Goodbye, Nal

A little under three years ago, my wife and I decided that we wanted a pet, but unfortunately while she loves cats I am deathly allergic. I suggested rats, but they live such short lives that she didn’t want to go that route. We settled finally on a hedgehog, since based on our research it looked like they could live up to five to seven years. After being on a waiting list for several months, we were finally able to go claim our little girl: an African pygmy hedgehog we named Nal (which means “needle” in Norwegian).

The day we brought Nal home, she was not a happy hedgehog. Taking her out of the cage for the first time was a trick (we had to wear gloves, since we hadn’t figured out the art of hedgehog handling yet), and after we got her out she sat in my wife’s lap for a good fifteen minutes, balled up, hissing, and clicking:

Nal's first outing

We tried to tempt her with mealworms, but she was having none of it! Being in a new place with strange new people and smells was absolutely not alright by her. After a long wait, though, she finally uncurled and we started to get to know her properly. By the time we put her back in her cage, she was still tentative about us, but willing to let us see her face:

Nal uncurls

Ever so slowly, Nal started to get used to us. She absolutely refused to be out and about in her cage with us in the room, so we never got to see her run in her wheel (although she pooped all over it enough times that we knew she enjoyed it), but after a year and a half or so she started coming out of her how-dare-you-just-picked-me-up funk quicker and quicker. For the past several months, she sometimes would come out of her cage without even hissing, although she always expressed her displeasure as we took her house off her.

She particularly opened up once we bought our house. For some reason, the move to the new house really made Nal happy, even though it also coincided with her coming down with mites, causing her discomfort and some quill loss (thankfully easily treated, despite a traumatic visit to the vet; Nal may have grown comfortable with us, but other people touching her was not okay in the least).

Nal sleepingNal, we discovered, was possessed of a strong personality. She loved to explore (her jaunts in the out of doors were things she particularly enjoyed), would tolerate petting if we provided a place for her to hide her face, and vastly preferred mountain climbing up human legs to being picked up. She hated baths, and would burrow under any scrap of fabric she could find:

Nal burrowing

Nal anointingFor quite a while we thought the only treat Nal truly enjoyed was any bit of paper or cardboard that she could find and would then self-anoint with. However, almost purely by accident we also discovered that she would go absolutely ga ga for were bits of chicken, fresh corn, peas, or sunflower seeds:

Nal chowing down

Unfortunately, a few months ago Nal had a couple of seizures while we had her out, and when we took her to the vet they x-rayed her and told us it looked like she had a tumor. We started her on a regiment of meds twice a day, but the vet told us we did not have much time left.

Nal would hear none of it, though. We never saw her have another seizure, and she was a perfectly happy hog for long after the vet told us we could expect her to pass on. As a result of taking her out twice a day instead of just once, she grew more comfortable with us than ever and we started developing different routines (I would often serve as jungle gym and preventer-of-escapes-under-the-couch as she ran around on the floor, while my wife would spend more time cuddling with her).

Sadly, about a week ago Nal started to lose her balance, drastically dropped weight, and day by day lost control of her limbs. She finally stopped eating yesterday, and today I came into the office to find her on her side squeaking in distress; it was the first time I had ever seen her out in her cage when I got up in the morning, and the first time I’d ever heard her vocalize that way in distress.

Though betrayed by her body, Nal remained cantankerous and determined to face life on her own terms to the end. We will miss you dearly, Nal. Rest in peace.


Introducing my book log

I am pleased to introduce a new member to my little family of personal websites:

Ian Beck's Book Log

It includes short reviews and complete plot summaries for the books that I am reading, with the goal being to post them as I read them. I created the site for a couple reasons:

  1. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, which means I read a lot of sequels. However, except for series that I have re-read countless times because I love them so much, I tend to forget what has happened. My book log is thus a resource for myself to look up the plot summary for books that I don’t want to re-read before I proceed in the series.
  2. I like sharing my opinions about books, but have never found a place conducive to doing so regularly (I’ve done it on this blog in the past, but since I wanted a resource for all the books I’m reading, it would have just polluted and caused me no end of trouble when it came to searching for old books).

In any case, if you enjoy science fiction or fantasy, check it out! Even if not, take a gander; it’s one of my nicer-looking sites, and I’d love to hear what you like (or don’t) about it.

I’m planning to post about some of the technical problems I ran into developing the site and how I addressed them, but I’ll leave that for another day. In the meantime, enjoy a couple of recommendations for great books, and some scathing commentary on the not-so-great ones!

Whither webOS?

My house is littered with webOS devices I no longer use.

My Pre+, the phone that hooked me on webOS as a user and later tempted me into app development, lies facedown on top of a Pre 2 that I received to let me test my app’s usage of webOS 2’s functionality. Nearby a TouchPad gathers dust, its battery long since run down to nothing because I use it so infrequently that moving it the two feet to its inductive charger is simply not worth it. The second TouchPad that I ended up owning through a quirk of fate I finally gave away to a friend who was interested in hacking on app development in his spare time. An inductive “touchstone” charging station lies abandoned on the floor nearby, banished from my desk when I installed my Kangaroo standing desk on top, and several webOS-related charging cables that I used for traveling and as backups are scattered nearby.

When I switched to webOS from my old iPhone, it felt like I was using the future. The inductive charging and reliance on cloud accounts for contacts, calendars, and email permitted me to be have a truly cord-free phone (something that the iPhone still has not accomplished for me, mainly thanks to Apple’s clumsy insistence on iCloud as the One True Cloud Account while paying little more than lip service to alternatives). The card metaphor for switching between apps was not only ridiculously simple to learn, but a joy to use. The interactions and design were reminiscent of iOS enough to be familiar, but with a unique approach that was internally consistent and addressed a lot of the niggling little things I disliked about iOS.

Yet despite how much I loved using and developing for webOS, HP’s vicious mismanagement of the platform forced me to the greener pastures of an iPhone, which was eventually joined by a retina iPad. For me webOS has transitioned from an awesome glimpse of the future into a nostalgic bit of the past.

Not everyone has moved on from webOS, of course. Every so often I receive an email asking for help with my webOS app TapNote; there remain a scattered few of the webOS faithful who have not yet given up hope in the platform. One such user recently asked me if I thought webOS was truly dead, or if I saw any hope of it succeeding now that HP has open sourced it.

This is a tricky question to answer, because while I think webOS as a platform may still have a future I do not think it is a future that is conducive for commercially-minded developers like myself. I knew developing for webOS was a bet with long odds when I first got into it on the Pre+. Now those odds are so long as to be astronomical.

Development requires a user

There are two main situations where it is worth devoting time to developing an app:

  1. You think there are enough prospective users who will buy the app to make your efforts worthwhile
  2. You want to use the app yourself, regardless of sales

Any other reason is going to lead to a poorly maintained app that doesn’t sell well (and if it’s a “scratch my own itch” app, it might not sell well regardless).

For those developers still using webOS, the second motivation can still apply, of course; webOS is ridiculously simple to develop for compared to other platforms (particularly if you have any Javascript experience behind you).

However, the user base on webOS is currently stagnant and declining, and with no new commercial hardware anywhere on the horizon that is unlikely to change in the near future. With no new users and an existing userbase that is not buying a lot of apps, there is not enough financial incentive for developers like myself to devote time and effort to the platform.

Software requires hardware

I think a lot of people’s hopes for a webOS resurgence rest on the dream that a third party will take the open sourced webOS and use it to power their awesome, cutting-edge hardware.

However, outside of some bargain-bin quality tablets or similar, this is unlikely to ever happen. The problem webOS faces is that at this point it is so far behind iOS, Android, and Windows Phone in terms of features that it would take a truly prohibitive amount of work for anyone to make it competitive. As such, it makes very little sense for a commercial entity to license webOS or otherwise use it on their hardware when they could instead use Android or just roll their own feature-light option (which would not saddle them with the downsides that are inherent to webOS, such as serious performance issues without highly optimized hardware/software setups).

It’s true that HP is continuing to develop webOS, but since they discontinued the TouchPad they have been doing very little more than running in place, as far as the external world is concerned. I’m sure that open sourcing it took a whole heck of a lot of work, but the end result is a codebase that drops support for their own hardware (thus effectively consigning the TouchPad to irrelevance even faster) and offers nothing new in the “Community Edition” webOS that TouchPad users continue to leverage.

So what we have is a mobile OS with very little to recommend it to commercial entities because it does not offer anything substantially new anymore (since a lot of the unique webOS contributions to the field like notifications and cards have been mimicked or adapted for the other OSes), is still plagued by performance issues in basic features like scrolling that simply aren’t an issue on the other platforms, and is not compatible with the hardware that the few webOS faithful continue to use.

I would love to be proven wrong on this, of course, but it seems to me that a me-too device mimicking the iPad (or mimicking the loads of Android tablets that have in turn mimicked the iPad) will not sell well, regardless of what operating system it runs. This is why Microsoft is trying to frame their Surface tablet as something different from the current batch of tablets (whether they implemented their difference effectively and can monetize it remains to be seen).

The chimeric promise of open source

“But wait!” says the die-hard webOS faithful. “Now that webOS is open source (or nearly so), anyone can use it!”

Which is true, for a given definition of “anyone”. And that of course is the crux of the matter: who will use webOS now that HP has open sourced it?

In the worst-case scenario, open sourcing the platform will have little to no impact. A few people will play around with it, but then inevitably be drawn to the better-maintained and faster-moving Android. In this scenario, webOS quickly fades to complete irrelevance in the short-term future, and as devices start to fail (figuring on a two to four year window for this, with some statistically irrelevant outliers) the existing userbase quickly erodes down to nothing. HP eventually will quietly drop the project all together, or else retire it into a back room where they never have to think about it again except as a rounding error on their budget.

I hope that doesn’t happen, but all too many prior software projects have languished into complete obscurity in my lifetime for me to discount the likelihood.

In the best case scenario, HP’s continued efforts to open source webOS in the short term are a rocky transition period, and then the platform is more widely taken up by hackers and do-it-yourself-ers, likely installed primarily on hardware intended for Android. It might well gain a foothold in the education and research sectors, too, where quick and easy deployment of code can be more important than speedy UI performance and tight budgets require people to wear both researcher and programmer hats.

Yet even in this scenario, webOS is largely a dead-end for developers like myself because none of these crowds are likely to want commercially distributed software. People comfortable enough with open source to install a mobile OS on a nonstandard device are typically familiar enough with open source’s user-unfriendly interfaces to the point that they would rather find an open source alternative instead (or write one).

What this means for me

I am still trying to figure out where to take TapNote from here, but at least in the short term it doesn’t make sense to pour more development time into it since webOS is transitioning towards a future where I am unlikely to be able to be compensated for my efforts. If I am going to move TapNote forward, I need to find a way to make it stand apart from the crowd of Dropbox text editors that litter iOS and Android.

This makes me really unhappy, since to this day I love webOS and had a blast writing TapNote (which I mostly wrote to scratch my own itch; I never expected it to make much money). Hopefully webOS will find a place in the world, but at the moment I am pessimistic about its immediate future.

Archiving tweets using IFTTT and Dropbox

Update (Sept. 28, 2012): the method for archiving tweets using IFTTT and Dropbox describe here no longer works thanks to Twitter cutting off IFTTT’s access for anything except posting tweets to Twitter. I am looking into alternatives, but don’t know of any drop-in replacements currently.

Justin Blanton recently posted an approach to archiving tweets using plain text and Dropbox. In short, he’s using (also known as If This Then That, a service that allows you to setup triggers and actions for events in common web services) to append every tweet to a plain text file in his Dropbox account.

In turn, Brett Terpstra took Justin’s IFTTT recipe and modified it to use Markdown formatting.

Now I have added my own spin to the idea by creating a script that I run via Hazel to automatically break the tweets into files by month. You could, of course, run the script using some other method; I just prefer the ease-of-use of Hazel.

Setting up

For this to work, you need three things:

  1. The IFTTT recipe
  2. The archiving script (also available inline below)
  3. A Hazel rule to pull everything together (or some other way to automatically invoke the script and pass it the filename for your initial archive file)

When you have those three things in place, shortly after you publish a tweet it will be appended to a plain text in Dropbox by IFTTT, then subsequently sorted into archival files by month by the archival script. The script also (optionally) expands Twitter’s shortened links into the actual URL you posted.

For those who want a little more hand-holding, here’s specifically how to get all the various pieces lined up.

IFTTT configuration

You need to change a couple things in the IFTTT recipe to make it work for you. In particular, the default folder path (ifttt/twitter) is very uninspired. You also need to change the name of the file to your Twitter username. If you want, you can use a different file extension (like .md).

(Note that it’s entirely possible to archive multiple Twitter accounts using this method, but you will likely need multiple IFTTT accounts; so far as I know it is not possible to link multiple Twitter accounts to a single IFTTT account.)

Once you’ve got the recipe activated in your IFTTT account, post a tweet and make sure that it is showing up in your Dropbox (should happen within 15 minutes, or you can run the IFTTT recipe explicitly).

Archival script

Setting up the archival script will require a little bit of command-line work, but nothing too scary. To get started, you can download the script from GitHub, or create a file called in your favorite text editor and copy and paste:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

This script parses a text file of tweets (generated by [IFTTT][1],
for instance) and sorts them into files by month. You can run it
manually from the command line:

    cd /path/to/containing/folder
    ./ /path/to/@username.txt

Or run it automatically using [Hazel][2] or similar. The script
expects that you have a file named like your Twitter username with
tweets formatted and delimited like so:

    My tweet text
    [July 04, 2012 at 06:48AM](
    - - -

And that you want your tweets broken up by month in a subfolder next
to the original file. You can change the delimiting characters between
tweets and the name of the final archive file using the config variables

By default, this script will also try to resolve shortened links
into their original URLs. You can disable this by setting the 
`expand_tco_links` config variable below to `False`.


# CONFIG: adjust to your liking
separator_re = r'\s+- - -\s+'     # IFTTT adds extra spaces, so have to use a regex
final_separator = '\n\n- - -\n\n' # What you want in your final montly archives 
archive_directory = 'archive'     # The sub-directory you want your monthly archives in
expand_tco_links = True           # Whether you want links expanded or not (slower!)
sanitize_usernames = False        # Whether you want username underscores backslash escaped

# Don't edit below here unless you know what you're doing!

import sys
import os.path
import re
import dateutil.parser
import urllib2

# Utility function for expanding links
def expand_tco(match):
	url =
	# Only expand if we have a link
	if expand_tco_links and (url.startswith('') or url.startswith('')):
		final_url = urllib2.urlopen(url, None, 15).geturl()
		final_url = url
	# Make link self-linking for Markdown
	return '<' + final_url.strip() + '>'

# Utility function for sanitizing underscores in usernames
def sanitize_characters(match):
	if sanitize_usernames:
		return'_', r'\_')

# Grab our paths
filepath = sys.argv[1]
username, ext = os.path.splitext(os.path.basename(filepath))
root_dir = os.path.dirname(filepath)
archive_dir = os.path.join(root_dir, archive_directory)

# Read our tweets from the file
file = open(filepath, 'r+')
tweets =
tweets = re.split(separator_re, tweets)
# Clear out the file

# Parse through our tweets and find their dates
tweet_re = re.compile(r'^(.*?)(\[([^\]]+)\]\([^(]+\))$', re.S)
# Link regex derivative of John Gruber's:
link_re = re.compile(r'\b(https?://(?:[^\s()<>]+|\(([^\s()<>]+|(\([^\s()<>]+\)))*\))+(?:\(([^\s()<>]+|(\([^\s()<>]+\)))*\)|[^\s`!()\[\]{};:\'".,<>?«»“”‘’]))', re.I)
dated_tweets = {}
for tweet in tweets:
	if len(tweet) > 0:
		# Parse our tweet
		matched_tweet = tweet_re.match(tweet)
		# Replace links with expanded versions
		sanitized_body = re.sub(r'@[a-z0-9]*_[a-z0-9_]+', sanitize_characters,
		formatted_tweet = link_re.sub(expand_tco, sanitized_body) +
		# Grab our date, and toss the tweet into our dated dictionary
		date = dateutil.parser.parse('%Y-%m')
		if date not in dated_tweets:
			dated_tweets[date] = []

# Now we have our dated tweets; loop through them and write to disk
for date, tweets in dated_tweets.items():
	month_path = os.path.join(archive_dir, username + '-' + date + ext)
	# Construct our string with a trailing separator, just in case of future tweets
	tweet_string = final_separator.join(tweets) + final_separator
	# Append our tweets to the archive file
	file = open(month_path, 'a')

# All done!

I like to save the file in my Dropbox right next to my @ianbeck.txt archival file (makes things easy to keep track of). If you have changed the formatting of the

Next, you need to ensure that the script can be executed. To do so, open /Applications/Utilities/ This example code assumes that you are using the default settings for the IFTTT recipe and have saved the script in the same Dropbox folder, so adjust the path as needed and then run this command in Terminal:

chmod +x ~/Dropbox/ifttt/twitter/

You should also create the folder where your monthly archive files will live. By default it should be called archive, but you can use something else if you want.

Lastly, you might want to modify some settings in the script. There are two things you might need to adjust:

  1. If you have modified the delimiter between tweets in the IFTTT recipe, you need to specify what you are using in the script
  2. If you do not want links to be expanded, you need to disable that in the script
  3. If you want your monthly archives in a folder named something other than archive, you need to specify your preferred folder name

You can find the configuration variables on line 34, or search for “# CONFIG“.

Hazel workflow

Now that the main moving pieces are in place you need to setup your Hazel workflow to automatically run the script every so often. Here’s what mine looks like:

Hazel setup

The important bits are having the name start with the “@” symbol, making sure that the subfolder depth is less than 1, and sticking a minimum file size in there (to make sure the script doesn’t get endlessly executed when the file is empty).

Why am I doing this, anyway?

To be honest, most people will probably not care about the fact that Twitter only allows you to access your 3200 most recent tweets. For most of us, tweets are ephemeral; you post it, your friends read it, and that’s that. If you have something you think is particularly clever or worth saving, you can mark it as a favorite and access it whenever you like.

For myself, though, I like having a record of the things that I write, even if it’s something stupid like, “Wow, my balaclava is particularly itchy today.” Why? Because every so often, I remember tweeting something that I need to reference (a link, a prior opinion, etc.), and searching Twitter always fails me. With the above archival setup in place, though, I can easily search for it using the tools built into my computer, and since the archive files are plain text they are as future-proof as I can get, extremely easy to work with, and won’t take up much space in my Dropbox.

Whether having access to your tweets down the road is important to you or not is something you’ll have to decide on your own. If it is, though, this is a pretty easy way to save them despite its geeky underpinnings.

Updates and corrections

July 5, 2012

Dr. Drang points out that @hugovk is the original creator of the IFTTT Twitter-to-Dropbox workflow, not Justin Blanton as I originally thought. Additionally, Dr. Drang offers a script for converting past ThinkUp databases of tweets into plain text format.

Brett Terpstra meanwhile has been hacking away with both my script above and Dr. Drang’s script, and currently has his modifications available on GitHub. I expect he will post his final workflow to his blog once he has them finalized. Good stuff.

July 6, 2012

I have updated the shell script (modified version is on GitHub or inline above) and added the following:

  1. All URLs are now converted to self-linking URLs for ease of parsing as Markdown: <>
  2. Underscores in usernames are optionally escaped with a backslash in order to avoid italicizing: @some\_name (this is off by default, but you can enable it in the CONFIG section; I just have a friend named @_squark_ and was getting annoyed at his italicized name)

Note that neither of these changes is retroactive, so you will have to modify your existing archive file(s) if you want consistency.

Shuffling files around with Dropbox

One of my abiding problems is how to easily and quickly transfer files between my two computers. For the past several years, I have used an iMac as my work computer, and a MacBook Pro for my personal computer. (This might seem silly to some people since I work at home, and the two computers literally live about six feet away from one another most of the time, but I can’t overstate how much this helps my sanity.)

Recently, the problem with moving files around has been exacerbated because my iMac is stuck running 10.6, and I need 10.7 to test Slicy, so I finally decided to hack something together to make life simpler. (I’ve debated many a time upgrading the iMac to 10.7, but given how bad a performance hit my newer and better-equipped-in-the-RAM-department laptop took when upgrading, there’s no way I would be able to squeeze acceptable performance from the aging iMac.)

After looking at various options, I ended up creating a little workflow using Dropbox and Hazel, because both are tools that I already use. My goal was to create a way to move files to a different computer with a single action without needing the other computer to be awake or on the same network, and without using up my Dropbox storage quota on storing temporary files.

A disclaimer: the following workflow requires two to three bits of software, all of which will cost you if you aren’t already using them: 1) Hazel ($25 at the time of this writing), 2) a Dropbox account with sufficient empty space to move arbitrarily-sized files around (free if you manage to get a ton of referrals, otherwise $100 a year), and 3) optionally FastScripts ($15 at the time of this writing) or some other way to quickly execute an AppleScript. Oh, and a Mac. You could do the same thing on Windows or Linux, but it wouldn’t be as magical without Hazel (unless you could find some Windows or Linux equivalent app).

Setting up

The first step was easy enough; in Dropbox I created one folder for my laptop and one for my iMac (“To Laptop” and “To Desktop”, respectively). Since I rarely access these folders directly, I hid them a ways down in the folder hierarchy in Dropbox to keep them out of the way.

The second step was to setup a Hazel workflow on each computer targeting that computer’s folder. Here’s the laptop’s version:

Hazel workflow

Basically, any time it finds a file in the “To Laptop” folder on Dropbox, it immediately moves it to the Desktop and colors it blue so that I’ll notice it more easily. (You can, of course, move the file anywhere you liked; the Desktop is just convenient for how I work.)

Third, I wanted to be able to send files between computers with a keystroke, so I hacked together a quick Applescript that would take the selected file(s) in the Finder and duplicate them to my target Dropbox folder:

-- CONFIGURE: Set this path to your target folder
set targetDropboxFolder to POSIX file "/Users/MYACCOUNT/Dropbox/Sync/To Laptop/"

tell application "Finder"
	set targetSelectedFiles to selection
	repeat with activeSelectedFile in targetSelectedFiles
		duplicate activeSelectedFile to targetDropboxFolder with replacing
	end repeat
end tell

To use this script, create a new script in AppleScript Editor (/Applications/Utilities/AppleScript, paste in the code above, adjust the path to your target Dropbox folder, and save it either in ~/Library/Scripts/ or one of its subfolders.

Personally, I use FastScripts to associate a keyboard shortcut with the script, but there are innumerable other ways to quickly access AppleScripts. Alternatively, you could just create an alias to your “To Other Computer” folder, stick it on the Desktop or somewhere else easy to get to, and then drag and drop things you wanted to move across (just make sure to hold down the option key when you do, or the file will be moved to the other computer rather than copied).

Wishing for an easier way

In a perfect world, I would write an app to take care of this stuff for me instead of relying on a bunch of third-party apps and services, but I don’t really have time to devote to the concept. Ideally, I would prefer not to need to always route through the cloud; if I am transferring a file, and the target device is on the same local network, the file should just be moved across using the local network. For lack of a more elegant solution, though, this workflow functions well, was quick to setup, and has been making me happy. Hopefully it will help a few other folks, too, or at least sparks some ideas for easier transferring of files between computers.

Buying Adobe Photoshop CS6 (or not)

Evidently a guy named Pat Dryburgh had some trouble buying Photoshop. His trial ran out, and when he purchased their Creative Cloud option to continue working, he discovered that his license number wouldn’t arrive for 24-48 hours.

All I have to say is, 24 to 48 hours? That’s nothing.

I preordered Photoshop CS6 the day it came out. Like Dryburgh, I’ve been using CS4 for quite some time; I originally purchased the CS3 web development suite while still in college, faithfully upgraded it to CS4, and decided I’d put up with enough of Adobe’s bullshit when I discovered that you cannot downgrade from a suite to a single product (of course, they don’t advertise this fact, so I discovered it by purchasing Photoshop CS5).

A little over a year later, and I’d forgotten my solemn vow because Photoshop CS6 looked like such a big improvement over CS4. So when CS6 preorders opened, I preordered it that day. Of course, preordering it took about 20 minutes, because Adobe is apparently incapable of supporting Safari, which I only discovered through trial and error. Probably because they rely on their own technologies to build out their web services.

In any case, I finally got my preorder in. I ordered a full boxed copy of Photoshop (I absolutely don’t trust Adobe to keep a downloadable copy available if I need to skip upgrades, so I’ve always bought boxed copies), since I have no use for the vast majority of the rest of the web suite and the difference in cost was only a hundred bucks or so. The Adobe store said they’d be filling the order in 7-10 days, which I figured would be 7-10 days after Photoshop was released on May 7th.

On May 14, my preorder had still failed to ship. I knew preorders were going out, because several of the people I followed on Twitter had received their copies. I tweeted my frustration:

@ianbeck: I wonder if Adobe will ever actually ship my Photoshop CS6 pre-order.

The next day, I received a reply from Jeffrey Tranberry, who is apparently “Chief Customer Advocate” at Adobe:

@jtranber: @ianbeck @thinkofdave Send me an order # so I can check on it. You can use the trial version to start using immediately.

I received the tweet about 20 minutes later, replied with my order number, and within minutes was told that Tranberry was “checking” what was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised; I’m generally not a fan of companies lurking about on Twitter trying to address customer complaints they find in searches. It’s one thing if I mention a company account; by all means, reach out to me then. It’s a bit weird when they jump into a conversation I haven’t invited them to, though. It’d be like if I were sitting at a deli, complaining about Obama with my friends and one of Obama’s PR people called me. “Hey, we were monitoring your conversation as part of our ongoing fight to maintain national security, and wanted to address some of your criticisms of the current administration.” Don’t do that. It’s creepy and invasive.

But I digress. In this particular instance, it appeared that Adobe was finally going to do right by me.

I’d forgotten that “Adobe Customer Care” is a contradiction in terms.

By May 18th, eleven days after CS6 was released, I figured enough was enough and contacted Adobe’s chat support to try and figure out what the heck was going wrong. Tranberry had clearly taken no action, and I felt justified complaining more directly now that were were clearly outside of their estimated shipping window.

It was, of course, a complete waste of time. Although the chat personnel did manage to extract my email address from me, presumably so that they could sell it to spammers. They certainly didn’t use it to contact me or provide me a way into any sort of ticket system.

The most information I could get out of the chat personnel was that there was a “preorder lock” on my order (whatever that means), and they said they had escalated it and the problem would be resolved without requiring further action from me within 2-3 days. I had to ask for the timeframe three times before they’d say that much, though, which made me a bit suspicious.

But whatever. I frankly don’t use Photoshop anywhere near as regularly as I used to (and mostly then for personal websites), so I figured I could wait.

I waited until May 25th, giving Adobe a full week to do anything at all. At that point, I decided enough was enough, and it was time to sit on hold for a while in order to talk to an actual person.

Ha. I would be so lucky.

When it comes to orders, Adobe offers three contact options: 1) phone support, 2) the online chat that I had discovered for myself was more of a waste of time than sitting on hold, and 3) a link to their knowledge base which is, in point of fact, not a method of contact. I called the 800 number.

After navigating through their phone tree, I was delighted to discover I did not need to sit on hold for a long period of time. Instead, very soon after being transferred, I heard a click like someone had picked up, a very faint voice saying who-knows-what, and then a sudden and repetitive beeping.

beep beep beepbeep beep beep beep

It just kept going and going. It sounded like I’d tuned onto a national news station on TV when they were testing their emergency broadcast system. I was still connected (the conversation timer on my iPhone continued to plunk away), but clearly was going to get nothing resolved talking to an electronics system suffering a panic attack.

I hung up and tried again. This time, I again got to a person very quickly after navigating the phone tree. He asked my name and order number, and in the middle of reading the order number to him there was a beep and I lost the connection. Checked my phone, connection to Verizon was fine. Tried a third time, and it once again cut me off as the person on the other end picked up (but this time without the repeating beeps).

At this point I’ve been building up a bit of Twitter rage:

@ianbeck: Tried to call Adobe Support about my *still* MIA preorder of Photoshop CS6, and got nothing but constant beeping. Might just cancel order.

@ianbeck: Oh lovely. “If you placed a preorder and the product has not shipped, you can cancel by calling Adobe Customer Service.” ‘Cuz that works.

@ianbeck: @Adobe_Care Is your call center is experiencing technical difficulties? I can’t get a call to stay connected.

@ianbeck: And there’s the third consecutive time I’ve gone through Adobe’s phone tree only to have their end drop the call. Total waste of my time.

@ianbeck: Seriously considering calling my bank to see if they can block the transaction if Adobe ever tries to charge me, and call it good.

Well, what a surprise. My old friend Jeffrey Tranberry pipes up:

@jtranber: @ianbeck @Adobe_Care sorry you’re having trouble. Do you have a case or order # I can help with?

Oh, Jeffrey. I certainly do. I sent it to you a week ago.

@ianbeck: @jtranber My order number is AD005051095. But I told you that last week, to no effect. Hope this time is the charm.

Adobe cares about exactly one thing, and it isn’t me. It is my credit card number. I forgot this fact because CS6 looked like it provided a lot of shiny new features that would be legitimately useful to me, but thanks to their customer-hostile policies and general incompetency I have thankfully remembered it prior to being charged.

I’m reaffirming my pact with myself not to buy software from Adobe, and now that one of their “customer care” people have finally contacted me via email I’ve asked them to cancel my preorder. I don’t feel cared for. Hell, Adobe wasn’t even capable of facilitating my original purchase.

Good-bye (again) Adobe. I hope when CS7 rolls around that I remember to read my own blog before I waste more of my time and energy on you.

A shout-out to the people on the ground

Okay, whew! Rant done. I’d like to take a moment, now that I’ve finished raging, to point out that I am not angry at people like Jeffrey Tranberry and the other customer support people I’ve interacted with at Adobe.

Or perhaps I should rephrase: they are the focus of my anger, because they’re the sole human points of contact I’ve been able to gain. But I’m not angry at them personally. I’m angry at an institutional system that cares so little for its customers that it provides its support personnel with inadequate tools (and likely very limited personal reach when it comes to addressing the varied needs of the people contacting them). One that as a matter of course releases only one to two minor bugfixes in their year-plus product cycles and planned not to patch known security vulnerabilities in CS5.5 after releasing CS6 until internet rage forced their hand.

Adobe needs to rethink its policies and put some effort into improving their purchase and support infrastructure, but I’m pessimistic. Sadly, despite their user-hostile policies they appear to still be making a fair amount of cash simply because when it comes to high-end graphic design software they’re the only game in town.

I can only hope that people like Pat Dryburgh and myself exiting that zero-sum game will start to put a crimp in the one thing they do care about: their bottom line.


Just a quick update about how this little fiasco ended: after emailing Adobe to ask for them to cancel my order outright, I got a receipt thanking me for my order. Sure enough, I’d been credited and the product had finally shipped. Fortunately, the customer support person I had finally been able to get in contact with was able to get me a quick refund once the product arrived (since they needed the serial number to process it), and they ended up sending me a complimentary copy of Photoshop to try and make up for the pain.

Frankly, I’m not sure if it does, but at least I get to use some of the fun stuff in CS6 now without having to financially support Adobe. I sincerely hope that they take a better look at their customer support system, because although I’m grateful for the gratis copy of Photoshop, I’m still unsure if I’ll ever upgrade it again after the stupidity I had to wade through in order to get into contact with someone who could actually help me.

Affiliate Me Not

A while back, I experimented with using Amazon affiliate links on whenever I wrote up a short review of a product. I figured as long as I was linking to products anyway, I may as well get a kickback if people bought them through Amazon.

However, over time I realized when I visited other sites that did similar things that I really hated it, and I stopped publishing Amazon affiliate links. Clearly marked affiliate links are one thing; I have no problem with sites that review a product in depth and at the end say something like, “Hey, if you buy this product through this link I’ll get a little kickback.” It’s a great way to thank blog authors for taking the time to write an article that introduced you to a product you expect to love.

But all too many sites will route you to Amazon affiliate links without any sort of warning, and that just feels incredibly skeezy to me. For me, discovering that I’ve clicked an Amazon affiliate link without prior warning throws into question the veracity of the site where I found it. Is this product actually something I will enjoy, or were they just looking to make a quick buck?

The problem is particularly acute on Twitter and elsewhere where shortened URLs have thrived. Often, it isn’t possible to discover if a link is an Amazon affiliate link until you’ve clicked through it.

Personally, I like having control over whether or not I am going to give someone a kickback through an Amazon affiliate link, so to that end I created Affiliate Me Not: a new Safari extension that does just that (note: requires Safari 5.1).

If you install Affiliate Me Not, when you try to visit an Amazon page with an affiliate tag in the URL, you will see something like this before the page even tries to load:

Affiliate Me Not screenshot

This way, you get to decide if you want to use the affiliate link or not, and if you check the “do this by default” checkbox you won’t have to see the interim screen the next time you click on a link with that particular affiliate tag. You can additionally control which tags are whitelisted or blacklisted in the Safari Preferences (using a comma-delimited strings of tags).

You can download Affiliate Me Not, or view the source code if that’s your sort of thing. Enjoy!