Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The serinette (bird organ) and its hypnotic power over birds


I was intrigued by this passage about the serinette, or "bird organ," in the 2015 book Eco-Sonic Media by Jacob Smith. The following paragraph appeared within a discussion of the training of songbirds—particularly the training of canaries—in 19th century Germany.
[The serinette was a] device that was thought to improve the overall quality of the bird’s vocalizing. Sometimes referred to as a "bird organ,” this odd contraption was about the size of a grandfather clock, with water-filled cylinders put in motion by a weight-and-pulley system similar to the acoustic-recording machines described in the previous chapter. As the weight fell, it pumped a bellows that sent air through the cylinders to produce a number of distinctive sounds, one of which was described as being “a low, plaintive monotone that goes on and on, like the sound of water running over rocks, or the wind’s motion in the trees.” Birds exposed to the machine were said to listen “as if fascinated” and became “gentle and teachable.”
A number of examples of serinettes in action can be found on YouTube, and their intonation ranges from something like that of a bird to that of an instrument like a calliope. I was more interested in the birdlike serinettes and imagine that these are the ones that would most interest songbirds as well. 

And here is an image of a canary that appears to be in a deep reverie or state of fascination, perhaps from listening to a serinette: 

Canary in state of fascination

Monday, March 6, 2017

Country music's "We Are the World"

They could have called it "Lemon Aid," because it turned out to be a real lemon. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

I'm talking about Heart of Nashville's "One Big Family," the country music world's attempt at a "We Are the World"-type famine-relief record.

It happened in 1985. After the all-star charity group USA for Africa scored a worldwide #1 hit with "We Are the World," country star Ronnie McDowell decided to organize a similar project in Nashville for country artists. Charity concerts and supergroups were everywhere—this was also the year of Live Aid and Farm Aid. Even heavy metal artists, under the name Hear ‘n Aid, organized a famine-relief record.

 charity craze started the previous year with British and Irish supergroup Band Aid, which Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats organized with Midge Ure to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. 

Band Aid's song "Do They Know It's Christmas" was a big success—it topped the UK chart in 1984 and then reached the UK Top 3 again in 1985. Geldof and Ure helped to organize Live Aid in 1985, and at Live Aid, Bob Dylan made a comment about American farmers that led to Farm Aid later that same year.

Heart of Nashville
In the midst of all this charity, country star Ronnie McDowell got the idea for his charity supergroup. The goal was to raise money for worldwide hunger relief, and McDowell managed to sign up some of country music's biggest stars.

The record was to be released under the name Heart of Country by Nashville's Compleat Records. Unlike earlier fundraisers for Ethiopian famine relief, Heart of Country would "benefit the hungry in both America and the world," as stated on the single's picture sleeve. McDowell co-wrote the song that the group would record, "One Big Family," which echoed the theme of global togetherness heard on "We Are the World."

Unfortunately for McDowell, the Heart of Country would not be met with peace and harmony. Less than 24 hours before the vocal recording session, McDowell found out that RCA Records forbade its artists from taking part in the project, which eliminated Alabama, the Judds, Louise Mandrell, and Ronnie Milsap, all of whom had agreed to participate.

Likewise, none of the expected artists from MCA Records appeared, including Lee Greenwood and the Oak Ridge Boys. Only one artist from Columbia Records—George Jones—showed up.

Apart from the Kendalls, who recorded for Polygram, most of the approximately 40 acts who actually participated were either unsigned or independent artists. The label that was going to release the Heart of Country single, Compleat Records, was itself an independent label, so it certainly seemed as if the major labels were conspiring to kill the project. 

MCA wouldn't comment on why it prohibited its artists from participating, but other labels' representatives didn't hesitate to hold forth. Joe Galante from RCA told Spin, "Yes, I told our artists not to participate. I felt that instead of being a major event, as was the 'USA for Africa' single, [Heart of Country] would be one of many trying to duplicate it."

And Dale Cornelius of the Nashville Music Association claimed to be thinking about organizing a separate fundraiser. "We're exploring it further," he said, "but don't want to jump on any bandwagon." How he intended to organize a big charity supergroup that didn't involve some bandwagon jumping is unclear.

The 45's picture sleeve
The Heart of Nashville record came to pass anyway and featured a lot of stars, many of whom were old-timers: Roy Acuff, Rex Allen Jr., Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, Lane Brody, T. Graham Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, Karen Taylor-Good, Dobie Gray, Sonny James, George Jones, The Kendalls, Dave Kirby, Neal Matthews, Kathy Mattea, O.B. McClinton, Ronnie McDowell, Lorrie Morgan, Colleen Peterson, Webb Pierce, Boots Randolph, Jerry Reed, Jeannie C. Riley, Ronny Robbins, Ray Sawyer, Troy Seals, Jeannie Seely, Rick Schulman, Gordon Stoker, Tanya Tucker, Mack Vickery, Porter Wagoner, Duane West, Bergen White, Leona Williams, and Faron Young. 

An official music video was produced. It alternated between shots of Africans and shots of the supergroup in the studio. George Jones and Tanya Tucker were the most prominently featured solo vocalists. Some of the others, such as Lynn Anderson and Faron Young, sang a single line in the song and really poured their hearts into it. Still others, such as Little Jimmy Dickens and Webb Pierce (the latter of whom wasn't listed on the single's sleeve but appears in the video), sang only with the group on the choruses and can't really be heard.

A promotional single was pressed on red vinyl. The music video was promoted by Aristo Music Associates, the first video-promotion service in Nashville. When the record was released, it spent nine weeks on the Billboard country chart, but—despite the promotional efforts and all-star cast—climbed no higher than #61. 

Nashville's major labels succeeded in nearly spoiling the project by withholding then-current stars who could have raised the record's profile substantially. And, not surprisingly, the majors never got around to creating a charity group of their own.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Amazon lies to customers about Prime two-day shipping not only misleads customers about its Amazon Prime shipping program but also lies about it—constantly. 

The Amazon Prime program is supposed to provide subscribers with free, guaranteed two-day shipping on eligible items. But when Amazon can't deliver on its claims, it backs away from them faster than a crook jumps bail.

Here are some examples from the Amazon website and from chat transcripts with Amazon representatives that prove it.

Amazon Lie #1

When your Prime item is late, Amazon will say that two-day shipping really means that you'll receive your item two days after Amazon mails it, not two days after you order it. This is a lie

Before you place your order, Amazon makes it clear that two-day shipping means you will receive your item two days after you order it. 

Look at this screenshot of an Amazon order page for an in-stock, Prime-eligible item: 

Screenshot taken on Dec. 10, 2016

The screenshot shows that Amazon guarantees that the customer will receive the order two days after the order is placed.

As long as the Prime-eligible item is in stock and doesn't have a statement about the item requiring extra time for fulfillment, then both the Amazon product page and the order placement page will guarantee that you will receive your order two days after you place it, not two days after Amazon mails it. 

Amazon representatives will not acknowledge this fact.

Here is an excerpt from a real chat transcript with an Amazon rep: 

07:24 AM PDT Gregory AdamsWhat happened to the two-day guarantee? Isn't two-day shipping guaranteed for Prime members? 
07:25 AM PDT PayalTwo day shipping means once the item is shipped out after that it will take two days to get delivered.

That's not what millions of product pages on the Amazon website say. 

It also wouldn't make any sense for that to be the policy. If two-day shipping meant what this Amazon rep says it does, then it would have no value. Who would care about two-day delivery if the item might be mailed at any time between now and eternity? Who would pay a subscription to receive two-day shipping on items that had no particular delivery date? 

The amount of time that an item spends in the mail is practically irrelevant if the customer might have to wait weeks for Amazon to mail it.

Amazon Lie #2

If you buy a Prime item from a third-party seller that is "fulfilled by Amazon," and the shipment is late, then Amazon will claim that the item is late because these third-party items require "additional processing time." This is a lie.

"Fulfilled by Amazon" means that Amazon physically has the item in its warehouse and ships the item for the third-party seller. If the product page says that the item is in stock, then—from the customer's standpoint—items fulfilled by Amazon are no different from items sold by Amazon. Again, Amazon's own website proves that this is true:

Screenshot taken on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016

In the screenshot above, you can see that this item is sold by a third-party seller (vsource) and is fulfilled by Amazon. The item is in stock, and the message below the "Add to Cart" button clearly shows that two-day shipping means that the item will be delivered two days after the order is placed.

I recently ordered an item from a third-party seller with fulfillment by Amazon. Prime shipping was available, and—just like in the image above—both the product page and the order page guaranteed that I would receive the item in two days.

But after I placed the order, Amazon sent a confirmation email that said the item would arrive more than a week later. Again, I chatted with a customer service representative, who offered this excuse for the delay:

09:37 AM PDT AntoniaThis item is sold by a third party seller and this is the reason for the delay.
09:38 AM PDT Gregory AdamsBut it is Prime shipping and is fulfilled by Amazon

09:39 AM PDT AntoniaIt is fulfilled by us but not sold by so this item allows more processing time

Again, millions of Amazon product and order pages say otherwise, but Amazon will tell this lie in order to weasel out of its "guarantee" when it fails to deliver.

What does Amazon think "guaranteed" means?

A guarantee is a "a formal assurance or promise, especially that certain conditions shall be fulfilled relating to a product, service, or transaction."  

To entice you to place an order or to subscribe to Prime, Amazon guarantees that you'll get your item in two days. But when your item is late, Amazon tries to get out of the guarantee by claiming that, in reality, the "two-day" part refers to how long the item will be in the mail, not to when you will receive it, even though Amazon's website clearly says otherwise all over the place. 

Is this not an example of classic bait-and-switch? In effect, Amazon sells you two-day delivery but then takes longer than that to deliver your item, claiming that the "guaranteed" two-day delivery is no longer available or is not applicable for some made-up reason that was not communicated to you when you placed your order. 

Don't despair, though, fellow Prime members, because on Oct. 27, 2016, an Amazon representative promised me that Prime shipments will never be late again!

We've learned, though, that Amazon's promises don't mean much, and a month later, one of my Prime orders was late. Apparently, Amazon is as loose with the word "promise" as it is with "guarantee."

I recently chatted with an Amazon rep named "Kirin" when one of my Prime orders was going to be delivered four days late. I told Kirin about the previous rep's promise that "this will never happen again," and the rep replied:

I'm very sorry for this.

However I've again filed the investigation for this so that no future orders are delayed.
And I can assure you that non of your packages will b edelayed.
*be delayed
Also I've filed the negative feedback against the carriers so that the carriers is not used for your future order.
Again, Amazon's customer service rep makes this weird promise that none of my packages will ever again be delayed. 

The Amazon rep also said that the carrier will not be used for my future orders, but the carrier in this case is the United States Postal Service. 

Is Amazon really going to stop using USPS for all my future orders? I'm not holding my breath. 

It's a stupid promise anyway, because the same rep said earlier that the delay was a warehouse problem, not a carrier problem. But Amazon likes to pass the buck in these situations.

So what?

It's petty to complain that a Justin Bieber CD took three days to show up instead of two, but the point isn't that Prime items sometimes take too long to arrive—it's that Amazon routinely makes deceptive promises and guarantees and then doesn't honor them or stand behind them. Whether or not you truly need your Prime order within two days, it's obnoxious to be given bogus guarantees by a retailer. And it's hard to believe that it's legal. 

If you're patient and have the time, you can chat with Amazon whenever your Prime shipment is late, and sometimes you'll get a discount or something. Amazon representatives usually offer remedies in this order:
  1. An apology
  2. An upgrade to one-day shipping, which is useless when the shipping date is unknown
  3. A one-month extension of your Prime membership
  4. A $5 or $10 gift card credit
  5. A $5 or $10 courtesy refund*
The honorable thing for Amazon to do would be to enact a policy in which customers automatically receive a discount or other compensation whenever a Prime item is late. I certainly don't expect perfection from Amazon—sometimes the weather interferes or human error occurs—but a policy like this would make good on Amazon's "guarantees" and prevent customers from feeling like they're being lied to.

*Something weird is going on with Amazon's courtesy refunds, because on the few occasions that I have received one, the confirmation email shows that the credit has been deducted from the account of a third-party seller from an unrelated order that I placed weeks or months earlier. Because of this, if I were an Amazon FBA [Fullfillment-by-Amazon] seller, I would wonder whether the "courtesy refunds" that are deducted from my account are from items I actually sold. As far as I know, FBA sellers have no way of checking this.