Why Break Paywalls?

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Yet More Evidence Apple Sucks Now

As I wrote recently, their laptops now mostly suck. Now their smartphones are starting to suck. Make that their smartphones are starting to suck more, because smartphones have always sucked. And their iPads now suck too, now that they’re programmed to deliberately brick themselves when you travel.

There’s definitely a trend going here, and it’s not a good one.

Authoritarians Do the Strangest Things

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?

Dealing with CenturyLink Sucks

My current long-distance provider, Pioneer Telecom, has ever since I became a customer with my current line had an issue with the occasional call having a one-way connection: I can hear the other side just fine, but that other side cannot hear anything. This is merely annoying to me, but it sometimes makes the other side temporarily wonder if they are now the subject of intentional harassment.

Inertia makes it a pain to switch, but as time has passed, the issue has happened more and more to the point where their service is now basically unusable. When I first got my land line, CenturyLink told me they now offer long distance service. I can’t remember what the price was, but it seemed uncompetitive, so I decided to shop around and found a better deal. (Well, it would have been a better deal if the call quality was reliable.)

So, anyhow, the time to switch has come, and the first order of business was to revisit what CenturyLink’s pricing is. If it’s simply a little bit more expensive, but not obscenely so, it’s probably worth it to pay more for better quality.

First, I try going on line. There are almost no options for managing one’s existing residential service. I find a page saying such things are under construction and to talk with an agent instead.

So I call the customer service number listed in the front of the phone book. Naturally, there’s a long phone tree. At some point in it, I am encouraged to use their web site instead. Yes, the same web site that is incomplete and which just told me to speak to an agent to accomplish this basic task. Then I get put on hold. After over a minute of waiting, it is clear that I made a mistake in calling on my kitchen phone and hang up.

I go into my office and place the call from my desk phone, the one that has a headset which leaves both hands free so I can do other stuff while waiting on hold for an extended period of time. It turns out, of course, to be an extended period of time.

After too long, I get an answer. It’s a guy in India with a heavy accent who doesn’t understand my English very well and keeps asking me to repeat stuff. This is a sign of total sleaze; it says: “We are so cheap we not only outsource labor, we outsource it to the cheapest people possible.” That’s because there’s plenty of educated people in India who speak perfectly clear English and who have no trouble understanding it when spoken by a native English speaker. (Of course, they cost a bit more to hire than those who barely know English.)

He asks me my phone number, which is a totally unreasonable thing to ask on an 800 number, because they already have that data. All 800 number owners do; such numbers work by reversing the charges, so caller numbers are furnished them due to the long-established tradition that those who pay long-distance tolls are entitled to receive itemized data showing the charge for individual calls. (In fact, CenturyLink’s phone tree already had detected my number and asked me to confirm it was the line this call was pertaining to.)

I ask about the pricing, and get placed on hold for an extended period of time. (Apparently he doesn’t have that information.) When he gets back to me with the pricing it is only a per-minute cost. I have to explicitly ask if there is a monthly fee, and if so what it is, then am placed on hold again while he researches it.

It’s obscene, of course. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s apparently CenturyLink’s business model: to tout the (surprisingly competitive) per-minute cost and sucker customers into getting zinged by monthly charges.

Needless to say, no sale. I’m still researching options.


Barney Frank, Bankster

Barney Frank’s claims that Trump is not gutting the regulations that were passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis should be taken with not just a grain but a large block of salt, given that he now sits on the board of a bank poised to profit from the deregulation (no doubt at taxpayer expense when the next crisis rolls around).

And the Dodd-Frank regulations themselves were weak in the first place; they failed to fully replace the Glass-Steagall Act (which itself was repealed with no small amount of Democratic Party complicity).

It’s not just the Republicans that are at fault; the Democrats are the party of banksters and capitalism, too.