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Week of 22 August 2005

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Monday, 22 August 2005
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08:37 - Here's irony. C|Net just ran an article about O'Reilly's FOO Camp.

"For a couple of years, Tim O'Reilly has been bringing together some of the smartest people in technology for a weekend campout of thinking, talking, brainstorming and beer drinking.

Because of the A-list names--such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Technorati founder Dave Sifry--and the level of discourse involved, the trip, known as Foo Camp (for Friends of O'Reilly), has become one of the must-get invites among the geek set.

But when the event convenes again this weekend near the Sebastopol, Calif., offices of O'Reilly & Associates, O'Reilly's publishing company, a number of people who have attended previously or who would like to be on hand won't have gotten invitations."

So, O'Reilly called me a month or so ago and invited Barbara and me to attend FOO Camp. My response? "Thanks, but we're really too busy."

Heads-down writing continues. I'll not have much time to spend updating this page until the book reaches 100% in October.


Tuesday, 23 August 2005
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10:15 - Same old same old. Researching, testing, writing, and shooting images. An author's work is never done.

All hopes of a unified high-capacity DVD format are apparently gone, says C|Net. I don't doubt it, and I'd bet that Blu-Ray is going to be the winner. About the only thing HD-DVD has going for it at this point is that HD-DVD discs can be made on existing equipment, while Blu-Ray discs will require new equipment. That's a two-edged sword, though. If legitimate DVD pressing plants need to buy new equipment to produce Blu-Ray discs, well so do pirate pressing plants.

Otherwise, Blu-Ray has all the advantages. HD-DVD appeared to have a time-to-market advantage, with the first players expected to arrive in US stores late this year, while Blu-Ray players wouldn't be on the shelves until at least mid-2006. Even that advantage appears to be illusory, though. The studios that support HD-DVD are backing off on their release plans, and it appears that few titles will be available. I wonder how many $1,000 HD-DVD players will sell during their first year, with few titles available to play in them. As was true of DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW before HD-DVD, the endorsement of the DVD Forum seems to be the kiss of death.

11:55 - This is very odd.

We just returned Connections 2 Discs 1 through 3. Discs 4 and 5 of that series were both available, as were all five discs of Connections 3, so I'd have expected them to ship us Connections 2 Discs 4 and 5, along with Connections 3 Disc 1. Instead, they're shipping us only Disc 4 of Connections 2, along with Discs 1 and 2 of Connections 3. Presumably, they think people don't mind watching stuff out of order.


Wednesday, 24 August 2005
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09:52 - The University of Texas has eliminated its undergraduate library.

I fear we are on the cusp of a coming Dark Age. That is, alas, the natural order of things. We have come to think of enlightenment as the natural state, but throughout history ignorance and illiteracy has been the rule.

The only things standing between us and a Dark Age are the twin piers of literacy and science. Neither is respected nowadays. Our literacy rate falls year by year, and even many who can read do not read, the so-called aliterates. Science is under constant attack by the know-nothings, many of whom represent themselves as scientists. Not one person in a hundred could define the Scientific Method, including many students in our university science programs.

Where will our next generation of scientists and mathematicians and engineers come from? We will have some, certainly. The best and brightest are still attracted to those fields. But will they be enough? I hope so, but I fear not.


Thursday, 25 August 2005
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09:02 - I tried to place an order with NewEgg yesterday. It was a small order, a spindle of Verbatim DVD+R discs, a package of 100 paper DVD sleeves, and a Case Logic 128 DVD case. The total with shipping was about $60. I've ordered from NewEgg many times, and have an account there. I didn't expect any problems. Boy, was I wrong.

I added the items to my shopping basket and proceeded to check out. The first problem was that they wanted the CVN number from the back of my credit card. I didn't want to provide that, so I left that field blank and clicked the continue button. A page popped up that told me I'd forgotten to enter my CVN number. There was a clickable link next to the field for CVN, so I clicked it. The popup told me that NewEgg requested the CVN number, and that providing it would expedite handling of my order, but it wasn't mandatory. So I entered "none" in the field, but their shopping cart software told me that field had to be all numbers. So, being a programmer in an earlier incarnation, I entered "999" in the field and clicked Continue.

Here's the next screen that appeared:

Now, I never "activated" my card in "Verified by Visa", and I had no desire to participate in this program. One more password to remember is the last thing I want. And I'm certainly not going to provide the information they demand here. So I clicked Continue, but nothing happened. Apparently, there was no way to complete my order other than by completing this form, so I just closed the browser Window and abandoned the order.

A minute or two later, I got email from NewEgg, saying that my order had not been completed:

"Unfortunately we are unable to complete the processing of your order because payment authorization to your credit/debit card has failed.

This means that your credit/debit card issuer has declined our request for authorization due to an invalid credit/debit card number, incorrect expiration date, exceedance of your daily limit, insufficient funds or perhaps some other reason."

The message also mentioned that they'd try running the credit card again, and it gave the 800 number for customer service. At this point, there was steam coming out of my ears, but I called the 800 number anyway. After 15 minutes on hold, and a lot more steam, a nice woman picked up and I told her the problems I'd experienced.

I can understand that credit card fraud is a big problem for on-line vendors, but I have a history with these people. All they needed to do was check my order history, and they'd find that I've ordered from NewEgg many times in the past and that there's never been a problem with any of my orders. The customer service woman told me that they'd apparently done that, because my order had in fact been processed. I checked my email, and sure enough there was a confirmation message that the order had been accepted. As I told her, it's lucky I hadn't ordered the stuff somewhere else already.

As to the Verified by Visa program, she said that was optional. I told her that NewEgg's definition of "optional" differed from mine, since the only button on that screen was "Continue". Kind of like one of those obnoxious Microsoft dialogs that warn you you're about to be raped and then provide only an "OK" button.

I'm not happy with NewEgg right now. I told the customer service woman politely but in no uncertain terms that the way they were handling check out was going to lose them a boatload of customers. Treating first-time customers with caution is understandable. Credit card fraud is widespread, and vendors always come up on the short end.

But treating returning customers the same way, particularly ones who've bought from you many times, is just stupid. They know I'm me. They know they've shipped to me at this same address many times over many years and that there's never been a problem. The order pattern tells them that this isn't a case of someone placing several small initial orders to establish credibility and then a huge order that's possibly fraudulent. This order was for about $60. The probability that this order is fraudulent is so close to zero as not to matter. They don't need any verification in situations like this.

Making loyal customers go through unnecessary verification is a good way to lose those customers. And it costs a lot to develop a new customer.


Friday, 26 August 2005
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11:11 - Still plugging. I'd hoped to finish the chapter on Optical Drives yesterday, but I didn't make it. Maybe today.


Saturday, 27 August 2005
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Sunday, 28 August 2005
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