Category Archives: Technology

Ways to make telemarketers have bad days

Been getting a lot of these recently on the cell phone (which is also the business phone). Not sure why, but they always present us with the same choice: just hang up, or waste a scammer’s time. Because I’m the sort of person who will hit at an adversary with whatever he’s got, even if it’s a blade of grass, I waste their time.

When we do this, we should be careful.

I will never be as good at this as Haven Riney, who literally wrote the book on messing with telemarketers (that’s the title), but I have picked up/developed a few good methods for those of us who aren’t as quick-thinking in the moment. Here are my own guidelines for doing this:

Always remember that you are bound by no strictures of courtesy, honesty, or other values you might uphold in real life. If they were honest, they would not telemarket; ergo, they’re thieves. It is not moral to reward thievery with kind politeness, much less with success in any form. In any form. Seriously. They are among the few people in your world who deserve not one bit of understanding. When they aren’t talking to you, most of them are scamming bewildered elders (this is stealing and fraud).

Those rare few who are in fact offering an actual real service are like people coming onto your property with a weapon, then claiming that the fact that it was not loaded means you should have treated them as friends. You can’t see whether it’s loaded, so to speak, so you owe no distinction between honest and criminal, nor any energy expended to try. They’re all adversaries if you don’t know them.

Yes, I know it’s the day before US Thanksgiving. They’re still the adversary, and they will still be the adversary when many of us are sitting down to dinner tomorrow. I am thankful for just enough native creative wickedness to give them what they deserve, and for the fundamental crassness to advocate it even at festive times.

While it could be fun and would certainly be moral to press the get-a-human number on the robocalls–objective being to seek out a human’s time to waste–I myself won’t go that far because it’s like giving them permission. They should never get any permission. If you think it’s a robocall and want to test, just go hoccccccch real loudly, as if you are about to expel a mucous. A robot won’t know how to interpret that (robots do not experience mucous). A person will ask whether you’re okay, or will hang up.

  • First rule: Never, never, never say “yes” to any question. There are scam artists who will take that one recorded word and use it to show some sort of proof of your agreement. When you answer that phone, that word isn’t in your vocabulary.
  • Second rule: First job is to suss out whether they have your real name (quite often if you are a homeowner), someone else’s, or have just called at random. If they have your real name and/or address, find out what it’s about just in case it’s actually a legitimate call. While it might annoy you for your auto repair shop to call and market to you, that’s not as evil as someone trying to sell you Inhumana Medicare Silver Senior Elder Suckup Advantage “that you deserve.” (You know, the sort of thing you get between watching segments of Crochet Wars on The Living Antiquity Channel, which promises to put money back in your Social Security and give you free continence products. That You Deserve. Whatever it is, You always Deserve It.)
  • Third rule: Try to avoid saying anything illegal. This article discourages any activity that violates US law. It’s not as if someone in Shaitanabad or Santa Sinvergüenza can exactly call the FBI and have you arrested–but be careful nonetheless. Bear in mind that buying or selling under false pretenses is against the law depending on how it’s done, while just talking to a caller under false pretenses is not. Do a little self-editing.

Clearly, if it’s someone you do business with, you have better choices and should consider that. For example, you can tell them to stop, and they would be wise to heed you. But before you do that, make sure it’s not them trying to help you. It might be the nurse from your medical provider with a message from your doctor. I never advocate being an idiot.

Assuming it’s not a legit call: If they have your real name, deny it of course, remembering that how you answer anything could tend to confirm it by mistake. If they ask whether you still live at 101 Maple Street, the logical question is not “no”; it’s “which city is that even in?” Make up any name you want. Count von Crappenburg. Imelda Reina de los Zapatos. Alexei Alexeyevich Romanov. Joe Schwantz. Barron Maples. You have no idea where that address is, or even what state it’s in, but you live at x address. If you know it, pick the address of city hall, or the sheriff’s office, or your local mall. Tell them you’re homeless and living in a tent along I-5 atop Mount Rubbish. Claim to live in an army barracks, or an army tank for that matter. Claim to be flying an F-13 and about to shoot down some North Korean Dong missiles. To any question they ask, you tell anything but the truth. They have no right to ask such nosy questions anyway, so this is the proper way to reply.

Once you have worked out that it’s not real, and have assessed and blunted potential dangers, you are free to have some fun. The only rule is to drag the conversation out as long as possible (wasting their time) and making it as fruitless and annoying as possible. Everyone doing this should be made not to like it. This isn’t the grocery checker, who is earning an honest living and deserves your kind patience and courtesy when she is overwhelmed. This is not the guy at the McDonald’s window, underpaid and probably mistreated by his manager, who deserves your civility and decency. This is not the saintly nurse who stayed on the job through two years of pandemic and will not stop caring for people, even for donkeys who refused vaccination and then had the gall to expect care for their coronavirus. This is not the waitress at Denny’s, who should never be punished because the kitchen is stupid, and whose livelihood depends on you tipping her fairly based upon her service. This is not those good people. This is a bad person in a bad business. This is your chance to punish them. For example:

  • Affect an accent. Any accent. If it mimics their accent, that’s fine. That would be considered at least borderline bigoted if it were a decent person, but remember: it’s not a decent person. They choose to telemarket or join scam operations, mostly offshore, spoofing phone numbers so that you won’t know who it is. If they have an accent, there is nothing wrong with mocking it, whether it’s a Deep South drawl or a Pakistani lilt.
  • Come up with a name, since you are not going to admit to your real one. The more credible it is, the longer the call might go. Batman Supergirl might not get much traction. Cecilia Yobukovskaya might do better.
  • If you speak foreign languages, use them when you see fit. One sentence in English, one in Spanish. Be careful with Spanish, lest they say “Purdonnamay, senior, no hobblo esspaniel, uno momentito pourfuvor.” If they do that, and you speak a third language, when the Spanish speaker arrives you can switch to that. Imagine the conversation later: “You ignorant asshat. The name he gave you means “smoke pole” in Spanish and the language he was speaking was probably Italian. What, you think every foreign language is Spanish? Who even diapers you in the morning?”
  • Think of a backstory and flesh it out. Look back to an earlier phase of your life and answer as that person. Think of the craziest person you know and answer as them. The nephew who became a meth addict? This is the only good that will ever come of that human tragedy.
  • Consider speaking very slowly and not understanding half of what they say. Use enormous amounts of regional slang that no one in Hyderabad is likely to know. Talk about interests you don’t have. Tell them that you are an ethical vegan and that meat is murder and ask if their company abides by vegan principles. (If you in fact are an ethical vegan, ask them something else, so as not to tell them the truth in any way.) Ask them if their company is organic according to USC 14.285.828a. Since I just made that one up, they probably won’t understand it even if they’re American.
  • Tell them that you live by the Shania Laws of Appalachian Islam and that it’s time for your daily prayers. (Get a confederate (upper case possibly) to sing the Call to Prayer: “Y’all come pray now.”)
  • Go wild. Ask if they have Jesus. If so, ask whether they can help you find him and let him out. Ask if they have Satan (they do, whether they know it or not), and encourage them to let him into their hearts. Tell them you have ten million dollars in the credit union, and that the credit union is actually complaining because it takes up too much vault space. Ask if they like vaping.
  • Repeatedly interrupt the conversation by admonishing an imaginary child or dog. (“Timmy! Don’t do that or you’re going in the stew!”) Apologize in advance for your Tourette’s, and have periodic outbursts. Claim a very interesting occupation, such as cat herdswoman or fertilizer processor or bison yoga instructor or dromedary veterinary assistant. Say “kushkushkushkush” as if telling a camel to kneel. Be Jed Clampett. Be Elly May Clampett. Best of all, if you can pull it off, be Granny. Irene Ryan was one of the funniest comics I ever saw.
  • Ask the nuttiest possible questions about their product or service. Does their insurance cover Peyronie’s Syndrome? Scrotal lesions? Does it cover therapy for obsessive-apathetic disorder? Organ failure? Piles? Tiles? What about pudding therapy? Will their home refinance loan have an interest rate below 1%? They say that your “Windows Computer” is spreading a virus and they want you to go to a website; go to your microwave, pretend to have mistaken it for a computer, and attempt to follow their directions. Will their home warranty cover cases of Orson? “No, not arson. That’s illegal. Orson is different, obviously. It mostly affects houses with Welles, and can be quite costly to repair.”
  • Got a confederate in the house? Have her start screaming in the other room. Tell your child that right now it’s encouraged to go totally cattiewhompus. Got multiple people? Have them fake an argument in the Pentagon. “Fuck you, General! We are invading Guam only with Navy ships!” “They don’t do very well on land, Admiral.” “Dipshit, it’s an island! The Army can’t even get there unless they swim! This is our turf, so go dig a foxhole!” Got a cough? You do now! Sneezing fit? Let ’em rip in the middle of everything the caller says, then ask them to repeat it. Got a kid whose hobby is making flatulence noises with his armpit? Get him to do it as loudly as possible near the phone.

If you had fun, wasted their time, and gave them no truthful or useful information, you did well. If you felt a twinge, that’s normal; behaving with a complete lack of consideration is not natural for most of us. In such a case, remember:

  • No one forced these people to call you.
  • Nothing they are offering is legitimate.
  • Nearly all of them are giving false phone numbers.
  • Most aren’t even using their real names.
  • All of it is a fundamental insult to your intelligence.
  • While you’re wasting their time, they aren’t preying on someone’s grandma.
  • You are performing a community service, a random act of caring for others. It’s one of the few community services you can perform by being as cruel as possible.

Leave scars.

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Just injured enough to be impaired just enough

If my back, my eyes, and my hands work, I have the capacity to do my work. If one of those doesn’t work right, that’s a big problem.

About a week ago, I was attempting to assemble a new set of hot tub steps. This was necessary because my wife has hip trouble and was finding it difficult to get in and out. I often feel powerless when it comes to Deb’s medical situations, so when life serves me up one that I can somewhat help with, it’s bad to be in my way.

This pretty sturdy and grotesquely expensive step set was difficult to find, but I did so and hauled it home. Reading the directions, which as usual were designed for two different models and which failed of course to answer some basic questions (such as why these two pieces out of these eight have special indentations about which the instructions indicate positively nothing), I gathered up tools. A regular claw hammer, hitting naked, would damage the plastic. I couldn’t find my rubber mallet, so I decided to hold a small piece of 2×4 in the proper places when banging things together.

Things were going very well, but some of the plastic pieces needed serious force in order to hammer home. That I could supply; what I forgot to supply was intellect, which would have said that using about an 8″ piece of 2×4 was dangerous. It could, for example, put my thumb too near the hammer’s trajectory–especially when striking with the flat, which made some sense when hitting a piece of wood and trying to distribute the impact area.

Then struck Darwin. I belted the wood a mighty blow, and in so doing, hit my left thumbtip with the claw side of the hammer. This action cut clear through the nail, creating a separation of about 1/8″ between the halves, and as I would soon learn, inflicted a comminuted (“broke up in pieces”) fracture of my left thumbtip.

This hurt and was rather messy, especially when it coughed up a blood clot the side of a small caterpillar. (Yes, I realize that we just reached peak ick.) D helped me wash it off and bandage it up, calling upon her old EMT skillset. I then finished building the steps, being more careful this time. When I began to feel a different sort of pain, I accepted D’s entreaties to go to urgent care.

Either I got a very new nurse, or a very sensitive one, because the sight of the thumb grossed her out. I had not known it was possible to gross out a nurse with less than a keg or so of bodily fluids or wastes; they’ve seen more disgusting things in the last week than most of us will see in a decade. After a couple of hours of being x-rayed, cleaned, splinted, and bandaged, we were ready to go back home. The pain meds were the weak kind, but that was all right, because I normally won’t take opiates if I can possibly find relief any other way. I get what they are trying to avoid, and I have no illusions that I am somehow immune.

That leaves me trying to write blog posts, conduct email correspondence, and otherwise do my work with a heavily splinted and sometimes sore left thumb.

You know, one of the best ways to appreciate a body part is to lose most of its use.

Showering? Great, with my left hand bagged and out of commission. Where I can reach with my right hand or a brush, I can scrub; feels like twice the effort. Typing? Splint keeps bumping the space bar in mid-word. Carrying grocery bags? Whatever my left hand can hold with just the fingers around a handle, it can haul. Putting on seatbelt? Careful; ram that thumbtip into anything and it’s not fun. Adjusting wing mirror on driver’s side after some parking lot donkey pushed it flat against the door? Not easy. Putting groceries on belt for cashier? One piece at a time, sorry, folks. Getting book and mouthpiece off nightstand? Roll all the way over because you only have one hand that really grasps anything heavier than paper. Anything you have to pinch/grasp with both hands, I have to adapt to handle–if I can.

The hidden issue is that thumbtip. Stick your hand out at random to turn off your lamp? Don’t bump the thumb against the lamp, or you’ll know what you did. Rooting around for something? Not with that hand, not twice. It had never occurred to me how I was so used to just shoving my hand into cabinets and drawers and such.

I don’t recommend doing this to yourself. However, it did get me thinking about high school. We had a teacher, Mr. W, who had lost an arm in some form of accident. He taught social studies and photography, coached track, and advised the yearbook. (He was the one who caught me trying to slip in the caption “Bored members…” under a photo of the school board.) He could type well and in general showed minimal impairment, a status at which I did not properly marvel back in t he late 1970s.

Mr. W, I grant it’s a little late and that you’re fifteen years deceased, but what you could do was badass. I don’t have it half as tough and I’m fumbling around here like a clod.

How Ebay eats your vendor’s lunch

Okay, it doesn’t have much to do with editing. It does have to do with buying stuff someone has already edited, because it’s nice to learn about hidden costs. In the past, I have posted about the myth/dodge of free shipping. There is no such thing, of course; the only question is whether it’s buried in the item cost (and will therefore be charged to you for multiple items) or made visible (and therefore can be combined for multiple items).

Want to know what Ebay costs your seller? All right. Let’s imagine selling a book, since I both sell and love books. Fees have gone up recently, for no better reason than Ebay’s basic greed. The basic fees are:

  • $0.35 (listing fee; usually avoided as sellers get some fee-free listings each month, and pays to list the item for roughly thirty days)
  • $0.30 (basic selling fee)
  • 14.55% final value fee; that is, of the final selling price plus any sales tax plus shipping charges (rate varies by category; books are high).

So, here we go. Assume you sold a book with 5% sales tax (which Ebay collects and remits as required; as seller, you learn of it but don’t have to mess with it). You sold it for $6.97 and charged $3.87 for media mail shipping. Begin then with $10.84:

Add 5% for the sales tax; it’s now $11.38, of which $7.32 reflects the item and $4.06 the shipping (this distinction will come into play later). Of course, you will not receive that tax money; we just had to do this for an accurate dissection, so begin by deducting $0.54 for the sales tax. Deduct $0.65 for the listing fee and basic selling fee. Then multiply $11.38 by the final value fee, 14.55%, to get $1.66. Ebay charged me $2.31 in fees on $10.84 in sales revenue.

We have to pay to ship it, naturally. While the media mail rate in Notice 123 (postal rates) says that’ll be $2.89, most shippers use a reseller (often Ebay itself). I use one called PirateShip. It doesn’t drop my rate below the $2.89, so I assume they get a very thin discount and just charge me the Notice 123 rate. Maybe other shippers get it a little cheaper; don’t know. Most shippers try to cheat and use media mail for non-qualifying stuff; I don’t.

We also have to pack it. This is a normal paperback book and can fit in a standard plastic bubble mailer, but I had better put it in a zip-lock bag in case someone spills their coffee or beer on it after someone else stabs a hole in the packing. The bag and mailer cost me $0.24, and only because I buy the mailers in bulk. I also calculate that the label sticker costs $0.04, so supplies total $0.28.

I walk away with $5.36: $10.84, minus $0.65 for listing and basic selling fees, $1.66 for final value fees, $2.89 for shipping and $0.28 for shipping supplies. Not so bad? Not so great. Ebay ate over 20% of my gross. Ah, but looking back, did you observe the disparity between my freight charges and the actual postage? Caught me! Or not. I charged $3.87 for freight. Shipping cost me $2.89; supplies $0.28 on the cheap; Ebay stuck me for 14.55% of $4.06 (remember, they tacked on sales tax, calculated my fee, then remitted the tax–they so suck), so that’s $0.59 of the final value fees related to shipping. My math gives me a net profit on shipping of $0.11. And that’s only by attributing the listing fee and basic selling fee purely to the basic item, not the shipping. Start prorating those, and shipping just became a money-loser.

If the five minutes it takes me to pack the book and buy the postage aren’t worth eleven goddamn cents, then I must really, really suck at both. Hope I didn’t pay more than $5.25 for the book, or I sold at a loss.

You may think it’s incredibly petty to worry about all these “small costs.” No, no, no, no. That’s what everyone who collects those fees hopes you will do. All fees and all costs matter, down to the least one. I am not sure whether my packing tape adds up to a penny per parcel, but I probably should be considering that. The path to unprofitable business is paved with little bits of disregarded cost evidence. Believe me, the people to whom you pay those costs do not disregard their resulting revenues. Try it sometime. “Dear Ebay. Since your final value fees on my shipping are not even enough to buy a can of Coke from a machine, how about you just not charge me them?” Write and let me know what they say.

But what if the customer buys two books? Of course, if I were playing the free shipping shell game, I’d start making good money. Can’t combine shipping if it’s free, right? Such a deal! Ya. The more you buy with “free shipping,” the more you’re screwed. But since I don’t play that crappy little game, in most cases I can combine shipping provided it all qualifies to ship in the same way. Two books with nothing else meet that qualification.

Many buyers think they can both ride for the same price, but that’s not very common. With two small books, it’ll usually be the next pound up, so let’s say it’s just under two pounds. $3.45 according to Notice 123. It’ll also require a slightly larger mailer. So I might charge $4.57, which will put me about in the same place (just covering costs). Instead of paying $7.74, the buyer pays over $3 less. And some of them still think they’re getting hosed.

Not only that, some will even complain: “Dont know why ur not givin free shiping ur charges r a ripoff i no there not chargin u that much 2 ship my cozin works at the postal office”. Or think they are making me a fantastic offer: “Throw in free shipping and you’ve got a deal.”

Now you see why people sell the book for $0.99 (far as I’m aware, lowest price allowed) and jack the shipping way up. That’s the other form of shell game. And it’s true there are ways to trim little costs. Basic selling comes with 250 no-listing-fee listings per month; so as long as you do not get too big, you can avoid those. Ebay probably offers small savings on postage and supplies, and just as all costs are valid, so are all savings.

Anyway, you also now understand what’s really going on when you buy a book from someone. Whether it’s fair or not…you be the judge.

Sucking at tech support, and the Sea of Red Ink

Not long ago, I asked an editorial community how it felt about clients’ requests to be taught and guided in the use of computers, email, and especially software such as MS Word.

Results were all over the board, from “Sure, I’m an expert” to “Not only no but hell no” to “If they want to pay me for it, I’m their huckleberry.” I asked because I don’t like it and am not good at it, and was wondering if this was rare. The reasons are complex, but are based on this: when I left that field behind, it was like a weight off my shoulders, and I don’t like re-shouldering it. Few seem to understand this reluctance, but we all have different paths and experiences. There are former police officers who never again touch a firearm once they retire. You couldn’t get my football widow mother to sit down and watch a game if I were playing in it, not even if you stapled her to the chair and propped her eyelids open à la A Clockwork Orange. She would look away and sing to drown out the audio for all three and a half hours. I think she’d rather have a bucket of horse turds dropped in her lap than a football.

So I was reading what the other editors said about tech support, and then one of the responses hit me with a flash of the road to Damascus (and no, it wasn’t a Syrian Arab Air Force strike aircraft firing rockets). There are Youtubes on everything. I can’t possibly know what the client is seeing, and I’m not willing to set up some form of screen-sharing remote access software. If I can find out the feature they need help with, and the version they are using, I can find them a YT that will discuss how the feature works. Their screen will look like what the video shows, and menu selections will have the same names as they will see on the video.

It feels like liberation.

Here is a helpful hint for all those of you who work with Word and an editor: Go to YT and search for ” track changes ” plus the version (e.g. ” Word 2013 “). Watch them. Live them. Groove them.

Because I’m still using Word 2007, I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version, and what I see on my screen simply is not what you see. All I can do is confuse you.

I can’t charge you for confusing you. Not nice. I already do enough free work (emails, phone discussions) and have to establish a boundary, stay within my comfort and happiness zone. Doing tech support makes me not want to do my work at all, and I can’t afford that.

That still leaves the Track Changes learning curve, which brings into play the Sea of Red Ink. This is where their first view of the finished product, by default, shows it looking like a e-splatter film. I had one client just accept all the changes without review, so traumatized were they.

There’s a solution and it involves a better way to send the client his or her results. Send two versions: one with all changes accepted (no Sea of Red Ink), one with the changes awaiting acceptance (e-splatter film). I don’t like it, but I have to accept that the Sea of Red Ink is scary when it’s the first thing clients see. It isn’t the version I want them to begin with. What I normally want them to do first is read the edited version (which is not the default view in Track Changes, and which can’t be saved to be the default view) all the way through, with just comments, and see how it feels; see how they like the way they sound, just read and react.

Then I want them to review it with the tracked changes. The Sea of Red Ink will now show, but by now, the client will realize that every single teensy correction (loose space, case error, changed comma, fixed typo) leaves a trail of red pixels out to the margin. This will show, should show, that the Sea of Red Ink is not nearly as fearful as once believed. The simple act of a global S&R for “two spaces, replace with one,” will coat in e-splatter any page in most mss even though it led to no substantive alterations. It looks bloody, but it’s a minor scratch.

Sounds so reasonable, right?

Hardly any of them have ever paid attention to these directions. They dove straight into the Sea of Red Ink (default view), had whatever crisis they were going to have, and either recovered or did not. Their lips said “yes, yes” but their eyes said “FOAD FOAD FOAD,” as one long-ago RA colleague used to say about residents and activities. For me to expect them to follow my suggestions is naïve. I have to make that easier for them.

I’m tired of the crises and worrying about them, and I’m ten times tired of being asked for tech support. So now I’m going to send two versions as described earlier, so that I don’t have to do tech support to help them face the Sea of Red Ink. They never have to see it if they prefer not to; they can, if they wish, just use the fully accepted copy and put comments/edits there. It will still have changes tracked. This should make an enormous difference in outcomes, without ever removing acceptance or rejection of changes from their own hands, where that process belongs.

Not paying attention to that particular group any more due to excessive thought/speech policing, but I have to credit it for this one valuable thing. At least, in return for the many dozens of people I helped, I did get one help back. Could be worse.

2021 Prediction #3: Get ready for more GameStops as hedge funds are no longer the only bullies in town — I, Cringely

JK here: this I found to be a useful take on the GameStop/Reddit situation we had recently. It might not have much to do with editing services, but that’s okay with me sometimes.

Today is my birthday. Thirty-five years ago today I was drinking coffee in my Palo Alto kitchen when the Space Shuttle…

2021 Prediction #3: Get ready for more GameStops as hedge funds are no longer the only bullies in town — I, Cringely

Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

I have been reading I, Cringely off and on since I was an IS professional (children, that’s what we called IT people in the 1990s), back when we fibbed to get free copies of InfoWorld.  He’s usually been very good, and my editorial eye would assess his writing ability very favorably.

Also, unlike one industry pundit, he never had to eat a soup of one of his columns at Comdex. However, here he does a retrospective (or autopsy, if you like) on his predictions for 2020. Enjoy.

This is when I typically generate a list of technology predictions for the coming year. The challenge this year isn’t coming up with predictions, it’s finding a moment of calm to share them when people are most likely to read. With a pandemic rolling along and the nation in political and economic crises to boot,…

Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

 

Doing what we are told–or not

While this won’t see publication until mid-December 2020, and I admit it doesn’t have much to do with editing services, I wonder if there are others out there who think as I do. I write on November 30, at the height of what we are told is Cyber Monday.

For the US readership, and those of any other country with a lot of Christmas gift-giving, did you buy anything online today? I did not. Were you tempted? But how could I resist the bargains, bargains, bargains? I was not even tempted.

I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else is as cynical about commerce. My starting presumption was/is that the designation of this as A Very Special Commercial Day was an attempt to manipulate the herd into overspending. The logic goes: “Better hurry, or other people will get all our Very Great Deals.” I assume it’s all smoke and mirrors; that they just raised prices and then marked them down, like our grocery stores do; that it’s a con job.

Black Friday, as it has been designated in order to make it Another Very Special Commercial Day, held even less attraction for me–and had done so in the many years before the pandemic turned large gatherings into superspreader events full of maskholes. “But you won’t get all the good deals!” Oh, I bet most of them aren’t so good. I don’t resent the marketing industry for presuming that the public is stupid, because for the most part the industry is correct when the public is taken as a mass. I probably should, but I do not. After cracking a couple of Black Fridays Matter jokes with my wife–and reflecting on the unfortunate impact of language choices on perceptions–I stayed home and watched college football.

The point, I guess, is that the Designation of the Very Special Commercial Days by itself was enough to turn me off. It triggered automatic assumptions that following a large crowd would lead to me spending money I should not, spending more money than necessary for anything I might want, and jostling around arterial streets and stores or the online ordering platforms.

It was that way with Amazon Prime as well. Remember when that came out? To me, it seemed obvious that Amazon would not do this unless they expected it would draw people to spend money with them more often than they should, just to “take advantage.” I took one look and said: “What is to your advantage will occur at my expense. No thanks.” Am I the only person who sees it this way? I just saw an American corporation pitching a gimmick, assumed it was screwery, and moved along.

The same applies to investing. On any given day, one can read a ton of articles about Some Intensely Important Indicator having made a critical shift: a Death Cross, an Inverted Yield Curve, a 50-Day Moving Average, or some other bit of technical talk. About half the time it warns us that we should sell, sell, sell, in order to avoid losing money. The other half is spent telling us now is the time to buy, buy, buy or miss the boat. Each side is right about 50% of the time, which poses a greater problem than people generally realize because in order to achieve an outperforming capital gain, one generally has to be right twice (timing of buying and selling). No wonder people just buy index ETFs.

Speaking of which, if you want a very effective strategy for cutting out all that racket and ignoring the Cassandras and Candides of our precious financial media, seriously consider subscribing to Jason Kelly’s financial newsletter. It is not cheap, but if you are managing five figures or more of assets, you should earn enough on dividends alone to wipe out the cost. It is entertaining, consistent, and often supplemented with midweek issues that comment on major movements. I can also verify from our business dealings and contacts that Jason maintains the highest possible standards of integrity and value. Time and again I have seen him lean to the side of making sure people are fully informed, well updated, and well supported. That’s not true of every financial newsletter out there, something I paid a lot of tuition (in the form of dumb investing decisions) to learn. Jason takes care of his people.

Unlike most of the money wonks on MarketWatch, Jason can write entertaining English with a dry wit. I go back to the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Jason (who lives in Japan), decided to seek sock donations to give to refugees. There’s always some negatory type who could find fault with free beer or a form of cheesecake that causes weight loss, and sure enough, one of them wrote in to question Jason’s qualifications to operate this process. With elaborate tact and patience, Jason reviewed what was required: use platform to request socks from community, assemble socks once arrived, load in van, take to refugee centers. Approximate quote: ‘Do I think I’m qualified to put socks in a van and give them to people? Yes, I think I’m qualified to do that.’ One of the highlights of my week is watching him point out what’s wrong with what the financial media are currently saying.

Of course, Jason’s guidance doesn’t tell people to do what most of the media are stirring them to do. That might be the greatest part of its early appeal to me. His method radiates indifference toward mass manipulation efforts.

Good holidays to all you who are observing holidays. Good fun to those who are just having fun. And great fun to all my fellow nonconformists; you aren’t the only ones.

Print media aren’t being killed; they’re taking slow poison

At least, that’s how it looks and feels to me.

We used to take Portland Monthly, a print magazine of the titular subject matter and frequency. While it was very kombucha-Portlandy, with minimal relevance to us out in Burberton and especially to those of us who avoid downtown (and were doing so years before protests began), enough of its content had enough value that we enjoyed it. We’d learn about a few new places to eat, or local history, or something else fun. It was worth what we paid for it.

One fine day, my issue came with a flyer. It began by thanking us for our support of independent journalism and told us how wonderful we were. That’s when a thinking person begins to expect at least a four-joint bohica.* It then informed me that there would be a change to my subscription. In order to better meet subscribers’ needs, I’d now only get four mailed print issues per year. The rest would be available online. They urged me to give them my e-mail address, so that I would not miss an issue. There was nothing about a refund, either partial or full.

Now let’s examine this. Here’s my takeaway: “Hi. We heart you big time. However, we’re now quartering the amount of content we offer you under the terms of your original subscription. Why? Because fuck you, we think you are enough of an idiot to go along with getting 1/4 of what you paid for, and we really like cutting our costs.”

Canceling my subscription felt almost like a moral duty. I don’t want to read magazines on my computer or my flip phone (can’t anyway). If I had a more advanced phone, I wouldn’t want to read them on that either. However, they could have avoided this by offering me some form of refund, offering a subscription extension, just about anything–anything, that is, except what they did: “Because we think you’re an idiot, we will be giving you less content and no compensation; suck it.” They could even have begged: “We understand this is a major change in the terms for which you paid, and we hope you will consider that a small but valuable contribution to the cause of local journalism.”

It came down not to money (the $15-odd refund isn’t exactly enough to retire on), nor to questions about content and value. It came down to my recoiling from the tactic of first kissing subscribers’ asses, then insulting our intelligence.

They’re committing suicide. Deep down, these magazines don’t ever want to print another paper copy again, so they’re doing their best to drive away anyone who wants a physical magazine in their mailboxes.

It’s working.

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who stands up and objects to the constant messaging trend: “In order to serve you better, we are cutting staff, reducing hours, eliminating services, raising prices, decreasing portions, and trimming options. We want you to believe this is for your benefit. We think you’re enough of an idiot to buy this.”

 

* Slang of military origin, an articulated acronym for “bend over, here it comes again.” We used to measure them by joints involved, with three for example meaning the finger, four meaning the whole hand, and six meaning up to the shoulder. Up to twelve was a double bohica, and after that one counted vertebrae for the dreaded super bohica.

Shopping cart semi-abandonment

In recent months I have learned of a cruel, mean, horrible activity, never-to-be-done by right-thinking, community-minded folk. These persons have realized that if they load up an online shopping cart, then abandon it, they will be part of statistics over which the whole online vending world is weeping and gnashing its teeth.

Evidently the #1 cause of cart abandonment is that people on some level decide they don’t like the deal, so they bag out. Second commonest cause is they don’t want to have to set up an account. If you read down the list, though, nowhere on that list is the most devastating (and of course naturally discouraged with every fiber of my being) form of abandonment: wrathful, targeted semi-abandonment.

How’s that work? The awful, corporation-hating big meanies who do this terrible thing, who obviously don’t return their shopping carts and always flick their cigarette butts on the ground after smoking them only eight feet away from a window (in Washington, 25′), use a browser that will remember its past sessions. They do not close the shopping session tab before closing the browser, so when it wakes up the next day, the cart is still full. That full cart is still affecting the vendor’s inventory and sales, which is just dastardly. It’s the fundamental equivalent of going to the grocery store, filling your cart, and walking out without it–except that a) the online stuff won’t spoil, and b) with no existing login or password, the online vendor has no way to identify the culprit and punish him or her. It’s cruel and unusual, on a par with cat juggling and overdone steak.

That of course is bad enough, but at some point I believe most online merchants could get past that by dumping the abandoned cart themselves if it had no changes for some time. What if there were daily changes? That would be the most detrimental. Someone piles up, say, $300K of crap in the cart, then on a daily basis adds a votive candle or a $5 bar of soap or somesuch? Never checks out? Awful, I tell you. If someone does that, the cart never dumps, and keeps getting bigger. It could be very harmful to inventory control and their rightful profits. And worst of all, they have no real way to address it. It’s their worst nightmare.

I could never encourage anyone to be so unkind to an online vendor who means only to make honest profit by being truthful with consumers and treating employees well, while adhering to the corporate vision of ramping up actionable items and solutioning problems to create maximum shareholder value. And branding. Much branding. More branding than a cattle pen in springtime.

Remember: wealthy people’s increased wealth depends upon you never being mean to them, no matter how their companies treat you, the public, the land, the economy, and kittens.

Domaining

Is it not strange how we get into ruts where we fail to step back and look at what is possible?

I own a .22 rifle that brought about such a situation. On top of it is an enormous (for the rifle in question) scope. I never had lens covers for the scope and at one point in life, I’m embarrassed to say, just put some packing tape over the end. The objective end, that is. Since it was kept upright and dust settles vertically, I didn’t think I needed one for the eyepiece.

(There followed the expected variety of catcalls, mocks, scoffs, and disses. All well deserved.)

It only took me thirty years of the Internet, and however many years of online shopping, to realize I could easily just go out and buy a couple of the damn things. I could remove the fossilized tape stickum with a goo remover and some gentle swabbing. In the meantime, all this time, I tolerated a pain in the butt and fundamentally incorrect handling just because I never stepped back to look at the possibilities. I didn’t see a reasonable solution in 1990, therefore I had put it out of mind–even though I have embraced much of the modern technological world in most aspects of my life.

Thus with domain names. Let us pause, first, to laugh a little at this term that has entrenched an extra meaning into our English vocabulary. Any time I type “my domain,” I feel like I’m cosplaying Tarzan. When you come here, please practice social distancing and everyone pick his or her own tree limb; are we good? But yeah, that’s the term we use for this business of website naming. When I registered jkkelley.org, I needed something that fit and was brief, but also took account of the multiple things I do. These days, I mostly get hired to edit. Thus, jkkelleyeditor.org.

It only took nine years of blogness for it to occur to me that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to add a second domain without hosing the first one. I never stepped back to pause and consider.

If you have bookmarks, no need to change anything. I have no plans ever to get rid of the old one.