Tuesday, 11 October 2011

My Struggle

Yahoo are trying to force me to do things their way. They've been trying for a couple of years now, but this month it got serious. We'll see who wins.

I'm a Yahoo! Mail user. I have been since 1997, when there wasn't much else around, Google didn't exist and everyone searched using Yahoo, and they were much better than AOL, and supported free personal web space (Geocities) and all kinds of cool things. I originally created half a dozen Yahoo IDs to play online games. Some of the IDs still have the names of characters I played in those games, and I look back on them fondly. In those days Yahoo used to have a searchable member directory, and if someone else had a Yahoo ID you could look up who they were (or at least who they said they were - there was no obligation to tell the truth). All of that vanished a couple of years ago when they started trying to produce a Facebook-lite, but most people had gone ex-directory by then anyway. Ah well.

Over the years I've developed a pattern - one ID I use for pretty much all non-work related stuff (it is still named after an Ars Magica character, which does confuse people occasionally). Two I use mainly for online games; one for MMORPGs, and the other for play by email (PBEM) games. Another is an aggregator for new game requests. One I use for signing up to things online, so that marketers can spam it to their heart's content (it gets a couple of hundred spam mails a day now). There are a couple that are dormant, and I just sign into every couple of months so that Yahoo don't shut them down. You get the picture.

Apparently I've been using Yahoo Mail Classic, and now there is a new version, which has all kinds of bells and whistles. In fact it's been around a few years now. I had a look when it first came out, decided I found the layout offputting and the number of ads and java scripts and the like even greater (which slowed down page refreshes) and gave up on it. But Yahoo have become steadily more insistent over the years. So insistent, that last year I decided to give it a trial, just on one of my accounts. Unfortunately I found this locks up my computer at work. Specifically Firefox goes into a login loop from which it can't escape (yes, Firefox is the latest version, but the OS is Windows XP, and that's presumably the problem. Well we use XP - so sue us). So, I tried to opt back out of the new Yahoo. But there was no way to! Yahoo have become so insistent that all users must stop using the legacy system that they no longer provide a "no thanks, I'd rather go back to Classic" button (apparently this has now been restored, just in an out of the way place). In the end I had to resort to a hack I found online. Phew, problem solved.

But they weren't going to let it go at that. Oh no. The new system is becoming "mandatory" (except it's not - they just keep trying to pretend it is). Now whenever I login I have to put up with a screen saying THE COUNTDOWN HAS BEGUN - PLEASE UPGRADE TO THE NEW VERSION OF YAHOO MAIL BY 31-10-11. This also crashes my Firefox at work, and now I have to type: http://us.mg1.mail.yahoo.com/dc/optout?script=no into the browser to even get the COUNTDOWN screen, with a picture of a stopwatch and all kinds of images of "time running out". Apparently I don't actually *have* to switch, just that I'll get this browser-disabling screen every time I logon until the end of October, after which they'll presumably give up on me as irredeemably backward. I have several Yahoo accounts, and I do check them several times a day. It's becoming quite a pain in the arse. But they're not going to beat me.

There are probably people out there thinking: "FFS, just switch to gmail" or something similar. Except I don't want to. All of my old emails are archived on Yahoo. I know that there are probably clever ways of shuffling them across, but I can't be arsed to research them, and anyway Google are pretty sinister themselves as regards privacy these days, and Hotmail are run by Microsoft - which is almost as bad. So it will take more than this campaign by Yahoo to make me switch.

It feels quite sad to have such a battle as a loyal - certainly by internet standards - user of a service. I'm sure that focus groups and stock analysts tell them that this is the way to compete with Google and Hotmail. But often it feels like things are "upgraded" with no concern for the user. Facebook do this all the time. Yahoo ditched Geocities, and a whole swathe of amateur web content was eliminated at a stroke. I've no problem with embracing the new if I can see it's better, but a mail service that crashes my browser is not an improved experience.

So fuck Yahoo. Lay on, Macduff. And damned be him that first cries: "hold, enough!"

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Death in Perugia

I'd tried to stay away from the Amanda Knox/Rafael Sollecito appeal because it pushed all of the media's buttons about sex and death, and because I seemed almost alone in genuinely having no particular view on whether the two were innocent or guilty. The US media, playing along to an expert PR campaign by the Knox family, had made up their minds, and I found the media onslaught very offputting, but also completely understandable from the Knox family's point of view. In some cases, it's just such family pressure that can bring results. In the Lucie Blackman case, in Japan, the Blackman family media campaign got Tony Blair to raise the issue with the Japanese PM when progress appeared to be slow, and certainly pushed the Japanese investigation along faster than it would otherwise have gone.

But what we see through the media is only ever a superficial glimpse, and it's easy to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. I recently finished reading People Who Eat Darkness, about the Lucie Blackman case, and written by Richard Lloyd Parry, who was the Tokyo-based Asia correspondent for the Indie and later the Times, and who had a ringside view of the whole thing. While working on it, Parry became obsessed by the case, and while the book isn't quite Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood', it is a fascinating look at all of the things we never got to see, and compelling about all kinds of things, from Japanese police/legal procedure, the seamy underside of Japan's generally pretty squeaky clean society, and the inevitable culture clashes when people from different parts of the world end up entangled. Thinking back to my own recollections of and preconceptions about the case, what struck me most of all was that - contrary to the received opinion back in the UK at the time - the Japanese police were actually pretty efficient and did a fairly good job. Most of the delay was after they had identified the chief suspect but before they had enough evidence to charge him, and so were mounting quite a comprehensive surveillance operation, and in the meantime refused to tell the family anything so as not to jeopardise the progress they had made, precisely because the family were forever giving press conferences. There was also a strong element of very Japanese over-caution and deliberateness. This set up the UK-Japanese culture clash that eventually went to the very top, when Blair raised the case with PM Junichiro Koizumi at a G8 meeting.

I was thinking about this while pondering the ins and outs of the Meredith Kircher case. At times like this, when there is a complex story involving a US suspect, a British victim and an Italian investigation, the press tends to drop consciously or even unconsciously into national stereotypes. The US media automatically assume a US citizen accused abroad is innocent, the Italian media automatically assume an accused foreigner is guilty. The British media did the same thing over the Louise Woodward case, even though she was certainly guilty of causing the child's death. The Kircher case is much more complicated, and Knox and Sollecito have deliberately muddied the waters with their rubbish alibi and confusing changes of statement about what happened, and clumsy attempt to frame the bar owner. I don't buy the prosecution's 'sex game' theory, but there is evidently much more than meets the eye to the case. But complex Italian internal politics, some slightly slipshod forensic work, and a media blitz such as only the US can manage have turned the whole thing into a circus. Maybe the truth will eventually emerge, but right now there are too many people with too great a stake in one particular version of the story for that to happen. In the meantime, I have to regard the verdict not as 'not guiilty', but as the Scots have it: 'not proven'.