Google, you're starting to give me the shits

I've been a fan of the Google keiretsu for a long time. Adwords is a brilliant piece of technology, and a brilliant piece of business: it works so well because everyone wins. More recently, they've started to hit some of the people scaling problems you see in big companies. In particular, the authentication system is seriously broken.
I've had a "Google Apps" account for a few years now. I got sick of endlessly tweaking spam detection rules, and decided it was probably time to start using a graphical email client. It's been great for that: spam detection is better than ever with less than five spams a year polluting my inbox in general, and the Gmail UI is sensational and gets better by the day.
The problems started, however, when I discovered I actually had three Google accounts. One was an old test account I'd always used for signing up to Google things. Another was my Google Apps account, which was the same as my email address.  Another was an invisibly-created, but different, one that lived behind the scenes at the same email address.  It seemed to own a few services that didn't support "Google Apps" accounts, somehow.  It wasn't normally a big deal.

Then came the new version of the whole Google Apps, which required migrating that hidden non-Apps account into the Apps account.  I kicked off the process, but now half of Google's services don't work.  I was warned that some things wouldn't, like AdWords and the like.  No problem.  What I wasn't warned of was that basic functions would stop working.  Like Google Help.  And the Google Help forums. I get a message like that above.  I'm not trying to do anything funky mind, just browsing to a link from the Help within Google Apps itself!
Worse yet, other things are broken too.  The Android Market no longer seems to let me buy anything. Google Latitude doesn't work.  And I'm constantly finding new things I can't do while logged into my Google accounts.
It's not like this is a transient problem. It's been going on for some time now. Colossal balls up is how I'd describe it.
I think it's time for Google to, at least in some parts, start behaving more like a traditional IT company. At least the bits providing services that people pay for! Time to get project managers, and test plans, and DEV/TEST/STAGE/PROD environments. Boring yes, but essential if you want things to actually work in the real world when you've got complex, interconnected services.

Apple's brilliant piece of price discrimination segmentation

I was reading this article from the Grauniad thinking the usual. Whiny Apple fanboi whinges about his beloved screwing him like a pooch. So far so ordinary. (The flippant 9 year old daughter buying herself an iPod from pocket money and the talk of casually picking up an iPhone 4 on impulse should tell you exactly where in Islington this poor hack calls home.)

It seems Apple's latest wheeze is to force people buying its new hardware (iPhones, iPods etc) to upgrade their Mac OS to even use the new devices. Ideally they'd prefer you to buy a whole, shiny new computer, desktop or laptop, but if you persevere they'll settle for letting you buy an OS upgrade. Windows users, however, don't need to upgrade at all to use their shiny new Apple hardware.

Then it dawned on me. This is a brilliant piece of market segmentation to help them take more money from people willing to pay more. Price discrimination is the idea that you need to set your prices low enough that you capture enough of the people who are only willing to pay a certain amount, but hey there's some people willing to pay more so how do we capture those? Joel Spolksy has a great explanation of pricing and consumer surplus.

Different businesses do this in different ways. Does anyone really think a Lexus costs five times as much to make a Camry just because it's got a slightly spiffier engine, leather seats and a 12 speaker stereo? Microsoft does much the same with their zillion different versions of Windows, with their "Ultimate" edition designed specifically to fleece the fanbois and the more-dollars-than-sense crowd.

Apple's great wheeze is to realise that the true believers, the fanbois, don't taint their world with that awful Windows stuff. Only purity of Apple essence for them! The more price sensitive crowd, however, will have an iPod or iPhone but keep their cheap and cheery Windows desktop. Voila, instant price sensitivity segmentation. Now to just work on mining that rich, rich vein without them complaining too much. Genius!

Shall we swap Fergies?

This dream is what the Pilgrims sought when they landed on Plymouth Rock, why Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and why the pioneers colonised the lawless West (don't quote me on any of that – our public education system is not so good), so that some day, some British lady with nothing better to do could come to America and pay down her debts by acting bewildered on television for our amusement. If the Ferg doesn't have a drunken paparazzi boob-flash within the year, then the terrorists have truly won.


ALP finally ready to turn the guns on News Limited?

Mike Quigley is no more responsible for the corruption at Alcatel than John Hartigan was for the corruption at the Melbourne Storm.

A tip in Crikey pointed out this quote from AM this morning with Conroy specifically mentioning the head of News Limited (the Australian arm of News Corp). Is the ALP finally learning that appeasing these nutjobs is never going to work? It's time for the ALP to treat all News Limited media as the enemy they truly are, bent on hounding Labor out of power by any means available to them.

A good starting point would be to amend all the laws that require governments and companies to advertise in national newspapers and replace the whole system with a well-designed online space. There's really only two national newspapers in this country, and one of them is owned by Limited News. I imagine it makes a lot of its revenue from this kind of automatic printing. I bet there's no discounts for legally-mandated advertising space!

This would actually be better for the people who consume things like tender information, insolvencies, interest rate changes and the like. Instead of having to pay someone to trawl the newspapers and look up any names in the insolvency notices, as most big companies do, they could pull down a regular feed of all insolvencies and automatically data match it against their internal systems, only spitting out the potential matches.

Should I run Cat 6?

Wow, three times in the last few days I've been asked by people whether it's a good idea to run Cat 6 ethernet in their homes. The answer is, emphatically, yes!

Us lucky people in Australia are going to have fibre optic connections to teh Interwebs in the near future, so while you can't imagine it now, there are likely to be good uses for it at some point in the future. Already you can't reliably stream high definition, minimally-compressed video over common wireless technologies. That's only going to get worse, especially when you decide you want to do that in two or three rooms in your house.

Now you're cabling, don't go for the marginally cheaper Cat 5 cable. You don't want to have to crawl under that house again, do you? You don't have to terminate the cable with Cat 6 connectors just now, if money's an issue, but keep it future proof!

Photos credit: Fo0bar from Wikimedia CommonsAnd yes, that picture shows Cat 5 not Cat 6.

Pork with apple and cider gravy

Last night we had Matt & Maz around for dinner, a lovely roasted piece of pork shoulder from Urban Food Market, served with roast potatoes, onions and turnips. For a sauce to accompany the pork I'd stumbled upon this recipe which used cinammon and sage to flavour an apple sauce. I've never been a big fan of generic apple sauce with pork. It's normally just a sweet apple mush and never seems to quite go with pork. But this recipe intrigued me.

The sauce I made start out simmering four peeled and cored granny smith apples, a bit of Scott's excellent Tasmanian cider, a cinammon quill and some ripped up sage leaves for about 40 minutes. I then fished out the aromatics and squished it all to a pulp. Next I added a little powdered vegetable stock and a little more cider to loosen it up. Finally, while the roast was resting I deglazed the roasting pan with a bit more cider and poured that in.

The pan juices took it from a generic apple mush to a light brown gravy colour, and pushed the flavour through the roof. An unctuous and slightly sweet but still highly savoury gloop that just shouted porky appleness to your tastebuds.

Our guests, Matt and Maz, asked for bread to mop up the sauce. That's the best compliment you can get for a sauce.

I've got an absolutely amazing rack of pork from the same source sitting in the freezer. I'll try and codify this recipe a bit more when I cook that. Try and get some pictures too.