Filed under “Business”

August 31, 2017

The Mystery of Why Uber Gave Me 77 Free Rides (or, How I Accidentally Gamed The System)

For about two and a half years, Uber kept sending me free ride credits. I just went through my receipts and counted 77 free rides in total, averaging one every couple weeks. Then they suddenly stopped. All that time, I never knew why I was getting them — why look a gift horse in the mouth? — but once they stopped I put on my detective hat and did a little digging. I’m pretty sure I’ve solved the mystery. Follow my story and see if you can figure it out.

When I joined Uber in 2011 I was given the opportunity to create any referral code I wanted as long as it started with the word “uber” (I think they still let you do that, actually) so I just added my initials to it and made the code UBERDF figuring that would be easy for me to remember. I might have given it out to a couple people, but then pretty much forgot about it.

Then in late 2013, the trickle of free rides started. I’d get an email saying I earned $10, $15, or $20 in credit because someone took their first ride using my referral code. At first I assumed someone I gave my code to in 2011 finally used it. Then when more free rides came in, I wondered if perhaps my code was on some list of Uber referral codes that may have been circulating. I didn’t really think more about it. I just accumulated my free rides in my account, ready to use when I needed them. It was great. Sometimes I even forced myself to use them instead of the subway, since they would eventually expire otherwise.

I casually looked into whether this was happening to anyone else. The closest thing I found was an article about a guy who placed online ads for Uber using his own referral code and got hundreds of free rides that way. Uber found out about his scheme and took them away. So I was glad that my trickle of free rides was a slow drip that was unlikely to get their attention.

Then, around January of 2016, they stopped. At their peak I was getting 2-3 free rides a week. And then nothing. I couldn’t be too upset that I had to start paying for something everyone else paid for, but I was curious what happened. And since I wasn’t getting any more free rides anyway, I was no longer afraid to look into it.

I started at the source. Each email about a free ride just told me that my “friend” rode with Uber so I was getting a free ride. It didn’t say who the “friend” was. But I discovered that if I logged into Uber’s website, I could see the first name of the person that took the ride that earned me each credit. They had names like Miguel, Juan, Antonio, Garbriela, Alejandro, Rosa Maria, etc. They were all Spanish names. That was a big clue. But what did it tell me?

Maybe whatever list my code was on circulated mainly on Spanish websites? That seemed unlikely. So I did what I probably should have done to begin with: I Googled “uberdf”. And that’s when I discovered that Uber in Mexico City is sometimes referred to as “Uber DF”.

It turns out that Mexico City isn’t called Mexico City in Mexico. They call it the Federal District, or in Spanish, the Distrito Federal. Uber in Mexico City launched in late 2013, around the time my free rides started. I assume that a lot of people simply tried the code UBERDF to see if it worked and lo and behold it did! In fact, when Uber launched in Mexico City their actual promo code was DFLAUNCH, so UBERDF was not that wild a guess. My conclusion is that, given the large number of people in Mexico City, enough people guessed that UBERDF might be valid, and I accidentally reaped the benefit.

So what happened in January 2016 that caused the well to dry up? Something happened that month that convinced me my theory is correct because the timing is just too coincidental. Mexico City officially changed its name from Distrito Federal to Mexico City (or in Spanish, Ciudad de Mexico — or CDMX for short). People stopped trying the code “UBERDF” and that was the end of my free ride. And perhaps it was the beginning of a similar mystery for whoever has the referral code UBERCDMX.

Afterthought: I should have made my referral code UBERNYC, and then maybe I’d still be getting free rides.

April 22, 2013

Idea: A Router Emergency Switch

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I saw a lot of tweets calling for businesses in the area to open up their Wi-Fi so people can contact their loved ones during a period where cell phone networks were so congested that calls and texts couldn’t go through. I wondered whether a business owner — or whatever employee happens to be around that day — would even know how to open their Wi-Fi in a crisis.

So what if business-class routers included a Router Emergency Switch? It could be implemented either as a big red physical button on the router itself, or an easy-to-find software trigger. In a crisis, it’s an easy way to open your network.

I know what you’re thinking: if it’s that easy to open the router, isn’t there potential for abuse? Couldn’t it be triggered in non-emergency settings? Not if it’s done right. When you set up your router for the first time, you would also set up the Emergency settings. Heres an example of what a typical setup might do when the Emergency Switch is pulled:

1) Create a new Wi-Fi Guest Network so your own network is still secure.

2) Change the Wi-Fi Guest Network name to “USE THIS NETWORK DURING EMERGENCY” or something similar so people know it’s available.

3) Automatically bring people who access that network to a portal page with links to local and national news websites, local and national emergency websites, popular webmail sites, and maybe some first aid tips or other similar information.

4) Optionally open access to the entire internet, or just to specific sites to use during an emergency, depending on how trusting/paranoid the business owner is.

5) E-mail the business owner to alert him or her that the emergency switch has been activated.

6) Automatically turn off the guest network after a preset time period (perhaps a week?) in case the business owner forgets.

It seems like there’s only a very slim chance you’d ever need to use this. The odds of your business being within Wi-Fi signal’s reach of a catastrophe seem pretty low. So maybe this is the sort of thing that doesn’t have enough payoff to make the trouble worthwhile. But in that rare instance, it could end up being useful.

February 20, 2013

The Gutenberg Eyebrow

There’s a story being told around the internet this week about a 15th Century manuscript which was recently found to have paw prints across two pages from a cat that must have walked across it while the ink was still fresh. I’m reminded of a little-known story about another 15th Century book that was found to have evidence of its creation embedded in the pages: a Gutenberg Bible.

A complete edition of the Gutenberg Bible is very rare. Only a couple dozen are still known to exist (the Morgan Library in Manhattan is hogging three of them). But some copies were broken up and sold piecemeal over the years, so individual pages are not as rare and are occasionally sold at auction.

About 14 years ago, while I was a photographer at Christie’s auction house, a particularly interesting Gutenberg Bible page came up for sale. While it was being prepared for auction, someone noticed a tiny hair resting on the page. Upon closer inspection, it was found to have become dislodged from where it was embedded beneath the ink. There was a clear line left behind on the page from where the hair had lifted the ink when it became dislodged.

This meant that the hair had been there since the ink was put on the page.

What if it was Johann Gutenberg’s hair? Could you imagine what that would mean for the value of this page? More likely, we guessed it belonged to someone who worked for him, or perhaps even an animal that was hanging around the printing press. But still, it was an incredible find.

I recall that the hair was delicately handled so that it could be analyzed.

This is how it was eventually described at auction:

Eyebrow hair, 12 mm, COMPLETE with bulb at one end and natural taper at the other, blond or white, [middle of the 15th century]. Soiled with printer’s ink over a segment approximately 2 mm in length.

Provenance: The present hair was formerly adhered to the surface of this leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, where it was held to the paper by the printing ink. It lay under the ink when the leaf was received by Christie’s and was inadvertently dislodged in the course of cataloguing for this sale. The impression left by the hair in the surface of the paper is clearly visible at II Cor. 7:10, as is the furrow of white across the first letter “t” of the word tristitia, where the ink which lay over the hair came off with it.

The hair must have dropped onto the forme after it was inked and before the page was printed. It is therefore presumably a body hair, probably an eybrow hair, from one of the pressmen in Gutenberg’s shop — conceivably from the master himself.

The estimate for the page including eyebrow hair was $10,000 - $15,000. The final price was $64,625.

February 13, 2013

Behind The Post: The Luke Hope Poster

You may remember that about four-and-a-half years ago, I made this image:

By popular demand, I sought to make it available on posters and t-shirts. But I wanted to do so through proper channels, and ended up partnering with Zazzle, which had an existing licensing agreement with Lucasfilm. (They no longer do, so don’t bother looking.)

But in order to get formal permission, I had to jump through some hoops. One question that came up — and I confess I found it a bit insulting — was whether or not I could prove that I actually made this poster, and wasn’t just passing off someone else’s work as my own.

I came up with a way to prove I did the work. I had kept all the layers intact from the Photoshop file I used to create the image (much later it was turned into vector art). Using all those layers, I created an animated gif showing the steps from start to finish.

I always liked how that animated gif came out, so the point of this story is to share the process gif with you:

January 24, 2013

The First Software Patent

The latest episode in my PBS Digital Studios series “INVENTORS” is about Martin Goetz, the man who got the first every software patent. There’s a good chance that you’ve heard about the current controversy over software patents, but you may not know why we have software patents to begin with. Here’s the story:

I found it especially interesting that today software patents in the hands of patent trolls are said to stifle innovation in small companies, but the first software patent was a tool that enabled a small company to compete against a big corporation. That seems to me more in the spirit of what patents are for.

November 30, 2012

Idea: A Plug-in That Throws Out the High and Low Score Reviews

This summer the New York Times reported that, by one estimate, a third of all consumer reviews online are fake. And 1-star reviews are often misguided or misplaced anger, which can make them pretty much useless. So some suggest that the best thing to do when looking at consumer reviews is ignore all the 5-star and 1-star reviews, and just concentrate on the middle reviews, since that’s where you’ll find the substance. I’ve seen it compared to how some Olympic events throw out the highest and lowest scores to find the true score of a gymnast or diver.

So here’s an idea: how about a browser plug-in that does that automatically? I’d like one that hides the 5-star and 1-star reviews on Amazon, TripAdvisor, and the like (are Apple App Store reviews were available on the web?). But maybe too little data is front-facing, making it impossible without deep access to databases that aren’t publicly available. So I’ll settle for toggles added by the retailers themselves that allow me to turn on and off the high and low reviews.

This is the Best Idea Ever! ★★★★★. I would definitely read this post again!

See also: Product Placement in Amazon Reviews for Related Products

November 20, 2012

Inventors Episode 2: Batter Blaster

Save some room this Thanksgiving weekend for waffles and pancakes. Or don’t, and just have cold turkey for breakfast. Either way, at least watch Episode Two of my new PBS Digital Studios series “Inventors”, which profiles the man behind Batter Blaster, the pancake batter that comes in a whip cream style can.

Since this new series is just getting started, it would still mean a great deal to me if you could share the video — here’s the direct link — and/or subscribe to the YouTube channel. Thanks so much.

November 8, 2012

“Inventors” series debuts with PBS Digital Studios

I’m very excited to announce that my occasional series of inventor portrait videos is about to get a lot less occasional, as it’s now part of PBS Digital Studios. I will be releasing a new video every two weeks and you can find them at the new Inventors Series YouTube channel.

Here’s the first episode:

[Note to self: I’ve really got to redesign this website to allow for embedding larger video.]

Going forward, a new episode will go up every other Tuesday. They will mostly be new episodes you haven’t seen, but I’ll throw in a few that I’ve posted here in the past, perhaps with some slight changes. They’ll be new to most people.

Oh, also: one of the best things you could do for me today is share the video — here’s the direct link — and/or subscribe to the YouTube channel. Thanks so much.

I hope you like what I’ve got planned!

June 8, 2011

Idea: .ugh Top Level Domain

How about a TLD for websites that can only be parody, complainy, or snarky? If you want to know about Lady Gaga’s next album, you can go to, but if you’re really sick of her and want a community of like-minded haters, you can visit ladygaga.ugh and get it out of your system.

I know what you’re thinking: This won’t work because Lady Gaga will snatch up her .ugh before anyone else does. Well, that’s what’s unique about the .ugh TLD. If you snatched, she could take you to domain name court to get it back. But the rules of .ugh will state that you can do the opposite. Nobody can own the same trademark and .ugh domain. If they do, you can take them to domain name court to snatch the domain and put up a snarky website the way ICANN intended.

This protects brands, also, because they needn’t worry about anyone confusing the .ugh parody site with their own .com site. Everyone will know that comcast.ugh isn’t really Comcast’s website.

I call dibs on uggs.ugh.

April 21, 2010

Idea: eBooks that watch you read

Every device is an eReader these days. Some are dedicated e-ink devices, and some are multipurpose gadgets that have (or will soon have) front-facing cameras. Presumably those cameras are intended for video chat. But as long as the cameras are there, I think eReader software should take advantage of those cameras, too.

Using existing face detection technology, here are some things your eReader could do:

Gather analytics data: Movie studios do test screenings where they gauge how much audiences laugh or cry, and at what point in the movie. Books can’t do that. But what if the book were watching you? It could anonymously (with your consent) send data back to the publisher about where you were in the book when you smiled. This could be good feedback for the author, who would learn which jokes were hits and which were misses.

Dynamically change text size: Instead of setting your preferred font size, you can set your preferred apparent font size. As you move your head closer and further away from the page, the font adjusts accordingly. (Although I can’t come up with a real reason why I would use this feature).

Automatic page scrolling: With eye-tracking, the device could see when you’re reaching the bottom of the page, and scroll accordingly.

Advertising fodder: Imagine an ad for Stephen King’s new book: it’s a photo grid of real people’s faces while they’re engrossed in the pivotal and terrifying chapter where something really gruesome happens. Perhaps the eBook takes the photo without telling you, and it’s saved locally on your device. At the end of the book you get the opportunity to submit it, and you get some cash and a free copy of his next book if they use your photo to advertise this one.

Special edition of 1984: Every time you get to a page with the phrase “Big Brother,” the camera takes a photo of you and posts it on-line.

UPDATE: Well, it didn’t take long for someone to point out in the comments that Wired has already covered this territory. Hrm. I guess I’ll do some more research before I post my other related idea: eye-tracking high dynamic range photos that adjust the exposure according to the part of the image you’re looking at.

Previously: Idea: Fun With Facial Recognition

July 30, 2009

Idea: The Smiley as AP Copy Protection

The Associated Press has an ongoing problem with misappropriation of AP articles. Facts are not copyrightable, but the AP says they find entire articles reprinted by websites that aren’t licensed to publish AP stories.

So the AP made a confusing announcement this week, outlining a new approach in protecting its content. To some, the AP seemed to be suggesting they could actually prevent people from copying their articles the way DRM can prevent copying of movies and music. But it was pointed out that copying text is pretty trivial, so this sort of “DRM for text” is not possible.

But what if there were something low-tech the AP could include in its articles that actually made a difference? It won’t physically prevent copying, but it just might deter it.

There was quite a buzz in the news a few years ago when a Newcastle University research team discovered that people are more honest when eyes are watching them, even if the eyes are fake.

At the time, psychologists said, “It does raise the possibility that you could get people to behave more cooperatively… by putting up pictures of eyes,” and, “It would be interesting to know how one can apply these sorts of findings more generally in organisational structures and in society in general to maximise upon honourable and altruistic behaviour.”

In the original test, a photocopy of eyes placed above an “honesty box” in a canteen made people more likely to pay when taking a drink. If a mere photocopy will make people honest, maybe a more abstracted set of eyes can still have an effect. I propose an experiment.

This is how the AP currently formats its datelines:

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Thursday…

I propose a small change:

NEW YORK (AP) ÓÒ — A judge ruled Thursday…

Yes, that’s right. I’m suggesting that the AP begin putting a little face in all their datelines. It’s the Smiley as copy protection. The AP could come up with their own set of ascii eyes, brand it, and include it in every dateline from now on. They could even pretend it has some other official function, like it symbolizes the AP keeping its eyes out for news. But people would see it and know what it means: “This is an AP article. Please don’t steal it unless you would do so even with your own mother watching.”

Then, when wayward bloggers prepare to copy and paste an AP article, they will be faced by those staring eyes. Maybe they’ll think twice. Maybe they won’t even know why. And then, when they choose to summarize the facts of the article instead of copying and pasting it, the smiley as copy protection will have done its job.

December 3, 2008

Auto Industry FAIL

[Update: I had originally made this image available on shirts, but concern was expressed over whether or not selling such merchandise violates Ford’s trademark, even though the image is clearly a parody. Until the issue is resolved, I am posting the image alone as art.]

As Ford, GM, and Chrysler head to Washington DC once again in hopes of convincing the government to give them a bailout, I’ve invoked the ever popular “FAIL” meme and came up with this image:

auto industry fail

June 2, 2008

Idea: Corporate Artists in Residence

Many large corporations have philanthropy departments. They donate money for medical research, public television, city beautification, arts organizations, and more. But I’d like to see corporations use their philanthropy in part to spotlight individual artists through residency programs. It could give a big boost to an individual artist, and give a public face to the company’s support of the arts which may better promote arts in general.

Each company could pick one artist each year whose work exemplifies the company’s brand or ethos, provide financing for a year during which the artist develops a body of work, and then offer a performance or exhibition space — perhaps in a flagship store or corporate headquarters — to showcase the result.

For example, Apple’s first artist in residence could be a sculptor who integrates technology in his work, and they can display his pieces in select Apple stores across the country. Starbucks could pick an undiscovered singer/songwriter and finance her first album under their record label. Boeing’s artist in residence could be someone whose work is inspired by aviation, to be displayed in airport terminals.

I figure some corporations must already do this, but I was only able to find one example of a large company that has had an artist in residency program: Siemens, though its hearing aid division, has funded musicians through its artists in residence program, culminating in live performances in New York City. Are there others I’ve overlooked?

December 27, 2007

Idea: The Gethuman Dialer Application

The website has created a database of phone numbers for every major company in 15 different categories (such as insurance, phone companies, banks, etc) with instructions on exactly what you need to do in order to navigate your way to a real live human. For example, if you need to talk to a live person at Priceline, the instructions say, “At prompt press 1; at prompt press 1; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #.”

But that still seems like an awful lot of work to get a human. Why doesn’t someone create an application that does all the work for me? Let me select what company I need to call, and then use my modem to call them and do all that number-pressing automatically. At the last step, play a sound so I know to pick up my phone. Or just turn up the speaker on my computer so I can hear when a human picks up. Of course, not everyone has a modem any more, so the program could also come as a Skype plug-in and in cell phone versions for different mobile operating systems.

The program doesn’t need any sophisticated voice-recognition technology to know when it can press the next number. It can just be programmed to pause an appropriate length in between number-presses. And by letting me set my default services, I don’t need to see the huge list of companies all the time unless I want to. I could just press the “electric company” button and be talking to a person at ConEd a few minutes later. The program would need to come with some actual spoken words pre-recorded for those phone systems that require you to say “yes” or “operator,” etc. And it could store my account numbers so it can enter them where needed.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Old BBS dialer software might even be usable by loading it with Gethuman info instead of BBS phone numbers, and using Hayes Commands to handle the pauses and subsequent number presses. But that method has limitations, and isn’t as complete or elegant a solution as a dedicated Gethuman Dialer.

[This idea came about during a conversation with my friend Jay, who deserves a share of the credit on this one. Thanks, Jay!]

Update: Well that was fast. A reader named Scott points out that such a service already exists through a web-based interface called Bringo at I suppose a desktop app would calm any concerns about divulging your phone number or other personal information to any third parties, although it should be noted that Bringo’s privacy policy looks pretty good. So until such a thing exists, I’ll definitely bookmark Bringo.

October 4, 2007

Advertising on the overhead bin now a reality

Back in March 2006 I wrote a post suggesting that airlines could use the blank panels on the overhead bins as advertising space. I made a mock-up of what this ugliness might look like:

An alert leader pointed me to news that came out this summer: Ryanair — Europe’s largest low fare airline — has just put this into practice. Here’s a quote from their press release:

We are delighted to be the first Brand to market with this new advertising medium… The Aeropanel® offers a unique and exciting advertising format in an uncluttered, relaxed and comfortable environment

It was bound to happen.

August 20, 2007

Idea: Give the boss a grade

In business, there comes a time in the fiscal year where the boss calls his or her employees into the office for a performance evaluation. But the only direction the evaluation flows in the workplace is from top down. Nobody asks the employees how the boss is doing. Sure, the boss has to be evaluated, too, but the view of his or her performance is only seen from above.

I think businesses should implement Boss Evaluations, similar to the Teacher Evaluations that students get to do in school. I’m sure we’ve all had similar thoughts when it came time for our own evaluations, so I know it’s not a revolutionary idea. But maybe it’s an idea that needs to rise out of the wishful thinking of the low rungs on the ladder and actually be implemented.

Of course a manager’s performance can be measured quantitatively (are sales up? is profit up?) just as test scores can be measured to judge a teacher’s success. But human relations are an important factor in a business’s bottom line, as well. When employees are happy, they stick around. While high turnover is acceptable in some industries, time and money spent training new staff may be better spent elsewhere. It benefits a company to have dedicated employees who aren’t constantly seeking a better position. It has been said that people don’t quit their jobs – they quit their bosses.

It may turn out that a division within a company is successful despite a boss that nobody likes. That is important to know, too. Employees with bad bosses may still be working hard, but they may also be more likely to steal office supplies, trade secrets, or other property.

Sure, there’s always going to be the brown-noser who gives a positive evaluation no matter what. And the employee with a grudge may give a negative evaluation to a boss who’s actually pretty good. Statisticians are better equipped than I am to suggest ways to account for that (is it as simple as throwing out the highest and lowest scores?). But a progressive company bold enough to ask the employees how the boss is doing may find itself with valuable information for running their company more effectively.

Note to my former boss at the last company I worked for: You didn’t inspire this article. Don’t worry.

June 18, 2007

The best and worst of The Economist

The Economist is a weekly magazine that focuses on world news, business, and politics. The magazine, based in London, is dense with information and can be tough to wade through. The publishers target an upper-class demographic, and it shows in their ads for the magazine. A recent ad had a tag line which read, “It’s lonely at the top, but at least there’s something to read.” The Economist is the sort of magazine pretentious people like to be seen reading.

Naturally, I have a subscription.

econcover.jpgAs I was wading through this week’s issue, I realized that whoever writes the headlines (the copy editor, I think) has an interesting sense of humor and a penchant for puns and cultural references. Some of the headlines are better than others. I went through the stack of unread issues that’s been piling up in the living room and picked out some of the best and the worst headline puns and references from recent weeks. Whether you think they are the best or the worst probably depends on whether you like puns. Here are some examples:

Article topic: What conservatives get, and do not get, about foreign aid.
Headline: Right to bear alms

Article topic: Former CIA Director George Tenet’s new book has some factual errors but is still worth reading.
Headline: George’s tenets

Article topic:Two big meat producers agree to merge.
Headline:A steak in the market

Photograph: A polar bear stands on a piece of ice surrounded by water. The article is about global warming.
Caption: It’s getting unbearable

Article topic: Scrubbing carbon from coal-fired power stations is possible but pricey.
Headline: Dirty king coal

(I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a play on Nat King Cole or Old King Cole)

Article topic: Businesses are engaging in war game style simulations to gain new perspective on complex problems.
Headline: Shall we play a game?

Article topic: The cost of making cell phone calls overseas.
Headline: When in roam

Article topic: Californians are leaving the state, filling its neighbor states with former Californians.
Headline: Dreams of Californication

Article topic: Ecuador has a new President, Rafael Correa
Headline: Magical mystery tour

(Seriously, I have no idea what this headline is supposed to mean. I read the whole article and still can’t figure it out. Correa isn’t touring anywhere. He’s not listening to the Beatles. Why the reference? I don’t get it.)

Article topic: Rio de Janeiro’s economy isn’t doing so well.
Headline: Blame it on Rio

Article topic: The popularity of the Russian royal family
Headline: Tsarstruck

Article topic: The president’s policies on global warming
Headline: Emissionary positions

Article topic: Scientist Craig Venter takes on yet another big project
Photo caption: Craig’s list gets longer and longer

June 14, 2007

Idea: Lolcatvertisements

The way I see it, companies have about a week or so left in the life of the lolcat meme to come up with some clever ads that use the lolcat format. I think for the most bang for their advertising dollar, the campaign should probably appear in college newspapers or someplace else where the fewest people possible will be scratching their heads in confusion.

Take a pizza and burger joint, for example. They could start with a picture of a pizza delivery guy, with the caption “I’M IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, DELIVERING YOUR PIZZA” or it could have a picture of a burger and fries with the caption “YES YOU CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER.” Okay, they could probably come up with something more clever than that. But it would give me a chuckle to see a company incorporate an on-line meme into their ads without referencing where it came from. It would be sort of an inside joke among the internet savvy.

May 29, 2007

New Delta ad campaign an in-joke for nerds?

Delta Delta Delta
Changes in Delta*
Earlier this month, Delta launched a new ad campaign called “Change,” along with a new logo. Even before the launch, I’d found myself recently appreciating the logo for features I’d never noticed before. Somehow it had never dawned on me that, in addition to being an abstraction of an airplane’s wings, the actual shape of the logo is a triangle — the Greek letter Delta. Maybe it’s not as brilliant as the FedEx arrow but I like it.

The new red version of the logo has been promoted with a new ad campaign by SS & K. The campaign highlights all the changes recently made at Delta. The ads say things like “CHANGE IS: TXTING U UR FLT STATUS” or “CHANGE IS: NEVER BEING BORED ON BOARD.” I saw one ad that summed up the campaign’s theme as simply “CHANGE IS: DELTA.”

And that’s when I realized: Delta really is change. In physics, the Greek letter Delta is used to indicate change. For example, a simple formula for calculating a change in velocity might look like this (taken from this article about deltas in physics):


This would be read as, “The change in velocity is equal to the second velocity measurement minus the first velocity measurement.”

So is this an intentional double entendre meant to be appreciated by science and math nerds only? Or is it just serendipitous that Delta really does mean change, and that happens to be the word they based their campaign around? I’m not sure. But I appreciate it either way.

* I almost captioned this image “Can I help ya help ya help ya?” but thought it might be too obscure.

April 20, 2007

The best employee ever

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story called “The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work.” The article is about kids whose parents lavished them with praise, and now that they have grown up and entered the work force, their bosses have to deal with their expectations of constant praise.

According to the article, “The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds.”

I can’t help but wonder which employee that is.

April 18, 2007

“The Week” in review

The WeekLately I’ve been reading a news magazine called The Week. In a recent national survey (PDF), The Week was the only magazine to rank in the Top Ten for being most credible, most objective, and most enjoyable. It’s one of the fastest-growing magazines, but with a circulation that’s only around 10% of Time magazine, you’ve likely still never heard of it. Here’s why I like it:

I don’t have time to read every blog I enjoy. So I use an RSS aggregator to bring all the headlines from my favorite blogs into one place where I can read the highlights and get an idea of what’s happening in the blogosphere. The Week is like an RSS aggregator for magazines and newspapers. This one magazine condenses all the best articles from various sources into one easy-to-digest magazine. Sure, it tells me about Britney Spears’ hairstyle and Don Imus’ career woes, but it also tells me about suicide bombers in Morocco, a kidnapping in Pakistan, and a mysterious cancer afflicting the Tazmanian Devil in Australia — the kinds of stories that fall through the cracks in the mainstream media obsessed with the celebrity of the week and kittens stuck in trees.

Even more importantly, I get perspectives from publications I wouldn’t otherwise read. I may not like the political leanings of National Review, for example, but when their perspective is included in a round-up of editorials on a particular topic, I get a broader view of that topic. And a feature called “How They See Us” lets me know what editorialists in other countries are saying about the United States.

The WeekOne nice feature is “The World at a Glance,” which summarizes major events around the world, along with a map to help put a story into geographical context. The “Briefing” section gives me all the sides of a current issue, including perspectives from several sources — not just a condensed version of a single article. Sections called “The Main Stories and How They Were Covered” and “Best Columns” are valuable (and self-explanatory) features, as well.

There’s light-hearted content, too, including “Good Week For / Bad Week For.” Last week was a good week for manatees, who are no longer facing extinction, but a bad week for Australian rugby star David Kidwell, who tripped over his 2-year-old at a barbecue, injuring himself so badly that he can’t finish the season.

Movie and book reviews are done Zagat-survey-style, using quotes from various reviews to boil down to one rating. It’s like RottenTomatoes, but with a less confusing rating system.

Each 40-page issue is packed with information that gives a broad view of the world in the past 7 days, but none of it is very deep. If I want more information on a particular topic, I still need to look elsewhere. But at least now I know what’s happening in the world as covered by different outlets with different perspectives, including foreign points of view, without the mountain of magazines to wade through.

I’ve been reading The Week for a while, but I decided that now is a good time to mention it because they’re publishing one free issue this week, and it’s going to be on-line only, starting this Friday. Go to their website and check it out.

February 1, 2007

Le Reve - The Blog

Le Reve The Dream Auction PosterA few weeks ago, I wrote about a poster I was auctioning on eBay. The poster was from the Christie’s auction of Picasso’s painting “Le Reve,” a painting with a recent history that is arguably more interesting than its early history. The story in a nutshell: The painting’s owner just sold it for a record-setting price, and then accidentally stuck his elbow through it.

Well, here’s just a quick follow-up: The guy who bought the poster from me has started a blog about it called Le Reve and Me. On his blog, he wonders if he should expand his new collection of Le Reve memorabilia to include the auction catalogs, and he ponders whether or not he should stick his elbow through the poster. I have no idea what else he plans on doing with his blog, as I suspect the amount of Le Reve memorabilia to be had is fairly limited. But I’m sure he’d appreciate your input. It’s a fascinating story, and it just keeps getting better. Who knows what his collection will fetch some day?

January 16, 2007

Have your own millionaire Picasso experience

This is the story of a Picasso painting, an art auction, celebrity multimillionaires, and a disastrous blunder that put a hole in the most expensive Picasso ever sold. If you keep up with news of the art world, you may have heard it already. But this is also the untold story of an original poster connected with the original auction, why I have it, how you can get it, and how you can make your own experience similar to those celebrity multimillionaires.

Le Reve The Dream Auction Poster
The poster of the auction of the painting
The story begins in New York City in 1941, when Victor and Sally Ganz spent $7,000 to buy a painting called “Le Reve” (also known as “The Dream”) by Pablo Picasso, depicting his lover Marie-Therese Walter. This purchase began a lifetime passion of collecting works by just their five favorite artists: Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Eva Hesse. Over 50 years, the Ganzes spent around $2 million building their entire collection. Victor Ganz died in 1987, and Sally died 10 years later.

In late 1997, their art collection went up for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York. Le Reve sold for a record-setting $48.4 million to an anonymous buyer — the most ever spent on a Picasso, and the second highest amount paid for any painting ever (the record was held by Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which sold at Christie’s for $82.5 million in 1990 and has since gone missing, an interesting story itself). The entire 58-lot collection sold for $206.5 million, setting a record for the sale of a private collection.

At the time of the Ganz sale, I worked at Christie’s in the photo studio, where I photographed fine art and other collectibles for the auction catalogs. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The anonymous buyer who purchased Le Reve sold it to casino magnate Steve Wynn in 2001. He in turn sold it to hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen for $139 million, setting a new record for the most money spent on a painting. All the formalities of the deal were finished, but the handover of the painting had yet to take place when a terrible event occurred. Just a few months ago, before turning the painting over, Wynn had several famous friends over to show it off. Among the guests were Barbara Walters, Nicholas Pileggi, and Nora Ephron, who described on Ariana Huffington’s blog what happened next:

The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying — he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting — and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.

There was a terrible noise.

Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter’s plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar - or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn’s elbow — with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.

“Oh shit,” he said.

Oh shit, indeed. As recently as last week, the story remained unsettled, as Wynn sued Lloyd’s of London in dispute over how much insurance is required to cover the damage.

As I mentioned, I worked as a photographer at Christie’s auction house from 1997 to 2000. It was pretty cool photographing priceless collectibles for every department at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world. I photographed thousands of paintings and sculptures, including many by Picasso, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and hundreds of other artists. I photographed documents hand-written by Presidents as far back as George Washington. I shot movie memorabilia including Edward Scissorhands’ gloves, the amulet from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and one of the Robocop costumes. I got to see the Archimedes Palimpsest first hand. And I shot photos of Neil Armstrong’s space suit. Okay, it wasn’t the one he walked on the moon in, it was just the one he did his training in, but still it’s pretty cool.

And I was there to see Le Reve sell for $48.4 million.

Working at Christie’s, I occasionally kept mementos of high profile auctions. I have a bookshelf overflowing with catalogs I photographed, but I only kept posters from one auction, the first high profile auction to happen during my time there. I kept the poster for the auction of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, featuring Le Reve.

And now, history repeats itself on a much smaller scale as I am putting one of these original posters up for auction on eBay. I guarantee that as of right now, Steve Wynn has not punched a hole in it, and I will do my best to make sure that he does not punch any holes in it before the auction ends.

If you are the winning bidder, the poster will be sent to you in the same cardboard tube in which it has sat rolled up since I took it home nearly ten years ago. This poster has not been hanging on my wall, and is in excellent condition. It has no folds. There may be slight wear and tear on the edges, as might be expected of a poster rolled up in a tube for ten years. But you’d hardly notice unless you look closely.

Once the poster is yours, you are free to do with it as you please. Sell it to an investment banker at great profit. Hang it up. Invite your celebrity friends over to view it. Recreate a historic moment by shoving your elbow through it. I’m not sure whether or not you’ll be able to get Lloyd’s of London to insure it, but you’re welcome to try.

The auction can be found here.

January 4, 2007

Celebrity Patents

Harry Houdini patentLast month, Google introduced its new Patent Search feature (in beta), allowing users to dig through 7 million US patents from 1790 to mid-1996. On-line patent searching has already been possible through the US Patent and Trademark Office website, but Google makes it fast and easy using their already familiar interface.

So, inspired by Google’s new easy-to-use patent search, I decided to dig up some of the celebrity patents that have been issued over the years. The following 18 20 patents are all by celebrities not usually known for being inventors. You can follow the links to the actual patents to learn more about each one.

1. Eddie Van Halen, Musician.
Patent #4,656,917 — Musical instrument support

Eddie Van Halen patent

2. Zeppo Marx, Actor/Comedian.
Patent #3,473,526 — Cardiac pulse rate monitor

Zeppo Marx patent

3. Harry Connick, Jr., Musician/Actor.
Patent #6,348,648 — System and method for coordinating music display among players in an orchestra

Harry Connick Jr patent

4. Penn Jillette, Magician.
Patent #5,920,923 — Hydro-therapeutic stimulator (for, um, sexual stimulation)

Penn Jillette patent

5. Michael Jackson, Singer.
Patent #5,255,452 — Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion

Michael Jackson patent

6. Abraham Lincoln, President.
Patent #6,469 — [Method of] Buoying vessels over shoals

Abraham Lincoln patent

7. Julie Newmar, Actress (“Batman” TV Show).
Patent #3,914,799 — Pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief

Julie Newmar patent

8. Marlon Brando, Actor.
Patent #6,812,392 — Drumhead tensioning device and method

Marlon Brando patent

9. Lawrence Welk, Musician/Bandleader.
Patent #D170,898 — Welk ash tray (design)

Lawrence Welk patent

10. Jamie Lee Curtis, Actress.
Patent #4,753,647 — Infant garment

Jamie Lee Curtis patent

11. Gary Burghoff, Actor (Radar on “M*A*S*H” TV Show).
Patent #5,235,774 — Enhanced fish attractor device

Gary Burghoff patent

12. Mark Twain, Author.
Patent #140,245 — Improvement in scrap-books

Mark Twain patent

13. Hedy Lamarr, Actress.
Patent #2,292,387 — Secret communication system

Hedy Lamar patent

14. Walt Disney, Animation Innovator.
Patent #2,201,689 — Art of animation (method of filming animation cells with a shadow on the background)

Walt Disney patent

15. Harry Houdini, Magician.
Patent #1,370,316 — Diver’s suit

Harry Houdini patent

16. Danny Kaye, Actor/Singer/Entertainer.
Patent #D166,807 — Blowout toy or the like (design)

Danny Kaye patent

17. George Lucas, Director.
Patent #D265,754 — Toy figure (design)

George Lucas patent

18. Charles Fleischer, Actor (voice of Roger Rabbit).
Patent #4,219,959 — Toy egg

Charles Fleischer patent

UPDATE: Here are two more celebrity patents, courtesy of comments on this blog and others:

19. Prince, Musician/Singer.
Patent #D349,127 — Portable electronic keyboard musical instrument (design)

Prince patent

20. Paul Winchell, Ventriloquist.
Patent #3,097,366 — Artificial Heart

Prince patent

December 19, 2006

Receipts of Unusual Size

K Mart ReceiptHow many customers do you think it takes before K-Mart goes through a mile of paper in cash register receipts? It may not be as many as you think.

On Sunday, I found myself needing to purchase a cheap lamp. So I went down to my local K-Mart and picked one out. I also bought a light bulb. Upon checkout, along with the merchandise, I was given this ridiculously long receipt. I measured it. It’s 21 inches long. I bought two items and got a receipt that’s 21 inches long. Is wasting that much paper really necessary?

I couldn’t even get the whole thing to fit on my scanner. I had to scan it in pieces and then stitch it together in Photoshop.

I did a little math. If every customer purchases exactly two items (an underestimation, I’m sure), then K-Mart goes through approximately one mile of paper every 3,017 customers. Only the top 6 inches of the receipt contains information relevant to the purchase: the date, items purchased, price, store number, etc. The remaining 15 inches contains ads for things I could have purchased if I’d known about them before I went to the register, and also a list of store hours. I don’t know about you, but when I want to know a store’s hours or what they sell, I never dig out old receipts to find the answer. I never even glance at that information. Are there people who read their old receipts? It seems like a big waste of paper to me. 15 wasted inches of paper per customer. That comes to one mile of paper wasted every 4,224 customers.

How many miles of paper must K-Mart waste every day?

I wasn’t going to attempt to answer that question, but then I realized that once I had my receipt scanned in and resized and placed alongside the text on this page, the image was longer than the text. And that was messing up the layout of this page, causing my browser to do some weird things. So I decided to do some more digging and see what I could learn. K-Mart’s corporate website has all sorts of information about the number of stores they have, but not the number of customers. The most recent data I could find was in a BusinessWeek article from 2000, where K-Mart’s CEO referenced K-Mart’s “30 million store customers a week.” By now, many of those store customers are probably shopping on-line in greater numbers than before, and the number of K-Mart stores has surely changed since they filed for bankruptcy in 2002, but even if only half as many people still shop in the stores, that comes to 507 miles of paper wasted by K-Mart every single day in useless cash register receipt ads.

I think I see an easy way for K-Mart to become a bit more eco-friendly.

July 18, 2006

How one man sent one e-mail and took down my entire website. And he didn’t even know it.

[Note: In the following bit-too-long rant, some information has been changed to protect identities. But the name of my no-good, awful, deceitful former web host Doteasy has been left completely intact. Avoid them at all costs.]

On June 23, I spent the day flying back to New York from a business trip in Los Angeles. Adam Sandler’s movie Click opened that day, and lots of websites were linking to an article I wrote about the movie’s overused plot device. It was a higher than usual traffic day for Ironic Sans. When I boarded my plane, web traffic was high.

I arrived home after midnight. I was exhausted. I just wanted to follow up on a few e-mails, see where my traffic plateaued for the day, and go to bed. So you can imagine my state of mind when I checked my e-mail and found this from my web host:

Hello David,

We have received spam complaints regarding your website. Please note that the use of spam, sent from our email servers or to promote a website hosted on our service, is prohibited by our service policy and we strictly enforce a zero tolerance for spam.

Our Service Terms and Conditions document may be viewed at the following URL:

Due to the proliferation of SPAM abuse, we have no choice but to suspend your account from the Doteasy service due to a violation of the terms and conditions of the service. If your domain is registered through Doteasy, you may login to the Member Zone control panel to change your web host once you have found a new service provider.


Doteasy Customer Service

[ Offending message ]
From: “TD”
To: [x]
Subject: Latest must-have fashion statement
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 20:47:04 -0400
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Microsoft Office Outlook, Build 11.0.5510

I was shocked. I hate spam. I wouldn’t send spam. I find spammers to be among the lowest forms of life. I have never sent a single mass e-mail about anything related to this website or pretty much anything else for that matter. No chain letters, no jokes, no urban legends, nothing. This did not come from me. This was some sort of misunderstanding. Looking at the “Offending Message” I could clearly see that it was not an e-mail I ever sent to anyone. For one thing, the header information says it was sent with Outlook. I don’t use Outlook. I do sell t-shirts on my site, but that’s meant to be funny more than anything else. It’s not the purpose of my site. If it makes a few dollars, that’s great, but this site isn’t a money making enterprise. I don’t sell Viagra, or Rolex replicas, or have any Nigerian money to offer. Even a glance at my site should have made that obvious.

There was a misunderstanding here somewhere. But their e-mail suggests they’ve already shut me down! Was it too late to do something?

I immediately sent the following reply:

I just received notice from you guys saying that I was reported for sending spam, and that this will affect my hosting service. The message I received quoted an e-mail supposedly sent by me. It has the subject “Latest must-have fashion statement” and links to one of my pages where I do indeed sell a t-shirt.

I have NEVER sent that e-mail, nor authorized anybody to send it on my behalf, nor ever asked anyone to do any such thing. And I will swear to that in whatever court you want. This is the first time I’ve heard or seen it. I’m as interested in you are in finding out where it came from, and will cooperate in whatever way you want. Is there header information that indicates anything useful? I normally use Time Warner Cable in NYC as my outgoing email host, and I have a gmail account I use also.

How many complaints have you received? I hope this is an overzealous fan of my site who sent an e-mail to a few friends, and not a widespread problem.

I will immediately post a message on my blog asking people not to do this. What more can I do?

I request that you not terminate my account, as I have most definitely NOT violated any terms and conditions.

What more can I do? Please advise.

I know, I know. That’s exactly what a spammer would say. “It wasn’t my IP address! It wasn’t my e-mail account!” Whatever I could say, a spammer would say, too. I was being screwed by a zero-tolerance spam policy for something I had nothing to do with, and had no knowledge of.

I then posted a quick message on my blog that said something to the effect of, “PLEASE DO NOT SEND SPAM ON MY BEHALF!” and explained why. But it was already too late. I could still access my site via http, but couldn’t get through on the ftp server. And when I checked the rest of my e-mail, I noticed someone had written to me complaining that they couldn’t reach my site anymore. The shutdown was already underway. Propagation had begun.

Around now you’re wondering why I didn’t just pick up the phone and call my web host’s 24-hour customer service line to explain everything. Well, they don’t have one. And they take at least 24 hours to reply to e-mails. Why was I with them to begin with?

I already knew that Doteasy wasn’t the best web host around. But I started using them years and years ago to host my photography website when I thought they were a pretty good deal. They’re free for the most basic hosting package, which was all I needed at the time. So when I needed a better hosting package, I just stayed with them out of habit and comfort, upgrading instead of switching to a better web host. I didn’t think I needed the immediacy of phone support. Until now.

Exhausted, I spent the next hour making sure I had everything backed up in case I lost my site forever. Once I was sure it was all safe, I finally went to bed. I woke up the next morning, and the website was gone. No Ironic Sans. No nothing. Just a generic Doteasy placeholder page.

So I took their advice and found myself a new web host. A few other photographers I know are using Media Temple as their web host, and while I’m sure other people can offer other suggestions, the 24/7 phone support of Media Temple was a good enough selling point for me. I immediately signed up (very quick and easy) and spent the rest of the day reinstalling Movable Type and restoring everything as best as I could. And at one point when I hit a stumbling block, I picked up the phone and called Media Temple. In less than two minutes I was talking to a real live person who was very friendly and helpful.

Then I logged back in to Doteasy, where my domain was still registered, and switched the Domain Name Server information to my new web host, making a mental note to move my domain registration away from Doteasy as soon as possible. By the end of the day, Ironic Sans was back on-line. The new DNS information was beginning to propagate. All I could do now was wait.

In the meantime, I took another look at that “Offending message.” It didn’t make sense. Why would someone send spam on my behalf? What benefit would there be? I examined the e-mail header. The “To:” information had been blocked out, but the “From:” address was still there. Since Doteasy thought I sent it, there was no need to hide it from me. So I did a Google search on the e-mail address and found a name to go with it: Tom Dalton (not his real name). Even better, I found a phone number. I called it. I got his voicemail. It was his office number, and he would be away until Tuesday. I’d have to call him back. Is it possible that this was just one person who sent one e-mail to a friend, and that person thought it came from me? Could it really be that simple?

By now my Saturday was gone. It wasn’t how I wanted to spend my first day back in town, but Doteasy made it a necessity. Whatever. Screw them. I was done with Doteasy. Or so I thought.

On Monday, I received the following e-mail:

Hello David,

Thank you for your response.

As an internet service provide [sic], we have the obligation to respond and take action on such reports. If we do not respond to such reports, our mail server IP address can get Blacklisted. This will affect everyone on that server plus servers on the same IP Sub-Block.

It is clearly stated that we strictly enforces a zero-spam tolerance policy:

Normally the account will stay suspended but since we have received a positive reply that this will not happen again, we offer you the opportunity to re-activate your account. We have re-activated your account, please allow 24 hours for your account to be fully functional.

Once your account is fully functional, please do as you have said about posting a message in your forum.


Doteasy Customer Service

Too little, too late, Miguel. I replied:

Because of the extreme unhappiness I have with Doteasy’s handling of this situation, compounded by the fact that there is no phone support and therefore no way for my to even discuss this situation with Doteasy, I am leaving Doteasy as a customer, and have already transferred my web hosting to another company. So there is no need to reinstate my account… [T]his would amount to a total of four days of downtime for nothing I did, and with no way to reach you in a timely manner. That is completely unacceptable.

I would appreciate a cancellation of my web hosting at and refund for the remainder of my prepaid year of hosting with Doteasy. I am not at all at fault in this situation, so a refund is the only appropriate way to make it up to me.

Please advise when I can expect a refund for the remainder of my prepaid hosting. Thank you.

On Tuesday, I left town again on business, but had some time to make a phone call while I was at the airport. I dialed Tom Dalton’s phone number. The conversation went something like this:

“Tom Dalton?”


“Hi. My name’s David. You don’t know me, and I’m sorry for bothering you at work, but I think you may be able to help me solve a mystery.”


“Did you visit a website called Ironic Sans in the last few weeks?”


“That’s my site. Did you see the post about the pixelated t-shirts?”


“Did you happen to e-mail anyone about them?”

“Well yes, actually. I did.”

“I thought you might have. You’ll never believe what happened.”

I told him the story. He confirmed that he sent the e-mail to 7 or 8 people. One of them must have thought it was spam and reported it to Doteasy, thinking they were doing the right thing. I fell victim to Doteasy’s zero tolerance policy because someone thought they were doing the right thing. Tom was friendly and apologetic. He couldn’t guess which person might have reported me. I asked him to inquire, as I’d be interested in talking to whoever it was. How could they not notice the “From” address? What’s it like to actually report spam and have a successful outcome (from their perspective anyway)? Are they in the habit of reporting spammers? I wasn’t angry as much as I was curious. I haven’t heard from Tom, or whichever of his friends reported the “spam,” since then.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there.

Days went by. I couldn’t give this any more attention because I was busy with work projects. As soon as I could, I transferred my other sites away from Doteasy. But I still had to switch Ironic Sans to a new registrar. I know a lot of people don’t like Network Solutions, but since my photography domain is already registered with them, I decided to move over there, too. Maybe I’ll move it somewhere else eventually. But for now I just wanted to be away from Doteasy.

So I logged into my Network Solutions account and began the process of transferring from Doteasy. I received this reply from Network Solutions:

**IMPORTANT: One or more of the domain name registration(s) is in lock-status with your current Registrar. Please contact your current Registrar to unlock the domain. Once this domain is off of “lock-status,” please follow the instructions in the authorization e-mail to ensure our ability to process this transfer request.

Lock status? Doteasy offers lock-status protection, but they charge extra money for that. I never paid for that, never wanted that, and I just want to get my damn domain away from them! Why is it in lock status? Did those bastards lock my domain so I can’t escape them? I logged into their Control Panel, where a person who pays for the service is able to lock or unlock the domain at will, but the only option available is to lock the domain. So how the hell do I unlock it?

Meanwhile, it’s been more than a week since I last wrote to Doteasy. Then this shows up:

Hello David,

Because this account was suspended due to a violation of our terms and conditions, a refund on the unused portion of our hosting services will not be issued.


Doteasy Customer Service

Miguel doesn’t get it. I never violated their terms and conditions. I hate Miguel.

I wrote back:

I have contacted the person whose e-mail address appeared on the supposed SPAM that you think I sent. He said he sent that e-mail to EIGHT of his friends recommending my website. One of them must have thought it was SPAM and reported it to you. I did NOTHING in violation of your terms and conditions. This overreaction on your part is very frustrating.

But whatever. At this point I want as little to do with Doteasy as possible, so I’d like to transfer my domain to another registrar. But I see you have made unauthorized changes to my registrant information, and put my domain in “Locked” mode…

I understand why you have a strict SPAM policy. I also understand that I am screwed because of it… I now want to take my business elsewhere.

Please stop holding my domain name hostage, and allow me to transfer to a new host.

Thank you.

To this date, I haven’t heard back from Miguel.

So I started over. I opened a new customer request ticket:

I’m trying to transfer my domain away from doteasy, but the registrar I want to move to tells me my domain is in “lock” status with you guys. I don’t want to be in lock status, and never signed up for domain locking. I don’t see a way to turn off lock status myself (just plenty of places telling me that I can turn lock status ON for a fee).

Please tell me why I am in lock status, and remove the feature so I can transfer my domain away from doteasy. Thank you.

Please don’t let Miguel get it. Let it go to anybody in Customer Service but Miguel. Please not Miguel.

Finally, I heard back from “Steve.”

Hello David,

I have submitted a request on your behalf to have your domain unlocked and it should be completed shortly. Please note that if you transfer your domain name registration away from Doteasy, you may no longer be eligible for our hosting services free of charge.

Due to changes in registry transfer rules, we use domain registrar-lock to prevent unauthorized transfers and domain hijacking from occurring. This is a safety precaution we have implemented as a domain registration service provider.

Please refrain from making any DNS changes or updating any contact information as doing so will cause your domain to relock.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Doteasy Customer Service

That’s right. They automatically lock every domain. This is a feature that they advertise all over their site as available for purchase for almost $10 per year. But if you don’t buy it, they give it to you for free anyway. That’s deceitful. If you know anyone on Doteasy that’s paying for the feature, tell them to stop.

Now, after all is said and done, I finally have moved everything away from Doteasy. They are not my host, and they are not my registrar. They have my money, and they better not charge me any hosting-renewal fees for anything they think I may have opted into when I signed up (I can see that argument coming). But the lessons I’ve learned are clear:

1) Doteasy asks you to pay for things they give you for free.

2) Doteasy has terrible customer service

3) Anyone can have any website taken down just by sending an e-mail, if it’s hosted by Doteasy

4) If you have a website hosted at Doteasy, you should leave them as soon as possible

5) Spam sucks, but zero-tolerance policies can screw the innocent

6) If you write a really long blog entry, you shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t read all the way to the end. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my rant.

Update: Having gotten strong responses from readers recommending various recourses I could take, I thought I’d try asking Doteasy for a refund one last time before I complain to the credit card company or Better Business Bureau. I sent Doteasy one last e-mail, pointing them to this blog entry, and letting them know about the thousands of people who have read it so far. I didn’t have high hopes, but I didn’t expect this, either:

Hello David,

Thank you for your email.

As per the Terms and Conditions, we strictly enforce the Zero-Spam regulation. As the reply sent to you previously on July 04, we will not be able to refund the remainder paid hosting service. We have already offerred you the exception to re-activate your account without the Spam Re-activation fee of US$25.00.


Doteasy Customer Service
“Join the hosting revolution!”

So now I’m lucky they didn’t charge me an extra $25 on top of everything else for their own screw-up? I hate these people more and more. Grr.

I’ll update again if anything further comes of this.

March 23, 2006

Idea: Advertisements on the overhead bins

The overhead bins

Look, I didn’t say it’s a good idea. I admit that it’s ugly as sin. Every bit of empty space in our lives is slowly being taken over by ads, so why would I want even more? Well, have you noticed how expensive your airplane tickets are getting? Airlines are filing for bankruptcy protection, seats are getting less comfortable, and you’re asked to pay $6 for a box of stale crackers on a flight.

I was on a plane yesterday, and I noticed that with all the ads they were showing us on the overhead TVs, and all the ads crammed into the in-flight magazine, there was all this prime advertising real estate overhead that wasn’t being used. You already see overhead ads on the subways, on buses, in taxis, and on trains. Sometimes you’re even glad it’s there so you have something to look at to avoid eye contact with the person sitting across from you. So what’s a little more advertising on another mode of transportation?

I’m not even sure I should file this under “Ideas.” Maybe I need a category called “Predictions.” This seems sort of inevitable to me.

March 21, 2006

Idea: A website for reviewing restaurants in airports

I do a fair amount of travelling, and I don’t always have time to eat before I leave for the airport. Sometimes I get stuck in terminals for hours due to layovers or delays. And one thing I’ve learned is that there is an enormous inconsistency in food quality at airport restaurants.

airport cafe
Photo: tspauld / flickr
Most of them are just awful. Everything’s greasy, undercooked, overcooked, or just plain tastes bad. There’s butter slathered on everything. But every now and then I eat at an airport restaurant that’s delicious. I might as well be eating at my favorite restaurant, that’s how delicious it is. I’ve been to airport restaurants that served as test kitchens for famous restaurants. And I never would have known about them if I hadn’t stumbled upon them.

So why doesn’t someone build a website that reviews restaurants in airports? That way when I’m taking advantage of the terminal’s wi-fi connection and I realize I’m getting hungry, I can hop on-line at and see what the best restaurant in my terminal is. Or if I know I’ll have a big layover in Chicago, I can look up the restaurants before I go and see what gets the best reviews?

Unfortunately, I really do have air travel to do this week, and I can predict I’ll be in a rush getting to the airport and won’t have time to eat first. Can anybody recommend a good restaurant at Miami International?