Category Archives: Who can categorise everything?

A kink in the tail

Tyrannosaurus Rex comes thumping in,
At least an acre’s worth of latex on.
His dom, a Microraptor with a grin,
Is eyeing up that cute Iguanadon.
Triceratops is green with envy for
Velociraptor’s corsetry and tights,
While cosplay Stegasaurus at the door
Keeps riff-raff out. Our Mesozoic nights
Begin like this, but often end in pairs
Among the club-ferns, just two dino guys,
The costumes off, no longer after stares,
Embracing till the sun begins to rise.
You mammals look surprised? You know there’s none
So strange as love, or new beneath the sun.

Originally posted on Making Light.

Web Businesses: A Study in Contrasts

I have had two very differing experiences with Web businesses lately. One has left me seething with fury for almost five months. The other filled me with dread and Martin with foreboding, but came out beautifully.

The Good

As I’ve gained skill as a binder, I’ve decided to sell some of my work as well as giving it away (advt). Despite its negative connotations in some circles, I’m pretty much inseperable from the evilrooster identity as a bookbinder. So the obvious thing to do was to obtain the domain name. I used to own it, several years ago, but never did much with it.

Now, I am – apart from a role player named Joe somewhere in the States who turns up on two or three sites – the only evilrooster on the Web. So I was not facing much competition for the name. But old domain names, no longer owned, don’t always vanish into the incohate pool of available URLs. If they are still linked somewhere on the web, then they are often bought, en bloc, by search engines and link farms, and redirected to the main search engine page. (It boosts a site’s Google rating to have multiple links into it.) was such a site. It was owned by a search engine named Netster, on the strength of a link from my mother’s old site. That was discouraging. But the Netster site said that the company’s policy is “to transfer a domain name to any person or company that, in our reasonable opinion, has a legitimate claim to that domain name…We do not sell domain names”.

These are very important statements for Netster‘s sake, because the use of domains not immediately related to one’s business is a feature of cybersquatting. (The most famous example being, which is a porn site – try for the seat of American government.) And the current body of decisions on cybersquatting makes it clear that buying a URL one is not entitled to with the intention of selling it to the proper owner at an inflated price is not on either.

(A related web offence, passing off is irrelevant to this discussion – they don’t bind books – but often gets mentioned in the same context as cybersquatting.)

But a policy is not the same as an action, and the new owners could very easily have put a maze of red tape in their policy on website transfers without breaking the rules. For instance, since I don’t have evilrooster trademarked, they could have denied that I am legally entitled to it. Or they could cut a deal with a registrar that includes a high price for domain name transfers, then recharge me their “costs” for handing over Neither would be illegal, and I would have fallen back on an alternative URL rather than get into a scrap about it.

Instead, they engaged in a very civil and helpful correspondence with me. In the absence of a trademark, they asked if I was using the identiy on my work. My rooster finishing tool came in handy then – it’s plainly visible on most of the bindings on my gallery page. So they agreed that I was entitled to the site. If I would get an account with their registrar, thy would initiate a transfer. I signed up with the registrar in question, and reviewed their pricing. Their transfer fee was not extortionate. Then I got an email from Netster, which I will quote verbatim.


We have moved the requested domain(s) to your account. Please take care to manage it from there. While during this process we have incurred transfer, registration, and administrative costs, it is not our desire to seek reimbursement from you. Instead, we would appreciate any positive references you might make about our search engine, We are sure that would be more valuable to us than any fee.


That email made my day. When I get redeveloped (watch this space for an announcement when it’s up, but don’t hold your breath. I do have a job and two small children, plus a lot of binding to finish before Christmas), I’ll be adding a link to Netster. Considering that they’re primarily a US-based site, I’m not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but maybe the link will be of use to them. I hope so; I want to encourage good Internet neighbours.

The Bad

I wish everyone was as good as these guys. I wish that an internet-based book vendor, whom I had paid, was as friendly, communicative and effective as Netster.

There’s a book on headband construction that I wanted. I have a photocopy of it, from when it was out of print and unobtainable. Oak Knoll Press (to whom I will not link lest I boost their page rank), the publishers, printed a new edition, and I wanted to buy it, to support the bookbinding publishing market and the authors who did the work.

So I went to the Oak Knoll site. First problem: it doesn’t work in Firefox (the mouse-over activated pull-down menus have some strange ideas about where the mouse pointer is), so I needed to use Internet Explorer. It’s a minor nuisance.

I ordered the book on June 17 and paid for it by credit card. Oak Knoll emailed me and told me it would be about 1 week for processing the order, then 5 weeks’ surface shipping. So I expected it in late July.

By early August, I was wondering where my book was. I emailed Oak Knoll, and got no reply. I emailed again, and finally got an answer that showed that my email was caught in their spam filter. Without wanting to tell a business how to run itself, I might suggest that a spam filter that traps your customers’ emails is probably not a good thing.

Apparently, Oak Knoll’s postal supplier lost a bunch of June shipments somewhere in Florida. Did they email their European customers to find out whether the shipped books had arrived? Of course not. Did they contact me and tell me when I’d be shipped a replacement? Don’t be silly.

So I waited a bit, then tried again. Again, no one answered my emails. I finally called them and got some attention at the cost of a transatlantic phone call. They said they’d send out another copy on September 17 by expedited delivery, and could I contact them when it arrived? No estimate of delivery time was given, so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, well into October, I got peeved and sent them another email. I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t reply. Only when I sent another email, threatening to post an account of the transaction on the book-arts listserv, did a woman named Jeanette write back. She complained that I was “SHOUTING” at her, and that she was tired of it. She also said that the book should have been inserted into the UK postal service 8 – 10 days after shipping; clearly it had gone astray. Again. Not that they were interested in checking when they could wait for me to complain.

By this time, I was heartily regretting ever having tried to buy the book, or support their business in any way. I finally emailed them to say forget it, I’d source it elsewhere (a UK bookbinding supplier whom I trust to deliver what I’ve paid for, Shepherd’s). Then, after no reply, I emailed them the same thing again, and got an answer. Apparently, without telling me or updating my online order sheet (which I checked after logging onto IE, sigh), they’d already sent a third copy out.

They have since refunded my money, which they held for the 4 1/2 months that they fumbled delivery and failed at customer service. Murphy’s law says that the third copy of the book will arrive, at which point I will either contact them and pay again, or refuse delivery and notify them that it is on its way back to them. One thing is certain, though:

I will never buy anything from, or recommend that anyone buy from, Oak Knoll Books.

As publishers of bookbinding books, they will get some of my money from resellers, but I won’t deal with them directly again. To be clear: I accept that they can’t help it if their delivery company lets them down. But it’s when a problem occurs that a company gets the chance to show its competitive advantage. Oak Knoll’s policy of never answering customer emails the first time and without threats, much less actually communicating with them when they know things have gone wrong, does not shine.

Good Customer Service!

Considering how much we complain about our bad experiences with companies, I feel I have to report my most recent corporate interaction. It was so good it was scary.

We have a fridge. It’s an Indesit, about seven years old. It’s so old (in British white goods terms) that the manufacturer has changed its logo since we got it.

A bit of history, as a digression: we got the fridge on the house insurance, after I stabbed our previous fridge in the back while defrosting it. This was in Prince Regent Street, when we lived at the top of four flights of steep concrete stairs. The delivery men were not happy. Then they saw that the fridge went in the back of a kitchen built into a dormer window, and that they had to remove the old fridge over the counters, install the new one the same way, and take the old one down all those stairs. And it was a hot day. And I couldn’t, obviously, offer them a cold drink for their troubles.

Back to the subject. This fridge, though fine in all other ways, had a plastic bottom shelf. This shelf had a little clear plastic window over the vegetable drawer. The little clear plastic window was structurally separate, meaning that the weight of everything on the shelf had to be carried by two narrow beams of the main bit where it went over the drawer. Inevitably, one of those beams began to crack and bend. I repaired it with electrical tape and chopsticks, but its time was clearly up.

With heavy heart and little trust, I Googled “Indesit refrigerator shelf replacement UK” and got lots of useless sites. I also emailed Indesit directly, asking if they by any chance sold spare shelves to the public.

They replied within a day, with a toll-free UK phone number. Now, I hate calling strangers on the phone. Revile it. I’d rather starve in a gutter than be a telemarketer or a phone survey taker. So it took me a couple of days to decide that I hated the fridge shelf situation more than I hated one call.

The spares line answered on the first ring. Wow. The voice was friendly and cheerful. Double wow. They could sell me the shelf, even of an obselete fridge. Would I like a plastic one or a metal one? I was agog. It would be £6.85 including VAT and delivery for the metal one I wanted. I nearly had my head between my knees, I was so close to fainting from shock.

Then the kicker. It was out of stock. Maybe in three weeks or so? They took my credit card number and I hung up, my sense of the order of the universe restored by the one setback.

That was last week. So when the parcel arrived on Monday, with the shelf – the correct shelf, well, I was astonished.

Still, in a bow to the true nature of the universe, it did at least come with a silly warning message.


Offshoring Redux, or, what does a sporran have to do with software?

The IT industry has been gripped by anxiety over the last few months over the growing trend towards “offshoring”. More and more companies are moving their software development to countries like India and China, where a highly educated workforce is willing to code for a fraction of the costs of North Americans and Europeans. This is a Bad Thing according to pundits, but, I suspect, an inevitable one. UK call centres and directory enquiries are already frequently staffed from the Indian subcontinent (with operators given “cultural training” so they can chat about the latest happenings on Eastenders.)

I also suspect that my own specialty, software testing, is going to see a renaissance in the US, Canada, and Europe. At present, software testing seems to be moving offshore along with the development. But I reckon a given company will try an average of one offshore implementation without onshore testing before we testers become very, very popular. Even “onshore” offsite developments need acceptance testing. How much more will projects developed across time zones, continents, and language barriers?

But some industries are supposed to be offshoring-proof. Right? Right? Wrong. sporran makers are under threat from offshoring.

Is nothing sacred?

Monsters, Inc.

Alex has been watching Monsters, Inc., and I perforce have been watching it with him. And it got me thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

Long after the toys are gone from the shops, long after the shameless [Rampant mass consumerism is so evil. Hey, can I have a sip of that Frappucino?|commercialism] of the Disney empire has moved on to another film, I think Monsters, Inc. will be considered one of their best. In addition to the amazing animation, the in-jokes, and the humour, it has a strong (and surprisingly subversive) moral and social message.

On the surface, Monsters, Inc is a cutesy buddy movie. But it actually goes much deeper than that. It’s about one just monster and his struggles against a corrupt system, about the value of personal loyalty and the triumph of principle over practicality.

The Society

We only see glimpses of Monstropolis life in the film, but it’s clearly a peaceful, prosperous city. Its citizens have plenty of material possessions – cars, TVs with little monster horns, apartments with nice views. They have enough extra to go out to sushi restaraunts. A fruit seller is doing well enough to give his wares away to his friends. It’s a safe city, where children play on the sidewalks. It’s a clean, pleasant place – no one even jaywalks.

The shortage of power presents a crisis, admittedly, but it has only a minor impact on the city. And no one really thinks about how their energy is derived from the screams of little children. They’ve been taught that human children are toxic creatures, something to be feared. No monster would think of a child the way they think of their dear little bundles of tentacles, nor pity a human tot crying in the night as they comfort their own wee critter. Children are dangerous, and the monsters who go into their world to extract Scream are brave indeed, saving Monstropolis from rolling blackouts.

Monsters, Inc. is a company of heroes, keeping Monstropolis safe and comfortable in a time of crisis.

The Principal Conflict

Henry J. Waternoose III: [The Banality of Evil]

Although Randall is the visible antagonist in the film, Waternoose is the true villain. He is a paternal, jovial monster, who has earned the trust and loyalty of his staff. He runs the sort of company that does “[bring your daughters to work day|bring your obscure relative to work day]” (though he must have missed the memo on that particular one). He has a bunch of big softies on the scare floor, but he can still inspire them to go into what they believe to be mortal danger.

Like most important, powerful people, Waternoose knows the world is more complex than his underlings suspect. He knows, for instance, that children are not poisonous. He may tell trainees that “There’s nothing more toxic than a human child. A single touch could kill you,” but he picks Boo up himself before sending Sulley and Mike to exile.

Waternoose is driven by the desire to keep his company going, both because it has been his family for three generations, and because it is all that keeps the energy crisis in Monstropolis from becoming acute. As he himself says, “I’ll kidnap a THOUSAND children before I let this company die, and I’ll silence anyone who gets in my way!”

He probably sees himself as a good monster, driven to [the ends justify the means|difficult measures by difficult times]. No doubt he tells himself that [you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs|you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs], and that his cause is worth a few sacrifices (though not notably sacrifices he has to make himself). He is an ordinary monster doing terrible things – the perfect illustration of [the banality of evil].

James P. Sullivan: [Fiat justitia et ruat coelum|Though the Heavens Fall, Let Justice be Done]

James P. Sullivan is an unlikely David to combat Waternoose’s Goliath. He is not a revolutionary, just an normal Joe doing a normal days’s work. He’s the sort of guy who knows everyone by name and a pleasant word for them all. He’s a people person, or rather a monsters’ monster. What matters most to him is the web of relationships he has with his friends, his peers, and his boss.

Sulley combines this capacity for intense personal loyalty with real courage. He is capable of overcoming his fear of a human child enough to bond with Boo, to comfort her when she’s frightened and to try to get her home. And he is brave enough to risk everything – his job, his friendship with Mike, even the company itself – to see her safely back into her own room. He refuses to send her back to the wrong place when Mike gets a door to somewhere with yodeling in the background. He won’t even send her through the right door when he suspects that Randall is still a threat to her.

Partway through the film, Sulley has an uncomfortable experience when the monitor in the simulation room records him scaring a dummy. No doubt he has seen recordings of his roaring face before, and even been proud of how frightening he looks. But this time he [to a Louse|sees himself through Boo’s eyes], and realises that the children he scares are as upset as she is. This shift in attitude, again the product of empathy and courage, isn’t really explored in the film. He does cheer Boo on when she attacks Randall and conquers her fear of him, despite the loss of scream this represents. But I don’t know that Sulley would have been happy again on the scare floor, had things turned out differently.

Although the plot is [deus ex machina|rigged] to create a happy ending, Sulley’s doesn’t realise that things will work out. He isn’t thinking about whether Monsters, Inc. will stand or fall. He is simply and stubbornly determined to do what is right, to protect one innocent and helpless child from harm. He looks unhappy when Mike points out, “Sure we put the factory in the toilet, hundreds of people will be out of work now, not to mention the angry mob that’ll come after us when there’s no power.” But he does’t look like he regrets his choices, and he’s clearly not so consumed by guilt that he can’t think of a way out of the situation.

The Minor Characters

[Mike Wazowski]: [Everyman]

Very few people (or monsters) have Sulley’s courage against the pressure of conformity. Most of us are more like Mike, just trying to get along in life. We want our creature comforts (like Mike’s car), a chance at true love (like Celia), and a few laughs to get through the day.

Mike probably uses his humour to cover up a feeling of insecurity. Like everyone else, he admires Sulley. He relishes being the friend of Monsters, Inc.’s top scarer, telling off the two janitors who get too friendly (“You’re making him lose his focus!”). He basks in reflected glory, getting Sulley to make reservations for him in a booked-up restaurant. Mike is not extraordinarily courageous or principled. He sees Boo as a threat to his normal life, and to his friendship with Sulley. So he leaps at whatever chance he can to get her out of their way, whether it be through [the wrong door], or through the right one under Randall’s aegis.

But when Sulley seems to choose Boo over him in Nepal, Mike shows real greatness of character. He returns to the monster world, apologises to Sulley for making him choose at all, and helps his friend get Boo back home. He is not brave monster on his own, but he is [a friend in need is a friend indeed|a good friend in a crisis]. He does the right thing in the end.

Randall Boggs: [Paper Tiger|The Overt Villain]

Randall the pseudo-chameleon is the most disappointing character in the film. He is openly evil, willing to “[terminate with extreme prejudice|dispose of]” anyone who gets in his way. He ruthlessly abuses his sidekick Fungus, and his plans for world (or Monsters, Inc.) domination are gloriously unformed.

In short, he is a cardboard characterisation, only suited to draw attention away from the true villain of the piece. I shall waste no more prose on him.

I think I’ll find this film very helpful when answering [question]s about twentieth-century history from Alex when he’s older. It can be hard to convey to a child how an ordinary society, for instance [Nazi|Germany] in the 30’s, could be founded on cruelty, or how [blood libel|fear] was used to dehumanise [Jews|a people] they wanted to exploit. I would like to teach him to recognise the [absolute power corrupts absolutely|pitfalls of power] that Waternoose exemplifies, and raise him to have the courage of his own convictions like Sulley.

I know that the scriptwriters didn’t write all this into the film, at least not deliberately. But the plot rings true because these characteristics, and these forces, are part of human nature.