Category Archives: Commerce

Dispatches From South America – Street Commerce

Though I suspect that it’s a wonderful system for selling goods—low overhead, more exposure than being stuck in a shop—the collection of odd things that we’ve seen being sold on the streets of Quito is pretty amazing. Here’s a sample:

Breakfast trays
Clothes pins
Auto parts (hub caps, mirros, etc…)
Packages of empanadas
Hats for dogs (modeled by a dog!)
Coat trees
Remotes for just about any device you can think of

…and the personal favorite:

TV antennas

More ‘Dispatches From South America’

Patented Payola

Microsoft has got a whole new spin on pricing models for their software and services. They’re going to charge prices that are inversely related to the perceived influence of the purchaser. So…if you’re Walt Mossberg (personal technology reviewer for the Wall Street Journal) you’re gonna get your personal copies of Office and Windoze 7 for…well…free. The rest of us schmucks? Well let’s just say that, wielding zero influence, we can expect to have to pay through the nose for Microsoft’s crappy products.

Payola isn’t dead. It’s alive, well, and patented in the 21st century.

Banks Say “Please, No More Regulation”…

… the only way they know how, by throwing a tiny bone to consumers in the form of slightly (very slightly) less abusive practices.  But don’t be fooled. With Barney Frank (D-MA) breathing down their necks, Bank of America and Chase are going to do anything they can to keep additional restrictions of the CARD Act from being implemented early. In this case, they’ll remove some inconsequential automated overdraft fees in a bid to show what good corporate citizens they are:

New York-based JPMorgan said it made the changes, which include removing overdraft fees if a customer’s account is $5 or less overdrawn, in a bid to help its 25 million debit card customers amid the recession and rising U.S. unemployment levels.

— Reuters

Gee… $5!  Really? I suppose if I overdraw buying a Snicker’s bar I might benefit from this sop, but on anything else? Not bloody likely! And check this out:

…it [J.P. Morgan/Chase] will start recognizing debit-card transactions and cash withdrawals as they occur, according to the statement.

Oh…fabulous! My bank is going to stop deliberately lying about my account balance.

As excited as I am about my bank’s new found concern for my financial well-being, I can’t help but wonder how fast these silly changes will be withdrawn once consumers start using their credit again, once Barney Frank and his ilk find something else to focus on?

The sweet smell of…Pamela Anderson?!

Bottle blond and human blow up doll Pamela Anderson tweeted this week about the launch of her first fragrance.  It’s called Malibu by Pamela.  Personally I think “SKANK!” would have been a better choice.  She could diversify ala Jennifer Lopez, Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton into adjacent fragrances like, “SKANK! Beach” and “SKANK! Boat”.  The Frog suggested “MILF SKANK!”   There could even be a “Vegas SKANK!”.  I’m wondering if PETA has certified her fragrance animal friendly.  I’m guessing it was tested on ‘escorts’ walking the Vegas Strip between midnight and 3 a.m.

Great California garage sale

GarageSaleTransIf you’re looking for the “f-A-k-e. P.” logo here you’re not going to see it.  The great State of California really is running an online garage sale.  Gov. Schwarzenegger hopes to sell off extra vehicles from our state fleet, confiscated items, unused computers, desks and even an antique piano (?).  You see our guv figures if he signs these items, given his celebrity, they will be valuable and will bring much needed cash to the coffers of California.  He sure isn’t going to balance our budget the old fashioned way.  So he’s harnessed the power of eBay and Craigslist to move our junk.  So grab your pennies and stop by.  You never know when you’ll find a great deal on one of those nine Hummers parked out front of the governor’s mansion.

Your Right to Listen, At The RIAA’s Pleasure

We reject the view that copyright owners and their licensees are required to provide consumers with perpetual access to creative works. No other product or service providers are held to such lofty standards. No one expects computers or other electronics devices to work properly in perpetuity, and there is no reason that any particular mode of distributing copyrighted works should be required to do so.

— Steven Metalitz, Washington DC representative of the MPAA and RIAA in a letter to the US Copyright Office

What an undeniable load of crap! Plain fact is that, for the better part of century, creative works (especially music) were held to exactly this lofty standard. Moreover, no other industry forces consumers to buy a product that is crippled by design. My electronic devices aren’t engineered to self-destruct when the manufacturer instructs them to. Not so the hobbled music we purchase from online stores, where that same store must provide us with the ability to get through the DRM…until they go out of business or shutter their service.

— Kvatch

Return of the ‘All Cash Economy’

There’s no question that online bill payments—the ability to pay your credit-card bills, mortgage, or car payment with the ease of a single click—are a great convenience.  But now banks and financial institutions are abusing this system to inflate their profits and are destroying people’s credit ratings in the process.

From The Consumerist we hear about two instances where customers had their credit destroyed by predatory corporations who played games with their automated payment systems.  In the first instance, Nissan Auto Finance reversed one woman’s car payments—made on time—in each of six consecutive months without notice and without explanation, then reported her as delinquent to the credit bureaus and refused to correct their error…as they are required to do by law.

In the second, AT&T simply stole $157.00 + from one of their customers by claiming that the customer’s payment via credit-card was declined (it wasn’t) and then auto-debiting the same amount (plus hefty fees) again the next month.  Now, despite proof that AMEX didn’t decline the initial charge, AT&T refuses to do anything about the situation.

These criminals are banking on the fact that their customers don’t have the resources to sue the cr*p out of them, and for the most part they are correct.  So…when dealing with corporations that are willing to resort to out-and-out theft to keep their balance sheets in the black, what’s a consumer to do?  RETURN TO CASH, that’s what!  It is, if fact, the only alternative.  Buy your car in cash.  Pay your bills with checks.  Don’t give these bastards even a single opportunity to rip you off.

Never Underestimate The Desire For Shiny

Everyone has their panties in a twist over rumors of this upcoming Apple Tablet, but has anyone actually stopped to think about how Apple’s going to address all the potential issues? Because there are quite a few.

Think about it: the rumors are of essentially a gigantic iPod Touch with a 3G connection. It’s a web tablet, right? But we live in a time where $300 netbooks are the norm. Are people going to really be willing to part with $800 for a gussied-up netbook with a touchscreen and Apple design?

Gizmodo — The Many Problems With Apple’s Tablet

Are you kidding me? If Steve Jobs put caca in a unibody aluminum case and called it iPoo, people would buy it. In fact, the lemmings that love all things Mac would queue up for days in front of the Apple stores—and I say this as devoted Apple laptop owner.


United Airlines Must Die! (Part 2)

Read Part 1

My flight is canceled.  The Frogette and I are stuck in Chicago wondering how-in-the-hell we’re going to get to Boston.

Normally one would just head over to the gate agent to get booked on the next flight, but interestingly, there is no gate agent.  In fact a quick trip around Chicago’s Concourse B (all United, of course), reveals that there are hardly any gate agents…anywhere.

United has come up with a novel tactic for dealing with their customers, angry or otherwise.  They simply don’t.  Operations, especially at Chicago, are engineered to minimizing exposure of flyers to employees.  Gate agents now show up no more than 10 minutes before passengers begin boarding and disappear as soon as the upgrade and stand-by lists are either cleared or closed.  The only person left is the poor schmuck who checks boarding passes, and he’s usually too busy to answer questions.

Need a seat change?  You’ll need to speak to an agent, except that…there aren’t any.  Want to argue about an upgrade?  Good luck finding someone to argue with.  Was you’re flight canceled?  Head for ‘Customer Service’, because your gate now resembles a ghost town.

So it’s off to ‘Customer Service’ we go only to find:  A bank of automated ticket terminals, but not an agent in sight; 50 or so people waiting to use the 2 working kiosks (of 5) or the 3 working phones (of 7).  Where most of the unfortunates find that they need to try and call United on one of the ‘non-broken’ phones (the irony of calling United from their own terminal being lost of these masters of avoidance), we find that we’ve been booked onto another flight…5 HOURS LATER!  But…with no one to talk to, what the hell are we going to do?

So we accept our lot; punch through a dozen offers, “Would you like to pay $50 for an extra 3 centimeters of leg room?”; endure a major delay without compensation, two MIDDLE-F*CKING-SEATS in different parts of the plane (where originally we were seated together), and 5 hours in ‘United Concourse Crud’ a terminal so filthy that I expect roaches to be scurrying at my feet  And then…our rebooked flight is (wait for it…) DELAYED!

Some parting observations on “Something dreadful in the air…” tomorrow.