Itʼs not great that after making a purchase on Libertyʼs web site that instead of sending me to a thank you page, or an order status page, or even the home page, it throws an error.
Strange that the error code is 200, which in HTTP means everything is okie dokie. “200” decodes to “OK.”
But at least itʼs better than Harrods web site. Over there, I probably wouldnʼt be able to even see the error message, as it would be mostly obscured — drowning in a sea of jQuery-era slide-fade nonsense.
Well, hereʼs something you almost never see: an error message from the B&H web site.
B&H takes its web presence very seriously, and is among the planetʼs biggest targets for criminals. But somehow the boffins on 9th Avenue manage to keep the fraudsters at bay, while maintaining a web site that is fast, complex, and fairly easy to use.
This error message didnʼt last long. Only a few seconds. Perhaps today is a good day to buy a lottery ticket.
It seems strange to me that when filling in your personal information on the Fortnum and Mason web site that the default telephone country code is +229. Thatʼs Benin, all the way in Africa.
It would make sense for the default country code to be +44, since itʼs a British department store. Or maybe the country codes could be sorted numerically, so itʼs easier to find the one youʼre looking for. Or perhaps use the country code of the customers who generate the most revenue for the store, whatever number that may be.
But I doubt that the people of Benin buy more F&M stuff than any other country.
…Until today. Today I noticed that the check-out people at H.E.B. ask shoppers if they want paper or plastic bags. Itʼs like Iʼm in the 1980ʼs!
Itʼs nice that H.E.B. gives you a choice. If you have a pet and need poop bags, you can choose plastic, and re-use a plastic bag instead of buying new bags. Or, if you donʼt want to kill sea turtles, you can choose paper, since theyʼre made from trees, which we can make more of.
Itʼs possible to make moisture-resistant paper bags. Perhaps that should be the default so we can both bag pet nuggets and save the planet.
I spend too much time pointing out the shortcomings of modern technology. Thereʼs a reason that Tech and Fail are among my most populated blathr tags.
Today, however, Iʼd like to point out what, on the surface, looks like a tech success story. But at a deeper level is the success of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to adapt to changes in society in order to — literally — deliver better than a tech company did.
It started a couple of days ago, when I ordered something medical from Amazon.com. In general, I donʼt buy anything that goes on or in a living being from Amazon. Between counterfeits, people selling used items as new, and a constantly-growing list of other reasons, relying on Amazon just isnʼt safe anymore. When your company canʼt even prevent selling bogus copies of books, you have a problem.
In this case, however, I ordered from Amazon because the medical thing I needed was not available from any of the CVS or Walgreens stores that I can reach, and purchasing from Walmart meant waiting two to three weeks for delivery. Walmart used to be safer than Amazon, but has recently decided to trod the same road to unreliability by embracing unknown, unverified, and dubious independent sellers.
What Amazon delivered was clearly not suitable. Instead of being in branded packaging, the item was in a Zip-Loc bag. Legitimate medical items arenʼt packaged in consumer baggies. Legitimate medical items are also not labeled by hand in ball-point pen. And they also donʼt spill their contents during shipping, unless they are seriously mishandled. The box that the item arrived in was in fine shape, and the medical item sufficiently padded.
Exasperated, I went to the CVS web site to see if perhaps the item was back in stock my local store. The CVS web site would not function. So I tried Walgreens. Except, this time instead of specifying a store that I can get to easily by train, I let the Walgreens web site pick one. And it did a splendid job.
The item I needed was in stock at a Walgreens in an area I would never think to travel to. So I put two in my cart, selected “Same day delivery” and went back to reading my New York Times.
Before I could finish the International section, there was a guy dropping a paper bag on my doorstep.
I checked my e-mail and found that the time from when I placed my order online until Walgreens notified me that my order was ready to be delivered was four minutes. Four minutes. It was picked up minutes after that, and delivered to me straight away.
The total time from when I placed the order to when I received my Walgreens order was 22 minutes. For an item that I couldn't get at a drug store near me, and that Amazon sent a counterfeit of.
Yes, I had to pay $3.99 for the delivery. But the item was a dollar cheaper at Walgreens than at Amazon, and I ordered two of them. So the cost difference was $1.99. More importantly — I got what I paid for.
Walgreens is better than Amazon. Man bites dog. The sky is green. Everything the tech bubble has been preaching about the death of brick-and-mortar is wrong.
I was surprised to learn recently that a good number of people in Chicago donʼt know what this is. And many people donʼt even notice that theyʼre there.
Iʼm old enough to remember when these underground kiosks thrived at CTA stations all over Chicago. Some were newsstands. Some were Dunkinʼ Donuts shops. Some sold other kinds of food to passengers. I always thought that was funny, because at the time, you werenʼt allowed to eat or drink on a CTA train. But the CTA was happy to sell you both inside its own stations.
I remember lines at the Dunkinʼ Donuts kiosks would sometimes be long enough to block the turnstiles.
Today, theyʼre all boarded up with stainless steel plates. Some, like this one, are decorated. As if to pretend that they never existed at all.
I know that Mayor Lightfoot put a lot of work into the retail experience at Chicagoʼs airports. One of her big successes was populating them almost exclusively with local restaurants. Great idea. But you can't highlight local businesses, if those businesses aren't open.
This photo was taken at on a Tuesday at 5:37pm. It does a pretty good job of illustrating the retail situation at Midway Airport. Even though this was prime time for travelers, very few of the shops were open.
First impressions count. And millions of people will have this as their first impression of Chicago when arriving at Midway.
The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.
I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.
I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.
Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.
“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.
I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.
My apartment building has a Stockwell vending machine in the basement.
Unlike the vending machines of yore, this one is just an open cabinet with a camera that watches what you take off the shelves and uses magic A.I. fairies to send you a bill. That is, if it works. Which it doesnʼt.
I canʼt even get the Stockwell app to acknowledge that the Stockwell machine in my building exists.
I guess Iʼll spend my snack money at the convenience store across the street, instead. Where I can pay by cash, or credit card, or Apple Pay, or even food stamps if I had them. And if something goes wrong, there are intermittently friendly people to help me out, and not some Silicon Valley robot barking, “object has no attribute.”
I understand that most of the planetʼs stores are closed because of COVID. But youʼd think they could at least leave the vending machines on for us. Itʼs not like the cogs and gears are going to get sick.
Trading posts are still the one of the primary means of commerce and communication on the Navajo Nation. The tribal government operates some of them, but most are owned by white people, like the one Darcie is standing in front of. It's been operating since 1878.
The trading posts still exist because the companies you and I shop with aren't interested in opening stores on the reservations. Indians still actually trade jewelry, rugs, pottery, and other things for food, clothing, and even iPads at the trading posts.
I had a job interview at the Apple Store today. It didnʼt go well.
It started out ordinarily enough. I went into the Bellevue Square store with a printout of the managerʼs e-mail inviting me in for an interview. In a few minutes, he came out from the back, we introduced ourselves, and we went into the hallway for the interview.
It wasnʼt the chairs that made the interview uncomfortable. At least, not for me. It was the fact that we were having a job interview in the middle of a mall walkway, with members of the public walking by or even lingering at store windows. Iʼve always believed that H.R. functions were supposed to be private. I assumed the interview would be in a back office or something.
The interview ended rather quickly after we started discussing the iPod. He asked me if I had any experience with Appleʼs flagship bit of consumer electronics. I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, lots. Iʼve had an iPod all the way back to the first one with the Firewire port.”
I donʼt know what it was about “Firewire” that set him off, but he decided right then that I didnʼt know thing one about computers in general or Apple, in particular.
He was adamant that the iPod never had a Firewire port. I countered that while itʼs true that current iPods have USB ports, but the original ones did. I explained that Apple switched from Firewire to USB in order to make it available to Windows computers, which — except for Sony machines — almost never have Firewire. I should know, because I owned one of the first iPods, and plugged it into my wifeʼs iBook via Firewire.
No. No. No. No. No. But not even “No” in the sense of a polite “You must be mistaken.” He was indignant, almost to the point of raising his voice.
He ended the interview, and for the first time in my life I was told to my face that I didnʼt get the job. No “Donʼt call us, weʼll call you” vagueness. Just, “Youʼre not getting this job.”
I really didnʼt think I was losing my mind, so I went up the street to the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble, pulled out my MacBook Air, and hit the Wayback Machine.
Pulling up the apple.com web pages about the iPod published in November of 2001 shows that my memory is not faulty:
The Apple web site also included a helpful image of an iBook plugged into an iPod with a Firewire cable, and the iPod displaying the Firewire symbol on its screen:
In the end, it doesnʼt matter what the truth is, or whether I was right or not. Heʼs the manager of his Apple Store, so it is his version of history that the employees must conform to.
Maybe I should dig my old Firewire iPod out of the box in the hall closet and bring it in to his store for a repair.
I went to Harrodʼs today. Not because Iʼm fancy, but because the rooming house Iʼm staying in doesnʼt have toiletries. In fact, I donʼt even have my own toilet. I have to use a shared bathroom down the hall from me, like in a dorm or a youth hostel.
One benefit of being excited about being in a new country for the first time is that I woke up early and was able to shower before anyone else stirred. But I donʼt have any soap or shampoo with me, so Iʼm relying on cold water and Right Guard to keep me socially acceptable.
I picked Harrodʼs as my first destination because it advertises “Omnia Omnibus Ubique,” which means “Everything for everyone everywhere.” Well, Iʼm someone and somewhere, so it made sense to see if it really has “everything.”
Good news: It does.
Right on the ground floor near the entrance I found a little wood-paneled salon featuring menʼs grooming supplies. I picked up a bar of very normal-looking soap, which was a relief because I was afraid of a repeat of the Budapest red soap issue. I also got a bottle of shampoo. I picked it because Iʼm not going to be in London for a month, and it was the smallest bottle.
Harrodʼs is clearly a special place. All of the salespeople were very nice and attentive. They were also super patient with me, and happy to cash my American Express travelerʼs checks. But there is a sadness at Harrodʼs. I couldnʼt quite put my finger on it until I came across the central escalator area. There, between the up and down options was a gilded easel with a big portrait of Princess Diana on it. People were standing around, seemingly at a loss for what to do. It was so quiet, you could hear the hum-clack hum-clack of the escalators — not something that happens in department stores.
A few people had violated the velvet rope barrier to lay flowers on the floor, and I imagine if the easel was of the correct height, they lay where her feet would have been.
I wonder if thatʼs why London seems… less vibrant than I thought it might be. I wasnʼt expecting New York, but I wasnʼt expecting a place as quiet as Vienna. Iʼm sure not everyone feels the same about what happened, but if enough people feel a certain way, itʼs contagious, and can cast a subconscious pall over a city. I should try to be more patient with my mustachioed hostess, and perhaps more grateful for the Harrodʼs store clerks demonstrating their British stiff upper lip. Time to make myself inconspicuous.