1. The Two Axes of Politics

    January 31, 2007 by Craig

    When it comes to socialism vs. capitalism in economic discussion, there’s lots of evidence and good arguments for both sides of the debate. That’s a topic I’m interested in.

    But when it comes to authoritarianism vs. libertarianism, I think the issues are much more cut-and-dried: authoritarianism is pretty much always a bad thing for everyone but the authority.

    From Venezuelan Congress grants Chavez power to enact by decree:

    “Viva President Hugo Chavez, long live socialism!” National Assembly President Cilia Flores said as she proclaimed the law approved.

    Note that they’re (intentionally) confusing Chavez’s socialist economic strategy (which I think is a legitimate strategy to hold, even if it’s ultimately wrong) with his authoritarian grab for more power. That sort of thing happens all the time, and it often works.

    The key to understanding politics is that it isn’t a one-dimensional spectrum; there’s more to the world than Left-versus-Right. (Incidentally, that is absolutely not understood by most Americans, and that’s something that enabled the current Republicans to masquerade as conservatives. By most measures, they’re not.) One of the more useful divisions I’ve seen (and adopted) is to split political ideology into social and economic axes: that is, the role of authority (versus individual liberty) and the means of a creating a successful economy (free-market versus central planning).

    If you haven’t already, be sure to check out The Political Compass and take their test see where you land on the social and economic scales. Here’s my most recent one; it actually comes out more socialist than my previous tests (but still mostly center). I’m

    On the same page as the test results is a chart showing various leaders/famous people and how they’d score if they took the test (based on their public statements):

    Note how almost of the “big-name” leaders score high on the authoritarian side. That is, of course, no accident: if you’re the authority, you’re probably more likely to think that authoritarianism (ie: Do-As-I-Tell-You-To) is a good way to do things. And, if left to their own devices, someone given authority will tend to exert it in order to keep it/gain more. That is exactly why authoritarianism needs to be kept in check; it’s self perpetuating, and it’s only beneficial to those who have it.


  2. Stupid Ways to Hinder Market Adoption

    January 29, 2007 by Craig

    Guy Kawasaki is another one of my favorite bloggers (of the ones I don’t know personally). He’s a technically-savvy business guy and venture capitalist. To me, he represents the “other side” (ie: marketing) to a business (versus the technical/implementation/operational side that I’m on most of the time). Unlike many people in that industry though, he’s thoughtful, logical, and eloquent.

    he writes about the things websites/companies do to ensure that potential users leave and current users remain frustrated. Here’s an excerpt:

    2. The long URL.When you want to send people an URL the site generates an URL that’s seventy characters long – or more! When you copy, paste, and email this URL, a line break is added, so people cannot click on it to go to the intended location.

    The justification often goes like this: “We create a long URL because people with Crays might break our code and see private pages. Seventy characters that can be twenty-six lower case letters, twenty-six upper case letters, or ten numbers ensures that no one can break our code since the possible combinations outnumber the quantity of atoms in the universe.” This is what keeps sites like TinyUrl and SnipURL in business.

    This is the sort thing that usability evangelists like Jakob Neilsen have been saying for a while now. The significance, I think, is that now marketing-focused people like Guy are beginning to take it seriously, and speak of it in terms of customers, competition, and money. Guy reaches a different audience than do those that normally speak on subjects like this, and so it helps spread the word to the people that matter. That’s a good thing.


  3. Quotes

    by Craig

    I see lots of great one-liners go by from time to time, especially relating to business. Now that I have a blog I have an outlet to share them with the world (or at least the 3 people who read it :-P).

    This first one happens to be one of my own; modesty be dammed. 😛

    [coworker]: ok wasnt sure if that was the final decesion
    Craig: No decision is “final”, it’s just “most recent” 😛


  4. Customer Service

    January 25, 2007 by Craig

    I got this from the one-man-show behind my new VOIP/toll free/calling card service, Les.Net:

    <bastard operator from hell mode: ENAGAGED>
    Please do *NOT* call if you are having problems.
    Especially, do not call to complain or ask if there is a way to fix it temporarily.
    Each minute I spend on the phone explaining things, delays the final solution.
    I realise that your communications is important, but you will just have to cope in the meantime, sorry!
    I can understand if people would like to cancel and find another provider.
    I will process any such request on the weekend if you choose that direction.
    <bastard operator from hell mode: DISENGAGED>

    (Text is his, the link is mine)

    I’ve been with this guy for a week now, and it’s been a battle of the pros and cons

    PRO:

    • He provides great features: he’s basically a VOIP & DID (ie: phone number) provider, but he covers all the related-feature bases. He allows you to use softphones or your own ATA. He provides IAX for Asterisk.
    • He doesn’t try to lock you into a service plan or force you to buy specific hardware/software, unlike many VOIP providers (I’m looking at you Vonage
    • His prices are great across the board.
    • He explains what his fees are up front, and doesn’t add any “taxes” (other than basic GST).
    • He provides phone numbers (including toll-free ones) all over the place.
    • He allows lots of customization in your service.
    • If you email him, he’ll respond, usually pretty quickly. There’s no talking to a phone monkey; you get The Person In Charge.
    • He’s technically very competent.

    CON:

    • Because he’s a one-man-show, he gets overburdened easily if things go badly.
    • There are, on occasion, service problems, like I’m having now. (He says these should be fixed in a couple of days.)
    • He’s weak on customer-handling; see the quote above. It doesn’t bother me so much but it might for some people
    • He doesn’t explain anything up-front. If you don’t know much telephony and/or can’t be bothered to learn, this service is not for you. (Fortunately, if you ask a technical question, he’ll answer you well; I haven’t tried a newbie question yet.)
    • His website is really bad from a usability standpoint; it doesn’t help the user perform tasks much.
    • Lots of features, both in the service or in the website, are “in the next version.” We’ll see how that goes.

    At the moment, the “pro” side is still winning out. I think the fact that he’s one guy (and a techie) attempting to run a good business (and just needing some polish) makes me more forgiving of him.


  5. Dilemma

    January 24, 2007 by Craig

    I pose for you a question:

    Suppose that a client has contracted you to provide a service. You’re an expert in your field (at least, moreso than the client… that’s why they contracted you after all). The client wants you to perform some action, but you consider this action to be high-risk for the client. You tell the client that this is a bad idea, and that you should take a different course of action instead. The client refuses to agree; whatever their motivations, they insist on following their proposed course of action. Other service providers for the same client are syncophants; they raise no objections. Both the client and the other providers were hit with a problem of the very type you’re trying to avoid just recently… in fact, the client swore to try and avoid it in the future. There’s no guarantee that the problem will occur but past experience clearly says that it’s a bad idea.

    Do you:

    1. Attempt to save the client from themselves, and refuse to perform the action, even though doing so would make you appear to be a spoiler to the eyes of everyone else involved?
    2. Let the client have their way, and play along with the rest. You’re not directly responsible for any failures, but if they do occur, the client may still try to pin the blame on you, and may ask you to work extra hard (at your own expense) to try and fix it.

  6. Housing Affordability

    January 23, 2007 by Craig

    Seven months ago, Laura and I sold our house in one of the hottest housing markets in the United States and began looking to buy a house in one of the hottest housing markets in Canada. Real estate weighs heavily in our minds.

    Housing prices in Calgary have climbed by a lot, especially in 2006. As people like to do, they often talked around the campfire about how prices were “overblown”, “unsustainable”, “ridiculous” etc. The news sources did a lot of that too.

    Today, the Calgary Contrarian (a really good local real estage blog) had a link to this Calgary Hearlad article regarding the “third annual international survey of housing affordability.” The headline and the first 2/3 of the article had few surprises: Calgary is very unaffordable (ie: high housing prices relative to average incomes) and comparable to Toronto, Vancouver/Victoria are still way worse.

    That’s not news to anybody. The real interesting part is here:

    The survey says that in Canada on average citizens require only 3.2 years of annual income to purchase a home, the best record in the survey. Also surveyed were Australia, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States.

    Of the 159 major urban markets in six countries, 42 are affordable, 36 moderately unaffordable, 22 seriously unaffordable and 59 severely unaffordable. All the affordable markets are in North America with 35 in the United States and seven in Canada

    What a lot of people don’t realize is that the increase in real estate prices is a very global phenomenon. It’s not just Calgary that has seen housing prices rise; we’ve been watching Edmonton, Red Deer, and Saskatoon too and they’ve all grown dramatically. Florida wasn’t alone in it’s increase; the whole country jumped and there were plenty of other hotspots. Britain, France, Australia, Russia and many others have had similar increases. Even Costa Rican prices have inflated. It’s everywhere.

    The practical effect of this is that it doesn’t matter much where you want to live… you’ll probably be paying more than you would have five years ago. You may be able to pay less by living somewhere else, but everywhere I’ve looked at, the housing prices are quite directly correlated by the desire we have to live there (proof positive: Regina is the “most affordable” city in the study. For those unfamiliar with the city: it’s generally regarded as a craphole).

    So, we’ve decided to bite the bullet and pay the high Calgary prices… and be happy about it.


  7. Joel On Software

    by Craig

    Joel Spolsky is easily one of my favorite bloggers. He’s a software developer / manager of a software development company that he grew himself. On top of being a very insightful guy, he’s a great writer: he tells stories and comes up with all sorts of quips and analogies. Here’s an example from his latest post:

    Near as I can tell, Chandler’s original vision was pretty much just to be “revolutionary.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t code “revolutionary.” I need more details to write code. Whenever the spec describes the product in terms of adjectives (“it will be extremely cool”) rather than specifics (“it will have brushed-aluminum title bars and all the icons will be reflected a little bit, as if placed on a grand piano”) you know you’re in trouble.

    If you have anything to do with software development, you need to be reading Joel. If you have anything to do with business or customers or users, you should probably be reading him too. And if you like to know about how people and the world really works, reading him wouldn’t be a bad idea.


  8. Zero Sum Economics

    January 21, 2007 by Craig

    I don’t have time to write my own thoughts on this subject right now, but I know I’ll speak on it eventually. In the meantime, I’ll post it now… mostly for my own reference, possibly to spark insight and discussion.

    Communism, and to a lesser extent socialism, can be seen as starting with the assumption the economy is a zero-sum game, and they end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy on that front as in their zeal to make sure capital/wealth is evenly distributed, they destroy the mechanisms of capital/wealth creation. Actually, they end up with a negative-sum game. I’m not defending any particular instantiation of capitalism at this time, I’m just saying you damn well need to understand why it does what it does if you want to understand how economies work.

    From Jerf’s post to Study Claims Offshoring Doesn’t Cost US Jobs on Slashdot.


  9. Impressions

    January 19, 2007 by Craig

    Flickr is a fun site. Not only do you get to host your photos, but it also tells you how popular they are by several standards. One of those standards is the number of page hits.

    Laura and I were living in Florida when Hurricane Katrina passed through in 2005. At that point it was only a medium-size Category 1 (ie: relatively weak) hurricane. Some friends lost their power for several days, but we were pretty much unscathed. After it passed over Florida, Katrina proceeded to move into the Gulf of Mexico and wipe out New Orleans.

    For something to do, I took some pictures of the hurricane aftermath. In our area, that mostly amounted to blown leaves and some tree branches. I took some pictures of our pool, which had lots of crap floating in it. None of it was particularly interesting. (A few months later, Hurricane Wilma would hit our area a lot harder, and I got some much more interesting photos of that.

    One of the boring pictures of my dirty pool became my most-viewed picture ever — due exclusively to people looking for photos tagged “katrina”. That’s pretty disheartening for a budding photographer. 😛

    Later on, as we moved to Calgary, my photography skills improved, and I discovered Autostitch, I took this picture of Lake Louise:

    Panoramic view of Lake Louise

    It’s also been quite popular on my Flickr page. As of this posting, it’s received 71 hits, while the dirty Katrina pool has received 82.

    The Lake Louise picture is, I think, much more deserving of the top spot. So, in the hopes of scoring some additional hits for it, I’m posting it to my blog. 🙂

    I haven’t linked at all to the pool picture; that would, of course, defeat the purpose of this post. If you really want to see it, you’ll have to go digging. 😉


  10. Back in Calgary

    by Craig

    I got in late last night without incident.

    By the way, everyone needs to go and see Pushing Tin if they haven’t already.