Talent And Technology

Everyone knows that technology is meant to make our lives easier.  Arthur Clarke (English physicist and sci-fi author) wrote back in 1961 that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  A pretty insightful comment for its time, and one that continues to get more relevant as technology advances.  I might also add, however, that the most advanced technology is one that everyone can use.  Its power (and magic) lies in its simplicity.

I’ve mentioned before that I work in IT.  Often, I get a twang of jealousy when I see the sort of wonders truly talented people can develop and create using technology.  Back in early December, I took a Visual Studio and .NET framework course, so I could better understand some of the day-to-day tools the developers I work with employ.  Perhaps the most valuable learning from that course is that development not only requires skill and knowledge, the best developers are gifted with talent.  The software, language (VB or C#), and programming .concepts are all relatively easily trained.  Applying those tools and concepts to automate tasks, integrate systems and improve productivity comes not only with experience, but with an inherant ability to think in a certain way.  Skills gained from experience can account for a lot… but the best have talent.

So where does that leave the rest of us?  Writing simple ‘select’ queries in SQL?  Nah…  While developing applications and building their frameworks require a certain talent, they pale in comparitive importance to the innovative ways people like you and me use those applications and frameworks.  The whole point of Web 2.0 is about the online community.  The more people who use the tool the better.  People employ Twitter, for example, in ways I’m sure their developers never even dreamed about.  The same can be said of Facebook, LinkedIn, and just about any of the most advanced technology out there.  Their power lies in simplicity, and the users and community that take what the development teams provide, and turn it into something bigger and better.

The Tremendously Simple Twitter UI

Logitech’s Almost-Universal Harmony Remote

There’s a lot of mixed feelings about Logitech out there.  Me?  I’m sitting firmly on the fence when it comes their products.  Especially their Harmony remotes.  I bought the Logitech Harmony 880 remote during a promotional offer at Dell.ca for $99 CDN.  At the time, it retailed for around $300.  A pretty good deal, but I certainly would not want to pay any more for the device.  There’s a few things I like about it, but there’s also several inherant flaws with the overall Harmony system.  Take a look.

The Good…

  • The process of downloading the appropriate coding for all applicable devices over the internet is a cool idea.  The old method of punching in a code, and pairing the device with different remotes is significantly optimized with Logitech’s approach.
  • The embedded rechargeable lithium-ion battery, with a AC docking station is great.  The charge, under farily rigorous usage, lasts a little over two weeks.
  • The customized preset configurations are a great touch.  You have a button to “Watch TV”, “Watch a Movie” or “Listen to Music”.  By selecting a given option, all devices are simultaneously updated to perform the requested action.  No more selecting one device at a time, followed by a series of commands to change activities.
  • Overall, the remote is pretty rugged.  I have a 3-year-old boy, and twin 10-month-olds.  All of them have an unholy fascination with remotes, and more specifically, beating the hell out of them.  So far, the Harmony has endured.
  • Backlit buttons in the dark are a real nice touch.

The Bad…

  • It’s not a universal remote.  Why?  Because it doesn’t natively support the Sony Playstation3.  Logitech sells a Bluetooth adaptor that can convert the infrared signal from the Harmony to bluetooth commands understood by the Playstation.  NEWSFLASH – Logitech, the whole idea of a universal remote is to rationalize devices, not force me to buy more.  Plus your adaptor retails at $70!  Here’s a novel idea, build bluetooth support into the Harmony remote natively, and you’d be able to control a whole host of devices that were previously not supported!  Wii isn’t supported either.
  • While downloading firmware and coding from the internet is cool, it also means your reliant on Logitech’s ongoing offering of the web-service.  Hopefully, they don’t ever go out of business.  Additionally, Logitech keeps a database of device numbers, etc.  They could conceivably deactivate your remote, or not allow further updates, if they thought something about the request was not legitimate.

The Ugly…

  • Seriously, who designed those buttons?  Some of them are small enough to make me want to use a pen or something to select them.
  • Logitech’s software design needs to be improved.  The developers are lazy and don’t allow the windows to be resized, etc.  Furthermore, they have a nasty habit of launching on startup, despite being inactivated and the software upgrade process can take ages.

The Harmony 880 is now one generation old, and replaced with the newer series.  The Logitech Harmony One Advanced Remote is probably its newer counterpart.  Many of the concepts are really neat, but I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement if they’re asking that kind of money.  For more reviews and discussions, check out the GDGT product page.

Technorati’s Invisible Claim Review

This is an open letter to the people at Technorati, the (once) popular blog search and ranking engine.  I invite any and all who read this post to feel free to leave a comment if your experience is anything like mine.  That is to say, absolutely horrible.

I was pretty excited to start blogging, and you can bet that while I’m new to it, I’m damn proud of the content I produce.  I was eager to look for new ways to get the word on my posts out there, so when I learned about Technorati, I immediately setup an account, and filed my blog for review.  That was in mid-November.  After about a week of not having the blog even get crawled, I left a message on their forums.  Finally, their service crawled my site, and instead of being good to go, I got this message on November 24…

It’s January 4th now, and the status on my account has not changed; seven weeks later.  The support forum has over 200 messages from 54 different bloggers venting similar frustrations with their delay, and it’s been weeks since someone from Technorati has even acknowledged the issue, nor have they provided any ETA for resolution.

Napoleon once said “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”.  Imagine angering the entire blogosphere that relies on your service?  It’s ludicrous, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the sound of their death knell.  If you look at any of my posts, you’ll see I usually have a pretty positive outlook on things.  I’m excited to write about the products and services I buy or use with all my readers.  Still, I’d be a downright liar if I said anything redeeming about Technorati’s customer service. 

Technorati will fall into irrelevance if they fail to address this quickly.  I’ve already registered with the smaller, but effective, Blog Catalog service.  They said my blog would be crawled and verified within two business days, and guess what?  They met their commitment.  Long ago, I considered deleting my Technorati claim, but I would also want my account deleted.  Apparently, that can be a cumbersome process as well.

Seriously, don’t claim to provide a product or service that you have no capability of actually fulfilling, and especially, don’t do it to a whole bunch of bloggers!  I hope that with this post (and ensuing comment / link on GetSatisfaction), you will quickly realize that inactivity is no longer acceptable.  Get moving, respond, and most importantly, fix it!

ADDENDUM 1 — Within 1 day, this post made it to the top of Bing Search for “Technorati Claim Review”.  Feeling a little more vindicated.  Hey, now Technorati really is generating traffic to my blog… Too bad it’s through their support forums!

ADDENDUM 2 — Technorati has finally started to show some signs of life.  The responses on the GetSatisfaction forums effectively state (and I’m paraphrasing), that the process is continuing.  They are not giving additional information because “it’s a long story”, and they stayed silent for so long because they ‘catch grief’ when they’ve provided responses in the past.  Way to go!