The Amazon/Ubik Conundrum

I was aghast to discover that I had missed a Philip K. Dick novel the other day. I had shared an image on Facebook that discussed the dangers of pissing off a redhead (or ginger. This image.) something I do every day with the Wife, especially when I point out that her temper proves she is a ginger. That woman can punch hard when she thinks she’s being insulted. However, I’ve seen the carpet a few times in our thirty years of marriage. She’s a ginger. The sun lightens the hair on her head, as it does for most strawberry blondes. But the long-running argument between Red and I wasn’t the subject I wanted to discuss here. Missing from the image was one of my favorite examples of redheads that you really don’t want to piss off, and that is the potentially causality destroying character from the movie Prince of Darkness.

You Are Receiving This Broadcast As A Dream | Prince of Darkness (1987)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve

…and she was pretty pissed at the end of that film. With good reason. So anyway, another friend and fan of the ginger set said that the clip reminded him of the novel Ubik by Philip K. Dick. Having never read the book I felt I had to remedy my lack of knowledge and went directly to Amazon.com to see if the book was available on Audible. Then I could read the book and find out what it was that he thought was similar between the book and the movie.

Ever since I started getting vertigo I’ve had a problem with the repetitive back and forth motion of the eyes while reading making me tired and dizzy and potentially bringing on vertigo, So I get books on audio now. I listen to so many books that it pays off to have an Audible account. Aside from having a regular supply of books to have read to me, if I feel like I want to access the text of the book I can get whispersync from Amazon to synchronize between the audiobook and the Kindle book, and that makes the experience a win-win for me no matter how I want to learn something new.

This was one of those instances where I was tempted to get both the Kindle book and the audiobook, especially since the page on Amazon offered me the Kindle book for $3.62 as shown in the header image for this article. Less than four bucks more and I could have the book to read for myself if I felt like reading it! So I bought the book and downloaded both versions to my phone. Then I noticed something odd. The Kindle book was not in English, it was in Romansh. I don’t even know what region of the world Romansh is spoken in, much less speak it myself.

Well, that’s weird. The Ubik page on Amazon’s website is written in English and it doesn’t say anything about the other versions of the book that are listed as being in other languages. Feel free to click the link under the image and see for yourself. There is no way to find the English Kindle book short of looking specifically for the book as a Kindle book and that book is not $3.62 it’s $9.99 (free with kindleunlimited! Another fucking subscription service. Just what I need.) more than twice the price of the Kindle book I was first offered. I know what this is, even though I’ve not seen it too many times before. This is false advertising, and I’ve been taken in by it.

So I started the refund on the Kindle book in a language I can’t read and opened a chat dialog with someone at Amazon so that I could resolve the problem of being sold something that I didn’t want. What I wanted was the book in English, the language the book was originally written in, and I wanted it at the advertised price on the Ubik page on Amazon. I mean, it takes less work to port over the exact type script of the original work than it does to pay someone to translate the book into another language, edit, copyedit, format, etc. the new manuscript into another language. Why was the Kindle book twice the price?

Well, I know why the Kindle book was twice the price, as does every person who deals with the frustration of getting any book in this day and age. Amazon and Apple and just about every other digital book publisher rigs the prices of books through contractual obligations at artificially high prices where they can get away with them, and then offers bargain prices where they cannot gouge the unsuspecting customer. And after an hour or so of arguing with the representative in the Amazon chat service, they conceded I had a legitimate complaint but that they were not contractually able to offer the digital books at the same prices that they offer them at in other countries and for other languages. However, I could get a credit for the difference in price between the two books, and that was the best that they could do for me. So I took the only route available to me and accepted the credit offer. Not that it really made me happy.


Today on Facebook I was offered a memory I may have missed from June 11th, 2018. Hey, it’s been a year and four days since the Amazon/Ubik conundrum. I’ve listened to/read the book now. More than once. I know why the dream sequence reminded my friend of that book. The one unresolved conundrum here is that the webpage for Ubik on Amazon still takes you to the Romansh Kindle version even when you type “Ubik” in a fresh instance on the Amazon store. Even though I returned that book and bought the English version for a final price of $3.62 when the store credit was applied. Even though I helpfully reiterated the potential legal liability that Amazon was opening itself up to by putting a price and no stated language waiver on the combined Ubik page that you land on when you type in Ubik on their home screen.

One whole year later, still not fixed. I saved the chat session logs. I saved the page images. It’s a simple thing to reassemble the entire conundrum, so I figured I’d do that. I mean, I’ve given them a year to fix their programming and they still haven’t done it. I wonder how many Kindle books there are out there that are offered at a lower price in a language other than English, versions that are offered on landing pages when you go looking for a book by its title? Books that are not the books that the shopper is looking for, even though they are tempted to buy the books for the lower price stated, later to have to go through the exact same process I have had to go through? There’s a class action lawsuit in there somewhere for the savvy lawyer to take advantage of. Just send my children the finders fee twenty years from now when the lawsuit settles, would you?

Look Ma, I Can Write Again!

…at least briefly. I’m starting a entry on what happened and why after I finish typing this up, but I can finally use the right hand without pain again. Two weeks of forced TV viewing has finally come to an end. I thought I was going to lose my mind. At least I still had my podcasts to keep the mind busy in between binge watching all of Better Call Saul, Altered Carbon, Man in the High Castle and finally finishing the HBO series The Pacific. I’ll probably have time to at least start Electric Dreams before I’m fully recovered.

Two of the greatest scientific achievements of my lifetime made the news during the weeks I was recuperating.

Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

Jules Verne, the SGU quote of the week.

I think that is appropriate given this episode. I mean we have a picture of a black hole, what’s more awesome than that?

…Except maybe fossils from the day the dinosaurs died.

Steven Novella

So I’m pretty happy to still be here to ponder which of those two achievements is the more important one.

Amazon is IOI

RBR on FacebookSeattle Times

As mega-corporations grow increasingly powerful, they are exerting more control over their employees. Consider a new patent secured by Amazon for a cage-like contraption to enclose warehouse workers during their shifts. These metal cages mounted atop robotic trolleys are designed to shuttle workers around fulfillment centers, blurring the line between human and machine. Amazon has also considered using electronic wristbands to track their employees’ every move. – Robert Reich on Facebook

So we’ve discovered the genesis of IOI then?

Well, that’s good news?

What’s IOI? Innovative Online Industries. You know, the corporation from Ready Player One. If you haven’t read it, get the Audible version read by Wil Wheaton. It’s excellent. Don’t watch the movie of the same name; or more exactly, don’t watch the movie of the same name and expect to see the story from the book. The movie contains an entirely different narrative, with different characters and different FX sequences. The plot for the book would have been far less exciting on screen, and would have made for a much longer film. As far as video stimulation goes, the movie has excellent FX sequences, they just aren’t plot points that occur in the book. At all.

How do I know that Amazon is the corporation from Ready Player One? Well, for one thing, that cage looks like something that IOI would think was OK for workers to spend the majority of their lives in. For another, the links to the book and the movie both go to Amazon. I could point other places, but they’ll all be owned by Amazon eventually.

The Wife and I watched the film a few weeks back. I had never read the book at the time, she had read the book. We set the viewing up on purpose as a test to see who enjoyed the film more. I’m pretty sure I won that contest. I had nothing to compare the film to and so had no expectations for it to fulfill. She spent the first thirty minutes of the film just trying to figure out where in the book the scriptwriter started the narrative at, because it certainly wasn’t anywhere in the first half of the book in spite of the fact that the first scenes have him living in the stacks.

Having watched the movie I then fell asleep to Wil Wheaton’s voice in my ear for the next week or so, describing the world of Ready Player One. A world that is either a post-apocalyptic hellscape or a capitalist paradise depending on your point of view going into the book. In any case, as usual, the Hollywood version has cardboard cutouts for villains and the novel has pretty well-fleshed characters that you can believe exist somewhere. Neither tale is free of flaws, but both have their own moments of entertainment value.

Just understand that, when I envision the giant robot battle for capitalist dominance of the globe, I will now picture Jeff Bezos inside the Mechagodzilla.

Based on a Facebook status from last week

The Pop-Tart Conundrum

I have a burning question I want an answer to, but I doubt I can get the answer myself.

I love Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts. I have been buying them by the case from Amazon.com until recently. The price was about what twelve boxes should be from the local retailer, two dollars a box or twenty-four dollars. We get free shipping from Amazon.com because we are Prime members, so having them delivered every third month made sure that we had Pop-tarts in the house when I wanted some without having to make a trip to the store. Last month Amazon doubled the price of these Pop-tarts to over $40 a case which prompted us to cancel the scheduled next shipment of them.

I started to get curious about this price hike, so I went to Walmart.com and saw that they were still offering Pop-Tarts for $2 a box. I was able to get them shipped for $2 a box by ordering a case and a half (free shipping on orders of more than $35) the extra half-case I made up of unfrosted strawberry and blueberry just on a whim. I like them but they aren’t the guilty pleasure that the brown sugar cinnamon ones are. They aren’t the ones I loved as a child.

This is the question. Why the price difference? Both Walmart and Amazon try to be the lowest price available in a given market. If you think about it, Amazon should be offering a discount on the items because we were buying in bulk (factory labeled cases) and Walmart actually had to take the time to box and ship 18 individual boxes of Pop-tarts to my home in their own shipping containers, a perfectly valid reason to tack on a processing fee which they didn’t do.

Why are Amazon and several other online vendors acting like there is a shortage of Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts when Walmart is not? Why that specific flavor and not the other flavors? Why isn’t there a bulk discount when shipped in bulk? Doesn’t this fly in the face of economics 101? I would love to have an answer to this question.

(sent as a online query)


2018 – I copied and pasted the above text to Amazon as a review, a review that Amazon has since deleted, because the price had once again gone over $40 after briefly being back down around the acceptable $20 range for a few months. There is a third party seller that is selling two boxes (two boxes, you can see the pictures on their review) for $20! That is a markup 5x retail, making the current $42.87 case price with Prime seem cheap by comparison. However, I can still walk into virtually any super WalMart and pick up as many boxes as I want for $2 each which puts the case price that WalMart is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 to $16 at most. I’m still not understanding why the price difference. I would love an explanation.


February 14, 2019 – There are several results for the item I want to buy on this page (Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts) but every one of the top results are by businesses engaging in fraud. Fraud, because they don’t come out and say that you will be paying $6 per Pop-tart. They hide that information behind fuzzy numbers. Even Prime’s offering for this item is overpriced because I can get one box (8 Pop-tarts) at Walmart for about $2. Why is this fraud allowed on your platform, and why are even prime’s prices so high? The case price (12 boxes of 8) for these should be about $14, not $30-ish as it now is.

Feedback left on the Amazon website. When I looked again, the case is no longer offered by Amazon at all. The fraudsters are still at it. Stay tuned.