The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Dude, nice rocket, bro!

Apparently the rockets aren't the only colossal dicks at Blue Origin:

The company’s cultural issues came to light last month when Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin’s employee communications, released an essay she said was written in conjunction with 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees. It said the company “turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns and silences those who seek to correct wrongs.” The staffers were not identified in the essay, but three of them confirmed the allegations to The Post on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

[I]n 2017, [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos brought in [Bob] Smith to be the company’s first CEO, taking over from Rob Meyerson, the company’s president, who had been running its day-to-day operations.

Smith and the executives he brought in, many from legacy aerospace companies, sat in an executive suite in a new office building, isolated from the rest of the staff. While that is not unusual for many large corporations, it was off-putting for many employees at Blue Origin who had been used to their leaders sitting and mingling among them.

“That wasn’t appreciated,” one former executive said. “It was an I’m-above-you message.”

Concerned about the company’s leadership, the head of human resources brought in an outside management consultant, who interviewed Smith and the members of his team in 2019 and concluded that Smith’s micromanaging style was often ineffective, according to a former senior executive and confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

Smith bristled at the report, which was first reported by CNBC, and refused to meet on the subject again.

Culture comes from many sources, but dickish, authoritarian behavior at the top gives people to act like authoritarian dicks below. That insight isn't exactly rocket science. But it does help explain how SpaceX keeps beating Blue Origin in every way that matters.

The last Sears store in its home state will close

Eddie Lampert, corporate murderer, has managed to drive his once-great company out if its home state:

Sears' last Illinois location, at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, is set to close in November.

The Hoffman Estates-based retailer’s parent company, Transformco, announced the decision today.

"This is part of the company's strategy to unlock the value of the real estate and pursue the highest and best use for the benefit of the local community," the company said in a statement.

Ah, yes, because under the sociopathic, finance-driven Lampert, Sears is nothing more than a series of cash flows. It has no people, no history, no relevance, no value to him, other than money.

Obviously Lampert isn't unique. Venkatesh Rao wrote a magnificent description of modern corporate thinking in 2009 based on the TV series The Office. Sears just inhabits the end stage of the "MacLeod Life Cycle," as Rao describes it. But it's a particularly tragic example.

Welcome to August

While I look out my hermetically-sealed office window at some beautiful September weather in Chicago (another argument for working from home), I have a lot of news to digest:

And finally, Jakob Nielsen explains to web designers as patiently as possible why pop-ups piss off users.

Niggling irritation at corporate hubris

Wednesday I caught a story on NPR's Morning Edition that lingered, and not in a good way. Reporter David Gura presented a story about how corporate boards have difficulty telling their top executives not to engage in risky activities. One executive Gura interviewed, former GM executive Robert Lutz, expressed his feelings thus:

ROBERT LUTZ: I will tell you, I encountered these restrictions my whole career, never took them very seriously and got away with it for 47 years.

GURA: He also liked skiing and motorcycles. And Lutz owned and flew two fighter planes. When GM wanted Lutz back for another big job in 2001, this came up, and Lutz remembers what he told the board.

LUTZ: I'm happy to rejoin the company. I'm happy to assume the post as vice chairman. But I need absolute freedom as far as my hobbies are concerned.

GURA: Lutz says he got that absolute freedom. And he flew those jets until he was 87, by the way. He had to stop two years ago when he failed an eye exam. Lutz thinks more executives should be daredevils.

LUTZ: As opposed to, you know, calm, peaceful guys who never want to put themselves at risk, always drive at the speed limit, drive a minivan as their only vehicle and so forth - who the heck wants a person like that to lead a corporation or be in a leadership position at a corporation?

Imagine that: an old, rich white guy who thinks only people like him should run corporations. No wonder America has so many problems! And that's only my first thought on why this guy pissed me off so much.

By the way, if you're 87 and have to fail an eye test to stop flying planes, that's not just putting yourself at risk; that's putting everyone at risk. No wonder GM did so well in the the early 2000s.

Did Gura not follow up on Lutz's outrageous statement because he figured the listeners would fill in the rest? Or did Gura drop the ball here? I'm tempted to ask NPR.

How much Bruce Rauner cost Illinois

In another implicit rebuke to the lump of clay that occupied the Governor's Mansion for four years, Illinois finally got a bump in its credit rating after Governor Pritzker started paying our bills again:

In upgrading Illinois’ credit by one step — to two notches above junk bond status instead of one — Wall Street ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service noted that the $42 billion spending plan for the year starting July 1 “increases pension contributions, repays emergency Federal Reserve borrowings and keeps a backlog of bills in check with only constrained use of federal aid” from President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan.

Even after the upgrade, Illinois remains the lowest-rated state on Moody’s scale, two notches below the next-lowest: New Jersey. Generally, states with higher credit ratings are able to borrow money at lower interest rates, ultimately saving taxpayers money.

While the upgrade from Moody’s is welcome news, it only returns the state’s rating to where it was before the last of three downgrades during the tumultuous tenure of Pritzker’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It still baffles me why Rauner screwed Illinois so hard and without lube. He may have qualified as a "moderate" Republican by today's standards, but he still moved to kill unions, kill the state budget, and kill working people in Illinois.

Rauner now lives in exile in—where else?—Florida.

Electronic Arts' offshore tech support wins this round

When a software company engages with an offshore technical support team, they signal to the world that they have little interest in supporting their users. Offshore teams have no incentive to actually solve problems. In fact, individual tech support reps get punished for independent thought in some organizations. So if you have a support issue that they can't find in the support manual (even if you send them a link to the exact community page that explains the issue and solution), they won't help.

Electronic Arts, the legal successor to Maxis for all things SimCity, has an offshore tech support team that has, I believe, completely given up on solving my problem. That it took as many emails as it did before they finally asked me to do something impossible only adds to the farce.

I got this message this morning:

Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Krishna and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

I would suggest please contact your retailer they will help out this issue.

Krishna, the most likely case is that I am contacting the retailer. My reply:

I actually don’t remember where I bought the software, because I bought it 18 years ago. I thought it was Egghead, but they went bankrupt in 2001. So I probably bought it directly from Maxis. EA bought Maxis in 2015. So, really, I bought it directly from the company you represent.

Once more, with feeling: I have a license for SimCity 4 that I obtained in 2003. The software does not work on any Windows platform after Vista because Maxis made an engineering choice that turned out to be wrong. Flash forward to 2021, and the only way I can use the software today is through Origin. I therefore need to download the software using Origin, and then activate it, which requires a code.

Is it possible to escalate this to someone with the authority to solve this very simple problem?

I believe EA has now burned about 4-5x the value of the activation code avoiding giving me the activation code. As a 25-year veteran of software development, I can say this exactly the outcome I would predict from an offshore tech support operation.

So, I'll probably just give EA $20 for a new license, while continuing to ridicule them on social media.

End of the week or beginning of the weekend?

Today's end-of-workweek stories:

Finally, today is the 157th anniversary of the surrender of the traitors and the end of the white rebellion in America. (Sounds different these days, doesn't it?)

Still stuck, with no laxative in sight

The Ever Given continues to plug up the Suez Canal, halting some $10 billion a day in global trade:

Canal authorities said on Saturday that dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship on Friday night, freeing its rudder, and that by Saturday afternoon they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, where the ship’s bow was stuck solid. But after a salvage team failed once more to dislodge the four-football-field-long leviathan from the sand bank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.

Easing the bottleneck depends on the salvagers’ ability to clear away the sand, mud and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while tugboats try to push and pull it free. Their best chance may arrive on Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by up to about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.

All the while, they must hope the Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which it was not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks...experts said.

I found this sentence particularly amusing: "[T]he Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong did, starting with the ship’s size, among the world’s largest."

The ship's size had nothing to do with Murphy's Law. Evergreen made a business decision to float a 400-meter container ship and send it down Suez. And the Suez authorities let it through. Maybe it's not so much Murphy's Law as the Omnibus Explanation: "When you cannot explain a human decision through logic, the actual reason for the decision is stupidity."

Lunchtime headaches

I'm shaking my head at email service provider Postmark, who four weeks ago announced they would be phasing out support for TLS 1.0 (a network security protocol). I understood this when they announced it in February, 60 days ahead of their cutover to TLS 1.2, but didn't think it applied to anything of mine. This morning they sent a more focused email saying, "you're getting this email because we can see that this applies to you." Panic ensues.

Why panic? Because almost everything I've developed in the last 12 years depends on Postmark for email messaging, and the way they worded their notice, it seemed like all of those apps will fail on April 20th. And the only documentation they supplied relevant to me (and anyone else in the Microsoft universe) was a set of instructions on how to test TLS 1.2 support, not whether this would be a breaking change.

I immediately contacted their support group and said, as nicely as I can, "WTF dudes?" To which they replied, "oh yeah, bummer, dude." So I sent a lengthier reply just now and started digging into their source code. It turns out they're using an out-of-the-box Microsoft component that should transparently switch from TLS 1.0 to TLS 1.2 if asked to do so. I believe, therefore, the affected applications will be fine. In fact, fixing the problem may only require a simple, non-invasive change to Microsoft Azure settings for the affected applications. But I don't know that for sure. And I'm hoping their actual development team will respond with "yeah, no probs, dude, you're cool."

My other headache is literal, from staring at too many screens. So I'll do something else in a moment.

Not a surprising coincidence

A local Vietnamese restaurant—only a few blocks from me, in fact—had to pay $700,000 in back wages to its workers after a Department of Labor investigation that ended in October:

Tank Noodle has been forced to pay nearly $700,000 in back wages after making some of its employees work only for tips, according to the U.S. Deptartment of Labor.

The popular Vietnamese restaurant at 4953 N. Broadway withheld wages and used illegal employment practices for 60 of its employees, a labor department investigation found. Some employees were owed more than $10,000 by the restaurant.

The investigation found some servers at the restaurant worked only for tips, a violation of federal work laws. Tank Noddle also shorted servers when the business pooled tips and divided the money among all staff, including management, another federal work violation.

Tank Noodle violated overtime laws and sometimes paid staff flat fees for a day’s work regardless of the number of hours worked, according to the labor department.

There's the setup. Now the punchline:

[Tank Noodle's] owners attended a Jan. 6 rally in support of former President Donald Trump that ended in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

The Ly family, which owns Tank Noodle, posted photos from the rally, which were widely circulated on social media.

Too bad for the Ly family that the neighborhood has about two dozen other places with better phở.