excerpted from caro's journal: topic: capitalism

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2001_04_02:23: One Little Academic.html

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capitalism
New Topic: Being a good capitalist is more than just not buying products and thus failing to "vote" for something one doesn't like. It includes telling a company why one has a problem with their services, so they know what to fix. It also includes telling them when one is especially pleased with them. I write letters for both reasons all the time, and decided I should keep them on file. Here, a complaint.

Letter to DiscoverCard Services:

Hi! I have a number of suggestions about the web site, which I find difficult to use. Since
I write programs like this all the time, I know the problems are easy to fix.

The login page (https://www.novusnet.com/discover/cgi-bin/dcstmnt?page=signon.htm) took NINETY SECONDS to load--I timed it. It really should be impressed upon the design department that cardholders are not logged directly into the server, as the designers are when they are working and reloading the pages, and that many of us are still using modems rather than cable access or dsl. In my case, my modem in a brand new machine is 56000, but my phone company only supplies 28800 in my area. I shouldn't have to subscribe to cable or move my residence simply in order to use your web site.

From the login page, when you make a mistake (such as putting in the wrong password), and have to hit BACK, your account number is deleted. You have to fill in the whole number again. You may have considered it OK to leave the program like this, because giving out your card number is a security risk. But I can't see the risk in this case. While it is true that anyone could get hold of my discover card number, isn't that the point of having a password? In fact, lots of people DO have my card number--I give it out every time I go to the store. So why bother deleting that, and making me type it again? Or, rather I should say, why is this data not saved, to spare the user having to type it in again?

From the login page, you can't type your credit card number with hyphens or spaces. This makes it extremely difficult to catch errors. My eyes are human; I am not a computer. I need the hyphens, or spaces, or SOMETHING to allow me to "chunk" the data. And of course, if I make a mistake in that 16-digit number, the page deletes the whole thing when I go back and I have to try again. Because this is an _easy_ thing to fix for the programmer (it's merely a matter of substituting for any non-numeric character--if the user types in "234-567", the program can simply remove the '-' and the result will be "234567"), it is the _programmer's_ job to remove hyphens or spaces and then check the resulting number to see if it matches the records. It's just silly to ask the _user_ to do this, with a piece of data this large.

On the login page (https://www.novusnet.com/discover/cgi-bin/dcstmnt?page=signon.htm), after you type in the password, you should either be able to hit RETURN and have it pass the data OR you should be able to hit TAB to go to the LOGIN button and then hit RETURN. You can't do either of these. If you hit RETURN, nothing happens. If you hit tab, it skips two buttons (Login, and Password Reset) and takes you, inexplicably, to the deskshop login. You MUST use the mouse, and this takes time and is just bad design.

I think if the site loaded and operated faster, these design flaws wouldn't bother me. It's the combination of the agonzingly slow loading and the design flaws that make me bother to type all this out. Yes, this took time, but I hope that if I complain enough all over the web, programmers will eventually get the message.

(I received a response to this letter within one day, saying that the problem had been escalated to the programming department. This pleased me.)
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2001_04_19:15: Interview With Farsam

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capitalism
Allows people who don't want to think, to behave like animals, and still feel like intelligent, advanced human beings, because there is running water and microwave food, no matter how brutishly you behave.
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2001_09_05:10: No Conspiracies Please

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You can really irritate the hell out of someone by refusing to go along with illegal schemes.

Some helpful people will insist on forcing tax evasion advice down your throat whether you are receptive or not, and even if you tell them that isn't something you're willing to do.

Other people get even more helpful, teaching you the ins and outs of kickbacks, explaining to your poor lame moralistic self that "that's how the system works."

Some of them want something out of it. Like, they tell you all about their embezzlement scheme, and then they want you to write the bill out to whatever facade they're using today so that they can embezzle more.

And objectivists wonder how business people get a bad name?

And then there are the people who simply know that I'm an ethical person, and worse, an analytical one, who won't just laugh when they tell me what they did to someone. They want my approval for what they did. After all, if you can get someone like me to approve, then what they did must not be so bad after all. There's a good justification, you see. Some of them try it over and over, and then are apparently surprised when I explain exactly what is wrong with what they did and how they should correct the problem. Apparently, they are expecting me to validate them. That's very weird. How do you walk up to an honest person and ask them to cover up your dishonesty? What's the meaning of that? Is it supposed to involve me in the conspiracy in a binding way, once I know about it?

I'm so bloody sick of this now I could scream.

I have a new policy. It's really my old policy, but I'm going to announce it really loudly now, to ward off, shall we say, the evil spirits. My new policy is, Please keep your dirty deeds to yourself, if you want my business or my friendship. I'm not interested in validating anyone's feelings about their wrongdoing. If you're a criminal, please don't come to me for philosophical consulting. Turn yourself in. That's all the advice I have for you. And if that means I never get another client, well, then so be it. A philosophical consultant's job is to show you the truth, not to hide your real face from others.

I like my mind nice and clean. I don't want to have to think about what I need to do to cover up for you.

You want to be a nonconformist? Forget the funky hair color. We can all see straight through that. The next time someone invites you to their conspiracy of lies, refuse to join. Just say no.
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2001_05_22:20: What You Make Of It

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Successful people tell consumers what they want to hear. I'm in the business of telling people exactly the opposite of what they want to hear. What's wrong with this picture? Did I not learn anything from the plays of Sophocles?
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2001_05_21:18: Pah

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There is a difference between open-source and free. Unix people traditionally have not made this distinction, being unphilosophical and completely immersed in technical trivia 15 hours a day. "The internet should be free" is a welfare entitlement statement if I ever heard one.
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2001_09_05:17: Smoke and Mirrors

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WOW!

Just hours after I announce that I'm going to refuse to do business with anyone who attempts to involve me in Dishonest Schemes, someone refuses to do business with me!

Gary Bloomfield, owner and mechanic of Beach Automotive Services on West Feldspar in Pacific Beach, who was reviewed on the Car Talk web site as reputable and honest, just gave me what amounted to an ultimatum.

I called him around 1:30 to discuss the problem with Max, which was that a highway patrol officer stopped me yesterday because apparently he saw smoke coming from Max's exhaust pipe when I pulled away from a light. I told Gary that I was a bit worried about even driving the car to the shop, since I was given 30 days to fix "the problem" and could be stopped again (and arrested!) in the meantime. Since I don't want to be arrested, my only choice is to do something immediately. Gary told me about a test he could do to determine whether there were any leaks, but that I'd have to bring the car in before anything more could be discussed. I told him I'd be right in. I drove Max very carefully to avoid puffing smoke in another officer's face, and was there in less than 20 minutes.

Gary noted that the car wasn't smoking now, and I just shrugged, pointing out that I'd never been arrested and didn't want to start now. He was about to get into Max to start the engine while I was filling out the paperwork for an initial exam, when I asked him to wait until I could cover the seats in plastic. This is standard procedure for me, because I'm allergic to so many things that it's just easier for me to take preventative measures than to try to figure out what is causing my symptoms after the fact. I never let anyone into my car without covering the seats. It's a bit of trouble for me, but allergies are much, much worse. So I take the trouble. And I told him the reason matter-of-factly, the way I tell everyone.

Gary stopped dead in his tracks and said, "I don't work on cars like that."

I asked him to repeat his statement, because I don't think I've ever heard anything like that from anyone ever before. "I don't work on cars like that," he said again. As though it was my car, not me, the person, the human being, a customer, that was "like that," who had the health problem. He added, "And I don't know anybody who does."

!!!!! WOW !!!!!!

What a weird claim! All of the automechanics I've ever hired were just fine with covering the seats, and were especially careful when they were told what the reason was. (This kind of claim is another pet peeve of mine. Random, sweeping generalizations that the claimant doesn't even bother to support. I hear them from business people constantly. "Nobody makes that!" "You'll never find anyone to do that!" "That can't be done!" all with the subtext, "Let me do what I feel like doing, buy this product instead of the one you're looking for, and please support me in my delusions without further argument because I am the business person and you are a mere customer.")

I wonder, does Gary also refuse to work on cars owned by people with other health problems or handicaps? Would he get huffy if I removed the baby-seat from the car before he began? Would he have a problem with crutches or a chair lift or anything like that? Was he just in a really weird mood?

I asked him, just to be sure, because I can be quite naive sometimes, if he was joking. He said that he wasn't. "I've got dogs and plants and all kinds of stuff around here," he explained, offering his unsolicited diagnosis as to the causes of my particular allergic reactions, and his medical advice about my health problems. He knows better than me, apparently, what I'm allergic to and how to deal with it. The ultimatum was, essentially, you either let me get in the car without putting seat covers on, or I don't work on your car. Or, to put it another way, you either risk your health by allowing me to work on your car the way the mood strikes me, or you don't get my service. He didn't ask me to leave. He didn't say he wasn't going to do it. He just waited for me to change my mind about this little preference of mine.

Okey-doke. I guess he has too many customers. Or maybe he decided between the time I called and the time I got to the shop that he just didn't want to deal with Max's particular problem, because he changed his tune awfully fast; on the phone he was insistent that I bring the car in as soon as possible, especially since his other mechanic was leaving within an hour. Or (one of my favorites) maybe he took it personally, as though I thought he in particular was dirty, or that mechanics are dirty. Or maybe when I got there I didn't look rich enough to soak, even though I'd brought the car in for a $150-$200 diagnosis, with the threat of thousands of dollars worth of repairs hanging over my head.

So I pulled the car back out and left without another word. If I'm not going to deal with people who insist on being dishonest, I'm definitely not going to deal with people who flat-out tell me that their pride is more important than my health. How am I supposed to trust someone like that?

I guess the lesson that I can learn from this is that you can survive in business even if you are exceedingly thoughtless, inconsiderate of other human beings, irrational, unpredictable, moody, and flighty. No need to cooperate with the customer, even if the customer does all the necessary work, such as putting seat covers on the car. Don't feel like dealing with it? Feel irrationally insulted by the implication that you are not so immaculate that no person in her right mind could possibly have an allergic reaction to you? No problem. There's always another customer rolling along. And don't even think about protecting the upholstery of a car from engine grease--why would anyone want that? Surely, anyone who feigns allergies is really just saying your lowlife mechanic's clothing is too dirty for her dainty car. And what with the state smog regulations, you're assured of a nice living no matter what.

More importantly, this has inspired me to create a new section of my web site: reviews of local businesses, especially automechanics. Wouldn't that be useful? The Car Talk site is nice, but they have a policy of only accepting recommendations, and taking down comments that "bad mouth" a mechanic. Not nearly as useful as providing both sides as people see fit.



Just reminded of a several-year stretch during which I tried to find a particular product, asking for it with diminishing hopes whenever I walked into a store. Avon used to (maybe they still do) make a brown liquid eye shadow when I was in high school and college. I bought it and used it for about 6 years in a row, and I loved it. There were others that I'd bought in normal stores but I didn't like them as much. Then that fateful day came when I tried to replace a dwindling bottle, but I couldn't scare up an Avon representative to save my life. I happened to find one of their catalogs lying around somewhere, and I called the number. The representative said she'd never heard of such a product. I was surprised, given that Avon was my source, but oh, well. So I began frequenting cosmetics counters where I knew I'd seen extremely expensive versions (on the order of $30 a bottle). At least 10 counter workers told me approximately the same thing, as though it were rehearsed: "I've never seen a liquid eye shadow! There's no such thing! No one makes that! I've been working with cosmetics for 30 years and I've never seen anything like what you're talking about. Do you mean eye liner?" I've even been told that a liquid eye shadow is--get this--impossible. Impossible! I guess this is so startling to me because makeup is really not that complicated. It's not like I'm asking them to levitate, or to jump through hyperspace. Those are impossible things. Liquid eye shadow may not actually exist (now) but it is certainly not impossible. But I guess if your mind is approximately |-------------this-big--------------| , it would seem pretty damned difficult to comprehend, and might as well be impossible. Who knows.

I used to believe people when they said things like "Never seen it." True, it did nothing to shake my firm conviction that I had purchased and used liquid eye shadow for several years. But I felt I had to believe them when they said they'd never seen it themselves.

Now I really wonder. I'm beginning to suspect that other people's brains are not constituted the way mine is. I have this weird compulsion to seek out the truth, to question the odd-sounding claim, to represent the beliefs in my head accurately, to avoid giving people false information that I just pulled out of my ass. Other people don't seem to have the same compulsion. Other people reach for the most convenient response, or perhaps the one they think will shut the customer up the fastest, and just blurt that out. And they say it like they absolutely know that this is the way it is. It's so much easier to say "There's no such thing." "Nobody will work on a car with allergies! I know that fer a fact!" Then, once that claim is out there, they think that insisting upon its truth and defending its validity is the only way they can avoid looking foolish.

And yet, these businesses survive--I guess by engaging in all those activities I complained about in the previous entry. They survive by doing just enough to not get arrested, and the rest is smoke in my rear-view mirror.
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2001_07_06:15: Sundry Aversions

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Call for friends: Any business person who is not lying, on the take, evading taxation, cheating, lying, stealing, fudging, winking, nudging, lying, blustering, faking, threatening, or defrauding, please write to me.