Archive for the ‘Blogging, Computers & the Internet’ Category.

Something Bordering on Fraudulent Definitely Going On With Amazon Delivery Estimates

I reported before of clicking on the "today" one-click button at Amazon, meaning that I would pay a premium to get it here today (an option in the Phoenix area but not all locations) and having the item delivered one, two, or even three days later, rather than same day as promised.   This is happening with my Amazon orders more often than not - they are showing up days after they were promised when the sale was made.

It has now happened two more times.  On Tuesday evening I bought two small items I needed for an emergency computer rebuild, clicking in both cases on the button for delivery on Wednesday.  Neither showed up on Wednesday.  Neither showed up on Thursday.  The tracking on the site now says Friday. (By the way, all the rest of the stuff ordered from Newegg on a one day delivery showed up exactly as promised).

I went back and looked and the order confirmations sure enough say delivery on Friday.  I would never have ordered the item for Friday delivery, and in fact skimmed through multiple similar items until I found one that could be delivered on Wednesday.  I am positive I clicked Wednesday delivery, but a day later I got confirmations for a Friday delivery, without so much as an apology or even acknowledgement that this was not what I was promised.  I am sure Amazon will just call this user error on my part, but it now has happened on 8 or my last 10 rush shipments.  I GUARANTEE I know how to use Amazon, and have the order history to prove it, LOL.

I am convinced Amazon is executing a bait and switch, luring me into the purchase with the promise of a quick delivery and then delivering it several days late when it is too late for me to do anything about it.  Next time I do a rush order, I am going to take full screenshots of every step I take to prove what is going on.  Anyone else having similar experiences?  Amazon was dead-on reliable on these types of things until about 6 months ago, and then started to go off the tracks recently.

Amazon's Shipping Estimates Are Becoming Fraudulent

I have noticed for the last 6 months or so, at least here in Phoenix, that Amazon frequently does not deliver items when they promise.  It is not just an issue with the shipper, in the last two cases the item did not even ship until 1-2 days after the date they promised for delivery.

This has reached a head in the last week, when I ordered a number of items to be delivered immediately  -- I am leaving town and wanted some items to take to my son's apartment.  They are useless to me even a few hours after I depart home.  I ordered seven items on Monday with my prime membership, and all promised delivery that same day (one for free, two with a nominal upcharge).  Of these, none arrived on Monday.  One arrived on Tuesday and as of 4PM on Tuesday, the other six have not even shipped, and Amazon is showing them here on Wednesday at best.

I would not have bought these from Amazon had they given me accurate delivery estimates.  I am wondering if they are using fake, overly optimistic delivery estimates to try to woo business from bricks and mortar stores, whose one advantage is immediate fulfillment.

My Standard Response to Link Removal Requests

I have been getting a lot of link removal requests from companies that have in the past spammed my comment section.  Most of them threaten that somehow their past spamming might threaten my google rating, when in fact they are actually worried about their own google search ranking.  Here is my standard answer:

I might or might not get to it, depending on how I feel and how hard it turns out to be.  I only have limited sympathy as your company placed those spam links on my site against my wishes and against the usage guidelines for the site and on posts that largely were irrelevant to your product.  I had to go to considerable expense to move my server and add new software specifically to fight spam of the sort you were dumping on me.  All I can say is that you reap what you sow. And as to your threats that my Google ranking is somehow in jeopardy due to your past behavior,  I believe Google is fully aware of whether your site or my site should be penalized for such spam, and it is not going to be my site.

If I do bother to remove the spam, I usually add an update to the post itself saying that "[company with link] has confessed to being unapologetic spammers in the past and a link to their site [and I include the link] has been moved from the comments section at their request and moved to the main post to give their bad past behavior more visibility."

My Least Favorite Piece of Malware Interrupts the Nightly Weather

Sometimes, It Pays to be A Total Geek. And Some Advice for Android Owners

So a while back, I was playing around with mirroring my android phone screen on my PC, really for no good reason.  But to do so, and really to do a lot of PC control tasks on an android, USB debugging mode needs to be turned on.  So I did that.  And then after playing around with it, forgot about it for months.

Then, last night I dropped my phone and lost the screen functions.  The phone functions and digitizer are just fine, but the screen is black.   Thanks to the cloud, I have backups of all photos, email, calendar, contacts and such.  (Android has a better cloud approach than Apple on photos, mail, and calendar but an inferior approach on apps, messages, and general settings).

I wanted to get into the phone to wipe the memory.   How if the screen is black?  Aha!  I could mirror the phone screen onto my PC.  Which I did and I got everything accomplished.  It would have been impossible to do this, though, if I had not previously set USB debugging mode on, as that requires a bunch of screen taps.  I did have to hit one OK to get the mirroring started (after that the mouse worked on the computer to make selections) but I took a similar phone and mirrored it, found out where the confirmation message was popping up on the screen, and was able to hit the right spot on the broken phone when I needed to.

So here is my advice for android owners.  Broken or blacked out screen is probably the #1 smart phone failure mode.  Go into your phone right now and turn on usb debugging mode while you still can.  There is an odd process involving tapping a certain button 7 times to turn on developer mode, but it is explained here.  The screen mirroring is a chrome app called vysor, which also requires some downloads of special drives but that is explained by the app.

World's Current Worst Malware Threat Is Windows 10 Upgrade Code

I just found that my guest computer in the lobby of my office has a screen that said "Welcome to Windows 10".   I never asked for or initiated such this operating system switch.  It was done entirely without my permission by a bit of malware Microsft has introduced to Windows 7 computers.   I have had malware issues in the past, but never have I had one that A) put unwanted advertisements on my desktop every day and B) changed my entire operating system without my intervention or approval.

Thank goodness I read somewhere that one can avoid even this seeming fait accompli by declining the terms and conditions.  Which I did -- hopefully the computer is rolling back right now.

I am very worried that my 30 or so field managers, who have poor computer skills on average, will get their computer upgraded without knowing it.  I do all the tech support in the company and have no desire (and since I don't know windows 10, no ability) to support another operating system right now other than Windows 7.

I will double down on my recommendation of the free GWX control panel to remove this windows 10 upgrade malware from computers.  It has worked fine for me (except of course of computers like the one above I did not even think about).

One Stop Solution To Removing Microsoft's Windows 10 Upgrade Malware

I wrote the other day that I had a close call, where Microsoft nearly updated my computer to Windows 10 from Windows 7 without my permission.  Microsoft's Windows 10 code has become the most annoying bit of malware on my computer.  I have had several readers as well as PCWorld recommend the free GWX control panel for making this threat go away.  I tried it the other day and it is really easy to use and seems to make the problem go away.   I cannot vouch for whether it creates any new problems, but so far so good.

I love Windows 7 and am Exhausted with Microsoft's Efforts to Make Me Switch

We all have learned to live with the constant Windows 10 upgrade boxes, but the Microsoft upgrade campaign is becoming more insidious.  Last week I got a message on my home (windows 7) computer that I as going to be upgraded in 3-4 days.  For a while, I thought I had accidentally given them permission, but it turns out that MS is now upgrading computers to Windows 10 without permission.   Only if you note the text of this email and explicitly stop it can you prevent the "upgrade" from occurring.   From PC World:

Reports of unwanted Windows 10 upgrades have been circulating for the past few days on Reddit and Twitter, after the last Patch Tuesday. These users say they never approved or initiated the upgrade, and were dragged away from their Windows 7 (or perhaps Windows 8) installs anyway.

This is all part of Microsoft’s plan, of course. Last October, the company announced that it would reclassify Windows 10 as a “Recommended” update from older versions starting in early 2016, at which point many more users would get the upgrade without explicit permission. That reclassification began on February 1, and auto-upgrades have been rolling out ever since. If complaints are reaching a higher volume now, perhaps it’s because the rollout is getting more aggressive.

Here’s what the Recommended update looks like, according to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley: First, users will receive a notification saying their PCs are scheduled to receive Windows 10 in the next three or four days. Users can click a small link to cancel or postpone the update, but simply closing the window will cause the notification to appear again one hour before the scheduled update time. If users don’t cancel or postpone within that timeframe, the update will begin automatically.

The Bloggess's Rules of Social Media

Her rules for social media seem about dead on, at least in actual practice.  Here are a few:

2. Be shocked and outraged at least once a day. If you can’t start a tweet or Facebook status with “HOW DARE YOU” then it’s probably not worth saying.

3. If strangers online disagree with you, devote your day to yelling at them and getting everyone you know to yell at them as well. Don’t just unfollow them. Track them down and destroy them. Put your entire life on hold to focus on all-caps fights with them. It’s pretty much the written equivalent of public scream-crying and people fucking LOVE that.


7. Intentionally misread satire. Get really pissed about it. Share it online and demand that everyone else share it too.  Then get more pissed when others clarify that it’s clearly sarcasm. Block those people. Block them as loudly and as hard as you can.


Coyote on the Real Clear Radio Hour

Bill Frezza interviewed me for his show the other day.  I felt it was not one of my better performances but he says he is a wizard of editing so we will see.  Anyway, I am actually sharing the show with Coyote-favorite Dr. Richard Lindzen, so at least that half of the show should be worth your time.  Here are the details:

Tune in Saturday, February 13th to RealClear Radio Hour with Bill Frezza with guests Richard Lindzen and Warren Meyer.

You can listen live on Bloomberg’s Boston iHeartRadio or Bloomberg’s San Francisco iHeartRadioSaturdays at 10a PT/ 1p ET, 4p PT/ 7p ET or Sundays at 1a PT/ 4a ET.

Government Science Monopoly

Richard Lindzen, atmospheric physicist, MIT professor emeritus, and lead author of the “Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks” chapter of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, attributes climate hype to politics, money, and propaganda. Lindzen particularly takes issue with the “97% consensus” claim that is being used to stifle debate and demonize skeptics.

Rescuing Public Parks

Warren Meyer, founder and president of Recreation Resource Management, shares how he has successfully managed public parks for nearly 25 years. Meyer advocates for whole park concessions—privatized management of public parks—to save them from closure and agency mismanagement.

If you can't tune in live - download the as-aired shows from iTunes or listen to podcasts with additional content on SoundCloud or YouTube


The weekly one-hour program airs:

WXKS 1200 and WJMN 94.5F in Boston Saturdays 1p & 7p & Sundays 4a ET,

KNEW 960 & KOSF 103.7 in San Francisco Saturdays 10a & 4p & Sundays 1a PT,

1030 KVOI in Tucson, AZ Saturdays 4a MT,

KSBN 1230 Money Talk in Spokane, WA Saturdays 5a PT,

Cities 92.9FM WRPW in Bloomington, IL Saturdays 7a CT,

1590 WSMN in Nashua, NH Saturdays 12p ET,

KATE 1450AM in Alberta Lea, MN Saturdays 1p CT,

1330 WEBY in Pensacola, FL Saturdays 3p CT,

The Patriot, KRMR 105.7FM in Hays, KS Sundays 3p CT,

The Patriot, KNNS 1510AM in Larned, KS Sundays 3p CT,

KVOW 1450 in Riverton, WY Sundays 3p MT, and

WROM Radio in Detroit, MI Mondays 8p ET

Winners in the "Find Coyote A Special Laundry Rack" Contest

A few days ago I asked readers if they could find me a laundry drying rack that could elevate with an electric winch, to take advantage of the limited floor space but 12 foot ceilings in my bizarrely designed laundry room.  These are surprisingly common in Asia but I could not find any for sale in the US.

Several of the early responses found manual ones but missed on the electric/automatic spec  (e.g  here and here).  I may in the end get one of these and motorize it but the contest specified already motorized.

Phil had the first winning entry, finding this Asian model for sale to the US in retail lots.  Its too expensive, and Dwight found one later much cheaper, but the contest was for first email, and did not say anything about price.  I will give Dwight honorable mention because I feel like I searched the Sh*t out of Amazon and somehow missed this.

I decided to give a second award to Neil.  He was the first one to go a little more creative and search beyond laundry to get something with the right functionality but designed for a different application.  It is not the most attractive item in the world but easily has the best price-value ratio of any solution so I awarded a second prize for it.

Finally, while it does not win, Brad gets honorable mention for this closet solution, which is not quite what I am looking for, but might have been made to work if I didn't have other options.

Thanks to everyone.  I'll post a picture when we finally install something.


$10 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

I will give a $10 Amazon gift card to the first person with an email in my inbox (coyote--at---coyoteblog dot com) with a North American retail source (no large lots) for something similar to this:

Does not need to be a scissor lift, could be cables but must be motorized.   We have a very modern house which sometimes results in odd rooms.  Our laundry room is tiny in footprint but has a 12 foot ceiling (!).  So I was just in the process of designing a motor lifted frame with poles to hang clothes for drying** that could lift up and down from the ceiling when I saw this.  They seem to have many in Asia but I can't find one here.    This one has some sort of air drying system which we don't need so that is not a necessary part of the package.   This is a (homemade I think) hand winched version which would also be OK if it were motorized.

PS, this is not quite it

Update:  Thanks.  I have a couple of winners I will announce.

**Phoenix has approx. 5% humidity so we don't need to bother hanging them outside, they will dry anywhere in hours.

It's 2016 And Microsoft STILL Can't Do Bulleted Lists in Word Correctly

I am just staggered.  I am trying to create and edit a simple 2 level  (e.g. 1-a-b-c-2-3-4-a-b-5) etc. list in Microsoft Word and the bulleting STILL does not work right after, what, at least 10 major versions of the software?  Microsoft spends like a million man-hours screwing with the user interface so I constantly have to waste time hunting around looking for options like footer editing but they can't fix bullet points.  This is just unbelievably stupid.  No wonder productivity growth has flattened in this country -- MS Office is single-handedly trying to reduce it for everyone.

If you have worked with a law firm lately, you may well have found one still using Word Perfect.  Don't remember Word Perfect?  Beyond their being the king of the cntl-right shift-j style of commands, the one thing they could do even 20 years ago was manage a hierarchical list without making a total mess.

Google Fi Review, and (Finally!) International Roaming Rates May be Set to Drop

For years I have been frustrated with the costs of trying to take my cell phone on international travel.  Yes, one can buy cheap sim cards locally, but you obviously lose access to your domestic phone number for the duration (leaving aside dual-sim phones and some tricky and expensive forwarding tricks).  If you wanted to keep your phone number so people can still reach you on the number they already know, you were in for some crazy roaming charges -- particularly on data.  I use Verizon (mainly because my business takes me to out of the way places where Verizon is the last available carrier) but until recently their international rates were awful, charging one 50 cents per text and $25 per 100mb of data in addition to a $25 a month international plan fee.

I use a lot of data when overseas and outside my hotel room, so I really wanted a cheaper data plan  (Google maps is a lifesaver when one is walking streets with signs all written in Thai).  My go-to solution in the past was to have a T-Mobile account I turned on and off on an unlocked phone (an old Nexus 5).  T-mobile has plans that allow unlimited text and data without roaming charges in most countries, and it is still a good international solution, though I met with a few technical irritants in some of the countries I have visited.

A while back, I accidentally killed my old Nexus 5 and bought a new Nexus 5x with the intention of swapping in my T-mobile sim card from the old phone.  However, I saw an article that said the Nexus 5x was one of the couple of phones that would work with the new Google Fi service, so I signed up to try that.  $20 a month unlimited domestic calls and text and unlimited international texts.  Pretty cheap international calling rates and the phone defaults to calling by wifi if possible to save any charges.  Data at $10 per 1GB anywhere in the world, with any unused data credited at the end of the month (so the $10 is pro rated if you use less, essentially).

I used the phone in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and not just in large cities -- we got out in the smaller cities well away from the tourist areas of Thailand.   Service was flawless everywhere with one exception (discussed in a minute).  Wifi calling worked fine and I had a good signal everywhere, even in smaller towns.  Charges were exactly as promised.  It was a very impressive service.  It uses the T-mobile network in most places, so I am a little reluctant to make it my full-time service because when I tested T-mobile several years ago, it just didn't reach far enough to the out-of-the way domestic locations I visit, but I plan to try again.  I would really love to be on this service rather than Verizon and believe it would save me a lot of money.

I only had two problems with it.  The minor problem was that I had some issues with wifi calling disconnects in one hotel, though this could easily have been due to the notoriously low-bandwidth of many hotel wifi systems**.  Switching off wifi and making a regular cell call worked fine.  Google says that the service automatically chooses between wifi and cellular based on bandwidth and conditions, but it may be this algorithm needs more work.

The more irritating problem was that the phone would simply not get a cellular data connection in Hong Kong.  I contacted Google service (this was a great process that involved sending them a message and them calling me back immediately, a better process in my mind when travelling internationally).  After some fiddling around, the service agent checked came back to me to say, "known problem in Hong Kong with internet access.  You will need to buy a local sim card.  We know this is a hassle, so we just credited your bill $20 to offset the cost."  It would have been better to not have this hassle -- I was switching sim cards every night to see if I had any texts at my domestic number -- but I thought they dealt with it as well as possible, and they were a hell of a lot more helpful than T-mobile was when I had an international roaming issue with them.

Under the T-mobile and Google Fi pressure (which really means due to T-mobile, since Google Fi is largely possible because of T-mobile), I am starting to see cracks in the pricing of Verizon.   They seem to have a new plan that allows one to keep their domestic data, text, and voice pricing and allowances while roaming internationally for a $10 a day charge.  This is still more expensive than T-Mobile and Google Fi but literally an order of magnitude, and maybe two, cheaper than what they were offering for international travel a year ago.

**Footnote:  I have way more sympathy for hotels and their wifi systems.  We installed a wifi system in a 100 site campground in Alabama.  That system has become a data black hole -- no matter how much bandwidth I invest in, people use more.  Every night it seems like there are 300 people on 100 campsites all trying to stream a movie in HD.  I am not sure it will ever enough, and we get no end of speed complaints despite having an absurd T1 bandwidth into the system.  I can't see myself ever investing in such a system again.

Postscript:  It is a good habit to point out data that is inconsistent with one's hypotheses.  I am incredibly skeptical of US anti-trust law, particularly since it seems to have morphed into protecting politically-connected competitors (e.g. cases against Microsoft and Google) vs. protecting consumer choice.  I will say though that the killing of the acquisition of T-mobile by AT&T seems to be a godsend for consumers in the cell phone business, as T-mobile has become a hugely disruptive force generally benefiting consumers.

Achievement Unlocked: Banned by Mother Jones

Not really sure what I did to reach this achievement, but somehow I got banned in the last 2 days by Mother Jones, and probably by Kevin Drum.   My comment history is here, and I am totally perplexed what led to this.  My last comment was on a post of Drum's about hospital price competition, where I wrote:

The authors portray this (at least in the quoted material) as an anti-trust issue, but I suspect a bigger problem is the cronyist certificate of need process. In many locations, new hospitals, or hospital expansions (even things as small as buying a new cat scanner) require government permission in the form of a certificate of need. As one may imagine, entrenched incumbents are pretty good at managing this process to make sure they get no new competition. This, by the way, is a product of classic progressive thinking, which in its economic ignorance saw competition as duplicative and wasteful. We are lucky the Supreme Court shot down FDR's NRA or we would have this sort of mess in every industry.

Hard to believe this got me banned, unless Mother Jones has gotten really thin-skinned.   The second to last comment I made there was actually in support of Mother Jones, congratulating them on winning a libel suit against them.   The most recent one before that was over 2 months ago.  This leads me to believe the comment above had to have gotten me banned, but the mind boggles -- did I run into some secret National Industrial Recovery Act fetishist?

Update:  Mr. Drum, who I respect while disagreeing with frequently, was nice enough to write me back and said he didn't ban me, it had to come from Mother Jones staff somewhere.  Which leaves me even more confused.   Not sure why this comment among all the flotsam that washes ashore in the totality of Mother Jones comment sections would earn the ire of some intern.

The Victim Brag: It May Be Time to Devalue Internet Death Threats

Frequently people will use the existence of threats, including death threats, over the Internet as proof that their cause is more just because their opponents are violent and _________ (fill in the blank with racist, misogynist, etc.).  Most folks firmly believe that only their side is getting these death threats, since they only really talk to and read people on their side.  But as a libertarian that makes common cause with all kinds of groups, what I see is that EVERYONE that says something even mildly controversial gets Internet threats.  The gamergaters get threats and the anti-gamergaters get threats.  BLM gets threats and police defenders get threats.  Heck, I get threats, mostly on climate and immigration issues, and I am a nobody.  And here is the latest source of death threats:  Katherine Timpf dissing Star Wars

More than a month ago, I made some jokes about Star Wars on Red Eye, a satirical political comedy show that airs at 3 a.m., and it has resulted in me being verbally abused and told to die by a mob of enraged fans for the past four days now. ...Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.  The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

justin 12 hours ago Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

needmypunk 16 hours ago I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

sdgaara2 1 day ago Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

etc. etc.   Now, I understand there are a few folks out there who have had to deal with scary and legitimate stalking episodes online.  But in the vast majority of cases, does anyone really treat these as serious threats?  Like actually get scared?  I know I don't.  I would suggest that most folks respond just like Ms. Timpf did -- they treat them as a badge of honor and of proof of the rightness of their cause and the bankruptcy of their intellectual opposition.  I have done the exact same thing.   We have a term called humble brag, e.g. "I was so stupid last night -- Johnny Depp came by my table to say hi and I didn't recognize him."  We need a term for this -- "victim brag", maybe?

I have come to the conclusion that there are a core of people on the Internet that are simply morons, and will react stupidly to about anything.  We should stop ascribing any significance to their showing up in an online discussion.  The fact they show up making their stupid threats has no more meaning than the fact that ants inevitably show up when you drop food on the ground.  You wouldn't write an article that "ants hate me because they swarmed all over the potato chip I dropped."  Let's treat Internet trolls just like we do these insects.



USB C a Big Step Forward

I just got my Nexxus 5x phone I use as a backup and for international travel and it has the new USB-C connection.  Finally, a connection where I don't have to put my glasses on to figure out orientation.  I will say, though, that the Apple thunderbolt connections on its iphones still feels like a better solution, but android has finally gotten close.

I am trying out Google's Project Fi on the phone.  While I lose some coverage vs. my main phone with Verizon, I have always used T-mobile for my backup phone because of its international rate plans, and Project Fi uses T-mobile, so I don't expect a step backwards.   I will report on Project Fi when I get some experience with it.

Sigh, FCC Considering Banning Open Source Software Upgrades on Routers

I am a big fan of open source operating system dd-wrt for routers.  I have not bought a router in years that I did not immediately flash from the manufacturer's firmware to dd-wrt.  It is a bit of a headache, but once done I get a router that is a lot more stable (I am also told that it is more secure, but I have no way to judge that).  My router typically runs 6 months without rebooting with no issues, whereas with manufacturer firmware I sometimes have to reboot once a week to make it work.**

The FCC is considering new rules that may cause router manufacturers to lock out third party software like dd-wrt.  The FCC is claiming that "illegally modified equipment" has interfered with doppler radar at airports.  I find it very close to unbelievable that a hacked consumer router was interfering with doppler radar, and in fact the FCC did not specify what kind of equipment was illegally modified.  As is usual, my guess is an agency is using a minute, niche problem in area A as an excuse for blanket, anti-consumer regulation in unrelated area B.  You can sign an online petition to ask the FCC to rethink its approach here.


** To be fair I will add that dd-wrt, typical of a lot of third-party hacker products, is a lot less user friendly than a lot of modern router firmware.  For my streaming system to work at home I have to lock a couple of servers down to a fixed IP address and this is a surprisingly fiddly task on dd-wrt.

Wherein Coyote Learns to Troll

I have never made for a particularly good Internet troll.  Seeing too much nuance can disqualify one.  I have made a number of climate posts that have gotten a lot of attention and backlash, but that is a debate where saying even obvious things like "20 degrees C is not twice as warm as 10 C" will get one a swarm of comments labeling one as an extreme Koch-funded denier [as an editorial aside, this is not a joke example -- I have actually had experiences like this multiple times, trying to correct media articles that say that, say, an increase of 3C over current average temperature 12C represents a 25% increase.  Mark Steyn has a great riposte to this, arguing that if they would just switch to Fahrenheit, then the percentage warming would be reduced.  The same journalists making this mistake have likely labelled skeptics as "anti-science".]

All that being said, and I am not sure why I can't produce a simple one sentence post, I have hit some sort of record for this blog, with over 200 comments on this immigration fence question.

We're Number 181!

Apparently Alexa ranks Coyoteblog 181 among "Conservative" and center-right news and opinion sites sites.  I am not sure how a web site that supports gay marriage, legalized narcotics, and legalized prostitution can be "Conservative" but I understand that there are those who group everyone who is not socialist under the "conservative" moniker.  Honestly, in the age of RSS feeds and twitter and many other ways to read a site, I am not sure if this means anything.  Particularly since I see no possible way we have more readers than Volokh.  But there you go.  Thanks for the link from Maggies Farm, who aces us out at 159.

Wherein I Try to Be Fair to Yelp

I need to try to be fair to Yelp.  A reader sends me some second-hand comments from an ex-employee at Yelp:

He absolutely believes that there is no way for Yelp to hide or promote reviews just based on who the company is. This doesn't mean that they're not, of course. What my colleague says, though, is that the overriding criterion that they use to determine if a review should be "recommended" is if they can verify that the writer is a real person.

There are a couple ways you can do this, but two that will actually cause all of your past reviews to suddenly become recommended:

1) Work for Yelp--not really helpful, I know. I am told that Yelp will instantly fire anyone who leaves reviews while working there. But, once you leave, all of your reviews will always be recommended.

2) Connect your Yelp account to your Facebook, then connect with 100 friends.

There are other ways to have past reviews always come up recommended. If you post a review or several reviews, and, in aggregate, you get four interactions (they are marked as funny, cool, or useful), this will happen.

So I went back and looked.  To see if one's reviews are in the non-recommended purgatory, you have to log out (Yelp will pretend to you that you are recommended until you log out**).  Sure enough, all my 9 reviews seem to be in purgatory.  In other words, any effort I expended on reviews has been wasted, because Yelp does not show them.  I tend to write longer reviews, so apparently writing fewer more detailed reviews is not a practice Yelp wants to promote.  Do they prefer folks who spam lots of short reviews?  I can see how that may be, since more reviews bulk up Yelp's numbers.

I don't know what to make of this feedback.  At one level, it seems right and makes sense.  There are a lot of not recommended reviews where the review has just that one review.  But not always.  For example, for this store, reviewers with no picture, no name (just initials), just 2 total reviews and no friends are recommended, but someone who has a picture, a real name, 1 friend and 31 reviews is not.   I have to say that either their algorithm has some purposely random element (to defeat reverse engineering) or else there are other factors involved than just the ones listed above.  Also, some of the advice above simply has to be wrong.  For example, the last sentence makes no sense since it is impossible to upvote or favorite reviews in not-recommended purgatory (they don't even give you the buttons to do so).

I will post some more reviews over time to see if I get pulled out of spam status by their computer, or if I am permanently exiled based on a corporate complaint.

** By the way, this could be the subject of a gripe in and of itself.  It should not be so opaque that one's posts are all getting sent to the Yelp spam folder.  It is kind of insulting to invest this effort and then find out later Yelp is trashing everything I write.

Yelp Doesn't Delete Negative Reviews Its Sponsors Don't Like -- It Merely Hides Them So They Won't Ever Be Viewed

Update:  This post may be unfair, as discussed here.  I am not fully convinced, though.

I won't repeat what I wrote before, but several months ago I wrote a long article about my suspicions that Yelp was using its review recommendation system to disappear reviews its corporate sponsors and their attorneys did not like.   My evidence was based on my actual experience writing a detailed, fact-based negative review of an insurer, only to have it disappear from the site and be left out of the insurer's overall score.

It took me a long time to find the review, along with dozens of others, in a purgatory of "not recommended" reviews reachable from a near invisible link that doesn't even look like a link.  I won't retype the whole post but my evidence was in part:

  • Yelp says it is sending reviews to not-recommended purgatory because they are of lower quality or have reviewers with less reviewing history on Yelp.  But a scan of the reviews in my case showed no such pattern.  Not-recommended reviews were at least as (and arguably more) detailed than recommended reviews, and there was no discernible difference in reviewer experience.  The not recommended reviews were also no less moderate, as there was immoderate language (and horrible grammar) in accepted reviews while there were calm and reasoned reviews that were rejected.
  • What the not-recommended reviews had in common was that they tended to be more negative on average than the recommended ones (which is hard to do because the recommended reviews average to about 1.5 stars)
  • Looking at several local independent restaurants, I saw no or few not-recommended reviews and pages and pages of recommended reviews, a ratio that was reversed for the major insurer which presumably has far more resources to intimidate or buy off Yelp.  For the insurer, there were two not-recommended reviews for every one recommended one.
  • I knew this insurer to be willing to litigate against bad reviews, since they have sued me for libel to remove my review.  Presumably, they would not hesitate to threaten Yelp as well.
  • Yelp already has a review quality system driven by upvoting by customers based on the usefulness of the review.  So why the need for an entirely parallel review-rating system unless that rating system was for an entirely different purpose than quality control.

Yelp got a lot of grief a while back accusing it of deleting reviews, so its CEO has pledged on multiple occasions that it doesn't do so.  I believe them.  Instead, it looks like Yelp disappears reviews in a way that the CEO can truthfully say they were not deleted, but they are for all intents and purposes invisible to the public.

Anyway, all this was spurred by the following trailer sent to me with this article from a reader.  Apparently a film called Billion Dollar Bully is being made about Yelp, and from the hints in the trailer it appears that they will be taking on many of the issues I listed above and frankly have only been able to guess at rather than prove.  Brava!

So Ellen Pao is About to Discover the Roger Goodell Problem

Roger Goodell is the President of the NFL, and despite huge love for the NFL itself, Goodell is hated by many, even most, fans.  At the NFL draft, which attacts arguably the biggest fans of the NFL, Goodell gets booed every time he walks on stage.  One reason for this is the decision Goodell made a number of years ago to "police" player behavior.  Tired of bad headlines about this or that player being involved in some sort of (alleged) criminal activity, Goodell decided to crack down.  No longer was it enough that the criminal justice system had a process for punishing people who break the law, Goodell wanted the NFL to be seen to be layering on extra punishment.

I said from the very beginning that this policy was fraught with problems.  If the NFL wanted a conduct policy, it should establish simple mechanical rules tied to outcomes in the justice system.  For example, a rule that says that if convicted of a misdemeanor a player would get a standard X game suspension.   Goodell's role should be limited to correcting the inevitable unfair situation where mechanical rules lead to poor outcomes.

But no, Goodell, like many smart people, fell into the trap of thinking he was smart enough to mete out punishments himself.  This has led to a real mess.  The public compares each punishment (and non-punishment) to all other such decisions and immediately get upset about perceived inconsistencies.  Worse, having established the precedent of policing conduct, he is being pushed by various vocal constituencies to police even non-crimes, like  unwelcome speech.  On average day in sports talk radio, you are as likely to hear a discussion of Goodell's conduct rulings as you are about anything on the field.

In taking over Reddit, Ellen Pao is heading into the same technocratic trap.  She has begun to ban certain forums and types of speech on the platform, but she has not established any consistent public rules for doing so other than her own judgement.  She appears to be deleting things that offend her personally (and early mass deletions of content critical of herself personally seems a really bad way to start).  And as with Goodell, two bad things are already happening (even beyond the more fundamental Reddit user issue that she is violating a core ethic of Reddit by censoring).  First, she is being called out for lack of consistency with folks saying "how can you ban X and not Y."  And second, she is apparently already getting pushed by various constituencies to be more and more aggressive at censoring certain classes of speech.   Once she established herself as censor in chief, she became an immediate lobbying target for many, many groups, and that is going to just get worse.  Just look at how much of Goodell's time is now sucked up into personal conduct issues.

Dear Bank of America: Are We Still Living in 1995?

I just encountered my second major piece of software used by Bank of America for my business accounts that will only work with Internet Explorer and most definitely will not work with Chrome.  Their ACH/Treasury/Direct Payments system has to run on Internet Explorer (only) and now I find their secure email system that sends me all my merchant account notices does not work on Chrome and only works on IE.

I am just waiting for the moment that a Bank of America tech support person tells me I have to use Netscape.

Things I Never Would Have Guessed



AOL is still apparently worth over $4 billion.  Next someone will be buying The Source.