Arbitrage – woes with wordpress.com

Arbitrage is a complex name for something that’s actually very simple. You sell a product for $10 in the USA. You sell that same product in the UK for £10. In the real world $1 ≠ £1. The difference between the two, that’s arbitrage. It’s money for nothing, as long as you’re prepared to travel to a different currency with your goods or service. For multi-nationals, that isn’t a problem. In the age of internet shopping, that isn’t a problem.

For me, it always used to get my goat that American companies, in particular, would assume that £1 = $1. American companies drove computing, let alone the internet, and it basically meant that UK customers paid more. Either buy it in GBP, and accept our unfair rate, or buy it in USD, and pay the duty.

With software, in particular, we don’t really have that any more. Most things are delivered over the web, so there’s no concept of a disk going through customs. There’s not really any mechanism for an individual to pay VAT, say, other than at the point of sale. There is for businesses, and that becomes more complicated. Companies do try a bit of arbitrage, but it is usually acceptable. It’s less hassle just to pay an extra few pennies, and to know that you’ve paid in GBP, and be done with it. It also saves on banks charging for currency conversions.

However, yesterday I came across something old-school. I’ve been looking at wordpress.com, and they want £48 from me for a year’s basic subscription. When I set up the WordPress account, I must’ve said “UK” somewhere, so they know to bill me in GBP. However I was chatting to my (American) friend, he says he gets billed $48.

At today’s exchange rate, $1 should cost me £0.90, so $48 should cost me £43.19. This is using the site xe.com with today’s numbers. Yet, wordpress.com wants me to pay £48. It’s only £5 difference, but that’s an extra 10%. Imagine if everything you paid for each month just got 10% more expensive, you’d soon notice!

As you can guess from my tone, this all seems unfair. Why don’t wordpress work on the basis of “we want $48 per year per subscription”, then leave it to somebody like Paypal to calculate the amount, in the user’s local currency? Paypal allows users to pay in their local currency anyway, thereby saving them on bank charges. I’m sure there must be a little fee for their arbitrage in there anyway, but 10%?

So, I questioned them. This was all done yesterday, so at least they answer queries on a Sunday. The response started off pretty lame – “we can’t control exchange rates”. D’uh, thank you for assuming that I’m so stupid, I didn’t realise that. And, “if we billed you in US dollars, you’d only get hit by the bank for fees instead”. So, you’re giving me the choice of being screwed by the bank, or screwed by you? They did say that they would convert my GBP account to a USD account, if I wished, so at least I’d be able to choose.

Actually, writing this has made me realise – I choose neither. I really don’t like the ethics of a company who say “we will charge you more for our service, depending on where you live”.

I’m still thinking about wordpress.org, but I doubt it’ll be on wordpress.com. WordPress.org recommends a dew other companies – they all offer subscription services, but it’s not the subscription part that I object to, it’s the “having bought a subscription, we’re going to try and get some more out of you anyway”. As for “we can’t control exchange rates”, that just goes to show how dumb they think I am. But ultimately, I’m happy to stick with Blogger for now, after all, it satisfies my current needs, and contemplate a change at my leisure.




Enough?

I had a disaster yesterday. You know I was talking about moving to WordPress? Well, I was exploring how I’d do this. I had a successful backup of the Blogger site, from the day before. I wrote a post yesterday, but the backup was near enough complete.

The disaster occurred when I managed to re-import this backup file, over my existing files. I can only say that I was expecting another screen to come up, but instead it said “Importing…”.

The result? Well, I ended up with two of everything. Posts, static pages, comments…

The main problem was not, though, the stuff I could see. Lots of these pages have links to other pages in them. When you write a post, Blogger assigns it something called a perma-link, so you’ll be able to get back to that page, well, permanently. A nice straightforward:

So then began the clean-up. From the Blogger UI, I had no way of spotting the difference between my original posts, and those I’d just restored. So I was flying blind. Furthermore, when you restore pages, Blogger must recalculate these permalinks. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except for my next step. In other words:

 This image starts to show the problem. Page 1 was pointing to Page 2 still, but I was unable to see any difference between Page 2 and its duplicate.

So, I started deleting (what I thought were) the duplicate posts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure whether I was deleting Page 2 or its duplicate. The end result?

I had this in all three scenarios,

  • Page 1 is a post, Page 2 is a post (there are a few of these, but scattered all over the blog)
  • Page 2 is a static page, Page 2 is a post (there were only 9 static pages, for example the “About” page at the top-right of the blog, but they contained probably fifty links to posts in them
  • Page 1 is a page, Page 2 is a comment. Comments must be linked, internally, to some kind of “Post ID”. If the post subsequently gets deleted, the comment is an orphan. There were eighty comments.

So, having deleted the duplicate posts, that was the rest of Sunday. As you might imagine, I sorted the static pages (absolutely fine, you’d never know the difference unless you actually looked at the hyperlink) amd the comments. That’s how I know the exact extent of the problem. With the static pages, I even took the opportunity to bring them up to date.

But post-to-post? Well, I’ve looked through recent posts and sorted them. I’ve looked through the most popular posts, and sorted them. Third, I’ve installed a custom “not found” error page, which explains to people why the links might be screwed, and invites them to contact me. I’m not sure what more I can do.

Anonymity

I thought of an interesting legal conundrum this morning.

Was watching soccer on tv this morning, talking about racist abuse of soccer players on social media. I shan’t even bother on this issue – I very much doubt anybosy who thinks it is acceptable also reads my blog.

It crossed my mind that these players are all multi-millionaires, certainly at Premier League level. So, why can’t they find out who these abusers are, and take action privately?

I suppose the difficulty is getting social media companies to disclose the IP address from which the comment came. I’m sure it must be recorded. Certainly, it can be recorded. I can understand that you probably can’t use the UK courts, because the data will be held offshore, but these footballers are people of means – they can find out where the data is located, and take action in that jurisdiction.

Assuming that they could get that IP address, it’s easy enough to trace that back to an ISP. The ISP will know who and when that IP address was doled out to. The legal conundrum is how an individual can convince an ISP to disclose that information.

You normally assume that a member of the public can’t get at that information. Yet some people, or organisations, can. People in the UK have been arrested for hacking into US government sites, and the technical process there is exactly the same for finding the culprit. I can maybe understand that when the US government comes knocking, then doors are open. But I’m just a little bemused when a wodge of money doesn’t open those same doors.

It’s not even as if this is just a private prosecution. If these guys have suffered racist abuse, then surely the whole thing turns criminal?

Blogger vs. WordPress

I read a new blog. I like it because it makes me think about different things. Not just think, but learn. With some of the things, I’m definitely out of my comfort zone.

Take the last post. This guy is American, so talks about the US system. He also talks politics, where it has a US flavour.

I mean, I’m happy to get involved in “universal” politics, but when it has a foreign tint on it, I’m out of my comfort zone.

Yesterday, he started talking about Trump. Trump’s pretty much “universal” politics, because we’ve all heard of him, and we all have a view. When you talk about Trump, you don’t need an additional paragraph to explain who he is (or, particularly, what his views are). But talk about Congressman A, I’m pretty lost. So the debate yesterday involved my learning a bit about the Electoral College over there. Actually, as far as I’m concerned, it has exactly the same problems as the EU. I’ve posted about Malta before. We had European Elections as recently as 2019, numbers might have tweaked a bit, but nothing fundamentally has changed. They’ve obviously don’t think there’s a problem, and there’s certainly no interest in fixing anything. That’s why I still want to leave – I want to be a part of some organisation which will represent every European equally, and until they get can get that most fundamental of fundamentals right, I’m not interested.

Anyway, I’m not going to get bogged down in Brexit.

This chap writes on WordPress. the raw application is actually open source (which is free and, well, open), I write on Blogger, proprietary, owned by Google, but free all the same. I’m trying to work out the difference between the two, whether one is better than the other. I’m still very much learning here, but my understanding is that, at its core, WordPress is a content management system. You can just download it to run on your own web server. I checked my Microsoft host, no mention that they support WordPress, although they say they support all the things that WordPress says it requires. . But they’re really a programming platform – you wouldn’t really use my company just to run an off-the-shelf program, you’d do something more bespoke.

But that’s the thing. WordPress is an application. In its purest form, wordpress.org, open source, free, all the things the web should be. People who use it, have to run their site somewhere. Enter wordpress.com. However not-for-profit the .org is, the .com most certainly isn’t! They want £80-something to host my blog for two years. So, I’m a bit incredulous. Blogger comes for free, and as far as I can tell, meets my needs, but if I want to use wordpress.com, looks like I’ll have to subscribe to something. I’m still trying to get my head around that “subscription” bit! There are other providers, of course, when all’s said and done it’s just plain-old hosting. I doubt it is rocket science to run the WordPress app on your server. I even found some providers that claimed a free service. But of course, these are hosting companies who want you to buy their premium service, so how good is the “free” version going to be?

It does, at least, look like I could export my entire blog from Google. On WordPress.com, at least. I’ve been less successful with the free providers, so far, but I’ll keep trying. My blog currently has hundreds of posts going back over 2 years, I’m not willing to lose them – it’ll have to be someone who can import the Blogger content. I guess I have some reading to do, not least the answer to my very first question – whether I’d get a better blog by switching service.

I don’t know. Something I need to find out about. Something I need to work out whether I do want to spend the money. A task for the coming days!

Fandango’s Proocative Question #37

I’ve been following a blog by a chap called Fandango. Every week or so, he asks a “provocative question”. As in, one in which his readers have to ponder the question before answering. I participated last week, with this response.

This chap is an American, and this has a bearing on the this week’s question. He says that Trump has fuelled a very polarised debate over there, something I can easily imagine. People either love him, or he’s an asshole. I use that word deliberately, I want it to convey that the standard of debating has dropped. So, Fandango asks whether is it possible to disagree with somebody without being disagreeable? Of course, I have to take this from a UK-perspective, because that’s the history I know.

An interesting part of Fandango’s question is that he adds a time element. He asserts that “once upon a time” it was possible, but now it is not. For my part, I’m not sure that’s true, but I’ll discuss that below.

I’m reminded straight away of a sketch by a guy I used to watch a lot, Emo Phillips.

There is a point to this. That, however closely your views coincide with someone’s, dig sufficiently deep and you’ll find something to disagree on.

I think that reasonable people will be able to disagree reasonably. There always comes a point at which you have to shrug your shoulders, and agree to differ. Nowadays we have the luxury of talking politics. How do you make a child’s education better? By doing X, or Y? And you realise that with all politics, it’s a matter of priorities. Trump, for example, wants to make America more prosperous. Just as far as that aim, I’m sure pretty much every American would agree. It’s how he goes about it which is abhorrent to some people. But that’s just politics, why one person votes for the left, the next for the right.

A moment ago, I used the word “luxury”, because we’re arguing about details. A few years ago, we argued about whether we go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. That too, contained some very unpleasant disagreements at the time, but our societies have got past them. A few years earlier, the American war in Viet Nam. Same thing. 

A hundred years ago, (the Suffragettes, in the UK. I’ve no idea how suffrage got to America, I must ask. I know they didn’t have universal suffrage at the time of the revolution so there must have been transitions at some points.) people were fighting for representation itself. Unfortunately, these women were fighting for themselves, rather than for universal suffrage (they cared about women not having the same rights as men, but never uttered a peep about people in the colonies, who had no rights at all), so while we can laud them, there was a bigger picture that they missed. But quite violent disagreements, for the time.

Go back a bit further and you have the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Worker rights. For their efforts, transportation to Australia. Probably an example of the state over-reacting, given their “crime”.

Further still, the reformation. Religion – the birth of the Protestants. Wars were fought throughout Europe on this. And, of course, still on the religious theme, the crusades.

My point here is to try and show that people have been unreasonably disagreeing with people since the year dot. Trump is merely the latest cause. If we look at the subjects on which there’s been disagreement, they’ve become a lot more well-defined. Most of us would regard arguing about religion to be a waste of time these days, although some still do. We’ve mostly developed a “live and let live” tolerance of each other. There’s far less argument about something like suffrage, where the principle of “apply to one, apply to all” is more readily accepted.

But as Trump shows, it’s still possible to stoke violent disagreement, even in this age. In fact, one might argue (because most of us draw the line at killing each other) that we disagree better than ever! I think humans just have it in us, and if someone pushes the right buttons…

Fandango’s Provocative Question #36

A new friend of mine posts something he calls “provocative questions”. Provocative, in the sense that they cause his readers to ponder the answer.

The other day, he posed a question which was basically, “does the end justify the means?” He phrased the question slightly differently, but that was the meaning.

My gut feel is that “no, it doesn’t – we should be completely consistent in our behaviour”, so there shouldn’t really be a difference in our means and our end. But even as I wrote that, it felt like it would only be a matter of time before I thought of something to counter that. I certainly picked up that depending on whether I asked Does the end… versus Should the end…, I got a different answer.

“Time” came this morning, probably a full three days after he asked the question. I still believe that we should always behave in a consistent manner, but the exception is glaringly obvious. Pretty much any war we’ve ever had. In WWII, for example, the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was that about 100,000 casualties in each? Bad things, right? Except the events ended WWII, so probably saved lives overall.

Closer to home (both time and distance) I can look back at all the shenanigans in Northern Ireland, most of which are deplorable, but in the end, they got the right result. The troops are out and there is a peace, albeit quite fragile.

Funny, I wasn’t really even thinking of Fandango’s question, I was having a shower at the time! It might take a while, but I’ll get there.

Smash Hits

See also: Found.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised these last few days, for two reasons.

Firstly, I see who “referrers” to the site are. Over time, I’ve seen the referrers start to include some of the main search engines. A couple of months ago it was google.co.uk, a few weeks ago it was google.com, their main site. So, ever so slowly, I guess the profile of the blog is going up.

Secondly, a couple of times over the last few weeks, I’ve seen an abnormal number of hits, probably 10x normal. Once, probably 100x. I see the demographics of these hits, though, and whilst most of the hits are from the UK, there are a noticeable minority from other jurisdictions like the USA, Russia and Israel.

I don’t mind this one bit – as long as my audience realises that I’m only really going to write in English, then if I can help anybody else get through their experience, that’s brilliant. However, it’s also raised my caution levels as well. In the past, people have left spam comments, “buy viagra here”-type comments. I really don’t like to censor things, but I do if I feel they run against the spirit of the blog. So I try to look at the comments regularly just to make sure…

Blogger helps me a little with this, it automatically rates comments and might put them in a kind-of “Junk Email” folder (where presumably they remain until I approve them for publication), but it does kind-of surprise me that anybody would feel this blog is an appropriate place to write such comments in the first place. But I guess the point is that they just don’t care.

Found!

I check this blog quite regularly, not necessarily to write stuff, but more to just look at housekeeping stuff. For example, I check the comments because once or twice I’ve found that people have left spam, or adverts, stuff like “buy Viagra here”. I mean, this is mostly quite a serious blog, I can do without that crap, so I police the comments. It kind-of goes against my grain, to censor things, but I can’t assume that other people will behave responsibly.

Anyway, looking at the statistics for the blog this morning, I saw that one of the referrers from yesterday was from the search engine, Bing. I followed the referrer link and, sure enough, this site comes back on the first page of results, when somebody does a search on the phrase “stroke survivor”.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these statistics. In the early days, I thought they were just me, checking  past entries. But while the statistics don’t go so far enough to tell me the reader’s actual name and address, they do give me various clues. Different browsers make requests in different ways,and Blogger can tell the difference between Chrome on Windows, and Firefox on Apple, say. Blogger doesn’t show me your IP address, but it does show me where in the world, just down to the “country” level. So, if you view my pages through a British ISP, say, then you’ll show up as a hit from Britain.

So, one of the reasons I take the statistics semi-seriously is that Blogger tells me that visits happen from a bunch of different countries. Most common is the USA, of course, but there have been hits from several other countries across the world. Importantly, not UK, so not me. Similarly, when the stats tell me that my blog was viewed from an iPad somewhere…. well, I know that’s not me because I don’t own an iPad!

I guess Bing must be pretty big, I know it is owned by Microsoft, but when I last checked, I don’t come that high on Google. I tend to regard Google as #1, just because it’s the search engine that I tend to use. I’ll have to search for myself again and see what I find. One day!