Pet Peeve #4: Time zones are for locals

Have you ever made a list of pet peeves? I’m not referring to the behavioral quirks that couples develop over years of cohabitation. That’s part of every relationship and it is only addressed through give and take and a lot of patience. Rather, I refer to the little things that have become institutionalized all around us—and yet, we know that they are just plain idiotic. The problem is that they are too small to be picked up by the national news and too common to believe that they can be avoided.

Let’s say that you are driving along a road that comes to an end by forming a ‘T’ at the side of a much busier road. The cross street is busy, but it’s not divided. You plan to make a left turn after clearing a string of high-speed cars approaching from the right.

Conditions are good and there are no obstructions. There is no one coming from the left. Looking to the right, you can see a mile down the road. There are 4 cars speeding toward you, a long space and then a major throng of cars that will tie up the intersection for minutes. You get ready to drop the hammer as soon as that 4th car passes the intersection. You are patient, in a good mood and your car is well tuned.

Traffic Intersection

What’s the dumbest thing that the driver in car #4 could do? Does he have the power to ruin your day and raise your blood pressure while trying to be a nice guy? He sure does!

He can hesitate—slowing just enough to get honked by the parade behind him and just enough to close your window of opportunity. If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, he will ruin your morning faster than you can mime “Move your friggin’ tailpipe!!”. He is oblivious to the fact that his gesture of good will has backfired.

Cross street drivers who let up on the gas are one of my three pet peeves. But today, I was reminded of another minor irritation. From now on, I will call it “Pet Peeve #4”.

I have a good friend in Germany. He is a high tech entrepreneur and tends to move about the globe. His businesses are in Australia and New Zealand, and he spent a long part of the past year in Shanghai. I never know where he will be. But he is currently in Germany and he knows that I am in America.

Realizing that we need to discuss an important matter, he asks me if I will be available during my weekday mornings, between 9 and 11 AM my time. Noting that he has already contemplated the time difference, I check my calendar. “Sure. That works for me,” I tell him. “Why don’t you set the schedule? Any morning this week is good.” He commits to have a colleague figure out the final date.

Taj MahalMinutes later, I receive a Google Calendar link for my approval. It asks that our meeting be established on Wed 26 Nov 2014 from 21:30 to 22:00, India Standard Time. I was unprepared for the involuntary groan that arose from the pit of my stomach. Here, is an open letter to my buddy and the colleague who scheduled our conference to be held on India Time…

C’mon guys / gals… The Internet works on “Internet Time”, also known as UTC or GMT. It is effectively Earth time. It never changes with seasons, war, edict, accidents or daylight savings. It just moves forward as the universal heartbeat of the Internet.

clocksPlease don’t make me translate your Indian Standard Time. I will get it wrong. I always do.

And please don’t figure it out in “USA-Eastern Standard Time”.  Here in the US, politicians shift Daylight Savings dates, sometimes splitting it by local counties. In some areas, they change it by only 30 minutes for border towns. (Yes! We are that nuts).

So please: Just tell me the time in UTC. It is the only time that should ever be cited when dealing with anyone that you can’t reach with a personal handshake.

P.S. Don’t take insult when I post your suggested meeting time next to this response in my Blog, awildduck.com. Sure, you helped me to discover a new peeve. But you also hit upon my funny bone!

Faithfully yours,
~Ellery

Bitcasa: Headed for the Abyss

I was an early Bitcasa supporter. I jumped on the bandwagon early and I blew my trumpet loud and far:  Bitcasa: Unlimited storage, version history & sync  (Feb 8, 2013)

bitcasa-sBut consider this shockingly short timeline:

• September 2011: Bitcoin co-founder, Tony Gauda, excites investors with a business model that supports an “Infinite Drive” service.

• Feb 2013: My first year is $49/year for “Infinite” storage. Throughout the year, there are numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client. Although the beta had ended, I chalked it up to a learning experience.

• Sept 2013: Bitcasa’s visionary co-founder and charismatic CEO, Tony Gauda, is eased out the door. He is reluctant to explain the reason for his sudden departure, even to his fans and email correspondents.

Listen closely to the first 2 minutes of this interview with Mr. Gauda, and tell me if Bitcasa has executed on plan. “The customer with 10 terabytes of video is ½ of 1%. But we love this type of customer… We don’t care how much data you have. We don’t meter it!”

But don’t blame Tony. Blame the directors, probably influenced by near sighted investors. Tony’s business model was solid. As often happens with visionary entrepreneurs, he was given the bum’s rush. He was shown the exit door practically before he even launched.

• Early 2014: Bitcasa announces a stunning price increase.  For newer users, costs increase 1200% (by twelve times). Early users like me see a staggering 2400% increase (from $49 year to $99 per month). Like many users, I am stunned. I am forced to revisit a history of gushing endorsement: Bitcasa bursts its bubble.

• Feb 2014: Bitcasa charges my credit card without authorization. The cost of my plan has risen from $49/year to $99/month. But in a gesture of magnanimity, the company offers to extend my subscription at my “current rate”  which they consider to be $99/yr (not really my current rate—but I was aware that my actual current rate was a one-time special).

I secure a written promise that my credit card data will not be retained and an explanation of how I can ensure that Bitcasa cannot retain that information. Again, throughout the 2nd subscription year, there are numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client. Nothing has improved.

• Nov 2014: The Infinite storage plan is retired (Whaa!?!! We are still in the midst of year #2). Can you imagine how this makes early adopters feel? We were duped into referring other users with incentives and offers related to our Infinite Drive plan.

Bitcasa (cartooned)Bitcasa requires users to migrate data into a new plan with only 5 weeks notice. But wait—there’s more. Let’s get personal…

a) Even though I am in the midst of my year, Bitcasa makes another unauthorized charge to my credit card (Again, and after promising that my card data had been deleted). The hat-in-hand excuse that I receive from the support staff is ludicrous. These schnooks ware fed a line from on high.

b) The migration fails miserably. I am a tiny client. I use only 638 MB, and yet none of my data—whether uploaded or mirrored—can be migrated to the new plan. I have wasted dozens of hours trying the Bitcasa tools and failing to get support. It simply doesn’t work.

c) Perhaps just as alarming, there has never been any progress on the numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client.

I could go on. But I think that the writing is on the wall. Fair warning. This one is headed for the abyss.

Oye, Bitcasa! Say it ain’t so! Even if you have contempt for your customers (I don’t think that you do), I doubt that you could have intentionally orchestrated a better demonstration of how to spit in the eye of testers, users, investors, and especially anyone giving their credit card to you in good faith.

Past thoughts on Bitcasa: The good, the bad and the ominous.
~Ellery

A Chance to Change the World

Dear Wild Ducks: This update speaks from conviction and passion…

I have joined an exciting project that is defining the standards by which consumers and legitimate business use Bitcoin. Please consider joining me at the ground floor of a bold effort. In a way, we are trying to change the world. The reward for a success will be tangible.

If you have read this Blog in the past, then you know that I am keen on the gradually increasing adoption of Bitcoin to pay bills, and even as a universal currency. The problem with the big picture is that the growth of digital currency is tarnished by the large number of media reports describing loss, hacking, drug money, tax evasion and other crimes.

CRYPSA LogoIn fact, cash is far more popular with crooks then cryptocurrency, because it is less traceable. Bitcoin has compelling advantages for consumers and business, but the major banks and many big businesses hesitate to jump in with both feet, until they a sense that the market is ready. They want to see regulatory consensus, improved tools to monitor and deter hacking, simple transaction mechanisms built into smart phones–easy to configure and foolproof in practice.

Most importantly, Banks and their underwriters want to see the emergence of standards and practices that provide the same banking assurances demanded by consumers and anyone making a purchase, or anyone sending, saving, or loaning money. Cryptocurrency can do it better than credit cards, cash or any other banking vehicle. Much better, and without cost.

CRYPSA’s funding campaign is modest: We seek to raise $65,000 in two months. I don’t expect casual Blog readers to fund this dream. But you can still help:

Get the word out. Make some noise about our funding campaign.
Use the share tools on our campaign page. Refer friends & colleagues!

With CRYPSA founder, Manny Perez

The photo shows me with CRYPSA founder, Manny Perez. We very much appreciate your help in spreading the word on your social media pages. Link directly to our funding campaign: http://igg.me/at/crypsa. A sample post appears below. You needn’t use our photo. Personalize it. Use the words or images that suit you. Alternatively, ask me for an invitation to join Indiegogo, the campaign sponsor. Even without a contribution, we will list you on the campaign page as team member.

Become a CRYPSA advisor & sponsor


Sample Post:

Bitcoin is becoming much more than a geeky payment mechanism. But to earn mainstream acceptance, it needs a framework of standards & practices.

I am an advisor to CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. You can also set the standards for new age currencies. Be a part of something that has never been done before. Consider becoming a member—or make a small donation to help defray startup costs. If you cannot contribute, simply spread the word!

Funding Page: http://igg.me/at/crypsa

CRYPSA Logo:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/117552513723600293242/117552513723600293242/posts/esF6zELD412?pid=6007807586108165314&oid=117552513723600293242

Join me: Bitcoin, wine, cheese, and a movie

There is an early November event on the east coast that is worth the travel time. I plan to drive from Boston to Queens NY for this one. If you live in Massachusetts or Connecticut and can handle a few hours conversation with the original Wild Duck, then drop me a line and plan on splitting the gas. (After all—this event is on me).

It’s no secret that I believe in the mission of the Cryptocurrency Standards Association (CRYPSA). To help the organization take wings, I am the acting Co-Chair for at least the next two years. So forgive me for for quoting verbatim from the official announcement…



business_mixer
The Cryptocurrency Standards Association is holding an open house and business networking event Wednesday Nov 5th from 5 to 9 PM.

Join us at LaGuardia Community College for wine, cheese and a showing of The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin.

The event is free, but space is limited. Click here for tickets. (Max: 3 tickets per email invite)

Wednesday November 5, 2014• Doors open at 5:00 PM
• Bitcoin Film: 6:20 ~ 8 PM
• Business mixer ends 9PM
LaGuardia Community College

LaGuardia Community College
(Bldg C, floor 7 in NYDesigns)
45-50 30th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

CRYPSA and La Guardia Community College present an independent film. Meet entrepreneurs and founders of the Cryptocurrency Standards Association. Click here for information.  ▪  Ph: (718) 663-8463.

Keurig brews consumer discontent

Two years ago, as the K-Cup patent expired, the leader in single-serve coffee brewers introduced Vue, a slightly larger, coffee pod. If you haven’t heard of Vue, your not alone. The newer single-serve coffee packet never caught fire like Keurig’s original K-Cup. Just as with ink jet printers, the new pod and the brewers that accommodate them were Green Mountain’s strategy to reassert control of a market that produces revenue and profit from a consumable rather than the appliance that processes it.

According to Keurig, the Vue system was introduced “in order to increase the choices users have in brewing beverages.” Now that Vue has failed to gain traction, it appears that Keurig is reaching out to owners and softening their loss.

This certainly sounds like a benevolent company; one that care about consumer preferences, and protections—Right? We’ll get to their motives in a minute…

Keurig Brewer 2.0This month, Keurig put pomp and fanfare behind the introduction of Keurig 2.0. (I think that ‘3.0’ would be a more accurate nomenclature, but who can blame them for trying to downplay the marketplace failure of Vue). And so, this week, I became the owner of a new Keurig 2.0 model 400 brewer. (The flagship model 500—or 560 if you purchase at a warehouse club—has a slightly larger water tank, a larger display screen, and the odd addition of a color changing night light).

Did you catch the omission above? I bet you missed it! I said “I became the owner” rather than “the proud owner”. You might think that unwrapping a new, 3-figure appliance with color display, operating system and lots of shiny new parts would leave me enthralled for at least a week, right?

Not really…

You see, the new Keurig brewer accepts both K-Cup and Vue coffee pods. But it also has has built a camera. The camera spies on the owner of their new 2.0 brewers. (Seriously—It really does!). It’s not trying to film the marital vows that you renewed on the kitchen floor last night. Keurig 2.0 leaves that to the NSA and Google. Rather, the camera is constantly vigilant against any attempt to use unlicensed coffee.

The camera studies the lid of each coffee pod inserted in the brewer and it looks for Taggant, a chemically-coded ink on the outer ring of the lid. It won’t accept the My K-Cup gizmo that Keurig continues to sell for use with legacy brewers, and it even rejects pre-2014 K-Cups from Green Mountain and its partners. Shocking—because they are fully licensed and are well with in the expiration date marked on the package.

For those who own a boatload of Vue pods, the new brewer comes with a comforting statement: “Call us and we will work out something”. Apparently, Keurig will placate owners with a large stash of coffee pods by exchanging them. Gee! That’s great! Just register your products, identify yourself and wait for a package, because your new machine spies on you and will not let you brew your favorite drinks. That’s just ducky.

Was every executive over 25 absent on the day that CEO, Brian Kelley, dreamed up the spy camera? Green Mountain is walking down the path of the early iTunes era. Buy all from Apple or your music won’t play on your phone, your PC or your iPod (the operative word is ‘your’). At least Apple could argue that it was trying to thwart internet piracy.

If you attempt to put a perfectly good coffee pod into a Keurig 2.0 brewer, a message is displayed across a tiny color TV screen:

“Oops! That coffee isn’t compatible with our incredibly high standards! We want you to enjoy the very best experience possible. Besides, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the flavor of coffee from any vendor that refuses to pay us for the privilege of compatibility.”

Keurig-OopsSeriously! It says something just like that. At least, to anyone who can read between the lines. A satirist couldn’t come up with better material for marketing-blunder-of-the year. And not just a blunder, but one that flips a finger to their customers.”

Who would have thunk it? Keurig put DRM into a coffee maker. For cryin’ out loud, it’s a coffee maker! What’s next? Cars that demand Ford-branded gasoline? How about a TV that only displays Sony-licensed content?

As for my new brewer, I have found work-arounds that defeat the Gestapo agent within. Several YouTube mavens describe tricks for keeping Keurig in its place. But make no mistake: It is a pain! I don’t relish the idea of taping a forged software license across a camera and changing it whenever a family member wants to brew a different beverage. I don’t want to search local stores for a licensed K-Cup that is sufficiently close to the each beverage that I already own?                                                 Continue below photo »

Keurig 2.0 brewers look for data hidden in the outer ring

Keurig 2.0 brewers look for data hidden in the outer ring

Keurig has turned their brand into the butt of a joke faster than you can say ARccOS. They must be guided by lawyers with no concept of market dynamics. In the blink of an eye, they will become an anachronism. In a few years, the Keurig 2.0 will be a unit in market training seminars alongside the ‘New Coke’, Andy Grove’s slow recall of the Pentium that exhibited math errors, and Ken Olsen’s conviction that consumers would never buy ‘personal’ computers for use at home.

But unlike Coke and Intel, Keurig doesn’t have a 10 billion dollar cushion. Even worse, they have fooled their fans once before. They may not be able to recover from screwing them over with malicious intent and an extended middle finger.

Green Mountain Coffee has a limited time to recover from the Keurig 2.0 fiasco. Here, then, is our humble WildDuck marketing advice:

  • Change the heartless restriction into an on-screen sales pitch. Be a good guy!
  • Accept all the existing K-Cups that your consumers already own. I have dozens.
  • Offer an adapter that allows owners of your new brewers the same privilege of occasionally scooping in the grounds of their favorite store-bought coffee.

And for G-d’s sake, stop spying on your customers! With a downward-facing camera mounted 10 inches above my kitchen counter, I wonder if your next software update will activate a microphone. Get off my back. Please Keurig; respect your customers!


Afterword 2.0

A guest lecturer at Cornell University asked his students to suggest a shareholder letter from Green Mountain Coffee. I haven’t been a college student in years. But if I were in that class, this would be my letter…

Dear Shareholder,

These are exciting times for your company. As you know, we are introducing a series of Keurig branded coffee brewers that are not quite compatible with both of our previous single-serve coffee pods, the ubiquitous K-Cup and Vue.

Keurig Brian Kelley-a

Brian Kelley; genius behind cameras in coffee pots. But, hey! it’s for your own good. A safer, more enjoyable beverage experience.

As a former Coca-Cola executive, I know a thing or two about tinkering with a successful brand in an effort to teach consumers what is in their best interest. That’s why we pushed New Coke onto the market back then, and it’s no different with the Keurig 2.0 product launch.

Of course, it is critical that we at Green Mountain Coffee convince consumers that our use of digital rights management is a benevolent and beneficial act—one that protects them from unsafe coffee, electrical failure and night terror. We must avoid any perception of ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Fortunately, consumers have a very poor memory. With clever marketing, they will buy our products with an assurance that they cannot accidentally harm themselves (or their Keurig 2.0 appliance) by brewing inferior coffee.

Of course, we could have used the very same coffee pod detection technology to simply display a message that the K-cup a user has inserted is not licensed, and may not taste as wonderful as coffee that comes from a company that pays us for the privilege of compatibility. But that wouldn’t be sufficient. We are concerned that our customers may be too busy enjoying coffee from 10,000 competing brands to heed our urgent warning.

Brian Kelley, CEO
Green Mountain Coffee

Ellery is editor at AWildDuck and owner of a new Keurig 2.0 brewer

Governments head toward Bitcoin without realizing it

This weekend, Ecuador joined at least 5 other countries in walking toward a future that replaces paper and coins with cryptocurrency. But, are these national experiments likely to lead to the future that comes to mind when we think of Bitcoin?

AWildDuck offers this 2-sentence analysis:

  • Most governments and national banks that experiment with cryptocurrency have no intention of empowering citizens nor decoupling their monetary supply from political control
  • But in the end, that’s exactly where they are headed

Ecuador 5000 SucreThese national experiments are fascinating. With Ecuador, there are at least 6 national efforts to embrace cryptocurrency around the world, including two in Africa, two in Latin America, Iceland and Israel.

It’s unfortunate that each potentate has created a disparate internal and proprietary currency. Most of these territorial adopters have not mathematically capped their supply. They buy into the legacy ‘wisdom’ that controlled inflation is a necessary attribute to stimulate spending and grow an economy.

Perhaps they see cryptocurrency as a an evolutionary mechanism to lower the production and distribution cost of coins and bills and thwart counterfeiting—just as  many countries have switched from paper bills to plastic. That’s a limited view of a very positive revolution in the making. The leaders and central banks of many countries seem to miss the point. It’s not just about new technology. It’s about free markets, limited supply, public trust and citizen empowerment. In fact, it’s all about growth, free markets and the expansion of wealth.

Hopefully, these experiments are just a step toward combining monetary policy with an open digital currency while fostering a grass roots revival of public trust… Eventually, governments will recognize that properly implemented cryptocurrency—one that is free to usurp the national mint—leads to increased faith in government. At least, if one’s  government demonstrates a willingness to decouple politics from monetary policy.

Ellery Davies is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency
Standards Association. He is also chief editor at AWildDuck. Catch
all of his Bitcoin articles here.

Latency beats speed for most Internet activity

This evening, editors at Quora asked me to suggest network optimization methods to enhance the Internet experience of Internet gamers. My 5-step reply, below, is good practice for anyone who wants a zippier Internet experience.

Forums across the web stress a high Internet service connection speed as the panacea for an gaming or web experience that lacks zing. Sure, speed is important for network backup or for streaming HD video (although often the problem lies in the video service bandwidth or a financial dispute between Netflix and your ISP). But for everything else — especially  robust web surfing experience, speed takes a back seat to latency. That frustration that you feel when web pages don’t pop up instnatly after a click is more likely related to latency than throughput.

Speed is the rate at which a open or streaming data connection passes data. It is measured in megabits per second. In 2014, a speed or ‘bandwidth’ of 30 or 50 Mbps is typical for residential cable or fibertoptic service. With their FIOS service, Verizon offers consumers speeds of up to 300 mbps.

Latency is quite different than speed. It is a measurement of the delay in getting a single packet from point A to point B. It is typically measured in milliseconds. (35 ms is typical of an optimized route. 65 ms is tolerable and 120 ms yields a frustrating experience. If you are a gamer or you use VOIP (voice-over-Internet protocol), you should test your services various hosting sites so that you can get the latency under 50ms. Otherwise, you will notice a lag in the responses coming from the other side of your connection. On phone calls, this is particularly annoying.

Because latency involves two end points, measurement entails choosing a remote web server or Internet page. In Windows, latency is measured using a command prompt and the PING or TRACERT commands. (This article is not meant to explain the command or be a procedural tutorial. Look it up or ask your neighborhood Geek).

If you discover very short latency with some sites, but problem results with a few, then the problem is not within your home or local ISP infrastructure. It is related to the remote site that is part of your test or something in the path that is closer to it than to you. But if you find that latency is poor for most of the sites that you choose in your tests, then the problem is very likely with your ISP or even in your own home or business.

Incidentally, tips for reducing latency are offered in the footnote to #1…

1. A fast internet connection (50 Mbps or better should do) *

2. Try to use a direct connection to the Internet rather than WiFi. If that’s not possible, use the latest technology 802.11AC router. (If you really want to burn rubber, check out the Netgear Nighthawk series). make sure that any switch or router inside your home is at least 1 Gbps.

3. Discourage others in your home from doing backups, file transfers, Netflix streaming, Skype or VOIP calls. Even if they are not accessing the WAN/uplink, they will likely hog the limited aggregate bandwidth of your switch or router. Even printing can interfere with gaming unless the user has an ad-hoc/p2p connection with the printer.

4. Check your gaming document for any special requirements such as the need for a phase-inverted, biturbo micro-encabulator. ** [Continue below video]

5. [Advaced]: Learn about the frame buffer feature in your router or switch and study the communications optimization features of your operating system. In some cases, a tool from your ISP can do wonders to optimize some of the esoteric Windows or Mac settings.

* Even more important than a fast Internet connection is the need for a short round trip packet latency. Use a command prompt or diagnostic app to test the ping time (delay) between you and IP addresses of the gaming server or other critical nodes that you can identify.

If ping times are more than 65 ms, look for a different Internet service or perhaps the problem is within your home… Reduce the number of switches and routers between you and the Internet. With a little fine tuning (for example, experimenting with gaming sites that offer multiple hosting cities), you may get the ping time below 35 ms. That would make a big difference in your gaming experience. It may give you the edge that you need.

** I was kidding in #4. There’s no such thing as a biturbo micro encapsulator. But still, you should check the gaming documentation!