Jan 21

Froma Harrop, your OpEd piece on Aaron Swartz today has brought me out of a blogging hiatus to respond. I feel compelled in the name of combatting the clueless views you espouse in your article.

Ironically today is MLK day- a day to celebrate a man who challenged a population to change, stood up against a crappy system and died doing it. You rest in the cozy assertion that “Aaron committed real crimes.” Guess what: the sit-ins and protests of the 60’s broke laws at the time but they were in pursuit of challenging a broken system and advancing a just and higher cause. Aaron Swartz’s “liberation” of the PACER civil info and subsequently the JSTOR academic docs was an honorable public protest that wound up killing him and he should be revered as a figure like MLK who died in pursuit of pushing this world to be a better place. I wish he would have lived longer to figure out how to fix the software patent system and liberate all the beneficial IP that’s currently imprisoned under an arcane and broken system.

A thicker-skinned individual perhaps would have better weathered the prospect of a lifetime in jail for this protest. You could argue that he knew the consequences going into it and he chose to accept that risk. The fact he suffered depression and therefore was more susceptible to thoughts of suicide is consequential, etc, etc. The point is that the prosecution saw opportunity to target this kid, “rack him in front of the village” and make him an example to warn anyone else thinking of doing something similar. Meanwhile, the architects of the US financial crisis who committed truly damaging, societal-underming crimes for personal gain at the expense of decimating an entire nation and generation are driving around in sports cars and cashing bonuses from bail out money. It’s an issue of perverted civil punitive priorities and abuses of undue force by government officials. And it’s all sickening.

There have been numerous thoughtful pieces on this kid’s story (here, here, here, here, here, here & here) so I’m not going to rehash any more other than to say, you add nothing substantive to this conversation. Like the typical AZ Joe Arpaio Rambo-fuck-you, small-minded attitude of dealing with issues like this, your stance on Aaron Swartz sweeps the real problem under the table. The fact is flagrant, truly-detrimental crimes go unpunished while a young guy who has the guts to “break the animals out of the zoo” gets the Secret Service sicced on him because he’s a progressive muckraker who challenges authority. I don’t expect quality journalism from AZcentral at this point. Your homepage is a sleazy quilt of Enquirer-type gossip, traffic accident reports, deal chicken offers and weekend party photos devoid of any meaningful though-provoking stories so your level of journalism is to be expected I suppose. But don’t tarnish this kid’s memory by kowtowing to your status quo readership and diminishing what he did in hopes of sounding smart.

If any programmers out there have the wherewithal to create a greasemonkey Firefox add-on that redraws Froma Harrop’s pieces as the pile of monkey poop that they are, I will happily fund that effort.

Feb 22

Not seeking sympathy but very interested in comments from folks who have been burned by this parking/towing scam. Here’s the tldr; version of what happened today:

Take a poorly marked parking lot that was just converted to being a paid lot, an electronic centralized meter that gives one no way to know or prove whether payment went through and an aggressive towing company that makes $135 per carcass and you get what is from my perspective a shady money-making racket that extorts patrons and kills local merchants (and potentially enriches the property owner but that part I can’t prove yet).

For the longer more Woodward & Bernstein version watch the following video. This is a compilation of footage i shot today from my phone showing the poorly marked lot, an interview with the owner of the coffee shop and an undercover session where I’m getting strong-armed at the tow company. I’ve already attempted to dispute the towing charge with my cc processor but it has to clear before they can lodge that complaint. I will update this post with the outcome of that effort once they come to a verdict for anyone interested. I attempted to file a police report as a stolen vehicle when the towing occurred the but the lady at the police dept informed me if it was towed it was a civil mater and I would need to take issue with the company that handles the meter.

The key two questions here are:

  1. “is there a financial relationship between the property management company such that they make more on towing fee kickbacks than on the metered parking fees?”
  2. “if so, is the a) awareness that it’s a paid lot and b) payment experience for the well-intending patron intentionally degraded to yield a better profit for the towing company and prop mgmt co?”

I admittedly have zero way of proving this hypothesis today but from talking with various people lingering in the lot and judging based on what I experienced, I’m highly suspicious. Certainly from a pure game theory perspective and analysis of the factors present, that hypothesis makes sense. If that is in fact the case, then this is a super shady racket and people should blow the whistle if they have access to any documented info that proves this to be the case. Anyways, I don’t expect to learn the answer anytime soon nor do I expect the property management guy who had a chance to right the situation today to ever admit that it’s true. Anyways, evaluate the facts and draw your own conclusions. And if you have anecdotal evidence to add of your own, leave it in a comment.

Here are some useful links:

  • SWAT Towing Company google result (they don’t have a website). Notice how many complaints pop up.
  • Website of the Vue on Apache complex
  • Property management company for the Vue
  • Forms for lodging a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General and City of Tempe. If you’ve been extorted or have substantive evidence of shady kickback arrangements between property management companies and towing companies in AZ contact one of the investigative journalism teams.
  • Lastly, here are some interesting photos:
    Gallery is empty!
    Anyways I spent way too long on this already but I figure writing this post and publishing the vid would at least air the issue out there and provide a place for others to comment if they’ve been victim of a similar scam.

    If you have been fleeced or know of friends who have been hit by parking scams in Tempe, share this link and have them leave a comment here describing their situation. If enough legitimate stories amass here I will share this with authorities and urge them to hold the offending entities accountable. thx

    UPDATE 3/13: As expected SWAT was never able to produce photos they claimed they had that proved the meter was expired. I recorded this phone call with them. The lady seemed to take genuine delight in encouraging me to call back tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day… weirdly enough at the end of the call she thought it was a total bluff when I told her I had recorded it. This company is truly awful. I’m awaiting to hear the result of my dispute with Citibank Mastercard and will update this post accordingly once I hear back.

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    Dec 22

    I wanted to leave you 5yrs ago when you morphed your checkout process into a misleading gauntlet of extra screens and pre-filled menus that tried to trick the customer into purchasing unnecessary stuff.

    I wanted to leave you 3yrs ago when Bob Parsons turned the entire web site into a soapbox for his chauvinistic machismo patriotism-for-profit blather and insulted the women of the tech community with sexist super bowl commercials.

    I wanted to leave you 2yrs ago when I learned how you fail to protect your customers and cave to bullies who threaten DMCA suits in pursuit of stealing customers’ legitimate domains.

    I wanted to leave you a year ago when you turned your technical support people in to annoying sales people that tried to sell me crap when I called because your service was broken.

    I committed to leaving you when I learned that you use shady methods to swoop up customer domains and hold them hostage.

    I began leaving you and moving my domains to another registrar one by one when Parsons pulled that stunt glamorizing his slaughter of a wild elephant in Zimbabwe as if it were some kind of heroic act.

    I am now officially peaced out with this SOPA nonsense.

    Your stance on SOPA is inexcusable political back scratching to curry favor and undoubtedly advances Parson’s financial interest in some sketchy under-the-table way. I don’t even know where to begin responding to the points made in your response. I am a native Phoenician and an active member of our startup community. The fact that you are regularly cited as a success on the basis of your revenues is an abomination as it neglects to account for the nasty underbelly of how your company operates. You guys are an utter embarrassment to our tech scene. I actively encourage all my colleagues to boycott your service and spread the word of how evil you truly are as a company. I have escalated the exodus of my few remaining domains on your system. good riddance.

    -Sean

    For anyone else who is currently on Go Daddy, there are a ton of hosting providers offering coupons to switch off their service given their recent shenanigans. Check this Reddit thread. If you haven’t been following the SOPA developments, search Twitter & Google to get informed and involved to help fight this insanity they’re proposing.

    May 24

    “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

    So I get this 2pg privacy statement in the mail from Chase telling me what rights I have to limit their ability to share my info. It basically says they have the right to share my info with other institutions for joint marketing initiatives and I have no ability to opt-out. That would be fine (annoying but acceptable) if I were still a customer of theirs but it turns out they retain the right to sell and share your info indefinitely even after you leave.

    I called them (here’s the audio) and politely asked that they delete my info given that I’m no longer a customer and that they already lost my data once. They said “sorry we get to keep your info forever.” This too would be understandable if it were purely for the archival purpose of preserving a copy of my records for historical reasons but they actually said I have no ability to stop them from sharing my info for marketing purposes even after we’ve discontinued our relationship. They retain the right to continue to spam you and sell your info even after you’ve checked out. Pink champagne on ice indeed…

    If this were some local business the attorney general would have these guys’ heads but alas it’s a bank and apparently nowadays banks appreciate sovereign immunity from all policy that is sensible. The one consolation here is that I recently completed a successful shortsale of my house (hey Chase how does that $146k haircut feel?). In layman’s terms this is a way for the average consumer to clear his/her balance sheet and shed a distressed asset similarly to how the banks have done. IMHO this process was a convoluted and opaque obstacle course by design but I plan to document the chronology of how it unfolded for anyone else who is in a similar boat and seeking to take advantage of this mechanism. F U Chase.

    UPDATE 8/28/11: Introducing our Site. Double FU Chase.

    Listen to the audio below for the ridiculous conversation with their CSR and pass this along as an advisory to any friends who are considering banking with Chase. Make sure your friends know the expectation of how they’ll be treated before signing up with these guys. And make sure they’re aware that checking in means they can never check out.

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    Dec 07

    We’re witnessing right now one of the most significant wrestling matches of our lifetime from a “what will be in history books someday” perspective. If you haven’t been following the developments with Wikileaks you really should, if for no other reason than failing to do so is like sitting court-side at the NCAA championship with your eyes closed. Take a moment and read about it (and preferably seek out multiple angles via non-mainstream channels). The short of it is this:

  • Guy gets pissed about quiet abuses of power from governments and multi-nationals but instead of talking about it he architects a plan to dismantle the problem.
  • Guy creates the ultimate equalizer: an anonymous, objective collection bucket that enables whistleblowers to safely leak incriminating evidence and expose it for public scrutiny.
  • Guy starts systematically airing out the nasty laundry.
  • Guy becomes understandably hated by the entrenched interests whose behavior and existence has been predicated on the ability to operate in the dark.
  • That’s an oversimplification but it’s the gist of what’s happened so far. There’s been a ton written on what’s happening (this is the most thoughtful analysis I’ve seen so far) so I won’t rehash things that have already been said. But here’s some food for thought:

    • To the people in positions of power who historically have used the argument “if you’re doing nothing wrong then you shouldn’t be concerned about privacy:” how quickly you change your tune now that your privacy has been compromised.
    • Sarah Palin has called for Julian Assange to be hunted down like Osama, reaaally?? The guy who has broken no laws so far and instead created the ultimate check & balance device for the betterment of humanity? A device that enables people with a conscience to act without threat of persecution when they discover an atrocity in progress so they can help thwart it… If Wikileaks had existed when the Bush administration was fabricating the WMD story and instigating not one but two unjust wars, one has to think this whole f’d up situation might have been averted. Would massive scandals like Enron ever have been allowed to fester to that catastrophic level if a device like Wikileaks had existed? Why are we persecuting the people who bring accountability to government and corporations? This guy should get a Nobel Prize if anything for risking his life fighting global bullies and for exposing injustices from every corner of the world. Sorry Ms. Palin but Bush and Cheney are the ones that should be tried for warcrimes. Julian Assange represents the American spirit far more than those two cowards.
    • Amazon caves to Lieberman and they kick Wikileaks off their servers. Paypal, Mastercard and Visa then all follow suit. Wikileak’s Swiss bank caves. Then the authorities trump up these red herring sex charges against him because he broke a condom while having consensual sex and that’s enough to put him on Interpol’s most wanted list?? And he’s now being held without bail… unbelievable. He’s done nothing but make an anonymous wikipedia for whistleblowers. Take a breath and assess the real situation given all the facts: the guy is a fricking visionary whose worst crime is having rough sex.

    It must be unnerving indeed to be an entity with a history of dark secrets and a conscientious workforce who might now expose them thanks to this new tool. This site is the journalistic executioner that is doing what no other entity has been capable of: enforcing accountability upon powers which have been untouchable and mucking up the gears of the ones that insist on continuing their nefarious practices. That’s obviously going to suck from their perspective but it’s unassailable transparency (or the threat of it) that makes the world a better place. If you know whistleblowers have a refuge you’ll think twice next time before conducting shady activities. That or you’ll be forced to restructure and clamp down your operation so securely that it cripples you to inoperability. And either way it’s a net win for humanity.

    Sadly we can expect Wikileaks to soon be added to the SDN list. At that point in the US it will be a criminal offense to donate to their cause (if it isn’t already). The powers that be have already used defamation & character assassination, strangulation of financial resources, DDOS attacks and will likely resort to whatever means necessary to squelch this thing. Julian seems to be a smart guy so I’m sure he’s architected a dead man’s switch as insurance but I wouldn’t be surprised to soon read that he “slipped” and died from a skullfracture in his cell.

    This is an epic collision of good ole boy network opaqueness meeting accountability & transparency. Fortnately at least for the time being there are 500 mirrors for the Wikileaks site keeping the information available while the powers in control are hard at work to suffocate it. Here’s a parting thought though: rather than shutting down Wikileaks how about instead Zynga bakes into their Farmville game the ability for players to earn virtual currency by vetting documents submitted to Wikileaks? Let’s harness some of those kajillion hours of human cognition that are currently frittered away growing virtual tomatoes and put those mental cycles towards a crowd-sourced effort to ensure global accountability? Now that would be a game worth playing and a currency worth earning.

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    Sep 01

    Here’s a proposal: why not institute a tax on fast food to discourage its consumption and offset the medical expenses of obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc. in the same way we currently tax tobacco products?

    Normally I believe LESS government is a good thing. We’re better off when we let the free market forces work uninhibited and keep the role of government to the most minimal scaffolding necessary to keep life civil. But as it stands now we already use taxation to deal with substances that have harmful effects on our bodies. We realized at some point that the tobacco companies were extracting massive wealth from the population and leaving behind polluted, illness-prone bodies, the cost of which was borne by the public. So we shifted some of that financial burden to them in the form of tobacco taxes, and in so doing, not only generated revenue to cope with the problem (cure) but also deterred consumption through higher prices (prevention).

    If we determine that eating a Big Mac every day has similar health consequences to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day why would we not use economic incentives to address it?

    So far the hurdles and objections I can fathom are:

    1. Aversion to more regulation: People don’t want government to tell them what to eat. It’s a personal choice. And agreed that it’s little odd to think about assigning this almost parental-type role to government.
    2. Aversion to more taxation: Most people don’t want more taxes of any kind.
    3. Different opinions on nutrition: The FDA got the food pyramid exactly upside down the first time around so it’s hard to see them getting a more complex program such as this right.
    4. Lobbying: MacDonald’s would be none too happy about this and they would surely put up a fight. The “healthy eating” lobby (if one exists) wields nowhere near the political power of the major fast food chains – it would be a tough battle to turn this into law.
    5. Socioeconomic bias: It could be easily argued that this tax would be paid disproportionately more by the lower class, the very ones who can’t afford it.

    But if we could:
    a) realize that we’re already using this exact strategy with tobacco.
    b) recognize that we’re already bearing the costs of others’ poor eating choices through a Medicare deduction on every paycheck and funding a program that spends a good amount on illnesses caused by bad eating habits.
    c) get a panel of independent nutritionists and economists to architect a plan that taxes based on saturated fat or some other measure of a food’s detrimental health effects.
    d) slice through the lobbying issue by putting this up for a popular vote. Put the plan itself on a wiki for max transparency and solicit the collaborative input of many.
    e) set up a program whereby food stamps count double on vegetables, fruits and other non-processed items so the lower class has an immediate healthy and affordable food option.

    …that would be a step in the right direction. Tax revenues from the program would be split between educational campaigns on nutrition and paying down the single largest debt obligation we have, Medicare. You’d start to see menus at fast food restaurants naturally gravitate towards less-processed foods. Instead of letting large fast food chains get away with strip mining our nation’s largest natural resource (millions of people) while leaving behind diseased bodies for someone else to deal with, they would be forced to either start serving healthier foods or to bear the true costs of their business.

    Would you vote for such a tax if it were on a ballot? If not, explain your rationale. How could it be modified to be more effective AND more palatable to voters?

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