Just a quick screencast of me trying to send an email. Note how absolutely nothing happens for all sixteen-plus minutes of the video. This is the same nothing that happened during the three minutes or so before I bothered to start recording the video. Our brilliant campus technologists replaced our perfectly functional in-house email service with Microsoft Office 365 a bit over a year ago, without bothering to consult the people who are actually using the service to keep up with their professional responsibilities, apparently because ZOMFG MORE STORAGE SPACE. Of course, what they’ve traded for that space is the ability to actually fix problems as they occur instead of posturing as cringing supplicants begging Microsoft to fix the kind of problem that shouldn’t be occurring at all in 2014, let alone be an ongoing problem for months and months at a time.

It’s worth saying that this is not an isolated incident; it happens all the fucking time. Given that this is 2014 and that a basic assumption in my professional field, as in basically all professional fields, is that I will monitor and respond to emails that are sent to me, this is entirely unacceptable. Of course, Microsoft clearly doesn’t give a fuck, because they’ve been notified over and over and haven’t bothered to fix a serious problem that seriously impacts someone who is paying them for their service. I get dozens of emails a day, many of which require a response from me. I also need to keep a copy of emails that I’ve sent, just in case I ever need to prove that I sent them. Needless to say, if it takes twenty minutes to send a short email, it’s an excruciating burden to keep up with this one small portion of my professional responsibilities. And, you know, it’s worth saying again that Microsoft clearly doesn’t care about the level of service they’re providing to their customers.

I’ve complained about this to our local technocrats, who say that they’ve complained to Microsoft, and that Microsoft regards this problem as a low priority. Which jibes with pretty much every other experience I’ve had with Microsoft: once you’ve shelled out money for their inferior products, well, fuck you, you’re stuck. Just because you’re paying a lot doesn’t mean that the services you’re paying for are going to work anywhere near as well as free software.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Microsoft doesn’t care about the problem because they’re confident that the campus isn’t going to go through the trouble of migrating to a new service, given that they’ve already paid for this one for some indeterminate period of time. So I guess I’m stuck with an inferior service that I had no voice in choosing because Microsoft doesn’t think that providing a quality service is worthwhile, UCSB doesn’t think that the quality of the service provided should be a factor in whether we continue to use the service, and, when it comes right down to it, no one who makes decisions about this email service thinks that the needs of the end users are important.

Original screencast video on YouTube.

This shit happens all the time.

I spent twenty minutes arranging photos in a photoset (because Tumblr always seems to decide that it’s better at arranging my photos in an order it likes than I am, so it doesn’t bother to arrange them in the order I named them, and I have to drag them around in its slow, clumsy interface) and typing a description, and then I get up to get another cup of coffee and find that Tumblr has dumped five of the ten photos and popped up this useless, uninformative error message (in red, above). The cherry in the ice-cream soda? The web site tells me to “try again later,” implying that there’s nothing I can do, but then warns me that I have unsaved work when I try to reload the page. The implication seems to be that, when there’s a technical problem preventing me from saving my work, I should save my work.

Which means, I guess, that I get to re-do the work I did earlier in the hope that somehow, this time, it might work. (Update: it did, but took nearly 20 minutes to post when I clicked “Post.”) This isn’t how Tumblr worked when I signed up for it: it was reliably functional. But that was before Yahoo! bought it last year. Maybe it’s worth saying again that Yahoo! kills every good service they purchase. Or, as Mat Honan put it on Gizmodo, “sadly, Yahoo’s steady march of incompetence doesn’t bode well for making use of these valuable properties. If the Internet really were a series of tubes, Yahoo would be the leaking sewage pipe, covering everything it comes in contact with in watered-down shit.”

Another complaint about the technical services provided by the University. At least this time my complaint about technical services was not met with bald-faced lying, total incompetence, or assertions that it’s my fault, which is refreshing. However, the response “we outsource that service instead of providing it directly, so there’s really nothing we can do but kick your complaint upstream to the company from which we outsource it” isn’t exactly satisfying, either. Especially given that the decision to outsource to Microsoft was made without bothering to consult the users who are actually affected by it (I’ve complained about this before).


Subject: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: Re: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: “Randall Ehren (UCSB Support Desk Collaboration)” <support@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
Date: 07/29/2014 03:14 PM
To: Patrick Mooney { my school email address }
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Ticket #19871: Re: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney

Your request (#19871) has been updated.

Randall Ehren, Jul 29 15:14:

Hi Patrick -

The only thing I can offer at this time is to see about using Port 587/TLS or Port 465/SSL to see if you notice any improvements.

We have reported this again and again, with documentation, to Microsoft. Feel free to report your findings.

-randall


 

Subject: Re: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: Patrick Mooney { my school email address }
Date: 05/25/2014 10:52 PM
To: UCSB Support Desk Collaboration <support+id19708@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
X-Mozilla-Status: 0011
X-Mozilla-Status2: 00000000
Message-ID: <5382D6A6.3030101@umail.ucsb.edu>
Reply-To: <{ my school email address }>
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:24.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/24.5.0
References: <2R7AJWBK_537a3a76c0908_5f863fb7054c9e8c359772f_sprut@zendesk.com>
In-Reply-To: <2R7AJWBK_537a3a76c0908_5f863fb7054c9e8c359772f_sprut@zendesk.com>
Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=”——————080301010207080607020009”
MIME-Version: 1.0
Reply-to: { my school email address }

Hi, Randall,

I just wanted to say that the problem is still occurring, and while turning down the number of concurrent SMTP connections to 1 helps somewhat, it is still completely unacceptable. I just spent fifteen minutes sitting around waiting for an email to go out. When it didn’t go out, I had to shut down Thunderbird, wait for it to shut down completely, restart it, and rewrite the email. I am out of town this weekend, and the only thing that I have to do, work-wise, is send emails. I cannot write any other emails while I am waiting for one to go out, because I can only have one concurrent connection, which is tied up waiting for the first email to go out, so if I write an email while waiting for the first email to go out, then if the first email is never sent, then the work I’ve spent writing additional emails is also wasted. Sitting around with my thumb up my ass for fifteen minutes, then re-writing the first email, is an enormous waste of my time. I am busy, and Microsoft’s servers just ate half an hour of my vacation time. This is unacceptable.

I realize that you personally are not responsible for administering this service. however, I would like to say that (a) the service was moved to an external provider without bothering to consult the people who are directly affected by the change, and (b) the email provider that was picked without consulting anyone actually using the service is not providing a minimally acceptable level of service. This is 2014. Email needs to work quickly and reliably.

This is an ongoing problem that has affected me for several months. Your message implies that it is also affecting other people. This is unacceptable.

We should be moving to another email provider if the problem cannot be resolved immediately.

Thank you for your time.


—-
Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/

 

Subject: Re: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: Patrick Mooney { my school email address }
Date: 05/19/2014 06:09 PM
To: UCSB Support Desk Collaboration <support+id19708@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
X-Mozilla-Status: 0011
X-Mozilla-Status2: 00000000
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Done! We’ll see if it helps. Thanks again, Randall.


—-
Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/

 

Subject: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: “Randall Ehren (UCSB Support Desk Collaboration)” <support@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
Date: 05/19/2014 10:08 AM
To: Patrick Mooney { my school email address }
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Ticket #19708: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney

Your request (#19708) has been updated.


Randall Ehren, May 19 10:07:

Tools —> Account Settings —> click on your U-Mail account —> Server Settings —> click ‘Advanced’ button. Change “Maximum number of connections to cache”. Hopefully this helps.

Attachment(s)
cached.png


 

Subject: Re: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: Patrick Mooney { my school email address }
Date: 05/18/2014 11:14 PM
To: UCSB Support Desk Collaboration <support+id19708@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
X-Mozilla-Status: 0011
X-Mozilla-Status2: 00000000
Message-ID: <5379A163.7040909@umail.ucsb.edu>
Reply-To: { my school email address }
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:24.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/24.5.0
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Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=”——————020200010503080303050505”
Reply-to: { my school email address }

Thank you for the quick reply, Randall. I’m sorry to take so long to get back to you, and would be grateful if you’d send me instructions for changing the IMAP concurrent connections count.


—-
Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/

 

Subject: [UCSB Support Desk Collaboration] Re: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney
From: “Randall Ehren (UCSB Support Desk Collaboration)” <support@ucsbcollabsupport.zendesk.com>
Date: 05/14/2014 11:07 AM
To: Patrick Mooney < [my school email address] >
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Ticket #19708: U-Mail Help Request - patrickmooney

Your request (#19708) has been updated.



Randall Ehren, May 14 11:07:

Hi Patrick -

Our monitoring service noticed a big lag with SMTP connection times last week - noted in the attachment to this ticket - not exactly the cause of the main slowness you had but likely compounded.

We have raised this issue with Microsoft as it is a real problem for Thunderbird SMTP users. In the meantime they have suggested turning the concurrent IMAP connection count down to 1 (Thunderbird default is 5 - I am happy to provide detailed instructions if you’d like) - as the larger part of your slowness stems from having copy the message to your Sent/Sent Items folder.

Thank you for the screencast, it’s useful for us to demonstrate to MS what the customer experience is like.

-randall

Attachment(s)
rtt-update.png



Patrick Mooney, May 13 01:54:

Contact by: student e-mail - [my school email address]
UCSBnetID: patrickmooney
Platform: unknown
Browser: Default Browser


I use Thunderbird 24.5.0 under Linux to check my U-Mail account. I experience a variety of constant problems that seem to be related to server timeouts. For instance, the most common of these problems is that emails take FOREVER to send. Example: here is a screencast of me trying to send an email that doesn’t go out in OVER TWENTY MINUTES: https://app.box.com/s/m9psk8wgx7e3y6zyxfrg

There are plenty of other problems that seem to have server timeouts as a root cause. The basic problem seems to be that any request to the server may or may not actually complete in a reasonable time frame. So, trying to drag one or more emails from my U-Mail mailbox in Thunderbird to a local folder may result in the messages being moved … or it may just result in a little spinning icon when I hold the mouse over the list of messages in the account. No way to tell.

Needless to say, this is completely unacceptable. This is 2014, not 1994. I receive dozens and dozens of emails every day. A slow server that takes several minutes to complete requests — if they complete at all — makes just monitoring and responding to emails an excruciating burden. Requests to the server need to complete quickly and reliably, not be a coin-toss that can take twenty minutes or more to fall on the “works” or “doesn’t work” side of the coin.

Once the server starts timing out, the likelihood that future requests will time out increases dramatically. Similarly, while I’m waiting for one task to complete, trying to accomplish another task that also involves making a server request is vastly more likely to fail. The only way to get the server to respond again is to stop working, close down Thunderbird, wait for it to close completely, and then restart it. Because this can take four minutes or more, and sometimes needs to happen ten times a day, this is also completely unacceptable.

This is 2014. The technology needs to work. I have verified that my server settings are correct (you can see this in the video). Please tell me what I need to do to fix this problem.

———————————————————————————-

Please reply to this message if you have further problems or
questions. If we don’t hear from you within 5 days we’ll assume this issue
has been resolved.

This email is a service from UCSB Support Desk Collaboration. Message-Id:2R7AJWBK_5373b0f0b22f2_2dff3fe6012c9ea420299d9_sprut

I want someone to explain this to me.

I’m a grad student at UC Santa Barbara. As you may know, there was a horrific set of murders last Friday just off campus by a whiny, privileged little asshole who had always been handed everything he’d ever wanted, except for one thing. So, claiming that his actions were motivated by his desire to get revenge on the world for not getting that one thing, he killed six people, though he was hoping to get more.

My grief and rage at this incident are beyond what words could possibly express. Seeing the horror on my students’ faces (those who survived, that is — one of my students was one of the victims) this week in class — talking about this incident in our weekly discussion section — trying to be supportive, to point students in the direction of campus support resources, to listen while they cried in my office, to do what I can to do what they need from me — all of this is something that I couldn’t possibly begin to express, and would likely not talk about in any detail on Tumblr even if I felt that I could begin to express what I’ve been thinking and feeling.

That’s not what I want explained to me. There are no answers that are meaningful in the context of the questions that I would ask if I could articulate them, despite the number of people who have jumped up on metaphorical stages over the last week to make (admittedly, often well-articulated and analytically insightful) declarations that this event proves one or another pet theory correct.

But this is what I want explained:

I am subscribed to the campus’s emergency alert system. The only real effect of this choice that I made when I started grad school is that I get all kinds of random messages about random things all the time. Sometimes, I get five text messages on my cell phone because someone’s wallet got stolen out of a dorm, as if this constituted the opening of some sort of horrific dorm-room-wallet-theft spree. I got two text messages and two emails on May 20th because there was “a suspicious subject” on West Campus Family Housing. (There was an initial “alert” about the situation, and then a follow-up “alert” announcing that he hadn’t been found.) I have complained to the administrators of the system that I want more granular control over what causes me to get a text message and/or an email, because I don’t need to be woken up at 3 in the morning every time someone calls the police to describe a stranger as “suspicious.” (And, also, not everyone has unlimited free text messaging on their cell phones. Just saying.) They have replied that they understand my point of view, but there are concerns about whether failure to report something to everyone signed up on the list might expose them to legal liability, even if there are opt-in and opt-out controls that users can manage themselves, so I’m just going to have to keep receiving all the alerts if I want to get any. Because it’s far less important to meet the actual needs of the users than it is to cringe in front of someone’s idea about what a law might mean.

And my thought has always been: OK, it’s an acceptable trade-off, because if there’s ever a violent event on campus that threatens my students and/or me, I want to know immediately, because that could be the difference between living and dying: not just for me, but for my entire class. And I keep getting these bullshit “someone’s wallet was stolen” and “there is a suspicious Hispanic male with black hair” texts and emails, and have the entire time that I’ve been a grad student here.

However, when an over-privileged, whiny little asshole stabbed his three roommates and then drove his expensive car that daddy bought him around Isla Vista shooting at people at 9:37 p.m. on 23 May, I didn’t get an alert at all on my cell phone, and didn’t get an email until 10:16 — 39 minutes later. All the email said (as you’ll see after you skip over the full headers, included for those who like to verify these kinds of things) was, quote:

Subject: Important alert from UCSB
From: UCSB Emergency <emergency_1TT@alert.ucsb.edu>
Date: 05/23/2014 10:16 PM
To: UCSB <roamalert_ucsb_pub@alert.ucsb.edu>
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Shots fired in IV 2 detained , investigation on going,

Sent by Police Dispatch to All users (e-mail accounts, pagers) through UCSB Alert
… powered by Cooper Notification’s Roam Secure Alert Network

You received this message because you registered on UCSB Alert. To change your alerting preferences go to https://alert.ucsb.edu/mygroups.php

"Shots fired" is a grossly inadequate summary of what had already happened by the time the alert was sent out. For one thing, the alert doesn’t say that the shots were fired intentionally. For another, it doesn’t say that anyone was hit. For another, it doesn’t say that anyone was injured. For another, it doesn’t say that anyone was dead. For another, it doesn’t say that the killer was actively trying to find new victims by driving a car around narrow, crowded residential streets at high speeds, shooting at people and trying to run them over.

And then, at 12:10 p.m. — nearly two and a half hours after the beginning of the murder spree — I got a text message on my phone saying, essentially, “everything’s OK now,” followed by this email containing the same verbiage that the text message contained:

Subject: Important alert from UCSB
From: UCSB Emergency <emergency_1TV@alert.ucsb.edu>
Date: 05/24/2014 12:10 AM
To: UCSB <roamalert_ucsb_pub@alert.ucsb.edu>
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At this time, there is no further threat. Everyone is encouraged to stay indoors.


Sent by Police Dispatch to All users (e-mail accounts, Wireless Devices) through UCSB Alert
… powered by Cooper Notification’s Roam Secure Alert Network

You received this message because you registered on UCSB Alert. To change your alerting preferences go to https://alert.ucsb.edu/mygroups.php

Will somebody please explain what the fuck is going on here?

More specifically, what I want explained is:

  1. Why did the first message not go out until after the person who had been driving around shooting people was already dead?
  2. Isn’t this exactly the type of situation in which an emergency alert message should absolutely, without fail, go out to everyone, immediately, absolutely as soon as the police department is aware of it? Isn’t that the whole point of the system?
  3. What is the point of this system if messages about immediate threats go out sporadically and after a delay so long as to make them pointless, whereas messages about routine bullshit bombard people at inconvenient times?
  4. Why did the initial message go only to my less-monitored system?
  5. Is there someone administering the system who actually thinks that email is a more reliable way to reach people than SMS?
  6. Who, specifically, dropped the ball on this? What is this person’s full name, job title, supervisor’s name, amount of annual pay, and excuse for snoozing on this? Has this person already been fired for this particular act of gross negligence?
  7. How many of the people who were injured or killed on 23 May were subscribed to UCSB alert? Did they receive the messages that I didn’t get on the devices that they’d registered with this system?
  8. Would the people mentioned in question 7 be alive and uninjured if the person mentioned in question 6 had been doing his/her job?

(Thanks to Xenia for making me aware that I was not the only one whose messages were mishandled this way, and that it was therefore not some artifact of a problem with my own cell phone service.)

New Blog Comment Policy

All comments must now be approved by me before they appear. Though I do not require that comments express my position or otherwise agree with me — I do in fact welcome discussion and debate, even with people who disagree with me — I do require that comments meet these two criteria before I approve them:

  1. They must be tied to an established online identity. This could be a Tumblr account with an established posting history or a longstanding Twitter, Facebook, or Google account with an actual publicly accesible posting history — anything that the Disqus comment system allows when logging in, if I can tie it to an online identity in which someone has an actual stake. Note that it is not necessary to reveal your real name — just to tie your comment to an account in which you have an identity-building stake. No throwaway Twitter accounts that you registered for ten minutes ago. No Facebook accounts that don’t Follow Facebook’s own guidelines about name usage. Leverage a legitimate online identity that you’ve spent time and care developing in order to log in before you comment.
    • The issue involved here is ruling out anonymous trolling. If you won’t stand behind what you say, then I’m not going to give you a platform to say it.
  2. It must be a high-quality comment. You don’t have to agree with me, but you do have to be intellectually honest. This means that you can’t intentionally overlook relevant information, distort someone else’s meaning, elect to reply to tone while ignoring content, assign motives to anyone without evidence, insist that everyone must be smarmy, whine about how factual evidence that other people brings up hurts your feelings, or otherwise be an asshole. I will write a blog post early next week on what I mean, specifically, by “be an asshole,” but for now, here's a starting point.

Because, when it comes down to it, this is my blog, and I’m not obligated to host low-quality content by anonymous trolls who feel entitled to spout their ignorant bullshit all over it. If you’re thinking about yelling “Censorship!,” then I would like to remind you of what Randall Munroe said on the topic:

image

If you want to post low-quality, dishonest, anonymous content, even content about my content, you’re welcome to do so. You’ll just have to find somewhere else to host it.

Keep it polite. Keep it honest. Tie it to a real identity that you’re actually invested in. Or your comment won’t appear.

Yes, this will delay the actual posting of comments. Sometimes I’m offline for long periods of time, even days. This (in the context of this, as explained here) is (an example of) why we can’t have nice things, like moderation-free commenting.

"My penis, your official Republican present":
A robocall from Suzette Martinez

So what happens when a poorly enunciated robocall from a political candidate gets transmitted by crappy equipment to my Google Voice mailbox and automatically transcribed? Why, the transcription is awful, of course. Sometimes, though, it’s also funny. The image here is a screenshot of Google Voice’s automatic transcription. Here’s what it says in plain (and search-engine-indexable) text:

This is to that my penis your official Republican present at the State Assembly, calling to ask you are both on June 3rd. And the only Fiscal Conservatives Lane to protect taxpayers only cat it with both ideas to the store, California, education system. And I’m the only candidate that I was hoping that maybe Sacramento to get things done. Find out more active that Martinez, dot, com paid for but Martinez for somebody, 2014.

What does the call actually say? Well, since it’s a campaign message from a political candidate, and therefore hardly qualifies as private speech, I don’t have any compunctions about redistributing it, so you can listen to it yourself and find out. (I would of course be uncomfortable redistributing virtually any other voicemail, and — does it even need to be said? — would never never redistribute a voicemail from a student.)

A couple of things are maybe worth pointing out.

  • I never asked to be contacted by Suzette Martinez, nor do I agree with her politics. (Rather, I should say that I don’t agree with what I take her politics to be, because, when I visit her website, I don’t see any actual descriptions of what she intends to do if she’s elected; there are just descriptions of experience, lists of endorsements, and a few platitudes that I take to be about “values” on her website.)
    • There isn’t really even any content in the message. It just strings together a bunch of buzzwords in the hope that, if enough people hear “the message,” a few will decide to vote for the candidate. Of course, this is exactly how email spam works, and I inevitably assume, when I get one of these robocalls, that Randy Cassingham’s comment about spam essentially applies:

      They do not care that you’re irritated or angry, since they figure if even .01% of the millions of people they send junk mail to send them money for the advertised product or service, they’re coming out ahead. They literally do not care about the other 99.99% — yet another indication of the quality of the businesses that use spam.

    • Which is to say that, like email spam, robocalls are targeted at the lowest common denominator, because if you’re the kind of person who picks up the phone and hears a twenty-six second recording that speaks vaguely about education, then decides to vote for the person the recording is about, you’re probably the kind of person who might get confused by hearing about actual issues.
    • I take it that I’m probably getting this call because I (not only) put my Google Voice number on various documents on web sites that I put together for my students (but also encode the information in a machine-readable form, the hCard microformat, for the convenience of my students). So my assumption is that this information has been scraped automatically and added to some list that’s now receiving robocalls.
      • You can take a look at the kinds of information that I mark up semantically by installing the Operator add-on in Firefox and browsing the documents on my discussion section website for this quarter. I think that making this information readily machine-intelligible is worthwhile to my students and to me for a variety of reasons, and I do understand that when you make your information easily intelligible to machines, some of the people running the machines are going to abuse the information they can gather.
      • This is not the same thing as saying that the people who harvest and use this information are anything other than a bunch of giant dicks. Which is, after all, part of the reason why I find the part of the mistranscription quoted in the title so amusing. After all, despite being a mistranscription, it expresses a great deal about the Republican party fairly and concisely. In my humble opinion, of course.
    • I think that robocalls from candidates, regardless of party affliation, race, gender, etc., are inherently offensive, in part because they trade on the specific privilege of politicians to perform robocalls legally. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that, despite the fact that many types of robocalls are illegal, political campaigning this way is perfectly OK. Like any robocall, these calls demand my attention, often when I’m trying to focus all of my attention on my scholarly work. This presumption to being entitled to my time — and, more than that, entitled to interrupt me when I am trying to focus — is quite simply assholery.
    • I currently find receiving these calls particularly annoying and disturbing because, in the wake of the recent Isla Vista massacre, when many of my students are grieving for the loss of their close friends, sorority sisters, classmates, casual acquaintances, and assumptions about their own safety, I have told my students that my office voicemail is forwarded to my cell phone and I will pick up if I possibly can. Stopping my work to grab for my phone as quickly as possible, only to discover that it’s yet another goddam robocall from a politician who doesn’t even actually have anything meaningful that she bothers to say, inflicts small amounts of low-grade trauma on me. It makes me angry, and distracts me from real work I have to do. It’s particularly insensitive at this particular time to scrape a voicemail from a UC Santa Barbara TA’s webpage and use it to subject him to vapid sermonizing about politics by trading upon legitimate concern about his students. Which, again, is not to say that it’s any more inappropriate than any number of other dick moves pulled by the Republican Party.

But all of that has wandered pretty far field from some other things that are probably worth saying:

  • The problem does not have anything to do with pronunciation, because, as far as I can tell (though I am not a linguist), she doesn’t “have an accent.”
  • Nor is the problem the name “Martinez,” because Google Voice has correctly transcribed that name in another robocall I got from her several days earlier:

    Suzette Martinez

    The problem is just that she’s not enunciating clearly and the equipment her campaign is using is crap.

Old folks using technology at the coffee shop.

Why I’m Just About Done With Google+ Photos

TL;DR I’m tired of the service not working in small but super-annoying ways that make me do a bunch of additional work. Narrative and more details below.

I’ve been using Google+ Photos since 2008 — back when it was “Picasa,” after Google had acquired the service but before it had been wrapped into Google’s social layer, Google+. I initially went with it because of recommendations from various image-creation professionals I know who said it had the best balance of services offered and problematic restrictions against content types. But that was in 2008, and perhaps it’s time for me to re-evaluate that. At this point, the only things that are genuinely keeping me tied to Google+ photos are:

  1. Posting my photos to Google+ means I’m posting at least something to Google+, at least occasionally; and, since Google
  2. It would be kind of a pain to move everything somewhere else.

Neither is insoluble, and it’s occurred to me over and over lately that perhaps some initial pain when I’ve got some free time would be worthwhile in saving frustration later on. Too, other services are offering more these days than they used to, and though I like the format of G+’s photo-collection web layouts (the lightboxing is quite nice, and the galleries are well-constructed), this is a minor concern compared to some of the problems I’ve had with it.

One thing I can say about Google+ / Picasa photos is that, for as long as I’ve been using it, it has always been annoyingly buggy in little yet extra-work-for-me-producing ways. My initial experience of this fact came when I was using the Picasa desktop client for Linux, which was (annoyingly) just the Windows build bundled with a tweaked version of Wine, the Windows compatibility layer for Linux. Google officially insisted at the time that I started using the client that it was a bad idea to try to just install the current Windows build of Picasa under the current Wine layer that was installed in Linux distributions (this turned out, if I recall correctly, to just be Google washing their hands of the possibility that problems might crop up, not a claim that there were actual problems with this approach). This meant, effectively, taking up a chunk of hard drive space just to install a second copy of Wine just to run the Picasa client, and was plagued with problems that occurred when, for instance, the Google-tweaked version of Wine lost track of how Linux file system folders were supposed to be mapped onto virtual drive letters, and these problems were exacerbated by the fact that there was no easy way to configure the Google-tweaked secondary Wine installation. It was also a serious problem that the Picasa client was extremely aggressive about trying to keep things in sync without asking the user for input: I was keeping my photos on a separate hard drive at the time and once started Picasa without noticing that that external hard drive was unplugged, so Picasa silently deleted all of my albums off of my Picasa web profile. Plugging the drive back in and restarting Picasa didn’t result in them being restored, either: Picasa noticed on that first program launch that they were gone and decided without asking that that was a permanent change. All those hours I’d spent picking which particular photos would be uploaded to different albums? Totally fucking wasted. Thanks, Picasa. Similarly, it was constantly uploading second copies of albums that had already been uploaded. There were enough stupid problems that by 2009, after using it for half a year or so, I was asking for advice on drop-kicking the Linux Picasa client … and there were no Linux replacements that made me happy, so I finally went back to sorting my images by hand in GQView, copying the ones I thought I might want to a separate folder, going through them again to cull effective duplicates, and then uploading them through the web interface.

Needless to say, this is a lot of work, but it’s still better than using the Picasa desktop client.

What makes it unbearable is that the web client doesn’t work reliably. There have been problems in the past where, instead of properly capturing and displaying the photo, what I got was just a black box; for a while, this was nearly one in every twenty photos. This is annoying because (especially if the missing photo was part of a large batch) there’s no easy way to tell which photo didn’t get uploaded (G+ Photos doesn’t, for instance, show you the file name of each photo that’s been uploaded, which would have made things far easier); I had to go through the whole batch, comparing photo by photo, until I figured out what wasn’t included. If I was trying to upload three hundred photos at once, I had to identify the fifteen photos that turned into black boxes, then I had to upload them again, and then I had to manually drag them, one by one, into the locations where they should have been in the first place. Identifying exactly where the photo was supposed to go often involved a substantial amount of additional digging through the original “upload these photos to Google” folder, then dragging them, one by one, through the slow-ass Google+ photo-album interface. This is a substantial amount of additional work.

That problem seems to have been fixed … or, to be more specific, I should say that that symptom seems to have been ameliorated, because there’s a similar problem happening now that’s even more annoying: the “some photos just don’t upload” problem.

I noticed this Monday morning after getting back Sunday night from a weekend in the desert with my girlfriend. I came home with nearly nine hundred photos shot during the weekend, and spent four hours going through my shots, trying on this first pass to accomplish two tasks:

  1. Entirely deleting any photos that are unequivocally and entirely without merit (e.g., shots that were taken from the passenger seat of a moving car that have a large speed-blurred tree as the primary foreground image) — shots that I will definitely not ever miss if I delete them.
  2. Copying photos that I might want to put in my Google+ album for the weekend into a new folder, then going through those shots again and culling out the ones that I didn’t want to include. This was the primary task that took up time, and when I was done with it, I wound up with 263 photos that I wanted to upload, totaling about 1.8 GB of data.

So the short version is that I spent four hours of my evening constructing a visual narrative of my weekend, thinking carefully about how I wanted to represent it to my friends, to my family, to fans of my photography who want to see the raw shots and not just the final products that will pop up on my DeviantArt gallery over the next few months, to the public — to anyone who might get at my Google+ profile and want to see how my trip to Joshua Tree National Park was. This is not a random collection of photos: it’s a carefully crafted visual story about what I did and who I am, as a person and as a photographer. Moving elements around or dropping them destroys the carefully designed narrative that I’d been constructing in my head all weekend and had spent much of my evening fine-tuning. Having something just not transfer across is completely unacceptable.

What did I do after sorting? Log into Google+, go to the photos tab, and upload a new album. I select all 263 photos in the folder I’m using as my sorting folder, then wait to see that the photo upload process is actually beginning. Then I went to bed. Because, you know, I get it: nearly two gigabytes of data takes a long time to transmit and process. Once I started seeing the progress bars moving on the first few photos, my expectation is that the whole upload process is (a) going to work, and (b) not require any more intervention from me.

What did I expect to happen? In more detail, I expect that all of the photos, without fail, will upload, and will upload in the same order that I’d named them in the folder. I expect that I will not need to intervene at all in the uploading process, and that, if more information is required from me, it will not be needed until all of the photos have been transferred to Google’s servers. Don’t stop the upload to ask me to tag things, for instance: this is the default behavior that users expect, and Google understands this and tries to make it happen, as far as I can tell.

I got up nearly eight hours later, expecting that all 263 photos had been uploaded and were waiting to be captioned and/or tagged. Was this the case? Fuck no. 17 photos were still stuck with more or less complete progress bars that weren’t moving. After eight hours, the photos should have transferred across, because I’m not using dial-up here. The problem was that the transfers on those 17 photos had timed out. 

What can I do about this? Not much, actually. If the transfer of an individual photo has timed out, and the web client has detected this, then I can retry each photo individually … which is annoying, because I have to scroll through 88 lines of three thumbnails each searching for each of the 17 photos and retrying each of them individually, which is irritating but not catastrophic. (However, a “retry all” button would be a great idea, Google. Hint, hint.) Of course, the fact that some had timed out and nothing fucking happened at all when I retried the transfer is a separate problem that tends to strengthen my belief that Google’s been having weird back-end server problems on multiple services over the last few days. (I note this because I know several people who have been more or less unable to log into GMail and the Picasa web interface over the last few days, and my chat client, Pidgin, has been having real trouble connecting to whatever XMPP server is associated with my GMail account.)

However, if the transfer of a photo has timed out and the web page has not figured out that out, it’s catastrophic, because … I can’t save the album while the web client thinks that transfers are still happening. If the progress bar is just sitting there, not moving, and the web client can’t figure out that it’s timed out, then most or all of the work that I’ve done has been wasted. Out of 263 photos, 246 uploaded successfully. Yes, having to find and re-upload and re-organize the remaining 17 photos would have been a pain, but I figured that was what I was going to have to do. So this is, apparently, a variation of the black-box-photo problem, but with one substantial difference that makes the problem much, much worse:

Since I couldn’t save the album, I just hit the back button in my browser, hoping that the 246 photos that had uploaded successfully would be saved and I could just find and upload the remaining 17, then sort them.

Nope. I looked at the album that had been automatically created, and it only contained sixteen photos.

I tried to upload 263 photos.
247 made it across.
16 were saved.

Completely.
Fucking.
Unacceptable.

What’s my best option here? If I decide I want to try host this weekend’s pictures on Google+ photos again — which, let’s face it, is the most likely course of action: not because I’m heavily invested in representing my identity to the public at large through Google+ (I’m not; I also have many other social networking accounts, and, let’s face it, Facebook is a platform where the majority of social-networking interactions take place; it’s where “conversations really happen” for most of us, not Google+); nor am I so bedazzled by the beauty of their photo-presentation systems that I’m unwilling to go elsewhere. The single thing most tying me into Google+ as a way of presenting my photos at this point is that that’s where my unedited photos currently reside, and I’m invested in keeping my unedited photos and the narrative sequences that they create in a single place.

I’m invested in not presenting my photos on Facebook because (a) I don’t want Facebook to have any more information than it already has about me, because I’m ambivalent about Facebook in general, and (b) I hate Facebook’s clunky privacy controls. But I’m increasingly not impressed with Google’s ability to provide a working fucking piece of photo-presentation software through its web interface. 

Because let’s face it: it’s 2014. One of the real things that Facebook has going for it over Google as a photo-presentation service is that if I select 263 photos for uploading to a new album and then go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, definitely, without fail, unless my network connection actually goes down, all 263 photos will absolutely for sure have been transferred.

This is what Google needs to ensure. For me, it’s priority one. I don’t give a shit if I have individual progress bars for each photo as it’s uploaded. I don’t care if thumbnails for each photo display as soon as that photo is uploaded. I don’t even care much if I have to wait for all photos to upload before I can tag and describe them. Priority one is that I don’t have to sit there holding its hand and doing extra work to compensate for its errors. I don’t want to be told that I should be watching the computer and uploading ten photos at a time so I can more easily identify which ones are failing (just make it fucking work; don’t make me babysit). I don’t want to hear that it’s because I’m using Firefox 26 with X and Y extensions under Linux (just fucking develop to open standards so it works for everyone with a standards-compliant browser instead of only testing it on a bunch of proprietary crap).

Priority one is that it just fucking works for everyone with no problems all the time. A distant priority two is that you have all sort of fancy doodads like individual progress bars, thumbnails, and the ability to caption each file as it uploads. 

This is 2014. Web sites that millions of people use shouldn’t function as if they were developed by two high-school hackers in a garage. Google is (according to Wikipedia’s current article on the topic) the world’s twelfth largest technology company. Intermittent, sporadic service that’s nearly guaranteed to fail in at least small ways nearly every time I use it is unacceptable. I don’t want to use a service whose quality-control maps Herp derp, it serta werks onto “acceptable.”

Because, see, I’m a busy guy. I may be using a free service, but this means that I’m paying in other ways: by viewing ads, occasionally clicking on them, and by contributing content that draws in other people to their website and increases their ad revenue, by providing a marginal increase to the value of their ecosystem as a whole. If the service doesn’t meet my needs, there’s no reason for me to keep using it, and being invested in the ecosystem doesn’t really change that, although it does provide a big exit-friction buffer that will keep me from doing it immediately.

Still. What I think I’m going to do is try again to upload my 263 photos right before bed tonight. If it doesn’t work … I suspect I’m moving to Flickr.

EDIT: Moved to Flickr.

My hotel was guaranteed to come with free wireless. FREE WI-FI, their website said. When I reserved my room, I double-checked.

"You have wireless, right?" I’d asked.

"Absolutely," the clerk assured me. "All of our rooms come equipped with free wireless Internet."

The Internet service hadn’t worked for more than three minutes at a time since I’d been there.

"It’s cocks,” the clerk told me. At first I thought he was describing the men behind the broken wireless service. Later I find out he was talking about Cox, the Internet service provider. “They’re really difficult to deal with. Cox. They just screw you.”

After a few false starts the next morning I found a coffee shop on Frenchman Street that had wireless—not through their own service, which was similarly screwed by Cox, but from the bicycle shop next door.

"Cox loves them,” the girl in the coffee shop told me bitterly as she made my espresso. “Cox always fixes their stuff first.”

    —Sara Gran, Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead (ch. 6; p. 27 in ISBN 978-0-547-74761-3)

Pointless Mendacity for the Sake of Pointless Mendacity

And here we have another interchange with campus technologists, this time about a change that has apparently been made the registration system. What amazes me here is that the technologists apparently think that everyone else who’s not a technologist is such an idiot that they can insist that something has always been impossible even when I’ve mentioned in advance that I’ve done it in the past. Other notable features include several “we didn’t bother to actually read what you wrote before responding; we’re just working off of standard scripts” moments, the fact that it takes four emails for the person I’m dealing with to understand what I’m asking, the use of the trade name Outlook to mean “whatever email client you use,” and the assurance that I can simply look through my Sent Items folder to find information that I’ve given out verbally.

As always, full email headers are included here as a way of asserting honesty on my part. Nothing has been changed, even though a large part of me wants to clean up the odd typo.


 

Subject: eGrades question
From: Patrick Mooney <{ my email address }>
Date: 01/12/2014 11:58 PM
To: <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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Hello there,

I seem to recall that it used to be possible to view add codes that had been marked distributed, but hadn’t yet been used. Is that still possible? I can’t for the life of me figure out how to find these in eGrades.

Many thanks —

— 
Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/


 

Subject: RE: eGrades question
From: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
Date: 01/13/2014 11:53 AM
To: “’{ my email address }’” <{ my email address }>
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Dear Patrick Mooney,

Can you let us know what course or courses you are trying to access approval codes? I am assuming that this if for the Winter 2014 term?

Rosie Quimby
eGrades Team
Office of the Registrar
UC Santa Barbara, CA
egrades@sa.ucsb.edu
(805) 893-2681


 

Subject: Re: eGrades question
From: Patrick Mooney <{ my email address }>
Date: 01/13/2014 01:05 PM
To: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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That’s right — I’m a TA for three sections (50898, 50955, and 50963) of English 193 this quarter. Thanks for your help. (=
Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/


 

Subject: RE: eGrades question
From: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
Date: 01/14/2014 01:30 PM
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Dear Patrick Mooney,

I just wanted to check your courses.  if your department downloads the class lists on STAR they will not be accessible on eGrades. I did verify and the approvals codes are indeed listed on eGrades. When you sign into eGrades, selection the section (discussion) not the lecture. Once you open your class on the upper right hand side above the student’s name there is an “approval” tab and a “submit” tab highlighted in dark blue. The “approval” tab is what you select to see the approval codes and are available and those that have already been distributed.  Please let us know if you have any other questions.

Best,

Rosie Quimby
eGrades Team
Office of the Registrar
UC Santa Barbara, CA
egrades@sa.ucsb.edu
(805) 893-2681


 

From: Patrick Mooney [mailto:{ my email address }]
Sent: Monday, January 13, 2014 1:06 PM
To: eGrades
Subject: Re: eGrades question
From: Patrick Mooney <{ my email address }>
Date: 01/14/2014 06:50 PM
To: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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Thanks for the reply — the problem I’m having is that I don’t see any codes that have been marked as distributed, but that have not yet been used by students.


Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/


 

Subject: RE: eGrades question
From: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
Date: 01/15/2014 09:21 AM
To: “’{ my email address }’” <{ my email address }>, eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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Dear Patrick Mooney,

If I understand you right you want to see codes that have been distributed. These disappear once they are distributed, to prevent an instructor from using the same approval code. If you need a complete list of your approval codes please contact your undergraduate advisor in your department.

Sincerely,


eGrades Team
Office of the Registrar
UC Santa Barbara, CA
egrades@sa.ucsb.edu
(805) 893-2681


 

Subject: Re: eGrades question
From: Patrick Mooney <{ my email address }>
Date: 01/17/2014 12:13 AM
To: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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Hi there.

This is not really an answer to my question. It used to be possible to see add codes that have been marked as distributed but have not yet been used. They were in a separate section of the “approval codes” tab in eGrades, and it was possible to cancel these add codes and thereby render them invalid. Where has this capability gone? When was this changed? Why was input not solicited from the people who are directly affected by this change before it was made? Why was it not even announced to the people affected by this change that the change was made? A simple “FYI: this capability, upon which you may be relying, has been removed from eGrades” email sent to all professors and graduate students would have done wonders in this regard.

Here are some situations that I have encountered this very quarter in which it would be helpful to see add codes that have been distributed but not yet used:

  1. A student wrote an email that said, essentially, “Thank you for the add code. I have decided not to take the class, so I passed the add code for your section on to a friend so that she can register for the class, even though she has not been attending section and has not been in touch with you, and even though there are other students who may be higher-priority  are not trying to sneak into the class by exploiting personal connections.” This is a basic violation of what add codes are for and undermines the ability of instructors to control who is registering for their class once the class is closed. The ideal way to deal with this situation would be to view add codes that have been distributed and then revoke the add code that was illegitimately distributed. However, your change has removed this capability.
  2. The professor for whom I am working this quarter wanted me to distribute add codes to students after lecture. While this is entirely reasonable because it has the benefit of quickly filling empty spaces in the class, and several additional benefits besides, it makes tracking registration a nightmare for TAs if distributed add codes cannot be viewed, because the simplest possible way to keep track of how many “real open spaces” are in the class is to look at current registration numbers + number of distributed add codes. Without being able to track distributed add codes, I have to take up precious instruction time in section by urging students to use their add codes immediately. Had I been informed that the change was made, I would have known that I needed to do additional work in tracking who received which code. Instead, I had to find out that I no longer have this capability after the fact.
  3. Students have emailed me asking “Are there any spaces open in your section?” I have to respond, “I won’t know until section this week, because I can’t track add codes that have been distributed, so I’ll have to wait until section when I can urge people who might be sitting on add codes to use them immediately. Then I have to hope that they actually do so.”
  4. I may wind up over-enrolled, because I have no way of seeing whether people have actually used all of the add codes that I have distributed.
  5. A student emailed me and told me that the add code I gave her is not working. The ideal way to respond to this situation, after trying to walk her through the procedure for using add codes and thereby becoming relatively certain that the add code is, in fact, not working, would be to revoke the add code that she claims is not working, then give her a new one. The problem that I am trying to avoid here, of course, is that a less-than-trustworthy student might falsely claim that an add code isn’t working, obtain a new code, and then pass one of the codes on to a friend. Due to the change that you have made, it is no longer possible for professors and TAs to handle this problem themselves, but requires that the outsource handling the problem to you or to a department staff member.

I have no doubt that there are some technologically incompetent people who have difficulty distinguishing between add codes that have and have not been distributed, despite the fact that they were, previously, clearly labeled on separate tabs of the “approval codes” tab for a course or section in eGrades. However, removing the capability entirely because a few people don’t properly understand what the headings mean and/or have general interpretive problems with web pages is condescending an offensive to the population of instructors in general.

Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/


 

Subject: FW: eGrades question
From: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
Date: 01/17/2014 01:46 PM
To: “’{ my email address }’” <{ my email address }>
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Dear Patrick Mooney,

I forwarded your email to our technical support person and he confirmed that there has been no change made to eGrades. Please see email below and let us know if you have any other questions.

eGrades Team
Office of the Registrar
UC Santa Barbara, CA
egrades@sa.ucsb.edu
(805) 893-2681

There is no glitch or recent changes in eGrades. Once a code is marked as distributed it doesn’t show up in the first table anymore until the student uses it (once they use it starts showing up in the second table). This was done so that an approval code is not distributed twice. On the other question, there was never an option to invalidate an approval code in eGrades, the TA should email someone from Registrar Office or department who has access to cancel it through STAR. There is a way to have a list of all approval codes (used and unused) by clicking download before you distribute any approval codes and get an excel spreadsheet with all approval codes for that course. Then he can manually mark them and keep track which approval code was sent to which student. This is also available now in his Outlook Sent Items. When you click ‘Email’ it generates an email with the approval code information (pasted below) that you send to the student. This email should still be in his Outlook Sent Items folder.

Email:

You have been granted an approval code for ANTH      2   in Fall 2013.

Approval Code: PHM8

Enrollment Code: 00042

Section Meeting Time: W    6:00- 6:50 GIRV 2120    

Please do not share your approval code with anyone. This code can only be used once, and will become deactivated after it has been used.

image


 

Subject: Re: FW: eGrades question
From: Patrick Mooney <patrickmooney@umail.ucsb.edu<
Date: 01/17/2014 06:46 PM
To: eGrades <eGrades@sa.ucsb.edu>
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Reply-to: patrickmooney@umail.ucsb.edu

Thank you. While I would normally consider an unsigned email that cites another unsigned email without any email headers to be very convincing evidence, I have difficulty believing that this has never been possible in the past because I am quite certain that I have actually been able to see and revoke approval codes in exactly this way during previous quarters. While I understand that the question of whether things are possible can be epistemologically vexing and has tripped up well-educated people who are brighter than either of us, as Sir Robert Ball experienced when he argued in 1892 that it will never be possible to communicate with any people who might happen to live on Mars, I believe that these philosophical questions about possibility are adequately resolved if something has actually occurred.

However, if I cannot obtain a straightforward answer, then I suppose that there is no point in continuing this conversation. Have a good weekend!


Patrick Mooney, M.A.
PhD Candidate in English
University of California, Santa Barbara
http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/

“The story of each book by Fleming, by and large, may be summarized as follows: Bond is sent to a given place to avert a “science-fiction” plan by a monstrous individual of uncertain origin and by definition not English who, making use of his organizational or productive activity, not only earns money, but helps the cause of the enemies of the West. In facing this monstrous being, Bond meets a woman who is dominated by him and frees her from her past, establishing with her an erotic relationship interrupted by capture by the Villain and by torture. But Bond defeats the Villain, who dies horribly, and rests from his great efforts in the arms of the woman, though he is destined to lose her. One might wonder how, within such limits, it is possible for the inventive writer of fiction to function, since he must respond to a demand for the sensational and the unforeseeable. In fact, in every detective story and in every hard-boiled novel, there is no basic variation, but rather the repetition of a habitual scheme in which the reader can recognize something he has already seen and of which he has grown fond. Under the guise of a machine that produces information, the criminal novel produces redundancy; pretending to rouse the reader, it, in fact, reconfirms him in a sort of imaginative laziness and creates escape by narrating, not the Unknown, but the Already Known. In the pre-Fleming detective story, however, the immutable scheme is formed by the personality of the detective and of his colleagues, while within this scheme are unraveled unexpected events (and most unexpected of all is the figure of the culprit). On the contrary, in the novels of Fleming, the scheme even dominates the very chain of events. moreover, the identity of the culprit, his characteristics, and his plans are always apparent from the beginning. The reader finds himself immersed in a game of which he knows the pieces and the rules–and perhaps the outcome–and draws pleasure simply from following the minimal variations by which the victor realizes his objective.”
— Umberto Eco, “Narrative Structures in Fleming”