Category Archives: tech

PopSockets CEO calls out Amazon’s ‘bullying with a smile’ tactics

Amazon has a “bullying” problem.

So insisted PopSockets CEO and inventor David Barnett today while describing his company’s relationship with the e-commerce and logistics giant. Barnett was addressing members of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law and, over the course of the hearing, laid out how the Jeff Bezos-helmed corporate behemoth had pressured his smartphone accessory company in a manner best described as incredibly shady.

Barnett was joined by executives from Sonos, Basecamp, and Tile, who all took turns airing a list of grievances against major tech players such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They all recounted, in manners specific to their respective companies, how the major tech players have used their market dominance to squeeze smaller competitors in allegedly anticompetitive ways.

The CEO of PopSockets, however, appeared to have a personal beef with Jeff Bezos (which he pronounced “Bey-zoo”).

“Multiple times we discovered that Amazon itself had sourced counterfeit product and was selling it alongside our own product,” he noted.

Barnett, under oath, told the gathered members of the House that Amazon initially played nice only to drop the hammer when it believed no one was watching. After agreeing to a written contract stipulating a price at which PopSockets would be sold on Amazon, the e-commerce giant would then allegedly unilaterally lower the price and demand that PopSockets make up the difference.

Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter asked Barnett how Amazon could “ignore the contract that [PopSockets] entered into and just say, ‘Sorry, that was our contract, but you got to lower your price.'”

Barnett didn’t mince words.

“With coercive tactics, basically,” he replied. “And these are tactics that are mainly executed by phone. It’s one of the strangest relationships I’ve ever had with a retailer.”

Barnett emphasized that, on paper, the contract “appears to be negotiated in good faith.”

However, he claimed, this is followed by “… frequent phone calls. And on the phone calls we get what I might call bullying with a smile. Very friendly people that we deal with who say, ‘By the way, we dropped the price of X product last week. We need you to pay for it.'”

Barnett said he would push back and that’s when “the threats come.”

PopSockets CEO calls out Amazon’s ‘bullying with a smile’ tactics

Amazon is a den of thieves

Amazon, Den of Thieves, Part eleventy billion

Amazon’s third-party marketplace is chock-full of independent sellers hawking everything from Korean face masks to out-of-print books and moon boots. From a business perspective, the system works great for the e-commerce giant: Amazon gets to sit back and collect fees from those sellers, whose sales on the platform continue to grow. In 2017, for the first time, more than half the products sold on Amazon came from those marketplace listings, rather than from Amazon itself.

But it’s also causing at least one major headache for Amazon. Some third-party sellers have been using the reach of Amazon’s marketplace as an opportunity to sell counterfeit and pirated items. The pressure on the company has been growing as brands such as Birkenstock and Mercedes Benz have lambasted it for not being able to control the problem. Now, CNBC reports, Amazon for the first time has acknowledged sales of counterfeits and pirated items as a risk in its annual earnings report to investors and the US securities and exchange commission.

Under the section of “risk factors” to the business, Amazon says it “could be liable” for the activities of its sellers, and explains:

Amazon has finally admitted to investors that it has a counterfeit problem,” Quartz, February 5, 2019

Sheesh.

Secure Your Internet at Home

Here’s a primer on minimizing the chances that your IoT things become a security liability for you or for the Internet at large.

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Rule #1: Avoid connecting your devices directly to the Internet — either without a firewall or in front it, by poking holes in your firewall so you can access them remotely.

Rule #2: If you can, change the thing’s default credentials to a complex password that only you will know and can remember.

Rule #3: Update the firmware.

Rule #4: Check the defaults, and make sure features you may not want or need like UPnP (Universal Plug and Play — which can easily poke holes in your firewall without you knowing it) — are disabled.

Rule #5: Avoid IoT devices that advertise Peer-to-Peer (P2P) capabilities built-in.

Rule #6: Consider the cost. Bear in mind that when it comes to IoT devices, cheaper usually is not better.

One final note: I realize that the people who probably need to be reading these tips the most likely won’t ever know they need to care enough to act on them. But at least by taking proactive steps, you can reduce the likelihood that your IoT things will contribute to the global IoT security problem.

Some Basic Rules for Securing Your IoT Stuff

Also see “Decent Security

Anti-Christian

Your President (I’m Canadian, I get to say “your”) has a Twitter account that sometimes comes to my attention. And this, although I try to ignore all the world’s tweeted expostulations. But they make news, sometimes; in Mr. Trump’s case, as a matter of course. And as I have confessed before, I’m still reading news.

I understand why he does it. Which is to say, I understand that Mr. Trump wouldn’t be president today if he had not availed himself of every opportunity to end-run the media gatekeepers. Contrary to the received view, I think he is very good at it; often brilliant. I’m not commenting yet on the morality of the operation, only on its efficacy. He knows how to “troll,” and to the audience of his supporters, trolls deliciously.

He has a vulgar but adept satirical sense, and can expose the hypocrisy of his opponents in ways that will “make their heads explode.” And since many of his enemies also happen to be mine, I have often giggled – in a mean-spirited, “gotcha” kind of way.

. . .

We are told free speech doesn’t extend to gratuitously yelling “Fire!” in a cinema, or uttering plausible physical threats. But in a self-described “free society” it is assumed that, short of such acts of criminal mischief, those who disagree must cope. Extreme sensibilities will have to be abraded.

I have been coping myself, for as long as I can remember. It comes with the territory Christians have occupied these two thousand years; and those with any sort of opinions, since time out of mind. One learns to ignore the goad, or deflect it. Why let another decide whether I should forfeit my good humor? Better to reply with something droll.

Alas, this doesn’t work as it used to. Rather than matching wits, or just laughing, one’s opponent may burst into hysteria. (Never be droll with a feminist, I advise.)

“Never complain, never explain,” is the counsel of the seasoned professionals. But this hardly works anymore, either. Your opponents then mount smear upon smear. As Mr. Trump learned – partly, I suspect, from the experience of Mr. Bush Junior – the refusal to “dignify that with an answer” requires a milieu from which gentlemen haven’t been extracted.

In our rat-pack world of social media, suavity is impossible, let alone gentlemanly behavior. Alas, Mr. Trump understands this. Our Lord was accused of consorting with sinners, but He did not “accompany” them into sin. Will the returning Christ have a Twitter account? I seriously doubt this.

Nor do I think He would be carrying a gun, though I would not make this ground for banning firearms. He never proposed to disarm soldiers. He accepted the claim of Rome to be Rome. He gave no political advice at all, even on marginal rates of taxation.

On the other hand, He said things most provoking. Even the Beatitudes were an (obviously intended) surprise for the comfortable. Each was the reverse of long-received opinion. At no point in the Gospels do we find Our Lord “going along to get along” with the gatekeepers of those days.

A rule to prohibit provocation would, as a consequence probably quite intended, prohibit Christianity in every day and age. It would also prohibit the telling of truth, with or without religious connotations. It would finally achieve a deathly silence; for anything said is potentially controversial. There is no statement so soft that someone could not take offense at it, if only for being too soft.

Therefore let us affirm some things, starting plainly with our Faith in Christ. Let us follow this up with every Christian teaching, as those ancestors did who converted the heathen.

We know at least the Devil will be offended, though he may be clever enough to conceal it and work with the persisting vanities of those who now believe.

Provocations

Equifax and Your Credit Reports

Freeze your credit reports, register for your own account on Social Security, and keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements. And if your identity is stolen, file a report with your local police department, the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov, and the IRS so your tax refund can’t be stolen.

And think about using Two Factor Authorization (2FA). See Two Factor Auth (2FA).

For more, see:

Self-Control

To require self-control from our children is to require it from ourselves.

. . .

Children as young as kindergarten age are increasingly required to have iPads to complete homework assignments and readings. But as many have noted, these devices hurt attention spans, giving students a bevy of distractions to compete with their focus. And as David Sax noted in “Revenge of the Analog,” many children themselves say they prefer reading and writing on real physical paper.

. . .

Old-fashioned, analog tools such as paper and pens have proven cerebral, mental benefits. They foster focus, memorization, and imagination. Even doodling in class can be beneficial for memory and retention.

In the home, parents should consider confiscating phones at the dinner and breakfast table (Sherry Turkle, in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” suggests that setting aside technology-free spaces is a good way to foster strong relationships and ward off addiction). Family vacations (or even just weekends, depending on the family) should have designated technology times, but otherwise enforce strict outdoors and family time and activities: for playing soccer or football or baseball, going on bike rides, reading books, hiking and walking, playing card and board games, watching movies together as a family, et cetera.

Many of the young people Twenge talks to in her piece were first introduced to smartphones before high school—some as young as 11. But there’s no reason for children to have smartphones and devices this young. The primary use for a mobile phone, at least traditionally, is for safety and communication when young adults are away—whether at a sports tournament or slumber party, school function or summer camp. Parents often feel pressure to provide pre-teens with the same snazzy devices all their friends are using, but there’s no reason a 12-year-old need anything but a flip phone. (I’d argue they don’t even need that.)

Parents Need To Get Serious About Saving The Next Generation From Internet Addiction

Technology does not make us wiser

[T]here will never be technology to make us any wiser. We’ve tried drugs, and they don’t work; we already have innumerable devices to make us quicker about our tasks. We have invested electronic mountains of money in “leaving no child behind.” But nonsense remains nonsense at a hundred times the speed.

On “The Land of Lunatics”

Physical Work

For the past four decades, I have split my time between teaching classics and writing, and working on a farm. I cannot say that either world is nobler than the other. But I did learn that small farmers and farm laborers complained much less about their own often-unenviable lots than did academics about their comparatively enviable compensation and generous time off. Working outdoors, often alone, with one’s hands encourages a tragic acceptance of nature and its limitations. Talking and writing indoors with like kind promote a more therapeutic sense that life can be changed through discourse and argument.

. . .

The diminished cultural awareness about those who work physically is a touchstone to a number of our present pathologies. Anyone who has watched videos of privileged Yale students shouting down professor of medicine and sociology Nicholas Christakis—because his wife, Erika, had suggested that politically correct censorship of campus Halloween costumes was excessive—should recognize that something has gone terribly wrong at our universities. The malady has metastasized well beyond the contempt for free speech and the prolonged adolescence of young adults squabbling about their preteen-like Halloween celebrations. The vast majority of students who encircled Christakis were affluent and privileged, regardless of the efforts of some to cite their minority status as proof of victimization. Had any of the professor’s accusers ever worked hard physically, thereby learning the difference between being a Yale student and picking grapes or painting houses? Yale compounds its cocooning problem by lavishing coffee bars, rec rooms, and elegant living quarters on twentysomethings, while investing them with the power to scream at and disrupt speakers not to their liking.

The physical workplace is a corrective for such a leisured Oz. The physical world of hard work imposes a hierarchy of far more important considerations than being happy or coddled—safety from injury, physical proof that one is industrious (or incompetent), and wariness about screaming and swearing at coworkers and supervisors, given that such speech is not rhetorical, as on campuses, but has immediate consequences.

I learned more from teaching students at California State University, Fresno, than from my students at Stanford—not because they knew Greek and Latin better (most did not) or because they were more ethical (again, not necessarily true) but because they often worked 20 hours or more per week at minimum-wage jobs and thus had a far wider range of experience with (and empathy for) characters and events found in Aristophanes, Euripides, and Hesiod in the premodern world of the Greeks. They were also more circumspect in addressing their complaints, angst, or unhappiness, as if they had already learned from unenviable off-campus jobs, in a way that their Stanford counterparts had not, that the world is not necessarily kind and compliant.

. . .

Sometime in the 1970s and 1980s, millions of Americans—far more than just those constituting an economic elite—decided that a key to the good life was to be free from, say, the need to cook, watch children, mow the lawn, or rake leaves. Illegal immigration promised cheap help for the upper middle classes that had once been the exclusive domain of the aristocracy. In theory, skipping the gym for four hours a week would provide more than enough time to mow the lawn, prune the bushes, or vacuum the floor. Yet sweaty and studied exercise is often deemed preferable to rote labor, given that it is more scientifically calibrated to making one look and feel better. Repetitive muscular work is not seen as commensurately valuable, whether for the exercise it provides or for its psychic benefits. Yet for all one’s degrees and income, a person can still retain some sense of autonomy and an ability to master the surrounding material landscape, if only for a few hours each week, and to appreciate how the other half lives that does such physical labor for wages. It is a choice.

Brawn in an Age of Brains: Does physical labor have a future?

“Smart Phones”

Sometime around 2011 or 2012, it suddenly became very easy to predict what people would be doing in public places: Most would be looking down at their phones.

. . .

Today, smartphones seem indispensable. They connect us to the internet, give us directions, allow us to quickly fire off texts and – as I discovered one day in spring 2009 – can even help you find the last hotel room in Phoenix when your plane is grounded by a dust storm.

Yet research has shown that this convenience may be coming at a cost. We seem to be addicted to our phones; as a psychology researcher, I have read study after study concluding that our mental health and relationships may be suffering. Meanwhile, the first generation of kids to grow up with smartphones is now reaching adulthood, and we’re only beginning to see the adverse effects.

. . .

In his book “Irresistible,” marketing professor Adam Alter makes a convincing case that social media and electronic communication are addictive, involving the same brain pathways as drug addiction. In one study, frequent smartphone users asked to put their phones face down on the table grew increasingly anxious the more time passed. They couldn’t stand not looking at their phones for just a few minutes.

. . .

Smartphones are a tool, and like most tools, they can be used in positive ways or negative ones. In moderation, smartphones are a convenient – even crucial – technology.

Yet a different picture has also emerged over the past decade: Interacting with people face to face usually makes us happy. Electronic communication often doesn’t.

The iPhone Turns 10 – and It’s Isolated Us, Not United Us

Parenting

The greatest threat to children today? Their parents. An exaggeration? Let’s see. Parents are the premier guardians of their children, and the gateway to their souls and bodies. Do our children appear spiritually, morally and physically healthy, well on their way to fruitful and God-pleasing maturity?

Following a terrorist attack at a recent pop music concert in England, I did a bit of research on the music parents buy for their young children and the concerts to which they take their children. I found lyrics that are so obscene that I dare not quote them here. I found videos of onstage “dancing” at these concerts that can only be described as simulations of sex acts. This is what parents are permitting, paying for and even sharing with their children.

The senses are the gateway to the soul. What passes through the five senses enters the memory and imagination, affecting the intellect, the will and the heart. What the children understand to be true, good and beautiful is profoundly shaped by their early sensory experiences, especially those endorsed by the authority of their parents. What happens to children who are taught by their parents to sing of group sex while watching live “soft pornography” onstage at a concert?

. . .

There is a battle on for the souls of our children. It seems to me now that the world, the flesh and the devil are winning. It is time for all of us, parents, families, friends, schools and parishes, to fight back.

Parenting in the pop culture: Prepping our children for Heaven or Hell?

Hacks for Plugged Drains, Dirty Laundry

Unclog Your Drains

Lye is the traditional drain opener. You absolutely do not want this stuff anywhere near your hands but if you are careful, you can open your drains as never before.

Your Laundry Soap

The whole function of phosphate is to break down soap so that it can wash away with the water, carrying the dirt and oil with it.

The amazing news – and who knows how long this will last – is that you can get trisodium phosphate in the paint section of the hardware store. In most states, you can have it shipped from Amazon.

Shaving

“Shaving Cream is a racket.” I explained that it is not necessary. It is even destructive, softening the skin to the point that it breaks down and becomes ever less tolerant to the razor. To reverse the process just requires a few days of doing without. From so many testimonies, I can promise that you only need water (some people like to use a tiny bit of oil).

Five Essential Hacks for Summer

Children and Technology

If electronic devices are addictive for adults, what must be happening to our children?

. . .

If your small children use these devices, you may well have noticed how they demand to use the phone at all hours of the day, they get angry if you don’t give it to them, or they lose control when we ask them to give it back.

Now, maybe your child is looking at things on the phone and playing with it 5 to 15 minutes per day and does not get angry if you ask for the phone back, or doesn’t demand to use it at various moments and in various contexts throughout the day. If that’s the case, then maybe this post isn’t necessary for you, because it seems that both you and your child manage it well. But if at some point you’ve asked yourself how you can help your child “disconnect” from these devices, I have some steps that can help you.

Your first reaction might be to think that the easiest solution is to cut things short, take the smartphone away from your children, and forbid them to ever use it again. For practical purposes, this can be effective, but really, children aren’t going to understand the suddenness of this decision (“Why could I play with Mom’s phone all I wanted yesterday, and today it’s bad?”), and they could experience withdrawal symptoms that could be difficult to bear (both for the children and for the rest of the family).

The truth is, there’s no way to explain to young children who are practically addicted to a device the need to cut off or limit its use in such a way that they will accept it willingly without throwing a temper tantrum or getting angry. So the main goal is just to make the situation a bit easier.

10 Easy ways to wean a small child off a smartphone or tablet

Before You Pay that Ransomware Demand…

Here’s some basic advice about where to go, what to do — and what not to do — when you or someone you know gets hit with ransomware.

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The first place victims should look to find out is nomoreransom.org, a site backed by security firms and cybersecurity organizations in 22 countries.

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Another destination that may be useful for ransomware victims is bleepingcomputer.com, which has an excellent Ransomware Help and Tech Support section that is quite useful and may save you a great deal of time and money. But please don’t just create an account here and cry for help. Your best bet is to read the “pinned” notes at the top of that section and follow the instructions carefully.

Chances are, whoever responds to your request will want you to have run a few tools to help identify which strain of ransomware hit your system before agreeing to help. So please be patient and be kind, and remember that if someone decides to help you here they are likely doing so out of their own time and energy.

Before You Pay that Ransomware Demand…