The end of Amazon Smile

It looks like Amazon is ending its Amazon Smile charity giving program, according to an email I just received, the gist of which is simply:

We are writing to let you know that we plan to wind down AmazonSmile by February 20, 2023. 

I, for one, am sad to see it go. From the moment I learned of the program many years ago (probably from reading a blog post) I developed the habit of always using the smile.amazon.com URL for all of my purchases. It wasn’t hard; once I’d put it in my browser once, I just had to start typing “smile” and the rest would autocomplete. I suppose the hard part was training my brain to think “smile = amazon” but I don’t recall it being that difficult. 

I don’t really understand why Amazon is doing this. I suppose there’s some administrative cost to Amazon to keep the program running and distribute funds to charities, but it’s already all set up and most of it is automated, so I can’t imagine the cost is great. When you consider that Amazon brought in over $140 billion in Q3 2022 alone, whatever it costs to run this little charity program is nothing. 

And sure, the program wasn’t really doing *that* much, relative to Amazon’s total sales. This critique of the program says that it generated only $12 million in donations in 2015, but isn’t $12 million/year to good causes better than, well, nothing? 

I know Amazon is just an evil corporation that I should boycott. I know that. But since I haven’t been able to kick the Amazon habit, the Smile option made me feel just slightly less bad each time I click “buy.” Now even that little bit of conscience-soothing is gone. Damn you, Amazon. 

The Gathering Storm

It’s hard to believe how much time I’ve spent listening to the Wheel of Time series in the last year — days and days of my life. I don’t regret that; I’ve been thoroughly entertained throughout. But it was with some trepidation that I began this twelfth book because it was the first written by Brandon Sanderson rather than Robert Jordan. And yes, I know Sanderson was writing the book based on notes and work done by Jordan, but it was still hard to see how a new author could keep all the threads of the 11 preceding books going in a familiar, consistent, and satisfying way. 

My concerns proved entirely unfounded. This may be better than several of the books Jordan wrote completely; if not better, then it’s every bit as good. As I was listening I was frequently astonished at how much the voices of the characters were consistent with what they’ve always been. It’s amazing, really. And the action picks up significantly in this book, which the pace of things moving along on every front with appropriate energy and tension. It’s just really well done. 

(By the way, I’m very curious how much Jordan actually left Sanderson to work with for these last three books. It must have been a significant body of work for this book to be so consistent. My brief searching on the topic has revealed little; I’d be interested in knowing more if there is a source that discusses this in greater detail.)

And while I don’t want to be too hard on Jordan, there is one very significant way that Sanderson improved upon Jordan’s writing in these books by orders of magnitude — Sanderson isn’t such a darned mysogynist! Unlike Jordan, Sanderson is not obsessed with women’s bodies, their cleavage and “bosoms,” their low-cut bodices and transparent dresses. He’s also not as interested in making every woman character, including the strong women who have great power and wisdom, into some sort of angry or bitter shrew. Some of these obsessions of Jordan’s really started getting out of hand in the middle books of the series, but in this book, they have all but disappeared. It’s refreshing and a huge improvement. 

Looking forward to the final two books…

Related: Just discovered The Brick of Time from Bricknerd, which is a colaboration (or coolaboration) of people building Lego® MOCs of Wheel of Time scenes related to the tv series. I’m amazed by the time and effort people put into such things. Pretty awesome. 

On the tv series: I watched it before I’d read/listened to any of the books and found it… ok. Based on my hazy memory it seems like it did not track the books at all, which is fine, I guess, but as is typical with these things the books are much better if you have the time.  

RIP Dark Sky

Dark Sky is dead. The iOS weather app that, according to Russell Jacobs at Slate, “forever changed the way we get our forecasts,” has ceased to function after being bought by Apple. I will miss it, but so it goes. 

I agree with much of what Jacobs writes in his little farewell to Dark Sky — it really did seem fresh and new and revolutionary when I discovered it so many years ago, and I became a complete devotee, relying on it ever since for my daily and minute-to-minute weather updates, even when it was clearly wrong so much of the time. 

Apple bought Dark Sky and now claims you can still get Dark Sky functionality in Apple Weather, but 

Back in September, Daring Fireball linked to ForecastAdvisor, which will show you a comparison of the forecasts for your location from many major weather services and tell you which has been the most accurate for your location for the last month and the last year. That’s what convinced me to switch to the Weather Underground as my weather source — for the locations I care about it is always either the most accurate or the second most accurate, trading places with the Weather Channel depending on the location or time period. I have never been a fan of the Weather Channel’s information presentation, and while the Weather Underground isn’t perfect, I’ve learned how to find the information I care about the most fairly quickly and easily.

That said, the weather app I probalby use the most is Carrot Weather, primarily because it has a great presentation on Apple Watch, which is what I probably consult the most for weather updates. It used to rely on Dark Sky for its forecasts, which was maybe one of its selling points early on, but now you can choose different sources, including Accuweather, which seems generally about 80-83% reliable (compared to the 82-88% reliability of Weather Underground over the last month/year). Carrot also has character and offers great lock screen widgets for iPhone, so… Is it worth $20/year? Probably not.

Singleminded Apple?

MacRumors says Apple is planning no major updates to its various products in 2023 because it is solely focused on its new AR/VR headset. 

Seriously? The biggest, richest corporation in the world can seriously only do one thing at a time, and that one thing is of entirely questionable value to anyone? Smh…

everything right is wrong again

Blogging. It was a huge part of my life almost two decades ago during grad school and kept me sane through law school, but then all of that sort of fell by the wayside as I started working and suddenly had very little free time, not to mention the fact that I suddenly had to be much more careful saying anything about how I spent the bulk of my time and mental energy. At the same time, blogging sort of got swallowed up by the rise of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the cell phone era of apps for everything diverting the energy and creative output of bloggers into those platforms and silos. It kind of started to seem like personal blogs were going to be one of those internet things like MySpace or LiveJournal that were big for a while, but then just faded into the Internet Archive.

But now…

I would like to think there is energy in this space again, possibility. The idea started to take shape a few weeks ago when Daring Fireball linked to the [ooh! Directory](https://ooh.directory), a new directory of blogs. A new directory of blogs? What? Really? And I started thinking… Could it be time? 

It’s been so long, though; so long that I couldn’t even remember how to log in to the imbroglio. You certainly can’t call yourself a blogger if you can’t even log in to your blog, now can you? But while 20 years ago there were probably thousands of people who would have claimed to be bloggers, how many people now would claim that title? Times have changed so much that it’s a little hard to see how blogs can survive today. Back then, when everyone was posting regularly on their own sites, the currency was links. You link to me, see the link and the traffic, I read your site and link to you, someone else sees that and links to us both, and so on, so that every little site could hope to attract a few readers and partiicpate in a conversation with other people who were interested in similar things. 

Is that happening now? Could it happen again? 

I have no idea. Nearly all of the blogs I once followed are either dormant and have been for years (often a decade or more), or they are simply dead links. Yet blogging continues, and has been happening all these years, with OGs like Dave Winer at Scripting News, and Kottke and Daring Fireball itself, writing and posting and linking, again and again and again. Those well-known sites write to massive audiences, but they still inspire and foster the indpendent, can-do spirit that has always been at the heart of blogging. Just yesterday Winer linked to Tantek Çelik’s argument for what is essentially blogging — posting your own content on your own site in your own way. Çelik calls it the “#IndieWeb” while Winer just wants to call it the Web, but either way, it amounts to the same thing —there really is nothing like the freedom and fun and potential that comes from creating and building and maintaining your own home on the internet. It’s fun, there’s a good argument that it’s important, and there really is nothing like it. 

All of which is to say, I may be a weasel overcome with dinge, but… Hello world. 

Le Tour: Week 1

I am no expert on professional cycling and I have not had the pleasure of watching this first week closely, but my observations, nevertheless:

  1. Sagan: Dude, what are you doing 40 minute back and not even wearing the green sprint jersey? To go from yellow to so far back in basically a single day… It’s like you’re not even competing. I don’t get it. 
  2. Great job Teejay to be right in the same spot as Froome and Nibali and Quintana at about 23 seconds back. Please don’t screw this up, ok?
  3. NBC: It’s sad you can’t even start your live stream in time to see the climb of the Tourmelet on today’s stage 8, but worse you can’t  even include a single mention of the highest-placed American rider in your coverage? Ever? If I wasn’t paying particular attention your coverage would lead me to believe there are no Americans in position for GC contention at this point and that’s just not the case. I understand the European coverage doesn’t care about American riders, but those of us in the US who pay $30 every summer for your coverage most likely do. 
  4. It was kind of Chris Froome and Team Sky to give us a nice week of racing where they didn’t dominate completely. It would have been nice if they would have waited another week to allow us to continue enjoying the fantasy that, maybe, maybe, someone else might have a chance of winning this year, but I guess that would be too much to ask. 

“Vindictive and retaliatory” prosecutions: Welcome to the USA!

What happens when you exercise your constitutional right to a trial by jury? Well, if you have sex on a beach in Florida and take the case to trial you might get 15 years in prison and have to register as a sex offender for life. As Jonathan Turley explains, this is just how prosecutors operate these days:

prosecutors now take the view that if they [sic] demand for a plea is ignored, they are relieved on any further duty to be reasonable and just in their indictments and sentencing arguments. I have seen this happen over and over again. It is vindictive and retaliatory against those who want to go to trial. I have had prosecutors tell me that “this is how the game is played” — you defy the state on a plea and they throw the book at you. However, the result is clogging our jails with excessive sentences and maintaining a crippling threat against those who simply want to seek a verdict on their charges.

He’s right, of course. And it’s sad. As one of the commenters on Turley’s page pointed out, the same “crime” in Dubai would only get you 3 months jail and deportation. And this is in a country that still observes parts of Sharia law.

It’s insane that we have laws that would make it possible to imprison someone for 15 years and register for life for having sex on a beach — even in front of children. But it’s equally insane that prosecutors refuse to exercise their discretion to achieve justice. Instead of justice we get ruined lives — not just for the people so perversely punished, but for all of us who have to pay for their incarceration and for the endless bureaucracy and litigation that comes from attempting to enforce sex offender registration requirements. What is the point of all this?

The only hope for these people is that they are before a judge that will have the courage to stand up to this prosecutor and give a sentence more appropriate to the crime. That hope is slim, but I wish them luck.

A very dated blogroll

Do blogrolls even exist anymore? Are they a thing? I remember the day there was this awesome new blog toy called blogrolling.com. It was this cool site where you could collect links that you wanted to include on your blog and then you put a little code into your blog’s sidebar and, voila! Instant blogroll! I loved it. That was the kind of geek I was back in… 2003? But time is accelerated on the internet. Blogs were a new thing then and now they are old things that no one has or maintains anymore. They have been taken over by corporations and talking heads. Maybe it’s not just blogrolls that have gone extinct, but blogs themselves. Is anyone out there?

But, yes, of course there are blogs out there, as the blogroll, or link list, in the sidebar of this blog here will attest. Some of the links there are dead, or lead to places that have grown dusty and disused. Some of those links (ok, most of them) I haven’t even visited in years. But it’s fun to revisit old haunts, to see what’s still out there, alive and kicking, and what has gone dormant or slipped away into the internet aether. Hello, Blonde Justice, so nice to see you again, or still — since 2004!?! I am amazed and impressed. In awe, really. Also, not only is she still there, but still hitting it out of the park with great posts that capture what it means to be a public defender. And Skelly So great.

I look forward to going through the blogroll again, saying hello to old friends, getting reacquainted, finding new links, and to letting you know what I find.

LAPD officers kill unarmed man, decry “rush to judgment”

It seems like almost every day we hear a new report of the police killing an unarmed person. The latest to come to my attention was last week in LA, where two officers shot and killed a homeless man. After viewing video of the shooting, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said:

“Any time an unarmed person is shot by a Los Angeles police officer, it takes extraordinary circumstances to justify that. I have not seen those extraordinary circumstances.”

And, of course, the police union has slammed Beck for “rushing to judgment.” This was the same response in Baltimore after six officers were charged with homicide and other crimes in the death of Freddie Gray. There, an attorney for the officers accused the state’s attorney of an “egregious rush to judgement“.

I have to admit to a little bit of schadenfreude when I see these officers getting a view of our justice system from behind bars. Maybe if a few of them are actually prosecuted for these killings their colleagues everywhere might think a little more carefully before pulling that trigger in the future.

Child life without parole: The U.S., Somalia, and South Sudan

Last week Cook County Judge Angela Petrone resentenced Adolfo Davis to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole for his actions as a 14-year-old accomplice to a gang-related double murder in 1990. This sort of sentence could only happen in three countries in the world:

Juvenile life without parole is banned in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except three: Somalia, South Sudan and the United States. In Somalia and South Sudan, there are no known cases of people serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed as a minor. In the U.S., there were around 2,500 as of 2008, according to a Human Rights Watch tally.

Oh what wonderful company we keep when we practice purely punitive, rather than rehabilitative, justice.