedly”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
                                                     —Inigo Montoya,
The Princess Bride

A sampling of recent headlines:
Today: Jobless claims rise unexpectedly
February 5: US unemployment rate falls unexpectedly, but job losses continue
January 21: Initial jobless claims unexpectedly climb
December 31: US new jobless claims fall unexpectedly
November 4: New jobless benefit claims rise unexpectedly
October 22: New Jobless Claims Up Unexpectedly to 531K
September 24: US home sales, jobless claims drop unexpectedly

Maybe it’s just me, but the word “unexpectedly” in this context is starting to annoy.  An occasional miss, and I’ll give you that the story should be about what unemployment “unexpectedly” did.  When we’re missing the forecast every month, on the other hand, the real story is that our system for setting expectations is crap, yet we keep citing it.  Maybe it’s time to set lower expectations for our ability to predict the future, and stop reporting every number as if it’s a surprise?

Scott Adams on Stocks versus Precious Metals

A humorous assessment: “If things go so badly that the S&P 500 becomes permanently worthless, I have a hard time believing that the people who own gold will rule the world. I think it’s more likely that the people who own steel that is conveniently shaped like guns will control everything, including all of the shiny rocks. At that point, the new currency will be something along the lines of “’Wash my car and I won’t shoot you in the leg.’”

Of course, as he’s said in the past, “Disclaimer: Do not get your investment advice from cartoonists.”

Kevin Siegel’s Adobe Captivate 5 Sneak Peek

Kevin Siegel was at last week’s Adobe Learning Summit, and shares details about the forthcoming Adobe Captivate 5 in this sneak peek.  Among other things, it sounds like Adobe has done significant work to make Captivate’s user interface more like those of their other design products.

“The New Rules of News”

Lessons From Dow 36,000

The book that is, not the actual value of the index, what with the latter not having happened yet.  Market strategist Barry Ritholtz:

…Let us congratulate James K. Glassman and Kevin Hassett, the authors of the incredibly money losing advice in their book Dow 36,000, on their 10 year anniversary.  …[L]et’s see what lessons we can learn from their errors. Here is what I can deduce as valuable lessons from the foolishness in their book

Ouch.  Ritholtz' list is here.  Of course, the real lesson may be, “beware of people telling you what lessons you should have learned from the past market.”  Nobody’s got a crystal ball, other people have agendas and priorities that may or may not be yours, and your mileage will almost certainly vary.