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TinotopiaLog → August 2005 archives
Thursday 25 August 2005

John Loftus Strikes Again

I wrote about John Loftus here, when he was condemning the pilot of a small airplane that had entered Washington’s restricted airspace as an ‘arrogant businessman’— while the plane was still in the air and absolutely nothing was known about the person flying the plane.

Now he’s going around on national TV giving out addresses of houses allegedly occupied by terrorists — without checking that he’s right first. What an ultra-maroon.

Posted by tino at 21:05 25.08.05
Tuesday 16 August 2005

News Flash

Stop the presses!

Cnet news.com.com.com reports on a University of Michigan study that indicates that

companies that concentrate on meeting customers’ needs are the ones most likely to make sales and lure new devotees

Who would have thunk it? Well, I would have, and did, for one. I’m amazed that a lot of large companies can stay in business at all, honestly.

I suppose it’s a matter of strategically satisfying just enough big customers to keep the lights on, while preferring gimmicky and inexplicable ‘growth’ strategies. Gimmicks, after all, require lots of people with business degrees at HQ, while satisfying customers requires checking your ego at the door.

Posted by tino at 09:39 16.08.05
Monday 15 August 2005

TSA Security Changes

The Washington Post reports that changes are being considered by the TSA, specifically that they are considering loosening their search and seizure (i.e. ‘screening’) procedures to be more ‘customer-friendly’.

We will leave aside for the moment the murky of issue of just who TSA’s ‘customers’ are. Airline passengers are the ultimate consumers of their services, but we can hardly be said to be their ‘customers’.

Anyway. This may surprise regular readers, who might be forgiven for thinking that I find everything annoying and everyone incompetent, but I have generally found the TSA to be much more pleasant to deal with than the rent-a-cop firms that previously screened airline passengers. The only real problem I have with the TSA is their inconsistency, particularly from airport to airport. Some places, you have to take off your shoes and will get yelled at if you do not figure this out on your own and do it; other places, you get yelled at if you start taking off your shoes. Whatever. At least the shoe thing makes some sense: someone did actually try to blow up a plane using a bomb concealed in his shoe.

The ban on small knives is harder to understand. Some accounts hold that the September 11 hijackers used knives variously described as ‘box cutters’ or ‘Stanley knives’ (not precisely the same things) to overpower the airplanes’ crews and take control. Okay, fine: let’s assume that this is true. Does anyone actually think that this would work a second time? I don’t. A few people might get hurt before the knife-wielding hijackers were subdued by passengers and crew, but that’s about it.

So I think it’s great that they’re thinking about getting rid of this silly restriction. I’m tired of having to stow my little three-inch-long pocket knife in my checked baggage.

But other things they’re considering seem, well, a bit silly to me. The Post reports:

The proposal also would allow ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights. Allowing those items was suggested after a risk evaluation was conducted about which items posed the most danger.

A ‘throwing star’ is really nothing other than a kind of knife that’s optimized for throwing. In the confines of an airplane, it’s not likely to be too dangerous: so I suppose I can see allowing these. Still, how many people carry throwing stars around with them, as compared to pocketknives?

But the other two items, ice picks and bows and arrows, leave me scratching my head. Who the hell carries ice picks with them? And why would they possibly need one on an airplane? We don’t allow guns on airplanes, because we have decided (for better or for worse) that airplanes should be weapon-free zones. Knives can be weapons, but aren’t always: I’m not sure that the same is true of icepicks.

And who needs to take a bow and arrows into the cabin of an airplane? Competition bows are expensive, delicate, and fairly large things: I’m sure there are complicated and expensive containers for them, and that any serious archers on the way to a big meet (or a run-in with the Sheriff of Nottingham) send them as checked luggage. It seems like it would be a good idea to ban archery equipment from the cabin just to speed the loading and unloading of the plane.


The TSA memo proposes to minimize the number of passengers who must be patted down at checkpoints. It also recommends that certain categories of passengers be exempt from airport security screening, such as members of Congress, airline pilots, Cabinet members, state governors, federal judges, high-ranking military officers and people with top-secret security clearances.

All of which sounds fine: members of Congress have so much opportunity to do harm to society on a daily basis from the comfort of their offices that we don’t need to worry about them blowing up airplanes: ditto governors, cabinet members, judges, etc., and it’s better to expend the screening resources on others — though I don’t think that anyone who has to run for election would ever want to be known to be excused from screening.

Nevertheless, this is an idiotic idea. First, you’ve got the problem of identifying all these people. It would be impossible: you’d have to create some kind of ID card that’s difficult to forge, but that by its very nature would be uncommon. With only about ten thousand of these in circulation, the chances that a given screener would have ever seen one before (and thus be in a position to positively identify a forgery) would be miniscule.

Second, how and where do you draw the line between people who do and do not have to be screened? High-ranking military officers would be excluded? What about Our Brave Boys And Girls who are laying it on the line in Iraq? Don’t we trust them? What about all those hard-working SEIU and AFCME members who don’t have top-secret clearances? Why should they have to submit to the indignity of screening, just like a lowly citizen?

Excluding anyone from screening would be a mistake. You’re creating an opportunity for fraud, and you will wind up with a situation where more and more groups are arguing to be excluded from screening.

Yet more:

The proposal also would give screeners discretion in determining whether to pat down passengers. For example, screeners would not have to pat down “those persons whose outermost garments closely conform to the natural contour of the body.”

Well, Nicole could avoid being screened then, at least. But discretion? Discretion is the last thing you want in this situation. Not only are you then putting your screening policies into the hands of the people at the lowest level of your organization, but you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits. What do you think the chances are that TSA screeners would exercise their ‘discretion’ to let an Arab-looking guy through, eh?

This is worse than security theatre: this is security community theatre,

Posted by tino at 12:19 15.08.05
Saturday 13 August 2005

Through the Retail Wringer Once Again

Today’s adventure included a trip to Circuit City, to get a case for my new little computer.

They didn’t have anything suitable — they had cases for portable DVD players, all of which were unbelievably ugly and showed signs of having been designed by people who’d never given a moment’s thought to how these things were acutually supposed to be used, and they had laptop cases for the kinds of laptops that they sell at Circuit City (i.e. ridiculously large). So no.

They did, however, have the JBL iPod Donut I’d been hankering for for a while now, so I bought that instead.

Then began the fun with checking out. Circuit City is really making a name for itself in the field of customer alienation, and the cash-register girl today really stood out.

I put the donut and Nicole’s Coke (you can buy Cokes everywhere now) on the counter She does the rite with swinging the products over the altar of Theft-Deterrence Aeactivation, and causes Beeping Noises to come from the cash register.

She replaces the barcode-scanning thing in its monstrance, and takes my credit card.

She then asks for my phone number. I’m prepared for this, because they always do this at Circuit City. I don’t give out my phone number to anyone if I can help it, because I don’t want people calling me. “No, thanks”, I respond cheerfully.

She looks at me like I’ve just laid a fresh turd on the counter. “We need it,” she says.

“No you don’t,” I say. I try to be polite as possible to people in this situation, because as annoying as these idiotic we-want-your-phone-number policies are, they’re not made by the person standing on the other side of the counter. I do, however, only have so much patience. They need my phone number? Tchah.

At this point, the other guy behind the counter tells her to just put in the store’s phone number. The girl doesn’t know the store’s phone number, and neither does Mr. Helpful, so he starts looking in his cell phone for it.

Eventually, after a very long time, they somehow sort this problem out. “Can I get your name?” the girl chirps.

Ahh, well.

To begin with, I should reiterate and amplify my statement above that I was paying for this purchase with a credit card. It’s not like my aim was to be Mr. Covert Consumer here: I just was operating according to Tino’s Two Chief Retail Policies:

  1. I’m not giving you my phone number unless I specifically want you to call me for some reason, and
  2. Let’s Get This Over With.

Item #1 we’ve already dealt with. Now we’re running into problems with #2.

I have heard that in some cultures, you keep your true name a secret, because anyone who knows your true name has some power over you. That’s pretty much the way I feel about my phone number, since knowledge of it gives people the ability to make noises in my pocket.

My name I’m not so guarded with, but I still don’t like to give it out, at least to people like this girl at Circuit City. You see, my name is more complicated than most, and it involves strange punctuation and letters that do not exist in your Earth languages. Usually I spell it several times, and the idiots still get it wrong. So, just in the name of saving time, I prefer not to give my name out, too.

Well, this is another problem. They need my name, I am told, because the purchase is over $100.

I tell them that this is why I’m giving them over $100.

Blah, blah, blah. Judging by the receipt I got, they eventually entered me into the system as ‘Mr. Xxx X. Xxxx’. Never mind that this girl had my credit card in her hand, with my name printed on the front and encoded on the magnetic stripe on the back to boot.

All of this was annoying enough, but what I really resent was the reaction of the cash register girl to my refusal to pony up my personal information (in addition to money) in exchange for goods. Not a word of apology or commiseration or anything, including common courtesy, did I get from her. When the transaction finally ended, I was just handed my receipt; no bag for my donut, no ‘thanks for spending money here and, in small part, making the continued existence of my place of employment possible’, no anything but a look of hatred and disgust.

So I am establishing another customer service rule:

  • Train your employees to accurately know the customer’s obligations. If you are totally unwilling to sell a product without the customer giving you his name, address, phone number, shoe size, serum cholesterol level, weight at birth, or number of moles, fine. This probably isn’t a smart move, but it’s your business to run as you like. If, on the other hand, you prefer but do not require that your customers jump through certain hoops for you, make this clear to your employees. Train them to not make customers feel unwelcome if they choose not to jump through your hoops, or soon enough your customers will go somewhere where they do feel welcome.

Incidentally, the iPod Donut is great. In some ways, it’s a victim of its minimalist packaging: had the box touted the fact that it has an auxiliary input and can therefore also be used as a set of powered speakers for a computer, I would have bought one months ago. It’s just the right size to sit on top of the Mac Mini.

Posted by tino at 19:07 13.08.05
Friday 05 August 2005


Paul Graham has something to say about professionalism vs. amateurism, which goes nicely with my comments in May.

I suspect professionalism was always overrated— not just in the literal sense of working for money, but also connotations like formality and detachment. Inconceivable as it would have seemed in, say, 1970, I think professionalism was largely a fashion, driven by conditions that happened to exist in the twentieth century.

Posted by tino at 08:49 5.08.05
Thursday 04 August 2005


That’s it; despite upgrading to the latest version of the anti-comment-spam software, and despite explicitly putting the word ‘poker’ in the blacklist, and despite having deleted and blacklisted hundreds of comments about online poker in the last 24 hours, I’m still getting comment spams about online poker.

I am shutting down comments until I have time to upgrade Tinotopia to some weblog software that has decent, functional anti-comment-spam hooha built in, rather than bolted on the side and non-functional as is the case with Movable Type.

Six Apart has had a good run, and they appear to be doing well with their TypePad service; but I must say that they appear to have largely given up on their Movable Type users. You can always spot weblogs that are powered by MT; the people who run them are always going on about comment and trackback spam the way Windows people go on about inexplicable driver failures.

Most serious Windows failures are the result of users who really don’t know what they’re doing; and I don’t doubt that at the heart of the failure of my installation of MT to detect and kill comment spams is some misconfiguration of my own.

Nevertheless, I don’t have time to screw with it — all the configuration options I can find look fine, and I have been using this software for years now, so it’s not like I’m a complete neophyte — and I don’t see why I should have to.

Posted by tino at 10:19 4.08.05

Good Lord

So I turn the comments back on for about two minutes, and already there are a bunch of spam comments from the pig enthusiasts mentioned below. Like all websites with comments facilities, I’ve been the victim of comment spam before: but never with this kind of volume.

I suppose I was hoping that their comment spammer would time out on my URLs after enough failures: but apparently I misunderestimated the dedication of these people who would advertise poker hyphen critic dot com.

The policies of this website, which are linked from the bottom of every page, clearly specify that unauthorized advertising via the comments or trackback facilities of this website cost not less than $1,000 per insertion, and I believe that this is actually enforceable. The trouble is, to enforce this you need to find the people responsible, and then drag them into a U.S. court.

And then you have to establish that the people whose product is being advertised are actually responsible for the advertisements. It would be pretty easy to claim that these spams were the work of your enemies, out to destroy your reputation. Since these comments are coming from all over the place (presumably a network of zombie PCs), it’s difficult or impossible to trace them back to anyone directly.

Anyway, I’ve updated the anti-comment-spam software, and we’ll see whether that helps. Mentioning ‘poker’ in any context at all will now also cause a comment to be rejected. If you must talk about poker, please use a term like ‘five-card stud’ (though terms like that may soon also be banned here if things go on like this) or ‘thingie you use to move logs around in the fireplace’.

Now I’ve got to get back to working my ass off on things that actually bring in money.

Posted by tino at 09:52 4.08.05
Wednesday 03 August 2005

Comments Temporarily Closed

Some pigfuckers are banging away with about ten comments a minute on the subject of online poker websites, and I’m too busy to screw around with it right now. I’ll turn comments back on later.

Posted by tino at 13:05 3.08.05