Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Almond+ Router/Smarthome Hub Plus CT100 Thermostat = Remote Control Heat

A few years have gone by since I wrote about the original Almond touchscreen wi-fi router and range extender and my consulting relationship with Ram Malasani, the founder of the company that makes it.

Since then Ram initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund a successor product that he dubbed Almond+.  I joined 7,606 backers who pledged $855,625 to fund the campaign and ponied up $95 for an early production unit, which combines an advanced wi-fi feature set with built-in Z-Wave and ZigBee smarthome capabilities.  (Ram also asked me to produce a user guide for Almond+, but despite managing to knock out basic set-up instructions I found I was unsuited to the hectic pace of documentation writing.)

During my brief stint writing Almond+ documentation Ram supplied me with a couple of other Almond+ test units, both of which have performed flawlessly, plus a few low-end smarthome gizmos (e.g., power plugs and motion detectors) and, eventually, a 2Gig CT100 Z-Wave thermostat.

The CT100 got my attention.  My wife and I have a cottage in upstate New York, where winter temperatures routinely drop into the single digits.  Being able to monitor the cottage’s thermostat remotely and turn it up before arriving sounded pretty sweet.

Last month I finally had the chance to remove the old thermostat upstate and replace it with the CT100.  And because I’d already made a video illustrating how easy it is to set up the original Almond as a range extender, I thought it would be useful to make another illustrating how easy it is to install the CT100 and pair it with Almond+.  Have a look:

Truth in advertising prompts me to admit that as easy as I made this installation appear, there’s an important power issue about the CT100 that, for the sake of brevity, I left out of my video.

How Long Will the CT100 Work on Batteries?

As my installation makes plain, the Honeywell thermostat I removed, like an old-fashioned landline telephone, doesn’t need an external power source to function.  The CT100, on the other hand, needs at least four AA batteries.  Long before installing the CT100 I removed the cover from the Honeywell unit and, with a little online research, determined that neither of the two wires it uses supplies current.  Once I’d satisfied myself that the CT100 would work on battery power alone I began to wonder: just how long would it work?

In principle I wasn’t crazy about using a thermostat whose batteries had to be changed periodically, and frankly I was worried about the batteries running low in the dead of winter when the cold and snow make upstate visits a hassle.  Then there was the prospect of a power outage.  In the absence of power the original Honeywell thermostat is also useless, but I wasn’t sure if the CT100 and Almond+ would resume chatting to each other—and to me via the Internet—once the power came back on.

Especially since, long before installing the CT100,  I’d done a test pairing with Almond+ and noticed that after a few days Almond+ seemed to lose touch with the thermostat.  That, at least, was the conclusion I reached when I used the free iOS app that Securifi provides for monitoring and controlling connected smarthome devices.

While at the cottage upstate I’d try turning up the heat on the working Honeywell thermostat, wait for the temperature to rise a few degrees, and then, once the CT100’s internal thermometer also reflected the change, see if its new temperature readout successfully reached the app on my iPhone.

Unfortunately, it often didn’t.

Rebooting Almond+ solved the problem, but only temporarily.  In a matter of days it would once again lose touch with the CT100.

When I told Ram about the problem he suggested I try using a beta version of the Almond+ firmware—one that allows a user to set automated rules, including one to tell Almond+ to reboot at regular intervals.  (BTW: This beta version has since been released.)  Sure enough, after telling the firmware to reboot Almond+ every morning at 5 AM I found it reliably communicating with the CT100.

But then, I was still stuck with a thermostat that relies on battery power to function.

The Key to Running Thermostats on Household Current: The “C” Wire

As I was to learn, because the thermostat wiring in our cottage is missing the mysterious “C” or Common wire, which supplies current, I had no choice.  (The original Honeywell thermostat was so simple it didn’t need external power.)

And yet, when I took a closer look at the thermostat wiring coming out of the wall I discovered there weren’t two wires sheathed in the bundle, there were three.  One had been tied off because it wasn’t needed.

I took a look at the controller attached to the furnace and saw that, sure enough, the third wire in the bundle was tied off at the other end, too (see the red arrow):

Would it be possible to replace this controller with one that supplies current?

Grayfurnaceman to the Rescue!

What I needed was a furnace nerd.  A little searching on YouTube revealed a channel called Grayfurnaceman and a related website called Grayfurnaceman.com.  The website homepage graciously offers a contact form “for comments, questions and help with troubleshoot[ing].  Feel free to ask and I will try to help.”

So I asked, and Grayfurnaceman helped:
There is a control that includes a 24 volt transformer that can power the thermostat.  Here is the Honeywell part #:  R8184M1051/U.  It has pretty much the same high voltage wiring as your control.  Hope this helps.
It does.  Thanks, Grayfurnaceman!

Lately Honeywell part #: R8184M1051/U has been on my mind. Since I installed the CT100 my Almond iPhone app has been reporting a declining % battery charge in those fresh AA batteries I installed.  Here’s a screencap I did today:

That 83% charge is worrying.  It’s been only 5 weeks since I installed the CT100.  If its batteries lose 17% of their power every 5 weeks they clearly won’t last more than 6 months!

Aside #1: When I first installed the batteries in the CT100 it reported their charge as 97%, so I suppose it’s arguable they’ve lost only 14% of their power over the first 5 weeks.

Aside #2: For a while I had my iPhone’s Almond app set to notify me anytime the CT100 recorded a temperature change.  So every few hours I was getting push notifications about swings of a single degree as the thermostat kept turning the furnace on and off to keep the house at the steady 60 degrees Fahrenheit I’d selected.  Suspecting these notifications were adding to the drain on the batteries, I eventually turned them off.  So it’s possible that alarming 17% loss is attributable largely to my profligacy with push notifications.

Almond+ Now Supports Nest, Too

And this just in: yesterday’s edition of The Verge reports that Almond+ now supports the Rolls Royce of thermostats, the Nest, as well as such other Nest products as the Nest Protect smoke detector and Nest Cam security camera.

A little Googling tells me the Nest thermostat currently goes for about 3 times the price of the CT100—and the Nest definitely requires an external power source, so running it on batteries isn’t an option.

A brief look at the Nest’s installation guide also suggests that the CT100’s installation instructions, though text heavy, are less ambiguous and more comprehensible.

Of course, as my video makes clear our furnace is pretty basic—so my installation was straightforward.  And the Nest supposedly learns about your heating preferences and will act on its own without requiring your intervention.  Which could be cool.

For the moment, though, I’m pretty happy with the CT100.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Turn on YouTube’s Speech-to-Text Closed Captions ... They’re Hilarious!

The other day I discovered that YouTube has introduced automated, possibly on-the-fly closed captioning for a lot of its videos.

To see if the video you’re watching has this option, simply click on the Settings gear icon in the lower righthand corner of the video.  If you see the Subtitles/CC option, select English (auto-generated) ...

... and you’re ready for instant autohilarity. (Aside: when you click English (auto-generated) you'll also find you can select a number of foreign languages — from Afrikaans to Zulu — into which Google will translate its English captions.)

I made the discovery while watching this video posted by Sean Hodgins:

I don’t mean to make fun of Sean — it’s obviously not his fault YouTube has attached some nutty closed captions to his video.  But unfortunately for the guy Google’s speech-to-text algorithms seem to have a tough time figuring out what the hell he’s saying.

“Murni” Like Swelling (Don’t You?)

In fact, Sean has just sat down and commented, “Man, it’s hot already,” quickly adding: “I’m already, like, sweating,” when YouTube swings into action, dutifully transcribing Sean’s words as ...

Fun fact to know and tell: according to Google Translate, murni is the Indonesian word for pure.
A bit later Sean explains how much easier it is to edit Vine videos than it used to be, before external content could be spliced in.  “Now everyone just edits them on their computer,” he points out, “which is super easy, and then puts them on Vine.”  But YouTube, which back at 0:13 in the video has already turned “Vine” into “buying” and the words “the Vine app” into “%uh by a nap,” now comes up with an even more exotic interpretation  ...

Sean Gets His “Butterworth”

In other spots YouTube manages to botch only a single word — but even then its version turns out to be magnificently inept.  After demonstrating how to build an Arduino-based controller for shooting Beme app videos without having to hold the phone against the body, as the Beme app typically requires, Sean concludes, “Yeah, see?  That’s how it works.  Super simple.”

OK, now it’s your turn.  Take a look at this intriguing transcription and see if you can guess what Sean is really saying:

That’s a toughy, isn’t it?  Indeed, out of context Sean’s real words may sound just as enigmatic as YouTube’s rendition: “This booster actually,” he says before arriving at this caption, “sucks power when it’s not doing anything, and this is just some button.”

Talk the Talk, Then “Do” the Walk

What’s more, because Nature  — and Google  — abhors a vacuum, YouTube even captions Sean’s words when he’s not talking at all.  Late in the video, with the music swelling and Sean marching outside to greet the day, YouTube’s closed caption nicely sums up his will and determination ...

Of course, my guess is that Google has deliberately introduced this “feature” in beta (or, if their dev team is being honest with themselves, in alpha). As they did with Google Maps in 2005, the Googleplexers figured they’d publish the tool early and gradually, inexorably work out the kinks.

Until that day arrives, though, turn it on, tune it in, and watch those priceless captions drop out.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hiding in Plain Sight: Super Panavision Cameras in John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix"

Note: this blog post contains what some may consider spoilers.

I saw John Frankenheimer's movie Grand Prix in a theater in Times Square not long after it was released for the holidays in 1966.  Call it January or February 1967.

Either way I was an impressionable preteen and Grand Prix was an intensely visual movie that shunned many of the lazy conventions of mid-60s moviemaking—most notably the use of rear projection (referred in the biz, I think, by its initials, RP) for scenes taking place in cars. Grand Prix is all about cars, after all; I admire Frankenheimer for deciding that RP had had its day and needed to be banished for any race car movie intended to look remotely realistic.

OK, so Turner Classic Movies owns the rights to Grand Prix and, because the movie managed to win Academy Awards for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Effects, TCM trots it out every year to show during its “31 Days of Oscar” run up to the Academy Awards ceremonies. Thanks to TiVo, the other day I snagged it and watched it for the first time in perhaps 40 years—maybe longer.

Grand Prix isn’t a great movie, and I’m not even sure it’s a good one. Its bland behind-the-scenes melodrama was probably creaky even in 1966, but that’s not why anyone would ever bother watching it, then or now. The races are the thing, and they’re captured with as much vigor, expertise, style, and motion as Hollywood could muster in the analog era.

What I hadn’t noticed when I was a kid and only noticed now, though, was Frankenheimer’s willingness to use—and flaunt—what must have been the latest in camera technology back in 1966: handheld Super Panavision cameras!

What do I mean by flaunt? Just this:

These frame grabs courtesy of my TiVo Premiere, my Panasonic Viera HDTV, and my Canon S110 digital camera.  Apologies for those annoying moire patterns.
The guy on the stretcher is Brian Bedford as race car driver Scott Stoddard; he’s just had a terrible accident at Monaco and is being rushed to a medical rescue boat. And the guy in the beige sweater following behind is carrying what I’m satisfied is a handheld Super Panavision camera.

In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s not only carrying it—he’s actually using it. Because after he and the rescue crew get across the road ...

... we cut to a lengthy handheld shot that’s surely taken from his camera:

If you’re old enough you can imagine Frankenheimer’s rationale for this kind of cheeky visual cheat.

In the 1960s footage shot with handheld 16mm movie cameras had become a staple of the evening news. And because by then there was a critical mass of movie and still cameras shooting all major public events and catastrophes (Grand Prix even devotes a few moments trying to work up the audience’s outrage about news photographers who swoop in to get graphic footage of gory race car accidents) most everyone recognized and even expected them.

That civilians couldn’t tell the difference between the lightweight 16mm movie cameras deployed by TV news crews and the hefty 65mm Super Panavision hardware Frankenheimer’s crews were using is something I'd guess the director was banking on.

Frankenheimer was happy to double down on this gimmick, too. When Yves Montand, playing race car driver Jean-Pierre Sarti, wins the next race and gets his wreath in the winner’s circle, we first get an eye-level shot of him—one that includes his illicit lover, Eva Marie Saint, excitedly clapping her white-gloved hands:

And in the next cut we can see the Super Panavision camera at left that got that eye-level shot—plus a second Super Panavision camera at the bottom of the frame (I actually didn’t notice that second camera until I took this photograph):

If you’ve got a DVR, stop it at this shot and, when you restart, keep your eye on the Super Panavision camera at left.  You’ll see the unmistakable rotation of the film sprockets in the camera magazine, demonstrating that this camera is indeed shooting.
Nearly as interesting as these inside-baseball visual cheats is Frankenheimer’s—or it may have been director of photography Lionel Lindon’s—preference for making these hand-held shots rock steady. They never call attention to themselves.

Indeed, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, before the Steadicam and Panaglide handheld camera stabilization systems were invented, it became common for directors to lend their films some instant cinéma vérité cred by inserting shaky handheld point-of-view and action-news-style shots. Frankenheimer exploits these handheld Super Panavision cameras elsewhere in the movie, especially when he needed to film scenes in cramped location interiors.  (Impressively, I don’t think any of Grand Prix’s interiors were shot in a studio.)  But unless you’re paying attention you simply don’t notice these shots were achieved without standard tripods.

Frankenheimer was willing to get rid of RP, and I thank him for that.  But when it came to handheld shooting, at least, his visual style remained adamantly old school.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adobe Creative Cloud: What You Worry?

Adobe Chief Marketing Officer Ann Lewnes (visual approximation)
Adobe Chief Marketing Officer Ann Lewnes is not a worrier.  And she doesn’t think you should be one, either.

Allow me to explain.

Adobe Get’s Hacked (and Maybe Into The Guinness Book of World Records)

Since I posted this story on October 17, 2013, it's gradually become clear that the fiasco that provoked it—a massive hack against software giant Adobe's web servers—was far, far greater than originally reported.  When Adobe Chief Security Office Brad Arkin confessed in a blog post on October 3 that attackers had compromised the names, encrypted credit or debit card numbers, expiration dates, and other customer-order information for some of its accounts it put the number at a mere 2.9 million.  Then, at the end of October it appeared that hackers had actually snagged 38 million accounts.  And now, in mid-November, the number has grown to 150 million and, since nature abhors a vacuum, web sites are sprouting up to allow you to enter your email address to see if you're one of the unlucky ones.

As Violet Blue reported on ZDNet on November 11, "As breaches go, you may very well see this one in the book of Guinness World Records next year, which would make it astonishing enough on its own."

And just as astonishing is this little tidbit from Mashable:
It was recently reported that the three most popular passwords among Adobe users are: "123456," "123456789," and "password" — a sign that users are picking easy-to-guess passwords.
But back to Adobe's Brad Arkin.  In announcing the breach he also stated that Adobe was resetting all relevant customer passwords and explained that “If your user ID and password were involved, you will receive an email notification from us with information on how to change your password.”

Sure enough, as a sometime Adobe user I have an Adobe ID.  (In fact, for reasons I can’t quite remember, I’ve got two.)  So a couple of days later I got the promised email:

(Aside: A couple of days seems like a long time for a company Adobe’s size—responding to a breach of 2.9 millions names—to alert me that attackers had illegally entered its network and possibly obtained my ID and password.  Perhaps I was deliberately placed at the tail end of the notifications because, thank God, I had no credit card information sitting on Adobe’s servers.  The last time I’d actually used my Adobe ID was to get some tech support for Adobe Digital Editions e-reader software—and luckily Digital Editions is a free download.)

What You Worry? Join the Adobe Creative Cloud!

So I was more than a little surprised when on October 15—less than a week and a half after Adobe had notified me to reset my password—I got an invitation from Adobe to join, explore, and create with its (recently revealed to be eminently hackable) Creative Cloud:

Yes, for only $49.99 per month—$599.88 per year—I, too, could download full versions of every Adobe app, get 20GB of cloud storage, create customized portfolios with a free Behance ProSite membership ... and spend my spare time wondering when MasterCard would call to ask if it really was me who just went on that outrageous shopping spree at Best Buy.

No thanks, Ms. Neu—I mean, Ms. Lewnes.  I’ll stand pat.

Oh, and Brad: I notice you haven't posted any updates to your original October 3 hacking alert on the Adobe website.  What, you worry?!?  Nah.

Postscript (12/12/13): Worried less than ever, Adobe continues to email those like me who have Adobe IDs but haven’t yet signed up for full-fledged Creative Cloud accounts.  Got another “Join. Explore. Create.” email today.  Seriously, Adobe: before you send out any more of these sunny promotions don’t you think you owe it to your prospects first to devote an email explaining all the industrial-strength security measures you’ve put in place to make sure a 150-million-account hack never happens again? After all, since you’ve decided to get out of the software-in-a-box business and get into the software-in-a-cloud business it’s sort of critical that your user base not be perpetually nervous about black hats hanging around jiggling your virtual doorknobs.

Monday, May 20, 2013

OK, Google: Maps, Map Maker, and All Those 6 Bond Streets

Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.
—Nick Bilton, “Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette”, Bits blog, New York Times, March 10, 2013
This post is dedicated to you, Nick.

In September 2012, when Apple rolled out the iPhone 5 and abandoned Google Maps for its disastrously not-ready-for-primetime homegrown map system, New York Times consumer tech columnist David Pogue blogged about “What Makes Google’s Maps So Good”.  In his post he revealed something I hadn’t known: Google Maps receives error reports “by the thousands” from human users via Google Map Maker.

Pogue described Map Maker as “a Web site that is live in 200 countries (and just started in the United States) that lets average citizens make corrections to Google’s maps as they find them.”  Excited to learn that Google Maps had the same kind of cool end user editability that Jimmy Wales had given Wikipedia, I headed right over to Google Map Maker to correct Maps’ misplaced address for the Tendai Buddhist Institute on Route 295 in East Chatham, New York.

Zen and the Art of Geolocation Maintenance

You see, the previous summer my wife and I were visited at our weekend house in East Chatham by a young Asian man on a motorcycle who was searching in vain for the Institute.  We were a bit stumped about why he’d roared up our driveway for directions, since our house, obscured by a vast stand of Norwegian furs, is completely invisible from the road.  But when I checked Google Maps on my LG Optimus V his reasoning was clear: Google had located the Buddhist retreat practically in our front yard.

In reality, though, it was (and is) a good half mile down the road.

Of course, when I used Map Maker to submit the correct address for the Tendai Buddhist Institute my expectations were low.  If Map Maker received error reports “by the thousands” from human users, how long would it take before mine was vetted, let alone accepted?  But within hours of submitting the change I received an email confirming its approval:

I was stunned.  True, it did take a few weeks for the correction to be pushed out to my—and everyone else’s—phone via a Google Maps update.  But it’s only natural for Google to bundle its Map Maker corrections and distribute them en masse at irregular intervals.

“Do You Know Where Bond Street Is?”

Then, months later, came another, far deeper Google Maps mystery.  That of 6 Bond Street, New York, NY.

It’s early evening on the last day of February and I’m walking my two dogs when a thirtysomething guy, his smartphone pulled out and Google Maps on display, asks me if I know where Bond Street is.  I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 20 years and in SoHo for nearly as long and Bond Street rings a bell for me, but I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t place it.

But hey: if thirtysomething guy has Google Maps on his phone, why can’t he place it?

It turns out he’s already visited the designated location, which is only about 50 yards from where we’re standing at the corner of Bleecker Street and Minetta Lane.  Google Maps insists it’s just uptown on Sixth Avenue.  I walk my dogs in this neighborhood all the time and I’m sure I’ve never seen a Bond Street around here.

Redundantly, I pull out my LG Optimus V and look at Google Maps myself.  Here’s what it showed me a day or two later when I took time to do a screen capture:

Google Maps’ default location for 6 Bond Street, New York, NY as displayed on my LG Optimus V. The red arrow shows where thirtysomething guy was standing when he asked me if I knew where Bond Street was.
My phone serves up the same nonexistent location his does.  I can see it isn’t right and tell him so.

This impoverished help prompts thirtysomething guy to thank me profusely, which only makes me more embarrassed that I’ve failed at what I regard as a New Yorker’s prime directive—to supply decent directions to tourists and other bewildered visitors to my neighborhood and environs.

Thirtysomething guy, however, is unruffled by Google’s misdirection and, waving his phone before me, fires up another app on his smartphone—“Have you seen this?” he asks me with a big grin—to ping a car service to pick him up.

He’s happy and I, the New Yorker who doesn’t know where Bond Street is—and, thanks to Google Maps, still doesn’t know where it is—find myself back on my dog walk, brooding about finding the real address and using Google Map Maker to fix it forever.

One Simple Address, Two Wrong Locations

Back at the apartment, I launch Google Maps on my desktop PC and search on “6 Bond St., New York, NY”.   It serves up the same nonexistent location thirtysomething guy and I got standing in front of American Apparel at Bleecker and Minetta:

Google Maps shows 6 Bond Street located in the middle of an apartment bloc on 6th Avenue.  Again, the red arrow shows where I ran into thirtysomething guy.  Google Maps' Did you mean: suggestion in the upper left nav—circled in red—makes clear Maps has an alternate address for 6 Bond Street in a different Zip code.
OK, Google: Did you mean: suggests you’ve got an alternate location for 6 Bond Street in Zip code 10013.  I click on the link to see where it is:

Google Maps’ Did you mean: alternate location for 6 Bond Street in Zip code 10013 puts it next to a Maserati of Manhattan dealership.  No actual Bond Street can be seen anywhere in the vicinity.
Good lord.  This one is farther downtown, below Canal Street in Tribeca, once again apparently on Sixth Avenue.  But as with the other location, there’s no thoroughfare marked Bond Street anywhere near the red A pushpin.  Google Maps displays two wrong locations for one simple address.

Doubting my sanity, I get a second opinion from the Amerigo Vespucci of browser map tools: MapQuest.   Where does it place 6 Bond St., New York, NY?

Sensibly, MapQuest displays 6 Bond Street on Bond Street.  (And without suggesting an alternate location.)  Once again, the red arrow shows where I ran into thirtysomething guy.  Turns out the real Bond Street was only about 10 blocks away from where we met—a 10-minute walk.
Thank God!  MapQuest displays a 6 Bond Street that’s actually on Bond Street.  Thirtysomething guy’s mystery address is a mere 10 blocks east of our fateful meeting spot—10 minutes on foot.  And mercifully, MapQuest doesn’t suggest alternate locations, either.  In the search for 6 Bond Street, MapQuest’s data is better than Google Maps’ data.

Time to head to Google Map Maker to fix this bizarre mess.

These Aren’t the Bond Streets You’re Looking For

Strangely, when I arrive at Google Map Maker I find that it displays 4 locations for 6 Bond Street—none of them the incorrect one near Minetta Lane that baffled thirtysomething guy and me.  However, it does show the Tribeca location next to Maserati of Manhattan.  So I opt to delete it first.

However, Google Map Maker wants a reason for the deletion and I find the choices a little confusing:

Am I deleting this 6 Bond Street because this Feature does not exist or because A duplicate of this feature exists?  Or are all these Bond Streets some kind of spam/abuse?

I go with A duplicate of this feature exists.  Later, after some equally befuddling correspondence with a member of The Google Mapmaker Team, this location is indeed deleted.

Unfortunately, that still leaves Google Map Maker showing a few 6 Bond Street locations that, unaccountably, don’t include the wrong one (just uptown along Sixth Avenue) that vexed thirtysomething guy and me:

After deleting 6 Bond Street next to Maserati of Manhattan  I see that Google Map Maker still brings up 3 locations—including the correct one—that Google Maps doesn’t bother showing me on my PC.  As before, the red arrow shows where I ran into thirtysomething guy.
Still, location A is clearly the correct one (with a proviso I’ll get to in a moment)—and yet it doesn’t seem to be even a Did you mean: option in Google Maps.  Then there’s location B, way over on the western edge of Manhattan, near the Hudson river—another place nowhere near a visible Bond Street.  But location C incenses me, because it’s situated in my own neighborhood, a mere 5 minute walk from my apartment, in a spot where I know there is no Bond Street.

It’s the location I decide to eradicate next:

Take a look at this Google Map Maker screen I captured in the midst of submitting this second correction.  First, there’s the preposterous location A pushpin for 6 Bond Street in the middle of a copse of trees that define the tiny Playground of the Americas (run by the NYC Parks Department) at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and West Houston Street.  Incredulous, I visit the location and take a picture myself:

Google Map Maker’s location C for 6 Bond Street, New York, NY turns out to be the Playground of the Americas on Sixth Avenue.  I visited the Playground on March 1, 2013 to take this snapshot, so the trees, of course, are leafless.
Then there are the culprits who apparently decided to contribute this particular 6 Bond Street to Map Maker: Google Automated Miscellaneous B… and Anonymous 4179.  (What were they thinking … assuming they’re actually “theys” and they actually “think”?)

After this deletion, however, I run into another difficulty.  While attempting to remove the next wrong location I get a pop-up dialog box telling me “This action will remove changes already in progress.  Do you want to continue?”  I’m not sure why Google Map Maker is warning me this way—is a Map Maker visitor permitted only one correction per session?  Does Map Maker not participate in Google’s one-account-logs-in-everywhere system?  Did I fail to log in properly because I’ve got more than one Gmail address?  I'm spooked and decide not to continue.

Dear Google Map Maker: About All Those 6 Bond Streets...

Later, I decide to write a lengthy feedback note to Google Map Maker laying out this dizzying multiplicity of 6 Bonds Streets.  I mention thirtysomething guy, the original bogus Google Map location for 6 Bond Street (which Google Map Maker doesn’t display!), the confusing pop-up dialog box warning me I'll lose changes already in progress—basically everything you’ve read so far.  I sum it up in a message I send March 6:
  • When searching for the address on my Android phone Google Maps displays an incorrect default location, with the push pin showing a point along Sixth Avenue just below Minetta Lane.  (I’ve walked to this location and studied it.  I can find no trace of a Bond St.)
  • It also shows the “Did you mean:” line at the top of the map, suggesting there is an alternate location for this address; however, in conducting this search repeatedly I’ve found that Google Maps seems to vary between showing 2 alternate locations for 6 Bond St. (both incorrect), and 3 alternate locations (one of which *is* correct).
  • Google Maps’ correct address for 6 Bond St., unlike all the others, actually depicts Bond St. on the map, but the Zip code attached to it is incorrect.  (It indicates that 6 Bond St. is in Zip code 10011, when in fact all of Bond St., which runs only a couple of crosstown blocks, is located within Zip code 10012.  See here: http://www.maptechnica.com/zip/10012.)
About that last bullet: Yes, even when Google Map Maker displayed the correct address for 6 Bond Street it still managed to apply the incorrect Zip code:

As the MapTechnica Zip code map I link to above makes clear:

All of Bond Street in New York City is located in Zip code 10012.

My Yeoman Efforts Pay Off

But today, thanks (I hope) to my yeoman behind-the-scenes efforts, searching on “6 Bond Street, New York, NY” brings up the correct address, in the correct Zip code, as the default:

Sure, you’ll notice there are still two other Did you mean: alternate locations—including a new one clear over in the East Village:

But I just discovered something wonderful in the lower righthand corner of the Google Maps screen: you can click through to Google Map Maker from any bogus location like this one:

Nice!  Think I'll head over there right now.

And Nick: the next time someone violates your sense of etiquette by asking for directions while holding a smartphone displaying Google Maps, calm yourself by repeating this mantra: Number 6 Bond Street, Number 6 Bond Street, Number 6 Bond Street.

Epilogue (1/27/2015): The warp velocity of Internet time seems to apply to Google Maps as much as to anything else on the web.  Since I published this post I can report the following: 1) The Tendai Buddhist Institutes’s Google Maps location has reverted to the same deeply inaccurate position it held when that young Asian man cycled up our driveway to ask about it during the summer of 2012.  I notified Google of the error a few days ago but have little confidence it will ever be correctly designated on Google Maps; 2) searching for 6 Bond Street, New York in Google Maps does indeed bring up the proper address—and without even one idiotic Did you mean: alternate locations; 3) Google has done away with the Edit in Google Map Maker option it used to display in the bottom righthand corner of any Google Maps map display; I'm guessing the company got far more edits, productive and unproductive, than Google’s skeletal team of Map Maker humans could possibly vet.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Twitter Followers, Real Twitter Followers & Celebrity Twitter Followers

I’ve had a Mind The Rant Twitter account for about two years.  And during that time I’ve cultivated a vast throng of 117 loyal followers:

I know.  Not many.  Part of it is my fault: I don’t tweet enough.  And though it took me a while to cotton on to Twitter etiquette, which is nothing more than blatant logrolling, I’m proud to say I haven’t chosen to follow everyone who has chosen to follow me.

For instance, I’ve resisted those bizarre instant Twitter porn accounts where someone, putatively a hot woman, offers homespun aphorisms from The Hooker’s Almanac and provides a profile link to some URL with “sex” or “xxx” embedded in it.  I’m also sorta proud that the number of followers I maintain is always more than half the number of tweets I’ve posted.

But today I visited my account to see if I’d captured any new followers and discovered one of those instant ones—not a porn account, I’m relieved to say—from somebody named Renita Escarcega.  Renita has tweeted only 13 times, has 0 followers (4/7/13 update: 18 tweets and 112 followers!), and her profile contains only a link:

So, with a certain trepidation, I clicked on it and was taken to Twitter Valhalla, otherwise known as FollowersDelivery.com.

As FollowersDelivery.com promises, the site can help you
Get more Twitter Followers overnight, and strengthen your online credibility. Try the Safest, Fastest and Easiest way of getting Twitter Followers.
100% Guaranteed Twitter Followers, NO Account Password Required!
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I was familiar with these appalling little businesses thanks to articles in the New York Times (one of which, “Fake Twitter Followers Becomes Multimillion-Dollar Business”, appeared only yesterday) but was still amused to discover that FollowersDelivery.com wisely distinguishes between delivering Twitter followers and Real Twitter followers, who are, naturally, twice the cost:

So how many Twitter followers does $20 buy?  Looks like 1,000.  Of course, economies of scale apply to harvesting Twitter followers just as naturally as harvesting wheat: $50 buys you 5,000 followers, $80 buys 10,000, $170 buys 30,000, and $420 buys a whopping 100,000 followers.  (That’s less than half a cent a follower!)

Of course, the more you want the longer it takes.  Up to 5,000 takes 24 hours, up to 30,000 takes 48 hours, and up to 100,000 takes 72 hours.  And for those 100,000 follower orders, you have to wonder how it’s done.  Delivering all of them for less than half a cent a piece at a profit suggests bots at work. Even in a developing country it seems implausible that anyone is willing to sign on to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to create Twitter accounts for a quarter of a cent per account.

That’s where Real Twitter Followers come in.  They’re more costly and they take longer to harvest: 1,000 cost $40 and take an entire week to deliver.  That’s 4 cents per follower—so, I’d think, easily within reach of a Mechanical Turk job offering 2 cents per Twitter signup.  With Real Twitter Followers the upper limit is also far smaller: you can’t go higher than 10,000, and, perversely, they’ll cost you more per account than 1,000 followers: $580 or 5.8 cents per signup.

Yet after going back over the terms I discovered that FollowersDelivery.com claims that both Twitter Followers and Real Twitter Followers are sourced the same way, by real people:

And how about the most expensive Twitter followers of all?  Celebrities, of course!

Hey: looks like we’re in luck: FollowersDelivery.com is offering a $20-off special:

Expensive?  Sure.  But don’t forget:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Goodreads, Amazon, Anna Karenina: Coincidence?

Last week, when Amazon announced that it had bought community reading site Goodreads for an undisclosed sum, there was plenty of sturm und drang about what Amazon would do with the treasure trove of Goodreads data about the books its members read, rate, and recommend.

Would Amazon start posting Goodreads reviews on Amazon?  Would it start selling cameras and lawn mowers to Goodreads members?  As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Amazon’s acquisition has already “set off a backlash among some fans of the popular site who treasured its independence.”

So, as an Amazon customer and a Goodreads member, let me report an interesting coincidence.

Just last Saturday I added Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to my Goodreads My Books list.  (I’m about a third of the way through it, with mixed impressions so far. When I'm done, will I join the ranks of the 10,292 Goodreads members who have already posted reviews?  Not sure.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when Amazon sent me an email this morning with the two-word subject line Anna Karenina.

When I opened it, this is what I saw:

Is Amazon taking advantage of Goodreads member data already?  Sure, this film adaptation of Anna Karenina is a recent release—hey, it’s the reason I started reading the novel in the first place—and yes, I’m a TiVo owner who has rented and bought movies and TV shows from the Amazon Instant Video Store, whose new movies this email is touting.

As I said, it could be just a coincidence.