Friday, January 25, 2013

New Venture

Two weeks ago was my last day at Applied Information Sciences (aka Applied IS aka AIS). It had been a great experience, almost six and a half years(!), but I had known for a while that it was time for a change: I wanted to move out of consulting, and to a larger non-IT company, but (like at AIS) a company where IT was still seen as a major strategic asset.

So when I received a call from one of Gannett's recruiters, I was immediately interested. As luck would have it the feeling was mutual, and I am now a Development Manager for Gannett Digital, focusing on their core API. As one of the world's largest media companies with a strong focus on digital media, Gannett is a great corporate fit, and the current job description suits my background quite well (though I still harbor a not so secret aspiration to move towards the UX side at some point).

After two weeks of drinking from the proverbial firehose I am finally starting to find my sealegs, and moving the ball forward (decided to go three for three in the cliché department) - or at least so I think...

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rolling Stone Federated Search just deployed a new federated search feature, showing top results from the Rolling Stone Archive along with the regular site search.

My team member David Benson created the search service used in the federated search, a stand-alone Archive search page, and all the necessary glue to automatically direct users back to the intended content after authenticating.

The end result is a great way to tie the archive deeper into the Rolling Stone site, and to provide historical context to a user’s search:


When clicking on an archive link, if not authenticated, you are presented with an upsell/login page.

Once signed in you are then shown the article you clicked on:


Or if you clicked the View All items link, the full archive search, with facet filters and sorting options:



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Thursday, August 11, 2011 – another feather in our cap

With the successful launch of the new iPad-enabled Rolling Stone Archive, I figured I’d take the time out to congratulate our client, Bondi Digital, and my team at Applied Information Sciences (AIS): Jim Jackson, Robin Kaye, Ian Gilman and Siva Mallena  (with additional help from Leslee Sheu and Kevin Hanes).

Built on the same technology that we used to launch, the Rolling Stone archive combines our Silverlight viewer and the Html5, touch-optimized iPad viewer in a single site, sharing peripheral components such as menus and search features.  Per client requirements for Rolling Stone all desktop users will get the Silverlight-based viewer, with its keyboard and mouse integration, and deep zoom of images, while iPad users are automatically switched to the Html5 viewer.

Building and optimizing a highly graphics intensive app like this for the excellent, but admittedly limited, iPad browser has been a thoroughly enjoyable challenge. Showcasing our work to the public through another premier publication like Rolling Stone makes it all the more satisfying.

Our team is already onto the next publishing project – stay tuned…

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Microsoft has completely lost the web development community."

Last year Mark Pilgrim released a free e-book/site called “Dive Into Html5” (  The site/book has served as a valuable resource on a recent Html5 project we’re working on here at AIS, and I have frequently gone back for details on topics such as local storage and canvas.  It is an excellent book for any bleeding edge web developer.  It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

This week, Mark posted his observations on how publishing a free e-book (which is also purchasable in print format) works well for him, and that it gives great insight into what parts of the book are being read, and by whom. He then makes the following observation:

6% of visitors used some version of Internet Explorer. That is not a typo. The site works fine in Internet Explorer — the site practices what it preaches, and the live examples use a variety of fallbacks for legacy browsers — so this is entirely due to the subject matter. Microsoft has completely lost the web development community. (emphasis mine)

I forwarded this internally within AIS, and a nice debate ensued.  One common complaint was the hyperbole of the statement, and I agree; a more accurate line would likely be "Microsoft as a browser vendor has lost significant mindshare in the bleeding edge web development community."

Personally one of the things I love about Html5 (using the term the way the hypers would – to mean modern web development with client-driven UI interactions using JavaScript, CSS(3) and some HTML5 semantics) is that it has in some ways unified the web development community:  The debate a few years ago was about JSP vs .NET vs PHP vs Python vs Rails vs someotherservertechnology.  Folks from different camps seldom interacted and learned from each other.  With Html5, the backend processes are completely irrelevant, as long as they don’t muck with the Html (ASP.NET webforms is still a major sinner here, unfortunately) and developers using all sorts of backend software and operating systems are now adding to the collective knowledge, mostly working towards the common goal of getting as much functionality as possible, pushed to end users through mostly standards compliant browsers. 

For instance, our Html5 app is backed by ASP.NET MVC 2 and SQL server.  We do all our development on Windows, in Visual Studio – we’re looking to deploy to Azure.  Clearly we’re MS developers.  But we could just as well have done the app in Php against MySql running on linux and apache, and we’re taking cues from folks using python, java, Rails, Node.js, php and God knows what on the backend.

At the same time I haven’t used IE by choice for about 5 years, maybe more…

I was asked what I thought MS could do to gain back some developer mindshare – so here goes:

  • My thoughts are that if Html5 and the set of bleeding edge technologists that go with it are any kind of priority for MS,  they need to do some or all of the following:
  • Find a way to upgrade the legions of IE 6, 7  and 8 users to IE9.  This will obviously not be easy,  but they could do something similar to what Google did with Chrome frame (i.e. make IE9 a plugin for the older browsers),  or they could do something like the makers of the “IE Tab” Chrome and Firefox extensions do,  allow IE to be hosted inside Chrome,  and only activate it for certain sites.  Or let users install IE9 side by side with the older versions.   All of these would have as goal to encourage end users to use the latest possible browser for the task they need it for,  and to make them install IE9 instead of Chrome or Firefox.
  • Make IE9 the paragon of standards compliance.   (They are actually getting close to this...)
  • Bring IE9 to WP7 and whatever tablet software they're coming out with.
  • Reduce the focus of Silverlight as a browser plugin,  and make it more about web-deployed desktop apps.
  • Drastically improve the support for css and javascript in Visual Studio, including debugging and unit testing.   And give this toolset away in the form of VS Express.
  • Evolve the Dev tools in IE9 to become better than Chrome's inspector and the Firebug plugin.
  • Separate the IE development from Windows to allow quicker iterations
  • Do more things like the jQuery deal. The world of CSS is a mess (we desperately need mixins and code forks like those provided by media queries), MS could take the lead here…

The point is, whether Mark’s browser percentages are statistically valid as an indication of web developer’s preferences, or to what degree Microsoft is lagging/losing developer mindshare; these are not the pertinent questions.  The fact is that Microsoft is now not a leader in emerging web development areas – maybe they never were – but should they want to be, they need to take action. IE9 is shaping up to be a great browser, and they need to push it aggressively.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How about this for a business idea

Seth Godin makes some excellent points in his blog post “Graduate school for unemployed college students”.  Basically he says unemployed college grads should just approach the next 12 months as if it was another year of school, and spend the time contributing to the community while learning marketable skills.  Great concept, but as 3rdgirl and snappers15 point out, this is hard to pull off when faced with student loans or other financial responsibilities.  Seth acknowledges this in his followup-post, “Tough!”, but doesn’t offer these people any actual solutions.

How about this for a business idea - and solution to the grad’s financial problem - :

A joint recruiting and student-loan firm that does four things: 

  1. places college grads with non-profits for part time, minimum-wage paid work ($7,540 per year for a 20hr workweek), plus bare-bones health insurance.
  2. provides study-sessions/instruction/seminars/workshops for real world, marketable skills
  3. provides some form of student-loan deferment for the candidate’s current loans, removing that burden for one year from the grad’s shoulders
  4. acts as a recruiter for the grads, generating recruiting fees (to cover costs)

Come to think of it, why can’t our colleges do this, already?  Or why can’t they provide real-world marketable skills in the first place?

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Amazon Payment Woes Not Quite Over

Uhm, this ain’t right (clik to see full-size pic):


Basically, AmazonPayments/JungleDisk decided to charge me 8 (EIGHT!) times for the same service.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wrap-up: Amazon Payments responds. In English.

I finally received my first decent response from Amazon Payment Customer Support: Customer Service to me

Hello again from Amazon Payments.

I apologize for our misunderstanding and delay in responding to your message.

We do have the ability to review your previous correspondence with us, and I see that you were notified April 25 that your account had been reinstated.

It appears that my colleague misunderstood your concern, and instead of recognizing your desire to simply have the account reinstated, he was checking into the specific transaction you were wanting to make. I'm sorry for the mix-up.

I'll also pass on your feedback concerning offering phone support.

Thank you for using Amazon Payments.

Please …. (standard footer followed)

Best regards,

JoEllen M.
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company

Thank you JoEllen M, for providing the very first email from Amazon Payment Customer Support that sounded like it was written by someone who had read the case history, and who was willing to take the time to write a non-form-letter reponse. If this had been done last week (or back in Oct/Nov when it first happened) you would have saved me and Amazon a lot of time (and bad blog-press).

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Rant: Amazon Payments customer support still poor

I had to take a breath there, before I chose to go with the word “poor”. I was very tempted to go with an alliteration.

Got the following email from Amazon.Com Customer Service this morning, 3 days after the issue was resolved. Some numbers and addresses have been altered.

Greetings from
Sometimes a credit card number will experience one or more failed attempts before a charge is ultimately successful. In this case, I've checked your Amazon Payments Business account affiliated with and found that your credit card was successfully charged on April 26, 2009, by Jungle Disk, Inc..
Transaction amount: $1.02
Transaction ID: 253FAROT22PMHJ3P5GJ1PABCDEF12345678
As always  please feel free to contact us should you have future questions or comments. If you need to contact us back, you can do so by using the secure form at the following specialized link to ensure we receive your next message:
Thank you for sending us your question to Amazon Payments.
Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:
If yes, click here:
If not, click here:
Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.
To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.
Best regards,
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company

This was in response to my rather angry request from Friday – 4 days ago (my account id has been changed for my protection):

*** DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL WITH THE "We have taken this action because it has come to our attention that this account is related to a previously closed account." FORM LETTER ***
Please review previous correspondence for Customer ID: B37NK34KABCDEFGH
I am writing this from my amazonpayments account, which shows in the header as an active business account.  I have no interest in this being a business account.  All I want is SOME account tied to that can process payments to JungleDisk.
If I try to access this same account through JungleDisk's Amazon interface ( I am told that "Access to Your Account Is Temporarily Disabled".

Gee, thanks for checking, Donny, and for not using a form letter response. But if you had bothered looking into the case history you would see that your response was a) not at all correct and b) three days too late.

As I said before, Amazon Payments customer support needs the permission to deal with customers directly by phone to avoid wasting everybody's time

PS! And in response to all the vendors who’re coming out of the woodwork suggesting their own alternatives to JungleDisk – this is not about JungleDisk – JungleDisk is great.  I’m happy with JungleDisk.  This is not even about Amazon (the store) which I  am also happy with.  This is about Amazon Payments Customer Support, which I am still unhappy with.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Rave/Rant: Good vs. Bad customer service

The other day, when I had trouble with JungleDisk and Amazon Payments, JungleDave (presumably a Human) responded within 15 minutes.  That’s good customer service.

Yesterday, when a piece was broken on my kid’s Fisher Price toy, I called their 800 number, went through a short automated phone system which then told me I could talk to a human after a 4 minute hold.  After 3-4 minutes a HUMAN came on the phone, who assessed my problem, quickly transferred me (with less than 10 seconds hold) and the second HUMAN solved my problem by sending a UPS ticket for the return of the broken part and a promise of a replacement.  Total time on the phone was less than 10 minutes.  That’s good customer service.

And Saturday, when I tweeted to @amazonpayments about my lack of Human response from their customer service, he/she responded, and kicked the necessary chair to get things done.  That’s also good customer service.

What’s BAD customer service is this email that caused me to tweet @amazonpayments in the first place: Customer Service to me Apr 25 (2 days ago)

Greetings from Amazon Payments.

I'm sorry, we don't provide phone assistance. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us from the below link to make sure we receive your message:

Amazon Payments allows you to use the payment methods that you already use on to pay for goods and services online wherever Amazon Payments is accepted. With an Amazon Payments Account, you can make secure purchases from 3rd party (i.e. non-Amazon) web sites that accept Amazon Payments, without having to re-enter your payment information. Also, there is no cost to you when you make a purchase using Amazon Payments.

Amazon Payments keeps your payment information private from 3rd parties, and you are not required to disclose your payment information stored in your account when you make a purchase. Amazon Payments provides you with the same trusted payment experience available on Amazon today, leveraging proven fraud detection and risk management capabilities. Learn more about Amazon Payments at:

Thank you for your interest in Amazon Payments.

Customer Support that does not allow human to human contact and instead relies on repeated form letter responses are like badly designed low-flow toilets.  They’re intended to save, but end up requiring far more effort to get anything through, and typically they just stink.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Rant: Amazon Payments Woes

I use JungleDisk to backup my home computer, and it works well, with one exception.  I also signed up for JungleDisk Plus, which has various enhancements, and costs $1/month.  All is well with the backups, except JungleDisk/Amazon Payments can’t process the JungleDisk Plus payments.

When I go to My Account on Jungle Disk and try to Change Payment Type or update payment authorization, I get:


but when I  log in I get this:



Meanwhile, if I go to Amazon Payments directly I get this:


I contacted JungleDisk – 13 minutes later they said (rightfully) that I needed to resolve the issues with Amazon Payments.

For the issue with your account, you will need to contact Amazon Payments at:

Amazon Payments (which took 2 DAYS to respond) gave me the following oh-so-NOT-helpful form letter in response:

Greetings from Amazon Payments,

This message is to inform you that we are unable to process your Amazon Payments Account transactions.

We have taken this action because it has come to our attention that this account is related to a previously closed account.

While we do not provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, we have thoroughly reviewed our records and confirmed that we have significant evidence that this account is related to another account previously closed.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon Payments!


Account Specialist
Amazon Payments

I have no idea what previously closed account this is referring to, and apparently Amazon is not going to tell me.

So I had Amazon call me through their Call Me feature – and after being on hold for 20 minutes, and explaining the situation to two equally helpless call center operators (nice, just without clue as to how to do anything about Amazon Payment issues) I finally resorted to this blog post instead.  Hey, ranting makes me feel a LITTLE better at least.

PS! Oh, here’s what you get if you google for amazon’s customer support phone number – did you know that Amazon Customer support can be shipped for free? ;-)

Contact Amazon at Amazon!  Free Shipping!


UPDATE:  This post + tweet to @amazonpayments seems to have done the trick – my account now works again.  I have yet to get any human response from Amazon Payments customer support, however.  Still BAD customer service.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Hey VCs - if is worth $8 mill, I'll resurrect the dead for pennies

So TechCrunch has the story of raising $2 milionl in funding for a valuation of $8 million (as in 800,000,000 pennies).  Considering the breadth of’s offering (or lack thereof), that is just insane.

If any VC or angel investor is out there desperate to throw money at Web2.0 ideas, I’ll resurrect for, let’s say, $500,000 (or 50,000,000 pennies)…

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