Sunday, May 22, 2011

Facebook, okay; but, Google, I've got a problem

A week or so ago I was “playing” with Facebook trying to get it serve me ads on specific topics based on what was in a status or a comment I had written.  Facebook is kind of like your trusty dog, it doesn’t believe you would con it.  And you know you’ve betrayed a dog’s trust, throwing the ball, throwing the ball, then not throwing to the ball and laughing as your dog takes off running to catch the ball that’s still in your hand.

Likewise, Facebook takes everything you write, runs it through a few algorithms and ta da! If you are writing about Destin, Florida, quite possibly you might click on an ad for beach condos on Hilton Head Island (can’t afford them, at least during the “season).  If you use the word liquor, Facebook wants you to “Like” Jim Beam.

That’s all fine and good and actually fun, for a few minutes.  But, have you noticed that Google can give you some odd results lately?  It used to be that I’d almost always find what I was looking for in the first few results, certainly on the first page of results.

I spent most of this week in Iowa trying a lawsuit, though that’s another story.  I’d made a reservation at a Holiday Inn Express in Keokuk last weekend.  While there I did a little surfing a couple of times looking for local restaurants.  I’ve done this before while at home a search for “Midtown brunch” will give you twenty links to restaurant and ratings sites.  Not in Keokuk.  I typed in “Keokuk IA restaurants and got paid results for resorts and hotels with meta tags for the word restaurant.

I finished my trial on Friday, too late to get a flight and decided to stay the weekend in Burlington, Iowa on the Mississippi, making a reservation at a Fairfield Inn & Suites.  This morning I Googled “breakfast Burlington IA” and got a list of Bed and Breakfast place, again that used breakfast as a meta tag.

Google is getting as dumb as Facebook.  It knows I’ve made two hotel reservations in a week and thinks I’ve got some sort of lodging fetish.

Facebook and Google have “personalized” my “online experience” and I’m not at all sure I like it.  There’s of course the creepy factor and the stay out of my business factor.  But the dumb algorithm factor is troubling.

I started computer searching decades ago using Westlaw, a legal database, which required a basic understanding of Boolean logic.  With the advent of Google and its like I didn’t have to be as precise, as the algorithm “crowd sourced” the likely correct results of my search; and, with millions of users it worked really well.

This new emphasis on what I’ve done in the past having a bearing on what I want to do now doesn’t seem to me to be working well.  Maybe they’ll refine it; but, in the meantime, what results that I might well want to see is it filtering based on it’s, flawed, assumptions about me?

Newer isn’t always better.  I don’t mind Facebook’s little games, I’m confident I can outthink a 25 year old billionaire, though I sometimes resent him making me have to do it.  But, I don’t like the idea of Google skewing the results it gives me based on a poor understanding of who I am and what I want.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are two lousy tickets too much to ask for?

Dear Ticketmaster and The Atlanta Braves,

I have an employee of a very good client who wants two tickets to a Braves Game in June; thus, his wish is my command.

No big deal you would think given the wonders of the internet and a credit card.

Not so.  Google “Atlanta Braves tickets” and see what you get.  First there’s all the paid ads for brokers, ticket exchanges and scalpers.

No “” or anything of the sort.  There are multiple iterations of “” all of which somewhere on a crowded, graphically challenged page have a link to

Click that link and you get a graphic of Turner Field and its seat sections, represented by tiny, tiny little colored rectangles with unreadable numbers in them (which a little further down, you will learn are totally irrelevant to the process of getting tickets).  The different colors represent different areas of seats with different prices.  And you can't enlarge the page.

This wasn’t a real problem as I’ve been to the Ted and knew that I wanted Terrace seats anywhere is sections 201 to 205.  Except you can’t get there from the page.  No, you have to go to a selection area of the page where you type in the number of seats you want, whether you want to “add value” (pre-buy food and drink), whether you have a coupon or promo code and then, you can’t choose where you want to go.  You have to choose “Best Available” or “Terrace.”

Best Available doesn’t get you Terrace and Terrace doesn’t let you limit your choices to the sections you want, it tries to push less desirable sections of Terrace out past the infield on you.

At one point in the odyssey, I gave in and tried to buy seats in Section 208.  I clicked “Buy” and it churned and churned and churned while I looked at the advice that it would take less than a minute and that I should not hit the back button or refresh or I’d have to start over again.

Several minutes of churning and I noticed that Firefox had blocked Ticketmaster’s attempt to redirect me to “another page.”  So I clicked “Allow.”  It seems “Allow” is the equivalent to Refresh and Back and I “had to start all over again.”  I tried several variations of this process with no success.

On to Ticketmaster’s 800 number.  The nice female computer voice directing me through phone hell understood a good 40% of what I said.  Again, you can’t pick what you want, I got the same Best Available or Terrace.   Then you had to pick a price within Terrace.  You can’t pick "any price" and you can’t pick a range of prices.  So I picked a few discrete prices,and each time my friend (I think I can call her a friend, we’d been “talking” for over ten minutes at this point) told me she didn’t have any seats for that price.

I hung up.  Some more surfing and I got the hours (8:30 to 6:00) on non-game days) for the ticket office at Turner Field figuring I’d go down at lunch time.  I did.  Guess what isn’t open at 10:45 a.m.?

If anybody at Ticketmaster or with the Braves reads this, I’ll pay, I really have to get the tickets; but, I’ll be damned if I know how to get them.

Best Regards,


Sunday, May 01, 2011

So, you want to live in the cloud?

Or, as it used to be called, on internet servers. “The Cloud” is trendy. What it is, is not quite as sexy – a bunch of buildings in a bunch of places with a bunch of servers that have data in them. Usually the data is in more than one place so a place goes down, the others pick up the slack.

Google, at least to my recollection, started the rush to the “cloud” with Google Docs, an online kind of equivalent to the programs in Microsoft Office. Why pay MS hundreds of dollars every couple of years and take up space on your hard drive with the program and the files when you can go to the cloud and use the free Docs program and store your files there?

Apple is building a 500,000 square foot building to house a new server “farm,” reportedly to house data for the rumored “iCloud” it is about to introduce to sync all your music and videos to and from all of your Apple devices.

But, as we all know, computers are finicky things. They quit doing what they are supposed to do on annoyingly frequent basis. The Blue Screen of Death. Control + Alt + Delete. Defragmenting. Viruses and worms.

And all those things happen no matter where you keep the hardware – in your home or office or in a server farm on the other end of the cloud.

Sony’s Playstation Network has been down for about a week and may be up this week after being hacked. Amazon has a very nice server business that didn’t get a lot of attention until recently when it went down and shut down a whole bunch of websites.

I’ve always been wary of the cloud for security reasons, and still am. As a lawyer I can’t see putting client information in the hands of a third party that might access it or let others. But lately, the inherent fallibility of computers (and nuclear reactors, but that’s a different post) has added a new reason for me to keep my stuff closer to home. If one of my computers goes down, the stuff in it is sitting in an external hard drive and mirrored on the other computer. I’m not dependent on whichever flavor of cloud computing company wants my business.

Maybe someday I’ll have to but not as long as I don’t absolutely have to. After all, though I bank online and use ATM’s to get money, I still have a paper check register, keep all my credit card and ATM card receipts and refuse to put money or checks into the machine in front of the bank.