Mar
05
2009
0

False Sense of Security: Part II

Imaginary Security

Imaginary Security

I recently posted about a fun experience with the metal detectors and security staff at the Oakland WCAB.[1]

At the end of January I was fortunate enough to witness more security shenanigans.

A man in line behind me took off all metal from his person and placed it in the provided gray plastic bin.  Here’s a summary of the exchange between this gentleman and the security guard:

  • Security:  Sir, you’re going to have to take off your belt.
  • Man:  My belt buckle is metal.  I took it off, see?  There’s no metal in my belt.
  • Security:  That doesn’t matter, sir.  Please take off your belt.
  • Man:  But, there’s no metal in it.
  • Security:  Sir, you’re going to need to put your belt through the metal detector.
  • The man finally took off his belt…

I have several problems with this[2]  “security procedure.”

  1. It is irrational and absurd.
  2. This system encourages security guards to be lazy and unobservant, encouraging the hiring of unsophisticated or untrained security guards.
  3. This system places too much importance on the value of x-ray machines.

Let’s take this point by point, shall we?

First, when challenged to provide any rationale for their demands, the security staff resorts to argumentum ad verecundiam. [3]  There’s no reason why a non-metal belt buckle or, heaven forbid a piece of paper, needs to be fed into the x-ray machine.  They’re not security risks.

Second, the current system allows the security guards to insist all detachable belongings be fed into the x-ray machine. [4][5]  The current system essentially removes the incentive for hiring trained, competent, or intelligent staff.  And, really, why should they?  A mannequin with a sign around its neck could instruct everyone to remove all belongings.

Finally, the current system allows all the security guards at the Oakland state building to place too much importance on the x-ray machines.  Once you’ve placed your belongings[6] in the plastic bin, you aren’t given a second glance.  What happens if someone decides to conceal a dangerous non-metalic object on their person?  These security guards believe that paper should be x-rayed!  I’m supposed to trust in their powers of keen observation?

Can you tell I’m frustrated with the security situation at the Oakland WCAB?

  1. Original photo courtesy of Daquella manera. []
  2. imaginary []
  3. Latin argument for “appeal to authority” aka “I have a badge so I must be right” aka “‘Cause I said so, that’s why.” []
  4. Don’t forget to put your right to privacy in that bin.  After all, you don’t have anything to hide from Big Brother, do you? []
  5. For a while they actually required the removal of shoes too.  Taking your shoes off at the airport is bad enough.  But at the Oakland state building??? []
  6. And dignity!  Don’t forget your dignity!  Don’t worry, after a couple of times through this system it will be small enough to fit comfortably between your cell phone and belt buckle. []
Dec
19
2008
1

How NOT To Build A Successful Website: Frames

No Frames, Please

No Frames, Please

A little while ago I posted about How NOT to Build a Successful Website using Adobe Flash.  Long story short, Adobe Flash websites are extremely unfriendly to both website visitors and businesses who own the websites. [1]

The second worst way to create a website is to build it totally out of frames.  There are several workers’ compensation defense firms who have websites built out of frames – and they’re terrible.

In the early days of the internet frames were an easy way to enable navigation throughout a website.  Since then easy-to-use intelligent server-side languages[2] and client-side languages[3] have made building website navigation tools a breeze.  More importantly, these other technologies and techniques do everything frames do – only better.

Here are some of the problems with websites created using frames:

  • Un-bookmark-able. Just as with Adobe Flash, users can’t bookmark specific pages within a website built using frames.  This means your website visitors can’t come back to visit that specific page and, more importantly, can’t send a meaningful link to their friends.
  • Un-navigable.  Depending on how someone links to your frame based website, its very possible that they will link directly to an internal frame.  This means a website visitor getting to your website from a search engine might never see your website’s name or logo!
  • Printing. Frame based websites don’t always interact properly with web browsers.  When you go to print, you might end up printing the wrong frame.  Make it easy for your clients to make a hard copy of the information they see on your website and don’t use frames.
  • Search Engine Optimization.  Search engines are designed to be smart.  Even so, search engines still have trouble untangling a website made out of frames.  If people cannot reach your website by searching for exactly what you’re about, your website is a failure.

I know why there some web developers sell frame-based websites.  From a development standpoint, they’re very very easy to write.  Frames are little more than HTML, so they’re if you can create a Word document, you can create an frames-based website.  I suppose it would be relatively easy to also recyle parts of that website in a new website.  These websites are also deceptively good-looking.  When the web developer is showing you a frame based website, you’re going to see exactly what you expect.  The “danger” of a frame-based website, as indicated above, is that its so easy for it to be shown to your potential clients in the wrong way or out of context.

I think I also know why businesses invest in frame-based websites.   They require so little skill to create that a business can just have one of their file clerks or some high school kid build the website cheaply.  The website would be, for all intents and purposes, free.

A website is essentially the 21st century equivalent of a resume.  You’re using it to tell your clients about you before you ever get a chance to meet them.  These days everyone considers Google to be a verb.  If your potential clients are already looking for you through the internet, shouldn’t you try to put your best foot forward?  A cheap temporary website is fine … as long as its temporary.  As soon as you can afford to do so hire someone to put togther something better.

Website Development Tips:

  • Never build a site out of frames.
  • Other web technologies and techniques do everything frames do, only better.
  • Think of your website as your business’s resume, since that’s what potential clients may see first.
  • Think of your website like a business suit.  If it doesn’t look good on a first impression, a potential client may never even speak to you.
  1. Original photo courtesy of eriwst []
  2. Such as PHP and MySQL. []
  3. Such as Javascript. []
Nov
07
2008
0

Daylight Savings Time – The Argument Against

89 days and counting...

Wake up!

Perhaps its the political climate, or the recent daylight savings time change, or that I’m an argumentative guy.  Today’s post is my argument against daylight savings time.[1][2]

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Daylight Savings Time was not invented by Benjamin Franklin.[3][4][5] [6] If Wikipedia is to be further believed, some guy named “William Willett” was the one who thought of it.

Its a mixed blessing for Mr. Willett that no one knows his name.  Ben Franklin gets the credit for daylight savings sandwiched between kudos for electric kites and bifocals.  Then again, Franklin also has to put up with abuse from people who hate daylight savings.  Such as myself.

The Benefits

Set aside for the moment the historical benefits to daylight savings time – the farmers getting out of bed and whatnot.  I’ll stipulate that it may have served some terrific purpose yeas ago.  The real issue is whether daylight savings time has any ongoing net benefits for our society.

Let’s assume arguendo there are practical benefits to getting everyone in your state to wake up, get home from work, and go to bed an hour earlier or later.  They have more “time” to do whatever is they want to do. [7]  Let’s even suppose that having an “extra hour” improves the mood of people with seasonal affect disorder. [8]

The Problems

Infrastructure. You have to admit that a truly Herculean effort is required to support the infrastructure necessary for daylight savings time.  People engineer wall clocks that manipulate the time twice a year.  Cell phones, computers, and TiVo’s all have to be pre-programmed to change the time twice a year.  Its exactly this kind of ridiculous time-accounting nightmare that lead to the Y2K bug in the first place.

Manual Upkeep. All of non-computerized devices such as coffee pots, car stereos, wristwatches, ovens, microwaves, climate control devices, and sprinkler systems need to be manually reset.  In this way, daylight savings time is almost like having a guaranteed power outage twice a year.

Productivity. The missed appointments, reschedulings, and groggy commuters and workers.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Starbucks was behind the continued use of daylight savings time.

Uniformity. Not every state, let alone every country, uses daylight savings time.  What happens why you’re in California and you need to call Hawaii or Arizona before the close of business? [9][10][11]

Workers’ Compensation Claims. The workers compensation implications alone are staggering.[12] Every home and every office must keep one poor bastard around whose job duties include dragging a chair or step ladder around the office to change all the wall clocks.

If the Office Poor Bastard falls and gets hurt, you’re going to have to hand him a claim form.  If the Office Poor Bastard gets an attorney, that attorney is going to see the mechanism of injury and argue for a higher occupational code than “Office Poor Bastard.”[13][14] The Office Poor Bastard will be considered an occupational code 482, “RIGGER, HIGH amuse. & rec.”[15]

The Solution

There are two possible solutions.

First, we eliminate daylight savings time.  If the potential drawbacks of daylight savings time outweigh the benefits, then it should be eliminated it.

Secondly, as an alternative we could agree to set the entire coutnry on the time halfway between daylight savings time and non-daylight savings time.  If you get 100% of the benefits and drawbacks from daylight savings time, then at the time halfway in-between you’d get half the benefit and drawbacks. [16][17]

I’m in favor of eliminating daylight savings time altogether, but I would certainly be willing to “split the baby.”

  1. I wonder if I should try to put it on the ballot as a proposition… []
  2. Original photo courtesy of Laffy4k. []
  3. Third best Ben Franklin quote here. []
  4. Second best Ben Franklin quote: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to prosper.” []
  5. Best Ben Franklin quote: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  Too political for a Friday?  :/ []
  6. Thanks QuoteDB!  []
  7. Keep in mind, they get no more than one “extra” hour. []
  8. Not that I think anyone’s arguing this.  I’m just setting up the best possible arguments in favor of daylight savings time. []
  9. Those Arizonans really are mavericks. []
  10. Or, how about: “Well, I guess Hawaiian and Arizonans are both mavericks!” []
  11. Too soon? []
  12. I bet you thought this wasn’t going to have anything to do with workers’ compensation. []
  13. “211 OFFICE CLERK, GENERAL clerical,” for those of you playing at home. []
  14. <shameless plug>I’d suggest this great workers’ compensation website to help you find such things.</shameless plug> []
  15. I say this only half-jokingly.  Years ago I had someone make this exact argument to me.  Ken, I’m looking at you. []
  16. This assumes an arithmatic progression of benefits and costs associated with daylight savings time. []
  17. This also assumes that no new benefits or costs are conferred by half-daylight savings time.  I can concieve of at least one additional drawback – namely that the United States would be in time zones half an hour from the rest of the world.  Then again, I suppose that’s better than being a full hour off? []
Nov
06
2008
0

How to Start a Business: Plan B

A while ago a very entrepreneurial friend of mine suggested I read a book called, “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki.  This one book is responsible in no small part for the website you see today.[1]  Guy worked for Apple and later started an influential and innovative venture capital firm, Garage.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s a frequent lecturer, best selling author, and avid blogger.

In one of his recent articles, he talks about “Plan B for Fund Raising.”  Here’s my take on Plans A and B:

Plan Bee*

Plan Bee

Plan A

Anyone who was alive during the late 90’s has heard of “Plan A.”  Build a prototype, put together a PowerPoint presentation, get some venture capital, and spend venture capitalist money.  You know how this story ends.  The company gets bought out and everyone is rich or the company never goes anywhere and its assets are sold for scrap.

Plan B[2]

Anyone who was alive during the 70’s knows all about “Plan B.”  These are the people who started businesses in their garage.  I suppose we really only hear about the success “Plan B” stories.  No one’s surprised when a home business doesn’t go big so no one talks about it.  Plan B is where somebody believes so feverishly in their own idea they work on it nights and weekends after they come home from their day job as a barrista.

The whole reason I’m writing this blog post, indeed the reason why I have this blog and website at all, is because of “Plan B.”  At its most hectic in the last year, I was working a day job, doing contract attorney and techie work for various clients, while marketing and programming these calculators.  While I didn’t live with my parents, I participated in a surprisingly (and embarrassingly) large number of the activities Guy describes under Plan B.

This is NOT something I intend to do ever again.  Thankfully, the hard work of building the calculators is done.[3]  These days my only continuing time commitment to this site is writing blog posts and answering fan mail.[4]

  1. So, if you don’t like it – blame him!  Haha! []
  2. Original photo courtesy of Eye of Einstein []
  3. Well, more accurately, its always almost done.  ;) []
  4. But, mostly blog posts. []

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