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October, 2011:

BlackBerry/RIM. Going, going, gone?

A couple of years ago my company had a major server outage on a primary server that brought down websites and email for almost two and a half hours. Such outages are rare, but they happen, and they happen to small hosting companies like NinerNet as well as the giants. After that outage I wrote about the lessons learnt and, without trying to deflect attention or criticism away from us, I pointed out an extensive list of major service outages experienced by the likes of Google, Amazon, YouTube, Barclays Bank, MySpace, Facebook, PayPal, Microsoft, eBay, and so on.

Also in that list was BlackBerry/RIM, and this is what I wrote at the time on them in particular:

Have a Blackberry? Do you realise that all Blackberry emails in the whole world go through one data centre in central Canada, and if that data centre has a problem, you can still use your Blackberry for a paperweight? Nobody is immune; nobody gets away unscathed.

I’m under the impression that, since then, RIM expanded that single point of failure to create multiple points of failure (often under threat of sanctions by governments who want access to their citizens’ communications), and fail they have — worldwide — in the last few days. And for several days, not just a couple of hours.

Without wanting to gloat over a mortally-wounded about-to-be corpse, RIM’s problems weren’t that difficult to predict. Unfortunately for them they are, at this time, the victim of a perfect storm that includes (among other things) poor sales and share performance, product failures, the almost simultaneous (to their technical troubles) launch of a new messaging system on the iPhone to rival BlackBerry Messenger, and these latest technical troubles. But this perfect storm is of RIM’s own making, and their problems go deeper than that anyway; they go to the heart of their core philosophies.

Now, I’m no Apple fanboi (and in the wake of the death of Steve Jobs I commend to you What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs), but at least an iPhone more resembles a “proper” computer like the one you have on your desk than the toaster in your kitchen that can only do the one or two things its manufacturer decided in its infinite wisdom it needs to do. Mobile computers (aka “smartphones”) like the iPhone and those running on the Android operating system rely on open standards when it comes to things like email. In short, open standards and systems win. (That said, Apple is not the poster child for open standards and systems, and needs to change that.) There is no central super-server somewhere handling all email for all iPhone or Android users worldwide, just waiting to fail. With BlackBerry there is … or was. End of story.

If you swallowed RIM’s mantra about their system being de rigueur for business and the iPhone being “not for business”, you’re paying for that today.

Sorry for that.

Update, 30 May 2012: Seven months later and Roger Cheng at CNET finally comes to much the same conclusion.

Google search going downhill?

After being frustrated by the results in a Google search yet again, I submitted the following feedback to Google under the category “Google’s search results weren’t helpful” and the sub-category “The results included a page that was irrelevant”:

You searched for shaw vod 33319.

Please list which site or sites were irrelevant.


… and probably the rest of the results, but I didn’t go past the top three.

Why were they irrelevant?

I’m finding more and more that Google ignores one or more of my search terms, trying to be too clever for its own good. For example, while the third result on the secure.shaw.ca domain would be relevant if I was looking for a way to contact my cable company (Shaw) about the VOD (video on demand) error (33319) I am receiving, it’s absolutely useless as a result that tells me immediately what error 33319 is.

In this case “33319” does not even appear anywhere in the page at any of the top three search results. Why then are these pages included in the results if I’m searching for “all of the words” (Google’s wording) I have entered, and not “one or more of these words”? And this happens even when all of my search terms are actually words, unlike this case where one of the search terms is a string of numbers.

Please don’t make me use a Microsoft product for my searches. The last time I switched search engines was from AltaVista to Google.

For those of you with short memories or who weren’t around “BG” (before Google), AltaVista was the search engine back in the day. They even provided search results for Yahoo, before going into decline and eventually becoming a part of Yahoo. Now it’s just a point of entry into the Yahoo search system. I don’t even remember exactly when I switched, but it was probably in the early 2000’s.

Do they owe it to the fans?

On a local radio station today, the DJ made reference to the station’s blog (“Do they owe it to the fans?“), but on air seemed to be asking a slightly different question to that posed on the blog. To the straight-up question, my answer is no, bands don’t owe it to their fans to tour.

However, the DJ (or someone who called in) introduced the issue of bands who rest on their laurels and issue remastered version after remixed version of their music, and live off of the income from that. To that I say, “Hey, if you (gentle reader or listener) want to pay for yet another remix of the same old song, go right ahead. But I won’t.” I’m all for residual income, but unless you actually get off your arse and do something new occasionally (and that includes touring, even if you sing your old stuff), why should I buy your old stuff, over and over again?

Which actually leads to the age-old question of old music coming out in new formats to keep up with technology. (For the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to referring to music from here on, but the same principles apply to films and any other recorded entertainment.) These days the big entertainment companies like to tell you that you have “licensed” the music that you have bought. (I don’t think you’ll find a “licence” printed on any of your old vinyl LPs!) This allows them to attach all sorts of conditions to your licence, not the least of which prevents you from making copies of said licensed material.

To that I respond that if I have bought a licence that entitles me to listen to a particular song, then I am allowed to listen to that song for the rest of my life in whatever formats exist between the time I licence it and the time I die. The licence should only apply to the song I originally bought, or any substantially similar version of the song. Therefore, if another band performs the song, or the same band records it at a concert, or the original lead vocalist records a duet with someone not a member of the band (just to give a few examples), those would be considered substantially different, and I would not be entitled to those versions of the song until I paid for a copy.

Therefore, if I bought Penny Lane in 1967, as far as I’m concerned I’m entitled to listen to the same version of Penny Lane in the comfort of my home at any time I choose by playing it on my record player, on my CD player, or on my computer (which includes whatever portable device you carry around in your pocket) from a digital file (e.g., MP3). So if I bought the right to listen to Penny Lane in 1967, then I am entitled to obtain, for free (or perhaps for a modest fee to cover materials, shipping and handling), a copy of Penny Lane on CD and MP3 and in any future recording formats. (The same applies if I lose my original copy.) If the same song is re-issued by the band twenty years later, even if the latest version is somehow technically superior, it’s substantially the same song and I’m entitled to a copy of the “new” version for free. If the company I paid in 1967 is unable or unwilling to send me a copy of Penny Lane on/in the latest format at my request, then I am entitled to obtain a copy by whatever means I deem necessary. Enter (in this day and age) file sharing.

Of course, coming up with a 44-year-old receipt to prove you’ve already paid might be a challenge!