The Department Of Homeland Security Is Now Bitching At Me On My Blog

Update to yesterday’s post. A day after Buddy was seized by DHS I now have my boat in my possession and at my slip.

This all happened while I was still trying to sort out a lawyer and had nothing to do with anything I did. Coastal Craft, the builder, took extraordinary steps (and expense) to get possession of Buddy from DHS.

I sat down to write this quick update just to let everyone know that things worked out.

But when I logged in to WordPress I saw a really curious comment from someone claiming to work for DHS in the same office that I dealt with. And the comment includes enough specific information that I’m inclined to believe him.

The comment:

Okay all, the rest of the story(I was there). 1. The amount on both invoice and CBP form were in U.S dollars correctly completed on the form. 2. Just because someone has $$$ and posts something first on the web, doesn’t make them true. 3. The officer in question did not act gleefully, in fact SHE called back to the office and vessel manufacturer several times to verify the stated value. 4. The officer in question vilified by this rich individual now has to endure all the grief posted here and elsewhere by Mr rich guy and explain why she followed the LEGAL document value and wouldn’t cow to his brow beating. 5. Coastal Craft ended up paying for a broker to perform what should have been a personal importation and guess what The value on that entry was EXACTLY the same as on the CBP presented form. 6. Mr. Rich guy will probably post everywhere now that HE was right due to the fact that he has his boat and did not sign anything, but the fact is that the company took the high moral ground and due to ALL the false posting by Arrington, they paid for the paperwork to be processed. 7. We are all at the mercy of individuals who feel (right or wrong) that they can put out whatever they feel and get hundreds of all of you all worked up about the big bad government, fact is the is/was correct and all of us had to jump thru hoops due to arrington’s posts and written falsehoods. 8. I am proud to work with this office/officer and all of you should be ashamed for vilifying her/DHS without knowing the facts. 9. Most working folds have bosses and we are no exception sadly we had to answer many questions for correctly performing our sworn duties due to all the bad press put out by someone who feels entitled or above the public servant. Shame on you.

My response:

Just a few questions.

1. You state you work for DHS, correct? And you work in the office I had to deal with?

2. You say you were there. Are you claiming you were actually at the boat when this happened? Or do you just mean you were “there” in general (back at the office)? Because you were most definitely not on the boat (where everything happened) at any time I was there.

3. If you do, you really feel “vilified” when the net result was your office seized private property? I mean, hey, you got my boat. That had to be some consolation.

4. Is it appropriate for you to post private information about Coastal Craft? I won’t ask about my information since I started the debate and hey, I’m just a fucking schmuck citizen. But them? Do you see this as an abuse of your position?

5. You say “all of us had to jump thru hoops due to arrington’s posts and written falsehoods” – what hoops were jumped through exactly?

6. You say “she followed the LEGAL document value.” You realize she was holding an invoice in CA$ in one hand and the DHS document in US$ in the other, and seemed to have no understanding that they were two different currencies, right?

7. Did she tell you how she wouldn’t face me or look me in the eye or let me speak? Did she tell you how she wouldn’t let me speak with her superior to explain things? It was just “sign this or we’re done. Actually, we’re just done. Give me the keys.”

You have to realize how angry I had to be to write this. First, I don’t like talking about my personal business. Second, I had to take a lot of negative feedback from people over this, too. And third, for fuck’s sake, you are the Department of Homeland Security. What happens to me the next time I got through TSA at the airport, or try to cross the border into Canada? Do you think I may perhaps be on a “list” and have some difficulties? Do you understand that I am so upset about how the government is treating its citizens that I was willing to accept that I’ll now be subject to further abuse?

I’m terribly sorry that I upset you and your office over all this. But all I did was post what happened on my personal blog. I have the right to do that under the Constitution. That thing you’ve sworn to uphold and protect.

And a follow up:

And one other thing I missed the first time. You say “The amount on both invoice and CBP form were in U.S dollars correctly completed on the form. 2.”, suggesting that the form your office created was identical to invoice. This is just another outright lie. The invoice was in CA$.

For you, the government, to outright lie like this, and engage in a personal attack, and discuss private information, is disgusting.

That follow up comment really addresses the whole crazy in his comment. He’s saying there was no problem at all with the paperwork. So why wouldn’t I sign? And why would it be necessary for her to apparently call all these people to verify the value?

And another thing he doesn’t mention is this whole broker business. The reason Coastal Craft had to hire a broker (which is something like $10,000) was because DHS told them they had to do it to get the boat out of seizure. That’s what Coastal Craft told me today, and that’s what officer Marr told me yesterday on the phone.

I can’t wait until the next time I have to cross a border or go through TSA at the airport.

The Department Of Homeland Security Stole My Boat Today

Update: THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY IS NOW BITCHING AT ME ON MY BLOG

I live a fairly simple life and that didn’t change much after I sold TechCrunch in 2010. I didn’t buy a new house or even a new car. The one thing I did splurge on was a boat.

Nothing too fancy or large. I live near Seattle and there’s a big boating culture up here. I found a small company that builds boats specifically for this area called Coastal Craft. I ordered it in 2011 and planned on writing about the experience after it was delivered.

I named her Buddy. It has state of the art electronics and a fairly new highly efficient propulsion system that the TechCrunch audience would be interested in.

Today was the day that Buddy was going to be delivered. That didn’t happen, because the Department of Homeland Security seized the boat.

Buddy has to clear customs, part of the DHS, since she was built in Canada.

My job was to show up and sign forms and then leave with Buddy (WA sales tax and registration fees come a week later).

DHS takes documents supplied by the builder and creates a government form that includes basic information about the boat, including the price.

The primary form, prepared by the government, had an error. The price was copied from the invoice, but DHS changed the currency from Canadian to U.S. dollars.

It has language at the bottom with serious sounding statements that the information is true and correct, and a signature block.

I pointed out the error and suggested that we simply change the currency from US $ to CAD $ so that is was correct. Or instead, amend the amount so that it was correct in U.S. dollars.

I thought this was important because I was signing it and swearing that the information, and specifically the price, was correct.

The DHS agent didn’t care about the error and told me to sign the form anyway. “It’s just paperwork, it doesn’t matter,” she said. I declined.

She called another agent and said simply “He won’t sign the form.” I asked to speak to that agent to give them a more complete picture of the situation. She wouldn’t allow that.

Then she seized the boat. As in, demanded that we get off the boat, demanded the keys and took physical control of it.

What struck me the most about the situation is how excited she got about seizing the boat. Like she was just itching for something like this to happen. This was a very happy day for her.

So now I have to hire a lawyer to try to figure all this out. And I will figure it out, eventually.

My point in writing this isn’t to whine. Like I said, this will get worked out one way or another.

No, it’s to highlight how screwed up our government bureaucracy has become.

A person with a gun and a government badge asked me to swear in writing that a lie was true today. And when I didn’t do what she wanted she simply took my boat and asked me to leave.

What would you have done? Maybe most people would have just signed the form. The U.S. and CA dollars are almost the same value right now (although they weren’t when I made most of the payments on the boat), so what’s the bother?

Well, to me it’s the principle involved, being told to sign and swear to something false, or else.

And it would have been SO FUCKING EASY to just correct the form so that I wasn’t swearing to something that was false.

As usual, I took the “or else” option. And the bastards stole my boat.

I’ll probably get droned now, too.

Opportunity And Death In Singapore

Article in the SF Chronicle today talking about Singapore’s attempts to foster entrepreneurism. Fails to mention what happened recently to one American who ventured there to work in tech.

Shane had died a week before he was to return to the US. The police said he had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair. Shane, 6ft 1in and nearly 200lb, hanged himself from the bathroom door, the autopsy report said.

So the Todds, along with two of Shane’s younger brothers, John and Dylan, were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said.

If you start a company in Singapore, good luck. Just don’t, under any circumstances, rock the boat.

Tangflation

tang

A couple of months ago I bought a large size Tang at Costco. This last week I bought another one. It has a good shelf life and, why not.

I didn’t notice anything until I put the new one next to the old one.

It’s quite a bit smaller. I noticed both said “Makes 22 Quarts.”

But the old one has 72 ounces of Tang and the new one has just 60 oz.

Is the new Tang more concentrated? Is that how less Tang powder makes the same volume of liquid Tang?

No. The nutritional information shows both with 88 servings (22 quarts). The new one is 70 calories per serving. The old one is 90 calories per serving.

tanglabel

Clearly, Kraft wants you to think you’re getting the same amount of Tang for the price (22 quarts), but the only way they make that happen is by having the customer dilute it about 20% more than before.

They even made the scoop smaller (a serving is half a scoop).

I’ve been reading about food inflation, particularly how some companies are selling packages with slightly less in them at the same price. A few ounces here, a few ounces there. Apparently we just tend to grab the same thing as before, and are more likely to notice a price change than a slight decrease in volume. Particularly if the packaging size stays the same.

But this is the first time I’ve seen a company actually try to pass off less product as not less.

I don’t see how this would differ from a milk producer only filling up 80% of a gallon container with milk, and adding water to make it a full gallon.

Anyway, nothing I’m going to get upset about, but it’s clear that companies are trying just about anything to hide inflation.

Only “We” Can Use Children In Our Political Messaging

2013-01-16T174655Z_521997241_TB3E91G1DDYFP_RTRMADP_3_USA-GUNS-OBAMA

Yeah I agree with the President, it’s “repugnant and cowardly” to use children in political messages.

Sarcasm aside, as far as I can tell from reading between the lines, both sides of the debate are in favor of more police in schools. This is something the Democrats used to love (even Senator Chuck Schumer), so there doesn’t seem to be anyone to oppose it. I thought it was hypocritical of David Gregory to trash the idea since his own kids are guarded by armed security. Perhaps now he’ll be in favor of it via President Obama’s executive order.

I’d love to see any data on violent crime incidents in schools with and without police being present. I think that’s far more important than listening to the Democrats and Republicans bitch at each other.

Why Howard Kurtz Is Dangerously Wrong

Howard Kurtz, among others, are being very vocal in their defense of Meet The Press host David Gregory. I understand his arguments that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a violent crime while showing a 30 round AR-15 magazine on television. But he (or the show) did apparently ask for permission to show it and that request was denied by Washington D.C. police.

The facts are pretty straightforward. Gregory (or the show) knew that it was a crime in Washington D.C. to be in possession of a high capacity magazine, they ignored the law and they showed the crime being committed on television.

Is the particular law ridiculous? I don’t know. But it was enough to put this wounded veteran in jail earlier this year. And Lieutenant Kim wasn’t aware, like Gregory was, that he was committing a crime.

Whatever the gun laws are, they need to apply to everyone. If a wounded vet can be jailed for inadvertently violating them, so should Mr. Gregory. For journalists to hold themselves to a different standard than everyone else is absurd and hypocritical.

Many of the existing and proposed gun laws do little to deter crime. A few years ago I received death threats from a man who was clearly deranged and had previously been convicted of a felony. Yet he still possessed multiple guns and other weapons.

He was never charged with a crime.

If Gregory walks away from this without being charged, this can easily become a rallying cry for gun rights advocates. Many of these people are already on the edge of paranoia, convinced the government wants to strip them of their weapons as a prelude to tyranny. Giving special treatment to those who are in favor of gun control and allowing them to flout laws will only increase that paranoia.

If people (like me) really want tighter gun control they need to show that even their own are not exempt from prosecution. That’s the only way for them to logically defend their arguments.

If I was Gregory I would proudly turn myself in to the police and plead guilty to violating the law. It would be a powerful message that he truly believes in the laws he’s supporting and is willing to make a personal sacrifice to make this country safer. The fact that he isn’t doing that shows little more than hypocrisy.

Giving Up On Google Voice + Sprint + iPhone

Over a year ago I tried to get Google Voice working natively on the iPhone via Sprint. The whole system has been plagued with problems and I finally gave up today. See my post on TechCrunch for details.

They Screwed Us. Right Before They Screwed Us Again. #poohead

We just got screwed. More on this below.

Nobody says “Web 2.0” anymore. The term just didn’t stand the test of time, long ago it became cliched.

But a handful of years ago it had real meaning to a lot of us. It encompassed a lot of ideas, but chief among them was the notion of mashed up web services, all collaborating via APIs.

Whether a service had robust APIs to allow it to collide in unexpected ways with other services was very important. Services that left out APIs, for whatever reason, were flawed.

And, importantly, services at least paid lip service to the idea that data was “ours,” not “theirs,” and would be treated accordingly.

So that was a really nice fantasy that lasted for a long while. But what happens in the real world is companies grow up, hire grown ups and they sit in board meetings and they fret about barriers to entry in their respective markets.

And they forget about users.

They all do it. Facebook screwed us (disclosure, CrunchFund owns Facebook stock). Twitter screwed us repeatedly, and comes back regularly for more (see Dave Winer’s wild ramblings over the years that all seem to come true) (disclosure, CrunchFund owns Twitter stock).

And now Instagram (owned by Facebook, so see disclosure above) is screwing us.

pooheadCase in point, this piece of art that I created, called Poohead, will no longer display properly on Twitter. I have to live with a flawed reproduction of the original artwork, cropped incompetently and the magic is just lost.

Mostly people are saying it’s ok that Instagram is screwing us by removing our ability to properly share our pictures on Twitter. Because Twitter screwed Instagram multiple times in the recent past.

Twitter, of course, only screwed Instagram because Instagram screwed Twitter right before Twitter screwed them. Because Instagram decided that they’d rather be acquired by Facebook instead of Twitter.

Screw that, thought Twitter. We used to love Instagram, particularly during the time while we were trying to buy Instagram. But then we didn’t buy them and so, obviously, we now hate Instagram. We’re gonna screw them and bad.

So that’s all clear now.

But there are lots of civilian casualties in all this screwing. Those civilians being us users, the dopes that keep feeding these companies content in the vain hope that this time we won’t get screwed.

Because these companies we love do treat our data as sacred, right? They don’t sit around the office calling our data their data and occasionally slip up in public, too, right? Except,

“This is an evolution of just where we are and where we want links from our content to go.”

That was Instagram founder Kevin Systrom earlier today at the Le Web conference talking to my CrunchFund partner MG Siegler (disclosure, MG is my partner, at CrunchFund).

Yep, Instagram is now officially in the “it’s our data” club. Pretty much everyone joins that club as soon as they can. One day they love users and talk about how much they owe their users. The next day it’s “users who? This is our data.”

And of course it goes without saying that the best way to run a business is to treat users with respect and make sure that your product does everything it can to delight and amaze. Except,

“This [screwing users, because Twitter screwed them before right after they screwed Twitter] is a consequence of us doing the best thing for our business at this time.”

Systrom again. Taking care of business by doing the opposite of delighting and amazing them.

Someday one of these companies is going to grow up from a fledgling, user-loving baby startup and get lots of traction and then…and then…wait…think hard…No! We will not screw over the users. Even though we totally have the morale high ground here because somebody else screwed somebody before and now it’s all just a blood feud that nobody can figure out who started and QUICK grab all that money over there before those other guys do.

See that? They thought about doing the right thing, which may have even gathered so much long term user loyalty that they could be sitting on a hundred year brand. And in the middle of thinking all those noble thoughts about doing right by users they just slapped themselves back down to earth and did what they always do.

Seize all assets within reach, and tell the sheeple users that they were sadly forced to do this to protect the data, which is their data now, and PS thank you very much for transferring all that data you made to us. High five! Then go home and pour yourself a double Macallan, neat, and tell yourself again how much you are helping the world become a better place.

Disclosure – I just broke a rule where I said I wouldn’t be talking much here on TechCrunch about companies we’ve invested in at CrunchFund. In this post I have a financial interest in every single company mentioned, who are all acting like children all hopped up on sugar and playing with too many legos.

Legos made of solid gold, lovingly crafted by us. The screwed sheeples. We sheeples get no legos. None at all.

This post was originally published on TechCrunch.

Oprah Uses iPad To Plug Microsoft Surface

Funny post up at TNW showing Oprah plugging the Microsoft Surface with a Tweet sent from an iPad.

Last month I wrote about how all the cool actors and actresses in those Surface commercials probably wouldn’t be caught dead in real life with anything but an Apple device.

The iPad has some real competition now. But it ain’t this thing.

It’s not just that Microsoft’s money isn’t green enough to get Oprah to give up her iPad. MG gave the device a thorough review (before throwing it in his trash can). The Surface, at least for now, is a dud.

Too Legit To Gangnam Style: How The Amazing Hammer/PSY Duo Was Born At Google Zeitgeist

The question isn’t really whether you’ll watch the amazing Gangnam Style video with MC Hammer from the American Music Awards last night. It’s how many times you’ll hit “replay.” I’ve now watched it half a dozen times.

How does something like this get organized? We’d imagine months of negotiations between lawyers and various rights holders ending in some sort of complicated contract. In reality, it all came together one evening at a late night revelry at Google Zeitgeist last month.

Scooter Braun, who’s PSY’s agent (as well as Justin Beibers’s), was apparently hanging out with super angel Ron Conway, MC Hammer and others at the Google event. Braun mentioned to Hammer that PSY was a huge fan of Hammer’s and had expressed an interest in bringing Hammer on stage at the AMA to perform with him.

Hammer agreed. Scooter then handed Hammer his cell phone, which was ringing to an outbound phone. PSY picked up and the details were arranged.

One month later, we get to see PSY in parachute pants dancing with Hammer on stage, including cuts to the audience where celebrities are doing the ridiculous Gangnam Style dance.

No one can ever take that away from us.

This was originally published on TechCrunch.

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