The sinister side of Google’s Picasa face tagging

So, let me start by saying that I love Picasa, Google’s photo organization tool. It automatically finds new photos as you add them to your hard drive. It lets you crop pictures, remove red-eye, adjust colors and make a few other basic edits that cover probably 95% of what most people need to do when editing photos. It lets you select a few photos from your library and email them to anyone with just a couple of clicks. It also integrates with Google Earth and Google Maps to show you on a map where a particular photo was taken (for those unaware, GPS-enabled cameras, including many mobile phone cameras [e.g., iPhone] embed your GPS coordinates within the EXIF metadata of the photo, so any person, program or website with access to the image will know the location at which it was taken).

It also has a nifty feature called face tagging. How this works, basically, is Picasa analyzes all of the photos in your library and looks for faces. There’s some algorithm in the program that can recognize that two eyes, a nose, a mouth and maybe some hair is a face. So if you use the face-tagging feature, Picasa shows you a page of faces extracted from your photo library. Initially these photos have no names, but Picasa does some basic grouping of them. For example, it doesn’t know who your Uncle Bob is, but it does know that these 14 photos are all of the same person. The grouping feature isn’t perfect, but it is very helpful when you decide to apply a name to the group of photos – tagging 14 photos instead of one is a great time-saver.

This feature only really becomes useful if you start tagging faces with real names — i.e. if you tag the photos of Uncle Bob by telling Picasa “these are photos of Uncle Bob.” If you facetag enough photos, Google will start “guessing” the name for a particular face, and tagging it automatically. This feature is also not perfect, but I imagine they’re working on improving it all the time.

So, this all happens on your computer, within Picasa. I’m not so much of a tinfoil hat type as to suggest Google’s doing anything in particular with the data on your computer itself. The “problem” as I see it is that when you tag a photo of Uncle Bob, Picasa pulls Uncle Bob’s contact info out of your Gmail contacts. So essentially, you’re tying a face to an email address. As I said, I don’t think Google’s surreptitiously going to use the info that resides on your computer.

But in addition to Picasa, the photo organization tool you run on your computer, Google offers an online photo album service called Picasa Web Albums. This is similar to other services, Flickr being the largest, that offer a simple way to upload photos and share them with others. All users get 1 GB of free storage, and you can buy more pretty cheaply (as of today you can get 20 GB for $5/year). As you might expect from the names, Picasa and Picasa Web Albums integrate very well. If you create an album within Picasa, all you have to do to upload it to Picasa Web Albums is click the “Sync This Album” button. It will then upload all the photos in the album to Picasaweb.

Here’s where the potential creepy part starts. Let’s say you have a photo in Picasa, that you took on August 4th, 2010, at 10:00 AM, and you’ve tagged 2 faces in it: Aunt Alice (alice@gmail.com) and Uncle Bob (bob@gmail.com). Let’s further say that you took this photo with your iPhone, so the GPS coordinates are embedded in the photo metadata. You upload the photo to Picasa Web Albums. Well, now you’ve just told Google the following:

  • What alice@gmail.com looks like.
  • What bob@gmail.com looks like.
  • Where alice@gmail.com and bob@gmail.com physically were (via GPS coordinates) on 8/4/2010 at 10:00 AM

There’s lots of other information you’ve probably also told them, but these are the data that are creeping me out lately. If your album has 20 or 30 photos of Alice and Bob that you’ve tagged with their contact info then Google’s got a pretty good idea what they look like – if the Picasa desktop app is able to guess who people in your photos are based on some algorithm inside it, imagine what Google’s billion-dollar datacenters can do?

In all likelihood, you aren’t the only one uploading photos of Alice and Bob. Other people at other events tag photos of Alice and Bob and upload them to Google, further “teaching” this massive computer brain what Alice and Bob look like (since email addresses are basically internet-wide unique IDs, two photos tagged with the same email address can generally be assumed to be the same person). Alice and Bob may never use Picasa, may not even own a camera themselves, and may not even use Google at all. But at this point Google knows what they look like and where they’ve gone – completely apart from their computer-based activities.

I think facial recognition is going to become huge for marketers over the next decade or so. Picasa offers users a useful feature that seems like it has this sinister other side to it – basically building an enormous crowdsourced facial recognition database, so they’ll be able to identify millions of people right out of the gate. If New York City ever gives Google access to its street cams, Google will be able to track the activities of millions more people without their knowledge or consent. Combine that with the existing knowledge Google has – if your iPhone checks your Gmail account, they know your general location at any given time anyway, just based on IP address – and they can create a pretty accurate (in advertising terms) picture of you. And with facial recognition, it will actually BE a picture of you.

Much is made of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto (and I couldn’t write this without throwing those 3 words in), and I tend to be somewhat of a Google fanboy myself. However, much like government, what you have to worry about isn’t always what the current regime is doing with its power, but what the regime 10 or 20 or 100 years from now will do with it. I’m sure Google has rules about how these data are used, but rules change; rules are broken. If there’s one rule that seems inviolate throughout human history it’s that power corrupts. Knowledge is power. Or something.

Well, whatever. I still love Picasa, it just gives me this creepy feeling sometimes. This stuff is all completely voluntary, nobody is being forced to use any of these features, but like I said, Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice were tagged in a photo by someone else – you don’t need to do anything to have your face added to the Great Google Face Database In The Sky. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I was prompted to write it down based on Eric Schmidt’s recent comment, “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are.”

The sinister side of Google's Picasa face tagging

So, let me start by saying that I love Picasa, Google’s photo organization tool. It automatically finds new photos as you add them to your hard drive. It lets you crop pictures, remove red-eye, adjust colors and make a few other basic edits that cover probably 95% of what most people need to do when editing photos. It lets you select a few photos from your library and email them to anyone with just a couple of clicks. It also integrates with Google Earth and Google Maps to show you on a map where a particular photo was taken (for those unaware, GPS-enabled cameras, including many mobile phone cameras [e.g., iPhone] embed your GPS coordinates within the EXIF metadata of the photo, so any person, program or website with access to the image will know the location at which it was taken).

It also has a nifty feature called face tagging. How this works, basically, is Picasa analyzes all of the photos in your library and looks for faces. There’s some algorithm in the program that can recognize that two eyes, a nose, a mouth and maybe some hair is a face. So if you use the face-tagging feature, Picasa shows you a page of faces extracted from your photo library. Initially these photos have no names, but Picasa does some basic grouping of them. For example, it doesn’t know who your Uncle Bob is, but it does know that these 14 photos are all of the same person. The grouping feature isn’t perfect, but it is very helpful when you decide to apply a name to the group of photos – tagging 14 photos instead of one is a great time-saver.

This feature only really becomes useful if you start tagging faces with real names — i.e. if you tag the photos of Uncle Bob by telling Picasa “these are photos of Uncle Bob.” If you facetag enough photos, Google will start “guessing” the name for a particular face, and tagging it automatically. This feature is also not perfect, but I imagine they’re working on improving it all the time.

So, this all happens on your computer, within Picasa. I’m not so much of a tinfoil hat type as to suggest Google’s doing anything in particular with the data on your computer itself. The “problem” as I see it is that when you tag a photo of Uncle Bob, Picasa pulls Uncle Bob’s contact info out of your Gmail contacts. So essentially, you’re tying a face to an email address. As I said, I don’t think Google’s surreptitiously going to use the info that resides on your computer.

But in addition to Picasa, the photo organization tool you run on your computer, Google offers an online photo album service called Picasa Web Albums. This is similar to other services, Flickr being the largest, that offer a simple way to upload photos and share them with others. All users get 1 GB of free storage, and you can buy more pretty cheaply (as of today you can get 20 GB for $5/year). As you might expect from the names, Picasa and Picasa Web Albums integrate very well. If you create an album within Picasa, all you have to do to upload it to Picasa Web Albums is click the “Sync This Album” button. It will then upload all the photos in the album to Picasaweb.

Here’s where the potential creepy part starts. Let’s say you have a photo in Picasa, that you took on August 4th, 2010, at 10:00 AM, and you’ve tagged 2 faces in it: Aunt Alice (alice@gmail.com) and Uncle Bob (bob@gmail.com). Let’s further say that you took this photo with your iPhone, so the GPS coordinates are embedded in the photo metadata. You upload the photo to Picasa Web Albums. Well, now you’ve just told Google the following:

  • What alice@gmail.com looks like.
  • What bob@gmail.com looks like.
  • Where alice@gmail.com and bob@gmail.com physically were (via GPS coordinates) on 8/4/2010 at 10:00 AM

There’s lots of other information you’ve probably also told them, but these are the data that are creeping me out lately. If your album has 20 or 30 photos of Alice and Bob that you’ve tagged with their contact info then Google’s got a pretty good idea what they look like – if the Picasa desktop app is able to guess who people in your photos are based on some algorithm inside it, imagine what Google’s billion-dollar datacenters can do?

In all likelihood, you aren’t the only one uploading photos of Alice and Bob. Other people at other events tag photos of Alice and Bob and upload them to Google, further “teaching” this massive computer brain what Alice and Bob look like (since email addresses are basically internet-wide unique IDs, two photos tagged with the same email address can generally be assumed to be the same person). Alice and Bob may never use Picasa, may not even own a camera themselves, and may not even use Google at all. But at this point Google knows what they look like and where they’ve gone – completely apart from their computer-based activities.

I think facial recognition is going to become huge for marketers over the next decade or so. Picasa offers users a useful feature that seems like it has this sinister other side to it – basically building an enormous crowdsourced facial recognition database, so they’ll be able to identify millions of people right out of the gate. If New York City ever gives Google access to its street cams, Google will be able to track the activities of millions more people without their knowledge or consent. Combine that with the existing knowledge Google has – if your iPhone checks your Gmail account, they know your general location at any given time anyway, just based on IP address – and they can create a pretty accurate (in advertising terms) picture of you. And with facial recognition, it will actually BE a picture of you.

Much is made of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto (and I couldn’t write this without throwing those 3 words in), and I tend to be somewhat of a Google fanboy myself. However, much like government, what you have to worry about isn’t always what the current regime is doing with its power, but what the regime 10 or 20 or 100 years from now will do with it. I’m sure Google has rules about how these data are used, but rules change; rules are broken. If there’s one rule that seems inviolate throughout human history it’s that power corrupts. Knowledge is power. Or something.

Well, whatever. I still love Picasa, it just gives me this creepy feeling sometimes. This stuff is all completely voluntary, nobody is being forced to use any of these features, but like I said, Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice were tagged in a photo by someone else – you don’t need to do anything to have your face added to the Great Google Face Database In The Sky. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I was prompted to write it down based on Eric Schmidt’s recent comment, “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are.”

Vonage iPhone App Calls Facebook Friends Free, So What?

Lots of outlets seem to have picked up the story about the new Vonage iPhone app that lets you call your Facebook friends free. I don’t understand why this is even newsworthy. There are a bunch of free VOIP apps for iPhone already, with Skype being the one that comes to mind first. But a couple of other things have me scratching my head about this story:

  • AT&T doesn’t offer the unlimited data plan for iPhone anymore, so this “free” call could end up being pretty expensive over 3G.
  • If you’re making a call to another friend with the iPhone app, then your friend probably has an iPhone. They’re also probably also on AT&T, so a regular voice call to them would be free anyway. So just call them?

This might make more sense to me if your friend is outside the US, or they come out with a similar app for other platforms, but even then… so what? Free VOIP calls aren’t new. Is it just the Facebook tie-in? I don’t get the buzz. Maybe it’s because I have 5,000 rollover minutes with AT&T.

Microsoft Office 2007's awful user interface

Office 2007 is pretty old by now, and I know much has been written on the move from a “normal” looking app to the “Ribbon” UI. I personally hate the change and feel Microsoft just changed the UI as a way to make the application look “different” so that people will look at it and go “oooh, shiny!” and not feel as bad about being forced into another $400 upgrade of a word processor. Sure, Excel’s row limit was finally raised beyond 64k, and I’m sure there were some other tweaks, but .docx? .xlsx? Yet more file formats, ensuring most businesses will feel compelled to upgrade. If your clients are upgrading, you’re going to have to.

Anyway, that’s all well documented. What may not be is the ridiculous location of the SMTP header info in a message in Outlook. If you want to view this interserver communication, which is invaluable when debugging mail issues, you can either A) right-click the message in the inbox, or B) … Well, in Office 2003, there was a way to do this from within the open message. I didn’t think there was a way to do it from within the message in Outlook 2007, but it turns out there is. It’s just retarded:

WTF?

Dear Microsoft: please drop the “Ribbon” completely and go back to menus, or at least provide that as an option. This UI is awful.

Microsoft Office 2007’s awful user interface

Office 2007 is pretty old by now, and I know much has been written on the move from a “normal” looking app to the “Ribbon” UI. I personally hate the change and feel Microsoft just changed the UI as a way to make the application look “different” so that people will look at it and go “oooh, shiny!” and not feel as bad about being forced into another $400 upgrade of a word processor. Sure, Excel’s row limit was finally raised beyond 64k, and I’m sure there were some other tweaks, but .docx? .xlsx? Yet more file formats, ensuring most businesses will feel compelled to upgrade. If your clients are upgrading, you’re going to have to.

Anyway, that’s all well documented. What may not be is the ridiculous location of the SMTP header info in a message in Outlook. If you want to view this interserver communication, which is invaluable when debugging mail issues, you can either A) right-click the message in the inbox, or B) … Well, in Office 2003, there was a way to do this from within the open message. I didn’t think there was a way to do it from within the message in Outlook 2007, but it turns out there is. It’s just retarded:

WTF?

Dear Microsoft: please drop the “Ribbon” completely and go back to menus, or at least provide that as an option. This UI is awful.

I may never buy a Windows computer again

I guess it’s not really a fair comparison since I’m running 32-bit Windows XP, but it strikes me as mildly retarded how much better my stupid $350 Mac Mini performs than my ~$1000 desktop. The Mac has a Core 2 Duo 1.83 GHz CPU with 1 gig ram and an 80 gig HD, running 10.5.6 (or something). My desktop is a 3.0 GHz Wolfdale with 4 gigs ram and a 1 TB 7200 RPM sata drive. The Mac isn’t super speedy but it seems more responsive in everything except iTunes, and that’s probably due to all the MP3s being served off my ancient Linux box (over G wireless). Actually, I still completely detest iTunes, and think Winamp is about the perfect MP3 player. But anyway, the stuff you can do “for free” on a Mac is pretty amazing. I haven’t played with iMovie or a bunch of the other programs yet, but even just Expose is pretty remarkable.

There’s a price tag for them, of course, but if my gaming days are over then I could probably get by with a ~$1200 Macbook or Macbook Pro, or probably even a higher end Mini with some more memory in it. I’m tempted at this point to try CentOS on the desktop just so I can have a 64-bit OS. Or maybe Windows 7. Maybe after the move.

Blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The SAN Scam

It’s time to buy some more disks for the SAN we have at work. The SAN is made by Compellent and we’ve had it for a year and it’s been great. One of the selling points was the ability to add disks however we wanted – one at a time is possible, which apparently isn’t the case with other SAN products. The one we looked at from LeftHand expanded by purchasing entire nodes, so the incremental cost was pretty high. Compellent seemed to have a higher initial cost but cheaper incrementally.

Well, that wasn’t really the case, as I’ve come to discover. The way they license features on the SAN requires “expansion licenses” for each set of 8 disks you add on. As it happens, I would like to add 8 SATA disks to our SAN, bumping us into a license expansion. The net result of this is that purchasing these disks costs over $16,000.

If that sounds like a lot of money, well, it is. I expected some markup for enterprise-class hardware, but this is ridiculous. A quick search on Newegg shows that hard drives are readily available at about $0.09 – $0.10 per gigabyte, and even Seagate drives are only around $0.14 per gig. At the price I was quoted for the Compellent drives, the price per gig is over $2.00 per gig! The markup is over 1500%, and that’s not even factoring in the discount they likely get for buying disks in bulk – I doubt they pay retail. They claim this is due to the disks being “certified” but I don’t imagine they’re opening up each disk and checking its platters. They probably just make sure the firmware is correct and then ship it out. Their quote also includes 1 year of support on the disks, with 4-hour on-site replacement, but still, as someone who’s basically “cheap,” this just pisses me off.

Now, in Compellent’s defense, their product is amazing, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with the need for it and the means to get it, but it is very pricey, moreso than I was led to believe. The fact that I rarely have to think about the SAN probably means it’s money well spent, but as I said, I’m a cheap bastard, so this bothers me.

Evan's Semi-complete Aimster Saga

The following was written by me in my Slashdot journal on September 02, 2001. I have not edited it since then except for formatting.

This is long and rambling and will likely have parts that make no sense. I just finished writing it at 5:33 am right now Sunday morning, so that is my excuse. What’s yours?

In September 2000 I was gearing up to return to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to begin my senior year. To say I wasn’t looking forward to it would be an understatement. I had two courses left in my Computer Science major: Theory of Computation and the “culminating experience,” a course that I guess takes the place of a senior thesis. The most theoretical aspects of Computer Science have never interested me, and since I know that I will never have a use for the vast majority of them. To graduate I still needed to take 8 more classes and none of the offerings were terribly appealing. For the fall term I enrolled in Theory of computation, an econ class, and a government class (the standard courseload is 3 classes). I wasn’t terribly thrilled with any of my classes.

At the beginning of October, a friend of mine who was attending RPI told me that there was an opening at Aimster for a Mac developer. The first version of Aimster’s client had recently been released and was met with tons of press. My friend talked to his boss, John Deep, and John was interested in meeting with me. So one day I drove to Albany and met with John and the rest of the Aimster crew. Aimster seemed like a great idea to me. Share files just like Napster, but only with the people on your AIM buddy list. Combine two of the day’s hottest applications and be useful at the same time. Seemed like a brilliant idea to me. I spent the night in my friend’s basement and the next day met with John who offered me the job. He told me what was offering, which included salary, a new Powerbook, health insurance, and stock options. The salary was generous, but less than six figures. I had recently read that the average salary for computer science graduates was about $46,000, and the offer was enough that I decided to give it a go.

I’ll leave out the battle that ensued with my mother. Suffice it to say that she wasn’t thrilled with my decision to drop out of an Ivy League school for no apparent reason.

I asked John for some kind of a contract. After all, I was taking a huge step by quitting school and it seemed that my mother would never speak to me again. I needed some kind of assurance that he wasn’t just making this all up. He was reluctant to do this. He said “That’s not the way I operate, you’re going to have to trust me.” I explained that I needed something, I couldn’t risk my whole future on his word alone. He said I should write up a contract and forward it to his secretary. I did, including the points John and I had agreed on. She wrote back saying that he said that looked fine. He would sign it when I arrived in Albany.

I did all the paperwork at school and withdrew from the college. I can go back at pretty much any time by filling out a 1 page form explaining why I was gone and what I did. I spent several weeks living in my friend’s basement until I got an apartment that would take me, my girlfriend, and our two dogs.

I get to Aimster and wanted to get my Powerbook as soon as possible. I should mention that I did not own a Macintosh, having sold my powerbook 4 months before in favor of an Athlon system. John said we’d go to CompUSA and get one. The day we were supposed to go, he never showed up. He put it off for several days and then one day said “Why don’t you just use the G4 in the office for now?” At this point I suspected something was up. Pretty much everybody else at Aimster had gotten brand new Sony VAIO laptops. At least 8 of them at ~$2600 each.

At the time, there were two other Mac developers. One (call him Mr. A) had been an RPI student who had taken time off to work for Aimster, and the other (call him Mr. B) was… well, I never really knew anything about his background. Let’s just say he wanted to write Aimster in AppleScript.

My own background in programming was pretty limited. Pretty much all my C++ experience was from class. I had experience with CodeWarrior but not with developing GUI apps. I had 2 or 3 classes that used codewarrior for development, and the rest were using gcc on Linux. I knew data structures, algorithms, STL, all that stuff, but only really in a class setting. And as I said, I’d never developed a GUI app before.

When I started going to the Aimster office, the first topic we discussed was what programming environment to use. Mr B wanted to use RealBasic, which was pretty simple to use and was basically Visual Basic for Mac, and Mr A said that real basic was too weak and we should use CodeWarrior. I played around with Real Basic and it was incredibly easy to use. I had a whole gui laid out in less than a day. However, Real Basic’s limitations showed themselves pretty quickly, mostly with regard to networking and threading.

Things were not going well. Around Christmas 2000 the “Mac team” and John had a meeting where we told him we had decided not to use Real Basic. It was simply too weak for our purposes. And since the Windows client was written in C++, developing in Real Basic would have made portability extremely difficult. There are ways to incorporate C code into Real Basic apps, but it’s a real pain. Anyway, John freaked out at this and said that if we couldn’t do it in Real Basic then we had to cancel the Mac version. This was something he had hinted at a few times so it wasn’t entirely a surprise. Every time I had asked him about my supposed Powerbook, he’d said “well, we don’t know if there’s going to be a mac version or not, so let’s hold off,” which I didn’t find especially reassuring. Anyway, we managed to convince him that we could do it in Codewarrior, though I’m sure he still didn’t believe us. And I can’t really say that I blame him, since things were really not going well. However, the computer I was working on was a piece of garbage. It would give random linker errors, wouldn’t even compile Metrowerks’s own sample code (nor Apple’s), crashed randomly, and when code did compile, the debugger didn’t work at all, so I couldn’t step through anything, making debugging a complete crapshoot. At least on Linux/windows you can write output to cerr so you know what the hell is going on. I resorted to putting ::SysBeep(30); calls throughout the program. If it beeped once, I knew it got to point X in the app. If it beeped twice, I knew it got to point Y, etc. It was absolutely awful. I wanted to format the hard drive but they did not have the CD. I borrowed Mr A’s powerbook CD and did a clean install (which for non-Mac users replaces all of the System files and leaves mostly everything else intact) and reinstalled codewarrior. This helped quite a bit, as I could now use the debugger, but the computer still crashed randomly and frequently. One day it crashed 37 times in 6 hours. I counted. I tried formatting the computer with mr A’s powerbook CD but it didn’t work for one reason or another. So I was somewhat better off than I had started.

Then Aimster’s office moved. I took this opportunity to take the G4 home with me since I was getting very little work done at the office. This was a bad move as I got even less done at home. One problem I had with this project was that there is very little, very poor documentation for CodeWarrior. The documentation that comes with codewarrior is not helpful at all and little else exists. The only printed material I found on the topic was from circa 1992.

For about a month I was held up on the problem of creating tables. If you’ve ever used a Mac, I wanted to create tables like the Finder’s list view, in which the search results would be displayed. This seemed to be something nobody ever wanted to do. Macster, the Mac Napster client (which has since been purchased by Napster and been renamed “Napster for Mac”), had beautiful tables for search results, and I wanted something very similar to that. However, I didn’t know whom to ask or even what exactly to ask. I posted several questions to the codewarrior.mac.* newsgroups begging for help with tables. A very few kind souls lent me a hand and I began to understand how tables worked, but things were not going the way I had planned. The problem was abruptly solved when Mr. A (who I only spoke to every 2-3 weeks or so) informed me he had a table working. (It turned out that I should have been using CodeWarrior’s LOutlineTable class all along instead of trying to use their LTableView class… ARGH).

At some point I decided to move the operation back to the office. The new office was absolutely awful. The carpet was nasty, we had only old broken up folding tables to work on. Not a single non-broken chair. Even the reporter who profiled Aimster for the Washington Post (article here) agreed. Mr. A was still MIA and Mr. B was still in AppleScript land. At some point around March, Mr. B was officially no longer working on Mac Aimster and became the webmaster. So it was Mr A with his Powerbook and me with 50% of a G4 desktop. We were getting a lot of pressure from the bosses to show something, since it had been about 6 months. However, we were told by the Windows team that it had taken them longer than that and they were significantly better equipped than we were… they actually got some support from management whereas we got nothing whatsoever.

Anyway, once the table fiasco was behind us, development proceeded at a much more appropriate pace. We were hampered somewhat by the myriad changes in Aimster’s encryption schemes and all the new features constantly being added to the service, which added countless days to our development time. A moving target and all that, blah blah blah.

To make this long story shorter, we released Aimster for Mac 1.001 on June 26 2001, well behind schedule. We quickly released a new version the next day due to a pretty big bug. We were getting about 3,000 downloads of the Mac client per day, which we thought was great. The reviews were in and most people thought it was great, if a bit unstable. Well, “a bit” is a bit of an understatement. However, we had only our two development machines to test on and the program ran pretty well on them. When I mentioned to John that we needed more machines so that we could test, he basically said to forget about that idea. If people have an incompatible computer (such as, for example, an iMac) then too bad for them. How can we be expected to support every idiosyncracy of every computer system? This was his attitude. I saw no logic in it whatsoever.

Aimster moved its office again to Albany’s business district. We got a T3 into the office and it was really quite nice. No birds living in the vents like at the previous office, they actually had toilet paper in the bathrooms, whereas at the old office we had to bring our own, nobody was selling crack on the corner outside the office, etc.

When the summer came, several RPI students were hired to do various tasks. One guy did sysadmin stuff, one did development, one took over the webmaster position (Mr B had been laid off), one was working on the Spanish version of the program), and there were (I believe) a few others. I didn’t understand why these guys were here, but they were good guys and I didn’t have any problem with them personally, so I didn’t really give it much thought. I was just wondering how much money we were spending on these guys. Back in November-december there were a couple of times we didn’t get paid on time. We always got paid sometime the next week so I never thought much of it, but I later learned that those were times the company was out of money and we were awaiting more money from investors. So every 2 weeks I wondered whether or not I would get paid. And every 2 weeks I was relieved when I checked my bank account and saw that my check had been directly deposited.

Until August 10, 2001, a day that will live in infamy as far as I’m concerned. Friday August 10th was a pay day. I checked my account online and saw that the money hadn’t been deposited. I panicked. I called the office manager, who told me to talk to the project manager. He said that the payroll “wasn’t going to happen” and when I asked him why he said “he didn’t know” and when I asked him if it was going to happen next week, he said “I can only hope.”

At that point I fled Albany. I drove down to Queens to be with my girlfriend and to figure out what to do. Everybody told me that I would probably get paid next week, which I was hoping, but deep down I knew it was the end. I still had not paid August’s rent in Albany and had several other debts that I was planning to pay with Aug 10’s paycheck. I stayed in queens for about 2 weeks, as I saw no reason to return to Aimster if they were not going to pay me. I should note that the pay cycle was lagged by 2 weeks, so that when you get paid, you’re not getting paid for the 2 week period ending that day, you’re getting paid for the 2-week period that ended 2 weeks ago. So when I didn’t get paid on August 10, Aimster owed me 2 paychecks. This is not a trivial sum of money.

I begged and borrowed money from family and friends. When I returned to Albany, there was an eviction notice from my landlord since I had still not paid my rent. I borrowed $1100 from the friend who had first told me about the Aimster job back in October 2000 and used that to pay my rent and some other bills.

It is now September 2, 2001, and Aimster is officially out of money. With the remaining funds, everybody was given a pro-rated paycheck (which was really a loan against future payroll so they could avoid deducting taxes for now) and we got a speech about all of Aimster’s great prospects for the future. Big corporation X wants to license Aimster, company Y does too and will tell all its friends to do the same, blah blah blah ad nauseum. The management is continuing on as if nothing has changed. Except all of the programmers have returned to school. Nobody is working there anymore save some sysadmins and John himself. A couple of people were laid off, but basically everybody else is still considered an employee even though they’re not being paid. I am going to have to somehow get out of my Albany lease as I cannot afford this place on $0 income. I have applied for unemployment as that’s the only option I can think of. As far as I’m concerned, I was laid off. I can’t quit because then I can’t collect unemployment. I have been applying for jobs since August 10th but nobody really seems interested. Part of the reason I took this job was to gain programming experience. But one year of programming experience isn’t really that helpful.

The thing that really infuriates me the most about this whole ordeal was the fact that we were given no warning whatsoever. Nobody even had the common courtesy to tell us, “The payroll will be late this week.” Then when nobody got paid, nobody would even tell us what was going on. No word from management, not even an apology. We had to infer that there was no more money (which was later confirmed by the execs). Not only that, but 2 days before we were supposed to get paid, 60 computers were delivered to the Aimster office. 60 1ghz, 1GB ram AMD Athlons. So that’s where our payroll went? Isn’t that illegal? I’m sure I read somewhere that payroll must be priority #1.

So now I can only imagine what’s going on in the Aimster office. There are no programmers, so maybe John Deep just sits there staring at his computer looking at all the people online and wondering what went wrong. His blunders alone are enough to fill a textbook for a business managent course. But that’s another story.

So in conclusion, I have to say that my experience with Aimster has been one of the worst episodes of my entire life. I will leave Albany with nearly $10,000 more debt than when I arrived, not including the student loans which have come due. I wish I had just stayed in school. It is too late for me to even go for the 2001-2002 year, so I guess a year from now I’ll go back, since it seems nobody wants to hire me. I have so little faith in humanity at this point that I am considering teaching, just so I can have the opportunity to help some kid avoid making mistakes like this one.

Finally, I would like John Deep to know that I deeply hate him and wish I had never met him.

Sincerely,

Me