MacUpdate Promo Bundle includes Parallels

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After the disaster I had with MacHeist I decided to go for the new MacUpdate Promo Bundle, mainly because of Sound Studio and Parallels. The last MacUpdate Promo worked well for me – none of the billing hassles of MacHeist, nor the arrogance of John Casasanta.

There are a couple of lame apps in there like Art Text and BannerZest, but also a bunch of useful utilities like Typinator, Hazel and Leap. I’ve also heard some writers rave about Story Mill. An added bonus is WhatSize, a little app that clearly shows up what’s guzzling your disk space (more useful than I had imagined).

I’m guessing that Sound Studio, at least, will get unlocked, which will save me much paid with my podcasts even if Parallels fails to make it, and the other are useful (I used to use Textpander and now Typinator all the time).

Anyway, stop reading this and go buy a bundle so that Parallels gets unlocked!

[tags]macupdate, macheist, bundle, parallels, sound studio, apps[/tags]

Playpen Broke. Now Fixed. Sorry.

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Apparently Playpen has been broken since yesterday and I didn’t notice (I was on a train from Hamburg most of yesterday). The robot running it got all lonely in his little grey cell.

Something went screwy with the WP-Cache plug-in and it was spewing error pages. If you’re reading this, it’s fixed now.

At some point I’ll be upgrading Playpen too, so get ready for it to break all over again.

Thanks to Joel for pointing it out.

Photo: DonSolo on Flickr.

No Agencies Please, You’re Not Nice

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Wandering off from a post by John Hicks about staff photos I ended up on the jobs page of my mates at Poke. They have a good tip for recruitment agencies (I’ve had similar experiences):

Please no agencies.

You’re too expensive. And some of you are really horrible too. We do work with a couple of recruiters, but they’re ones that we’ve grown to like. Not cold-calling, staff-nicking, lying, cheating thugs.

There probably are ways to make us your friends. But if you were any good you’d have figured them out anyway.

Very true.

By the way, I really can recommend working at Poke – I spent a very entertaining couple of weeks there on a project for Yahoo! and they’re lovely folks. If I were to move back to the UK and put up with the wreckage of lifestyle that is living in London, they’d be one of the two places I’d want to work at.

They’re looking for a Senior Project Manager and a Frontend Web Developer at the moment.

[tags]poke, london, agencies, recruitment[/tags]

Film Friends Forever Oscar & Bafta Screening

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I don’t normally do straight plugs for things that aren’t interactive and that I’ve never heard of, but this screening at Film Friends Forever looks pretty good. £2 at the Truman Brewery. You can’t complain about that.

From the blurb:

Film Friends Forever is returning on the 18th March 2008 with a killer line up of Oscar, Bafta & other award nominations and winners. We are also being joined by the lovely people at Audio Aubergine who will take care of the musical entertainment.

If anyone goes, let me know what it was like.

[tags]events, film[/tags]

Got ripped off in a MacHeist? It’s a UI failure.

No, not a hold-up in McDonalds, but the MacHeist Mac software bundle sale/game.

Like many, I got charged ten times and received nothing and also heard nothing back from MacHeist’s support, which is pretty lame. The culprit for all the multiple charging was a terrible bit of user-interface design, which goes to show how crucial UI design is.

When clicking on submit to place the order, the server responded with the form page again and the error “* This transaction cannot be processed.”.

The problem is that it’s a programmer’s kind of error message. To the user it either means nothing or, worse, it suggests the transaction didn’t go through, so they (like me) feel they should try again. As a result, many people got charged every time until they gave up.

What should have happened is that the transaction was immediately cancelled and error said “This transaction cannot be processed, your credit card has not been charged.” This gives the user comfort and errs on the side of being secure. A follow-up e-mail confirming the failed transaction would be pretty good too.

Alternatively, if for some reason the system couldn’t deal with that, the error message should have at least explicitly stated “please do not submit your order again, contact customer support on, etc.”.

They also should have responded immediately to all the e-mails they inevitably got sent, but they didn’t. Not at all. (I still haven’t heard back from my five e-mails throughout the week).

Instead they are relying on a MacHeist forum thread to communicate, which surely is being missed by plenty of people.

It adds up to a lot of disgruntled customers, damage to the MacHeist brand, random serial numbers floating around out there, the Mac software developers losing out and a big headache for someone to sort it all out. All of it could have been saved by a decent bit of interface design that accounted for the worst case scenario.

Next time I’ll buy direct from the developers.

It’s not been a good week for customer service.

UPDATE: Amazing how someone can make things go from bad to worse in a very short time. John Casasanta, one of the founders of MacHeist responded to the double charing thread without bothering to apologize and with not a little surliness. Of course, it added fuel to the fire ending with this wonderful piece of customer relations:

Ok, now your posts are starting to get inflammatory. I’m sick of your BS and the next time you do it, I’ll be imposing a 30 day ban on you.

A ban? On the customers you over-charged and didn’t deliver to? On a forum that’s useless anyway?

I’ve stated SEVERAL TIMES that we’re doing what we can to fix EVERY problem but you’re acting like a spoiled child. And I have no patience for it. Instead of getting issues resolved, I’m now trying to placate a whiner in the forums and this is what we’ve been trying to avoid all along.

With 44,000+ sales, there will be some support issues. And we’re working hard to fix then, not blow you off. So you seriously need to take a deep breath and chill the hell out.

Some companies will go to the ends of the world even when a customer decides to sh*t all over them and you’re definitely dealing with the wrong person here if you expect that kind of service from me. We’re doing whatever we can humanly do to resolve any and all issues but you’re insane if you think I’m going to take the childish insults you’re throwing at me.

It’s not the most confidence inspiring response. A simple blanket e-mail to everyone in the MacHeist database would have cleared the air and would have taken five minutes to do.

UPDATE 29.1.2008: If anyone is still reading this (!), MacHeist have done the right thing and sent out bundles to most of the people affected.

John Casasanta remained mostly irate on the forum thread, proving that some people can do marketing well, but not customer service.

I came up with some speculative numbers of MacHeist’s profits in response to some comments that customer support costs money. It turns out my numbers were pretty off, though based on Gus Mueller’s post about the MacHeist deal last year. Some developers took umbrage and let me know they were quite happy with the percentage they got (so, not a flat-fee as in Gus’s post). The point was never to complain about them making money, but even if they only took a 2% cut, it would be enough to pay for someone to man support for a few weeks. In any case, a blanket e-mail to all customers would have cost them nothing.

It turns out that most of the problems weren’t MacHeist’s doing but, surprise, surprise, PayPal’s hellish service, which is making it very hard to track erroneous transactions.

[tags]MacHeist, John_Casasanta, service, ripoff, user-interface, error, paypal[/tags]

Is your cellphone company evil?

Mine certainly is.

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No Evil is a great viral microsite for Net 10 that plays on the idea that cellphone companies are a bunch of money-grabbing evil madmen. Virgin have tried this tack before but now they’re part of the problem it seems.

The videos are very well-made and entertainingly written (the evil villains are good) and it neatly rides on the back of Google’s ‘Do No Evil’ philosophy.

A simple idea well-executed. Nice.

Anyone know the agency behind this?

UPDATE: I just noticed the video was playing automatically, which was irritating, so now it’s a link. I tried all sorts with the embed code but couldn’t turn it off.

[tags]net10, no-evil, viral, microsite[/tags]

re/act 4th International Student Festival for Media Art

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Monika tells me this is a great festival for student media-arts work. It looks good to me and I think I saw some work from it last year.

It’s a good opportunity because media-art work can be expensive to build and often students are overshadowed by artists with grants who can afford some kind of techno utopian vision. So, crack out those Arduino boards and Processing and submit something.

Re/Act 4th International Student Festival for Media Art

In 2008, re/act, the international student festival for digital media art, takes place for the 4th time. Art and design student from all over the world are given the opportunity to make their works known to a wide audience and to make new contacts with a network of curators, cultural policy makers, gallery owners, professors, students, and the media.

re/act’s competition addresses students of artistic study programs. An international panel of experts will select the world’s best works from all entries.

Awards go to works from the following disciplines:

  • Video Art
  • Interactive Art
  • Live video & performance
  • Game Art

The deadline is February 1st 2008 and the submission form is downloadable from the re/act website.

[tags]interactive, media-art, festival, student, competition[/tags]

Moving Between Consulting and Academia

Jon Kolko’s article, Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire: Life lessons from consulting to academia, and back again over at Core77, was a particularly pertinent read for me. As someone who still operates between both academia and consulting (and working as a journalist) I find myself alternately frustrated and relieved by both sides of the fence.

Kolko breaks down several myths of academia and consulting, one of which being the amount of work (or not) that academics do.

On paper, two thirds of the year as vacation seems like a dream come true, and I suppose it actually is for a number of people. But upon reflecting on my five years of teaching, I realized that I was working harder, longer, and on more things than ever before. Between mentoring students, writing papers, grading papers, structuring classes, attending presentations and lectures, traveling for conferences, sitting on committees, and—oh, right, teaching classes—I was approaching the seventy or eighty hour work weeks that I was used to from my previous life as a software designer.

Now, it’s true that in every institution there are some academics who basically scam the system and are “dead inside” as Kolko describes. But there are a equal numbers of those that work very hard indeed, care about the students and their education as well as trying to build up departments, etc.

The difference is that it’s much harder to fire the slackers in academia (and that includes the students).

I’ve worked equally hard in the commercial world, but it is more bursty and less relentlessly grinding. Also, teaching takes it out of you if you do it properly. If you don’t believe me, try standing and painstakingly explaining how you do what you do to out loud for eight hours. Plenty of great, talented people are completely exhausted from writing and giving a one-hour talk. Once.

The best thing about Kolko’s article is that it highlights what both sides can learn from each other. Too often academics believe those working commercially are intellectually inferior sell-outs. Designers and consultants working commercially think academics are talentless eggheads. Yet if the commercial world had some of the ethics and rigour of academia and the academic world had some of the zest and speed of commercial decision making things would be much better all round.

It’s one of the reasons I like to do both.

[tags]academia, education, teaching, Core77, Kolko, design, consulting[/tags]