Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1734 words

I must be one of the most disagreeing people around. (I used to have competitions with my former flatmate Paul on who of us could hate more things…) And it’s not even the outright stupidity of the world around me and some of the people I encounter – I am taking that for granted by now. Yup, there are smelly people who just need to queue that bit too close to you in the supermarket, yup, there is television with a guarantee of more than thirty channels of brain dissolving crap at any time, yup, there… Sometimes I wish I were a teenage girl – the former enabling me to send fun text messages with letters and figures all day and the latter enabling me to do so while walking around in traffic because I could just go wherever I want, not care for all the other people there and still be upset if someone almost ran me over because I was doing something stupid. But I’m not, so I’ll just have to be grumpy.

Other things I disagree with these days: Disagreeing with that MacHeist heist. This seems pretty popular. And, yes, in principle I also think that the whole MacHeist stuff stank. But why complain about it. People sell their goods however they like, the small guys get ripped off, and the marketing people make all the money. Sounds like bog-standard capitalism to me. So what’s the big deal? We wanted it so we got it…

And that ‘heist’ also included a funny charity component. Of course I’m not a charitable person to begin with, but please adding some charity stuff to an offer just devaluates both the offer and the charity. I prefer committing to something I buy as well as I prefer committing to something I want to support. That’s much better than buying some mindless bundle with no perceived value altogether. But hey, charities are kind of big, warm and fuzzy and you’re not supposed to disagree with ‘good causes’!

And thus the Cocoa Duel has a charity component as well. Actually that one is more a fun than a business oriented idea, and if it weren’t centered around the whole christmas and charity crap I might actually like it. Oh and if the website were better. Does anybody really think I’m going to download a dozen quickly hacked together toys without a good description and some screenshots? I’m not desperate enough for that, I’m afraid. With that ‘competition’ I also wonder which skills will make the winner there: spiffy graphics? knowing many people to mobilise? choosing a good charity? I mean could someone win who’d choose a charity that’s not politically correct neutral? Or even one that’s non-American? My impression is that to cause those warm and fuzzy feelings charities need to fall into a rather tightly defined canon of political correctness. Bah!

Moving on, there’s more to trash: Mac Santa – trying to capitalise on the christmas crap once more by giving 20% discounts on applications. That might be nice… but does it really do the trick? How much attention can that get people. Particularly when there are almost a hundred applications on offer. Nice gesture for the users perhaps – but to be honest, usually it’s not those 20% which would keep me from buying an application. Most likely an app that’s not worth €25, won’t be worth €20 either.

I also think that this site gives the depressing impression that Mac software mostly consists of utilities that should be part of the OS or are superfluously geeky or are related to somewhat hip topics such as notetaking, schedule keeping or remote controlling. I’m also not sure whether having the applications chaotically arranged next to each other with little plugins right next to fully-featured applications is all that good. On the other hand it’s fun to see some Mac classics like Ambrosia, Fetch, Nisus or even Stuffit next to all those little new tools.

Because I disagree with pretty much everything (though usually for a reason), it’s hard to sell software to me. It’s quite likely I will find aspects of it annoying that spoil the show. And I have a scary track record of actually using software when I decided to go for it – with a tendency to run into strange bugs in the process. I really don’t know how I’m doing that, I just seem to have the intuition for it.

As a consequence of that, all the Santa and Heist offerings look quite lame to me. For the few applications in those offers that I’d actually like to use I already have licenses and I probably have some snide remarks for the others. So how many of those applications would you actually want to use? I think pretty much the only app I’d be tempted by would be CSSEdit which looks like it can make writing CSS less painful. The only problem being that writing CSS isn’t all that painful to begin with [it’s the IE workarounds that are…] and that with WebKit’s Inspector and a text editor you already have pretty good tools at your hands. In particular those are tools which in my attempts to try CSSEdit don’t get as much in my way. So I’m still not sure that one would be helpful.

In principle I’d like to be a good sport now and outdo all the other software developers. Say by giving all the income from our software to some charity not only until christmas – because that’s crap anyway – but all the way to the new year. And I guess we could arrange for that, but as most of our stuff is free for you to abuse anyway, there’s not much of a deal there. So if you have any suggestions for further self-exploitation, just let me know. I would have considered it fun to choose something like a communist kindergarden or so as a charity – just to piss people off a little. But I’m not really into either of those aspects, so I don’t happen to know any. Hmhmhm.

But you see – all those were mild critiques focusing on my general grumpiness and a mild sense of irony. What’s really a totally upsetting shithole is the online billing site by Deutsche Telekom. Of course – just by historic precedence – that is to be expected. After all, the brokenness and incapabilities of that site were what made me write Rechnungs Checker some years ago. The odd thing is that there still seem to be people ‘developing’ that site. But it’s so atrociously bad that it’s hard to believe.

If this were a modern and networked age, it should be rather simple to just download all phone bill information from an easily accessible URL in a well defined and comprehensive format. Of course it isn’t that modern and networked age. Rather you have to click yourself through a number of session / cookie / whatever ‘protected’ pages with scrolling marquees and confusing wording on them. And then – if your browser window is wide enough – you’ll see a floppy disk icon to download a CSV file (with i a somewhat incomplete set of undocumented information in it) presumably containing the data on all the calls you are supposed to pay for in them. And that file I’m trying to analyse.

Two problems with that file I’ve run into recently (there were others in the past – but at least they haven’t changed the file format recently as they used to do) are the following: It seems that they list the number you dialled on the bill. That can make things a bit tricky as for local calls you don’t need to – but can – dial the area code and because you can generally just add digits at after the number you are calling which won’t have any effect on the line you’ll be connected to. Of course those two things make it difficult to reliably match the number to an address book entry. Having a normalised number would be very helpful there.

Another problem is that there will be a new VAT rate from January. And getting our phone bill today –

little quiz: Which phone bill is this? The November 2006 phone bill, because it starts in November 2006? Or the December 2006 phone bill because two thirds of the days on the bill were in December? — — Both wrong, of course, it’s the January 2007 phone bill, with not a single call made in January 2007 obviously.

This being the January 2007 phone bill somehow means that for the basic fee listed on the bill, we have to pay the new 19% tax rate, while for the calls we have to pay the old 16% tax rate because they still belong to this year (and I assume on the next bill we’ll have some calls with the old rate and others with the new rate…). Regardless of whether this makes sense to human beings or just to beancounters, it definitely means that my application will give slightly wrong results for a month or two – which sucks.

And there’s no good way of solving this in a general fashion because the tax information isn’t stored in the file containing the call data. Instead you could download another file which seems to list the tax rates for different types of costs (but not for each call) and then – I guess – you could try match that information with those of the listed calls. But having to manually download two files and make sure they are given to the application is a point where any idea of KISS is just lost. And it’d also take a fair amount of programming which for errors in a range of a Euro or two, a file format that could arbitrarily change tomorrow and a guessed user base of three and a half I just won’t do.

Uh, and just in case you made it till here while being a knowledgeable programmer… just for curiosity’s sake: what’s the maximum amount of virtual memory an application can use on OS X? As far as I understood that should be four gigabytes. But is it really or could it be a slightly smaller amount around three and a half gigabytes because of, erm, ‘stuff’?

December 22, 2006, 1:51


Comment by gummi: User icon

On the bundles with charity thing. I read an article about Jim Buckmaster from Craigslist, and why he they didn’t bother to insert ads on their site, even though it would bring in HUGE amounts of revenue. He talked about how the users of the site did not want it, so they are not going to do it. The guy he was talking to asked:

(On allowing text ads for the greater good)… why wouldn’t Craigslist maximize revenue and profit for the good of the world. The general idea: Funnel the money from a text ad bonanza into philanthropy. Buckmaster didn’t really have a good answer. “It’s a valid argument,” says Buckmaster. “You can make the argument that we could raise revenue to do good in the third world.” Again, the decision would rest with users, who haven’t really posed the idea or requested such a move. Craigslist would consider such a move if it began “hearing from users that we should raise revenue and plow it into charity.”

Actually, it’s a stupid question. What’s that old saying, “it’s not the answer that’s impolite, it’s the question.” This type of thinking has been around for a long time, and philanthropy is an industry in many parts of the world, and wouldn’t it be just great for Google to come along and join in… I mean, nowhere within the Craiglist argument did anybody say the ad provider should hand over their profits, too. Charity has its place, in many different cultures, but driving sales through charity is just narcissistic bullshit, it’s a confidence trick.

On MacSanta. I decided to buy Fission and Radiolover through it, because they were the kind of apps that sit in that weird middle ground. “I don’t really need it for day-to-day stuff, but I would find it very useful weekly/bi-weekly, for the odd stream I want to record and edit because the podcast is absent or updated rarely. And the freeware stuff sucks!” I know iTunes is not meant to be all things to all people, but these two applications fill a nice little hole within that app, like a plugin. :)

So I reckon, if this is a yearly thing, it could be a decent way to prompt people to buy applications that fill that middle ground — in a strange way it might prevent people buying the application in the off-season. However, that cannot be all that bad, especially if those software writers need the buy some good presents to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

December 22, 2006, 11:09

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