Thursday, October 15, 2009

Backup your life

The recent news about Sidekick users losing all of their data serves as a sharp reminder of the value of backups. Lots of people are wondering whose fault it wasT-Mobile or Microsoftsabotage or cloud computing in general. And there are now indications, that T-Mobile and Microsoft may be able to recover some of the data after all. I hope playing the blame game doesn't make people ignore the reminder.

It could be worse: In China, after the loss of a personal file (Dang'an), and the records of achievements it includes, it's as if those accomplishments never happened. Imagine losing not just the phone numbers of all your college friends, but your college degree and your high school diploma too.

So, now that you're paying attention, some advice you've probably heard before:
  • For data on your PC, back it up offsite, either using an online backup service or by burning CDs or DVDs and storing them somewhere else.
  • For data in the cloud, back it up on your PC or burn CDs or DVDs. Some companies, like Google, make it easy to get your data out. If the service you use doesn't make it easy, then let them know how important it is.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Eat your own dogfood

In the tech industry, when we say people eat their own dog food, it means they use their own products. It's funny that we have a special name for it because it seems pretty obvious: software developers should use their own software, cooks should eat the food they make, and auto companies should drive their own cars. It just makes sense.

I recently rented a Chevy Malibu, and discovered it has a stunningly bad design flaw. Take a look at the picture here and see if you can spot it.

The armrests for the front seats are split in two pieces: one part on the door and one part on the B-pillar (the post behind the front doors). The part on the B-pillar has a corner that jabbed me every time I got into the car.

The interesting thing about this photo from the Chevrolet web site is that the flaw is plainly visible. My guess is that the photographer pushed the seat all the way back to make the car look as roomy as possible. And apparently none of Chevy's test drivers did that. Or if they did, they didn't mind getting jabbed. And that's too bad, because other than this fundamental flaw, the Malibu seemed like a nice car.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Missing links

You might have noticed a new trend for some web sites: missing links. Here's an example from the article ‘Real Buzz’ welcomes Buzz Lightyear back as posted on MSNBC.
Seriously, though, Fincke said, Buzz Lightyear's flight represented an important education tool. On Friday, NASA launched a contest for children to design a mission patch for Buzz Lightyear; the winner will get a Kennedy Space Center tour and a trip to — where else? — Walt Disney World.
 Did you notice the prominent link to the Kennedy Space Center tour? Gotcha. That's an ad. One of those annoying ads that pops up a floating window when you move the mouse over it and is hard to dismiss. What about the link you were looking for, to the NASA page on the contest? You won't find that here.

This breaks the web in two ways. The first is that if ads are disguised as links, then people will start avoiding the links. Tricking people into seeing your ads might also make people avoid your web site.

The second problem is that the web works because of links. Search engines use the link structure to "crawl" the web and find pages. Without links, the web is a bunch of disconnected dead ends. No links = no structure. No structure = no search. No search = no web

I should point out that you shouldn't blame Marcia Dunn, the author of the article or the Associated Press. The link you're looking for <> was in the original article. MSNBC just chose to leave it out. And while this example is picking on MSNBC, the truth is that lots of other sites are breaking the web too.

P.S. Can't wait to see what kids come up with for Buzz Lightyear's mission patch.

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