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enron's email diaries

Wow. A Salon article with excerpts from the Enron emails released last week as part of the publication of material related to the investigation of its collapse:

[...] the Enron e-mail library posted on FERC's Web site [...] contains a remarkable glimpse into the culture of Enron -- how the family of Ken Lay lived large in the glory days, how Tom DeLay and other members of Congress used the company as a veritable ATM for campaign contributions, how Enron plotted to place employees in the Bush-Cheney administration, how company executives almost obsessively followed the investigation into price gouging during California's energy crisis, and ultimately how Enron employees suffered when the company collapsed.

Amid a sea of dick jokes, spam and Internet porn, the e-mails offer a window into the soul, such as it was, of Enron: from the high-flying days when the company decorated its top executive office suites in holiday themes -- according to a 2000 e-mail, Ken Lay's office was done up in honor of St. Lucia, Jeff Skilling's had Kwanzaa, and Andrew Fastow's was lit up for Hanukkah -- to the end, when things had gone so far south that members of the Lay family began to fear they'd be kidnapped.

The Enron e-mails are available for searching and browsing at the FERC's Web site. For those with better things to do, here are some of the highlights.

You get to see the incredible power these people wielded, if not in provably in practice certainly in theory, with mentions of "Recommend [some guy] to [US VP Dick] Cheney]", or, being incredibly confident (as if it was simply a matter of picking up the phone) in getting their friends in the US administration for their own purposes, as this quote shows:
He is familiar with state and federal energy regulation as well as the state and federal policy makers who have played an active role in deregulation efforts. He would be great to have on a vetting team for commission nominees. I have talked to [him] and he is interested.
Fascinating. (And also either a bit scary or a cynicism booster, depending on your view).

I've been trying to understand how to use the FERC database to see a little more--it's not obvious how to do it. Anyway, I'll figure it out when I have a bit of time.

Again: Wow. :)

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 5:39 PM

hierarchy on OPML subscription lists

Dave is asking about hierarchy on OPML subscription lists and what do aggregator developers think. Today, clevercactus beta3 (not yet released publicly) supports (both for generating and reading) hierarchy in OPML as follows:

  • If an outline elements only has a title, then it is assumed to contain other outline elements inside and should be closed with a /outline tag.
  • If not (that is, if URL information is included), then the outline is self-contained and assumed to be a link within the current position in the hierarchy.
This, by the way, is the same as what Newzcrawler does, so that would make two aggregators that work in the same way. Not sure about the others though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 2:12 PM

google's lack of manners

Gather 'round children, for a sad tale of many emails and waiting for a reply from the Google Pantheon...

It all began about 2 months ago when I had the idea to use the Google API within clevercactus to provide a new way of looking at result sets. Essentially you could get google results in a structured form within the app and then manipulate them (create a link in the app, forward as message, etc). It was the tip of the Iceberg, as I saw it, eventually it would be much more useful to integrate Groups and News into that, but there's no API for them---and the search engine was a good, simple case to start anyway.

So the first step was to email the Google API team asking for a) an up on my Google key limit and b) if they could give me even small feedback on the idea. I gave them a URL to look at the app, and a description of what I was going to do. So I sent the email and waited.

I sent the first email on July 16.

The reply finally came on August 6 (note: 20 days later). What did they say? "Please provide more information about your project". Yes, I had provided information about the project in my first email. But maybe it wasn't enough. So I expanded on my first email and sent another email the next day (August 7).

The reply to that email came immediately. Wow! I thought. It had been a fluke before.

They upped the key limit, and gave me an answer that I thought was ok, but in re-reading it now I can see that it was simply a non-answer. "Google grants you a limited right to use the Google Web APIs service for commercial purposes". That was it. While I was actually asking about the redistribution issue, and how to deal with their library inside cactus, etc. Anyway, at the time I didn't quite realize that my questions hadn't been answered, so I proceeded happily.

Then, on September 1, I sent them another email because I wanted to release the app but suddenly I realized that there were google icons and functionality all over the place. It was subtle, but there was no denying that they might get frazzled. So to be on the safe side, I asked for them to please review the app and let me know if the usage was ok. I provided them with a link to the beta with instructions and an pretty extensive explanation of what we wanted to do, including a question to be put in touch with someone directly. Obviously this was going to affect our release schedule otherwise. I expected that it might take a while to sort out since I'd never heard of the API being used in this way before and I could imagine they'd need some time to decide how to treat it.

So. September 1 I sent that email. And waited. And waited.

And waited.

On September 11 I sent another email requesting a reply to my previous email. Again, I waited.

And waited.

The reply finally came in a few days ago, on October 6. More than a month later.

What did the reply say? Nothing. They told me to go read the terms and conditions of API usage, and they said that regarding a contact, well, they had AdSense (which I had mentioned of course in the previous email). So essentially I waited a month to be told again what I already knew, and furthermore what I had already told them I knew.

Obviously if I thought that simply by reading the API terms the problem would have been fixed I'd have done that. But the API terms are pretty restrictive, and it's not clear 100% what you can and can't do.

The conclusion is, of course, that, the Google functionality has as of yesterday been removed from cactus. I wrote a new search plugin system that uses a similar format to Mozilla's and the new default search engine for cactus is Teoma. (Btw, IMO, the look and behavior of Teoma is better than Google's--although their results are still not as comprehensive, they've gotten better).

Now, I understand that Google is growing fast, that they're under immense pressure, etc. I sympathize, yes. But. But. If you put out an API, then why not support it? I get the impression that they've put this out as a show of "look how cool we are" and then ignored it. Furthermore, giving condescending replies that show that you obviously haven't read the email people sent (ie., that repeat the information (you sent) back to you, psychologist-style) is not a very good idea, is it? The API has the potential but by ignoring it and the people that use it they are killing the very thing that it might help with.

Looking back, having spent nearly three months waiting for them to reply has been a complete waste of time. I put myself in their shoes, imagine the thousands of emails and request they get and I understand that it must be hard to deal with this. But if they don't want to deal with fire, then don't run around lighting matches. It's that simple.

I want Google to succeed, and I've put time and effort into doing something that I thought was useful to users and that, further, Google should have been interested in as well since it's a new avenue for their product. But Google's attitude says to me that they are not interested in developers. Why put the API out then? Who knows. I can't see any reason at all for it except, as I said, to "be cool". Which people might appreciate when you're dealing with a small company, but not when the one who does it is essentially a monopolist with a penchant for secrecy.

And yes, objectively, Google is a monopolist with a penchant for secrecy. That's fine (and besides, monopolies by themselves are not illegal), but it changes how much slack I am prepared to give them.

My wish: that Google would open up a bit. Not much. Just a bit. Let us see what's going on inside. Let us understand why requests are ignored or brushed aside. Put out simple one-paragraph explanations that allow people that don't believe in conspiracy theories to explain things like the recent AdSense license agreement brouhaha. It's so simple! Instead of having to read dozens of angry emails, put out a simple reply on a website explaining what happened. Then route queries to that explanation. Put out a press-release. Whatever. Or get the PR people to host an interview with developers instead. Google's PR seems to be pretty good from all the coverage they get. Most people would understand, I think.

However, it's not a wish that I expect will be fulfilled soon. Google must be, by now, preparing for its IPO. And they still haven't dealt with Microsoft at all. The Bill Kill Machine is still gearing up for them (no pun intended--but maybe we should ask Tarantino to do a movie on that? :)). I don't have any hopes of them suddenly rerouting resources to deal with this.


Because Google is basically an advertising company. Have you heard many advertising companies engaged with their community or working with developers on anything? No, right?

But even advertising companies should have good manners. :-)

Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 12:02 PM

rss autodiscovery, take 3

Dave has noted the beginnings of his spec for RSS autodiscovery. He has gone the OPML way, and basically his discussion mirrors what I wrote regarding the topic and the choices we faced about a month ago. Jeez. A month! A month! What is up with time these days? Aiieeeeee! [diego runs flailing arms around].

[diego gets back to the computer]

Ok. Sorry about that. I was saying. We're basically in agreement I think, and I had mockups for different options (Tima had also put forward a mockup in WSIL as another option). Anyway, regarding OPML, here's the mockup I did then which differs with Dave's proposal basically on the tag names. I think we're basically in agreement (In the comments of the original post from Jeremy, while some people, including me, thought the idea of using maybe RSS or something else could be better, everyone preferred getting something out the door, no matter what format. In the end it's only agreeing on a few tags, isn't it?).

Just one comment: I think that as a final step, aside from completing a spec (adding samples, etc), OPML should be more rigidly specified so that a) people can't create public feed listings with whatever tags they want (the OPML spec is too flexible in this) and so that OPML files can be validated. Only minor changes are necessary, such as clarifying that no new tags can be used, and maybe that the strings for text/description are UTF-8 to make sure we don't get into a situation where, say, a Japanese news agency decides to use a Japanese encoding instead of Unicode.

Update: Sam also noted the need for this format and started a Wiki to deal with it. I have a feeling of deja-vu here.

Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 10:16 AM

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