February 2005

Tue Feb 01 18:36:13 PST 2005

Where'd all the Bozos Come From?

Evil ride back from Laughing Horse this evening. Stupid cage driver did Trick No. 2 at 36th and Clinton. Then another bozo did Stupid Cage Driver Trick No. 3A on Third near Taylor downtown, followed by a third idiot doing No. 2A at Fourth and Taylor.

Thu Feb 03 16:30:40 PST 2005

Phone Question

Why is it that at least half the business people I have a need to call on the phone apparently work from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM, take two-hour lunches, take at least two hour-long breaks per day, and spend most of the rest of the time in meetings?

Fri Feb 04 13:43:01 PST 2005

Learning New Tricks

Well, I finally figured out how do do 90% of what I wanted to in AppleWorks but couldn't figure out earlier. Motivation was the simple desire to make it easier to cut and paste data from spreadsheets into receipts and packing lists. A bonus is that the “table” in the resulting document is actually a spreadsheet of its own, capable of doing its own calculations.

It took about eight hours total, and the tables still don't appear exactly as I'd like them to. But they're close enough that I'm ready to declare victory.

A bigger issue is finding a way to send form letters via e-mail. My standard way of doing so is obsolete; it depends on mail servers not authenticating, and in this era of spam, that's just plain not the case any more. That means either reverse-engineering the Mac mail application's authentication method, or using AppleScript to tell the Mac's Mail application to send something. The latter is not obviously easier than the former, either (GUI's tend to complicate things).

Sun Feb 06 22:15:22 PST 2005

Oh, it's That Sunday

Not that it mattered to a total non-sports-fan like me. I took a walk in the West Hills, which started out drizzly, transitioned to rain which became mixed with wet snow as I gained elevation, then became very moody with fog and drizzle and finally a soaking drenching rain. Was hoping to finish off a roll of slide film, but it was just too damp for me to want to expose my camera to all that precipitation.

Came back and spent the evening taking the kitchen window apart, replacing both sash cords (one broke a few weeks ago), and putting it back again. Windows with broken sash cords that have to be propped open are a pet peeve of mine; when sash cords break in my home they tend not to stay that way. I guess it's because I like old things, especially old things that work as originally intended.

Mon Feb 07 16:25:44 PST 2005

I Blame Javascript

Disabling Javascript seems to have cured the eBay slowness problem I griped about last month. As a bonus, it increases security. Javascript in particular is an insecure abomination that should have never seen the light of day.

Unfortunately, eBay has crapped up their site with so much Javascript that disabling it breaks certain features. Right now, I'm adopting the approach of leaving the abominations disabled in my browser and only turning them on when absolutely necessary. We'll see how long this lasts before I lose patience.

At least I'm getting immediate payback for my troubles in the form of quicker browsing.

Sun Feb 13 19:54:09 PST 2005

Whole Foods to Customers: We Don't Care about You

Went into Whole Foods for the first time in over a year yesterday.

Normally I don't set foot in the place because of their creepy labor record. But I figured it had been long enough since I last took a look inside and was curious as to what they were up to these days. Besides, it was getting late and I might be able to grab a quick something from the deli for lunch.

It struck me again how Middle America and corporate the place is. There's a big parking structure across the street connected to it by a tunnel; nearly everyone drives there. Didn't notice anyone else carrying a bicycle helmet; there were about as many bicycles parked in front as you'd see at Food Front or People's, but Whole Foods is so much larger and has so many more people inside that this fact means cyclists are a much smaller part of their clientele.

Didn't take inventory of their produce section for organic items this time. Last visit I did that and it's what firmly cemented my lack of desire to be a customer of theirs (as if the labor issues weren't enough in themselves). It's a huge store yet had less organic produce than the typical small co-op! And, not surprisingly, little of none of it was locally grown.

No, on this visit my quest was for a quick deli lunch. And I was actually surprised to find a number of things with neither tomatoes nor vinegar in them. Then it got weird — I started looking for the bathroom so I could wash my hands. After much searching, I eventually found it in a remote and obscure part of the store.

Would you believe that this huge store only has a single unisex bathroom? That's right, one public toilet fixture in total. Naturally, there was a long line waiting outside the door. People's and Food Front have single bathrooms like this. In Food Front's case, it's really not enough as the store has been expanded to where it's almost always busy.

But that's hard to fix. Food Front can be excused because its options for expansion are limited. For an almost-new store like Whole Foods to be deliberately built so large with such grossly inadequate public conveniences is simply inexcusable. And it speaks volumes as to how Whole Foods management sees its customers.

I'll be damned if I have to wait twenty minutes just to wash my hands before eating. To hell with them. There were some leftovers waiting for me at home.

Sun Feb 13 20:24:23 PST 2005

Boggles the Mind

Monkey Boy's latest address on Social Security just boggles the mind. He mentions “massive borrowing” as one of the consequences if nothing is done.

Yeah, right. As if Mr. Deficits has any principled objection to massive government borrowing. How can anyone with a functioning brain take this Bozo seriously?

Tue Feb 15 00:16:49 PST 2005

Silver Lining to the Dark Cloud?

Everyone's talking about how the assassination of Hariri might trigger a new Lebanese Civil War. Perhaps.

Then again, if enough people blame Syria for it, it could end up propelling Syria out of Lebanon. It's all for the reason, that no matter who did it, Syria has blood on its hands. If Syria wasn't involved directly, they're the ones occupying Lebanon and acting as self-appointed security experts there. Either the Syrians are guilty of an evil crime, or they're guilty of being criminally incompetent.

Tue Feb 15 19:02:56 PST 2005

eBay Customer Support an Eliza Program?

I'm seriously beginning to suspect so. Neither of the two responses I've gotten on my first thread bear more than a passing resemblance to my question (they would make sense for a response based on keyword matching, however). And the initial message on the second ticked I opened was identical to the first response on the first ticket, right down to the (presumably phony) name of the front-line support person in the signature block.

And they don't have any phone support at all unless you shell out for a special high-end account. Not that that would be any better. I can see it now: listening to Muzak on hold for an hour, getting connected to a front-line support drone with an IQ less than room temperature, and having to plead and argue to be connected to someone who can actually fix the problem.

What is it about technology firms that makes them have such abysmal customer support?

Tue Feb 15 23:07:56 PST 2005

Pushing the Limits

I-405 at Night
I-405 at night. 15 seconds, f/8, ISO 50.

Compact digicams can't take true time exposures (i.e. bulb mode with a cable release), but some of them (including my Canon PowerShot A80) do have shutter times into the seconds (15 seconds maximum in the case of the A80). So it's possible to take time exposures of a sort. You do have to use the self-timer and hope you get lucky with some good light streaks if you're trying to get a picture like this. At least the many duds can simply be deleted at no cost.

Oddly, the main problem I kept running into was too much light. There's an awful lot of light in the city at night, and if you want the shutter open for a long time to get some good light streaks, it's easy to overexpose. Compounding the problem are the A80's ISO 50 setting being more like ISO 100 and a digital camera's sensor not experiencing reciprocity failure like film does. Next time I try this, I'll take the polarizer along simply to use as a light-reducing filter.

Wed Feb 16 18:17:21 PST 2005

Of eBay and Eliza

It turns out that my conjecture was correct: eBay, taking a hint from the Bastard Operator from Hell has indeed installed a keyword-matching robot as their front-end support person.

They made the mistake of sending me a survey about the experience I had (I should say, am still having) with their help desk. One set of questions asked my preference for a fast response from an Eliza program versus a slow response from a human being. (Cute. What about a fast response from a human being?)

That, in addition to my recent experience with uncannily identical messages, is about all the proof I need.

Wed Feb 16 18:26:33 PST 2005

Oh, and just for the record, here's the reply from eBay's Eliza
program (I've X'ed out certain fields to protect my e-mail address).
Is "Tomas" the name of their Eliza program that all such responses
are "signed" with, or do the different canned responses have different
phony support rep names associated with them?

Anyhow, here's the message:

From cswebhelp@ebay.com  Tue Feb 15 18:25:29 2005
Return-Path: <cswebhelp@ebay.com>
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Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005 18:22:25 -0800
To: David Barts <xxxxxx@xxx.xxx>
Subject: RE: GS=C31006 Your item isn't showing up in search [#US ?01 ]  (KMM28034984V20488L0KM)
From: eBay Customer Support <cswebhelp@ebay.com>
Reply-To: eBay Customer Support <cswebhelp@ebay.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset = "us-ascii"
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X-Mailer: KANA Response
Message-ID: <auto-000054872119@smf-klm-02.corp.ebay.com>
Status: RO
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Thanks for writing. I understand you are unable to find the item you're 
selling when you search for it. The most likely reason you were unable 
to find this item is that, when you searched for it, it hadn't yet been 
listed in all our search databases. Let me explain in a little more 

Each day, we run several "indexing cycles" for Search. During these 
cycles, we update our search engines with new listings, bids, and other 
information. Between the time that you list your item and we run an 
indexing cycle, your item may not appear in all searches.

Your item will show up immediately if you perform an item number search 
or a seller search because that is an exact match. However, it will take
a bit longer before you are able to find your item through a keyword or 
category search; these searches take longer to index onto the site.

A keyword search is the most common kind of eBay search. When you visit 
the eBay Home page, type a term into the search box and click "Find It" 
you are performing a keyword search. For more information on searching 
please visit our search tips at the following link:


If you would like to see all the eBay pages where your item is currently
listed, please search for your item through our "Where is an item" 
feature. Please keep in mind that, to use this feature, you'll need the 
auction's item number. 

To use this search please visit: 


Please understand that the eBay search tool searches in the item title 
only, unless you click the "Search item and description" box. Therefore,
if you search using keywords that are not present in the item title, 
your item will not appear in the search results.

Also, please note that, if you've recently revised the item, the auction
must be re-indexed and updated to the site before it shows up again in 
all the searches.

Thank you for choosing eBay! We are committed to your online trading 
safety and success.

eBay Customer Support

Original Message Follows:

Form Message %12122% 100102
Subject:  GS=C31006 Your item isn't showing up in search [#US ?01 ]

User Feedback:  36
User State:  ?01

Browser Info:  Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X Mach-O; en-US; 
rv:1.7) Gecko/20040616

Ask about selling or billing (for sellers only) > Listing and managing 
your item > Your item isn't showing up in search

Message: It has now been over twenty-four (24) hours since I listed 
items 6947185340 and 6947191996.

These items have yet to appear when I browse the category Books > 
Antiquarian & Collectible.

This morning, I sent a complaint via this form about this matter.  I 
received a canned response about "indexing cycles" and how this meant my
item might not appear instantly.  I'm presuming it's a canned response 
because it makes no sense in respect to the problem I reported -- it had
already been OVER TWELVE HOURS since I listed the item and literally 
DOZENS of items listed AFTER mine had appeared just fine.

I have now paid for one full day of two ten-day auctions which have not 
been properly listed due to bugs on your site.

One of these auctions I paid extra for boldface and a box around the 
listing for the express purpose of attracting bidders browsing eBay 
under the Books > Antiquarian & Collectible category.  I trust for this 
reason at least a partial refund of insertion fees is in the works.

I also trust a response will be forthcoming in the near future.  I will 
keep you updated on the status of these listings twice daily until the 
problem is resolved.

Thu Feb 17 20:29:18 PST 2005

Putting Two and Two Together

Let's put two and two together for a moment. I've been having problems getting items I list on eBay to show up in category searches. eBay has recently changed the look and feel of their site a little. And just now I noticed how bizarre the by-category searching is going under Entertainment Memorabilia > Music Memorabilia > Rock-n-Roll > Other Artists > Posters.

It's strange. Go there, sort by “Time: newly listed”. You'll notice that the most recent listings don't usually make sense; they're way too far in the past for such a popular category. Then hit reload and watch the listings totally change. Hit reload again a minute or two later and it totally changes again.

It's abundantly obvious that: a) eBay recently rolled out changes in the code that drives their site, as evidenced by the changed look and feel; b) the new code has more bugs than the Amazon rain forest; and c) eBay isn't 'fessing up to this. I'd have to wager a guess this is because they don't want to have to be held responsible for it (i.e. refund fees for botched listings).

Fri Feb 18 09:12:10 PST 2005

I Rest My Case

From an article about eBay in today's San Francisco Chronicle (emphasis addeed by yours truly):

Store owners will soon be able to get help from the company by telephone. Other users will get real e-mail responses to questions rather than automated messages.

Wed Feb 23 15:39:22 PST 2005

Go Away, We Don't Want Your Business

That's basically the message I got from the local Postal Annex franchise. Yes, we offer UPS ground shipping, yes we charge an extra fee. But no, we won't tell you what our fee schedule is. Bring in an actual package and we'll let you know for that.

Just the way to do business if you want to scare away potential customers who have a regular need to ship things. Because, hey, if that's your attitude twoards me when I'm comparison shopping and free to go elsewhere, what's your attitude toward me going to be when I'm in a captive situation like seeking a refund for something?

Wed Feb 23 16:07:01 PST 2005

Go Away, Part II

Ahh, I thought. There's a UPS Store nearby. Because they're owned by UPS, they won't assess any silly surcharges. Or so I think, based on an earlier discussion with a FedEx Kinko's employee; see below.

So I feed in data for a UPS Ground rate quote for a sample package going to a location in the Midwest. I then try the same thing for FedEx Ground rate quote, expecting the two to be fairly close (they are competitors, after all).

Big surprise: UPS Wanted $10.40 to ship the package, FedEx only $7.40. Even bigger surprise: The US Postal Service wanted $8.64 to ship it parcel post. Forget what you hear about parcel post being more expensive.

That $10.40 rate sounds really high. Just in case I entered some data wrong, I go back to the UPS site and ask for a rate quote directly, instead of via the page for the UPS Store: $8.87. That's more reasonable. So I try it again via the UPS Store page: still $10.40. A little googling reveals the fact that yes, the UPS Store indeed zings customers with a surcharge to ship via another branch of the same corporation.

Just the other day, I noticed that the local Kinko's branch was now “FedEx Kinko's.” I asked an employee there about shipping, resulting in approximately the following conversation:

“Now that you're part of FedEx, do you offer FedEx shipping services?”

“Of course we do. We're part of FedEx. We offer all FedEx shipping services.”

“Is there any charge above and beyond the normal FedEx fees?”

“Of course not! We're part of FedEx. It would make no sense for us to charge people extra to use other FedEx services.”

So tell me, UPS: Why, exactly, should I be willing to pay so much for your services when your two main competitors have business presences in my neighborhood that assess no surcharges whatsoever? Remember now, your services are significantly less convenient for residential customers. With the Postal Service, they'll leave small parcel post packages in the customer's mailbox, and hold large ones at the neighborhood post office. With UPS, the customer must be physically present and the package is held many miles away at an inconvenient location. With a business model like yours, if you can't compete on price, you're simply not competing.

Sat Feb 26 00:16:40 PST 2005

Another Advantage of Sniping

I just realized that an item I had scheduled a snipe bid on was not exactly as I thought it was (there was confusing and inconsistent information out there on the web about it, and I believed an incorrect set of pages).

So I simply canceled the scheduled snipe bid. Quick, simple, painless. If I had used eBay's proxy bidding, I'd be faced with the sticky task of trying to retract my bid. And, if successful, had been stuck with a retracted bid to my name. (Retracted bids are frowned upon.)

Chalk up another advantage to snipe bidding.

Mon Feb 28 00:40:37 PST 2005

Two Pictures

Withered Licorice Fern Fronds
Drought in Oregon
Osoberry Flowers and New Leaves

As much as it eats film (i.e. money), my SLR can still take pictures that knock the socks off anything that my compact digicam can. Such as these, with no digital artifacts whatsoever, one image with shallow depth of field emphasizing the subject, precisely-controlled manual focus instead of the autofocus crapshoot.

Yes, yes, I know: A good digital SLR can solve most and perhaps all of these problems. But I'm still waiting for the price to go down. And although the above two shots were taken with print film (which isn't so great), I'm not sure digital can reproduce colors as well as a good slow slide film. There's enough photographers that shoot both simply because they like the characteristics of slide film better that it makes me wonder.

And no preaching from the techno-freaks about how film is dead. It's not. It's not dead for the cheapo disposable and fixed-focus plastic cameras (going to be a while before the cost gets down to where it makes sense to dump film in those cases). It's not dead for medium and large format, either (and it's also going to be a while before digital approaches especially large-format resolution). It's certainly not dead in the movie industry.

So 35mm print film isn't going away tomorrow. As for 35mm slide film, first there's the Luddite market, then there's the market for those who like its color reproduction characteristics. Plus there's the fact that medium and large format photographers shoot transparency film as well. Given that they'll be making it for the MF and LF markets, and that they'll still have the 35mm cutting equipment for the movie industry (and the plastic still camera industry), the capital investment for a manufacturer to send some batches of transparency film through those cutters is approximately zero. It's a no-brainer.

Mon Feb 28 09:31:44 PST 2005

This Guy Calls Himself a Photographer

So you'd think he'd know something about the history of photography. Instead, he writes this (emphasis added):

Film is the traditional medium used to record photographic images. It's been around since photography was invented and remains the most popular and ubiquitous photographic medium today despite the rapid growth of the popularity of digital photography.
What about NiƩpce's bitumen images? Daguerrreotypes and calotypes? Wet and dry glass plates? Guess they just don't count as photographs.

Only question I have is this a “brain fart” or is he actually ignorant of pre-film processes? Page containing that gem is here.

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