Friday Notes (Jul 16, 2021)

It’s finally a Friday which means there’s a probability of weather occurring as well as lesser probability of another Friday Notes post. A quick roll of my free-will dice, and it turns out today I’ve got both weather and a post. (Because I have notes. There are always notes.)

In this bundle I’ve got a “so this just happened” rant, a scam warning, a funny story about people, a question, and a couple of callbacks to a couple of favorite previous topics. I might toss in a few other items once I get going and if space permits.

Because I have notes. There are always notes.

And the occasional rant. (Occasional?)

So I went to Walmart this morning because: (a) they carry some products, or sizes of products, I can’t find anywhere else nearby; (b) their prices are hard to beat, especially compared to my small local grocery story (at which I do most of my shopping, in part to support it, in part because, again, stuff I can’t get elsewhere). The thing is, unlike my local grocery store (which I rather like), I hate everything else about the Walmart. If I had viable options, I’d never go there.

In part because of the low-class vibe of the building and many of the employees. (And, to be honest, some of the customers can be a piece of work, too, but you get that everywhere these days. Some folks just aren’t willing, or maybe don’t know how, to participate in the public dance of “We’ve All Got Shit To Do, So Stay Aware, Be Prepared, And Move It The Fuck Along.”)

I go there mainly to stock up on Diet Mountain Dew 2-liter bottles and bottled spring water (which I use to make ice for the Dew). Those two are the biggies, but there are other items I get there. Today it was 20 bottles of Dew, two 32-bottle flats of water, a pair of furnace filters, some crackers, and (because I’m old) a big bag Werthers (actually two ’cause I was out).

I roll up to the only open cashier (usually there is only one open), and there’s just the one customer, so I start unloading onto the belt. The customer is paying with… gift cards or something? Lots of them. The cashier has a whole handful she’s scanning one… by… one. It seems to be taking a lot of time. The dance pauses.

Looks like it’s finally done… wait, the customer is complaining about something… now they’re both walking off together… oh, the cashier is coming back, good.

Except she tells me I have to find another register and walks away. The three customers lined behind me wander off, and I start putting stuff back into my cart. And great, once I follow the others, I’ll be last in line.

Except, this was the only open register and the other customers are wandering around in confusion. We all drift towards the self-checkout-scam area. (Yes, it’s a scam. They’re getting you to do the work they’d have to pay someone for. Do you think they drop their prices because of that? Dream on. Insist on human cashiers. Support your local teenagers and retired folks.)

I go up to the gal overseeing the self-checkout-scam area and tell her there are no open registers. She’s… neither very alert nor very helpful.

I’ve reached my threshold. I tell her she can put the stuff in my cart back on the shelves, because I’ve had enough. I leave once again asking myself why I subject myself to this armpit of store.

And, as my friend later reminds me, this is the company that killed small town downtowns across the nation. Fucking Walmart. The bitter pill is that I know I’ll try it again next week once I’ve calmed down.

§

I got this official-looking letter from Domain Registry in Jersey City, NJ.

It informs me that my personal website’s domain name will expire in September (true) and suggests I “Act Today!”

It kindly offers renewals of 1, 2 (recommended), and (best value) 5, years at $50, $90 (save $10), and $190 (save $60), respectively.

It also offers the matching .net and .org domains for $90 each.

It. Is. A. Scam.

Search for [Domain Registry letter]. You’ll get plenty of hits telling you all about it. (There’s even a Wiki page.) When I did a search, one page had the image you see here (click it for big). I was going to scan in my own copy, but when I noticed the date I thought I’d use this one instead.

It’s dated 2012. This has been going on at least for nine years.

Yikes. The world we live in.

§

Do you remember those news stories about people receiving mysterious packets of seeds from China? The boxes were never labeled as having seeds, but as having ear rings or other jewelry or something else definitely not seed-like.

There was a lot of concern about not planting any, and turn them over to your local scientist for analysis and proper disposal. It all happened during the height of the COVID pandemic, and it really added an interesting patina of fear about invasive species, our native croplands, and other such agri-fears.

You’re gonna laugh.

Chris Heath, writing for The Atlantic, investigated the situation and reports in The Truth Behind the Amazon Mystery Seeds. As Heath writes:

A year later, however, no monstrous mystery vines are strangling America’s cornfields. The seeds mostly stopped coming, and the world moved on. But I wanted to know: What was it all about? So I decided to reimmerse myself in the giddy anxiety of last summer. I planned to speak with some of those who had received the packages, dissect the hullabaloo around them, and construct the definitive account of the seeds-from-China moral panic.

At first the investigation seemed to confirm what became the consensus at the time: that these were from one or more Chinese companies engaged in an illegal algorithm-busting tactic known as brushing. This involves creating fake orders to make the company look busier. To beat the algorithms, this apparently can require actually sending fake orders (because the algorithmic masters track them).

Usually this involves empty boxes or boxes packed with tissue or buttons or other clearly harmless junk. Sending biological material is a definite twist due to strict international regulations. Of course, that’s why the boxes were labeled as having seeds — to dodge those very regulations.

However when Heath, confident of finding fake orders, or none at all, dug deeper into specific cases, every single one investigated… wait for it… was actually ordered by the person who received it.

They’d, astonishingly in all cases, forgotten the order amid the COVID panic. Plus these orders were all seriously delayed (by months) because of COVID issues on the shipping end. Plus plus, the packaging, intended to get the seeds through customs, threw people for a loop. Plus plus plus, hearing about other mysterious packages fed the beast…

And, thanks to the interweb, a viral completely imaginary boogie man was created.

Funniest damn thing I’ve seen humans do in a good long time!

§

I wish I could come up with a good noun for stories that include TV shows, movies, videos, and plays. Visual stories? Too clumsy. Media? Too broad and overused (a slide show is media; so is an eight-track tape). Performed stories (or just performances)? That seems closer, but still not there.

More importantly, what to call the audience. Viewers? Listeners? Readers? Receivers? Consumers? Users? Depending on the specific context, each can apply, but what about in the general case? Just the audience?

Or are the general cases of performed stories and those who view them too general for any single word to really fit?

On a related topic, what about the collective nouns? A book of stories? (An anthology of stories is boring and overused.) A hard drive of movies? (Actually, for movies, it’s reel or roll but hard drive is more modern.) A theatre of plays (definitely with the “re” spelling). A DVD of TV shows?

§

From the Neither a New Nor Unique Observation file (and speaking of what do you call something):

Labeling — classifying something — can be a challenge even with good definitions to apply because of the fuzzy boundaries of any given region of a configuration space. Good definitions, like good laws, cover most cases easily, but there are always edge cases that require judgement.

(At the same time, labeling stuff is a uniquely human trait. It’s even included in the story of Adam and Eve. One of the first things they did was name stuff.)

The only point here is that, while the configuration space metaphor is most useful for visualizing multi-axis issues (and for seeing that multiple axes exist in the first place), understanding the inherent fuzziness of boundaries is also, I think, a useful notion it helps internalize.

§

Lastly, my favorite geometry figure is the tesseract; I’ve written a number of posts about it.

Currently, I’m reading Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond (2012), by Paul Halpern (it’s an overview of modern cosmology that I may post about later; I haven’t been taking notes, so also maybe not).

While on the topic of dimensions Halpern mentioned the tesseract and a 1954 oil painting by Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), which shows what’s formally called the polyhedron net of the tesseract, but which I’ve just termed the tesscross.

Rightly so, as Dali’s painting shows graphically, but I make no claim to any brilliance since the cross shape is rather obvious.

Still, it was a neat connection for me to make given that I like Dali’s work and, of course, love the tesseract. This comes from a time when Dali’s work reflected less surrealism and more connection with modern technology.

I think I first encountered the tesseract back in grade school in the science fiction short story —And He Built a Crooked House—, by none other than Robert Heinlein. (The story dates back to 1941, but I would have read it somewhere in the early 1960s.)

§ §

And on that note I’m gonna go curl up with a Rabbi Smalls book.

Stay crossed, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

5 responses to “Friday Notes (Jul 16, 2021)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FWIW, Walmart central did respond to my emailed complaint to say they were sorry and valued me as a customer and they appreciated the feedback and forwarded my email to the store management “to review and address.”

    The usual glad-handing, but at least they responded. I guess that’s something, but I still think I’ll find somewhere else to shop. Maybe it’s time I got more into online ordering and home delivery and skipped the whole thing.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    The seed thing is a reminder that we often live in an ongoing epistemic fog. It’s why I only comment on contemporary events with caution. When stories like that are breaking, it’s often difficult to know what’s real and what’s noise. It’s frequently only obvious later after the fact. I remember, early in the COVID crisis (long before I ever commented on it) wondering how much of it might turn out to be noise. That one turned out to be real. Not that the seed story ever really concerned me that much.

    My local Walmart isn’t that bad, although I used to shop at a chain called Super Fresh, which matched what you described: all the employees were bitter and angry, and the customers all seemed equally unhappy. I actually drove much further to shop at another chain, before the Walmart opened up just down the street.

    I’m good with the self check out stations when I only have a few items. But they don’t really make them convenient for dealing with a buggy full of stuff. And the couple of stations that do seem optimized for a load, always have a long line. The one time I tried it, I felt a lot of pressure to get done quickly. So I usually go to a cashier when I have a full load. Although I often wonder why I don’t just order over the internet and have them drop it all off on my front porch.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    How about “production” — film production; TV production; video production; stage production? “Film production” seems clumsy, and “text production” is silly.

    And I guess “audience” or “viewer(s)” works okay, although each works better in some cases, but text gets edged out again. “Text viewer” is really pushing it.

    Multi-media is complicated!

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