Nag, Nag, Nag

One of the software trends I’ve hated the most of the past decade or so is nagging. From the standpoint of the user, popping up a message to suggest or demand the user do something is the last resort. In my mind, it’s a flagrant violation of the law of least astonishment… basically, don’t do things that surprise the user.  Popping stuff on screen is at odds with that… it distracts the user from what he or she is doing… which is, basically, the entire point of having a computer. Getting whatever the user wants to do done.

I usually associate nagging with commercial software. I remember the first time I started Window XP: wihin a minute of first logging in, I got popups reminding me to register Windows… along with taking a tour of windows, and eliminating unused icons from my desktop (WTF… will you give me a second to go see what is actually on the friggin desktop before suggesting I blow it away?). Recently, I had to go in and decrapify my father-in-law’s Dell that had come installed with tons of foistware that was nagging him about buying it, installing updates, and the like.

I usually expect open source software to not make these sorts of stupid decisions. However, today I ran into the worst case of nagging I have seen in quite a while thanks to Firefox. I left Ubuntu udate a bunch of software this morning, including Firefox.. and here’s what showed up at the top of the browser window:

How stupid is it to have an informational message with a close button on it, which closes the message for the grand total of a few seconds? If it’s so important to constantly nag me to restart the browser, then don’t put the button there!

Also notice that the message pushes the entire page down… so if it decides to pop up just as I click a link, the stupid message will push a different link under my pointer. That’s what I call freakin’ astonishing!

How AT&T Eating T-Mobile Will Enhance AT&T’s Special Access Monopoly.

“Special Access” is one of those fun telecom terms that makes no sense to those outside of telecom. Briefly, it’s the rate that a regulated incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC), like AT&T, charges for certain non-residential telecom services. As you can see, even my attempt to describe in one sentence without jargon failed, that’s how complicated this is. However, like many very complicated things, Special Access is one of the important ingredients that goes into how much people pay for phone and broadband service. You can find a five minute video of me explaining Special Access and why everyone needs to care about it here.

Not surprisingly, the issue has come up in the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Sprint says that AT&T absorbing T-Mobile will make its Special Access problems worse and allow AT&T/T-Mobile to price it out of the market. AT&T responded in this blog post, in part by asking “How could absorbing T-Mobile, which doesn’t provide Special Access, hurt the Special Access market?” Sarah Jerome over at the Hill asked me that question, prompting me to offer this response (originally printed here), which I expand on a bit below.

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Wireless Competition Rumble! Watch Me Take It To The Free Marketeers Where They Live — With Snacks to Follow!

Ho fellow policy wonks and spectrum geeks! Come watch me and occasional blog buddy (over at PK blog) Rob Frieden take on Arch Free Marketeers Thomas Hazlett and Joshua Wright at an epic, no holds barred, steel cage death match on competition in the wireless world. The Event, “The FCC’s Wireless Competition Report: A Preview” aka “The Wireless Competition Arlington Free-For-All” (because admission is free), will take place next Wednesday, May 18, 4-5:30 p.m., at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University (official announcement with all the info here).

More outrageously exaggerated prose describing the event below!

UPDATE: I initially had this down as being in Fairfax, rather than Arlington, because the GMU main campus is in Fairfax and I misread the event announcement (it is at 3351 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington). My bad.

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Why Does the US Trade Representative Keeps Trying To Piss Off Our Trading Partners?

Everyone talks about promoting our exports and hooking in to the emerging economies as the means of leveraging our economic blahs. With Americans consumers still considered the walking dead, and likely to remain so for some time, anyone hoping for job growth and overall improvement in the American economy recognizes that we need to get other countries to buy our stuff.

Unfortunately, someone seems determined to piss off our potential trade partners. Worse, that “someone” is the office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the folks in charge of getting trade agreements negotiated and boosting trade. If that seems odd, take a look at the most recent Special 301 Report (aka “the IP Naughty List”) released by the USTR at the end of April. Pretty much everyone we want to trade with is on either the “naughty” or “very naughty” list. True, some countries, such as Russia and China, appear genuinely naughty — in the sense that massive wholesale counterfeiting and infringement appears to be going on while the governments appear relatively uninterested in enforcement. But a large number of other countries — Canada, Israel and Brazil, to name a few — appear on the list because they failed to modify their laws to suit the demands of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. entertainment industry.

My colleague at Public Knowledge Rashmi Rangnath, has written up a general summary of what USTR got wrong (again!). I want to focus here on how this fits into a creeping systemic problem with USTR’s approach.  While the U.S. remains a strong market, we no longer rule the roost. The time when we could simply dictate to other countries what we expected of them and could force them to amend their constitutions, sell off vital natural resources, and dance for our amusement as a condition of getting access to our markets are pretty much over. You would think after holding up ACTA for three years trying to get other countries to adopt the MPAA’s wish list and then finally being forced to cave at the end would have impressed this point on the good folks at USTR, if not on the utterly uneducable lobbyists that make up the vanguard the IP Mafia. Alas, to judge by the USTR’s conduct here, USTR still lives in a fantasy-land where it can snap its fingers and the world hastens to do our IPR bidding. Anyone hoping for a more sensible approach in the negotiations around the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) should prepare for disappointment, which is bad news for all those businesses hoping for a trade deal with some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

More below . . .

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