Net Loss

The plan could not have been simpler.  I had just signed an extension to my AT&T wi-fi/Internet plan, at a really good rate (with the most advantageous bandwidth / channel compatibility / cost compromise*), so I just wanted to continue the plan at my new address.

“Switch the exact same plan from #2109 Old Town to #714 New Town,” was my description of my situation.
“No problem at all,” saith AT&T, “because the previous tenant at #714 was an AT&T customer, and we show all the necessary equipment is already in place.”
“So I need to cancel my existing account at #2109 for June 12, and schedule an installation appointment for my new service on June 13?”
“Precisely.  And you won’t need an installation appointment because the basic framework is already in place;  we’ll just send you your new equipment — it will arrive on June 12 — and all you’ll have to do is plug it in, turn it on, and your new service will begin at 2:00pm on June 13.”

How excellent, thinks I — but you may recall my words prior to the move:  “From long and bitter experience, I expect that despite all my careful planning, AT&T is somehow going to cock things up so I might be Internet-free for the next couple of days.”

Which they duly did. On June 11 I received a package from AT&T which contained only a power supply and two connecting cables.  No router, but “Aha!” thinks I, “I’ll just be able to use my existing router;  how convenient.”

So Thursday morning June 13 was spent moving the remaining furniture from #2109 to #714, which cost only a tad more than $500 because New Wife and I had already  moved almost everything across during the two prior weeks, leaving only the stuff we couldn’t physically move ourselves.  All was done long before midday, whereupon I set about plugging in the router and so on, to get wifi.  I even delayed it a couple of hours until the promised 2:00pm activation time.

Except that when I eventually found the connection box, it was in the bedroom closet (hidden behind the door), and the box bore absolutely no relation to any of the equipment AT&T said was necessary to plug anything into.

So I called AT&T Customer WiFi service, after going through the usual phone-tree “press 1 for this and press 6 for that” which I bypassed simply by screaming “OPERATOR!” whenever thus prompted.  Eventually I got though to a very nice young man named Kevin — a real Kevin from the Midwest and not some fake “Kevin” from Kolkata or Manila, which was nice.  He looked up my situation and insisted that I should have no problem just plugging everything in.  So I took photos of the existing box, and texted them to him.

For the first time, a crack started to show.

“Are you sure that’s the only box you have there?”
“Yup.  If you want, I can do a brief tour of the entire apartment, and take pics of every single power outlet or tech point.”
“No no, that won’t be necessary.  What router did we send you?”
“There wasn’t a router, any router,” and I showed him pics of not only the contents but also the package which had contained the cables.
“Oh, ummm it looks as though we’ll have to schedule an installation appointment for you.”
“For this afternoon?” I inquired casually.
“Ummm no, we have no available slots today,” but before I could begin the Bad Language, he added hastily, “but I can send you a technician tomorrow morning, between 8am and 12pm.”

Okay, I agreed to that, but warning him (remember, “This call may be monitored for training and quality control purposes” ) that if the techie didn’t show up, my next call would be to another provider, like Spectrum.

So Friday morning June 14 dawned, and precisely at 8:30am I got this call:

“Hi, this is the AT&T technician.  I’m at your apartment complex, but I can’t find your apartment.”
“No problem;  just drive around and I’ll wait outside to signal you in.”
“Okay, I’m outside Building 21” which was when I started to get a queasy feeling, because the new complex doesn’t have that many blocks.  Then he added, “Shouldn’t #2109 be in that building?”
AT&T had sent the techie to my OLD address, not to the NEW one.
So I pointed that out to him, we shared a merry laugh, and I told him just to drive the 20-odd minutes to the new place, and all would be well.
“Let me call you back to confirm…”  and the next call I got was:  “I can’t do your installation, because it’s in a different area and we can’t cross over.”

Which is when the Bad Language started to flow.

“Look,” I said eventually, “I understand that this isn’t your fault — someone at Scheduling fucked up, not you — but it is my fucking problem, that problem being that I don’t have the wifi service I’m paying for.  So tell me what comes next.”

Of course, I had to call some 800 number to get a new installation appointment, and by screaming (again) “OPERATOR!” as necessary, I got through to a Hispanic-sounding chap who was as helpful as could be, except that he was unable to simply cancel the wrong installation callout and substitute it with a new one, and could only create a new ticket with (of course) a much later installation time.

Which was when the Bad Language really started to flow.  I refused to get off the line, and told him to get me a replacement techie, and if that techie arrived anytime after midday that day, I would be calling Spectrum and to hell with AT&T, their contract and their whole fucking inefficient operation.

One hour later, the techie arrived.  She was a short, tough-looking lesbian named Christie with heavy boots, multiple tattoos and piercings, and she took charge of the whole situation.

Turns out that I was absolutely not at fault;  everything AT&T had said about the installation was wrong, she’d need to install a whole new system in the closet (including a shelf to hold the router and controller), there were also some technical issues which would take a little extra time, but she’d take care of everything and I wasn’t to worry.  I could sit down, have a cup of coffee and put the explosives away.

And for the first time in this whole encounter with AT&T, she was exactly right.  Not only did she do all that stuff, she worked some magic whereby I could use my old router (same wifi address and password even), which also meant I didn’t have to send it back to AT&T.

And speaking of AT&T, they always send over a “customer service” guy towards the end of any service call, whose nominal job is to make sure everything has gone okay, but who “reviews” your account and tries to get you to change your phone provider / purchase a more comprehensive set of AT&T products.

This guy (David) took one look at what had happened (after I’d explained it all — minus the bad language, but with a great deal of clarity — and told him I had absolutely no intention of ending my 20-year+ relationship with T-Mobile).

He recommended that I downgrade my service package to one closer to my needs (see below) which would taraaa! save us $30 a month.

Which, I don’t have to tell you, means free milk and bread per month (at Bidenprices) for New Wife and myself.  It all helps.

So AT&T earned some redemption from me, at least.  But I still hate them.

*I use very little bandwidth, relatively speaking, and watch only a few channels on TV — EPL football and F1 Grand Prix, major golf tournaments and occasionally an oldie on Turner Classic Movies, plus the usual dreck on Amazon Prime, Netflix and sometimes a series on one of the other channels like Discovery+.  As I have no interest in being “current”, I’m happy to wait until the New Hot Show gets old and withered, and can be had for free on one of the above, failing which I let it go without giving a damn.

I am a man of very simple needs, technologically speaking

“The Name’s Backless; Green Backless”

As the totalitarians / utilitarians / technology-worshipers in our midst try to push us evermore towards a cashless society, we see situations like this occur, this time in Britishland:

The IT meltdowns suffered by Sainsbury’s and Tesco highlight the dangers of relying on cashless payments which puts our society ‘at risk’, experts have warned.

On Saturday morning, Sainsbury’s experienced a ‘technical issue’ which created chaos for thousands of people on one of the busiest shopping days of the week.

The supermarket chain cancelled online orders and couldn’t accept contactless payments – so shoppers either had to pay in cash, or scramble to try and remember their PIN.

While people desperately queued to use nearby ATMs, the dramatic uptick in cash withdrawal meant many of the machines ran out.

Many loyal shoppers turned to rival chain Tesco – it also experienced issues with online orders, with a small proportion being cancelled.

By the way, you don’t have to be an “expert” to see the inherent dangers of over-reliance on technology;  you just have to be aware of the old maxim that to err is human, but to really fuck things up you need a computer.  And we’ve all been there.

Nor am I a conspiracy theorist, but at the same time the odds of a “technology meltdown” occurring in the UK’s two largest supermarket chains at the same time are, wouldn’t you say, rather alarming.

In another context, if the flight guidance systems malfunctioned simultaneously in both United Airlines and Air France — two unrelated corporations — there’d be all sorts of alarm and governmental enquiry commissions, not to mention screaming panic in the headlines.

Nor would the scenario of malignant agency be simply dismissed as paranoia — but here we are, where people can’t buy food for their families because of a “meltdown”.

You’d think that we’d have learned this little lesson during the previous lockdown, where all sorts of nonsense happened because “everyday life” was dislocated.

But we haven’t.

Just wait till Ford and Mercedes together experience “system failure” in their driverless car fleets…

Technology can be our friend, and often is.  But over-reliance on technology means it often isn’t.  Remember, the acronym MTBF (mean time between failures) is often used for reassurance, but it also presupposes the existence of failure.

Like what happened at Sainsbury and Tesco — simultaneously.

Update:  And now Greggs, too.

Privacy? What’s That?

Very few things get under my skin as much as bullshit like this:

A recent study from Consumer Reports engaged 709 volunteers who provided archives of their Facebook user data. Astonishingly, Consumer Reports discovered that 186,892 different companies transmitted data about these users to Facebook. On average, data from each participant was shared by 2,230 companies, with some users’ data being shared by over 7,000 companies.

Think you’re outside this little net?  Think again, Winston Smith:

This examination highlighted a lesser-known form of tracking known as server-to-server tracking, where personal data is transferred directly from a company’s servers to Meta’s servers, alongside the more visible method involving Meta tracking pixels on company websites.

A surprising finding was the pervasive presence of LiveRamp, a data broker, appearing in the data of 96 percent of study participants. The list of companies sharing data with Facebook extends beyond obscure data brokers to include well-known retailers like Home Depot, Macy’s, Walmart, and others, such as Experian and TransUnion’s Neustar, Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal. Notably, LiveRamp did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.

The study’s data came from two main collection types: “events” and “custom audiences.” The latter involves advertisers uploading customer lists to Meta, including email addresses and mobile advertising IDs, to target ads on Meta’s platforms. ‘Events’ describe real-world interactions, like website visits or store purchases, facilitated by Meta’s software in apps, tracking pixels on websites, and server-to-server tracking.

I’ll sum up all this in a simple sentence:  if you’ve bought anything online in the past three years, your personal data is everywhere.

Of course, there are the weasels:

Emil Vazquez, a spokesperson for Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, defended the company’s data practices, stating: “We offer a number of transparency tools to help people understand the information that businesses choose to share with us, and manage how it’s used.”

Oh sure.  Forgive me for being skeptical about the motives of said weasels, and the companies they work for:

However, Consumer Reports identified issues with these tools, including unclear data provider identities and companies that service advertisers often disregarding user opt-out requests.

I don’t even know what to do about all this — nothing can be done, seems to me.

But the best part of all this — and the reason for my hopelessness — is that of you think that Government isn’t getting their snouts into this data trough, I have a fucking bridge to sell you.

Corporations, no matter how big, always fall straight to their knees every time some government department demands a blowjob.  And this circumstance is no different.

See Ya

Looks as though Sports Illustrated has decided to cut the fat:

No, not that fat.  This fat:

The owner of Sports Illustrated has ended the employment of the publication’s entire staff, leaving the very existence of the nearly 70-year-old magazine in doubt.

Then follows a while bunch of publishing industry gobbledegook (good luck trying to understand this nonsense — it reads like the article’s author didn’t understand it either):

The licensing group that owns the sports mag has terminated its agreement with The Arena Group to continue publishing the magazine three weeks after Arena missed a $2.8 million payment, a deficit that breached the magazine’s licensing deal, according to Front Office Sports.

Authentic bought SI out from Meredith in 2019 for $10 million. If it continues publishing, the magazine will turn 70 years old this August.

An email announcing the decision says in part, “We were notified by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) that the license under which the Arena Group operates the Sports Illustrated (SI) brand and SI-related properties had been officially revoked by ABG.”

Got all that?  There will be a test.  Not that it matters, because here’s the crux of it:

“As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand.”

Crap magazine, terrible writing, stupid stories, and let’s not forget the idiotic decision to put fatties in the Swimsuit Issue instead of hotties like oh, Leryn Franco.  Ergo, from this:

…to this:

“Oh noes… why did people stop buying our magazine?  They must all be Christianist Trumpists!”  or some such twaddle.

SI  never recovered from the loss of writers like Pete King, Frank DeFord and Rick Telander, to name just some.  And the arrival of Internet reportage shot them in the gut, just as what happened to many print magazines in other industries.

Won’t be missed.  Mediocrity and crap hardly ever is.

The Snare Of Convenience

Once upon a time, I worked for a Great Big Research Company — no name necessary, but let’s just call them A.C. Nielsen, because it’s easier to type “Nielsen” instead of “Great Big Research Company” — and the department I worked for was called “Trade Relations”.

A little background is necessary here, before I continue.  Most people, when seeing the name, think of the Nielsen Ratings as pertaining to TV.  In fact, that division of the company was only responsible for about 20% of corporate revenue, when I worked there.  The vast majority of revenue came from providing market-related information to the manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble, Kraft Foods, Unilever, Heinz Foods, S.C. Johnson, Pepsi-Cola and so on.  (Nielsen actually coined the term “market share” when Arthur Nielsen founded the company back in the early 1920s.)

Basically, the concept was simple:  how much product was being purchased by consumers at any given time?  One would think that manufacturers would have had a good idea of this, based on their own shipping data, but they didn’t, for all sorts of reasons.  For one thing, retail outlets like Kroger or Safeway would buy a lot more cases of product than they actually needed at the time and warehouse it, both to make their own resupply of their stores more efficient and to lock in prices in case of future increases (known as “forward buying”).

In fact, most manufacturers had no clue how actual consumer sales were faring for their products.  What Nielsen did was approach the retail chains and get access to their sales data (either through outright purchase or by auditing a representative sample of stores), assembling the data into huge databases and then creating monthly or bi-monthly reports which the CPG manufacturers would purchase.  So when the manufacturers approached the retailers and talked about pricing and delivery, both sides of the table would be talking about the same data and negotiations would be comparatively cordial, in theory anyway.

Obviously, for such a system to work for Nielsen, there had to be a good relationship with the supermarket chains, hence the existence of the “Trade Relations” department.  What we did, therefore, was collect the data and, in the form of account executives like myself, relay market-level data back to the chains’ executives.  Because while the chain would know how much they had sold of a product to consumers, they had no idea of what their competitors had sold of the same, and therefore had no idea of their own market share.

In many cases, Nielsen was able to leverage the value of that retailer’s information against the cost of the data, which is where people like myself were critical:  the quality of the reporting was of great value to the retailers’ marketing and merchandising departments.  Several large chains admitted, privately, that their business plans would have been not only more difficult but almost impossible without the reporting supplied by Yours Truly and his compatriots.  For a free service, therefore, it was a no-brainer.

All went well until Art Nielsen Jr. (son of the company’s founder) sold out to some evil bloodsucking company of debt collectors (Dun & Bradsomething) whose accountants, after a couple of years, decided that we in Trade Services were providing such a good service to retailers that the retailers should start paying for those services — which, as we know, had hitherto been free.  The result of this little corporate reindeer game was twofold: the retailers told us to fuck off, and I resigned and went to work for a Great Big Advertising Agency instead.

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

I have often railed against this trend of “convenience”, made ineffably worse by the age of electronics and most recently, by the Internet of Things whereby activities that required even the slightest effort can now be ameliorated or eliminated by having remote access to said activities.

Chief among these, of course, are things like programmable refrigerators, remote starters for cars, and of course Satan  Amazon’s Alexa.

And as I have also said before, the very nature of these things involved giving something — or to be more specific someone — access to your appliances, vehicles and lifestyle.  While I joked about some asshole kid in the basement of his mother’s house in Schenectady being able to hack into your network’s system and turn on your stove to get your house to burn down, I can see now that making a joke of the situation — in hoc reductio ad absurdam, so to speak — was not helpful.

What is more malevolent is that someone actually inside your personal network — i.e. the provider of a service — can start to affect your life, and in ways that are not always to your advantage.

The specific case in point is this trend of auto manufacturers (step forward BMW, you bloodless Kraut assholes) to take electronic conveniences included in your car and start to levy a fee to continue the features’ usage.  Your reversing camera — a great safety feature, by the way — would suddenly become inoperable unless you paid a “nominal” (say, $19.99) monthly fee to BMW.

In other words (and this goes back to my experience in the supermarket business), what you used to get for free as part of your purchase would suddenly involve a cost.

Now we could all probably live with unheated seats, for example, or having to use a key to start the car’s engine instead of starting your car with an electronic fob (also, by the way, easily hacked by thieves).  But the thought of having to pay some monthly pound of flesh to Big Auto for features that were supposedly included in the (already bloated) purchase price of your car should make one want to resist such a change.


The legality of such manufacturers’ initiatives is discussed by Internet lawyer Steve Lehto — the link sent to me by Longtime Reader Mike L., thank you Mike, and which gave rise to this whole rant.  And yes of course one can discuss legalities all day, except that the minute one does, one has to involve both lawyers and politicians (considerable overlap), all to deal with a situation that should fall under the concept of “doing the right thing”, but which in modern times seems to have gone bye-bye like so much else, and particularly in the case of Global MegaCorp Inc. and their fucking accountants (who, make no mistake, are the driving force behind this bullshit just as the Dun & Bradstreet accountants were behind the initiative which drove me from A.C. Nielsen).

What’s worse is that I don’t know if this wave of bloodsucking bastardy can even be slowed, let alone halted or reversed.  Certainly, if one is going to purchase a car from Global CarMaking Inc., resistance will be futile because they hold all the cards (and especially the politicians) in their sweaty little accountants’ hands, and the increase in corporate profitability will be cheered to the rafters by their shareholders — who, lest we forget, are largely composed of other big companies like retirement funds and such, as well as politicians (don’t get me started).

And “the market” is unlikely to come to our assistance either.

Oh sure, one could always buy an ancient vehicle which does not hold all the electronic doodads which make this corporate fuckery possible, or else a “stripped down” vehicle like, say, a Caterham which is bare-bones driving incarnate:

…until, of course, the Gummint passes legislation which outlaws the ownership of older cars or trucks (because of “environmental” concerns) or of stripped-down cars (because they don’t contain sufficient “safety” features).

And if you think that Congress wouldn’t dare to pass such legislation, you obviously haven’t been paying attention because that’s precisely what they’ve been doing for the past half-century.

Of course, this isn’t just confined to the U.S.A.;  it’s already a going concern in Europe and the U.K. (ULEZ, anyone?).  So the steamroller is well on its way, and you’re the one staked out in its path.

Have a nice day.

Me, I think I’ll go to the range.