Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 18th, 2012

The perfect job! Netflix Tech Support.

with 4 comments

I’m reading the James Garner memoir The Garner Files and enjoying it immensely, and I’ve just gotten to the filming of The Great Escape. I thought it would be nice to see that again, but alas! it’s not available on Netflix Watch Instantly. But some other Garner movies were, so I tried to add them.

I get the message that I cannot add movies because my queue is at 500 movies. That struck me as odd, because it is in fact at 476 moves.

I called Netflix, and I was told that the reason I can’t add more movies is because of the “Saved” queue, which pushes me to the limit.

But there are no movies in my “Saved” queue, so that is not really a very good answer.

The support person I was talking to looked and saw that I was correct, and contacted their technical support staff. Here’s where it gets interesting:

The technical support staff explained that the “Saved” movies are actually still present, just hidden from me (the customer), and that makes the queue full. I cannot delete the “Saved” movies, of course, because I can’t see them. They can see them, but (they say) they cannot delete them. The reason they cannot delete them, so far as I can tell, is that they can’t be bothered. Apparently it’s a non-trivial operation, and they feel they’ve landed a sinecure such that any request that involves them actually doing some work can be summarily rejected.

I never did get any reason whatsoever why the “Saved” movies cannot be deleted, and the advice I got was, in essence, to pound sand. “Tough noogies,” is the Netflix answer to customer problems. “Button your lip and live with it.”

I will say that the Support supervisor with whom I talked was very pleasant. He was caught in the middle: the technical people apparently don’t talk with customers—they’re too busy working on their tans, or some such—and the only answer he could get from them is that deleting movies from the “Saved” queue is beyond the capabilities of modern technology.

So it goes.

UPDATE: I ended up calling Netflix again. I wanted to send an email containing the body of this post, and they have no email address I could find. So I called the number once more, and talked at some length, explaining what had happened. I fully understood that the customer support person is caught in the middle, between the perplexed  customer with a problem and a technical staff whose claim is that record deletion is unexplored technical territory and resolving the problem may take more time than Netflix has left as a company.

I made up the last part, but once a company heads down the path Netflix has taken, the end can come with great suddenness. I just watched a movie from Amazon streaming and it worked fine. Do I need Netflix any more? A great many of my friends, when I recommend a Watch Instantly movie (The Dam Busters, for example), tell me that they dropped Netflix. I’m beginning to understand why, and I’m curious what entrepreneur will leap into the gap Netflix is voluntarily creating by its “can’t-be-arsed” attitude toward solving problems customers encounter in using the service.

One interesting aspect of this, from an organization design point of view, is that Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO) has created a perfect environment for problem explosion: the only people customers can contact is customer support staff, and that only by phone (so no awkward messages from angry customers that customer support might forward to managers and executives: what is discussed with customer support stays with customer support—a familiar trope, but less fun than Vegas, I think). The technical staff is insulated from customer anger by a buffer, the executive/management staff is insulated from customer anger by the same buffer, and the customer support group struggles. I would be interested to know the turnover rate in the customer support staff: high-stress job, angry customers, unresponsive company, revenue undoubtedly plummeting… surely those customer support people are working on resumes, and so far as I can tell the technical staff have already bailed, thus record deletion becomes an impossible problem. Either they’re gone, or they’re stuck at Netflix because so few companies want to hire database designers and programmers who create databases that do not allow record deletion.

UPDATE: Last night, after mulling it over since this post, I canceled Watch Instantly altogether and I cut my DVD plan to 2 at a time.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV, Technology

Tagged with

Watch this one: It’s about you

with one comment

Thanks to pwillow1 for pointing this interesting (and useful, but only if you use it) TED talk:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 7:27 pm

Commercial publishers attempt to steal public funds

leave a comment »

Indirectly, of course, so they won’t be prosecuted. And, as seems to be the common mode of attack, the commercial publishers are trying to get their handmaidens in Congress to deliver the loot to them. (In fairness, it seems that these publishers have not sufficiently contributed cash to Congressmembers and the legislation may fail.) The idea to get control of research and reports paid for by the public, and be able to sell this for profit, despite not having invested a penny in its development. (Cf. “rip-off”)

This contemptible behavior is par for the course in the modern corporations, the leaders of which have apparently one and all undergone an ethicectomy.

The story, by Bob Grant in The Scientist:

Academic publishers are publically disagreeing with their commercial counterparts over their association’s support of a bill being considered in the US Congress that would limit open access to research findings funded with tax payer dollars.

It was not so surprising when last week the Association of American Publishers (AAP) came out in favor of the Research Works Act, which would roll back the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy mandating that all published research funded by the federal science agency be submitted to the publically accessible digital archive PubMed Central. But since announcing its stance, the trade group, which includes in its ranks scientific journal publishers Elsevier, Sage, and other corporate members, has been seeing its non-profit members—university presses and the like—voice their disagreement.

The MIT Press was the first to contravene the association’s position on the legislation. “The AAP’s press release on the Research Works Act does not reflect the position of the MIT Press,” the press’s director Ellen Faran wrote in an email making the rounds in open-access circles last week. “We will not, however, withdraw from the AAP on this issue as we value the association’s work over all and the opportunity to participate as a member of the larger and diverse publishing community.” She added her suspicion that other academic presses felt the same way about the Research Works Act, and it turns out she was right.

The Rockefeller University Press, the University of California Press, and the Pennsylvania State University Press all followed the MIT Press’s lead, releasing their own statements rejecting the association’s stance. Throughout last week, open-access advocate Richard Poynder followed the splits on his blog Open and Shut.

This week, Faran told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the MIT Press allows its authors to share pre- and post- publication versions of studies they publish in the press’s scholarly journals, behavior that would be made illegal by the Research Works Act. The legislation, Faran told The Chronicle, “is not congruent with our other open-access policies.”

The bill is currently in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and if history is any guide, it faces a tough climb in Congress. Earlier versions of the legislation have all failed.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 12:50 pm

Omega-3s and the health of your nerve tissue

with 12 comments

I have been “on” about omega-3s since I read this article in 2002. Indeed, one reason I avoid polyunsaturated seed oils (safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, canola) are the very bad omega-6 to omega-3 ratios most have. It’s also why I buy grassfed beef, though really that’s not much of a risk given the amount of beef I now eat: very little.

Mark Hollmer writes at Fierce Biotech:

Fish oil may be on its way to becoming a multitasking miracle drug.

Here’s the latest: Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London believe that omega-3 fatty acids can protect nerves from being injured and help regenerate the ones that are harmed, based on preclinical research with mice.

Omega-3s, of course, are found in fish oil. And beyond the latest finding, scientists are discovering that fish oil has the potential to solve plenty of health problems.

Just a few weeks ago, FierceBiotechResearch told you about Penn State scientists who derived a compound from fish oil that successfully targeted and killed leukemia cells in the spleen and bone marrow in mice, completely wiping out the disease. And fish oil has long been thought to offer cardiac health benefits. Naturally, these findings haven’t been duplicated yet in people and they may not be. But further research is expected on all fronts, including follow-up research on using omega-3 fatty acids to protect or help regenerate nerves. If it is found to work in people, it could be an inexpensive and innovative way to treat folks injured in accidents. (From their previous efforts, the researchers have surmised that omega-3 compounds could also help treat neurological conditions.)

For the nerve study, researchers studied isolated mouse cell nerves and also their sciatic nerves. In the first situation, they stretched the cells or starved them of oxygen to simulate accident or injury-related damage, killing a large number of nerve cells. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids helped protect the nerve cells overall and decreased cell death. The same treatment also aided mice suffering from sciatic nerve injury, helping them to recover sooner and reducing post-damage muscle wasting.

Study findings are detailed in the Journal of Neuroscience.

– here’s the release
– read the journal abstract

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 12:36 pm

Guantánamo: Shame of the US

leave a comment »

Not only did the US torture prisoners to death in Guantánamo—and then protected the torturers and murderers, who will not be called to account: they did it in the past, you see, and President Obama believes that no one should be punished for past misdeeds except those whom he decides to punish, like Bradley Manning, for example: releasing documents that embarrass the US by showing what the US does is intolerable, and Manning must be punished at all costs—just like the persecution (and prosecution) of Thomas Drake, who revealed NSA waste in the Trailblazer program. OTOH, the massive breakdown of law in the warrantless wiretapping: that’s fine. Victims were just American citizens, not powerful bureaucrats. And all the publicized torture of suspects: why, that’s fine, too. President Obama has a Magic 8 Ball that indicates to him which persons to pursue for punishment and which get off scot-free. Obama gets to decide. In the US we no longer have the rule of law, but the rule of whim.

Now Guantánamo is transgressing new boundaries: Suspects do not have the right to confidential consultation with their attorney.

This country is throwing its values overboard wholesale.

Kal Raustiala writes in the LA Times:

Of all the hangovers from the George W. Bush years, the thorniest may be what to do about the U.S. military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There are still 171 detainees at Guantánamo and little consensus on what to do with them. Last spring, President Obama announced the resumption of military trials for some of those charged with participating in the 9/11 attacks. These trials, known as military commissions, have been stalled for years by legal challenges. Recently, the official in charge of the Guantánamo prison, Rear Adm. David Woods, issued a draft order that compounds these challenges. The order requires all correspondence between the accused and their appointed military lawyers to be reviewed by federal officials.

The proposed order is a mistake, one that threatens to jeopardize the progress made in reversing Guantánamo’s tainted legacy as a legal black hole. It likely violates the 6th Amendment’s guarantee of the right to counsel, which has long been understood to permit lawyers to communicate confidentially with their clients.

The order is not just bad law. It is also bad policy that could tarnish the most high-profile military trials held by our nation since World War II.

What legal rights the Guantánamo detainees possess is hotly contested. The Bush administration long argued that Guantánamo was Cuban, not American, territory and therefore the detainees had no constitutional rights. That view was repudiated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in Boumediene vs. Bush. In deciding that at least some constitutional rights extended to those held at Guantánamo, the court recognized the highly unusual nature of the base.

Guantánamo has been under American control since U.S. troops prevailed in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Cuba has no effective control over the base, which is governed by a lease that cannot be changed without U.S. consent and that accords the U.S. “complete jurisdiction and control.” This history led the Supreme Court to declare that whatever the legal formalities, it is an “obvious and uncontested fact” that the United States is the de facto sovereign there.

In short, Guantánamo Bay is technically Cuba. But as a practical matter, it is just as much a part of the United States as Tampa Bay.

Boumediene did not involve the 6th Amendment. And the Supreme Court has never expressly declared that the 6th Amendment applies to foreigners tried abroad. In the closest case on point — involving Nazi saboteurs captured during World War II on the beaches of Long Island and Florida and tried in the U.S. — the court held that they lacked a 6th Amendment right to trial by jury because the laws of war did not require one for unlawful combatants. But the 1942 decision pointedly said nothing about the other aspects of the amendment, including the right to counsel.

In light of these precedents, it is not at all implausible that the right to counsel extends to those at Guantánamo. The Supreme Court made it clear in Boumediene that it was deeply troubled by the idea that the federal government could evade constitutional restraints simply by moving prisons offshore. That reasoning applies no less readily to offshore trials.

Woods’ order does not simply raise legal concerns, however. By violating the sanctity of attorney-client privilege, it jeopardizes the perception of American military commissions as fair and just, a perception that is crucial if these trials are to succeed.

To see why, consider the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 12:15 pm

Blackout to oppose SOPA/PIPA

with 2 comments

One major problem with SOPA/PIPA is that very large corporations—the media companies, for example—tend to run to scum at the top, and take no account of community interests or the common welfare in their decisions (as they would proudly admit: their only ambitions and allegiance are to the shareholders is their claim, though in fact their actual loyalties are to their jobs and advancement, regardless of  cost to others).

Harsh? I’m not sure. I’m reading Extra Viriginity, about the wholly corrupt olive oil industry, in which you never get what you pay for in commercial brands. (Olive oil bottled by the grower may or may not be okay: I buy only California brands now myself.) I’m also reading The Garner Files, by James Garner and Jon Winokur, seeing once more how corrupt the movie industry was. (Cliff Robertson was in effect blackballed for pointing out that the Columbia Pictures president David Begelman repeatedly forged checks—a fascinating story recounted in Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street.) And the NY Times today has several stories on the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia and how the captain (who apparently caused the wreck by showing off, steering close to the shore and onto rocks) immediately abandoned ship (his claim is that he accidentally fell into a lifeboat and could not get out before it was launched—more story links can be found in the sidebar to that account). This naturally reminds me of the drunken captain of the Exxon Valdez who destroyed the environment of an Alaskan bay in the 1989 spill—and of how Exxon deliberately dragged out court proceedings for years and years so that the older claimants would die and the younger would settle cheap—and Exxon also stinted on the clean-up.

This doesn’t even touch on Ford’s deliberate designing the Pinto to be unsafe (customers burned alive after modest crashes because Ford wanted to save a tiny amount in manufacturing costs) and then falsifying evidence to cover up the facts—but then the automotive industry has a terrible track record overall.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of any large business that one can trust—which, of course, is why we have watchdog agencies, which industries continually attempt (with rousing success) to suborn. (The SEC, the FDA, and so on: all compromised repeatedly.) Now the industry’s decided the best course is simply to kill watchdog agencies in the cradle, which is what they’re doing to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, assisted by Obama, who refused to nominate (or even consider, so far as I can tell) Elizabeth Warren, for fear that she would enforce regulations. (This is the same President Obama who began healthcare negotiations by agreeing to health insurance company demands that there be no public option, which would have revealed the extent to which those companies were bilking the public.)

I have a somewhat jaundiced view of industry, but I came by it honestly, which is more than I can say for their profits. So I oppose the power grab by the major media companies that is what SOPA/PIPA is all about.

Jeanna Wortham reports in the NY Times.

With a Web-wide protest on Wednesday that includes a 24-hour shutdown of the English-language Wikipedia, the legislative battle over two Internet piracy bills has reached an extraordinary moment — a political coming of age for a relatively young and disorganized industry that has largely steered clear of lobbying and other political games in Washington.

The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, are backed by major media companies and are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online. But the tech industry fears that, among other things, they will give media companies too much power to shut down sites that they say are abusing copyrights.

The legislation has jolted technology leaders, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, who are not accustomed to having their free-wheeling online world come under attack.

One response is Wednesday’s protest, which directs anyone visiting Google and many other Web sites to pages detailing the tech industry’s opposition to the bills. Wikipedia, run by a nonprofit organization, is going further than most sites by actually taking material offline — no doubt causing panic among countless students who have a paper due.

It said the move was meant to spark greater public opposition to the bills, which could restrict its freedom to publish.

“For the first time, it’s very clear that legislation could have a direct impact on the industry’s ability to do business,” said Jessica Lawrence, the managing director of New York Tech Meetup, a trade organization with 20,000 members that has organized a protest rally in Manhattan on Wednesday. “This has been a wake-up call.”

Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that the technology industry, which has birthed large businesses like Google, Facebook and eBay, is much more powerful than it used to be.

“This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover,” said Professor Wu, who is the author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” He added, “The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first.”

Under the proposed legislation, if a copyright holder like Warner Brothers discovers that a foreign site is focused on offering illegal copies of songs or movies, it could seek a court order that would require search engines like Google to remove links to the site and require advertising companies to cut off payments to it.

Internet companies fear that because the definitions of terms like “search engine” are so broad in the legislation, Web sites big and small could be responsible for monitoring all material on their pages for potential violations — an expensive and complex challenge.

They say they support current law, which requires Web sites with copyright-infringing content to take it down if copyright holders ask them to, leaving the rest of the site intact. Google, which owns YouTube and other sites, received five million requests to remove content or links last year, and it says it acts in less than six hours if it determines that the request is legitimate. . .

Continue reading.

Our government—Congress, the Executive, and the Supreme Court—has been taken over by industry and their decisions default now to industry wishes. It takes extraordinary efforts to get Congress to focus, even momentarily, on the common welfare and the role of the government as an advocate for the public and for consumers. The direction the government is going is clear, and the increasing fortification of the District of Columbia (which James Fallows comments on here, in his discussion of the DC “Green Zone”) shows where we’re headed—that and the increasing militarization of police departments. And with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, corporations are free to increase their control of our government.

I fear bad times ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 11:42 am

Persian Musk & Primalan

leave a comment »

A slow morning, and thought given whether to blog today or observe the SOPA/PIPA blackout, which I support. I decided that I would do more good blogging about it than shutting down my blog for a day.

I used AB GLO: Ach. Brito instead of Musgo Real—$7 less for the same soap, though the label bears a different name. Vulfix shaving cream is new to me, but the Persian Musk was quite nice. It’s a soft cream, and I got enough on my Rooney Butterscotch Emilion with a single twirl. A very nice lather ensued, and then three passes with a Swedish Gillette blade in the Progress: total smoothness.

A little dab of Primalan, and then, once that was absorbed and dry, a splash of Lavanda aftershave (not shown).

I got gobs of good sleep last night, and my glasses should be in tomorrow—well, more accurately, they should have been in last Friday, but the lab messed up. Truly, I do not see that I’ll have any more problems ordering glasses from a Web supplier than I do working with this current optician.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2012 at 10:54 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: