Published at 18:43 on 2 June 2024

It sucked even more than I expected it to. This is because in addition to all the issues I mentioned previously, the site is crap from a technological point of view: slow, laggy, and full of flimsy server-side Javascript that does things like randomly cause the contents of your coding window to disappear. Plus it doesn’t run at all unless I disable some of the protections on my browser.

At least I had fun sending the stupid thing arbitrary machine code. Which, of course, was harmless and only printed a message linking to the aforementioned article.

I highly doubt I will get selected for an actual interview, but why would I want to be, given what sort of garbage they feel comfortable shoving at people?

The iCloud Disk Is a Racket

Published at 23:10 on 16 March 2023

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.

— Smedley Butler

The iCloud disk is Apple’s cloud storage service. They give away a basic amount of storage to all their users, and charge for extra.

The rub is, that just about every Apple program is configured to put just about everything it saves on iCloud by default. Even very, big bloated things. Especially very big, bloated things. It is possible to turn this off, but it is not easy or obvious, and as I said just about every Apple program is configured to use iCloud heavily, so you must fight with app after app to stop it from dumping megabytes of crap onto iCloud.

The biggest offender is iOS (the iPhone and iPad operating system itself), which is of course configured to back up everything to iCloud by default. How to turn this off (and how to back up an iPhone to a local disk) is described here. Note that you should definitely plan to back up your device to a local disk regularly if you turn iCloud backups off.

The natural consequence is that iCloud fills up quickly. At that point, every Apple device you own will breathlessly and ominously announce that your iCloud storage is about full and recommend purchasing additional storage. Actually the warnings come well before that point, at around the 80% mark. Since iCloud comes with 5 gigabytes for free, that amounts to getting warned about full storage when in fact you have a gig of free space still left.

It doesn’t recommend you investigate why iCloud is filling up, of course. That might result in the user not agreeing to spend money in perpetuity on iCloud. There are ways to investigate usage, but they are not obvious.

I did the work and it was astounding how much crap various Apple programs had stuck there. Most people won’t do that. They will just cough up the dough every month to make their devices shut up.

But How on Earth Would Musk Do It?

Published at 08:25 on 9 February 2023

Elon claims to be restricting Ukraine’s usage of Starlink for drone purposes, and my question is the one I just posed in the title above.

Consider first of all that the internet protocol used for such purposes is almost certainly encrypted. Then consider that most internet traffic these days is encrypted. (Look at your browser’s address window. If it starts with “https:”, congratulations! You are using encryption.) So all that those drones are doing is passing streams of unintelligable (to others) gibberish over an Internet full of such streams of gibberish. Good luck filtering that out.

Now, encrypted Internet protocols don’t encrypt everything. It would be possible to use IP addresses and port numbers to filter out the offending packets. It is, however, a relatively simple matter to reassign both. Make a few software tweaks (this is all software, after all) and one could easily disguise everything as traffic between a browser and a web site. Again, good luck filtering that out, at least if you don’t want to cripple Starlink for its vast majority of (non-military) uses.

I think the only plausible theory is that the Muskrat is just blowing smoke. It all goes to show just how little this self-professed technological genius actually knows about the technologies the companies he owns uses. His role is that of a capitalist with money, not a technologist with ideas.

Chaos and Surprises at Twitter

Published at 19:14 on 4 November 2022

So, we are getting the chaos and surprises I predicted earlier.

The predicted exodus of users hasn’t happened, though. What has happened is a bunch of advertisers putting their spending on pause and an (involuntary) exodus of employees. Or should I say the exodus hasn’t happened yet. It still might, if the user experience becomes as intolerable as the employee experience just has.

Regarding the latter, it is hard to imagine something more destructive and disruptive to a business than to suddenly lay off about half of your staff:

  1. Nobody was really planning for this, so it has doubtless thrown lots of plans into disarray. Projects that were near completion will now be put on hold, and likely end up totally unused. All the labor (labor that Twitter paid for) spent on them will have been wasted.
  2. If you lay off that many people in a hurry, you are not going to make very good decisions about who to lay off, for the simple reason that rushed decisions are seldom good decisions.
  3. Any set of layoffs tends to increase the overall fraction of waste and inefficiency in an organization. The waste and inefficiency often has power inside the bureaucracy, and acts to preserve itself. Cushy jobs are good for those who hold them, after all. It is possible to fight this tendency with good planning, but see point 2 above. There is not good planning here.
  4. Twitter has just become a horrible place to work at. Nobody likes to work in a horrible workplace. So some workers are going to quit and work elsewhere. Which workers can most easily quit and work elsewhere? Why, the most skilled and valuable ones, whose labor is in the most demand, of course. This is yet another factor that will act to decrease efficiency.
  5. Those who remain will be overworked. Tired, overworked workers tend to produce lower quality work. Yet another hit to overall efficiency.

And at the same time Musk is doing this, he is driving his advertisers, his main source of revenue, away.

It is almost as if being wealthy and famous does not automatically make one an expert at everything. Imagine that.

Ironically, this might all end up being Elon Musk’s gift to the world, just not in the way Musk intended: if Musk destroys Twitter (and unless he corrects course, he just might), maybe something better will replace it.

More on the Twitter Sale

Published at 19:44 on 25 April 2022

Liberals Need to Calm the Fuck Down

Musk is not a fascist. He’s a boorish, emotionally immature capitalist. His political views don’t neatly fit into the political spectrum, largely because they are not particularly well thought-out. It’s not good that Trump and some other big fascists are about to get their platforms back, but it’s also not as if Twitter got sold to Peter Thiel, who is planning to appoint Steve Bannon as CEO.

As I Said, Expect Chaos

Musk doesn’t fully know what he’s going to do, other than he doesn’t like the “censorship” that Twitter has engaged in. Well, guess what? Terms of service are there for a reason. If Musk wants to basically scrap all terms of service, all editorial discretion, Twitter will promptly start turning into the sort of sewer that 4chan and the likes have long been.

At that point, the exodus (a real exodus, not just a few liberal drama queens crying about taking their toys and going home) begins. Also at that point, Twitter’s value (being the market leader in short-message social networking) starts rapidly evaporating into thin air.

As soon as that happens, expect the concept of terms of service to rapidly (and, to reiterate, chaotically) be un-scrapped. Musk is a capitalist. As such, he worships first and foremost at the altar of Mammon. Any development that promises to take most of his investment’s value away from him will prompt an immediate recalculation.

That is, of course, the most dramatic scenario. More than likely, it will be less dramatic than that.

Elon Musk Buys Twitter

Published at 14:11 on 25 April 2022

It’s Not Good News

He has said he intends to give fascists a platform on it, there is no good reason to doubt his intent to do that, and he now has (or soon will have) the power to do it. The conclusion here seems inescapable, at least in the short-to-medium term.

Expect Chaos

I won’t say exactly what chaos to expect, but expect it. And don’t expect it all to be easily predictable chaos.

Expect Surprises

Musk has more money than sense, and he has burned himself before. This is one reason why I expect chaos. Musk will act impulsively, this will bite him, then he will act impulsively in an attempt to counter the harm his earlier impulsiveness caused him.

This may even play out in ways that the fascists haven’t thought through: what if he decides climate change denial is a threat (it runs counter to Tesla’s business model, after all) and bans it from Twitter?

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!