Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘construction

What they could do back then that we cannot do today

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I might or might not have something to say about the U.S. elections (beyond “disappointing”) when the results are finalized. However, the recurring counting delays bring another topic to mind, namely what once could be done but now might be near impossible, what once could be done in a certain time but now takes a lot longer, what once could be done at a certain cost but is now considerably more expensive, or whatever might apply to the individual case. Vote counting? Might once have been done by midnight. Now, it takes days.* Consider building houses and railways, running schools and colleges, giving someone an education, keeping law and order, providing a conscionable level of healthcare, … The moon landings are an interesting case: That they could be done in 1969 and parts of the 1970s, as the result of a truly massive project, is not that remarkable; that there was a long stretch of time when no-one made the attempt is not that remarkable; but that the current attempts are going so slowly, despite better technology, despite what was learnt during the Apollo project,** and despite the ongoing (non-moon) space projects, well, that is remarkable.

*Yes, this might be Democrats using artificial delays to cheat, but, if so, what about all the other things?

**Much of the details and the individual experiences might be lost by now, but much is still preserved, and more could likely be reconstructed with less effort than it takes to re-invent the wheel.

I am not, for now, going to engage in detailed speculation on the causes, as this text is more intended as “food for thought”, but I note that (a) some of the causes might be common, some varying from field to field, (b) among the common causes we might find excessive bureaucracy and/or regulations, lower competence levels and/or a lower willingness to work hard,* an over-reliance on technology, and a shift in purpose of various entities**.

*My outsiders impression from German construction work, e.g., is that it is often a matter of stretching the work to last as long as possible. For instance, next to the nearest grocery store from my apartment, there is an oldish three- or four-story building of unexceptional width and depth. It has been undergoing a complete renovation for, maybe, three years by now—and the end seems nowhere in sight. I daresay that the original builders, if transported in time, could have torn the building down entirely and rebuilt it from the ground up—and still have been done faster and at a lower cost. Even making allowances for COVID lockdowns, this is ridiculous. (And, no, this is not one man with a hammer—but a team of professional workers with, literally, tons of equipment.)

**I mention both “running schools and colleges” and “giving someone an education” above for a reason, namely that schools and colleges do not necessarily have education as their purpose today. Similar problems seem to be very common.


Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2022 at 10:30 pm

That bad cosmic joke II / Follow-up: Various

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As follow-ups to that ongoing cosmic joke:

  1. The construction works have so far continued at full force, including massive noise from what appears to be drilling into the walls, up to Friday. Saturday was limited to a few hours and much less noisy, but not noise free—some works were apparently still in progress.

    Further problems in the week or weeks to follow are only to be expected at this juncture.

  2. Health-wise, I seem to be bouncing back again, after the setback of the prior text. However, my cough is back and seems to be less responsive to e.g. cough drops than in the past.
  3. A very interesting article points to the possibility that my situation is part of a larger problem of “worst cold ever”, lasting for weeks or months, hitting many whose immune systems have become out-of-date due to the various COVID countermeasures. (To which might be added risks, unmentioned in the article, like lockdowns leading to a sun deficit, in turn leading to a vitamin D deficit.)

    This is further proof that it is the countermeasures that pose the true problem—not COVID. (Well, countermeasures and anti-intellectual, anti-science, pro-censorship, whatnot attitudes, which replace the scientific debate that should take place with a mere “Fake news! Fake news!”.)

    And, yes, I would by far consider this the worst cold (or cold-like disease) that I have ever had. I have been worse off during peaks a handful of times in the past, but I have never been troubled for so long in the past—and the number of sick-days, had I not been self-employed, might rival my career total.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 26, 2021 at 7:47 am

That bad cosmic joke / Follow-up: Various

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And the bad cosmic joke continues:

I have been severely hampered in my work for about two months due to a stubborn bronchitis, fever, a cough so persistent that it eventually gave me a painful rib, etc.

This Sunday (19th September), I felt as well as I had in half an eternity and decided to take up work on my books again come Monday.

Come Monday came … yet another bout of construction noise, making any work impossible, and forcing me to make the best of a bad situation by ear plugs, ANC headphones, a loud noise generator, and DVDs for distraction, lest I go bananas over the constant disturbances—including hammering, stomping, and slamming of doors, at least some of it taking place in the stairwell where the sound spreads so much more strongly than in the apartments.

Around 8 PM, it seemed to be enough for the day, and I tried to get some sleep (being on an “early schedule” at the moment). Barely had my head touched the pillow and it started again. This repeated several times until around 10 PM, when it truly seemed to get quite—but, by now, I could not sleep, as I just kept waiting tensely for the next noise.

I might finally have dozed off around midnight—only to wake around 5 AM. (After too much sleep for me to just fall asleep again, but too little to leave me sufficiently rested. The latter especially when I am ill and need the effects of sleep more than usually.)

Of course, on a normal day, this is not much of a problem, because I can just wait until I am tired enough and then sleep a few hours during the day—but not yesterday, as the construction work resumed and continued until at least the late afternoon*.

*Possibly, around 5 PM and with the reservation that I cannot rule out that they continued for considerably longer in a form that was simply not audible through my countermeasures.

To ease the disturbance, I spent between one and two hours of the afternoon walking around town and doing two errands (that I could otherwise have done in five minutes). The result? I felt like shit as I arrived back home, worse than I had done in the last two weeks, likely “assisted” by the considerable drop in temperature over the last week.

The evening was similar, in that I tried to go to sleep around 8 PM, but failed due to the constant fear of new disturbances. I eventually gave up and did some reading until around midnight, went to sleep, and awoke around 5 AM—again.

We then (already!) have two days wasted, a considerable setback in my health, and a today that will leave me either almost useless through sleepiness and illness or sleeping most of the day away—even should there be no further construction works. (I hope for the best, but I am not optimistic. Sometimes, these construction works go on for one or two days; sometimes, they go on for weeks or months. A notification “that” or “for how long” has never been given.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 22, 2021 at 6:39 am

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.


  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