On False Advertising

(a) Civil action

  • Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which—
    1. is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or
    2. in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s good, services, or commercial activities,

shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is or is likely to be damaged by such act.”

  • 15 U.S.C. 1125 (Section 43 of the Lanham Act): False Designations of Origin, False Descriptions, and Dilution Forbidden

Well, that’s a quote.

This blog post was going to be about something entirely different, which I may yet write of later in the week, but being ‘burned’ by an item from Amazon gave me greater impetus to pursue this topic of conversation, as the notion of the subject matter above does in fact hit me on a personal level.

You see, I also make and sell products (err…a ‘product’ at the time of this writing) on Amazon. If somehow you arrived at this blog and didn’t already know that, I’ll fill you in: I write books. I self-publish said-books. And the process to do so requires a degree of effort for me to have the books marketed (tags to describe a book’s genre/subject matter) as well as to entice would-be buyers into making a purchase (a book’s description/back-cover ‘pitch’). Amazon makes it clear that dishonesty in these details is punishable in some way—either the product itself could be taken off the site, or the creator of a product (in this case, me) could be banned from further marketplace utilization. So I spend some time thinking about how best to market my books’ content, not just by what sounds appealing to a potential buyer, but by what’s honest. If I wrote a factual volume on the History of Art in the Baroque Era and marketed it as a far-more-popular fantasy novel,

  1. I’d be an absolute genius.
  2. I’d probably get kicked off Amazon real quick.
  3. No one would take me or my works seriously ever again.

And them’s the breaks, as they say.

And for those of you writing factual volumes on the History of Art in the Baroque Era, godspeed, you beautiful people. I wouldn’t ever dare trying my hand at such a thing.

So, back to being ‘burned.’

I keep my writings and other “important” (using that term loosely) data on a USB Flash Drive for easy portability between my main tower desktop computer, a second desktop connected to a printer, and a personal, mobile laptop. In the pre-pandemic era, I was on the move a lot and wanted to keep writing whether I was relaxing at home or existing elsewhere a hundred miles away, often without an Internet connection (so the Cloud wasn’t a viable option). That and in case of emergency, it’d be a lot quicker and safer to simply unplug said-drive from my computer and pocket it rather than need to lug my whole tower around to secure my life’s work.

And I do mean life’s work – I’ve been at this whole ‘writing thing’ for over a decade and a half. I’ve accrued research material, notes, inspirations, etc., all of which slowly began to take up a good deal of space. (And, as a 20-something millennial that likes to laugh at the world and has always been privileged enough to access the Internet, yes, I have a decent meme collection too, that I simply cannot do without…) So, lo and behold, I had begun to fill up my 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive. Rather than trim some fat I hadn’t used in years, the lazy option is of course to go onto Amazon and order the highest-rated, most-affordable thing that was a little bit larger.

That’s where E&jing comes into the story. A 2TB USB 3.0 Flash Drive for $46? I knew hardware was becoming cheaper (at least, storage was becoming cheaper; don’t look at graphics card prices during the pandemic) but that’s some impressive shhhhh—stuff!

If something on the internet looks too good to be true, it is. No probably, no exception, it just is.

I knew that going into this adventure and there were plenty of red flags immediately apparent, such as the reviews for the drive itself. Though overall the product was sporting a 4.5-star rating across a 1,100+ review sample size, the top reviews for the Flash Drive described…something that wasn’t a Flash Drive.

This is telling of a handful of possibilities:

  1. These reviewers got lost. Not unheard of on the Internet, and probably more common than you’d think.
  2. These reviews are actually from bots, possibly trying to give a product a worse score out of spite or otherwise as some form of corporate warfare. Stranger things have happened, so who knows?
  3. This product used to be something else entirely.

Choice 3. is my guess. And if it used to be one thing, it very well could have been something else entirely different before that, and again before that, etc.

After looking at those reviews for a few moments, I took further time to contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

And then I purchased the product and had it shipped as soon as possible. Thanks, Prime Shipping.

When the package arrived, I was greeted with this…uh…lovely early-2000s Clip Art artwork for the product:

I don’t really understand how barcodes work so I omitted the one here. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to bother, though.

Well, ain’t lookin’ great for yours truly.

I immediately plugged that sucker in to my computer and the first thing I did was scan it for viruses.


Alright, time to transfer everything from my smaller drive over to the larger drive. Anyone who has ever done that knows what follows:


Though the initial estimate for the process teased an eight-hour journey of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs, it thankfully ‘finished’ in well under two. And by ‘finished’, I of course mean failed to transfer half the files due to *ahem* Why, actually? We don’t know? Well, stick some technical mumbo-jumbo in there, it’ll work fine. —due to ((sector corruption)), which in turn required another two hours of letting windows scan and repair the entire drive just to have another stab at it. Which still didn’t actually resolve the issue entirely, but it alleviated the problem enough to let manual labor sort out the rest of the transfer process.

Something was amiss.

When it comes to the movement of files, you will achieve a higher rate of transfer by moving one large file rather than a ton of smaller ones. Why, you may ask? Something about data allocation and file headers, which I would absolutely love to chat your ear off about sometime and someplace that isn’t right now in this blog. Point being, big file “fast”, many small files “slow.” So I ran a test: How fast could I transfer a few significantly sized files onto this new Flash Drive of mine? The answer may surprise you!

Answer: Not very fast. The total rate of transference seemed to be around 5MB/s.

(I had an image I was going to put here, but it was saved on the drive itself and wound up being corrupted. More on that below.)

OK, OK, I’m beating around the bush a lot here. Tech-savvy readers, or those with an eye keen enough to see the red circles I made in the second image of the drive’s packaging, already know the deal: This is a USB 2.0 drive, not a USB 3.0 drive as the Amazon page would lead you to believe:

I won't be doing E&jing any favors by linking to the actual product itself. If you're that curious, it's easy enough to stumble upon, which is kind of the point.

So, how does this happen?

Well, obviously someone starts by lying, but how do people fall for it? Is there any way to get around it?

The first thing to recognize here is a difference in terminology present in the product’s ‘name’/title and in its hardware specifications. Put plainly, 100Mb/s is not equal to 100 Megabytes Per Second. Mb/s stands for Megabits Per Second, and is most commonly used for data transfer rates over a network—internet speeds, and such. A byte is eight bits. So 100Mb/s is actually advertising 12.5MB/s, which is far closer to the advertised write speeds on the left of the above image but still more than double what I observed in practice. But these are not properties of a USB 3.0 Drive; 3.0 Drives can theoretically support speeds of up to 250MB/s (megabytes/second), though technicians usually impose a hard-limit well below that, usually around the 90-120MB/s mark. (I haven’t been able to identify why, specifically. My guess is on something to do with heat generation, but I’d love for a more insightful response on the matter!)

Secondly, a USB 3.0 Drive typically differs from a USB 2.0 Drive in the sense that the front ‘bus’ of a 3.0 Drive is generally blue, whereas that of a 2.0 Drive is generally black. Or, at least, this used to be the case. At some point in the last few years, manufacturers seem to have gotten lazy and just use either black or blue as they see fit regardless of the actual nature of the device itself.

So, in short, no, at a glance there’s nothing one can do to get around it and people will likely fall for it because the vast majority of the human population doesn’t know the difference between a bit and a byte.

While I do intend to report this product on the Amazon page for False Advertising, I have no intention of returning my device for a refund. It’ll forever serve as an example of dishonesty. Of particular curiosity to me is whether, some years from now, this product’s Amazon page may change to yet another product—under the assumption that the Amazon reviews screenshotted above were genuinely for something else. Regardless of ‘E&jing’s’ actions on this matter, I encourage my readers to remain vigilant and wary of anything too good to be true.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more shopping to do, this time for a product of greater repute.

PS – After doing some more shopping, I do want to touch on something that people claim is false advertising but really isn’t, and that’s on the difference between reported storage sizes and actual storage sizes:

This happens a lot in this field. And while it looks like corner-cutting profiteering, it’s really just the result of some early-computing-era laziness or negligence, either of which (or both) have perpetuated into current marketing. You see, everything ‘data’ operates based on powers of two. 1,000 is not a power of two; the closest is 2^10, or 1,024. This is important, because metric prefixes specify each successive magnitude by differences in the thousands. However, computers evaluate size-differences in magnitudes by differences in the 1,024’s. Put another way, the metric prefix of ‘Tera’ specifies a ‘trillion’ of something. A trillion bytes, for example: 1,000,000,000,000, or 1,000^4. Unfortunately, this is not the way a computer evaluates a trillion bytes. An actual terabyte, computationally, is 1,024^4 bytes, or 1,099,511,627,776.

I am unfamiliar with the precise origins of this discrepancy in marketing, but I do know it comes as a result of a clash between engineering and computer science.

Dividing 1,000^4 by 1,024^4 gives us a decimal value of around 0.9095 (rounding up). Multiplying 0.9095 by 1,024 gives us the number of actual computational gigabytes available on the drive: 931. This is pretty close to the 920GB reported by the user above, and the remaining eleven gigabytes missing are probably being used by the device’s software, system volume information, memory headers, etc. Some amount of data/file management that is (rightfully) obscured from end-users that wouldn’t know what to do with that information in the first place.

Nothing especially malicious. Just a bit of math and what could be called a translation error (between English and computer-lingo).

PPS – I had a few images saved on the new drive related to this blogpost that I did not have saved elsewhere. They worked ~8 hours before the time of this writing, but after a night’s sleep they seem to be broken in their entirety. Thankfully, that’s all that was broken, but I am now far less satisfied with my newfound piece of hardware than I already had been. A good reminder to always back up one’s stuff, howsoever innocuous!

Previous Post
Latest Post

Next Post

On Magic

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

  • Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible

That is probably the most cliché quote I’ll contribute to the overuse of here in this blog.

There is a lot to discuss about magic, given its varied definitions. Merriam-Webster gives nine different definitions between uses of the word as a noun, adjective, and verb. Thankfully, some of these are archaic or otherwise not commonly used, such as the verb form ‘magicked.’ (I intuitively write this as ‘magic’d’ for reasons unknown.) Of these nine, I first want to focus on one of magic’s adjective forms, as given by Merriam-Webster:

Following the rabbit hole of definitions, enchantment can be cited as the quality or state of being enchanted, and likewise enchanted provides us with made to feel delightfully pleased or charmed. (In addition to two other definitions that loop back to ‘magic’) “That experience was magical,” says one enchanted individual. And it is this very usage that compels me to write this article.

You see, most people—painting in broad strokes here—like a certain degree of ‘magic’ in their lives. The first time you read a book, or see a movie, or play a game is going to possess a certain quality that subsequent read-throughs or viewings or play sessions will not (unless it’s a terrible book/movie/game). This ‘magic’ creates a nostalgia that in turn provokes us to return to things we so greatly enjoyed the first time. But the follow-up experiences are rarely so magical, are they? Nostalgic experiences can give us a comforting homeliness, but—from my experience with such experiences—that rarely makes up for the void left behind by the loss of the ‘new magic.’

So what, then, is an author—such as yours truly—or filmmaker or game developer to do to offer their customers longstanding magic? (One can ask why this is important or why such creators should even bother. After all, so long as they’ve made a sale, their job is done, right? But an author’s lasting legacy is also their ability to make subsequent sales, be they for one work or for many.)

Personally, I believe in liberal use of Chekhov’s gun, a foreshadowing technique named after Anton Chekhov, with several red-herrings sprinkled throughout a narrative. In the context of the above forms of media, this belief as much refers to foreshadowing within a single entry of media as much as it suggests alluding to eventual plot points in later works. A combination of these three techniques [intra-narrative foreshadowing (a term I made up just now), inter-narrative foreshadowing (likewise) and red-herrings] provide plenty of opportunities for lasting ‘magic’ to a dedicated audience:

  • Intra-Narrative Foreshadowing, or foreshadowing of events that occur later within the same media entity, provide an audience with an “aha!” moment when such clues come together to reveal something. For instance, a detective using evidence sprinkled throughout a story to deduce who committed a crime at the end of a book or movie. (From my perspective, most detective shows do this poorly, as often that evidence is obfuscated from a viewer’s eyes and thus they are unlikely to arrive at the same deduction for the same reasons. I posit that these shows instead bank on their viewers simply enjoying the characters doing the legwork for them.)
  • Inter-Narrative Foreshadowing, or foreshadowing of events that occur later within a different media entity related to the initial one, provide an audience with anticipation of future events. Cliffhangers and other such unsolved mysteries, for example, are inter-narrative foreshadowing. (One definition of cliffhanger seems to apply the notion to my above definition of intra-narrative foreshadowing. However, I can’t recall ever actually seeing this definition used in practice.) These give a dedicated audience a reason to come back for more. Moreover, when such an audience then goes back to earlier works, they can find once-overlooked details that hint at later events, granting them a renewed sense of ‘magic’ and wonder for other things they may have missed. Used well, this leads to…
  • Red-herrings, which I hopefully shouldn’t need to define, are an author/filmmaker/developer’s ‘out’ in distracting an audience. Not everything needs to result in something of any significance. Sometimes some details are just for show or greater immersion to help an audience better visualize or empathize with a scene or character. But coupled with actual hints or clues as described above, red-herrings can give a rabid reader or voracious viewer something extra to chew on over time, plunging them into a sea of unknown pathways and obscure dead-ends.

I do, however, feel compelled to note that cliffhangers are not very magical, at least not after the first encounter with them. By their very definition, they allude to something that must occur at a later date, and when that something eventually does occur, any magic once instilled is lost after a brief period of enjoyment for the elucidation. There is no mystery or guesswork about a cliffhanger—save for the effects the eventual event may have on the narrative/characters of a story; they are very much so “one time use” in regards to their ‘magic.’ After all, once you know how a trick is done…

And that brings me to the next point: the ‘magic’ of magic as a noun.

I firmly believe that Teller of Penn & Teller (not to be confused with Pain & Terror) gets this better than anyone. For those dodging the last thirty-four years of stage magic, Penn & Teller have been a duo of comedic magic performances operating primarily with illusions, sleight of hand, or other forms of deceit. There is a twist here: Penn does all the talking, and Teller…doesn’t. Teller’s insights as to why he refrains from speaking are as follows, from an interview with NPR. It seemed a disservice to not include everything he had to say on the matter, so do pardon the large copy/paste below:

The rest of the interview is absolutely worth a read/listen; click the image above for a direct link to it, but be forewarned: fans of Penn & Teller may lose a little magic in doing so…more on that below!

To see Penn & Teller perform (something I have regrettably managed only with recordings and reruns) is quite the spectacle indeed. How are their tricks done? Could it have involved X? Did they slide a card in when Y? The art of their performance sparks mystery and intrigue, and so, too, does the lack of Teller’s vocal presence. What does he sound like? For years, that was an unknown to me, and it was joyous.

And then, by pure happenstance, I stumbled upon and mistakenly viewed an interview with Teller in which he spoke. (Not the interview linked to above, not that it matters.) And so the magic therein was lost—I had my answer to the magic of Teller’s previously-nonexistent voice. And made-for-radio though Teller’s voice is, no sound was—or is—capable of replacing that silence.

And that’s the magic of it.

Stage magic invites guesses about solutions. But those that come to learn ‘how things work’ in magic performances often resent their own understanding. For when the magic is gone, what is left, save for an appreciation of once being fooled? Can that be enough?

It seems, in most cases, not. And so we arrive at the obvious: Magicians being unwilling to reveal the secrets of their trickery is a mercy in spite of our worst judgment. (It is also an economically-motivated decision—trade secrets, and all that.)

It is in this regard, then, that I want to speak of the final chunk of definitions for magic, that of actual supernatural ‘magic,’ as in the noun-form definitions 1.a, b) and 2.a, b) far above.

I have written of magic in my own fantasy works quite a bit. Within the first of my works, a fairly-knowledgeable being describes magic as “a confluence of mathematical engineering and willpower, bound by balance and limited by the instruments of the caster.” So often within the works of fantastical fiction does magic have some backbone of physics and fundamental techniques describing the what and how of its function.

But, in hindsight, I think this is folly and I have grown critical of such an approach. In Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game, for instance, magic is very well-defined down to a fine level of physicality. ‘Spells’—as they are known—feature finely described verbal, somatic, or material components for casting them. The process of utilizing such magic is much less the harnessing of some wild, mysterious force and much more a science by another name. (Nerdy author’s note: D&D’s “Wild Magic” background for Sorcerers counters this point to a tee, though it is the only ‘primal’ caster in an ocean of better-established Wizards and Warlocks.) And I think, ultimately, there is something very wrong with that.

When we know the ‘how’ of how to cast a magic spell, is it really magic anymore?

Fun point of fact: When writing this post, I initially misquoted the Arthur C. Clarke quote as being

Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

And I think, actually, that rings true, too. The more we try to ground magic in reality, the less magical it really is. And I’d argue that’s a shame.

Modern ‘magic’ in Dungeons & Dragons or otherwise is very heavily inspired by the works of Jack Vance, in particular his Dying Earth series. As a result of this, the ‘technical’ term for fantastical magical casting such as described above is ‘Vancian Magic.’ The Evil GM, a seemingly-now-defunct blog about D&D, in 2012 wrote a fairly descriptive breakdown of Vancian Magic and its problems—from a gameplay perspective and on its issues with agency—and from one blogger to another, I must encourage my readers give it a gander. Having read that post many moons ago as an impressionable teenager, I now find myself unable to subscribe to Vancian Magic in good faith. To speak bluntly, it feels like a cop-out.

Now, the opposite may look like a cop-out too; simply doing nothing or very little to tether magic in reality may seem to strike a chord of laziness, and I cannot fault one for thinking that. But that a reader, viewer, or player may not fully grasp the fundamentals of casting magics within a given fantastical universe should be—in my opinion—by design. We, as creators, can bear the burden of understanding how our magic works; we need not deprive our audience of that wonder.

For to wonder is magical indeed.

Previous Post
Latest Post
Next Post

On Blogging

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
           No wing of wind the region swept,
           But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

  • Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 78

It is only fitting that my first foray into this process be self-referential.

If I am not mistaken, the first time I encountered the word “blogging” was from an episode of Doctor Who. Not that I can remember which episode specifically, save for it being of the “newer” series and I believe featuring David Tennant. I recall the Doctor (presumably portrayed by Tennant) decrying the gossiping banter of his cohorts and using the term “blogging” to describe their conversation.

I’ve always liked that usage of the word, though I cannot find any established definition in support of it. Most, such as the Cambridge English Dictionary which the British show of Doctor Who undoubtedly consults for its scriptwriting, do require a degree of written word in the process of “blogging.” Urban Dictionary gives a pretty good one that I’ve grown to be fond of:

Breaking the mold, thankfully I've learned a bit about writing before delving into blogging.

Whichever definition of blogging one prefers, all involve the sharing of words from one party to another through some medium, usually digital text. Obviously, there is a stigma attached to the process—as evidenced by the Doctor’s usage and by the Urban Dictionary definition—but as with most stigmas, I am of the mind that holding blogging as a whole in low-regard is at best naïve and at worst arrogantly ill-founded.

The human race has, alongside its opposable thumbs and disproportionately large cerebral cortex, a profound creativity and morality that provides us with a significant evolutionary advantage over other species on Earth. Our creativity has provided us with logistical advancements in the sharing of information time and again throughout history, from chisel and stone to the printing press and now to the Internet and digitalization. In every era we have shared thoughts and dreams with one another. That some frown upon doing so now is, to pick a favored word of mine, hogwash. We spend so much of our time thinking to ourselves, but so little sharing our thoughts with each other. The digital age, and social media from it, has alleviated this silence somewhat, much to the chagrin of cynics. But we can, as ever, do better.

It is as self-destructive to internalize one’s thoughts as it is diluting to ignore those of others. I genuinely believe that the power of communication is so great that it cannot be put into words, to the point that—if a certain well-known origin myth is to be believed—it required divine intervention to prohibit. That, then, is why this blog exists; not as an argument that it unto itself is a second Genesis, or that blogging is the mark of an evolutionary advantage (though that is an amusing argument), but rather that the expression of thought is among the most human of actions possible to the point where any pursuit of it is beneficial to our species as a whole. Likewise, too, to the willing acceptance (not necessarily agreement) of those thoughts’ inherent validity.

Put another way, “You’re entitled to your own opinion.”

It is here that this topic begins to border on a darker and more politicized subject matter, that of censorship, cancellation, and the debate over freedom of speech. And while that is a topic that I feel merits further discussion, I think it does so to such an extent as to be deserving of its own article at a later date. So, for now,

“We’re entitled to our own opinions.”

And that will have to be enough.

Where there is an art, there is also a science. History, archaeology. Philosophy, anthropology. The written musings of a blog, and also the technological backbone and economic theory behind it.

Now having established the artsy impetus for this blog’s creation, I would like to talk a bit about the process itself.

This is not the first website I’ve created, but it’s certainly the most professional looking. In college at UMass Amherst, each Computer Science student was given their own subdomain and a username/password with which they could change aspects of their webpage, as well as some measure of hosting space—not more than a few megabytes, if I’m not mistaken.

WinSCP, a “secure copy protocol” client that lets users upload files from their host machine onto a remote server. I don’t believe the service offered by UMass exists anymore, so the censoring of my information thereof is perhaps not necessary.

I do not remember much about the page I made, only that it was strikingly 90s-era HTML and devoid of any CSS whatsoever. (Or, in English, looked horrible) Later, also in college, I worked on a website for a class project, though I did not do much of the front-end design for that site at all, instead doing more back-end development. That was some time ago.

In any case, I must say that the tools available to the masses—which I now find myself to be a part of—are now quite extraordinary. Time does fly, and with it, the ease of access to technology! Throwing this site up took a small handful of hours across a small handful of days, and while it’s not the next Mona Lisa, I am of the mind that it came out quite well. And what a wide array of toys came with it for me to play with! An idle mind is the devil’s playground, and an idle website a sandbox for a developer. Undoubtedly, I’ll be tinkering with things in the weeks to come.

And while I am impressed with the raw technological power so readily available at my fingertips for what is comparatively not a very significant investment, I must confess that there is a great deal of obtuseness to the process. How often do Facebook or YouTube update their user interface, leaving veteran users disgruntled in the wake of their changes? Now imagine you’re trying to find out how to build a website yourself and all the tutorials and tips are horribly out of date and referring to buttons to push and packages to install, none of which exist anymore.

Welcome to web development. It is its own kind of hell.

But for some incomprehensible reason I studied this hell in school, so at least I knew to bring sunglasses for the perpetual screen time necessary to sort through things. Behold, product placement.

Web development aside, there is also the matter of what to include in a blog, and how much of it. I’ve already decided that this blog can viably contain anything because—as of yet—it is not for-profit, but research suggests that successful articles are “long reads” between 1,500 and 2,400 words with a sweet spot somewhere around 1,900. If you’ve been counting so far, I’d first like to say that you have my pity, but so far this article is just barely nearing 1,200.

Yikes. That’s not very SEO of me.

But there is something to be said for knowing one’s target audience. Mine is that of those willing to listen, and for them I’ll do my best not to ramble too much so as to give them their own due time to reply, for silence from any is a disservice to all.

I think Tennyson would agree.

As to the rest, I can give no hard schedule for new entries for this blog—one’s dedication to a hobby is pursuant to the machinations of the rest of their life. I want to do weekly, but biweekly is a safer bet. There is a list of subjects I am eager to write on, but I am not opposed to giving an opinion on a reader’s query; see Contact for such information.

Latest Post

Next Post