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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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Open Letter to eBay CEO John Donahoe


Does eBay Really Need a Special Exception to online tax collection? I received an email from eBay’s CEO, stating

…we believe small businesses with less than 50 employees or less than $10 million in annual out-of-state sales should be exempt from the burden of collecting sales taxes nationwide.

At first blush, the exception seems reasonable. But considering eBay’s business model, it’s completely self-serving. I replied to the address from which he sent the email. Since it might bounce, I share my response publicly.

Mr. Donahoe:

I agree that processing state & local taxes could be a burden on small businesses, especially the sort of special-focus, long tail small businesses that reach customers far and wide through eBay. eBay’s opportunity is to alleviate this burden. How? Provide new services & API’s in your platform to make tax collection a dead-simple process. Wouldn’t this render eBay an even more strategic platform for the small businesses that integrate with your platform? Coming from eBay–a company among the first to demonstrate how a web platform could simplify doing business online for micro-businesses–the “burden of collecting sales taxes nationwide” argument is rather specious. I notice that eBay does not advocate that all businesses of the scale you state–online or not–should get that exception.

Online businesses have had a remarkable opportunity to germinate and prosper for nearly two decades free of sales taxes. As online sales have grown, state and local governments’ revenues have declined. That affects our schools, highways, municipal services and other infrastructure. Furthermore, since the demographics show that online shoppers are generally wealthier than those who don’t shop online, isn’t your exception for online micro-businesses a special accommodation for higher-income households?

Perhaps eBay needs to re-think this issue in broader terms than asking for a special exception for eBay’s sweet spot in the market.

Thanks for your email and consideration of my response,

Ted Haeger

Donohoe’s complete letter follows. Continue reading

2010 in review


After this paragraph, the rest of the post is completely penned by WordPress.com. They give me seemingly high marks for my blog, while noting that I only posted 16 times in 2010. Remiss? Maybe. My top posts date back to early 2007 and before, when I was blogging actively for my role at Novell. But from the silver lining department, one of my top 5 referrers was bobjamieson.net, a paleo-geek’s blog. Perhaps a sign of things to come in 2011?

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 40,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 16 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 384 posts. There were 8 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 198kb.

The busiest day of the year was January 5th with 206 views. The most popular post that day was Mac vs. PC: How Would Linux Fit?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were stumbleupon.com, roseindia.net, linuxcompatible.org, bobjamieson.net, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for linux, wallpaper, mac, suse wallpaper, and opensuse wallpaper.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Mac vs. PC: How Would Linux Fit? March 2007
204 comments

2

Can Linux Desktops Live in an Active Directory World? September 2006
65 comments

3

OpenOffice.org and Excel VBA Macros July 2006
25 comments

4

SUSE Wallpaper #2 August 2006
1 comment

5

Show Me That New GNOME Main Menu June 2006
34 comments

Is Steve Jobs Killing Housecats?


Magsafe: Dealer of Feline Death?

Droves of house cats may be dying, and Apple’s Steve Jobs may be to blame. Apple’s latest revision of the Magsafe power adapter has a new cable coating that seems to be purposely tailored to lure innocent kittens to a convulsive, incendiary death.

The as-yet unconfirmed but increasingly popular rumor is that specifications sourcing from One Infinite Loop in Cupertino are directing sweatshop laborers in Jiangsu to mix concentrated cat nip extract into the formula used for the latest Magsafe cable coating.

I only recently became aware of this when a friend reported to me that his cat had chewed through the cables of both of his brand new power adapters. Some short research revealed that my friend and his furry, fried feline not alone:

Certainly, these are merely a few examples, and none actually lethal. But as with all things reported via the Internet Tubes, each incident must be multiplied by one million (at least) to devine an estimate for how many incidents have gone unreported. Who knows how many of these have ended in tragedy?

OS X names aside (“Snow Leopard” indeed!), it’s a well known factoid that Steve Jobs hates cats. We should have seen this coming.

With INTERPOL occupied by ongoing WikiLeaks investigations and the record for US police agencies turning a blind eye to cat crimes (those K-9 units? we know whose side you’re on), a wave of vigilante tabbies may be emerging:

Note No cats were actually harmed in the creation of this blog entry.

Launching code.mozy.com


Since my start at Mozy in September, 2009, one of the internal programs in which I quickly took interest was Mozy Labs. Labs’ main champion was a former Google intern named JT Olds, who had witnessed directly the power of allowing engineers free time for innovation and wanted that for Mozy. After several months, Labs had spawned numerous projects, some of which are now on their way to becoming features for Mozy customers. But a few of the projects addressed lower-level needs in the Mozy service–such as helping Mozy handle massive storage (currently 50 petabytes) scale and data transfer demands. The Labs’ projects in this domain end up help us to serve our customers better, but are entirely the domain of deep-think developers. Nevertheless, the developers driving such projects want to share with others who would appreciate their innovations.

After several months of quiet preparations and effort,  we now have a way for those developers to do exactly that. Today, Mozy launched code.mozy.com, a site on which we can host free and open source software projects.

Related Resources

[updated 10/26]

Congrats to Polar Rose


Late last year, I met with Jan Erik Solem and Carl Silbersky to learn about Polar Rose‘s facial recognition technology. Their command of the tech, and stats compared to iPhoto and Picasa’s success rate, impressed me immensely. To the average MBA student, they likely seemed to be yet another tech startup with no real  business viability. If the competition are huge companies that make similar tech available at no cost, why would anyone pay?

But Jan Erik was very clear about Polar Rose: they were focused on R&D. They aimed to develop such a high mark of competency, that they would distinguish themselves through tech. The business would follow.

So when a former colleague at Mozy emailed me a link to “Apple Snatches Up Facial Recognition Software Firm,” it made me smile. They did it. They engineered their way to success. Congratulations, guys!

Foursquare & Gowalla: Heralding The Age of Ubiquitous Loyalty?


Two habit-forming, game-like mobile apps are competing to gain user base. Their names are Foursquare and Gowalla. Each has fairly similar “game play” involving GPS-related check-ins at points-of-interest–bars, restaurants, parks, plazas and so forth, most of which were originally entered by the users. By checking into a site, friends with whom you have connected can see where you have checked in and come join you.

So, big deal, you might say, yet another “social” application. Yes, at first blush, these apps may seem trivial, even pointless. I assure you, they are not. These apps reveal a lucrative future, and one or both may strike start-up gold.

Welcome to Carmel, Mr. Eastwood
Both apps involve jacking into the brain’s psychological payout hooks: rewards, achievements, status–the very same hooks so expertly employed by computer game creators to make gameplay as addictive as possible. Level up, baby. You’re getting somewhere.

But of the two apps, Foursquare was first to establish special status for being the most frequent visitor to a site. That person becomes established as the “Mayor” for that site. The name is dumb, but the concept is golden.

A few savvy restaurants and bars picked up on this status and started offering discounts to whomever currently holds the mayorship. In other words, Foursquare has stumbled into a simple loyalty program that pits customer against customer.

Prediction: Very soon, Gowalla will introduce something similar to Foursquare’s “Mayor” status recognition (maybe with a better name).

Hey, Make Me Feel Special
Over ten years ago, savant marketer Seth Godin delivered a manifesto. Permission Marketing explained how the Internet was permanently changing how businesses market to their constituents. Highlighting the intersection of frequent flyer-style points programs, video game achievement levels, and quid pro quo relationships between customers and companies, Godin declared the imminent diminish or demise of “interruption marketing.” The future of marketing was about membership, exclusivity, recognition, and personal connection between companies and their constituents.

Huge, specialized companies like airlines can establish rewards programs or communities and recognize their MVP’s. But many businesses struggle to create similar programs that are adequate. It’s an old saw that regulars are the mainstay of restaurants and many retail business types. But how do you acquire them? How do you keep them? Points programs are tough to create, manage and run. Their implementation is out of reach. The costs are too high. The nuances require too much attention. And for consumers, how many bar-coded loyalty cards do you really want to carry?

That means that there is opportunity for innovation. Bigtime.

Prediction: Either Gowalla or Foursquare will introduce an “Owner’s Circle” concept, allowing businesses to claim their sites, and then to recognize not simply “the mayor,” but top tens or hundreds of customers with special favors for their loyalty. This will be how Foursquare/Gowalla suddenly become economically relevant.

The Last Foot
The term “last foot” comes from NAVTEQ’s Marc Naddel, who I met during my time at Alcatel-Lucent. GPS solves what NAVTEQ calls the “last mile” problem. You know someone was close. But GPS is imprecise. How do you know that someone who checked into a location didn’t simply claim they were there, when they merely walked by? Especially since GPS is pretty much useless indoors.

This is where Foursquare or Gowalla will need to go beyond GPS. Bar codes may be a solid way to get the job done. A phone can display a bar code, and many businesses have bar code readers. But Near-field Communication (NFC),  a passive RFID technology currently available in a very limited number of mobile phones, would be much  better. NFC works at a range from 4 to 10 centimeters, so it can be used to verify not just that you were close, but that you were really there.

Prediction: Loyalty programs will drive adoption of NFC technology in the United States. First in the form of too many NFC loyalty cards, but soon after, they will converge one ID card, which will swiftly get replaced by NFC in mobile phones.

Bridging the Interim Gap

USB NFC Reader

Low cost NFC readers like this one work with NFC phones and passive RFID tags.

If a company like Gowalla or Foursquare made a play into loyalty programs, they could consolidate the proliferation of numerous bar-code loyalty cards into a single Foursquare or Gowalla NFC card.  This would accommodate the interim from multiple loyalty cards to using your NFC-equipped mobile phones (which are too few today). With USB readers available for under $40, NFC is low-enough cost for even the smallest companies to adopt if they want to run a simple loyalty program. The only shortcoming right now is that no one is considering the tiniest businesses as a prime target.

Prediction: Even if it’s not NFC, it will be among the small business space–retailers and restaurants–that a democratization of loyalty programs will come about–because small companies want a solution, and won’t care so much that they don’t “own” the identities.

Conclusion
Gowalla and Foursquare are not piddly little social apps. They’re seeming simplicity belies a sophisticated understanding of software psychology, which will reveal itself rapidly–quite possibly faster than most observers can follow. At least one of these companies will prevail through loyalty–helping location-based businesses better connect to their customers. When that happens, demand will rapidly push sophistication beyond the constraints of GPS. Finally, the businesses who jump into this will prevail over those that don’t, or those that do but use it poorly (such as for spamming).

Related Reading

Microsoft: Still Breathtakingly Evil (a rant)


Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL.
– A. Guthrie

With the age of the netbook upon us, I can finally retire Heidi’s decrepit Dell laptop and get her a system that works perfectly for her needs. I found a sweet little Lenovo S10-2 that met her top requirements perfectly: It’s pink, and it has cute little flowers on it.

Knowing that I will be the person to support it, I read the spec carefully. Everything looks to be in order, but it comes with Windows 7 “Starter” thing. Uh oh. I’ve seen ominous naming like this before.

But how bad could Microsoft be? Surely in this age of increasing Linux love (Ubuntu Netbook Remix!) and Apple’s rapidly approaching eclipse of Microsoft’s market cap, pressure from above and below has squeezed the folks in Redmond enough to understand that how they do business has its costs, right? Nope.

SindowsOn Amazon, reviewers of this netbook reveal that some evil genius at Microsoft crippled this “Starter” edition. You can’t even change the wallpaper. Further research revealed Starter to have a numerous other You-Can’ts. They apparently changed the original idiotic 3-app-limit, an idea for which its originator should be publicly cannibalized.

Surely, they limited the OS to economize on disk space, right? Nope. They have this “Windows Anytime Upgrade” thing that allows you to instantly unlock all the capabilities that don’t work in starter. The bits are all there on your disk…you just can’t use them! Microsoft’s entire fat ass operating system is using up disk space so that they can sell you stuff, and that stuff is standard capabilities we expect from a computer operating system.

Where have we seen such temerity before? Credit card companies, who bury their terms and conditions deep in multiple pages of fine print, knowing that most people won’t read the fine print, and have little hope of understanding it. Mobile carrier, that refused to provide us with a simple display to show you how many minutes remaining each month. Or, Internet providers re-defining “unlimited” bandwidth as, well, limited.

Is comparing Microsoft to industries that have instilled self doubt in Satan himself (“Maybe I’m just not that good at this Prince of Darkness stuff,” he says, sweeping one of his scarlet hooves across the floor) perhaps going to far? Nope.

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