Switched from Monkeybrains to Dreamhost

Meet the new host, much like the old host.

Alex and Rudy at Monkeybrains are great folk, I was happy to give them money to handle e-mail and host this site and some others (but not jhanebarnesisgod.com, sigh, lost to domain squatters). Monkeybrains is clearly less interested these days in being an ISP to small fry. Years ago they told me I would be better off paying them for a small VPS (virtual private server, basically your own computer in the cloud), but when it works shared hosting saves you some admin hassles.

sftp (secure file transfer) broke, at which point I gave up. I was already administering my WordPress site in the clear without https, but transferring files without a password was just too insecure

Anyway, Dreamhost shared unlimited hosting seems a good deal, so I signed up. Their in-house control panel is a bit funky but I can figure it out. It took a while to make the transition. Here are the cleaned-up steps, I wasn’t this organized.

  1. wget our sites to pull down all the web content that is reachable starting at the top (i.e. what Google does when it crawls, or “spiders,” a web site).
  2. Delete all the retrieved “files” that weren’t static content, such as WordPress blog posts, generated RSS feeds, directory listings, etc.
  3. sftp the static images that WordPress manages from /wordpress/wp-content/uploads/, plus a few other files that were on the site without being linked to.
  4. This still left hundreds of files that were on the old web sites that aren’t on the new host – e-mail me if you’ve lost access to some beloved item.
  5. sftp all that static content (I used KDE’s fine Krusader split-pane file explorer) up to Dreamhost.
  6. Admire it in temporary mydomain.dreamhosters.com mirror sites.
  7. Move all our e-mail off old IMAP server to local folder (pretty good instructions).
  8. Change our domain’s DNS records to point to Dreamhost. At this point e-mail to our domains and requests our web sites flowed to Dreamhost.
  9. Enable https using free Let’s Encrypt certificates (yay!).
  10. Re-add new/old e-mail accounts now at Dreamhost.
  11. Futz around with /etc/hosts so I could access both old WordPress site and new one simultaneously.
  12. Run WordPress export from old site.
  13. Realize that Dreamhost puts all the WordPress admin files in the root of your web site, which isn’t ideal and doesn’t match my old site, so move all those files into a /wordpress directory (instructions).
  14. Tweak index.php and .htaccess to reflect the WordPress reorganization.
  15. Recreate the skierpage user on new WordPress site, install a plug-in and the Twenty Ten theme I was using on the old site.
  16. Import the XML file of the old site.
  17. Write this!
Posted in web | Leave a comment

disintermediation: The end game for retail, and how you can profit

It doesn’t make any sense for 50 merchants to be selling the (allegedly) same battery or memory card through Amazon. Most ship through Amazon or even commingle items, so the robot pulls your order from one shelf filled with all those merchants’ supply of the same item! The only way a seller can be much cheaper than everyone else is if it sells stolen, refurbished, or fake items.

Two things will happen.

  1. Manufacturers will sell direct through Amazon, getting rid of useless middlemen that add no value and only give them a bad reputation.
  2. Amazon Basics will expand. Last time I bought rechargeable batteries I didn’t waste an hour ignoring the 5-star reviews to read all the horror stories of dead fake repackaged batteries, I just ordered Amazon Basics and got working batteries in frustration-free packaging.

Also, there are thousands of Chinese manufacturers making good products desperate to make a name for themselves and escape the nightmare of contract manufacturing for once-mighty brands that are squeezing them to cut corners. Folks, learn Chinese and help Happy Dongfeng Best Factory market its products. “Here’s why our $6 USB charger is better than the others.”

I expressed these ideas a decade ago in my perspicacious “disintermediation” series of posts (ordering directAmazon should be/buy UPS , universal spiff). Yet Jeff Bezos still hasn’t contacted me to discuss them over a power breakfast…

Posted in web | Leave a comment

computers: my legendary Herman-Miller Levity standing desk

For months I tried to give my old adjustable desk to a museum, or at least to someone who has a use for it. It’s the Levity by Herman-Miller, an impressive piece of late 90s office design. It goes from

knowledge athlete at work

to

Herman-Miller Levity in standing mode

The backstory

I’ve stood to work at a computer for decades, long before it was trendy. I set up computers on lab racks, I put file cabinets on my desk to lift up monitors, I raised cubicle desk surfaces as high as they could be mounted.

Then in 1999 the great furniture company Herman Miller announced the Levity desk, designed by Richard Holbrook. Finally a computer desk that could be adjusted to different positions! This was a hard problem back then because computer monitors were all CRT (cathode ray tube) designs, and big ones (over 20 inches) could weigh hundreds of pounds. To address this the Levity desk incorporated hundreds of pounds of counterweights:

Herman-Miller Levity desk with the weight stack visible

I assume these first three photos are copyright 1999 HermanMiller.

You can see the stack of weights below the desk behind the smoke-gray plastic cover. This is a weightlifting apparatus linked by pulleys to a work surface.

The desk got a lot of attention and won a Gold Award at NeoCon for Innova-
tion, and was included in the Workspheres exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But then the desk took two years to ship, I think due to OSHA workplace safety concerns. If you put a heavy monitor on the desk without counterbalancing it, it might slam down on you while adjusting the height; conversely if you took heavy stuff off the desk without changing the weight stack, it might shoot upwards to punch you in the jaw. Herman-Miller added a balance indicator to warn if the desk is out of balance, earthquake straps to secure the computer monitor, and lots of safety warnings:

Herman-Miller Levity desk level adjust

is it safe to adjust the height?

So I finally took delivery in 2001, paying $3,600 for the desk. (!!) A lot of money, but I spent more hours at this desk than I did sleeping, so money well spent. The thing worked really well.

Herman-Miller’s concept for the desk involved moving it around in space as well as up-and-down. The brochure talks of “knowledge athletes” (gag me with a spoon!) moving their desks around to form ad hoc workgroups, and the Levity line included two kinds of carts for trucking your computer workstation around along with the desk to work on projects with other knowledge athletes. In the real world, the office furniture supplier rolled the desk into my cubicle at work, where it stayed put until I changed location in corporate reorgs. The Levity is a quarter circle with a 4 foot radius, so it fit perfectly into a 8×8 foot cubicle built of 48″ panels: just remove one desk surface. Then my company downsized our veal fattening pens to 42″ panels; the symmetry was gone, but I made it work.

my Levity desk, 20 years later

I eventually brought the desk home where it saw use as a sit-to-stand desk for a laptop plugged into an external Sony GDM-F400 monitor. You can see the collision of the designer’s Platonic form with the real world: all the cables that a desktop computer requires, for power, microphone, computer speakers, Ethernet, in addition to the transformers for the two lit workholders. My Levity came with a black zippered sock for cable management but it’s impossible to organize all the cables in one place.

A beautiful white elephant

In retrospect it’s obvious this 380 pound behemoth was a dead end. Flat lightweight LCD monitors were already available and dominated boxy CRTs by the early 2000s. Meanwhile so-called “knowledge athletes” were carrying lightweight laptops around, and the need to support hundreds of pounds of weight vanished. Desks no longer needed to be several feet deep to permit a big CRT.

Some day I’ll write about all my other adjustable desks: the Biomorph Exo home desk (as advertised in the back pages of WIRED magazine), the ConSet wall-mounted motorized column I added to a custom work surface, the lightweight Ergotron WorkFit-C desk I last used at work that weighs a sixth of the Levity, …

Postscript: yours for $25, a steal!

After giving up on museums, I offered it for sale. I was briefly excited by someone offering one for sale in 2016 for  $1300 ! and someone else claiming in comments “This desk is worth upwards of 5,000$ if its mint. Hunt around carefully before you sell it low ball. I … sold one for 6500 and got > 5k$ after agent commission.” But I didn’t get a single bid on eBay at $300. I got lots of interest on Craigslist until people realized just how big a 4-foot quarter circle is and how hard it is to transport a 350-pound piece of furniture. Finally someone with a trailer and a loading ramp bought this classic for $25. (And an artist paid $20 for the monitor to directly drive its cathode-ray tube like an oscilloscope in an art piece.)

Related pages

Posted in computers, design | Leave a comment

science: how can DNA do so much?

Every time I’m in a doctor’s office and see an anatomical poster showing the shape of the bones in your ear, or the five layers of the cornea and the custom oil ducts that keep it lubricated, or the name for every bump and wiggle in your intestines, and realize the Adobe Illustrator file for that one structure is bigger than the entire DNA that built it and there are 500 more anatomical posters to go, I start banging my head on the wall.

How does less information than on a Britney Spears CD (3 billion base pairs each storing two bits of data – A, C, G, or T – equals 750 MB) encode not just the basic biochemical operation of cells, but also cell division (Christmas light spaghetti ball separates into 23 chromosome pairs and is pulled apart… How?), then all the detailed anatomy of differentiated cells on all those posters, plus higher-order effects such as neurological development, and then behavior? I mean, WTF?! And every cell has the same DNA, yet the same instructions somehow produce completely different structures of cells that do completely different things in different parts of the body. And when some species gains a new feature, like a complex instinctive ability or an advanced brain with the capacity for language, no new chromosomes or DNA is added; the same string of base pairs gets pressed into doing novel things along with everything else it’s been doing.

I once asked an eye Dr. He gazed into the middle distance, pointed skyward, and said “God.” But we see all this incredible machinery that clearly does the work (DNA makes RNA produces string of enzymes which becomes a protein); simply invoking a God of the gaps to paper over our lack of understanding of the details is unsatisfying.

I regularly Google “how does DNA produce structure?” but the search results overwhelmingly address “what is the structure of DNA?” (i.e. its famous double helix) instead.

Posted in science | Leave a comment

music: stupidly great and in love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Setting up a global guarantee

One of the sweetest love songs is “Wonderful World,” written and performed by Sam Cooke (who rewrote the original Lou Adler & Herb Alpert song). Go listen:

Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
Don’t know what a slide rule is for

But I do know one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

Beautiful! The acknowledgment of failure gives the song its power. There’s knowing things which not everyone can do, but there’s also knowing an emotional truth which no one can gainsay. Merely being together would make the world wonderful, with the derivation from 1+1=2 left to smarter minds.

The song doesn’t glamorize dumbness; in a beautiful third musical motif, knowledge is a route to winning love:

Now, I don’t claim to be an A student
But I’m trying to be
For maybe by being an A student, baby
I can win your love for me

Cooke beats himself up some more about what he doesn’t know:

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

This is almost painful to hear, but that punishing enumeration of failure makes what he says he knows in the upcoming chorus unchallengeable. In the second chorus it was enough to be together with the beloved, but that’s not quite enough. He’s completely open and direct:

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be

He links the undeniable truth of his own feelings to knowing a brave conditional; again the logical proof is up to smarter people. If the song opened with this it would be a weak plea to return his feelings; instead, everything he admits he doesn’t know sets the scene for this to feel like a true statement about the world. Just love him back, not for yourself, but for global nirvana!

Simpleton with untold E-$$$

29 years later, Andy Partridge of XTC wrote a song with a similar basis, “Mayor of Simpleton.” Go listen:

Never been near a university,
Never took a paper or a learned degree,
And some of your friends think that’s stupid of me,
But it’s nothing that I care about

Well I don’t know how to tell the weight of the sun,
And of mathematics well I want none,
And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton,
But I know one thing and that’s I love you

This is a delicious homage to Sam Cooke with the same wistful acknowledgement of no book learning, while knowing the same undeniable truth of “I love you.” But Andy Partridge isn’t as sweet, he’s already set the relationship in a wider social world that Cooke only references indirectly with the implied school setting. Where Cooke offers a conditional wonderful world without exploring it, leaving the music to conjure up sweetness and warmth, Partridge makes an explicit promise in a third musical motif:

When their logic grows cold and all thinking gets done,
You’ll be warm in the arms of the Mayor of Simpleton

Again like Cooke, in a fourth motif the song doesn’t glamorize dumbness. But Partridge goes on to point out the subterfuges he doesn’t have access to:

I’m not proud of the fact that I never learned much,
Just feel I should say,
What you get is all real, I can’t put on an act,
It takes brains to do that anyway

Then “Mayor of Simpleton” goes into overdrive. At the same point in the song where Cooke reuses his chorus to offer a conditional wonderful world for love returned, Partridge comes in low and direct, reusing his opening motif for his own conditional with a completely different allusion:

If depth of feeling is a currency,
Then I’m the man who grew the money tree,

Here I reliably start crying, in awe of the songwriting chops and the emotional depths he’s sounding. He maps love onto an uncomfortable hard axis of money, then immediately and utterly transcends it with the organic mysterious three-dimensional “money tree” he and/or his feelings have grown. Like Cooke’s guarantee of “if you love me back -> wonderful world” , this only works because of everything else in the song up until now; if the song started out “I love you like a million-dollar tree” we’d be left cold.

Again Partridge turns to the smart set he’s up against:

Some of your friends are too brainy to see,
That they’re paupers and that’s how they’ll stay

By 1989 the culture of greed and money was in full swing in Britain, so the allusion is powerful and extends the reach of the song beyond just romance. The personal is political. But when that’s all done you’ll be warm in his arms. One of the best songs of all time, let alone best love songs.

The heavyweights chime in, sort of

Paul McCartney and Sting also tried to link dumbness and love, with Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” and The Police’s “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.” They acknowledge their difficulty in expressing the wonders of love but they’re too pompous to bluntly state how dumb they are before saying something simple.

Listen to Silly Love Songs:

You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that
I’d like to know
‘Cause here I go again
I love you, I love you
I love you, I love you

It’s a love song that’s also a meta song about songwriting, which inevitably distances it from the emotional lives of us non-songwriters. Like Cooke and Partridge, McCartney says “I love you”, but it’s not struggling against any personal failing beyond his embarrassment at blurting it out.

In a lovely second bridge, McCartney bumps up hard against the problem:

How can I tell you about my loved one
How can I tell you about my loved one
How can I tell you about my loved one
How can I tell you about my loved one

The repetition is magnetic but hold on, McCartney seems to be talking to a different person than his beloved! If only he’d been able to fit “How can I tell you about my love for you, my loved one” into the line, the song would be immeasurably better.

In a marvelous background line as the song rebuilds around its bass line, Linda McCartney alludes to the depth of feeling:

I can’t explain the feeling’s plain to me, say can’t you see

Now he’s bounced the problem to her, but that leaves us on the outside humming along to a song about the incoherent intensity of their feelings for each other. And although no one can blame their inability, not explaining isn’t a patch on having a dunce unexpectedly unleash “If depth of feeling is a currency, then I’m the man who grew the money tree” to leave no doubt.

Listen to De Do Do … etc.:

A reliably gorgeous Andy Summers intro sets up the song. Sting says he’s having trouble, but immediately uses clever talk to reassure us and himself that he’s not to be blamed for inadequacy:

Don’t think me unkind
Words are hard to find
They’re only cheques I’ve left unsigned
From the banks of chaos in my mind

And when their eloquence escapes me
Their logic ties me up and rapes me

(The “rape” talk is cringeingly awkward now, it was merely uncomfortable back in 1986.)

De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do de da da da
Their innocence will pull me through
De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do de da da da
They’re meaningless and all that’s true

Sting said to Rolling Stone “I was trying to make an intellectual point about how the simple can be so powerful. Why are our favourite songs ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’?” That’s a noble meta-songwriter aim like McCartney’s, and the song beautifully implies all its nonsense words are just “I love you.” But Sting doesn’t set the translation of his feelings into Klingon subtitles against anything that would give it emotional heft. The wordless instrumental break is an opportunity missed.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in music | Leave a comment

music: talent overload on Aretha Franklin recording

“Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” is a perfect pop song, then check the personnel and it’s not surprising – the talent involved is off the charts. Co-written by Stevie Wonder; Aretha’s own gorgeous piano intro then Donny Hathaway on electric piano; Jerry Wexler and Arif Marden producing; Chuck Rainey on bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie nailing those knocks on your door and taps on your window, Hugh McCracken on guitar (Steely Dan hired all three chasing the same magic); almighty background vocals from Cissy Houston and more; WTF, Eumir Deodato doing the arranging?!!

I notice Arif Marden produced many of the R&B songs I’m enjoying, from the ’70s through the ’90s: Average White Band, Chaka Khan, Scritti Politti, …

Posted in music | Leave a comment

eco: carbon offsets to avoid hell

Shamefully, I’ve been traveling a lot recently. This is terrible for the climate, keeping a jet aloft at 600 mph uses tons and tons of fuel that turn into even more tons of CO2. The answer is to not fly, but if you do fly anyway, you can offset your carbon by paying for someone else to reduce their CO2 usage. This is easy to make fun of – rich people buying their way out of their sins – but is better than not doing it.

Next step is to choose an offset program you can trust. You want the biggest CO2 reduction for your money, but the environmental project your money funds must be verifiable (for example the farmer really does reforest a large area), permanent (the farmer doesn’t allow logging next year), and without leakage (the logging company doesn’t simply log elsewhere). There are organizations that certify projects such as Gold Standard, and organizations that certify carbon offset companies, and organizations that certify the organizations the other organizations…

Next is a calculator for your CO2. This is where it gets weird. For a return flight from San Francisco to San Diego,

  • air mile calculators think the one-way distance is 447 miles (720 kilometers).
  • Carbon Neutral thinks the distance is bigger 785 km (490 miles), the CO2 is 0.23 tonnes (regardless of flight class) and the offset costs $3.12 (£2.30). You can set your flight class but it doesn’t seem to affect the CO2.
  • NativeEnergy agrees the distance is 447 miles, the CO2 is 1.13 tons (1 tonne) regardless of flight class. So it thinks flying is really bad. It also rounds up to the next imperial ton, so it wants me to buy 2 tons of CO2 offset for $28.
  • TerraPass thinks the CO2 equivalent is 0.224 tonnes and the offset costs $2.47. Its rate per tonne is only $11 ($4.99 per 1000 lbs). Its calculator doesn’t let you enter a flight class, nor can you enter more than one person per flight (it’s focused on calculating your individual carbon footprint, not the carbon footprint of a family’s flight), nor does it show the CO2 for each flight, it just shows a running total.

From this, Terrapass’s rate is $11 /metric tonne, CarbonNeutral’s is $13, and NativeEnergy is $13.66. I don’t have the time or stamina to use every calculator to price each of my trips. Does TerraPass’s lower rate mean it is more cost-effective, or is backing projects with more bang for each buck, or is fiddling its books?!

I went with TerraPass due to its Green-e cerfitication and low price, despite its poor calculator. But when I first went to pay for some worthy project, oh noes!:

www.terrapass.com uses an invalid security certificate. The certificate is not trusted because the issuer certificate is unknown. The server might not be sending the appropriate intermediate certificates. An additional root certificate may need to be imported. Error code: SEC_ERROR_UNKNOWN_ISSUER

Philosophically, if these projects are worthwhile, why does it matter how much I travel? I should donate all my money to them while staying home. Climate change is the single most pressing event facing planet Earth.

Posted in eco | Leave a comment

audio: finding a Jambox replacement

I listen to music throughout the day on a Jawbone Big Jambox. This was one of the original “Bluetooth speakers” and the company is named Jawbone because it made Bluetooth wireless earpieces back when people debated whether using one made you look like a dork. I hate most Bluetooth audio setups because the music regularly drops out and pauses for less than a second. So I plugged my phone in over a 3.5mm cable. When I signed up for Google Play Music All Access at the early adopter $8/month rate, suddenly I could listen to nearly any piece of music made any time through a decent-sounding box! I can reposition the Big Jambox to project sound into the kitchen or into my office area, it can almost fill the house with music, and I can pick it up and move it into the garden. It’s less than 4 inches tall so the bass is limited, but I can adjust the bass response by how close I put it to nearby surfaces (just say NO to tone controls). I listen to it far more than my zillion dollar stereo.

I later bought the crazy cheap $35 Google Chromecast Audio puck so that I could direct GPMAA to play music on the box without having to leave my phone plugged in.

Big Jambox from the side with a Chromecast Audio puck

Years later the Big Jambox’s battery is dead, there are no software updates for it, and Jawbone the company is struggling to survive. It still plays music over the 3.5mm cable fine while plugged in, but I want something better-sounding. This sort of powered speaker is still called a Bluetooth speaker even though I almost never use Bluetooth. What I want is:

  1. Fantastic sound.
  2. Optical input. The Chromecast Audio puck can output a digital audio signal over an optical cable, and then the speaker can process it digitally. This should boost the audio quality.
  3. A USB socket, for three things:
    1. 5V power to power the Chromecast Audio puck so I have one less wall wart. I think any USB port can supply at least one power unit, 100 mA, at 5 Volts, and I think that’s all the Chromecast Audio puck uses.
    2. USB digital audio input in case I want to play music from my laptop.
    3. USB drive support in case I have a USB flash drive with some music on it (like Electronic Dance Music DJs getting $50,000 a night).
  4. 3.5mm input for ad hoc connections to friends’ phones.

I don’t care about battery power, because in practice I never took the Big Jambox far from an AC socket. I don’t care about Wi-Fi and Ethernet because the Chromecast Audio puck handles that for me, and likewise I don’t care about a remote control or app for the speaker because I’m controlling it from my phone.

There is a fantastic speaker that does all this, the KEF LS50W. It’s $2000 but it sounds worth every penny. The only problem is… it’s a pair of speakers. Great for listening in the office, but maybe not so good to listen way off axis in the kitchen, or in the rest of the house. And difficult to cart into the garden.

Two speakers would work in the office…

… but not so well moving them to fire into the kitchen and beyond


Turning to big maybe Bluetooth single speakers (all with optical input and a 3.5mm analog input unless otherwise noted),

  • Bluesound Pulse 2: unclear if its USB port can power the Chromecast Audio puck. No Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
  • Definitive Technology W9: USB only for power, not playback. No Bluetooth which is odd. Instead it’s designed for Play-Fi over WiFi or wired Ethernet, but I’m using Chromecast. (Wow, a bunch of high-end audio makers are now making various Play-Fi devices, which don’t show up when you search for Bluetooth speakers.)
  • Devialet Phantom (and Silver, and Gold): no USB port, has Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet.
  • JBL Authentics 16 “retro wireless USB speaker”, very wide
  • Marshall Woburn: no USB port.
  • Martin-Logan Crescendo X: USB port supplies power, unclear if it supports audio in over USB, but it has wired Ethernet and Play-Fi
  • Master & Dynamic  MA770: has Chromecast built in! made of concrete, very heavy
  • Naim Mu-so Qb: the USB port supports external USB drive, unclear if it supports audio in over USB and whether the USB port is powered. I bought one of these for a friend and it sounds excellent, better in most respects than the Big Jambox.
  • Peachtree Audio Deepblue 2: USB only for service updates (no music files or audio in), and unclear if the USB port is powered. No Wi-Fi or Ethernet. This model was The Wirecutter’s favorite Bluetooth speaker. I was close to buying it, but it seems discontinued. You can’t buy it new on Amazon or from the manufacturer!
  • Polk Woodbourne: no USB
  • Riva Festival: this implements the Chromecast protocol, so you don’t need a separate Chromecast Audio Puck (… until the speaker stops getting software updates like my Big Jambox). This model is The Wirecutter’s favorite Chromecast speaker.
  • Sonus Faber SF16: no USB but Ethernet. And $10,000!

Other: AIWA Exos-9, Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, Klipsch Heritage Wireless Three, Paradigm Shift PW-800, Sonos Play 5, Wren V5: all lack the optical input. (Stupidly, the B&W Zeppelin gets high ratings for sound quality, and the previous Zeppelin Air model did support optical in via its combo audio/optical 3.5mm Aux in, but B&W dropped this on the current Zeppelin Wireless.) There are various expensive portable speakers at Cnet

Posted in audio, electronics | Leave a comment

disintermediation: zero-value sellers on Amazon

The defective cardboard eclipse viewers fiasco shows the risks of blindly (ha ha) buying from the cheapest seller of some product off Amazon. It’s not even enough to choose a “fulfillment by Amazon” merchant or even a “✓Prime FREE Shipping” merchant, you need to choose the “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com” seller. Despite the Amazon logo, emails from amazon.com, and account and customer service on amazon.com, Amazon remains partly a flea market with thousands of shady sellers setting up booths in it, even when Amazon picks the item off the shelf in its own warehouse and ships it to you. I don’t know if Amazon is legally liable, but Amazon is happy to have people think of it as a better Walmart/Target despite filling most of its store with flea market tables that look pretty much like its own displays.

Who can you trust?

Today I learned that even when you buy the Acme Widget 209666 from the “Shiny Happy Goods Company” seller on Amazon with fulfillment by Amazon and ✓Prime free shipping, the product you get may not have come from S.H.G.Co at all! Merchants can allow their product to commingle, where Amazon puts everyone’s Acme Widget 209666 on the same shelf (well, shelves in its distribution centers worldwide). Hey, one seller’s 209666 is the same as everyone else’s, so why not ship whichever one that’s closest to the buyer nearest the front of the shelf? Answer of course: the widget you get could come from a fraudulent seller with even less quality control than Shiny Happy Goods Co. There seems to be no way to tell if this commingling is going on. I hope stuff “(actually) sold by Amazon” doesn’t engage in this crap.

All this raises (not “begs”!) the question, what value do all these sellers add to the Acme Widget 209666 anyway? As I so sagely wrote in Disintermediation part 2, the price floor is the cost at which AcmeWidget Co. is willing to put the widget onto its loading dock. Everything else is overhead. Amazon should buy UPS, take over the world’s loading docks, and get rid of all these crappy sellers.

Amazon actually tried to do the right thing with the faulty eclipse viewers. It contacted all buyers to inform them of the defect and credited then the purchase price without requiring a refund. The real problem is lax shoddy supply chains primarily in Southeast Asia. Cutting out all the useless zero-value sellers will let the actual manufacturers of goods compete to build brand names that you can trust.

Posted in software, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

music: RIP Walter Becker 1950–2017

Another one gone. I own all the studio Steely Dan albums up to “Two Against Nature,” they’re simply masterful. A few years ago Google alerted me to a “new” Steely Dan album which turned out to be unauthorized bootlegs of their early demos released by their scuzzy first manager. Interesting for fans, but the best part of it is you get to hear Walter Becker sing! That world-weary groan is unique and only got one lead vocal on official Steely Dan studio albums, but it led me to his solo album, 11 tracks of whack (lyrics). It’s a modest melancholy great album. But it leaves me downcast after listening to it, so I have to pace myself, only listening to it twice a year. Then Pitchfork comes along and deservedly lists “Book of Liars” in 8 Songs That Show Walter Becker’s Brilliance, now I’m doubly sad.

Judging by their solo albums Walter Becker was the dark cynical backgrounds to Donald Fagen’s scintillating music. As a guitarist he’s outclassed by all the studio gunslingers the Dan hired (“6-7-8 guitarists for ‘Peg’” (video)); he’s neither a rock guitar god nor a chordal improviser like say Joe Pass, but his bluesy guitar solos towards the end of most Steely Dan songs are an essential part.

Santa Claus came in late last night
Drunk on Christmas wine
Fell down hard in the driveway
Hung his bag out on the laundry line

Stars imploding
The long night passing
Electrons dancing in the frozen crystal dawn
Here’s one left stranded at the zero crossing
With a hole in its half-life left to carry on
But now the world’s much larger than it looks today
And if my bad luck ever blows me back this way

Then I’ll just look in my book of liars for your name
I’ll just look in the book of liars for your name

Posted in music | Leave a comment