Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A house in Africa

Just spoke to my Mom who is back home in Johannesburg: it seems my parents are finding the big old house a bit too big and have put it on the market (chokes back a sob). But if you're interested in seeing what you can get for less than £300k in South Africa, have a look at this: there's a cool virtual tour which consists of 360-degree automatic panoramas of various parts of the house and garden (and of course an embarrasingly bad example of what passes for English among estate agents: sorry!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Yahoo! puts the squeeze on

I remembered an old Yahoo! mail account that I hadn't logged onto for awhile, and tried to log onto it just now. I was greeted with the pleasant news that Yahoo! had deactivated the account, in the process trashing all of my emails, and were currently returning emails sent to the account. I was given two options: reactivate the account "without protection, knowing that my account will be deactivated again in the future... I understand that I will risk losing valuable email messages and other important information". Or, pay protection money to Yahoo! to prevent deactivation.

I chose the third option: Yahoo! can take their mafia tactics and shove them: I won't use their email anymore, and so the likelihood of my using their site in future has dramatically dipped. It's funny, I was talking with a client the other day about expanding his pay-per-click campaign to Overture (he currently only uses Adwords) and I was skeptical of the value of it. Since Yahoo! is an Overture member site, and since they seem hell-bent on pissing off their long-time users, that skepticism seems even better placed.

Paul Graham, who once sold a company to Yahoo! and therefore ended up working for them, has written about how he and some of his engineers tried to tell Yahoo! about some elementary, proto-Google-type improvements that they thought could be made to Yahoo! search. The response from Yahoo! was something along the lines that search was unimportant now that Yahoo! was a portal; who cared if it didn't work? It didn't make money. Google proved them, shall we say, spectacularly wrong. Unfortunately, it didn't teach them to respect their customers any more, apparently.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Hacking the Mac

Daring Fireball has a great post up about the increasing use of Macs by computing's elite, the mighty hackers. (Not to be confused with kiddies who try to break into computer systems, obviously.)

A couple of years ago I worked for a medium-sized Internet service provider. It was one of the first ISPs to get started in the UK, and the techies who worked there were true hackers, blue dreadlocks and all. They had built up the back-end infrastructure virtually from scratch, using open-source Unix tools and a lot of ingenuity. They all went around with PC laptops running some flavour of Linux or FreeBSD, the better to deal with the Beast they had created.

Now when we, the new management representatives of the new American investment bank owners, arrived, we of course (Of course!) forced them to communicate with our new office infrastructure, which was rapidly if inexpertly built on a Microsoft platform (if you can call anything as inherently unstable as that a "platform"). This caused some friction, and not a little igenuity on the part of the techies as they struggled with Ximian and OpenOffice and other Unixy attempts to communicate with the Borg without being assimilated. Ultimately unsuccessful, many were soon resigned to carry another, smaller and more regularly beaten-up, laptop, running Win2K.

Until a strange thing happened. More and more of the techies started showing up to meetings with only one laptop: a sleek, silvery one, with a glowing apple symbol in its lid. They had discovered that a titanium PowerBook, loaded with OS X, could, in the same machine at the same time, run any Unix tool of choice and also deal with Microsoft Office documents, Exchange email, and all the other features of the modern corporate computing wasteland. Even more astonishingly, I discovered that these guys were buying the PowerBooks out of their own pocket: company policy was "Macs for the Web designer only".

I have to say it piqued my curiosity: years after I had given up on Apple, I felt the faintest stirrings of what I couldn't even admit was hope. Could it be? Could they actually be making something cool again?

They could.