Retail Developments

My body can best be described as a compact, stocky frame. In other words, I’m a tubby short-ass. I will also acknowledge that my dimensions don’t fit into the sizing scale used by most clothing outlets. My current waist measures 41 inches (give or take a half-inch or so) and my inseam leg measurement is [sigh] 29½ inches. For some reason, U.S. trousers measured at 40/30 fit me fine, but in the U.K., Marks & Spencer’s offerings require me to pick the 42/29 in order to fit me properly. Don’t ask; I have no idea why the two countries’ inches are of different length, and why I should have to go up a size at the waist, and down a size in the length in the U.K. (The same is true of shirts, by the way: U.S. XXL shirts fit me perfectly, but I have to get XXXL shirts at M&S to accommodate my 51-inch chest and 18-inch neck.)

I should also point out that M&S is pretty much the only place I buy clothes in Britishland, and the only place I buy underwear, period. (Cliff Notes reasons for the latter: comfortable, durable and quality workmanship.) One of the reasons I like M&S so much is that their materials feel wonderful: I have very sensitive skin, and clothing that most people seem to wear without complaint drives me crazy with itching/scratching.

I’ve told you all that so I could tell you this.

Via Insty, I note that Nordstrom is testing a “new” kind of store in California (where else?) that features “personal stylists” who will guide customers in their purchase decisions, advising them on fitting and such — and then having the customer order their final choices online, to be delivered later (I guess) either to the store for pick-up, or direct to their homes. Stephen Green says:

“That might be a smart move, given that expensive floorspace and (especially) carried inventory costs are two huge disadvantages of traditional retail versus e-commerce,”

…and I agree.

I’m not going to go into a critique of this methodology, because Nordstrom generally does things right and they are, if nothing else, keenly aware of their customers’ wishes and wants. All I can say is that if they’re going to offer tailoring services (as the article suggests), they’d better have their logistics ducks in a row.

Marks & Spencer has sort of gone this route, except that they now encourage people to look at what’s available in-store; if you can’t find your exact size, then order it online at one of the many kiosks in the store, and M&S will then deliver it to any M&S location you choose — even their food-only stores and gas station outlets — if those are closer to you than the department store. It makes sense, I guess, but it also drove me scatty a while ago when I went to shop for some trousers at the Salisbury branch.

I found not only one style of trousers I liked, but three — except that only one was available in 42/29. So I asked a clerk if they might have any 42/29s in the stock-room, only to be told that M&S no longer has any stock-rooms — what’s on the floor is what you get. So I asked whether they were getting any deliveries in the near future, and was told that one was expected in a couple days’ time. Would this delivery include more of the 42/29 trousers, I asked, and was assured that their stock re-ordering system would probably handle the shortcoming.

You can guess what’s coming, right? I went back a week later, credit card clutched in my sweaty little hand, only to find that nope, their re-ordering system had obviously missed the out-of-stock situation. So I gave up, and reassured myself that in a couple weeks’ time, I’d be able to go to M&S’s giant flagship store on Oxford Street in London to get the two missing items.

Once again, you can guess what’s coming: not only did M&S not have that size in stock, but they didn’t carry that style of trousers at all. The Oxford Street branch did have some excellent shirts in XXXL, which I bought, but not the trousers I was seeking.

Never mind, I told myself: in a week’s time I’d be going to Bath, and surely I’d find my chosen trousers — which were now becoming something of an obsession — in Somerset. I’d also find some more of those excellent XXXL shirts in Bath (I’d cleaned out Oxford Street’s miniscule supply of the XXXL), so I could, finally, get all the clothing I wanted.

Not quite. Bath stocked the 42/29 trousers, which I snapped up greedily, but not that style of XXXL shirts — which they didn’t carry at all, and never had.

Fuck.

So when people ask me about going shopping, and why retail outlets are losing business to online shopping, I can give several reasons why. Because next time, I’m going to find the clothing I like at Marks & Spencer, not bother with looking for the sizes I need, and order them online.

But if I’m only in town for a short while and the delivery won’t be quick enough, I just won’t bother shopping there at all — which bugs the hell out of me because I love Marks & Spencer.

I love shopping at Nordstrom too, so I hope that someone there reads this and learns the appropriate lesson(s).

MS Paint Is Dead — Errr, Wait A Minute

So Microsoft announced that MS Paint was going to go the way of Outlook Express — i.e. die because they just aren’t interested in maintaining the old horse anymore, and it’s to the glue factory it will go.

Then, 24 hours later, after a storm of protest from longtime Paint users, Microsoft backtracked and said that Paint wasn’t going to disappear completely; it would just not be included in future releases of their operating software — it would have to be downloaded as a separate operation.

What bullshit is this? I’ve written before that Microsoft’s corporate strategy team, if they have one, should get a kick in the teeth for fucking over longtime customers just at the behest of Engineering who, despite Dilbert’s efforts, should never, ever be allowed to set policy. And product longevity is precisely what should be decided by Marketing, not by Engineering or Production, because the people most affected will be customers — and despite Dilbert, again, Engineering doesn’t understand customers.

I’ll spell it out for Microsoft (and I won’t need SpellCheck either): you guys are a bunch of fucking idiots.

There are millions of software users who don’t need sophisticated software to address their everyday needs. This is true whether it’s word processing (people who are only interested in writing letters, papers or novels), doing basic budget preparation (households and small businesses) correspondence (people writing simple letters or memos to a few people), and basic photo / picture editing (family photos, articles, blogs) . In other words, LetterPerfect 1.0, Lotus 1-2-3 v.3, Outlook Express… and Paint. In Microsoft parlance, it’s not the bloated juggernaut known as MS Office, it’s the MS Works crowd. And just to repeat the original thought: there are millions and millions of such people and I, one of the earliest Microsoft PC customers, am one of them.

I fucking hate Outlook, Office and (just to be fair) Adobe Photoshop. They’re all too much for my needs, and I’m sick of having to learn to go through a multi-step process just to be able to do something that used to be a one-click operation.

My only comfort is that I’m no longer young, and my time to have to deal with all this nonsense is shrinking. But it gives me no comfort whatsoever to think that Microsoft believes that this is the reason not to worry about me — that I and my kind are a shrinking market, which gives them the right to fuck us, and ignore us.

Quandary

Back in the U.S., I normally play the lottery each week (shuddup, it’s my retirement plan and it’s only a couple bucks “investment” each time), mostly when the payout is respectable.

So this past Tuesday, I bought a Euromillions lottery ticket because the payout is €70 million ($79 million). The tax on that $79 mill works out to about $32 million — except that all over Europe and the U.K., Euromillions lottery winnings are not taxed. This is not the case in the U.S., of course, where the godless fiends of the IRS will swoop down and take Uncle Sam’s 40% (pound of flesh) share at gunpoint.

Which leads to an interesting thought.

$79 million is an awful lot of “fuck you” money — a lot more than the post-tax $47 million. Needless to say, U.S. citizens are forbidden to have overseas bank accounts without disclosing such accounts and their contents to the IR fucking S, so that Uncle Sam, in this case, could collect the aforementioned 32 million pounds of flesh.

But the lottery is paid out Over Here, not in the U.S.

What would stop the winner from saying a simple “fuck you!” to the IRS, give up his U.S. citizenship, refuse to pay them their “goodbye” tax (“fuck you again”) and take up residence somewhere like Monaco, Liechtenstein, or one of the several tax havens scattered around this part of the world? (Believe me: show up at one of those countries’ embassy or consulate with $79 million cash and ask for “asylum”, and they’d get into fistfights to get you to pick their country over the others.)

In other words, at what point does one say that citizenship isn’t worth the price one has to pay for it — especially when all the USGov will do with your money is piss it away on the usual government wastage like Solyndra subsidies or welfare for illegal aliens?

I know I probably sound like some liberal asshole who doesn’t want their tax dollars to go to military spending, but in my case it’s the exact reverse sentiment: if I could pay my “windfall” lottery taxes direct to the Pentagon, specifically earmarked towards a new aircraft carrier, F-35 or couple of M1 Abrams tanks, I’d do it in a moment, without hesitation. But you can’t do that, can you? Tax dollars go into the “General Fund”, and are then siphoned off by the usual suspects into subsidies for objectionable art projects or even worse, to federal funding for Oberlin College, while the Pentagon gets fractions of a penny from the tax dollar, literally.

I’m making something of a joke about this situation because I’d never do it — my citizenship is too precious to me, I’d feel like I’d betrayed my adopted homeland, and I could not face never being able to visit my kids, family and friends back in the U.S. for the rest of my life.

But I have to tell you, I wouldn’t attack someone who made the opposite decision. Which should tell you how far our beloved government has fallen in public esteem — because if I, one of our country’s proudest and most grateful adopted citizens can even be tempted to thinking about this option, how badly have they screwed things up?

So come on, all you loyal Americans out there: what would you do with $79 million sitting in Europe, waiting to be given to you? Stay over there forever, living in luxury, or pay the taxes and live here in 40% less luxury?

And just to put this thing into perspective: assuming you dedicate 10% of your new non-taxed fortune to housing (and that’s not a bad principle), what you could get for your money in the Principality is the top floor of this little thing:

Malware, Change, And The Whole Damn Thing

Over at samizdata, Perry Metzger (not De Havilland) has a few trenchant observations about stupid people who don’t use condoms when they have unprotected Internet intercourse, or something. (For those who don’t know him, Perry’s writing style is often blunt and dismissive, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading his stuff. Go figure.) Read it all, including the comments, because a lot of what I say from here may be otherwise incomprehensible.

I’m not going to argue with Perry’s main point about the need to upgrade your computer’s software regularly. From a security standpoint, it makes sense to install the patches which cover the gaping holes in the thing. I also understand that the software companies don’t care to maintain elderly platforms, for the same reasons that Ford no longer maintains Model Ts. (The fact that software changes occur at an exponentially-quicker rate than automotive ones is just the nature of the beast.)

The problem, as noted the the Comments, is that system “upgrades” are not devoted exclusively to security patches anymore. Instead, all sorts of crap is included which at best causes irritating changes in functionality, and at worst undoes a lot of the learning and experience that one has accumulated. I understand why this occurs, but that doesn’t mean I’m at all happy about it. And so far, Microsoft has accommodated us Old Farts by including a “traditional” desktop view for all new Windows operating system versions, so I don’t have to memorize all the silly new pictograms in Windows 7 – infinity. (Note to MS: remove that feature and I’m gone.)

And this is the point. One of the commenters at samizdata made the excellent point that Microsoft (and all software developers, as far as I can see) are more interested in getting new customers, who would be more comfortable with apps, pictograms, symbols and what have you than they would be with the old icons or, gawd forbid, text (all those words and stuff? dude!). That’s stupid, for all sorts of reasons, and here’s why.

I might not be worth much to Microsoft as an existing customer right now; but there was a time when people like me — the early personal-computer adopters — helped build Microsoft into what it is today. When you have a person who like myself has been through all the hardware iterations of the PC, XT, AT, 386x all the way through to the current whatever-it-is-I’m-writing-on-right now, and has likewise been through all the software iterations of DOS 2.0 through Windows 7/8/not-9 [ahem] and 10; when you have a longtime customer group like that, then surely I, and all the countless millions of people like me, deserve just a little accommodation in the Grand Microsoft Marketing Plan? (Okay, you can stop laughing now.)

I know, everything these days falls into the “But what have you done for me lately?” category, but it’s still a basic truism of marketing that it’s ten times easier to get an existing customer to stay with your product than it is to lure a new one away from a competitor. But if you persist in changing your product so that it not only becomes a purely new-customer attractant, but also an existing-customer repellent, then I would suggest that someone in Marketing needs to go back to business school and/or get a swift kick in the teeth to adjust their thinking.

I know that it’s expensive and resource/time-consuming to maintain old products. Of course it is. But I would suggest that it’s also a lot easier than new product development — we old-timers don’t ask for much, because we’re used to working with, by today’s standards, relatively unsophisticated products.

Using the automotive industry one more time: Ford, GM and Chrysler have discovered that there is a huge market for nostalgia models such as the Dodge Charger/Challenger, Ford Shelby Mustang and the like. These new iterations of the venerable hot rods of yore have been improved, of course: better brakes, suspension and so on; they’re still simple and unsophisticated by modern whizzbang standards, but their manufacturers can’t make them quickly enough. Let’s go exotic: a new 2016 LaFerrari costs about $1.5 million; a 1966 275 GTB recently sold for $2.1 million. (I know, that’s mostly a factor of scarcity; at the same time, however, the 2016 model is a hundred times better than its 50-year-old counterpart — and still, someone was prepared to pay good money for it.)

Somewhere is all the above rambling is the seed of an idea for Microsoft. Or maybe, for someone not in Microsoft who can see a niche in the PC market which is similar to the automotive restoration market.

Or maybe I’m just an old fart “shaking his fist at heaven”, as Perry Metzger suggests. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way — in fact, there may be more of us than of them. Software developers — or to be more accurate, software maintainers — might want to take a look at that.

 

Snowflake Test

Reader Dave O, in the Comments to my post about job interviews, asks:

What’s your opinion of Kyle Reyes’ “Snowflake Test”?

As I don’t watch TV much, I had no idea that Mr. Reyes had set off a shitstorm by revealing that he used a personality test (his description) to weed out potentially harmful and unproductive applicants from the hiring pool. So I looked the thing up (it’s excellent), and just for fun, I’ll take the test. As I don’t know the scoring metrics Reyes uses, I have no idea whether I’d pass or fail, but here we go:

Outside of standard benefits, what benefits should a company offer employees?
— Other than healthcare, disability, life insurance and pension (to vested employees), I can’t think of any other than perhaps a paid day’s leave for a birthday. Maybe.

What should the national minimum wage be?
— There shouldn’t be a national minimum wage.

How many sick days should be given to employees?
— It depends on the employee. Any condition that may require a regularly-taken sick day should first be vetted by an independent doctor’s opinion. Other than that, maybe half a dozen per annum total, non-accumulative. (Catastrophic injury or illness is obviously a different matter.)

How often should employees get raises?
— Other than CoL adjustments, only after exceptional performance or growth on the job.

How do you feel about guns?
— (Okay, you guys can quit laughing now.) I love guns and have been shooting them for well over fifty years. I love the self-control they demand of me when I’m trying to shoot them accurately, and I love the ability they give me for self-defense and defense of my family and community.

What are your feelings about employees or clients carrying guns?
— Don’t care who carries a gun, as long as they’re careful with them and/or keep them holstered.

What are your feelings about safe spaces in challenging work environments?
— Don’t see the need for them. (Especially if everyone’s carrying a gun.) The whole concept of “safe spaces” makes me irritable, and the people who demand them are childish and not worthy of respect, but of ridicule.

In a creative environment like The Silent Partner Marketing, what do you envision work attire looking like?
— I go to work every day wearing a jacket and tie to show respect for the company and towards my clients. I’m as creative as anyone on the planet, but I don’t think “creative” staff should get a pass to dress like hippies or golfers just because that somehow “helps” their creativity.

Should “trigger warnings” be issued before we release content for clients or the company that might be considered “controversial”?
— Absolutely not. Content should rise or fall on its merits, not whether or not it may hurt someone’s feelings.

How do you feel about police?
— I have to say, I’ve always trusted the police — at least I did twenty or thirty years ago. Of late, however, I’m becoming uneasy at their increased use of “no-knock” raids, warrantless wire-tapping and suchlike. But local cops and cops on the beat? I’ll always have their back, and my local guys know it.

If you owned the company and were to find out that a client is operating unethically but was a high paying client…how would you handle it?
— Fire the client. No amount of revenue is worth it. Lawyers often have to make that compromise; marketing companies should never.

When was the last time you cried and why?
— (My Readers already know when that was and why, so forgive me if I don’t answer this one.)

You arrive at an event for work and there’s a major celebrity you’ve always wanted to meet. What happens next?
— I’m not interested in meeting any celebrity, major or otherwise.

What’s your favorite kind of adult beverage?
— I have many favorites, so it depends on the mood, occasion, company and geography. In Wiltshire UK, Wadworth 6X bitter ale; in Paris, vin rouge; lunch on a a hot day, g&t or screwdriver; late night chatting with friends, single malt or Cape brandy; with Greek food, retsina — and those are just some of the options.

What’s the best way to communicate with clients?
— Face to face.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
— In no special order: read, write, shoot, or go out to dinner with family or friends.

What are your thoughts on the current college environment as it pertains to a future workforce?
— If we have to rely on the modern college for our workforce, we’re doomed.

What’s your typical breakfast?
— Before work, a cup of coffee, a croissant and maybe a piece of fruit or some yogurt. Over weekends, a cooked breakfast.

What’s your favorite drink when you go to a coffeehouse?
— I don’t normally visit coffeehouses except in Vienna, in which case it’s a Brauner. I normally drink ordinary coffee like Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme Regular, black with sugar.

How do you handle bullies?
— I destroy them.

How do you handle it when your ideas are shot down?
— If the idea is fatally flawed or unworkable, then fine and I’m an idiot. If it’s a good, workable idea but rejected because of NIH or politics, I shrug and walk away, then work to see how I can get it adopted anyway.

What do you do if a coworker comes to the table with an idea and it sucks?
— I tell him that it sucks, and why, then try to improve it with him.

What does the First Amendment mean to you?
— It’s everything. Without freedom of speech, not much else works. And I don’t care if it’s “offensive” — it’s offensive speech that needs both protection and the light of day.

What does faith mean to you?
— Not much, personally, if we’re talking about religion. I always respect it in others, however, as long as they leave me alone.

Who is your role model and why?
— My late grandfather. He taught me about honor, and decency, and duty, and devotion to family. He was a WWI veteran and fought in the trenches on the Western Front, at age 17.

You’re in Starbucks with two friends. Someone runs in and says someone is coming in with a gun in 15 seconds to shoot patrons. They offer you a gun. Do you take it? What do you do next?
— I don’t need someone else’s gun because I always carry my own. Next, I’d tell everyone to get on the floor (so I get a clear field of fire), then find some cover from which to shoot behind, and finally slip the safety catch off the 1911. It’s an unlikely situation per se because I never go to Starbucks, but I understand the general issue you’re addressing.

What does America mean to you?
— Everything. I’m an immigrant, and the proudest day of my life was when I became a U.S. citizen. This is it, this is the best, and we are the last great hope of the civilized world.

You see someone stepping on an American flag. What do you do?
— Shove them away roughly and pick up the flag. After that, it’s up to them what happens next. (And yes I know that contradicts what I said earlier about the First Amendment, but in the words of the late Justice Antonin Scalia: messing with our flag is “fighting words”.)

What does “privilege” mean to you?
— Something earned, such as Gold Status in an airline’s frequent flier program.

What’s more important? Book smarts or street smarts? Why?
— Street smarts. Book smarts are the foundation; street smarts are the application thereof in real life, suitably modified. We live in real life.

I wonder if I’d get a job offer…