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Archive for December, 2011

Vacations and Trips

2011/12/30 2 comments

On January second, I’m doing a business trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. The second-to-last person from our team is leaving after the first week of January, and the last member could leave anytime in the future, so my boss needs someone to know what they know about our UK projects. I actually suspect my boss is sending me to this business trip just in case I had plans to leave myself.

I’m really excited about this, although I’ll be sharing the experience only with myself. I’ll be in Scotland for the first two weeks of January, then one week of real vacations in London.

Not being able to send an email, I had to call the hotel to extend my Edinburgh trip by one day. I had to concentrate a lot to be able to understand (and be understood) by the very kind hotel lady, which was but a preview of what I’ll have to go through with the Scottish language. I reserved a train seat from Edinburgh to London (£35), and the last thing was to book a hotel room for 6 nights in London.

I used to go to expedia in the past because it was convenient and quick to book everything at once, and I never really had any trouble with them. Looking around, I am now understanding that their prices are (obviously and understandably) a bit higher than the prices you get directly at the airline or hotel, except that they sometimes have rebates.

I decided to book the hotel by myself, but the hotel my company had booked for me in Edinburgh was twice the price in London. I checked on expedia for other good hotels, and Caesar Hotel had a pretty good rating, so I went on their site (on Google, the first site that actually looked legit, http://www.caesar-hotel.co.uk/) and booked 6 nights with them. The price was the same than on expedia, which should have ringed my mental alarm, but at the time, I was starting to be tired of looking at the same thing over and over again, and I wanted to be done with it. £514 for 6 nights – ow. But anyway, it was better than the £840 I would have paid, if I kept the same hotel. The booking and payment was processed by CentralR. I just assumed it was a service provider to hotel chains or something.

I started to know something was wrong when I printed the confirmation sheet and highlighted the important parts. Being the careful person that I am (usually), I went to highlight the hotel address and phone number for easy access when I took the taxi from the train station. No address, no phone number. Not even the hotel name – just a totally generic confirmation sheet, written CentralR on top. I just assumed the hotel’s web designers were not professionals.

I went back to the hotel web page, noted the address, but never found a phone number. Going to Google maps, I wrote “Caesar Hotel London”, and (thanks, Google) the hotel was on the left. The address is slightly different, but both point at the same place on the map. I note the phone number, and that’s when I see it. Right beside the phone number, derbyhotels.com, which I remember as being the first link in google. I check that site to grudgingly confirm my suspicions that Caesar Hotel is in fact part of the Derby Hotel group. I preview a booking for the same dates – £462.60. Pieces of the puzzle all fit together at great speed in my head. Either expedia and CentralR are both the same kind of service providers and take the exact same cuts when you book with them, or CentralR is a fishing web site that managed to get pretty high on google search.

I feel like an idiot, especially for being in a hurry like that. I google “CentralR reviews” and confirm it’s a service provider, although with mostly bad reviews. Looking back at the cancellation section, I confirm what I already know – there is a 10% reservation upfront (in my case, £51.40) that is not reimbursable. So the maximum I may lose is that amount if I cancel with CentralR and book directly with the hotel. I quickly do a mental substraction. £514.00 – £51.40 = £462.60. I sigh.

All of that brings me to the identity thievery concept. Can a website trying to pass as a different entity be considered an identity theft? CentralR was definitely trying to pass as a specific hotel, and the domain name was convincing enough to fool even me. Normally, I would be right to assume that the web site was the hotel’s (okay, I could have done a bit of research), but CentralR keeps quiet about the fact that it is not, and that it is in fact a “service provider” (and a very expensive one). The difference with expedia is that expedia makes no such secret, and proclaim its services as what they are. CentralR was hiding all of this from me.

I know that expedia is taking a pretty big cut on bookings they make for you, but I may use their services in the future nonetheless. CentralR is, in my opinion (and experience with what just happened), using dark patterns, and are being deceptive about them. I will take care to never “use” their services again, and will spread the word as much as I can.

That mistake just cost me about 80$, with added stress that the booking may go wrong. I shall remember.

Categories: Traveling

Multimedia and the Cloud

The future as I see it – or as I hope it will come to. A lot of things will have to change for this to work, and some companies that currently make a lot of money will have to make changes that will lower their revenues, but with the chance that, done right, could gain more. Among many others, some of these companies are those behind the music and movie industries.

What I want is a computer that is always connected, wherever I go. Cellular networks have potential, but you can get good reception only in cities. When you get too far, you lose everything. I want to call someone using VoIP, and only care about a data plan (instead of voice+data plans).

If I want to listen to music, I connect to a website similar to iTunes, choose a song and play it. This is a service, payable by month. Artists will get their royalties based on how many songs are played, and how long the users listen to them. The price should be around 5$ for unrestricted access to all songs ever created.

If I want to watch a movie, I connect to the same website, choose a movie and play it. This would also be a service payable by month, with the same royalties paid to movie studios based on watch counts and lengths. The price should be a maximum of 10$ for unrestricted access to all movies or tv series ever made.

If I want to watch a tv channel, same thing. I’d like to pay a maximum of 10$ per month for that.

If I want to listen to the radio, same thing. I’d like to pay a maximum of 5$ per month for that.

That means I’m prepared to pay 30$ per month (360$ per year) for all these services, for unlimited viewing/listening of music, movies, tv and radio. If the company that implements that is smarter than greedy, it will allow me to pay by fair usage. For example, for movies, it could release the following chart:

Movies
Length (hours) Price ($)
< 2 Free
< 4 2.50
< 6 5.00
< 10 7.50
>= 10 10.00

That means you get to watch a movie (or a couple episodes) for free. After 5 movies, you pay the maximum price (10$), which in itself is very good. A smart and modest company will get a more powerful following.

Right now, a lot of possible alternatives are on the web. iTunes have movies, music, tv shows… but is very expensive, and you have to download them. It is filled with DRM. Grooveshark is a free music service, though I never looked very deep at it. How such a web site can legally be free, I can’t understand. You can search by genre, title, artist… For radios, grooveshark also seems to have them, as do live365, jango, and many others, all for free. For movies, you have netflix and hulu, both at around 8$ per month, but the movie selection is restricted. There is also many websites that offer tv channels, some free, some not.

The thing is, there is a way to globalize all of this. I shouldn’t be restricted if I want to watch a Russian movie, or a Japanese anime episode. Such a website could bring the whole world together.

Another aspect of the cloud is the ability to store, share, and see personal pictures and videos. There a many sites that do that, notably imgur, tinypicyoutube, and vimeo. I’m sure there are other sites to upload personal music or sounds.

That would bring multimedia to the whole world.

Categories: Thinking

Lack of Names

2011/12/23 1 comment

What is happening to company names? These days, and the trend has been growing exponentially since at least a few years, new companies have nonsense names – names that have absolutely no meaning, and are totally made up of random syllables.

In the past, you could see a company name as word combinations (like all the companies that have “soft”, “tec/tech” or “micro” in their name), the founder(s)’s name(s) (like Hewlett-Packard and countless others), and acronyms (like IBM). You very rarely saw a nonsense name. Even Xerox‘s name comes from the xerography process, and Amiga from the Spanish word for female friend.

So many recent companies have nonsense names. What does “Zynga” tell? Would someone not familiar with the name know that it’s a social network game company? How about “Zumba”? Do you know it’s a latino dance fitness program? “Etsy”? “Meebo”? “Tuango”? These names and increasingly countless others have something in common, and it’s not that it doesn’t tell anything about the company. After all, “Apple”, “Adobe”, “Google”, or even “Symantec” doesn’t really mean anything.

What they have in common is that they are not words. They don’t feel English, nor French, nor Japanese, nor Mandarin/Cantonese, and I don’t think they feel Spanish either (my knowledge in languages stops here). They are just random syllables put together.

So, why this weird trend?

Internationalization, and the Web
When you create a company, you need a presence on the web. There’s no question about it. In the past you could have a company in, say, Germany, and another company with the same name in Italy. You could even have similarly-named smaller companies in different cities of a country.

The web brings everything together, so only one company can have [mycompanyname].com. Of course, they need the .net, .org, and all the other domain extensions. You combine that with the fact that there are more and more companies out there, and you get a name shortage. It was only a matter of time.

If you create a startup, you have three choices for your company name:

  • Use your name, your family name, and/or an amalgam of the cofounders’ names;
  • Use an annoying word play, or be clever enough to find a good unused combination (“Facebook” is a book of faces… “Groupon” is the concept of buying coupons as a group… effective names, but slightly annoying); or
  • Make something up.

You can pretty easily make a random nonsense word that isn’t taken, or isn’t close enough to another one so that you get sued.

But these names are easy to forget, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The current trend is five or six letters, two syllables names. What will happen when these easier names are depleted? Yeah, three syllables names, even harder to remember. “Mufygo” will one day pop-up as a name (assuming, of course, that “Mufy”, “Mugo”, and “Fygo” are not already taken) , and that name will sound even less like a real word. Where will it end?

Domain Extensions
Adding new domain extensions (like .com or .net) will not solve the problem. Companies will get their extension before someone else gets it (more than likely for scamming purposes), possibly getting a first shot (remember the new .xxx extension?).

Companies will have to rely on country extensions (.ca) more and more, then administrative region extensions (.on.ca). But this is a very short-lived solution.

This will have to change soon, before companies start being created and known by a number.

Conclusion
In guess anyone could predict that in 2 years, the pool of two syllables names will start drying up. In 5 to 10 years, it will be the three syllables names’ turn. By then, the need for a revolution on the web will be clear.

I can’t begin to imagine what kind of revolution we’re talking about (the people who will come up with it are paid about 5-10x more than me). One thing is for sure: we will need a way to easily reference an infinity of companies.

Categories: Thinking

Evolution – Holding It

The other day, I was going back home after a lunch in a restaurant. I had drunk a lot of water and a large beer, and didn’t go to the toilet before leaving. Through the drive back, the urge to pee was rising, and I analyzed what was happening to me. I noticed four distinct phases, but they are very hard to describe, and out of scope. (Easier to describe was that, in the third phase, heat rushed to my head.)

Describing the urinary system is also out of scope. What this post is about is that the experience led me to wonder why, in an evolutionary point of view, we have the ability to “hold it in”. After all, in nature, what difference would it make to pee uncontrollably where we stand?

It took me a couple minutes to find out the most likely reason. Urine is used to mark territory, but also gives position. A prey hiding from a predator would easily be found if his system decided to release.

Also, an animal peeing in its den (for example), would give its den’s position (and its babies) as surely as a flashing red light at the entrance.

Over millions of years, a sphincter was slowly formed to stop the flow, until voluntarily released. Those with a stronger sphincter had a bit less chance to be found, and through natural selection, we have a sphincter today.

An interesting thing to know would be if the sphincter can be exercised to be stronger.

Categories: Science

Emotional Eating

I talked in a recent post about a particular Saturday evening. I wanted to watch two movies and eat some emotions – the worst kind.

I started cooking the spaghetti while eating a jalapeño & cheddar Doritos bag and browsing available movies on iTunes. I settled on watching Harry Potter 7a and 7b.

My plate of spaghetti was pretty large. I sat down, opened my bottle of red wine, and tried to rent the first movie. To my dismay, I couldn’t rent it (it was the only movie in the series that I couldn’t rent, which was weird). The actual download was 10$, so I bought the movie instead, but that started an hour-long download.

I looked at my plate and sighed, and spent the next hour eating and browsing reddit. When the download was ready, I watched it, and before the end credits were rolling, the bottle of wine and the Doritos bag were empty.

I already knew the second movie rental was accessible (the button was there, after all). So I rented it, but that also started an hour-long download. These two movies were my first experience with iTunes movies. I was pissed off that there was no possibility of streaming, and that I had to wait a total of two hours. I spent the next hour sulking on reddit, and eating a muffin bar.

When the movie was finally ready, I watched it by first opening a bag of jalapeño & cheddar Lays Kettle (I only ate half of it, though), and around the half-mark, opened and finished a Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream.

Why?
I ate emotions (junk food) because I wanted to think about something else (the cause of that evening). Just watching the movies would have been easily enough, but the act of eating is evolutionary satisfying, especially carbohydrates and fats. What better food to eat for a carbs and fats boost? Fast food. Most people are compelled to eat like that, and an evening of unrestrained eating can feel good at an emotional level, and also temporarily at a physical level.

I could have gone for a run. I could have started a drawing, visited my sister, baked anything, or created something by hands. I could have read a book, or browsed Wikipedia. I could have done a lot of things that would have helped my mind off.

Sometimes, I just don’t care. I figure if I eat like that 2 or 3 times a year, it can’t be that bad, can it? Turns out that yes, it can be very bad for your health, mental and physical, short-term and long-term. But it was one of these days when nothing matters, and you just want to sit down, watch a movie, and eat.

Categories: Health, Thinking