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Archive for December, 2005

Return your Calls!

Why is it that we, as a corporate culture, have simply decided not to answer phone messages? Leave it on voicemail, leave it with an admin, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. People now just seem to think its OK to just wait until you call back and they’re at their desk, and oho! they’ll talk to you then. Or worse, they let their voicemail screen all their messages so if they don’t intend to talk to you, they won’t ever have to. But you will have to keep calling them.
Very convenient for them, but its real havoc on the rest of us, and I’m not the only one that shares that peeve. This now rates as the Grating Habit of 2005.

Lets say they don’t want to talk to you, you are raising money for your high school, so they dodge you and don’t return your calls. If they would, you would find out that they have no intention of giving to the annual fund, so be it. But they don’t return the call, so you are consigned to two weeks of daily fruitless calling. But what if they only think you’re doing that, what if you just want to discuss some issue or other? Same result: dial until your fingers fall off and you can’t even get a response.

But so much of the time they’re just busy, maybe, too busy because their organization has been thumbtacked (instead of middle management, there’s one person and 100 subordinates) and they can hardly find time to clean their glasses. If you’re not on the crisis list, you just don’t get called. Its an excuse, but not much of one.

It used to be a matter of company policy, for a lot of companies, that phone calls had to be returned within one workiing day, no matter what. Boy, has that gone by the wayside. And its a real waste.

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A Christmas Carol

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew — “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

“And therefore, uncle, thought is has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, and will do me good, and I say, God Bless it.”

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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Mainstream Internet

An interesting note by usability guru Jakob Nielsen:

Some time in 2005, we quietly passed a dramatic milestone in Internet history: the one-billionth user went online. Because we have no central register of Internet users, we don't know who that user was, or when he or she first logged on. Statistically, we're likely talking about a 24-year-old woman in Shanghai.

According to Morgan Stanley estimates, 36% of Internet users are now in Asia and 24% are in Europe. Only 23% of users are in North America, where it all started in 1969 when two computers — one in Los Angeles, the other in Palo Alto — were networked together.

It took 36 years for the Internet to get its first billion users. The second billion will probably be added by 2015; most of these new users will be in Asia. The third billion will be harder, and might not be reached until 2040.

In 2002, NUA estimated that we had 605 million Internet users. Since then, Internet use has grown by 18% per year — certainly not as fast as the 1990s, but still respectable.

Overall, the Internet's growth has been truly remarkable. Ten years ago, the 'net was mostly used by geeks; now it's the default way to do business in many countries. In our U.S. and European B2B studies, many business professionals said they visit a company's website as the first step in researching potential vendors.

(Quote from: One Billion Internet Users (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox))

In 1995 I led a small project to build US Bank's first website, and I had to make repeated presentations to the highest levels of management to convince them to spend money on such a thing — yea, even to allow it. One of the most senior technical people at the bank fought me tooth and nail, proclaiming "the Internet is the leasure suit of the 90's" and confidently predicted it would "be on the scrap-heap of time-wasters within two years, and we'll look back and laugh." Well, as they say, who's laughing now?

More soon on what it is users are doing on the Internet, and what's new that's not just coming down the road but starting to knock on our doors, and why its important to us. US, meaning not just technoids, but all of us.

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So, are we secure yet?

This week alone I have walked past three sets of workmen, installing those little bubble-fronted security cameras in the ceilings of various buildings. Our building management assures me that the image files would never be used for any untoward purposes by anyone, “the government wouldn’t allow it. Eventually we’ll delete them.” Nonetheless, it downtown Minneapolis it seems I am tracked about 60% of the time by somebody’s camera.

And then there’s all that on-line data, pesky stuff the ISPs and network providers capture in the normal course of business — all our emails that have been routed through someone’s mail server, what sites we happened to visit, who we called and when on our cell phones, all of this we are assured will never be used in any illegal way. Well, maybe illegal here, but we are reminded of Yahoo, who earlier in the year disclosed to China the name of a dissident who was writing emails critical of Chinese policies, and who is now in jail on a 10-year sentence. Oh, sure, its only China, so what does it matter to us, he should have known better, etc., but so much for Yahoo and any kind of privacy.

And now, in gross violation of Federal law, not to mention the essence of our constitution, our own government turns out to have ducked around the courts and ordered the NSA, the post powerful spy agency on earth, to go ahead and spy on those of us who may hold opinions different from those of our rulers. But fortunately the law protects us here, right? Well, doesn’t it?

Sorry, the government is subject to the law, period. The rights we grant to ourselves are meaningless unless we also grant them to those we completely disagree with. Absolutely meaningless.

I don’t know which is more revolting, that an administration that beats its breast so publicly on Freedom and the Constitution should take such a big bite out of our sacred personal privacy, or that so very many people seem to think its OK, as long as the government is doing it in Our Best Interest.

Now I understand what Bush meant when he said he understood Putin “in his soul.” He saw a brother.

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. . . but the bad news is that they'll be coming back. At the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November, the US delegation and a few others squashed a move by many other countries to turn over the governance of the Internet to a consortium of Interested Parties and Stakeholdes, to the UN, or to almost anyone else than the United States. At stake in this is whether the Internet continues to be a neutral communication transport and digital switchboard, or whether it becomes politicized and bound up in committees that have no real interest in the evolution of this medium, but are going to decide, for example, if development monies go to the Internet Engineering Task Force or are used to finance the expansion of the digital infrastructure in the Lesser Served Countries.

Perhaps the greatest threat from all this is placing governance control of the Internet — which has evolved within the US model of "freedom" — in the hands of states like China, Pakistan, Russia, or Zimbabwe which see a free communication pathway in and out of their countries as antithetical to their continuing political control of their populations. Right now these countries, and indeed others, aggressively block traffic they feel is "inappropriate" to their people; within China, for example, sites that even discuss freedom and Taiwan are just blocked at the border. That's OK for them, I guess, but one of the nightmare scenarios put forward by those who want to take over governing the Internet would be to require websites to themselves take steps to prevent content that some country might find inappropriate or disturbing from getting into that country by blocking it at the source, or being required to pay into a fund which these dictatorships would be able to use to block it. Rubbish, if they want to strangle their own people, let them use their own nickel.

The current governance structure of the Internet works — not perfectly, but it works — and the technical direction is set and evolved by technicians who work within a hierarchy of competence, not of political connections. Although I am a strong believer in the US being a fully engaged international partner with other countries and organizations, the possibilities for botching this are almost limitless within an international political organization.

Factoids: there are currently over 2 billion Internet addresses worldwide, and Internet-mediated commerce at both retail and wholesale now accounts for just about 9% of all global trade.

Disclosure of potential conflict of interest: I am a member of the Internet Society (http://www.isoc.org) which is one of the current overseers of the Internet, and to whom the Internet Engineering Task Force reports. So I'm not completely unbiased. But I AM right.

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Since I subscribe heartily to the great David Brinkley’s observation that “everyone is entitled to my opinion” I have decided to bring out this blog as my way of enforcing that dictum. I have been losing track of the email addresses of all the people I feel obliged to notify of things that are going on, so that they don’t appear to be so ignorant to the rest of the public. Now, you can just come here and get my take on things, thus saving me the trouble of constantly emailing this-and-that to everyone. So for me, this is quite a positive development.

You can leave a comment in the form below, if you have any questions. I am a tolerant person and everyone has the right to disagree with me, as long as they don’t insist on being right. However, pointless posts that snipe and whine about not agreeing with what I’m saying are not encouraged, I can get all the contrary opinions I want out of the newspapers every day and I don’t need yours.

However, if you actually have something constructive to add, go ahead and post.

I will be updating this every few days, at my convenience, on a variety of topics of interest.  See you then.

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