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LA Earthquake: Twitter Reports First – Again. Fake Video Caught.

Google thinks I am an earthquake expert simply because I pointed out Twitter was the first to report the recent earthquakes in Japan and China.

Today the same happened: Twitter was on fire with user reports of the Los Angeles earthquake 9 minutes before the first AP wire came out.

It’s an undeniable trend – but is it important?

I received some flak in comments to the previous two posts, for neglecting to mention that I was comparing apples to oranges.  New agencies have the responsibility to verify information and it takes time. Reliability over Speed.   Fair enough.  ReadWriteWeb asked the question: Did Twitter Really ‘Outshine’ the Mainstream Press?

The only thing Twitter does better than the traditional news is speed. It doesn’t do depth, it doesn’t do fact-checking, it doesn’t do real reporting. It does breaking news, and it does that very well — in many cases these days better than the mainstream press (in terms of how fast it breaks news).

Very well said, and I think we need both: speed and depth.   Ironically, MG Siegler’s post @ VentureBeat describing twitter’s power in such situations provided an example for the opposite by including what appeared to be the very first video footage of the LA quake.

I watched it without sound first, but was immediately suspicious:

I wonder what this video shows. It’s NOT the building shaking. The movement is too fast, and it’s inside the room, relative to the window frames  we see. It looks more like a camera quickly moved left and right.
If this was an indication of how the building moved, we’d see a lot less movement behind the window (inside) and a lot more outside.

It did not take long to get confirmation on Venturebeat:

Update 2: The 12seconds vid was fake, posted after the fact, a co-founder of 12seconds confirmed.

So there you have it.  People do take advantage of the relative naivete of social media and don’t hesitate to post fake news to gain 5 minutes of fame.   But that doesn’t undermine the importance of speed, which in some cases can provide early alerts and potentially save lives.  We need both.

Related posts: CNET News.com, Twitter Blog, Valleywag, Brij’s One More Idea , RexBlog.com, LA Times blog, Live Digitally.

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Does UPS Have Deep Systematic Problems?

(Updated… a lot)
Recently I’ve seen signs that may suggest the occasional UPS glitches are not-so-occasional, and there may be deeper systematic problems with our favorite delivery service.   The brown truck driver is as friendly as he ever was – it’s the systems that appear to s***w customers left and right.

First there was the unreasonable delay within California, then the case of the “lost” packages, a systems failure compounded by rude customer service:

  • Four out of five packages I dropped off at the same UPS store disappeared – i.e. they were never entered in UPS’s tracking system.
  • Since the system is always right, customer service accused me of never having shipped them in the first place, then of not applying the labels properly.
  • When the recipient, Shoebuy.com, a major UPS customer initiated a trace, the previously non-existent packages miraculously all showed up at the destination UPS center, without any indication how they got there.

The above example may not be rare, as demonstrated by this commenter:

Texas-to-Texas package disappeared (was never scanned in) and 30 hours later showed up in Alabama.  UPS has no clue how it got there.

Finally, my third shipping experience within a month:  I’m expecting a Sony Reader sent from NY to CA.  It was originally due to arrive on 7/28 but now I see it’d rescheduled for 7/29.  A one-day delay is not the end of the world, until you look at the details:

-The package arrived at Vernon, CA Thursday, 7/24.

-Next arrival scan is in Los Angeles, Friday 7/25 evening. (Great progress!)

Now, I don’t know why it sat a full day virtually in the same place, but even with this delay, if it’s in Los Angeles on Friday, why on Earth can I not receive it on Monday in the San Francisco Bay Area?   Why the Tuesday delivery?  That’s 5 days within California!

Admittedly my statistical sample is rather small, but 3 failures out of 3 deliveries within a months suggests these may not have been accidents, UPS may just have more serious logistic / system problems than they care to admit.

Update: Rob’s story below is so shocking, anything I’ve experienced pails in comparison.  You just HAVE to read it in full.

Update #2: On second thought, it’s a story worth bringing it up to here in full:

I’ve got one for you….

My sister-in-law has MS and receives very expensive injections delivered once a month, packed in dry ice because it has to stay refrigerated.

My sister-in-law lives with her mother. Well, her mother had decided to cancel her Dish Network subscription. Dish told her to put all of the hardware in a box and they would pay to ship it back to them via UPS. Only problem was, there was no hardware to return since she had already done that through the retail store. Dish claims that they notified UPS to cancel the pick-up…given the rest of this debacle, I’m inclined to agree with them.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law gets her medication delivered via FedEx (because there’s no way UPS could get it there in time before the ice pack failed). FedEx leaves the package containing the medication on the front porch.

Now, UPS shows up a little bit later and TAKES THE WRONG PACKAGE. Apparently, the instruction to cancel the pickup never made it to the driver. The package they took was clearly in a FedEx box, with FedEx shipping labels, etc. There were no UPS shipping labels anywhere. UPS essentially stole her medications right off of their porch.

You would think, given their commercials about “delivery intercept”…you know, “there’s a problem with the gizmos” that it would be a simple matter to stop the package and turn it around….NOPE. Their advice was to call FedEx (what the *&!@^ does FedEx have to do with it and to call the pharmacy to get a replacement). They said that it was en route to Dish Network and they couldn’t stop it, but that Dish could send it back (which Dish would have to pay for…how is it Dish’s problem?). The problem, which was explained to them, is that by the time all that happens, the medications will have reached ambient temperatures and will be useless and that my sister’s insurance wont pay for the $1500 meds twice in one month.

They eventually rectified the situation by reimbursing my sister the money, but only after she paid out of pocket to get the replacements and after spending countless hours on the phone with UPS customer service.

What can Brown do for you? I don’t know, but I know what I’d like to do to brown….

Update (7/29): Today is the rescheduled delivery date.  The latest scan info shows yesterday my package was in Sacramento, 90 miles NE of me (remember, it was coming from LA, South!).  I smell another re-schedule :-(

Update (7/29 evening): UPS just confirmed they really have no clue where the package is and recommended I contact the sender, as only they can initiate a trace.  Deja vu :-(

Update (7/30): The sender initiated a trace and the expected delivery date field completely disappeared.  A few hours later new scan information showed up:  Out for delivery.   This means I should get it today. Hooray!  Except… the package is in Vancouver, WA, and I am in California.   If UPS keeps on randomly driving around the West Coast, they might just accidentally find me one day :-(

Update (7/30):  I called UPS with my concern that it cannot possibly be “out for delivery” from Vancouver, WA.  They confirmed I should ignore the status, the package indeed will find my way to CA today.  Yeah, right.   A few hours later someone woke up.  Now delivery is rescheduled for the third time, adding two more days, with this status message:

VANCOUVER,
WA,  US
07/30/2008 10:43 A.M. INCORRECT ROUTING AT UPS FACILITY / THE PACKAGE WAS MISSORTED AT THE HUB. IT HAS BEEN REROUTED TO THE CORRECT DESTINATION SITE
07/30/2008 7:25 A.M. OUT FOR DELIVERY

This is beyond pathetic…

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Twitter May Have Found Cure to Outages

It’s really simple: with less users Twitter won’t go down that often, and that’s exactly what’s happening: users complain left and right about losing followers:

Creative solution… :-(

Update: OK, there’s an explanation for all this… but hey, if they get all followers back, there goes the stability gain… LOL:

We’re still in the process of recovering from the missing follower/following problem that occurred earlier today. Over the next several hours, you may see inaccurate counts or timeline inconsistencies as the correct data is propagated to all parts of the system.

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Earthquakes, Google Juice and How Content Beats AdWords

I often find out what’s happening in the world just be looking at the keyword activity in my blog referral log.  Like today, when I received readers looking for news on the earthquake in Japan.  This is actually sad, I feel bad for people looking for real info and getting “hijacked” – I am clearly not an earthquake expert, not even an authority on the subject.  All I did was point out how Twitter had been the first to report on several quakes in China and Japan, long before the major news-wires, and miraculously (and unfortunately) my post became the #1 hit for the Japan earthquake search on Google for a while, even preceding Japan’s Meteorogical Agency, which should be the ultimate source for such information.

This isn’t anything new, I’ve seen some of my posts get into top Google positions before – but it’s more understandable when I write about a more obscure subject, or a startup nobody else covers… like Brainkeeper,  where my post was #1 for months, preceding the company’s own site.   Being #2 for the fairly generic search on saas very small business is a bit more surprising, and #1 for Microsoft Outlook Sluggish is certainly rather unexpected.   Yahoo, for a change, lists my fairly old post as #1 for the very generic search term Startup Executives, and how on Earth did I get to dominate the igoogle for google apps search? smile_embaressed

Recently I’ve noticed it almost doesn’t matter what I write about, I can get a premium position for certain relevant keywords. As much as I am enjoying it (hey, who doesn’t like Google Juice), there’s something fundamentally wrong with this system.  I think blogs are somewhat overrated, and perhaps individual posts should be weighted on their own merits, not the Google Juice of the main blog itself.

But there’s another conclusion we should draw here. Content is really king, to the extent that it can compete with advertising. Businesses should take notice: you can pay for AdWords, or get to the top by developing your own content – and organic hits are worth more than paid ads. smile_shades

There’s another side of the coin here: if you don’t develop your own content, someone else will – and you may not be happy with the results.   I’m not sure UPS enjoys seeing my post immediately under their site for the google search  UPS Tracking

So once again: the old adage “Content is King” has got a new meaning.  I’ve been contemplating this for a while, and am getting ready to announce a new initiative in the next few weeks.

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The TechCrunch Fablet

Fablet: FireFox + Tablet.  The $200 device Mike Arrington & Co wants to build:

We Want A Dead Simple Web Tablet For $200. Help Us Build It.

I can’t figure out if this is real or a joke.. but we’re far from April Fool’s Day.smile_angel

I have a strong Deja Vu feeling though.   Last year I shared a Bloggers’ table with Ismael Ghalimi at a conference and watched him feverishly work away on the Redux Model 1.  He showed me some of the documentation, in a matter of a few hours exchanged specs then placed an order with component suppliers – the guy was totally obsessed.  As skeptical as I had been before, I started to wonder if he might just be able to pull it off – his energy level was just radiating…

But in the end, all the effort (and quite some money Ismael spent along the way) came down to nothing (at least for now): The Office 2.0 Conference gadget will be an HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.

That said, the Redux Model 1 was one guy’s heroic effort, while this project will largely be crowdsourced.  Still, the hardware business is tough … I have one advice to Mike: talk to Ismael.

Update:  It is not a joke:

The reason why we announced today is because we have the manufacturing/prototype etc. setup now, along with design (which we will also post for feedback etc.)

Update (7/23): Two days later, here’s the commentary from Ismael: Where is the Redux Model 1?

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CherryPal: Green Cloud-Computer (Almost)

CherryPal™ is trying to change the world one computer at a time. We’ve created the most affordable, easiest to use and greenest desktop computer available.

That’s the statement from the company’s website. I buy the the greenest argument, not so sure about the others.  These are the specs of the new $249 tiny PC announced today:

  • Freescale’s MPC5121e mobileGT processor, 800 MIPS (400 MHz) of processing
  • 256 MB of DDR2 DRAM
  • 4GB NAND Flash-based solid state drive
  • WiFi 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • One 10/100 Ethernet with RJ-45 jack
  • One VGA DB-15 display out jack
  • Headphone level stereo audio out 3.5mm jack
  • 9vDC 2.5mm 10 watt AC-DC adapter power supply
  • Weighs 10 ounces
  • 1.3” high, 5.8” x 4.2” wide

It is indeed very small, the size of an average paperback, and the power consumption is an amazing 2W only.  That is, until you start using it – presumably you’d like to see what you’re doing and will need to attach a monitor.  Which brings us to the issue of price. It’s really hard to find an LCD display for $150 or less, even if you go down to the 15″ range – add a keyboard and mouse, and you’re likely in the $450 range, which puts the Cherry in the range of several low end desktops, even sub-notebooks.   Of course none will be as green and few as silent as the CherryPal.

CherryPal is positioned as a Cloud-PC, and it comes with 50G of free online storage, dubbed the CherryPal Cloud. Does this sound like a familiar combo?  Zonbu, the $99 Green PC that Cost You $249 is quite comparable, although they charge a subscription fee, while the Cherry-Cloud is free. How can they afford it?   The company says they will play ads when you start the applications.

Now, let’s go back to why I think it’s *almost* a Cloud Computer: it still has heavyweight desktop software. OpenOffice is a popular MS Office alternative, and is free, but is known as a resource hog. It’s not going to be fun on a 256MB computer.  If the Cheery Pal is a Cloud PC, why not go all the way: forget desktop software, just bring up the browser and make Zoho or Google Apps the homepage.

Update: CherryPal is alive, on Twitter and lives on Jelly Bellies :-)

Update# 2: TechCrunch wants to build a $200 Web Tablet. Is this real or a joke? :-)

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MyGallons.com Update – Is it Over?

Just ten days ago I reported on MyGallons.com, a service that would allow consumers to hedge against future gas price increases.  Several things, including the business model and the founder’s background just “didn’t click”, so I was suspicious:

I Smell Something, and it Ain’t Gasoline

The story may just be coming to an end. Several Floria papers, including the Miami Herald, which gave an initial glowing review now report that MyGallons.com is refunding their 6 thousand customers’ money.

But is this really the end of the story?  The company’s website (nofollow) has been revamped.  During the controversy they provided news updates on the frontpage, trying to explain why they did not have a payment processor..etc.  Now all that’s gone,  previous news items have been deleted, and – surprise! (not really) – the signup link is still active.

I hope nobody gets fooled into signing up…

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Brick-and-Mortar Stores Need Uninformed Customers

$49.99

$5.36

I moved my printer and need a longer USB cable.  Options:

- Drive to Best Buy, hoping they have the 15ft cable in store.  Cost: $49.99 + gas + an hour of my time.

- Order on eBay. Cost: $5.36, shipping included + 5 minutes research and order.

Oh, yes, I am not getting the gold-plated version.  Who needs it anyway?

Brick-and-mortar stores really need uniformed customers to survive.

Update: To Save Gas, Shoppers Stay Home and Click – reports The New York Times.

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AT&Tease

Again

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Oops…Gmail Has a Penalty Button

Gears-enabling Gmail will be great, for those “unconnected” moments (hours), and I certainly hope they will avoid dumb mistakes that made Google Reader almost useless offline.

But for now, all I wish is a little more reliabilty.  Formerly rock-solid Gmail has been ill a lot lately.  The “Oops…the system encountered a problem (#500) – Retrying in 1:30” error message has became a daily occurance… in fact several times a day.

A minute and half is not that much – except that it’s not only waiting for the requested operation, it freezes up Gmail entirely.  So if you’re impatient, you’ll inevitable click the “Retry now” button. After all, that’s whay it’s there, isn’t it?

Wrong!  You’ve just found Gmail’s penalty button!  Every time you click it, the wait counter increases by a minute.

Still want to work, rather than go for coffee?  The only solution is to completely close the browser tab – sometimes the entire browser – then log back into Gmail again.

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