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Messages - raybeere [ switch to compact view ]

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Living Room / Re: Cheap fountain pen shootout
« on: May 24, 2014, 09:15 PM »
A few remarks on cheap fountain pens:

Pilot 78G - interesting range of nib widths; the F should really be an XF, while the B is almost an italic; not much ink capacity, though. Excellent quality for the price.

Hero 616 (Chinese, no longer made) Still available, but watch out for the counterfeits. :o Even the genuiine ones are of uneven quality, but the good ones hold a decent amount of ink and write well.

Wing Sung 233 (Chinese, almost vintage, but NOS ones can still be had for as little as $3-$4) These are cheap and a bit flimsy (especially the caps - the clips will break if you look at them) but surprisingly smooth writers with character that hold a decent amount of ink.

(For the timid, I should note that although the Pilot 78G is a cartridge/converter pen, both the Hero 616 and the Wing Sung 233 are both squeeze fillers (poor man's aerometric) which can only use bottled ink.)

It seems to work fine now. Must have been a temporary glitch.

Just in case it crops up again - it had a red header, the name Arrakis, and a lot of text in what I assume was Spanish. So all I could read was the domain name and the 404.

Anyway, I've got my copy now.  :) Thanks for a very useful tool.

When I click the download link, I get a 404 message.  :( Wish I could try it, since it looks very useful.

Living Room / Re: Open Letter to Skype
« on: January 30, 2013, 12:14 PM »
We've had that in .dk as well, so it's not just an urban legend :)

It makes you wonder just how some people escape being eligible for the Darwin Awards so long... :D

Living Room / Re: Open Letter to Skype
« on: January 30, 2013, 12:04 PM »
But who in their right minds would do their terrorist bomb planning, drug deal scheduling, kidnapping details or secret evil megacorp plans on something not opensource?

Of course, there aren't a lot of people who are in their right minds. I remember there was a guy in Florida who walked into a police station - to report that somebody stole his cocaine... For somebody like that, maybe Skype is a step up in security. ;)

Edited to add: While I am not one of those people who subscribe to the "if you aren't doing anything wrong, you shouldn't worry about who's looking over your shoulder" theory, I do think, if you care about security, you need to worry about it yourself. Or, at the very least, decide who you're going to rely on. Relying on a government or big corporation to protect you goes beyond naive. For as long as I've used Skype, I've assumed it was only fit for conversations I wouldn't mind showing up on YouTube someday. Some may consider that overly cynical, but the point is that I thought about it. Putting all your trust in some mythical "Big Brother", be it governmental or corporate, is going to get you burned, sooner or later.

Since I'm not doing anything I have any special reason to conceal from the government (beyond a general preference to keep my life private), I'm more concerned with the corporate efforts to assemble data on everyone. Because, even if you "like" the company collecting it right now (and "liking" a corporation strikes me as a naive stance in the first place) you have no way of knowing who it will be sold on to, or how it may be used. And the notion of companies trying to peer inside my head for their benefit makes my teeth itch.

Heh, filename case was the first thing I thought of, but didn't bother mentioning it because you said FireBug showed the file as loading :)

I still don't understand that, but since everything is working now... I intend to leave well enough alone. :D

This may sound silly, but try opening it up in another text editor and saving it. Check the file for "anomalies".

I've seen files where a single character would just wreak total havoc. I forget exactly that the hex for it was, but, it might be worth a try to resave it in another editor.

It doesn't sound silly to me. In this case, it turns out it wasn't the fix - see above - but I've had other files where a single character or code would lead to seemingly impossible results. I tried the most barebones text editor I could find, in the hope it would strip anything like that out, then never considered it might not have.  :-[ Which has me feeling silly, even though it wasn't the problem. In my defense, I've had a lot going on the past few months, and between six weeks of a nasty case of bronchitis, massive stress, and frequent migraines, I suppose I shouldn't expect myself to remember everything I "should" have considered. But, no, it doesn't sound silly to me at all.

(I've had so many problems that I only resolved when I tried "silly" solutions. I once wrote a BatchRunner routine for Windows that utterly refused to work the way I expected it to - when I finally found the fix, it not only completely contradicted the way the documentation said the command was supposed to be interpreted - not much surprise there - but the way it was interpreted was so contrary to all reason, the only way I ever even thought of trying it out was because I ran the thing, observed the results, and guessed what it must be assuming, then tweaked it from there. And I once had an HTML file that behaved as if it were possessed by malicious demons, all because of a code that somehow got in there which was literally invisible to and ignored by most editors. I think it was Notepad++ I finally opened it up in and saw this weird code, deleted that, and all the trouble went away.)

Linux is case sensitive when it comes to text. Are you being careful about capitalization?

Consider the following:

<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen" type="text/css" href="styles/my.css" />

The file my.css is not the same file as My.css or MY.CSS as far as Linux is concerned.

OK, I understand that - but Firebug made it clear that it considered the file was there, it just showed up as blank. So I don't think that's the problem, unless I'm misunderstanding something you're saying. Which is possible, considering the week I've had...

It turns out, this was the fix. :-[ That was the only file where I'd messed up the case - and what really fooled me was the fact Firebug wasn't reporting it as not found, just showing it as empty...

When I went to open it up in Firefox, I had to navigate to the file, and that's when I noticed the error. Well, I did say I was probably missing something obvious. ;)

And, thanks, everyone for making suggestions and getting me thinking about this.

Linux is case sensitive when it comes to text. Are you being careful about capitalization?

Consider the following:

<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen" type="text/css" href="styles/my.css" />

The file my.css is not the same file as My.css or MY.CSS as far as Linux is concerned.

OK, I understand that - but Firebug made it clear that it considered the file was there, it just showed up as blank. So I don't think that's the problem, unless I'm misunderstanding something you're saying. Which is possible, considering the week I've had...

So, you can view the CSS contents fine with a text editor, it's just when loading through a browser that it doesn't work? Can you load the CSS in the browser with a file:// url?

I'll have to give that a try. I'm logged into my Windows machine right now, but when I get a chance to fire up the Ubuntu machine, I'll see what happens and post the result here. (What is "supposed" to happen, since I've never tried loading a CSS file that way. Does it just display as text?)

I do know this isn't a bug or a problem with Ubuntu as such, but I couldn't think of a short subject that encapsulated my problem any better. And I'm probably missing something obvious, but I have tried to figure this out myself.

To set up the background, I have a set of HTML files which use a custom CSS file. These files are not online, they are for my own use, on my own machines or a USB stick. They contain most of the writing I've done (and will contain the rest when I get the time to add the rest of the files). On Windows XP, under Firefox, they work fine. (The last I checked, the formatting was broken in Opera, but that's presumably because each browser implements the HTML codes differently.) On my PortableApps USB sticks, they work fine. So the relative paths seem to be correct.

Now, I've also copied exactly the same files over to a ThinkPad running Ubuntu. And, although the HTML is there, and the links work, the CSS has no effect at all, in any browser. So I did what I could to track down what was going wrong. I installed Firebug, and it shows the the line calling the CSS file is working - but the CSS file appears totally empty in Firebug as if it contains no style info at all. So I assumed I might have saved it in a text format Linux doesn't like, so I opened up the file in a text editor in Ubuntu, then resaved it. The problem persists... At this point, I'm going crazy.

As I said, I'm probably missing the blatantly obvious. But if any of you can guess what is giving me so much trouble here, with what is meant to be a simple, universal set of files, I'd appreciate some advice. Specifically, if at all possible, I want to be able to use these files on a CD or a USB stick in any OS, without having to tweak them for each one. The fact they don't work perfectly in every browser isn't such a big issue, since Firefox is common enough for my purposes. But these are supposed to be an emergency backup set of all my manuscripts, and the fact I can't make them work as intended is driving me insane.

As I've used it to date, it just sticks to the basic question: "which is most important / has the highest priority", although that decision may be informed by particular considerations.

This discussion has me thinking, though. Ideally, I'd like to set up a system which - for each pairing - allowed me to select one among various different detailed ways of determining the answer to that question. I'd even like to have it so the user could add custom criteria sets. That's what I'd like to do, now that you've got me thinking, but I fear my skills are not up to that challenge.

At least the version of WP I used for my macro would not allow me to use any type of array (I forget whether arrays were possible but too simple for my purposes or just not possible), which is one reason it was so clunky. In place of arrays, I had to use specific routines. Trying to alter that system so that every time I am presented with a pair to choose from I am also able to choose from a more detailed method of making that choice is just not feasible.

I don't know if it would be easier to set up a routine like that, with the extra choices, in AutoHotKey. I'm still learning how to use AHK. So I have no idea if I'll update my system or not. If I do, I'll share it.

In the meantime, a little more explanation on my own needs for any such system. I often find myself needing to set priorities among a list of things which include a certain number of similar tasks - as well as some very different ones. So I find myself comparing oranges to oranges, apples to apples, and apples to oranges. That's one reason I needed such a simple, flexible system. The methods which work in one area won't work well in another. So, ideally, I'd use the basic framework of Paired Comparison Analysis (I'm pretty sure that was what sparked my own macro, although I can't recall precisely so many years later), but apply a specific set of questions to certain pairings. Say, an "orange evaluation score" for comparing oranges, an "apple evaluation score" for comparing apples, and then the more basic "gut check" when dealing with comparisons between apples and oranges.

But such a routine would only really be useful if I set it up to accept custom checklists / questionnaires, whatever you wish to call them, with custom scoring methods for each one. Each item would be assigned a category, then items with matching categories would get the appropriate questionnaire when their pairing came up, while mismatched items would fall back to the basic "which one trumps the other" question. It would be a great system, but the code to do it would be hideously complex, at least at my skill level.

So, no, I haven't been using a more complex system, but you've convinced me it would be a great idea. :) I don't know if it will happen, though, because doing that all manually would consume more time than it would be worth, at least for me. And unless I get a lot better with AHK than I am now, I have no chance of setting up something that complex.

In general, I have a lot of great ideas for apps to do this and that. My problem is, I can see how they'd work in fair detail - but getting them to work is a struggle. I've actually read that software development is sometimes 'split' between one person who maps out how the app is supposed to work, while another person implements that map. I find the second part much more difficult than the first, which can be frustrating. But if I do ever manage to implement the system you have me thinking about, then I'll share it. :)

I'm a fan of robust discussion myself. So I'm not easily insulted. :D

But I am afraid Armando is right. I did explain my method. It is just a deceptively simple one.

List all the items to be prioritised. Break that list up into all possible pairs, and for each pair, choose the most important item. Tally up the votes, and calculate the relative importance of each item.

Since this is very clunky to do by hand, I did write a - clunky ;) - WordPerfect macro some years ago (1998?) to let me input a list of tasks, then display the paired choices and do the calculations for me. It is limited to a list of certain length, since the clunky routines I used to keep track of things had to be copied and expanded, and I got sick of doing that. I decided I could always do that later, if I needed to. So far, I haven't needed to.

I'm not sure I'm ready to share that, as I'm afraid the amusement it would provide the coders among you might prove so overwhelming it would turn fatal. :-[ (In other words, you'd all laugh yourselves to death.) I suspect something similar could be done in AHK, but there are also undoubtedly much more elegant solutions than the one I used.

I understand the appeal of a lot of these methods. They appear to offer a more precise method of sorting out your priorities. But the drawback to every single one of them is that an individual - or worse, a committee - must assign values to each of these supposedly objective criteria. And doing so is always subjective.

Yes, sometimes it is easy. But, to use an example, the military method of selecting targets which takes into account how quickly a damaged target could be repaired seems objective - but if you look at it closely, it only works well in those cases which are pretty obvious. I can think of potential military targets which could be repaired much more easily - or less easily - than others. But those are the easy choices. When it comes down to the hard choices, the assessment of relative ease of repair relies on estimates made by one or more officers. That isn't to say they will never get it right. Of course, experienced officers would often arrive at a fairly accurate estimate.

The point is that, in that or any other situation, there are so many things which can go wrong during the process. Being unaware of a single piece of information can affect the accuracy of such estimates. Discounting a single point can have the same effect. And so on.

My system, although it relies more heavily on gut instinct, also forces simpler choices and averages out the result. Those same experienced officers would no doubt have pretty good gut instinct. And, if faced with only two targets to choose from instead of a whole list, they'd usually make the right choice. So, if you force them to make choices of one target out of each possible pair, then calculate the most important targets from that set of "votes", the final result is pretty reliable. Yes, the method still has weaknesses - in any method, if those following the process are obsessed with a single issue, that obsession will dominate the results. But, by reducing things to a set of - mostly - easy choices, then calculating relative merits based on those choices, it does smooth out a lot of errors introduced by more complex systems.

Personally, I find the other systems most useful in the way that they provoke me to think in different ways about my choices. Over time, incorporating new ways of looking at issues into my routine tends to be helpful. But if I try to follow the actual process, it trips me up. Every time.

Of course, every individual is different. If you have a method which works for you, there's no reason to abandon it because someone else can't make it work. But just because that method works great for you also doesn't mean that it will prove useful to anyone else. I am one of those people who sees so much complexity - in anything - that if I try to analyse specific points, I'll get bogged down. The single question, if I were selecting military targets (to stick to my example above), of how easy that target would be to repair once damaged has many facets. How complex is it? How many spare parts does the enemy have? How many people trained in making such repairs? What materials are needed, and how short are they on those? You get the idea... So forcing a (hopefully informed) "gut" decision between pairs, then using the power of averaging to smooth out my mis-calls works for me.

In fairness, if you read the entire article, the system didn't say that starting a blog was more important than making friends. The point was that starting a blog is relatively quick and easy - and might even help you make new friends ;) - whereas "make new friends" is an enormous, fuzzy task which won't get you anywhere until you develop a more specific strategy for doing so.

That said, I have a system which works well - for me, at least. The underlying idea is that you can often reliably decide which is the more important of any pair of tasks. So you pair up every possible pairing of the tasks you need to prioritise, list the "winner" of each pairing, then calculate the relative priorities based on the total score of each item.

I built a very clunky WordPerfect macro, one which is only good for (if I recall correctly) a list of fifty or fewer tasks - because I couldn't be bothered expanding the routine any further. First, it asks you to enter each task, and it stores each of these and counts the total. Then, it pairs up each possible set of tasks, and asks you which of the two is most important. It keeps track of these votes, and generates a final list with the item having the most total votes at the top, and the item with the fewest votes at the bottom - also indicating the percentage of votes each item received.

Yes, I've still found that there are some instances where it is hard to make up my mind. But in those cases, it is close anyway - and over a list of five or more items, it seems to average out the uncertainty and arrive at a fairly useful result. The one flaw, which should be obvious, is that it relies on the user's judgment. If I stubbornly insist on regarding some huge, unmanageable project as highly important, this system won't save me. But, of course, any time you assign any values in any system, your own prejudices are the most unvarying weakness.

I use FARR, I like FARR a lot, and I really, really hate to say this, but I just read about a new app launcher + called Blaze which looks highly intriguing. It is hosted on SourceForge, and as well as launching apps (FARR does that more than well enough, thanks!) it observes what you are doing, and offers to automate those tasks it "thinks" can be automated.

Has anyone tried this? At least in theory, it is an incredibly interesting idea. (I'm planning on trying it out, so I'll post my thoughts here once I discover anything worth sharing. It may be a while; as far as I can tell, a lot of what I do can't easily be automated. I just hate doing the stuff that can be. ;D And there's a point where it takes just a bit more time creating an AHK routine to do it for me than it takes just to slog through. That's where I'm hoping this tool can help. Well, of course, if it can save me setting up routines manually for the big jobs, too, I won't object.)

Then again, it is in beta. One good bug might wipe out all the savings in time and annoyance. Well, if it does, I guess I'll have only myself to blame. ;) I just can't resist trying it out...

Have you tried hard resetting the router back to factory settings and then setting up again?

Switch on and then press and hold the reset button for at least 30 seconds. Connect the router by a cable to your computer and then try IPCONFIG /ALL from a command prompt. If IPCONFIG says the router is at you are probably back to square one, go to and login to the router control panel (admin / password) and resetup all your settings.

Once you have it all working again you can go into the router (at what ever IP address you specified) and backup your router settings to your hard disk then if it happens again in the future you can reset the router and simply restore the settings from the router control panel.

If none of this works don't pass go, don't collect $200, nip down to the local computer store and buy a new router.

While you are at it buy a very expensive surge protector to protect all of your equipment (including your phones lines). Don't buy a cheap one they aren't worth the money. Next time it looks like a storm switch everything off and unplug it from mains and telephone circuits!

Good luck.
-Carol Haynes (July 14, 2009, 03:30 PM)

Yes, I've got to find the factory default password first. Or was it blank? Once I look that up, so I know I can get in, I'm going to try resetting to factory defaults. Thanks, I was wondering if that might be an option, but was afraid to mess with it since I'm not as comfortable with routers.

I seem to recall there being some issue with Linksys router power supplies in the past, (eg. failing within months), but I'm not sure whereabouts on the planet and how long ago.

@raybeere: You could also try powering the router off of an equivalently rated supply, (as long as it's not one the previously killed router supplies) - maybe it's original supply took just enough of a hit to make it marginal.

I'm trying to understand, but this isn't clear. If the power supply was dying, wouldn't the whole thing fail at once? The router is still working (although on my last ping a few minutes ago, the first ping took 7ms) but I cannot access the control panel at all. Why would the power supply affect this? I was thinking it was more that the firmware was messed up in some way.

Since you seem to be in the middle of Lightning Central, the most obvious question would seem to be:

Does your phone line go through a surge protector/lightning arrestor?

Sorry: I forgot to specify that yes, the line going in to the modem goes through the surge protector. It is one of those ones with eight outlets and a phone line in/out jack.

Next time your son insists he has to stay connected against your better judgment, ask him if he's willing to buy a new router.

Oh, he is going to buy the new router. ;D I'd still like to get to the bottom of this.

Sorry; I'm going to have to go into a bit of detail here, as I have no idea what might make a difference.

My computer system as I have it set up and connected to the Internet dates from spring 2006; the computer is a bit older but the setup was different and probably does not affect this problem. In 3+ years, I've been through three routers, about to find it necessary to buy #4 if I can't fix this one. (Still working, but past experience suggests it won't be long.)

First router: a cheap Belkin. I worked okay for about two years. Then, one day when I tried to access an unavailable site, the "wrong" DNS page popped up. I'd set my router to use OpenDNS, I got my ISP's version instead. So I accessed the router's settings and discovered something had messed them up (I assumed - and still do - heavy electrical storms not long before might be to blame). Fixed them. Very strange things started happening on my system: I didn't suspect the router, since most of the issues involved programs that were (at best) peripherally connected. I thought it must be malware, so I tried scanner after scanner with no real result (one or two advertising cookies, a key in my Registry that was adware, nothing extreme - and nothing that fixed the problem). I started having Internet connection problems, tried to access the router's settings again - and couldn't even get the login page to come up. Soon after, the router died. Total brick, so I tossed it and picked up a replacement. All problems, including what I'd thought must be a malware infestation, cleared up immediately.

Second router, the replacement, was a cheap Netgear, the first thing I could find on a store shelf, since I wanted to get back online. :) After less than a year, there was an incident with non-computer equipment on the same circuit. A fuse blew, and the ground-fault interrupter I have my surge protectors plugged into tripped. I started having connection problems (w/o too much strangeness; there's enough junk on my system it is hard to be sure what is due to those issues and what is a real problem - I know, one of these days I'm going to have to bite the bullet and reinstall). I didn't want to have to rush out to get another one this time and cash wasn't too tight at the time, so I didn't wait to see if it would die. I looked around, decided what I wanted, and ordered a nice Linksys WRT54GL. :D

Third - current - router: the Linksys. I was meaning to install open source firmware, but never got around to doing that, so it is 'out-of-the-box' except for changes to the settings. A week or so ago, we had a bad electrical storm come through (we've had an unusual number of strikes for the area this year). I pulled out my computer's power, but my son insisted he had to stay connected, so I left the router plugged in and on. (And connected to my computer, which seems fine.) I started having weird things happen on my system. Again, nothing that would point to the router. Then, I got messages about trouble with the Internet connection (still working, but apparently bothering some of the stuff I run). I tried to access the settings: again, I can't get the login page to even come up. "Firefox can't establish a connection to the server at" (I know this is not Linksys' default: had to set it to this to get it to work with the modem my ISP provided). I pinged and got the following results:

(Last night)
Reply from bytes=32 time=1ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64

Ping statistics for Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 0ms, Maximum = 1 ms, Average = 0ms

(Just now)
Reply from bytes=32 time=2ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64
Reply from bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=64

Ping statistics for Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 0ms, Maximum = 2 ms, Average = 0ms

I'm concerned that the first result seems to be slowing down, but don't know for certain if this means anything. I think the fact the first result is the slowest is normal, but beyond that, I can't figure this out. Why can't I access the control settings? Is there an alternate way to do this? (Yes, I'd try Googling, but time online may be limited, so I'm trying all approaches, and didn't want to waste time on a search before at least posting here.)

More importantly, why do routers keep dying on me? Yes, there is the lightning - but the modem is plugged in to the same surge protector, which seems to have protected it. (True, I don't know if I'll have trouble with the modem this time, but both other times, replacing the router fixed every problem.) My other gear is in a separate surge protector, and none of it is having trouble.

I've thought about the factors I know affect routers, and this is all I can come up with:

Heat: yes, I do have all this stuff in a computer "armoire" (I have cats :D ) so ventilation is not perfect. Yet the computer runs hotter than the router, yet has no trouble, and has never overheated. (HDD is the only monitor I have, never above 60 degrees C, and usually not above 55 C). Even when the vents in the computer's case became clogged with dust, and the fan was howling like a jet all the time, things stayed fine until I could make the time to go in there and clean it out. And the Linksys has the best ventilated case of the three models that have died, yet it lasted the least amount of time. So I find it hard to believe heat is the culprit.

"Dirty" power: Thanks the most absurd house wiring layout I've ever seen, I have no choice but to have all this stuff on the same circuit as the refrigerator. Sigh. I know that isn't great - but, again, why just the router? Why isn't anything else having problems? (In all that time, I lost one cheap printer that was already on its way out - to a clogged print head. That's it, except for the routers.) So, not good, I agree (and if anyone has cheap suggestions for improving the situation, I'm all ears), but that doesn't seem right, either.

Power surges / lightning: In two of three cases, there was a bad storm right before I started noticing any weirdness. Both of these cases acted very much the same. In the third case, there was an incident which blew a fuse / tripped my GFI. This acted a bit differently, but the connection was utterly clear in this case. So that would seem to be the issue - but then why don't I need a new modem as well? One router might just be bad, but three? From different manufacturers?

I have no idea if I'll have a chance to read them before my router turns into a brick, but any and all thoughts would be appreciated, on the general issue of what might be causing such a failure rate for routers in specific, or on how I might get into my settings and perhaps fix whatever is wrong (I think I'd try re-flashing the firmware, to see if that did any good) before I lose this one. Thanks in advance.

Living Room / Wolfram Alpha - Impressions On Launch
« on: May 15, 2009, 11:05 PM »
It is late, and I'm tired, with a nasty developing headache, but I'm sure some DC readers are aware of Wolfram Alpha and are curious. I had the page loaded, with the nonworking "Launching in May" announcement, and when the announced they'd activated it, I refreshed and got in as soon as the page reloaded. It took a few seconds. Rather than rewriting all my thoughts, I'll link to what I posted on my blog, if that's okay. The post is here.

Yes, I was pretty harsh on them, but my perspective was that of a user / researcher. This is supposed to be something new, something special, and except for math problems (and how many days, weeks, years, etc. since a particular date is just a specialised math problem) it doesn't seem ready to do anything at all. If anyone is really curious, I do have screen shots of the searches I mention, although not the ones I just summarise. (I tried "What happened in 1666?", for example, and "What happened in London in 1666?")

It sounds like a cool effect, although it might get annoying if it covered up the Close button on maximised windows.

I went nuts when SlySoft AnyDVD came out with AnyDVD HD five days after I had just purchased the license,

This is the post I was thinking of. And please notice that I qualified my opinion to state it was only valid if I understood correctly.

In any case, I wasn't "blaming" SlySoft. Although some of the facts weren't clear to me (since, as I was careful to point out, I have never used the product: my information all came from this thread), no matter who you blame, there is still one point I think it is very important for small companies (any company that isn't so big they can afford to get all arrogant and "we're too large to worry about the customer") to understand. No matter what the cause is, no matter what or who you blame, the basic point still remains. Unless you figure out a way to handle things so your customers are convinced you're treating them fairly, any policy you set will end up harming your own business.

This basic point, which is true even if I didn't have all the details, has absolutely nothing to do with blame. Even if we agree to stipulate that many people today feel entitled and expect more than they have a right to - that is still the way they feel, and they will still react on those feelings. And any company that depends on selling to people with those expectations still needs to understand what reactions their actions will have.

(Yes, this next rant is relevant. Stick with me.)
I'm a writer. Editors expect us to understand they can't pay decent rates. (In one recent incident, it slipped out a new magazine, one supposedly focused on stories, was planning to pay $1,000 for cover art - but not more than about $50 for a story.) The public expects they ought to be able to copy our stuff, just because it's easy, without paying us. I know of one writer who's been at it for at least twenty-five years and written dozens of books (I'm not mentioning names because I have no desire to invade this person's privacy) whose income for 2007 was in the high four figures. They are successful, "midlist", a pretty solid if not spectacular position, and established, and their annual income was less than $10,000! (That went up in 2008 - because they developed other sources of income.) Is that fair? I certainly don't think so. They're a good writer, with a decent fan base. In no way are they to blame for any of this - but they still need to understand how that market works in order to deal with it.

No matter what the facts are, you need to understand all of them if you don't want to end up in trouble. There are, pretty clearly, a lot of upset users over this issue. From what I've heard, I don't think that anger is deserved. But the basic fact still remains: they seemingly didn't understand how their customers were going to react, and this has no doubt hurt them. Does anyone really think they'd benefit from anyone encouraging them simply to look at the reasons why it was ethical and fair to do what they did? I know, if I liked a company, no matter how strongly I thought they were right, I'd also encourage them to look at whatever it was which caused so many customers to hate them. Because that result simply is not good for the company. No matter whose fault it is, as long as there is a perception the company is bad, that is a problem they need to solve.

I've never used Any-DVD, or any variant, so I'm basing my comments on what I've read here. First, I agree the company was not unethical in what they did; the new release was a new product. However, I think there is a lesson here for small companies, that while customers do expect ethical behaviour, they also expect to be treated well. If I'm reading it correctly, they sold the earlier program, then, in the case of one poster, days after he bought this earlier license, a new product came out, with new functionality but also with all the functions of the old. So I do think they erred in failing to treat their customers in the way most customers would like to be treated.

Look at that experience from the point of view of the customer: if he'd known the new product was coming out, and would be treated separately, he could have waited and obtained all the functions of both for the single price. Instead, they didn't make this plain, so to get both he needed to pay for both programs. (The amounts don't matter. Buying both would cost more than buying one. That is all that matters to make my point.) I'd be upset, not that designating new functionality as a new program was unethical, but simply because they withheld information about the upcoming release (presumably to gain a few more sales of the old one - who's going to buy it once they know it will be outdated?). I wouldn't want to do business with a company that treated me that way. High standards? Maybe, but customers have just as much right to insist on whatever standards they like as companies do to decide what standards they will follow.

So, to my mind, this company alienated a certain number of customers by the way they acted. To gain a limited amount of extra sales, they lost untold future sales. What would I suggest they could have done? Be honest, at the very beginning, about the new program they're developing, and the fact it will be treated as a new product. At that point, they might scare away a few sales, but most folks won't want to wait that long for the new product - and, since the old one is becoming outdated, they could encourage sales by cutting the price a bit. As time passed, they could announce that any purchaser of the old program after a specified date would qualify for a certain percentage discount off the price of the new one. Finally, they could announce that those who bought the old license after a specific date, close to the new release (say, within a month) would just get a free license to the new product. Yes, this would cost them a bit more - but I think it would earn them even more goodwill.

Am I saying they should be obligated to do this? No, I'm simply saying it seems like a policy that would have alienated a lot fewer customers, and would have more than paid for itself in the long run. I know there are a few small businesses I deal with that have gone the extra mile - and, when they show me they're willing to do that, I'm much more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in cases that aren't terribly clear. I've knowingly paid more, even when customer service wasn't a consideration - when I'm dealing with a business I know is generally willing to treat me as I'd like to be treated.

Post New Requests Here / Re: IDEA: Desktop progress meter
« on: April 16, 2009, 12:41 PM »
You've done an incredible job on this. Thanks!

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