Yearly Archives: 2004

Comair System Crash

Over the holidays there seemed to be an abundance of weather-related air travel delays which weren’t too surprising. What did surprise me was the complete shutdown of Comair‘s flights (over 1000 per day), in particular the blame of a computer system fault as the reason for the shutdown.

I’ve been curious whether more details would be publicized and it seems like some information is starting to come out. The Cincinnati Post reported yesterday (my emphasis):

The computer software that crashed and grounded Comair’s entire fleet on Christmas Day was an antiquated system due to be replaced in the coming months.

The SBS Crew Check system tracks all the details of where each crew member is scheduled and keeps a log of every scheduling change.

Tom Carter, a computer consultant with Clover Link Systems of Los Angeles, said the application has a hard limit of 32,000 changes in a single month.

Hmmm, a hard-coded limit of 32,000; seems awfully like a popular number in computer science (215 = 32,768). Sounds like the Y2K problem all over again.

The Slashdot thread on the subject has some interesting comments about the type of system and software used for crew tracking.

[Via Jeremy Zawodny’s Linkblog]

Software Pricing

Joel Spolsky — in his usual combination of good sense and humor — this week put out Camels and Rubber Duckies which tries to answer the question “How much should I charge for my software?”. As Joel warns up front, you’ll learn a lot more about pricing but still won’t know how much to charge.

In a straightforward path, Joel leads to the idea of segmentation, or charging different customers different prices. Airline tickets are the classic example of such segmentation, but it doesn’t seem to work as well in the software business. Joel includes some good arguments against site licenses and other pricing practices along the way.

Reading this reminded me of Talus Solutions, a company I almost joined back in 1998. Their product/service was providing revenue-optimization software for airlines and the like. The work seemed really interesting, but I decided to go with Palm instead. Talus was eventually bought by Manugistics and I’m not sure they have anyone here in Silicon Valley any more.

Product Ideas

Eric Sink’s latest columns is up on MSDN: Finding a Product Idea for Your Micro-ISV. Eric has been writing a monthly column for MSDN from the perspective of an independent software vendor. He started using the term “Micro-ISV” to mean a software company with just one person.

In this month’s column, he points out among other things that someone beat him to it and register the microisv.com domain name. But, at least a growing community has formed there with some useful information and pointers to other blogs.

The focus this month is finding product ideas for your newly-founded single-person adventure. The emphasis is on brainstorming as many ideas as you can before you dive deeper into your decision process. Also focus on “problems to be solved” rather than technologies per se.

Eric points to the market for add-ons/plug-ins for popular applications as a possible opportunity. Along the lines of solving real users’ problems, he suggests finding popular products and use Google to search for people who are whining about missing features or other problems. A great quote (my emphasis):

The sheer volume of whining on the Internet usually makes it easy to quickly fill your candidate list with add-on product ideas.

I highly recommend reading Eric’s past columns on MSDN. To find the rest, click the “See This in the MSDN Library” link above the column title; the previous columns will be shown on the left.

Yahoo! Video Search

Yesterday Yahoo! launched a video search service as a beta. It works like you’d expect: you can search for videos! The Yahoo! Search Blog has more of the background about this new service.

What’s more interesting to me is a new draft RSS spec called Media RSS:

“Media RSS” is a new RSS module that supplements the enclosure capabilties of RSS 2.0. RSS enclosures are already being used to syndicate audio files and images. Media RSS extends enclosures to handle other media types, such as short films or TV, as well as provide additional metadata with the media. Media RSS enables content publishers and bloggers to syndicate multimedia content such as TV and video clips, movies, images, and audio.

The module moves beyond RSS 2.0 support for enclosures, providing some additional attributes but making most of them optional. Also, you can have multiple media elements in a single posting. This has promise for solving some of the problems being found in delivering podcast content.

It also looks like Yahoo! has a deal to provide JibJab content as well. There’s a link up to Grumpy Santa on the video search start page. I loved the JibJab political animations for this year’s election, but this Santa video is pretty lame by comparison.