Category: complaint dept

this Guardian story about Amazon shoppers misled by ‘bundled’ star-ratings and reviews illustrates one of the reasons I now only turn to Amazon and it’s horrible, user-hostile shopping experience as a last resort

past the half-hour mark now on a slow-motion, three person Slack discussion. plenty of time waiting for “So-and-so is typing” to reflect on how this is so much better than having a dreaded… meeting ?

well, crap. I think my MacBook might have just started having this problem. the up-arrow works about 1/3 of the time. you might think that sounds like the first-world-est of first-world problems, and that’s not wrong. but still: it really sucks

nailed it as usual, Siri. just one thing: does the “$$” rating include airfare to Malaysia

like this, but it’s “AI” for me now. “AI? ha! how about don’t send a tracking link until the package is en route?!”

NOTHING gives me more of a feeling of enraged American exceptionalism than a message like “This video is not available in your country”

when it dawns on you that Amazon Prime is the new Sam’s Club

if you use the contact form for Austin Property Doctors (@BrettTutor) – even if you *don’t use them* – they sell your info to ADT! not cool

Apple Music is a Dumpster Fire

We’re done with Apple Music. The whole experience has been a frustrating, bewildering fight against our own devices and music, for virtually no added benefit.

I’ve wasted hours wrestling with weird problems and various amounts of data loss. As I write this, I’m in the middle of another full phone restore, trying to get things back to square one, back to how they were before Apple Music gleefully stomped through and wrecked everything.

Here’s a summary of the most frustrating problems we ran into.

On vacation I spent more than a day trying to get newly bought MP3s to sync from my computer to my phone (you know: the absolutely most basic and simple task of any music player ever made). In this case, it was a prerelease copy that I bought directly from the artist, but it was also listed in Apple Music as a coming-soon release, and maybe that was part of the problem, but I was never quite sure. I’d say “make available offline”, the app would say, “sure thing boss!”, then I’d hop in the car to rock down the road and find: nope. Not there.

Trying to help my wife keep her Jazzercise-instructor playlists in sync with her computer was a constant uphill struggle. And if hers are screwed up, it’s a bigger deal than me being disappointed that I can’t listen to my new music. For her, it means her carefully planned and choreographed class is ruined. Sometimes playlists stayed in sync, sometimes they didn’t. Less than 100% confidence is a deal-breaker, so although I’m just now rage-quitting this aggravating debacle, she’s been off it for a while already.

Having lots of my carefully-tended album art get totally trashed during the Great Upload to the Cloud was really annoying. (This has been complained about by others, as have other iCloud/Match-related woes.)

Somewhere along the line, a bunch of my playlists disappeared. I didn’t even notice when this happened, as they’re static (not “smart”) playlists that I don’t use that often. But most of them are copies of old mixtapes (yes, actual real tapes). I think I’ve recovered the raw data that will let me restore these, thanks to Time Machine backups, but it will be a labor-intensive pain in the ass.

Those were all pretty maddening, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Music app crashed yesterday morning. When it restarted, it was a completely blank white screen. Hmm, that’s not good. Quit the app and started again, then at least there were controls at the bottom, but when I tapped “My Music”, it was a white screen and a “Loading Library” message with a progress bar. It stayed that way during my entire commute to work (no music! See, there is still a case for CDs). I thought it was all right after that, but on my drive home that evening I got a warning about playing music away from wifi, even though I was trying to play my own music, not something streamed. With creeping dread I turned on the “only show music available offline” toggle, and sure enough, everything disappeared. Gone. All gone.

Checking out the disk usage, I found a huge amount of “Other” space. Clearly all that offline music was still taking up space, even though it was inaccessible:


A full reinstall and restore-from-backup later, and it’s fixed. Now all I have to do is re-load the music back on there (and re-enter passwords and Apple Pay credit card info and Touch ID and who knows what else), and then I’ll be back to square one!


Note that all this heartburn is despite the fact that we’re all-in on the Apple Way. We’re using iTunes on Macs, and lots of our purchased music came from the iTunes Store. That is, we’re not trying to do anything weird or bend the rules. And though I bumble around with this stuff sometimes, I am actually a professional computer guy. I shudder to think what kind of shape the music library and iPhone of a “regular person” would be in at this point.

So, we’re out. Maybe it’s for the best. I thought having a blurred-to-nonexistent line between what I own and what I stream would be great, but I never really warmed to it. I use streaming mostly to try out new music, and if I like it, I buy it. So they’re two separate tiers in how I mentally organize my music collection. Having a completely distinct service for that, like Spotify, works fine for me. It will be a little more expensive for our family, but any savings from Apple Music has already been spent a hundred times over in wasted time and frustration. There’s also the recommendations and curated lists and “radio” stations, but I’ve never been much into such services, and during this trial I never found a single new song of interest in those ways. (Which reminds me of a another failure: that “Tell us what you like” bubbles thing and the resulting “For You” recommendations were laughably wrong and completely useless for all of us.)

Update: 8/31 – Still Smoldering

After I thought I’d restored everything, I discovered this morning that my song ratings were all screwed up, too. I obsessively rate the songs in my library. Probably a little too obsessively, but I use those ratings a lot, especially in smart playlists. How the living hell this could have happened, I can’t begin to imagine, but somehow a whole bunch of tracks suddenly had ratings with light gray stars:


The best the Internets could tell me was these are “estimated” track ratings, whatever that means, but more to the point they were wrong. According to the size of my “unrated” smart playlist (told you: obsessive), there were suddenly 4,402 unrated tracks. I didn’t know the right number, but I knew that was way too high. (Once I got stuff restored, the actual number turned out to be 444.)

Thankfully there’s a special directory under the main iTunes directory called “Previous iTunes Libraries”, where Apple apparently backs up your library metadata file before major iTunes upgrades. It’s almost as if they don’t have very high confidence that everything’s going to work. But it turned out to be handy, as all I had to do was dredge up the copy from July 1, that black day I first stepped upon the dismal path of Apple Music, and voila! Except for all the music I’ve added and played and rated since then, I’m back to square one! Again!

Brendan Eich’s Ouster

The whole business of Brendan Eich having to step down as CEO of Mozilla because of a prior political contribution (and an unwillingness to renounce said contribution), is just a real tragedy.

As Marco Arment summarized: “Ten days ago, Brendan Eich was appointed Mozilla CEO. But Eich previously funded anti-gay bigotry, which caused a huge public uproar. Three members even quit Mozilla’s board. Today, he’s out.”

I remember first hearing about that contribution of Eich’s, and being disappointed. Not that the laws on the books in California care one way or the other, but I didn’t agree with his opinion then, and I still don’t now.

Arment continues, in another post:

A hundred years ago, saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote was a “political view”. Now, that would be a ridiculous and highly offensive opinion regardless of what any religion or political party said on the topic. Most discriminating “political views” of this sort eventually become widely recognized as unacceptable, barbaric bigotry with no place in civilized society — it’s just a matter of time.

As much as gay-rights opponents would like to believe otherwise, that time has come for their “political views”.

Which sounds fine, but at the time of Eich’s political contribution, it was a “political view”, by definition. So I wonder: where, on Arment’s timeline of “political view” eventually transitioning to “unacceptable, barbaric bigotry” does the statute of limitations kick in? Yes, Eich had ample opportunity now, in 2014, to recant and acknowledge this change, and he didn’t do it, so it could be argued he hasn’t changed his view.

But I just can’t read his post, Inclusiveness at Mozilla, written during his very brief tenure as CEO, without being impressed by someone who sure doesn’t sound like he’d turn the organization into a hate-mongering monster or the Chik-fil-A of Internet technologies.

I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

You will see exemplary behavior from me toward everyone in our community, no matter who they are; and the same toward all those whom we hope will join, and for those who use our products.

You should read all of it, it isn’t long.

There are two things that I keep coming back to. One is a Cincinnati City Council election, many years ago, in which one of the candidates fell prey to a whisper campaign that she was a lesbian. It was a close race, which she lost. Whether questions about her sexual orientation substantively affected that outcome, I don’t really know. But I do remember wondering, and arguing, ‘who cares?!’ What possible impact could her orientation have on whether she can serve in the job she was standing for? None. Absolutely none. (Thankfully our society is getting to the point now where more people realize that, even deep in the heart of reddest Texas.)

The comparison, I hope, is obvious. The difference is that Eich would indeed have been in a position, as CEO, to affect the Mozilla organization with his exclusionary views. But that was very publicly known, acknowledged, and disavowed clearly by him. Mozilla is a public, non-profit corporation [edit: not publicly-traded, actually a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation with all profits reinvested into the Foundation], and you can bet your bottom dollar that the slightest “anti-gay” policy there would have been pounced upon (as it should be) by the board, by other employees, by the community. But we could have waited to see if and when that ever happened, rather than pre-judging, jumping to the conclusion that it definitely would happen.

The second thing to consider here is, this is Brendan frickin’ Eich we’re talking about here. The guy who created JavaScript (yes, warts and all, he’s long been the first to admit), a guy who helped create Mozilla in the first place. Kids today can use Chrome and take the state of the open web for granted, but this outcome was far from assured in the early 2000s. The guy has literally dedicated his career to foundational technologies that make modern-day life what it is. And not just in the past, but right up until his resignation: running Mozilla, speaking, working on ECMAScript 6, etc.

(An aside: with all due empathy (or as much as I can honestly claim from outside their experience), and I get the point he’s making, but for the guy at Rarebit, a company founded to make web apps for the Mozilla Marketplace, to say “He actively took steps to ensure that rarebit couldn’t exist!” goes beyond hyperbolic and into the realm of plain old asinine.)

Here’s how Marc Andreessen, co-author of Mosaic and cofounder of Netscape, put it on Twitter the other day:

Javascript in browser became BY FAR most widely used programming language in human history. Breathtaking achievement. Beyond amazing.

Years later, after Netscape/AOL and AOL/TimeWarner mergers, Brendan called me to see if I could help free Mozilla into a nonprofit.

I called Jim Barksdale who was on AOL-TW board; with Jim’s help, Mitchell Baker and Brendan successfully established Mozilla Foundation.

This was an unnatural act for a big company, could have easily not happened. Mitchell and Brendan made it happen, redefined web again.

So, if you like your browser, your Firefox, and/or your Javascript, whatever your political beliefs, you owe Brendan a debt of gratitude.

I’m not saying that influential or famous people should get a free pass on owning the consequences of their words or actions. But here are the two sides of the scales as I see them: on one side is a giant of the tech industry who has contributed so much in so many ways that it’s hard to even quantify, and who wants to increase his level of contribution even further. On the other side, there is one ultimately ineffective political contribution made six years ago.

But, wait. That’s not actually all that’s on the second side. There’s also the righteous indignation of OKCupid and a horde of other angry Internet villagers. Ultimately, inevitably, their weight was too much.

I’ll end with some words from the Andrew Sullivan post that really got me thinking about all this:

When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.

Google Minus

Via, a great post by Mark Wunsch: The Great Google Goat Rodeo.

My serious problem with Google is that their products for users (the ones that collect information to inform advertising) are becoming confused, inarticulate, and increasingly malicious. Malicious in that Google is effectively transforming the World Wide Web itself into one of its products by controlling (through a natural monopoly) traversal and discovery (Google Search).

I don’t feel quite as strongly about Google as he does, but I do cast a wary eye at them, for most of the reasons in that post. And the explanation of Google’s behavior, that it boils down to “an organizational clusterfuck that is unable to decide what [way] it thinks is truly the best”, sounds dead-on.

He ends with this:

Angry about this? Here’s what to do. Switch to Firefox. Mozilla is a non-profit whose mission “is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web”, which seems pretty cool. Use DuckDuckGo as your primary search engine; they “believe in better search and real privacy at the same time”, which seems pretty cool. I’m probably not going to be doing either of those anytime soon. I’m too stuck in my ways.

As I was reading that, I was thinking, “yes! Firefox, DuckDuckGo, I use those!”, and then I got to his “aww, who am I kidding, I can’t quit you” letdown. Too bad. They’re both good, I recommend them both. But I also don’t use them exclusively, and that’s why I wanted to post this, to encourage y’all to try them, and other Google alternatives as well.

I use Firefox as my primary browser, despite ridicule from hipsters and small children, though that choice is more because I love slash-to-search, tab groups, and the “awesome bar” than because of any anti-Chrome bias. And DuckDuckGo is my default search engine (easily set that way in Firefox, natch (and not hard to set in Chrome either, tbh)). I scoff at Google+ (like everyone), and I purposefully log out of Google’s services when I’m done with them.

But I do use them: I have a email address for home and work, plus Calendar, Drive, etc., etc. And when I’m doing web development, I use Chrome because the devtools are (currently) far superior. And it’s not uncommon for me to add a “!g” to the end of a DuckDuckGo search, which forwards the search to Google, especially when I’m looking for answers to specific technical questions. I also use “!m” to get Google Maps for all my map searches. And you can bet your ass I’ll get Google Fiber, coming to Austin next year, as soon as humanly possible.

Hmm, that sounds like a pretty mixed conclusion. But I suppose that’s appropriate. Like Wunsch, I don’t think Google is “evil”, but their power is tremendous, and growing, and that makes me nervous, and then they do stuff like this, dropping support for open interoperability standards. I’m not handing out tinfoil hats, but at least realize that there are alternatives out there, and some of them are great.

The Horror of Giant Corporations Making Good Stuff

I saw this recently on Buzzfeed: 19 Brands You Didn’t Know Were Owned By Giant Corporations. (Insert guilty acknowledgement of occasionally following links to Buzzfeed here.)

Pretty descriptive title there. It’s a simple page of product pictures, with the dark secret of their true corporate owners. Like this:

Odwalla products
Owned by: Coca-Cola

I’m not sure what the intent of this piece is. Well, the real intent is to get page-views and sell ads on Buzzfeed, of course. But as for the purported point, for my part, it made me initially feel like a sucker, a dupe, for using those products.

But once I thought about it a little more, I realized it’s actually fine, for the most part. In general, all things being equal, I would indeed rather support smaller, local, “mom & pop” kinds of companies rather than large corporations. Part of the reason for that is an expected correlation with higher quality, more well-crafted product. But these are known high-quality products, that happen to be made by a company owned by (usually bought up by) a large corporation.

Maybe Coca-Cola will start to cut corners on how Odwalla juices are made, or using cheaper ingredients. If and when they do, then complain about Odwalla. Until then, be glad that a giant company is investing in fresh, natural, healthful products, and that they’re being sold in a lot more places than the one hippie health-food store that a mom & pop juice company would be able to sell through.

Of course, if you come across tasty-looking juices that actually are made by a mom & pop juice company, by all means give them a shot. But absent such a choice, or even if you just prefer them, don’t feel bad buying Odwalla, Tom’s toothpaste, or any of these.* Be glad that you’re using your money to vote for quality goods.

* P.S. An exception to note, however, is beer (their examples are Blue Moon, made by MillerCoors, & Goose Island, made by Anheuser-Busch InBev). It’s a bit of a different category, in my opinion, because there are a lot more small, independent breweries around than there are small, independent toothpaste makers or pita chip companies. And their products are easier to find, even in regular old neighborhood grocery stores. However, the bottom line is the same. I won’t buy Blue Moon when there are more interesting options, but if I’m somewhere where the only other choices are Budweiser and Miller Light, then I’ll pick Blue Moon all day long.

P.P.S. That Buzzfeed page also includes Marmite, made by Unilever. I don’t really know what that is, except that it’s similar to Vegemite. I don’t know what that is, either, except that it’s the target of this hilarious, profane rant song by Amanda Palmer: Vegemite (The Black Death).

Writing Ebooks for Suckers

I was looking forward to reading the Copywriting For Geeks “mini-ebook” that I heard about recently. It has its own domain and everything:

It’s not useless, it has a little good information. The page itself uses the techniques described, and I’ll admit, the “First one thousand copies are free. $19 after that” got me, it made me hurry and sign up.

But at it’s root, the real title of this should have been: Make a PowerPoint Out of What Should be a Blog Post, Save to PDF, and Hock it Online as an Ebook.

Look, I’m all for people making money, when they earn it. And this was free, so I wasn’t exactly ripped off. But this is pretty damn thin for something pitched as a “book” that’s supposedly worth $20. My advice: don’t bother.

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