Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Search for a Unified Theory of Being a Mark

There was a moment in the history of science when everyone was trying to come up with a unification theory of light. Light had both the properties of a wave and a particle. The unification theory of light turned out to be rather simple: light was both a wave and a particle depending on how you looked at it. Some well known names came up with various parts of this theoretical solution like Max Planck, Niels Boehr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, and, of course, Albert Einstein. There was a massive change here. Quantum physics was born, but it is still known as theoretical. This is because, well, it is only through a maze of mathematics that these invisible things can be determined, in what is called "quantum theory." 

Having said all this, I have no clue about it. My father was always trying to explain how electrons were going through a wire to light a vacuum tube with a filament or a light bulb. This confused me to no end as a young boy. Where do all the extra electrons go at the end and why doesn't the beginning run out of them? I have since come to terms with things like that. Matter and it's relationship to energy is a tricky thing. But it is so abstract I find it fairly useless in my day to day life.

I realized later in life also that I have always searched for unifying theories of my own. I don't know if the reason was in the structure of the education system, of society, or the uniqueness of myself.  However, I do have a very basic desire to find the theory that unifies everything in my life, or smaller components of life lacking that. I hate to think I am atypical in this matter, because it sounds a little flaky. Sometimes I think of it as a hobby, This quells the fear that I am some kind of oddity. Absolutely I know I will never understand everything. And I probably have no chance of understanding even one small area enough to truly unify it in my mind.

I became a librarian, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. I will do more entries on some of the unification theories I have come up with.

For now, my question of last week was very practical "what is the unification theory of car purchases?" I wanted to buy a car last week and did. Long ago, about two purchases ago, I read everything there was to read, or that I could stomach reading, about doing it correctly so as to not get ripped.  One theory I have about capitalism helped me in this and usually helps me. It is a deep rooted first postulate that leads to the proper mindset. This is the principle that everyone is trying to get money out of my pocket. It is simple, but so was making the decision that light behaved like both a wave and a particle and that we would naturally just have to live with that as our theory. And then, mathematics could continue. Assume X then the rest of the alphabet and hundreds of other symbols follow.

My capitalism theory makes logical sense. Profit is what everyone is after. No one denies that. So everyone must be trying to make as much profit as they can without causing too much disruption in the overall matrix. When I buy something, I am the easy mark they wish to take the money from. One corollary to this is that the larger the transaction is, the more people cheat-- at least on the seller side. Sometimes the government steps in with things like "lemon laws" in favor of the customer when the cheating gets so onerous that even our elected representatives take notice, i.e., too much disruption in the matrix. Of course we are in a phase of  American history currently in which it is unlikely any representative would care at all to create something akin to the "lemon" legislation of the past.

A complete overhaul could be accomplished by simply legislating that car dealers must post the price of each car that each customer buys. We could easily then computerize the process of accessory add-ons, and other fake stuff. Most of this last part is already being done. But the key critical piece of information which we do not have, that leaves them dealing from a stacked deck, is the knowledge of the actual prices that all previous customers paid.

Prices do not vary in, say, a grocery store based on how the cashier sizes up a customer. They have their own tricks, of course, but nothing so radical as making you sit in a tiny room while they go see if the manager will accept your offer on chicken noodle soup. If we knew the prices other customers paid, just a tiny bit of information really because of how few cars are actually sold as opposed to cans of soup, it would seem to be relatively simple to only buy a car at the cheapest price the same car was sold to someone else. And I believe that would be an endgame for their biggest rip offs, leaving only the obvious rip offs everyone endures equally, which of course, is the basic concept of high profits in capitalism. The definition of a con game is more suited to what auto dealers actually do.

Of course this is not to say that all of car dealing is like this. There are other business models out there, but I would assume the vast amount of customers sit in that little room. I personally would have none of that. I walked into the showroom, only to be escorted back as if I were being given a gift of the chair I had left. I stood though, and folded my arms. Finally, I walked with my wife outside. You could feel the stares of all the car salesmen as I did this. As we neared a door, one asked calmly where we were going. (After all, they had my keys at that point but I'm sure not all of them knew this.) "Well, actually I thought I would look at the car more to take a closer look at what I was buying."

We were only down to the haggle over a trade-in. Before you say that trading in a car is stupid, I know already. Of course it is. I personally could not live with myself after even one experience at being a car salesman, so I trade in. But having to take a cut there, I do want top dollar on what I can get.

I had already researched the prices of what my car was worth (if you can trust rating agencies, which were the last people to trust in the financial biz before the big collapse). Armed with this information I was going to be paid top dollar for my car or I was walking. I don't have a unifying theory yet but I do have some rules of thumb that have worked in the past. Also, I know from past experience that the longer I spend dickering with these guys, the more upsetting the experience is and the longer I will feel buyer's remorse afterwards.

So they presented me with a price that was to include a bonus for my already well expressed reticence at buying the car (at what I must say was pretty much the price I was shooting for, but haggle is the name of the game.) That price they were going to offer for my trade-in was actually the lowest price I was willing to take that I had written down on a card. So basically, I had a price on the new car I found acceptable (based on my research at a car buying service that my bank offers me) and I had the lowest amount to the penny that I would accept for my trade in. It was really a done deal.

I said, "Well, I don't think that price is right for my car. Did you add the bonus in for my disliking [place various things I disliked here]?"  "Yes." "Well, ok. If you will accept this price (I wrote down the amount of the highest price possible I had thought I might get for my car) then I will buy the car right now and I had no intention of buying a car today when I walked in."

Then the biggest game of all was played. He informed me I would have to sign on a line he drew on the piece of scrap paper with nothing but a bunch of figures scribbled on it. I had to sign before he could take the offer to his manager. I thought by now, he might think me intelligent enough not to pull this huge suckermatic gambit out of the bag, but he did. I have endured it twice before. So, obviously they were treating me as an easy mark, a shill, a pigeon. :)

This was not a contract. I should have gone ahead and signed it because it meant not a thing legally. It was going to be the way they held me to my offer. I had every intention of going through with my offer. But I really do have my pride sometimes. I told him I would not sign it because it was just a game. I told him my signature on a line with no contract above was meaningless. Still he insisted that I sign or he couldn't take it to his manager.

The whole process of having a manager unseen in an office and the guy talking to you in the little room is just startlingly easy to figure out, especially in small dealerships, if you just think of an overall "unifying theory" of ripping off customers. There is a famous scene in the movie Fargo about this. If you have not seen Fargo you should for a hundred different reasons. Also, if you are a car dealer, you have NEVER seen Fargo. I have asked enough of them to know that they have never seen Fargo under any circumstances. (I even asked two salesmen while making idle conversation that day, to add to my statistics)

The following is the most relevant scene but honestly I recommend the movie highly. It is steeped in atmosphere. Notice the wall of salespeople at the beginning of the clip. Notice the subtle elevator music. The setup is great.

The movie cuts the waiting period short from what it is in reality because the actual waiting period a customer has to withstand in the tiny room is interminable if done properly. I think you have to look antsy before they even consider coming back. Plus, I think there is a good chance the room is bugged.

So faced with this line on a paper with figures in no context that I had to sign, and knowing that signing it would make me more of a sucker-like person than I wanted to endure later in the buyer's remorse period, I said I would put my initials on the line for his manager. I said this is just as legal as my signature, because neither is a binding contract, especially initials without a signature. :)

He protested a bit and said his manager might not accept my offer. I said "Oh, he will accept my offer."

That's when we headed out to the car. After a time he came out and made a production of shaking my hand while saying "Congratulations you have just bought a car." God, what I had to endure! I said, "Well, you just go inside and I'll talk it over with my wife and decide whether I want to buy it." I told her I wanted to buy it and that this was the easiest decision imaginable because I really loved the car. I have bought quite a few cars by the old age I am now, and never have I loved the car. :)

My wife had the idea of making emotional faces of dismay, and indecision. We pretended to be saying, "I don't think so," etc. Then I walked in and told him that we would take the deal. Oddly, I had no buyer's remorse this time at all. I love the car!

[A British version of the Fargo scene, obviously a classic, with a further twist at the end.]

Monday, September 9, 2013

Copyright is not really natural

“It ended being a reflection on the loss of long-established rights when you buy an e-book. You make a copy of that book, but at eye-level, so that the result is not a stack of paper, but another e-book.” - Peter Purgathoferauthor of the idea.  link

I'm not sure what "eye level" has to do with anything. "Long-established rights" he said, hmmmm... as in "human rights"? 

It is apparently illegal to use a program to remove code (the DRM) from a file. Or to put it another way, it is illegal to remove part of a file we may have purchased in entirety. So this guy creates a way of automating the process of taking pictures and changing those into text files. No copyright violation I guess. I can personally think of a few challenges I might make in court. And that is why he does nothing but proof of concept. Perhaps he has copyrighted his idea by doing so. Who knows?

"Digital rights" really are a kettle of fish. Technically, it must be that we own nothing but the "right" to read a file. We do not own the file. We, sort of, rent the file for a purposed usage, if that usage is of a type that is agreed upon by those leasing the file... I think.

"Copyright is sometimes called a "negative right", as it serves to prohibit certain people (e.g., readers, viewers, or listeners, and primarily publishers and would be publishers) from doing something they would otherwise be able to do, rather than permitting people (e.g., authors) to do something they would otherwise be unable to do." -Wikipedia

[ Well, that was irony... I mean, I think that was ok to copy and paste. There are lots of ins and outs to this idea, I guess.]

Libraries are, kind of, exempt from copyright law. The "free" dissemination of information leads to a more educated populace... doesn't it? Yet... if everybody used only the library for reading... well... why would authors write books in a capitalist system of reward?

What would Ayn Rand think of her books being in libraries?

Did I have an original thought in there somewhere? This sentence and previous sentences, except those
I borrowed, are: Copyright 2013 © Michael DeVore.

Usage of the name "Ayn Rand" is "Copyright © 1995–2013 Ayn Rand® Institute".  

I love that ® by her name. I always have. I'm glad I got the chance to point it out. :)