My History in Software: Prodigy

Back in the day my first foray into massive online services that weren't BBS's was Prodigy. I got a Sears credit card and they gave me a free account when it started out. I stayed on for a few years and had a blast talking to tons of people and I have nothing but fond memories of it.

About 5 or 6 years ago I was being dragged along to flea markets in the middle of Pennsylvania when I ran across a new in-box copy of Prodigy 1.1 for Windows. I carried around for a few years and had it on the shelf but my inner spartan got the better of me so I decided to immortalize it with scans. I've got more old software that I scanned I'll be releasing when I can find them. Enjoy.

Meeting your heroes doesn't have to suck...

This was the first time I met any tech folks I'd read about and this was one hell of a crew. Photo by me.

This was the first time I met any tech folks I'd read about and this was one hell of a crew. Photo by me.

This post appeared originally on Facebook. I was chatting with Marc Canter in another thread and was looking for a shot I took when we were hanging out at Bucca DiBeppo in Chicago but ran across this pic instead which was from the second night we met. Since you don't have the context of being privy to my social network shenanigans I felt like this was a bit obligatory to explain the words below...

I looked at the time stamp on this pic and realized it was just about 11 years ago that Joi Ito had his famous party in San Francisco and I got to hang with all my heroes at the time. Evan Williams had just sold Blogger to Google and gave me a tour of the place as they moved in. Thanks Ev! Doc Searls was the Cluetrain master and agreed to let me use the term he coined for my software startup. Thanks Doc! Robert Scoble was pimping tablets at Microsoft and bought sushi a few nights before. Thanks Robert! And Marc Canter was trying to recruit me for his social aggregator but was also more of a cheerleader than anyone I ever had in my SF career so thanks Marc! I was about to get my first SXSW Award win for Blogrolling and my life was about to go from working on Hollywood movies to the San Francisco software scene thanks to Chris Pirillo who I worked with for a good bit down in LA. Chris and I had our ins and outs but no hard feelings. Thanks Chris! But thanks most of all to my oldest buddy Joi. He was the guy who invested in my start up out of the blue without me even asking and has achieved so much. Here's to the old punks. Keep on rockin...

Photo by Chris Pirillo. Me photobombing the first meeting of Dave Winer and Ben & Mena Trott. #historybitches

Photo by Chris Pirillo. Me photobombing the first meeting of Dave Winer and Ben & Mena Trott. #historybitches

Update: Doc's photos are on Flickr

 

 

Do Not Disturb - Heisenberg & Schröedenger had a baby

Bangkok Market

Note: This post was originally written in September of 2009 while I was staying in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. I thought it fit to exhume and polish a bit since it's Herr Schröedenger's birthday. And yes, I probably mean the observer effect instead of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle but it makes for a better title so :-P Some of the worst interaction design I’ve seen is found in nearly every hotel room around the world. The ubiquitous “Do Not Disturb” door hangers are, without a doubt, one of the best examples of poorly thought out and widely adopted design in circulation today.

The modern hotel door hanger is 2 sided. A variant of “Do Not Disturb” is on one side while a type of call for maid service on the opposite. You hang it on your door depending on which you prefer. Simple, eh? Not so fast. These signs aren’t always honored so they’re a loosely based social contract of sorts. In practice I've observed the probability of these calls to action being respected are about 80% for the DnD and 99.5% for maid service. That means you’re approximately 19.5% more likely to have some random stranger walk into your room to clean it than leave you alone when you use the sign as intended.

Here’s the rub. The moment you put the sign out and close your door you give up control of what side is actually showing. Your privacy has entered into a state of quantum flux. Since the random element of mischief wasn’t engineered into the process, anyone walking down the hall can flip each and every sign thus turning exclusion rules into inclusion rules and vice versa without the consent of the occupants. This renders the sign not only useless but actually detrimental to privacy and peace of mind. You can’t tell which way it’s facing until you poke your head out and actually look at the damn sign to make sure it's position hasn't been altered.

There is usually a secondary line of defense that helps enforce a DnD and that’s the lock on the inside of the room but that’s dependent on the actions of the occupant and subject to human error. If you forget to lock the door then all protection against intrusion from the staff has been removed. The only exceptions I’ve found recently are in newer high-end modern hotels that have electronic switches and illuminated status signs. Those are the exception though and not the rule.

Big deal eh? It certainly is a big deal when someone changes your sign to maid service from DnD and you forgot to engage the room lock. If a gung-ho maid walks into the room without knocking while you’re in the middle of mischief you’ve now got ANOTHER body to dispose of. No, this hasn’t happened to me but I have had several run-ins with pissed off house keeping who came in when I was getting dressed or in the shower after my sign was either changed or removed by some random miscreant. This morning was the case but fortunately I had the experience to know to ALWAYS engage the door lock when in my room.

In the old days you would get 2 hangers, one for DnD and a separate one for maid service and both were colored differently. The DnD was generally red and the maid service white. This is probably due to the original designer thinking out this issues in advance and they planned around it. They knew having 2 contradictory messages on the same sign was probably a bad idea. Then some penny pinching accountant came along and said we can save money if we just put the messages on the same sign thus ensuring that you can never really have any peace of mind when staying in a hotel. That last bit is supposition but I bet it’s not too far off from the truth.

Google's creepy birthday present

Google

I went to Google's homepage to track down an article about the DEA using NSA's intelligence against petty drug dealers and was greeted by a custom Google Doodle. I hovered over it to see whose birthday it was and I was a bit totally creeped out to see it was for ME! They have my birthday from my Google+ account so they thought it would be fun to send me some cake. With all the stuff coming out about unnecessary surveillance you'd think they'd put the kibosh in this kind of thing for a while. So yeah, thanks Google for your unbelievably creepy birthday wishes.

*shameless plug* Don't forget to check out this weeks new episode of Grumpy Old Geeks with our guest Shane Nickerson.

Awesome Wordpress Admin Theme

MP6 Wordpress Admin Theme

I've done a LOT of work in WordPress lately and one of the things I hate is the standard admin UI. I spent a few hours testing out a ton of themes and came across the MP6 theme. Most admin themes break something or other but so far this one has worked flawlessly. It also makes working in WordPress just a little less annoying and that goes a long way to having better days. It does come with a warning though:

This is a plugin to break the wp-admin UI, and is not recommended for non-savvy users.

So caveat emptor but if you do a lot of WordPress work it's really worth a try. Check out MP6 in the WordPress Plug-in Directory

Is "The Hero" a Zero?

Get to the choppah!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VMxn2Izb6I The Hero is a new reality show starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson where they take a bunch of somewhat normal people to Panama and make them do unbelievably insane stunts, tempt them with bribes to screw over the other competitors, and vote each other off the show to name just a few of the plot points. The Hero definitely feels like the first season of The Mole in places with the scale of the challenges but has a flavor all of its own. In the world of reality competition, The Hero has definitely raised the bar for other shows in the genre. So far there have been 7 episodes and this coming week is the finale so now is a perfect time to do some analysis on the good and bad.

The Cast of The Hero The show started out with a total of 9 contestants with a very broad range of life skills that gave the cast a good mix. It seemed like they were all going to take part in the show for its entirety but a few episodes in eliminations began. The change wasn't expected and I didn't care for it one bit. I thought watching all 9 people go to the end was the way the show was going to progress then having the format change was very unsettling. If they had gone with eliminations from the outset it wouldn't have been a problem but starting them halfway through felt like they decided it after the fact. I think it would have been way more exciting to keep them all because it really changed the dynamic of the gameplay to a standard elimination show.

Now we get to the tagline...

"There can only be one" - The Rock

Which is remarkably similar to:

"There can be only one." - Highlander

To a Highlander super fan like myself that similarity is incredibly distracting and downright annoying. I'd rather they used something completely different or gone all the way there, licensed it, and threw in some of the Queen soundtrack for good measure. The wishy-washy middle ground is just weak.

In episode 7 they whittled the contestants down to 5 and opened up voting to the public. My family and I had to catch the episode on 'Video on Demand' because we've been really busy. At the end of the episode they flashed a really quick page of phone numbers to text in the votes and a blurb about going to a Facebook page if you want to vote. If you turned your head to sneeze you'd miss it. It was that fast. For a show with a 7 week build up they took almost no time for what is usually a great moment that really brings in the audience. Instead, it felt like a really crappy afterthought.

Click to see full size.

On the Facebook page there's a "Please vote" message but no tab for voting. After a little digging I found out that voting was already closed and I missed the window. Serious bummer. I really wanted to vote on this. I generally don't vote on shows but I want to see The Hero come back for another season. Every vote cast by the audience helps make that a reality and their haphazard treatment of the voting doesn't do them any favors.

So no, The Hero is DEFINITELY not a zero. The wins far outshine the few flaws and complaints I have with it. It's a really fun hour and The Rock is a fantastic host and I hope it comes back. In conclusion, my biggest complaint about the show is that it was just too damn short! I want way more than 8 episodes next time.

The finale of The Hero airs on Thursday and you can watch some past episodes on the shows website. You'll need your cable TV login info though if you want to catch up and get in on the action. There's also some amazingly detailed charts on the Wikipedia page.