PayPal, You're Like School in the Summer. No Class.

I hate PayPal. I use it because it has ended up as a ubiquitous solution, but overall I find it to be untrustworthy and of dubious reliability. There are basically two kinds of users, those who have been fucked over by PayPal, and those who have not yet been fucked over by PayPal. Search for "paypal horror stories" and then be sure to run your credit reports. But currently there's still no viable alternative. No, not even that bastion of privacy protection, Google, has built the usurping platform. 

Anyway, PayPal's latest fuckery involves the new tech industry hotness: burying shady stuff in user agreement revisions. Companies like Valve, Microsoft, Netflix,and Sony have all added wording to their user agreements to ban future class action lawsuits. Shitty stuff, but usually abstract. Class action stuff is usually pretty boring. All the laptop power adapters frayed, so we can al trade them in. Yay. Or perhaps some wordings were willfully obfuscating fees in a cell phone carrier. Meh, a couple bucks to you, but screwing thousands of people out of millions of dollars. If you were forced to go to small claims court for all that stuff, there would be literally zero chance for the kind of corporate oversight and justice that really needs class action to be effective.

But this is different. PayPal has a documented history of freezing users checking accounts and holding funds for months without reason. This is an unregulated pseudo-bank that can really put a hurting on you, and they answer to no one. In fact, my writing this could very well cause them to freeze my funds or my business account. You'll hear if that happens.

However, PayPal in their infinite munificence has allowed the option to opt out of this part of the user agreement. But you have to do it by postal mail by December 1, 2012. Clever, huh? From the afore-linked PayPal User Agreement:

The Opt-Out Notice must state that you do not agree to this Agreement to Arbitrate and must include your name, address, phone number, and the email address(es) used to log in to the PayPal account(s) to which the opt-out applies. You must sign the Opt-Out Notice for it to be effective. This procedure is the only way you can opt out of the Agreement to Arbitrate. If you opt out of the Agreement to Arbitrate, all other parts of the User Agreement, including all other provisions of Section 14 (Disputes with PayPal), will continue to apply.  Opting out of this Agreement to Arbitrate has no effect on any previous, other, or future arbitration agreements that you may have with us.

There are some quick templates to do this. Because I like you guys so much, I've put some language here that you can use to craft your own opt out letter. You can add some snarky comments if you like. God knows I did.

Todays Date

PayPal, Inc.
Attn: Litigation Department
2211 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95131

Re: Opt-out Notice

To Whom It May Concern:
I officially opt out of the Agreement to Arbitrate.

By this letter, I am opting out of the Agreement to Arbitrate, including the prohibition on class actions, as authorized by paragraph 14.3.e of the PayPal User Agreement.

PayPal Email(s):

Be sure to sign your name

Put your name
and address
and telephone number.

PS—If you're in the "herp-derp-if-you-don't-like-it-don't-use-it-or-build-the-alternative-and-also-we-should-get-back-on-the-gold-standard" camp: shut the fuck up. There's an alternative way to fight the predatory bait-and-switch that passes for capitalism these days. Its called communication and direct action. Go give Paul Ryan a backrub and let the grownups handle things.

It's a Great Day for Identity Theft in South Carolina!

It appears that South Carolina Department of Revenue stored all our SSNs and credit card numbers on a sheet of notebook paper pinned to a refrigerator with a commemorative "It's a Great Day In South Carolina" magnet.

As a prize, we all got one-year of identity theft protection from Experian. To get this prize, you call a toll free number, and if they determine your number was part of the security breach, you get an access code for the ID theft protectin. The number was busy for days, and now has been replaced with a recording that just give everyone who calls the access code.

So I enter the code to get my free thank you gift, and the ID theft protection service consists of a website that is trying to sell us credit reports.

What the hell? Has anyone actually found a way to discover if your number is on the list?

Tarr's Law of Tech Douchebaggery

I have been a huge fan of Adobe's Creative Cloud initiative. I use pretty much all of their software year round, so it seems like a no brainer… for a monthly subscription, you get access to everything Adobe makes. It might cost a little more in the long run, but in exchange you get some good benefits. Upgrade protection: upgrades arrive, usually before they hit for everyone else, without a purchase going out of date. Typekit: hell, it's almost worth it just for that. DPS publishing service, unlimited. Plus if you commit to a year, you get a discount on the monthly cost. No brainer for anyone who uses this stuff all the time, like me.

Because of this, I discovered a new axiom of technology. It's one that I suspected, and thought might be limited to cable providers and cell phone companies, who we expect to value and hate simultaneously. I reveal to you now Tarr's Law of Tech Douchebaggery.

(important resource x monthly price) ^ annual contract discount = coeffiicent of douchebaggery

I submit to you, dear reader, that Tarr's Coefficient is an immutable law of technology. If you take any technology resource, and change its income stream to a monthly billable amount, and then on top of that offer an incentive to "lock in" a price for a year or more, the probability of that company engaging in what we call in technical parlance "douchebaggery" increases exponentially.

This has not been provable in the past, because telecommuncations companies such as cable providers and cell phone companies have always had duplicity and obfuscation at the core of their businesses, it was impossible to tell if it was because of their methods or the nature of their business in the first place.

However, we can thank Adobe for providing an opportunity to test this hypothesis. Previously, Adobe sold products. You want Photoshop, you buy Photoshop. They dabbled in dark arts when they packaged their software as "Suites," like Microsoft Office… package software into mostly-useful bundles that cost a small fortune, but that cost much less than just buying the three applications you really want. Apple mastered this with the last Final Cut Studio, by simply not selling the software items individually. Shifty, perhaps, but at the end of the day, you decide to pay for a thing and you get that thing.

But observe. I subscribed to Creative Cloud for Educators on day one. $29/month. Very inexpensive, and I need to have the most up to date stuff to teach it to students. This month, Adobe offers an introductory rate for educators: $19/month. That's amazing. And natural for me to ask: can I get this rate? Can't hurt to ask.

You are now chatting with 'Anand Kumar'
Anand Kumar: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.
Anand Kumar: Hi Simon.
Simon Tarr: HI!
Anand Kumar: As I understand you want to get the subscription with current offer. Am I correct?
Simon Tarr: That's correct.
Anand Kumar: Thank you for confirming.
Anand Kumar: I will be glad to check and help you with this.
[security verification stuff]
Anand Kumar: Are you trying to cancel the existing one and replace the order for the current one?
Simon Tarr: Um, I guess if that's the only way to do it.
Anand Kumar: I am sorry, 12-month plans cancelled after the 30-day period will be charged 50% of the remaining plan fee.
Anand Kumar: I apologize for any inconvenience occurred to you in this regard.
Simon Tarr: No! don't cancel it!
Anand Kumar: I understand your frustration.
Anand Kumar: Your 12-month plan is billed each month for the duration of your 1-year commitment.
Simon Tarr: I know how it works.
Anand Kumar: Only for this 1-year commitment, Adobe gives the product in lower price.
Simon Tarr: You didn't cancel it, did you?
Anand Kumar: Once again I apologize for any inconvenience occurred to you in this regard.
Anand Kumar: No, I did not cancel.
Anand Kumar: Please click here to know more. [link to TOS]
Simon Tarr: Is there anyone at a higher level who can rethink this?
Anand Kumar: I understand your concern.
Anand Kumar: I regret to inform that no one will be able to cancel with out the 50% of the remaining plan fee
Anand Kumar: I'm happy to help. Do you have anymore questions for me?
Simon Tarr: No one at Adobe can use a computer to change the price of my monthly payments from $29 to $19?
Anand Kumar: I am sorry, it is not possible to change the price of an existing subscription.
Simon Tarr: That's all I needed to know before I go forward. Thanks, Anand.
Anand Kumar: You are welcome.
Anand Kumar: Is there anything else I can help you with?
Simon Tarr: Nope.

Now, please note that I was not a dick to this poor guy working the chat. And also, I've got no problem with the price I'm paying. And I'm not flipping tables over and saying "I'll take my business elsewhere." I value this software, and I'm paying a price that makes sense.

However, we should beware going forward. This is beginning to resemble the dealings of the cable companies and cell companies, who are among the most reviled businesses around that are not banks. People put up with it up to a point, but if cable subscriptions are any indication, if you push it too far, people will quit the moment there is an alternative.

Still. I'm really pleased with Creative Cloud as a tool set. Hopefully all this stuff will shake out.

7 Surprising Something Something Adobe Photoshop CS6

I don't have 7 things to say about the next Photoshop. There are hundreds of shitty blog posts masquerading as a.) tech reviews or b.) tech punditry which paste lines straight from Adobe's press release. They add maybe (MAYBE) some commentary (It's SO FAST! It's SO GRAY! Three levels of gray! ALL THE GRAY!). Add an SEO-friendly headline and BOOM—start raking in the pageviews.

At the time of this writing, there is zero analysis out there on the new DRM structure. It seems you'll have to have an Adobe ID and that your activations will be tied to that. Right now, my own Adobe ID has all my order history, all my registered products, my personal profile, and order and payment information. I have never used it unless I needed to post a question on the forums.

It's clear that Adobe is pushing it's "Creative Cloud" concept as a way to get some more cash. I mean provide more solutions for creatives. Seems to me that Adobe is looking to get on the Big Data bandwagon... if they have reliable information about every single human who uses their product, they can better figure out how to sell them more stuff.

No big surprises here, it's important for businesses to know who their customers are. The problem I have is that I don't like being compelled to share information. If the Creative Cloud turns out to be something useful that I want to participate in, that's one thing. Dropbox? I'm in. iTunes Match/iCloud? Very very in. But to say "OK, starting now, you have to be a part of our data infrastructure to even use our tool," that I'm not so interested in.

Cue the armchair software libertarians. Well If you don't like it just don't use it. Shut up. I work in a world completely different from your mom's basement where no one cares if you use GIMP to make NOBAMA banners.

Though I don't believe in fetishizing software for instruction, I do feel like I have a responsibility to at least acknowledge professional common practice workflows when I'm teaching students. Right now that means Photoshop. This particular DRM strategy reads as a boardroom decision of "we're not growing our user base, so we have to extract everything we can from the users that we think that we know we have."

And that reeks of desperation.

Nasty Things

I never, ever click on links in Twitter direct messages. EVER. But this morning I had this one: "Hello... some person is posting nasty things about you :/" (and then a tinyurl link)

I obviously didn't follow the link, because clearly the person got hacked and was sending these messages automatically to their entire address book. But I did write down the URL and check it out in Tor. Nothing that I could see, so probably a script. But that's not important.

I keep thinking about my physical response. I felt all the blood rush to my ears and neck, and my skin got all prickly. I could feel a little sweat form on my brow. It was 100% lizard brain fight-or-flight based on... what? The thought that someone, somewhere is saying bad things? That someone is out to get me? That someone could be conspiring to give me a bad reputation? Who? A disgruntled ex-student? Someone I crossed long ago? Someone I don't know?

Even though I never fall for those links, I could feel this one almost get me. The fear of someone, somewhere, hating me. The sidelong glance smiley that mimicks the "humph, shit happens" shake-your-head gesture that feels genuine. That I could believe that it could be true.

I realize how easy it is to overlook positive things/people/feedback and obsess over a mean gesture, bad review, thoughtless comment. Mindfulness is not yet autonomous for me.