Adobe’s serial insanity

I've been using Adobe products for nearly 20 years now, and in the past, I would have my employers dutifully buy me copies of Photoshop at every upgrade cycle. Now that I've been on my own for a few years, last year I finally outgrew an old copy of photoshop and decided to bite the bullet and buy a full blown copy of the entire Creative Suite 5.5 Master collection, at around $1800.

I heard about the new CS 6 betas for months and was surprised when people I follow on twitter started talking about the final version. As a customer of Adobe's with ColdFusion, they're usually pretty on-the-ball about notifying me the moment something new is on sale, and even though I spent $1800 back in September, I didn't see any emails or notifications on my Adobe account that there was a new version.

I needed Photoshop and Illustrator on a new laptop, so I went ahead and bought an upgrade to CS 6 for $375. I was logged into at the time, and I didn't see any "upgrade here" or "buy here" links from my previous orders, so I went through the options and it looked like the cheap upgrade would work.

I installed the upgrade version, put in the serial number they gave me, and was asked for a previous version serial, which I also copied off my account history, but I was met with the following error (I blurred the numbers, but you can see the old ones matching up on the last four digits and still being told this was wrong).


Annoyed, I followed the customer support links and read the articles about serial number activation issues. Eventually on a support page I was viewing, a "chat with a support person?" popup displayed on a page and I went ahead and explained my situation to a support tech. We solved the issues by doing this weird code-number-handshake thing that was a secret screen in the installer, and once given a secret code from the support tech, everything worked fine.

So to recap, after spending over $2k on software, about an hour of frustration while searching for a fix and talking things through with a support tech in a chat, I solved my problem on one computer (I also want to install this on my desktop). 

Adobe could have prevented these problems at several points, in many easy fixes, with solutions that would cut their paying customer frustrations, not require so much support documentation or staff to handle these issues, and get people using and loving their software again. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

1. When I'm logged into, my previous orders should present direct links to buy qualified upgrades at qualified prices. I shouldn't have to decipher a product matrix to determine which upgrade I should buy.

2. Same issue, but on the launch day of CS 6, I should have gotten a direct email offer to upgrade my CS 5.5 version with a link to buy/download CS 6 that bypassed the options.

3. If you get stuck in the serial number upgrade loop like I did, you can bypass it by installing CS 6 as a trial, which requires you to login to If the installer lets me login to Adobe, why not fetch my serial numbers directly? If you need me to verify any previous purchaces, why can't I simply pick products from my previous purchases with a click instead of having to enter long serial numbers?

4. The "support code" option is a total hack and being non-reproducible on my other computer, means I'll have to go through this all over again. That you even had to build this nuclear option into installers reveals deeper problems.

Seriously Adobe, you've been at the pro software game for 20 some odd years, you have a great web site and team, and I can't believe I'm still having problems installing thousands of dollars worth of software in this day and age.

Facebook’s Privacy Whiteboard


Last year, when Facebook started going lax on their default privacy settings (in opposition to how they'd always defaulted settings) I had this idea. It's obvious why Facebook would push their userbase in that direction, because it would mean more public outfacing pages to sell internal and external advertising on. If you're running a giant private walled garden, you can only sell ads to other users — but when you open that page up to the world (and Google) you can sell ads to everyone.

So my thought upon seeing a major change in privacy at Facebook was there must be a whiteboard in a Facebook office somewhere listing all the changes necessary to their privacy settings in order to maximize revenue. I'd guess there are maybe 20 items on the list, and it seems every few months they pluck a couple off the list and make it live. Sure, they're also releasing other features to offset the bad publicity of further privacy changes, but this excellent blog post and infographic (one of which is shown above) demonstrate exactly how they've progressed on implementing their changes over time. I'd guess at this point, they're about 3/4 of the way through that list.

Now I'm just waiting until the day an engineer at Facebook is fed up enough to take a photo of the Privacy Nightmare Punchlist whiteboard and post it on the web for all to see. It has to exist, but I'd still like to see it.

Playstation 3: complete failure for casual gaming

The other day this thought popped into my head and since several people asked, I wanted to expound on my original point.

First off, let me just say I’m a casual gamer — for the past seven years I’ve usually owned one console game system and I play it about once a week for a couple hours. I might get obsessed about a new game and play everyday for a week, but on average, maybe once a week. I mostly like “organic” sports sims, games where no two plays are alike (tony hawk’s skate games are my favorite). I also bought the PS3 for the blu-ray DVD player and it works ok for that (more below), but for gaming, I wish I bought a xbox360 instead.

Here is a list of why I think the PS3 I’ve owned for almost a year sucks:

  1. While blu-ray movies look great on my 46″ 1080p Sony LCD TV, after about 30 minutes of any movie playback, the unit’s fan goes to 11 and it sounds like a hair dryer was left on in my media rack. Keep in mind I have a fully vented system with plenty of air circulation and space around the unit. I could understand if the PS3 got hot when it had to render a billion polygons per nanosecond, but does 30 minutes of Meryl Streep really tax a modern system?
  2. I’ve got it hooked up via HDMI, at 1080p, the max resolution. The menus feature teeny-tiny fonts that look about 8px tall, max. I’m only ten feet away from my almost four foot wide screen, but I can barely read text within the PS3 dashboard menus and online features. I’m not an old man complaining about tiny fonts — I stare at small fonts all day on my computer screen, but the PS3’s menus look ridiculous even on a large screen TV. Who was their target market for the tiny font choice? 12 year olds with 103-inch plasmas?
  3. Since I’ve owned it, there have been over a dozen updates to the OS. While it’s cool they keep fixing bugs and adding features, if you want to use any online aspect of the PS3, you are blocked and told to update your system. For someone that plays once a week, this means about every third time I fired up the device, I was told I had to download some 100Mb+ file and let it do its update thing for about an hour or so, rendering it unplayable.
  4. System updates and demo games are often in the 100-600Mb range in size. I’ve got a 8Mbit cable modem line at home and typically a couple hundred megabytes comes down in 10-15 minutes. The Sony network servers are really slow and I’ve had downloads take overnight to complete.
  5. Some of the online features are worthless. It has a web browser, but it renders pages vertically in a portrait-like layout (even though TVs are landscaped layout) and features those great 6px fonts. It’s basically worthless and after I tried Google on it once, I never launched the web browser again.
  6. Signing up for an online account is tedious and seems to take forever. Periodically you get kicked offline while trying to view game demos. Currently, I can’t stay logged in for more than 30 seconds before being dropped. This means downloads no longer work, since I get disconnected
  7. Every couple weeks, there are new free game demos to download. I’ve only successfully downloaded and installed three game demos in the past 10 months of owning the PS3. Downloads that fail in the night can’t be resumed and have to be restarted. It’s all very frustrating. Imagine if Microsoft’s Windows Update failed on more than half of your update attempts and took all night to successfully work the few times things went well.
  8. Games cost $50-60 each and the release schedule has been very slow since the introduction of the PS3. I’m still waiting for a GTA title and Guitar Hero to come out for the PS3. Most PS2 games play fine on it (though I didn’t own any when I got my PS3 — I sold my PS2 about two years ago), but some of the most popular don’t (like Guitar Hero and DDR, which just sort of work with some hacky attachments)
  9. The PS3 has an online store, but despite entering my credit card info into my profile twice, I’ve never successfully purchased anything. I get errors when I attempt to buy a downloadable game.
  10. The video player is ok, they just added video streaming from other computers in a recent update, but it’s nowhere near as flexible as something like the free open source XBMC I used to have.
  11. My other game system, the Wii, is still highly playable, fun, and innovative. Playing the average PS3 game still involves memorizing some button mashes. I’ll never play a button-mashing golf or tennis game on the PS3 when I can swing a Wii controller around and have much more fun.
  12. The controllers on a PS3 are wireless which is nice, but they use bluetooth. While that’s cool and forward thinking, it means that makers of alternate controllers (universal remotes, steering wheels, dance pads, etc) are way behind and the choices are non-existent. My nice Harmony universal remote can control thousands of devices but not the PS3, so I have to use a Sony DVD remote when watching movies. Driving games suffer from not having peripherals out there and things like DDR and Guitar Hero simply don’t exist for the PS3 yet, almost a year after launch.

Now that I’m almost a year into owning the PS3, I kind of wish I bought a xbox360 instead (which I would have last year if they only offered it with a HDMI output back then). I hear the xbox360’s online component works really well and brings a social multi-player component to games in a way I’ve never gotten to work on the PS3. I hear you can download games and movies without having to wait overnight, and there’s the HD-DVD option for that system (oh how I wish for a decent <$500 hybrid HD-DVD/blu-ray combo player instead).

I’ve never been much of a fan of Microsoft, but in the world of console gaming, they look a heck of a lot better than the PS3. So that my friends is why the PS3 sucks and why you should avoid it.

Misadventures in Copyright

backyard, four months later Last year I moved into a new house with a big backyard, but the yard faces directly south, so it bakes in the summertime. I decided to find a local architect to help build a small shade patio off the back, and in the process I learned a lot about how far-reaching copyright law hits everyday people.

  1. After meeting with an architect, I was asked to get the plans for the house from the city building department, to use as reference. I drove down and requested them at the desk, and they said they wouldn’t give them to me as a homeowner — the builder of the house had to request them (I assume, because of copyright, so I won’t go build a duplicate house on my own?).
  2. I met up with the builder later that day, since he was building another house in the city. He was surprised and slightly annoyed he had to do this, so he called the department and told them to go ahead and let me see the plans to get copies made.
  3. The next day the City lets me pick them up, but says I must return them by 5pm the following day (or I guess they turn into a pumpkin?).
  4. I go to a large local copy shop, drop off the plans, they say they’ll be done in two hours.
  5. 1 hour and 55 minutes later, I get a call saying they can’t make the copies, due to copyright. I’m told I need written (verbal isn’t good enough) permission from the architecture firm mentioned on the plans before they would copy them. My only other choice is to come in and retrieve the plans.
  6. I scour the yellow pages online and no one else in the city has a large copier for house blueprint plans. I notice the plans have a paragraph-sized copyright notice/license on the side saying you are liable for $40,000 in damages if found copying them and the plans are only for one house built. There are also hand-stamped “COPYRIGHT” stamps on each drawing, on every page.
  7. I tell this story to my architect, who says she’d be happy to take the plans to the same copy shop that refused them, since they let her make any copies she needs.

As the owner of a home, of course I don’t “own” the design used to build it, but I don’t see why the city, the builder, the copier shop, and the original architecture firm all had to stand in my way before I could see the plans. To know where and how many windows are on the back wall before planning new construction off those walls sure seems like a legitimate use of plans that shouldn’t impede on copyright, but that’s the state of copyright matters today.