And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Linkee-poo knows it's all run by a big eastern syndicate

Spent the morning at the courthouse, only to have the judge dismiss one count, and the state drop their prosecution of the other count. So, thanks Universe. I think that was meant to be a good thing.

George Takei, broker of intergalactic peace. (Grokked from Jay Lake)

Tor is sending Tobias Buckell on the road for his new book, Arctic Rising. So happy for my friend, you just wouldn't believe. Ah, I think I've found the Christmas Spirit early. Oh, wait, that's just the hard cider. All the events are on the other coast. (Congrats, Tobias.)

How doctors die. Having watched too many people go through a rough end of life, there is something to be said for Hospice (although, please note, not everyone there goes gently into the night either). (Grokked from Jay Lake)

Sure, you've seen the cats playing with the Friskee's app, but can they play a real video game like this bearded dragon? I think not. (Pointed to by John)

When the "free market" goes too far. Amazon once again shows the dark side of the force. Now, I'll admit, I've made purchases through Amazon after seeing something in a brick-and-mortar store. I've even made the comment to my wife, "I bet I could get a good deal on-line for (whatever see's looking at)." So I'm guilty. However, that's the consumer doing price shopping (and here I'll also say that I've gone the other way saying, "I could probably save a buck buying this online/outside my local shops", but then realizing what I'd save I would spend in doing that runaround, just purchased the item - there's several scenarios around this). This app is industrial espionage at an exceptionally course level. If Amazon went out and gathered this info (more difficult than just walking into a store with a pen and paper - see stories from Best Buy about doing that), and then set its price accordingly, I'm okay with that. But enlisting the consumer to do the dirty work? There's a line back there that we crossed. (Grokked from John Scalzi)

Paul Allen goes for the full Howard Hughes. Okay, well, launching rockets after taking them close to orbit by another means (aircraft, ballon) isn't a new idea. The old space launch company he funded (now Virgin Galactic) did the same thing with White Knight and SpaceShip One.

You know how climate scientists talk about "tipping points." Well we might have just passed one. It's already been seen that the melting permafrost in Alaska has been releasing methane, but this is a whole different scale. You know how we all get worried about CO2 releases? Yeah, methane is about 20x worse. Of course, the other side is all pictures or it didn't happen. Unfortunately, I can't find that the AGU has released the papers presented, yet. Considering this scientist has been talking about this for 5 years (that I can remember) and has more scientific cred that the deniers, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. But measurements would be nice (as I remember, though, methane research isn't what he's doing, these are just incidental sightings). (Grokked from Tobias Buckell)

Lies, damnable lies, and infographics. Serious face palm going on over at Fox News. Really, dudes, when it's only drawing grid lines to show how much you faked the chart, you're not even trying. And yes, I've been asked to make charts like that in previous positions, there are better ways of doing this work which don't intentionally show the lie (like how the chart goes from 8.0 to 10.0, which flattens out the line). Oh. Wait. I get it. This is the "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a fortune cookie factory" message. (Grokked from Phiala)

Another Tennessee house burns as firefighter watch. I'm of two minds about this, being Chairman of Safety (for only a few more weeks). It's damn expensive to run a fire department (you wouldn't believe the cost of equipment and the training necessary). So I understand the thinking behind the "the fire service is for our municipality, if you want it outside of that line, you need to buy into the service." $75 is chicken feed, btw, for such insurance. But I also understand there are people for whom $75 is a hardship. The way to settle this is property tax in the form of a levy to buy into the local municipality's fire service (we have two such arrangements, while the millage is the same, because of the increased value of property inside the village, we still pay they lion's share, not to mention tossing in extra income tax dollars). If you don't believe in taxes, then you have to go to fee for service. But then you have these types of things. And, yes, the firefighters will watch the blaze (not welcomely, they'd rather fight it) to make sure it doesn't spread to other properties that have paid the fee (or for which they could get reimbursed by federal agencies, like preventing a forest fire). (Grokked from Tobias Buckell)

I hope you'v all be working out, keeping this calluses in good shape, because this election year is going to be a doozy of a face palm season. Not to mention a rehash of the has-beens of the last election. I might want to stock up on the pepto bismol. (Grokked from Jim Wright)

When Rick Perry's campaign started off with his Day of Prayer, I worried a little. Then when it was exposed that the people behind his Day of Prayer were the New Apostolic Reformation, I got concerned. Then with his video, "Strong" Rick Perry proved he was a tool. Dear Texans, if you have the recall, I'd start doing it now. No, really, Rick has jumped the shark. The whole, "Obama's war on Christianity"? That takes some serious reality disconnect to get to. Rick shouldn't be allowed to operate a motor vehicle while taking such strong stuff, let alone being handed keys of power. (Grokked from Jay Lake)

Tweet of my heart
@God_Damn_Batman: The holidays are the most stressful time of year. What with all the shopping and armies of penguins with tiny missiles on their back.


Eric said...

I'm not buying the criticism of Amazon on this one. There's a lot to legitimately criticize Amazon for, frankly (running sweatshops, f'r'instance) and I'm conflicted between my need to be budget-conscious and social anxieties about meatworld shopping on the one hand and my desire not to do evil on the other.

But what Amazon is doing really isn't that different from the old days when you'd see something at one store, decide there was a probability you could get it cheaper elsewhere, and going to another store. Indeed, at some shopping malls in the golden age of malls, one might well alternate one's book-buying between the Waldenbooks at one end of the mall and the local indie chain at the other. Nor is what Amazon is doing very different from comparison shopping on one's cellphone while inside the store: there was never anything stopping me from checking for sales and promotions on my smartphone inside a store already. All Amazon is doing is (a) making it really, really easy and (b) offering a gift inducement to push anyone teetering at the edge of whether or not to buy online.

Let's be honest: any moral onus is on the buyer here, not the seller. There is nobody forcing a consumer to accept an Amazon gift credit or to buy online. A consumer is still entitled to consider his options and decide to purchase locally from the brick-and-mortar because he wants to support his local store. (Incidentally and related, it's also the consumer who still has the obligation to pay any use taxes applicable under state law even if Amazon doesn't collect sales tax.) There's just not a logical way to say that this is the fault of Amazon for offering a seemingly-better deal nor is there a logical way to say that it's the local retailer's fault for not being able to compete with Amazon. The consumer is making a choice how and where he wants to spend his money and under what criterion.

I think this would be obvious if Amazon wasn't making it seem so lazy. If it were 1947 and Macy's was offering to match Gimbels' price and throw in a gift certificate, nobody would be shaking a fist at Macy's. Of course, the high-tech of 1947 was the four-color newspaper insert and the telephone, is the key thing, and you'd have to do more traveling to go back and forth between the stores. The transparency and convenience is what's triggering an irrational response, here.

Steve Buchheit said...

In truth, Eric, there's been apps like this for a while (scan in bar code, see comparison prices online). But all those were form companies whose business model is to do comparison shopping (aggregate data). And I agree that price shopping has a long and inglorious history (note my comment of I am also guilty of doing that). But it is different when it's run by a retailer who has a history of adjusting prices to individuals (stopped after exposed) and of unfair trade practices (selling below cost points to drive out competition). What's to stop Amazon from saying, "input the price in the store" and then individually adjusting the price of that item to be just slightly lower than the store's?

A brick and mortar equivalent would be if Wal-Mart also had such an app, encouraged their shoppers to go into other stores and scan their products, offering "bonus coupons" (at Wal-Mart) for doing only that, but then also selling their product for at least $1 less, and letting the customer know there's a Wal-Mart 2 blocks away that has their product in stock, and if they click "yes" it'll be waiting for them by the door.

At least for me, there's a line crossed. It virtually allows the competiting retailer to advertise within their competitor's stores.

I don't see much wrong with using your phone, in a store, to see if you can get a better price elsewhere. Free market, fair game. But to have that function enabled by another retailer (and here I'll say, you'll only see Amazon's price, better to get one of those other apps to see everybody's price), who will then give you a discount for just using their app in their competition's stores, I think that goes too far.

And what will happen? It's not like the stores are defenseless in this. There are commercially available cell phone jammers (mostly used for the entertainment business). Or, it could push the development of location based marketing (ie. you walk into a store and your cell phone beeps, oh, look, it's the store calling you and giving you a coupon, telling you there's a blue light special in aisle 6, or blanketing your cell line with their own advertising). Which, IMHO, is an evil we should all wish to avoid. Build a better sword and someone will build a better shield.

Eric said...

What's to stop Amazon from saying, "input the price in the store" and then individually adjusting the price of that item to be just slightly lower than the store's?

Yeah, but there's a "f'r'instance" of what I'm talking about right there: stores have done that forever, in the form of "Bring in proof a competitor sells an item we carry for a lower price and we'll beat it" promotions. All Amazon is doing here is adding a high-tech spin to it, which feels a little queasy on first impression but I still don't think there's logic to the distinctions being made. The brick'n'mortar equivalent you hypothesize practically exists, already.

I don't especially want to be stuck in the position of defending Amazon, a retailer that I have mixed feelings about already. (On the one hand, I still do quite a lot of shopping there; on the other hand, I'd kind of prefer not to because of dubious ethical practices like running sweatshops and not collecting state sales taxes.) But I still think this particular issue is a dog that won't hunt: what Amazon is doing is analogous to established business practices, the real onus (if any) is on the consumer who is voluntarily electing to take advantage of a service, and the "injured" parties are frankly retail businesses whose ongoing survival may (for better or worse, and perhaps sorrowfully, regardless) be analogous to displaced buggy-whip manufacturers during the early years of the automotive era. (Yes, I may be sorry to see my local bookstores close, but I'm not sure I can save them; and the other major player complaining is Best Buy, an abysmal chain store that has driven better indie tech stores out of business and probably deserves to go belly-up._

Steve Buchheit said...

In this case, Amazon is denying the opposition a chance to respond in kind. I guess I see it more of an escalation that will mean unpleasant complications for the consumer (after the initial freedom). Sort of like what happens to local economies after Wal-Mart devastates the competition. Suddenly people realize that Wal-Mart isn't the low-price wonder they thought is was.

On the plus side, once Amazon controls a larger slice of the economy, the USPS might become solvent again.