Monday, August 20, 2007

Fanks for the Formaldehyde

Here we go again.
As expected.
The perfidy of Chinese manufacturers hits the headlines, again, and endangers consumers, again.
Formaldehyde in clothing. In children's clothing. Children of the west seem seriously targeted by the Chinese.
Chinese labels lie. "Low flame" labels on children's garments turn out to be sheer folly. The clothes catch fire. Two New Zealand children have been burned, so far.
Then there are the rashes being suffered by children wearing clothes which are drenched in formaldehyde - 900 times the maximum level deemed tolerable.
They are embalmed clothes, for heaven's sake - soaked in embalming fluid.
Embalmed pyjamas. Embalmed trousers. It's all a bit surreal.
Formaldehyde might be good at providing a permanent press in fabrics but it is permanent stress in the living human body. Carcinogenic, even.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has been discovering formaldehyde-tainted confectionery from China. Sweets! Candy!
This all comes on top of the lead paint on toys causing the greatest toy recall in history, the poisons in cough syrup, petfood...
It is hard to see this as error, as the blunders of an emerging capitalist society. Give us a break. The Chinese are not stupid people.
No, looking at the expanding scale of insidious forms of mass poisoning, it is all starting to look like terrorism.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Oh, Google, you let me down.

How to lose faith in Google.
Just try popping in on its Mountain View HQ in California. If you loved Google before, you will have the old blood running cold afterwards.
I guess I was just naive to think I could swing past the Google building and take a couple of photos.
Well, I'd seen the stunning Yahoo building towering triumphantly out there in Silicon Valley and I had taken a zillion photos of the Oracle building - probably the most elegant and superior high tech establishment in the country, if you ask me. Its sleek blue cylindrical glass towers reach around a lake where a fountain plays in cheerful circles. It is a huge complex and, if there is security, it is pretty low-key.
Google, on the other hand, is the great paranoia security hell.
You can't even drive up the driveway. Security guards stop you and tell you that you will be trespassing if you cross the line into the staff carpark."The campus is private land", one told me when I asked if I could pop in and take some photos of the building.

Yes, we're talking a building here. Just a couple of exterior shots.
I wasn't asking for a the latest search secrets or even a guided tour. I was not trying to find the "Visitor Lobby" marked on the exterior signpost or to see if I could purchase a Google cap, although, had things worked out that way, certainly would have left the place wearing a Google cap, if there is such a thing.
But, as it happened, I was asking just to take a quick snap of the entrance to the building.

I was simply told that I was not permitted to take photographs anywhere on the property.
"You can go to the public field and take a photo from there," he said. "That is public".
Oddly, the field had a sign in the middle of it saying "Closed for Repairs". This had struck me as the funniest sign I had ever seen in a field. Not that it would have stopped me, had there been a way to get to the field.
The problem was that there was no where to park. Even to get to the neighbouring field.

You can't stop here,' the security guard insisted.
"But the whole parking lane right down the road has banned parking," I said.
It was not the security man's problem. All he had to do was to make absolutely sure that people like me did not go anywhere near the Google building. Even if we have identified ourselves and explained our humble mission.

It was an odd thing, the parking ban in the street. Amphitheatre Drive has only a few buildings on it - large outfits on huge chunks of real estate. They are on one side of the road only. Opposite is wasteland with a spectacular view of the mountains.
There is what looks like a parking lane along one side of the street - but it was entirely roped off and dotted with witches hats and signs insisting that there would be no parking. This covered the road for hundreds of yards both before and after the Google property. Half a mile or more. There was even a police car stationed at one point. This was serious no parking.
Apparently, some way further down is an Amphitheatre - for which parking is discouraged on the road to protect the businesses...the one or two of them on their vast acreages.

It surprised me that Google had no visitor parking fact, a lot of things were surprising me.

What happened was that I suddenly felt my faith in and loyalty towards Google shrivelling within me.
Suddenly the negative comments about the wicked Google empire started to make sense.
Only a world with something to hide would hide.
Paranoia belongs to people with agendas.

I felt like a complete idiot.
A few months ago I had written a vast weekend magazine spread on Google - its wonderful rise and the fair and emancipated way it treated its employees and kept the spirits up. How Google had ethics as well as the best staff conditions in the world.
My boss read my piece and said that he did not believe Google was wonderful at all, that I had been conned by Google propaganda.
I was furious. Google has had a few problems - but, as one who hooked straight into the search engine when it evolved, as one who was thrilled to be an early starter with Gmail, as one who looks for the changes in the home page and touts the brilliance of the search algorithm, I was confident in my judgements. I could mention legal issues on the Google record, I told the boss, but I simply would not turn my article into any form of Google-bashing. I genuinely admired Google and I wanted the article to reflect this. It went to print - and it did.

Now I feel two inches tall.
The boss was right.
Google is not quite what we have assumed. Google has a friendly homepage but an unfriendly interface.

Google will not let its fans take a photograph.
Not just a fan, but a card-carrying visiting journalist from overseas. I had mentioned to the guard that I was an Internet writer from Australia - "just want to take a picture".

But the guards were there with rules to follow. Keep everyone out except employees.

OK Google. I got the message. I got more than the message.
I am as offended and alienated as you intended me to be.

I now will not laugh at those who say that you are moving towards becoming the new Microsoft, the evil empire.
Perhaps you now are too powerful.
Perhaps we do need to be concerned.