WTF, Amazon?

Published at 18:58 on 28 June 2015

So, I ordered my replacement KVM switch from Amazon well over a week ago. Being a cheapskate, I opted for the free shipping. Which, of course, was the slowest shipping option.

It ended up being as slow as possible. The surprise was how it ended up being so slow: the item didn’t even ship until Friday, and Amazon then paid extra for a Sunday delivery so that the arrival date could be honored. Seriously, now: WTF? Why not ship it using the slowest, cheapest possible service the day they get the order?

Since it shipped from one of their Seattle-area warehouses, that would mean I got it about as soon as if I had paid extra for expedited shipping. But so what? The worst-case arrival date is just that: a worst case. There’s nothing wrong with making a package come sooner than that, particularly if it costs Amazon less money in the first place.

Then a thought occurred to me: What they did is botch a process (shipping a package) until it became a crisis and then spent extra money on heroic measures to deal with the crisis. That’s exactly how Amazon handles managing their technical staff. Instead of having procedures guaranteed to ensure routine, smooth operation, they pay people extra (Amazon has a reputation for having generous salaries) to work long hours in endless crisis mode (something else Amazon has a reputation for).

So, while consistent, both their shipping and their employee management practices still mystify me.

I can’t find the old post at the moment, but I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about this (mis)management style before. Since then, I’ve come up with the term “techno-sadism” to label it by. It’s as if management believes that productivity is managed by making people work as hard as possible, which is done by ensuring that teams are in perpetual crisis mode.

How absurd it is becomes clear when you think of the manufacturing sector. How many manufacturers consider it a good thing to have routine operation of the assembly line to be disrupted regularly, to the point that heroic amounts of overtime and speed-ups are needed to compensate for the disruptions?

It IS Going to Be a Bad Fire Season

Published at 15:40 on 24 June 2015

I see Cliff Mass is now backpedaling from his earlier pooh-poohing about the abnormal warmth and low snow levels ever since last autumn implying ominous things about the coming fire season.

It’s just as well. His earlier dismissal was based on the assumption that fires would only really be a problem east of the Cascades. That’s indeed normally the case, but this is far from a normal year, and there have sometimes been truly epic forest fires on the west side.

And the first one of the season is already under way, in June, far earlier than such things normally prove an issue.

A Bizarre Economic Analysis, with an Explanation

Published at 19:38 on 23 June 2015

When I noticed this, at first I thought “WTF?” — it’s obviously a preposterous assertion, as anyone with much experience in the US West (where private lands have been clearcut, strip mined, and overgrazed routinely) can see. In my own state, it’s typically obvious when one moves from private to public timber lands: the public lands — while often still abused — are abused less harshly, typically much less so. Political pressure on the agencies that manage said lands has caused restrictions on the worst logging practices. Private corporations, in contrast, exist to maximize shareholder profits, not to cater to the public’s political preferences.

Moreover, the bit about “patience” is bogus. The chief factor in determining ability to invest in any business is personal wealth, which in a class society is not distributed equally. So the private lands will be owned disproportionately by a wealthy elite, who in many cases won’t even live anywhere near the resource lands themselves. The incentive will exist to do precisely the sort of things the Pacific Lumber Company did in redwood country when they were bought out by corporate raiders: liquidate assets and maximimize short-term profits. The investors won’t care about what’s left in their wake; they’ll have taken their profits and moved on to their next profit-maximizing venture.

I was away from the article over the weekend, and came up with two theses as to how anyone could come up with such an assertion in the first place:

  1. Inexperience, coupled with ideological bias. If one is biased in favor of capitalism, and one has little or no actual personal experience in a natural resources economy (say, because one works in some big East Coast city), then one would have both the motive to make such a proposition and be largely shielded from any contrary information as to how preposterous one’s assertion actually is.
  2. Kleptocracy. In a kleptocratic state, it’s actually possible private ownership could come out on top. The backroom deals giving access to exploit public land might be less certain than a title deed giving one possession of the resource lands in perpetuity, so the motive would exist to extract as much as possible as soon as possible from the public lands. This would be the case if the state is kleptocratic yet relatively stable; in an unstable kleptocratic situation the value of land titles themselves would be questionable, so the incentive would be to plunder as quickly as possible regardless of ownership. Also note that in a kleptocracy, the government is much less subject to public pressure than in a less corrupt society, eliminating the chief mechanism by which public lands get steered toward wiser management.

And lo, when I checked today, I see the article cited was authored in Russia by two Russian economists. Mystery solved.

Grexit, or Not?

Published at 23:00 on 19 June 2015

This is interesting. The normal state of affairs, of course, is for even nominally “radical leftist” governments to cave to the demands of the capitalist class. But the Greek government — so far, at least — has refused to simply cave.

At this point it’s brinksmanship. I would expect at least a few more “temporary” loans to be made before any final outcome happens. And the “final” outcome might not be so final; it may well just kick the can six months down the road. A real final outcome may well be years off.

Synergy: Beyond Awful

Published at 11:20 on 17 June 2015

Well, scratch what I just said earlier about Synergy being a viable stopgap solution. It’s not even that.

It’s simply beyond awful. Not only is it slow and laggy, but keystrokes and mouse clicks randomly vanish and fail to get delivered at all. Programs start acting in bizarre and unpredictable ways: windows fail to show up when the keyboard shortcut that should make them appear is typed, cursors mysteriously vanish and reappear, the normal behavior of the finder when windows are clicked on becomes erratic, and so on.

I’m better off manually switching cables than subjecting myself to the user interface horrors of Synergy.

KVM Switches Are Not Obsolete

Published at 10:19 on 17 June 2015

Don’t let the techno-cheerleaders for products like Synergy fool you. KVM switches still are very much relevant.

For openers, they let you switch a monitor as well as a keyboard and a mouse. That’s a big plus for me. One of my computers is a laptop with a limited amount of on-screen real estate. It’s a huge plus to be able to add my desktop’s screen to it.

Second, there’s the hidden catch of network-based keyboard and mouse sharing: lag. Even though slight, it’s quite noticeable, and very annoying. The keyboard lag in particular has an adverse impact on my typing speed.

So it looks like Synergy’s place is as a stopgap solution until the replacement for my now-dead KVM switch arrives.

Oh, and if you’re interested in downloading Synergy, it pays to go to the link above and not the one that shows up at the top of web searches. That latter site tries to zing you for the privilege of downloading a version that’s more recent than a year old (and such versions are clunky and difficult to configure, at least on a Mac). You’re much better off using the recommended version from the site I linked.

Why Sanders Interests Me

Published at 20:29 on 11 June 2015

Things like this.

I’ve noticed the hypocrisy before, and how “family values” seems only defined in a rightward direction by politicians. Even Democrats typically concede that issue to the other side. So it’s refreshing to see a candidate talk about what ought to be obvious.

Mind you, the chances of Sanders actually winning are slim to none. And if he wins, Congress will still be controlled by the same Establishment politicians (of both parties) that it currently is, and his agenda will basically go nowhere.

There’s also the missing piece of mass radical pressure from below, something that has accomplished other periods when reformist politics “worked”. Because it never really worked by itself — reformism only works when the likely alternative for the ruling class is to lose everything.

No, the advantages of the Sanders candidacy are precisely moments like these, where the overall political dialogue is brought back in a more rational direction.

That Old Seattle “Can’t Do” Attitide

Published at 12:49 on 10 June 2015

Despite how Tacoma has had a successful, municipally-owned cable TV and Internet utility for years, Seattle’s idea on doing anything vaguely similar is a big no-can-do. It’s basically the same attitude that made Seattle about forty years late to the game when it comes to building a rail mass transit system.

Of course, any time a billionaire wants pet projects for that entire neighborhood which he owns, or a taxpayer-funded sports stadium for his team, the City of Seattle sits ready and eager to bark on command. Same if it’s a freeway project, even if it uses a risky, unproven technology and it’s a road which would normally be the state government’s responsibility, anyhow.

Because, well, priorities. Duh.

This is another one of those days where I get to feel smug and satisfied about living outside the Seattle City Limits.