Archive for December 2015

The Real Estate Market does not Reflect Global Warming

Whether or not you believe the phenomenon of global warming* is man-made, there's no doubt the Earth has been getting warmer over the past century. Naturally, a warmer Earth leads to melting ice which as a consequence creates higher sea levels. The only point of contention is how fast sea levels will rise. There are many models.

The most extreme of these models expect major devastation in rich and highly populated areas in the United States like Miami by as soon as 2050. Yet Miami seems almost oblivious to the threat. The real estate market in Miami continues to boom.

How can respected scientists' prediction that an area will be under water not change the value of its real estate? There are three possibilities:

  • The players in the market do not believe in sea level rise/global warming.
  • The chronologic window for the devastation is still too great to affect prices. Perhaps when predicted calamity is within the window of a 30 year mortgage, banks will think twice.
  • Market actors do believe in sea level rise, but act irrationally through some sort of group think.

Markets are not always great predictors of long term trends.

*I use the term "global warming" because I feel "climate change" is a kind of doublespeak. Global warming describes the Earth on average getting warmer, whilst the now more politically correct climate change can be deemed an accurate prediction regardless of what happens to the Earth's average global temperature. Yes I understand its defense is that global warming will not be a universal trend - some areas will get colder. I still think of it as doublespeak though.

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American Customer Service Downfall

I'm not an expert on customer service. On some level, though, we're all experts on customer service because we all interact with hundreds of different service workers in our regular day-to-day errands. Anecdotally, I believe customer service generally used to be better here in the States. When I was growing up, I feel like service with a smile was the norm, not the exception.

I worked retail at music & movie chain Sam Goody when I was 17 for 7 months for $6/hour (I got a raise to $6.24 near the end). As soon as the holiday season started and I needed to quit for tennis season anyway, I did. Even though Sam Goody's prices were a rip off and the management sucked, the floor people there genuinely cared about the customer experience. Everyone worked hard to make customers happy and "the customer is always right" was nearly true.

I've had an incredibly bad customer service experience amongst six different organizations during the past 24 hours. Again these are just anecdotes, but I believe them to be part of a larger pattern. It all started when I decided I need a new Windows PC. Most of my work is on the Mac, but I have a little bit that crosses over onto Windows. TigerDirect was having an incredible Black Friday sale on DIY bundles, so I purchased one that included the AMD A10-7870K APU.

The shipment email (as you can see in this screenshot)
shows I ordered a bundle with the A10-7870K a part worth about ~$130. The shipment arrived yesterday by UPS with the wrong microprocessor (A8-7670K instead). It turns out the email for the shipment already showed them sending me a different CPU .
What's nefarious is not the mistake, but that TigerDirect changed the bundle (without changing the bundle's item number) and then shipped me the new bundle, even though my order email proves I bought the original bundle. The customer service agent that I waited 65 minutes on the phone to talk to (TigerDirect does not accept returns by chat/email for this part) acknowledged the mistake. The entire conversation was 98 minutes.

She acknowledged that they changed the bundle after I had already ordered. It's a true bait-and-switch! They said they had no more A10-7870K's in stock and wouldn't for a while. So they offered me to send it back and they would refund me for the cost of the A8. The A8 is $25 cheaper and that's not what I paid for! $25 is not going to make or break me, but it's the principle. I contacted Google Trusted Stores and someone higher up at TigerDirect is supposedly going to contact me according to the original customer service rep. I'm not holding my breath.

So to go with this new computer I also ordered several items from Amazon. USPS claims they were delivered yesterday at 6:49 PM (strange because that's after when the mail comes). I told Amazon they haven't been delivered even though USPS has marked them as delivered and they told me to wait a couple more days. So when they say "Thursday delivery guaranteed" they don't mean it.

I went to the UPS Store today to ship back the A8 to TigerDirect. The first customer service rep barked at me "need a receipt"? But I couldn't understand what he was saying. When I  asked for clarification, he didn't reply. The second scanned it in and seemed friendly enough, but as I was leaving I distinctly heard him toss my A8 package across the room.

I then went to the Apple Store to return an item. There are no lines at the Apple Store, you just walk up to someone and ask for help. I asked someone who turned out to be a manager and he found the most disinterested employee you can imagine. The guy was playing on his phone and the manager actually had to chastise him for being spaced out. The guy hardly communicated with me/made eye contact as he returned my item.

I went to T-Mobile on the way out of the mall to change a cell phone plan. Not only did the service representative assume I wasn't a T-Mobile customer, he also told me their cheapest plan for my configuration was $120 (he was hoping to up-sell me it seems), and I had to correct him that it was indeed $90, but he also then acted almost with disdain that I was bothering him to do this switch for me. Then he espoused more misinformation about the plan I had switched to not including Binge-On, even though it does, to again try to up-sell me to a higher priced plan.

I went to MicroCenter to get the right A10 APU. I went to the notoriously commission driven "Build Your Own PC" center. I was obviously lost looking for their poorly marked "processors" section. Nobody came to my aid. Maybe I don't look like the typical nerd, or maybe they were all too busy chatting and on their cell phones. I found a guy and asked him for help. I think he was on his cell phone too. He told me to wait for him at a glass case he pointed in the direction of. I waited quite a bit even though he didn't seem to be helping any other customer. Then he walked with me to the checkout (security procedure there for high price items) and took another call on his cell phone.

I understand being a service worker in retail is a low-paid job with few benefits. But having these kind of experiences is certainly another incentive to shop online. The TigerDirect bait-and-switch, changing the components of the bundle after I had already ordered and paid, is completely unacceptable. That they further refused to refund me for the value of the original item is so ridiculous it's hard to believe. If this post got at least one person to not shop there, that's justice.

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Open Source Plagiarism

It seems the world cares less and less about intellectual property rights. Many people don't blink when mention of stealing music and movies comes up in conversation - an action that was taboo just a decade ago when the newspapers still covered music industry lawsuits against individuals. Today, students download PDFs of textbooks with nary a worry. And many of them don't even see such practice as dishonest. How does this attitude apply to open source software?

I care about intellectual property rights, because I think they help the world economy by encouraging the pursuit of art and innovation (I'm a little biased as an author and software developer). I think some of those rights go too far (excessively long copyright terms, patentable genetics, etc). But what we can all agree on is that there's a line to be drawn between taking someone else's work, and claiming someone else's work as your own. Where is that line in open source software?

Students who have grown up in this permissive, anti-intellectual property rights era not only don't care about the rights themselves, they don't care about that line either. Plagiarism is a rampant plague in the school system. I am very disappointed to see this disease of dishonesty infecting the open source world as well.

By its nature, open source software has a unique relationship with intellectual property rights. Whether it's the battle between copyleft (GPL) and permissive (BSD/MIT) style licenses, or concerns about corporations leveraging the work of individuals without contributing back to their respective projects, there are interesting and legitimate issues to debate. One thing that's not up for debate in most circles is that it's dishonest and disingenuous to take someone else's project, modify it slightly, and call it your own.

Technically, that's a derivative work. But spiritually, there is a line between a truly new project and a rip-off of the original. And you know it when you see it. Further, regardless of whether or not a project crosses that line, it must (by the terms of most open source licenses) acknowledge the original work/author.

I was very disappointed to see the appearance of RunKit on GitHub (Update: GitHub has now removed the repository due to a DMCA takedown notice by @duemunk) a Swift project by @khoiln. RunKit is a rip-off of Async by @duemunk. The first version of RunKit posted to GitHub didn't even acknowledge Async or @duemunk despite the entire project being a line-for-line copy of Async with a few name changes, comments removed, and very slight data structure changes (I inspected the two myself side-by-side). Despite this rip-off, @khoiln marketed RunKit with a banner image, a rewritten README and postings to public places.

Developers noticed this disingenuousness and posted issues on GitHub specifically calling out the plagiarism of Async (with no acknowledgement). @khoiln closed the issues. Then @duemunk himself opened an issue on RunKit specifically highlighting the MIT license's requirement that @khoiln acknowledge him and Async. He subsequently did. He went on to claim that he "...created this for internal projects since Async keyword is being used in our other framework." (Update: this quote was removed shortly after this blog post was published). That makes no sense - why then publish it publicly with a banner graphic and rewritten README? Why close the earlier issues? Now @khoiln has closed the project to issues on GitHub all together (yet RunKit continues to trend on GitHub).

Writing most open source software is not glamorous. One of the few things open source authors get is acknowledgement of their authorship (for resume, glory, or reputation purposes). It's sad to see even that challenged by plagiarism. One can imagine a very realistic scenario, where a developer writes an open source project, it gets little notice, and then another rips it off, gets a lot of notice, and lands a job based upon it.

Ultimately, unless you're a lawyer or a big corporation that can hire one, there's very little one can do against the limits of monetary resources and across borders to enforce an open source license. Yet, it would be nice if in the world of open source, we as a community enforced an honor code. I don't know how to instill such an honor code into young developers. I fear given their generation's widespread anti-intellectual property attitude, it may already be too late.

Addendum: For an example of this in a big company setting - checkout this GitHub issue in which Microsoft is called out for stripping the MIT license/acknowledgement from several files in their first release of WinObjC.

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