What happened to “think different”?

I long ago pushed beyond the threshold of “curmudgeon.” This is not entirely my doing, though approaching 70 accounts for something. I have not been “hip” for years. Nor, really, do I have any desire to be an enthusiastic passenger on the Zeitgeist. I do not get excited about “new and improved.” I prefer that things just work.

I’ll pick on Apple for this occasion, though any number of companies would suffice.

Apple, we will recall, made much about “think different,” offering us images of iconoclastic cultural heroes, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, to Einstein and, well, Steve Jobs himself. The marketing, always impeccable, would have us believe that buying Apple’s products was an act of self-expression, setting us apart from the ordinary.

And Apple also proclaimed that its products “just work,” unlike the competition’s offerings, which were often a confusing bundle of components from dozens of vendors. Consumers of those products spent many a frustrating hour trying to get devices to “talk with one another.”

But it is in the nature of technology that nothing shall remain the same. There are constant revisions of software, design, and features. Any self-respecting consumer with means must have these, even if what they replace works perfectly fine.

Early on in its journey, Apple embraced music. It was said to be in the company’s “DNA.” The iPod made this so, allowing customers to listen to their music “on the go.” Over the years, especially after the introduction of the iPhone (which combined an iPod with a phone with mobile access to the Internet), Apple expanded its presence in music. Now Apple offers millions of “songs” with iTunes and Apple Music.

Here is where the curmudgeon truly shines, though not in a good way. Apple now tells me what is “trending.” But curmudgeons don’t give a shit about trends, especially music. A trend, is seems to me, is merely an aggregation of consumer preferences and any given time. There is near-zero chance that I will be interested in any one or any thing that is “tending.” Yet, when I open Apple Music, I presented with lists of trends.

Come on, Apple. “Think different” is the antithesis of “trend.” Sorry, Ghandi. Sorry, Einstein. Give way to Taylor Swift and Tech N9ne and J. Cole, the names that appear right now under Apple’s “new music.”

There. I feel a bit better.

Stuck in Memphis

So I upgraded my iPhone 6S to the iPhone 7. I did this through AT&T, under its annual upgrade program. The phone was shipped from Ft. Worth, TX, on 9/14 and arrived at the Memphis Fed Ex hub on Thursday, 9/15. The phone was scanned in at 11:45 a.m., local time. It was scheduled for delivery to my place the next day, Friday, the 16th by 8 p.m., my time. Here’s what I saw when I clicked on the tracking information:

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-4-55-44-pm

As you will surmise, the iPhone seemingly never moved after 11:45 a.m. in Memphis. Also, the delivery date was scratched. The new language: “No scheduled delivery date available at this time.”

I called Fed Ex on Monday, the 19th to find out what happened to my phone. Would you believe this? I was told that the package had been “lost.” The representative told me that an investigation would commence.

I then called AT&T. Things got really interesting and a bit nightmarish. After making my way through layers of AT&T representatives, I finally spoke with someone named “Jordan.” I explained all of the above. He asked me to start a three-way conference call with Fed Ex, AT&T, and me—which I did.

Fed Ex confirmed that the iPhone was lost. Now what? The Fed Ex representative told the AT&T guy that he, as the shipper, should file a claim with Fed Ex and that Fed Ex would pay for the loss, at which time AT&T could send me another phone. Well, the AT&T rep said nothing doing. I quote: “We don’t file claims.” Period.

I said, “I just want my phone!” The Fed Ex person said that if I were to file a claim the claim would be “denied” by Fed Ex, unless AT&T issued me a “waiver.” The AT&T guy said, “What’s a waiver?” At this point, I’d been on the phone for about an hour, stuck in the middle of the battle between Fed Ex and AT&T.

Finally, it was decided that the Fed Ex rep could hang up and that AT&T would continue to deal directly with me. I was told then by the AT&T guy that the matter would be turned over to their “DMDR” department, whatever the hell that is. But then the guy (I’m still dealing with Jordan) said that DMDR was not the right department and that I would have to deal with AT&T’s “Ecom” department, presumably standing for “Electronic Commerce,” but who knows?

Oh, and get this. Jordan told me that a “supervisor” from Ecom would be contacting me within 24 and 72 hours! Well, I have received no call, nor a phone, certainly, as I write this, 5:20 p.m., my time.

Ridiculous!

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UPDATE (Sep. 24, 2016):

By the way, if I ship something of value I pay for package insurance with the carrier. AT&T must do the same. So, despite Fed Ex’s losing the iPhone, AT&T’s insurance would cover the loss, which is why Fed Ex told AT&T to file the claim.

Tax evasion

The European Commission ruled that Apple owes Ireland over $14 billion in taxes the company avoided through a sweetheart deal with the country. Apple’s Tim Cook called the ruling “maddening,” vowing to appeal. Ironically, the Irish government announced that it would also challenge the judgment.

Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, advocates for a “global wealth” tax to reduce or eliminate country-hopping by international corporations bent on reducing their tax liabilities. Perhaps the EC’s ruling can serve as a first step in accomplishing Piketty’s proposal.

Now comes Senator Elizabeth Warren in a New York Times op-ed. She writes:

For years, corporate tax dodgers have taken full advantage of all the benefits of being American companies, while searching out every possible way to avoid paying American taxes. Now that other leading countries are starting to get tough on tax enforcement, these tax dodgers suddenly want to move their money back to the United States. When they do, they should pay their fair share, just as working families and small businesses have been all along.

Countries, especially the United States, need a lot more money to repair and build public infrastructure and “promote the general welfare.” Over the years, corporations have used their considerable financial muscle to whittle down their tax rates. For their part, various countries have, in effect, bid against each other to attract and retain businesses. Ireland is certainly one of those countries. (Washington state, of course, enacted the largest public subsidy of all with its extremely generous tax-avoidance package that benefits Boeing, as keen a political player as any. And guess what? The state is in dire need of additional revenues to pay for public schools, among other obligations.)

Apple fritters [u]

Sitting on an humongous wad of cash, Apple, Inc., can certainly afford to pay Ireland some $14 billion in taxes the European Commission says that it owes that country. The New York Times:

The decision, part of a broader crackdown on tax avoidance by the European Union commissioner for competition, slammed Ireland for providing illegal incentives that allowed Apple to cut its tax bill in the region to virtually nothing some years. The clawback of taxes — 13 billion euros, or about $14.5 billion, plus interest — is a record penalty by the union for such activities.

Ireland suffered mightily from the Great Recession. It can use the revenues. However, Apple’s Tim Cook said that the company would appeal the EU decision. That process could take years. Ireland may also appeal, asserting that it has a right to make whatever deals with corporations it wants.

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UPDATE Aug. 30, 2016:

Tim Cook publishes a letter.

All along

You will remember the great power play between the FBI and Apple over the former’s demand that Cupertino decrypt a particular iPhone in San Bernardino. Apple consistently refused, willing to take its chances in court. Rather suddenly, as matters were reaching a crescendo, the FBI dropped its demand. It had found an alternative way to extract the target phone’s contents.

Now, today, we learn that an Israeli firm has had the ability for some time to capture just about anything it wanted from an iPhone, exploiting three vulnerabilities of the device. NSO Group’s “software can read text messages and emails and track calls and contacts. It can even record sounds, collect passwords and trace the whereabouts of the phone user.” That’s from the New York Times.

This morning I updated my iOS gadgets with Apple’s software fix. You should do the same.

If only robots could buy

Companies continue to add robots to their manufacturing and assembly processes, displacing humans. Some researchers suggest that nearly half of all occupations will be at risk to increased mechanization.

Meanwhile, some economists forecast continually lower economic output, because of insufficient demand. Capital therefore accumulates rather than being invested in productive activities.

Do you see where this is heading? If more and more people become surplus, who will buy the goods and services produced by robots?

Patent trolls

It seems that every day we learn of a patent-holding company suing deep-pocketed companies over alleged infringements. I link to two recent examples, here and here. The second link reports that Immersion believes that Apple used its haptic feedback technology in the latest iPhones. Many, if not most, infringement suits are brought by companies who have purchased patents but do not use them. In the vernacular, the firms are “patent trolls.”

Such suits are at least a nuisance to the likes of Apple. On occasion, they result in rather large payouts, should they be decided by sympathetic, if not also ignorant, judges and juries. A favored venue is the U.S. District Court for East Texas, which has, more often than not, sided with the trolls and against defendants.

There is no question that patent trolls harm the economy, as detailed in the linked Wikipedia article. Among other negative impacts, many defendant firms reduce research and development investments to pay for legal costs.

One partial remedy would insist that those holding patents use the pertinent technology or lose the patent. Europe requires losers of infringement cases to pay the legal costs of the winner, deterring unfounded or frivolous lawsuits. Another proposal, as covered in the Wikipedia article, is to require more specificity and clarity in the original patent application. Software, in particular, is “inherently conceptual,” and thus more susceptible to allegations of infringement.

I, for one, fail to see the societal benefit of trolling. It’s certainly unproductive. Then, again, so are most of the jobs on Wall Street.