Dishonesty in business – a crisis of late capitalism?

After my latest experience of being lied to and misled by a business (Chase credit cards this time) I reflected on the peculiar pathology that seems to be all around us.  A certain subset of businesses (usually the larger ones, but not always) have chosen not to compete for customers and revenue through developing better products and service, but instead have made the choice to grow revenue through deception and cheating.

Everyone reading this will be able to think of numerous recent examples – the landlord who dishonestly kept the security deposit, the cable or phone company who “mistakenly” charged you extra for months (it’s funny how these “mistakes are *never* in the consumers’ favor), the car or software salesperson who lied about what their product could do or disparaged the competition unfairly, the bank that chose to extract the payments before applying the deposits and then charged you multiple times, etc. etc.

I’m an honest and straightforward person. Although (because?) I have no religion, I have a very strong sense of morality and ethics and thus it’s hard for me to get into the mindset of the liars and cheats around us.  But time goes on and you become cynical and jaded – this offer is too good to be true, those claims can’t be valid – and generally you are right.

The ubiquity of this dishonesty in business suggests it’s a deliberate policy.  Lack of enforcement in most societies has educated white-collar criminals that their risk is low compared to regular criminals on whom far more resources are focused. I would consider the upper and middle management at Bank of America, Comcast, or Hertz to be as much white-collar criminals (although to a lesser extent) as the crooks who fixed the LIBOR rate or bankrupted Lehman.

It’s also odd, because in some aspects society is in a golden age of discovery and business growth.  Etsy and Kickstarter facilitate small craft and product development businesses; Tesla has successfully started the electric car revolution; Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry, Citrix, and Cisco (and many others) have successfully unchained many workers from the cubicle and daily commute; Amazon and AliBaba allow people to live outside big cities and still have access to an enormous array of goods and supplies; ZipCar allows people to live in big cities and not own a car that sits unused most of the time; etc.

At the other extreme, the legacy businesses – banks, airlines, cable companies, property management companies, car companies (for example) – have by and large chosen not to innovate or create and instead to gouge their customers to improve their bottom lines.  Maybe in this current business climate there’s no viable way to keep United afloat other than fucking over their frequent and infrequent travelers through endless fees, charges, and erosion of service and benefits? Maybe the whole banking system operates on such small margins that BoA (and all of the rest) have to charge 12-23% interest on credit cards, while paying 0.03% on savings? Perhaps the only way GM and Ford dealers can compete with Tesla is by preventing Tesla from selling cars in that state?

I wish I knew what to do about this.  It’s just depressing, really, and I call it a crisis of capitalism because this certainly doesn’t feel like the operation of a rational market.  I don’t think it’s THE crisis of capitalism, and I suspect that as more and more people recognize what’s going on they will pressure their elected politicians to do something and eventually there may be a little more semblance of oversight and enforcement.  Of course that is tougher to do when politicians in the US and UK are primarily funded by the beneficiaries of this broken system – but I don’t think I can give up on both democracy and capitalism in the same week.

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Low carb vegetarian?

On the trip I was reading about a competitive swimmer in his forties who was eating right and training 4+ hours a day and still gaining weight.  I’m not training that hard, but I’ve been eating <1500 cals a day for over a year and working out 30-90 minutes 6 days a week and I haven’t lost an ounce.  Clearly my metabolism is not working like most people’s (can I be the only person who trained for and ran the NYC marathon and actually gained weight in the process?)

Going to experiment with low carb vegetarian to see if that can make a difference.

It’s definitely going to be a challenge since I can only eat so many eggs and haven’t bought milk or butter in years.  It looks like eggs, tempeh, tofu, and beans are going to be in my future A LOT

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100 Healthy Days – day 21

Back at home after a trip to Maine.  Too much beer drunk and less than optimal diet, but good for the soul and mental health, and that’s an important trade-off.  Lots of walking this weekend – 7+ miles in the the city yesterday and probably close to that on Saturday.

According to RunKeeper, I hit my 50km walking challenge in less than three weeks – and that doesn’t include cycling or elliptical in the gym.

Carrying on.

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100 Healthy Days – days 12, 13, & 14

The second weekend of my challenge went WAY better than the first.  Friday night I walked up to meet Kim from work, we had dinner at Penelope and then walked back – 4 miles RT to help digest dinner.

We were up early on Saturday to take a truck load of boxes to storage and completely re-organized the unit to generate what looked like more space than there had been in there before.  Another walk to the west village for brunch after the box-lifting and a quiet afternoon and evening.

Sunday was another early start and I went surfing out to Long Beach.  Not many decent waves, but I also swam as well as surfed.  I really need to work on shoulder and paddling strength over the winter as that is what is really hurting me.  Back at lunchtime and then a walk over to the Apple store on West 14th to check out the new iPhones and then down to Marshall Stack to meet Billy for a couple of beers.  I feel like 2 or 3 beers are justified after 90 minutes in the sea and 61/2 miles walking.  And in the spirit of being encouraged to make small changes by this commitment, rather than eat at the bar or order take out on Sunday night, I stopped at WF salad bar on the way home and put together a way better dinner.

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100 Healthy Days – days 9, 10, & 11

Much better progress. Went to the gym wednesday and had a long walk (4.6 miles) through SoHo, NoLita, and Chinatown last night.  Diet has been consistent and water intake good.

Booked a car to go to go surfing on Sunday, so I’m looking forward to that and I will need to step up efforts to eat better over this weekend.

Mental health and happiness is also good – I’ve been reading and writing a lot more than I had been – launched my new tech blog and a photography blog and finally created a sub page listing my apartment.

I’ve also made great progress in the evenings packing books and boxes to get into storage so I can re-stage my apartment.

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100 Healthy days – day 9

Much, much better.  Back on track with diet and exercise.

One hour at the gym – 50 mins bike plus some weights.  Fake chicken and ranchero beans for dinner.  Good sleep.

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And; smile

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(sorry no idea who owns the copyright on this – I got it from Cheezburger – happy to credit if it’s yours)

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100 Healthy Days – days 6,7, & 8

Hmm – setbacks so early?

Weekends were always going to be a challenge – eating out, having some drinks, blowing off the gym.

Suffice to say all those things happened along with unhappiness, because this fucking apartment sale is driving me crazy.  Which makes me sad, and then …

I did walk through the EV on Saturday after brunch, and I did have healthy breakfasts every day.  I walked in BK in the heat on Sunday and got very dehydrated and very pissed off. I slept poorly every night. I ate cheese on Sunday which exacerbated my chest congestion.

Reset button pushed and we are on day nine, and how to deal with challenges and stress is part of growing and improving. Start simply: sleep (reasonably) well. Have a healthy breakfast. Sidetrack – get annoyed and angry at Microsoft tech support. Do some pushups. Clean the kitchen. Heat up some healthy chilli for lunch.

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100 Healthy Days – days 4 & 5

Decent progress continues – stuck to regular diet and rode the bike for 50 minutes at the gym yesterday.  I think the key for me is the little changes making this commitment forces.  On Wednesday night, after a four mile walk around the EV, I stopped at Maoz to grab a falafel sandwich for dinner.  Most times I would have had the fries with it too, but this time it was just the sandwich.  I think (hope?) that it will be these small changes that add up.

Today I also set about cooking more of multi-bean high-protein chili to refill the freezer and keep me going for lunches and dinners through the next couple of weeks.  I soaked the beans last night and ended up putting WAY too many in the pot.  So now I have literally gallons of chili cooking on the stove. (One great advantage of working from home is that you can cook long-simmering things during the day).  I’m completely happy eating the same thing for days on end, but I’m not sure I’ll have freezer space or containers for all of it.

Recipe (in case anyone is interested):

  • Beans – black, red, pinto, navy, mung, adzuki, green lentil, brown lentil, chick pea
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Garlic, onions, leeks – organic from farmers market
  • Quorn crumbles – I usually don’t bother but I had them in my freezer and they were getting old
  • Red, orange, and purple peppers – also organic from Union square market
  • Zucchini – also organic from market
  • Carrots – none at the market today, so these are from Whole Foods
  • Jalapeño peppers – from Farmers Market
  • Paprika, cayenne, cumin

 

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100 Healthy days – day 3

Three good consecutive days with a little more attention paid to what I eat and when.

Back to the regular 50 minute cardio workouts at the gym – although at a slightly lighter level due to the lingering effects of a cold and being away from the gym for three plus weeks.

Slept horribly last night – which is usually not an issue for me. Not really sure why.  Hope to make up for it tonight.

If you want to stalk my workouts – here they are: http://runkeeper.com/user/RaoulMiller/profile

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100 Healthy Days

As of September 15 I decided to step up my commitment to health and fitness with the 100 healthy days challenge.  I’m generally pretty active and eat reasonably well, but my gut indicates I could do better at both.  I first became aware of this effort through @caro on twitter and I like the accountability and awareness of tracking progress and staying on track.

I chose monday to start as the 100 days will then take me right up to Christmas – although I’m hoping that the good habits embedded in this process will then last for the next 12,000 plus healthy days.

So – day one, decent start.  Regular breakfast, healthier than usual lunch, regular dinner. 50 minutes on the bike at the gym – and even though it was at an easier setting then usual, I could feel the fact that I’ve been away from the gym for three weeks or so.  Also made more effort than normal to drink water.

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Should I stay or should I go?

The apartment sale has not been going as quickly as I had hoped (listing here if you are interested in an NYC pied-à-terre) and the whole experience has been absurdly stressful.  Seems like it’s a sellers market in Brooklyn , where we want to buy, but a buyers’ market 5 miles away in Manhattan.  Seems hard to believe, but out of my control.

It had all been getting to me (and to Kim) to the point that we had started to say “fuck it, we just aren’t rich enough to live in the city”.  I then started to try and list all the cities we might consider to move to.  My requirements are far more spartan than Kim’s, so I focussed on places that wouldn’t be too much of a jump for her (not too wild, too hot, too cold, too hippy, too isolated, etc.) Portland, Maine has always been a pretty high contender on that list and so we are going to look up there in July.  A nice 2 bed / 2 bath condo right on the water is the same price as a studio here (although we would need a car).

But as soon as I say “I’m outta here” NYC fights back – and Kim manages to get tickets for Debbie Harry and Chris Stein talking at the 92nd St Y.  For all its merits, I would imagine Portland doesn’t get events like that on a regular week night.  It was a great event – hard to believe that there was Ms Harry – still looking great – and Mr Stein talking about CBGBs and how everyone spent all their time back in the “good old days” complaining about how hard life was in the city and how they were all going to leave. Plus ça change…

So there we are; after having literally dozens of pics of Blondie (ok, I admit it, mostly Debbie Harry) on my bedroom wall back in Nelson I get to hear her talk and reminisce about those days 35 years later – circle of life, I suppose.

As for whether we’ll move to BK or somewhere else, stay tuned.  Gotta sell this place first.

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Apple launches three-factor security, incorrectly calls it two-factor

In 2008, when MobileMe was first launched, Steve Jobs was apoplectic at its flaky, poor functionality – he told the team that they “should hate each other for having let each other down” (source).

iCloud replaced MobileMe, and in some cases its functionality is better than the unlamented predecessor, but the ghosts of stupid design and implementation are still there.

Apple introduced two-factor authentication for the iTunes store (using AppleID) about a year ago (source) and generally it’s a good idea because of the financial information that Apple forces you to store in your account.  There had been exploits in previous years where miscreants had created iTunes gift cards using purloined credentials.

Unfortunately, though, as I found out today, the implementation of 2-factor security has been laughably poor.  Two factor security requires that you have two of the three items:

  • iTunes password
  • Access to device on which to receive a code
  • A recovery key

As of right now I have two of those three items but I’m locked out of my account with very little possibility of access. Why?  Because Apple arbitrarily reset my password due to some kind of activity.  Great – I would hope that vendors would do that when they see suspicious activity (Chase have been outstanding for me in the past in that regard).  BUT – now I can’t reset my password because I don’t have both of the remaining items.  So Apple’s two factor security is in fact three factor security, with two separate passwords (one called a recovery key) and device access.

I’m sure I have that recovery key somewhere in a file in a box in a storage unit in Brooklyn because I am in the process of moving.  But I shouldn’t need it because I have two factors – it’s just that Apple arbitrarily changed one and now demands the third which I guarantee most people will not have.

I’m going to the “genius” bar this evening to see if they can help me – which I am fairly sure they cannot.  So learn from my mistakes and remember that Apple’s two-factor security is really three-factor and you will need access to all three at all times in order to continue to use iCloud.

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Van Morrison – at the Beacon Theatre 11/26/13

2013-11-26 20.53.50 HDR

As good a show as I have ever seen Van perform.  I am very glad I didn’t waste my money on tickets for the awful Madison Square Garden – the Beacon Theatre (where I saw him do Astral Weeks live) is a great venue.  Sound was fantastic, the band was great, and he appeared to have a good time – although in Chuck Berry fashion he was off stage by 9:59 with no encore.

Set List:

  • Celtic Swing (with Van playing sax) (Inarticulate Speech of the Heart)
  • Ballerina (Astral Weeks)
  • The Way Young Lovers do (Astral Weeks)
  • Moondance (Moondance)
  • Tupelo Honey (Tupelo Honey)
  • Why Must I Always Explain? (Hymns to the Silence)
  • Centrepiece (How Long has this Been Going on?) (with Jon Hendricks, Aria Hendricks & Kevin Burke)
  • Whenever God Shines his light (Avalon Sunset)
  • That Old Black Magic (Days Like This)
  • Sometimes We Cry (The Healing Game)
  • (Come See Me) Early in the Morning (80 – BB King and Friends)
  • In the Midnight (Back on Top)
  • I Can’t Stop Loving You (Hymns to the Silence)
  • Glad Tiding (Moondance)
  • Sack O’ Woe (with Jon Hendricks, Aria Hendricks & Kevin Burke)
  • In the Garden (No Guru, No Method, No Teacher)
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What I learned traveling to all 50 states

Actually, before I get to that – let me tell you what I learned on my trip to Mississippi and Alabama – the final two states I had to visit

 

  • Mobile has some wonderful architecture and a very nice main street (when you get away from the overbuilt convention center and stuff)

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  • I thought I had experienced heat and humidity before – but nothing compares to 92 F at 830 in the morning with close to 100% humidity.  No wonder people move slowly around here.  And this was in September – not July or August

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  • Montgomery AL is also a pretty city downtown – until you start to remember who built all those buildings and where the money for that came from.  Still, I was impressed that they had preserved things and improved the small area around the station.

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  • The Pettus bridge in Selma, AL looks *exactly* the same as it does in the photos of white cops beating civil rights marchers 50 years ago.

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  • Natchez MI is very pretty and well worth a visit – just don’t think about who built those houses. Great architecture, also hot and humid

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Funny thing was that all my friends in NYC and Europe thought an opinionated Brit who lives in NY and talks weird would end up beaten in a ditch – but in fact people couldn’t have been nicer.  Only person who was weird was a middle aged white guy who thought I was a rival college football fan because I was wearing a red baseball cap.

I’ll finish the broader theme of what I learned in all 50 states next post.

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The Raoulinator (surfboard)

I took a class at 3rd Ward last summer to shape a surfboard – taught by the phenomenal Mr. David Murphy.  He’s a master of surf shaping and I can’t praise his knowledge, teaching skill, and craft enough.  If you haven’t seen his work, go to that first tumblr link or here.

As a total newbie / aspiring surfer I didn’t really know what I wanted or needed, so we came up with this – which Dave christened the Raoulinator.  It’s a 7’3″ beefy, high volume board for a big, slow guy (me).  It has the swallow tail because that’s just an aesthetic I like.  I wanted to be as old-school as possible in the colours and I’m extremely happy with the way it turned out.  Of course, it hasn’t been in the water yet – I’ve been learning with Elliot at Surf2Live since before Memorial Day, and I still suck.  The popup eludes me and then even when I do get up on a super long, super wide board my balance is terrible.

But I never leave without a huge smile and aching muscles and the desire to go back and do better next time.

Finished Raoulinator with tri-fin setup – although I expect to use either single fin or duals (probably the former):

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Details of tail

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Alternate view (which makes it look shorter and wider than it should due to weird perspective)

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Managing Contacts in OS X

This appears to be needlessly complex – at the moment I now have 4 or 5 different versions of each contact on the Mac Mini.  Thankfully the iPad and iPhone only appear to have a single version each.

I think the issue on the mac is that (stupidly) the Address Book has one locally stored version and one iCloud version – I had meant to figure out how to fix that and then let it drop.  I also had the issue that because I was using Entourage any updates to Exchange did not get passed back to local contacts, so the two stores got more and more out of synch.  Now I upgraded to Outlook 2011 (or I’m in the process of) and Outlook downloads the contacts from Exchange and then Address Book shows them as well.

I need to figure this out because it’s absurd that in 2013 I have various versions of contacts flying around and I have to even consider downloading all 1500+ to a CSV and clean them up in Excel like I did 18 months ago.

I’ll update this post as I try different approaches to clean up.

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Humbled by Surfing

I’ve always wanted to be able to surf – not in the Kelly Slater athletic way or Laird Hamilton giant, scary, deadly waves way (although those are both great), but in the mellow get in the ocean, enjoy the swell, ride a wave or two on a longboard kind of way.

But I come to this late. I’m getting older. Even though I’m a decent swimmer, apparently I have a laughably weak paddle and tire easily. I’m not particularly frightened of the water, but being out in the waves does worry me – as does getting in the way of surfers who are better than me.

And the pop-up. How frustrating! I’ve been working with Elliot from Surf2Live and he’s a superstar. Very patient and encouraging and I know I’ll get there eventually. In fact, I feel frustrated as much for him as I do for myself.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back out there – getting tired, sore, sun burned, and happy. I’ll get it, eventually, and then I’ll learn to get better.

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Some pics from my San Diego trip

Pacific Beach on a Wednesday night.  Wish I’d taken my wetsuit.

Pacific Beach - San Diego 1

 

Pacific Beach - San Diego 2

 

Pacific Beach - San Diego 3

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Don’t buy a Seagate Momentus XT drive if you have a Mac

I bought this hybrid 500GB drive for my old MacBook Pro and had endless issues with it.  If it wasn’t for the actual laptop beginning to die, I think I would have been able to ascribe more of the issues to the faulty firmware on the HD.

Seagate has acknowledged that the firmware on these drives is deficient because it has random power management issues that are independent of the OS – in practice, this means that the drive powers down randomly and basically freezes the system on a whim.  When it is powered up correctly, it’s a decent fast drive and fulfills its promise of providing some SSD functionality at a slightly elevated standard HD price.

Here’s where things get weird, though.  I put the drive in an external drive housing to try and get some value from it – but it’s unusable because of the random power changes – none of which are addressable or configurable through any kind of UI.  The only answer is to flash the drive’s firmware – OK, fair enough.  Except there is apparently no way to flash the drive’s firmware unless it is mounted as the primary drive on a computer.  Which of course is untenable because the damn thing is crappy and unreliable.

So that’s a $100+ coaster, I guess.  Lesson learned. Not happy with Seagate at all.

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