The Whuffo Chronicles

HARDWARE:
The Inquirer
The Register
Ace's Hardware
AnandTech
Sharky Extreme
Van's Hardware

HUMOR:
April Winchell Bandersnatch
BBSpot
Everlasting Blort
Fark
Ironic Times
The Onion
Obscure Store
The Presurfer
The Toque
Satire Wire

Business Series
I'm going to write a series of articles about business practices in the USA in these times and how some changes could reverse the current slide into third-world status. There are some problems in the way corporations do business and by fixing them not only the corporations but the general public would benefit by these simple actions. For example, if your company / corporation manufactures a product, then one of your necessary services to provide is customer service. Not only to help potential customer choose the right solution - but also to help your current customer overcome problems with your products. Hey - if you think your products have no problems then you'd do better to seek another career. No product is perfect and failing to recognize that and deal with it is one of the failures of modern corporations. Making your customers happy with their purchase is probably the most important goals your business can have. That means turning out quality products - and when a problem is discovered being proactive and dealing with it. If you ignore problems or blame them on "stupid consumers" then you're headed for failure. Unfortunately, many corporations feel that the best way to deal with shortcomings is to start a marketing campaign to change the consumer's attitude about their products. This may help them somewhat - but it also makes them look foolish to part of their market. Word of mouth will take over from there and those corporations will have to deal with the problems eventually. Spend all the money on marketing and "brand recognition" you wish - but once customers have formed a negative opinion of your company it isn't going to change easily or very soon. Here's my first tip: corporate success depends upon every person doing the right thing. If your designs are faulty, or the product is assembled sloppily then there's nothing your marketing people can do other than spend money. Your comsumers are smarter than you think and attempts to minimize problems don't help, they only antagonize your customers. They'll tell their friends - you can't win this way. Spend those marketing dollars on good support or (better yet) good designs and careful construction of the product and you'll do much better. Next chapter: how HP screwed up.


A Crooked Billing Practice
If you're like most folks, you've encountered "errors" on a bill you've received. There's human beings working the computers that generate the bills, so there's going to be mistakes made - right?

But sometimes the "errors" aren't accidental, they're done on purpose by ethically challenged corporations. Working on the theory that most don't closely examine their bills some crooked operations are adding to their bottom line in this way.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to recognize this kind of customer abuse. Mistakes, by their nature, are random. Billing errors are just as likely to be in your favor as they are in the company's favor; they average out to zero in the long run.

When you repeatedly see bills with errors in favor of the company - and never with an error in your favor - you're looking at a company that's secretly padding their bottom line. You can keep calling them and getting the overcharges reversed - or you can do business with a different company instead.

Remember - billing is done by computer these days and errors are rare. When those errors do occur, they're equally likely to result in a bill that's too high or too low. Could you be overcharged by mistake? Yes, you can. Could you be overcharged 5 times (and never undercharged) by mistake? That's incredibly unlikely...


The Big Lie
There are some in this world who trade in dishonesty; over time they begin to believe their lies and create more and more fantastic deceptions.

In our fairly liberal society, these people get away with their acts time and time again. Over time, they begin to feel that they can get away with almost anything.

As they test the limits, they eventually find their limit when they reach the point where they didn't get away with it. They cry and squeal but they're caught and end up answering for all the other misdeeds that they thought they'd gotten away with.

Ultimately, these misguided people decide to tell a big lie in an effort to grab stacks of cash or power. They've gotten away with so much up to this point - one step farther will work too, right?

So remember the words of a previous president - "I did not have sex with that woman" and how that turned out. And here's a useful tip: if you think this story is about someone you know it's really about YOU.


Order Processing - It's Not Rocket Science
A disturbing trend these days is for companies to try to pass the risks of doing business on to their customers. It's almost as if they think that because they're in business, they're entitled to make a profit.

One place where some "creative thinkers" are trying to cut costs is in order processing - by processing your credit card payment before processing the order they think they can avoid the risk of wasting the effort when they find that the charge to the card was declined.

When they do this, they overlook an important issue. When you accept the customer's order and payment, you are legally obligated to supply the merchandise the customer ordered. If you take the customer's money and don't give them the merchandise you've committed the crime of fraud. It's no more legal or ethical than the customer taking the merchandise and not paying for it.

To illustrate where the risk comes in - since no store has everything in stock all the time, if they charge the card before filling the order they're guaranteed to encounter situations where they're out of stock - at this point, they're technically guilty of fraud because they took the customer's money and can not supply the merchandise purchased. Some stores that do this try to blame the computers or human error for the lack of merchandise - but it doesn't matter. The law doesn't make allowances for excuses and it's just a matter of time before an unhappy customer causes criminal charges to be filed.

How to avoid this risk? Simple: don't charge the customer until after the order is filled and the merchandise is ready to deliver / ship / hand to the customer. This is the legal and ethical way to process orders.

When you're shopping online, watch out for businesses that charge before shipping - you might find that you didn't get anything except a credit card bill.


Net Neutrality
Much talk lately about some ISPs wanting to charge extra for some types of network traffic - or to charge a premium for use of those types of network traffic. Or to charge web sites for the traffic they "generate". What's behind all this? Simple - most internet service providers these days are telephone companies. They see the rise of VOIP telephony - people getting free / low cost phone service and long distance over the internet. They don't like this one bit - it eats into their profits. And since they are the internet service provider, what better way to deal with this threat than just to sniff the network for VOIP traffic and block it. If you want to use VOIP under their plan, you'll either use their VOIP proprietary system at their rates, or you'll pay extra for the ability to use a competing VOIP provider. Some providers are already blocking their customers from using VOIP. Of course, this plain is more than a little anti-competitive and probably wouldn't be legal under a different administration. Sooner or later, this plan will come back to haunt them because of the monopolistic abuse angle. But prior to that, they'll have to deal with another problem. Since they are monitoring the network traffic and blocking some types of communication, they can no longer claim that they just carry the traffic. For years, they've avoided liability for the content of the traffic they carry because of their common carrier status. But that status can't be reconciled with their monitoring and filtering activities - they're going to have to give up either their filtering and blocking or their common carrier status. Can't have it both ways...


What's wrong with America
In the past few years there has been a growing abuse of the legal system by corporate entities. People hiding behind the corporate name do whatever they want, taking advantage of customers, commiting fraudulent transactions, and even more anti-social acts. If a victim tries to seek justice, these corporate malefactors take advantage of the legal system's bias towards litigants with deep pockets. A private citizen has little or no chance against a team of corporate lawyers - the current American legal system is highly biased towards the party with the most money. As this continues, the country slides farther towards fascism. The current administration has no interest in righting these wrongs and may even take advantage of them. As the corporatations see how much they and others have gotten away with, they become even bolder in their transgressions. A good first step in correcting this problem would be to adjust the legal status of corporations; they are not human beings and are not guaranteed the same rights under our constitution. The bad acts of corporate officers should no longer be shielded behind the corporation; they should be held accountable for their acts individually, and not with the full corporate power supporting them. Furthermore, the current idea that corporations have more rights than the individual must change. The legal fiction that a corporation is the same as a person must end. Also, government by corporation is not acceptable in a free society. Corporations and government serve two different goals. Corporations seek maximum profit, where government seeks maximum benefit to its citizens. Getting these two goals confused leads to disaster for any country; remember that IBM provided the machines to count the Jews and Krups built the gas chambers that killed them. Those corporations are still around today; have we learned nothing from history?


An Open Letter to the RIAA
Dear member companines of the RIAA: you've had a good run, but times have changed and your business model is no longer valid. Your relevance to future markets is no longer in question; all that remains is for society to determine how we're going to remember you. We're watching in horror as you thrash around trying to insure your future in a world that doesn't need you. What ever gave you the idea that suing your customers (and potential customers) was a good plan? All you're doing is delaying the inevitable - and poisoning the waters for those who will follow you into obscurity. Here's some facts for you to chew on: audio is digital these days; video is digital, too. Your shiny silver discs only contain a collection of bits - and the Internet is the very best way to distribute those bits to the end users. The technology to create those shiny discs is in the hands of the artists now, as is the ability to distribute their creations. You're no longer relevant. You're nothing but a middleman in a system that connects creators to consumers - there's no place for you here. Lobby your representatives, try to legislate your continued profitability - it won't matter in the end, you are already obsolete and just don't realize it yet. Exit gracefully and be fondly remembered - or continue your campaign of terror and be held up as an example of corporate evil for generations to come. Look - see - the writing is on the wall. You still have a choice - but the choice you want isn't available any more. All that's left is choosing how you'll exit the business. Time is running out; choose wisely...


How to Succeed in Business
It's actually quite simple to run a successful corporation. Just remember that your primary objective is to serve your market, and your secondary objective is to make a profit. Take careful note of the order of precedence: if you allow the desire to make a profit to override serving your market then you will almost certainly fail to do either.

How do you "serve your market"? Simply provide them with the products / services that they want. To reiterate: provide what they want - not what you want them to have, no matter how much smarter you think you are than your customers.

For an example, let's consider IBM Corporation. 15 years ago they were the leading supplier of personal computers; nobody else was even close. They had a portfolio of IP and patents around the PC that was close to monopolistic. So what happened? You can't even find an IBM computer in a computer store anymore...

What happened is that they tried to force new technologies upon the customer - good technologies, but ones that the customer didn't want. This, combined with a unfortunate need to stomp through their competition with their big swinging IP portfolio led to IBM's PC business being marginalized out of the picture.

Was the ISA bus good enough? Not really - IBM's Microchannel bus was superior. Two problems; they wanted all competitors to pay a fee for every ISA bus machine they built before they could have a license for Microchannel (a really stupid idea) and they completely ignored their customer's wants and needs: these customers had an investment in ISA peripherals and add-on cards that they weren't ready to throw out - especially when Microchannel equivalents were not available (yet, they're coming soon - whoops, they never were available). Why would I want to buy a computer that my current peripherals wouldn't fit, and compatible replacements weren't available at any price?

OK, many of you reading may not be aware of the Microchannel fiasco, or the other fiascos it spawned (EISA?) Let's consider another IBM mistake - OS/2. Did the PC need a better operating system? Of course - it still does. But when OS/2 (the "superior" operating system) was introduced into a world of DOS-based PCs running a Windows "presentation manager" shell it was advertised as "A better DOS than DOS, a better Windows than Windows" - and it also ran OS/2 appliciations. Great; I, like the majority of other potential customers didn't have any OS/2 applications, and we already had DOS and Windows to run our current applications. Why pay to buy something that doesn't do anything that you can't already do? I know I didn't, and apparently not too many others did either.

And so, IBM told their customers what they should buy - and these customers became annoyed and switched to other corporations who would sell them what they really wanted to buy.

The moral: "Pride goeth before a fall"

And how about: Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it"? Can you think of any current technology company who has lost sight of who they serve and is currently pushing things onto their customers that these customers *do not want*? Could it be *cough*Microsoft*cough*?

Back in the eighties, it wasn't clear who was going to "take over" from IBM - and that answer is still changing today. But IBM lost their market regardless. Who will "take over" from Microsoft? Linux? Maybe - but Compaq looked like a strong contender for IBM's market share for a while, didn't they? We'll have to wait and see how it works out. Me? I've already purged all MSFT from my portfolio...


Rebates Revisited
Sony finally came through on the previously mentioned rebate ripoff; the memory stick arrived on June 6. That's exactly 5 months after I sent in the forms - forms that clearly stated that it would take 8 to 10 weeks to receive the rebate.

During my contacts with Sony regarding this rebate, a couple of excuses were offered. First, they said that they weren't expecting the number of rebate requests they received. That surprises me; the rebate offer was on all of their PDA products and they certainly knew how many of them they had to sell (and sold). Next, the story was that they didn't have a sufficient supply of memory sticks and that the rebates would ship as supplies became available. Of course, there was a good supply of these items in the retail stores and the retailers didn't have any problem restocking their shelves.

Of course, these are only excuses. Sony made the offer of a free memory stick to entice me to purchase one of their PDAs; they put this offer in writing. But when I purchased the PDA, they failed to provide the promised memory stick. There's a word for this kind of business practice; that word is "fraud". Sony was fully capable of fulfilling the terms of their offer and chose not to.

This is the same company that is crying to our government about piracy and looking for legislative protection against their dishonest custmers. I'm wondering who is going to protect us against companies like Sony who have a history of fraudulent business practices.

A note to legal types who might take offense and feel compelled to offer thinly veiled threats: we both know that truth is the perfect defense. Don't bother...


Copywrong Part 2
Something that isn't mentioned much when the anti-copying technologies are discussed is "who controls the keys"? This is a very important issue; if some sort of license or key is required for your digital device to playback a particular file, how will the independent artists and other private individuals be able to share their works with others? Will the licensing authority allow their files to be played - and how much will they charge for this privelege?

Pay attention to the man behind the curtain! The battle isn't over copyrights or piracy - it's about who will control what media you'll be able to access. Once things are all locked down, you'll find that your choices are limited to only the things that the licensing authority wants you to see / hear - for a price, of course.

I may be a cynic, but I'd be willing to bet that if Senator Hollings and Co. get their way the independent artist will be silenced - and all the music and video you get will be chosen for you.

Take a moment and let your elected representatives know how you feel about this issue. It's not too late - yet.


Copywrong
I'm not going to condone piracy; those who create and perform music, drama, etc. fully deserve to be compensated for their time and effort if their product pleases others.

However, there's a small group of copyright holders who didn't create or perform the copyrighted work - their only interest is in making a profit from these copyrights. They're represented by the RIAA, MPAA and other "rights" organizations that lobby in Washington, DC on their behalf. The DMCA is just the first offspring from this unholy alliance, and they're trying to get laws passed to add features to all digital devices to prevent copying.

In his 1958 novel "LifeLine", Robert Heinlein said: There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.

These corporations that are crying for government protection now should take a close look at what they are doing - if a company needs protection from its customers, they're probably doing something very, very wrong.


Sitemouse
I'd like to thank the kind Webmouster at Sitemouse for kindly agreeing to provide image hosting for this site.

I was surprised and pleased to be able to exchange email with a real live person who was clearly dedicated to providing great customer service.

Thanks again to all at Sitemouse and I hope that their business prospers over the coming years.


Rebate Ripoffs
A popular marketing trick that's used by many consumer electronics vendors is the factory rebate. Simply buy the product, send in proof of purchase, and they'll send you a check.

Why not just reduce the price? Well - rebates are better because many of you will lose the receipt, forget to send it in, wait too long, etc. This means that the manufacturer can offer a nice cash refund but actually pay out much less than that.

Some companies have improved on the rebate plan even more; just blow the rebate request off and pay out nothing. By using third-party fulfillment houses in other states and some other tricks, they can get away with it - and do, on a regular basis.

Here's my recent experiences with these rebates:

NETGEAR offered a 35 dollar rebate on the purchase of a router. Nice router, but they denied my rebate saying that I didn't purchase it from an approved store. Of course, they don't publish a list of approved stores, nor did the rebate offer say anything about approved stores. I contacted NETGEAR to try to find out what went wrong; no response. Ripoff!

VIEWSONIC offered a 100 dollar rebate on the purchase of a VG150 monitor. Nice monitor; I like it. But they denied my rebate saying that the UPC code I submitted was incorrect. What? There was only one UPC code on the box and this monitor is clearly marked VG150 on the front bezel and on the box. Viewsonic responded to my inquiry - essentially saying "bugger off". Ripoff!

SONY offered a free 32MB memory stick with the purchase of a Clie N760 PDA. Allow 8 to 10 weeks for delivery... OK, I submitted my rebate forms and waited and waited - after 5 months I contacted SONY and asked about the status of this rebate. I was sent to a web site where I typed in my info and was informed that the rebate had been processed a week ago. OK, it's now three weeks later; where's the memory stick? Something tells me it isn't ever going to show up; even mighty SONY can't pass up the opportunity to pull a quick one. Ripoff!

My advice? When you're shopping and see a generous rebate offer - ignore it. If the item isn't a good buy without the rebate, pass it up. Chances are you would never receive the rebate anyway.

And I have a tip for these companies, too. Congratulations on saving a short-term dollar and improving your profits for now. Don't forget that the customers you ripped off will remember your lack of integrity next time they're shopping for a new gadget; you'll lose everything you saved on the rebate ripoff and more when these customers refuse to do any more business with your crooked company.


Electric Power
Documents and memos uncovered during the recent investigation of Enron have revealed that Enron executives planned and executed manipulations of California energy markets, driving prices to record high levels.

So add to Enron's offences against the American public the widespread and systematic pricing fraud perpetrated against the common American citizen in the western portions of the United States.

They ripped off their own employees in that stock fraud / pension fraud scam. They've also ripped off the general public in California. There's also undoubtedly other crimes that can be laid at Enron Corporation's doorstep. The management of this corporation fully deserves a long prison sentence and all Enron assets should be liquidated to pay back the Enron employees' retirement funds and the California utility customers.

But through the magic of politics, Enron gets nothing more than a symbolic slap on the wrist - and reopens for business under a different (to be determined) name. Add to the list of people deserving prison sentences the so-called public servants that let Enron get away with so much and are allowing them to continue in business.

Mr. Bush, the situation in the Middle East is entertaining and you can work it for much political glory. But it's the energy scandal that's going to bring you down along with the rest of the scoundrels. Your ties to the energy industry are well documented - you may not think it's important now, but when it becomes apparent that something needs to be done NOW it'll be far too late to save your reputation.


What they really want
I've been resisting the urge to write about the continuing conflict in the Middle East; Steven at USS Clueless is the authority on this topic - or at least, he generates the most text about it.

But something that isn't discussed widely - if at all - is "what are these people fighting about?" The answers are enlightening, even if they don't offer a lot of hope. I feel that this dissertation is going to offend a lot of people; there's a link to my email address on the right of the page if you feel the urge. OK, let's take a look at the positions:

The Palestinians: They're called refugees for a reason. They very much resent being driven out of their homeland and want it back.

The Arabs: They consider the Palestinians to be their brothers, and are not happy with the way they've been treated.

The Jews: They are the current occupants of Palestine, and would like to live their lives peacefully in this place.

The Americans: They love that Arab Light Crude oil, and support Israel, supplying a huge arsenal of modern weapons. They also had a part in removing the Palestinians from Palestine and moving the Jews in.

The Palestinians want the Jews gone - dead or alive. They want Palestine back and won't take any excuses. The Arabs support this position and provide support to the Palestinian cause. The Jews want the Palestinians to leave them alone and will defend themselves and their home with all the military might available to them. The Americans want stability in the region, preferably with American-friendly governments in control so that the continuing flow of that lovely crude oil won't be impaired.

Of course, there is no easy solution to this problem. How to solve it? I don't know. Most likely solution this time (as before) is to bomb the combatants back into the stone age; this will remove their ability to fight for a generation and pass the problem along to our children.


That was kinda fun...
Back again after a butt-numbing adventure; across the country and back again in three days. I only spent one day in New York; the people I was going to meet there didn't show up so there was no reason to stay any longer.

I flew on Continental this time; what a surprise! The planes and flight crews were great - I'd give them an A. The people on the ground at the gates and ticket counters were somewhat less spectacular, though. They get a D; the only reason I don't give them an F is that they do remember to say Sir as they flip you off...

I did encounter something troubling along the way, though: there are random security checks as you board the plane at all airports now. In most airports, the choice of who will be searched is done randomly by the airline. However, at Minneapolis / St. Paul airport I observed as I was boarding my final connection home that the security personnel were picking and choosing who to search by themselves. They'd grab one person out of line, search them completely, then grab another. No white people were searched - but every non-white traveller got an extra-careful going over. Shame on you, Argenbright Security. And shame on the Continental gate staff for allowing this outrageous performance to go on.

I think tomorrow I'll write a bit about my visit to upstate New York. Maybe I'll pen a few paragraphs about the natural beauty of that part of the country and the friendliness of its residents. Maybe I'll describe why I'll never stay at that particular Holiday Inn again instead; we'll see tomorrow...


Check this out...
There won't be much in the way of updates for another week; I'm traveling across the country from coast to coast and won't be around a computer until I return. Hopefully, I'll have some tales to tell, but until then let's talk about a different "problem".

The number of hits this page gets is tiny; nay, let's call it insignificant. Either what I write is no good, or people haven't found the site yet. I prefer to think that it's just that people haven't visited yet.

So how to attract viewers? Something I noticed is that if you search Google for "Whuffo", this page comes up at the top of the list. Their cached copy is regularly updated, too - so Google is apparently watching this site. Of course, not too many people are searching for Whuffo.

What they do search for are things like teen sex or Anna Nicole Smith or Ice Age or even Metal Gear Solid. Some would like to bomb Iraq or read about Afghanistan because of what happened on 9/11. But one thing they'll all have in common is that these hot words are now part of The Whuffo Chronicles, and this page will show up when they search for those words.

Cheating? Let's think of it as an experiment; I'll wait until Google scans the page again then observe the hit counter. I suspect it'll go up...


Microsoft for Cars?
Remember the old joke about what cars would be like if they were designed by Microsoft? It's more than a joke now; BMW is equipping their new 7-series models with Windows-based computers.

Brings a new meaning to "Blue Screen of Death, doesn't it?


They don't give up, do they?
Microsoft is quietly changing the fine print of several of their application licenses to make it legal for them to sniff your computer over the Internet and automatically download/install upgrades and other maintenance software.

For this to work, they'd have to build backdoor code into their products - and they said they'd never do that, right? And given their reputation for security, how long will it be before teenage hackers are taking advantage of the built-in security breaches? Read the story; it'll probably scare you, too.


Lost and Found
Two Florida teens found some money - and turned it in to the authorities. Congratulations to these fine examples of youth at its best. The rightful owner of the money was found and is giving a reward to our young heroes. But what of the five other people who called the police and claimed that the money was theirs? One is bad enough, but five? What is wrong with this picture?


Makers and Takers
Let's play a little game; I call it "Makers and Takers". It's very simple - just choose a profession and guess if it creates value (Maker) or takes a percentage of someone else's efforts (Taker).

Here's some easy ones: Lawyer = Taker (he creates nothing of value), Contractor = Maker (wood into houses creates value), Auto Worker = Maker (assembling automobiles creates value), Record Company Executive = Taker (he creates nothing of value).

How about you? Are you a Maker or are you a Taker?

And how about your investments - you do invest for the future, don't you? If so, do you invest in Makers or Takers, and are the companies you invest in lead by people with integrity?

The wise investor puts his money in Makers led by leaders with integrity. They create value, and won't break their promises.

Take a look at your portfolio (or pick some companies you admire) - are they Makers, or are they Takers? And do their leaders have integrity? Now look at the companies who have done very well over the decades; there's a correlation, isn't there? Food for thought...


Mail.com: Your life is over!
A few years back, I received an offer from a mail service provider called IName. They offered a free mail forwarding service; you could choose a username and also a domain name from a list; I chose whuffo@mindless.com. All they did was forward mail sent to your IName address to your regular email account - and they provided this service at no charge - in the words of the company: "Free for life".

This was handy; you could move to a new ISP and just tell IName the new address and your mail would follow you. Much easier than trying to remember all the people / places that had your email address and informing them of the new one.

Some time passed, and there were some changes at IName; they changed their name to Mail.com and started offering web-based email in addition to the classic forwarding service. Not long after that, they redefined outgoing mail forwarding service as a premium service - you have to pay for that now. OK - no problem, it was the inbound forwarding that was useful, anyway and that was still free. You could have web-based mail for free, too. "Free for life".

Now Mail.com has redefined inbound mail forwarding as a premium service, too. Not free anymore, it's $9.95 if you sign up right now or if you wait more than 45 days you'll pay the regular rate of $19.95. That's quite a change from "Free for life", don't you think?

I had a couple of lively email exchanges with the management of Mail.com and discovered that the management there had no intention of honoring their "Free for life" promise. They wouldn't even guarantee that their new improved rates wouldn't go up whenever they wanted.

I promised a while back to discuss Integrity; this little tale provides a fine example of why it's important. Quite simply, integrity means saying what you mean and doing what you say - no excuses. Sometimes it's difficult to keep our word and many find an excuse to weasel out - but the person with integrity will fulfill their promise even though it may be expensive or inconvenient.

Of course, the management at Mail.com is lacking in integrity - and this is why I won't do any business with them. It's not the 10 or 20 bucks; the forwarding service is probably worth 10 - maybe 20 (but that's pushing it). No, it's the very real possibility that they'll change their mind and ask 30 or 40 or more for this service - or change the service into something unusable, or - well, I don't know what they may do: they've proven themselves to be unreliable and dishonest and I'll just reroute my mail around their service and be done with these jerks.

Hopefully this tale will show you why integrity is important in both you and the people / businesses you interact with. Hopefully it will also help you avoid doing business with Mail.com and finding out later that they don't honor their contracts.


Ethics
Like my friend Steven at USS Clueless, I ponder upon ethics frequently. Like it or not, we live in a system - one that has developed over hundreds of years to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly industrialized population.

Ethics and morals are not the same thing. Morals relates to a code of conduct imposed from without - typically through religious teachings. Visit your local church for instruction on how to live a life of high morality. Transgressions against morals will be punished in the afterlife, even though transgressors may be shunned in the present. Ethics refers to a code of conduct imposed from within - choices we make for ourselves about our own behavior; a personal code of conduct. Transgressions here will be punished in the near future. Where do you go for instruction in ethical behavior? You should already have the answer to that question within you.

A third code of conduct is what we call the law. It is possible for one to choose their actions based upon what is and what is not legal. I think this is a poor choice, but it is distressingly widely practiced.

OK, let's examine a sample situation. Murder is wrong, right? We almost (sigh) all agree on this, but for different reasons:

Ethical: "I wil not kill because I choose not to." Moral: "I will not kill because God commands me not to." Legal: "I will not kill because I'll be punished if I'm caught."

I put those examples in that order because that's the way I feel they should be ranked. It's possible to throw ethics and even morality away and still be legal, right? Ask any lawyer...

Ponder on these choices for a while - please? Now look around you and see how others guide their actions. Not just people, but businesses too. OK, which level of "goodness" are you comfortable with? Now choose your associations and business dealings appropriately and you'll find that your "luck" has changed for the better. Why this is true is the topic for the next article here on The Whuffo Chronicles.


The Straight Dope
Definitive answers on difficult and obscure topics; this is the specialty of Cecil Adams. His Straight Dope newspaper column is carried in several alternative newspapers and is also availiable on his website. Ever wonder what "SOS" really means? Cecil knows...


Zero Tolerance
Here's another example of our public servants going well beyond the call of duty. Click the link and read the story; I can't adequately describe this particular bit of lunacy...


Mistake After Mistake
Here's a interesting news article. Apparently, a Wendy's customer went through the drive-up line and they gave him a bag containing not his order, but $12,000 in cash instead. They say they were getting ready to make a bank deposit, put the cash in a regular food bag, and (oops) got the bags mixed up. That's a pretty expensive and embarassing mistake.

This isn't enough for the folks at Wendy's - their next move was to call the local police and set them on the trail of our lucky customer. That's mistake number two right there, and it'll probably be more expensive than the first one.

Not to be outdone, the police department issues a statement to the press. They threaten criminal charges against the customer and ask for help in apprehending this offender. There's mistake number three - just exactly what crime did our lucky customer commit or intend? None, of course.

The Wendy's employee working the drive-up window was acting as an agent of the company and performing his regular duties. He freely and willingly handed the cash bag to the customer in exchange for the customer's small payment. That's it right there; pay attention: Wendy's *gave* the cash to the customer.

I can understand that the folks at Wendy's made a silly mistake with the bags and it cost them $12,000. That's one of the risks of doing business. I don't understand the part where we get the police to go shake down the customers to cover Wendy's mistakes, though. This is just plain WRONG.

Something to keep in mind next time your getting fast food at the drive-up - count your change carefully, because if they give you too much...


Popcap Games
Found another web site with several great online games written in Java. What makes PopCap special is that not only can you play online, you can download Windows versions of the games - and also Palm PDA versions. I've been playing Bejeweled on my Sony Clie and it's somewhat addictive...


Orisinal: Morning Sunshine
Occasionally, I visit a Flash-enabled site and think for a moment of recommending it here. There's some very creative (and funny) work out there, but I'm saving my recommendations for the very special ones. One of the most creative and best executed Flash sites around is Ferry Halim's Orisinal site. It's a collection of Flash games that combine beauty and elegance with exciting (and simple) game play. Very impressive; take a look.


Value Revisited
I ponder on Value and how to continue my articles regarding it. But instead of answers, I keep coming up with questions:

Why does the cable company charge me to watch home shopping channels? Why would I want to pay for advertising, anyway? Isn't wearing clothing featuring a company logo in public a form of advertising? And if so, why should I have to pay (extra?!) for the doggone t-shirt?

Anyway, goodbye to the cable company; they'll have to make their millions without me. And fooey on logo clothing; I'm not buying it. And I'm NOT going to buy any of those cheap fuzzy cameras no matter how many times those clowns pop that suggestive ad up in front of me.


Future Technology
Here are some interesting Lab Notes that describe the theoretical underpinnings of "programmable matter". When this technology becomes available, the world will change in ways beyond our wildest dreams.


Squirrel Fishing
Something from the "Too much time on their hands" department: Squirrel Fishing. Annie shows us the rod and reel technique, while the boys at Harvard show the basic line and weight method.

Apparently squirrels are good for something, but I wonder who is playing with who in these scenarios.


Why Cats Paint
I heard about cats painting years ago and through it was just a good story - our little furry friends are cute, but not all that bright. But now the Museum of Non Primate Art has opened the Why Cats Paint website with exhibitions of feline art and even some videos of the cats painting.


Value Disconnect
It seems that what value means is becoming more and more divorced from reality. Not only for the consumers, but also for the marketing types who misuse this word incessantly. Let's clear something up:

Value is a judgement call that YOU make

The value of an item is what you'd give to get it; nothing more.

Here's a quick example: Let's assume a hypothetical fast food store; their most popular menu item is a double hamburger that sells for 99 cents. Their least popular menu item is a dish of kimchee which also sells for 99 cents.

To move more kimchee, the Hypothetical Hamburger Co. marketing department creates the "Double Value Meal" - it contains the double hamburger AND a dish of kimchee, and sells for the extra value price of only $1.39.

To the marketing department, this gives you a savings on your meal of 59 cents. But to those of us who don't like kimchee, it looks more like we're paying 40 cents more for our double hamburger. We'll just toss the kimchee out; it has no value to us.

The marketeers will only tell you their point of view in their oh-so-compelling advertisments. When they use the "value" word, look carefully at the offer.


Hoax Busters
Chain letters, virus warning hoaxes, disinformation and urban legends abound in our connected world. One of the best resources for checking the veracity of a curious tale is The Urban Legend Reference Pages. You may be surprised to find how much of what you believed is a complete fabrication.


The Institute of Official Cheer
James Lileks has a unique style of humorous writing. If you've got a few hours to kill, visit The Institute. Be sure to visit the Gallery of Regrettable Food while you're there.


Layoffs and Business Cycles
In a capitalist system, the inherent delays in adjusting supply to meet demand (build a factory, hire more workers)results in business cycles as production swings from too low to too high and back again. When business is at a low point in the cycle, some companies try to cut expenses and improve their profitability by laying off "excess" staff.

However, the savings are temporary and the hidden costs may be much higher than expected. The laid off workers do not vanish; they will continue in their chosen line of work with a different employer. When business recovers and more workers are once again needed the previously laid off employees are unavailable. Worse, they have gone to work for competitors - taking with them the detailed knowledge of how their former employer did business. Instead, novice employees will need to be hired and trained.

Are you a corporate leader who is considering laying off some excess staff? Please consider that you are essentially giving away your corporate assets to the competition in exchange for a small, temporary savings. Look instead for other ways to save money and weather the slow times with your full staff intact; when the economy recovers (and it will, it always does) you'll be ready to resume full production instantly.


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