Keep stirring

Nobody sells software anymore. What is sold is “solutions,” amalgams of the stuff you wanted and the stuff they surrounded it with, neither of which works worth a damn after combining. A recent example:

[S]tuff needs to be simple and just work. Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing or able to design a system that works with default browser settings. In particular, everyone wants to design their software to require popups. I have no idea why. But time after time I put a system out for a subset of my employees to test and I immediately get 19 people calling me back saying that it does not work, they can’t get in, etc. The typical problem is that most of this software seems to require that the browser’s popup blocker be turned off. Why in the world would you design software for a feature that 99% of browsers today have turned off by default? And worse, that require users to change a setting that only exists deep in setup menus most users don’t even know exist. I am pretty capable and it took me some poking around to find the popup options in Chrome.

Not that you can complain about it, of course:

I had a long talk today with my onboarding company trying to explain why getting rid of an hour of HR time with their software at the cost of an extra hour of IT support time for each new employee trying to access the system does not save me any freaking money.

Went right over their heads, I’d wager.

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The yellow-ish peril

This probably will not end well:

Would Sephora really ban customers who spend thousands of dollars every year with them? Last year, frequent customers say they had their ability to place online orders taken away for buying too much stuff. This year, frequent customers report having their accounts shut down or their ability to place orders restricted. Funny thing though: all of these customers have e-mail addresses based in China, or Chinese surnames.

This must be one of those definitions of “funny” that don’t actually involve laughter.

Why would Sephora cut off any customers, let alone Asian customers, right now? This week, there’s a 20% off sale for Sephora customers who spend more than $350 per year, which is a fabulous time to go shopping and boost your profit margin if you’re a reseller. The question for Sephora is this: how can they tell the difference between someone who is reselling and someone who just reapplies eyeshadow a lot?

Angry customers claim that in the last day or so, Sephora has been using geographic and ethnic profiling. In addition, customers who use e-mail providers based in China like qq.com or 163.com say that their orders have been canceled and their accounts deactivated.

Well, duh, says Sephora:

[I]n some instances we have, indeed, de-activated accounts due to reselling — a pervasive issue throughout the industry and the world. As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting our clients and our brands, we have identified certain entities who take advantage of promotional opportunities to purchase products in large volume on our website and re-sell them through other channels. After careful consideration, we have deactivated these accounts in order to optimize product availability for the majority of our clients, as well as ensure that consumers are not subject to increased prices or products that are not being handled or stored properly.

You can probably imagine what reddit thinks of this.

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Outdoor batroom

Bat house from old Volt partsOn the off-chance that your first question is “Why is that Chevrolet Volt battery housing sitting on top of a pole?” the answer is that it’s scrap from the General Motors battery plant in Brownstown Township, in the southern end of Wayne County, Michigan, which has no landfill, and the stuff is difficult to recycle for some obscure chemical reason, so the General came up with something else to do with the little plastic boxes: provide homes for bats. Yes, really:

The company … creates bat houses out of scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers that can hold up to 150 little brown bats each. John Bradburn, GM global manager of waste reduction, came up with the reuse idea, transforming the difficult-to-recycle material into nesting structures. So far, 232 of these bat houses have been installed on its properties and in other private and public lands in the United States. A tweak of the design has led to 368 specially designed structures to serve wood ducks, owls, bluebirds and scaly-sided mergansers — an endangered species.

Which means shipping the stuff off to China, since Mergus squamatus is native to east Asia and is presumably never seen around Detroit.

This isn’t the only bat-related Chevy recycling program, either:

Artificial stalactites give hibernating bats more surface area from which to hang, thus spreading them out around the cave. Creation of the stalactite is simple; robots that apply a structural adhesive that helps join Corvette body parts are purged regularly to keep the adhesive applicator clean and free of dried material. This dried gunk is the perfect shape for a stalactite, and its use in artificial bat caves avoids sending it to landfills.

Seems like a swell idea to me.

(Nicole originally posted the stalactite story; I just padded it out a bit.)

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First-class ticket to ride

There was a time, apparently, when it was considered appropriate to dress to the nines to visit an amusement park, and that time was in the middle to late 1950s:

Advertisement for Berkshire Carnival Colors

I wonder if they actually shot them right-side-up and then flipped the photo.

By the spring of 1959, Carnival Colors had expanded to Orange Pop and Merry-Go-Round Yellow; the Steeplechase Green apparently fell by the wayside.

In 1955, Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates and Hathaway Mills had merged. Seven years later, this happened:

In 1962, Warren Buffett began buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway after noticing a pattern in the price direction of its stock whenever the company closed a mill. Eventually, Buffett acknowledged that the textile business was waning and the company’s financial situation was not going to improve. In 1964, [BH chairman Seabury] Stanton made an oral tender offer of $11 1/2 per share for the company to buy back Buffett’s shares. Buffett agreed to the deal. A few weeks later, Warren Buffett received the tender offer in writing, but the tender offer was for only $11 3⁄8. Buffett later admitted that this lower, undercutting offer made him angry. Instead of selling at the slightly lower price, Buffett decided to buy more of the stock to take control of the company and fire Stanton.

By the spring of 1965, Buffett owned all of Berkshire Hathaway, and in 1967 he started buying, um, other things.

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A finer grind

The Memphis Grizzlies are what you’d call a Known Quantity: they play tough and they foul a lot. Except they didn’t foul a lot: the Thunder took only one shot from the stripe in the first half, and missed it. OKC finally got a free throw in the third quarter, but rather a lot of subsequent foul shots went awry. Just as badly, they didn’t manage a fast-break point until midway through the fourth, and there was, as has often happened this year, the full array of Possible Turnovers. Still, they tied it up with four minutes left. Three minutes later, the Griz were up 1; Reggie Jackson put up a trey at 0:53 for a two-point OKC lead; Mike Conley responded with one of his own at 0:38. Then an odd little contretemps just inside the 0:06 mark: Nick Collison failed to make the inbound within five seconds, passing possession to the Griz, and after a foul, Courtney Lee sank one of two free throws. With Memphis up two with 2.4 seconds left, the Thunder got one more shot, a Serge Ibaka trey which went wide, and that’s how it ended: Memphis 91, Oklahoma City 89.

The Thunder were up to nine players tonight: guard Ish Smith was brought in under the hardship clause, and Jeremy Lamb was deemed well enough to start. Smith didn’t stay in long, though he collected an assist in four minutes. Five of those nine men made double figures, led by Jackson (a game-high 22); Lamb had seventeen. OKC did several things right: 44-38 rebounding advantage, 47-42 shooting, and 12 of 25 treys (versus 9-18). But twenty turnovers — the Grizzlies had only eight — and close to the worst foul shooting in NBA history (3-11 for 27 percent) sealed their doom.

The Memphis offense came from all directions, as usual: Conley’s last trey gave him 20 for the night, with 17 from Lee and 16 from Zach Randolph. Tony Allen, while not on the list of offensive attractions, had four steals, one more than the entire OKC team.

Next outing: Sunday evening, with the Kings coming to town. Sacramento is 5-1 at this writing; the Thunder are 1-5 and out of the Western Conference basement only because the Lakers have dropped five straight.

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Accounting for another week

We begin with an anguished question from a fan:

This is what you’d call a business decision by the artist:

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for,” [Taylor] Swift said earlier this year to The Wall Street Journal. “It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”

Then again, seven years ago a band, without any label input, threw the question open to its fans:

I’m contemplating offering £4.50 — a tad over nine bucks — to download Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows, and after all, the price is up to me.

After a brief discussion, I upped the ante to £4.75.

If there’s any irony here, it’s in the fact that if Rebecca Black ever gets around to releasing an album — she says she’s been in the studio on weekends — she’ll be setting the price for it, unless she signs a distribution deal. (Her singles have been coming out at 99 cents each, with the notable exception of “My Moment,” which carried a $1.29 tab.) I have no idea how much she’s making off Spotify, but it can’t be a whole heck of a lot.

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A beep to the system

The staff at Minneapolis’ Acme Foundry, home of quality gray and ductile iron castings, were surprised to see what had been done to the building over the weekend:

Acme Foundry with additional Warner Bros. cartoon characters

Although the business manager is almost certainly telling it straight: “We’ve been in business for over 100 years. I’m surprised it took this long.”

The Super Genius (Carnivorous vulgaris) and his intended prey (Accelleratii incredibus) actually first appeared in 1949, so Acme had at least a 35-year head start, or as much as Wile E. probably needs.

The figures are made of cardboard, and won’t last through a Minnesota winter, but what the heck.

(Via Fark.)

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Manitoba in February is colder than this

It is often said that the most versatile word in the English language, despite its utter lack of suitability for polite conversation, has only four letters, the first of which is an F. I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s a word that I’m not particularly uncomfortable overusing.

That said, a ridiculous idea popped into my head yesterday: how hard would it be to come up with a complete 30-item Jeopardy! board in which every single correct question contained some variation of that word? You couldn’t actually play it, of course: apart from taste considerations, any player who demonstrated enough smarts to get on the show in the first place would figure out the pattern about halfway through the second answer, and then it would simply be a Fastest On The Buzzer game. Still, there’s that whole versatility thing, which occurred to me while I was reading some unfortunate prognostication for next week that included the dreaded phrase “polar vortex,” a term describing a condition some people apparently believe simply did not exist before 2013. (“These individuals are dumber than this.”)

And you know, both these weather-related examples work just as well with the, um, S-word.

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Fresh Apple bugs

I have spoken before of the Randomator, a Smart Playlist I worked up on the work box’s iTunes install, which shuffles through 10 percent of the available tracks that haven’t been played in a while, and after playing a track, replaces it with the next one in the chronological list. (Right now, songs from the third week of August are being inserted into the rotation.)

If this sounds OCD, consider that I’ve inserted manual sort codes into the lot of them, so that the Jacksons, for instance, sort out Alan, Bull Moose, Chuck, Deon, Freddie, J. J., Janet, Joe, Michael, Stonewall, and Wanda, to appear in exactly that order. Unfortunately for my neurosis, iTunes 12.0.1 occasionally ignores the sort code when it adds a fresh track to the Randomator. It’s still there — Get Info reveals it under the correct tab — but at least once a day the code is disregarded, which is how I found Lisa Loeb right under Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam instead of under Hank Locklin. I’ve run this playlist through at least five full versions of iTunes; this is the first time it’s done this to me.

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Price to be discussed

I’m hoping this is a Photoshop, because otherwise I’m forced to conclude that the RIAA’s brain cell has disappeared up its fundament:

(Via Rand Simberg.)

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A word to the sufficient

And sufficiency, in this context, refers to being able to sign NBA-sized checks, preferably wisely:

The machinations surrounding a star player’s free agency don’t start when his contract expires, or even in the final season of his contract. They start the year before, when everyone can see the end of the contract in the distance, and maximizing the star’s trade value becomes a pressing issue if that star is disgruntled.

There is no evidence Durant is disgruntled. Repeat: There is no evidence Durant is disgruntled. If the Durant / Russell Westbrook / Serge Ibaka three-man core stays healthy, Durant is living within a roster that could hit 60 wins in every season for at least the next five years. That is a tough situation to leave.

Of course, “stays healthy” is a theoretical construct at the moment. This season, at least, 60 wins may already be out of the question.

But you’re kidding yourself if you think the Thunder aren’t well into the process of thinking about Durant’s future, or that other teams aren’t lining up their cap sheets to make a run at him. It might be unpleasant to read and hear chatter about a thing that is 18 months away, and I do my best to focus on the actual NBA games during the NBA season. But this is reality.

Before that, though, someone’s going to try to deal for Reggie Jackson, and right now the only question is the size of the offer sheet.

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At the bottom of this data mine

Much is made of Facebook’s iron grip on all our personal data. Will Truman suspects the presence of oxidation, if not necessarily metal fatigue:

You’d think that the algorithm would say “Hey, he’s commented on this guy’s statuses repeatedly, so this is probably someone whose feed he’s interested in.” But not really. It thinks I really need to know what’s going on with a high school acquaintance who now lives in Connecticut, but not the person who has tagged me in posts twice in the last month.

This is one of the reasons I get less paranoid about their collecting information on me. They seem to be utterly incompetent on what to do with even the obvious parts.

If Zuckerberg offers to buy NSA, then I’ll worry.

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It’s not really a typewriter

It’s billed simply as a “typing device,” and there’s one particular typist at whom it’s aimed: the person writing for eventual publication, or just for the cedar chest, who wants to go somewhere and observe and/or soak up atmosphere but who doesn’t want to lug along a laptop or squint at a phone, which carry distractions of their own. Perhaps this person is you:

The Hemingwrite is designed like an old-fashioned typewriter but does also manage to keep some modern technology. It has a 6-week battery life so it’s perfect if you write better away from civilization, ample memory, instant on so no time is wasted on booting up, and a high contrast screen so it’s easy to read in daylight or at nighttime. It also has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, allowing it to connect to Google Docs, Evernote, and the Cloud. The best part of all is that stylish old-school look and feel of a typewriter that completes the writing experience.

The four-pound keyboard-plus-screenlet holds about a million words, or roughly twenty standard-sized NaNoWriMo projects, and, I am told, has that nice mechanical feel.

(First seen here.)

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Personalized boilerplate

Six years into the post-Derek Sivers era, CD Baby still retains one of Sivers’ trademarks: the chatty New Release announcement, tailored to your previous purchases. Unfortunately, only so much tailoring can be applied in some cases. This was received yesterday:

We here at CD Baby have got pretty good memories. And we just remembered that at some point in the not-too-distant past you purchased music by Various Artists.

We commend your impeccable musical taste and wanted to let you know that Various Artists has a brand new release out now. It just went live on our website for sale. And we just had to let you know FIRST since you’re one of the few hip and wise people who “knew them way back when.”

At Home cover artThat’s me: the Tastemaker™. If you actually go out to CD Baby, you will eventually find the actual description of the release, which at the moment is download-only — though past performance suggests that a physical disc may eventually be forthcoming. If you’re disinclined to hit the link, well, these are the Various Artists in question:

A relaxing unplugged collection of originals and covers with four great singers (Michelle Creber, Gabriel Brown, Monique Creber & Andrea Libman) performing solos and beautiful harmonies, accompanied by Grammy-nominated pianist, Michael Creber.

Michelle Creber, if you follow these things, is the voice of Apple Bloom on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; those other Crebers are her parents. Andrea Libman voices both Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie on MLP:FiM, though she sings only for Fluttershy: Pinkie’s out of her singing range. Gabriel Brown is the famed brony musician (and skydiver!) Black Gryph0n. The original “I Will Fight For You” was released as a single, which I bought, which explains why CD Baby suspects I might be interested in the whole album; they’ve just turned loose (on YouTube) a cover of the old Jackson 5 favorite “I’ll Be There.” I will eventually get this, of course, but my want list is at the moment overflowing, while my wallet isn’t.

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Quote of the week

Jack Baruth, on the Wednesday following the first Tuesday in November:

I have to confess that I was entirely apathetic about the midterm election, insofar as I believe both parties are pawns of moneyed interests with plans to turn the nation into an economic facsimile of Brazil where drugged-out proles play Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy all day and mobility between the classes is murdered with extreme prejudice. Mr. Obama’s milquetoast pretensions to watered-down pseudo-populism have proven to be completely ephemeral and under his supposedly Democratic administrations the holders of capital in this country have experienced a new Gilded Age while the government openly fiddles the numbers in order to turn the tens of millions of healthy and competent but utterly unemployable men in this country into nonpersons.

Still, I was pleased to wake up this morning and see that American voters had delivered a hammer to the back of Mr. Obama’s head with a staggering repudiation of his administration and his nonexistent accomplishments. It cannot be helped that most of the politicians who benefited from this ballots-not-bullets revolution are scarcely any different from the ones they replaced. What is important is that the country reaffirmed its willingness to eject major percentages of sitting elected officials for low performance.

The metaphor that works for me here is the doofus who’s gone 120,000 miles on the same automatic transmission fluid: eventually, he has to do something about the stuff, which by now looks more like Nesquik than like Fanta Strawberry, but everybody screamed “DON’T FLUSH IT!” So he had someone drop the pan and refill the unit. This improved things a bit, but it eventually dawned on him that the fluid that was in the torque converter at the time he had it serviced is still sloshing around inside there, so he takes it back to the shop, parts with another $150, and repeats the process. Eventually the fluid looks like, and smells like, what it’s supposed to be. Of course, had he flushed it, it would have failed before he got it home from the shop the first time, or so everybody says. I’ve always suspected that this was confusing correlation with causation: the trans was already about to fail, and fail it did.

(Personal note: I once bought a car that pretty much demanded the flush: the pan was vertically oriented, and the filter was internal and couldn’t be reached for cleaning. It did not fail me. Then again, I didn’t leave the same ATF in it for 120,000 miles, either.)

Which is by way of saying that if things don’t look better in a couple of years — well, a third of the Senate will be replaced in 2016.

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The need for feigned speed

If you’ve never believed computer benchmarks in your life, well, there were very good reasons not to:

Intel has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit that claims the company “manipulated” benchmark scores in the early 2000s to make its new Pentium 4 chip seem faster than AMD’s Athlon. Intel will pay affected consumers $15 if they purchased a Pentium 4 system between November 20, 2000 and June 30, 2002. Affected systems include all systems with a Pentium 4 CPU purchased between November 20, 2000 and December 31, 2001 — and all systems with a first-gen Willamette P4 or all P4s clocked below 2GHz, between January and June 2002. The exception is Illinois — if you live in Illinois and bought a P4, too bad for you.

Is this the same AMD that invented the “Performance Rating” that they hoped you believed was the chip speed? My work box used to be a Sempron 2800+, which despite that number ambled along at a mere 2.0 GHz.

I did own a P4 for many years, though it was not purchased during the time frame involved, and it involved a slightly faster CPU — not the Willamette, but the subsequent Northwood. (I am now running an AMD chipset instead. Go figure.)

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