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

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.

Hard Drives in Windows 7 Randomly Appear and Disappear

Long-time readers will understand immediately that this is not a post for regular readers but is meant to be found on Google by people with similar problems.

I installed Windows 7 home premium 64-bit on a new Asus motherboard with an Intel Z97 chipset.  I have a couple of hard drives and a couple of RAID's connected by eSATA.  Once the installation was complete, I noticed one of the hard drives was missing from the drive listing.  Not only was it not recognized by Windows, it was not recognized by the Windows disk management utility or even by the BIOS.  So I rebooted, and found that this drive now appeared but another disappeared.  This kept happening over and over.  Some reboots I had them all, and some I did not.

I did all the usual stuff.  I swapped cables, swapped drives, etc.  I even RMA'd the motherboard when I got desperate, thinking there was an issue with the drive controller.  But it kept occurring on the new board.  I considered switching the drives from AHCI to IDE in the BIOS, as some people reported this fixed the problem for them, but I really wanted to avoid that**.  I updated the chipset drivers and all the other drivers (sound, graphics, etc) in case there was some IRQ conflict, as some people have reported that this fixed their problem.

I finally found a fix, and thought I would share it.

  • Check your power plan in Windows control panel.  Even if the computer is set never to sleep, your hard drives may be set to sleep (this is in fact the default in windows 7).  Go to the power plan advanced settings, look for hard drives, and set the time to sleep to 0 which causes them never to sleep.  I am not sure this is necessary but others report some success with this.   I may go back later to see if I can change it back -- I don't necessarily need my hard drives spinning all day.
  • It turns out that installing the Intel chipset driver is not enough.  I had thought that since the SATA controller is part of the chipset, the chipset driver would cover it.  However, once I installed the Intel chipset driver, when I checked the SATA / AHCI controller in device manager, it still showed the driver to still be a Microsoft driver.  Turns out this is the problem.  You need this to be an Intel driver
  • The drivers I wanted for the Z97 were right there on my motherboard support site and were called:
    • Intel AHCI/RAID Driver Path for Windows Win7 32bit & Win7 64bit & Win8 32bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 32bit & Win8.1 64bit.
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver software V13.1.0.1058 for Windows Win7 64bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 64bit---(WHQL).
  • I had originally thought these were some sort of utility (and a utility is included) but these are essentially the eSATA drivers I needed.  Once installed, checking device manager now showed an Intel rather than a Microsoft driver.

And that fixed it.  Ugh.  Hours and hours of frustration.  My apologies to Asus who got a returned board that was probably just fine.


** By the way, the reason switching to IDE probably fixed the problem is that it is a different driver.  But one gives up capabilities and a bit of performance going AHCI back to IDE.  Also, the switch is not entirely straightfoward and the switch back, if one ever wants to make it, is complicated.

A Company Called Upskilled Is Still Threatening Me Over Spam They Put on My Site

I got yet another email from blog spammer Upskilled that had a more threatening tone than the last:

We have tried to contact you several times regarding the link on “” to our site

This link is in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines and must be removed in order to bring our site into compliance with Google's terms.

Like it is something I did that is in violation.  They are now sort of hinting that if I do not respond they will have to put my site on some naughty list sent to Google.  All of which follows this laugh-inducing line from their prior email:

We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines.

Yeah, as if I put it there. It is a spam comment they put there years and years ago back when Google rewarded such behavior.   A spam comment not placed by me but in fact placed by them against my wishes. The comment was one sentence repeated out of the post itself and signed with their corporate link.

For those who are not familiar, the original Google secret sauce over older search engines was that they did not rely on metadata in the post itself to assess relevance of the post (back in the day, people used to fill their metadata with "Britney Spears" and similar gunk to attract search rankings).  Instead, they looked at how many other sites linked to you.  The more, the better.

But people are nothing if not innovative in gaming metrics, and quickly web sites started trying to spam links to their themselves all over creation.  They sometimes paid sites for links, but why pay when you can stick links to your site for free in spam comments on blogs.  This is what Upskilled clearly did.

Now, Google has changed their algorithms (actually they change them constantly) and penalize sites for having these spam links.  Which is why this company Upskilled is trying so desperately to convince me that I am somehow responsible for their spam link.  It almost tempts me to create a whole web page that is just the word "Viagra" repeated over and over and linked to their site.

For the record, here is my response to their email I have sent several times to their National Marketing Manager Michael Crump, which they continue to ignore and pretend that I am not answering them:

I no longer control this site at typepad.  I left it 7 years ago for self-hosting.  Typepad continues to display the blog, but I cannot make any changes without paying hundreds of dollars to reactivate my account.

Perhaps I misunderstand the situation, but I must say I have only limited sympathy.  Your company obviously engaged in a marketing campaign where you used automated programs to leave spam comments on blogs -- in this case the comment your bot left was just a quote of some of the text in the post itself.  Such spam comment bots are the bane of us blog owners' existence and we spend a lot of time and money fighting the behavior you engaged in.  In trying to promote your business, you vandalized my blog with digital graffiti.  Now that Google has changed its search ranking rules to penalize this behavior, you want me again spend time and effort doing your cleanup for you.

By the way, now that I read your original email more clearly, I am infuriated with your approach.  "We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines".  You are implying that I put up the link rather than you guys.  Insulting.

You want to scare me that somehow I am in violation of Google guidelines.  But in fact you are in violation.  It was you or your paid marketing representatives that put the link on my site, not me.  I didn't even want it there.  And since that sort of spam comment violates the terms and conditions of my site, you put it on my site in violation of my rules and express wishes.

It's Hard to Find Partisan Blogs that Actually Try to Engage with the Opposition

I try really hard to read some partisan blogs from the Left and Right so I see what they are saying and don't wallow in some libertarian echo chamber.  I have read Kevin Drum on the Left for year because, while I often disagree with him, he is willing to engage with opposition arguments rather than just dismissing them as the rantings of racist cis-gendered Koch-funded, uh, whatevers.

Unfortunately his guest bloggers seem to be cut from a different cloth (by the way, best wishes to Drum who is struggles with some awful health issues).  Here is Max Sawicky today:

In this post from just last weekend, Kevin links to a bit from Tyler Cowen. That was your first mistake, Brother Drum. I realize linking is not endorsing, though KD offers a limited, tentative 'interesting possibility' type of approval. You see, the prolific and very smart Tyler hails from the zany economics department of George Mason University. No good can come from referencing him. These characters spend all their time excoriating Government and social protection for the working class from tenured, Koch-subsidized positions at a public university. Sweet.

This is unfortunately what substitutes for debate nowadays.  His conclusion seems to be "don't read people that disagree with me, read only folks who work off the same assumptions.  Stay in the echo chamber!"  This is exactly what I try to avoid, but the ubiquity of this sort of ad hominem argumentation is making it really hard.

Upskilled: Yes I Sprayed Graffiti on Your House. I Now Demand You Clean It Up

Update:  I have an update on Upskilled's continued attempts to blame me for their spamming this site.  

I received a link removal request the other day from pointing to a link in a comment back at my old typepad blog site.  In part the email said: "We appreciate your efforts to promote our website; however, we are trying to bring our website within Google’s guidelines."

This is hugely insulting.  The link in question is obviously from a spambot marketing campaign they had years ago.  If they had just confessed that and said they were sorry I might not be ticked off, but to imply that I somehow put up this spam comment and therefore am obligated to take it back down is infuriating.  Anyway, I would have to pay Typepad hundreds of dollars to get back into my account so I can't do it anyway.

I sent them this:

I must say I have only limited sympathy.  Your company obviously engaged in a marketing campaign where you used automated programs to leave spam comments on blogs -- in this case the comment your bot left was just a quote of some of the text in the post itself.  Such spam comment bots are the bane of us blog owners' existence and we spend a lot of time and money fighting the behavior you engaged in.  In trying to promote your business, you vandalized my blog with digital graffiti.  Now that Google has changed its search ranking rules to penalize this behavior, you want me again to spend time and effort doing your cleanup for you.

No thanks.

Yelp's Way of Caving to Corporate Pressure and Hiding Reviews While Saying They Didn't Delete Anything

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

A few days ago I posted a negative review of Applied Underwriters, and linked to this post on my blog for much more detail.  Yelp promptly pulled the review, saying I violated their terms of service by linking to a commercial web site.  I thought that bizarre, since my blog has absolutely nothing commercial about it.   But it made more sense when I received a letter from Applied Underwriters demanding that I take down my negative Yelp review or they would sue me for libel.  I don't know for sure what happened, but I suspect that Applied Underwriters sent Yelp a similar demand and they used the link in the review as an excuse to delete it and avoid legal entanglements.

So I posted an updated review with more detail and no link.  Now, Yelp is hiding the review, along with most of the other negative reviews, behind a nearly invisible link at the bottom that says "other reviews that are not currently recommended".  Scroll down to the bottom of this page and you may see it if you have a keen eye.  It is not even clear it is a link, but if you click on it, you get all the bad reviews Yelp is hiding.

Let's dismiss all the reasons why Yelp might say they do this.  One is clarity, to reduce clutter.  But go to your favorite restaurant Yelp page.  Likely you will not see this link / hidden review phenomenon.  You will see pages and pages of reviews, far more than they would have to show if they just displayed all the reviews for Applied Underwriters.

So there must be another reason.  They say in their note there is a quality algorithm.  Anyone who has read a lot of Yelp reviews will know that if this is so, their quality algorithm is not working very hard.   They have a number of reviews that they "recommend" that are nothing more than a rant like "I will never use these guys again" while my unrecommended review includes paragraphs of detail about the service.  They say it is based on your review volume as well, but I have more Yelp review volume than several of the others who seem to pass the screen.

All of which leads me to believe that this is Yelp's purgatory where they hide reviews based on corporate pressure.  They have gotten a lot of cr*p publicly about deleting bad reviews from sponsors and from corporations that pressure them to do so.   They have a zillion self-righteous FAQ's asserting that they don't delete anything.   So imagine Applied Underwriters sends Yelp loads of threats to take down each negative review that comes up.  What do they do?  They put them in the not-recommended purgatory.  They can claim that they haven't deleted anything, but absolutely no one will ever likely see the review.  And they don't count any longer to the company's review count, so for all intents and purposes they are gone.

All of this is a guess, because it is absolutely impossible to contact Yelp about these issues.  No phone numbers.  The ones in general directories for San Francisco don't work for them.  You can't email or chat or contact their customer support in any way.  For a company in the transparency business, they avoid it like the plague.

But do you want to know what makes me doubly sure of my analysis?  Because there is no way to up-rate any of the "not recommended" reviews.  I would have thought the whole up-rating system was how they sorted reviews to present the most relevent at the top, but you can't do that with the ones they have put in purgatory.  Why?  Because these reviews are being put in purgatory not for some customer benefit but to protect corporations able to put pressure on Yelp.  Yelp doesn't want them uprated.  They are supposed to disappear.    If I had time, I would compare the number of "not recommended" reviews for corporations with powerful legal staffs like Applied Underwriters to the number for Joe's local business  (AU has 17 recommended reviews but a 28 full reviews that have been "disappeared" as unrecommended).

Diversity Update

Remember my hypothesis that in common use, at least on campus, the word "diversity" does not actually refer to ending out-groups, but is  just is a code word for shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another?

Here is a great example.  And more here, from a man in an interracial marriage who was labelled a white supremacist by Entertainment Weekly.

Moderates, libertarians, and Conservatives on campus would have done well to have fought back like this 20 years ago.

Update:  I love Sarah Hoyt.  "We haven’t yet reached the point when “banned by the New York Publishing establishment” is a badge of honor, but unless I mistake my gut we’re not very far off."

Why I Don't Like Online Photo Sites

I love the convenience of having my photos online and share-able, and especially having them backed up automatically as I take them, but the problem is that all the major sites seem to have a dream of being the last internet site standing, and want to keep all your photos in their little universe.  Shutterfly, Facebook, Google, Flickr -- they tend to only allow sharing within their little universe (though I am hoping for good things from Google peeling photos out of Google Plus).

Basically, sending your photos to these sites is a bit like sending someone to North Korea - they go in but never come out.  Someone just shared a shutterfly album with me and God forbid you want to actually save some of the full-resolution images rather than just buy prints from them.  At best these sites have some kludgy way to download full resolution photos one at a time, but it is never, ever easy and none have, as far as I have been able to see, a batch download function.  Flickr is the best in several ways due to its API that lets me automatically share albums and photos pretty easily in WordPress, but its core interface is now so ugly with the revamp a few years ago that I can barely stand to open it (and they tend to change names for the same damn thing - set, album, collection, etc - depending on which menu or context you find it).

Where's Coyote

Well, it is time for many of our seasonal operations to open over the next few weeks so I have been running in circles on business issues.  Also, I must confess that blogging is becoming a sort of Groundhog Day (the movie) experience, with the same arguments circling over and over.  How many more times can I write, say, a long article about how minimum wage increases are a terrible anti-poverty program only to get one line emails asking me why I hate poor people.  So blogging will be light as I do real world work and try to recharge.

I will leave you with one note of optimism, from Mark Perry.  I went to college in the nadir (1980) of the American beer industry, where a small oligopoly of mediocre beer producers was protected by government legislation.  It was a classic example of how regulation drives monopoly, consolidation, and loss of choice.  With deregulation, the American beer industry has exploded.



As an aside, my current go-to beer is actually Brazilian, Xingu Black


Net Neutering: Isn't It Great That This Old Lady Is Going To Take Us To Her House And Give Us Candy?

I read a number of tech sites like Engadget every day, and am just shocked at the continued happy puppy reactions to the FCC's takeover of the web.  The articles can all be summarized as "Hey, isn't it awesome this old lady is taking us to her house in the woods and giving us free candy?"

Daniel Henninger shares my reaction:

Washington’s seizure of the Internet is one of the great case studies in the annals of political naïveté.

Over several years, leading lights of the Web—among them Netflix,Google and Tumblr—importuned the Obama White House to align itself with the cause of net neutrality.

“Net neutrality,” like so many progressivist-y causes—climate change, health care for all—is a phrase designed to be embraced rather than understood.

But net neutrality had real meaning. Its core idea was that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, a Washington agency whose employees have been regulating communications since 1934, should design and enforce a price mechanism for the Internet. Up to now, nobody did that.

In February the FCC did, and on that day the Little Red Riding Hoods of net neutrality found out what big teeth grandma has. The FCC said its plans to regulate the Web were in a 332-page document, which no one can see until the agency is ready....

Mr. Karp and the rest of the 20-something and 30-something Peter Pans in the app development world should find their way to the 80-something communications lawyers and lobbyists retired in Florida for a tutorial on what it’s like trying to get Washington off your back once it has climbed on. Here’s the tweet-length version: You are going to pay and pay and pay. To save you, Washington will bleed you....

No one can do business until they first run it through the Beltway bosses. For the K Street corridor, it’s the golden age all over again.

As I wrote before, isn't anyone in tech worried that the government used a semi-imaginary problem that perhaps required a flyswatter to address to justify acquiring 16-inch naval guns?

The Problem with Email is That It's Free

Yeah, I know, free is always supposed to be better.  But the problem of spam is caused entirely by its being free.   Here is an example:

According to the indictments, between 2009 and 2012 Nguyen and Vu hacked at least eight email service providers -- the companies that collect your data under slightly more legitimate circumstances -- to steal marketing data containing over a billion email addresses. After that, they worked with Da Silva to profit from the addresses by sending spam with affiliate links for a company he controlled,

At least according to the DoJ, all of that work netted around $2 million in affiliate marketing fees.

We don't have any idea how many emails they sent to each of these billion addresses.  But let's say they sent 10 spams to each (probably a low guess).  That is 10 billion spam emails for a net revenue of $2 million, or around $.0002 per email sent in revenue.

Long ago I proposed that (and I am not sure how to do this technically) emails should cost $0.001, or a tenth of a cent, to send.  For you and I, say if we sent 200 emails a day (an email copied to 5 people would be 5 emails for this purpose) it would cost us 20 cents a day or about $75 a year, not much more than we pay for security software and updates.  But if you could make it work, spam would be reduced drastically.  No way there is any profit in sending an email for $.001 for an expected return of $.0002.

I have no idea in the current structure of the Internet how one would even do this.  The charge would have to come from the receiving end, somehow refusing to deliver it if it does not get payment information.  However, anyone who is going to steal a billion email addresses could likely hack the payment system.

I was going to call this tragedy of the commons, but that is not really quite right.  Tragedy of the commons is sort of related to free public resources, but is more of an issue of lack of property rights than of the zero price.