Looking Back: Christmas Reading

Christmas in 2020 will obviously be very different for many people, but like many people at Christmas I find myself looking back to my childhood, as let’s be honest, that’s when Christmas is at it’s best isn’t it?

On the topic of looking back, here are two fantastic articles from The Register that are by no means new, but worth a read or reread if you find yourself with some spare time over the lull between Christmas and New Year.

Search engines we have known … before Google crushed them – charts the history and demise of the early search engines. AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, GoTo, all the names you may remember from Christmas past.

The inside story of the news website that saved the BBC – A detailed look at how BBC News Online started. Back then nobody even knew what a news website should look like or how people would use it. They really were blazing the trail.

What’s in a Domain?

I came across this fascinating blog post about how one man and a few Ruby scripts managed to register what he estimates amounts to $1,000,000 worth of domain names. Many of the examples he registered are single word domain names such as cheese.ai and crowbar.io.

This set me wondering whether domain names really matter that much these days? Obviously some people see value in them, much like some people see value in a personalised number plate for their car (Something I have never understood – but each to their own.). A memorable domain name such moonpig.com or comparethemarket.com is genuinely useful for people looking to find you online, whereas a bespoke vehicle number plate is there to satisfy the owner. How many successful businesses use generic, one-word domain names anyway? For a while British Gas advertised their online presence as http://www.house.co.uk, but these days it redirects to http://www.britishgas.co.uk. Clearly trying to associate a well known brand with a tangentially related word didn’t work out. The exception might be offering email services: your.name@cheese.ai would be pretty cool, and hey.com is an obvious recent example – but again I don’t think many people are that bothered about their email address these days. For my job I have to review a lot of CVs, and I’m often surprised how many people who are clearly very qualified, have been in the industry for a while, yet have an email address with gmail.com or hotmail.com. When a domain costs around £10 a year, it seems like a no-brainer to have your own domain for professional reasons – yet most people don’t.

So I’ve come to that conclusion that for most people domains do not matter. The web is now search-first. Gone are the days of meticulously typing http://www.bbc.co.uk into your web browser and smashing down with great satisfaction on the enter key; for most people, their browser either suggests the site or a Google search does instead. If domains don’t matter, maybe I should start registering random strings instead? mimcxsxuqibozfq.com is it!

“Do Not Disturb” as the Default

I’d really like to see mobile operating systems make less of a fuss when you have “Do Not Disturb” switched on. While the feature is a useful one, having a banner across the home screen, or an omnipresent icon at the top of the watch face only seeks to signify that not wanting to be disturbed is an exceptional state, not the norm. The default mode is “Disturb Me“.

Instead, I wonder if the default should in fact be “Do Not Disturb” and that we should have to choose when we want notifications – with options to allow close friends and family to override the setting of course. If someone outside your close circle phones outside of your “Disturb Me” hours, Siri could take the call and inform them of when you’ll be available.

Why Do Some Gamers Invert the Y Axis?

The Guardian reports on a new study:

It is one of the most contentious aspects of video game playing – a debate where opposing sides literally cannot see each other’s perspective. When the Guardian ran an article asking why a large minority of game players invert the Y axis on their controls – meaning that they push their joypad’s thumb stick down to move upwards on the screen – the response was huge. Hundreds of comments vociferously arguing why axis inversion was the only way to navigate a game world, and hundreds more incredulously arguing the opposite.

I am one of those people who cannot play a game without inverting the Y axis. I struggled with early 2000’s classic TimeSplitters 2 because back then there was no systemwide setting to change the preference on PlayStation 2 (though I think the original Xbox had one). Why do I have such a preference? I can only think it’s because I used to play a lot of flight simulators, but will keenly await the results of the study.

AirPods Rapid Warranty Replacement

Kudos to Apple for getting a replacement AirPod Pro out to me within three days of me reporting the fault. Without any notice, a single AirPod arrived at my door in this cute little box. My AirPods Pro had developed the known fault where one of them (in my case the left one) starts to make a rattling/cracking sound with movement. You can hear it when walking fast, and it’s downright horrible when running. I’d also noticed the noice cancellation becoming less efficient, though it was very subtle, I recall having to have the sound much louder in order to hear over traffic.

One tip, if you do get one AirPod replaced then you need to make it pair with your case and the remaining AirPod. To do this, I found I had to unpair the case from my phone, leave the AirPods in the case for a couple of hours while charging, and then go through the usual paring process. if I tried to pair before leaving them for a few hours, they just got stuck with a flashing amber light.

So great service from Apple, but I wish they’d just offered to replace both earbuds. It seems likely at some point in the future my right AirPod Pro is going to have the same issue, but for now they are back in business and Apple’s 2-year warranty programme will take me through to January 2022.

Xbox Can’t Connect to DHCP Server

After not switching on my Xbox One for a few months, it wouldn’t connected to my WiFi. It kept saying “Can’t connect to DHCP Server”. Rebooting the router, and forgetting the WiFi network made no difference. In the end, the way to fix it was to go into my router’s network settings, look for the list of devices that had previous connected (and been assigned an IP address), and remove the Xbox from the list. Within minutes, my Xbox was back on the Internet, and downloading updates.

Salesforce Buys Slack

$27.7 billion, or $250,000 per paying user. It’s a testament to good product management that Slack has maintained is simplicity in the face of competition from Microsoft Teams. In my experience, Slack’s simple emulation of traditional IRC encourages real-time collaboration that is great at the time, but not easy to refer back to after the fact. Microsoft Teams on the other hand presents users with the option of adding a subject line to messages, meaning it gets treated more like email, with threads and replies that can be impossible to follow in real-time. This does however make it easier to find what was said later on.

I don’t use CRM Systems on a daily basis, but I have had to work on products that integrate with them. Salesforce is far easier to use and develop for than Microsoft Dynamics, so I think this deal could bode well for Slack users.

The Spirit of the Rules

It’s crazy to see the British tabloids egging people on in trying and find loopholes in the UK Government’s Coronavirus restrictions. A better headline would have been “Ignore lightweight Agriculture Minister George Eustice, and keep to the spirit of the rules. Viruses don’t care about your intent, technicalities, or what the Government says“. Then again, there’s a reason why I didn’t go into journalism.

Leave Productivity to Economists

Lots of headlines today about a feature called Productivity Score that is part of Microsoft Office 365. The service promises to help “organizations transform how work gets done with insights about how people use Microsoft 365 and the technology experiences that support them.

While on the face of it, Productivity Score does sound somewhat Orwellian, I think this is down to poor naming. What it really seems to be is a measure of how people use various Microsoft products. If it helps companies measure their ROI on Office 365 and respects privacy, then so be it. While it’s possible some gullible manager somewhere might equate software usage to productivity, I have faith that in most organisations this will not be the prevailing view. Productivity is all about efficiency of work produced, and is something that evening leading economists struggle to grapple with. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in a modern workplace will tell you that simply having conference calls and creating Powerpoint presentations does not equate to being productive. Calls, emails, spreadsheets and whatever else Productivity Score measures are byproducts of productivity, not evidence of it.

Is That Recommended Song an Advertisement?

In what seems to been an inevitable move in the march of awfulness that is much of the tech industry these days, Spotify has announced that it will be giving artists who pay for the privilege a boost in the algorithm that recommends music to its customers.

For many, especially those who listen to commercial radio, this is probably nothing new. The idea of a record label paying to get their acts in front of more listeners is a pretty standard affair. However, the idea these ads might be sold to customers as a personalised recommendations seems creepy to me. I hope they are clearly labelled as ads, even if the artist having paid for promotion is only one of many inputs into the algorithm that ultimately produces the recommendation.

I never really got on with Spotify’s user interface, but I do use Apple Music due to its Siri and Apple Watch integration. The recommendations seem to be very US centric and can be very hit and miss. I’ve found a couple of new artists via Apple Music, but mostly I find most of my new music via 6 Music. I can’t see Apple selling out like this.