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A Swede in Germany

Archive for February 2021

The struggling author: Amateurish Amazon and follow-up on construction noise

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Another shitty day: It appears that the construction works are here again—and, again, without any notification or possibility to judge the size of the problem. Indeed, there is now scaffolding along the house wall, which could imply something very major and something not perpetrated by an individual apartment owner or resident but the actual building management.

Fortunately, the disturbances started in the mid-afternoon, and I could spend enough time walking to come back home after they had stopped. However, firstly, I have no idea how the future will look, and, secondly, the city is almost dead due to COVID-restrictions, meaning that there is very little to actually do, except walking (per se).

To conclude the day, I decided to finally open that Amazon KDP account that I will need in the mid- or long term. This was a frustrating and annoying experience. A partial summary (even at the risk of exceeding the policy for this closed-ish blog, but I need to unload the frustration):

  1. The interface asks for an email address, sends a confirmation code to that address, and awaits entry of that code.

    OK.

  2. The interface ADDITIONALLY asks for mobile phone number, sends a second confirmation code there, and awaits entry of that code.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, it must not be a prerequisite to have a cell phone to participate in various non–cell-phone activities. (Indeed, I have gone through quite long stretches without one and it is pure coincidence that I have a working cell-phone number at the time of writing.) Secondly, email confirmation should have been enough. Thirdly, Amazon claims that it would later be possible to opt out of cell phone verifications, but because it has to be activated the first time around, Amazon can now steal data that I would very much like to keep absent, e.g. to avoid abusive SMS/“text” spam. (Note that Amazon has no legitimate reason to know my telephone number, unlike e.g. my street address and email, for the current purposes. I have yet to investigate whether the opt-out claim holds true.)

    Moreover, the implementation was utterly incompetent, by repeatedly* resetting the country to the U.S. Here my explicit choice of Germany should have been kept; and the original default should have been Germany, too, as my address was German and I was clearly accessing the site from Germany. (In my recollection, but I might be wrong, Amazon even used German as the interface language.)

    *I tried to get past this step, as no mention of the reason had been made (itself a poor UI decision), by first entering a landline number, which is less susceptible to abuse. As the claim that a SMS had been sent was given after entry, I re-tried it with a cell-phone number, including (unthinkingly) a leading “0”. As no SMS arrived, I tried again, removing the “0”, for a total of three attempts.

  3. A highly annoying, moving CAPTCHA needed to be answered.

    At best dubious, as there seems to be little reason to assume that someone goes to the immense effort of handling automatic confirmations per email and SMS for a purpose like creating an Amazon account. (Indeed, with this level of overall stringency, it might have been better to simply send a postal confirmation code and accept the temporary delay in exchange for one single confirmation.)

    Moreover, the implementation was awful, including crossing the border to where it becomes hard even for a human to complete the confirmation. (I needed two attempts, myself.)

  4. I proceeded to enter the user account, an act apparently considered a separate log-in, despite following directly after the account-creation process, which required a second SMS confirmation.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, this particular type of two-factor authentication is very dubious in general,* increasing the efforts needed for trivial tasks disproportionately. (But note mentions of opt-out above.) Secondly, specifically in this situation, it was entirely redundant and my previous SMS confirmation should have been considered enough.

    *In fact, the two main scenarios where it is needed is (a) with idiot users who pick poor passwords (I use random and automatically generated ones) or have sloppy local security (I do not), (b) with idiot service providers who have too many flaws in their own systems or allow password hashes to get out (or, worse, have actually stored plain-text passwords). The risk of e.g. a snooper stealing a password exists, but is a lot smaller. Moreover, the (partially false) sense of security created by two-factor authentication can worsen the problem with (a); moreover, when more and more users access the Internet per cell phone, the value of this specific type of two-factor authentication is drastically reduced.

  5. (My account was marked as incomplete (as expected), and I proceeded to complete the data. Note that the below items might be in the wrong order or be incomplete. It does, in particular, not include several amateurish oddities with the workflow and ambiguities concerning what-button-does-what.)
  6. Address fields included an empty field for my telephone number, which was mandatory.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, my phone number is plainly and simply not Amazon’s business. Secondly, as a mobile number had already been entered, this should have been the pre-filled default.

  7. For my bank information, separate entries of IBAN, BIC, and name-of-bank were needed.

    Not OK.

    This shows a fundamentally flawed approach, as the IBAN is intended to serve as the sole account identification. Requesting a separate BIC is amateur hour. (This unlike the “old” German system, where a BLZ identified the bank, and an account number the account within that bank.) The bank name might be acceptable as a safety check, but better systems fill it out based on the IBAN.* Moreover, it should be a near given that data like account numbers are copy-and-pasted, which would either make the check unnecessary (data is guaranteed to be correct) or pointless (if, highly unlikely, the original is faulty, repeated copy-and-paste procedures will not help).**

    *Here Amazon might be excused as an international operation.

    **However, other checks, like “is the IBAN of the right length” are still justified, to catch e.g. an incompletely copied IBAN.

  8. I was led to the fill-out-the-U.S.-tax-excemption area.

    Not OK.

    A reasonable operation should have made sure that such nonsense is not necessary, e.g. through use of a non-U.S. subsidiary. A smaller company (or one, like Barnes & Nobles, highly U.S. centric) might have deserved a pass, but Amazon is one of the largest and most international companies in the world.

    (But I was already aware of the need to do this to avoid an absurd-for-any-European tax deduction of 30 % in favor of the U.S. (!) IRS, and had indeed even prepared by finding my German TIN in advance.)

  9. Required further fields for the preceding item included address fields that had already been entered.

    Not OK.

    Already entered data should be taken as default values.

  10. My German address contains an umlaut (a “ü”, to be specific). This was rejected when I tried to proceed.*

    *I am a little uncertain whether this was only with the tax fields or already with the main address fields. Below, I assume tax fields. If not, it is far worse.

    Not OK.

    Even assuming that this restriction was posed by the U.S. IRS, the check should have been performed during entry and a pre-filled value with a suggested correction provided and/or the data incompatibility should have been mentioned explicitly and up-front.

  11. As I re-submitted, post-adaption, there was an apparent error text, which read merely that “This field has been corrected.” (or very similar), leaving me uncertain whether further action was necessary. I tried to save again, and was brought back to the same error message. (The page automatically centered on the “error”.) I checked the top and the bottom of the page, in vain, and tried a third time, just in case. I was returned to the same message. I now went through the page in detail and found, a little further down, but outside of the area displayed by the browser after Amazon’s deliberate focus, a request that I confirm the correctness of the correction.

    Not OK.

    The page should have made crystal clear that further action was needed and what action. (Note that the idiotic focus and choice of layout sabotaged this.) Moreover, as I had corrected the field, there should have been no further assumption of error than with any other data entry, making the inquiry/error/whatnot redundant.

Now let us see what future problems occur, including (I very strongly suspect) unsolicited and highly unwanted emails and/or text messages.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 23, 2021 at 12:47 am

Djokovic as GOAT? / Follow-up: Tennis, numbers, and reasoning

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In light of Djokovic now being set to overtake Federer in weeks-at-number-one and having just taken his 18th major, while Nadal has caught up with Federer at 20, it is time to briefly revisit a text on how to determine the tennis GOAT (Part II in a series)—or rather on why doing so is next to impossible.

As this blog is closed-ish, I will not dig deep into details or re-analyze what is said in the old text, but I do note that:

  1. I still consider weeks-at-number-one the best of the “easy” proxies. If we apply this proxy, Djokovic would (in just a few weeks) be the GOAT (of at least the Open Era). This especially as he is a fair bit younger than Federer (and a-year-or-so* younger than Nadal).

    *Here and elsewhere, note that I will not do any fact checking either. There might be minor errors here and there, but nothing that changes the “big picture”.

  2. I would still rate Federer’s career as the better overall, but not by that much and, again, Djokovic is the younger. Certainly, while Federer’s longevity is (was?) extreme, it appears that both Nadal and Djokovic are similar—possibly, even better.
  3. Federer’s dominance at his height was almost unsurpassable, and that might in the end be the strongest argument pro-Federer in a GOAT discussion and/or in a discussion of who was the best among the “Big Three”.
  4. Nadal’s fatal flaw remains that he has achieved too little (relatively speaking!) outside of clay and that he has mostly been second to either Federer or Djokovic at any given time. I can still see no true case for Nadal being more than the “Clay GOAT”. My old estimate of “Federer > Djokovic > Nadal” might now be “Federer = Djokovic > Nadal”, or Federer marginally ahead of Djokovic or Djokovic marginally ahead of Federer.

    However, Nadal has improved in the comparison of feats that formed Part III of the aforementioned series. The comparison made there was based on 12 French-Open titles, while he now stands at 13. (On the other hand, Djokovic reaching 9 Australian Opens, at a lesser age and on a more competitive surface, weakens the accomplishment in comparison.)

  5. The already tricky comparisons are made trickier by the effects of COVID, which include several weakened playing fields, including for Nadal’s 13th French Open and, maybe, the current/2021 Australian Open for Djokovic; a canceled Wimbledon (Djokovic reigning champion; Federer a strong victory candidate, had he played*); and a long period where the ATP ranking** was frozen or otherwise used exceptional rules.

    *Independent of the COVID issue, Federer appears to have taken portions of 2020 off for an injury break or operation or similar. I have not followed tennis in enough detail after 2019 to say for certain.

    **But I suspect that Djokovic would have remained at number one even with the regular rules, and would still be set to take over in weeks-at-number-one.

Skimming through the articles of the series, I note at least one faulty math statement (others might very well be present):

In Part I, I say that “For instance, the probability that the sum of two fair and six-sided dice exceeds* seven is 5/12 a priori but 5/6 given that we already know that one of the dice came up six.”, which is correct in the first half but not in the second: I had my mind on a scenario where one die (dice?) is thrown, it comes up six, and then the other die is thrown. As the order is not specified, another view is necessary. To this, there are 11 (independent) outcomes with at least one six, viz 1–6, 2–6, …, 5–6, 6–6, 6–5, .., 6–2, 6–1. Of these, all but two (6–1, 1–6) exceed seven and the true probability, barring other errors on my behalf, should be 9/11. Looking at the difference, 9/11 – 5/6 = (54 – 55) / 66 = – 1 / 66, making the new result slightly smaller. (The difference is an implicit, faulty, double-counting of 6–6, which unlike e.g. the 5–6/6–5 pair only appears once.)

*Used in the “strictly greater” sense. Another weakness is that this formulation could be interpreted as “greater or equal”. In the latter case, both the old and the new “given that” probability is 1, as the event is unavoidable. (The probability for the first half of the statement would rise to 7/12.)

Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Trump’s impeachment and a horrifying democracy failure / Follow-up: U.S. elections

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The second impeachment of Trump is truly a horror; and the meagerness of today’s acquittal utterly absurd.

Consider, among other factors:

  1. The impeachment was with a high degree of likelihood unconstitutional to begin with.
  2. Failing that, it indisputably misses the purpose of an impeachment, which is to remove a problematic office holder from his current office.

    (Here it seems driven by an attempt to prevent a former office holder from holding future offices and/or to exercise some type of Orwellian utter destruction of a defeated enemy.)

  3. The accusations raised were utterly untenable, and were clearly so from the very beginning, considering what statements allegedly were impeachable.

    By no reasonable standards can these statements be considered e.g. an incitement to riots or speech not covered by the First Amendment.

    (Notably, going down this road could lead to the very dangerous situation of elected politicians being limited in their freedom of speech to a considerably higher degree than others, and possibly at the whim of their enemies and/or the Democrats/the Left.)

  4. There are great signs that Trump could not have caused the events at Capitol Hill even by negligence or otherwise unintentionally, as they, apparently, began before he reached the critical portions of his speech.

    This even discounting claims (which I have not investigated) that the events might have been pre-planned (by others) and/or involved Antifa members acting under a false flag. Indeed, political violence tends to come from the Left, so this would be less surprising than a pro-Trump group using violence (barring situations of a defensive nature).

  5. Considering far worse statements by Leftist politicians, especially regarding e.g. the BLM riots, and the scope, damage, and whatnot of the BLM riots, the impeachment is an astounding and inexcusable hypocrisy.
  6. If this type of approach was successful, the results could be horrifying. Consider e.g. a scenario where an election campaign is held, under a massive investment of time and money, and one of the candidates is dishonestly impeached just a few weeks before the election date. If conviction succeeds, the possibility of launching a strong secondary candidate in time would be minuscule. Even with an acquittal, the distraction caused by the proceedings could damage the campaign severely—as could the negative publicity, considering that too few voters bother to look beyond the headlines.

    Worse, we could see a scenario where candidates or the already elected are picked off one-by-one, possibly in a true “First they came” scenario. Indeed, a portion of the Nazis success came from removing opposing members of parliament—notably, after the Reichstagsbrand, an arson attempt against parliament and a target (but not means) of attack similar to that which was invoked to justify the Trump impeachment.

But let us say, very, very strictly for the sake of argument, that everything would have been above board with the impeachment: What could possibly have motivated Trump? It is very hard to see any possible positive effect for him (or the GOP), while the risk of a backlash would be considerable and obvious. Indeed, if he had actually incited a riot, a coup attempt, or a whatnot, chances are that he would have landed in the real courts, be it on criminal charges or as the target of a handful of civil suits. This alone should make any rational thinker highly suspicious of the accusations. Cui bono? Not Trump, that is for sure.

Despite this, and likely quite a few other arguments, the vote was a disgraceful 57–43 against Trump—enough to acquit him but more than enough to condemn the Senate. Even a 43–57 would have been a disgrace. It is quite clear that this was never a bona fide impeachment attempt, a bona fide attempt at protecting this-or-that, or otherwise anything “bona fide”. On the contrary, it was a malicious, dishonest, and anti-democratic* attempt to abuse the available processes to do damage to a political opponent.

*As in “opposed to democracy”, not “opposed to the Democrat party”.

In addition, it was a democracy failure in that those Republicans who voted against Trump almost certainly did so against the will of the voters who had once elected them and the states that they represent, who tend to be more pro-Trump than their senators. (I have already seen reports of protests and censuring based on the vote in the House. Of course, that the impeachment was not struck down in the House is also a travesty.)

I note that I published a text titled Democracy lost almost five years ago. The time since then has made the contents of that text seem optimistic …

Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2021 at 11:23 pm

Follow-ups based on third-party texts (political violence, gender-studies, homeschooling)

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A few follow-ups to earlier texts:

  1. I recently noted that, among other things, “political violence tends to come from the Left” ([1]).

    To this, I want to point to an excellent overview of the U.S. situation by Pat Buchanan.

    As an aside, I also wrote “the [Left–‘Right’] difference has historically been far smaller in the U.S. than in e.g. Sweden and Germany”. Buchanan’s list makes me wonder whether this is actually true. It might well be that I based my judgment too much on the Democrats as opposed to the U.S. Left as a whole, the change over time possibly being that the “extra-Democrat” portions have now become “intra-Democrat”; or it might be that the historical* reporting on various U.S. events, developments, and attitudes has been too lacking in objectivity and completeness** in Sweden and Germany. I note e.g. a much harsher take on the-U.S.-in-Vietnam than on the-USSR-in-Afghanistan in Swedish news.

    *I was born in 1975, and significant portions took place before I was born or was old enough to follow the “live” reporting. (Not that I necessarily expect this “live” reporting to have been stronger in objectivity and whatnot.)

    **Foreign news and history are, usually and naturally, given less space than domestic news and history.

  2. A while back, I wrote about a recanting Homeopath, her journey and problems, and how this was similar to the quackery of large parts of the modern Left ([2]). I recently encountered a similar text by a recanting gender-studies Ph.D.. While her journey is somewhat different, there are similarities, and some additional insight can be gained into how educated people can believe idiotic things. Further, the text shows quite a few of the problems with e.g. gender-studies that I have discussed in the past.
  3. The aforementioned text mentions that homeschooling might be under attack—something which would remove a refuge from Leftist indoctrination and the inefficient school system, and which I have long feared (cf. portions of [3]). My fears have been increasing greatly recently, as even many Conservative debaters are yelling that children must be brought back to the classroom in the wake of COVID-enforced remote education.* She points to a specific attack in Harvard Magazine, which makes a number of poor arguments.

    *This is not strictly comparable to homeschooling, e.g. because the home-schooling parents of today (or pre-COVID) show a greater dedication than generic teachers, because remote education has many issues to be sorted out, because not all children are necessarily suited for the greater responsibilities, and similar. Nevertheless, this increases the threat against homeschooling proper.

    These include:

    That abusive parents might go undetected, never mind that these form a small minority and that the purpose of school is not to serve as a means of spying on parents. In fact, doing so is ethically dubious and might be a greater evil than the small proportion of abusive parents, as this type of spying can easily be extended to other areas, e.g. parents with the “wrong” political opinions. By rumor, it is indeed often extended. This argument also fails to consider the (much?) larger risk of abuse in school.

    That some might homeschool who are bad at it, never mind that this could be easily solved by requiring (unless this is already the case) that students pass recurring tests—if in doubt, high-school diplomas are not just handed out willy-nilly to anyone who applies. Moreover, the reason for the wish to homeschool is often the abysmal quality of a local regular school … I note that this implicitly repeats one of the most common Leftist and/or educator myths, namely that the teacher and/or school matters far more than the student.* In reality, of course, it is the other way around, and the failure to realize this is one of the greatest reasons why school is an inefficient, and often ineffective, way of gaining an education.

    *This is largely a special case of the long disproved “tabula rasa” / “nurture only” view of the human mind.

    That children should “grow up exposed to…democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints”. While partially laudable on paper, the exact opposite is what happens in today’s schools, where they are to be turned into obedient little drones with the right anti-democratic values and an intolerance to those with the “wrong” opinions. As to “nondiscrimination”, this is an abuse of language and we really, really would benefit if students learned to discriminate more and better (cf. [4]). However, even if the distorted Leftist meaning of the word is applied, this is not what schools teach—anti-White, anti-man, and anti-“Right” discrimination is par for the course. Moreover, homeschooling is a valuable aid to ensure that there are differing viewpoints in society, while school often seems set on exterminating them.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 4, 2021 at 12:33 pm