Screwed By Groupon

February 23, 2013

I was an earlier adopter of Groupon since I loved the concept and thought it a good use of Web technology. It was pleasing
to see the public response to it and how it moved around the world and generated a legion of “copy cats.” A case study on
Groupon became an integral part of the course I teach on E-Commerce at the University of Hong Kong and talks that I am
often asked to give on E-Commerce technologies.I was therefore surprised when “my Groupon bubble burst,” but it will give me new material to lecture on.

A while back I bought a Groupon for residential cleaning from Universal Maintenance Co. in San Francisco. Nancy and I
had hoped that we might use it for exterior window cleaning. Scheduling its use was a problem but I had no fear since
the Groupon said “The amount paid for this voucher ($240) with Universal Maintenance Co. NEVER EXPIRES.” Further down
it read “If the merchant refuses to honor this voucher because the promotional value has expired or for any other
reason, Groupon will refund the amount paid. Period.”

We did miss the expiration date, but finally I got around to trying to arrange an appointment with Universal
Maintenance for the the amount that I paid. To my surprise I found that Universal Maintenance appears to be out
of business since the Web site on the Groupon failed and a search was unsuccessful. No matter, it had both “expired”
and there was “another reason” so Groupon would give me credit – WRONG!

An e-mail sent to Groupon Customer Support explaining this predicament was quickly responded to and I was told that
they would get back to me. Weeks passed and another e-mail brought no response. What a great example of customer
support and CRM for my lectures!

Finally I decided to start over again. Once again a quick response BUT it said, “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience
and the delay in response here. It looks like that previous ticket was misdirected.Since this Groupon was purchased between
November 1, 2008 and December 1, 2011, you may be eligible for a replacement voucher from a class action settlement. If
so, you should have received an email notification at your Groupon-registered email address. If you haven’t received a claim
form, please go to or call (800) 589-1256. The settlement website offers several ways
to obtain and submit your claim form online. Alternatively, I can provide you with the form directly if that’s more convenient.
This class action lawsuit specifically pertains to expiration dates and other restrictions on Groupon vouchers. We have
voluntarily entered into this settlement because it’s best for our customers, merchants, and Groupon. As a result of this
settlement, we are unable to issue a refund for this Groupon directly. If eligible, you will receive a new voucher for this
business that can be redeemed for the face value of the deal — the price you paid for the Groupon. If the business is unable
to honor this new voucher for whatever reason, a monetary refund will then be made available to you.”

Nothing about the promise on the Groupon, just a polite “tough luck, sucker” and “stand in line and maybe you’ll get
something back.” I will file the claim but needless to say I am not hopeful.

No more Groupons for me and I am anxious to see the offers that come from their competitors. In addition, I’m amending that
Groupon case study to include my e-mail exchanges and this posting.

The Mystery (to me) of Climate Change

November 2, 2009

I was just reading a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science about how the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are melting – the evidence appears to be irrefutable. It is still a great mystery to me about why the topic of global warming/climate change is such a political issue. Do the opponents of measures to combat climate change truly believe that it’s a conspiracy conjured up to punish/regulate big business (e.g., the polluters) or to gain political power (e.g., big government control) via the passage of legislation? Sure, there are some scientists (or “arm chair scientists”) who do not accept that man-made actions are adversely affecting the climate, but clearly the majority believe that environmental evidence suggests that there is a connection. I cannot think of any other issue where the proponents (in this case, those believing in global warming) truly wish that the opponents were correct but cannot find substantiation in the data. Likewise, is the evidence touted by the opponents so compelling to them that they are willing to take a chance and gamble with the planet’s future? I truly do not understand…

Interesting Conversation on a Recent Flight

October 26, 2009

I’ll admit it – I don’t often talk to strangers on airplane flights (or conversely, they don’t often talk to me). Maybe it’s because when I get to my plane seat I quickly set into passing the time (reading, listening to music/audio, sometimes sleeping) and people might interpret this as aloofness. Some conversations that I have had were fascinating such as when I shared a flight with a world-renown judge of cat shows.

I did have another interesting one recently with a young man traveling to San Francisco from the East Coast. This kid (he told me he was 24) looked exactly like the stereotypical hippie from the ’60s (he could have been a cast member for a theatrical revival of Hair) and was from North Carolina (like me) which triggered our conversation. He told me that he was moving to Northern California to work in the medicinal herb business based on his extensive experience in Florida and North Carolina. This lead to his description of how herbs can increase knowledge and awareness.

If you haven’t guessed already (and which became clear as he “warmed up” to me), the medicinal herbs he meant were marijuana/pot. If that weren’t interesting enough, he told me that he had been recruited by Northern California farmers for his cultivation skills. His new employers were going to meet him in San Francisco and take him to his work location (which he did not know in advance when accepting the job).

I found this concept fascinating – national recruitment of individuals with pot growing skills, just like any other job search and recruitment process. I’m not sure what to make of it – I certainly steered clear of him at baggage claim – but it certainly made the flight pass more quickly and gives me an interesting story to tell.

My Visit to ITER

October 22, 2009

Several weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to visit and give a talk at ITER (, the multinational laboratory for building a fusion reactor. This visit was especially meaningful since my younger son (Christopher) works at the lab.

The goals of ITER are quite lofty – to harness the energy of the stars and thereby provide mankind with a safe, cheap, and inexhaustible source of energy for the future. However, aside from the value of the science, the way that they are approaching this goal and their commitment to the environment impressed me deeply.

ITER is a collaboration between the European Union, the United States (which will hopefully keep paying its dues), China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. What is unique about their mission is that all member nations will be self-sufficient in development of the fusion technology, i.e., each nation will be capable of building a working reactor without depending upon any other nation for resources, technology, etc. Therefore fusion power will not be controlled by a few nations (like fossil fuels) and not become a tool for political machinations.

ITER’s commitment to the environment is demonstrated by the way they are constructing the massive ITER site. The reactor site is an area of many acres and is, according to them, the flattest man-made space on earth. It involved clearing a large forest and enormous volumes of earth. Trees from the forest were relocated and attached to trees in a nearby existing forest. This action enabled the wildlife living in the relocated trees to move to living trees. Likewise the relocated earth was moved to protect any wildlife that lived within it. I have never heard of a similar project to protect native wildlife (clearly much of it microscopic).

ITER’s goals and approach towards reaching those goals provides a great example that big, multinational science can still work and provide benefit to all.

By the way, anyone interested in my talk, on Web Science, can see it at

The California Jug Band Association and the San Francisco Jug Band Festival

July 18, 2008

As those of you who know me are aware, jug band music is one of my life-long passions. That’s why several years ago some of us formed the California Jug Band Association (CJBA), a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit. Now before you laugh, the CJBA has really filled a niche because jug bands and jug band enthusiasts, old and young, have “come out of the woodwork.”

The CJBA now has festivals all over Northern California and a debut festival is planned for Southern California in 2009. The next festival will be in San Francisco next month and promises to be great. Please take a look at about details on the CJBA and the upcoming San Francisco festival.

The CJBA logo was designed by Robert Armstrong who some of you may know as a fabulous artist and musician (The Cheap Suit Serenaders and The Joy Buzzards). Robert is also well-known for inventing the concept(?) of the “couch potato.”

My Grandchild is a Pig

November 27, 2007

Now ordinarily, that would be a terrible thing to say about one’s grandchild, but in the absence of any human grandchildren (at this time), it’s true.

We had a great Thanksgiving with my older son, Andrew, at his home in Seattle. Andrew, indeed, has a pet pig, named Wilbur, which, in a sense, makes me the grandpa of a pig.

Like any other proud grandfather of a pig, I can take pride in Winston Churchill’s words, ” A cat looks down upon a man, and a dog looks up to a man, but a pig will look a man in the eye and see his equal.” Here is Wilbur and me doing just that –



November 11, 2007

When I started this blog I indicated that it was because I believe in the technology and the manner in which the tool can be used for communication. Despite the rarity of my posts, I still believe in that purpose. So, I’ll continue to put here thoughts that don’t seem to have another forum in my activities.

I spent last weekend in Dallas, Texas.  My wife, Nancy, received The Margaret Byrd Rawson Lifetime Achievement Award from The International Dyslexia Association. I’m really proud of her because this is a big deal! What made the event even more special is that our sons, in-laws, nieces and nephews and SOs attended as well. It was sort of a mini-family reunion and it was great!

This was the first time that I had spent any appreciable time in Dallas except for flying through, so I took some time to visit the JFK assassination site. This was a milestone for me since JFK was one of my early idols. His 1960 presidential campaign was the first I ever paid any attention to; in 1961 a high school friend and I went to his inauguration (this was our Christmas present from our parents); and in 1963 college friends and I went to his funeral on that historic weekend. So visiting Dealy Plaza, the Texas Schoolbook Depository, and the grassy knoll brought it full circle. Like so many other things in our past, the whole area seems so small when compared to its historical significance.

Another one of my heroes, Norman Mailer, died this weekend. I’ve loved his books and writings, and admired his free spirit. I’ll admit that every fall when the Nobel Prizes for Literature were announced that I felt disappointment when Mailer didn’t win. He took chances and spoke his mind and I’m sure is “mixing it up” wherever he happens to be now.

Web History Day at WWW2007

March 13, 2007

(This is a copy of an entry to the WWW2007 blog)

Web History Events: 10 Year Anniversary

In 1997, the Web History Day and Exhibit was one of the most popular programs of the 6th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW6) in Santa Clara, California. This year, ten years after the original event, at the 16th Web Conference (WWW2007) in Banff, Canada, a reprise of this program will occur.  The conference will host multiple Web History-related events and a weeklong Web History Exhibit area for the benefit of conference attendees and where attending pioneers can donate historical materials and add recollections.

The 1997 event brought together many of the major pioneers of the early Web and hypermedia for the very first time, from Douglas Engelbart, Tim Berners-Lee, Brewster Kahle and Ted Nelson to authors of early browsers – Viola, Mosaic, Netscape, Cello, Internet Explorer, Midas and more ( The hands on exhibit featured pioneering software and sites, from the first browser/editor running on its original NeXt cube to the White House site and HotWired. The program was co-organized by Web pioneer Kevin Hughes and Web historian Marc Weber with help from pioneer Jean-François Groff, at the invitation of conference organizer Bebo White.

At WWW2007, the Web History events will focus on the history of E-Commerce, with speakers from Marty Tenenbaum of CommerceNet to blogger Robert Scoble. Featured also will be a history of the conference series which began in 1994 at CERN. It will also bring attendees together with leaders of the museum and archiving communities, who are becoming increasingly convinced of the importance of collecting artifacts from the early days of the Web and documenting the historical evolution of Web technology. The preliminary event program can be seen at

The organizers of this year’s Web History Day include many of the same persons involved with the original program—Marc Weber, Bebo White, Kevin Hughes, and Jean-François Groff– with some additions.  In the past year Marc Weber and Bill Pickett have co-founded The Web History Center,, which has absorbed Weber and Hughes’s older Web History Project and adds key pioneers like Robert Cailliau and Marty Tenenbaum to its Advisory Board.

You are invited to look at the Web History Center Web site. The Center’s goal is to attract attention to the need to save records and memories of the origins and development of the Web, and to put individuals and organizations that have such materials in contact with archives and museums (twelve such institutions have joined as members of the Center) who are interested in preserving and making these materials available to researchers and educators.

Concurrently, the Center is creating a digital library that will ultimately become a definitive resource on the history of the Web. This library will allow anyone with an Internet connection (students, researchers, entrepreneurs) to view original documents, videos, and images.
The Center is working with Bebo White to bring together and find an archival home for the records of the International World Wide Web Conference Committee (IW3C2).  The history of the Web Conference series closely parallels the evolution of Web technology and the activities of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). White is a member of the Web History Center’s Advisory Board and serves as liaison with the IW3C2 and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), home of the first Web site in the United States.  Anyone having materials relevant to any of the above categories are invited to contact White, Weber, or Pickett.

For the Web History event at WWW2007, we are especially interested in items from past conferences that can be included in the exhibit—the original sites, posters, T-shirts, pins, badges, printed collateral, and more. As a part of the conference program, the WHC is sponsoring a weeklong exhibit and hosting a light buffet reception on Tuesday night to open the event and introduce key speakers. Wednesday’s plenary address by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, co-organized by the WHC and WWW2007, will provide an opportunity for him to reflect on both past and future. Finally, all day Wednesday, the main Web History track will feature speakers on the history of E-Commerce, the conference series, and ways of preserving and making public the Web’s history—both past and ongoing. Please join us!


March 13, 2007

I was browsing the newspaper this morning and I happened to notice the obituary of Dr. Tsai-Fan Yu of New York City. Now I didn’t know Dr. Yu, but apparently I owe her a great deal of gratitude. Dr. Yu was one of the world’s foremost specialists on gout and pioneered the use of most of the medications used for gout today. I have suffered from gout for almost 30 years and so I say, “Thank you Dr. Yu!”

There is no need to go into details about gout except to say that it is extremely painful when it attacks and it is, to my knowledge, one of the only ailments that many in the general public find amusing. Often when I tell someone that I have gout, the response is wisecracks about high and decadent living. Associations are made with Henry VIII gorging himself with fine foods and wine with his leg propped up on a “gout stool.” I remember once seeing an article warning employers that gout is often just an excuse for alcoholism. One of the best ways to alienate yourself with a gout sufferer is to make gout jokes unless, that is, you are so insensitive that you would joke about any condition that causes suffering. Dr. Yu probably got a lot of jokes when she introduced herself as a “gout specialist.”

So, once again, “Thank you Dr. Yu for your work and dedication. You make the lives of millions of gout sufferers around the world more tolerable.”

Boojum Buddies

March 4, 2007

Approximately four years ago, a good buddy of mine (Ron McGinnis) and I started visiting Baja California. We usually go about once a year and spend our time off-roading in Ron’s 4WD vehicle (originally a Hummer H2 and for the past two trips, a Hummer H1). This trip has become an important part of my calendar that I look forward to – a chance to relax in the company of a great friend in one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever been to. We now call ourselves the “Boojum Buddies” after the strange boojum (cirio) trees that are found only in Baja. We even have a domain name and Web site ( that we plan someday to use to introduce people to Baja (a good retirement task).

Last week was our 2007 Baja trip and it brought, amongst the usual experiences, a real epiphany. Mike’s Sky Ranch is a popular stop in Northern Baja for dirt bikers, ATV drivers, and other off-roaders. You really need to have such vehicles to even get there. While at Mike’s there was a group of experienced bikers who expressed amazement that Ron and I had been to some locales without backup or other vehicles. Sure, we had been places that if we broke down, it would pose a major problem. It made me think of James Kim of CNET who got lost with his family in Oregon (James ultimately died and his family was rescued) and Jim Gray of Microsoft (with whom I have/had a slight acquaintance) who is still missing on his sailboat. Several days later while Ron and I were visiting cave paintings near Catavina, I slipped on a rock and broke my foot (though I didn’t know it until I got back to San Francisco). We were close to town (and I didn’t require any immediate medical attention), but it could have been much worse. The broken foot (now in a cast) has forced me to cancel upcoming classes in Pakistan and Hong Kong since my physician has forbidden me to travel.

It’s clear to me now that with its beauties, Baja also has its dangers. The wildness of Baja is enticing to us fragile visitors. We plan to return to Baja, but will certainly now rethink where we go, the supplies we take, and the communications networks we establish with our families while we’re gone. We owe that to each other since we’re Boojum Buddies.