Category Archives: My soap box

Why is Amazon HIDING books from readers?

I’ve been buying books from Amazon since the days when the company didn’t make a profit, and the pundits thought that Jeff Bezos was mad. That’s a long time and an awful lot of books. Yet suddenly I can’t be trusted to choose books for myself????

For those who do not yet know, Amazon has a new ‘feature’ whereby an algorithm decides which books you should see when you go to an author’s ‘Author Page’. The ‘feature’ is called Top Picks and:

‘…allows Amazon customers to see personalized recommendations from your catalog of books. Customers will see this on your Author Page and it will suggest books based on these traits:

• New releases and pre-order books matching their interest.
• Unread books from a series they started.
• The customer’s reading and purchase history.

The goal is to help them find more books they want to read from you. Each customer will have a different recommendation, including you, if you’re logged into your Amazon account.’

That quote comes direct from a reply I received from Amazon support just this morning.

Sounds reasonable, kind of, until you realise that these Top Picks aren’t simply the first books you see when you go to an author’s page, they’re the ONLY books you see.

My Author Page is now more ‘normal’ than it was a few days ago when I took this screenshot – amazing what an angry email will do – but I’ve just looked at Robbie Cheadle’s Author Page to see her latest release, ‘Haunted Halloween Holiday, and this is what I see when I go to Robbie’s author page:

No Haunted Halloween. I have to scroll to the right on the carousel to finally see the book I’m looking for:

But what if I scroll down? That should bring it up shouldn’t it? Nope:

There are only three ‘Sir Chocolate’ books shown in the list, and NONE of them is her new one. Oh, but it’ll be on page 2, right?

Wrong. There is no ‘page 1 of 2’ at the bottom of the list the way it used to be.

Why? Because the list is automatically set to display by Kindle and popularity. When you try to change the ‘Sort by’ you get this:

Oh, ok, so a new book would be the one most recently published, right? If I sort by ‘Publication date’ I should see it straight away…

WTF? Why am I still not see it?

The reason is that Robbie’s new ‘Haunted Halloween Holiday’ is a paperback. So no matter what I sort by, it won’t show because the category is automatically set for Kindle…and only Kindle.

To see all of Robbie’s books I had to click ‘All Formats’ as shown above.

But what if I didn’t realise that the book was paperback only? Which I didn’t. Or what if I didn’t try the ‘All Formats’ option just to see what would happen?

Amazon? How is this feature supposed to make finding and buying a book easier?

First, I had to click twice just to get to Robbie’s author page…

CORRECTION: on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk you no longer have to click twice. BUT… you no longer get the little popup box that says “Find all the books….” either:

The screenshot above was taken from the amazon.com.au website which is still displaying the old, pre ‘new feature’ interface. I guess someone at Amazon finally realised that promising to show all books AND THEN NOT SHOWING THEM would be….misleading.

I repeat, how is this new feature making it easier to find a book on Amazon? Why do I have to work this hard to find a book when I already know the author and the name of the book?

Before this effing stupid new feature was dumped on us, an author’s page automatically showed all of an author’s work – including all of the available formats. These formats used to include paperbacks and foreign language editions. Now, I have to know how to work around the ‘feature’ in order to find what I want.

But what if a reader doesn’t already know that an author has a heap of other books? Why would such a reader go to so much trouble to find what’s been hidden?

The answer is that they wouldn’t.

Instead of making things more convenient for readers, Amazon’s new feature has made it harder.

And just for the record, how in heck is a new book supposed to ‘compete’ with an author’s older books for visibility? How can a new book be ‘more popular’ on launch? More importantly, how does it become more popular when it can’t be seen, even on the author’s own page?

Lack of visibility is hard enough for Indie authors at the best of times, but when our own author pages hide our books? Really Amazon?

The worst part of this new ‘feature’ however is what it does to reader choice. Quite frankly, I’ve always found Amazon recommendations to be laughable. They NEVER get it right, not for me, so from now on, this useless algorithm is not only going to recommend books that I don’t want to read, it’s going to hide the books it thinks I won’t want to see?

What kind of insanity is this? Amazon used to be about consumers, and consumer choice. Well, I’m a consumer and I hate being bullied by an algorithm. Worse, I’m now wondering who came up with the idea of restricting consumer’s choices. And why.

Is this step 1 in a downward spiral that will result in us only seeing books and products that have massive advertising budgets? Advertising budgets that fill Amazon’s coffers to overflowing?

Tin hat theory? Maybe, but this new feature has shaken my trust in Amazon, badly. I read a lot, and finding new books on Amazon that aren’t just the same old same old is already hard. How will I keep my reading addiction going if half the books I might like are hidden from me?

How can I make good choices when I don’t know what I don’t know? And where does Amazon get off bullying me like this?

Please, if you’re a Reader, contact Amazon support and tell them that you don’t want or need their ‘help’ in choosing a book. Or at least, not this kind of ‘help’. And if you’re a writer, for heaven’s sake, check your Amazon listing. 😦

Meeks


The myth of the self-made billionaire

In a previous post I talked about how rich 38 of Australia’s billionaires really are. Today, I read a brilliant post by Robert Reich about US myths [thanks Jill!]. What really grabbed my attention was this video which debunks the myth of the self-made billionaire:

Isn’t it time we stopped idolizing these poor little rich boys?

Isn’t it time we stopped rewarding them for being more ruthless than just about everybody else on the planet?

Isn’t it time we stopped wanting to be like them… and castigating ourselves when our scruples make us ‘fail’?

I know who I admire, and it ain’t any of these guys.

Meeks


The MONIAC – water driven economic modelling

My thanks to Matthew Wright for the link to this incredible video. Coincidentally, Matthew appears in the video too, helping to explain how something as simple, as real world as water can be used to create a mechanical model of what makes our world go round…money.

cheers,
Meeks


Australia – the wonky distribution of wealth

Inflation is rising all over the world, and Australia is not immune, so the RBA [Reserve Bank of Australia] is aggressively raising interest rates. The explanation given is that there is something like a 300 billion dollar slush fund, squirrelled away by Australians, that’s driving spending, and therefore inflation. To reduce inflation, this slush fund must be reduced.

The RBA’s weapon of choice is interest rates. By raising interest rates, it forces the commercial banks to raise their own interest rates, especially on mortgages.

Makes sense, right?

Well no, actually it doesn’t, because the people who have access to that slush fund are at the wealthy end of the spectrum, and for them, higher interest rates won’t mean a damn thing. Their ‘consumerism’ won’t be affected because they’re simply too rich.

But how rich is too rich?

Everyone knows that Gina Rinehart is the wealthiest woman in Australia, but most of us don’t know how wealthy. I was interested enough to find out.

The data in the spreadsheet below comes from a Forbes article from 2019 listing the 50 richest people in Australia:

38 Richest people in Australia

I recommend reading the entire article because it’s quite eye opening.

But getting back to wealth, someone’s worth is not the same as money in the bank. Worth is what they would have if they sold all their holdings and assets and converted them into cash. Clearly, Gina Rinehard does not have 14-plus billion dollars languishing in a bank somewhere. That would be ridiculous, but the grand total of 114.68 billion dollars in just 38 hands is even more ridiculous. And that’s just the people who are worth at least 1 billion dollars. There are 12 more people on the Forbes list whose worth is close to 1 billion. I didn’t bother counting them.

Nor did I count the baby millionaires, the ones who only have a few tens of millions…

-rolls eyes-

At the other end of the scale, are the millions of ordinary Australians who barely make ends meet. At the bottom of that list are JobSeeker recipients who are expected to subsist on $40 a day. A little further up the food chain are those on fixed incomes [pensions] who do NOT own their own homes. Someone I went to school with falls into that category. She’s in her sixties and lives in a boarding house.

Then there are people like me. Thanks to my parents, I have a house, but I have no superannuation, and the only income I have is the age pension. That just went up by, wait for it, $10 per week to account for the cost of living rises. As of yesterday, I now get $2014 per month.

I know we are amongst the lucky ones because we do have a roof over our heads, but keeping that roof is getting harder by the week. I won’t bore you with a list of all the things we can no longer afford, I’ll just say that every appliance in the house has gone past its use-by-date and is breaking down. That includes the plumbing…

I accept that inflation has to be curbed. That’s a given. But we are part of the huge underclass of Australians most vulnerable to increases in the cost of living because our safety margins are so low to begin with. Essentially, we are the ones being punished for the inflationary spending of those higher up the food chain.

Is it fair?

-makes rude noise-

It’s time governments and institutions like the RBA stopped plucking the low hanging fruit just because it’s ‘easy’. The further ALL Australians get from financial and political equality, the more shaky democracy becomes.

Marie Antoinette did not say ‘Let them eat cake’, but she lost her head anyway. Literally.

Australia is a long, long way from that kind of mass hysteria, but democracy is a lot more fragile than we think. To be quite blunt about it, the current version of capitalism is strangling democracy because money equals power, and the middle classes no longer have either.

Sadly, we are living in interesting times, and they’re becoming more interesting by the day.

Meeks


Wikipedia

I know Wikipedia has its detractors, but in my not-so-humble opinion, it’s one of the few, truly good things in our digital world. It’s an attempt to promote the caring, unselfish, generous parts of human nature, by ensuring that information is available to everyone, everywhere.

That’s why I just donated $10 AUD out of my fortnightly pension:

I use Wikipedia a lot in my research, not as my sole source of information, but often as the jumping off point when investigating a new area of knowledge. Why? Because any new area of knowledge is bound to have its own terminology, it’s own ‘language’, and until I get a feel for how that language works, it’s hard to dig down to the bits I’m really interested in. Wiki gives me a way to untangle the thread, to make a start.

If you use Wikipedia in your research, or if you ever look things up just for fun, think about how much harder things would be if Wiki no longer existed. It does not pester us with ads. It does not sell space to special interests. It just asks for donations.

In a way, Wikipedia is the single, biggest crowd funding experiment in the whole wide world. It’s us, taking control away from the vested interests that seek to manipulate us at every turn. It’s freedom…for us.

If you have some loose change, please donate to keep Wiki free:

https://donate.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ways_to_Give

cheers,
Meeks


Derila Refund!

A short while ago I wrote a post about a terrible experience I had while trying to buy one, single pillow online. You can read that post here.

Today I’m overjoyed to be able to say that the full refund hit my bank account:

A screenshot of the refund

I’m still waiting on my new card, but at least I have my money back. I credit this blog for at least some of that. My thanks to all of you for having my back. 🙂

love,
Meeks


Derila Pillows – faulty merchant interface? or a deliberate scam?

I haven’t been sleeping well for a while now – neck problems – so this morning I bit the bullet and went looking for a better pillow. I found glowing testimonials for a new kind of pillow – the Derila. When I checked the price it seemed reasonable, so I started the process of buying one…ONE.

By the time I reached the bit at the end where you have to confirm your order, I noticed that I’d been charged for 4 pillows, not one. I tried to fix the quantity but the website wouldn’t let me. So I regretfully decided I’d live without and did NOT press that last, all important button.

Imagine my horror when I checked my online banking and discovered that the website had taken my money anyway. I am now $152.00 poorer. On an age pension that is a lot.

This is the email I sent to Derila:

I did not CONFIRM payment on any ‘order’ so charging my bank for $152.00 is a fraudulent transaction.

Either the whole Derila website is a scam or there is something very wrong with your merchant interface.

Why?

1. Because I only ordered 1 pillow and was charged for 4.

2. There was no way to change the quantity so I decided not to go ahead. That should have stopped the transaction but…

3. When I checked my online banking a few minutes later, I was horrified to see that I had been charged $152.00, for Derila Pillows I had not ordered.

Next, I rang my bank and asked for a stop payment, but apparently the payment had already gone through at my end. I was told that I had to wait for the payment to go through at the merchant end before the bank could begin the process of claiming a refund on my behalf.

To add insult to injury, the bank also said I would need a new card to be sure I wasn’t scammed again. Now I have to wait 5 – 10 business days to get a new card. I am furious.

I intend to post the contents of this email onto my blog. It should be live by 2:00 pm. In that blog post I will tell my readers that I will update them on the result.

If I do not get a refund, I will do two things:

1. I will post a second article updating my readers about what happened to me and asking them to reblog the info. so that no one else ends up getting scammed.

2. Next, I will contact SCAM Watch and report the website for fraudulent activity. With any luck, Derila.com.au will be forced to shut down.

This is what I will do. What will Derila do?

As per that email, 2pm has come and gone so I’m posting this. Also as per the email, I will update you all on what happens next. I hope it’s a refund, but I’m not holding my breath.

Apologies for the angry post, but to be conned like this, when I’m so damn careful, is beyond infuriating.

Meeks


Scary PayPal Scam

This screenshot is of an email I received today. As I have used Paypal in the past [some years ago] and as the so-called transaction info. is addressed to an ‘Andrea’, I did have a moment of total dislocation. Had the scammers hacked my financial information?

And then I thought to look at the sender:

edwards5078jcb@gmail.com

I’m pretty sure that Paypal, the real Paypal, doesn’t use gmail to communicate with customers! Nevertheless, I did get a fright so I thought I’d share this scam so no-one else gets a fright…or god forbid…clicks on one of those nice, official looking links.

Why not? Because those links will not lead to anywhere good. They could lead to a site that downloads a trojan to take over the computer, or they could lead to a bogus Paypal page where they’re asked to enter their ID and password. The ID and password will fail, of course, but the scammers will now know how to access that Paypal account. Lose-lose.

If you even suspect that an email might be a scam, don’t click on any of the links! Danger Will Robinson. Danger!

As to how the scammers found me, that I don’t know. Did they send out millions of emails all addressed to women of different names in the hope that a few would hit the jackpot?

Or is there a database out there that contains my email address and first name but not my last name? That sounds a bit far fetched. I mean if they knew my email address and my first name, why would they not know my last name?

Or…given how often we’re asked to provide our email address, did some algorithm go through the data here, on this blog and profile me?

A quick check revealed that I’ve written twelve posts [counting this one] that are either about Paypal, or mention Paypal. Another check showed that ‘Andrea’ has been mentioned in 16 posts counting this one. One of those posts is actually about the singer Andrea Bocelli, but that’s still a lot of identifiers. Curiously, the one thing you won’t find on my blog is my actual email address. So how did they find me?

I may never know how these scammers do what they do, but I know one thing for sure, the person who owns the email address used by the scammers has been hacked. After I publish this post I’m going to email him/her and show them the same screenshot that you have seen. After that it’s up to them to work out how the scammers managed to hack their gmail account and use it to farm out scams to other people. Sadly, this person really doesn’t have anything to hide, not any more.

cheers,
Meeks


Why I just told the PowerPal technician to go away

Trigger warning: rant ahead

PowerPal is a free service offered to Seniors to allow them to monitor their electricity usage. Given that we’re on fixed incomes while electricity [and gas] prices soar, being able to see how much electricity our appliances use is very helpful. Free is good too. But as they used to say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 😦

What is the price you have to pay for this free service? Geo location, that’s what.

For anyone under…50? GPS and geo location are so ubiquitous that no one even thinks about the security/privacy aspects. The truth is though, that Google – via Android mobile phones – can learn all sorts of things about us simply from knowing where we live…and where we go. That information is then shared with shadowy companies that aggregate that data to provide profiling data to big advertisers. That’s why advertisers send you all those strangely precise ads.

Those ads rake in big money, and ALL of the tech companies get their snouts in the trough, but Google and Facebook are two of the worst offenders.

I cut Facebook out of my life completely, and I tried to do the same to Google, but it’s simply not possible, not unless I move to a desert island and communicate by carrier pigeon. So I have a Youtube channel [Youtube is now owned by Google], and I have an Android [also owned by Google] mobile phone, but geo location is NOT enabled on that phone.

Mobile phones are the new black…

I was really looking forward to controlling my electricity consumption a bit better, so when I read about PowerPal on the Seniors newsletter, I jumped at the chance. Today was the day the technician came to install the hardware. I watched [fully masked] while he attached the lead from the hardware to my electricity meter. Then he helped me install the software on my phone. And only then was I informed that the app would not work without geo location enabled.

I won’t lie. For one awful moment, I stood there, silently debating whether turning on geo location would really be that bad? After all, everything was set up ready to go. And the technician said that geo location only had to be on when I wanted to check my usage…

And then reality hit home. Was I really going to turn geo location on and off every time? Of course not. I’d probably do it for the first week or so, but after that I’d either forget to turn it off, cave to convenience and keep it on, or simply not use the bloody app because it was too much of a hassle. In the meantime, Google would be able to track every move I made. Nah ah. Not gonna happen.

I know what most of you will be thinking right now – ‘This is paranoia.’ ‘Why would Google care about you?’ etc etc etc. And you’d be right. Google has no reason to care about me. I’m totally unimportant, and my life is completely boring, but that’s not the point. The point is that geo location would be one more piece in the jigsaw puzzle needed by the algorithms used by the ad networks to profile me.

Now let’s take it one step further. I’m completely unimportant, but what about my contacts? Do I know someone hiding from an abusive partner? Could a small, digital connection to me bring that person into danger?

You laugh. Ho ho, fiction writer syndrome.

Don’t be naive. Nasty people are happy to pay for apps that allow them to track their victims. Maybe not in our comfortable, middle class world, but they are out there and so are the algorithms that vacuum up every scrap of personal data we give away because…we have nothing to hide.

I don’t have anything to hide either, but maybe someone I know does. Maybe that someone is only a friend of a friend of a friend, but where’s the guarantee that a bit of throw away information won’t do them harm? Or what of the kids we’re so proud of. Do you really think that only nice people look at the photos of our kids and grandkids?

Of all the bits of information we give away daily, geo location is one of the most critical because it provides our physical location in the real world. That may not worry you; it worries me. So I told the technician to uninstall the hardware and the app.

The poor guy left so fast he must have thought he was dealing with a crazy lady. Then again, he looked to be in his early twenties. A child of the information age. Immortal. Invincible. Totally unconcerned about his privacy or online security because…it can’t happen! Right?

Okay, that’s me done. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. If anyone knows of a way to monitor energy consumption without selling my soul to Google, or paying an arm and a leg, I’m all ears.

cheers,
Meeks


Australia – May 20, 2022…and beyond.

The Offspring tells me that hashtag #scomonomo is trending on Twitter. That gives me great joy.

For international visitors, or those who have never been on Twitter, ‘scomo’ refers to Scott Morrison, the man who went to Hawaii while Australia burned, the man who justified his absence by remarking that it wasn’t his job to ‘hold the hose’ – i.e. fight those fires like the mostly volunteer fire fighting crews across Australia.

‘no mo’ stands for ‘no more’. As of last night, Scott Morrison is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia. Voters rejected him, and his corrupt coalition government across the length and width of this wonderful country of ours.

The graphic below describes the election result in visual terms. The link below the graphic will take you to one of the simplest and best descriptions of our system that I’ve ever come across:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-22/election-how-labor-anthony-albanese-won/101087904

What makes me even happier than #scomonomo is the way it came about. Australians all over Australia voted for Independents rather than the two, major parties, and there’s a decent chance we’ll end up with 16 – SIXTEEN – independent representatives in the national House of Representatives. And a great majority of them are women.

Women who demand action on climate change.

Women who demand a national integrity commission.

Women who are an integral part of their communities and truly reflect the wants and needs of those communities.

Women who want a decent future for their children.

Woman who are standing up and telling those middle-aged, self-important, ego-driven, white, male, politicians in Canberra that we’re sick of the mess they’ve made of our country.

And one last thing. All these Independents are going to breathe new life back into our democracy because they are not beholden to a ‘party line’. They don’t owe party political faction leaders any allegiance. They are free to vote for or veto policies that do not reflect the people who elected them into office. That is huge.

Here in the West we seem to have forgotten what democracy actually means. It’s not about nationalism, and it’s not about elites. Democracy is about ordinary, every day people having a voice and being heard. it’s also about those people being served by the representatives they elect into office.

Service, a word that’s been forgotten along with ‘integrity’.

The representatives of the people are there to serve us. Not corporations or other vested interested or themselves. They are there to serve the people. Full stop. Period.

Will it actually happen, or do we face yet more broken promises and unfulfilled dreams?

The Australian Labor party will form the new national government of Australia, but they will likely have to consult, and co-operate with, the Independents we-the-people have chosen. If they don’t, they won’t get anything done.

I hope the start of Albo’s [Anthony Albanese, the new Prime Minister of Australia] victory speech is a sign that Labor has learned to serve:

‘…and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.’

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a message from the Indigenous Peoples of Australia to all Australians. It is one of the most beautiful documents I’ve ever read:

‘We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. We call on all sides of politics to support a First Nations Voice to Parliament, so that we can finally have a say on policies and laws that affect us.’

https://ulurustatement.org/

I believe that all Australians need to commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart so that all of us can finally move forward, as a real nation.

I also believe that we, the white Settlers of Australia, need our First Peoples, desperately. They have been here for close to 60,000 years, and what they don’t know about this strange, harsh, beautiful land is not worth knowing. If we give them the respect they deserve, they may teach us how better to live in this land. How better to face the terrible changes yet to come, because make no mistake, even if the whole world were to stop greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we will have to live with the damage already done for generations to come. We will need all the help we can get. From science and our First Peoples.

Finally, after years of inaction, there is hope.

All my love,
Meeks


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