The Awfulness That Is Ikea

Published at 07:50 on 22 November 2021

So, I try and order a bed online at Ikea. The first thing I notice is that there’s a lot of out-of-stock items. That’s not really Ikea’s fault, though, as supply chains are out of whack everywhere. So I persevere.

Oddly, nothing is asked about delivery scheduling through the entire order process. It’s strange enough that I abandon an order and think about it for a day. I decide that of course they will contact me so that a mutually-covenient delivery time can be arranged, and place my order.

Ha, ha. Big mistake. Rule No. 1 about the retail industry in North America: never, and I mean never underestimate how bad customer service is likely to be. Dead silence from Ikea, other than a generic “your order was accepted and entered into the system, here is your order number” response.

That is, until, get this, 4:57 pm yesterday evening, when I get a text message from Ikea saying that my order will be arriving between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm tomorrow (i.e. today).

I mean, really now, Ikea? You don’t know that most adults work for a living during weekdays and might need something more than zero day’s notice to schedule leave time?

Anyhow, I try going online to reschedule the delivery. Although their main web page claims you can do that, when I bring up my order status, there is absolutely no way to reschedule.

So I try calling them. It is now after 5:00 pm (they texted me at 4:57, remember) and their call center has closed for the day.

I figure their call center is probably in Ontario, so I call at 6:00 am this morning, because that’s 9:00 am Eastern time, and they should be open. My suspicion is confirmed. They dump me on hold and announce there’s a “higher than expected call volume,” which probably really means “precisely the call volume we expected, but since we don’t give a shit about our customers, we don’t care if they sit on hold for most of an hour.” Thankfully, they offer to hold my place in the queue and call me back when I’m near the front. I accept and hang up.

7:00 am rolls around, and no call back from Ikea. So I call them back again. Having just learned from experience, I ignore their offer to enqueue me and call me back and remain on the line. Within five minutes my call is answered.

The agent drops the headset and doesn’t actually say anything for at least a minute, despite my repeated cries of “Hello? Hello?” If they treat their call center employees as lousy as they treat their customers, however, that all makes sense. The agent is probably trying to scam a much needed break. So I stay on the line and eventually she answers.

I am told that, get this, if I reschedule, it will basically be the same process all over again: I will be told at very short notice when I must be there for them, and that will be that. Because, obviously, the customer exists to serve the merchant, and not the other way ’round.

So I cancel my order. And I am sure that is not the end of the story, and I will be fighting to get all of my money back, because it is my experience that a company that has bad customer service tends to have it all the way down.

The Awfulness That Is Airbnb

Published at 16:01 on 27 October 2021

Executive summary: Avoid Airbnb like the plague. Pretty much everything about them sucks.

So, about a week and a half ago, I thought I wanted to reserve a room for a few nights in Vancouver, BC to do some apartment hunting. I decided to check out what was available on Airbnb.

The first thing that happened was the site was almost totally unusable. It is one of those piece of junk web sites that is crammed full of as much badly-written client-side Javascript as possible. I’m sure the site works fine on the high-end gigabit connection at the office where the testing is done. Problem is, not everyone has a high-speed, high-end connection, and the site is so heavy with hidden (and sometimes excruciatingly slow) requests to their servers, without any user feedback that this is happening, that the site is virtually useless on a slow connection.

So I wait half an hour and the site becomes barely usable. I manage to find what looks like a very attractive deal; apparently someone cancelled at the last minute and something desirable is available at a competitive price. I try to reserve it, and at one stage it drops back into two-factor authentication and asks for a cell number to text. I enter my number and receive no text. I try a few more times, then a message comes up that Airbnb is now blocking texts to that number for 24 hours.

So I wait 30 hours, and by some miracle the good deal is still there. I try again, only to discover my number is still blocked. So I borrow a friend’s phone and attempt to use it for two-factor authentication. The first text takes forever to get delivered, so long that I have given up and tried again. That second try causes Airbnb to proudly proclaim it is now blocking texts to my friend’s number as well.

At that point, I write off Airbnb entirely, and give up in disgust.

But Airbnb was not done imposing its suckiness on me. At one stage in that process, it did ask for a credit card number. It turns out that Airbnb, despite pestering me with two-factor authentication and refusing to complete my transaction, did nonetheless try to bill my credit card at that point… from the United Kingdom. Why a San Francisco-based company would instigate a charge from the UK for a sublet in Vancouver, BC is beyond me, but that is exactly what Airbnb did. Seeing a charge from the UK come within mere hours of a charge from Canada, my credit union then decided to cancel that credit card.

When I called my credit union to ask why charges were suddenly failing, they did some investigating, and their reaction was “Oh, Airbnb. They tried to charge you from the UK. We run into this sort of thing often with them. We advise our clients always call us before using Airbnb to stop their credit cards from being cancelled.”

So now I must wait for a new credit card to arrive before I make my next trip north. Fuck you very much, Airbnb.

Why Break Paywalls?

Published at 12:54 on 7 May 2021

Why did I break a paywall in that most recent post? Let me show you the pop-up that appears:

Can you spot the sleaze?

Notice how there is no one-shot option to pay a buck or two, get a site pass for a day or two (or even just access to a single page), then walk away, without any future commitment whatsoever. No, I must give them billing information and agree to be billed monthly. Sure, I may “cancel anytime,” but what that really means is that I can forget to cancel before my first month is up, and get zinged for another few months before I wake up and cancel.

Contrast that with your typical magazine selection in a store. You can take any magazine you wish, pay the price on the cover, and walk out of the store without making any further commitments. The publisher has no idea that you, personally, purchased their publication. They can not bill you in the future.

The unreasonableness of most paywalled sites can be made clear by contrast: What would a store that follows a similar policy be like? First, the magazine is behind a counter, and you are not allowed to so much as touch it by default. “No, sir, we will not hand you this magazine unless you first agree to furnish us with billing information so that we can continue billing you as new issues come out. You are of course free to cancel at any time.”

We would think that store was a pure sleaze operation, and we would be correct.

The Web needs micropayments. It needs to be easy to pay for things on a one-off, piecemeal basis, with no future commitments. It is not just newspapers and magazines that would be improved by this, either. Imagine what social networking would be like if it was easy to use on a pay-as-you-go basis: it would be based on a transaction between two parties, with much less temptation to do all the profiling and data-selling that today’s social networks depend on.

Until and unless things become less unreasonable, I and many others will continue to try and find ways to circumvent the unreasonableness.

As an aside, in many cases, circumventing paywalls really is not that hard. Business Insider, for example, relies on client-side scripting to implement its paywall, so all I had to do was launch a user agent that had no support for JavaScript, and I was in. The page looked a little odd, but the article text was still readable.

Personnel Concepts: Scammers

Published at 09:49 on 19 June 2019

So, I got a rather official-looking bit of mail recently, addressed to the small business I’ve licensed:

Then I notice the address the reply envelope is addressed to:

What? Some private business in California? Not a Federal or state agency? Nope; it’s a scam, a for-profit business whose model is apparently based on intimidating firms into thinking they are obliged to purchase their employer “compliance” posters. (Which don’t pertain to me, since my business is a sole proprietorship.)

And they spam people with phone calls, too. They certainly sound like pure scum.

Caveat emptor!

Yes, It’s a Cult

Published at 10:44 on 2 June 2019

Many cults have their members dress distinctively in public. Here’s one stereotypical example from the 1960’s:

How is that fundamentally different from this (snapped recently on the ferry one afternoon):

Answer: it’s not. Not so far as I can tell. Both expect you to turn over your life to the cult. With cult religions, it’s rituals and faith-based beliefs in things that cannot be proven. With cult employers, it’s the cult of high technology.

Both cults expect you to devote your life to the cult, wearing the clothing the cult provides, and devoting your “free” time to activities the cult approves of, generally ones that support the cult’s mission.

And I think that, in addition to my age, is really hurting my employability. I have my lifelong interests, and I’m not interested in putting them on the back burner in the name of prioritizing any cult’s interests (no offense, geeks, but role playing games and science fiction simply don’t interest me). I’ve developed my own idiosyncratic sense of personal style, and I’m not interested in changing it in order to become a human billboard for some business. I regard social networking as a baleful influence on society, and participate in it only reluctantly, under an assumed name. I firmly believe that what I choose to do in my unpaid hours is none of any employer’s business.

If you value your personal liberty, you don’t belong in a cult of any kind. It’s just that simple.

And Another Age Discriminator Passes Me Over

Published at 16:55 on 30 May 2019

It’s 17:00 on a Thursday a full ten days from when I interviewed for a job, and not a peep out of them, despite my sending a followup message. So you know what that means: they’re pursuing someone else but haven’t quite finalized things yet. But rest assured the odds are so insignificant they can safely be disregarded: at this stage, I have about as much chance as being hit by a stray meteor.

It’s not really a surprise or anything, but it is annoying, given how good a match the job in question was for my skills, and how well I solved one of the programming problems on the whiteboard. But there’s only so much you can do when not having any gray in your hair is one of the prime qualifications for the job.

And I’m certain the experience is equally frustrating for anyone who’s female, or who’s not White or Asian.  Just keep this all in mind the next time you hear some stuffed shirt from the technology sector whining about a lack of qualified talent.

No Surprise

Published at 15:45 on 6 May 2019

In the least surprising news development since the Sun rose at the forecast time this morning, it turns out that Alexa and Siri are, in fact, home eavesdropping devices.

George Orwell was an optimist. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, everyone had a telescreen in their home because the government forced them to. In today’s USA, people agree to it because advertisers have convinced them it’s personally convenient.

Wall Street Is Not Private Enterprise

Published at 08:58 on 17 September 2018

This story begs some questions: If Wall Street needs to be recurringly propped up by the Federal government, is it even honest to portray Wall Street as private enterprise? Wouldn’t seeing it as a quasi-state enterprise be more accurate? If that’s the case, isn’t there also a strong case for a much greater degree of public input into and control of these institutions than is presently the case?

What we presently have isn’t really private enterprise: it’s socialism for the rich.

Authoritarians Do the Strangest Things

Published at 18:43 on 28 August 2018

Fourteen years ago, the “Church” of Scientology was establishing a web presence consisting of hundreds of eerily conformist “individual” web pages for its members. (The site in question is now long gone, of course.) I don’t know how many people were stupid enough to fall for it, but it was beyond me how such an effort could prove even remotely convincing.

Now Amazon is stealing that page from the Scientoligists’ playbook, this time with Twitter accounts instead of home pages. Again, it’s beyond me how anyone could find this even remotely convincing.

Then again, I’m an anarchist in a world of capitalism and government fans. Maybe most people really do find it convincing when people say stuff even though it’s transparently obvious that it’s being coerced out of them?