Beware Asking the “King of Questions”: Twilight Zone Chat with Skype Customer Service

Today I thought I was entering a chat room with Skype’s technical support and customer service team. It looked like a chat room, but it was actually a journey into the heart of the Twilight  Zone.

While at the Los Angeles Airport, I was about to use the free wireless service provided here when suddenly Skype opened a window offering to connect with Skype Connect, a service I never want to use Skype Connect because I consider it way too expensive. The dialog box only had a connect button and no button that I could see to cancel or refuse the connection. While looking for a way to get out of the offered service, the dialog box disappeared and was replaced with a message saying that I was now connected. This is what I consider to be malware behavior. I immediately quit Skype, but then was wondering if this malware-like system had accrued unwanted charges. I looked for billing information in my Skype account but couldn’t find anything to answer my question. I was ticked off enough to want to know and not just let them bill me for unwanted services using a malware approach, so I went to Skype’s technical support page and launched a chat session with their support service. To do this, one must enter one’s Skype user name and password. In theory, you might think that the Skype customer service representative who you chat with should know who you are. In theory, one would also think that they should be able to answer a simple question: was I billed or not? That all sounds nice in theory, but theory isn’t always what we find in the Twilight Zone.

In my chat session, I would be asked again to provide my user name. Then I would be asked for my name. Then later I would be asked for my user name again. And then for my name again. And then, after a series of equally informative and entertaining inquiries of this nature, I would be told that it would take just a few minutes to find an answer to my question, and then when I checked to see if they even knew what question they were actually answering, I found out that they “don’t answer this king of questions.” Wow, I guess I really did it this time. I thought I was asking something simple, like was I billed or not, but this is actually the “King of Questions”–at least in the Twilight Zone of Skype Customer Service.

By the time my free internet access died, I would find out nothing about whether I was billed. I did learn a few things about Skype, but encountered some giant mysteries, like how a their reps can lose track of so much info so quickly, and why they won’t tell you at first when you’ve asked an unanswerable King of Questions. I am left with gaping mysteries, but I still learned enough to make me want to switch to some other service. The Chinese QQ system is said to be superior in many ways, and that may be my next stop. Other recommendations?



By | April 27th, 2013|Categories: Products|Comments Off on Beware Asking the “King of Questions”: Twilight Zone Chat with Skype Customer Service

History in the Making: The US-China IP Adjudication Conference, May 28-30, 2012, Beijing

After 3 years of planning and navigating complex political waters, a historic event finally took place in Beijing last week at China’s top university for IP law, Renmin University. Top justices, judges, lawyers, business leaders and academicians from the US and China gathered for 3 intensive days of sharing regarding intellectual property and the courts. There were over 1,000 people that attended, including numerous judges and IP thought leaders from China and the US. The number of judges from China was said to be 300, though most of the Chinese people I met were not judges but lawyers, business leaders, and students, though I did have lunch with a Chinese judge and met several in other settings during the conference.

The leaders and speakers of the conference included US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) Chief Justice Randall Rader, one of the most brilliant and influential minds in US patent law whose decisions have long been shaping US law and practice. He is a strong advocate of international collaboration and appears to have been one of the primary driving forces between this event. I was pleased to see a total of 7 Federal Circuit judges present, most visiting China for their fist time, including these 6 Circuit Judges: Raymond C. Clevenger III, Richard Linn, Timothy B. Dyk, Sharon Prost, Kimberly A. Moore, and Jimmie V. Reyna. Also playing prominent roles were Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China; David Kappos, Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office; Mark Cohen, the USPTO’s former Attaché to the US Embassy in Beijing; Steven C. Lambert, President, Federal Circuit Bar Association; and many others. Mark Cohen wowed the crowd by delivering his speech in fluent Mandarin, though his rather erudite citations of Chinese poetry and classics sometimes challenged the gifted translators who made this bilingual conference accessible to everyone present.

On the Chinese side, we were elated to have active participation by Chief Judge Kong Xiangjun, IPR Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court. Also from the IPR Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court were Deputy Chief Judge Jin Kesheng, Supervisory Attaché Zhang Shengzu, Presiding Judge Yu Xiaobai, Presiding Judge Wang Yongchang, Presiding Judge Xia Junli, and Judge Zhu Li. These judges, with the 7 from the US Federal Circuit, were part of an “en banc” panel discussing US and China law and IP adjudication. Fascinating! Also representing China was Chong Quan, Deputy Deputy China International Trade Representative and a leader of MOFCOM (China Ministry of Commerce).

In addition to many keynote speeches and panel discussions, there were also breakout sessions on such topics such as trademark law, patent litigation, pharmaceutical patent adjudication, and copyright law. Definitely one of the most interesting and information-packed IP conferences I’ve ever attended.

For many, the highlight may have been the afternoon of mock trials in which the same case was presented in an appeal to the US Federal Circuit and to the IPR Tribunal of the People’s Supreme Court of China. Judge Rader lead the 3-judge panel for the US mock trial. The mock trials allowed representatives of both nations to quickly grasp important differences in procedure, though both courts came to essentially the same conclusion in a genuinely interesting real case involving an advance in safety equipment for a circular saw. Following the trials, there was further exchange between the judges of both countries as they discussed their different systems and what they had learned from one another. What a tremendous learning experience and example of meaningful international cooperation.

The rapidity of China’s progress in IP law and adjudication has been breathtaking, in spite of the many complaints made by voices in the West, and the obvious need for further improvements. But from a historical perspective, to go from virtually no IP law in the early 1980s to a world-class system that is leading the world in patent filing now, with the ability of foreign plaintiffs to win against Chinese companies in Chinese courts, represents massive progress worthy of respect. Exchanges like this recent one in Beijing will influence the thought leaders of both nations to further learn from each other and strengthen our approaches to IP law. Many thanks to all those who made this monumental event possible.

In the closing session, I was able to ask a question to the panelists about what future impact they anticipated might come from this exchange. Chief Judge Kong kindly fielded that question and spoke eloquently of the growth of IP law in China and the rich opportunity they had to draw from the US experience and strengthen their system. There is no doubt in my mind that China is rapidly learning and growing and a visionary eye toward the future. I hope the US can keep up and remain a worthy partner and competitor!

Below are some photos of the event that I took.

Related resources: David Kappos’ blog, “China as an IP Stakeholder.”

Liu Yang, Exec. VP of the China Law Society, introduces speakers in the first session.  Also visible are Mark Cohen (USPTO), Chong Quan (MOFCOM), David Kappos (USPTO), and Shen De Yong (VP of the Supreme People's Court).

Liu Yang, Exec. VP of the China Law Society, introduces speakers in the first session. Also visible are Mark Cohen (USPTO), Chong Quan (MOFCOM), David Kappos (USPTO), and Shen De Yong (VP of the Supreme People's Court).

First panel.

First session. Left to right: David Kappos (USPTO), Shen Deyong (VP Supreme People's Court), Chief Judge Randall Rader (US CAFC), Chen Jiping (Executive VP, China Law Society), US Ambassador Gary Locke, and Chen Yulu (President, Renmin University).

Judge Rader

Chief Judge Randall Rader is one of the rock stars of IP--literally. I asked him if he was going to perform for us in the evening but sadly, he informed me that he had left his band behind in the US for this event. I took the opportunity to compliment Judge Rader on setting a great example by being visibly active in areas other than his profession alone. His pursuit of rock music with a real band, even while in the judiciary, is one of many attributes that makes Judge Rader one of the more interesting and likable people in IP law. His passion for China is also part of the Rader equation. Many thanks for making this historic event happen!

Jeff Lindsay in front of the Ming De complex at Renmin University where the Adjudication Conference was held.

David Kappos, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, speaks. His support for this event was crucial and much appreciated.

Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China.

Gary Locke, US Ambassador to China.

Richard Rainey, Executive Counsel, IP Litigation, General Electric.

Richard Rainey, Executive Counsel, IP Litigation, General Electric.

By | June 3rd, 2012|Categories: China, Innovation, Patent law, Politics, Products, Relationships, Society|Comments Off on History in the Making: The US-China IP Adjudication Conference, May 28-30, 2012, Beijing

Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

The Doritos Superbowl commercial features a guy staring into his “crystal ball” and asking if there will be Doritos for him that day. Then he throws the ball into the glass front of the nearby vending machine stocked with nothing bus Doritos products, shattering it wide open for easy looting. “I think that’s a YES!” Ha ha. How many copycat pranks will we see this week?

I love the company, but hated the commercial.

By | February 1st, 2009|Categories: Health, Products|Comments Off on Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

Voting Tools for Innovation: Crowdsourcing and the Innovation Cloud

I recommend David Greenfield’s Information Week article, “How Companies Are Using IT To Spot Innovative Ideas ,” highlights a new trend in corporate innovation management: IT tools for online voting for ideas submitted. These tools include voting alone as well as predictive markets – faux markets used to evaluate ideas and make predictions. Excerpt:

In a three-week experiment, GE Research turned its 85 employees into day traders, letting them watch market movements on their screens to decide whether to buy or sell any of 62 stocks. Only the stocks were product ideas in which the company had the option to develop. At stake was $50,000 in research funding that GE would allocate to the highest-valued project.

When the markets closed, GE ended up with a prioritized list of ideas that the collective wisdom of the market thought would best help the company. Topping the list was an algorithm in the area of machine intelligence, an idea pitched directly by a researcher, not through the normal hierarchy of lab managers and senior management.

Dell looked to an even broader market for new product ideas, using’s online voting service called Ideas and launching Dell IdeaStorm, where anyone can submit and vote on new features and options for Dell products. Perhaps best known of these ideas is a Linux-based laptop Dell introduced in May 2007. Starbucks uses the same voting platform, at, and took an online suggestion posted Oct. 7 by BillMac to offer a free cup of coffee Nov. 4 to anyone in the United States who voted.

The use of these collective decision-making technologies, both sophisticated prediction markets and simple voting tools, is spreading, and they’re increasingly being paired together as a component of corporate innovation programs, helping companies sort through reams of ideas–from new products to customer service to productivity improvements–to find that handful of blockbusters.

A key in any system relying on mass participation is motivating the right people to participate. The software system itself must be user-friendly and offer value, such as providing easy access to ideas that may stimulate one’s own thinking, or useful metric about that other groups in the corporation are doing. If outsiders are involved, there must be filters of some kind to pre-select those whose opinions are likely to matter. The ability to pass a CAPTCHA test is not necessarily correlated with having valuable insights.

Will “Innovation Clouds” become the way of the future? Can crowdsourcing help identify the next iPod? Or is it more likely to give us Edsels?

The data from collaborative innovation tools and voting applications can be considered in identifying key innovations, but don’t overlook the contributions of your visionary product developers and R&D personnel, especially your multidisciplinary master’s of innovation who can serve as “DaVincis in the Boardroom.”

As James Surowiecki indicated in his famous Wisdom of the Crowds, crowd-based decisions work best when the work is done with a decentralized, diverse, independent population. Will it work for corporate idea management? Not easy! People can readily fall into line and comply with corporate culture and the opinion of local influencers. We’ll stay tuned and watch how these concepts play out.

By | January 12th, 2009|Categories: Innovation, Products|Comments Off on Voting Tools for Innovation: Crowdsourcing and the Innovation Cloud

1975 Lorem Ipsum For Sale – Excellent Condition

This is your chance to buy an original limited edition 1975 Lorem Ipsum. Excellent condition, rarely used! Complete with dolor sit amet and consectetuer adipiscing elit, and fully loaded with with sed diam nonummy. Nibh euismod tincidunt can be installed upon request. Ask about our discount for laoreet dolore magna aliquam – and yes, it’s 100% erat volutpat. If your credit is good, qualifying customers can take advantage of ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation. Ullamcorper suscipit lobortis not included.

By | January 12th, 2008|Categories: Consumers, Crazy, Humor, Products, Uncategorized|Comments Off on 1975 Lorem Ipsum For Sale – Excellent Condition

The Importance of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) / Confidentiality Agreements (CDAs)

People pursuing a new business concept on their own should quickly consider forming an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) to prepare for that business and limit their liability. And even before that, it’s important to protect your proprietary information using Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), also called Confidentiality Agreements (CDAs). These are agreements in which the other party agrees to keep confidential information secret for a period of time (typically 2 to 5 years) under certain stipulations. It is vital to use these as you talk with others about your business plans or invention, or you may find someone else marketing it.’s page on confidentiality agreements is a good place to read about NDAs and to see some great sample documents ready for you to use.

By | August 27th, 2007|Categories: Career, Patent law, Products, Relationships|Comments Off on The Importance of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) / Confidentiality Agreements (CDAs)

Review of Brent Maxfield’s Engineering with Mathcad

Review of Engineering with Mathcad

Jeff Lindsay
Senior Scientist
Kimberly-Clark Corporation
2100 Winchester Road
Neenah, WI 54956

Title: Engineering with Mathcad: Using Mathcad to Create and Organize your Engineering Calculations
Author: Brent Maxfield, P.E.
Publisher: Elsevier, © 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-7506-6702-9
ISBN-10: 0-7506-6702-8
Number of Pages: 494

Brent Maxfield’s Engineering with Mathcad is a valuable contribution to the engineering community that may do much to help those in engineering and the sciences in general jumpstart their efforts to learn and apply Mathcad, or to help long-time users strengthen their skills. The book is accessible, engaging, and written from the perspective of one who has dealt the practical aspects of Mathcad for many years. It comes with a useful CD having a handbook and all the examples in the text, allowing the users to easily follow along and work with the material being discussed. The CD also can be used to install Mathcad 13 for PC or Mac with a 120-day academic license.

The book covers a broad scope of material effectively, and should provide useful new insights even for power users. However, the book is not intended to provide a comprehensive guide to the functions and plotting features of Mathcad. For example, there is no significant discussion of solving differential equations. Indeed, many of the engineering applications covered are relatively basic, with the emphasis being more on how to use Mathcad effectively rather than how to tackle complex engineering problems. Given the burgeoning scope of Mathcad’s tool and the many powerful features it has that experienced users may have been missing, Maxfield’s approach represents a reasonable editorial decision to cover Mathcad broadly rather than to teach engineering mathematics or dive into the complexities of any of the numerous areas of interest in engineering.

The book may be especially valuable for those who are relatively new at Mathcad or who, like myself, have Mathcad experience but may not have used it for some time and need a refresher. But a carefully selected swathe of sophisticated aspects of Mathcad are treated that may be helpful to longtime Mathcad users who simply had no idea about some of the tools and capabilities they were overlooking.

With his years of Mathcad experience, Maxfield offers many tips, sometimes subtle, to guide users in creating worksheets, preventing errors, maintaining readability, selecting useful variable names, and so forth.

While the companion CD is useful and highly appreciated, advanced engineering students who are facing challenges with differential equations or other common topics would clearly benefit from additional more advanced sample worksheets. I think future editions of the book would do well to add additional workfiles on the companion CD. When I saw the entries on the CD for chapter 24, hinting at pages on seismic loads, beams and joists, etc., I though such examples might be there, but they are just placeholder pages for demonstrating the use of hyperlinks in a table of contents.

Indeed, for the future, not only would I recommend a more extensive set of examples on the CD, but also the addition of a Website where registered owners of the book or others could contribute solutions, discuss the text, and look at more detailed and complex examples, or receive additional tips from the author.

In general, I recommend Maxfield’s book as an easy-to-read, well organized guide to help a wide range of Mathcad users learn techniques useful for engineering and many other fields as well.

A few minor quibbles: The chapters entitled “Useful Information” could use more descriptive titles, or be added as sidebars or summary sections elsewhere. I think they create a confusing table of contents.

For engineering calculations, the precision of computations may be important. I did not notice a description of Mathcad’s limitation of 15 digits. “Precision” is not an entry in the table of contents (though the term is a paragraph header on page. 98). Pp. 102-103 would have been one good place to discuss this.

Some discussion of differential equations would be helpful.

Organizationally, I also think the first chapter might well contain a rapid-fire overview of some of the features of Mathcad to give those new to Mathcad but with advanced engineering and scientific skills a strong flavor of the power of this sophisticated tool.

And perhaps a list of additional online resources would be good – most preferably a reference to a Website prepared by or for the author that can be updated with the best online resources, additional worksheet examples, corrections of any weaknesses in the text, etc.

In general, I congratulate the author for an excellent book that I think will be helpful to numerous Mathcad users.

By | January 21st, 2007|Categories: Education, Products|Comments Off on Review of Brent Maxfield’s Engineering with Mathcad

Shopping Tip: Apple Products on Ebay May Cost More Than Direct Purchase From Apple

Apple Store
I tried getting one of the new iPod Shuffles on Ebay, thinking I might find some good deals. I bid on a couple and got outbid by frenzied shoppers. Then I checked the Apple Store and found out that I could get a new iPod Shuffle for less than the going bid at Ebay, and with free shipping! And they even engrave and include a gift card for free. Great deal!
By | December 19th, 2006|Categories: Products|Comments Off on Shopping Tip: Apple Products on Ebay May Cost More Than Direct Purchase From Apple